Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A Month of Wednesdays: March 2020


Daphne Byrne #3 (DC Comics) Writer aura Marks and artist Kelley Jones reach the half-way point of their Victorian horror series. I did not expect the twist on the last few pages, having assumed that particular group of sketchy characters was up to something much more mundane and, well, commonplace than what they are apparently actually up to, but now that I've seen it, it has certainly been foreshadowed.

The best random scary imagery in this issue? Probably all the scary faces peering out of the dark beneath the blanket on Daphne's bed when her mother straightens it, although the first two pages do show a gentleman with a fetus in a jar mere inches from his cup of coffee, and a close up of baby birds in a nest, stretching their bare heads up toward the sky, the angle and the context (and Jones' style) making even something as natural and precious as baby birds look slightly terrifying.

Robin 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 (DC) This was an all-around nice package, striking a balance between creators we don't see in Gotham City so much these days (Chuck Dixon, Devin Grayson,Tom Grummett, Damion Scott, Marv Wolfman) and the more current creators who have been chronicling the more recent adventures of the various Robins (Mikel Janin, Tom King, Robbie Thompson, Peter Tomasi, James Tynion IV), along with several others who don't necessarily belong to either category, or belong to both. Over 10 short stories and 100 pages, these creators follow the legacy of Robin from the night Dick Grayson quit to the current Teen Titans arc, in which Robbie Thompson has had Robin V Damian Wayne doing things that Batman definitely wouldn't like (that story even ends with a "To be continued in...") tag.

It's not perfect, and I'm not sure I agree with the particular focus given each character. For example, I thought it was advertised that The Dark Knight Returns' Carrie Kelley would be involved, although she just gets a Frank Miller-drawn pin-up, and I think a story starring Duke Thomas and friends from the short-lived We Are Robin would have been more valuable than a Grayson story by King, Janin and Tim Seeley. But no one asked me.

If anyone had asked me, I would have objected to the very first page of the comic, in which Mr. Zsasz is holding a priest at knife point when Robin Dick Grayson swings down and kicks him. Never mind the fact that Mr. Zsasz debuted in "The Last Arkham," the initial Shadow of The Bat story arc that guest-starred Dick Grayson as Nightwing (Tim Drake was Robin when Zsasz appeared, so this story is two Robins off). Writer Marv Woflman's script never calls Zsasz by his name, just has Dick referring to him as "the perp," but the guy has a pretty distinctive look, so maybe it was artist Tom Grummett's fault for deciding to make a generic knife-wielding maniac into Zsasz, but, whatever the case, Dave Wielgosz, Paul Kaminkski or Ben Abernathy should have noticed that. I mean, they're the professionals; I expect the well-compensated editors to know as much or more about their comics than I, a complete amateur, does.

One can't even use the continuity-is-unmoored excuse, because this is set in pre-Flashpoint continuity, as most of the book seems to be; Dick is wearing his original Robin costume, the one seen on the cover, not the Tim Drake-inspired one that was rectonned into Dick's costume after the New 52boot.

Continuity works...strangely, here. Of the ten stories, seven of them are set in pre-Flashpoint continuity, not only according to the little visual clues, like what Dick or Jason Todd's or Tim Drake's Robin costumes look like, but even in the very events they refer to, events that weren't supposed to have happened in the current continuity: The Gotham earthquake from "Cataclysm," the 1999 Devin Grayson-written Titans line- (my favorite line-up, for what it's worth, short-lived as it was) and Stephanie Brown's time as Robin.

Only the two Damian-starring stories and the Dick Grayson, Agent of Spyral stories are really in the current continuity, although, as we've noticed increasingly over the last few years, DC seems to have stopped enforcing the New 52 status quo, and continuity seems to be a binary choice between either pre-Flashpoint or post-Flashpoint, depending on the desires of the writers and artists. I imagine/hope whatever's the real continuity will be set in stone by the end of Dark Nights: Death Metal and/or Geoff Johns Presents Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen in Doomsday Clock, but I guess we'll see.

Anyway, here's what we've got under that striking cover...

•Marv Wolfman, Tom Grummett and Scott Hanna tell the story of Dick's last day as Robin, in which Batman is a colossal dick to Dick...and then reveals to the reader that he was only being a dick to give Dick the extra nudge he needed to leave the nest and become his own man.

•The original Nightwing team of Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel, the latter inked here by Rob Hunter, returns to a story set right after the earthquake, a story that even uses the old "Nightwing" and "Aftershocks" logos. It's a very short story, as these all are, in which Nighwing saves a couple of lives on his way into Gotham City to help out, but the last two panels are really great, and actually offer a revealing look at how Dick Grayson sees, or at least saw,  himself.

•Former Nightwing and Titans writer Devin Grayson teams with former Teen Titans writer/artist Dan Jurgens and finisher Norm Rapmund to tell a story set right on the heels of JLA/Titans, in which Nightwing, The Flash, Troia, Arsenal and Tempest decided to re-form the team. I suppose it's an unusual version of the Titans to devote a story to, rather than, say, the more iconic Wolfman and George Perez version, but it nicely gets the point across about what Dick's role as a team leader. I'd be lying if I said it didn't bug me how quickly Dick removes a full-body suit in this one, though (Don't get excited; he is wearing a full-body suit over another full-body suit).

•The Grayson team of King, Seeley and Janin reunite for a story from Dick's time as Agent 37. As always seemed to be the case, structurally, the story is rather impressive, with Dick flashing back to his time as Robin and what Batman's advice to him was at the time (Notably, he's wearing his original Robin costume during these flashbacks, not the New 52 Robin costume), and then telling his young pupil the exact opposite...his advice and Batman's not lining up until the very end of the story. It's a very solid story, but given that there was already 30 pages of Dick Grayson stories (and he'll reappear later in other Robin stories), I really kind of wish this space went to Duke Thomas, Carrie Kelly or even another Jason Todd story. I mean, I really dislike Jason Todd, but he just gets 10 pages of his own in this.

•Judd Winick, the writer who brought Jason Todd back from the dead as a Punisher-style vigilante version of The Red Hood (not long after Jeph Loeb's head-fake resurrection of Jason in "Hush"), writes that one Jason-focused story, drawn by Dustin Nguyen. Winick, a once constant presence at DC who now seems to be devoting himself to his actually quite good Hi-Lo series, tells a story set in the past, when Jason was Robin (and wearing his classic Robin costume, rather than the New 52 Todd costume, which we see briefly later in the Damian story "Bat and Mouse"), and the present. The two compliment each other nicely, and it's honestly a really great story.

