Monday, November 26, 2018

Marvel's February previews reviewed

TRANSYLVANIA IS BURNING! As vampire civil war throws the world into chaos, the mysterious Shadow Colonel and his squad of undead revolutionaries have one burning question on their murderous minds: Where is Dracula? And if the Avengers find him first, will the lord of the damned be friend or foe?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Huh. Okay, I guess I should keep buying and reading Jason Aaron's Avengers run in trade then, as it seems like the book will be awesome again in the very near future.

Dracula forges unholy alliances from his prison cell. Ghost Rider goes berserk. The Shadow Colonel and his new Legion of the Unliving raise bloody hell all over the globe. It’s a good thing the Avengers just added a startling new member to the team.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Please note that the bald vampire's rats appear to have grenades trapped to them.

I assume that the "starling new member" that the Avengers just added to the team is going to be Blade. That's good. Blade should be a member of the Avengers. In the comics and, more importantly, in the movies.

The team that brought you AVENGERS: NO SURRENDER REUNITES for an all-new weekly AVENGERS adventure!
Night has fallen across the universe. Now seven Avengers — and one new addition — journey forth to bring back the light. But when the threat they face has destroyed even the gods…will anyone make it home?
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

I ended up liking No Surrender quite a bit, so I'm kind of looking forward to this. The big difference between the two books was that the writers of the disparate Avengers teams were teaming-up in order to tell one huge Avengers story that involves large swathes of the casts of all of those books, and essentially bring closure to all of their runs to clear the field for Jason Aaron's Avengers run. Here they seem to have a much smaller cast, and a not-as-obvious remit; from the looks of things, they're working with a pretty standard-sized super-team line-up, one that wouldn't be out of place in the regular Avengers book (Well, aside from Rocket Raccoon, who is the odd, um, man out).

Oh hey, remember when Marvel announced and solicited a Chelsea Cain-written Vision comic? And then they very suddenly canceled it, citing vague reasons that included having plans for Vision elsewhere...? Is this what they were talking about? Hmmm. I guess we won't know until it's actually published if there's really anything in here that would preclude a Vision ongoing series or miniseries, but I can't imagine what it would be; like, even if they kill Vision off again here, they could always have just set the Cain series before No Road Home.

ISSUE #1 - Variant Cover by ALEX MALEEV
ISSUE #1 - Variant Cover by TBA
ISSUE #1 - Variant Cover by SKOTTIE YOUNG
ISSUE #1 - Hidden Gem Variant Cover by JOE QUESADA
ISSUE #2 - Hidden Gem Variant Cover by JOHN ROMITA JR.
ISSUE #1 - 48 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99
ISSUE #2 - 32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

"Classified"...! That sure doesn't help me decide if I want to pre-order the first two issues of this comic or not! (Just kidding; not obviously).

I always find that so damn weird, as it's hard to imagine any new direction so crazy that anyone who can string a few sentences together couldn't provide a vague, generic solicitation that doesn't give anything away but also doesn't treat a super-comic plot-point like a state secret. What's wrong with something like "Join award-winning writer Chip Zdarsky (PETER PARKER, MARVEL 2-IN-One) and fan-favorite artist Marco Checchetto as they take New York City's most dangerous vigilante in a new direction so shocking we don't dare tell you any more here!" Or whatever.

Given Zdarsky's presence, I kinda hope it's just a straightforward comedy. Not even a dramedy. Just a comedy. But given that it's a book starring Marvel's saddest superhero--and that Zdarsky can balance humor, action and drama as well as any other writer currently signing checks from Marvel--there's no reason to believe this will break the basic Daredevil mode.

But who knows? It's classified! It could be about anything! Maybe Matt Murdock isn't even in it; maybe this book will star the blue-and-orange, boomerang-wielding public domain Daredevil!

All we know for sure is the name of the writer, the name of the artist, the fact that the first issue will cost a dollar more than the second issue (because why not de-incentivize readers getting in at the ground floor of a new series?) and that there will be a lot of variant covers.

GREG PAK (W) • Ario Anindito (A)
Cover by Greg Land & Frank D’Armata
At last! It’s Weapon H versus his predecessors—Wolverine and the Hulk! Once, the Weapon X program sought to recreate the world’s two greatest hunters. They ended up with Weapon H, a man of Adamantium claws and gamma-juiced blood. Now, Wolverine and the Hulk are back in action — and coming after the dangerous creation made in their name!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …4.99

This is not the clash I've been waiting for! Don't act like you know me, Hulkverines solicitation copy writer!

I hope there is more than one "Weapon H" like amalgam of Hulk and Wolverine in this comic though, because otherwise the plural in the title doesn't really apply, does it? (Does the "H" in "Weapon H" stand for "Hulkverine"...? Because "Hulkverine" is a much cooler sounding name that "Weapon H".)
Also, I think Wolverine should be wearing his Incredible Hulk #181 costume here. Really, any time he hangs out with The Hulk he should wear that original costume with the whiskers on it. That should be his official Hulk-fighting/-hanging-out-with costume.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the series that changed the way we look at super heroes, the landmark MARVELS is back! In the year 1939, young photojournalist Phil Sheldon attends the sensational unveiling of the fiery android Human Torch — little knowing he is witnessing the dawn of the Age of Marvels! Prepare to relive Marvel’s Golden Age from a whole new point of view as Phil covers the superhuman sightings of the 1930s and 1940s — from the terror caused by the Human Torch’s epic clash with the Sub-Mariner to the patriotism stirred by the debut of Captain America and more! Packed with extras and completely remastered, you don’t want to miss this unique look back at the MARVELS phenomenon! Collecting MARVELS #0-1.
104 PGS./RATED T …$7.99

Wait, have they not done this before...? Huh. This seems like something Marvel would have done by now. I'd ask why they were bothering publishing it serially instead of going right to trade with it, but then I already know the answer: They can get about $32 out of readers who buy a four-issue, $8 series before they even bother selling it in its final and intended form.

Taxi for Frank! A new menace called the Medallion wants control of every cab in New York City — can the Punisher stop this maniac’s meter before a taxi war erupts, or will Medallion’s mechanic Mr. Badwrench and his deadly Cabattoir turn the Big Apple into a slaughterhouse? Meanwhile, Detective Soap gets a disturbing new girlfriend! Plus: Discover what would happen if the Punisher targeted…1920s mobster Al Capone?! And relive the Punisher’s very first encounter with Spider-Man, from Frank’s point of view! As the holidays roll around, the Punisher has his own Christmas list of who’s naughty and nice! And it’s serious business when Daredevil and the Punisher help the Black Widow face an old enemy! Collecting PUNISHER (2001) #8-12, PUNISHER X-MAS SPECIAL (2006) #1, SPIDER-MAN VS. PUNISHER #1 and material from MARVEL KNIGHTS DOUBLE-SHOT #4.
192 PGS./Parental Advisory …$24.99

Taxi wars..."The Medallion"...criminal enterprise based around New York City cabs...the plot for this old Punisher comic suddenly sounds more relevant, thanks to the current President of the United States' poor personnel decisions...

Meet Peter Quill. He used to be Star-Lord – you know, the legendary outlaw – but it’s been quite some time since he’s gone by that name. Taking over for his father as the Emperor of Spartax, Quill put the life of spacefaring adventure behind him for one of leadership and responsibility. Quill grew up. But things didn’t go as planned. Decades have passed, and Peter is haunted by tragedy. Down and out, Quill’s existence means nothing…until the former GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY drag Peter out of his funk for one last mission! The heist of a lifetime – and Quill’s harrowing quest for redemption – begins here!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Okay, stop. That's enough. We don't need an "Old Man" series for every character in the Marvel Universe.


...that said, I would totally read Old Man-Thing and/or Old Ham Peter Porker...

Or Old Duck Howard. Maybe an Old Man...drill starring the villain The Mandrill. But that's it!

Cover by ALEX ROSS
Adrift at sea. No food. No weapons. Death surely awaits him. But the lionhearted CONAN is not so easily subdued, by Crom! When Conan finds himself captured, he unleashes his might on an unsuspecting pirate crew…one whose dark secrets will plunge Conan on the trail of an ancient treasure that may prove to be his undoing!
An all-new age of SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN begins with a five-part tale of swords and sorcery by Gerry Duggan (DEADPOOL, INFINITY WARS) and illustrated by legendary artist Ron Garney (DAREDEVIL, THOR: GOD OF THUNDER) with covers by the incomparable Alex Ross, and breathtaking variant covers by Garney, Rahzzah, comics legend George Perez, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman!
Welcome to the deadly Hyborian Age—hope you survive the experience!
40 PGS./Parental Advisory …$4.99

That's not a sword, savage or otherwise. That's an axe.

Okay, while I think it's fairly insane that Marvel is launching a second Conan comic immediately on the heels of their first one, without waiting to see if anyone on Earth wants to read more than one Marvel-produced Conan comic per month, the one good thing about Marvel's doing so and attaching a million variant covers to the first issue is that we get to see this, Kevin fucking Eastman's Savage Sword of Conan variant cover:
That's pretty cool, especially considering that Eastman is about the last artist on Earth whose artwork I would expect to see on a Marvel comic. I wonder if this was a one-off, or if it will get Eastman talking to Marvel editors, who will somehow be able to convince Eastman, Peter Laird and Frank Miller to collaborate on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Daredevil 12-part series, featuring guest art from everybody from Mirage Studios and Daredevil artists past and present...?

(Hey, maybe that's the new "Classified" direction of Daredevil! Zdarsky is going to introduced the Marvel Universe's version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who live in the sewers, dodging Morlocks and Mole Man's emerging monsters, while they battle against The Hand's ancient ninja rivals, The Foot, and continually refuse to join the X-Men because they're not that kind of mutants...

Oh, I also like Ron Garney's variant a lot too:
Garney's Daredevil art was super-great, and I would approve of his artwork on a TMNT/Daredevil crossover. Or a Conan comic, of course.

Written by DAVID MANAK
Journey to the forest world of Endor for adorable adventures with the Ewoks! Join Wicket Warrick, his friend Teebo and Chief Chirpa’s daughter Princess Kneesaa in colorful capers filled with rainbow bridges and rites of power! Who dares brave the Valley of Evil? Where will the Ewoks land when a mission of honor turns into a flight to danger? And what is the incredible secret of the Terrible Machine? There are discoveries and deadly games in store as the Ewoks face a call to arms, a chase to the end and a fight to the finish! The cuddly stars of Return of the Jedi take center stage in fun-filled stories guaranteed to make you sing “Yub Nub”! Collecting EWOKS #1-5.
112 PGS./All Ages …$15.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91557-5

Weird. I was just thinking of these comics when working on the previous post, when discussing the Ewoks in the pages of Tales From Vader's Castle....

In the past months, Squirrel Girl has battled Kraven, rescued NYC from supernatural silence, kinda-maybe died and also fought Skrulls! So now it’s time for a nice break…which is why in THIS issue, Squirrel Girl does nothing but watch public domain movies on television!
That’s right! She just sits there! You can kinda see the TV screen over her shoulder in a couple of panels, but that’s it! It’s really quiet and relaxing and nothing much happens.

Then it’s super hero battles featuring THOR and SHE-HULK on a DATE! SQUIRREL GIRL matching wits against MS. QUIZZLER! And MORE!
Artist Naomi Franquiz makes her MARVEL DEBUT in a stanalone adventure you won’t want to miss!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Woah, woah, woah...! Naomi Franquiz? Another new Squirrel Girl artist? But I've only read a single trade paperback's worth of the old new artist Derek Charm's work...! (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 9: Squirrels Fall Like Dominoes is completely fucking brilliant, though; great Kraven story arc dealing with morality in the Marvel Universe, where characters can be heroes and/or villains, depending on which comic they are in, with an all-around perfect "silent" issue following it.) (Of course, this Franquiz character seems to be pretty good at drawing stuff, so I'm sure I'll live.)

Nadia spent most of her life as a captive of the Red Room, but now this teenage super-scientist is spreading her wings! Hank Pym’s daughter has a lot of lost time to make up for, and she’s determined to change the world. With Jarvis at her side, she’s on a mission to bring together the brightest girl geniuses of the Marvel Universe! But Nadia didn’t count on evil scientists, man-eating giant rats or the lethal lady wrestlers known as the Grapplers! As Nadia’s recruiting drive continues, the Red Room is on her trail — and they’ll pull out all the stops to get her back! Can the geniuses of G.I.R.L. find a way to save her from being dragged back to the bunker? And can the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne, help Nadia forge a fresh future? Collecting THE UNSTOPPABLE WASP (2017) #1-8.
184 PGS./Rated T+ …$12.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91656-5
Trim size: 6 x 9

I haven't read all of these yet, but the ones I did read were great. This was my first introduction to the work of Elsa Charretier, who I have since seen drawing some all-ages Star Wars stuff for IDW, and she's an incredible talent. I'd pretty highly recommend this comic, which I'll be pre-ordering myself.

I guess it was only a matter of time before this image appeared on the cover of a Marvel comic book. In retrospect, I suppose it's amazing it's taken this long. This is the cover of something called Wolverine: Infinity Watch, because if there's one thing Marvel's line has been missing, it's comics starring Wolverine, and if there's two things Marvel's line has been missing, it's comics starring Wolverine and cosmic comics with the word "Infinity" in the title.

Once they were superstars of the Funny Animal Comedy circuit!
Now money and fame have ruined their friendship.
Will it ruin their lives?
32 PGS./ ONE-SHOT/Rated T …$3.99

Weird. This seems to be one of three one-shot comics that Marvel will be publishing in February specifically to renew a trademark or copyright or whatever. I'm not familiar with these characters, who pre-date Marvel, starring in a comic from Timely, but the solicitation copy echoes that of DC's Hanna-Barbereboot comic from Howard Chaykin, The Ruff and Reddy Show.

DC's February previews reviewed

I dropped Batgirl sometime after Hope Larson's first arc or so, so I'm pretty out of the loop on Batgirl's adventures. Does she now get her hair pulled in, like, every single fight now...?

If she's going to forgo the cowl, girl needs some bat-barrettes or batty-pins or...something...

written by PETER J. TOMASI
art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE and JAIME MENDOZA
Batman’s tried everything on Earth to stop the menace hunting his friends and it’s time to turn to things not of this Earth! In the past, whenever Batman’s encountered the supernatural, he’s turned to Jason Blood for guidance—and to Etrigan, the demonic entity living inside him! But securing their help is never simple, and what Blood has to show him will shake Batman to his core!
ON SALE 02.13.19
3.99 US | 32 PAGES

This looks awesome.

That is all.

