Saturday, November 30, 2019

DC's February previews reviewed

Who owns Gotham...? Based on the cover, I'm going to guess...Will Eisner...?

written by JAMES TYNION IV
cover by TONY S. DANIEL
The conspiracy that will rock Batman’s world continues to unfold as the Dark Knight travels to Arkham Asylum to get answers from the Penguin! What dark secret does he share with The Joker, the Riddler, and…Catwoman? Plus, the plague of assassins descending upon Gotham City in its weakest moments continues! Will this be the moment when Deathstroke finally takes down Batman?!
ON SALE 02.05.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES
This cover was previously scheduled to run on issue #86.

written by JAMES TYNION IV
cover by TONY S. DANIEL
Batman must stop Deathstroke from killing the mayor of Gotham City! But to do so he has to figure out who ordered the hit in the first place. If his four main suspects aren’t ’fessing up to the crime, then is there someone even more sinister lurking in the shadows waiting to deliver the coup de grâce? Whoever it is, one victim will fall under their attack!
ON SALE 02.19.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

If that first not-very-good Tony S. Daniel cover looks familiar, it should; it has already appeared in the last round of solicits ("The cover was previously scheduled to run on issue #86," as the solicitation copy says). Note too that Daniel, who was announced as part of the new, post-Tom King Batman creative team, is here just drawing the covers, while the art for these two issues is credited to Guillem March. So, two issues into Daniel's run, he's taking a break? This all further suggests something not right behind-the-scenes to me.

When the Tynion/Daniel team was announced, it felt like a particularly strange choice to me, as both have already been working on Batman comics off-and-on for years. It was almost as if Dan DiDio stuck his head into the group editor's office and said, "Quick! Give me a new Batman creative team! Right now! Go!" And the poor editor glanced nervously around the room, saying aloud the first two names his eyes fell upon.

At first I thought the fill-in feel of this team might have something to do with King ending his run on Batman prematurely, apparently moving the final portion of his planned storyline to a new Batman/Catwoman book, but given the signs of additional sudden changes (a fill-in artist for Daniel after only like 40 pages, that cover moving around), makes me suspect it is something else. As you'll see as we keep reading the ones I mention this month, and/or as you'll have likely already noticed if you've read the complete solicitations somewheres, several higher-profile DCU books will have new, underwhelming creative teams attached, further suggesting that DC has a relaunch/reboot/rebranding effort in the works, and that they are threfore storing up announcements of the "real" new teams on certain titles (Batman, Justice League, Wonder Woman, etc).

Good news? Daniel's fill-in artist/replacement on Batman is the great Guillem March, whose stints on the character have been too-few and too-far-between for my taste, as I think he's a really great artist who hasn't yet had a good showcase of his skills on the Batman character, despite lots of covers, shorter stories, random issues and runs on adjacent, Gotham-based characters. I kind of wished they would have just skipped Daniel, and announced March as the new (temporary?) artist on Batman; I probably would have added it to my pull-list if they had.

stories and art by VARIOUS
cover by ALEX ROSS
Following Alfred’s tragic death in “City of Bane,” this collection gathers the greatest stories in the character’s 75-year history, including his debut appearance in 1943’s Batman #16, the mystery of “The Man Who Killed Mlle. Marie,” and the touching “Father’s Day.” Collects stories from Batman #16 and #31; Detective Comics #83, #356, #501, #502, #806, and #807; Untold Legends of the Batman #2; Batman Annual #13; Batman: Shadow of the Bat #31; Batman: Gotham Adventures #16; Batman Eternal #31; and Batman Annual (2016) #1 and #3.
ON SALE 03.18.20
$19.99 US | 248 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9894-4

Well, I don't particularly care for the reason DC is publishing a collection of Alfred-centric Batman stories, some of which I articulated when discussing last month's solicits, which seemed to spoil Alfred's (temporary) death, but there are certainly worse organizing principles for Batman comics than ones-about-Alfred.

I'm actually pretty interested in this one, given how relatively few of them I've read.

I assume the story taken from 1989's Batman Annual #13 isn't the James Owsley/Michael Bair/Gray Morrow lead story, but the Kevin Dooley/Malcolm Jones III one, about Alfred's acting career.
Batman: Shadow of The Bat #31 is the 1994 Zero Hour tie-in, featuring a great cover of Brian Stelfreeze rendering the then-current version of Batman and Robin into a Dick Sprang-like style (note the little hooks on the shoulders that Stelfreeze always gave Batman's cape, and Robin's split-toed, tabi-style boots). In this Alan Grant and Bret Blevins story, an older, more comedic version of Alfred temporary intersects with the then-"real" DCU's timeline for the space of an issue (this one was recently-ish reprinted in Batman: Zero Hour, a pretty good collection of pretty good Batman comics that actually hold up pretty well).
Batman: Gotham Adventures #16 is a 1999 comic by Scott Peterson and Craig Rousseau, set in the Animated Series milieu; that's heartening to see here, as DC's various DCU-adjacent, kids titles often provide some of the best, evergreen stories featuring the characters, but are all too often overlooked in favor of the "canonical" material.

The stories from Detective Comics #806 and #807 are probably the back-ups, "Regnum Defende" by Scott Beatty and Jeff Parker, as those star Alfred (the lead stories in those 2005 issues are chapters of "City of Crime," which is also being published in collected form this year).

And I know I read Batman Eternal #31 and Batman (volume 2) Annual #1, but I don't recall their contents well enough to know what will end up in here. Batman Annual #3 is the "Father's Day" story mentioned by name in the solicit, though, by Tom Taylor and Otto Schmidt. That's a good story.

Everything else? Well before my time, which, again, should make this an interesting read.

written by DAVID LAPHAM
Collecting the epic tale from Detective Comics #800-808 and #811-814 written by David Lapham (Stray Bullets)! As the Dark Knight tries to shut down a drug ring turned deadly, Bruce Wayne must contend with a wayward 14-year-old who is dangerously close to Gotham City’s underworld!
ON SALE 03.11.20
$39.99 US | 7.0625” x 10.875” | 304 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9948-4

I've only read this story once, as it was published serially, but I recall liking it quite a bit. Whenever I was forced to deal with my long boxes, I'd stop when I got to this run to pore over the covers and art again. If I recall correctly, Lapham both wrote and drew it—back when that didn't happen very often at DC—handling all of the art for the cover and doing layouts for Bachs on the interiors.

