Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: July 2019


Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Vol. 1: Secrets and Rumors (Marvel Entertainment) So there were three things that interested me in this trade paperback collection of a new, secondary Spider-Man ongoing monthly comic book. First, it was written by Tom Taylor, a very solid writer whose work is often pretty great (All-New Wolverine, for example) and often surprises by being far better than one might assume it should be (Injustice, for example).

Second, it was drawn by Juan Cabal, an all-around great artist, although I wasn't quite sure how his particular facility with character work and facial expressions would translate to a book starring a character whose full-face mask allows for less expression than your average emoji.

Third, it apparently introduced a new Spider-Man sidekick named Spider-Bite, who was apparently a sidekick in the tradition of The Black Terror's sidekick Tim or the Silver Age Flash's Kid Flash in his original costume; that is, basically just a smaller, kid-sized version of the hero.

Well, that third one turned out to be a bit of a cheat. In the sixth and final issue of this collection, Spider-Man and Spider-Bite take on Stilt-Man and The Sinister Sixty for a glowing gold maguffin, a box containing the one thing New York City can't do without. As the story progresses, it becomes pretty clear that this story isn't as "real" as the one preceding it. It turns out that Spider-Bit is Nathan, a boy who is in a hospital and struggling with cancer. Spidey has spent the day visiting him and playing with him. It's a really solid, evergreen Spider-Man story that effectively tugs at the heart strings, while also being kind of funny in the appropriate places (I liked the bit where Spider-Man regards one of his own action figures and remarks, "I wish I had this many points of articulation.")

The story that precedes it is a highly-imaginative, rather clever one, although I'm not entirely sure it's a Spider-Man story, or even a Marvel story, involving as it does a secret Golden Age hero no one has ever heard of and "Under York," a secret New York City that's built into an ocean of lava a few miles beneath the genuine article (that sounds pretty DC, right, and, in particular, rather Grant Morrison...? It's definitely not Spider-Man, or Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man). The story is obviously quite well-written, and Taylor nails the character of Spider-Man, but the story just seemed somewhat off...although, that can also be read as refreshing, I guess, given that it does break the expected mold of Spider-Man stories so dramatically.

Taylor does quite literally involve Spider-Man's neighborhood in the story, though, as the book opens with him saving some new arrivals to the neighborhood, and the conflict with Under York begins when a nosy, needy older woman in his building has him check in on a shy, shut-in who also lives in their building. Spidey's roommate Fred "Boomerang" Myers appears, as does Human Torch Johnny Storm, who is called on to babysit at one point.

There's also a sub-plot involving Aunt May introduced, which I found more irritating than dramatic. Taylor and Cabal (and the other artists) do a good job of making it seem dramatic, but it's the sort of thing Peter Parker has been worrying about a good decade or so before I was even born, so it's hard to invest much in it. Ironically, then, this single volume features both a plot that is so un-Spider-Man-like as to see wrong for the character, and another that is so typical of the character as to be tiresome. It's definitely an interesting read, then.

I really like Andrew Robinson's covers, but it's kind of too bad they differ so much from the art of Cabal, given the gulf between their respective styles. Cabal, it turns out, is a pretty great Spidey artist. Sure, there's only so much you can do with his face, but its blankness is a neat visual in and of itself, especially as it forces Cabal to do so much with the character's posture and body language, and provides such a contrast between the star character and all of those he interacts with throughout the book.

Ironheart Vol. 1: Those With Courage (Marvel) If I'm being 100% honest, the reason that this is in the "bought" rather than "borrowed" category is because the online reaction to Marvel hiring a black lady to write a comic book included so many hateful, ignorant takesmost of them disguised as concern that a professional poet couldn't write a comic book as well as a professional comic book writerthat I wanted the book to succeed in order to spite all of those spiteful of Ewing, Riri Williams and/or Ewing on a Riri Williams book. So while I wanted to read this when the trade became available, I bought it to essentially vote with my dollars.

