Tuesday, December 05, 2017

On DC New Talent Showcase 2017 #1

Last year DC published DC New Talent Showcase #1, a $7.99, 72-page anthology comic featuring nine eight-page stories by writers from the publisher's new talent development program, each drawn by a more veteran artist who was involved in some aspect of the program. This year, they are publishing their second New Talent Showcase, and, rather than numbering this issue #2, they've added a date to the title, so that they can use the supposedly magical "#1" on the cover to increase the guaranteed-to-be-quite-low sales a little.

Seems appropriate. These new creators should know that superstitious numerology is more important to the Big Two comics publishers than basic math skills.

This installment differs from the first in a few key ways. Most immediately noticeable to me was that this time around the remit seemed to be on completely-complete stories that stand on their own and seem to more-or-less fit into a recognizable DC continuity (as fluid as their continuity has been of late). Last year's Showcase was weird in that almost every story seemed like an eight-page first issue of a miniseries or new run on a series, many featuring cliffhangers that would never be resolved. It made for a frustrating reading experience, and seemed a poor way to showcase the writers' skills. And hell, who wants to read the first eight pages of a 120-page story that will never actually get published, you know?

This time, the artists as well as the writer's are new to DC...or newer than many of those that participated in last year's Showcase, anyway.  Additionally, the stories are all longer--there are seven, 10-page stories--which likely went a long way toward making the individual stories more satisfying reads.

Finally, there's a "bonus" story (although since they charged us for it, it's not really a "bonus," but whatever) written by Scott Snyder.

Let's take a look, shall we? Oh, and please note that I linked to the newer creators' websites or Twitter feeds where I could find them, should you want to know more about who some of these people are. On the whole, from what I could tell by Googling, they seem to be mostly working professionals who have either worked in comics previously--just not all that much for DC--or, in the case of the writers, worked in other media.

The Red Hood and Duke in "Roll Call" by writer Tony Patrick, pencil artist Minkyu Jung and inker Klaus Janson

The first page of this story is a splash featuring a somewhat unfortunate image to kick the book off with. Pencil artist Minkyu Jung draws Batman's current apprentice Duke Thomas, who has yet to earn his upcoming codename "The Signal", launching a flying kick at Red Hood Jason Todd in what looks like a prison hallway. The anatomy on Duke looks pretty...off, and in more of a mistake-y way than a stylistic way.

Fortunately, that is probably the worst drawing in the story, which consists of the pair of Batman lieutenants sparring and comparing notes on their shared mission in Arkham Asylum...which, we learn on page five, is actually The Danger Room The Mud Room introduced in James Tynion's Detective Comics run.

After a few pages, all of the cells open up, and rather than fighting one another, the boys are fighting the likes of Bane, The Joker, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, giving Jung the opportunity to draw a pretty sizable swathe of Batman characters. There's also a surprise guest star.

Over all, Patrick does a good job on the characters' voices, and presents a pretty convincing take on their relationship, particularly considering how little Jason and Duke have actually interacted with one another up to this point in previous comics.

I suppose that's pretty good news, since Patrick will be co-writing the upcoming Batman and The Signal miniseries with Scott Snyder.

Hmm, now I wonder who should I blame for that dumb-ass codename, Snyder or Patrick...?

Katana in "To The Hilt" by writer Aaron Gillespie and artist Lynne Yoshii

This is basically just a Katana-focused Suicide Squad story, which I found notable mainly because it was actually a lot better than the Katana solo story that ran in the back of one of the earliest issues of the "Rebirth" volume of Suicide Squad.

The basic plot line is that Katana loses her mystical sword during a Squad mission, and, despite being blown up at one point and bleeding badly from her wounds, she dives out of the Squad's escaping helicopter to go after her sword. It's pretty special to her, given that it possesses the soul of her dead husband and all.

The villain of the piece is kind of an interesting choice. Though for the purposes of the story it really only needs to be a generic bad guy, maybe someone who can conceivably hold their own in a fight against a martial artist, Gillespie uses King Snake, the blind, blond master from Chuck Dixon's original Robin miniseries (I've lost track of so many character after the reboot; I'm not sure if this is his first post-Flashpoint appearance or not).

Yoshii has a nice, clean line and the artwork is smooth, open and appealing. There's a bit of manga influence in the characters' faces, although it's not terribly evident until the last page, when we see Katana without her mask on. I would definitely read more comics drawn by Yoshii.

Nightwing in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Family" by writer Al Letson and artist Siya Oum

Only three stories in, and there's already another appearance by the Bat-Family. This one is a Nightwing story, although writer Al Letson uses Nightwing as a sort of prism through which to discuss the Bats in general.

Nightwing is trying to safeguard a couple and their baby from Green Arrow villain Count Vertigo--ugh, that redesign!--as a favor to GA, and he's narrating the whole time. Occasionally, like, every few panels, he will think of what Batman or another member of the extended family--Batgirl, Batwoman, Robin--would say, and their busts will appear in little circles floating above the panels, with their words appearing in color-coded thought bubbles. I thought it worked surprisingly well, although if you just told me about it the way I just told you about it, I probably would have groaned.

Nightwing has to basically fight his way up a tall building, while Vertigo and his small army of goons pursue. His goal is to get to the top, from where he can call in help from some of the very people he's been thinking about, plus Red Robin, in an off-model version of his first post-Flashpoint costume (but given how bad that costume was, the more off-model the better, I say!).

Artist Siya Oum's figure work didn't do a whole lot for me, but I really like the way the pages are laid out, and the way the story moves upon them. Letson's script only works because of how well it's visually constructed, though, so Oum obviously did some stuff pretty right.

