Thursday, August 10, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: August 9th

Detective Comics #962 (DC Comics) This is the conclusion to the "Intelligence" story arc, the Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael-focused story that has felt really, really off to me, in large part because it is one of those very clear examples of the "worst of both worlds" aspects to DC's constant continuity reboots. You know, stories that are completely rooted in particular DC Comics stories from the past, while also being on the other side of a reboot meant to erase those very same stories in order to de-clutter continuity and let creators move forward and, one assumes, attract new readers. So there's a tangible tension between what those creators want and what the publishing strategy will allow.

And what James Tynion IV pretty obviously wants to write about more than anything else is the Batman comics of the early 1990s.

I hate to use the word "fan fiction" when describing comic book writing, particularly when it comes to these sorts of corporate super-comics, because it becomes a blurry, almost meaningless term (Like, of course writer James Tynion is a fan; why the hell would he be doing this if he weren't?). And anyone writing Batman today is going to be writing something somewhat fan fiction-like, as they didn't create Batman...or, in almost every case, none of the characters in the narrative).

That said, however, the fannishness of this arc is pretty overwhelming. It's climax involved a slow build to Jean-Paul Valley from the early '90s Batman comics suiting up in his old "Az-Bats" costume from the "KnightQuest" story arc for just one action scene; it is essentially a climax built to accommodate an homage (and one that lasts just long enough for Azarael to show off all of that costume's features). Meanwhile, the writer's shipping of Batman and Zatanna continues apace (granted, Tynion's not the only one to want to see a relationship between the two, nor the first writer of Detective Comics to incorporate it into his run), and there's even a panel where Batwoman declares her desire to be in a relationship with Zatanna, which is really just a jokey aside, followed by Cassandra Cain essentially saying "Same" (Actually, Cass' response to Batwoman saying "I want to marry her" is "Yes").

That, and throughout this entire arc I've been getting a really weird Neon Genesis Evangelion vibe--perhaps inevitable when encountering any sorts of fusion of science-fiction nonsense and crypto-Christian religious gibberish--and it gets even stronger when robot angel monster Ascalon does a cover version of the Human Instrumentality Project, and there's even a panel where he holds Zatanna's magical orb that visually echoes a frame from the conclusion of Evagelion the movie.

I'm...glad this arc is over. Maybe now Tynion and Detective can move on to telling fresh, new stories with these characters, rather than awkward hybrid homage stories. Let's see, according to the solicitations, the next issue features a Spoiler/Anarky story and then there's an arc called "A Lonely Place of Living"...


Gotham Academy: Second Semester #12 (DC) DC made some mistakes with this series that seem easy to armchair publisher in retrospect, but it was cool of them to keep publishing so long after it was clear that the market couldn't support the title and it was headed for cancellation. In fact, DC let it run a lot longer than I would have expected, as basically the entire last dozen issues were a sort of concluding final arc, and it's not hard to imagine writer Brenden Fletcher and his writing team of collaborators having had to condense it into, like, four-to-six issues instead.

Perhaps it will find an audience in trade format, in bookstores and libraries, and we'll see more of these characters and this particular corner of Gotham City in the future? If not, Fletcher, Becky Cloonan, Karl Kerschl and company introduced us to a bunch of interesting new characters (especially Maps, who I ship with Damian, and I've never shipped anyone with anyone before!), an interesting new setting and they gave new life to a bunch of pretty random villains from Batman '66.

There is more story left to tell, as I think that Headmaster Hammer's secret or past life was never thoroughly explored, but I would be shocked if we don't see at least some of these characters popping up in future Batman comics, and, perhaps, an official Gotham Academy miniseries in a few years time or so.

Justice League/Power Rangers #5 (DC) Okay, this has gotta be shipping late as hell, because I had honestly forgotten it was still going on. Like, when Kimberly showed up wearing a Hawkgirl mask? I originally thought she was Hawkgirl, because I had forgotten the Rangers lost their power coins and were using bits of costumes and weaponry from the Justice League junk drawer. So let's see...I reviewed the first issue in January, meaning this should have wrapped up in June. Instead, the fifth issues is shipping this month, and the sixth is slated for next month. Huh. I wonder what happened?

Well, it should go without saying that the series has lost its momentum, and even though there was never really much in the way of suspense conclusion--would Brainiac and Lord Zedd succeed in killing all our heroes and/or destroying their alternate Earths? Would Power Rangers and/or Justice League continuity be changed forever, in this a one-off, out-of-continuity, novelty storyline? At this point it is a simple matter of writer Tom Talyor and artist Stephen Byrne running down the clock.

Alpha 5, who turns out to still be alive after all, gets a lot of panel-time in this issue and lectures Brainiac on what true sentience is. I found myself a little disappointed that there is no Captain Marvel Shazam involvement in the crossover, as Byrne is coloring Alpha quite golden, so the robot's got a golden lightning bolt on his red chest, and he looks like some kind of Shazam-bot, like maybe The Wizard of The Rangers' Earth gave his powers to an annoying robot instead of an orphan...?