It was extremely poorly served by having to be interrupted as it approached its climax by these bullshit comics from probably the worst-written Batman event I've ever endured:

I suspect Lapham and Bachs' "City of Crime" might also be somewhat under-appreciated these days too because it happened to fall between the end of Greg Rucka's run and the beginning of Paul Dini's, with the "War Games"/"War Crimes" and a bunch of fill-in stuff all around it.

I'm looking forward to rereading it in its collected form and hey, look at that, it's scheduled for release on March 11, my birthday...!

cover by LEE WEEKS
Alfred Pennyworth served the Wayne family for decades—even through the tragic loss of Bruce Wayne’s parents. His death at the hands of Bane is the only event that could possibly compare to that fateful night in Crime Alley, and it leaves Bruce at a similar crossroads. If Alfred was the glue that held the Bat-Family together, how will Batman deal with that all falling apart? And if the Caped Crusader is to be truly alone, he might either hang that cape up once and for all…or double down and carry on with this vengeful quest forever. Batman: Pennyworth R.I.P. #1 celebrates the life of one of the most important people in the history of Gotham City, while also addressing questions about what’s next.
ON SALE 02.12.20
$4.99 US | 48 PAGES

Look out, Batman! There's a giant Alfred right behind you...!

Wait, if Alfred is dead, why is he up and around? And why is he so big? Oh my God is Alfred the new Spectre?!

I think killing Alfred off, especially if he's supposed to "really" be dead, is bad and stupid and wrong and dumb, but I could probably get on board with the idea if it lead to Alfred replacing Jim Corrigan as the Spectre's host.

Couldn't you just see Alfred in a white tuxedo with green gloves, shoes and a bow tie, seeking to cleanse the world of evil as he had previously cleansed Wayne Manor of dust? Serving the cause of vengeance as he once served the Wayne Family? Using his near-infinite powers to grow gigantic, turn his right hand into a feather duster and sweep evil gangsters off of rooftops to the pavement below? Spouting bad-ass butler lines like those in the Alfred movie from Teen Titans Go To The Movies...?

I'd be okay with that.

Or ooh, do you know what would be even better? Alfred Pennyworth, Ghost Butler, in which Alfred's restless spirit is unable to move on to the next plane of existence, and hangs around Wayne Manor and the Batcave for a bit until it sinks in he's dead and Batman can't see or hear him, so he must set out to find a new hero who might be in need of his buttling services. Perhaps Deadman Boston Brand could use a butler? Surely The Phantom Stranger needs help laundering and ironing this suit and cape. The Houses of Mystery and Secrets could use a good dusting. Maybe Justice League Dark could use an event planner for the next time they do a recruitment drive?

Actually, now I want to read that series so badly that I hope Alfred really is dead, and he stays dead long enough for DC to do a Ghost Butler miniseries...

art and cover by NICK DERINGTON
In the aftermath of "The Infected," Batman and Superman create new measures to prevent hidden and dangerous super-villain plots in the future. Using new technology to track villains throughout the DC Universe, the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are startled to discover that General Zod has returned to Earth—and that his new target is...Ra’s al Ghul! What is Zod’s plan, and what does it have to do with the destroyed bottle city of Kandor? Find out in the first chapter of a two-part epic featuring the work of artist Nick Derington!
ON SALE 02.26.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

I only made it a few pages into the first issue of the Batman/Superman comic before I decided it wasn't for me; the panel where Superman walked into a Justice League headquarters littered with the corpses of his brutally, graphically slain team members. You know, the one with the random rib cage just sitting in the middle of the room.

I had written the book off completely at that point, but it seems like once writer Joshua Williamson is done with his sequel/spin-off to Scott Snyder and Jock's Batman Who Laughs, he's teaming with Nick Derington and, I've gotta confess, I really love Derington's work, and really want to see him drawing more Batman (I say "more", of course, because Derington drew the "Batman Universe" story that Brian Michael Bendis wrote for the Walmart exclusive Batman anthology). Adding Superman into the mix? Well, that's just all the more reason to get excited!

How much do I like Derington's art? Enough that even though this features Ra's al Ghul, whom I think is Batman's dullest, most over-exposed villain, a character I could go the rest of my life without ever seeing appear in another comic book story again*, I still want to read this comic.

This being just two issues, maybe I should buy these serially...

art and cover by NICK DERINGTON
In this story written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Nick Derington, Batman is pushed to his limit as he sets off in search of an item with incredible destructive powers—and embarks on a journey across the DC Universe! It’s a race to the finish line as Batman chases the Riddler from Gotham to Gorilla City and beyond, with the fate of humanity in the balance. Guest stars include Vandal Savage, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Deathstroke, Jonah Hex, and more! Collects Batman: Universe #1-6.
ON SALE 03.18.20
$24.99 US | 168 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9484-7

Speaking of Derington...! I can't wait to read this. I've only read the first issue...enough to make sure I was going to want to read the whole thing in its collected form.

I'm hoping that when DC announces the real next Batman creative team—assuming, as I have been, that Tynion and Daniel/Whoever are just a fill-in team—Derington is the artist, and whoever the writer is, it's someone really awesome.

written by James Tynion IV, Steve Orlando, SINA GRACE, Jay Baruchel, Stephanie Phillips, and others
art by Greg Smallwood, Riley Rossmo, AndiE Tong, Mike Norton, Anthony Spay, and others
Passion. Betrayal. Murder. When you’re a private investigator, these are things you experience daily. But when you add capes to the mix—like Batman, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn? Things get even messier. The name’s Slam Bradley, and I’m telling you that this year’s Valentine’s Day special has more intrigue than you can shake a stick at. Ten tales of love—the kind of love that can push people over the edge. Don’t miss it...or I’ll make you pay.
ON SALE 02.05.20
$9.99 US | 80 PAGES

Looks like it's mostly the usual suspects, in terms of both contributors and characters (with at least one weird exception; what the hell is Jay Baruchel doing in the mix?), but, regardless of execution, I always at least like the idea of DC's anthology holiday specials, and they've been trying out some pleasantly weird themes in the past few years. This one seems like a winner, particularly because of the involvement of Slam Bradley.

