Friday, May 31, 2019

Marvel's August previews reviewed

Well, now that the "War of the Realms" line-wide crossover event story is all done, Marvel is turning its attention away from over-sized event storytelling and returning their focus to high-quality, individual, done-in-one stories perfect for brand-new readers who--

Variant Cover by ARTGERM (Virgin Version Also Available)
Action Figure Variant Cover by JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
Variant Cover by RON LIM
Variant Cover by NICK BRADSHAW
Codex Variant Cover by ADI GRANOV
Connecting Variant Cover by TBA
Cult of Carnage Variant Cover by GABRIELLE DELL’OTTO
Hidden Gem Variant Cover by MARK BAGLEY
Party Variant Cover by MIKE DEODATO (B&W Version Also Available)
Premiere Variant Cover by RYAN STEGMAN
Young Guns Variant Cover by AARON KUDER
Blank Variant Cover Also Available
After turning Venom’s world upside down a year ago, DONNY CATES and RYAN STEGMAN are about to put the Sinister Symbiote through hell again, only this time CARNAGE has come calling, and everyone who’s ever worn a symbiote is dead in his sights! He’s skirted the periphery of the Marvel Universe for months, but Cletus Kasady at last stands poised to make his grand return to New York in a blistering 60-PAGE story… and he wants to paint the town red!
72 PGS./Rated T+ …$7.99

JK! This August the publisher kicks off their Absolute Carnage story line with an $8, 70+-page issue that comes with no fewer than 13 covers. The main series is just four issues, two of which ship in August, but there will also be five separate three-issue miniseries launching in August, as well as a tie-in issues of Venom.

If you can't get enough symbiotes and have $57.88 to spend on comics this August, has Marvel got some comics for you!

Oddly, Amazing Spider-Man was able to escape, and it doesn't look like Spider-Man Prime has a role to play in Absolute Carnage, not even in a miniseries, but maybe Peter Parker was mentioned in one of the miniseries solicitations and I just missed it, because my eyes can sometimes glaze over when reading about symbiotes the same way they can when I read the word "mutant" too many times in one sitting...

By popular demand, ATLAS debut in their own series as AMADEUS CHO, SILK, SHANG-CHI, WAVE, JIMMY WOO and all your favorites defend the cross-Asian portal city of Pan against the science-magic threat of one of Marvel’s classic villains! Classic science-magic super hero fun combined with young and old heroes from multiple lands clashing with one another, fighting monsters and maybe saving the world along the way! And who is ISAAC IKEDA, the Protector of Pan? PLUS: Where are the original AGENTS OF ATLAS? Namora, M-11, Gorilla Man and Marvel Boy in an all-new top-secret mission!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

Hmmm...I'm glad to see the original Agents showing up alongside the new team, which seems to have simply appropriated the team name, as Jimmy Woo is the only holdover. Of course, maybe the "classic villain" they are fighting is The Golden Claw, in which case the name might be a bit more appropriate...?

It's difficult to tell from the wording of this solicitation copy, but I get the sense that this miniseries will have a lead feature by Grg Pak and Gang Hyuk Lim starring the new Agents, and a backup by Jeff Parker and Carol Pagulayan featuring the original team.

Personally, I think I would find a new team consisting of a super line-up of both iterations combined more engaging, in much the same way I kind of wish that Marvel launched a Defenders book combining a classic line-up (Doctor Strange, Namor, The Hulk, The Silver Surfer, maybe Hellcat and Nighthawk and/or a Valkyrie) wit the Netflix-inspired team that starred in the last book to bear that title (Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones).

• There is a new Sinister Syndicate!
• Beetle, Electro, Lady Octopus, Scorpia and White Rabbit have come together for one reason: TO HUNT BOOMERANG!
• Spidey knew having Boomerang as a roommate would come back to bite him, but not like this.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Wait, Lady Octopus...? Like Olivia "Doctor Octopus" Octavius from Into the Spider-Verse...? Is she a real, preexisting character, or did the movie's success lead to her canonical existence in the Marvel Comics Universe...?

Spider-Man’s first encounter with his deadliest foe leaps off the page like never before! The lethal Venom looks a lot like Spidey’s black costume — only bigger, stronger and with a killer smile! Worse still, thanks to the symbiotic suit, Eddie Brock knows all of Peter Parker’s secrets! Venom has already terrorized Mary Jane — so it’s just a matter of time before he comes face-to-face with Spidey. And Eddie knows just the right place to battle the wall-crawler! Can Peter figure out a way to survive? And if he does, maybe it’s time to go back to a more friendly neighborhood outfit! It’s one of the greatest issues of David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane’s fan-favorite run, with the superstar artist’s stunning pages presented for the first time in eye-popping 3D! Reprinting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #300.
48 PGS./Rated T …$7.99


Sorry; the word "polybagged" just makes me shudder involuntarily.

So shortly after I first moved to Columbus in 2000 or so, and suddenly had access to the many, many trade collections that the Columbus Metropolitan Library had and the Ashtabula County Public Library did not, I started seeking out many of the comic books that I knew from being around comics for so long were extremely popular, but I had just never actually read myself. Like, for example, Todd McFarlane's Amazing Spider-Man comics. Granted, this is now almost 20 years ago now, but I remember being shocked at how poor the comic was. I think I made it maybe one issue into the collection before giving up, but maybe I didn't even make it that far.

I don't know; I read a good eight issues or so of Spawn, so I know there is (or was) something appealing about McFarlane's art, but his Spider-Man just seemed completely unreadable to me. Maybe you had to be there at the time...? (I similarly never really "got" Rob Liefeld or Jim Lee's art from that era, although I do think the latter's work has improved tremendously over the decades since his X-Men was all the rage...)

Nice, evergreen Doctor Strange cover by Alan Davis.

• The first of a series of regular essential releases expanding on the ongoing legend of the Fantastic Four and their world!
• The FF are now living on Yancy Street, but not all of their neighbors are happy about that.
• The Thing investigates a nasty piece of vandalism that conjures up painful old memories as he takes a trip down memory lane through the Lower East Side and it’s made all the more dangerous by…THE TERRIBLE TRIO!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T+ …$4.99

When the Richards family is called back to Earth to be the Fantastic Four again, they left behind the Future Foundation — a think tank of the most brilliant young minds in the universe — with one mission: to find the pieces of and rebuild their friend Molecule Man. But that’s proved harder than imagined as this crew of young geniuses, Atlanteans, Mutants, Moloids and androids have run into every problem in the Multiverse. Now, with the leadership of Alex and Julie Power and a little extra firepower from guest professor Yondu Udonta, the team will undergo their most dangerous mission yet — a PRISON BREAK! Jeremy Whitley (UNSTOPPABLE WASP) and Will Robson (GREAT LAKES AVENGERS; Spawn) take the Future Foundation on a heart-pounding journey across time and space!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

These both seem broadly appealing, and I like and/or respect the work of most the creators attached to these books. That said, it seems like maybe not the best idea in the world-to start pumping out more series featuring a particular franchise almost as soon as its been deemed a mild success (although, that is basically Marvel's publishing strategy in a nutshell).

I mean, we went years without any Fantastic Four series, and now that the title has been back for a trade paperback or two's worth of single issues, Marvel is launching a new ongoing spin-off in Future Foundation and a one-shot that is "the first of a series of regular essential releases" an Invisible Woman miniseries (below).

This is Amanda Conner's variant cover for Mark Waid and Mattia De Iulis' Invisible Woman #2. I've been thinking about it, and I think I've decided that the cover would look slightly cooler if Conner had not drawn the invisible force field, but instead just drawn all the projectiles bouncing off of it. There are enough of them that you should be able to "see" it without it being visible.

Nice cover for Ironheart #9 by Stefano Caselli.

THIS IS THE BIG ONE! In celebration of Marvel’s 80th Anniversary, we have gathered together the greatest array of talent ever to be assembled between the covers of a single comic book! Names from the past, from the present, and even the future! Every page is filled with all-new work from this cavalcade of comic book luminaries!
There is a mystery that threads throughout the Marvel Universe — one that has its origins in MARVEL COMICS #1 and which unites a disparate array of heroes and villains throughout the decades! What is the Eternity Mask, and who is responsible for the conspiracy to keep it hidden? And what new player will make their startling debut as these secrets are peeled away?
Featuring the entirety of the Marvel Universe of characters!
96 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T …$9.99

This irritates me in several different ways, starting with the randomly chosen very high number, which seems at least in part to try to get in on that Action Comics and Detective Comics action.

I'm still going to buy and read it though...mostly out of curiosity.

CULLEN BUNN (W) • SCOTT HEPBURN, SUPERLOG, Becky Cloonan, Gerardo Zaffino & MORE! (A)
Someone is doing terrible things to the Marvel Monsters, and only Kid Kaiju can stop it! But that’s not all! A murderers’ row of artists like Becky Cloonan, Gerardo Zaffino and others are on hand to provide awesome monster splash pages, accompanied by cross sections from superstar artist Superlog! It’s the big, bold, beautiful celebration of all things Monstrously Marvel that you won’t want to miss!
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Parental Advisory …$4.99

Oh wow, it's like half my favorite Marvel characters, all on a single cover!

Artist Nick Bradshaw's art reminds me a lot of Arthur Adams' art, and this cover is a good example of that; Bradshaw is every bit as good at drawing monsters as Arthur Adams is! (Note Fin Fang Foom's shorts in the image, too; they are rendered really well).

The details on the contents of this are pretty sketchy, and given the fact that splash pages are specifically mentioned, I'm curious how many panels will actually be in this. Also, "& MORE" isn't generally an encouraging sign when discussing a creative team. Even still, Man-Thing and a bunch of Kirby and Lee's monsters? Yes, I will pay $5 to hang out with them.

Cover by ANNA RUD
• Before Carol, there was Mar-Vell. And now he’s back…or is he?
• Captain Marvel and Kamala are up to their knees in Kree nonsense. Who is the mysterious Wastrel, and why is he stockpiling enough Kree tech to build a doomsday device?
• And more importantly…how do the Kree feel about what he’s planning?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Ms. Marvel's new costume is not growing on me. In fact, it's doing the opposite.

• The Punisher stole Thor’s goat and is traversing the Ten Realms on a mission of vengeance.
• But the first stop is…Counter-Earth???
• Frank’s picked up some unlikely allies. Now if only he can keep them alive…
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

I can't believe that whoever wrote this solicitation wrote "The Punisher stole Thor's goat" and not "The Punisher got Thor's goat"...or "The Punisher has gotten Thor's goat."

That is a really nice drawing of a goat though; nice goat art, Tony Moore!

Say, didn't he have two goats...? Where's the goat that is not this goat?

• In honor of Marvel’s 80th Anniversary, we’ve uncovered a hidden gem!
• Fan Randy Scheuller submitted an idea of Spider-Man donning a black suit before SECRET WARS, but his story was never printed.
• So we tasked SPIDER-MAN legends PETER DAVID and RICK LEONARDI with bringing it into the light!
• Then read a story by two of the creators who told the first printed stories of the black costume, TOM DEFALCO and RON FRENZ!
48 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T …$4.99

This sounds like a fun idea.

• Bullseye being hired for an assassination? Just another Tuesday. But when he decides to pin it on She-Hulk? Bad idea.
• Strap in as everyone’s favorite lawyer-slash-Hulk, Jennifer Walters, takes on the mad marksman in a classic case of character defamation…with a heaping helping of SMASH.
• Plus: Robots! Why? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see…
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

Huh. I'm always running about six issues behind with Marvel comics now, but unless something has happened in the pages of Avengers or Immortal Hulk in the last few months, I assume that this is set in the past, as that version of the Jennifer Walters Hulk look a lot different than the ones we've seen stomping around since Civil War II. Or perhaps cover artist Mirka Andolfo just chose to draw her in her more familiar, "Sensational" iteration than the more current one, which will be the version appearing inside...?

A whole host of hosts! Serial killer Cletus Kasady isn’t the only one who’s bonded with Venom’s sadistic offspring, Carnage — and they’re all here! First, Jonah’s son John Jameson succumbs to the symbiote until Ben Reilly offers a more tempting meal — becoming Spider-Carnage! But the Silver Surfer may prove the most appetizing host yet! Dr. Tanis Nieves takes a turn then joins the fight against Kasady when he transforms a whole town into Carnage, U.S.A.! Even the Avengers fall prey to symbiosis — but who will be the Superior Carnage? Karl Malus? The Wizard? Or Norman Osborn, whose perverse partnership transforms him into the Red Goblin! Collecting AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #361, #410 and #431, SPIDER-MAN (1990) #67, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (1976) #233, CARNAGE (2010) #3, CARNAGE USA #1-5, SUPERIOR CARNAGE #3-5 and ANNUAL #1 and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2015) #798-800.
480 PGS./Rated T+ …$39.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91964-1

I didn't even know Carnage had ever had more than one host. These symbiotes really get around.

• Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
• Let’s do the good news: It’s the start of a new Squirrel Girl arc! BRAIN DRAIN is missing! A sinister face from the past returns! And the hitherto UNBEATABLE Squirrel Girl will have to face CERTAIN DEFEAT to save him!
• Now the bad news: While this is the start of a new Squirrel Girl arc, it’s the start of our LAST Squirrel Girl arc! We’re going out on a high note. You have been amazing, and making this book has been amazing, but sadly in four months, THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL will end with issue #50. I KNOW.
• Now the good news again: Because it’s our last story ever we’re making it COMPLETELY HUGE AND AMAZING and it is going to BLOW YOUR MIND!
• It’s the start of the most nuts Squirrel Girl story ever as lives hang in the balance, narrative threads are resolved, and shocking reveals are made!

This has consistently been Marvel's best comic book for...well, well over 47 months now, and the fact that it is ending--as all good things eventually must--is genuinely bumming me out. I'll try to console myself with the thought that perhaps Ryan North, Erica Henderson and/or Derek Charm will return to do more Squirrel Girl original graphic novels, one-shots or miniseries in the future (I realllly want to read a Squirrel Girl vs. Namor story some day, for example, and I have a feeling Koi Boi would like such a thing to exist as well; oh, and I really want an Unstoppable Wasp vs. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic, so we can find out what happens when an Unstoppable force meets and Unbeatable object).

That, and the fact that if Tom King is leaving Batman to write a new Batman/Catwoman limited series, that means there's a non-zero chance that DC Comics is going to announce that Ryan North and Derek Charm are the new Batman team any day now.

