Wednesday, December 01, 2021

A Month of Wednesdays: November 2021


Batman: The Long Halloween Special (DC Comics) It's been 21 years since the conclusion of Dark Victory, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's year-long sequel to The Long Halloween, itself a year-long series set in the same milieu as a trio of Legends of The Dark Knight Halloween specials the creative team produced between 1993 and 1995. 

As for this 48-page special, it is set after the events of The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, mentioning plot-points and continuing themes from both, but despite that, it more precisely echoes those three LDK specials, with a relatively minor villain making a big attack on Halloween night.

Here that villain is the Calendar Man, free of Arkham, where he spent the two Loeb/Sale series as a sort of Hannibal Lecter figure, and on a spectacular crime spree with two objectives, one as a sort of typical calendar theme, the other to get revenge against Two-Face for stealing his thunder with the Holiday murders (It's been a long time since I've revisited Long Halloween, but Dent was one of, what, three Holiday killers? Was that right?)

Unfortunately, Sale doesn't outfit Calendar Man in his costume, which he actually draws the hell out of (as seen in 1993 Shadow of The Bat arc, "The Misfits"), but in a simple robe, the months of the year tattooed around the crown of his head counting as his "costume," I guess; it's a little too bad, as the full red costume would have set this more squarely in the Silver Age than the "Year One" era with, like, eight Halloweens in it, but given that Calendar Man has inspired a sort of cult with acolytes and is based in a church here, I suppose this look is more fitting.

As for the plot, beyond the Calendar Man business, Gilda Dent goes looking for Harvey and finds him, something that will apparently be explored more in some future Loeb/Sale collaboration (the last panel includes a box reading "The End" and a scroll just below it reading "For Now..."), and Batman and Gordon continue to ruminate on their alliance with Harvey Dent and how it was broken. Meanwhile, Robin is just starting to get involved in Batman's crime-fighting.

It was obviously a blast to see the Loeb/Sale team again. Loeb takes a lot of heat for a lot his writing, much of which can, admittedly, be quite bad. He's always done his best work with Sale on Batman, though, something I thought might have had to do with his editor, the late Archie Goodwin, but this is still quite good, and Goodwin obviously isn't around (Ben Abernathy is the editor, and there's a nice "special thanks" given to Goodwin). 

If I can nit-pick one thing, I'd say that I wish the back cover design was the basis of the actual cover, as it would be more in keeping with the LDK Halloween specials, the first two of which had jack o' lanterns based on the particular villains of those comics, The Scarecrow and The Mad Hatter. 
Actually, if I could nitpick two things, I think having Barbara go trick-or-treating dressed as Batgirl is a little much—"No one will ever believe this..." Gordon says seemingly to the readers when her costume is revealed—as it wouldn't make her secret identity all that secret when she eventually becomes Batgirl in a few more years.

Overall though, this was a lot of fun, and I sure wouldn't mind if Loeb/Sale Halloween one-shots became an annual traditions again, or if we get a follow-up to Dark Victory involving the Dents, as this issue seems to suggest, if not promise*. 

Deadpool: Black, White and Blood #4 (Marvel Entertainment) I'm not exactly sure how this random issue of the limited palette Deadpool anthology series ended up in my pull-file at my local comic shop. The random issue of the limited palette Deadpool anthology series that I wanted was #3, the issue with the Stan Sakai contribution in it. So either I mistakenly told my local comic shop to order the wrong one, or they proceeded to order the wrong one. Buying comics is incredibly hard! That's why I do less and less of it.

While I'm bummed I'll have to wait on the Sakai Deadpool story, I wasn't too upset to receive this one, as it does contain a Mike Allred story (and cover!), and I've never regretted reading a Mike Allred-drawn comic.

The Allred story opens with Deadpool asleep in an empty theater playing an X-Statix movie, in full-color, when Doop slips a special pair of high-tech looking glasses over his eyes; from there he "wakes up" in what appears to be a different dimension, where everything is black and white and red. Lighter on jokes than the preceding two stories, it nevertheless has a solid premise and it's always great to see Allred drawing Marvel characters.

It's been something like 20 years since Doop first appeared, and I still haven't been able to decipher Doop speak... (Oh hey! I just checked and it's actually been 20 years exactly! Why was there no big Doop anniversary special, Marvel? Maybe start planning down for 2026's 25th anniversary of Doop now!). 

The Allred story is preceded by two others; Chistopher Yost and Martin Coccolo's "Cherry" and Sanshiro Kasama and Hikaru Uesugi's "Samurai Version."

The first is probably the most typical Deadpool comic, with the character talking a mile a minute, narrating his adventure in fourth-wall-breaking dialogue (and commenting on the color choices throughout) and then ultimately facing an utterly ridiculous threat that I won't spoil here. Pretty great use of the limited palette, though.

