Sunday, December 22, 2019

Marvel's March previews reviewed

A trio of space dragons attacks Avengers Mountain, and now the Agents of Wakanda are all that stand between their epic reptile
rage and...FOOM?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Say, is this book an ongoing now...? I could have sworn it was meant to be a miniseries (same with The Amazing Mary Jane, which continues this month), but a #7 is an unusual issue for a miniseries to hit. I've yet to read any of this, but I am looking forward to the trade. The "Agents of Wakanda" who have shown up briefly in the pages of Jason Aaron and company's excellent Avengers have all been fun characters, and there's just not room for them in the main title, so an ongoing Avengers adjacent title seems like a pretty great idea.

I know Marvel is going for a unified branding with its (way too) many X-Men books these days, and that the specific "X" that appears as part of the new Cable logo is the same "X" that appears on the other (way, way too) many X-Men books, but I don't know about its use here. At first, second and fourth glance, it looks like they spelled "Cable" with an "X" to me...

The horrifying origin of Conan the Barbarian’s greatest adversary! In the dank alleys of a decaying city, one beggar boy conjures visions of a future where the rich cower in fear of his terrible power! Witness the dreaded sorcerer Thoth-Amon’s rise from the squalor of the streets through the priestly ranks of Ibis to the heights of evil! Plus: A look back into the past of the barbarian! As warlord Khalar Zym sets out on a quest to find the mythical Mask of Acheron — an ancient artifact that will bring his beloved back to life — he thinks nothing of destroying a village in northern Cimmeria. But one boy born of battle survives Zym’s attack — and years later, their paths are destined to cross once more! Collecting CONAN: BOOK OF THOTH #1-4 and CONAN THE BARBARIAN: THE MASK OF ACHERON.
232 PGS./Parental AdvisorySLC …$24.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92282-5

Kelley Jones alert! I actually already have the Jones-drawn portions of this collection, in the original comic book form that Dark Horse had published them in, so I don't need or want this, but if you love Kelley Jones' art as much as I do and missed it, you'll probably want to check this out.

As far as Johnny Blaze is concerned, there’s one man who had the power to pull him outta Hell, but that man chose not to lift so much as a finger for him, and that man’s name is Doctor Stephen Strange! So now Johnny’s got a can of whupass with ol’ Stevie’s name on it!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I was going to make a comment about the phrase "can of whupass" and whether or not anyone anywhere uses it anymore, but then I realized that Johnny Blaze was a few Ghost Riders ago, and maybe he's been dead so long that it's not an out-of-date reference for him to use.

By the way, Aaron Kuder's a heck of an artist, isn't he...?

When Krakoa opened their doors to all mutants and forgave all past crimes, they might have known they’d have to accept some of their worst foes into the fold… but they didn’t plan for what to do with them. Not to worry—Mister Sinister knows what to do with the troublemakers. Meet his new Hellions: Scalphunter, Wild Child, Empath, Nanny, Orphanmaker, Psylocke…and Havok?! Under Sinister’s direction, they are sure to become productive members of mutant society. Writer Zeb Wells (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, NEW MUTANTS) and artist Stephen Segovia (WOLVERINE: MANIFEST DESTINY, SUPERIOR CARNAGE) bring you the team you’re going to hate to love!
48 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

The only thing I care about here is the metal football with goggles. Who or what is the metal football with goggles?!

I love Alex Ross' Xemnu, who will be continuing to appear in Immortal Hulk this March.

MARVEL #1 (OF 6)
Cover by ALEX ROSS
Thirty years ago, Alex Ross had a vision of a new series showing the Marvel heroes in a way they’d never been seen before. The first realization of that idea became the blockbuster MARVELS — but today Alex finally brings about his original vision: An anthology of stories by unique, exceptional talents, many of whom are doing Marvel characters for the very first time. Over this showcase series you’ll see work by such artists as Adam Hughes, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dan Brereton and more, linked together by an overarching story by Alex and Steve Darnall.
This inaugural issue kicks it all off with superstar artists Frank Espinosa (Rocketo, Looney Tunes) telling an unusual Spider-Man story and Steve Rude (Nexus), teaming up with Kurt Busiek (Marvels, Avengers) for an Avengers story, framed by Alex and Steve Darnall (Uncle Sam, Marvels) presenting a tale of the dread dreamland Nightmare, and his threat to the entire Marvel Universe…and possibly beyond.
A once-in-a-lifetime assemblage of talent — you won’t want to miss a single page!
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

At first glance, I thought this was a reprinting of Marvels. I certainly like the idea of this series, though, and that line-up of artists.

Masterworks of literature — retold in the Mighty Marvel Manner! In the late 1970s, respected comic book writers and talented artists joined forces to adapt the world’s most famous stories onto the comic book page. From adventure tales like The Last of the Mohicans, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and Ivanhoe to horror staples Frankenstein and The Invisible Man! Whether it’s the classical poetry of The Iliad and The Odyssey, the dystopian sci-fi of The War of the Worlds or the terrifying tales of Edgar Allan Poe, this collection of cultured classics is sure to thrill you from cover to cover! Featuring world-famous and beloved characters like Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland, and illustrated versions of novels by such authors as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Jules Verne and more! Collecting MARVEL CLASSICS COMICS #13-36.
1264 PGS./All Ages …$150.00
ISBN: 978-1-302-92526-0
Trim size: oversized

I'm quite curious to see an old iteration of the Marvel bullpen's version of Classics Illustrated, particularly because before I saw this I didn't even realize this title had ever existed, but I'm not $150.00 curious. Hell, I don't think I'm $150.00 curious about anything.

In the wake of a devastating tragedy, the United States passes a law that will shake the Marvel Universe to its core.
The world has had enough of teen heroes. The crackdown has begun. And the lives of Marvel’s next generation will never be the same again.
EVE L. EWING and KIM JACINTO launch a new era in this game-changing event one-shot that will send shockwaves across the Marvel Universe! You won’t want to miss this one!
40 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T …$4.99

"In the wake of a devastating tragedy, the United States passes a law"...this sounds uncomfortably like the premise of the original Civil War, doesn't it...?

Your apparently now regular reminder that Kyle Hotz rules.

Cover by PHIL NOTO
The build-up to Marvel’s massive event series of the spring begins here—but in actuality, it began a millennia ago, with a challenge on the moon! In the wake of INCOMING, everything has changed for the Kree and the Skrulls. And out in the cold on Earth, the Warner family (MEET THE SKRULLS) need to work out what has happened and what it means for the future of their family and their race! And that means educating their kids on just how the Kree and the Skrulls first went to war!
40 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T …$4.99 not how you spell the word Empire. I'm not familiar with the Kree language as it just like English, but with mild spelling variations...? Kinda like how we spell color "color" here in the States, but Canada and the UK add a "u" to spell it "colour"...?

Jessica Drew hasn’t been feeling like herself lately (she’s not a Skrull, we promise). When the angry, irritable, and unwell Spider-Woman takes a simple security gig to help get back on her feet, she finds herself besieged by unknown forces out to destroy everything around her. What’s wrong with Jessica? Just how DID she get this job? And who are these violent lunatics who keep trying to blow her up? WHO CARES? Does Spider-Woman have someone to punch? THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS.
An explosive new series that pushes Spider-Woman into new heights of action and adventure from the mad minds of Karla Pacheco and Pere Pérez, this is the Spider-Woman book you’ve been waiting for!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

Say, Spider-Woman is getting another new solo series...and another new costume to go with it! Based on all the gosh dang variant covers there (and there are Spider-Woman variants listed for a bunch of other comics throughout the line this month), it sure seems like Marvel greenlit the series as a variant cover generator as much as a comic unto itself, but I guess we'll see. I really loved the last Spider-Woman series, the one by Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez, which was an excellent comic book, so Karla Pacheco and Pere Perez have got some big shoes to fill here. I suppose it helps that it's been long enough since the cancellation of that series that it will be less fresh in the minds of many readers, and that Jessica Drew was most recently seen back in her original red and yellow costume and in the weird-looking random title Strikeforce, so they will be starting with a cleaner slate than they might have been otherwise.

I'm not really feeling this new costume though, to be honest. It looks better on the Peach Momoko cover (that is, the second one above) than it does on the Kaare Andrews one. I think its biggest weakness is the Spider-Man-like webbing over the red portions, which suggests a close connection to Spider-Man that has never really existed for the character. Like, there's no rationale for making her costume more derivative of Spider-Man's, given that the only real connection between the characters is the first half of their codenames. I suppose the fact that, in a post-"Spider-Verse" world, there are scores of Spider-people costumes also makes coming up with a new one that looks original even more difficult.

Personally, I think I preferred the last new one for exactly that reason, even though this one is closer to her original, and is more of a change in color palette than a radical reinvention.

Is it just me, or does Inhyuk Lee's Padme look more like Christina Ricci than Natalie Portman on this cover for Star Wars: Darth Vader #2...?

In the far future of Star Wars, nothing is what it seems! Cade Skywalker and his crew are back to their old pirating ways, but they soon find themselves stranded on Tatooine — with a trio of Black Sun assassins on their trail! Elsewhere, Imperial deep-cover agent Morrigan Corde has plans of her own. She’ll stop at nothing to find Cade — but the ghost of Luke Skywalker just might find him first! Meanwhile, with Darth Krayt missing, the evil Sith Darth Wyyrlok has proclaimed himself the new emperor of the galaxy. But the other Sith have their own ideas! And when the overthrown Empire-in-exile prepares to take back control of the galaxy with its own Force users, will the Jedi join them to defeat a common enemy? Collecting STAR WARS: LEGACY (2006) #37-40 and #42-50, and STAR WARS: LEGACY — WAR #1-6.
448 PGS./Rated T …$39.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92375-4

As with the Thoth-Amon book above, this is a series I originally read via a previous Dark Horse publishing. In that instance, I was plowing through the Legacy trade paperbacks in a matter of a few weeks. I actually liked those quite a lot, and the vision of a Star Wars universe that has finally moved beyond the Jedi vs. Sith, Empire vs. Rebellion conflict that the films never seem able to get beyond (One of my first complaints about the new trilogy was that it was the same conflict as the original one, with some minor rebranding. Now that Episode IX is in theaters, it will be interesting to see if Disney and Lucasfilm continue into the future, or stick to one-offs like Rogue One set in the established history).

