Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: April 2021

BOUGHT:

The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries #1 (DC Comics) How is it that Batman, the dread creature of the night who has devoted himself to waging a one-man war against all crime, came to eventually have teenage sidekicks like Robin and Batgirl, and even a canine partner in the form of Ace, the Bathound? That's the mystery that writer Ivan Cohen and artist Dario Brizuela solve in the first issue of the new Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries limited series. 

The answer involves time travel, undertaken via the Silver Age Batman method of visiting Dr. Carl Nichols. In "Glove Story", Scooby and the gang are visiting the Gotham City Museum of Culture, where there's a big Batman exhibit. But someone seems to have stolen something from among the trophies the Dark Knight lent the museum; specifically, the purple gloves on his first appearance costume are brand-new fakes, apparently replacing the originals, which must have been stolen.

What happened? Well, as with all things time-travel, it's complicated, but to figure it out, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby travel back in time to the era when Batman was still wearing his original purple-gloved costume. 

They start their investigation at Wayne Manor, where the Alfred of years ago informs them, "I truly regret that my employer has no use for teenaged associates nor a dog." That's before First Appearance Batman and "Year One" Bruce Wayne encounter the kids and Scooby though, and their inspiration is underlined in a later panel.

Interestingly, Cohen and Brizuela manage to pack elements of various eras of Batman into a single story, with the First Appearance/"Year One" Batman and a modern Batman sharing panel-time with the Scooby characters, and even elements of the Silver Age Batman comics appearing. 

There's a panel near the beginning where we get a glimpse of the Batman display at the museum, and there's a line of mannequins wearing various Batman costumes from over the decades, including the Rainbow Batman costume, the Elseworlds pirate costume and even the New 52 costume, and the entire story basically reflects that panel.

Here's a light-hearted Scooby-Doo crossover that takes interesting bits from the whole history of Batman comics,then. The only bad thing? This is just a limited series. 


Batman Black & White #4 (DC) This is the second issue of the current volume of Batman Black & White that I've purchased, even though I know I really should just wait for the trade. The first issue I bought was because I didn't want to have to wait to see Sophie Campbell's take on Batman. This one I bought because it featured a Karl Kerschl story in which Maps Mizoguchi from the late, great Gotham Academy appeared as Robin.. 

Interestingly, that story, "Davenport House," isn't really about Maps or centered around the idea of Maps as Robin; she's basically just a Robin, and the story would be little changed were Kerschl to have written and drawn any of the other half-dozen or so potential Robins into it. She's basically there for the same reason Robin is almost always there: To give Batman someone to talk to. 

It's essentially just a very clever ghost story with a mystery element, one that allows Kerschl to play up the idea of Batman as the "spirit of Gotham," as others have done in the past. All in all, not bad for eight pages...and it was a delight to see Maps again. It would be great if Kerschl and company could find a way to temporarily revive the Gotham Academy characters; there are so many teens in Batman's stable of sidekicks that it doesn't seem like it would be that hard to do so, and make it marketable enough to appeal to Batman fandom at large for the space of a miniseries or original graphic novel or so...

There are four other stories included in this issue, none of which really take advantage of the black and white format to do anything special or tie-in to it in some notable way, although it is interesting to see what Nick Bradshaw's hyper-detailed art looks like sans color, for example, or what Riley Rossmo's art look likes in black and white (Rossmo, as I am sure I've noted before, is one of my favorite current Batman artists). 

The best of the lot is probably Daniel Warren Johnson's "Checkmate," a nice, evergreen, "portrait" sort of story about Batman's relationship with Alfred, how he learned to think ahead and how doing so leads to his peculiar crime-fighting strategies, which can include something as counterintuitve as letting a low-level thug beat on him for a while until his prey comes along. Two-Face is in that story.

As for the rest, they are Joshua Williamson and Rossmo's "A Night in the Life of a Bat in Gotham" (featuring a nice appearance by the Batman family on the final splash page), Chip Zdarsky and Bradshaw's "The Green Deal" (most notable for Batman's intimation that he might already have his own plan to save the world from the climate crisis and environmental degradation, so it's too bad he's not real!), and Becky Cloonan, Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson's "The Fool's Journey," in which Batman investigates a murder at Haly's Circus, back when Dick was still young enough to be using a pacifier. 

All in all, there's a lot of great art, and enough quality comics to justify the hefty $5.99 price tag. 


History of The Marvel Universe (Marvel Entertainment) What a strange book this massive, 8.75-inch-by-13.25-inch treasury edition collection of the six-issue miniseries turned out to be. It's honestly probably the most brilliantly-drawn, most brilliantly-written but most boring to read comic I've ever read.

One can't fault writer Mark Waid or artist Javier Rodriguez for the fact that it is a slog to read. It is, after all, the entire history of the Marvel Universe, from its creation—meaning its version of the Big Bang, not Fantastic Four #1—to fragmented, indefinite visions of various alternate futures, told in chronological order. It's one big summary of thousands upon thousands of individual comics, and while it's all boiled down and reconstructed into what may be the most complete, most narratively sound story possible, reading it is still the reading of a summary of the Marvel's publishing history in general (The Human Torch, Namor and Captain America don't show up until the second issue; the Fantastic Four don't get their powers until the third issue, so there's a lot of retroactive continuity in the book).

Waid creates a sort of framing device, with a bearded, grown-up Franklin Richards talking to a dying Galactus at the end of the universe, the latter telling the former the history of everything as a way to remind him of what they are in the process of losing. Each issue ends with something of a cliffhanger, or at least a bit of story with a degree of suspense to it (Like, for example, Galactus narrating that "The stage was set for the Age of Heroes" in the last panel of issue #2, as the future FF run to board their fateful rocket, but how much suspense is there really, when the reader will be well aware of what happens next with every such "cliffhanger"...?).

The real pleasure then is taken from one of two sources. The first, and more vague pleasure, comes from seeing the mechanics of what Waid is doing, how he chooses to boil various bits of Marvel history down into a sentence or panel or two, or entire eras into a page. The other, and more immediate, is in Rodriguez's art, and how he constructs his images, sometimes smooshing whole eras into a single image on a single page, or how complicated story arcs or runs or events might be reduced to compelling imagery.

Of greatest note, I think are these examples, which I'd share if I could fit the giant book onto my scanner: A swathe of seventies debuts filling a single page (Iron Fist, Shang-Chi, Power Man Luke Cage, Werewolf By Night Jack Russell, Man-Thing, Howard The Duck (still forced to wear pants, despite Disney's ownership of Marvel) and Morbius, the Living Vampire; Spider-Man's "Clone Saga" and the attendant era of Spidey comics all drawn in a single striking image; and a page in which The Sentry, Jessica Jones, The Runaways and X-Force/The X-Statix all debut in a single image of at a New York City newsstand.

There's just remarkable imagery throughout, and as striking as it is to see, it's also striking to see how Rodriguez and Waid use it to tell the story of, say, Grant Morrison's New X-Men run or House of M or Civil War in a single image and a couple of sentences of summary. I would love to see some pages of script from this series, just to see if or how the pair worked together to construct the individual images, if it was pure "Marvel method" or if Waid would type out a summery of, say, the Winter Soldier storyline from Captain America and the "Planet Hulk" storyline and then "do whatever you want to summarize them visually" or what, exactly. 

