Saturday, August 05, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: August 2nd

Aho-Girl Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics) I admittedly bought this just because I had a little extra money to spend this week and I really liked the rendering, color and overall spare design of the cover. Maybe about half of the manga I try comes from me just liking the cover. The comic, by manga-ka "Hiroyuki," was not at all what I might have expected. The title means "A clueless girl," and that clueless girl is the Yoshiko, a pretty, cheerful high-schooler with next-to-nothing going on insider her head. She gets straight zeroes on all of her tests, even multiple choice ones, and she shows no intellectual curiosity or aptitude for anything, other than an intense interest in bananas, a desire to play constantly and to be with her neighbor and best friend Akkun, a super-serious student who has no time for anything other than studying.

Akkun is essentially her abusive older brother, trying and constantly failing to get her to study and to basically keep her alive, as she needs constant care, like a pet or toddler (You can't tell on the cover above, but on the back you see Akkun holding the string that will collapse the basket, a stack of textbooks next to him). It was pretty weird to hear Akkun and all of the other characters introduced throughout this volume refer to Yoshiko as an "idiot" constantly, and to see how often Akkun must result to hitting her to get his way, stop her from harassing someone or starting a riot in a movie theater. It is presented as humorously exaggerated, as sometimes he takes her out with a karate chop to the back of the neck or, in one instance, he actually suplexes her, but it took a little getting used to.

Though the book is divided into chapters, there's a much more rigid format, with each page containing a pair of four-panel vertical strips. I know there's a name for this style, but I've forgotten it; the best manga of this format I've read before was Azumanga Daioh. I feel weird recommending a book which feels so outdated in so many ways--Yoshiko seems like the basic "dumb blond" stereotype of the mid-to-late 20th century American pop culture--and has so much violence visited upon a female character by a male character, even if it is more of a Tom and Jerry kind of violence than anything meant to be taken seriously.

That said, the main character does become more and more developed as the stories pile up, and the steady expansion of the cast, almost all of whom have their own weird issues, even Akkun, and it takes some of the edge out of his treatment of Yoshiko. I don't know; I liked it. You might not. How's that for equivocal?

Batman #28 (DC Comics) After last issue's "interlude" detailing the origin of Kite-Man, writer Tom King and artist Mikel Janin return for the third part of "The War of Jokes and Riddles." A rather disturbing amount of the story is being told, rather than being shown; granted, the premise of the arc is that Bruce Wayne is telling Selina Kyle about this epic gang war between factions lead by The Joker and The Riddler during the second year of his eight-year-career as Batman (It being "Year Eight" is my best guess, anyway; if Damian was artificially hyper-aged to 10 during Year Five and celebrated his thirteenth birthday during DC Universe: Rebirth #1, anyway), but far too much is just being told to us through that conversation, and what one might assume would be the more interesting parts of the narrative either skipped over or quickly montage-ed through.

So, for example, we once again see the two "sides" in the war, on a pair of facing splash pages that depict Commissioner Gordon visiting both of the leaders at their headquarters, where they sit like kings, surrounded by a "court" of other prominent members of Batman's Rogue's Gallery, and the thing--okay, one of the things--that is bothering me is still not being addressed. How does one particular villain choose one side versus the other? (Presumably, they would all choose The Riddler over The Joker, so as not to be murdered by The Joker at the end of the war). The only characters King has actually shown being recruited, or picking a side, were The Penguin being threatened into joining The Joker, Poison Ivy being tricked into joining The Riddler and I guess, Kite-Man joining The Joker because The Riddler killed his son. There's a line in there about all of the city's villains being asked to pick a side and getting killed if they refused, but it's difficult to imagine, like, The Riddler actually threatening Mr. Zsasz, The Scarecrow or Two-Face, and not getting stabbed, gassed or shot by the time he finishes his sentence.