Anyway, Jan Duursema was one of my first and favorite comics artists, and I think her work with John Ostrander on Dark Horse's various Star Wars comics are pretty great. I'm actually a little surprised that Marvel hasn't re-enlisted that creative team for a book just yet...

The Rise of KYLO REN concludes, as BEN SOLO, once the Jedi's greatest hope, is swallowed by the Dark Side.
It is his destiny - and if there was ever another path, SNOKE and the KNIGHTS OF REN made certain he could not see it.
From Ben, to Ren... and now he is lost.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Give the conclusion of the third Star Wars film trilogy, I'm especially curious about this series now, as Episodes VII-IX didn't really delve into the Kylo Ren/Ben Solo backstory and the "Aftermath" period remains largely unexplored (I mean, aside from the three Aftermath novels, which I did listen to the audiobook versions of, of course; those are set closer to Jedi than to Force Awakens, though). So Ren-Ben's life between the time he was a baby and the time he showed up in Force is an alluring blank space in need of filling in yet, and I'm particularly curious to see if Charles Soule--or anyone, really!--can clearly explain what the Bad Guy's plan was through this new trilogy, as it seems kinda made up as it goes along to me (Probably because it was). But no spoilers! We'll talk Rise of Skywalker spoilers soon-ish, I swear!

The Marvel Universe has mysteriously changed in such an alarming way that Doctor Strange has done what he’s avoided for decades; he’s opened a school for young sorcerers. Young people from around the world with aptitude in magic have been brought together in New Orleans to study the Mystic Arts under Strange, Brother Voodoo, the Ancient One, the Scarlet Witch, Magik, Hellstrom and ALL your favorite Marvel magicians. But with all the new magical threats, is it too late?!
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

So is this a magical answer to the Grant Morrison New X-Men's school, or a Marvel Universe answer to Hogwarts...?

It begins here — a series of specials that show us Marvel’s greatest characters from the Golden Age to today, all through the eyes of ordinary people! Project curator Kurt Busiek (Marvels, Astro City) has brought together an amazing assemblage of talent to bring you a total of eight new and unusual viewpoints on Marvel history and Marvel heroes, two per month for the next four months. To kick it all off, best-selling novelist and Emmy Award-winning TV writer Alan Brennert (L.A. LAW, TWILIGHT ZONE) and superstar artist Jerry Ordway (All-Star Squadron, Crisis on Infinite Earths) to tell a story of Marvel’s debut superstar: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. It’s 1946, and the boys are back from World War II. But they haven’t left the battlefields behind, as reporter Betty Dean discovers when she and Namor reunite for an outing at Palisades Park, only to find themselves under attack. Also featuring the All-Winners Squad. A dramatic, unexpected and revealing tour through the Marvel Universe by a cornucopia of amazing creators.
40 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T+ …$4.99

Sub-Mariner! This seems to be a sister project to the Marvel series above, and while I'm sure I'll check the whole shebang out in trade down the road, this is one I'm going to want to read immediately, as it features Marvel's best character, as drawn by a great artist and co-written by a comics writer whose work I like a whole lot.

This month's other Marvels Snapshot is The Human Torch, but not the version usually most associated with Namor; instead, it's the Johnny Storm version, as written by Evan Dorkin and Sara Dyer and drawn by Benjamin Percy.

Reprinting Avengers (1963) #19
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

This month's True Believers theme is Empyre, and there are presumably clues to the event in the specific books reprinted. Most of them are named for particular characters, and feature predicable space-related characters, including a few of whom I've never heard of. A few of them don't seem to match up with the more predictable ones, though including this one and a reprint of the first appearance of She-Hulk.

This probably the only one I'll be ordering because, come on, look at the look on The Swordsman's face. And that mustache!

In the heart of South America, X-Force finds a problem growing that threatens to destroy everything they’ve built… and one of their own might be responsible.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Clothes rotting/tearing off of people in jungle adventures is a look I'm really into. At first glance, I assumed this would be set in the Savage Land, but I guess it's actually South America, which also features a jungle in which one's clothes cold rot/tear off, but not the usual jungle in which one expects that sort of thing to happen to X-people.

X-MEN #8 & #9
The New Mutants are back from space, and they’ve brought intergalactic trouble with them! The Brood! The Shi’ar! The Starjammers! The Imperial Guard!
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)

Is it just me, or do the X-Men fight The Brood a lot? When I saw that cover, I immediately thought, "What, those guys again?" And then I thought, well, the X-Men are superheroes, and superheroes do tend to fight the same guys over and over again. That goes with the territory. But then, The Brood are an alien race, right? And not, like, supervillain rivals of the X-Men, so maybe it is weird that they cross paths so regularly...?

In any case, I'm surprised to see them show up in Hickman's run so relatively early. Like, he hasn't even hit double digits yet, and he's tapping into X-Men adversaries who have been in regular rotation for decades.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

DC's March previews reviewed

The cover of Action Comics #1021, drawn by John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson provides yet more evidence that Tim Drake's new "The Drake" costume is just not a very good costume. Like, if JRJR and Janson can't make a costume look good, there must be something wrong with the costume. Because there sure as hell isn't anything wrong with those artists.

Their Impulse looks a bit off too, though. He looks bigger, older and manlier than he did in the first half-dozen issues of Young Justice, which are the only ones I've read so far.

Let's take a break and look at Norm Breyfogle drawing Tim Drake in his first and best costume, from one of the character's most badass sequences, which Alex Segura recently shared on Twitter:
Ah. I feel much better know. Don't you...?

written by JAMES TYNION IV
art and cover by JORGE JIMENEZ
card stock variant cover by FRANCESCO MATTINA
The mysterious master criminal known only as the Designer once brought together Gotham City’s greatest criminals to plot the perfect crime, and now his plan has been unleashed upon the city in all its might. Batman will go to any length to uncover the grand design, but Catwoman is the one who holds the greatest secret. If Batman wins against the Designer, he will lose everything.
ON SALE 03.04.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

written by JAMES TYNION IV
art and cover by JORGE JIMENEZ
card stock variant cover by FRANCESCO MATTINA
To save Gotham City, Catwoman will have to commit the greatest heist in the city’s history! But hot on her trail are the Penguin, the Riddler, a horde of assassins, and the master criminal called the Designer! And the most dangerous person standing in her way is the man she’s trying to save: Batman. And what complications will his arise from his new sidekick, Harley Quinn?
ON SALE 03.18.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Hm. Tynion's Batman run adds another artist. While Jorge Jimenez isn't an artist that would be on my radar as a potential one for a regular run on Batmanas opposed to this curious run on the title by by Tynion and artists who change every 20-40 pages or so that I am convinced is a placeholder team until the real new team is announcedhe would certainly make sense as a choice. Coming off of a successful stint on Scott Snyder and Tyinon's Justice League, including the entirety of the "Sixth Dimension" arc, it's easy to imagine DC asking Jimenez what he wants to do next, Jimenez saying "Batman" and DC saying "sure."

written by BRYAN HILL
Black Lightning is an Outsider no more! It’s up to Katana to take up the reigns of leader-ship as things look their darkest for the team—and the new addition of Babylon has thrown the team into flux. Plus, Batman is far from thrilled with the secrets that the Signal and Orphan are keeping from him. And this is exactly what Ra’s al Ghul wants: a broken team that doesn’t stand a chance against his new League and their deadliest assassin yet.
ON SALE 03.11.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

It's not just me, is it? Cover artist Tyler Kirkham's Duke "The Signal" Thomas looks awfully big and adult on that cover, right?

Maybe he's been working out with Impulse...

art and cover by NICK DERINGTON
General Zod is on a mission to resurrect the Bottle City of Kandor, and he’s ready to obliterate anyone in his path! Deep within the ruins of an ancient temple, Ra’s al Ghul’s bid to save his Lazarus Pits from Kryptonian chaos has brought the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel into a brawl neither expected—or was prepared for! What can Batman and Superman possibly do to stop an army of Kandorian zombies? Find out in the conclusion of the epic “Kandor Compromise”!
ON SALE 03.25.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Here's our monthly reminder that Nick Derington is just the absolute best, I guess.

So, if I'm interpreting the images and solicitation copy for this issue and the previous issue of the series  correctly, I'm guessing Zod is going to attempt to bring everyone in Kandor back to life by dipping the bottle in a Lazarus Pit or something...? That's...weird, although I simultaneously think the idea of DC writers repurposing The Lazarus Pits as magical come-back-to-life workaround as kind of lame and kind of hilariously awesome.

montage cover by JACK KIRBY and others
DC collects the 1970s series that introduced one new concept after another—as well as reintroducing several DC favorites! Over the course of 13 issues, 1st Issue Special shined a spotlight on Atlas, Manhunter, Warlord, Lady Cop, and even the Dingbats of Danger Street—as well as giving the Creeper, Doctor Fate, and the New Gods their shots at comebacks! Collects 1st Issue Special #1-13.
ON SALE 04.15.20
$39.99 US | 272 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-77950-177-6

Guys, I'm not going to lie. I reeeeeeaaallllly want this. If you've never spent any time on gazing longingly at the cover gallery for DC 1st Issue Special, please allow me to redirect your attention there now.

In addition to the characters listed above, these 13 issues also include a weird, maybe one-off version of "The Outsiders" which predate the "Batman and" version, the Codename: Assassin character who showed up around the same time as Atlas during a James Robinson stint on the Super-books, the Mikaal version of Starman that played a big role in Robinson Starman series and later his troubled Justice League of America run, and these guys
who I'm every bit as curious about as I am the Dingbats of Danger Street.

And sheesh, look at that line-up of creators!

At $40, that seems like a pretty steep price for a curiosity buy, and I'm fairly certain one could probably put together a run of that series for less than $40 if one had the patience for it, but I don't think I'm going to be able to resist this one. It doesn't look like the sort of book that will be available at too many public libraries, either.

