Sunday, March 07, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: February 2021


Batman: Black and White #2 (DC Comics) I had planned on trade-waiting this new volume of Batman: Black and White, but the second issue contains a story by Sophie Campbell, and I found I couldn't wait to read that after all.

Campbell's story bears the name of a Cure song, "All Cats Are Grey", and is a pretty simply-plotted story that calls to mind Tim Sale and Darwyn Cooke's "Date Knight" from 2004's Solo #1, in which Catwoman's crimes and Batman's chasing of her are depicted as something of an elaborate courting ritual. 

Playing with the format and title more effectively than her peers in this issue, Campbell has a black-clad Batman chasing a black-clad Catwoman through a snowy white Gotham and catching her and recovering her stolen diamond rather easily. They both stand out starkly in the snow...and the fields of white that serve as the backgrounds of several panels.

So Catwoman decides to come up with a plan, inspired by a white cat, and sews herself a new white costume. The camouflage works, and the at times barely-there Catwoman gets the jump on the now even blacker-looking Batman...but what does she really want with the Dark Knight? (Mushy stuff, obviously). 

It's a fun little story, and I'll be honest, it is a little weird seeing Campbell draw Batman, given how far removed that most iconic of corporate superheroes is from Campbell's usual work. There's nothing wrong with her Batman, of course, it's just strange to see her drawing him, and I don't feel like she quite made him her own here (Of course, she is just drawing him as a colored shape in a short, dialogue-less story). She seems on more solid ground with Catwoman, as we've certainly seen Campbell draw lots of female characters, superheroic and otherwise, over the course of her career (I'd really like to see Campbell draw the teens of Gotham though, given her work on Wet Moon, Shadow Eyes and other comics with younger protagonists).  

I do hope we get to see more of Campbell on Batman though; I've had my fingers crossed that she gets her own continuity-free Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini-series at some point...

Campbell's is but one of the five stories in this particular 40-page, $5.99 issue, and it is in some ways the strongest. There are two others of particular note.

One is David Aja's "The Devil Is In The Detail," which is the only other one to really take the black-and-white format into account when crafting the artwork; while most of the comics look like ones that  haven't been colored yet, or are simply given tones by a color artist instead of the usual treatment, Aja's, like Campbell's, seems created particularly to be in pure black and white.

The presentation is interesting, as it's set-up as a daily comic strip, telling a "Year One"-esque story, although set, oddly enough, in 1949 (the strip doesn't look like a comic strip from 1949, however, so the inclusion of the year strikes me as a bit insubstantial, thematically). In it, a very Mazzuchelli-esque Batman seeks to solve a series of ritual killings in Gotham that the corrupt police department has little interest in solving themselves.

The other story of note is Dustin Weaver's "Dual," in which our Batman is confronted by a new and evil opposite version of himself, The White Bat. Rather than just Batman in a white costume, the character is an original design that blends Bruce Wayne with his costume in a somewhat disturbing fashion. The art is great—I really liked the designs of the Batplanes, and Weaver's Batman looks an awful lot like that of the original films—but the solution to the mystery of the White Bat is hauntingly abrupt and strange. In a sense, it seems like Weaver just had something out-of-left field happen because he was out of pages, but on the other, it's so out-of-left field that I'm still dwelling on it hours later, and it has a satisfying spookiness to it.

The other two stories are of less interest, being the work of creative teams who have told Batman stories before. Tom King and Mitch Gerads team for a typically overly formal, over-written King story that has an interesting bit of theology to  mull (and a reinforcing scene of a Batman who is not religious), and Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman tell another Batman vs. Joker story.

Next issue contains a Kelly Jones story; we'll see if my willpower will be strong enough to resist buying that one from the shop or not...

Generations Forged #1 (DC) Hoo boy. Writers Dan Jurgens, Robert Venditti and Andy Schmidt have come up with a deeply stupid conclusion to the story that began in last month's Generations Shattered #1, but I'm hesitant to put too much blame on the trio of writers (even if the fact that I shelled out $9.99 for the 80-page book does make me think I've certainly bought the right to complain). 

