Monday, May 31, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: May 2021


The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries #2 (DC Comics) Scooby-Doo and the gang were investigating a haunted fun house, and ran into the Joker, his gang of clowns and Batman and Robin. The Dynamic Duo managed to capture the Joker—by the second panel, in fact—but that's when this adventure actually begins. 

Batman and Robin invite the kids back to the Batcave for a tour, when they discover a "ghost" claiming to be "The Spirit of The Cavern"...! Is the Batcave haunted? No, of course not. But if someone is able to hoax up its haunting, then that means someone might know the location of the cave, and thus figure out Batman and Robin's secret identities!

This issue is by writer Sholly Fisch, artist Randy Elliott and colorist Silvana Brys. When Robin appeared in the first issue of the series, he was wearing his traditional, original red, yellow and green costume, and it was pretty clearly meant to be Dick Grayson.

The Robin in this issue is wearing the red, black and yellow costume that Robin Tim Drake wore in The New Batman Adventures, but this Robin seems far taller and older than that version of Tim. Additionally, while the Joker design more closely resembles that of The New Batman Adventures one, the Batman costume is that from Batman: The Animated Series

I suppose each issue of this series is meant to be read individually and not necessarily be connected to what came before, but given how rock-solid DC's designs are for Scooby-Doo and the gang (right down to recycling the same poses constantly), it's sort of striking that there's isn't a comparable sense of design consistency applied to the Batman characters. 

DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration (DC) I confess that my first reaction to the announcement of this special was one full of cynicism. Of the ten characters on the cover, none of them are regularly appearing in any DC Comics at the moment (with the possible exception of the one character in the background, who I didn't recognize, but, having now read the book, I realize she's likely a supporting character from Catwoman). Some haven't appeared in years (Grunge, for example), another appeared in a handful of comics before disappearing (O.M.A.C., the blue guy with the mohawk). The cover seems to call attention to the fact that DC Comics might have a lot of heroes of Asian descent, but none of them really appear all that often.

Of those on the cover, Katana was part of the ensemble cast of the latest (but since canceled) iteration of Batman and The Outsiders, Red Arrow was part of the ensemble cast of the previous (and now canceled) iteration of Teen Titans and Cheshire appeared in the "Their Dark Designs" arc of Batman. The most prominent character is Batgirl Cassandra Cain, who just recently resumed that name and that costume after years of appearing as "Orphan" in the pages of various Batman comics, having lost the title to the returning Barbara Gordon during the New 52 reboot that did away with several of the characters that appear in the stories within. 

These include Grace Choi, Green Arrow Connor Hawke, and Lian Harper (Oddly, Doctor Light Kimiyo Hoshi, who just starred in Generations Shattered and Generations Forged, isn't on the cover nor does she appear in any story within). I guess the results of DC's latest tinkering with continuity, Dark Nights: Death Metal (see below) was to semi-un-reboot Flashpoint/The New 52, so that we're back to some version of pre-Flashpoint continuity, but, honestly, it's all but impossible to make sense of. (Take, for example, "Family Dinner," in which Grace Choi and Anissa "Thunder" Pierce meet Black Lightning Jefferson Pierce for dinner; here, Black Lightning once again has two grown super-powered daughters, whereas in his last series his daughters were his cousins. If this story is mean to be read as canonical, then it knocks 2018's Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands out of canon.)

The word "self-own" isn't quite right, but Jim Lee's cover really does seem to call attention to how few prominent characters of Asian descent DC has and makes much use of (And for what it's worth, of the ten on the cover, only Grunge and Cheshire aren't "legacy" characters, a tried and true if somewhat cheap and easy route to diversity in superhero universe comics), and the characters appearing in the stories within only highlight that the New 52-boot reduced diversity in the DC Universe to a pretty shocking degree (Like, we might have gained an Asian O.M.A.C., but was that worth losing Cass as Batgirl, Connor Hawke, Grace Choi, and so on...?)

All of that said, I was actually pretty excited about this 100-page super-spectacular, and I grew more excited the more I learned about, for example, that it would feature the work of Trung Le Nguyen, the artist responsible for The Magic Fish (one of the best comics I read in 2020), or that Connor Hawke would be appearing for the first time in forever, or that Gene Luen Yang would be introducing a new DC hero based on the legend of The Monkey King.

So, expectations aside, what do we actually have here? 

There are eleven short stories ranging in length from just three pages to 12 pages, each starring a DC character of Asian descent and each produced by creators of Asian descent. Additionally, there's a two-page prose introduction by Jeff Yang, who edited Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, eight pin-ups, and five pages of character bios featuring many of the characters that appeared in stories or pin-ups (and a few who didn't, like the aforementioned Dr. Light).

The characters who appear in the stories are Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Green Lantern Tai Pham, Green Arrow Connor Hawke and New Super-Man Kenan Kong, Robin Damian Wayne, Cheshire and Cheshire Cat Lian Harper (?!), Cassandra Cain again, Grace Choi, Red Arrow Emiko Queen, Katana, The Atom Ryan Choi and new character The Monkey Prince.

It's hard to quibble with any of the character choices, even if a few of them struck me as odd. I feel a little weird about the al Ghul family identifying as Asian, given that Ra's is from some made-up Middle Eastern city state lost to history, and even if Damian's story is only three pages long, he's one character who gets enough attention in the various Bat-books. Grace Choi is also an odd choice, if only because DC so pointedly wrote that era of its comics out of existence; on the other hand, I imagine she's someone's favorite character, and it was probably a welcome return to fans of hers to read a story featuring her that seems to restore that old, ignored continuity. 

As I alluded to earlier, Dr. Light is the only character who seemed conspicuously absent to me. What do you guys think, is there a character of Asian descent who you think should have been included that wasn't

The strongest story in the collection was probably the Gene Luen Yang-written, Bernard Chang-drawn "The Monkey Prince Hates Superheroes," which introduces the brand-new character of The Monkey Prince, the son of The Monkey King of Chinese myth. When we meet him, he's  using his shape-changing powers and posing as Captain Marvel Shazam in order to get close to Dr. Sivana, who has been possessed by an ancient Chinese demon.

It's only 12 pages long, so there are more hints and allusions to the character and his story than anything actually definitive, but apparently the Monkey Prince is the Monkey King's biological son, something he's only recently learned and not super-enthusiastic about. He has his father's various magical powers and his magical staff, and is under the tutelage of Journey To The West's Pigsy, who he calls sifu. He's very powerful, but his powers seem closely tied to his emotions, and if he loses control of his emotions he'll lose control of his powers as well. He also hates superheroes. And is classmates with Billy Batson.

His story ends with "The Adventures of The Monkey Prince continue later this year," which makes me curious if there will be a miniseries or original graphic novel by Yang later this year (Chang's art is fine, but I'd prefer to see Yang paired with Gurihiru for a future Monkey Prince comic, given how strong their collaboration Superman Smashes The Klan was). If not, then I suppose the Yang-written Batman/Superman or the pages of the upcoming Shazam ongoing series would be the most likely places for the Monkey Prince to show up.

