Thursday, September 30, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: September 2021


The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries #6 (DC Comics) The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries limited series hits its half-way point, and writer Sholly Fisch and artist Scott Jeralds take it in a very different direction than the previous issues, tying this particular crossover not just to the comic book standard iteration of the Scooby-Doo characters, but to the version from the 1998-1991 A Pup Named Scooby-Doo cartoon (still one of the better iterations of the franchise, in my opinion). 

Actually, because the issue is built around a flashback, it opens and closes with Batman and Robin (the versions that appeared in the original 1972-74 New Scooby-Doo Movies, from the look of them), and the standard version of Scooby and the gang, as they try to remember the very first time they teamed-up. Batman reveals that, unbeknowest to the gang, they actually teamed up once well before he even had the idea to become Batman, when he was still a teenager travelling the world, studying the skills he would need to become an expert crimefighter.

One of the teachers he sought out was one master detective Harvey Harris, and he protected his real identity by wearing a mask...and, dressed in a red shirt and green pants, he looks rather Robin-esque, to the point that, when asked what he should be called, he responds, "How about, um... ....Robin." (This is, remarkably enough, based on a DC Comics story from way back in 1955, although, more remarkably still, Fisch seems to draw a further connection between it and the world of Hanna-Barbera cartoons when Harris mentions his niece Wendy, who is obsessed with superheroes; Wendy Harris is, of course, the Wendy of "Marvin and Wendy" from the earliest iteration of the Super Friends cartoons. Whew!)

Unfortunately, when young, disguised Bruce Wayne approaches Harris, he finds that the detective already has a bunch of young protegees: A pup named Scooby-Doo and his four human friends, all with their show-specific looks and personalities in tact. Jeralds, it turns out, is an ideal candidate to draw this particular story, as he worked on the original show. 

There's some strange tension in the comic, as there so often is in DC's various Scooby-Doo team-up comics, as the various milieus don't belong together. So, for example, the framing device seems pulled from the 1970s Scooby-Doo cartoons, whereas the bulk of the story involves the characters from the late-eightes, early-nineties Pup in a world that looks like a serious, Johnny Quest-esque like setting with the Bruce Wayne-as-Robin, Harvey Harris, Hugo Strange and a handful of surprise villains all looking and moving like classic, high-quality but still quite cheap 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters.

As a fan of Pup, I was pleased to see all of the running gags that get checked off the list (Freddie having a copy of Red Herring's school photo was a nice touch, I thought), although I wouldn't have minded if Fisch and Jeralds essentially sent a teenage Bruce Wayne into an actual episode of Pup, so that, for example, we might have gotten still more gags (Scooby eating a scooby snack, Velma driving the proto-Mystery Machine) and got whatever the comic book equivalent of the show's elaborate chase sequences and musical numbers, complete with the characters getting spotlight dances, might have been.

Still, this is a lot of fun, with Fisch and Jeralds repeatedly highlighting instances of the young Bruce Wayne taking notice of things that would prove useful in his later career, like Shaggy and Scooby introducing him to their favorite superheroes Commander Cool and Mellow Mutt ("'Masked crusader for justice,' eh? Intriguing...") or remarking on how Daphne's butler Jenkins seems to appear out of nowhere. They also play out at least one way in which Bruce Wayne's life might have been different if he had continued hanging around with Scooby and the gang, and what animal motif he might have adopted were it not a bat that flew through his window at a pivotal moment (and no, he doesn't become a Dogman, although that would have been a pretty solid gag outcome too, I think).

Of all the issues of the series I've read so far—and I did miss two issues of it, unfortunately—this one has been the most fun. Not just for the too-rare instance of the creators seeking inspiration from one of the more different iterations of Scooby-Doo cartoons, but also because of the wide variety of inspirations that Fisch finds and the ways in which he blends them all together and because of the weird world that Jeralds builds in his art from various cartoons, comics and extrapolations of what, say, a cartoon about a pre-Batman Batman might look like. 

Beyond fun, it was also a rewarding read. 

Days of Love at Seagull Villa Vols. 2-3 (Seven Seas Entertainment) Manga-ka Kodama Naoka's yuri series Days of Love at Seagull Villa proved to be a rather short-lived one, as it wraps up with these volumes. I confess to some disappointment at this fact; I so enjoyed the first volume, that I was looking forward to the rest of the series, which I assumed would run quite a few volumes more. On the other hand, because of the relatively short length, Naoka doesn't engage in any of the sorts of artificial delaying tactics that can sometimes accompanying will-they/won't-they romances. The result is a series that is both short and sweet. 

In the first volume, we met Mayumi, who decided to leave the city and start a new life in the country after her boyfriend got her best friend pregnancy. That new life included becoming a teacher, and staying at the titular inn, run by Rin, an outgoing young woman who seems Mayumi's opposite in every way. The odd couple quickly became friends, and Mayumi found new feelings awakening within her; did she want to be more than friends with Rin? 

In the second volume, the same friend that Mayumi's boyfriend impregnated comes to Seagull Villa looking for her, trying to convince her that she doesn't belong there—in the country, in her new life, with Rin—and to come back to the city with her. It quite quickly becomes apparent how toxic that friendship really is, and there's some suspense over whether or not Mayumi will fall for her friend's manipulations once more or not.

In this second volume, attention also shifts to focus on Ashima, the young neighbor girl who is part of the Seagull Inn family. She two has a lesbian relationship, although hers is far weirder than Mayumi and Rin's potential one; she's kinda sorta dating her own half-sister.

By the third volume, Mayumi seems to have decided what she wants, and it becomes a manner of having to voice those desires to Rin, and see if they are accepted or rejected. 

It's quite melodramatic, and there's even a fairly sitcom-y event in the third volume, but it's also quite effective, and I thought Naoko did a rather impressive job the inner life of Mayumi and her complicated feelings for her landlady-turned-friend. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin #4 (IDW Publishing) It's been a good three months since the previous issue, so that too makes this feel like an old school Mirage Studios TMNT comic. So much so, in fact, that I have to keep reminding myself that the future story it is telling is apparently set within the IDW TMNT continuity, not the Mirage one. 

In this issue, old man Michelangelo leads Casey Marie Jones, April O'Neil and a small rebel army  against Baxter Stockman's forces on Roosevelt Island in attempt to steal or connect Fugitoid's head and somehow take out all of this future New York City's nefarious robotics. 

Within the battle scene, it flashes back to a quieter moment in April's home, where Michelangelo reluctantly agrees to train Casey as her sensei, and then  flashes back to Michelangelo's story, where he goes to Japan (the Eastman-drawn portion), and then flashes further back to Splinter and Donatello's deaths, when they lead the Hamayato clan in a peace entreaty with the Oroku clan, and are betrayed.


Avengers By Jason Aaron Vol. 8: Enter the Phoenix (Marvel Entertainment) The title both alludes to the Bruce Lee film Enter The Dragon and is completely literal, as not only is there a martial arts tournament of sorts, but the cosmic entity/giant firebird takes the participants in the fighting tournament it has apparently organized within itself, dropping them off in pairs in various Marvel Universe locations to fight one another. The winner, it would seem, gets to be the new host for the Phoenix, and, to properly test the combatants, each is given a fraction of the Phoenix force to fight with.

The upside of this is all of the participating characters get neat Phoenix redesigns, so readers get to see what, say, The Orb or Luke Cage would look like if they were the hosts, whether or not they actually win (spoiler alert: Neither do). Writer Jason Aaron casts his net pretty wide, in terms of which characters to involve. Of the title team, only Captain America, She-Hulk and Black Panther are chosen to participate, as are Avengers rivals Hyperion, Nighthawk, Red Widow and, of course, Namor, a previous Phoenix host who summoned it to Earth and inadvertently kicked off the tournament. The rest of the participants include some obvious candidates like Wolverine and Doctor Doom, and more off-the-wall, just-for-fun candidates, like Howard The Duck, Shanna the She-Devil and Zabu, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. 

While Cap, Shulkie and the Panther try their individual strategies to get the Phoenix where it will do the most good, the rest of the Avengers and some guest-stars try to deal with the Phoenix itself.

