Monday, April 29, 2019

Three reviews of Marvel collections I found in my drafts:

Avengers: Unleashed Vol. 2--Secret Empire

Although the second collection of writer Mark Waid and primary artist Mike Del Mundo's Avengers ongoing, this is actually the fifth volume of Waid's run on the primary Avengers team; his All-New, All-Different Avengers was relaunched after about 15 issues, because...because Marvel, that's why.

The turning point presented at the end of this volume, then, in which particular elements of the status quo introduced just last volume shift, may seem somewhat violently sudden, but it is perhaps best read in the context of the writer reacting to the goings-on in the Marvel Universe beyond his control, and as simply the latest necessary course correction rather than Waid quite suddenly thinking better of decisions he just made. As with the events of Civil War II, which took Iron Man Tony Stark out of the cast and helped shunt the younger Avengers off into their own team and their own book, Secret Empire presents Avengers with a big change, and Amazing Spider-Man apparently deals it another.

The first two issues, co-written with Jeremy Whitley of the sadly canceled Unstoppable Wasp, feature Doctor Victor Von Doom, currently wearing Iron Man-like armor and calling himself "Iron Man," teaming up with the Avengers, who are pretty frosty to the alliance. Only Wasp Nadia Pym is really into the idea, in part because of her fan girl fervor for Doom's brilliance.

Both are done-in-ones, with the Nadia/Victor relationship the most notable throughline. In the first issue, Doom stops by for tea, and then recruits Nadia's help in infiltrating a Lumberjanes camp. In the second, the Avengers are on the ropes, thanks to a power-stealing villain, but the Nadia/Victor team are able to save the day, with their science.

Both of these issues are drawn by Phil Noto, whose painterly style is a good fit with Del Mundo's. It was refreshing to finally see this post-Secret Wars Doom drawn at some length by someone other than Mike Deodato, who just draws him as Vincent Cassel for some reason (Still not sure why that is allowed to go on; can't he sue Marvel? Shouldn't Marvel be worried he might sue them for using his likeness like that?). I got lost among the relaunches of writer Brian Michael Bendis' Iron Man books, so I haven't read any of Infamous Iron Man, which Alex Maleev is drawing.

After those, Waid scripts three more done-in-one stories, two of which are set during the events of Secret Empire, and one of which is an epilogue. Oddly enough, they barely refer to the events of the event series, and make sense as tie-ins only if you've read it. If not, well, they stand alone fine, but they likely seem to be extremely odd choices for the title.

First, there's a Thor solo issue, which apparently details where she went after she was zapped away at the beginning of Secret Empire. Narrated by a native being to the dimension she was sent to, it's a nice, solid story of the character's heroism, with a fair degree of humor derived from the clashing cultures thrown in.

Then, Doctor Octopus narrates an adventure featuring Bad Cap's Hydra Avengers line-up of reprogrammed Vision, (possessed by a demon) Scarlet Witch, former Thor Odinson and mercenaries Deadpool, Taskmaster and The Black Ant. It's a very short story, but one that sends them all on a mission they see through to completion, while highlighting the self-serving villainy of some of the members and the tensions inherent in a character like The Odinson working alongside former bad guys.

The final story takes place after Secret Empire and whatever has been going on in ASM, as Peter Parker has apparently lost Parker Industries and possession of The Baxter Building, which is where the team's HQ has been for all of, well, all of just 10 issues. The six Avengers split up into pairs to have conversations with one another. The Vision and Hercules go out for coffee, and the synthezoid expresses his concerns about learning that he is immortal, and gets some surprisingly sage life-coaching from Herc. Spidey tries to find some common ground with The Wasp by inviting her to a science fair, but they get side-tracked by superhero stuff. And Sam Wilson, who here has already surrendered the shield and title of Captain America back to Good Cap but hasn't yet put on his new Falcon costume, pulls Thor aside and tries to convince her to lead the team, since he's no longer Captain America. It's a nice between-arcs breather issue, but then, because so much of the title has been reactive to line-wide crossovers, Waid's Avengers series has, more often than not, been a whole series of these sorts of relaxed breather issues.

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear--The Complete Collection

I'm glad Marvel gave prose novelist David Liss' Black Panther comics "The Complete Collection" treatment, putting all 18 or so issues of the T'Challa-starring comics he wrote between a single pair of covers, because Liss' run on the character might be murder to try to assemble through single issues (The run was previously collected into a trio of trade paperbacks under two different titles). This is because of how weird Marvel is at selling their damn comic books.

After Daredevil event storyline "Shadowlands" and Black Panther-centric "Doomwar," both Matt Murdock and T'Challa need to rediscover themselves. And so Murdock goes away, but he asks T'Challa to become the new guardian of Hell's Kitchen, where the now de-powered Panther decides he will be able to prove to himself whether he's still a total bad-ass without his former magic Panther powers and all the resources of a sci-fi fantasy kingdom to call upon.

And, for whatever damn reason, Marvel decided to make Black Panther the new star of the Daredevil comic book series, changing the title of the series to Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, but keeping Daredevil's numbering, so that the first issue of the new series was Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513. And then, after about 12 issues, they changed the title again but kept the numbering, so the book was then Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive for a while. Oh, and then there was one of those dumb decimal-point issues, Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive #523.1. (As for Daredevil, when Matt Murdock returned, he got a whole new title with a new #1; I honestly have no idea how any of this works.)

Anyway, none of that really matters for the purposes of this collection, which reads as a complete, 400+-page graphic novel. What little one might need to know about what happened in Daredevil and Black Panther and Doomwar before gets quickly and efficiently explained in a conversation between Murdock and T'Challa in the first issue, and then referred back to organically throughout the story. And, if you're reading the entire Black Panther saga in preparation for the movie (UPDATE: I guess that's a pretty  clue as to just how dang long ago I wrote this review, huh?), well just know that this falls between Black Panther: Doomwar and the beginning of Ta-Nehesi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze's Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet.

What will be most immediately evident about Liss' run is the way it looks. Artist Francesco Francavilla draws and colors the majority of it, and his art is highly, highly stylized. It is heavily "drawn" looking in a way that stands out from the bulk of Marvel's comics. His designs are realistic, but stripped down and abstracted in the rendering, with well-placed lines of shading and a lot of usage of darks and shadows. The artist whose work might most immediately jump to mind when reading Francavilla's Black Panther book is, fittingly, that of long-ago Daredevil artist David Mazzucchelli.

Even when Francavilla's not drawing, Liss' Black Panther was fortunate to have some pretty great artists involved. Jefte Palo does a lot of the non-Franacavilla art, and he draws big, bold, exaggerated, muscular figures perfect for all the skulking and brawling in the book's action scenes. As the book nears its conclusion and Man Without Fear turns to Most Dangerous Man Alive, the comic gets more and more Daredevil-y, and Michael Avon Oeming and Shawn Martinbrough do much of the art. Both are great, and neither are too far removed from Francavilla's style, although Oeming is the artist who most sticks out as different from the others; his highly cartoony take calling to mind that of that other famous Daredevil creator, Frank Miller.

So after Daredevil gives T'Challa permission to be the new vigilante in town and then bugs off to wherever, Foggy Nelson helps set T'Challa up with a new identity. Under a goatee and pair of glasses, he is now Mr. Okonkwo, a Congolese immigrant who quickly finds a new gig as the manager of The Devil's Kitchen diner and a not-so-great apartment, the better to keep an eye on the neighborhood. Because he lacks Vibranium and his fancy gadgets, he basically fights crime as a sort of cape-less Batman or color-swapped Daredevil; wearing a bullet-proof vest over his togs and punching and kicking people. He occasionally busts out a gadget he made himself with equipment from the hardware store. Storm of the X-Men, who was still T'Challa's wife at this point, is limited mostly to Skype-ing with him, as he wants to go it alone as part of his proving-himself thing, and he's afraid if his storm goddess/queen/mutant superhero hangs around too much, his cover might be blown.

The six-part "Urban Jungle" features an escalating war between the new vigilante in town, The Panther--oddly, hardly anyone ever recognizes The Black Panther as The Black Panther, superhero, Avenger and former King of Wakanda, but just call him "Panther"--and a new would-be Kingpin of Crime in town, Vlad "The Impaler". It's low-level and low-stakes for a Black Panther comic, but then, scaling his world down from the world to a New York City neighborhood is part of the entire remit of the series. It's all-around super-solid superhero crime comics, with Luke Cage and Spider-Man both briefly dropping by only to be rebuffed (Palo draws the issue with Spider-Man in it, and he draws Panther a few heads taller and a few torsos wider than Spidey, giving them a nice physical representation of their attitudes in relation to one another).

That's followed immediately by the two-part, Palo-drawn "Storm Hunter," that follows on a dangling plot point from the previous arc. This issue pits T'Challa up against Kraven The Hunter, and he gets an unwelcome assist from his wife Storm.

Next is the Francavilla-drawn "Fear and Loathing In Hell's Kitchen," a Fear Itself tie-in of sorts...although one need not know much of anything about Fear Itself to follow the story, which features the rise of a new Hatemonger and the debut of "American Panther," a star-spangled, Panther-themed version of Black Panther to provide an America First answer to the foreign-born, immigrant hero, whose "accent" is referred to repeatedly. This three-issue arc actually reads incredibly uncomfortably in 2018, as the sorts of things The Hatemonger's followers say about immigrants sound way too familiar and, well, real today. At the time Liss was writing this story in 2011 or so, he was basically taking real attitudes of bigoted and/or racist and/or nationalist assholes and turning their words and actions up from, like, an 8 to an 11. Now that exaggerated-for-superhero-comics 11 is, like, part of the national discourse. If a guy showed up in a purple Klan hood with a big "H" on the forehead for "Hate" and demanded that immigrants return America to Americans in real life today, well, the actual president of the United States might say there were fine people on both sides of the argument, or that there were violence on both sides of the torch-wielding mob marching through New York (I guess the geography of the story is dependent on mind-control and the influence of a supernatural fear god, as it's difficult to imagine the events of Charlottesville in 2017 occurring in New York City, but still...)

Then there are two done-in-ones, a "Spider-Island" tie-in drawn by Francavilla (In which Panther has six arms and fights Overdrive and Lady Bullseye...Panther's extra arms being the only thing really making this a "Spider-Island" story) and a Palo-drawn "Point One" issue in which T'Challa fights The White Wolf again, this time getting an important assist from his waitress-turned-confidante Sofija.

Finally, there's "The Kingpin of Wakanda," drawn by Martinbrough, Oeming and Palo. This story arc is the Daredevil-iest of them all, in its villains if not its tone. Kingpin Wilson Fisk has taken over The Hand, and he makes a play for Wakanda. Faced with these foes and Kingpin's two top assassins--Lady Bullseye and Typhoid Mary--T'Challa finally accepts help from his fellow super-heroes Luke Cage and The Falcon, and even reaches out to allies in Wakanda.

Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi--Captain Phasma

Yes, that is actually the actual title of this comic book, at least according to the fine print on the title page. As you can see from the cover, the actual title looks like it might actually be a little different, but, well, whichever is the case, I think we can all agree that it features all of those words in one arrangement or another, and that "Star Wars" is in there one time too many.

I recently listened to the audiobook version of Delilah S. Dawson's Phasma novel and, as a result, know way more about the new trilogy's fascinating and mysterious character than I need to, or even want to. One thing that was particularly striking about Dawson's Phasma, which is for all intents and purposes a novel-length secret origin story for the character, is that she is constantly presented as the ultimate, undefeatable badass in it, but her relatively little screen time in Force Awakens and Last Jedi hardly matches up with her reputation from the book (In Force Awakens, she rolls over for a septuagenarian Han Solo and friends then lets them toss her down a garbage chute; in Last Jedi she's quickly defeated--and maybe even killed!--by a former subordinate after a few seconds of hand-to-hand combat). Of course, I soon realized that is generally the case with Star Wars bad guys in the expanded universe stuff: Boba Fett, General Grievous, even Darth Vader himself, all of them are infinitely more skilled, powerful and dangerous in comics, cartoons and novels than they are in the actual films, where they are generally blundering boobs that are almost ridiculously easy to take down by our heroes (Vader's appearance in Rogue One notwithstanding; that Vader seemed a lot more like the comic book Vader than the one from the original trilogy).

As for Phasma's first comic book miniseries, it echoes Dawson's novel in several ways that I found somewhat disappointing. The majority of the series takes place on a planet that is so similar to her home planet of Parnassos that it's weird that her comic book is set there at all--she does make reference to the fact that this planet reminds her "too much" of one she used to know--and there's even a brief flashback to her time spent there, including the namedropping of a character from the novel, but I couldn't quite make sense of it.

The relatively short story--it's only 80-pages long--is written by Marvel rising star Kelly Thompson and drawn by artist Marco Checchetto, with colors by Andres Mossa. It follows immediately from the climax of Force Awakens, beginning with her exit from the trash compactor and detailing how she spent the rest of the film's run-time, at one point rather comically walking past Kylo Ren and Rey as they light saber-fight in the snowy woods. She has her own, desperate mission to complete ASAP: To cover up the fact that she's the one that gave Han Solo and company access to Super Death Star Starkiller Base's computer systems and thus pretty much doomed The Empire The First Order's battle against The Rebel--er, The Resistance (See, I'm getting the hang of it!).

As only one person in the First Order knows she was the one who did so, a rando officer who checked the logs, she gives chase to him, eventually commandeering a TIE fighter, its pilot and its BB-8-esque droid to chase him to the Parnassos-like planet. There she and her partner navigate a sort of civil war between the humans living there and a race of aquatic beings who have captured her prey. Because she has to make sure he's dead herself, that means she first has to rescue him.

As I said, it's a pretty short, even slight story, one that reiterates something that is made extremely clear in Dawson's novel: Above all else, Phasma is a survivor, and a ruthless one at that, willing to sacrifice and kill anyone that threatens her survival. It is, however, the very definition of nothing special, which was something of a disappointment to me, based on how much I've liked the last few Thompson-written comics I've read.

Chechetto's artwork is similarly just okay, about on par with the level of quality and general visual style of the bulk of Marvel's Star Wars comics. The pages are very photo reference-y, perhaps unsurprising given how many costume and vehicles are being visually cut and pasted from the film into a comic book spin-off, and so aside from a few different creatures--humanoid and monstrous--living on the planet Phasma hunts her prey on, he's not called on to come up with much that's new or different from what we've seen in Force Awakens anyway.

Phasma's shiny chrome armor doesn't really seem to pop in the over-colored artwork, either. Again, it looks to be consistent with the bulk of Marvel's Star Wars comics, but the result of all the different lights reflecting off of Phasma is that she sometimes just look transparent, or else just badly colored white, rather than shiny and polished, which loses her most striking visual identifier. I can't help but wonder how much better this comic might have looked--although perhaps I'm just speaking from my own personal aesthetic preferences here--were it drawn by Elsa Charretier, who was drawing Marvel's Unstoppable Wasp, and has been doing some truly superlative work on IDW's Star Wars comics. In general, I think Phasma's look would be better served by something that looks more drawn than photographic.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Some manga reviews that have apparently been in my drafts for 3-4 years now:

Akuma no Riddle: Riddle Story of Devil Vol. 1-2 (Seven Seas Entertainment; 2015): There's a special class of 13 girls at Myojo Academy, almost all of them transfer students from elsewhere. What's so special about the class, Class Black? Of those 13 girls, 12 of them are assassins, and they are all there to kill the 13th.

