Sunday, June 10, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: May 23rd and May 30th

Aquaman/Jabberjaw Special #1 (DC Comics) Of the new round of DC/Hanna-Barbera crossover specials, this one seemed like the one I was going to like the most, since I have some affection for both halves of the team-up, I like the two primary creators involved and the characters fit together so perfectly that, in a sense, it's the sort of comic that writes itself...although writer Dan Abnett takes a few interesting and surprising turns in his narrative.

For the first few pages of the 30-page feature story, Abnett seems to be setting up a Jaws parody with Jabberjaw in the role of the marauding, beach-closing shark (Believe it or not, I never connected the cartoon shark's name to that of the famous movie shark who kicked off a pop culture shark craze right around the time the cartoon debuted until, like, last week or so). But being able to breathe air, walk on his fins and speak to Aquaman--out loud, and in English--makes Jabberjaw kind of easy to find, and after a little fish out of water comedy involve Jabber in modern day Amnesty Bay, Aquaman follows him through a portal to Jabber's home world, where a mad scientist has been sending giant killer sharks to attack the kinda-sorta past.

The plot is a bit more complicated than it sounds--and involves another, unbilled Hanna-Barbera property--but Abnett manages to find a linkage between the two aquatic characters to exploit--that is, Jabberjaw's constant complaining-via-catchphrase that he "don't get no respect" and Aquaman's lack of respect from the world at large--and Abnett even manages to connect the real-world reason Aquaman doesn't get the respect of his fellow Justice Leaguers to the something within the world of Jabberjaw.

Like I said, I expected to like this a lot, but I didn't expect it to be an honestly great Aquaman comic, and maybe one of the best Aquaman stories I've read since...well, I can't remember the last time I read an Aquaman comic this good, if I'm being honest. Abnett is partnered with pencil artist Paul Pelletier and inker Andrew Hennessy, and they do a pretty great job. Pelletier is an excellent superhero comics artist, and Jabberjaw is the rare Hanna-Barbera character who actually kinda works perfectly when translated into the more "realistic" house style of modern DC Comics. In fact, Jabberjaw's typical dialogue coming not out of the mouth of a cartoon character, but from the jagged, toogh-filled mouth and the blank, expression-less face of a real(-ish) great white shark may actually be funnier.

The Neptunes appear, but get short shrift, really, as they aren't really necessary to the story, since Aquaman takes their place as straightman to Jabberjaw. Pelletier's rendering of those characters isn't too terribly inspired; he basically just draws Pelletier-designed characters dressed like The Neptunes, for better or worse.

This is a real rarity among DC's weird-ass cartoon crossover stories: One I wouldn't mind seeing more of.

There are four DC/Hanna-Barbera specials in this year's suite of crossovers, and two of them have back-ups. Unlike the previous round's back-ups, which featured adult reboots of Hanna-Barbera characters that (mostly) previewed new series, these two are simply additional DC/Hanna-Barbera crossovers...just eight-pagers. Both are written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Scott Kolins.

This one features Captain Caveman. The DC characters who appear are somewhat perfunctory. The Wizard Shazam (still in his New 52 redesign) and The Spectre (drawn so that he could be in either his pre- or post-Flashpoint design), are debating whether heroism is "a relatively recent trait" developed over centuries of social evolution, or something that is inherent in humanit. The Wizard takes the latter view, and, to prove his point, he summons "an offshoot of Neanderthal" destined for death to the modern world. This caveman, of course, becomes Captain Caveman, proving Shazam right.

This version of Captain Caveman doesn't seem to have much in the way of super-powers. He's definitely super-strong, but he can't fly, and his big-ass club is devoid of Flintones-era technological gizmos. Kolins has designed him as your basic squat, muscular caveman, but with a huge head of hair and beard. In a different context, he wouldn't be recognizable as Captain Caveman. (Interestingly, the The Flash/Speed Buggy Special has a differently-designed Captain Caveman, who instead looks closer to his cartoon counterpart.) The Teen Angels kinda sorta appear, as well, although there's only two of them. There's a Dee Dee and a Taffy, but Brenda is MIA, and the other two don't really look like themselves like at all.

