Wednesday, August 31, 2022

A Month of Wednesdays: August 2022


Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Terror of the Beagle Boys (Fantagraphics) It was with great surprise and more than a little delight that I realized just how far I was behind on new releases from Fantagraphics' Complete Carl Barks Library. Guys, I'm super far behind. But that is actually excellent news. It means I have a great many of the best comics in the world yet to look forward to. 


Crazy Food Truck Vol. 1 (Viz Media) Post-apocalypse, the food truck business isn't great, but that doesn't stop the mysterious Gordon from trying to ply his trade. He finds at least one incredibly hungry mouth to feed when his tricked-out food truck—nitrous and hidden cannons are a must in this world—nearly runs over a mysterious naked girl named Arisa. She's on the run from a heavily-armed militia, and Gordon adopts her, doing his best to protect her...not that she seems to need much in the way of protection, given her formidable fighting skills. Together they roam the wastelands, attempting to sell sandwiches, avoid pursuit and even stand-up for the oppressed.

Crazy Food Truck is an action-packed adventure, with recipes. 

JLA: Riddle of the Beast (DC Comics) DC Comics doesn't use the "What If...?" formulation in the titles of their alternate universe stories—that's a Marvel thing—but the premise of this Elseworlds story could be articulated as "What If...the DC Universe was set in a Tolkein-esque fantasy realm?" The creation of writer Alan Grant, the 2001 fully-painted hardcover begins, as all good fantasy stories do, with a map.

That map imagines a world bigger than the one actually presented in the comic that follows, with more suggestive place names than are ever actually visited by the characters, but includes the kingdoms of Amazonia, Kryptonia and The Gotham Crags, in which medieval versions of familiar DC superheroes dwell. (In this respect, Riddle of The Beast seems to be one of several Elseworlds stories to prefigure Tom Taylor and company's Dark Knights of Steel, which I've yet to read).

The story is a fairly simple one, its oomph coming more from its reimaginations of familiar characters in a new setting rather than intricate or inventive plotting. After a world-wide battle against the ultimate evil in the form of The Beast—here, Etrigan the Demon—the various rulers and warriors retreated to their own corners and their own concerns. When the Beast begins to stir again, the young Robin Drake is summoned by the wise old Riddler, who gives the boy three riddles and the task of reuniting the reluctant world against the threat.

Along the way, Robin encounters familiar names in peculiar new designs. Zatanna, a girl with a mysterious power travelling with her father; Green Arrow, a lion-faced archer and bounty hunter; Katar Hol and Shayera Tal, bird-headed, winged hawkpeople and so on. After several adventures in several different cities and wildernesses, Robin is successful. The various heroes all unite against The Beast and his undead army, and they are more powerful than ever, thanks to Robin's solution to the cryptic riddles.

Such Elseworlds projects tend to live and die by their artwork, and this book has some great art in its DNA, thanks to the character designs of Michael Wm. Kaluta. If a Kaulta-drawn, Grant-written epic fantasy sounds amazing, I hate to disappoint you, but Kaluta only offers character designs. The plan for the book was apparently always "to showcase many different painting styles" and thus be the work of "a diverse group of artists." That's according to the backmatter which shows off Kaluta's designs. 

As for the artists, there are 15 of them, some of whom I have heard of (Andrew Robinson, Carl Critchlow, Glenn Fabry), some of whom I have not (Hermann Meija, Martin T. Williams, Doug Alexander Gregory) and at least one of whom I think I know by a different name (Liam McCormack-Sharp). Each is an accomplished artist, and every single page looks pretty great, although some sequences are, admittedly, hard to read (I couldn't make sense of the encounter with Doomsday, for example, and needed the dialogue to explain what happened to me). The problem is that everyone's style, as well as their fidelity to Kaluta's designs, varies sharply, and so the book seems to change every few pages. Sometimes the artistic torch is passed at less than ideal times, too, as in the middle of a single action sequence. It's a bit like watching a movie that's recast every five to ten minutes, and a new director and cinematographer taking over each time it is; one has no choice but to grasp the script for dear life, as it's the only constant in the storytelling. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 20 (Viz) Tadano and Manbagi spend the night together! Not like that, but they do end up sharing a very large bed in a hotel after they miss the bus home from the gang's snowboarding trip. During the intense, but obviously chaste, night, Manbagi confesses her love, er, her like to Tadano in her sleep. This leads to a climactic chapter where the incredibly dense Tadano reviews the entirety of their relationship, and still can't quite bring himself to think that Manbagi might really like him. 

That's the big event in this twentieth volume of the series, which I'm happy to say doesn't seem to have resolved the Komi/Tadano/Manbagi love triangle as I thought and feared it had earlier, meaning maybe there is yet a long, long life left in this series. I hope so. As I've said before, it's my favorite current manga series. 

