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...

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