Sunday, November 23, 2014

Superman gets a lavish gift from his BFF and his GF slaughters their foes in Superman/Wonder Woman #13

Celebrity gossip followers and/or typewriter enthusiasts may have heard TMZ's report earlier this monththat Angelina Jolie put down $11,000 toward a $250,000 purchase of Ernest Hemingway's last typewriter from a typewriter collector. It was meant to be a wedding gift for long-time boyfriend Brad Pitt, but, for some reason, Jolie eventually decided not to buy the machine.

Perhaps she was outbid by someone with even more money than Jolie...?
Well, given the lead time involved with the production of comic books, what a strange synchronicity that just two weeks after TMZ reported on Jolie's pursuit of a Hemingway typewriter for the love of her life, Batman buys Superman one in a comic book published just two weeks later.

So, what does this mean? Does Batman love Superman as much as Jolie love Pitt? Are Batman and Superman married? Is Angelina Jolie the Batman of Earth-Prime? Is Batman the Angelina Jolie of the DC Universe? Is Superman the Bradd Pitt of the DC Universe? So many questions!

This panel occurs in Superman/Wonder Woman #13, the first issue of the series by the new creative team of writer Peter Tomasi, pencil artist Dough Mahnke and inkers Jaime Mendoza (with Don Ho inking two pages; Mahnke's run on Green Lantern was one that required anywhere from two-to-four inkers per issue, for some reason). Of the three Wonder Woman books released this week, it wasn't the best (that would have been Sensation Comics), but it wasn't the worst either (that would have been Wonder Woman).

I'm a big fan of Mahnke's work, which I've enjoyed off and on since his Major Bummer comic in the late '90s; today he's one of the better DC Comics artists working on their regular DCU titles on a regular basis. He's an interesting, maybe even ideal, choice for this particular title, having had plenty of experience drawing the pair during a long if under-appreciated (and ultimately troubled) run on JLA, and in later DC Universe titles like bits of Final Crisis, Green Lantern and Justice League of America.

I also enjoy the work of Tomasi more often than not; when his comics are bad, they tend to be really bad, but to still have a strong, baseline structure to them, and to work as plots and scripts, no matter how off the characterizations might seem, or how pointless or distasteful those stories can be. I think he writes far more good stories than bad ones though, and while I'm pretty far behind in his Batman and Robin series at this point (I read it in trade), it's easily the second best Batman book; given the fact that the New 52 line consists of something like 31 Batman comics, hat's a pretty good showing (Um, I may be exaggerating slightly on that bit; someone check my math, huh?).

This particular comic falls pretty squarely into the mediocre category, I'm afraid. But hell, that's still better than bad! (And it's a great improvement over the original Superman/Wonder Woman team, which featured not-very-good-at-all art by Tony Daniel and a crack squad of fill-in artists (I reviewed the Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1 collection here, if you're interested).
Let's start with the cover, which reveals at a glance that the comic is already better than the David Finch-drawn Wonder Woman. The cover is still a fairly generic "posed" shot that could likely adorn any issue of a comic featuring both Wonder Woman and Superman, the closest thing we get to a storytelling element being that big red skull behind them, but, well, the skull is a pretty generic symbol of the ever-present threat of death in our heroes' dangerous lives.

Unlike Finch, Mahnke goes with a very big, very strong, very powerful version of Wonder Woman. She stands straight and tall, with immaculate, confident posture and a toned, athletic build. She's unfortunately wearing her dumb, over-accessorized black, red, white and silver New 52 costume (A choker, a garter and an armlet are a little much, and I think three "WW" symbols is overkill), but I don't suppose there's much that can be done about that without editorial approval. She's also carrying a sword and a spear*, two deadly, stabby weapons that should seem super-superfluous to someone with super strength and the ability to make a fist (The similarly powered Superman, hovering just behind her, isn't carrying a blade or packing heat, you'll notice).

Do look at Wonder Woman's expression, in addition to her poster, on this cover versus on Wonder Woman's cover. She's confident, relaxed, maybe eve a little bored.

(One complaint about the Mahnke-drawn, Tomeu MOrey-colored cover? I wish there were deeper, darker blacks; part of Superman's face is in shadow, but it's a brownish-red shadow. It gives the image a sketch-like quality, but I always prefer more stark imagery, myself).

The story within begins with a flashback to the day Superman and Wonder Woman first met—the day chronicled in the first story arc of Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee; you know, the battle against the Parademons in which the Justice League united to casually murder enemies by the dozens.
The very first page is a splash page, in which Wonder Woman and Superman are swarmed by Parademons. "BACK TO HADES!" Wonder Woman screams, while slitting one's throat, bisecting another's head and chopping another's arm off at the elbow all with one might swing.

I know we've talked about the Justice Leaguers' surprising willingness to slaughter their foes in that Justice League arc repeatedly, and the two explanations generally offered was that killing Parademons doesn't count because they are aliens and/or not human (weak, especially considering they're being fought off by alien Superman and galactic policeman on an almost all-alien beat Green Lantern) or that the Parademons are made up of some sort of Deathlok-esque combination of robot parts and dead bodies, meaning that they're not really alive.

That's pretty weak too, considering that it's no-prize thinking (there's nothing in the comic, or in this revisiting of that comic, to indicate that)...not to mention the fact that what the actual comic book does reveal is that The Parademons weren't killing anyone, they were trying to capture people alive (the League was therefore responding to non-lethal attacks with lethal force) and that they are all former victims who were being turned into Parademons against their will. Rather than seeking a way to save them, Wonder Woman was just straight up chopping them to pieces (while the other Leaguers, including Superman and Aquaman, were killing them left and right in the page of Justice League).
The following four pages continue the flashback to the battle, in which Wonder Woman continues dismembering**, beheading and stabbing Parademons to death.

In this issue, we don't see Superman actually killing anyone, and he and Wonder Woman actually argue tactics, with Superman asking him to help here build a buffer of rubble to keep the invaders from getting at the humans, while she prefers to kill them, getting in a nice Amazon burn at one point.

"Who did you train under?" Wonder Woman asks while Superman sets a boulder atop a Parademon and she withdraws the sword she shoved to into one's chest all the way to the hilt.

"My father," Superman responds.
Ha ha, your dead father was a shitty fighter, Superman! (Note the background in this panel; it's easy to miss, what with Wonder Woman punching a foe's head and shattering it like an egg, but the various reactions of the three people between Wonder Woman and the Parademon are pretty fun; Mahnke provides plenty to look at in these panels.)

The pair did not get a long at all, seems to be the point, and then we flash forward to "Today," where they most certainly do.

Wonder Woman is wearing a hideous dress and impatiently awaiting Superman to finish writing on his gift from secret husband Batman so they can go on a date. For reasons unclear to me, Superman is wearing his Superman costume (I thought it was some sort of nantochech thingee that appeared and disappeared as needed now?) with a red shirt over it.

In a neat reversal of her earlier burn on Superman's dead father, Wonder Woman admires the way he uses super-speed and club soda to get a stain out of his shirt, and Superman says, "Credit my mother."
That's cute.

...

Wait, did Superman match his shirt to her dress? Where are they flying off to, prom...?

There's a cute scene about Superman giving up every taxi that stops for them in Manhattan in a freak rain storm, when an earthquake KKRRRRUMMBBBBBles, and they realize something supervaillainy's going on.

"Date night over," Wondy declares.

