Monday, January 22, 2024

Hey, Robert Ableman listens to Cub!

It wasn't something I was expecting to see in a comic book, least of all in the pages of Mayor Good Boy Turns Bad, the third installment of Dave Scheidt and Miranda Harmon's Mayor Good Boy series, about a talking dog mayor of a small town. 

Early in the book, Robert Ableman, the father of the book's heroes Abby and Aaron Ableman, is shown going through his record collection. When Aaron interrupts him, Robert clutches the album he's holding to his chest defensively and holds it there for several panels. As you can see above, it's a Cub album, specifically their second album, 1995's Come Out Come Out.

For those of you who don't know, which I assume is most of you, or at least most of Mayor Good Boy's young readers, Cub was a Vancouver-based all-girl band in the 1990s, their sound defined by simple, lullaby-like pop punk rock tunes with sing-songy lyrics that could be either extremely charming or somewhat cloying, depending on your level of cynicism. They self-branded their style as "cuddlecore." As a teenager, I loved them unconditionally, my favorite song being "My Chinchilla" from their debut album Betti-Cola, which was either a cute and innocent love song...or an ode to an actual pet chinchilla. I interpreted it as the former. 

In an earlier panel, we see Aaron holding two other albums, They Might Be Giants' 1988 Lincoln and The Cure's 1989 Disintegration, so perhaps Robert came to Cub through They Might Be Giants, who covered "New York City" from Come Out Come Out on their 1996 album Factory Showroom. At any rate, we can agree that Robert has pretty good taste in music, and a worthy record collection. 

This isn't the only Cub comics connection, or the only reason they might be mentioned on a comics blog. The cover art for Betti-Cola was from legendary cartoonist Dan DeCarlo.

Now the only question is who on the Mayor Good Boy team is the Cub fan, Schedit or Harmon? Or both? 

Monday, January 01, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: December 2023


Batman: Dark Knight Detective Vol. 8 (DC Comics) This latest collection of post-Crisis, pre-"Knightfall" issues of Detective Comics opens with a mistake: The volume includes 1991's Detective Comics Annual #4, the Armageddon 2001 tie-in, just as the previous volume in the series did. In seems to be a mistake of addition though, as it doesn't look like it replaced anything. The next ten issues of the series from 1992 are all included, as is the 1992 Annual #5, the Eclipso: The Darkness Within tie-in. 

This turns out to be the sole contribution of writers Alan Grant and John Wagner, while the rest of the scripts in the collection come courtesy of Chuck Dixon. In the annual, featuring a nicely crazed cover by Sam Kieth featuring Batman and The Joker and great, spooky interior art by Tom Mandrake, Grant regulars Scarface and The Ventriloquist have a new scheme: A legitimate night club for a clientele of gangsters, complete with ventriloquist act by themselves, in which they have bugged all the tables, allowing them to get all the dirt on their rival gang bosses. This is how they hear of a $25 million job The Joker once pulled off, where in the Clown Prince of Crime was the only one who knew where the money got stashed before he was picked up by the police. 

So they break The Joker out of Arkham—this turns out to be the first meeting between the two characters—and try to force him to reveal the location of the loot. What does that have to do with Eclipso? Nothing. The old JLA villain turned DCU annual event Big Bad comes into play when Batman encounters a couple of his black diamonds on an ancient head piece that was part of a museum job. Doctor Bruce Gordon comes to town warning of the diamonds and the danger of Eclipso, but he's too late; it turns out this night was the anniversary of Barbara Gordon's shooting by The Joker, and her dad Commissioner Gordon is feeling extra vengeful. He has thoughts of vengeance in his heart when he touches the diamonds, and thus releases a 20-foot monster, an aspect of Eclipso, that won't rest until it takes vengeance on The Joker. This leads to a climactic battle between Batman and the monster, way out of his normal weight class, in an old, abandoned toy factory. 

Mandrake handles the drawing of all the characters masterfully, and he's especially adept at depicting a semi-scary Batman as creature of the night and, of course, excels at the monster. I was rather disappointed when I got to the final panel and saw the tags saying "To Be Continued in Robin Annual #1" and "Plus--For More of Eclipso, Don't Miss Superman Annual #4". I read the Robin Annual, of course (also by Grant and Wagner, with art by Tom Lyle and another great Kieth cover), but never did read the Superman one. As with the Armageddon 2001 tie-in last volume (and, um, this volume too), I found myself wishing DC would collect the event. I know annual events are notoriously difficult to collect due to their sheer page count—Eclipso ran through two bookending specials and 18 different annuals—but I think a coupla trades could do it (and do it better than a massive omnibus, of which I'm not a fan of). 