The story arc is book-ended by another Avengers B.C. origin issue, drawn by Dale Keown and spotlighting The Phoenix (naturally enough), and a post-King In Black, breath-catching issue moving the Dracula sub-plot a few steps forward and checking in with the new Phoenix host, whose identity has since been spoiled by the solicitation of a miniseries starring her (It's not entirely clear if she's officially an Avenger or not yet, though). 

Fight comics in pretty much the most literal definition of the word, these are fun enough if one is invested in the Marvel Universe setting and Aaron's ongoing plotline for the book, and I do enjoy seeing the sorts of temporary character redesigns that the book is fairly full of (most by artist Javier Garron, who draws four of this collections seven issues, it seems from the design variant covers in the back of the book).

As for the quality of that action, well, it's American superhero comics. Too much of it is kind of boring, as it involves the Phoenix-powered characters flying around using their new-found super-strength and fire powers.

Among the handful of actually interesting battles are the Black Panther vs. Wolverine one (T'Challa has  home-book advantage, and takes out Wolvie with a combination of insane preparedness and a very low blow); the Panther vs. Nighthawk one, which starts with several panels of the two talking global power smack at one another; and the Captain America vs. Shang-Chi fight, which similarly has a few moves and counters built into it. 

I'm kind of curious has the book is received by long-time Avengers fans. This volume collects up through issue #45 of the series, which is the longest I've ever stuck with a run on an Avengers book (I read Brian Michael Bendis' initial volume of New Avengers up until around Secret Invasion, or about 45 issues). Is this a great run compared to various other Avengers runs, or does Aaron's writing style, the fact that Marvel seems to be leaving him alone to do what he wants, and the fact that it is very JLA-ish in tone just make it more up my alley than many other Avengers runs have been?

If you're a long-time fan of the franchise, do let me know how you think Aaron's still very much in-progress run stacks up to some of the more classic ones. I get the sense that it's pretty far removed from the pre-Bendis Avengers, but I can't tell if it's in a way that seems counter to those comics or not.

Operation Dragon (Dark Horse Books) Under many circumstances I think saying that an original graphic novel felt like a movie would be something on an insult, as the best comics do things that can't be replicated in other media. I get the sense that Operation Dragon's creator Bill Groshelle would take "It's like a paper version of a Hollywood action movie" as a a compliment rather than an insult, though, as that seems to have been the ambition. Groshelle is even credited as "creator" on the title page, though he shares a script credit—not a writing credit, but a script credit!—with a Brendan Cahill, while German Peralta handles the art and Kirstian Rossi the coloring.

The Hollywood elevator pitch, one that I'm a personal sucker for? World War II plus dinosaurs. Our protagonists are a disgraced ex-cop and a mobster with bitter personal history from before the war whose paths re-cross in war time in the Pacific theater. They later meet a mysterious female intelligence officer with a top secret mission tracking a new Axis super-weapon that is eventually revealed in a potent scene: Out of the shadows of the night on the deck of the submarine they're on lurch the fang-filled heads of some sort of plesiosaurs. 

The trio are separated from the rest of the personnel on the  sub, but gradually find end up on an uncharted Japanese island where a supervillain-like mad scientist oversees a program to train to dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles of various types for the war effort. Interestingly, Groshelle and Cahill never get into the hows of the dinosaur army, exactly; it's unclear if the Japanese simply found an island full of dinosaurs and decided to exploit it or if they were somehow resurrecting dinosaurs. That's probably for the best; what little science is in here is B-movie batshit, as the leader of Japan's program injects himself with dinosaur essence, which seems to be gradually transforming him into a reptile-man, which is a neat visual, even if it seems to be from a different genre of movie from the otherwise pretty straightforward war movie that the rest of the book seems like.

Somewhat remarkably—and, again, cinematically—a lot of attention is paid to the main male leads' characterizations, giving them pretty thorough backgrounds, a dramatic conflict and even dynamic character arcs. It doesn't really need all that, since it, you know, has dinosaurs, but it makes for a more serious narrative, one that features dinosaurs without necessarily relying on them. That is, in other words, there's a lot more to this then you'll find in the average War That Time Forgot short strip; the milieu may be similar, but there's an actual melodrama built within it. (And, I think, a somewhat accurate one; certainly one of the slurs used on the Italian characters is one that I remember hearing that my paternal grandfather once beat a man up for calling him shortly after the war, so the anti-Italian slurs seem on point!)

Peralta and Rossi's art is excellent, and extremely realistic in style, without sacrificing a sense of animation to the proceedings (the somewhat unnatural-looking, video game style cover is by a Randy Gaul, and doesn't reflect the style of the interior art at all). The dinosaurs are actually used rather sparingly, so that when they appear it's even more striking, because the world they exist in has been so meticulously built.

I hope a Hollywood studio does bite, and this ends up in theaters—and not direct-to-DVD or to SyFy or whatever. I'd see it, but, again, I'm an easy mark for dinosaurs, and I think there are far too few films featuring them in theaters. 

Zom 100: Bucket List of The Dead Vol. 3 (Viz Media) Akira and company scratch one more item off of his zombie apocalypse bucket list—taking a trip in an RV—before leaving the city to go check on his parents. Their journey, and Akira's new, happier, more fulfilling life, are derailed when they unexpectedly run into Akira' s old boss, the one from his office job that was so miserable and soul-crushing that the collapse of civilization and the rise of hordes of cannibalistic zombies was greeted by him as an improvement. 

Akira's old boss now leads a small community of survivors, one which waylays passersby and forces them to work to earn repairs to their vehicles and other costs they incur. Akira finds himself all too easily sliding back into his old identity, and it's ultimately up to the newest member of his group, Shizuka, to help Akira re-discover his old new self.


The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess (Neal Porter Books) Cartoonist Tom Gauld (Goliath, Mooncop, all those comics from the Guardian and New Scientist you love) has produced his first work explicitly for children, a fairy tale picture book that is told in a comics-like format. It's pretty great. 

Mao Vol. 1 (Viz Media) New Rumiko Takahashi! More here

Marvel Action: Avengers: Off the Clock (Book Five) (IDW Publishing) The new creative team of Katie Cook and Butch Mapa take over for the fifth collection of Marvel Action: Avengers, telling a story of the world's mightiest heroes' down-time, following all the world-saving that dominated the previous dozen issues (and four collections). It's got Squirrel Girl in it! More here

Marvel Monsters: Creatures of The Marvel Universe Explored (DK Children) I could scarcely ask for a Marvel guidebook more directly up my alley. The Kelly Knox-written encyclopedia—this is prose, not comics—profiles Marvel's many monster characters, from the Kirby/Lee/Lieber giant monsters that dominated the publisher before the advent of the Fantastic Four and the Silver Age return of superheroes to the horror heroes of the 1970s to various villains with monstrous forms. 

As I read, I had only two complaints. 

The first was that Knox cites the first appearance of the character, which is in most cases an obscure hard to find issue...although, as the author pointed out on Twitter, thanks to Marvel's online comics-reading thingee, it's fairly easy to find any of the comics cited. 

The second was that the artists responsible for the images filling the pages aren't credited anywhere. It's easy enough to tell what images are Kirby's, and I can pick out the work of James Stokoe or Roger Langridge here and there, but I would have appreciated a massive appendix crediting the artists for each work (generally about two images per entry), which would have helped direct young readers to artists they particularly liked (although, it's worth noting, the creators responsible for the issue in which each entry first appears are listed, so, in a roundabout way, the creators of each monster are named, if not the artists that created each image). 

Sunday's Fun Day, Charlie Brown (Titan Comics) This is the latest in Titan Comics' series of facsimile editions of the original 1960s Peanuts paperback collections. Surprise! It's excellent.

I find myself somewhat curious about how these comics are perceived by the youngest readers today...that is, does their relatively great age reveal itself, or does the timelessness of the work tamp down on the sense that these are the comics that one's grandparents might have enjoyed...? To that end, I tend to note any and all instances marking the time in which they were created are noted; one of this collection's strips has Linus noting the date. 

Also of special interest? Schulz hasn't yet determined how he wants to draw the birds that hang out with Snoopy just yet, so rather than Woodstock and company, when birds to appear to, say, play cards at Snoopy's doghouse, they look more like real birds than the bulbous-nosed little yellow feather dusters readers have grown accustomed to. 


