Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The rest of the Civil War II tie-ins that I managed to read.

Civil War II: Gods of War
By Dan Abnett, Emilio Laiso, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others
112 pages; $15.99
Number of issues tied to Civil War II: 1 out of 5
Do the events demonstrate that Carol is wrong and Tony is right?: No
Side: Not applicable

This particular trade paperback demonstrates an admirable degree of mercenary cynicism on the part of the publisher. Presented and sold as a special miniseries tying in to Civil War II--note that "Civil War II" is the title, not the sub-title--the four-issue series is in actuality nothing more than the next (and final) four issues of the immediately-canceled Hercules ongoing series by writer Dan Abnett.

In fact, it would take a very generous reading to consider this a tie-in to Civil War II, as to say the events of the series are shoe-horned in would be pushing it.

The first issue, the only one that ties-in to the series whose name the series bears, finds Hercules staring at and resisting a glass of whiskey in a New York City bar, when his old friend Amadeus Cho drops by to check in on Herc, which allows for a quick recap of the events of Hercules. The hero has quit drinking in an effort to try and dispel his reputation as an overly-boisterous, Cretan Bull-in-a-china shop of a superhero, and he is currently living in Queens with a group of mystical allies, contending with new gods called The Rising Storm, gods who wish to supplant the old gods once and for all. They are named Cryptomnesia, Catastrophobia and Horrorscope, and have modern spheres of influence, like, for example, being the god of information. They want to recruit Herc as their god of chaos.

Cho and Herc's hangout time is interrupted by the appearance of The Celestial Destructor in New York City, and...that's the point at which this series intersects with Civil War the very beginning, during the sort of generic scene where all of the heroes of the Marvel Universe unite against a big, random threat for a fight scene. The way in which this figures in is that the Rising Storm confront Hercules in the midst of the battle, but since only he can see them, it makes some of his peers--She-Hulk and Totally Awesome Hulk Amadeus Cho--wonder what's up with Herc. That, and the fact that Iron Man and Captain Marvel called in all of the heroes to confront the Destructor, but not Herc, so he feels left out by his peers again.

And that's about it, in terms of tie-in.

In the next issue, Hercules puts together his own team of mythological characters he calls the Gods of War: Beowulf, Thesus, Gilgamesh and some Asgardians. Their mission? To put an end to the Rising Storm.

In the issue after that, the Storm manage to take over Hercules' mind, and some of his fellow Marvel heroes attempt to take him down, until they realize he's under a spell and manage to break it. I guess this technically provides some hero vs. hero fighting, as Captain Marvel, Spider-Man Peter Parker, Captain America Steve Rogers and Medusa try to bring Herc down, but it's not really Civil War II related. There is a line of dialogue wherein Captain America tells Captain Marvel that The Hulk is their main priority at the moment--I guess Gods of War #3 somehow fits between the moment in which Ulysses' vision of The Hulk killing all the heroes, and the heroes' confrontation with Bruce Banner--and, after the end of their fight, Captain Marvel warns Hercules that they will be watching him.

And, in the fourth and final issue, Hecules and the Gods of War take on and take down The Rising Storm. The end.

Because that isn't enough pages to reasonably fill up a trade paperback, Marvel inflates the page count with a reprint of the Herc-centric pages of 1965's Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. That's a Thor vs. Herc story, if you're wondering.

Deadpool: World's Greatest Vol. 5--Civil War II
By Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne, Scott Koblish, Terry Pallot and others
136 pages; $17.99
Number of issues tied to Civil War II: 2 out of 6
Do the events demonstrate that Carol is wrong and Tony is right?: Eh, not really
Side: Indeterminate from this collection

The majority of this collection is dedicated to the five-part "Deadpool's Uncivil War" story arc, which ties fairly directly into the events of Civil War II at the outset, but then wanders off, its tie-in being more of a thematic one. That is, after Deadpool and World's Greatest's supporting cast deals with the Celestial giant and Deadpool calls bullshit on Ulysses, the rest of the arc deals with the Deadpool fighting...much of his peer group, up to and including his own wife.

Writer Gerry Duggan might lose interest in the events of Civil War II and the idea of predictive justice and free will vs. destiny pretty quickly, but he's able to maintain  hero vs. hero fighting for quite a while--or, at least, merc versus merc fighting.

Having not been reading Deadpool since for pretty much ever, and this collection contains issues #14-#19 of this particular iteration of the primary Deadpool comic, I can only guess as to what was going on before the start of this series. Apparently, Deadpool's "failed reboot of Heroes For Hire" The Mercs For Money--around whom another of Deadpool's endless spin-off series was built--functioned for a time as part of this book's cast.

These were a group of minor-ish Marvel characters that were attached to Deadpool to form a sort of super-team of mercenaries: Stingray, Slapstick, Solo, Foolkiller II, Terror (of Terror, Inc) and Masacre (The last of whom is a character who wears what looks like a home-made Deadpool mask, fights with machetes and only speaks in untranslated Spanish and...that's the one joke associated with the character, apparently).

When "Uncivil War" begins, Deadpool is enjoying and not-enjoying domestic life with his demon wife Shiklah in the underground monster city where Marvel's various 1970s horror characters all live and work together. They are called top-side by the rest of the Mercs to help deal with the Celestial Destructor from the Marvel Universe-wide team-up that kicked off Civil War II, but only Deadpool gets invited to the after-party at Stark Tower (There we see Deadpool chatting with The Vision about Ulysses' powers and then Ulysses himself; Deadpool doesn't buy into precognition).

That he gets invited to the cool superhero parties and they don't is one of the many things that rankles the ranks of his team, but when they discover that Deadpool has been cheating them out of the money he owes them, they decide to break-up with him en masse. To do this, they apparently need to break into a bank in New Jersey in order to destroy the contracts they signed with him. They make their move during the second chapter of the arc, in which Deadpool breaks into The Ultimates' Triskelion HQ to confront Ulysses (Which is kind of a weird, given the fact that they were just having a pleasant face-to-face the issue prior, but Duggan does have Deadpool half-explain why he chose that particular route).

This leads to a long, drag-out fight against The Black Panther which is...out-of-left field, even in the context of a Deadpool comic. From what we're given, BP seems mad that Deadpool broke into the Triskelion, and thus wants to beat him up, Deadpool's taunts and increasingly lewd behavior eventually driving T'Challa to bellow out how he's going to kill Deadpool, all of which seem...less than Black Panther-esque. (The fight choreography in their battle, which stretches out over the better part of eight pages, is pretty superior for a modern Marvel superhero comic book though; usually fight scenes just consist of two characters posing, with no sense that one action leads to that of the next panel.)

From there, Deadpool fights the rest of his team, which is interrupted by an extended flashback scene in which Solo explains how he saved America while dressed as Deadpool, inadvertently making the character more popular and respectable, and then, once the fight is resumed, it is ultimately broken up for bood by SHIELD.

Then Deadpool fights Shiklah for five pages, and hangs out with Rogue, his teammate on The Avengers Unity Squad (the team from the Uncanny Avengers book that launched post-AVX).

The final issue in the collection, set in Marvel's 2099 setting, is only related to what preceded it loosely, as throughout "Uncivil War" DP expressed concern for his daughter and what her future will bring her. Here, we see it. I have to assume this is a story in-progress, doled out in occasional chapters like this, as I could barely make heads-or-tails out of what was happening; that, or one simply needed a better understanding of Duggan's longer-form Deadpool series than what I got from these five issues.

Guardians of The Galaxy: New Guard Vol. 3--Civil War II
By Brian Michael Bendis, Valerio Schiti, Kevin Maguire and Richard Isanove
136 pages; $19.99
Number of issues tied to Civil War II: 3 out of 4
Do the events demonstrate that Carol is wrong and Tony is right?: No
Side: Team Carol

So the Guardians of The Galaxy play a decidedly minor role in Civil War II. In the series' one big superhero battle, when Team Tony (i.e. the Good Guys) confront Team Carol (that is, the Bad Guys) atop the Triskelion, Carol and her handful of teammates seem hopelessly outnumbered. And then Carol dramatically says she has friends all over, and into the fray jump The Guardians. And that is pretty much the extent of their participation.

This trade, or at least 60 pages or so of it, are devoted to Bendis explaining what, exactly, the Guardians were doing just before they joined the battle  on the last page of the fourth issue. It's not exactly the Marvel Universe's most burning question, and it's pretty easy to suss out from the context given--Carol Danvers was a member of the Guardians for a while, and they naturally like her a lot better than they like Tony Stark, even though he too was a member of their team for a while--but, to his credit, Bendis uses the tie-in as a way to break up the the team and move them into a new and different setting. At least for a while.

The collection is of particularly poor value, though. At $20 for just four issues, it's actually more expensive to read Guardians of the Galaxy #11-#14 in trade paperback than it would have been in $3.99/20-page installments; the other 50 pages or so are made up of the 11-page Civil War II story from Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Civil War II) #1, thirty fucking pages of artist Valerio Schiti's pencil art and inked art at various sizes and sundry variant covers.

What's here isn't bad, of course, but it kinda boggles my mind that Marvel still has customers, let alone fans, when the publisher seems to go out of their ways to rip them off with collections like this.

The Civil War II tie-in story arc is three issues, neatly divided into an issue devoted to what the Guardians do before their appearance in Civil War II, an issue devoted to what they were doing immediately before and after the battle and then an issue dealing with the aftermath.

At the opening, the current Guardians line-up--the characters from the movie, plus Angela, Venom Flash Thompson, Benjamin "The Thing" Grimm and Kitty Pryde--are celebrating  a victory that probably occurred in issue #10, and then vote on whether or not they should answer the call for help they received from Carol (Or, as Peter Quill puts it, "Go back to Earth and stick our noses in it"). Rocket, who votes no, is outnumbered, and so they go to Earth.

While various characters have certain concerns about fighting Avengers--although, perhaps as a way of rationalizing their actions in Civil War II proper, none of them are much briefed on who is on what side and why; they just hear Carol's side of things and that Tony is intent on stopping her--the bigger conflict for the Guardians is that Carol tells Peter that Thanos attacked Earth (that part is in the Free Comic Book Day story that is republished here, and in several other collections) and is currently being held prisoner by Carol, and he decides to keep that from Gamora, Drax and the rest of the team, despite the fact that they are going to be murderously, vengefully pissed at him if and when they find out.

In the third, they find out. Just after the Guardians' ship is destroyed, stranding them on Earth, and the team breaks up...after a fight between Carol and Gamora. (I'm not sure what followed in the pages of Guardians of The Galaxy, but the Star-Lord miniseries by Chip Zdarsky was actually pretty great.)

Bendis does a decent impression of the dialogue ticks and character chemistry from the films, replicating it for the Marvel Comics Universe and adding other characters to the mix, and artist Valerio Schiti is great with the character "acting," so even though a great deal of the action in these three issues is the characters talking and bickering, it's fun to look at and read on a panel by panel or page by page basis.

The fourth issue included has but a single page set in the present, in which Rocket eats Earth fast food in a park and laments his lot in life, and then he flashes back to an earlier adventure kinda sorta involving Spider-Man Peter Parker--who is actually unconscious throughout the entire story, while a Super-Skrull impersonates him--that is mostly an excellent showcase for the formidable skills of artist Kevin Maguire. Like Schiti, he is an excellent "actor" of an artist, although his artwork is also much more detailed. It's just a standalone, 20-page story, but it's also a tour de force.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 6: Civil War II
By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Mirka Andolfo and others
136 pages; $17.99
Number of issues tied-to Civil War II: 4 out of 6
Do the events demonstrate that Carol is wrong and Tony is right?: Yes
Side: Team Carol...then Team Tony...then neutral

G. Willow Wilson's Civil War II tie-in arc is sandwiched between two done-in-ones that do a pretty great job of demonstrating the "before" and "after" of the effects of the war. In the before, drawn by original Ms. Marvel artist Adrian Alphona, we see Kamala Khan and her pals from high school competing in a Tri-State Science Fair competition...against a team lead by Miles Morales, aka (the shorter) Spider-Man. In the after, drawn by guest-artist Mirka Andolfo, Kamala leaves America for Karachi, only to learn that as far away as she gets from her problems in Jersey City, she can't get away from being Ms. Marvel...nor from feeling like an outsider.

And in the middle? Wilson eschews showing the events of Civil War II involving Kamala to instead focus on "the home front" of her particular book. Ulysses, who looks an awful lot like Bruno, appears alongside Medusa in the last panels of issue #7 (colorist Ian Herring gives him a blue shirt, which means Ulysses did indeed change t shirts at least once during the civil war), after which point Ms. Marvel is summoned to Captain Marvel's Alpha Flight base and given an assignment: Team with and supervise Becky St. Jude and three other "vetted volunteers" who are going to be acting on Ulysses' intelligence in Jersey City.

These Carol Cadets, as Kamala calls them, are all normal human beings, so she's the only super-powered person among them. They get to crime-fighting right away, and some of it is fairly funny, as when Ms. Marvel grows giant and picks up a guy and tells him not to rob the bodega he's thinking about robbing, before dropping him and rushing off to deal with a more pressing emergency. Pretty much everyone Kamala knows informs her that this whole predictive justice thing is bullshit, her sister-in-law comparing it to the way black people were policed and noting that incarcerating innocent people can essentially turn them into criminals, but Kamala doesn't entirely wake up until it gets personal. A classmate gets citizen-arrested and put in a homemade Guantanamo by the Cadets (who dress like Hitler Youth), Carol snaps at Kamala when she tries to voice her concerns and Bruno gets very badly injured trying to rescue a classmate, leading to the sudden end of his friendship with Ms. Marvel.

In an attempt to fix things, Ms. Marvel conspires with a Canadian ninja to commit a crime Ulysses will predict, and then to reveal to the Cadets, Captain Marvel and Iron Man that it was a fake crime. It doesn't...quite work, but it brings the storyline to an end somewhat satisfactorily, allowing Wilson to focus on the emotional fall-out, as the thing between Kamala and Bruno is much, much bigger than the Civil War II stuff. At least for Ms. Marvel.

Wilson vocalizes concerns about Carol's dumb initiative in ways other Marvel writers don't. For example, Kamala immediately asks Carol if this isn't a little like profiling, which is, you know, bad, and Carol retorts that it isn't profiling an entire group of people, which is bad, but profiling a single individual person. It's the difference between Pakistani-American Muslims with dual citizenship who live in Jersey City and Kamala Khan, I guess (Ironically, in the epilogue issue, Kamala gets pulled aside for extra frisking at the airport because her last name is "Khan"; Wilson seems to acknowledge that Kamala is familiar with the negative aspects of profiling, and is mainly involved with this nonsense at all because it's her hero Carol Danvers who is asking her to be).