Mickey Mouse: The Ice Sword Saga Book 1
I was looking at Fantagraphics' Disney offerings of late (see above), and curious if there was anything like Byron Erickson and Giorgio Cavazzano's Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge: World of the Dragonlords, in which the ducks find themselves plunged into an alternate dimension of fantasy adventure, and this one seemed to fit the bill. Part of the publisher's Disney Masters collection celebrating the work of cartoonist Massimo De Vita, it's a Christmastime epic in which Mickey Mouse and Goofy journey to an alternate dimension of fantasy adventure.

That dimension is the world of Argaar, and it's vaguely based—or at least heavily inspired by—Norse mythology. It's ruled over by the literal iron fist of The Prince of Mists, a neat character creation whose very body was once destroyed in a past conflict, and he must now wear a metal apparatus to hep give himself form and interact with his lackeys.

The story of The Prince is told to readers—and retold to the poor, over-taxed villagers of Ululand, by the conical-hatted, white bearded sage Yor. Apparently the Prince was bested once before by a legendary hero from another world named Alph, who wielded the equally legendary ice sword. If they are to thwart the Prince again, Yor reasons, they will need to send an emissary to another world in search of Alph.

A hapless volunteer is chosen to operate the world-travelling doohickey, and he promptly lands in Mickey's yard on Christmas Eve, soon returning to his world with Mickey and Goofy in tow. Too scared and embarrassed to try another attempt, he's willing to settle for the pair as otherworldly heroes, and they feel badly enough for the villagers to go along, even if it means telling a lie—that Goofy, the taller and thus the most likely to be heroic of the two, is actually Alph's cousin.

Elaborate backstory and set-up handled within the first 30-page chapter, our heroes become the core of an ever-changing campaign party that must travel the world laid out on a map, pursued by the Prince's forces as they encounter various challenges. 

It's a fleetly moving, practically singing, light-hearted adventure story full of incident but light on actual violence, prodded along by De Vita's jaunty character designs, energetic linework, and elaborately detailed backgrounds and location. It reads like Tolkein by way of Peyo, without any of the drag on the action that can characterize Tolkein's own epics. 

The book actually features two distinct adventures in the world of Argaar. In the first Mickey and Goofy quest for the titular sword to defeat the Prince of Mists with the help of a handful of locals. In a sequel, set on the following Christmas Eve, Yor summons them back to his world in order to save Ululand from a massive volcano, a feat what will involve once again passing Goofy of as a great hero, and he must compete in a series of games against other knights and champions from around the world in order to win the prize, a special volcano-stopping maguffin.

As with the other books in the series, there's backmatter that includes a four-page biography of De Vita...and, perhaps more appealing to a reader whose enjoyed what they just read, an ad for other Disney Masters volumes and Fanta's various Disney offerings. I'm assuming I'll be talking about some of these in next month's column.  

Mickey Mouse: Zombie Coffee (Fantagraphics) French cartoonist and animator Regis Loisel presents a brand-new Mickey Mouse adventure, set in the character's 1930s golden age and presented in a format that evokes the daily comic strips of Floyd Gottfredson.

Down on their luck and out of work, Mickey and best friend Horace Horsecollar can't seem to get hired by the local tyrannical foreman, and so they take off for the country to spend some time camping with Minnie, Clarabelle and friend Donald Duck (making a rare-ish appearance in a Mouseton story arc). When they return, they find a whole bunch of trouble.

Upstate banking tycoon Rock Fueler has diabolical plans for the city, including razing their neighborhood to build a golf course. He's not exactly playing fair in his plans to convince the locals to go along, either. Among his employ are not only perennial Mickey villains Pete and Sylvester, but also a pair of clever chemists who have created a new brew of coffee, Zomba Coffee, that zombifies their male employees (females and children are dispossessed of their homes, and sent to live in a free boarding house).

Upping the ante, the chemists also come up with a stupefyingly aromatic burger recipe that victims will pay anything to acquire, meaning the workers paychecks end up back in the pockets of their employer Mr. Fueler, not unlike the way certain employers used to operate, taking care of all the needs of their workers in what amounted to a form of indentured servitude.

Luckily for Mouseton, this is the two-fisted, hard-fighting version of Mickey Mouse, and he and his friends aren't about to let Fueler and his cronies get away with their plans. Many rollicking fist-fights and a few cartoonish twists and turns punctuate an adventure that instantly reads as much like a classic as the many works of Gottfredson, Carl Barks, Don Rosa and many other Disney masters that Fantagraphics publishes. For fans of great comics, I'd give it my highest possible recommendation.

