Saturday, November 12, 2022

A Month of Wednesdays: October 2022


The Batman & Scooby-Doo Mysteries #1 (DC Comics) The Batman/Scooby-Doo team-up comic apparently proved so popular that it's back for another 12 issues. This first issue revolves around The Batmen of All Nations, which would eventually be renamed Batman Inc., and so I couldn't wait for the trade to read it. 

Writer Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela present a very Silver Age version of the characters, who we actually just saw in an issue of the previous Batman/Scooby-Doo maxi-series. Ra's al Ghul has a plan to strike "On the other side of the world, in the heart of Batman", and given that it's a big world, Batman and Mystery Inc are going to need some help tracking down leads. Enter: The Batmen of All Nations.

The globe-trotting adventure ends with Daphne in a climactic sword fight with Ra's al Ghul and the entirety of the Batmen all convening in the city Batman, Turkey.

DC's Terrors Through Time (DC) Despite the cover illustration of the Super Sons finding Poison Ivy's time machine plans, and the tag-line—"Eight Tales of Traumatizing Time-Travel!"—it seems as if DC just used "time" as a writing prompt for this collection, as there isn't any real time travel within the book, other than the usual sort we all participate in every day (So don't expect to see a lot of, I don't know, Waverider, Booster Gold or Rip Hunter in scary adventures or anything). There are a few period pieces, a few stories that check in with characters at different points in time, one in which something bad happening in the future is alluded to, one in which a clock plays an important role, and so forth. I'm not sure that prompt is even strong enough in the stories to call it a theme for the collection, but it seems to have been the general idea for this year's Halloween-season anthology.

Should we simply take each story in turn...?

The collection begins with a Paul Levitz-written, Raul Fernandez-drawn Phantom Stranger story "The Longest Night," in which we check in with the Stranger on various Halloween nights through history, in which he is always engaged in fighting some form of supernatural evil for the sake of innocent victims. It's...fine, but, like all Phantom Stranger stories, it seems, more than a little vague. That's the character's whole schtick, I understand, but it makes stories starring him all feel a little alike and a little underwhelming, at least any of the stories I've read in the past, oh, 30 years or so, I guess.

Next writer Sholly Fisch and artist Luciano Vecchio team-up for a Super Sons story, "Trick Or Treat," in which the pair switch costumes with one another and attempt to go trick or treating at various Justice Leaguers' HQs, each of which they find empty until they visit the Hall of Justice and find out why—The Demons Three has the League on the ropes, and will become irreversably triumphant when the clock strikes twelve. If Superboy and Robin let them, of course. Probably the most fun story in the collection, it's a little bittersweet in that it highlights what we lost with Jon's hyper-aging—this is of course set when they were about the same age, and could still fit into one another's costumes. 

Peter V. Nguyen contributes what must be the most random story in the book in "The Pueo Promise," staring the Gotham City Sirens and set, bizarrely, in 1995 for some reason that is never made apparent. It's an odd choice for several reasons, not least of which being that Harley didn't make her DCU debut until 1999 (And if we want to look at this comic as in-continuity, which it apparently strives to be given the costumes on Ivy and Catwoman, it implies a much, much longer time-line than we're used to for the DCU). Temporal confusion aside, my eyes had trouble following the story in this one.

Zac Thompson and Andy McDonald present a Swamp Thing story in "Half-Life" which is set in two different time periods, both of which are the future...I think. Basically, Swamp Thing fight a weird-looking swamp monster. And then has a rematch. 

More welcome than most of these stories was the Charles Skaggs-written, Tom Mandrake-drawn Justice Society of America story, "The Midnight Hour." The now rarely seen super-team—in an original 1940s era iteration—drawn by a favorite artist? Yes, please. The "time" theme here seems to be that it's a period piece, as the Society members—Dr. Fate, Hawkman, Dr. Mid-Nite, Black Canary, The Atom, The Flash—tackle a cult in a museum at the University of Pennsylvania. 

The stars of Jeremy Haun and Juan Doe's "A New Darkness" are credited simply as "The Green Lanterns," and it is a pair of Lanterns consisting of none of the eight or so Earth-born Lanterns, but a Jan and a Kar-Von, the latter of whom wields both a Green Lantern ring and a Red Lantern ring. I don't know, or at least don't remember, either of them. They do some Lantern stuff, one of them sacrificing their life to hold off a threat while the other goes for help. If there was a time element to it, I missed it, unless it was as simple as the one Lantern "buying time" for the other. Nice Doe art, though, with some lovely looking Lantern effects.