Andsurprise!Ewing is perfectly capable of writing a modern Marvel super-comic. Ironheart, or at least the first six issues of it, didn't knock my socks off in the way that, say, the first issues of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat or Unstoppable Wasp did (to grab a copula Marvel titles of the last few years to also star young female characters), but Ewing betrays no sign of being "new" to comics, or to not getting how they work...something that a lot of writers from other fields do when they start writing comics (And hell, in terms of simple page-by-page mechanics, I would even say Ewing writes comics better than Riri's co-creator Brian Michael Bendis, whose scripts often work against the art).

Speaking of Bendis, I'm sure I've complained about how difficult to follow his run on the Iron Man character was, given that it changed titles a couple of times, one arc was randomly in a miniseries, and the numbering changed seemingly at random; in fact, I only read a trade or two of it before I got lost and gave up (According to the inside front and back covers of this collection, Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart Vols. 1 and 2 are what one would want/need to read before this). So while I've read Riri in comics before, I am not up-to-date on her story. That said, I didn't feel the least bit lost while reading this. It's a perfectly good starting point with the character and her story, as it should be.

I've mentioned before while looking at various covers that I did not quite like Ironheart's costume, which seemed to me to have one color too many, but now having lived with it for a handful of issues, I think I've come around on it, or at least gotten used to it. I really like the heart symbols, and appreciate that it's a "female" Iron Man costume only in that it is smaller and slimmer, rather than having breasts carved into it, as some previous female Iron Man costumes have (most recently, The Hunt For Wolverine: The Adamantium Agenda had Jessica Jones and Laura Kinney suit up in Iron Man-like suits of armor that Stark outfitted them with, and both suits were drawn with iron breasts and, in Laura's case, even long hair, for some reason).

Minor Spider-Man villain Clash, minor New Warriors villain Midnight's Fire (given a pretty solid redesign, and written to be incredibly formidable) and Spider-Man Miles Morales appear to give some connective tissue to the greater Marvel Universe (Oh, and Ms. Marvel appears on a screen for a few panels, in her capacity as the leader of The Champions), but Ewing and company steer clear of Iron Man himself and his supporting cast and villains, helping distinguish Ironheart from Iron Man.

I'm not sure I'll keep reading after this volumeI certainly won't buy the next onebut I am happy to report that this is perfectly okay, and for one of Ewing's earliest comics works, she's already in far better shape than other writers from other fields who decide to try their hand at comics (I thought Ta-Nehesi Coates' Black Panther was pretty rough reading, for the most recent example of a new-to-comics writer on a Marvel book I can think of).

I'll have a formal review of this elsewhere, so if this sounds like a random collection of thoughtsor, like more of a random collection of thoughts than usualthat's totally why.

Jughead's Time Police #2 (Archie Comics) The second issue of the Sina Grace/Derek Charm miniseries is set entirely in the 29th Century, where January McAndrews introduces Jughead to the future he so greatly influenced, detailing some of the many great accomplishments he has not yet achieved in his present (don't worry; she has a device to erase parts of his memory so as to avoid further corrupting the time stream that she has recruited him to help fix). It ends with a fantastic cliffhanger ending, revealing a very unexpected villain who is apparently manipulating events behind the scenes for some nefarious purpose.

Justice League #27 (DC Comics) The James Tynion IV/Javier Fernandez creative team, now joined by Bruno Redondo, continue their leg of Justice League's mega-story, the bulk of this issue devoted to skinny J'onn J'onnz being held captive by Professor Ivo (and his muscle, Amazo), who straps J'onn down to a table to vivisect him.

