Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Month of Wednesdays: November 2018


Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth #1 (DC Comics) Not to be confused with Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth #1, which shipped last month and kicked off the four-to-eight part "Drowned Earth" story arc, this $4.99, 36-page special with a slightly different title is the finale of the arc (Call me old-fashioned, but I feel a little weird about a comic book story ending in a comic book labeled with a "#1").

The best part of this issue is when Wonder Woman's just like, "Hey guys, if you put on these pirate costumes that fit you all perfectly, it will prevent you from turning into fish monsters, and Francis Manapul can draw you in a corset on the cover, Mera, and Superman, you can wear a cool jacket." (Okay, actually her line was "Quickly! The garments on board should help protect you against the sea gods' magic!")

Aside from resolving the conflict of the alien sea gods' invasion of Earth and their ill-considered alliance with Black Manta, this issue seems to temporarily shunt Aquaman off the League roster (and Manta off the Legion roster), setting up the King of the Seaven Seas' shirtless, amnesiac adventures in Kelly Sue DeConnick's upcoming run on Aquaman. The League thinks Aquaman is dead, or at least dead-ish, and Mera is apparently going to take his slot on the team until they find him and discover that he is still alive after all.

Manapul shares art duties with Howard Porter and Scott Godlewski. I think it's Godlewski who drew the last page, and I do not care for the way he draws Aquaman's nipples.


I hope saying so doesn't mean EDILW is going to become one of the leading Google results for "Aquaman's nipples" or anything. I still get a ridiculous amount of traffic from people searching "Batman Catwoman sex" simply because I wrote a bit about the New 52 Catwoman #1...

Archie #700 (Archie Comics) In a Marvel-ous move, the rebooted Archie title resumes its pre-relaunch numbering in order to have a big anniversary issue, which is a thing that used to appeal to comic book readers of a certain age a long time ago, and perhaps it still appeals to someone, because publishers keep doing it. This is, incidentally, the first issue by the new, post-Mark Waid creative team of writer Nick Spencer and artist Marguerite Sauvage (I purchased the Mike Allred cover over the one by Sauvage, or any of the other eight variant cover artists...several of whom seem to spoil the surprise ending on their covers, according to the cover gallery in the back of the book).

The new team built in a minor time jump, giving themselves an easier place to start and, incidentally, giving readers an easier place to start reading. Summer vacation is just ending, and everyone who was out of town is coming back into town and comparing notes on what has changed, and what hasn't. While Betty and Veronica and Reggie were away, Jughead went and got himself a rather unlikely job, and Archie? Well, Archie's been MIA, and acting kind of cagey. As the issue nears its end, the other characters begin to realize he's acting almost as if he's got a new, secret girlfriend...and it turns out he has. Who she is turns out to be a pretty big surprise, although, upon seeing the reveal and being genuinely surprised by it, I realized that I'm pretty sure Archie had already announced it at some point, and I had just forgotten it (It's smart marketing, at any rate!).

Sauvage's artwork, which she colors herself and gives the same luminous quality that her covers generally boast, is as excellent as always, and probably as close to ideal for this particular iteration of this particular book as one could hope for. In addition to those characters previously mentioned, all of whom get pretty thoroughly introduced or re-introduced--this really is a very new reader-friendly issue--we also get to see Sauvage's versions of Cheryl Blossom, Josie and The Pussycats, Kevin, Midge and Moose and Dilton (albeit all very briefly). I'm not sure I like her Jughead, though, as he looks way too handsome and, well, buff to be Jughead. Obviously there has been an overall en-handsoming of the boys in Riverdale since the title was relaunched by Waid and artist Fiona Staples--Allred's cover is a perfect example of how different the modern Archie looks from the original one--but while I've gotten used to the idea of Archie Andrews and Reggie Mantle as hunks, seeing a normal-nosed, well-muscled Jughead Jones filling out his clothes nicely strikes me as...wrong? I don't know; maybe I'll get used to it.

I'm a big fan of Sauvage's work and, in fact, that's what convinced me to keep reading the book serially rather than switching to trades, but, at this juncture, I think Derek Charm and Audrey Mok remain my favorite new Riverdale interior artists...

Batman: Kings of Fear #4 (DC) The Scarecrow literally gets Batman on the couch on the first page of this issue, like a weird, horror comic version of a New Yorker cartoon, with Batman reclining and The Scarecrow sitting next to him with a notepad.
Well, maybe "literally" isn't the right word, as the image seems to be in Batman's mind, which is still reeling from the doses of prison sink fear gas Scarecrow has been giving him all night. This means we get another trippy issue of Batman's inner life, as The Scarecrow tries to probe him--splash page montages of Batman falling into a pit and of his family's murder, Batman imagining himself as a bulletproof 1950s TV Superman, Batman in a hot tub with three ladies in bathing suits, stuff like that.
In other words, there are at least as many striking images in this issue as there have been in the previous three. I particularly like the version of the cover image that appears within. On the cover, Kelley Jones draws Batman as some sort of angry kaiju, looming over the city skyline like King Kong in that one image often used to promote the original film that I don't like; the interior version, which similarly has the bat-signal shining on his chest to form his bat-symbol, presents Batman as more of an angry god-like figure.

There's also a really neat image of Commissioner Gordon being super-intense, his white mustache seeming to droop angrily, and lots of great images of Scarecrow posing and gesturing dramatically.
What's cool about this series, however, is that it's not just an excuse for Jones to go crazy with over-the-top imagery, but writer Scott Peterson really does seem to be drilling down into the character's so-often explored psyche, and, at the climax of this issue, there seems to be a "break-through." That a super-villain posits an interpretation of why exactly it is that Batman does what he does, chances are we'll get a counter-theory by the end of series, but what's compelling about Scarecrow's case is that it has a familiar element--that Batman's very existence makes Gotham a scarier, more dangerous, perhaps all-around worse place--but that the motivation offered here is unusual.

The Brave and The Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman (DC) Well this was certainly fortuitous timing. Just as people are still recovering from having their eyes knocked out by artist Liam Sharp's art on the critically acclaimed gushed-over The Green Lantern*, here comes a hardcover collection of his six-issue miniseries from earlier this year, which he both wrote and drew, while Romulo Fajardo Jr handled colors and Troy Peteri lettered.

It's something of an unusual book, and not simply because the two characters whose names are in the title aren't quite the natural match that Batman and Superman might be. At this point, these two characters have shared plenty of stories together, and this isn't even the first prestige hardcover graphic novel that Batman and Wonder Woman have co-starred in. What is more unusual is how they can at times seem almost incidental to the plot, or at least occasionally feel in jeopardy of being outshone or overpowered by the charismatic characters from Celtic mythology that fill the book.

Batman and Wonder Woman are both in the book for very specific reasons--Wonder Woman as a peacemaker who specializes in dealing with ancient pantheons, Batman as a detective attempting to solve a particularly challenging murder mystery--and the book probably wouldn't quite work (it certainly wouldn't have moved as many copies in the direct market!) without them, but this isn't really a story about them. Rather, this is a story that imagines the current state of Celtic deities, heroes and fairy folk centuries after their twilight, as they dwindle into obscurity, faltering to the point that even they have begun to forget their own stories.

In Tir Na Nog, which is here something of an extra-dimensional prison purgatory that the the Fomor and the De Danann sealed themselves in centuries ago, the Fomor king is found dead, apparently poisoned, and the two factions are on the verge of war. Cernunnos**, the horned and hooved god who acts as leader and peace keeper and is the only one able to still journey to and from the real world (or, here, the DC Universe, I guess), seeks out Wonder Woman and brings her to Tir Na Nog.

Meanwhile, something strange is happening in Gotham City's Irish quarter, as everyone there seems to have fallen into a strange trance. These things are, of course, related, and at Wonder Woman's urging, Cernunnos bring Batman into Tir Na Nog as well, in order to help unravel the mystery. It ends up being a lot more than it seems and, by book's end, both worlds are in danger of destruction.

I will quickly run out of adjectives if I spend too much time talking about Sharp's artwork, but it is quite incredible, and reason enough to check out the book. This would be a worthwhile purchase if there weren't any words in it at all, just pages and pages of Sharp's drawings. His style is extremely detailed to the point that it nears a hyper-realism, but this is all achieved via drawing, with no computer trickery. That is, it's realistic-ish without looking or feeling photo-realistic.

