I read almost all of these in comic book-comic book form when they were originally released, the lone exception being #483, a Moench/Aparo issue that didn't look that great (and, indeed, didn't turn out to be that great after all, even though I've now learned to appreciate Aparo's work; I wasn't a fan of it as a teenager, preferring the more expressive and expressionistic art of Breyfogle).
Let's take a closer look at what we've got here, shall we?
• Three-issue arc "The Return of Scarface" included two issues of Batman, #475 and #476, plus an issue of Detective, #642, all written by Grant, with pencil art duties divided between Breyfogle, who drew the issues of Batman, and Aparo, who drew the issue of 'Tec.
The thoroughly insane Ventriloquist has been sprung from jail by a very talented lawyer, and his mob boss puppet Scarface, the "grains" behind the operation, is apoplectic to find his nightclub closed and his turf taken over by biker gang the Street Demonz. In a face to face, the bikers fill the puppet full of lead, seemingly "killing" Scarface and freeing the Ventriloquist...for a bit.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne struggles with the fact that on-again, off-again girlfriend Vicki Vale is pulling away from him, and wonders if he should reveal his secret identity to her or not—something he does in a dream sequence, and on the cover of #476, an undoubtedly strong image from Breyfogle. (Bruce Wayne will ultimately decide against it when he sees Sgt. Essen almost rush into an exploding building to try to save the man she loves, Commissioner Gordon).
It's a pretty great examination of the character of The Ventriloquist and what makes him so neat, going still further than before in teasing that The Ventriloquist and Scarface are two completely different personalities and, as giant henchman Rhino seems to believe, Scarface lives completely independently of the guy whose arm he's usually perched upon.
It is also a great showcase of Breyfogle's skills at drawing his Batman, a liminal figure that exists on a spectrum between a human being and a blot of jagged, angry shadow. There are a few panels in this that I still remember clearly from reading them the first time, some 30 years ago.
•"A Gotham Tale" is a two-part fill-in arc is by John Wagner, who was Alan Grant's original co-writer when Grant began his collaboration with Breyfogle on Detective Comics, and artist Cam Kennedy. It takes its name from The Canterbury Tales, which provides some loose form of inspiration for one aspect of the story.
That story involves a pair of scientists who discovered an ancient alchemical formula to turn human beings into "the stone man," a hideous yellow, bat-winged gargoyle. The gargoyle went on a killing spree, and despite the best efforts of Batman, who crossed paths with it several times, the creature's reign of terror continued...until the culprit was seemingly found dead.
Wagner employs an extremely interesting strategy for telling the tale, however. Batman attempts to foil a robbery of a museum, and, when the robbers take a hostage, he surrenders, and he and two others are locked in a safe with an elaborate time-lock. Without enough air to support three living people for as many hours as it would take to have the vault broken into, Batman makes a drastic—and, yes, rather un-Batmanly—suggestion. He pulls out a couple of tranquilizer darts, notes that anyone poked with all three of them would die, and then says they should all tell a tale, and whoever "wins" gets to live.
The tale of the gargoyle thus emerges in the stories told by the pair, the daughter of one of the scientists and the other scientist.
It's a pretty compelling, genuinely suspenseful story, thanks in large part to the unusually complex structure, even if one aspect of it will seem rather immediately apparent to readers.
As good as the script is, as compelling as Kennedy's artwork, colored by Adrienne Roy, is, I confess it was the extremely cool covers by Tom Taggart that drew me to these issues when I bought them off the rack decades ago, and still somewhat overshadow the story.
In fact, that's basically the point of the Superman and Robin Special, a 40-page, $6.99 one-shot in which the two characters essentially just get together after some time apart to catch up and share another adventure, being superheroes as they are. This involves Robin breaking into the Kents' apartment to tell Jon something's up at the Fortress of Solitude, and the two going to investigate, where they find something is indeed up; a maguffin from previous adventures has brought a fast-growing monster into the fortress, followed by Nazis from The War That Time Forgot.
There's actually not much more to the book than that. Just as it shows the heroes taking the opportunity to catch up and hang out with one another after some time apart, it also offers readers a chance to hang out with the creators and characters as well, now that there isn't a regular Super Sons book on the shelf (their latest miniseries, Challenge of the Super Sons, will be released in trade this spring).