The cause of the problems are a pair of familiar supervillains, each outfitted with jet boots, and working for a mysterious employer. These are Major Disaster, who Mahnke drew exenstively during his JLA run (at the time, the villain was inspired by Superman to reform and start using his powers for good, even becoming a member of the Justice League for a while until the League's story just sort of petered off as Infinite Crisis and its accompanying continuity punches and soft reboots temporarily abolished the League, and its recent history was forgotten by the next semi-permanent-ish writer, Brad Meltzer).

The pair of villains put up a hell of a fight before suddenly cutting and running, at which point they're intercepted by a new character with the terrible costume and more terrible still name of Wonderstar.

This action scene, like the one at the beginning, is pretty wonderfully illustrated. Mahnke's great at figure work, action and expression and, in great contrast to the Daniel (and others) run earlier in the title's short history, there are pages packed with enough panels that the fight seems like a real super-powered fight, rather than a handful of poses. That is, the villains and heroes each get to use their powers in a couple of different ways to attack and counter one another. It's not exactly an action masterpiece or anything, but it is action, and that's actually something compared to so many of the fights these two usually engage in.

I'm not sure this issue was engaging enough to encourage me to read the next one, or to add the book to my pull-list, but it seems to be an improvement over the previous issues of the series I've read, and it's head and shoulders above the new Wonder Woman run.

If you only read one Wonder Woman comic, you're still better off sticking with Sensation, but if you read two, or want to read one set within current New 52 continuity, than this is your best choice at the moment.


*Double phallic symbols!

**I've been reading a lot of Star Wars comics lately; it would be interesting to see whether those feature more arms being chopped off than DC Comics' superhero line of comics. There are a lot of arms being chopped off in Star Wars comics, but for some reason it never seems as jarring as it does in a DC comic. Maybe it's because it's usually bloodless, with the lightsabers cauterizing the wounds, making them bloodless, or maybe it's because I've grown up thinking that sometimes a Sith Lord or Jedi Knight has to chop someone's appendage off and/or kill the hell out of them, whereas seeing Superman and Wonder Woman kill enemies still seems a newer, more novel phenomenon.

Friday, November 21, 2014

We need to talk about the new issue of Wonder Woman

...or...

"I Read Wonder Woman #36 So You Don't Have To"

As a comics critic, I never quite know what to do with terrible comic books when I come across them. I never go out of my way to read a comic book that I suspect will be terrible without any mitigating circumstances, and, when I do read one, I then wonder if it's better to just not mention it anywhere at all, under the ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away school of thought, or if I should go out of my way to discuss the book and its negative qualities, so as to not let the only reviews of the book to get written be positive ones.

In the case of Wonder Woman #36, I obviously decided to review it rather than ignore it, not simply because it was terrible, but because the character is so damn...well, important. I think it's well worth noting that this was one of three comics with the name "Wonder Woman" in the title. In addition to this issue, the first by the new creative team of Meredith Finch, David Finch and Richard Friend, Wednesday also saw the release of the excellent Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #4 (discussed here) and the first issue of Superman/Wonder Woman by it's new creative team of Peter Tomasi, Doug Mahnke and Jaime Mendoza (more on that book in another day or two).

I quite literally set down one prose book about the character and picked up another one, that latter getting what seems to me like an unprecedented amount of mainstream media attention for a book about a comics creator and his creation (Do correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall any books on other creators and characters ending up on, say, The Colbert Report, for example).

With a long-awaited movie finally—finally!—in the works, we're only going to be hearing more and more about Wonder Woman in the next few years, so it seems well worth while to see how publisher DC Comics is handling their stewardship of the character.

Relaunched with a new #1 and a new direction in September of 2011, Wonder Woman has thus far had only one creative team, a rather rare feat for a DC comic from that period. Writer Brian Azzarello, artist Cliff Chiang and several different fill-in artists recreated Wonder Woman in several dramatic and controversial ways during that time, pulling focus away from the character and her past to something that, for better or worse, was at least new, a sort of urban fantasy that re-cast Wonder Woman as an adult female Percy Jackson.

Azzarello also pulled off the pretty neat trick of rebooting the character without really rebooting her—most of the changes involved were merely Diana learning things about her origins and the Amazons she didn't know before—so that it wasn't impossible, or even too terribly difficult, to line the run up with the ones that preceded it (continuity-wise, if not tonally). And, remarkably, he managed to keep Wonder Woman completely divorced from the rest of the DC Universe, to the extent that DC had to create a new team-up title—Superman/Wonder Woman—in which to address her relationship with the rest of the DC Universe, particularly her new boyfriend Superman.

Who did DC tap to follow the long three-year, 740-page run of Azzarello, Chiang and company...?

Writer Meredith Finch and artist David Finch. You'll be forgiven for not recognizing the first name; she has little to no prior comics writing experience (Scripting one of the three stories in 2014's Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Tales From Oz from another writer's story is the only credit I could find), and her main qualification for the title seems to be that she is married to artist David Finch, who remains inexplicably popular with DC editors, despite being wholly unreliable at hitting deadlines or producing semi-legible artwork.

Neither seems a particularly good fit for a top-tier DC comic book featuring one of their biggest stars, but DC seems to be counting on whatever fanbase Mr. Finch still retains after his poor showing during Forever Evil, the first few issues of Justice League of America and his abandoned vanity Batman book The Dark Knight will off-set whatever readers were following Azzarello and Chiang as they left the book (If I had to guess, I would assume the Finch team is only going to be around for an arc or so anyway; that seems to be about as long as David Finch can devote to a book, so this may just be a temporary "stunt" creative team while DC firms up the next, "real" creative team who might be able to commit to a run at least as long as Azzarello and Chiang's).

So, how did Finch, Finch and Friend do...?

Like you had to ask.


THE COVER

Personally, I don't mind Wonder Woman being portrayed as particularly youthful, small or even dainty. I think the large, powerful, statuesque warrior woman portrayal is valid, and it's certainly been the default version since at least Crisis On Infinite Earths, but I don't think she has to be portrayed with that particular body type or presence.

Her strength doesn't come from her body, after all, but the gods, and I generally think of William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter's Wonder Woman as the "real" Wonder Woman. Peter's Wonder Woman was fit, but she was 1940s fit; she wasn't musclebound or even particularly imposing.

Her girlishness was part of her charm, as was her male opponents constantly being surprised when she performed some incredible feat of speed or strength before their astonished eyes.

Finch's Wonder Woman definitely looks young, particularly here on this cover, which he seems to have spent much more time on than any panel of the comic within, as it's maybe his best drawing of the character, and she's not particularly tall or muscular.

Of course, she's posed in a sort of zig-zagging pattern, so her stature's a little hard to judge, isn't it? Finch give her a young face and slim body, with disproportionately large breasts, and poses her awkwardly crouched, butt thrust back, back arched to thrust her breasts forward. Maybe he was trying to crouch behind that big-ass shield to protect herself from all those arrows being shot at her?

The posing reminded me of this...
...although I think Emmy Rossum looks like she might have a better fighting stance on that Cosmo cover.

Anyway, it's a pretty basic, even generic image of the character, of the sort that DC might slap on any random issue of Sensation. It works well enough for a first issue of a new run in that it's divorced from any particular story elements, but it's also yet one more image of Wonder Woman as violent warrior goddess.

Apparently engaged in battle with humans—or humanoids—with a level of technology that involves arrows, Wonder Woman just got done fighting them off with a sword, which is still stained and dripping with their blood.