In this new helping of crossover tales, Catwoman finds herself embroiled in the endless battle between Sylvester and Tweety, and comes to the aid of her fellow cat. Then, Harley discovers a mysterious crate washed up on Coney Island’s shore and releases the big, hairy beast that is Gossamer. Daffy Duck visits Gotham City to see Acme headquarters, but discovers the building abandoned and overtaken by the Clown Prince of Crime. And Porky Pig takes an entry-level job at LexCorp, only to find himself hauled to Washington, D.C. Collects Catwoman/Sylvester and Tweety Special #1, Harley Quinn/Gossamer Special #1, The Joker/Daffy Duck Special #1 and Lex Luthor/Porky Pig Special #1.
ON SALE 03.13.19 | $16.99 US | 168 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-8833-4

I don't think any of these four specials were particularly successful. I thought the Looney Tunes-style back-ups in the Harley Quinn/Gossamer and Lex Luthor/Porky Pig specials were pretty great, but the other six stories didn't really land for me, and ranged from just awful to just sort of muddled (In general, as with the first round of these from last year, the back-up strips tend to be far better than the lead stories, perhaps at least in part because they are so much shorter, and don't have to try to turn what are essentially larks into novel-length adventures; like, the two Harley Quinn/Gossamer stories were pretty darn close to the same basic story told twice, just in different styles and settings).

The only other real pleasures that can be derived from these are simply seeing how weird and scary Looney Tunes characters look when various artists translate them into a "DC Universe" style, so that, in the case of Sylvester and Tweety, they are just drawn as realistic versions of a house cat and a canary, but they can talk, and, in the case of Brett Booth's Daffy (Daffy cameos in the Lex Luthor/Porky Pig special too), he is a hideous duck man with long, stork-like legs and black feathers that protrude from the tips of his arms that serve as his fingers.

Or maybe it's just me who takes pleasure in these weird-ass DC crossovers with Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters for their gradual creation of the new comics genre of funny animal body horror...

written by STEVE ORLANDO
art and cover by TRAVEL FOREMAN
After infiltrating a secret Covenant gathering, our heroes are left disheartened and helpless. Have all of their battles been for nothing? Will their home planets ever survive the harsh reality of the universe that surrounds them? It’s up to an unexpected leader, the Interceptor, to inspire his cohorts once more. But will his efforts ensure victory or only the beginning of the end for the Electric Warriors? And what will their rebellion mean for all their friends and family back on their home planets?
ON SALE 02.06.19
$3.99 US | 4 of 6 | 32 PAGES

This book wasn't really on my radar at all, beyond my being aware that DC was publishing a book with that title, and that said title had an oddly-dated ring to it. It wasn't until I rather randomly saw a blog post highlighting Jim Baike's art from the original Electric Warrior comic that I realized there even was an original Electric Warrior comic. So there was. It ran for 18 issues between 1986-87, it was written by Doug Moench and it looks very, very British.

Well, that explains why the title sounds so dated.

I haven't been reading the comics press--or, perhaps I should say, the "comics press"-- beyond The Comics Journal and Comics Reporter in a good long while now, so maybe writer Steve Orlando has been giving tons of interviews to those folks about his love of Dough Moench and Jim Baike's original series and I just haven't seen it anywhere, but it feels weird and wrong to me that this is a kinda/sorta reboot that's not being more obvious with the fact. Having never read Electric Warrior or Electric Warriors, I can't say if they share anything other than a title and a futuristic sci-fi milieu--I've read the synopsis for Moench's series on Wikipedia and the solicitation copy for Orlando's series, and that didn't really help. Perhaps it's just a reboot of the title itself, in the way that DC has been publishing a comic called Damage that has nothing to do with the last ongoing series they published called Damage. If it's more than that, though, then isn't it kind of icky that the new series origins aren't being more openly acknowledged? I haven't seen any mention of the original series in any of the solicitation copy for these first few issues of Electric Warriors and, when the first issue recently came out, I scanned it for something like a "based on the series Electric Warrior by Dough Monech and Jim Baike" and found nothing.

I don't know; this feels a little gross to me. That said, I may be preconditioned to expect the worse, given that some of Orlando's earlier work that I've read has tended to homage obscure elements of his favorite writers or comics runs in a ways that feel like appropriations. That, and, well, he was the guy whose name was attached to the comic plopping Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III's Promethea into the middle of a Justice League story, something neither of her creators were probably overly thrilled about...

All their lives the Female Furies have been raised to be the meanest, most cunning and most ruthless fighting force on all of Apokolips. So why are Granny Goodness’ girls left behind every time the men go to war? With the might of New Genesis hanging over the planet, and the Forever People making mincemeat out of Darkseid’s army, Granny thinks it’s about time that changed.

And so, Big Barda, Aurelie, Mad Harriet, Lashina, Bernadeth and Stompa set out to beat the boys at their own game. Little do they know the game is rigged—and one accidental murder could spell disaster for them all!

FEMALE FURIES is an exciting new miniseries starring some of Jack Kirby’s coolest Fourth World characters by the writer of SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL and the artist of PLASTIC MAN!
ON SALE 02.06.19
$3.99 US | 1 of 6 | 32 PAGES

I love that the lesson DC learned from Mister Miracle's unexpected success was that the Direct Market craved more New Gods-related miniseries. I don't know if that's why that title was such a hit--I mean, Mister Miracle is a great character and all, but still--but if it leads to more comics like this, that's fine by me.

Castellucci's DC Comics-writing has been hit-or-miss with me, and referring to the artist as "the artist of PLASTIC MAN!" (that weird, gross-looking miniseries written by Gail Simone) is kinda of an anti-endorsement, although, to be honest, I haven't looked at a single panel of that book, so maybe the art is great, and it's just the premise that seems all kinds of wrong.

Harley Quinn and Batman...teamed-up? What a brand-new and unusual idea for a sory!

I really do kinda love Guillem March's cover for this month's issue of Harley Quinn though, and that fact that giant Batman is essentially just carrying Harley around one-handed by the handle of her giant clown mallet.

written by TOM KING
Get a deeper look into the inner workings of Sanctuary. When heroes visited the facility, they relived their trauma through virtual reality, contending with the events that brought them there in the hope of reaching a meaningful resolution. That is, until the trauma took over and escalated these personal events into a full-blown crisis! Find out what pushed one of the superheroes over the edge and how it broke the machine. This special issue reunites the Eisner Award-winning MISTER MIRACLE team of writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads!
ON SALE 02.27.19
$3.99 US | 6 of 9 | 32 PAGES

Ha, I was honestly a little surprised to see that this was still going on in February, for some reason, as I kinda sorta forgot it was even a thing. And it will only be two-thirds of the way over in February? Yeesh. Now, maybe it's just me, and the websites and blogs I read, the people I follow on Twitter, but is Heroes In Crisis being talked about as much as past comparable DC crossovers? It seems that shortly after the first issue dropped, I haven't really heard anyone talking about this comic.

But, again, maybe that's just me.

art and cover by STEPHEN BYRNE
Princess Mera is teenage royalty and heir to the throne of Xebel, a colony ruled by the other no-so-lost land under the sea, Atlantis. Her father, his court, and the entire kingdom are expecting her to marry and introduce a new king. But Mera is destined to wear a different crown...

When the Xebellian military plots to overthrow Atlantis and break free of its oppressive regime, Mera seizes the opportunity to take control of her own destiny by assassinating Arthur Curry—the long-lost prince and heir to the kingdom of Atlantis. But her mission gets sidetracked when Mera and Arthur unexpectedly fall in love. Will Arthur Curry be the king at Mera’s side, or will he die under her blade as she attempts to free her people from persecution?

An astonishing story that explores duty, love, heroism, and freedom…all through the eyes of readers’ favorite undersea royalty

From New York Times best-selling author Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die) and artist Stephen Byrne comes a Mera -and-Aquaman story that explores Mera’s first steps on land, and her first steps as a hero or villain, forcing her to choose to follow her heart or her mission to kill.
ON SALE 03.27.19
$16.99 US | 6” x 9”
192 PAGES | FC

"Readers' favorite undersea royalty"...? Oh shit, is Ariel, the Little Mermaid in this comic? Namor, The Sub-Mariner?

I'll be embarrassingly honest: I'm still not entirely sure if these things are prose novels or original graphic novels; the cover, with the giant "Danielle Paige" and the little "Illustrated by Stephen Byrne" suggests prose, whereas the "art and cover" of the solicitation copy suggests the contents are comics.

art and cover by KENNETH ROCAFORT
written by DAN DiDIO
Secrets are revealed and new mysteries emerge as Derek uncovers his mother’s killer and the origins of his powers in this, the final chapter of his story, for now.
ON SALE 02.13.19
$2.99 US | 32 PAGES

What's this? One of the "New Age of Heroes" comics has been cancelled? And it's the one written by Dan DiDio? I am shocked! Who could have predicted this book would only last 13 issues?!

Not me. I declared it "dead on arrival," but it did last 13 issues. I noticed it in the pages of  one of the Wal-Mart exclusives I had flipped through--Teen Titans, I think?--I wonder if its cancellation can be read as a data point suggesting those aren't funneling new readers into comic shops or online to buy digital copies of the comics and characters featured, and/or if it speaks to that character and comic being a particularly poor choice for the DC Universe "ambassador" role that being included in those bargain-priced anthologies put Sideways/Sideways in...

Wow, does Damian ever in this picture. Particularly his hair color.

written by MARK RUSSELL
art and cover by STEPHEN BYRNE
variant cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN
Exiled from their home planet, alien heroes Zan and Jayna must navigate life as teens on Earth at South Metropolis High School, where they’re even bigger outsiders than the typical awkward young adults. Under the watchful eye of Superman, the brother and sister pull monitor duty at the Hall of Justice as interns, while also trying to overcome the pitfalls of Zan’s brash confidence and Jayna’s shy but streetwise persona. If you think you know the Wonder Twins, think again—this book takes the form of the unexpected.
ON SALE 02.13.19
$3.99 US | 1 of 6 | 32 PAGES

Tom Scioli's version of the Wonder Twins in his recent-ish "Super Powers" back-up from the pages of Cave Carson... was so incredible that I'd hate to be the writer following him. This take, of course, seems pretty completely different, and I guess only those who read "Super Powers" will even be aware of it, so there's that.

I hope this is pretty good. Mark Russell is an interesting writer in that I literally never have any idea what to expect from his work. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I hate it, often times it feels confused to me. He's not a bad writer by any definition of bad, and the craft that goes into his scripts is always evident, but I don't always like what I read, regardless of how good it is, if that makes sense.

I prefer Bill Walko's redesign, personally, but Byrne's image is definitely superior to the redesigns that showed up in the Extreme Justice comic or the Justice League Unlimited comic.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A few notes on MST3K Season 12

•Well, I only made it a little over halfway through "The Gauntlet" before I had to tap out. Had I been better prepared, I probably could have survived it all in one sitting, but I made the mistake of starting it around 8:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, and no amount of coffee could stop my eyes from burning from looking at a screen for much longer than the invention exchange of the fourth episode.

•Having failed to survive "The Gauntlet" myself, I then took my time on the second half on the day after Turkey Day, watching the remaining three episodes throughout the course of the day, taking breaks to run errands and prepare meals and take naps.

•I wasn't crazy about the format, which I allowed to exert a certain amount of pressure to play by "the rules" on me, although I understand the thought behind trying to design a season--even a mini-season--around the emergent concept of binge-watching. This also had the presumably intended effect of replicating the old Turkey Day marathons.

•I'm not sure how I feel about the increased screen time given the new 'bots, M. Waverly and Growler (Oh, and there's a kinda sorta new Mad, in the form of Dr. Donna St. Phibes, who appears in two episodes), which I had some warning of by attending this year's 30th anniversary live tour last month. There's something of a Poochie-esque aura about them, and I think it will likely remain to be seen whether or not I can get used to them or not.

All changes in the show seem at first strange and off-putting, of course, and it generally takes time and re-watching to first get used to them and then, later, see their virtues. After all, there was a lot of changes in the eleventh season, "The Return," and while it was semi-bewildering at first--it took me a few episodes before I could begin to distinguish the voices of Jonah, Tom 3.0 and Crow 3.0 in the theater, for example--I've come to like Jonah and the new voices as much as I do Joel, Mike and the previous 'bot voices.

I still haven't gotten used to Gypsy sounding so normal though, nor their habit of attaching dangling, mannequin like bodies from her neck whenever she dresses up. Nor have I been able to figure out why she brings a basket into the theater once an episode and then retrieves it later. I used to think she was delivering the props Jonah and the 'bots sometimes use, but this season she seems to be dropping Waverly off, even though he leaves immediately...?

So I'm still not quite sure what function these new 'bots are supposed to play. Aside from being new 'bots, of course. In these six episodes, they mostly help out during skits, usually playing musical instruments, a role traditionally played by Cambot. In the theater, they engage in silhouette prop comedy of the sort that was more readily employed in Cinematic Titanic than pre-"The Return" MST3K.

•I think they did a much better job of choosing movies this season, by which I mean these movies are all much more terrible. Season 11 was weird for me in that it was the first MST3K season I had ever encountered wherein I had actually seen or tried to see the movies made fun of, or would have seen them sans silhouettes providing humorous commentary.

I had seen Reptilicus during a recent-ish kaiju watching phase, wherein it repeatedly came up as "the Danish Godzilla." I had tried but failed to find a DVD copy of Yongary ("the Korean Godzilla") during that same time for the same reason. And I would have happily watched Cry Wilderness, The Beast of Hollow Mountain and the versions of The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth's Core that episodes were based on, because they featured either Bigfoot or dinosaurs; I'll watch pretty much any movie with Bigfoot or dinosaurs in it.

This batch though? Ugh, now these were some bad movies. I've been actively trying to avoid seeing Mac and Me since its release, back when I was still in its target audience. I might have sat through Killer Fish or Ator: The Fighting Eagle based on how cool their movie posters look, but really, this season's films were all pretty abominable.

•There's some weird cognitive dissonance that occurs in the show between their callbacks to MST3K running gags that are based on very old TV shows (Like, "Jim Henson's ______ Babies" or the "McCloud!" bit) and occasional jokes that play off how rapidly culture and technology have changed. For example, the Mac and Me episode includes a riff in which the captives respond to seeing government agents run past a bunch of television sets in a Sears asking what those big, inconvenient pieces of furniture are.

•I was pretty surprised to see Atlantic Rim as one of the films an episode was based around, given that the studio that produced it, The Asylum, is devoted to "mockbusters" that are essentially poorly made on a degree. They are like pre-fab bad movies, and lacking the degree of necessary sincerity, they seem particularly poor candidates for any kind of  mockery. The episode turned out just fine, of course, but it was still an extremely surprising choice. Particularly since all Asylum movies are equally riff-able.