The climax of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings includes both a giant, malevolent monster walled off from our reality by an ancient, mystical Chinese society of defenders and a benevolent dragon. Do you know what that means? That means there was not one, but two opportunities to put Fin Fang Foom in a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and the producers decided against it, going with something more weird and nightmarish for the first giant monster, and something more traditional for the dragon, rather than He Whose Limbs Shatter Mountains and Whose Back Scrapes The Sun.

That one minor, personal disappointment aside, I thought this film was quite good. Like Black Widow, Shang-Chi is kind of an odd character to build a Marvel movie around, given that the conception of the comics character was to bring something from a popular genre of film (here, martial arts movies) into the Marvel comics universe, and now Marvel Studios finds themselves in the position of exporting Shang-Chi back into films. That they succeed owes an awful lot to the gradual perfection of the Marvel Cinematic Universe perpetual blockbuster machine—Shang-Chi owes a great deal of its success to its adherence to various Asian cinema genres (and the presence of Tony Leung), but it owes just as much to being a Marvel movie, and it's many little nods to that fact, some of them quite odd and unexpected (Finally answering the question of what became of The Abomination from 2008's The Incredible Hulk, if you were still wondering!)

As with almost all Marvel movies, one of the most exciting aspects was wondering what would happen next, and how this would all connect to future movies, something rather gratuitously teased by the mid-credits scene involving Wong, Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner and the mysterious nature of the titular Ten Rings. 

I have to say, after all the Marvel martial arts and the inclusion of a mystical Asian world, I left this wanting to see Shang-Chi fight Iron Fist. I can't imagine that Shang-Chi Versus The Defenders is going to be the name of the sequel, but it's strange that so much of the "street-level", martial arts side of the Marvel Universe was already explored on television in the Netflix shows, a corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that now seems to be excommunicated from the official Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shang-Chi fighting The Hand and fighting then teaming up with the Heroes For Hire seems the most natural next step for the character and franchise, though, but I suppose that's what's kind of exciting about the character being welcomed into the Avengers fold; it's going to be rather entirely unlike anything we've seen in the comics before, really.

And who knows, maybe the sequel will be something even more awesome-sounding, like Shang-Chi and The Agents of Atlas or Shang-Chi and The Legend of Fin Fang Foom

The story of conservation, at least as writer Michelle Nijhuis tells it in Beloved Beasts: Fighting For Life in an Age of Extinction (W.W. Norton and Company; 2021), is really many stories. Starting with Aesop and his fables and Carl Linnaeus and his naming of the animals, Nijhuis then jumps ahead to the late 19th century and tracks the history of conservation, one pivotal figure and animal of interest (and thus one story) at a time. These stories overlap and eventually interlock to tell how the thinking on conversation has evolved over the generations to where it is now, wherein we see the world and all of the living things in it as interconnected and dependent on one another (even if we as a species too rarely act as if we truly believed that). Expected names like Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson appear, but so to do lesser-known but equally fascinating people, like Rosalie Edge and Julian Huxley (Aldous' brother). There's also a chapter devoted to William T. Hornaday, who worked to save the American bison in the late 19th century, and who was rather prominently featured in Andy Hirsch's recent comic, The American Bison: The Buffalo's Survival Tale (which I reviewed here). Its an extremely well-written, thoroughly engaging history that reads with vital immediacy.

One perennial question about President Donald Trump is what exactly accounts for his behavior: Mendacity, stupidity or insanity? In Michael Wolff's Landslide: The Final Days of The Trump Presidency (Bridge Street Press; 2021), which follows the ex-president from the 2020 campaign through the election and to the surreal and dangerous aftermath, which culminated in the deadly insurrection of January 6th. The answer to what drives Trump—mendacity, stupidity or insanity—seems to be, as was revealed in Wolff's previous book's on the subject, a combination of all three. 

As for the motivation behind the Big Lie, that somehow the challenger conspired with Democratic and Republican election officials all over the country on a precinct level to steal the election from the incumbent presidency, in Wolff's telling Trump really, genuinely, truly seems to believe that was the case. But rather than a grand conspiracy, Trump seems to honestly believe that mail-in voting itself is somehow fraudulent (never mind the fact that he himself has done it in the past), and therefore all of those who cast their vote for president in that manner—or perhaps any manner other than showing up at the polls on election day—shouldn't count. That's the impression I got from Wolff's reporting; Trump genuinely believes that by allowing mail-in voting of any kind is a "rigging" of the system.

The other striking revelation of the book is just how cowardly all of those around the ex-president, from the members of his family to the members of his staff to the members of his cabinet were, with no  one willing to confront him with bad news regarding the election. Repeatedly people plan on telling Trump in no uncertain terms he lost, and then fail to do so, apparently out of fear for contradicting his worldview and invoking his rage. 

Trump is, to put it as overly simply as possible, bad, but worse still are all of those that enabled—and hell, continue to enable—shielding him from a reality he finds distasteful, and thus helping him create an alternate one which, when it clashes with the real world, can have dangerous and, as we've seen, even deadly consequences. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Marvel's December previews reviewed

The solicitation for Amazing Spider-Man #81  mentions says "It's new Spider-Man vs. newest Spider-Man!!!" and that "it's up to Ben Reilly to take Miles Morales down." So I take it that is Miles' new costume?  

I don't immediately like it, as it seems pretty far from a traditional Spider-Man costume and more like one of those "Spider-sonas" that artists were posting on Twitter around the time Into the Spider-Verse was in theaters.

Oddly, I can "hear" the sounds that costume might make when the person wearing it is moving just by looking at it, which seems...not great for a masked crime-fighting vigilante's costume. 

These are two of the overs for Avengers Forever #1 by Jason Aaron and the great Aaron Kuder, a spin-off of Aaron's ongoing Avenges series starring Justice Incarnate, er, I mean, "THE AVENGERS OF THE MULTIVERSE." The team on the first cover looks incredibly well color-coordinated, to the point that black and red look like their team uniform colors, whereas the second cover has a bigger, richer, deeper cast, and looks like a much more mind-blowingly big superhero story.

Of course, that second one looks like the ""HIDDEN GEM VARIANT" by Carlos Pacheco, so I think it's actually an image from the original Avengers Forever series from 1999, which Pacheco drew (and which I never read), and has nothing at all to do with this series...

Now that's a costume redesign! As seen on the cover of The Death of Doctor Strange #4, which sure seems to depict an alive Doctor Stephen Strange, doesn't it? 

December sees the launch of a six-part event series by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Marco Checchetto, Devil's Reign. The solicit is...well, here's much of it: 
Wilson Fisk went from Kingpin to mayor of the biggest city in America and is going to bring his full criminal and political power to bear on the superheroes who call NYC home. The man who once destroyed Daredevil has set his sights on The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and more. And since it's Fisk, once he takes them all down, you know he's going to sign it.
And then this: 
CROSSBONES! TASKMASTER! TYPHOID MARY! SHOCKER! WHIPLASH! RHINO! KRAVEN! Fisk has an ARMY of supervillains at his command—and this is just his opening salvo. For years, Fisk has waited for his time to strike, and YOU WON'T BELIEVE the aces he's got up his sleeves!

So, let me see if I got this right. The big idea of Devil's Reign is that it's going to be good guys vs. bad guys? Heroes...fighting...super-villains? 

I'm not sure if that premise is refreshingly simple compared to some of the more narratively complex and/or nonsensical big event series like some of Brian Michael Bendis' (House of M, Siege, Age of Ultron), or if it's a little too basic. I mean, surely there's going to more to it than Fisk having the bad guys fight the good guys, right? Six issues of everyone fighting? (Also, why is "Shocker" in all-caps up there, like he's a big deal?)

I'm not sure if I'll end up reading this or not. I've been avoiding Zdarsky books since his behavior around his public statements regarding the Cameron Stewart affair last year, which was the very definition of sketchy. He's a pretty good writer, and I've liked everything I've read by him, I think, but I don't know; it's not like there are so few super-comics out there these days that one needs to read comics by people who readers feel uncomfortable supporting, you know? 