For added DCU-ishness, there's a one-panel came of Black Adam and Captain Marvel Shazam The Superhero Shazam Shazam and some Manhunter robots.

Batman: Prelude To The Wedding: Robin Vs. Ra's al Ghul #1 (DC) Not only was I not looking forward to this comic, I wasn't even planning on buying it. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I found the prospect of Damian running afoul of his grandfather for the eleventh or so time a rather uninteresting prospect for a comic, particularly when it is being tied to a particularly momentous event in Batman comics history, like the upcoming marriage of Batman and Catwoman. (And while I find writer Tim Seeley and pencil artist Brad Walker to be respectable talents, neither is one whose work I am so enraptured with that I automatically buy something just because of their presence.)

I ended up picking it up, however. as this comic featured pages and pages of the sorts of things we haven't seen a whole hell of a lot of in the pages of Batman, where the wedding storyline has been playing out. Ra's is only one about five pages of the comic, and while Damian is on just about every page, he's not always dressed as Robin. Rather, this issue has plenty of pages of Damian Wayne and Selina Kyle together, doing wedding-related stuff (She takes him to a tailor to get his wedding outfit prepared, he waits up for her at the Manor while she's out for her bachelorette party).

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this might be the first time we've seen the two of those characters together before...not just since the proposal and out-of-costume but, like, ever. Not only am I having trouble recalling a scene of Catwoman and this Robin together alone, I can't even think of one in which they are together in the presence of an Batman (although there must have been a crowd scene of all Batman's allies posing together near the climax of Batman and Robin Eternal or somewhere, right?). That seems...weird, really, considering that not only does Batman fight crime with both Robin and Catwoman, but that this Robin is his actual son.

Tom King, who has been writing the wedding storyline, has been writing Batman since August of 2016, and he began laying the groundwork for the 50th issue wedding as far back as #9 or so (The launch of the "I Am Suicide" story arc). So it strikes me as unusual that we don't really have a sense of how Catwoman and Damian might regard one another going into this issue.

Granted, the bulk of it is eaten up by superhero stuff. After the trip to the tailor's, Catwoman heads out for her bachelortte party (sadly, none of it is shown, and we don't even know who she went out with) while Damian suits up to...break into the arcade to play his favorite videogame. It is there that he's attack by a new foe, claiming to be the son of Catwoman and Batman, coming back to the past to...well, the symbolism is all about as broad as one might expect from a narrative form in which characters label themselves with symbols on their chests.

Things aren't, of course, what they seem, and we eventually find out that Ra's had orchestrated everything. He's still not happy that Damian defected to join Batman, and he's not all that psyched about Batman, who spurned his daughter, marrying Catwoman.

But, like I said, it's the pages of the characters in plainclothes that were the most interesting, and answered things about a Batman/Catwoman marriage I am actually interested in (or at least curious about). There's a two-page epilogue drawn by artsit Otto Schmidt in which Ra's returns to a base or lair of some kind to find out that about 15 of his ninja assassins are dead and one of them has had his eyes burned out, and reports that he was asked if they had gotten a wedding invitation before the attack. That the words "HA HA HA HA HA HA HA" are written on the wall offers a pretty good clue as to who did it, although God only knows how The Joker took out an entire room full of ninja assassins, all of whom are run through with swords. Apparently, this series of one-shots is leading into whatever The Joker's plans for the wedding are.

The artwork prior to the epilogue was all penciled by Walker, who is inked by Andrew Hennessy and Mick Gray. It's particularly good work. I didn't recognize it as Walker's at first, but after seeing his name in the credit box of the final page, it was easier to see him in the artwork. Whether it was Hennessy or Gray or both, they really transformed the work into something slicker, smoother and more polished.

Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey Special #1 (DC) This one was a disappointment. Writer Bryan Hill seems to rather smartly lean in to the two title characters' somewhat problematic roots, borne as they were as children's entertainment echoes of exploitation film trends of the 1970s, by setting the story in the 1970s...or, at least, Black Lightning is still wearing his original costume, with the detachable afro/mask and costume with the neckline that plunges all the way to his belt buckle.

