Thursday, June 29, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: June 28th

Detective Comics #959 (DC Comics) There are an unusual amount of typos in the lettering of this issue--at least two doozies that I noticed--but that may be simply because there are so many goddam words in this issue. James Tynion IV really seems to be trying to out-Bendis Brian Michael Bendis in quite a few scenes here, particularly when young, teenage Bruce Wayne gasses on and on to young, teenage Zatanna about the lights of Gotham City during a flashback sequence (the artwork, by pencil artist Alvaro Martinez, inker Raul Fernandez and colorist Brad Anderson doesn't at all reflect what Wayne says of the Gotham City skyline, by the way, despite Zatanna's agreement that it does). If Wayne's paragraphs of dialogue were split into several more panels, and were written so as to be read as part of a comic book story, such verbiage might not seem so egregious, but instead Tynion just dumps it all in a pair of static panels, giving the impression of a stock still Wayne babbling incessantly at a disinterested Zatanna.

That was probably the most noteworthy aspect of this particular issue, unfortunately, save, perhaps, for some cute dialogue involving Doctor October (from Batwoman and the Marguerite Bennett co-written issues of this series), Clayface and Nomoz, and a rather scary-looking design given to a fairly familiar name from Batman comics (and elsewhere) that appears on the last page.

Jonah Hex/Yosemite Sam Special #1 (DC) There's a sequence on page 14 of this entry into DC's bizarre suite of Looney Tunes crossover comics where the realistically-drawn Yosemite Sam confronts a prostitute for spreading the word that he had just struck gold all around the bar/brothel he was patronizing. "I'll do whatever I please!" she responds, and so "BAFF," he punches her in the face.

I'll be honest: I am completely baffled as to why writer Jimmy Palmiotti included this scene in this comic book. I think it's meant to be a joke of some kind, as right before he hits her, Sam gives one of his catchphrase-like exclamations of rage (usually reserved for cartoon rabbits)--"oOoo!"--and it is followed up by Hex objecting as the pair casually walk away, Hex saying he's opposed to "small men that punch ladies square in the face," while Sam replies that she "wun't no lady," as if that excuses hitting her in the face.

A too-generous reader could maybe make some dumb argument about how this shows the gritty reality of the American frontier in the 19th century (that is often the excuse of the sexist, even misogynist content of past Jonah Hex stories written or co-written by Palmiotti), or point out that the woman who got punched did specifically tell someone who she must have known planned on killing Sam to get his gold (not that Sam knew it at that point), but that's all bullshit. This is a comic book about Yosemite fucking Sam and talking rooster Foghorn fucking Leghorn teaming up with Jonah Hex, so there's no reason for anything approaching "realism" here, nor is there any reason to include the scene.

Whatever the thought process was, it's still a scene of a man punching a woman in the face to shut her up in a DC/Looney Tunes comic book. Weirdness has been prevalent in all of these books, often to their benefit, but that's probably the most bizarre thing I've seen in one of them so far, as it's just noxious, ugly and unnecessary.

Beyond that unfortunate scene, Palmiotti makes another somewhat curious choice in casting perennial Looney Tunes villain and Bugs Bunny arch-foe Yosemite Sam as a hero here. He's still quick to anger, and he has the speech patterns of his cartoon-self--Yosemite Sam is among the most fun Looney Tunes characters to write dialogue for, I imagine--but other than punching that lady in the face, he's more-or-less an all-around good guy here, only raising his six-guns in self-defense, going out of his way to save a man from drowning (well, a rooster-man), talking wistfully of his late wife and defending his friends and allies.

Sam strikes it rich in a goldmine, and when word gets out that he's done so, he fears claim-jumpers, so he hires Hex to help him defend his claim. Meanwhile, a rooster-man/pugilist in an evil travelling circus (Foghorn Leghorn, the other most fun Looney Tunes character to write dialogue for, I imagine) comes to his aid in the nick of time.

Mark Texeira handles the artwork, and he draws in a very realistic style that makes Yosemite Sam look...nothing like Yosemite Sam, really. Sure, he's got the mustache and the hat and the six-guns, but that's just not a character that one can draw realistic-like and still have him come out looking anything at all like himself (the eyebrows and lack of mask especially look off). Foghorn Leghorn, presented as mutant of some kind, is awfully out-of-place here, although Texeira giving him an eye-patch to suggest True Grit's Rooster Cogburn is kind of cute.

The back-up, scripted by Bill Matheny and drawn by Dave Alvarez, finds Hex in the snowy woods, bounty-hunting a grizzly bear...and he crosses paths with Sam, who is hunting-hunting Bugs Bunny. It's good to see the "real" Sam after having spent time with the weird version of him in the preceding pages, and Alvarez has a wonderful style that looks like animation cels arranged into panels, although his designs of Sam and Bugs are highly-stylized to the point that while they look like themselves, they also look like Alvarez's version of them. His Hex is remarkably handsome, too.

I still haven't read the Batman/Elmer Fudd Special, which my shop was sold out of, but of the remaining five, this was probably the worst...or maybe tied with Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil for the worst. The WW/Taz team-up was kind of dull, but it was really well-drawn, and, hell, it didn't have random woman-beating in it.

Jughead #16 (Archie Comics) When we last left Jughead, Sabrina had accidentally cast a spell that made Josie and The Pussycats and all of the girls in Riverdale, conveniently all gathered at a Josie concert, fall madly in love with Jughead as if he were The Beatles and it was the 1960s. In this issue, Sabrina, Jughead, Archie and Reggie solve this problem, without Sabrina revealing her powers. Along the way, co-writers Mark Waid and Ian Flynn adopt some of previous writers Chip Zdarsky and Ryan North's Jughead gags, which they acknowledge in a North-like footnote joke, allowing artist Derek Charm to do a Francesco Francavilla-impression, as Jughead experiences an Afterlife With Archie-style daydream.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the issue, however, is that Reggie only agrees to help after Sabrina agrees to go on a date with him, and since Sabrina (well, this version of Sabrina) and Reggie don't have their own books, I don't think we'll ever actually get to see that, but that would be a fantastic story, particularly given how great Charm's versions of those characters are.

Lumberjanes #39 (Boom Studios) Well, I was wrong; the trickster that revealed itself at the cliffhanger ending of the previous issue was not Coyote, as I thought it might be, but instead some form of evil magic fox. It introduces itself to the 'janes here and reveals its plot, while simultaneously revealing the particulars of the conflict that are driving it to act in this way.

Co-writer Kat Leyh's cover is somewhat unusual for this title, in that it more closely reflects the specific contents of the issue than Lumberjanes covers usually do.

Saga #44 (Image Comics) Did you ever wonder what the progeny of a relationship between a centaur and a human being would look like? No? Well, in this issue of Saga, artist Fiona Staples provides a possible answer and yeesh, it is disturbing looking. The characters intimate that the hybrid is unnatural, and I suppose this family's make-up should echo that of the family that stars in the book, although it's worth noting that Hazel simply looks like a humanoid with the distinguishing features of her humanoid parents, while this weirdo centaur looks...weird.

It's one of the several striking images in this very issue--dig that train!--that demonstrates Saga's continual ability to surprise and impress with its visuals alone.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #27 (DC) It occurred to me that this may very well be the first issue of a comic book starring Plastic Man that DC has published in...well, I forget how long. There was that Injustice annual, and the two-issue Plastic Man and The Freedom Fighters miniseries that was part of the Convergence, however long ago that was...?

These tend to be a lot of fun, but it sometimes weirds me out a little to think that issues of a Scooby-Doo comic are the best or only places one can find DC comics starring characters like Plas, Martian Manhunter, Captain Marvel and Hawkman. For the most part, those characters are MIA even from the sorts of team titles that used to be their homes as supporting characters.

