Thursday, May 05, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: May 4th

The Legend of Wonder Woman #5 (DC Comics) If you read this week's issue of Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon's Legend of Wonder Woman–and you should have–then you were probably thinking the same thing I was when I saw the above panels. First, you thought, "Oh cool, Plastic Man!" and then you thought, "Wait just a darn second! That's not what the cover of Plastic Man #1 looked like! And it debuted in 1943, not 1944! And whose art is that, anyway? It sure doesn't look like Jack Cole's!" (It actually made me think of Derf's art at first glance; I can't make out the signature).

Well, on further reflection–and upon scanning and zooming in on it–I see the poster advertising the issue says "Get The All New Adventures of the Real Life Superhero," so, in this discrete "continuitiverse" Plastic Man is a real superhero and the star of his own, probably semi-biographical comic book (not unlike those published about the Fantastic Four and company in the Marvel Universe), and it naturally doesn't align perfectly with the Plastic Man comics of our own world.

This is one of several little cameos from the wider DC Universe in this particular issue of De Liz's retelling of Wonder Woman's origin. She visits a young reporter named Perry White whose dream is to one day "start a respectable newspaper of my own!" to learn more about the mysterious Duke of Deception he wrote about, and, in another panel, there's a soldier named Kent writing a letter addressed "Dear Martha."

In this issue, Etta takes her new friend Diana into the city of Boston, where Diana experiences her first car ride, sky scrapers, movie, popcorn and learns that women aren't allowed to fight in the war. The culture clash business is generally a good go-to gag for modern Wonder Woman stories, and while De Liz's isn't the best I've seen in recent years (it's hard to beat that Noelle Stevenson-drawn short story from Sensation Comics), it's not bad at all.

I did find myself musing about the "best" setting for Wonder Woman's origin yet again, though. Unlike her contemporaries, Wonder Woman is rooted in World War II in a way that makes it a challenge to bring her into the modern world (a rich kids parents can get gunned down in an alley in any year and still produce a Batman, for example, and a rocket ship from a distant planet of super-people can crash-land in the heartland any time). De Liz's story is set in the 1940s, which has allowed her to use many of creators William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter's original characters and concepts without too much in the way of reinvention (this issue, for example, prominently features barely-changed versions of both Etta Candy and Steve Trevor, for example, characters whose roles were diminished to unrecognizability when George Perez tried reinventing Wonder Woman post-Crisis).

Here I noticed a potential downside to keeping her origin in the original setting, however. When Diana marches into the recruitment office and asks to be sent to France to fight in the war and is rebuffed, or when a newspaper man calls her and Etta "broads," it's easy for a modern reader to compartmentalize the sexism she faces as an old problem of our grandparents' age, something we've taken care of and thus no longer exists.

And, since you are reading this on the Internet, then you know sexism, like racism, isn't exactly "over," it's just changed and moved, and is no longer as public as it once was. Today a Diana Prince might still not be able to serve in front line combat duty, or join particular factions of the U.S. military, but she wouldn't be turned away at the door and told she can serve by getting married, having kids and keeping house.

I don't think De Liz was implying that sexism is over or anything, it's just something I noticed while reading this issue and seeing Diana encounter the sexism of 1944 America. She's a tough character to write, basically. In terms of essential plotting, keeping Wonder Woman in her original, essential World War II milieu seems to be the easiest and best way to go (although it does divorce her from participation in the DC Universe, which is why she keeps getting moved out of the 1940s), but, in terms of the character's conception as an advocacy character, then moving her into the modern era of the readers seems to be the best way to use her.

I guess it's a good thing DC is currently publishing enough Wonder Woman comics that we can read about her adventures in both eras at the moment.


Scooby-Doo Team-Up #16 (DC) When Billy, Mary and Freddy are all taken captive by The Monster Society of Evil, Uncle Marvel and Mr. Tawky Tawny call on Mystery Inc to help out, as they specialize in investigating monsters.

Once they learn exactly what the Monster Society of Evil is and who its members are, it doesn't take the gang long to find out where their hide-out is, but they still have to battle them. Luckily, the old wizard Shazam helps out by finding the right mythological figures to change Shaggy and Velma's catchphrases into magic words.

Writer Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela pack in so many Marvel Family characters that it's easier to point out who's missing (The Lieutenant Marvels and Black Adam) then to name them all. While the plotting is necessarily compact (the Society has captured the Marvels, the good guys need to save them), Fisch finds plenty of room for jokes, several made at the expense of the Marvel characters (Mister Banjo gets not respect), others by pairing Shaggy's cowardice with the fantastical elements of Captain Marvel comics ("Just a little worm?" he says upon meeting the leader of the Society, "Even I'm not afraid of that!"

Whether you're a fan of Scooby-Doo, or the Marvel Family or both, this is a pretty good comic that should be quite relevant to your interests.

Given the aversion of the editors and writers of the DC Universe side of the publisher, who have regularly been trying to reinvent Captain Marvel for well over a decade now (and seem to have settled on a dim-witted, juvenile Superman with a hood who leaks lightning bolts), I suppose it's well worth mentioning that these are the classic versions of the characters, complete with the real names: Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Review: Fistful of Blood

Kevin Eastman's relationship with IDW Productions would seem to be a rather fruitful one. In addition to allowing him to keep a hand on the rudder of their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ongoing comic–though he is the "Eastman" of "Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" fame, Nickelodeon has own the franchise for a while now–IDW also indulge Eastman's far less commercially promising projects, like Fistful of Blood.

They published the comic as a four-issue miniseries a few months back and then collected it into this 120-page trade paperback, but the back-story of the comic is a bit more convoluted. Eastman and his friend and one-time studio mate Simon Bisley originally created it for Heavy Metal magazine circa 2001, and it looks like it was previously collected in 2002. This version isn't that version, at least, not exactly. Eastman refers to it as a "re-mastered version" in the ample back matter included after the actual story, noting that he redrew every page (and colorist Tomi Varga turned the once black-and-white comic into the full-color version that fills these pages).

Even without knowing that, it's evident that Eastman and Bisley both had a great deal of creative input on the pages of this book, and while their precise working method isn't exactly defined, the results reminded me quite a bit of Eastman's early collaborations with Peter Laird, where they both seemed to have written, penciled and inked every panel together, and it was difficult to tell exactly who did what. This is a little like that, as there's a lot of Eastman and a lot of Bisley on almost every page and, interestingly, some pages look a lot like the work of Bisley. In the behind-the-scenes section, Eastman says that they discussed the book together, he did the lay-outs (many of which are included), Bisley did the pencils and then they both worked on finishing the pages together...and now, of course, they've been re-finished and colored.

It's an unusual kind of collaboration, really, more like the construction of rock music by a band than the normal, strict division of duties often associated with comics: It can be hard to tell where Eastman ends and Bisley begins, and, as a fan of either or both artists, it's a blast to try and pick out who drew which line, and who designed which background character throughout (Do note that the cover of the book, above, is clearly all Eastman).