This title was more than successful enough to put Doreen Green front and center--or at least near the front, and not too far from the center--of the Marvel Universe over the last few years, so it's certainly quite possible that Marvel will launch a new Squirrel Girl comic of some sort in the near-ish future.

When she has appeared in other books though, like the Avengers series I have already forgotten the name of, her characterization and depiction has varied, and her appearances in other comics are sometimes good and sometimes bad, but almost never like they were in her own book. I suspect that is because North has such a particular writing style and sense of humor, and he has written the book long enough to have made the character his to such a degree that non-North Squirrel Girls could sometimes scan as Not Squirrel Girls.

That said, there are other writers it easy to imagine taking on a new Squirrel Girl book, and capturing a similar spirit to that of North's run--Unstoppable Wasp's Jeremy Whitley, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat's Kate Leth, the Squirrel Girl prose novelist team of Shannon and Dean Hale, mmmaaaybe that Zdarsky guy--but I think I would prefer the character and the book get some time off before someone tries to relaunch it too soon, when it would simply be in the shadow of the North run.*

Written by PETER DAVID
Penciled by JOE QUESADA
Get inside the heads of one of the most uncanny mutant teams of all in an acclaimed classic from the stellar creative team of Peter David and Joe Quesada! Havok, Polaris, Quicksilver, Wolfsbane, Multiple Man and Strong Guy — plus X-Factor’s government liaison, Val Cooper — are all under “X-amination” by super hero psychiatrist Doc Samson! And the revelations are hilarious, heartbreaking and character-defining! Learn how frustrating it is for the super-fast Pietro Maximoff to live in a normal-paced world! Discover Guido Carosella’s hidden pain! Explore Alex Summers’ insecurities! And join Rahne Sinclair in confronting her deepest feelings! Plus: More secrets from the psychiatric couch! It’s one of the all-time great Marvel comic books, boldly re-presented in its original form, ads and all! Reprinting X-FACTOR (1986) #87.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Speaking of popular comics artists from the 1990s, as I was a few inches up after looking at that polybagged McFarlane comic, I actually prefer Quesada's old, '90s style to his current style.

As I've said before, I really genuinely disliked Jim Lee's artwork from that period, but I think he's grown better and better over the years, and now I'm actually kind of fond of Lee's artwork from the last 20 years or so, but with Quesda, it's the opposite. Granted, I haven't read a whole lot of interior work from Quesada either  back in the day--Batman: Sword of Azarael may be it, actually--or more currently, so I am basing this mostly on cover images and pin-ups, I guess.

The above cover has a lot of energy to it, and the style of figure work is super-weird but still sort of engaging, even if the costumes are so repulsive it hurts my eyes just to look at them too long. Like, who the fuck is that guy with the big dopey X on his forehead? God, that costume is really poor looking, even  by '90s X-Men costume standards...

*Although, maybe if North contributed the footnote-like gags to the pages of the next writer's comics, that would help.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

DC's August previews reviewed

It's been interesting watching various DC efforts to make Aquaman look more like the actor playing him in the movies, beyond having the comic book character grow out his '90s hair and beard again.

For example, the cover on the recent release of Aquaman: War for the Throne, which repackaged various Aquaman comics by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and others from Johns' runs on Aquaman and Justice League, go so far as just straight-up redesign the character into Jason Momoa on the cover (despite the fact that inside the book, Aquaman was clean-shaven, short-haired and as blonde as he's ever been).
Or, as I noted in the previous post's review of Mera: Tidebreaker, that book's Arthur Curry was dark-haired (and, according to preliminary sketches in the back, at one point he was going to be designed to look just like a teenage version of Momoa).

Here on this variant cover for August's issue of Aquaman by Joshua Middleton, we see that Aquaman now has tattoos like Momoa, which, unless the character has spent substantial time in a tattoo parlor since I've seen him last during "Drowned Earth", is more of a "Hey, this is the comic book the movie starring Jason Momoa wass based on!" move than it is content-accurate. Which reminds me of a minor nitpick of the film! If bullets can't pierce Aquaman's impenetrable skin, how on Earth did the tattoo needle get through it over and over and over...?

Tony S. Daniel's cover for Batman #77 features Gotham Girl in a new, Robin-esque costume. I'm not a big fan of Daniels, but I like the design of that costume, which essentially just applies her original costume to a Robin template, and brightens the color scheme with purple.

Of course, then I remembered why I liked the costume so much: It reminded me of Dean Trippe's old redesign for Spoiler's costume, blending her original costume with the one she wore during her brief stint as Robin:
Given that the artists were both doing the same basic thing--taking one Gotham superheroine and making her costume into a Robin costume of sorts--I'm sure this is completely innocent and that Daniels wasn't trying to swipe Trippe's design or anything. Still, I find it kind of remarkable that considering how far apart Gothame Girl and Spoiler's original costumes were,the simple act of Robin-izing them gets you almost identical looks.

written by BRYAN HILL
At last—the Outsiders take off on their mission to rescue Sofia from none other than Ra’s al Ghul! But Ra’s has other ideas for the quartet, and with the aid of Lex Luthor’s mysterious gift, they are playing right into his hand.
ON SALE 08.14.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Ugh, Ra's al Ghul again...? I am so sick of seeing that dude. I'm not sure why that is; like, I don't know if he necessarily appears more often than The Joker or The Penguin or Bane or if it just feels like he does to me personally. Maybe it's because of some formula; like, he is the least interesting Batman villain who shows up the most, or something like that.

In addition to appearing in Batman and The Outsiders, Ra's is also featuring prominently in a new Neal Adams miniseries starting this month, which I didn't pull out to highlight, because nothing about a new Neal Adams miniseries featuring Ra's al ghul excites me at all.

written by MARV WOLFMAN, PETER MILLIGAN and others
art by JIM APARO, KIERON DWYER and others
This new collection of 1990s Batman stories takes the Dark Knight behind the Iron Curtain to battle the mysterious Demon. Then, the Penguin exploits a disfigured genius for his latest evil scheme, but Batman helps turn his tech skills to the side of good. And The Joker goes on a new killing spree—but is it really the Clown Prince of Crime, or is this a case of a copycat killer? Plus, the Riddler returns in the three-part story “Dark Knight, Dark City.” Collects Batman #445-454, Detective Comics #615 and Batman Annual #14.
ON SALE 09.18.19
$29.99 US | 328 PAGES

This, on the other hand, excites me very much. Looking at what is listed above, this includes some Wolfman/Aparo comics, the three-part Penguin story in which the archfiend pulls a Hitchcock and weaponizes the birds by a variety of creators, the excellent Peter Milligan-written, Kieron Dwyer-pencilled "Dark Knight, Dark City" (featuring Mike Mignola on covers!) that was the first real "dark" take on The Riddler since his semi-retirement in 1989's Secret Origins Special #1; and that annual is a decent-ish Two-Face story written by Andrew Helfer and penciled by Chris Sprouse.

I've read maybe about half of the comics in there, mostly our of order and out-of-context--"Dark Knight, Dark City" being the only one I've read start to finish--and so I'm looking forward to this. These collections are great for filling in the gaps in ones collection, and helping to downsize my comics midden. Like, once this is sitting on my bookshelf, I'll feel secure it losing six to ten comics from a longbox.

For a newer reader, I think this is probably a pretty appealing collection, too. While certainly not the very best Batman comics of the early '90s, from what I've seen of it, this collection ranges from pretty good to great, and features The Joker (sorta), The Penguin, Two-Face and The Riddler.

written by MEG CABOT
art and cover by CARA McGEE
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Princess Diaries comes Black Canary: Ignite, Meg Cabot’s first graphic novel! With expressive and energetic art by Cara McGee to match the trademark attitude and spunk of Meg Cabot’s characters and dialogue, this mother-daughter story embraces the highs and lows of growing up without growing out of what makes us unique.
Thirteen-year-old Dinah Lance knows exactly what she wants, who she is, and where she’s going. First, she’ll win the battle of the bands with her two best friends, then she’ll join the Gotham City Junior Police Academy so she can solve crimes just like her dad. Who knows, her rock star group of friends may even save the world, but first they’ll need to agree on a band name.
When a mysterious figure keeps getting in the way of Dinah’s goals and threatens her friends and family, she’ll learn more about herself, her mother’s secret past, and navigating the various power chords of life.
Black Canary: Ignite is an inspirational song that encourages readers to find their own special voices to sing along with Black Canary!
ON SALE 10.30.19
$9.99 US | 5.5” x 8” | 160 PAGES

Same complaint here as with the previous DC Ink original graphic novels: Writer Meg Cabot's name is gigantic on the cover, while artist Cara McGee's is tiny and afterthought-y, and, according to the cover, this book is "illustrated by" McGee, and maybe I'm just splitting hairs differently than the ways that others might split those particular hairs, but there's a world of difference between illustration and drawing a comic.

Again, I understand why DC is highlighting the popular YA prose author who wrote the script for the original graphic novel they commissioned specifically to appeal to YA prose readers who aren't necessarily already comics readers, but it's still uncool, and I'm still going to say so every time they do it.

I'm not familiar with Cabot's writing, other than knowing her name from seeing it in libraries and bookstores all the time, but I suspect this particular Ink ogn could have some real potential to surprise, given how relatively little comic book Black Canary's history is known at all, let alone set in stone. She's been one of those characters more effected by the various crises and reboots and rejiggering than others, and sometimes reconciling the various versions can be hilariously complicated, with Black Canary basically kinda sorta becoming her own mom post-Crisis...or, at least, the two Black Canaries being split into two different characters, one of whom was the mother of the other.

Anyway, this is one I'm curious about mainly to see what the heck a teenage Dinah Lance and her life might be like, as it's not something we've seen repeatedly, as with, say Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc.

written by TOM TAYLOR
Black Mask was one of Gotham City’s most ruthless crime lords. He had money, power and respect. But after months in the Teen Titans’ secret prison, Roman Sionis is finally free. Given a new purpose and new abilities thanks to Lex Luthor’s offer, he’s found a new racket. Corporate crime not only pays better, but it’s far less dangerous. At least until Batwoman discovers what he’s up to and plans to put an end to Black Mask’s latest power grab. Is Black Mask the same crime boss he’s always been, or has time and a new approach made him something far more unstoppable than he’s ever been?
ON SALE 08.14.19
$4.99 US | 40 PAGES

Normally I would think it odd that a relatively C-List Batman villain like Black Mask would get a one-shot special with his name in the title, but then, I guess he is going to be the villain of the upcoming Birds of Prey movie, which seems to feature a rather unusual hodgepodge of various Gotham City-related characters.

I'm not sure what his "new abilities" might be, nor can I imagine what a super-powered Black Mask might be like and what he might do. Shoot eye beams out of his mask? Change his face to impersonate others? Melt people's faces off with a corrosive touch, leaving only their charred, black skulls...?

While there don't seem to be quite as many "Year of The Villain" references in this month's solicitations, most of those I've seen really seem to be something of an Underworld Unleashed retread, only with a reborn, Perputa-empowered Luthor in the role of Neron. This is one of two character-specific specials sub-titled Year of The Villain; the other features Sinestro.

written by DAN JURGENS
cover by DAN JURGENS
These are the 1980s tales that introduced Booster Gold, the glory-hungry hero who traveled back in time from the 25th century to become a superhero called Goldstar—but manages to mangle both his mission and his name, winding up with the oddball name by which he is known. In these stories, while battling rad 1980s super-villains, Booster attempts to line up endorsement deals with limited success. Collects BOOSTER GOLD #1-12 in color for the first time, plus design material, unpublished story pages and more.
ON SALE 09.25.19
$39.99 US | 320 PAGES

Forty bucks? Dammit; I should have picked up that Showcase Presents volume when I had the chance. How was I to know that DC would ever abandon that format for collecting old comics, the greatest format for collecting old comics ever conceived by man...?

written by RAM V
A secret file out-lining the ins and outs of the criminal underworld of Villa Hermosa is on the streets, and every crook is after it. Whoever possesses this info can control everything, and some of the town’s hoods are even bringing in outside agents like Lock-Up and Gentleman Ghost to act as their champions—which, let’s face it, you’re going to need if you’re going to try to outsmart Catwoman. Making things even more dangerous for Selina Kyle, there is also a price on her head. If you can capture the database and kill the Catwoman, the payoff is double!
ON SALE 08.14.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Rather disappointing that Joelle Jones left Batman to write and draw Catwoman. And then just write Catwoman while others drew it. And now just provide the cover art while someone else writes it and another someone else draws it. Maybe she's headed back to Batman, now that it's been announced that Tom King is taking the last year or so worth of his planned 100-issue storyline and publishing it under the new, limited title Batman/Catwoman...? (Huh; I can't imagine sales on Catwoman aren't going to take a substantial hit when there are suddenly two Catwoman titles on the rack each month, one of which co-stars Batman...)