While equally at home in the "real" world as he is in the fantasy world, it's the Tir Na Nog scenes that make for the most compelling imagery as there's just so much to draw in this world populated by endless varieties of fairy folk.

I've seen more of his Wonder Woman than I have any other hero at this point, and she's great--although her face sometimes looks weirdly baby-like to me--with the degree of detail that goes into her costuming seemingly crazy-making. I've seen far less of Sharp's Batman prior to reading this, but I really like his take on the character. Hugely muscled but also streamlined, his Batman looks as realistic as any of the live action movie Batman, but is still dressed in the more visually compelling and simplified comic book costume. Sharp's cowl isn't quite like anyone else's either; I don't want to get into the weeds of Batman costume designs her, but note the way the ears are set in the cowl, and the slits on the side of the mask. It's cool, and while his Batman seems to be in the neighborhood of a few other artists' Batman, it's a pretty unique take.

I also kind of love that he drew the god figures as giants, each standing a few heads taller than Batman and Wonder Woman.

The story might not be the thing that attracts one to the book in the same way that the title characters or Sharp's art might, but it is really quite good. The real star of the book is the dead king, who narrates, and tells what is ultimately the tragedy of his attempts to do right by his people. Again, it's compelling enough stuff that I would have enjoyed reading a version of this without any DC superheroes in it at all. Although Sharp certainly seems to get these two, and it's great fun to see Batman so far removed from his usual milieu, while still being Batman.

I had previously read the first issue of this series, and then decided to wait for the collection, but one of the things that seemed strangest to me at the outset was the rather generic title, and the way it repurposed the Brave and The Bold title (It hasn't been so long since DC published a comic with that title that they had to use it here to keep their copyright or trademark or whatever, has it?). The title seems even more generic after having read the entire story, and like one that likely doesn't serve the book all that well. I was therefore genuinely surprised when I reached the last panel and saw the words "End of Book One." So apparently there will be a Book Two at some point...? That makes me curious if the idea was/is a series of books in which two different DC superheroes team-up to deal with Tir Na Nog's inhabitants, or in which Batman teams up with a different hero in each book, which was what the most popular iterations of "The Brave and The Bold" ultimately consisted of.

The book opens with an introduction by Jim FitzPatrick, an artist whose comics about Celtic mythology apparently inspired Sharp. That's cool. As I've said before, I think every collection should have an introduction; if a comic is good enough to be collected into a graphic novel format, than it should be worth someone explaining why that is! (This might just be because I am old, though, and I started reading comics back when collections were still quite rare). It's a pretty cool piece, too. FitzPatrick writes how as a child he was inspired to draw by reading the works of Jack Kirby, Hal Foster and Burne Hogarth. Completely unbeknowest to him, when young Liam Sharp was growing up, Sharp was inspired to become an artist by reading a comic by Jim FitzPatrick. And he notes there are likely likewise young people now who will read Sharp's comics and be inspired to become artists themselves some day.

It's actually kind of touching. And the comic that follows it is great.

DC's Nuclear Winter Special #1 (DC) This year's DC holiday special is once again basically just a rather short, rather pricey original trade paperback: It's $9.99 for 80-pages, it's ad-free and it has a spine. Unlike many previous holiday anthologies, this one has both a theme and a framing sequence, and each of the ten only-vaguely Christmas-y short stories adheres to them both pretty well. As per usual, not all of the stories are winners, but the strength of the framing sequence benefits them all.

That sequence is written by Mark Russell, a very gifted writer who has carved out a space for himself at DC Comics as a social parodist; I sometimes find his work a bit confused or confusing or lacking a strong point-of-view that cuts through the weirdness of some of his set-ups, but this here is simple and straightforward.

Time Master Rip Hunter has stopped in post-apocalyptic, mid-21st century Silicon Valley to charge his electric time sphere. A group of the cannibal survivors are set to make a meal out of him, and he can't escape until his sphere is charged, and so our Mike Norton-drawn hero pulls a Shahrazad and tries to stall them with tales of their favorite DC superheroes in similar, post-apocalyptic circumstances. Every couple of stories, we check back in with Rip and his audience to see how they're taking it.
The stories star some of the publisher's biggest and most predictable characters (although surprisingly Harley Quinn, who is one of the handful who makes Yanick Paquette's cover, doesn't get a story of her own), with the most oddball of the ten being Firestorm and Kamandi...oh, and Rip himself, of course.

There are no real surprises among the creators either, which are a mix of the completely expected (Tom Derenick, Scott Kolins, Steve Orlando, Dexter Soy, Tom Taylor, Brad Walker) and the "Oh, I haven't seen them in a while" (Paul Dini, Phil Hester, Jerry Ordway, Ande Parks, Cam Smith).

Among the strongest or most interesting stories were Mairghread Scott and Soy's Aquaman story, in which a white-haired, white-bearded Arthur dares the two-headed sharks and mutated life of a radioactive ocean in order to recover a scoop of a microorganism capable of breaking down radiation from the sea floor in the hopes of saving what's left of the world; Hester and Park's Kamandi story, in which the shirtless blonde fights bear people above the Arctic circle (mostly just because I like the way those two draw and the way their work compliments one another's); Dini and Ordway's Firestorm story, in which our flame-haired hero meets The Nuclear Family as they celebrate the traditional mid-twentieth century Christmas; and Dave Wielgosz and Scott Kolins' Green Arrow story, in which an old, Kingdom Come-looking Green Arrow returns to the Hall of Justice for a League Christmas party, wherein he can scoff at the youngsters and catch-up with the reincarnated Hawkman and the also-elderly Black Canary (who Kolins draws just like twentysomething Black Canary; she just has white hair in the future).

Orlando's collaboration with Walker and inker Drew Hennessy is interesting--to me, anyway--in that it features Superman One Million (from Grant Morrison and company's 1998 DC One Million event series), and the plot involves him interacting both with Martian Manhunter in the 853rd Century, when that series was set (and at which point J'onn had become one with the planet Mars) and with the J'onn J'onnz secret identity from John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake's 2000 Martian Manhunter #20 (Part of the "Revelations" arc, which would make a pretty good trade...if DC hadn't jettisoned all the relevant continuity referred to in those loosely-organized stories of J'onn secretly crossing paths with various heroes). It's interesting for its callbacks to some comics that I loved from my youth...and also somewhat emblematic of the particularly fan fiction-y elements of Orlando's DCU writing, where he basically just mixes and matches stuff from his favorite comics without doing anything particularly new or interesting with them. (Batman's appearance in the book, in a story by writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing and artists Giuseppe Camuncoli and Cam Smith, is also Morrison-inspired; it's the Damian Wayne Batman that first appeared in Batman #666).

Not all of the stories necessarily deal with the post-apocalyptic directly, but all deal with the future in some way, and only Jeff Loveness and Christian Duce's Flash story stands out as fitting awkwardly, as it just qualifies, being apparently set in the very, very, very near future. Like, if DC allowed someone to temporarily kill of the Barry Allen Flash next month, it could be in the fashion of this story.

All in all, this is one of the better put-together holiday anthologies, even if none of the stories really stand out as particularly brilliant.

Dragon Ball: That Time I Got Reincarnated As Yamcha (Viz Media) Early in the events of this collection our protagonist, a Japanese high school student and Dragon Ball super-fan, falls down a flight of stairs and seems to die, waking up in the body of Yamcha from the end of Dragon Ball, before the time jump that leads into all the Saiyan stuff, at which point Dragon Ball becomes Dragon Ball Z. "Well, 'The Protagonist Reincarnated As Someone Scenario' is quite popular nowadays," he thinks, "This seems kinda like that!"

Is that a popular scenario nowadays? I had no idea. I guess I'm not reading as much manga as I used to... Or, perhaps, should be...? The only title that springs to mind from my recent trips to the graphic novel section of my local Barnes and Noble is How I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, which is technically a "light novel", aka something I pick up expecting it to be a manga only to find out that it is actually just full of words. (I wonder, does Tuexedo Gin count...? I never did finish that series...)

