Thursday, November 26, 2020

Month of Wednesdays: October 2020


Batman: The Dark Knight Detective Vol. 3 (DC Comics) This volume contains Detective Comics #592-600, eight issues from 1989 that include a nice chunk of the Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle run on the character (often with inker Steve Mitchell and co-writer John Wagner) and the novel-length, 165-page "Blind Justice" arc drawn by Denys Cowan and Dick Giordano and written by the Batman film's screenwriter, Sam Hamm. I had read most of the comics within before, but I do love this series of collections (and its companion Caped Crusader collections), as well as being able to read these comics in the order they were published and with the ease a trade paperback allows.

There are a few issues in here that I had not previously read, before, however. First among these were a Grant and Wagner-written, Irv Novick-penciled, Mitchell-inked Invasion tie-in, in which Batman finds a shape-shifting alien running guns into Gotham City under the cover of Cuban cigars ("Being aliens, they didn't realize that Havanas are illegal here," he explains to Commissioner Gordon). So Batman, who tells us he has avoided getting involved in the alien invasion, telling Max Lord and J'onn J'onnz that they could handle it well enough without him, goes to Cuba to beat up some Hawkmen and Khunds. It's always weird seeing the greater DC universe intrude in the pages of the Batman comics of this era, particularly something like the alien invasion here, as Grant and Wagner's run on the book was so disconnected from the DCU (and, in fact, Batman comics of the era in general were). 

That was followed by a "Bonus Book" by Jeff O'Hare, Roderick Delgado and Jerry Acerno, a 14-page story in which Batman battles Mister Freeze.

The other story that was new to me was a two-parter from 'TEC #596-597, which I had previously skipped because they had Breyfogle covers, but not interiors. Rather, those were penciled by some guy named, let's see here, Eduarardo Barreto, and inked by Mitchell. Surprise! Though they are quite different stylistically than Breyfogle's pages, they are also pretty gorgeous, and Barreto's more realistic style actually quite suits the subject matter: Violent snuff films created for showings to the bored and wealthy. 

As for the Breyfogle-drawn comics, these include the two-part "The Fear" introducing Cornelius Stirk and one-part"Ecstasty," introducing Gotham City Private Eye Joe Potato. Neither of those characters had the sort of long life that other Grant/Breyfogle creations did, like, say The Ventriloquist, Mr. Zsasz or even Anarky. 

I'm not sure exactly why that is. In the case of Stirk, I wonder if it is just his lack of a more colorful name...? Like Zsasz, he he was a brutal serial killerhis gimmick being that he would terrify his victims and then remove, cook and eat their heartsand he had a neat visual that came in the form of a minor psionic ability; this allowed him to disguise himself as President Lincoln or Jesus Christ, but, even when not using it, his eyes and mouth would flare up in terrifying ways. He seems like he would be a fun character for artists to draw. The image below suggests Steve Ditko's Shade, The Changing Man to me: 
In fact, I'm not aware of any writer other than Grant ever using Stirk; I think Kevin Smith's cameo usage of him in the now-forgotten The Widening Gyre is his only Grant-less appearance that I can think of at the moment.*

"Blind Justice", of course, makes up the bulk of the book, so much so that I'm actually surprisedand a little confusedthat Breyfogle gets top billing on this collection, given that he only drew about 60 pages (Cowan penciled more than twice that, while Hamm, Grant and Wagner all scripted twice that). 

It's an interesting story to reread in 2020, being a rather intense mystery/thriller sort of story with lots of new characters, little dependence on the greater Batman mythology (it wouldn't have taken much effort for Hamm to have changed it into a Daredevil story, for example) and a somewhat unusually sci-fi technology angle. 

One thing I noticed while rereading it this time was the ways in which it prefigured "Knightfall" to a degree. The "Bonecrusher" costume, seen on the cover for the first issue, suggests Bane's a bit (why the Bonecrushers all have super-spindly legs is never explained), and Batman spends a significant portion of the story in a wheelchair, so long that he eventually allows a young, blonde man to don the costume and pose as him for a bit. Letting someone else play Batman for him ends badly in this story too.

I also don't think I had previously realized that this was the first appearance of Henri Ducard, perhaps Batman's most significant teacher, or at least the one who has returned to appear in the most comics set after various origin stories. 

The final chapter of "Blind Justice" fell in Detective #600, and thus earned a celebration of Batman's 50-year career. That meant pin-ups by Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Sergio Aragones, John Beatty, Norm Breyfogle, Howard Chaykin, Gene Day, Keith Giffen, Carmine Infantino,  Kevin Maguire, Mike Mignola, Walter Simonson, Dick Sprang, Tim Truman and Mike Zeck, plus testimonials from celebrities and comics people as various as director Terry Gilliam, Jim Shooter, Stan Lee, Adam West, Harlan Ellison and others. 

My favorite of these pieces, however, is probably Kye Baker's, which is a picture of Batman trying to eat a sandwich at a diner (with his gloves on!) while dialogue below has the waitress sassing him, and Will Eisner's pin-up, guest-starring his Spirit.
All in all, this is a hell of a 350-page package, and well worth the $35 price tag.  

DC The Doomed and The Damned #1 (DC) The premise for this year's Halloween time 80-page giant anthology is a series of team-ups pairing characters from either side of the publisher's superhero and supernatural divide. Except, of course, when it's not, as is the case with a Batman solo story (although the Dark Knight does face off against a supernatural threat in that story).

These are, I'm sorry to report, mostly uninteresting pairings (Justice League Dark teammates Man-Bat and Madame Xanadu, Wonder Woman and Raven, Superman and Swamp Thing), and even the ones that are a bit more out-of-left field (Hal Jordan and Etrigan, Beast Boy and Klarion, Orphan and Orca, Aquaman and Frankenstein, Solomon Grundy and Ra's al Ghul), don't really take much in the way of advantage of the odd pairings. 

The exception that proves the rule is the final one, the Garth Ennis-written "Baytor Vs. Darkseid," which is very much in the spirit of the recent-ish Sixpack and Section Eight spin-offs from Ennis, John McCrea and company's Hitman (2015's All-Star Section Eight and 2016's Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz). That is, there's no pretense that it's meant to be read as canonical or taken seriously; it's just Ennis revisiting some of his old DC Comics-owned creations to take the piss out of DC, with none of the heart or affection that generally accompanied the parodic commentary of his Hitman comics (Unfortunately, McCrea doesn't draw this, nor does Sixpack and Dogwelder artist Russ Braun, or any past Hitman artist; instead, a PJ Holden does). . 

A rather small and thin-looking Hacken notices Darkseid in Noonan's Sleazy Bar one night, and he isn't rebuffed from engaging by Darkseid's "I'm really just here for a quiet drink..." When asked if he knows Baytor, former demon lord of the criminally insane and current Noonan's bartender, Darkseid mentions he doesn't have much to do with "those people," which is caught on video by Bueno Excellente.