The second is, according to a one-page introduction, is " a special story from the Deadpool Samurai team," published in Japan. It was apparently free online and was, according to Deadpool, "the most-read comic all over the world in 2020," but, um, I obviously didn't read it. It doesn't seem necessary to follow the story, such as it is; a goofy-looking fighter challenges Deadpool to a fight and loses. The manga style is a fun departure from what we normally see in a Marvel comic, but there isn't otherwise much to it. 

Deadpool Black, White & Blood #3 (Marvel) Wait, the number three comes before the number four, so why am I reviewing the third issue of this limited-palette Deadpool anthology series after the fourth issue? Well, because in my write-up of the fourth issue I had already complained how I got it on accident, and I was really trying to get this one. Look, this feature's not a perfect system, okay? Anyway, thanks to Midtown Comics, I was able to secure a copy of the Stan Sakai-having issue of the series, even though my local shop was out of 'em. Sadly, though, I couldn't get a copy with a Sakai variant cover; those must be special.

Anyway, I got it. 

Seeing the great Sakai draw human beings rather than anthropomorphic animals is a rare enough thing that it always seems like an extreme treat to me. His story, the third in the issue (do they always save the best for last, I guess?), is entitled "The Perfect Ones," and features a series of battles in which Deadpool engages various enemies using various weapons; he wins each fight, but finds the weapons wanting. At least until the last sequence, in which he acquires his familiar swords.

It's preceded by two more typical Deadpool stories. 

The first, "The Worst Convent in the World," is written by Jay Baruchel and drawn by Paco Medina, and has Deadpool engaged in a particularly goofy quest while Baruchel runs with the voices-in-his-head gag that I find particularly annoying.

The second, "The Bet," is written by Frank Tieri and drawn by Takashi Okazaki, and features Deadpool and Bullseye talking shop as they fight their way through room after room of ridiculously over-the-top security in order to get to their target: Ninjas, zombies, well-armed monkeys, actual sharks with actual laser beams, etc. One's mileage may vary—I'm not much of a Deadpool fan, personally—but the set-up gives Okazaki a lot to draw in  extremely detailed, gorgeous black and white (the red is mostly limited to Deadpool's costume and all the blood), and Tieri manages to a cute gag ending. 

JLA: Destiny #1-4 (DC) Between my local comic shop and Midtown I was able to secure all four issues of this intriguing-sounding series in the same month. I already wrote at some length about it here though, so I won't repeat myself in this post. 


Four-Fisted Tales: Animals In Combat (Dead Reckoning) Ben Towle's fascinating non-fiction comic book on the history of animals in war addresses the subject matter in two different ways. There are a few chapters where the book becomes heavily-illustrated prose (the discussion of horses in combat and the history of mascots), and there are chapters where particular animals or particular species have their adventures dramatized in comics form. Both strategies result in highly-rewarding work. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 1 (Viz Media) Much of the latest volume of my favorite comic is devoted to the introduction of a new character, Kiyoko Isagi, a cold and fastidious young woman who is running for school president on a platform of cleaning up the school. Can Komi, Tadano and company help her overcome her social anxieties? Of course they can, and Komi gets another name on her list of 100 friends. 

While the Isagi storyline is diverting enough, it leaves little room for the romantic triangle that has emerged between Tadano, Komi and Manbagi, with only a few  hints of Manbagi's feelings for Tadano and her trademark treatment of him with rage whenever he's nice to her coming near the end of the book.

The Joker Vol. 1 (DC Comics) Villain-starring comics are notoriously hard to pull off, no matter how popular said villain is, so how are James Tynion IV and Guillem March expected to keep a Joker ongoing series going, particularly when their subject is obviously irredeemable and thus unlikely to drift to the side of the heroes in the way that, say, Venom or Catwoman or Harley Quinn have in their titles?

Well, for starters, The Joker might be the title character and the subject of the book, but he's not the protagonist; retired police commissioner James Gordon is. The Joker disappeared after the events of "The Joker War" in Batman (the Joker eight-pager from Batman: The Joker War Zone by Tynion and March  runs in the back of this volume) as he usually does after a big storyline that doesn't end with him back in Arkham Asylum, but he seems.

Un-usually, he seems to have set-off another big terrorist attack on his way out the door, the A-Day gas-bombing of Arkham that claimed the lives of 500 people and (temporarily, one supposes) Bane, as seen in Infinite Frontier #0 and the pages of Batman. That is what inspired a group of mysterious, extremely wealthy people to hire Gordon to hunt down and execute The Joker, a job he reluctantly takes (while keeping the whole executing part away from Batman and Oracle, who will be helping him from afar as he goes out of country). 

He's not the only one after The Joker though. It looks like a cannibal family inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a new, female Bane are also looking for vengeance on The Joker because of the A-Day attack, and they all find him at once before this volume ends. 

As I said, Tynion's script seems to be about The Joker without always featuring him on the page directly as a character. He's so permeated Gordon's life that he haunts him (and March draws some damn scary images of The Joker t hat Gordon sees when he closes his eyes), and Tynion plays with some ideas about The Joker, like the fact that there are secret "resorts" for super-villains to retire to between story arcs, and Gordon's decision to search for The Joker when he's essentially hibernating between big story arcs. 

