Dark Crisis: Young Justice #1 (DC Comics)
This was an accident. I had mistakenly thought this was a one-shot tie-in to the current event series, rather than the first issue of a mini-series, and I had ordered it before realizing it was likely going to be something that would be collected in trade eventually anyway. (As to how
I made this mistake, I don't know; it's not like I don't rather carefully read DC's solicitations each month in order to write about them
...I guess my reading comprehension isn't that great? Bad news for a semi-professional comics critic!)
My curiosity was more powerful than my patience, though, so once I had the book in hands I had to read it, even if I now knew I'd be re-reading the pages at some point in the future, when I read the whole series in trade.
It's plot is super-simple. The Justice League has apparently all just died—or "died", anyway; DC doesn't seem too committed to the big event, given that there's seemingly no interruption in, say, their Batman comics starring Batman—and some of the original members of Young Justice have all gathered as part of the big group funerals. These are Robin Tim Drake, Superboy Conner Kent/Kon-El, Impulse Bart Allen, Wonder Girl Cassie Sandsmark and former Arrowette Cissie King-Jones.
While they are all milling around in the same room, Cassie wishes Robin, Superboy and Impulse would just go away, and they suddenly disappear, reappearing back in their original costumes in the point in their continuity that would have occurred in the mid-1990s, the earlier days of the original Young Justice run.
Cassie is the only one who seems to notice and/or care, as all the other heroes are pretty involved in their own lives now that the Justice League is dead (or, again, "dead") and have more pressing matters on their minds than making sure Robin, Superboy and Impulse are okay (the prevailing view among the other heroes is that they've just gone off on their own to mourn in their own ways).
And...that's the first issue, really. The boys are aware that something weird has happened and they have awoken sometime in their own pasts, but have little time to process the mystery before getting wrapped up in a Young Justice adventure...during which they are rescued by Wonder Girl, looking as she did early in their history. So it looks like there are two Cassies in the comic's story.
It's written by Meghan Fitzmartin, who has become the official Tim Drake scribe after her work on his recent stories in Batman: Urban Legends, and the scripting is fine, no worse than previous Young Justice writers Brian Michael Bendis or Peter David would have done, really, though perhaps lighter on jokes (and/or "jokes") than the latter might have come up with.
There are only two weird elements. The first is that Fitzmartin seems to ignore the latest incarnation of Young Justice, the Wonder Comics iteration written by Bendis, given that characters who were part of the once-again active team like Teen Lantern and Amethyst (and Spoiler and Red Tornado and so on) are all MIA, and Cassie's narration seems to excise all of that from the status quo, talking about the team and its members only as if they were active as Young Justice a long time ago, rather than, you know, just recently. (Like, last month or so in DCU time, probably).
The other is the mention of the fact that Impulse and Superboy have both died before, which isn't an indictment of the plotting here so much as of DC comics in general. It's kind of silly that characters are even in mourning over the "death" of their mentors (most of whom have also died and come back to life before as well) when half of the mourners have similarly died themselves, only to get better. It's actually kind of surprising death is taken seriously at all in the DCU, and that no one in the room pointed out that surely the Justice Leaguers will be back, given that it's not like death is a life sentence or anything. (This seems to be a problem with Dark Crisis in general, given that the premise seems to be what happens to the DCU if you remove the Justice League via killing them off temporarily).
The art is by Laura Braga and it is perfectly fine.
It's a bit of a tease having original Young Justice artist Todd Nauck draw the variant cover, a fine character-stuffed image detailing the whole history of the first volume of the series, instead of drawing the interiors...or even just the parts of the interiors set in the mid-90s that some of the team disappeared to. That would have been an ideal pairing of artist and material.
DC Pride 2022 #1 (DC)
Take a moment to look at the cover of this year's DC Pride anthology. Who do you see? Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Robin and Superman—well, versions
of each of the biggest characters in DC's stable, anyway, and all of them are LGBTQ+. That's something. In fact, DC has done so much to increase the representation among their characters that former top-tier queer characters like Batwoman and Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn don't even make the cover (they're in the anthology, though) and Green Lantern Alan Scott and Obsidian* aren't needed at all to help fill the 90+ pages.
The best story in the collection is the one that's not set in the DCU at all, and in fact, comes with a two-paragraph "advisory to readers" about its use of a gay slur, and a sort of explanation for why it's here at all...it does stand-out. It's a nine-page memoir comic written by Kevin Conroy—best known as the voice of Batman on Batman: The Animated Series—and beautifully drawn in black and white by J. Bone. Called "Finding Batman", it's about Conroy's sometimes troubled time as an actor, in which his identity as a gay man was sometimes used against him, and how he eventually got the role of Batman. Importantly, it's how he "got" Batman, by channeling the personal pain of his own life into Batman's tragedy, and how he could relate to a man who had two voices, each attached to one of the personalities or masks he had to wear to make it through his world.