I'm not entirely sure about the "M" on his chest-plate, but otherwise I like the character's design just fine, and it seems to be just superhero-y enough to belong in the DCU without looking like the sort of thing a superhero might wear (other than the "M", of course). Which is a good thing, since he, you know, hates superheroes.

The other candidate for best story is probably the opening Batgirl story by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Marcus To. It covers ground and strikes notes that are familiar from the old Batgirl series that starred Cassandra, but  it does so quite well, and works as an evergreen, portrait-style story of the character (Dustin Nguyn writes and draws the other Cass story, a short, three-pager that is basically just a slice-of-life moment).

I was most looking forward to seeing Connor Hawke again, and he technically appears twice: First in a pin-up with Traci 13 by Cliff Chiang, and then in the prosaically entitled "Hawke & Kong" by writer Greg Pak and artist Sumi Kumar. In that story, Connor is using his acrobatic skills to bring kimchee home to his mom and grandmother in full costume for...some reason. He happens to run into Super-Man Kenan Kong, who is city-sitting Metropolis for the other Superman while he's out of town, and they team-up to fight a giant robot dragon. Their personalities naturally clash, but Connor reluctantly invites Kenan to have dinner with his family anyway. There's not much to it, and I had some quibbles, but it was nice seeing Connor again.

The best-looking story in the book is undoubtedly the Le Nguyen-drawn "Dress Code," written by Minh Le. It's just three-pages, in which Green Lantern Tai Pham (from Le and Andie Tong's original graphic novel Green Lantern: Legacy) is battling a Sinestro Corps member who makes fun of his "dress," which calls to mind a conversation he had with his grandmother (who was a Green Lantern before him). It's a nice, cute, punchy little story, and its fun to see Nguyen's style applied to superheroics; along with Victoria Ying's "Kawaii Kalamity!" this story stands out for its drastic departure from what is otherwise the more generic house style of the other stories. 

All in all, this was a fun collection, and well worth the $10 to see some favorite characters and meet a new character. I hope DC continues to strive to keep these characters in their books and that this isn't just a one-off affair. That is, filling 100 pages with heroes and creators of Asian descent is relatively easy at this point (and the publisher has enough characters of Asian descent in their massive catalog that they could have easily done a 200-page book). The real challenge will be keeping them in their books in the weeks and months and years to come, and remembering that representation matters, both in the heroes on the pages and the creators telling their stories. 

Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition #0 (DC) You know what I would like to read, maybe a few months after the new Milestone books gets going? A smart thinkpiece about what the Milestone brand and characters mean in 2021 versus the early '90s. Like, I have to assume it's something very different. Back then, the Milestone universe's shared-setting and publishing line was a real curative to the lack of black (and all other kids of non-white) representation in mainstream superhero comics, compared to today, when there is a real and genuine effort at the big two publishers to do much, much better than they were doing on that front in, say, 1990. 

Certainly having Icon as a black Superman analgoue is going to seem different now, on the other side of the Black Panther movie, after we've had a black Captain America and there are casting rumors about a black Superman in the next movie to star that character, than it did back then, when publishers were still struggling to find black characters to include on various super-teams, you know?

In comics, in film and on television, there are more black superheroes then ever before, and the Milestone characters no longer seem as special just for being there and being black.

I am not the person to write about such things, though, in part because, as a cis white guy, I've never had trouble finding superheroes that looked like me, and in part because my own experience with the Milestone characters is so extremely limited (I read the first Icon trade paperback and...that's about it, really; maybe some random issues of various books fished out of dollar bins over the years). 

Anyway, this special kicks off a reboot of the various Milestone characters, with a particular focus on Static, Hardware and Icon and Rocket, the characters who will be starring in the three ongoing Milestone titles in the coming months. As a comic book, it seems...fine, but nothing remarkable. 

Reginald Hudlin writes "The Big Bang," the 24-page lead story featuring artwork by Denys Cowan, Nikolas Draper-Ivey, Bill Sienkiewicz, Chrisscross and Juan Castro. There seems to be little interest in making sure the various art styles mesh or at least complement one another.

The experimental tear gas that gives folks in Dakota City their powers is now fired during a Black Lives Matter protest. The teenager who becomes Static is there; the scientist who becomes Hardware works for the company that made it; Icon and Rocket are...well, they've already met and begun their partnership, which seems somewhat unfortunate, as their origin is in large part the most fun dynamic between the two. 

Following "The Big Bang" is something called "Milestone Returns: Fandome Preview", also by Hudlin (with two pages of it credited to writer Greg Pak). The art here is even more all over the place, and comes from Ryan Benjamin, Cowan, Scott Hanna, Don Ho, Jim Lee, Jimmy Palmiotti, Khoi Pham and Sienkiewicz. The story has Icon and Rocket essentially spying on various other characters, allowing for introductions to them. Some of the sequences repeat what we saw in the preceding story, although oddly enough, the designs of various characters not synching up with those in the earlier story.

Also of interest is the way in which the costume designs vary from when they were initially introduced in the '90s; Icon, for example, looks dramatically different  (and dramatically less '90s), whereas I couldn't really see a difference in Hardware's costume. There's probably an engaging piece someone somewhere could write about that too, how the quintessentially '90s characters no longer reflect the comic book superhero styles of their point of origins, and now look a little more screen adaptation-friendly but, again, I'm not the person to write that piece. 

Poison Flowers & Pandemonium: A Richard Sala Omnibus (Fantagraphics Books) Sub-titled "A Richard Sala Omnibus", this posthumously published collection includes four distinct books, each capable of standing on its own, although, in fact, three of them are rather slight, and only the first book seems to be a completely and fully realized narrative, the other three falling into various states of self-commentary.

That story is a sequel of sorts to 2017's The Bloody Cardinal, the tale of a masked crime-fighter turned murderous master criminal. Entitled "The Bloody Cardinal 2: House of The Blue Dwarf", its titular star isn't really the protagonist, although he drives the plot and, at one point, menaces the Judy Drood-looking psychic who stars. 

A group of Sala's typically colorful criminal characters, each so suggestively designed as to imply interesting backstories and gimmicks, whether they get presented within the comic or not, have convened to try to find and kill the Cardinal once and for all. Meanwhile, young Phillipa Nicely has been having strange, realer-than-usual dreams involving a large, killer, South American mummy of sorts; a little, grinning blue man; and a scary cat-head's symbol.

Trying to ghost the institute that is studying her, Phillipa takes some sketchy work with a minor psychic talent, and gets involved with the plot to find the Cardinal...which turns out to be nesting a plot by one of its members to kill off the rest of the circle by use of travel to the astral plane and body transference. Plenty of room is allowed for Sala' pulpy movie interests, creepy character designs and drawings of attractive young women—a sequence involving a band of amnesiac female pirates especially seems to come out of nowhere. 

Next are a pair of themed series of pin-ups beaten into the shape of stories, thanks to framing devices. The first of these is "Monsters Illustrated", followed by "Cave Girls of the Lost World".

The former has Pelicula, Sala's short-haired, purple-dressed heroine from the pages of Evil Eye and Pelicula and The Groon Grove Vampires, wandering into a creepy bookstore to browse. Accosted by the owner while she's flipping through the title How To Kill Ghosts, he hands her "a folio by an obscure artist who created a number of watercolors depicting creatures described to him by a famous occult investigator." 