•Adam Beechen and Freddie E. Williams tell a Tim Drake story, featuring Tim's "One Year Later" costume. It's an extremely simple, one-gag story, in which Tim meets with his school's new guidance counselor, who preposterously tells Tim he doesn't think his tied-for-valedictorian grades will be enough to get him a job in the law enforcement field, and he therefore should think of a back-up major (!!!). The counselor tries to encourage Tim to pick up some extra-curricular activities, causing Tim to imagine how he already does something similar to each suggestion as Robin. For example, the counselor mentions sports, and we see a panel of Tim flying kicking a punching bag so hard he knocks it off the chains in the Batcave. Although repetitive, it does give Williams the chance to draw Batman, Robin and a handful of other characters, including The Scarecrow, Two-Face, Deathstroke and some Titans.

•James Tynion and Javier Fernandez present a prequel of sorts to their Detective Comics run, during which time Tim Drake was still going by "Red Robin," but wearing the less terrible of his post-Flashpoint costumes (Oddly, the narration here implies that his pre-Flashpoint origin was operative, not his post-Flashpoint one, which as substantially different). The script is incredibly wordy, with what must be hundreds of words of narration on the first three pages, followed by Tim teaming up with Dick, Jason and Damian in turn, each offering them their own viewpoint on what Tim should do with his life at that particular point...while fighting generic bad guys, of course. It's fine, but felt off in a few points, like Damian referring to Dick as "Richard" instead of "Grayson."

•Former Batgirl artist Damion Scott is joined by writer Amy Wolfrman for a story starring Stephanie Brown, and, frankly, I'm glad (and a little relieved) that she was included in this, particularly since her time as Robin has been bumped out of continuity. Wolfram nicely portrays the dynamic between Bruce Wayne and Stephanie Brown, probably the Robin with the least in common with him and therefore, in many ways, the most interesting Robin to pair him with (It's actually kind of too bad we don't get more stories from this relatively brief period of Bat-history). The story mostly focuses on her difficulties fitting in as Tim's replacement, from how badly his old costume fits her, giving her wedgies and busting a seam when she does a flip, and, at its conclusion, Batman gets her her own changing room portion of the Batcave. They do fight a villain too, Firefly, and she disobeys Batman's order and gets totally captured at one point, but redeems herself immediately afterwards by escaping on her own and taking down the bad guy. Like I said, their dynamic is interesting enough that it was fun to see it explored a bit more, and, as a big fan of Scott's work, it's always a pleasure to see it, especially, in this case, because his work has evolved so much from the last time he was drawing Stephanie Brown.

•The first of the two Damian Wayne starring stories is actually a "Super Sons" story, by the former Super Sons team of Peter J. Tomasi and Jorge Jimenez. In it, Jon Kent has to write an essay about his best friend, and so the story is mostly a montage of the pair, narrated by Jon's essay, and readers see how his words contrast with reality at several points, while lining up with them at others. It's a fun story that makes me a bit bummed that the two seem to have been separated by Brian Michael Bendis having artificially aged Jon and, I believe, sent him into the future to co-star in his Legion of Super-Heroes revival...?

•The final story is drawn by Ramon Villalobos, whose work is just Frank Quitely-ish enough to be perfect for the Dynamic Duo. The plot is basically the World's Greatest Detective circling his son, who he knows is up to something, which Damian's narration reveals as something that reminded me both of Identity Crisis (yikes!) and Marvel's Standoff, neither of which I was particularly enamored with. The story does play up the loss of Alfred, too, and I wonder if the lack of Alfred in Damian's life is going to be a factor in his pretty poor decision-making regarding the best way to fight super-crime.

Each Robin's section of the book is set-off by a reprint of a particularly iconic cover featuring them, Jim Lee's cover to All-Star Batman and Robin #9, Matt Wagner's cover to Batman #638, Grummett's cover to Robin #1, Scott's cover to Robin #126 and Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray's cover to Batman and Robin #22 (Wagner's seems to not match the others, as it's the only one showing the particular Robin as a different character; that was the cover of the new Red Hood unmasking, to reveal that it was Jason underneath. All the others feature the characters as Robin).

Interspersed throughout are pin-ups by Kenneth Rocafort, Nicola Scott, Andy Kubert and the aforementioned Miller one.

Quibblesand fluctuations in quality from story to story asideI had a lot of fun reading this, and it seems like a decent primer on the history of the five Robins, so it's probably a good place for a Robin-curious reader to start. If you like any of these characters or takes, chances are there are a handful of trade paperbacksor maybe a dozenstarring that particular Robin.

Sub-Mariner: Marvels Snapshots #1 (Marvel Entertainment) I don't quite understand how the Marvels Snapshots series of one-shots relates to Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross' seminal 1994 series Marvels, but it must, as Ross is handling the covers, and Busiek gets the unusual credit of "curator." Additionally, both the title and other design elements (the shutter eye of the logo, the film motif on the credits page), are suggestive of photography, and Marvels' point-of-view character was a photographer, but that character doesn't appear in any capacity, nor does there seem to be anything in here that points to a greater story stretching beyond the limits of these pages.

And that's fine. All I personally needed to understand about the project was that 1) It stars Namor, 2) It is set in Marvel's retroactively created Golden Age, an era I am particularly fascinated with (and besides, Golde Age Namor is the best Namor), and, finally, 3) This is drawn by Jerry Ordway, a truly incredible and (I think) criminally underrated artist.

The 30-page story, written by Alan Brennert, really stars Betty Dean, Namor's human friend and sorta love interest, and it is set in spring of 1946. Betty's three brothers are all back from the war, alive, although one of them lost a leg and the other has a bad case of "combat fatigue, or shell shock, whatever it's called". She has a date with Namor, taking him to a nearby amusement park that he "didn't try to destroy" in the past.

Betty narrates, and it's honestly really intriguing seeing Namor through her eyes, as he is at turns cold and alien, warm and caring, mischievous and playful, and he shifts between these modes every few panels, which causes her to reflect on their unusual relationship. It's also fun to see Namor in casual clothes. Ordway's version of the character finds the perfect balance between making Namor look strange and attractive at once; he's clearly not quite human, but he's also noble, handsome and even sexy; outwardly, he looks just how Betty feels about his personality.

Part of his distance, at least in this particular instance, is that he keeps thinking back to the various traumatic events he saw during the war. And this being a superhero comic, there is war in here, too, or at least a battle. Wouldn't you know a former Nazi villain Verrill Shark shows up to rob the ticket booths, wearing a beautifully designed metal battle suit that Ordway makes look surprisingly era appropriate.