Hijinx, the leader of the anti-capitalist Canadian Ninja Syndicate, pretty directly references Minority Report too, which is something I think everyone who talked about Civil War II on the Internet at all did, but I don't recall seeing anyone in the pages of one of these tie-ins do.
The presence of Hijinx doesn't quite sit well with the emotional content, particularly the scenes of Kamala's family history, which Wilson writes and Alphona draws throughout the Takeshi Miyazawa-drawn arc. The presence of these scenes is important, particularly as they show how Kamala is the culmination of a few generations worth of stories, and noting that her family's very presence in America is the indirect result of a real civil war, but the rapid tonal shifts of this story arc, and this trade collection, are a little off-putting.

That said, this is one of the more ambitious of the Civil War II tie-ins, and, with three great artists involved, one of the all-around better-looking.

Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears Vol. 2--Civil War II
By Dennis Hopeless, Javier Rodriguez, Veronica Fish, Tigh Walker and others
112 pages; $15.99
Number of issues tied-to Civil War II: 3 out of 5
Do the events demonstrate that Carol is wrong and Tony is right?: Yes
Side: Reluctantly Team Carol...then anti-Carol...then neutral

The comic book starring Spider-Woman Jessica Drew is in a particularly precarious place regarding the events of Civil War II, because Carol Danvers is Jessica's best friend and a semi-regular supporting character in the series, but, in order for Jessica to side with Carol, it would mean that she would have to take the side of an argument that is clearly wrong and, essentially, choose to side with the bad guys (or, here, the bad good guys) rather than the good guys (the good good guys).

So how does writer Dennis Hopeless address this? By having Jessica trying very, very hard to stay out of it as completely as possible and, when forced to confront the events in the miniseries, using it as a turning point in her relationship with Carol. Unlike so many of the other comics in which a colleague argues with or comes to blows with Carol, this one has real dramatic resonance, because their relationship has been consistently portrayed as so close...not just in past Marvel Comics from over the decades, but in previous issues of this very series by this very creative team.

As with the Ms. Marvel collection discussed above, Spider-Woman Vol. 2 has three issues that tie-in to Civil War II, and they are book-ended by two done-in-ones that do not. In the first, newly back-in-the-game Spider-Woman takes on and takes down Tiger Shark, a villain that rather vastly overpowers her, with the support of her team Ben Urich and The Porcupine. In the last issue, Jessica and her baby son Gerry meet The Porcupine and his daughter Kalie on the beach, where Porcupine battles The Sandman.

The Civil War II tie-in comes in three distinct phases. In the first issue of these, Jessica, Roger, Ben and Gerry are in Canada, investigating the most recent outbreak of Wendigos. Jessica is rather pointedly ignoring Carol's repeated phone calls trying to sell her on the idea of "predictive justice", and focusing on her detective work provides a pretty great excuse. Carol eventually just shows up in person to solve the case for Team Spider-Woman--well, to help them beat down all the Wendigos--in order to finally make the pitch face-to-face. Jessica still isn't convinced, but Carol doesn't want her on Team Carol at this point; she just wants her detective team to follow-up on a bunch of the smaller Ulysses predictions, in order to make sure they check out.

The next issue follows Spider-Woman and her boys as they travel the country--and beyond!--checking on Ulysses' predictions (none of the ones that appear in other comics), and Spider-Woman is forced to admit that the Inhuman future predictor is seemingly batting a thousand and there may be something to predictive justice after all. Unfortunately, she's in the process of making that phone call to Carol just as news breaks that Hawkeye Clint Barton has just shot Bruce Banner in the head with an arrow, killing him.

The final installment has a pretty enraged Jessica--one friend killed another friend because of events set in motion by her best friend, after all--trying to investigate what the fuck exactly happened and why, ultimately leading her into conflict with Carol, who basically just absorbs all of Jessica's blows and insults in her Alpha Flight base, until Jessica's rage is spent and she tells Carol off, saying that they are over.

The major problem with Civil War II was always that Carol is so clearly wrong all the time, but writer Dennis Hopeless does a fine job of first making a case for why Carol might believe in Ulysses' powers--that is, Spider-Woman confirming that they are all coming true so far--and then focusing on the drama of friends fighting, rather than just random superheroes fighting one another. It's extremely effective, in large part because Hopeless has already demonstrated how tight Carol and Jessica are, and also because the light, comedic tone of the book makes the emotional content of the Civil War II tie-in such a sharp departure. It's not exactly a 180-degree turn, but the book definitely shifts sharply, and it does so purposefully.

Every nice thing I've ever said about pencil artist Javier Rodriguez still applies here. His artwork is fantastic, his story-telling superlative and his layouts consistently clever and engaging. He pencils the first two of these five issues, with Alvaro Lopez handling the inks. Rodirguez does the layouts for the third issue, while Veronica Fish finishes it. Then Fish handles the next issue solo. The fifth and final of these is a collaboration between Tigh Walker, who is credited simply with "layouts," and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg.

Whether serendipity or planning, it all works out quite well, as the Rodriguez/Fish collaboration coming between the Rodirguez-penciled issues and the Fish-drawn one eases the reader into the transition nicely, to the point that I barely noticed it. The Walker/Rosenberg issue is a stylistic departure, but the art is still great and the story itself is a departure. While the others may have been connected, this one is literally about Jessica taking a day off--the only mention of the events of the previous issue is when she turns off the TV with a "Nobody. Cares." when Captain Marvel appears on it--and she stays in plain clothes while Roger suits up as The Porcupine to battle a Spider-Man villain far higher on the rogue's gallery ratings that he is.

In the Wendigo issue, Spider-Woman sports a cool white and powder-blue version of her costume, and when she tries to infiltrate Alpha Flight, she has a gray and black "stealth" version of her costume. I liked them both a lot.

The Totally Awesome Hulk Vol. 2: Civil War II
By Greg Pak, Alan Davis, Mahmud Asrar, Mike Del Mundo and others
136 pages; $17.99
Number of issues tied-to Civil War II: 4 out of 6
Do the events demonstrate that Carol is wrong and Tony is right?: Inconclusive
Side: Netural-ish

Bruce Banner, the original Incredible Hulk, is one of the three major collateral damage characters in Civil War II, along with War Machine James Rhodes and, to a lesser extent, Banner's own cousin, She-Hulk, the latter of whom is merely horribly wounded and then changed forever (temporarily), rather than outright killed off like the other two.

Naturally then, Marvel's Hulk book--The Totally Awesome Hulk, starring teen genius Amadeus Cho--is practically forced to comment in a major way on the events of Civil War II. The problem for writer Greg Pak is that the events of Civil War II completely contradict those of earlier issues of Totally Awesome Hulk, of which there were only six before those collected here. The events of Civil War II contradict those of Hulk so much, in fact, that it seems Bendis had not even read Banner's latest appearances before writing him into Civil War II, or at least been, you know, told about them in enough detail to fake like he had.

So, to review, there was a catastrophic nuclear meltdown occurring off the coast of Africa, threatening to lives of millions on the continent. Bruce Banner turned into The Hulk and leapt into action, planning to absorb all of the radiation himself. Unfortunately, the nuclear energy and his own gamma energy reacted in some comic book science-y way that turned the Hulk himself into the meltdown, and so the assembled super-scientists were preparing to teleport him to the Negative Zone so that he could explode there without killing quite so many...probably because Iron Man didn't have a rocket all prepped and ready to shoot him off into space instead.

Amadeus Cho shows up and, using his own super-science brain, concocts a way to not only save the day, but also permanently cure Banner from being The Hulk...and, shortly thereafter, Cho becomes the new Hulk himself. ("Trade secret," he tells Banner when asked how he accomplished this feat).

But in Civil War II, the future-predicting Inhuman Ulysses has a vision of The Hulk killing all the other Marvels, and when Captain Marvel, Iron Man and a who's who of the Marvel Universe confront Banner en masse, they discover that he has been recklessly experimenting on himself in an attempt to cure himself of ever being the Hulk again which, um, Cho had already done. Months ago. And then Hawkeye Clint Barton shot Banner to death with an arrow because to his keen eyes it looked like Banner was about to transform. That shouldn't be possible, of course--either the fact that Banner was about to transform or that he could be killed by an arrow in the head--but it was then revealed by Bendis that at some point in the past Banner had asked Hawkeye to kill him with a specially-prepared arrow if it seemed like he was going to become The Hulk again. I don't know. It was all very dumb.

So that's what Pak got to clean up. For the most part, in Civil War II and pretty much any other Marvel book, the two stories contradicting each other so directly could be dealt with by frantic hand-waving, and generous readers just forgiving it as the sort of thing that happens in big, dumb superhero comics events like this (Civil War II required an extremely generous readership, really). Pak doesn't have that luxury, though, as readers of Totally Awesome Hulk are the (unfortunately small) sub-set of Marvel readers who would realize and perhaps even care how big the gulf between the Banner-related events of Civil War II and where we last saw Banner really was.

Pak addresses the problem mainly by ignoring it altogether. In the six-issues of the title collected here, two feature Banner, Cho and what could be called "The Hulk Family," while the next four pick up after the Hulk-related events of Civil War II. It's a rather unconvincing solution, but read all on its own, it works, and the writing and the art on all six of these issues is pretty damn good.

The two-part storyline running through #7 and #8 is illustrated by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer, a superior art team whose presence here raises the question of why they are so infrequently seen on mainstream superhero comics these days. I assume, and hope, it is by choice. It's hard to imagine there are editors looking at these guys' work and thinking they are too old or out-of-style or something. The story-telling is impeccable. The first of these issues is basically a Banner solo story, as he wanders about the world, constantly surprised by the fact that he is finally Hulk-free. At one point, Cho rescues him from a fight--over a stolen shirt, which is actually kind of funny--and recaps recent history to him before bounding away. At another, Iron Man confronts him, and asks him about his issues, as it seems like he just might be trying to kill himself.

In the second half, Cho finds Banner burning up with fever, and takes him to an old Hulk hide-out in the desert, where he and his little sister Maddy try to nurse him back to health. Maddy calls She-Hulk and Rick Jones, and they all spend some quiet time together, ultimately focusing not just on Bruce's wellness and unusual (for him) happiness, but an emerging problem with Cho's more id-driven  version of a Hulk.

The eleventh issue skips ahead, and opens with a slightly inaccurate recap page, saying that Amadeus has just heard the news about Hawkeye having "executed" Banner. In reality, the story picks up after Barton was acquitted of the crime and walked away a free man--one of those many things you just have to ignore about Civil War II is that it includes the world's fastest, least-realistic murder trial, which seems all the speedier given that it would have to be, in the world of the Marvel Universe, the trial of century: A founding Avenger, killed by another long-time Avenger, as part of some weird suicide/murder pact, over vague reasons involving bleeding-edge science and...untestable, bio-organic super-powers exhibited by a mutant-esque minority group...? It takes our justice system years and years to decide issues regarding the sale of wedding cakes to same-sex couples, but Hawkeye is cleared of murder in weeks, if not days.

Anyway, Cho is in the fetal position in a Cleveland hotel with Maddy, while Carol Danvers, Captain America Steve Rogers and a whole bunch of armored, armed, flying SHIELD agents show up with weapons pointed at him to ask him not to get mad or anything (Apparently, Danvers didn't learn anything from the Banner Hulk episode). The bulk of this issue is devoted to their stand-off, although towards the end Cho does Hulk out and start leaping towards Barton, with Carol and her then-ally The Black Panther keeping close watch over him. Michael Del Mundo draws this issue, which means there are three in a row that are pretty spectacular-looking. Del Mundo's style looks little like Davis', of course, and is highly-painterly; it's a little unusual here for how much it focuses on normal people in conversation. Cho spends more time as himself than he does as The Hulk.

Del Mundo's final image of the issue, of the Panther in a suit of adorable kitty cat-themed battle armor, is amazing:
And, finally, in the last three issues we get to the heroes-fighting-one-another aspect of the event series. T'Challa decides to take point on keeping Cho away from Barton, violently if it comes to that. It comes to that, although whose fault their clash ultimately is could be up for debate. It becomes a moot point when Maddy gets in over her head fighting the monster she would prefer Cho focus on instead of confronting Barton, and T'Challa and Cho have to team-up to save her...although she ends up saving both of them from either having to sacrifice themselves or from doing something terrible to the other.

It is, perhaps, strange that Pak has T'Challa step up to take on Cho instead of using Carol in that role, as Carol was used as the heavy in most of the Civil War II tie-in books, and, as we know, T'Challa eventually turns on her when he decides she's taken things too far. On the other hand, the fact that he wasn't used quite as often in the role of the antagonist made his presence here seem a little more refreshing, and the fact that he was there at the beginning of Cho's Hulk career and is, like Cho, a super-scientist, makes him a more fitting opponent.

Also, it allowed first Del Mundo and then Mahmud Asrar to draw the cat-themed Hulkbuster armor.

The Ultimates: Omniversal Vol. 2--Civil War II
By Al Ewing, Kenneth Rocafort, Djibril Morissette and others
136 pages; $17.99
Number of issues tied-to Civil War II: 6 out of 6
Do the events demonstrate that Carol is wrong and Tony is right?: Kinda complicated here, but the events demonstrate that Carol is wrong more than that Tony is right.
Side: The Ultimates all start on Team Carol...and then they gradually splinter

As one of the books starring one of Captain Marvel's several superhero teams, The Ultimates was in a somewhat difficult position for the events of Civil War II. Because Brian Michael Bendis made Carol so unequivocally the bad guy of the main event series, Ultimates writer Al Ewing has to meet the challenge of making Carol and her position sympathetic, while simultaneously explaining why the rest of her team follows what is pretty clearly a bad idea for so long, as well as foreshadowing the eventual cleavage in the team which, in Civil War II proper, happens more or less all of a sudden.

Ewing pulls it off pretty well. From the very first issue, there are pretty dramatic differences between several members of the Ultimates line-up--Captain Marvel Carol Danvers, former Captain Marvel Monica "Spectrum" Rambeau, The Blue Marvel, The Black Panther and Ms. America. The first and most significant of these is between The Blue Marvel and The Panther, over how to deal with the captive Anti-Man. After the introduction of Ulysses, there are disagreements about how to use predictive justice and how far to go, with everyone eventually turning on Carol to some extent--only to be interrupted by a greater threat.