One could scarcely ask for a better art team: Pencil artist Denys Cowan and inker Bill Sienkiewicz.

And yet, there's not much to the comic, beyond what one sees on the cover. That is, linking the Black Lightning of 1976 with a "serious" take on Hong Kong Phooey in what appears to be a weird East Meets Watts kinda deal, with great Cowan and Sienkiewicz art. Actually reading the 30-page comic under the cover doesnt' really add a whole heck of a lot.

Of the Hong Kong Phooey cartoon, Hill excises The Sarge, Spot, the number one super guy's secret identity as Penry, the mild-mannered janitor at the police station, the transforming Hong Kong Phooey Mobile, the transformation sequence, and HKP's basic incompetence, pretty much only keeping the fact that he's an anthropomorphic dog in a red gi that knows martial arts (Rosemary, the telephone operator, does appear, but she doesn't work as a dispatcher; instead she's a martial artist).

The plot? Black Lightning fights Professor Presto, a Hong Kong Phooey villain chosen seemingly at random, who is teamed up with Bronze Tiger and Cheshire, both of whom appear essentially as hired muscle (for the purposes of the story, they might as well just be Henchman #1 and Henchman #2...or maybe Henchperson #1 and Henchperson #2, I guess).

The bad guys are after an ancient Chinese scroll of kung fu magic, and so Black Lightning turns to his old friend Penry for help. Penry is a dog-man, which seems...weird, although never really remarked upon. (There is one panel in which we see a trio of animal-human hybrids in the background, during a class Rosemary is teaching, implying that there are some animal people around, but, um, that's it). Although, I guess it's worth noting that the character's dog-ishness was vague in the original cartoon, too, as he was an anthropomorphic dog in a world of human beings, and his sidekick was a house cat...who couldn't talk, but could nevertheless communicate with him via sign language and mumbling. And he was a lot smarter than Penry/Hong Kong Phooey too.

Anyway, they fight. And then it's over. And...that's it. Great art, though.

This is the other special with a Parker/Kolins back-up, this one featuring The Funky Phantom. The DCU guest-star here is Jason Blood, although "perfunctory" seems like too generous a word to describe his role in the story. He's in all of six panels, and he is there as a work-for-hire sorcerer, enlisted to conjure the spirit of Revolutionary War hero and Declaration of Independence signatory Jonathan Wellington "Muddy" Muddlemore to discuss The Second Ammendment with a Senator, the news media and a bunch of gun enthusiasts.

It's surprising in how strident it is. Not that Parker would give voice and/or hold opinions that differ so sharply from the NRA or the Republic party platform, of course, but that the DC Comics of the 21st century would be so cavalier, even relatively ballsy in publishing the story. I mean, I think it's pretty safe to assume no one picked up Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey Special #1 expecting to read a gun control argument.

The Funky Phantom inadvertently pokes holes in many of the arguments of the super-expansive reading of the Second Amendment, from the fact that the founding fathers were super-into it (he died before there was a constitution, let alone amendments to it), that it's less than 30 words out of a gigantic document ("That's it? WHy are you so concerend with that bit?"), that an AR-15 might be needed for hunting ("What's this contraption?"), that if the nation has an army it doesn't need a militia, the insane fantasy that leads many to believe they have a right to any kind of gun just in case they have to fight off the entire United States military for some reason and that maybe the Second Amendment just guarantees Americans' rights to the type of guns that Muddlemore used in his day.

I...don't disagree with anything in the comic, I was just surprised by it. It's a far, far cry from the cartoon, of course, but at least in this case the reason makes a degree of sense, as it's clear the variation was done with a clear purpose. The Funky Phantom is a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character that might actually make for an interesting reboot for adults, as a ghost of a founding father wanders the modern world, marveling at how it's changed. If we ever do get a Hanna-Barbereboot series featuring the character though, I would hope that the supporting cast--ghost cat in a tricorner hat and all--comes along, and mysteries are solved.

Also, it would be nice of future artists stuck a little closer to the original designs. This Funky Phantom doesn't even have whiskers!