It's a pretty powerful story, and a provides a great bookend to the introduction penned by actress Nicole Maines (Dreamer on Supergirl, and the writer of a short story in last year's Pride anthology), in which she rightly acknowledges that the publishing of comics can be a political act, and it's nice to see DC is aware of this and is wearing its politics on its sleeve, at least in books like this one (And those starring many of the characters within this anthology elsewhere).
What falls between these two quality pieces? Here's a breakdown...
"Super Pride" by Devin Grayson and Nick Robles
Robin Damian Wayne attends his first Pride parade with his best friend Superman Jon Kent and Jon's boyfriend, Jay. Typically fun Super Sons proceedings, although Damian is a little out-of-step ("Pride was originally a riot," the over-prepared Damian says. "You can't go to a riot without a gas mask, Jon.")
"Confessions" by Stephanie Williams and Meghan Hetrick
Amazons Nubia and Io share a moment together in which Nubia tells the weaponeer how she really broke a sword a long time ago when she joined Big Barda and The Babes of Bodyslam (an editorial note refers readers back to 1991's Mister Miracle #25
"Think of Me" by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt
Green Arrow Connor Hawke, fresh off his appearances in Robin, takes on the Music Meister while writing a letter to his mother about his sexuality. The creators, who share a "story" credit, do a pretty fine job of handling superhero stuff and emotional content, largely through the tried and true practice of dividing them into two parallel paths; Connor fights a supervillain and his henchmen in the art, while the narration boxes tackle Connor's coming out as "asexual."
That works okay for the character. His sexuality has always been something of an open question—though creator Chuck Dixon did have him sleep with a woman at one point, seemingly to head-off all the "Is he gay?" questioning—stemming from the fact that he was raised in a monastery and had little access to the opposite sex (It also provided a nice contrast to his more outgoing and famously linked to Black Canary predecessor and father, Oliver Queen). Here he seems to have come to the realization, and is confessing it to his mother, in a letter he writes and rewrites but never sends.
I don't know if this is the true plight of all asexuals or what, but this story struck me as terribly lonely and almost tragic. Connor writes:
I want to HOLD HANDS and watch movies with someone.
I want them to COME HOME and tell me about their awesome day.
I wan t them to wait for me while I JUMP OFF ROOFTOPS chasing down LADY SHIVA.
I want someone to share ICE CREAM with after I get PRESS-GANGED into a bananas IMMORTALITY ISLAND MURDER TOURNAMENT where I'm forced to fight a LITERAL DEMON.
I want to share MYSELF.
It's Just so hard, when sharing yourself is SO OFTEN ASSUMED to mean your BODY as well as your soul.
Dating is so goddam hard, I can't imagine doing so while also having the caveat that you don't want there to be a sexual aspect to the relationship as well. Connor mentions how hard it is, and well, I don't know, this story just sort of broke my heart a little. Partly because of my affection for the character, and partly because his plight seems so...damned. This being comics, chances are it will work out for him just fine at some point, but for real people who feel the way he does, demisexuals and asexuals, well, finding a soul mate who shares that one caveat with you seems...fraught. And dating is so goddam fraught as it is, you know?
Pretty great art on this one, too. Damian appears briefly at the end, and it seems the pair are involved in an ongoing investigations stemming from the events of Robin, so hopefully we'll be seeing more of Connor in the near-ish future.
"Up At Bat" by Jadzia Axelrod and Lynne Yoshii
A badly wounded Batgirl Barbara Gordon seeks out Alysia Yeoh, a supporting character from the "Batgirl of Burnside" run on the character (a transwoman), while Killer Moth closes in on her. This is an interesting story for the collection in that Yeoh's identity is not at all the focus of the story; it's a straight-in super-comic story in which one of the character's just happens to be trans ("Please, I'm a trans woman in Gotham," she says when brandishing a baseball bat decorated with the trans flag's colors, "Of course I have a weapon.")
The art on this one stands out as particularly great, in a book full of pretty great art, and I really dug Yoshii's version of Killer Moth, as well as the creators' well-worn riff on the "bat" character...
"A World Kept Just For Me" by Alyssa Wong and W. Scott Forbes
Aqualad Aquaman Jackson Hyde has a sort of elaborate date with an Atlantean in which they show each other around their hometowns. That means Jackson sees the underwater city of Xebel, but then takes his date to New Mexico. Nice, gauzy, somewhat-dreamy art on this one.
"The Gumshoe In Green" by Tini Howard and Evan Cagle
A black-and-white-and-green Far Sector story in which Green Lantern Sojourner Mullein is hired by a plant lady to watch her plant husband, who she suspects is cheating on her, told in the style of a generic detective story. There's a point to be made about the bisexual stereotype of sluttiness and willpower.
"Public Display of Electromagnetism" by Greg Lockard and Giulio Macaione
This is a weird one. It stars The Ray and the characters of the Justice League OF America from Steve Orlando's short-lived series, and I suppose it's meant to be set in the past, when that team was still active, rather than the present....? At least, they're shown operating out of the Sanctuary base in Happy Harbor, which is where Young Justice set up their HQ in the more recent but also concluded Young Justice.