There are some peculiar, particular rules that don't get clearly laid out until fairly late in the story as it appears in these first two volumes. The girls' motivations are mostly pretty clear: Whoever successfully eliminates the target is essentially granted a wish as a form of payment; they can make any request and it will be granted. Each assassin has to declare in advance that she's going to make her attempt, and from the point of declaration she gets 48 hours. If she fails to kill the target during that time frame, she is expelled.

There are a couple of complicating factors to that otherwise straightforward set-up. One is our protagonist, Tokaku Azuma. A skilled, misanthopic, remote assassin proficient in knives, she's apparently a "virgin" who has yet to actually take anyone's life. For precise reasons not yet articulated, she decides to serve as the target's bodyguard, defending her from the other 11.

The other is that the target, Haru Ichinose, is aware of the situation, but wants to try to enjoy the boarding school experience as much as possible, which means constantly putting herself in danger as the girls try to befriend her in order to get within striking distance. While Haru seems completely guileless and child-like, referring to herself in the third person like The Hulk or Cookie Monster, she actually knows the score, is capable of defending herself (of the three attempts on her life in these issues, it's not entirely clear that she wouldn't have survived without Akuma's interference) and has some incredibly mysterious past she won't discuss with anyone (the clues, however, include horrible scars all over her body and a passing reference to a spell that keeps her from dying, even though others are often giving their lives to defend hers).

The story takes a while to get get going, as a lot of the pages of the initial volume are devoted to Akuma's own weird school and her strange relationship with a bizarre teacher figure there--he sends her impossibly subjective fill-in-the-blank questions on her cellphone, which may be where the title comes from--but once it gets going, there's a reassuring, almost arcade-like episodic quest-structure, one that will likely be interrupted as the volumes progress, given the various motivations of the assassins, and the attention spent on some of them more than others.

Aside from the girls school dramedy (much of it presented as rather straightforward, if tinged with the sinister), the fight-scenes and melodramatic origin stories of the teenage girl assassins, there's still enough kept mysterious that there's a lot of motivation to keep going once you start. It's compelling, even if one wants to read for answers as much as for the pleasures of the story itself.

The Ancient Magus' Bride Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment; 2015) The set-up of Kore Yamazaki's fantasy manga is a bit on the icky side. Fifteen-year-old Japanese girl Chise Hatori is sold in a modern day slave auction, wherein the bidders are all monsters of various types. For five-million dollars she's purchased by the ancient mage of the title, Elias Ainsworth. And, as the title suggests, he purchased her to be his bride.

That's the icky part. In reality, whatever his marital or sexual intentions, they are never mentioned beyond Ainsworth's occasional references to the pair of them one day marrying. In reality, he's training her to be his apprentice, and he pursued her in part because she is something called a "Sleigh Beggy;" I've no idea where Yamazaki found the term, but basically Chise is a rare human with the sort of second sight that allows her to see supernatural entities. There's a flashback that shows her in a school yard, teased by other kids while her attention is seized by a yokai.

Later, when she arrives in Ainsworth's home somewhere in the United Kingdom, she can see and converse with somewhat traditional fairies (although designed in a rather peculiar way by Yamazaki to make them at once both cuter and more horrifying than traditional British fairies). The business regarding their marriage and their relationship, including what they know and what they gradually learn of one another's past, is more premise than the focus of the least as I can judge from this first volume.

After Ainsworth gets Chise somewhat settled in her new home and introduces her to the world of mages, alchemists and the supernatural, he begins taking her on a series of missions, apparently embarked upon as favors to the Catholic church (which has back channel communication with the mage through his friend, a local priest).

These include a visit to Iceland to investigate recent, restless dragon activity, and then a trip to Ulthar, a city of cats where there is some particularly potent evil magic going down. That second mission ends with a cliffhanger, with our protagonists discovering the source and coming face-to-face with the dangerous entities behind it, but not resolving their conflict with them.

Yamazaki's world-building is pretty top-notch, and is perhaps particularly impressive in that it requires her to come up with a sort of unified theory of the occult world, and designing and re-creating everything so that it fits together visually, despite the various traditions separated by continents here.

Ainsworth himself is a particularly great design. While he appears like a perfectly normal human being from the neck down, his head is that of some sort of animal skull, with long, twisting horns, and little lights in the back of his eye-sockets to indicate a flicker of consciousness. He sometimes wears a veil of sorts over his face, which has the interesting effect of only making him look more disturbing, as he clearly has a long, pointed snout and a pair of animal horns, even when the specific details are hidden, and someone seeing him would then have to imagine what inhuman form his face is in (As has so often been noted, it's what you can't see that's always scarier than what you can).

It's a cool design, but what's even cooler is that Yamazaki is able to wring so much emotion out of what is essentially a frozen fossil.

Citrus Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainent; 2014): The back cover of NTR: Netsuzou Trap Vol. 1 reads, "For fans of Citrus, comes an all new yuri series!" So I took the back cover's advice, and tried Citrus; there were already five volumes in print, so it seemed like a good thing to read while waiting for future volumes of NTR.

It too is an erotic-but-not-exploitative love story involving two high school girls, but its premise is so much more labored than the straightforward set-up of NTR. In fact, it's so weird, yet played completely straight (er, maybe not the best choice of word) rather than as some sort of comedy, that it can be somewhat comic.

Fun-loving Aihara Yuzu is transferring to a very strict, all-girls school as a result of her mother's re-marriage, to the son of the man who owns and runs the school. Conveniently, he has gone on a mysterious trip to the other side of the world as soon as she and her mom are set to move in, so he's written out of the narrative immediately. Yuzu doesn't fit in at her new school at all, and racks up myriad violations as soon as she walks through the door, as her hair color, make-up, skirt-length and so on don't adhere to the uniform policies. She tries to argue against them, but is immediately put in her place by the cool, cold student council president Mei.

Yuzu comes home from her stressful first day at school, where her mother introduces her to her step-father's daughter, her new little sister. Who just so happens to be...Mei!

So the two girls, who are so different and have such conflicting personas at school, are now forced into even closer proximity--even sharing a bed--after school. Complicating things even further is their apparent, if equivocal, attraction to one another. Their first kisses are all acts of surprise and aggression. The first time Mei kisses Yuzu, it's because Yuzu asks her if a teacher she is seemingly having an affair with is a good kisser, and she angrily forces a kiss on her to show her what it felt like. The next time they kiss, it's when they are in the bath together, and Mei sees Yuzu looking at her, and when asked why she kissed her that time, Mei simply responds that it Yuzu looked like she wanted Mei to kiss her.

Yuzu is clearly curious about her new little sister sexually, but whatever is going through Mei's head is kept from the readers in the first volume. She is mysterious, and acts with a whiplash spontaneity whenever she temporarily switches from proper and business-like to passionate. For Yuzu's part, not only does she have to struggle with her sudden and upsetting sexual attraction to Mei, but with her desire to actually be a good big sister to her, two mutually exclusive forms of relationship that cause her a degree of angst--and should help keep a will they, won't they narrative in place.

Despite the overheated premise and the clear promise of sexuality offered by the covers, it's interesting the way magna-ka Saburouta navigates the labored premise, focusing on plot and emotion over scenes of the girls fooling around. The actual sexual content of this first volume is no more than one nude scene in the bath, which is basically "TV nude," meaning their nipples and genitals are always covered by hair or limbs or water or whatever. Additionally, they each throw the other down and kiss them once, but that's the extent of it.

Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro: Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon (Drawn & Quarterly; 2016): The second volume of Drawn & Quarterly's new series collecting and reprinting Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro comics takes its title from the first of the seven stories. It's not necessarily the biggest or most important of these, all of which are from 1967 or 1968 issues of Shonen Weekly (save for a somewhat random seeming story from a 1978 issue of Shuken Jitsuwa), it's simply the first to appear in the collection.

Nurarihyon, according to the "Yokai Files" feature that appears in the back, is "an urban yokai with a mysterious air of authority." He "comes into your house and orders you around, acting like an important guest...Only after he is gone and the spell is broken do you realize you have been a victim of Nurarihyon." As Mizuki draws him, he looks a somewhat squishy-headed old man, his design a mix of cartoon and traditional Japanese art, leaning more heavily toward the former than some of the other yokai in the book (particularly Odoro Odoro, who looks like he could have come right off a painting or scroll).

Here Nurarihyon doesn't "attack" in the method described, but does decide to do away with the smug yokai Kitaro, who hunts bad yokai himself. He ingratiates himself with Kitaro's greedy sidekick Netzumi Otoko, and lays a trap for them both. Only Kitaro's hand manages to escape, but that is enough to deal with Nuarihyon and save Kitaro and Netzumi.

As with the previous volume, all of the stories contained within are fairly simple, stand alone ones in which Kitaro and his allies, which include his detachable eyeball which is also his reincarnated father, become embroiled in conflict with a bad guy yokai of some kind, and ultimately triumph...generally through Kitaro's weird powers. Each story is a lesson in Japanese folklore and ghost stories, punctuated with Mizuki's extremely detailed artwork and sketchy cartoon characters, the tone shifting from somber to silly just as the visuals shift from hyper-detailed to highly abstracted. Everyone who likes comics should check out at least one volume of Kitaro.

My Monster Secret Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment; 2016): Kuromine Asahi is a high schooler with a very specific problem: He can't keep a secret to save his life. He has the worst poker face of all time, and anyone who looks at him can generally tell exactly what it is he's thinking. That's why his friends have given him the nickname "The Holey Sieve," as he is apparently completely unable to hold anything back.

So when he develops a crush on his mysterious classmate Shiragami Youko, the cool, quiet, loner who no one ever sees arriving to or leaving from school, his friends encourage him to confess his love to her immediately before she sees through him and figures it out for herself (which is what usually happens; he gets pre-rejected by girls he likes before he can say anything because they can see what's coming from the guileless Asahi). "Don't be the Holey Sieve anymore," one of his friends encourages him. "Pour it all out before you spill."

But when he confronts Youko in an empty classroom after school, he discovers that she's hiding a secret much bigger than his: She's totally a vampire, as her outstretched bat-wings and visible fangs reveal.

And so suddenly the guy compulsively unable to keep a secret is saddled with the biggest secret of all: He can't tell or let on to anyone that one of their classmates is really an actual vampire or she will be forced to leave the school forever.

The plus side, of course, is that suddenly all of her strange behavior makes sense to Asahi, and now that he knows her secret, they become the best of friends. A little on the clueless side, Youko doesn't even pick up on the fact that Asahi is in love with her, and he manages to keep that secret from her as well (All the times she caught him staring at her in class, she thought it was because he might have suspected her true nature).

So that's the set up of manga-ka Eiji Masuda's school comedy manga, in which the two good-hearted but slightly dim kids strike up a platonic friendship based around the concealment of a fantastic secret, all while the boy continues to pine for the girl without either making explicit any feelings they might have for one another beyond friendship, meaning this is a narrative that could go on for a while.

Complicating matters further is Asahi's old friend Akemi Mikan, the completely unhinged editor of the school paper who will do anything for a juicy story and who hounds the new friends for proof that they are dating one another, unaware of the even bigger secret they are hiding. And then, near the end of the first volume, there's the appearance of the Class Rep, who has a monster secret of her own that Asahi and Youko accidentally discover: She's actually a human-sized robot that a tiny alien that looks just like her pilots (The give away? The huge fucking screw-shaped capsule sticking out of the back of her head).

This was actually pretty fun, I thought, although it is kind of bizarre that the most unbelievably over-the-top character isn't the vampire or alien, but the girl from the school paper.

School-Live! Vol. 1 (Yen Press; 2015): So here's a pretty interesting take on the zombie apocalypse scenario, which in and of itself is something of an accomplishment, given the hundreds of riffs on said scenario that have appeared in pop culture so far this millennium. The "School Living Club" is the sort of school club that is so prevalent in Japanese manga and anime (and, I would assume, Japan itself?), but their specific interest is a particularly unusual one: They literally live at school. Why they do so is teased out in the first chapter by artist Saroru Chiiba and writer Norimitsu Kaihou/"Nitroplus", although if you've read the first sentence of this review, or the back of the manga, then you've already figured out that the characters are trying to survive a zombie apoclaypse, and they are living at school because they can't go outside of the school, or they will be eaten by zombies.

The conceit isn't just for the sake of the comic, though. Three of the four members use it to keep their youngest, most innocent, most naive (and thus most cheerful) member from trying to leave the school and/or perhaps from breaking down. Yuki Takeya seems to have not entirely noticed that the world has ended and there are zombies eating people just beyond the school walls. When she's on the roof with the others, tending to their garden, she sees living corpses shambling around on the baseball field, and waves, saying that the baseball team seems to be practicing very hard. When a zombie gets into the school halls, she's told to be quiet and hide, as there's a bad kid there to cause trouble.

That first chapter is pretty devastatingly effective, and the rest of the first volume details how the members survive day-to-day and keep their elaborate ploy going, although it's pretty clear that Yuki may have already lost her mind, as through her eyes the school looks totally normal and is full of students, who she occasionally talks to as if they weren't just in her head. Perhaps then the others aren't just keeping the gag going to preserve her innocence or fragile state of mind, perhaps they are afraid of causing her some sort of dangerous psychotic breakdown.

These others include Kurumi, who never goes anywhere without her shovel, which seems a weird quirk to Yuki ("Heh heh! Don't you know? The weapon used to kill the most people in the trenches in World War One Was--" Kurumi tries to explain, but Yuki interrupts her by waving the shovel around, "You really like shovels, don't you?); Yuki's big sister-like friend Yuuri; and club adviser Megumi Sakura. They don't all make it to the end of the first volume--damn those bad kids!--but there's a pretty dramatic cliffhanger, in which the girls send out a message on helium balloons, and it's found by someone on the outside who appears to be a potential new club member.

Meanwhile, there are flashbacks to the characters' lives before they were forced to join the School Living Club, and hints of what happened to get them in their current predicament, providing one more source of ongoing drama to the series.

Friday, April 26, 2019

DC's July previews reviewed

Eager to prove himself as a guardian for the criminals of Gotham City, Killer Moth has set his sights on taking out one of Gotham’s finest heroes…Batgirl! Does this insect menace really stand a chance against Batman’s smartest ally? Meanwhile, after their daring escape, the Terrible Trio is on the hunt for new ways to cause trouble for Batgirl. Little do they know, Lex Luthor has already beat them to it and is about to bring Batgirl’s worst possible nightmare to life! Oracle is back online. And she’s angry.
ON SALE 07.24.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

I've always liked the Killer Moth character, ever since I first met him in Alan Grant, Tim Sale and company's "Misfits" arc from Shadow of The Bat. I like his funny name. I like his original costume. I like that he's one of the "loser" type villains that fights Batman, the type of villain that only seemed to appear to be greater losers over the years as Batman and his a-list villains were depicted as increasingly hyper-competent. I liked his original scheme of being the Batman of bad guys--something James Tynion recently referenced in his referenceiriffic run on Detective Comics--and the way he was linked to Batgirl's (original) origin. I like his Teen Titans/Teen Titans Go redesign. I did not care for his becoming "Charaxes" during Underworld Unleashed (In fact, I believe I wrote a letter to the editor of Robin to convey my distaste for that development). I did not care for his weird New 52 redesign, which was apparently just a gas mask and, um, nothing at all moth-related...? But despite that, I did like his role in Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely's Sugar & Spike, in which his enmity for Batman had a rather specific, rather moth-like source.