The events of Civil War II wind in and out of the narrative, although Ewing mostly concentrates on what happens between those events, and how the members of the team react to them, and view Carol's place in them. So in the first issue, we see Project PEGASUS working on a cosmic cube initiative, which draws the attention of Thanos. In the second, we see the team preparing for the deadly fight with him shown in the pages of Civil War II, and then the aftermath. In the other issues, Blue Marvel begins to question Carol's use of Ulysses' powers in the cases of Hawkeye's murder of Bruce Banner and her rendition of the banking lady with the empty briefcase.

The team does finally come to blows, with America grabbing a chair and hitting Carol with it while the adults all argue with words, but that fight is pre-empted by Thanos' escape from his cell in the basement of their headquarters. The final issue is sort of an epilogue, showing where the various Ultimate end up after the events of Civil War II. Essentially the team is dissolved and all five have gone their separate ways, with Carol having made up with everyone except T'Challa.

Their break-up obviously isn't meant to be permanent. While the final issue in this collection is the final issue of Ewing and company's 12-issue run on the series, it was immediately relaunched with Ultimates 2 #1, picking up on the cliffhanger ending of the last pages of this particular collection. I guess this is a pretty salient example of how screwed up Marvel is...and was at this point. Instead of being a single, 24-issue series, the book ran for 12 issues as The Ultimates and 12 as The Utimates 2...ending with #100, not #12, because...well, who knows why.

The premise for the series was that of a pro-active super-team, a done-to-death idea, yes, but Ewing's take was not to put them forward as the sort of extra-aggressive super-team that goes out looking for trouble, but which finds unsolveable cosmic problems, and then solves them. In that respect, they're a bit of a mix of The Fantastic Four and The Avengers (In fact, the first volume of the series seems to have been devoted to confronting Galactus, who appears occasionally in this volume).

The official artist of the series was Kenneth Rocafort, whose layouts are sometimes pretty strange, and he has a weird habit of drawing weird, brightly-colored geometric patterns that evoke old-school Trapper Keeper art to me and...don't really seem to serve the particular story in anyway. They must just be some personal style flourish, as he did the same with his DC Comics work. He can't keep up with the accelerated, more-than-monthly schedule, as few artists seem able to do, so Djibril Morrissette fills in quite a bit, drawing parts of three issues that Rocafort couldn't. Christina Ward draws the final issue as a fill-in artist.

While the ins and outs of the predictive justice business and the other Ultimates' allegiance to and/or rebellion against Carol meets the Civil War II plot requirements, perhaps the most satisfying aspect is that it fleshes out Thanos' role. The character is supposed to be such a threat to the Marvel Universe that his rather random popping in just to kill War Machine in an earlier chapter and then wandering out of the story felt kind of out-of-left field. Here he's given motivation, is presented as a serious threat and problem and something of an ongoing one, necessitating a rematch with a handful of the characters who were present at the early Civil War II fight.

I hate that the other Ultimates call America "Mac." It doesn't make sense to me.


Here's the first post I wrote on Marvel's many,  many Civil War II tie-in collections. Here's my post about Civil War II itself. And here's my review of Civil War II: Choosing Sides. Taken all together, these four posts and, I don't know, four million words may seem like a pretty damn thorough accounting of the Civil War II event, but I still didn't cover everything. From what I can figure out from the Internet, there's still Civil War II: Fallout, Civil War II: Kingpin and Squadron Supreme: Civil War II, plus a whole bunch of shorter stories that didn't end up collected in trades with the words "Civil War II" in their titles, but even I have my limits...

I had thought about trying to cover all the Secret Empire tie-ins, or at least as many as I could stand to read, but I think trying to read all the Civil War II tie-ins taught me to never, ever try something like this again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The five best parts of Scott Peterson, Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen's Batman: Kings of Fear #1

1.) The first panel. That image above is the very first panel of Scott Peterson and Kelley Jones' first issue of Batman: Kings of Fear. It's also a splash page. So you open the cover and you are immediately confronted with that.

What is it? Well, you won't know for sure until you turn the page, but that's The Joker's eye. He is peering into a hole in an empty crate in a warehouse--in other words, just peering into the dark--and calling out Batman, who he knows is lurking in the dark somewhere nearby, waiting to make his grand entrance.

That is one scary eye. Not just in the detail of the human eye itself, which is, of course, a weird and awful thing to look at too closely or in too much detail, but in the black furrows in The Joker's white skin around the eye. He is making a very intense, very emotional anger smile, as is apparent from the wrinkles in the area around his eyes.

2.) Batman's fight with The Joker's henchmen. Wow. That's all one page. The fifth page to be exact. So, as you'll already know if you've read the issue, the first page is a splash page featuring The Joker's huge staring eye looking directly at the reader through the jagged hole in the wooden crate. That's the page pictured above this one. The second and third pages are a double-page splash, showing the wide-mouthed Joker staring into the hole from the outside of the crate and worming his index finger into it, his henchmen gathered and posing all around him and he calls out to Batman. The fourth page has him summoning Batman through a sudden act of violence. And then you get this page. So after several pages devoted to scene-setting, the action starts, and we get a page crowded with all of these little panels, detailing Batman's battle against a roomful of opponents, each of which he dispatches with a single, discrete act of violence delivered in super-rapid succession. If the first four pages are timed to show a moment or so apiece, this page shows explosive action split-second by split-second.

3.) Batman's gas mask-holder-up mechanism. A little context might be required here. So after Batman knocks out a warehouse full of tough guys, he similarly dispatches The Joker in the space of just two panels. We then cut to the Batmobile, where The Joker is restrained in the backseat, talking Batman's gigantic pointy ear off until the Dark Knight has ultimately had enough, and so he decides to fill the interior of the Batmobile with some kind of knockout gas, after first putting on a gas mask. But rather than reaching down to his utility belt or his glove compartment to grab a gas mask, Batman has outfitted his car with a special button that, when pressed, extends a gas mask on a little arm (see the third panel above) that then holds the gas mask in front of his nose and mouth.

It's one of those almost Rube Goldberg-esque, overly-complicated things that Jones is always so good at emphasizing and detailing, but are inherent in the character. Seriously, just stop and think for a moment about how unnecessarily melodramatic and complex basically every single thing Batman does is. No artist makes that as readily apparent as effectively and as efficiently as Jones does.

4.) Batman's giant ear. The most immediate signifier of Kelley Jones' Batman versus Everybody Else's Batman is the ears. Jones gives Batman very long, sometimes ridiculously long ears, so that they more closely resemble demon horns or even rabbit ears than those of Batman's animal namesake. This is a fact not lost on Jones. Which makes this bit so cool. Just how long are Batman's ears? So long that they don't even fit in that panel, but break its borders and extend into the panel above it...and ultimately break that panel's borders too and comes out the top of it.

5.) Batman punches everyone. The one-page, 24-panel fight scene on page five is actually just the first of the 22-page issue's action scenes. At the climax of the issue, just as Batman has returned the captured Joker to Arkham Asylum and is arguing with one of its doctors about whether it's cool that he tracks down, beats up and then drops off any criminally insane escapees on a regular basis or not, there's a mass breakout of name villains. This leads to a five-page fight scene in which Batman simultaneously battles Killer Crock, Mister Freeze, Bane, The Riddler, The Joker, Poison Ivy, Two-Face and The Penguin. About halfway through, we get the above absolutely perfect panel, in which Batman rolls through them all like a big, black wave, seemingly striking them all with his fist in a single, wide, arcing punch.

It''s a really beautiful image, and the sound effects are unfortunate, as they only serve to block out some of the art, and distract from the fluid motion of the Batman figure, suggesting stops and starts to his attack in that panel, as opposed to him flying through his villains like a big, black comet, fist-first.

Anyway, they should take the sound effects out of that image, blow it up, frame it, take down the Mona Lisa and throw it in the garbage, and hang this in its place, as it is the best thing ever.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Marvel's previews reviewed

It’s a new beginning for the Amazing Spider-Man! Peter Parker’s life is turned upside down when a revelation from the past puts his job, relationships and whole life in jeopardy! And as if that’s not enough, Spidey must deal with an alien invasion (with a mysterious twist), a new roommate (who’s secretly the villainous Boomerang), new wrinkles in his love life — and a dangerous new enemy! But are you ready for…Peter Parker vs. Spider-Man? Someone out there is impersonating Peter…but why? Be here as Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley kick off a brand new era in Spider-Man’s life! Collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2018) #1-5 and material from FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2018 (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN).
136 PGS./Rated T …$15.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91231-4

Okay, I don't have any jokes or observations to make about this, I just have a question, for anyone who has been reading this: Is it any good? Would I like it? I'm fond enough of Spider-Man as a character--I've been reading and enjoying writer Chip Zdarsky's Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, for example, but I've mainly ignored Spidey comics for a long while now. I really, really like the work of writer Nick Spencer, though, and loved the last comic he wrote with "Spider-Man" in the title, so I'm thinking I might dig this. I'm just not sure if it's something I should order now, or wait to check out a library trade of first...

AVENGERS #10 (#700)
After 700 issues of saving the world, you’d think the Avengers would be due some celebration. But instead the whole world seems to be gunning for them, especially Namor’s fearsome new Defenders of the Deep and the reimagined Russian Super-Soldiers of the Winter Guard. And that’s not to mention the shocking surprise the U.S. government has in store for our heroes. Plus: The all-new Agents of Wakanda! The mystery of the Avengers of 1,000,000 BC deepens! A key revelation concerning the resurrection of Wolverine! And the next startling new Avenger is revealed!
64 PGS./Rated T+ …$5.99

I hope "Namor's fearsome new Defenders of the Deep" are just the classic, 1970s Defenders line-up, in bathing suits. I'll settle for the Netflix Defenders, in bathing suits, though.

BLACK ORDER #1 (of 5)
They are the five dreadlords, the Cull Obsidian, Thanos’ most feared warriors and disciples… Ruthless villains to a one, the Black Order has been dispatched by the Grandmaster to destabilize a burgeoning empire, and along the way they come to realize that as big and as bad as they are, there is always someone bigger and badder… The bombastic writing style of novelist Derek Landy (Skulduggery Pleasant) and the electrifying artwork of Philip Tan combine for an absolutely unhinged super-villain adventure!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Just in time to capitalize on all the hype from that big movie that came out, um, six months before this issue ships...? Huh.

The Royal Family has been broken. Now, something new and terrible rises from its ashes. Who is Vox? Where are the Inhumans he’s killed? And what lies ahead for a king without a kingdom?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


This is a pretty great cover for The Immortal Hulk by Alex Ross.

Wow, Hulk's trapezius muscles are so crazy I'm surprised that Ant-Man is able to support his leg on one without sliding right off.

When you gaze into the warp…you get more stories of mad Two-In-One heroes! Read about the Star Siblings of the Warped Universe – MISTER INVISIBLE and HOT ROCKS, the TERRIFIC TWO! Then, see how the covert programs of the Green Room created the gamma-powered GREEN WIDOW! And join MOON SQUIRREL AND TIPPYSAUR as they save the planet from the most dangerous threat it’s ever faced!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I applaud the restraint it must have taken to not picture a Tippy-Toes/Devil Dinosaur "warp" character on the cover of this issue.

Sleepwalker continues his mission through the dreamworld of the Warped Universe – this time teaming up with the Dark Starhawk and even “He whose touch causes burning” – MAN-THING THANG THOOM!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Holy shit, two of my favorite Marvel characters, "warped" into one another to form Man-Thing Thang Thoom! God bless you Chris Sims and Chad Bowers; you guys are doing God's work.

Variant Cover by HUMBERTO RAMOS
Variant Cover by STEPHANIE HANS
Variant Cover by LUCIANO VECCHIO
Variant Cover by JAMAL CAMPBELL
Variant Cover by SKOTTIE YOUNG
When a group of world leaders is taken hostage by one of Spider-Man’s old foes, Riri Williams will have to step up her game. And she’ll be stunned when someone from back in Sweet Home Chicago enters her life… CHAMPIONS artist Kevin Libranda joins award-winning poet Eve Ewing, as Ironheart steps boldly out of Tony Stark’s shadow to forge her own future!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Finally. I never finished Brian Michael Bendis' run on Iron Man, which actually spanned a handful of Iron-related books, but the replacement of the title character with Riri Williams, who went by the codename Ironheart always to me, just on a simple logic level. Like, she has a different name than "Iron Man," so it wasn't the same as, say, Kyle Rayner becoming the new Green Lantern or Jane Foster getting her hands on Mjolnir to replace Thor; I guess Tony Stark was still in the book in the form of a hologram/AI operating system, but it never felt quite right to have a legacy character whose kept the super-armor part of her forebears legacy, but no the code name, you know...? So having Ironheart star in a book actually entitled Ironheart...? I'm all for that.

I'm not quite sold on this costume, yet. I like the heart motif around the chest, but I'm not sure about the color scheme, which seems to be one color too many. That said, I've only just seen these two images, so maybe it will grown on me after I read the comic...and/or see another half-dozen or so different artists draw their own versions of it. Which shouldn't take long at all, based on how many dang variant covers there are.

UNCANNY X-Men #1-3
ISSUE #1 – MAHMUD ASRAR & more (A)
New ongoing series kicking off with a 10-part weekly epic, the flagship X-Men series that started it all is back and better than ever! Starting with a mysterious and tragic disappearance, the X-Men are drawn into what might be…their final adventure?! X-Fan favorite writers Ed Brisson (EXTERMINATION), Matthew Rosenberg (PHOENIX RESURRECTION) and Kelly Thompson (MR. & MRS. X) and all-star artists Mahmud Asrar (X-MEN RED), R.B. Silva (X-MEN BLUE), Yildiray Cinar (WEAPON X) and Pere Pérez (ROGUE AND GAMBIT) join forces to bring you…X-MEN DISASSEMBLED?!
ISSUE #1 – 72 PGS./Rated T+ …$7.99
ISSUE #2-3 – 32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T …$3.99 (EACH)

Math is not my strong suit, but I am assuming Uncanny X-Men #1 should sell about a million copies. See, they have one million different variant covers, so even if only one customer buys one copy of each variant, they will still sell a million copies. Genius!

