Friday, January 26, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: January 24th

Justice League #36 (DC Comics) Christopher Priest has written four issues of Justice League so far. I've had trouble reading it, despite being fairly on top of DC Comics. First I read the second issue, because I had missed the first issue. Then I read the fourth issue, having missed the third issue. Then I read the first issue. And this week, finally, I visited another comics shop and found and thus read the third issue. So I'm all caught up, I guess.

What was the problem? I suppose it was mostly the fact that I didn't add the title to my pull-list as soon as I heard Priest was taking over with a certain issue, and then, failing that, my inability to notice the book the week that Priest's run started.

Certainly the fact that there are more than one Justice League book and they aren't too terribly distinguishable in terms of their titles--Justice League and Justice League of America--was a factor, as was the bi-weekly shipping of Justice League, which makes it very easy to fall behind if you miss an issue. After I originally missed the boat, I probably should have just trade-waited the series, but I did want to vote with my dollars for Priest on the Justice League, as that is a very, very good idea that has thus far yielded very good results.

Anyway, this one was another very solid issue all on its own. The opening sequence, in which Superman is in congress while a congress lady speechifies at him, brought up unwanted memories of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the sequence at the end was super-strange--why did Simon go with that lady into the bathroom and let her open his shirt and kiss his chest, or was he purposely springing the trap to get caught?--but the bits with the submarine and Aquaman's dual status as a Justice Leaguer and the king of a sovereign nation were all pretty interesting. Those sorts of conversations about jurisdiction and politics and charters and suchlike? I love that stuff. It's really too bad none of that is ever established in a clear way, but seems to fluctuate, depending on who is writing the book at a particular time. Like, even the fact that Batman is the leader of the League seems like a new invention of Priest's for this run.

In general, if there was a clearly established status quo of some sort, than stories that use that status quo as their starting point would have much more resonance.

Pete Woods drew this issue.

Predator: Hunters (Dark Horse Books) The simplicity of the Predator concept makes it one that is endlessly adaptable and riff-uponable, one that is perhaps perfect for comic book crossovers. Nigh unstoppable, mysterious alien big-game hunters who travel to earth in order to hunt the most dangerous prey and...that's it, really. Change the setting and the opponents, and Predator comics are essentially infinite. The one problem that quickly presents itself, however, is that it can be something of a challenge to keep doing those stories forever, and each new adaptation crosses another setting off the list of potential stories (And, additionally, after seeing Predator fight Batman, Superman Judge Dredd and the cast of Archie Comics, well, a guest star-free outting can lose some of its razzle dazzle).

For the five-issue miniseries Predator: Hunters, which could really lose the semi-colon for a more accurate title, writer Chris Warner has upended the original film's the-hunters-have-become-the-hunted premise, which just about every sequel and comics adaptation has riffed on, in an interesting way, the premise of this series being the-hunters-have-become-the-hunted-but-look-out-the-once-hunted-are-hunting-the-hunters-who-hunted-them. Or something like that.

A rich woman who belongs to a family that has hunted Predators since the 19th century--You know the story of Spring Heeled Jack? Actually a Predator--has assembled a sizable private operation devoted to finding and exterminating Predators whenever they arrive on Earth. In an interesting move, the woman, Jaya Soames, has assembled survivors from past attacks, some of which have delineated in past Dark Horse Predator comics, like 1992's Big Game andn 1993's Bad Blood (Soames' ancestor's meeting with a Predator occurred in 1997's Nemesis).

That Big Game survivor, Enoch Nakai, is our point-of-view character, and we follow his recruitment into Soames' organization and on their first big hunting trip. Reports of a Predator on a remote island in the South Pacific send them there, posing to the locals on a neighboring island as scientists. They find not one but four Predators there, and, gradually, a rather extraordinary story that once again reiterates an on-again, off-again theme of the Predator stories: That the alien hunters may seem monstrous, but nothing out-monsters humanity.

Francisco Ruiz Velasco provides the art, and it is pretty strong for the most part, although it is occasionally slightly glitchy, with panel-to-panel continuity errors, like in one panel a Predator might be holding a huge club, and in the next his hands are empty. Stuff lie that here and there.

I really liked the designs of these Predators, as their armor and masks are radically different than those of their predecessors, and there's a reason why provided, although I don't want to discuss it, as it's something of a spoiler. I will note, however, that it took me a few issues to remember that the Predators don't just wear their high-tech masks for show, but they actually have breathing apparatuses in them, as they can't breathe Earth's atmosphere for too long. So I guess they really should have been gasping and wheezing throughout this whole story.

Anyway, Warner has found some interesting areas to work in with this series, and it checks all the necessary Predator boxes while doing a few things that are either new or different, and the art is pretty good too.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #34 (DC) As is so often the case these days, the best versions of particular DC superhero concepts are the ones that writer Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela come up with in order for them to team-up with Scooby-Doo in Scooby-Doo Team-Up. This month, it's the Birds of Prey's turn.

This particular version of BOP features Batgirl and Black Canary (both dressed in the costumes they would have worn in, say, the late 1960s) and The Huntress (dressed, somewhat inexplicably, in her short-lived Jim Lee-designed crop top and booty-shorts costume from "Hush"), with a few panels worth of Lady Blackhawk.

When Gotham City is being terrorized by mythological birds, the Birds of Prey call upon the women of Mystery Inc to help them out, and Scooby comes along because, well, because his name is on the comic book, I guess. Fred and Shaggy appear on the first and last pages, book-ending Daphne and Velma's adventure with the Birds.

The mystery turns out to be ridiculously easy to solve--in fact, you've probably already guessed the perpetrator just by hearing about the theme of the crimes--and one wonders why Batgirl needed Daphne and Velma's help in the first place, but then, as is often the case with Scooby-Doo Team-Up, the plots are really only ever excuses to introduce, re-introduce and/or define various DC superhero characters by bouncing them off of the Scooby-Doo cast for about 20 pages.

Star Wars: Forces of Destiny--Hera (IDW PUblishing) Okay, I had to visit a second comic book shop in order to do so, but I finally got my hand's on last week's Forces of Destiny one-shot, which I was interested in more for the writer, Devin Grayson, than the title character. I used to really dig Grayson's writing on the various Batman and Titans related titles, and often when I read a particularly sub-par issue of a comic featuring those characters, I'll wonder where the hell Devin Grayson is, what she's doing and why she's not writing Detective Comics or Teen Titans or whatever.

This issue, while technically fine, isn't really that great, though.

Grayson teams with artist Eva Wildermann for a done-in-one story featuring Hera Syndulla, the Rebel Twi'lek pilot from the Star Wars: Rebels cartoon series (Cantankerous droid Chopper is the only other member of her crew featured, and he's there mainly to give her someone to talk to when she would otherwise have to be alone). The pair are on a mission to recruit an agricultural planet to take the rebels' side in the war, but the Empire beat them to it, so Hera and some sympathetic natives hatch a plan to make exploiting the planet seem like a lot more trouble than it's worth. Save for a climactic chase, it is mostly devoted to detailing Hera's plan to oppose the Empire by incremental resistance, as opposed to open warfare.

Widermann's art hews pretty close to the designs of the cartoon, although something feels slightly off about it, given the show's 3D imagery and the comic's flattening of the characters and milieu down to a more traditional 2D plane. While most of the characters are fairly familiar humans and alien types, one of the new characters that allies himself with Hera appears to be an anthropomorphic otter. Here he just looks like a cartoon character, like an extra from Disney's Robin Hood cast as an extra in this comic, but that sort of design reminded me a bit of Saga, where alien races so often resemble Earth animals on their hind legs.