Namor's knuckles tear the outer layer of the armor off, revealing a swastika beneath the shark sigil on its breastplate, and Namor snaps. The ensuing fight endangers the park full of civilians, so Betty calls in The All-Winners Squad (The Human Torch, Captain America, Bucky, Toro, Miss America and The Whizzer). They have to save the civilians, pull Subby off The Shark and, eventually, help Namor and Betty deal with their own combat fatigue/shell shock.

It's really pretty powerful stuff, serious enough that when there are a few panels depicting images from a concentration camp, they are used with the proper amount of gravity, rather than seeming exploitative. It's dicey ground for a superhero comic book story to navigate, but I think Brennert and Ordway pull it off.

As complete a story as it is, as great a portrait of the complexity of Namor and his mercurial role in what became the Marvel Universe's World War II era, I turned the last page and found myself wishing there was more. I mean, I know that there is more, there's a last-page reading simply "NEXT" above a painting of a Human Torch (presumably the original, Golden Age Torch, since there was already a Fantastic Four one-shot in the series, but I'm not sure). But that's going to feature different creators, in addition to featuring a portrait of a different character. I'd kind of like to see Ordway draw more of these characters in this setting, and read more stories like this. I can't really see Marvel adding an All-Winners Squad or Invaders series set in the Golden Age to their schedule, but I'll be damned if this issue doesn't make an extremely compelling argument for one.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #104 (IDW Publishing) Guys, reading serially-produced comic book-comics is hard, and it seems like it's gotten much, much harder in the last few years. I can very easily see a day, not too far off, where I eschew them completely in favor of trades. I'm almost there, really. I added this series to my pull-list because I'm such a fan of creator Sophie Campbell's, and such a fan of Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and wanted to support this dream match of creator and characters, but the whole system of how publishers get individual comics into the hands of consumers these days? It's a huge pain in the ass and it would, honestly, be so much easier to just buy a trade paperback collection every 3-6 months.

This month's case in point: I haven't yet read #103. The week it came out, my shop informed me that all of the copies had arrived badly damaged, so they were going to have to wait for replacement copies. In the meantime, the next issue arrived, but we're still waiting on un-damaged #103...and now Diamond has stopped shipping, which is fine, because the shops are all closed or mostly-closed anyway.

The end result? I missed the third issue of this Campbell's four-issue deep run on the title. I opened this issue to find Hob kneeling in front of Sally Pride, Jennika and this new version of Mona Lisa, wiping blood from his face and saying "The Mutanimals are over when I say they're over, Pride."

So I guess I missed the climax of the fight against The Mutanimals last issue.

In a testament to Campbell's comics-making skills though, after that abrupt resolution to a conflict that was still ongoing when last I read, this issue reads quite well on it's own. If I started on, say, page four, this reads like something of a standalone story.

This issue resolves the schism that occurred between the Turtles after Splinter's death, and Campbell does it quite effectively, and in a way that seems true to the characters. Raphael, who left his brothers to be on his own in Mutant Town again, hides in an alley from Donatello, Jennika and friends, until Alopex, Donnie and Jenny all come to him one at a time and more-or-less force him to acknowledge them.

There's a really nice sequence where Donatello sits next to his brother silently, and then Raphael looks away, awkwardly leans over and embraces him, and they seem to resolve their issues more or less wordlessly (though words follow; just not too many, and few of them from Raph).
They all go to Northampton and the fournow fiveTurtles are all reunited, and decide on what they are going to do to honor Splinter: Set up a dojo in the ruined Mutant Town, where they can watch out for the people there like Raphael and Jennika have been doing, and also teach and train them to protect themselves, as well as other skills. It's a great next step for the characters and, like the whole concept of Mutant Town, is something new that for these characters who have been around for over 35 years now.

Speaking of which, they go to their first concert with Jennika at Kennel Klub (The name of one of the bands playing? After The Bomb).

I know there's more to come, once the comics industry restarts, but,  at least from the 3/4ths of it that I have read, this is actually a really great story, and Campbell's run very well could end, and do so satisfyingly, on the last page of this issue.

But let's hope not! Hopefully she can stay on the title until it hits, oh, #200.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Jennika #1 (IDW) This ended up in my pull by accident; apparently when I added IDW's main TMNT series to my pull-list, the shop decided to throw in all IDW TMNT comics. Since the shop is currently closed to customers, and I therefore paid for my last batch of new comics over the phone with a credit card and picked my books up curbside, I decided to keep it (And local comics shops can probably use every extra sale they can get at the moment, I suppose). So this was the first of two accidental TMNT purchases. But it's fine. The reason I returned to IDW's TMNT book was, as I just said above, that  I'm such a fan of Sophie Campbell's work, but I'm certainly at least curious about the other stuff.

This is the first issue of what I assume is a miniseries starring the new, female "fifth" Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle who, unlike the original four, was a human who was mutated into a turtle/human hybrid, rather than a turtle who mutated into one (There's also reincarnation involved in the IDW TMNT's origin, but let's not get into that here).

This issue, written, drawn and lettered by Brahm Revel, spins directly out of the new status quo of this volume of TMNT, in which a mutagen bomb transformed a whole neighborhood of New York City into a "Mutant Town," with a wall separating it from the rest of the city, where the regular, non-mutated human beings live. Jennika serves as something of a neighborhood watch ninja, attempting to keep the well as keeping humans out and mutants in.

Revel's story opens with a rabbit mutant making a break for it over the wall, and Jennika going to retrieve him. There she runs into the Purple Dragons, who are apparently now being lead by Casey Jones and are now a force of good (I was wondering why we hadn't seen Casey in Campbell's TMNT yet). Through the rabbit, Jennika winds up at "Kennel Klub," a new mutant music venue (that's where she takes her brothers in TMNT #104), and there she meets someone from her human past, who is now a mutant too and says he has a lead on a possible cure.

I only know of Jennika's origins from what I've read online, but apparently she has a criminal past with this guy, and seems to have been romantically involved with Casey at some point in the past, so, in this issue, she runs into two exes on the same night, and finds herself flashing back quite a bit to her pre-mutant past.

Revel's version of Mutant Town seems a lot more...functional than the more post-apocalyptic, refugee campe-esque version seen in Campbell's comic; here, it just seems like your average big city, only with animal people instead of people-people. The art style too is very different than Campbell's, but I rather quickly took to Revel's Jennika, who is leaner than many artists draw the Turtles, and Revel gets an awful lot of personality into the faces of the various mutant characters. There's a dynamic, almost hurried look to the art, a sort of non-fussiness that gives it a somewhat urgent energy. I quite liked the coloring too, which features a lot of pinks...especially in the club scenes, which are all pink blue and black.

