Thursday, October 03, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: August 2019


Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 3: War of the Vampires (Marvel Entertainment) Much of the previous two volumes of Jason Aaron's run on Avengers* has involved setting up other super-teams for the heroes to fight, bump into and play off of. So far we've seen Namor's Defenders of The Deep, Russia's Winter Guard and hints of a new, U.S. government-aligned version of The Squadron Supreme. In this volume, 4/5ths of which is the title story arc, we get another super-team, a sort of vampire answer to The Avengers.

Lead by the masked and mysterious Darth Vader-like Shadow Colonel, this team's members have distinct names, gimmicks and powers. The Rat Bomber looks a bit like a muscular version of Max Schreck in Nosferatu, and he commands an army of rats who tote grenades on their back. The Carpathian looks a bit like a bigger, scarier, more supernatural version of Batman villain Man-Bat. Snowsnake is silent, wears a kimono and yokai mask and cuts down foes with a katana. And so on.

This team and their unlikely alliesSarge, a talking, skull-faced Hellhound who is the Colonel's second in command, and Boy-Thing, a cutting of Man-Thing that the Colonel wears around his neck to provide him with a never-ending stream of wooden stakes for his stake-firing Gatling gunare leading a revolution against the old order of vampires, having burned Castle Dracula to the ground, wiped out vampire enclaves all over the world, and are now desperately seeking the old lord of the undead himself.

The Avengers are basically putting out fires in the war, which eventually involves them quite directly when The Shadow Colonel and Sarge pressgang Ghost Rider into service by invoking a bigger, meaner, more spiky version of the spirit of vengeance, and the old, dying and mysteriously mustache-less Dracula turns himself in to the Winter Guard, seeking sanctuary in exchange for centuries worth of intel.

The story arc is mostly full of fantastical action sequences, with several of the big, dumb, awesome moments that can make Aaron's silliest super-comics so much fun. This is a small moment, but one emblematic of the kind of inspired craziness of Aaron's Avengers. Captain America with his shield in one hand and a huge golden cross in the other, barring the entrance of a church full of people from hungry vampires, and shouting, "These good people aren't on the menu. I am! So come take a big bite! If you've got the stomach for it!" (If that doesn't elicit a groan, how about the narration box about how Steve Rogers rarely has time to attend a mass at church? "Some men are just too busy standing to ever stop and kneel.")

After a good eighty pages of vampire war, in which the newest Avenger Blade obviously plays an appropriately large role, Dracula and The Shadow Colonel's Vampvengers get a new base of operations, the setting off a recent popular Netflix drama, and a new lease on un-life. One imagines like the other super-teams we've seen so far, they will come back to play a part in a future story arc or arcs as well. Aaron has also spends some time here setting up a future Avengers story, as while he was briefly stuck in Hell, Robbie crossed paths with one of his predecessors, a previous Ghost Rider and the current king of Hell, I guess...?

This volume opened with another of those done-in-ones telling the origin story of one of the prehistoric Avengers. Here it is the first Iron Fist, who was banished from K'un-Lun and wandered the Earth, teaching cavemen kung fu and running afoul of Mephisto. I realize these characters are probably going to show up again and play a pretty prominent role in the series, perhaps allying with the modern team to fight Mephisto in some fashion, just as I realize they provide a necessary break for the artist/artists and for Aaron and the narrative to shift gears into a different narrative, but they are currently so disconnected that they strike me as unnecessary interruptions. Were I reading this series serially, I think I'd probably skip these issues...or, at least, the ones that don't involve a flaming woolly mammoth.

Justice League #29 (DC Comics) This really should have been a particularly good issue of Justice League, as it is entitled "Jarro's Tale," and stars the tiny, regrown version of the original Justice League villain who has come to think of himself as Batman's adopted son and also as the latest Robin (And, in fact, he takes on The Legion of Doom solo, first in his Robin get-up and then in a form closer to that of his The Brave and The Bold #28 look, as he goes full-on conqueror).

And it does have a moment or two, like the panel where he hugs Batman, for example, but this was such a thunderously disappointing issue that it made me think maybe it's time to drop this book and start trade-waiting it, too (I've been especially reluctant to do so, though, given that it's the last ongoing series I read serially).

See, this is another issue-length recap of the series so far, which we've had far too many of so far (with zero being the appropriate number of issue-length recaps a twice-monthly super-comic should have published before it hits its 30th issue). There's some new content in it, of course, but far too much of the issue's 22 pages are filled with far too many words, telling the same parts of the same story all over again. Justice League just doesn't seem to be going anywhere...or, at least, it's not getting to the place it's been telling us it's going for so much of its relatively short run.

This issue is co-written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, and while it bears the heavier-than-usual narration that Tynion's solo issues often do, Snyder's no slouch at covering the pages with narration boxes either, so I'm not sure who gets the most blame on that front.

It opens with a three-page sequence explaining how Starro's home planet is a "zero planet," a sort of Geoff Johns-ian explanation for why something trivial from the Silver Age is the way it is, a planet upon which evolution worked backwards, with life starting in a grand radiation of species and ultimately being reduced to one (um, don't stop to think about how that might work, because it wouldn't). That leads directly into a Grant Morrison-esque "they're all true" recounting of Starro's origin.

Then we get Jarro Vs. The Legion of Doom, interspersed with pages recapping Dark Nights: Metal, Justice League: No Justice and the entirety of the series so far; it reads like an entry in an encyclopedia that has been run through some kind of comic book filter, so all the text is in little boxes, with certain words in bold, and with those boxes in panels featuring illustration-style art, rather than, you know, images telling a story sequentially.

It ends right where the last issue ended, or the Year of The Villain Special ended; with the League saying they have to prepare for war against the Legion. It's basically a clip-show of a comic book, cut with a minor Jarro short-story that seems like it might have been a back-up in an annual or Secret Files & Origins special.

Justice League #30 (DC) First, Apex Predator Luthor slaughters the Justice League in ways much less gruesome than one might expect from 21st Century DC Comicsdid you see the panel from Batman/Superman #1 of The Batman Who Laugh's JLA satellite?

Then it is revealed that this was all a presentation by white-haired Will Payton, whose powers I still don't understand, made while he stands before a Justice League recreation of Da Vinci's Last Supper, addressing that room full of League recruits I talked about at length the other day. Then there's yet another recap of the events of the series.