It involves Ray's skittishness about kissing his boyfriend in front of his teammates. I still have a hard time seeing Ray as gay, given how incredibly straight he was during his own title in the '90s. In fact, the very last issue of The Ray I read was an "Underworld Unleashed" tie-in, and had Ray in panic-mode when he discovered the woman he thought he kissed was actually the male Neron in a shape-shifted disguise.
Pretty solid art on this one, and I always did love The Ray character's design.
"Bat's In The Cradle" by Stephanie Phillips and Samantha Dodge
Batwoman rescues her father. Not much to this one, really, although I thought it worth noting that Batwoman was front and center at the last Pride anthology's cover, and here she's relegated to a five-page story.
"Special Delivery" by Travis Moore
What's in the box? Spoiler alert: It's a cake. Robin Tim Drake tries to get to his first Pride parade dressed as Robin for some reason, where he plans to present his boyfriend Bernard with the present. A pair of lame supervillains tries to stop him. I've...ruined the story just by describing the plot. Sorry.
"The Hunt" by Dani Fernandez and Zoe Throrgood
I really liked the art in this Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story, where they battle versions of each other for...well, it doesn't really make any goddam sense. But it's pretty!
"Are You Ready For This?" by Fanny Lore, Ivan Cohen and Brittney Williams
The great Brittney Williams draws a story of the Earth-11 hero Kid Quick and Teen Justice, who will be getting their own limited series shortly. The art's great, but it's hard for me to get too interested in these multiversal teams.
All and all, it's a pretty solid production, so much so that I sort of wish DC would publish a Pride monthly series, something akin to Batman: Urban Legends, but featuring all of their many, many LGBTQ+ characters by LGBTQ+ creators. They certainly have a deep enough bench of characters now, so many of whom can or at least have carried their own titles that it's not hard to imagine such a book selling enough to justify its own existence, as traditionally difficult as it is to sell anthologies these days.
DC Pride: Tim Drake Special #1 (DC)
The four short stories from the pages of Batman: Urban Legends
collected here are important ones.
I say this not because they deal with Robin Tim Drake realizing he's bisexual and starting to date an old classmate of his; Batman and Robin comics have never been romance comics, and Tim's sexual orientation has never been a focus of his adventures, despite the sub-plots involving romance with his former girlfriends Arianna and Stephanie.
Nor do I say this because Tim's coming out garnered mainstream media attention, with articles noting the change.
No, it's clear these are important comics because DC collected them in a special mini-collection, rather than just reprinting them in the trade collections of Urban Legends. I know they're important because DC insists they are important.
They were right to do so, too. I didn't read Urban Legends and wasn't really particularly interested in picking them up in trade either, but I was interested in this major life change in my old pal Tim Drake, who was introduced in the comics at the same time I started reading comics.
The comics are the work of writer Meghan Fitzmartin, a newcomer with few stories under her belt, and artists Belen Ortega and Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque. They are...okay. The main problem with the work is that it is a superhero comic and not a romance comic or a drama, and so Tim Drake realizing that he likes a boy and is therefore bisexual is grounded in a superhero story with crimes and villains and fighting. For such a dramatic moment in the long life of the Tim Drake character, it's not even the focus of the story, but something that happens in the background of a rather generic superhero story.
In the two-part "Sum of Our Parts," Tim is investigating the disappearances of teenagers in Gotham. The victims have little in common save for their ages and the fact that they're all at a point in their lives where they're still trying to figure themselves out—just like Tim! He eventually stumbles upon a pain cult preying on the teens. In the meantime, he has dinner with an old friend from school named Bernard (an editorial box notes that this is "Bernard Dowd-- Last Seen In Robin Vol. 2 #140"; I have no memory of the character, and looking it up, I see that was rather late in the title's existence, during Bill Willingham's run). Bernard ends up getting kidnapped by the cult, giving Tim extra incentive to try and crack the case, which he does by going undercover.
Along the way, Tim realizes he has feelings for Bernard. The story ends with Tim showing up at his house and Bernard asking, "Tim Drake...Do you want to go on a date with me?" Tim replies, "Yeah...yeah, I think I want that."
The story lacked a bit of polish and could have maybe used a heavier editorial hand—there's a moment in the narration that contradicts itself at one point, for example, and another where Tim refers being handed the "cowl" of Robin—but it's fine for what it is, and the romantic/relationship stuff is all handled well. As I said, it would have been better if it were all romantic/relationship stuff, but doing away with villains and fighting in a superhero comics, even a short one that's part of an anthology series, is apparently still too daring for super-comics makers.
The collection includes two other short stories. The first of these is "A Carol of Bats," in which Tim worries about Batman's mental state and gets him involved in a case while trying to figure out if he can make him happy. It's a rather sweet story, and one in which the superhero and the emotional are better balanced, I think. As for the "pride" content, it involves Tim telling Batman about Bernard. This one's drawn by Jimenez Albuquerque, who has a more distinct style than Ortega.