Plas is an interesting case because while it sort of confounds me that there isn't a place for him in the current DC line--there's a panel on the bottom of page 14, I think it was, where he punches out four crooks with a single blow of his stretching arm that reminded me that he's an all-around fun character to draw, with a stripped-down design that makes him easier to draw than other stretchy heroes like Ms. Marvel or Mister Fantastic--I'm also often relieved. Given the changes DC often makes to their non-Batman characters, particularly since their last reboot, I'm kind of glad Plas has been spared from any of the sorts of rejiggerings that, well, any of those other characters I mentioned in the previous paragraph have had to go through (Yes, I did see that one panel in that one comic book).

For this adventure, regular Scooby-Doo Team-Up writer Sholly Fisch (who might secretly have the best and most fun gig at DC right now, as he apparently can use any character he wants, so long as Scooby-Doo and the gang are in there too), hews pretty close to Golden Age Plastic Man. Plas works for the FBI under Chief Banner. His hapless best friend Woozy Winks wants to help, but usually just gets in the way. The villain is even one from the 1940s, The Granite Lady.

When Woozy is cursed by an irate fortune teller, Plas calls in Mystery Inc to discredit her ASAP so he can quit dealing with Woozy's fear of a curse and get back to working the Granite Lady case. It is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch (hee hee!) to have the ghost-breakers involved, as it's only tangentially related to their usual work, but I guess it gets then in the comic, and that's the main thing.

Regular artist Dario Brizuela similarly hews close to the original designs of all the characters (although his Banner looked a bit off to me), even using several familiar poses and shapes from Jack Cole's hey-day on Golden Age Plas in the story.

As issues of Scooby-Doo Team-Up go, this isn't one of the better ones, but as Plastic Man comics go, well, it's not like there's any competition at the moment!

Suicide Squad #20 (DC) I sat out the previous story arc, because it was being drawn by Tony Daniel, and I do not really care for Tony Daniel's artwork, like, at all--although, to be fair, it has shown a marked degree of improvement since I first started seeing and hating it (circa Batman and, especially, Battle For The Cowl). I was therefore a little hesitant about picking up this issue, for fear of not knowing what was going on.

It turns out that my fear was unfounded, because nothing's going on in this issue! Writer Rob Williams has Amanda Waller walk around the prison, talk to some members of the Squad and narrate about what it takes to be a good Suicide Squad leader, as apparently Rick Flag is dead. This would probably be a good time to bring in Bronze Tiger, right? No; Waller's just going to promote one of the characters already on the team, and you can guess which one based on the cover. Er, covers.

Stjepan Sejic somehow found time to draw this issue, in addition to the oversized Aquaman #25, so it is obviously very pretty, and perhaps worth picking up if only to look at Sejic's art, and see his versions of the various characters, all of which look great, if maybe too pretty. Like, his Captain Boomerang, for example, is really good-looking.

Wonder Woman #25 (DC) Well, Liam Sharp sure draws a fine Justice League. His Batman in particular is excellent; I hope all of DC's editors hit that panel on page seven and sat up straight, making mental notes to keep Sharp in mind for some future collaboration with Scott Snyder on a Batman book, and/or any big Justice League or event comics in the future.

This is, as you've likely already heard, the final issue of writer Greg Rucka's brief return to the Wonder Woman character, and he's taking current artist Liam Sharp and Bilquis Evely with him when he goes, plunging the title into a series of temporary fill-in arcs that may be good and may not be, but will certainly have a lot of talented people involved in their crafting.

I know 25-issues doesn't exactly seem brief, but when one considers the bi-weekly publishing schedule, it's only been about a year, and when one further considers that Rucka has only really crafted a single story broken into a few movements, well, this reminds me a little of Brian Meltzer's run on Justice League of America--a big origin story/status quo re-set, followed by an undeserved mic drop.

Don't get me wrong, the comic has been fine, but I don't know that Rucka really said or did anything with Wonder Woman, aside from moving the character further away from what his predecessors Brian Azzarello and The Finches (and, to a certain extent, Geoff Johns) had done with her, and closer to what he was doing when he was last writing her. This wan't a real run on Wonder Woman so much as one more alternate take on what an auteur of sorts thinks the character's origin, role and supporting cast should be like, and thus is little different in terms of stature or importance than Azzarello's New 52 run, or Renae De Liz's Legend of Wonder Woman, or Grant Morrison and company's Wonder Woman: Earth One.

Again, a pretty good comic book, but not as good or as important or as relevant as so many people seem to have thought it was, or as I would have liked it to be.

I'm going to keep reading, because while the next two arcs don't sound all that amazing, I like the character and am curious to see what writers like Shea Fontana and James Robinson will do with her. But I am admittedly much more interested in seeing what Evely and Sharp draw next than I am with Wonder Woman's next adventure.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A particularly rambling and discursive "review" of Batman: Zero Hour

I found this to be a curious collection. On the one hand, DC has been rather focused on going back and collecting or recollecting comics from the 1990s, and the issues between these pages--all of the then extant Batman line's tie-ins to 1994 event series Zero Hour and all the #0 issues that were released the following month--are a near-perfect sampling of the line as it existed at the time. On the other hand, because the focus of Zero Hour was in-story continuity maintenance, with a new, surprise villain destroying all of the universe in order to remake it, the side effects which included time anomalies before the #0 issues offered then-current, canonical origin stories of all the characters, these issues are no longer "relevant" in terms of their original, intended function.

Reading it cover to cover then was, for me, a weird mixture of nostalgia and regret, as DC has changed so much of what is in here in the years since. The Batman origins, of which there are three direct ones and a fourth, more thematic one, still work okay today, as DC and New 52 Batman writer Scott Snyder didn't mess much with his basic story, but the Catwoman and, especially, the Robin origins have been wiped-out and overwritten, replaced by...well, by nothing good (I still wonder about the whys of the New 52 reboot, and it seems like the point of collapsing DC's generations of heroes into a single "now" was simply all about making heroes like Batman, Superman and the others seem younger, something of rather dubious value; this collection ends with a pair of ten-year timelines, which would put Batman at maybe his early thirties...did someone with some power in corporate and/or editorial really think that was too old for the publisher's gray, gray readership to relate to?).

Also of interest was the fact that their was no introduction or preface explaining what the hell Zero Hour was*. All you get is a paragraph on the back cover:
Time is collapsing in on itself. The villainous Extant has ushered in a series of black holes that are swallowing the universe--past, present and future! The Bat-family, like everyone else in the DC Universe, has seen time loops affect their lives. The result? The return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, teenage Dick Grayson as Robin, and Bruce Wayne's parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. Then, after the crisis in time has been averted, new details about the origins of Batman, Robin and Catwoman are revealed.
I guess "time is going crazy, yo" is all you really need to know to make sense of the first half of the collection, but I think some context would have helped, particularly to explain what the #0 issues have to do with the anomaly issues. (DC has collected Zero Hour into a trade of its own, by the way, although looking at Amazon, it doesn't look like Zero Hour: Crisis In Time has been republished since that possible? Well, the series was "controversial" among some for its treatment of Hal Jordan and the Justice Society of America and, I don't know, however many Hank Hall fans there still were in the wild back then, maybe, but I liked it a lot, and Geoff Johns gradually un-did everything everyone hated about it over the years in the pages of Green Lantern and JSA.)

This trade is almost 300 pages, and collects 11 issues, so it completely dwarfs Zero Hour, which is only 160 pages and collects the five-issue miniseries, plus two prelude-like shorts from the pages of Showcase '94. Though it represents six different ongoing monthlies, the Batman line at the time was still relatively tidy compared to what it is today; counting all the satellite books, I think we're at around a dozen titles, depending on which you want to consider Batman books and which you don't, in June of 2017.** Back then, Nightwing and Birds of Prey had yet to launch as ongoing monthlies.

