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. 

1 comment:

J. Bencomo said...

Frankly, and speaking from a foreigner's perspective, all of the US presidents are just as bad to us. It's not like your country has ever done anything for us in any case, anyway.