The 20-page story is followed by a four-page back-up story by Ronda Pattison and Jodi Nishijima, which I suppose is there to justify the absurdly high $4.99 price tag, but doesn't really; an extra dollar for four extra pages doesn't really seem worth it to me.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends #22 (IDW) This is the other TMNT comic that I accidentally bought.

 I had completely ignored Image Comics' 1993-1995 volume 3 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it was coming out, but once IDW announced they would be reprinting and continuing it, I found myself actually kind of looking forward to a collection of it.

With this issue, it seems IDW has run out of reprints of the Image series, so I assume the next one will be the first original one? The creators were writer Gary Carlson and artists Frank Fosco and Mark Heike (with Image's Erik Larsen, who was the original editor of these comics, working with Fosco on the covers). I didn't know Carlson or Fosco's work back then, and I don't recognize their names from anything since, either.

I was a little surprised to see how much Fosco's Turtles resembled A.C.Farley's designs for them, and even his Splinter looks somewhat Farley-esque to me. I expected to be pretty lost, as the covers for the Image series alone were enough to convey that radical changes to the basic Turtles story were enacted at a quick clip.

In this volume, for example, Leonardo has lost his left hand, and been given a bionic prosthetic replacement for it by Donatello, who is now a cyborg. Rapahel has lost one eye, and is apparently vying for leadership of the New York City branch of the Foot Clan; in fact, much of this issue is devoted to a battle between Raphael and The Shredder's daughter to determine who will lead it (The daughter isn't Karai, but someone named Pimiko, whose butt I recognized from an old Image cover).
Michaelangelo, meanwhile, has a girlfriend, who is a spiny lizard woman and who apparently knows some superhero...I think this is set in Larsen's wider Savage Dragon universe, but I don't rightly recall now (I do remember buying at least one issue of his Savage Dragon ongoing because it had one more more of the TMNT in it).

Mikey says he's living in an apartment beneath April and Casey Jones, who appear with a young girl at one point in this issue, which made me curious if this was meant to be set after Mirage's second volume of TMNT or not.

So, I don't know. I have the same basic interest in this as I do the Archie Comics series. I do hope to catch up with it someday, preferably in trade, though.


Black Canary: Ignite (DC Comics) Prose writer Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries, was another great get for DC's increasingly strong line of original graphic novels for young readers, and, better still, she does a particularly good job of scripting here. I don't know how much work the editors are doing with these new-to-comics writers, but it's been extremely impressive how few of these ogns feel like they are written by comics novices; often times, when someone experienced in writing for another medium writes their first comic, it's obvious that they are struggling to learn on the job a bit, but that's not the case here...nor have I noticed it in most of the other of these books I've read (I wonder too if perhaps it has something to do with the various prose novelists writing a graphic novel, which shares the basic shape and rhythm of a prose novel, rather than writing a serially-published comic book, which has its various stops and starts and space limitations...? I don't know, but whatever DC's doing behind the scenes on these things, it's working quite well.)

Cabot and artist Cara McGee present us with a 13-year-old Dinah Lance who, in the course of this book becomes Black Canary, and, somewhat remarkably, they get a lot of different takes on the 73-year-old comic character from various media blended into a single coherent story.

Their Dinah will technically become the second Black Canary, as this version is the daughter of the original Black Canary, who has long since retired and become a florist (The name of her shop? You guessed itSherwood Florist), and Detective Larry Lance (here a police detective on the Gotham City Police Department). She has sonic canary cry powers, is trained by her mom's old ally Ted Grant, aka Wildcat (he's also the gym teacher at her school) and she's in a band. There's no Green Arrow in it...unless you count the name of a rival band in her school's battle of the bands.

It's a pretty effective remix of different incarnations of the character, smooshed together and smoothed out to make her an appropriate protagonist for a kids comic.

It's basically a fairly classic young person discovering the secret of how special they are sort of story, as when we first meet Dinah she and her two best friends are playing in a nascent garage band and trying to figure out what to be when they grow up; Dinah has her heart set on a career in law enforcement, which her father disagrees with.

Things start to change when she causes things around school to break when she raises her voice, although she's not sure how exactly she's doing itshe and her friends think she may be telekinetic. Soon she discovers that she inherited her mother's super-power and learns of her mom's old superhero identity, which she gave up when she became pregnant with Dinah. While she starts to train to control her voice and learn how to fight, a villain from her parents' past shows up, seeking revenge.

Catboy (Silver Sprocket) I'm not entirely sure how I came across this book on the library catalog, but I imagine it was algorithim-related, as it is from the same publisher as Nicole Groux and Dave Baker's Fuck Off Squad (see below). This 2017 book from Benji Nate is simplicity itself, but extremely strong. It's the story of Olive, a young art school barista, and her cat Henry. The first few panels on the very first page reveals the premise:
After her wish comes true and Henry becomes a humanoid cat, he becomes Olive's best friend and roommate...which he was before, too, but now they can have conversations, disagreements and clashing points of view on just about everything. Each of the chapters in the book are distinct short story, five pages in length, in which Olive attempts to introduce Henry to the elements of the human world (going out to bars to try and make friends, eating pizza, the giving of gifts, getting a job, etc), and Henry's cat brain struggles to make sense of various everyday rituals and mores. There's an obvious fish-out-of-water element to the comedy, but it's a very specific kind of fish, as Henry approaches things like a cat, and while he's able to adjust to many things, there are others he can't do so easily (like sleeping side-by-side with Olive, rather than on top of her, or taking a shower instead of licking himself).

Perhaps the funniest gags though are how blase the rest of the world is to the fact that Olive's new friend is a giant house cat-man ("You've gotten bigger since the last time I saw you," the vet says when seeing Henry for a bad cough), and how Henry excels at many of the "human" things Olive struggles with, as when he immediately befriends her frenemy, or when he goes to a life-drawing class with her and ends up drawing great the first time he tries.
Benji's art has a stripped-down, simplified, flattened abstraction to it, and her human characters reminded me a bit of Andi Watson's art. Benji's great at fashion, too; each chapter starts with a cool splash page of the pair together, in the outfits they will wear in the following story.

Like I said, I'm not entirely sure how I stumbled across this book, but I'm really glad I did. If you too managed to miss it when it came out a few years ago, I'd highly recommend seeking it out now.

Dial H For Hero Vol. 1: Enter The Heroverse (DC) I'm assuming you've already hear a lot of great things about this comic. Well good news: They're all true.