In the "anomaly" half of the trade, there's an issue each of Batman, Detective, Batman: Shadow of The Bat, Robin and Catwoman, each by the current creative teams of the time, which means a lot of very familiar names among the writers, and a lot of great artists. For the most part, Zero Hour provided a pretty perfect springboard for tie-ins, as it was a crossover event that presented a world-wide crisis that would find the heroes wherever the heroes were, rather than necessitating them all actively participating in a plot-line of some sort (that active participation was done in the Zero Hour miniseries proper). So the writers and editors were basically free to play with the idea of "time is screwed up," and think of the best way to use that premise to tell interesting Batman stories.

In Batman, Dough Moench, Mike Manley and Josef Rubinstein had an alternate timeline occasionally over-writing the current one, so that a Batgirl Barbara Gordon appears, and Batman and Robin Tim Drake find themselves dealing with a different Joker who killed Commissioner Gordon instead of paralyzing Barbara during The Killing Joke, a Commissioner Harvey Dent and a very confused Barbara (this Batgirl seems to be a different one that the one that appears as a major player in Zero Hour; Batman's Batgirl is apparently from an alternate timeline, while Zero Hour's Batgirl is this timeline's Batgirl from before she retired). The issue ends with Batman heading to Metropolis to meet with Superman so they can begin to figure out how to fight this new crisis, and I believe it leads directly into the fairly awesome Superman: The Man of Steel #37, which technically came out of the Superman office, but was a pretty dynamite Batman comic book, as it involved Superman being barraged with different Batmen.
Just look at all those Batmen!
In Detective, Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan and Bob McLeod send Batman back to the night of his parents' murder, only to find that this time Bruce Wayne was shot to death in front of them, and, knowing the name of the murderer, Batman runs around pre-Batman Gotham City looking for Joe Chill to avenge his own death and/or that of his parents, only to find that apparently it wasn't Joe Chill after least, not in this timeline (There's some discussion of a point of interest that Batman fans like to talk about, whether it matters if Batman ever catches the guy who shot his parents or not; here the answer is no, and it will be reflected in the "new" origins in the #0 issue portion of the books).

Man, I forgot how great Nolan's art was, and every time I see his pencils from this era I'm surprised anew regarding how clean his lines were and how elegant his figure work is. It really stands out next to the work of Manley and Bret Blevins, too, whose styles are somewhat similar, particularly in the way they draw their Batmen.
In Batman: Shadow of The Bat, Alan Grant and the aforementioned Blevins saddle Batman and Robin with an alternate version of Alfred, the overweight, bumbling, comical version who wanted to be a detective and fight crime alongside his Dynamic Duo. This issue had one of the better Zero Hour related covers, by regular Shadow cover artist Brian Stelfreeze, and it was rather well-suited to what was going on in Gotham City at the time, as the regular timeline's Alfred Pennyworth tendered his resignation towards the end of "KnightQuest," leaving Batman and Tim Drake to figure out how to feed themselves and do their own laundry.

In Robin, Dixon, Tom Grummett and Ray Kryssing team Tim up with a young, time-lost Dick Grayson, previously seen prowling around the rooftops of Batman, where Manley drew him in a charmingly Sheldon Moldoff-esque design. The Boys Wonder crack a case involving a jewel thief, but the main pleasure here is seeing the two together, allowing us to compare and contrast them (post-Flashpoint, Tim was unfortunately given a more Grayson-like background; I liked the fact that, back then, the two Robins had very, very different specialties, even though they were both competent at all-around vigilante crime-fighting and side-kicking). Well, that and seeing Grummett draw the classic Robin costume, which dammit, is a pretty great design, pants or no. This issue, like the one of Catwoman that follows, ends with the panels and art on the comic book being un-drawn as everything fades to white; this happened in many of the Zero Hour tie-ins. As Extant and Parallax un-made the DC Universe, the comic book stories were apparently fading away right before our very eyes!

Finally, in Catwoman, Jo Duffy, Jim Balent and Bob Smith have Selina Kyle waking up to find a Gotham City gone mad. There's a saber tooth tiger in her bed, and a hunky "caveman," who looks more like Ka-Zar than a primitive human ancestor, in her living room. They run around the city, which is full of dinosaurs and randomly transforming vehicles and buildings until the issue disappears at the end. This isn't Balent at his best quite yet, but he's good, and, as I know I've mentioned before, it's easy to forget that the guy could draw pretty good superhero comics, given the peculiarities of the creator-owned project he's devoted his career to since.

At this point, I guess one would need to go read Zero Hour or, at least know that Superman, Damage, Green Arrow Oliver Queen and a handful of other superheroes defeated Parallax and re-created the Big Bang, essentially restarting the universe, with a few tweaks in coninuity...for the purposes of the Batman family of books, these were all pretty minor, and seemed more organizational than anything else. Batman, by the way, did not make it to the climax of Zero Hour, having been eaten by a white blackhole of nothingness while fighting dinosaurs or something in Gotham.

In Batman #0, Moench, Manley and Rubinstein tell Batman's basic origin story and abbreviated history, right up until a few months prior to the book was published, actually. In the present, they have Batman tracking down a series of killings that are a little too close to the one that took his parents for comfort, allowing for the flashbacks, each of which is colored in semi-black and white as if to evoke "Batman: Year One." The book ends, as a few of these would, with Batman thinking portentously about perhaps not being Batman anymore: "Can he really do what he must... ...and walk away from it all?"

These issues are all leading up to the next chapter of the Batman saga, which was "Prodigal," during which Dick Grayson temporarily assumed the role of Batman while Bruce Wayne went off on a mysterious "Sumatran Rat" adventure.

Shadow of the Bat #0 covered much the same ground as Batman, with Alan Grant and Bret Blevins also retelling Batman's origin, hitting a lot of the same notes. In the present, he is trying to capture a pair of thieves who are both pretty great fighters, during which time he scares a gang of young punks into hiding; knowing his reputation, they debate about what to do if they have Batman's attention, unaware of the fact that rather than  laying siege to them he's blocks away on more important business.

The flashback sequences may cover much of the same ground, but there is a slight difference in focus, I guess, playing up Batman's fighting skills and use of fear as a psychological weapon.

 In another teaser to "Prodigal," the penultimate page has Bruce Wayne considering the fact that there are things that being Batman has prevented him from doing, but he knows the city needs a Batman. The last page features someone suiting up as Batman, but the language is intentionally vague: "A hand reaches for the costume," and like that.

Nolan's Batman
For Detective Comics #0, the cover of which was repurposed for that of the trade, Dixon, Nolan and Scott Hanna use the same basic formula of the previous two zero issues, showing Batman on a current case--here, a kidnapping which involves him fighting his way through a building full of bad guys--while flashing back to elements of his origin. In this case, they focus the origin on specific elements, however, so it's much different than those previous entries. Specifically, they tell of how Bruce Wayne and Alfred discovered and created the Batcave, and some of the vehicles and weapons that filled it.