Nightwing: Fear State
(DC Comics)
"This is bad timing," writer Tom Taylor has Nightwing narrating in the first issue of the second collected volume of the still-new series.  He's referring to the fact that he just had Dick Grayson publicly announce his commitment to Bludhaven—and, one imagines, all the work he did to set up the premise and plotting of the series—in the first volume, only to have the character drop everything and leave for Gotham City to participate in a Batman event crossover, the one that gives this volume its sub-title: "Fear State."

At least the book admits that it gets it.

While the volume doesn't advance any of the plotting of the first—accept, perhaps, as regards the relationship between Nightwing and sometimes-Batgirl Barbara Gordon—it does, taken as a whole, work as an exploration of Nightwing's place in the Batman family and how he relates to his various brothers and sisters.

The first three issues are the official "Fear State" tie-in, which functions as a sort of B-plot explaining what much of the Bat-family was up to while Batman was tackling the Peacekeepers and Scarecrow. Nightwing is tricked into a trap by a corrupted Oracle message, and rescued by Batman. From there he teams up with Barbara, and then Robin Tim Drake and then Batgirls Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. Their after the person who attacked and took over Oracle's system, which leads them to Simon Saint's airborne HQ (the results of this attack show up briefly in the Batman issues of "Fear State"). These issues are all drawn by Robbi Rodriguez.

That's followed by Nightwing Annual 2021 #1 by Taylor and artists Cian Tormey, Daniel HDR and Raule Fernandez. Entitled "Blood Brothers," it features an extended team-up with Red Hood Jason Todd, including a flashback to a time when Jason was Robin and the two also teamed-up. There's footage of Todd attacking and killing a gangster who had just turned FBI informant, and killing several undercover agents in the process, and Nightwing needs to make sure it wasn't actually Jason and, once that's done, figure out who it was. 

It is, rather unimaginatively, Clayface, who posed as Jason during "Hush". Well, it's a Clayface. It's not Basil Karlo or Matt Hagen or Sondra Fuller, the Clayfaces with the shape-shifting powers, but Preston Payne, Clayface III and the one without such powers. Taylor assigns him the look of Karlo and Hagen, and the artists draw him as Batman: The Animated Series' Hagen. I suppose Taylor made the choice because he wanted  

The final story in the collection isn't by Taylor but rather by Tini Howard, working with artist Christian Duce. Rather than the pages of Nightwing, this one comes from an issue of Batman: Urban Legends, but it fits in perfectly with the collection, its plot semi-related to "Fear State" (some Scarecrow henchmen are using a truck full of fear gas to continue the incarcerated Scarecrow's agenda) and focuses on Nightwing as a member of the Bat-Family.

It's Christmas Eve, and the Bat-Family is all gathered at Bruce Wayne's brownstone to celebrate...all except Nightwing, whose after the Scarecrows. He's extra-focused on work, and not too excited about Christmas this year, as it's the first without Alfred. Howard uses the fear gas' hallucinatory effects to plunge Nightwing into a Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol" riff, as he's visited by the Batgirls of Chrimstmas Past, Present and Future. 

Howard accomplishes a nice balance between the mandatory superhero action and the more fun, less-often seen Bat-family-doing-family-stuff-stuff. Its' a great story, and, in quality as well as subject matter, seems to be of apiece with what Taylor was doing with the monthly series. 

Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: Warworld Rising (DC) Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson does an effective job of making old Superman villain Mongul seem like a new, fresh and genuine threat, essentially Darkseid-izing him by simply taking his time in revealing aspects of the character and his world, building up a religious-like fervor among his followers and the impression of omnipotence. 

It helps that Superman's son Jon Kent, who lived for a time in the far future with the Legion of Super-Heroes, knows from the future historical records that his dad disappears sometime soon-ish, implying that this adventure may be the Man of Steel's last.

As for the plot, a refugee ship from Warworld crashlands on Earth; a girl aboard it has the Superman symbol tattooed onto the palms of her hands and is overheard whispering an ancient Kryptonese prayer. Could she and her people somehow be survivors of Krypton? The crash causes another conflict too, as its mysterious, dangerous power source is claimed by Atlantis—the ship having crashed into the sea—but the United States wants it too, and the two nations are on the brink of all-out war for it. 

Superman resolves to go to Warworld to rescue its slaves, and he wants to bring the Justice League with him, but they're reluctant to leave the planet given the tensions between the U.S. and Atlantis. Luckily, Superman built up his own, new team in the pages of Superman and The Authority

I read the Grant Morrison-written, Mikel Janin-drawn Superman and The Authority first, and though they're technically supposed to interlock, they don't quite line-up tonally or in the little details. Though Superman is shown to be weakening for some mysterious reason in Action, he still seems much stronger than he is in Superman and The Authority, and Janin's design for the character is so radically different, including gray temples and a brand-new costume, that I at first took that book to be out-of-continuity. In the pages of Action, Superman looks like his regular self, complete with his classic costume and jet-black hair. 