The most noteworthy addition the series makes to the Marvel Universe is Waid's invention of an international war in "the Asian nation of Siancong" to take the place of the Vietnam war, giving James Rhodes, Frank Castle, Ben Grimm and Reed Richards all a fake Vietnam war to serve in without marrying them to a historical event, and thus aging them to the point where they would all be senior citizens rather than the eternal thirtysomethings that super-comics heroes are mostly meant to be. 

I suppose I should note that I've actually only read the first half of the book. The second half collects the annotations, which are essentially Marvel saga entries, illustrated prose explanations of the events Waid and Rodriguez refer to (with references to the issues the events are from, although these days references to the trades those comics are collected in might be much more useful). I only flipped through that portion of the book. It is obviously far more unreadable as a story than the more comics-like illustrated splash pages that preceded it, but it's a pretty nice thing to have access to on my bookshelf, should I ever want to read about the Celestials or Eternals or the Brotherhood of the Shield or some X-Men crossover without having to consult the Internet. 

All in all, a pretty weird book: A beautifully-illustrated reference book of the entirety of Marvel continuity, told about as well as it could be told in so short a page-count. No fun to read, but a true pleasure to look at and even occasionally marvel at (Yeah, I said it!).

I admit I was bummed that Galactus didn't mention the debuts of the Son of Satan or Squirrel Girl, though...


H.P. Lovecraft's The Hound and Other Stories (Dark Horse) Wondering aloud about how film and comics adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's writing tend to be disappointing last month got me curious about whether his work would fare better if adapted into Japanese comics, where there's a greater emphasis on imagery-as-storytelling over narration than in Western comics (and no producers or film executives to suggest updating the time period of the setting to the 1980s or 1990s or whatever).

That got me on Amazon, and, eventually, put manga-ka Gou Tanabe's H.P. Lovecraft's The Hound and Other Stories in my hands. Based on this small sample of exactly one (1) work, I can overconfidently pronounce that manga does indeed better capture Lovecraft's work than traditional Western comics like Dave Shephard's recent H.P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu and Dagon: A Graphic Novel

Aside from the title story "The Hound," the book also collects "The Temple" and "The Nameless City." All are relatively minor works of Lovecraft's (I don't recall reading any of the originals at the moment, but it was a good 25 years ago that I went through my Lovecraft phase), and all tie into the mythos, but in roundabout ways, alluding to and teasing prehistoric, pre-human civilization and horror from a past world lurking on the edges of this world, as if looking for chances to break through. 

Of the three, only "Nameless City" really puts "the wonder" or "the horror" on the page, as an archaeologist sees a swarm of monsters flooding into our reality. "The Hound" features a title monster that appears repeatedly, but often in shadow or from afar or just off-panel; it's a pretty great example of showing a monster without completely defining it on the page, and seems to pull off the comics equivalent of what Lovecraft does in his prose as well as possible. 

Tanabe's seems to be the best direct adaptation of any of Lovecraft's stories I've read in comic, but then, direct adaptations are relatively rare in the medium compared to stories inspired by Lovecraft.


BORROWED: 

Goblin Slayer Vol. 9 (Yen Press) More goblins are slain, this time in the snowy mountains, as Goblin Slayer leads his adventure party in search of a noble whose own party went missing while attempting to lay siege to a goblin lair and starve them out. Something went wrong with that plan, and as our heroes venture into said lair, they begin to suspect that there's something different about these goblins, but all we get in this volume are hints.

There's a hot springs scene, so the attempts at titillating nudity (or, here, near nudity) are thankfully mostly decoupled from sexual goblin-on-human violence for once. We also learn a new tidbit about the lizard man necromancer, as apparently his people can eventually ascend to become actual dragons. 

Despite my somewhat flippant first sentence up there, I still find the book engaging, and am still in a state of active suspense regarding many aspects of the narrative, from elements of the protagonist's origin story to the origin of the goblins themselves. And, or course, what creators Kousuke Kurose and Kumo Kagyu ultimately have in store for the relationship between goblin and slayer.


The Girl With The Sanpaku Eyes Vol. 1 (Denpa) It took a bit of Internet research and a consultation with my Japanese friend before I quite got the meaning of the title and how, precisely, it relates to the story, but suffice it to say that it is a very Japanese/Chinese title, and might actually have benefited from a more Western-friendly retitling, like The Girl With the Psycho Eyes or Crazy Eyes or Intense Look or something ("Sanpaku" literally refers to how much of the whites of one's eyes are seen, and in Eastern "face-reading" traditions, different amounts of white in different places mean different things; contextually, it would seem that the girl of the title has the eyes of psychopath or otherwise mentally imbalanced person).

The plot is pretty straightforward. High schooler Amane Mizuno, we are told, "is a girl who has a hard time showing her feelings" and "has a hard and prickly outside, but is soft and pure inside." She has a crush on the boy who sits next to her in homeroom, Katou, but when she looks at him, or when he tries to talk to her, or in the rare instances where she tries to initiate conversation with him, her eyes aren't all big and sparkly and dewy like those of the typical manga romantic heroine; instead she looks angry or intense, her tiny pupils drawn by manga-ka Shunsuke Sorato to almost resemble a serpent's eyes in some instances (as on the cover).

What follows then are her struggles to talk to Katou and be friendly to him, as she secretly "SQUEEE!"s on the inside while looking pissed off on the outside. 

The title might be something of a head-scratcher for big, dumb Westerners like me, but the central conflict is kind of fun and engaging, and there's a meta-element to it that makes it work far better in this particular media than it might in any other, as Sorato can use comics shorthand to so clearly delinieate the gulf between Amane's eyes and the way the actually feels. Hers is one case in which the eyes are definitely not the windows to the soul. 


Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 12 (Viz Media) This is still my favorite current manga series, and one of the comics I most eagerly await new volumes of. In this batch of Tomohito Oda's stories featuring a classful of students who almost all seem to have some difficulty in communicating with one another, (with many of those problems comedic or highly exaggerated), we meet a teacher with a communication disorder; the kids try and fail to stay quiet while studying in the library; there's a girl-boy outting to the beach without the outgoing Najimi, who usually organizes such events and keeps conversations going; there's a flashback to a beach date that Komi's parents once took; and Komi's household gets an unexpected guest when the young daughter of one of her mom's friends stays over. As always, it's a joy to laugh at Komi and friends, in large part because their disorders are all so familiar, that the laughing at is really laughing with


Zom 100: Bucket List of The Dead Vol. 1 (Viz) Well this is an exceedingly clever, awfully fun high-concept zombie apocalypse comic. Akira Tendo's first job out of college turns out to be an extremely-demanding, high-pressure, soul-crushing one, and he finds himself wishing he were dead rather than pulling all-nighters at work, his only life outside of the office seemingly being occasionally going home to sleep, or to restaurants for dinner with his co-workers between marathon stints at work. It gets to the point that when he sees a speeding train, he thinks of how if it would only hit him, he wouldn't need to go back to work ever again.

So when he wakes up one morning to find zombies in his apartment building and a plane falling from the sky, the end of the world obviously nigh in the now-familiar method of so many films and comics, his reaction isn't horror, but relief: "I'm... ...FREE!!" he shouts to the world, pumping his fists into the air.

