Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: February 2023

DC's Harley Quinn Romances (DC Comics) I ordered my copy of DC's Valentine's Day month special from an online retailer, so I didn't get to pick the cover. I ended up with the Superman and Lois variant cover (above), which to its credit, does look like a trashy paperback romance cover, but for which the joke of the title doesn't work quite as well as it would if Harley Quinn were literally on the cover, as she is for the main cover by Amanda Conner (Along with Aquaman, who co-stars in a story with Harley and a bunch of other heroines within the pages of the book; Superman and Lois just play supporting roles in someone else's romance within the issue). 

Contained within are eight 10-page stories featuring a refreshingly wide array of DC super-characters. 

The first story, featuring the couple of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, is by writer Alexis Quasarano and artist Max Sarin, and is perhaps the most noteworthy. Not for the couple that it stars, but more so for its narrative and style. Poison Ivy is in a gown at an event for rich Gothamites, "working", and Harley appears to present her with a Valentine's gift, a sort of homemade fan-fiction Elseworlds story imagining the pair as fellow high school students on the eve of a big dance.

Also of particular note are a Constantine story by Frank Allen and John McCrea which finally gives John a much needed wardrobe update (the romantic element of the story is something of a surprise, with a mate of John's who is not exactly who he appears to be trying to have coffee with a woman while John holds off a demonic intrusion),  a Fire and Ice galentines story by Raphael Draccon, Carolina Munhoz and Ig Guara that is heavy on guest-stars and cameos, and, of course,  Ivan Cohen and Fico Ossio's Harley Quinn and Aquaman story, in which the supervillain-turned-superhero crashes a heroic galentines day and finds that a wide variety of super-ladies, many of whom you would never suspect, have all dated, or at least shared a special moment with, the King of the Seven Seas.

Rounding out the book are stories of Batman saving a couple on the night they got engaged, Superman setting his cousin Power Girl up on a date with Jimmy Olsen (although as Karen Starr, not Power Girl), Midnighter and Apollo in their typically generic appearance and Kite Man's unhealthy romantic fixation on...his own kite...?

An overall middling anthology, there's nevertheless enough of interest here to make it worth the purchase of a casual DC Comics fan like me. 

DC Power: A Celebration #1 (DC) Like 2021's DC Festival of Heroes and various DC Pride specials, DC Power: A Celebration is a prestige format, 80-page giant featuring heroes from a traditionally underrepresented community, all written and drawn by creators of that same community. In this particular instance, that community is, of course, Black, which explains the February release. 

I was heartened to see that the heroes starring in the nine stories were a fairly healthy mix of original heroes (Amazing-Man, Black Lightning and his daughters Thunder and Lightning, Bumblebee, Cyborg and Vixen) and legacy heroes, which David Brothers once astutely and memorably referred to as diverse heroes who came to be because the publisher gave them some other white heroes' laundry (Green Lanterns John Stewart and Jo Mullein, Nubia, Aquaman Jackson Hyde, Kid Flash Wally West, Batman Jace Fox). 

It is perhaps understandable why so many characters of the latter type exist, as it's easier to sell readers on a new Green Lantern than it is to come up with a concept that will achieve the same sort of traction with fans that the Green Lantern one has already proven to be able to do, but it also seems a little like cheating, and that these characters can seem somehow lesser than the white peers they either replaced or stand along side. Over the decades since his introduction 1971 introduction, for example, it's been too easy to think of John Stewart as the black Green Lantern, or a back-up Green Lantern, whereas, say, Cyborg or Black Lightning stand out as their own heroes with their own names and powers, heroes who happen to be black.

On the other hand, I imagine it's cool for a young black reader to see that there's now a Black Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman or Flash now, to think that a you as a black kid could grow up to be any DC superhero. 

If nothing else, Power proves DC is capable, and successful, at telling the stories of both kinds of Black superheroes. 

