Tuesday, December 12, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: November 2023


Mabuhay! (Scholastic) Teenage JJ Bulan wants nothing more than to fit in and be popular at school, but instead he always feels like he's on the outside looking in, a fact he blames in part on his family and their Filipino heritage. It probably doesn't help that his parents fully embrace that heritage in their business, the food truck The Beautiful Pig, which JJ and his little sister Althea are guilt-forced to work; she giving away free samples, he wearing a pig mascot costume and dancing around with a sign.

As self-conscious as JJ is about all of the things that mark him as different from his peers, the siblings are about to learn that their family is far stranger than they ever suspected: It turns out their mom was raised by witches in the Philippines and can wield rather powerful magic herself...magic that they seem to have inherited.

On top of their regular, everyday teen problems—and, it should be said, these are compelling enough that the advent of the witches plot almost seems superfluous to the drama of the graphic novel—the kids are now being menaced by an ogre and witches at school, and find themselves allied with the characters from Filipino folklore stories that their mom had previously introduced them to in preachy, lesson-stories. 

Will they learn to embrace their heritage, and all that makes them unique, in time to save their family and the world from an ancient, folkloric evil? That's the crux of cartoonist Zacharay Sterling's winning Mabuhay!, which is a Filipino expression used as a greeting or to express well wishes, translating to something like "Long live!" 

It's one of the many terms that appear in footnotes throughout the book, and a glossary in the back, explaining the pronunciation and definition of the many Filipino terms and expressions that are sprinkled throughout Sterling's book. There's even a two-page, illustrated recipe in comics form, for one of the Bulans' signature Filipino dishes, chicken adobo.

In the author's note that follows the completion of the story, Sterling explains that though this isn't quite an autobiography, it is very much his story, and that, like JJ, he grew up devouring all sorts of media, but rarely finding himself or his family represented in any of it, that "when you grow up  noticing how little you or your family fits the mold of anything you see on a screen or a page, you can't help but feel left out."

With Mabuhay!, he corrects that lack of representation of Filipino kids and families in comics and media...well, he certainly doesn't solve the problem forever or anything, but he does make a great stride in the right direction, giving people like his family and his people a great work that reflects who they are.

Which isn't to say that this is a comic strictly for Filipinos; the story is one that should resonate with anyone who struggles growing up in the world with an immigrant our outsider identity, or even just doubts about themselves and their family and how or if they fit into the rest of the world.  Don't miss it. 

The Super Hero's Journey (Abrams ComicsArts) Here's something that super-comics could do with far more of: Something completely unexpected. The 112-page, storybook-sized hardcover is the work of Mutts cartoonist Patrick McDonnell, working with an unusual "collaboration" with Marvel Universe architects Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and others that samples and repurposes many panels of their original comics to tell a new story that is essentially a love-letter to the original, first-generation of the Marvel Universe.

When drawing the Marvel superheroes, as he does throughout the book, McDonnell, one of the most accomplished cartoonists whose work you're likely to still see in a newspaper comic strip, works in a style that differs sharply from that one may be familiar with from his work on Mutts and his several children's picture books. It looks like the work of a rather accomplished child-artist, someone who doesn't live and breathe post-Kirby action-adventure narratives trying his hand at capturing the style (In fact, McDonnell shares some of his own fan art from 1966 or so and it's remarkable the degree to which his new Marvel art echoes that of his childhood. 

His book opens with a biographical note, with a prologue set in Edison, New Jersey in 1966. In panels drawn in his normal style, McDonnell tells of he and his siblings' early experiences with Marvel Comics: "Reading those early Marvel comic books by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko was life-altering...I was transformed--  --AND TRANSPORTED. I WATCHED AND I MARVELED." These words of narration accompany images drawings by Kirby and Ditko, as the McDonnell-drawn McDonnell moves through a portal and seems absorbed into the world of classic Marvel comics, seemingly replaced by that cosmic reader stand-in, The Watcher. 

From there, a mini-Marvel saga begins, with panels from classic Marvel comics repurposed, with occasional bridges drawn by McDonnell, to introduce The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and The Hulk, each wrestling with negative thoughts, the sort of self-doubt and melodrama that differentiated the highly-emotional Marvel heroes from their stoic and staid DC rivals in the early and mid-sixties. 

Recontextualized and repurposed, it is clear that there's some sort of threat to the heroes and their world afoot, a threat perpetuated by one of comics' most iconic villains: Doctor Doom. In a McDonnel-created panel, inset against a Kirby image with Lee-written narration, Doom boasts: "I've harnessed the power of the Negative Zone and started spreading its negativity across the land, crushing the human spirit." 

Eventually, the world turns on its heroes, and the heroes on each other, commencing a giant brawl that will involve them all (including late arrival, The Black Panther). It's up to Mr. Fantastic Reed Richards and The Watcher to try to figure out what's going on and counter it, even as the ante is upped by the imminent arrival of Galactus. After a brief detour into "The Romance Zone", where Reed finds Doom gradually appearing on the covers of titles like Teen-Age Romance and My Own Romance and realizes his archenemy is behind the mess. 

What can counter such negativity? What else but love, a superpower suggested in a quote by Kirby, and when the quote and koan-spouting Watcher and Reed manage to harness it and activate it, all is set right, but did it cost Reed his life?

He finds himself lying in the darkness, asking "What happened?", just as a dying soldier once asked Kirby in a war story he told. 

The story complete, an epilogue set in the present honors Kirby, Lee and Ditko...on a page alongside McDonnell's own parents, and updates us on the state of the settings of the prologue. It's an appropriate enough climax, "mushy", to use McDonnell—or was it Lee's, originally?—word, but, like every other page of the book, generated by the men who made Marvel, the men who are the true super heroes being lionized and glorified in the book more so than the big, strong men (and a couple of women) who make up the roster of tights-clad super-people in the drama. 

The book includes a pin-up of Reed, a letters column (in which letter hacks ask questions about the work a reader is likely to have, making the exercise a bit like a mini-interview with McDonnell about the work), an exhaustive sourcing of all of the images by Kirby, Ditko, Don Heck, Vince Colletta, Joe Sinnot and others that were used in the book, and a long list of all the quotes that are used during the book, some from Kirby and Lee, others from the likes of Eckhart Tolle, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Carl Jung, Marianne Williamson and the like. 

A love letter to the foundation of Marvel, and to the escapist power of comic books in general, it's an amazing work. 


The Accidental Warriors This self-published fantasy adventure from writer Karl Fields and artist David Velasquez finds two little kid friends on their way to martial arts class when they take a major detour—through a portal to another world, in an attempt to save their teacher's daughter from a reptillian monster man. There the pair soon becomes separated, and we follow Jalen as he tries to find his lost friend Ram, rescue their teacher's daughter and find a way back home. Along the way he meets all kinds of characters, including a riddle-telling anthropomorphic rabbit, a version of Norse god Loki and the leader of a tribe of young magic-users, and he must face such challenges as a hell modeled on a school where the bullies run things. Jalen and Ram are interesting characters to throw into your typical kids-in-another-world narrative, and Velasquez's art, brilliantly colored by Gio Wolf, is appealing. 