Afraid of being "cancelled" for his anti-demon prejudice, and/or of backing down when Baytor challenges him to a drinking contest, which everyone from Noonan's clientele to Batman to the prisoners on Apokolips encourage with chants of "Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink!",  Darkseid consents to sit across a table from Baytor, a bottle of Jack Kirby's Tennessee Whiskey between them.
Yes, the "Vs." in the title refers not to a battle—surely Darkseid's Omega Effect would banish Baytor from this planebut a drinking contest. You can guess by the writer, and the home court advantage, which villain wins. 

The rest of the book is much more serious, and, perhaps because of that, much less fun. In general, I tended to like one element of each of the other stories, but found other aspects of them wanting.

After the Baytor vs. Darkseid story, which somehow failed to mention Baytor being declared the "master" after winning the drinking contest, I probably enjoyed the Aquaman/Frankenstein team-up by Brandon Thomas and Baldemar Rivas the most, although the difference between the pair that Thomas focuses in on isn't the circles they generally do their hero-ing in, but the fact that Aquaman is now a new father and is pretty distracted by those duties, while Frankenstein is...not. 

Saladin Ahmed and Leonardo Manco's Batman story is a decent one, and while I dug Manco's opening and parting images of the Dark Knight and some of his bat-themed tools, it doesn't really fit with the other nine tales. 

Kenny Porter and Riley Rossmo's "The Shadow Over Coast City" had the most promise, being drawn by one of my favorite artists drawing things for DC these days and the unlikely team-up of Hal Jordan and Etrigan and taking its title from an H.P. Lovecraft story, but it's pretty standard superhero fare (Rossmo does a pretty decent transformation sequence, though!) 

Speaking of art, it was nice to see Tom Mandrake included, drawing the Ra's/Solomon Grundy story that Marv Wolfman wrote, but there's not much to the story, and at least one bit of it made no real sense to me (I think it's meant to be set long ago, although I'm not certain). 

Travis Moore both writes and draws a story in which Klarion and Teekl watch Beast Boy and Raven on a date, and Teekl, tired of hearing Klarion moon over Raven, takes matters into her own claws...or, should I say, their own claws. There are some neat gags on the last page or so of the story, wherein the participants all come to an understanding, the part that stuck with me the most was that Moore changed the demon cat monster's pronounces from she/her to they/them. 

While the Man-Bat/Madame Xanadu story by John Arcudi and Mike Perkins didn't do much for me, it did amuse me that it hinges on a story point from Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's initial JLA story arc from the late-90s, even getting an asterisk referring the reader to "back during the JLA: Terror Incognita arc," a Mark Waid-run story referring back to Morrison and company's initial arc.

And then there's that Orca/Orphan story, written by Alyssa Wong and drawn by Dominike "Domo" Stanton, which I found most noteworthy for existing at all. Both Gothamites, neither lady really fits all that snugly into  the category of superhero or supernatural, the idea apparently being that Orca is a "monster." Basically, they are both attacking the same ship for different reasons, but, hey, more Orca content! More proof that there's no such thing as a small Batman villain, just the reluctance of creators to embrace the likes of Narcosis, Tally Man, Steeljacket or Metalhead...

I'm not sure who designed the logoDarran Robinson is credited with publication designbut I really like the logo on this book, and it would be a shame if it never appeared again. Although most of these stories fell far short of being great ones, a sort of Brave and the Bold admixture of supeheroics and supernatural or monster characters certainly shows some promise, and I certainly wouldn't mind a The Doomed and The Damned anthology miniseries, or annual.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Boom Studios) Well, this was a very pleasant surprise. 

I've found most of the IDW-era TMNT crossovers to be somewhat wanting, mostly because of how tied-in to the very specific continuity of the fifth volume of TMNT comics they have been (Here I'm thinking of Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its two sequel series written by James Tynion IV, and the first of the two Ghostbusters crossovers), although there have been a few fun exceptions that proved the rule (like 2016's Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures and 2017's TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo special by Stan Sakai). 

Additionally, the fact that I wasn't familiar with any of the creators involved didn't do anything to increase my expectations.

Perhaps in part because they were so relatively low then, this proved to be an awful lot of fun, and, unlike Tynion in the various Batman crossovers, writer Ryan Parrott did take full advantage of the event as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, seemingly doing everything one might conceivably want to see done in such a crossover (Giving the Turtles the Rangers' power coins, and therefore the ability to become Power Rangers themselves for a bit? Check. Putting the colorful, public Rangers into the role of unsung, shadowy ninjas? Check. Letting the Turtles pilot the Megazords? Check. Coming up with a brand-new Turtle Megazord of sorts? Check. And on and on).

I think it helped quite a bit that Parrot and artist Simone Di Meo didn't necessarily use IDW's current version of the Turtles, but seem to have instead opted for the version of the Turtles from their most popular iteration, that of the 1987-launched cartoon series...sort of. These Turtles wear individual colors; they have a blimp, a turtle-themed van, a robot turtle named Metalhead and even a shrink ray; their friend April O'Neil is a television reporter; their archenemy Shredder makes his base in the Terrordome and his henchmen include the dim-wittend mutants Rocksteady and Bebop and on and on. 

Parrot and Di Meo offer a variation on that version though, both in the visuals as well as some of the specifics, with The Shredder being infinitely more competent, Karai being a character in the narrative, and the Foot Clan's membership being made up of real human beings, as opposed to robots.  

In essence, then, this is pretty much the sort of crossover that teenage Caleb would have wanted to read in the mid-1990s; a more-adult, more-sophisticated version of the cartoon Turtles, stripped of the pandering, childish storytelling and dumb-ass jokes, meeting up with a more-adult, more-sophisticated version of the television Power Rangers, also striped of pandering, childish storytelling and dumb-ass jokes (No Ernie, no Bulk and Skull, relatively limited exposure to Rita and her court of dim-witted monstrous henchmen, etc).

So this is a standalone version of the Turtles, one that happens to share the same world as the Power Rangers, although they are on the opposite coast of the Rangers' California setting of Angel Grove. I'm not sure if these Power Rangers differ much at all from those that appear in Boom's comics, as I've only read the Pink miniseries and...not much more than that. They scanned just like the ones I remember from the first few seasons of the show and the first movie, though. 

Green Ranger Tommy Oliver has disappeared without telling his teammates where he was going. He turns up in a Foot Soldier uniform, where he proves to be a more-skilled than usual follower of Karai and The Shredder. It turns out he's infiltrating The Foot Clan, who in this respect seem a bit more like the version from the original 1990 TMNT movie than that of the cartoon series, in order to rescue an old friend from his foster kid days.

When facing off against all four Turtles solo, he resorts to his "morphin" coin, and, when he morphs, Zardon and Alpha are able to track him, and they send the other Rangers to investigate, leading to a TMNT Vs. Power Ranger brawl.

Things go from bad to worse for our heroes when The Shredder steals Tommy's Green Rangers power, which gives him a new, hybridized costume, and blocks the other Rangers from morphinger, "morphin." (It's been been almost 30 years now, and I still don't understand why it's "morphin" as opposed to "morphing" or even "morphin'"...)