At any rate, that's the premise: A real-world fan of Akira Toriyama's manga phenomenon-turned-anime phenomenon turned video game franchise and God knows what else, finds himself stuck inside the body of a character in one of his favorite pop narratives...only it just so happens to be the character who almost but never does hook up with the cute girl at the outset of the saga, and the character who dies almost immediately at the start of the Dragon Ball Z portion of events. And, being a regular old normal human instead of a Saiyan, half-Saiyan or Namekian, Yamcha was doomed from the start to be left behind by the more powerful characters in Toriyama's cast, as the villains grow more and more ridiculously powerful.

Of course, the new guy in Yamcha's body knows exactly what's in store for the character, and the rest of the world in Dragon Ball, so armed with such foreknowledge, he sets about changing his fate and altering Yamcha's destiny. So instead of going off to live with Bulma during the time jump, he instead goes to train with young Goku in the hopes of becoming strong enough to survive the Saiyan invasion (and cheating whenever he can, like traveling to Namek to wish for a power-up well before Vegeta arrives on Earth, or referencing a character from Dragon Ball Super to distract Vegeta and so on).

While his knowledge gives this new and improved Yamcha plenty of advantages, it also presents certain moral quandaries. Like, if he kills Vegeta or somehow prevents Vegeta from later marrying Bulma, that will mean their son Trunks never comes into existence, and without Trunks, the story of the android saga and what follows will be very different and, perhaps, disastrous for the whole world.

Further complicating things is a twist, when our-hero-inside-Yamcha realizes that one other character among the cast also has a real world fan reincarnated as that character, and that this other fan is similarly trying to game the narrative.

If you're a fan, even a lapsed fan, of Toriyama's Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z, this is a lot of fun, a way of revisiting and reliving it that is able to celebrate and parody the story and characters simultaneously. And it's a very weird sort of homage, as the manga-ka "dragongarow LEE" does such a solid impression of Toriyama's work, calibrating his style to resemble that of Toriyama's during the Dragon Ball years and the later Z years, that, had I seen it out of context, it would certainly fool me into thinking it was Toriyama's work. (The few pages set in the "real" world are drawn in an entirely different style, heightening the contrast). I actually wanted to return to my ancestral home and dig out the Dragon Ball tankoban I have to try and do a page-to-page comparison to some of these scenes after reading this.

If you're not a fan, then I'm not sure why you would even pick this up; if you did, I have to imagine it would be fairly baffling.

After the main story, there are a couple of short side stories. In one, "Yamcha" decides to confess his love to Bulma, only to find Vegeta already at her house, training in the gravity room. In another, he and Chaozu attempt the fusion technique that Trunks and Goten first used in the Maijin Buu saga, and the results are...not great looking.

Go-Bots #1 (IDW Productions) I was six years old in 1983, the year Tonka started producing their GoBots line of toys based on a Japanese line (just as Hasbro's more popular Transformers were), and I was seven years old in 1984, when Hanna-Barbera's animated TV show The Challenge of The GoBots started airing. You're damn right I was familiar with the Gobots, and that I had held rather strong opinions about them: They sucked and I hated them (I did have a Turbo figure, though, and my best friend had a Cy-Kill and I remember the Christmas he got a Zod).

They mostly sucked in comparison to the Transformers which, as transforming alien robots, they were essentially the poor man's answer to. I didn't know any better at the time, but the gulf in differences between the relative quality of the toys had more to do with the companies that made them (and the differences of the original Japanese lines they were based on), and the differences in their storylines had to do with the fact that they were developed by different companies as well (The Transformers had the benefit of a Marvel comic book and a Marvel/Sunbow Productions cartoon, whereas the Gobots were comic book-less and were produced by Hanna-Barbera, the very title of their show echoing the cheap, sub-par Super Friends cartoon).

I was therefore pretty shocked to find that Tom Scioli, the genius cartoonist responsible for IDW's latest Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe series (which I swear to God was honestly one of the best comic book series of the decade so far), was launching a new Go-Bots comic for the publisher (and not just because I was hoping he would do something closer to 500 pages of Super Powers comics for DC). I mean, his Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe comic even had a line of dialogue suggesting that the word "Go-Bot" was a slur for a Transformer (Fun fact I just learned: Hasbro bought Tonka in 1991, at which point they assumed control of the intellectual property side of the GoBots, like their dumb names and dumb, cribbed-from-Transformers story. Hasbro even released a lines of toys called "Gobots" and "Go-Bots").

But maybe I shouldn't be too surprised. If Scioli managed to spin gold out of the lesser metals of the top-tier of 1980s boy toys, couldn't he do something similar with a toy line/cartoon a few tiers down, especially since it would seem to give him so much more room to maneuver and create, given the vastly smaller cast (G.I. Joe and Transformers have hundreds of characters apiece) and the absence of competing narratives? It's only the first issue, of course, but the answer would so far seem to be yes. Yes, Scioli does seem to be working his comic book alchemy in order to turn 1980s plastic and celluloid into gold.

The plot of his Go-Bots seems to echo that of the Japanese Machine Robo toys that Tonka turned into the GoBots; that is, that they were transforming robots that co-existed with humanity on Earth, where we would use them as vehicles. Here, they are integrated into everyday human life. Of the main three Autobots Guardians, Leader-1 works with a military commander named Nick, and is first seen rescuing hostages; the even less-imaginatively named Scooter helps college student A.J. get to and from class, and Turbo is the sentient race car driven by Matt Hunter in what looks a bit like a cross between NASCAR and traditional track and field.

A.J.'s professor spends a few panels on the backstory, explaining that Gobots began as a solution to a parking problem--"You get to your destination and your car walks along with you"--and I guess I never realized that autonomous robot vehicles may have new resonance in 2018, as the era of he self-driving car starts to become a reality. As a child, robots that turned into vehicles were interesting because they seemed cool; could we now be at a point in pop culture where they have a real resonance, reflecting anxieties and fears about real-world technology that were mere fantasies 35 years ago...?

Hunter and Turbo eventually encounter Cy-Kill, the motorcycle leader of the evil Decepticons Renegades who always bothered the hell out of me as a child (He was just a motorcycle; how could he be the same size as a jet plane? I should note that I never liked Megatron's size-changing abilities, either). He is currently killing Go-Bots in an arena in some kind of illegal Go-Bot cage-fighting thing that Turbo wants no part of.

By issue's end, we've met those four Go-Bot characters, we've been told of the current status quo of human/Go-Bot relations, we've learned that a professor of Gobotics is up to something weird and scary and Cy-Kill has lead a rebellion, circumventing the Asimov-like robot laws that keep Go-Bots from harming human beings to conquer the world.

If you're familiar with Scioli's work, than you likely won't be too surprised by the style being employed here (and if you're not, get off your computer and go pick up American Barbarian or Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe immediately). I was still struck by how dense the story was. This is a 20-page comic book that reads like an 80-page one, thanks not only to the efficiency of Scioli's storytelling, but his ability to pack his pages with panels without sacrificing legibility. I mean, there are pages with 20 panels on them in here, and the fight scenes between Leader-1 and Cy-Kill is over 25 panels long, spread over a little longer than two pages, and it makes for a spectacularly fluid, violent and visceral fight scene, more like something from a movie than a comic. It's one for the ages, and we're still on issue #1 here. Honestly, most other comics creators would have reached the point in this story that Scioli does at the end of a story arc or a miniseries, not a single issue.

The announcement of Go-Bots by Tom Scioli was honestly something of a disappointment. The comic book itself is anything but.

Justice League #11 (DC) Huh. Somewhere between Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth #1, which is "Part 1" of "Drowned Earth," and this issue of Justice League, which is "Part 2," Superman took off his cape and started wearing an Superman logo eye-patch over his left eye. I...have no idea why he is doing this. I just went back and checked to see if I missed something, but no, the last time we saw Superman, his eyes were A-OK, and now he's rocking an eye-patch. I guess he just wanted to look more nautical for this adventure...? (One of the evil space sea gods spent some time clutching Superman by the throat and speechifying in Drowned Earth, after which point Howard Porter drew him with some weird lines on his skin and the dialogue had Flash saying Superman didn't look so good, so perhaps the implication is that he got an eye infection of some kind from the evil space sea god, in which case...good thing he carries around eye-patches with his logo on them....?)