There wasn't a Legends of The Dark Knight Zero Hour tie-in (that is, an anomaly issue), but the title, like all of the DCU titles, participated in "Zero Month." This is a jam-issue of sorts, and a pretty great done-in-one, evergreen Batman story. If I can make sense of the credits correctly, editor Archie Goodwin scripted the framing sequence, in which a cartoonishly evil publishing magnate assembles a room full of writers and storytellers in his cartoonishly evil mansion to try to understand just who or what the Batman really is.
How evil is this guy? Look, he has a koala bear's head mounted on his wall. A koala bear!
And an actual room full of comic book writers and cartoonists offer various, one-page visions of Batman, including Gerard Jones, James Robinson, Steven Grant, Scott Hampton, Jeph Loeb, Mike Baron, J.M. DeMatteis, Ted McKeever, John Wagner and Roy Burdine. The all-star roster of artists that illustrate these passages are Karl Kesel, Tony Salmons, Mike Zeck, Hampton, Tim Sale, Mark Badger, Brian Murray, Steve Mitchell, John Watkiss, McKeever, Carlos Ezquerra, Frank Gomez and Phil Winslade.

The artist who contributes the most, however, is Vince Giarrano, whose work I like quite a bit. I know I've mentioned him on the blog, before, but if you're unfamiliar, Giarrano worked in a highly-exaggerated, almost Kelley Jones-like style that I like to think of as "sarcastic '90s," with huge, overly-muscled, heroic figures with lots of unnecessary lines, lots of points and melodramatic poses that, like the work of Jones, can teeter between operatic and ridiculous.
He draws the "devil bat" conception of Batman (above), which is paired with Kesel's more classic, heroic-looking "Dark Knight" conception, and the framing sequences. So it is Giarrano, of all people, who gets to draw the "real" Batman, despite the presence of so many artists with much more realistic styles.

Here then, is what Batman "really" looks like:

This issue, by the way, features a cover by some kid named Joe Quesada.

For Robin #0, the regular creative team has Robin and Nightwing hanging out on a rooftop, waiting for a group of thieves to finish blow-torching their way through a safe in order to bust them. While killing time, Tim asks Dick about how he became Robin, and they essentially swap stories about their origins--and that of the late Jason Todd. They both know the broad strokes--Dick was even a key player in Tim's origin story--but not the details, as at this point in Bat-history Dick was more-or-less estranged from Batman, and had been spending most of his time with the Titans. This was between "KnightsEnd," in which Dick joined Bruce, Tim and even Catwoman in retaking the mantle of the bat from Jean-Paul Valley, and the aforementioned "Prodigal," when Dick Grayson was returning to the Batman Family fold, eventually getting his own, ongoing book for the first time.

Almost none of this issue is relevant anymore--I guess Dick's origin and Jason's origin still "happened," although they were dressed dumber in the new version and they weren't Robin longer than a year or so, and Tim's origin was completely erased and replaced. It was a nice jumping-on point in 1994 though, providing a brief history of Robin--or Robins--and setting up the Dick/Tim partnership that would be the focus of "Prodigal"...which this issue actually ends with a direct prelude to, with Dick suiting up as Batman to temporarily replace Bruce (for the first time; he would, of course, also do so when Bruce Wayne was temporarily dead-ish around the time of Final Crisis).

Because the previous issue was the end of Jo Duffy's short-ish 14-issue run on Catwoman, regular pencil artist Balent and inker Bob Smith are joined by Doug Moench for Catwoman #0, after which point Dixon would inherit writing duties for a while. Moench, as was typical then, works a theme throughout the issue, comparing Selina to a cat in various ways throughout this story of her troubled childhood, some relatively subtle, some as subtle as a frying pan over the head.

We learn that her mother died when she was young (after pushing her to devote herself to gymnastics), her father drank himself to death shortly after and she ended up in a typically Gotham corrupt orphanage for troubled young girls, where she taught herself rooftop climbing, thievery and overall sneakiness.

There are a few scenes that seem to reference her role in "Batman: Year One," although rather than being an actual prostitute, Moench implies that it was just another form of thievery, wherein johns would hire her as prostitute and she would just mug them immediately, because they were bad guys anyway. Inspired by Batman's costume, she put on her gray, "Year One" costume and becomes a more spectacular cat burglar (That is one of my favorite Catwoman costumes from the comics, by the way). Most of the attention is paid to her childhood in the orphanage, though.

I'm not sure how much of this is relevant anymore though; both Jeph Loeb's Year One-era stories and Batman Eternal gave Catwoman biological fathers who were actually crime kingpins (but different ones at that), and while that doesn't necessarily negate this origin, I've seen just enough of the post-Flashpoint Catwoman to know her childhood was different there than it is here (Fun fact: This run lasted 96 issues, counting #0 and #1,000,000; the 2000 series lasted 82 issues; the New 52 series only lasted 53 issues). I suppose I should really set about tracking down various Catwoman origin stories that I've never read at some point, to try to make sense of the different takes on the character...that, or I guess I could just wait for Tim Hanley's next book.

It ends with the two timelines I mentioned, although I'm not sure where they originally appeared. The first is titled "Batman Timeline," and it spans ten years. The first three years all produced comic book stories with those names--"Year One," "Year Two" and "Year Three"--and while it's a pretty compressed timeline, it seems to hold up okay (Dick was only Robin for three years according to this timeline, which doesn't seem too terribly long, really; Barbara retired from being Batgirl after just three years, two of which were after Dick took on his Nightwing persona). "Year 10" was a very busy one, staring with "Jean Paul Valley becomes Azrael," which means the miniseries Batman: Sword of Azrael, and contains "Knightfall," "KnightQest," "KnightsEnd," "Prodigal," "Troika," "Contagion" and "Legacy."

That's followed immediately by a "Batman Villains Timeline" which starts in 1921 with the creation of Arkham Asylum, and then runs through the same ten-year timeline, ending with the events of "Cataclysm" in "Year 10."

I'm kind of curious what "year" it would be right now had DC not done the 2011 reboot, if we factored in "No Man's Land" and Damian's three years as Robin and so on...I think we would be in Year 15 or Year 16 now, although that seems mostly a matter of the ten-year-old Damian celebrating his 13th birthday in DC Universe: Rebirth. If Talia met Bruce in Year Three, and they had a ten-year-old son by the time "Batman and Son" rolled around, then that would have been Year 13, and then it's been another three years since then. Again, if Flashpoint and the New 52-boot never happened. Now it's Year Eight, and all of the events of the decade represented on these timelines supposedly happened in drastically different form during Years One through Five.


While reading this, I began wondering if DC would bother collecting any other tie-ins from the Zero Hour event, and I consulted Wikipedia to see just how many of the damn things there were. (It's a lot!)

A Superman: Zero Hour would certainly be the next easiest trade to assemble, as there were then six titles in that particular franchise: Superman, Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel, Superboy and Steel.

A Justice League: Zero Hour title would also be relatively easy, as there were then three League titles: Justice League America, Justice League International and Justice League Task Force. I guess they could fill that out with...well, hell, I guess here it gets tricky, huh? They could use solo titles featuring characters from those line-ups, like The Flash, The Ray, Wonder Woman and Guy Gardner: Warrior.

I'm actually a little surprised to see that there were three Legion of Super-Heroes-related titles going into the event, so maybe they could do a Justice League/Legion of Super-Heroes: Zero Hour collection, and include the relevant issues of Legion of Super-Heroes, Legionnaires and LEGION '94...?

Or, given that none of those Leagues are really remembered at this point, and have been rebooted away anyway, maybe a theoretical Justice League: Zero Hour trade would include the big, non-Superman, non-Batman DC superheroes that we tend to think of as Justice Leaguers, whether or not they were on a League roster in 1994 or not: Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Hawkman and...Oh, that's all of the solo titles featuring long-time Leaguers. Unless you put Guy Gardner: Warrior in this theoretical collection...?

Looking at the complete list, its interesting to see the participating titles that have long since disappeared (Damage, Anima, Valor, Team Titans, et cetera), and the handful of books that launched following the conclusion of Zero Hour during "Zero Month" (Fate, Manhunter, Primal Force), only one of which really caught on (Starman).