Both books are good, I'd even say great, but they don't align too terribly well. 

Superman and The Authority (DC) This is an extremely curious book, reading very much like the first arc of a series that doesn't actually exist. Technically it continues into the pages of Action Comics, and takes place between scenes of that series, but writer Grant Morrison and artist Mikel Janin have created a book so thoroughly divorced from the regular old DC Universe that feels and looks out-of-continuity, complete with a scene of Superman having a meeting with President John F. Kenney (he was time-lost, he explains, allowing it to technically fit into continuity or to fit into a continuity where Superman's been around since 1938, whichever the reader prefers) and has a completely different look than in his other comics, including gray temples and a new costume ("Like the dog dug up my dad,"  Lois describes his "fading powers look").

The connection to Action doesn't become apparent until the very end of the book; Morrison presents Superman's assembling of a new, non-Justice League team as the fulfillment of his promise to Kennedy, and that he has a grand project to make the world a better place in mind with them. 

He recruits his old enemy Manchester Black, himself an analogue to The Authority's Jenny Sparks, and the leader of the faux-Authority team known as The Elite from Joe Kelly's classic "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and The American Way?" from 2001's  Action Comics #775, and together they assemble a team consisting of Steel Natasha Irons, Midnighter and Apollo and The Enchantress, with two new characters, a new version of OMAC and a new version of Lightray, appearing only at the climax. 

While Superman's putting together his team, two classic enemies of his have teamed up in an attempt to destroy him once and for all, and recruited several other villains and anti-heroes to their cause. 

Despite the title, the comics it most reminded me of were Morrison's All-Star Superman (perhaps given how much of it is set in a Fortress of Solitude, here re-named "Fort Superman" and Janin's clean lines and simple, spacious backgrounds) and Seven Soldiers (particularly The Enchantress section, where Morrison essentially recreates the character to suit himself). If that's not a recommendation to check out a super-comic, I don't know what it. 

It's just too bad this is only a miniseries, and that it continues elsewhere, by a different creative team. Morrison's take on Superman is always a charming one to visit, and it would make for a heck of an ongoing series. 


Secret Reverse (Marvel Etertainment/Viz Media) Before his tragic and somewhat mysterious death, Yu-Gi-Oh! creator and manga-ka Kazuki Takahashi created an Iron Man/Spider-Mann team-up for Marvel, his attempts at making a Western-style comic book leading to a sort of American super-comic/manga fusion. You can read more about it here

Friday, August 26, 2022

Marvel's November previews reviewed

 While DC is doing "'90s variants" in November, Marvel is taking an aspect of the '90s for their themed variants, and publishing what they're calling "Extreme" variants—I'm sorry, that's actually "X-TREME" variants, as they're even spelling "extreme" as extremely as possible. Want some examples? Here you go: 

Those area from Spider-Man #2, Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #6, Captain America: Symbol of Truth #7 and Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings #5. Marvel has only shared a handful of them altogether, and some of them are hard to distinguish from what the normal covers might have been...for example, Ghost Rider and Carnage are both pretty "x-treme" as it is, so it's difficult to tell when the artists lean hard in that direction for covers of their books. 

What else does Marvel have going on in November? Well, let's see...

It's damn weird seeing Bryan Hitch drawing the regular Avengers, as opposed to the Ultimates, as he will be doing in the massive Avengers Assemble Alpha #1, which the publisher is promising to be "the biggest Avengers saga in Marvel history." Perhaps it's simply because that's where I was first exposed to his work, but I can't help but seeing the Ultimates when I look at his Avengers, despite a few cosmetic changes in their costumes and so forth. Like, when I see Hitch's Captain America, it's hard not to think, "Oh, that asshole", when I'm really looking at a whole different version of the do-you-think-this-A-stands-for-France guy. I guess that's a comment on how powerful Mark Millar and Hitch's Ultimates comics really were; decades later and they're still present in my mind (and it's hard to, um, un-hitch Hitch's version of the characters here from his earlier work on them). 

"Biggest Aventers saga in Marvel history" is a big claim, but I'm looking forward to reading it. I've managed to follow writer Jason Aaron's volume of the Avengers comic from the beginning, despite Marvel attempting to shake me off with an event ("Heroes Reborn") and the introduction of a second title (Avengers Forever). 

Doctor Strange: Fall Sunrise #1 sets the incomparable writer/artist Tradd Moore loose in one of the publisher's most visually interesting milieus. This should be, like everything Moore draws, something worth checking out. 

The biggest news—and the biggest surprise—of the month is no doubtedly that Marvel is relaunching what was once their flagship title, and that the writer doing the honors is none other than Ryan North, the man responsible for my all-time favorite Marvel series (The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl), the creator of a handful of amazingly creative and fun prose books, and all-around—and I don't use this word lightly!—genius. 