From there, the two teams of teenage martial artist heroes must work together and work around the problems Shredder has created for them in order to save the day and put their respective franchises beack together in a familiar form.

Like I said, I liked the story quite a bit, and was quite impressed with Di Meo's artwork throughout. The characters are all look like themselves, albeit it highly stylized versions of themsleves (the wide Turtles cast, which includes Splinter, April, Casey Jones, Bebop and Rocksteady being more stylized, more individualized designs that don't much resemble the cartoon versions they are essentially extrapolated from, looking more like a compromise between those versions, the IDW versions and whatever Di Meo wants them to be), while also seeming to all belong on the same world and in the same comic book, which is a lot more striking a feat than it might at first seem. 

There seems to be at least the potential for a sequel built into this, as Rita Repulsa and Shredder discuss his powerful allies from another dimension who never appear within the pages of the comic, and I'm of two minds about it ever actually being published. Another comic as strong as this would be quite welcome, of course, but, on the other hand, this was so perfect a crossover between the two franchises, that I'm afraid a sequel might not be as good. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #1 (IDW Publishing) This project turned out to be less exciting than what it was originally announced as: A brand-new collaboration between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, their first in 28 years! 

In actuality, it's a new comic by Eastman and a couple other guys, long-time IDW TMNT writer Tom Waltz, artists Esau and Isaac Escorza and colorist Luis Antonio Delgado, based on an old concept for a future-set TMNT story by Laird and Eastman (the various TMNT characters as older, grizzled, futuristic versions of themselves is a concept Laird and the Mirage Studios creators would continually gravitate towards). Laird gets a "story" credit alongside Eastman and Waltz, but he doesn't seem to have contributed anything new the proceedings, while Eastman provides layouts, in addition to getting a story and script credit. (One would have hoped for an Eastman/Laird cover collaboration, at least, or at least a Laird solo cover, particularly given the 69 different covers for the book, all of which are reproduced at postage-stamp size on its last four pages).

The $8.99, 40-page issue finds a lone, black-masked, fully-clothed mutant ninja turtle attempting to infiltrate a futuristic Manhattan, and then the Foot Clan compound within it. This Turtle alternately uses a sai, a staff and a katana, as well as other weapons, so there's no clue to his identity there, and the Turtle's particular identity is presented as a mystery throughout the issue (a mystery I'll spoil shortly, so go away if you don't want to know it yet). 

As the mysterious Turtle passes spans the brown waters surrounding Manhattan, breaches the wall that encloses the city, and then enters the generic-ish futuristic world with flying cars, security camera drones and robot law enforcement, he is constant communication with his brothers, the other three Turtles, their identities also concealed by the fact that their masks are also colored black and they bare no weapons

If I had to guess the character's identity by his dialogue, narration and even weapon usage, I would guess Raphael—the Turtle uses tonfa, which Raph used as a Pre-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, sometime before adopting his sai, in 1986's TMNT #9—but I would have been wrong. When the Turtle's identity is finally revealed on the last page, by a yellow-clad April O'Neil, it is probably the least likely Turtle to be the last one standing: Michelangelo. 

The issue definitely felt like a Mirage Turtle comic, thanks probably in large part to Eastman's layouts and the focus on action over plot points or fan-service, although it reminded me quite a bit of a specific Mirage comic, 1989's "Return To New York", in which the Turtles launch an attack on the Foot Clan's HQ, and face several of the sorts of threats that Michaelanglo does here (similarly, a lone Turtle launches that attack, and does so in a hooded "costume"; that Turtle was, of course, Raphael). (For that reason, I do sort of wish Jim Lawson could have penciled this and Eastman inked it, although the Escorazas do a fine job on the artwork throughout.)

In fact, I thought the story was supposed to be set in the Mirage continuity, although there's at least one panel that makes me question that, when the ronin Turtles lays out the four Turtles' masks and weapons before almost committing seppuku, and we see the masks come in not one but four colors, which would place this in the IDW continuity...not that it's necessarily in either continuity, any more than The Dark Knight Returns is Batman's canonical future. 

I thought Dark Knight Returns loomed rather heavily over the book in general, by the way, and, along with "Return To New York," it was the comic that was most present in my mind as I was reading. It's not just seeing the grim, gritty version of a more happy-go-lucky cartoon character in a dark future, but the specifics of that future (lots of mud, urban hellscape, goofy "punks"), the line-filled, furrowed look of our aging hero, the heavy, blockiness of the art and the attitude and tone of the book. 

Considering that this opening chapter was so substantial, one imagines that flashbacks will fill us in on what became of the other three Turtles and, perhaps, Casey Jones and Karai (There's a young woman with the surname "Jones" in this, whom I at once took to be Shadow, although I suppose that will depend on when, exactly, Laird and Eastman conceived of this; if it's not Shadow, and not anyone at all related to Casey, well, that's probably not the best surname to have chosen!)

I'm looking forward to seeing how the series plays out. As much as I've been enjoying what Sophie Campbell and company have been doing with the TMNT since the 100th issue in IDW's ongoing, this book felt a lot more like a "real" TMNT book to me, or at least a Mirage one. That might seem odd, given how disconnected it is from any ongoing storyline, and is, in fact, basically unmoored from any continuity or particular volume of the TMNT comics, but then, that's part of what makes it feel like a Mirage comic, given how so many of those fill-in issues by creators other than Eastman and Laird felt like standalone affairs. 

As they were handing this to me the day of release, my local comic shop owners informed me that it was already selling for twice the cover price online, and is apparently an unexpectedly hot commodity. That's good to hear. It's nice to know that even these days, the original creators returning to their characters—even if, in Laird's case, that "return" bares an asterisk—can lead to an extremely successful endeavor.

However it does in terms of sales or financials, though, I'd definitely count it a creative success. 


Transformers/Ghostbusters: Ghosts of Cybertron (IDW Publishing) IDW, where your childhood lives forever! This is a crossover that never even would have occurred to me as having needed to happen, despite the fact that both of the franchises are now over three decades into their long lives, and exist in iterations as various as film, television cartoons, toy lines and, of course, comics. It's that last one, and the fact that IDW publishes the comics featuring both, that made this perhaps an inevitable one. 

That said, despite my affection for various iterations of both (Specifically, the G1 Transformers cartoon and toys, and the original Ghostbusters movie and The Real Ghostbusters cartoon), I had no real interest in reading thisthe five-issue miniseries launched last year, and the collection was released in Marchand it wasn't until after I read the surprisingly good Power Rangers/Ninja Turtles crossover discussed above that I thought maybe I should check out some of these other, weirder crossovers I passed on earlier.