 As a person who has spent way too much time thinking way too much about J'onn J'onnz's powers, I don't think elements of this issue worked for me. For example, Amazo takes J'onn down by blasting him with Superman's heat visionwhich Ivo warns J'onn he is about to hit him witheven though J'onn is weakened by fire, not heat (And if J'onn just went intangible, as he spends much of this series forgetting to do, the beams would pass harmlessly through him. Technically the heat could ignite parts of the lab, producing fire which would weaken J'onn, but that's not what happens here; Tynion and company seem to indicate that Superman shoots actual fire from his eyeballs, rather than just heat).

Meanwhile, Superman's team and Forger go looking for The Monitor and Anti-Monitorthose three are "the children of Perpetua," which the cover of this issue asks the identity of, even though that was revealed many issues ago) and Starman tries to counsel Future Hawkgirl and Future Martian Manhunter's hybrid child Shayne through his understandable identity crisis.

It's all fine, I guess. The book mostly just stresses me out, though, as it's been so many issues of the state of the Multiverse in flux, and I really would just like DC to figure its shared setting out, and start telling new stories in it, rather than this sort of ongoing, constant state of Crisis.

I liked that Luthor and Brainiac's little drones all look like the Legion of Doom's headquarters crossed with one of those things from Batteries Not Included.

Justice League #28 (DC) J'onn finally finds the not-actually-dead Lex Luthor and the two chat for a while before something unexpected happens. As this mostly revolves around a weird plot element introduced many issues ago, in which Martians and Earthlings were apparently meant to be a single, amalgamated super-species but were separated by the cosmic mother goddess Perpetua to weaken them each that I didn't really get or like, the main event of this issue wasn't anything I was particularly interested in or fond of, even though it is obviously quite temporary.

For this issue, the Tynion/Fernandez team is joined by pencil artist Daniel Sampere and inker Juan Albarran, with Fernandez seemingly drawing the J'onn and Luthor portions, while Sampere and Albarran draw those sections dealing with the other Leaguers (Superman, Forger, The Monitor and most of the rest of the League are on Qward, seeking out The Anti-Monitor, while Starman is having Shayne and Jarro help him...do something with his mind and The Multiverse).

While I'm not crazy about the newer depiction of J'onn as skinny and with a weird-looking head, I like that Fernandez's slightly-scratchy lines evoke the look of Tom Mandrake's art on Martian Manhunter. His style is so different from that of "regular" artists Jorge Jimenez and Jim Cheung, but I think he's rather rapidly becoming my favorite of the current Justice League artists.

Sampere's Qward section leaves more to be desired, although some of the weaknesses might be a matter of scripting. For example, there's a panel where The Flash makes a joke about the little hats the Qwardian Thunderers wear, but Sampere only draws the Qwardians in extreme longshot, as corpses on the ground, so we don't actually see what Flash is talking about.

True Believers: Spider-Man⁠—Morbius #1 (Marvel) This $1 reprint issue of 1971's Amazing Spider-Man #101 is the apparent first appearance of Morbius, The Living Vampire, and the Roy Thomas/Gil Kane comic is some prime Spider-Man, with Peter Parker starting the issue with six arms, and spending the first six pages or so sitting around his apartment, talking out loud to himself about how having six arms will impact various aspects of his life.

As if on cue, first Gwen Stacy calls to ask him out, and Peter is a real dick to her about it, and then Robbie Robinson and J. Jonah Jameson call him with a photography assignment he must also decline (Read in 2019, when tightly-held secret identities are no longer such a prominent aspect of super-comics, there's something quaint about Peter keeping his secret ID from his girlfriend; how much easier conflicts like these would be to manage if he could only be honest with Gwen!).

Ultimately, Spidey leaves town to hang out at Doctor Curt Connors' fortuitously empty, but fully-furnished with a fancy science lab, house in The Hamptons, where he can work on a cure to his too many arms. It's there that he meets Morbius, who arrives as a stowaway in a boat, where he has been surreptitously feeding off the crew when in his vampire form (So, kinda like Dracula, but not so industrious; after all, Dracula managed to eat everyone on his boat).