When I was a teenager, I really wanted to grow up to write Batman comics, an interest that has waned quite a bit over the years--although I'd be totally cool doing shorter, funnier stories for holiday specials and anthologies and the like, if there are any DC editors in the reading audience!--but Killer Moth is one of the few Gotham City residents I still get ideas about and whose inner life I am most curious about. I mean, I don't love him as much as The Scarecrow (a character I have next to no interest in writing, I just like hanging around him) or The Calendar Man (whom I also met in "Misfits"!), but he's a pretty great character.

Anyway, the point is, I am glad to see him appearing in Batgirl and getting back to his roots of losing to one of Batman's sidekicks--who beat him on her very first day on the job!

I just hope he looks moth-y. The cover seems to indicate he will.


Have I mentioned that I don't like Batgirl's current costume much? I have? Oh. Well, I still don't like it very much.

written by SEAN MURPHY
art and cover by SEAN MURPHY
In this explosive sequel to the critically acclaimed blockbuster BATMAN: WHITE KNIGHT from writer/artist Sean Murphy, The Joker recruits Azrael to help him expose a shocking secret from the Wayne family’s legacy—and to run Gotham City into the ground! As Batman rushes to protect the city and his loved ones from danger, the mystery of his ancestry unravels, dealing a devastating blow to the Dark Knight. Exciting new villains and unexpected allies will clash in this unforgettable chapter of the White Knight saga—and the truth about the blood they shed will shake Gotham to its core!
ON SALE 07.24.19
$4.99 US
1 of 8 | 32 PAGES

Sean Murphy's White Knight has been on my "To Review, Eventually" table for a very, very long time now--pretty much since it was released in trade. I am and have long been a big fan of Murphy's artwork, and always thought he was a particularly good fit for Batman, so I was happily surprised to find out that he's also pretty dang good at writing Batman comics. That said, I found the book sort of uncomfortable and awkward in terms of its premise.

I think it took me a while to realize what, precisely, felt strange about the book's very existence to me, but I eventually realized that it was that unlike most Elseworlds/What If...? style super-comics, Murphy didn't just take an extant element of the character or point of their history and change it or diverge from it, nor did he transplant the narrative to a different setting.

Rather, he just changed various things at random, while leaving many of them the same. So, for example, Jason Todd's fate was very, very different, and, for another, Mister Freeze was a Nazi war criminal who had worked with Wayne's parents. There are other ones, but I think it was when we got to Jason Todd that I first realized that what Murphy was doing was basically rebooting Batman to tell a specific story; it wasn't a simple "What If The Joker Went Sane? (And This Time In A Sean Murphy Comic)", but "What If a Rather Random, Specific Version of The Joker in a Specific Version of Gotham Went Sane?"

And that just made it feel strange and off to me. I really enjoyed the art, and the story was structured well and mostly moved the way a story should, but it was so off-brand that I couldn't find it truly compelling. I did dig all of his rogue's gallery redesigns though, and particularly liked the incredibly implausible scene where The Joker and Harley trick them all into drinking mind-controlling nanobots or whatever simultaneously (Who drinks something the fucking Joker hands you?).

So I certainly see why people seemed to dig this as much as they did, and it's cool they're going to let Murphy do whatever he wants to do in that version of that world he's created, but it feels uncomfortable to me as a reader.

And, if I'm being perfectly honest, it also kinda disappoints me that a really great Batman artist like Murphy is drawing an out-of-continuity Batman miniseries that is just pretty okay--I should note, too that it's not just that it's not canon or a traditional non-canonical story that disappoints me about White Knight, it's also that it isn't so good that it justifies the changes it makes--every time a mediocre or simply not-as-good-as-Murphy artist draws Batman or Detective.

new cover by NICK DERINGTON
Available to comics shops for the first time! Following the theft of a priceless Fabergé egg, the Riddler leads the Dark Knight on a wild hunt after its true owner: Jinny Hex, descendant of Jonah Hex! Guest-starring Deathstroke, Green Arrow and dozens of Riddler look-alikes in stories by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Nick Derington, originally published in BATMAN GIANT #3 and #4!
ON SALE 07.10.19
$4.99 US | 1 of 6 | 32 PAGES

Starting in July, the original content that was appearing in those bargain-priced Walmart-exclusive anthologies--that is, the stuff that might conceivably entice existent DC comics readers--will finally arrive in comic shops. I will confess to being slightly surprised that it will be appearing in serialized-comic book format first, rather than going right to trade. But that surprise only lasted for a few seconds, because of course DC is going to try and make as much money off of this content as they can, so they will re-sell it to the direct market as a comic book before going to trade, where I look forward to eventually reading this comic.

Bendis' Superman comics have been surprisingly good, although I assumed the character that would lure him to DC Comics would be not Superman, but Batman. And here he is, writing him for the first time! Outside of a few appearances in those Superman books! Frankly, I'm more exicted to see Derington's artwork though, as from what little I've seen of his Batman comics, they have been amazing.

As for the theft of the egg, I'm going to guess The Penguin. As it's an egg. And he steals bird stuff.

This month DC will also being selling the Tom King-written Superman comic and the Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti-written Wonder Woman comic, neither of which seem particularly interesting, although I'm sure I'll at least borrow the Superman one from the library when it eventually gets here. King's Superman and Lois have been pretty good in the pages of his Batman, but from what little I've seen of his Heroes In Crisis, I just don't know about his take on the wider DC Universe of superheroes...

designed by ANT LUCIA
sculpted by TIM MILLER
She’s the drum major of the most electrifying marching band on Earth! Mary Shazam! is the newest addition to the DC Bombshells statue line. This whimsical piece, designed by Ant Lucia, features Mary in mid-marching action, having a spectacular time.
This polyresin statue is sure to become an iconic look, and one you don’t want to miss!
• Limited to 5,000 pieces and individually numbered
• Statue measures 12.35" tall
• Allocations may occur
• Final product may differ from image shown
$125.00 US

Mary Shazam...? That's not her name. I quite clearly remember that when Miriam Bätzel says the magic word "Shazam" she is gifted with superpowers and the abilities of Jewish heroines Shiphrah, Huldah, Abigail, Zipporah, Asenath and Miriam, becoming Miri Marvel, or sometimes just "Shazam." She was one of the more interesting imports into the Bombshells-iverse, I thought, and I really loved her costume (As drawn by Sandy Jarrell and others in DC Comics Bombshells, she looked more small, slim, girlish and less, well, bombhsell than this, though. Also, I don't remember that hat).

Although, I suppose it's possible that "Mary Shazam" is meant to be the name of her DCU character nowawdays, and that's why the statue is listed as it is here...?

I'm trade-waiting Geoff Johns' Shazam ongoing, so I still don't know: Has the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel officially adopted "Shazam" as his name yet...? What about Mary, Freddy and the rest of their siblings...?

art and cover by ALEX MALEEV
variant cover by JASON FABOK
“The Detectives”! EVENT LEVIATHAN, the new miniseries by the award-winning team of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev, continues! As the mystery of Leviathan continues to rock the very foundations of the DC Universe, the world’s greatest detectives gather for the first time anywhere to solve the mystery before it’s too late! Lois Lane leads Batman, Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Manhunter, the Question and a couple of genuine guest sleuths in the search for who Leviathan is and how their plans have already unfolded. This issue also guest-stars Red Hood, Batgirl and more!
ON SALE 07.10.19
$3.99 US | 2 of 6 | 32 PAGES

Plastic Man...? You guys sure you got the right stretchy superhero? Because there just so happens to be a similarly-powered DC superhero renowned for his detective skills...

written by GEOFF JOHNS
It’s a new era for the Flash as Barry Allen returns to a world he doesn’t recognize anymore. Then, Barry Allen and Wally West must battle the undead Rogues! But can even two super-speedsters stop these unbeatable foes? Plus, the Rogues reassemble to remind the world why no one should mess with them! Collects The Flash: Rebirth #1-6, Blackest Night: The Flash #1-3 and FINAL CRISIS: rogues revenge #1-3.
ON SALE 08.21.19
$29.99 US | 344 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9263-8

Ugh, poor Geoff Johns. It must suck to have some of one's early, career-making works forever linked to an artist who has since become radioactive among non-asshole comics readers with Internet connections...

written by GARTH ENNIS
art and cover by JOHN McCREA
The cult hit from writer Garth Ennis (PREACHER) returns in a brand-new “greatest hits” collection! These tales include the introduction of super-powered gun for hire Tommy Monaghan, his encounters with Superman, Batman and the Justice League of America and more! Includes stories from THE DEMON ANNUAL #2, HITMAN #4-7, #13-14, #34 and JLA/
HITMAN #1-2.
ON SALE 08.14.19
$19.99 US | 320 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9963-7

Well this is certainly a surprise. Those comics are the first appearance of Tommy Monaghan (with kicky red scarf) in The Demon's tie-in annual to 1992's "Bloodlines" event; the four-issue "Ten Thousand Bullets" story arc; the two-part "Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium" (from which the collection's cover comes from...don't worry, that baby seal is a zombie); the Superman team-up issue "Of Thee I Sing" and then the weird JLA/Hitman miniseries, which sort of follows up on the events of "Of Thee I Sing" and, to a lesser extent, other books not included in this collection.

It's a strange package, really. Some of it seems geared toward DCU hero team-ups (Demon Annual, "Of Thee I Sing", JLA/Hitman), but not "Ten Thousand Bullets" or "Zombie Night" and, of course, more obvious stories with more prominent DCU guest-stars aren't included, like "Local Hero", "Ace of Killers" and the Lobo "team-up" one-shot. Some of these are among the book's--which, might I remind is, still one of DC's best ongoing series and my personal favorite series--greatest hits, like "Zombie Night" and "Of Thee I Sing", while others are among the lesser Hitman stories.

I'm honestly not sure why this book exists at all--did the individual Hitman trades all go out of print?--but there are certainly worse ways to spend $20 than this...

This is the cover for the Justice League Dark Annual, by Riley Rossmo. And it's got Guillem March art on the inside! Those are two artists whose work I like quite a bit, although there's almost never an alignment of their work plus a project I am interested in (beyond their involvement) on a sizable or sustained comic.

I really like Zatanna, Wonder Woman and even Floronic Man's faces on this image, and Detective Chimp and Man-Bat look downright cute (if distressed).

I've only read a handful of issues of this series, but, for the most part, it struck me in much the same way that writer James Tynion's Detective Comics run did--I really liked the concept, and wanted to like the book, but it just didn't connect with me.

written by JIM KRUEGER and ALEX ROSS
cover by ALEX ROSS
The best-selling 12-issue series illustrated by Alex Ross is now available as a new deluxe edition hardcover! The villains of the Legion of Doom—led by Lex Luthor and Brainiac—band together to save the world after a shared dream that seems to be a vision of the Earth’s demise. They are confronted by the Justice League of America, who doubt their motives—and as their true plans unfold, the two teams do battle. Contains over 100 pages of bonus material!
ON SALE 08.07.19
$49.99 US | 7.0625” x 10.875”
496 PAGES | FC
ISBN: 978-1-4012--9343-7

I liked this quite a lot. As I recall, it was basically Challenge of The Super Friends for grown-ups. The Justice League line-up was essentially the one of Alex Ross' personal head canon, which is a pretty good one that I heartily approve of, but the Legion line-up was pretty much exactly that of the cartoon, although obviously some of them had some weird redesigns and updates (I recall The Riddler's costume being particularly strange).

I am blanking on many of the specifics of this though, so maybe revisiting it in a collected format like this wouldn't be the worst idea in the world. I think that fans of the current Justice League who missed Justice the first time around might be particularly interested in it, as its conceit as an all-out war between the two super-teams from the cartoons is pretty similar.

written by SHOLLY FISCH
art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
With his chemical shape-shifting powers, Metamorpho the Element Man is more than a match for pretty much any super-villain…except maybe a huge elemental monster with shape-shifting powers of its own! It’s up to the gang to solve the mystery and unmask the monster—once Scooby and Shaggy stop running in terror from both the monster and Metamorpho, that is!
ON SALE 07.24.19
$2.99 US | 32 PAGES

To recap: Scooby-Doo and the gang are teaming up with Metamorpho, The Element Man. That is all.

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but I find it weird that Billy Batson/Captain Marvel/Shazam's current costume appears to have Kirby dots permanently embedded in the emblem, even though that is one of the, like, 15 superheroes currently appearing in monthly super-comics that Jack Kirby didn't create.

written by NANCY A. COLLINS
In these 1990s tales written by critically acclaimed Bram Stoker Award-winning horror novelist Nancy A. Collins, a mad priest has come to Houma to test his followers with a fatal poison, and Swamp Thing must stop him before things go too far. Then, Swamp Thing finds himself a surprise candidate for governor of Louisiana. And when Swamp Thing must save Abigail Arcane and their daughter, Tefé, from the murderous dream-pirates of Dark Conrad, who’s he gonna call? John Constantine! Collects SWAMP THING #110-139 and ANNUAL #6 and #7, BLACK ORCHID #5, and a story from VERTIGO JAM #1, plus never-before-published behind-the-scenes material.
ON SALE 01.08.19 | $125.00 US | 968 PAGES
FC | 7.0625” x 10.875”
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9709-1

This sizable chunk of comics comes from quite late in the run of the Swamp Thing comic run that people think of when they think of Swamp Thing--the series would finally ship its last issue in 1996 with Swamp Thing #171, written by some guy named Mark Millar. I've only read a handful of these, but some of them--like the piece from Vertigo Jam--was my first introduction to Swamp Thing outside of the USA live action TV series. I would certainly be interested in reading this complete run, although it's hard to imagine a book that huge being one I want to bring into my apartment, put on a book shelf, have to pack and move some day. I guess that's what libraries are for...?

That sure is a gorgeous Mike Zulli cover, isn't it...?

art and cover by JOHN TIMMS
Young Justice—lost in the Multiverse! After the explosive conclusion to their Gemworld adventure, the team is having a tough time finding their way back to their Earth. No, we can’t tell you where they end up, but rest assured, you will be surprised! But as exciting as all that is, we have bigger problems to deal with as Tim Drake is about to do something he has only done...lots of times before. He is about to announce his new alias...a new superhero name. A Young Justice name. And this time, it’s permanent. Like, forever.
ON SALE 07.03.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Wait. I keep re-reading those last few sentences because I'm not sure I understand them. Tim Drake has announced new superhero names lots of times before? What? Red Robin'm drawing a blank. In continuity, I think that's it, isn't it? (I guess he was Batman briefly during Battle For The Cowl, and...actually, all the other superhero identities I can think of for Tim have all been Batman in various alternate futures).