This one too turned out to be far better than expected. Written by Erik Burnham and drawn by Dan Schoening, the long-time creative team of IDW's hard-for-me-to-follow Ghostbusters comics, it takes perhaps the most obvious but most interesting route to a Transformers crossover, and makes the team's iconic hearse-turned-emergency vehicle into a Transformer. Basically, any franchise with a vehicle in it can be made into a at least semi-interesting Transformers crossover, I think, by making said vehicles into Transformers. IDW seems to be proving the point by attempting a Back To The Future crossover as we speak (well, as I type and you read), and it's certainly not hard to imagine others: Hell, I'd read a Transformers/Dukes of Hazzard crossover, although elements of that would certainly need to be approached gingerly. 

Burnham and Schoening create a brand-new character in the form of Ectronymous Diamatron, an Autobot physicist who escapes Cybertron along with the other Autobots on the Ark. This version of the Transformers is, thankfully, the original G1 version, in design, characterization and basic (if deviated from) story, so it was easy for me to make sense of (So easy, in fact, that somewhat to my own surprise, I could still "hear" the voices of all of the handful of Transformers characters who appear in my head, with the exception of Shockwave; apparently he didn't appear on the cartoon regularly enough for his voice to have imprinted in my brain like those of Starscream, Megatron, Soundwave and the others). 

No sooner have the Decepticons chased the Autobots away from Cybertron than Gozer the Gozerian appears to destroy their world, complete with a planet-appropriate look and legitimately awesome Transformer-style robot Terror Dogs (I'd buy the toy, honestly). In a replay of the climax of the original Ghostbusters film, she challenges the Decepticons, only their ending isn't so happyI guess they had no streams to try crossingand thus Cybertron is destroyed, and the Decepticons all killed. Or "killed," anyway.

Many years later, Ectronymous Diamatronwhose name is eventually shortened to Ectotrondetects a Decepticon signal on Earth and goes to investigate. There, he finds the Ghostbusters busting a ghost, and assumes the shape of Ecto-1 as his disguise. 

And then the ghost of Starscream appears.

And there's your premise. A new Autobot temporarily becomes a Ghostbuster, Earth is mysteriously haunted by the ghosts of some Decepticons, a bizarre alien ghost figure is on Earth for a nefarious purpose, and, eventually, Optimus Prime gets called in.

While this is basically a What If...?/Elseworlds version of the G1 Transformers, the Ghostbusters are those of IDW's main Ghostbusters comics...that is, the extrapolated versions of those from the first two films, rather than The Real Ghostbusters versions, which are the ones that might have seemed the more natural fit (Certainly I can remember playing with Real Ghostbuster and Transformer toys at the same time; one thing IDW certainly manages in these crossovers is replicating the spirit of empty-the-toy box play of my childhood, where various toy-lines co-existed in a state of constant crossover in my imagination). 

From this point on, it's basically a Ghostbuster comic, featuring a few Transformers (and I do mean a few; the only ones who appear for more than a few panels are the ones I've mentioned). Burnham does a pretty great job writing the Ghostbusters characters, which I think is probably fairly difficult compared to writing the Transformers ones, as they all feel true to the movie versions, even though there's not a lot in that particular Ghostbusters canon; I mean, at this point, Burnham has written many, many more times the scenes, stories and dialogue featuring the movie versions of the Ghostbusters than actually appeared in the  movies.

It's the Ghostbuster sensibility that drives the narrative and the jokes, of which there are many; like the Ghostbusters movie, the mode here is never more serious than serio-comic. Even the Transformers are pressed into joke-telling in a way that might not feel natural to the characters, but definitely works here. It helps that they are mostly straight-men,, straight-bots...?

Schoening's artwork similarly reflects the versions of the franchises used. These Ghostbusters are the IDW Ghostbusters, exaggerated, cartoonier designs of the characters as they appeared in the 1980s films, the same versions we've seen as the primary ones in the IDW comics (although, this being IDW, they have crossed over with all of their own counterparts, from the various cartoons and the third film). As for the Transformers, they all seem to have stepped right out of the cartoon I used to watch every day at 4:00, although the quality of their rendering is a bit better.

So if, like me, you thought this was a weird-ass idea and a comic you could do without, but you have some degree of affection for both sides of the crossover, well then, like me, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised at how entertaining it actually is. Like the Power Rangers/TMNT crossover that inspired me to check it out, it's not, like, literature in the same way that Tom Scioli's new standard-setting Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe crossover comic was, but it is pretty good comics. 

I have to confess though, that while reading, I greedily wanted to see more characters like Ectotron that are Transformers that take the shape of Ghostbusters stuff. Like, a Megatron/Shockwave-like character that transforms into a proton pack, little spy-like Decepticons that turn into PKE-meters or ghost traps, an Omega Supreme/Fortress Maximus-type that transforms from the firehouse into a giant robot. I...don't think that would necessarily make for a decent comic or anything, but I'd at least like to see what those Transformers might look like. 

I suppose it's possible for the sequel; the ghost of Starscream is still on the loose at the end of this comic...although, for reasons I don't entirely understand, he's not actually a ghost, but ghost-like. The "dead" Decepticons, it is explained, are transformed into ghost-like energy beings, but aren't actually true ghosts. I don't know if that's because Hasbro wouldn't let IDW kill them off, or if there is some rule somewhere about there not being ghosts in the Transformers universe or...what, but it's something that sticks out as a bit out of place in the proceedings.

Transformers: The Manga Vol. 2 (Viz Media) While I enjoyed the first volume of this series quite a bit, this second volume was a bit harder for me to parse, as by the point at which its two stories take place, I was no longer really engaged with the franchise. I know the Headmasters and other "master" characters just from toy catalogs of the era and reading various guidebooks as an adult, having never read any comics featuring them or played with any of those toys (And, of course, the cartoons that these manga are adaptations of never aired in the U.S., but were Japanese-only). I recognize the likes of the Predacons, Sixshot and some of the other characters who appear within, then, but don't really know them at all.

So this was a bit more difficult of a reading experience, and, for once, the fact that the comics were in black and white was something of a hinderance, as without any coloring to provide clues, it could be particularly hard to tell the various robots apart from one another. 

This volume contains two big stories, "The Headmasters" and "Super-God Masterforce."

The former is based on the 1987 cartoon series of the same name, and it obviously focuses on The Headmasters. I believe these appeared in the Marvel comics, as well, and they were an early attempt to freshen up the toy line with a new concept, the first of several that would follow in rapid succession (Including Powermasters, Targetmasters and Pretenders). The Headmasters were little, human-sized Transformer robots whose alternate modes are large robot heads, which then connect to large, headless transforming bodies that turn into vehicles or monster forms, thus forming a new, bigger composite robot. Here they do so by shouting, "Head On!"

Of this section of the book, my favorite parts include 1) an appearance by Apeface, a Decepticon whose alternate mode is a gorilla, which isn't that much different than a humanoid robot, really, and whose name is endearingly dumb, 2) Autobots who turn into trains, which I think is really cool for some reason; these Trainbots are different from the first ones I encountered though, in the 2001 Transformers: Robots In Disquise cartoon, 3) Soundwave's appearance in the final chapter, which involves human child Daniel fighting two of his cassette tape minions ("Yaaah! I'll take you on! I'm not afraid of mini-cassettes!"), 4) writer Masumi Kaneda's parting narration about how since children are always growing into adults, they are really "The Transformers of tomorrow", and 5) this awesome/dumb dialogue from one of the monster-form Decepticons:
If there's a better battle cry than "Grah! I'll crunch you up!", I've yet to hear it.