The design of the imperious Imperial leader is pretty cool; he's blonde and has a little mustache that made me think of Princess Bride-era Cary Elwes.

As fits the character that inspired it, this issue struck me as even more kid-friendly than the Leia issue I had previously read; they are all all-ages, of course, but this one seemed more "for kids" than "all-ages," if that distinction makes sense.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Marvel's April previews reviewed

In the not-too-distant future, the world is a utopia where heroes have succeeded in bringing peace worldwide. At the head of this utopia is none other than Laura Kinney, who’s passed on her mantle of Wolverine and is living her best life as Madripoor’s benevolent queen. But a long simmering evil will force Laura, out of retirement and back into the blue-and-yellow. This final journey will take everything Laura has to give….maybe even her life.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Somehow we've gone from "New" to "All-New" to "All-New, All-Different" to "Old."

I'm not sure I like the sound of the "This final journey," given the fact that this month also features a solicit for the first issue of a series apparently devoted to returning the dead version of Logan to the land of the living. I haven't even had a chance to miss that version of Wolverine, what with Laura, Old Man Logan and even Ultimate Wolverine Jr. running around the Marvel Universe all this time.

That said, the fact that this story is set in the "not-too-distant future" means it could be a "final journey" for Laura Kinney without really impacting whether she is alive or dead or Wolverine or not in our present.

Damn, that hat is secure.

My initial to this funny-looking Darth Vader cover was to wonder about how he could float with all his robot parts and armor, but then I realized if I tried to make a dumb joke about it, someone would just point out that he's using the force so never mind.

That said, this probably the closest we'll ever come to a professionally produced image of what Vader would look like in a hot tub...

This is Michael Del Mundo's cover for Doctor Strange #388, and I am posting it here just to say that I think those dice are super cool.

Gail Simone (W) • DAVID BALDEON (A)
Cover by Greg Land & Frank D’armata
Impossible curves. Impossible shots. Impossible targets. Marvel’s #1 soldier of fortune is back in an explosive new ongoing series! The product of a failed super-soldier program, Neena Thurman always made her own luck as the sharpshooting mercenary known as Domino… but what happens when her own powers betray her? The hunter becomes the hunted as every mercenary in the game smells blood in the water! Plus: A pair of beloved Marvel characters return!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Huh. Greg Land is still getting work for some reason.

I may be wrong, but outside of the Conan/Wonder Woman crossover series, which is off in its own little crossover corner, I think this will be the first comic Simone has written for Marvel or DC for quite some time. The odds of it sticking around too long aren't great, particularly since it seems like it's being published solely because the character will be in a movie soon-ish, but provided Simone writes it evergreen enough, it won't hurt to have a Domino collection or three in the catalog.

Fan-favorite X-Man Blink once joined a team destined to save not just the world, but the entire Multiverse. And now, her teleporting talents are needed once again! When a mysterious threat begins eating away at the fabric of the Multiverse, the Unseen – the man once known as Nick Fury who now can only observe Earth from a lofty post on the moon – must recruit a champion to save it. But she can’t do it alone. Who will join Blink’s new team – and can they ever go home again?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

As a guy who has never read an Exiles comic, I've detected at least two problems with the book, ones that may have held back the generally interesting premise.

The first is that because the book was always about alternate dimensions--characters coming from different dimensions, and then going into other dimensions to solve problems there--the book always had an aura of "none of this really counts for much," which isn't the sort of thing that mainstream comic book readers are interested in...certainly not as much as they are interested in "This stuff totally counts!' And since there was never an Exiles book out at a time when there were less than, like, a half-dozen other X-Men comics, well, the book's premise almost guaranteed that it would be at the bottom of most fans' shopping lists.

The second is that it was all X-Men related, and while other Marvel characters naturally were a part of the alternate dimension locales journeyed to in each story, the potentially wide remit of the book--"an infinite multiverse of alternate versions of the Marvel Universe...!"--was generally narrowed down to, "...but only as pertains to the X-Men!"

This book seems to solve that problem, as only two of the five characters on that cover seem to be mutants, and they are dealing with Old Nick Fury and there's not mention of X-Men and mutant business in the solicit, so that's cool.

Also cool? That the element about this new title seemingly getting the most attention is a version of Valkyrie that looks to be Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie from this year's Thor: Ragnarok imported into the cast. If it is the film character, or just someone who looks just like her, is, I suppose, a potentially big deal--I can't think of any other instance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel (comics) Universe explicitly crossing over.

It's maybe a little strange that they are doing this here, though, as it wouldn't exactly be difficult to introduce a Thompson-esque Valkyrie into the Marvel Universe. Valkyrie is, after all, just one character who uses a name that was assigned to many Asgardian warrior women. It's a job description more than a name, really.

As Brooklyn becomes vampire central, Deacon Frost continues his quest to destroy everything that Sam loves. Who’s up first? Misty? Patriot? Or perhaps someone even more dear to our hero?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Well, the color scheme is certainly growing on me, but I'm not sure what's going on with the shoulders. I kind of hate the squared and prominent shoulder thingees.

Also, the first arc of the new Falcon book had Sam squaring off against Blackheart, a demon from hell. And now he's on to...vampires? Is it weird that a book starring the Falcon is becoming devoted to supernatural menaces...?

Well, the presence of vampires does increase the likelihood of a Blade guest-appearance, so I'm all for that.

This April SQUIRREL GIRL meets MS. MARVEL – for the very first time! When Doreen Green (also known as the unbeatable Squirrel Girl) volunteers as head counselor for an extra-curricular computer programming camp, little does she know that junior counselor Kamala Khan moonlights as crime fighting super hero Ms. Marvel! But this coding camp is more than just ones and zeros when A.I.M. makes an appearance! Will our heroes be able to save the campers without blowing their secret identities? Join Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, America, Inferno, and Patriot as they learn exactly what it means to be a young hero in the Marvel Universe – and what it means to be a hero to each other.

Can it really be true that Squirrel Girl has never met Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan? That sounds impossible, right? Even if one never guest-starred in the other's book, it seems like they would have to have bumped into one another during a secret or civil war or something, right? Just, statistically speaking...?

That said, even after racking my brain for minutes upon minutes, I couldn't think of a single panel in which I had seen the two characters together, let alone them having an actual conversation. That's...that's actually kind of mind-blowing, isn't it?

I am assuming that this is a comic to promote an upcoming cartoon of some sort, as that image and the characters in it are so familiar, but I'd be interested in reading it. Not only is the price right, not only do I like a handful of those characters an awful lot, but it's written by Devin Grayson, one of the better Batman writers of the 1990s.

This is a pretty great cover. That's Becky Coonan's cover for an issue of Moon Knight.

So I can't imagine what exactly is going on here, but I'm really into it.

Donny Cates, Kieron Gillen, Al Ewing, Ryan North, Christopher Hastings, & Katie Cook (W)
Geoff Shaw, Katie Cook, Frazer Irving & TBD (A)
Thanos is likely the most evil being in the universe…and if anyone would know, it’s the all-new Cosmic Ghost Rider. Let the spirit of vengeance be your guide on a tour through the worst of the worst, as he reveals the most heinous deeds ever perpetrated by the Mad Titan…or by anyone else!
40 PGS./Parental Advisory …$4.99

That is such a varied line up of contributors that this comic probably deserves a pretty thorough flip-through upon the week of release.

