Thursday, September 24, 2020

Review: "Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio"

When it was originally set for release in April of this year, Derf Backderf’s Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio was a substantial work of comics journalism and history, told as a suspenseful, even gripping narrative detailing the three days leading up to the 1970 massacre of four students on an American college campus, a shocking inflection point in the anti-war movement.

Kent State is still all of those things, of course, but it reads a bit differently now than it did in the spring. While the plan was to have the book out in time for the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, publisher Abrams ComicsArt pushed the release back to September due to the pandemic. In the months between, the country has experienced an unprecedented movement sparked by police violence against Black people, a movement often violently responded to by overzealous, overly-militarized police forces across the country. In several instances, the National Guards was even called on to help disperse protesters.

So now Derf’s Kent State has a new and unfortunate valence. It’s been 50 years since the shooting, and the government still has guns turned on its own populace, a populace still sharply divided over issues of social justice.The present haunts Derf’s history, making the book troublingly vital.

That history is this: On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard turned their bayonet-tipped guns on college students at Kent State University, firing 67 shots in 13 seconds into a crowd of protesters and bystanders, a deadly barrage that killed four students and wounded nine others.

The format of Kent State is quite similar to that of Derf’s best-known work, 2012’s My Friend Dahmer, each being heavily researched true story comics set in Ohio, with Derf providing copious, meticulous notes explaining the source for almost every panel and every line of dialogue on every page. Where there are discrepancies in the record, the notes explain why Derf made the choices he did, which, more often than not, means not committing to a particular version of a story. (The best example of this in Kent State probably comes during a one-page scene covering a 10 a.m.,May 4th meeting between KSU President Robert White, the city of Kent’s Mayor LeRoy Satrom and General Robert Canterbury; Derf draws the men in conversation, but there’s no dialogue, just narration boxes explaining their later, conflicting accounts of what was said.)  

Also as in Dahmer, Kent State derives an intense degree of suspense from the readers’ foreknowledge of where exactly the story is going from the very first pagesor, hell, from the subtitle. Of course, Derf doesn’t begin his story on May 1st simply to generate suspense, nor even just to properly explain the context of the shootings, including the many, diverse factors that may have played some role. 

Rather, doing so allows him and the readers to spend time with Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Sandy Scheuer and Bill Schroeder, the four students who were killed. We therefore get a sense of who the students were, what their lives were like, what brought them to the commons that day and what they thought about doing with the rest of their lives which, of course, would now never come.

Like his Dahmer and his 2015 Trashed, both of which existed in earlier, rougher versions before their final Abrams releases, Kent State is drawn in Derf’s more revised and refined style, a marked contrast from his style in his strip The City and his earlier narrative comics work. Despite the hard lean in the direction of representation, helped enormously by the thoroughly researched settings, props and backgrounds, the artist’s decades as an alternative cartoonist remains apparent at the core of his figures and, in particular, their highly expressive faces. There’s an element of caricature to the characters, and as softened as that element may be, it helps give the graphic novel the general aesthetic feel of a political cartoon, even if the point-of-view is more detached and objective. Kent State is more front page than editorial page.

Derf spends a full fifteen pages on the 13 seconds of the shooting, detailing exactly what happened to each and every one of the students shot during that time. He starts with Miller who, in a gory three-panel sequence, has a bullet rip through his open, chanting mouth, spinning him completely around before he hits the ground, dead, the words appearing next to the figure within the panels describing the damage as it is done. 

It is one aspect of the book that may prove controversialit’s certainly hard to readbut it also drives home the savagery of the National Guard shooting students in a way that words alone can’t. 

In addition to putting faces and lives to the names of those killed, the sequence also illustrates that the simple words of history can only blandly describe reality. For example, it’s one thing to hear that nine students were “wounded,” but quite another to see that among those are protester Tom Grace, whose foot was nearly ripped off his ankle when he was shot while fleeing, or bystander Dean Kahler, who dove to the ground for safety when the shooting started, only to have a bullet strike his back and paralyze him for life. 

When the National Guardor federal, local or police law enforcementshoot at peaceful protesters these days, they do so with so-called “less-lethal” weaponry, like rubber bullets, bean bags, tear gas and pepper spray. Are such projectiles better than bullets? I suppose, but they can still kill, paralyze and maim their targets. That hardly counts as progress; the core problem seems to be the act of shooting at peaceful protesters at all, not what is being shot at them.

Kent State is an impressive dissection of a historical tragedy by a lifelong cartoonist in the process of mastering a new type of comics-making. It’s just too bad it’s not just a historical tragedy.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Marvel's December previews reviewed

Marvel's December brings a quite sizable event series, spinning out of writer Donny Cates' previous Venom stories: "The King In Black," which will bring an evil god of symbiotes and his army of symbiote-possessed dragons to Earth, presumably for the purposes of conquering it. While the specificity of the character and his origins in a previous Spider-Man and Venom-related event (Absolute Carnage) might not make this sound like an all-books-on-deck sort of crossover, it's pretty darn close to a line-wide event. 

There are 14 participating books, ranging in costs from $3.99 to $7.99, so just this single month's worth of tie-ins will cost a completist over $60, although obviously a reader can and probably should pick and choose; like, do you really need the $7.99 Knull: Marvel Tales, featuring reprints of the so-called King In Black's earlier appearances, or the $4.99 King In Black Handbook, full of profiles of various characters playing a part?

I doubt it. In addition to those books, the other dozen participating comics are King In Black #1 and #2, Atlantis Attacks #5, Black Cat #1, King In Black: Immortal Hulk #1, King In Black: Iron Man/Doctor Doom #1, King In Black: Namor #1 and #2, Spider-Woman #7, Symbiote Spider-Man: King In Black #2, Union #1 and Venom #31. Whew!

Did I miss any? That may seem like a lot, but it's not every Marvel comic shipping in December. No, there are plenty more. Let's take a look at some noteworthy ones, shall we...?

Here's a pretty cool Amazing Spider-Man cover by Patrick Gleason.

And here's an even cooler Amazing Spider-Man cover by Patrick Gleason. 




The infamous firebird of cosmic destruction and rebirth known as the Phoenix Force has returned to Earth to find a new avatar. So now the Avengers and some of the most powerful heroes and villains in the Marvel Universe are being called into a competition unlike anything they’ve ever seen. A globe-spanning battle that will transform them all and ultimately decide...who will be the all-new Phoenix.

32 PAGS./Rated T+...$3.99

I kind of like how dumb the various Phonex-ized Marvel heroes shown on this cover look, overall. Like, their redesigns all sort of hit that charming sweet spot between dumb and cool that good superhero comics sometimes find.

That’s supposed to be Black Panther in the lower left corner, right? With the claws? I kinda wish his design was far more birdy, since his standard design is so cat-like. Like, it would be cool if his cat-mask was a bird-mask here. If that is T’Challa, of course. 

I stopped buying the trades of this series, as they were always appearing in the library before I could find them in comic shops or order them for purchase, but I’ve continued to enjoy the series.


JED MCKAY (W) • C.F. Villa (A) • Pepe Laraz (C)

Variant Cover  by SARA PICHELLI


Feeling lucky? Knull’s attack on Earth interrupts the Black Cat’s latest heist, and if you know Felicia, you know that’s a problem. So the Cat and her crew aim to steal something of greatest value to both Knull and Earth’s hope of survival. YOu’ll have to pick up this issue to find out what! This issue guest-stars the X-Men! Captain America! And Doctor Strange! DO NOT MISS IT!!!

32 PGS. /Rated T+ …$3.99

Wait, Black Cat #1…? Didn’t they just launch a new Black Cat series…? Let’s see… Well, the last volume of Black Cat was launched in 2019, with writer Jed McKay. The last issue to ship was drawn by artist C.F. Villa. So the creative team of the new series is the same as the creative team of the last series, and this is just one of those random relaunches to keep orders artificially high, I guess.

There are seven solicited variant covers (that's the Sara Pichelli variant above, which is my favorite of the ones released so far), which seems quite modest compared to the 40 variants the last Black Cat #1 had.

Among the variant cover themes this month are "Knullified" variants. I'm....not entirely clear on what it means to be "Knullified," but apparently it means to be made a bit more monstrous, and to maybe resemble Knull, The King In Black more closely...? Anyway, Tradd Moore's cover for Captain Marvel #24, featuring a Knullified Ms. Marvel, is appropriately horrifying and also kinda cool.


Written by Neil Gaiman

Penciled by John Romita JR

Cover by John Romita JR

In 1976 Jack Kirby created The Eternals - an ahead-of-its-time exploration of Kirby’s ceaseless curiosity about man’s origins and mythology. Decades later, superstar creators Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr. have boldly and lovingly recreated The Eternals, crafting a fresh and crackling yarn full of mystery, suspense and majestic power! Against the backdrop of a superhuman Civil War, the Eternals are awakening one by one from a strange waking dream - suddenly coming to terms with the fact that they are far more than the normal people they have thought themselves to be. But there is little time to commiserate about such things, because a life-and-death struggle looms - one that will span both time and space! Experience the wonder as the Eternals are re-established as a vital part of the Marvel Universe! Collecting ETERNALS (2006) #1-7.

256 PGS./Rated T…$34.99

ISBN: 978-1-302-92518-5

Trim size: 7-1/4 x 10-⅞

Order using DEC198688

The cover for this particular collection of Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr is a good one billion times better than that of a previous, 2007 edition, which I wrote about at some length here

It was strange reading the above solicitation copy in 2020, though, as it sounds mostly unfamiliar. I don’t remember Civil War having much to do with it, nor do I recall it re-establishing the Eternals as “a vital part of the Marvel Universe.” I mean, I’m not nearly as in touch with the Marvel Universe now as I was even in 2000 or 2007, but if I counted all of the times I had seen any of Eternals interacting with Spider-Man or The Avengers or Doctor Strange since 2006, I doubt I’d use every finger on my hand.

I know virtually nothing about this 80-page, $9.99 one-shot, aside from the fact that it is written by Zeb Wells, it's drawn by Gurihiru and it's appropriate for children. That's enough for me; heck, just the knowledge that it will feature Gurihiru drawing a swathe of the Marvel Universe is enough to be of interest.

Can you imagine actually living in the apartment building pictured on the cover? It seems like it would be a nightmare. I mean, even if you discounted the fact that aliens and supervillains would constantly be attacking, I wouldn't want to share a wall with any of these people. Maybe Captain America or T'Challa. But that's it. I bet the others are all noisy as hell. Imagine trying to sleep, and all you can hear is "SNIKT" and "Bub" over and over from the place next door, which smells of cheap, Canadian beer and dried ninja blood. Or living under Venom, and finding wet spots of green drool on your ceiling. No thank you. 

Wow, check out Alex Ross' cover for Immortal Hulk #41. Can you even imagine a better Hulk cover? I mean, the only way you could get a better Hulk cover is if Ross collaborated with Hieronymus Bosch or someone. 

Oh. Oh yeah. Kinda like that. 

King-Size Conan #1, 64-page, $6.99 one-shot celebrating Conan's 50th anniversary as a comic book character, will have work from lots of notably creators in it, but I'm most exciting about a new Conan story both written and drawn by Kevin Eastman, a noted Conan (and Barry Windsor-Smith) fan. It will be both Eastman's first interior comics work for Marvel and his first Conan story (unless you count 1986's Cerebus-guest-starring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #8, which was set in a place much like the Hyborian Age, and which Eastman snuck a Conan cameo into near the climax).

Now that Marvel and Eastman have a working relationship, how about they call up Peter Laird  and IDW and get to work on a Daredevil/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover, huh? 

I love this Marvel #3 cover by Alan Weiss. That is all. 

Here's James Stokoe's cover for Warhammer 40,000: Marneus Calgar #3. So this December, both DC and Marvel will be publishing work from Stokoe. But DC wins, as they are publishing interior work, and not just a single cover. 