It also seemed an ironic choice given the bit in Season 11's  second episode, the one featuring Avalanche, wherein  Jonah and the 'bots did a sort of PSA talking about what they call "a real problem."

"It's not okay to just combine an animal with a disaster and release it as a bad-on-purpose movie," Jonah says earnestly, attacking what has basically become The Asylum's whole post-Sharknado business model. "No longer will the public be fooled by deliberately stupid junk disguised as sincere, heartfelt junk," he says as they announce their plan to fight this scourge.

A scroll of a bunch of potential titles for such films--Woolly ClammothVolcanosaurus RexTarantullama--starts rolling as they read them aloud, in an attempt to copyright as many as possible; it was one of the season's more successful bits.

•The mom in The Day Time Ended is hot! I mean, I thought the mom in Mac and Me was pretty hot, but the mom in The Day Time Ended, played by Marcy Lafferty is hotter still, having a Jennifer Beals-ish quality that helped me survive the film.

•I was a little surprised the 'bots had nothing to say about Ator, The Fighting Eagle in relation to Cave Dwellers, which they were subjected to by Kinga's dad in the first episode of Season 3 (In fact, Ator is the movie re-told in the nigh unintelligible flashback near the beginning of Cave Dwellers). Other than a call back to a joke about star Miles O'Keefe's name at the very beginning, there's no mention to this being the 'bots' second go-round with the Ator franchise. (One of the film's in this year's live tour, the one they riffed on when they stopped in Cleveland, was Deathstalker II, a sequel to one of the terrible sword and sorcery films in one of the show's previous experiments).

•Now there are going to be a couple of spoilers, so don't read this if you haven't watched these episodes yet, okay?

I was downright shocked by the guest-appearance in this season; I don't think I would have been more surprised if Joel Hodgson's JoelRobinson character himself appeared (I mean, since he appeared in jumpsuit to riff with Jonah and the'bots during that live tour, I would have at least been ready for that, you know?). Because of that surprise, I found it pretty effective, even though it amounted to little more than a "Hey, remember me?" cameo, akin to those of the Seasons 8-10 Mads in Season 11.

Personally, I would have liked to see something of a more substantial role for the character, but now that we established he still exists and is willing to appear on the show again, maybe that will happen in the future...?

I appreciate the return of previous cast members like that a lot more than the special guest stars of Season 11, who included the likes of Mark Hamill, Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Patrick Harris and that one guy whose name I had to look up and who I have already forgotten (The guy who played Doug McClure). Hammill, Seinfeld and Harris didn't play themselves (as the only guest-stars to appear in the pre-The Return iteration did), but just completely random new characters who were only tangentially tied to a particular element of a movie, if that. They were basically wasted, and I'm glad this season's only guest-star was a returning cast member reprising his role.

I still hope to see Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu reprise their roles--either as ghosts or in flashback--and wouldn't mind seeing Mike Nelson or Joel Robinson reprising their characters in some way, shape or form.

•The ending was...well, to use what seems destined to be a running gag from this season, pretty nice! The ironic justice that The Mads get was nice and, honestly, wouldn't be a bad place for them to end up, in the unlikely event that this was the end of the series (or the end of the Kinga and Max characters; I think it's way too soon to retire them, personally, but I worried about Patton Oswalt's involvement as soon as it was announced, given that he seems to big a star for the show. Even Felicia Day seemed a big name for Mystery Science Theater and her resume is nowhere near as Hollywood impressive as Oswalt's).

Having Synthia, Phibes and Boneheads take our heroes to Earth for a live tour was neat too, tying the shows to the TV show. I've seen two featuring the new cast now; the weird thing about them was the conceit. We were basically being asked to play along as if the theater were transformed into the Satellite of Love, but, at the same time, the characters would say "Hello, Cleveland! You've probably never herad that before, have you?" and interact directly with the audience.

Now, retroactively, their appearances in Cleveland make a certain amount of in-story sense! However, Joel was present for this year's, and there was no story component explaining why Joel was there in his jumpsuit, hanging out with Jonah and the 'bots.

•I still think the reboot needs to engage in some shorts. I realize the reason for the shorts was that time needed to be filled to make sure the show fit the programming block it was scheduled even if a particular film might be shorter than others, and that problem doesn't exist on streaming shows, but I think most MSTies can I agree that many of the best gags from the first 10 seasons came reaction to the various shorts and serials.

•I still want to see some sort of "Crisis"-like episode in which some sort of stress on the time space continuum gives us three Servos riffing together (J. Elvis Weinstien, Kevin Murphy and Baron Vaughn), three Crows riffing together (Beaulieu, Paul and Bill Crobett) and Joel, Mike and Jonah, even if we never see the humans together outside of the theater (Hodgson and Nelson have obviously aged in ways the 'bots can't, so it would be difficult to pretend they had somehow traveled through time).

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Month of Wednesdays: October 2018


Archie #699 (Archie Comics) While a lot of relatively exciting stuff happened during Mark Waid and company's three-year, 32-issue run on the re-booted Archie, referring to that stuff collectively as a "saga" might be overselling it a bit.

This was a somewhat interesting issue if only for its goal, and the way it went about achieving it. Priced at the "Why not?" price point of just one $1, it was a 20-page recap of the entire series, filled with re-purposed panels of art from throughout the run, sometimes with new dialogue, most often with narration boxes explaining what was going on around those scenes. Ian Flynn writes the new dialogue and Archie's narration of what's "been going on around her lately," while Waid gets an "original series writer" credit. The artwork, meanwhile, seems to include everyone who drew any part of the series since the relaunch, which gives it something of a "greatest hits" feel.

If one has read all of these issues as they were originally published--or read the six trade paperbacks that collect them all--I can't say that this issue necessarily adds anything new or imperative, or that Flynn's framing of what is essentially a clip-show in comic book form necessarily transforms the story, but for someone as fascinated by comics as me, it was still pretty interesting on a pure process, why-did-he-make-the-choices-he-made level. I can't imagine the next writer, Nick Spencer, will necessarily produce an Archie #700 that is completely dependent on a new reader having intimate knowledge of all that occurred in the previous 32-issues, but this is nevertheless an effective recap.

And, you know, it was only a dollar.

Archie Halloween Spectacular #1 (Archie) How much has Riverdale transformed public consciousness of Archie Comics? I ordered this reprint special more or less on a whim: I like Archie Comics, I like Halloween and I could give it to my sister, who is a teacher, to share with her grade school students as I have many previous kids comics that I read but didn't feel I need to keep forever in the past. It has a handful of short stories, mostly by Dan Parent, and it was fine but unremarkable.

When I next saw my sister, whose eldest daughter is a sophomore in high school and was a fan of the Riverdale show for a season before losing interest, she asked, "Is this class room appropriate?" I told her that it was. "Are you sure? Positive?" I then assured her that I had personally read it, and then I opened the cover and started going through the stories within with her, "This story is about Betty and Veronica taking Jughead's little sister trick-or-treating, but then they lose her because she's wearing the same costume as a bunch of other little kids, this story is about a weird-looking family moving into a creepy old house in Riverdale and the kids being afraid of them, this one is..." and she stopped me, telling me she didn't need me to spoil it.

Anyway, that's how much public perception of the once wholesome Archie Comics characters have become, I guess. Maybe that new show about that other Archie character worshiping Satan or whatever will help.


So, why do you think they went with Halloween Spectacular rather than Halloween Spooktacular, anyway...?

Archie Meets Batman '66 #4 (Archie) Oh no. With this issue read, that means this series is now officially two-thirds complete! It's pretty clearly reaching its final act too, as Bruce Wayne finally arrives in Riverdale--thus getting Archie one more step closer to meeting Batman--and the villains have a coming out party at the Riverdale Country Club, where they are announced as the city's new mayor, police chief, school superintendent and, um, clown prince. You can probably guess which of the four villains gets which of those jobs without much trouble. Only two more issues to go, but I'm hopeful that this is at least as well received as Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was, and we get another sequel or two.

Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 1: The Final Host (Marvel Entertainment) Marvel seems to be under no illusions regarding how much pencil artist Ed McGuinness will be contributing to this, a book he was announced as the regular artist for; it's just writer Jason Aaron whose name is in the title of the collection, after all. McGuinness does manage to draw at least part of all six of the first six issues, sharing penciler credits with Paco Medina on the last three issues, and there are no less than four inkers finishing their work. Taking all of that into consideration, the book actually looks pretty great given all the pens and pencils involved; the most dramatic stylistic break comes between the tenth and eleventh pages of The Final Host, the first collection of the new series. That's because Sara Pichelli drew the 10-page prologue from Free Comic Book Day 2018 (Avengers/Captain America) #1, with Elisabetta D'Amico co-inking and Justin Posnor coloring, and then the rest of the book is drawn by McGuinness and company (with David Curiel coloring all of those pages).

On its own, this is a pretty great, pretty smart take on the big, dumb, superhero fight comic. After Mark Waid and company cleared away the previous Avengers status quo with Avengers: No Surrender, Aaron is allowed to assemble his own team to combat a threat so gigantic that it's genuinely difficult to imagine what might come next, and to worry Aaron has set himself up for a game of ever-increasing stakes that he won't be able to meet (In that respect, it reminded me a bit of the first few arcs of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers and Grant Morrison's JLA).

The team is mostly built around who's who in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as much as the Marvel Comics Universe, but given how symbiotic the two have become, with the comics gradually reflecting the movies more and more, maybe that's not even relevant, as the important characters in the movies are almost always the same in the comics these days. So we have Iron Man Tony Stark, Captain America Steve Rogers, Thor (the male Odinson one, not the Jane Foster version), Black Panther, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel, with the two more offbeat inclusions being She-Hulk (whose personality is basically just that of her cousin owing to whatever's been going on in her since-cancelled book in the months following Civil War II) and Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes (the one with the car).

Their assemblage is more-or-less organic within these pages. Cap and Thor are meeting with a reluctant Tony Stark to try and cajole and convince him to help them in re-forming the next version of The Avengers just as the big threat arrives. One aspect of said threat was already being investigated by Black Panther and Doctor Strange elesehwere. And, because it comes from space, Captain Marvel is the first responder on the scene. Again, She-Hulk and Ghost Rider are kinda the odd ones out, as they basically just get swept into the events.

As for those events, they are of the "Everything you know about the Marvel Universe is wrong!" variety, one that more-or-less re-writes the super-human creation story extrapolated from Jack Kirby's work regarding The Celestials and The Eternals. It involves Loki, who brought the original team together, of course (in the comics as well as in the movies) and a team that is apparently being referred to as Avengers 1,000,000 B.C., back when Odin lead his own team of proto-Avengers consisting of a mammoth-riding Ghost Rider, the first Black Panther and Sorcerer Supreme and some other characters that more-or-less reflect the make-up of the current team; it's a real hodge-podge that fits Marvel pre-history better than real-world pre-history, and while the concept itself is fun for a scene or two, Aaron devotes an awful lot of time to these guys, and solicitations for issues beyong these six seem to indicate that we can expect more and more issues devoted to them.

That's one of the reasons, beyond the concern Aaron might not be able to keep coming up with threats at a bigger level than this and the lack of a consistent artistic partner for the writer, that I'm concerned that this level of quality and excitement on the book might be difficult to sustain.

But I certainly liked this issue. Aaron manages to write most of the characters in such a way that they seem themselves, and pretty much all of them are able to compartmentalize the melodrama of fighting to save all life on Earth while still being able to crack jokes and diss one another so that the comic is fun and funny, as well as being filled with big, dumb and occasionally crazy action, which reaches its apex when multiple Avengers simultaneously gain titanic size allowing them to fight evil Celestials hand-to-hand.

I'd definitely recommend the trade collection as a fun and exciting super-team comic. I can't imagine what this read like in serially published comic books though, as that would have run about $31 (the first issue was $4.99, with #2-#6 resuming the regular $3.99 price). A lot happens, but not so much or in such a pace that I can imagine it really the series really sinking a hook into the average reader, and pulling him or her along for months and months, 20-ish pages at a time.

Batman: Dark Knight Detective Vol. 2 (DC Comics) This book collects Detective Comics #583-#591, which means it covers the first nine issues of the John Wagner/Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle run on the book (Breyfogle's first issue of 'Tec was actually #579, and appeared in volume one of this series), as well as an annual by Denny O'Neil, Klaus Janson and Tony DeZuniga and a "Bonus Book" drawn by Dean Haspiel. This also means that I already have the bulk of this book's contents in the form of Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Vol. 1, but that's fine. After all, I also have seven of the ten Wagner/Grant/Breyfogle issues in their original, serially-published comics form, too. These are comics I love by creators I love enough that I don't terribly mind paying for them once or twice or thrice, or having multiple versions of them, some more accessible than others, you know?

This run of Breyfogle and company issues of 'Tec--check out the order in which the creators are credited on the cover; the opposite of how they were credited within the individual issues--is an excellent example of how different their Batman was than today's. There are five distinct stories: A two-issue arc introducing Scarface and The Ventriloquist (and their henchman Rhino), a two-issue arc introducing The Ratcatcher, a three-issue arc introducing The Corrosive Man and the sadly one-off Mr. Kadaver, an issue-length story in which Batman fights crypto-Middle Eastern Muslim terrorists in Gotham City and London and another issue-length story in which he fights an Aboriginal warrior.

In all of these, Batman has no Robin or other sidekick or crime-fighting ally to talk to, save Commissioner Gordon. Alfred exists and is around at this point, but he's not in any of the stories until that last one. Batman is never Bruce Wayne (save for a panel or two in the terrorist story, and then a few pages within that last issue). He's never in Wayne Manor or the Batcave. He doesn't seem to have a rich inner or emotional life wracked by trauma and identity issues; about as deep into his head as we get is that he hates crime with such a passion that it drives him "to fight it every waking moment" of his life. Batman doesn't even have repeat offenders in these issues, villains who are obsessed with him or come at him for revenge for past defeats (Scarface and company would become such villains, of course, and Ratcatcher and The Corrosive Man at least returned a few times in other, later Grant-written stories).

Re-read in 2018, these stories stand out as pretty extreme outliers for the Batman comics that followed. There are a lot of factors, of course, but this creative team's particular perception of Batman was as a sort of freelance super-police officer who would like nothing more than to wage a 24/7 war on street crime and the drug trade, but who keeps getting sidetracked by weirder cases involving, say, a man with a Moses beard being eaten alive by a swarm of trained rats or an acid-dripping monster man on a mission of vengeance.