Godzilla: Monsters & Protectors—All Hail The King! (IDW Publishing) The continuation of Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening's kid-friendly Godzilla series finds three kings in conflict: King Ghidorah, King Caesar and, of course, Godzilla, the King of the Monsters. While hardly the publisher's best offering featuring Toho's characters and concepts—I can't get over just how unlikable our protagonist really is—it's still Godzilla, which, for me at least, means it's still of interest. More here

Monkey Prince Vol. 2: The Monkey King and I (DC Comics) I go on a bit too long about the nature of superhero comics crossovers in this review of the second half of Gene Luen Yang and Bernard Chang's overall well-done Monkey Prince limited series, the end of which is more or less scuttled by the intrusion of the Batman Vs. Robin/Lazarus Planet business. 

Star Wars: Tales From the Death Star (Dark Horse Books) The all-ages Star Wars comics have settled into their new-old home at Dark Horse, after years at IDW, and the annual tradition of spooky, "horror" stories set in the world has made the transition nicely, with writer Cavan Scott and a handful of artist collaborators presenting another tale in which a storyteller presents stories-within-the story, these all intended to scare a youngster out of a dangerous course of action: Visiting the ruins of one of the Empire's titular super-weapons. Scott certainly has the formula perfected at this point, and the comics run like clockwork. More here

Superman Vs. Meshi (DC) While it seems like it was just yesterday that I was introduced to my new favorite superhero comic, it was actually two whole months ago, in September, that I first learned of Superman's recent fascination with Japanese chain restaurants, and his habit of visiting them every chance he got. Now we've got another volume of The Man of Steel's culinary adventures, this one mostly focusing on his sharing meals with various peers. I can't emphasize enough just how fun these comics are (I mean, just dig that cover!). More here

Turtle Bread (Dark Horse) I had no idea who writer Kim-Joy was when I first picked this book up and read it, but she is apparently a celebrity baker that will be familiar to many of the people who read this comic. Knowing that she's a baker, reality show be-er on and cook book author actually makes her comics debut all the more impressive; it doesn't read like the work of an amateur at all, nor of a dilettante transitioning her fame to dabble in a "hot" publishing genre. Rather, it's a highly accomplished work, one that tells the compelling story of a young woman suffering from crushing social anxiety as she makes new friends at a baking club and begins to come out of her shell. A great deal of credit must certainly go to the artist, Alti Firmansyah, given that a long, important passage of the book is told silently. More here

Sunday, November 05, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: October 2023


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Reborn, Vol. 7—Isolation (IDW Publishing) The tag on the cover says "The Armageddon Game", and the seven issues included in this collection are apparently those that were published in the pages of the main TMNT comic while the TMNT: Armageddon Game miniseries was unfolding. As such, it's clear that quite a bit of other stuff featuring the stars of the series is going on somewhere else, stuff that only occasionally intersects with the plotting of the stories collected in this trade. Still, it's surprisingly readable, with only two or three of the issues noticeably impacted by that other stuff.

The first five issues or so are relatively straightforward, focusing on the two ninja turtles still in Mutant Town, Donatello and Jennika, while the other three are off doing other things. Donatello is working a monitor array and trying to keep tabs on everything happening in town, while simultaneously protecting Triceraton regent, Seri. Jennika, meanwhile, is filling in as town constable, while Raphael is off participating in the event series. 

Mayor Baxter Stockman gives a state of the city address and he is attacked on camera by four white-masked mutant turtles with familiar-looking weapons (these seem to be the turtles Campbell drew in TMNT FCBD 2022: The Armageddon Game, which was collected in TMNT: Reborn, Vol. 6). This sets off riots in Mutant Town, as differing factions of the populace react violently in different directions. Meanwhile, the Utrom's from Burnow Island send an assassination squad to take out Seri, and Donatello experiments with a magic crystal that recalled the events of 1986's Donatello "micro-series" to an extent. 

Things get weird part-way through the fifth issue, wherein a bunch of other characters presumably from the pages of Armageddon Game join a fight scene, one which grows between issues to include more out-of-left-field participants, including the IDW version of Cudley from the old Archie Comics. I realize I'm reading this in the "wrong" way, and that the ideal way to read it is in the individual issues as they're published serially; presumably, this stuff would make more sense that way.

From there, the reunited five ninja turtles are whisked away to learn a new, tenth secret move from The Shredder and Kitsune, and, in the cliffhanger ending, face the Rat King, the prime mover behind the Armageddon Game.

Sophie Campbell continues to write the series, while Fero Pe provides all of the art. I, as always, would have preferred Campbell at least penciling the art to anyone else, but Pe is good, and the style is well within the range of Campbell's. My favorite bits of the collection, however, are the cover collaborations between Campbell and Kevin Eastman, of which there are seven. This is, in my mind, the ideal TMNT art team, and do hope IDW eventually has them draw a prestige graphic novel together, perhaps one that Campbell writes as well. 


Batman & The Joker: The Deadly Duo: The Deluxe Edition (DC Comics) Superstar artist, Image co-founder and Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri gets a special showcase series on DC's mature readers Black Label imprint, playing with two of the most popular toys in the publisher's toybox. 

Originally a seven-issue miniseries, Batman & The Joker: The Deadly Duo features the rather unlikely—and quite unequal—"team-up" between the two archenemies, written as well as drawn by Silvestri (Colorist Arif Prianto provides the color art). 

This is forced by the mysterious new villain, who spends much of the series hidden under a purple-ish hood and cloak (that's the villain on the cover, under Batman's right wing). By kidnapping Commissioner Gordon and Harley Quinn, the villain forces the pair to work together, giving them a series of impossible-seeming, almost Saw-like tasks involving deciding who should live and who should die. 

Meanwhile, a series of gruesome beheadings is being carried out by monstrously strong and tough creatures that physically resemble The Joker. The victims all seem related to a single incident, a botched armored car robbery-turned-hostage situation at a high society wedding, for which the father of the bride, who just so happens to be involved in cutting-edge genetic research, blames Batman, The Joker and the Gotham City Police Department in equal measure for its tragic, high body count ending. 

He would seem to be the obvious suspect, then, and, while it's not a mystery story, Silvestri does manage to throw a convincing curveball. So too is there some misdirection regarding The Joker's motivations for playing along. He's not really trying to save Harley Quinn, but get his greatest desire fulfilled by the villain, who has the means to deliver it. As to what that is, well, it's worth reading to find out, isn't it? 

The story is engaging enough, and Silvestri does a fine job writing the various players, which include Batman mainstays Harvey Bullock, Alfred, Nightwing, Catwoman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon. The set-up, bringing The Joker and Batman together as a sort of team, works, especially considering what a heavy story-telling lift that is, and the various riffs on the nature of Batman, The Joker and their relationship to one another are satisfying. 

Given Silvestri's reputation as an artist, I was honestly surprised by how good the writing was. It's hardly a revelatory or revolutionary comic, of course, but it is not bad at all. 

The real point of the endeavor is, of course, to show off Silvestri's artwork, and, specifically, apply it to Batman. This shouldn't disappoint any of the artist's fans, or, I would think, many Batman fans. While the storytelling isn't the greatest, and the images don't always flow together in a compelling fashion, the individual images are all generally strong, highlighting Silvestri's figurework and his particularly strong Batman.

I read the story in the "Deluxe Edition" hardcover format, which means that, in addition to 38 pages of variant covers in thte back, there's a similar amount of space devoted to Silvestri's original pencils, as well as an aftterword by Silvestri. 