Anyway, is this still good? I thought those first few issues were quite good, and then I went into trade-waiting mode on it.

Oh, speaking of artist Riley Rossmo, as I was a few entries ago, here's his variant cover for this month's issue of Young Justice. I think that book, written by Bendis, would be one that would be a good fit for the artist, and one that I would be happy to read.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Marvel's July previews reviewed

Dan Hipp's cover for Amazing Spider-Man #25 is the best single image that Marvel released as part of their July 2019 solicitations, right? We can all agree on that? Okay, good.

• Boomerang’s influence is finally felt, and Spider-Man joins the Superior Foes!
• Wait, that’s not possible, is it?
• IS IT?!?!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Let's see...1,2,3,4,5...6! With Spider-Man on the team, Boomerang's Sinister Six finally has the requisite number of members for that name not to seem like a joke. Spidey joining the Sinister Six of Superior Foes of Spider-Man is a pretty good idea for a Superior Foes arc, and, personally, I like to think of Spencer's ASM run as the Superior Foes relaunch, guest-starring Spider-Man.

Having read the second trade collection of the series though, I understand why the solicitation copy says that shouldn't be possible, but then, as I noted when discussing that volume, the current state of that Sinister Six was related to Peter Parker (and the reader) by Boomerang, so not the most reliable of narrators.

I notice that the book's regular artists Ryan Ottley and Humberto Ramos are not drawing this issue, nor is Superior Foes artist Steve Lieber, who drew a few passages of their last appearance in the book, but while maybe not ideal, I do really like Kev Walker's art, so I think I'll survive.

I don't like when Black Panther's mask looks that..catty in the comics. Ideally, I like when his face mask is smooth and featureless below the white, pupil-less eyes. Maybe a bit of a bump for the nose. But when he has, like, a muzzle like that, he gets into ninja furry territory, and feels a little too Thundercats to me.

Is Avengers still good? I really enjoyed the first two volumes of that, too.

March 1941. Assigned to safeguard President Roosevelt during a fishing trip in the Bahamas, the newly commissioned Cap endures his baptism under fire — while a German U-boat (carrying the Nazi super-soldier called Der Wunderkrieger (or Wonder Warrior) heads for the island chain’s capital! His mission: to kidnap England’s once-king, the Duke of Windsor, and sit him on the throne of a defeated Britain! But others happen to be in that part of the Atlantic as well — the once-bitter rivals the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T …$4.99

If you told me Jerry Ordway was drawing an Invaders comic for Marvel this summer, I would be surprised and excited. If you told me Roy Thomas was writing an Invaders comic for Marvel this summer, I would be surprised and excited. So it goes without saying that the news that Ordway is drawing and Thomas is writing an Invaders comic for Marvel this summer is a huge surprise--and a very exciting one at that.

The war years are the period of Marvel history I'm personally most fascinated with, and I love Namor...particularly Golden Age Namor. So, eah, I'm excited about this one. Of course since a one-shot can't later be collected into a trade paperback, I guess Marvel has no choice other than to publish another two or three Captain America & The Invaders one-shots in the near-ish future in order to generate a collection's worth of material.

DEATH’S HEAD #1 (of 4)
Connecting Variant Cover by JOHN MCCREA
Rising stars Tini Howard & Kei Zama take on Marvel UK’s hottest character, Death’s Head, in a new miniseries!

When a job goes wrong, intergalactic mech merc Death’s Head wakes up half-assembled at a punk show! And if the crowd full of deodorant-eschewing youths wasn’t enough, the Young Avengers show up! Well, half of them anyway. Hulkling and Wiccan face down the best freelance peacekeeping agent in this universe!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

I've just barely read any comics featuring Death's Head before, but I've always liked the name and the character design. So this might be interesting. As a John McCrea fan, I kinda wish he was doing the interiors, rather than just a variant cover though. Nothing against Roche, of course, I just like McCrea.

Celebrate 80 years of Marvel Comics, decade by decade. The blockbuster icons and bold new generation of the trailblazing 2010s! As iconic heroes enjoyed worldwide cinematic success, a diverse array of young champions stole the spotlight! Find your favorite movie stars in outstanding adventures by the best modern creators — from Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel…to Thanos! And get to know the new kids on the block — Miles Morales; Spider-Gwen; Thor, Goddess of Thunder; the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl; and Kamala Khan, the incomparable Ms. Marvel! Collecting ULTIMATE COMICS SPIDER-MAN (2011) #7, CAPTAIN MARVEL (2012) #1, IRON MAN (2012) #1, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2013) #4, EDGE OF SPIDER-VERSE #2, MS. MARVEL (2014) #12, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2015) #3, MIGHTY THOR (2015) #5, BLACK PANTHER (2016) #1, UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL (2015B) #7 and THANOS (2016) #1.
248 PGS./Rated T+ …$24.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91792-0

As with the previous volume, The '00s, I was pretty curious about the contents of this volume of the series, as rather than focusing on a particular character or type of comic, the focus seems to be more thematic. And it's spelled out right there in the solicitation: Marvel defines the decade that is just wrapping up as one devoted to the characters that buttressed film franchises and the introduction or reintroduction of newer, younger and more diverse heroes. That seems to be a pretty good cross-section of comic books, too. Or, at the very least, a nice place to start with the Marvel Universe. Like, if someone told me that they were curious about Marvel comics and wanted to know where to start, this seems like a good book to suggest, as it would offer avenues for further exploration if they decide they really like this Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl character, or want to see more Thor comics featuring that Thor and/or by that creative team.

They’re back and more alive than ever for this special one-shot! But what new threat is so grave that only the most famous mutant celebrities can fight it? And who is the new U-Go-Girl? Only the original X-Statix creative team Peter Milligan, Michael Allred and Laura Allred know for sure!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Parental Advisory …$4.99

I don't know if Marvel was compelled to publish a new X-Statix comic to renew the copyright or what, but I'm more than happy to see more X-Statix, particularly by the original creators.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Marvel Universe — in one lavishly illustrated series!
From the Big Bang to the twilight of existence, HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE chronicles completely, for the first time, everything that was, is or will be!
Lushly illustrated text tells the complete story of the Marvel Universe, revealing previously unknown secrets and serving as the ultimate reference book for Marvel fans! Witness the greatest tale ever told — and be prepared for some shocking revelations!
32 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

This sounds like it could potentially be pretty great, but I'll obviously wait for the trade version. I would love something like this for the DC Universe...although they keep rewriting their history so often that I guess that would be impossible. They would need to publish a new one every time there's a crossover story.

Fresh from the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, for the first time Susan Storm-Richards stars in her own limited series – and the secrets about her past revealed therein will shake readers’ perceptions of the Invisible Woman forevermore! Years ago, she undertook an espionage mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. –
and now it’s up to her to save her former partner from death at the hands of international terrorists!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Not really a whole lot of "variance" between those two variant covers, is there? Which image of Sue Storm slowly turning invisible from the bottom up should you choose...?

I was actually kinda shocked to read that this is the first Sue Storm solo effort, but I guess that kind of makes sense. Has Reed ever had a solo outting...? I assume it's not the way they were originally intended, but I always thought of those two as the straight men in the Johnny Storm/Ben Grimm show...the boring characters that kept the plot moving.

At any rate, I'm sure this will be pretty good. Mark Waid's not really in the habit of writing comics that aren't, at worst, pretty good.

• Ms. Marvel reaches the explosive finale of her adventure in space and finds her life — and her costume — forever changed!
• Victory comes at a cost, and when it comes to paying up, Kamala may not have much choice in the matter…
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

No no no, that's not how you spell "awful." You got the first two letters right, A-W, but then it's F-U-L, not E-S-O-M-E...

Yeah, I'm not really feeling this new costume, especially the change from the best kinda mask, the classic domino, to the worst kinda mask, the Gambit/'90s Cyclops head sock. Given that this new, worse costume deals with an adventure in space though, I suppose there's a pretty good chance it will just be story-specific, and not permanent...even if the solicitation does promise that her costume will be "forever changed." Forever's a really long time, Mr. or Ms. Solicitation Copy Writer...!

Wait, she gets a new costume during an adventure in space, and she's keeping it...? I thought Kamala Khan was a student of superheroes; has she learned nothing from Spider-Man...?

POWERS OF X #1 (of 6)
Superstar writer Jonathan Hickman (INFINTY, NEW AVENGERS, FF) continues his revolutionary new direction for the X-Men. Intertwining with HOUSE OF X, POWERS OF X reveals the secret past, present and future of mutantkind, changing the way you look at every X-Men story before and after. You do not want to miss the next seminal moment in the history of the X-Men!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$5.99

Guys, it has been so long since the X-folks have done anything that has so much as piqued my interest--maybe when Brian Michael Bendis brought the original team into the present and kept them there so long I couldn't figure out how they would undo it?--that Hickman getting involved sounds downright revolutionary.

I really loved his massive Avengers epic, and while I've yet to read his Fantastic Four stuff, people sure did seem to like that. So this definitely seems like a good move on Marvel's part.

• During the War of the Realms, Frank Castle made a promise of vengeance, and Frank Castle keeps his promises.
• A van full of orphans is about to make that promise a lot more complicated.
• How does a man kill gods and monsters?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Okay, wait. "Kill Krew" implies more than one killer, right? Like, a whole crew of killers. And yet the solicit reads "One Man." I...just don't follow the math on this one.

I like Frank's dumb-looking helmet on the cover, though.

You saw him tear through Fire Goblins in WAR OF THE REALMS with his big, damn magic sword! Now learn the mysterious origins of LIN LIE, A.K.A. SWORD MASTER, Marvel’s newest Chinese superhero, in the English language debut of the original series written by Shuizhu and drawn by Gunji! Haunted by dreams of demons, Lin Lie hunts for his missing archeologist father – and for the secret of the black sword he left behind.
And in a brand new story written by Greg Pak (NEW AGENTS OF ATLAS), Sword Master teams up with SHANG-CHI! What happens when an undisciplined, untrained kid with a magic sword tangles with the one and only, undisputed MASTER OF KUNG FU? (Spoiler alert: they will indeed drive each other crazy, with huge ramifications for the Marvel Universe!)
40 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

This book seems to deserve some attention for just how goddam different it looks from all the other books being solicited. This sounds like what I would have expected if you told me C.B. Cebulski was going to be Marvel's Editor-In-Chief, like, ten years ago. I'm not sure I quite follow the history of this project, as "English language debut of the original series" implies that this was published in Chinese previously...? Was it a Marvel comic, though? Or did Marvel buy a character/comic to add to their universe...?

Whatever the case, it looks interesting, and introducing the character in War of The Realms certainly can't hurt what is otherwise sometimes kinda tricky: Introducing a brand-new superhero into a jaded, cynical direct market already clogged with superheroes.

Similarly, Marvel is publishing a book called Aero which also features heroes of Asian descent that were part of the War of The Realms event and also has Asian creators attached.

Reprinting material from Venom: Sinner Takes All (1995) #3
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Reprinting Carnage, U.S.A. (2011) #1
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$1.00

Reprinting Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #361
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00


Reprinting Venom vs. Carnage (2004) #1
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$1.00

Reprinting Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #430
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Reprinting material from Spider-Man Unlimited (1993) #1
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00


Reprinting Venom (2003) #1
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$1.00


Reprinting Venom: Separation Anxiety (1994) #1
32 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Reprinting Carnage: Mind Bomb (1996) #1
40 PGS./Rated T …$1.00

Reprinting material from Amazing Spider-Man Super Special #1
32 PGS./Rated T ...$1.00

Okay, serious question: Which, if any of these, should I order?

Cover by Mahmud Asrar
A new hero emerges straight from the pages of THE WAR OF THE REALMS! For years, you knew her as Dr. Jane Foster, one of Thor’s most steadfast companions. Then you knew her as Thor, the Goddess of Thunder, who took up the mantle when no other hero – god or human – was worthy. Now Jane takes on a new role as Valkyrie, guide and ferrywoman to the dead! But her days of punching are far from over. WAR OF THE REALMS master architect Jason Aaron and superstar Al Ewing (IMMORTAL HULK) join forces with rising star artist CAFU for the book that’ll have everyone talking!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Huh. Interesting.It makes sense to have Jane Foster continue to superhero after all that time spent as Thor, although I'm not sure about this particular code name, given how widely shared it is in the Marvel Universe already. Additionally I'm not sure about that costume, which seems a bit needlessly far removed from her look as Thor.

Like, I would have at least expected the same helmet/mask combo to stick around. Without the mask portion, her helmet looks a little Wasp-like, and so she's missing her mask, her weapon, her armor and her coloring from when she was Thor.

I am so far behind on Thor comics I doubt I will ever catch up though, so I wonder if I'll ever even read this...

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: March 2019


Archie #703 (Archie Comics) Great art by Sandy Jarrell, decent but disappointing writing by Nick Spencer (disappointing only in that he can be such a brilliant writer that what might be good from other writers feels mediocre coming from him), fantastic cliffhanger.

As much as I enjoy reading comic book-comics, and as consistent as the quality of Archie has been, I think I may switch to trades of it after this arc.

Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 2: World Tour (Marvel Entertainment) In the first volume of the current Avengers ongoing, there came yet another day like no other, when an extremely powerful Avengers line-up--this one seemingly specifically assembled to maximize Marvel Studios synergy--came together to save the world and learn a disturbing truth about the very nature of humanity. In this second volume, writer Jason Aaron gets down to the business of establishing this new version of the team, and setting up threats for them to deal with.

The first of the six issues collected in this volume is another flashback issue set during the days of the first "Avengers," Odin's team of prehistoric ancestors and analogues of later Marvel characters and concepts. It's drawn by Sara Pichelli and Elisabetta D'Amico and is the origin of the Ghost Rider who rides around on a burning mammoth we saw in the previous volume...although since this is the first Ghost Rider, then I guess this is the origin of Ghost Riders in general...? It's an okay issue, but man, the timeline of Marvel Universe prehistory is weird. This story includes a (mutant?) cave man who becomes Ghost Rider, another who is the first Wendigo (how can there be Marvel Wendigos before there was a Canada, though, according to Marvel's silly rules of Wendigo-ing?), Mephisto in the form of a large, white snake and, for a panel at least, Norse god Odin and The Phoenix.

It's the sort of issue that would normally appear in a comic book series in order to give the regular artist an issue off to keep up on deadlines, but then, the artist for this series is Ed McGuinness, and he's always behind on deadlines; he just draws portions of three of the six issues collected here (Altogether, there's 10 different pencilers and inkers involved in these issues, plus five different colorists. Only in Pichelli's Ghost Rider issue and in #10, which gives different guest-artists different, character-specific scenes, does this large number of contributors seem to be a feature rather than a bug).