"Super-God Masterforce", based on a 1988 cartoon series, introduces the Powermasters into the narrative (they're a bit like Headmasters, only the little Transformers turned not into heads, but special exterior engines that would power-up the Transformer they were connected to), and Pretenders, which were interesting but weird. The toy version of the Pretenders were smaller Transformers that had the familiar robot/vehicle-or-monster dichotomy, although each of these came encased in a plastic shell that could be cracked like a toy egg. It was basically an extra layer of subterfuge, allowing the Transformers to further disguise themselves as giant humanoids or monsters (The play was obviously limited, as these shells had no moving parts; I've seen various comic book explanations for how the Pretenders "worked", exactly; here their shell just seems to dissipate into formlessness, rather than being some sort of armor that's doffed or donned). 

This storyline focuses on the teams of young people who work with the Autobots and Decepticons, and I didn't find it too terribly engaging, I'm sorry to say. I suspect this points to the role nostalgia played in my reading of these comics though, as the first volume felt a lot like encountering "lost" stories featuring the characters I was most familiar with, while these comics were similarly brand-new to me, but they just didn't have the familiar characters to grab on to, and I don't have any particular affection for concepts like Headmasters and Pretenders (the former of which always struck me as pretty dumb, if we're being honest). 

As with previous volume, there are lots of illustrations in this volume, but most of these are black and white, for some reason.


Batman Adventures: Nightwing Rising and Batman Adventures: Batgirl—A League of Her Own (DC Comics) I smooshed reviews of these two recent Batman Adventures-related collections into a single review at Good Comics For Kids. They're both pretty solid books, and I was actually rather genuinely surprised at how well they read a couple decades after they were originally commissioned and publisheda testament, I suppose, to how well the producers of that now almost 30-year-old cartoon series were able to make a Batman narrative not rooted too strongly into any particular time period or vision of the character. 

The Nightwing book is basically a "lost" story from between the two main iterations of the cartoon, although some of that which is within will be familiar to those who have seen the cartoon. It explains how Dick Grayson went from being Robin to being Nightwing, but it never quite explains his hairstyle: Sure, it got long because he apparently quit getting regular haircuts while traveling to remote corners of the globe to learn new martial arts secrets and techniques, but when did he find time to trim the front and sides...? 

The Batgirl book is an anthology of shorter stories, all of which are pretty strong, and I think it works particularly well as a Rick Burchett showcase, because it has a lot of art from him, and it is all top-notch. 

Dungeon Critters (First Second) I spent an inordinate amount of time stressed out about the otherwise charming character Goro, the fighter in the Dungeon Critters' adventuring party who just so happens to be a snake...but still has arms and legs! Like, the one thing I know about snakes? They don't have limbs. But Goro does! What stressed me out in particular about this is there are scenes in which Goro interacts with an anthropomorphic earthworm, and it doesn't have arms and legs. 

Anyway, this original graphic novel is a blast, and other than my own discomfort reconciling Goro's limbs with my own personal feelings about how cartoon snakes should be depicted, I liked every bit of it. 

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Boom Studios) Yes, I know you just read a review of this series. Wanna read another one...? 

The Witches: The Graphic Novel (Scholastic) I was quite surprised to learn of the existence of this adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel, mostly because it was by the great Pénélope Bagieu (Brazen, California Dreamin' and Exquisite Corpse), who I just sort of assumed would have more important things do than this sort of adaptation. 

I guess there are some controversial aspects to this novel, ones that I never caught on to, particularly regarding its portrayal of women, so it was interesting to see a female cartoonist tackle it. As far as an adaptation goes, it's...okay, but is mostly worthwhile in terms of curiosity satisfaction, rather than effectively telling the story, which Dahl himself did perfectly well in his prose. 

*That's not true. Stirk does make a brief appearance in 1993's "Knightfall" story arc, which was scripted by Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon, without apparent input from Alan Grant. That said, Grant was writing Shadow of The Bat at the time, and although no chapters of "Knightfall" fell into that book, I've always assumed that "Knightfall", "Knightquest" and "Knightsend" all came out of one of those whole-office story conference things, which Grant would presumably have participated in, having written sections of "Knightquest" in SOTB...

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Marvel's February previews reviewed

Marvel's King In Black events keeps on...King In Black-ing, I guess, with 18 new installments of varying degrees of importance scheduled for February of next year. That's less than half of the 54 new, original comic book-comics that Marvel will be publishing that month, but man, that's still a lot, isn't it? It seems like a lot. 

Among them will be a couple of new one-shots, because apparently the series just wasn't big enough, starring Captain America and Black Panther (of course, this tactic of character-specific one-shots does spare those characters' ongoing books from being invaded by the King In Black event, so it's probably not a bad way to go).

Anyway, let's see if anything Marvel has to offer looks particularly noteworthy, shall we...?

All of these be-Phoenix-ed re-designs on Leinil Francis  Yu's cover for Avengers #42 look so dumb that I love them. A Luca Marseca will be drawing the interior art, although one asumes the same coold/dumb costume redesgns will be present within the book as well...

I confess to some confusion over why Avengers: Mech Strike #1, the first part of a five-issue miniseries by writer Jed MacKay and artist Carlos Magno,exists at all, and what, precisely, the difference is between an Avengers Mech and a Marvel Mega Morph. 

The Mega Morphs were what they called the big, giant robot suits that various Marvel characters wore in the 2005 miniseries Mega Morphs, which I recall buying becaue it looked kind of stupid and kind of cool (much like this!), and because then fellow Columbusite Sean McKeever scripted it (I don't recall much about it at this time, aside from the fact that the Hulk also had a Mega Morph in that series, which raised the question of why the Hulk would want/need a giant robot suit, and if he would be able to pilot it). 

As for the reason these exist, one of the variant covers is referred to as a toy varaint, so I assume this is one of those very occasional Marvle comics produced to tie-in with a Marvel-branded toy line. As for the differences between Mega Morphs and these mech suits, I think the Mega Morphs transformed—er, morphed into vehicles. That, and apparently girls can drive the mech suits, as it looks like both Black Widow and Captain marvel are represented on Kei Zama's cover above. 

I plan to read this in trade, at which point maybe I will re-read Mega Morphs so I can compare and contrast...

I don't even remember a solicit for King In Black: Planet of The Symbiotes #1, but King In Black: Planet of The Symbiotes #2 sure looks relevant to my interests, if it involves Kyle Hotz drawing a giant Venom dragon fighting something called American Kaiju. 