As the title and the Western setting allude to, the comic was created as a deliberate reference to 1964
s A Fistful of Dollars. Eastman writes that it was mean to be a parody of the classic Eastwood Western, but its more of a high-concept riff, "with Zombies, Vampires and Aliens...long before they became all the rage." A quick couple of keystrokes confirms that this genre mash-up predates Platinum Studios' controversial Cowboys & Aliens comic book by a half-decade, and the resurgence of the zombie genre with 28 Days Later by a year.
The basic plot construction is borrowed directly from A Fistful of Dollars. A woman with no name stumbles into town. She is comically well-endowed in the way that only a comic book character could be–and clearly designed and drawn by Bisley–and dressed only in a bra and underpants.* She is immediately set upon by one of the two local gangs, and dispatches them all pretty quickly. Later, she's attacked by a member of the rival gang, and kills him handily as well.

One gang is a bunch of zombies, the other a bunch of vampires, and they've turned an abandoned Western movie set into a literal tourist trap, where their human servant helps them lure visitors in with the promise of a Western theme experience, and then the two warring gangs of ghouls divide up the blood and flesh of their victims.

The woman with no name, the taciturn character sometimes called "Blondie," eventually agrees to help each gang dispatch the members of the other, but it all ends with a huge battle in which her true nature is revealed (Eastman's quote above spoils it; if you didn't catch it, let's just say she's a very strange stranger indeed) as is the real reason she wandered into this particular town in the first place.
The relative slightness of the plot, and the fact that it is borrowed from a movie (which, of course, borrowed it from another movie) means how much fun a reader will have with the book likely revolves around how much one enjoys the work of the two artists. (Personally, I'm a big fan of both.) That, and, perhaps, how much affection one might have for horror creatures like these.

They are very Hollywood in their conception. The zombies walk and talk and are all-around sentient, and they're always all dressed up in cowboy style; they look a bit like Jonah Hex all of him was as ugly as the one half of his face. The vampires, by contrast, all look like variations of the title character from Nosferatu: Bald, big ears, eyes and fangs, billowing black robes, long skeletal fingers ending in claws. A few of them are more colorful, dressed in Asian exotica fashions and looking pretty bizarre.
The designs are all fairly cartoonish, and bear Bisley's general aesthetic. Eastman shares his original designs for the characters, and it's amazing how different (and different for the better) they ended up, with the main character being the one with the least bit of redesign. That back-matter I keep referring to fills 32 pages of this collection, and there's plenty of commentary from Eastman, along with sketches, lay-outs, character designs, storyboards for a movie adaptation that was never made (at least, not yet) and so on. Apparently Eastman adapted it into a film script with a few friends (one of whom was comics writer Paul Jenkins), and came up with ideas for a pair of sequels based on For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which "will see the light of day...one day, either as a comic series or some other form."

I don't know about movies–this particular story is scant enough that it looks like the sort of narrative that could very easily be ruined by filmmakers trying to fix it**–but I'd be interested in seeing those ideas as comics. Particularly if Eastman could re-team with Bisley, because their collaboration is a large part of what made this book so much fun.

In fact, it's kind of hard to imagine this book without Bisley, as his style incorporates so much caricature into the cartooning that it keeps one from ever taking the proceedings too seriously. As high-concept as this might be, it's a rather low-brow form of high-concept, with meant to be laughed with. Despite the horror tropes, it's much more of a B-movie splatter-stick kind of affair than an actual work of horror meant to scare a reader. Under the pencils and pens of different artists, this could be anywhere from terrible to offensive. Under those of Eastman and Bisley, however, it's a damn good time.



*I was going to write "panties" but it has recently come to my attention that women don't like, or even use the word "panties." Is that true, ladies? Or only true of the women I talk to...?

**Well, unless Quentin Tarantino, or someone who similarly loved the source material and was similarly talented at "sampling" other films in their work were was the filmmaker doing the adaptation. But one imagines that From Dusk Till Dawn is the last horror/western mash-up Tarantino will be involved in. For what it's worth, the plot of this comic is far superior to that of From Dusk Till Dawn though.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Review: Ultimate End

Jonathan Hickman's years-long Secret Wars storyline involving a gradual-but-accelerating collapse of the multiverse reached its final act, the end of his two Avengers books and the beginning of the Secret Wars miniseries, with two remaining universes about to collapse into one another. These were, of course, the "real" Marvel Universe, the shared-setting of the vast majority of Marvel's comics, and the Ultimate Universe, the shared setting of the long-struggling Ultimate line of comics.

The five-issue Ultimate End miniseries, reuniting Ultimate Spider-Man's original creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, was to be the final (one might even say "ultimate) story of the Ultimate Universe. I had assumed, completely incorrectly, as it turned out, that it would focus on how various characters in the Ultimate Unvierse were dealing with the multiversal "incursions" (Ultimate Reed Richards is a major player in Hickman's storyline), or, perhaps, it might detail the final battle between the Ultimate universe and the Marvel universe, or, at the very least, it might detail how the stars of the Ultimate universe spend their last days.

No dice, it turns out.

Instead, Ultimate End is just one more story of a "domain" of Battleworld, the patchwork, temporary Marvel universe created by Doctor Doom to save (and seize control over) what was left of the multiverse. If you've read any Secret Wars tie-ins, then you know what that means: It basically allows for an anything-goes, What If... story, generally using the title of a very popular past event as a title. Here the What If... is a particularly awkward one: What If...The Ultimate Universe and the Marvel Universe Characters All Lived In The Same City and Stopped Being Polite and Started Getting Real?

It actually took me much of the first issue/chapter to understand that this labored construct of a premise was the premise, and even then, the longer one thinks about it, the less sense it makes, at least within the greater construct of Secret Wars. With the now god-like Doom having re-created the world in his image, in all of the other tie-ins (and Secret Wars itself, of course), the sometimes bizarre set-ups are the way it has always been as far as anyone other than Doom and Doctor Strange knows, but here the characters all seem to be aware of the merging of their universes from the very start (we literally see Marvel Tony Stark appearing out of nowhere before Ultimate Tony Stark)...but to also be inherently aware of the "rules" of Battleworld. Different characters show different levels of comfort and familiarity with the set-up, and it varies from scene to scene.

In short, I wasn't convinced that Bendis himself knew exactly how Secret Wars and Battleworld were supposed to work, which lead to a lot of shoulder shrugging and disbelief re-suspension while I was reading.

So all of the characters seem to be semi-organized into their own respective factions, and to be somewhere between confused and freaked out by their dopplegangers. They also all seem to remember their own past lives, and to be aware of the fact that they come from different universes. Marvel Universe Spider-Man, for example, remembers his interactions with Ultimate characters, and goes to visit Ultimate Aunt May and Ultimate Gwen Stacy, the three of them all aware that they don't belong to one another, but are very similar to the ones they do. When The Punishers meet, the Marvel Punisher is convinced the Ultimate Punisher is a Skrull, for some reason, despite the fact that there seems to be at least two of every other character running around. And so on.