Anyway, this issue has Lock-Up and Gentleman Ghost in it! Can you think of a more mismatched duo of villains? I really like the latter (although hopefully he'll have his pre-Flashpoint design, which is the greatest, and not his post-Flashpoint design, which is the worst), and really loathe the former, whom I think is maybe the single lamest Batman villain, who is lame in an uninteresting rather than lame in a compelling way (Although I would still be more excited to see him than fucking Ra's al Ghul again!).

art and cover by LIAM SHARP
Twelve parallel worlds! Twelve Green Lanterns! And one unstoppable menace! Hal Jordan joins the Green Lanterns of the Multiverse—including Bat-Lantern, Tangent Green Lantern and more—to save a dying Multiverse, defeat the relentless Anti-Man and embark upon their “Quest for the Cosmic Grail”! It’s another Morrison/Sharp science fantasy epic!
ON SALE 08.07.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

This title is really good, right? Because it looks really good every month. I'm still waiting on the trade...

written by GEOFF JOHNS
Hal Jordan has much to atone for. Possessed by an alien entity, Jordan once dismantled the entire Green Lantern Corps, killing many friends in the process. Now he has regained the trust of his friends and allies and is rebuilding his life as a member of the Corps, a defender of Earth and a human being. But fate won’t let Jordan move beyond his past. The Green Lanterns Jordan thought he had killed may still be alive...and crying for his blood! Collects GREEN LANTERN #4-20.
ON SALE 09.18.19
$39.99 US | 400 PAGES

If you buy this book, you help support Ethan Van Sciver financially, and who wants to do that these days...? It's rather too bad too, as Johns' Green Lantern work was at its strongest near the beginning of the run, I think. In fact, it seems like by the time he conceived of the emotional spectrum, Johns lost all interest in the premise for the book he established in the first few issues, and, for most of the rest of Johns' run, Hal Jordan would be doing space stuff in space, and only rarely checking in on Earth...

cover by DICK DILLIN
In these 1970s tales, Dr. Light makes his dramatic return—and so does Snapper Carr, who’s now turned traitor to the League! Ultraa, hero of Earth-Prime, joins the League in their battle with the Injustice Gang, while the Phantom Stranger assists the team against a family of ancient gods! Plus, the Atom and Jean Loring get married—but will the power of her mind destroy the Earth? Collects JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #149-158 and SUPER-TEAM FAMILY #13-14.
ON SALE 02.05.19
$69.99 US | 416 PAGES

Wow, what a bizarre way to reveal the superhero identities of the civilians in the wedding party there; it looks like their souls are escaping their bodies.

written by GEOFF JOHNS
variant cover by KAARE ANDREWS
After their terrifying adventure through the Darklands, Billy and the rest of the Shazam family find themselves going over the rainbow and through the looking glass into the upside-down, topsy-turvy world of the Wozenderlands! It’s a magical, multicolored metropolis where it’s always time for a cup of tea, a game of croquet or even a stroll down the Blue Brick Road—but it’s also ruled by the mysterious Wizard of Wozenderland, desperate for the power of the six champions!
ON SALE 08.21.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Such a nice-looking cover by Mark Buckingham...although it really does demonstrate how poor the Shazam costume redesign is. Like, imagine how much better that image would look without the field of electric Kirby dots in Captain Marvel's sigil, or those weird boots...

I sort of appreciate Johns collapse of Oz, Wonderland and maybe even Neverland into "Wozenderland," but I'm not sure why there's a blue brick one there instead of a yellow. L. Frank Baum's Oz books are all public domain now, yes?

written by GEOFF JOHNS and others
photo cover
When teenage Courtney Whitmore learns that her stepfather was the sidekick of the original Star Spangled Kid, she finds his old gear, dons the costume and becomes the all-new Star-Spangled Kid! Seeing no other alternative, Pat constructs an eight-foot-tall armored mechanical suit and takes on the codename S.T.R.I.P.E. to show her the ropes in the super-hero game! Collects STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. #0-14 and JSA ALL STARS #4.
ON SALE 09.18.19
$34.99 US | 416 PAGES

I imagine he might disagree, but I really do think this was some of the best--if not the best--of Geoff Johns' comics writing. Stars and STRIPE was a very fun comic book series that allowed the writer to indulge in the sort of continuity clean-up and extrapolation that he excelled at, while it was far enough removed from most of the bigger, more popular and thus more thoroughly-explored DC superheroes that Johns was rarely if ever in danger in over-writing any other of his peers' earlier, often better work. Additionally, its family sitcom-esque set-up kept him from the sort of off-putting violent or gory content that made so much of his later DCU work seem so head-spinningly strange. I recall really liking Lee Moder's art on the series, too.

I read all of these comics in single issue format, serially as they were published, but I wouldn't mind re-reading them in a single sitting in the way that this new collection would make more easily done.

I know you're not supposed to judge books by their covers, but from what Steve Lieber's cover for Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #2 demonstrates, the upcoming Lieber/Fraction comic is exactly what I want from a Jimmy Olsen comic.

written by DAN JURGENS
Available to comics shops for the first time! Hawk and Dove lead ordinary citizens in an uprising against the rich—but former Doom Patrol member Mento is pulling their strings! It’s up to the Titans to uncover his sinister purpose before someone gets killed! These stories were originally published in TITANS GIANT #1 and 2.
ON SALE 08.28.19
$4.99 US | 1 OF 7 | 32 PAGES

I guess this is a reprinting of the original material that originally appeared in the Walmart-exclusive collection, and while I'm pretty sure I've flipped through one or two of the Titans ones in a Walmart before, I don't think I realized the particular make-up of this Titans team before. Because it looks like Beast Boy, Starfire, Raven and Robin Dick Grayson on that cover, and I didn't think that was a line-up that was supposed to have existed, post-Flashpoint...? Like, I was 90% sure Dick and Starfire were never actually on a Titans line-up. But that looks like Dick's post-Flashpoint, retconned, more Tim Drake-y costume? And DC Universe: Rebirth did seem to alter the Titans' timeline rather specifically....?

I don't know. I lost any and all interest in the Titans franchise during the New 52-boot.

I didn't notice the price point on these serializations of the Walmart material previously, as I planned on just trade-waiting the one I was most interested in (Bendis and Nick Derington's Batman Universe), but they seem way too pricey. Assuming the 10-12 pages worth of ads that is usually in a DC comic book, they're charging an extra dollar over the already pricey $3.99/20-page price point of, say, Wilcats (see below).

Incidentally, you could get the whole Walmart Giant for the price of just one issue of this reprinting of the material. Sure, the giants featured like 80 pages of reprint material after the original content, but that's quite a value compared to this nonsense.

written by WARREN ELLIS
cover by JIM CHEUNG
They have one job: to save the human race from the human race. And it’s going to kill them.
From the pages of THE WILD STORM, the piratical covert team made up of rogue specialists, extraterrestrial soldiers and a mad astronaut, run by a tech mogul and disguised alien king, all here to stop us from destroying ourselves. Case in point: the secret space program Skywatch has been performing medical experiments on abducted innocents for decades. One of those experiments is about to explode—revealing whole new worlds in the battle for sanity that the wild CAT has been fighting. WILDCATS thought their world was strange, but they’re about to find out how strange...and how high the stakes really are.
ON SALE 08.28.19
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

I'll be honest: At first glance I thought that the guy in the suit behind Grifter was Barack Obama on Jim Cheung's cover.

Ramon Villalobos is an incredible talent, and with the talented and popular writer Warren Ellis attached, this seems like a pretty damn impressive team for such a relatively low-priority book for the publisher. If you were the boss of DC Comics, I imagine you'd want this team on a higher-profile book, where they could boost sales, rather than here, where they will just be keeping the book alive (Like, I'm fairly certain more people will buy this comic because they are Warren Ellis fans than because they are Wildcats or Grifter fans). Although, at this point, I think it's safe to assume that Ellis is writing these characters from Jim Lee's old Wildstorm line because he genuinely likes them, or at least wants to be writing them.

Superboy! Wonder Girl! Robin! Impulse! Amethyst! They and other young heroes are united as Young Justice in this first collection of comics from the new Wonder Comics line!
When the nightmare dimension known as Gemworld invades Metropolis, these teen heroes will unite to deal with the situation—but they’re shocked to discover the battle may be the key to the return of Conner Kent, a.k.a. Superboy!
This debut title collects issues #1-6 of the hit series!
ON SALE 09.18.19
$24.99 US | 160 PAGES

Oh man, I was really looking forward to the first trade collection of Brian Michael Bendis and company's Young Justice revival, and not it. This is the hardcover release, which is apparently coming out before the trade paperback release, as Marvel often did with collections of Bendis' work (at $3.99 a pop, six issues of Young justice would have run a reader $23.94, so there's no economic incentive to wait for the hardcover collection as there would be to wait for the trade).

The problem of going to hardcover before going to trade is, for me personally at least, that there's a damn good chance this hardcover is going to show up in my library, I am going to check it out and read it, and then I have no reason to actually buy the trade paperback any longer.

That's what happened with the first collections of Bendis' Action Comics and Superman runs. Now, I don't know how typical I am of a potential consumer of Bendis-written DC comics--I assume relatively few of us spend 40 hours a week in a public library, for example--but that's one sale on a Young Justice Vol. 1: Gemworld trade paperback that DC likely lost by releasing it in hardcover first.

As long as we're on the subject of Bendis' young Justice, how is it? I just read the first two issues, and liked those well enough, but they were largely fan service-y in the, "Hey, it's all your faves, back together again!" kinda way, and I haven't yet read the parts that explained how that was even possible yet, and/or what Bendis would be doing with all our faves. I'm a little troubled to see four artists and "and others" credited on the first issues, too...

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: April 2019


Batman and The Justice League Vol. 2 (DC Comics) The first volume of Shiori Teshirogi's reinvention of the Justice League from the pages of Champion Red was a blast, and I was particularly interested in seeing the eventual introduction of new heroes and villains as the the series progressed, given that one of the most exciting aspects of the series has been Teshirogi's redesigns (of Jim Lee's New 52 redesigns) of the characters and the fresh ways in which she portrayed such (overly) familiar characters.

This volume only has a few new characters enter the narrative, though. We saw a few scenes featuring Ocean Master in the previous one, and a few images of Aquaman and Wonder Woman, but here all three of them are given much more space. In fact, much of the volume is devoted to the warring Atlantean brothers.Wonder Woman's arrival is a lot less dramatic; she basically just shows up in the Batcave alongside Superman and Alfred at one point as part of a mini-intervention, arguing that Batman's been too willing to take on too much by himself since Robin's death, and that he needs to accept help from his friends sometimes. Like, for example, when the massively powered-up Ocean Master is threatening to wipe out Gotham City the tidal waves taller than skyscrapers.

Because so much of the volume is spent on action, there seems to be less story to it, or, at least, less progression in the story of the young POV character Rui Aramiya, his parents and their mysterious connections to the ley lines that are here empowering Ocean Master.

 First Batman battles Ocean Master, as best he can, then Aquaman battles Ocean Master. Eventually, Superman and Wonder Woman show up as well, just in time to deal with a surge in Rui's mother's destructive powers, and they split up to deal with the different threats. The majority of the action concerns the Aquaman vs. Ocean Master fight, which includes flashbacks into the origins of their conflict. Those origins are, here, both effectively and appropriately melodramatically rendered.

I'm definitely eagerly awaiting future volumes.

Ditko's Monsters (IDW Publishing) In 1960, immediately prior to his creation of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Stan Lee for Marvel Comics, artist Steve Ditko began drawing comics for Charlton starring the title creatures of a pair of then-new British giant monster movies, Konga and Gorgo. In 2013, editor Craig Yoe collected the entirety of Ditko's contribution to the spin-off comics, releasing a pair of large, handsome hardcovers through IDW, Ditko's Monsters: Konga! and Ditko's Monsters: Gorgo!.

This $9.99 comic book-format flip-book represents a swathe of the material from each of those collections, serving as something between a substantial sample and an advertisement for the full collections. Images of the title characters are taken from the stories and re-positioned on a red field for the covers, the title appearing slightly different, depending on the cover.

On one, Gorgo is pictured upright and Konga upside down, while the title reads, "Ditko's Monsters! Gorgo Vs. Konga" and the tag line, "Gorgo Smash!" Flip the book over, and now Konga towers above Gorgo and Gorgo's mom, and the title is "Ditko's Monsters! Konga Vs. Gorgo" with a tag reading "Konga Smash!"

Despite the promise, the two monsters never come into combat with one another, or even appear in one another's story. If they are in a battle of any kind with this comic book, I suppose it is a metaphorical one. Perhaps a popularity contest. For example, which do you like better, Konga or Gorgo...?

I've seen the Gorgo film maybe as many as a dozen times, as it is the basis for an excellent season nine episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (guest-starring Leonard Maltin, a Gorgo fan, and featuring one of the more inspired high-brow/low-brow skits on the show, a performance of a Sarte-inspired one act play, "Waiting for Gorgo"). Despite the character's resemblance to Godzilla, the plot is basically a riff on that of King Kong, featuring the capture of a giant prehistoric monster transported to a heavily populated city for exhibition that results in a terrific battle (There is, of course, a neat twist in Gorgo in that it turns out that the giant monster the money-hungry asshole protagonists have captured is really just a juvenile, and its much bigger and more indestructible mother wades into London and tear the city apart to save her young).

I've yet to see Konga, but it's been on my to-see list forever. Its plot also seems to rip-off King Kong a bit...and to somehow be more scientifically dubious than its predecessor or Gorgo. Future Alfred Michael Gough discovered this one weird trick to grow plants and animals to giant proportions. He tests it on a baby chimpanzee, which turns the little ape into a gorilla, which he then hypnotizes and has murder his rivals. Later, the ape gets another dose, and becomes a giant gorilla.

The forty pages of Konga comics collected here--chosen by eight-year-old Griffin Yoe, who is credited as the book's editor--are obviously set after the events of the film. Attractive young scientists Sandra and Bob develop a formula to restore Konga to his original size and species and journey to a remote island where he is living in order to do so. They succeed, maybe too well, as Konga is no longer a chimp, but some kind of monkey with a tail.

There's a series of misadventures including a storm, a shipwreck, the formula wearing off, our heroes finding themselves trapped on an island scheduled to be ground zero for an atomic bomb test, Konga shrinking to a regularly-sized gorilla and finding himself in Africa among regular gorillas, then growing again, then ending up in shackles as part of a circus, only to freak out and run amok as always happens when giant monsters are exhibited in live entertainment.

Forty-two pages are devoted to Gorgo comics, starting with an adaptation of the film, squeezed into just 23 pages. That is then followed by what is essentially a sequel to the film recycling the same plot, only with different characters and a different location. Zoologists capture baby Gorgo in order to exhibit him in a zoo, and Gorgo's mom shows up to ravage New York City until she gets her baby back. This one is at least hilarious in its Cold War, Russian espionage plot (The Soviets want Gorgo to exhibit in a Moscow Zoo, dammit, as the Gorgo-exhibiting race is the next space race! Neither world power seems to remember what happened when the UK had baby Gorgo in a cage just a few pages ago) and it's dumb-ass romantic plot.

The stories are...not the best, and the art isn't amazing or anything, but certainly interesting, and probably important to have in print, given Ditko's influence over mainstream American comics (and, now, pop culture in general). The adaptation of the Gorgo movie plot is the strongest section, visually, and while the Konga storyline seems rather hastily drafted, I do really like some of the images of the monster Ditko draws, as they only barely resemble an ape of any kind. In some, he looks more like a furry mountain with long arms and tiny legs.