My favorite of the stories was probably the first, Evan Narcisse and Darryl Banks' story of retroactive "Golden Age" hero Amazing-Man (actually introduced in 1983 in the World War II-set All-Star Squadron), a character who recently reappeared in Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Zero, where he was a member of that alternate universe's Justice Society, and who Julian Totino Tedesco  drew a nice image of punching out Hitler, an image that reappears. Admittedly, that's probably due as much to my affection for the character as the quality of the story, wherein a post-war Will Everett is lying low, as all super-people were during the period, but comes out of retirement to deal with housing issues...and a reprise of a villain from the pages of his All-Star debut arc. 

The artwork is universally good, with all but perhaps one story featuring better-than average art. I was particularly struck by that of Natacha Bustos, who draws the John Stewart story, and Valentine De Landro, who draws the Cyborg story. Olivier Coipel's art on the Batman Jace Fox story, written by I Am Batman regular writer John Ridely, is pretty impressive too, in large part because it's in black and white, and thus looks so different from everything else around it. 

Each story ends with a profile of the characters starring in it in the style of the old Who's Who In The DC Universe, but with different, usually high-profile art attached (An old Jim Lee image of Stewart is recycled for his profile, for example). These were fun, and I actually appreciated them in several cases, given that there are heroes I had either long ago lost track of  (like new Aquaman Jackson Hyde, who I understand is no longer Aqualad but sharing the Aquaman codename with Arthur Curry) or met here for the first time (like Batman Jace Fox). 

The book includes a prose introduction by Ridley, focusing on the importance of representation in comics and his work in that area), and pin-ups of some of the black heroes who didn't get featured in a story of their own (like Steel and Natasha, extra-dimensional Supermen Val-Zod and Calvin Ellis, The Signal and someone named Bolt...from the pages of Black Adam, I think...?) and a few who did (like GL Jo Mullein, Vixen and Bumblebee). 

At $10, it's a great value, featuring lots of solid superhero comics from rock-solid creators. 


Ant-Man: Ant-iversary (Marvel Entertainment) This collection of the recent Al Ewing-written Ant-Man miniseries takes a clever approach to time travel, depicting various points in time as particular comic book stories from the period being visited. This is achieved in large part though some tremendous art-work by artist Tom Reilly (colored by Jordie Bellaire), whose work for each of the four issues/chapters of the series is so different in style it looks like the work of a different artist. 

As for why there's time travel involved, that allows for the series to focus on each of the Ant-Men, from original, Silver Age Ant-Man Hank Pym to second and current Ant-Man Scott Lang to "Irredeemable" Ant-Man Eric O'Grady.

And so the first chapter looks like an old Tales To Astonish Ant-Man/Wasp adventure (a couple of original stories from the series from 1959 are included in the back of this collection, which drives this home), and is written in such a manner to evoke Stan Lee. In the second chapter, featuring O'Grady, the art style changes to look like an incredibly convincing approximation of Irredeemable Ant-Man pencil artist Phil Hester's work, the layouts  evoking that of the old series and even featuring a narrator ant, the way each issue of Irredeemable did. 

As for the third and fourth chapters, the third is set in the present, featuring Lang and his daughter Cassie "Stinger" Lang, and is the only one without a noticeable attempt to reflect the work of another series, and the fourth is set in the future, with text boxes attempting to evoke a more futuristic, interactive reading experience (similar to Grant Morrison's DC One Million comics, from 1998). 

That future's Ant-Man has to, for somewhat contrived reasons, travel back in time to scan the ants of his predecessor Ant-Men, in the process of fighting against a powered-up Ultron who, regular Marvel readers will remember, is currently fused with Hank Pym. He/They also appear in the story, in a fairly big role, so that this series isn't just about the Ant-Man legacy, but where its progenitor currently stands as well (as to where Pym/Ultron end up, however, it's left as a cliffhanger to be resolved...somewhere).

