Saturday, August 19, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: August 16th

Batman #29 (DC Comics) The generally well-written and well-drawn "War of Jokes and Riddles" continues, just as it continues to frustrate and irritate me with Tom King's insistence on using the multi-part story arc (this is the fourth issue, fifth is you count the "interlude") to tell us about the war between The Joker and The Riddler over and over without ever really showing us said war. The only character whose head we ever get inside is that of Batman and, to a lesser degree, perhaps The Riddler.

This issue is structured as an elaborate French dinner, hosted by Bruce Wayne at Wayne Manor and prepared and served by Alfred. On either side of the table sits The Joker and The Riddler. Wayne's stated is plan is to bring them together to negotiate a way of ending the war, promising one billion dollars to whichever of the two he decides to team with, telling them the funds should be sufficient to buy out their soldiers and help them capture and kill The Batman, which both have stated as their end goal in the war.

Like a lot of what King does, the formal structure of the script is interesting and ratehr clever, and artist Mikel Janin is perhaps the best of King's Batman collaborators.

Here are my complaints for this issue:

1.) Both The Joker and The Riddler bring not one, not two but three body guards. They are mostly terribly chosen. Behind The Joker is Mister Freeze, giant freeze ray rifle in hand, The Ventriloquist (the original) and The Penguin. Behind The Riddler is Killer Croc, Two-Face (still not sure why he's working with, let alone for, either guy) and Poison Ivy. Should a fight break out--and there is a point where everyone points their guns at each other--it's pretty clear that Mister Freeze would just freeze all of Team Riddler. Poison Ivy points her hand in the opposing team's direction during a short Mexican stand-off moment, but since they are indoors, I'm not sure what she hoped to accomplish. Everyone else has guns. Oh, except Croc, who has nothing.

It might have made more sense to have them bring their monster guys--like, if The Riddler brought Croc and The Joker either Solomon Grundy or Man-Bat--or their guys with heavy artillery. Like, since The Joker brought Mister Freeze, The Riddler could have brought Firefly.

As is, Mister Freeze could pretty easily have at least temporarily taken out Wayne, Alfred, The Riddler and his bodyguards with the push of a trigger.

2.) I initially thought that using The Penguin and The Ventriloquist as mere "muscle" (both are mob leader type villains, and neither particularly great in a hand-to-hand fight) was a really weird move, but then I got to thinking that maybe it was just The Joker being a dick? Like, selecting the two fat guys on his team to stand behind him and just watch while he eats a a nine-course meal...?

3.) Batman seems a bit like a chump here, as he gets both The Riddler and The Joker (and a half-dozen other top-tier rogues) under his own roof, and is unable to incapacitate and capture them all. I thought planning was, like, Batman's whole deal? King is aware enough to, before this issue/chapter ends, indicate that both The Joker and Riddler took a bunch of hostages to ensure their safety from the police throughout the dinner meeting, but why didn't Batman arrange to have them rescued? Batman seems really bad at his job in this story arc.

4.) King's portrayal of The Riddler continues to just be The Joker, but with a different name and design. The Riddler talks about having to behead people, and his fantasy of murdering all of Batman's friends and allies before murdering Batman himself. This doesn't scan like any version of The Riddler I've ever encountered in any comic or cartoon or movie or whatever before.

5.) I am always unconvinced by The Joker's occasionally articulated desire to kill Batman.

6.) Why Batman is fighting this war more-or-less solo has been a bit of a mystery to me, as the hyper-compressed post-Flashpoint timeline, in which Batman had four Robins in five years, all but dictated he had to have a Robin at this point in his history (this is around the beginning of "Year Two"), but we haven't seen anyone yet. When The Riddler talks of killing Batman's loved ones though, there's a panel clearly showing Batgirl and two other figures, both male; one appears to be wearing a suit, the other some kind of super-hero get-up. The panel is purposely rendered so as to obscure who the figures are. I'm guessing the man in the suit is either Alfred or Commissioner Gordon, and the other figure is a Robin, either Dick or Jason. Which only begs the question: What are Robin and Batgirl doing at the moment? Why isn't one of them rescuing the hostages or, like, checking in with Batman in the midst of this terrible gang war?

Otherwise, it was fine, I suppose. The point of all of this, despite what Bruce Wayne told his guests, was for him to decide whose side Batman should take, as it is apparently beyond his ability to stop them all (Tell that to Knightfall-era Batman, I say!). I get the feeling he's going to side with The Joker, based on the two villains' pitches both in terms of how they would kill Batman and why they feel they should be the one to kill him rather than their rival.