Wow, I really like Brad Walker's cover for Detective Comics #1021. Batman's gray costume tearing away to reveal a black lining underneath looks particularly cool.

written by JIM STARLIN
The death of Robin!
ON SALE 03.11.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES | FC | DC

Pretty interesting batch of offerings in this month's round of Dollar Comics. In addition to the above issue, the penultimate one of Starlin, Aparo and DeCarlo's "A Death In The Family" (featuring covers by Mike Mignola), there's also 1991's Robin #1, the first issue of the first Robin miniseries by Chuck Dixon, the great (and unfortunately late) Tom Lyle and Bob Smith (featuring a cover by Brian Bolland which is maybe the single most badass image of a Robin ever committed to paper at that time), Swamp Thing #57 by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala (the solicitation for this one says its offered to coincide with the release of Strange Adventures, below, so I guess that comic "in the tradition of Watchmen will also be using some moore Alan Moore material in its foundation) and then a mess of first issues of various Justice League comics, all of which are also collected in that Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years collection from last month's solicitations.
Look, this wasn't supposed to be a "Hey, remember when Tim Drake was cool?" post, but it seems to be becoming one anyway.
The good ones include 1987's Justice League #1 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire and Terry Austin, which, beneath the most iconic Justice League cover since Wonder Woman and friends fought a giant starfish, features the introduction of the weirdest, wildest line-up in League history up to that point, and kicked off a five-year, multi-title epic run by Giffen and DeMatteis; 1997's JLA #1 by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell, which reassembled the then somewhat novel Magnificent Seven line-up and kicked off one of the best superhero comics of all time (and one of my favorite comic books of all time, resting shoulder to shoulder with Hitman in my estimation) and 1998's JLA: Year One by Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn and Barry Kitson, which took a novel approach to telling the origin story of the original Justice League line-up, at least as it was fixed in DC Universe history at that post-Crisis, pre-Infinite Crisis period (Waid and company worked in pretty much the entirety of the Silver Age DCU before it was done too).

Those are each great comics, and well worth $1. If you haven't read any of them, I'd highly recommend you avail yourself of these...and then go on to read the collections of each.

The bad ones? Well, there's Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes and Sandra Hope's 2006 Justice League of America, the first chapter of the prose writer-turned-comics dabbler's truncated "run" on the title that basically entailed a single gathering-of-the-team story arc...that was almost immediately undone. Bizarrely inappropriately cheesecake-y artwork by Benes and a bunch of fill-in artists didn't help of course. I would say my favorite part of this series was that it finally made Black Lightning an official member of the Justice League, but he left the team, like, immediately, so...

And then there's 2011's Justice League #1, by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Scott Williams. Relatively little happens in that first issue, which is only one-sixth of a gathering-the-team story, and the entire team doesn't even show up in it. This is, of course, the start of the New 52 League with their new, dumb post-Flashpoint, five-year timeline...Scott Snyder and company's current Justice League seems to have, if not overwritten this era entirely, then at least to have remixed it, as Snyder (like most of DC's current writers) are basically ignoring the Flashpoint New 52boot and just writing as if continuity was never rebooted at all.

Includes new stories plus classic reprints!
ON SALE 03.25.20 | $4.99 US | FC | 96 PAGES | DC

So, um, what the heck do you think this will entail...?

art and cover by LIAM SHARP
Hal Jordan is stuck on the worst possible planet he can imagine: Earth! Reassigned by the bold new Guardians to patrol his home planet, Hal finds himself a bit bored with his familiar haunts versus the infinite expanse and adventure of outer space. But when an invasion from the dawn of time strikes the planet, can Hal stop…the Ornitho-Men?!
ON SALE 03.11.20
$3.99 US | 2 OF 12 | 32 PAGES

Holy smokes, look at those guys! Are those the Ornitho-Men? They really are creepy-looking...somewhat suggestive of the Man-Hawks, but, like, dialed up to eleven...ty-seven.

written by GERRY CONWAY, DENNIS O’NEIL, and others
cover by AL MILGROM
In 1977 the New Gods renewed their battle against Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips. But as Darkseid invades Earth to unlock the secrets of the Anti-Life Equation, Orion, Lightray, and the rest of the New Gods enlist the help of the Justice League of America to stop him! Collects 1st Issue Special #13, The New Gods #12-19, Adventure Comics #459-460, DC Special Series #10, Super-Team Family #15, and Justice League of America #183-185.
ON SALE 04.01.20
$49.99 US | 336 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-77950-080-9

Or That Relatively Short Period Where Orion Didn't Look Right, as I like to think of it.

cover by LEE WEEKS
1940s variant cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
1950s variant cover by JULIAN TOTINO TEDESCO
1960s variant cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN
1970s variant cover by KAARE ANDREWS
1980s variant cover by FRANK MILLER
1990s variant cover by JIM CHEUNG
2000s variant cover by DERRICK CHEW
2010s variant cover by YASMINE PUTRI
blank variant cover
DC Comics celebrates Robin the Boy Wonder’s 80th anniversary in style with an all-star creative team representing each iteration of the iconic character across eight decades of history! From the high-flying adventures of Dick Grayson to the tragedy of Jason Todd, the enthusiasm of Tim Drake and the arrogance of Damian Wayne, the persistence of Stephanie Brown and the rebelliousness of Carrie Kelley—the mantle of Robin has been worn by many, but always represents one thing: a hero.
ON SALE 03.11.20
$9.99 US | 96 PAGES
This issue will ship with 11 covers.

I'm pretty excited about this one. It doesn't say either way, but I assume these are all-new stories. I question that, though, because there are so many writers listed whose names we see either infrequently or, like, never these days: Chuck Dixon, Marv Wolfman, Devin Grayson, Judd Winick. The artist line-up makes me think this must be all-new material, though.

The most exciting thing is that there are 11 writers listed ("and more!"), which means there's going to be more than one story apiece featuring each Robin, as there are four currently canonical ones, plus Stephanie Brown (who I am glad is listed above) and Carrie Kelley (ditto). I'm curious then if we'll get, like, two stories a piece, or team-ups of different Robins, or maybe a story featuring Duke Thomas and the We Are Robin Robins or some alternate universe Robins or...what.

At any rate, I'm excited to see new stories of old Robins...especially one by Devin Grayson, who is one of my favorite Batman writers.

Also, I would like to note the image on the cover: The classic Robin costume, not the retconned one based on Tim Drake's costume that DC had put in Dick Grayson in post-Flashpoint/New 52.

Oh, and not that anyone at DC cares what I think, but I prefer them title the books Anniversary Super-Spectaculars than just using murky Marvel math to find the nearest issue they can randomly revert to some abandoned numbering to give them a #750 or whatever, like they did with Wonder Woman and The Flash.

written by TOM KING
variant cover by EVAN “DOC” SHANER
blank variant cover
After winning five Eisner Awards and topping year-end “best of lists,” the comic book of 2019 was Mister Miracle. The comic book of 2020 will be Strange Adventures.
The Mister Miracle team of writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads are joined by fan-favorite artist Evan “Doc” Shaner to bring you an epic tale in the tradition of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and DC: The New Frontier—a story of blood, war, and love that readers will be talking about for years to come.
Adam Strange is the hero of Rann, a man famous throughout the galaxy for his bravery and honor. After leading his adopted home to victory in a great planetary war, Adam and his wife Alanna retire to Earth, where they are greeted by cheers, awards, and parades. But not all is as happy and nice as it seems, as the decisions Adam made during battles on Rann come back to haunt his family and threaten the entire DC Universe. And now a surprise DC hero will have to choose between saving Adam Strange and saving the world.
A story like no other, Strange Adventures is an ambitious, thrilling, shocking, and beautiful 12-issue saga that will push Adam Strange to the breaking point—and beyond!
ON SALE 03.04.20
$4.99 US | 1 OF 12 | 40 PAGES

Ha ha ha! "In the tradition of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and DC: The New Frontier"...! I love how that implies some sort of choice; as if DC Comics and the creators that work with/form them could be creating seminal, perennial, beloved, successful comics like those three on the regular if they wanted to, but, for the most part, Tom King and Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV and their other most prolific writers--not to mention, like, mostly everyone outside of Darwyn Cooke--has just spent the last 30 years or so deciding to work outside the tradition of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. "Hey, Geoff Johns, do you want to make something in the tradition of Watchmen?" "Nah, that's alright; I thought I'd do this multi-year saga about Green Lanterns with differently-colored rings. But maybe I'll do a Superman/Watchmen crossover in another decade or so..."

With that bit of solicitation copy-dragging out of the way, I would like to here note that Evan "Doc" Shaner is a great artist, and one of the best working with DC Comics in any capacity these days, so, whatever else might happen here, there will definitely be gorgeous sequences of art in the book.

written by GENE LUEN YANG
art and cover by GURIHIRU
The year is 1946, and the Lee family has moved from Chinatown to Downtown Metropolis. While Dr. Lee is eager to begin his new position at the Metropolis Health Department, his two kids, Roberta and Tommy, are more excited about being closer to the famous superhero Superman!
Tommy adjusts quickly to the fast pace of their new neighborhood, befriending Jimmy Olsen and joining the baseball team, while his younger sister Roberta feels out of place when she fails to fit in with the neighborhood kids. She’s awkward, quiet, and self-conscious of how she looks different from the kids around her, so she sticks to watching people instead of talking to them. While the Lees try to adjust to their new lives, an evil is stirring in Metropolis: the Ku Klux Klan.
The Klan targets the Lee family, beginning a string of terrorist attacks. They kidnap Tommy, attack the Daily Planet, and even threaten the local YMCA. But with the help of Roberta’s keen skills of observation, Superman is able to fight the Klan’s terror, while exposing those in power who support them—and Roberta and Superman learn to embrace their own unique features that set them apart.
Multi-award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang and artist Gurihiru tell a bold new story based on a classic Superman radio serial! Collects Superman Smashes the Klan #1-3.
ON SALE 05.06.20
$16.99 US | 6” x 9” | 240 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-77950-421-0

If you were able to resist the single issues and wait to order this, then you are a far, far more patient reader than I. I've only read the first issue so far, but I loved it, and I hope this isn't the last we've seen of the Yang/Gurihiru team on Golden Age Superman. I kinda wish this book would lead to an ongoing...maybe even a Superman and The All-Star Squadron book...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: October 2019


Amazing Spider-Man: Full Circle #1 (Marvel Entertainment) This comes close enough on the heels of DC's 2017-2018 Kamandi Challenge series that I can't help but wonder if it was inspired by Tom Brevoort or C.B. Cebulski or someone at Marvel seeing that series and thinking, "Hell, I bet we could do better." The idea is certainly similar. For Kamandi Challenge, DC built creative teams out of many of their usual contributors (plus a couple of special, unusual contributors), and gave each an issue to do pretty much whatever they wanted with, the only catch being that they were to set up a cliffhanger for the next team to figure out (It was itself a Kamandi-ized version of their own much weirder and much better exquisite corpse maxi-series, the 1985-1986 DC Challenge...which could use a trade paperback collection, if anyone at DC happens to be reading this post).