Cleverly created and quite well-written, it's a pretty great comic celebrating one of the Marvel Universe's longest-lived, if most unlikely, heroic lineages. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 23 (Viz Media) This is it! This volume contains the moment that manga-ka Tomohito Oda has been teasing since the series began, a moment I've been sort of dreading for a while, fearful that it might mean the series is starting to wind down and, as I've said  many times before (maybe 22 times now?), it's my favorite current manga series. 

Tadano finally confesses his feelings to Komi, and she reciprocates! It all happens surprisingly fast given the hundreds and hundreds of pages of build-up. First Manbagi confesses to Tadano, and asks him out. He's all set to accept when he suddenly thinks of Komi, and admits to himself and Manbagi he has feelings for Komi. And then, surprisingly, rather than drawing it out for a few more volumes, Oda has Tadano boldly confront and confess to Komi!

There's a pretty great series of splash pages in which she receives and processes the information. 

As much as I fear the dispelling of this central tension will spell the end of the series in the near-ish future, given how slow Komi and Tadano have taken things so far—that is, about 23 volumes to admit they like each other—I suppose there's still a long, awkward way to go as their new relationship develops. At least, that's my hope. 


The Archie Encyclopedia (Archie Comics) Archie Comics' output, from the publisher's creation to its latest offerings, gets the encyclopedia treatment. I had some quibbles with some of the information included and the book's usefulness as a reference tool, but overall I enjoyed it. I'm a big fan of character encyclopedias in general, and read this one straight-through like a book. 


Beaky Barnes: Egg on the Loose (Penguin Workshop) I interviewed children's author David Ezra Stein, perhaps best known for his Interrupting Chicken books, about his debut graphic novel for Good Comics For Kids

Unfamiliar Vol. 1 (Andrews McMeel) I interviewed cartoonist Haley Newsome about her web-comic turned graphic novel for Good Comics For Kids

Saturday, February 04, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: January 2023


Tales From Earth-6: A Celebration of Stan Lee (DC Comics) December marked the 100th year since the late Stan Lee's birth, and DC Comics seems to have wanted to do something to celebrate. Given the writer/editor/icon's long relationship with Marvel, they didn't have much choice as to which characters to feature, resorting to those created during Lee's one big project with the publisher, 1998's Just Imagine..., in which the legendary creator was paired with an all-star artist to re-create some of DC's biggest characters. With titles like Just Imagine Stan Lee with Joe Kubert Creating Batman and Just Imagine Stan Lee with John Buscema Creating Superman, there were a dozen in all, introducing ten new characters (Superman, Batman, Robin, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, The Sandman and Shazam), enough new superheroes to fill the pages of Just Imagine Stan Lee with Jerry Ordway Creating JLA and Just Imagine Stan Lee with John Cassaday Creating Crisis. 

The new $9.99, 80-ish-page giant revisits many of these characters for short, ten-page stories. It obviously has its heart in the right place, but then the Just Imagine... project, the creations of which apparently dwell on Earth-6 in DC's current multiversal cosmology, didn't generate the greatest stories, and was basically a gimmick (Marvel's Stan Lee! Working for the Distinguished Competition!)  and is best remembered for some great art from some of the industry's top talent (including Dave Gibbons, Walter Simonson, Chris Bachalo and others). 

Only two of those artists return for this project. Kevin Maguire, who co-created Lee's Flash, draws the Superman short, while Ordway returns to the JLA. Some art from the original artists does appear, in the Secret Files & Origins-style character profiles that appear at the end of the book. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the resultant tribute comics aren't that great. The one stand out is Mark Waid and Maguire's Superman story, in which the belligerent, resentful Man of Steel sets out to end all war on Earth by making it personal for all those that supply its weaponry or otherwise profit from our conflicts, which he feels takes energy away from our space programs (This Superman, marooned on Earth, longs for our planet to develop space travel capable of taking him back to his un-blown-up home planet). 