At this point, Batman is not unlike Detective for me; I'm not really enjoying what I'm reading, I don't think it is anywhere as good as it should or could be, but dammit, I still can't wait to see what happens next.

Dark Nights: Metal #1 (DC) Writer Scott Snyder and pencil artist Greg Capullo produced what was pretty inarguable the best of the post-Flashpoint reboot "New 52" comic books in their Batman run. Not only did it sell like hotcakes, it was (far more importantly) really rather good creatively, and, more often than not, the pair was able to use reboot in ways that helped rather than hindered their storytelling; few and far between were the intrusions of continuity rejiggerings, as Snyder seemed to want to keep all of what preceded him, focusing instead on writing his stories between and around the preexisting ones. Additionally, and importantly, he and Capullo actually went about creating new characters and doing new and different things with the characters they had, rather than lazily rehashing the hits like too many of the other 51 books did at the outset.

Here, DC lets them lets them do for the rest of the DC Universe what they did for Batman.

A pretty epic-scaled "crisis"-level event comic, the awkwardly entitled Dark Nights: Metal begins as a sort of Justice League comic, with the Big Seven that Geoff Johns and Jim Lee introduced in their rebooted, New 52 Justice League in the middle of a clash with Mongul. It involves all kinds of craziness, like the power-drained Leaguers locked in gladiatorial combat against robot monsters specifically created to fight each one of them. And then they make a Voltron. I should note that this was the first time I've read a Justice League story that I was honestly, earnestly excited about.

Back on Earth, things get weird in the way that the two preludes--the also awkwardly entitled Dark Days: The Forge #1 and Dark Days: The Casting #1--were weird. A mysterious mountain (Challengers Mountain, actually) appearing in the middle of Gotham City, The Blackhawks (including a new/old Lady Blackhawk) bringing the League to Blackhawk Island (which here has dinosaurs) and the dramatic and kinda clever introduction of the concept of a "Dark Multiverse." There's also a second neat cameo by one of my favorite DC-owned superheroes who has been MIA throughout the whole of The New 52, and a last page appearance by a character who may actually be the last one that I would have expected to see show up (The character has appeared in a DCU super-comic story once before; seeing the character here did fill me with a degree of dread though, given what DC has done with the characters from Watchmen over the course of the last few fact, when Before Watchmen was first announced, I immediately began to wonder and worry if DC would similarly fuck around with this character in a similar manner.)

Continuity is a little insane here, and I honestly can't remember, for example, whether or not Red Tornado has appeared since Flashpoint (the Earth-O/DCU one, not the Earth-2 one) or Kendra Saunders (ditto), or which of the (three?) Doctor Fates this one is, and I have never been less sure of what the fuck Hawkman's whole deal is, despite the fact that he's pretty dang central to this storyline (the metal of the title is, as you would have sussed out immediately during the first of the two poorly-named preludes, the Nth Metal from Hawkman comics).

That said, continuity being a little insane here seems like a feature more than a bug, as is evidenced in a panel where Flash makes a remark about Aquaman's "old harpoon hand" and an asterisk leads to an editorial box reading "See the 90s", or on at least one of the pictures hanging on the walls of the base on Blackhawk Island: Starman Will Payton (Oh man, have there been any Starmen mentioned in any post-Flashpoint comics, aside from maybe that weird-ass Shade mini that had one foot on either side of Flashpoint...?)

The fact that things are getting cosmic, and at least one of the settings is on a place where time is literally out of whack, helps serve as an excuse, of course, but, more broadly, because Snyder is writing a story that isn't based on prior knowledge of a previous continuity means that continuity has been more-or-less negated here. The story doesn't oppose any of its elements, which is the occurrence that makes a reader think about continuity in the first place. As he did during his long, healthy run on Batman, Snyder isn't concerning himself with past stories in such a way that a reader would dwell on them.

As I may have mentioned before in discussing The Forge and The Casting, there's something very Grant Morrison about Snyder's approach here. Like Morrison, he is throwing big, crazy ideas onto the page and letting them happen in such a way that it's up to the reader to fill in certain blanks (the in media res Mongul adventure, for example), and, also like Morrison, he's doing a grand act of synthesis here, taking various elements of DC comics history and combining them in new ways, in some sort of attempt at a unified history of the DC Universe. (Morrison's DC super-comics are pretty directly referenced in at least two points too, as when Morrison's Multiversity map of the multiverse is pulled out and when Snyder uses a particular character in what is essentially a Justice League's the same one that Morrison used during his JLA run).