As for the variants, they are by particularly high-caliber artists, and, chances are, your favorite Batman artist drew one of them. Among the EDILW-favorite artists to draw variants include Kelley Jones, Mike Mignola, Kyle Hotz, John McCrea, Simon Bisley and Guillem March, any of whom I would have turned a cartwheel if I heard they were drawing a 150-ish page Batman/Joker story for DC, although Deadly Duo would have been very, very different if any of them did; this is, after all, a Silvestri story through and through. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 27 (Viz Comics) This volume is dominated by the dramatization of the kids playing an online game Amanjite Asu, which I think is an off-brand version of the game Among Us, (enabled by Komi finally getting a new, smart phone), but I know so little about video games that I'm just guessing. This takes up about 70 pages total, and given that I didn't really relate to the game and only had a marginal idea of what was going on, made this a less-than-enjoyable installment of the long-running series.

The rest of the volume involves some new phone shenanigans, the boy who can't talk to girls playing soccer, and the girls discussing kissing—climaxing with Komi bringing the subject up with Tadano. 


Ghost Book (Henry Holt and Company) Wanna hear a weird coincidence? I checked this book out of my library, knowing nothing about it other than the fact that it was by the great Remy Lai and that it had something to do with ghosts. I decided to wait until a trip I was taking to Baltimore to read it, as I knew I would have a lot of down time in a hotel room by myself and need plenty of reading material. A few weeks later, on my drive to Baltimore, I was listening to the audiobook version of Ken Jennings' 100 Places To See After you Die. During the section on mythology, there's a chapter on the Chinese afterlife, which mentions "ghoulish bureaucrats like Horse-Face and Ox-Head." Mere hours later, when I cracked open Ghost Book, who do I see within the first few pages but Horse-Face and Ox-Head! In fact, Ghost Book deals pretty directly with the Chinese underworld and superstitions about death. It's a fun kids adventure making great use of those sources of inspiration. You can read more about it here

Wildfire (Little, Brown and Company) Cartoonist Breena Bard puts the recent northwestern wildfires in the context of climate change in this melodrama about a junior high student whose family loses their home in a wildfire and must move to Portland to try to start over. She's not ready to let go of her anger though, or to see the wildfire as part of a bigger, more pervasive threat to the planet instead of an isolated event caused by some dumb kids playing with fireworks. Her participation in her new school's Conservation Club, and her family's embrace of local climate change protests, eventually changes the way she sees things, and gets her to ask for the help she needs. More here

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Some Kickstarter campaigns of note

I feel weird about Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site that some comics folks use to bring their projects to life, instead of going the traditional route of securing a publisher. 

I've backed a couple projects there before (some Jim Lawson comics, Mystery Science Theater 3000*) and been pleased with the results, so I'm not, like, opposed to it or anything, I just think it's weird when certain creators or certain projects show up there, given the fact that they seem like they should be the exact sorts of comics that publishers should be fighting one another to publish, rather than something that the creators have to turn to crowd-funding to produce. (That said, I suppose it just might be a weird prejudice of mine against crowd-funding as a publication model; perhaps there are reasons Kickstarter is more appealing to a creator than working with a publisher, I don't know. I didn't ask any of these creators.)

Case in point? Jeff Smith, the Eisner and Harvey-winning cartoonist extraordinaire whose resume includes Bone, RASL, Tuki: Save the Humans, Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil and Little Mouse Gets Ready, an artist who was on the pointy end of the spear of getting comic books in libraries and re-popularizing comics for kids again, is seeking to publish his early, pre-Bone (proto-Bone, in his words) college comic strip, Thorn, which used to run in the Ohio State University school paper The Lantern when Smith was a student there. (I've seen some of these in the 2008 book Before Bone, published in conjunction with his Wexner Center for the Arts show Jeff Smith: Bone and Beyond, and they're pretty fascinating to read in the context of the Bone that later saw print). 

One would think an artist of Smith's stature would have his pick of publishers, but Thorn: The Complete Proto-Bone Comic Strips 1982-1986 and Other Early Drawings is on Kickstarter. Again, maybe this is Smith's first choice, and he didn't even consider going with a publisher, but it strikes me as...wrong that a major publisher wouldn't want involved with the project, as relatively niche as it might be. 

As of this writing, there are 16 days left to go on the campaign. For $30, you can get a trade paperback version of the book, for $75 you can get a hardcover. 

If you've been a regular reader of EDILW for a long time now, you probably know my love of Kelley Jones' art knows no bounds, and little has excited me more than getting a new Kelley Jones comic, especially a new Kelley Jones Batman comic. In fact, I'm so fond of Kelley Jones that if Kelley Jones walked up to me on the street and asked me for, say, $50, I'd gladly give it to him. So obviously I was onboard with a Jones-related Kickstarter.

And this one looks like a doozy, as it also involves Dracula and cartoonist Matt Wagner (best known his Mage and Grendel, but, like Jones, he has plenty of great Batman comics to his name as well). Dracula Vol. 1—The Impaler is written by Wagner, drawn by Jones and will be the first in a series of graphic novels telling the life story of one of fiction's most famous characters. 

It seems like a perfect project for Dark Horse Comics or DC Comics, both of which have worked extensively with the creators in the past, or even Dynamite, where Wagner has been writing the adventures of other famous pop culture icons, like Zorro, The Shadow, The Spirit and the Green Hornet. Whatever though. Like I said, I would be happy to hand Jones money if he asked for it; if I got a Dracula comic by Jones and Wagner in exchange, well, who could ask for more?

As of this writing, there are 16 days left on the campaign. For $45 you get a hardcover version of the book, with either a Jones or a Wagner cover (I chose the Wagner cover, since I'd be getting all that Jones are on the inside).  

Finally, there's something that's only kinda sorta comics that is nevertheless near and dear to my heart, and was a big part in my falling in love with comic books in the first place: The old Palladium role-playing game based on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's original, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness

I and a friend of mine had played a little Dungeons & Dragons around the time we discovered these books, which featured black-and-white illustrations by Mirage Studios artists Eastman and Jim Lawson (in addition to being based on the early, Mirage issues of TMNT, they also included some short comics from Eastman and Laird, all of which I believe have since been collected repeatedly, including by IDW). 

Palladium quickly overtook D&D in our affections, and between us we had all five of the TMNT sourcebooks, plus a few of the related After The Bomb books, which also involved mutant animal characters. We were playing these as I was buying my first TMNT comics, which brought me into a comic shop and well, here we are thirty-some years later. 

I'm delighted to see that Palladium is bringing the books back in a pair of collections, even though I have some reservations about the way they're doing it; mainly, there will be new covers and everything will be color-ized, which, in addition to never looking quite right to my eyes (I didn't care for the colorized versions of some Mirage comics that IDW has published over the  years), means the Turtles will be wearing their cartoon colors, rather than all wearing red, as in the original color covers of the original black and white covers.

Luckily, they seem to have thought of the exact sort of snob that I am, as in addition to the new, colorized versions, they're also publishing black, white and red editions: "For those who want to enjoy a blast to the past version of the books more akin to the originals, this is for you." Neat! I backed at the level that would get me those versions of the two collections, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness and TMNT Transdimensional Adventures. 

As of this writing, there are 28 days left in this campaign, and there's a huge swathe of options of what you can get, from $50 for the Other Strangeness Collection all the way up to special dice and miniature figures. 

This is the end of this blog post, so you can now leave EDILW and head over to Kickstarter where you can support any or all of these worthwhile projects. I hope you will; I'd like to see them all reach all their stretch goals. 

*They're currently trying to raise funds for a fourteenth season, by the way, and they're doing it here, rather than through Kickstarter this time. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: September 2023


G'nort's Swimsuit Edition #1 (DC Comics) Fare like this from my favorite superhero publisher doesn't exactly make me regret not visiting the comic shop every Wednesday any more. Originally solicited as G'Nort's Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (you can still see the original cover at comics.org, which I've posted below), DC apparently backed off too closely echoing Sports Illustrated, changing the title and its font before publication. 