J'onn! Gypsy! The Ray! Triumph! L-Ron-in-Despero's body!
Aside from the Batman books, the #0 issues I remember reading and really liking were Justice League Task Force, when writers Mark Waid and Christopher Priest refocused the title from a book featuring rotating creators and squad of superheroes into a regular book with a regular line-up, premised on the Martian Manhunter training a motley crew of new superheroes (of one kind or another). The Sal Velluto art helped differentiate it from a lot of the super-comics DC was publishing at the time, which suffered from artists trying and often failing to ape that hot new Image Comics style that the kids liked so much at the time.

I also really dug the post-Zero Hour line-up of New Titans; while all of those individual comics weren't great, I loved that particular line-up, and the way it allowed many of the original New Teen Titans line-up to have their endings while carrying on with a rather weird line-up of young heroes from throughout the DC Universe at the time. Sadly, it didn't last too long (18 issues; which I would totally buy a collection of, as I still don't have all of the individual issues from this run).

Arsenal! Changeling! (A) Terra! Damage! Impulse! Green Lantern Kyle Rayner! Mirage! And, not pictured here as they hadn't yet joined the team, Darkstar Donna Troy, Supergirl and Minion!

*Which is weird, I think. I guess they wanted to keep costs down, but would spending a single page on an introduction instead of a house ad really have broken the bank? They didn't have to get a Batman line editor from back in the day or Zero Hour writer Dan Jurgens or Doug Moench or someone to write it. Maybe DC has an intern who they could have assigned it to? Hell, I woulda written it for ten bucks and a free copy of the trade. Oh, you know what? If you need more context on Zero Hour, this is a pretty fun way to learn more about it!

**Batman, Detective Comics, All-Star Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, Batwoman and Batman Beyond, sure; what about the Gotham-set Gotham Academy, and does Trinity or Red Hood and The Outlaws or Super Sons count? How about Harley Quinn...?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: June 22nd

All-Star Batman #11 (DC Comics) Alfred Pennyworth hang glides to the rescue of Master Bruce in this week's issue, so you're probably going to want to pick this one up.

Archie #21 (Archie Comics) Mark Waid has been writing comic books for a really long time now, so it really shouldn't come as a surprise at this point, but jeez, he's really good at it. This particular issue of Archie was one that really impressed--or re-impressed, I suppose I should say--just how good Waid is at it.

This issue is the second part of the "Over The Edge" story arc, one that is meant to be notable enough that it has the title on the cover and everything. There were some parts about the initial chapter that I found wanting, mostly because of how artificial they seemed, but the ending involved a horrible three-way car crash that sent vehicles over a cliff, and the marketing promised that the lives of one of the characters would be changed forever as a result.

So one way of looking at the storyline? Genuine tragedy interrupting the regular dramedy of Archie.

Waid structures this issue to reinforce that, setting up a series of vignettes featuring supporting characters getting up to what might seem like typical shenanigans, only to have each of these four scenes interrupted when the character receives a phone call that makes them drop everything. So, for example, Jughead is trying to work off his debt with Pop as a waiter, Dilton has Moose helping him test a new invention and so on. The place they are all rushing off to is, of course, the hospital, where one of their three friends involved in the accident is pretty badly, flat-lining hurt.

It's a very effective strategy, and Waid's current artistic collaborator on the book, Pete Woods, sells both the "regular" teen comedy of the opening scenes and the dramatic reveals of who's okay and who's hurt and the high emotions extremely well. It's really hard to get too worried about any 75+-year-old comic book character that a publisher has such a multi-media investment in, but Waid and Woods sure do their damnedest.

Batman #25 (DC) This follows right on the heels of a pretty big moment in Bat-history--even if that history was just rebooted six years ago--in which Batman got down on one bat head-shaped knee pad and proposed to Catwoman. Batman narrates, and, as is revealed on the very last page, he's actually telling the story of "The War of Jokes and Riddles" to Catwoman while the pair are lying in bed, apparently because the events of said war are meant to reveal something about him that no one else knows.

But the bulk of this over-sized, $3.99 issue takes place during an ill-defined past; Batman says he was coming off his first year, so this is either near the end of his post-Flashpoint "Year One" or the beginning of his "Year Two" (No Robins are present, which is curious, given that he had four of them in just the first five years of his seven or eight year long career).

As the title of the story, and the cover and all of the marketing has made clear, this is about a struggle between The Riddler and The Joker. I believe I've mentioned previously that such a match-up doesn't really seem "fair" to me,  as The Joker is in a completely different class of Batman villains than the  Riddler. The Joker is in the uppermost echelon, and is a big enough deal that he occasionally fights other superheroes (although, now that I stop and think about it, aside from that bit at the beginning of "Endgame," I'm not sure we've seen the post-Flashpoint Joker cross paths with Superman or any other super-people who operate on the other side of the Gotham city limits). The Riddler, at best, is a second-tier Bat-villain.

That said, in the last five or six years or so, Scott Snyder has gone to some lengths to try and rehabilitate The Riddler into a genuine threat, even using him as the villain of his epic "Zero Year," but then, he's also made The Joker a bigger, scarier threat--in large part by simply using him somewhat sparingly, and somehow convincing everyone else at DC to use him sparingly (Meanwhile, The Scarecrow, Bane, The Penguin and especially Ra's al Ghul seemingly show up somewhere at least once a month).

Writer Tom King does a somewhat convincing job of making the pair seem like they might actually be in conflict...and that The Riddler might actually survive it for a little while. He has The Riddler approach The Joker and try to draw a parallel between himself and the Clown Prince of Crime, noting that both The Joker's raison d'etre and his own are somewhat soured by Batman's continued existence, as Batman is the constant, disappointing answer to his riddles just as he is the unsatisfactory punchline to The Joker's jokes (The Joker, in this iteration, has lost his ability to laugh, and seemingly even smile; Riddler diagnoses this as his need to kill Batman, which doesn't feel right to me personally, but could be in keeping with Grant Morrison's version of the character, who assumes a new identity and motif of sorts with every crime spree, something Snyder has carried on).

The Joker decline the proposed alliance, despite Riddler's seemingly correct prediction that if they don't ally themselves with one another they will go to war, by shooting The Riddler in the gut.

The part that felt most off to me, however, was when The Riddler escaped police custody, presumably for the first time since the end of "Zero Year" (I guess he wasn't sentenced to Arkham Asylum immediately?). He does something much more Joker-y or Mr. Zsasz-esque than anything I've ever seen The Riddler attempt, and it felt really wrong and off...especially given the way he manages to escape the SWAT team waiting outside for him with rifles pointed at him in a more traditional, Riddler-y way.

Luckily, this story has been assigned to Mikel Janin, the better of the King's two frequent artistic collaborators on the book (by a long shot). I'm not a big fan of his work, and seeing him get to draw pretty much Batman's entire Rogues Gallery doesn't thrill me in the same way that the prospect of another artist drawing this story or one like it might* (that was among the most fun parts of The Long Halloween and Hush, for example), but despite the rocky start, this is an interesting enough story that I want to see it play out, even if it's more in a I-want-to-know-what-happens way than an I-can't-wait-to-see-what-this-looks-like kind of way.

DC Comics Bombshells #29 (DC) When Lois Lane first lays eyes on Supergirl, Supergirl is surrounded by stars. Lois' first words to her are "Oh, um, wow," and she continues to stumble over her words as the two of them lock eyes. When the time comes for three fliers and three non-powered human beings to escape Hugo Strange's Soviet lab, every super-person grabs a normal human being, and it is Lois that ends up in Supergirl's strong arms, gazing up at her.