I don't know that I would say that these shorter stories focusing on plot over character are necessarily better than what has long since become the norm, but they seem refreshing and remarkable today for how accessible they are--one could know absolutely nothing about Batman and follow them easily without a single question--and how inventive they are. I mean, now all writers and artists just want to do their own version of "Hush," where they can do the Batman comic equivalent of "playing the hits," whereas this team was making their Batman comics from scratch (Of those mentioned, all of the necessary elements that play a role in the stories--Batman, Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon--were present in 1939's Detective Comics #27).

These were all published between 1987-1988, which may have been a factor, as the Batman character and franchise had its official continuity altered a few years previously in Crisis On Infinite Earths, and tonally reset by Frank Miller's big, influential stories. In fact, the remaining stories in this collection that aren't by Breyfogle and company also emphasize how unique they were, even at the time.

The "Bonus Book" was one of about a dozen that DC published in certain books between 1988 and '89 and were basically extra comics published within existing comics that were meant to function as something of a new talent showcase. This one was written by Lewis Klahr and Steve Piersall and drawn by Haspiel, and featured Batman busting-up Poison Ivy's latest scheme, and saving her life in the process.

The annual has Talia al Ghul chasing one of her father's scientists to Gotham City to stop The Penguin from using a bio-weapon and crossing paths with Batman, who also meets Lady Shiva for the very first time here (The Question also appears for a few scenes). Their first battle is pretty dull, actually:
Batman going hand-to-hand with a pair of too-large eagles, and at one point holding one to the ground and attempting to strangle it and punching it in the face over and over in a way that looks a lot funnier than it was probably supposed to, is the better fight scene.

Much is made in the story of Batman and Talia's ill-starred affection for one another, and how Batman's war on crime prevents him from being a happily married man (I'm not about to argue Batman with 1988 Denny O'Neil, but I thought that was a bit unconvincing, given that Talia is the daughter of an immortal eco-terrorist who is also Batman's sworn enemy, so she's not the best example of Batman's desire to keep on Batmanning precluding a relationship. That is, at best, like #5 on the list of Why Batman and Talia Al Ghul Shouldn't Go Steady. It also just goes to show how uninspired Tom King's Batman-is-sad-because-Catwoman-won't-marry-him-because-she-thinks-he-can't-be-married-and-war-on-crime-simultaneously plotline is).

But here, let's compare some Breyfogle action to some not-Breyfogle action. Haspiel, Janson, DeZuniga--those are all great artists, and yet these examples sure lack the dynamism of Breyfoge's. You can see why a teenager in the late 1980s might have their mind blown by Breyfogle's Batman, and pick up a comic book feature that Batman over someone else's.

Janson and DeZuniga's Batman vaults over a desk to kick a guy.

Breyfogle's Batman vaults over a desk to kick a guy.

Janson and DeZuniga's Batman punches out the villain at the end of the story.

Breyfogle's Batman punches out the villain at the end of the story.

Janson and DeZuniga's Batman delivers a flying kick.

Breyfogle's Batman delivers a flying kick.

Haspiel's Batman pulls the rug out from under a bad guy.

Breyfogle and Kim DeMulder's Batman pulls the rug out from under a bad guy.

Given that Breyfogle is the artist who draws the vast majority of these 280 pages, one might think a Breyfogle cover would be the best choice to repurpose for the collection cover--those for both #587 and #590 were quite widely shared immediately after his death, for example, and #589 certainly captures the sense of action and weirdness of these comics--but, on the other hand, putting a Mike Mignola image on the cover of a trade paperback was never not a good idea. It's been re-colored, not just to improve the colors and actualize the weird fog effect on Batman's feet that Mignola was going for, but also to transform Batman's costume from blue and gray to black and gray.

Batman: Kings of Fear #3 (DC) Despite the gonzo image on the cover, depicting a freaking-out Batman whose head The Scarecrow has just opened in order to let all of his villains pour out of it as if from Pandora's box, Batman spends relatively little time freaking out inside the comic.

After having survived Scarecrow's attempt to murder him at the end of the last issue, Batman is confronted with an unsavory proposition. The one-time psychology professor Jonathan Crane wants to follow Batman around to see what a "typical night" for him might consist of, jotting notes down on a little pocket notebook with a pencil as they go along.

It, amusingly, consists mostly of skulking about rooftops and posing on gargoyles, all in service of waiting for the perfect opportunity to save other families from the fate of the Wayne family via some theatrical fear-mongering. The "ride-along" is fun, as is how tedious Baman's "work" seems to Crane. I suppose we just see all the highlights when we read Batman comics; the writers and artists don't usually show us all the time spent lurking.

There's a nice moment later in the issue where Batman encounters a little girl out on the street all alone and tries to help her, struggling not to scare her too much in the process. It's a touchingly written scene, and all the more effective because it's Kelley Jones drawing writer Scott Peterson's script. So when the little girl looks up at Batman and says in a tiny voice, "You're really big," she's not kidding; he's as big as a house. And when she finally takes his hand, her small child's hand covers just two fingers of his massive black paw, the thumb of which appears to have a claw built right into the glove.

Batman Secret Files #1 (DC) The title may echo the Secret Files and Origins specials DC used to publish--which were generally over-sized comics including truncated Who's Who-like entries (the "Files"), a full-length lead story and then some shorter stories--but this is instead a fairly random-feeling anthology of inventory-like Batman stories. That might not sound all that promising, but the creators make it much more so. After an incredibly short story (like, just three pages short) by current Batman writer Tom King and off-and-on Batman artist Mike Janin, there are four stories featuring contributions from Tom Taylor, Jill Thompson, Cheryl Lynn Eaton...and several names that were completely unfamiliar to me.

The King/Janin story is surprisingly brief, but it works. It involves Superman, Alfred, The Joker and a colorful Kryptonite. I was shocked to hear that Batman takes cream and sugar in his coffee. I always assumed he liked his coffee black.

That's followed by a rather excellent eight-page story written by "RAM V" and drawn by Jorge Fornes and colored by Matt Wilson. Entitled "The Nature of Fear," it involves The Scarecrow, but he never actually appears on panel. The protagonist is a police officer who inhaled Scarecrow's fear gas during one of his attacks and is badly injured; he is rescued by Batman, but has to get through the ordeal while suffering rather terrifying hallucinations. Fornes' art, which is broken into neat nine-panel grids until the gas takes effect, recalls that of David Mazzucchelli and the handful of different artists who worked on Gotham Central (this would actually fit right in if slipped into a Gotham Central trade, both in focus as well in aesthetic). He sees Batman as a big, horrifying were-bat creature, one so big and scary that it makes Man-Bat look like a common brown bat, and the bat-monster talks to him about the nature of fear while dragging him to safety. Because of how realistic Fornes' art is, when the hallucinations kick in, they look all the more scary.

Next up is a story by Cheryl Lynn Eaton and Elena Casagrande, and it took me a few seconds to realize why the name of that writer sounded familiar. Eaton was a prominent-ish comics blogger around the time I first started comics blogging, and while I lost track of her in the years since, it's heartening to see her getting a swell gig like this and doing a damn good job at it in the process. Much of her criticism was focused on representation among Big Two super-comics--specifically, the lack of it--and so it was nice to see her writing a Batman story featuring a young, black woman as a protagonist and Lucius Fox, probably the most prominent person of color in the Batman mythos (although I suppose he is in the process of being eclipsed by Duke Thomas at this point...?).

Said young woman, Yeselle Derrick, tells Batman off at one point, which is always fun to see, and Eaton gets a lot done in a short amount of time, the plot revolving around drones, a mysterious murder and promising technology being perverted to serve crime. There's even a nice little moral-like coda in the form of a line from Fox.

Next? Batman spends some time at a cabin in the mountains all alone, trying to track down a monster that is rumored to be running around up there. He suspects Man-Bat, and has brought a fur-lined cape and boots up there to hunt the monster with a bow and arrow. We never actually see the monster--or do we?!?!?--and it's mostly a mediation on how Batman feels about spending time with himself. The answer? Not great!

I liked the all the cute Bat-details, like his winter clothing, his dumb bat-themed ski mask and even the fact that his bow is shaped like a bat--but I wasn't fond of his haircut. It wasn't until the credit box in the last panel that I realized who was drawing this--Jill Thompson, in a very realistic style that is pretty far removed from the comics I now think of most often when I think of her work (Magic Trixie, Scary Godmother, those Sandman spin-off manga). After seeing her name in that last panel, I immediately went back and re-read it and yeah, it looks like Thompson's art, but not like I've seen it in so long. She has a really great command of various styles, and is apparently able to dial elements of those styles in either direction to suit the comic she's working on.

This story was written by Jordie Bellaire, who colored four of the other stories in this issue, while Trish Mulvihill colored this one.

I was a bit surprised to hear that Bruce Wayne hunted at all--"To avoid detection by what I assume is probably Man-Bat, I'll try to capture him using only my hunting skills"--because of his sometimes psychopathic-seeming belief in the sanctity of all live, even of those trying to kill him and/or thousands of others.

The final story comes from writer Tom Taylor and artist Brad Walker, and it's a team-up between Batman and the World's Greatest Detective, Detective Chimp. Walker draws a hell of a chimpanzee, and Taylor does a fine job of showing of Bobo's Sherlock Holmes-style detective skills throughout. This isn't the first time the pair have teamed up, and it surely won't be the last, but this team-up seemed a bit more active than some of the others I recall reading, and Bobo is actually (and obviously) well-suited to keeping up with Batman, both mentally as well as physically, being an ape and all. Slowly but surely, anthology by anthology, DC is building up enough short stories to one day be able to fill a The Greatest Batman and Detective Chimp Stories Ever Told trade paperback.

Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1 (DC) This $9.99, 80-page Halloween one-shot bears a spine and no ads, making it essentially a very slim trade paperback more than an over-sized issue; we're at a particularly weird point in comics right now where page-counts can only get so high before the price point gets into trade paperback territory. Ten bucks is, after all, what Image will sometimes charge for the first trade paperback collection of a series, and about what most volumes of manga used to cost, although now I guess the average might have crept up closer to $11 or $12.

Anyway, you know the drill with DC holiday specials. They are mostly hit-or-miss, they tend to feature the publisher's top characters (with maybe an oddball or two thrown in) and the contributing creators are generally pulled from the extant talent pool that is already producing work for them in their monthly offerings.

This collection features ten less-than-ten-page stories, with no real surprises among either the characters (Etrigan, The Demon and Green Lantern Guy Gardner are about as off-the-beaten-path as they get here) or the creators. There's no framing sequence, and no real theme beyond scary stories. (Or "Heroes Meet Horror!" as the cover blurb puts it.) I kind of love the title, a riff on the Canceled Comics Cavalcade of the DC Implosion, and while the image is fairly obscured by text and head shots, that's a pretty good cover by Doug Mahnke; Batman vs. his zombie parents is a concept strong enough for an image at least, and that's exactly what we get, with no luck pressed.

Rather than going through these one by one as I have in years past, I'm going to go out of order, noting the most noteworthy, if that's okay with you guys (And if it's not, I don't know what you can do about it).

The best story in here is the Superman one, "Strange Visitor," by writer Magdalene Vissagio and artist Minkyu Jung. It's just seven pages long, but it gets a lot done in that time, and it is, in truth, one of the better Superman stories I've read in recent memory. It's as much a Lois Lane and Superman story as it is a Superman story, and it's founded in a genuinely scary real phenomenon, one that I've thankfully never experienced, but which I've been scared of experiencing ever since I first heard of it: Sleep paralysis, which, Lois explains to her husband, "happens to humans all the time...your brain wakes up but your body doesn't, and you get all kinds of terrifying hallucinations."

Superman suffering from that is potentially very bad, of course, because if he thinks he sees a shadowy vampire out of the corner of his eye near his sleeping wife, he can fire deadly amounts of heat energy out of his eyeballs in her direction.

This being a Superman comic, there is more than sleep paralysis to what is going on, and it ties into Superman lore in two interesting ways; one, in the specific source of the figure that seems to be in Lois and Clark's bedroom at night, and secondly in the way it is tied into Superman looking at the reader near the end of so many classic Superman stories.

It's a nice, intimate portrait of the Lois and Superman relationship, portraying them both as weak and strong in differing, complementary ways, and infusing them separately and as a pair with humanity and vulnerability. It's great stories like this one, as short as it is, that makes me wonder why anyone thought breaking them up again in 2011 was actually a good idea. Anyway, I don't know if this $10 comic is worth buying just for these seven pages, but these seven pages are certainly ones for future DC editors to keep in mind the next time they put together a collection of the best Superman stories.

James Tynion IV, Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy's "Haunted Hayride" starring Zatanna is probably the next most all-around successful story, although there's something slightly off about it in that it doesn't quite seem to cohere in a way that felt authentic to me. I could see the craft that went into it, and the manipulation of the plotting, a little too clearly, I think. That's vague, I know, but maybe the Superman story was such a bright spot that everything else felt dimmer in comparison? Tynion does a nice job of separating the fun, "spooky" part of Halloween from the genuinely scary part though, focusing in on that chasm between a child's Halloween and a teenager's Halloween rather nicely. It was nice to see Buckingham drawing a DC hero again after so long too, and Pepoy's inks look pretty great on his pencils.

The other stories I rather enjoyed?

First, there's Tim Seeley and Kyle Hotz's Swamp Thing story, 100% because Hotz is a pretty perfect Swamp Thing artist, his extreme amounts of detail married to cartoonish figure work producing a character whose ever appearance in every panel rewards going back and lingering on. If DC ever decides to completely abandon the Alan Moore approach to the character and do a monster-who-is-also-a-superhero take (not unlike the one we see on Justice League Action), Hotz would be a pretty ideal choice for the artist. He does scary, but scary in a fun way. Seeley's story wasn't anything remarkable, but it provided an excuse for Hotz to go crazy with weird visuals beyond his swollen, mushroom-encrusted, mountain-of-moss take on Swampy, which is good enough.

Secondly, there's Gabriel Hardman and co-writer Corrina Bechko's Demon story, "Yellow Jack," which is set in 1853 New Orleans, during the height of a yellow fever epidemic. The immortal Jason Blood has finally found a way to rid himself of hosting Etrigan, but it doesn't go the way he wants, and thus he must heroically sacrifice himself once again by becoming Etrigan's cage. Hardman's artwork is superb, and maybe I'm just used to seeing it in black and white on the Internet or something, but I thought it looked quite--and surprisingly--good as colored by Trish Mulvihill. Stylistically, there's something Tom Mandrake-ish about Hardman's Etrigan, and the whole affair has a sophisticated, 1990s Vertigo feel to it.