Oh, and as dumb as this Count Vertigo looks, he still looks better than he did when he first appeared in the New 52 Green Arrow comic.

Poison Ivy in "Silent Screams" by writer Owl Goingback and artist Matt Merhoff

Owl Goingback's Poison Ivy is more anti-hero than villain, at least in this story, where she has traveled to rural Georgia to avenge the plants killed by "a shape-shifting Babylonian she-devil," which conveienetly looks to be made out of black ropes or dead vines in the vague shape of a monster woman. The demon has also been taking children and killing animals and suchlike, but Ivy's just there to avenge the plants.

There's not much to the story, other than offering a different take on the character by removing her from her regular role in the Gotham City-based melodramas she usually inhabits: She goes hunting for a demon, she fights it and wins.

Artist Matt Merhoff is a pretty spectacular talent. The opening splash, showing Ivy striding down the street in a cloak of leaves while her hair flares out like searching vines is a pretty striking image, and, paired with the background, essentially previews the bulk of the story to follow. Underneath the cloak, which includes a hood of ivy, she is wearing a version of her original costume, albeit with a skimpier cut, and more detailed in its make-up, being composed entirely of little ivy leaves, rather than any green fabric.

There's maybe one wonky pose--page 8, panel 1--but otherwise Merhoff's art is pretty exceptional, with an almost Brian Bolland-esque level of detail to it. As with Yoshii, Merhoff is someone whose work I'll be looking out for in the future.

Deadshot in "Mercy" by writers Erica Harrell and Desiree Proctor, pencil artist Lalit Sharma and inker Jagdish Kumar

This story resembles the earlier Katana one in that it stars a Suicide Squad member on a mission, with Amanda Waller talking in their ear throughout the entire story--and appearing in a few panels, particularly at the end. It's actually a pretty significant story, as it ties into and rewrites an element of the Deadshot's origin story, although it's not entirely clear if the stories in this special actually "count" (and I've lost track of what's canonical and what isn't in Deadshot's life story anyway).

Deadshot's been tasked with retrieving a cybernetic maguffin embedded in a mad doctor's head no matter the cost, but the mission becomes a lot more complicated when he discovers that one of the many victims of said mad doctor--disabled people he has experimented on and given implants so that he can mentally control them like puppets--is his very own brother, who he had spent his entire adult life thinking he had accidentally killed when aiming for their abusive father.

Deadshot kills everyone and shakes his blood-soaked fist at Waller. The end.

The art in this one is actually a little rough. In general the story-telling is clear, and there's something likable about the big, bold figures, but the anatomy is occasionally off in distracting ways. Like, Floyd's legs sometimes look too long, and they bend upon the floor in unnatural ways.

Doctor Fate in "The Cost of Magic" by writer David Accampo and artist Sam Lotfi

The particular Doctor Fate in this particular Doctor Fate story is Kent Nelson--or, at least, a version of Kent Nelson. There's a flashback reference to him meeting Nabu as a child, which seems new to me, but I've really got no idea what the current state of Doctor Fate is these days (Post-Flashpoint, there was a Doctor Fate introduced on Earth-2 in Earth 2, and, later, a DCU/Earth-0 Doctor Fate was introduced in Doctor Fate, although I believe the original, Nelson version showed up in that series too before I dropped it).

Writer David Accampo's story is pretty simple, maybe even simplistic, demonstrating that the spirit of Nabu in Doctor Fate's helmet--and the source of his power--is maybe kinda sorta a real jerk, and that using the near infinite powers comes with a high cost. Namely, it seems to be turning Nelson into a sweaty, melty orc with a particularly poor complexion, until he accepts his fate...? I guess? I don't know. He fights a cool-looking monster.

Despite the lack of a real hook or interesting conflict to the story, the art by Sam Lotfi is pretty incredible--perhaps the all-around best in the book, as it not only demonstrates clear storytelling and a lack of any mistakes or drawbacks, but it also has a lot of style, and the details with which Lotfi fills his panels make them a ton of fun to pore over.

Wonder Woman in "The Archive" by writer Scott Snyder and artist Ibrahim Moustafa

Wait, Scott Snyder? What's DC's number one writer doing in here? Well, he apparently was in charge of the writers' workshops (Klaus Janson and Andy Kubert lead the artists workshop), and I imagine his presence in the book--a fact trumpeted on the cover--ought to help move a few more copies. He teams with artist Ibrahim Moustafa for a Wonder Woman story that is something of a meditation of her as an avatar of, or at least fierce proponent of, The Truth-with-a-capital-"T".

Given that this is Snyder rather than a new-ish to DC Comics writer, it is perhaps no real surprise that this is probably the best-written of the issue's stories.

After a flashback to young Diana--sadly, not Wonder Tot--on Themyscira in a room full of magical, Amazonian artifacts--we jump to the present, where Steve Trevor, Agent of ARGUS has taken her into a warehouse full of magical artifacts that the U.S. government has found and can't figure out exactly what they are. Apparently she is called in because of her experience with ancient magical shit, and she wanders around a bit with Steve, naming some of the items and their uses, while disastrous occult shit happens in Washington, D.C. There's a very solid ending, tying things together in such a way that validates Steve's belief in her and her desire to courageously do the right thing, no matter what some mean, old men might think.

Moustafa's art is fine, but it honestly wasn't the most exciting in the book, and I really found myself wondering what, say, Lotfi's version of the giant monster on the last pages might have looked like.

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