DC's December previews reviewed

December will bring the conclusion of the seven-part Dark Nights: Death Metal event series, and its seemingly endless string of one-shot tie-ins. While the sixth and seventh issues of the main series ship in December, so to do a trio of books that sound like they are meant to be epilogues and/or tie-ins of one sort or anotherDark Nights: Death Metal: The Secret Origin #1, Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Last Stories of The DC Universe #1 and Dark Nights: Death Metal: The War of The Multiverses #1. These each have one-third of a large group image by Gary Frank, that seems to depict the Golden Age, the Silver and Bronze Age and, pictured above, the late-1980s (Hello Dream of The Endless; you lost, or what?). There's a scrap of cape seemingly emanating from somewhere off to the right of the final image though, suggesting another generation (or two?) worth of heroes to depict; I would guess that it's supposed to be Bloodwynd's cape, and the next image would feature '90s characters. (It's weird though, as Captain Marvel/Shazam and Mary Marvel/Whoever have their New 52 costumes on, while everyone else is wearing versions of their costumes more specific to particular eras).

There's also another one-shot that lacks the Dark Nights: Death Metal branding in the title, but mentions it in the solicitation copy, and seems to similarly deal with the DC Multiverse's continuously evolving continuity.

There's also another, smaller event series. Reading the solicitations for DC's December, one gets the sense that the new or next status quo is going to be established and, hopefully, explained in December.

What else goes on? Let's take a look...

written by JAMES TYNION IV
ON SALE 12/29/20
$4.99 US | 48 PAGES | FC | DC
The riveting new vigilante known as Clownhunter was a breakout star of “The Joker War”— but what’s the tragic origin of this teenage assassin? How did his parents die at the hands of The Joker, and is there a place for him in the evolving Gotham City? Can there be redemption for the infamous Clownhunter?

This epic tale reteams writer James Tynion IV and artist James Stokoe, the storytellers behind the definitive Clownhunter tale from Batman: The Joker War Zone #1!

James Stokoe, drawing more Batman! That's exciting! He must really like this Clownhunter character, I guess. I have no idea why they didn't put Stokoe's art on the cover (the above is the variant by Inhyuk Lee), as Stokoe's art is so idiosyncratic that it pretty much sells itself (And if you buy this because you like Chew or Lee's covers, well, you're going to be in for a surprise when you open the book up and see something very, very different).

variant cover by J.H. WILLIAMS III
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES | 1 OF 6 | FC | DC
The iconic anthology series returns with a brand-new slate of comics’ most exciting and innovative storytellers to explore the Batman mythos in stark black-and-white!
In this debut issue:
• James Tynion IV and Tradd Moore explore the world of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins
• J.H. Williams III returns to DC Comics for a trip through the Dark Knight’s history
• Emma Rios explores the eternal struggle of the Dark Knight
• Paul Dini and Andy Kubert pit Batman against an infestation of ninja Man-Bats in the Batcave
• G. Willow Wilson and Greg Smallwood portray Batman in his strangest standoff ever with Killer Croc
With a lineup this strong and a cover by legendary Batman artist Greg Capullo, you won’t want to miss the start of this tremendous collection of Batman tales by some of comics’ top creators!

More Batman: Black and White is always good news. I still have very vivid memories of the very first 1996 miniseries (especially that Alex Toth cover to the fourth issue!). Of this batch of creators, I am probably most excited about seeing Tradd Moore and Emma Rios draw Batman.

That said, I'm totally trade-waiting this. 

Oh hey, do note the cover, by J.H. Williams III. Did you know that Batman's mom was wearing pearls on the night she was gunned down in front of him in Crime Alley? It's true! Perhaps this comic will explore that obscure, often over-looked aspect of Batman lore. 

ON SALE 1/5/21
$29.99 US | 248 PAGES | FC
ISBN: 978-1-77950-601-6
Some of Batman’s most memorable early 1990s adventures are back in this new collection! With the Ghost Dragon gang committing daring warehouse robberies, Batman and Robin chase the gang’s lieutenant Lynx, through the streets. When Robin discovers that an old nemesis—the Ghosts’ dead leader, King Snake—might be alive and out for his head, the stakes only get higher. Plus, Batman travels to Rio de Janeiro to track a serial killer known as the Queen of Hearts and battles through a bizarre dimension known as the Idiot Zone! Collects Batman #466-473 and Detective Comics #639-640.

This contains three Grant/Breyfogle/Mitchell standalone stories (one of which is a technical tie-in to the War of The Gods event featuring Maxie Zeus, and another of which is one of the better Killer Croc stories I've ever read); Dixon and Lyle's sequel to their Robin miniseries, in which King Snake, Lynx and the Ghost Dragons arrive in Gotham City and "The Idiiot Root" crossover with Detective Comics, featuring work by Milligan, Breyfogle, Aparo and Mike DeCarlo.

I've read all of these except the Detective chapters of the four-part "Idiot Root." But I'm still going to buy and read the hell out of this.

written by TOM KING
art and cover by CLAY MANN
ON SALE 12/1/20
$4.99 US | 32 PAGES | 1 OF 12 | FC
At last, Tom King returns to the rocky, romantic saga of Batman and Catwoman with his Heroes in Crisis collaborator, superstar artist Clay Mann!
Echoing plot points from King’s epic Batman run, this sweeping tale is told across three timelines: the past, when the Bat and the Cat first fell in love; the present, where their union is threatened by one of Batman’s lost loves; and the future, where the couple have a happy life and legacy—including their daughter Helena, the Batwoman. And as the story begins, after a long marriage, Bruce Wayne passes away—which frees Selina Kyle to settle an old score.

At every stage of their relationship, Bruce and Selina have an unwelcome chaperone: The Joker!
Oh, and that lost love of Bruce’s? It’s Andrea Beaumont—a.k.a. Phantasm. Just thought you’d want to know.

Stupid question, but is this supposed to be canonical? I can never tell with DC's "Black Label" book, as the majority of them certainly seem to be what would have previously been considered "Elseworlds" stories. This certainly doesn't sound like it's meant to be canonical, if one of the timelines is a retelling of the old Earth-2 Batman stories, but given how much of King's Batman run dealt (rather poorly) with this Batman/Catwoman relationship, one imagines that this series will continue events started during it.

On the other hand, the villain from 1993's Batman: Mask of The Phantasm (the second best Batman movie ever made), is going to be involved, and I don't think she's been integrated directly into the comics canon before, but, on the other hand, she might have been and I had completely forgotten it and, of course, DC's current canon is such that everything seems to be occurring on Earth-Shrug Emoji, so...

Oh, I quite like that cover by Daniel Warren Johnson (I assume). He also draws one for Justice League: Endless Winter #2

art by NORM BREYFOGLE, VAL SEMEIKS, and others
ON SALE 1/19/21
$29.99 US | 328 PAGES | FC
ISBN: 978-1-77950-749-5
It’s a new collection of tales from the start of the 1990s, including the four-part “The Mud Pack,” a creepy story centered around the villainous Clayface, in which Batman must enlist the help of Etrigan, the Demon! Plus, a new vigilante called Anarky debuts, and Batman attends the funeral of...the Penguin? This volume also includes “Blood Secrets,” a story co-written by comics superstar Mark Waid, with Batman taking on white supremacists. Collects Detective Comics #601-611 and Detective Comics Annual #2.

This volume collects a good chunk of the heart of the Grant/Breyfogle/Mitchell run on Detective Comics, inlcuding "Tulpa" (featuring The Demon), "The Mud Pack" (featuring all four Clayfaces and a Jason Todd "appearance" that Jeph Loeb "borrowed" for inclusion in his "Hush" story arc), the first appearance of Anarky and a Penguin two-parter. All of these issues were included in the Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle collections, which I think DC should continue to publish until it runs out of Breyfogle Batman comics, but you really can't have too many versions of these comics in your house (I have all of these in singles already, for example).

The annual by Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn, Val Semeiks and Michael Bair is an interesting one to re-read in 2020, as I did just this past summer. Check out Brian Bolland's excellent cover: 
I reread it after having read Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru's Superman Smashes The Klan, as it seemed from its cover to be a tale of Batman smashing the Klan. As it turns out, it's not about Batman so much as a young, in-training Bruce Wayne, and it's not the Klan he smashes, but a klan. It's still a pretty good comic, and reads differently in 2020 than it did when I first read it in the early '90s, or in 1989, when it was originally published. 

stories and art by VARIOUS
ON SALE 1/12/21
$29.99 US | 232 PAGES | FC
ISBN: 978-1-77950-594-1
Batman may be the World’s Greatest Detective, but he’s hardly the only sleuth in the DC Universe. This new title collects key adventures starring Lois Lane, the Question, the Sandman (Wesley Dodds), Detective Chimp, Slam Bradley, and of course, the Dark Knight Detective. These tales span DC’s history, from 1937 to today, and even include a special appearance by the granddaddy of all detectives: Sherlock Holmes. Collects stories from Adventure Comics #51, Batman #441, Detective Comics #2, #329, and #572, Lois Lane #1-2, Secret Origins #40, and The Question #8.

This is one of those collections that seems quite compelling simply because of curiosity over what DC includes, which here would indicate what comics the publisher considers its greatest detective stories, and which characters it considers it's greatest detectives. I do wish they had listed a few creators; aside from the cover story, I can't tell from looking which of these I've read and which I haven't. 

cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
$9.99 US | 80 PAGES | FC | DC
Joy to all 52 worlds—it’s time to celebrate the holiday season across the DC Multiverse! In ten stories that will light your yule log and spike your eggnog, Batman decks the gaslit halls, Lobo goes Old Testament in space, Ragman learns the true meaning of Saturnalia, President Superman attempts to figure out how Bizarro stole Christmas, and Harley Quinn tries her hand at interdimensional caroling. These seasonal sagas are sure to help you have yourself a very merry Multiverse!

I love DC's holiday anthology specials. As is usually the case, they don't give complete information on the creators, characters or stories in the solicitation copy, meaning there will be a degree of surprise when it comes to the precise contents.

Generally, we can expect somewhere in the neighborhood of eight stories here, which is kind of two bad, as that's only eight Earths in the DC Multiverse covered. Surely Harley will visit more than one in her story, but it would be pretty amazing if DC produced one of these with stories set on all 52 Earths...

cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
$9.99 US | 80 PAGES | FC | DC
A threat of cosmic proportion to DC’s newest (and oldest) universe compels one of the most unusual groups of heroes ever assembled to take on the most mysterious foe they have ever encountered. What started in Detective Comics #1027 explodes out of Dark Nights: Death Metal to tell the story of the generations-spanning history of the DC Universe! Join the original Batman, Kamandi, Starfire, Sinestro, Booster Gold, Dr. Light, Steel, and Sinestro in their quest to save the universe before time runs out…

I am now far enough behind on DC's doings that I don't know what the state of their continuity isalthough it appears from what is being solicited herein that the Dark Nights epilogue books will be exploring whatever changed as a result of that event, and/or the likes of Doomsday Clock and other goings-onbut the title of this at least makes me curious if this was perhaps repurposed from DC's plan of relaunching their continuity with generations of heroes again or not, including a new "fifth" generation. 

I'm on the fence about ordering this one. I like enough of the characters and creators to be interested, but I'm not sure if it will work if I haven't read anything else leading up to it. 

ON SALE 2/9/21
$39.99 US | 416 PAGES | FC
ISBN: 978-1-77950-905-5
A new era begins for Green Lantern Kyle Rayner! It begins as Nero escapes a mental institution and finds himself in possession of a yellow power ring, thanks to the Qwardians. Now with the power to materialize the inner workings of his mind, the madman looks to destroy the planet. And as the Justice League attempts to fight his hordes of minions, Kyle must find a way to defeat a ring-bearer more powerful than he is! Then, when Rann is attacked by the entity known as Oblivion, Green Lantern enlists other heroes to join the “Circle of Fire,” as Power Girl, Firestorm, Adam Strange, and the Atom answer the call. Collects Green Lantern #129-136, Green Lantern/Firestorm #1, Green Lantern/Adam Strange #1, Green Lantern/Atom #1, Green Lantern/Green Lantern #1, Green Lantern/Power Girl #1, and Green Lantern: Circle of Fire #1 and 2.

This is one of those comics I read in single issues, but might still buy in collected form in order to reread it completely in a way that reading the serial issues didn't allow, and to have it book shelf-handy, rather than buried in various plastic sleeves in a long box somewhere in my comics midden. 