Despite being something of a middle chapter—the book opens with Spider-Man freaking out about sprouting four extra arms, and ends with a cliffhanger as he finds himself trapped between Morbius and The Lizard⁠—it's easy enough to follow, and it's episode-of-a-long-running soap opera nature is actually something of a plus, as it reads even more wild without exact context.

It's also got Gil Kane art, so it's not like one could go wrong with spending a $1 on this thing, you know?


Amazing Spider-Man By Nick Spencer Vol. 3: Lifetime Achievement (Marvel Entertainment) This trade paperback collection includes two distinct stories by two distinct artists, spread across five issues. The first story consists of three issues drawn by pencil artist Ryan Ottley and inker Cliff Rathburn, and gives us writer Nick Spencer's take on the recent-ish developments in the Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson relationship, namely Spidey's revelation of his secret identity to Jonah in the pages of Chip Zdarsky and company's Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man (Which reminds me: I never finished reading that series). The second is a two-issue prelude to a story arc that's been building for a bit; that's penciled and colored by Chris Bachalo, and inked by a five (five!) different artists.

In the Ottley-drawn story Jonah is about to get some bad news from his producer regarding the viability of his talk radio show, which is loudly pro-Spider-Man and anti-Mayor Fisk, when his producer is interrupted by some unexpected good news: Jameson is to be awarded a lifetime achievement award at the city's Century Club by Mayor Wilson Fisk himself. There's just one condition. Fisk insists that Spider-Man be there to introduced Jameson, and Spidey is naturally leery about the whole thing.

It becomes a moot point when Jameson and Spidey are both captured by The Enforcers (I do love those guys) and taken to a weird, Arcade-built This Is Your Life-like death trap that uses holograms, robots, the real live Scorpion and other expensive gimmicks to review Jameson's biography before killing the pair off. They survive, of course, and the villain who hired Arcade is revealed as...well, it turns out to be someone related to a classic Spider-Man villain, who takes on that name and a dramatic new form, someone who hates Jameson and Spidey pretty much equally at this point.

The character was obscure enough that I had to Google themso, more a player in the comics, and absent from all seven feature films and any of the cartoon episodes I've seento double-check that this form was indeed a new one. It's a pretty clever way to recap Jameson's history and his history with Spider-Man, with Arcade and his employer essentially attacking the pair with a malevolent info dump. (This continuity kills!)

The Bachalo-drawn issues flow naturally out of the Ottley-drawn ones. At the end of Ottley's last issue here, Spencer's favorite mercenaries Taskmaster and The Black Ant capture The Scorpion and toss him in a cell with the various other animal-themed villains they've been collecting, and in the Bachalo issues Arcade gets his next customer. Meanwhile, Spider-Man is involved with two meals. Peter Parker and MJ visit Doctor Curt "The Lizard" Connors and his family for Chinese takeout in the sewer, and then Spider-Man must rescue Aunt May when the restaurant she is dining in becomes the setting of a battle between The Rhino and Taskmaster and Black Ant.

Bachalo is, obviously, an all-around pretty great super-comics artist, but I was particularly impressed with the new life he breathed into some classic Spider-Man villains here. I shared that enthusiasm previously on Twitter, but I really liked how his Lizard looked like, you know, an actual lizard. Usually the character is drawn as a lizard man, with an emphasis on the man part, looking more like a snake-man or a human-sized T-Rex with more useful arms in a lab coat, but Bachalo gives his Lizard the general shape, proportions and even expressions of a lizard. I don't know if it would work as well in a fight scene as the more traditional design of the character, but all he's doing in these issues is talking to Peter, MJ and his family and walking around his house, so it was neat to see the character drawn as a blown-up version of the type of animal you'd find squatting on a rock in a pet store.

His Rhino and his Kraven get much less panel-time, but they're both pretty great designs, too. Rather looking like a football player stuffed inside a rhino hide, Bachalo's Rhino seems to be encased in something more akin to concrete, as his suit is cracked and flakes off. And for his Kraven, well, I basically just loved the fact that the lion face on Kraven's vest seemed to have expressions in various panels.