"Dial H For Hero" began as a serial feature by Dave Wood and Jim Mooney in a 1966 issue of House of Mystery, and the concept, was pretty terrific: Young boy Robby Reed discovers a mysterious dial of alien origin in a cavern, and finds that when he turns the dial to spell H-E-R-O, he is temporarily transformed into a brand-new superhero never seen before (with the exception of Plastic Man, for some reason; maybe Mooney just really wanted to draw Plas?). DC collected these comics in their 2010 Showcase Presents: Dial H For Hero trade paperback, and it's well worth snapping up the out-of-print book if you can find it somewhere (Actually, same goes for almost any volume of Showcase Presents); that original feature was a blast, and the basic concept is one of the stronger ones with the most potential of any developed in DC's eight decades of trying out crazy ideas for superhero comics.

I was extremely curious about writer Sam Humphries and artist Joe Quinones take for the latest series, but I also had a little trepidation. The creators had pretty impeccable track records as far as I was concerned, but the last few attempts at a revival didn't really work for me (I missed the 1980s one, but sure wouldn't mind reading a trade collection of it), and the concept very much lends itself to meta-commentary on genre, which can certainly be done well, but is also something of a temptation for pretentiousness, I think. Additionally there was the simple fact that, well, this was published under the banner of Brian Michael Bendis' "Wonder Comics" imprint, of which I had read two previous collections, on of which was very good (Young Justice) and one of which was rather bad (Naomi).

My concerns were unfounded, even if one of the earliest jokes landed with a thud for me (the food truck that protagonist Miguel Montez works in). Among the stranger aspects of doing a Dial H book in the year 2020 is that phone dials don't...exist anymore, and there's a generation of people who have likely never used a rotary dial. Humphries and Quinones embrace the dated, almost-antique nature of the technology to, and link it pretty directly to DC superheroes, including attaching the dial to a bright red luminescent phone suggestive of the one Commissioner Gordon used to call Batman on, and even adding a phone booth, like the one that was so important in transforming Clark Kent into his superheroic identity, back when there were still phone booths.

In fact, Miguel and this story are linked pretty directly to the ur-superhero, Superman himself; Miguel once met Superman, when the Man of Steel noticed him bang his head as a child on a diving board and then flew him to a hospital. Miguel then became something of a daredevil, attempting to recapture the high of being flown by Superman...although his relationship with the hero is sort of complicated. He talks to him in his head all the time, though, each issue/chapter's narration beginning with the words "Dear Superman."

Miguel is actually in the middle of dying during an ill-advised stunt when the red phone appears next to him, a voice from the receiver telling him to dial H, at which point he makes his first transformation, into "a champion never seen before-- and perhaps never seen again!" This first one is Monster Truck, a Rob Liefeld-like style superman with Kirby-like costume details and automotive elements. See, one of the many neat things about this take on the H-Dial is that the heroes it summons all tend to be ones drawn to suggest the work of different artists, styles, eras and publishers.

Other heroes that Miguel, his friend/partner-in-crime Summer and other characters transform into include "Jobu, The Zonkey King," who has more than a passing resemblance to Akira Toriyama's original Dragonball-era Goku (and the coloring and style of the comic briefly transform to suggest old-school manga for a few pages), manga-style giant robot Iron Deadhead, Mike Allred-style Lo Lo Kick You (a mish-mash of Tank Girl, Allred's Red Rocket 7 and his millennial X-Force/X-Statix designs), a Vertigo-style Bluebird of Happiness and on and on.

Miguel and Summer take the dial (and Miguel's uncle's food truck) and head towards Metropolis, in the hopes of turning it over to Superman, as people are coming out of the woodwork trying to steal the dial from him: These are members of The Thunderbolt Club, people who have used the dial once before and, now that it's been reactivated, long to use it once more. They are organized by a Mr. Thunderbolt into a secret army in pursuit of Miguel. Thunderbolt's opposite number is The Operator, whose voice originally emanated from the receiver and told Miguel to dial it.

As our heroes get closer to Metropolis, more and more and weirder and weirder heroes emerge. By the last few issues, Miguel, The Operator and Mr. Thunderbolt are running through DC Comics history, the panels filled with recreations of classic scenes of DC heroes' origins. And, at the climax, all of Metropolis seems to have been filled with new heroes, each of whom seems to be a hybrid of extant heroes and styles (One looks like Scott Pilgrim's Ramona crossed with Sonic the Hedgehog and wearing the tanuki ears and tail from Super Mario Bros. 3, for example, and within that panel we also see and Adam Hughes-style Wonder Woman/Promethea type, a Simpsons-style character, an funny animal character, a Black Cat/Sailor Moon mash-up and a handful of other characters). The entire style of the book becomes one of fast-paced sampling, with pages homaging the work of Frank Miller, Daniel Clowes, Bruce Timm and Alex Ross smashing into one another, while characters drawn in the style of Kevin Maguire, Jaime Hernandez, Dave Stevens, Mark Schultz and Frank Quitely look on.

Part of the fun is recognizing everything the creators throw in, but there's still a part of my brain that wants to know more about the process; when the series ends (I believe it was originally meant to be a six-issue miniseries, but then was expanded to a 12-issue one), it would be great if DC collected it into some over-sized, deluxe hardcover, and featured annotations of the many characters who pop up, and which creators or comics they were inspired by. As is, this reads a lot like comics history in a a good way, of course.

Two intriguing bits for me, beyond the explanations of what the H-Dial is and how it works, and of course, what happens on the last pages, setting up the next arc, are the characters shown reacting to the re-activation of the H-Dial, and what Miguel and Summer find in Detroit.

Apparently, when the H-Dial is used, anyone who has used it before can feel it, and a little "4" and the letters that accompany it on a phone dial (G, H and I) appear on their foreheads. We're shown Robin Tim Drake (I think; it might have been Damian), Lobo, Snapper Car, Angel and The Ape, Harley Quinn and Alfred Pennyworth. You're damn straight I'm excited to hear that at some point in the past, Alfred Pennyworth temporarily turned into a superhero by using the H-Dial, and hell yes I want to read that comic some day.

The other is one of those irritating things, though. On their way to Metropolis, Miguel and Summer stop at the old Justice League headquarters there (please note that there was no Justice League based in Detroit in current continuity), where they find Snapper Carr (is this his first post-Flashpoint appearance?), who serves as caretaker; there are also robots of various Justice Leaguers who were only on kinda-sorta Leagues (Booster Gold, Fire and Ice were on the short-lived, UN-sanctioned Justice League International, Vibe was on the even-shorter-lived U.S. government-sanctioned Justice League of America),but those robots are wearing their 1980s costumes, which didn't exist in this continuity. Black Canary and Elongated Man, who were never on any Justice Leagues, also appear, wearing costumes that also never existed, and in a display case are some Golden Age costumes.