Among the fun aspects of this book was meeting a bunch of brand-new (if unfortunately temporary) Green Latnerns, seeing an early-ish attempt to rebuild the Green Lantern Corps concept after "Emerald Twilight" got rid of it and seeing a bunch of then relatively little-seen, book-less DC heroes.

I suppose now it will be further note because of the participation of Bryan K. Vaughan, whose star has rose considerably since his earlier super-comics writing like this and X-Men for Marvel. 

I don't see his name in the credits, but Norm Breyfogle is one of the "and others" who drew parts of this.

There was also a two-part "epilogue" to this event in issues of Impulse by Todd DeZago, Eric Battle and Buzz, which doesn't look like it's being included. That's fine. Those issues weren't integral, and seemed more like Impulse horning into the event anyway. Also, they have Ethan Van Sciver covers, and fuck that guy; no one wants to be reading a Green Lantern adventure for 400 pages only to suddenly be reminded of Van Sciver's hateful opinions and poisonous behavior. 

written by ANDY LANNING and RON MARZ

backup story art by MARCO SANTUCCI
cover by MIKEL JAN├ŹN
card stock variant cover by DANIEL WARREN JOHNSON
ON SALE 12/1/20
$4.99 US | 40 PAGES | 1 OF 2 | FC | DC
“Endless Winter” chapter one! The crossover event of the season begins here! The Justice League encounters an extinction-level global storm brewing at the former site of the Fortress of Solitude. Enter the Frost King, a monster mad with power with an army at his command! What devastating mystery lies in his past? And how does he tied to Queen Hippolyta, Swamp Thing, Viking Prince, and their reluctant ally, Black Adam? Two timelines will reveal further clu
es and secrets throughout each chapter of this blockbuster tale!

With Dark Nights: Death Metal finally wrapping up, it would seem to be the time for the next Justice League creative team to be announced, as the title has become something of an anthology book with rotating creative teams since Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV ended their run with a cliffhanger that essentially said "See Dark Nights: Death Metal."

It would seem that way, but DC's apparently not quite ready to announce the next team (Ooh, I hope it's me and Evan "Doc" Shaner! Is that how it works? Will I just get a knock on my door some day, and find an editor outside saying "Congratulations, you're the new writer of Justice League." I mean, the behind-the-scenes work at modern comics seems so strange and impenetrable to me it might as well be magical. Maybe that's how it works!)

So it's yet another fill-in arc, but instead of simply filling up issues of Justice League, this one will take the form of a nine-issue, five-week "event" crossover series, including issues of Justice League, issues of comics featuring Justice Leaguers and some specials, like this one. 

The writing team is interesting, consisting of two old hands who I don't think I recall ever collaborating on a comic before, although I have to admit the clues to the plot presented in the various solicits remind me an awful lot of Marvel's War of the Realms, what with armies of frost giants and a Viking prince and so on. I guess we'll see...

written by ANDY LANNING and RON MARZ
backup story art by MARCO SANTUCCI
ON SALE 12/15/20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES | FC | DC
“Endless Winter” chapter five! In this turning point issue, the Justice League is scattered across the snow-covered globe, trying to stave off the frozen doom, leaving Green Lantern John Stewart to stand alone. At the Hall of Justice, he begins to piece together clues that could help turn the icy tide that threatens to overwhelm them all. But then an unexpected visitor arrives on cue: the Frost King himself! In the past, however, Queen Hippolyta, Swamp Thing, and Viking Prince witness a terrible decision made by Black Adam—one that will haunt them forever.

I'm not sure which artist gets credit for designing Batman's latest cold-weather costume (this cover is drawn by Francis Manapul, but the costume presumably appears in the interiors, as it also appears on one of Johnson's covers), but it is both kind of cool and kind of lame that one of its components appears to be a fluffy white bathrobe worn over his costume. 

Here is your monthly reminder that holy shit can Kyle Hotz draw. This is his cover for Justice Leaguer Dark #29, which will be part seven of the "Endless Winter" story. He does not draw the interiors, though. 

written by GRANT MORRISON, GARTH ENNIS, and others
art by DOUG MAHNKE and others
new cover by DOUG MAHNKE
ON SALE 1/19/21
$49.99 US | 416 PAGES | FC
ISBN: 978-1-77950-434-0
These tales spotlight Doug Mahnke, one of DC’s most dynamic artists, including stories starring Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and more. Collects stories and art from Action Comics #775 and #1000; Batman #645; Batman: The Man Who Laughs #1; Batman and Robin Annual #2; Black Adam: The Dark Age #1; Detective Comics #1000; Final Crisis: Requiem #1; Green Lantern (2011) #0 and #50; Green Lantern (2016) #50; Hitman/Lobo: That Stupid Bastich #1; JLA #61 and #65; Justice League #25; Justice League of America #25; Justice League: Elite #1; The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1; Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #1; Superman #8-9; and Superman: The Man of Steel #87.

This looks like a very interesting package, one that shows off the range of tone Doug Mahnke can achieve in his highly-stylized, incredibly detailed artwork. Sure, these are all superhero comics, and among them are some modern classics (the "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and The American Way" critique of Warren Ellis, Mark Millar and company's cynical millennial output; a first Joker/Batman encounter in The Man Who Laughs, etc), but there are straightforward superhero comics, inspirational superhero comics, parody superhero comics, lighthearted superhero comics, serious superhero comics, overly serious superhero comics, superhero comics with effective jokes in them, and violent, gory, borderline horror superhero comics. 

I think I've bought and read all of these individually before, but I wouldn't min reading them in this curated package. My only complaint? It's too bad there's no Major Bummer included; that short-lived 1997 series written by John Arcudi was the very first time I encountered Mahnke's work. He was one of those artists whose style was distinct enough that I learned his name immediately upon reading his work for the first time, and never forgot it. I doubt I was the only one. 

written by L.L. McKINNEY
art and cover by ROBYN SMITH
ON SALE 2/2/21
$16.99 US | 208 PAGES | 6" x 9" | FC
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9640-7
Nubia has always been a little bit...different. As a baby she showcased Amazon-like strength by pushing over a tree to rescue her neighbor’s cat. But despite her having similar abilities, the world has no problem telling her that she’s no Wonder Woman. A
nd even if she were, they wouldn’t want her. Every time she comes to the rescue, she’s reminded of how people see her: as a threat. Her moms do their best to keep her safe, but Nubia can’t deny the fire within her, even if she’s a little awkward about it sometimes. Even if it means people assume the worst.
When Nubia’s best friend, Quisha, is threatened by a boy who thinks he owns the town, Nubia will risk it all—her safety, her home, and her crush on that cute kid in English class—to become the hero society tells her she isn’t.
From the witty and powerful voice behind A Blade So Black, and with endearing and expressive art by Robyn Smith, comes a vital story for today about equality, identity, and kicking it with your squad.

Okay, now this is one I did not expect.

Nubia, a Wonder Woman character introduced in 1973 during the sometimes quite awkward "relevant" period of super-comics history, can sometimes feel like one of those brow-raising characters that modern creators and the publishers can feel a little hesitant about, and, when reference or used, are done so quite differently than how they originally appeared (For example, when first introduced, she was Wonder Woman's lost dark twin, one of two babies sculpted from clay and brought to life; when she was finally reintroduced after Crisis in the late '90s, Nubia became Nu'Bia, and she was a former Amazon champion akin to Wonder Woman, but not her literal dark twin.

That said, this looks and sounds pretty interesting, and I think DC's track record on these OGNs for younger readers has been particularly good, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what L.L. McKinney and Robyn Smith come up with here.

written by ANDY LANNING and RON MARZ
ONE SHOT | ON SALE 12/8/20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES | FC | DC
“Endless Winter” chapter three! Superman finds himself at the center of an epic battle as the Frost King’s hordes of ice monsters come to life. Is this frozen onslaught too much for the Man of Steel, or can he stop it before it rampages across the chilling wasteland the world is becoming and reaches civilization? The answer to this question comes from an unlikely source close to Clark Kent’s earthly roots!

I just wanted to note that this one-shot tie-in to this month's Justice League event will feature art by Phil Hester and Ande Parks, an art team whose work I like a lot, and which I have encountered anywhere in some time. 

Writer Steve Orlando has been on my personal Do Not Read list since the conclusion of his run on Justice League of America featuring Promethea, so that's one of a couple of reasons I'll avoid this one-shot, but I think the cover is worth lingering on for a second just to acknowledge the redesign of Alan Scott's Green Lantern costume. Changing his shirt from red to green makes a sort of obvious sense, and I do really like the look of it as it appears on the cover. His "light" looks different, being a more yellow-orange fiery shade, which is perhaps to distinguish it form the green of his shirt, but might also have a story reason. There are certainly a few differences aside from the color (note the spikes or scallops on his wrists, too).

Ultimately, I don't know if this looks kind of cool simply because it is such a sharp departure from his normal costume, in the same way that seeing, say, Superman with red tights and a blue cape might, or if it's a genuine improvement. I've always thought there was a real charm to the Golden Age Green Lantern costume, which in addition to having as much red and purple as green in it also just looks really homemade and slapped together, like a last-minute Halloween costume put together from stuff found in your attic. In that sense, I think it's one of the quintessential Golden Age costumes; like, few if any superhero costumes say "Golden Age" to me as loudly or eloquently as the Green Lantern one.

(On the subject of Alan Scott costume design, I'm not crazy about every element of this redesign that Dean Trippe did, but I do really like the idea of an Alan deputized by the Green Lantern Corps, and thus having two rings, and a costume blending his Golden Age get-up with something more Space Age).

written by VITA AYALA
ONE SHOT | ON SALE 12/1/20
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES | FC | DC
The realms of the gods have been turned upside down and inside out, on the verge of engulfing Earth and its people. Only one hero stands to defend it: Wonder Woman! But that is another world and another story. Behold the mirror image of this tale taking place in the Dark Multiverse, with a Wonder Woman who is ready to destroy it all! Cursed by the evil goddess of magic, Hecate, our beloved Diana has become a weapon of vengeance ready to tear down any god or superhero that stands in her way. Will Earth and its heroes survive her might? Or are they doomed to worship the dark princess of the Amazons for the rest of eternity?!

The first round of these were all deeply unpleasant, and there's no reason to believe that these will be any less so, but I still think we should congratulate Vita Ayala on having produced a script for a one-shot version of the War of The Gods event. I have to assume that, in preparation, she read the entire event, and that is not easy to do, given how incredibly long it is, and how little connective tissue to many of the tie-ins had to the actual story. I recently tried re-reading it a couple of times, having purchased the 2016 collection, and it defeated me both times. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

A Month of Wednesdays: June 2020

Batman Annual #17 (DC Comics) If your first thought upon seeing this cover was that it doesn't quite seem like it fits in with the rest of the comics in this post, well, you are correct. Despite the fact that I bought this during one of my trips to the local comic shop during the month of June, Batman Annual #17 actually originally shipped way back in 1993, when I was a high school student typing letters to the editor of every comic I read on a word processor, because blogs had not yet been invented (I forget who invented them; I'm going to assume it was either Johanna Draper Carlson or Mike Sterling).

As to why I bought this 27-year-old comic book this month, well, Justice League Task Force #9, the Jeph Loeb-written issue guest-starring a couple of the New Blood heroes and collected in 2018's Justice League Task Force Vol. 1: Purification Plague, suggested an interesting idea to me. In it, two of the Gotham City-based New Bloods bumped into one another and decided to team-up and go looking for a mentor. What if Loeb took that a little further, and teamed up all of the Gotham City New Bloods into a team and pitched that as a series to DC back then...? I mean, it's probably a good thing he didn't, because we wouldn't want Tommy Monaghan hanging out with the likes of Geist and Joe Public instead of starring in Hitman, one of best DC Comics ever published (as well as one of my favorites), but what about the other Gotham City heroes? Joe Public, Geist, Samaritan, maybe Razorsharp and The Psyba-Rats and, of course, Ballistic.

The thing is, as reading that Task Force issue reminded me, I never actually read the annual that introduced Ballistic.