I know I've said it before, but when I was growing up, I wanted nothing more to be a comic book writer for DC Comics when I grew up. Now that I am grown-up, I think the only job I'd really want at DC is writing a coupla 10-page joke stories for anthologies like this every year. (Although, I mean, I wouldn't turn down an offer to write a miniseries or something; seems like a good, easy way to buy a least here in Ohio, where the cost of living is so much cheaper than in the comic book industry centers of New York City and Las Angeles).

written by TOM TAYLOR
The blockbuster DC series returns to answer this question: What did the villains do when the heroes failed and the world ended?
Spinning out of the dramatic events of 2019’s smash hit, writer Tom Taylor returns to this dark world with a street-level tale of death, heroism and redemption. Led by Red Hood and Deathstroke, DC’s hardest villains and antiheroes fight with no mercy to save the only commodity left on a dying planet of the undead—life!
ON SALE 02.19.20
$4.99 US | 1 OF 3 | 48 PAGES

I know people like zombies, but I'm honestly shocked at how popular DC's Marvel Zombies has turned out to be...especially because, conceptually, it wasn't even as clever as the Marvel series it's so suggestive of. I read the first issue of DCeased, and found it surprisingly, shockingly uninspired—more so because it was so far below the relatively high standard of writer Tom Taylor's previous work (the fact that it had two artists, neither of whom were particularly great, drawing the first issue of a miniseries, didn't exactly instill a lot of confidence, either).

Maybe it got better with the second issue? I guess I'll find out soon; I actually have a copy of the just-released collection of DCeased and its first one-shot spin-off from my local library sitting next to me as I type this sentence, and plan on reading it after working on this post. I'll let you know what I think in, I don't know, another three posts or so...?

This spin-off just seems to offer more of the same, but I think it's notable that DCeased was such a surprise hit for DC that it not only released that one-shot, but now they're doing a miniseries spin-off.

written by DOUG MOENCH
art and cover by TOM MANDRAKE
Featuring the debut of Black Mask!
ON SALE 02.05.20
$1.00 US | 32 PAGES | FC | DC

I've actually never read Batman #386, so I will gladly pay a dollar for the ability to do so now. The fact that the great Tom Mandrake is drawing it is only further incentive. I assume this one is being reprinted this month because the character is apparently going to be the main villain in the upcoming Birds of Prey movie, as they're obviously running out of Batman villains who haven't appeared in any films yet (Your time will come, Mad Hatter!). I'm curious if the movie people will use the original look and conception of the character...that is, if his black mask will be carved from his dead father's ebony casket, or if they will go with the more common black skull-like look of the character that has long since replaced it (I want to say The Batman pioneered that look, in which the character had an irremovable mask that suggested a skull; I do not want to look it up right now though, so I won't).

This month's other Dollar Comics include Shadow of The Bat #1, the first issue of Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle and company's "The Last Arkham" (and the first appearance of Mr. Zsasz, which is probably why it's being reprinted now) and Batman #536, featuring Cassandra Cain during her "No Man's Land"-era debut (that cover, by the great Damion Scott, who would draw interiors for Cassandra's later Batgirl, was drawn when he was obviously still figuring the character out, but I always liked that pose; it's the only instance I can think of off the top of my head of gravity affecting a utility belt), the first issue of the original Amethyst #1 (probably in preparation for the current Young Justice member's upcoming solo book; Hey, did you know I bought the 650-page Showcase Presents: Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld trade in 2012, and have still only read the first 20 pages of it? That's not a reflection on the quality, but a reflection of my To Read pile/s).

There's also 1987's Flash #1, which, if I had to guess, is seeing print again because of this month's fake Flash anniversary (see below), as that's the debut of Wally West as The Flash, probably the best instance of a passing-on-of-a-comic book-superhero-legacy-ever, as well as Flash: Rebirth #1, in which longtime Flash writer Geoff Johns had the dubious honor of undoing that passing-on-of-a-comic book-superhero-legacy, bringing The Boring Flash back into the mix. And then there's Green Lantern: Rebirth #1, in which Johns similarly replaced Hal Jordan's infinitely more interesting replacement with Hal Jordan. I think Johns' strategy addressing the Green Lantern worked really quite well, as the fact that there were thousands of those characters made the elegant "Okay, everyone who was a Green Lantern can still be a Green Lantern", everyone wins, super-compromise, while The Flash move may have ultimately doomed the post-Crisis DCU shared-universe (Hell, Wally West as a character is still suffering, as you know if you read Heroes In Crisis, which I wouldn't advise; there's only really one great panel in it...maybe two, depending on your experience with The Protector).
There. Now you don't have to read Heroes In Crisis.
Republishing those books now seems sort of dumb though, as nothing in them is at all relevant (the Flashpoint/New 52boot rendered those comics' post-Crisis continuity crafting moot) and the artist involved is kind of a huge asshole that spends what seems to be a majority of his time spewing toxic opinions and insults on the Internet. I wouldn't think DC Comics would want to be associated with him in any way, shape or form anymore. (Oh, and speaking of terrible people that it seems like horrible PR to willingly associate with your brand in the year 2020, DC is also soliciting a collection of DMZ this month).

Finally, Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Romeo Tanghal's New Teen Titans #2 is also getting the Dollar Comics treatment. That's the issue introducing Deathstroke, The Terminator.. I guess he's appearing in that Titans TV show, so maybe that's the why of that particular comic.