After all, it's pretty clear that whatever this series was originally intended to be got changed somewhere along the way—remember DC's "5G" plans which would have restored the concept of generations to their much fussed-with DCU timeline, which would have included the institution of a new, futuristic fifth generation that ultimately became Future State?—and I would not be at all surprised to learn if some of the art that appears in this series was used in a story that differed from the one it was originally drawn to be part of, or if some of that art was re-lettered. There's a disjointed feel to the proceedings, with the build-up seeming to be for a much bigger, longer event than the rather sudden, even abrupt conclusion.

As with Shattered, there are a host of artists involved with the drawing of the book, although it's a smaller host: Bernard Chang, Colleen Doran, Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie, Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan, Paul Pelletier and Norm Rapmund, Mike Perkins, Joe Prado and Marco Santucci (I liked the Pelletier and Doran sections best, visually). The weird group of heroes from across DC's publishing history, the eight that appear on the cover, are scattered in small groups throughout time and space, so that Steel and Superboy are making a new life on prehistoric Thanagar, while Dr. Light, Starfire and Kamandi find themslevs on pre-explosion Silver Age Krypton, and so on.

When Dominus, who has destroyed all of time in order to build himself his own little fantasy world (Waverider refers to Dominus' "extracted time" as like taking a bucket of water from a flowing river, which is an interesting metaphor, but doesn't seem to fit, as we've witnessed the destruction of all of space-time, so it seems more like he emptied the river into an artificial reservoir; Pandora or Doctor Manhattan stealing a decade from the DCU after Flashpoint seems more like someone taking part of a river that continues to flow without the missing water...)

Knowing these heroes are anomalies and are still out there, Dominus sends his new Linear Men to kill them, and so an even more random group of villains start attacking the random group of heroes (So, for example, the original OMAC, Knockout and Artemis attack the group in Kyrpton, while Major Force and Nemesis Kid attack Steel and Superboy, and so on). 

When the Linear Men realize they've all been sent on suicide missions and Dominus had no intention of saving them from the Nothing, they team up with the heroes, and then there's a big fight against Dominus, in which the time stream is restored to...what it was before, I guess...soooo I don't know how this fits in with whatever the current state of the DC Universe/Multiverse/Omniverse (I'll read Death Metal in collected form eventually; I have not and will not read Doomsday Clock). 

The result of this particular continuity screwing-with is what Waverider tells the Batman of 1939 is "The Linearverse.

Allow him to explain: 
Here, people age far more slowly, living much longer than elsewhere. Your youth and vitality will endure for decades, enabling you to be effective far longer than the universal norm...

Embrace your future, Batman... ...For it will endure in ways you can't yet imagine as you span the decades... changing with the times as you align with the greatest of heroes... you fashion Earth into the most unique of the Linearverse's worlds. 
So, I am confused. Is the "main" DCU, the place where all their comics are set, now this Linearverse, or is this just some weird out-of-left-field story we can all feel free to ignore going forward?

And I'm not entirely sure I  understand what Waverider is talking about, although the last page is filled with images of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Dick Grayson and Supergirl from the full range of their history, implying that every story featuring any of them is continuity. 

That was basically Grant Morrison's approach to Batman continuity during his run; "everything happened"...just maybe not as it literally did in the comics. That is, Batman solved the case of the Chemical Syndicate, fought a rainbow monster and had his back broken by Bane, but maybe not in 1939, 1960 and 1994. Rather, Batman's extensive continuity was meant to be considered as compressed and to be on a sliding time-line, so that those things happened, like, 12 years ago, 9 years ago and two years ago, so Batman could still be a relatively young man between 30 and 40 or so, rather than 125. (Basically like Marvel's sliding timeline, where certain things might be fixed, but other events are updated, like characters who were veterans of the Vietnam war ended up fighting in Desert Storm instead...and then the Iraq War, and so on).

That's what makes sense to me. I can't believe, as this comic seems to imply, that Batman's "Year One" is now literally meant to have been in 1939, and he lives in a special world where everyone ages like pre-deluge Bible characters (if that is the case, it presents a problem with the JSA characters that this book never touches on; in fact, some pains seem to have been taken to avoid including any of them). 

Even dumber is the bit with Starfire's hair. You know how when George Perez used to draw her flying, it would look like her hair was, like, a three hundred yards long, trailing off into the distance and forming a sort of comet trail? You know how you just always assumed that was a mixture of artistic license and the fact that there was a comet-like energy trail that streamed out of her as she flew? And that how, at rest, her hair was never longer than, like, ankle-length? 