Well that's weird. Among the stories Marvel is collecting in Shang-Chi: Earth's Mightiest Martial Artist is one written by Warren Ellis. Like the Distinguished Competition, then, I guess Marvel's A-OK publishing work with Ellis' name attached, even though one would assume that his presence on a book would be enough of a poison pill to turn off most comics fans who have followed the comics news over the last terrible year or so.

What's particularly perplexing about it is that Ellis is just one of the five writers credited, and there are some 47 years worth of Shang-Chi comics in existence now. Surely it couldn't be that hard to find a decent Shang-Chi story not written by a guy with the sorts of allegations that have piled up against Ellis. 

The only other Marvel book with his name attached in February's solicits is the X-Men: Age of Apocalpse Omnibus, but presumably the nature of that book makes not including Ellis' contributions a bit more problematic than simply leaving him out of a anthology of random-ish Shang-Chi comics. The only unifying theme here seems to be comics in which Shang-Chi teams up with other Marvel characters, but there can't be only five of those...

Ugh. Of course, Marvel is still collecting and publishing Jason Latour comics, as is the case with this $125 Spider-Gwen Omnibus, so maybe the fact that they included an Ellis-scripted book in their Shang-Chi collection isn't that surprising...

Have I mentioned my love of Kyle Hotz's art lately? Oh, I have? Well, let me tell you again: I love Kyle Hotz's art. He's drawing the cover for King In Black: Thunderbolts #2, but not the interior. However, the interior art is by Juan Ferreyra, and that guy's pretty good at drawing comics, too. 

Well, this is terrifying! That's the cover of Venom #33, I believe by Iban Coell (there are, of course, a coupla covers).

Did anyone read this year's Werewolf By Night miniseries and, if so, was it any good? I liked the original Werewolf By Night comics, but there seems to be nothing connecting this new series, which will be collected as Werewolf By Night: New Wolf Rising, to those comics or even the original character, aside from the name. Additionally, this is apparently co-written by a Black Eyed Pea, which gives me some paws. I mean pause!

I don't recall ever seeing the costume that Angel is wearing on the cover of X-Men Epic Collection: The Sentinels Live, and, well, I can see why it's not one that gets seen a lot. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A Month of Wednesdays: September 2020


Detective Comics #1027 (DC Comics) To celebrate the 1,000th consecutive issue of Detective Comics to star Batmanand ignoring the time in 2011 when DC reset the dial on the book back to #1 before eventually resuming the original numberingthis issue of the publisher's namesake title has been transformed into a format that will be familiar from all those 80th anniversary super-specials published earlier in the year. That is, it's an anthology special featuring a bunch of short-ish stories in a prestige format, interspersed with a handful of pin-ups and published under a whole mess of variant covers (although I can't imagine anyone wanting one other than the Frank Quitely one because wow, just look at that!). 

The main thing that differentiates it from other recent, similar comics is its length: There are a full dozen stories here, all of them 12 pages long save one, making for an overall sizable package of 145-ish pages. 

As for the contributors, they too can be pretty much inferred from recent like books. They are mostly dudes (Kelly Sue Deconnick and Mariko Tamaki are the only female writers, and Emanuela Luppachino the only female penciler or inker) and, of those dudes, most of them are writing or have previously written Batman and/or Detective Comics and/or other Batman books: Tom King, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman. The art is a little less predictable; though many of the artists involved have of course drawn Batman somewhere or other in the past, few of them have worked too extensively on the character on a run on one of his books. In that regard, Detective Comics artist Brad Walker, who has drawn much of Tomasi's run, is something of an exception.

All of the comics do a fairly decent job of being about Batman as an iconic figure and/or as a character, rather than Batman simply being a character in the story. Almost all of them have something to recommend them, and even the stories I found the least engaging tended to have excellent art or a clever construction to them.

After spending an afternoon thinking about it, I'm fairly certain the one-time Batman, Inc creative team of Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham produced the all-around best story of the lot, in the form of the cleverly entitled eight-page story "Detective #26."  Essentially just a joke story, featuring the origin of an embryonic "mystery man" named "The Silver Ghost" who was just about to debut as Gotham City's much-needed champion at a chemical factory.
"If The Silver Ghost doesn't tackle the scourge of crime in Gotham, who will?" he narrates, "Who will?"

And then a turn of the page offers the answer, as we find the story intersecting with the climax of "The Case of The Chemical Syndicate," the very first Batman story from the pages of Detective Comics #27, and we get to see Burnham's version of First Appearance Batman (making his first of two appearances in this very issue, by the way).

 It's a quite effective story, made even more so by how much work Morrison and Burnham put into making the Silver Ghost seem kind of cool. His narration is purposely terrible, of course, but man, what a cool design and name (the echo of The Gray Ghost seems intentional, as that mystery man appears on a rooftop crowded with many others in one panel). Burnham also does an amazing job of making the crime-ruled, pre-Batman streets of Gotham City look grotesquely, colorfully decadent, with every character in one panel looking like a Dick Tracy villain.

I had some nitpicks with Tynion's script for "Ghost Story," a Batman/Deadman team-up, but it was honestly one of my favorites of this crop. Tynion seems awfully loose with the "rules" of how Deadman interacts with living people like Batman and Robin Dick Grayson (he both has to possess one of them to talk to the other, and also doesn't...? At only 12 pages, it shouldn't be that hard to pick one and stick with it), and the bit at the end in which a supernatural DC superhero offers to reveal to Batman the fate of his dead parents was something we've seen previously, but, on the other hand, it is a pretty fun riff on a relatively regular if off-beat team-up of two of DC's "-man" heroes; maybe not the World's Finest but, as Deadman puts it, "The World's Spookiest." 

Of course, much of the reason the story is so fun is that it's drawn by Riley Rossmo, who always kills it in these anthologies, and who I would love to see get a nice, substantial run on a Bat-book someday. His version of Deadman is unlike any of the others I've seen before, as he draws Boston Brand not simply as a floating corpse (although he does that too), but trailing a long tail of ectoplasm; his Deadman moves around the pages like a comet, like red and white smoke circling the heroes or climbing inside them.

When he possesses one of the Dynamic Duo, their eyes turn red, and their dialogue bubbles similarly gain a red border (colorist Ivan Plascencia and Andworld Design deserve some credit here too). The purpose of the team-up is to help Deadman take down someone calling himself The Specter Collector, a mad inventor who has developed special gauntlets that allow him to touch ghosts and seemingly suck up their energy (At one point, he even grabs Deadman and uses him to bludgeon Batman; I don't know how that would work, exactly, but it looks funny and cool).

Beyond all the ghost effects, Rossmo's Batman and Robin are both really cool-looking, and I love the big-eyed version of the characters he's come up with. 