Justice League: No Justice #3 (DC) The penultimate issue of the four-part weekly series contains an unscheduled disappearance by series artist Francis Manapul's artwork. Instead he only contributes breakdowns for the fill-in artists and he provies the main cover, this week featuring Team Breast Cancer Awareness. While perhaps unfortunate, the good news is that on hand to step in are Riley Rossmo and Marcus To. Both are pretty great artists, and, as I've stated many times before, I'm a big fan of the former (despite how tiny he draws Batman's ears). So it was a nice opportunity to see Rossmo's versions of a mess of DCU characters I hadn't previously seen him draw. I particularly liked his Luthor, his huge, scary-faced Wonder Woman and his Barbie-bodied, baby doll-headed, crazy-faced Harley. (His Etrigan is quite Kirby-esque too, although that's not generally a direction I like to see artists go with the character.)

The events of this issue are kind of surprising, particularly as regards the Leagues' efforts to save Colu, and there's a pretty great visual idea involving an Atom-powered Starro near the climax. After those perhaps unexpected twists, though, the plot goes where I suppose it must inevitably go: The quartet of giant Galactuses head for planet Earth, which the heroes seem incapable of saving.

Well, what else would one expect for the second-to-last issue of a big Justice League miniseries?

Justice League: No Justice #4 (DC) Francis Manapul returns in time for the conclusion. The Celestials The Millennium Giants The Omega Titans have arrived at Earth and are preparing to eat it, thanks to Brainiac's trap. The Leagues have failed to save Colu, can they manage to pull together and save Earth?

Yes, of course they can. The solution turns out to be very big and very crazy, and it works, although I did find myself wondering after how unquestionably into it all of the Leaguers, even Batman and Superman were, considering that it involved killing off a sentient life form, even if it was alien and incredibly remote from humanity even when compared to some of the League's most alien foes to date.

As expected, much of this miniseries was set-up for June's launch of Justice League by writer Scott Snyder, and then two more Justice League-related books by his No Justice co-writers, James Tynion and Joshua Williamson. Not only do we end with the foundation of a new iteration of the League with Martian Manhunter J'onn J'onnz as its leader (the line-up implied here consists of J'onn, Superman, Batman, Flash Barry Allen and Aquaman, who was barely in No Justice and Hawkgirl, who wasn't; we know that Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Green Lantern John Stewart will join the team too, but they're not around in the panel showing off the new Justice League).

There's also a scene of Cyborg and Starfire talking about space stuff, as part of this series involved restoring a bunch of planets that were shrunken and stored on Colu (those two will be on the League starring in Justice League Odyssey), and another of Wonder Woman consulting with Zatanna (they will be on the Justice League Dark line-up). Surprisingly, Lex Luthor's villainy is played up, as he seems to make a conscious decision to quite playing the hero and embrace the force of entropy, and, more surprisingly still, Batman calls on Black Lightning to form what sounds like a new iteration of The Outsiders ("We need a team who can keep us covered...from the Outside").

That's surprisingly in that while DC has previously announced all the League books, and that Luthor would be forming a new Legion of Doom in one of them, and the changes to the Titans books ("Nightwing has a mission," Batman tells Black Lightning, "And Robin...Robin has deiced on his own way of doing things"), there hasn't been an Outsiders book announced. I would guess that storyline will flow into Detective Comics, though, as Black Lightning is appearing in the next arc there.

So yeah, when all is said and done, No Justice seems to be setting the stage not only for the three Justice League books, but all of DC's team books. And beyond.

While I'm really only interested in Justice League and not its spin-offs or the Titans books, I confess that I am much more excited about Justice League at the end of No Justice than I was before it. June should be a pretty exciting month for DC comics...

The Man of Steel #1 (DC) After a few short, almost tease-like stories in Action Comics #1,000 and DC Nation #0, brand-new DC Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis makes his official debut with his very first, full comic book script for the publisher. The six-issue miniseries takes as its title that of John Byrne's 1986 miniseries, and while the remit here seems to be to set up the new status quo for Superman, it doesn't look like there's going to be a rebooted retelling of Superman's origins or anything, as there was with Byrne's post-Crisis series (Although something is up with Lois Lane and Jonathan Kent, and it's being played as a mystery, first teased in the DC Nation series and then again here; they are MIA and only Superman seems to know exactly why).