This issue is once again drawn and colored by Francis Manapul, who is very good at drawing and coloring superhero comic books. Mera joins Superman and Flash, the latter of whom is rapidly fish-ifying, and together they look for a maguffin in the desert. Meanwhile, in space or wherever, Wonder Woman rescues Aquaman, and they ride a flying boat to the Graveyard of The Gods to seek aid from the recently killed Poseidon. Also, the bad gods give Black Manta Aquaman's powers, and The Legion of Doom appears on the final page to threaten Batman and Batman's latest and greatest sidekick, Jarro.

It's all very classic Justice League, with a JLA-era air of the urgent and apocalyptic and a Geoff Johnsian/Alex Ross-like affection for the Super Friends/Super Powers take, as the series has mostly been from the start, but now with better-than-ever visuals.

Justice League #12 (DC) This third official chapter of "Drowned Earth" continues to follow the three factions of the splintered League on their respective quests, with much attention paid to Batman, who is home alone at the Hall of Justice, trying to fend off an invasion of the Legion, despite the fact that all of his bones are broken and he's been hovering around in a wheel-less wheelchair for the last few issues.

The issue, which is written by James Tynion IV, is one of the messier ones we've seen in the title's short life so far, and looks all the messier coming just two Wednesdays after Manapul's crisp, clear, gorgeous art. This issue has two artists with very different styles--different from one another, different from Manapul and different from Howard Porter, who drew the first official chapter of this story arc (When this is all collected in trade, it's going to make for a pretty ugly read, despite all the talent the individual artists possess).

Bruno Redondo draws the Batman vs. Legion passages, some flashbacks and some of the panels featuring Mera, Pirate Superman and The Flash (the left half of whose face has mutated into that sexy monster from The Shape of Water). Frazier Irving draws the sections featuring Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Poseidon...but also some featuring Mera and company, so there's no real clear delineation of who draws what. Had Irving done all of the pages set in the Graveyard of The Gods, his very particular style might not have felt like such an aesthetic derailment, but the art assignments seem to be doled out more by necessity than for the purposes of visually telling the story as well as it can possibly be told.

I blame the accelerated publishing schedule.

Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Vol. 2 (DC) I've so far only read four of the 21 issues of Detective Comics and Batman collected in this awesome, massive and welcome 450-page hardcover of best Batman artist Norm Breyfogle's tenure on the character. Given the size of the book, I'm just going to note it here for the purposes of this column, and perhaps come back to it to discuss it at greater length in a future post.

My affection for Breyfogle's work, and he and writer Alan Grant's Batman comics in general, is no secret, and when I got this in my hands, it was pretty much the most excited I've been about a new Batman comic since...well, whenever volume one came out, I imagine. I had previously read many of these issues previously, having purchased them from discount back-issue bins in the 1990s, and some of them I read over and over again. But there are a few in here that I have never read, so that has been a treat. For example, the first two issues here are the introduction of Anarky, comics I've lost count of how many times I've read, but they were then immediately followed by a two-part Penguin story I had never read.

Flipping through this, I see there's that great Catwoman/Catman issue I've discussed plenty of times before, the issue where Commissioner Gordon suffers from a near fatal heart attack, many of the earliest Tim Drake appearances, including his first appearance as Robin, a Tim Drake Vs. Anarky story that likely didn't age well given that it heavily involved computers, another Penguin story and some issues in which Grant tackles garbage and drugs, the latter being the thing his Batman seemed to always be most enraged about.

There are also a handful of Batman covers Breyfogle drew for issues he didn't draw, and another handful of pin-ups, featuring Scarface and The Ventriloquist, Anarky, Joe Potato, The Batmobile and a two-page spread of the Batcave. Grant wrote all of the stories contained in this volume, and Steve Mitchell inked them all.

Although I'm not finished with this yet, I don't think it's too early to urge DC to get to work on volume 3. And 4 and 5.

Peanuts Dell Archive (Boom Studios) While Fantagraphics has long been the publisher to provide for all your Charles Schulz's Peanuts needs, Boom has been more quietly publishing Peanuts comics that are both weird and interesting, and this 350-page collection of strips from the 1950s and 1960s Dell comics certainly fits that particular bill. There's a thorough five-page prose intro by Derrick Bang of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center explaining the provenance of these strips, which include work from Schulz himself, as well as ghost artists like Jim Sasseville, Dale Hale, Tony Pocrnick, and other house writers and artists from Dell and Gold Key whose names were lost.

Their varying abilities to match the artwork of Schulz himself are on full display here, as are these other creators' difficulties in capturing the tone of Schulz's strip. It's one thing to imitate Schulz's ever (but gradually) evolving art style from any particular period, as anyone who has ever tried to draw Charlie Brown or Snoopy can attest (give me Jim Davis' Garfield or a Gary Larson cow to draw any day!) and another to try one's hand at entries from broad gag categories (Snoopy trying to steal Linus' blanket, Charlie Brown having difficulty flying a kite, Lucy sucking at baseball, etc), but doing both of those things while also being funny, and in a way that feels like Schulz himself was telling the story? Well, that's no easy feat, as strip after strip in this collection proves.

Younger readers likely won't notice or even care, of course, and the ways in which many of these strips feel off or wrong are, in many ways, the chief pleasure they offer adult readers who are fans of Peanuts and/or Schulz (if those two things could even be separated from one another).

They basically work as Sunday strips, many of which break the unwritten "rules" of the comics strip, and offer an idea of what the strip might have been like if Schulz's style and cast stopped developing at this point in its history, and he had turned it into a legacy strip. The answer? Not that great, but still worth reading to experience and even appreciate all the differences.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #44 (DC) By several criteria, this is one of DC's best ongoing comic book series, if not the best. It's definitely the publisher's ideal gateway comic, with more issues than not focusing on a particular character, franchise of type of character from the DC Universe. Personally, I prefer the team-ups with those DC characters over those with other Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, if only because I am infinitely more interested in the DC Universe than I am with the Hanna-Barbera cartoons of my youth, and there's just something subversive about the idea of Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela sneaking homages to Alan Moore's 1980s Swamp Thing run or characters from Grant Morrison's breakout, early 1990s Doom Patrol run into a Scooby-Doo comic for children.

This issue is one of those Hanna-Barbera team-ups, with, as the cover blurb says, "Dastardly & Muttley," from their Dastardly & Muttley In Their Flying Machines iteration, a 1969-1970 cartoon I have never actually even seen (I'm more familiar with their descendants The Dread Baron and Mumbly from Laff-A-Lympics, although I've been long familiar with the theme song of this show, which The Reverend Horton Heat covered on 1995 anthology album Saturday Morning).

It's also one of the better of the Hanna-Barbera character issues, although I suspect that may be in large part because my expectations were somewhat low, and it therefore came as a surprise that it worked as well as it did. Dick Dastardly, Muttley and their compatriots are engaged in their usual activity of trying to stop that pigeon--Yankee Doodle Pigeon, a carrier pigeon delivering secret messages in World War I--in their tricked-out biplanes. After their latest failure, Dastardly finds a newspaper article about Mystery Inc and their ability to catch ghosts, and hatches a dastardly plan: He will convince them that the pigeon is really a ghost pigeon, and leave it to them to catch the pigeon.

The kids tag along in the flying machines of Vulture Squadron to watch them fail up close, and then Fred devises a trap that works, seemingly catching the pigeon once and for all. And then there's a turn...and another. It's fun in its unpredictability, and the gulf between Scooby-Doo and Dastardly & Muttley is wide enough that it's interesting to see the characters share a story together, but not so wide that it seems somehow weird or wrong or leaves one asking too many questions about the incompatibility of the two sets of cartoon characters (Here, for example, the designs of the two are quite different, but Dastardly and Vulture Squadron are still human beings who hang out with a dog with a speech impediment and several human-like qualities, just like Mystery Inc and Scooby-Doo).

There's also an unexpected explanation for who Dastardly works for and why he's so intent on stopping Yankee Doodle Pigeon, since they are now a century removed from their original WWI setting.