Well, here it is implied that her hair literally grows to great lengths when she flies, allowing her to somehow shed or chop it off, so that she leads her pursuers into a trap by laying out a Rapunzel-lian long trail of hair and while I don't know who's fault that is, it's maybe the dumbest thing I've ever read in a DC comic. Of course, it so softened me up for the climax and the revelation of a "Linearverse" that I could just nod and think, "Sure, Batman's older than my great-grandfathers. Why not?" 

Green Lantern: Circle of Fire (DC) This is a somewhat curious collection, including as it does what seems like what should probably be two separate and distinct trades into a single, 14-issue, $39.99 collection. 

The first half or so of the book is devoted to the Brian K. Vaughan-written "Circle of Fire" event, which was book-ended by two one-shots (the first penciled by Norm Breyfogle, the second by a Robert Teranishi), and the five one-shot team-ups pairing a brand-new Green Lantern character with Kyle Rayner or a second-tier DC hero. 

The second half collects the first seven issues of writer Judd Winick's run on the title, from Green Lantern #129-136.

I'm not entirely sure why DC decided to put the book together the way they did, but I've got two guesses. 

The first is that they were going for something akin to a complete accounting of Winick's GL work, and Winick does write Green Lantern/Green Lantern #1, one of the five "Circle of Fire" one-shots, and the rest of the event series is just there to provide context. That seems pretty unlikely, though, especially since this collection doesn't bear a volume number, so there's no indication that it will be followed by a collection including the next 7-14 issues of Winick's run. 

My other guess is that both are Green Lantern stories that guest-star the JLA, making them both more broadly appealing than they might be were they simply collections of Kyle Rayner comics. 

Neither guess provides all that satisfying an answer, though; perhaps DC figured the names "Judd Winick" and "Brian K. Vaughan" would move more units together than either would separately, though...? I honestly don't know.

Anyway, "Circle of Fire" was a 2000 event story that is interesting for several reasons, but the fact that it was mostly written by Vaughan is probably the most noteworthy aspect to many readers at this point (Winick, Scott Beatty and Jay Faeber each wrote one of the one-shots, while Vaughan wrote the bookends and the remaining two one-shots). 

There are other interesting aspects, though. It also served as something of a JLA story, it introduced a(nother) new, if very temporary, Green Lantern Corps during a time in which there was no Corps, and it shined a much-needed spotlight on some perennial second-stringers, each of whom teamed with one of the new Lanterns and got their names on the cover of a book again (which probably had something to do with trademark and/or copyright renewal). 

A new cosmic villain named Oblivion has reared his horned head on Rann and seems to be headed toward Earth next; Adam Strange makes it to Ivy Town University, where Professor Ray Palmer is tutoring eternal college student Ronnie Raymond on chemistry. The trio take their warning to the League—which, at this point, was the Big Seven plus Plastic Man—and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner is a little freaked out. See, as a child, he had invented a cosmic villain named Oblivion that looked and acted exactly like this guy for a homemade comic book of his own.

When Oblivion takes down the entire JLA save Kyle, who was sent back to Earth to get reinforcements, he, Adam, Atom, Firestorm and Power Girl get some unexpected help in the form of strange Green Lanterns from different time periods and, in one case, an alternate dimension: G.L., a reprogrammed Manhunter android with a ring; Emerald Knight, a 13th Century knight; Green Lightning, a Flash who is also a Green Lantern from the far-flung future; the Teen Lanterns*, a pair of Kyle's descendants who share his ring; and the Alex DeWitt from an alternate dimension, where Kyle was the one who was fridged by Major Force.

Kyle, suddenly thrust into a leadership position as the last of the current JLA roster active, splits everyone into teams and gives them each a side quest to fill a one-shot special until Circle of Fire #2 rolls around. These one-shots are pencilled by Trevor McCarthy, Cary Nord, Ron Randall, Pete Woods and Randy Green. The conclusion reveals what Kyle's connection is to Oblivion, and the exact nature of the new Lanterns and how exactly it is that they appeared when they did. Having read most of this event before, I knew what was coming, and it sure is easier to see all the many clues Vaughan and the other writers left throughout the one-shots the second time around. 