Each issue will have a different artist, and this first one is drawn by pencil artist Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado, who also provide the linking covers of the series (which show the history of Superman and do not actually reflect the contents of the particular issue. So if you picked this one up hoping to see the Justice League, you're out of luck).

I confess that I both sighed and laughed when I turned the first page--a splash depicted the planet Krypton hanging in space with just three dialogue bubbles--and saw the extremely Bendisian two-page spread that filled the second and third pages of the book. A single figure is pacing before five giant floating cosmic heads, and delivering a long-winded speech of the sort that only appear in Bendis comics, with the dialgoue bubbles strung like pearls that stretch across the pages. Clearly Bendis isn't going to change his style a whit just because he's writing a DC comic for the first time (the giant floating heads are all blue and seem to be some sorts of holograms; each belongs to someone or something space-related--there's a Guardian, a character that looks a lot like Sardath from the Adam Strange comics--and it reminded me of the earlier Guardians of the Galaxy comics Bendis was writing, when all the bosses of Marvel space would convene to talk about their plans for the galaxy or whatever).

That's followed by another one-page splash. So the first four pages of the comic book consist of just three images and a few hundred words. And of course the 22-page comic book now costs $3.99; not only has Bendis changed anything much about his approach to writing comics just because he moved from one major publisher to the other, but he seems to have brought too much of Marvel with him.

That figure who is doing the talking is one we've seen before, in the Jim Lee-drawn Action #1,000 story: Rogol Zaar, who was trying so hard to kill Superman in that story, and is here petitioning hologram Mount Rushmore to let him destroy Krypton for the good of the galaxy. (They say no, which makes him sad.)

The rest of the issue is devoted to an introduction to Superman as he flies around Metropolis, being Superman. He catches Killer Moth (still not dressing like a moth) and Firefly, visiting from Gotham City, and then helps save some people from a deadly fire and put it out with his amazing super-powers. As he has previously demonstrated, despite some awkward dialogue, Bendis seems to have a good handle on Superman's attitude, writing himself as a genuinely good person who is a little in awe at humanity and feels privileged to have the abilities to help them out so much.

While saving people from a fire is a pretty standard Superman thing to do, this particular fire appears to be the beginning of an ongoing plot point, as Metropolis' new fire chief says it is part of a rash of arsons. She too appears to be a new addition to the cast, alongside the new reporter introduced in DC Nation #0.

Back at The Daily Planet, we're reminded that Lois is missing and only Clark Kent seems to know where or why, and then there's a brief, two-page flashback to what seems like a typical night at home involving Clark, Lois and Jon, when something weird happens, and the three of them look off-panel in fear at something that generates bright light and...the issue ends. (Jay Fabok draws those last two pages.)

So far then, Bendis' Superman run seems to be almost exactly what one might expect from a Bendis Superman run, both the good things and the bad things one might have expected. Overall, it's a very solidly constructed issue though, and it may just be the novelty of a creator so closely established with Marvel working on DC's one-time flagship character, but I remain excited about the future of this book and the franchise after finishing the issue. I do hope the "mystery" isn't drawn out too long, though; if it ends up being a six-issue mystery, than this seems like the sort of book that would read better in trade. On the other hand, it is being published weekly, so a drawn-out mystery is only going to last a month and a half, not half a year.

Hopefully there's no continuity rejiggering involved, as Superman has had more than enough of that in the past six or seven years now, and it hasn't much helped the quality or readability of the comics.

Saga #52 (Image Comics) This remains a great comic, and this particular issue demonstrates how well-plotted the book is, with characters bringing up rather minor points from long, long ago--things that occurred before the first issue, actually, and were only since recounted in flashback--that pay off in other ways further down the road, getting remarked upon and pondered over by characters here. Meanwhile, artist Fiona Staples continues to come up with brilliant designs for crazy creatures, like the one that almost eats a prominent member of the ensemble cast.