1940s variant cover by NICOLA SCOTT
1950s variant cover by GARY FRANK
1960s variant cover by NICK DERINGTON
1970s variant cover by JOSÉ LUIS GARCÍA-LÓPEZ
1980s variant cover by GABRIELE DELL’OTTO
1990s variant cover by FRANCESCO MATTINA
2000s variant cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
2010s variant cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
blank variant cover available
Beginning: “The Flash Age”! The story we’ve been building toward since issue #50 comes to a head! While a supercharged Speed Force wreaks havoc on Barry Allen’s life, a new threat appears on the horizon in the form of the deadly Paradox. Destined to destroy the Flash’s legacy, Paradox sends his herald, Godspeed, to trap the Flash family! Plus, in this special anniversary issue: tales from across the generations of super-speedsters by an all-star lineup of writers and artists!
ON SALE 02.26.20
$7.99 US | 80 PAGES
This issue will ship with ten covers.
Please see the order form for details.

Ugh. I hate these artificial anniversary issue so much. This blatant disregard for how numbers works just plain hurts the core of my being. So much of the modern super-comics industry is founded on a particular type of persnicketiness that is part of the collector mentality and the sort of fandom that cares about story continuity, and this Marvel-esque "Let's just pump up the number to a super-high one in order to celebrate an artificial anniversary and then drop back normal numbering because what is even the point of numbers, really?" is just...galling. Also, it's not how numbers work.

I'm interested in seeing what Riley Rossmo's Flash might look like, but, other than that, nothing here grabs me. Of course, I haven't read more than two consecutive issue of Flash since... Jeez, I don't even remember when. Maybe Flash: Rebirth...?

art and cover by LIAM SHARP
The team of writer Grant Morrison and artist Liam Sharp continue their bold new take on the Emerald Warrior in a wild 30-page second season opener!
In the wake of the Blackstar incursion, Hal Jordan and his fellow Lanterns must pick up the pieces from that cataclysmic conclusion. Among them is Jordan’s next critical mission: search for the next generation of cosmic immortals. Is the universe ready for…the Young Guardians?
ON SALE 02.12.20
$4.99 US | 1 OF 12 | 40 PAGES

Speaking of things I hate, here's a monthly, 12-issue comic book billing itself as "Season Two" of another comic book. They are obviously attaching the word "Season" to borrow its television connotations for, um, some reason I don't understand. But comic books don't come out seasonally, and even if they did, this will run for a year...through four consecutive "seasons", goddamit! That's not how words work. DC is destroying numbers and words, like a common Marvel! The Big Two are assaulting reality itself!

(Especially weird? Morrison's run on this character began with an "ongoing" series entitled The Green Lantern, and then a new series with Darkstars somewhere in the title. And now its continuing in The Green Lantern Season Two. confusing. The idea seems to be a series of miniseries, just marketed for maximum confusification. I've yet to read any of it, despite how much I appreciate the writing of Grant Morrison and the art of Liam Sharp, as I was waiting for the trade paperback collection. Now I wonder if I should wait for some kinda "Complete Grant Morrison's The Green Lantern"-style, omnibus-y collection a few years down the road...)

cover by ADAM HUGHES
Stan Lee at DC seemed like something fans could only ever dream about—until it happened in 2001! This new collection brings these stories back in print, including Just Imagine Stan Lee with Dave Gibbons Creating Green Lantern #1, Just Imagine Stan Lee with Jerry Ordway Creating JLA #1, Just Imagine Stan Lee with Jim Lee Creating Wonder Woman #1, Just Imagine Stan Lee with Joe Kubert Creating Batman #1, Just Imagine Stan Lee with John Buscema Creating Superman #1, and Just Imagine Stan Lee with Kevin Maguire Creating Flash #1.
ON SALE 03.11.20
$34.99 US | 352 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9583-7

These were originally published as one-shots in DC's old prestige format, and while there was obviously a degree of novelty to them, reflected in the title, they were also an incredible showcase for an incredible line-up of artists (see above) and some of the characters turned out to be all-around compelling recreations.

 Of all of the artists listed above, Jim Lee is my least favorite, but given his popularity and level of skill, well, that should give you a good idea about the overall abundance of artistic talent attached.

Of the particular characters and comics, it's Lee and Lee's Wonder Woman and Lee and Kubert's Batman I remember most strongly. They really went all-in on giving Batman a realistic bat-head. Ironically, there most unusual-looking character turned out to be the one DC superhero who has the most variant forms.

Some pains were taken to ensure that that Stan Lee and company's Just Imagine-iverse was its own shared universe, with characters referring to one another and their paths crossing in Justice League and Crisis, although it doesn't seem like DC has done too terribly much to exploit it. Certainly, these characters haven't made appearances in the same way or anywhere nearly as often as, say, the characters from the Tangent continuitiverse, or Kingdom Come or even the those from Red Son or Red Reign.

I wouldn't be surprised if that changed in the future though; perhaps getting these stories back in front of creators and readers, including many who likely missed them the first time around, might lead to a more prominent role for this gang in the DC Multiverse moving forward.

cover by BRYAN HITCH
The next chapter for comics’ premier superteam begins! An unexpected arrival from the stars brings a dire warning to the Justice League: A new breed of conquerors is on the march. Led by Superman’s nemesis Eradicator, a genetically engineered, super-powered strike team has come to subjugate Earth. To aid the Justice League, Batman makes the unprecedented decision of enlisting an ancient, unrivaled power, which calls into question who, exactly, is in charge. With the League on unsure footing, will they be ready to save the world?
ON SALE 02.05.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

cover by BRYAN HITCH
Invasion of the Supermen! Eradicator and his strike team sweep across Earth with devastating consequences. The Justice League finds itself battered and overwhelmed by an enemy more powerful than even Superman. Batman and Green Lantern plan a counter assault, but it can’t work without the Flash, whose connection to the Speed Force has become unpredictable—and possibly fatal. With the team at half-strength, will it be enough to hold their enemies at bay?
ON SALE 02.19.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

With all due respect to Robert Venditti and Doug Mahnke, they certainly feel more like a time-killing, page-filling temporary team than the next creative team on Justice League, following the Scott Snyder, James Tynion, Jorge Jimenez et al run. Both are long-time DC contributors, and Mahnke has already had a pretty substantial run on DC's Justice League book/s. They lack the razzle dazzle that one might expect, in the same way that Tynion and Daniel on Batman sound a lot more like the creative team DC found laying around, not the the ideal team for that title. (And Mahnke is only drawing the first of these, with Aaron Lopresti penciling the next one. As with Batman, there doesn't seem to have been much in the way of lead time to get this story drawn.)