The rest of the book is filled up by a Wonder Woman vs. a monstrous siren story by Vita Ayala and Victor Ibanez; a Guy Gardner vs. space zombie story by Kenny Porter and Riley Rossmo (nice art, and points for using Guy over any of the other five, more popular earth-born GLs); Green Arrow vs. self-image (?) by Michael Moreci, Felipe Watanabe and Jonas Trindade (this did nothing for me, sorry guys); Black Lighting and Katana vs. a Japanese demon by Bryan Hill and Dexter Soy (a mediocre enough story that I'm a little worried about the upcoming Batman and The Outsiders relaunch by these creators now) and Robin and Solomon Grundy vs. Professor Pyg by Dave Wielgosz and Christian Duce (an interesting pairing, sure, but Wielgosz seems to have written Grundy as a pale version of Marvel's Hulk).

Dead Rabbit #1 (Image Comics) John McCrea, one of my favorite artists, has a new Image Comics series with his fellow Big Two alum Gerry Duggan, and a new John McCrea #1 is also at least worth a look, right? Based on the quality of this #1, I hope to return for #2 and beyond.

The title character was apparently something of a super-thief in Boston in the 1990s, according to the rather lazy introduction via TV news. The name came from his mask, which appears to be some kind of weird, tight-fitting sex mask with straps on the sides (providing the "ears") with two bright red x's over the eyes (providing the "dead"). It's a solid super-character design, really, and the striking part of a costume otherwise consisting of a hat and suit.

According to the news report, Dead Rabbit robbed from good guys as well as bad guys, and then disappeared after a huge $10-12 million dollar score. When we meet the man under the mask, he is living a peaceful life with his wife, who suffers from an unnamed but serious illness, and pretends to go golfing a couple of times a week--when he's actually working a part-time job as a greeter at a fake Wal-Mart. The original idea was to case the joint, but as society goes more and more cashless, lucrative robberies have become a thing of the past (whether or not it will become a theme of the series, more than once the changing landscape of crime is mentioned).

I kind of like the idea of someone taking a temporary day job and ending up doing it for a living like, um, so many of us creative types (even if they are a super-thief instead of a writer, for example).

As one would expect, Dead Rabbit gets drawn out of retirement. Spotting a grocery cart full of stuff people would use to dispose of a body, he follows the customer home and discovers a particularly heinous crime that looks like a particular particularly heinous crime committed in Cleveland in the recent past, and just like that word of his "return" gets out...including to the criminal-type he stole that $10-12 million from.

McCrea's art, which he pencils and inks here, is as solid as always. Maybe a bit tighter and more realistic, as befits the more realistic setting and story, than some of his more recent super-comics work. He does a particularly great job on the mundane, urban environment stuff, like power lines and construction sites. The character design on the title character is pretty great too, and I do like the logo. I'm not sure what to expect in the future, if this ends up being a crime comic with a superhero-like lead character to sell it to the direct market, or if Dead Rabbit becomes a crime-figthing vigilante who works at Wal-Mart by day or...what, but I look forward to finding out. Dead Rabbit: Come for the McCrea, stay for the story!

Jessica Jones: Blind Spot (Marvel) Here it is: The first long-form comics story featuring Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos' Jessica Jones character not written by Bendis. Instead, Blind Spot is the work of writer Kelly Thompson, who previously wrote the adventures of superhero/private eye Hawkeye Kate Bishop in a short-lived ongoing series (in which Jessica Jones guest-starred a story arc). It is, perhaps not surprisingly, quite good.

Thompson nails the character's cynical, over-it-all attitude, and finds the right balance between traumatized misanthrope and genuinely happy family woman Jessica Jones, with one foot in day-to-day world of superheroics and the other in the seedy underbelly of the same world that has made up the character's post-Alias status quo. Superhero husband Luke Cage and daughter Danielle appear at the beginning and end of the story, but when it's time to go to work, Jessica sends them off to hang around her office, go investigating and get in trouble.

Thompson also does a fine job of creating a fairly insane case out of a character or characters with truly bizarre and and world-shaking super-powers--here, something close to wish-granting--that nevertheless works as a mystery. And, like the best superhero comics, the powers, their usage, the heroes and especially the villain can be read as multiple things--just plain old elements in the plot of a super-comic, or thinly-veiled symbols and allusions to elements of our own reality.

It of course sounds silly to say that someone other than a character's creator and long-time writer does better with a character than said creator, but, well, I did enjoy blindspot more than any of the volumes of Jessica Jones that Bendis wrote after Marvel gave the character a second ongoing series (in response to interest in the TV show). If I had to guess, I would say that was because Jessica Jones suffered a bit from the creators trying to re-bottle lightning they had captured a decade and a half earlier, and maybe something about how you can't go home again. I don't know. The Bendis/Gaydos run on Jessica Jones seemed more like something being made out of obligation than out of genuine interest or joy; here the creators seem to be having fun.

I could just be projecting though. I had fun reading this, but found the Bendis/Gaydos series a real slog, partially because of Bendis' inability to self-edit dialogue, and even more so because I had long-since grown to hate Gaydos' art and storytelling.

The art in this volume is mostly provided by Mattia De Iulis. Jessica looks weird in it--much younger and much thinner than the version from Alias or the previous volume of Jessica Jones. And her hair is also much darker. De Iulis seemed to be looking to Krysten Ritter for visual reference, rather than Gaydos' designs. It's not a bad thing, but it's somewhat noteworthy how different Jessica looks in Blind Spot than she did in Return of The Purple Man (she's looked more different still in her many Avengers-related appearances; Michael Deodato used to give her the same warrior lingerie model body that he gave Carol Danvers, Spider-Woman and, um, every female character really, for example).

Stylistically, De Iulis is in the same aesthetic ballpark as Gaydos, with a hyper-realistic, 3D-evoking style, but there's a greater degree of organic-looking drawing involved. Characters and environments might occasionally look too real, but they nevertheless look created rather than appropriated. There can be a stiffness to the action and suggestions of movement, but it still looks somewhat dynamic when compared to Gaydos' even more stilted story-telling.

This collection contains six issues. The first five are devoted to "Blind Spot," in which Jessica takes up a cold case that simply drifted off her radar long ago, and crosses paths with several powerful women who seem to be murdered--and then get better, almost immediately (herself included). Elsa Bloodstone, Misty Knight, Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and, of course, Luke Cage all put in appearances.

The sixth issue, drawn by Marcio Takara and colored by Rachelle Rosenberg (De Iulis colored the first five issues), is a much lighter and more fun story--for most of its pages. Luke and Jessica are trying to get ready for Danielle's birthday party, and have to deal with unexpected guests like She-Hulk, Thor and "Lone Shark," a shark-themed supervillain who wrecks the joint. The last page has one of the most intense cliffhangers I can recall in any Jessica Jones-related comic...or any comic I've read in quite a while, actually.

I'm really looking forward to the next volume.

Justice League #9 (DC) You can ignore Jim Cheung's cover image, and the melodramatic blurb "In Deepest Space Lurk-- --The CORONAVORES!" The alien scavengers that feed off of dying stars are only there because I guess DC thought an image of Green Lantern and The Flash chatting in the Hall of Justice cafeteria wouldn't move as many copies off of racks. While there are "CORONAVORES!" in this issue, they are really just a conversation piece; something for Superman to fight while he and Batman have an extended psychic conversation...while Superman is putting the shattered moon back together piece by piece, and Batman is having Alfred and Mister Terrific fuss over his shattered body. (Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman never even meet, let alone fight, any of the space monsters they are shown fighting on the cover).

The World's Finest's conversation in one of the four conversations this quiet-ish issue is built around, as this new-ish League line-up pairs off for one-on-one chats which introduce elements of their new milieu and the ongoing story writer Scott Snyder is crafting. Jorge Jimenez once again draws, while Alejandro Sanchez colors and Tom Napolitano letters.

The other conversations? Aquaman and Wonder Woman talk about their own personal issues, which provides for a tour of their "domains," which is essentially just the various Leaguers' rooms at the Hall of Justice, although Aquaman seems to have an incredibly large and elaborate one compared to the rooms of his peers. John Stewart mopes a bit about his new ulatraviolet ring to Flash Barry Allen, which provides a look at their setting, the new Hall's cafeteria, which is apparently open to characters from all three Leagues as well as reservists and Titans (Ferdinand, the minotaur from Greg Rucka's run first run on Wonder Woman, works there as a chef*; I was a little surprised/disappointed to see that the place seems to serve so much fast food, complete with disposable cups, straws and burger wrappers--think about the environment, Justice League!). And, finally, Hawkgirl and Martian Manhunter spar, while talking about their questions brought about by The Totality and their own ever-fluid continuities and origins (Um, I may be editorializing a bit there). They fight in the garage.

So you know those old maps or diagrams of superhero headquarters that used to appear in the backs of certain old comics, showing what the interior of the Baxter Building or the Justice League Sanctuary look like...? This issue is basically that, but in the form of a comic book story.

It's really quite well-done, and while the specifics of the characters' various concerns will quickly become less and less relevant as plots move on and issues pile-up, this has the feeling of an evergreen done-in-one, a sort of trapped-in-amber issue that can be used as a defining one for what will eventually become known as the Snyder Era Justice League.

Justice League #10 (DC) Francis Manapul, who was the all-around best of the artists to work on the 2011-2016 Justice League, returns as artist/colorist for what is billed as "Drowned Earth: Prelude", although it's really the first part  of that story arc (Having read Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth #1 already, that's all the more clear).

Manapul's presence immediately improves things for Justice League, and the book was already in pretty fine shape. His long-haired, bearded Aquaman is the best long-haired, bearded Aquaman, and there are several striking images in here: Aquaman and Wonder Woman's cold-weather wear (although neither of them should need such gear, as they should be impervious to extreme temperatures, but they still loo cool), the introduction of the sensational character find of 2018 and some menacing extraterrestrial giant sea horses looming above Aquaman.
The sensational character find of 2018. (Obviously.)
So here's what "Drowned Earth" is about, I guess: Some alien sea gods want to conquer Earth, and they kidnap Aquaman, taking off his shirt, shaving half his head and giving him electric tattoos before proceeding to flood the planet with magic water that turns everyone it touches into a half-fish monster. The team is splintered as these events kick off this issue, as they are on like three different missions at once, while Batman and his latest sidekick Jarro are at the Hall of Justice.

I'm not necessarily sold on this publishing strategy for stories like this, with chapters spilling out of Justice League and into goofily named one-shots Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth #1 and Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth #1 and several issues of Aquaman and one of Titans listed as tie-ins or preludes, and in fact I almost decided to drop Justice League serially and switch to trades at this point. Based on the quality of this issue, I'm glad I didn't. Hopefully Snyder and company can maintain this level of quality for the rest of the arc.

Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth #1 (DC) What's this, a third issue of Justice League this month? No, of course not; nothing so simple and straightforward as that. This is the 38-page special that is labeled as "Part One" of "Drowned Earth," although it quite clearly began in the previous issue of Justice League (In fact, DC has been running a two-page house ad using the image from this special's cover that features a reading list, and there are three issues listed before "Part One" for some reason.) The story concludes in November's Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth #1 because comics are idiotic sometimes. I guess we're just lucky they didn't use any Greek numerals like Marvel did for their impossible-to-follow Marvel Rising miniseries.

Written by Justice League Dark writer James Tynion IV (that book is in the midst of wrapping up a similarly formatted crossover with Wonder Woman) and drawn by Howard Porter, these extra pages are all devoted to playing out the carnage, chaos, motivations and the actions that our heroes and villains are taking in reaction to the events of Justice League #10, the drowning of the Earth with a special space-water that turns people into human/fish hybrids (I really liked the image of Commissioner Gordon mutating into a fish man right before Batman's sad eyes, his perfect mustache still framing his mouth, his glasses resting over his big fish eyes. He basically looks like The Creature of The Black Lagoon disguised as Commissioner Gordon).
There are a lot of excuses for Porter to present some extremely Porter-y images of the Leaguers, most of whom he has been drawing for some 20 years now, posing in imposing and powerful positions. His rain-soaked Batman on page seven is one of his all-around best Batmans, I think, and I love how he's drawn in the following panels; just a big, black, erect shape with a bat-head atop it, the cape held tight around him while the scalloped ends billow out in all directions, his features reduced to white eyes and white teeth. There's a scene later in the book where an increasingly annoyed Superman tackles some kind of weird space-kraken made of super-water where he resorts to a super-clap and it is maybe the most badass-looking image of a Superman clap attack (yeah, I said it) that I've ever seen, but then, it's not like we get a lot of such images. It's usually just eye-beams with that guy when he gets mad.
A lot of the panels are naturally devoted to Aquaman, who is still at the mercy of The Ocean Lords, as well as Mera, Ocean Master and Black Manta. It's a little more talky here and there than perhaps it needs to be, and I'm not quite convinced this premise can fill so many pages--that reading list on the aforementioned ad lists eight issues, even though only four are listed with a "Part" attached--but it's been quite good so far.

I'm just glad I'm not in the business of explaining to customers that no, you didn't already pre-order Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth #1, that's a completely different comic book, and no, I don't know why they labeled parts one and four of the story with a "#1"...

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comics #2 (Dark Horse Comics) My main reservation with MST3K: The Comic (which I discussed at length here) was that Joel Hodgson and his five co-writers hadn't settled on a single strategy for having their characters riff on old comics, even after they had come up with a way to put Jonah, Tom and Crowe (and, questionably, Gypsy, Waverly and Growler**) into old comic books. Instead, they went with three-levels of riffing: 1) Adding dialogue or free-standing commentary visually designated as a riff but not assigned to a riffer, 2) Making cameo appearances within a panel to make a joke and 3) Appearing as a character within the comic book story itself.

In the first issue, Tom Servo replaced the protagonist of Johnny Jason, Teen Reporter. Here, we find out what became of Jonah and Crow. They appear in the pages of Harvey's Black Cat Comics #1 (1946)***, although an explosion that occurs during Kinga's violent attempts at product placement shunts Crow off into the pages of Horrific (an early 1950s horror comic from Comics Media), where he appears in a short story involving brother scientists and a shrinking serum.

So under Riffing Strategy #3, we have three sub-categories, I guess. While Tom was the protagonist in his comic, Jonah became a guest-star in his (and, if I had to guess without seeing the original story, he seems to be "playing" multiple roles in it) and Crow's appearance in "Tail of Death" (because there's a rat and a cat in it, I guess) is more like that of Gypsy and the new 'bots throughout the other stories, only he appears in almost every panel, directly commenting on what's going on around him, and completely ignored by the characters.