The two Tony Starks, who are convinced that the other had something to do with the current state of affairs (due to the fact that Ultimate Tony bought a tear between the universes from Ultimate Amadeus Cho previously), eventually call a truce and start working together to figure out what the deal is, exactly.

Meanwhile, stuff happens! The All-New Ultimates get speaking parts! Ultimate Hulk fights Marvel Hulk! Ultimate Punisher escapes prison, and decides to kill all the super-people! Ultimate Nick Fury decides to arrest Marvel Bruce Banner, which annoys Marvel Tony Stark! Everyone fights!

As usual, Bendis is strong on scenes and weak on plot. There are a couple of neat running gags, like the fact that every one in the Ultimate Universe knows that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and keeps saying it out loud, and I always like the way Bendis writes Spider-Man dialogue (I may have even snickered when he told the Sam Jackson-inspired Fury how good he was at yelling).

There seems to be a chapter missing in here, as the book's through line seems to involve the Ultimate Punisher, but it doesn't actually go anywhere. (By the way, Utlimate Punisher kills his own Marvel equivalent by throwing a knife into his heart faster than Marvel Punisher can pull a trigger, which I call bullshit on; surely the older, more experienced Punisher would come out on top of a Punisher vs. Punisher fight, right?) When the two factions of heroes go to war in the final chapters, they do so for the most spurious of reasons, and the decision to return to their respective corners and fight it out is missing. In one scene, the two Tony Starks come to different conclusions regarding what to do with their findings (One wants to present them to Doom, the other does not), in the next the two armies of superheroes are slugging it out, presumably over this very issue.

Ultimate Spider-Man II Miles Morales, missing througout most of the series, swings in, explains Secret Wars to the characters, and then they all go off to fight in the climax of Secret Wars, this "domain" fading to white and Miles waking up in the Marvel Universe.

And that's it.

Again, the individual scenes are all okay, but they don't really hold together, with certain things getting quite a bit of build-up and leading to nothing (The Punisher), while other things have no build-up and turn out to be important (Miles). Of all the Secret Wars tie-ins I've read so far, this seems to be the one that stands on its own the most poorly, for two contradictory reasons: First, it ties in fairly closely to the main Secret Wars series (at least in regards to the comings and goings of certain characters, and the resolution) and, secondly, it seems to be in complete violation of the "rules" of Secret War/Battleworld throughout.

As for a final farewell to the Ultimate Universe, it's extremely lacking. Aside from the characters from the Ultimate Universe I mentioned, none of the others really get speaking parts--I think Ultimate Cap may get a line or two--and none of them really get proper endings to their stories. That has been a major failing of the Ultimate line in general, though. Despite the fact that the limited nature (by sales as well as by conception, as after so many years it would begin to suffer the same problems that lead to its creation) of the line meant Marvel could have done Cerebus-style, beginning-to-end stories of the like that Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Fantastic Four will never, ever get in the "real" Marvel Universe, Bendis and his Ultimate handlers generally just "ended" various Utlimate characters' stories by suddenly and violently killing them.

Just looking at the cover of the trade (the cover of the first issue of the series) there are a large handful of characters I don't recognize at all, and they don't really appear in any greater depth within (there's a character referred to as "Ben" who looks Human Torch-ish, for example. Ultimate Ben Grimm? Ultimate Ben Urich? Ultimate Uncle Ben's ghost? I don't know!).

Nor do Bendis and Bagley even provide the most shallow, surface-level thrills one might want from a meeting between the two universes. Namely, who would win in a fight? The two Hulks fight, but mostly off-panel. The two Punishers fight, but that entire confrontation lasts for less than a page. If you've spent years wondering which Hulk was the strongest one there is, or who the better Iron Man is, or how badly "Do you think this A stands for France?" asshole Cap take out former Falcon Captain America, or whatever, you won't find out here (It occurs to me that this series really could have used the sort of nothing-but-fights Vs tie-in that Avengers Vs. X-Men got).

Ultimately a disappointment, I suppose this is actually a fitting final story for Marvel's Ultimate Universe, which became increasingly disappointing after the departure of Mark Millar, and the Ultimate line basically consisted of Brian Michael Bendis' Spider-Man book, and constant attempts to reinvent the other characters until the line reached the point that Marvel could do away with the whole thing by simply moving Bendis' Spider-Man into their main line.

Friday, April 29, 2016

These are some graphic novels I read recently:

All-New Captain America: Hydra Ascendant Vol. 1 (Marvel Entertainment)

Not to be confused with All-New Captain America: Fear Him, which collects a four-issue miniseries by that name, this collects all six issues of the "ongoing" All-New Captain America series, which was abruptly canceled (like the rest of Marvel's line) last spring as part of the publisher's Secret Wars. So it ended up just being a mini-series, really. This was somewhat unfortunate, as it ended with a really rather dramatic revelation, which it seemed would be the focus of writer Rick Remender's second story arc on the book. Except there was no second story arc, as there were no more issues of All-New Captain America. The character did reappear in his own book after the conclusion of Secret Wars, but that book was entitled Captain America: Sam Wilson, and wasn't written by Rick Remender, but instead by Nick Spencer.

Marvel's always-frustrating publishing gymnastics aside, how is this book? It's pretty good. Stuart Immonen handles the artwork, so of course it's pretty good. Immonen is an interesting artist these days, because he has always been pretty good, but his work today is so much cleaner, crisper and kinetic than it was at the start of his now fairly lengthy career. I'd say he's currently at the top of his game, but then, I would have said that five years ago too, and his art only gets stronger and stronger.

As for the story, it seems to pick up where Remender left off in a previous Captain America title, the 25-issue 2013-2014 Captain America which introduced Steve Rogers' son, the new Nomad and apparently ended with Rogers becoming a very old man (with great abs, at least as Old Man Rogers was drawn in some of the Avengers books of the era) and passing his shield and codename on to his long-time ally Sam Wilson, The Falcon.

I say "seems" because this is very much in media res, and those all seem to be things it's assumed a reader will know (and I did know most of it, simply from what I had absorbed from other Marvel books; the new Nomad was a complete surprise to me, though).

I like Wilson as Captain America. His hybridized costume is pretty great, and probably the best of the many costumes he's worn over the years (I think the wings being completely withdrawn when he's not flying helps a lot). With some artists, the combination of the wings and the shield can look pretty awkward, but Immonen makes them work perfectly together, particularly in the action sequence of the opening issue.

The plot seems at least semi-inspired by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as it involves a very wide-reaching Hydra plot involving sleeper agents, one on each superhero team, according to one agent. The high command is made up of all of Captain America's rogues gallery, or at least the current incarnations of them, including Batroc The Leaper, Baron Zemo, Red Skull, Crossbones, Taskmaster and Baron Blood, who is ideally suited to fighting the new, winged Cap.

