Thursday, April 27, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: April 26th

Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman '77 #4 (DC Comics) As I've mentioned previously, one of the cool parts of this particular miniseries is that writers Jeff Parker (Batman '66) and Marc Andreyko (Wonder Woman '77) have taken advantage of the immortality of Wonder Woman, as well as Batman villain Ra's al Ghul, and the various settings of the TV shows it serves as a crossover of (note the years in the title) to present an adventure that spans decades, and thus various points in the characters' lives.

So we've already seen Wonder Woman and Ra's meet a pre-parents' murder Bruce Wayne back in the 1940s, and in this issue we wrap up the "'66" portion of the story, with the next two issues being set in 1977...long after the conclusion of the TV show that spawned these versions of Batman, Robin and Catwoman. It promises to be both a Wonder Woman crossover and a paper version of a Batman TV show reunion special that never happened.

But back to the "present" of the late 1960s. Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin and Catwoman have tracked Ra's and Talia to the Lazarus Pit hidden in a labyrinth near Paradise Island, and the resulting encounters lead to nods to the comics (Batman and Ra's having their first scimitar fight...shirts on, of course; Ra's calling Batman "Crusader" instead of "Detective" and to the TV shows (the heroes ending up in a death trap rather than being killed outright; the appearance of Wonder Girl Drusilla; Amazonian scuba gear).

Parker and Andreyko straight kill it with the jokes in this issue. I do so love Catwoman's puns, and this Batman's stick-in-the-mud, nerd adhesion to law is funny, particularly when framed as well as it is in a few sequences here near the end. Additionally, I really liked the idea that Wonder Woman's heroic example helped inspire the young Bruce Wayne to become a superhero in the first place. I'm getting off-topic here, but I was actually thinking about how unusual a Golden Age-less DC Universe is when it comes to Batman's mental health and life choices. For some reason, I was thinking of the various "takes" on Batman's becoming a bat at all, the "Batman's a crazy, broken person who decides to dress up like a bat and maniacally fight crime, because he's crazy" take vs. the Grant Morrison-articulated rationale that he suffered a trauma as a child and came up with a child's solution: "He became a superhero." I was thinking of it in regards to the fact that the current DC continuity lacks a Golden Age, and Batman was its first superhero, meaning he would be basing his idea on...pretty much just Zorro, I guess. James Bond? Robin Hood? Some pulp heroes? He didn't have Green Lantern Alan Scott, Sandman Wesley Dodd, Dr. Mid-Nite and the like to look up to.

Anyway, back to this comic: I can't say enough good things the art team of David Hahn and Karl Kesel. They have a truly remarkable ability to draw the characters from the TV show in such a way to resemble the actor's playing them, but no so faithfully that they look off when mixed in with all of the original characters, or when thrust into such super-crazy situations as we find here, the likes of which would have (could have) never appeared on network TV back in the 1960s or 1970s.

I know DC plans to keep doing various Batman '66 comics--the Legion of Super-Heroes crossover looks especially promising--but I'm going to miss this one when it ends. Luckily that's not for two more issues and at least one more decade.

Detective Comics #955 (DC) The hopefully penultimate chapter of writer James Tynion's current "Fists of Fury"* story arc (which I'm pretty sick of at this point, to be honest) finds an injured Cassandra Cain being read a story by the ballerina she was stalking, a fictional children's story called "The Girl Who Was a Shadow." The ballerina then offers an extensive piece of extemporaneous literary criticism of the story, which just so happens to perfectly mirror Cassandra Cain's origin story and current predicament!

Inspired, Cass goes on to fight and defeat a million ninjas and rescue her team. Meanwhile, The General Ulysses has developed a way to defeat The League of Shadows and save Gotham City, but it's a way that will mean the death of Team Batman.

Artist Marcio Takara's artwork is pretty decent here, and the attempts to make Cass' fight with the entire League of Shadows are admirable, including a sideways spread with lots of tight close-ups of her masked face and the blows she lands. Part of it is Takara's realistic style and part of it is likely colorist Marcello Maiolo's palette, but the action in this action comic just isn't very striking. The pages don't move, and the kung fu is unimpressive.