It's my understanding (mostly from reading what Brian Hibbs writes) that weekly comics aren't the most popular format in the world with retailers, but, as a reader, I've always liked the idea of them, particularly when they are super-good (like 52 or Wednesday Comics). Additionally, because of the sheer number of X-Men comics and the fact that they generally kinda sorta all tie together occasionally into a sort of ongoing epic regarding a super-races relationship to humanity and that they share a cast and continuity, it makes a lot more sense for their to be one shared X-Men book as opposed to a half-dozen of them.

Narratively, I can only assume it would be infinitely more satisfying if Marvel published a single, oversized weekly X-book instead of a few hundred pages of distinct X-Men material each month, and for my own recent experience, I can say that I suspect comics like Rogue & Gambit and Phoenix Resurrection (the writers of which are to be involved here) would have likely felt more important and had a greater impact had their events occurred within an (or "the") X-Men ongoing series, rather than in miniseries; the former felt kinda weird and random by existing at all, the latter spoiled its own premise and dampened its drama simply by its title.

Then again, I don't read X-Men comics as they're published serially, and I'm not about to start with a--Jesus!--$7.99 first issue, to be followed every seven days with a $3.99 issue. Also, although I think a weekly Uncanny X-Men makes more sense than a haf-dozen X-Men monthlies and another handful of solo series and miniseries, it should be noted that Uncanny is going to be weekly just for the first ten issues, and it's not like Marvel is folding all their other X-Men comics into this one or anything...

When the Vision decided to try to live a “normal” life, he built a wife, a son and a daughter – a family – only to watch it nearly all crumble. Now all that’s left is Viv, his learning-to-be-rebellious daughter, and Sparky, the family robo-dog. But what does it mean for an artificial intelligence to rebel? And can a synthezoid father handle single parenthood? The married writing team of Chelsea Cain (Mockingbird) and Marc Mohan joins rising star artist Aud Koch for a new take on the Vision family that will once again have everyone talking!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I really loved Chelsea Cain's Mockingbird, and was really excited to hear that she had another Marvel book coming up...until I learned which Marvel book she would be writing (well, co-writing). Turns out she will be writing perhaps my single lease favorite Marvel character, one of only a handful I find so incredibly uninteresting I have a hard time even engaging with, no matter who the creators involved are. I don't know if there's any other character I find as dull as The Vision. Wonder Man, The Inhumans, Carol Danvers...? Maybe Cable or Bishop? I don't know... Anyway, in terms of comics announcements, this one is like, the epitome of a good news, bad news situation.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

DC's November previews reviewed

written by PETER J. TOMASI
cover by DAN MORA
Jon Kent learns it’s better to be dead than red…Kryptonite, that is! Traveling the cosmos to get home and escape the intergalactic teen baddies known as the Gang, Superboy and Robin wind up on the so-called “Planet of Mystery.” There, Superboy deals with Red Kryptonite exposure, which throws his powers out of whack, while the planet haunts and taunts them both with nightmare creatures. They’ll need to wrap up this rest stop ASAP though, as the Gang is hot on their tails looking for a pound of flesh—which is a lethal amount when you’re a tween!
ON SALE 11.07.18
$3.99 US | 4 of 12 | 32 PAGES

I applaud the "Planet of Mystery." Nice job, Peter Tomasi.

Hey look, in the background, near the top of this cover of that Orca, The Whale Woman? Orca, The Whale Woman is in the midst of quite a revival these days, I tell you.

Wow, imagine how tight Batgirl's costume must be for it to conform so tightly to her rib bones that you can see them through it like that. That was never a problem for her with her previous costume.

written by JAMES TYNION IV
art and cover by HOWARD PORTER
“Drowned Earth” part one! The Ocean Lords—ancient sea gods with a grudge against Aquaman and Wonder Woman—invade the Earth with an alien army and flood the globe. As Batman, Superman and the Flash race to stop the waters from rising and turning everyone into aquatic monsters, Mera seeks the advice of an old enemy, and Arthur must face down Black Manta…or lose his connection to the ocean forever!
ON SALE 10.31.18
$4.99 US | 48 PAGES

written by SCOTT SNYDER
“DROWNED EARTH” finale! Aquaman faces the truth behind Atlantis’ past and must find a way to reclaim the power of his birthright or watch the floodwaters drown everything he has ever loved! With the world at stake and the Justice League on their last sea legs in their battle against the Ocean Lords, Arthur makes the ultimate sacrifice to return balance to land and sea!
ON SALE 11.28.18
$4.99 US | 48 PAGES


Okay, so Justice League, which along with Scooby-Doo Team-Up is the only DC comic I am still buying and reading serially, is doing a weird event story in November. It will involve two issues of the title, #11 and #12, plus Aquaman #42, which is officially a "tie-in" as opposed to part of the story proper. But the story will begin in a special, extra-length, higher-priced one-shot entitled Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth #1...and it will conclude in another special, extra-length, higher-priced one-shot entitled Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth #1, which is almost the exact same goddam title they just moved two words dammit. That's some real Marvel-level bullshit there, reminding me of that Marvel Rising book with Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel where it was a whole miniseries with similar sounding titles and #1s on every issue, except the first issue, which was #0. I honestly can't see any reason for DC to make keeping track of this story so goddam difficult, and I have to imagine that whatever benefit there is to concluding a four-part story in a book with a #1 on the cover is going to be eaten up by people not ordering it because they thought they already did.

Also, that is just a lot of pages of a Justice League adventure for a lot of money in a single month. It's $18 for the four parts, and $22 if you want the Aquaman tie-in. At that point, why wouldn't you just wait for the trade? You obviously won't have to wait very long, and if it's any more expensive, it won't be by very much.

I'm going to have to give this one some serious thought. I do enjoy reading Justice League serially, but with a month like this, I don't know that it even makes sense to do so...

art and cover by LEE BERMEJO
As Batman’s descent into the madness of Gotham City’s decadent underbelly continues, he must try to exorcise some of his demons…and who better to help than the Demon, Etrigan himself. And where there’s demons, there’s also a Deadman, a Spectre, an Enchantress and a host of other supernatural friends and foes—it’s a veritable Grand Guignol!
ON SALE 11.21.18
$6.99 US | 2 of 3 | 48 PAGES
APPROXIMATELY 8.5” x 10.875”

In general, I'm not a fan of artist Lee Bermejo's artwork, but I am kinda curious as to what his Etrigan might look like, given the variety in interpretations that Jack Kirby's demonic hero has had over the years, and that fact that Bermejo's style leans so hard towards realism. I suppose I'll flip through the eventual collection when it hits the library.

The holidays are tough enough as it is, but when you’re living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (or, you know, 2018) the world can seem bleaker than ever. So do yourself a favor this holiday season, break out your best eggnog and enjoy 10 all-new stories featuring the World’s Greatest Heroes, including looks at the futures of Batman, Superman and the Flash, as well as many more denizens of the DC Universe.
ON SALE 11.28.18
$9.99 US | 80 PAGES

This is another tough one, as it features creators whose work I generally seek out, like Paul Dini, Phil Hester and Cully Hamner, as well as one creator that I really want to avoid rewarding, Steve Orlando. I don't like that over-sized specials like this are now at the price point of, say, the first volume of an Image trade paperback collection, or where the average manga collection was a few years back, but I also genuinely love holiday specials like this (As I think I've mentioned before, at this point I've pretty much given up on my long-time life goal of becoming a professional comic book writer making mainstream publisher money someday, but this particular sort of book, the holiday anthology special, is the one format that I still feel strongly attracted to).

I also kinda dig that the idea here isn't just "Christmas...and maybe a Hanukkah or Kwanzaa story," but that there's a specific theme to it this time around.

art and cover by LIAM SHARP
Superstar writer Grant Morrison (Batman, All-Star Superman) returns to DC alongside red-hot artist Liam Sharp (The Brave AND the Bold, Wonder Woman) to launch a new, ongoing series: THE GREEN LANTERN!
In this debut issue, when Earth’s space cop, Hal Jordan, encounters an alien hiding in plain sight, it sets off a chain of events that rocks the Green Lantern Corps—and quite possibly the Multiverse at large—to its very core. There’s an inter-galactic conspiracy afoot, as well as a traitor in the GL Corps’ ranks, so strap in for more mind-bending adventures in this masterpiece in the making.
ON SALE 11.07.18
$4.99 US | 40 PAGES

Mainstream comics' most exciting writer takes on its most boring character! Morrison writing a book about a cosmic superhero with a magical ring that translates his thoughts into reality and whose milieu is full of alien worlds sure sounds like a match made in super-comic heaven, but then, on the other hand, Hal Jordan. So, a toss-up...? Liam Sharp is a hell of an artist though, and I'm curious to see him drawing as much as the DC Universe as he cares to draw, after his stints on Wonder Woman, and that oddly titled Wonder Woman/Batman team-up miniseries.

Kicking the series off with an over-sized, more-expensive-than-usual issue seems like a pretty Marvel-ous move, though, and screams, "Just wait for the trade, you fool!" to me.

written by GEOFF JOHNS
art and cover by DALE EAGLESHAM
backup story art by SEN
The superstar team of writer Geoff Johns and artist Dale Eaglesham reunite to launch the first all-new SHAZAM! monthly title set in the DC Universe in almost 20 years! (What took you guys so long?!)
Teenager turned super-hero Billy Batson struggles to balance school and superheroics! (Guess which one is more fun?) But when Shazam unlocks a shocking secret deep within the Rock of Eternity, it challenges everything he knows about the worlds of magic and his family’s future as its champions! Also, witness the bizarre team-up of Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind as they set off to build a society all their own! Don’t miss the start of an epic run in the making as “Shazam and the Seven Realms” begins!
ON SALE 11.21.18
$4.99 US | 40 PAGES | FC

Ha, 10, 15 years ago I would have been pretty damn excited to hear that JSA creators Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham were going to launch a new monthly starring one of my favorite DC superheroes, but that was before Johns rebooted the character. I was not terribly fond of his somewhat more mature, realistic and gritty take on the character in those Justice League back-ups--eventually collected into a standalone trade paperback collection--which read an awful lot like his spec script for a Captain Marvel movie in the form of a comic book. Having seen the trailer for the upcoming Shazam movie, it seems that's pretty much exactly what Johns and artist Gary Frank's New 52 Captain Marvel reboot was.

I'm not fond of the poor costuming changes, like the glowing billboard on his chest or the hood, nor the refocusing of the character as some kinda magical superhero, all of which simply seem to be incredibly transparent efforts to differentiate the character from Superman...apparently just for the sake of differentiating him from Superman. On the other hand, I fucking love Captain Marvel, and am glad to see two of the greatest supervillains in comics history name-dropped right there in the solicitation for the first issue, along with an allusion to The Monster Society of Evil, a name that makes The Brotherhood of Evil and The Legion of Doom sound genteel by comparison. (Although now I find myself wondering after Johns' version of Sivana; I feel like he played a small role in that New 52 strip, but I can't recall the specifics of his conception...).

It's really a shame this isn't by Grant Morrison and Doc Shaner, who did such an amazing job with these characters in their Multiversity special, and they did so without trying to reinvent the wheel and coming up with something less round, but I'm still intensely curious about this (I've been wondering, for example, what they were going to be calling all those other "Shazams" like Freddie, Mary and the other characters ever since I read the trade collection; this has certainly been in the works a long-ass time, as all of those characters appeared alongside Captain Marvel Shazam in that DC Rebirth house ad...)

Oh, and this is another high-profile new series launching with a $5 #1 issue; one more and it's officially a trend!

written by MIKE W. BARR and JAI NITZ
Two members of Task Force X are back in these all-new adventures! First up: “REVENGE OF KOBRA” by writer Mike W. Barr and artist Philippe Briones. To oppose the terrorist Kobra is to earn his un-dying hatred, and that’s what the samurai Katana did when she killed his beloved Eve. Now Kobra stalks Katana beyond the bounds of the Earth itself, to a supernatural world where he will steal from her everything that she has—including her very soul! And in “SUICIDE SQUAD BLACK,” by writer Jai Nitz and artist Scot Eaton, Sebastian Faust, the U.S. government’s top arcane operative, has gone rogue! To track down America’s most dangerous magician, Amanda Waller assembles a special-ops team unlike any other: an expendable coven of dark-arts experts including El Diablo, Enchantress and Gentleman Ghost. They are Suicide Squad Black, and they will take you to places where even the dead can die!
ON SALE 11.07.18
$4.99 US | 1 of 6 | 48 PAGES

While this doesn't sound appealing to me, having read past, similar Squad adjacent comics featuring Barr on Katana and Nitz on El Diablo, I have to confess this cover made me realize how excited I would be at the prospect of a Gentleman Ghost series...

Good thing that piece of rubble was there, or else where would Superman have planted his right foot...?

written by G. WILLOW WILSON
art by CARY NORD
“THE JUST WAR” part one! A new era of Wonder Woman begins as best-selling writer G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel) makes her return to DC with art star Cary Nord (Conan, THE UNEXPECTED) joining the series!
Far below Themyscira, Ares, the God of War, has been imprisoned for generations, repenting his past sins. But his new cellmate Grail may have an unexpected effect on him…and the plan they’ve come up with will change Themyscira—and the world— forever! When Wonder Woman rushes to Eastern Europe to rescue Steve Trevor from a mission gone wrong, she’ll find herself face-to-face with a very new, very different God of War!
ON SALE 11.14.18
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Well I guess that explains why ever since Greg Rucka left the book with 2017's issue #25, all of the writers scripting issues--Shea Fontana, James Robinson, Steve Orlando, James Tynion IV--have been on the book on a temporary, fill-in basis. DC must have been trying to get Wilson on this book for months and months now...?

I like that whoever wrote this solicit took the time to point out that Wilson is returning to DC--i.e. they found her first! Wilson first came to my attention with the 2007 original graphic novel Cairo with M.K. Perker (which I remember liking quite a bit, despite not remembering anything specific about it now), with whom she went on to create ongoing Vertigo series Air. She did a little work in the DCU, including the awkwardly titled Outsiders: Five of a Kind--Metamorpho/Aquaman #1, part of DC's mid-aughts efforts to make an Outsiders revival stick past the presence of writer Judd Winick, and a miniseries starring Vixen, plus some fill-in issues of that dumb Superman story J. Michael Straczynski started then abandoned aaaannnd that's it.

What a difference going on to co-create Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan for Marvel Comics made for the types of assignments DC was willing to give Wilson...! Honestly, this is a pretty big deal for the character and for the publisher (and, to a lesser extent, the writer), and Wilson is probably the biggest "get" of a creator that DC has gotten for their Wonder Woman title since...Jodi Picoult, probably...? And that went over like a ton of bricks, so let's hope this goes better! (Honestly, how could it not?)