Then we see Luthor's new Legion of Doom recruits in a scene echoing the reveal of the Justice army; among Luthor's gifts to various villains appear to be giving Ra's al Ghul his fullest, bushiest goatee ever, braiding Lobo's hair and I want to say resurrecting Teddy Roosevelt from the dead, but I'm not entirely sure what's going on with this handful of villains (They look pretty week, though; Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman should be able to take them all out in under five minutes).

Then it finally gets interesting. The current plan is to use Jack Knight's version of The Cosmic Rod (which I want to say was last seen being wielded by Stargirl in the pages of...Justice League United...? Maybe? I had to just go look up the title of that book, because I vaguely remember it existing, but thought it was one of the Justice League of America titles...) to locate two thingamajigs in two different time streams. The Trinity will go to the far-flung future after one thingamajig, where they meet Kamandai and his animal bros. Green Lantern John Stewart and The Flash Barry Allen will go to the past, where they meet...The Justice Society of America! the DC Universe finally on the verge of being repaired from all the Flashpoint/New 52 shenanigans, the continuity changes of which most writers seems to have been ignoring more and more often these past few years? Will it happen in the pages of Justice League, or in that dumb Watchmen sequel I haven't been reading, or both? I don't know, but hey, DC's Golden Age superheroes are back! For at least a single page!

(If, like me, this is a thing you would care about more than almost anything else I've said above, I will here pause to note that the particular JSA line-up here consists of Starman Ted Knight; a Hawkman; Sandman Wesley Dodds, wearing his gas-mask and suit ensemble; Wilcat Ted Grant, in a fuzzy-looking cat costume; The Atom Al Pratt; Hourman Rex Tyler, about to pop a pill; The Flash Jay Garrick; Green Lantern Alan Scott and a Doctor Fate. Notably missing are any ladies, probably because including a Wonder Woman or a Black Canary would suggest that this is not going to be the "real" post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint JSA, as Wonder Women and Canaries have come and gone depending on the continuity changes in various crises. Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt aren't there either, although they did appear in DC Universe: Rebirth, so that struck me as a curious absence. Maybe he's not around for the same reason The Spectre isn't; they're too powerful...?)

Jorge Jimemez draws the living hell out of the issue, and his art is all pretty great. There are a lot of splash pages and near-splashes, but Snyder and Tyinion include so many goddam words in this issue that the dialogue and narration slow things down enough to compensate for there being perhaps too-few panels.

Phantoms In The Attic: A Selection of Artwork by Richard Sala (Fantagraphics) As a mostly-art book, this is a sort of difficult thing to review, although, if you're anything like me, then you don't exactly need to read a review of it. "New Richard Sala book" should be all you need to know to know this is well worth your money and your time. Basically, all I could really do is scan images from its interior and say, "Look! Look how awesome this page is! And look, here's another awesome page!" until either I got sick of repeating myself or you got sick of me repeating myself. One.

So let me just say this. It's a 9-inch-by-12-inch, 116-page, trade paperback, mostly-full color art collection. The two comics portions are a nine-page black-and-white "The Bloody Cardinal" story from 2017, featuring his vicious, bird-headed, master criminal character narrating in obsessive and scary poetic language (this was originally a passage from a free promotional comic, the text says, and the character was featured in a 2017 graphic novel by that same name) and a six-page horror story about a night visitor entitled "Strange Question."

The rest of the pages are images mostly devoted to extremely Sala-esque subject matter, occupying that same spooky or macabre pop goth area of mass culture where the aesthetics of Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, Edgar Allan Poe, early Tim Burton and the horror films of Golden Age Hollywood intersect. There are recurring characters, like Sala's Judy Drood, Girl Detective and Pelicula, as well as Cat Burglar X and the usual assortment of pretty girls, magicians and wizards, masked villains, monsters, ghouls and creepy-looking figures seem like they might have fought Dick Tracy at some point, or spent some time in Gotham City circa the late 1940s.

Among my favorites are a series that all have horror movie-like titles and look a bit like text-free movie posters for the greatest movies never made, like "The Phantom's Castle of Werewolves", "Vampires in a Girls' Dormitory", "Frankenstein Meets the Mummies of the Witch Queen", "Dracula's Daughter and Her Army of The Living Dead" and so on; actually, these all look like elaborate unmade sequels to extant horror classics, given the fact that The Phantom resembles the one from The Phantom of The Opera (the original horror movie, not the musical), the Frankenstein looks like the one Boris Karloff played, and so on.

Also noteworthy, for the way they stand out, are a fairly straight image of Sherlock Holmes and another of Alice and the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

So while this lacks the pleasure of narrative found in Sala's graphic novels and comics, it more than makes up for it in offering a nice, long soak in his aesthetic, and the mysterious suggestion of narrative apparent in almost every piece in here. If you like masterful cartooning, monsters, scary stuff and pretty girls, than you will love this. You can see a preview here, and, if you spend some time scrolling and clicking around there, you will find some of the images that ended up in this collection. I can think of no better way to spend an hour than scrolling and clicking around looking at Sala's art. (Well, maybe a few...less than ten, though!)

Star Wars Adventures Annual 2019 (IDW Productions) Fine, I admit it: I purchased this $8 comic book simply because it featured Stan Sakai drawing Lando Calrissian, and really, how often does one get the opportunity to see Sakai drawing any classic Star Wars characters? And really, that's the only reason I bought it; the two artists who most reliably sell me on issues of IDW's Star Wars Adventures comics, Derek Charm and Elsa Charetteir, don't contribute art to this particular issue (although Charetteir does co-write the back-up feature).

It's not hard to see why IDW might have wanted Sakai to draw this particular cover, as opposed to any other Star Wars comic cover, beyond the fact that he's a great cartoonist (I mean, I would love to see him draw Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Chewbacca, light sabers, etc). He is, after all, comics' premiere drawer of anthropomorphic rabbits, and this issue's lead story stars the Internet-legendary expanded universe character Jaxxon, perhaps better known to long-time comics blog readers as GIANT GREEN STAR WARS RABBIT.

I believe Jaxxon's appearance here means he ins now officially part of the Star Wars canon, as opposed to the "legends" status he would have had after Disney bought Star Wars and Marvel resumed publication of licensed Star Wars comics.