This being Bombshells, where a good 50-75% of all of the characters are lesbians, I think it's a pretty safe bet that writer Marguerite Bennett and whichever of the two artists drew this section of the book were definitely implying that Lois is head-over-heels for  Supergirl, and the feeling is more than likely mutual.

That strikes me as so damn weird given that Supergirl is--in the "real" DCU and most other iterations--Superman's cousin. I know that's not the case here, because Bombshell Superman is introduced like two pages later, and he is apparently some kind of clone of Supergirl (just as Power Girl is, only in his case I believe he's meant to be a human with Kryptonian genes infused with his own), and while it's easy to see how Bennett would arrive at Lois, who has a multidimensional thing for Superman, liking Supergirl in this continuitiverse where pretty much everyone is a lesbian, it still feels a little weird to me on, like, an emotional level, knowing that Supergirl is her husband's teenage cousin on so many other of the infinite Earths.

While a lot of times Bombshells reads and feels like Internet fan-fiction in comic book format--that "ships fighing Nazis" premise is actually one of the book's many selling points--I think this budding relationship is the one that reads and feels like that the hardest.

What else happened? Oh, a super-catfight between Supergirl and Power Girl (the former of whom is rather scantily clad) and the intro of Bombshell Superman, here romantically paired with Power Girl, and his sweet, old time-y strongman handlebar mustache.

There has been precious little attention paid to the male Bombshells in this series, which is fair, given that Superman and Batman dominate all the other Elseworlds-esque comics DC publishes, but it's fun to see such big star characters appearing in a superhero narrative to basically just play supporting roles (as Aquaman did many issues ago).

I'm going to be slightly disappointed if Bennett never gets a chance to introduce Bombshells Batman. Ideally she would get to pair him romantically with Superman, but, like I said, it seems that Superman is already spoken for. Unless Bombshells Superman is bi, maybe...?

Lobo/The Road Runner Special #1 (DC) There's a purity to the wordless Road Runner cartoons that make its stars perhaps the perfect ones to participate in superhero crossovers like this. Wile E. Coyote is about as pure evil as any supervillain, perhaps more so, as he's defined solely by his overwhelming and ultimately unachievable goal, without so much as the ability to speak to try and generate any sort of rationale or audience sympathy with. He's also all about weapons and elaborate traps. The Road Runner, meanwhile, is an unbeatable superhero: He's one of the few Looney Tune characters with a super-power, and in addition to his tremendous speed, he's an escape artist with the ability to always outsmart his foes in a way that would make even Batman jealous.

I feel like DC could pretty easily have all of their characters crossover with the Road Runner and/or Wile E. Coyote (And I suppose now is as good a point as any to note that Grant Morrison and Chaz Truog already introduced Wile E. Coyote to the DC Universe, sort of , way back in in the pages of 1988's Animal Man #5).

There is a lot going on in this one, written by Bill Morrison and drawn by Kelley Jones, even before the DC Universe guest-star gets introduced. Our tale starts in 1949, the year that the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote were originally introduced in their very first cartoon short, when the top secret Acem lab is infusing animals with alien DNA recovered at Roswell (this, then, is an origin for the Looney Tunes characters in general; we can see several animal/human hybrids growing in tanks, one of which has the general shape and coloration of Sylvester). Jones draws this lab in his usual insanely detailed but incredibly fanciful way.

The hybrid animal people all eventually escape, and the entire Road Runner/Wile E. Coyotoe  history seems to play out in a montage showing the coyote's failures to catch the bird between 1955 and 2009.

The coyote eventually learns to speak from another mutant, a very muscular version of Sam The Sheepdog, who calls him "Ralph," because he looks so much like someone he used to work with (That would be Ralph Wolf, Wile E. Coyote's doppelganger from a handful of shorts). So this version of Wile E. is both mute, as he is in Road Runner cartoons, and can talk, as he can in Bugs Bunny cartoons. From there he takes one of the labs experimental rockets to space and hires Lobo to catch the Road Runner for him. (Pretty much any villain would work, but bounty hunter Lobo's a good one because his regeneration powers allows him to suffer spectacularly grievous harm but recover in time to make another attempt upon the Road Runner's next pass).

While Lobo is playing the role of the coyote, the actual coyote  finds himself in the custody of some familiar space cops, including the one perhaps best suited to being drawn by a monster expert like Jones (well, among this Corps; Jones would crush the Sinestro Corps book, wouldn't he?). Eventually, things go pretty much back to normal...with one change.**

Jones is at once perfectly suited to all three of these main characters and a stylist who seems completely wrong for the Looney Tunes characters; in other words, he's an inspired, maybe even perfect choice. While reading, I kept racking my brain for an example of Jones drawing Lobo, as it just seemed like, statistically, he must have drawn him at some point, but not that I recall reading. Given Jones' ability with exaggerated musculature, excess in general and love of drawing skulls though, he's an ideal Lobo artist, particularly this version of Lobo, which is the '90s Lobo...basically a dark cartoon version of a super-comics character.

Jones, somewhat amazingly, makes both the Road Runner and the Coyote look like his but also look like themselves.

At the end of the story, Lobo says he's off to Vegas, and that's where the back-up--"But Wait, There's More!" drawn and written by Bill Morrison--picks up. It finds Lobo, now resembling the version of himself seen in Superman: The Animated Series, just leaving Vegas when Bugs Bunny shows up in a three-piece suit (well, the top two pieces anyway) claiming to be from Warner Bros.' legal department. Lobo is contractually obligated to appear in eight more pages, and so he continues to try and capture the Road Runner, while Bugs periodically appears to enforce the "rules" of Road Runner cartoons.

Unable to swear or smoke his cigar because "this part of the book is all-ages, Doc!", Lobo points out the absurdity of, well, this entire publishing endeavor, really: "Why in the #%@!! are these pages any different from the rest of the book?"

This is probably the best of the DC/Looney Tunes books so far; if DC does any more of these, Morrison and/or Jones should definitely be involved.

Lumberjanes: Faire and Square #1 (Boom Studios) This is one of those many Lumberjanes one-shots that seem to appear without fanfare on a regular basis. I actually didn't even realize that this was a one-shot special until I got home and started reading it; when my local comic shop shop-keep handed it to me, I just assumed it was the next issue of the ongoing series. It's not! It's a 40-page, $7.99 ($7.99! Jesus!) one-shot featuring a 32-page story written by YA prose author Holly Black and drawn by Marina Julia and an eight-page back-up by Gabby Rivera and Gaby Epstein.

I liked the first story quite a bit. Molly has found a Robin Hood book in the woods and is reading it on a rainy day when the girls discover there is a name written in the book and a flier for a Renaissance Faire in the woods nearby (hence the name of this story). Considering it "practically a quest," they convince Jen to accompany them to try to find the Faire and return the book to the young woman they suspect may have lost it. They have fun at the faire, make friends with the girl and also encounter a pterodactyl.

Black packs in a lot of fun little moments--this was my favorite Lumberjanes story in quite some time, maybe since the Gotham Academy crossover--and Julia's art is among the best to ever depict these characters. It's much more realistic in style than is often the case with Lumberjanes, but still far, far away from what one usually might consider "realistic" comics art. There's definitely a very strong manga influence in the character designs and depictions, if not the storytelling.

Unfortunately, Julia draws fairly terrible Pterosaurs.

The back-up involves the other 'janes trying to cheer up an uncharacteristically blue Ripley by acting out telenovella plots with her. It's decent, if somewhat far removed from the typical Lumberjanes story, as it doesn't have all that much to do with camp and/or high weirdness in the wilderness, but Epstein's highly cartoonish art if fun, and it is in sharp contrast with Julia's artwork.