Ditko's nephew Mark Ditko pens a sweet introduction to the Konga side of the book, and includes a drawing of a gorilla swinging on a vine that his uncle drew for him in 1991. The Gorgo side opens with an essay by apparent Gorgo fan Tony Isabella, who shares his childhood memories of the film and comics and, in the few short paragraphs, notes, "One of these days, I'll find a way to write new Gorgo (and Konga) stories and not get sued for publishing them."

That sentence, more than any other section of this book--half of which I had previously read--fired my imagination. I don't know who owns the rights to make new Gorgo and Konga comics, but given the fact that IDW published this, it seems like they might? Or that they could get them pretty easily? They seem to have lost the license for Godzilla and the King of the Monsters' Toho cohorts, which is too bad, given how great so many of those comics were, so why not try to publish new giant monster comics featuring off-brand Godzillas...? (I've long wanted IDW to get in the business of Gamera comics, since they employ one of my favorite artists, Sophie Campbell, who is also a huge fan of kaiju in general and Gamera in particular. Also, they publish Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics now. How amazing would a Campbell TMNT/Gamera crossover be?).

I mean, they've already got a rather experienced and popular-ish comic book writer interested in writing Gorgo and/or Konga! So, when I read that sentence of Isabella's the first time, my first thought was of a Black Lightning vs. Gorgo story...after all, DC and IDW seem to have a pretty decent relationship, based on the existence of their continual Batman/TMNT crossovers. But I guess Black Lightning by himself wouldn't be the most marketable DC superhero for a Gorgo crossover, so maybe a Justice League vs. Gorgo story, featuring Black Lightning among the heroes...? Maybe Gorgo attacks Cleveland, and the League show up to help hometown hero Black Lightning defend his city...? (If you're going to capture and exhibit baby Gorgo, better to do so in a midwestern city, rather than on a coastal city, given how easily Gorgo's mom has gotten into the London and New York City city limits before).

Of course, then I started thinking about an alliance of various Cleveland-based superheroes and comic book characters--Black Lightning, Apama The Undiscovered Animal, Harvey Pekar, Howard The Duck--defending the city from Gorgo's mom as she emerges from Lake Erie, which would be awesome, but impossible, and realized I was now way off track. Given the focus of this presentation, if DC/IDW were going to do a superhero vs. monster crossover comic, they might as well forget Black Lightning (Tony Isabella or no) and the Justice League and instead rally their various Ditko creations like Captain Atom, The Question, The Creeper, Shade The Changing Man, Hawk and Dove and the redesigned Blue Beetle.

Maybe that's unlikely/impossible. But a brand-new Gorgo Vs. Konga comic book series from Isabella and IDW...? That at least seems do-able! I hope IDW gets some lawyers on it soon. And then they have them look into the Gamera license while they're at it. But not Reptilicus, who had a short-lived Chartlon comic as well, because it's probably best to leave that to Dark Horse Comics so they can use it for a future Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic Book miniseries. How great would it be to make Jonah and the 'bots have to re-riff a monster story they already riffed in one media in another...?

Jessica Jones: Purple Daughter (Marvel Entertainment) The previous volume of this series (which I guess Marvel has decided not to number, as part of their ongoing plan to make their books as difficult for people to read as possible) ended with such an unexpected and dramatic cliffhanger, revealed on the cover of this collection, that I was simultaneously excited to see how it might be resolved and dreading it, as the cliffhanger was so out-of-left field and obviously dramatic that its resolution seemed like it would inevitably be disappointing.

And I didn't for a second think what apparently ran through various characters' heads at some point, even though most of them dismissed it immediately: What if Luke and Jessica's daughter Danielle was really The Purple Man's, because, obviously she has consistently been drawn to look like Luke and not Jessica (Which is, in fact, something of an accomplishment, given that Danielle's age has been in pretty constant flux from newborn to two-years-old, depending on the comic and artist, ever since she was born). No, just seeing her daughter suddenly and innocently taking on the appearance of the evil monster who abused her and has haunted her life for years afterwards is in and of itself something that would terrify and traumatize Jessica Jones.

The resolution is, as I feared, somewhat disappointing, but then, that's just the nature of a story in a state of potential versus a story in actuality, you know? It's more exciting wondering what might be going on in that box than learning that there is, indeed, a cat in it or that it is just an empty box.

I actually had three rather distinct disappointments in this volume.

The first is the nature of Danielle's change and how it was achieved, as it involves a child of The Purple Man that I don't think I knew even existed. Nor do I remember his other, nicer child who acts as something of an ally to Jessica in this. And, it should be noted, that neither of those children of the Purple Man are The Purple Children, a group of purple kids with The Purple Man's mind-control abilities that played a sizable role in Daredevil recently. Although they are in this comic, too. It just felt like there was too much in the way of expectation on me as a reader to know stuff I didn't know, you know? (Which is odd, because barring only some of Brian Michael Bendis' later Avengers comics, I was pretty sure I had read all of Jessica Jones' appearances in various books).

The second was the return of The Purple Man himself, mainly because Bendis seemed to so thoroughly convince us that not only was he dead and gone forever, but there wasn't going to be any chances of a comic book resurrection further down the line. I mean, Captain Marvel did throw his corpse into the sun and all. I was really rather hoping Jessica Jones--and thus her readers--had then and there finally resolved the threat of The Purple Man once and for all, and that everyone could move on to different stories featuring different villains and conflicts and issues. Granted, that desire on the part of the reader is likely the exact reason Thompson decided to return to the character so immediately after his latest "death." That is, after all, the nature of trauma like that Jessica Jones suffers from: That shit can be managed and minimized, but it never really goes away forever.

Third is simply my dislike of Mattia De Iulis' style. The storytelling is certainly legible, the facial expressions and "acting" are both quite strong, but there's an off-putting plasticity to the faces and figures that looks like photorealism, but off in a way that I don't enjoy looking at. The backgrounds, when not just planes of paint-like colors, tend to be hazy and blurred, so that everyone always looks like they are emerging from fog or smoke.

That said, it's more the fact that he art isn't to my taste than that it is bad. I like Jessica Jones creator Michael Gaydos' art far less, so I rarely ever really enjoy the art on a Jessica Jones comic, I guess. (There's one issue of these six mostly drawn by guest artist Filipe Andrade and set in Jessica's mind that bears the more hand-drawn look I prefer in comics art; it also features Luke wearing a rather Mister Rogers-y sweater over a shirt and tie.)

Thompson does a fine job of detailing the mystery aspect of the plot at the beginning, including Jessica's initial shutdown in the face of it and then her gradual working of the case (As I said, I might have enjoyed the overall plot more if I knew all the players, or had been introduced to them in such a way that their importance was foreshadowed, rather than their suddenly being there when necessary). She also does a particularly great job of articulating how insidious The Purple Man's particular powers can be--they work a bit like weapons-grade, 99.999% effective gaslighting--and showing how Jessica might feel all the time by letting some of the other characters experience a taste of what it's like to doubt one's own senses and mind (and, through those characters, letting the readers feel it too).

A couple of other Marvel characters show up in small roles, beyond the usual suspects of Luke Cage, Carol Danvers and Danny Rand. Daredevil basically just checks in, while Emma Frost plays a fairly sizable role towards the climax, allowing for some pretty good boob jokes.

Justice League #21 (DC) Still in the too-good-to-be-true future, the phony Superman makes the League an offer, during which he reveals who he really is. Oddly enough, DC spoiled the reveal on the cover of the regular issue, even naming the relatively new and hard-to-recognize character with a text blurb. I just so happened to have ordered the not-terribly-accurate variant by Jae Lee (the League doesn't fight either one of the two Supermans, and Aquaman's still not back yet), so it was a surprise to me. I kind of like that writer Scott Snyder and co-writer/artist Jorge Jimenez seem to be using the myth-like elements of Snyder's Dark Nights: Metal to craft a meta-narrative explaining the nature of DC's occasional continuity refreshes and reboots. It remains to be seen how it all works out, of course, but I appreciate their trying to tackle it head-on and incorporate the very nature of DC's comic book publishing history into the narrative.

Justice League #22 (DC) This is a Legion of Doom issue, one of the occasional James Tynion IV-written issue in which the words "Legion of Doom" appear over the Justice League logo and the focus usually shifts to the bad guys. This time, however, neither team gets much space. The Legion only appear on the first four pages or so, as they interrupt the Mxyzptlk vs. Mera, Starman and Jarro fight in order to release their counter-measure against the fifth dimensional imp...their own fifth dimensional imp, in the form of Bat-Mite (Oddly, he recognizes Mera, and Mera recognizes him).

The rest of the issue is devoted to a creation story for the DC Multiverse, or, as the cover blurb shouts, "The Origin of The Multiverse Revealed!" This origin story has been told previously in previous issues, but here the telling is afforded a good 15 pages worth of space, and gets far greater detail. I don't know that all of that detail is necessary--certainly Tynion over-narrates in superfluous narration boxes that evoke Bronze Age comics--but at this point in the book's run it seems to be pretty clear that the price readers pay for a twice-monthly shipping schedule is that the narrative will be a lot less fleet than it might otherwise be.

Tynion, presumably working closely with Snyder who has previously told versions of this creation story, does a pretty good job of incorporating DC Comics history--both in-universe and in the real world--without contradicting or overwriting anything canonical in a way that's off-putting. That is, although Perpetua and The World Forger are newer elements in the history of the Multiverse, they fit in with the Monitor and Anti-Monitor and the Source and the contractions and expansions of the Multiverse in such a way that nothing here seems to render Crisis On Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis or Multiversity or whatever obsolete. If anything, Tynion and Snyder seem to be doing the opposite, and trying to explain how all of those stories could have been true, or to have really "happened", despite DC Comics' efforts to refresh, reboot and relaunch their comics line every so often.

Francis Manapul, who drew portions of the Geoff Johns' written Justice League title, provides the artwork here, and it is great stuff, as is to be expected from an artist of his caliber, even if it seems to be something of a shame that so much of the space is allotted to Marvel-inspired cosmic beings doing cosmic things.

Mary Shelley Monster Hunter #1 (AferShock Comics) This was an apparent impulse purchase made simply because the title suggests an interesting if silly premise and I really rather liked the cover image by artist Hayden Sherman. Had I looked at it a little more closely and noticed that one of the co-writers was involved in the godawful 2011 New 52 Suicide Squad reboot, I certainly wouldn't have ordered this.

I say it was an apparent impulse purchase, because I was actually kinda surprised when I found it in a box of new comics ordered online from Midtown.

It wasn't that bad, although when I saw that it was co-written by Adam Glass of the aforementioned Suicide Squad comic, I instinctively reset my expectations to that comic as a baseline and, obviously, this is better than that. Most things are.

I'm not familiar with AfterShock as a publisher, but based on this comic and the way the publisher presents itself in its ads and suchlike, it seems to focus on Mark Millar-esque, comics-as-pitches-for-mass media-adaptations works, as so many (too many!) smaller publishers of the '00s did, and far too many series from even longer-lived, respectable publishers like Image Comics seem to prioritize even still. Glass, whose back-of-the-issue bio tells me is writer and executive producer for TV shows Supernatural, Cold Case and a Criminal Minds spin-off, and co-writer Olivia Cuartero-Briggs, whose bio just says she writes for television and comics but doesn't list any particular works, are credited not just as writers, but as "co-creators."

Artist Hayden Sherman, who draws all 20 pages of the story, isn't listed as a creator or co-creator, which is...unusual. At least, it's unusual from my understanding of how creator credits usually work in comics and, again, suggests that Glass and Cuartero-Briggs hammered out their idea for a period drama/horror movie or TV show together and decided to pitch it to a comics publisher. (Which is itself somewhat bemusing, given that it's not like they created Mary Shelley...or the other real people who appear alongside her. Or Doctor Frankenstein. Or Frankenstein's monster. I imagine most of the original stuff, the promised monster-hunting, will occur in future issues.)

The book opens with an extremely strange sequence in which we see a "cover" version of the famous scene from 1931's Frankenstein, in which Boris Karloff's monster is befriended by the little girl Maria and he then unthinkingly drowns her. What's so weird about the scene, recreated across nine panels, is that the dialogue in the scene differs from that of the movie, and almost all of the images are different than they were in the film. Not just because they were drawn by a comics artist, of course, but the angles, the poses, what the camera's all different. It's close enough, I suppose, but the content of the scene was so changed from that of the original film--it portrays the monster as a sinister killer who drowns the girl on purpose--that I rewatched the scene on YouTube (an act of "research" that took about ten seconds to find, and a few minutes to watch) that reveals just how different the scene is. Only one of the panels really matches the film (the second one).

I guess maybe they did this on purpose, as there might be a potential legal issue with adapting a scene from a movie at such length into a comic book without securing the proper licensing, but, if so, surely there were better ways to do that...? The images in the panels are accompanied by narration boxes full of Shelley's words, and, on page three we find that a group of people was just watching the scene projected on a screen, part of a tour of Mary Shelley's final residence in modern day.

There, the guide discovers a hidden manuscript underneath a squeaky floor board, which seems to provide the tale the comics is devoted to, as, from there we jump back to 1815, and get a dramatization of Shelley's Frankenstein novel's origin, which I am not familiar enough with to know whether or how much this version differs from the true version. It's only on the last pages that the character Shelley leaves her party to investigate, is attacked my a man she thought was dead, and is rescued by a woman in blood-soaked clothing, carrying a rifle and introducing herself: "I am Victoria... DOCTOR VICTORIA FRANKENSTEIN."

So the story seems to be shaping up as a somewhat familiar type of one, in which we get the fake real story behind the creation of a work of fiction, depicting the "real" events that might have inspired the real writer to come up with their fictional work. It's...not Lost Girls, though.

The art is nice, the letters are nice and I still think there's something kind of intriguing about the lady who wrote Frankenstein becoming a monster hunter, but I think I'd rather read about a Mary Shelley and the gang hunting monsters at some point after she creates her famous work, and monster hunting just being, like, her side hustle (the ghost story contents that supposedly inspired her novel, by the way, is just suggested in this issue, but not yet engaged in).

I don't think I'll be reading #2, though.

Runaways By Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka Vol. 3: That Was Yesterday (Marvel) This volume begins right where the last one left off, with the characters dealing with a rather huge cliffhanger: The return of the late Alex Wilder, one of the original Runaways, the one who attempted to betray them all. It turns out that the cliffhanger wasn't quite as huge as I had thought it to be, as apparently this isn't the first reappearance of Alex since his death; it is mentioned that Niko and Chase mention have crossed paths with him before, apparently in one of the books in which Niko has appeared since the conclusion of the last Runaways ongoing series.