The end of the world provides a new beginning for Akira, who is only too happy—in fact, way too happy—about the current state of affair, which give him the chance to do all the things he couldn't do when he was an office zombie himself. He immediately sets about making a to-do list of sorts, things he wants to accomplish before he himself is killed by a zombie, which is where the title comes from. He then starts to implement it, confessing his feelings to the girl at the office he had a crush on (which doesn't go that well, given that she's been zombified), cleaning his apartment, spending a day at home doing nothing but drinking beer, catching up with an old friend.

The cultural criticism at the center of writer Haro Aso and artist Kotaro Takata's comic is a familiar one in zombie literature, perhaps most effectively and explicitly stated in 2004's Shaun of The Dead, but more subtly explored in other works at least as far back as 1978's Dawn of The Dead; that is, that the line between modern life and the shambling, unthinking, unfeeling existence of the undead isn't as bright and as sharp as we might like. Sometimes it takes being confronted with actual, literal zombies to shake us out of our own zombie-like lives. 

That's what happens to Akira here, and it was particularly interesting reading this work a  year or so into the coronavirus pandemic, as Akira's time spent stuck free of work, mostly stuck in his apartment, unable to go to the grocery store or to visit a friend without risking his life felt more close and compelling than it would have otherwise. Of all the comics I've read in the past year, this is the one that seems to encapsulate the pandemic the most effectively, although one imagines that is more a question of coincidence and timing than anything else. 


REVIEWED:

Dear DC Super-Villains (DC Comics) Michael Northrop and Gustavo Duarte's sequel to their 2019 Dear Justice League is exactly what it sounds like. This time, little kids send fan letters (or, in some cases, "fan" letters) to various villains, all of whom, in this particular outting, belong to a pretty unusual version of The Legion of Doom (That's right, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and even Katana are all on the Legion of Doom in this book). 

It's particularly joke-heavy, and a hell of a lot of fun...far more so than Dear Justice League, I think, in large part because it's a little easier to diss villains than it is heroes, and rather than a generic invading alien army as the opponents our protagonists face, the Legion is ultimately up against the League itself in the final chapter of the book.

I love the way Duarte draws everyone.


My Little Pony/Transformers: Friendship in Disguise (IDW Publishing) This is quite easily the very  best comics crossover since Tom Scioli's Transformers Vs. G. I. Joe (which, oddly enough, presaged this very story in its conclusion).  A certain amount of mileage comes from the sheer weirdness of the pairing, but it's worth noting the book doesn't coast on weirdness alone, and the various contributing writers find connections between the two franchises to make for interesting character pairings and contrasts between the full-cast book-ending segments. For what it's worth, I have almost no My Little Pony experience—unless you count 1986's My Little Pony: The Movie—but I had not problem following this comic or getting all of the jokes, so it certainly seems new-reader friendly. 


The Wolf In Underpants At Full Speed (Graphic Universe) With this latest installment, Wilfrid Lupano and Mayana Itoiz's Wolf In Underpants graphic novels are now officially a trilogy. I enjoy the heck of out Itoiz's art in these things, and the weird elements of the forest's society that the books seem to zero in on, like the original's fear-based economy or the second book's treatment of the poor. 


EVERYTHING ELSE: 

Fully vaccinated, I returned to the movie theater for the first time since Birds of Prey to see Godzilla Vs. Kong, a movie that seemed to demand being seen on a big screen. It very much wasn't the Godzilla Vs. King Kong movie I most would have most liked to see (that is, one in which some version of the 1933 Kong battled some version of the 1954 Godzilla), nor is it the Godzilla Vs. King Kong movie I would have made, but it was a good enough film (Remember, the original 1962 King Kong Vs. Godzilla was terrible, and, if judged as a remake of that movie, then this is a definite improvement). 

There was an extremely obvious twist involved (at least if  you've watched enough Japanese Godzilla movies), but it nevertheless delighted me when it was actualized, and there was some unexpected nonsense regarding civilization among the Kongs that was at once dumb and awesome.

I was genuinely surprised that a definitive victor in the rivalry was shown, and that it was the one who, on paper, seems like he would be the victor. I don't think we needed two sub-plots involving humans running around beneath the feet of the "titans", and this seemed in large part to be the reason that Godzilla seems more like a guest-star in the movie than one of its title characters, but then, this is perhaps necessary to tie-up all the loose ends regarding titanology, where the monsters come from and where they can go when they're not fighting one another. 

All in all it was a fairly solid B-movie, I suppose; disappointing (as I would likely find most such films regarding characters I have so many thoughts and opinions about to be) but not necessarily an awful film. If this is the final of the "Monsterverse" movies, though, it did seem somewhat small compared Godzilla: King of The Monsters, which featured a four-monster battle at the climax, and cameos by a half-dozen other titans. Hopefully the studio has got at least one more movie in them, a Destroy All Monsters-style monster rally movie where we can see all the surviving titans and maybe some new, Americanized versions of the less-popular Toho kaiju that didn't appear in the first four films.

Author Pete Beatty fictionalized the 19th "bridge war" between Cleveland and its one-time cross-river rival Ohio City in his brilliant novel Cuyahoga (Scribner; 2020), creating a Davy Crockett-esque "spirit of the age" in the form of Big Son, an out-sized, tall tale-starring hero who nevertheless exists in something close to the real world, with a real family and real concerns (the book is told in the incredibly colorful voice of his younger, completely human brother, Medium "Meed" Son). Giving Cleveland its own answer to Paul Bunyan obviously makes the book of particular interest to those of you who share a region with me personally, but the book is a blast to read, and should be of particular interest to anyone with a particular interest in the concept of heroes, which, if you're reading this blog, probably means you. I interviewed Beatty about the book for Toledo City Paper, if you'd like to read a little more about it. 

Speaking of local heroes, I finally got around to reading Tom Feran and R.D. Heldenfel's Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV's Wildest Ride (Gray & Company; 1997), the only extant biography of Ernie Anderson, who co-created and played the horror host-turned-phenomenon from 1963-1966 during the Golden Age of local television. I grew up with only the dimmest awareness of the character from the sign in my late grandfather's garage from the long-defunct Ashtabula Manner's drive-in restaurant, featuring the diabolical, goateed image of Anderson in character and the words "I drank a Big Ghoulardi" (a colored milkshake, the precise nature of which I can't find anything about on the Internet). Well, that and residual, regional memories of some of his catchphrases. Feran and Heldenfel's book gave me a far greater appreciation, as they concentrate on Anderson's career and public life, particular his rise to local fame and then sudden departure from the Midwest for Hollywood, where he continued his successful other career, in voice work. There's almost no real coverage of Anderson's personal life, aside from a few remembrances from friends and colleagues, so I suppose one could accuse the book of being relatively shallow, but it's the best one we've got so far, and maybe the only one we'll ever get. 

In Jesus For Farmers and Fishers: Justice For All Those Marginalized by Our Food System (Broadleaf Books; 2021), author Gary Paul Nabhan writes that Jesus sought his disciples among the “fellaheen,” the food-producing peasantry in first century Galilee, the fishermen, subsistence farmers and day-laborers who found themselves marginalized and exploited by the Roman Empire, which goes a long way towards explaining why so many of Jesus' teachings revolved around fishing and farming. Nabhan then re-tells several stories from the gospels and various well-known parables, transforming them, or at least giving them vitality and even slightly different—or at least deeper—meanings, once additional agricultural or fishing context is added and explained. It's not simply a book recontextualizing and explaining certain teachings, however; Nabhahm also draws parallels between the fellaheen of the first century and the low-wage, often exploited food-producers of our own society, and how certain modern farming and fishing methods threaten the land and sea and their ability to remain productive.