The story that began in VENOMVERSE reaches its epic conclusion with VENOMIZED! The POISONS, a species that hungers for super-powered symbiotes and their hosts, have picked their next target…THE MARVEL UNIVERSE ITSELF! Their first objective? Put every superhuman in a Klyntar symbiote – and CONSUME THEM! But with VENOM and the X-MEN still missing after the events of “Poison-X,” the planet, and its heroes, is defenseless!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

Oh. So "Poison-X," which will be available in trade collection in April, and then this series. So I guess I know know where the storyline that started with Venomverse continues. I liked that okay, although I admittedly liked it as much a a comic book about costume re-designing than as anything else. Based on the solicitation copy, there will be many more such redesigns in this series.

The Nick Bradshaw covers are so damn great, too; I wish one of the super-comics publishers could find a monthly series for him to do interiors for.

Wait a minute, that's not actually how a Venom-ized Iceman's powers would work, is it...? That...doesn't really make sense...

Monday, January 22, 2018

DC's April previews reviewed

Stories and art by an all-star lineup of top talent
Celebrate 1000 issues of Action Comics with an all-star lineup of top talent as they pay tribute to the comic that started it all! From today’s explosive action to a previously unpublished tale illustrated by the legendary Curt Swan to the Man of Tomorrow’s future—this very special, oversized issue presents the best of the best in Superman stories!




STEVE RUDE (1930s)
PRESTIGE FORMAT • NO ADS • On sale APRIL 18 • 80 pg, FC, $7.99 US • RATED T

Here it is, the one-thousandth issue of Action Comics, a milestone that loses a bit of its impact thanks to DC's Marvel-ous numbering shenanigans with the title over the course of the last few years. Of the involved creators, the big name there is definitely Brian Michael Bendis, the long-time Marvel creator who will be making his DC Comics debut with this comic. Bendis is also an artist, although nothing he's drawn has been published in...well, a damn long time, really, not counting reprints of his older, pre-Marvel comics. I would love to find out that he is illustrating his own contribution to this book, but I am almost certain that is not the case. Fun fact: Bendis and Superman share a home town; they both come from Cleveland.

The rest of the contributors are all fairly predictable ones, so I find myself most curious about the "...AND MORE!" creators. Hopefully Jon Bogdanove's one of them...he has to be, right? And Garth Ennis and John McCrea, who were responsible for one of the better Superman stories I've ever read. Hell, maybe the "...AND MORE!" will even include a second female woman lady contributor! Imagine a woman drawing Superman...anything is possible!

Written by TOM KING • Art by TONY S. DANIEL and SANDU FLOREA • Cover by TONY S. DANIEL
“THE TRAVELERS” part one! Booster Gold has come to Gotham City, and he’s enlisting Batman and Catwoman to go on a time-traveling mission to rescue…Booster Gold! It seems a younger Booster Gold has gone back in time to kidnap an even younger version of himself, and to rescue his own past, Booster must pursue both of his previous incarnations through Batman’s history to find out what is going on. The start of a new story that will sow the seeds for a whole new epic to come—and also the return of Master Class artist Tony S. Daniel (DAMAGE) to BATMAN!
On sale APRIL 18 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Huh. A Booster Gold story by someone who is not Dan Jurgens; this could prove pretty interesting. Writer Tom King's portrayal of DC superheroes who aren't part of the Bat-family proper in this book have been pretty hit or miss so far (Superman? Hit. Wonder Woman? Miss), so I'll be curious to see what he does with a character like Booster Gold, especially considering how divorced from the regular Batman milieu time travel is.

I was a little surprised to see that Tony Daniel is handling the art on this, though, as he has his own regular book he's supposed to be drawing and creating coming out on a monthly basis now. Perhaps he got so far ahead on Damage that he had room in his schedule to do a few issues of Batman...?

Put on your go-go boots and get ready to “Batusi” as DC reimagines the classic Batman TV show! In these tales, the Dynamic Duo takes on the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, the Mad Hatter, The Joker and more of the world’s most colorful Bat-villains! And in BATMAN ’66: THE LOST EPISODE #1, an outline from the original TV series featuring Two-Face is adapted to comics for the first time!
This new Omnibus collects BATMAN ’66 #1-30, BATMAN ’66: THE LOST EPISODE #1 and a story from SOLO #7.
On sale AUGUST 8 • 928 pg, FC • $125.00 US

Any excuse to post a Mike Allred image! So, this is just about everything Batman '66 DC ever published, excepting only the various crossovers with other TV shows or, in that one case, the Legion of Super-Heroes. That's a pretty great package, then. I can't imagine this is the best way to experience those comics--omnibuses that big can be hard to hold together for too long, I've noticed from too-fat comics collections circulating at the library--but those are some pretty great comics and man, just look at that line-up of writers and artists above...

Wow. That is a damn fine cover by Freddie Williams II. It will be affixed to the cover of the final issue of Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II.

Written by ROB VENDITTI • Art by CARY NORD • Cover by TONY S. DANIEL
Poison Ivy attacks a group of fieldworkers, forcing Ethan to choose between transforming into Damage and saving them—or protecting his own sanity! And will Colonel Jonas and her squad capture him before he discovers the truth about what he really is?
On sale APRIL 18 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Oh. So that's how Tony Daniel was able to find the time to draw this month's issue of Batman. That's weird, because this suite of books--originally announced as "Dark Matter", but later changed to the more anodyne "New Age of Heroes--was specifically sold as a line of books created by and drawn by particular artists. In the case of Damage #1, Daniel even got top-billing over writer Rob Venditti in the first issue.

Now, Cary Nord is a great artist, and I would be much more likely to read a comic book with Cary Nord art in it than I would be to read a comic book with Tony Daniel art in it, but I can't imagine that this is good for the sales of a comic book which has been marketed and sold for a few months as "the Tony Daniel book." As I said of the first issue, Daniel seems to be the only selling-point of what is otherwise a pretty naked Hulk analogue/rip-off.

There's something very first-few-years-of-Image Comics about this...

That's a pretty nice cover by Tim Seeley for April's issue of Hellblazer.

“THE CRIMSON KABUKI”! When Damian Wayne disappears during a solo mission to Tokyo, Nightwing must enter the seedy underworld to save the boy who was once his Robin. But Dick will have to ascend the Crimson Kabuki’s tower of crime and survive a game of death against three of Japan’s most powerful fighters. Can Nightwing defeat an entire building of elite fighters, or will he lose Damian forever?
On sale APRIL 4 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Written by MICHAEL MORECI • Art by MINKYU JUNG • Cover by JORGE JIMENEZ • Variant cover by YASMINE PUTRI
“THE BRAVE, THE OBNOXIOUS AND THE INEPT”! All Dick Grayson wants is a night to himself. But when Robin and Arsenal come calling in need of his help, Dick has to throw on his Nightwing costume and get to work. Before he knows it, he’s neck-deep in League of Assassin ninjas and trying to stop Arsenal’s sometime-girlfriend from killing them all—assuming Robin and Arsenal don’t kill each other first!
On sale APRIL 18 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Wow, those pants do not go with that skin-tight superhero costume at all, Dick...

So, what's going on with Nightwing? That's two consecutive issues by two entirely different creative teams, neither of which includes current regular writer Sam Humphries. Was Humprhies run only meant to be a single arc, or is he just taking April off, and because the book is bi-weekly, that means we get two fill-in issues by two fill-in teams...?

Well, I suppose I'll stick around a bit, as I do like the Dick Grayson/Damian team. I would really be interested in seeing Damian and Roy Harper interacting...were this Roy Harper still the "real" Roy Harper. I don't have any interest in or knowledge of the rebooted version of Roy, let alone any affection for him, as I did for the pre-Flashpoint version of the character.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up: The best DC superhero comic, or the best superhero comic from any publisher?

