Saturday, March 30, 2019

DC's June previews reviewed

While I always prefer blank white eyes on my Batmen and Robins over the milky white pupils seen here on Damian, that's a pretty great looking cover by Dan Mora on June's issue of Adventures of The Super Sons.

Quite a lovely variant cover for Aquaman #49 by Joshua Middleton. I'm not sure why that's the variant instead of just the cover. Like, if you have a cover that good on your comic book, do you really need a second one to give readers another choice...?

This is Michael Golden's variant cover for Batman #72 (The regular cover is just David Finch's cover version of Frank Miller's Dark Knight hiding his feet in smoke and gritting his teeth at the viewer). Golden has several pretty nice Batman covers on his resume already, although none of them are really among the more famous Batman covers. There's a lot to like here, aside from the bold, counterintuitive color scheme. I like when Batman's technology looks laughably baroque (remember, I love Kelley Jones), so I really like that all this computer...stuff seems to be built so as to be operated while crouching atop it, as if it were the corner of a skyscraper. I also like how dramatically Batman's hand is poised.

The contents sound like another round of Tom King doing a "greatest hits" story with Bat-villains, and the interior art is by neither Golden nor Finch, so maybe the cover isn't the best for the issue, but it's still a great-looking standalone image.

written by JAMES TYNION IV
variant cover by KEVIN EASTMAN
Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, joins series artist Freddie E. Williams II as guest artist for the second issue of BATMAN/TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III! Krang’s true power has been revealed, and now it’s up to Batman and the Turtles to stop him, but their only hope may lie with the strange, yet familiar, visitor from another world.
ON SALE 06.05.19
$3.99 US | 2 of 6 | 32 PAGES
This issue will ship with two covers.

I'm obviously pretty excited to hear that TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman is finally contributing more to the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossovers--of which this is the fourth one, counting IDW's roman numeral-free one--than just variant covers. By the time this issue ships, DC and IDW will have published something in the neighborhood of 400 pages of Batman/TMNT crossover comics, with zero interior contributions from artists primarily associated with the Turtles...or Batman, for that matter.

Now, I think Freddie Williams is a perfect choice for these, as he draws both sets of characters really well, and his style belongs in the DC Universe without seemingly belonging to it, but, for me at least, the primary pleasure of crossovers like this is seeing the artists primarily associated with one set of characters drawing the other set. Which is why I want to see Kevin Eastman Jim Lawson, and Eric Talbot contributing art to a Batman/TMNT crossover, as well as Kelley Jones and Tim Sale. Maybe Simon Bisley, Michael Zulli, or Dario Brizuela, who are among the few artists to have drawn stories featuring both the TMNT and the Batman at various points in the past.

This is a good start. I sincerely hope the next Batman/TMNT crossover series isn't so interested in the continuity of either franchise--to these crossovers detriment, I think, they have been saddled with linking the current, "Volume 5" version of the TMNT to the current, post-Flashpoint/New 52 Batman in their stories--but some sort of anthology, being more of a crossover between Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or the 1988-1992 period of the main TMNT title, where it was basically an anthology of guest creators with only the occasional contribution from the original creators) and Legends of the Dark Knight (or, better yet, Batman Black and White) than of TMNT and Batman.

Wait, I don't get it. Is Aquaman the new Batman now...?

written by PETER J. TOMASI
art and cover by KYLE HOTZ
Detective Jim Corrigan has been shot on the streets of Gotham City—and the Spectre must reach out to Batman to help him find the secret assassin!
ON SALE 06.26.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

I'm really glad to see Kyle Hotz's name there. He is a really great artist, and a very good fit for these particular characters. I'm looking forward to this one...although, seeing Hotz's name there makes me sort of regret that I didn't start reading this run on Detective serially, rather than waiting for the trade.

It will also be interesting to see how Batman and The Spectre interact in this story. I wasn't terribly fond of the New 52 Spectre's portrayal in Batman Eternal--where it seemed like Jim Corrigan was being written as Jason Blood, only to be switched out for Corrigan/The Spectre too late in the process to re-plot and rewrite the whole story--but DC's continuity has been getting increasingly...mushy since at least DC Comics: Rebirth, and I suspect the Golden Age is coming back as soon as Gary Frank gets done drawing Watchmen II, so, maybe this will be a more traditional version of The Spectre.

He looks a bit more like his old self on Hotz's cover, anyway!

If it's as good as these Batman/Spectre crossovers though, I'll be pleased:

written by SAM HUMPHRIES
art and cover by JOE QUINONES
With the Dial finally secured, and on the run from those who want to control the powerful device that can give anyone the powers of a random superhero, Miguel and Summer head to the old Justice League Detroit headquarters with the hope of finding some help in contacting Superman.
ON SALE 06.26.19
$3.99 US | 4 of 6 | 32 PAGES

Justice League...Detroit...? So, there was a Justice League Detroit in current DCU continuity? But... but... they just introduced a new, New 52 Vibe a few years ago. And Elongated Man is... and Steel...bu--


Could someone just, like, let us know what continuity is supposed to be these days? Because that would be great. You don't have to do another crisis or anything, DC; just a memo saying, like, "Flashpoint/The New 52 was a mistake; we're just pretending that most of it never really happened." Cool?

art and cover by HOWARD PORTER
“The Flash Year One” continues! Things are not looking pretty for the Flash, who just got his scarlet butt handed to him by the Turtle. If Barry Allen thought being a hero was going to be easy, he’d better think again after this beating-—but will it be enough to detour his destiny?
ON SALE 06.12.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

I've always been attracted to the character The Turtle, mostly because I found the concept of "slow" powers confounding The Flash pretty fascinating, even if I've never quite puzzled out how they worked...or read a really good Turtle story (I hope DC does a Rogues anthology featuring stories of him at some point soon though, as I'd be pretty interested in reading that).

art and cover by LIAM SHARP
Green Lantern teams up with Green Arrow to stop a cosmic drug cartel that’s using Earth as its main distribution base! It’s a brilliant homage to the team-ups of old, as Morrison and Sharp do the 2019 version in a story we can only call “Space Junkies!”
ON SALE 06.05.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

"You always have all the answers, Green Arrow! Well, what's your answer to THAT--?"

"That alien is a JUNKIE!"


Green Lantern and Green Arrow are relevant...? Is there a scene where an elderly, blue-skinned humanoid is going to tell Hal Jordan off, "You done considerable for the black skins! Only there's skins you never bothered with...! The blue skins! The orange skins! The purple skins! I want to know... how come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern! Oh, I'm sorry, it's Mr. The Green Lantern now, is it?"

written by MARIKO TAMAKI
art and cover by STEVE PUGH
With just five dollars and a knapsack to her name, 15-year-old Harleen Quinzel is sent to live in Gotham City. She’s not worried, though—she’s battled a lot of hard situations as a kid, and knows her determination and outspokenness will carry her through life in the most dangerous city in the world. And when Gotham’s finest drag queen, Mama, takes her in, it seems like Harley has finally found a place to grow into her most “true true” with new best friend Ivy at Gotham High. But when Mama’s drag cabaret becomes the next victim in the wave of gentrification that’s taking over the neighborhood, Harley’s fortune takes another turn.
Now Harleen is mad. In turning her anger into action, she is faced with two choices: join activist Ivy, who’s campaigning to make the neighborhood a better place to live, or team up with her anarchist friend Joker, who plans to take down Gotham one corporation at a time.
From Eisner Award and Caldecott Honor-winning author Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) and Eisner Award-nominated artist Steve Pugh comes a coming-of-age story about choices, consequences, and how a weird kid from Gotham goes about defining her world for herself.
ON SALE 08.28.19
$16.99 US | 6” x 9” | 208 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-8329-2

I haven't seen a big chunk of artist Steve Pugh's work in a while, so I'm looking forward to this for that reason alone, but I'd like to take this opportunity to say once again that I hate hate hate when comic book artists get an "illustrated by" credit like Pugh does there, while writer Mariko Tamaki's credit isn't similarly qualified. "Illustrated by" suggests this is an illustrated prose novel, not an original graphic novel--it's comics, not illustrated prose, I've since learned--and there's a hell of a lot more to the art half of the comics equation than simply providing illustrations, as all of you know. I see credits like this fairly often, but it seems particularly egregious coming from a long-time comics publisher like DC Comics instead of, say, a new graphic novel imprint of a traditional book publisher, because DC should know better than anyone how much more Pugh is doing here than just illustrating Tamaki's script.