Nightwing #23 (DC) The title character and his girlfriend, ex-supervillain-turned-social worker Shawn, have a disagreement over Dick's failure to show up for a job interview because he--not unreasonably!--prioritized trying to keep alien laser guns and killer robots out of the hands of local youth gangs. Writer Tim Seeley is portraying their disagreements okay, and he has Shawn starting to articulate why she cares if Dick has a job or not--something about giving him an additional reason to stick around town instead of just moving on as he has so often in the past--but, at its core, this still seems like a flawed plot point for this particular superhero instead of, I don't know, Peter Parker or someone. Dick Grayson is, after all, one of the heirs to the Wayne billions, so it's not like he has to work and, even if he did decide to get a job, why would it be something like loading and unloading crates from boats? That's not really the sort of gig most billionaire heirs gravitate towards, nor is it the sort of job that would allow him to stay close to the action, like Clark Kent's gig as a reporter, or Barry Allen's job as a police scientist and so on.

Similarly, just before they have their conversation, Shawn is shown arguing over the phone with her boss at the Haven Community Center about having spent some discretionary funds on a video game system, which she wanted to help keep troubled youth off the street. Surely her boyfriend's insanely rich adoptive father could give her community center a couple hundred bucks for some video game systems to keep troubled youth off the street; that's pretty much the Wayne Foundation's whole deal, isn't it...?

Like I said, Seeley does a fairly convincing job with this stuff, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around Dick Grayson, and those in his orbit, having anything at all resembling money problems.

That's the out-of-costume stuff. The in-costume stuff deals with the new Blockbuster's brewing rivalry with Tiger Shark, which climaxes when Nightwing stumbles into what appears to be a supervillain auction of some kind. There's a two-page spread full of villains, only a handful of whom I recognize--Magog, Shado, maybe Count Vertigo?--although that could be because many of them are new characters, like this Jersey Devil-esque Skyhoook character is...

(Edit: ..not! Skyhook is not new; read the comments for more!)

Minkyu Jung does a pretty strong job on art, although I think the out-of-costume sequences are stronger than the in-costume ones.

Superman #25 (DC) So this is an anniversary issue--an "extra-sized anniversary issue!" according to the cover--which actually is kind of a big deal, concluding the overarching storyline that this volume of Superman has been telling since its launch, and seemingly presenting a pretty big turning point for Superman and family. The mystery of Hamilton County, previously revealed int he last few issues, has been solved, meaning all that remains is winning the fight against the villain, and Clark, Lois and Jon prepare to leave town. Where will they move to? Metropolis is probably a pretty safe bet.

Superman and his allies--Batman, Robin, Frankenstein and The Bride--battle "Superboy Black," Manchester Black and the Super Elite. It can't possibly be a spoiler to tell you which side wins the day, and Manchester Black suffers a humiliating defeat that was unusual and amusing enough that it didn't even occur to me until the next day that some Marvel villains suffered almost the exact same fate in a classic Silver Age confrontation.

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have done a pretty fine job on this 25-issue run, despite the peculiarities they had to deal with, like Superman's continuity shift and soft-reboot during "Superman Reborn," and I hope they continue writing--and, in Gleason's case, often penciling--this title for at least another 25 issues.

Wonder Woman/Tasmanian Devil Special  #1 (DC) Of the four DC/Looney Tunes crossover specials I've read so far, this one is by far the worst, but I'm unsure of just how much blame should be laid at writer Tony Bedard's feet, since I'm unsure of how exactly this books came about and how the various pairings were assigned. These two characters, for example, just plain don't really work together in any particularly natural or compelling way, and, if there is an inventive way to play them off of one another, well, Bedard didn't come up with it in time to craft this script.

As Jim Lee's cover makes clear, this version of Taz isn't the "real" Looney Tunes character, as the Marvin The Martian and Bug Bunny of last week's crossover specials were. This is some big, scary, "realistic" version of the cartoon creature, drawn so titanic is size that he dwarfs no only cartoon Taz, but the six-foot Amazon heroine as well. He's a full head taller she is at the shoulder, but he's really massive; that's in a stooped, gorilla-like posture in which he is moving around on his knuckles. He still has a voracious appetite. He's still an extremely tough customer. And he still has the peculiar method of attack by which he turns himself into a tornado of sorts.

And that's about where the similarity ends. This gigantic Taz is, for the purposes of this story, a "greater guardian" for The Labyrinth, a gigantic, world-spanning, magical maze full of various monsters that the Amazons run around in for fun. The tale begins with Wonder Woman recalling when she first met Taz in her youth, journeying through the labyrinth to Tasmania, where she escaped him in rather Bugs Bunny-like fashion: Promising him a better meal than herself, playing him to sleep with music and then clipping off one of his "horns" of hair as proof that she survived an encounter with him.

In the present, Circe and an army of generic monster men attack Themyscira, and she turns the Amazons to stone with a special medallion. The maguffin needed to save them is held by The Minotaur, another greater guardian, and since only guardians can find one another, Wonder Woman enlists Taz's help.

And...that's it.

Instead of gibberish, Bedard has his Taz speaking in pictograms that appear in his dialogue bubbles, which Diana's ability to speak to animals apparently helps her understand. At one point, she lets him grasp the lasso so that he can speak English to her. Midway through the story, he puts on armor for some reason.

While there's not much to the story--and don't bother trying to match it up with current Wonder Woman continuity--Kitson's art is nice. I don't really care for his radical, random-feeling Taz redesign, but he draws Wonder Woman and all the Amazons really quite well. I don't know if he's just been getting better and better, or if he's working in a different style here, but this was the best work of Kitson's I can recall seeing, and I liked it a lot more than all the other Kitson-drawn comics I've read over the years.

The Looney Tunes-style back-up, which, like that in Lobo/Roadrunner continues the main story, features the aftermath of Taz's feast. As he's digesting, Wonder Woman plays the harp for him again, and it turns into the story of the Trojan War, as told by the pair, with various Looney Tunes characters standing in for the ancient Greek characters. This allows artist Ben Caldwell to draw not only the two title characters, but also Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn, Bugs Bunny and so on.

*Of those who have drawn Batman in the recent-ish past? Jeez,  I don't know. Maybe John Romita Jr or Guillem March or Ian Bertam or Riley Rossmo? 

**Wile E. Coyote is really more of an orange than a green though, isn't he?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Marvel's September previews reviewed

The theme for Marvel's September variant covers is "Venom-ized" villains, which is exactly what it sounds like. That image there is the X-Men: Gold cover featureing a Venom-ized Omega Red by Clayton Crain, and seems fairly typical of these, featuring a villain associated with the title possessed by the Venom symbiote.

Looking through this months solicitations (as you can do here), it seems that Marvel has rather drastically reduced the number of some of their titles--one Black Panther title instead of two, for example--but their line still seems crazy big to me, just in terms of how long it takes to scroll through the solicits.

It's also super-apparent that Thor: Ragnarok is on the horizon, based on all the Thor and/or Hulk trades solicited here.

Anyway, here's what jumped out at me for good or ill this time around...

Cover by ALEX ROSS
SECRET EMPIRE AFTERMATH! Not every Avenger came out of the Secret Empire’s regime the same as going in. One of Earth’s Mightiest, in particular, will either step up to lead the team — or retire altogether!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Is that Sam Wilson, encircling his former teammates either in a group hug, or something more menacing? If so, what's he wearing? Based on the Generations solicit featuring him and Steve Rogers, I'm assuming he will still be a Captain America at the end of Secret Empire...

Skeletor tries some Scarlet Spider cosplay, hates the way it makes him look. (Okay, that's actually the cover for one of September's issue of Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider, which demonstrates that Marvel is still publishing a boatload of Spider-comics, even if
Spider-Woman and Silk are no longer among the published. I guess Spider-Gwen is the last book about a woman with spider powers that Marvel is publishing.)