As such, it's a lot of fun for those who have read many of those past Super Sons comics (and/or Tomasi's past Superman or Batman and Robin comics), and if any reader starts here for some reason and likes what they see, well, there's a small library of Tomasi-written comics featuring these characters together and apart that this can be followed up with, much of which stands the test of time (some of the Superman material will be...weird, given the contortions it went through to make sense of post-New 52 Superman continuity, all of which is now more or less moot, right?)
Bogdanovic wasn't my favorite-ever Super Sons artist, but there's a Jorge Jiminez cover of the the guys, looking all grown-up now.
"World War She-Hulk" seemingly wraps up another pair of long-running sub-plots in writer Jason Aaron's ongoing series—specifically, the threat posed by rivals to the Avengers, Russia's Winter Guard and Namor's Defenders of the Deep—in much the same way that the Heroes Reborn series brought the Squadron Supreme of America plot to a boil and then climax.
In that regard, it can't help but seem a little disappointing. Sure, it's presented as a big turning point for Jennifer Walters, moving her back to her more familiar She-Hulk portrayal from that of the Hulk, but female version Aaron has used thus far (likely dictated by outside events, like an upcoming She-Hulk TV series that will necessitate a more familiar iteration of the character in the comics). Aaron (and Marvel) made the climax of the Squadron Supreme sub-plot into a mini-event series, complete with extraneous, superfluous tie-ins. But the Winter Guard/Namor sub-plot? It just gets an arc of the regular series.
For what it's worth, the Winter Guard kidnap She-Hulk from Avengers Mountain—Gorilla-Man's status as a double-agent for the Russians finally reaching fruition—and imprisons her in a "Red Room," the assassin-making program that the Black Widow and this book's Red Widow came from. This is meant to brainwash her into a Russian assassin of some sort and, in the process, turns her skin from green to red and her hair from dark green to blonde. I can sorta see a silly sense in the skin-color as an anvil-subtle sort of comic book symbolism that she's under Russian control now (she's so communist, she's literally red!), but as for the blonde thing, I don't know.
Anyway, they sic her on Atlantis as a sort of patsy, as they also intend to detonate a gamma bomb on the underwater city.
The plan doesn't work, of course, but we get some typically cool shit out of the sequence, like Thor creating an underwater thunder storm, for example, and Jen sucks in so much energy and releases it that she resumes her earlier, Sensational She-Hulk look and personality...and penchant for covered nudity.
The over-sized #50/#750 is all over the place, in terms of time and space, but it includes a time-traveling then space-faring Ka-Zar, the B.C. Avengers, a new, multiversal Masters of Evil and new recruits in the form of Deathlok, Valkyrie and maybe Namor (I certainly hope so!). In other words, Marvel's biggest, craziest run of Avengers comics continues to be big and crazy.
Javier Garron drew the majority of "World War She-Hulk", while five artists including Garron and on-again, off-again Avengers artist Ed McGuinness contributed to the final issue/chapter. That final issue includes a weird back-up that doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything, in which The Mighty Thor teams-up with pre-sword-in-the-stone Arthur to fight some Brood for 11-pages, courtesy of Christopher Ruocchio, Steve McNiven and Frank D'Armata, and a rather neat two-page, cutaway map of Avengers Mountain.
In the first volume, he meets Yuuna and her housemates, saves Yuuna from a monk, watches the girls reveal their extraordinary abilities when they fend off an army of monks, and begins his first day high school, a major milestone for him that is complicated by Yuuna coming along and inadvertently causing problems.
Second, shouldn't Luke, who is essentially reinventing the idea of what a Jedi is at this point in time, be familiar with the basic outline of his dad's life, even if he didn't witness it in the same way Ahsoka or Obi-Wan did? Didn't his own life teach him that inter-personal attachments are more important than Jedi monasticism, as when he abandoned his training on Dagobah to go help Leia, Han and company on Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back—where would the galaxy have been if he hadn't?—or when he managed to convince his dad to side with him, his son, over the Emperor at the climax of Return of The Jedi...?
One wishes the scene wouldn't have occurred at all, then. The only cost would have been a joke, which doesn't quite land successfully anyway due to the weird nature of the not-really-a-flash (Heck, if she would have flashed her bra it would have been more natural, or even just asked, "Would it help if I showed you my tits?").