The fairly generic nature of the solicitation copy"next chapter" language asidealso feels like an evergreen one. Also, note that the team on the covers looks to be the same as during the previous run, with no evident changes of the sort that typically follow a change in creative team.

I think we can put this down as one more clue that DC's gotta rebrand/relaunch in the work, and a more permanent next creative team will follow soon.

(Anyone got any particular hopes for who might get to write and draw "comics' premier superteam" next...? I'd kinda like to see Priest get another bite at the apple; he was the official League writer right before Snyder and company came on, but he was, like Venditti appears to be doing here, in more of a caretaker role, and only

art and cover by SAS MILLEDGE
Before he met Batman, Dick Grayson discovered the power of young love—and its staggering cost—at the magical Lost Carnival.

Haly’s traveling circus no longer has the allure of its glamorous past, but it still has one main attraction: the Flying Graysons, a family of trapeze artists featuring a teenage Dick Grayson. The only problem is that Dick loathes spending his summers performing tired routines for dwindling crowds.

When the Lost Carnival opens nearby and threatens to pull Haly’s remaining customers, Dick is among those drawn to its nighttime glow. But there are ancient forces at work at the Lost Carnival, and when Dick meets the mysterious Luciana and her nomadic family, he may be too mesmerized to recognize the danger ahead.

Beneath the carnival’s dazzling fireworks, Dick must decide between who he is and who he wants to be—choosing either loyalty to his family history or a glittering future with new friends and romance. Author Michael Moreci and illustrator Sas Milledge will suspend readers from a tightrope in this graphic novel, redefining Dick Grayson for a new generation.
ON SALE 04.29.20
$16.99 US | FC | 6” x 9”
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9102-0

If I remember superhero TV show gossip correctly, from back in the days when every single superhero character wasn't regularly appearing in one-to-three different television shows, there was once a show about a pre-Robin Dick Grayson of the Flying Graysons in some stage of development.

This reminds me of that, although it will almost certainly be better, because comics are a better medium for superheroes than TV shows.

I'm not familiar with the creators, but I do like that cover image.

cover by JIM CHEUNG
Celebrate the 60-year history of the Justice League! This volume includes pivotal moments such as “Crisis on Earth-Three,” the formation of Justice League International, the debut of the 1990s JLA series, the team’s New 52 origin, and more! Collects The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29-30, #79, #140, #144 and #200 (1964-1982); Justice League of America Annual #2; Justice League #1 (1987); JLA #1 and #43; Justice League of America #1 (2006); Justice League #1 (2011); and Justice League #1 (2018).
ON SALE 03.18.20
$29.99 US | 448 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4

So, what have we got here...?

That seems pretty acceptable, particularly if the focus is on the different iterations of the primary Justice League (so, no permutations; no International or Europe, no Task Force or Elite, no Dark or Odyssey, and nothing non-canonical, despite the strength of, say, Paul Dini and Alex Ross' Justice League stuff). They're not all good comics, of course, with the first issues of the Johns and the Meltzer runs being the worst of the lot, and, one thing immediately apparent from JLA #1 on, those comics all very much offer the first part of a story. So I would guess a good half of this is going to read like a group of trailers, rather than a group of short stories. I mean, most of these will introduce sub-plots that won't be resolved anywhere within the trade, but by the time we get to JLA, the part-of-a-story phenomenon will be particularly noticeable.

Even still, it's a pretty solid survey of League line-ups over the team's history. I'm a little disappointed by the cover choice, though. Sure, that's the current iteration of the League, but it's not a terribly representative one of the the League's make-up over the years, nor even a particularly strong illustration.

I'm actually kinda surprised they didn't go with an Alex Ross image, or maybe re-used one of Phil Jimenez's drawings of, like, every Leaguer ever, like the one from JLA Secret Files & Origins #1, or this one from the covers of the three-issue JLA-Z series published in conjunction with Avengers/JLA...
...Although I would guess another 10-20 heroes would needed added to the image to reflect all of the characters who have served on the team since it was drawn.

Taking place after the events of Batman: Dark Victory, this epic tale recounts the beginning of Dick Grayson’s career as Robin, the Boy Wonder. The devious Two-Face is very interested in recent reports that Batman now has a teenage sidekick. Indeed, Bruce Wayne has taken young Dick Grayson under his tutelage as Robin, the Boy Wonder! Alfred Pennyworth is unsure if the inclusion of Dick Grayson in Batman’s nightly adventures might not end up in disaster, but the butler cannot deny the positive influence the lighthearted boy has on his master. Collects Robin: Year One #1-4.
ON SALE 03.04.20
$19.99 US | 216 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9938-5

If you have never read this, you really should. It's great.

cover by BRYAN HITCH
The Man of Steel’s greatest villains react to the biggest news to ever rock the DC Universe. Lex Luthor, Mongul, Toyman, The Joker, and more of the world’s greatest villains must come to grips with how the world changes now that the truth has been revealed by Superman. Some of comics’ most unique and creative voices unite to tell a story that changes all the rules.
ON SALE 02.12.20
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES

Wait a minute...Gorilla Grodd? Ra's al Ghul? Deathstroke, The Terminator? Cheetah? Sinestro? Black Manta? A The Reverse Flash? Professor Pyg? Those aren't Superman villains! Where's Terra-Man and The Prankster, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bizarro?

Oh, by the way, who on Earth is that between Deathstroke and Sinestro?

cover by JOHN TIMMS
variant cover by MIKE GRELL
Another Wonder Comics extravaganza kicks off with Young Justice searching for Conner Kent as the teen Superboy find himself trapped in the mysterious world of Skartaris, the home of legendary DC character Warlord! Wonder Comics curator and Young Justice writer Brian Michael Bendis welcomes writer David F. Walker to the team alongside rising-star artist John Timms!
ON SALE 02.05.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

I really enjoyed the first collection of Young Justice, despite some reservations. I'm actively worried about what happens after issue #6 though, because from what I've seen, the Tim Drake portions at least appear to be mind-numbling stupid. I'm not sure how to feel about Walker joining the team, either; he co-wrote Naomi with Bendis, and I found that book quite wanting, despite really wanting to like it.