At least their names are similar in size though. Sometimes the writer gets a titanic cover credit, and the artist is all teensy tiny at the bottom, suggesting at first glance that Neil Gaiman or Brad Meltzer or whoever wrote and drew the comics all by themselves.

backup story written by SCOTT SNYDER and JAMES TYNION IV
backup story art by JAVIER FERNANDEZ
variant cover byJIM CHEUNG
The “Sixth Dimension” storyline wraps up in this oversize issue as Superman faces down the World Forger to save the Justice League! Can Superman withstand the might of a being that can create worlds from nothing?! Plus, with the Justice League away, Mr. Mxyzptlk’s been wreaking havoc! Can anyone on Earth stand up to the fifth-dimensional menace?
ON SALE 06.05.19
$4.99 US | 40 PAGES

Have I mentioned before how much I dislike when Green Lanterns--usually Hal Jordan or John Stewart--use their all-powerful magic rings to create guns for themselves? Oh, I have? Like, three dozen times? Well, allow me to do so again.

I don't know if you pay attention to the news or not, but we have something of a gun problem in the United States of America and, it seems to me, maybe regularly featuring one of the "World's Greatest Heroes" running around with one isn't the best way to help that (Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's rated "T+", whatever. These are kids' characters in a kids comic for kids, however you want to parse that). Beyond that, it just demonstrates a lack of imagination on the part of the character...and or the writer and/or the artist.

With the greatest weapon in the universe on his finger, the ability to more or less just wish anything made of matter or energy into existence, his power limited only by his own mind, Green Lantern...makes a gun? The Oan super-weapon is used by John Stewart to conjure up a modified version of 18th century Earth projectile-firing technology...? Man, fuck that.

If that is how Snyder, Cheung and company define John Stewart as a character, the League really oughta consider booting him off the team and recruiting Kyle Rayner in his place. At least that guy's imagination runs beyond guns.

written by ART BALTAZAR and FRANCO
art and cover by ART BALTAZAR
Can Superman keep Smallville from going to the dogs?
Acts of awesomeness are happening around town. People are being rescued, runaway tractors stopped, and fires extinguished. This is all in a day’s work for the hero known only as “Superman.” But who is he, really?
Thirteen-year-old Clark Kent knows. He has a super secret—one his parents are constantly worried will get out. Clark promises to be extra careful, but when random objects begin to take flight and disappear, his parents threaten to ground him. Except he’s innocent! If Superman isn’t responsible…who is? Join Clark in this hilarious adventure as he sniffs out the real culprit.
From New York Times bestselling and Eisner Award-winning creators Art Baltazar and Franco comes a fun, whimsical story featuring young Lana Lang, Lex Luthor, and of course, Clark Kent.
ON SALE 08.28.19
$9.99 US | 5.5” x 8” | 144 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-8392-6

Yes, please.

written by FRANK MILLER
From the burning world of Krypton to the bucolic fields of Kansas, the first chapter of SUPERMAN YEAR ONE tracks Clark Kent’s youth in Kansas, as he comes to terms with his strange powers and struggles to find his place in our world. DC BLACK LABEL is proud to present the definitive origin of Superman as rendered by the legendary comics creators Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.!
ON SALE 06.19.19
$7.99 US | 1 of 3 | 64 PAGES
FC | APPROX. 8.5“ x 10.875” MATURE READERS

Oh God, is it really time for another new origin story for Superman...? Didn't we just do that, like, last year? This one is a "Black Label" comic, though, so I'm not entirely sure what that means, in terms of whether or not it's meant to be read as canon or not. So far, the only original "Black Label" comic I've read has only differed from other DCU comics in that the hero got his cock out in a couple of panels. Other, older comics have been retroactively labeled with the black "Black Label" label, and they all seem to be out-of-continuity stories. On the other hand, this solicitation does say "the definitive origin," so maybe it is the official definitive origin of least for a year or two, when DC does their next Superman origin story.

I think John Romita Jr's art is a pretty good match for Frank Miller's style, so, in addition to seeing how canonical this ends up being--that is, will it immediately go the way of All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder?--I'm quite curious to see how the Miller/JRJR collaboration turns out (By the way, Miller and JRJR...? Two more DC creators who I would really like to see draw the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even if only for a cover or pin-up...although given Miller's influence on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's original comic, I think a Miller/Eastman collaboration could be something pretty special).

written by JUDD WINICK
After the events of INFINITE CRISIS, the world is in magical turmoil! Billy Batson now sits in the Wizard’s chair at the Rock of Eternity—and with the rest of his magical family powerless, a new champion must emerge to claim the mantle of Shazam! Collects the entire 12-issue TRIALS OF SHAZAM! series in one volume for the first time.
ON SALE 07.10.19
$24.99 US | 312 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9229-4

If I am remembering correctly--and I may not be!--this was DC's attempt to rejigger their Captain Marvel/Shazam concept following Infinite Crisis. With the Wizard Shazam re-killed and the Rock of Eternity destroyed in the lead-up to Geoff Johns' Infinite Crisis story, Billy Batson stopped calling himself "Captain Marvel," grew his hair out and started wearing white so he could take the Wizard's place as...Marvel. Not Shazam, but Marvel. The name Shazam, then, was to go the new Champion, Freddie Freeman, the former Captain Marvel Jr, who had to through some trials or whatever to earn his powers, a quest he was racing against a would-be usurper. I read the first issue, and my brain more or less just short-circuited with the inanity of it all. This was one of several attempts to fix what was never, ever broken--which DC Comics is continuing to do with the current Shazam series (although the first issue of that series was better than the first issue of this series).

If you have to read a no-long releveant or canonical Captain Marvel comic, you might as well do Jeff Smith's Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil. That's got some pretty swell artwork in it. (Not that I don't like Porter's work, it's just that Porter is no Jeff Smith.)

These are the two covers for June's issue of Young Justice. I just wanted to note the first because, for a few seconds there I thought Wonder Girl was Supergirl, and then realized perhaps why Cassandra Sandsmark usually wears a red top instead of a blue top. DC just has so dang many blonde teenage superheroines! The other one I wanted to note just in that it is awesome. That one is by Ramon Villalobos, and it is fantastic. DC should put that guy on interiors for a high-profile super-book--hell, maybe this one!--ASAP.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Marvel's June previews reviewed

The realms just keep on warring. I hope the comics market is lapping those books up, for Marvel's sake, because they sure are publishing a lot of them. By my count, Marvel has 83 original comic books (that is, not counting reprints) slated for release in June of this year, and of those, 23 are issues of War of The Realms, special War of The Realms miniseries or War of The Realms tie-in issues of their regular, ongoing series. So, you know, about a quarter of their total output. That seems like a lot. Is that a lot? I think that's a lot.

For a reader like me, it seems like way too many, as the bigger the event, the more limited series that tie into it, the harder it is for me to wrap my head around it and read it in a satisfying chunk. For example, I just read an Infinity Wars collection recently, which included the six-issue core miniseries and four supposedly relevant one-shot issues (Infinity Wars: Prime #1, Infinity Wars: Fallen Guardian #1, Infinity Wars: Infinity #1 and Thanos Legacy #1), and I found it quite wanting.