Michael E. Mann's The New Climate War (PublicAffairs; 2021) is a particularly pugilistic entry into the ever-growing library of climate crisis literature. A long-time combatant, Mann's time in the trenches has meant he's got plenty of scores to settle and thoughts on climate activism (like, are you doing it wrong, for example) and what he calls "climate inactivism," which outright denialism is morphing into. That, in fact, is the new war he mentions in the title. While the scientific issues are about as settled as science of any kind ever is, the enemy army is moving away from denial and into various tactics to delay change. There's plenty of interesting stuff in here (I was particularly intrigued with the discussion of deflection campaigns past and present), even if it's ultimately probably not your best option for a book on the climate crisis. More on my other blog, which you should visit now and then if you want more frequent Caleb-writing-about-stuff in your Internet-reading diet. 

Finally, I listened to the audiobook version of Carlos Lazoda's  What Were We Thinking?: A Brief Intellectual History of The Trump Era (Simon & Schuster; 2020). Each chapter is a rather expansive essay from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for The Washington Post devoted to a genre of Trump books, from resistance literature to the so-called "chaos chronicles" about what was going on behind the scenes at the White House, from would-be explanations from what those in the heartland were really thinking to how conservative intellectuals were responding to Trump's ascendancy. In this manner, Lazoda seems to able to review dozens of books at a time, often extracting the most relevant information from them and assembling it in a way that helps contextualize it while finding broader themes. 

If the news is the first draft of history, then Lazoda's book reads a bit like the third draft, as he makes sense of the constellation of books about Trump and the last half-decade or so. I found myself actively envious of Lazoda's writing while listening; not necessarily the way he writes, but the way he thinks and is able to assemble such pieces out of reading, say, eight books (or maybe he would read 20 and only mention eight). It's a valuable skill that I marveled at, and wish that I possessed it to apply to books on the environment (as I'm reviewing them, perhaps inefficiently, one-at-a-time on my other blog) or to books about comics, which no one seems to really be covering (but then, it's hard enough finding decent reviews of comics themselves, I suppose reviews of books about comics is asking too much). 

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Aquaman Is Fair.

Aquaman Is Fair (Picture Window Books; 2018) is a book by writer Christopher Harbo and artist Otis Frampton about Aquaman, and the many ways in which he is fair. Would you like to learn some of the ways in which Aquaman is fair...?

Aquaman went to the barber and said "Give me 'The Namor,' please." 


Aquaman is king, playing this sport—I'm going to say underwater polo?—with his subjects, so, given the power imbalance, I question if it's even possible for them to play this game fairly.

Does Aquaman do his share of the work? Because it really looks like he's just delegating his share to some dolphins.

Forget fair, Aquaman is downright courageous if he plans on mediating an argument between his wife and his lover. 

Tough but fair, if the punishment here is being eaten alive by sharks. I'm not sure what Ocean Master did exactly to deserve punishment, but it must have been bad since, again, that punishment is being eaten alive by sharks

Sunday, April 25, 2021

DC's July previews reviewed

Batman: Secret Files: The Signal #1 is a one-shot starring Duke Thomas, a character I like a lot, and whose costume I think is pretty okay and who I even think has a neat raison d'etre (he's Gotham City's day-time Batman), but man, I loathe that codename, The Signal, especially for a Bat-character, given that "the signal" already has a pretty specific meaning in Batman comics. (As for better codenames, "Golden Bat" or "Gold Bat" go with the color scheme; "Echo" or "Sonar" go with the powers and are vaguely bat-like; "Shining Knight" contrasts with Dark Knight and fits the knight-theme Duke used as the justification for his name, "the signal" being the "first on the field"*).

Anyway, I imagine there would be a ton of crime in the day time in Gotham City. Like, if you were a bank robber, mugger or drug dealer, wouldn't you feel much safer committing your crimes in broad daylight, where all you had to worry about was the police, rather than a scary, violent superhero with his own stealth jet? 

The Signal is by Tony Patrick and Christian Duce; there's another Batman: Secret Files special starring "the Violet Vengeance," The Huntress by Detective Comics writer Mariko Tamaki and David Lapham (Wait, David Lapham? Really?!).

I think these might be the only books DC solicited this month I'll pre-order...with the possible exception of The Swamp Thing, below.


Based on his clothing and skin color, I had no idea that was supposed to be Etrigan the Demon on Ivan Reis and Danny Miki's cover for Batman/Superman #20 until I read the cover copy. That...is probably not a good indication that this is a quality image of Etrigan The Demon. From a distance he looks like Nosferatu; up close, he looks like Nosferatu going to a fancy dress party as a pirate. 


Batman: Urban Legends #5 features four stories starring Red Hood Jason Todd, Grifter (for some reason), Tim Drake (um, just going by Tim Drake, I guess) and "Batgirls": Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain and Oracle. I wonder if I can just pre-order one-fourth of this issue...? There are multiple covers, but this is the one featuring the so-called Batgirls.


Dan Jurgens and Ryan Sook unite for Blue and Gold #1, launching a new series co-starring the old JLI bros Booster Gold and Blue Beetle. The premise seems to be that the wealthy, tech-savvy Beetle will be helping Booster become famous via his superheroics, and it sounds pretty dated actually (I mean, Blood Pack did superhero team-as-reality show 30 years ago or so, and I'd be surprised if they were the first), but I like these characters a lot, and Jurgens is obviously a good choice to write.

Sook's a pretty great artist, but his super-realistic style seems an unlikely fit for what one imagines will be a humor-focused book. I guess we'll see how it all works out.


Milestone returns this month with Icon and Rocket (Season One) #1, and guys, I can't tell you how much I hate it when comics refer to themselves by "season"; it just feels tacky and desperate. Yeah, DC and the creators of this book—writer Reginald Hudlin and artist Dough Braithwaite—probably do want to make a TV show based on the Milestone characters but, like, play it cool guys...

As I mentioned previously, I'm not crazy about the new costume design, as the character looks off without the green of his old cape. It would be like an all-blue Superman costume, you know? 

And as I also mentioned previously, but will mention again in the hopes of willing it into existence, I hope DC collects the entirety of the original Icon run, and some of the other Milestone comics (like the "Worlds Collide" crossover with the Superman books, for example). 



I guess someone at DC realized that if they can do a comic set in the Batman: The Animated Series continuity, there's no reason why they can't also do one set in the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited one. Hence Justice League Infinity #1, by writers J. M. DeMatteis and James Tucker and artist Ethen Beavers (so despite the style of the two solicited covers, I expect the insides to match the design of the cartoon).

Hopefully the presence of Elongated Man on Scott Hepburn's variant cover means this series will be set during the Unlimited part of the Justice League cartoons, when the League consisted of just about every single DC superhero (or at least whichever ones the producers and creators wanted to use in a story). 

I've been digging the new collections of DC's old comics based on this cartoon, so I'm all far DC producing new comics in that mold.


I'm glad to see Shazam #1 solicited, as I think there should always be a Captain Marvel/Shazam series (just like I think Captain Marvel should always be on the Justice League), although the creative team of Tim Sheridan and Clayton Henry isn't one that makes this a must-buy for me (I do like Henry's art, though; I don't think I've ever read anything Sheridan has written). I'm also a little leery of the "From the pages of Teen Titans Academy" slug, having not read any of that. 