Ortega returns for the final story in the collection, "The Elephant In The Room," in which Tim, Superboy and Impulse are tangling with a ghostly white elephant that is only intermittently tangible is ramapaging through Gotham. That's just a maguffin though—and one that's never adequately explained—the real point of the story is getting Tim and Stephanie Brown to talk about the status of their relationship, which, when last we saw them in the pages of Young Justice, was very much on.
Ortega draws the heck out of all the characters, and it was nice seeing Young Justice together again, although Fitzmartin's Cassandra Cain seemed...off. She talked an awful lot, even casually dropping a "@&$!" in conversation. (Oh, and Tim thinking he could do magic like Zatanna was...weird).
Though a little rough, Fitzmartin seems to have a pretty good handle on the Tim Drake character, and while I thought the initial coming out story left a lot to be desired, the other two more than made up for it. I'm looking forward to her work on a Tim Drake ongoing.
Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon Vol. 3 (Seven Seas Entertainment)
Disappointingly low doughnut content.
Elektra: Black, White & Blood #4 (Marvel Entertainment)
This issue of the limited-palette anthology series contains a short, 10-page contribution from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, which is why I bought it. Eastman, one of the men responsible for making "sai" a household word, was famously inspired by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli's run on Daredevil
in making his own comic book series, and so it's fascinating to seem him finally getting to tell a story using one of those characters, even on such a limited basis.
According to the credits, he's working with Freddie E. Williams, but both are simply referred to as "storytellers," so, in the tradition of Mirage Comics, it's not entirely clear who does what. (I should note that it looks like Eastman drew the whole thing himself, so if I had to guess I'd guess Williams simply colored it, but it's possible he inked it as well.)
The story he tells is a great showcase for his art style, but not much of a story, really. Entitled "Rendezvous," it recites a poem of sorts through narration boxes, each featuring white type on a red field. These are mostly superfluous to the artwork and, in fact, rather distracts from the reading of it.
As for that story, two Elektras, one clad in a white version of her familiar costume, the other in a black version, do battle with one another for eight pages, drawing red blood with their sais. These eight-pages are basically just a well-choreographed, artfully enacted fight scene, with Eastman employing clever—or, perhaps, simply interesting—staging, like using two crossed sai to break a page up into seven panels, for example. There are chains of images of the two Elektras fighting, allowing for a more in-depth fight sequence than one traditionally gets in superhero comics. In the end, the fight is a draw, as out of the pooling blood the two women draw rises the real, true Elektra, this one clad in the blood-red version of her costume that she usually wears.
Eastman gets top-billing on the cover, but his is actually the third and final story in the issue, being preceded by one by Matthew Rosenberg and Alberto Alburquerque and another by Peach Momoko.
The former features the Kingpin hiring Elektra to assassinate some nobody named Johnny Blaze, who turns out to be a lot harder to kill than he looks, while the latter is billed as "a Demon DayS Tale" and is apparently set in the fantasy feudal Japan of Momoko's series by that name. It features a red clad Elektra killing a bunch of people and trying to sell part of a monster, but doing so to a monster of another kind and losing out.
I, as always, live in hope of a Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman Daredevil/TMNT project.
Marvel Voices: Pride #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
Not to be confused with last year's Marvel Voices: Pride #1
, this is an all-new anthology in the now familiar Marvel Voices
formula, mixing prose pieces and stories about characters from particular communities by writers and artists of those same communities.
It's perhaps unfair to the title to compare it too much to DC's Pride anthology, but also perhaps inevitable, especially if one reads them on the same afternoon, as I did. Of the two, I found Marvel's the weaker, perhaps because I've always had less affection for and familiarity with the Marvel universe, sure, but it just seemed to feature more obscure characters, many of whom were brand-new to me and several of whom I assume were making their debuts.
It begins with an introduction by Alex Philips, Vice President of Television of Bad Robot Productions, in which the need for representation in media is discussed, and an invocation of the title as "call to action for us to carry our entire community into liberation together" and a "calling out to our counterparts in film and television to be bolder in their queer representation."
The other prose pieces include "Comics De-Coded" by Angelique Roche, which interestingly talks about the Comics Code Authority's forbidding of out gay characters and the various coding that went into certain characters to portray them as kinda sorta gay without ever saying it, and a run-down of various couples in the comics that weren't always allowed to be out, like Vennom and Taku from Don McGregor's "Panther's Rage" storyline and Moondragon and Phyla-Vell, Brian Falsworth and Roger Aubrey, and Julie Power and Karolina Dean. They don't all seem to be similar, but it's interesting the way in which Roche approaches the characters as their own extant entities with their own sexual orientations inherent in them, rather than assigned by writers and editors, suggesting, for example, that Julie Power was always gay, not that she was made gay, if that makes sense.
There are also a half-dozen Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entries, featuring Kyle Beaubier-Jinadu, Jumbo Carnation, Escapade, Somnus, Valkyrie/Runa and Viv Vision.