December also brings us Devil's Reign #2, and get this:
Wilson Fisk has set the Marvel Universe on a dangerous path, hoping to remake it in his image. Systemically leveraging the power of his office against the heroes of the Marvel Universe, Fisk takes his most dangerous and craven step yet...The THUNERBOLTS are reporting for duty!
Huh. So Wilson Fisk is marshalling villains under the name of a group of villains-who-pretended-to-be-heroes, the Thunderbolts. This is kinda sad because the Suicide Squad-like, comedic version of the Thunderbolts that Matthew Rosenberg and Juan Ferreyra did for their King In Black: Thunderbolts miniseries  (reviewed in the previous post) was so much fun and sort of offered an open ending, suggesting the potential for a sequel or maybe even an ongoing. I have to assume this version of the Thunderbolts will be pretty different; at the very least, I doubt it will be the exact same line-up, Taskmaster's presence aside (it looks like Tasky's wearing his old mask too, rather than the cool new one that Ferreyra had designed for him in that series). 

Also, I'm not sure how Spider-Man villain Wilson Fisk, finding himself in a position of legitimate power, makes a superhero team staffed with supervillains is different this is when Spider-Man villain Norman Osborn, finding himself in a position of legitimate power, makes a superhero team staffed with supervillains.

I mean, Marvel's "Dark Reign" status quo was kind of a long time ago now—about 12 years—but given the average age of a direct marked superhero comics reader, it sure wasn't so long ago that it seems like we're ready for a redux of any of its plot points, you know? 

I like when Stan Sakai draws human beings. This is his variant cover for King Conan #1.  

Wait, wait, wait. The cover for Miles Morales: Spider-Man #33 has Miles standing with guy I thought was Miles in a new costume on the cover of ASM. Two characters mentioned in the solicitation copy: Miles and Shift. Is Shift the guy in the new costume, or the one in Miles' old costume? I'm so confused. 

Looks like they're calling characters from the Old Man Logan-iverse "Wastelanders" now, instead of Old Man Whoever, so there's a sweet of specials all called Wastelanders: Sons of The Tiger or whatever, rather than  Old Man Doctor Doom and Old Man Black Widow. 

The cover for Wolverine #19 sure is fantastic, isn't it? I think that one's by E.M. Gist.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

DC's December previews reviewed

I like this holiday-themed cover for Aquaman: The Becoming #4, by Khary Randolph. 

In the wake of DC's announcement of a new Batgirls series, by writers Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad and artist Jorge Corona, I'm trying to remember the first time that the idea of a book focused on Spoiler Stephanie Brown and Batgirl Cassandra Cain under the mentorship of Oracle Barbara Gordon first occurred to me. I'm going to guess it was somewhere around 2001 or so...? Whenever it was that Cass agreed to help train Spoiler a bit, that great scene where Spoiler sneaks up on Cass while she's training in her batcave, Cass almost caves her head in by accident, stopping herself at the last moment, and then throws up...? 

Of course, at the time, the Cassandra Cain volume of Batgirl was still going strong, so a Batgirls series wouldn't have made a whole lot of sense, but certainly any time after that book was cancelled in 2006, or during the time in which the Stephanie Brown-starring volume of Batgirl was winding down it seemed like a pretty obvious direction to go with the characters.

Basically some 20 years ago DC had Oracle established as the leader and mentor of a team of female crimefighters and vigilantes in general and as Cass' mentor in particular, then established that Spoiler and Cass were friends (and Steph had nothing much to do when not guest-starring in Robin) and...nothing. DC did a series of Batgirl in which Barbara mentored Cassandra as Batgirl, and then, a few years later, a series of Batgirl in which Barbara mentored Stephanie as Batgirl. 

The idea of this series has thus been just sort of hanging in the air forever, with DC instead pursuing a series of dumb-ass uses of the characters instead of the most obvious one, including, for example, Cassandra Cain's nonsensical heel turn, the torture and temporary death of Stephanie, Barbara Gordon's drastic de-aging, recovery of the use of her legs and resumption of the Batgirl mantle,  the rebooting of Cassandra Cain's origin story and the awarding of her new, terrible superhero name and costume and oh God there was so much dumb shit done with these ladies over the years...!

Anyway, DC finally did the right—and fucking obvious—thing and put the three Batgirls in the same title. I hope it's good.
I'm not crazy about the logo (seen on the cover for the second issue, above), but that may be because of how fond I was of the logo that adorned the cover of the Cassandra Cain volume of Batgirl

I'm also not terribly fond of Spoiler's New 52 look, with the ninja-like face mask, preferring her more Spider-Man-esque full-face mask, which also, incidentally, kind of echoes Cass' mask nicely. 

I like this Dario Brizuela cover for Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries #10 because it tells you all you need to know about the comic: It's got Batman, it's got Scooby-Doo and the gang and it looks completely insane. What else could you want from a comic book...? 

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's 2004 Catwoman: When In Rome miniseries is apparently being rebranded for  Batman: The Long Halloween: Catwoman When In Rome The Deluxe Edition, I suppose because it wasn't clear enough to potential readers that the series is by the same creative team—and set in the same continuity as—The Long Halloween and Dark Victory...? It sure is a mouthful to say.

Wow, Kyle looks weird with his eyeballs visible through his mask like that, rather than the usual white, opaque eyes he's drawn with. That's Alan Quah's variant cover for Green Lantern #9, I think. 

Nice Francesco Francavilla cover on The Joker #10

Artist Sanford Green joins writer Brian Michael Bendis for Justice League 2021 Annual #1, which is pretty great news. Green's a great talent, and I look forward to seeing what he does with these characters. I'm not sure what the issue will be about, exactly—the solicit promises the return of Jack Kirby's OMAC—but it looks like there are more heroes than usual in the book. Like Plastic Man, for example. 

Speaking of those more heroes, who the heck is that supposed to be behind Plas' head? It looks too specific a design to just be a generic superhero shape, like some of the others hovering in the background...

The great Kyle Hotz is apparently one of the artists on Justice League Incarnate #2, which will feature Super-Demon "and his League of Shadows." This is Hotz's variant cover; who do you suppose the guy over the demon's right shoulder is supposed to be, an alternate Earth version of Ragman...? 

If your Twitter feed looks anything at all like mine, then chances are you've already heard about Nightwing #87: Artist Bruno Redondo and writer Tom Taylor have constructed the issue as a single, continuous image, a feat of comics-making that begs to be seen to be quite understood and believed. This is the first time I've regretted trade-waiting the current creative team's run on the book, and I may end up just buying this single issue to see what it looks like in real life. 

I was honestly just wondering whatever became of artist Keron Grant the other night, and now he appears as one of the dozen or so artists contributing to Represent!, a $25, 168-page book about which I can gather almost nothing from the vague solicitation copy, which promises "Stories of personal experiences, unheard voices, and social revolution."

 Remind me to check this one out when it's available. In addition to Grant, it also includes a contribution from Brittney Williams, one of my favorite artists. 

I feel bad for readers of Supergirl: The Woman of Tomorrow #6; imagine having to choose between Bilquis Evely drawing Comet the Superhorse and a Steve Rude cover...

Thursday, September 09, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: August 2021


Days of Love at Seagull Villa Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) My search for a new yuri series to replace NTR and Citrus brought me to this relatively recent series from Kodama Naoko, the manga-ka responsible for the pretty charming 2019 I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up.

Quiet city girl Mayumi has just been left by her fiance, who was having an affair with her best friend...who is now pregnant with his child. Shortly after this personal tragedy, she find herself out in the country, looking forlornly out at the sea. In fact, she's looking so forlornly out at the sea that when Rin first sees her, she thinks she's about to jump, and she rushes out to stop her, grabbing her and, inadvertently, knocking them both into the sea.

As meet-cutes go, it's an effective one, demonstrating the two women's personalities—Mayumi quiet, thoughtful and melancholy, Rin impulsive, brash and up in Mayumi's business—and getting them naked in front of each other by page 20 (They have to take a warm bath in order to avoid catching a cold from their plunge into the sea, you see). 

Mayumi has come to the small, seaside town in order to escape her problems and start a new, completely different life, as a junior high teacher. She's staying at the titular villa, which, it turns out, is run by Rin, a younger woman with a little girl to raise, a neighbor girl to look after and her own personal tragedy to mourn, one that makes Mayumi's look enviable by comparison. 

It's a big adjustment for Mayumi, one both helped and hindered—but mostly helped—by the polar opposite Rin, with whom she shares a connection one assumes will turn to full-blown romance eventually. 