I was much more selective in my comics-buying as a teenager, back before I had a real job, and I passed on Batman Annual #17. Doug Moench wasn't one of my favorite Batman writers, I didn't really know who this "Barreto" fellow was, and as for the new hero, well, look at him. He seemed particularly...Liefeldy.

But now that I am a grown-up, with a full-time job, and these 56-page comics cost like half of a brand-new 20-page comic not drawn by the great Eduardo Barreto, who I now definitely know? Sure, this seems like a very wise purchase.

(If anyone from DC Comics happens to be reading this, please note I would happily buy a series of collections of the Bloodlines annuals and Bloodbath, but I'd suggest you solicit such collections soon, before I end up finding them all in back-issue bins. Looking at Wikipedia, I think I've now got about half of them now. I would also quite happily purchase collections of Eclipso: The Darkness Within and Armageddon 2001 and...well, all of DC's summer annual events, come to think of it. The ones I mostly slept on when they were being published, like Legends of The Dead Earth and Year One actually look more interesting to me now than they did when originally published.)

The basic idea behind the Bloodlines event was a good one: Introduce a whole bunch of new heroes and villains into the DC Universe, at the rate of about one per annual (a couple of annuals featured multiple New Bloods). The characters would all share an origin story, one that echoed the "meta-gene bomb" in Invasion! as a mass origin event. A half-dozen big, scary alien monsters that look like a melange of H.R. Giger's iconic Alien design with dinosaur fossils have arrived on Earth, and these creatures stalk human prey, draining their spinal fluid through their special, gross, tube-like tongues. The vast majority of their victims die, but a small percentage of them survive...and get super-powers in a bizarre side-effect of the attack (In other words, the aliens' weird-ass feeding/reproductive cycle also provided the planetary population they attacked the very means for fending them off).

This resulted in about 25 new characters, few of whom had much of a lasting impact, with the exception of Hitman, introduced by Garth Ennis and John McCrea in 1993's The Demon Annual. There were about a half-dozen series or mini-series featuring other New Bloods, but none of them really lasted, and when the characters did show up in the future, it was usually briefly, and in comics written by the same guys who had originally introduced them (Chuck Dixon used Razorsharp and The Psyba-Rats in a Catwoman comic, for example, Karl Kesel put Sparx on his Superboy and The Ravers line-up, et cetera).

As to why this was the case, well, coming up with brand new superhero characters that the market really embraces is hard, and, now that I'm looking over this list and thinking about these characters again, it seems to me that some of them had really cool powers, some of them had interesting looks, and some of them had built-in premises for potential books, but almost none of them had all three factors going for them (Hitman and a couple others, like Anima and Sparx, being the exceptions).

It certainly didn't help that so many of them looked like they could have been background characters on the cover of any Image team comic launched in the previous few years. Aesthetically, very few of these characters looked like classic superhero characters, or like they fit into the DC Universe particularly well; it is, of course, easier to notice in hindsight, but wow, these characters were so 1993. Even my favorite characters, Hitman and Anima, bore markers of the time period; in the former's case, he wore the big trench coat of that served as the superhero costume of costume-less superheroes (like Fate and Starman), while the latter's plain clothes "costume" was simply riot grrl and grunge rock "alternative" fashion.

In terms of coming up with new heroes though, it really was a noble attempt. Like, the publisher's metaphorical heart, and the hearts of the involved creators, were mostly in the right place. Looking at those 25 New Blood heroes, a half-dozen of them were female, and, if you read the descriptions on Wikipedia, many of the characters' race or ethnicity are cited as part of their character descriptions...for those character who aren't white, which whoever wrote those character descriptions apparently treated as the default.

Still, this was a relatively diverse class of characters. For example, they include an "illusion-creating heroine of India", a "darkforce-blasting African American-Vietnamese hero", a "Chinese-American regenerating martial artist", an "African-American heroine" and a "Korean-American hero and an armed and dangerous vigilante."

That last one was Ballistic, by the way, the New Blood hero introduced in this very annual. I don't recall finding any of the folks in the preceding paragraph particularly engaging at the time, aside form thinking Dan Raspler's last page or so from Bloodbath #2, featuring Ballistic and "Chinese-American generating martial artist" Nightblade was amusingly written (Oh, Nightblade's a good example! His power was basically a sort of extreme healing factor that allowed him to recover from grievous harm; Teenage Caleb liked that power, but didn't care for Nightblade's costume or code name).

But more-or-less forcing everyone at the company to create a new superhero character? That might not be the best way to get great characters but it's also not too terribly bad a way to generate a bunch of new characters and diversify a shared universe! (DC would try something similar again in 2000 with their "Planet DC" themed annuals, in which each annual would introduce one or more super-people from different countries, but there were only eight of those published, so it didn't create a particularly big class of new characters).

As for Ballistic, he was, perhaps ironically, far more interesting as Kelvin Mao, an all-around outstanding member of the Gotham City Police Department's SWAT team, which is no doubt a particularly interesting profession (I'm actually a little surprised there's never been a miniseries following a Gotham SWAT team). He also had to take a lot of shit from a fellow member of his team named McCain, who is constantly making fun of Mao, whom he calls "Meow", and making racist jokes about him (Moench and Barreto have Mao lower his head, place his hand on his locker and and calmly asks the bullying McCain if he wants to step outside to settle things repeatedly; McCain doesn't bite).

I think one of the things that might have helped damn this event is that it occurred during a particularly tumultuous time in the DC Universe, with the "Death of Superman" saga and the "Knightfall"/"Knightquest"/"Knightsend" stories in-progress. So, for example, the four "replacement" Supermen that appeared during "Reign of The Supermen" each encounter a different New Blood character, but in the climatic Bloodbath two-parter, the resurrected, be-mulleted Superman is there to fight alongside the other DC heroes. Similarly, Batman Bruce Wayne encounters one Parasite in Gotham, but it is Batman Jean-Paul Valley who is there to deal with the next few and their resulting New Bloods, and he does so in various versions of his evolving costume.

So it is Valley in the cape and cowl in this particular annual, and at this point his costume is identical to the one Bruce Wayne was wearing before his career-ending injury over Bane's knee, save for a wrist-mounted grappling hook gun he's added to the costume. He hasn't yet fashioned the metal, clawed gauntlets he would soon add (although he has them by that summer's Detective Comics annual, introducing Geist) nor changed into his new costume with the full face mask and shoulder pads (which he wears in the Legends of The Dark Knight annual, introducing Samaritan and Cardinal Sin).

The Parasite Angon, whose disguised humanoid form is that of a lady with red body armor and whose true form is that seen on the cover, is in Gotham, feeding. This is something that annoyed me in 1993, and annoys me again today. Different Parasites appear in the different Gotham City-based annuals, so rather than one of them establishing the city as a feeding ground, one would visit for a week or so, get chased away, and then another would visit for a week or so, and get chased away, and so on, about a half-dozen times. (This is the second visit by a Parasite; the first was in the Shadow of The Bat annual, in which Batman Bruce Wayne, vigilante Pagan and New Blood Joe Public teamed up to chase away Gotham's first Parasite).

New Batman Jean-Paul Valley faces off against Angon, realizes he's no match for it, and retreats, later warning Commissioner Gordon to discourage his men from confronting the killer, as they won't be a match for it. either. He neglects to explain that the killer is a giant alien monster, though; that seems like it might have been useful information to share. The SWAT team that Mao is a part of ignores Batman's warnings, though, and when they get a tip the killer has been seen, they all go in, guns blazing. They are all killed—although Mao comes back to life.

He awakes in a hospital bed, completely transformed into a big pink guy with vaguely crustacean-looking skin, a massive mullet that puts resurrected Superman's mullet to shame, and a pair of tusks growing from his chin. When he flees the hospital, he discovers he has several new powers to go with his new look, like increased strength, durability and even a special membrane in his eye socket that slides down to give him night-vision.

Mao takes this all in stride. He immediately steals a bunch of explosives from the police department and uses some of them to set up a headquarters for himself in an abandoned subway terminus. Then, after spending a good ten pages or so running around nude, he gets dressed in...a rather weird costume:
Remember, all the pink-stuff is skin, right...? So he puts on a cod-piece, a giant shoulder pad, some knee pads, a collar, a superhero battle tiara/neck-warmer and a bunch of weapons. Man, I would have loved to read an interview wherein Barreto walked readers through just what the thought process was with the design of this hero. Personality-wise, Mao/Ballistic is your basic gun nut, and would have provided a sharp contrast to the original Batman, and most any other superhero in the DCU, with the possible exception of Guy Gardner, I suppose.

With Gordon vouching for Mao, the two heroes team-up, even if Batman's a bit reluctant to do so. It's easy to imagine Bruce Wayne refusing to work with Mao at all, given his love of guns, but this is Valley, and throughout the issue he's been at a loss at how to deal with the Parasite. Mao has a plan: Set up a bunch of explosives, lure the Parasite to where all of those explosives are, and then detonate them. It's a pretty Loony Tunes plan, really, the equivalent of Wile E. Coyotoe burying dynamite under a pile of birdseed and waiting for the Road Runner to stop by before he pushes the plunger down.

Here are the heroes, talking about he prospect of acting as bait to their own trap:
Moench writes Mao like a sub-Schwarzenegger in a cheesy action movie, with lots of flip, cool/dumb dialogue like that. I honestly don't know how ironic Moench was being when he wrote it, but I thought it was funny today. So Ballistic is a gun-nut who thinks, acts and talks like he's in an 80s action movie, and is the sort of person who thinks "Ballistic" is a cool superhero name. That's not the worst character in the world, and has comedic potential.

Their plan, basic as it is, works. Angon is blown out of Gotham City, only to appear in another annual later in the summer. Batman slips quietly away, as all Batmen do. Ballistic reappears in Bloodbath, the two-part mini-series that wraps up the Bloodlines event, and he is later one of the New Bloods on the reality TV superhero team in Blood Pack, and that's about where I lost track of him. It looks like Moench used him a couple more times in the 1990s, although not in comics I read, but maybe I should look into those, just so I know the characters' complete biography. He appeared in Resurrection Man's iteration of The Forgotten Heroes, was one of the countless minor characters to get killed off in the carnage of the Geoff Johns' written Infinite Crisis, and he then was resurrected as an undead Black Lantern in a Darkest Night tie-in.

Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 (DC) This follows the template established by March's Robin 80th Anniversary special. It's a $9.99 prestige format anthology featuring pin-ups and short stories honoring different eras of the character, with the contributors being a mix of past and current creators associated with the character, none of whom are too terribly surprising to see attached to the project.

Although there are several stories directly tied to particular periods of Catwoman's history, or set during particular runs on the four volumes of her own title, they aren't really organized in anything akin to a chronological order, and the only real element providing a through line of her history here are occasional pages showing how she appeared during particular decades, generally with two images clipped from a comic book of that era (the issues the images come from are noted, but not the artists that created them).
So, for example, the first of these is a page labeled "Catwoman in the 1940s," and features a blow-up of a part of a panel from Batman #1 and another from  Batman #3, showing her first two looks, which evolve rather radically from decade to decade, and even design to design (The 1980s costume is my favorite from the comics, which is why I selected this cover from the many available ones my shop had the week I went. Her Miss Fury-derived second costume from Batman: The Animated Series is my other favorite; I think an ideal one would combine the two).

If my blog is known for anything, it is probably for being overly-thorough and featuring overly-verbose posts, so I suppose I should keep with tradition and mention all ten stories, huh...?

•"Skin The Cat" by Paul Dini, Emanuela Lupacchino and Mick Gray pits Catwoman against The Taxidermist, whose name is also his profession. He's collecting big cats, which attracts Selina's attention. Though she has short, black hair and the costume she wears most closely resembles her New 52 one, Dini's version hews rather closely to the one introduced in The Animated Series. Nevertheless, it's a pretty evergreen story, and not one that's particularly married to any continuity. You could slide it into almost any continuity and it would probably work just fine.

•"Now You See Me" by Ann Nocenti, Robson Rocha and Daniel Henriques stands out among the other nine in that its Catwoman doesn't seem too terribly familiar. The costume seems to be an original one (though inspired by the Batman Returns costume in several aspects), and she kills—or almost kills—a security guard for no real reason (I think he survived, but the ending's a little vague in more than one way; even re-reading it, I didn't understand The Penguin's cameo, and how it fit into the rest of the story). I didn't care for the fact that the script mentioned particular types of doughnuts in one panel, but Rocha didn't draw either of those doughnuts. That made me sad.