Unlike most of DC's seasonal specials, 80-page giants containing eight to ten short stories, this one is mostly recycled material, collecting all of the publisher's swimsuit variant covers from earlier in the year. Variant galleries like this are, I think, not a bad idea, and there are certain titles and certain themes I wouldn't have minded a nice collection like this of, however the downside is that, because all of these have been previously solicited as individual comics covers, none of the images are really new or surprising.

They are all mostly okay, and they do feature the work of some of my favorite comics artists, including Mike Allred, Nicola Scott and Babs Tarr, among plenty of other DC regulars. The images are all mostly stately and tasteful, often to the point of sterility, with few really provocative images, with the possible exceptions of the contributions by Frank Cho, Tarr and maybe Scott (who approaches brokeback in her posing of Dick Grayson). 

More problematic are the pair of new comics included within. These are, to put it as blandly as possible, not very good.

The first is entitled "Baewatch" (get it?) and is the work of writers Julie Benson and Shawna Benson and artist Meghan Hetrick. It features a rather random assortment of supeheroines—Black Canary, Vixen, Poison Ivy, Batgirl Barbara Gordon and a Huntress—enjoying a day at Gotham City Beach, which the city made from land reclaimed from The Penguin. No sooner does someone remark that The Penguin is likely to retaliate somehow then the heroines note the presence of a nearby oil pipeline, and scouting reveals a bunch of SCUBA goons under the direction of the villain, wearing a one-piece swimsuit and floating in a bubble.

They save the day, make some jokes at the Penguin's expense, and return to enjoying a day at the beach.  What's problematic about that? Well, if you've read a comic book featuring Vixen since, say, the turn of the century, you'll be aware that artists generally depict her power—which is to mimic the abilities of animals—by drawing an image of the animal she's channeling in the background. It saves the writer having to have her explain in dialogue that she's flying using the abilities of an eagle every time she takes flight. 

The problem is that the Bensons, Hetrick and apparently even editor Katie Kubert have been misreading her powers, and thinking that, rather than artistic flourishes that appear in panels featuring Vixen using her powers, those flourishes are her powers, and that she creates images of the animals she's channeling, which she then can control, kind of like a Green Lantern manipulating light constructs. How else to explain the fact that, when Vixen uses the powers of a shark to investigate the pipeline, she's surrounded by a glowing yellow shark shape, a shape that she later uses to "bite"—again, she's not using the power of a shark's bite to let her bite like a shark, but the shark-shape does the biting—and, later still, Black Canary rides on the shark shape. 

It's weird.

And sure, this story is just an eight-page lark and yes, perhaps I am being the stereotypical nerd reader nit-picking a trivial aspect of it, but, on the other hand, knowing a superhero's super-powers is pretty much the most basic aspect of making a superhero comic, and it's unusual to see one of the biggest superhero publishers in the world dropping this particular ball in such an embarrassing fashion.

The second story reads so much like an inventory story, that I wonder if it was actually commissioned for this special, or if it was cut from one of the previous summer or Pride specials and just got used here. It's by writer Steve Orlando and artists Paul Pelletier and Norm Rapmund and entitled "Out There." 

The Authority's Midnighter and Apollo are enjoying a day at the Coast City beach in one another's arms—a sign in the background of one panel says its Coast City Pride—when Midnighter picks something up on the military bands. They don their super-suits over their bathing suits and head into action. It seems the ship the USS Incredulous is being attacked by a great ape. 

Apparently, the entire ship is one big prison for Doom Patrol villain The Brain, and his long-time ally Monsieur Mallah is trying to free him, making a point of telling the "World's Finest Couple" that Mallah and The Brain are a couple themselves—somewhere along the line, Grant Morrison's old Doom Patrol joke got taken seriously enough that the pair became a romantic coupling, so desperate for gay representation was the publisher once upon a time.  

Our heroes solve the villains' problem, but not in the way Mallah initially envisioned. And that's it. Orlando doesn't do anything particularly funny with the set-up—remember, there's a French-speaking gorilla in its eight pages—are anything particularly clever with the characters' super-powers. It's mainly notable as a superhero power couple vs. a supervillain power couple. Nice art by Pelletier and Rapmund, though. 

Also included in the collection is a prose piece that's supposed to be a journalist's interview with G'nort and the team at the magazine talking about his centerfold, followed by some magazine-like stats on G'nort and a repeat of the cover image, featuring G'nort in what appears to be a Justice League locker room. There's also a fold-out image which I guess is the real centerfold, but it's Poison Ivy by Jen Bartel, not G'nort.  

The whole affair is a great deal cheaper than the usual $9.99 that the seasonal special generally cost, but still, this was not $5.99 well-spent. 


Batman/Superman World's Finest Vol. 2: Strange Visitor (DC Comics) The second volume of Mark Waid and Dan Mora's Batman/Superman team-up title opens with a one-shot story resolving the issue of Robin Dick Grayson being lost in time during the events of the first volume; here, he ended up in the late 19th century, where he joined a circus, and where he has a mysterious murder to solve before he can let Superman and Batman return him to his own time. This issue is drawn by Travis Moore.

From there, the second volume begins in earnest with the next  full story arc (if you're wondering about the devil Nezha from the first volume, his story continued in Batman Vs. Robin, reviewed in the previous installment of this column). 

A teenager with a familiar origin story—his dying world is about to end, so his parents put him in a special shuttle and shoot him to safety on the planet Earth, where the sunlight gives him super-powers—enters Superman, Batman and Robin's world, although his origin story has a few notably twists from that Superman's, the first of which is that he's not from another planet, but from another Earth in the Multiverse. 

The heroes take him under their wing, as he adopts the persona Boy Thunder, and they take turns training him, while Supergirl talks to him about survivor's guilt and trauma, and Robin introduces him to the Teen Titans, as Waid and Mora continue to grow the new Silver Age their depicting in this title. (There's also a nice, surprising but very welcome appearance from another minor hero, called on for his specialty). Meanwhile, a team-up between The Key (who here resembles his 1997 JLA #8 makeover, rather than his real Silver Age appearance) and The Joker threatens Gotham City...and then the strange visitor himself, when they get him in their clutches, and seek to exploit the darkness in him for their own purposes. 

Boy Thunder, whose real name is David, ends up being another modern DC superhero, one who, as an adult, plays a key role in a Waid-written classic (This revelation, which might not have been completely necessary given the end of the book, is somewhat clumsily communicated). So if you're wondering why Superman had a Silver Age sidekick that no one remembers, well, that is of course explained as well.

As with the first volume of the series, this is pretty much perfect DC Comics superhero story-telling, from one of the writers who is best at it, and a tremendously exciting artist who breathes exciting new life into DC's stable of characters. 

Superman Vs. Meshi Vol. 1 (DC) Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent gets an hour for his lunch break, but given that he can go anywhere on Earth almost instantaneously thanks to flying at super-speed in his guise as Superman, he can have lunch anywhere in the world he wanted to. And lately he’s been really into Japanese food, flying to Japan–a three-second trip from Metropolis–to dine at chain restaurants there. That is the entire premise of Superman Vs. Meshi (that’s "Superman Vs. Food"), a delightfully weird new manga featuring the culinary adventures of the Man of Steel.