Immortal Hulk Vol. 3: Hulk In Hell (Marvel) The latest installment of Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's shockingly effective take on the Hulk comic as a superhero horror epic takes a hard right turn into the mythological, with a weak and hurt Hulk (note his kind gross appearance on Alex Ross' cover there) and Jacqueline McGee walking into Hell, which seems to have risen to meet them in New Mexico. Ewing's narration, meanwhile, talks about duality in a Zoroastrianism framework, Jewish mysticism and the devil; that might seem be a bit artier than necessary for a Hulk comic, even one as ambitious as this one, but it works here, particularly with the pairs use of repeating images that at first seem extremely far removed from the story the characters are currently experiencing.

Hulk's sojourn into hell is three issues long, and ties into deeper Hulk history/continuity, but not in any sort of alienating way. I certainly didn't experience any stories about Bruce Banner's abusive father when they originally played out are were referenced in previous comics, and I found this easy enough to follow--well, "easy" probably isn't the right word to use when reading about a man abusing his wife and child (the one part that did confuse me came during the two issues following the Bennett-drawn issues set in hell; apparently General Ross has died...or at "died," but the last I saw him he was alive in well in the pages of Avengers, so I think I missed something somewhere).

Those issues seem to resolve aspects of the devil/"One Below All" storyline, and Bruce/Hulk's relationship with his father, leading to something of an epiphany about Hulk and Bruce's relationship with one another. Along the way, Ewing manages to find ever greater importance in what was almost certainly simple, deadline-driven goofing by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, giving the overall Hulk story ever grander, ever operatic weight.

Those last two issues, after the climactic confrontations in hell, seem to move back toward more standard superhero territory. We check in on Betty Ross, Doc Samson and, eventually, Rick Jones...or at least, find out that there's some news regarding the supposedly dead Jones. Even these sequences suggest that Ewing is drawing connections between the somewhat random events of corporate serial superhero narratives, and trying to justify them on a meta level while also finding something new and compelling in them, suggesting here that the reason so many of Hulk's fellow heroes and supporting cast members keep dying and coming back to life isn't just because that's what happens in superhero comics, but because the gamma radiation bond they all share makes them all somewhat immortal too.

It's been 15 issues now, and I still can't get over how good this comic is, and how much I'm enjoying it (I'm pretty sure that 15 issues is, by the way, the longest I've read any Hulk series consecutively).

Star Wars: Age of RepublicVillains (Marvel) This trade paperback collects a series of four one-shots, each of which featured a particular bad guy from the prequel trilogy of Star Wars movies, Episodes I through III. Somewhat surprisingly for a project like this, all four are by the same creative team. Writer Jody Houser and artist Luke Ross do the honors, with color art by Java Taraglia (There's also a ten-page short story featuring Asajj Ventress that follows the four full stories, which is apparently part of a Star Wars: Age of Republic Special, and that is drawn by Carlis Gomez with colors by Dono Sanchez-Almara).

The particular villains featured are those seen on the cover: Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Count Dooku and General Greivous. Palpatine/Darth Sidious, the villain of the whole Star Wars saga and the only character to appear in all three of the "Age of Republic" movies, doesn't get an issue, but he does make appearances. Perhaps he didn't get a special of his own because he's considered more of an "Age of Rebellion--that is, original trilogy--villain, or perhaps because his villainy isn't bound to either particular era, but extends through both.

Overall, it's a pretty decent package. The stories seem to fluctuate somewhat in quality--although I suppose my interest in some characters over others might be a factor--but they are all pretty thorough introductions to the characters and what their particular deals are, as well as their places in the overall Star Wars story...which, of course, extends far beyond the three movies and deep into the spin-offs like The Clone Wars cartoons (All of these guys had relatively little screen-time in the films proper, after all).