I'm really super-confused about Tynion's new take on Shiva, in which she is a terrorist rather than a connoisseur of martial arts battles--she even passes up the chance to duel Batman in order to make sure her destruction of Gotham City happens in time to get covered on The Today Show and Fox and Friends!--although there was a suggestion of an interesting dynamic here when she faces Cass for the second time this arc.

"It does not impress me to see a knife that refuses to stab, a gun that refuses to fire," Shiva says, referring to Cass' refusal to kill.

"Yes," Cassandra replies simply. "It does."

Tynion doesn't explain, and it's not like Cass is the sort of explain anything at any length, but I suppose the implication here is that it's much, much harder for a fighter like Cassandra to incapacitate a few dozen ninja without killing them than to take their lives (In the same way Superman has to try really hard not to pulp someone when he hits them, when it would be much easier for him to just throw a punch without calibrating exactly how much to pull it, you know?)

There was a promising moment where Cassandra almost tells the ballerina her name is "Orphan," and then decides to say "Cassandra Cain" instead. It gave me hope she'll be abandoning her stupid "Orphan" code name by the end of the arc (much of which has dealt with the fact that she's not an orphan, and that she need not be ashamed of her biological mother and that she has a family in Batman, Batwoman, Clayface and the others). I suppose if she's not going to go back to Batgirl or Black Bat, or take on a new, bat-oriented name (Bat? The Bat?), she could just go with Shadow or The Shadow or Shadow would have been appropriate if she chose it during this issue, actually.

The Flash #21 (DC) Part Two of "The Button" is...button-less, but it picks up right where the previous chapter left off. The Flash Barry Allen is investigating the crime scene of The Reverse Flash's brutal beatdown of Batman in last week's Batman #21, as well as the subsequent murder of said Reverse Flash off-panel (presumably by Doctor Manhattan...or maybe Hillary Clinton).

Writer Joshua Williamson has some nice bits in here about how Barry Allen and Bruce Wayne bond over criminal science, and Barry's narration of the earlier portions of this issue really seem like the one point where he gets to inject some of himself into a script that otherwise is almost certainly just checking off boxes laid out by Geoff Johns and editorial-types at DC.

Just as last issue featured a reappearance by one of the figures from Johns' DC Universe: Rebirth special (hockey fan Saturn Girl), this chapter opens with a reappearance by Johnny Thunder, futilely calling for the original version of his Thunderbolt and screaming about the Justice Society. I wonder if we'll see similar appearances in the next two chapters?

The most relevant portion of this, in terms of the ongoing "Jesus God, what the fuck is DC doing with its continuity?!" storyline is that A) The Justice League has secretly been collecting artifacts from pre-Flashpoint continuity and have a fucking warehouse full of them (J'onn's old costume! Blue Devil's pitchfork thing! Hourman III's time ship! The Worlogog...? Etc!). Among these are The Cosmic Treadmill, and Barry runs the two heroes through the time stream, where the original founding of the Justice League, a scene from Identity Crisis and I want to say either Crisis On Infinite Earths or Flashpoint or Final Crisis (Aaa! Even I can't keep up anymore!) whiz by, and then they hit some turbulence and end up in the world of Flashpoint.

The end! Until next week.

Not sure what is meant to be going on, or where this is all headed, but if it was this easy to get back to The Flashpoint all along, I have to assume that DC is going to do for the rest of the DCU what they did for Superman and Lois in the pages of their recent "Superman Reborn" story arc...during some sort of event that will bring back post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint continuity, with the stuff from The New 52 all having "happened," but just differently, and with a handful of changes (Like, I assume Barbara Gordon will still have the use of her legs and be Batgirl). In other words, there's another reboot coming.

In the mean time, I liked seeing Howard Porter on these characters again--I really liked what he and the colorists at Hi-Fi did with Flash's running-effects in a few scenes, where in addition to the lightning there's a weird, warping ribbon of red--and it's fun to stare at the super-detailed panels and pick things out. Not only is there the scene in the room where the League keeps the Ark of of the Covenant, the H-Dial and a Prometheus costume, but also a nice two-page spread of the Bat-Cave.