I do remember feeling a bit disappointed that the new Corps weren't going to stick around; a few of them struck me as particularly strong conceptions of Lanterns from different time periods, and some still do.

The Winick issues that followed, all penciled by Darryl Banks, were all new to me; I read Green Lantern only sporadically during Ron Marz's run (which is why I was happy when DC started collecting it, and then disappointed when they suddenly stopped after just a few volumes), and did so even more sporadically during Winick's run. 

After a few issues setting up a new status quo for Kyle, in which he has a full-page comic strip in a successful magazine that comes with a degree of celebrity, prestige and success that seems completely foreign to me when I think of cartoonists (but I assume Winick circa 2000, himself a celebrity cartoonist, knew better than I do), and reuniting him with his ex-girlfriend Jennifer-Lynn Hayden, the former superhero known as Jade (daughter of Alan Scott and sister to Obsidian), Winick presents a new threat: A new villain powered by a yellow Qwardian power ring just like Sinestro used to wear. 

That villain is Alex Nero, a terribly mentally unbalanced twenty-something artist, and thus a  pretty perfect evil opposite for Kyle. Like Kyle, ring constructs pour out of Nero, and they are just as creative, if more twisted. For example, when Nero first appears, attacking Sentinel Alan Scott, at one point he's riding upon a giant horned infant with goats legs and its mouth sewn shut. Dialogue refers to his monstrous creations as Lovecraftian and like the scarier parts of the Bible.

Artist Banks does a fine job of drawing weird monsters, but I couldn't help but imagine other artists in his position while reading, too; Nero seems like an extremely fun character to draw because of this, and it strikes me as somewhat unfortunate that he was such as short-lived villain...although once Geoff Johns and company created the Sinestro Corps, I guess a Green Lantern villain with a yellow ring lost a lot of its feeling of being something special. 

The villain poses a big enough threat that Kyle calls in the JLA and Guy Gardner (who was still possessed of his "Warrior" alien DNA powers and was  something of a supporting character during this point in time) to help him save New York City from Nero's deluge of monstrous constructs.

The ending of the conflict is pretty anti-climatic, but, throughout these issues, one gets a sense that Winick is on much surer fitting with the Kyle Rayner portions of the story than he is with the superheroic stuff. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #114 (IDW Publishing) Another monthly-ish trip to and from my local comic shop, another discovery that they forgot to pull an issue of this series for my pull-list. It wasn't until I got home and started reading TMNT #114 that I realized the story seemed to have skipped over quite a bit, and when I checked my back issues I discovered that I didn't have #113

I've honestly lost track of how often this has happened with this particular title, the last ongoing series I buy, at this point; at least three times, but maybe as many as five times...? I'm kind of at a loss as to how to proceed. I do want to keep buying TMNT serially, in part to support Sophie Campbell's work on the title, in part because all of the other TMNT runs I 've followed I've collected serially, but my shop seems incapable of putting each new issue in my pull-list, and I don't go to the shop often enough (or pay close enough attention to the issue numbers) to always catch it in time. Now they are sold out of issues #113 too, so... 

I did read the issue,  but should probably refrain from discussing it here, given that I missed the one preceding it, and its obviously a direct continuation of that. I will say that Campbell is back on art (Hooray!), Tokka and Rahzar are in it (see Kevin Eastman's cover drawing of them above, although Campbell's versions are quite different looking), and Renet finding herself in Lord Simultaneous' position here was neat. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #2 (IDW) After the action-packed first issue set in a future where there's only one Turtle left standing, this issue is mostly concerned with back-tracking a bit to demonstrate how we got to this particular setting.

Michelangelo, that last Turtle, awakes in his old apartment, where he's been nursed back to health by April, who he had presumed was dead. He continues to be haunted by the memories of his brothers, who appear as phantoms to converse with and occasionally cajole him.

As for that flashback, it concerns the immediate aftermath of an ambush on Splinter and the Turtles by the Foot Clan, just as they were on their way to Casey and April's, where a big announcement was going to be made. Splinter is near death from his injuries, and while everyone's safe at the moment, Raphael slips out to bring the fight back to the Foot.

He does, but at the cost of his own life; he takes plenty of ninja with him, but not his ultimate target, Karai.

In the present, we learn that April and Casey had a daughter, who is now a grown-up or close to it: Casey Jones.