For now, the art is great, and Naoko's pacing of the two women's relationship, with several ups and downs, seems off to an intriguing start. 

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Vols. 1-2 (Seven Seas) Uno Hinako is deeply unhappy, although she hides it well at the office. She studies fashion and make-up and is always perfectly put together. She goes out to lunch every day with a group of friends. And she regularly dates cute guys, all of whom seem to fall for, although she doesn't return their feelings. What's wrong with her? 

Lots of things...and, maybe, nothing at all. Things begin to change for her when she happens upon Satou Asahi eating doughnuts on a bench one night. Asahi is her co-worker, and seems to be the opposite of Hinako at work, shy, quiet and keeping to herself; Hinako's friends think Asahi is mean and cold. The two have a conversation, that becomes a friendship that, it becomes clear to the reader pretty soon, is on its way to becoming something more, although neither of the participants seem particularly aware of the fact that they are falling in love (and/or that they are starring in a yuri romance, of course). 

Manga-ka Shio Usui presents a pair of refreshingly emotionally complex characters, each with their own issues—her parents dead, Asahi is devoted to caring for her younger sister, to the extent that she denies herself her own life—and each begin to have positive effects on one another.

In the second volume, Hinako meets a potential romantic rival in the form of an old friend of Asahi's, a friend who is in love with Asahi, but hasn't told her, confessing instead to Hinako. 

Like the best kinds of romances, it is perfectly clear that our leads are perfect for each other, and the major obstacle seems to be that neither of them realizes it. That, and the fact that they are both girls. Not only is neither of them out, but neither of them seems to have come to the realization that they prefer women to men either, although that would explain why Hinako can't bring herself to return the affection of any of the men she dates. 

I confess that it was the title that got me to pick up the first volume—what can I say, I like doughnuts—but it was the complexity of the characters, the charm of their relationship and the quality of the comic that got me to pick up the second volume...and will lead to my picking up the third, as well. 

Marvel Voices: Identity #1 (Marvel Entertainment) The temptation is to compare this book with March's DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration #1, as both share a pretty similar remit: They are each oversized one-shots from Big Two direct market publishers, in which creators of Asian descent tackle characters of Asian descent in short stories. 

The comparison is perhaps inevitable, although it doesn't favor this Marvel book. DC's book was bigger, featuring more creators and more characters of higher profiles, plus the introduction of a brand-new character co-created by Gene Luen Yang (in the form of The Monkey Prince).

But despite the similarities to Celebration (including the presence of Yang as a contributor), this is perhaps better understood as the latest installment of Marvel's Marvel Voices series, a series of one-shots featuring creators and characters from traditionally marginalized groups (Black, indigenous and  LGBTQ). Although I suppose the fact that they are all numbered as "#1" obscures that fact a bit.  

As such, like previous Marvel Voices books,  it has a couple of prose components, in addition to the short comics stories. These include a lengthy introduction by cartoonist Rina Ayuyang (Blame This On The Boogie), a two-page interview with Larry Hama and three pages upon which each contributor answers the question, "What does identity mean to you?"

As for the comics, there are eight of these, starring characters as prominent as Shang-Chi and Ms. Marvel, as obscure as Silhouette from the New Warriors (and by "obscure" I mean "someone I've never heard of"), and everywhere in between. 

The stories I enjoyed the most were probably Christina Strain and Jason Loo's "That One Thing," starring the X-Men's Jubilee (featuring one totally kick-ass panel) and Greg Pak and Creees Lee's "Jimmy Woo 1959", although those are both characters I already have quite a deal of affection for. 

Ken Niimura's "Traditional Pink Sushi" starring the X-Men's Armor and The Silver Samurai is notable for how greatly Niimura's art differs from that of every one else who contributed to the book (or generally draws comics for Marvel), and there's some funny elements tot he story, which involves the difficulty of making sushi in the current mutant homeland of Krakoa. 

Maurene Goo and Lynne  Yoshi's "New York State of Mind" starring Brawn and Silk features a villain I've long been curious about—Marvel's Scarecrow—and Yoshi draws at least one really great panel of him thrusting his pitchfork at Silk (and there's one really great line in the form of "Sir, we are Asian American.")
Rounding out the book are Yang and Marcus To's "What Is Vs. What If", which seems like a pretty good introduction to what Yang is doing with his Shang-Chi comics; Sabir Pirzada and Mashal Ahmed's "Seeing Red" featuring Ms. Marvel and The Red Dagger; Alyssa Wong and Whilce Portacio's "Personal Heroes" starring new-ish character Wave (notable for its endearing insistence that Bishop is someone's favorite superhero); and, finally, Jeremy Holt and Alti Firmansyah's "Singular/Plural", in which Silhouette uses an off-brand Tinder to go on dates...and is perhaps notable for how there is nothing at all even vaguely superhero-related about the entire story, although she does mention the fact that she has superpowers in a passing line of narration.

As with the previous Marvel Voices anthologies I've read, this one is hit or miss, but well worth it if only to see lesser-seen Marvel characters and, especially, Marvel heroes drawn in different styles and written in different voices than one normally sees them.

Primitive Boyfriend Vol. 3
(Seven Seas Entertainment)
I borrowed the first two volumes in this three-volume series by Yoshineko Kitafuku (and wrote about them in last month's column). But the third wasn't available to borrow, which meant I would have to make a $12.99 investment if I wanted to see if Kamigome Mito would finally meet the man of her dreams in modern times, after having met him in two previous, prehistoric incarnations, as an Australpithecus garhi and an early Homo sapien.

Obviously the series proved engaging enough that I had to find out how it ended, and I made that investment...quite happily. For a third and final time Mito's patron goddess sends her back in time to meet her soulmate, and, unlike the first two times, Mito is pretty clear on what exactly is going on, and how to find the new version of her destined partner. 

This time she lands in the prehistoric Jomon period of Japan, well past the time that  humanity had developed clothes, tools, language and were domesticating animals and experimenting with agriculture. Though she finds the man with the appropriate birthmark almost immediately—Iresu, in this incarnation, who you can see on the cover—she finds the more developed society means more complex challenges to navigate, as she must ingratiate  herself not only with her mate, but also the rest of his village. 

It certainly helps that Mito is a farmgirl, and knows more about rice and its growing than your average time-travelling Japanese teenager would.

The premise of the series, as silly as it sounds, is that Mito was disappointed by the lack of macho manliness among the many eligible, potential boyfriends she was surrounded by at school, and thus the harvest goddess found the ultimately manly man for her...despite the fact that he seemed more ape than man at that point. 

Somewhat remarkably, it turns out that one of her many high school suitors does bear the birthmark that links him to her various primitive boyfriends, and, in this volume, she continues to evaluate those around her and, in a surprise to me, actually finds that one of them is the reincarnated version of Iresu and the others. 

Kitafuku seems to have run with the premise just far enough, as the relatively short, compact, and just-dense-enough series is incredibly satisfying. 

Though the book ends with a short time jump forward, in which we see Mito and her husband's life's work and meet their daughter, it's followed by a short bonus story in which Mito and her modern boyfriend go on a date to the movies, and she falls asleep, dreaming that all four of his incarnations are present at once, and they team up to rescue her from dinosaurs.  

Suicide Squad Case Files Vols. 1-2 (DC Comics) I think these books are a very, very good idea (although I'm not entirely sure why there are two of them instead of just a single, far bigger one). The Suicide Squad writer/director James Gunn cast a particularly wide net for characters to use in his film, putting together a fairly large ensemble of not only some fairly obscure characters from the deepest depths and dustiest of corners of the DC Comics character catalog, but also some just plain unlikely characters to appear in a DC movie of any kind. 

These collections serve the purpose of introducing each of the characters that comprise that cast—many of whom, it seemed pretty safe to assume from the earliest trailers, were there at all just be killed off—with those introductions often being quite literal. Most of these stories feature the very first appearances of the characters (among the rare exceptions are solo Amanda Waller and Captain Boomerang stories, from the pages of 201's Suicide Squad: Amanda Waller #1 and 1990's Suicide Squad #44, respectively). The results are interesting, to say the least, as they offer a pretty solid overview of DC Comics publishing (and the comics industry itself, from the Silver Age to the New 52 era, when Waller was redesigned to be briefly svelte and sexy for some goddam reason).

