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. 

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