So I'm now even less certain of which continuity this is meant to be the future of, if any (Perhaps it's meant to be its own, standalone thing). Like I said regarding the first issue, I went into the series thinking that this would be a possible future of the original, Mirage continuity, given that it is based on a story idea by Peter Laird, who gets a story credit alongside Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman, the latter of whom share the script credit. But in addition to the variously-colored bandanas, Casey and April's daughter is named Casey, not Shadow, and the Turtles never met her. So it looks like this is actually volume 5/IDW continuity...insomuch as its any continuity, given it's Dark Knight Returns-style, possible-future premise. 

As with the previous issue, Eastman is credited with the layout, while the team of  Esau and Isaac Escorza provide the full art...except for one neat five-page sequence in which Michelangelo tells young Casey about his training over the years, which is drawn in black and white by Eastman and heavily toned, resembling Mirage-era art in its look and feel. It might have been nice if Eastman drew the other flashback in the same style, so there was a distinct and consistent look to differentiate "then" and "now," but Raphael's suicide attack on the Foot Clan is drawn by the Escorazas in the same style as the "present" action, just colored slightly differently (I was a little disappointed in Raph's death, too; it's very dramatic, especially at the end, but the actual fight involves too much posing versus actual action, something Eastman is usually quite accomplished at conveying in comics). 

With three issues left in the series, I would imagine we will get issues similarly devoted to the deaths of Leonardo and Donatello before the finale, but I suppose we'll see. 


Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 7: Age of Khonshu (Marvel Entertainment) The latest collection of The Avengers is a perfect example of writer Jason Aaron's application of Grant Morrison's old JLA formula, of a council of the world's greatest heroes devoted to staving off a seemingly inevitable apocalypse, with seemingly every story being about the end of the world as we know it—and though the heroes always triumph, the ending of the world is only delayed, as the next arc will also feature the imperiled world and, in fact, each apocalyptic battle is simply part of a bigger, ongoing storyline.

Of course, Aaron's been quite obvious about the shape of his story all along, as he constantly re-references aspects like the prehistoric, first Avengers, parallels them with later, current heroes, revisits rival, anti-Avengers super-teams and presents Mephisto as the architect behind all of the team's woes and, ultimately, all of the peril Earth faces. 

So the title arc here is a five-part story in which Moon Knight essentially takes on all of Earth's heroes and wins (to be fair, he executes a lot of sucker punches, and is able to defeat the likes of Iron Fist and Doctor Strange and swipe their powers because they think they're meeting with an ally, not an enemy). This ushers in the "Age of Khonshu," in which Moon Knight's moon god patron has conquered the world and started transforming it into his own image. 

On it's own, it's a pretty interesting extrapolation of Marvel lore and a good set-up for a fight comic. But it's also being told as part of a bigger storyline, as the reason Moon Knight helps Khonshu conquer the world is in order to better defend it from the threat that Mephisto poses. Obviously the Avengers win the day after losing for a bit—the better to make for a dramatic story, of course—but it leads directly into the next danger to the Earth, as Moon Knight ultimately seeks out The Phoenix, one of the several primeval powers that the prehistoric Avengers commanded (and which filled Moon Knight/Khonshu's arsenal).

There are three other issues surrounding the title arc. It's preceded by two one-issue stories, the first of which details Iron Man Tony Stark's time travel exile to the Ice Age, where he is repeatedly confronted by Mephisto, the second of which hopscotches around the world, checking in with various Avengers villains like Namor, Dracula, the Winter Guard and The Squadron Supreme of America, and Aaron demonstrates how they are all dancing to Mephisto's tune, in one way or another. The final issue in the book is basically a narrative deep breath between action-packed arcs, as the characters prepare to deal with the threat posed by the Phoenix. 

As for the art, Avengers very much continues to be an "it takes a village" sort of book. Tony Stark's issue spent in the Ice Age is credited to a half-dozen different artists and a pair of colorists. Ed McGuinness, who gets second billing on the cover, manages one and a half issues. But the entire "Age of Khonshu" arc is drawn by a single artist, Javier Garron, who therefore is this volume's primary artist.