Writer Sholly Fisch's usual partner, artist Dario Brizuela, is MIA this issue, and occasional collaborator Scott Jeralds takes his place. With every single character in this issue a well-established and long-lived Hanna-Barbera character, though, there's little room for design or innovation, and the drawing is basically story-boarding, mimicking two sets of divergent designs, and making them fit together as smoothly as possible. All this Jeralds accomplishes with seeming ease.

Street Angel Vs. Ninjatech (Image Comics) The latest in Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's line of foot-tall Street Angel hardcover graphic novels is something of a combination between a feature-length parody of a catalog ad in the back of a martial arts magazine and a more standard Street Angel comic.

After an intense and spectacularly semi-psychedelic battle between her white blood cells and "Nanjabots"--Nanobot Ninja Assassins that look an awful lot like the original Snake Eyes action figure, only 1,000,000 times smaller--Jesse Sanchez decides to get revenge on the company that provided her foe with the deadly and weird weapon.

She dons a mask and infiltrates Ninjatech--"Conveniently, it's bring-your-daughter-to-work day at Ninjatech," a narration box tells us--she spends the day eating doughnuts, sitting through Power Point presentations, stealing office supplies (that is, ninja weapons) and fucking shit up, culminating with a particularly awesome battle against a robot ninja whose arm transforms into a "3 segment nunchaku."

It's kind of like The Office, if everyone in The Office wore ninja masks. And if the producers cut out all the "talking-directly-to-the-camera" scenes and replaced them with action scenes. Only not really.

The action is interspersed with house ads for Ninjatech products, and the book contains the usual assortment of offbeat back matter, like a Street Angel Glossary and book club discussion questions for the book club I wish I belonged to (Examples: "True / False - Ben Franklin was the first American Ninja.", "Should 2nd Amendment right to bear arms include ninja weapons?", and so on and so forth).

Street Angel is the best.

Super Sons of Tomorrow (DC) Well, I thought I was following writer Peter Tomasi and company's Super Sons series in trade, having purchased and read volumes 1, 2 and 3. But having just happened by this trade paperback collection in a Barnes and Noble, I see that I missed one--this contains two issues of the Super Sons series, and was presumably given no volume number because it also contains an issue of Superman and two issues of Teen Titans. It's all one story written by Tomasi and Patrick Gleason and focusing on Jon and Damian, but it was spread through enough books that I guess they didn't want to make it an "official" Super Sons collection. Regardless, this is basically an undeclared Super Sons Vol. 2.5, I guess.

It's also something of an out-of-left-field follow-up to James Tynion's Detective Comics arc "A Lonely Place of Living," the one where the Tim Drake Batman from Geoff Johns' old 2005 "Titans Tomorrow" arc of Teen Titans came diagonally back in time to murder Batwoman for some extremely dumb and convoluted reasons that referenced other mediocre comics from the mid-aughts. (Are we entering a period in which nostalgia for comics I didn't like all that much the first time around is about to become a driving force of inspiration? Oh God, I hope not...!)

That version of Batman is back again, and this time his plan it to murder Superboy, because at some point in his future, the grown-up Jon and the grown-up Damian Wayne (who will also be Batman, at the same time Tim is Batman...? Even though the Titans of Tomorrow are so clearly from an alternate future that can't possibly be attached to this one, given all the changes wrought by the Flashpoint/New 52-boot....?) will have some sort of argument which climaxes when Jon unleashes his own version of Superman's new "super flare" power that levels a city. So Tim does the ridiculous thing, and uses time travel technology to travel decades into the past to murder Superman's son when he is still a child...which one would think a smart kid like Tim would realize might have a downside or two that could be worse than a single city being leveled.

That's basically just a barely-explained excuse for a bunch of fights that would seem to accomplish the story arc's real goals: To start to bring a sense of closure to writer Benjamin Percy's abbreviated run on the "Rebirth"-relaunched Teen Titans (his last issue was actually #18, four issues after this story arc, after which point Adam Glass came on as the new writer and had Damian and Kid Flash leading a new team of misfit members) and to give something of a redemption arc to this particular version of Tim Drake, with a new superhero identity and a new mission in life (Spoiler: The new name is "Savior," which comes with a costume that makes him look like a red-tinted Midnighter, and his new mission in life is to travel DC continuity addressing problems with it...perhaps through murder, which has so far been his go-to move, perhaps not).

So the Possible Future Batman from "Titans Tomorrow" and "A Lonely Place of Living" re-arrives in the present, first taking down Batman (in a pretty good, pretty brutal eight-page fight scene that is a thousand times more exciting than any of the "action" scenes in the 'Tec arc were), Superman (using a red kryptonite trap, which both Tim and Superman seem to agree saps Kryptonians of their power and affects their thinking, rather than having a random, often hilarious temporary affects on their physiology, like giving them animal heads or whatever. Is nothing sacred? Is there no element of DC continuity that isn't constantly in flux? Can't DC just let me have red kryptonite, dammit?) and Lois Lane (with a dart; that fight doesn't get as much panel-time as the other two) and then he goes after Jon.

Jon happens to be helping out the Teen Titans, Damian's team which he refuses to let Jon join on the technicality that he is still a preteen and thus not qualified (not sure how grown woman Starfire gets away with it, but whatever), so he's got plenty of muscle to help him against Tim. But since like half of those Titans used to be on a team with Tim, he's able to drive a wedge rather neatly through the current line-up, and by the time he puts on a new cobbled together costume and tells Beast Boy "From here on out, call me Savior***", they've got a Teen Titans-specific civil war.

Eventually, three more of the Titans of Tomorrow--Superman Conner Kent, Wonder Woman Cassie Sandsmark and The Flash Bart Allen--join the fray, and there's a big fight scene that ends with the restatement of the Super Sons' ongoing narrative goal and a new, confusing status quo for this Tim Drake, who is, like, at least the third Tim Drake we've got running around now (counting the New 52 Red Robin one and the Future's End/Batman Beyond one that I've lost track of forever ago).

Each of the five issues has a different artist, and some issues with more than one primary artist, so it's a pretty scattershot affair, with issues by Jorge Jimenez (who draws Bat-Tim's battles with Bruce Wayne and Superman), Ryan Benjamin and Richard Friend, Ed Benes and Jimenez and Friend, Sergio Davilla and Vicente Cifuentes and, finally, Tyler Kirkham. I liked the Jimenez bits best, and while the art varies in quality as well as style, none of it is particularly poor. (Not even the Benes stuff! I don't know if I just prefer his work in very small doses, as opposed to when he was the regular artist on Justice League of America, or if he's gotten better over the years, but I didn't much mind his work here at all).

Superman Vol. 7: Bizarroverse (DC) Being the final collection of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's overall quite good run on Superman, which ran for a total of 45 issues, launching during DC's 2016 "Rebirth" initiative, and seems to have been somewhat truncated by the arrival of Brian Michael Bendis at the publisher. The last issue of the series reads exactly like the last issue of the series Tomasi and Gleason would have written, and probably could have wrote a loose outline of almost as soon as they started the series, given the way it echoes the earlier chapters of the series, but there was also a sorta weird Superman Special #1 written by the pair and drawn by Scott Godlewski (with some short back-ups), which seemed to be at least two issues or so squished together and released outside of the Superman title to allow for Bendis' debut (Action Comics also had a similar special).

So herein you'll find the Tomasi/Gleason short story from the pages of Action Comics #1,000 (it's placed at the beginning of the trade), in which Superman fights his way through his own publishing history to escape a meta-fictional trap by Vandal Savage in order to get back to his family; their portion of the Special, in which Superman and Superboy return to Dinosaur Island to rescue Captain Storm and then try to help him readjust to life on an island not full of dinosaurs; the three-part "Bizarroverse" story arc; and the final issue of the run, Superman #45, which has the Kent family returning to Hamilton County to sell the farm house they lived in at the beginning of the series and close that chapter of their lives.