Sadly, Sakai's contribution to the issue is just the cover (although one hopes there are enough folks like me who will drop $8 on a comic solely because of the unlikely combination of Sakai + Star Wars that IDW will have him back to do not just more covers, but also some interior sequential work). The artwork on the Lando/Jaxxon story is by Mauricet, whose style seems to be highly regulated to better fit in with the standard, cleaner, cartoonier look of the series. I really dig his Jaxxon, though; for a giant green Star Wars rabbit, he looks rough, like he's had a lifetime of hard living.

I don't know much of the character's original iterationI still have a healthy stack of the Dark Horse omnibus reprints of the Marvel Star Wars series in my To Read pile from years and years agobut I like that regular Star Wars Adventures writer Cavan Scott presents him as a sort of fierce rival to Han Solo, who is thus easily manipulated by Lando into doing things simply by Lando saying things like, "I bet Han could get us out of this jam!" Also, it makes him a perfect foil for Lando...although it would certainly be fun to see a future Han Solo/Jaxxon team-up in a future issue.

The 32-page story, "Hare-Brained Heist," is set in the post-Jedi, pre-Force Awakens period, and it features Lando borrowing the Falcon to investigate an Imperial factory cranking out some new drone TIE fighters, and there he finds Jaxxon, who got himself captured while attempting to save the planet's princess. From there, the pair have to break into an Imperial museum and steal back a religious thingamajig to help rally the princess' demoralized people. It's a pretty fun, rousing adventure, and a pretty great introduction to Jaxxon.

The back-up is written by Charretier and her regular writing partner Pierrick Colinet, featuring art by Margaux Saltel. That art is perfectly fine, and the animated style and soft, luminous animation-like coloring is neat to see applied to scenes from throughout the prequel trilogy, but it's still sort of frustrating to see Charretier's name attached to a story and not see her art. Like, I really want to see her drawings of Padme now. The eight-page back-up is about tiny, toddler Princess Leia encountering her adopted mother Breha in a garden, where she appears to be reading a book to R2-D2 at the foot of a statue of Queen Amidala in her elaborate Episode I get-up.

Breha then tells Leia the story of Padme, which Saltel illustrates on four panel-less pages as it appears to come to life before the Alderanian royals. The story is really more for our benefit than Leia's, as Breha acknowledges that Leia is probably too young to understand what she's telling her, or to really remember it, but the point is to draw a direct line between Padme and Leia, in terms of their roles as leaders of what would eventually become the Rebellion and then the New Republic.


The Batman Who Laughs (DC Comics) This seven-issue miniseries by Scott Snyder and Jockcollected into a hardcover along with the one-issue spin-off The Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight by Snyder, James Tynion IV and Eduardo Rissodefinitely reads like a novel. It took me three sittings to get through it, the result both of how substantial a read it is and, I think, a quirk of Snyder's writing. That is, the beginning of each issue tends to open with a wordy anecdote or story that, when read in collected form, has the effect of making it seem like a good time to quit for the night, regardless of how propulsive the plot might otherwise be.

As someone who read Snyder's Batman run in trade rather than serially, this also reminded me quite a bit of that experience; this basically read like a bonus volume of Snyder's Batman, which, in a way, I guess it kind of is. The Batman Who Laughs, the dark version of Batman from the dark multiverse and who played a fairly key role in Snyder and his former Batman partner Greg Capullo's Dark Nights: Metal event series, has returned to Gotham City after his handful of appearances since Metal. He has a new partner in the form of The Grim Knight; if The Batman Who Laughs is basically a "What if Batman was also The Joker?" take on the hero, then this new dark multiverse Dark Knight is basically a "What if Batman was also The Punisher?" (His schtick is eventually revealed to be a bit more complex than simply being a Batman who kills people with guns, but not by much; he basically managed to "weaponize" every element of his Gotham City before his failed world ended).

Their plot is actually kind of byzantine and even somewhat silly. Our Batman has this weird-ass plan to prepare Gotham City for some sort of siege or apocalypse, sealing it and its water supply off from the rest of the world. TBWL is going to use that to infect everyone in Gotham City so they become Joker-ized, or maybe TBWL-ized, like he himself is. To do this, he needs to push alternate versions of Bruce Wayne through portals in order to...I don't know, comply with the rules Snyder established for this outcome to be actualized.

Unable to out-think a version of himself that is also The Joker simultaneously, Batman takes the drastic move of preemptively infecting himself, sort of leveling himself up to being a second Batman Who Laughs, keeping his infection in check with various anti-Joker toxins long enough to save the day. That's the plan, anyway.

The story also involves The Joker and James Gordons Sr. and Jr., the latter who the heroes look to for guidance on being a super-serial killer (Interestingly, that's a character Snyder has been writing ever since he started working on the Batman character, way back in his pre-reboot Detective Comics arcs, when Dick Grayson was still Batman). Like I said, it's pretty complicated, but if it's a bit much, it's a bit much in the same way most of Snyder's Batman story arcs have been, wherein he seems to take things one or three steps father than I personally would have thought necessary.

Snyder has of course worked with Jock repeatedly before, notably during his brief All-Star Batman revival, and I'm not a particular fan of the artist on this character, cast and milieu, although that too is a matter of personal preference more than a criticism of his work, which is sharp, strong and highly expressive.

Given that this storyline has about three different James Gordons, three Batmen, two Jokers and a half-dozen or so Bruce Waynes, not to mention multiple Gotham Cities, I would in this particular instance have preferred an artist who worked in greater detail to distinguish the subtle and not so subtle differences in the characters. Jock also has a tendency to drop backgrounds from his art, which, given how much of the book takes place in the dark and in caves and sewers, might not be such a big deal as in other comics, but Gotham City is such a fun-looking place to read and draw, I think backgrounds can be more important in Batman comics than in other super-comics (Certainly, part of the reason I love Kelley Jones' Batman comics so much is his drawings of walls, windows, alleys, skyline, gargoyles, streets and fences of Gotham City).