These are 50 Sala paintings, each depicting monsters from folklore or pop culture, in the act of killing or otherwise menacing pretty young girls like Peculia herself (a more savvy critic could probably annotate the source material for Sala's creatures, which range from trolls and withes to the Krampus and The Green Man to movie monsters and even Star Trek creatures, although I am not that savvy critic*; interestingly so many of the monsters seem so specific that it's difficult to tell if some come from particular films, like Tabonga, for example, or if they are borne of the sorts of films that existed only in Sala's mind, like many of the images in his 2019 Phantoms In The Attic, for example)

The very last entry is entitled "Stranglers of The Forbidden Bookshop," and shows the man who handed Peculia the book and two old women strangling young girls in a book store while mad-looking cats watch. The story then resumes the framing device, as Peculia looks behind her to see one of those women reaching for her.

"Cave Girls" is probably as close to my ideal comic book as exists. Like, if a few years ago, you were to ask me, "Caleb, if you could commission any comic book project in the world, what would it be?", there's a pretty good chance I would have answered, "Maybe Richard Sala drawing a comic in which half-naked girls fight dinosaurs," as there is little that interests me more in modern cartooning than Sala's drawings of half-naked girls, and nothing that interest me in the world as subject matter quite so much as dinosaurs, a type of movie monster that Sala's not really drawn much of.

The framing device here is that a boy finds a manuscript entitled "The Unbelievable yet True Saga of the Cave Girls of the Lost World" in a bottle at the beach and takes it to an older professor type, who shares it with a young woman not much older than the Cave Girls.

Between the framing sequences are spreads featuring a water color on the right, depicting college-aged women in various cavegirl outfits, often with their breasts exposed, having various adventures in a prehistoric lost world filled-with dinosaurs, cavemen and other strange monsters, like a cult of bat-headed men and a race of doll-sized pygmies. On the left is the narration, written in Sala's familiar lettering and in the voice of one of the nameless cave girls. The basic story is that a group of thirty girls on their way to an exclusive private college suffered a plane crash and found themselves "stranded on a strange plateau," and have various adventures until the plateau is destroyed in a volcanic eruption, as lost worlds so often are in movies on the subject. 

Their adventures are extremely episodic, without any real characters or narrative ever taking shape, and the stories that are described in the text all seem extrapolated from the images after the fact. The cave girl adventures are regularly interrupted by commentary provided in the framing sequences. 

"It's the dumbest thing I've ever read," says the girl the professor shares the manuscript with. "It's like it was written by a thirteen-year-old boy who wanted to fantasize about half-naked chicks."

Half-naked chicks fighting dinosaurs, to be precise, but hey, all of us grown men with the minds and the same prurient interests we had as thirteen-year-old boys have our things. 

It ends with a typically exciting and evocative Sala twist. 

The final inclusion in the book is "Fantomella," about a violent heroine of some sort fighting her way through a tower of masked fascists, each level bringing her a new and different "boss" to colorfully slay, one of the last being The Writer, a character in goggles, bandages and a fedora seated before a computer, discussing the problems with Fantomella's story and various storytelling goals and problems facing creators—"We must murder their imagination and originality, crush their creativity...That way they are satisfied with whatever we give them." She shoots him through the head and climbs up to the next level to kill the villains there.

The section with the writer sort of makes up for the weaknesses of the story, but in a transparent way that makes its meta-fictive element a rather obvious bit of fig-leafery.

Still, it is but one of four stories in the book, which overall offers a nice overview of Sala's talents, the different types of work he's engaged in over the years, and, obviously, his passions and obsessions. I'm not sure if this will end up being the very last new work we see from the late cartoonist or not but, if so, it's a pretty well curated last book, and not a bad bit of punctuation for his career. 

If you'd like to read a more formal review of the book from a better writer, I'd recommend Tegan O'Neil's at The Comics Journal

She's Josie Vol. 1 (Archie Comics) Before the Pussycats, Josie was the title character in the 16-isssue, 1963-1964  She's Josie, a fairly typical teen comedy series, elevated to must-read status by the masterful work of artist Dan DeCarlo. Reading these issues in 2021, which Archie has made easy by collecting the first nine issues, it's particularly interesting to see the Josie cast at this early, nascent point, knowing how they would all end up.

Among Josie's best friends is Melody, a dim-witted blonde bombshell who already speaks with musical notes in her dialogue balloons, and among her friend group is her occasional suitor Alexander Cabot III, an absurdly wealthy millionaire who comes off as a riff on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis' Chatsworth Osborne Jr. Alexander's twin sister Alexandra won't be introduced until the seventh issue, and, like Alex, she looks very different than her more iconic later look; here she's remarkably thin and has plain brown hair, which falls Veronica Lake-ishly over one eye. 

There's no Valerie or Alan M.; instead there's the brainy, bespectacled, short-haired brunette tomboy Pepper (although for all her professed boyish qualities, DeCarlo seemingly can't help but draw even the plainer characters with a degree of va-va-vaoom) and Albert, Josie's more-or-less boyfriend, seen on the cover. 

There's no hint of Josie and Melody's future in rock 'n roll, although Josie does sprout little hearts whenever Albert strums the guitar she bought him and starts to sing (badly). Instead, the all-over-the-place adventures include the girls launching campaigns to get their classmates interested in physical fitness and to stop believing in superstitions, various interactions with the boys and their shifting affections, the girls getting mixed up in a jewel-smuggling ring and later kidnapped by criminals in what is rumored to be a haunted house, and trying to win free passes to the world's fair.

It's all quite well-executed, and, again, it's drawn by DeCarlo at the height of his powers, so there's hardly a panel in the collection that isn't worth lingering on. I don't think that the comics overall have aged particularly well—there are a lot of jokes about ogling and outright chasing Melody—so I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book to today's young readers, but it's certainly well worth a grown-up's time and attention. 

There are enough issues of She's Josie that Archie should be able to do a She's Josie Vol. 2, and then the title changed to just plain Josie from 1965-1969, continuing the series' numbering until it ended with issue #44. Personally, I hope Archie collects them all. I'll definitely buy them. 

Stargirl Spring Break Special #1
Perhaps I'm just not reading the right comics, but it seems like most of the DC Universe comics I've read lately have dealt with either breaking the shared setting's continuity, establishing new continuity, or engaging in some sort of attempt to reconcile varying versions of it. This $5.99, 37-page special pairing original Stars and STRIPE writer Geoff Johns with old Young Justice artist Todd Nauck is of the reconciling variety, something that has long been Johns' specialty, but, like too many DC Comics of late, it comes with the downside of being about the DC Universe's continuity as much as it is anything else. There's a pretty high-level of concern for what is meant to be canonical and what isn't radiating in the background; it can make even the most light-hearted of adventures somewhat exhausting, and this isn't just a light-hearted romp; rather, it seems to set up future stories involving DC's Golden Age heroes, all of whom have just returned to continuity after about a decade of being banished by the New 52-boot.