It wasn't exactly poorly made in general, although there were some remarkably rough patches for a book of its relative importance in the direct market, but it did seem extremely small and, occasionally, claustrophobic for a book I knew pretty much commandeered a significant chunk of Marvel's line for months and months. The parts that seemed most interesting--those starring the "Infinity Warps" characters--were extremely limited, although I know many of those characters had their own miniseries that were published alongside the main story.

Maybe there just isn't a good way to read these things in trade collection, and the only way to really experience them is to read them as they are being released, on a week by week basis. That's certainly the way I experienced all the big superhero crossover events I read in my youth, which remain the ones I like the best. I don't recall having such a problem with Marvel's earlier crossovers though; even as recently as Age of Ultron or Fear Itself they seemed limited to a main series, an optional secondary series and a handful of tie-ins in the regular line, and less...ridiculous in their page-counts and packaging. Like, skimming through the portion of the solicits devoted to these twenty-three books, it was difficult to get a sense of which were the most important ones, after War of The Realms proper.

But then, maybe that's the advantage of reading them as they are published, in their comic book format, rather than waiting for trades. That way you can maybe see house ads or checklists explaining things to you, or as your local comic book shopkeep to make suggestions or rank them in importance to follow the story or whatever.

I do like that Arthur Adams cover there, though. I particularly like how the Marvel heroes look like a bunch of action figures posed almost as if they were on a toy collector's shelf, which is, in a way, what is fun about these stories, wherein a particular writer and an artist or or two or six or 26 get to play with all Marvel's toys while you watch.

I feel particularly daunted by this particular crossover event series though because, as I mentioned before, I know writer Jason Aaron has been writing various Thor comics for, like, many years now, and I've read one, maybe two collections of that run, so I feel extremely ill-equipped to be able to make sense of this (Like, I still don't know what Nick Fury Sr. whispered to Thor to make him unworthy, or how Thor got a new arm, or why he has multiple hammers now, and what Jane Foster's deal is).

This month's variant cover theme seems to be inspired by the 25th anniversary of the publication of Marvels, and thus we get a whole lot of covers featuring random moments of particular significance from the throughout the first 55 years or so of Marvel history. This means a lot of Fantastic Four and Galactus, really, but based on what appears in the solicitations, these are mostly rather fun, with contributions from artists not as known for this sort of thing as, say, Alex Ross, the Marvels artist who has his own Marvels homage covers to contribute.

The final battle for Midgard! Captain Marvel leads the War Avengers! Hulk battles Ulik! Blade takes on the Black Berserkers of Roxxon! Plus: Daredevil the God Without Fear has a cryptic message that will decide the future of the team.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I've been rather enjoying Jason Aaron's Avengers run in trade so far--I just read the second volume last week--and I hope this War of The Realms business doesn't completely derail it, or make whichever collection of the series contains the tie-in issues completely unintelligible. Since Aaron is writing both War of The Realms and Avengers, I have hope that the issues of the latter will fit into the mega-narrative the former necessitates nicely, and that they will make some semblance of sense even to readers who aren't up-to-date on the goings-on in Thor and the dozens of War of The Realms books.

The Dark Elf King Malekith and his allies have conquered Earth! At least, they THINK they have — and they’ve divided the spoils accordingly, with the Enchantress raising an army of the dead and staking her claim on South America. But if the Enchantress is expecting a royal welcome, she’s forgotten what she’s dealing with — Earth isn’t going down without a fight. And as Captain Marvel leads DOCTOR STRANGE and BLACK WIDOW into the land of the dead, nothing about this mission will be what our heroes expect.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

You know, I can't recall ever seeing an hourglass-filling-with-blood image on the cover of a comic book (or the cover of a prose novel, or a movie poster) before, and that strikes me as odd, given how relatively obvious an image it would seem to be on comics covers (or novel covers, or movie posters). So good job coming up with a striking image that seems super-obvious in retrospect, but doesn't ever seem to have been used, or else not used all that often, Amanda Conner!

That's Nick Bradshaw's cover for Conan The Barbarian #7. It's such an exciting cover that even the human skull disturbed by the barbarian's battle withe bat monster appears to be screaming. I like Bradshaw's work a lot; it looks a lot like Adams', and a bit like Ed McGuinness, and is pretty much perfect for comic book superheroes. Or, you know, barbarians.

Celebrate 80 years of Marvel Comics, decade by decade — with high-profile stories that sparked a media frenzy in the tumultuous 2000s! The House of Ideas garnered mainstream attention like never before, introducing a new Ultimate universe for the next generation of readers! Telling the story everyone said could never be told: the origin of Wolverine! And revealing hidden secrets of the program that produced Captain America! Red-hot creator Joss Whedon revamped the X-Men, while CIVIL WAR led to Spider-Man’s secret identity going public — and Captain America’s shocking death! Plus: Living legends meet when Spider-Man teams up with President Barack Obama! Collecting ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN (2000) #1; WOLVERINE: THE ORIGIN #2; THE ULTIMATES (2002) #1; TRUTH: RED, WHITE & BLACK #1; ASTONISHING X-MEN (2004) #1; CIVIL WAR (2006) #2; CAPTAIN AMERICA (2004) #25; and material from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1999) #583.
232 PGS./Rated T+ …$24.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91791-3

This is the penultimate volume of Marvel's Decades series, and the first of them in which I believe I have actually read all of the contents. That makes sense, of course, as this is the decade in which I started reading Marvel comics, as well as the fact that the organizing principle of this particular volume is that it contains particular issues and stories that were big enough deals that they tended to be picked up on and covered by the non-comics, mainstream media as well.

I was quite curious about this volume (and the next one) because I was curious about the contents, and I wondered how Marvel would curate the book. Now that I know, an I know that I've read all of these in their original context--and so, I imagine, have the majority of you--I'm still interested in reading the book, if only to see how these particular comics all read when put together like this, divorced from the pages that would precede and follow them in their mostly readily available trade collections, and playing off of one another (If I am recalling them correctly, some of these don't read well at all by themselves, given the pacing of their stories; I'm thinking of Ultimate Spider-Man #1 and Wolverine: The Origin in particular, although I don't recall Whedon's X-Men being much of a read on an issue by issue basis, either).

I can't quibble with any of the inclusions really, aside from maybe the first issue of Whedon's Astonishing X-Men. Certainly getting Whedon to write the X-Men was a pretty big deal, and John Cassaday's artwork and subtle redesigns of some of those characters was somewhat influential, but certainly Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's New X-Men #1 was a far, far bigger and more influential deal, wasn't it...? Not only was a longer and more important run--wasn't Whedon's essentially just a 12-issue, two-arc maxi-series?--but Morrison and Quitely's run pretty obviously inspired Whedon's. After all, Emma Frost is on his line-up, which was basically just that of New X-Men...

Anyway, reading that list of comics reminded me of all the various Internet flare-ups and outrages that accompanied some of those comics, and made me wonder if there were other comics that could have met the "hitting the headlines" criteria that Marvel itself might not have picked? Comics that garnered widespread, non-comics media attention for reasons Marvel didn't expect? I'm sort of drawing a blank now, but I suspect there were many different comics that could fill this book up.

Certainly one could imagine a DECADES: MARVEL IN THE ’00S – COURTING CONTROVERSY collection...

Cover by WOO CHEOL
Moonstone’s army of primordial Frost Giants is gaining in number with every passing moment. Only Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath and Atlas can stop them! But an unseen enemy is about to get in their way… CAN YOU GUESS THE IDENTITY OF THE MOLE?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Hmm, is it Moleman...? That would always be my first guess as to the identity of any mole in the Marvel Universe.

While I'd much prefer seeing him drawing monsters interacting with ladies, Arthur Adams draws the fuck out of Marvel superheroes, doesn't he? This seems like a pretty elegant way to fit all three of these characters into a single, compelling image while also all being "themselves", rather than it just being a generic three-characters-posing cover. This is for Marvel Comics Presents #6, by the way, and it is apparently an issue devoted to Marvell characters who were big in the '90s.