This is supposed to be canonical, so I don't know what the fuck is up with this scene. It appears to be one of the many, many, many instances where in DC's creators and editors have collectively decided to pretend Flashpoint and The New 52 never happened, which I would be fine with if, like, DC could maybe all get on the same page and figure out what the fuck is going on. Apparently Scott Snyder is going to be the one to straighten it all out in Death Metal, but, "What the fuck's going on with continuity?" also seems to be a sub-plot in Geoff Johns' Watchmen II: Fuck Alan Moore limited series and in the previously mentioned Wonder Comics series Young Justice so...I don't know. Or care. I just wish they would pick a continuity/history/cosmology and stick with it, so scenes like this one can be fun, rather than annoying.

Shared-setting universes only work when there's some level of agreement between the various creators, caretakers and the audience as to what that shared-setting universe actually shares.

Fuck Off Squad (Silver Sprocket Comics) I so enjoyed artist Nicole Goux's work on Shadow of The Batgirl that I sought out more and found this blast of a book, a collaboration between Goux and writer Dave Baker about three young skater friends and their messy love lives. Vanessa "Jimmy" Trujillo just got dumped by her long-time girlfriend...although they continue sleeping together in secret, relationship or no. Megan Tran is the bassist in semi-famous band Teenage Switchblade, and madly in love with her band's lead singer, who is straight. Clark Hobbs is somehow kinda sorta dating a girl who lives far away and who he only knows through Instagram, but meets another, physically present girl in real life that might have some more potential.

They skate, go to shows, hang out, have dates and hook up and...that's it, really. It all builds to a moral-like punctuation that anyone who has ever been in a relationship can probably relate to and no one can really argue with. I would have fucking loved this book had it existed in college, and I kind of regret that it didn't.

Goux's art is recognizably that of the artist of Shadow of..., but her work here looks a bit less stylized and more representational, appropriately so, given that this is very much not a kids comic, if the title wasn't clue enough (So yeah, another great comic from the great comics artist of the pretty great Shadow of The Batgirl, but for a completely different target audience.)

While the cover is full-color, the insides are black and white...well, actually, they're pink and white. And black. That, along with the skating, reminded me a bit of Jim Rugg's pre-Image Street Angel comics, and it gives the book an interesting feel, although my old man eyes found a late-in-the book sequence in which Meg discusses her band's future over text almost impossible to read. Baker does a neat thing with labeling that reminded me a bit of the Scott Pilgrim series, although his introduction go far beyond the three or four labels Bran Lee O'Malley would apply to characters upon their introduction and reintroduction. The very first panel, for example, has no fewer than 15 different labels attached to Jimmy, and none of them are necessarily important, but they do add texture throughout the story, and can serve to define a character through atomized trivia about them, as well as serving as running gags, like Meg's desire to be home watching various Hellraiser sequels rather than engaged in the action of the story.
Another particularly strong sequence comes when Clark is on a date with a girl, and he's driving her along the coast, and the pages is filled with tiny little panels, each showing a close-up of aspect of the two characters as they presumably steal glances at one another, and then the page is followed by a two-page splash of Clark looking at her as she looks out the window, and then that is followed by a two-page splash focusing on her lips.

It's a bravura sequence, in a comic with lots of interesting sequences.

Harley Quinn and the Gotham Girls (DC Comics) We almost certainly have the release of the Birds of Prey movie to thank for this trade paperback collection of the semi-forgotten 2002 miniseries, as is evident in its new title and the prominence of Harley Quinn on the cover. It was originally published as simply Gotham Girls, and, were it a movie, Harley probably would have been the last-billed member of the cast, being the fifth of the five characters introduced, and playing a relatively minor role compared to her co-stars. (In addition to sharing two members of its cast, Harley and Renee Montoya, with the Birds of Prey movie, this series has another, more direct connection to the film; remember the animated opening sequence? Concept and design work on it came courtesy of Shane Glines, who is also responsible for four of the five covers on this series.)

So Gotham Girls was a five-issue comic book miniseries based on the 2000-2002 online Flash animated series by the same name (which I never watched), itself a spin-off of Batman: The Animated Series featuring the female characters from the show, voiced by the same voice actresses (and using their later, secondary character designs). It was written by Paul D. Storrie, mostly penciled by Jennifer Graves (Brad Rader and Rick Burchett did some lay-outs) and inked by J. Bone.

The story is deliberately simple fare. Catwoman steals a special formula for an unknown client. Batirl attempts to stop the robbery. Catwoman's client turns out to be Poison Ivy, who tries to take it without paying for it, with the help of her henchwoman Harley Quinn. Meanwhile, Detective Renee Montoya is taking the lead on the case. Set over the course of a singlenight, the story mostly consists of an action-packed series of chases and fights all over Gotham, as the formula repeatedly changes hands and alliances between the players shift slightly, depending on the moment and motivation.

Storrie spends each issue focused on a different character, using the narration boxes to explain bits of their origins and characters and how they play into this particular story. It's actually a pretty great introduction to all five characters, a sort of primer to them...or at least the Animated Series versions of them, which, for the most part, don't vary too much from other versions.

Despite the all-female castBatman, Nighwing and Robin Tim Drake all show up on the penultimate page to congratulate Batgirl, with Robin noting that they had spent the night chasing Man-Bat halfway to Metropolisand Graves' participation, I'm not sure that this is necessarily the most empowering of comics featuring these women. It certainly passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test, but it's worth noting that the women, because they are based on the series' limited designs, all have the exact same Bruce Timm-designed, petite, wasp-waisted, hourglass figures, and are really only distinguishable by their hair and clothes. They spend a lot of time in catfights, naturally, and there are at least a coup of references that I was honestly a little surprised to find in a comic based on a cartoon (or a comic based on a cartoon based on another cartoon based on comics, I suppose), like so:
Although, hell, maybe she just kissed him a couple of times...? Still, there's the implication that maybe Harley's not as smart as she's supposed to be, which is actually something that comes up a few times in this, as she is pretty regularly underestimated for being less intelligent than she is based on her terrible taste in (mad)men, or her accent, or her cartoon character schtick.
And if the art itself doesn't leer at the characters all that much, it does show us other characters leering at them, like this guy in line behind a plain clothes Harley in the coffee shop.

Still, because it is so stylized, there's a playfulness to the book's sexiness, and what cheesecake there is can feel downright classy when one considers what one might find in other super-books being published at the exact same time. Like, there's nothing as over the top and out of place in here as one might find in, say, your average issue of Ed Benes' Justice League of America.