Some of Aaron's writing seems specifically targeted to allow for too few panels in a sort of irritatingly obvious way. The first two pages of issue #32, the issue half-drawn by McGuinness, are simple splash pages of Namor; the first from his coronation day, the second from the modern day. The first page is  accompanied by about 160 words of stuffed narration boxes, all describing fantastical images that the reader just has to imagine, because what is this, comics? Why should you expect to be able to see an image accompanying Aaron's pleasingly purple prose? 

The second page contains a similar amount of prose narration, with a contrasting, opposite image of how things have changed for the worse in the "many tides" since Namor was crowned. It's fine writing, but it's poor comics writing, and seems calculated to cover for an artist who just isn't going to draw more than five panel per page, and would prefer to simply stick to splash pages, if that's cool (#32 has three splash pages, #38 has about eight, with two of them covering a page and a half of a spread). 

It's not quite so bad encountering pages like this in a trade paperback borrowed from a library, but I can only imagine how irritating it is to drop $4 on a comic from the shop that takes but minutes to read, and have the creators more-or-less rub the readers' faces in the fact that they are providing as little art as possible.

But that's some other audience. I did borrow this trade from the library, so although I noticed it, I didn't feel particularly irritated by it. 

Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Cold Vengeance (DC Comics) The title story in this collection of Detective Comics #1012-#1019 hinges on what strikes me as a rather bad idea: Fussing with Mister Freeze's origin and long-time motivation, at least as it was laid out in the "Heart of Ice" episode of Batman: The Animated Series, one of the very best handful of episodes of that still-influential series.

To quickly recap, Victor Fries' wife Nora had contracted an incurable disease, and in order to save her he used his genius in the field of cryogenics to freeze her until such a time that he could safely revive and cure her; funding his research has been the prime motivation for his life of crime. It was such a good story that it's the sort of thing I would be leery to see anyone mess with, and yet Peter Tomasi, Doug Mahnke and company do just that in this story arc. This is the story of how Mister Freeze finally revives Nora (Of course, she has been revived before, near the very end of the 2000-2006 Batgirl series, but, thanks to the vagaries of DC's cosmic rebootings, that is a story that has now apparently un-happened).

To Tomasi's credit, he gives Mister Freeze an interesting, outside-the-usual-narrative breakthrough, in the form of a boon from Lex Luthor, as this arc kinda sorta ties into the climax of Scott Snyder and company's Justice League arc (barely; not only does Freeze talk repeatedly of Luthor's off-panel deal with him, part of Luthor's pitch to various villains throughout the DCU to bring them on board in his doom vs. justice war, but there are a few panels where in the doom sigil appears in the sky above Gotham. That's the only mention of the goings-on in Justice League, though. It's all fairly red sky, beyond the Luthor's gift element being an important plot point). 

Tomasi also does some interesting, unexpected things with the resurrection storyline, redesigning Freeze and getting him out of his suit, giving the villain what he always wanted but with a twist (to the extent that Batman and Mister Freeze end up teaming-up against Nora) and putting the "toys" of the characters back in such a way that the next writer to want to use them can do so without any gargantuan efforts to write around this story.

Leery as I was of the story, Tomasi did a pretty amazing job of it. There's also an appearance of Batcow, which struck me as kind of hilarious, given that its one-panel appearance involves Lucius Fox asking about using the cow in the cave for a test and Batman saying no; if one walked into this comic, um, cold, it would seem completely random that there's a live cow in the Batcave. 

This five-issue arc is mostly penciled by Mahnke, but as is so often the case with the artist, others are needed to finish it, with the last two issues featuring the work of additional pencilers and small battalions of inkers. As per usual, the story suffers from the messier visuals near the climax.

Two more stories round out the collection. The first is a fill-in issue written by Tom Taylor and drawn by Fernando Blanco. Entitled "Orphans," it seems to be set sometime after whatever happened to Alfred (I believe he's temporarily dead, right?) happened, and has Lucius goading Batman into taking an interest in a Wayne family orphanage, where he finds something terrible going on. It's a nicely-written,  highly emotional story, and there's a neat little exchange regarding Superman at one point. I wasn't crazy about Blanco's artwork; it's fine, but his style is so realistic that it's a pretty strong departure from that of Mahnke and the rest of the book.

The final story is the two-part "Dead of Winter," in which a pagan cult is committing ritualistic murders throughout the city, and end up summoning and extra-dimensional monster that is only too happy to humor their false, pagan beliefs if doing so allows it to eat them. It's a pretty strong one-issue story, but is stretched out to two issues. Tomasi returns to write this one, which is drawn by Scott Godlewski.