I don't really associate Deadpool with that time period, although I guess that is where he came from. It just seems to me I didn't see him radiating out of Marvel comics and appearing elsewhere in the way that Wolverine, The Punisher, Ghost Rider and even Cable were at the time. Also, he seemed to reach peak popularity this decade, but then, I can't really see Frank Castle posing on Ghost Rider's bike like that, or sitting behind Wolverine. Maybe in a sidecar, provided the sidecar had a machine gun mounted on it...

I've only read a handful of Ghost Rider comics featuring Danny Ketch, so I don't know if his bike always had a human rib cage behind the front wheel or not, but it looks kinda cool...

Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel both wanted a change of pace...or so they thought. Will things ever get back to normal? Will they defeat the Jackal? And where is Pete’s old friend Dr. Rosario, anyway?!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I find stretchy powers to be among the most visually interesting of all super-powers (please consult any and all Golden Age Plastic Man archives you can find at your local library for a strong argument that they may be the most visually interesting of all super-powers), but goodness gracious does Spider-Man ever look weird and band and wrong with stretchy limbs. Yikes.

I suppose that's the point though, huh? Props to any and every artist who has to draw a stretchy Spidey. That costume is a pain-in-the-ass to draw under the best circumstances; I imagine it's only more trying when the amount of red webbing design on it is increased by the character stretching.

You know him as the 1990s superstar who transformed the New Mutants into X-Force and co-created Cable and Deadpool — but Rob Liefeld also left his mark on the wider Marvel Universe! Now these adventures featuring Liefeld’s all-action plots and artwork are collected in a single, high-octane Omnibus! Relive his revolutionary reimaginings of Captain America and the Avengers in the world of Heroes Reborn — and its blockbuster sequel ONSLAUGHT REBORN! Early Liefeld artwork featuring the X-Men, X-Factor, Spider-Man and the Black Widow! A savage Wolverine vs. Deadpool showdown! And more! Collecting X-FACTOR (1986) #40, UNCANNY X-MEN (1981) #245, WHAT IF? (1989) #7, CAPTAIN AMERICA (1996) #1-6, AVENGERS (1996) #1-7, WOLVERINE (1988) #154-157 and ONSLAUGHT REBORN #1-5 — plus material from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #23; MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS (1988) #51-53, #85-86 and #99; and HEROES REBORN #1/2.
856 PGS./Rated T+ ...$100.00

My initial reaction to this image was surprise that Liefeld's infamous drawing of Captain America, perhaps the single most-mocked image he has ever created, appeared right there on the cover of this $100 omnibus. But then I looked closer, and googled the original, and I see that this is a newer, more tame version of the totally insane one the Internet has had so much fun making fun of over the  years.

A radical reinvention of Namor the Sub-Mariner by two comics legends! First, John Byrne writes and draws the iconic hero as Namor enters the cutthroat world of corporate intrigue! The Sub-Mariner faces the subtle threat of the diabolical Marrs twins, stands trial for his attacks on New York…and gets beheaded?! Namor reforges alliances with old friends the Invaders, battles long-forgotten foes from World War II and unravels the mystery behind the resurrection of Iron Fist! Then — as Jae Lee takes the artistic reins, crafting dark and moody visuals — Namor confronts Doctor Doom and Master Khan, struggles to regain his memory and returns to Atlantis to face a foe unlike any other! Collecting NAMOR THE SUB-MARINER #1-40 and ANNUAL #1-2, plus material from INCREDIBLE HULK ANNUAL #18, SILVER SURFER ANNUAL #5 and DOCTOR STRANGE, SORCERER SUPREME ANNUAL #2.
1192 PGS./Rated T …$125.00
ISBN: 978-1-302-91966-5
Trim size: oversized

I was about to ask if this was something that I, as a casual fan of the character, should invest in or not, but then I saw the page count and price tag, which answered my question for me.

Go whole hog with the Spectacular Spider-Ham’s animal antics! What started as a porcine parody one-shot soon became a hilarious ongoing series full of anthropomorphized adventurers! Peter Porker is a photographer for J. Jonah Jackal’s Daily Beagle — but when danger strikes, he fights crime alongside hirsute heroes such as Hulk Bunny, Captain Americat and the Fantastic Fur! Can Spider-Ham triumph over fearsome foes like Ducktor Doom, Bull-Frog, the King-Pig and the Bee-yonder — while keeping the young Beagle Brigadiers out of trouble and still managing to bring home the bacon? Plus: Thrr, Dog of Thunder stars in “Tails of Arfgard”! Here comes Deerdevil, Mammal Without Fear! Nick Furry, Agent of S.H.E.E.P.! Goose Rider! The invincible Iron Mouse! Croak and Badger! The astonishing Ant-Ant! And more zoological puns! Collecting MARVEL TAILS #1 and PETER PORKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-HAM #1-17.
424 PGS./All Ages …$39.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91843-9

Well, it's about goddam time. Into the Spider-Verse was released in December, the DVD just came out, and Marvel's not planning on having any real Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham content available until June? Yeesh. They didn't think there might be a pretty good chance that the funny cartoon pig who is also Spider-Man might be a character that kids might want to read more about after seeing a movie featuring him? In addition to this 400-page, $40 collection--which doesn't exactly seem like the most kid-friendly format--Marvel also has a $1, "True Believers" reprint featuring PPTSSH slated for June release, and the porcine arachnid will also be featured in that month's Amazing Spider-Man annual. Better late than never, I guess...?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG (W) • Szymon Kudranski (A)
• Baron Zemo’s plans are revealed to be even more sinister than believed.
• As Frank and Zemo’s war extends beyond Bagalia, the stakes get higher and the clock is ticking.
• What lines will Frank cross to stop Zemo?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Is it just me, or does that Punisher look a lot like Dolph Lundgren's Punisher...? But, like, if the Dolph Lundgren of today were playing The Punisher, rather than the Dolph Lundren of the late 1980s...?

• The Hand has teamed up with the evil wizards of the Hyborian Age to summon a death god from a celestial hell.
• The only thing standing between Earth and destruction is the Savage Avengers: Conan, Wolverine, Punisher and Voodoo.
• Plus: Logan donates blood, changing one Avenger forever. And Conan discovers a dark secret squirming in a genie bottle.
• Your new favorite ongoing series is knives out in its second chapter.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Wait, when they say that Logan donates blood, changing one Avenger forever, I certainly hope they just mean something along the lines of his selfless act saves the life of The Punisher, who is forever filled with gratitude and promises to stop shooting Wolverine when they fight each other, or that Wolverine feel so fulfilled after donating blood that he devotes himself to donating blood regularly and organizing blood drives, and not just spilling the blood of his enemies with his claws. Something like that and not, say, The Punisher or Voodoo suddenly get a healing factor from Wolvie's blood because, um, that's not how that works. I mean, yes, it worked for Jen Walters, but I am guessing that had something to do with gamma radiation, and not just because the attributes of a person are present in their blood, and thus receiving their blood grants you the same attributes.

Spinning out of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1, almost the entire galaxy’s defenders have been blown through a black hole, including the Silver Surfer! But the story doesn’t end there… In order to fight back the oblivion, Surfer will have to fight to save his own soul and not lose himself to the void. Follow the Sentinel of the Spaceways on a journey that will change him forever!
From superstars Donny Cates (VENOM, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and Tradd Moore (ALL-NEW GHOST RIDER, VENOM)!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I'm not much of a fan of this particular character--at least, not when he's not fighting alongside or bickering with the rest of the Defenders--but Tradd Moore is a really great artist, and seems like he will make a fine fit for this particular character and concept, which lends itself to artists with highly distinct styles and a penchant for drawing weird stuff. This will be a series to keep an eye on, I'm sure.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: February 2019


Archie #702 (Archie Comics) It's disappointing to see that artist Marguerite Sauvage seems to be on the way out already, as her presence on the title alongside writer Nick Spencer was a large part of the reason that I decided to keep reading Archie in singles rather than switching to trade when it last relaunched/resumed the previous numbering conventions. This is only the third issue in, and she seems to have only drawn the cover and the first four pages.