This issue's developments mainly consist of Gordon's meetings (both say they will stop the war if Gordon delivers Batman to them), Batman meeting Catwoman back then when she refused to join either side (she's shown wearing her purple, Jim Balent costume, which seems like a weird choice for the time period, but Batman continuity is all so scrambled now, who knows?), and "The Battle of The Snipers," when Deathstroke and Deadshot both went to assassinate Gordon, saw one another and then spent five days trying to kill one another.

As guns-for-hire, their presence in the war makes some amount of sense, as both would presumably work for either villain provided they are paid enough money (and neither would be particularly worried about getting a knife in the back). What doesn't make sense is Deadshot somehow surviving an encounter with Deathstroke. Deadshot's power? He never misses...except for the fact that he constantly misses. Deathstroke's? A healing factor, meta-human strength speed and endurance, and that's in addition to his mastery of swords and firearms, and being a master of elaborately baroque plotting and strategy...particularly as written by Christopher Priest of late. If they were just trading shots from rooftops for days, well, that's one thing, but the montage shows the pair repeatedly engaging in hand-to-hand combat, and there's no way Deadshot could last, like, a minute against Deathstroke at close quarters.

Oh, and then when Batman finally catches up with them, he takes them both out simultaneously in the space of a page. Batman takes Deathstroke out with just four blows, and the closest 'Stroke comes to landing a blove on Batman is a katana to the armored gauntlet.


Also, at this point, when the gang war is apparently so deadly that a Deathstroke/Deadshot fight resulted in 62 deaths worth of civilian collateral damage, when the federal government sends special forces troops into Gotham and they all get killed by the supervillains, it's getting harder and harder to rationalize why on Earth Superman and the Justice League aren't showing up. I mean, I know the reason--because this is a Batman comic, not a Justice League comic--but when things get, like, "No Man's Land" level bad, you kinda sorta have to at least start justifying this stuff.

Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 (DC) I was buying the DC/Looney Tunes specials off the rack, but this one was sold out by the time I got to my shop the week it was initially released. Turns out Batman comics are much more sought after than Martian Manhunter or Jonah Hex comics. Who knew? I didn't need to wait for the trade, though, as apparently enough shops sold out of this dang thing that DC went back and published a second-printing of it (Quick question: Why does that happen, if comic shops order comics directly from the publisher? Is it just a matter of the number of people buying the book off the rack greatly exceeding the demand that the direct market retailers as a whole had estimated their combined customer bases having when they placed their orders?).

Admittedly, when I first saw a preview of this issue by regular Batman writer Tom King and artist Lee Weeks, I thought the premise was kind of dumb, but now that it's been a while and the shock of it has worn off, I guess I've come to terms with it, as I liked this okay. That premise? Essentially Tom King casts both the human, Martian and the various funny animal Looney Tunes characters as realistic human beings who live in modern day Gotham City, all drinking at a bar called Porky's. Porky is a short, round, bald guy with an upturned nose and a stutter. There's another guy there that talks like Foghorn Leghorn, a guy with a red mustache and two handguns who talks like Yosemite Sam, a big, violent brawler who just screams gibberish, and so on.

Elmer Fudd is a hitman who wears a goofy-looking cartoon hunter hat, and he is in Porky's to get information out of Bugs "The Bunny," a thin guy with a rabbit-like face, buck teeth and a thing for carrots.

It's an odd way to incorporate the Looney Tunes characters into the Batman milieu, that's for sure, but I suppose it's interesting that each of the writers involved in one of these series has crossed their assigned sets of characters over in their own, distinct ways.

King writes this as something between hard-boiled crime fiction and film noir, with the reformed hitman Elmer Fudd narrating in his particular speech impediment. The title of the story, for example, is "Pway For Me." After learning that his ex-lover Silver St. Cloud was murdered, the butt of a carrot in a pool of blood at her apartment, Fudd comes for Bugs, who gives up the name of the man who hired him to kill Silver: Bruce Wayne. Fudd goes to Wayne Manor in the middle of a party, blasts Wayne in the chest with a shotgun and makes his escape...with Batman tailing him.

All is, obviously, not as it seems.