I was also rather fond of Deconnick's contribution, "Fore", drawn by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson. It shows a brilliant billionaire version of Bruce Wayne (note his high-tech golfing accessories) golfing with an extremely intimidating businessman, and doing some crime-fighting simultaneously, seemingly helping his friend James Gordon (the Wayne/Gordon friendship, mentioned in the very first Detective Comics story, isn't one that gets played up much anymore, certainly not to the extent that the Batman/Gordon one is; Snyder, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado's story covers that ground here). That sequence is, of course, interspersed with scenes of Batman Batmanning, allowing for lots of nice JRJR/Janson drawings of smashing glass and big, chunky figures colliding; I'm quite fond of how JRJR draws Batman's ears, as not only are they rather long, as I like 'em, but also rather broad (Not unlike Quitely's on the cover, really). 

There are several other noteworthy stories, each noteworthy for different reasons.

 Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez's "The Master Class" has Batman, Batgirl, Spoiler and all of the Robins all coincidentally coming across the same dead body and working the case together (I really liked Marquez's drawings of the various members of the Bat-Family, even as  I wondered why Duke Thomas and Cassandra Cain were MIA, and  I thought his Spoiler was particularly good. Is it worth noting that Tim Drake was wearing his Red Robin costume from Tynion's 'TEC run again, rather than his dumb "Drake" get-up...?)

Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso's "Rookie" is a nice portrait of a Gotham City police officer dealing with the department's corruption, one in which Batman is about as behind-the-scenes as he could possibly get. This one actually works as a sort of companion piece to Rucka and co-writer Ed Brubaker's Gotham Central comic, which similarly put the police at the forefront of a crime comic narrative that the colorful superheroes and supervillains intersected with rather than drove.

King's contribution, "Legacy", sees the former Batman writer teaming with probably the biggest and most surprising "get" among the book's artists: Walt Simonson. Their story, dedicated to the late Denny O'Neil, is a Batman vs. Doctor Phosphorous story, in which cancer is the greatest, deadliest threat. Typical of King, it's well-constructed, although it might prove tiresome to some readers to see him once again returning to the Earth-2-like future in which Batman and Catwoman are married and grow old together (which is apparently going to be the one-third of the premise of his upcoming series featuring the pair?). Still, it's clever, with the villain managing to kill Batman while still losing to him, and showing Batman's rather humane response. Also it's drawn by Simonson, so that alone makes it a joy to read. 

There's some pretty interesting penciler/inker pairings in Wolfman, Luppachino and Bill Sienkiewicz's "Odyssey" and Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan's "Generations: Fractured," the latter of which has Nowlan finishing Jurgens' lay-outs. That last one, along with Mariko Tamaki and Dan Mora's "A Gift," are the two stories here that seem to be launch pads for future ones, as the Jurgens/Nowlan short seems to set up the Generations: Shattered one-shot solicited for December,  and the Tamaki/Mora story ends with the words "Not The End..." and slugs for storylines in both Detective Comics and Batman

All in all, this was $10 well spent. 

Runaways By Rainbow Rowell Vol. 5: Canon Fodder (Marvel Entertainment) Rainbow Rowell does such a good job of creating a minor superhero in Doc Justice that there was a moment or two early in this volume where I began to wonder if maybe the character wasn't actually based on some minor, pre-existent Marvel superhero. 

This volume, drawn mostly by Andrews Genolet (although Kris Anka draws one issue), is a more-or-less complete story, following the team as they join Karolina and Nico back into active superheroing, this time allied with Doc Justice as his new "J-Team." Everyone gets a new name and a new costume, and, under their new mentor's tutelage, a new lease on life. The superpower-less Gert, however, has reservations, and they only get deeper as she trains to be the teams "man in the chair." Is this new arrangement too good to be true? Spoiler alert: Yes, yes it is. 

This continues to be a smart, well-made series, a super-comic that functions both as an enjoyable superhero dramedy and a commentary on the genre. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #108
(IDW Publishing)
Sophie Campbell is still unfortunately relegated to just a "story" creditI guess what I thought might be a fill-in issue is actually more of a fill-in arcbut, as with last issue, writer/colorist Ronda Pattison and artist Nelson Daniel do a fine job, and I've no complaints at all about the quality of their work. It's just not what I want from Sophie Campbell's run on TMNT, you know...?

The Slithery, the eel monster introduced last issue, has apparently just been collecting Mutant Town children, and it adds the Turtles to its collection. For some reason, it stores everyone in a weird slime web evocative of the alien larder from Aliens

The Turtles deal with the eel monster rather quickly, and the tough moral position they are put in, one reinforced by Lita, who asks them not to kill or hurt it, is resolved for them when it escapes the sewers and heads out to sea while they are still debating what to do with it. 

As The Slithery differs quite a bit from all the other mutants in Mutant Town, not being an anthropomorphic animal, but just a giant eel with arms and a degree of intelligence well short of the ability to speak, it brings up an interesting question that might get explored in the futurewhat are the longer-lasting environmental effects of the mutagenic bomb that created Mutant Town? 

Campbell and Pattison do some plot-moving here, especially with Baxter Stockman and April O'Neil, and the wider cast including Alopex, Mona Lisa and April all gets some stuff to do involving saving the kids from The Slithery that doesn't involve fighting it. 

Uzaki-Chan Wants To Hang Out! Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) Well, I've found itthe absolute weirdest cover gimmick in comics. You can't tell by looking at the image of the cover above, but it's partially embossed, and do you want to guess which parts of it are embossed? See the young woman on the cover? That's Uzaki Hana, the Uzaki-Chan of the title, and her breasts are embossed. 

So, were you encountering the book in real life, there's a subtle but odd 3-D effect to the image, so that her large breasts look even more pronounced. Oh, and because her breasts are embossed, that part of the cover obviously feels differently than the rest of the cover, making this the rare comic book a reader can feel up. 

So here we are, over 20 years since the end of the 1990s, the decade of weird comics cover enhancements, and Seven Seas has managed to outdo the entire North American direct market's weirdness.

As for the comic itself, the work of manga-ka Take, it's not nearly as pervy as its cover. Uzaki is a college student at the same school as Sakurai Shinichi, one year her elder, and a kinda sorta friend from high school. Uzaki is effervescent to an alarming degree, the polar opposite of Sakurai, who prefers quiet and spending time alone. Uzaki, unable to process someone wanting to be alone all the time, interprets this as some sort of problem she needs to fix, and so she spends all the time she can spare with her senpai, often to his great annoyance.

Despite their odd couple nature, the two obviously also have a degree of affection for one another, and may actually turn out to be a perfect couple, something that will be as obvious to the readers as it is to some of the incidental characters, like Sakurai's boss and his co-worker at the family restaurant he works at. 

Step one, of course, is for Sakurai to admit that maybe he doesn't actually mind Uzaki's attentions, which vacillate wildly from annoying little sister to motherly concern over his "lone wolf" attitude and the deficiencies of his bachelor life-style.

Although Uzaki's boobs are the centerpiece of the cover designand those of the future volumes, although I haven't seen those ones in person so I don't know if they are embossed as welland one of the most striking elements of her character designs (she's also extremely petite, a good three heads shorter than Sakurai), they're not the focus of the story, although there are definitely gags revolving around them. There are several sexy gags of various kinds, but were this a live-action American film, it would probably get away with a PG-13 rating (I think there's just one panel of partial nudity, and Seven Seas rates the book "Older Teen"). 