Full Circle certainly has some advantages over Kamandi Challenge. Firstly, it stars Spider-Man, the publisher's flagship character, rather than the likes of Kamandi, a beloved but rather minor creation of Jack Kirby's from his later stint at DC. Secondly, it's just a single, if very big, issue, rather than a 12-issue, year-long series; a reader just doesn't have time to get sick of it or re-think reading it.

I'm tempted to say Full Circle also benefits from higher-caliber talent, or at least more popular creators, but that's too close of a judgment call for me to make. Like Kamandi Challenge, its contributors are ones the publisher works with regularly, and they seem to be assembled from Marvel's metaphorical bullpen. Judgement on skill-levels and star power aside, it does feature regular ASM writer Nick Spencer, as well as the writers of some of the publisher's most recent big pushes, Jonathan Hickman and Jason Aaron. Similarly, one of ASM's regular artists, Chris Bachalo, is involved, as is Mark Bagley, one of the artists most associated with Spider-Man that one is likely to get to draw a Spider-Man comic these days.

The rules are laid out on a credits page before the story begins. Seven distinct creative teams were assembled, and each was "required to get Spidey out of whatever fix their predecessors had left him in, move the events of the story forward, resolve at least one plot element and end their chapter with the cliffhanger that the next guys would have to cope with."

 For the eighth and final ten-page sequence, writers Spencer, Gerry Duggan and Al Ewing scripted a sequence that would try to bring it all together, although all of the writers contributed to the brainstorming sequence (In a particularly interesting bit of page-filler, there are about four pages of excerpts from the writers and editors doing a group chat about how to resolve everything in the final chapter; the most amusing part of which was probably Duggan suggesting to editor Brevoort, "Tell Waid* it's his turn and just send it to him with no other direction.")

It's amazing how well they pull it off. Chapter to chapter and creative team to creative team, it's abundantly clear that the narrative is a particularly shaggy, fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants affair, but Duggan and company actually come up with a coherent, even elegant conclusion that feels like a very Spider-Man kind of Spider-Man story.

If you read it at all—and if you missed it, Marvel is somewhat bizarrely reprinting it as a much more expensive hardcover, hopefully with enough back matter to justify the added expense, in January—it was probably because you were interested in either the concept or some of the creators, rather than the story. But here's a quick synopsis of that story anyway. Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD—original version, alive and well and in a SHIELD uniform—and a team of agents rescue Spider-Man from a tube of goo in a secret AIM facility. Spidey is, inexplicably, in his black costume. The sequence, written by Hickman and drawn by Chris Bachalo, gives the book its most basic premise, that Spidey is helping SHIELD try to find and neutralize an AIM weapon, as well as a weird running element, and it then leaves Spidey in a hell of a predicament: He's been shot out of an airlock from what turns out to be a secret orbital AIM facility.
From there, the successive creative teams—Duggan and Greg Smallwood, Spencer and Mike Allred, Kelly Thompson and Valerio Schiti, Ewing and Chris Sprouse, Chip Zdarsky and Rachael Stott, Aaron and Cameron Stewart (!!!), and, finally, Duggan, Spencer, Ewing and Bagley—add a faux Disney World-as-an-AIM-front**, a werewolf virus, multiple versions of Spider-Ham, Wolverine, The High Evolutionary and "The Punisher who's been bonded with The Ultimate Nullifier," among other surprises.
For someone who enjoys dissecting and/or just plain picking apart how comics get made, and what decisions their creators choose to make at different points, this book was a pure pleasure to read, and well worth the fairly high $9.99 price of admission. I particularly enjoyed seeing art from Mike Allred, the all-around ideal Marvel Comics artist and Cameron Stewart, a favorite artist whose work I see far too little of. Also, Greg Smallwood draws fine werewolves, and I really like Schiti's Peter Parker.

Justice League #33 (DC) Is it weird for the Jay Garrick of 1941 to call a time-travelling Aquaman "son"...? Especially when it's the long-haired, bearded, rough-looking Aquaman who looks like he could be young Jay's grandfather...? I think it's weird.

The fourth part of "Justice/Doom War" finds the League still fighting the Legion of Doom on three fronts throughout time. Aquaman leads his Flash and Green Lantern and the Justice Society of America to Atlantis, while Grodd, Sinestro and Cheetah pursue them. The Trinity, Kamandi and Justice Legion-A battle Brainiac in the future. And, at the edge of space, Perpetua fights her sons—who execute a move that is both really stupid and kinda awesome in a Geoff Johnsian way in an attempt to equal her—while Hawkgirl fights Apex Luthor, her lust for vengeance threatening to doom all of creation.

Two new teams appear, including "Vandal Savage and his Legionnaires Club" (there are four others with him, and I don't recognize any of them; based on their get-ups, they seem like they may be meant to be seen as time-travelers rather than than natives of the Golden Age, but who knows) and a "surprise" Justice League from an alternate continuitiverse that would likely be more surprising had we not already seen the League petition teams such as this in an earlier issue of the series.

Now that it's been announced that writer Scott Snyder's run is ending, I'm losing both interest and patience in this story, and am eager for its end, if only to see who will be the next writer (I'm going to guess Brian Michael Bendis, hope it's not Tynion and pray it's someone fantastic out of left-field that I wouldn't even be able to guess right now).

Justice League #34 (DC) "Justice/Doom War" part five finds Bruno Redondo and Howard Porter splitting art duties while the Snyder/Tynion writing team keeps the same conflicts on the same fronts simmering. They seem to have reached an inflection point here though, as in the final pages, Perpetua grows really big and shouts "PERPETUA HAS RISEN!", the Anti-Monitor resumes his Crisis On Infinite Earths design and shouts "Hail Perpetua!" and the evil doom goddess of the creation before creation announces in the final panel, "There is a whole multiverse there to reshape in my image. Where should I begin?"

If this isn't the darkest point before the good guys turn the tide, then it's gotta be awfully close. The most exciting part of the issue comes quite early on, when Kamandi leads an army of Justice Leagues from various alternate futures to rescue Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman from Brainiac (see above). This sequence, drawn by Redondo, includes the heroes of DC One Million's Justice Legion-A, various heroes from Kingdom Come, the Justice League Beyond teased in last issue's cliffhanger and a bunch of random, alternate character's one can spend some time picking out: A Lobo, a Power Girl, a Booster Gold, Old Lady Harley, President Superman, Billy Batson during his short-lived stint as the white-haired "Marvel", Red Son Superman and on and on. This issue could probably use some annotations, as some of the characters included are pretty obscure and/or could be easily misidentified...maybe the trade collection will come with a character key in the back, like some of the Kingdom Come collections did.

Nancy (Andrews McMeel Publishing) Witness the phenomenon of Olivia Jaimes' unlikely 2018 revival of Ernie Bushmiller's now ancient comics strip Nancy in this lovely 144-page hardcover collection. Or, if you are one of those old people or weirdos or weird old people who still read newspapers, then relive the phenomenon of Olivia Jaimes' unlikely 2018 revival of Ernie Bushmiller's now ancient comics strip Nancy in this lovely 144-page hardcover collection.

The mysterious pseudonymous cartoonist pulls off the impressive, even exciting feat of making Nancy seem new, fresh and relevant without really screwing it up in any detectable fashion. Nancy joins a school robotics club and she makes a new friend in Esther, she and Sluggo use smartphones constantly, and Jaimes regularly engages in smart meta-humor that plays with the form and the language of comics as well as tweaking her audiences (might I re-refer you to the masterpiece "Sluggo is lit" strip...?), and yet Nancy, Sluggo and, to a lesser extent, Aunt Fritzi all feel eternal, like the exact same characters they have always been.

Guys, I really think you should read this book.

Runaways By Rainbow Rowell Vol. 4: But You Can't Hide (Marvel) After all of one issue devoted to following up on the previous volume's dramatic cliffhanger, in which Molly runs away from The Runaways to go with their one-time leader turned betrayer Alex Wilder, this volume is mostly a (relatively) quieter one, devoted to various character-driven conflicts and resolutions, and predominantly set in their headquarters/home.

Alex doesn't really want Molly going with him anymore than the rest of the cast would, but he reluctantly allows it, until the rest of her team show up to "save" her from him; this reveals where Alex has been making his home and that he has access to the Pride children's inheritances, but the episode seems to mainly be used as an inflection point in Molly's currently kinda troubled adolescence. She's always been the youngest, brightest, happiest, most child-like of the teens and former-teens, so her finally becoming a moody teenager is something of a crisis for the others.

Some time is spent on Chase's weird role as the put-upon single dad "raising" the rest of the team when we see him on a shopping trip (there's a cute scene where a flirtatious clerk at the store keeps trying to guess what on earth his situation is based on what he's buying), on the Victor/Gert/Chase love triangle, on Karolina's flailing college career, on fixing Doombot and on finding something "Gib," the newest member of the team, can actually eat, since they denied him the food that was meant to sustain him—sacrificed human souls.

The sub-plot that seems like it will get the most attention going forward is Karolina's burgeoning desire to get back into superhero-ing, which she does on the sly at first, and then in the company of her new girlfriend Nico, and, at the end of the volume, she and Nico encounter some honest-to-God supervillains (although they are low-level, no-name ones) and what appears to be an honest-to-God, LA-based superhero. Although based on his Cobra Commander-like, mirror-masked helmet, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he too ends up being a bad guy of some sort.

The series continues to be as fun and engaging as it has ever been, certainly since creator Brian K. Vaughan was writing it. It says a lot about the strength of the characters and the strength of Rowell's takes on them and her own writing that the scenes of them just hanging out or doing mundane activities are every bit as compelling as the more melodramatic, super-comics business.

Regular artist Kris Anka doesn't draw any of the six issues collected in here, although he does draw all of the covers (the one that graces the collection is one of my favorites; what a great portrait of the entire cast and their respective places in the narrative at this point) and he does design Nico and Karolina's new superhero costumes.