On the setting-up shop front, Aaron has the team moving into the raised body of the dead Celestial that crashed to Earth and set off the chain of events in the previous volume, and this cool-looking base is at the North Pole, a good place for a powerful figure with no particular allegiance to any particular country (just ask Santa Claus). Doctor Strange peaces out, leaving an eighth chair open for specialist guest Avengers, the first of which appears on the last page of this issue. The Black Panther is chosen as the new chairman, which makes sense: As the king of a super-powered superpower, he has access to money and resources far beyond even that of Tony Stark, and his leadership resume far outstrips that of even Captain America (Also, it's kind of neat that the three founders on the team, the ones who got together to decide whether or not they should co-star in the latest incarnation of an Avengers title, all defer to someone else in that role).

Later, an entire issue is devoted to recruiting "Agents of Wakanda", a particularly motley crew of varied specialists who would make a great shadow Avengers line-up, if maybe not sell as many books as Ghost Rider and all the movie stars on the cover: The Wasp Janet Van Dyne, Gorilla Man, Okoye of the Dora Milaje, Ka-Zar, Broo, Man-Wolf, Dr. Nemesis, Fat Cobra and America Eagle (The last of whom I have never heard of, so good job digging deep, Aaron).

Meanwhile, other, rival super-teams are forming. Namor appears to murder former Avenger (and occasional Merc For Money) Stingray, although I guess he survives* (I have no idea how, though; Namor punches his head a couple of times and, once it starts leaking a cloud of blood, sics a bunch of sharks on him). Namor then pressgangs an off-model looking Tiger Shark and a bunch of underwater villains to form "The Defenders of The Deep." Their mission? To violently repel all surface-dwellers from the oceans (Aaron here moves Namor from anti-hero or "kind of a dick" territory into all-out lawful evil supervillain territory, so one suspects something's not quite right here, but I guess we'll see).

To oppose them, Russia relaunches its Winter Guard super-team, which includes familiar characters like Darkstar, Vanguard and The Crimson Dynamo, as well as a bunch of new or unfamiliar characters, making for a formidable and cool-looking line-up. Also, Ursa Major is there, a character I inexplicably love simply because he is basically just a sentient, bipedal bear (Although he doesn't seem like much fun to hang around here; Aaron introduces all of the characters with short descriptions under their names--"Darkstar: Mistress of the Darkforce," for example, or "Crimson Dnyamo: The Russian Iron Man"--while Ursa Major is described simply as "World's Drunkest Bear."

At one point, here's a three-way brawl between The Avengers, The Winter Guard and The Defenders of The Deep, but other teams also form.

The United States--or at least General Thunderbolt Ross--is so displeased that Captain America is letting an African king lead the Avengers, that they put together their own superhero team: The Squadron Supreme of America, which McGuinness draws as Justice League-y as possible (Interestingly, in a 2005 Superman/Batman arc, McGuinness introduced The Maximums to the DC Universe, an inter-dimensional team that were analogues to The Ultimates/Avengers; here, drawing Avengers, he introduces a new version of Marvel's inter-dimensional team of Justice League analogues).

Black Panther tries to set up what looks like a sort of U.N. of international superheroes, including Captain Britain, Shaman, Sabra and The Arabian Knight. And, of course, there's a vampire super-team that appears to be the focus of the next volume, as after all these issues of world-building, Panther decides that the most urgent threat facing them all is the vampire business, which is why the eighth chair goes to this guy:
There's just a lot going on in these dense issues (at least those set in the present day), and Aaron does a particularly fine job of making the Avengers (and Avengers) feel like the axis along which the Marvel Universe turns. Or, if nothing else, it seems as if you read but one Marvel comic book, this is the one that will give you the most Marvel Universe for your dollar (Or 3.99 dollars, I suppose).

McGuinness is an ideal superhero artist, which explains why he's on the title despite not actually being able to draw all that much of it. He's certainly great at the big splash pages that introduce whole teams of characters, though, as he does The Defenders of The Deep and The Winter Guard and Squadron Supreme, and he does draw the three-team battle in the book.

That said, the book is a bit of a mess, visually, as all those artists, whether announced as "guests" (like Frazier Irving, Adam Kubert and Andrea Sorrentino) or not (like David Marquez and Cory Smith), all work in quite different styles. The book would be far better served by either finding a single artist, or at the very least a couple of artists with similar enough styles that they could alternate arcs...provided McGuinness could manage a whole arc. Maybe give him standalone issues between arcs by other artists who can approximate his big, bold, action figure-like style...? (I don't know, I'm not a comic book editor; Nick Bradshaw? Aaron Kuder?)

And now, a couple of nitpicks.

First, there are several underwater scenes that just confused the hell out of me. The first time the Avengers confront The Defenders in #9, many of them lack any kind of underwater equipment, and yet talk, breathe and move underwater completely naturally. I'm not a scientist, so I guess if Thor, Captain Marvel and She-Hulk could survive space without needing to breathe, I guess they'd be okay underwater, too? Not sure about how they talk to the characters who are wearing masks...which, itself seems like it probably shouldn't be enough to get around on the ocean floor (Black Panther and Captain America, mostly; Iron Man is in his suit, and Ghost Rider in his magic devil car, so those two should be okay-ish on the ocean floor).

Surviving/communicating aside, though, artist David Marquez doesn't show them swimming or even floating underwater. Cap and The Panther just stand and walk around as if they were on land. There's even a scene where Cap throws his mighty shield and it comes back to him, unaffected by the all the water it has to fly through. It's just the sort of thing that bugs me, as you probably know if you've been reading this blog long.

Also, when General Ross brings the apparently resurrected and now evil--maybe he's got whatever Namor has got?--Agent Coulson to help him set up a rival super-team to take the place of The Avengers, he says to him, "Welcome to the Deep State" which is...well, it's a weird-ass thing for Jason Aaron to write into the story.
There are certainly aspects of the book that seem to be commenting on real-world politics, like Russia's aggressive assertion of international power (here by assembling a super-team to battle The Defenders, as this is a super-comic and all), or the rest of the world trying to figure out what to do if the United States isn't going to continue its traditional role as leader of the free world (as during Panther's super-summit with the national heroes of various world powers), but "the Deep State" comment seems to really misread the term.

Now, I might be wrong (as I noted when I originally flagged the line), but I thought "Deep State" was a term Steve Bannon introduced into the national discourse, referring to the bureaucratic, non-political actors in the federal government that kept the ship of state sailing regardless of who the president was and what party he belonged if it were a bad thing. In Bannon's usage, these were pre-Trump people championing the status quo over Trump's vision for the country (Traditionally, this is a good thing, as you wouldn't want to fire and hire the entire federal government every four-to-eight years, and many of their functions shouldn't necessarily be all that political). I suppose there are other, even more paranoid and/or conspiratorial views of a bureaucratic deep state though, views that posit it at the real government of America, controlling things behind the scenes, while an executive figurehead gets all the attention.

Since I've first heard the term a couple years ago, I've only heard it used in two contexts: Right-wing actors using it to define Trump's political enemies, real or imagined, within the federal government working to frustrate his agenda in ways ranging from slow-walking policies to trying to somehow oust him from the presidency, or people making fun of the right-wing actors who believe in it.

Here, Ross uses it refer to himself and a secret agenda to work against...The Avengers...? American superheroes? It doesn't make any damn sense at all.

Defenders: The Best Defense (Marvel) This series of five one-shots-turned-trade paperback offers an interesting take on Marvel's famous "non-team", as the four founding members of the 1970s super-team mostly inadvertently act as allies in seemingly distinct adventures separated by time and space. There are four chapters starring each of the characters by four different creative teams, the plots of which seem to have almost nothing at all to do with one another. Bruce Banner stumbles across the bones of Doctor Strange in one of those little desert towns he's always wandering to and from these days. Namor seeks a lost tribe of Atlanteans, and finds them--and a woman with peculiar, particular powers--in a strange place. An ancient Doctor Strange wanders a dead Earth in the far future, hunted by the dread Dormmamu. The Silver Surfer visits a planet whose inhabitants are in a mad, desperate scramble to get off of it before that particular world ends.

It's not until the fifth and final chapter--written by Al Ewing, who also writes the Immortal Hulk chapter--that the plot points from the previous issues begin to connect into the shape of a single conflict that the characters need to address, and that the characters start to interact with one another. But even that teamwork is somewhat limited, as Strange's astral form teams with The Hulk while Namor and the Surfer have their own team-up. All are working toward the same goal, but not necessarily as a single unit (Oh, The Hulk does share a panel or so with The Surfer, though, when he throws him at Namor).

The cosmic conflict they are all thrown together because of, and must try to stave off. is gigantic in scale, and involves a Kirby-esque god so titanic that it can pick up planets with a utensil, a god that drives a "train" of dead planets through space. It's being influenced by a creature involved in soul collecting and trading with devils in various hells. And Strange's astral form has traveled back through the centuries to stop it. So space stuff, occult stuff, Atlanteans, immortality--something for every Defender. It's quite well plotted, and very satisfying read in a single sitting like this, but it did make me curious whether it would have been frustrating when read in single issues, as it feels like it was written backwards (or at least sideways), and about half of the character-specific one-shots--the Namor and the Surfer one--don't seem to have anything to do with anything until part of the way through the fifth one-shot/chapter. (In some respects, it feels like a condensed version of the Grant Morrison-scripted interlocking Seven Soldiers miniseries from 2005).

It's a fairly clever way to handle a non-team team adventure, although it's obviously not the sort of strategy that could work indefinitely in an ongoing Defenders...although it might be fun to see how long a clever writer like Ewing could try to keep it going. (Not that anyone asked me, but if it were up to me, I'd like Marvel to do a new Defenders ongoing starring this quartet and the foursome from the last go-round, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Iron Fist).

The four writers--Ewing, Chip Zdarsky, Gerry Duggan and Jason Latour--do a pretty solid job of writing as a unit, so that the chapters all seem to be telling the same story with a similar style and tone, even if the plots start out in such different places before converging unexpectedly. The artists, however, all work in very varying styles, but that actually feels pretty appropriate here. Simone Di Meo draws the Immortal Hulk, Carlos Magno Namor, Greg Smallwood Doctor Strange and Latour draws Silver Surfer himself.

The Hulk chapter makes interesting use of "samples" of artwork from earlier Hulk comics, as something Banner experiences reminds him of something the Hulk experienced in comics drawn by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers and so on, and those panels are set in between ones drawn by Di Meo. I continue to hate Namor's current costume with its dumb arm armor, but Magno draws cool sea life and very detailed seascapes. Smallwood's very realistic style wasn't really to my tastes, but I was quite impressed with Latour's space stuff, as he gets to draw the most variety of cool stuff. At least until the final chapter, which is drawn by pencil artist Joe Bennett and inker Belardino Brabo.

The last time I saw Bennett's work, it was in the first collected volume of Immortal Hulk, and it seemed to be the best work of his career. This looks even better still.

I wouldn't say that The Best Defense is the best Defenders, but it's pretty dang good Defenders, that's for sure.

Detective Comics #1,000 (DC Comics) As with Action Comics before it, Detective Comics crosses the 1,000-issue threshold, earning a special $9.99, 96-page, ad-free issue with a spine...more of a particularly slim trade paperback than a comic book-comic, really. The contents consist of an anthology of short stories (and a couple of page-filling pin-ups) from an odd assortment of mostly all-star creators.

The contributing writers include the current Detective and Batman writers Peter Tomasi and Tom King, the previous regular writers on those books, Scott Snyder and James Tynion, and various big name writers with varying degrees of history with the Dark Knight, Paul Dini, Kevin Smith, Warren Ellis, Geoff Johns, Christopher Priest and Brian Michael Bendis. There's also a story by Denny O'Neil, who seems to be the only writer with a long history of the character predating the turn-of-the-century to be asked back to contribute (So no Frank Miller, no Alan Grant, no Doug Moench, no Chuck Dixon, no Devin K. Grayson). Oh, and if you're counting, that is a whole bunch of men, and zero women.

The artists are similarly representative of current and recent artists on various Bat-books, like Dough Mahnke, Greg Capullo, Alvaro Martinez-Bueno, Joelle Jones, Tony S. Daniel, Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs as well as some who seem invited to the party either because they are big name artists, some of whom have drawn some Batman in the past and some of whom have drawn relatively little, like Jim Lee, Becky Cloonan, Steve Epting and Alex Maleev. Only Neal Adams and Kelley Jones seem to be the artistic equivalent of O'Neil, that is, artists who have long histories with the character dating back to parts of his career that precede, say, 2000. There are a coupla pin-ups too, from Mikel Janin, Amanda Conner and Jason Fabok. (I'm a little surprised that we don't see Alan Davis, Klaus Janson, Brian Bolland, Scott McDaniel, Ty Templeton, Tim Sale, David Mazzucchelli or, again, Frank Miller at all in here--although both Sale and Miller are represented on two of the book's ten or so variant covers). In the artist's category, there a couple of not men, but just two: Cloonan, who drew the first issue of Batman by a woman and Jones, who had a brief stint as the regular artist during King's Batman run before moving to Catwoman. And with Conner's pin-up included, that adds up to just 14 of the 96 pages.

Let's take each piece in turn, because what Every Day Is Like Wednesday lacks in timeliness, it makes up for in post-length. The kick-off piece is a reunion of the Batman/Dark Nights: Metal team of Snyder and Capullo, and entitled "Batman's Longest Case." It's only eight pages long, and has a single, sort of cute idea that is fleshed out with lots of detail, much of it falling into the category of "is this a big much?" that defines Snyder's portrayal of Batman as detective. Essentially Batman is inducted into a secret society of DC Comics' greatest detectives, wherein Slam Bradley--who this Batman has never met--does much of the talking. Also present are J'onn J'onnz, Detective Chimp, The Question, Hawkman and Hawkgirl (whose presence surprised the hell out of me), and The Dibneys, although it took me a few seconds to recognize them.

See, for some reason The Elongated Man isn't wearing his original costume, the purple one with the gloves and mask, nor his red and black Justice League one, nor his JLI purple and white one. No, he's in orange now, which I had to google because I had no memory of him ever wearing an orange costume (Apparently he adopted it during the already mostly-forgotten post-Flashpoint Secret Six revival). I'm not sure whose terrible idea it was to give a guy who already had at least three decent costumes a new one that looks so much like E-Man's that they can now be confused with one another, but there you have it (Also, who looks good in orange? Other than Benjamin J. Grimm, of course). He's standing next to a lady with long brown hair who I am going to guess is Sue Dibney, despite looking nothing at all like her--or has she been redesigned post-Flashpoint too...?

That's followed by the unlikely team of Batman: Cacophony writer Kevin Smith and "Hush" artist Jim Lee. My esteem for Smith's comics writing has dwindled over the years, and Cacophony, maybe his worst comic scripting, seemed to be the nadir. A later Batman project, Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet, was much, much, much better, if a bit overlong. This short story is pretty strong though, and maybe his best comics work since his earliest Oni work. Again, it's basically just a clever idea with a story built around it, and there's something slightly cheesy in the execution, but I think it works really well--it's kinda sorta the origin of the bay-symbol on Batman's chest. Not the imagery, by why it's there and what it does. Along the way, Smith and Lee work in one-panel cameos by a ton of Batman villains: The Joker, Penguin, Mister Freeze, Clayface, Bane, Firefly, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Mr. Zsasz, Catwoman, The Ventriloquist and Scarface and...Onomatopoeia, the genuinely creepy villain that Smith created for his Green Arrow run (probably the highlight of his DC Comics writing), who was pretty diminished during the course of Cacophony.