As for the accuracy of that cover, Petrichor and Ghus do indeed play in the water in this issue, and the former does indeed where that particular bathing suit while the latter goes nude.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #38 (DC) I'm slightly shocked that it's taken this long for Dynomutt and The Blue Falcon to appear in this series, given how closely the characters are associated with Scooby-Doo and company. Dynomutt, Dog Wonder originally aired as part of the Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour, after all, and the Mystery Inc. gang guest-starred in...let's see...three of the cartoon's sixteen episodes, and ever since Dynomutt has been pretty closely associated with Scooby-Doo (Think Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, that one episode of Mystery Incorporated, and, most recently, the Scooby-Doo: Mask of the Blue Falcon direct-to-DVD film). In fact, it's taken so long for such an expected team-up that I had begun to wonder if maybe there wasn't some legal hang-up somewhere, as the Daring Duo were also noticeably absent from DC's recent Hanna-Barbereboot books, where they would have fit in fairly perfectly with the various Future Quest superhero characters (well, Blue Falcon would have fit in perfectly; Dynomutt not so much).

Series writer Sholly Fisch, who probably has the most fun gig at DC Comics, is here joined by artist Walter Carzon, who does a fine job (Although given how much the Scooby-Doo characters seem to have all of their poses recycled, I've begun to wonder if they are even drawn into the book at all anymore, and not just dropped-in like branded clip art). Dynomutt has called mystery solvers Scooby-Doo and the gang to Big City to help him solve a potentially supernatural mystery: Blue Falcon has begun acting so out of character, that the Dog Wonder suspects he might be possessed (Spoiler alert: He's not).

How out-of-character is he acting? Well, the character who was conceived as a parody of the TV Batman of the late 1960s has started acting like a parody of the Dark Knight Returns Batman of the late 1980s. Jumping in front of lightning bolts, narrating rather than talking (all of his dialogue appears in blue narration boxes, although the other characters can hear it, and wonder how he's talking without moving his mouth), and copiously quoting from DKR (Here's one: "THis isn't a sidewalk. It's a dog pound-- --and I'm the dogcatcher!").

I suppose it's worth noting that this line of gags isn't unique to this issue; I can remember Cartoon Network's website doing something similar in the 1990s, and echoing the changing styles of Batman in the Blue Falcon character has previously been done in the aforementioned episode of Mystery Incorporated and Mask of The Blue Falcon to various degrees. No one's gone quite so far though, or done it with the same level of specificity that Fisch does here though, perhaps because it needs to be done in Batman's home medium for it to work most effectively.

The other Batman-related gag is that the Mystery Inc kids, who are pretty familiar with Batman at this point in the series in addition to all their animated crossovers, keep pointing out how similar The Blue Falcon is to Batman, to which Dynomutt and B.F. continually respond with a perhaps over-protested ignorance: "Bat-who? Never heard of the guy."

As to what exactly is going on, it's revealed by the end of the twelfth page, and it has a rather clever result that is funny on its own, but could also be read as a bit of meta-textual commentary on the idea of making a children's character darker and more violent...and fandom's reaction to such moves. In the remaining ten pages, Fisch and Carzon wheel out just about every Blue Falcon villain that didn't appear previously in the issue, and consulting only my own fading memory rather than Wikipedia, I think they got 'em all in...or came pretty dang close to doing so). (When the Injustice League appears, Fred incredulously asks if there isn't already an Injustice League, "The one that fights the Justice League? To which the Mr. Mind-like villain The Worm replies, "We're villains! What do we care about trademark infringement!")

I happened to read this particular issue after reading the Super Sons/Dynomutt Special #1 (discussed below), and the fact that they were published pretty much on top of one another likely means I won't be the only one reading them within days of each other and being more or less forced to compare and contrast them. The juxtaposition is informative. In both cases, the writers play with Blue Falcon as a Batman analog, and it's kind of remarkable how much smarter and more self-aware the Fisch-written one geared for kids (that is, "Rated E for Everyone") than the Peter Tomasi-written one geared for grown-ups (that is, "Rated T for Teen") is. In fact, Tomasi's issue pretty much dunderheadedly commits the very sins Fisch was poking fun at. This issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up, which was actually published first, reads like a response to the Super Sons crossover special. Taken together, though? While one is clearly far superior to the other, and manages to have its cake and eat it too, I think they make a pretty compelling argument that there should be a Dynomutt and The Blue Falcon comic set in the DC Universe. With Fisch writing.