I'm afraid I never really understood why Wonder Woman needs to carry axes, swords or spears. She is super-strong, right? Almost as strong as Superman? Superman doesn't need to carry a knife to fight crime or defend himself; why does Wonder Woman need weapons on all the time?


PAGES 1-3

The first few pages of the story feature the title character meditating—via dark red narration boxes with a "WW" symbol in the first one, to assure us it is indeed Wonder Woman narrating—on the nature of water. "It nourishes and sustains life," reads the first one, "But it can also bring devastation and death."

The art in the first panel depicts a close up image of grass, while rain falls upon it. The following panels correspond to the narration pretty closely. "It is the answer to a prayer," appears in a panel of two vaguely Asian-looking farmers holding out their hands to feel the rain falling into them, while the words "Or our worst nightmare" appears on a panel depicting five little children running through a slum while the muddy wave of a flood bears down on them.

Some relevant visual information is communicated during this sequence. For example, there are three panels in a row of what appears to be be a statue of Wonder Woman in the rain (this is actually her mother Hippolyta, who was turned to stone earlier in this volume of Wonder Woman, but you would only know that if you've been reading Wonder Woman a while. Finch draws her identicallyt o WOnder Woman herself, and she even wears a tiara with a star in the middle).

On the third page, there are a series of images of a damn-breaking, a well-dressed man standing atop it as it does. On a cliff overlooking the broken damn, there's a mysterious figure, of whom nothing can really be determined; in two of the panels he's in silhouette, and in the other he's mostly in silhouette. Unlike the image of Hippolyta, this is likely intentional, and meant to be a mystery that will be explored in future issues.


PAGE 4

Here's the first appearance of Wonder Woman in the new run by the new creative team: A shower scene!
With a bar of soap, Wonder Woman is washing away the copious amounts of blood that apparently coat her entire body—it's safe to assume that it's other people's blood. Perhaps it belongs to whoever she was cutting and stabbing just before the cover shoot...?

While a reader might think, "A shower scene? Featuring Wonder Woman? In Wonder Woman? Ugh," said reader need not ugh. There is absolutely nothing the least bit sexy, exploitive or even mildly titillating about the scene. Because, remember, this is drawn by David Finch. I had to stare at the second panel for quite a while to determine exaclty what I was looking at; I eventually realized that it's supposed to be Wonder Woman washing her right elbow with her left hand, while cupping her right breast with her right hand.

Yeah, Finch is the kind of artist where it's difficult to tell what body parts are supposed to be what body parts.


PAGE 5

Wonder Woman steps out of the shower in her London apartment. I know it's London, because there's a caption that says "London" in the first panel. The first three pages, with the poor people and the Asian farmers and the dam or dams breaking? No idea where that was; they didn't get captions.

Wonder Woman walks up to a framed 2D image of two little girls in Wonder Woman tiaras. I think it's meant to be a child's drawing, but I can't rule out that it's a photograph. Finch isn't exactly the best of artists, you know? Maybe that's how he draws little kids.
Cyborg skypes Wonder Woman and tells her "We have a situation," to which she responds, "On my way." Great dialogue.


PAGES 6-7

"Paradise Island," a caption informs us. There are a bunch of Amazons posing in a room, arguing about developments at the climax of the previous run, which I am not privy to, as I have been reading it in trade. But This much is clear: The Amazons have been freed from their curse (all save Hippolyta, who is still stone), and apparently Wonder Woman has invited the Amazon men back to the island...?

A retcon from the Azzarello era was that rather than being immortals, the Amazons reproduced by capturing ships, mating with the sailors, killing the sailors spider-style, keeping any girl children born from the encounters and selling any male children to the god Hephaestus/Vulcan/Smith in exchange for arms.

Three ladies present having speaking parts, two are opposed to any men being welcomed into Amazon society. One of them, a withered crone who looks like she should be flying around outside a Scottish castle, foretelling an imminent death, is apparently Hippolyta's sister.


PAGES 8-9

This is just a two-page spread of most of the current roster of The Justice League—Flash gets a line noting that Luthor is absent—standing behind Cyborg, who is sitting in a chair in front of a computer.

Everyone looks terrible.


PAGE 10

Batman and Cyborg fill the team in on why they called the meeting: Apparently thriving villages have disappeared over night, leaving no signs of human or animal life behind. The team is going to split up to find "something...anything" that Cyborg's scanners couldn't find.


PAGES 11-16

On page 11, we see David Finch's fairly off-model Swamp Thing in the boughs of a tree in Thailand, talking to himself.

Wonder Woman says "Monster--" from off-panel right, and then she comes flying foot first at him from off-panel left (I knew Superman used to use super-ventriloquism, but I didn't realize Wonder Woman had wonder-ventriloquism!), screaming "What vegetative injustice was worth so many lives?!"
Wonder Woman continues screaming at Swamp Thing, accusing him of destroying the villages and punching him to pieces, while he retaliates by throwing her against a tree trunk and turning his arm into a swamp gunk hose.

The fight only ends when Swamp Thing summons a bunch of vines to entrap her, and protesting that he's innocent: "I felt a massive disturbance in the green and came to investigate."

Aquaman shows up and asks the obvious question.


PAGES 17-18

Aquaman and Wonder Woman are flying in a visible jet plane of some sort, and Aquaman tells her that maybe ambushing other super-people and tearing them to pieces might not be that great of an idea, Wonder Woman replies curtly, "Now we know he didn't do it. Let's move on."

That entire fight scene would have been a bit like Wonder Woman going to investigate a murder scene, and beating the fuck out of the policeman who might be there, just in case they were the killers.

And if Wonder Woman didn't think she could trust Swamp Thing to tell her the truth if she just, you know, asked him if he killed a couple villages full of people, she does happen to have a magical rope that can compel him to tell the truth if she just lassos his ass; why didn't she ambush with a lariat around the torso, rather than trying to kick his head off and then punching big chunks out of him?

Eventually, she opens up to Aquaman a little, in an info-dump that summarizes her status quo in as prosaic and uninteresting a manner as possible:
In addition to plain old bad comics storytelling, the panel reveals a conflict that's a bit of an uncomfortable one for Wonder Woman to be having—she's so busy with work and family and her relationships that she's feeling overwhelmed by it all.


PAGE 19

Wonder Woman alights on Paradise Island and meets Dessa, the Amazon with a speaking part earlier in the book who wasn't all bent out of shape about the Amazon men returning to the island.

They chat briefly about the brewing conflict, and Wonder Woman asks for a few minutes to spend with her mother before they continue any discussion, at which point we get the cliffhanger splash page.


PAGE 20

In the foreground there's a lumpy, viscous brown pile, atop which rests Hippolyta's face; her body apparently melted out from under neath it.

"She's dead," says Dessa in the background, while a shocked Wonder Woman looks down at what used to be her mother.

The end.

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

It's the cute little skull belt-buckle I think that makes Teen Titans: Earth One's Slade Wilson the best Slade Wilson (Well, that, and I like how different he is from the other ultra-bad-ass versions of the character. He's like a super-assassin gone to seed here, and a poor schmuck in over his head trying to be a good dad. That's obviously a pretty different take). You can read my review of the book here, if you're so inclined.