Each of the four primary stories begins with what looks like a pin-up of the character in action--although I suppose these are taken from the covers of their books--with a little paragraph of prose beneath the image explaining who they are. And then, at the end of each story, there is a prose article about the character, explaining behind-the-scenes details about how they came to be and where their stories continued in the so-called expanded universe. With little in the way of continuity, they all seem like good evergreen, portrait-style stories.

Ross' art isn't too terribly stylized or dynamic, and doesn't infuse the proceedings with much of the artist's own personality, but it is quite well-suited to this sort of based-on-a-movie project, being realistic enough that the characters, costumes, ships and aliens all look like they do in the films, without any of the uncomfortable image "sampling" that can sometimes mar comics like these...including Marvel Star Wars comics of the very recent past.

My least favorite of the four is probably also the first, Darth Maul. Narrated by the title character, it's split between his efforts to establish a foothold in the galaxy's criminal underworld while hunting and killing the closest thing to a Jedi he can, and his master Palpatine/Sidious taking him to a sort of vision quest training session on the planet Malachor. There's not a whole lot to it, and it basically tells us that Maul is a really good fighter who hates the Jedi and serves Palpatine...so, nothing that no one who hadn't already seen Episode I didn't already know.

I think the panel of this that interested me most was one set during Maul's vision, where we see many Jedi with many different kinds of light sabers surrounding him. Note all of the Kylo Ren-style ones, with the little extra laser blades coming out of the sides of the hilt. It's a pretty good example of the retroactive continuity of the expanded universe, where things that are "new" in one movie are then added into the backstory, even minor, visual things like the types of light sabers there are (I was even a bit surprised to see all the purple sabers there, as I thought Mace Windu was the only one who had one).
That's followed by Jango Fett, which is as much a Boba Fett story, from back when Boba was the little moppet we saw in Episode II. Even more simple and straightforward in plot than the previous story, it is basically the story of the Fetts working with a crew of three other bounty hunters on a pretty basic kidnapping. Houser includes a two-page scene in which a hooded and robed Count Dooku hires Jango to be the base of the Republic's clone army, helping establish the story's point as an exploration of Fett's legacy in the galaxy, being the genetic father to millions of clone troopers, and raising one son himself.

The prose article following this story was kind of neat, as it revealed to me something I didn't know--Jango is not a Mandalorian, he just wears Mandalorian armor. Also, there's mention of the character's original design, which was going to be all white...before they eventually settled on the shiny silver. That's probably for the best, considering all the characters with white armor there are in the Star Wars films, but it sounds sort of striking; there's an image of an all-white Jango in the cover gallery in the back, on a "concept design variant" by Doug Chiang.

Next is Count Dooku, in which the Christopher Lee-played Jedi-gone-bad travels to a planet in order to do some behind-the-scenes stuff to continue to manipulate the galaxy into a war, and there he meets a Jedi knight. The Jedi is my favorite kind of Star Wars alien species, and one I don't think I've encountered in any Star Wars comics before, so I'm not sure what they're calling them, but he's basically just a talking, bipedal tiger. He's there to fight a criminal gang that Dooku is there to take over, and so they ally with one another...until Dooku betrays him. This story is probably the strongest showcase of Ross' skills in the book, as Dooku's character is defined by posture and personality as much as anything else, and Ross' strength with likenesses that can move, live and breathe are perfect for a story starring him.

The final issue/story is General Grievous, who is, if anything, even more simple than Darth Maul. While the film version of the character didn't make too much of an impression--certainly not as much as his first appearance in Gendy Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars Cartoon Network "micro series" (still the very best Star Wars-related film-making, and I'll still fight anyone who says different)--he's still a pretty cool character design. A skeletal robot that moves like a bug, he switches back and forth between two great, villainous modes, either clutching a cloak tightly around his seemingly hunch-backed frame while stalking around on crooked legs like a diabolical figure, or transforming into a six-limbed engine of destruction.