Clark Kent is in the middle of being scolded by boss Perry White when they’re interrupted by Clark’s grumbling stomach. He's dismissed to go get lunch, and he asks office crush Lois Lane to join him. She declines, and while he would normally be heart-broken, he's actually kind of happy. See, there's an all-you-can-eat yakitori lunch special at Torikazoku in Japan, and while it would be crazy for Clark Kent to fly there in an airplane to eat, it's no big deal for Superman.

"One Superman for lunch," he says, striding confidently into the restaurant, where they treat like any other customer ("They’re very welcoming here, even to someone who's clad in tights from the neck down," Superman thinks. "Maybe it's because cosplay culture has become prevalent in Japan, too.") As he waits for his order, the thinks of the first time he tried Japanese food, being gifted with some yakitori during a super-battle in Japan, and the flavor was so good it set-off his heat-vision. Since then, he's been coming to Japan for lunch as often as he can.

Each chapter of Superman Vs. Meshi, subtitled Superman Vs. Something-or-Other, finds Superman indulging in a new Japanese meal, spending most of the time talking to himself about how good the food is, how the components of the meal come together and work on his palette and so on. There's some traditional superhero action and Superman mythos maintenance in the set-ups, but the meat of each story is Superman's meal.

And so after an early-morning, rather boring meeting with the Justice League–the version here apparently inspired by that of the feature film–Superman flies to Japan for an "all-star tempura bowl," the "Justice League of tempura bowls," in which various ingredients are compared to each of the superheroes.

 In perhaps the most unusual World's Finest team-up ever, Superman whisks Batman from the high-end Gotham City traditional Japanese restaurant Bruce Wayne rented out so they could talk about justice (seriously) to Japan, where Superman orders for him. ("You're the Dark Knight… …so the black-vinegar-sauce chicken and vegetable set meal is obviously the only choice.")

When he arrives for lunch one day to find all the restaurants closed, he settles for a Japanese convenience store, only to discover they are nothing like those in Metropolis ("I thought I just stepped into an amusement park!").

And, in maybe the weirdest story of the batch, he goes to a sushi restaurant, only to find Aquaman loudly carrying on talking to the sushi; apparently fish can still speak to him after they've been cut up and prepared with seaweed and rice into lunch ("It’s a little hard to explain," Aquaman tells him. "It's like the ocean tells me everything. So I can hear the voices of the fish.")

One may not be all that interested in Japanese cuisine–that’s certainly not why I picked the book up–but chances are Superman's enthusiasm for the subject, and the slightly surreal juxtaposition of the world's most famous superhero acting as a point-of-view character introducing his unexpected new obsession, will win one over. It's a comic book unlike any that Superman has ever appeared in, and given the character’s 80+ years of comics adventures–not to mention television and movies–that in itself is something of a feat.

Sure, it's occasionally pretty silly–as when Superman tries his movie trick of reversing time to stop his crunchy noodles from getting soggy–but in the context of a standalone manga like this, it works perfectly well.

The artwork, by Kai Kitago, is a nice compromise between traditional Western style superheroes and manga, the story-telling following the rhythms and patterns of the latter; his Superman and Clark look like they are rather heavily influenced by Christopher Reeve. Whether one is already an experienced manga fan–and this does read right-to-left–or used to American Superman comics, this should prove a pleasant amusement. (Note: I had planned on reviewing this for Good Comics For Kids, but Johanna beat me to it; she seems to have liked it as much as I did, so there's two recommendations for you).

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead Vol. 11 (Viz Media) If you were worried the book was becoming a little too religious during the "Pilgrimage of the Dead" story arc, which started last volume and wraps up with two more chapters in this volume, writer Haro Aso and artist Kotaro Takata course-correct rather quickly with "Cruise Ship of the Dead," a two-part arc that finishes out this volume. In fact, the shift from the spiritual to the carnal is so sharp that a reader might be forgiven for experiencing a bit of whip-lash.

In the concluding chapters of "Pilgrimage," our heroes continue on their walk to visit 88 temples, running into trouble midway through when some escaped convicts discover that they are "rich" with canned goods and seek to rob them—and take Bea captive. Though they intend to rape her, they first interrogate her about the source of their wealth, which puts her in a bind, as she's not supposed to lie at all during the pilgrimage. Don't worry, everything works out okay for our heroes...and even one of the villains, who is visited by a kindness he doesn't seem to deserve, and may have restored his faith in humanity (gradually lost after a life-time of being taken advantage of).

And then, that arc, done, our heroes visit Onomichi City, where they take in the calm inland sea, half expecting to see a luxury liner cruising by...and then they do. A fancy yacht filled with scantily-clad hedonist invites them aboard ("Our only rule is that you like to party!"), an invitation Kencho is quick to accept, and the others more reluctantly do, since the boat's apparent captain mentions some researchers on an island, the object of our heroes' quest (when they're not ticking items off their bucket list, of course).

They're mostly all terribly out of place on the yacht's ongoing bacchanal, until a fairy tale-like twist introduces zombies into the previously zombie-free safe space of the boat (Oh, and apparently the water is no escape from zombies...not if they are close enough to you when they hit the water, anyway). There's some advancement of the barely simmering romance between Akira and Shizuka, and a cliffhanger that should force them to deal with their feelings for one another, as they wash up on a seemingly deserted island together, separated from the rest of the group.

I've seen what I assume are more than enough zombie apocalypses to last me a life-time, in manga and in other media alike, but I've yet to tire from Akira and company's adventures through this one.

Monday, September 18, 2023

A Month of Wednesdays: August 2023


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #8
(Remastered) (Waverly Press)
I absolutely did not need to buy this, having the original, Mirage TMNT #8 collected in the old Mirage Publishing trade paperback I have of the first eleven issues of the series (plus the four "micro-series"). That said, perusing the Kickstarter page for the issue, a "remastered" version of it so excited me that I ended up ordering a $25 copy of a comic I've already read at least a dozen times (and used to try to redraw pages of into a sketchpad). 

Much of that excitement came from seeing the various variant covers; I kinda wish they sold a "gallery" version that just collected all of these. You can see them yourself at the Kickstarter page. They include a Jim Lawson/Steve Lavigne image featuring Cerebus hanging out in the Turtles' sewer lair and a nice Michael Dooney image of Cerebus, the Turtles and Renet, as well as covers from EDILW-favorite artists Kyle Hotz and Simon Bisley and one-time favorite, now-problematic artist Brandon Graham. 

I just ordered one of the Dave Sim covers, however, which is a "cover" version of Kevin Eastman's original cover for the original comic, with a few minor changes (some unnecessary flashes of light on some of the metal, a new lightning effect on bad guy Savanti Romero, Cerebus is wearing a helmet instead of bare-headed). 

As for the remastering, I can't tell you how effective it is. I didn't pull out my old Mirage collection and lay the pages side-by-side, but everything looked familiar, perhaps more crisp and clear then I remember, and thee was definitely a starker contrast between black and white than then the yellowing pages of my collection.

In addition to a Cerebus crossover of sorts, this is actually a pretty significant issue in TMNT history, as it also introduces the apprentice Time Lord and henceforth recurring character Renet and recurring villain Savanti Romero, who I'm fairly certain logged more appearances in the original Mirage series than The Shredder did*. 

The story, by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Dave Sim and Gerhard, finds Renet absconding with her master Lord Simultaneous' magic scepter to New York City, circa 1986 (which was, at the time of publication, "the present"). There she meets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who had just returned to Earth after the first real arc of their own book.  Lord Simultaneous tracks Renet down, prompting her to make another time jump to "anyplace on this Earth before humans recorded time!"