A couple of random observations while reading this book:

I never before realized how much The Batman Who Laughs resembles Judge Death. I've been seeing the former, in comics I'm reading and in pictures online, for years now, but for whatever reason, I never made the connection until reading this book. I think it is likely due to the way Jock draws the character versus the way Capullo and others have. He tends to look more skeletal and phantom-like in Jock's art, and maybe that coupled with the grin and eyes-obscured-by-medieval-looking-visor-of-some-kind was enough to jog my memory of Judge Death (Also weird? I first met Judge Death in a Batman comic; in fact, Batman Vs. Judge Dredd was probably among the first dozen or so super-comics I had ever read).

Much is made of The Joker's booby-trapped heart in this storyline, the idea that The Joker has fixed it so that whoever kills him will release a toxin that will turn them into a/The Joker. In fact, at one point, The Joker tries to kill himself in front of Batman in order to Joker-ize Batman to take on The Batman Who Laughs, and Batman has to have Alfred perform emergency open-heart surgery on The Joker to keep him alive.

I kinda like that innovation, as it helps explain why Batman (and his other allies) can never kill The well as why he's unlikely to be executed. The Joker's killed so many people at this point that the whole insanity defense thing doesn't really work anymore, so unless he's going to disappear in explosions at the end of every arc, having a buy-able rationalization for why whatever state Gotham is supposed to be in doesn't just execute him already makes the suspension of disbelief a little easier. Like, I've never had any problem rationalizing why Batman himself doesn't kill The Joker no matter what, but Arkham Asylum has made less and less sense the older I've got and the more I've learned about how the criminal justice system really works in the real world.

In general, I'm not a fan of giving characters signature dialogue balloon styles, of the sort that The Endless in The Sandman used to talk in (although the Endless being god-like, that made a certain amount of sense, and I did honestly love some of those, particularly Delerium's "voice"). If they are readable, and translate something verbal into something visual, than that's fine. Like, dialogue bubbles with bigger font, or in all bold to signify volume? Makes sense. Scratchy, jagged-looking balloons with scratchy text within, signifying a scratchy, jagged-sounding speech? Makes sense.

Even Dream's white-on-black instead of black-on-white balloons and the spooky, cloud-like shape of the borders of said balloons suggested a distinct sounding-voice, and made more sense given the speaker would change design and form story to story.

But Joker's been talking in his own distinct font since The New 52, which is similar to everyone else's speech in every way but that font. So, okay, it suggests The Joker sounds different than everyone else. Makes sense. (Even if I personally have a hard time not hearing Mark Hamill's Joker voice whenever I read a Joker story any more).

The Batman Who Laughs speaks in a black dialogue balloon with a red border and a wavy tail; additionally, his words are in a red font. So, he sounds...opposite of everyone else, in a way that Dream might, but also his words are...redder...? This one is actually a bit frustrating here, as there's a scene where TBWL's tricks a blind security guard because his voice sounds exactly like that of Bruce Wayne's even though, visually, their voices look so different.

And then, of course, to signify "our" Batman turning into a second TBWL, his dialogue gradually includes more and more red words within black and white, standard-issue dialogue balloons. It works, visually, to show how Batman is the end, all his words are red, and, at the climax, his white goes gray, and then black...but only in so much as it demonstrates the change. I still can't imagine what The Batman Who Laughs is supposed to sound like.

Later still, as Batman is coming down and returning to normal, he speaks in random red letters injected among his black-on-white dialogue, or white-on-gray narration. The letters seem random, but, in a cute/maybe-too-cute move, Snyder has those letters spell out weird, dark, negative, cryptic thoughts, like, "RIGHT HERE STILL HA HA"... Earlier, this is done with whole words, so that Batman will be saying one thing, but words within the sentences will form other, "secret" sentences readers can read but the characters within the story can't really hear.

The Grim Knight spin-off issue is somewhat unnecessary, and feels like the cash-grab it probably was, but it doesn't feel entirely out-of-place read as it is collected here, between issues #3 and #4, it does explain the Grim Knight's motivations and, in particular, his interest in the Gordons. Risso's a great artist, and his style is so different from Jock's that the one thing this one-shot issue did is make me wish he had drawn the whole series/graphic novel, and not just the spin-off.

In it, Tynion, Snyder and Risso recreate scenes from Frank Miller and David Mazzuccelli's "Year One" arc, but adding a gun in Bruce Wayne and Batman's hand and, eventually, a young James Gordon goes to war with Batman, rather than joining his crusade against crime and corruption in Gotham City.

In a nitpick of a thing that always bothers me, there's a scene wherein Batman is accused of killing not only "O. Cobblepot" and "Red Hood Leader" in his first year, but also "R. Sidonis", in his later black skull appearance, and "W. Jones," who didn't appear in Gotham until Jason Todd's tenure as Robin II. Now, I know this is an alternate Gotham, but it still bugs me when there are random changes; like, how would Bruce Wayne killing Joe Chill with a gun lead to Killer Croc appearing a good five years earlier than usual, for example...?

Anyway, just a nitpick.

The series ends with a reveal that Gordon is infected by The Batman Who Laughs, and that seems to lead pretty directly into the story now playing out in Batman/Superman and will ultimately get its own event series in December's Year of The Villain: Hell Arisen.

Dear Justice League (DC) This is the second of the DC Zoom books I've readthat's the imprint for middle-school readers, although DC is apparently doing away with that branding at some point in the near futurefollowing the first Super Sons book. What attracted me to this one was the presence of artist Gusavo Duarte (although he gets an "illustrated by" credit, which is weird coming from a comic book publisher), who drew the pretty great 2015 Bizarro miniseries with Heath Corson, where he proved to have a great facility with drawing big dumb guys and attractive women. He also drew some shorter pieces here and there, like a Batman/Detective Chimp team-up in 2016's DC Rebirth Holiday Special and some back-ups and suchlike for Marvel. I really like his highly cartoony style, and was eager to see him do something long-form like this, with some of DC's slightly more serious characters than, you know, Bizarro and Jimmy Olsen.

He's paired with writer Michael Northrop, who seems to be brand-new to comics (like so many of the Zoom and Ink writers have been so far), but not to writing (he's written a couple of YA prose novels, a middle-school prose book and he used to work for Sports Illustrated For Kids).

The premise for this book is apparent from the title and Duarte's cover: The Justice Leaguers receiving and answering email from kids. Each character gets a chapter of their own in which they answer a particular email, generally leading via flashback to a particular comedic adventure, while those chapters reference an invasion of Earth by an army of insect men, and, as often as not, lead into the next chapter. The final chapter has the entire League assemble to repel the invasion.