I liked the cartoony art in Meghan Fitzmartin, Anthony Marques and Mark Morales' Catwoman story, Ordway does his usual phenomenal job in a character-filled piece featuring the JLA and there's better-than-average art in the Batman and Shazam stories, but the stories themselves are all mostly forgettable, average super-heroics featuring well-designed and conceived Elseworlds versions of DC's stars. In addition to the above-mentioned, there are also stories featuring Lee and company's Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Sandman. 


Godzilla Vs. The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (IDW Publishing) The formula for each episode of the original, 1993-1996 Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers included a scene where villain Rita Repulsa would grow her monster to gigantic, kaiju-sized proportions, and the Rangers would need to board their giant robot vehicles to combat it, ultimately combining them into the giant robot Megazord to defeat it. Given this, a crossover with Godzilla is not quite as ridiculous as it might first sound, given the Ranger's careers as giant monster fighters.

In writer Cullen Bunn and artist Freddie E. Williams II's mini-series, Rita and her minions have found a mystical artifact that allows them to gaze into different dimensions. She uses it to find a world without the Power Rangers, assuming it will be an easier world to conquer. She transports her retinue there, but there's a stowaway—Green Ranger Tommy Oliver, who was spying on them. 

They land in the middle of mayhem, as the world they've traveled to is apparently Godzilla's, and he's currently engaged in fighting Megalon, semi-controlled from a hovering flying saucer inhabited by the Xiliens of Planet X. Unversed in which monsters are good monsters and which ones are bad ones on this world, Tommy summons his Dragonzord (despite being in a different dimension, the Rangers still have access to their 'zords) and takes on Godzilla, not lasting long. Just then the rest of the Rangers arrive, sent by Zordon to rescue Tommy. 

Meanwhile, Rita and her followers have pressganged the Xiliens into an alliance, and, while the Power Rangers' giant robot fights Godzilla, convinces them to summon more and more giant monsters, supplemented by their own supply (all of which repeat ones that have appeared on the show). 

Like a movie-length episode of Power Rangers that's stuck in the kaiju-fighting portion of the episode, the comic is pretty much all giant monster battles, with Gigan, various insect-like kaiju and King Ghidorah eventually joining the fray. As is crossover tradition, the Power Rangers and Godzilla first fight one another, before teaming up to take on their common foes. 

Bunn does a fine job of writing what is pretty much as pure a fight comic as exists, and Williams is able to do a decent job of drawing everything thrown at him, and creating a shared world where characters from each franchise both seem to be a natural part of. 


Monkey Prince Vol. 1: Enter the Monkey (DC Comics) After a so-so debut in a short story in 2021's DC Festival of Heroes: The Asian Superhero Celebration, Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang more thoroughly introduce their new DC superhero The Monkey Prince in this collection. It's pretty excellent super-comics, and the character is a welcome addition to the DC Universe. Outside of Superman Smashes The Klan, with its amazing Gurihiru art work, this is probably Yang's best super-comics writing to date. 

Star Wars: Tales From The Rancor Pit (Dark Horse Comics) This Vader's Castle-like collection of scary Star Wars stories features a victim of Jabba the Hutt's trying to Scheherazade his impending execution by entertaining the space gangster with tales of terror set throughout the eras of the franchise. Not as sustainable a premise as the Vader's Castle comics—you know what Chekov said about a rancor pit, right?—but just as entertaining. Plus it's got a cool cover from EDILW favorite Kelley Jones. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: December 2022


Batman/Spawn #1 (DC Comics/Image Comics) I can tell you about every Spawn comic I've ever read. It won't take long.

I was just getting into comics around the time of Image's founding and the hype that accompanied it, and of all the offerings, Todd McFarlane's Spawn is the one that I found most appealing, as I saw some similarities between McFarlane's art and that of my favorite artist, Norm Breyfogle. I liked the character design, with the big billowing cape, the chains and the glowing triangle eyes, I liked the supernaturally-powered Batman vibe of the character, and I liked the vibrant coloring of the art. I read the first five issues before deciding as well-drawn as it was, it wasn't very good. I was 15. 