As with the previous books in the line, it doesn't make sense on, like, an existential level--for example, I'm not sure why this wasn't The New 52 Titans relaunch, save for the fact that Cyborg and Starfire were already assigned roles in Justice League and Red Hood and The Outlaws, I guess--but, unlike those books, it's actually quite good.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Comic shop comics: November 19

Batman Etenral #33 (DC Comics) Jason Fabok draws and Kyle Higgins scripts while Julie Pennyworth and Batman run around Gotham City, manually turning on the sprinkler systems in the 17 remaining Bat-Bunkers before Hush can explode them all. The sprinkler systems rain down hydrocholric acid, not water, you see, so doing so removes the threat posed by the bunkers, which Batman has crammed full of plastic explosives and grenades for some reason, even though he seems to do 99% of his fighting via bat-shaped projectiles.

I was a little unclear as to why Batman reluctantly accepts Julia's help—and doesn't even give her a domino mask!—and why he doesn't call in any one else to help. Even if Red Hood left town and Batwing is all banged-up, Red Robin and Batgirl should still be hanging around somewhere, right?

Not a terribly eventful issue, really, but then, this being a weekly series, it doesn't really have to be all that eventful every issue.


Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #6 (DC) Well, I'm glad that's finally over. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad comic by any stretch of the imagination, and artist Ty Templeton's work was always a pleasure to see, but six issues—that's 120 pages—is a little excessive for a story simply trying to hit the beats of an hour-long television show. This read a lot like a four-issue arc stretched into six-issues...and something the regular Batman '66 title could have handled in a single issue.


Lumberjanes #8 (Boom Studios) I kind of want to call bullshit on The Lumberjanes using a fastball special at the climax of this, the concluding chapter of the now ongoing series' first story arc, but I think the fact that Ripley screams "I'm a fastbaaaaaaaall!" while being thrown sufficiently differentiates it from Colossus and Wolverine's version.

I laughed out loud four times this issue, which is a pretty good number of times to laugh out loud during a single comic book these days.


The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 (DC) There's nothing too terribly surprising about writer Grant Morrison going out of his way to tweak fellow comics writer Alan Moore. By his own admission in his kinda sorta biography Super Gods, Morrison made a habit out of attacking Moore early in his own career, although he never really explained why he did so, beyond the cultivation of some sort of "bad boy" image. And it has apparently never been very difficult to get Morrison to say something negative about Moore in an interview, based on all the negative quotes one can find in Morrison interviews.

Therefore it shouldn't be too surprising to see Morrison devoting an entire chapter of his The Multiversity project—a solid 40-pages—to what amounts to a conversation with Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' seminal 1986-1987 work Watchmen. Morrison had the good sense to decline—or good luck to avoid—doing one of DC's risible, reprehensible Before Watchmen comics, but then, if he already had Pax Americana in the works, he didn't really need to—this is as much a pastiche of Watchmen as it is an engagement with it.

And yet, it is still surprising, to a degree, that when approaching the source material for some of the surface details of Moore and David Gibbons' Watchmen, Morrison didn't do something new and original (something the fiercely, volcanically creative writer has never shown any problem doing), or even slightly remix and represent that source material in a way that honors its original form (something else Morrison is fond of doing in his superhero work). Rather, he looks to Moore and Gibbons' take, and extrapolates from that, as if he simply couldn't resist the temptation of taking on Watchmen rather than re-creating the setting and characters that inspired Watchmen into something all his own.

It will certainly make reviews of Pax Americana more interesting to read, it may even garner some more attention than past or future issues of Multiversity did (but I don't know; we may have already spent all our outrage on the subject during DC's announcement and roll out of the now practically forgotten Before Watchmen comics), but it also seems unfortunate in several ways. First, it threatens to warp Multiversity, with this chapter's critic-baiting premise drawing all the focus that should be distributed a little more evenly upon the series as a whole, and, second, it's a pretty huge wasted opportunity, since Morrison isn't re-creating "Earth-4" and The Charlton Comics heroes, but using analogues of Moore and Gibbons' analogues.

In essence, Morrison and his frequent (and best) artistic collaborator Frank Quitely are just deconstructing a deconstructed comic book, using the original characters that the super-people of Watchmen were analogues of as analogues of those analogues. The symbol repeated most often throughout the comic is the sideways "8" of infinity, but it might as well be an ouroboros.

So DC Comics acquired most of the superhero characters originally published by Charlton Comics in 1983, an acquisition no doubt helped along by the fact that former Charlton editor Dick Giordano was at that time a managing editor at DC. The characters—including Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom and so on—debuted in Crisis On Infinite Earths, and, like other groups of heroes acquired from other publishers in the past (Those from Fawcett and Quality, for example), the Charlton heroes were assigned their own parallel Earth, Earth-4.

Alan Moore originally planned to use the Charlton heroes in Watchmen, been when DC nixed that idea, he and Gibbons instead created their own heroes, all of whom had only the most superficial of resemblances to the characters that inspired them (Costuming and powers/skills, for the most part). As for the heroes of Earth-4, they were all folded into the DC Universe proper when The Multiverse was smooshed into a single shared universe at the conclusion of Crisis.

This issue of Multiversity, the series exploring the new, restored Multiverse, is the one focused on Earth-4, and Morrison's Earth-4 bears an incredible, uncomfortable resemblance to that of Watchmen. It's not just the surface details, from the title's allusion to ancient Rome, the close-up image of an innocuous symbol being marred into unrecognizability on the cover, the repeated visual references of drops of blood in the corners of symbols or the alternate real-world history (look, it's President Bush!).

No, Morrison even goes with the same characterizations. So Captain Atom, like Dr. Manhattan, is blue and has an atomic symbol in the middle of his forehead (Dr. Manhattan imagery applied to Captain Atom, despite the fact that the latter is the supposed source of the former), and also a remote, disinterested and dangerous super-god (who talks about reality here in the same way Morrison's 5D creatures talked about it in his "Crisis Times Five" JLA arc almost 20 years ago).

The Question dresses more like Rorshach than The Question, takes Rorshach's vocal ticks and plays the role of the unstable, overly-violent outsider among the heroes, even putting a villain in a pretty shitty set of circumstances in much the same way Rorshach did a villain in Watchmen (though the stakes here aren't as terrifyingly dramatic).

Nightshade is, like Silk Spectre, the second-generation legacy version of the original, a fairly disturbed woman (albeit for different reasons). And Blue Beetle, like Nite-Owl, has problems getting it up.

The comic is, also like Watchmen, relentlessly formal, although it varies a great deal in panel layouts. It is, as you might expect from any Quitely comic, let alone one as interested in the formal ways in which comics work, gorgeous, with characters walking, fighting, flying and falling through panels, which are sometimes read right to left and up to down, as per usual, or in reverse, or all the way across a two-page spread in a series of extra-long tiers, or moving back and forth as if the page lay-out was long, winding staircase (on a page depicting an actual stair case), and, in a few cases, even seemingly atomizing into countless tiny images that offer a semi-cubist POV, only without the cubist style that defined actual cubism (Which is, of course, unnecessary, when you can freeze multiple points of view in different, distinct, individual 2D squares).

The Watchmen allusions really get in the way of a comic book story that is, otherwise, fascinating in the way it reads (although that too, I suspect, is a response to Watchmen; like the graphic novel its obsessed with, Pax Americana is all about how its read, but it reads much more wildly and with greater variance.
My favorite part was the confrontation between Blue Beetle Ted Kord and The Question (although Quitely's action scenes, as when The Question and Nightshade fight, or when The Peacemaker storms the White House to rescue Prsident Bush from terrorists, are both pretty spectacular). And that's mostly because of how awesome Quitely's redesign of Blue Beetle's bug ship, given a rounder shape and bigger eyes to make it more owl-like, I'm guessing, is:

It is so...so...so cute, I love it.