It's a little weird seeing Lee working so small and constrained, packing 42 panels into just eight pages, given that his projects are generally afforded so much space, with splash pages galore. Here, the biggest image he is allowed is a half-page panel at the end. I enjoyed seeing the choices of designs for various villains he opted for, particularly when there were many options to go with. Both his Penguin and his Catwoman seem to be straight Silver to Bronze Age versions (Catwoman's in her purple dress), his Harley Quinn is in her original cartoon get-up, and for Zsasz it looks like he look at co-creator Norm Breyfogle's art for reference, although he gives him what appear to be sunglasses in order to affect the weird eyes that Breyfogle gave him in his highly-stylized art work.

Next, the "One Year Later" Detective Comics team of writer Paul Dini and artists Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs reunite for a story in which a series of Batman's rogues all recount their experiences with Knute Brody, Gotham City's worst henchman, a henchman so bad that his blundering often single-handedly leads to the scuttling of various plots. It feels a bit long at eight pages, honestly, but it's stinger ending is effective, and it gives Nguyen the opportunity to draw much of Batman's rogues gallery, including The Condiment King and Dini's Wonderland the Bat-family in street clothes.

While those three all fit the sort of retrospective spirit of the anniversary issue, Warren Ellis (Legends of the Dark Knight #83-84, the back-up in Batman: Gotham Knights #1, Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth) and Becky Cloonan's (Batman #12, Batman: Black and White #6 )"The Batman Design" reads like a condensed inventory story...although I suppose one could read Batman's lines at the end as a dark take on a definition of the character that's more along the lines of "God, I'm getting old" than "Happy birthday to me!" Batman takes on some terrorists, who we are told have super-armor and enhancements which allows Ellis and Cloonan to depict Batman blowing them up and throwing them all over without a reader wondering if Batman is killing or not. Jordie Bellaire's limited color palette gives the book the look and feel of the old Greg Rucka-written, post-"No Man's Land" run on Detective.

Man, Cloonan draws the fuck out of Batman too. She and Bellaire could really use a run on one of the character's books...

Denny O'Neil (a million Batman comics) and Steve Epting (a couple of Batwoman comics) are the creative team for "Return To Crime Ally," which looks like it was set in 1959, based on how Epting draws Leslie Thompkins as a little old lady, complete with shawl, hat, lacy cuffs on her sleeves and a purse to clutch. This is another round of their ongoing argument over whether violence is awesome or violence is the worst, and if dressing up as a human bat in order to personally punch crime in the face every night is the best use of Bruce Wayne's time, talent and resources. I feel like Leslie has ceded a lot of ground to Bruce in this fight in comics not written by O'Neil over the years. This is a pretty sharp take on that argument, but man, the thing that stays with me is that Leslie looks like she was taken off the set of The Andy Griffith Show or something.

O'Neil's one-time collaborator Neal Adams is teamed with writer Christopher Priest (Batman: The Hill, Batman Annual #13, Batman #431-432), who has made a great deal of use of the character in his lengthy run on Deatshtroke. This story too feels like an inventory story, or something that could have appeared in any of the Legends of The Dark Knight incarnations, and it focuses on Batman's ongoing war with Ra's Al Ghul, who makes his first appearance in this issue in this story (Smith/Lee and Dini/Nguyen didn't include him in their greatest hits villain stories). It's fine, but unremarkable.

The most irritating story is "I Know," by Brian Michael Bendis (Walmart's Batman Giant) and his old Daredevil partner Alex Maleev (Batman: No Man's Land #1, Batman: The Dark Knight #23-#25, a handful of other Batman comics). Set at some point in the future, where Batman is bound to a wheelchair and looks like Robert DeNiro with a beard, an equally elderly Penguin approaches him and tells him that he knew Batman's secret identity for pretty much ever, and how he found out, and why he never did anything about. Bruce waits patiently, then shoots him a bolt of lightning from his trick wheelchair. For some reason, Bendis gives Old Man Penguin the verbal tick of saying "Weyp weyp weyp" over and over again (not even "wak wak wak," which would be annoying the ninth time, sure, but also fit with his normal quacking...?), and Maleev does that thing a lot of Bendis' Marvel collaborators used to do, where they would repeat the exact same image over and over just obvious enough to make it clear what they were doing, but not obvious enough that it would appear to be an intentional joke (This might have as much to do with Bendis' dialogue heavy scripts or art directions in the story as it does laziness, but man, it looks pretty dang lazy when in a super-short story in an anniversary one-shot like this, you know?). It doesn't help that Penguin's figures out Batman's identity the same way that Denny O'Neil had Ra's al Ghul figure it out decades ago.

Next? Probably the weirdest story in here, by another extremely unlikely creative team, that of writer Geoff Johns (Batman: Earth One) and artist Kelley Jones (a 1995-1998 run on Batman, and hundreds of pages worth of miniseries). Entitled "The Last Crime in Gotham," it's basically a six-page fantasy sequence set within a birthday related framing sequence, in which Batman fights crime with a real, biological Bat-Family. These are Catwoman, wearing her current costume, Robin Damian, a daughter in a bat-costume he calls Echo (which I thought would have been a better, tangentially bat-related name for Duke Thomas than The Signal) and a golden retriever named Ace wearing a cape, cowl and utility collar. They investigate a murder with 12 victims, including the killer himself, "The April Fool...THE SON OF THE JOKER."

The set-up is neat, but the fantasy sequence seems a little flabby, and the its mood feels...not true, as demonstrated in the two stories that follow (one featuring Dick Grayson becoming Robin, the other showing off the extended 12-person Bat-Family). The idea of a lonely Batman wishing he had a family might have made more sense in, like, 1989, but now that he has enough sidekicks and allies to field a football team...? Not so much. This is also a somewhat disappointing showing from Jones, my favorite living Batman artist. The framing device is well-drawn, and there's a typically great drawing of the cloudy Gotham sky, but he doesn't get much room, so most of the panels are small and his style somewhat constrained. The image of the dead Joker II's face is fairly spectacular, but otherwise, there are too many talking heads for Jones to be all...Kelley Jones-y. For example, we never eve really see what the new character of Echo looks like, as she's only shown from the waist up a couple of times, and once in extreme long-shot.

Next, the previous 'Tec team of James Tynion and Alvaro Martinez-Bueno reunite for "The Precedent," in which Bruce Wayne and Alfred briefly debate the merits of allowing Dick Grayson to join them in their war on crime. It's a really nice story, and Alfred and, eventually, Dick both make some very good points in favor of Dick becoming Robin--of course, they have the benefits of hindsight at this point, huh?--and the artwork, inked by Raul Fernandez, is really quite elegant. The costuming choices all suggest this is pre-Flashpoint, and that even New Teen Titans continuity stands now--but given the nature of this book, perhaps we shouldn't read too much into it. Although I did think including later Batman villains like Ra's Al Ghul, Killer Croc, Bane, Harley Quinn, Hush, Professor Pyg and The Court of Owls in the panel showing Batman and Robin leaping toward their villains wasn't a great choice, given that all of those creators entered the scene long after Dick became Robin...and, in some cases, after he became Nightwing, then Batman, then went back to being Nightwing.

There's a really kick-ass last page, a silent splash showing Dick Grayson raising his right hand before Batman and a burning candle, while Batman and Robin are shown in action above them.

The book begins to wind down with "Batman's Greatest Case," a typically over-written piece by Tom King and Tony S. Daniel and Joelle Jones. Throughout various members of the Bat-Family converse with one another, trading light-hearted quips, while an MIA Batman visits a graveyard as Bruce Wayne. There is a lot of talking. The pages featuring Wayne at the cemetery are full of text boxes containing unattributed dialogue--thankfully they're not in color-coded narration boxes or boxes with symbols attached--that make Bendis seem reticent and, in some panels, threaten to overwhelm the artwork.

This one also has a bit of a sting ending, and it's climactic image is a Bat-Family photo featuring, like, everyone: Batman, Alfred, Robin Damian Wayne, Robin Tim Drake, Catwoman, Batgirl, Batwoman, The Red Hood, The Spoiler, The Huntress, The Signal, Orphan and Ace (No Titus? I guess King used Ace because he was writing; I bet if this were Tomasi's story, Titus and Ace would have appeared). The funny thing is this isn't even all of them, really; like, why not throw Azrael and Batwing in there too?

Tony S. Daniel draws the four pages featuring the Bat-Family on rooftps, two of which are devoted to a spread featuring them all posing together, while Jones draws the four pages featuring Bruce Wayne at the cemetery, one of which is a splash page of a sad Bruce standing before a Wayne monument in the rain.

Just before the final story, we get a couple of pin-ups--Janin drawing Batman chasing The Joker and The Riddler, Conner drawing Batman posing on a gargoyle while giant, pupil-less ghosts in fancy clothes swoop above him in the night sky (I assume they are his parents, giving the way the lady's pearl necklace breaks) and Fabok drawing a two-page spread of the extended Batman cast, heroes villains and all.

And then there's the final story, by the incoming Detective Comics team of Peter J. Tomasi and Doug Mahnke. It mirrors Tomasi's contribution to Action Comics #1,000, being a series of pin-ups with narration over them, organized into a story of sorts, and, like Bendis' Action Comics anniversary issue story, it sets up the upcoming run. This is a 12-page story entitled "Medieval," and opens with a splash of a green eye staring through a hole in a cracked and blood-splatter wall, as we see a close-up of Batman's big black fists battering someone. The next ten pages feature Batman fighting various villains: The Joker, Killer Croc, Mister Freeze, Man-Bat, Ra's al Ghul and Talia (with Bats and Ra's both shirtless, naturally), Catwoman and Poison Ivy, Bane, a Talon of the Court of Owls, Nobody (from Tomasi's own run on Batman and Robin and, finally, The Penguin, Hush, Two-Face and Clayface, all in a single splash.

The final image is of the so-called Arkham Knight, a character from one of those Batman video games--where I think he was revealed to be Jason Todd?--who will no doubt be someone else here. The narration is pretty purple, and ties a little too closely to the images in a metaphoric way that's a tad eye-roll-y, but this is essentially just a teaser trailer for upcoming issues of Detective, and a series of Mahnke images showing what we can expect from him drawing Batman's rogues.

Go-Bots #5 (IDW Publishing) This is the shocking final issue of Tom Scioli's Go-Bots comic, doubly so because I could have sworn this was a six-issue miniseries (although given how hyper-compressed Scioli's comic has been, five issues of this is like 12 issues of a regular comic book series. Befitting a series that was as full of surprises as this one, this final is sue includes several more, each of which are as surprising as all the previous twists, even those that were somewhat telegraphed, or at least foreshadowed, in previous issues.

Turbo makes it into the fleeing Go-Bot playset/spaceship, no under the control of Cy-Kill and the Renegades, and he battles his way through it, room by room, in one particularly cool action scene he lays on his back, speeding through the halls on his race car wheels, while his extended robot arms fire laser pistols up at his foes. In the final confrontation with Cy-Kill, he dispatches the big bad villain in a sort of shoot-out, and...that's just page six. There are still 14 pages to go.

From there, we learn the true nature of the disintegrator--it doesn't disintegrate those thrown into it, but sends them back in time. We find out what happened to Scooter's mind. We follow Turbo and other Go-Bots to the surface of Gobotron, where they meet a red and blue Go-Bot that can transform into a very familiar-looking red and blue semi-truck and has a fairly familiar-sounding catch phrase; late in the book, he tells his little friend, a yellow car, that he plans to seed the universe with alternate Gobotrons and Go-Bots, and that he's considering making a son, "an optimized version of myself." The final fate of Leader-1 and Cy-Kill is revealed, and it is as awesome as anything I could have imagined. And, on Earth, several of the human astronauts from within Spay-C decide to teach their caveman-like descendants of science, and history begins to look familiar, as various Go-Bots seem to stand in for the giants and gods of myth. Both the book of Genesis and Barry Lyndon are quoted in the final pages.

Regardless of one's affection for 1980s toy lines featuring transforming robots--and, it turns out this is almost as much a stealth Transformers comic as it is a Gobots comic--this is a masterfully made comic book series, and one that any fan of pop comics should be sure not to miss. And if you do have some affection for 1980s toy lines featuring transforming robots, well then, this isn't just great, it is your new favorite comic book of all time.

Justice League #19 (DC Comics) I re-read the Evan Dorkin-written 2000 one-shot Superman and Batman: World's Funnest, reprinted in the recently-released collection Elseworlds: Justice League Vol. 3, the weekend before reading this latest issue of Justice League, and while I don't think doing so was a mistake, it probably did color my reaction to off-and-on Justice League artist Jorge Jiminez's depiction of Mr. Mxyzptlk.

I didn't much care for it--The Joker-esque face, the part in his hair-turned-bald spot, the hat that neither fits nor isn't small enough to be comically small--but, on the other hand, I had just seen the character drawn by a who's who of all-time great cartoonists and super-comics artists like Dave Gibbons, Jaime Hernandez, Mike Allred, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Alex Ross, Brian Bolland and others, so of course Jimenez's looks off to me at the moment.

Jimenez does more than draw this issue; he also shares a plot credit with writer Scott Snyder. As for that plot, in their continued efforts to deal with all the Totality/Multiverse/Perpetua business, the League seeks counsel from Mr. Mxyzptlk, summoning him to their dimension before his appointed time and trapping--or at least attempting to trap--him. There's a nice spectacular battle, as he unleashes his omnipotent powers upon the League and they beat him back in a way that at least sounds convincing enough, and then he tells them about the Sixth Dimension, which Superman journeys into. And then...stuff happens, including the introduction of a Superman of the future and a weird, bad fate for the present Superman that evokes some of the more nightmarish parts of Snyder's Dark Nights: Metal.

Mxy is one of my favorite DC Universe characters, and this is my favorite kind of Justice League story, crashing elements specific to one particular character (here, Superman) into the rest of the DCU's other major stars. It reminded me a bit of one of my favorite of Grant Morrison's JLA stories, "Crisis Times Five," albeit it nowhere near as ambitious (and one could certainly argue that earlier arc was way too ambitious, given how garbled some of it felt).

A couple of quick nitpicks, though.

First, Wonder Woman tells Mxy that there's no such thing as the Sixth Dimension, despite the fact that she and the rest of the Justice League have encountered beings from the Sixth Dimension in the past (sure, that was in 2001, but 18 years is actually relatively recent in JLA history; if you missed Mark Waid, Bryan Hitch and company's story involving the Cathexis of the Sixth Dimension, you can find it in JLA Vol. 5, which isn't as good as the previous four volumes, but much better than so much of what has come since).

Second, Mxy talks up Bat-Mite in a way that feels a bit off to me--" one of the two most powerful imps. The other watches over Batman"--given that the nature of Bat-Mite is constantly changing, and he's rarely ever depicted as particularly powerful, especially compared to some of the other fifth-dimensional beings we've seen in the DCU (That said, I don't think we've heard from Bat-Mite after Flashpoint/The New 52-boot, have we...?)