That Silver Age story is "The Bizarre Polka-Dot Man" from 1962's Detective Comics #300, in which Batman and Robin try to thwart the dot-themed crime spree of a the title character, who tears various polka-dots from his costume and throws them, at which point they turn into elaborate weapons or vehicles (This being the '60s, there's no effort by "Bob Kane", actually an uncredited writer that might be Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff, to explain how the seemingly magic polka-dots actually work). One could scarcely wish for a better example of a 1960s DC comic and, perhaps, the classic superhero comic, before the genre started to change in the next decade. 

From there we skip ahead to the 1980s, and see how superhero comics are changing, growing more sophisticated with storytelling, psychological content and experiments with sub-genre. 

There's 1984's Green Lantern #174, which shows little real change from 'Tec #300 (but does feature sharp Dave Gibbons art). That same year brought us Bloodsport's first appearance in John Byrne's Superman #4, in which the newly re-created  for the eighties Man of Steel faces a mass shooting-committing psychopath driven mad by the horrors of the Vietnam War (An instance from this comic is actually directly referenced in the film). 

There's 1985's The Fury of Firestorm #38, in which creators Gerry Conway and Rafael Kayanan offer a few minor tweaks to the familiar, even generic, superhero formula, including the high-concept of a single hero with two secret identities (and one of them a middle-aged man). There's 1986's Booster Gold #1, offering a comedic, sticom-like take on superheroics (this is the first appearance of the completely generic Blackguard, if you're wondering what it's doing here). Also from 1986 comes The Vigilante #36, in which  Paul Kupperberg, Denys Cowan and Kyle Baker tell a story dealing with international terrorism, over-boiled, film-inspired, gun-toting machismo and comic book mental illness (that's The Peacemaker introduction, by the way, offering a version of the character that's far crazier than the one in the film). 

There's 1987's Secret Origins #14, in which long-time Suicide Squad creators John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell tell the secret history of the team, which incorporates decades of old comics from various creators and titles into a single narrative in the then newly-established post-Crisis DC Universe continuity.  And then there's 1988's Detective Comics #585, in which the John Wagner/Alan Grant/ Norm Breyfogle/Steve Mitchell team introduce The Ratcatcher in a story illustrative how different Batman comics became in about 25 years (more violent, more realistic, more character-driven, but still interested in colorful characters and fantastic imagery). 

After that diverse and prolific decade of comics, we enter the 1990s, which are  represented by a trio of comics: 1990's Suicide Squad #44, featuring Captain Boomerang's origin, from a period in time when he was much more a Suicide Squad character than a Flash rogue (and, with the Secret Origin issue, one of the examples of the Ostrander, McDonnell and company comic to which the films owe their existence), 1994's Superboy #9, in which the extremely '90s version of the character encounters killing machine King Shark for the first time (although the version that appears in the film owes more to Gail Simone's version of him from Secret Six) and 1999's Batman/Harley Quinn #1, in which Paul Dini, Yvel Guichet and Aaron Sowd first introduce the Batman: The Animated Series character into the DC Universe proper.
New characters start to peter out after the millennium, at least as these collections show. Jeph Loeb, Dale Keown and Cam Smith's 2001 Superman #170 is a Krypto the Super-Dog story that just so happens to also be the first appearance of Mongal (like Blackguard in the Booster Gold comic, she's not so much a character as a necessary bit of plot mechanics in the comics). Gail Simone, Ed Benes and Alex Lei's 2003 Birds of Prey #58 is a Savant story, and shows Benes in a point of transition, from where his cheesecake-focused art ostensibly still served (or was at least compatible with) the story, BOP starring a Charlie's Angels-like team, before his later run on other comics would devolve into an obsession with drawing highly-sexualized imagery regardless of the script. 

The remaining stories are both from 2014, and are culled from the somewhat flailing post-Flashpoint iteration of the team, when the book would see regular relaunches from different creative teams, each with different takes, and no real momentum ever accruing, to the extent that Ostrander and company's Suicide Squad is still the only one really worth reading. These are the previously-mentioned Amanda Waller special, in which "Ultimate Amanda Waller"  makes hard choices in order to save the highest number of people possible in a story by Jim Zub, Andrew Coehlo and Scott Hanna, and Matt Kindt and Patrick Zircher's Suicide Squad #25, which falls smack in the middle of the Forever Evil crossover event storyline, and doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but does feature The Thinker, in a form that resembles his design from the film, as opposed to his original 1940s look.

These comics are, obviously, all over the place, which is part of what makes the collection so winning. A surprising number of them stand all on their own, and a few are notably just part of a story, a story that is collected elsewhere (the various Suicide Squad stories, for example), or, at least, should be (DC's sitting on a lot of Peacemaker comics that could be made into decent collections). But as a seemingly-random swathe of several hundred pages of superhero universe comics, these were well worth the price of admission. 


The Girl With The Sanpaku Eyes Vol. 2 (Denpa) Amane Mizuno is the girl with the sanpaku eyes, although, as I wrote of the first volume in a previous installment of this column, "the girl with the crazy eyes" probably makes more sense to English readers. In Asian face-reading, if you can see the white of the eyes below the iris, it means one sort of imbalance, and if you can see the white of the eyes above the iris, it means another; in Amane's case, you can usually see the whites both above and below the tiny little lines or dots that manga-ka Shunsuke Sorato draws in her eyes, making her look more like a surprised snake than your typical romantic manga heroine.

Luckily for Amane—but, perhaps, unfortunately for readers, given the more comedic potential in a pretty school girl with the eyes of a psychotic—the object of her affection, desk neighbor Kato, isn't into face-reading at all, and seems as smitten with her as she is with him.

The result, then, is a fairly typical high school romance, with the two leads experiencing explosive emotions within as they navigate their normal day-to-day lives, their feelings registering outwardly with a lot of blushing, sweat drops, vibrating and the occasional burst of lines.

In this volume, Amane's friends conspire to help her get closer to Kato. The pair have exchanged numbers and can now text and talk on the phone, but her pals nominate her to star in the class play, a version of Momotaro (this column's first mention of Peach Boy this month!) in which the hero conquers the ogres not with violence, but with love, the play climaxing with a handshake between Peach Boy and the ogre, who is, of course, played by Kato—that's right, physical contact!

But if Amane had trouble saying good morning to Kato in the first volume, will she be able to perform a whole play opposite of him, and in front of everyone...?  Spoiler: Yes. 

I like Sorato's art quite a bit, particularly the drawings of sweaters and hearts, of which there are an awful lot. 

King In Black: Thunderbolts (Marvel Entertainment) I generally read all of Marvel's big, company-wide crossovers, at least in trade collection, not having missed one since...when did they start doing them again? House of X? Civil War? The Donny Cates-written, Venom-centric King In Black is the first one to fail to interest me in anyway. I'm...not sure why exactly that is. Maybe it's growing disinterest in the Marvel Universe as a setting, maybe it's part of my flagging excitement about super-comics in general, maybe it's the fact that I don't care all that much for Venom as a character or concept. 

The point of all that is that this is the first time I've read a tie-in to a big, company-wide crossover event series without actually reading the big, company-wide crossover event series itself. As to why I bothered, I like interior artist Juan Ferreyra, cover artist Kyle Hotz, and the make-up of this particular Thunderbolts team seemed interesting, including as it does Batroc The Leaper and not one, but two guys dressed like skeletons. 

It turned out to be really good. I don't know what that says about King In Black in general—it didn't make me want to read the main series at all—but I suppose it's due to the relative simplicity of the premise of the event, one that seems like it's easy enough to tell tie-in stories around. As far as I can tell, Earth is on the brink of apocalypse, this time because some sort of symbiote god, the so-called king in black, has invaded Earth, bringing with him giant Venom-esque dragons and turning people into Venomized-zombies (Do I have that right?).

The Matthew Rosenberg-written Thunderbolts miniseries, which ran just three issues, has New York City Mayor (and former kingpin of crime) Wilson Fisk, gathering a group of disposable super-villains and coercing them into a suicide mission. If that sounds like vaguely familiar premise for a comic book, Rosenberg acknowledges it, when he has Mister Fear (the guy dressed like a skeleton who isn't Taskmaster) say "Fisk put us together for this?! The whole's suicide...We're a suicide team." (Fear similarly almost but not quite cites DC Comics IP when he reaches for a term to call a league devoted to the concept of justice and the female version of Wonder Man). 