I like the premise of this issue though, especially the fact that they got Grell not just to draw a variant cover, but to apparently provide interior art as well. You know, at this point I'm pretty sure that enough DC superheroes  have journeyed to Skartaris that they could probably collect 'em all into a decent-sized trade paperback collection.

*Actually, I take that back. There's still one Ra's al Ghul story I want to read. When writer Denny O'Neil first created the character in 1971, the new addition to Batman's rogues gallery wasn't just the charismatic leader of a criminal organization specializing in assassination. He was also an environmentalist. His goal to restore the Earth's balance to its more perfect, pre-industrial revolution status, before humanity began to overpopulate and over-pollute it, plundering its finite resources. As a functional immortal, Ra's was able to take the long view on humanity's impact on the Earth, and, as a comic book supervillain, he had a radical solution: Killing off the majority of humanity to a much more manageable number.

The character reflected concerns and anxieties of the burgeoning environmental movement of the 1970s and, if things seemed bad
then, well, thanks to climate change, we are now teetering on the apocalypse, well into a sixth extinction that, if it doesn't completely wipe out humanity, well, it will definitely lead to the collapse of human society as we've come to know it. Best case scenario at this point? Everyone gets their fucking acts together, we reduce carbon emissions to net zero in 20-40 years, and hope we pull through with only a handful of wars, refugee crises and horrific weather events, I guess.

At any rate, the stuff Ra's al Ghul was worried about
decades ago is now coming to pass. I think there's a couple of different stories that could be told about DC Comics' premier eco-terrorist in 2020, now in the position of seeing his worst fears realized, and circumstances proving him, not Batman, right. Does he lash out like a wild animal, backed into a corner? Going all-out to conquer the world and force the changes that our governments have spent too long dithering over? I don't know.

Personally, the Ra's al Ghul story I want to read is about a sad, defeated Ra's who has apparently given up on his plans to save the world by killing a bunch of the people on it, because he realizes it's now too late. If every one is the hero of their own stories, well, Ra's has confirmation of his righteousness, and now we're at a point where he doesn't even really need to lift a finger to bring about a grand balancing of nature. The world is doing so itself, threatening to wipe out humanity, or at least reduce its numbers, reshaping society in the way
he wanted to all those decades ago.

So that's the one Ra's al Ghul story I want to read. One focusing on his bittersweet recognition that he was right, and that he can quite trying to save the world from humanity, as the world is going to end up purging humanity all on his own. I want to seem him unhappily gloat to his billionaire American foe, and make Batman feel bad about not doing more, and maybe even make Batman question if there wasn't a middle path between Ra's insane, genocidal plans and Batman's constant defeating of him. I want a comic about Ra's al Ghul that's preachy as fuck.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Climate change in recent kids comics

Writer Ridley Pearson's comics debut Super Sons, one of the first of DC Comics' new lines of original graphic novels for younger readers, contained many rather unexpected creative choices. Among them was his decision to set the story in a near-future world facing an apocalyptic threat. That threat was that of cataclysmic climate change, in which a warming globe had severely flooded the continents, creating a refugee crisis within the borders of his version of the United States.

The first volume's sub-title, The PolarShield Project, referred to one of the ideas scientists have considered to try and save society as we know it from the climate crisis, seeding the atmosphere with material that will block the sun's rays, keeping the temperature from rising much more than it already has. That is a controversial idea, in large part because it's impossible to know with any certainty what the side-effects of such radical, sci fi-sounding geoengineering might be, and also because, as impossible as it might sometimes seem, it's still going to be easier to radically restructure our fucked-up energy system and economy to move towards zero carbon dioxide emissions and avoid apocalyptic tipping point situations from burning too much rain forest or screwing up the ocean. In Super Sons, the idea of finding an artificial way to block the sun's rays is a little less controversial, though, because that particular rapidly warming Earth has got Superboy's dad Superman to help them out.

I read the book with some interest upon its release, in part because I'm a fan of those characters, in part because I was curious about DC's emergent Zoom and Ink lines and in part to prepare for an interview with Pearson. I was pretty surprised by the climate crisis backdrop, particularly since the usual Superman and Batman milieu doesn't lend itself to environmental science subject matter as strongly as those of some other DC superheroes might, but I was kind of glad to see Pearson and DC attempting to engage young readers on what is going to be the most important challenge of their lives.

If that surprised me, though, I was still more surprised by the fact that in the following six months, I've read two more comics directed at young readers that also dealt with the climate crisis. Three examples makes a trend—if I've ever learned anything from New York Times trend pieces, and I haven't, it's that—so I thought it worth pausing a moment to look at how these various books deal with the subject.
Regarding Super Sons, climate change presents a backdrop more than anything (At least as far as the first book goes; I haven't yet read Pearson and artist Ile Gonzalez's next book in their Super Sons series, The Foxglove Mission). It's a catalyst that provides a rationale for Bruce Wayne and Superman to be absent from the lives of their sons, and one that removes Damian and Jon from their traditional Gotham City and Metropolis settings into a new one where they are on equal footing. Although Gonzalez's art has a clarity and brightness to it that makes this future seem not quite so bad, perhaps in part because the people in the world of Super Sons have started to embrace alternative energy like wind power on a greater scale, the stories do address one of the many, many little-discussed impacts of climate change: Huge numbers of refugees and internally displaced people caused by environmental degradation.

(I don't want to get too off-topic here, but arguments can and have been made that climate change has in part influenced the recent influx of migrants from the southern triangle countries seeking asylum in the U.S. and that climate change may have been a factor in the Syrian civil war and the waves of refugees it created. While studies have been published and analysis see-sawed over those assertions, as the globe heats up and the equator gets hotter, we can expect more and more people from southern climates moving northward...and that's before we even get into sea level rise displacing people on coasts and islands).