Writer Matthew Levine and artist Jorge Corona collaborate on the Etrigan story "Blood Lost and Found," which, like the Phantom Stranger story, doesn't have much to it; Jason Blood uses Etrigan to stem off an invastion of this plane by a monster from Hell and, in a twist on the time theme, is there waiting for the monster centuries later when its ready to make another attempt. Nice art on this one, with Corona providing a pretty cool-looking Etrigan.

Finally, there's the story I was most looking forward to—the one Kelley Jones drew. Written by Tim Seeley, it's called "The Haunting of Wayne Manor," and involves two characters Jones has plenty of experience with, Deadman and Batman. Specifically, Deadman comes to Wayne Manor to protect Damian from a supernatural threat—the sprit of a man Damian killed as a child returning from the grave for vengeance—which Deadman defeats in part by telling it that Damian's already "claimed" by a bigger, badder spirit of some kind for his youthful sins. That seems to be the temporal element of the story—there's something worse coming in the future—and if that seems a bit weak, well, it's no weaker than some of the other "time" tie-ins. 

It is, of course, always a pleasure to see new art from Jones, and he does not disappoint in his rendering of the evil spirit, which transforms from a black cloud full of eyeballs to one giant eye amid a small forest of long, crooked, finger-like digits. Batman, disappointingly, only appears in three small panels.

It's an effectively told tale, although Seeley does break the "rules" of Deadman, with both Batman and Robin able to see and communicate with him even when he's in his ghost form, and not in possession of another's body.  

She-Hulk By Rainbow Rowell Vol. 1: Jen, Again (Marvel Entertainment) It's been a rather long while since She-Hulk was herself; since 2016's Civil War II, I want to say, after which she went through a gray phase and then, in the pages of Jason Aaron's Avengers, she became more of a Hulk-like hulk than her normal She-Hulk persona. Aaron returned her to normal in his volume World War She-Hulk, and so, right on time for her new series by novelist and former Runaways writer Rainbow Rowell (not to mention her Disney+ TV show), She-Hulk is back to her baseline characterization and status quo: a big green bombshell whose day job is that of a lawyer, where she seems to forever be practicing superhero law.

Rowell wastes no time in reestablishing a status quo, getting Jen a new job and new apartment after her having spent the last few years living in Avengers Mountain and establishing a rather unusual supporting cast (including Titania, with whom Jen forms a fight club), but, surprisingly, the new She-Hulk title is as much a Jack of Hearts series as it is a She-Hulk one. The character shows up at Jen's doorstep in the last few panels of the first issue, after which the focus of the series becomes what on earth is up with Jack, why did he come to Jen for help and the beginnings of what seem like an almost rom-com-like romance between the two former Avengers. 

I don't have any previous experience with the character of Jack of Hearts, outside of his appearance in "Avengers Disassembled," an event that Jen pointedly doesn't tell him about, and worries about having to eventually do, given that he doesn't seem to remember. Does this hit differently then, for people more familiar with the character and with he and Jen's Avengers history? 

I don't know, but I thought Rowell did a fine job introducing such older elements and making them see important and vital to the characters without it seeming like a lot of dry exposition or a fan-writer's particular obsession. 

There's no real resolution to the mystery of Jack of Hearts presented in these first five issues, just some funny changes to the character and intriguing clues as to what might be going on. In that respect, it seems a well-written serial, as one needs to check out the next volume to figure out what's going on. 

Though neither artist gets their name in the title like writer Rowell, these first issues are drawn by Roge Antonio and Luca Maresca ("Illustrated by", according to the cover). Both do a fine job of very realistic superhero comics, with a greater emphasis in these issues on the everyday rather than the fantastical. Their styles are fairly compatible too, so it's not immediately evident when they switch off duties (it happens during issue #3).  


Avengers Vol. 10: The Death Hunters (Marvel Entertainment) Much of this volume of Jason Aaron's Avengers series involves a big fight, between the multi-dimensional Masters of Evil and the Avengers, the former coming to the latter's world in the present in order to hunt down and exterminate each of the Deathloks that was released in the Free Comic Book Day special, which kicks off the collection. 

I assume by this point in the series, you either like Aaron's JLA-like take on the World's Mightiest Heroes or you've bailed long ago. I like it okay, surely enough to keep reading it, even if the Multiverse business seems to get a bit overwhelming. Things are rather clearly building towards a climax now, though, and it's clear that said climax is going to bit heavily rooted in the idea of a Marvel multiverse, as Avengers' sister book Avengers Forever puts together a multiversal team of alternate Avengers to help combat the Masters and, presumably, the so-called Council of Red, all the Mephistos from various universes that fill up a pretty mind-blowing splash page in this volume. 