Well, this is weird. Grant Morrison and Mikel Janin will team for Superman and The Authority,  a book pairing DC's premeire hero Superman with The Authority, creepy sex creep Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch's StormWatch spin-off team, a team that reached the zenith of their popularity  some 20 years ago. 

In fact, writer Joe Kelly created his own faux-Authority for 2001 Action Comics story "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and The American Way?", a now-classic story in which Superman fought The Authority, although Kelly and company named their version of the team "The Elite." That group of  characters hung around the Superman books and the DCU quite a bit, including co-starring in the Kelly-wtitten Justice League Elite series from 2004-2005. 

All of which is to say this book seems to be a dated affair right out of the gate, especially since this version of The Authority is being lead by Manchester Black, the Jenny Sparks analogue that Kelly created to lead his Elite (Based on Hitch's cover, it looks like the only Authority characters in the book are going to be Apollo and Midnighter, while we have The Elite's Manchester Black and what appears to be the Natasha Irons version of Steel, maybe The Enchantress and a couple of characters I don't recognize; I guess the one female character).

In other words, this seems like a title that would have been a pretty popular idea 15-20 years ago, but now just seems kind of a head-scratcher. If it were anyone other than Morrison at the helm, I'd have a hard time imagining it had anything new to say about the tensions between iconic, Superman-like characters of impeccable moral rectitude and more cynical, '00s-style amoral anti-heroes but, well, that guys has earned the benefit of the doubt at this point in his career.


I really like this Superman: Red & Blue #5 cover by Art Adams. 



Superman: Son of Kal-El strikes me as a rather lousy name for a new Superman title, especially if it's replacing one simply called "Superman", but I suppose they wanted to add something to differentiate it from Superman. I'm officially so far behind on Superman comics that I still don't know why Jonathan Kent suddenly, rapidly aged into and through puberty, but that struck me as a not very interesting idea, particularly since we already have a couple of teenage Supermen flying around the DCU (Young Justice's Superboy, New Super-Man Kong Kenan). 

The new title will be by writer Tom Taylor, a talent who has definitely paid his dues on goofy "dark" DC books like Injustice and DCeased and earned a place on top-tier books, and artist John Timms, who has bounced around a couple of higher-profile DC books of late (Justice League, Batman).

I've got a lot of catching up to do before I'll be ready for this in trade, however.

I'm not a fan of that costume, which screams "New 52!", but then I suppose, as with the sub-title, they wanted to differentiate the new Superman from his dad.


I feel like I've probably read all the Swamp Thing comics I need to read in one life time, but it's well worth noting that The Swamp Thing #5 features John McCrea art inside, with Brian Bolland art on the cover. That's a lot of great art for a single issue. 


I continue not to know just what the hell Truth & Justice is, exactly, but the July's Truth & Justice #6 features Robin Damian Wayne and has a nice variant cover by the great Damion Scott, an artist whose work I never tire of looking at. 



Please note that Wonder Woman #776 will feature art by the great Jill Thompson (the cover above is by the book's co-writer Becky Cloonan, however). 


Wonder Woman Black & Gold #2 will include a story by the prolific cartoonist Tillie Walden (Spinning, Are You Listening?, On a Sunbeam), among other such contributors as Jamie McKelvie, Markio Tamaki and Ashley Woods. 



*I'm also in favor of changing his costume from gold to white and calling him "White Knight," which contrasts nicely with "Dark Knight."

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Marvel's July previews reviewed

He-Man...? Is that you...? 

Oh wait, no; that Battlecat has wings. Must be some other axe-wielding blonde barbarian on the cover of Marvel's Amazing Fantasy, which sure sounds like a let-Kaare-Andrews-do-whatever-he-wants miniseries. That seems like a good plan.


Wait. Are the mechs in Avengers Mech Strike...small...? Or is Kang giant? Or did artist Kei Zama just use some artistic license on the cover for Avengers Mech Strike #5, the final issue of the latest series involving Avengers mecha suits...? I guess if the series is ending then the trade is right around the corner, and I can find out then. 


You know who is a better superhero art team than Gurihiru? Ha! That was a trick question. There is no better superhero art team than Gurihiru! For evidence, allow me to enter into the record the cover for Thor & Loki: Double Trouble #4

I'm probably never going to read any of Marvel's Ultraman comics, like July's The Trials of Ultraman #4, for example, but goddam I do like seeing Arthur Adams draw monsters for the covers. 
 

There's a ne X-Men #1 already...? Jeez, how long has it been since the relaunch? A year...? Two...? I seriously haven't been keeping track, but just looking at a few random X-titles like, say, Marauders or Excalibur, they will only be publishing their 22nd issue come July, so the big, ballhyhooed X-Men era by Jonathan Hickman doesn't seem to have lasted all that long...although I guess "Krakoa" is mentioned in the solicitation copy for the book, which will be written by Gerry Duggan and drawn by Pepe Larraz, so maybe the status quo is staying the same, even if they're relaunching the flagship title with a new #1 and a million variant covers...

...

Ummm, I guess that's all I had to say about any of the books Marvel solicited for release in July, then? There were a few bad jokes that occurred to me, but I didn't make them because certain kinds of jokes about solicits are harder to make now that I can't simply cut-and-paste the solicitation copy. 

Last month I didn't even write about Marvel's June solicits, and no one noticed! Or no one said anything, anyway. 

So hey, while I've got you here, should I just quit bothering with Marvel's solicitations all together, or is it still worth your while getting a very short post like this one? Would it be better to fold them into one big post along with the DC solicits, which I always have far more to say about? If you have any input to share, I'd love to hear it. Thanks!


Saturday, April 03, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: March 2021


BOUGHT:

The Final Night (DC Comics) This trade paperback collection of the 1996, four-issue, weekly crossover event series by Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen serves as a pretty excellent reminder of how much curation can affect the reading of such stories. 

I read almost all of the contents of this collection originally in '96—only the six pages from The Final Night Preview featuring the Sun-Eater's destruction of New Tamaran were new to me here—but at the time I read the main chapters as they were published, interspersed with the handful of tie-ins that were of most interest to me (mostly the Bat-books, plus Superboy, Hitman and Aquaman). At the time, Parallax Hal Jordan's involvement came as a big surprise, as he wasn't even mentioned in the series until the fourth week's Parallax: Emerald Night #1 (and, in that respect, it wasn't exactly great comics-writing, as you really want to put the gun on the table before someone pulls the trigger, you know?).

This collection makes much more of Jordan's involvement, however, as in addition to the collection of the four-issue title series (and the preview), it also includes the Ron Marz-written, Mike McKone-pencilled Parallax one-shot and the Marz-written, Darryl Banks-penciled Green Lantern #81, featuring the funeral for Jordan, who gives his life absorbing the Sun-Eater and reigniting the sun. (Um, spoiler alert...?). 

Read like this, Final Night becomes more a story of Jordan's partial redemption than of Earth's struggle against a more-or-less "natural" apocalypse (That is, the Sun-Eater seems to be something between an animal and a natural phenomenon, rather than the typical villain machinations; in this respect, this is one of the more unique of DC's event stories). 