The plot is pretty simple. Fisk wants to be seen doing something to help save the world, though he's not too terribly concerned how realistic his attempt is, given that he's confident that the superheroes will ultimately save the day as they always do (this isn't Fisk's first crossover event story, after all). He therefore assembles a team consisting of Taskmaster, Mister Fear, Batroc The Leaper and a couple of other villains who either die or quit almost immediately (I'm surprised The Rhino even made the cover, as  he quits directly after they encounter their first Venom dragon). 

So he sends his team, which he calls The Thunderbolts—"a name I own the copyright to", he says, speaking for Marvel—through the Venomized streets of New York to Ravencroft Asylum to consult Norman Osborn for a plan to take out the king in black, a patently ridiculous plan that Mister Fear and Batroc argue over whether is more like Weekend At Bernie's or Weekend At Bernie's 2

It basically amounts to moving a quartet of characters from Point A to Point B to Point C, with no real suspense or surprise regarding whether or not they will succeed in their mission (Obviously, the day isn't going to be saved in a tie-in, but in King In Black proper),  although Rosenberg does manage a bit of misdirection here and there, and some surprises in the way in which characters depart from the team (like The Rhino, a surprise I've already spoiled; sorry).

It's funny though, and in fact, Rosenberg seems to be writing a comedy more than an action-adventure sort of superhero comic. 

Ferreyra's art, which he colors himself, is as incredible as always, and he manages to tweak the designs of various characters to make them his own, and, in many cases, make them extremely cool. I've already pointed out the similarities on Taskmaster and Mister Fear, two guys with skull masks and hooded cloaks ("Still dressing like me, Mister Fear?" Taskmaster asks in the first panel featuring the two). Ferreyera disgtinguishes them by giving Taskmaster a new, sleek mask that is somewhat abstract in design and high-tech looking, while Fear's skull mask is somewhat bestial, suggestive of a Richard Corben-drawn baboon skull rather than a human skull.

He also manages to make Batroc, who is chosen in large part because he is a joke character, cool and handsome-looking.

I mentioned that there isn't a lot of suspense or surprise to the proceedings, but maybe I spoke too was surprisingly good. There's a panel that suggests that this new iteration of the Thunderbolts, the quartet who survives/doesn't quit the first issue, plus another four they pick up at Ravencroft, could be an ongoing concern, and I, personally, am all for it. As long as Rosenberg and Ferreyra are at the helm, of course. 

The trade paperback collection, somewhat randomly, includes the one-shot King In Black: Marauders #1, featuring one of the half-dozen X-Men teams, this being the one where...they are pirates? Kitty Pryde even wears a pirate coat, as she commands a big, fancy-looking yacht that Iceman, Bishop and Pyro-with-a-terrible-face-tattoo all sail upon...?

This one's y Gerry Duggan, Luke Ross and Carlos Lopez, and is perhaps odd in that  the entire story is a digression. The team is apparently on its way to New York to save Cyclops and Storm, who have both been...somehow taken over and redesigned by the King In Black. On the way, they hear a distress signal from a boat being attacked by Venom dragons, and leave their mission to save it. And, um, that's the whole story; as to their original mission, I guess it gets picked up on in King In Black proper, or perhaps another X-Men-related tie-in to the crossover event? 

I found it somewhat instructive that the King In Black status quo from a series I'm not reading was easier to follow along with than the X-Men status quo from that series I'm not reading. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 14 (Viz Media) This volume contains what counts as a pretty dramatic development in the social and romantic lives of Komi's class at its climax, as gyaru Rumiko Manbagi admits to herself something that will have been apparent to readers since shortly after she was first introduced a few volumes ago—she has a crush on series hero Tadano, who seems pretty clearly destined for Komi (even if neither Tadano nor Komi can bring themselves to confess their feelings to one another).

More dramatically still, many other characters see Manbagi and Tadano having fun together at a summer festival, making the potential of a relationship between the two the topic of an entire chapter, as Tadano, Manbagi and Komi are all interrogated on the matter by various players. 

Despite the development, given the pace of manga-a Tomohito Oda's series and the relative guilelessness of Komi and Tadano, I don't suspect the development will alter the trajectory of Komi Can't Communicate too dramatically. 

Prior to the festival, this volume chronicles Komi and her brother's trip to visit their grandmother and cousin for Oban in the country (as well as brief glimpses of how the other characters celebrate Oban), Tadano teaching Komi how to ride a bike, the unspooling of the secret films that Najimi took of the test of courage/zombie prank and Tadano getting swept up into a meeting of the Riverside Dirty Mag Hunters Club. It also introduces a new younger sibling, Kitai's little sister Ai, in the volume's most frenetic story.

Peach Boy Riverside Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics) This riff on Japan's popular legend of Momotaro, the famed oni-slayer born of a peach, stars Saltherine, a sheltered young princess who yearns to leave her kingdom and journey the world, though her attempts to do so are always thwarted—and good thing, too, as the countryside is filled with dangerous monsters. 

One day she meets a  travelling boy so beautiful she mistakes him for a girl, a boy who proves to be spectacularly effective at dispatching ogres, like the army of them that are marching on Saltherine's kingdom. The boy, who introduces himself as Mikoto, seems to be Momotaro himself...or, at least, the real version of the legendary character. 

After Mikoto saves the kingdom and returns to his wandering, Saltherine makes up her mind that she really will leave the kingdom, telling her father of her determination, chopping off her long pigtails with a knife and thus abandoning "her womanhood."

On the road, she meets an anthropomorphic rabbit "demihuman" named Frau, who is drawn to resemble a Japanese school girl with a somewhat cartoony rabbit's head. Despite the fact that such demihumans are apparently feared and hated in this world, Saltherine adopts and protects her as a friend.

This too is lucky for her, it turns out, as when ogres attack them, Frau risks her life to protect her. In a climactic reveal, however, we learn that Sally might not need protection, as a mere idle blow from her takes an ogre's arm clean off, and the narration portentously asks, "What if the peach that drifted to Japan...was only one...among many?"

In Peach Boy Riverside, then, creators Coolkyousinnjya and Johanne seem to be telling an original, action-packed fantasy adventure inspired by, and perhaps even very loosely based on, an age-old Asian story. Not a bad strategy, really; I mean, look what Akira Toriyama did with Journey to the West!

It can sometimes be difficult to judge  manga series by their first volumes, just as it can be difficult to judge western comics by their first issues—although, I would contend, ideally it shouldn't be—and this series seems particularly difficult to judge, as it's final pages include a revelation that transforms all that came before and suggest a new and unexpected direction for the series.

I would read a second volume, if only to see where it's going. 


The Accursed Vampire (HarperCollins) In my Good Comics For Kids review of Madeline McGrane's winning graphic novel, I referred to the stripped-down design of the main character Drago as a cross between Charlie Brown and Max Shreck's Nosferatu, but another way of putting it would be that they are a John Porcellino drawing in a Raina Telgemeier world, if that makes sense. This is a really great comic, and would likely have an entry on my best-of-the-year list, if I still had the memory and wherewithal for best-of-the-year lists. I pulled out some favorite panels to highlight on Twitter. 

The American Bison (First Second) Cartoonist Andy Hirsch's latest non-fiction comic for First Second could scarcely come at a better time. Within a week of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its dire report, the one referred to as a "code red for humanity", I read his book on the history of the bison in North America, from prehistoric times to the present. It was quite comforting to read a true story in which humanity fucked up the natural world almost as badly as they could, and enough people got together to do the right thing and save the day, maybe not bringing things back to the way they were or should be, but at least staving off the worst case scenario, and slowly starting to move things in the right direction. In that respect, it was an inspiring story, and it just so happened to drop at a time when we need all the inspiring stories we can get. 

It's also, by the way, a perhaps counterintuitively fun, even occasionally funny book, owing a to Hirsch's great cartooning skills, and his way with a buffalo's expression. It's well worth spending some time with, whether you're in the young target audience or not. 