Alpha does do something unexpected involving powers and fighting on the last two pages, but, sadly, it is not saying "Shazam!", growing a cape and flying around punching monsters in the mouth with the strength of Hercules.

Maybe next time. If DC and Boom don't decide to go in this direction with a sequel, of course.

True Believers: Kirby 100th--Groot #1 (Marvel Entertainment) "True Believers" is what Marvel has been calling these $1.00 reprints of older comics they have been publishing for a while now, usually as something of a promotion to what they are doing in other media or what's going on in the Marvel Universe. This being Jack Kirby's centennial, and Jack Kirby having created or co-created the first 50 or so Marvel characters you might be able to name that aren't Spider-Man or Doctor Strange, they are apparently publishing a suite of a dozen such reprints devoted to his work (DC, meanwhile, is publishing over-sized specials featuring most if not all of the noteworthy characters Kirby contributed to their fictional universe, like this week's The Newsboy Legion and The Boy Commandos Special #1 by Howard Chaykin; I think I'm gonna trade-wait that event, and hope there is a trade).

In addition to comics, I'm fairly interested in monsters, and Kirby's monster comics for pre-Fantastic Four Marvel have always been a source of fascination for me, even though I am mainly familiar with them from their post-Kirby appearances in Marvel's superhero universe, which absorbed them. I would love a nice, cheap, easy entry point into those Stan Lee and Jack Kirby monster comics of yore, but Marvel has mostly collected them in expensive collections (a rare and welcome exception was the recent Monsters Unleashed Prelude trade paperback, which featured the first appearances of some dozen or so Kirby monsters, as well as more recent stories starring Elsa Bloodstone, Fin Fang Foom and Devil Dinosaur, presumably because all of those characters played roles in event series Monsters Unleashed).

So a $1.00, comic book-format reproduction of a pair of Kirby monster stories is pretty much exactly what I would want...especially since Marvel stopped publishing those phone book-like "Essential" collections. Hell, I'd buy something like this on an ongoing, monthly basis, but I understand there may not be enough of us in existence to make it worth Marvel's while to publish such a book.

So, this! It includes the cover story from Tales To Astonish #13, "I...Challenged Groot, The Monster from Planet X!", as well as that from Journey Into Mystery #62, "I Was a SLave of the Living Hulk!" Both of these characters, the latter of whom became Xemnu The Titan rather than The Hulk after Bruce Banner's gamma bomb mishap, are interesting to pair together, given that they are basically rough drafts for characters who would go on to great and rather surprising multi-media fame, after some considerable creative twists and turns (Kirby and Lee of course went on to reuse the "Hulk" name in another creation, whereas Groot's current take as a one sentence-spouting member of a spacefaring super-team including Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon is mainly the responsibility of Keith Giffen, Timothy Green and company thanks to their 2007 Annihilation Conquest--Starlord miniseries, although please correct me in the comments if I'm wrong; I only read parts of the various Annihilations).

I just read the Groot tale in the aforementioned Monsters Unleashed Prelude trade (review forthcoming someday soon...maybe...hopefully). It's actually pretty amusing how little the two Groots have in common, something I'm pretty sure I've seen explored in more recent Marvel space comics. This Groot is a typical (for these stories) alien conqueror with fantastic powers. Not only is he very loquacious--his "I am Groot!" is followed by "Monarch of Planet X! I come to take an Earth village--your village back to my planet! We want to study you, to experiment on you! Blah blah blah blah!"). He also "controls" all wood, which is a pretty lame power unless you are fighting Golden Age Green Lantern, but there are a couple of really fantastic scenes in here, like when he brings the trees to life, and they rush upon humans on outstretched root legs.

Xemnu, like Groot, is also a talkative giant space asshole. In his case, he escaped a prison planet and crashlanded on earth. Once awoken by a simple electrician--who somehow loaded the unconscious titanic creature onto his truck solo--Xemnu uses his powers of mass hypnosis to command the entire population of earth except the electrician to build a giant space rocket for him, one so big it will destroy the earth when it blasts off! The electrician pulls a fast one though, and saves the day. To think there was a time when we didn't need the Fantastic Four or the The Avengers to save the earth, electricians and effete biologists could save the world by themselves without a single super-power (Oh, if you haven't read it yet, I'm not trying to trash talk biologists; the man who kills Groot is Leslie Evans, and his wife Alice is always belittling him for not being as manly and rugged as guys like that wonderful George Carter).

Both monster designs are particularly cool, with Xemnu a bizarre fusion of masses of hair and randomly-placed circuitry. There are a few quick views of the prison planet he escaped from too, which further allowed Kirby to draw whatever crazy creatures were in his head that hour.

Filling up the back of the book are some of the variants from Marvel's recent "Kirby Monster" variant program: Groot by Mike and Laura Allred, Xemnu by Dan Brereton, Blip (I think) by Simon Bisley, Fin Fang Foom by Walter Simonson and Laura Martin and Orrgo by Mike del Mundo.

Not bad at all for a buck!

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