I recently heard something quite sobering, even chilling: The scariest part of the climate crisis might not be what we do to the Earth and what nature does to us as a result of its systems breaking down or transforming, but what we do to one another as we try to cope with those changes. I mean, the U.S. is handling an immigration crisis at the current scale all that well right now; one hopes that's because of the monsters currently running immigration policy, but one can also fear that it's going to get worse, not better, as the numbers increase.
An even more unexpected discussion of the climate crisis appeared in Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg's AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet. This is a book about four super-powered mutant animals astronauts with cool names like AlphaWolf and LaserShark exploring alien planets on behalf of a super-secret space exploration organization. While the overall tone of the book is fun and funny, there's a barely sublimated, let alone disguised, darkness to it.

The very premise of the book is couched in how much danger we've put the world in. Our heroes were only awakened from their cryogenic slumber and sent on their mission because humanity crossed "the BIG RED LINE" of putting more than 440 parts per million of carbon dioxide into the planet's atmosphere, setting off the current cascade of catastrophic events we're currently dealing with. See, our heroes in this series are scouting for a new planet that humanity can inhabit, since we may have rendered this one uninhabitable (for humanity as we know it, and most of the animals that are currently living on it, that is).

AstroNuts is extremely direct about all of this. In fact, the book begins with a big countdown to blastoff, at which point the narrator, Earth itself, comes in to provide some real talk:
Yes, blastoff. How exciting.

Usually. But not this time.

This time, blastoff was scary and awful. Because this blastoff was a deadly emergency.
The AstoNuts' first scouting mission takes them to the so-called Plant Planet, where they find an environment also out-of-whack, but in a different way. Amid all of the jokes and action and tidbits of real science, there's a refreshingly direct passage where the Earth stops telling its story of the AstroNuts to explain the climate crisis to the readers...and the Earth does it in such a simple way that it should be easy enough to share with any skeptical relatives you may have sitting around your Thanksgiving table (particularly if you are related to any Republican lawmakers and/or fossil fuel industry lobbyists).

I normally wouldn't want to excerpt so many pages in a row from a work, but I didn't think I could summarize in a way that would do it justice. That's how simple and direct the explanation is; it can't really be broken down any further without ruining the elegance of its presentation:

That last page above, in which Earth presents us with the two options of how to deal with the problem, reveals that while this story is premised on actualizing Plan B, finding another planet exactly like Earth and then transporting all 7.7 billion people there, that plan is no more realistic than AlphaWolf and his crew of super-powered mutant animal astronauts astronuts exploring the known universe in a rocket ship that was hidden in plain sight on Mount Rushmore as Thomas Jefferson's nose.

That really only leaves Plan A: Burn less fossil fuels.
Finally, one of the most recent kids comics I've read was cartoonist Abby Howard's Mammal Takeover, the third (and final) book in her Earth Before Us series. The first two books, Dinosaur Empire and Ocean Renegades, covered the Mesozoic and the Paleozoic Eras, while Mammal Takeover has 10-year-old Ronnie and her mentor Miss Lernin use the power of science magic to time-travel throughout the Cenozoic Era.

In all three books, the pair tour time and space to meet an encyclopedia's worth of animals and plants, learning about other concepts like geology, evolution, taxonomy and so along the way. These books are all a blast, for anyone interested in the amazing animals of the past of any age, and this one is in some ways the most compelling.

It's not just that it covers the bizarre and fascinating mammals of prehistory, animals that I've been particularly intrigued with since childhood on account of the fact that I learned of most of them so long after having been familiarized with dinosaurs. Glyptodons, short-faced bears, Megatherium and Paraceratherium had the mystique of "secret dinosaurs" to me, and, later, as an adult, I kept learning about "newer" and crazier animals from these epochs, like chalicotheres and gigantopithecus and various terror birds and all the crazy animals of prehistoric Australia. That the existence of so many of these now-extinct animals overlapped with human history made them all the more appealing, particularly as I've always been interested in stories of monsters and cryptozoology, and many of the megafauna that crossed paths with the earliest humans seemed to persist in at least folkloric form right up until today, when it's not entirely impossible to think there might be at least one species of giant ground sloth yet to be discovered in the Amazon, or that we might some day find a tiny population of relict gigantopithecus in Asia or that some species of mammoth or mastodon lingered on in Siberia or Alaska until about the time that the last auroch died or the last Stellar's sea cow was eaten.

This volume also covers the emergence of humanity in the Pleistocene, as Ronnie walks into a camp of Homo sapiens and a Neanderthal or two and shouts, "Oh my gosh, they're us!" Miss Lernin breaks down the origin of humanity, from Homo ercectus in Africa to three different species of humanity: Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and "the mysterious Denisovans," as well as "other, stranger species of humans that we may or may not have encountered, like the short species Homo naledi... ...and the much shorter Homo floresiensis."

That six-page history of human evolution leads to a triumphant two-page spread of "the mammals of the Holocene," which contains Howards drawings of "all the incredible creatures we share the world with, which are just as amazing and strange as those that came before them!" These animals are grouped into the various types Ronnie (and readers) learned throughout, from monotremes to marsupials, to primates, to afrotheria and so on (If you follow Howard on Twitter, you likely recognize her cat, Spoons; look for Spoons among the carnivora crowd).

And then, of course, there's the reason I'm talking about this book here on my blog, in this particular post, instead of elsewhere. After hundreds of pages on the rise and fall of various species of animal life throughout Earth's history, Howard ties the concept of mass extinction into our current moment.

Miss Lernin reminds Ronnie that such eras usually end with big extinction events, "like the K-T extinction that wiped out most of the dinosaurs... or the Permian-Triassic extinction, which was the largest mass extinction that ever happened."

Ronnie then provides a pretty perfect set-up:
I remember talking about those.

They were big bummers! Glad we don't have to talk about anything like that now that we've caught up with modern day.
While Ronnie immediately thinks of the causes of those two previous mass extinctions, Miss Lernin shrugs, "Nah, this ones on us," and explains how humans are the cause of the sixth mass extinction.