It's all very complicated. Thankfully, they seem to have gotten about as complicated as they can get, at least until the series reaches its climax and Kinga and company have to extract our heroes from the comics somehow. Again, it's not what would have done, nor is it what I most would have liked to see--I think picking a single strategy and running with it would have been preferable--but no one asked me. They just asked me to buy it. And I did. Because I love Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I love comic books.

Runaways By Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka Vol. 2: Best Friends Forever (Marvel) I actually find myself hard-pressed to overstate just how good this comic book series is. While the original volume/s of the series by creators Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona (and the handful of creative teams that followed) strove to capture what it might be like to be a teenager in the modern Marvel Universe, writer Rainbow Rowell's series focuses on what it's like to grow up there, transitioning from being teenagers to young adults in such a strange world, wherein everyone is weighed down by the fantastical baggage that comes from years worth of being in superhero comics: Dying and coming back to life, being an android programmed to take over the world and losing your body in a superhero battle, randomly encountering the effects of decades-old spell from a Thor villain and so on.

Plus, easier stuff to relate to, like the frustration that comes with the rest of the world catching up to something you once thought made you unique and special, and relationship stuff, as two of the couples among the cast-members unravel in this volume, and the de-coupling couples seem to be starting to re-couple in different, unexpected ways.

While the reunited teen super-team start to figure out how to move forward living their lives while also consciously staying together--figuring out their living situation, getting jobs, keeping the still-underage Molly in school despite not having a legal guardian for her--Molly loves almost every single thing about her life. The main cause of anxiety in her new life is that she's becoming a teenager now, at which point she will be on the path to adulthood that her fellow Runaways have all started on, and she will start to lose that which has so far made her special among them.

Her best friend has a solution to this problem, although Molly's conflicted about whether or not she should take her up on it. This being the Marvel Universe, where magic is commonplace, Rowell is of course able to use metaphors as plot points, so something like, say, wishing that one could stay 13 forever isn't just a source of passing emotional's a real possibility, a choice that a character can literally make.

This volume also includes some continuity clearing-up, with Karolina's relationship with former Power Pack-er Julie Powers being detailed and explored, the team looking in on Klara (whose quite happy not being a teenage superhero, thanks), Xavin getting name-dropped in a way that all but promises there will be a Xavin storyline in the future and Victor Mancha's time with the short-lived Avengers AI team coming up, in the form of Doctor Doom storming the team's headquarters/home.

Kris Anka, whose artwork is all-around phenomenal, although he especially excels at strong character design and dressing his characters like a one-man wardrobe department on a popular and influential high-end TV show, has drawn the very best Doctor Doom I think I've ever seen; he even wears spats!
Okay, this Doctor Doom is actually a Doombot (that knows that it is not actually Doctor Doom but is also programmed to know that it is Doctor Doom, simultaneously), but he's an exceptionally well-dressed Doombot.

Again, this collection of the series was both really funny and really melodramatic in the way of a good teen television dramedy. It's not my absolute favorite Marvel comic of the moment--Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is hard to, um, beat--but I think it might be the best Marvel comic of the moment.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up (DC) Scooby dooby doom! Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela have the Mystery Inc gang inadvertently visit The Doom Patrol in their HQ in a jam-packed issue that features pretty much everything a fan might want in a Doom Patrol 101 issue like this. There's The Chief in his missile-launching "action chair," leading the original line-up of Robotman, Negative Man and Elasti-Girl. There are pretty much all the name villains you might expect to cameo: Garguax, The Brotherhood of Evil and The Animal-Mineral-Vegetable Man (I was a little disappointed not to see General Immortus). There are even some cameos from Patrol members that are far less-likely to appear in such a comic: Danny The Street, Crazy Jane and Flex Mentallo, who manages to save the day by flexing his muscles hypnotically.

The ostensible reason Scooby and company show up is because the Doom Patrol is repeatedly being attack by members of their rogues gallery who then suddenly vanish, as if they were ghosts. In truth though, they are basically there as point-of-view characters, to let the weirdness of the Doom Patrol wash over them and then react to said weirdness. The issue may be filled with references to the most popular (and weirdest) eras of the team's history for fans like me, but it works as a kid's comic too, introducing a sizable swathe of the DC Universe to new readers in an accessible fashion.

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader's Castle #1 (IDW Productions) As odd as it might seem that Disney, which already owns a whole comic book publisher in Marvel Comics, is producing a sub-set of their Star Wars comics through IDW, I find it odder still that IDW seems to be making the better, more interesting Star Wars comics...or, at the very least, the Star Wars comics I am most interested in paying money to read as they are being published serially, rather than just waiting six months to read them in trade for free later. The last suite of Star Wars comics I bought and read were the weekly Forces of Destiny comics featuring the female heroes of the Star Wars universe by the likes of Delilah S. Dawson, Devin K. Grayson, Elsa Charretier and others.

This weekly series is timed for Halloween, and while transposing celebrations of modern Western Holidays into Star Wars hasn't traditionally gone all that great for the multimedia franchise (See the unwatchable Holiday/Life Day TV special, if you can find a bootleg of it), here we're basically just doing scary stories-featuring-Star Wars-guys, so it's nowhere near as challenging as trying to invent a fake space Christmas for Wookies.

The basic format is that a vaguely familiar rebel crew that I had to google****--Commander Lina Graf was introduced in writer Cavan Scott's juvenile prose books Adventures in Wild Space, and one of her droids is frequently seen in Star Wars Adventures back-ups--is forced to crash land on a mysterious lava planet, near a foreboding-looking fortress. Star Wars fans will likely recognize Mustafar, Darth Vader's hang-out.

On edge, she and her crew--a burly, bearded human named Hud, the composite droid CR-8R/"Crater", a bodyguard droid named G-3 and a little insect dude named Skritt who spends most of his time curled up in a protective ball--tell one another scary stories starring familiar faces from Star Wars lore to calm each other down. That...doesn't seem like a great strategy to me, but what do I know about commanding a crew in the Rebel Alliance?

Each issue is written by Cavan Scott, and the framing sequences featuring Graf and company on Mustafar are drawn by Derek Charm, while the scary stories are drawn by a different artist each issue.

In this first one, that artist is Chris Fenoglio, who draws a 13-page story featuring some of the characters from the Star Wars: Rebels TV show. After the Rebel ship makes a crash-landing in one of Mustafar's many oceans of lava, and the ship gradually starts to heat up and melt around them, Crater tells a story he once heard from Chopper, the cantankerous R2-D2-like droid from Rebels. From there, we delve into "The Haunting of The Ghost," in which Kanan, Hera and Chopper are aboard their ship The Ghost, seeking an informant and finding his ship crashed.

The reason? His ship, he says, is haunted. They rescue him, but the "ghost" follows them onto The Ghost, taking control of the ship and then possessing Chopper. The ghost is really just a kinda sorta ghost, sentient data from a droid or something space-y like that, but it is an all-around tightly-written and effective story.

The framing sequence probably doesn't really work if one thinks about it, like, at all: If they were going to take the time to tell a scary story, they probably would have waited until they were safely outside of the melting ship, on the black rock island where the titular fortress stands. I mean, I understand why Scott is formatting the series as he is, so that we get a forward progression of the framing sequence's heroes' adventures, but it felt a little more artificial than it might have otherwise.

I wasn't previously familiar with Fenoglio's work, but it is fine. Distinct from Charm's, but not in a terribly radical way. The style is broad and abstracted enough to encompass the designs and style of the Rebels TV show, which is good, because the show is stylized enough that it can almost be disconcerting to see some of those characters show up elsewhere in other styles.

This being the Year Of Our Lord 2018, there are of course multiple covers for this issue. Expert drawer of scary stuff Francesco Francavilla is drawing one cover for each issue of the series, drawing an image from the "scary story" of the week within the outline of Vader's bust. Actually, this cover is a pretty good example of how the Rebels-born characters can sometimes fit awkwardly in other artists' styles. Chopper and Hera look perfectly fine, but then they are, in terms of visuals, stock Star Wars characters, droid and Twi'lek. Kanan, on the other hand, has the wider-eyes and longer-face of the cartoon Kanan, which doesn't look quite right in Francavilla's style, as fun as it is to see.

Another cover is by Fenoglio, showing a scene from aboard The Ghost, and then there's a Charm-drawn cover featuring Graf and company approaching the fortress, with a big, ghostly Vader in the sky above, seemingly watching them.

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader's Castle #2 (IDW) I don't know how this particular comic book came together, but whoever's idea it was to enlist Kelley Jones--writer Scott, editor Denton J. Tipton, someone else--was a pretty great one. Not only is Jones pretty much perfect for any October scary story comics, but the plot for this scary story is actually kinda brilliant, and perfectly suited for Jones.

The villain is Count Dooku, who was played in the prequel trilogy by Christopher Lee, who, prior to spending the 21st century playing evil wizards in blockbuster trilogies, was perhaps best known for playing Dracula in the Hammer horror films. And this story? It's about Count Dooku becoming a space vampire. High fives all-around, everyone at Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader's Castle! If you guys were all within walking distance, I'd bring you a bottle of champagne to celebrate this stroke of genius.

In the Derek Charm-drawn framing sequence, Graf's crew fights a giant monster bug before pressing on to Vader's Castle. Hud tells them it will be "like Bray all over again," and when they're like, "What are you talking about?", he tells the Kelley Jones-drawn, Clone Wars-era story of that time Obi-Wan Kenobi and Adi Gallia (I recognized the look of the latter, but not her name) journeyed to Bray, the planet of eternal night to investigate the mysterious power outages that seem to be happening at the command of a "dark lord."

The creatures turn out to be energy-eating vampe-like creatures, which basically look a bit like Jones' Man-Bat, with exposed spines; the first is bald and ear-less, the leader of them has big bat ears. Not only do these things suck energy out of, like, power cables and the like, but they even catch laser beams being shot at their faces in their mouths. Oh, and they pass their infection on to anyone they wound. So yeah: Laser vampires.

The Jedi find that there are two dark lords, the boss of the laser vampires and Count Dooku, so if you ever wanted to see Kelley Jones drawing Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, you're in luck!
Obviously, this is pretty much the best thing ever.

At least until the next issue of Batman: Kings of Fear is released, I guess.
As for Dooku being turned into a laser vampire, don't worry, it doesn't fuck up Star Wars continuity, as once the main vampire is killed, all the victims return to normal, so this is just for the sake of the story.

That finished, our Charm-drawn heroes take a few steps more toward Vader's Castle, and are confronted by black-clad Stormtroppers, firing their lasers at them, and the guns make the noise "Pew Pew."

Good comic, this.

So, in addition to the above images, here are two more I really liked from this issue. Here's Obi-Wan activating his light saber:
Note the chain of three starburst-shaped auras running along the length of the saber, indicating the laser emerging from the hilt and elongating until it reaches its full length. I've read a lot of Star Wars comics, but I don't recall an artist using that particular strategy to essentially "animate" a light saber within a single panel before, but maybe someone else has used it and I've just never noticed, because I don't tend to stare at other artists' work as long or as closely as I tend to stare at Jones'.

Oh, and here's the laser vampire eating Obi-Wan's blade:
That's cool. I'm tempted to scan and post another half-dozen images, because there are so many goddam awesome images in this, but instead, I will just highly recommend this particular issue in a series I would recommend.

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader's Castle #3 (IDW) Our heroes fight their way through the black Stormtroopers and inside Vader's Castle, and Commander Lina Graf tells a scary story, which, at least in this issue, she herself acknowledges might be slightly silly, given their current circumstances: "This is hardly the time, Crater" she tells her droid when he suggests she tell a story to help take Skritt's mind off of the spooky Imperial fortress on the volcano planet.

Her story is drawn by Corin Howell, and it features Solo-era Han Solo and Chewbacca, so whatever exactly Disney's plan for Solo films might end up being, it apparently isn't impacting references to it in the pages of their spin-off comics. A mysterious woman is looking for a pilot to take a cursed statue to a cursed planet for an unbelievable payoff, but everyone she approaches Han.

He and Chewie take the job, landing on a planet that is completely overgrown with snaky, thorny, grasping vines and flowers that shoot a mist that super-ages anyone who smells it, turning you from young, virile Alden Ehrenreich to aged Harrison Ford in a matter of panels. These are under the control of a witchy lady who can change into a space owl (That's why there is a giant owl head on Francesco Francavilla's cover...which is a little unfortunate, because it takes up a lot of space that could have otherwise have been devoted to drawing Francavilla's Chewbacca, which is one of those things I didn't realize I wanted to see until this comic was in my hands. See also: Francavilla-drawn Ewoks).

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader's Castle #4 (IDW) Well here's something you don't see in Star Wars comics all that much anymore: Ewoks.

I'm not sure if it's the relative disdain the teddy bear people of the forest moon of Endor were met with by a large sub-section of Star Wars' perennially prickly super-fandom, or simple burnout (There was a lot of Ewok-content post-Return of The Jedi, including their own made-for-TV spin-off movies and an animated series), but I think I've encountered far more Gungans than Ewoks in Star Wars extended universe media in the last decade or so (It could also be a matter of my just not knowing where to look, of course; as this very series has demonstrated, I simply am not up-to-date with my Star Wars trivia any more).

Well, Star Wars Adventures is ostensibly the "kids" comic for the franchise (although it's really more "all-ages"), so it makes sense to feature the child-friendly Ewoks here, right? Well, sure, I guess, but man, these Ewoks are a bit creepier than comic book Ewoks past; check out the scary-ass ones on Francavilla's cover, for example, or those on gust-artist Robert Hack's cover.

Hack's are more "realistic"--as in they look like they did in Jedi--than overtly creepy, but that's still a lot more unsettling than the safer, cartoonier versions.
After two pages in which the Charm-drawn crew of Lina Graf's ship split up within the bowels of Vader's castle, droid G3 tells little bug-person Skritt a scary story to help him overcome his fear. This is drawn by Hack, and set on Endor, among the Ewoks and their fellow inhabitants of the super-forests, some of which sounded and looked familiar, some of which did not (Googling/Ecosia-ing them though, everything checks out, from the particular names of most of Ewoks to the wendigo-like giant to the evil, long-eared Grinches). Darkly-colored in blacks, grays and reds by Charlie Kirchoff, the Hack-drawn section is one hell of a moody comic, and maybe as close to a true horror story involving the Ewoks as you can get in an all-ages comic.

Also there's this:
It is, as I noted on Twitter the week I read it, not an all-Ewok retelling of The Wicker Man, but it's close enough to one to be pretty awesome.

Back in the Charm-drawn castle, our heroes stumble upon Vader's manservant from Rogue One, and then the big man finally makes his appearance in a pretty awesome splash-page that is all red and black.