I finished this issue and immediately wanted to spend more time on Quitely's Earth-4, if only to see him drawing these characters, and that ship, in action.


New 52: Futures End #29 (DC) That thing you've been expecting to happen for months now involving Firestorm? It finally happens in this issue, as Tim Drake, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch all try to save Madison Payne from an experimental teleportation tube in evil Dr. Yamazake's lab. The cover spoils which two characters make-up this new iteration of Firestorm; you can tell whose body it is at a glance, but the faces in the yellow streaks of light reveal the other half of Firestorm.

This issue, drawn by Patrick Zircher, was a rather rare one in that it was entirely devoted to a single sequence, without any digressions to check in on any of the other sub-plots.

Sensation Comics #4 (DC) Last month retailer, industry advocate and Savage Critic Brian Hibbs noted how horribly the cover of Sensation Comics matched its relatively delightful interiors, the former and the latter apparently aimed at two entirely different audiences, each of which would be repulsed by one or the other.

To paraphrase a great American philosopher, Oops, they did it again.

This time the fairly generic Wonder Woman pose image on the cover isn't as violent as last month's Reis image, which showed a close-up of a roaring Wonder Woman charging through a cloud of blood while throttling a orc-like opponent with her golden noose of strangulation. Instead, the uncredited image shows Wonder Woman flying above rose-colored clouds, being lit dramatically by the rising (or is it setting?) sun. The problem? It's not that the cut of her underoos is so high that they seem to be disappearing into her, or that the shape of her nipple is clearly visible through her painted-on costume.

No, it's the fact that you can see both her entire ass and both of her breasts at the same time, making this pose a clear-cut, unequivocal case of a "broke-back" pose. If there's one comic book character that should never be posed that way, it's probably Wonder Woman, and the fact that she's posed that way on the paper, hard-copy edition of the digital-first series Sensation Comics only compounds the wrongness. Sensation Comics is a comic for the Internet, right? Surely its makers should know better than to avoid problems routinely pointed out by the Internet!

(If I had to guess, I'd guess this was an Adam Hughes image, based on the lighting, the figure work and the baggy boots, the latter of which is a sort of Hughes trademark, but try as I might, I can't find the familiar "AH!" signature anywhere on the cover.)

Compounding it further? This issue has the remaining 14-pages of the 20-page Gilbert Hernandez story "No Chains Can Hold Her!", which began in Sensation #3. So that's two issues in a row where they went with something dumb and not a Gilbert Hernandez drawing when they had Giblert Hernandez comics on the inside to sell. Ideally, this issue would have been a $2.99/20-page issue, consisting solely of Hernandez's story in its entirety, and with a Hernandez drawn image on the cover.

I'm pretty sure a Gilbert Hernandez comic book-comic would sell a lot of issues. And gain a lot of attention. To and from people beyond those that normally read DC Comics.

So this issue kicks off with pages 7-20 of Hernandez's Silver Age Wonder Woman vs. Silver Age Supergirl story, with the force of their collisions in the battle being such that they open a portal to a different dimension through which comes Mary Marvel. And now there's three super-ladies slugging it out for the amusement of Kanjar Ro and Sayyar.

It's pretty fucking awesome.
If there's anything better than that page, I don't know what it could possibly be. (Maybe if they were throwing Hal Jordan at each other...?)

Dr. Sivana, Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. also make a one-panel cameo.

Too bad colorist John Rauch miscolors Supergirl's hair on the last page she appears in...unless the implication is that Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel hit her so hard they knocked the blond right off her hair...?

That's followed by a ten-pager written by Rob Williams and drawn by Tom "Hey, where's he been?" Lyle, an artist I've always had enormous affection for on account of him being one of the first dozen or so comics artists whose work I encountered (On the first Robin miniseries).

This story has the inevitable title of "Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman" (No one has used that particular riff before?), which sees Wonder Woman teaming up with The Atom and Hawkman and Hawkgirl to taken on shape-changing Thanagarian criminal Byth, taking the monstrous form he did upon his original Silver Age appearance—only bigger.

We join the battle en medias res, with Wonder Woman grown to Godzilla proportions by some sort of growth field The Atom concocted. The action is set in Gateway City, which would seem to suggest that its set in the Byrne era, but everyone's costumes seem to place the story somewhere between the late Silver Age and so-called Bronze Age. Definitely Satellite Era, in terms of JLA history.

Lyle's art, which he inks himself, is a real treat, although I have to say he seems to draw the other characters even better than he does Wonder Woman—not that there's anything wrong with his Wonder Woman, of course.
I liked Williams' portrayal of the character, too. She fights, and wins the fight, but shows mercy on her enemy, solving the problem at the root of Byth's attack and, one imagines, changing him into a better person through her actions. That sounds a lot more like the Wonder Woman I know than the one that appeared in this week's other two Wonder Woman comics, Wonder Woman and Superman/Wonder Woman.

The final story in the issue teams Wonder Woman and Etta Candy—appearing in a modified, taller version of her Golden Age design—with Deadman, as they attempt to wrest a stolen purple healing ray away from Batman villain Ra's al Ghul (Sensation #4 really reads an awful lot like a Wonder Woman team-up title). Writer Neil Kleid and artist Dean Haspiel pack a hell of a lot of story into a ten-page story, including tons of surface action, the rather fun comedy of Deadman trying to convince Wonder Woman he's real despite the fact that she can't see him, and can only hear him when he's possessing soemone else, and Wonder Woman learning a lesson about respecting the beliefs of others, even if those beliefs are not her own. Like, for example, she doesn't believe in ghosts, which no doubt makes Deadman's attempts to convince her of his presence all the more difficult.

The script is a fine one, but the greatest pleasure here is seeing Haspiel get his pencil and pen on so many characters. In addition to the those mentioned, there's also a neat little sequence in which we get to see what Haspiel's Hawks, Spectre and Ragman all look like.
If you guessed "awesome," you guessed right.

Marvel's February previews reviewed

What's Marvel got planned for February of next year? Star Wars variant covers, mostly. And a few comics. Not as many comics as Star Wars variant covers, of course, but then, there aren't as many stars in the sky as there are Star Wars variant covers in this round of Marvel solicitations. You can, of course, read the full solicitations here, and get my usual sterling analysis below...

ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA #4
RICK REMENDER (W) • STUART IMMONEN (A/C)
VARIANT COVER BY PHIL NOTO
• Hydra initiates the next step in their scheme, millions of innocent souls hang in the balance.
• Cap is broken and nearly dead from the gauntlet of the new Hydra, so how can he take down the combined might of Cobra and the Armadillo in time to stop the great leveling?
• A mysterious woman from the past returns!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Is it weird that a supervillain named The Armadillo is so damn huge, when armadillos aren't really all that large? I mean, The Armadillo looks to be about twice the size of The Rhino and four times as large as Man-Elephant....


AVENGERS #41
JONATHAN HICKMAN (W) • STEFANO CASELLI (A)
Cover by BRYAN HITCH
VARIANT COVER BY PHIL NOTO
IN 3 MONTHS…TIME RUNS OUT!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


That can't possibly be the right cover, can it...?