•"Helena" by Tom King and Mikel Janin has the Batman writer, who used Selina heavily throughout the entirety to his run, returning to something he's toyed with previously: The possibility of Batman and Catwoman spending their whole lives together, which includes having a baby at one point. The story title is the baby's name, obviously, in a reference to Batman and Catwoman's old, pre-Crisis Earth-2 relationship that seems to have inspired King so much. It demonstrates King's usual commitment to story structure. Janin is a great artist, although his style isn't necessarily to my personal tastes. I like the way he draws Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle more than I like the way he draws Batman and Catwoman, though, so I'm glad they appear without their masks as often as they do with them in this short story.

•"Catwoman of Earth" by Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case, the creative team behind so much of DC's Batman '66 series, sees Catwoman '66 and her henchmen robbing the Annual Gotham City Science Fair, when all of a sudden Professor Overbeck's UFO Alert starts beeping. The crime is interrupted by pink-skinned, pointy-eared visitors from the planet Oobysku, complete with an era-specific ship, robot and ray guns. They plan to conquer the defenseless world of Earth, but Catwoman steps up to defend her home planet, further spurred to action by the aliens' sexist leader ("These backward beings don't even know that femoids must have permission to speak.") Catwoman kicks all of their asses save that of the lone female among them, and together the pair take off in her UFO. As was often the case with Parker's Batman '66 comics, those drawn by Case and those by others, the sense of humor of the original TV show is kept in tact, but the ability of the comics to ignore the sorts of budgetary and technical constraints of a 20th century network television show means this is a lot more action-packed and with better "special effects" than one might have ever seen on the show.

•"A Cat of Nine Tales" by Liam Sharp is the greatest deviation among the stories included, being the only one by a single creator, and by being the shortest of them all, at only three pages. It's a clever little lark of a story, in which a security guard interrupts Catwoman—in her current costume—mid-robbery, training his gun on her. "There are nine ways this ends," she chides him, and she give him each of the nine possibilities, each of which Sharp dramatizes in a long, thin, vertical panel that is almost as high as each page is long, three per page. The guard doesn't make it through her detailing of the ninth tale, in which she turns her claws on him, as he faints.

•"Little Bird"
by Mindy Newell and Lee Garbett has the writer of the original, 1989 Catwoman mini-series return to the character for a story that might read particularly weirdly to newer/younger fans of the character, featuring as it does the crypto-prostitute version of the character that Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli used in "Batman: Year One" (Garbett keeps Mazzuchelli's character designs, and even does a fair job evoking the artist's style of rendering, even if the comic flows quite differently).

•"Born To Kiln" teams Chuck Dixon, Kelley Jones and Danny Miki for a short, straightforward story featuring the '90s iteration of Catwoman, whose adventures Dixon wrote quite a bit of, not only in his various Bat-books, but also a good 18 issue of her first ongoing series. The natural artist to pair him with here would, of course, be Jim Balent, who drew that entire volume of Catwoman, but instead the gig goes to Jones, whose Catwoman work of the '90s was mostly limited to drawing her on covers and in his out-of-continuity Elseworlds comics with Doug Moench. (Balent is apparently too busy doing his own thing now, but DC did get him to do a pin-up; while the character designs of Catwoman, in her purple body-stocking and thigh-high, high-heeled boots, and Batman are clearly his, his rendering style looks gauzier than it did back in the day.) I'm obviously never going to complain about more Jones art, and this story is actually pretty interesting, because Catwoman in her most Barbie doll-esque phase is certainly not the most natural fit for Jones' style (she's wearing the Balent costume here, but Jones' version of her is far rounder, softer and more voluptuous than Balent's; in fact, Jones' seems to be the fullest-figured Catwoman in this anthology). In the story, she's basically just trying to steal a gem, only to find that Clayface, a character much more in Jones' regular wheelhouse, has beaten her to it, and so they must fight for the prize. You can guess who wins by whose name is on the cover. Selina acheives her victory by using Clayface's powers, which give him such an advantage in a hand-to-hand fight, against him, by fighting dirty.

•"Conventional Wisdom" by Will Pfeifer and Pia Guerra finds Catwoman as a guest at "Bat Con," which seems to be something akin to a comic book convention that might take place in the DC Universe, where the real Selina Kyle, Bruce Wayne, Joker and others would show up to sign autographs, rather than the creators who made their comics or the actors who played them on TV or film. Throughout, she can't quite shake the feeling that this is all wrong, even though everyone around her seems desperate to assure her everything's fine and normal. It's not until she's onstage during her own panel and a guy cosplaying Doctor Destiny gets up to ask her a question that she begins to figure out what's going on, as you probably have by the time you finished reading this sentence. It's another of the more fun and clever stories in the anthology, and it takes a fairly simple idea and works backwards to create a disorienting fantasy that will feel familiar to most readers. Guerra's art is, as always, great, and it looks far more crisp in the dream world of the well-lit, realistic convention than the dark, murky Gotham City warehouse at night that the last page is set in.

•"Addicted To Trouble" by Ram V and Fernando Blanco seems to be the most up-to-date story in the collection, as Ram V is taking over writing duties on the current Catwoman book. I haven't kept up with Catwoman since she called the wedding off in what was one of the most nonsensical Batman comics I've read in a long time, but this is basically presented as Selina and (a?) Maggie going on a wild road trip from wherever Villa Hermosa is supposed to be (Mexico?) back to Gotham City, and all of the trouble they get in along the way, including a pretty brutal bar fight in West Memphis. Most of the story is presented in the old millennial "widescreen" format, although it is nicely broken when the occasional calls for it, like the aforementioned fight scene, in which Selina takes on a good half-dozen guys hand-to-hand (and Maggie smashes a bottle over one's head). It seems like more a prelude to Ram V's run on Catwoman, and it even ends with a "To be continued in Catwoman #25!" tag, so much so that I wouldn't be at all surprised if it ends up collected along with a chunk of his run in a Catwoman trade paperback.

•"The Art of Picking A Lock" by Ed Brubaker and Cameron Stewart reunites the team from the second ongoing Catwoman series, the one with the Darwyn Cooke re-designed costume and Slam Bradley and Holly as supporting characters, and the one that is probably still the most critically acclaimed (and best-loved) run by anyone on any Catwoman comic. Between the time I first read this story and the time I set fingers to keyboard to talk about it, there have been a lot of unsavory revelations about Cameron Stewart. The guy can obviously still draw, color and letter the heck out of a comic book page, but it's also kind of impossible to think about him now without being pretty grossed out, so let's just leave discussion of the final story in the anthology there, and endeavor to ignore Stewart in the future. (This whole Catwoman special will apparently be collected along with the Robin, Joker and Detective Coimics 80th anniversary specials, as well as Detective Comics #1000, under the title of Batman: 80 Years of The Bat Family in October, so I guess DC might excise the Stewart story, and those of any other contributions from creators who have been accused of sexually harassing their peers in person or online or being part of Comicsgate or any other sort of disqualifying behavior. At least, one would hope DC would do so.)

The pin-up contributions are from Babs Tarr, Ty Templeton, Steve Rude and Matt Hollingsowrth, Tula Lotay, Tim Sale and Brennan Wagner, Jae Lee and June Chung and the aforementioned Balent. Of these, the Templeton one, featuring the original Animated Series costume, is probably the best. It's just a beautifully composed and rendered image. I found the Sale image particularly interesting too, because it featured Selina in her Cooke-designed costume, rather than the outfit Sale has drawn her in during his Catwoman: When In Rome and the two big "Year One"-era stories he drew, all with Jeph Loeb.

Daphne Byrne #4 (DC) Kelley Jones art appeared in not one, not two, not three but four comics I brought home from the shop this month! This and Daphne Byrne #5 was by far the largest dose of Jones art, as it's a whole issue of it, but, if I'm being honest, it's also the least fun. TV writer Laura Marks' storyline is far enough along that it's general shape is clear, and thus some of its dramatic beats predictable. Two-thirds of the way over, it's proceeding rather predictably, but I suppose there may still be a twist or two. As always, it's the art that remains the most interesting aspect of the book for me; not necessarily in the way that Jones illustrates the story, but in the seemingly random derivations from it, the occasionally jarring background image that no character remarks upon or reacts to, but instead seems to have been added simply for the reader.

Daphne Byrne #5 (DC) Okay, so here's what I like most about this comic.

Here, look at this page:
That's page two of the fifth issue. On page one, Daphne has run to the cemetery where her father's grave is, dismissed the ghost boy that talks to her in her ghostly narration boxes, and collapsed against her father's headstone. And Jones adds a crowd of eight strange monsters peering around it at her. Their presence isn't acknowledged in the panel, and the scene shifts in the next one. Jones just wanted to draw some weird monster guys, and thi scomic lets him do so.

In this penultimate issue, the bad guys' plot against Daphne's mom is put in motion, and she seeks to rescue her mother, after first dealing with the professor who seemed like he might be an ally, but then makes sexual advances on her, and so she cuts off his hand and his head with a sword she finds in his rooms, and then shoves the severed hand into the mouth of his severed head.

I'm not sure exactly how old Daphne's supposed to be; in the earlier issues she seemed quite young, but given how much the shape of the story suggests she's a "poltergeist girl" of the sort one reads about in Charles Forte's writing and when looking at 19th century spiritualism, it seems like she's probably meant to be a teenager. At any rate, she's too young to consent to his sexual advances, maybe even in her century, but, of course, she doesn't consent, but cuts him up as if he were made of butter. She leaves the sword with his body, which we see the intestines of being ripped out of by a pack of the sorts of goblins that were shown in the cemetery scene. This is perhaps an unfortunate mistake on Daphne's part.

Given how easily she dismembered him, she probably wouldn't have too much trouble chopping up her mother's captors, but I imagine the final issue of the book will involve her employing her weird illusion or ghost powers to save her mother, rather than her swordsmanship.

Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 (DC) This special differs from the other 80th anniversary anthology specials in that not only have various characters gone by the name "Green Lantern" over the decades, as was the case with March's Robin special, but the original concept introduced 80 years ago in the pages of All-American Comics was quite different than the one that would emerge in a 1959 issue of Showcase, when editor Julius Schwartz was re-creating DC's Golden Age heroes for what would become the Silver Age (Of course, Alan Scott and his Green Lantern career would eventually be incorporated into the sci-fi milieu that supplanted the more vague and magical one of the 1940s).

As with the Catwoman special, DC seems to have done a pretty good job of rounding up people with particular connections to the characters to contribute stories featuring them, like having Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert do a Hal Jordan story, Dennis O'Neil and Mike Grell to do a GL/GA team-up, Ron Marz and Darryl Banks to reunite for a Kyle Rayner story and Joe Stanton contributing a Guy Gardner pin-up.

The creator line-up is, of course, a little too dude-heavy, with the only female creators being assigned a story featuring the one female Green Lantern to get a story (with the exception of Charlotte Fullterton McDuffie, credited as "a.k.a. Dwayne McDuffie's 'McSpouse'"), and I'm not entirely sure we needed to hear from the likes of writer James Tynion IV, who seems to be here only because he's relatively popular among current DC readers, but whatever. The book does offer a pretty decent overview of the current state of the Green Lantern franchise, including as it does all seven earth-born, canonincal Green Lanterns, a couple of the more popular alien Lanterns (Sinestro and Kilowog), and pin-ups featuring Far Sector's Green Lantern Jo Mullein (I don't know if Far Sector counts as canon or not), Green Lantern: Legacy's Tai Pham and even Young Justice's Teen Lantern.

These pin-ups are drawn by Jamal Campbell, Andie Tong and David LaFuente, respectively, and, in addition to the Stanton pin-up, there are others by Bruce Timm, Rafael Grampa (a very cool one of Hal in what looks to be his 2011 film costume), Joelle Jones and Sarah Stone.

Anyway, let's look at the contents, story by story....