Luckily, Sandy Jarrell draws the remaining 16 pages, and Jarrell is also a pretty great artist, especially skilled at the drawing of pretty girls (click here, if you don't believe; he also does great Golden Age DC heroes). He also seems to be following Sauvage's lead and making every guy in Riverdale a total hunk. It was surprising enough to see Jughead looking hunky, but in this issue, Dilton Doiley briefly enters the narrative, and even he's dreamy now!

Matt Herms, who colors the Jarrell-drawn pages, matches the colors on Sauvage's pages so well that the art blends pretty perfectly. Before writing this, I actually had to go back and count the pages to see when Jarrell took over, because the transition was somewhat subtle when I originally read the comic. (Although the credit page says who drew which page, I see now; I skipped that page the first, um, two times I read the book, I guess.)

As for Spencer's story, Jughead continues his investigation into what's up with the Mantles, the police continue their investigation into Jughead and the Mantles and Betty and Veronica continue their investigation into who on Earth Archie might actually be dating. They never suspect Sabrina, but do inadvertently discover a very unexpected infidelity (Hopefully that's not the end of that plot point, though, as it seems to be a rather big deal, even if it's not apparently tied to the main story line).

Black Lightning: Brick City Blues (DC Comics) I don't keep up with superhero TV shows--I have a hard enough time keeping up with superhero comics and superhero movies--but I do appreciate their existence, as they seem to exert a great deal of influence on what comics the superhero publishers decide to collect into trade paperback. This is a perfect example. I'm not sure what the chances would have been of DC collecting the short-lived, 13-issue 1995-1996 Black Lightning series if the Black Lightning TV show weren't a thing, but I'm sure that the show's existence was a pretty big factor.

The series launched with the character's co-creator Tony Isabella writing and Eddy Newell drawing, but their run lasted just eight of the 13 issues; with issue #9, David DeVries took over as writer (co-writing that issue with Lane Shiro, then going solo for the remaining four issues) and the art started to get messier and messier, as more and more artists got involved. Newell was still drawing parts of many of those issues, but by this point, the unified look and feel of the book that Newell's early issues established was lost.

Despite some affection for the character, I sat this series out. The only issues of the series I had previously read were the first and fifth, which I had snagged from back-issue bins, attracted by Newell's striking covers (his cover for the first issue was recolored and then re-purposed for the collection cover above; the fifth one is below). Re-reading it in 2019, I rather regret not reading it previously.
Isabella's foreword, "Black Lightning Strikes Twice," reveals that the setting of the book was Cleveland, Ohio, which, for about 30-ish of my 40-ish years was the nearest big city. Had I known that the book was set in Cleveland, I definitely would have checked it out back in the day (Isabella and Newell, by the way, are also both from Ohio). The official setting was a place called Brick City, which I always assumed was just one of those fake cities of the DC Universe, like Gotham, Metropolis, Vanity and so on. But I guess that was the nickname for a neighborhood in Cleveland; throughout his run, Isabella differentiated "The Brick City" from "The Big City," meaning the economically impoverished inner city where Black Lightning and all the drug gangs he fought lived, and the downtown area, where the mayor and the powerful folks lived in.

I guess there were clues throughout. There's mention of a lake, and Brick City being a midwestern town free from costumed heroes and supervillains, and late in the book there's mention of a fancy club for rich and powerful men; it's called The Buckeye Club. I understand the appeal of "fake" cities in superhero narratives, both as a reader and as a writer, but I think I'd recommend to any and all future writers that they just go ahead and use real cities. It certainly helps sell certain comics, or at least generate general interest stories in local media and/or on social media. I still get excited when I see a Columbus location show up in a comic book, like Civil War II or in that JSA book where Geoff Johns had super-Nazis attack a park in Franklin County. Didn't the Internet tell me somewhere that the "Art" sign at the Columbus College of Art and Design was destroyed in a super-comic recently...? Maybe a Bendis-written Superman book...?

Speaking of Bendis, now I really, really, reeeaaaalllllly want DC to launch a new Black Lightning comic, with Bendis, one of Cleveland's most famous comic book writers (even though he has since moved to the Pacific Northwest) writing it. I'd settle for Bryan K. Vaughan, but Bendis seems like an easier "get," since he's already writing for DC Comics, and can apparently handle anywhere between three and a dozen books a month.

Anyway, I'm way off topic, aren't I...?

Newell's work on this series is quite incredible, and really makes the book. He has a very distinct, realistic, line-filled style that gives a real weight, texture and grit to what he draws. It's perfect for the brick walls, concrete streets and rough fabrics of the world created in these pages. As Isabella notes in his foreword, Newell excels at drawing different characters as different people, rather than resorting to stock "types" of characters--I honestly don't think any two characters look a like in his pages--and the result is a superhero comic that feels more real and lived-in than most, even once you take into account the fact that the lead character generates a field of electricity around him.

And Newell's version of that character is probably the best version; at least the best since Tevor Von Eeden and company were drawing him during his original comic, but that character's costume was...well, it sure didn't age well, did it...?

Newell's Black Lightning doesn't wear a mask attached to an afro wig and disco-looking superhero duds, nor does he wear body paint-tight spandex and goggles spirit-gummed to his face. Rather, he costume is basically a big, leather jacket with a lightning motif, pants, boots and a belt. Aside from the jacket design, it looks like something you could buy off the rack, and wouldn't need a super-butler with an unlimited budget to put together for you.

I was a little surprised by the presence of the red in the costume, honestly, as blue has been has been the traditional Black Lightning color for all but this period in the character's history--usually mixed with white, yellow and black in varying degrees and places--but it works really well. It certainly signaled a break with the "old" Black Lightning and, now, differentiates him from the later Black Lightnings. I particularly appreciated the fact that a black lightning bolt is so prominently featured in the costume. That is one of the weird bugaboos about Black Lightning that has bothered me endlessly (the other is the color of the electricity he generates; as I've said before, I really think that at this point it should either be colored black, retroactively justifying his name now that we're so far away from the 1970s, or at least purplish, like the color generated by a black light).

He doesn't wear a mask, but he doesn't need too. As Newell draws him, his eyes are always illuminated by electricity, giving him a sort of built-in energy mask. He also usually has a visible halo of electricity crackling around him, which one imagines would further disguise him if one were to look at him "in comic"; it's also just a really cool visual effect, and one that explains things like how he can take bullets or stop a speeding car that runs into him. I like that this Black Lightning doesn't just shoot lightning bolts out of his fingers, but is constantly generating electricity.

Isabella's storytelling is pretty strong here, and I was hooked on this a lot faster than I was on the recent Cold Dead Hands miniseries, which I only read the first issue of, but plan to try again in trade after having read this trade. He has Jefferson Pierce come to the Brick City and start working as a teacher in an inner city school plagued with gang problems (you know, like in the movies), while fighting street-level crime with threats, fists and electricity.

Isabella immediately establishes a wide supporting cast, including a sympathetic police detective, a practically omniscient informant, a corrupt mayor (oh, I guess that's a reason not to use real cities in your comics...!), a new love interest, Jefferson's ex-wife, a good kid mixed up in gang trouble who crosses paths with both Black Lightning and Jefferson Pierce and a charismatic gang leader with a terrible haircut, that is still noteworthy for its thematic terribleness.