I think the title/franchise is a particularly tough one to handle, given how heavily the shadows of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee still fall over it, and how potent their storylines and characters were that it can be a challenge to take on the Fantastic Four in a way that feels fresh and new, rather than an extended homage. 

That said, in both his comics work and his prose work, North has demonstrated a wild imagination, a sense of humor, a genuine interest in sciences real, mad and theoretical, and respect for the Marvel Universe as a milieu and history. Those are all qualities that bode well for his take on the Fantastic Four.

He's being paired with artist Iban Coello, whose work I am not at all familiar with. Part of me can't help but wish Squirrel Girl's Erica Henderson or Derek Charm wasn't along for the ride, just so I would know for sure what I'm getting, but I'm eager to see what this book looks like and how it reads. If it's anything like Squirrel Girl, than I'm sure we're in for a treat. 

Alex Ross will be handling the covers...although there will be variants. One of particular note? Oh, this little number be Frank Miller:
That...sure is...something.

I think that the DC stable of characters probably better suits Miller's current, reductionist style, given that they all tend to be reduceable to a single symbol in a way that Marvel's only rarely are, but I do enjoy seeing Miller's idiosyncratic takes on the classic characters. Could I take a whole book of that particular version of the Thing...? I think I maybe could, but it's hard to imagine that being the Thing for very long, wouldn't it...?

What I'm saying is that if Marvel wants to commission Frank Millers The Dark World's Greatest Comics Magazine Returns, I think I'd probably read it. 

The team of Mariko Tamaki and Gurihiru return for a third Double Trouble series, this time with co-writer Vita Ayala joining them for Peter Parker& Miles Morales: Spider-Mean: Double Trouble #1. Any opportunity to see more Gurihiru art is to be welcomed—even if I don't like what they do with the characters' legs in these more cartoony-than-usual stories—and I greatly enjoyed the first two series, starring Spidey and Venom and Thor and Loki, respectively. Not only did I enjoy them, but my now-ten-year-old nephew and his mom, who sometimes reads comics with him, enjoy them 

The short and simple solicitation for Gene Luen Yang and Marcus To's Shang-Chi and The Ten Rings #5 reads "THE ORIGIN OF THE TEN RINGS REVEALED!" which is interesting given the fact that these ten rings now resemble the ten rings from the movie and, if their origin is being revealed here, then they're getting out pretty far ahead of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the origin of the rings was presented as something of a mystery that baffled Wong (magic stuff), Bruce Banner  (science stuff) and Captain Marvel (space stuff) at the end of the Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings movie. 

Yang's under some tension to present a version of the long-lived character that resonates with the new  film version, and this then seems a somewhat audacious move, assuming the mystery is already "solved" but unrevealed in the MCU...

Saturday, August 20, 2022

DC's November previews reviewed

Based on the image they released with the solicitation, it appears that Batman/Spawn: The Classic Collection will be getting a new cover by Spawn-turned-Batman-turned-Batman/Spawn crossover artist Greg Capullo. 

The collection will include both of the distinct and unrelated Batman/Spawn crossovers from 1994, Image Comics' Spawn/Batman by writer Frank Miller and artist Todd McFarlane, and DC Comics' Batman/Spawn: War Devil by writers Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant and Doug Moench and artist Klaus Janson.

 I bought and read both of them at the time. As I remember, neither was terribly good, not even by the standards of a Batman inter-company crossover. 

I remember the Image one being particularly badly written, and being disappointed that the man who made Dark Knight Returns had crafted such a poor story. But I also remember that one being the one with art I was more excited about at the time—the whole point of the endeavor would be to see McFarlane drawing Batman, right?

I remember almost nothing at all about War Devil, save for how I was disappointed in the art at the time (Not only was it not McFarlane, it wasn't even the ideal artist for the team-up, Norm Breyfogle). That, and I remember thinking how weird it was that it was for a single Batman story to be written by all three of the Batman writers as a team. 

I'm looking forward to revisiting these stories now, and I will be happy when I can do so without digging through my comics midden to find them.  

The release is coming ahead of a new Capullo and McFarlane Batman/Spawn crossover, which will be interesting. I hope they get Kelley Jones for a variant cover of that....I'd love to see Jones' take on Spawn's cape. 

A lot of people seem genuinely excited about Batman: The Deadly Duo, a Marc Silvestri-written and drawn seven-parter teaming Batman with The Joker. 

Personally, I'd be more excited if variant cover artists Kyle Hotz or Kelley Jones were handling the interiors, but that's just me.

Here' s Hotz's variant for #1:

And here are Jones' variants for #2:

In November DC will be releasing ''90s" themed variant covers, like the above one for Batman Vs. Robin #3. Some seem to depict the characters as they appeared in the 1990s, some are from artists who drew them in the '90s and some are reimaginings of the characters with '90s stereotypical fashions. 