The highlight--or, at least, the reason this is under the "bought" rather than "borrowed" portion of this post--is obviously the "Bizarroverse" story arc. Bizarro's status in the DC Universe seems to always be in flux, as whenever there's a reboot of some sort, the publisher first asserts a more "realistic" take on the character, and then the sillier, funnier, better version reasserts himself. I'm not sure how this Bizarro squares with the one that was introduced as part of Forever Evil or that has been appearing in Red Hood and The Outlaws, but it hardly matters. This Bizarro inhabits Htrae, a cube planet in an alternate dimension, and he now seems to be living a comedic opposite of Superman's current status quo (albeit with dark undertones), including living on a farmhouse with his wife Loiz and his son, Boyzarro. There are also now Bizarro equivalents of Damian Wayne and Goliath (Robzarro and Tiny), and several new versions of a Bizarro Justice League, here "The Super Foes," and their archrivals, "The Legion of Fun."****

The story was delightfully difficult to read, as it opens with pages upon pages of Bizarro narrating in his peculiar dialogue format--which isn't always consistent from writer to writer, anyway--and only Superman being really adept at talking to Bizarros, although Superboy gradually starts to get the hang of it. Boyzarro escapes his villainous father and mother, who are always fighting, to find Jon in the real world. When Superman, Kathy and Nobody attempt to return him--as well as the Bizarro Damian, who was a real treat--they become embroiled in the difficulties of the world, which include Bizarro's existential crisis and The Legion of Fun's capture of the rest of the Super Foes. It's all pretty insane, and ends with this Bizarro World being wiped clean out of existence (no doubt to reborn in a future arc from a different creative team; there's an off-hand line of dialogue that suggests Bizarro World is tied to Bizarro in such a way that perhaps he creates, changes and de-creates it, probably unconsciously), but a couple of refugees make it through to the real world.

I'm not positive I would have ordered the stories the way they fall in this issue--the Action Comics short, "Bizarroverse", the last issue, the Special story--but, individually, each is very strong, and all bear some degree of the bittersweet melodrama--even that Bizarro story--that has characterized swathes of this run, which has focused first and foremost on Superman as a father.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Macro-Series #3: Leonardo (IDW Productions) Despite the fact that I have given up on trying to follow IDW's now quite sprawling fifth volume iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, I still have a great deal of affection for the Mirage volumes, creators and, obviously, the characters. I wasn't sure exactly what this was, although the title seems to be a play on the original "micro-series" one-shots starring each of the Turtles from the first Mirage volume, but it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Sophie Campbell, and that's more than enough to get $7.99 from me.

It's a slim, 40-page issue with a spine, something akin to a serial comic book/original trade paperback hybrid, featuring a story entirely written and drawn by Sophie Campbell, with colors by Brittany Peer and letters by Shawn Lee. While the goings-on that lead in to the story were unknown to me--apparently Master Splinter has assumed control of the Foot Clan, causing a schism between himself and the Turtles, and there's a mutant bird of prey I've seen before, and a handful of mutants I have not seen before hanging around with this volume's version of Karai--the book itself makes sense all by itself.

The Turtles have returned to Northampton, Massachusetts again, this time to get a break from Splinter and The Foot Clan. There Leonardo is trying to meditate with them to unlock some spiritual, ninja magic bonds between them, but he's the only one who seems to be any good at it. When his brothers give up, Leonardo goes off for a walk by himself, and is promptly attacked by the bird lady, Koya. Somewhere along the line, Koya lost her wings, but they appear to have been replaced by magic wings composed of some kind of jagged energy, which she can use both to fly as well as to block Leonardo's swords and cut him.

The issue is mostly a fight comic, or at least a full fourth of it is devoted to Leo and Koya's battle, and these are all excellent pages. Campbell is downright incredible at handling the action, and the extended fight scene is actually a fight scene, something remarkably rare in American pop comics--despite how many of them have conflict and combat with in them. The combatants trade blows, they dodge and parry and strike and get hit and counter. It's what a reader would want--and really should expect--from a story like this.

It's not just a fight, though, as their battle ultimately connects to the meditation that Leonardo was practicing, and though there is obviously a great deal of violence and some blood loss, it is ultimately resolved without further violence.

Campbell's version of the Turtles is pretty much perfect; I like how they appear to be a synthesis of the original Mirage designs and several of the more popular and more modern iterations...especially, obviously, those of the IDW series (That Campbell draws them with round eyes and pupils even when wearing their masks--the pupils only disappear when they go into a sort of ninja mode here--even evokes the animatronic heads of the first three movies). If there's a prefect TMNT artist at the moment, it's Campbell, and based on how good the fight choreography is, how good the characterization is, and that there's simultaneously a story being told while we're being given all kinds of cool mutant ninja action, I can't help but wish Campbell was writing and drawing all of volume five herself (Maybe volume six...?). I have a feeling I wouldn't find myself losing interest in the storylines, and losing track of the overall narrative, if every issue was as good as this.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 9: Squirrels Fall Like Dominoes (Marvel) This collection contains Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #32-36, making this the first Squirrel Girl trade from which artist Erica Henderson is absent (But not completely absent; she's still drawing the covers). That's actually a pretty big deal. In a time when close to zero Marvel titles have managed to have a regular artist paired with a regular writer, Henderson has drawn about 35 issues (remember, Marvel rebooted the title with a new #1 just eight issues in, because Marvel gonna Marvel) plus an original graphic novel.

The negative impact of her leaving the title is greatly softened by the fact that writer Ryan North has remained, though, so that even though the panels might look awfully different, the stories, the dialog and the gags remain as smart, imaginative, weird and funny as they've ever been, and the artist who replaced Henderson just so happens to be one of my favorite artists of the moment: Derek Charm, whose previous work includes Jughead and some of IDW's Star Wars Adventures comics (like last month's Vader's Castle weekly).

So, surprisingly, I was pretty okay with a Henderson-ess USG, and I enjoyed this ninth collection of the series as much as any of the previous eight, perhaps even a little bit more, on account of the pleasant surprise factor. There are some pretty immediate and obvious differences in the styles of Henderson and Charm. Charm's smoother, flatter, more abstracted style results in a Doreen Green who looks somewhat younger, slimmer and sleeker than Henderson's version--the particular size and shape of Henderson's Squirrel Girl was one of the things that set the hero apart from most of her peers, and previous depictions of the character--and his style lends itself pretty well to all of the more traditional Marvel characters, many of whom show up between these covers for cameos, if not guest-appearances. (Although, admittedly, one of the pleasures of Henderson's tenure on the title was seeing how familiar characters like The Silver Surfer or Ant-Man or whoever might look filtered through her highly idiosyncratic style).

This volume contains two distinct stories, a four-part Kraven The Hunter story which may just be the Kraven the Hunter story (Last Hunt, Shmast Shmunt, I say). It begins with Dorreen and her friends inviting Kraven to hang out with them out of costume for a fun, fight-free activity, going to an escape room (This being the Marvel Universe, of course, what appears to be an innocent, superhero-themed escape room turns deadly when the disguised villain behind it detects that there are several super-powered individuals among Doreen's party). It ends with a battle against a Marvel villain so obscure I had never heard of him--he's not necessarily old so much as never used--that I actually had to google ecosia to make sure North was being straight and the character really did exist previous to his usage here.

In the mean time, Kraven and company all get picked up by the police and put into the justice system, which treats the supervillain a bit differently than the superhero, leading to Kraven going on the lam and Squirrel Girl trying to referee a battle between Kraven and Spider-Man. As I've noted before, there's a real tension between this Kraven and the one that I see in other Marvel comics (the last volume of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Captain America that I read, for example), and that tension is the subject of North's story arc (which, if you're familiar with his writing, reads like a graphic novel, given how dense his scripts always are). Is Kraven a villain, or a hero? Can someone like him change, when given the chance and an understanding friend who wants to see the best in them? There's an all-around solid meditation on morality in here, half-obscured by jokes about out-of-date printers, Marvel continuity***** and how annoying Howard The Duck is.

Charm does a pretty great Kraven, which is good, considering how accustomed I became to Henderson's Kraven. He really does a great job on that thick, thick mustache. Charm is actually really great at all of the Marvel superheroes who appear. His Spider-Man, for example, looks like he's swinging right out of a "real" Spider-Man comic, rather than belonging wholly to this jokey, comedic comic book, and Charm also gets to draw She-Hulk, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and much of the current Avengers line-up. Marvel should really have Charm draw their next line-wide crossover event series...just so long as they have North write it, so we can be guaranteed that it will be good and not another Civil War II-type of bad story.