Super Sons/Dynomutt Special #1 (DC) Structurally, writer Peter Tomasi's script for this 38-page special is a strong one, as he manages to tie the disparate elements of the book together along a particular theme. That's actually no mean feat, considering that the so-called "Super Sons" themselves are kind of an awkwardly grafted-together ongoing team-up. The thing is, as well-plotted as the story might be, it's not a very good Dynomutt and Blue Falcon story...and I question the specific theme as well (It is, in short, death, or, at least, how young Jonathan Kent first starts to come to grips with it as a part of life).

Jonathan has been dragged to Big City, which is apparently a city in the DC Universe, by his parents, who are there to attend the funeral of a guy who used to work with them at the Planet. When he goes outside for some air, he finds his friend/stalker Robin lurking in a tree, waiting for him. And then someone puts his hand, er, paw on Jon's shoulder and we get the first image of Dynomutt we see in the comic.
He's drawn to resemble a real dog dressed in a costume similar to Dynomutt's, and we see that he is badly damaged and near-death. He's lying in a pool of purple oil, his skin is torn away to reveal robot pieces all over, and his fleshy tongue and his robot eyeball are both hanging out of his head. He speaks like he was programmed by one of the animals from Grant Morrison's We3: "...friendsmell...darkpain..SKKZZZZT...need...home..."

It's a pretty damn violent image, in a pretty violent scene, in a pretty violent comic that not only earns, but is really pushing its "T for Teen" rating; this reminded me a bit of that one issue of Nightwing Tomaski wrote forever ago in which the former Boy Wonder brutally murdered much of Batman's rogue's gallery in a ultra-violent dream sequence. That this stars a cartoon character though makes it even worse. Later, near the end of the book, after Blue Falcon is killed by The Red Vulture (who here is a formerly real vulture that Blue Falcon experimented on and turned into a cyborg and is now a weird-looking cyborg zombie that wants to fucking eat our heroes like his namesake might), Dynomutt's body projects a bunch of armor and blades and spikes and he leaps at his foe: "GRRRARR! Murderer-- I'll kill--"
I was pretty surprised by the whole book. Blue Falcon and Dynomutt fit pretty easily into the DC Universe for obvious reasons, so it shouldn't take too much tinkering to integrate them. In fact, after Dynomutt appears to them, Robin explains to Superboy that "At one point, THe Blue Falcon joined Batman's international corporation of crime-fighters and fought against Leviathan and other global threats." That accompanies a panel showing Blue Falcon and Dynomutt posing alongside Batman, Guacho, Chief Man-of-Bats and other members of Batman, Inc (Two minor mistakes appear, too; Orphan Cassandra Cain appears, although she wasn't actually a part of Batman Inc, which was dissolved before she was reintroduced into the post-Flashpoint DCU, and Batman is shown wearing his current, "Rebirth" era costume, not the one he was wearing during the time Batman, Inc was extant). Given Blue Falcon's origin as a Batman parody, including him in Morrison's repurposing of an entire team of international Batman knock-offs was rather addition to making it all the simpler to introduce the characters into the narrative, as it means that Robin can just explain that he already knows them and can do a quick info-dump on them for the benefit of Jon and reader alike.

Why Tomasi and pencil artist Fernando Pasarin (here inked by Oclair Albert) felt the need to go so far in the direction of grim and gritty for this one-shot is pretty much beyond me, though. We learn the not terribly necessary (outside of Tomasi's story about Jon and death) secret origins of the characters, which involves a dog dying, and see them kinda sorta integrated into the DC Universe, only to have them kinda sorta written out. It's just a weird, weird comic, with nothing much to recommend it...beyond, of course, suggesting how easily Blue Falcon and Dynomutt could fit into the DCU if DC really wanted to put them in it. If they ever do return, though, hopefully the only aspect of this particular story DC would keep would be that Blue Falcon used to hang with Batman, Inc.

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