Star Wars Adventures: Tales From Vader's Castle #5 (IDW) This is it, the final issue of the five-part weekly Halloween-season series of scary Star Wars stories which, fingers crossed, becomes an annual thing from IDW, like Bongo's Treehouse of Horror specials. As writer Cavan Scott's story reaches its climax, most of this final issue is devoted to Lina Graf and what remains of her crew as they try to escape Vader's castle with their lives. The short story embedded within their story is much shorter than usual. It's just four pages long, and told to Lina and Skritt by Vader's manservant Vanee, by way of boasting of what happened to those who have invaded the castle in the past. Charles Paul Wilson III draws that section, which is basically just a very dramatic entrance by Vader that results in the off-panel deaths of some Mustafarian natives.

The stories from the previous four issues come into play here, as Lina and Skritt refer back to their events, heroes and villains for lessons they can use to try to escape Vader and his castle (This also gives Charm the opportunity to draw "cover" versions of characters from the other artists' stories). I hope it's not spoiling things too much to note that (some of) the heroes escape alive/un-destroyed, but they do so in a way that does nothing to diminish how scary powerful Vader is supposed to be.

I love Charm's version of Vader, who, by the end of the issue, is pretty much just an animated black shadow with red light reflecting off his black lens eyes.
This turned out to be a pretty great series, and if you sat it out but like Star Wars at all, or know a young reader who does, you might want to check out the inevitable trade paperback collection for yourself, or that young reader who likes Star Wars.

Super Patriotic Heroes (IDW) This collaboration between editor Craig Yoe's Yoe Books and IDW contains 21 Golden Age strips within its 225-pages, along with a five-page prose introduction by Yoe and a small gallery of covers, including that most famous of comic book covers, Jack Kirby's 1941 cover depicting Captain America punching out Hitler on the cover of he and Joe Simon's Captain America #1. That particular star-spangled super-soldier only appears in that image, but the rest of the page count is filled with his less-famous peers, the organizing principal of this collection being pretty clearly spelled out in the title (The starburst blurb "Nazi Punchers!" further cluing a reader in to the specific era in question; these stories are all from 1940-1946).

Included are some of the better-known heroes of this particular sub-set, including Captain America's forereunner The Shield, National-turned-DC's superheroic take on Uncle Sam and The Fighting Yank (who Alex Ross and company have resurrected for their Project: Super Powers comics), but still more also-rans, all of whom run a wide gamut in regards to the garishness of their costumes, the complexity of their backstories, the seriousness of their narratives and their potential for modern viability. Among the artists whose work appears here are Will Eisner (on Uncle Sam), Irv Novick (on The Shield) and Paul Norris (on Yank and Doodle).

While I think the book may be best viewed as a sort of unofficial companion to Mark Fertig's 2017 Take That, Adolf!: The Fighting Comics of The Second World War, I am just as fascinated by the strange first years of the superhero comic as I have always been, and always welcome any sort of window into a cross-section of the avalanche of bizarre, would-be Supermans of the 1940s. Although Captain America/The Shield is the most obvious touchstone for these guys (and a few girls), it remains remarkable how strong the debt to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman so many of these characters owe, with duplications of Superman's powers, his clumsily-kept secret identity and even a love triangle of sorts involving hero, secret ID and female colleague abounding.

While the quality of these stories ranges as widely as everything else about them, it's a blast taking in so many costumes and origins, the former including some particularly bizarre ones, like the star-faced Captain Courageous, the lunatic garb of Super-American (a super-powered hero from the future who comes across as a deeply unhinged Superman with a wild look in his eyes), Captain Fight's homemade costume or The Fighting Yank's thrown-together ensemble, which includes both a tri-corner hat and what looks like an iron-on American flag long-sleeved t-shirt.

My favorite stories in here were those starring Maurice Gutwirth's USA, The Spirit of Old Glory, the Eisner-drawn Uncle Sam story, and the Fighting Yank one. The first of these involves one of only three of the female heroes within (the others are Pat Patriot and Miss Victory, although like Captain America, Timely/Marvel's Miss America appears on a cover included within).

In the Uncle Sam story, a young couple are parked on some lover's lane, discussing what a roadblock her plutocrat industrialist father is for their happiness, when out of the bushes steps an eavesdropping Uncle Sam--

--and neither of them so much as bat an eye at the encounter.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: DC needs to publish an Uncle Sam Chronicles series of trade paperback collections to go along with those featuring the Golden Age stories of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (I would also like a Captain Marvel Shazam Chronicles and a Plastic Man Chronicles, please).

Super Sons Vol. 3: Parent Trap (DC) When Superboy Jonathan Kent and Robin Damian Wayne meet one another by chance at summer camp, they realize that they are actually twins, and they switch identities in order to reunite their parents and become one big, happy superhero what the title of this third and final volume of Peter J. Tomasi and Carlo Barberi's run on the 16-issue series made me think this collection would be about. But it is not. Rather, DC seems to have just glommed onto the phrase "Parent Trap" because it exists in the shared pop cultural ether, and there are both parents and traps in these five issues (Super Sons #13-16, plus the first and only annual of the series).

There are three distinct stories collected here, the first and best of them being that from the annual, pencilled by Paul Pettetier. While the Super Sons appear in a sort of framing sequence, it is actually a stealth Super-Pets comic which, if you've been reading EDILW long enough you should know, is right up my alley. Tomasi's take on the Super-Pets team is unusual but fun; he essentially posits that the various Bat- and Super- pets have had a secret, behind-the-scenes team for a while now, unbeknowest to their masters. At one point in the recent past, a mission went sideways and one of the pets died, causing a rift between Krypto and Streaky.

As the pets become aware of a rash of pet-nappings, Krypto seeks out a bat-hound--here Titus rather than Ace, although annual artist Pelletier shows the two bat-hounds sleeping side-by-side in their dog beds; Titus is just the one who awakens when summoned by Krypto and Bat-Cow--and they go to Detective Chimp. It is Bobo who says, "So you want the SUPER-PETS back together for one more mission," and then he speaks wistfully of "Flexi, The Plastic Bird," a cockatoo that bears markings that reflect Plastic Man's costume (and has Plas' powers), as well as Bat-Hound (Titus), Clay Critter (who seems to be taking Proty's place from the original Super-Pets line-up, and likely has something to do with Clayface), Krypto, Bat-Cow and Streaky.

We see one of their missions in flashback, wherein they face Red Lantern Dex-Starr (that's the one that's an Earth-born house cat with a Red Lantern ring on its tail, i.e. the best Red Lantern) at the Gotham City Zoo. He's accompanied by a pair of hyenas and large snowy owl, the former of which may or may not be Harley's pets Bud and Lou.

The re-united team--sans the late Clay Critter--do indeed manage to reunite and save the day, leaving the scores of rescued house pets at Wayne Manor, where it's up to Damian and Jon to figure out what to do with them. I find it highly unlikely we will get, say, a Super-Pets ongoing or miniseries or anything, but I certainly wouldn't mind one by Tomasi, considering how many pets he has had Damian collecting over the years (In addition to Titus and Bat-Cow, Damian also has a tuxedo cat named Pennyworth and whatever the hell big red bat-monster Goliath is).

After the annual comes the two-issue title story by the regular art team of Carlo Barberi and Art Thibert, which gives us a day-in-the-life story of the boys at West-Reeve Prep School in Metropolis (which Damian arrives at via Alfred-flown Wayne Enterprises helicopter every morning) and a dramatic mission for the boys, in which Damian's mom Talia al Ghul has accepted a contract on Jon's mom Lois Lane. The non-school stuff is a little disappointing in that I have lost count of how many times writers have had Damian come face-to-face with Talia and/or Ra's and have to once again reject their plans to have him follow in their footsteps, but Tomasi handles it as well as possible, and I suppose the re-statement was perhaps part of a winding down of the book, which seems to have been forced into kinda sorta cancellation by the events in Brian Michael Bendis' Superman books. (Super Sons is being immediately replaced by The Adventures of The Super Sons, which is apparently set in the "past" before the events of Bendi's Actions Comics/Superman).

And that brings us to the final two-issue arc, which a secondary art team of Brent Peeples and Scott Hanna helps Barberi and Thibert finish up. The new Kid Amazo who was introduced in the first issues of the series returns for revenge, destroying the Super Sons' headquarters and capturing most of the Justice League, so that Damian and Jon come full-circle in terms of a villain, and also have to prove themselves to their fathers and in front of their dads' co-workers in a battle with much-bigger-than-usual stakes.

I'd say it's a shame that the series is ending, but since it's being relaunched by the same creators with a slightly different name, I don't know if "ending" is really the right word. Instead, I guess it's just changing focus...? Ideally, the next collection will just be Super Sons Vol. 4, but I'm sure DC will instead publish Adventures of The Super Sons Vol. 1, for maximum confusification (Hell, I suppose they could have just kept publishing the book, and just set the next storyline in the past).

True Believers: What If The Avengers Had Fought Evil During the 1950's? #1 (Marvel) This $1 reprint of 1978's What If? #9 re-presents one of my favorite issues of the series, the one that kinda sorta inspired--or at least pre-figured--elements of writer Jeff Parker's Agents of Atlas comics for Marvel, an under-appreciated gem. The characters who would make up the AOA team of Parker's show up here--Jimmy Woo, Marvel Boy, Gorilla-Man, The Human Robot, Venus and Namora--although their roles vary in terms of importance and emphasis in this story versus his take, and the basic premise of a team of secret heroes that existed between the eras of The Invaders and The Avengers can be seen at play here.

For this issue, writer Don Glut basically gathered a bunch of fun characters from a bunch of different comics of the pre-Marvel Atlas Comics, many of whom weren't meant to be superheroes per se, or were simply also-ran, would-be superheroes who had the misfortune of being introduced after the Golden Age but before the Silver Age, and then repurposing them all into a Marvel-style comic book adventure. This is especially apparent in the villains our heroes face.

FBI Agent Jimmy Woo is being targeted by a motorcycle gang under the mental control of The Yellow Claw, and 3-D Man and Marvel Boy come to his aid. Jimmy sends Marvel Boy and Jann of The Jungle to Africa to pick up Gorilla-Man, while Namora helps Jimmy recover The Human Robot. The ladies split, but Venus adds a female to this pre-Avengers Avengers line-up.

What does Jimmy need all these super-powered weirdos for? Well, The Yellow Claw has assembled a team consisting of The Great Video, boasting deadly X-ray vision; Skull-Face ("the skeleton of an alleged demon, burned at the stake centuries ago-- --and restored to life in this century by 50 million volts of electricity!"); the electric-powered Soviet soldier Electro (not that one) and the ice-powered Cold Warrior. They kidnap President Eisenhower right off of the golf course, and it's up to our misfit heroes to rescue him.

The framing sequence in this issue is even more strained than usual. The Watcher, What If?'s  usual narrator, shows up as always, and over the course of a two-page spread he explains the origins and pre-story fates of Marvel Boy, The Human Robot, Venus and 3-D Man. But additionally the actual Avengers are involved in framing the story of the Atlas Avengers. The story opens with Iron Man having summoned Thor, The Vision, The Beast and Captain America so that he can use his weird, interdimensional TV invention to show them the events of this comic, at the end of which each of the gathered Avengers speechifies about how one of the Atlas Avengers reminded them of themselves, although some of the comparisons are pretty strained.

Like sure, The Beast knows what it must have been like for Gorilla-Man to have a sharp, human mind despite a bestial body, and the over-emotional android The Vision could certainly project his own issues onto The Human Robot. But Captain America thinks that "in many ways, such as our fighting styles" he and 3-D Man were a lot alike (That's just one way, Cap), or Iron Man relating to Marvel Boy because the latter's wrist-mounted laser beams were kinda sorta not completely unlike his own repulsor rays...? I don't know Avengers; I think you're reaching.

Still, this was an all-around great comic that borrowed some fascinating characters from Atlas and remixed them into a Marvel-style comic that would later influence some really great Marvel comics, including a passage of Avengers Forever and all of Parker and company's superior Agents of Atlas comics.

This issue of True Believers is by far the best way to spend $1 in a comic shop.

True Believers: What If Dr. Doom Had Become a Hero? #1 (Marvel) This $1 reprint of 1980's What If? #22 turns on a single decision in Victor Von Doom's life. When he and Reed Richards were in college and Victor was getting ready to stick his head in some weird mad science machine that would help him search the afterlife for his mother's soul, Reed went to Vic to tell him that his math was a few decimal points off. In the "real" Marvel Universe, Vic told Reed to get bent, but what if, instead, he asked Reed to show him his math errors...?

Well then, his face never would have melted off, he never would have swore vengeance upon Reed Richards and he never would have donned his Man In The Iron Mask get-up and become one of the world's greatest supervillains, that's what. Of course, it's somewhat doubtful that any one single moment could a person's very character that much, but, well, the premise of the story kind of hinges on Doom being a self-less, altruistic superhero instead of a supervillain whose day job is being a brutal dictator.

The 32-page story is the work of writer Don Glut, pencil artist Fred Kida and inker Dave Simon, and the most immediately obvious answer to the question posed in the title is "He wouldn't look nearly as cool." Doom still heads into the mountains in search of arcane knowledge, he still meets some monks who forge him some armor, but it looks like this:
He also spends the rest of his career focused on events in Latveria, rather than screwing around with the outside world. In fact, Reed and the Fantastic Four never even appear in Doom's story on this alternate world, aside from Reed's brief appearance in college, of course. Instead, Doom's primary antagonist is Mephisto, and Glut actually does quite a fine job of making even this heroic Doom something of a tragic figure, as whether he is good or evil, he is still both proud and a genius intellect whose emotions can be over-ridden by pragmatism, so he makes a choice that's not what one would expect a hero like, say, Superman or Captain America to make.

True Believers: What If Jane Foster Had Found The Hammer of Thor? #1 (Marvel) Here it is! The Don Glut, Rick Hoberg, Dave Hunt story from 1978 that inspired literally years worth of Jason Aaron's still-ongoing run on Thor, and gave Marvel one of its more exciting and intriguing new legacy characters of the last decade or so. Probably. I mean, it may just be a coincidence that this 40-year-old comic was about Jane Foster getting Thor's hammer and powers, and that Aaron was really inspired by the first Thor movie, thinking, "What's Natalie Portman doing playing the girlfriend role in a superhero movie? Shouldn't she be the star? Wouldn't it be cool if Natalie Portman had the hammer?" (The answer is yes, it would be cool. But it would be even cooler if Kat Dennings did).