The particular line-up of the League that stars in this book isn't one that has existed in precisely this iteration of any of the comics, but seems to have been assembled from a couple of different ones, most likely for the sake of diversitythat is, probably so that Wonder Woman wasn't the only woman, and that there was more than one person of color involved, and that "green" not be one of the colors. So we have mainstays Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash, who have been part of every Justice League line-up since 2011's line-wide continuity reboot. There's Cyborg, who I guess has technically been on the team all that time, even if he's been written out of the current Justice League book in order to co-star in a spin-off series. Then we have Hawkgirl, who just joined at the start of the current series, in 2018. And Green Lantern Simon Baz, who was one of the two Green Lanterns during the Bryan Hitch-written "Rebirth" Justice League that ran from 2016-2018.

The letters they get all tend to be fairly simple. Superman is asked if he ever messes up, which he chuckles at, given that he's Superman...and then he promptly flies into a building because he was too busy reading his phone, kicking off a chaotic chain of events he spends the rest of his day trying to prevent. Hawkgirl is asked if she, like her namesake, eats small mammals, a question that could have dramatic consequences for her pet hamster, Hamlet. Aquaman is asked, "No offense, but do you smell like fish most of the time?", and then he must struggle with that question himself.

My favorite sequence is the question asked of Simon Baz, as it's from a girl who considers fashion very important, and she wants to know if he ever considered changing his costume design up. I have wondered that myself! Because Simon Baz has the single worst Green Lantern costume of them all! Ever! And, remember, there's like 7,200 Lanterns in the universe! And Kyle Rayner once wore a costume with a dog collar!

His correspondent seems to be asking more about the fact that he is limited to the two colors black and green, but, when he visits a tailor, he gets a rather withering reception:

His "new" costume being even worse looking is obviously supposed to be a joke, but, honestly? I prefer it.
I mean, a plaid sweater beats a ski mask any day, and he looks much less serial killer and more heroic above (Okay, I guess if it was up to me I'd lose the sweater and slap on a domino mask and call it a day. But no one asked me. No one ever asks me!)

Among all the gags, Duarte does get to draw some honest-to-goodness, straight-forward super-heroics and he is honestly quite good at it. I particularly like the way he draws the characters in flight, Aquaman swimming like a torpedo through the water, The Flash's super-speed...I imagine that Duarte's art has so much personality to it that we are not likely to see him announced as the next Justice League artist any time soon but, honestly, he's probably my favorite Justice League artist of the moment. His Aquaman and Wonder Woman, his Flash and his Hawkgirl (Particularly without her mask)? They're all perfect.

Beyond the heroes on the cover, we also The Joker and Black Manta, Alfred, Wonder Woman at her 11th birthday party (so, closer to being Wonder Girl than she was to Wonder Tot, I guess?) and we meet a few new Justice League pets, including the aforementioned Hamlet; Purdie, a goldfish that lives in Aquaman's quarters (he and Kendra both have umbrella stands where they store their weaponry, by the way), and Justie, the Hall of Justice cat. I look forward to seeing them appear within the pages of Scott Snyder and company's Justice League in the near future.

The story is followed by "Hall of Justice Top Secret Files" giving a couple of facts about each of the Leaguers, including plenty of jokes. A few of those fact kind of surprised me, like Simon being "Powerless against the color yellow" and Kendra being referred to as a teenager. There are similar files on the "Auxiliary Members" Jumpa and the three pets that appear in the Hall and Northrop and Duarte. And there's a form for writing your own letter to the Justice League.

There are also two previews, one for the already released Superman of Smallville by Art Baltazar and Franco, and another for a sequel to this very book, "Dear Super-Villains," scheduled for release next year. In it, Harley Quinn gets a text while she's hanging out at the Legion of Doom's headquarters, and we get a flashback to her trying stand-up comedy at a Gotham City comedy club, where The Joker, Catwoman, Clayface and Commissioner Gordon all seem to be in attendance.

Goblin Slayer Vol. 1 (Yen Press) Despite the warning label on the cover, with the words "Parental Advisory" and "Explicit Content" above and below the word "Warning," I was still a bit caught off guard by how rough the actual manga is. The violence is quite graphic and straightforward and, despite the expected stylization, probably pretty realistic, given how much killing is done with various medieval weaponry. There is quite a bit of nudity, some of it presented so as to be titillating, but the context is pretty grotesque: Most of it comes during rape scenes.

Given all that, manga-ka Kousuke Kurose, who is adapting what was originally an illustrated prose story with a complicated history, does keep even worse stuff off-panel and in the imagination of the reader. For example, the multiple rape scenes all occur on-panel, but they could certainly have been drawn even more exploitative or in greater detail than they were. And while the heroor, er, protagonist, I guesskills plenty of goblin warriors, when it comes time to bash in the heads of the goblin children they have hidden from him in their nest, the reader just sees the raised club and the sound effects.

The story-telling is definitely...effective, and while I question some of the decisions, it definitely makes goblins appear like terrifying monsters and adversaries of humanity, while also making Goblin Slayer himself seem frighteningly inhumane (As someone coming to the material with so much time spent on American super-comics, there's something of The Punisher about him; a psychotic villain who is presented as hero by default because of his choice of prey).

The book is set in a world that closely resembles the setting of Dungeons & Dragons and similar role-playing games, and even has a degree of the games' rules built into it. Heroes of familiar typesfighters, magic users and clericsvisit a guild house where they sign up for campaigns, and they are ranked according to their experience and skill-level. We follow a priestess, who is a porcelain rank, the lowest rank of all, as she joins a party of three other porcelains who set out to fight a nest of goblins, vile monsters with the size, strength and smarts of the average human child, generally regarded as among the weaker, easier and, therefore, less sexy monsters for adventurers to take on.

This novice adventure party gets in over their heads almost immediately, as the goblins ambush them in the dark of their cave. The magic-user is mortally wounded. One fighter's broad sword is too big and unwieldy for close-quarters cave combat, and he's swarmed and killed under dozens of blows (this is shown in a long shot, the sound effects doing a lot of grisly work). The other fighter, a female martial artist, encounters a bigger than expected goblin, and is immediately subdued, stripped and carried away. The priestess is wounded and about to suffer a similar fate when Goblin Slayer intervenes. Ultimately, only the priestess survives the adventure relatively unscathed; the fighter lives, but not before being brutally raped by the inhuman little creatures (it's not laid out explicitly, but apparently the goblins use human females to breed, as there are no female goblins shown, but the goblins manage to create children and their primary occupation seems to be to abduct and rape young women).