The rest of the collection, as previously stated, is Dixon's, and the stories within find him working with one of two of his more fruitful collaborators: Tom Lyle and Graham Nolan.

With Lyle (doing breakdowns, while Scott Hanna handles finishes), Dixon has a pair of three-parters. The first of these is "Electric City", featuring great covers by Michael Golden, has Batman and Robin trying to stop an electricty-powered killer who survived the electric chair and now wants to electrocute all those who showed up to watch his botched execution (Plus vigilante The Electrocutioner). The second is a rather big one in terms of modern Batman history, as it re-introduces footnote Batman villain The Cluemaster and his daughter-turned-vigilante, Spoiler Stephanie Brown (this one's got great covers by Matt Wagner, two of which grace the front and back covers of the collection).

Rounding out the collection are the Nolan contributions, "The Dragon", in which Batman's hunchbacked fix-it guy Harold discovers that the Batcave cave complex connects to Gotham's underground rail system (while Robin saves a faux Geraldo Rivers from a booby-trapped safe during a television special); "A Bullet For Bullock," in which Batman and the rumpled police detective team-up (this one features what I believe is the very first Kelley Jones Batman cover; someone please correct me if I'm wrong); and a two-part story introducing The Huntress as an active presence in Gotham City. 

The repeat inclusion of the 1991 annual aside, it's a great collection from a high-point in Batman comics, and not to be missed by anyone whose never read these stories before (or who, like me, only read some of them). 

Looking ahead to what next, there's little left before "Knightfall": The three-issue arc introducing The General and two issues of team-ups with Azrael. These are intersesting comics, featuring art from Michael Netzer and covers by Kieth and Jones (taking turns inking one another's pencils), but they've already been collected elsewhere. Even if they include the next annual, I don't think there's enough material for a volume nine of the series.


Batman: Wayne Family Adventures Vol. 2 (DC Comics) I remain somewhat perplexed as to how exactly this comic is produced, with one of the two inkers, Starbite, getting second credit below the writer (as well as having a bio in the back). In addition to Starbite and fellow inker Toby Fan, there are six artists credited under "storyboards by", two artists under "backgrounds by" and then a "flats & rendering" credit. That seems like a whole lot of personnel for what is a visually rather simple comic (and it's been rearranged to read more like a comic book in these collections; in the original Webtoon format they are simply phone-friendly, equal-sized sequential panels that run in a vertical stream).

My confusion about the process aside, it is clear that CRC Payne handles the scripts, and she's a magnificent writer, doing great character work with a large, even unwieldly cast of characters that includes the entire extended Bat-Family, with occasional appearances of Superman, the Justice League and even some villains and surprise characters. 

This is the only DC Comic that actually tackles the Batman cast as it actually stands, rather than strategically ignoring most of the characters because it's so much easier to do so (It is a little out of date though; Tim and Cassie are still wearing their New 52 Red Robin and Orphan costumes respectively, and Alfred is still alive, instead of temporarily dead, as he is in the other Batman comics). 

Among the highlights in this volume are seeing Alfred fly the Bat-plane to Kansas for a dinner with the Kents wherein they discuss their sons, Bruce Wayne consulting Superman on how to tie a tie (when Alfred is out of town) and the whole Justice League chiming in and the family rallying to keep Bruce Wayne in bed when injuries ground him from being Batman and all teaming-up to support Jason when he has a traumatic flashback to his death.

It's all around great stuff, and by far my favorite modern Batman comic. 

Godzilla Rivals: Round One (IDW Publishing) Godzilla Rivals is a series of standalone one-shots by rotating creative teams pitting Godzilla against one of his classic Toho foes...and telling the story of human characters underfoot in the process. Well, most of the installments in the series pit Godzilla against one of his foes. Some issues feature two non-Godzilla Toho characters duking it out, as in Godzilla Rivals: Biollante Vs. Destroyah or Godzilla Rivals: Rodan Vs. Ebirah. For the first collection, subtitled Round One, all of the stories feature the King of the Monsters himself. 