The bad guys' plan is to release bombs at certain cities all over the world that will sterilize everyone who isn't Hydra, reducing the world's population to a more sustainable size (Ra's al Ghul style), and it's up to the All-New Cap, the All-New Nomad, Redwing and some ad hoc allies--particularly Misty Knight, Agent of SHIELD--to shut down the bombs and save the world. Spoiler alert: They do.

The super-villain team-up makes this a nice introduction to the world of Captain America, and I'm not sure to what extent Remender and Immonen are responsible for some of their current looks and portrayals, but while some look just like they did the last time I saw them, others have cool, new looks (like Batroc) and personalities (Batroc, again, who is presented as anti-American in an elitist, dismissive way, rather than as a comic book Nazi kind of way).

There's a panel in which Knight flips mercenary Taskmaster by simply promising to pay him more than Hydra is that seemed like more of a swipe than a borrow of a similar scene in the Grant Morrison-written "Rock of Ages" JLA story (where Batman pays mercenary Mirror Master than Lex Luthor promised to, fitting in with Morrison's Batman-lead League vs. Luthor-lead Injustice Gang as corporate warfare element of that epic clash). It's possible someone did it before Morrison too, of course, but if so I didn't read that story.

The best part of the entire book, however, may be when vampire villain Baron Blood "kills" Redwing, and, a few pages later, Redwing is alive again, and Cap says something to the effect of "But what's with those red eyes? Well, I guess we'll deal with that later!" Yes, that's kind of weird that Redwing was bitten by a vampire, died and then was up and moving around, but with glowing red eyes--what could that mean?

Hopefully Spencer picks up on the Vampire Redwing plotline in his Captain America: Sam Wilson book. While the cliffhanger at the end of the volume, and the idea that each Marvel super-team has a Hydra infiltrator on it, are fairly compelling plots, what I really want to know more about is how Sam will cope with having his animal sidekick transformed into a vampire...

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (Dark Horse Books)

Andrew MacLean's original graphic novel about Aria and her sharp-faced white cat Jelly Beans as they navigate a mysterious, post-apocalyptic world on a somewhat mysterious mission. That mystery will eventually come into focus and be clarified, but a large part of what makes MacLean's story so satisfying is the gradual, casual pace at which it unfolds. His remarkably upbeat protagonist seems to just go about her business cheerfully, occasionally narrating and occasionally getting involved with a spectacular action scene, and her setting is one that is at once fresh and fantastic, while still feeling lived-in and well-worn.

On foot or on motorcycle, she travels from her  home in an abandoned subway train to the plant-encrusted mech leaning against an ancient gas station, searching for a signal, searching for apples and sometimes having to pull a sword on members of the two warring tribes in the area, both of whom speak only in intelligible alien languages, when they speak at all.

The book reminded me a bit of the work of Matt Howarth, a bit of the work of Brandon Graham, and a bit of the work of James Stokoe–three of my all-around favorite cartoonists, all of whom have produced highly imaginative and oragnic-feeling sci-fi and fantasy work–but his art doesn't really look like that of any of those three.

Many of the elements of this comic will seem extremely familiar, but it never feels derivative of anything in particular. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'd highly recommend it.

G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers Vol. 3 (IDW Productions) The current license-holder of both G.I. Joe and the Transformers, IDW, has repackaged all of the previous crossovers into a series of three trade paperbacks, starting with the original 1986 Marvel crossover and concluding with Devil's Due Publishing's 2007 The Black Horizon story, one of the two in this volume.

These two comics arcs are, to put it bluntly and gracelessly, garbage. If one were to make a diagram of the quality of all of the crossovers contained in these three volumes, it would look like a hill; the Marvel ones weren't very good, the first Devil's Due of the early 00s which featured Transformers disguised as various Cobra vehicles the best, and these two just sort of sputtered out with unambitious stories and awful artwork.

Both are by writer Tim Seeley, and the script end of things is markedly better than the art end, which gets increasingly amateurish to the point that it's kind of surprising that some of these pages even saw print as is.

The first story, originally published by Devil's Due in 2006 as G.I. Joe vs. The Transformers Vol. III: The Art of War, introduces Serpentor into the peculiar mixed continuity of the series of miniseries, in which a handful of Joes have large robot-fighting mech suits of armor derived from Cybertronian technology.

This Serpentor is created by scientists in the U.S. government at the Area 52 facility, a few floors beneath the G.I. Joe/Autobot collaborations. He's a powerful android programmed with the tactics and leadership abilities of history's greatest strategists...including Megatron, whose giant severed head is also in the facility. They wanted to use him as U.S. super-soldier, but you could guess how well that worked for them.

After Cobra attacks, the arisen Serpentor heads to Cybertron where General Hawk and a handful of Joes (Snake-Eyes, Scarlet, Road Block) go to lend a tiny, tiny fleshy hand. Once there Serpentor, Son of Megatron rallies the various warring Decepticon factions and leads them against The Autobots, along the way discovering that he lacks a soul/spark like all the human and Transformer characters, and seeks to remedy it by acquiring The Matrix of Leadership from Optimus Prime.

Interestingly, it ends up in the hands of Hawk, who becomes one with it...sorta (It would have been funny to seem him try to shove the giant Matrix into his tiny little body, but that never happens).

Seeley and the too-many artists–pencillers Joe Ng, James Raiz and Alex Milne, inkers Rob Ross, Alan Tam and "M3th"–do a pretty poor job in terms of getting characters in (Cobra Commander, The Baronnes, Zarana and Zartan are the only Cobra chracters with speaking lines; in addition to those mentioned above, the only Joes with lines are Mainframe, Firewall, Lady Jaye and Flint). There are relatively few Autobots and Decepticons, too. It's a very small crossover, considering the massive casts Seeley had to pull from (the casts are similar to the small-sized ones live-action movies, which never seem capable of juggling even a half-dozen characters from each faction).

The secondary characters are mostly un-introduced. Like, I know who the Predacons are because I played with them as a little kid, but there were a few characters that never made it into the G1 cartoons that I didn't recognize at all. Presumably, who they are isn't all that important, but given the most recent franshice smash-up that IDW has been publishing–Tom Scioli and John Barber's superior Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, both the small casts and complete lack of introductions seem even worse. Scioli has pages, hell, even panels with more characters than all of those that appear in all six of these issues, and the "filecard" intros, complete with two-to-six word intros, at least suggest a characterization. Here, many of the characters might as well be named Deception #2, G.I. Joe #7, and so on.

The settings are similarly ill-defined, with Cybertron not looking any different or more alien than what little we see of Earth (the insides of a couple of high-tech headquarters).