That, of course, means the setting of Cerebus comics (1406, according to an editorial box), and, in fact, Renet and the Turtles land right on top of Cerebus. As he and Leonardo cross swords, the master of the nearby fortress Cerebus had been planning on breaking into comes out with soldiers to retrieve the scepter; this is Savanti Romero, the goat-legged, horn-headed sorcerer. 

Cerebus then raises an army to invade the fortress, which Romero defends with an army of the risen dead. After some medieval adventure for our time-travelling heroes, it all works out, thanks to the timely, deus ex machina intervention of Lord Simultaneous, who easily out-matches Romero, even with his possession of the scepter, and returns everyone to their status quo, shunting Romero off to prehistoric times and chaining-up the rebellious Renet with a feather duster and list of chores.  

Read today, it's remarkable for how big a comic it is. It's just 45 pages, but it's a very full 45 pages, devoting to telling a big, rather epic story that introduces plenty new concepts and characters into the TMNT narrative and, because it tells a complete story with a beginning, middle and end in its pages, reads a bit more like an original graphic novel, or at least an oversized annual, compared to simply the next issue of an ongoing comic book series. 

It also boasts the pleasures of the series it is a part of, in which there's unusual alchemy regarding the who-did-what of the proceedings, as at that point with the Eastman and Laird partnership, they both seemed to have done a little bit of everything, but the inclusion of Sim and Gerhard among the creators mean that Cerebus and his dialogue look like they came out of the pages of the Cerebus comic, plopped down into the pages of Eastman and Laird's comic book. It's an unusual inter-property crossover, in large part because the creators of the characters are so involved with the making of the comic book. 

Growing up, I used to wonder why it was that Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo character, who also had some early, if minor, crossovers with the TMNT (in 1987's Turtle Soup #1 and 1988's Usagi Yoimbo #10, became embraced by the franchise once it went mainstream and multimedia, while Cerebus, who had a bigger, more expansive comics crossover—actually appearing in an issue of the main TMNT series—did not. Now I realize that likely had much to do with Sim himself, but it's interesting to imagine an alternate world where in Cerebus appeared in the original toy line, in the original kids' cartoon and would later appear in video games like Usagi did.

I'm not sure what backmatter might have existed in the original TMNT #8, but this remastered edition includes a March 1986 letter from Eastman to Sim, a full-page ad featuring Cerebus and the Turtles in medieval fantasy gear, and a 2012 print by Sim and Eastman featuring "Matisse The Unknown Turtle", Cerebus with a shell and TMNT-style mask, surrounded by the four ninja turtles. 


Batgirls Vol. 2: Bat Girl Summer (DC Comics) This second volume of Becky Cloonan, Michael W. Conrad and company's new Batgirls title seems to be on much surer footing than the first one. This might be in part because it relies more heavily on pre-existing Batman villains (Killer Moth, The Riddler, The Penguin, The Mad Hatter and even the KGBeast all make appearances, and the identity of the Hill Ripper turns out to be an extant, if minor, villain) than the originals that filled the first volume (Seer, The Saints, Tutor, Spellbinder III, The Hill Ripper). 

It's...not a great argument for using original villains, unfortunately, but I think it may have something to do with the way they were used rather than the simple notion that existing Bat-villains are always preferable to original creations. In the first volume, Cloonan and Conrad threw all of them at the Batgirls at the same time in a way that felt confused, whereas here they deal with the threats in a more orderly fashion: After two issues wrapping up the Seer and the Saints storylines (which did seem awfully anti-climatic, given how many issues were spent building up Seer as some sort of evil anti-Oracle), the remaining issues of the volume are devoted to the hunt for The Hill Ripper. That, at least, felt like a normal Batman-adjacent comic, with a single, focused conflict occupying our heroes.

The first two-issue story, "Bad Reputation", finds Seer working with the Batgirls to take down The Saints, who turned on Seer after they realized she had tricked them into thinking Simon Saint was still alive (these villains hail from the ranks of the Peacekeepers from James Tynion IV and company's "Fear State" story arc/Bat-event...another problem with the first volume, I thought).  This takes them to Seer's secret hideout, in the basement of the Iceberg Lounge, which leads to a Penguin appearance. Barbara Gordon decides to enter through the front door, with date Dick Grayson, so Nightwing and all three Batgirls are there for the climax, which basically just fizzles, in regard to the threat Seer was built up as. Guest artist Robbi Rodriguez drew this storyline.

That's followed by the four-part title arc, "Bat Girl Summer," with chunkier, smoother art by Neil Googe, which, stylistically is more in keeping with that of original series artist Jorge Corona (who, for this volume at least, simply contributes covers, like the one that shows up on the collection). 

When grumpy neighbor Mr. Green turns up dead, Stephanie Brown lost her number one suspect in the Hill Ripper case, thanks to some Rear Window-like shenanigans. His death does lead to a new clue, though, a fake eyeball containing an elaborate, Riddler-like code clue. While Steph and Cass run that down, Barbara suits-up again to contact new Gotham City Police Commissioner Renee Montoya to talk about the possibility of an alliance; Babs is reluctant to hack the police department for their files on the Ripper without their permission. (Montoya, somewhat oddly for someone who has been a Gotham City vigilante, is opposed to working with vigilantes, and wants to do everything by the book; at least Cloonan and Conrad have Montoya mention her time as The Question.)

During their sleuthing at the library, Steph and Cass run into one Kyle Mizoguchi, from the pages of Cloonan and company's long-canceled Gotham Academy book. He helps the girls with their research, and gives Steph his number; they even make a date for the Gotham Zoo, where the clues point, and where Cass teams up with Maps Mizoguchi for some "Batman stuff" while Kyle and Steph talk. Based on the dialogue, it doesn't look like anything will come of Kyle and Steph, but I guess I'll have to read the next volume to be sure; it's an interesting pairing, and one with a lot of potential to bring Gotham Academy's favorite characters closer into the world of Batman (and back in the spotlight), although I confess I have lost track of how old Steph, Cass and the other Batman sidekicks are actually supposed to be now. (From the end of Tynion's 'Tec run, it seemed like Tim was ready to go off to college, and he and  he and Steph were together at that point, driving off together into the sunset, and were still together into the pages of  Brian Michael Bendis' rebooted Young Justice. If Steph is Tim's age, than I guess that would make her 18-ish, and ready for college...and thus an older woman to Kyle. She doesn't seem to be in any kind of school in the pages of Batgirls, though). 

The hunt brings in a few other Bat-villains, as traditional Batgirl foe Killer Moth is working with the Hill Ripper (and here he's got a web-gun as well as a pretty cool redesign; I guess moth caterpillars do secrete sticky stuff when they get ready to make cocoons, but this seems a bit of a stretch for Killer Moth, thematically),  and The Riddler, who is also trying to "solve" the Ripper case, apparently by leaving Riddler-style clues with the bodies for others to follow, since the Ripper himself does not (As for the Ripper, he is, spoiler alert now, Mr. Fun, who first appeared in 2002's—Gah! He's over 20 years old at this point!—Batman: Family by John Francis Moore, Rick Hoberg, Stefano Guadiano and Steve Lieber, an eight-issue miniseries that I mostly remember for introducing a bunch of new, minor villains for the Bat-Family to tangle with (I don't think it's been collected yet). 

It's still not the Batgirls comic book I thought I wanted, exactly, but, with this second volume, it seems to be getting there. I'm hopeful the third volume is even better, and then I guess that's it for the book, as it's already been cancelled. 