Pairing Wilson with such an excellent artist is certainly a good start, although I have to confess complete disinterest in the plot part of the solicitation, which sounds like Generic Wonder Woman Story #3 on a menu of generic Wonder Woman stories. I'm certainly hoping to be proven wrong, though! Best of luck to Wilson and company on what I hope turns out to be an excellent run...

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Batman on a horse. A carousel horse.

Have you been perusing #visiblewomen on Twitter the last few days? I hope you have, as there's a lot of great art to be seen, and a lot of great artists to discover. I found this image by Mindy Lee particularly striking, as it features a unique (to me) variation on perhaps my favorite way to see Batman drawn--on a horse.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

A Month of Wednesdays: July 2018


Archie #32 (Archie Comics) Thus concludes Mark Waid's 32-issue, three-year run on the Archie reboot, through which he worked with a variety of incredible artists and, towards the end here, co-writer Ian Flynn. It ended up being a pretty perfect comic book run, and in this final issue, Waid and company manage to bring several characters back from the directions they were heading in that seemed to break the traditional Archie status quo. That is, Archie is now with neither Betty or Veronica, the eternal love triangle preserved in a state of perpetual potential, while The Blossoms and Reggie have all managed to step back a bit from outright villains to more palatable jerks, Mr. Weatherbee isn't going anywhere, Betty seems to have recovered from her accident just fine, and so on.

Actually, perhaps this isn't the true end of Waid's run, as he will be reuniting with his old writing partner Brian Augustyn to script Archie 1941, a miniseries set back when Archie Andrews was first introduced to the world.

As was announced in comics industry rag The New York Times, the series will be relaunched under its old numbering--how very Marvel "Legacy" of them--with a new and excellent creative team, but will apparently continue the current, rebooted continuity.

No word on what happens to artist Audrey Mok though, who, as this issue yet again demonstrates, is one of the best of the many great artists Archie Comics has hired since Archie #1 dropped in 2015, and is one of the better artists working in mainstream comics today full stop.

Archie Meets Batman '66 #1 (Archie) Mike Allred's cover for this issue was so perfect, I was actually a little reluctant to open it, and instead just stared at it extra-long. With a cover that good--look at the garage details, the tools and calendar on the wall!--the interiors couldn't possibly be as good as the book looks like it will be, right...?

Well, it's not bad at all. DC's Batman '66 writer Jeff Parker teams with Michael Moreci on the script, while the art comes courtesy of pencil artist Dan Parent and inker J. Bone. That means the comic looks like an Archie comic, and if not quite like one from the mid 1960s, than not too far off-base, thanks to the artists' long-time familiarity with the characters and milieu.

At the 1966 World's Science Fair in Gotham City, Poison Ivy attacks with her plant creations, but Batman, Robin and Batgirl are able to defeat her and another minor villain using her attack for a distraction. Meanwhile, the Big Four--The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and The Riddler--are all hanging out in their United Underworld headquarters, when The Penguin proposes they set their sites on some lower-hanging fruit than that of Gotham, turning their criminal attention to a smaller, Batman-less city. You know, like Riverdale.

They hatch their plot in this issue, which ends with Veronica--the only one who is alarmed by how strangely her father and the cops are acting--reaching out to Dilton and contacting The Bat-Cave.

If you like either Batman '66 or Archie Comics, than you'll like this; and if you like both Batman '66 and Archie Comics, well then, you should love this.

And that cover...!

Batman #50 (DC Comics) I don't think this comic actually worked in any way by which I am capable of judging a comic book--I will not be at all surprised to learn that it shipped far more units than the previous five or so issues of the series did, however--but since I've already written too many words about it, I suppose I should just provide a link to my post on Batman #50 instead of restating much of that here. 

I got the Arthur Adams variant cover. I like that DC's variants now ship sans logo, so one can see the imagery better. I think Batman's costume looks a little weird without his briefs, although I think when he is depicted leaping crotch first at you, it really emphasizes his lack of briefs.

Batman #51 (DC) So here is the solicitation text for this particular issue:
The honeymoon’s over for Bruce Wayne as Gotham City’s most prominent citizen gets selected for jury duty in a chilling court case involving Mr. Freeze! Freeze claims the charges should be dismissed because Batman used excessive force; cue the outrage and media circus. While doing his civic duty, Wayne’s forced to take a hard look at the Dark Knight’s methods. And hey…what is Dick Grayson doing running around the city dressed as Batman?
Oddly enough, that is almost the entirety of the issue. Like, you get almost the exact same amount of information from actually reading Tom King and Lee Weeks' 20-page comic book story as you do reading that solicit. That's...not great.

No mention is made of the previous issue's events, or even of Catwoman, and the scenes in the issue are presented matter-of-factly, allowing the reader to see them unfold--in a slightly scrambled order--without any narration or explanation by the characters to really color an understanding of Batman or Bruce Wayne's motives. So Batman, presumably suffering from his manly man-pain caused by his fiancee rather randomly ghosting him for dubious reasons*, suspects that Mister Freeze is involved in some deaths that no one else detected foul play in, and he beats the living hell out of Freeze. For the trial, Gotham City billionaire, repeated victim of super-crime and guy who is thought by the world at large to literally fund the Batman, is called for jury duty. And sat on the jury! This would be a little like if Donald Trump actually did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, as he joked he could do on the campaign trail without losing any of his supporters, and Rebekah Mercer was sat on the jury for the resulting trail.

Meanwhile, Dick Grayson has put the Bat-suit back on to fill in for Bruce, although it's not yet clear if Bruce knows and/or cares he's doing this or not.

The one twist, the thing that's not in the solicit for this particular issue, is that eleven members of the jury think that serial killer, super-villain and terrorist Mister Freeze should be found guilty even if he didn't commit these particular crimes (and even if a vigilante violently beat him into issuing a false confession) because come on, he's Mister fucking Freeze, and in the real world he would have been executed forever ago. But one juror thinks differently: Bruce Wayne.

Nitpicks: Dick Grayson-as-Batman and Killer Croc are fighting in Gotham at one point, which is a strange thing for them to be doing given where Croc is now based and what his job is, and in fighting Freeze, Batman breaks the helmet off of his containment suit and leaves him without it, exposed to open air, which should kill him, or so endanger him it would be a lot like, I don't know, stabbing The Riddler in the chest and leaving him bleeding in a gutter, in the hopes that city emergency services get him to the hospital in time to save his life.

Great art though. Weeks' stately artwork evokes the look and feel of the old Gotham Central comics, which were some pretty damn good Batman comics.

Dark Nights: Metal: The Resistance (DC) This was a pure impulse buy made at my neighborhood Barnes and Noble. I had just finished reading Dark Nights: Metal: Dark Knights Rising (reviewed in last month's installment) from my local library, and The Resistance trade, which collects all the other tie-ins to Metal, wasn't available at the library just yet, but here it was for sale at a book store so what the hell.

There are actually four storylines in this 130-page collection: The four-part "Gotham Resistance" story arc which ran through Teen Titans, Nightwing, Suicide Squad and Green Arrow; the "Bats Out of Hell" story arc which ran through The Flash, Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps and  two issues of Justice League; and then Batman: Lost #1 and Hawkman: Found #1.

As a whole, it's a pretty scattershot affair. That first story arc changes writers and artists with each chapter, and deals with Nightwing, Robin, Green Arrow and the Squad's Gothamites Harley Quinn and Killer Croc fighting their way through a radically altered version of Gotham City, which has been divided into domains ruled over by cosmically enhanced members of Batman's rogues gallery (in that it suggests a passage of Forever Evil). Damian's Titans and Harley's Squad get left behind early in the game, and what we're left with is this rag-tag adventure party, outfitted with metallic, medieval weaponry and battling The Batman Who Laughs' prize Robin, a nightmare version of Damian, all in service to a pretty minor plot point in Metal: Nightwing and company showing up at the Oblivion Bar.

"Bats Out of Hell" is an extended battle between the Justice League and the Dark Knights, mostly notable for some nice artwork from Liam Sharp and Howard Porter depicting the twisted Batmen in all their decadent glory spending more panel time fighting their League equivalents. (And, personally, I quite enjoyed seeing Porter drawing Steel again, complete with his big red cape.)

As for the one-shots, I had already read them both before, and they were both really unremarkable. Lost is written by Scott Snyder and collaborators James Tynion and Josuah Williamson, with four different artists, and gives us a glimpse of what Batman is seeing while trapped in his own nightmares. Found is a kind of dull recounting of Hawkman's stupid origin story, ending with a revelation of the form he ultimately showed up in during the events of Metal. They are perhaps notable for presaging the future though, as one of Lost's artists is Snyder's current Justice League partner Jorge Jiminez, and the Found team of Jeff Lemire and Bryan Hitch are currently producing a Hawkman book.

Overall, nothing in this collection is necessary, but like Dark Knights Rising it expands the page-count of Metal for any fans of the story arc--which is pretty much completely complete; Wild Hunt is the only really necessary tie-in--who want more of it. To keep with the heavy metal music theme that Snyder, Greg Capullo and DC were so enamored with, if Metal was a rock and roll concept album, than Dark Knights Rising and The Resistance are all the guitar solos.

The DC Universe By Mike Mignola (DC) This collects many of the odds-and-ends of Mignola's work for DC that aren't big enough to fill up a trade of their own, like Cosmic OdysseyGotham By Gaslight and so on. I'm only about 40 pages into this--that Phantom Stranger miniseries is rather slow-going for me--but there's a pretty random assortment of material here, including that Stranger miniseries in which he battles Eclipso, a surprising amount of Superman material, that very well-regarded issue of Legends of The Dark Knight that Mignola did with Dan Raspler, a story from a Swamp Thing annual and plenty of covers. The cover you see above is from the 2000 Lovecraft x Batman Elseworlds series Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham that Mignola co-wrote and drew the covers for, but didn't handle interior art for; which is fine, as it's not in the colletion anyway.

Justice League #3 (DC) Someone remind me to stop ordering the Jim Lee variant covers for this series. I think Jim Lee is a pretty okay artist and everything, and in theory he would be just as good a cover artist as the series' interior artists Jim Cheung and Jorge Jiminez, but these last two covers have been pretty terrible images, with the figures oddly framed--note how much of Hawkgirl spills out of the borders of the cover, for example--and weirdly drawn. I have no idea what's supposed to be going on with her wings here, but they seem huge and it appears that the metallic feathers on her left wing are moving and flexing independently...?

Inside, this is another Jimenez-drawn issue, and Scott Synder's new League continues to deal with some weird shit following the puncture of The Source Wall and the arrival of something mysterious they're calling The Totality on Earth, while they are just not starting to become aware of the fact that the new Legion of Doom is circling them.

Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg combat "Ultraviolet Lantern" John Stewart, while Superman and Martian Manhunter fight inside The Totality, and Batman and Hawkgirl are inside them, in super-miniaturized, microscopic ships. They're unaware that the World's Finest's arch-enemies are also microscopic and in them too, though.

The Morrison-ish of Snyder's take on the franchise--which is not a thing I mind at all!--becomes ever more apparent, here with the appearance of "a sentient black sun" being drawn towards Earth, which recalls sentient, evil sun Solaris or the anti-sun of Maggeddon. Even the imagery of this new villainous star, Umbrax, as it draws near to and dwarfs Earth recalls that of those earlier stories.

The continuity of the series remains...weird. Earlier John referred to the destruction of Xanshi on his watch, and the fact that J'onn was present, which suggested that maybe the events of Cosmic Odyssey were still somehow canonical, despite the whole Flashpoint/New 52 reboot. But here John tells the story in a bit more detail, referring to a time when he and J'onn were both on the League (In current continuity, John was never a Leaguer, and J'onn was only briefly sometime around Year One or so, later joining other, short-lived super-teams like Stormwatch, Steve Trevor's government-sponsored "of America" Justice League and that even shorter-lived, task force-like team).

Additionally, John and Cyborg visit the old lunar watchtower base, still bearing its Bryan Hitch redesign; not only was the Watchtower era knocked out of continuity during the reboot, but the tower was leveled in Infinite Crisis, after which point the League abandoned the moon for Earth-based bases and/or orbiting satellites once more.

I am 100% totally okay with the original, post-Crisis, post-Zero Hour continuity being reinstated and over-writing that of The New 52 with a few changes, but I do wish DC would, like, to declare the fact that much of that continuity is being reinstated at some point. Or is that the point of Doomsday Clock...? Is the DCU going to get back the decade or so that Doctor Manhattan or whoever apparently stole, as per DC Universe: Rebirth...?

Justice League #4 (DC) Okay, so I don't know what Lee's variant for this issue looked like exactly (Wonder Woman pin-up?), but Jimenez's is okay. I'm not entirely sure about The Joker's hand on the cover though, nor his redesign of The Joker, which you can kind of see on the cover. Rather than the regular red lips, these are white, but spotted as is with freshly splattered blood.

In this issue, the bad things the Luthor's new Legion of Doom were working towards in the previous issue come closer and closer to fruition, and the League is so on the ropes that this would appear to be the penultimate chapter of the first arc...although the next issue is actually a fill-in issue focusing on the Legion, so we'll see.

This issue opens with a flashback to Gorilla Grodd's troubled childhood among the super-gorillas, which makes this the second comic featuring a flashback to Gorilla Grodd's troubled childhood among the super-gorillas DC published this month! (The other was in DC's Beach Blanket Bad Guys Summer Special #1, which isn't really very good, outside of the Paul Dini/John Paul Leon Mister Freeze story...although I suppose the Luthor and Deathstroke stories have their moments, too).

Man of Steel #6 (DC) After contributing just a few panels or pages to each of the previous five issues, artist Jason Fabok finally gets to draw an entire issue of Brian Michael Bendis' table-clearing, stage-setting weekly miniseries.

Much of the issue is devoted to resolving the Jon-and-Lois mystery which, as I stated previously, ended up being not really such a big deal and, in retrospect, the teasing out of it over the first few issues seemed like something of a cheat. I mean, don't get me wrong, removing Superman's wife and child from his life temporarily is a big deal for Superman, but the way that Bendis revealed this sub-plot made it seem like something completely insane and of incredible import was happening, rather than (spoiler alert!) Jor-El showing up to ask if he can take his grandson on a vacation through space, and The Kents reluctantly agreeing, provided Lois goes along as a chaperone. (Clark didn't go with because he figured Earth shouldn't be without a Superman for very long, which is maybe a bit of a cop-out--all of the Green Lanterns have, at various points, been able to commute to their space-jobs and still show up to attend Justice League meetings and participate in crossover event series set on Earth--but it also of the sort of hand-waving that goes on all the time with DC superhero comics.)