An alien woman with the too-convenient name of Dusk crash-lands her spaceship in Metropolis, warning that the Sun-Eater is coming to Earth's solar system and the planet must begin evacuating, as there is absolutely no way to stop it from doing its work. She knows this because it destroyed her sun, and she's traveled from planet to planet in its path, warning others of its coming. These others often try to repel it, and no matter what they try, they always fail.

Earth's heroes take up the challenge, though, and after the first issue's defeats, the Sun-Eater envelopes the sun and starts draining all heat and light; Earth immediately begins to freeze, leaving plenty of problems for the many heroes to deal with beyond the cosmic, existential threat itself. Therefore, there's plenty of conflict to fill the event's many tie-in issues, as heroes deal with darkness, cold and the most inevitable of the apocalypses they generally deal with (The most memorable tie-ins I read dealt with that sense of the inevitable, as some heroes spent their tie-in issues bidding their loved ones goodbye, while in the pages of Hitman, Tommy and friends barricade themselves within Noonan's Sleazy Bar and start drinking and swapping stories until the heroes can sort everything out for them). 

At the time, part of the Legion of Super-Heroes was stuck in their past/the present, so a handful of them play fairly prominent roles alongside Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the sorts of B-, C- and D-list heroes who generally appear in such crossovers. So too do other Superman supporting characters of the time, like Alpha Centurion and Lex Luthor, the latter of whom teams with the time-lost Brainiac Five to bicker and try to find a scientific solution to the problem after the heroes' initial efforts fail (Kesel provides a nice, nuanced portrait of Luthor, accentuating his arrogance and selfishness rather than some more blanket sort of "evil"; this comes through most plainly near the climax, when someone suggests he fly a ship on a suicide mission to reignite the sun, a ship Superman gladly volunteers to fly). 

Kesel also works in some brief but telling portraits of The Phantom Stranger, Etrigan The Demon, Zatanna and Big Barda, with the Stranger sequence rather directly addressing the reader about the power, symbolism and appeal of DC's superhero characters as the book nears the climax.

Because it didn't at all start out as a Parallax story, the Hal Jordan stuff still comes out of left field, and because the Parallax special functions as a sort of unofficial fifth issues of the series, but changes focus (and voice, and setting) so much, it's a very oddly-shaped narrative. During that issue, Kyle Rayner tracks down the then still nigh-omnipotent Parallax and asks him to use his powers to save Earth. Parallax is reluctant to aid his fellow heroes after Zero Hour and his various conflicts with Kyle and the others, but he looks into it and, realizing it would likely cost him his own life, he visits various people important to him (Tom Kalamaku, Carol Ferris, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, etc) to check in with them and/or say goodbye. 

After the concluding chapter of Final Night, the focus again shifts to Kyle Rayner, who was of course the star of Green Lantern at the time, and thus the protagonist of Green Lantern #81, dedicated entirely to Hal Jordan's funeral. That was a noteworthy issue for several reasons, and reads a bit queerly today, when many of the dead heroes mentioned in the proceedings are all alive, and their replacements have all been sidelined in one way or another (There's an interesting panel in which both John Constanine and Swamp Thing appear, which was an extreme rarity at the time, when the borders between Vertigo and the DCU were pretty solid). 

All told then, it's a rather odd collection of a rather odd narrative, but one with plenty of virtues, from seeing Immonen drawing much of the DCU as it existed in 1996, to a very distinct end-of-the-world scenario, to some very nice character work regarding DC heroes big and less big. 

As with the recently published Underworld Unleashed, I found myself wanting to revisit tie-ins to this. I can't imagine DC would actually publish a companion collection of the tie-ins, which were, remember, pretty diffuse and dealt with the characters' reactions to the events more than the events themselves, but I suppose it's possible they could do what they did with Zero Hour, and publish character-specific tie-in collections, like Superman: The Final Night (Superman #117, Adventures of Superman #540, Action Comics #727, Superman: The Man of Steel #62, Supergirl #3, Superboy #33, Legion of Super-Heroes #86)  and  Batman: The Final Night (Batman #536, Detective Comics #703, Robin #35, Hitman #8 and maybe Green Arrow #114?). I don't know if there's enough solid tie-ins of other characters to collect enough of them into a Justice League: Final Night collection; there's definitely a Flash, Green Lantern and Power of Shazam tie-in, but beyond those, pickings grow slim.

Also as with the Underworld Unleashed collection, this includes the relevant portion from JLA in Crisis Secret Files #1, a montage-like image by Immonen, inker Jose Marzan Jr and colorist Tom McCraw recapping the events of the series, plus a text summary and a bit of timeline, as those were the days when it was still possible to produce timelines of DC's history. 


Mike Mignola: The Quarantine Sketchbook
(Dark Horse Books)
Earlier in the coronavirus-caused shutdown, artist Mike Mignola started sharing daily sketches on his Twitter feed, drawing seemingly random, often iconic characters in his own signature style, which rendered them all somewhat spooky and spectral: The Flintstones, Kermit the Frog, Mr. Peanut and so on. At one point, around the time he started drawing mascots from the cereal aisle of the grocery story, I think I tweeted something about how I wish they would collect all of these weird sketches of his into a coffee table book, as I would love to buy such a thing.

And they did!

Mike Mignola: The Quarantine Sketchbook is a 230-page hardcover collection of those very sketches, each given a page of its own. It's not completely complete, as some of the mascot characters seem to be missing, but I was genuinely surprised how many corporate-owned characters made it into the book, given what must have been a somewhat challenging process of securing the rights to publish Mignola's sketches of them. So there are a bunch of Kirby-created Marvel monsters, Silver Age Spider-Man villains, Masters of The Universe and Thundercats characters (Mignola's Skeletor is the best Skeletor), old Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters and the monster cereal mascots, in addition to more expected Mignola subject matter, like Hellboy, chimerical fish people, vegetable people and skeletons in suits posing like they are in 19th century photo shoots, and so on.

At $40, it probably wasn't the wisest investment on my part—I don't even  have a coffee table to put it on!—but according to the copy on the back of the book, all profits are going to raise money for World Central Kitchen, so I guess it's a good cause. That's the same charity that Mignola auctioned off the original sketches to raise money for (Their site is wck.org, if  you want to learn more about them or donate). 

The book includes a short introduction by Mignola's wife Christine and a short afterword by Mignola himself. 


Infinite Frontier #0 (DC) This $6.99, 64-page special is essentially a collection of preview stories for the entire DC line, although there's a framing device that makes it relevant to the ongoing reboots of the DC Universe setting—as far as I can tell, it's now pre-Flashpoint continuity, with the popular bits of the post-New 52 reboot in tact—and at least one section that is a standalone one, and doesn't seem like it will be picked up in any of the comics that have so far been solicited (the Alan Scott section). (UPDATE: Actually, this looks like it will be picked up on in June's Infinite Frontier series.)

The framing device is written by Joshua Williamson "with" James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder, and drawn by John Timms. This involves Wonder Woman in space somewhere, confronted by a huge "Infinite Frontier" logo seemingly rendered in a computer-ized version of Kirby dot lettering. 