Instead, the majority of this volume's art is drawn by Andres Genolet, while two issues are drawn by Niko Henrichon. It all looks great, and while I would have expected that from the Henrichon portion, since I'm already familiar with his work, the Genolet section was a pleasant surprise. It's quite compatible with the work of Anka, and even suggests that of the series' co-creator Adriana Alphona a bit, making Genolet a pretty much perfect Runaways artist.


Goblin Slayer Side Story: Year One Vols. 1-2 (Yen Press) This series must be popular, because in addition to Kumo Kagyu's "light novel" series and manga-ka Noboru Kannatuki's manga series, there's also this spin-off manga by Kento Sakaeda (Kagyu gets an "original story" credit on the cover, while Kannatuki and a Shingo Adachi get character design credits).

The super-comics crowd-friendly sub-title makes clear what the focus is in this side story series: This is the origin of the title hero, seemingly reverse-engineered from what has already been revealed from the main series.

And, frankly, some of that reverse-engineering is somewhat silly. For example, in the first volume of the original series, when Goblin Slayer first appears and diagnoses the mistakes of the unfortunate adventuring party that was mostly slaughtered by the goblins, we learn that one needs a short sword for underground fighting, because a long one will just strike the sides of the caves or halls. Also, some time is spent on explaining why the shabby-looking Goblin Slayer is attired as he is; while he's not as magnificently-armored as most heroes of his high-rank, he is dressed and outfitted as practically and as utilitarian as he can be for his single-minded mission of exterminating goblins.

But here we get to see him make some of those mistakes himself, and learn many of the facts that he tells the priestess and other supporting characters in the other series for the first time. The opening scenes of the first volume depict the raid on his village by the goblin band that made him who he is; we see them kill townsfolk, strip several young women and brutally rape them, and then the little boy that grows up to be Goblin Slayer is hidden by his sister, who suffers the same fate (off-panel) before his very eyes. Yes, Goblin Slayer's origin is one of those origins. After three days of hiding and playing dead, he drags himself through his obliterated village, now littered with corpses and still hosting some lingering goblins, before he is discovered by the creatures, only to be rescued by a mysterious savior.

From there, the rest of the first volume is set after his goblin-slaying training, as he passes the farm and goes to the guild to sign up for his first adventure goblin-slaying. He survives, and kills plenty of goblins, in an adventure that mirrors that of Goblin Slayer Vol. 1, losing his sword when he draws it in a confined space, almost dying as a goblin grabs him by his helmet's two big horns and "riding" him, and so on (Even the horns on his helmet seem to be an act of reverse-engineering, as his helmet had what appeared to be hacked off horns on it, and thus this series takes some time to explain the look of his helmet in the other series).

In the second volume, his earlier origin story resumes in an extended flashback sequence, as we see some of his training under a mysterious goblin master. In the "present" of this series—which is, of course the past of the other series—his first year of adventuring continue, as he develops a reputation among others in the guild for being kind of a psycho (he dissects a goblin, in order to better understand how to kill them in the future, for example) and refines his methods.

There's something almost Muppet Babies-esque about the series, as so many of the characters from the original appear here, only as younger, more naive versions of themselves; I wouldn't say it is necessary to have read the original series to appreciate all of these appearances—hell, it might seem more natural to a reader who hasn't—but certainly Year One spends a lot of time introducing characters, settings, relationships and situations with the knowledge that they have already been introduced, giving much of these volumes a sort of self-conscious feeling. So the guild's blacksmith and weaponeer, the girl at the counter with a crush on Goblin Slayer, the cocky guy with the staff and his buxom sister with the spilling decolletage, the farm girl and her uncle, all of them are introduced here again, only now younger, and with foreknowledge of what occurs later displayed in the storytelling.

Year One, like the original series it spins out of, contains quite graphic violence, and much of that violence involves rape, and those scenes are unfortunately all staged and drawn as if to they are meant to titillate the reader. This aspect shows up even faster here than in the original series, as by the fifth page the goblins have torn the clothes off of one of three sisters they have cornered in a house. Their initial attack is only 11 pages long, but five of those pages are devoted to the attack and rape of the sisters, and another to the attack and rape of Goblin Slayer's sister.

I could excuse these scenes in Goblin Slayer Vol. 1, as for whatever the creators' intentions, they did demonstrate the terrifying immorality of the goblins, as inhuman monsters that were true enemies of human beings, to the point that they had a genetic urge to violate the bodies of humans in order to reproduce. It seemed important to the story that goblins, humanoid as they are, but immediately and effectively shown to be irrevocably wicked. The end of the sequence, after all, involved the introduction of a character devoted to their genocide/extermination, and who would go to such extreme lengths as to bash out the brains of their infants.

Here that excuse doesn't seem to work, as the degree of evil and threat the goblins symbolize has already been established in the original series, and so it just seems more exploitative here than in Goblin Slayer proper.

I suppose I could just be splitting hairs by even considering which comics rape scenes are more exploitative, of course—the existence of the scenes at all may be enough to let you know this isn't a book for you, of course—but the most difficult-to-read part of Goblin Slayer Vol. 1 is repeated in Year One Vol. 1, only with less possible justification. I suppose it doesn't make one feel any more generous in interpreting the creators' intentions that when the farm girl is first introduced here, it is a sequence where she is shown awaking in bed nude in a less-than-natural position, on all fours with her breasts and butt on display in a unique take on the infamous "brokeback" posing. The three successive panels after that are 1) a close-up of her butt as she slide panties on, 2) a close up of her breasts as she puts her bra on, and 3) a medium-shot of her from her ankles up, throwing her hair back over her shoulders as she poses in her bedroom in her underwear.

She is supposedly 13-ish at this point, if the narration translation is right ("We must have been about eight years old," she says of the last day she saw Goblin Slayer as a child and, a few pages later, she says she has been on her uncle's farm for five years, so...)

In all respects, though, Year One seems more in-your-face than Goblin Slayer; the first volumes of both series feature Goblin Slayer discovering a couple of baby goblins hidden at the end of a dungeon crawl, and while in the original series he mercilessly kills them off-panel, here there's a two-page spread of him theatrically swinging his dagger, chopping three of them into pieces at once, their body parts flying around the room in a cyclone of inky black blood, while the top half of one's head streaks toward the reader, tears pouring out of its eye.

For example.

While it has its virtues, it's not nearly as strong a comic as the other Goblin Slayer, but then, it does achieve its purpose: It provides more pages of Goblin Slayer comics.

Heroes in Crisis (DC Comics) What a bizarre comic book series this turned out to be. I had previously read the first issue when it was originally released, and decided to call it quits after that, planning to return to it after it was completed and published in its final form...that is, this particular hardcover collection.

The premise was extremely hard to swallow, even by the standard of DC comics. At some point in the past, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman pooled their knowledge and resources and created Sanctuary, a sort of superhero retreat/mental health clinic staffed by therapist androids. Heroes suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction or any number of other problems one could find in the DSM-V could visit Sanctuary for a confidential therapy session, wherein the robots would record but immediately delete any information they learn—and everyone in the DC Universe, even Batman, unmasks to the robots, sharing their secret identities as well as their innermost turmoil. Meanwhile, heroes needing more extensive treatment could apparently check themselves in for an extended stay, although they would have to wear creepy gold masks and robes over their normal masks and costumes, to conceal their superhero identities from one another, I guess.

I think it would be an A-OK premise for an Elseworlds-type of series, which would give writer Tom King more flexibility with the unlikely set-up and the selling of the blanket acceptance of mental health professionals who are actually just robots (Seriously, how many times in the last, say, 35 years has Alfred, Superman, Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon or someone asked Batman if he was okay when he was acting particularly violent or obsessed, only to have the Dark Knight tersely answer, "I'm fine." King asks us to re-imagine those scenes so that Batman tersely says "I'm fine," but then thinks to himself, "But perhaps I should talk to a robot about my this.") Most of this is laid out in that first issue I read, but paired with the particularly goofy scene in which Harley Quinn repeatedly stabs through Booster Gold's force field***, super-suit and flesh with a fucking butter knife (that, or she found the only diner in Kansas who serves pie with a fork and razor-sharp murder knife instead of the customary butter knife), and the tired crossover catalyst of a whole bunch of minor characters introduced into the post-Flashpoint/New 52 DC Universe for the very first time just to be killed off as character death fodder (their bodies discovered in a scene that suggests this was something akin to an active shooter attack on Sanctuary), well, it was very easy to decide to quit after one issue. And it was actually kind of hard to even imagine reading the collection.

Aside from a few spectacularly dumb moments, however, it actually reads pretty okay as a graphic novel, although it's really quite hard to process what, precisely, killed the half-dozen victims who were killed at Sanctuary just before the opening of the issue, an act of mass murder which Booster Gold thinks Harley Quinn was responsible for, while Harley thinks Booster was responsible for, hence their fight with one another (And their positioning as two of the primary leads among the ensemble cast).

So the precipitating event, what appeared to be the mass murder of a handful of superheroes and the destruction of all the Sanctuary robots, was and now I will spoil this old comic, so stop reading if you care—was the fault of Wally West. No, not the Wally West introduced into the current continuity in, but the other, older Wally West, from the pre-Flashpoint continuity, the one that crossed over into current continuity in DC Universe: Rebirth.

Like Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan following the events of "Reign of The Supermen" and "Emerald Twilight," this Wally West experiences an extreme, even preposterous amount of trauma, leading to a heel turn...of sorts. I don't know if it's worth considering whose trauma was worse, but Hal saw is entire city of millions of people basically evaporated, while Wally takes in all of his fellow heroes' Sanctuary sessions via super-speed. While Hal actually became a self-righteous super-villain planning and plotting to un-do the tragedy for some time afterwards, Wally's slaughter of a bunch of people was not the pre-meditated mass-casualty situation it at first appeared, but rather it was an accidental...lightning explosion? That is, the other folks staying at Sanctuary come to check on Wally, and he shoots lightning out of his body in every direction, killing them? The comic just explains what exactly happened as "The Speed Force," and I guess if the comic itself doesn't care enough to explain it beyond basically shrugging, I guess we shouldn't care too much either.