I came back for issues #8-#11, the run written by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim and Frank Miller, but those were the last Spawn issues I read, not counting the pair of 1994  Batman team-ups, the DC-published War Devil, written by all of the Batman writers at the the time, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon and Alan Grant and drawn by Klaus Janson, and the Image-published Spawn/Batman, written by Miller and drawn by McFarlane himself. 

So it's not as if I don't know the first thing about the character. I just don't know much more than the first thing about him. 

I gather that at some point McFarlane quit drawing Spawn, and an artist named Greg Capullo took that job, an artist who became the big breakout star of DC's 2011 New 52 initiative, when he was paired with writer Scott Snyder on the Batman monthly. 

That seemed to be the selling point of the 2022 Batman/Spawn crossover, the chance to see Capullo draw the two characters he was now most associated with, one of them something of a return for him. This time, McFarlane would be inking Capullo's work, and writing the crossover for himself.

This turned out to be...well, it's not exactly the best division of labor. Considering all the comics writers there are in the world—a solid dozen or so of whom write Batman comics in any given month—having someone who's still something more of a dabbler than a polished professional seemed a mistake.

I will try to explain the plot, as well as I am able. 

Spawn Al Simmons narrates that there is a void souls briefly enter when a person dies that he could unlock to rescue someone, his wife, but that the power to unlock that void lies with "The Black Beast," Batman. Among the pearls that Batman's mom wore on the night she died—yes, the goddam tired old pearls—one was a machine or some kind of magic which allowed for the opening of different dimensions....? Or something....? The Court of Owls wanted it, which is why they had the Waynes killed. 

They (or should I say "They," as Spawn mentions a Court of Priests in his world rather than a Court of Owls)  recruited Spawn, who, it is said,  comes from a different dimension. which may or may not be Batman's future (They killed Superman first in Spawn's world, he says at one point, because they weren't afraid of him?), telling him that Batman has his wife Wanda's soul. 

Spawn goes to beat Batman up, getting to the fight-then-team-up part of the traditional superhero team-up formula. Spawn is winning the fight quite handily thanks to his powers (see the version of the cover with a triumphant Spawn standing over a prone Batman, like the one above), but then he enters a "dead zone" where his cape turns floppy and he lacks his powers, and Batman is able to wipe the alley floor with him (now see the cover where Batman stands triumphant over the prone Spawn). 
Batman figures out that they are being manipulated, so they have a meeting in the Batcave, and then go out to brutalize possible informants and pose for a two-page spread on a rooftop, which McFarlane and Capullo use as the backdrop for a conversation, which seems more Image-y than another page of talking heads, I guess.

Then they talk to the Joker, who here is wearing his own flayed-off face as a mask, as he did for a time in the New 52. When they leave his cell, we see him gathering around him a bunch of little Violator vclowns.

Then the Court of Owls sends a Talon assassin after Batman and Spawn. They seem to be fighting over Batman's ability to open a portal—with a pearl, maybe?—which he can only do because he has a soul. Batman does some planning, which pays off. Spawn tricks onlookers at the Arkham Asylum setting into thinking Batman is willing to kill now. And that's it? I guess? 

I dunno. I really miss the era of blogs now, because I could really use someone to explain what the heck happened in this, easily the worst of the three Batman/Spawn crossovers. It is not, unfortunately, the last, either, as the scene with the Joker and Violator hinted; indeed, the last panels show someone with the Violator's make-up saying "Everything is working exactly as planned. And now the next move is mine." 

It's nothing if not a threat for a sequel. I would hope that the next time around McFarlante gets a co-writer to make sure everything makes a bit more sense than it did this time around—I don't know what was done by the editors on this book to make sure that this was the case, but it sure felt like an old-school, auteur Image book without an editorial infrastructure. Another good idea? Writing the book as if someone reading it didn't know who Spawn was or what his deal was. Of the two participants, he's definitely the less well-known of the two, and McFarlante seems to have missed an opportunity to introduce him to legions of Batman fans who are reading this for the Batman side of the equation (and or Capullo's presence). 