It's still pretty big though, as this is the first time he has confronted the rest of the team. What brought Alex to them was the fact that he was being pursued by the children of the Gibborim, the godlike entities that our heroes' super-criminal parents The Pride had made a deal with in Bryan K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona's original Runaways comics, and thus an integral part of the team's own origin. These children of The Gibborim were supposed to feed on the energy of their parents' evil plot to destroy humanity, and have now come to Alex to force him to honor The Pride's original deal: If he and The Runaways will but sacrifice a single innocent soul to them, they will make them the new Pride to their new Gibborim.

After a pretty big fight scene with agents of the Gibborim in the first chapter of this volume, the rest of the collection centers around the characters under a sort of headquarters arrest, guarded by one of the Gibborim and given seven days to procure an innocent soul they want to sacrifice. Those seven days are mostly spent trying to figure out what to do, with various characters arguing variously how to get out of the predicament, and with every single option seeming pretty damn extreme. Naturally, they also have to work out their various interpersonal conflicts and relationships, with the now-pariah Alex an ostracized member of the family, wholeheartedly arguing that they take the deal for pragmatic purposes (He even has a less-evil "out" for the Runaways, should they choose to go more of an anti-hero route than a villainous one).

Rowell and Anka and the guest-artists all deserve credit for making this story as compelling as it is, given the limited setting (Niko is the only one who gets to leave, when she takes a sort of magical field trip and learns wonderful/terrible secrets about the true nature of her Staff of One). Part of the reason this quandary works so well here is due to the fact that the characters are, relative to other super-teams, kind of weak. Like, this wouldn't work with the Avengers or Fantastic Four or the X-Men or some team that has decades worth of history of winning against seemingly unbeatable odds, generally through sheer power or will or genius. The Runaways, as long as they have been around now, still feel like a half-civilian team. Sure, some of them have incredible powers, skills and tools, but only compared to, say, you and I; in the Marvel Universe, they're not much of a match for god-like creatures, and don't have the option of simply telling the Gibborim to GTFO that The Avengers might.

We also get a Runaways Christmas in the middle of all this, and it sure looks like a new member of the line-up, an unexpected addition who nevertheless perfectly fits in with the organizing principle of a child of evil progenitors rebelling against the will of its parents.

Anka draws the bulk of the volume, the last four issues, while David LaFuente draws the first two, and Takeshi Miyazawa returns to the characters to draw a 10-page sequence from Old Lace's point-of-view. All three are favorite artists of mine, and it was a particular treat to see LaFuente and Miyazawa in these pages, as I wasn't expecting them. It seems like it's been a while--too long, by far--since I've seen LaFuente drawing superhero teenagers. Next time I go to church, I think I'm going to light a candle and pray DC hires him to take over Young Justice soon...

Spidey: Freshman Year (Marvel) This smaller-sized, 6-by-9-inch trade paperback collects the entirety of writer Robbie Thompson's 2016 Spidey series, drawn by a succession of amazing--if highly idiosyncratic--artists.

The premise seems to be a new reader-friendly series set in the first year or so of Peter Parker's career as Spider-Man--hence the trade's sub-title--that doesn't attempt to rewrite or reboot the existing stories, but instead aims for a continuity-lite, dance-between-the-raindrops sort of thing. So, for example, while Spider-Man encounters many of his classic villains here, some of them lightly redesigned, none of these battles are presented as their first ones. He knows who they are, they know who he is and readers are expected to have a good idea who they are, too.

If you've ever read a Spider-Man comic or seen a Spider-Man movie or cartoon, you can guess at the contents in broad strokes, at least regarding the daily slings and arrows Peter has to suffer in his civilian life (Trying to keep his identity secret, bullied at school, worrying about Aunt May, contending with a cheap and mean boss in J. Jonah Jameson, etc) as well as who he's trading punches with while web-slinging (The Vulture, The Green Goblin, Electro, Kraven The Hunter, etc). The most surprising aspect of the stories is probably the heroes who he teams-up with throughout, as those actually probably do contradict he "real" Spider-Man stories, but as I wasn't born in the 1960s and haven't yet read Decades: Marvel in the '60s--Spider-Man Meets The Marvel Universe, I couldn't tell you how or how much. Iron Man, The Black Panther and Captain America all get an issue with Spidey (the climax of the Captain America one, in which he pays a visit to Jameson's office, was probably the highlight of the book for me), after which they check in with Agent Coulson (okay, he wasn't there in the 1960s) to give him their assessment of what this Spider kid's whole deal is and how he's doing as an emerging superhero.

Although the approach to the single issues are mostly done-in-one--which is also reflective of the book's apparent targeting of new readers--Thompson does have several ongoing subplots that bind the book into something of an arc, including Peter's crush-turned-friendship-turned-romance with Gwen Stacy, a gradual detente with Flash (encouraged by Gwen, who asks Peter to help tutor him) and Doctor Octopus assembling a Sinister Six. It's all quite fun and appealing, delivering all of the best parts of Spider-Man comics in an accessible way, without any of the stumbling blocks that might keep the spider-curious from reading, say, Amazing Spider-Man or any of the other modern, canonical Marvel Universe books.

I was initially attracted to the book by the presence of artist Nick Bradshaw, who I think is probably one of the best superhero artists working today, combining the big, bold figure work of Ed McGuinness with the extreme detail work of Arthur Adams, but he's far faster than both of them (he even inks his own work here!). Of course, he's only around for the first three issues, drawing Spidey's battles with Doctor Octopus, The Sandman and The Lizard. After Bradshaw's departure, two artists I am unfamiliar with come on. First is Andre Lima Araujo and then Nathan Stockman, for four and five issues respectively.

Araujo's style is unusual for a Spider-Man comic, or for Marvel comics in general, and suggested the look and feel of European art comics (or, at least, artsier-than-Marvel comics). His superheroes all look slightly goofy, the way in which grown men wearing strange costumes and wandering about the real world would look; only his Spider-Man is really slightly exempt from this effect (Among the characters Araujo draws are The Green Goblin, Doctor Doom, Iron Man, The Black Panther, Klaw and The Vulture). Stockman's art was much more traditional superhero fare, reminding me a bit of Tim Sale's art here and there, and a bit of John McCrea's art elsewhere. As I'm a big fan of both Sale and McCrea, that was quite alright with me. He arrives in time to draw the climax and conclusion of the series/book, and thus is there to draw the Captain America team-up (featuring MODOK), as well as a fight with The Scorpion and the various rogues that make up the Sinister Six.

True Believers: Avengers--Endgame! #1 (Marvel) Perhaps I just didn't order enough issues of this month's True Believers reprints, but I couldn't quite figure out exactly what the theme was. The theme stated in the solicitations was "Avengers", and given that they reprinted the first issues of Avengers Forever* and the original Rocket Raccoon miniseries, for example, as well as comics featuring Thanos, Gamora, Nebula and even fucking Ronin, I suppose the unstated theme was "Random Comics That Have At Least Some Small Thing In Common With Avengers Endgame, The Movie" (I don't recall the name "Ronin" being said out loud in the movie at all, but Jeremy Renner does wear a version of the Ronin costume for one scene).

That would explain the inclusion of this comic, 1969's Avengers #71, which basically just so happens to have the same sub-title as the film (And there is time travel involved too, I guess). The title of the story is moved from the title page to the cover, which of course has had a few cosmetic adjustments, including the ditching of the corner box, Comics Code Authority seal of approval, and the "FINAL BATTLE!" tag.
Me, I bought it because it had Namor and The Invaders on the cover.

As the final chapter in an apparent arc, this reads...less than ideally. Writer Roy Thomas and artists Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger have The Black Knight get a recap of earlier sections of the story from his ghostly ancestor, where we're told Kang and The Grandmaster are playing a game of make superheroes fight, with Kang using the Avengers and The Grandmaster the (a?) Squadron Sinister (This particular sort of game was a large part of the rather recent Avengers: No Surrender limited series, come to think of it). In this last round, The Grandmaster gets some subs, and thus the story ends with Black Panther, The Vision and Yellowjacket being sent to Nazi-occupied France in the 1940s, where that era's Namor, Captain America and the original Human Torch naturally assume they are Nazi agents and fight them.

It probably will not surprise you to learn that The Avengers end up winning and things end happily.

While reading this naturally felt a bit like walking in on the 71st episode of a soap opera I had heard about but never actually seen, it's clear that pains were taken to adhere to that maxim that every comic is someone's first comic, as a good two pages are devoted solely to recap, and the characters all tend to state their motives and reintroduce themselves or aspects of themselves in their dialogue.

The artwork is great, and it was fun to see these characters at this particular state in their development--as well as Janet Van Dyne's kicky civilian fashions.

I couldn't quite figure out who was Giant Man at this point. He appears, but just briefly, and is never named. If Pym is Yellowjacket, then who is the giant guy...?

My favorite panel is when Namor punches Yellowjacket in the face while he's trying to explain that they're not actually Nazis, his fist creating a huge green explosion of impact lines a giant orange THWAM!, and Namor "quips": Hah! You've stopped speaking, masked man! Could it be because of my fist in your mouth?"
Oh Namor. Spider-Man you're not.

Second best part? Before Namor can connect with a second punch, Yellowjacket shrinks out of the way and summons a swarm of bees to attack Namor. Dude's strong enough to take bullets and the Torch's fireballs, but bees can get to him, provided there are enough of them. "Bees... Enough of them to pierce even my hybrid hyde!", he yells.

So this was definitely worth at least the dollar it cost.

I found the credits curious, if only because I have read so few Marvel comics of this particular vintage. Stan Lee is credited as editor, and his is the first credit, rather than the last. Buscema is credited as "artist," rather than penciler or pencils or pencil artist, while Grainger is credited as "inker."

Also, I thought it interesting to see Kang--for at least the second time in one of this month's reprints, given that Avengers Forever #1 was also reprinted. I honestly thought he would make a small cameo or be alluded to in the film, most likely in the after credits scene...although there ended up not being one. Given the time travel shenanigans of the plot, and the fact that he seems to be a pretty good candidate for a Marvel Universe villain to tease throughout the next few rounds of Marvel Studios movies before a big face-off against the Avengers, I thought there might be 45 seconds or so showing his attention being drawn to the 21st century by all of the time travelling originating from there in the film's plot.

Just one of the many ways the film surprised me by not doing what I expected it to...!

Unstoppable Wasp: GIRL Power (Marvel) This is a smaller-sized trade paperback, like the Spidey collection above, that collects the entirety of the 2017 Jeremy Whitley-written Unstoppable Wasp, which unfortunately lasted just eight issues. I had previously read and reviewed the original collection of the first four issues here, but the last four were new to me here (those were collected in Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 2: Agents of GIRL, which I had missed, so I just went ahead and bought this collection). I don't know how many issues into his run Whitley was informed that the book wasn't long for this world, but this collection reads as if it was written to be a single, sizable graphic novel.

And as strong as those early issues were, it finishes far stronger--albeit with different artists--and I, hand on my heart, swear to God found myself tearing up reading the final pages of the book. (And that was on 70 milligrams a day of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication! Were it not for my meds, I probably would have been bawling like the first time I saw It's a Wonderful Life).

If you haven't read any of the series yet, you should probably stop reading this incredibly long post and instead go see if you can reserve GIRL Power your local library or see if your local comic shop has a copy you can purchase. Nadia, who was introduced in the pages of Mark Waid and company's All-New, All-Different Avengers, is the long-lost daughter of the late Hank Pym and his late first wife. She was secretly raised in a Russian "Red Room" spin-off, the mad science branch of the assassination program that produced Black Widow.

After escaping by mastering her father's Pym particles, she came to America and became a superhero, taken under the wasp wings of her late father's second wife, original Wasp Janet Van Dyne, and the Avengers' butler Jarvis, both of whom play major roles in the series, with Jarvis serving as a sort of put-upon Alfred to Nadia's upbeat Batman.

Nadia decides to found Genius In action Research Labs out of Pym's New Jersey house, and she and Jarvis go about recruiting a group of young girl geniuses from New York City who are diverse in background as well as scientific specialty. She's supposed to be working out her immigration status with Matt Modok, as she mistakenly refers to the blind Hell's Kitchen lawyer Janet recommended, but founding a research lab for girls to change the world from takes priority. Also, this being a Marvel super-comic, she sometimes gets further sidetracked by having to fight a giant robot, professional wrestlers-turned-protection racket muscle, a giant rat and a giant raccoon...sometimes with the help of other super people, like Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (well, DD's not a people, but he is pretty super).

The mode of the book is consistently comedic, with Nadia's fish-out-of-water nature--being both Russian and raised in a bunker since birth by an evil organization, she is really out of water--and her relentless, unstoppable optimism clashing with most of the characters she encounters. I think that's in large part what makes the emotional arc so devastatingly effective, as we see how she affects older, more experienced (and thus jaded and cynical) heroines like Mockingbird and Janet, and why it's so affecting when Nadia shows gradual signs of losing it, as when she's forced early on to resort to the brutal violence she was trained in to resolve a conflict she wanted to mitigate with words and, as the book reaches its climax, when she unintentionally does the thing Hank Pym is still more or less defined by. It's particularly heart-breaking when she learns about that thing for herself, and talks to Janet about it.

None of which is to imply that the book is sad, or that it doesn't end happily, it's just got a lot of emotional content, and that content hits particularly hard given how lighthearted the book starts off, and how fun and funny it is throughout, with only glimmers of greater turmoil in Nadia's inner life showing up here and there.

The second half of the book, by the way, is maybe one of the best Janet Van Dyne story arcs...or, at the very least, the best one I've ever read.

Elsa Charreteir draws the first six issues of the series, and really defines the look and feel of the book. In addition to Nadia, Jarvis and Janet, she designs and introduces all of the new characters who will become part of GIRL and draws the aforementioned guest-stars. For the last two issues, when the focus shifts a bit to the other Wasp, and Janet takes over as narrator, guest artists arrive to finish up the series. Veronica Fish draws the penultimate issue, and thus draws Whirlwind, the current, female Beetle (there's a neat panel of Janet and the Beetle fighting while rolling down a few flights of stairs together) and cool single panel cameos featuring Black Widow and Daredevil. The eighth and final issue is drawn by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, neither of whom I'm terribly familiar with, but their issue fits nicely with Fish's, so that even though the artists and visuals change throughout the course of the 160 pages or so, there's no jarring aesthetic clashes to throw a reader out of the comic.