This issue also includes the probably extremely temporary resolution to Rogol Zaar's attempt to destroy the Earth, which turned out to be the extremely easy, point-and-shoot method that Superman could bust out to deal with any menace he can't personally wrestle into submission. That is, Supergirl fetches the Phantom Zone Projector and banishes RZ from this plane of existence.

There's also a brief sequence in which the Justice League dons parkas to watch Superman and Supergirl perform a ceremony mourning the millions of dead Kandorians that seems somewhat unearned, given the fact that Bendis seems to have introduced Kandor into the the current Superman narrative just to kill them all off for reasons that are...unclear. At least at this point. (I also had trouble figuring out who was supposed to be the ceremony; there's a two-page spread featuring the backs of the characters' heads and there's someone with long brown hair and a dark-skinned person with close-cropped black hair who is not Cyborg. It doesn't really matter, of course, if the former is Jessica Cruz or Kendra Saunders or a mis-colored Aquaman, and if the latter is Green Lantern John Stewart or Mister Terrific, but it is the kinda thing that bugs me...and, when I was a teenager just starting to read comics, would have bugged me even more).

There's no resolution offered for the rash of deadly arson in Metropolis, although the issue ends with a cliffhanger reveal regarding that sub-plot, so that, then, is something to be explored in either Superman or Action, but of which Bendis will begin writing now that Man of Steel is over.

Over all, this was a surprisingly strong series that, despite its missteps, demonstrated that Bendis has a reasonably strong take on Superman and the character's place in Metropolis, the world and the DC Universe, and that the long-time Marvel writer really has some interesting ideas for the near-future of the franchise. It also demonstrated that DC can hire incredible Superman artists if and when they really want to, so here's hoping we haven't seen the last of the likes of Steve Rude, Evan Shaner and Kevin Maguire on Superman comics.

If you've been hesitant about Bendis at DC and/or on Superman--I certainly was!--and sat this miniseries out, I'd definitely recommend giving the eventual and probably imminent trade collection a chance (from your local library, if you're super-hesitant), as it works fairly well as a transition between the pre-Bendis Superman status quo and Bendis' Super-books, and provides what I assume is a sort of mission statement.

Orion by Walt Simonson Book One (DC) Apparently, doing these review posts monthly instead of weekly still doesn't always give me enough time to read every new comic I bought or borrowed from the library in a particular month. For example, I have yet to crack the cover on this one, which is atop my "To Read" pile at the moment. Not that any of you need to know my opinion on the book. Presumably, all of the information you might need to know about this book before deciding whether or not it was for you is right there in the title.

Rogue and Gambit: Ring of Fire (Marvel Entertainment) I bought this because Kelly Thompson wrote it, but I pretty quickly discovered that my childhood affection for Rogue and Gambit from that awesome/terrible X-Men cartoon mainly had to do with the sound of their voices and their outrageous accents. Thompson does have Rogue say "sugah" a lot and Gambit slipping into French, but I'm afraid it's just not the same.

The focus of the five-issue miniseries, drawn by Pere Perez, is the nature of the pair's on-again, off-again romantic relationship, and while it's not presented as if extensive knowledge of their continuity is required going in, I have to imagine it helps, as they talk about it a lot throughout.

Having now read it--just recently, after the events of another X-Men comic that retroactively explains why this series exists at all--I find myself curious as to how readers might have received this as it was being published sequentially. After all, a miniseries about Rogue and Gambit getting back together seems a little...random, particularly as the exterior conflict that serves as springboard for that result is rather transparently crafted to get them there. In other words, this all reads a bit like a conclusion that generated a story, rather than the other way around.

Current X-Men leader Kitty Pryde recruits Rogue and Gambit to go semi-undercover as a couple to infiltrate a sketchy couples retreat resort that promises to help mutants move past their trauma, but what seems to be happening is that the mutants who sign up go missing. As to why these two are chosen, the in-story reason is that they need to a believable couple to get past the screening process, and Kitty doesn't want to go there herself with Colossus, so they're up.

The process seems to be working, as the two hash out their past with one another, but they also seem to be forgetting things and losing power as they get happier.That's because the mutant running the place, a new mutant named Lavish, has a weird power which allows her to drain memories and powers from individuals and create "golems" of the drainees to house those powers and memories. So, kinda sorta a mixture of Jamie Madrox, Rogue and a psychic, in terms of power set...?

Where this all leads to, of course, is Rogue and Gambit being able to come to terms with their long history together and all its attendant baggage by literally punching a horde of avatars of that baggage in the face.

The resolution is itself strong, as they come to grips with the fact that there's never going to be some perfect happy ending for them, and they can either commit to their relationship as is or continue to wait for some perfect moment for that commitment and, well, you already know what they choose, huh? So I liked where it ended up, but I wouldn't mind this story lasting about 48-pages, instead of 100 or so. But again, I'm not really an X-Men person; fans of the the pair were likely to get five issues of them by a decent creative team.

For a far better-written and knowledgeable review of this book than you're getting here, though, I would refer you to an X-Men expert.

Star Wars Adventures #12 (IDW Publishing) This was an impulse buy, based mainly on how lovely artist Elsa Charretier's cover of young, happy Padme and Anakin is. The contents include the first part of a story in which the secretly-married senator and Jedi knight go to visit the space ship of space Norma Desmond Madam Synata who, spoiler alert, is in league with Count Dooku and his proto-Empire the Separationists or whatever they were called. It's only 12-pages long, and the most action-packed of those pages involve our heroes fighting droids dressed to resemble Ewoks and Yoda and other creatures and characters who have appeared in Synata's many space-movies and space-plays or holo-vids or whatever.

Charretier is joined by her regular co-writer Pierrick Colinet, but the art is all her and it is, in general, reason enough to pick a comic up.

The eight-page "Tales From Wild Space" back-up is by Scott Peterson and artist Mauricet, and revolves around Mace Windu aiding a despondent young blue female Twi'lek who is not Aayla Secura.

It's okay, but the total package reminded me that these read better in trade.

Superman Blue Vol. 1 (DC) I confess to having been a little surprised by the "1" on the spine and the fact that there was no sign of Superman Red or The Millennium Giants near the end of this book when I first flipped through it. I honestly thought a single, 375-page trade paperback would be big enough to contain the entirety of the Electric Superman storyline of the late 1990s, but I was obviously wrong. Like, so wrong.

In reality, after I double-checked on, it looks like this volume is really only about the first quarter or so of that storyline, as it contains just three issues apiece of the four Superman ongings and a single annual; it might actually take five or six volumes to contain the whole series, depending on whether or not they include all the Millennium Giants tie-in issues, as well as various Superman annuals, specials and whatnot.

If you weren't around at the time, the storyline was one of the then-seemingly constant status quo-shaking epic events of the period, playing out weekly in DC's "triangle"-numbered Superman books (That is, there were four Superman monthlies, each with their own creative team, but the storyline frequently moved chapter by chapter through the books, reading like a weekly soap opera and being created as if by a relay team of creative teams). They had already killed Superman and then married him to Lois Lane, among a few less momentous events like, oh, the destruction of Metropolis, and now they were radically changing the original and most iconic of superheroes, complete with a new costume, new powers and new weaknesses.

Because all of these changes were occurring in-story--that is, they were new to Superman himself, rather than some sort of reboot--they carried with them some real drama, as he suddenly had a learning curve and suddenly found himself rather de-powered (I think his actual power levels remained about the same, and he could still do much of what he could before, but the ways in which he did it were all rather different). I wasn't a regular reader of the Superman books at that point (1997-1998), but obviously he showed up in this state in JLA and elsewhere (some of my favorite JLA stories, the one-issue tale of Tomorrow Woman and the two-parter introducing Zauriel, featured this Superman; writer Grant Morrison and Howard Porter had a great little two or three-panel scene wherein the "new" Superman is introduced into the comic by walking in on Flash and Green Lantern gossiping about they don't like his long hair).

The newlywed Superman is dealing with some typical Superman-type stuff--drama at The Daily Planet as Editor-in-Chief Perry White has reduced his presence while receiving treatment for cancer, dramatic goings-on in the bottle city of Kandor, Jimmy Olsen causing trouble as a TV reporter, The Atomic Skull breaking out of prison, Metallo going on a rampage--when his powers begin to gradually go weird and, for whatever reason, he begins to evolve or devolve into living energy.

He eventually gets a handle on things, thanks to a special containment suit created by Professor Hamilton from a special super-fabric donated by Lex Luthor, and The Man of Steel becomes The Man of Energy. As I said, he still has the same basic level of power, and can do many of the same feats--fly, move super-fast, lift heavy objects, zap things with his eyes--but they are all accomplished quite different. Additionally, now he is no longer always Super-; when he is in Clark Kent form he is truly human, and as vulnerable as the next guy (I do remember, at the time, that some fans suspected that this change was made so that Clark and Lois would be able to conceive a child together; that obviously didn't happen).

While all of this is going on, a big, blue, horned alien named Ceritak who escaped from Kandor and started wandering around Metropolis, where he was given the name "Scorn," started filling-in for Superman and befriended a blind girl who is the daughter of a conservative columnist at the Planet designed to resemble Rush Limbaugh for some reason. The Ray guest-stars briefly in one issue, giving Superman advice on being an energy being, Booster Gold comes to Metropolis for an issue and gets a new (and nice-looking) costume upgrade and The Atom guest-stars in a four-issue arc in which he and Superman journey within Kandor (which, at this point, was a completely different place than the Kryptonian city full of microscopic Kryptonians shrunken by Brainiac).

The 12 issues of the regular comics, three apiece from Action, The Adventures of Superman, Superman and Superman: The Man of Steel are written by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, David Michelini and Louise Simonson, and the art is, predictably, all over the place. Most of it comes from Ron Frenz (who actually designed the new Superman), Tom Grummett and Jon Bogdanove (who is pretty great with the Kirby-esque Ceritak/Scorn), although there are also some surprises, like Stuart Immonen, whose work has evolved so much since 1997 one might have a hard time recongizing his linework here if they are only familiar from his work in the last decade or so.

The volume concludes with Superman Annual #9, and this was when DC was doing line-wide themed annuals. The theme for 1997 was "Pulp Heroes," which basically just meant a fully-painted cover and a story that had one-foot in an old-school pulp fiction genre, like true detective or crime, westerns and so on. This one, "Black Crucible," was written by Dan Jurgens, penciled by Sean Chen and inked by Brett Breeding, and was done in the action-adventure mode of a sort of Doc Savage adventure, with questionable exoticism playing a big role.

When Jimmy Olsen is targeted by a cult of robed, hooded figures in the Asiatic, mountainous country of Bhutran, Clark, Lois, Bibbo and a lawyer friend all follow Jimmy and end up fighting rickety old planes, being tossed in tanks of sharks and running around a mountain temple slugging people. Clark even gets his shirt shredded, Doc Savage-style. Speaking of Savage, he and his team make a kinda sorta unofficial cameo, appearing only in silhouette in a few panels that are vague enough I had to Google the clues offered to make sure that is, indeed, what Jurgens was going for. I'm curious if the other three annuals will appear at the beginning of Superman Blue Vol. 2, or if they will be parceled out a bit...if they are even included.

There's a little bit of bonus back matter, including a few prose pages from Jurgens explaining where the idea came from. Apparently, colorist Glenn Whitmore was suggesting they revisit the Superman-Red, Superman-Blue story, and somewhere along the line that merged with the Superman conference's other perennial ideas to change the character's costume and/or powers temporarily. There's also Jurgens' original design work on Scorn, who was originally going to be named Tusk; I think I would have preferred to see some of these alternate Superman costume designs. Maybe in later volumes...?

Superman: Zero Hour (DC) I speculated at some length about the potential for such a book last year, when writing about Batman: Zero Hour, so I'm glad to see that it came into existence after all (And now I'm curious to see if DC continues with Zero Hour collections; Justice League: Zero Hour was the other one I thought about, although as I said at the time there would have been a couple of different ways to make such a collection, given the smaller size of the Justice League family of books compared to the Batman and Superman lines circa 1994).

It is so like last year's Batman collection, that I fear repeating myself too much by writing about it at too great length. As with the previous collection, this lacks any sort of introduction about what the heck "Zero Hour" is, exactly, save for a paragraph or so on the back cover:
Time is collapsing in on itself. The villainous Extant has ushered in a series of black holes that are swallowing the universe--past, present and future! Superman, like everyone else in the DC Universe, has seen time loops affect his life.
Obviously, this is meant to read as a companion of sorts to Zero Hour: Crisis In Time, which provides the context of who Extant is, who he answers to, the mechanics of the time anomalies and how Superman and the rest of the DC Universe finally manage to save existence (while slightly rebooting several aspects of DC's malleable continuity).

Unlike Batman, Superman played a fairly major role in Zero Hour, being the character who rallies the rest of the world's superheroes and being present at the final battle with the main antagonist and the re-creation of the universe at the climax. In this collection though, we get "anomaly" issues of the four Superman titles of 1994--Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, Superman and Superman: The Man of Steel, and then the "#0" issues of each. These are then followed by the anomaly issue and zero issue of Superboy (already rather recently collected in Superboy Vol. 1, reviewed here) and finally, the anomaly issue and zero issue of Steel (a collection of which I can't imagine taking too much longer to see print).
Of the first category, the most fun of the lot is probably Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Jankes Man of Steel #37, the one where multiple Batmen from multiple time-lines all come to Superman for aid at the same time. I imagine Bogdanove must have had a ball on this issue, as he doesn't really draw his own version of the Batman from, say, Detective #27 or The Dark Knight Returns so much as he apes the style of Bob Kane (or "Bob Kane") and Frank Miller, so that the Batmen moving around throughout the book are more intentional, naked "swipes"--Bogdanove keeps poses and everything--than homages.

There's a plot to the issue, and as this was during the "triangle" era of Superman comics, sub-plots moved through all four books to form what was basically a weekly Superman narrative, but the pleasure of the book was seeing panels in which a Neal Adams Batman and a Frank Miller Batman talked to long-haired, 1994 Superman--and then first appearance Batman would swoop in. As the story progresses, the Batmen morph into other Batmen, so that in mid-sentence an Adams-style Batman became Norm Breyfogle's Batman.