Realizing what he's done, Wally then uses his super-speed to cover his tracks by planting contradictory clues to disguise the cause of the deaths, absolve himself by planting his own body (don't ask) and then framing Booster and Harley...all in the hopes that given couple of day, he can make it somewhat right, or at least get some good out of all the bad. And then kill himself to atone.

What makes this element of the story so strange is that Wally West's accidental killing of a bunch of heroes, including one of his better friends (um, in the previous reality, that is), not to mention his motives and, hell, who on Earth Wally West even is is that it is all essentially complete gobbledygook to someone not steeped in the DCU and its various continuity-rebooting shenanigans (at the very least, the history of the Flashes and Crises is pretty integral, with the stories of Flash: Rebirth, Flashpoint and DC Universe: Rebirth and that brief period where Wally and Linda had kids being particularly important), and yet it does that worst-of-both-worlds thing that irritates me more than anything else about DC Comics, wherein a reader is supposed to hold DC continuity in their head well enough to follow the story while simultaneously excusing all of the writers random excisions or inclusions of that continuity seemingly made to suit their particular whims.

The story is pretty dependent on ways big and little of a pre-Flashpoint continuity. The victims include Gunfire, from 1993's "Bloodlines" annual event, for example. There's also Blue Jay (created in 1971 revived in the late eighties/early nineties), Gnarrk (1971), Kid Devil/Red Devil (1985) and Joto (1996), from a Justice League and versions of the Titans that never even existed post-Flashpoint. Lagoon Boy from mid-nineties Aquaman and then Young Justice, referencing his time on a Teen Titans line-up that never existed, is another victim, as is Citizen Steel, from Justice Society of America, another book that never "happened" in the current DCU. Identity Crisis, Blackest Night, and ancient Challengers of The Unknown continuity is referred to in passing. I haven't understood what DC's been doing with the first generation of Titans at all, they seem to have been restored at some point by their exposure to Wally West I, but Roy Harper's drug addiction has been update to be more timely; here he has taken the too-common opioid path to getting hooked.

Most egregious of all of King's random mixture of pre- and post-Flashpoint continuity, however, is the presence of Ted Kord as Blue Beetle, in his traditional costume, palling around with Booster Gold, and Batman referring to them both as past Justice Leaguers. This is no longer the case, of course.

I'm not really sure how this book even came to be in its present state, frankly. Most of the continuity hiccups are just minor contradictions, lines of dialogue an editor could have asked King to rewrite, or bit players that could have been swapped out for others (at the very least, there shouldn't be a JSA character, now that the JSA has been temporarily but thoroughly excised from continuity), but then there is the bigger, weirder stuff like the inclusion of the pre-Flashpoint Blue and Gold team in a post-Flashpoint DCU.

Rather typical of King's comics career, it is basically a pretty bad comic by a pretty good writer, with some of the writing overly showy, with more attention paid to structure of the script and not nearly enough paid simply ask if something makes sense or not (the fate of the multiple Wallys, for another example, is also basically just Booster Gold shrugging his shoulders and saying, "Eh, time doesn't have to make sense, does it?")

I'm not sure where the story goes from here, eitherm as Wally seems pretty damaged in a way that would render him an unlikely protagonist going forward....although I guess he has a miniseries going on right now (It's called Flash Forward ). And, of course, Roy Harper is dead. All of the many deaths in the comics fall into two basic categories. There are those of minor ones, most of whom seem to have been reintroduced here and now just to be killed off (Blue Jay, Citizen Steel, Gnarrk, Gunfire, Hot Spot/Joto, Kid Devil/Red Devil, Lagoon Boy,, Nemesis/Tom Tresser, The Protector, Solstice, Tattooed Man II). And there are the deaths that are reversed by the end of the story (Wally West, Poison Ivy). The only exception is the death of Roy Harper. While not a top-tier character, he's a fairly major supporting one to the Green Arrow and Titans franchises.

Were it not for Roy's death, I would assume that this story's remarkably extensive mish-mash of settings—so extensive that it basically renders itself non-canonical—would lead to everyone who read it just ignoring it going forward.

I mean, I plan to.

Immortal Hulk Vol. 4: Abomination (Marvel Entertainment) Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's relentlessly readable horror take on The Hulk just gets more and more horrifying with each passing issue.

In this volume, collecting issues #16-20 of the series, Doctor Samson follows the title character back to Shadow Base, where they find a bunch of green, gamma-powered animal monsters that were being experimented on and now seem to have been left their as booby traps. There, the Hulk is transformed back into Banner and hunted by the cyborg assassin who can morph his hands into fleshy-looking firearms (who I find to be one of the creepiest-looking of the many malformed creatures in the series). There we learn that Banner can enlist the minds of other Hulks even while he might be physically trapped in Banner's body (leading to a Joe Fixit-in-Banner's body fight against the assassin).

We also get a good look at Betty Brant's scary new Hulk form, which, rather than being just a red-colored version of She-Hulk it was in a previous run, is now a hulking, harpy-inspired bird-woman with a more bestial, monster-like mind—she readily kills opponents, and in one of the many weird, scary scenes she plucks organs out of the dying Hulk's body to eat. That act, believe it or not, is a form of help. She's on the Immortal Hulk's side, mostly.

Scariest of all, however, is the new version of The Abomination, which seems to be literally built around the corpse of Rick Jones, and stands out as a scary monster even in a book where half the cast seems to be scary monsters. Living up to that name like never before, this Abomination has three giant clawed hands folded over its face, hands which occasionally open to reveal his true identity...and/or to eat people and/or grievously wound the Hulk, dissolving big chunks of the supposedly indestructible jade giant's green flesh in its vomited-up super-strong stomach acid.

In terms of tone and ambition at least, Ewing and Bennett seem to be doing for the Hulk what Alan Moore and company did for Swamp Thing in their seminal '80s run, turning a long-time monstrous superhero's book into a scary horror book filled with visceral, violent imagery and a supernatural mega-plot with supernatural, mystical and religious overtones. Obviously, the specifics are extremely different, and Immortal Hulk lacks the sense of experimentation that eventually defined that run of Swamp Thing, but more and more this reminds me of that.

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 3 (Viz Media) With the premise now clearly established and the major characters all introduced and their relationships defined, manga-ka Tomohito Oda is now free to focus on finding new situations to act as prompts for what now feels like perfectly natural, perfectly organic comedy. In other words, by the beginning of volume three, Komi Can't Communicate has blossomed into a fully-developed, fully-engaging situational comedy. At this point, it could probably go on forever...or at least until Oda tires of drawing it.

It's now summer, so Komi and her growing group of friends experience summer stuff, which presents new challenges and opportunities for the incomparably gorgeous and cool-looking girl who is actually so paralyzed by anxiety, insecurity and social awkwardness that she is essentially mute. So Komi wrestles with the interminable loneliness of not having school as an excuse to kind-of, sort-of, almost socialize over summer vacation; she and her friends spend a day at a water park; there's a climactic summer festival; she and her family go on a trip to the country to visit her extended family.

Among those more extensive scenes—which, of course, provide an excuse for Oda to put the girls in bathing suits and kimonos—there are a couple of really effective shorter ones, like Komi's visit to a library, or her playing on a playground when she thinks she's alone and, perhaps most charmingly, the revelation that her father is exactly like her ("Such a pretty girl" someone murmurs upon seeing them, "And a dapper man," another chimes in), and what happens when the two of them go out alone together to have a serious talk and spend some quality time together.

There is, as always, a serious problem at the root of Komi's difficulty in communicating—and among the other kids' various social hang-ups—and it's not hard to imagine a lesser cartoonist making light of actual mental health problems, or telling jokes at the expense of Komi and the other characters, but Oda continues to masterfully use Komi's cartoonish social anxiety as a springboard for humor and even as something of an endearing quality. A comic that could be dark, or perhaps even cruel, is instead full of humanity.

The silly father-daughter "talk" is the perfect example of this. Komi and her dad seem to have as much difficulty communicating with one another as they do communicating with almost everyone else around them, but in the midst of their awkward conversation, Komi is able to tease her dad wordlessly, joking around with him in an awkward, fidgety, silent language that only another, older version of Komi could truly intuit.

I love this comic.

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion—Villains (Marvel) After two suites of one-shots set during the so-called "Age of Republic", during the time period in which the second, prequel trilogy was set, it was refreshing to finally get to read a similar handful of one-shots set in the so-called "Age of Rebellion," or what I've long thought of as "real Star Wars." Of course, now that the original trilogy is just one of three trilogies, and occupies a smaller and smaller amount of space in the (seemingly suddenly) sprawling Star Wars films and TV shows, I guess A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi have less and less claim on being referred to as such. I guess "my Star Wars" is far more accurate, anyway...

The format of this trade paperback is the same as the two Age of Republic collections that Marvel had previously released. It includes four one-shots, all by the same writer, and each of which is devoted to an evergreen, character portrait-like tale featuring the more famous characters from a particular alignment in a particular series of films. Each of these is followed by a short article about the character and their place in the films, and the covers include a variety of portrait images as well as a "concept design variant" featuring Ralph McQuarrie's early passes on character designs. There's also a shorter story from a special, longer, anthology one-shot.

Here the writer of the one-shots is Greg Pak, and unlike previous installments, he's working with more artists: Marc Laming draws the first two, three different artists draw the third one for some reason and Ramon Bachs draws the fourth. The short is taken from the pages of Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Special #1, and is written by Simon Spurrier, with art by Caspar Wijngaard.

As someone who grew up with this series of movies, the mix of villains feels a little odd. Certainly Darth Vader has to be there, being the overall villain of that trilogy, but the other three all seem relatively minor in different ways, and all seem less important than the villain who doesn't get his own one-shot, The Emperor.

First up is Grand Moff Tarkin, starring one of the characters from the first Star Wars film played by one of the most accomplished and famous actors involved...and who proved to end up as something of a footnote character, just one of a bunch of dull bad guys in duller gray uniforms (although the "Expanded Universe" has given Tarkin a more prominent role in the overall Star Wars saga than was evident from his appearance in what became A New Hope). Pak has clearly read James Luceno's 2014 prose novel Tarkin, as the issue relies rather heavily on the origin story Luceno tells in it.