The first half of the Isabella/Newell run is devoted to introducing all of these characters and their various conflicts, as Black Lightning inserts himself in a gang war and witnesses the price of drug and gun violence way too closely for comfort; this arc climaxes with the fifth issue, "Requiem," in which Jefferson Pierce recovers from his wounds in a hospital...and Newell switches back and forth from black and white art to colored art. Newell's work looks amazing in black and white (After reading this and spending some time on his Facebook page, I started wishing DC would have him do a black-and-white Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. Because of course whenever I think of black-and-white art, I think of the TMNT).

After that, there are three issues or so devoted to a gang summit in the Brick City, lead by a reformed gang-leader that Metropolis vigilante Gangbuster wants to kill, leading to the usual justice vs. vengeance conflict between vigilantes (this story features a couple of shape-shifters in it near the climax, making it a more superhero-y than the previous arc, which did have a metahuman enforcer hired by one of the gangs, but, like Black Lightning, his powers were relatively low-level in the world of DC superheroes).

After Isabella leaves, DeVries keeps the cast, most of the sub-plots and new characters, and the street-level focus. In addition to fighting gang violence, Black Lightning faces a serial killer who preys on prostitutes named "Sick Nick" while he himself is pursued by the police for crimes he didn't commit. In the final issue, which ties up most of the remaining loose ends, Batman shows up to basically cheerlead for Jefferson. A holiday special by Isabella and Newell, told all in black and white, finishes up the collection.

All in all, it was a pretty satisfying read, and one I fairly flew through. The character is currently appearing in the new latest version of Batman and The Outsiders, and I do hope the creators take in this trade paperback collection for a fine template for how to depict Black Lightning. And if he gets his own book again any time soon, I hope Newell's drawing it, and Jeff wears this costume, or something similar.

Dinosaucers: Vol. 1: Reptilon (Lion Forge) This trade paperback collects the five-issue series that launched in August of last year--the first issue of which I discussed at some length in this post, if you're interested--rebooting the characters and concept of the 1987 cartoon series for a new, "PG-13" take. At least, that was what creator, original cartoon series producer and writer of this series Michael Uslan says he was going for in his prose introduction, which ran in the first issue and is re-run here.

I had read the first two of these in singles before losing track of the series--that's easy to do with Lion Forge comics, I've found. Like, I'm not even sure if this was meant to be a miniseries or an ongoing; if the former, it's certainly open-ended and intended to produce a sequel. Read in one sitting, there's a rushed, not-quite-there feel to the book. While Uslan writes all five issues, the art gets pretty inconsistent about halfway through. Andrew Pepoy, who is credited as "illustrator," is the primary artist, but by the third issue pencillers Javier Saltares, Gordon Purcell and "Moy R" show up, as do three inkers, in addition to  Moy R, who is also credited as an inker. There's even a different letterer for the third issue than for the other four issues.

Normally, such credits would suggest an unforseen time crunch, and a need to beat the deadline in order to get a particular issue published by a particular point, but ideally such crunches shouldn't occur almost immediately into the run of a new comic. Dinosaucers fans waited over 20 years for a Dinosaucers comic; surely they could have waited a few more months until Lion Forge and the creators had all their duckbills in a row in order to get each issue out on time and in a consistent style.

This early in a run, consistent art and design is pretty much imperative, especially here, where the cast is quite large and visually unusual; not only are all of the characters radically redesigned from their appearance in the cartoon, but they are now more human-like than dinosaurian, and their designs are more up-to-date with paleontologist's views of what dinosaurs probably looked like. So more proto-feathers, then. Beyond the inconsistency of the look of the later chapters with the first ones, the action at the climax lacks clarity. The Tyrannos are somewhat easily defeated after being goaded into a conflict, and the manner in which they are defeated revolves around an element of their suits, which isn't clear in the way their suits are drawn or in the action supposedly showing the manipulation of them.

The basic Dinosaucers concept is intact, and the mixture of aliens and dinosaurs is just as engaging as it ever was. The emphasis on climate change as an apocalyptic threat that has doomed the Dinosaucers' home planet of Reptilon and now threatens Earth with the same fate is noble, and pretty effectively communicated while tied to dinosaur-humans as symbols of extinction.

It's really just the execution that is wanting.

I'd read a second volume, though, and the set-up for such a potential secondvolume is intriguing, offering something that I don't think was ever really shown on the show. Or, if it was, I don't remember it, but then, as I mentioned in my review of the first issue, Dinosaucers wasn't a show I watched regularly, which was part of the reason I found it so appealing.

Go-Bots #4 (IDW Publishing) With last issue's last-page reveal of its setting--you read it, right? Because I'm going to reveal it here, which might spoil it--the four human astronauts aboard Go-Bot space shuttle Spay-C begin to explore the post-apocalyptic Earth alongside their new allies, Turbo and Scooter. We see "modern" humanity, which is in the same state it is in during the original Planet of the Apes movie (to which Go-Bots owes some of the structure of last issue, at least in terms of its reveal), and various players from the first issues interact with one another and a "new" form of Go-Bots, the Rock Lords.

There's some powerful imagery in here, as when Cy-Kill picks up a handful of naked in humans in his huge metal hands and tries to force them to transform and combine into a bigger, gestalt form--it's a giant, evil toy playing with humanity in the same way a human child might have played with a Go-bot, and it's scary stuff. If anything, this series has made Cy-Kill seem some hundred thousand times scarier than Megatron has ever been.

There's some strange mysticism that echoes that in Tom Scioli's own Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, as Leader-1 has visions, including a revelation of a combining, gestalt Go-Bot, a mythical "laser lance" weapon capable of killing the Renegads' monstrous, wheeled dragon Zod and a climactic battle in which the "dragon" is slain by our hero, who loses his life in the process.

Leader-1 isn't the only one to die--or "die"--here. Spay-C doesn't survive the issue, either, and Turbo refers to him as, well, him rather than her. I could have sworn Spay-C was a female Go-Bot, but man, it's been a long time since I've watched and forgotten Challenge of The Go-Bots, and I don't want to re-subject myself to it again any time soon (I'm currently struggling with The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, in order to better appreciate the latest original Scooby-Doo movie, The Curse of the 13th Ghost, and it is rough going). Also, Spay-C's size seems quite flexible, as does that of several of the other Go-Bots (Like, scooters and motorcycles are significantly smaller than race cars, jet planes and helicopters, but, in their robot forms, everyone is generally the same size here; last issue, Spay-C fit all four astronauts in his/her body, but here she/he is only about ten times as big as one of them).

As with the first three issues of the series, Go-Bots #4 is pretty insane...and insanely good.

Justice League #17 (DC) Scott Snyder returns to full writing and scripting duties after an arc co-written with James Tynion IV, and the series' occasional artist Jim Cheung draws an entire issue, after an arc in which he drew just a couple of pages per issue (Walden Wong and Mark Morales assist Cheung on inks). This is a quieter, done-in-one issue with a very limited cast. It is essentially just Martian Manhunter and Lex Luthor (and special guest-star Jarro), with other Leaguers and Legionnaires only appearing on the penultimate page.

Exploring plot points raised in the previous arc, this issue finds Luthor visiting J'onn on Mars, where the latter tries to explain the time when their childhoods overlapped, something that both of them had wiped from their memories in different ways, and which J'onn just learned of. They also deal with some hostile local martian fauna, which whoever writes the dumb cover blurbs was super-excited about. That gives them something action-y to do between conversation and flashbacks, but it certainly isn't the focus of the issue that it is made out to be.

As per usual, Snyder crafts a pretty great story, weaving invented Martian cultural elements into the story in such a way to provide it a structure and make the emotional beats feel more effective.

I remain a little confused about how J'onn's powers are meant to work now. Luthor seems to block his ability to telepathically enter his mind via technology in this issue, but that also renders J'onn powerless, although it's not explained why or how. My guess is that Snyder is implying that J'onn's powers are all tied into his psychic abilities, and that therefore by blocking that, J'onn can no longer control his many other abilities, like super-strength, flight, his density, Martian vision, et cetera. I'm just no-prizing here, and it seems to be a break from what's come before.