In the issues that follow, Superman's still-living Kryptonian parents come to take him back to un-exploded Krypton; Superman finds himself in an alternate reality version of Metropolis wherein Alpha Centurion has replaced him as the city and the world's foremost hero; and, finally, he finds himself in an alternate past where he died as a baby, fighting alongside his a Ma and Pa Kent who don't recognize him...right up until reality is erased, the book's panels fading to white in what was at the time a pretty dramatic rendering of the end of the world in comics form.

The four #0 issues differed from those of the Batman franchise as they don't really tell Superman's origin exactly, but a four-part story about a new villain who is desperately trying to use his super-powers and his extensive organization to kill off Clark Kent, a villain who grew up in Smallville alongside Clark, necessitating flashbacks to various points in Superman's pre-Superman life. In that regard, we gets bits and pieces of Superman's childhood and coming-of-age, but the focus is more on the new character than on the one whose origin everyone knew (I don't recall Zero Hour changing the post-Crisis, Man of Steel origin of Superman in any significant way).

The Superboy stories by writer Karl Kesel and artists Tom Grummet and Doug Hazelwood I've already discussed, but in the first "our" Superboy finds himself in Smallville alongside the original, "adventures of Superman when he was a boy" version, which includes one of my favorite sequences (page 15...Man, I love that sequence so much!), and in #0 Superboy reviews his origin, his first encounter with Sidearm and he gets new glasses that give him Superman's vision powers.

The Steel issues are both written by Louise Simonson--this was well before the book would hit its later stride, under Christopher Priest--and are pencilled by Chris Batista. Steel is based in Washington D.C. and living with his extended family, who serve as the book's supporting cast, at this point in his short history. He's struggling against an extremely '90s supervillain team of a bunch of rightly forgotten super-powered characters throughout the issues. In the anomaly issue, a young John Henry Irons from the past shows up in the "present" of 1994 and sees his future self in action, not really realizing that's him in the armor and cape (as anomalies go, this was one of the less-inspired ones), and in the zero issue his then still-recent origins (remember Steel, like the new Superboy, were only about a year old at the time of the Zero Hour event) are recounted by various villains, both the team he's been fighting against as well as The White Rabbit, introduced in the pages of Man of Steel alongside Steel himself.

Overall, this collection isn't nearly as strong as the Batman one in any area, although it does offer a decent window into the state of the Superman franchise at a particular point in history. In addition to Bogdanove, Grummett and Batista, there's pencil art from Dan Jurgens, Barr Kitson, Jackson Guice and Peter Krause in here.

Okay, so I'm going to guess next spring brings us Justice League: Zero Hour, featuring the anomaly issues of Justice League America, Justice League International, Justice League Task Force and let's say Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, and #0 issues of Justice League America, Justice League Task Force, Extreme Justice, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman. I don't know, I don't have any idea on how they might group a third collection. (Like, there are several team books they could use, extending the concept of the League to cover the Titans, Outsiders, Legion and Primal Force maybe? I don't know...)

Transformers Vs. Visionaries (IDW) So when you buy a comic with the word "Transformers" in the title, you know exactly what you're getting, right? Wheeljack! Ironhide! Kup? Breakdown...? And...that's it. Maybe some cameos from the likes of Waspinator and Quicksitch. But that's it. Those are all of the Transformers. Those are all of the Transformers that appear in this six-issue crossover with The Visionaries, a relatively minor and unsuccessful** Hasbro toyline released in 1987, just late enough that I can remember looking at them with some interest in the toy aisle of a store--the premise of the line was kinda neat, and the hologram-like stickers were cool--but by that point was getting too old to have much interest at all in toys (And it would be another decade or so before I got interested in comics based on the toy lines I used to play with as a kid.

As to why writer Magdalene Visaggio, who created this crossover with artist Fico Ossio, decided to use just one tiny and weird handful of Transformers in a Transformers comic, I couldn't guess, but I suspect it has something to do with the IDW/Hasbro shared universe I've heard about, but haven't read anything from. The story certainly seems to be a continuation from something else, as it opens with a "Previously..." recap of six panels showing a bald, elf-eared, blue-faced wizard doing something magical on Cybertron. And when the story opens, the humans from the Visionaries lines--both the heroic Spectral Knights and the evil Darkling Lords--are living like refugees behind a forcefield on Cybertron.

The bald guy, who turns out to be the redesigned Merklynn, the wizard that granted the Visionaries their magical abilities, wants to overthrow Cybertron and eradicate the Transformers that live upon it, changing it into New Prysmos, as apparently something happened to their old Prysmos in...some other comic, I guess...? Neither the Spectral Knights or the, like, four Autobots on the entire planet like the current, tense state of affairs between their two respective toy lines, but Darkling Lord leader Virulina embraces Merklynn's vision. When they realize that the Transformers are particularly vulnerable to magic, they hatch a plan to push a maguffin to the center of Cybertron, which will kill off all Cybertronians. Leoric, leader of The Spectral Knights, and a handful of his fellow knights join with the Autobots to stop the maguffin and save the day.

Had I known the nature of the series--the extremely limited participation of the Transformers, its place in some already in-progress narrative that holds no real interest for me--I wouldn't have bothered with the series at all. Like I said, 10-year-old Caleb found The Visionaries line's mixture of bowlderized Arthurian legend with spooky holograms and magical powers kinda cool, and 41-year-old Caleb thought a crossover with the Transformers would be a pretty good way to see what they were all about. IDW didn't exactly telegraph that, though. The miniseries started with a #1, after all, and there's nothing on the trade dress to suggest this isn't a standalone series; I shoulda done a better job of looking into it before investing my $17.99 though).

The Visionaries are the real focus of this series, which could just as easily have been called The Visionaries on Cybertron, and while we get to see the many characters and there's a lot of drama between them all, with shifting alliances and betrayals galore, their own intriguing backstory is mostly just dribbled out in asides, as the present conflict of finding a new planet to call their own takes precedence over their past. Similarly, their powers are never really explained satisfactorily, or demonstrated in a way that is at all compelling. I feel like I had a better idea of how that stuff all worked 31 years ago than I do now, after having just read 120 or so pages about them.

Ah well, this will teach me to buy comic books based on their titles alone in the future...

True Believers: Fantastic Four--The Wedding of Reed & Sue #1 (Marvel) Given that Marvel releases their "True Believers" $1 reprints along particular themes each month, this particular issue was almost certainly chosen because it is such a noteworthy issue of a Fantastic Four run, and not simply to troll DC during their Batman/Catwoman not-wedding month, but, regardless, this was by far the best comic involving two costumed super-characters getting married that I've read this month (although it was originally created in 1965, so perhaps it has that advantage over Batman #50; it has been tested by time and not found too terribly wanting).

So as you can see, the cover here appears to be Jack Kirby drawing the entirety of the Marvel Universe as it stood at that point of time on a single page (although it looks like a few characters got cut off when they re-published this cover). For some reason, a huge star-burst is plopped right in the middle of the page, covering up who knows how much art, screaming that the issue features "The World's Most Colossal Collection Of Costumed Characters, Crazily Cavorting And Capering In Continual Combat!" I sort of just assumed that was Stan Lee being Stan Lee, but I'll be damned if that isn't the basic plot of the book. Aside from a few pages at the beginning featuring Doctor Doom plotting, and a last page featuring the end of the ceremony and the famous cameo by Stan and Jack, the contents of the story are basically just about every Marvel hero fighting just about every Marvel villain until Kirby either got them all in or ran out of space.

If you haven't read it yet--and why didn't you read it this month? The reprint only cost one measly buck!--Doctor Doom Doctor Dooms around his castle for a few panels before he sits down at his "emotion charger" in order to "Fan the flames of hatred in the heart of every evil menace in existence!" in order to transform Reed and Sue's wedding day "into the day of their final destruction!"

Meanwhile, at the Baxter Building, Ben Grimm is greeting guests while Nick Fury and his tea are providing security when the attacks start. Various Marvel heroes and appear either as guests or passers-by, and so the FF fight the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, the original X-Men battle Mole Man and his Moleoids, Thor fights the Super-Skrull and so on until a catch-phrase filled panel of heroes and villains in full riot, after which point The Watcher shows up and takes Reed to his home and asks him to pick out a wedding gift, and Reed chooses a high-tech, deus ex machina machine that sends all the villains back in time to just before they attacked.

It is, obviously, pretty fun stuff, a classic of the superhero wedding sub-genre--one that was obviously on Judd Winick's mind when he married off Black Canary and Green Arrow--and a fast-paced who's who of the Marvel Universe circa 1965 or so.

True Believers: Fantastic Four Vs. Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel) It occurred to me with this issue that perhaps Marvel would be better-served numbering these reprints, at least each month. For example, if instead of publishing a dozen different FF-related True Believers issues all with their own title and "#1" attached, they could have published True Believers: Fantastic Four #1-12. I don't know if that would have really helped sell more or less of the things, but I would have been able to keep track of them a lot better, and, if I was inclined to read most or all of them, it would certainly serve to remind me if and when I miss a few.

Anyway, this one is from 1993, a period in time that was about as far from the FF's hey-day as one could get, in terms of the comics' market's friendliness for the Silver Age characters. This is the work of Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, who share a "script, plot & pencils" credit, and inker Danny Bulanadi, and it seems specifically chosen because it features the temporary replacement FF--when Marvel just used four of their most popular characters as an FF--duking it out with the real FF.
The era-specific signifiers here sure are something. That is, seeing the Big Two attempt to reflect what was hot at Image Comics at the time in comics that are quite poorly suited to doing so is always kind of interesting. Here that means the title characters no longer sport matching jump-suits, but weirder costumes. Like Mr. Fantastic has added an action vest on over his regular costume, along with some holsters, and Sue Storm is wearing...a skimpy bathing suit with a big cut-out for her abs and another for her cleavage, that one in the shape of a "4" (Stupid question, but can't Sue make other stuff invisible too? Couldn't she thus wear a full body suit, and make parts of it invisible, basically turning it into a costume like this? Just wondering).

Oddly enough, that weird-ass costume is actually kinda/sorta a plot point, as the now-arguing Reed and Sue bicker throughout, at one point Reed even says "We were battling a Rogue Watcher! What were you doing besides running around half-naked in that ridiculous new costume?"

Anyway, Johnny Storm is on the run from the law, as he accidentally burned down a good chunk of Empire University during a fight in a previous issue. Spider-Man wants to bring him in so the whole mess can be straightened out, and so he goes to Doctor Strange, who summons The Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider Danny Ketch to help. This is already a terrible idea, as those three shouldn't be on the top of anyone's list when it comes to talking someone into peacefully surrendering to the police without violence.

Nevertheless, these four guest-stars find Johnny just as Thing and The Richards do, and the result is pretty trite conflict, wherein Spider-Man is like, "Hey Johnny, we're just here to talk" and Wolvie's like "Whatever, we're actually here to murder you." The fight has all kinds of weird goofiness, like the links of Ghost Rider's chain turning into flying stars (!), Reed telling Wolverine that he can't penetrate his body (!!) and, ultimately, Wolverine slashing Thing's face...which I guess leads to the period in which The Thing wears a bucket on his head. (It's a weird moment; presented as Wolverine lashing out in one of his trademark berserker rages, but he has the time to preface it with a few sentences of dialogue.

Anyway, this was mostly not-very-good-at-all, but I do like how goddam weird it was.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 7: I've Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You (Marvel) There is a page in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #23, the second of the five issues of the series collected within this trade paperback, where I counted a total of 25 jokes. On a single page! Now look, they aren't all the greatest jokes in the world, and if you don't like puns, well, you won't like about 20 of those jokes--although there are multiple jokes about how many puns the characters are being bombarded with--but damn, that is a lot of jokes for one page of a comic book! I am relatively sure I have mentioned this in the past, but Ryan North and Erica Henderson's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is by far your greatest return on investment when it comes to jokes in comic books. You just can't ask for a better value.

This volume is dominated by a four-part story in which Squirrel Girl, Nancy Whitehead and Tippy Toe go to the Savage Land and end up fighting Ultron, who is now a dinosaur, with an assist from Kraven The Hunter, who is also in the Savage Land for some reason (The "some reason" being, I suspect, that Erica Henderson loves Kraven The Hunter).

It's actually a rather well-conceived story that gets us to a superhero fighting an Ultron dinosaur, of the sort that could very easily have appeared in virtually any Marvel comic, although in nine out of any ten other Marvel comics the story would have been played a lot more straight, and there would be a lot less time spent on stopping to just marvel at the fact that, in the Marvel Universe, there are actually dinosaurs in this one place that everyone knows about (And, because Ryan North is a nerd, effort is also spent explaining why the Savage Land dinosaurs don't have feathers or dino-fuzz and thus don't look like we now think "real" dinosaurs would have).

Anyway, Nancy and Doreen Green, who are college students studying computer programming--which I find extremely dull, and I think it is a testament to North's skill that this is one of my favorite comic books despite the fact that I have never really gotten into computer programming, of which there is so much--enter a contest for young computer programmers, the prize of which is a trip to the Savage Land. Once there, they and the other contest winners learn that the mysterious alien machines that kept the Savage Land running all these centuries--or is it millennia?--are starting to break down, and they were enlisted in a last ditch effort to solve the problem.

As it turns out, the machine are breaking down because someone is stealing parts from them, and that someone turns out to be Ultron. A finger of a destroyed Ultron fell to Earth and landed in the Savage Land some time ago, and as it followed its programming to rebuild itself, it modeled itself after what appeared to be the dominant life form: A Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Also, there is a great degree of emotional content and inter-personal drama, as a trio of students from Latveria are among the other contest winners, and Nancy and one of the Latverian boys have a spark of attraction between them, despite the many quirks he shares with other Latverians, like total buy-in to the Victor Von Doom cult of personality (Hey, did you know in the Marvel Universe Doom penned a book entitled Eat, Pray, Doom...? The movie adaptation sounds delightful, too).

The fifth issue is the special "zine issue," the premise of which is that Squirrel Girl has enlisted many of her friends to create short comic strips to fill a zine to raise money to repair a local library damaged in a superhero fight. And so we get comics from Squirrel Girl, Howard The Duck, Brain Drain, Loki, Kraven The Hunter, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Tippy-Toe, Galactus and Nancy. In actuality, they are all written by North (save Howard's, which was written by Henderson), and drawn by Madeline McGrane (whose work was a revelation, and who I would really love to see more of), Chip Zdarsky, Tom Fowler, Carla Speed McNeil, Michael Cho, Anders Nilsen, Rahzzah and Jim Davis yes THAT Jim Davis).