With Black Horizon, originally published as two over-sized issues, Seeley has a more interesting semi-high concept, pairing the villains of both 1986's The Transformers: The Movie (still the best Transformers film) and 1987's G.I. Joe: The Movie (ditto), Unicron and Cobra-La, in an alliance of sort. The metal-adverse Cobra-La, whose technology is all organic and bug-like, once held the Galactus-like planet-sized Transformer Unicron at bay, promising to summon him in a few millennia to cleanse the Earth of humanity.

That time has come in Black Horizon. The Matrix-eyed Hawk no leads a clandestine alliance of Autobots and former Joes (Firewall, Cosmos, Prowl and a few more Autobots I didn't recognize) in trying to rid the world of Cybertronian technology, like that which his former government used to build Serpentor. They stumble upon Cobra-La's plan, and with the help of Flint and Optimus try to advert the apocalypse.

In one of the neater twists in Seeley's story, he includes the original G.I. Joe characters, the Barbie-sized ones, with Joe Colton, the character G.I. Joe is named for, having been taken prisoner by Cobra-La decades ago. He too is integral in saving the day. (I'm fairly certain they even snuck some Battle Beasts in there, but I can't be sure, since Andrew Wildman's artwork was so poor; it was hard to be sure of much of anything, really.)

Seeley also adds some Yeti (?) into the Cobra-La society, which, um, kind of clashes with their overall arthropod aesthetic, and gives them a Pretender Transformer or six to play with. These are among the weirder Transformers, ones that even as a little kid I thought were super-dumb. The toys were regular Transformers encased in plastic, two-piece shells of huge, humanoid monsters. That didn't seem to fit the whole "robots in disguise" formulation of the toy line. Like, if you were a giant robot from space, disguising yourself as a giant undead samurai isn't exactly as good a camouflage as, say, being able to turn into a helicopter or truck. In fact, I'm fairly certain a giant undead samurai is more conspicuous and alarming than a simple giant robot.

Like the previous story, this one is very small in its cast–which is especially unfortunate that one would think every single Joe would be rallied to fight off a astronomically large robot intent on eating the planet Earth–and is even worse in its drawing. The settings should be even more fantastic, but there are no real establishing shots, and we see little of the fascinatingly weird culture of Cobra-La, which here consists of little more than three name characters (Golobulus, Pythona and Nemesis Enforcer), some poorly-drawn, off-model Cobra-La soldiers and random humanoids.

Last week, I thought Scioli and Barber's Transformers vs. G.I. Joe comic was one of the best genre comics I had ever read, and certainly the based based-on-a-licensed property comic I'ever ever read. After reading how poorly produced previous crossovers between those two particular properties, I like it even more.

Star Wars Adventures: Chewbacca and the Slavers of the Shadowlands (Dark Horse Books)

While contemplating Marvel's recent Chewbacca miniseries, I became curious about the inherent difficulties in a solo story starring a character who communicates only in funny howls and growls, and how other comics writers might have addressed the Wookie language barrier in previous Chewbacca comics.

I didn't find many in existence, perhaps because of that very issue, but this Chris Cerasi-written, Jennifer L. Meyer-drawn original graphic novel was one. Cerasi's approach? To simply translate Wookie-ese into English/"Basic", so that Chewie and the other Wookies in this story simply talk to one another in the same manner that, say, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo do in other comics.

While it's kind of disconcerting to hear Chewie say, for example, "What is it, Ralrra? I'm kind of busy here," instead of a more typical "HHHRRRHHH," what really makes the dialogue in this comic weird is that the story is a story-within-the-story, told by Chewbacca himself.

So in the framing sequence, Han, Leia and Chewie have just jumped to light speed and Chewie is scolding Han for being careless ("GRAAAARRRRHH!"), and when Leia, who can't understand a fucking thing the Wookie says, asks Han why he's so upset, Han explains that his hirsute friend once had a run-in with some slavers that cost him.

Leia puts a hand on Chewie's shoulder and says, "Tell me, Chewbacca. Please?"

This is two panels after Leia asked Han what Chewie was saying. The Wookie stares off into space, and an off-panel dialogue bubble belonging to Han starts the story. And then we cut to Wookie world, "185 years before The Battle of Yavin" (Wookie's live long, BTW).

I suppose that we're meant to ignore Leia's direct plea to Chewbacca to tell her, and assume Han tells the story. But I like to imagine Chewbacca sitting there and HHHHRRRR-ing to Leia for a half hour, while she does her best to look engaged and concerned, despite having know idea what he's yowling.

In that story, Chewbacca was a reckless, rebellious teen Wookie, and seems to be prickly about the fact that an older friend of his named Tarful just passed some warrior rite of passage. To prove himself, he goes off into "The Shadowlands," with Tarful, a female friend named Ralrra and two very young, Ewok-sized Wookies in tow.

There they encounter the titular slavers, a human woman, a big fuzzy alien I recognize from the cantina scene in A New Hope but can't name and a white humanoid weasel/rat. They fight, Chewie and Tarful eventually win through a combination of home turf advantage and timely intervention by the grown-up Wookies but one of the little ones dies.

It's a pretty simple story, with some pretty heavy subject matter, given its apparently all-ages address (You can tell by the word "Adventures" in the title; why does "Adventures" mean "targeted towards kids"...? I'll never know, but it holds true throughout comics from at least the last 25 years).

Meyer's art is pretty unusual for a Star Wars comic. Only five pages of it is set in "the present," and she does a fine job of filtering the characters through her own style, which has a slightly washed-out look that appears to be somewhere between air-brushed and watercolors. She doesn't mess around with trying to draw likenesses either; she's drawing Princess Leia and Han Solo, after all, not Carrie Fischer and Harrison Ford.

On Kashyyyk, things look less Star Wars still. The forest world is full of hazily, dreamily rendered foliage and mist, and the Wookies have big, expressive eyes and readable facial expressions that give them a cute, almost manga look, and seems far, far removed from the silver screen Chewbacca (all of the current Marvel Star Wars comics, no matter the artist, seems to feature art that strives to replicate the look of the films as much as possible, sometimes to their detriment).

I've definitely never read a Star Wars comic that looks like this one, which, in and of itself, kind of recommends it.

Star Wars: Vader Down (Marvel )

The first real crossover of the new, Marvel era of Star Wars-licensed comics, this collection includes a special one-shot by regular Star Wars writer Jason Aaron and artist Mike Deodato and a handful of issues of both Aaron's Star Wars ongoing (also drawn by Deodato) and a couple of issues of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larocca's Darth Vader. The story is a lot of fun, although if one wanted to read it cynically, there's a whole lot of silly, "And then this guy shows up, and then this guy shows up, and then..." with some outright comical, cartoon-esque sequences. If one was already on board, however, then that stuff is a blast.