As for the comics, there's a 10-page Young Avengers story in which Loki is captured by his various exes and calls out to former teammates Hulkling, Wiccan and America Chavez for help; a six-page story in which its revealed that the bisexual Hercules is now dating the bisexual Marvel Boy, which is an interesting pairing given too little attention (is this relationship unique to this story, or is it playing out somewhere else in the Marvel Universe?); a five-page story in which D-Man runs "Super Trans," a group for trans super-people (all of whom I think are new characters? Also, is D-Man trans? This is news to me); a five-page story about Venomm and Taku; a 10-page Moondragon story set in mostly in her dreams of a motorcycle gang movie; a five-page story in which the Valkyrie character that looks like the one from Thor: Ragnarok (Runa, I guess...?) tries to throw a Pride party in Asgard; and, finally, a 20-page about a mutant trans super-thief and her partner in super-crime, another mutant transperson, both of whom seem to be new characters and seem oddly positioned for a full-length story (It continues in the pages of upcoming New Mutants comics, so perhaps it's important to the X-books...?)
Beyond the Hercules/Marvel Boy story, which is an intriguing romantic pairing and superhero team-up, none of the stories struck me as particularly noteworthy. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Batman: The Adventures Continue Season Two (DC Comics) Batman: The Animated Series
writers Alan Burnett and Paul Dini return for another run of comics stories set in the continuity of the seminal cartoon series. This time artist Ty Tempelton, who is apparently dealing with serious health issues, is only around for the first two issues, the remaining five being drawn by Rick Burchett, himself no stranger to the Bruce Timm-designed "animated" style, and Jordan Gibson, who drew the Robin/Mister Freeze short story in the previous holiday anthology special, 'Tis The Season to Be Freezin'
(and which is collected at the end of this book).
The two issues Templeton draws are a Court of Owls adaptation and they are, as to be expected, pitch perfect distillations of the TV show's style into comics form, with certain panels looking as if they could have been clipped from the TV screen as is. Burnett and Templeton do an admirable job of turning what was an epic-length Batman comic into a fairly brief 40 or so pages, all while squeezing guest-star Deadman and a cameo from Zatanna into the proceedings.
The book also contains a Huntress/Batgirl team-up of sorts, which rather shockingly ends with Huntress seemingly murdering a perp in custody. They do the standard justice vs. vengeance argument regarding the killing of criminals throughout the series, and Huntress eventually seems to agree to back off and not keep trying to kill the dude, which is why it's rather shocking that she seems to get away with killing him later, right under Batman and Batgirl's noses.
Even more shocking? She somehow manages to fit a police hat over that goofy mask she wears when she disguises herself as an officer in order to get at her prey.
Next up is the Gibson-drawn story in which a new villain, The Muscle, attempts to execute a contract on Renee Montoya, and then the rest of the book consists of a series of Burchett-drawn comics dealing with the return of a past mayor of Gotham City who throws his hat into the ring again and gets some help from an Arkham Asylum alum in being the most charismatic politician imaginable.
It's something of a shame that Templeton wasn't able to draw the entire series this time, but Burchett and Gibson do a fine job filling in for him. As with the previous installment, which was season one, I guess, fans of the cartoons should be more than satisfied with this continuation, and newcomers are likely to become fans.
Batman: Reptilian (DC)
It's difficult not to pay extra attention to the art of this particular book, given what we know of its origins. According to a note from artist Liam Sharp at the beginning of the book and the original pitch published at the end of the collection, this was originally intended as a collaboration between writer Garth Ennis and the late Steve Dillon, the team responsible for some of the very best Punisher stories ever told and, more importantly, Preacher
. Dillon died in 2016 though, and thus the book never got made as proposed.
It's therefore a little hard to read it without also imagining what it might have looked like with Dillon attached. Very different than what Sharp drew, to be sure ("I'm doing my best to make him proud," Sharp writes of Dillon, "But, that said, I can feel him over my shoulder, chuckling a little, saying 'No mate! You do you! Shame to waste it!"). It is, in a sense, a good project for any artist with a distinctive style, as it features, at least in passing, pretty much the entirety of Batman's Rogue's Gallery; that is a whole lot of interesting, often-drawn characters for an artist to offer their own unique take on.
Sharp doesn't draw the book so much as paint it; I'm not sure what his process was exactly—he's credited as "artist, colorist, cover artist"—and if he literally painted it or just used coloring effects to suggest a painterly look, but it looks painted and, in fact, the mixture of occasionally photo-realistic-looking imagery with cartoony character designs most strongly suggests the work of Simon Bisley on 1991's Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgement on Gotham comic. Not only is Sharp not attempting anything like a Dillon pastiche, which is perhaps for the best, he's not even drawing it in the style of his own, more drawn-looking work, like the last Batman project I saw him illustrate, 2018's The Brave and The Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman.