Justice League Unlimited: Girl Power (DC Comics) It can sometimes be hard to believe, but the comics industry really is changing for the better in some small ways. For example, take Justice League Unlimited: Girl Power, a 150-page trade paperback collecting stories for young readers featuring female protagonists. I find it all but impossible to imagine such a book being created today, in the year 2021, and not featuring a single female writer or artist. Yet the writers and artists of the book's half-dozen or so stories are, indeed, all male (Sure, the collection was put together and released this year, but the stories within were all originally created and published in various serial comic books between 1998 and 2008). 

So hey, that's something! It feels weird and wrong to have a bunch of dudes telling the stories of girls and young women in this book, and you could bet that were it commissioned today, it would be chock-full of female writers and artists, right?

Anyway, as to the quality of the stories, they are all pretty good. The two shorts from Steve Vance, John Delaney and Ron Boyd's Adventures in the DC Universe aren't their best work from the series, as those were originally back-ups to longer, better stories, and Dan Raspler's story about Queen from the Royal Flush Gang trying to go straight feels remarkably, oddly gritty for the Justice League cartoon universe, but these are all pretty good comics, offering done-in-ones starring Zatanna, Gypsy, Mary Marvel, Steel II and others.

For older readers like, um, me, it offers the same pleasures that the previous collections in the series have, like seeing a wide variety of entries from DC's character catalog appearing in roles big and small, as well as seeing how the writers and artists adapt older, bigger stories for a new audience (Like, for example, seeing how the crossover story arc of the Millennium Giants that ended the Electric Blue era of Superman of the late '90s gets smooshed down into a 22-page Natasha Irons story). 

And, as I said on Twitter, I hope that the inclusion of the Adventures in the DC Universe stories here doesn't preclude a complete collection of that series (and its annual!), which was awesome, and which I would love to be able to read in collected form some day


The Suicide Squad
The climax of 2016's Suicide Squad involved a giant column of light shooting up into the sky that had something to do with the demon brother of Cara Delevigne's Enchantress character. The climax of this summer's sequel The Suicide Squad involved Starro the Conqueror, the giant alien starfish from the Justice League's first appearance, 1960's The Brave and The Bold # 28. That alone should tell you quite a bit about what an improvement the film is, as well as its tone. 

I mention Starro right at the outset not simply because it's such a clear demonstration of the differences between the two Suicide Squads, because the idea of pitting the titular super-team against him seems to have been one of the earliest decisions that writer/director James Gunn made, or at least one of the earlier ones: At least two of the characters that appear in the film (and one of the running gags) are pretty clearly just there because of their role in defeating a seemingly invincible giant starfish monster (I suppose it helps that one of those character had no prior affiliation with any comic book iteration of the Suicide Squad at all).

Also pretty clear? Will Smith was at least hoped to return to his role as Deadshot; Idris Elba's Bloodsport is basically just Deadshot from the first film, with a different name and a slight accent; even the leverage that Viola Davis' Amanda Waller exerts over him to get him to reluctantly join the mission is similar to what she used on Deadshot, and would/could have continued to use in this one.

There are actually two Squads in the film, with one put together just to be killed off in the opening scenes, and are used as a distraction by Waller to get the film's "real" Squad into their position (You can probably guess which supervillain belongs on which team from the trailers alone, although it's worth noting that there are some genuine surprises among the many, many, many deaths of named characters in this film). The strategy does more than allow Gunn to use twice as many obscure and/or unlikely DC supervillains, it also demonstrates that no character is safe from a sudden, gory death, and it's incredibly effective; there are points where I was certain characters were about to die and they survived, and characters I was pretty confident would survive who are killed off. 

Despite toying with the structure of the film, and a few fun time-jumps, the plot is fairly simple. Waller sends two squads to the South American island nation of Corto Maltese amidst political upheaval. Their goal is to obliterate all signs of The Thinker Peter Capaldi's "Project Starfish" from within the fortress Valhalla. It's up to Bloodsport and Joel Kinnaman's Colonel Rick Flag to lead Harley Quinn, Peacemaker, The Polka-Dot Man, King Shark and Ratcatcher 2 deep into enemy territory, undercover and up against an army and, ultimately, a giant starfish. 

It's surprisingly good.

I've tried to avoid spoilers, even though the movie has been out about a month so far, but I have two fan-ish observations I want to make. First, Calendar Man makes a brief cameo (Making this both the Polka-Dot Man and Calendar Man's second feature film appearance, following The Lego Batman Movie); he's just seen among the prison population of Belle Reeve and he's identifiable by his Long Halloween-style tattoos, a look I'm not particularly fond of. Still, it was nice to be able to be sitting in a movie theater and say to myself, "Hey, Calendar Man!"

Second, they did Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang dirty...again. If you've read John Ostrander and company's original Suicide Squad comics, it's pretty clear that Boomerang is one of the main characters, and yet they squandered him in two films now...and it doesn't look like he'll be in a third one.  

The Secret Life of Trees author Peter Wohllenben's new book The Heartbeat of Trees (Greystone Books; 2021) is basically the same as  his previous books in terms of structure, voice and, of course, subject. That's a good thing, considering the quality of his previous books. Secret Life changed the way I thought about trees, to the point that I can no longer walk past them on the street without thinking of them as weird, practically alien entities, rather than just part of the background. This book only reinforces that. More here

The end pages of Brook Wilensky-Lanford's Paradise Lust: Searching For The Garden of Eden (Grove Press; 2011) feature a world map, noting the exact location of the Garden of Eden on it. Or the Gardens of Eden, I should say, as there are of 17 of them on the map. The premise of the book is that at various points throughout history, different men—and they are all, coincidentally or not, men—have imagined they have found or could find the mythical garden, and have located it in various places around the world. 

Each thoroughly, remarkably researched chapter follows one such man and quest to find Eden, or prove that they have found it. Surprisingly, not one but two different men have sited Eden as within Ohio. 

The first, mentioned in passing in the chapter of Boston University President (and Paradise Found! author)William Fairfield Warren, who said the Garden was at the North Pole; Boston University philologist George C. Allen agreed that it was at the North Pole, but, Wilensky-Lanford writes, "He claimed that the North Pole moves entirely around the world every 25,000 years, so 'careful mathematical computations bring the original paradise where Ohio now is."

The second was Reverend Edmund Landon West of Adams County, who believed the mysterious Serpent Mound in southern Ohio was erected to tell an earthform version of the story near Eden which was, of course, just nearby. 

After all the wild tales of Edens in the North Pole, Florida and all over the Middle East, all proposed and pursued by a variety of men, from simple armchair scholars to religious activists to adventurers, it actually comes as a dramatic surprise when the "real" Eden is eventually located and quite convincingly argued near the book. Doing so also reveals what the real original sin actually was: Agriculture. It was when humanity assumed the ability to plant their own food and thus control the environment that our downfall actually began, though it took many of hundreds of thousands of years to get us to the point of crisis that we are now at, where the ability to shape the world itself now threatens our ability to live on it. 

I can't recommend this book highly enough. 

Lord Dunsany's 1924 The King of Elfland's Daughter seems to be quite well-suited to an audiobook adaptation, which is how I encountered the fantasy. Dunsany's narration lends itself towards the poetic, and repeats phrases in full throughout—like "the fields we know" to refer to the human world, for example, or the title character's palace "that may be told of only in song"—that help give the entire novel something of a lyrical quality.

An extended examination and extrapolation of the concept that time moves differently in the realm of fairies then in the real world, the fairly loosely-plotted book features several quests that don't necessarily cohere, but are nevertheless charming and disarmingly emotionally potent. 

In the small kingdom of Erl, which it will eventually be revealed there's a good reason you've never heard of, the king sends his son Alveric from the fields we know to Elfland, there to secure as his wife the Princess Lirazel. Aided by a witch-forged magic sword, he survives the dangers and brings the Princess back. They are happily married and produce a son...or, at least, they are happily-ish married, as the elven woman never quite completely assimilates, and fails to ever take seriously the concerns of mortals, like religion and various customs. Her father, a powerful wizard, can't relinquish her to the mortal world, and eventually succeeds in bringing her back, leading Alveric on a second, fruitless quest for the now receded Elfland, and their son Orion to seek her in the forest, but to find hunting instead.

It's a really beautiful book that I do no justice in discussing with these few poor words.