This was a weird one, and I initially found it awfully off-putting, but it was also kind of clever, and King made one of the least likely pairings in the suite of crossover specials a lot better than I would have imagined it. Weeks' art is incredible, and his realistic style is perfectly suited to King's take on the Looney Tunes-as-humans, in addition to drawing a perfect Batman, Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth.

The back-up, by King and artist Byron Vaughns, is a riff on the "Rabbit Season, Duck Season" cartoons featuring Bugs and Daffy Duck trying to convince a befuddled Elmer Fudd to shoot the other guy...only with Batman in for Daffy. It probably shouldn't work--who hunts bats? There's no such thing as "bat season"--but it does. And there's a neat Calendar Man cameo, with the villain wearing his classic costume, with the cape of dates (Batman springs him from Arkham to have him settle the argument of which season it really is). I kind of wish Vaughns was a little more creative with the ways in which a rifle blast to the head messes up Batman's cowl--think of how Daffy's detachable bill reacts differently to each blast--but otherwise it's pretty strong.

I'm curious to see how these sold, as it seems like DC has just scratched the surface of these weird-ass pairings...if nothing else, it's easy to imagine many, many, many more crossover comics in the style of the back-ups (UPDATE: How did they sell? Apparently not terribly well! On the other hand, they outsold a whole bunch of regular DC monthlies, and at $4.99 a pop, that's plenty of scratch in DC's coffers. Maybe if they do another round, they will focus on better-known, better-selling DC characters, as Batman and maybe Wonder Woman were the only "stars" on the DC side of things. Surely Superman, Flash, Harley Quinn and Justice League crossovers would sell better than Legion of Super-Heroes, Martian Manhunter, Jonah Hex and Lobo ones...?)

DC Comics Bombshells #32 (DC) Aside form a handful of pages at the beginning featuring Supergirl and Harley and Ivy engaging Faora, Hugo Strange and the various monster armies, the bulk of this issue is devoted to Raven reuniting with her biological father and having it out with him while she ponders her origins, and the importance of her actual family versus her found family.

Also, Harley and Ivy kiss on-panel, if that's what you're into, but Lois and Supergirl do not, which is good, because the romantic tension between the pair of them creeps me out a little, as I've mentioned before.

Oh, and Swamp Thing gets a panel, although part of me is disappointed that they didn't find some way to give us a "sexy," pin-up style Swamp Thing, as they've done with all of the female characters and the handful of male heroes who have appeared in the series and/or on Bombshells variants in the past.

Nightwing #26 (DC) The issues of Grayson that I read were all pretty decent, but I never really got into that book, as the premise never made any sense to me, and as solid as the writing and the art might be on issues of the series, the quality was never enough to sell me on the nonsensical premise (The writers seemed to following up on minor plot points from Batman Inc, but the events of Forever Evil were incorporated in a clumsy, even contradictory way.

So my heart sank a little when I saw this new arc was entitled "Spyral," the name of the SHIELD-like super-spy agency Dick Grayson worked for in Grayson, and I saw that it would be guest-starring Dick's former Spyral partner Helena Bertinelli, who, for convenience's sake, DC made into the new Huntress during their "Rebirth" initiative (If I've got it straight, there were at least two, possibly three women named Helena Bertinelli and two, possibly three, women who used the name "The Huntress" since Flashpoint, and one of those Huntress' was from a different dimension. This is one character who only got much, much more confusing during the supposedly simplifying reboot).

Writer Tim Seeley, now working with Javier Fernandez, reteams Grayson and Bertinelli to investigate the death of Dick's new friend Gizmo, and it seems as if Spyral is rather heavily involved. Luckily, the new characters are still involved with the book too, and the sub-plots that Grayson picked up in Bludhaven are still being advanced. So, at worst, this should be a bit like a Nightwing arc cut with a Grayson arc.

Oddly, the part of the book I dwelt on the longest was the second panel on page two, where two characters--and just two characters!--are shown carrying Gizmo's coffin, and they are both holding it at the front, with no one at the back. Are they super-strong? Is Gizmo and his coffin super-ligth? How are they balancing it? And why is Grimm, the talking gorilla, not helping carry the coffin?