"It's all so beautiful," Diana, now outfitted in an all-white costume with trailing streamers and a Sif-like headdress, remarks. She is then addressed by the "The Quintessence," a group of five cosmic beings that Mark Waid and Alex Ross introduced in the page of Kingdom Come, and which Snyder and Tynion have made some use of during their Justice League mega-arc (Timms has redesigned them all a bit, but the most noteworthy elements of their make-up are that Hera is still in for Zeus and The Wizard Shazam has his original look, rather than his New 52 one). They want Diana to join their number—which would necessitate a name change for the group, I would think—but she's reluctant, sensing some danger on Earth among her former comrades. Before she can decide if she wants to ascend or not, she wants to check on them. So The Spectre leads her through the solicitations for DC's post-Future State slate of comics, the pair of them traveling Christmas Carol-style from character to character, allowing readers to sample upcoming plotlines.

These samples can be as short as three-pages and as long as six, and are all generally by the creative teams of the books in which these adventures will unfold. They therefore vary quite a bit in style, tone and quality. I admit I had to put the book down after the first one, three pages of Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez seemingly setting-up their upcoming Justice League run, as it contained Black Adam seemingly being renamed "Shazadam" and Gah! I can't believe Bendis, as talented as he might be, is still allowed to come up with names for characters. He is literally the worst at it (See, most recently, "Drake", although we can come up with plenty of other examples given a few moments' time, I'm sure, from Geldoff to Naomi). 

Some of these previews are quite intriguing, some of them so-so, but no matter, I think the book will be of value for anyone curious about the upcoming offerings from DC Comics. Among the big changes noted are the resurrection of Roy Harper (aka Red Arrow, aka Arsenal, aka Speedy), the temporary replacement of Barry Allen by Wally West as the "official" Flash (at least in the pages of The Flash; it's Barry that appears in the Justice League preview) while Barry does some Multiverse stuff with the team from The House of Heroes and the restoration of the JSA and related continuity, as evidenced in a short Stargirl story and the aforementioned Alan Scott passage. 

There are three things I want to talk about in particular, though. The first is that Alan Scott passage, which is narrated by Obsidian, who is probably DC's longest-lived, most prominent and most unique gay character, and whom I therefore wish had a higher profile, and was given at least the same amount of attention as the what-if-Batman-killed-people-and-also-didn't-have-bat-ears character, The Midnighter. He and his sister Jade meet their dad Green Lantern Alan Scott at the JSA headquarters at Battery Park (established during Geoff Johns' JSA run), and among the things mentioned are the JSA's disbanding in the 1950s and the existence of Infinity, Inc, giving us a sense of how much of DC's pre-New 52 continuity is actually back. 

Alan—whose ring artist Stephen Byrne draws to resemble a GL Corps ring, although this is likely just an art mistake*—says he's been approached by "some of the greatest minds of this world...and they've asked me to be a sentinel overlooking the totality of this world," whatever that means, but, before he did so, he says wanted to come out to his kids. So he did.

The journey to making Alan Scott gay has been...weird, given that it was an alternate dimension version of him from The New 52's Earth-2 that was gay, and then at some point James Tynion apparently decided to make the "real" Alan Scott gay as well. I understand the impulse of adding a diversity of the sexual orientations of DC's superheroes by retconning the sexuality of a prominent character, but I'm still surprised by the choice of Alan Scott, as he's not that prominent a character, and it seems easier to promote Obsidian who's literally right there, and it seems like Alan is just going to fade back into the background again anyway (if there's a new JSA book on the horizon, it hasn't yet been announced). I'd find this a bit more exciting if there was going to be a new Green Lantern book starring Alan Scott, or at least a new JSA book with Alan playing a prominent role (or if he joined the Justice League or something; Bendis seems to be in the process of an extended homage to a JSA arc anyway).

Still, they now have a more prominent gay character to stick in the pages of the recently announced DC Pride book than their usual gay suspects of Midnigher and Apollo, Batwoman and a handful of bi characters. 

Also of note is the Wonder Woman sequence, written by Becky Cloonan and Michale W. Conrad and drawn by Alitha Mortinez and Mark Morales.  In it, Hippolyta comes upon a group of Amazons fighting one another and demands to know the meaning of this; they say they are battling to see who is the strongest and most worthy to take up the mantle of Wonder Woman. So Hippolyta proposes a test: Whichever of the three contenders will gaze at the head of the gorgon Medusa she keeps in a box will be named the bravest and thus most worthy. Only Nubia accepts...but it turns out the box contains now Medusa's head, but, instead, a crown—Hippolyta plans to replace Diana herself, "and risk being poisoned" by "the world of men", and Nubia will replace her as queen of the Amazons while she does so.

This is pretty frustrating, as I think a black Wonder Woman would be infinitely more interesting and meaningful than Hippolyta-as-Wonder Woman, something we've already seen once in the 1990s, in the pages of Wonder Woman, JLA and JSA. That Cloonan and Conrad teased such a turn of events in their story only accentuates that frustration.

Finally, and most fannishly, there is a lot of panel space devoted to the goings on in Gotham, which makes sense, given how many goddam Batman books there are. I was particularly interested in a pair of panels in which we see Cassandra Cain in her Batgirl costume (hooray!) and Spoiler in her current Spoiler costume fighting a crowd of  opponents while Stephanie chats with Oracle into an earpiece; Oracle is shown out of her own Batgirl costume, wearing glasses and sitting in a chair in front of a computer, the inside workings of a giant clock in the background. Huntress is standing next to her, talking about the status quo, and there's the workings of a giant clock visible behind them. 

I'm not sure if there's a new Batgirls book in the works, featuring Barbara Gordon leading a street team consisting of Cass and Steph, or a new Birds of Prey book featuring the trio and maybe Huntress and Black Canary, but, if so, like a potential JSA book, it hasn't been announced yet. I sure wouldn't mind either a Batgirls or Birds of Prey title, though, and, in fact, find the prospect exciting enough that I might, just might add such a book to my pathetically anemic pull-list. 


BORROWED: 

H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu and Dagon: A Graphic Novel (Canterbury Classics) That H.P. Lovecraft's horror is as effective as it is owes a great deal to the writer's restraint. He would suggest, allude to or, occasionally, tease the object of the horror in his stories—or, as he referred to it when writing about his own writing, "the wonder"—but never fully reveal it. And even when approaching revelation, he did it using language to communicate that language couldn't properly communicate how strange, how bizarre, how awful the horror/wonder actually was. 

The result, of course, was to leave his alien monsters to the imagination of his readers, who could never be sure their own imaginings were even up for the task, for surely the scariest things they could imagine weren't scary enough to properly convey horrors that drive people mad at the sight or contemplation, you know? 

This trick of Lovecraft's makes his work irresistably attractive for visual artist to adapt, while simultaneously making it unadaptable, as all but the most creative artists will surely fail to convey the unconveyable; even the very best renderings of Lovecraftian goblin gods like Cthulhu and the various creatures of the mythos will end up being disappointing on some level.

I think that's why I've never experienced a straight visual adaptation of his work, either in comics or in film, that really seemed to work; Lovecraft wrote about that which he couldn't show you, in fact, that which can not be shown, so is it any wonder attempts to show it always seem wanting? **

That is unfortunately the case with artist Dave Shephard's Call of Cthulhu and Dagon: A Graphic Novel, a comics adaptation of a pair of Lovecraft's more famous stories. You need look no further than the cover to see how dramatically Shephard's strategy varies from Lovecraft's, as you can see the horror/wonder of Cthulhu right there in the upper left-hand corner, looking like an angry green cartoon octopus plopped atop a rotting body.