I like how hard the title character of The Silencer is smooshing her gun into Deathstroke's face on this cover. I suppose it's worth noting that John Romita JR is just drawing the cover of this issue of his comic, while Viktor Bogdanovic is drawing the interiors. So of the four "New Age of Heroes" books shipping in August, two of them already have fill-in artists drawing them. Not a good sign for a group of books that was always going to have an uphill battle to survive the modern direct market.

Written by PATRICK GLEASON and PETER J. TOMASI • Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON • Variant cover by JONBOY MEYERS
“BOYZARRO RE-DEATH” part three! Gathered together from the cosmic recesses of the universe are the most powerful forces of bad ever assembled! Now the Super Foes face the Legion of Fun—and the only heroes who dare to stand against this intergalactic threat of the Bizarroverse are Superman and son!
On sale APRIL 4 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Written by PATRICK GLEASON and PETER J. TOMASI • Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON • Variant cover by JONBOY MEYERS
“BOYZARRO RE-DEATH” finale! The challenge of the Bizarroverse continues as the Super Foes battle the Legion of Fun! As Superman and Son return to Hamilton for a quick recharge, they learn what the little town truly meant to them—and what they meant to the locals of the town.
On sale APRIL 18 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Damn, that is a great-looking cover. I dropped this title a while back in order to switch to trade. It's going to be difficult to not buy these issues in the shop the week they come out.

Written by MARK MILLAR
This collection brings together timeless tales from Superman’s goodbye to Earth to Lois Lane’s personal account of a life forever changed by Superman. And from his Eisner-nominated run on SUPERMAN ADVENTURES come stories that explore the heart of Superman and the root of Lex Luthor’s obsession with him. Plus, a tale of a world in which Detective Harvey Dent goes from man to Superman.
Collects SUPERMAN: TEAM SUPERMAN #1, TANGENT COMICS: THE SUPERMAN #1, SUPERMAN ADVENTURES #19, 25-27, 30, 31, 36, 52 and stories from SUPERMAN 80-PAGE GIANT #2 and DC ONE MILLION 80-PAGE GIANT #1,000,000.
On sale MAY 30 • 280 pg, FC • $29.99 US

So if you only know Mark Millar from his mostly garbage Millarworld comics and his annoying interviews, it may surprise you to learn that he used to write some damn fine comics, and that his Superman comics of the 1990s were some all-time classics, particularly his work on Superman Adventures, the comic based on the Superman: The Animated Series cartoon. Swear to God. I've read all of these save the Tangent Comics special and the short from the 80-page giant (God, I used to love the 80-page giants, though!), and they are all pretty great. I would not be surprised to find that the two I didn't read were pretty good too.

“Titans Apart” finale! Arsenal and Donna discover the truth about the Bliss conspiracy…only they’re too late! With the Justice League off the board and the Titans divided, who will stand against the evil Brain as he attempts to create his new world order—and kill everyone on Earth in the process?
On sale APRIL 25 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T

Okay, stupid question: Have Monsieur Mallah and/or The Brain appeared in the New 52-iverse yet...? It seems like they would have had to by now--like perhaps in Forever Evil somewhere...?--but I can't remember seeing them anywhere.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


While one can't tell simply by looking at the above image--although the long, flexible neck is certainly a clue--the character riding in the Batmobile passenger seat next to Batman is Plastic Man. In "Double Cross," the twenty-third episode of Justice League Action, Batman has Plas use his shape-changing abilities to disguise himself as Two-Face, in order to draw an assassin away from the real Two-Face and into a Justice League trap.

Thrilled to be working with Batman, Plas delivers the above line, which reveals for the first time that Plastic Man's mom--and therefore perhaps even Plastic Man himself!--is from Ashtabula.

Ashtabula, as you may know, is a city in northeast Ohio on the coast of Lake Erie. It is also my hometown, the place I was born, raised and spent the first, oh, 20-22 years of my life in.

So Jack Cole's Plastic Man, one of my favorite superheroes, is perhaps from Ashtabula, my very own hometown. Is this canon now? Yeah, let's just go ahead and declare this canon now.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: January 17th

Batman #39 (DC Comics) Say, did you guys read and do you remember 2000's Action Comics #761, by writer Joe Kelly? Because Tom King sure did.

In that nicely crafted done-in-one story, Superman and Wonder Woman get whisked off to another dimension where they spend what they think will be all of eternity battling a never-ending horde of monsters. Superman and Wonder Woman are both super-hot, long-time friends who were at one point at least attracted to one another, and are now stuck together forever; Superman, as far as he knows, will never, ever find his way back to his then-wife, Lois Lane. And so Wonder Woman comes on to him on what may be the very last night of their lives, and he turns her down, because a) he's Superman, and b) he loves Lois that much.

Again, a pretty great story. (If you haven't read it, here's a 2005 synopsis from Mr. David Campbell.)

Anyway, in this issue of Batman, Tom King sends Batman and Wonder Woman to another dimension where they spend what they think will be all of eternity battling a never-ending horde of monsters. One night, Wonder Woman comes on to Batman, and the "To Be Continued..." tag appears at the end of the very last panel, just as the two are leaning close to one another and looking at one another's lips.

The story made me uncomfortable, based, in large part, on how it is somewhere between a rip-off and an homage to Kelly's story...although given the fact that said story is so (relatively) old, there's a damn good chance that a large percentage of the people who read this week's issue of Batman won't have read that issue of Action, and so, intentionally or not, this issue's plot is being presented as if it were an original one, rather than a riff (There's not even a "Special Thanks to Joe Kelly" and company in the credits panel.

But since King is writing this story for DC Comics, who also own the Kelly story is referencing, it's all, well, legal and above-board, but it still makes me feel a little icky, you know? It's legal, but is it ethical? Is it cool? Is Kelly cool with it? Does Kelly know? On the other hand, how many times have various DC writers--and now CW TV show producers--referenced the goddam Black Mercy flower from the Alan Moore-scripted 1985 Superman Annual...?

Wonder Woman goes to pick Batman up for a pre-planned stint filling in for "The Gentle Man," a warrior who does endless battle with a horde of monsters representing each of humanity's sins, staving off their invasion of Earth (Why they just don't let the monsters come to Earth and fight them there, where everyone can team up against them together, rather than making one poor sap due all the fighting, I don't know). Time passes differently in that dimension, however, and at the point that they have been there about ten years, they begin to suspect that The Gentle Man is not coming back for them. That's when, after the third or fourth mildly flirtatious thing Wonder Woman says to him, Batman finally leans in for what looks like it could be a kiss. Not as dramatic as the tension in the old Superman story, of course, given that Batman and Catwoman aren't engaged, just dating, and, well, I think it's a pretty safe bet that they're not actually going to marry and, even if they do, it won't last as long as many comic book marriages do.

After taking the last two issues off, Joelle Jones returns as the artist. She does a fine job on all the characters, even when it comes to selling a particular costume Batman wears as either cool or ridiculous, depending on how you want to look at it, which is how everything Batman should look. King gives Wonder Woman a slightly weird syntax, as if English wasn't her first language--and, duh, it wasn't--that sounds kind of off, given how established she should be in Man's World at this point/how she talks in all the other comics she appears in.

Batman remains far better than bad, and this is hardly the worst issue of King's healthy, 40-ish issue run, but this issue has more, well, issues than most.

Bombshells United #10 (DC) Mirka Andolfo and David Hahn illustrate this issue, the next chapter in the Batwoman and Renee Montoya vs. Black Adam storyline. Miri Marvel, who we are apparently calling Shazam for some reason now, is drawn into the conflict this issue and, guys, I could have sworn that when Black Adam first appeared he was a giant who was, like, 12 feet tall or so, but now he seems to be normal-sized again. Was I hallucinating before...?