Some of these are too-long walks to an awkward moment, as when Uzaki somehow gets herself stuck in a bush and Sakurai grabs her by the waist to pull her out, but most of them revolve around Uzaki doing something blithely titillating and Sakurail trying to convince her to stop and/or not think impure thoughts about her.

So it's your rather standard will they, won't they manga romantic comedy, differentiated from many by the slightly-older-than-usual age of the characters, the particular character dynamic and Take's decision to make "extremely busty protagonist" a focal point. 

Well that, and the weird cover, of course. 


Marvel Action: Avengers: The Ruby Egress (Book Two) (IDW Publishing) I so enjoyed IDW's Marvel Action: Captain Marvel: A.I.M. Small (reviewed here) that it reminded me I was behind on their Avengers book, and so I sought to remedy that. This volume, collecting Marvel Action: Avengers #4-6 by writer Matt Manning and artist Jon Sommariva, is a fight book in probably the truest sense of the term. Relatively little other than fighting occurs in its pages, and that which does seems to still revolve around fighting: Talking about the fighting that's in progress, reviewing the the fighting that just occurred, getting ready for the next fight. This volume certainly lives up to the "Action" part of the line's name.

The arc begins in media res, with Thor and Captain Marvel trapped "somewhere else," engaged in constant battles that distract them from their goal or rescuing Doctor Strange from a far off mountain. Something is clearly wrong, as their eyes repeatedly turn run when they are fighting, and their opponents will all be familiar to Marvel fans: The Mindless Ones, Zzutak, Taboo and some really strange creatures I didn't recognize, but whose design was extremely cool.

Meanwhile, Iron Man (in a neat new stealth suit), Captain America, Black Panther and Black Widow all try to keep Count Nefaria (dressed in his most supervillain-like outfit, the one with the big, dumb "N" on his belt) from stealing a special museum piece which, when united with magical ruby he already has his hands on, will form a super magic maguffin that will allow him to summon an army of monsters and warriors from within the gemincluding Thor, Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange, who we gradually learn are actually trapped inside it. 

The two teams wage their war against him on two fronts, and I don't think it counts as a spoiler to say that the good guys win and the bad guy loses. As with the first volume, there's an intimation of a new, different and greater threat waiting in the wings. At the end of the first volume, it was Nefaria. At the end of this volume, it's "The Fear Eaters." On the last page, Madame Masque, who appeared in the first volume, reappears and makes a report to A.I.M. that the events of this volume didn't work out the way they had hoped, and that they will need a new strategy, as "The Fear Eaters will be here soon." Those final words appear over a panel of a swarm of purple something-or-others headed toward the planet Earth.

I like Sommariva's art quite a bit, and I don't think I would have enjoyed this story nearly as much were it drawn by another artist. There's a real energy to his work, and his figures all seem to stretch and lean into their actions in a way that gives the static images a dynamic sense of animation. I also like how he exaggerates the designs and expressions just enough to accentuate the action and drama, but not so much that it sacrifices storytelling. 

And Manning certainly gives him plenty of fun things to draw here, from all-time great Ditko and Kirby designs to Nefaria's furious, scenery-chomping expressions to a battle-mad Thor throwing down with monsters and Captain Marvel.

Marvel Action: Avengers: The Fear Eaters (Book Three) (IDW) Remember how I was just saying how much I liked Jon Sommariva's art on the previous volume, and I don't think I would have enjoyed the story quite as much without it? Well guess what? The next volume in the series, collecting issues #7-9, isn't drawn by Sommariva, at least, not beyond that pretty great cover, featuring a particularly cool image of everyone's favorite Mental Organism Designed Only For Killing. 

For this three-issue arc, Marcio Fiorito handles the art chores, and while there's nothing particularly wrong or bad about the art, it is a definite shift in style and, therefore, tone. It's far more realistic, far less expressive and far less dynamic. In fact, Fiorito's artwork looks far closer to what one might expect to find in the pages of many Marvel comics published by Marvel Entertainment proper.
The title threat are these extremely weird-looking alien creatures that look a bit like sea monsters and a bit like microorganisms. They generate fear through some sort of natural ability of theirsthat is, beyond the fact that they are fucking terrifying lookingand, as their name implies, they feed off of that fear. Here that manifests by summoning visions that cloud the minds of our heroes, mostly the Black Panther, who spends much of the volume combating the phantom of his father, who he believes has returned to challenge his worthiness as the new Panther and the new king of Wakanda. 

Though Manning has made each of these collections distinct, standalone arcs, the previous ones continue to feed back into the newer ones. So, for example, in this volume, Iron Man fiddles with the helmet on his stealth suit so that it will hide his thoughts, because Count Nefaria was able to see them in the previous volume. And Madame Masque and her hired help the UFoes from the first volume return, in part to keep AIM tied into the events of the series. In the face of the threat posed by the Fear Eaters, MODOK and AIM are prepared to leave Earth in a giant rocket ship, and maybe return in the future to retake the planet from either the Avengers or the Fear Eaters, depending on who wins.

This isn't your first super-comic though, so you already know who wins.

 As with the previous two volumes, this one ends with a splash page revealing a big, cliffhanging threat for the next volume: 
AIM has either taken over a bunch of Avengers that we haven't yet seen appear in this title (although some of those guys have appeared on some of the variant covers), or created their own versions of them (as the fact that there's an orange Hulk would seem to imply).

So yes, this book remains a lot of well-made fun, even if I personally prefer Sommariva's art to that of Fiorito. 

Oh, and my favorite part? In the midst of a global emergency, in which aliens are swarming the planet, Black Panther's plan to save the day involves customizing Iron Man's stealth armor so that it amplifies thoughts and feelings rather than hides themso he can use his own fear as "bait" to draw the Fear Eaters to himbut he takes the time to redesign the helmet so that it has cat ears. No emergency is so urgent that a superhero can't take the time to make sure his branding is on point, after all. 


The Nutcracker and The Mouse King: The Graphic Novel (First Second) Cartoonist Natalie Andrewson's comics adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffman's original story (the basis for the basis of Tchaikovsky's ballet...and thus just about every pop culture riff on the Nutcracker you've ever seen) is a real delight. I was a bit skeptical of it for the some of the first chapter, as I thought it might be a little heavier on narration than necessary, but once the book gets going, it really sings. You can read my full review here

Teen Titans Go! To Camp! (DC Comics) The manic, absurd Teen Titans Go! cartoon was never a great fit for comics adaptations, but the original graphic novel format? That works much better, as I think Sholly Fisch and Marcelo DiChiara prove here. As a long-time DC Comics fan, there was a lot for me to like here, as I previously pointed out on EDILW. In that respect too, it's much like the show. Probably the most fun part, however, was seeing the work of all of the many guest artists who each do a page here and there to dramatize various camp-goers' letters home. More here