This one seems to show Batman and Robin as they appeared in the '90s...but the artist has given Batman more pouches, in the form of a utility garter. Batman never wore one, of course, but Jean-Paul Valley's Batman costume did include one (I always wondered how he opened his pouches given the bladed claws on his fingers), as did Spoiler Stephanie Brown's original costume

Is there a more perfect—I mean, purrfect—artist to provide a '90s variant to Catwoman #49 than '90s Catwoman artist Jim Balent....?

This year's holiday special is called DC's Grifter Got Run Over By A Reindeer, presumably because "Grifter" sounds as close as they could get to "Grandma" with a DC hero, even if he is an emigree from the Wildstorm universe. Now that I've moved almost exclusively to trade-reading, these seasonal specials DC produces are a special treat that I always look forward to...and it remains my greatest writing ambition to someday contribute to one of 'em. 

Scary Plastic Man images should be against the law. Like this cover for DC Vs. Vampires #11? It should be totally illegal. 

I'm sorry, but I just don't have the bandwidth to deal with Batman's Sexy Mom wearing a Batman's Sexy Mom Halloween costume on the cover of Gotham City: Year One #2 right now...

I'm glad the JSA will be returning with a new book in Justice Society of America #1, although I've grown a bit leery of writer Geoff Johns' work. He would, of course, seem like the ideal writer for the series, given his run on JSA and its related titles, but it's been a long time since I've read and enjoyed any of Johns' work, the New 52 seemingly have stripped him of his ability to write continuity-driven stories that made sense and that worked with the characters.

Now we've got a new continuity again, so it will be interesting to see if Johns takes a starting-from-scratch approach like that he took with the Justice League in the New 52, or if he will resume the past continuity that he wrote the team in during the past. Personally, I'm hoping for the latter, but assuming a mix of the two. We'll see. Mikel Janin will be the artist attached. 

Hey do you guys remember the column where I said that it was kinda lame that Hippolyta was temporarily replacing Wonder Woman on the Justice League line-up while Diana was off being presumed dead or a goddess or whatever, just like she did during the Morrison run on JLA, and that instead they should have had Nubia join the Justice League....? (This would have been back during Bendis' brief run on Justice League). Well, Nubia  is finally joining the Justice League in the pages of Nubia & The Justice League Special #1. I'm not sure how permanent this is—the precise League line-up seems to be in flux as the characters are presumed dead in the ongoing Dark Crisis—but here's hoping she stays on the team for a good long while. 

Remarkably, she's only the second black woman to ever appear on a Justice League line-up, following Vixen's stint during the Detroit era. Is that right? I think that's right. That doesn't sound like it should be right though, does it? Yeesh. 

This is why it is my humble belief that the Justice League should have a huge, 20-30 hero roster, so they can accommodate a much more diverse group of heroes and genuinely represent Americans and readers. I'm sure I'll tell you of my ideal Justice League line-up someday...

Despite my reservation with Johns, I'm definitely up for a series in which artist Todd Nauck draws a bunch of weird Golden Age kid superheroes. That Manhunter's robot dog Robby is in it is only one more reason to be particularly excited about Stargirl: The Lost Children #1, which seems to follow from the pages of last year's Stargirl Spring Break Special #1

What's better than Mike Allred drawing Superman? Mike Allred drawing the whole Justice League, even if they are a little worse for wear. This is the cover of Superman: Space Age #3

Saturday, August 06, 2022

A Month of Wednesdays: July 2022


The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries Vol. 2 (DC Comics) This book collects the second half of DC's 12-issue Batman/Scooby-Doo maxiseries, six done-in-one issues by rotating creators. The final issue, by writer Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela, contains the words "Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Very First Batman-Scooby Team-Up!" beneath the credits, and it is almost worth the price of admission alone. 

Demonstrating his usual thoroughness in his various themed DC/Scooby-Doo team ups, Fisch pits nearly every Batman ally (up to and including Bat-Cow) against almost every classic recurring Batman villain. Seriously, it takes some doing to think of some villain they might have missed in this one.

(Nope, they even thought of him.)

The premise? Scooby and the gang investigate a hotel on the outskirts of Gotham City that is home to all kinds of strange phenomenon. That's owing to the fact that it's currently hosting a convention for Gotham Supervillains, and they've already captured Batman and Robin! Luckily, the whole Batman family answers the gang's makeshift Bat-signal, so we get "animated" versions of (deep breath) Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, Batwoman, The Huntress, The Signal, Batwing, Catwoman, Spoiler, Ace the Bat-Hound and Cassandra Cain (in her Orphan get-up). As for Damian, he doesn't seem to exist in Batman/Scooby-Doo continuity, as Tim Drake is still Robin...and wearing his green-less The New Batman  Adventures costume. But, like I said, Bat-Cow is there.