There's still plenty of time for this to go off the rails, and there's even a real danger of it given the 22 (!!!) comics yet to follow, only five of which are chapters of Dark Days: Metal, but as I said on Twitter earlier in the week, this is the most excited I've been about an in-continuity DCU comic since Morrison, Howard Porter, John Dell and company's JLA, maybe, and if Snyder and Capullo aren't named the next Justice League creative team then I don't know that there is any justice in this world.

Oh, and regarding that cover? I didn't understand the weird-ass arrangement of the characters, nor why Aquaman was missing but his trident was just kinda floating there horizontal to the remaining Leaguers, or what the shape at its tip, spanning the space between Green Lantern and Batman was supposed to be. Not until I held the comic in my hand, and realized Capullo had drawn the Justice League in the shape of someone throwing up devil's horns with their right hand. It's kind of idiotic, cool and hilarious at the same time, and if you add those three adjectives up, you get awesome.

It's a little awkward, really, as Hal isn't a "finger," and Flash and Cyborg aren't really posed as if they were, exactly, but given the existence of the classic "Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust" cover... well as various riffs upon it, well it works for this particular group of characters.

That cover is, of course, only one of, let's see...13 covers for the book, and some of those variants are quite cool, featuring as they do Justice Leaguers atop dinosaurs or, in one case, Simon fucking Bisley drawing the Trinity fighting a fucking dragon (Is there a better choice of artist for a comic book called Metal than Bisley?).
Don't get me wrong, Capullo's art is great, but there's just no out-metalling Simon Bisley.
Normally the prevalence of cool variant covers and a confusing presentation--this series has a seriously dumb title, and the 25-part total event sprawls in various and often many inconsequential directions--make for a good argument to just wait for the trade or trades. But Snyder, Capullo and company seem to have come up with the best way to battle the impulse to trade-wait: Simply making a super-comic so exciting one can't wait until the next issue, let alone six months for the trade collection.

DC Comics Bombshells #33 (DC) This is the final issue of Marguerite Bennett's surprisingly long run on a comic book series based on Ant Luca's superheroes-as-pin-ups statuette designs, which gradually became a sort of Elsweworlds story in which ships fought World War II. It also gradually became less and less focused on the reality of World War II, or even the pretense of it, but just sort of drifted off, so that the penultimate story arc dealt with a team of characters fighting robot animals in a fictional African country, and this final arc that was nominally about the Siege of Leningrad ultimately dealing with a milieu-smashing assortments of odds-and-ends.

Bennett ties up many of the plotlines she was juggling, at least those featuring the particular group of characters involved in this arc (as the series progressed and the cast expanded, Bennett took to featuring swathes of characters in each arc, rather than keeping up with what all of them were doing).

The issue is a little disappointing, in large part because of the fact that all of the characters seem to be summing up in every line of dialogue, as if they were all delivering closing remarks. It all feels very artificial, but not in the, say, self-aware of Bennett's Josie and The Pussycats.

Of the villains, one dies and two are captured, while one hero--well, she's more of an anti-hero--dies, so it's the good guys who win. It's only 1942, meaning we've still got another three years worth of world war. That may be why this isn't the end of Bombshells; it's just being replaced by the Bennett-written Bombshells United, which looks like it will be a bit more focused, with arcs featuring a single character as the star and, I think/hope, a single artist per arc.

It certainly sounds promising, especially since Bennett will be doing a Wonder Woman arc introducing two Wonder Girls, with Margeurite Sauvage providing the art, for her first United story. If they can indeed re-focus the story to feature more manageable casts per arc, fewer artists than the current three-per-issue and maybe hew a little closer to history, at least in terms of sequence (not in exact events, obviously), than the cancellation and relaunch could be a real improvement of an already pretty solid comic.

Nightwing #27 (DC) Nightwing and Huntress vs. Spyral, with all not being as it seems, which, given the nature of superhero spy agencies in super-comics, is kinda sorta exactly what one would expect. There's some slightly more interesting stuff going on back at Bludhaven while Dick and Helena are trying to sort out Spyral overseas, but the part of the issue that most fascinated me was that it appears that Spyral has a Manhawk, or something awfully similar, working for them now...?

Sheena: Queen of The Jungle #0 (Dynamite) My first thought when I saw this among the week's new books at the shop was, "Lemurs? This better be set in Madagascar, because there are no fucking lemurs in Africa!" My second thought was, "Woah, this is only 25-cents?!" Reader, I bought it.