After that harrowing campaign, which fills the first half of the the first volume, we begin to learn a little bit more about Goblin Slayer, and how he's seen in the world. Exterminating goblins is his sole goal, and it borders on obsession. Though he's a silver-ranked adventurerthat's the third-highest rank, and the highest one that would ever be expected to be seen in the fieldhe's a "specialist," pursuing goblins exclusively because of some sort of combination of his own traumatic experience with them (which is only hinted at during two different points in the volume) and, perhaps, his unique insight into how deadly they are, and the cost that goblins exact from parties of adventurers (Because experienced adventurers don't take goblin quests, it's generally only naive, novice groups like the one we followed that go after goblins, and they generally experience a similar fate, killing a few of them before they themselves are killed, meaning it takes several waves of young would-be heroes to sacrifice themselves in order to defeat a den of goblins).

Goblin Slayer is looked down on by his fellow experienced adventurers, and regarded with suspicion, perhaps rightly so. He also never removes his helmet, not even when eating and drinking (something that could have been played for laughs, but isn't; there aren't any laughs in this manga). The priestess he saved decides to follow him, and, in the second half of the book, she embarks on his next goblin-slaying quest, where she effectively helps him slaughter more goblins who have also defeated and brutally raped another team of female adventurers, although she has begun to worry that joining him in his quest will corrupt her faith and her faith-based spells (For example, a force field spell meant for protection is here used to cut off the only route of escape for a group of goblins, so that they are all burned alive in a fire set by Goblin Slayer).

There's enough mystery about the hero and his identitygiven his refusal to unmask, I immediately assumed that perhaps he himself is a goblin of some sortthat I'm curious about what happens next, but man, it is a pretty tough read, and is certainly not for everyone/most people.

Invaders Vol. 1: War Ghosts (Marvel) This was something of a surprise because it was not funny, like, at all. Now I know these aren't particularly humorous charactersalthough I always find Namor, particularly WWII-era Namor, fucking hilariousnor does Butch Guice's cover image suggest a comedic comic, but, well, I've never read anything by Chip Zdarsky that wasn't funny. Some of his comics that I've read have been emotional and dramatic, and/or clever and smart, but they've always been at least a little funny. They've had jokes.

His Invaders does not have jokes. In fact, I don't think there's a single joke in it. And that's okay, of course, it was just a bit of a surprise. Turns out that guy's not a one-trick pony. He has at least two tricks! This is a very serious comic book. But it is also a very good comic book.

While the title might suggest a team-up between The Invaders, particularly the three who are named above the titleCaptain America, Namor and Winter Soldierit's really more of a story that involves the three of them. Mostly divided between two timelines, the past timeline does involve Namor, Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes during the war years, while the events of the present involve Rogers, Barnes and original Human Torch Jim Hammond trying to figure out what's wrong with Namor in the present (as seen in the pages of Avengers, he's very much in a "Destroy the surface world!" phase again), what his plans are and if they can stave off a war between Atlantis and the United States (and/or any other air-breathing nation states) before Namor goes too far-ther than usual.

The ins-and-outs of Namor's current madness seem still to be quite mysterious, although the climax of this volume (collecting the first six issues of the series) suggests that some of it might come down to Charles Xavier being a jerk (as do so many problems in the Marvel Universe). That's because part of the sequences set in the past deal not with World War II itself, but with what happened after the war, as Namor was haunted by some of his experiences and, for a time, took up with Charles in his quest to find mutants, and Charles is a very powerful psychic who doesn't exactly have the best ethics when it comes to attempting to use them to help people by meddling with their minds.

As that particular sequence plays into two parts of Namor's history I have almost zero experience with or knowledge ofthe time he spent wandering around as a hobo until he met the Fantastic Four and Johnny Storm fire-shaved him and his status as "the first mutant" leading to his palling around with the X-Men for a status quo or twoI can't quite confidently state that I know what's going on with Namor now, but it seems clear that his latest heel turn is neither random nor an act. There's something much more to it.

Zdarsky's narrative is split fairly neatly between war time and modern times, with Butch Guice drawing the former and Carlos Magna the latter. It's a great use of the artists, and Guice is particularly well-suited to the World War II material, as his realistic art softens the intrusion of the fantastical characters, and actually makes the mostly-naked buff elf and guy dressed as a flag feel like they fit there without too much suspension of disbelief. Like, I know neither of my grandfathers met Namor or Captain America in the European theater, but the way Guice draws the heroes, it doesn't seem that fantastical to suggest they might have, you know...?

While I'm not as familiar with Magno's art, and thus not as appreciative of it as I am Guice's, the style is a nice compromise between the more stately and realistic Guice aesthetic and that of the rest of the current Marvel Universe. That is, Magno's sections appear to fit with both the world that Guice was drawing and what one might see in, say, Avengers.

Hammond is working on a book about The Invaders, and chatting with Cap about his recent run-ins with Namor, and how maybe the war never really ended for the scion of Atlantis, and therefore how, perhaps, Namor needs saving, by the only people who were there in the war with him who are still around. As the pair investigate, it becomes clear that the United States Navy is up to something, and so Cap calls on Bucky to do his espionage thing. What they discover, gradually, is the source of Namor's new powers, his secret history with Xavier and a particularly sympathetic family, and a weird weapon that will allow Atlantis to annex parts of the surface world, something that reminded me of that weird "Sub Diego" phase of last decade's Aquaman comics.

I really dig these characters, and I thought this was a remarkably compelling comic featuring them, one that finds away to feature them both in their native setting and in the modern Marvel Universe. I'm looking forward to the next volume...which wasn't something I said after the last time I read an Invaders Vol. 1.

At least, I never read volumes 2 and 3 of that James Robinson-written series...

Komi Can't Communicate Vols. 1-2 (Viz Media) This is a really fun manga. Everyone at school thinks Shoko Komi is perfection itself, due to her incomparable beauty and her impossibly cool, detached, above-it-all attitude, a rarity in a socially hyper-conscious environment like high school.