Unstoppable Wasp: Unlimited Vol. 1--Fix Everything (Marvel) The above Unstoppable Wasp comics apparently sold well enough in their original collected form--as Vol. 1: Unstoppable and Vol. 2: Agents of GIRL--that the Jeremy Whitley-written series was a rare one that was un-canceled almost immediately after its cancellation.

Of course, this being Marvel Comics, they didn't just restart the series with Unstoppable Wasp #9, but instead relaunched with a new #1 and, in the trade paperback collections at least, a different title and a resetting of the volume numbers at "1" again. So instead of a reader simply buying Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 1, Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 2 and Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 3, they will need to figure out the correct reading order of Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 1, Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 2 and Unstoppable Wasp: Unlimited Vol. 1 and then probably a volume two of that and then who knows? And keep in mind it's not like the book relaunched with a new creative team or anything. Unlimited is written by Whitley, and picks up right where the last series left off.

It's so frustrating, and so easy to lose track of Marvel comics when they do this that I can't imagine how often Marvel loses would-be readers to other series when it becomes even slightly irritating to figure out the reading order of something. Whitley's Unstoppable Wasp is well worth keeping track of, though. As I said, the original series was great, and this relaunch-but-more-of-a-continuation is just as good, further exploring what's going on inside of Nadia's head--or, more specifically, brain--in a way that is heartbreakingly relevant and all too relatable.

While Charretier and the other artists who drew parts of the first series are gone, they have been quite ably replaced by the art team of Gurihiru. I've long been a big fan of Gurihiru's art, and their super-cute style is particularly well-suited to the often naive, relentlessly sunny and optimistic Nadia, who often scans like the manic, pixie and girl parts of a manic pixie dream girl. As we learned at the climax of the last series, Nadia seems to have inherited not only her father's super-genius, but also some of his mental illness. In that story, this is perhaps cut shorter than it would have been otherwise, with Janet basically leaving it at the fact that she sees the scarier parts of Hank Pym in Nadia sometimes, and helping her find a counselor.

In this new series, there is a greater focus on what's going on with Nadia, and even a diagnosis: Bipolar disorder. Things start off in the same happy place the last series ended, with Nadia and the girls of GIRL labs forming a rather tight-knit group that researches together and fights crime together, with Taina, Priya, Ying and Shay all remote-piloting wasp drones to aid Nadia as she takes on a reformed and resurgent AIM. Advanced Idea Mechanics being a criminal organization of evil scientists who also dress like bee-keepers, they are pretty much the ideal opponents for a scientist superhero whose motif is that of a stinging insect.

As the conflict escalates for a few issues, and we get glimpses into just how damn busy Nadia's life is, things come to a head when AIM and their hired guns break into GIRL, badly hurting Priya in the process. This leads Nadia into something of a downward spiral, as she abandons her friends at the hospital, returns to the lab, and comes up with a plan to, well, fix everything which is...well, it's kinda crazy.

That is, of course, the point, and we watch as Nadia spirals down further and further...and because she can manipulate Pym particles to the point that she can shrink to microscopic size, is pretty damn low. Before it's over, she's repeating her father's worst mistakes--physically attacking those she cares most about--and, at rock bottom, seemingly contemplating suicide.

Whitley never writes that word, but there's an intense five-page sequence in which one of her friends has to literally talk her off a ledge where Nadia says a few particularly red flaggy type of things, like "Maybe the rest of the world would be better off without Nadia" and standing at and stepping over the ledge, while her friend does stuff like grabs her wrist and places her foot atop Nadia's foot.

It's kind of hard to overstate how powerful this sequence is. I don't want to talk about myself much here--I don't have bipolar disorder, nor am I in any danger of harming myself or others--but I recognize the downward spiral effects of mental illness, and the thoughts Nadia has, the things she articulates about her brain being broken, and the despairing thought that the things that are best about oneself are actually tied to an honest-to-God illness are all extremely familiar. So to is what it takes to get up off the floor (or, here, the ledge of one's microscopic lab); someone who cares about you cutting through all of your bad thoughts and negative self-talk.

Having started reading comic books when I did, well after the grim and gritty turning points of the 1980s, the idea of the mentally ill superhero is a pretty common trope. It's actually kind of strange then that when we talk about mental illness and superheroes, we basically mean some sort of stylized Victorian madness, and when characters like Batman, whose sanity has been so often questioned in his comics for decades now, lose it, the writers basically just portray it as a performative form of melancholy or angst or violent lashing out. Never--or hardly ever--as something real and recognizable and scary to the self (Like, if and when Batman seems like he might try to destroy himself, it's usually by working a case too hard after not shaving or sleeping for a few days, or taking reckless risks, and he's never really shown to suffer from these things, or be in any real jeopardy; instead he perseveres or overcomes, so that if Batman is anxious or depressed or suicidal or handling emotional problems or mental illness in an unhealthy fashion, it's depicted as a sign of just how awesome he is that he can do all that and defeat the villain and save the day).

Nadia Van Dyne, The Unstoppable Wasp, has a devastating mental illness that hurts her, hurts those around her, and could, depending on how she handles it, kill her. And Whitley and his collaborators depict it so viscerally that it seems like she's facing one of greatest threats of any hero in the Marvel Universe, and it makes her perhaps the modern exemplar of the original Marvel mold of a superhero with problems.

Again, given what we know about Nadia, how colorful and bright her adventures are (and her comic is), how young and cheerful and optimistic she is, and how cute the artwork is, this seems to hit all the harder, because it grates so hard against readers' expectations, even after the revelations of the first Unstoppable Wasp series. (I actually wondered if maybe Gurihiru's art was too cute for this series, as it is so steeped in pop cartooning experience that when Nadia starts to seem off, she has lines around her eyes to make her look crazy, a visual shortcut that might undercut things a bit).

Anyway, Unlimited is every bit as good as the previous series, it seems, and this volume has the benefit of still more incredible yet artwork and one of the stronger pieces of writing about mental illness I've read in a superhero comic since God knows when. Regardless of Marvel's confused and confusing publishing plans, I hope readers find this series.


Adventures of The Super Sons Vol. 1: Action Detectives (DC Comics) It's not entirely clear why DC decided to relaunch the Peter J. Tomasi-written, Carlo Barberi-penciled Super Sons series under a new title--aside from the fact that relaunching a book with a new #1 is such a go-to move for Marvel and DC that it's practically instinctual for them. True, this series is set "in the not-to-distant past," after the final issue of Super Sons but, according to a text box on the title page of the first issue, before Superman Special #1. The reason for that is apparently so that DC can keep publishing Super Sons without stepping on Superman/Action Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis' plans, as his run began with Jonathan Kent leaving planet Earth and, eventually, coming back quite different (I'm reading the Super-books in trade, so I'm not up-to-date as to how old Jon is now, and why he seems to be so much older; I saw him leave, but I haven't seen him come back yet). In fact, Tomasi rather obliging moves the action of the book off-planet, further removing the events of this book from the goings-on of the other monthly DCU books.

Still, there's no reason that story arc couldn't have begun in Super Sons #17 instead of Adventures of the Super Sons #1, and no reason this volume couldn't be Super Sons Vol. 4 rather than Adventures of the Super Sons Vol. 1. I suppose the numbers that DC looks at must suggest that #1s and Volume 1s sell better than #17s and Volume 4s; all I know is that, as a reader, it can make following the books in trade paperback much more difficult than it needs to be.

Anyway, the Tomasi/Barberi team continue doing just what they were doing. The issue opens with Superboy and Robin embroiled in battle against the Metropolis statue of Superman, come to life through the machinations of a supervillain, and then celebrating as school lets out for summer. No sooner are they in their newly rebuilt underwater base in Morrison Bay, however, then they answer a call that will alter the direction of their adventures for the foreseeable future.

There's a monster tearing up the Metropolis mall, and that monster turns out to be The Shaggy Boy, one of a handful of kid versions of DC supervillains led by one Rex Luthor. They are collectively known as The Gang--the name of a supervillain team that troubled Supergirl for a bit in the early 1980s, but have no relation to this The Gang--and, as designed by Barberi, they all have rather striking looks that suggest their supervillain inspirations while also being well-suited to tackling the kid versions of Superman and Batman.

Tomasi's origin story for Rex and his underlings--Joker Jr., Shaggy Boy, Ice Princess, Kid Deadshot, Brainiac 6--is actually kind of clever. None of them seem to have any actual relation to the villains they resemble and are named after. Rather, they were young alien kids who became fans of the Earth's greatest supervillains, with Luthor super-fan Rex pushing the others to more closely model their namesakes (Joker Jr., for example, wants no part of playing a psychotic killer clown).

Rex's original plan was simply to use Jon to break into Superman's Fortress of Solitude and retrieve an item of power that appeared a few years ago in another Tomasi-written comic book co-starring Jon, but our heroes manage to foul up Rex's plans enough that a sort of chase through outer space begins, Tomasi, Barberi and company bringing in familiar but wild elements from Superman's past and the DCU in general: Gold kryptonite, Superboy Red/Superboy Blue, Space Cabbie, Tommy Tomorrow, Takron-Galtos and an alien "House of Secret Mysteries," where dwell alien answers to Cain and Abel.

In synopsis, it's all rather crazy, and, in fact, crazy is basically how it reads, too, but it's the best kind of superhero comic crazy: Fast-paced, fun, funny and somewhat silly. Because the main selling point of the book, however, is the extremely strong personalities of its co-stars, and their relationship to one another, a Super Sons story really can't be too silly, as long as it has Jon being Jon and Damian being Damian in it.

I thought this was an absolute blast, and, perhaps precisely because it is divorced from the monthly goings-on of the DCU by both time and space, much more enjoyable than the previous Super Sons series, which had a tendency to be a little too dark (the Kid Amazo stuff, for example), and/or preoccupied with the more tired elements of the characters' backgrounds (Damian vs. the al Ghul heritage, Round 200, for example).

It probably also helped that I read this just a few days after the DC Zoom original graphic novel, Super Sons Book One: The Polarshield Project, as that offered rather different versions of these characters, in a different world, with different backgrounds and at a different point in their relationship, so perhaps I was more primed than usual to enjoy the peak Super Sons experience that Action Detectives offers.

This collection includes the first six issues of Adventures of The Super Sons, featuring art by guest artist Scott Godlewski on the final issue, while Barberi pencils the first five, and Art Thibert and Matt Santoreli ink him.

Batman Vol. 9: The Tyrant Wing (DC) The latest collection of writer Tom King's run on Batman reads like a rather disjointed affair, as there are actually only 60 pages collecting King's Batman in this volume, the other 73 story pages being reprints of one-shot anthology special Batman: Secret Files #1 and Batman Annual #3. Given that King only wrote three pages of Secret Files and zero pages of the annual, this is a rather poorly curated collection. There's a "To Be Continued..." at what is presumably meant to be a rather big moment in King's ongoing narrative, when a particular character from earlier in the run shows up unexpectedly for a cliffhanger ending, and then there's some 70+ pages of what is essentially unrelated fill-in material. Much of it is quite good, of course, but it doesn't really seem to belong here.

The title story, "Tyrant Wing", continues King's story about an over-the-edge Batman who has been driven close to insane by Selina Kyle having ghosted him eight issues ago. How far gone is Batman? Well, he punches out Commissioner Gordon about halfway through this three-issue arc. Apparently, The Penguin was involved in the murders that Batman had beaten Mister Freeze into confessing back in "Cold Days," and it was really Bane behind it all, as part of his byzantine plot to make Batman crazy or whatever.

To punish The Penguin for something, Bane has someone slit the throat of Penny Cobblepot, the 21-year-old wife we never knew Penguin had, apparently? (Fun fact: The Penguin is apparently 49, according to this story). To atone, The Penguin has to have Alfred Pennyworth killed. Instead, he tells Batman that Bane is faking brain damage in Arkham and is secretly running both the asylum and the city, but Batman can't find any proof. So, being the World's Greatest Detective, he naturally throws Penguin around, beats Bane to a pulp in his cell and then beats up the likes of Maxie Zeus, Kite-Man, Firefly and Signal Man for an issue, all in the hopes of beating a clue out of someone (Which is weird, because I thought the point of "Cold Days" was Batman trying, as Bruce Wayne, to fix something he realized was wrong that he did as Batman).

As is usually the case with King, the scripting is accomplished, but the storytelling and characterization extremely poor. There's a kind of neat scene that details what it's like to schedule a face-to-face meeting with Bane, but it's played so straight that rather than humorous, the bonkers premise just reads kind of dumb. The Penguin goes into super-villain mode for one page, gets busted by Batman and sent to Arkham (even though The Penguin has generally been treated as one of Batman's rare sane, regular villains, the sort of criminal that generally ends up in Blackgate, rather than a criminally insane psychopath that gets sent to Arkham, for the last few decades). There he meets Bane atop his throne of skulls, and he's back out the next day.

The Batman-beating up-low-level-supervillains sequence is weird too, as it continues King's weird portrayal of Batman's crime-fighting as basically knocking out costumed villains and then leaving them where they lay, to wake up and go free (This was one of the weird aspects of "The War of Jokes and Riddles"; Batman kept fighting and beating villains but never catching any of them, like he was just skipping the last step of costumed crime-fighting). Like, I'm pretty sure Kite-Man gets knocked out by Batman at least once a week these days. I don't know; if Bane is running Arkham, maybe he has established an actual revolving door policy there, and no one other than Batman has caught on yet.

Mikel Janin draws most of "Tyrant Wing," save for the Batman-beating up-supervillains sections of the third and final issues; those are drawn by Jorge Fornes, and those are particularly excellent. Fornes has a particularly "drawn" looking style that evokes the work of David Mazzucchelli, and sharply contrasts with the hyper-realistic look of Janin's art.

I rather recently wrote about Secret Files here on EDILW, so I won't re-review any of those stories--nor did I re-read them in this collection--but I can direct you to what I had to say about them shortly after reading them. Flipping through those stories now, I'm reminded that there are some noteworthy contributors involved, including writer Cheryl Lynn Eaton and artist Jill Thompson on different short stories, and that I was most surprised by the contribution from writer "Ram V" and artist Jorge Fornes, which was quite effective.