I think I personally would have preferred something more akin to that work, however. Atmospheric to the point of abstraction, the art sometimes look murky and hard to read. The style works well for Batman himself, who is often little more than a cowl and mouth perched atop a tall, vaguely coffin-shaped body shrouded in a black shadow of a cape, but it can be hard to situate Batman in a particular setting, and, because of the degree of abstraction that goes on in the art, I had trouble taking pleasure in the things I would have otherwise, like seeing Sharp's versions of the rogue's gallery or the familiar setting of the Batcave and so on. Backgrounds tend to fall into abstraction or simply be panes of paint, and even the clearest images look dark to the point it's like watching a dimly-lit movie.
And then there's the matter of detailing the surreal strangeness at the heart of the story. When it gradually begins to become apparent what is happened, there are images that should show something very specific, but they are so abstract in their rendering that there's no real shock of recognition, because recognition isn't quite possible (If you have a copy handy, I'm talking about the first pages of issue #4; several abstracted images that should be showing us something specific, but that we must instead make out with context clues from the dialogue).
Sharp's a great artist, I get what he's doing here, I just don't personally care for it as much as I do his other art, if that makes sense.
The story is a...strange one, to the say the least, one that seems pretty directly inspired by the writer having come across an interesting article somewhere and seeking to apply it to the world of Batman.
For reasons that won't become clear for several issues, various members of Batman's rogue's gallery are being torn apart by a vaguely reptilian monster, but not killed or consumed. And they're being hurt pretty badly. We're told in the first issue, for example, that The Scarecrow and Mad Hatter are both "gutted" but survive; given the quasi-out-of-continuity nature of the story, I actually wondered why Ennis didn't just allow some of them to die in the attacks (This is a "Black Label" imprint story; what that means for continuity isn't quite clear to me, but this so impacts Killer Croc's origins that it seem fairly certain that it won't become canon and will, in fact, be quickly and quietly forgotten when it comes to the greater Batman story, whatever its virtues might be).
The reptilian creature has a a connection to one of Batman's foes, of course, and it's the obvious one. I won't spoil what exactly it's relationship to Killer Croc is, but suffice it to say that it's strange approaching bananas, and while Ennis makes sense of it, at least in the broader terms (the details and the, um, mechanics gets glossed over), it's still a very weird, very different Batman story.
Ennis has a reputation for hating superheroes, something his body of work tends to support whether it's his late '90s Hitman or his more current The Boys, and certainly his most recent Batman appearances have been....less than respectful. He writes a pretty straight Batman though, writing him as one of his typical tough guy protagonists, and seemingly having some fun with the idea that "The Batman never kills," which Batman himself uses as a dark joke, a particularly cruel threat and, in one instance, simply a saying he repeats ("The Batman never kills," he tells an opponent who has just been disemboweled by the monster off-panel, "But things have a way of happening anyway").
He also writes a rather combative Alfred, who is more than just snarky
in his interactions with his boss ("Oh, I assumed it was to prevent them rowing up and occupying things," Alfred says of the Wayne Foundation's "various programs" established to help "the economically disadvantaged", in a somewhat dated reference).
These are, as is so often the case, among the more memorable lines in the story. There are actually quite a lot of jokes in the book. Some of them don't really work (the sequence which ends with Batman saying "Put down the pie, is the lesson here", for example, seems out-of-left field and wildly out of character for Batman), some of them are great fun (I liked the bit about Batman's laugh, for example), but, despite the dark atmospherics, I think this is meant to be a dark comedy as much as it's meant to be taken seriously, although I wouldn't be surprised if that gets lost by much of the audience, given the way it looks (Sharp's designs are sometimes quite cartoony, but only sometimes; his Batman is always a "serious" Batman, as are many of the other name characters who appear throughout).
Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 19 (Viz Media)
Too much love triangle and not enough friend-making lately? Najimi agrees, and sets up a sort of speed-dating for Komi in order to help her make a bunch of new friends fast. The only catch? Everyone there is a girl and, of course, everyone has a communication disorder of one kind or another.
Which isn't to say the love triangle is totally forgotten, as there is a very awkward story in which Komi and Tadano confess to Manbagi that they were locked in the gym closet together, and Komi suggests that Manbagi go sit in there with Tadano as well, just so everything is "even" in their rivalry for Tadano's affections, as oblivious to the competition as he is.
This volume also shows off Tadano's skills as being a member of his class, as he sits in on parent teacher's conferences and talks up each of his fellow students to their parents and teacher.
It's another fun volume of my favorite manga series.
Superman: Son of Kal-El Vol. 1: The Truth (DC)
What does it mean to be Superman right now
? That seems to be the question writer Tom Taylor exploring in the first six issues of this new Superman title, starring Jonathan Kent, the son of Superman and Lois Lane. It's not just that so much of the content is pulled from the headlines—a refugee crisis, forest fires, over-crowded hospitals, a president who is also a villain—but that in Jonathan there's a brand-new Superman who of course is confronted with these questions, and comes up with his own answers. These answers differ from those of his famous, long-lived father, who has come to be sort of set in his ways within the fictive DC Universe, in large part because of real-world considerations about the value and import of the character.