Ace and Titus make an appearance in this story. I hope incoming Detective Comics writer remembers all the animals that Damian has gradually filled the Batcave up with (and I wonder who is feeding them all now that Alfred's gone, and Batman and Damian seem semi-estranged again; surely Lucius isn't taking Batcow out to graze each morning, is he...?)

Batman Vol. 2: Joker War (DC) The second collection of writer James Tynion IV's run on Batman follows quite directly on the heels of the first, Their Dark Designs, the main conflict of which ultimately turned out to be a Joker plot, too. That ended with The Joker and his accomplices in control of the Wayne fortune, and here we see they've also taken control of "The Hibernaculum," the secret base from which Batman and Lucius Fox now pump out bat-vehicles...and they've also taken control of Fox's mind, thanks to some acupuncture and Joker chemicals. The result is that The Joker is now using Batman's own weapons against him in an all-out war on Gotham City.

At least, that's the pitch for the story, a big event of a story arc, which, in reality, is both a little too big for a satisfying complete story, but a little too small to sustain what must have been a slew of tie-ins (Many of which are collected in a second trade I haven't read  yet, The Joker War Saga). In other words, while reading the story it is clear that a significant amount of the narrative is missing. Characters talk about hew character Clownhunter, for one example example, and his activities are presented as if in a summary, but he doesn't directly enter the narrative until the epilogue. As the book reaches it's climax, stories seem to start or stop without actually unfolding, as if alluding to the events of other books. Most whiplash inducing for me was seeing Cassandrda Cain introduced via text box as Orphan near the end, when Batman summons his army of allies, only to see her next appear in her old Batgirl costume. 

And yet while chunks of the story appear to be happening elsewhere, and Tynion alludes to them in this arc, a perhaps necessary but unwelcome evil, the plot itself doesn't seem to justify so many tie-ins. While a potentially city-destroying story, it's not that apocalyptic a threat for a Batman comic. 

The Joker has dug up and reanimated the corpses of everyone he's ever killed—or at least a lot of them—and seated them in the Monarch Theater for a special showing of The Mark of Zorro. It's a trap laid for Batman, who has been dosed with a new and special gas that has freaking out, hallucinating and ultimately taken out of commission for days. 

While Harley Quinn nurses him back to health with the help of Poison Ivy's plants, the city descends into chaos, as gangs of people in Joker masks terrorize the city in Joker-mobiles—sadly all generic-looking Batmobiles with paint jobs; artist Jorge Jimenez didn't use variation of the old Jokermobile with The Joker's face on it for a model—and Batman's ten thousand sidekicks are all MIA, apparently because he pushed them away due to sadness over Alfred's death or whatever (Again, that's stuff that happened in some other comics). 

Meanwhile, The Joker is using his fortune to arrange special showings of The Mark of Zorro in every theater in Gotham, which he plans to pay people thousands of dollars to attend; they will then get gassed, making for a whole city sharing Batman's origin of sorts. 

Thanks to help from Harley, Batman ultimately rallies, calls in his many allies and stops The Joker, saving the day. 

Tynion over-writes the climactic Joker vs. Batman battle a little bit, I think, as The Joker monologues about the nature of Gotham City and their competing worldviews so much that it feels like the character explaining Tynion's themes directly to the reader, rather than letting them play out naturally, but there's an interesting take on the old "Should Batman just kill The Joker?" chestnut, as Harley tries to kill The Joker (she succeeds in putting out his eye), and then forcing Batman's hand, making him choose between saving her and saving him from certain death.

That stuff is rather nicely played, I thought, and made up for the weaker bits of the climax.

Jimenez sticks around for the entirety of the arc, all but a few passages of the extra-sized concluding chapter, anyway (different artists, including Guillem March and Carlo Pagulayan, draw various epilogues). In that respect, though the plot of Their Dark Designs seemed quite a bit bigger and threatening, this arc reads better, with a consistent look and feel throughout.

While not my absolute favorite current Batman artist, there's no denying Jimenez is pretty great, and his style is technically within the spectrum of DC's house style, but far enough towards the edges of it that there's a great deal of personality to it. His figures are dynamic and dramatic, and he does sexy well, both in the male and female characters. 

