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.
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...?
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.
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.
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 sees...it'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.
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...
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.
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.
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?"
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...!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?"They are either the worst...or the best.
"The Atlanteans will lose their sharks"
"You've got to be sharking me"
"What the shark?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here. This was the most anticipated-by-me-personally book of 2019 and...it'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...