•Alan Scott in "Dark Things Cannont Stand The Light" by James Tynion IV, Gary Frank and Steve Oliff. This one is interesting in that it seems to transpose Alan Scott's sexual orientation from the New 52 series Earth 2 into a Golden Age setting, although not his boyfriend Sam (Here, it's heavily suggested that Alan was in love with Jimmy Henton, the young man who died during the train crash in the original Green Lantern comic).

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about such a dramatic retcon, given that there are easier members of the JSA to make gay (like the original Doctor Mid-Nite, for example; while gay men can and do marry heterosexual women and have children, the story here has Jimmy's mother explicitly telling Alan that if there's something inside him like there was in her son, then "it's important you carry it forward to help other people find their way," and living an extremely closeted life for the next eighty years or so seems to be at odds with what she tells him and his reaction to it.

Tynion does a decent job of retelling Alan's original origin story, though, and couching it in a conversation, even though it's a somewhat dull way to tell a story. Like, I don't read super-comics for conversations, personally. Everyone's in plain clothes throughout, and there's only a single image of Scott in his costume, when he rather nonsensically flies up into the sky, leaving his ride on the ground.

That ride, by the way, is Alan's Golden Age sidekick "Doiby" Dickles, who Alan refers to as "Derby", and dang, does that sound weird.

As with the Scott Snyder-written Wonder Woman short in another recent anniversary specials, I found myself wondering if this was meant to be set in a "new" DCU Golden Age that was to be introduced in the next reboot, the one that Dan DiDio was teasing before his (long overdue) departure. I guess we'll see. On its own, this stands up fine, but I'm not sure how I feel about a canonical Alan Scott who is not only gay, but in the closet for eight decades. Of course, there is no context of a greater DC Universe where this story might fit, at the moment, so I guess we can shelve any thoughts or opinions on that aspect for now.

•Hal Jordan in "Last Will" by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert. Geoff Johns, the writer who actually pulled off bringing Hal Jordan back from the dead and making the lamest Super Friend and all-around worst Green Lantern cool again*, has Hal crash-landing in a desert landscape, his ring almost out of energy. He has just enough to send out three messages, which he does: A distress call/goodbye to the Green Lantern Corps, a weird page-long thank you message to Batman about how he wishes he was as smart as Batman, and a shorter I love you to Carol Ferris.

It's essentially a rather effective joke comic, which is something I wouldn't have really expected from Johns, but it works pretty well. It also makes Hal the butt of the joke, and that's the Hal Jordan I like the best. It's short enough that I don't know if fans of Johns' tenure on Green Lantern will necessarily see this as a return to form from him, although he restates some of his insights into the character. Either way, it's definitely a great opportunity to see Reis drawing the character again, and also drawing a large swathe of the Corps and even the New 52 Justice League.

Sinestro in "The Meaning of Fear" by Cullen Bunn, Doug Mahnke and David Baron. Bunn, who wrote a short-lived Sinestro ongoing, teams with former Green Lantern artist Mahnke to re-tell Sinestro's origin, framed as a recruitment pitch for the Sinestro Corps made to a dying Green Lantern. Mahnke is a great artist, and I really like his Sinestro; Sinestro can be an extremely fun character to draw, I think, as is evident in the way he so often turns out when a great artist gets their pencils on him. This story seems to be set a bit further back in the past, when the Sinestro Corps were an ongoing concern and Sinestro was wearing his yellow uniform, rather than the blue and black get-up he's been wearing in Justice League during Scott Snyder and Tynion's mega-arc.

•Green Lantern & Green Arrow in "Time Alone" by Denny O'Neil, Mike Grell and Lovern Kindzierski. Is this the late Denny O'Neil's last story? It's got to be one of them. He passed away on June 11, and both this issue and the Joker 80th Anniversary Special (which also contained a short story from the greatest Batman editor of all time) shipped that very month.

There's a lot to like in this short story, which manages to revisit the "relevant" comics that O'Neil, Neal Adams and company helped usher in with their original pairing of DC's two Green heroes back in the 1970s, without feeling like a rehash. GA is wound particularly tight, and punches out the Clock King and then just keeps punching him until Hal shows up to pull him off of the unconscious villain. They bicker and hang out, and Hal tells Ollie that he recently took a two-month, two-day vacation to an uninhabited planet to read Henry David Thoreau's Walden, and suggests it as a way of refocusing and recharging ("It's not that I've gone soft or wimpy," Hal tells Ollie, "I've realized that not every problem will be solved with violence.")

While O'Neil quotes Walden, Grell draws a montage on he alien planet, but he's equally adept at drawing calm, peaceful nature on Earth, too. His fully-fleshed out characters and detailed line-work and cross-hatching give the story a very classic feel too. It works quite well as a sort of epilogue or coda to the old O'Neil Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories, and if it was his last story, well, it's hardly the worst one for him to go out on, as a sort of final word on a few of the character's he's perhaps most famous for writing.

Also, this story is the first of two to feature a nude Green Lantern in it. Here we see Hal showering in a water fall full of little luminescent orbs.

Kyle Rayner in "Legacy" by Ron Marz, Daryl Banks and Hi-Fi. I liked this one an awful lot, but then Kyle was my Green Lantern, being the one that appeared in the first issues of Green Lantern I ever read and being the Green Lantern that starred in JLA, my first Justice League comic (and still one of my favorite comics). Seemingly set in some hybrid continuity wherein Alan Scott was a Green Lantern but so too were Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz, Kyle's gone to a storage company in Queens to root through some of the stuff from Guy's old superhero bar Warrior's to bring back to Oa, where Guy has set up a new version of Warriors as a Green Lantern cop bar.

An interesting element of Marz, Banks and company's GL run was the incredibly sharp break they made with the "old" Green Lantern when they introduced Kyle, and yet very gradually started to re-embrace the character as a legacy character, something that seemed to reach fruition in Marz's stories in which Kyle would meet with Alan, Guy and John Stewart for beers at Warrior's and shoot the shit about Hal Jordan and Green Lantern-ing in general.

So this story felt very apropos. The buy who works in the storage place talks to Kyle at one point in an exchange that seemed to be Marz reflecting on his late 1990s run on the title, what with the guy who works at the storage facility speaking admiringly of how Kyle had to keep the legacy of "Green Lantern" alive all by himself for so long, and Kyle demurring that he was simply doing the best he could.

Naturally there's fighting, as one of the things Guy once had on display activates, and transforms into a killer space robot, and Kyle has to fight it, employing his usually inventive ring constructs. In addition to getting to draw a lot of Kyle, Banks draws all the other Earth-born Lanterns in a pair of panels, once in a sort of flashback, and another time as constructs.

Banks is a pretty great artist, and his work here is far sharper than I remember it (which, honestly, shouldn't be that surprising, as his run on GL was over 20 years ago). It seems kind of unfortunate we don't see his work more often, so hopefully this story also reminds a lot of editors that Banks is a good super-comics artist, and we get to see more of his work elsewhere soon.

•Guy Gardner and Kilowog in "Heart of The Corps" by Peter J. Tomasi, Fenrando Pasarin, Wade Von Grawbadger and Gabe Eltaeb. Speaking of Guy Gardner and Warriors, this short story from former Green Lantern Corps writer Tomasi opens with Guy drinking a beer and telling stories in his new Oan Warriors. There's not a whole lot to this one, to the extent that saying anything about the plot might ruin its one big surprise. Suffice it to say that more than any other, this story focuses on the Corps as an entity, and Pasarin is the artist who gets to draw all sorts of crazy alien Lanterns, although Hal, Kyle, John and some of the other "name" Lanterns from that period of the GLC make appearances too.

•John Stewart in "Reverse The Polarity" by Charlotte (Fullerton) McDuffie, Chrisscross, Jordi Tarragona and Luis Guerrero. This is maybe the weirdest of the stories in here, given that it is the only one here that really reflects a mass-media version of a Green Lantern, rather than a comic book version. Green Lantern John Stewart and Hawkgirl are on the Justice League's Watchtower satellite headquarters, and there seems to be a flirtatious relationship between the two, despite the fact that Hawkgirl is drawn to resemble her current, comic book iteration.

If the writer's relationship to the late, great comic book writer-turned-Justice League/Justice League Unlimited cartoon producer from the weird little asterisk in the credits referring to her as Dwayn McDuffie's "McSpouse" isn't clear enough, the story ends with a "For Dwayne" and the macguffiny super-element they are there to secure its named—ready for it?—"Meilstonium."

Doctor Polaris shows up to steal the element, which will increase his power tenfold, and our heroes stop him. And, that's about it, really, although there's a little through line regarding John's confidence in his abilities, and whether it's overconfident or, perhaps, whether he actually believes in himself enough.

I haven't seen Chrisscross' art in quite a long time, and forgot how much I like it.

Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner in "Four" by Robert Venditti, Rafa Sandoval, Jordi Tarragona and Ivan Pascencia. Venditti, who had the unenviable job of following Johns' years-long run on the franchise, here follows Marz by having a couple of Earth's GLs get together to share some beers and stories about one of their fallen fellows. The twist here is that it it's no longer the late Hal Jordan that the others are toasting, it's now the late Guy Gardner, and this story is set in the future, when Hal, Kyle and John are all old men, and none of them are wearing Green Lantern rings.

While the conversation is a bit unnaturally clipped, no doubt in order to get a couple of stories into so short a space, it's a good strategy for getting in a story about Guy while prominently featuring the other three. Venditti also gets to an interesting insight into why it might be that Guy Gardner is such an obnoxious jerk, beyond the most obvious explanation (that is, that he's an asshole).

It's shared by John:
Guy walked into every room like he was picking a fight. He practically begged to get his face smashed in. Because the more every villain and intergalactic despot hated him--the more they wanted to kill him-- --the less they thought about killing any of his friends.
I mean, it doesn't explain why he was such an obnoxious jerk to his fellow Justice Leaguers, but I thought it was a nice bit of retroactive characterization nonetheless.

By the way, this is the other story with a naked Green Lantern in it. At one point, in an attempt to distract Sinestro, Guy loses his costume and streaks past Sinestro, Sandoval composing the image so that Sinestro's head covers Guy's crotch as he flies by.

•Jessica Cruz in "The Voice" by Mariko Tamaki, Mirka Andolfo and Arif Prianto. Jessica Cruz was a particularly interesting character to give a Green Lantern ring to, not simply because she represented different demographics for the usual earth-born GLs, but because she suffered from terrible anxiety that kept her terrified to leave her own home (although I assume she worked out at home a lot, given that she has a superhero physique). That's a pretty big challenge to overcome, given that Green Lanterns are supposed to be without fear (although her origin story is a lot more complicated than that of other, previous Green Lanterns, as she was initially possessed of Earth-3's Power Ring's power ring before getting a GL ring).

I haven't read a ton of in-continuity stories featuring her, but I never really liked how easy Geoff Johns made her complete conquering of fear seem, as that's not how easy my own, similar anxieties are dealt with. Like, it's been a long, long time since I was afraid to leave my house, but I still wouldn't get on an airplane. Jessica went from not being able to leave her house to flying around in outer space, dependent on her own brain to keep her alive while doing so.

I mention all of this only because Tamaki writes much more convincingly about anxiety than Johns ever did. In the short story that Jessica narrates, she goes over her origin story briefly, and talks about anxiety while a short series of events from her "job" of being a Green Lantern and, at this point, Simon Baz's partner and a Justice Leaguer, play out. The idea of being a kid who worries who eventually becomes a grown-up who suffers from anxiety, the voices in one's head that form an argument between "regular brain" and "anxious brain", the need to reframe thoughts to get through them—that all felt extremely compelling to me. It all felt real. This is therefore probably the best Jessica Cruz story I've ever read.

I'm used to seeing Andolfo's work in the context of DC Comics Bombshells, which she contributed to quite a bit. I like it a lot, and it was great to see her drawing something for the "real" DCU.

•Simon Baz in "Homegrown Hero" by Sina Grace, Ramon Villalobos and Rico Renzi. This was a nice story in that it was sort of refreshing to see Simon Baz as the Green Lantern as a superhero, and one doing normal-ish supehero stuff on Earth. After his rather exciting introduction by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke and others, Baz seemed to take a backseat to Hal again, and faded from the limelight pretty quickly, sharing it with Jessica Cruz and/or the League and, obviously, doing more space stuff than anything else, which has basically been what the Green Lantern franchise has focused on with little exception in the past 15 years or so.