Things escalate quickly. 
As to how it is almost every Batman ally a determined writer could think of came to be engaged in combat with almost every Batman enemy a busy artist could squeeze into 20 pages, well, the answer to this mystery is the obvious one, and involves another Batman ally...or is he more of an enemy...? 

In the previous five stories, Daphne's butler Jenkins visit old butler friend Alfred Pennyworth at Wayne Manor and they quickly get involved in a dog-napping plot masterminded by Catman*; The Joker and Harley Quinn redevelop the Gotham waterfront, while an obscure Batman villain with an unusual super-power is mistaken for a ghost; Mystery Inc. teams-up with The Riddler to find a pirate treasure (an odd story written by Fisch and drawn by Scott Jeralds, this one features a Super Friends-esque Riddler and a blue-clad Batman with shorter ears); Question Renee Montoya joins Batman and the gang to solve a mystery involving The Shaggy Man; and The Creeper kinda sorta helps out with a case set at the Gotham City Museum of Culture's detective exhibit, last seen in the first issue of the series. 

As was true of the first half of the series, these comics are prefect for fans of Scooby-Doo, fans of Batman and, of course, fans of both, of which there are apparently plenty of us. After all, not only have they been teaming-up off-and-on for 50 years now, but DC just announced a new volume of this very series

I'd still like to see DC do more with the concept—I really want to see the Scooby gang drawn by the likes of Greg Capullo, Guillem  March, Brian Stelfreeze and Kelley Jones, for example—and the 50th anniversary seems like it would have been the perfect time to do it, but I'll definitely settle for some more of the same, given how good the same is. 

Batman/Demon (DC) I missed this prestige-format one-shot when it was originally published in 1996, likely because it wasn't drawn by Norm Breyfogle, Vince Giarrano, Mark Buckingham or any of the artists that writer Alan Grant most often worked with for DC whose styles I liked enough to drop my then more-limited comic-buying funds on. As to why I am picking it up now, in the year of our Lord 2022, well, I spent some time reviewing Grant's American bibliography in the wake of his death, and sought to read some of his work that I missed the first time around.

Published a few years after the conclusion of his run on The Demon monthly series, this Halloween-set story finds two of the American characters Grant wrote most often teaming up with one another...or teaming up as much as the pair ever could, given The Demon's conniving nature, and Batman's reluctance to work too closely with a literal demon from hell.

Batman is chasing a mysterious occult killer, who has been slaying men and decorating walls with mysterious sigils, when Etrigan appears to offer him help. Batman's about as interested as he ever is in working with someone else, but he finally relents when Etrigan tells him all of Gotham City is in danger. Apparently the killings are part of a ritual to summon the demon Baal (here rhymes with "shall") to the city, where he can feast on the millions of souls he'll find there. To stop him, Etrigan will take Batman to the killer—after first taking him to hell, where they can confront Baal together.

It's Batman in hell then, or at least one of DC's versions of hell, as interesting a story prompt as one could hope for. The pair get quickly separated, and Batman's forced to face demons preying on his guilt, in the form of a dead and blinded Robin Jason Todd and his murdered parents calling him a loser. 

As Grant-written Batman/Etrigan team-ups go, this isn't as strong as the first one, in the pages of Detective Comics #601-603, but it reiterates the same basic point (Here the Demon claps Batman on the back, declaring "There's the kind of reaction I like to see! There's as much hate in you as there is in me!"), and has Batman wrestling with his personal failures and some issues fans like to focus on, like Batman's vow against killing (he hesitates when it comes to destroying Baal's physical form, until Etrigan assures him that the demon can't be killed permanently), and how many lives he would save if he would only kill some of his many serial-killing foes. 

The art comes courtesy of David Roach (Brian Stelfreeze handles the wrap-around cover) and it is fine. Realistic in style, I don't think it suits either character quite as well as a more cartoonish style would, but it gives a particularly creepy nature to certain scenes in hell, like Charon's boat made of skeletons, for example. 

Expect some more more-or-less Alan Grant-scripted entries in next month's column, when my library holds start showing up.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin
(IDW Publishing)
 The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise gets its The Dark Knight Returns in The Last Ronin, the story of the last surviving Turtle returning to a dystopian New York City of the future to avenge his fallen brothers and end the now generations-long feud with the Foot Clan and the Saki family. 

That the series, all five issues of which are now available in collected form, feels more like a Mirage-era TMNT story than anything IDW has published featuring the characters yet shouldn't come as a surprise. Not only is the story based on an old idea by TMNT creators Keven Eastman and Peter Laird—who share a story credit with Tom Waltz, who wrote the first 100 or so issues of IDW's TMNT—but Eastman was more heavily involved than he usually in in the publisher's Turtle comics. He also gets credits for layouts, shares a script credit with Waltz, and drew flashback portions of the book, in Mirage-era black-and-white.