Like, for example, there's a pope costume in there. I don't know if Porter just through that in for fun, or if it is some reference to a story involving a pope, or possibly bishop, that I can't think of at the moment.

Lumberjanes #37 (Boom Studios) Regular writers Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh are joined by a new artist this issue, Ayme Sotuyo. On the one hand, it's nice that Boom allows different artists to take stabs at Lumberjanes (and its occasional spin-off one-shots or crossovers), as it undoubtedly helps introduce newer, younger artists to a wider audience. On the other hand, even if many of these artists have styles that are similar enough that no one's likely to ever get aesthetic whiplash, it does prevent Lumberjanes from developing a strong visual identity. My main concern with Sotuyo's presence here, however, is that I just don't like her art, at least not applied to these characters and this milieu, at least not yet (I may get used to it after a few issues worth of exposure, I suppose).

Her characters all have very big heads, faces and noses and, when one factors in the beady little eyes, they all look like Muppets. Oddly, not all of the characters have those little black dots for eyes. For example, April and Mal's mom both have full eyes, with irises and pupils and whites around them everything. I'm not sure why certain characters get whole eyes and others just get pupils embedded in their flesh (um, which is the way that I draw eyes), but it bugs me when it's not consistent.

Like, the original Flintstones cartoon? I can't tell you how much it used to bug me that Fred and Betty had whole eyes while Wilma and Barney just had dots-for-eyes. I used to wonder if Fred and Betty were brother and sister, and Wilma and Barney the same.

As for the storyline, which kicks off this issue, it's promising. It's Parents' Day, and so the parents of all the campers--except Molly--show up to get a tour of the camp. Which presents a difficulty for everyone at camp, what with all the Yeti and dinosaurs and monsters that tend to hang around.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #25 (DC) Ha ha, it's funny because it's true! That third tier is just priceless. For what it's worth, Green Arrow does overhear them talking about his lack of villains, and shouts back some suggestions, including, Count Vertigo and The Clock King.

As you can likely tell by the characters as they appear there, the specific iterations of Green Lantern and Green Arrow that team-up with Scooby and the gang in this issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up are those specific to the characters' "Hard-Traveling Heroes" iteration, in the early 1970s when the teamed-up and traveled around the country together having socially relevant adventures written mostly by Denny O'Neil and penciled mostly by Neal Adams. Heck, when the pair first appear here, they even refer to themselves as "a pair of hard-traveling heroes."

This particular issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up, by the regular creative team of writer Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela, is maybe the best in a long while. At the very least, it has the most jokes per page in it. Check out this preview on Good Comics For Kids, which consists of the first five pages. Just the first three panels has a few particularly strong gags, ones that aren't at all dependent on the guest-stars.

The jokes that follow are mostly dependent on the heroes, of course, and some rather specific, even dated portrayals of them. This book is generally very good at being all-ages, but I have to confess that this issue was one in which I kinda wish I had a little kid who I could run it by to see if they dug it as much as I did (alas, the only very young superhero and Scooby-Doo fan I know can't yet read). Certainly a child wouldn't enjoy the exact same jokes in the same way I did, such as when Green Arrow suggests aloud that maybe he'll go check in on his former sidekick Speedy and see what he's been up to. (This. This is what he's been up to.)

This is a great, great issue.

Wonder Woman #21 (DC) Greg Rucka takes another slow step towards the conclusion of the 25-issue story arc he's been telling since returning to the character. This one at least feels like it's approaching a climax, as several of the players in the modern end of the story arrive at what they think is the portal to the true Themyscira. I like artist Liam Sharp's artwork a whole lot, but I thought he kinda fell down on at least one sequence, where Veronica Cale apparently follows her falling daughter into said portal.

The big cliffhanger from the previous installment of this section of the storyline, "The Truth," turned out to be glossed over in the manner of a particularly cheesy movie serial, as being shot through the chest didn't do much more than stagger and annoy Wonder Woman rather than hurt her. I guess that's because of her Amazonian healing factor...?

*Original title, that.

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