Though Stargirl is the title character, this is something of a Seven Soldiers of Victory story. The original Seven Soldiers dated from 1941, and featured Green Arrow, his sidekick Speedy and lesser lights Shining Knight, The Vigilante, The Crimson Avenger, Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy. After Crisis On Infinite Earths rejiggered all DC-owned characters into a single timeline and universe, that meant Green Arrow and Speedy were moved forward in time to the modern age (like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) and so, when Johns wanted to write about the Seven Soldiers during his short Stars and STRIPE run, Vigilante and Crimson Avenger's sidekicks Stuff and Wing were present to keep the line-up's number in the right ballpark. (So too is the archer The Spider.)

Now things have changed again. The story opens with Green Arrow Oliver Queen and current Red Arrow Emiko Queen talking about "the first Green Arrow...the clean-shaven guy from the '40s," at which point Ollie reveals that that Green Arrow was him; during a fight with The Clock King, he and his original sidekick Speedy were shunted back in time to the 1940s for a while. That's...a pretty elegant solution, actually, although I can't help wishing Johns had thought of it way back in 1999, so there wasn't that awkward, other post-Crisis version that this one grates against. 

And although Johns writes this in a very accessible manner, with, for example, the two Arrows casually describing their origins during conversation with one another, this isn't exactly the most new-reader friendly work. In fact, it seems specifically targeted for fans of DC's Golden Age characters and their legacies.

Beyond the work done to restore a version of the Soldiers to modern consciousness, the book teases a future storyline involving Wing and other "lost" teenage characters, and the return of Per Degaton and a new version of the JSA (as well as new versions of past JSAs, for a brand-new JSA continuity that seems to restore the pre-Crisis, Earth-2 version as a link in the chain that began with the Golden Age and continued into the JSA and Justice Society of America titles that Johns was a writer for pre-Flashpoint/New 52). 

It's spring break, and high schooler Courtney Whitmore is off to Myrtle Beach with her stepdad Pat Dugan, the Golden Age hero Stripesy who now fights evil in a robot suit designated "S.T.R.I.P.E." They're not there for fun though, but to meet one of Pat's old Seven Soldiers colleagues. Meanwhile, the latest Crimson Avenger, introduced in a 2000 issue of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and later appearing in JSA, is gathering the remaining members of the original Seven Soldiers to enlist their help in rescuing the original Crimson Avenger, who disappeared into the time-stream, and is about to reappear.

The new Avenger wants to leave Red Arrow and Stargirl out of it, because the Soldiers' adventures haven't exactly been kind to their teenage sidekicks (as far as anyone knows, the original Star-Spangled Kid, Wing and Speedy/Red Arrow/Arsenal Roy Harper are all dead). They disobey, though, and end up saving the day. (The mystery Soldier teased on the front, then? That's original Crimson Avenger Lee Travis and not, as I had hoped, Shining Knight's steed Winged Victory). 

But the main event seems to be teasing the future. After the new Seven Soldiers defeat Clock King, we find that the guys have all established a weekly routine of getting together for dinner, and Emiko and Courtney are developing a friendship, the Nauck-drawn story ending with a "To Be Continued in Stargirl #1" (which hasn't been solicited for release yet, so don't expect it before September at the earliest). 

That's followed by the really fun bits: A two-page portrait of the original, 1941 Seven Soldiers line-up as drawn by Jerry Ordway, a three-page section drawn by Bryan Hitch in which Per Degaton confronts Clock King and a new Justice Society is seemingly revealed, and then a one-page "Where's Stripesy?" feature by Fred Hembeck in which the whole All-Star Squadron, Infinity Inc and some others are shown enjoying a day at the beach. (It's not until I actually found Stripesy and saw his shirt that I realized this was a gag noting the similarity in style between Stripesy and the Waldo of  "Where's Waldo?", because I am dumb).

The two-page splash featuring the JSAs is pretty noteworthy. In the background there seem to be two distinct teams, the original Golden Age team (with a black Wildcat, I think...? Which...just add Amazing Man for some color, you dopes!), a legacy team featuring Huntress (can't wait to see how that gets explained, given all the various post-Flashpoint Huntresses we've had so far!) and Power Girl (ditto, although I think we've only had one of those) and, finally, what looks like it's meant to be the modern/pre-New 52 team, featuring characters from Johns' run on the characters (some of them in new costumes), plus add-ons like Jade, Obsidian and female versions of Wildcat and Doctor Mid-Nite, who I am guessing are going to end up being Beth Chapel and Yolanda Montez in new costumes, but I guess we'll see (I did like Dr. Pieter Cross, so I hope he's not thrown into oblivion). 

As to where this plotline and the new JSA will appear, I have no idea. I assume there will be a new JSA title at some point but, again, nothing has been solicited just yet. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #3
(IDW Publishing)
This series is beginning to lose me as it stretches into its middle section and the focus shifts to bridging the gap between revealing the invented past that gets us to this far-flung future present. 

Here more of the blanks are filled in regarding how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters we know became those of The Last Ronin—specifically, how Michelangelo became the last Turtle standing, and April the last of his allies—which basically means the book's large creative team's focus is on killing off characters. (That is the real extent of the world-building; there's less talk of how Oroku Hiroto became the undisputed god-king of New York City, or when the flying car was first introduced, for example). 

So this issue's flashbacks kill off a few more characters, and they don't get the dramatic death that Raphael got in the previous issue, but instead are killed off-panel in an explosion. Fugitoid and Doctor Baxter Stockman are introduced into the narrative as well, and it becomes increasingly clear that this isn't a future of the original Mirage version of the Turtles, as I at first (mistakenly) thought (given that Peter Laird gets a "story" credit), but that this is either the future of the IDW Turtles, or a future of a version of the IDW Turtles, as the looks at the past we're shown don't involve Jennika, Alopex and all the other mutant characters that have gradually been introduced over the years. 

The art is still of interest, but I remain rather perplexed at how Eastman's pencil work is deployed, as he illustrates a few black-and-white flashback portions, while other flashback portions are drawn by the artists of the present portions, Esau and Isaac Escorza. 

It's fine, I suppose, but it lost the mystery and urgency that the first issue had, when the setting was first introduced and we knew there was a ninja turtle left alive, but not which one, and the second issue, in which the Turtles characters were apparently just beginning to be killed off. At this point, a degree of predictability has set in—surely in the next issue Splinter and Donatello will be killed off—although I hold out hope that the last act will contain some surprises. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends Vol. 2
IDW employed an unusual strategy for their collection of Image Comic's "Volume Three" of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (following the original Mirage 1984-1993, 62-issue volume one and the full-color, Mirage-published, 1993-1995, 13-issue volume two). Rather than just collecting the entire 23-issue series into a pair of trade paperbacks, they decided to instead colorize and re-publish them issue by issue under the new title of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends, and give the original creative team of writer Gary Carlson and artist Frank Fosco two brand-new issues to wrap up the unfinished storyline (this being the 21st century comic book industry, all of these issues included new variant covers, so the series produced quite a bit of new work from Kevin Eastman, who was completely uninvolved with the title when it was being produced and released by Image 20-ish year ago). 

So this collects the last 13 issues of the Urban Legends series, 11 of which were originally produced in black-and-white way back in 1998 and 1999, and two of which were produced especially for IDW just recently. 