Beyond that, like past TMNT epics like "Return to New York", there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and it's not always clear where one creator's work ends and another's begins, giving the book the sort of fusion of styles feel that some of the Mirage books had. Here, in addition to Eastman, the art comes courtesy of Esau Escorza, Isaac Escorza and Ben Bishop.

As much as it evokes the Mirage era, the storyline seems to technically be set in the IDW continuity, although if you squint just right, it might work in either. The last surviving Turtle—and there's some mystery as to which Turtle it is, furthered by the fact that he now fights with a pair of tonfa and a ninja arsenal containing the weapons of all four Turtles—has returned to New York after time away. The city, now ravaged by climate change, is ruled as a sort of tyrannical city state by the grandson of The Shredder. This is a suicide mission, and it fails, giving the Turtle the opportunity to run into April O'Neil and her daughter, Casey. 

As he prepares for another assault, this time with allies, we learn of the fates of Splinter, Casey Jones and the other Turtles in flashbacks, while another set of flashbacks shows the journey and training of the last ronin.

Outside of Sophie Campbell's current TMNT run, branded as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Reborn
this is probably the strongest ninja turtles comic originally produced for IDW. Granted, my saying that might be suspect, given my own nostalgia for the Mirage comics, so feel free to add a grain of salt to that statement if you like. 

Speaking of which, the collected version, which comes with an introduction from director Robert Rodriguez, contains a gallery of 15 of the dozens of variant covers that accompanied the original, serially-published issues. Among these are not only a cover by Campbell, but also one from Eastman and one from the great Jim Lawson, who, between Mirage, Archie Comics and the newspaper strip, has drawn more panels of ninja turtles comics than anyone else alive. It's a nice image in Lawson's now super-stripped down and simplified style, and a reminder that IDW really oughta hire that guy for his own Turtle comics. (He recently started his own "fan" comic about the Turtles in the future, part of which was given away with his Kickstarter-ed comic, that I would love to see published by IDW)


Avengers Forever Vol. 1: The Lords of Earthly Vengeance (Marvel Entertainment) Marvel re-purposes the title of the late '90s Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern, Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino maxiseries for a new, secondary Avengers book by writer Jason Aaron, one which, at this early stage anyway, resembles something of a side-quest to the goings-on in the main book (Don't get too excited; nothing resembling the cover happens in this volume, with the exception that there is a Deathlok and an Ant-Man in it, and Ghost Rider drives his flaming car). 

On Earth-818, alcoholic archeologist Ant-Man (real name: Tony Stark) is one of a handful of variant versions of superheroes around, although there are no official Avengers. The world is ruled by The Black Skull—that's The Red Skull in possession of the Venom symbiote—introduced in Aaron's Avengers as one of the multiversal Masters of Evil, who are going from Earth to Earth killing the Avengers in pre-history. 

To this world, through means not yet explained, have come Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes, with a Deathlok riding shotgun in his hell charger. They spend the majority of the book in the clutches of the Black Skull, being tortured, while this world's Stark rallies its few heroes and Thor's grandaughters from another Aaron-written book intervene to help save the day.

It's all fine, although there's something Bendis-ian about the way it's branded an Avengers comic without really having all that much to do with the Avengers team seen in Avengers; rather, like some of the issues of Bendis' run on the franchise, it has a whatever-the-writer-wanted-to-write about feel to it, unhindered by the limits of the regular cast or remit of the title.  

It's particularly well-drawn, with Aaron Kuder and a trio of inkers handling the first three issues, and a Jim Towe and Carlos Magno the last two issues. 


Expedition Backyard (RH Graphic) Rosemary Mosco and Binglin Hu present the story of Mole and Vole, two country critters who find themselves unexpectedly transported to the city, where they are suddenly presented with all kinds of new wildlife to get to know. It's a fun, gentle book that encourages exploring the wonders of nature, wheresoever you happen to live. More here

*I imagine they'll be putting The Joker in the upcoming sequel to The Batman, but I really think the best villain to use would be Catman. Wait, hear me out. Not only has he never been used in any of the many Batman films, save a brief cameo in The Lego Batman Movie, but none of the live-action Batman movies have yet done an "evil opposite" Batman story. Of the many villains that could fill that role, Catman is the most obvious, most cinematic, most realistic and highest-tier option. Plus, they've already introduced Catwoman, so there won't be any confusion about a cat-themed villain in the franchise had they introduced Catman before Catwoman. Anyway, think about it, Hollywood! Just don't use the costume with the "CM" on the chest. I prefer the Breyfogle design, but the Villains United/Secret Six one is fine too.