Simply put, Jon can do things the other, older Superman can't. And that makes his tenure as Superman new and exciting and fresh, even if at its most basic plot elements, it's kind of a generic superhero story about genetically-engineered superhumans and poking at Superman's ability to mess with sovereign nations (DC already did the bald supervillain-as-president thing during the Bush administration, when Lex Luthor was president of the United States; here it's WildStorm import Henry Bendix as president of the fictional nation of Gamorra).
In-story, the excuse for the new Superman being able to take a more radically different approach to things than the old Superman is presented as part of the character's nature. Kal-El demures that he's an alien visitor to the planet, and he didn't feel it was his place to be too active in certain areas, whereas Jonathan was born on Earth, and the world is his in a way it never was for Kal-El. This is, of course, just real-world justification, but then, that's what so much of super-comics writing is, especially at DC, where the characters are so god-like and powerful that real-world issues tend to warp and twist when they get too close to them.
As to why now, well, in Superman's sister title, Action Comics, Superman Kal-El is off-planet and involved in a long storyline involving Mongul and Warworld, leaving Jonathan as Earth's sole Superman, in a sense having to step up and replace his father.
It was interesting reading such a talked-about tile in collected form, so long after the Internet has had initial conversations about some of events. Things that generated headlines on fan sites and heated Twitter exchanges unfold with no real big deal here. In fact, it's hard to even get what got so many so worked up over things like Jonathan changing "Truth, Justice and the American Way" to "Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow." (It's not like he sat down and crossed out the old TV show's tagline because he hates America; it's just something he says at one point, a "change" that wouldn't be worth remarking on if someone somewhere hadn't flagged it as a potential betrayal of some essential bit of Superman lore—and to be honest, DC itself might have sent out press releases, as that's the sort of tinkering with a myth that gets mainstream media to briefly pay attention to superhero comics again).
Jonathan also kisses a boy in this book, something they obviously couldn't have had Kal-El do after his 80-ish years of chasing, being chased by or being married to Lois Lane. Again, it's presented as perfectly natural and quite matter-of-factly. A character is introduced—journalist Jay Nakamura—and befriends Jonathan, and at one point the pair kiss and begin an awkward relationship of sorts, Superman's family treating them as friends, Jon's best friend Damian deducing their status and giving him a punch on the arm and an "I'm really happy for you, man." (That follows a typically Damian statement: "You know I'm on my way to being the greatest detective in the world. And I'm also your best friend and quite perceptive?")
Again, Taylor doesn't write it as if it's meant to be a big moment, no bigger than any other moment in the book, and there's no discourse about homosexual relationships or politics or anything. It happens just as it should in the twenty-first century, just as previous Superboy and Tania Moon became an item. This superhero just happens to be one who likes a boy instead of a girl. (And again, I suspect DC probably trumpeted the moment in the real world, knowing it would grab attention, more than Taylor does in the structuring of the story).
There are some things to be wary with about the book.
The Jonathan character has a lot of baggage dragging behind him from previous story arcs, much of it from Brian Michael Bendis' run on the Superman franchise (including Jon having hyper-aged from about 13 to college-aged in space and both Supermen being "out" with their secret identities to the world) and some of the most complicated continuity shenanigans of this century, as writer Peter J. Tomasi and others tried to have Jon be the son of the pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois in a post-Flashpoint DCU...which has been rebooted by Death Metal anyway. Taylor retcons Jon's birth in the opening pages, and, indeed, if one came to this cold, meeting Jonathan for the first time, it probably makes more sense; only those of us who have kept up with Superman during The New 52 and what followed will have these weird naggings about the character in the backs of our heads to contend with.
But there remains a sense of impermanence to the character, and thus the proceedings, so much so that I almost feel like there's a time clock counting down attached to Jon. It's not just that his dad will obviously be back and reclaim his place as the prime Superman sometime relatively soon, but that this whole status quo will necessarily need to be dissolved at some point. Superman's secret identity of Clark Kent seems too integral to the character to be changed for too long (which is why they restored it shortly after the last time Superman lost it), and even Superman and Lois having an adult son seems like it might be tampering with the formula in a way that the formula itself might ultimately reject it, either reducing Jonathan's age back to a kid again, or doing away with him altogether, as DC did to Lois and Clark's adopted son Chris.
I may be wrong, of course, but this Superman still feels very of-the-moment, both because of how Taylor writes the character and has the character and the world reacting to him as the new Superman, and because he seems time-limited in various ways that the original Superman never does (and never really could).
Also, I don't like Jay's mask he uses when he reports the news. It looks dumb.