Justice League #37 (DC) My efforts to catch-up with this book are still a work in progress, but it's on my pull-list now, so I shouldn't miss any more issues, as I did with #36. Apparently what I missed was that a Justice League super-fan has risen to the League's defense, murdering someone while impersonating Batman last issue, and here attempting to kill another critic of the League while dressed as Green Lantern Hal Jordan, who he thinks is the best Green Lantern (Characters repeatedly refer to him as a or the fan, and writer Christopher Priest is literally making the character reflective of an old sub-group of fans, specifically the ones who freaked out about Hal Jordan's heel turn in the 1990s).

It works in the context of the issue, but I remain a pretty poor judge of Christopher Priest's run on the book so far, given how fractured my reading of it has been. Pete Woods is MIA, replaced by Phillipe Briones. There's a flashback sequence, apparently showing the fan when he was a little boy, and it's got the League's costumes all wrong: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are all wearing their current costumes rather than their first New 52 ones, and they are fighting alongside Martian Manhunter who...well, I never quite figured out at what point J'onn was with this League, other than "briefly" and somewhere between the first New 52 Justice League arc and the second one.

Also, I think that's supposed to be a cigarette in the character's mouth when he was a little kid--again, not sure if that works with DC's current nobody-is-paying-attention 6-9 year timeline--but if so, it is the tiniest, weirdest-looking cigarette I've ever seen.

Those little things aside, Briones' work is pretty okay, but it's a jarring change from that of Pete Woods, and an unfortunate one to make mid-arc like this. That's the downside of the accelerated publishing schedule (well, one of them). Artists have to change frequently, and if the stories aren't planned out all that well, it means they change

The cover, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the interior, so I'm curious why it ran this issue, and if it was meant to run with the previous one, or perhaps the next one...

Nightwing #7 (DC) Remember what I saying about artists in reference to Justice League? Well, this issue of Nightwing also employs a guest-artist, and does so effectively. The majority of the issue is set in the past, in the earliest days of Dick Grayson's career as Robin. So while one artist draws the framing sequence, the entire flashback is drawn by Klaus Janson. Yes, it is a sharp change in style, but that change falls right where such a change is natural, even expected.

If you recall where we left off, Grayson is trying to stop a villain with some sort of weird mind-control powers known as the The Judge, and he's been telling us that he's failed to stop him twice before. In this issue, we see his first failure to stop him, alongside Batman and a rather unexpected Bludhaven vigilante with a name like a roller derby player.

Star Wars Adventures #6 (IDW Pubishing) The latest issue of IDW's all-ages Star Wars comic features everyone's favorite breakout star from the latest Star War, adorable Resistance mechanic and Force Awakens super-fan Rose Tico. Writer Deliliah S. Dawson and artist Derek Charm (whom I am an even greater fan of than I am of Rose or Kelly Marie Tran) craft a 14-page short story in which the Resistance has just moved into a new ship, and the mechanics are all still trying to get to know it via various methods. To the befuddlement of some, Rose's preferred method is reading. Naturally, when there's a malfunction that puts dashing, handsome pilot Poe Dameron in mortal danger, Rose is the only one who has the requisite knowledge to save the day.

As is so often the case with the films' "Expanded Universe" outtings, the story has the contrary effect of making the film's universe seem smaller as it tries wring new content out of it, so that rather than just being a semi-anonymous mechanic whose sister died in a battle at the beginning of Last Jedi (in service of a questionable plan launched by, um, Poe), here Rose rubs shoulders with Poe and Princess General Leia and her sister Paige even makes a brief appearance.

Still, it's a well-made short story revolving around the most recent film's non-porg breakout star character, and Charm does a pretty great job of capturing the core physical and emotional traits of both Rose and Poe.

Because that's too short a comic story to fill 20-pages and thus ask $3.99 for, there's the usual back-up feature: "Tales From Wild Space," this time young Anakin Skywalker from his Jake Lloyd days is the star. Though it's a six-page feature, two of those are devoted to a framing sequence, leaving writer Shaun Manning and artist Chad Thomas just four pages to devote to a story of Ani doing the right thing...a habit he will grow out of pretty quickly. The crew in the framing sequence are, by necessity, kind of tiresome, but the feature is redeemed by Thomas' drawings of super-cute slave child Anakin. I much prefer drawings of Baby Darth Vader to seeing him played by a child actor in live-action, I think.

Oh, and on the subject of Star Wars, I had Star Wars: Force of Destiny--Hera on my shopping list when I went into the shop today, but they were all sold out. Again, I was more interested in a creator than the title character--long-time Batman writer Devin K. Grayson was scripting that one-shot. I just mention that here in the off-chance that anyone from IDW or in a position of hiring creators at any other publishers are reading: You should totally offer Grayson well-paying gigs, because I will totally buy comics that she writes. That's at least one (1) guaranteed sale!

Rose and Paige will appear in the final of the five Forces of Destiny one-shots...I hope my shop doesn't sell out of that one before I get there...

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On Damage #1

*While Batman and The Signal featured a slug on the cover declaring that it was "From the Pages of Metal," Damage #1 has the words "Dark Nights Metal" in the bottom tier of the publisher's new corner boxes, a space that so far seems reserved for noting what franchise or corner of the line the book belongs too. As  was the case with Batman and The Signal, there is nothing within the 20 pages that follow to indicate that this is, in fact, somehow a spin-off of Metal; in fact, it may have even less to do with Metal, since at least Duke "The Signal" Thomas appeared in the prequels to Metal. Damage, on the other hand, is a new character appearing here for the first time.

The same caveat applies though; it's quite possible that somewhere in the second half of the still ongoing Metal miniseries we will see something that retroactively leads in to Damage.

*The second and third page of this issue is a two-page splash revealing the title character. It is the first of two two-page splashes. So that's four pages, or a full 25% of the issue, devoted to just two images. There are also three one-page splashes. This is just the first of DC's "New Age of Heroes" line to be released, but remember one of the earlier sales points for the line was that they would feature original characters created by artists, artists who would be pretty heavily involved in the storytelling. The number of splashes was a pretty good reminder that yes indeed an artist is indeed in the driver's seat here.

And even the non-splash pages tend to be pretty splashy; the above five panels fill two pages of the book, for example.

*It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how the cover is supposed to work. In fact, I didn't get it until I noticed the words "Special Vertical Double-Gatefold Cover" on the DC All Access page in the back, promoting the upcoming series The Terrifics. I blame the fact that the cover is kinda slapdash in its use of all that space (necessarily so, given that the center image has to function as a normal comic book cover, regardless of what appears on the upper and lower panels of the double-gatefold). That, and the fact that I am very dumb.

*I confess to snickering when I saw the words "Damage Created by Robert Venditti and Tony S. Daniel" on the title splash. The derivative nature of the character is obvious at a glance. His name was previously used by a DC character created by Tom Joyner and Bill Marimon for a short-lived 1994-1996 21-issue ongoing series.

Aside from the re-purposing of the name, the character is, just as he appears to be, a riff on Marvel's Hulk character. A soldier grows and transforms into a super-powered, monstrous character who immediately goes on a rampage; the U.S. military pursues him, one of their number climbing into Hulkbuster armor to attempt to fight him. Damage wanders off and, later, returns to his other personality, now clad in only a pair of pants that have been ripped into shorts.

While some pains are taken to visually differentiate him from his apparent inspiration--note his nose, the fact that his arms and back are colored differently from the rest of his skin, the bright red circles on his chest--he's gray, like the original, the Ultimate and some other iterations of The Hulk, and he even has the same shaved-head haircut of the Ultimate Hulk.