Knowing what to expect this time around, there were fewer surprises for me here than in the first volume, which I obviously liked well enough to purchase this one (the biggest of which, for me, was that this volume continue the original Mirage continuity, rather than restarting from scratch, as IDW's "Volume Five" does).. The creators continued their work to visually differentiate the Turtles, having given Raphael an eye-patch and made Donatello a cyborg in the first half of the series, here they make Raphael the new Shredder, and he spends most of the volume wearing a new version of the Shredder costume, while Leonardo has his hand bit off and eaten, eventually replacing it with a metal cap with a retractable blade in it. 

All in all, that's all much more dramatic than simply giving them differently-colored masks.

Mirage characters Leatherhead, the Triceratons, an Utrom alien and Karai all make appearances, as do Savage Dragon/Image Comics characters Horridus, Vanguard and the Special Operations Strikeforce (Dragon himself is a no-show this collection, however). 

The creators manage to do a fairly good job of wrapping this up in a way that feels quite quick and also transparent—that is, the last few issues very much read like they were coming in after the fact to wrap up as many dangling plot-points as they could in so short a space—but not so quick and transparent that it feels abrupt or dramatically cheap. They essentially put the characters back together as much as possible, with Donatello shedding his robot parts and Leonardo even re-growing his lost hand, resolve the ongoing conflicts with the volume's biggest villains and even give them a happy ending of sorts which feels natural enough in TMNT comics, with Splinter and the Turtles retreating back to the North Hampton farmhouse, this time in triumph rather than defeat.

I have mentioned it before, but I would not be adverse to a third Urban Legends collection, filled with the following, and any other Savage Dragon/Image Comics appearances of the era, maybe with a foreword or article by Erik Larsen giving some context to how the Turtles were used as Image characters during those years: 

I've read those first two, but not those that follow. The Big Bang issue was actually referred to with an asterisk in the first Urban Legends collection, as it tells how the Turtles first met the character who would grow up to be Knight Watchmen, who guest-stars in an issue of TMNT. Anyway, if there's anyone at IDW in the reading audience, and it's worth whatever trouble it would take to negotiate the rights with Larsen and/or Image and/or anyone else involved...


Chainsaw Man Vol. 1 (Viz Media) Manga-ka Tatsuki Fujimoto's comic takes a while to get going on account of the nature of the world being built and the protagonist's place in it, but then, a rather casual pace is a luxury that can be afforded when your first installment is over 190-pages (Well, the first installment available to US readers, anyway; the feature began in weekly Japanese anthology Shonen Jump). 

That protagonist is Denji, who lives an incredibly sad life in a Japan where dangerous supernatural beings called "devils" live side-by-side with human beings, whom they regularly prey upon. Devil hunters are employed to exterminate the creatures—there are both freelance, bounty hunter-like devil hunters as well as police-like one's employed by the state—and Denji becomes a rather unusual devil hunter. 

Worse than dirt-poor, he is in astronomical debt to the yakuza, and he's trying to work his way out of it by teaming up with a nice devil that looks like a cute, plump puppy with a chainsaw nose to hunt the less-cute, more-evil devils.

That's not the premise, though.

Eventually killed by one of those devils, Denji and his pet perform a contract ritual, in which the little chainsaw dog replaces Denji's heart, restoring him to life and giving him the power to transform back-and-forth between a human being and "the devil of chainsaws," the title character seen on the cover. Seeing potential in an easy-to-control guy who can turn into chainsaws, one of the state sponsored devil hunter's hires him and adds him to a particularly oddball squad of devil hunters.

And that's the premise. 

Denji is an appealingly simple and somewhat dim lead character for this sort of boys' fight manga, his motivations gradually growing more mature as he takes step by tentative step into normal society (when we first meet him, his dream is to one day eat a piece of toast with jam on it; by the end of the first volume, his dream is to touch a pair of breasts). The themed devils are, at least in the first volume, all either kinda cool (the bat devil) or extremely gross (devils of blood, zombies and muscle), but all of them are viscerally arresting in conception and design. The action is, obviously, rather violent and occasionally gory, but then, one would expect as much when the hero has chainsaws protruding from his arms and face.

Though somewhat slow to get going, I grew increasingly intrigued during this volume, to the point of being actively excited for the next one. 

Dark Nights: Death Metal: The Deluxe Edition (DC Comics) More like Death Meta, am I right...?

Writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo return to well-trod territory in another crisis story from DC, in which DC Universe continuity itself is the subject of the story (How well-trod? Well, this is a sequel to their own 2017 event series, which was also about DCU continuity). 

Following the abrupt ending of Snyder's Justice League run/mega-arc, in which the League rushes off-panel to fight the dark goddess Perpetua in a final battle, Death Metal opens with Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman all trapped on a world scrambled into a new nightmare reality, ruled over by The Batman Who Laughs and his army of alternate reality Batmen and his horde of goblin Robins. (Much of the rest of the League is all but MIA throughout the main series; Flashes Barry Allen and Wally West, Harley Quinn and, surprisingly, Swamp Thing and Jonah Hex co-star, while the members of  Snyder's Justice League's League get little more than cameos in the actual series).

This is really more of the same, which, given the positive qualities and the great reception that the original got, probably isn't a bad thing. The curation of this particular volume is somewhat wanting, though, as it includes all seven issues of the main series, but some important parts of the narrative seem to have happened in tie-ins, as there's at least one point where it skips over various missions Wonder Woman and her allies take in one of their first attempts to beat back The Batman Who Laughs and restore the multiverse. 

As for those positive qualities, Capullo draws the hell out of the story, his character-packed pages detailed enough that it is rewarding to study the backgrounds and find specific characters (Every current DC character starring in a book from the last few years seems to appear, as do a whole bunch of more obscure characters, many of whom were technically dead, thanks to Batman's possession of a Black Lantern ring; I was particularly delighted to see Red Bee raised for the final fight, and hey, Zauriel and  Batgirl Cassandra Cain appear in a "Dark Multiverse" version of Final Crisis visited by Superman).

Snyder's meta-commentary is also fairly clever, including his depiction of the DC multiverse fictional setting as one that "eats" other settings (reflected in DC Comics gobbling up settings and characters from Fawcett, Charlton and so on over its history, establishing them in their own, original multiverse, with its constellation of designated Earths). 

I'm not entirely sure how the resolution worked out, in part because it's left a bit undefined within the pages of this book, aside from the fact that now everyone remembers everything, and so the Flashpoint/New 52 changes all seem to be reversed (that is, previously, pre-Flashpoint events were apparently meant to have still happened, just differently than readers might have originally experienced them; now, the opposite seems true, so that some of the events of The New 52 era likely still happened, but they will have happened differently than we read them).

If none of that makes any sense at all, then much of the book might prove somewhat tedious to you. 

One would hope that DC now has a continuity that it can stick with, and this is the last time we'll need to read such a crisis story in which the reorganization of continuity is the the subject of a big event series, but, well, I've been hoping that since at least Zero Hour, and that was so many crises ago that I've lost count; hell, I've lost count how many times DC's tried to finesse the changes of Flashpoint, and that was only a decade ago.