Here, Grace and Villalobos have Simon hanging out with his family in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, and stumbling into a terrorist plot targeting the Muslim community. It's a neat reversal from the too-standard view of terrorism in America that took hold after 9/11—although the actuality is as it has always been, that most terrorism in the U.S. is committed by disaffected white, American-born men—and Simon's aunt gets to make the point about how if you let yourself be terrorized by terrorists, then you let them win, here applied in a more apropos way than the iteration we heard so often during the Bush years, when "then the the terrorists win" usually followed something about shopping, spending or otherwise supporting the economy.

Having seen Villalobos' art pop up repeatedly in such anthologies, I really wish he had a good, high-profile title to draw month in and month out, so we could see his work more regularly.

The best part of this story, however, is probably that Grace drew upon the most interesting aspects of Baz's background to base the story around: His family and his hometown.

After this final story concludes, there are eight pages of short profiles of 40 different Green Lanterns, including all of the earth-born ones we saw in the previous pages, and many of the supporting characters that appeared in the last 15 years or so worth of Green Lantern comics.

The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 (DC) Of the three 80th Anniversary anthology specials published this month, this one was probably the weakest, owing to its relative uniformity. Unlike the Catwoman special, which also featured the same starring character in each tale, there wasn't quite as much variance in the style or tone of these stories, and almost every contributor gravitated towards the same iteration of The Joker, the one that is most prevalent these days, The Joker as unstoppable serial killer, more akin to the charismatic monster/villain in a slasher flick than anything approaching a super-villain or master criminal.

The contributors are mostly predictable ones, including writers who are either currently writing or have written the character in sizable story arcs in the last several years, like Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Brian Azzarello and Detective Comics writer Peter Tomasi. Paul Dini and Denny O'Neil are nice inclusions who are nevertheless somewhat predictable; I mean, no one would be surprised to see either of them writing a Joker story in an anniversary special. Many of the artists are similarly familiar from the new release shelves in your local comic shop: Mikel Janin, Tony S. Daniel and Jock. Lee Bermejo and Eduardo Risso, each of whom have popular Joker stories in their bibliographies, also show up.

In fact, the only real surprises were Gary Whitta and Gregg Miller, two men completely unfamiliar to me but who a quick Google suggests are successful in other media, who co-write maybe the only real "joke" story in the book, in which The Joker finally succeeds in killing The Batman and has to find a new career where he can torment others.

O'Neil is paired with Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, making his story "Introducing The Dove Corps" probably the best-drawn, in addition to being the most unusual in the bunch. On a whim, The Joker decides to join the U.N.'s new Dove Corps for "non-lethal military missions." Their first one is to rescue hostages from Guatemala. The Joker's expertise with various joke and chemical weapons naturally makes him a perfect fit for such a team. Unfortunately, well, he's The Joker.

Dini is paired with the great Riley Rossmo, whose art is often a highlight of such recent anthologies and specials. Dini's story is, naturally, both a Joker story and a Harley story, with Harley telling Poison Ivy a story of The Joker telling her about a dream that haunted him. As is so often the case, Dini's Joker is much like the one in the cartoons, but slightly more violent and harder-edged, and thus he, like O'Neil's Joker, seems to be the same version of The Joker that all the others are writing, but on the further edges of that common portrayal.

The other story I rather liked was Tom Taylor and Risso's "Birthday Bugs," which draws a direct parallel between the (perhaps naive) sadism of children and that of The Joker, playing with our inverted expectations of clowns (which are here sort of de-inverted, to be be put right back up, even though this clown is The Joker). Taylor is a really good comics writer, and Risso is an amazing storyteller, so these two make a great pair. Risso's version of The Joker here is, visually at least, quite different than many comics ones, having the size and rough demeanor of the Animated Series or Golden Age Joker, a Heath Ledger-like make-up job and a real flare to his wardrobe, including a particularly clown-ish hairstyle.

As with the Catwoman and Green Lantern specials, this one includes pin-ups, and these are contributed by Kelley Jones (above), Stejepan Sejic, Ivan Reis, Tim Sale, John Romita Jr and Danny Miki and Fiona Staples.

That last name is worth lingering on, as Staples is the only woman who gets a credit for either writing or drawing even a page of this, remember, 100-page "super-spectacular." For the ten short stories included, there are eleven writers credited and eleven artists credited, all of them men. Of the six pin-ups, five of those are drawn by men. Heck, even among the eight cover artists there are no women. That is...not a great look for a comic book in the year 2020. I think there are one or two female colorists involved in these 100 pages, but that's it.

If I had to guess why that would be, well, I imagine it accidentally reveals various types of sexism in super-comics industry, and probably the sort that arises from ignorance rather than malice. Like, I'm sure the editors who assembled this thing didn't sit down and say, "Okay, first things first: No women are allowed to be hired for this one." Rather, The Joker is probably a higher-profile gig, and so they went for higher-profile creators which, in the world of super-comics means mostly dudes.

The other element is that they seem to have sought out creators who have done Joker work in the past and thus are associated with the character and, well, traditionally very few women have worked in any capacity on the primary Batman titles. Devin Grayson wrote Gotham Knight, Nightwing and shorter stories here and there in the '90s and early '00s; Gail Simone wrote Barbara Gordon in Birds of Prey; Joelle Jones drew an arc or so of Batman and...that's about it. This is, of course, a self-fulfilling problem, as if you don't hire ladies to write and draw comics with Batman and the Joker in them, you're not going to have many ladies associated with the characters when the time comes to seek out creators who are (You know, I didn't really consider Fiona Staples a good candidate for a run on Batman before, thinking her profile is probably a little too high for trashy super-comics at this point in her career, but the fact that she was sought out to contribute to this makes me think that she, like Nicola Scott, would probably be one of the easiest mainstream comics artists for all the dudes in the fanbase to accept without comment. Except for the douchier dudes, of course, who are always commenting).

The final point on this is that I wonder if there is still some widespread but unspoken belief that women are best-suited to write and draw stories featuring female characters rather than male ones, while male creators are able to write and draw male or female characters. That certainly seems to be the case if you look just at the four 80th Anniversary specials I've read this year. Robin, Catwoman and Green Lantern all had more female creators involved...but they also all had more female characters in the comics themselves.

Although there are a few female characters in this book. It's just that dudes are telling their stories. There's the aforementioned Dini/Rossmo story that features Harley Quinn and, for a few panels, Poison Ivy. And Tynion's contribution, drawn by Janin and colored by Jordie Bellaire. is something of an origin for his new character Punchline. As I haven't been in comics shops regularly in forever now, nor read an issue of Batman yet this year, I'm not sure if this is her first appearance (Ooh, if so, is it worth money? I mean, more than the $9.99 I paid for it?) or her origin, but it's presented as if it's supposed to be the latter.

It's...pretty unimpressive. Punchline is a college student at Snyder College (ugh) north of Gotham, and she idolizes The Joker. When we first meet her, the dean (who seems like he might be played by the late Tom Spurgeon?) is sitting in her dorm room with her, having a serious talk with her, while she wears a Joker t-shirt and has Joker posters all over her walls. She kills him, changes into her Punchline outfit and make-up, and then The Joker walks out of her closet (This follows a story in which The Joker is literally portrayed as a monster under the bed).

Upon her first announcement, the character seemed to be one that the creators and/or DC were eager to sell as a new Harley Quinn. And that's basically what she seems to be here, a young woman who becomes infatuated with The Joker and follows him into a life of crime, the main difference being that this new Punchline character seems to be more of a fangirl/pro relationship (which is particularly unsettling, given all the bad shit that came out about various DC Comics creators in the month of June 2020), as opposed to the moll/mobster relationship of Harley Quinn. Well, that and the fact that Punchline is still a college student, rather than a psychologist who tried to cure The Joker, but ended up being driven crazy and seduced by him. If Batman: The Animated Series's Harley Quinn was a '90s version of a sort of 1940s gun moll or the sorts of colorful, thematic henchmen and girlfriends of the 1960s Batman TV show, Punchline seems to be the current era's version of a troubled fan infatuated with a serial killer from the '80s or early '90s.

But hey, it was only ten pages. Maybe she'll prove more interesting in Tynion's "Joker War" story arc...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #103 (IDW Publishing) Three months after I bought and read TMNT #104, I finally managed to get my hands on the preceding issue. I didn't get it the month of release, because all of the copies that were sent to my shop were so badly damaged during shipping that they didn't feel right selling them to customers, and so they had to place a reorder.

And then there was a pandemic and everything shut down.

And then, when the reordered copies did come in, I guess they forgot to put one in my pull, so I found it on the rack by accident.

Man, buying single-issue comic books through the direct market seems like an expensive and absurd way to go about buying and reading comics stories in 2020 in the best of circumstances, but buying this book in this format seems particularly absurd. Especially now that IDW has solicited the first collection of Sophie Campbell's TMNT run, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Reborn Vol. 1—From The Ashes, collecting #101-#105, for September.

I love this creator and these characters enough to want to spend money on the single-issues to support her work on them, but as silly as single-issues seem at this point in comics history, the difficulty in getting them from the publisher to my hands is just one more significant argument against doing so (Also, IDW publishes all the variants in the back of the trades, right? Because it's really hard having to choose between Campbell's and Kevin Eastman's covers on this book once a month!)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #105 (IDW) There's a lot to like about this issue, which opens with the five Turtles, Alopex, and Mona Lisa going to a rock club to hear After The Bomb play. The scene, which features about ten silent panels of the characters reacting differently to the music and the scene, and those in the previous issue, reminded me quite a bit of Campbell's Wet Moon, which featured characters who spend a lot more time watching live music than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles do and, obviously, Campbell's run on the Jem comics.

Among the things I liked about this issue are...

The shark (Bludgeon) and the raptor (Koya) from the Foot CLan spying on the Turtles from a rooftop, and Koya talking a bit like Skeletor in the old He-Man cartoon: "Ugh, Blech. I hate fun" and, later, "Ew, love? What are you talking about? Disgusting."

All of the cool mutants that Campbell fills up the backgrounds of her pages with. So many of them are so clearly designed, dressed and emoting that they all seem to have interesting stories of their own that I really want to learn more about. Like, in this issue, for example, the zebra bartender, or the sad looking goth bat lady drinking alone at the bar, or the pangolin studying with the Splinter Clan at their new dojo.

Seeing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doing something that seems like something teens—well, twentysomethings, really—might actually do, and seeing that it all seems familiar and authentic. Like, Campbell draws them hanging out in a group, going to see a band, talking together outside of the club, meeting new people there, and so on. That all felt much more real than in so many other iterations of TMNT stories, where you can tell some 40 or 50-year-old is like, "What do teens do these days? Ride skate boards? Extreme sports? Sure, lets get some extreme sports in here!"

Alopex, who I only really know of from Campbell's short run on the book so far, although I know she's been around for quite a while now, formally joining the clan and getting her own ninja mask (It's green, which seems to be a good "fourth" color for the Turtles...except for the fact that they themselves are green)

The training montage

The enmity that Pepperoni apparently feels towards Klunk, and which Klunk seems completely unaware of.

The page of the characters asleep in their respective rooms, and how the decor in each reflects the differences in their characters (Michelangelo is apparently a comics and kaiju fan, and even has a Gamera poster on his wall and a model on his table...unless that's a particularly chubby iteration of Godzilla on the table. He has two longboxes full of X-Men comics. Those are both crossovers I've long wanted to read, by the way, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. Gamera, preferably by Campbell, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles x The X-Men, the latter being one I've wanted to read since, like, the '90s. I've obviously been thinking about the Turtles interacting with Marvel's Daredevil pretty much as soon as I realized how much their origin splintered from his, and around the time I first saw that shitty '90s X-Men cartoon I started imagining the potential in a TMNT/X-Men crossover, given that mutants are such a core component of the Turtle characters, and just how different they are from the mutants of the X-Men milieu, which, up until around the millennium when Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely temporarily took over, being a mutant basically just meant being in peak physical human condition and having a super-power. Anyway, this is a long-ass parenthetical tangent, isn't it...? Let me just state, for the record, that I hope Campbell gets to do crossovers between the TMNT and Gamera, the X-Men, Batman and maybe she can help draw a Daredevil crossover, although I really think that project should be Peter Laird/Kevin Eastman collaboration, a thing that is apparently still possible. Frank Miller can do covers, maybe. Or at least variants.)