Our point-of-view character Hitohito Tadano is the only one who sees through her icy outer layer to the real reason she does things like, for example, ignore him when he introduces himself, then stare at him, and then walk away without saying a word to him when he introduces himself on the first day of school. Komi, as the cover of the book says, can't communicate.

Tadano's own personal plan for his new life at his new school is to be as perfectly ordinary as possible, to blend in and avoid making any waves. This becomes difficult when it turns out that he's sitting next to Komi, the girl everyone else at school wishes they were sitting next to. And it becomes more difficult still when he eventually realizes that Komi is actually paralyzed by a social anxiety that makes speaking to anyone at all in almost any circumstances a near impossibility. After a lengthy "conversation" via school blackboard, Tadano, and thus the readers, are let in on Komi's secret, a secret no one else ever seems to have caught on to, and which she couldn't reveal herself because of how difficult it is for her to talk to people.

With Tadano now her confidant and something of a Komi-whisperer, it becomes his job to help her learn to communicate and meet her goal: To make 100 friends. Tadano, of course, is Friend #1.

From there, the first two volumes are a chronicle of Komi and Tadano's quest, with manga-ka Tomohito Oda masterfully shifting between the two views of Komi, the cool, calm, collected picture of perfection that the rest of the world seems to see, and the real Komi, who communicates with Tadano mainly by writing what she wants to say on a notepad, and with the reader through shifting into a few degrees of cartooniness, so that her facial features all disappear except for her suddenly huge and wide eyes. Eventually, Tadano gets to the point where he can basically read her mind, and serves as her translator.

Komi's inability to speak is played for laughs, and is the dominant running gag of the series. When Tadano asks her to rehearse saying "Let's be friends" out loud, she freezes for three panels, and then turns to stone. When he introduces her to his old friend Najimi Osana, who used to be a boy but is now a girl and who, helpfully, is friends with everyone in school (except Komi), Komi gets to the second word "be," before she basically short-circuits, and keeps saying "bee bee bee" while staring into space and trembling.

But Oda doesn't focus solely on Komi's trouble communicating; instead, we gradually see that everyone has some similar difficulty in communicating with their fellow student. Tadano, remember, wanted to not stand out in any way. Najimi, who is friends with everyone, can't meet Komi's eyes without trembling herself, and the two of them can't be left alone, as only Tadano and can translate for them.

When they try to make Friend #3, they choose Himiko Agari, who is incredibly nervous and jittery, especially when people are looking at her. So Tadano and Osana think her social anxiety might complement Komi's, and send Komi to befriend her, which, because Komi is afraid to talk to her, has the result of Komi stalking her and staring ominously at her from around corners (They eventually do become friends, sort of, with Agari considering herself Komi's "dog"; look, Japanese comics can be weird, okay?).

The following chapters basically split their attention between Komi achieving new milestones as she attempts to make friendsgetting her first ever cellphone (having never had a reason for one before), having Tadano and Najimi over to her house, going shopping or out to eat with friendsand the introduction of new characters into her growing peer group, each of whom have issues of their own, like popular girl Yamai, who has a crush on Komi and is also a complete psychotic, and Nakanaka who is, to use Oda's terminology, "going through a phase." (At his previous school, Tadano went through several phases, which is why he decided to not stand out at his new school.)

The point seems to be that everyone has some issue, even the most popular and outgoing people, and these issues, or peculiarities, that keep people apart, can also bring people together.

I mean, that's one level. On another, more immediate level, it's also a really fun, really funny high school comedy. I kind of love it.

Star Wars: Age of Republic—Heroes (Marvel) This trade paperback is a companion to the Villains trade covered in the previous column, similarly collecting a series of four one-shots by writer Jody Houser, plus the portions of the Star Wars: Age of Republic Special #1 that wasn't collected in Villains. The only real differences between the two are, first and most obviously, this one features the good guys from the prequel trilogy of Star Wars movies, Episodes I through III and, secondly, they are all drawn by the art team of pencilers Cory Smith and Wilton Santos an inkers Walden Wong.

It's also a bit less interesting because, let's face it, the heroes of the Star Wars saga are generally not as cool or interesting as the villains, and this is triply true of this group of heroes: Qui-Gon Jin, Obi Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. That's three righteous warrior monks, each of whom are rebellious compared to the rest of their order of boring righteous warrior monks, but are far, far removed from the likes of, say, the "Age of Rebellions" roguish, reluctant heroes Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, and a similarly stiff space senator.

The format is just like that of the Villains one-shots. These are each standalone, portrait-like stories depicting the essential nature of the characters, without interfering with the already quite filled-in stories of the characters' lives. Each begins with a pin-up-style image featuring the character and a sentence or two explaining who they are, and each is followed with a prose article about the character's role in the saga.

The first comic, Qui-Gon Jin, is set before Episode I, as it would of course have to be. Obi-Wan, still in his unfortunate hairstyle phase, appears briefly, but this is more-or-less a Qui-Gon solo story.

He is in the middle of mediating negotiations on a planet between a princess who protects a particular forest and a Metal Clan that wants to cut the trees down. After some particularly dynamic scenes involving panels full of laser blasts and Qui-Gon's use of the Force to all but fly—the Heroes art is quite a bit more action-packed, making up for what it loses in likenesses to the original actors in their more fluid, comic book-y movements—Qui-Gon flees to Coruscant with the princess.

There, he struggles with the Jedi's role as weapons of The Republic, which they are not supposed to be, but everyone assumes them to be. It takes a conversation with Yoda and a brief vision quest full of some pretty cool imagery for him to find the balance he seeks and the solution to the problem on the planet he was negotiating on.
Next is Obi-Wan Kenobi, starring in a story set between Episode I and Episode II, sometime shortly after the death of Qui-Gon more-or-less forced him to become the still very young Anakin's mentor (Here, Anakin is drawn so that he looks like he's about halfway between Jake Lloyd than Hayden Christensen).

If much official attention has been paid to this period of the two characters' fictional lives, I haven't seen it, and it must certainly be dwarfed by that paid to the time between Episode II and Episode III, the actual Clone Wars. Obi-Wan is full of doubt about his ability to properly train Anakin, who realizes that Obi-Wan didn't exactly choose to be his master, and he gets a pep talk of sorts from Yoda. Yoda, it seems, is like the Jedi Council's Ann Landers in these comics.