DAREDEVIL #13
MARK WAID (W) • CHRIS SAMNEE (A/C)
VARIANT COVER BY PHIL NOTO
THE END BEGINS HERE!
• Mark Waid and Chis Samnee begin the climactic final chapter of their beloved, Eisner Award Winning run with the return of one of Matt Murdock’s oldest and (now) scariest enemies.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


I can't help but think how much bigger a deal this solicitation copy's screaming of "THE END BEGINS HERE!" if this were issue #50—that is, if Marvel hadn't relaunched the book after the first 36 issues for no reason—than it it does when there's a #13 attached.

As for the "oldest and (now) scariest" enemy, I'm going to guess it's The Owl, on account of the fact that there's an owl on the cover.


DARTH VADER #1 & 2
KIERON GILLEN (w) • SALVADOR LARROCA (A)
CoverS by ADI GRANOV
ISSUE #1 - Teaser Variant by JOHN CASSADAY
CONNECTING VARIANT COVER B BY J. SCOTT CAMPBELL
VARIANT COVER BY ALEX ROSS
SKETCH VARIANT COVER BY ALEX ROSS
VARIANT COVER BY MICHAEL GOLDEN
VARIANT COVER BY MIKE DEL MUNDO
YOUNG VARIANT BY SKOTTIE YOUNG
ACTION FIGURE VARIANT BY JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
MOVIE VARIANT COVER ALSO AVAILABLE
BLANK VARIANT COVER ALSO AVAILABLE
ISSUE #2 - VARIANT COVER BY WHILCE PORTACIO
VARIANT COVER BY TBA
The original Dark Lord of the Sith stars in his first ongoing series!
Ever since Darth Vader made his first on-screen appearance, he became the one of the most popular villains to ever haunt an audience’s dreams! Now, follow Vader straight from the ending of A NEW HOPE (and the pages of the new STAR WARS comic book) into his own series, showing the Empire’s war with the Rebel Alliance from the other side! Writer Kieron Gillen (Uncanny X-Men, Journey Into Mystery, Iron Man) and artist Salvador Larroca (Invincible Iron Man, X-Men: No More Humans) bring us a peek behind the mask of evil!
ISSUE #1 - 48 PGS./Rated T …$4.99
ISSUE #2 - 32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


I was just about to call bullshit on the first sentence of the solicitation copy, when I realized it qualifies the statement with "ongoing;" okay, yes, that's true. While there have been a bunch of Darth Vader comics from Dark Horse, they have been in the format of a series of miniseries, rather than an ongoing.

I will call bullshit on the number of variant covers though. Jeez, just look at those things!



Oh come on Ed McGuinness; I thought you were a better artist than that! What's with the full broke-back posing of Magik, featuring both her entire butt and both boobs...? That's the cover of the first issue Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex, which has almost as many characters in it as it has words in its title, based on that cover.


GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #1 & 2
BRIAN BENDIS (W) • ISSUE #1 - ART ADAMS (A/C)
...
• Launching directly out of Guardians of the Galaxy comes the new ongoing series bringing the Guardians to the Marvel Universe’s grandest stage for an opening arc of out-of-this-world adventures with some of the biggest hitters Marvel has to offer.
• Kicking off with a cosmic threat so massive, it’ll take more than just the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop it! Assembled side by side with the mighty Avengers, prepare for two titanic teams to unite like you’ve never seen before!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
ISSUE #2 - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and THE AVENGERS!
• Follow part two of this story as the Guardians of the Galaxy slam their way into the world of the Avengers – and only working together as a team will help them save the galaxy!
• Tension runs high when survival is at stake, and when the likes of Gamora, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Rocket are forced to problem solve together, it can mean only one thing is guaranteed – destruction!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


So what have we got now? Guardians of The Galaxy, Rocket Raccoon, Legendary Star-Lord, Guardians 3000 and now Guardians Team-Up. Marvel continues to search for the exact number of straws it will take to break this particular camel's back.

MS. MARVEL #12
G. WILLOW WILSON (W) • Takeshi Miyazawa (A)
Cover by KRIS ANKA
• Love is in Jersey City as Valentine’s Day arrives!
• Kamala Khan may not be allowed to go to the dance, but Ms. Marvel is!
• Well sort of – by crashing it attempting to capture Asgard’s most annoying trickster!
• Yup, it’s a special Valentine’s Day issue featuring Marvel’s favorite charlatan, Loki!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99


Hmm...I'm feeling pretty torn here. On the one hand, after having just read the first trade paperback collection of the series, I don't really have any desire to see anyone other than Adrian Alphona drawing Ms. Marvel. On the other hand, I'm always happy to see Takeshi Miyazawa draw anything.


STAR WARS #2
JASON AARON (W) • JOHN CASSADAY (A/C)
SKETCH VARIANT COVER BY JOHN CASSADAY
ACTION FIGURE VARIANT BY JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
VARIANT COVER BY Berkeley Breathed, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING CREATOR OF BLOOM COUNTY
VARIANT COVER BY LEINIL YU
VARIANT COVER BY HOWARD CHAYKIN
THE GREATEST SPACE ADVENTURE OF ALL TIME CONTINUES!
• The Rebel assault on Cymoon 1 continues!
• Luke Skywalker – cornered by Darth Vader!
• Han, Leia, and the others – trapped!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd.


So. Many. Variants. But the most interesting one of them all? "VARIANT COVER BY Berkeley Breathed, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING CREATOR OF BLOOM COUNTY." What's that all about, I wonder, and why is he listed like that in the solicitation copy credits...?


OPERATION: S.I.N. #2 (of 5)
Kathryn Immonen (w)
Rich Ellis (A)
Cover by Michael Komarck
• When a UFO fires on Moscow because Howard can’t keep his finger off the button, Peggy and the team go underground but which one of them is already undercover?
• Woodrow McCord fights a bear!
• Peggy punches Howard in the face!
• The firecracker team of Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis turn up the heat and tear up the joint in the continuing adventures of AGENT CARTER!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


If you replaced the surname "McCord" with "Wilson," I'd be totally down.

THOR ANNUAL #1
JASON AARON, CM PUNK, NOELLE STEVENSON (w)
ROB GUILLORY, MARGUERITE SAUVAGE (A)
Cover by RAFAEL ALBUQUERQUE
VARIANT Cover by ROB GUILLORY
VARIANT COVER BY MARGUERITE SAUVAGE
• Three stories featuring three Thors!
• Wrestling superstar CM Punk and Rob Guillory (Chew) on Young Thor’s idea for how to prove himself worthy of Mjolnir: a drinking competition!
• Noelle Stevenson (Lumberjanes) and Marguerite Sauvage tell a tale of the new Thor!
• And Jason Aaron on the Girls of Thunder’s quest to find the perfect birthday present for their grandfather, King Thor! How about a new Garden of Eden?
40 PGS./ONE SHOT/Rated T+ …$4.99


Oh come on now Mr. Punk, a drinking contest? The deck is totally stacked. How could Thor not beat Mjolnir in a drinking contest? Mjolnir doesn't even have a mouth!

(By the way, there's another way to get into writing comics. Step one: Become a successful and popular professional wrestler.)


In no particular order, here are three of my favorite covers...


...by Tradd Moore, Mike Allred and Kaare Andrews. The Ghost Rider and Black Widow covers are pretty alright this month, too.


THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #2
RYAN NORTH (W) • ERICA HENDERSON (A/C)
Variant cover by JOE QUINONES
• Starting college is hard enough, but now Squirrel Girl has to deal with Galactus too?
• The fate of the entire planet hangs in the balance, and only Squirrel Girl can save it!
• Also, her squirrel friend Tippy Toe. She can help too.
• Iron Man might show up too! Kinda, at least!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Tippy Toe is a female?! I always assumed Tippy Toe was male.