The annual is the work of writer Tom Taylor, who also contributed the script for the eight-page Detective Chimp story from Secret Files that here immediately precedes it, and artist Otto Schmidt. It's an Alfred story, focusing on his relationship with Bruce Wayne, and while it might seem like there have been dozens of such stories written in the past, Taylor really did seem to have some new things to say about it, and to say those things in clever, interesting ways, covering quite a bit of character history and emotional content in the relatively short space allotted. He also creates a new villain for the story, which is cool; too fee writers seem too invested in creating new rogues for Batman to punch these days.

Schmidt's work on this story is excellent too. He's a superb Alfred artist, and pretty dang good at drawing Batman and other people too. There's a lot of "acting" on the part of the characters in the story, and Schmidt handles it all quite well.

I'd recommend checking this volume out whether you've been following King's run or not, just for Taylor's story and to peruse some of the new and different talent involved in the Secret Files portion, but given that this trade costs $17, it may be cheaper just to track down the annual and the one-shot in back-issue bins.

Book Love (Andrews McMeel Publishing) This short book of cartoons from English cartoonist Debbie Tung is a quick, easy, unchallenging read, all about the author's love of books. Because of the limited subject matter, which is itself defined right there in the title, the cartoon strips within--none of which exceed two pages--can be pretty predictable, having, as they do, the same basic punchline. The author's cartoon avatar really, really loves books, and so the variations in each strip are basically in the set-up to the gag, and how the last panel will demonstrate her love of books.
That said, the cartoons are good ones. Tung has a nice, super-simplified style that reminds me a little of a compromise of the styles of Early Andi Watson and Noelle Stevenson, rendered in black and white with ink washes for colors, and no backgrounds unless a background detail is necessary to communicate the joke or point of the particular comic.

Book Love seems divided between these sort of odd, pro-reading messages that look like the sort you might find on a poster in a library, some of them just phrases super-imposed over an illustration--"By living a reading life... I live many lives at once" over a picture of the author's avatar atop a ladder, reaching for a tome from a wall covered in stuffed bookshelves, for example--or broken into strips hyping books or reading. Others are little skits or stories in which her love of reading is demonstrated by her actions or conversations with a few other recurring characters, one of whom seems to be her partner.

Tung is definitely a talent, and reading this made me quite curious about her previous book, Quite Girl in a Noisy World, as I'd like to see her work in a less predictable collection.

Fantastic Four Vol. 1: Fourever (Marvel) Whoever Marvel gave the task of relaunching Fantastic Four was going to find themselves with a job likely to be as difficult as it was thankless. When writer Jonathan Hickman ended his run on the title and the sister publication he created for it in 2013, Marvel relaunched it with Matt Fraction writing a sort of place-holding arc, and then re-relaunched it with writer James Robinson at the helm...ultimately cancelling the book in 201, and allowing Hickman to write and ending for the characters into his Secret Wars crossover event series which, in many ways, ended up being something of a final FF story.

Sure, Victor Von Doom, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm all returned to the Marvel Universe proper, and spent the next few years doing rather unusual things, like being an Iron Man-meets-Doctor Strange superhero, joining The Inhumans and joining the Guardians of The Galaxy, respectively, but Reed, Sue, Franklin, Valeria and the Future Foundation were all MIA, apparently off creating new worlds somewhere in the Multiverse, something of a Richards Family version of heaven.

So writing a new Fantastic Four comic meant not only competing with all those titanic talents and popular creators who have worked on the book since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, it also meant succeeding where so many of them had relatively recently failed and un-ending Hickman's end of the FF.

Dan Slott, who has spent years telling Spider-Man stories that were at once respectful of the core character and his history but also diverging in often daring and downright shocking ways from formula, wasn't a writer who would have even been on my radar for restoring the Fantastic Four to the Marvel Universe (and Fantastic Four to Marvel's publishing schedule), based on the fact that he's not quite an A-list talent like, say, Mark Millar was when he had his stab at the FF, but Q-rating aside, Slott's work for Marvel actually made him the perfect candidate.

So, how did he do? Well, writer Chip Zdarsky helped set him up with Marvel 2-in-One, a short-lived Thing/Human Torch comic featuring that half of the Four looking for the other half.

After a first issue in which Ben proposes to Alicia and Johnny finally comes to the realization that his sister and brother-in-law really are gone forever, they receive a sign that the Richards Family actually are still out there. From there, we check in on them and find that all this time Reed, Sue and the kids have been creating new worlds and then exploring them, and it's all been going swell. That ends when they meet "The Griever At The End of All Things," a sort of cosmic entropy goddess who undoes worlds and has her sights set not only on those new ones the Richards and Future Foundation have been making, but also Earth.

Reed tricks her into letting him unite the real Fantastic Four in order to give her a proper challenge, and she allows it, only to find that he has summoned everyone who has ever been a member of the Fantastic Four. So between the new recruits and the Future Foundation kids, it's practically a Fantastic Forty, but even with all that brawn at their command, it basically comes down to Reed and Valeria's smarts that win the day.

And from there, it's back to Earth, where Reed, Sue and the kids will have to learn just how much has changed in the three years (our time) they've been MIA, including the loss of the Baxter Building. The other big changes? Reed has a beard now (looks good, Reed), Franklin and Valeria have codenames (Powerhouse and Brainstorm) and, based on all the variant covers, they will be getting cool-looking new costumes, although they don't actually don those in the four issues collected in this trade.

Sara Pichelli pencils most of the first first three issues and inks some of them (along with Elisabetta D'AMico and Nico Leon), which is also a pretty challenging gig, given the title's history of artists starting with Jack fucking Kirby, who basically invented the look and feel of the entire Marvel Universe, much of it in the earliest issues of this very title. The fourth issue is drawn by Stefano Caselli and Leon, and then, looking ahead, the next four issues are Pichelli-less, and while Aaron Kuder seems to be the new "regular" artist, almost all of the next few issues also have multiple artists working on them.

There were apparently two back-ups included in Fantastic Four #1, which, in this collection, appear to interrupt the narrative in a way that doesn't do the collection any favors. These are a nine-page Doom story drawn by Simone Bianchi and a one-page gag story featuring Impossible Man and Willie Lumpkin drawn by Skottie Young.

As with Tony Stark: Iron Man, Slott took on a particularly challenging Marvel Comics assignment, and crushed it. Now if only they can get the visuals straightened out, as four artists on the first four issues of a new volume of a series that has been laying fallow for three years is...less than ideal.

Immortal Hulk Vol. 2: The Green Door (Marvel) It was pretty apparent within the very first volume that writer Al Ewing's pitch for the current Hulk series was to do it as a horror comic, something that regular pencil artist Joe Bennett has been surprisingly adept at conveying in the visuals (especially considering his wouldn't have been one of the first 50 names I would have thought of if I was asked to list good artists for a superhero horror comic). Still, even going into the comic knowing that it's leaning into the horror genre about as hard and explicitly as a Hulk comic ever has--I mean, last volume Hulk buried a now immortal-ish guy alive--I was still taken aback about how horrifying the book can be.
There's a scene in the eighth issue of the series, the one with Hulk's screaming head, flexing hands and various organs in jars on the cover, which is a slow, gradual walk up to the revelation that while a bad guy government scientist has been slowly vivisecting the now un-killable Hulk, and separating his various body parts into jars and vats for study, the Hulk has been letting him torture him in such a horrible fashion for a particular reason and that the Hulk can control his individual body parts.
That leads to a five-page sequence, kicking off with a two-page splash, then a one-page splash, then gradually dwindling to a normal pace in which The Hulk breaks out of all the jars simultaneously, flings his various body parts at the doctor (I'm having trouble remembering an image in a Marvel comic as weird and scary as that two-page spread), and then re-forms his body around the doctor.

It's really potent imagery, and bugged me in multiple ways--one of which was what happened to the doctor's corpse when Hulk resumed his Banner form the next morning. Did the Hulk's body somehow dissolve it...?
Anyway, that was the mid-point of this collection, and I assumed I wouldn't be seeing anything anywhere near that level of weirdo horror in the remaining 40 pages, but then there was this:
So yeah, Hulk-as-horror. They're definitely pulling it off.

In this volume, Ewing's plot line seems to be congealing into a arc and picking up momentum. The status quo he established in the first volume, with Banner resuming his drifter lifestyle and trying to stay off the radar during the day and keeping the Hulk out of trouble at night, when he now emerges. Here the Avengers and Alpha Flight take an active interest in stopping The Hulk, as does the shadowy agency that ended up cutting him to pieces for study and, later, sending a radically altered Red Absorbing Man after him (That's poor Crusher Creel in the image above; you might not recognize his fanged skull squirming atop a serpentine spine, but if you look at his, um, husk, you'll see him).

The cliffhanger ending, which involves the opening of the Green Door, is pretty goddam dramatic, and looks to be the payoff of the supernatural aspects of first Sasquatch's and then, later, Hulk's monster forms.

There's also an entire issue devoted to The Hulk fighting the new Avengers, which is among their most powerful line-ups ever. He does surprisingly well against them, well enough that they essentially have to go nuclear and destroy an entire town and "kill" the Immortal Hulk in order to stop him, but then, Hulk does have home book advantage.

I'm really looking forward to the next volume. Not simply because it's a well-made book that I'm enjoying reading, but because I have no fucking idea what might happen next. That's a too-rare feeling in super-comics these days.

Mera: Tidebreaker (DC) The first book in DC's DC Ink line of original graphic novels targeted for a YA audience is a collaboration by Dorothy Must Die and Stealing Snow author Danielle Paige, whose introduction seems to indicate that DC recruited her specifically for it, and Justice League/Power Rangers and Wonder Twins artist Stephen Byrne. I've been cautious about DC Ink and its sister DC Zoom lines since they were first announced, given the emphasis on writers over artists. The cover design for this one is a pretty good example.

Now, I certainly understand that, if DC's aim to reach out to YA prose readers, then they are going to want to highlight the writer, particularly since the writers they have recruited are all already successful ones. Like, YA prose readers who don't also read graphic novels obviously aren't going to have a favorite comics artist yet. But the giant "Danielle Paige" atop the cover is in big, bold letters, while artist Stephen Byrne's credit is in font that is, like, one-fifth the size and looks and runs along the bottom, almost like an afterthought (Colorist David Calderone and letterer Joshua Reed are probably used to not having their names on covers, although both contribute very distinct work that is integral to the overall success of the book; in fact, I get a sense coloring is going to be quite important to the Ink line).

More confusing than irritating to me upon the announcement of the line, and even the solicitations for the books, was whether or not they were prose or comics. "Illustrated by" suggests that Byrne was, um, illustrating the book, and not providing all of the art. I have no idea how full a script Paige provided Byrne, but even if it was a very full one, the drawing of a comic is a very, very different matter from illustration, despite the fact that both entail, you know, drawing.

While we're always told not to judge a book by its cover, it's A-OK to judge a book cover by its self, and this one is somewhat wanting. As this is the first Ink book, I do hope the eventually address the cover dress, so that a future collaborations between this pair, for example, would just say "Danielle Paige and Stephen Byrne" along the top. As for the book itself, though, in this case it would have been a bad idea to avoid it just because of my dislike of elements of the cover, because the book is actually quite good.

The Aquaman story is, more so than may other well-known superhero stories, particularly fairy tale-like, involving powerful races of human-like beings hidden from the everyday world, princes and princesses and kings and queens, love between a regular human and a more magical type and so on. Here our protagonist is Mera--historically a periphery figure in Aquaman comics, but over the last decade or so she's been playing a bigger and bigger role, becoming more of a partner or star in her own right than simply Aquaman's wife. The script is flipped in such a way that the same story--or, at least, the same sequence of events--could have been told from Aquaman's point-of-view, and it would have worked, so making Mera the protagonist here is more of a shift of focus than some sort of heretical re-telling of the story.

Mera is a teenage princess and warrior-in-training in the undersea kingdom of Xebel, which lives under the thumb of Atlantean rule. Her father wants her to assent to an arranged marriage with Larken, a prince of another kingdom, The Trench (It's not quite as bad as it sounds, as Larken and his dad look every bit as human as the people of Xebel and Atlantis, rather than the emaciated fish monsters that the Trench were upon Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis' introduction of them in the comics, or in the recent movie).

Mera overhears her father plotting: He is going to send Larken to the surface world in order to kill the Atlantean prince Arthur and, if the assassination is successful, he will allow Larken to marry her and ascend the throne. So she decides that she will get to Arthur first, kill him herself and bring his head back to her father, allowing her to become queen solo.

Her mentor warns her about the dangers of the surface world for their kind, and that murdering someone isn't as easy as it might sound, and Mera finds that all out first hand when she comes to Amnesty Bay and meets Arthur at the beach. This Arthur is also a teenager, and he has no idea about his Atlantean heritage. He's a hunky and all-around stand-up guy, one who is almost comically kind and generous--in one montage, for example, he literally helps a little old lady across a street.

While Mera struggles to find the perfect opportunity to kill Arthur, and undergoes some fish-out-of-water comedic moments, she and Arthur gradually find out how much they have in common, and begin to fall in love. By the time she pulls him off a cliff into the sea in an attempt to drown the future Aquaman, things get all out Romeo and Juliet: Arthur learns of his own origins from his father, his mother and an Atlantean army shows up on the beach and Larken, Mera's dad and Xebellian warriors show up.

It's all rather well-observed, from the reluctant, rebellious daughter of duty opening, to the fantasy-tinged teen angst in Amnesty Bay, to the showdown regarding underwater politics. It's fun, it's funny and it's melodramatic in the way of an effective teen drama TV show might be, without ever going over-the-top.

Byrne's design work is incredibly well-realized. Xebel looks like a somewhat fantastical, slightly futuristic kingdom, without being aggressive or overpowering in its design. Amnesty Bay looks real and lived in, familiar despite being strange. His character designs don't look spectacularly superheroic or fantastical, but all have realistic figures and rounder, softer edges. It's all abstracted enough to look more like the sort of art one would find in, like, literature comics, rather than super-comics.