In the pages that follow, Miss Lernin explains that much of modern human society is driven by power made from teh burning of feuls like coal and gas, which creates carbon dioxide and other gasses that trap heat in the atmosphere. While AstroNuts' Earth talked about having a fever that must run its course, Howard draws an anthropomorphic Earth sleeping blissfully under a big comforter, right next to a worried and sweating globe, fitfully tucked into a gigantic, over-stuffed comforter. "This makes it harder for creatures to survive, because they haven't evolved to deal with this climate, and evolution is much slower than the rate that the climate is changing."

She details the effects and sources of methane, particularly animal agriculture, as well as deforestation and tackles the "But it still snows" argument head on. (In the background of a snowy panel, a small, bundled-up figure laughs, "Sure could use some of that 'climate change' right about now, ha ha!", while Miss Lernin explains how a warming Earth will mean more precipitation, including snow, and the obvious fact that just because it still snows, that doesn't mean the world's climate isn't warming; "It snowed in the Cretaceous, too, and that was a much warmer time than ours," she shrugs.) (Despite my earlier swipe at the New York Times, their weekly Climate Fwd newsletter is a pretty solid resource. This week, in preparation for Thanksgiving table arguments, they shared links to sources featuring arguments employed by climate deniers—or the simply skeptical—and counter-arguments. Click here and here and here, if you don't subscribe to Cimate Fwd or don't want to deal with the paper's dumb paywall thing).

And she tells Ronnie about the extinctions modern humans have caused more or less on purpose, like that of the thylacine, the passenger pigeon and Stellar's sea cow, before circling back to the climate crisis:
If it makes you feel any better, these days humans have mostly stopped wiping out animals just because they feel like it.
Now most extinctions are caused by the fact that the environment is quickly becoming unsuitable for many animals that are used to a certain climate...
All the bad news really gets to Ronnie, who is alternately scared, sad, angry, defensive and, of course, feeling helpless.
Miss Lernin relates: "Even for me, a grown-up, it's scary stuff, and I sometimes feel like there's not much I can do!" She tells Ronnie of all the little things she and the grown-ups in her family can do to try to help, from changing to more efficient light-bulbs to driving less to recycling to trying to eat less meat to trying to support politicians and leaders "who want to help the environment by using clean energy and making corporations quit doing bad stuff." (Lernin doesn't say so, of course, but what Howard likely means here is Democrats; I mean, it would be great if Republicans also started giving a shit, but the last few decades of American history have shown that they don't, and, at this crisis point, it may actually be more effective to ignore Republicans and try to fix the world as a Democrats-and-independents-only coalition, hoping the GOP comes around at some point in the future, without planning on their doing so.)
I like the bit above, where Miss Lernin addresses Ronnie's understandable sense of hopelessness that her doing something small like planting a tree can't possibly make up for wide-scale deforestation.

"It can feel a little hopeless sometimes, but think about it this way," she starts.
They were going to tear down those trees anyway, whether you planted yours or not. 
So you've still made a difference. There's one more tree than there would have been in the world.

An if more people are doing the same, then there are many, many more trees than there would have been.
Just because there are a lot of people out there doing bad things doesn't mean that small good things don't matter.

Together, we could plant a forest.
Throughout this entire sequence, which accounts for the last 12 or 13 pages of the book (depending on how you want to count the last page, which mostly sets up a weird but effective call-back to one of this volume's running gags), Howard communicates complex information in a pretty simple, straightforward way, her panels sometimes serving as something between an illustration and a diagram. As serious as the subject matter gets—and the only thing more serious than extinction of so many animal species is the threat of the extinction of our own species—the comic remains funny, with Howard's gags serving as much-needed pressure valves.

While discussing how carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases affect the world, for example, Miss Lernin turns our attention to the sea, and Howard has various sea animals talking to one another about how badly things are going for them. In one panel, a polar bear says to himself, "Dang, where's all the ice? I need that stuff so I can hunt for seals," while a seal just off the coast sticks its head out of the water and laughs, "Heh heh!" In the next panel, though, the seal finds itself in a discussion of how climate change affects the ocean, and changes its tune: "Wait, I'm affected by this, too?!"

Throughout the discussion, humans and animals appear to offer their own two cents, or dramatize various arguments.

So a business man wearing a monocle might clench his fists and shout, "Curse you, hippies! I'm too old and rich to change my ways!" in a panel about how we already possess clean energy technology, we just need the political will to change to its wide-scale usage.

Or in a panel in which Miss Lernin mentions the virtues of recycling, we see a deer staring somewhat creepily through the kitchen window of a woman who is placing a can in a green recycling bin rather than the garbage can, and the deer says aloud, "Yo, thanks I appreciate that."
The penultimate page, above, gives the book a hopeful note to end on, and one that also happens to capture the amusingly seemingly-insane enthusiasm that Miss Lernin radiates throughout the trilogy. Oddly enough, the sequence echoes that of the Earth's brief climate crisis interlude in AstroNuts, in which Earth points out that it will be fine, it's a planet; it's just humanity or, perhaps, humanity enjoying life-as-we-now-know-it, that is in danger.

It's...not really that comforting, but then, trying to find the balance between getting everyone the proper amount of freaked-out about climate change, you know, freaked-out enough to actually do something about it, but not so freaked-out that they become paralyzed with fear and anxiety and hopelessness, well, that's not an easy balance to strike. I think Howard, like Scieszka and Weinberg, finds it though.

I'm glad these comics exist, and I'm glad that they are so good at achieving their primary objectives of providing entertaining, educational content to kids of all ages, while still finding room to so effectively explain the problem of the climate crisis and suggest solutions.

It's the kids in the target audience for these books, after all, who are going to inherit a world ravaged by the problems we failed to slow, curb or solve. And it's up to us grown-ups to do as much as we can to try and care for that inheritance. Who knows, maybe Miss Lernin is right, and we smart apes really will learn how not to destroy the world.

Personally, I think we already know how, and it's more a matter of enough people in enough positions of power to find the will to not destroy the world.

We'll see.


My interview with Ridley Pearson on Super Sons Book One: The PolarShield Project

My review of Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg's AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet

My interview with Abby Howard on Mammal Takeover and her Earth Before Us series