I like Squirrel Girl's earrings.


WOLVERINES #5
CHARLES SOULE & RAY FAWKES (w)
JONATHAN MARKS (A)
Cover by NICK BRADSHAW
• The team from Paradise and the Wolverines team up for the Assault on Mr. Sinister and his snowy fortress but what surprises lay in store when they figure out the front door is actually the easiest way in?
• Sinister has more than plans for Logan’s body in his lair...but how are the Amazing X-Men involved in his plans for destruction and perfection?
• Special appearance by Fing Fang Boom!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99


I have no idea who "The Wolverines" are—I'm guessing X-23 is one of 'em though, based on that cover image—but the name "Fing Fang Boom" excites me. I do hope that's not a typo...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

DC's February previews reviewed

Further cementing her role as DC's answer to Deadpool, the new, New 52 version of Harley Quinn is the theme around which the publisher's February variants are organized around. Each of the "Harley Quinn Variants" will feature the suddenly surprisingly popular character—whose comics suddenly started selling like hotcakes after Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and Chad Hardin relaunched Harley Quinn as title playing up the character's comedy and cheesecake potential.

Conner provides three of the covers herself, including the above Superman one, as well as covers for Aquaman and The Flash. As with several of the last few rounds of variant programs—The Flash variants, the Darwyn Cooke-draws-all-the-variants and the Michael Allred-draws-all-the-variants—the Harley Quinn variants are quite striking in that they are in almost every case better, funnier, more fun and more lighthearted than the comics they are appearing atop of...at least when comparing them to the regular covers provided, and the solicitation copy.
I mean, wouldn't you rather read an issue of The Flash where Harley Quinn volunteers to fill-in for Superman when he fails to show up at the annual Flash/Superman race for charity...because Harley tricked him into answering a signal watch on the wrist of a lead robot Jimmy Olsen with a Kryptonite heart than, let's see, what's going on in the flash in February...?
Barry Allen is trapped in the Speed Force while an impostor wreaks havoc at home! Can The Fastest Man Alive make it back in time to put things right?
Yeah, that sounds hella-boring, and it's drawn by Brett Booth, not Amanda Conner.

Well, at any rate, here's what DC Comics intends to publish in February of next year, and here are my thoughts on the matter...

I really love co-writer Cameron Stewart's cover for Batgirl #39; the Harley variant is kinda cute too, and by Cliff Chiang, but not as striking an image.

It's worth noting that February's issue of the still-not-canceled Secret Origins will feature a Batgirl origin story by regular series writers Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, but with art by the amazing Irene Koh rather than regular series artist Babs Tarr, whose work is Batgirl's main selling point. Will this be the first appearance of the new Batgirl costume drawn in-story by someone other than Tarr...?

Batgirl's on the cover of that issue of Secret Origins too, in case you want to see what Bryan Hitch's version of the new Batgirl get-up looks like (Warning: It looks like another re-tread of The Killing Joke which, well, it will be interesting to see if and how Stewart and Fletcher filter that through the tone and sensibilities of their Batgirl).


Cute Jill Thompson cover for Batman #39. I know Greg Capullo never needs fill-ins, and he's a pretty great Batman artist, but imagine how cool a whole issue of a Batman comic by Thompson would look...?

BATMAN AND ROBIN #39
Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON and MICK GRAY
...
On sale FEBRUARY 18 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
Has Damian Wayne become something more than human? And how do you control a reckless child who now has super powers?


I have no idea how or why Damian's resurrection has apparently given him Superman powers (last month's cover showed him tearing open his shirt to reveal his Robin costume underneath it while bullets bounced off him), but that cover is fantastic. High five, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray!


BATMAN ’66 #20
Written by ROB WILLIAMS
Art by RUBEN PROCOPIO
Cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
On sale FEBRUARY 25 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST
Gotham City has a new hero in town: Joker Man! Can it be? Has the Clown Prince of Crime now become a comedic crimefighter? This new Joker seems to be sincere about lassoing the lawless by rounding up all the criminals, including some of his former allies! In fact, he’s so good at it that the citizenry wonders if they still need Batman and Robin at all!


Speaking of fantastic covers...

I hope Procopio's interiors are half as awesome as Allred's cover, and that Williams' script is as much fun as it sounds.



CATWOMAN #39
Written by GENEVIEVE VALENTINE
Art by GARRY BROWN
Cover by JAE LEE
HARLEY QUINN Variant cover by JIM BALENT
On sale FEBRUARY 25 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
...
Will Selina save Gotham City? Or will she burn it to the ground?


I really rather liked the first issue of the new Catwoman direction by Genevieve Valentine and Garry Brown, which, like Batgirl, seems like it probably should have been the New 52 relaunch of the character, based on what a 180 it was from the previous issues (although that might have been difficult, given Catwoman's ascension to the top of organized crime in Gotham City was so dependent on the circumstances of Batman Eternal.

But let's just look at that variant cover, shall we? I was at first puzzled by what the holy hell was even going on in it, it's so awkwardly staged (apparently, Catwoman is kicking apart Harley's hammer), and my eyes were next drawn to Harley's breasts, which seem stuffed into a too-small top in a way that is, well, surprisingly realistic-looking, a detail that stands out given that the image in general isn't exactly photorealistic.

I was generally shocked to see who was responsible for the cover—Jim Balent. The somewhat notorious talent that drew scores of issues of DC's first Catwoman monthly series, he and a handful of different writers—Jo Duffy, Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Devin Grayson—transformed her from a villain into a vigilante crime-fighter who dabbled in jewel thievery as a sort of hobby following the events of "Knightfall."

His Barbie doll proportioned Selina Kyle, and her not-exactly-practical costume lead pretty directly into Darwyn Cooke's revamp of the costume; the Cooke-driven relaunch of Catwoman seemed to be in large part a reaction to the Balent-drawn volume of Catwoman comics that preceded it.

Balent went on to do whatever the hell he likes with his own, self-published Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose comic, which I have never read an issue of, but he's been at it so long I assume he's happy doing it, and successful enough that he can keep doing it.

So I was a little surprised to see him drawing anything for DC, even if just a single variant cover. But also delighted. I liked Balent's work back in the day; his style in those old Catwoman comics didn't age necessarily well, but I liked the way he drew all the characters, especially his Batman (and Scarecrow!).

Here his art isn't even recognizable (to me) as that of the same guy, but I guess it has been 20 years or so. I'm guessing it's largely the coloring, which gives the figures a sickly, wax dummy-like appearance. The way Catwoman's kicking though, that's definitely a Balent pose. And, looking closely, they've definitely got Balent proportions...although, like I said, Harley's breasts look remarkably realistic, at least in the way they get smooshed like real breasts when wearing a super-tight corset (Also, that's a really nice background and, if you look closely, you'll find a cat shape hidden in it, something Balent used to do with his covers for the Catwoman).

Given his long tenure on the character, I've always been kind of curious as to what Balent's version of the "new" Catwoman costume would look like and, if nothing else, I guess this variant answers that question.

Is it odd that in a month in which various artists draw the scantily clad Harley Quinn, and one of those artists is Jim Balent, that it's someone other than Balent who draws the most scantily-clad Harley?

Here the always excellent Fan Panosian has reduced Harley's shorts to panties for the variant cover of Grayson.


Joe Quinones provides the Harley variant for this month's Justice League Dark, and it may be the best of 'em all.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? does not have a Harley variant cover, but they could have used a pretty similar scheme on theirs is they did.