Pak sets this comic around Tarkin's crucial appearance in A New Hope, in which he threatens Princess Leia with the destruction of her home planet unless she gives up the location of the rebel fleet and, when she agrees to do so, blows up her planet anyway. Through an extended sequence illustrating Tarkin's imagination, Pak and Laming essentially show how the character's harsh-to-the-point-of-abusive upbringing influences his brutal behavior, how he might like to unleash explosive, savage, showy violence on his underlings, and how he actually uses violence and cruelty on them. Essentially, he shrewdly restrains his impulses, acting on them subtly and with purpose. In other words, it's a look at Tarkin's inner-life and the way in which that contrasts with his outer bearing.

Despite providing no real new information, it's an effective synthesis of Luceno's origin story and the character's New Hope scenes. Laming's art is realistic and referenced to the point that Tarkin looks just like Peter Cushing and Leia looks like Carrie Fisher, but there's a stiffness that comes from being too faithful to reference material. I appreciated the comic, but didn't like the way it looked or felt all that much.

I think the next issue, Boba Fett, is a better showcase for Laming's art then, as here there is also a strict adherence to design, but it's to a featureless, emotion-less mask, rather than the face of an easily recognizable actor. This story is a very simple one, but that's what makes it so effective. Relatively little happens. Boba Fett is on a desert planet on the outer rim (No, not that one. Or that one), and he's just finished hunting a bounty. Then he hunts another. And then another. It seems as if Pak began with the killer ending, and worked his way backward, as circumstances put Fett in the position of killing a bad guy and saving people, but that hardly makes him a hero. The bulk of the comic has him going about his work silently, his badass reputation preceding him, and his cool accessories being put to use in exciting demonstrations.

The famously taciturn character gets all of two lines in the last two panels, speaking no more than four words.

He first appears riding a robot horse.
I think Boba Fett riding a robot horse might be even better than Batman riding a horse, but then, there are fewer examples of the former to contrast with the latter.

For Jabba The Hutt, three artists are utilized: Emilio Laiso, Roland Boschi and Marco Turini. Though seemingly set sometime not too long before Return of The Jedi, things from the other two trilogies appear, like re-purposed battle droids from the Clone Wars serving as Jawa muscle, and there's a scene set on Canto Bight, the planet of rich people at leisure in Episode VIII. This too is a pretty simple story, one that portrays Jabba's ruthlessness and ability to manipulate events, as well as his outsized role on Tatooine...even if he does spend the entire comic just sitting there like a slug.

There's a particularly valuable maguffin that has been derived from the Tusken Raiders/Sandpeople of Tatooine, and several different players want to get it, leading to a huge Mexican standoff involving a couple of would-be criminals from Canto Bight, a half-dozen Jawas and their ramshackle droids, a corrupt imperial officer with financial problems and the Stormtroopers under his command, and a sniper from Jabba's palace, who shows up to make sure everyone there shoots everyone else.

Jabba's palace and all of the colorful characters that fill it are among the better fantasy settings of any film made in my lifetime, although the three artists here don't do much with it, other than to fill in panels with familiar cameos. I didn't really like reading Jabba's dialogue, either; it appears "translated" for us, but Jabba speaking English, er, I mean "Basic" just to me. I think I would have preferred if his dialogue was related via dialogue balloons full of Huttese, while Bib Fortuna or one of the translator droids explain what Jabba's saying (That's what they do with the Sandpeople dialogue in this story).
The final of the one-shots stars who else but Darth Vader. Artist Ramon Bachs joins Pak for a story of maybe the last character from the saga who needs another 20-pages of comics about him, but then, what sort of series of comics about Star Wars bad guys would this be if they didn't include one starring Vader?

Pak zeroes in on the friction between Vader, an extravagant space wizard in a cape and mask, and the Empire's command structure, a bunch of older white guys in boring suits who hold a lot of meetings and focus on the day-to-day drudgery of running an empire, a friction that lead to one of the more memorable scenes in the very first film. Vader's strange place as a sort of free-floating second-in-command is the point of this story, as when he and a not particularly formidable-looking Imperial officer get into a disagreement in front of The Emperor's hologram, the Emperor instructs Vader who follow the officer's ever single command "to the letter" until he's learned his lesson. As to when that will be, he'll know when the time arrives.

The officer takes advantage of the situation, sending Vader on increasingly dangerous suicide missions, pushing things farther and farther until he finally phrases his command in such a way that Vader is able to take his vengeance without violating the letter of the order. It's a very solid done-in-one definitional story of Vader, and one that manages to find a through line from throughout the original trilogy and into the second to apply to Vader, finding something he's suffered from and rebelled against in various ways his entire life.

Though Bachs is of course drawing characters, costumes, sets and ships from the films, he infuses his work with a lot of personality and style; this is by far my favorite of the stories in this volume in terms of its look.

The final comic in this trade paperback is a ten-page IG-88 story by writer Simon Spurrier and artist Caspar Wijngaard. If you don't know the name, you likely know the character: IG-88 is the droid with the seemingly too-long, too-thin head that appears with Boba Fett and the other bounty hunters briefly during Empire. It was the sort of scene that the first films were full of, presenting a handful of intriguingly-designed characters that produced cool-looking toys, and grown-ups expanding on the world of the films professionally at the time, or children expanding upon it with their play (who would then grow up to do so professionally) were all but compelled to spin stories about such characters.

Spurrier's view of the character is...weird, but probably not original to him, either. His IG-88 uses his computer brain to constantly calculate odds, risks and value, and to engage in long-term planning of the sort that bounty hunters with organic bodies just plain couldn't. Wijngaard's take on the design gives the character an unearthly, almost skeletal look; he appears like a scrap iron scarecrow with only the vague approximation of a head. He moves too, something I'm not familiar with the character doing much of at all, having only seen him standing in that line-up in Empire and then in toy form in the early '80s. He looks even cooler in motion than when static...or, actually, given the suggestion of motion, as he is here, I guess. Like General Greivous in the Clone Wars "micro-series", I bet he would be a good character for animation.
The article that follows his short features McQuarrie's concept sketches for him, and the designer originally envisioned him as a very old-school space fantasy-looking robot. It's a neat robot design, but it also looks like a guy in a robot suit, rather than the evil erector set version of the character that eventually made it on-screen.

The other McQuarrie design of special note in the one for Jabba, wherein he appears to resemble a sort of humanoid frog in a robe wearing a helmet.

Stravaganza: The Queen In The Iron Mask Vol. 1 (Udon Entertainment) This 370-page, inch-thick omnibus collects two volumes of manga-ka Akihito Tomi's action-packed, cheesecake-filled medieval fantasy adventure series, a pretty perfect example of a manga that does several very different things very well simultaneously.

Two of those things are perfectly evident from the cover itself. The comic has a leering, perverted, occasionally exploitative eye for its heroine, and the female form in general. She's scantily-clad in almost every scene—her outfit on the cover is actually more conservative than some she sports in the volume—and has a bad habit of exposing herself accidentally, most spectacularly in a silly scene where she is about to step onto a balcony before her subjects, and someone accidentally steps on the back of her dress, causing her to trip and the dress to rip right off of her, so that she topples over nude over the balcony, her naked breasts hanging over the side before the crowd.

It's also action-packed, and if Tomi is a talented drawer of women's bodies, he's even more so at drawing dynamic action sequences, be it two humans engaged in combat, or monsters fighting human beings.

The book is also pretty funny. While some of that humor revolves around the heroine's tendency to be caught with her pants down or her tits out, sometimes it isn't the least bit prurient. I'm tempted to say Stravaganza has something for everyone, but that's honestly not the case; it does have a lot for some readers, though.

That heroine is Queen Vivian, the titular "Queen In The Iron Mask," so-called because she wears a helmet with the visor down, locked around her head whenever she's in public. The queen doesn't particularly enjoy being living within the castle walls, however, and so she often sneaks out via an elaborate secret passage to explore the dangerous woods around her kingdom and fraternize with her subjects, who obviously don't recognize her outside of her mask, and know her as Claria.

The book opens with a six-page sequence of water sprites silently fighting one another, before Vivian-as-Claria appears at the edge of their pond and removes some of the little clothing she's wearing to swim. She's interrupted by some lizard men, who are themselves interrupted by a huge and horrifying monkey-like monster we later learn is called an "Umber." These resemble something of a cross between a shaggy Yeti and a baboon, and a formidable, people-eating monsters. Vivian manages to slay it...but then another, bigger monster shows up, chasing her back to the castle walls.

From there, we learn the basic premise of the series and meet the supporting cast. The focus see-saws between shorter, humorous vignettes, often involving nudity, and longer, more serious action sequences. As this volume nears its climax, an entire troop of the dangerous umbers has stormed the city and killed scores of its residents, laying siege to Vivian's remaining subjects. They eventually strike out and seek help from a neighboring kingdom, one populated by giants with strange proportions (Well, the male giants all have strange proportions, with stubby legs, long arms and cylindrical heads no wider than their necks; the female giants are all built like Vivian, only, you know, bigger).

Whether one comes for the naked ladies and finds the thrilling monster-battling action, or if one comes for the monsters and finds the naked ladies, this is a pretty fun and extremely well-made manga.

War of The Realms: Strikeforce (Marvel) This $15.99, 112-page trade paperback collects a trio of similarly-titled one-shot tie-ins to Jason Aaron and Russel Dauterman's Thor-centric War of The Realms event series, each of which basically just extends a scene from the miniseries and fills in greater but ultimately unnecessary detail around it. They're all competently made, but I must confess to being more chagrined or amused by how Marvel organizes such events and how they try to sell them in the collected edition market than I am generally engaged by the material itself.

For example, the make-up of this trade is sort of random, and probably doesn't make any sense at all if read alone, without a reader having previously read War of The Realms itself; or, I suppose the individual stories make enough rudimentary sense to qualify as stories, but they will likely seem curious and unmoored without the context of the story they are expanding upon. I guess this reads a bit like the comic book event equivalent of bonus scenes from a long movie trilogy, and you wouldn't really bother with the disc marked "bonus materials" if you haven't previously watched the Dark Knight or Indiana Jones or Lord of The Rings movies that it came with, right...?