For more on Death Metal, I created a thread on Twitter while I was reading it, but it's mostly just me complaining about the Watchmen tie-ins and celebrating the appearances of Jarro and The Red Bee. 

Dark Nights: Death Metal—The Darkest Knight (DC) This companion collection to Darkest Nights: Death Metal includes five different one-shot tie-ins—Dark Nights: Death Metal—Legends of the Dark Knights, Dark Nights: Death Metal Guidebook, Dark Nights: Death Metal—Speed Metal, Dark Nights: Death Metal—Trinity Crisis and Dark Nights: Death Metal—Multiverse's End—and while they are all distinct stories with differing formats and focus, the result of them all being collected in a single volume is that they appear to one big anthology, a feeling further fostered by the fact that the various books aren't labeled within and, in fact, if one didn't read the fine print on the title page, one might not know exactly where all these stories were originally from. 

Not that it matters overmuch, of course. They are tie-ins to the big event series in which various nightmare versions of Batman re-invade the DCU, cosmically rejiggering the status quo into another temporary nightmare reality that the real Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and their allies must struggle to reboot into a new continuity for the sake of DC Comics' publishing future. Everything this collection contains comment on or play off that story in some way, be it offering up the origin of a minor character or detailing what a particular player was doing at a particular time or telling a story that happens around the edges or just off-panel of the main series.

They are notable for two things, really. The first is their tone, which tends to be a compromise between the modern overblown DC Crisis mode defined by Geoff Johns in many such stories over the past 20  years or so and a semi-sarcastic, darkly humorous commentary on heroics mode familiar from popular turn-of-the-century creators like Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Mark Millar (the first of whom has a brief, silly story in here and the second of whom was also supposed to...until the story of his sexual harassment history broke, making him persona non grata). 

Humor—or, more often than not, attempts at humor—don't help as much as one would hope, and the book can be a real grim slog, although this particular style of dark DC Comics is popular enough that I am sure the intended audience ate it up with a spoon. 

I found the first chunk particularly difficult to get through, as it started with Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Joshua Williamson—no less than three writers!—summarizing the biography of The Batman Who Laughs while a couple of alt-Alfreds are in the process of transplanting his brain into the lobotomized body of a Batman-who-is-also-Watchmen's-Doctor-Manhattan, whom they actually refer to as "Batmanhattan," something I love even more than I hate (it sounds like a bad joke a comics blogger would have made 15 years ago, so I obviously find it endearing). That is accompanied by illustration work from Tony S. Daniel.

That's followed by multiple stories in which alternate Batmen have their consciousness transplanted into different bodies: A dinosaur, a monster truck, Gotham City itself (which seems to owe a nod to Peter Milligan's "Dark Night, Dark City" arc) and, in Ennis' contribution, a newborn baby. There's also a story in which a cruel and psychotic child Bruce Wayne gleefully kills his own parents (after slitting Joe Chill's throat and stealing his gun), and in which this Bruce becomes "The Robin King," a fact that makes little sense if you stop to think about it. So don't! There's an awful lot of talent involved in the Legends of The Dark Knights one-shot, devoted to differing riffs on the same basic gag. In addition to those already mentioned, there's a script from Peter J. Tomasi and art by Riley Rossmo, Francecso Francavilla, Daniel Warren Johnson and Joelle Jones.

(It was around the point that an eight-year-old Bruce Wayne caves in Alfred's skull with a bust after the butler says "Go straight to hell, Master Bruce" and the boy answers, "After you, old friend," that I questioned what the hell I was reading and decided I needed to read this book in smaller chunks, as it was too much of a wallow in a fever swamp of dark superheroes for me.) 

That's followed by the rather similar Guidebook, which also opens with a long summary story written by Snyder, Tynion and Williamson and drawn by Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza, in which Lex Luthor explains what's been going on since the end of Snyder's Justice League; this summary/story at least has the advantage of being more sharply drawn, and being in comics format (the one from Legends of the Dark Knights only adopted panels during the "Batmanhattan" sequence, when Watchmen's nine-panel grid appeared for a page). 

That's followed by super-short stories in various corners of the new, scrambled DCU setting, checking in with, say, Harley Quinn in the wastelands or Poison Ivy in Wonder Woman's prison. The best of these stories are a short four-pager by Becky Cloonan in which her very handsome-looking version of Aquaman, complete with a nice jacket, confronts a water monster of Japanese legend and makes a moral compromise, and a Priest and Eduardo Risso story teaming Batman (also in a jacket now) with a resurrected Jonah Hex. (I think Capullo did  a fine job on the main series, but man, its hard to read these shorts and not imagine how awesome the series might have been had Cloonan or Risso drawn the whole dang thing).

The remaining three stories are all ones that are taken from the "missing" part of the main Death Metal series, where there's a very obvious section in which the heroes split up to attempt various parts of a plan to save the day, and then the action picks up after those actions had already occurred off-panel. One of these—Trinity Crisis—probably should have been collected along with the seven issues of Death Metal in the book discussed above. In addition to detailing how the Trinity get from point A to point B in their task, invading Castle Bat to journey to three different crises, it's written by Snyder himself, and is in quite close keeping with the events of the series (Francis Manapul draws this story, in which the The Robin King menaces Harley, Swamp Thing, Hex and Jarro). 

That leaves only Speed Metal, by Williamson, Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira and Multiverse's End, by Tynion and Juan Gedeon. 

The former has the Flashes on the run from The Batman Who Laughs/The Darkest Knight, as they attempt to keep Wally's Watchmen-derived energy away from the villain, and it's overflowing with talk of Flash continuity that I had mostly tuned out, having not paid very close attention to Flash comics since Barry Allen came back to life (There is a nice moment where there's a brief reunion with, like, all of the Flash supporting characters, and it was nice to see characters I am fond of like Impulse, Max Mercury and Jesse Quick again, if only briefly).  

The latter has Tynion rather loudly and clumsily telegraphing the sort of meta-superhero writing that Grant Morrison has done rather elegantly throughout his career and that Snyder has engaged in off and on with varying degrees of success in his crisis writing (Seriously, the story hinges on an Owlman telling off a baby Batman with the words, "I'm going to live forever...I'm too good an idea. But you... You're a dumb idea. And nobody is going to remember you.")

It's an extended Morrison homage, with the Green Lanterns teaming up with the Justice Incarnate team from Mutliversity on a version of Earth-3 that owes everything to Morrison and Frank Quitely's now 21-year-old JLA: Earth 2 original graphic novel, in which the heroes are all aware of the rules of how the various Earths work. The heroes are on various dark Earths to destroy maguffin towers, but they run into a roadblock on Earth-3, where the original dark version of Batman, the Crime Syndicate's Owlman, has captured Green Lantern John Stewart, and is extravagantly trying to decide who to side with. 

It turns out that Morrison's old ideas have more than enough steam in them to power a section of modern crisis crossover, and Gedeon's art is potent enough to make it all look amazing. With a style that seems to be something of a compromise between Mahnke and Dan Hipp, his figures are big, expressive and just cartoony enough. 

Stories like this one, and the occasionally strong art, make The Darkest Knight collection worth while, but only just. At least to a reader like me. Were I reading this at, say, 14, I too would have probably been eating it up with a spoon, and perhaps been completely unaware of how much it owes to decades old Grant Morrison comics, and decades-older-than-those DC crossovers going back to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths and Gardner Fox JLA/JSA team-ups...