As for the artwork, it's fine. I like Capullo well enough, but he was never one of my favorite Batman artists (Now if Guillem March were drawing this...!), but then, that's the whole point of the endeavor, isn't it? The former Batman and Spawn artist drawing Batman and Spawn at the same time? I might have preferred March or John McCrea or Kyle Hotz or—especially—Kelley Jones, but that's just me, and having anyone but Capullo draw this particular comic would have erased its whole reason for being. 

Maybe that promised next one will involve different artists as well as a different writing team. That would be my hope, anyway; the fun thing about such crossovers is seeing creators handle different characters than they usually do, and I'd love to see some more diverse Batman artists draw the Spawn character. In the mean time, I guess there are something like a million variant covers from all-star artists like Jim Lee and J. Scott Campbell o content myself with (even if there is no Kelley Jones image among them). 

DC's Grifter Got Run Over by a Reindeer
The theme for this year's holiday 80-page-giant is Christmas carols, as the the title somewhat alludes to, and the results are mixed, but mostly middling. Maybe it's the fault of the theme. The strongest of the bunch is a Batman and Catwoman story penned by writer Scott Bryan Wilson and drawn by Skylar Partridge, in which Catwoman gets Batman that which he likes best for Christmas, and he pulls out a bit of trivia about the "Twelve Nights of Christmas" song that only The World's Greatest Detective in a story would know. The weakest is the Max Bemis-written, Pablo M. Colllar-drawn story inspired by "Silent Night", in which Bemis has Constantine narrate like he's in a prose story rather than a comic book one.

The rest mostly fall in the middle, with little in any of them worth note (I devoted a tweet to each story in this thread, if you'd like more on this book than I'm giving it here). I liked David Lapham's art in a weird Superman/Wonder Woman story, but this is, overall, one of the weaker 80-page-giant anthologies I've seen from the publisher in quite a while. Grifter, by the way, only gets run over by a reindeer on the cover. The Grifter story is actually inspired by "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," and it's mainly nonsensical, although it features Dustin Nguyen's art and ends with Grifter getting run over by a Gen 13-piloted snowmobile. 


Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 22 (Viz Media) Still on their class trip to New York City, Manbagi decides to increase the drama a thousand-fold by confessing her feelings to Tadano. She doesn't quite get there, but does tell him she likes someone who's a lot like him...and then decides to try again when they're back in Japan, leading to a rathe suspenseful cliffhanger in this volume. Meanwhile, Komi's little brother Shosuke has his class trip, which is also dominated by a Tadano, as much as he would prefer it wasn't. 

Mickey Mouse: The Monster of Sawtooth Mountain
Another Disney Masters edition focused on the work of the great Paul Murry, collecting nine stories from 1959 to 1961. 

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead Vol. 8
Zombies running through a natural history museum become entangled in dinosaur fossils, seemingly bringing about the threat of zombie dinosaurs near the climax of the eighth volume of this fun series. This includes so many zombies becoming intertwined with a complete Spinosaurus skeleton that they somehow bring it to un-life, animating it to hunt our heroes. As unlikely a turn of events as that is, it does lead to a scene of dinosaur versus dinosaur conflict, as Akira and the gang fight it using an animatronic Tyrannosaur, souped-up for battle by their robot butler, a holdover from the all-A.I. luxury hotel they stayed at in a previous volume.

That early climax is followed by a story in which Akira tires of the bucket list concept, which is, of course, the very premise of the series. Just as he's questioning the list, he gets trapped all alone in a newsstand by a horde of zombies, with nothing to do but argue with the philosophers who seem to appear to him about the nature of boredom, the human need for entertainment and the very meaning of life. 

It's surprisingly powerful stuff, and another example of why Zom 100 is the perfect comic for our pandemic era.