Of course, this never-previously-revealed meeting between the two characters when they were children also upends what we might think of as J'onn's history, as post-Crisis/pre-Flashpoint, the Chase and Martian Manhunter series showed us a J'onn who was active on earth in different identities before baby Kal-El arrived on Earth in his baby rocket, fighting crime as The Bronze Wraith with the Justice Experience, teaming up with Hal Jordan's Green Lantern Corps predecessor Abin Sur, and watching over Clark Kent as his Kryptonian powers began to emerge (in fact, that last bit was just referenced in a typically allusion-buttressed Steve Orlando contribution to DC's Nuclear Winter Special, although that was meant to be a story within a story, and is therefore probably ranked below Justice League in terms of authority). In other words, J'onn should be much, much, much older than Lex Luthor. Or, at least, he was prior to Flashpoint; now anything goes.

I liked the manner in which J'onn carried Jarro in this story. But then, I'm rather enamored of all things Jarro.

Justice League #18 (DC) And back to Tynion for yet another "Legion of Doom" issue, this one drawn by Pasqual Ferry. This chapter, labeled within as "Part 4" of the "Legion" arc, examines the latest iteration of the Brainiac-Lex Luthor team-up, with the alien almost immediately betraying Luthor as soon as the two are sharing head-space, beneath the watchful but oblivious eyes of Gorilla Grodd, Sinestro and The Cheetah. Luthor attempts to convince Brainiac just how much he needs him, and the two of them essentially Ghost of Christmas Past through the entire history of "the doorknob", which includes hundreds of thousands of years of Vandal Savage' care of and study of it, often through intermediaries, the final one of which is Luthor's own father.

The sequence leads to cameo appearances by lots of DC characters, like Arion, George Perez's design of Ares, Morgan La Faye (and Jason Blood, I think?), Ra's al Ghul, The Ultra-Humanite and The Turtle.

There's also a panel in which Lionel Luthor appears to be dissecting a rather large White martian, and there's a gorilla just kinda hanging out in the room with him, apparently acting as a high-tech lab assistant of some kind. I don't know who this gorilla is supposed to be, but it's definitely not Grodd--we've already seen him and Ferry draws this gorilla quite differently. Any guesses as to who this gorilla is supposed to be? Or is it just some random gorilla we've never met, which, if so, would be kind of lame and kind of awesome at the same time. I do love the fact that this DC comic has not one, not two, but three super-gorillas in it by the twelfth page.

The other bit I like is that Ferry dresses The Cheetah, who is usually completely naked, adopts some kind of futuristic white lab coat, since she's doing some science stuff to support the Brainiac/Luthor mind-meld. After all, if she weren't wearing a lab coat, how would we even know she was doing science...?
Anyway, someone get back to me on Lionel Luthor's lab assistant gorilla, huh...?

Man-Eaters Vol. 1 (Image Comics) I knew issue #4 of this series was coming, because even though I was trade-waiting it, my friend Meredith was reading it serially, so I had already flipped-through and got annoyed by that issue long before I had read a single page of the series. Even still, it caught me off guard while reading the collection and pissed me off all over again.

Man-Eaters is the new collaboration by prose author Chelsea Cain and artist Kate Niemczyk, the creative team responsible for Marvel's short-lived Mockingbird which, for a few months anyway, was either Marvel's best comic or one of their best comics. It's hard not to read this and not at least suspect it of being a reaction to Internet trolls' months-long freak out regarding Mockingbird, which, as far as I remember, mostly centered around the protagonist wearing a t shirt with a feminist slogan* on one cover, but it's quite possible I missed any of the outrage regarding previous issues--assholes on Twitter tend to get pissed off about weird things, like women writing comics, women drawing comics and female characters starring in comics.

After all, the very first panels feature the teenage protagonist playing with a couple of tampons, imagining one as a villain named Mr. Misogyny, and the other as a superhero named Tampon Woman. The premise is that a mutant form of Toxoplasmosis has, for mysterious reasons, started transforming menstruating adolescent women into killer were-cat monsters. To combat the threat, the government started putting hormones in the water supply that stops menstruation...and thus stops adolescent girls from turning into killer cats. To keep young men free of all those lady hormones, they have their own special water supply (I'm not quite sure how they allow for human reproduction in this scenario, but there's only been three story issues so far, and it hasn't come up yet).

But because that system isn't perfect, there are still Strategic Cat Apprehension Teams, which of course acronyms into--sigh--"S.C.A.T." The back cover announces the series as "part Cat People, part The Handmaid's Tale, and all feminist agenda." That is certainly a promising ambition, but I suppose it's worth noting that some of the parody is as broad as the acronym gag, applying a clown hammer where a razor blade might have been better.

It is sharp though. Cain grabs parallel threads by the handful--girls' fears of their own changing bodies as they enter womanhood, men's insecurities about women's bodies in general and menses and puberty in particular, feminimity as power rather than weakness, the separate and rarely equal way girls and boys are treated in school, the cultural association between women and cats from time immemorial right up until now-President Donald Trump's Access Hollywood tape--and weaves them into a compelling tapestry. The first three issues of Man-Eaters is smart, potent world-building, and the beginning of what could be a great story.

But we'll have to wait a trade before it really gets going, I guess. The first three issues are sprinkled with faux PSAs and ads that further the world-building, like those for Estro Pure bottled water "for boys," or Estro Clean, "The anti-estrogen spray specially designed to protect what matters most: BOYS!" Using what appears to be stock photos and public domain advertising imagery as raw material, these can be pretty funny as well as adding some texture. But if they work in small doses, the fourth issue proves they don't work so hot in gigantic doses.

After three issues of world-building and the introduction of our protagonist, a 12-year-old girl on the verge of becoming a woman and/or killer cat monster whose divorced parents are a homicide detective and a member of the local S.C.A.T., the fourth issue is just fake ads and fluffy fake articles. Sold as a comic book, it's really just a 27-page impression of Cat Fight, a magazine from the world of Man-Eaters. Some of the contents are amusing, but none of them are comics, and the gag magazine concept isn't strong enough to, like, exist on its own.

Like I said, I knew this was coming, and I was still taken aback by how soon it arrived in the trade--that is, just as Cain's story seemed to really be getting started--and how long it was. This a $12.99 trade paperback containing just 58 pages of comics. That's...not a great value. Which is unfortunate, because what little story there is in this volume certainly appears to be valuable.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic #4 (Dark Horse Comics) This issue is very much more of the same, which isn't a phrase one generally uses when giving a compliment, I know, but it's probably the most accurate assessment. With the somewhat weird rules of the TV show-that-riffs-on-movies-here-presented-as-a-comic book-that-riffs-on-other-comics clearly established, and the three lead characters all embedded in their comics-within-the-comic, this issue mostly just keeps on keeping on. There's a new Black Cat story featuring Jonah (and plenty of unfortunate Asian stereotypes), another Crow-as-horror host in a story from the pages of Horrific and a quick peek in on Tom Servo, Teen Reporter, which has gone off the rails in a weird way that seems to be significant to the overall storyline, as the other robots--Gypsy, Growler and M. Waverly--are seen just kinda hanging out with the mother character from that narrative. Kinga tries to spice things up with a Totino's Pizza Rolls tornado.