Before They Were Artists: Famous Illustrators As Kids (Etch) Elizabeth Haidle's collective comics biography of a half-dozen influential artists of various kinds is a great read, and should be of special interest to comics fans not simply because it's comics, but because two of the subjects are comics-makers themselves: Tove Jansson and Hayao Miyazaki. But it was the presence of Wanda Gag, a woman of some degree of fascination for me, which pushed me over the edge with wanting to read this book. All six subjects could carry a biography of their own of course, and most have, but it is nevertheless fun to experience these short, fleet summaries of their lives and careers, and it's particularly interesting to see Haidle's version of some iconic imagery, like her Moomins, Wild Things and Totoro, for example. 

Metropolis Grove (DC Comics) Drew Brockington's original graphic novel set in a neighborhood in a suburb of Superman's hometown secretly-ish stars one of the DC's greatest characters, who you will identify if  you just flip through it or look at the back cover, but I'm still slightly hesitant to spoil it. Rest assured it is not Superman, although it is someone you might confuse for Superman in the dark. From far away. If he was moving pretty quickly and didn't stop to chat. I liked it a lot. 

Shang Chi By Gene Luen Yang Vol. 1: Brothers & Sisters (Marvel Entertainment) Oh, if only this collection of a recent miniseries really was just by Gene Luen Yang, who has drawn much of his own best work. It's not, of course; that's just the silly way Marvel tends to title their collections, using the generally more marketable writer's name and ignoring the contributions of the artist or artists. Here those artists are Dike Ruan, who draws the bulk of the comic, and Philip Tan, who draws the particularly hard-to-read flashback scenes. Once again Yang's writing is severely hampered by his artistic collaborators, something that seems to happen more often than not with his mainstream super-comics work (Superman Smashes The Klan being the exception that proves the rule). The character work is strong, and the premise Yang comes up with seems sufficient to build a Shang-Chi ongoing series around, but the artwork is a real let-down, particularly when it comes to depicting martial arts action, of which there is, obviously, a lot of in the series. Review here. 


I interviewed teenage author Evan Ponstingle about his book King's Island: A Ride Through Time (Rivershore Creative; 2021) for Cincinnati CityBeat, which you can read here, if you're so inclined (Or here, if you'd prefer the digital print version of the issue). Given that, I probably shouldn't say too much more here, but I'm including it for completeness' sake. The book is basically an oral history of the Cincinnati-area amusement park, chronicling its history from conception to the latest rides, with special attention paid to the various marquee and record-setting roller coasters. As someone adverse to both travel and roller coasters, I've never actually spent a day at King's Island, but it was actually a pretty fascinating read. 

I listened to the audiobook version of Connor Towne O'Neill's That Devil's Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy (Algonquin Books; 2020), in which he wrestles with the Confederate monument issue by looking at one particular general, how he is honored and the various attempts to remove his name and likeness from various places throughout the south. That Confederate general is Nathan Bedford Forrest, and he's an interesting case for several reasons, not least of which is that he's likely not one of the first two or three Confederate generals you're likely to be able to name if you're not from a place that still holds him in high esteem for some reason. On the one hand, he seems to have genuinely held a high degree of marital prowess of the sort that those who support Confederate monuments often maintain is the reason they do so (despite the fact that he was, you know, on the losing side of the conflict), on the other hand his biography is particularly despicable when it comes to white supremacy, having made his fortune in the slave trade, presided over a massacre of black union soldiers and been a leader in the Ku Klux Klan after the war.

O'Neill tells Forrest's life story while visiting and investigating his various monuments, from statues to a school building bearing his name, all of which have attracting efforts to have them taken down, and ignited counter-efforts to fight for them, often for unconvincing, quixotic reasons. It's insightful and well-reported, and includes some real gut-punching realizations from O'Neill that will likely transfer to many white readers. Front of mine for me, a few weeks after finishing the book, is the realization that, like it or not, support it or not, Forrest was fighting for the primacy of all white people, and though many (most, I hope!) of us would disavow him as such, Forrest was our champion. It can be a sickening at times, but, as O'Neill points out, the ability to not be sickened. to, in fact, not even think about race at all, if we choose not to, is a luxury that comes along with being white, from the belief that whiteness is the neutral, default state comes from America's own white supremacy history. It's a tough read (or listen), but, I think, a valuable one. 

*Although for $50 I'd spend a Sunday afternoon googling them all and checking with Fanta PR people and emailing friends to compile an annotated Monsters Illustrated blog post. Sadly, no one is paying $50 for such work. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

DC's August previews reviewed

Aquaman 80th Anniversary Special #1 is a 100-page "super spectacular" featuring many creators who have worked on the amazing Atlantean's adventures before, including Dan Jurgens, Geoff Johns and Jeff Parker (but sadly no Peter David and Martin Egeland, and no Phil Jimenez), likely in the sort of anthology of short stories format we should be familiar with from similar specials.  There are various decade-specific variant covers available, but I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want the Ramona Fradon one over all the others (although that Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez variant is pretty tempting, too). 

I like the way Randy Elliott draws Huntress' usually goofy-looking mask on the cover of The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries #5

Given the success of Batman '66 and Batman Beyond, it's genuinely kind of shocking that it took DC this long to do a series based on the movie continuity (or hell, any movie continuity, really), especially given the high regard that first film is held in, and how many creators would have volunteered for the assignment (like artist Joe Quinones, who has actually tweeted out fan art of a hypothetical Batman '89 series before). 

Well, whatever the reason they waited so long to release the series, August will see the release of Batman '89 #1, and one could hardly ask for a better team, with the aforementioned Quinones handling art and Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm returning to comics to write new stories based in the world of the original film (and Jerry Ordway, who drew the original adaptation to the film in 1989, handling a variant cover debuting the version of Two-Face that might have emerged if the producers went with original Harvey Dent Billy Dee Williams rather than hiring Tommy Lee Jones for the third movie). 

I didn't love Hamm's previous comics work, "Blind Justice" in Detective Comics #588-600, although it did read like a movie (just not the kind of movie that Batman and Batman Returns were; rather a more generic action movie starring Batman, the way that so many of Chuck Dixon's plots read), but when I think of what I liked most about those films it wasn't necessarily the plotting so much as the aesthetic: The set designs, the costume designs, the music. So I hope Quinones really brings it with the exaggerated architecture and pop gothic, arch, action/comedy/fantasy look feel of the films. I have a feeling he's going to have to do all of the heavy lifting to really make this feel like a Tim Burton movie, rather than just a Sam Hamm script, if that makes sense (and I do hope that's the goal). 

Please note on the covers that Quinones draws the (superior) comic book-style bat-symbol on Batman's chest, while Ordway draws the movie-accurate symbol, with the extra black points near the bottom. That's one deviation from the films I approve of.

This month will also see the release of Superman '78 #1 by writer Robert Venditti and artist Wilfredo Torres. I'm kind of surprised they didn't get Richard Donner himself and/or Geoff Johns and Gary Frank for this one, given that they essentially tried to Donner-ize the extant Superman line for a bit back there in the mid-00s, with Frank drawing Superman to resemble Christopher Reeves more than ever.   