Finally, it continues to strike me as strange that Mera is on the Justice League, but doesn't seem to do anything. She gets just one line in this issue: "I'll stay, Batman. Atlantis needs me." And that's it. Starman doesn't have a whole hell of a lot to do in this other than stand around and fill out the line-up in the same way that Mera does, but his powers are repeatedly referred to as having played a part in the League's schemes. Aside from maybe keeping her husband's chair warm and holding his trident, it's not entirely clear what Mera is doing there. I hope that Snyder has some plans for her in the near future, to justify here being there.

This issue includes six pages of "Mad Skewers The DC Universe", featuring some great cartooning from Kerry Callen and Sergio Aragones, particularly highlighting how great the former is at impersonating the styles of others, but some of the jokes seemed in pretty poor taste to me. I know, I know--I'm pointing out that Mad magazine might not be all that tasteful in its humor. Is this...adulthood setting in...?

Justice League #20 (DC) Can I offer you some advice? If you ever have an idea for a silly bit of fan art inspired by your favorite super-comic, or a gag that occurred to you that you don't think anyone else might have thought of just yet, don't wait months, weeks or even days to draw it and post it on your blog or tweet it out.

If so, you might be chagrined to find something you were thinking about--say, for instance, Jarro in an adorable little Robin costume, fighting crime alongside Batman as the Starfish Wonder--in an actual comic book, as canon.
Well, sort of.

This issue contains a one-page dream sequence in which Jarro is Batman's new Robin and, um, son, something I started thinking about the first time Scott Snyder had Jarro refer to Batman as "Pop" a couple issues ago. Dang it. (I might still draw some Starfish Wonder fan art though, because I haven't drawn anything in forever).

Anyway, that is obviously the best--if mildly frustrating to me personally--part of this issue, the majority of which is set in the future. It occurs during one of several brief check-ins with the home team of Mera and Starman--Mera even gets multiple lines this issue!--as they watch over Mxyzptlk, while the away team of Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl get a tour of the future conducted by a future Superman and their own future selves.

Snyder and artist/co-plotter Jorge Jimenez obviously put a lot of thought into this future, which is remarkably near...maybe 20-40 years, tops (Dick Grayson, for example, is the new Batman). The time frame seemed a bit...close to me, not only because of how radically the world has been altered in their near future (although I suspect that is the point that is being made; if things go as the future League says they do, the world will be vastly improved), but also because Superman, Wonder Woman and J'onn all show such signs of aging and, in the past, they don't exactly age at normal, human rates, you know?

The bulk of the issue--some 14 pages--are spent detailing the future world, and while it's all kind of interesting, it also seems like a waste of time and space. Especially if Snyder doesn't plan on using this setting in the future of the book; if it does come into play, then maybe giving a page or two to each of the Leaguers to learn what their future counterparts are doing won't feel like such a waste after all (I can't help but think that, were this a Grant Morrison issue of JLA, the future sequence would have lasted, like, three to five pages, tops).

It comes as no surprise that maybe the future utopia isn't quite the paradise that it's being presented as, given that so much of it feels wrong (Like Flash and Green Lantern creating worlds, not unlike Reed Richards and company were doing while they were "dead" in Marvel's current Fantastic Four) and the future Leaguers all seem really blithe about revealing things about the future to their past selves, who are quite attentive; surely all these superheroes have been around the track enough times to have developed a few general rules about time travel.

Oh, and that hint regarding Bat-Mite last issue? There's an even bigger hint in this issue, indicating that a Bat-Mite appearance is imminent. Hell, a Mr. Mxyzptlk vs. Bat-Mite rematch seems somewhat likely, if things go in the direction they seem to be leading.

My constant nit-picking aside, I do mostly like this book; there's a reason it's pretty much the only super-comic I read serially anymore.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic #5 (Dark Horse Comics) Note the shape of the face area on the iron maiden that horror host Crow is stuffing Tom Servo, Teen Reporter into on Steve Vance's cover. Great detail, that. This is the fifth issue, and it continues to do what it has been doing for the previous four, with Jonah, Tom and Crow in stories from Black Cat, Johnny Jason, Teen Reporter and Horrific, respectively. It's all fine, but I'm really ready for something different from an MST3K comic at this point, and I hope they explore different ways to publish comics featuring these characters and some form of riffing--as complicated as this particular method is, I think it would work in a future series, but I would hope that they change the comics more regularly. Tom's comic has been a single, ongoing plot, but Jonah and Crow have now been in multiple stories from the same comic books.

If Dark Horse and the MST3K people do decide to do more comics after the completion of this series, I hope they keep Vance around, as more than anything his cover drawings link the comic to the TV show...or, at least, the DVD collections of the TV show.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #47 (DC) Month in, month out, some of the weirdest, most unexpected imagery I find in my comic book reading tends to come from this rather unlikely source, a Big Two comic featuring corporate-owned characters teaming up with other corporate-owned characters. Here it's Walter Carzon drawing Scooby's head on Shaggy's body and Shaggy's head on Scooby's body. It is the result of a mad scientist and his head-swapping experiments, conducted via an energy field and thus much easier to reverse than, say, the even madder surgical method.

He's apparently been at this for a while--there are lots of exotic animals with the wrong heads in this story, "Don't Get Mad, Scientist!"--and he finds a perfect subject for his experiments at Peebles Pet Shop in the form of Magilla Gorilla. That's the cartoon star that Scooby and the gang team-up with this issue. Unlike many of the other Hanna-Barbera funny animal characters they have teamed up with in past issues, this one feels fairly natural. Seeing a pet shot, they pull the Mystery Machine over to see if they can have Scooby groomed (they've just got done unmasking a muck monster, you see), and that pet store happens to be the one Magilla lives in.

After Mr. Peebles completes the sale, he notices the address of the scientist--1313 Terror Terrace, an "eerie old castle on Haunted Hill"--so he goes with the kids to check on Magilla and that's where the head-swapping occurs.

In general, the issues teaming Scooby-Doo up with DC characters tend to be better than those teaming him up with the Hanna-Barbera funny animals, but this might be the best of the latter so far. Writer Sholly Fisch always does a fantastic--and fantastically underrated--job on this title, but the script for this issue is a particularly strong one.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 10: Life Is Too Short, Squirrel (Marvel Entertainment) You know what part of the new Captain Marvel movie I got most excited about...? The part on Monday afternoon, about four days after seeing the film in theaters, when reports of its massive opening weekend haul started coming out, and I realized that maybe Marvel wouldn't just add Captain Marvel 2 to their upcoming film slate, but might also start looking for other female superheroes to star in their own movies. As I've discussed before, Marvel Comics doesn't have all that deep of a field of superhero ladies, particularly ones who don't come as part of a superhero team package, aren't derivatives of male characters and, crucially, haven't already appeared in TV shows.

In fact, after Captain Marvel, I'd argue that there's really only one Marvel heroine capable of carrying a feature film franchise: Squirrel Girl (Okay, and Ms. Marvel too, I guess, but Squirrel Girl would be a million times better).

Until that day comes, however, we will just have to content ourselves with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, now in its tenth trade paperback collection and still Marvel's very best comic book series. This volume issues #37-41 of the series, the first four issues of which are devoted to a Derek Charm-drawn story arc, while the final issue sees guest-artist Naomi Franquiz arrive for a done-in-one.

Charm's arc begins at the funeral of Squirrel Girl, in which various Marvel heroes gather in special, funereal black costumes in order to mourn the loss of their unbeatable ally. But don't worry! While a Squirrel Girl might have died, it's not the Squirrel Girl. In actuality, it was a Skrull posing as Doreen Green, and that Squirull Girl isn't really dead either; it's all part of said Skrull's plan to...well, to do something rather un-Skrull-like, really.

It's a really fun arc, typically jam-packed with gags and dense story-telling, in which writer Ryan North allows himself interesting storytelling tropes and nerdy, North-ish topics to riff on, including a superhero funeral, how to figure out if someone is really themselves or being impersonated, applications of shape-changing powers and, of course, computer jokes. The story also has a lot of Squirrel Girl/Iron Man content, which is pretty much the best (and one reason to wish for an Unbeatable Squirrel Girl movie; it would totally guest-star Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark) and, near its climax, there is an incredibly heated argument between Tony and Doreen regarding superhero ethics and how to proceed with a very thorny issue. I really liked that particular sequence, as Tony seems to be the hero Marvel Comics regularly has engaging in such arguments with his peers, and sometimes it ends up leading to superhero civil wars that takes hundreds and hundreds of pages to resolve, usually after a few dozen fights and a couple of deaths. Here, Doreen and Tony manage to hash everything out in just 11 dialogue-packed panels; they go from raised voices to hugging it out in less than two pages. I guess a theoretical Iron Man/Squirrel Girl Civil War III event series would either be the worst or the best superhero civil war event series ever, depending on what you want from your superheroes-disagreeing-strongly comic book stories.

The arc has a pretty potent and relevant message about accepting refugees, one that parses the difference between an invader, an immigrant and a refugee, that works so perfectly in the context of the Marvel Universe that it's possible to think that the way it lines up with real world events is just coincidental. Like, maybe Ryan North doesn't read the news; I don't know.

It also gives Charm the opportunity to draw a huge swathe of the Marvel Universe. Not just at Squirrel Girl's funeral, but also in scenes featuring the current Avengers line-up, the late 1970s Avengers (circa the Kree-Skrull War, in a fantastic splash panel), and the Dark Avengers and other characters circa Secret Invasion. As I've said before, what makes Charm so ideal for this book is that he is equally adept at fun and funny shenanigans as he is at drawing all-out superhero action in his own style.

The Brain Drain gag at the end of issue #37, by the way, is but one of several "lols" I got from this book.
The final, Franquiz drawn issue is set during the short time in which Spider-Man and Peter Parker were split into two different entities in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. New villain Ms. Quizzler has kidnapped Peter Parker and Nancy Whitehead and dropped them in a death trap; each suspects the other of actually being the secret identity of a superhero known to hang around Empire University, and further suspects that the other doesn't want to act to save them both for fear of giving away their secret identity as Spider-Man or Squirrel Girl. But both are wrong! (Well, Nancy would have been right, but for the fact that Peter was temporarily split from his Spider-Man aspect).

Meanwhile, Squirrel Girl, Thor and She-Hulk are taking tests, so it's going to be up to Tippy-Toe and the Squirrel Scouts to save the captives...and for Squirrel Girl to defeat Ms. Quizzler with a challenge that also just might make her a better person and improve the whole world. Way to go, Squirrel Girl!

West Coast Avengers Vol. 1: Best Coast (Marvel Entertainment) I'm fond enough of Kelly Thompson's writing--and, most relevantly here, her Jessica Jones and the first two volumes of her Hawkeye series--that I've been buying her work simply because it's hers, but I may need to reevaluate that. As with her Rogue & Gambit: Ring of Fire trade, this didn't quite do it for me, and here I can't blame its X-Menishness, as it isn't an X-Men comic (although there is an X-person in it, for some reason!).

Don't get me wrong; it is not a bad comic, either in its writing or its art or any component of its construction. It just didn't really connect with me, for a few reasons. I somehow missed Thompson's Hawkeye: Kate Bishop Vol. 3, which is one of the nine trades Marvel suggests on their "Follow the Adventures of Hawkeye" reading list spread across the inside covers (basically the last two Hawkeye ongoings, starting with Matt Fraction and David Aja's reinvention of the character what feels like an age ago). I don't think one needs to have read, like, any of those to read this trade, but because this felt somewhat off to me, I did wonder if Kate Bishop Vol. 3 would have been helpful to me.

This certainly seems to be a continuation of that series, with Thompson finding Kate and a few of the supporting characters from that series still on the West Coast, although the tone has changed a bit, the comedy being amped up. If Kate Bishop was a very funny superhero dramedy, West Coast Avengers is much more of a superhero comedy; I mean, this first story arc's villain is a gold-skinned, long-haired, shirtless guy with an over-sized head who introduces himself as BRODOK, a Bio-Robotic Organism Designed Overwhelmingly for Kissing.

The team just kind of comes into existence, which works fine for, say, Jason Aaron's Avengers or, like, most any X-Men team, but a West Coast branch of the Avengers is a thing that hasn't been a thing in so long that it feels sort of random. That is, I didn't really feel sold on the creation of the team in-story. It just seemed like Thompson pitched a continuation of Kate Bishop as a superhero team, and Marvel green lit it.

Kate is fighting a herd** of land sharks in Santa Monica one day and naturally starts calling all her allies to help out. The other Hawkeye--you know, Hawkguy--shows up, as does America Chavez (are we not calling her Ms. America anymore?) and Fuse, Kate's boyfriend with Absorbing Man (or Grunge, or Amazing Man) powers. When Clint prevails upon Kate that she should form and lead a superhero team to protect the notoriously un-protected Not New York City portion of the Marvel Universe, she starts recruiting, and ends up with Gwenpool and Quentin Quire. If nothing else, this team is the a very color-coordinated one!

It's after the first issue, which rather rapidly assembles the team and sets the tone for the series, that I thought it bogged down a bit, for one of two reasons. First, Thompson relies on a reality TV show structure, which felt off-puttingly dated to me (This could just be me, though. I assume there are still reality TV shows on...I don't watch much television, but I read a reality TV superhero team comics in 1995, and I wouldn't recommend it).
Yes, it allows the characters to talk directly to the "camera"/reader, which helps the quick establishment of the characters and concept in the first twenty pages, and yes, it also helps provide an in-story rationale for Quentin being there and for the team having a funding source (and maybe that makes it more West Coast...?), but I've read X-Force/X-Statix almost twenty years ago; I'm not sure Thompson and company can do something new, different and better--or at least more timely and more relevant--with that premise here.

After the land sharks, the next threat the team faces is a giant Tigra, who appears to be mindlessly rampaging. It is here that BRODOK shows up to help them, and everyone immediately assumes he is actually MODOK in disguise, but they play along in order to get to the bottom of the giant Tigra business. This fills up the rest of the trade, and the visual of a giant Tigra (and a few other giant monster women who aren't pre-existing Marvel heroes/West Coast Avengers alum) and the rather sharp origin of the giant-sized monster women are definitely strong elements...but not so strong as to be able to support a three-issue, 60-page story arc. At one issue, maybe two, it would have been been fine, but at this length it dragged; it didn't read as "decompressed," as we used to call it, and there was definitely stuff in all those panels, but not the sort of stuff I wanted to spend so much time with (For contrast, the legitimately cool land sharks, which were posed and ran around a bit like giant chickens, take up only eight pages).
Thompson has a fine creative partner in Stefano Caselli, a pretty great artist who I haven't seen much of in quite a while, but whom I recall being quite effective during a long and healthy run on Avengers Initiative, the post-Civil War series that was full of newer, younger superheroes and plenty of Marvel Universe guest-stars. As I mentioned, his land sharks were fantastic--I probably would have picked up the single issue of West Coast Avengers #1 simply for their appearance, had I seen it in the wild and flipped through it in a shop--and his character work has only gotten stronger and sharper since I've last seen it. While there are a lot of panels of heroes sitting in chairs and talking to the camera, Caselli makes those characters look expressive and dynamic while doing so.