The other story in this collection in a pretty brilliant silent issue, a done-in-one in which the super-powerful ghost of a 19th century librarian curses a large swathe of New York City with complete silence, and Squirrel Girl, The Avengers and others try to defeat her through the usual means, but, in the end, it takes Doreen's particular brand of problem-solving to save the day and make her fictional world a better place.

Seriously, it's pretty much a perfect comic book: The silent approach means North and Charm have to be more inventive and imaginative than ever to tell the story in a different and innovative way, and there's a bunch of action, guest-stars and jokes. It's maybe the perfect Squirrel Girl comic; like, if you had to read one issue of the series to get what North and company's version of the character is all about, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #36 would do it.

Wet Moon Vol. 7 (Oni Press) I did not prepare for the release of Wet Moon Vol. 7, the conclusion of Sophie Campbell's seven-book, 14-year saga, by rereading the previous six volumes, or even just rereading the sixth one, so I confess to being a bit lost at the beginning, and then rather gradually remembering many of the characters in the sprawling cast* and their shifting relationships and the various plot points of their shared storyline the longer I read on.

If I'm going to write a thoughtful review of Campbell's Wet Moon, and do so authoritatively, it's not going to be today, in the middle of this column. I can and will say right now, though, that Morning Cold featured perhaps the very best art work of Campbell's career, which I've followed closely and quite enthusiastically since I first encountered her work in books that I know she herself is no longer too terribly proud of.

It's pretty wild to be able to read her latest contribution to IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics the very same month that her latest and last volume of Wet Moon came out, as it demonstrates the range of her work. Be it animal-people engaged in whirlwind deadly battle with one another, or twenty-somethings talking, cuddling, crying, emoting and fooling around, Sophie Campbell can do it all, and do it much better than many of her peers.

Yotsuba&! Vol. 14 (Yen Press) The best comic in the whole wide world returns with a new volume after far too long, for more of the expected--and yet never predictable--gags about the little, green-haired girls explosively powerful emotions and constant realizations and discoveries born of her own seemingly bottomless innocence.

In this volume, Jumbo brings her beads, she plays princess, the neighbor girls take her to yoga with them and then she and Daddy take a trip to Tokyo to spend time with her aunt and pick up a car. It sounds mundane in summary, of course, but that's part of what makes the comic so special. The plots are mundane, but they are transformed by the characters' presence in them.

If for some reason this is the first you are hearing of Yotsuba&! and you find yourself near a copy of this volume, or one of the previous ones, don't feel that you need to start and the first volume and read all the way through to follow it. Any chapter of any volume stands up perfectly well on its own; all one needs to know is that Yotsuba is a little girl who lives with her single father who works from home, and that they are friends with their neighbors and...that's it, really. After a few chapters, you will be reading Yotsuba as intensely as she reads princess story books.
Only you'll probably smile more. Maybe even laugh. Reading this earlier in the week was the first time I literally laughed out loud reading a comic in...I can't even remember how long its been.


Avengers: No Surrender (Marvel Entertainment) Marvel's latest major status quo change to its Avengers franchise involved shrinking the line to the smallest its been in pretty much forever: Just one book, the current Avengers by writer Jason Aaron and various artists. Just before the launch of that title, there were at three different teams in three different books: Writer Mark Waid was writing the official, prime Avengers line-up in The Avengers, there was the "Unity Squad" team consisting of Avengers, X-Men and Inhumans that starred in Uncanny X-Men, and then there was Roberto Da Costa's U.S. Avengers team, which kept changing their name and the title of their book, but was U.S. Avengers prior to No Surrender. There was also an Occupy Avengers book starring Hawkeye and Red Wolf, although Marvel seemed to go with that name simply because Hawkeye and Red Wolf isn't as marketable sounding as anything with the word "Avengers" attached, I guess.

In order to go out with a bang while simultaneously clearing the field for Aaron's run, Waid and fellow Avengers writers Al Ewing and Jim Zub collaborated with over a half-dozen different artist to create a sweeping Avengers epic that originally shipped at a breakneck, weekly pace for 15 issues. Seriously, it's a big story; "novel-length epic", as annuals and giants used to have emblazoned on the covers, actually applies here. The casts of all three Avengers books appear within, as do two villain teams, and a swathe of various other Marvel heroes. At the front of the book, there's a roll call like page that names about 30 "main" characters.

The early parts of the story seemed weirdly over-familiar to me, as they involve some powerful alien force essentially "stealing" Earth from its orbit and moving it, which was part of the plot of Waid's JLA: Heaven's Ladder original graphic novel, and the story also introduces a founding Avenger that was forgotten by heroes and readers alike...sort of like Triumph, from the early-90s Justice League comics, when Waid was writing for the franchise. It might seems like Waid is cribbing from himself for a bit then, but things quickly veer in different directions, some of which comment on superhero comics in general (and/or stories in general), and others which are quite Avengers specific.

The plot, which is at first mysterious, is that The Grandmaster is being challenged to a comics game with incredibly high stakes by a fellow god-like being, called "The Challenger." Each of them has fielded a team--a reconstituted and resurrected Black Order (hey, like in the movie!) and a new Lethal Legion (who were all new to me)--and they are using Earth as their game board. While the two teams of super-powered alien beings battle each other for maguffins, many of Earth's heroes have been "frozen" by the god-like players, while the remaining ones serve as obstacles. It's up to this small army of Avengers from all three teams--and beyond--to figure out the game and how to win it.

Meanwhile, long-time Avengers characters who haven't necessarily been the focus of any of the books play big roles, with Jarvis, Wonder Man and Lightning (formerly Living Lightning) being chief among them, and then there's that lost Avenger I mentioned, Voyager. Oh, and The Hulk comes back to life.

It's a great--and great big--slam-bang superhero story with real heft and scale, and it gives the writers plenty of space to resolve many of the plotlines they hadn't already dealt with in their own books while bringing and end to the era in a way that feels natural and organic. I'm sure the idea for this series started in a meeting among editors somewhere, as they discussed the future of the Avengers line, but it sure doesn't read like it something suits commissioned in order to streamline upcoming unit production or anything.

The Little Mermaid (Papercutz) This summer I listened to the audiobook of a collection of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, a performance of a 2004 complete collection translated by Tiina Nunnally. I had read it before, but I always need an audiobook to listen to when I'm driving between the city I currently live and work in and the city the rest of my family lives in. More recently, I saw an ad for a comics adaptation of Andersen's The Little Mermaid in the back of Papercutz's Gillbert, and as that was one of the handful of Andersen tales that always most fascinated me--admittedly in large part because of how incredibly different it is from its most famous adaptation--I wanted to check out the comic.

It is credited to "Metaphrog," the byline that John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs work under, and was published by Papercutz in 2017. The little seven-by-seven-inch hardcover tells a slightly abbreviated version of the story, keeping in all of the most relevant plot points, but editing out some of the details to make for a far fleeter story.

This appears to be set in a somewhat more modern time, with the characters on the dry land appearing to dress in a fashion closer to the Jazz Age than the Victorian, although the prince's castle, clothing and some of the princesses he interact with have a more timeless, fantasy look about them.

Metaphrog's title character has long, blue-green hair, pale blue eyes, and wears a sleeveless top with a rather elaborate design pattern. She wears a belt of beads around her waist, and her fish tail, like those of all the mermaids, looks not unlike a dress cinched and tied off on the bottom with a matching ring of beads, a handful of leaf-like fins radiating below it (When she gets her legs and stumbles out of the sea, the remnants of her tail drape down from her waist, almost as if her legs burst out of her tail, turning it into a ripped-up skirt.

The coloring is understated, but vital, adding character to every scene and changing significantly from cooler blues and greens under the dark sea, to blacks in nights and unconsciousness, to warm, rosy golden sunlight on the land, and striking luminescent clashes as magic, lamps or celestial bodies bring light into night or undersea scenes.

Though the book is divided into panels, Metaphrog eschews dialogue balloons, and all of the story is told through the narration, with any dialogue appearing in quotes in the narration boxes. The sometimes ambiguous and argued-over, heart-breaker of an ending is rather ambiguous here, although our heroine still doesn't kill the prince to regain her life, it's unclear if she actually achieves immortality and joins the spirits of the air or if she just thinks she will become immortal upon her death, but in either case she falls into the sea and becomes sea foam, the last image of the book that of the prince's wedding ship in the distance, silhouetted against the dawn that makes sea and sky alike a shimmering field of flame.