Amazing Spider-Man By Nick Spencer Vol. 1: Back To Basics (Marvel Entertainment) I wonder if writers like Nick Spencer ever feel shitty about the way Marvel sells the books they work on? That title above doesn't appear on the cover or spine, but is the "official" title from the fine print, the way in which one can differentiate this Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 from all the other Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1s, since numbers don't mean anything any more. Still, that title diminishes the work of his co-creator Ryan Ottley (not to mention Cliff Rathburn, Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Laura Martin and others), and implies that Spencer made this book all by himself (I know it's been many months since the whole writing vs. drawing thing was a topic of conversation on comics twitter, but I'm firmly on Team Drawing Is A Million Times Fucking Harder. Granted, the only comics I've ever made were mini-comics I self-published, but I can write a terrible comic book in a weekend--hell, probably in a single sitting, if I tried to--but it can take months for me to draw a terrible comic book).

I guess the titling does reflect the reality that Marvel publishes certain books too fast for almost any modern comics artist to keep up with, and thus while Spencer does write every bit of the comics contained within these pages, Ottley doesn't pencil and/or ink them all; Humberto Ramos and Victor Olazaba pencil and ink a portion of the first issue of the new ASM book, which this trade collects the first five issues of (plus the Spider-Man story from Free Comic Book Day Special 2018 as a sort of prologue).

It's still unfortunate.

Anyway, this comic book is pretty great. I'm not exactly a Spider-Man fan, nor a reader--I tried keeping up for a while, but the "One More Day" nonsense reboot left a bad taste in my mouth, and then Marvel jacked-up the prices, and then I fell so far behind so fast that I felt too lost to even attempt to catch back up. For example, the inside front and back covers of this volume suggest 14 trade paperback collections to read before this one, including two each of Vols. 1-5. This book, with a new creative team and a new start and a promising sub-title, seemed like a good place to check back in.

And it mostly is.

The chaos of recent-ish Spider-Man continuity isn't ignored. In fact, some of it is foregrounded by Spencer, as certain events propel those in this volume--like, for example, the fact that Peter Parker is stripped of a job and a degree when a paper he wrote was discovered to be plagiarized (At the time, Otto Octavius' mind was occupying his body, but hell, try explaining that without revealing your secret identity!). Even still, in the best superhero comic tradition, Spencer manages to build on past comics without being completely dependent on them, or insisting that readers know them inside and out.

So Peter Parker is at another low-point, as his existence as the lead in a popular superhero serial narrative mandates he keeps returning to, with no job, no girlfriend, nowhere to live, and with everyone in his life suspicious of him--this includes not only the entire superhero community, who all appear to fight off an alien invasion at one point, and even good old Aunt May.

Spencer has Spidey slowly putting his life back together, but in ways that introduce a new status quo with new story possibilities, although much of that which is "new" is simply setting up new encounters with old characters and old conflicts (Mysterio, Kingpin and The Lizard play substantial roles in these comics; The Rhino and Kraven put in cameos, as do quite a few minor Spider-Man villains). By the end of the first volume, Peter's living with two roommates, Randy Robertson (son of the Bugle's Cliff Robertson) and Fred Myers, the secret identity of The Boomerang (who was the star of Spencer and Steve Lieber's awesome and under-appreciated The Superior Foes of Spider-Man; the Beetle also appears briefly, and Spencer favorites Taskmaster and Black Ant also put in appearances).

He's considering taking classes with Doctor Curt Connors, which would allow him to get his lost degree back fair and square. And--good news!--he and MJ get back together, so hopefully we can semi-pretend "One More Day"/"Brand New Day" never really happened.

Spencer is pretty much a perfect writer for a Spider-Man ongoing, as he is quite adept at balancing humorous superhero writing with serious superhero writing, and that's basically Spider-Man's whole schtick. This isn't an out-and-out comedy comic, and it's not a serious one played completely straight either, but it almost immediately finds a perfect balance, so that the mode is mostly serious, but filled with characters capable of generating their own comedy, not just in Spidey's fight patter, but in Boomerang's shitty behavior, MJ's sarcastic remarks, the Taksmaster/Black Ant team's interplay with one another and the world around him.

As for the plotting, in addition to a Mysterio attack on New York--and his subsequent trial--that is used to illustrate what everyone thinks about Spider-Man and/or Peter Parker at the moment and move forward what appears to be a spooky-themed ongoing plot featuring a character I've never seen or heard of before--much of this volume concerns the character Silvermane, who considers himself Spider-Man's greatest foe (I am mostly familiar with him from Spider-Man cartoons; I never liked him, nor did I understand why so much screen time was being devoted to him given how big, wide, deep and awesome Spider-Man's rogues gallery is), a/the Tri-Sentinel, which appeared in the very first Spider-Man comic I ever read (and one of the first comics I ever read, period, years before I got hooked on them) and the reappearance of the device that kinda sorta created Spider-Man...or at least invested him with his spider powers.

Basically, Spider-Man and Peter Parker are separated from one another into two distinct individuals, and hilarity--as well as action and adventure--ensues.

Ottley would not have been my first choice for the primary artist for the primary Spider-Man title, but he does a fairly amazing job here. His designs for all of the characters look just right, while also looking like his in several respects, particularly his Peter Parker. He's equally adept at the humor and the action, and drawing people in civilian clothes doing regular people stuff and super-people in costumes doing superheroic stuff. Also, giant robots and the monster guy with the giant centipede.

Anyway, these aren't, like, the greatest comics in the world or anything, but they are extremely solid super-comics from some talented folks who are experts in the genre. I would have happily bought this and/or future volumes, but it arrived in my local public library before I could decided if I wanted to buy it or not, which is the main reason this is in the "Borrowed" section rather than the "Bought" one.


Mighty Crusaders, Book One (Archie Comics) Here. So this is not as good as The Fox, but I liked it far better than the Black Hood comics I read, and far, far more than the 2015 Shield, which I could barely make it through the first issue of. I think I preferred Ian Flynn's previous Crusaders book, The New Crusaders, which had a better premise, even though this is technically a continuation of that one. The last pages are certainly intriguing, though, and they make me curious as to where this might all go in the future.

More than anything though, it made me wish that DC's old Impact comics starring these characters were available in trade format. Or that there were cheap reprints of their Golden Age adventures. Actually, what I really wish existed were black and white, phone book-sized reprints, in the style of Marvel's defunct Essential line or DC's equally defunct Showcase Presents line featuring all of the Crusaders/Red Circle comics in chronological order, from the 1960s, '80s, the '90s Impact stuff DC did and even the brief DC revival I completely ignored, due to how awful it looked.

Anyway! This was pretty okay, and the first non-Fox Dark Circle comic I was at all interested in seeing more of.

Peanuts Dell Archive (Boom Studios) Here. This 350+-page brick collects the first chunk of Peanuts comics produced for comic books, rather than the funnies pages, from 1957 to 1963. There's some rare Charles Schulz stuff in here, mostly covers, but the majority of the contents are from people who are not Schulz, and I'm always fascinated by how people who are not the creators of a particular strip or character or group of characters closely associated with that creator handle the material. And is there any comic more closely associated with its creator than Peanuts?

If you're someone who reads comics blogs from comics bloggers who have been writing comics blogs for a very long time--and something tells me that you might be--then you may have previously heard about these comics the same place I did: Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin. If that is the case, please be aware that this volume contains the blanket-pooping robot, but not the hungry hobo. The latter would presumably appear in a later volume, if they publish one, which I imagine would feature even weirder comics than those in here, as these tend to drift progressively farther from Schulz's comic strip the longer they go on.

Twists of Fate (Fantagraphics) Here. Sometimes I even write about real, non-genre comics for grown-ups, too!

Young Justice #1 (DC Comics) Here. I know what you're thinking. Wait, didn't you write like a billion tedious words on this book already, Caleb? Yes, I did, although I'm not sure I'd use the word "tedious." That rambling review (or, perhaps, "review" would be more accurate) was for EDILW, however, and this is an official, professional review. You see the difference? No? Well, maybe if you re-read what I wrote on Young Justice in the previous installment of this column and then read what I wrote for Good Comics For Kids you will.

*Fun fact: Every single Marvel superhero is a feminist. Even the ones who are total dicks, like Namor.