The basic story is pretty simple. Vader recently learned that the pilot who blew up the Death Star is named Luke Skywalker, and he is therefore scouring the galaxy to find his son. He's doing so on the sly, with the help of Doctor Aphra and her evil droid allies, Triple-Zero (a sadistic, evil opposite of C-3PO) and BT-1 (a ridiculously heavily-armed, square-headed version of R2-D2).

Vader finds Skywalker doing drills with a couple dozen rebel fighter pilots, and engages them in one of the many scenes demonstrating Vader's superhuman, superheroic levels of Force powers, but he's ultimately brought down by Luke straight-up ramming Vader's tie fighter (the first of several attempts by the Skywalker twins to take Vader out in suicide missions).

With Vader down and all alone on a mostly abandoned planet (along with a similarly downed Luke), Leia launches an all-out assault to take out Vader once and for all. Given that these comics all take place before the next two Star Wars movies, and we know exactly when and how Vader dies, there's not really much suspense as to how this all turns out, of course.

That lack of suspense doesn't make it any less interesting. The two main aspects of that interest are watching Vader tear apart whole Rebel legions (I've noted before that Comic Book Vader, in both the Dark Horse comics and now the Marvel comics, is depicted several hundred times stronger in the Force than he ever is in the original trilogy of films; if this Vader showed up on Hoth at the beginning of Empire, the series should have ended right then and there with the Empire triumphant), and Aaron and Gillen pairing the film's heroes with their comic book opposites here.

Han Solo vs. Dr. Aphra! C-3PO vs. Triple-Zero! R2-D2 vs. BT-1! Chewbacca vs. Black Krrsantan! And Leia's desire to avenge Alderann vs. her desire to not have her new friends all killed horribly!

Those last two character vs. character battles are probably the best bits, as the two little trashcan droids cuss each other out* before pulling their weapons, and R2 is severely out-gunned. As for Chewie vs. um, Blacky, our hero is on the ropes, still suffering the effects of a neurotoxin injected by Triple-Zero (who notes that the rebels have all seemed to develop a particular enmity against protocol droids for some reason). R2 administers an antidote, and things turn around instantly. It's practically a Popeye fight, with the syringe a sort of chemical space spinach.

The resolution is basically of the everyone returns to their respective corners sort that defined the original run of Marvel Star Wars comics (and all Star Wars comics starring the characters from the movies that are set between films), but there are developments in the Darth Vader book's plotline, as Vader faces against one of his major rivals (who looks like Admiral Ackbar's head on General Greivous' body).

I'm no fan of either Larocca or Deodato, the latter of whom has increasingly relied on photo reference and appropriation in his comics-making, and his images often feature an uncomfortably obvious use of dropped-in, repeated images when illustrating large numbers (dulling the impact of that first splash page, for example), and swipes of character poses and expressions straight from the films that are more than a little distracting (I found myself wondering which frame of which film a particular Han Solo face is from, for example, rather than concentrating on that particular scene of the comic).

Their styles are similar enough that there's no severe aesthetic whiplash in this collection when they hand the baton off to one another, although Deodato's Vader often looks more noticeably like a Marvel superhero than Larrocca's, and Deodato's Aphra's anatomy shifts unpredictably, depending on his photo reference, I guess.

Suicide Squad Vol. 3: Rogues (DC Comics)

With this latest 280-page collection of the John Ostrander-helmed Suicide Squad run, I realized one of the reasons that DC has had such a hard time with their recent revival attempts. A new Suicide Squad book was one of the 52 new books launched as part of The New 52. It was one of a handful of books that the market seemingly kept rejecting, but DC kept insisting on publishing anyway**, simply changing creative teams at a particularly high frequency and, at one point, cancelling it and relaunching it almost immediately (DC did the same with Teen Titans and Deathstroke).

Now, there are a couple of reasons why the book has had such a hard time taking off, including rejection of fans by some of the New 52 redesigns--like skinny, sexy Amanda Waller, or mustache-less Deadshot--and the fact that it has thus far featured either bad writing, bad art or both (2011's Suicide Squad #1 was among the worst of the 52 #1s, consisting of almost 20-pages of the protagonists being tortured and, um, that's it).

But while reading Rogues it hit me that a conceptual problem was the fact that the New 52 version of the DC Universe wasn't old enough to support the Squad. While the original one launched shortly after Crisis On Infinite Earth's hard reboot of DC history, COIE didn't hit the re-set button on everything all at once, and it affected some characters more than others; the DCU still had a history, and most of its characters were understood to have been around for a while (about ten years or so).

So when Amanda Waller's Task Force X starts recruiting the likes of Captain Boomerang, Deadshot Bronze Tiger, Nightshade and The Enchantress, these are all characters that were at least semi-familiar to readers as Flash and Batman villains, as supporting characters from older, canceled titles and curios of DC continuity. Black Orchid, Shade, The Changing Man, Vixen, The Penguin, Dr. Light--whether their roles were big or small, they were characters with history in the DC Universe and a presence in the back issue bins. If you wanted to learn more about them, you could read their old comics, because there were old comics featuring these versions of the characters.

That's not been the case with the New 52's Suicide Squads, one of which appears in a book called New Suicide Squad. Yes, the characters all have familiar names, but unfamiliar histories, especially at the outset. The first issue of 2011's Suicide Squad was the very first introduction to the new versions of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark and company, and while they shared the universe with all the other characters, that universe was brand-new across the board.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ostrander's Squad book, that it featured ever-changing, Dirty Dozen-like congregations of characters that really had no business sharing the same story space, wasn't something that could be replicated in the New 52 DCU. It can now of course; when New Suicide Squad added the likes of Reverse Flash, Black Manta and The Joker's Daughter, these were, at least, characters with story arcs in other books, and a modicum of history, and writers were able to flesh out backstories for the more regular characters like Deadshot and Harley, but even then, their universe was younger and smaller than that of the original, Ostrander-written Squad.

I don't think that element was the chief virtue of the original series, but it was certainly one of them, and one that can't be easily manufactured (So it should be interesting to see the upcoming film, which features a cast of characters who have never appeared in any films before, excepting a Joker; it's going to come down to characterization, concept and craftsmanship, and can't coast on fights with The Doom Patrol or Justice League or trips to settings like Shade's weird-ass homeworld or Apokolips).

This particular volume collects #17-25, and 1988's Suicide Squad Annual #1. Ostrander continues to do the bulk of the writing, sometimes in conjunction with Kim Yale, and Luke McDonnell handles the lion's share of the pencil art.

There's a lot going on in these stories in terms of plot, just like there's always a lot going on in the old Suicide Squad, including the team's cover being blown and being forced to go public, an "Invasion" tie-in, Rick Flag going rogue after committing what turned out to be an exceptionally unnecessary murder and, perhaps of the greatest historical importance, the very first appearances of Oracle–here as just a voice coming out of a computer and offering her/its help to the Squad.

McDonnell and company's artwork is serviceable but unspectacular, and can read strangely today. We're so used to seeing highly-stylized art, often with style taking the driver's seat and shoving story-telling fundamentals into the backseat, that it can bee downright unusual to see such perfectly readable, but also un-showy, artwork. Especially applied to DC characters.