The way that Campbell and colorist Ronda Pattison render the music (or should that be "music"...?) that Jennika plays (Oh, and the fact that she likes Bikini Kill).

Michelangelo's speech to Lita about being a ninja.

The intimation that Renet might be showing up in the near future, assuming that's her time scepter the character on the last page is holding.

What didn't I like...?

Raphael and Alopex kissing. I'm with Koya when it comes to love, I guess. I've never liked romance involving the Turtles characters in any of their previous iterations, mostly because they're not human beings, and it just makes me think too deeply about love and lust and sexual attraction between species, and where that comes from exactly, and if it could be mutated into an animal, and if that animal would really be attracted to a human female, or an alien lizard person, or whatever.

Of course, then I remembered that this Raphael, unlike all the previous Raphaels, isn't a turtle that mutated into a humanoid turtle, but the reincarnation of a human being's soul in the body of a turtle that mutated into a humanoid turtle. I don't know Alopex's origin, but all of the mutants in Mutant Town, and in this series in general, seem to be either humans that mutated into animal/human hybrids, or to have the souls of humans reincarnated within them.

I still wouldn't want to kiss a fox lady though; I bet her mouth is all hairy and tastes gross and...yeah, I'm with Koya!

I don't think I care for that human-sized ant. It just seems too big.

And that's it. Certainly far more in the like column than the dislike column.


Camp Spirit (Top Shelf) By the time the supernatural element in Axelle Lenoir's graphic novel is revealed, it seems all but superfluous: Her mid-90s comedy about a disaffected young woman forced to spend her last summer before college as a camp counselor is so full of sharply-drawn characters, sharply-observed humor and dynamic character interplay that one hardly needs anything like a real-life ghost story to liven it up in any way. I loved this, and would highly recommend it.

Komi Can't Communicate Vols. 6-7 (Viz Media) In these two volumes, Komi, Tadano and their increasingly large and weird group of friends visit a karaoke bar, a cat cafe, a skating rink, a temple and have Christmas and New Year's parties. Meanwhile, Komi goes clothes shopping with her father, who shares her crippling anxiety, but which everyone seems to mistake for extreme coolness. Also, a new character is introduced in the form of Makoto Katai, who, like Komi, is also extremely quiet, and, also like Komi, everyone mistakes his social awkwardness for something else—in his case, they all seem to think he is a totally hardcore ruffian, and, indeed, every one of his attempts to reach out to others appears to be threatening. For some reason, he latches on to Tadano, and wants to become Tadano's friend, each move of which is also further misinterpreted as a romantic gesture.

I've tried a few other series of late, but this remains my favorite manga series.

Star Wars Adventures Vol. 6: Flight of The Falcon (IDW Publishing) I appreciate the fact that IDW's Star Wars Adventures trades aren't simple collections of individual issues of comics the way so many trade paperback collections are, but actually offer a different reading experience than you would get if you read the serially-published, ;comic book-comic issues month in and month out. Though the series is always an anthology, with multiple short stories from various eras of Star Wars films and TV shows, for this particular collection, the "Flight of The Falcon" shorts from issues #14-#18 are collected, along with the one-shot special, Flight of The Falcon. (As to why I think it's a good thing that collections offer different experiences than serially published issues, even though this is an extremely minor instance, I think doing so can help encourage the purchase of comic books. Like, if I know for a fact that, say, just about every single thing that Marvel or DC publishes serially will end up in trade paperback format as is, for the same price or cheaper, often with more content than I would get from buying serial issues—like, for example, a gallery of variant covers—that only encourages me to wait for the trade, which I might buy, or might just end up borrowing from the library).

"The Flight of The Falcon" arc, written by Michael Moreci and drawn by Arianna Florean (with "assistant inker" Michele Pasta), is really just an anthology within an anthology, although there's a framing device, and shared subject matter. First Order spy Bazine Netal (who was apparently a extremely minor character who appeared in Maz Kanata's castle in The Force Awakens, a fact I did not know until I Googled her, despite having seen the film repeatedly) is searching for The Millennium Falcon, and her investigation takes her from world to world, getting info from sources as various as IG-88, The Clone Wars' Embo and that worm lady who was Fagin to young orphan Han Solo in Solo, plus a couple of characters who seem to be brand-new. The stories they tell all feature the Falcon, obviously, although different people were inside it in each story: Young Solo and Chewbacca, the original trilogy's heroes, General Lando Calrissian and Nein Nub, older Han and Chewie and, finally, Very Old Han and Chewie. The adventures in these stories, none of which seem all that helpful in helping Netal get any closer to finding the ship, do offer a more elaborate games of mix-and-match than is standard for these comics.

For example, the first story has third trilogy character Netal talking to Empire Strikes Back's IG-88 about the time he helped Star Wars: Rebels' Agent Kallus try to apprehend Solo-era Han. That cast accounts for characters from four different iterations of Star Wars. None of the other stories manage to get quite that many characters from various sources into a single story, but the impulse is reflective of Morecai's efforts throughout. It is, it turns out, a pretty small galaxy; how else do we account for the fact that the same few dozen characters are always crossing one another's paths...?

The longest story in the book is that of the one-shot, which takes place sometime after Netal's search (which I guess actually concluded in something called Pirate's Price) and it features Clone Wars' Holdo in possession of the Falcon, which is now being pursued by Bala-Tik of the Guavian Death Gang (more minor, but more memorable, characters from Force Awakens).

I liked the art in this volume quite a bit. Florean's style looks awfully close to that of the Star Wars: Original Trilogy Graphic Novel, a style I absolutely love.

Star Wars Adventures Volume 7: Pomp and Circumstance (IDW) This slim trade paperback collects issues #14-17 of the best Star Wars comic book series available (sorry, Marvel!), presumably all of the non-"Flight of The Falcon" stories, which appeared in volume six of the series.

That's five stories, including John Jackson Miller and Jon Sommariva's "Mind Your Manners" featuring Luke, Leia and C-3P0 circa the original trilogy; John Barber and Mauricet's "Chewie's Day Off," featuring the adventures of a Solo-era Chewbacca at a space spa; James Gilarte and Mauricet's "An Unlikely Friendship" starring Poe Dameron and BB-8; and a pair of stories by Kevin Burke, Chris "Doc" Wyatt and Valentina Pinto starring the lead character from the Resistance cartoon series, which I've never seen (and which I have little interest in ever seeing, as the animated style seems even more off-putting to me than that of Rebels and Clone Wars, neither of which I particularly liked the look of).

The fact that I didn't like those Resistance shorts, and, in fact, had a hard time mustering enough interest to read both of them all the way through, might say something about Star Wars comics that I never really give much thought to. That is, because I'm so familiar with so many of the characters, settings and various elements of those worlds from a life time of movies, toys, cartoons and other comics, it is extremely easy to get into new comics.

For example, the "Mind Your Manners" story starred a trio of fictional characters that I have literally known all of my life, including where they're from, where they're going, what their personalities, motivations and relationships are. Not only is there a very low bar of entry to such a story, but so much of the writer's job is already done that I'm predisposed to liking it.

Whereas with the Resistance stories, I don't even remember the name of the main character or what his deal is (It's Kaz Xiono; I just looked it up. Oh, and he's a Resistance spy working with BB-8 reporting to Poe). So while I didn't really like either of those stories, maybe that's just because I'm not pre-conditioned to like them...? I do find it somewhat suspicious, though, that of these five stories, I liked them in descending order based on how familiar I was with the characters. That is perhaps just a coincidence in this case, but I think it says something more about such franchise comics in general (Like, if I read a mediocre Batman comic and a mediocre Adam Warlock comic, chances are I'm going to enjoy the former more, simply because I know and like Batman already, whereas I don't know anything about Adam Warlock other that he was big in the seventies, I think?)

I'm just thinking out loud—or, in writing, I guess—here, though, and not coming up with a theory or making a statement. I've certainly read and liked Star Wars comics before based on the quality of their construction, even if they had few links to elements of the Star Wars shared-setting I was terribly familiar with (like, say, The Crimson Empire comics), or were more-or-less all-new (John Ostrander and Jan Duuresema's Star Wars: Legacy series).

But yeah, part of the reason I liked that Miller/Sommariva story so much was definitely that I knew the characters so well, and that it offered a rare-ish opportunity for Threepio's often-announced knowledge of protocol to be put to good use and, yeah, that the basic plot reminded me quite a bit of the sorts of stories that used to pop up in the original Marvel Star Wars comics all the time.

It also helped, of course, that Sommariva's art was so great, though, and such a sharp departure from what we normally might think of as Star Wars art. Luke and Leia's designs include a great deal of exaggeration and energy, and the alien race they are dealing with—some sort of humanoid lizards—are so cartoony in design that they look like they belong to comedic cartoon series rather than something that might have appeared on screen in a Star Wars movie. Sommariva makes a lot of fun, over-the-top costuming decisions too, especially when Luke is forced to play ambassador, and has to wear a goofy floppy hat, for example, or the garb of the various lizard people, from the fancily-dressed soldiers to a cleaning lizard lady in what is basically a French maid outfit.


The Lost Carnival (DC Comics) I guess Dick Grayson being a teenager in this original graphic novel makes it difficult to square with DCU continuity (not that there's necessarily any reason to do so, given the non-canonical nature of the publisher's OGNs for kids and YA audiences), but writer Michael Moreci nevertheless does a fine job of making Dick seem very much like himself, and artist Sas Milledge does an equally fine job of making him a dreamy romantic lead.

I didn't get too deep into the story, which involves an otherworldly old-timey carnival that's set up stakes too-close to Haly's Circus, before I was reminded of the fact that a pre-Robin, Dick Grayson-starring TV show was one of those that was bandied about in the years after Smallville became a hit, but before DC was cranking out of TV shows based on everything from Rip Hunter and Black Lightning to The Doom Patrol and Stargirl. I guess it could have worked, if every episode was as tightly-plotted and character-focused this comic was. Certainly The Lost Carnival demonstrates the soundness of the premise for such a series.

One of the interesting things about it for me, as a long-time reader of Batman comics, was seeing so much of Dick's parents John and Mary Grayson. Unlike Thomas and Martha Wayne, I don't think I've seen very many stories in which they get much of any panel-time...aside from falling to their deaths, of course. By contrast, the late Wayne's are forever popping up in flashbacks and in non-canonical stories; hell, there's even a miniseries in which Thomas Wayne is Batman and Martha Wayne are Batman and The Joker respectively, a sixty-page story that Tom King has used as one of the major building blocks in his 100+-issue run on Batman.

Anyway, Moreci and Milledge's Lost Carnival is a great coming-of-age story for Dick Grayson, giving us a hint of what his life might have been like had his parents not been murdered in front of a circus audience including Bruce Wayne, and what elements of his personality were intrinsic to Dick as Dick, as opposed to Robin, The Boy Wonder.

Stepping Stones (RH Graphic) I've yet to read a bad, or even just okay, book from the still relatively new RH Graphic, but perhaps that's not too surprising, given the caliber of talent they've been working with. Take, for example, Lucy Knisley, an all-around excellent cartoonist with several memoirs and a children's picture book to her name already, who in Stepping Stones has created her very first graphic novel. Though fictional, her young heroine has a lot in common with the young Lucy Knisley, a fact I realized when she has the character telling one of her new kinda sorta sisters about the time she was attacked by geese. It's an extremely charming book, and one I wouldn't hesitate recommending to any kid...or former kid who likes comics, for that matter. The words of wisdom in the back matter after the end of the comic are especially touching and, I imagine, useful for younger ears to hear.

*Er, your mileage may vary. But I've never liked Hal Jordan. And while I don't think Johns' Jordan was "cool" either, he definitely made the character and the franchise more popular than either were at any point in my life time.