As 80 pages aren't enough to fill a $17.99 trade paperback, Marvel includes two relevant-ish reprints after West Coast Avengers #4. These are the 2008 Young Avengers Presents #6 by the oddly un-credited creative team of Matt Fraction, Alan Davis and Mark Farmer, in which Ronin Clint Barton pays a visit to the young woman whose been using his name since his death, and 2016's Unbelievable Gwenpool #1 by Christopher Hastings, Danilo Beyruth and Gurihiru, which serves as a mostly unnecessary introduction to the character (there's not that much to her, really, and she and her schtick are thoroughly introduced in the pages of Thompson and Caselli's main story).


Amazing Spider-Man By Nick Spencer Vol. 2: Friends and Foes (Marvel Entertainment) I feel like I just read the first volume of the new, Nick Spencer-written Amazing Spider-Man last month--because I did--so either I was a little late to that one and a little early to this one, or they are publishing these collections awfully damn fast. If that is the case, it certainly makes for an improved trade-reading experience, as there's less chance of me forgetting a whole bunch of minor plot points between volumes, but it probably isn't the best thing in the world when it comes to trying to sell comics serially. Like, having to wait longer than a month or two is really supposed to be the "price" you pay to read trades, and what would conceivably drive readers towards the serially-published comic book-comics (or digital ones now, I guess) if they don't have to wait all that long, right...?

This second volume contains issues #6-10 of ASM, and Spencer's collaborator on the last batch of issues--Ryan Ottley--is already MIA. Hopefully he's taking a planned break, rather than having just drawn the first few issues before departing under any circumstances. Marvel has a fine replacement for him in Humberto Ramos, though, who pencils all five issues, albeit it with smartly deployed assists from Steve Lieber on the first two issues and Michele Bandini on the last two issues.

Spencer continues sub-plots already in progress--the presence of Taskmaster and Black Ant, Peter Parker living with Fred Myers, AKA Boomerang, Peter and MJ's resumed relationship, Spidey being on the outs with the rest of the superhero community, a weird demonic figure with bandages and a giant centipede flexing his muscles--while these issues contain some remarkably fun and funny A-Plots.

The first two issues are devoted to Peter's relationship with Boomerang--not Spider-Man's, but Peter's. Realizing that Peter is friends with Spider-Man (or, at least that's the cover story Peter has convinced everyone of), used to photograph the wall-crawler's exploits and even wrote a literal book about him, Boomerang finds a very unexpected way to hang out with/use Peter. I know it's already in trade, but I still don't want to spoil this bit; it was probably the biggest surprise I found upon turning a page of this book, and I literally laughed out loud when I saw it (or "loled," as the kids say).

Sections of these issues are more-or-less a Superior Foes of Spider-Man reunion, as Spencer is joined by his collaborator on that (superior) title Steve Lieber to depict all five members of that incarnation of the Sinister Six getting together to play cards in an abandoned warehouse. While the narrator of one of those scenes is the opposite of reliable, if what is being shown is genuine, it is both incredibly sad and poignant.

The final three issues have Spidey hanging around with his ex The Black Cat, now back in super-thief/not-evil-but-still-kind-of-a-villain mode, while MJ looks into a support group for the loved ones of superheroes that sounds like it must be a front for an evil plot, although it turns out that Jarvis runs it, so maybe not so much (the people who use it have their faces obscured from one another and from the readers--in a high-tech way of enforcing the anonymous aspect of such support groups--and I couldn't guess some of the participants, which Spencer only leaves clues of. I'm pretty sure Foggy Nelson, Miles Morales' pal Ganke Lee and Fantastic postman Willy Loman were there. Maybe Scott Lang's ex-wife...?)
My guesses? Foggy Nelson, No Idea, Stature's Mom, Ganke, Pepper Potts and Willy Lumpkin. Help me out here. 
An ancient thieves guild that demands 10% of everything that is stolen is making itself known in New York City once again, and to let the whole world know they are back, they pull off a bunch of seemingly impossible robberies of the world's superheroes all at once. Like, stealing Captain America's shield after he threw it but before it returned to his hand, or snatching Spidey's web-slinger's right off his wrists or, well, this:
That was the second time I lolled this volume, I think, more so because it was just so dang unexpected a panel than due to the overall strength of that particular joke. That's one of the best aspects of Spencer's ASM, though. It's not just funny in the now-expected way of so many of Marvel's superhero comedies, but it's not afraid to be downright silly, pushing the gags a step further than necessary for the demands of the plot. (See also, for example, the panel of Boomerang and Shocker in couples therapy; like, pointing out that they went to couple's therapy is an okay joke, but then showing them there and revealing a bit of dialogue? Even more effective).

In the last two issues, Bandini draws the MJ/support group sections, leaving Ramos the superhero stuff with Spider-Man.

I've always loved Ramos' style, and his work has only gotten stronger and more refined over the years, looking less like manga/anime homage super-comics illustration than all-around strong, smart cartooning, with his heroic figures now looking slim, but with bulbous heads and big hands and feet. I particularly dug his take on Black Cat; that weird white fur on her gloves and boots is drawn much, much longer than usual, so all of her limbs have what are essentially streamers on them, making her a more dynamic figure, even when she's just standing there. (Like, what Superman's cape does for Superman? Counting her matching white hair, she's got like five mini-capes on).
Great comic, and the most fun I've had reading a comic with the words "Spider-Man" in the title since...Superior Foes of Spider-Man, I think.

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands (DC) I was so incredibly irritated by this comic's very existence when I read the first issue that I didn't make it past that in its original serialized publication. That was in large part because it seemed to be a hard reboot of DC's Black Lightning character, whom DC had just rebooted and reintroduced in the pages of short-lived anthology series DC Universe Presents in 2013. After that four-issue arc, Cold Dead Hands was pretty much his next appearance--not counting, like, a cameo or two in Justice League, and, man, you shouldn't have to completely reboot a character every single time you use him. (Prior to the post-Flashpoint/New 52 reboot in DCUP, his previous revised origin story was 2009's Black Lightning: Year One.)

Having read and greatly enjoyed writer (and Black Lightning co-creator) Tony Isabella and artist Eddy Newell's take on the character in the recently released Brick City Blues collection (reviewed in last month's installment), I really wanted to revisit this Isabella-written six-issue series and see how it compared to his mid-90s run on the last Black Lightning ongoing series.

In retrospect, I sort of wish I had somehow read the prose piece that appears as an afterword in this volume before I had read the first issue of Cold Dead Hands last year...almost as much as I wish DC had really had its shit together when it decided to do a line-wide reboot/relaunch in 2011 (instead of seemingly have decided to do it with, like, a month or three's notice). Then maybe this could have been the reintroduction to Black Lightning, rather than the false start of DCUP...or even Year One, if DC thought more than a year or two ahead in their management of their fictional universe.

Anyway, as to why DC was re-rebooting Black Lightning with this miniseries, apparently DiDio simply asked Isabella if he wanted to write a comic featuring the character, and, when he agreed and asked which version of the character, DiDio told him to do whatever he wanted. And so this is what he came up with.

This is not the original pre-Crisis version, nor is it the pre-Flashpoint version. It doesn't seem to be the version from DCUP, but I never read that series, so I guess I wouldn't even know if it was. It's also not the version from the TV show, or even closely aligned to that version, as Isabella explains in his afterword, because he was writing before the show was being made and aired.

So I guess this is the post-Flashpoint, current version of the character, as his co-creator would have recreated him for The New 52, if he had the opportunity to do so back then.

This version of Jefferson Pierce, not unlike the one that appeared in Brick City Blues, has just returned to Cleveland, although now it's actually referred to in the script as Cleveland, rather than Brick City. He's returned because his father has just died, and he's got a job teaching at an inner city school, while fighting crime at night using his electricity-based powers.

While that doesn't sound too different, Jefferson now has some family, including a biological grandmother and two cousins, Anissa and Jennifer, who, in the post-Infinite Crisis, pre-Flashpoint continuity were his daughters, and had grown-up to be superheroes Thunder and Lightning. He's also got something of a Team Lightning, with a best friend on the Cleveland Police Department, a kinda sorta mentor, a supervillain-turned-superhero-turned trainer who used to by the fishy sobriquet of Amberjack and also a shape-changing alien ally, all of whom are pretty useful when it comes to crime-fighting.

The particular crime-fighting he is engaged in throughout this villain is the prevalence of alien-super weapons on the streets of Cleveland, being dealt by Tobias Whale. This Tobias Whale is different than all previous ones--his mention of his name being used by others seeking to capitalize on his notoriety seems to be a reference to the DCUP arc, in which Black Lightning and Blue Devil fought Tobias Whale--and is basically a big, strong, ruthless black dude, rather than an albino with a weird-shaped head. This plot reminded me a bit of the original Steel storyline, in which he was fighting to keep the "Toastmaster" weapons he helped develop off the streets.

The six issues are pretty evenly divided between introducing Jefferson Pierce and his supporting cast and villains, and this conflict. Isabella infuses the story with a bit more than simple drama and superhero stuff, though, and there are various attempts to incorporate meditations on gun violence and the friction between police and black communities (12-year-old boy Tamir Rice was shot to death by a white police officer in Cleveland in 2014; the incident is named by Black Lightning in his narration).

Isabella also gives Black Lightning new and more novel uses of his powers than we've seen before, including some upgrades to his costume, which he can manipulate with his powers. These include limited flight--basically by shooting himself into the sky off of the metal in cars and then breaking his fall with his energy field--and even generating "black" lightning, which he does at one point to strike opponents with a blast they can't see coming.

Black Lightning's costume and powers are things I...worry about, for some reason (So too is Tim Drake's costume, especially once Damian Wane was introduced. I don't know why, but their costume design sometimes presents itself as a problem I need to dwell on before falling asleep now and then). I am not fond of this particular design. I particularly hate the yellow goggles, which I guess are affixed to his head with spirit gum or something...? There's a chunky, armor-ishness to the costume, which is par for the course these days, and he seems to have knee pads and, if not a codpiece, then his pants are so colored as if to suggest he's wearing chaps...? More than anything, though, it suffers from haing one color too many (the yellow of the goggles and the outlines of the blue lightning bolts) and, of course, my traditional complaint of Black Lightning costumes: There's no black lightning on it. All of the bolt designs on his costume--and here there are a half-dozen of them--are blue, not black.

The artwork is provided by Clayton Henry and Yvel Guitchet--not sure why they needed fill-in artists for a miniseries, but hell, what do I know--and it's strong, although very clean and smooth. It lacks the grit and lived-in quality that Newell brought to the 1990s Black Lightning, and the city and the characters, like the hero and his new suit, all look cleaner, sleeker and smoother. I didn't really recognize Cleveland throughout the book, but then, I guess Cleveland itself has grown a little cleaner, sleeker and smoother in the last decade or so too.

Once I made it through that first issue, with it's annoying "Here's yet another random reboot!" quality and all of the name-dropping of various DC heroes in the narration--another example of DC's worst-of-both-world's approach to continuity, in which the publisher seems to want to buttress all their stories on affection for other, older ones, but don't want to be bound by those stories--it took on the shape of a strong first story arc in an ongoing series...which it actually isn't.

I'm not sure why Isabella hasn't gotten to do a follow-up series or ongoing yet. I imagine that perhaps sales on the mini didn't justify more comics just yet, but that's just a guess, really. I'd read more...although I'd prefer a different artistic team working in a different style. As well as making he book a lot more Cleveland-y. And maybe a new costume.

I'd also like to learn more about this Amberjack fellow, who apparently lost a fight to The Red Bee at one point. But then, Black Lightning, Cleveland, The Red Bee...those are all things I'm really into.

Superman Vol. 1: The Unity Saga: Phantom Earth (DC) If you're wondering why this is under the "Borrowed" category instead of the "Bought" one, it's because while I had every intention of reading Brian Michael Bendis' Superman and Action Comics runs in trade, DC decided to collect his first batch of Superman comics in a $24.99 hardcover before releasing it in a trade paperback, and I didn't want to wait any longer, so when I saw this at the library, I checked it out. So I guess I saved money and didn't have to wait as long...?

The somewhat cumbersome title seems to indicate that the "Unity Saga" is going to be a pretty big storyline, and the fact that the subject of unity doesn't really come up in the story until somewhere around the fifth of the six issues collected here would seem to reinforce that. The story is a relatively simple one, which likely has a lot to do with the fact that it is setting up a bigger storyline.

The conflict boils down to this: A terrible accident has plunged the entire planet Earth into the Phantom Zone, the extra-dimensional prison space where Kryptonians have traditionally exiled their worst criminals and that Rogol Zaar was just recently cast into at the end of Bendis and company's Man of Steel series, and Superman and his many super-peers in the Justice League and beyond have to struggle to keep the Earth from failing and its people from freaking out and tearing the place apart while they try to find away to restore it. Meanwhile, Rogol Zaar, Jax-Ur and a bunch of exiles who aren't particularly fans of The House of El want to kill Superman to death, so he spends a lot of his time in space fighting them.

It's more engaging than it sounds, in large part because despite how clunky and Bendis-y some of the dialogue might sound now and then, Bendis really does "get" Superman, and, better yet, has a interesting take on Superman's relationships with others--civilians, co-workers, fellow superheroes, supervillains--that usually feels natural and true and occasionally even insightful (His talk with Superboy in a flashback in which he discusses rather bluntly how crazy Batman drives him, for example, is pretty great). There are an awful lot of cameos in here, including The Flash, Martian Manhunter, Livewire, Adam Strange and The Atoms Ray Palmer and Ryan Choi. Guys, I have no idea what DCU continuity is supposed to be anymore, but no one else seems to either, so I guess it could be worse. I did kinda dig seeing Superman presented as the center of the DC Universe's superheroes, the figure all of the others more or less rotate around. And seeing Plastic Man working with the Justice League again, even if it was only, like, a one-panel psychic check in.

There are some developments in this arc, like Superman getting a new Fortress of Solitude in The Bermuda Triangle and the return of General Zod, but the biggest development seems to be the last-page cliffhanger ending, which I knew from solicits was coming, but still have no idea how it's going to work out, and what it might mean for the future of the Super-Sons.

Ivan Reis pencils the entirety of these six issues, with Joe Prado and Oclair Albert inking. I'm rather fond of Reis' pencil work, and he does a great job on this character and on this arc. I was happily surprised he was able to draw an entire six-issue arc, though.


Supers Book One (Top Shelf Productions) Here.

*When The Avengers confront Namor for the second time in this volume, Captain America tells Namor, "We've been doing everything we can to broker peace with Atlantis. Even after you killed those Roxxon gunmen in their cells. And damn near killed Stingray, your own friend." Since "damn near" implies "not actually,"  I guess Stingray will still be available to be killed off or damn near killed off in a future story in order to show how badass a villain is.

**The Internet tells me a group of sharks is called "a gam, herd, frenzy, school or shiver," so even though "herd" was the first word I used as a placeholder and is the least cool-sounding of the names for a group of sharks, I stuck with that one. The Internet did not tell me what a group of land sharks is called, however.