I suppose it was only a matter of time before Jeffrey Brown did something for DC Comics. Batman and Robin and Howard looks like one of their original graphic novels for kids, premised around current Robin Damian Wayne (wearing a costume that looks like Dick's original paired with sensible slacks) being sent to a new school, where the know-it-all meets and becomes fierce rivals with the smartest, most athletic boy in his class, Howard. Nice scenario, and Brown's great at what he does, so this should be a lot of fun.

You know, I was just thinking the other day how little Batman comics have ever really addressed the idea of Batman and Bruce Wayne having a child and being single parents; like, where do the people of Gotham think Damian came from, and who his mom really is? And what's up with Damian's secret identity, is it even managed in the way that Dick's or Tim's was? Like, does he go to school? Outside of Peter Tomasi's writing on various titles, there wasn't a lot of exploration of Damian Wayne as a person living in Gotham City, and I think the last I knew, he was attending school in Metropolis and in Jonathan Kent's class...but that was before Jonathan went through his accelerated aging.

Anyway, I really like the Damian character, and think he should get a status quo at some point. Maybe he has one in his new title, although that sure seems to be focused on the whole al Ghul lineage thing yet again. Personally, I wish he would enroll in Gotham Academy and be Maps' reluctant best friend...

This is a nice drawing of Catwoman by Riley Rossmo on the cover of Harley Quinn #6.  

Okay, Hardware: Season One #1, presenting a new, rebooted Hardware series in a new, rebooted Milestone Universe. That's fine. But can we get the original series collected in trade, please (Along with the original Icon series, and maybe that big Milestone/Superman family crossover event series?). Because  that's what I would really like to read, in terms of Milestone content.

I should note that I just read the big Milestone Returns #0 special this week, and it too really just made me curious about the original comics (which I didn't read the first time around, as I was just a little kid with a limited budget), rather than excited about the new series.

By the way, last time I made fun of Icon and Rocket: Season One #1 for putting the "Season One" right there in the title, as if they were desperate for a TV adaptation, but I see that they're making a Naomi TV series based on the 2019 six-issue Naomi miniseries, which was collected as Naomi: Season One (two years later, there's still no "season two" of the character's book). 

My mind is sincerely thoroughly boggled that there is a TV show based on the six-issue Naomi miniseries, especially given the fact that there's no real story to those six issues, or even a premise beyond "here's a new superhero in the DC Universe"; it's just 120-pages of people explaining secret origins to one another. If they can make a TV show out of that, then, well, a "200-year-old black Superman and his sassy teenage sidekick" show based on a 42-issue '90s comic should be a slam dunk. So too with Hardware or Static Shock.

That's a pretty amazing cover by Evan "Doc" Shaner for Superman: Red & Blue #6, although I'm obviously also drawn to Kevin Eastman's Superman cover, which is maybe the grittiest drawing of Superman I have ever seen (and Eastman drawing corporate superhero types is still a new enough experience for me that I think it's incredibly exciting to see DC's flagship character in his signature style).

See, this is the reason one needs to trade-wait these series. The strength of the variant covers all but demands it. 

It's nice to see Mirka Andolfo getting a pretty swell assignment like Superman Vs. Lobo. She's a great and, I think, underrated artist. 

It's not entirely clear whose responsible for this variant cover for Wonder Woman: Black and Gold #3Janaina Medieros is the best bet—but it's quite lovely. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Marvel's August previews reviewed

August brings a new Black Panther #1, this one courtesy of writer John Ridley (some recent Batman stuff, some work in Hollywood), and artist Juan Cabal, whose work is pretty phenomenal. 

Deadpool: Black, White & Blood #1 will include three stories for $4.99, and one of them is both written and drawn by James Stokoe, which seems like reason enough to pre-order the first issue of this five-issue series (Also contributing to the issue are Ed Brisson, Phil Noto, While Portacio and Tom Taylor).

Behold, a new Defenders #1! This one is by Al Ewing and Javier Rodriguez, and seems to be missing two of the characters who make the Defenders the Defenders, in my book, the two who I most enjoy the character dynamic between. Of course, it's a five-issue miniseries, so maybe Namor and The Hulk will show up in some capacity before it's all over...although the fact that what looks like the Betsy Ross harpy from Immortal Hulk is there as a replacement Hulk makes me think he's not going to show. Whatever, I'll definitely check it out. 

Anyone know who the cloudy lady is...? Because I do not.

I like the basic idea of this Fantastic Four #35 cover by Mark Brooks, and the way the various members and their differing costumes evoke the whole long, varied, strange history of the team. I think the "60 Years!" cut-out sort of gets in the way of the idea, though. 

The issue, evidently celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Fantastic Four comic book, will feature artist John Romita Jr. joining writer Dan Slott, plus a special back-up by Mark Waid and Paul Renaud. The lead story involves various versions of Kang attacking various versions of the FF throughout their history. Sounds kind of fun, actually, but I'm so far behind on Slott's FF that, like Nick Spencer's Amazing Spider-Man and even Al Ewing's Immortal Hulk, I don't think I'll ever catch up. 

Keeping up with super-comics gets to be actual hard work, at a certain point...

Hey, look! Stilt-Man is on the cover of Iron Man #11! Painted by Alex Ross! Neat.

Kang The Conqueror #1  kicks off a five-issue miniseries by Collin Kelly, Jackson Lansing and Carlos Magno. I'm curious why Kang is getting this push now, and if it has something to do with the Cinematic Universe, as so much of what Marvel does with their publishing seems to be reflective of the movies and television. 

I was genuinely surprised that Kang's existence wasn't teased in that last Avengers movie, given that it involved the invention of time travel, and the MCU was in need of a new archvillain to threaten the heroes of multiple franchises...

Also curious? Why the fuck this book needs eleven variant covers, seven of which are "STORMBREAKERS" variants...

Marvel answer's DC's DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration #1 with its own Marvel Voices: Identity, a $5.99, 56-page one-shot featuring Shang-Chi, Jimmy Woo, Jubilee, Silk and Ms. Marvel, from "new and established Asian creators." Eight creators are listed along with the words "and more", and it's noteworthy that some of them—Gene Luen Yang, Greg Pak, Marcus To—are among the same creators to contribute to DC's book. It's almost as if there aren't that many creators of Asian descent working in mainstream super-comics!

Still, I like enough of these creators and characters that I'm going to pre-order this, making it one of only two Marvel books this month I want to read badly enough to to order (the other is the Deadpool comic with a Stokoe story).

I was about to say something about one of the light sabers on the cover of Star Wars: The High Republic #8, something that was several sentences long. Than I paused, thought about my life and how I want to live it, and realized that I don't want to be someone who shares his thoughts on light sabers. 

Whoever stacked up  all the bones on the cover of Warhammer 40,000: Sisters of Battle #1 sure did a neat job of it. 

Is that drool...? God, Wolverine is so gross.

(This is the cover of Wolverine #15, by the way, but I'm not sure who drew it, as there are four different covers).

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: April 2021


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.


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. 


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. 


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).