One further act of differentiation is that this hulk apparently has a one-hour time-limit to his super-monster state, but then, that just reminded me of a different character based around that one-hour countdown gimmick--DC's own Hourman.

*This is the entirety of the issue's story: Ethan Avery transforms into Damage while aboard a military plane taking him to a base for a "tune-up" to address his malfunctions; he was apparently created to be a biological weapon. He is urged on by the voice of his "Damage" personality, landing unharmed in a city, where he proceeds to flip cars and scare civilians. A Major Ligget, who was on the plane with Ethan/Damage, climbs into a suit of armor and fights him for a few pages. A Colonel Jonas arrives at the site of the plane crash, and begins the search for Ethan/Damage. That's when Amanda Waller and her "Task Force XI" show up--Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Solomon Grundy, Parasite, a character I cant' identify and a giant pair of legs probably belonging to Giganta--and pose, with Waller saying they will bring in Damage. The end.

*I was amused by the fact that colorist Tomeu Morey colors the sky red throughout the first scene, which takes up the majority of the book. Perhaps that's how the series ties-in to Metal? It is quite literally a red sky issue?

*While I am very much not a fan of Tony Daniel's work, this is some pretty strong artwork from him (Danny Miki inks). There aren't really any highly visible sings of laziness or shortcuts taken, other than the splash-filled lay-outs, until the last few pages, wherein Jonas and Waller appear as crude silhouettes, and the Suicide Squad is somewhat awkwardly posed, more for effect than for any story-telling purpose. There's only one or two panels where it's completely unclear what's happening (Page 18, panels two and three).

*Based on the everything we've seen about these books to date, I wasn't expecting many of them to last very long. Having read the first issue of Damage, I'm going to guess it can stave off cancellation for about 12-18 issues, depending on whether or not Daniel is able to draw each consecutive issue (He is the main--well, only--evident selling point for the series). If this series ties or beats the 21-issue run of DC's last Damage series, I will be shocked.

*If this somehow encourages DC to publish two volumes collecting the entirety of the original Damage series, which I've yet to be able to track down all of the issues for, I will consider it well worthwhile.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What If...Marvel sees comic book stories as a byproduct of comic book cover production?

I recently read one of the dumber posts on The Beat that I can recall reading, of the sort that I found so irritating that I probably would have quit looking at the site over it a few years ago, but seeing as how degraded the comics press has become in the last few years, well, there aren't a whole lot of options for other places to see DC Comics press releases like that. Plus, I do enjoy reading The Beat's sales chart pieces.

The latest one about Marvel's sales was particularly interesting, and not simply because it traced the effect of the publisher's insane-looking "Legacy" variant scheme, where retailers were being asked to pump up their orders of books by ludicrously high, completely un-sellable percentages in order to unlock permission to order special variant covers that signaled the launch of Marvel's best jumping-off point in years (Instead of relaunching books with new #1 issues, or just not monkeying with the numbers at all, they moved to random-looking high numbers arrived at by adding the issues of all the relaunches over the decades together. These are numbers only appreciable to devoted comics historians and Marvel super-fans of a certain age.)

This passage by writer Xavier Lancel made me think about Marvel's scheme--in fact, their whole publishing strategy--in a different way:
Marvel is pretty happy about the situation. They sell their comics to the shops, after that be they read or not, that's not their problem. The advantage of not having a customer reading it is that he or she will not be disappointed. People buying comics mostly for their covers, they know exactly what they're gonna have: a cover they already saw in the Marvel Previews catalogs or solicitations. Readers are way more difficult to keep. So Marvel is still and again putting a large chunk of their efforts to sell their covers.
In other words, maybe Marvel is not so focused on the business of selling comic books to comic book readers now as they are as selling comic book covers to comic book collectors and, if viewed in that light, a lot of their moves start to make an awful lot of sense.

To a degree Lancel is joking about a lot of stuff, but he's pretty much on the money here, particularly as he goes on to emphasize that it is the comic book retailers who assumed all the risk in this endeavor, and who Marvel has to thank for it's success...or, as the numbers show, "success."

In almost every instance, it seems to have worked, at least looking at these sales estimates. For the most part, participating title saw their sales shoot up two or three times higher for the goofy "Legacy" cover issue, and then crash back down for the following issue to either exactly where they were the issue before, or slightly worse. Is the slightly worse a matter of standard attrition, or did this stupid sales initiative actively drive readers away in sizable numbers?

In either case, it certainly seems that Marvel's scheme worked...for all of one issue. It would seem to be a case of the publisher taking ten steps forward one month, only to take 10-15 steps back the next month. And it didn't cost them anything aside from the good will of many of the people who form the cornerstone of their current business model.

It's a damn shame too, because as far as I as a Marvel comics reader--well, at least via trade; Marvel's sales practices drove me from their serially-published wares years ago--the comics under those many variant covers are just as good as they have ever been, featuring a rather wide variety of genres, tone, art style and types of (admittedly all superhero-ish) characters. I may skip plenty of books featuring characters or concepts I have zero interest in--Captain Marvel, Inhumans, Deadpool and some of the too-many X-books and Spider-books--but the books I do read? I rarely if ever actively dislike any of them. I can't say the same for Marvel's Distinguished Competition, which genuinely seems to be focused on selling comic books to readers, rather than covers to collectors.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

On Secret Empire, Marvel's not-so-problematic problematic event series

I can't recall another instance in my comics-reading life where online reaction to a particular storyline was so virulently negative but, upon my consulting the text, I failed to see where exactly the anger was coming from. In the case of writer Nick Spencer's year-long "Secret Empire" story, which began with the "Avengers: Standoff" crossover event and built through the 25-issue Captain America: Steve Rogers series before reaching its climax in the Secret Empire miniseries, a great deal of the fan, reader and just casual observer upset seemed to stem more from the marketing of the book--up to including comments from Spencer and others at Marvel--than the text of any of those books.

Well, that and, of course, the political climate in the real United States around the time the long-simmering storyline started ramping up. Just as fascists were overthrowing the United States of the Marvel Universe, the real United States of our universe had just elected a president who attracted fans of fascism, as well as actual, self-proclaimed Nazis and white supremacists; a president who, at one point, even proclaimed moral equivalency between a crowd of demonstrating Nazis and white supremacists and the people who were protesting them in Charlottesville, after one of their members literally murdered a counter-demonstrator.

So yeah, bad timing.

The plot of Secret Empire is, on its face, as comic book-simple as possible: A hero goes bad and, because this hero is Captain America, he betrays the United States and its globalist super-police army SHIELD for its rival, Hydra, which has long been aligned with his World War II-borne enemy, The Red Skull. Hydra is, in the Marvel Universe, essentially crypto-Nazis, adopting some of their affectations and aesthetics. Spencer went to rather great pains to decouple Hydra from actual Nazis in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers, but Twitter-ers either weren't reading or didn't care.

Among the louder concerns I still remember hearing about? It was offensive that Captain America would join Hydra, since Hydra is kinda sorta Nazi-ish (Although Hydra was created by Jewish creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the mid-1960s as an opposite army for SHIELD and company to fight; after the one-time Nazi Red Skull joined, it was later retconned to be a centuries-old organization that allied itself with the Axis Powers during World War II. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe--i.e. the popular Marvel Universe--they seem to have originated with the Nazis rather than with ancient aliens, but then, I don't watch Agents of SHIELD so I don't know for sure).

It was offensive that the character would join Hydra, since he was created by two Jewish comic book creators, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.