I kind of love the Sheena character, or at least I love the (too) few Golden Age Sheena comics I've read; in a perfect world, whoever holds the license to her character should be cranking out trade paperbacks collecting her original adventures at least as fast as they try to tell new, contemporary stories featuring her. Additionally, it's kind of hard to hold the thought in one's mind in 2017, after she's been lost in a sea of her own jungle girl imitators, and she tends to be thought of as nothing more than a distaff Tarzan, but the Jerry Iger/Will Eisner creation was kind of a big deal, being the first female hero to earn her own solo comic book and scoring plenty of mass-media adaptations over the years.

As you may have noticed, I don't read a lot of Dynamite comics, despite having at least a passing interest in the many licensed characters they produce comic books around. Their $3.99 price point is a deterrent, and Ohio libraries don't seem overly keen on stocking Dynamite collections, based on the fact that I can never find any in the various catalogs. But at 25-cents, this is a perfect price point!

This 15-page ad-free story is co-written by the apparently extremely busy Marguerite Bennett and Christina Trujillo and drawn by Moritat, late of some of the better-drawn DC-published comics. He's an unexpected choice for a Sheena comic, but I like his art a lot, and was glad to see what his version of Sheen looks like, even if it's not idea.

He draws her as he does his typical beautiful woman. She has big-eyes and baby doll-like facial features on her round head, and her body is all lithe limbs attached to a curvy, voluptuous torso. She's toned, but not particularly ripped. I know a librarian with more defined arms than Sheena, and she doesn't spend her days climbing trees and swinging from vines. Still, Sheena's one of those characters that I would kinda like to see everyone draw their version of, eventually, and I would be much more likely to follow a Sheena drawn by Moritat than by some artist I wasn't familiar with.

There's not a whole lot to go on, in terms of story. This Sheena--there's a "Sheena Reboot by Steven E. DeSouza" and a "Sheena originally created by S.M. 'Jerry' Iger and Will Eisner" credit--makes her home in the Amazon (where there also aren't any lemurs, dammit). One day she sees some kinda weird "flying turtle" (a drone, I guess), and when she shoots it down, it lands in a forbidden temple. Sheena ultimately decides to risk the taboo of entering the temple herself in order to retrieve the drone, which might lead to more outsiders desecrating it. Inside, she faces a mess of traps, but comes out unscathed. She doesn't notice a different breed of drone, which reveals her presence to a noodle-slurping college kid and...that's the end.

Moritat's figures and backgrounds are as great as one would expect, but I was a little confused by some of the storytelling. The first panel on page six took some puzzling over, the last panel on page 11 has Sheena's knife hand disappearing under a mess of a bright, blue splotches that I never did figure out, and on the following page her knife disappears and reappears and changes hands through the remainder of the sequence.

Still, it's twenty-fives. You can't beat that price! That's only 1/4th as much as Marvel's True Believers (there was a well-timed reprinting of the original Captain America #1 this week I saw; you know, the one where Cap is socking Hitler on the jaw on the cover?). I probably won't read this monthly (although maybe if they supplemented each issue with a reprint of a classic Sheena strip...), but I may look for the trade in six months or so. And I will say a prayer that Dynamite sees fit to publish trade paperbacks of Sheena's original adventures, in something like the format of DC's Chronicles collections.

Superman #29 (DC) The regular writing team of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason (the latter of whom often also doubles as pencil artist) is still MIA, making this three issues in a row. That's somewhat surprising, given the fact that this particular story arc--which, with it's sudden jump from Hamilton County to Metropolis, feels like just as much of a fill-in as the previous two issues--so heavily involves the Geoff Johns-era Green Lantern lore, an are that Tomasi and Gleason spent so much time working in during their run on Green Lantern Corps.

More than a few wags on the Internet dismissively referred to the primal, god-like entities/mascots of the various sections of the emotional spectrum--You know, Parallax, Ion, The Butcher and so on--as Pokemon, so it's interesting to see that this issue opens with a little boy playing a generic, off-brand version of Pokemon Go and encountering a tiny Parallax, whom he mistakes for part of the game (As to how Parallax got on Earth, I confess complete ignorance to the state of the Green Lantern mythos after the series of reboots and relaunches following Flashpoint; I was pretty clear on all of it up until then, but just as Johns and company's Brightest Day was exploring the White Lantern, DC decided to reboot the rug out from under Johns, and the Lantern books have grown ironically more confusing, in large part because they ignored the reboot for a year or two before acknowledging it. I am, honestly, as lost when it comes to what's what with the Lanterns these days as I am with, say, The Legion of Superheroes, or the X-Men circa 1993).