Convinced to take Anakin with him on his latest mission, to protect a Jedi artifact from raiders on a planet of purple chicken people, Obi-Wan and Anakin come to an understanding about their relationship.

That's followed by Anakin Skywalker, and it appears to be set during the Clone Wars, but I have no idea where, exactly...before the start of the 3D Clone Wars cartoon, I guess, as there's no sign of Ahoska.

Anakin and Obi-Wan are both generals now, leading clone armies in the war. Anakin's perfectly content using his piloting and fighting skills to destroy droids by the score, but finds himself faced with an awkward dilemma when a Republic ship plans to bomb a droid factory being run by a local population. That means that lots of non-droids are going to get killed, but if they send in ground troops, then lots of their own people will get killed too. "Either way, people will die," the admiral in charge of the ship tells him. "And it's our job to make sure it isn't our people."

Anakin chats with Kenobi in the mess hall—because Yoda wasn't around to give out advice, I guess—and eventually decides to just fly down to the droid factory and destroy it solo (Ironically, he tells himself, "We don't commit mass murder from a distance." Which is true. He commits it at arm's length, with his laser sword...this is before he slaughters all the padawans at the Jedi temple in Episode III, and I honestly can't remember which movie he slaughtered all the sand people in). It turns out that the droid factory is being operated by enslaved locals, so it's a good thing they didn't space-bomb it.

Anakin being Anakin, and the roger-roger droids being basically sentient folding chairs holding rifles, he's able to destroy them all, free the locals (who, oddly, look like humanoid-shaped tauntauns, although I'm sure they are a pre-existent space race) and help them overthrow the installation in a couple of pages. I still find those droids pretty funny, in how...bad they are at being an army of murder-bots. Like here, when Anakin jumps off a railing and does an Iron Man pose behind two of them, one responds, "Hey! You aren't supposed to be here!" (I still really hope that Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy crew makes it into a comic or cartoon at some point, in part because I'd loved to see Mister Bones**).

Next, there's Padme Amidala, which is almost as much about her bodyguard/handmaidens Moteé and Dormé, two characters I'm completely unfamiliar with, but now that I think of it, I'm fairly certain they appeared in at least one of the movies, although I don't think they were named. As with the other stories in this volume, it sends the title character on a mission to a different planet to resolve some sort of political issue; here, Padme finds herself targeted for assassination, and ends up assassinating the assassinby shooting her in the back. That's not terribly heroic, but then, I guess her little blaster gun must have been set to stun, as the last page has the sniper being dragged away in handcuffs, while Padme talks about where she will be tried.

The final bits of the book are two short, 10-page stories from the Age of Republic Special. The first is by Houser, and features art by Paolo Villanelli. It's a Mace Windu story, and is basically just another portrait of how bad-ass and unstoppable he is. The climactic action scene is pretty great though, as he uses the Force to reassemble the light saber his captors took apart, and then send it flying towards him ("Do not let it get to the Jedi!" one of his captors yells while trying to stop it, and gets his hand chopped off in the process. That's one of my favorite things about Star Wars; casual dismemberment by light saber!). There's more to the story than just a cool action scene, but thank God for the cool action scene nonetheless. The villain, a hulking warlord who wears some kind of maned skull over his faceor else it's a mask, or else that's his actual face, because the alien race he belongs to have faces that look like skull masksis also pretty cool looking.

Also, the word "kilometers" is used twice in this story. I didn't realize they used the metric system a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. I guess everyone outside the U.S. does.
The other short story is written by Marc Guggenheim and drawn by Caspar Wijngaard, making it the only part of the suite of comics not written by Houser. Entitled "501 Plus One," it is the story of that particular group of clone soldiers, particularly their leader, Rex.

The more famous character is the "Plus One," though, Senator Jar Jar Binks. Who gets a light saber in this story...or, at least, wields it one panel, poses dramatically with it, and then drops it ("Ooo, eesa muy slipidy...").

I've become somewhat fascinated with Jar Jar's place in the Star Wars universe of late, particularly attempts to paint him as a sympathetic figure because he is now sometimes reviled in-story in the same way he was in real life. So here, for example, we see him making a sad face while hiding in the bushes, hearing two of the troopers meant to be protecting him talking about him. Wijngaard definitely draws him well, and he even looks kinda cool in the panels where he's holding the light saber. His voice and pidgin language also seems to be a lot less annoying, if not much less offensive, when read off a comics page, as opposed to being heard spoken and performed.


Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story (Drawn & Quarterly) Damn, when it comes to subjects for comics biographies, Peter Bagge sure knows how to pick 'em. Even if you somehow managed to disentangle Wilder Lane from the fascinating psycho-drama with her mother, her life would still be packed so full of excitement, adventure and import as to make for a killer biography. What I like most about Bagge's comics biographies, however, is that they often manage to be pretty hilarious, thanks in large part to his style. The above sequence, in which Rose's mother hears her daughter is so depressed she's eating crackers in bed and leaps into actionscolding her for eating crackers in bed and, um, that's itis maybe my favorite part of the book, but it was hardly the only part that made me laugh out loud. Or, as the kids say, "LOL." Anyway, here's my TCJ review of Credo.

Extraordinary: The Story of an Ordinary Princess (Dark Horse Books) The way in which Princess Basil defeats the second of the two dragons encountered in this book is extraordinarily badass, and depicted quite dramatically.

Ironheart Vol. 1: Those With Courage (Marvel Entertainment) I know I discussed this for a couple paragraphs in last month's column, but here's a formal review from Good Comics For Kids.

*I often bristle at Marvel's habit of defining runs in their trade collection by writer rather than writer and artist, but this title has only one writer and lots of artists coming and going, so I guess, in that respect, it's not so terrible to refer to it as "Avengers by Jason Aaron"...although I guess "Avengers by Jason Aaron et al" wouldn't kill them, either. Or just, you know, "Avengers". If they didn't reboot and renumber the title every time they got a new writer, they wouldn't have to worry about this stuff at all.

**And, of course, because Sinjir Rath Velus is awesome. Now that's a group of heroes who is infinitely less boring than these Episode I-III jokers.

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