It was offensive that a variant cover depicted Magneto as a member of Hydra, since Magneto is Jewish (For what it's worth, that was just a variant cover*, showing a popular-ish Marvel character in a redesigned costume, little different than a Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane or Venom version of Magneto; this version of Hydra is completely generic, even anodyne in their fascist philosophy of the strong should rule the weak, something perfectly in line with life-long mutant supremacist Magneto's own philosophy; and you can't judge a comic book by its cover, let alone its variant cover, as Magneto's not a part of Hydra and in the 400+-page Secret Empire collection, his only appearance are two panels of him chucking chunks of metal at a Hydra helicarrier near the climax).

Reading the actual Secret Empire collection, however--which, in Marvel's curation, includes Secret Empire #0-#10, Free Comic Book Day 2017 (Secret Empire), Captain America #25 and Secret Empire Omega--it is, for the most part, as politics-free as can be. Spencer's massive story reduces Hydra's philosophy into that simple strength > weakness formulation that is, perhaps, uncomfortably close to the whole idea of superheroes. There's no real racial component or nationalist component, except to the degree that Inhumans--whom Marvel has spent several years transforming into the new mutants--are a persecuted minority, and thus have to stand in for all minorities, I guess (Mutants, if you're wondering, have established their own breakaway nation-state in northern California somewhere off-panel). But then, that's the bad guys, the villains persecuting them; the book doesn't suggest that Inhumans/mutants/minorities should be persecuted any more than any of the scores of X-Men stories featuring anti-mutant bigots can be read as a writer or publisher's endorsement of bigotry.

At its heart, the storyline remains almost as simple as it seemed from the start. Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, was zapped by Kobik, a sentient cosmic cube with the brain of a little girl, near the climax of "Standoff." Cosmic cubes being reality-warping paperweights that grant wishes, they make for nice, easy tools for super-comics writers, an in-story free pass to do pretty much anything the writer wants. As I've said before, Cap being made into a Hydra sleeper agent by virtue of a cosmic cube is little different than had he been zapped with a beam from a gun marked "Acme villainizer." It's a pretty simple heel turn, albeit it one that hundreds and hundreds of pages were devoted to chronicling.

I suppose it's possible Spencer did part of his storyline too well, in that he didn't make things quite a simple as he could have. Kobik was brainwashed by The Red Skull to believe that Hydra was the cat's pajamas, and so when circumstances arose in which she had to fix Steve Rogers, she also fixed the fact that he wasn't Hydra by making him Hydra. But in the pages of Steve Rogers especially, Spencer gave Rogers' new memories and magically-altered history a lot of attention. Kobik appeared to have re-written the world so that, in Steve's and the rest of Hydra's understanding, in reality, they were going to win World War II, break with the Axis and usher in an age of benevolent dictatorship for the entire world, but for the fact that the U.S. created a cosmic cube and re-wrote reality to suit their vision, and so Cap was simply remembering what he believed to be the "real" version of events, and fighting to restore that version.

Here, then, is where Spencer gets political, but it's a lot more subtle than having the United States conquered by Nazis. The war of Secret Empire, and the year or so worth of comics leading up to it, was essentially a conflict of narratives, between characters who believed in different sets of facts, different histories, different realities, albeit with a superhero twist. In Captain America's narrative, Hydra was not only right, they were the rightful rulers of the world, having already won it once, but they were robbed by the U.S.' usage of the most fantastic weapon imaginable. In the narrative believed by Cap's adversaries, the rest of the heroes of the Marvel Universe--which, remember, is supposed to be just the real world + superheroes, he believes in an insane lie planted in his head by Kobik.

Less subtle, but more subtle than Twitter would have one believe, is the fact that Spencer has the United States crumple almost immediately to the idea of benevolent dictatorship, and these Americans are, in fact, even willing to put up with an awful lot of sueprvillainy in their day-to-day lives, like black, spikey super-robots and a surveillance state, if it means they don't have to worry about terrorists.

Okay, maybe this isn't all that subtle; passages of Secret Empire #1 read like less timely takes on the 9/11-era security vs. freedom debate than what we saw in Mark Millar's Civil War (we don't have to call it Civil War I now, do we...?), and I suppose there is a belated, if clumsy, indictment of America's quick embrace of neoconservatives in times of danger, but...I don't know, it's pretty garbled. Steve Rogers' Hydra is much more Bush administration than Trump administration, and it's much more The Empire/First Order from the Star Wars movies than either. (For what it's worth, the original "Secret Empire" was a Watergate-era Captain America storyline by Steve Englehart and Saul Buscema that was an indictment of the Nixon administration, ending with a pretty strong implication that Nixon himself was the head of the evil organization that had infiltrated the U.S.).

The story is, quite naturally, a complete mess. At around 400-pages, it had an appreciably epic scale, and it is a rather rare Big Two "graphic novel" that reads like a novel. It took me two sittings, including the better part of a sick day, to read. Spencer writes the entire thing, but because this isn't just a storyline but an "event," it sprawled throughout Marvel's entire publishing line--Wikipedia says there were some 23 different comic book titles that tied-in, ranging from one-shots to whole story arcs from different books--and so one imagines a great deal of what happens in the book and seems to come out of left field was done so on purpose, leaving it up to, say, the X-Men writers to detail the founding of the new mutant nation or Kitty Pryde's team's adventures in the Darkforce dimension and so on.

But because of the publishing strategy, like Civil War II, this collection includes some stops and starts, and doesn't flow all that fluidly; there's an awkward, scattershot approach to it as a whole (it's worth noting, however, that this reads a lot better than Civil War II, and makes a heck of a lot more sense...that said, a lot of scenes and status quos in Secret Empire are premised on the events of Civil War II, which, I suppose, makes it necessary reading).

Visually, it's even worse. There are about six primary artists, meaning pencil artists or artists who handle everything, and too many inkers, colorists and "with" credits on the table of contents. Worse, little to no effort was put to finding and hiring artists whose styles mesh in any appreciable way. The two artists responsible for the most pages are probably Steve McNiven and Andrea Sorrentino; the latter has a style I personally abhor and find incredibly challenging to read. It's extremely photo-referency, to the point tat it looks like photographs run through filters.

It's quite off-putting, especially when sandwiched between pages of more traditional-looking pencil-and-ink super-comics work. For example, Sorrentino's Iron Fist wears a mask that doesn't have the opaque white eyes of, um, every drawing of Iron Fist ever, but it has big eye holes cut into them. Some of Sorrentino's art just seems...inaccurate, too. For example, Civil War II ended with Iron Man Tony Stark kinda sorta dying, his body going into a vague coma-like state, while an AI based on his own personality began appearing to Riri Williams, his kinda sorta legacy replacement, Ironheart.

Throughout Secret Empire, Stark plays an understandably large role, and the AI seems to now be Stark in hologram form; it even wears a suit of armor independently, and rarely if ever appears with Ironheart. Spencer has Stark saying and doing all kinds of very un-AI-like things, but Sorrentino goes even further, to the point where he just seems to be drawing Tony Stark, not a hologram of Tony Stark or a suit of Iron Man armor with a hologram of Tony Stark's head projecting out of it. Were it not for the colorist almost always remembering to color Stark's head blue when, say, he goes into a bar in Montana disguised in a hooded sweatshirt, there would be no suggestion of what Stark actually is at the moment.

And man, then there's the action scene near the beginning, where Captain America and Hydra route Iron Man and a mess of superheroes who meet him in battle in Washington D.C. A bunch of...stuff happens, including Thor getting sent to a different dimension, Cap wielding her hammer, Scarlet Witch being possessed by a demon, but none of that is actually apparent, or even really makes sense as it's happening, and it's not until later dialogue that we begin to figure out what the hell happened in the battle, as it is mostly just vague poses, with some yelling and sound-effects.

It's actually kind of the opposite of how comics are supposed to work.