There are four in total, spanning the decades from a 1971-set battle against Hedorah in New York City to a 2027 encounter with Battra in the small, sea-side town of Hackney-On-Sea. Of these, the most substantial feeling is probably writer/artist Adam Gorham's Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah, set in 1996. 

In it, the Xiliens are attacking Earth in laser beam-spitting flying saucers, and Godzilla is doing his best to down the invading armada. He's eventually downed by a super-cannon and abducted in a little force bubble (as in 1965's Invasion of the Astro-Monster) and taken away to a Xilien outpost on Mars. There he's forced to fight in gladitorial combat for the amusement/distraction of the Xilien masses, fighting such foes as a trio of Kamacuras (this story is full of such cameos to Toho films, as we'll see). 

While Earth seems to be losing the war with the Xiliens, a Dr. Ogilvy Hu (who resembles the cape-swishing villain Dr. Who of 1967's King Kong Escapes) gathers Earth's leaders at his secret base and, after a very talky series of panels, explains his plan: pilot Captain Daitan Matsushita and a robot of his invention will pilot a special interplanetary stealth ship to Mars to drop an "electro-bomb" on the Xiliens' headquarters, disrupting their computer systems and allowing Earth's forces to turn the tide of the war against them.

As it happens, the attack happens just as the Xiliens have allowed Godzilla, who of course made short work of the Kamacuras, to face off against their monster champion, Monster Zero (That's King Ghidorah, of course). The bombing plan doesn't go quite as expected, but Godzilla, empowered by the radiation of the surface of Mars, manages to defeat his rival and, with his radioactive breath, destroy the target the bomb was intended for. Godzilla thus saves Earth, even while stuck on Mars. 

The Hedorah story, written by Paul Allor and drawn by E.J. Su, is mostly interesting for the moral quandaries navigated by the two human protagonists, both of whom seemingly want to survive at all costs, and may have a way of driving the two warring monsters off, if only someone is willing to sacrifice their own life to pull it off.

There's also a Godzilla Vs. Mothra story by Mary Kenney, SL Gallant and Maria Keane that finds a reporter discovering the secret captivity of Mothra and attempting to rescue her...just in time for the giant moth to stave off an attack by Godzilla (there are some nice lettering effects to intimate the strange speech patterns of the Shobijin in this one). 

And in the final Battra story, by Rosie Knight and Oliver Ono, Battra awakens in a small town and seems poised to start its task of destroying humanity to save the Earth, until the human heroes locate Godzilla, who fights the big bug (already in its final form; the larval stage is skipped in this story). They battle for a few pages, but before either monster can win decisively, Mothra shows up to talk sense to them, and gets them to not only stop fighting, but to warn Battra off of attacking the humans, who are just as much victims of environmental degradation as the Earth itself is. There's some particularly strong art in this chapter.

Overall, it's a pretty strong entry in IDW's Godzilla comics (and a far better read then the last couple I've read, the all-ages Monsters & Protectors collections). Certainly it lacks the narrative heft of the longer series that have preceded it, but the anthology format is a nice way to share the spotlight among Toho's wider menagerie of monsters. I am curious how the Godzilla-free stories pitting his rivals against one another read, but I guess I'll have to wait until a hypothetical Round Two for that. 

Star Wars: The Mandalorian and Child (Chronicle Books) The essential conceit of cartoonist Jeffrey Brown's original collection of Star Wars gags, the 2012 Darth Vader and Son, was to imagine Darth Vader as a harried single father raising a little boy version of Luke while also attending to his demanding day job, as evil Sith Lord and commander within the Galactic Empire. That lead to several other, similar collections, including Vader's Little Princess and Darth Vader and Friends, but the idea was essentially the same. 

The problem with Brown's latest venture with the Star Wars IP, focused on the three-season long Disney+ streaming TV show The Mandalorian, is that the show itself has as its core conceit the bad-ass bounty hunter as a harried single father raising a little kid. So here the jokes that Brown seeks to tell are so close to the source material that they are intent on spoofing that it all feels uncomfortably flat. Brown exaggerates the child care angle, of course, but it's only by degree, and thus the jokes all feel fairly small compared to those in his earlier Star Wars books. 

The art is pretty great, at least, but he does struggle to capture the adorable-ness of the Grogu puppet used in the show. 


Tasty: A History of Yummy Experiments (RH Graphic) This sequel to Victoria Grace Elliott's Yummy brings back the cartoonist's food sprite characters for another series of history lessons of common foods, this time including cheese, pickles and pizza. More here