THE MULTIVERSITY: MASTERMEN #1
Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art and cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
...
On sale FEBRUARY 18 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
....
Superstar writer Grant Morrison joins legendary artist Jim Lee on Earth-10 for one of the most dynamic, action-packed issues of this entire world-shattering series – THE MULTIVERSITY: MASTERMEN!

Imagine a world where the Nazis not only won World War II but went on to direct world culture for the next 60 years with the help of an orphaned, alien super-weapon known as Overman! But hope is not lost! Rising from the ashes of oppression are a diverse band of heroes raging against the fascist regime – a band of heroes known as THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS!

What nightmarish parallel worlds haunt the dreams of Overman? Who is the mysterious figure called Uncle Sam? And when the dust settles, will the actions of Phantom Lady, Black Condor, Human Bomb, Doll Man and The Ray be enough to stop Leatherwing, Blitzen and the other “heroes” of Earth-X?

Learn all this and more in this exciting issue that acts as chapter seven of the critically acclaimed MULTIVERSITY storyline.


Well, the most interesting issue of Morrison's Multiversity series is the one that's to be released this week, Pax Americana, as it's the one dealing with Earth-4/The Charlton Comics characters...or, in other words, The Watchmen issue (I never really understood why DC bothered with Before Watchmen instead of just doing something like this, using the Watchmen-inspiration characters that they could use without pissing off anyone or alienating anyone).

This one will present Morrison's re-worked version of Earth-X, home of the (most) of the Quality Comics characters, introduced into the pre-Crisis Multiverse as a place where the Nazi's won world World War II (I believe it was originally intended to be designated Earth-(swastika), but they had to trim the edges down to an X).

The comics Internet seems sort of excited that Jim Lee will be drawing this issue, and while I would be interested to see a Morrison/Lee collaboration just to see how it works out, I'm guessing the answer will be "not that well." I'm additionally concerned that it may result in the issue shipping late, and it's been a great pleasure getting one of these Multiverse books on a regular, monthly basis. I wouldn't mind at all if Morrison kept doing these forever, really.

Another point of interest here is that the post-52 relaunch of The Freedom Fighters, the team name given to the characters mentioned in the solicitation, was based on Morrison's notes, and that failed pretty spectacularly...I think more because of the terrible artists assigned than the writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, but then, Palmiotti and Gray aren't exactly a writing team I would expect to be able to take a hand-off from Morrison and run all the way to the end zone with it, either.

Here Morrison doesn't really need to re-create the characters to fit into the shared, only-mildly-rejiggered DCU "New Earth" that followed Infinite Crisis and 52, so, as I said, I'm curious to see Morrison writing his own version of the characters, ones without the sorts of restrictions smashing them into the DCU might require.

Also, I'm curious to see if we get other Quality Comics characters like Plastic Man, The Red Bee, Lady Luck or The Spirit (or Spirit analogue) showing up at all among the regular Freedom Fighters line-up, and what sounds like a Nazi JLA (Justice League of Aryans, maybe...?).


ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER: A CELEBRATION OF 75 YEARS HC
Written by BILL FINGER, DON CAMERON, CHUCK DIXON and others
Art by BOB KANE, JERRY ROBINSON, DICK SPRANG and others
Cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
On sale APRIL 1 • 400 pg, FC, $39.99 US
2015 marks the 75th anniversary of Robin, the Boy Wonder! DC Comics is proud to present this new hardcover anthology collecting some of Robin’s greatest stories, featuring his adventures with Batman, the Teen Titans and more!


So far DC has published books like these on Superman, Lois Lane, Batman and The Joker, and they've all been pretty fascinating. Not simply because of the cross-section of stories they include, but also because of the editorial choices that went in deciding what to include and what to exclude. They serve as interesting snapshots as to where and how the publisher—or at least the folks putting these together—see the characters and who they consider their better creators (And, of course, there's the added difficulty of having to limit themselves to short stories—not hard in the Golden and Silver Age, but very hard after that—that stand on their own well enough to fit in a large but not that large anthology.

At this point, what I'm most interested in seeing in this book is whether they regard Robin as a character—Dick Grayson, the guy who appeared 75 years ago—or an office or title, held collectively by five characters throughout DC's mega-continuity (that is, the continuity that includes the continuity-altering events; whenever DC reboots, they do so in-story). There aren't any clues offered in this; even Dixon, who wrote probably the most Robin III Tim Drake stories, also wrote several featuring the original Robin.

Daphne in beach-wear! Oh, how Young Caleb would have been drawn to this cover!

Sadly, while cover artist Dario Brizuela does put her in a two-piece, he over-covers her in what looks more like a jog bra than a traditional bathing suit top. She is not, sadly, wearing a bikini. Also, someone seems to have stolen her belly button. Perhaps that's the mystery in this issue? (Man, I know these characters exist on a sliding timeline that keeps them forever teenagers, but it still seems wrong to me to see Daphne using an iPod and Beats instead of listening to a transistor radio).

Velma, meanwhile, is much more conservatively dressed in a one-piece suit...although she is remarkably svelte. I don't think I'll ever get used to the 21st century, hot Velma...

Ian Bertham should draw everything.


SUPERMAN/WONDER WOMAN #16
Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE and JAIME MENDOZA
HARLEY QUINN Variant cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
...
Superman and Wonder Woman come face-to-face with the newest arrival to The New 52: MAGOG!
This issue is also offered as a combo pack edition with a redemption code for a digital download of this issue.


I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what Tomasi and Mahnke can do on this title (their run officially begins with an issue shipping tomorrow), but I have to admit, the debut of New 52 Magog throws a bit of cold water on that enthusiasm.

And isn't "New 52 Magog" kind of redundant? Magog was the living embodiment of The New 52 something like 20 years before there even was a New 52.


Here are the two covers for Teen Titans #7, the Harley variant by Sean Galloway followed by the regular cover by "Bengal."

Galloway tries his damnedest to make the Titans—one of the two Power Girls in the New 52-iverse, Red Robin, Wonder Girl and Raven—look adorable as chibi-esque video game sprites, but not even making them into chibi sprites can save those costumes. Even rendered as cutely as possible, Raven still looks like someone who has been half-devoured by Giger monster.

But contrast it with the regular cover, of a burnt skeletal arm buried in an dark, ash-choked city.

Yeesh. Talk about contrast...




WONDER WOMAN #39
Written by MEREDITH FINCH
Art and cover by DAVID FINCH and BATT
HARLEY QUINN Variant cover by PHIL JIMENEZ
...
On sale FEBRUARY 18 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
Wonder Woman returns to Paradise Island, and she’s in for a surprise: The Amazons have chosen a new queen to lead them! The identity of this new queen will send shock waves through the entire DC Universe! Guest-starring the Justice League and featuring the introduction of Diana’s craziest new cast member in, well, ever!


Here's another sharp contrast between the fun of the variants and the dark despair of the regular covers. Phil "Ideal Wonder Woman Artist" Jimenez draws a fairly serious variant cover, it's only real joke being Harley's presence in it, but compared to Wonder Woman on Finch's regular cover? At least, I think that's a Wonder Woman cover. Maybe it's actually for an upcoming issue of Psychology Today, with a cover feature on depression...?

As for the solicit, "Diana's craziest new cast member in, well, ever," huh? I find that hard to believe, considering the fact that Wonder Woman used to team up with herself as a toddler on a fairly regular basis.