As for what's beneath the design, if there's a great General Grievous story that demonstrates that he can be as compelling a character as he looks, I've yet to encounter it. This certainly isn't it, but Houser does demonstrate his single-minded interests in hunting and killing Jedi, fueled by a rage that makes Maul seem mellow. That's basically all this story is: Grievous kills a coupla Jedi, and then storms a trap-laden Jedi temple. There the Jedi seem intent on trying to teach him some spiritual truths about himself, which only enrages him further. There's a glimpse of a Grievous in his old, organic life, when he wasn't just a pair of eyes and wheezy lungs in a pile of pointy robot parts, but it's brief, accompanying a suggestion that his efforts to make himself stronger have had the opposite effect. His prose article does suggest some Clone Wars episodes to watch for insight into the character; I've never been able to watch any of that show though, as I find the animation style off-putting. Maybe some day.

Finally, there's the Ventress story, alternately entitled "Weapon" or "Sisters", depending on whether one is looking at the table of contents or the cover image preceding it. Necessarily short, it's little more than a scene. The Jedi-turned-Sith-turned-bounty hunter who seems to gravitate toward heroism in large part because of the fact that the people who tell her stories just like her so much (having watched the original, 2D Clone Wars and listened to the audiobook version of Christie Golden's 2015 Dark Disciple novel, I missed the middle of her story, that which was apparently dramatized in the later, 3D-style Clone Wars series). In this story, she gets distracted while beginning to hunt her next bounty, sees herself in some scrappy cat-girl alien street urchins, and defends them from a big muscle-y guy in the most Star Wars way she can: Chopping off his arm with a light saber.


Marvel Action: Spider Man: A New Beginning (IDW Publishing) When Disney bought Marvel in 2009, not only did the company gain access to all that lucrative movie business, they also got their hands on one of the biggest comic book publishers in the North American market. Which is why it seemed odd that Disney didn’t have Marvel publishing comics featuring their classic mouse and duck characters, but instead continued licensing those comics to IDW Publishing.

And it seemed a little silly when IDW also started publishing Star Wars Adventures, an all-ages Star Wars comic, despite the fact that Marvel was already publishing a rather sizable line of Star Wars comics.

And when IDW started publishing its new Marvel Action line, all-ages comics featuring Marvel’s own characters, well, then it just seemed ridiculous; a tacit admission that Marvel Entertainment had spent so much time catering to their adult audience that they no longer had any idea how to make comics for kids anymore. They used to at least try; in addition to the handful of quite excellent comics geared toward tweens and teens that adults can enjoy too (Think Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Unstoppable Wasp, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, etc), within the last decade or so they regularly-ish attempted all-ages comics that were quite suitable for middle-school readers.

Here's the thing, though. As ridiculous as it may seem that Marvel has begun licensing its own characters to another publisher (while, ironically, they devoted a lot of energy to publishing comics starring Star Wars characters and Robert E. Howard's Conan), the Marvel Action comics I've read so far have been really quite good. I've already discussed Marvel Action: The Avengers: The New Danger and Marvel Action: Spider-Man: A New Beginning in the previous installment of this column...and gushed quite a bit on Twitter about various elements of Delilah S. Dawson and Fico Ossio's Spider-Man reinvention (and all the great variant covers accompanying it). But here's a professional review of their Team Spider-Man approach to the Spider-Man characters, if you want to read one of those.

It features a really elegant solution to making a Spider-Man comic about more than one of the spiders, and read to me like a blending of the Into The Spider-Verse movie with Bendis and Bagley and company's original Ultimate Spider-Man.