I am increasingly struck by the fact that no matter how dark the subject matter gets in this series, the characters almost never get any kind of costume redesigns–the exception that proves the rule here is Nighshade, who had a transformative experience in the comics collected in volume 2. There's just some kind of special energy that emanates from the friction caused by the garish, colorful supervillain costumes grinding against the deadpan serious stories of international intrigue and violent geo-politics.



*"My, what language," Triple-Zero says of their BLEEP PBEEP WUURUU BIDDA DEEBA smack-talk. "He certainly s a foul-mouthed little astromech. I wonder if he's capable of backing up such talk?"

**Which might have had something to do with a big-budget, Will Smith-starring Suicide Squad movie having been in development, and set for release this summer.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: April 27

Batgirl #51 (DC Comics) Last issue certainly read like the last issue of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr's run on Batgirl, if not the end of the book itself. That issue capped off a creatively healthy run in which Barbara Gordon reinvented herself as Batgirl and her place in Gotham City, gradually making more and more friends and allies and, in the last issue, founding a company with her civilian friends and what seemed to be a superhero team with many of her female, crime-fighting peers.

So in this issue, the penultimate one before DC cancels and relaunches the title with a new creative team and new direction, Fletcher and a handful of guest artists essentially start unravelling that status quo that was so gradually built to, apparently prepping the character and book for the Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque team. Spoiler, Bluebird and Operator fight crime in Gotham ("Are these two young women the new Batman and Robin of Burnside?" a reporter asks, covering their exploits, "This reporter likes to think so"*), Black Canary and Vixen fight crime overseas, Alysia and Frankie continue to run Gordon CLean Energy and Luke continue to wait in the (bat) wings, while Barbara seems overwhelmed and gradually withdrawing from everything.

By the end of the issue, she's taking a break from the company (remember, founded just last issue), taking a break from Luke and planning on leaving town for a while. But first, she has to deal with the menace of terrorist organization Gladius, practically the only villains from the Fletcher/Stewart/Tarr run that weren't involved in the last issue (They're from Batgirl Annual #3, the issue in which Batgirl teamed up with, like, everyone, chapter by chapter).

So this is certainly tied in with the run it ends, but it can't help but feel very sudden. I'm glad Fletcher and DC are giving him a few issues to reset things a bit, rather than having Larson come in and have the option of ignoring or radically undoing what came before, but there's still a degree of narrative whiplash involved here. And that's despite Fletcher's efforts to cushion it.

Also, Olive and Maps of Gotham Academy appear, as it looks like the big showdown with Gladius in the next issue will be on the grounds of the school. It's kind of interesting how Fletcher has carved out this little corner of the DCU for himself and his collaborators, really, as we'll see in this week's Black Canary as well.

The artwork in this issue is by the solicited Eleonora Carlini, plus Minkyu Jung and Roger Robinson. It's all pretty great, and actually transitions about as seamlessly as possible (thanks in large part to a single colorist, Serge LaPointe), with the changes in team only really becoming evident on re-read or flip-through, rather than during an initial reading.

Still one more issue to go, and I already miss the book...

Black Canary #11 (DC) Meanwhile, Fletcher's less successful book is also reaching its conclusion, as he and guest artist Sandy Jarrell (inked on the last few pages by Wayne Faucher) pit Black Canary (the superhero) against an immortal demon disguised as a performance artist who has Black Canary (the band) in his thrall.

The above sentence details the essential problem with this book; as the first story arc deal with Black Canary fighting aliens, this one has her fighting a demon, and that doesn't fit too comfortably in a book starring a street-level, martial artist/vigilante, despite Fletcher and his collaborators' efforts to reinvent the character (as with Batman or Green Arrow, the sorts of conflicts Canary faces as part of a Justice League story don't work as well in her own, Justice League-less book).

The other problem, of course, is that their reinvention is laid atop the New 52 reinvention of the character, and those changes are unfamiliar enough to me that whenever they rear their head I just have to accept them as new information, despite the fact that her new origins are meant to be understood by the reader.

As with the aliens from the first arc, however, this demon at least has a musical and sonic connection, and Fletcher has tied martial arts into the mix with this arc, so it all feels a lot more cohesive.

Jarrell's art is great, even though it's not what we were promised at the outset–that is, Annie Wu–and Lee Loughridge continues to define the look of the book through color, which has kinda sorta taken the place of sound in the narrative, as you can't really "hear" a comic book (despite Doug Moench's best efforts), even one in which sound is as important as it is here.

Once again, Batgirl makes an appearance, this time out-of-costume and long-distance, essentially co-Oracling alongside Operator. Vixen reappears as well, offering yet another reminder how awesome a Birds of Prey book spinning out of Batgirl and Black Canary could have been.

Circuit Breaker #2 (Image Comics) Kyle Baker's allusion-filled artwork in this book is simply a joy to read, and re-read. In fact, you could probably read issues of this series sans dialogue and, while the narrative obviously wouldn't be entirely clear, you would at least see some astounding cartooning and crystal clear cartooning, while also getting to pick apart the references in the art. There's one sequence where our Astro Boy-inspired heroine engages a Doraemon-like** character in which the fleeing crowd has characters resembling Baker's on-the-fly cover versions of Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters, Yoshito Usui's Crayon Shin-chan and, if I'm not mistaken, maybe even Shigeru Mizuki's Nezumi Otoko.

The plot is easy to describe, as the Japan of the future's robots rise up to face robot-racism and the sophisticated, robot-fighting robot Chiren (the "circuit breaker" of the title–get it?), tries to defend humanity and maybe somehow broker peace between the two factions, but as for its meaning...? Well, it's pretty complicated and nebulous, and analysis is better-suited to a review of a trade than single issues, lest I keep repeating myself.

Suffice it to say that writer Kevin McCarthy has crafted an enjoyable action comic narrative out of big ideas and media criticism, and Baker's cartooning is not-to-be missed.

Anyone who has–or has had–any level of engagement with manga and anime and/or anyone who loves looking at drawings should be reading Circuit Breaker.

Saga #36 (Image) This is apparently the last issue before the book goes on another regularly scheduled hiatus, and it goes out with quite a cliff-hanger. One of the most appealing things about this book–well, maybe I should say one of "the many" rather than one of "the most"–is how it continues to surprise. One would think that, after reading 35-issues of this book, in which anything can happen, including the sorts of things that one would never expect in a Big Two franchise book or even a creator-owned Image book, where certain kinds of surprises become inevitable (see: The Walking Dead; spoiler: they all die), it would be impossible for Brian K. Vaughan to surprise readers.

That is most assuredly not the case. There was a sudden act of violence in the middle of this that genuinely shocked me. Not because of how violent it was–sudden violence happens pretty frequently in this book, which has killed off several awesome characters–but because of who committed it. And then there's the last page, which kind of brings the book full circle while simultaneously prepping to launch it in a new direction.