In the first passage of the story, that told in the #0 issue and the Free Comic Book Day issue, Captain America actualizes the plans he has been laying throughout Steve Rogers. Via mind-control, he captures and turns most of SHIELD to Hydra, taking his long-time girlfriend (and former SHIELD Commander) Sharon Carter hostage, rather than taking over her mind, too.

Captain Marvel, The Guardians of The Galaxy, Alpha Flight and a bunch of heavy-ish hitters are off-planet preparing to fight an alien invasion that Cap secretly planned, and then he turns on a super-force field, locking them out in space to face an infinite wave of alien invaders until they die.

A sizable swathe of heroes like Doctor Strange and the current Defenders are battling a small army of sueprvillains in the streets of New York City when all of Manhattan gets shunted off into the Darkforce dimension, further dwindling the heroes available to fight Captain America and Hydra.

Finally, realizing that the heroes and the U.S. are under attack, Tony Stark (or his AI...whatever) sends everyone to Washington D.C., where they are surprised to find themselves facing Captain America and Hydra. Sorrentino draws the 10-page battle sequence and, as stated above, it's illustrated gibberish and nonsense, just artfully designed images that fail to tell a story.

That may be, in part, because it is hard--no, impossible--to imagine how on earth the likes of Baron Zemo, The Taskmaster, Arnim Zola and a couple of other Hydra knuckleheads could possibly slow down, let alone take down the combined might of The Avengers, The U.S. Avengers, The Champions and others...Spencer and Sorrentino just end the scene with a dramatic image of Captain America holding Mjolnir above his head, but, um, I don't really see how that translates into him beating up, say, Hercules and two different Hulks, you know? So perhaps Spencer's script urged Sorrentino's vague art on.

The next passage, some 40 or so pages into the collection, is where we see the state of the Hydra-controlled United States's kind of hard to suspend one's disbelief enough to buy, honestly, which is really saying something, because mere pages before I was okay with, say, a big red Hulk with a mustache and aviator glasses fighting alongside a character named Squirrel Girl, you know?

America is now a dystopia, so radically changed in everything from basic geography to school text books that it seems like years, rather than maybe weeks, have passed. The world Spencer and artist Steve McNiven and Jay Leisten here present us with seems like the sort of alternate future that "Days of Future Past" or Age of Ultron were set in.

Congress has semi-surrendered the United States to Hydra high command, with Captain America Steve Rogers acting as their leader. Cap also leads The Avengers, which now consists of former Thor Odinson, Deadpool, a reprogrammed Vision, a possessed Scarlet Witch and a handful of villains, like Doctor Octopus (I think that's who that's supposed to be) and Taskmaster and The Black Ant, who continue to serve as the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Spencer's Secret Empire narrative.

As previously mentioned, Inhumans are rounded up and put in prison camps, while mutants have formed their own independent nation state on the West Coast (um, again). The streets are patrolled by Hydra storm-troopers in head-to-toe black-and-red costumes with skull-shaped masks and spiked billy clubs, and Hydra robots built with adaptoid technology hunt superheroes.

Most of the remaining heroes now dwell outside of Las Vegas in The Mount, where a distracted Tony Stark AI tinkers with shit and Hawkeye Clint Barton and Black Widow try to keep everything together.

Things get more hard to swallow before they get less hard to swallow, including Captain America ordering the televised execution of Rick Jones--by firing squad!--and the aerial bombardment of Las Vegas, essentially wiping the city off the map.

From there, our heroes splinter for a while. Hawkeye endorses Stark's plan to take a team--Hercules, Mockingbird, Quicksilver, Sam Wilson and Ant-Man Scott Lang--to seek out shards of the cosmic cube in order to "fix" Captain America. Black Widow, meanwhile, has her own plan: To assassinate Captain America. Spider-Man Miles Morales, still believing there must be something to Ulysses' vision of him killing Cap on the stairs of the Capitol building from Civil War II, volunteers to join her, and The Champions, Wasp Nadia Pym and Ironheart all go with, to support their Spidey.

Meanwhile, Captain America struggles to rule America and keep his cabal from turning on him, all the while seeking out the cube fragments for himself, which actually serves to keep him from going completely into, like, Doctor Doom territory, as the existence of the cube means he really can undo every sin he commits, up to and including bringing Rick Jones back to life.

While the main plot is going on--and, it will surprise no one to hear that its resolution involves the various groups of heroes extricating themselves from their various predicaments and then all returning to D.C. for a dramatic Round Two--there's a pretty goofy parallel track in which a bearded, amnesiac blond hunk named Steve Rogers finds himself lost in the woods, where he encounters versions of Bucky Barnes, Sam Wilson, The Red Skull and a few mysterious ladies. During these sequences, Spencer narrates rather purpley about hope, and how exactly these scenes all relate to the rest of the action involving the other Steve Rogers is, well, it's ultimately kind of dumb.

Bearded Steve Rogers is essentially the parts of Steve Rogers that Kobik had to excise from Steve to make him Hydra, although it's awfully vague; perhaps this Steve is the original, "real" Steve, and she replaced him with the other, Hydra-affiliated Steve on Earth, trapping the other Steve in the cube with her? At any rate, by the climax, there are two Steve Rogers-es fighting one another, one of them borne of each of the two previously mentioned dueling narratives.

Remember what I said about a relative lack of subtlety? Well, here we're borrowing liberally from the Superman-fighting-himself-in-a-junkyard section of Superman III. You know how it ends--Secret Empire received such a negative reaction that Marvel made the insane move of issuing a press release to assure readers that as bad as things might seem for Captain America at the beginning of the story he will, in fact, make it out okay in the end (Oddly, even one of the characters we are told dies during the events of the series--Black Widow--is teased as very much alive at the end of the story).

Even the Bad Cap sticks around. Much of Secret Empire Omega, which serves as an epilogue, features the two Steves having a conversation, with Good Cap set to go out and try to atone for what his evil doppelganger did while he was stuck in a cosmic cube or whatever, and Bad Cap doing pull-ups in a prison cell, where he can remain a viable Marvel villain.

What's next? Well, Marvel relaunched Captain America as part of their "Legacy" initiative, meaning it launched with a new, random-feeling high number. The new creative team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are incredibly talented, and seemingly especially chosen for their ability to tell more classic-feeling Captain America narratives.

I'm sure they will be good comics. I don't see anyone talking about them, though; is that a good thing or a bad thing...?


So the whole time I was writing this post, the hardcover collection of Secret Empire was sitting within arm's reach of me, which means I've spent an awfully long time with that cover in my peripheral vision. It is one of the covers for Secret Empire #1, repurposed as the cover for the entire collection, and it just just a spectacularly poor choice for the cover, based on the characters chosen to place on it. Few are in the story in any sizable way.

Captain America obviously plays an enormous role throughout the series, and Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange play sizable roles as well. Most of the other characters, though? Rocket Raccoon appears in several scenes alongside Star-Lord, and Ironheart and Ms. Marvel play small roles.

Thor and Spider-Man, though, appear at the beginning and the end, maybe a sentence or two of dialogue apiece. I have no memory of Medusa, "Old Man" Logan, Storm or any Human Torches in the book at all...I think Logan might have been in there somewhere.

Meanwhile, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Spider-Man Miles Morales, Sam Wilson, The Punisher and Maria Hill don't even get as much cover-space as the SHIELD helicarriers or the Chitauri warship.

*Marvel was obviously listening, though, and reacted to concerns. That "controversial" Hydra-ized Magneto cover is not one of the 34 variant covers that appear in the back of this collection, which does include many Hydra-ized covers in two different formats, the vast majority of them featuring characters who are not Hydra agents in the story itself.