Long-time DC writer and/or inker Keith Champagne, who also has some history with the Lanterns, is writing, while the pencil art is being handled by Doug Mahnke who is one of the two primary pencil artists of the series (As is so often the case, Mahnke is working with more than one inker; here, it's three, plus two colorists).

Champagne's plot has Superman desperately searching Metropolis for missing children, who go missing at a rate of about one per night. After a while, he tumbles upon who or what is taking them: The Parallax entity, who Mahnke draws in such elaborate detail on splash page I actually had to go back and check to make sure that Ethan Van Sciver weren't also drawing some of the book. Parallax wants Superman body--in a possessing kind of way, not a sexy way--and while even a fearful Superman is just too damn brave to be taken by the god/mascot of fear, he eventually surrenders himself to save the children.

On the last page, in a rather Johns-ian ending, the one character with perhaps the most experience with the yellow fear bug version of Parallax shows up to take it back. Hint: It's not Hal Jordan.

There's not a whole lot to the issue, but it's all rather well done, and I really like Mahnke's art. Of particular note here is how he and his collaborators work the word "Fear" into the artwork, sometimes in ways that are subtle, and sometimes in ways that are anything but (Like when a bolt of lightning in a stormy sky takes the shape of the word "Fear"). Also, Mahnke is one of the greatest when it comes to drawing the guy on the last page.


Hey, speaking of Parallaxes, isn't the original version from Zero Hour still loose in the DCU somewhere, thanks to the events of Convergence...? I remember reading him in a story featuring long-haired, green coat-wearing Hal Jordan in Green Lantern a while back, but that's the last I've seen or heard of him...

Wonder Woman #28 (DC) The pacing on writer Shea Fontana's five-issue Wonder Woman run feels a bit off. I guess it is a single five-part story arc after all, but the previous issue's second part really seemed like the conclusion. This issue, the third of Fontana's run, still bears the "Heart of the Amazon" story title on the cover, and the title page bills this is "Heart of the Amazon Part Three." Additionally, Fontana is joined by a new artist this issue, with David Messina taking over for Mirka Andolfo.

Commander Etta Candy, injured in a bomb at a family wedding in the first issue, has been released from the hospital into Diana's care, but that might not be the safest place in the world, as assassins are after Diana, intent on fulfilling a contract for delivery of her body (apparently the government doctor who was after her body last issue wasn't the only one). The cliffhanger ending has Wondy and Etta surrounded by five assassins, only two of whom I can positively identify (Cheshire in her classic garb, Plastique in her New 52: Futures End design, which had the unfortunate side effect of reminding me that Futures End existed).

The best part of the issue is maybe the revelation of Wonder Woman's last name.

It continues to be a pretty okay comic. Nothing great, but also nothing objectionable either.


Jose Gregorio Bencomo Gomez said...

Regarding that surprise character, his original creator himself approved his appearance in this story after reading the script, as per his traditional agreement with DC, so hopefully the story will not do anything too bad with him.

The Krottage said...

What is this "ships" term you keep using? It's the third week it's shown up in your pasts, and I think I'm just too old to be hip to the slang. Please expound.

Caleb said...

Jose Greogrio Bencomo Gomez,

That's good to hear. I can't imagine he pores over every script of every tie-in too closely, but even if he's just rubber-stamping, that makes it all a lot less icky than the Watchmen business.

"The Krottage",

Ha, yes it is a term the youths use. Short for realtionships (maybe I'm spelling it wrong, and it should be 'ships), it refers to a relationship between two fictional characters in a TV show or whatever, whether its canonical or something that fans wish was real (there's some tangential relationship to slash fan-fiction too, in some cases). On social media, it's usually accompanied by a cute name amalgamation too. For example, Betty and Jughead on Riverdale are "Bughead," while Waverly Earp and Nicole Haught on Wynona Earp are "Wayhaught" (to name the two I hear most about).

Bombshells is full of those sorts of pairings, which works because of the "Elseworlds" setting, so if you want Lois Lane and Supergirl to date, or Hawkgirl and Vixen, or whatever, it's do-able there. Bennett engages in a lot of that kind of thing there, like the long "shipped" in fans' heads Harley and Ivy having a canonical romantic relationship in Bombshells (although of late, they've also had a canonical romantic relationship in the DCU too).

Anyway, that is my 40-year-old man explanation; Urban Dictionary or somewhere probably has a better one. My nieces and/or my millennial friends who spend a lot of time on Tumblr could explain it way better.