Spider-Man Swings Through Europe (Marvel) This is a picture book rather than a comic book, but it stars Spider-Man and is published by Marvel, so it's close enough for our purposes. I read it both before and after seeing Spider-Man: Far From Home in theaters, and, having done so, I realized it spoiled nothing about the film while also being incredibly, if subtly, accurate in its adaptation of certain aspects of the film (the main focus, as the title suggests, is the cities that Peter/Spider-Man and his classmates visit on their field trip). It's totally worth taking a look at just to see artist Andrew Kolb's version of Sam Jackson's Nick Fury.  Here's a full review of it, if you're interested in learning a bit more, but I think the cover tells you pretty much all you need to know.

Sea Sirens: A Trot and Cap'n Bill Adventure (Penguin) I've read The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a couple of times in my life, but I recently made an effort to finally catch up on L. Frank Baum's Oz series...via audiobook, as I always need something to listen to while driving any sizable distance. My efforts were stymied after I finished the fourth book, Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, though, as the library systems available to me didn't have any books past that available on audio.

I did not, therefore, get to the ninth book, 1915's The Scarecrow of Oz, in which Trot and Cap'n Bill appear--nor was I aware that Baum had written two books starring these characters, the first of which was The Sea Fairies. Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee's new original graphic novel is an adaptation...but also an extrapolation. And something of a remix. To continue the pop music metaphor, it also feels a bit like they had taken "samples" from the novel. Passages feel very Baum-like, others feel completely fresh, modern and original. I liked it an awful lot, even if I never got quite lost in it. I guess, to be more specific, I admired it as much as I liked it, if that makes sense. Here's my review, if you'd like to read it.

Teen Titans: Raven (DC Comics) I was pretty surprised by the announcement that DC was dissolving their two new imprints devoted to publishing original graphic novels for middle school readers and YA audiences, an announcement that came, coincidentally, between the time I had finished writing my Good Comics For Kids review of Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo's Teen Titans: Raven and the time when it was published to the site. I was surprised because from my point-of-view, as a reader and a semi-professional comics critic, the imprints seemed to be both publishing pretty good comics as well as getting warm receptions, hitting their target audiences.

The thing that struck me while reading this one was how its general goal was somewhat akin to that of DC's confused "Earth One" line from a few years back--that is, producing series of graphic novels featuring new versions of the characters specifically for the YA book market--but doing it much, much better. For example, the Teen Titans: Earth One project was written by a comics person, drawn by a well-known comics artist and had the stumbling block of "Earth One" associated with it (Like, if you got that, then the books weren't for you...although maybe that's changing now that the "Arrowverse" TV shows have made numbered earths in a Multiverse a mass media thing).

Here we have a popular and successful YA writer, paired with an excellent artist whose name isn't already associated with Big Two super-comics, introducing the Titans one at a time in dedicated, standalone-ish original graphic novels. I guess one can't really judge this against Teen Titans: Earth One just yet, not until Garcia and Picolo have completed all their Teen Titans books, but at this early stage, I thought this was the far better of the two project, and the most likely to appeal to the intended audience.

I don't know for certain if there is or isn't a benefit to these Teen Titans books, and the Mera and Catwoman one that were previously published, being part of a dedicated "DC Ink" line rather than just being published as DC Comics, which seems to be the plan going forward, but, to a long-time reader like me, I think there is a benefit to a dedicated imprint. Certainly when I started reading comics as a teen, I knew that if a comic was a Vertigo comic, it meant something different than if it was just a DC comic. (And I can recall a time early on when I bought anything that came out on Marvel's Ultimate line simply because I associated it with the publisher's higher-quality comics, although that certainly didn't last too long).  But, again, I'm just looking at it as a reader and a critic, not as someone in charge of selling units of things to people, or promoting various brands. Maybe DC Comics benefits from having all the good stuff labeled "DC Comics," rather than divided among imprints...? But then, they're still doing those "pop-up" imprints, so... I don't know. I don't know what's going on with DC's branding these days.

I do know that I thought this was pretty good. I've no prior experience with Garcia or Picolo, and was actually a little leery of the former because she's a prose writer rather than a comics writer, and I don't have any particular affection for/interest in the character, but I still enjoyed this.

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