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