I really enjoyed re-reading this, and I liked it more in this formnew title asidethan I did when I had first read it over the course of five nights. The limited time frame of the story better lends itself to a one-sitting reading, where it happens more-or-less in real-time, as opposed to at the original 22-pages-a-month rate.

Also, I am a big fan of Graves (even if she's doing a Timm impression throughout), Burchett and Bone, and I like many of these character designs better than what these particular Gotham Girls usually wear (this is definitely the best Harley Quinn costume, for example. I think the Miss Fury-inspired Catwoman costume is my favorite of her many, and almost perfect, lacking only a tail, and this is probably my second-favorite Ivy design, right behind Tim Sale's scary, horror movie-version from Ghosts).

InvestiGators (First Second Books) The InvestiGators are a pair of crime-fighting alligators who work for S.U.I.T. (Special Undercover Investigation Teams), who supplies them with their V.E.S.T.s (Very Exciting Spy Technology), which are actual vests with special functions...and sometimes other forms of very exciting spy technology, like a fake mustache. Their names are Mango and Brash, and I swear it was a good two hours after I finished reading their first book that I realized those names rhyme with the names of the Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell's characters in Tango & Cash. In my defense, Mango and Brash are really good names for a pair of crime-fighting alligators.

This book, the first in a series from John Patrick Green, felt like it had a Dav Pilkey-like energy to me, although Green's very simple artwork felt like it had a great deal more polish to it than some of Pilkey's books, perhaps because Pilkey often draws as if he were drawing a comic or story created by children, not just for children. And InvestiGators is a book for children, but it's so silly that it can be easily appreciated by readers of any age, as long as said reader has a particular sense of humor.

How silly is it? Well, at one point, an injured scientist from The Science Factory is rushed to the hospital and prepped for brain surgery, which is to be performed by Doctor Jake Hardbones. Just as one of his nurses compliments on how easily he was able to chop off the top of the scientists skull with a scalpel ("They should call you... ...the CHOPPER!"), he goes into a nine-page flashback which riffs on An American Werewolf in London, as he recalls the time he went backpacking over the Scottish Highlands to celebrate his graduation from Brain Surgery School, and he learned of a rabid news helicopter that roams the moors, a rabid news helicopter that attaced him. A crazed peasant managed to drive the copter off, but not before it's curse was passed on. "Now, whenever there is news, you will be forced to transform into a news copter to report on it," the local informs the doctor.

And Hardbones, AKA "Doctor Copter," is just one relatively minor character, present only to set up some surgery gags and pass along a piece of evidence to the 'Gators, a piece of evidence he gathered while in the form of a news copter, but...passes in his human form.

The 'Gators' mission is to go undercover at a bakery where the famous mustachioed chef, the one who looks like the guy on all the pizza boxes, has gone missing. The case ends up involving a kidnapping, the theft of the bakery's medium oven, super-dough, a half-crocodile/half-saltine named Crackerdile, a triceratops escape artist named Houdino, a giant cake, an explosion at the science factory, a money-stealing device named The Thingamasteve and, of course, for a few brief scenes, a brain surgeon who is also a were-news helicopter.

So yeah, it's silly. Beyond the wild plotting, Green engages in a lot of old-school, Vaudeville-by-way-of-Looney Tunes humor, much of it verbal. A surprisingly long section is devoted to the 'Gators visiting S.U.I.T.'s underground HQ, which they get to by flushing themselves down a toilet, where they acquire new V.E.S.T. vests, meet the agents who supply them with tech, give readers a tour of the base, and have a meeting with the Inspector General, a man with a metal nose. It seems like an awful lot of time to spend on something not terribly important to the plotindeed, the Inspector General himself briefs them, "Approximately eighteen pages ago, an explosion rocked the Science Factory down on Electric Avenue. GOOD GOLLY, eighteen pages! Has it really been that long?"but all the attention spent on the S.U.I.T. infrastructure will make more sense when a reader reaches the end, and sees that the next two InvestiGators books, Plum and Plumber and If Hooks Could Thrill, are already advertised as "Coming Soon."

I guess it's no surprise. Green's InvestiGators has "successful series" written all over it. (Figuratively, not literally.)

Mystery Club (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) This European import came out last year, but flew completely under my radar; I just happened to stumble upon it in the library one day, and I liked the cover...or at least the top part of the cover, with a mummy reading a newspaper.

The titular club was originally called The London Mystery Club, as the title page says the two stories collected herein"Wild Werewolves" and "Mummy Mischief"were originally published in Europe as London Mystery Club-Le loup-garou de Hyde Park and London Mystery Cluv-Une momie dans le metro. The club starts as a collaboration between kid blogger Kyle, who is interested in monsters and dreams of one day taking a photograph of one to become famous, and his classmate, Zoey. While they are chatting in the library, they are approached by a man who tells them his name is Lon Chaney, and that he believes he has recently turned into a werewolf. I'm not sure how old the kids are meant to be, but apparently not old enough to have ever hard of Lon Chaney...nor do they seem to google the name at all, which is a little weird.

Kyle sets out to solve the mystery of the werewolf, and Zoey joins him because, as she says, "Heroes always need the help of a smart and witty girl!" They discover a rash of werewolf sightings, and go through the process of trying to figure out what all six men who claim to have transformed into wolves have in common. Even when they do, it takes some sleuthing to figure out exactly how and why they are turning into werewolves (No werewolves ever appear on-panel though, save for one that appears in a thought bubble hovering over the head of "Lon Chaney.")

As they reach the end of the mystery, they pick up two more members: Ashley, a green-haired classmate who is interested in aliens and who gives them an important, hair-related clue, and Tyler, a skateboarder who shares Kyle's interest in monsters. The solution to this case is actually pretty amusing, I thought, but the fact that they develop an enemy who nevertheless helps them seemed kind of random, and I couldn't make sense of it in the plot.

The second case, the one involving the mummies, is odd in that it is so different from the first. While the werewolves weren't really werewolves, or, at least, not what we think of when we think of werewolves, and they were more or less innocent people who accidentally triggered the scare, the mummies are real, live (well, undead) mummies, that get up, walk around and also appear on-panel. A lot. The Mystery Club's new foe plays a more prominent role in this story, too; again, the logic of that part of the plotting escaped me.

I liked artist Yannick Robert's art quite a bit. While it's difficult to tell how old the kids are supposed to be from it, it's bright and bold, the adults are generally exaggeratedly cartoonylike, if this were a film, it would star four kids and 100 character actors in every other role, even just that of passerbyand he draws great mummies. Cali's scripting was a little harder to judge. While elements of the plot didn't fit together all that well for me, the stories are otherwise well-written and interesting, and mostly odd only in how different from one another they are. I guess it would be a little bit if like in the second episode ever of Scooby-Doo, the gang found themselves facing a real ghost, rather than someone pretending to be a ghost.