Superman #28 (DC) The weird history lecture that co-writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason started delivering last issue continues into this issue. Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jonathan Kent are traveling the country in a mobile home, visiting sites of historical significance to the United States and lecturing readers on some pretty basic, very safe subject matter. This issue is mostly about how war is bad, as they discuss World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the Civil War while in Washington D.C. and Gettysburg.

There's nothing wrong with the sentiments expressed, of course, but they are presented in a very unimaginative way, the characters literally just reading historical placards out loud or telling Jonathan Wikipedia-able facts about the wars, and there's no real story being told. As a one-off issue, this would still be a weak one, but it would be a decent enough idea. But it's a two-part story, filling some 40 pages, and it just doesn't make a case for occupying all that space.

The art, by Scott Godlewski, is fine but unremarkable, and the fact that he's a fill-in artist only furthers the sense that these were skippable, unimportant issues. I"m not sure if he's to blame or if it was in the script, but the trip to D.C. opens with the Kent family leaving the Capitol Building, where there are two opposing groups of demonstrators.

According to the signage, one side is advocating for action on climate change (Signs read "-ate Change...a MORAL Issue" and "I Don't Want To Dr--", which, if the letters were all visible, would almost certainly read "Climate Change is a MORAL Issue" and "I Don't Want To Drown"), the other advocating...coal? (One sign clearly reads "Coal Built This Country," while one in the foreground says "AM-- WO-- FI--," which I'm guessing is "AMERICAN WORKERS FIRST.")

Of all the things that could be depicted as dividing people, and Clark and Lois make no comment on the issues, just that free speech is awesome, it's an odd choice, as it's not really an issue with two sides like, I don't know, guns or abortion, where one could legitimately think, "Okay, there are arguments to be made, and while I don't agree with those guys, at least I can see where their wrong points-of-view come from." It's just a kinda sorta argument about the need to do something about climate change and a bunch of coal fans; I know those subjects are framed in a way that makes it seem like coal jobs are disappearing because of environmental regulations meant to stop climate change, but the fact of the matter is that they're disappearing because coal is more expensive than natural gas. It's the market, not regulation, hurting the coal industry.

It would be nice if these creators could fix the framing in their fantasy comic that could have protesters taking up two sides of literally any crazy issue--they could be protesting about space alien immigration or imposing sanctions on Atlantis or whatever--instead of half-assing this. I don't mind politics being injected into superhero comics, which despite the hesitance of the corporations that own the IPs, have a hard time not being political a lot of the time, but I hate when the Big Two do this thing where they bring up a a real-world issue as a plot device--here, something for protesters and counter-protesters to disagree about just so that Clark and Lois can make anodyne observations--but not enough to engage with those issues in any meaningful way, or even clearly identify them.

But hey, that's just me. And other than Superman using his super-powers briefly at one point to drop a 150+-year-old skeleton swaddled in an American flag on a tourists doorstep, parsing that protest panel was probably the most interesting part of this issue.

1 comment:

Bram said...

(Quick question: Why does that happen, if comic shops order comics directly from the publisher? Is it just a matter of the number of people buying the book off the rack greatly exceeding the demand that the direct market retailers as a whole had estimated their combined customer bases having when they placed their orders?).

Yes, you're just about there — but comic shops can't order from the publisher, they have to order from Diamond. And publishers base the print runs that they deliver to Diamond's warehouses on orders placed 2–3 months before the issue hits the stands.

Imagine you run a comic shop, and your ability to pay your rent depends on selling this weird Looney Toons/DC crossover that the publisher will tell you nothing about and your customers haven't heard of. And so you order a pretty minimal quantity so you're not left having laid out money on something you can't get a return on and then it drops and — wow — it's getting good press and is actually (apparently, haven't read myself) a solid story.

Everyone's lucky that DC was in a position and inclined to make more avaialble.