Moose (Conundrum Press) This was the only comic by Max de Radiguès that I could find readily available in English before reading de Radiguè's Bastard for a Comics Journal review (see below), so I availed myself of it. It's really quite good. A small-ish, black-and-white collection that was originally serialized in mini-comic form in America, the simplicity of Moose is a little hard to overstate. Think John Porcellino, James Kochalka and Jeffrey Brown. That kind of simple. I say black-and-white, and it is literally black and white--that is, black lines on a white page, sometimes with swathes of black to denote a tree in the snow or a hole in the ground. But no gray. No shading.

The story is of Joe, a seemingly quite meek and timid high schooler who is horribly bullied by a classmate on the bus to school, during class, in the hallways at school, and on the bus after school. Joe deals with his bully by avoiding him the best he can, which includes walking to and from school and hiding when he can. It's during a walk through a snowy, wild shortcut that he first encounters a moose, the biggest and most spectacular of the local fauna that appears throughout the book, often in silent panels that provide breaks from the more anxious world of the human beings.

After Joe has avoided Jason successfully for several days, Jason finally decides to follow him, and, about midway through the book, he attacks him more viciously than ever, finally revealing--to the reader, anyway--why he bullies Joe, and what new, worse form of attack he plans to subject him to when the pair of them are all alone, in the middle of the shortcut through the woods. And that's when the moose reappears, presenting an obstacle to Jason's destructive nature and, when attacked, counterattacking.

Suddenly, Jason trapped and in danger, with only Joe able to help him. But should he? Will he? There's an incredible amount of tension in the decision, which Jason makes no easier, as his new position doesn't seem to do much of anything to make him any more sympathetic a character. In the end, Joe confides in another character, who makes the decision for Joe, and then that leaves Joe in basically the same position, only now he has someone else exerting a degree of control over his actions, which he can either abide by--for one of several different reasons--or ignore it and do what seems like the "right" thing to do.

The artist doesn't tell us what Joe decides, and in doing so, de Radiguès doesn't give the reader an answer either, instead leaving the reader with a question. It's a powerful one, and while it might be overstating things to say that the ending will haunt you, it's definitely going to linger with you for a while.


Bastard (Fantagraphics) Here. This was a very good comic, and if you like crime comics and neat art, you should check it out.

The Ghost Script (Liveright/Norton) Here. This is the concluding graphic novel in master cartoonist James Feiffer's trilogy of comic book noir novels, which began with Kill My Mother.

Gilbert Vol. 1: The Little Merman (Papercutz) Here. It's Art Baltazar, but it's Art Baltazar doing his own thing, rather than Art Baltazar-izing DC, Hasbro or Mignola-verse characters. I liked it okay, but it's pretty clearly for readers far younger than me.

Marvel Rising (Marvel) Here. This is the trade collection of that bizarre five-issue miniseries Marvel serialized in the most confusing manner possible, wherein each issue had a slightly different title and every installment was a #1 issue...except, ironically, the first issue, which was labeled #0. The story contained between these covers was originally sold in the direct market as Marvel Rising #0 (free), Marvel Rising: Alpha #1 ($4.99), Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl/Ms. Marvel #1 ($5.99), Marvel Rising: Ms. Marvel/Squirrel Girl #1 ($5.99) and Marvel Rising: Omega #1 ($4.99). So if you managed to successfully follow the series serially, you would have spent about $22 on the story. Now here's the trade collection, simply entitled Marvel Rising, and it will run you $9.99. (At least part of the reason the trade is so cheap, aside from the fact that Marvel obviously overcharges for their comics products, is that the page-size was pretty dramatically trimmed; Marvel Rising is about 6-by-9-inches, instead of the more standard 6.75-by-10 inches.)

That's somewhat infuriating because the comic seems designed to make it as difficult as possible to be purchased serially through direct market comic shops, to actually punish those who managed to do so, and while I agree borrowing the trade from the library or buying it at a bookstore or online from Barnes and Noble or Amazon is infinitely easier than reading it serially, doesn't Marvel kinda sorta need to keep comic shops around? Shouldn't they try to incentivize, or, at the very least, not so radically de-incentivize their consumers from spending their dollars there...? And this is actually a pretty damn good comic book, being the very first meeting of Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan. Better still, writer Devin K. Grayson writes it with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl writer Ryan North and Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson, so that chapters of the book actually sort of function of bonus books of those two titles.

This will likely remain my go-to example for how ridiculous Marvel and DC are when it comes to selling old-school serial comic books. But it is a good read, and probably shouldn't be missed by fans of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel or anyone curious about the virtues of modern Marvel comics. Also, artist Irene Strychalski is amazing; she was new to me upon reading this, but that's a credit I'm going to keep an eye out for in future comics.

Mickey and Donald's Christmas Parade (IDW Productions) Here. I liked the first and last stories the best, although this was overall a pretty fun book. I would have loved it when I was a pre-teen and DuckTales and the emerging "Disney Afternoon" after-school cartoon programming block were reintroducing me to Disney characters.

Usagi Yojimbo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Collection (Dark Horse Books) Here. What's that you say? Didn't I already review this, under the "Bought" section of last month's "A Month of Wednesdays"...? Well, yes, of course. But then, didn't you know? If I could, I would probably spend all day every day writing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. Since I ran the actual cover already, above is a panel from Stan Sakai's very first Usagi/TMNT crossover, "Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew."

Wonder Woman #58 (DC Comics) Here. This is the first issue of the G. Willow Wilson/Cary Nord/Mick Gray run, which appears to be part of DC's attempt to attach big names to their not-Batman titles. You know, Brian Michael Bendis on Superman and Action, Kelly Sue DeConnick on Aquaman, Grant Morrison on The Green Lantern. I wasn't too terribly impressed by this single issue...at least, it didn't blow me away like The Green Lantern #1 did. It's not bad or anything, it's just a change of direction rather than an explosion, if that makes sense. I thought the art team of Nord and Gray was fantastic, though. Again, they didn't knock me out of my chair the way that all of the trippy visuals that Liam Sharp included in the first issue of Green Lantern, but they were incredibly solid, and I like their version of Wonder Woman a lot. It's kind of a shame DC had Terry Dodson drawing the cover, though, as Dodson has drawn so damn many Wonder Woman covers over the years that, just by glancing at the cover, there's nothing to really distinguish this issue from any other Wonder Woman comics going back to 2005 at least...

Although, now that I type that I realize that she's wearing her new for Rebirth war skirt, so I guess that's a signifier as to what year the book is being published in, but that's it.

*Not that it isn't very good, of course. I liked that first issue a whole lot, and I find Hal Jordan to be perhaps the most boring character in DC's entire character catalog. Jodan's milieu, however, the whole Silver Age concept of a superhero police force that patrols outer space and fights alien crime with magic wishing rings is a readymade playground for a writer with the imagination--and affection for Gardner Fox-era DC comics--that Grant Morrison has, and the imagination and rendering skills that Liam Sharp has.

**In a weird bit of synchronicity, the week after I read The Brave and The Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman, featuring Cernunnos as one of its main characters, I saw the name appear in a chapter of one of the prose books I'm currently reading, Phyllis Sefker's Santa Claus, Last of The Wild Men which has been pretty great so far.

***Look, I'm sure there's a worse name Tim could have chosen, but I'm having trouble thinking of it at this point.

****Sadly, not every character on the cover gets panel-time, or even name-checked in a roll call gag, so I've no idea if Bizarro Black Vulcan is White Vulcan or not, or what the Legion of Fun's Scarecrow equivalent's name is--he bears a big, yellow smiley face on his chest, if that can be used as a clue. It's worth lingering over that cover by Doug Mahnke though, which is pretty awesome.

*****"To be fair, before burying him I only gave him a toxin that looked like death," Kraven tries to explain as Squirrel Girl starts reading his rap sheet. "Plus--he got better. And it's worth noting that was technically going to be my last hunt, so..."

1 comment:

David page said...

Yeah the whole isekai/different world things kind of all over the place in manga and anime at the moment.

hmm my shop never got vol 7 of superman time to chase that up