There's some turnover in the line-up—Black Panther steps down to deal with stuff in his own book, Namor and this book's newer version of the Squadron Supreme's Nighthawk join—and Valkyrie Jane Foster gets a spotlight issue in which she is tempted by some Mephistos with an alternate life. 

The collection ends with Avengers 1,000,000 BC, yet another visitation to the team of superheroes in the prehistoric past, this one finally resolving the question of whether or not The Phoenix is really Thor's mother (not exactly), and what role she and the other ancient Avengers played in the little god's birth.

It's still fairly exciting stuff, although it is getting a bit exhausting too, feeling like it's ready to end, which certainly seems to be where Aaron is at with the title. As ever, there are several different artists drawing the issues collected within this volume: Iban Coello, Juan Frigeri, Javier Garron and Kev Walker. 

Donald Duck: Scandal on the Epoch Express (Fantagraphics Books) This Disney Masters edition collects the work of Mau and Bas Heymans, and is a pretty great overall book, featuring Donald Duck in his various types of stories: He (and the nephews) taking a new, story-specific job (in the title story), a conflict with lucky Gladstone Gander, a quest with Uncle Scrooge, even a war with his neighbor Jones. The collection also includes a couple of Daisy-centric stories, unusual enough among the various Duck comics I've been reading of late, and a short Big, Bad Wolf strip.

There's the expected autobiographical article in the back featuring brother cartoonists, after almost 200 pages proving why they deserve the title of "masters."

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 21 (Viz Media) After the Christmas and New Year's holidays, the class is taking an overseas trip to New York City. There, Komi reunites with her one-time little sister and faces all new set of social challenges. 

Robins: Being Robin (DC Comics) Nightwing Dick Grayson has called a very special meeting at his Bludhaven apartment, gathering every one who has ever been Robin: Red Hood Jason Todd, Red Robin Tim Drake, Spoiler Stephanie Brown and current Robin Damian Wayne. The purpose of the meeting? To discuss, as the series sub-title says, "being Robin"; specifically, if it is good or bad. (One imagines there's a spectrum, as it obviously didn't work out so great for Jason Todd, who was brutally murdered while he was Robin.)

The gathering provides an excellent opportunity to strike for the new villain who opposes the team of former sidekicks, the tech-adept Jenny Wren, who has infiltrated Batman's systems and knows everything there is to know about her prey. Rather than simply outting them, which a normal bad guy might do, she uses her intel to play various mindgames on them like, for example, kidnapping all of their "gauntlet" villains, the first bad guys they had to deal with as Robin.

Jenny Wren is a retconned villain, a young woman who worked briefly to aid Batman in his first year or so as Batman, but with whom a proper partnership never flowered. She's therefore out for revenge against those he did make official partners, and as to why she's waited so long, well...let's not dwell on that either. That's another one that we can answer with "because it's more dramatic this way", I guess.

The miniseries, which fills a single trade and works as a novel-length adventure quite nicely, is the work of writer Tim Seeley, and was drawn by Baldemar Rivas, who had the unenviable task of drawing an entire book full of characters who all basically look a like—thank goodness they spend so much time in costume, so it's easier to tell all the handsome black-haired young men apart.

While I may have had some questions about the overall plot (and it did strike me personally as weird that Batman would have had a computer-based villain in the first year of his career, given that I generally think of "Year One" as the 1930s or 1980s rather than, you know, ten years ago), it's a strong enough structure to get all five characters in a room together and then keep them as a discrete unit of a team for the length of the adventure, no easy feat, really. 

And that is, of course, the real pleasure of the series, seeing these five characters share space and interact with one another. In that regard, the book is a lot of fun, and nothing in the plotting or the art gets in the way of that. 

For some reason, Rivas draws Spoiler with her original mask, the Spider-Man-like mask that covers her full head, rather than what she's been wearing since the New 52, that little ninja half-mask. I vastly prefer the original mask, and was glad to see it back here. I wish she would adopt it in Batgirls; I think it is, ironically, more expressive, and it echoes Cassandra's mask nicely.


Dinosaur Sanctuary Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) What if, in the original Jurassic Park, there was no corporate chicanery, no escaped carnivores and no thrilling conflicts between humanity and resurrected dinosaurs? What if, instead, everything went to plan, and it was a zoo like any other, save for the fact that you could see dinosaurs on exhibit? That is, in a nutshell, what Dinosaur Sanctuary is. Itaru Kinoshita tells the story of a down on its luck dinosaur zoo in a world where dinosaurs have long been brought back from extinction, and the drama that goes on behind the scenes as the various keepers must try to care for their charges. It's fun stuff. 

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