REDEMPTION COMES CLOSE… As Black Bolt turns the tables on the evil Jailer! But what about his fellow prisoners? Given a choice, will the Midnight King choose the company of thieves? And what hope do they have against a creature who knows their deepest secrets?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I've no interest in this book at all, but I have to admit: That is a hell of a cute cover.

Ms. Marvel’s falling out with her idol Carol Danvers, a.k.a. the Mighty Captain Marvel, just took a BIZARRE turn! Kamala suddenly finds herself as an intern at Woman Magazine – Carol’s former place of employment! Between cozying up to her boss, filing back issues, and her usual super-heroing, how will Kamala find time to figure out what got her here in the first place?
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T+ …$4.99

Not sure why this is titled as it is, rather than Ms. Marvel & Ms. Marvel, as Carol is totally in her Ms. Marvel costume there. But I'm glad she's in that costume, rather than the black bathing suit costume, as that means we're somewhere around, what, the late seventies? Maybe early eighties? Based on the solicitation copy alone, I have to assume that this comic is going to be The Devil Wears Prada, but with multiple Ms. Marvels. That sounds fun.

Variant Cover by JOHN CASSADAY
Variant Cover by PAOLO RIVERA
They were part of the Greatest Generation! And now Sam Wilson finds himself alongside them yet again in a strange yet familiar setting — fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Captain America and Bucky against a seemingly unstoppable threat to the safety of the world!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T+ …$4.99

Whew! I'm glad Marvel's still letting Nick Spencer write Captain America comics after Secret Empire ends. Nick Spencer is really good at writing Captain America least the ones starring Sam Wilson (I haven't read any of his Steve Rogers comics yet).

Variant Cover by ALEX ROSS
EVERYTHING STARTS HERE! It begins at the dawn of the human race, and ends with a child’s prayer! In between, empires fall, mysteries brew, secrets are revealed, quests are undertaken and legends are forged! All leading up to the dramatic return you’ve been waiting for — and one you’ve been dreading!
Jason Aaron (MIGHTY THOR) and Esad Ribic (SECRET WARS) usher in a new dawn — one whose rays will touch every corner of the Marvel Universe in the days to come!
MARVEL LEGACY: It’s everything you’ve been longing for — and more!
64 PGS./ON-SHOT/Rated T+ …$5.99

It's always fun to see Ross drawing modern comics characters, and by modern I mean "any costume designed after the Silver Age that he himself didn't design," as it can often look...uncomfortable. He's been drawing a lot of the Avengers and company for Marvel, so most of these characters actually look pretty natural...with the exception of Gamora there, who I assume is only on this cover at all because they keep making Guardians of the Galaxy movies...?

CULLEN BUNN(W) • Andrea Brocccardo (A)
Cover by R.B. SILVA
THE LEAD UP TO LEGACY STARTS HERE! KEI KAWADE thinks he knows what his powers can do, but honestly? He has NO idea.
Join the House of Ideas for the next chapter in this monster epic as KID KAIJU explores the very depths of his own abilities!
Featuring Kid Kaiju, ELSA BLOODSTONE, their merry band of monsters and some surprising GUEST STARS!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

It is both a tragedy and a travesty that the above cover has nothing to do with the interiors, but is simply a "VENOMIZED" variant. I mean, how great would a story in which the Venom symbioite possessed Fin Fang Foom have been?!

GET READY TO RUN! The “IT” book of the early 2000s with the original cast is back – Nico! Karolina! Molly! Chase! Old Lace! And, could it be? GERT?! The heart of the Runaways died years ago, but you won’t believe how she returns!
Superstar author Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park, Carry On) makes her Marvel debut with fan-favorite artist Kris Anka (ALL-NEW X-MEN, CAPTAIN MARVEL) in the series that will shock you and break your heart!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I've never personally read any of Rowell's prose work, but I know she's popular enough that she's a real "get," particularly for this book, the traditional target audience of which overlaps with that of her novels. I'm pretty excited about the return of Runaways, and I'm curious about a couple of aspects, like how they will explain away the apparently missing members of the line-up (Victor, Xavin and Klara), and Nico's whole deal, as she's been away from the others in a few other rather unlikely books since the last time Runaways was canceled.

ELLIOT KALAN (W) • Todd Nauck (A)
When the villainous ARCADE decides to build a second, even deadlier Murderworld in Madripoor, he kidnaps Spider-Man and forces him to be the park’s first guest! Deadpool, meanwhile, has a bone to pick with Arcade… Namely that his terrifying theme parks are besmirching murder and its good name!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I like Arcade.

Squirrel Girl, Nancy and Tippy are trapped in the Savage Land! Good thing there’re only regular dinosaurs there and not, for example, a giant metal killer-dinosaur version of Ultron instead!! Sorry, I’m just getting word that there is, in fact, a giant metal killer-dinosaur version of Ultron here, and Squirrel Girl needs to stop him before he takes over the world — a task that has regularly bested many other super heroes, including the Avengers themselves! But don’t worry, because SQUIRREL GIRL IS NOT ALONE: She’s got Nancy (a regular human with no powers) and Tippy (a regular squirrel with no powers) on her side to help her out against the rage of Ultron! And it’s not just any Ultron, but a new and improved Ultron with an extremely dangerous (and, we must admit, extremely awesome) Tyrannosaurus rex bod! Oh, also Kraven the Hunter is in this issue too, so if you love dinosaurs, robots AND men in lion vests, boy howdy have we got a comic book for you!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

There are few things I like better than Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics, and one of those things is dinosaurs. So this should be good!

Here's hoping this turns into a stealth crossover between North's USG and his Dinosaur Comics...

THE VENOM EPIC OF THE FALL STARTS HERE! During a routine battle with the villainous Jack O’Lantern, Venom finds himself transported to a far-off world and learns a terrible truth – a deadly new species called the Poisons has emerged from the vastness of space, and to make matters worse, they’re hunting Venoms! Trapped on the planet’s surface with a ragtag band of Venomized heroes, Eddie has no choice but to mount a counteroffensive and hope to find a way home!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

"The Venom Epic of the Fall"...? Does that mean this year will have multiple Venom epics, with other Venom epics falling during other seasons? Will there be more than one Venom epic this fall, and Venomverse is the bigger, better or most important of the two...? So confusing...!

That said, I would just like to reiterate that this is a really good idea.

The Poisons’ relentless campaign against the Venoms continues, and Spider-Man is among the first to fall! VENOM VS. POISON SPIDER-MAN: NO HOLDS BARRED! Meanwhile, Deadpool’s cooked up an idea of how to stop the Poisons, but it ain’t exactly sane!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Hey, that "Poison Spider-Man" looks a lot like Anti-Venom, doesn't he...?

Giovanni Valletta (A)
NOW YOU SEE BEAST…HENRY McCOY is known for a lot of things–his persona as the X-Men BEAST, his massive intellect…and now a penchant for MAGIC. But where did Hank learn this new-found skill? And will his teammates still want him around once the secret is out in the open?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Douglas Franchin (A)
…NOW YOU DON’T! While HANK continues to struggle with his newfound magical skill, JIMMY HUDSON struggles with a challenge all his own… Will Jimmy be able to regain his memory with the help of his new friends? And will he like what he finds if he does?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Arthur Adams draws good. I can't match that cover up with the contents of either of those solicits, though.

Also, Jimmy Hudson is Wolverine II from the Ultimate Universe, right? So even though "The" Wolverine Logan has been "dead" for a while now, and Laura Kinney is the new Wolverine, there's now an old man version of Logan and a young man version of Logan kicking around the Marvel Universe, and the main way in which they are distinguishable from the late Logan is that their hair is differently colored? Okay.