Of course, if one bought these as they were released serially, then one invested $4.99 in each 30-page story. As a price point, I guess that's pretty much industry standard at this point, but it's strange that the trade collection actually costs a bit more rather than a bit less, which seems to incentivize the reading of Marvel comics serially rather than in trade, which, well, I'd question which Marvel wants the bulk of their readership to do, but I actually don't think Marvel thinks that far ahead with any of their publishing least, not as relates to the health of the comics market.

So, what do we find under this cover? Three individual comics, each entitled War of The Realms Strkeforce: Somethingorother; the first two refer to the setting that a particular strkeforce is, um, striking—War of The Realms Strikeforce: The Land of The Giants, War of The Realms Strikeforce: The Dark Elf Realm—while the other—War of The Realms Strikeforce: The War Avengers—does not.

The Dark Elf Realm—I guess Marvel decided "Svartalfheim" didn't sound like it belonged in a comics title?—is written by Bryan Hill, penciled by Leinil Francis Yu and inked by Gerry Alanguilan. It follows Thor's mom's team of The Punisher, Blade, Ghost Rider and She-Hulk as they prepare to travel to the crossover's main villain Malekith's home world to destroy his "black bifrost," the means by which he moves troops around the ten realms. Oddly enough, it's more stage-setting to the scenes set in the main series (and other crossovers) than anything else, consisting of Freya consulting The Punisher ("Captain America suggested I speak with you...He said you could understand the darkest parts of heroism. Between righteousness and villainy"), Punisher picking a team for Freya, Freya pitching the mission to the team, and then Freya testing them with magic, making them face their worst nightmares or whatever.

It ends with them embarking on their fight, so really it's filler more than anything. Hill has a few neat tough guy lines in here though (and a pronouncement from Freya that bullets work on every world, as they are "mankind's one enduring achievement"), as well as one line of dialogue so out-of-context even within the context of the comic that I laughed out loud when I read it:
The Land of Giants by writer Tom Taylor, penciler Jorge Molina and inker Adriano Di Benedetto follows the team of Captain America, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Wolverine on their rescue mission to Jotunheim in order to rescue Thor, a mission they embark upon wearing a mixture of winter wear and medieval accessories and atop pegasuses. Like the previous story, this one mostly focuses on what happened before the mission/quest this particular strikeforce was assigned, but Taylor also integrates the action from War of The Realms, so this feels a little more like an expansion of those scenes, rather than something slotted in where there was room (It also, incidentally, feels a lot less like filler).

It probably helps that this particular grouping of heroes is a pretty natural one, and they're all fairly long-time friends, allies and/or co-workers ("I preferred you when you were dead," Spidey tells Wolverine at one point). Taylor handles all the banter well, and builds some extremely solid gags into the proceedings, despite how violent and sober much of those proceedings are. Like, Thor is in a berserker rage, having created a literal river of frost giant blood, there's a burial and moment of silence for one of the flying horses that is killed and everyone save Spidey either kills or maims a giant...but there's also a pretty good joke about Spider-Man's magical helmet allowing him to talk to the winged-horses in the language of the horses, and how that looks to him vs. how it looks to the others.

The final included comic is The War Avengers, by writer Dennis "Hopeless" Hallum and artists Kim Jacinto and Ario Anindito. This follows Carol Danvers' team of "heroes she has left" (i.e. leftover heroes) as they rove the globe fighting Malekith's various armies of invading fantasy monsters. They're basically the infantry, then. The comic opens with Deadpool being chased by fire sharks to Atlantis, where Carol and Sif join him, briefly bicker with Namor, and then regroup with "creepy tentacle tongue '90s" Venom" (in Deadpool's words), Weapon H (The, um, Hulk that is also Wolverine; he had his own comic for a bit. Did you read it? Yeah, me neither), The Winter Soldier and Black Widow.

Together, they travel the world fighting. And...well, that's the whole comic, really. Captain Britain, Spitfire, Union Jack and The Black Knight all make brief appearances. I like all those guys. There are some pretty strong Deadpool verbal gags. I always enjoy seeing Namor be a colossal dick to everyone. So, it has its moments, but that's all it is really, a collection of moments.


AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet (Chronicle Books) The likeliness of the climate crisis ending life on earth as we know it might seem like a strange starting point for a silly adventure story about mutant animal super-heroes exploring space, but then writer Jon Scieszka's bibliography is full of books that pointedly do not talk down to kids. In addition to engaging with the single most important subject in the world at the moment directly, forthrightly and amusingly, this book manages to be a lot of fun, to have plenty of honest-to-God science in it and to boast some of the most distinct and unusual visuals you're likely to find in a kids' book, comic or otherwise. And this is, I should note, an "otherwise," being a hybrid between a comic and a heavily-illustrated prose chapter book.

Betty & Veronica: Senior Year (Archie Comics) Artist Sandra Lanz's style isn't quite to my own personal taste, the interiors look much more simplified than her cover (which is quite a nice cover), but, as I explained in my Good Comics For Kids review, I do think it suits the premise and tone of the story well. That story is a year in the life of the title characters...specifically, the last year of their eternal secondary school experience. I found it surprisingly weird that I found relatively simple deviations like, say, Betty dating Reggie or the kids graduating high school weird at all; like, compared to Betty hunting a werewolf who is also Jughead or Veronica being a vampire, this stuff should all seem pretty normal, you know?

Scooby-Doo 50th Anniversary Giant #1 and Scooby-Doo Team-Up #50 (DC Comics) I reviewed these two comics celebrating the 50th anniversary of Scooby-Doo for Good Comics For Kids this month. The first is pretty so-so, as tends to be the case with DC's Scooby comics for the reasons I articulated within the review, while the latter was as good as the better issues of Sholly Fisch's Scooby-Doo Team-Up, and maybe even the best one yet. It certainly made a case for the core appeal of Scooby-Doo and, by association, Batman, while simultaneously providing an extremely entertaining, extremely surprising story.

The image above is, of course, a bit of a spoiler, but I felt comfortable spoiling it because 1) the comic has been out long enough that anyone who was going to read it should have read it by now and 2) it's the first of the two Scooby-Doo related surprises in that issue, and while it's the more delightful of the two, it's also the less dramatic.

Just because I am a smug know-it-all type (um, as you might have noticed), I should point out that while that sure seems like every version of Mystery Inc ever, there are a few exceptions, which I will now proceed to break down.

Missing from the panel are:

•The Mystery, Inc gang from made-for-TV live-action Scooby-Doo films, 2009's Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins and 2010 Scooby-Doo: Curse of the Lake Monster (starring Robbie Amell, Hayley Kiyoko, Kate Melton and Nick Palatas).

•The puppet version of the gang from the extremely weird 2013 direct-to-DVD Scooby-Doo Adventures: The Mystery Map

•The Lego version of the gang from 2016's Lego Scooby-Doo: Haunted Hollywood and 2017's Lego Scooby-Doo: Beach Blowout.

However, the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that perhaps these versions weren't excluded by accident. Regarding the live-action TV versions of he characters, the argument could be made that, despite being played by different actors and some differences in their appearances (Fred having dark hair, Velma being of Asian descent), the Mystery Begins and Curse of The Lake Monster Mystery Inc is the same Mystery Inc for the two theatrically-released live-action films, at an earlier point in their careers. Therefore, they are the same gang, they just look different. (As for the exclusion of the Daphne and Velma of last year's Daphne & Velma, that makes perfect sense to me; they are technically pre-Scooby-Doo and pre-Mystery Inc at that point.)

The puppet versions from Mystery Map are puppets, but, if I recall the DVD correctly, and it's been over five years since I've seen it so I might not, they were the versions of the characters from A Pup Named Scooby-Doo...they were just puppets, rather than animated (there is one puppet in Scooby-Doo Team-Up #50, but it's Daphne's hand-puppet from that one episode of Be Cool, Scooby-Doo).

As for the the Lego versions, I originally assumed that was because of a copyright/trademark thing, and while the people who own DC Comics, Scooby-Doo and Lego work together on the regular, it probably wasn't worth the extra paperwork needed just so Jeralds could drop some Lego versions of the characters into the book. But the more I thought about it, the more I've come around to the idea that the Lego Scooby-Doo characters are really just the regular, original-flavor Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc gang, albeit in Lego-style animated form, rather than traditional 2-D animation.

I also spent a really long time thinking about the third panel on page 18 (although I always spend a long-time thinking about Scooby-Doo, and have since as early in my life as my memories go back), and I've come to the conclusion that Fisch and Jeralds should definitely have included Scooby-Dum in it; any other candidates I can think of, I can also think of reasons to explain excluding them.

Finally, I spent an awful lot of time reading Wikipedia entries on Scooby-Doo while double-checking the dates of the various cartoons, and, in the process, I found out that Scooby-Doo has been appearing in comic books for a lot longer than I knew. In fact, the first Scooby-Doo comics were published in 1969. Gold Key published Scooby comics from 1969-1974, Charlton for 11 issues in 1975, Marvel from 1977-1979, Harvey published a couple of specials in the early '90s, Archie Comics from 1995-1997, and then DC Comics has been publishing them ever since.

I can assume without reading any of the pre-DC ones that there is a certain range of quality to the work which rarely if ever rises above ground-breaking, must-read work—Scooby-Doo is bound by formula after all—but even still, were it possible given the different publishers and creators involved, I sure wouldn't have minded DC putting out some huge Scooby-Doo collection taking some of the best comics from each of those runs, akin to the format of Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years and the other books in that line to follow.

Oh well. Maybe for Scooby's 60th anniversary...

*Waid it, of course, Mark Waid, who is an extremely gifted super-comics writer. The last time I saw him speak in person was at a nearby college, and he revealed one writing strategy of his that he absolutely wouldn't recommend others attempt: Ending an issue on a cliffhanger that even he hasn't yet figured out how to resolve, and then figuring it out as he sat down to script the next issue. Years of practice doing stuff like that likely gave him the skill set he would have needed to resolve Full Circle for everyone else pretty easily, I imagine.

**The faux Disney World is apparently Ferret Land, home to Freddy Ferret and the jolliest place on Earth, which is quite different than being the happiest place on Earth, obviously.
Semi-serious question: Since Disney now owns Marvel Comics, did they even need to use a faux Disney World? Couldn't they have just made the actual Disney World an AIM front? I know the company is famously litigious, but what's it going to do, sue itself...?

***It is later explained that Booster's force field had been tampered with, and was cutting in and out, but not in the first issue.