Batman Vs. Robin (DC) This Mark Waid-written event comic is actually the continuation of two different threads of recent Batman-related goings-on, only one of which evolves from Waid's own writings. One of these is the most recent Robin series, the one written by Joshua Williamson and finding Damian on a new costume entering a fighting tournament on Lazarus Island. The other is Waid's first arc of Batman/Superman: Worlds Finest (reviewed in this post), in which the pair encounter an ancient Chinese sorcerer/demon capable of possessing his foes. So foundational are these two stories to the Batman Vs. Robin miniseries, indeed, that the collection includes a six-page excerpt from the final issue of Robin and the nine-page finale of World's Finest #6; a reader is expected to be familiar with these stories, and the collection goes out of its way to make sure they are (Also of some import is probably the Batman story arc "City of Bane", in which Alfred was killed off, given that he here reappears alive for a time, although DC's editors don't weigh its importance as such that it needed excerpted before the beginning of this new story.)

Oddly, there's another comic of great importance that isn't included in this collection; that's "The Lazarus Planet Event", as an asterisk and editorial box refers to it. I'm not sure the exact issue title or number of books, but it apparently occurred between the fourth and fifth issues of this very series. The events are pretty important, even if the story sort of glides over them. I'm not sure how DC wants one to read them, exactly; based on this collection, it doesn't seem like one needs to, the narrative road just gets awfully bumpy between the penultimate and ultimate chapters of this story.

As for that story, Batman returns to the now disused Wayne Manor, where he finds a few surprise guests. The first is Alfred, seemingly himself and returned from the dead in some mysterious fashion that he himself is ignorant of. The second is the now semi-estranged Robin Damian Wayne, in the company of Tim Hunter and Jakeem Thunder and his thunderbolt (Hey, I like those characters! Just as I like Waid's ability to remember and willingness to use many cool characters from throughout DC's long history, minor and major). While Alfred isn't quite sure what he's doing there, Robin and friends are there to kill Batman.

Obviously, Damian is being controlled and, obvious to readers from the comics sampled before the start of that story, the being doing the controlling is the Devil Nezha, last seen being imprisoned by Batman on a mysterious island...and island that ended up being Lazarus Island.

Batman and Alfred escape to see Zatanna, only to find her trapped between death and life, and telling them that all of his magical allies are in similar straits. She tells him to use the magic key she gave him to seek answers, and this his does through a wild visit to past DC horror hosts like Cain and Able, here in their reimagined-by-Neil-Gaiman roles as caretakers or real estate in The Dreaming. After expositionary dreams, Batman and Alfred learn what they need to know about Damian and his recent history and his alliance with Nezha and a new-to-me character named Mother Soul.

Batman must then travel to Lazarus Island, where Damian and his new, bad guy masters are busily draining magic users and magical items into a single, powerful reliquary through the captured Black Alice's powers. 

Batman is forced to run a gauntlet of all his former Robins, each now armed with a powerful magical item of some sort, before facing Damian himself, with Nezha and Mother Soul looking on. Does Batman have a plan for dealing with this situation? Well, he is Batman.

It's a pretty straightforward but fun adventure in the mode of Waid's lore-heavy World's Finest storytelling, a Batman and Robin comic with global stakes. But then things get weird, climaxing in the fourth issue, then leading into the "Lazarus Planet " event/story/comic/whatever, and then picking up where some time and action has passed. 

Suddenly, Robin is the narrator and protagonist, and Nezha is bodily possessing Batman's fatally  wounded-and-dying body in Gotham City. With an assist from The Monkey Prince, Zatanna, Enchantress and the Bat-Family, Robin must find a way to beat Nezha, exorcise him from Batman's body and somehow replace him with the necessary soul energy to restore Batman to life. It's not surprising that Robin finds a way to do the impossible, of course, but, as ever, it's the how that's interesting. 

The structure is, obviously, a little weird; the miniseries is essentially a story with two different, distinct, consecutive climaxes, and I'm not sure to what degree it might be informed, and thus changed, by reading the missing Lazarus Planet piece. It's satisfying enough as is, though.

Mahmud Asrar provides the majority of the art, with Scott Godlewski drawing the final issue, the second climax. The art is all fine, if petty unremarkable. 

Fantastic Four By Ryan North Vol. 1: Whatever Happened to the Fantastic Four?
(Marvel Entertainment)
I consider writer Ryan North—who, in Marvel's current dunderheaded way of naming their graphic novel collections, sounds like he is a cartoonist entirely responsible for the creation of the books within—a genius in the field of comics-making and book-writing, and that's not a term I use lightly (Or, like, very often). If all he was responsible for was The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I think that might be true, that comic being the best Marvel comic I've ever read (Granted, I've only started reading Marvel comics around the turn of the millennium). But that's not the only book to his credit, and what the works of his I've read have all shared is wild imagination, clever premises and, at times, an almost insane-seeming dedication to a bit (See Dinosaur Comics).

That said, I haven't read his handful of non-Squirrel Girl  Marvel comics, which tended to either not be up my alley (The Darkhold, Power Pack) or seem like all around bad ideas in general (a new Secret Invasion). But the Fantastic Four? That seemed right up the writer of Squirrel Girl's alley, what with the book's traditional focus on science-adventure as much as superheroics, its propensity for humor, and its family narrative.

And Ryan North does do a good job on the book, it's just...well, it's a weird book, feeling more like a fill-in arc than the start of a brand-new era for the Fantastic Four. Which it technically is, given the new #1 it launched with (Of course these days, every time there's a new writer it's supposedly a brand-new era, as the books relaunch to accommodate the change in creative teams).  It's basically a series of fun, clever, done-in-one adventures in which members of the FF are faced with a creative conundrum they must solve, but it finds the team unmoored from a particular place—not only do they have no home or headquarters, they're not even in their hometown of New York for much of it—and unmoored from one another, as the first three issues feature the various members of the isolated from the rest of their family.

Each issue is, in itself, a well-written, perfectly competently-drawn comic book (more on North's artistic collaborators Iban Coello and Ivan Fiorelli in a bit), but adding them all together only gets us a series of unrelated vignettes, kinda sorta explained via flashback at one point (Although, at another, the now solo, secret-identity having Johnny Storm seems to allude to events in  an unrelated Marvel crossover event: "So, yeah, being a hero's 'illegal' in New York now.") They're each substantial reads, something North has always seemed to deliver on, but they feel weightless and ungrounded, like they belong in another book, rather than the first volume of a new run on FF.

So the first issue of a new volume of Fantastic Four, for example, only features one member of that team, The Thing. Ben Grimm and his now-wife Alicia are on the road for some reason, and they check into a motel in 1947, and, were that weird enough, they soon discover the next day that it's still the same day of 1947—Indeed, they've stumbled into a town trapped in time, whose citizens have been unknowingly reliving the same day of 1947 for decades now, with no hope of escape. Until our heroes come around, of course, and then it's up to Ben and Alicia to figure out what the heck is going on and break the cycle to save the town. 

See? Perfectly fun, clever Fantastic Four story. It just doesn't seem like a Fantastic Four #1 does it? I mean, it's missing 3/4ths of the team. The art on this issue, and for the first four of the series, is by Iban Coello, a talented artist whose work I first read in Tom Taylor's Dark Ages series. He's a perfectly accomplished in what we could call the Marvel house style (and, of course, he's drawn books all over their house over his career), but I'm of two minds about his appropriateness on North's FF

On the one hand, it's so different a book from what one might expect from previous volumes of the series, that one might wish for an artist whose style is that different, whose very presence communicates that this is something off-beat, something quirky, something that's not your average superhero comic (As North's Squirrel Girl collaborators, Erica Henderson and Derek Charm did). 