Like the previous volume, I think this was head and shoulders above Tynion's Detective Comics work, even if it's not perfect. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 11 (Viz Media) The seemingly eternal will they, won't they of Komi and Tadano's mutual but unspoken crushes reaches another dramatic point when they both go on vacations with their families...and end up at the same spot (Najimi's there too, having tagged along with Tadano's family). 

In addition to that dramatic moment, it also allows for more of interaction with their little siblings, Hitomi Tadano and Shosuke Komi, who now star in their own occasional stories (wherein Hitomi uses ventriloquism in an attempt to make Shosuke seem more normal). There's also another appearance of Komi's parents in high school, as we see what happens when the teenage girl who would grow up to be her mother tries to confess her feelings to the teenage boy that would grow up to be her dad. 

At this point, I kind of love the entire Komi family. 

There are a few new characters introduced, at least one of whom Komi can add to her book of friends, but it's too early to tell if she'll become a major player or not (The character, Ase, also has a communication problem: She sweats so profusely she's afraid to be near anyone else, lest they discover this fact). 


Banana Fox  and The Secret Sour Society (Scholastic) So I really wanted to work the sentence "Kids will go bananas for Banana Fox!" into my review somehow, in the hopes that such a pithy phrase might get me blurbed on the back of a future sequel, but I just couldn't find a way to do it. 

Wait, maybe I can just do it here: Kids will go bananas for Banana Fox


The Book Tour (Top Shelf) Andi Watson's first graphic novel for adults in seemingly forever is a treat, and you can read me babbling about it at length at The Comics Journal here

Chef Yasmina and The Potato Panic (First Second) Weegee: Serial Photographer artist Wauter Mannaert writes and draws this charming kid-friendly graphic novel about a little girl who has to save her city from a plague of potato chips with bizarre side-effects. 

Justice League Unlimited: Hocus Pocus (DC Comics) Having already talked about this book at length here on my blog, I guess I'll just link to my Good Comics For Kids review of it and move on. 

Marvel Action: Avengers: The Living Nightmare (Book Four) (IDW Publishing) This volume seems to conclude writer Matthew K. Manning's 12-issue Marvel Action: Avengers series, which, now that it is all complete, proves to have hung together quite nicely as a series of standalone arcs that build like bricks into a bigger, overall story. Kid-friendly but every bit as engaging to an adult reader like me as the main, Marvel-published Avengers series, this was a surprisingly satisfying series. This particular volume features A.I.M-ized Avengers, a few of which you can see on the cover, each of which has an amusingly dumb new name. 

Mickey Mouse: New Adventures of The Phantom Blot (Fantagraphics) The latest volume in Fantagraphics' Disney Masters series collects the seven issue Phantom Blot series from the mid-1960s, drawn by Paul Murry. When it comes to old Disney comics, I'm usually more of a duck comic guy than a mouse comic guy, but the fun thing about this series is that it blended the casts of both, so that Mickey, Goofy, Donald and Uncle Scrooge might all appear in the same comic, trying to stop The Phantom Blot and The Beagle Boys from robbing Scrooge. For such an old comic, it was surprisingly timeless, too, with few markers that would make it seem ancient to current young readers. 

*DC's Young Justice-centric event "Sins of Youth"  featured a de-aged Green Lantern Alan Scott who was dubbed "Teen Lantern." That was published in May of 2000, whereas Circle of Fire #1 was published in October of 2000. So the origin of the Teen Lantern name, recently resurrected to apply to a new character in the pages of the Young Justice revival, is the "Sins of Youth" event, not this. Just in case you're wondering. 

1 comment:

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

That bit with Batman totally contradicts DDC. (You really should borrow that from the library, it does read better in trade.) I've always wanted DC to reprint the original Dominus story. If you aren't familiar, all four Superman titles gave us different eras, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s. The last with Clark Kent as a news anchor and the era of funky ties and suits that somehow seemed to miss Chicago. Each was a 4-isssue story and most were very good. Easily two trades.

Your thoughts on DDC reflect mine on METAL, so I'll be interested when you review those. All in all, both issues of GENERATION were better than anything in FUTURE STATE, and the most enjoyment I've gotten from a DC book in over a year was the recent METAL MEN 12 issue maxi-series.