Shephard does a pretty fine job of massaging the two works so that "Dagon" serves as a sort of preface to "Cthulhu" and that both work much better as part of a complete, comics-told story than they might otherwise have been if he kept the the precise timelines and events of the source material exactly as Lovecraft wrote them. 

The result reads a bit like a long-form version of an old Classics Illustrated comic, but the art is rougher and less-detailed, and there are relatively few panels per page. There are a lot of words though, particularly in the "Dagon" portion, which must have been a difficult equation to struggle with when attempting to adapt a prose work that derives its power more from its wording than its plot-points or imagery.

The book stumbles most when showing the reader imagery that the story suggests is unspeakable; for example, when the police break up a voodoo cult in the swamps of Louisiana, one of the officers shouts, "What they're doing—just sick!" and another vomits at the sight but, well, we see exactly what they are doing, and it appears to be just dancing around a fire naked. Nothing to throw up over, you know? In comics, one doesn't have the luxury of suggesting visuals that one has in prose. Certainly, there were ways for Shephard to do so visually, but he chose not to, and the result was a weird disconnect between the words the reader is seeing and the images accompanying them.

It should go without saying that his Dagon and Cthulhu, while neat designs, aren't rendered in such a way to drive a reader completely mad, or even inspiring much awe; the latter, for example, has the more-or-less generic, expected look of Lovecraft's most famous creation. So too do the strange cities that men find themselves exploring look too ordinary; I kept imagining a James Stokoe-drawn R'lyeh, for example, when looking at the green castle Shephard draws.

I hate to be too hard on the book, as it does have some virtues, but it is nevertheless a perfect example of how goddam hard it is to adapt Lovecraft in a way that is at all satisfying. What it mainly made me want to do is revisit the Lovecraft stories that served as its source material. 


My Senpai Is Annoying Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) This workplace romantic comedy by Shiromanta features Igarashi Futuba, a young, diminutive woman who resents being treated like a little kid by others, even though she occasionally acts like a little kid just enough to justify the treatment. She particularly resents Takea Harumi, her giant, somewhat oaf-ish senpai at the company, who acts like an extremely devoted older brother to her. He is the annoying senpai of the title...but does Futuba see him as something more than just an annoying senpai? The answer is a pretty obvious yes, although she tries to deny it to herself quite a bit, and even more so to their co-workers. As for Takeda, he seems perfectly clueless about the prospect of ever being in a relationship with her.

There's therefore not a ton of suspense to the will they, won't they aspect of the melodrama, as Shirtomanta makes it so clear that Futuba has feelings for her senpai. The main suspense, then, is if he ever really notices, if she ever communicates it and then what will happen. 

The art is nice, and greatly enlivened by the use of occasional, limited coloring throughout. 


Star Wars Adventures: The Clone Wars—Battle Tales (IDW Publishing) Similar to the various Vader's Castle comics, Battle Tales is an themed anthology comic with a framing story, the characters in that framing story finding occasion to tell one another different stories at the pace of one per issue. Originally published as a five-issue miniseries, the book is written by Michael Moreci and primarily illustrated by Derek Charm, while the stories-within-the-story each have  a different artist.

Rather than the "horror" stories of the Vader's Castle books, however, the theme here is, of course, war stories, featuring the Republic's clone troopers under the command of Jedi Generals Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and others.

As the story begins, Kenobi, Skywalker and Plo Kloon command the troopers to hold a position against the droid army of the Confederacy while they pursue Sith bad guys Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress and yes, that does sound more interesting to me than hanging out with the proto-Stormtroopers, but Moreci and company left us no choice in the matter (there are some cool panels of Charm-drawn Sith vs. Jedi battle, though). 

The individual stories-within-the-story are drawn by Arianna Florean and Mario Del Pennio, Megan Levens, Valentina Pinto, Davide Tinto and Philip Murphy, and they feature Clone Wars-era characters like Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padme, General Grevious and lots of various named troopers and commanders, almost none of whom I recognize (Just Commander Cody), as I never watched the Clone Wars TV series (just the 2D "micro-series" version that preceded it). That ignorance of many of the named characters and their storylines didn't seem to hamper my enjoyment of the comic; I got the sense that many of these were characters that would be recognizable to fans, but didn't feel alienated by my not knowing more about them. 


The Way of The Househusband Vols. 3-4 (Viz Media) I still find this joke, that the yakuza member known as "The Immortal Dragon" has transformed himself into a sort of domestic goddess to rival Martha Stewart, funny


REVIEWED: 

Flash Facts (DC Comics) This was a lot of fun, even if it was technically educational. Ten different creative teams—including a who's who of artists whom I'd like to see more work from—tackle different scientific subjects to explain to readers, sometimes by having a DC character like The Flash talking directing to the reader, but more often than not by one character explaining something to another, which lead to some interesting "team-ups", I thought, like Batman and Plastic Man, Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing (featuring the latter noping out when asked to explain where babies come from) and The Atom Ryan Choi and Mary Marvel (who seemed to be dating in their story, at least to me). 

It seems like there was a lot of infrastructure built for the making of this book, including getting celebrity scientist/actress Mayim Bialik to serve as editor and the hiring of educational consultants, so hopefully there will be sequels to the book. There's definitely a near-infinite amount of science to cover in future volumes, and DC sure has enough characters to fill up such stories, many of whom lend themselves to particular topics (like Dr. Light talking about light, Animal Man talking about animal evolution, etc). 

My only complaint? Derek Charm, one of my favorite artists, contributed the cover, but just the cover. I'd really like to see Charm draw more DC superheroes. Maybe he can do an interior story in a future volume, or maybe DC can hire him for something else down the line—I mean, aside from the Constantine kids book he's working on with the great Ryan North, of course—preferably something with a lot of different superheroes in it, like a Justice League or Young Justice story. 


Nubia: Real One (DC Comics) This collaboration between YA prose author L.L. McKinney and artist Robyn Smith, two creators who I had not previous exposure to, ended up being my second-favorite of all of DC's YA-focused original graphic novels, all of which have tended to be quite good (or, at least, all of the one's I've read; I did miss a few). The only one I'd rate higher is Shadow of The Batgirl, of course I went into that one already enamored with Cassandra Cain and Barbara Gordon, whereas I've never really read a Nubia story. 

Nubia: Real One invents a brand-new version of the Nubia character, making her an ordinary-ish young woman in the real world, ignorant of her true origins (which are the same as in the comics). It was a bit frustrating to read Infinite Frontier #0 after this (as stated above) and seeing that DC flirted with giving us Nubia as a Wonder Woman replacement, only to give us Hippolyta as Wonder Woman again. I know the "real" Nubia is different from the Real One one,  and it's kind of too bad that this one is relegated to a one-off ogn, while there are ongoing opportunities in the DCU for Wonder Woman's mom and like three Wonder Girls. Ah well, perhaps this will do well enough that DC will commission a sequel, and McKinney will find she has more to say about the character now that she's come of age and realized who she is and why she has the powers she has...




*Although I do like the idea of Alan with two rings, his original one and a GL Corps ring, something that artist Dean Trippe has proposed in his redesigns of the character. Alan as ring-bearing, honorary member of the Corps seems like a pretty cool, and completely logical, concept. 

**I'm quite willing to be proven wrong. If you have a suggestion of a film or comic adaptation of Lovecraft's work, rather than some form of extrapolation of it, that works quite well, I'd be happy to hear about it in order to seek it out.