One of the things that so often annoys me about stories involving Aquaman and Namor is how life underwater is sometimes depicted. I hate, for example, when we see, say, Aquaman reading a book or lying on a bed under a blanket, or when people stand around with their feet planted squarely on the ground as if they weren't underwater. There are a couple of panels in the beginning that suggest Mera running which gave me a sinking feeling, but, for the most part, Byrne does a nice job of making people appear to be floating in place or half-walking, half-floating. (There's a bit where Mera grabs a champagne flute from a serving tray which I thought was absolutely insane--how do you drink out of a glass at the bottom of the ocean?!--but a page-turn later it was revealed that they use some sort of fancy sippy-cup technology to keep the champagne in the flute, separated from the water around them. Great detail, guys!)

Calderone's colors in a very limited blue-and-white palette, which seems particularly well-suited for the underwater scenes, and works for the surface world scenes, even if not as well. Exceptions are made for certainly elements, like the red of Mera's hair (or that of her father), the orange for her occasional narration boxes, the brown of Larken's skin and so on.

Curiously, Arthur has black hair, as do both his father and his mother. This is apparently to make him look more like Jason Momoa, at least in hair color, as there are a few blonde people in the story, their hair looking white under Calderone's coloring. There are some earlier designs in the back of the book, showing that at one point Mera's Arthur was much more closely modeled on Momoa, complete with tattoos, eyebrow scar, long hair and a more Momoa-like cocky look on his face. The final Arthur looks like a much more stand-up, clean cut all-around dude; a popular teen with a heart of gold.

Paige's version of the story seems to owe a lot to Geoff Johns' run on Aquaman, and specific restorations to Aquaman's origins that Johns made, including the son of a mermaid and lighthouse keeper bit, and Atlantis being a series of kingdoms in conflict with one another, which last year's film drew a lot of inspiration from as well. Aside from the dark-haired Arthur Curry and his dad, the book has a few moments that seem to be inspired by the film, particularly regarding Arthur's mother and her late-in-the-narrative return.

I have a couple of nitpicks. There's a page where Mera watches television, and we get a montage of images, after which she has a tear in her eye. There are a few images that are blandly political in that way particular to modern Big Two super-comics that drives me nuts. There's a very carefully worded chyron about violence in the Middle East which, okay, fair enough, but then there's a panel of what appears to be a protest. It shows a bunch of white ladies in white pussy hats (there's no pink in Mera), and one of them holds a sign that says "MATTER", but the top of the sign is cut off.

I assume it says "Black Lives Matter", but why cut it off at all? To suggest it might say "Blue Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter"...? Were they afraid to include a "Black Lives Matter" sign in there might appear to endorse the sentiment or movement and, I don't know, offend readers who...don't think black lives matter? Assholes will get offended anyway, as there's an image of two dudes kissing a few pages later. Also, the pussy hats.

Anyway, I know I've complained about this before, but I hate when a comic looks like it wants to include something political, even in a vague, generic way--like, police brutality or the relationship between police officers and the black community don't come up in this book at all--but, for whatever reason, don't even want to reference any actual political issue, and so the comic includes a "protest" of nothing, an image that will make readers recognize the slogan--or slogans--but also make a point of not showing that slogan, calling attention to the fact that they purposefully not doing that. Just cut the whole sign out of the image! That's better than telegraphing your reluctance to include any content that might be read as "political."

I am not entirely sure how I feel about the following Xebelian expletives, either:
"What the shell?"

"The Atlanteans will lose their sharks"

"You've got to be sharking me"

"What the shark?"
They are either the worst...or the best.

Shazam!: The New Beginning 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (DC) I obviously missed the four-issue, Roy Thomas and Dann Thomas-written post-Crisis origin story of Captain Marvel when it was originally published in 1987; I was just ten years old, and had no interest in comics at the time. As to why I hadn't read it before this month--when I did so in order to see whether or not I should include it in my piece on further reading for fans of the Shazam film--well, DC didn't seem to consider it too terribly important before there as a Captain Marvel/Shazam movie. This 30th anniversary edition appears to be the first time it was available in trade.

Having now read the collection--which includes both the four-issue title miniseries and the Thomas-scripted Captain Marvel stories from Action Comics Weekly--I can see why. It's not all that great. Thomas writes a two-page prose introduction to the collection, which spends an awful lot of time detailing how he felt kinda sorta screwed over by DC when it came to the Shazam property, which was being "held" for him ever since 1980. In that introduction, he explains the idea was to update the characters "with a grittier, more realistic feel, so they would blend right in with Batman et al."

He further noted that many people at the time were pretty uncomfortable with that approach, and that while he sympathized, DC tried the "older, more whimsical approach" with their first Shazam series, and readers rejected it. It was the late-1980s, and Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Plastic Man--everyone was getting new origins, with varying degrees of differentiation from their original origins, so why not Cap...?

Now, all of those now 30-ish year old origins have been altered to different degrees and different numbers of times since then; I think "Batman: Year One" has probably changed the least in the last three decades, but that was, in large part, because when opportunities arose to mess with it, the creators charged with retelling Batman's origins mostly avoided contradicting elements of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's story. Given that, say, George Perez's Wonder Woman origin and John Byrne's Superman didn't similarly stand the test of time, I think it is probably unfair to blame the weakness of Thomas and artist Tom Mandrake's A New Beginning on the fact that there have hardly been any Captain Marvel/Shazam comics in the last 30 years that weren't attempts to relaunch or rejigger the character with new origins. The Power of Shazam (1994), Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder, Trials of Shazam, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil and Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's 2012 Justice League back-up--it seems like DC has been trying to retell Captain Marvel's origin ever since Thomas' series, which was little more than the first attempt of many.

Not to get too far of track here, but while I understand why DC wanted to update Captain Marvel's origin story in the mid-1980s, they probably shouldn't have bothered. Captain Marvel's original origin is one of the most perfect superhero origin stories of all time, and any tweaks to it generally just weaken the sense of mystery and wonder that accompanied it. Given that the character didn't have an ongoing monthly series or two or three (like Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman, respectively), it's not like DC needed to explain who he is and how he came to be in greater or grittier detail. He was appearing, briefly, in the Justice League book of the era, Justice League/JLI, and he played a sizable role in Legends, and everyone seemed more or less fine with him there. (I never had any trouble making sense of him in those books, or in War of The Gods, without having read A New Beginning.)

But if DC had to given him that new, revised origin story, rather than just treating him like all the many, many other DC heroes without a home book who didn't get radically updated stories to fit in with the collapsed multiverse setting, they probably could have/should have just stuck with this one, instead of constantly tinkering. Because barring perhaps the late '90s, when The Power of Shazam monthly series was running, the characters never really got a chance to develop momentum. The publisher seemed to have been too intent on reinventing a perfectly good wheel to let it go anywhere.

In A New Beginning, Billy Batson is a 15-year-old boy living in San Francisco when he is quite suddenly orphaned: His parents both die in a car crash. There's a brief custody battle between his loving Uncle Dudley, a semi-professional stage magician, and his estranged Uncle Thaddeus Sivana, a college professor who has the financial means to support Billy, as well as two children of his own to become his new siblings (Beutia and Magnificus). Billy prefers Dudley, of course, but doesn't want Dudley to give up his dreams of becoming a magician in order to take care of him, so he goes with Sivana, which naturally turns out to be a huge mistake.

This Sivana is more nasty than the original. Not only is he responsible for the deaths of The Batsons in an insurance money scam, he also beats Billy and Beautia. It's when Billy is in the process of running away from Sivana that he meets the stranger who leads him to the subway station and there his origin mostly resumes its original sequence, up to the gifting of his powers (The only thing missing is the magic train).

The Wizard Shazam has a brief freakout about continuity, and goes on to warn him about the first guy he gifted with his powers, Black Adam. Perhaps coincidentally, Sivana's been pouring his ill-gotten gains into building a special machine that helps him contact other dimensions--and through which he inadvertently rescues the exiled Black Adam.
The pair take on the exact same relationship that Johns gave them in his Shazam, and go about trying to take over the world. Their opening gambit is kidnapping a plane full of world leaders. It's up to Billy, Dudley and Captain Marvel to save the day, and, in the process, Billy is able to get a job as a boy reporter for the television station K-WHZ, since he broke the story. And that's the basic shape of the franchise when the story closes. Dudley has a rabbit in his act named Hoppy, but he is a normal, non-anthropomorphic, un-Marvelous bunny. And the second-to-last page features the introduction, or at least the foreshadowing of, Mr. Mind--as the worm in the bottom of a tequila bottle Sivana is drinking shots from while on the run in Mexico.
As mentioned, Tom Mandrake draws these four issues--with Jan Duursema inking the second one--and while this is probably the earliest example of his work I've read, it is already quite strong, and recognizably his, with relatively few of the panels looking like they could possibly be the work of anyone else. Given his facility with spookier characters, I never would have thought Mandrake would be a particularly good fit for Captain Marvel, but he's quite well-suited to the task. His wizened and withered Sivana is particularly scary, having more of the Max Schreck-as-Nosferatu in him than usual, and his Uncle Dudley is pretty great too, boasting a bulbous nose that makes him look more W.C.Fields-y than many other artists, while still looking more realistic than cartoony.
He draws both of the big strong guys well, too, their faces often seeming to generate their own dramatic shadows, and their superpowers and combat rendered in dynamic, expressive imagery. Mandrake seems weakest when it comes to drawing a non-angry, not-menacing version of The Captain, although he draws some nice "Aw shucks" expressions on the Captain's face occasionally. All-in-all, his heavy inks and cross-hatching certainly manage to make the comic look grittier, and it would be easy to imagine Batman sharing space with Captain Marvel and company in this book.

A New Beginning is followed by "My Week In Valhalla" from Action Comics, featuring art by pencil artist Rick Stasi and inker Rick Magyar. The 28-page story introduces the new Captain Nazi, a super-soldier created white supremacist group The Sons of Valhalla, dedicated to overthrowing the "ZOG" (that's Zionist Occupied Government). Captain Marvel intervenes in a standoff between their members and the police, and accidentally kills one of them (Or did he...?). From there, Billy goes undercover at the Sons' youth camp, Aryan Acres, where he's exposed to all sorts of fairly vile propaganda while they learn to shoot guns and stuff. It's there that Captain Nazi is born, and Billy/Captain Marvel finds it a lot easier to beat him up and stop a terrorist attack than to counteract the propaganda the boys are exposed to.

The art is a bit smoother, cleaner and brighter than Mandrake's, but close enough that there's an admirable visual consistency. According to Thomas, Mandrake wasn't crazy about continuing to draw a Shazam book, and DC didn't think Stasi/Magyar were a good fit, and so there was no Shazam monthly series, despite the pink box in the last panel of "My Week In Valhalla" reading "COMING SOON: SHAZAM! The Monthly Series!.

I would have been fine reading more Thomas/Thomas/Stasi/Magyar comics featuring these characters, I think, but a Captain Marvel ongoing from DC wasn't to be until The Power of Shazam a few years later.

If you're wondering, I decided not to include this in my Good Comics For Kids reading guide, because it seemed adult enough--with the abusive Sivana and, especially, the racist content in the second story--that it didn't seem to be a comic to recommend to young readers. I mean, it's clear the Sons are the bad guys, and their views are abhorrent, but given all the other Captain Marvel/Shazam comics out there, this one ins't that necessary.

That said, it was interesting to me, in particular because it seems to have had quite an influence on later writers, including Jerry Ordaway, David Goyer and, especially, Geoff Johns. In addition to the way Johns' Sivana/Black Adam team-up echoes that plot line here, even the skepticism that an older, more cynical Billy expresses when confronted by the Wizard is prefigured here, although it is merely in Billy's expression and reluctance to humor the old man, and not couched in a speech about how there's no such thing as a truly good person.


Apocalypse Taco (Abrams) Here. If you asked me what the best comic of 2019 was today, I would find that a rather odd question, as it's only April, and there's still eight months left in 2019. Although I would probably answer that better question now than I would in late December, as by then I will have forgotten everything I read, because I am growing old and my brain doesn't work as well as it used to. After asking why you were asking me, and going through the tangent I just went through, I would then say "Apocalypse Taco, no question." And then I'd remember Go-Bots. And then I'd think out loud a bit and say that I guess I'd go with Apocalypse Taco, as writer/artist Nathan Hale (One Trick Pony) made it up out of whole cloth, which gives him an edge on Tom Scioli's Go-Bots (Although maybe the fact that Go-Bots is based on a toy line and cartoon series actually makes it better than comics not based on toy lines and cartoons, as Scioli went into the comic kind of handicapped by that? Like, I feel like any time I tell someone how brilliant his Go-Bots or his Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe is, I then have to follow up with some form of "No, really" or "Seriously").

Anyway, Apocalypse Taco is so damn good, so damn weird and so damn scary that I had to keep checking various places to see that it was indeed meant for kids. It would have freaked me right the fuck out had I read it as a child. Or, like, a twenty-something.

Disney Don Quixote (Dark Horse Books) Here. That's right, Dark Horse Books! So there's another publisher to add to the list of publishers that aren't the Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment that are publishing Disney comics.

Dragon Quest Monsters+ Vols. 1-2 (Seven Seas Entertainment) Here. This was not really the sort of book I would have sought out on my own, being a Pokemon-esque Japanese RPG type of thing, but it was well-made.

Giraffes On Horseback Salad (Quirk Books) Here. This was the most anticipated-by-me-personally book of 2019's something.


Here's an article I wrote for Good Comics For Kids on where fans of the Captain Marvel/Shazam character from the Shazam movie should start in on comics featuring those characters. If you loved the movie, then you want to start with Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Shazam: Origins, as the movie was basically just an adaptation of the story in that trade. Otherwise, though, I think Alex Ross and Paul Dini's Shazam: The Power of Hope is the best all-around starting point...that, or, perhaps, Shazam: A Celebration of 75 Years. Younger readers, however, will definitely want to start with Jeff Smith's Shazam and The Monster Society of Evil. The trade I wish existed, however, would include The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures by Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart, Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner's Convergence: Shazam #1-#2 and Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela's Scooby-Doo Team-Up #16, as those are three rock-solid comics of recent-ish vintage depicting Captain Marvel, the extended Marvel Family and their villains in ways that are true to their original conceptions but also fresh and modern. Sadly, DC didn't ask for my advice on the matter. I probably would have also suggested they get Jerry Ordway, Peter Krause and company's '90s Power of Shazam series back in circulation, given how much of their output from that era they have been releasing in big, fat trades lately...

Finally, I interviewed prose writer Ridley Pearson about his first foray into comics-writing, the debut book of DC's new DC Zoom line, Super Sons: The Polarshield Project. You can read the Q-and-A here.