These are mostly very short, very funny and/or very weird, with the exceptions being the two-page Loki strip drawn by McNeil, which is designed as a sort of swirl that reads completely differently depending on which direction you read it in, and the elegiac four-page Nilsen story, in which Wolverine contemplates his own prejudices and how they can impact his own efforts to defend a world that hates and fears him.

What the comic reveals is that apparently Squirrel Girl and everyone she knows can draw really, really well...except for Spider-Man, who can only muster stick figures.

Oh, and if you're wondering about Jim Davis--and why wouldn't you be?--he draws what are essentially Galactus-themed Garfield riff strips, with Galactus in the role of Garfield and The Silver Surfer in the role of Jon.

Finally, the trade includes a 15-page strip from something called A Year of Marvels: The Unbeatable #1 that I don't understand--I assume it was an online thing, maybe?--by Nilah Magruder, Geoffo and Siya Oum, in which Tippy-Toe and Rocket Raccoon team-up to fight Plant Man in a city park, where he has turned local trees into a reluctant army. It's...not that good, but hey, more content for your hard-earned $17.99.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 8: My Best Friend's Squirrel (Marvel) The plot of the story arc that accounts for four of this collection's five issues is complicated, convoluted, somewhat shaggy and incredibly dense--which I really appreciate. How complicated, convoluted, somewhat shaggy and incredibly dense? Here, let me tell you.

Squirrel Girl's two best friends, squirrel Tippy-Toe and girl Nancy Whitehead, are abducted by alien squirrels after an elaborate attempt to trick them into revealing the way in which the two of them previously defeated Galactus (They meant to target Doreen and Tippy, apparently, but all humans basically look alike). See, "The Silver Surfer" recently appeared on their planet to shake them down, threatening them that if they don't pay up, he's going to bring Galactus there to eat their planet. This Surfer is, as readers will immediately recognize, just a guy holding a surfboard and covered in silver paint, but that's enough to fool most aliens who have had no prior experience.

Searching for clues to her friends' wehereabouts, Squirrel Girl realizes the only witness is Nancy's cat, Mew, who she takes in a pet carrier to various cat-themed Marvel superheroes, to no avail ("It's just short for 'Katherine,' Squirrel Girl, and I can't talk to cats," Kitty Pryde explains in one panel of the relevant montage). She then goes to visit Doctor Strange, whose post is apparently being filled by Loki now, and, since Loki is kinda sorta friends with Squirrel Girl and Nancy, he agrees to help. Then, after fighting Dormammu, they go to Drax and ask him to fly them into space to save Nancy and Tippy.

On the Squirrel Planet, the real Silver Surfer shows up, and Squirrel Girl and Loki have a spectacular battle with him. Then, when they realize their perfectly Marvel-ous mistake, an armada of ships armed specifically to kill the Silver Surfer for robbing their planets--that is, the crimes of the faux Silver Surfer and his gang--threatening them all. Then, when everything is explained to the armada, their fragile alliance falls apart, as the only thing keeping them together and from making war against one another was their desire for revenge on The Silver Surfer. And so Squirrel Girl has to solve all of their problems for them.

Whew! Like I said, it's a pretty complicated plot, especially given the short space it takes place in--just 80 pages!--but Ryan North and Erica Henderson do their usual job of packing it with so many goddam jokes it is remarkable. Truly, whether its jokes per panel or amount of time it takes to read a trade, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the best value of any mainstream comic book on the market.

One of the pleasures of this particular story is that we get to see Henderson draw pretty much the whole Marvel Universe, as while Squirrel Girl is terribly outmatched by the cosmic-powered Surfer, Loki summons a dizzying amount of back-up for her, enchanting them all to feel compelled to defend Nancy and Squirrel Girl from the Surfer (These include "Beta Ray Bill: the Thor that looks kinda like a horse!" and "Hocky Hoof Hank: the Thor that's literally an actual horse!")

That four-part storyline is followed by a surprisingly emotional one-issue story, in which Squirrel Girl and Nancy are knocked out of synch with the rest of the world--that is, they are moving so incredibly fast that everything else seems to stand still to them, and their entire lives will pass by the time the weekend ends, if they don't find some way to build a working time machine and go back in time to before the moment in which they were knocked out of sync in the first place.

It's a pretty brilliant idea for a story, really--now I kind of find myself wondering why North wasted it on a single issue of Squirrel Girl instead of on an original screenplay or something--not because of the problem itself, really, but because of how North teases out what that sort of life would be like, wherein two people are kinda sorta the only people in the world, even though the rest of the world is still all around them, just moving so slowly their interactions with it are limited to interesting ways.

It's just as smart--well, smarter--and funny as your average issue of the series, but a lot more heartfelt. And it's no surprise that North and Henderson decided to do the story of this issue at this particular moment: That was Henderson's last issue on Squirrel Girl after...a lot of issues. Let's see...they published eight issues, then relaunched the series with a new #1, because Marvel is that's 40 consecutive issues, plus an original graphic novel. That's an unbelievable, almost unbeatable run for a modern Marvel artist.

I would be sorely bummed out, if I didn't know that Henderson's replacement was going to be Derek Charm, who, like Henderson, drew Archie's last volume of Jughead and is an all-around amazing artist.

This volume also includes all the usual extras, like Squirrel Girl's Twitter-like social media interactions with Spider-Man, Tony Stark and others in lieu of the traditional recap pages, the letter's pages, and short features like "Tippy-Toe's Guide to Squirrel Girl" cards and a two-page comic that seems to be taken from Not Brand Ecch detailing a dating app for Marvel super-villains.


Captain America By Waid & Samnee: Home Of The Brave (Marvel Entertainment) This is essentially just a six-issue miniseries by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson, but Marvel being Marvel, it was pitched to readers as a new "run" on the character following Secret Empire, and was even published as Captain America #69-#700. It is good comics, though. Following their work on Daredevil and Black Widow, it presents a good third example for the fact that maybe Marvel should commission a series by Waid and Samnee for all of their characters; in all three cases they managed to find new takes on the characters that were nevertheless true to their original conception and core attributes.

I don't personally think the Steve Rogers Captain America character needed all that much in the way of refurbishing after the events of Secret Empire and its long lead-up, since it basically all added up to Cap's cosmic evil twin being a fascist crypto-Nazi, but many louder parts of online fandom disagreed. In either case, though, it doesn't hurt to have this sort of short series re-calibrating a character and getting them closer to first principles after an extended storyline like the one leading to Secret Empire.

So in the first issue, after a five-panel re-cap of his basic origin in the modern Marvel Universe, we get an interesting little story of the hero-worshipping kind that one might better associate with Superman than a Marvel character...although if any Marvel character could star in such a story, it's Captain America.

Shortly after being un-frozen, Captain America finds himself in Burlington, Nebraska, rescuing the town from Rampart, one of those groups with matching uniforms that the Marvel Universe is apparently full of. He returns to town a decade later only to find his actions in town that day resulted in them renaming the town Captain America, Nebraska, and their annual Captain America celebration in full-swing. He mingles with the crowd as Steve Rogers, listening to Captain America conspiracy theories from the hot dog guy while townsfolk take the stage and give testimonials about how great he is. And then Rampart attacks! And Cap counter-attacks! It's a perfect little done-in-one.

The next issue leads to what seems like it could be a new format for a new series, with Steve motorcycling from small town to small town, solving the problems he finds there on the way. In Georgia, he encounters a new Swordsman. Then, in the next, he finds himself captured and pursued by Kraven The Hunter, who is apparently a villain when not in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

That issue ends with a cliffhanger that I was surprised to see if only because it seems like the sort of thing that someone really would have had happen to Captain America at some point since his post-Silver Age revival. But I guess not, so good on Waid for one of those ideas that seems so completely obvious once you see it executed in a comic book, but that no one else thought to do previously.

The rest of the volume focuses on Captain America's battle to save a new version of America in a new far-flung future, which actually isn't as far-flung as he or we might hope, given how different it looks from today. In that future, only two of his fellow superheroes are still around.

One thing I realized while reading this series which I hadn't ever really thought about before was the fact that Marvel's sliding timeline means that Captain America was frozen longer and longer as the years pass on. That is, because he was frozen during World War II, that is a fixed point, but the Marvel Universe continues to be only about ten years old. So when he was discovered and thawed out by the Avengers in the 1960s, he was really only frozen for around 20 years. The world had changed a lot in that time, but not that much. Now, though, he would have been found and un-frozen, what, somewhere in the 2000s...? Maybe after 9/11 at this point...? That's more-or-less the case with the Captain America of the Cinematic Universe, but I guess I never really stopped to think about it in terms of the comic book Captain America before...

Detective Comics Vol. 6: Fall of The Batmen (DC Comics) This collection actually includes Detective #969, which immediately precedes the "Fall of The Batmen" story arc and which, incidentally, was the last issue of the series I bought and read before I decided I didn't care for it enough to keep buying it...not when I knew I could always catch up for free thanks to my local library. As I am now doing!

That first issue features Tim Drake's reunion with Stephanie Brown after he escaped from the cosmic jail Jor-El was keeping him in for some dumb reason, the Gotham Knights' blitzkrieg on crime that unsettles the city's populace, and the return of The Victim Syndicate, who Anarky Lonnie Manchin is now working with.

"The Fall of The Batmen" arc is centered on Clayface, who has been the out-of-place, seemingly chosen-at-random villain working with Batman's team of lieutenants since the book relaunched. This appears to be the climax of his character arc, and the reason why writer James Tynion included him in the line-up in the first place.

He's on the cusp of a permanent-ish cure to his condition--which, in this run at least, was the reason Clayface was evil, his inability to keep a human form for long also made him a bad guy, like, in his brain--but that's when The Victim Syndicate decides to strike. They take over Arkham Asylum (apparently all the regulars have escaped) and push Clayface to embrace his most monstrous self. As Batman and his team try to restore him to normal, or at least stop him from killing the crowds of protesters that Anarky and The First Victim put in his path, Batwoman takes matters into her own hands and executes him sniper style with a specially-made Clayface-killing gun that her dad gave her.

This makes Team Batman pretty upset, since killing people--especially with guns--is something that have a pretty strict stance on.

Tynion has done a pretty good job over these six volumes of building up to the character moments in this issue, but given how well I know these characters from previous comics, none of them ever really felt like themselves to me, and thus the resulting drama has all felt forced and artificial to me. I assume the mileage of other, younger, newer readers will vary rather considerably, though.

Even taken on its own though, some of the decision that some of the characters make don't feel entirely natural to me (like a weird little Civil War II-esque panel where Batwing and Azrael randomly decide they are pro-shooting enemies in the head with sniper rifles), nor do some of the choices Tynion makes, like, for example, Anarky turning on the First Victim, the story arc's big villain, and defeating

"You can't really think you can touch me when I'm in this suit..." The Victim says to Anarky after his staff bounced harmlessly off her force field, and then we cut to another scene, and a few pages later Anarky appears with an unconscious Victim (I suppose they are running a scam together, but that's not how it's presented).

The collection also includes Detective Comics Annual #1, which is a new origin story of the New 52 Clayface, who is basically Basil Karlo (Clayface I) with the powers of Matt Hagen (Clayface II). That's penciled by Tynion's first partner on the series, Eddy Barrows, and inked by Eber Ferreira. The preceding pages are drawn by four pencil artists and a half-dozen inkers. I like the work of some of them quite a bit--Jesus Merino and Phillippe Briones especially, but the book lacks any thing approaching visual consistency. The only really compelling visual components are Guillem March's covers, which range from pretty bad-ass... pretty bat-shit insane... pretty beautiful, like this sort of silly but still emotional homage to Jim Aparo's "Death In The Family" cover image:


Marvel Comics Digest #7 (Archie Comics) I know, it looks weird putting the words "Archie Comics" in the parentheses where I put the name of the publisher of a particular book in these columns, but that's the truth.

The Mushroom Fan Club (Drawn and Quarterly) Elise Gravel is great.

Sacrificial Princess and The King of The Beasts Vol. 1 (Yen Press) Better than it looks, I swear!

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World (First Second) This is Pénélope Bagieu's follow-up to last year's California Dreamin' and it is amazing. As I said on Twitter, it's the kind of good book I feel really uncomfortable reviewing, because it's so good, I just feel like I'm gushing over it, even though it actually deserves all the good things one could say about it. Every Hollywood screenwriter, director, producers and actress with clout should pick up a copy and pore over it--there are at least 25-28 amazing biopics waiting to be made based on Bagieu's veresions of these women's biographies (although a couple have already been made).

*Permit me to go off on a tangent about how poorly conceived the events of Batman #50 were. Catwoman's rationale for not marrying her fiancee and ending their relationship was that in order to be an effective crime-fighter and superhero, Batman needs to be in a constant state of hurt and tragedy. This is a dumb thing for a character in a Batman comic to think, of course, and it's particularly dumb given the specifics of their relationship, that the only difference between them living together and them being secretly-married-by-a-blackout-drunk-judge is a piece of paper and so on. But! I think if there's one lesson we can learn from Batman's career is that he is always at his least effective when suffering from some fresh tragedy. That seems to be what King is going for here, showing a pissed-off and out-of-control Batman, if that really was Batman and he really was brutalizing Mister Freeze, but, again, that is a comic story we have seen over and over and over. Probably the most famous example is the period between "A Death In The Family" and "A Lonely Place of Dying," wherein Batman turns the tragedy of losing Jason Todd into fuel for a rage-filled, 24/7 blitzkrieg on crime that threatens to burn him out, hurt everyone around him and result in dead criminals. There are lots of similar examples--that stupid Mad Hatter story from the New 52 Dark Knight ongoing comes to mind, or even all those times Batman almost kills The Joker in fits of rage stories--but they tend to be short-lived and story-specific. As I imagine this one will be, too. The point is, a Batman suffering from a fresh and new hurt isn't a better Batman, he's generally a worse and sloppier one that needs Alfred and his sidekicks to stage interventions and pull him off bloody, unconscious criminals.

**By "relatively" I mean relative to Hasbro's G.I. Joe and Transformers lines. The Visionaries: Knights of The Magical Light toyline lasted all of one year. There was a spin-off cartoon series and comic book series, by many of the same folks who made the Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoon and an imprint of Marvel Comics, but those lasted one season and six issues, respectively. The cartoon made such little impact that I had literally never heard of it, and man, I sure thought I watched a lot of cartoons from ages, oh, 1-18 or so...