March does his usual incredible job on the artwork, from the few panels of superheroes we see, to the beautiful  young woman, to the rough-looking older men to the various Jokers, the "real" one we see on the page, the Brian Bolland-inspired one we see in flashbacks to The Killing Joke, and the hallucinatory ones that plague Gordon. 

There's only one issue that March doesn't pencil, and that's a flashback to the "Year One" era beautifully drawn by Francesco Francavilla, doing a bit of a David Mazzuchelli homage (the appearance of Jeremiah Arkham in this story seems to contradict re-established continuity, but otherwise this all seems to make sense in the new, de-rebooted continuity, which keeps only Barbara's spinal implant from The New 52). 

Perhaps my favorite part of the volume, however, comes in one of it's many wanderings away from the main plot to dwell on something related but not necessarily propulsive: The Joker visiting Arkham to tell-off Bane, who had been recaptured after the end of Tom King's long (too long!) run on Batman. It is essentially The Joker criticizing Bane for the way in which he killed Alfred, doing so in front of Robin rather than in front of Batman, but it also reads like Tynion criticizing King for the way he wrote the climax of his run. 

Superman: The One Who Fell (DC) This collection of four issues of Superman and one issue of Action Comics by writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and pencil artists Phil Hester and Scott Godlewski is the first time I've read any Superman since the first volume or two of Brian Michael Bendis' run on the character, so I'm pretty out of the loop.

That said, Johnson's writing was clear enough that I never felt alienated from the plot; like, I might not know exactly why Jonathan Kent is so much older now, but it apparently has something to do with his spending time with the Legion of Super-Heroes in the far future, as a plot point running through the two storylines here is that Jon knows from future history books that his father's time is limited, and that he disappears from the historical record rather soon-ish.

It's a rather literal, particularly super-comics way of depicting a young person's gradual realization that their parents won't actually be around forever, and that they're actually mortal.

That's the main focus of  the first two issues in the collection, Superman #29 and Action Comics #1029, during with Superman and son deal with an extra-dimensional incursion of some kind of alien space monsters that seem capable of hurting Superman but not Jon. Those are the issues drawn by Hester and inker Eric Gapstur and, if I'm being honest, are the main reason I picked up the book (that, and curiosity about what's going on in the Super-books since Bendis' departure). 

That's followed by a three-issue arc drawn by Scott Godlewski which takes Superman and son to a distant alien planet where Superman apparently saved the day at some point in the past, and where he has been called back to help an old ally deal with the resumption of the original threat. Johnson compares the alien leader and his son's relationship to that Superman and Jonathan to decent effect, and the art is fine, but it is ultimately quite clear that this arc, and indeed all of the comics in this book, are something of place-holding comics, taking up page space before the next status quo comes to pass, that which sends Superman off-world and sees Jon taking over the role of Superman on Earth (it's somewhat hinted at in passing in the first story, where we see Mongul on the last page after a dramatic build-up).


Batman and Robin and Howard (DC Comics) The prolific Jeffrey Brown takes on the Dynamic Duo in this rather unique book, which focuses on Damian Wayne not so much as Robin, sidekick to Batman, but as junior high student and son of Bruce Wayne. It's honestly one of the best Damian comics I've ever read, and while I suppose it's technically out-of-continuity, there's relatively little in it that dictates it would have to be (Damian has a different dog than he does in the other comics, for example, but, um, that's about it, really). I wouldn't be too terribly surprised—and would, in fact, be rather delighted—if Howard turned up in some DCU comics eventually. Damian can use a best friend, after all, especially now that Jon Kent has been hyper-aged through time-travel nonsense to be much older than him.

Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge: World of the Dragonlords (Fantagraphics) The latest from Fantagraphics' Disney Masters series is a European import of an epic adventure set in a fantasy world, courtesy of Byron Erickson and Giorgio Cavazzano. One of the most purely entertaining comics I've read in a while, I can't recommend it highly enough

*Actually, given how thoroughly Loeb and Sale have documented their versions of Batman's Rogues' Gallery circa the Year One era of Legends of The Dark Knight, you know what might be more fun? If we jumped ahead a year or two to when Batman meets Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League heroes for the first time. Long Halloween and Dark Victory chronicled the transition of crime in Gotham City from traditional dirty cops and gangsters to colorful costume freaks. What might be the next step? How about Batman's career transitioning to urban vigilante to national superhero, with each issue seeing him meet a new fellow hero, just as each issue of the last two series focused on a different Gotham villain; if you stuck to just his fellow founding Justice Leaguers that would obviously only get you half-way through a year, but it wouldn't be hard to come up with six more heroes. Let's see, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel/Shazam, Elongated Man and Hawkman...there, that's 12! Or heck, maybe you only need 11 and the final issue would be the formation of the Justice League...? I don't know, but I'd love to see Sale's versions of all those other heroes...

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