Speaking of Scooby-Doo, despite the designs of the characters, these four make Season 1 Fred, Velma and Daphne look like dynamic personalities, and they don't have a colorful, cowardly, beatnik glutton and a talking dog with a speech impediment to help sell them to the audience.

Star Wars: Age of ResistanceHeroes (Marvel Entertainment) Writer Tom Taylor and artist Ramon Rosanas deliver the bulk of this last suite of era-specific Star Wars one-shots, this one focusing on the heroes of he third trilogy of films. It was obviously planned and created to reflect the state of the franchise as it stood after 2017's Episode VIII. You can tell because one of the four character-specific stories went to Rose Tico, who was an important part of the The Last Jedi's ensemble cast, but whose part was reduced to a cameo in last winter's Episode IX; were this group of comics meant to be reflective of the heroes of the resistance in the last film, perhaps instead of a Rose one-shot we would have got one featuring Lando Calrissian. Or Babu Frik. Or Kerri Russell's character, Argument That Poe Dameron Isn't Gay. Or Naomi Ackie's character, Maybe Someone On The Internet Might Object To An Interracial Romance. Or even Dominick Monaghan.

So, what have we got here? There's a Finn story focusing on his days working sanitation on a Star Destroyer as a Storm Trooper, and how he seeks a non-violent solution to an animal infestation, even if it means betraying the rules of the First Order a bit, meant to show his compassion and his blossoming conscience regarding who he works for. The Poe story focuses on his time as a pilot in The New Republic's Rapier Squadron (and not as a spice runner, as Rise of Skywalker randomly reveals about his past), in which the ace pilot gets some unexpected flying lessons from a surprise character from Last Jedi...and my least favorite character from the original trilogy, based solely on his looks, which isn't the best way to judge anyone I know, but ugh.There's a Rose story about she and her sister Paige's girlhood on their home planet, how they first started to resist the First Order and how they officially joined General Organa's Resistance. And there's a Rey story set just before she lands on lands on the planet of the Porgs in search of Luke Skywalker (in fact, the last panel is her holding his light saber out to him), in which she, Chewbacca and R2-D2 stop on a junk planet for parts and end up slaying a monster and liberating slaves.

Of these, I think Taylor's Rose story is probably the best-written, as there's a neat little reversal that packs a satisfying punch at the end that exceeds the surprise in the Poe one. Visually, the Finn and the Rey stories are probably the best, as they give Rosanas the must cool stuff to draw; rather than just celebrity likenesses and familiar ship designs, these feature strange alien creatures.

The all-around most exciting portion of the book, however, comes at the very end, in the three short stories from the Age of Resistance Special special. "Maz's Scoundrels" by Taylor and artist Matteo Buffagni has Maz Kanata hiring a young Han Solo and Chewbacca for a hit-and-run operation ("Chewbacca hits very hard," she explains to Han, "And you run away better than anyone I've ever known"). "The Bridge" by G. Willow Wilson and Elsa Charretier has Laura Dern's Holdo character on a semi-secret mission, and being forced to take command of the situation when her ship is attacked by a Star Destroyer (this also reveals the violent origins of her purple hair). And, finally, "Robot Resistance" by Chris Eliopoulos and Javier Pina has BB-8 deviating from Poe's mission parameters to rescue a bunch of little droids, swelling the ranks of the Resistance by a half-dozen robots.


Batman: Overdrive (DC Comics) I was awfully leery of this book after I read the first page or so of the preview, in which we see teenage versions of Batman, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. There was something very...Muppet Babies about it (Or, as they might have riffed on MST3K during that page, "Jim Henson's Batman Babies."). That said, I'm glad I gave it a shot and read it; it turned out to be a really great new take on the basic Batman origin story, one that stays true to the parameters of the story we've all read and seen repeatedly, while also being completely different, with a new focus and even a new player.

As great as it turned  out to be, there were two panels I couldn't help laughing at, which has more to do with how DC Comics and various media have kept portraying the death of the Waynes over and over and over and over in comics and film, to the point that other DC-related films make jokes about the murder and Martha Wayne's death pearls (See Teen Titans Go! To The Movies).

First, there's the appearance of the death pearls in this kids comic, which doesn't shy away from the fact that Bruce Wayne is motivated to fight crime because he watched his parents get gunned down in an alley before his eyes, although it does present the act itself with a bit of reserve:

And then there's young Bruce Wayne taking the wrong lesson from what had happened:

Yes, I confess! I laughed at that fictional little boy's pain at his fictional parents being murdered. Twice! I blame super over-familiarity with this fictional event, rather than a lack of empathy on my part. The context is slightly different here, as the movie young Bruce wanted to see wasn't The Mark of Zorro, but a Captain Carrot movie, and the reason that the Waynes had to go to a movie theater so close to Crime Alley was that Thomas had promised Bruce he would take him to the movie that night, and Bruce kept him to the promise, even though that was the only theater that still had a showing that night.

There's some additional context, like the fact that Alfred wasn't there to pick them up after the showsomething that makes this Bruce suspicious of, and seems to hold against Alfred at certain timesand that the Waynes were funding a program to make Gotham City streets safe, which gave Thomas a degree of confidence he might otherwise not have had.

Anyway, I am a terrible person and I snickered at these panels, but this is actually a pretty unique Batman comic, which is in and of itself quite an accomplishment, given how many goddam Batman comics there are.

Transformers: The Manga Vol.1 (Viz Media) I really loved this book by Masumi Kaneda and Ban Magami, particularly the first section, "Fight! Super Robot Life-Form Transformers", as that's the section that featured the pre-Transformers: The Movie, G1 Transformers, the ones I grew up playing with and watching on TV every day after school at four o'clock.

Young Caleb's interest began to wane after the  release of the 1987 movie, which significantly changed the cast of the show, so much so that all of my favorite characters no longer appeared, replaced by lamer robots that turned into less realistic, futuristic vehicles.

So that first story line in this collection read an awful lot like the comics equivalent of "lost" shows from the original cartoon series, albeit told in the style and particular voice of Japanese comics. While the later story lines did a bit less for me personally, I am interested in seeing the next volume (which comes out in May), given that the Transformers saga went in its own, rather different direction in Japan, as new shows featuring the characters attached to the same continuity continued to pop up, while America only had repeats of the first few seasons until Beast Wars came along.

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