On the other, Coello's style's very adherence to a basic, even generic superhero book so ground this in the modern Marvel Universe that it makes the difference between it and other books sharper and more subversive. It doesn't advertise what it is, but, visually at least, is your standard Marvel book.

The rest of the book basically follows the set-up of the first issue. After a last page hint that the FF did something to make New Yorkers hate them, the second issue finds Reed and Sue also on the road, stopping at a diner, where they discover another weird town with another interesting dilemma in need of solving: The entire population of the town appears to be Doombots, although they are Doombots programmed to imitate regular American townsfolk going about their normal, human lives (unless they see a member of the FF, of course). 

Next we check in with the solo Johnny Storm, currently dying his hair, rocking a mustache, working  a day job and going by the name of "Jonathan Fairweather." He's still in New York, and isn't faced with a weird town trapped in a weird form of peril. Rather, he has to deal with an evil businessman making life miserable for the put-upon employees at Johnny's super-store.

It's not until the fourth issue that we get the reveal of what exactly the FF did to split them up and send them out of New York City—Reed comes up with a very Reed, cold but scientifically sound solution to an alien invasion that shifted a chunk of NYC real estate, including the Baxter Building, through time, so that it will arrive safe and sound back where it was originally...in one year's time (relative to those who weren't shifted; for those that were, it will seem instantaneous).

I'm surprised an editor didn't push for this to be the first issue. I don't know, maybe they did. Even it occurs in flashback though, as Ben and Alicia are trapped in a crazy circumstance, and the others must reunite to save them.

The final two issues, for which writer Ian Fiorelli comes on board to take the artist reigns from Coello (and their styles are similar enough that there's no real aesthetic turbulence, although the same issues I have with Coello's presence on the book are operative with Fiorelli's), sees a brief appearance by Salem's Seven who attack the reunited Fantastic Four in a novel way: With extradimensional bacteria, which first just threatens to painfully kill them, but, in the next issue, threatens the world.

And that's the first volume of the Fantastic Four by Ryan North: Clever, imaginative, occasionally funny and featuring the familiar characters in well-written and drawn appearances, but in a weird format, something that's so episodic it feels a bit like a TV show more than a modern comic book. 

I don't know. I enjoyed it enough to read volume two, but it's a pretty weird read. 

The He-Man Effect: How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood (First Second) "I am not a hater of these toy properties at all," Brian "Box" Brown writes in the afterword of his latest non-fiction comic. "I, like many of my generation, have been hypnotized by Star Wars, He-Man, Transformers and G.I. Joe...The nostalgia for these toys is a strong and powerful emotion for me. This is what led me to make this book, to do the research. I just don't think that feeling I have now was put there by accident. It was done by force."

The He-Man Effect is his book-length exploration of how nostalgia for various toy brands was put in his head, and the heads of his entire generation (myself included) by force. 

Brown, in his infographic-simple art-style, starts his tale at the beginning of human history, noting the power of human imagination and jumping ahead to Julius Caesar, who created "one of the first recorded pieces of military propaganda, though it had surely existed as a concept as long as war has." 

He then spends some time on propaganda as a means of persuasion, moving quickly through the twentieth century from World War I to the selling of cigarettes to Disney and Mickey Mouse mania to the subject of hand, the selling of toys to kids, particularly in the period from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when the franchises he mentioned were at their height. 

It's a smart, rhetorically sound book and a fascinating history, one with clever echoes I had never thought of, like, for example, that Orson Welles, the man who made Citizen Kane, a film about nostalgia as symbolized by a particular childhood toy, would, later in his life, play the voice of a toy in the original Transformers movie, featuring a franchise that could very well be full of other children's Rosebuds.

I didn't know most of this, despite being on the receiving end of a lot of the marketing for these properties, which, indeed, defined my childhood, from the toys I played with to the shows I watched to the things I imagined. I also never thought of the power of nostalgia, and the fact that I still like things like Star Wars or Transformers owes a deal to nostalgia, to the way I associate them with the happy, carefree days of childhood, and the fact that the marketing forces of my youth are still acting on me today (I will here pause to note that I was a fan of He-Man before the cartoon; I remember reading, and in fact still have the little storybooks that came with the first wave of He-Man guys in which He-Man and Eternia had different origins than those presented in the cartoon, stories that predated the introduction of the Prince Adam identity. [And I have them in multiple formats; both the original books and comics which I saved, and the Dark Horse collection of the same]. Apparently I didn't need interest in He-Man "burned" into my "little pea brain"; the toy sold itself to me...well, it sold itself to my grandmother and my parents, who bought me my first Masters of the Universe toys for one magical Christmas in the '80s...and how much is tied up in that! My interest in the franchise, sure, but it was also my first, non-newspaper introduction to comics, and I still think of my late grandmother when I think of He-Man...)

(What was I talking about...?)

As wonderful a read as it is, to relive my childhood while learning about the not-exactly-benign forces that shaped the world of my imagination, there's a great pleasure in seeing Brown's simplified style devoted to drawing the toys themselves, as well as famous scenes from the cartoons, from movies and things like the first Star Wars novels or Noelle Stevenson's She-Ra. This book is a pleasure not just to read, but also to look at.

I can't possibly recommend it enough, especially if you were a child in the 1980s. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol 26 (Viz Comics) I can't tell you how relieved I am that this book didn't end when Tadano and Komi finally got together. Now I'm wondering if it won't instead end when they graduate high school, and/or Komi meets her goal of making 100 friends...and perhaps those two things will happen simultaneously. As it turns out, there is still plenty of room for awkward miscommunication problems involving the pair and those around them that has nothing to do with the unspoken of romantic tension that existed between them for so many volumes. Here, for example, Tadano invites Komi over and introduces her to his mom and sister as his girlfriend, and they are confused; why is Komi dating Tadano, who they thought liked boys...? 


Batman: Wayne Family Adventures Vol. 1 (DC Comics) So it turns out that this is what I wanted from the pages of Batgirls: Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown and Barbara Gordon hanging out with one another and the extended Bat-Family. In fact, that's the entire focus of this comic, which began as a Web Toon series of online comic strips. Despite being right up my alley, I didn't dig the experience of reading it online. Now it's been collected into book form, the individual strips edited to fit the format, and done so well enough that it seems like the strip was always meant to be read in comic book, rather than online. This is an ideal comic for fans of the extended Bat-Family, and a template for what more Batman comics could be, rather than a monthly beat 'em up of the same stable of recurring villains. More here

Paul Bunyan: The Invention of an American Legend (Toon Books) Cartoonist Noah Van Sciver retells the story of Paul Bunyan while providing necessary, rarely-discussed context in a fictionalized story of a lumber company ad man trying to entertain fellow passengers on a stalled train. Further context is provided in an introduction and generous back-matter, all coming from indigenous voices, which are heretofore always missing from the story of the manufactured myths of America's most famous lumberjack. More here

Team Trash: A Time Traveler's Guide To Sustainability (Holiday House) This is a message book, meant to teach young readers about recycling, its history, its present and its future. Despite its rather naked advocacy and educational nature, the premise is entertaining enough that it never seems preachy. More here

*I guess Shredder only actually appeared once; The Shredder who appeared in Leonardo #1 and "Return to New York" was one made of magic ninja worms, and thus not the "real" Shredder.