Scanning the covers of this volume of What If? in the old Grand Comics Database, I can't help but notice all of the plot points that various Marvel writers seem to have borrowed from these issues over the years, or at least found inspiration from. Given how much mileage Aaron and Marvel got out of What If? #10, I can't help but think if I were a freelance writer with my foot in the door at Marvel, I'd be studying old What If? day and night, trying to find the next most exploitable idea.

While the details of this particular story were new to me upon reading it this month, I know I have read it before, because I recall being grossed-out by an element of the ending (I imagine it was reprinted in the back of one of the Jane Foster-as-Thor trades, to cut down on the new content in them and allow Marvel to charge more per collection, as is their wont). I guess I forgot the details because the comic is actually super-boring.

It begins with the retelling of Thor's origin story as it really was, then shifts into a retelling answering the question on the cover. Those giant rock guys from Saturn that drive Donald Blake into the cave to find Mjolnir didn't make it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I guess the placement of Korg in Thor: Ragnarok does get a rock guy into the Thor story in a weird, roundabout, almost-certainly unintentional way (Like, he was in Ragnarok via the "Planet Hulk" storyline, not because there were rock guys in Thor's comic book origin story).

This Jane Foster Thor is notable in that she looks exactly like a lady version of the male Thor, albeit with bare legs and no muscles (the canonical Jane Thor had a mask, which is weird, since one would assume her face wouldn't resemble that of Jane's anyway, would it...?). She also doesn't go by "Thor", but "Thordis," which she says was the name of a Norwiegian girl from nursing school. Me? I like "Thora" better.

Then we basically follow Thor's original storyline for many pages, allowing for the differences brought about by the change in leads. In the end, everything is set "right," with Donald Blake getting the hammer an becoming the male Thor, and Jane Foster randomly marries old man Odin at the end, which might seem a bit less weird if Odin was drawn to resemble anyone under the age of 175, but he just looks like a Santa Claus who works out.
I mean, the heart wants what the heart wants, I guess, but you'd think Jane would at least ask him to groom his mountainous wizard eyebrows before their wedding day, you know...? The moment is really just presented as a sort of consolation prize for Jane Foster, as she was in love with Donald Blake who, after he gets the hammer, marries Sif, leaving Jane alone, and we can't have a happy ending with an unmarried woman, now can we...? I tried imagining Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman in that scene above, and that actually looked/felt even wronger than the Barbie doll/fit Santa pairing of the comic.

Usagi Yojimbo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Collection (Dark Horse Books) So just how complete is this complete collection? What have we got here... 1.) "Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew" from 1987's Turtle Soup #1, 2.) "The Crossing" from 1988's Usagi Yojimbo (Vol. 1) #10, 3.)"The Treaty" from 1989's Shell Shock, 4.) "Shades of Green" from 1993's Usagi Yojimbo (Vol. 2) #1-3 and 5.) "Namazu" from 2017's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo. Okay, yeah, that's pretty complete.

I was a little surprised to find that I had actually read and own copies of all of these already, save "The Crossing," the only story in here that's not by Stan Sakai. Rather, "The Crossing" is by Peter Laird (with letters by frequent Mirage letterer Steve Lavigne) and was originally published in an early-ish issue of the original, Fantagraphics-published Usagi Yojimbo. That maybe made it the most interesting of these stories to me on this reading, as not only was it completely fresh to me--even if it was little more than a different variation on the two Leonardo-meets-Usagi stories it is sandwiched between--and not only was it a new, "undiscovered" TMNT story by one of their creators, but it was a relatively rare example of someone other than Sakai drawing his Usagi character (Laird's Usagi looks more like a real rabbit-man than a cartoon rabbit, which I suppose is part and parcel to putting him in the Laird-drawn world of the TMNT).

Overall it's a pretty fascinating read though, as one can see Sakai evolving through these stories, which start with a basically plot-less six-page short--that nevertheless alludes to a story featuring the other anthropomorphic animal protagonist from 1980s black-and-white indie comics that the ninja turtles shared a crossover with--and just as Sakai's drawing style grows more refined, the stories get more complicated and longer, each one involving more cultural elements, so that by "Shades of Green," we get a 60-page story in which the Turtles and Usagi share space with recurring Usagi Yojimbo characters and pick up in-progress plot lines, and then in the full-color, IDW-produced special that closes out the book, we have a 40-page epic in which a recurring Usagi Yojimbo villain and our heroes encounter a monster of Japanese legend.

The title of this collection is long enough, but it could probably have supported two more words: "More" and "Than." That's because there's around 70 pages of content after the last comic is finished. There's a prose introduction from Peter Laird, tons of process-related stuff from the "Namazu" story, the covers of all the the comics that originally contained these stories (so there's random TMNT images by Steven Bissette with Kevin Eastman and A.C. Farley, from Turtle Soup and Shell Shock, respectively) and dozens of sketches and pin-ups by Sakai drawing all five of the weapons-wielding anthropomorphic animals, plus all the variants from the IDW comic, which means we also get to see Kevin Eastman's Usagi and Mouse Guard's David Petersen and Sergio Aragones' versions of all of these characters.

I wouldn't have said no to a little more content, like maybe a more expansive essay with quotes from Sakai, Eastman and Laird about the history of the characters' relationship--in his introduction, Laird alludes to the fact that Usagi was in the initial toy line, and appeared in all three cartoon series, but he hadn't seen the episode from the third series yet (hey, me either!)--but then, this is an era of comics I am pretty fascinated with, and I find the stories behind these stories just as interesting as what's in the comics sometimes (While reading this, I became really curious about the hows and whys of the decades-long TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo relationship, whereas the TMNT/Cerebus one never really outlasted that one, single issue...I imagine it has something to do with the personalities involved, but it's curious how...different one black-and-white, early-1980s, "funny animal" comic character went one way after intersecting with the TMNT, and the other one went another way, you know...?

Anyway, this is awesome and everyone should buy a copy and read it. And then embark upon reading Sakai's ongoing Usagi Yojimbo epic, which is something I really need to do someday myself: Just sit down and, starting with page one of the first issue from the first volume, read all of Usagi Yojimbo in order.

What If? The Punisher #1 (Marvel) That's what the fine print says the title of this one-shot comic book is, anyway; according to the cover, it is What If? Peter Parker Became The Punisher. Neither is quite right. The question mark should come at the end of the title. It's not like Marvel didn't just reprint a thousand old issues of What If?, so the the basic layout of the title should be fresh in their collective head.

This is the only one of the grammatically incorrect new crop of What If? specials that really caught my eye, thanks mostly to the intriguing mash-up of the Spider-Man and Punisher costumes...with Spidey Punny having to tap the palm of his hands with his middle two fingers to fire his wrist-mounted guns instead of just, you know, shooting a regular gun by pulling the trigger with his trigger finger, that really sealed the deal for me. There were five other specials, featuring Spider-Man, The X-Men, Ghost Rider, Thor and Magik, one or two others of which I wouldn't mind taking a look at, but none of which really demanded immediate-ish attention from me.

The story is the work of past Punisher writer Carl Potts and artist Juanan Ramirez, who is here colored by Rachelle Rosenberg. The comic never really achieves anything beyond what you can see simply by looking at the kind of cool, mostly ridiculous cover image. In fact, it read a lot like a classic What If? comic, which I am now much more familiar with than I was last month, on account of having read all those True Believers reprints above.

That is, Potts takes the point of departure--Peter's decision to murder the guy who murdered Uncle Ben--and then kind of races through the entire Spider-Man story with the new variation: Peter having a different costume, and shooting bad guys to death his web-shooters that shoot bullets. Shooter-shooters, if you will. No, wait, that's not quite right...bullet-shooters...? Guns! That's the word I was looking for!

As to why Peter's Spider-Man Punisher costume is black and white and has a huge fucking skull on the chest, that is apparently down to the simple fact that he was here bitten by an irradiated Steatoda Nobilis spider, a "false widow" that has white coloration on its abdomen that often resembles a skull. As Ramirez draws it here, that vague skull shape is pretty much a straight-up Punisher logo. Hence Peter's new costume.

After he shoots the man who murdered his uncle in the struggle at the warehouse, he goes about his early Spider-Man career, originally dubbed "Punishing Spider" in a Daily Bugle headline before simply going by "Punisher," which is kinda weird considering how spidery he is. He still has webs and clings to walls and all. In addition to his webbing though, he develops all kinds of specialized projectile weapons with which to shoot his rogue's gallery to death, his story reaching its climax with The Green Goblin throwing Gwen Stacy off a bridge. Things end happily here for Peter, with him tossing his costume in a garbage can and dramatically walking way from it, "Spider-Man No More!"-style.

Panels later, who should stumble into that very alley but one Frank Castle, who had just seen his family dunned down before his eyes. Wounded and crying, Frank falls into a garbage can, and Punny's skull-emblazoned shirt falls upon his own chest. I guess Peter didn't even bother bagging his former vigilante togs.

The obvious little "The End?" box in that last panel is a nice, over-obvious touch, too. That's the nice thing about Punisher comics: Just as they can never be too over-the-top, they can also never be too obvious in their storytelling.

This probably wasn't worth $3.99 and the time it took to read, considering that it never does anything more interesting than it does in its title and cover. Maybe if it were What If...Frank Castle Became The Amazing Spider-Man?, and it had a Frank putting Flash Thompson's head through a locker, and ignoring the advances of Gwen and MJ so he could stay home and sort his guns and plan his murders, and appearing in J. Jonah Jameson's office window with an automatic rifle in each hand, shooting up the office walls and saying, "Threat or menace? Get it straight, Jameson--I'm a threat and a menace!"

That might have been more fun...

Wonder Woman: Earth One Volume Two (DC) I liked Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette's 2016 Wonder Woman: Earth One Volume one quite a lot, as it was probably the first time in my adult life that creators tried to seriously engage William Moulton Marsters and H.G. Peter's creation and original comics and try to tailor all that storybook silliness, Golden Age craziness, war-time propaganda and the enormous and potent sub-text and try to wrestle it into something new for a modern audience without simply re-creating the character and her milieu as something easier, safer, more marketable or more to their liking. I think it was probably the closest we got to the "real" Wonder Woman since the last Marston/Peter collaborations (The Trina Robbins/Kurt Busiek comics, recently republished as Wonder Woman: Forgotten Legends at least got in the right ballpark).

This is the creative teams next chunk of the narrative, which is apparently meant to be a three-volume cycle of original graphic novels, and while the shock of a creative team trying to do the original Wonder Woman has worn off a bit, the main focus of this volume is reimagining Wondy villain Dr. Psycho. Here he is Dr. Leon Zeiko and he is...handsome and smart and charming, which I'm kind of uncomfortable with. When she meets him, he is serving as a hostage negotiator in Yemen, and Wonder Woman saves him. After they do shots of whiskey and talk for pages, they begin an unlikely friendship...which is obviously all part of a long game to "break" Wonder Woman for the U.S. military-industrial complex, which continues to see her as a unique threat, even if she is intent on taking down the patriarchy by winning hearts and minds, rather than tearing it apart with her bare hands.

The idea seems to be to internalize the ugliness of Psycho, since when we meet Dr. Psychos in the real world, they aren't so obviously weird and sinister looking, and they can seem far bigger and far more appealing and, well, normal than Peter's Dr. Psycho was. Still, it's jarring to see a Pyscho that could be friends or potential lovers with Wonder Woman, you know.

The topicality of book is another strange element. I suppose it's exciting to see, say, ex-White House Communications Director Sean Spicer wrapped in the golden lasso behind his podium, or Dr. Psycho using alt-right terms like "cucks" and using weapons-grade gaslighting on Wonder Woman, but it's also jarring. Putting Wonder Woman too much in the real world, or making her foes too representative of certain elements, can strain the narrative in such a way that it falls apart. I'm of two minds about setting Wonder Woman: Earth One in what is essentially "Earth-Prime," but then, I suppose making Dr. Psycho a stand-in for the alt-right or male online bullies of one kind or another isn't much different than, say, making Dr. Poison or Paula Von Gunther stands-ins for all Japanese people or all Germans, huh?

I don't know. I'll definitely need to revisit these first two volumes when the third is released and grapple with it at that time. In the meanwhile, Morrison continues to produce the most interesting Wonder Woman scripts, and while Paquette's art is far from ideal, the fact that it looks so much like all other modern Wonder Woman comics allows Morrison's scripts to get away with a lot more subversion than they might otherwise have, had DC hired an artist trying to do a modern H.G. Peter pastiche.


Rainbow Brite #1 (Dynamite Entertainment) Here. I'm 100% completely disinterested in this particular character and franchise, but writer Jeremy Whitley made it interesting by leaning into the magical girl/fantasy elements, and it certainly helped that Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat artist Brittney Williams is attached. I think Williams is one of the better pop comics artists working today, so I was actually surprised Dynamite was able to snag this particular creative team for this particular comic. Please note that the cover is not by Williams, so don't judge this particular comic by its cover. Not that the cover's bad or anything, I just thought I should point that out.

*And he apparently cooks beef too, which strikes me as kinda weird.

**I attended the Cleveland stop of the MST3K 30th Anniversary Tour, in which Hodgson reprised his role as Joel Robinson to riff on Deathstalker II alongside current MST3K-host Jonah Ray and the 'bots, and I was a little surprised that in various anniversary-related stuff, like a theme song that incorporated snippets of all the previous ones and one of the shirt designs, Growler and Waverly were shown alongside of all the regular, recurring characters (a new Mad, who is apparently something akin to a Jane Goodall for B-movie monsters, was also introduced). I imagine this means those new 'bots will continue to play a role in the show, beyond their one-joke appearances during season 11. 

***You can see a glimpse of part of Joe Simon's cover on page three, in the process of being altered with Jonah and Crow appearing in a sidecar that is being added to it. I couldn't tell which story from that issue is being used for raw material here, and thus who the artist involved was. A signature is visible on the title page ("Lee Eling"? "Lee Elios"?). Jack Pollock is credited with "'in-comics' art", though that likely refers to the new art added to the original, not the original artist. It's somewhat frustrating that no room was made for crediting the original artists--if, in fact, they could even be determined, in which case an "anonymous" would be better than nothing--given comic publishers' original sin of not giving artists enough credit during the 1940s, when this comic originated.

****Actually, instead of Google I used Ecosia, which is a search engine which plants trees based on how much it's used. It's not as good as Google, which I sometimes switch to if I can't find what I need, but I've been using Ecosia first for all searches, since it allows me to indirectly kinda sorta do something worthwhile as I do otherwise unproductive things like plug the names of Star Wars-related characters into the Internet to find out if I knew who they were and just forgot them, or if they are from some spin-off I've never encountered before.