John Timms draws all six issues of this (with Daniele Di Nicuolo helping out) and I suppose Jay's mask is his fault. I'm also not terribly fond of Jonathan's super-suit. He gets a new, simpler, less superhero-movie-looking one part-way through the story, but I'm still not terribly fond of it. I guess it does need to be differentiated from his father's costume, and the big, bulky belt is a way of dividing the design in half without having to go with trunks over tights, but I'm still not crazy about it...it's awfully hard to redesign a classic, and superhero costumes don't get any more classic than Superman's.
My own cranky quibbles with designs aside, Timms does his normally great job on the art. It's dynamic and highly animated looking, and the superhero action and quiet character work are both highly effective. Timms also gets to draw a lot of heroes, with a pair of appearances by the Justice League, one at Jon's birth (should that really have been John Stewart as Green Lantern in that section? Not Hal or Kyle? God, I can't make sense of DCU continuity any more!), and another following an attack at the Kents' farmhouse in Smallville.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Reborn Vol. 4: Sow Wind, Reap Storm (IDW Publishing)
Writer Sophie Campbell is MIA on art this volume, which is always a bit of a disappointment, but fill-in artists Nelson Daniel and Jodi Nishijima, who handle the first third and the last two-thirds of the collection respectively, are both fine, their styles in the same aesthetic ballpark on Campbell's so the book continues to read smoothly and, in fact, like Campbell's book.
The focus very much continues to be on the Mutant Town setting itself, with the Splinter Clan and their allies finally going head-to-head with the Mutanimals in a physical confrontation. There's literal political violence here, but I'm not sure what Campbell is saying about it, or that she's saying anything that applies to real-world political violence at all. At any rate, the Mutanimals start and lose the fight, giving the Splinter Clan a new issue to wrestle with. With a barely functioning government, how does Mutant Town handle elements of the social contract, like law enforcement and holding prisoners who have broken the law? Or seem to have broken the law, as are there any laws, really, in Mutant Town? It's all very much still an ongoing experiment.
Campbell continues to focus on this plotline while keeping an eye on the ongoing personal dramas of the various characters, giving the book an appropriately soap opera-like feel.
Banana Fox and The Gummy Monster Mess (Scholastic)
James Kochalka returns for a third installment of his new series. More here
Jurassic World: Dominion
For much of the first two hours of the new Jurassic World
movie, the third to use the "World" appellation and the sixth in the franchise overall, there are two parallel plots that seem like they could have come from two completely different films, their only unifying factor being the villainous Evil Corporation in both. In one, the stars of the previous two Jurassic World
films, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, attempt to keep their teenage clone daughter safe and, when she's inevitably kidnapped by agents of the corporation, to rescue her. In the second, the stars of the original Jurassic Park
try to unravel a plot by the corporation to control global food supply through genetically-engineered super-locusts.
Neither plot, surprisingly, has anything at all to do with dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs are present throughout, of course, particularly in the Pratt/Howard parts of the film, but they are background color and fodder for action scenes that happen because this is the sort of film in which they happen, they are not the focus of the story which, somewhat infuriatingly, has nothing at all to do with the creatures, and could have been a lackluster sci-fi action film having nothing to do with the franchise. The two plots seem almost repurposed for use in a Jurassic film.
Eventually the two plotlines intersect, as the two casts all but run into one another when they reach Evil Corp's wildlife preserve for re-captured dinosaurs...a sort of park, if you will.
In an odd and unexpected retreat from the compelling status quo introduced in the previous film, 2018's Fallen Kingdom, which proposed a world in which the dinosaurs escaped the park and became a part of the outside world. Dominion simply builds another park stocked with dinosaurs, including the familiar T-Rex and poison-spitting frilled Dilophosaurus, as well as deadly new dinos like the long-clawed therapod Therizinosaurus and Giganotosaurus, "The biggest carnivore the world has ever seen," according to Sam Neill's Dr. Alan Grant.
Which isn't to say that the film ignores the premise suggested by Fallen Kingdom, of what is truly, in Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm's words, a Jurassic world. Some of the most compelling imagery in the film comes at the beginning and end, when we see purposeful montages of dinosaurs existing in the modern world, be it causing problems for humanity of living peaceably side-by-side with other modern animals.
To quote the great Pauline Kael, it's crap, but it's crap on a motorcycle....a motorcycle, it should be noted, which is chased by dinosaurs (Quite literally. That's one of the film's many action scenes; killer raptors pursuing Pratt on a motorcycle through the streets of Malta).
That really makes all the difference. Though it's great fun to see the old cast reunited and once again menaced by dinosaurs, and the acting is fairly solid from all participants, including brand-new character played by DeWanda Wise, there's simply no reason for a dinosaur movie to be this bad in 2022.
That said, it's the only game in town, when it comes to seeing dinosaurs on the big screen, and who doesn't want to see that?
*If you ask me, and no one ever does, Obsidian should be a major player in the DCU, as he's the one gay character who is not directly derivative of another character, having his own distinct name and own distinct powerset that he doesn't share with anyone else. Sure, Jon Kent is Superman, but he's also a Superman. Obsidian is the only Obsidian. I'd put the guy in the Justice League and keep him there.