This issue also features the genuinely terrifying Saga Costume Contest results (the dog dressed as Ghus is the only participant I wouldn't be terrified to see in my apartment, or on the street, or anywhere that wasn't a comics convention, really) and what I hope is a promise of the return of Lying Cat. The ghost/hallucination of The Brand tells her brother the fat The Will, "Go ask the one chick who calls you on your bullshit."

Huh. Is that what happens when one is without a Lying Cat...? They become addicted to drugs, gain a 150 pounds, get all murder-y and hallucinate constantly...? Is that the problem with our world, that we don't all have Lying Cats keeping us honest with ourselves all the time...?




*I know DC already announced a new Birds of Prey book by a new creative team with no links to the pages of Batgirl and that Spoiler will be appearing regularly in Detective Comics. I still think I'd prefer a Bluebird and Spoiler book like the one the Gotham reporter seemed to suggest than seeing Spoiler in 'Tec, which will, at best, be poorly drawn. Certainly when compared to Batgirl.

**Doraemon is mentioned by name, too. Chiren's friend Michiko calls the Doraemon-inspired character Kuchi-Kun "such a bite of Doraemon," and part of "the norotrious bosozoku club Super-Deformed" wears a giant Doraemon head.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Playing Robin

My nephew recently graduated from Teen Titans Go! to The Batman and Young Justice, and has therefore learned the secret origin of one of his favorite characters. My sister sent me the above message to report on what they were doing the other night.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Other Dicks.

That's the image that artist Mikel Janin's created for the cover of Grayson #4, which offers a pretty decent view of the costume that Dick Grayson wore throughout the title, which will soon be coming to an end. I wasn't terribly fond of the costume, particularly the weird, almost random-looking arrangements of straps and the fact that Grayson wore a big blue "G" sigil (Of course, the bar for quality costuming was set pretty low in the post-Flashpoint Bat-family; as much as I disliked the above ensemble, it was still 700 times better than one Dick's fellow former Robin Jason Todd wore, and at least 1,000 times better than poor Tim Drake's Red Robin get-up).

Because the super-spy agency he worked for, Sypral, employed some kinda high-tech perception warping thingamajigs they called "hypnos," it didn't really matter that Dick didn't wear a mask, as no one would be able to "make" him even when looking directly at him, and his clothing was pretty much irrelevant in terms of an in-story rationale.

I recently picked up the first collection of Grayson (having previously read the individual issues it contained), and was surprised by the back-matter, which included co-writer Tim Seeley's five-paragraph pitch for the series and several designs, which show what Dik Grayson might have worn instead of the costume above.

The first image, labeled as an early character design by Seeley, was paired with this pitch:
It's actually not too far removed from his final look, and is an all-around much simpler and straightforward design (which is an attribute when it comes to superhero costume design, if you ask me).

Like the one he ended up wearing, it more closely reflects his original Nightwing color scheme rather than the green, red and yellow of his Robin days or the black and red and of his post-Flashpoing Nightwing costume. And, unlike the final costume, it has a Spyral logo on the chest, which makes more sense than a big blue G, given that he's an agent of Sypral and all.

The pitch is somewhat noteworthy in that it refers to Spyral's head as Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman, rather than Helena Bertinelli, who was the "Matron" of Spyral in the version of Grayson that eventually saw print. I'm not entirely sure why DC would have preferred a new character whose name was the secret identity of the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint Huntress instead of Kane, who appeared as an agent of Spyral during Grant Morrison's run on Batman Incorporated.

Bertinelli is also drawn in an alternate costume, a black and purple version of the costumes the girls at St. Hadrian's Finishing School wore in Batman Inc which were themselves derived from Kathy Kane's Batwoman costume. She ended up just wearing a very tight T shirt with the white cross on black design of The Huntress' costume and a pair of functional pants, like Grayson is wearing in the image at the top of the post.

Here's Seeley's apparent next pass at a costume for Grayson:
I actually like this one a whole lot, despite how busy it is.

He still retains a Spyral logo instead of a big, blue G, and it radiates a hypnotic spiral costume that covers his entire torso; it's a "hynpotic suggestion shirt," according to the notes. It's a very striking design, and one that would stand out in pretty much any crowd of superheroes.

I really like the fact that the pattern suggests that of the old Steranko Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD covers (SHIELD being a pretty obvious inspiration for Spyral, and Steranko's iteration of SHIELD being the most influential one). This version of Dick keeps a mask, which seems like it would be a good idea to have whether you're concerned about a "secret identity" or not. Even as a super-spy, such a mask could and would have some functionality, like particular lenses or communications capabilities. Plus, it looks cooler (I would have preferred a domino mask to such a big one, actually). The pants and boots look more para-military than what he ultimately ends up with, or the pair of super-tight jeans Seeley gave him in the first design.

Next up is series artist Janin's sketch:
At this point, Dick is pretty close to where he would end up; he's even got the dumb straps that don't seem to do anything. The chief differences between this design and the final one is the color scheme and the mask, and it's easy to see why they switched to blue and ditched the mask, as this basically looks like the post-Flashpoint Nightwing wearing short sleeves and a pair of business casual pants over his tights; if the idea was to leave the Nightwing identity behind, this is a pretty poor choice for the outfit Dick would rock in Grayson...even if it does look more like what a superhero-turned-super-spy might wear.

This series was a real surprise, as the set-up doesn't make a whole lot of sense, or stand up to a few minutes worth of scrutiny, but what Seeley and co-writer Tom King managed to do with that extremely forced and unnatural-feeling premise turned out to be incredibly solid.  Once you got over the conceptual hump and managed to suspend your disbelief long enough to make it through the first issue or so, Grayson was one of the better-written and often better-looking (although Janin's particularly style isn't one I'm personally drawn to) DC books of the last few years.

Grayson Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral contains another surprise: Dick Grayson almost had a totally awesome costume with a hypnotic suggestion shirt.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Marvel's July previews reviewed

Michael Cho is the actual best.
Well, there doesn't seem to be much of interest in this month's Marvel solicitations, at least, not unless you find Civil War II particularly interesting, because that seems to be eating, like, the entire line. The thing that really caught my attention this time around was what appears to be a new format to collect comics featuring certain breakout characters like Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, X-23/The All-New Wolverine and Squirrel Girl in fairly gigantic collections that include several trades worth of comics, as well as short stories and one-shots and team-ups from here and there. Of course, I already have all those featuring the characters I like--Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl--but those are pretty cool volumes for those that want them, and should be pretty perfect for library shelves.

Alright, let's see what Marvel is offering us this July, shall we...?


BLACK PANTHER
BY CHRISTOPHER PRIEST:
THE COMPLETE
COLLECTION VOL. 4 TPB

Written by CHRISTOPHER PRIEST
Penciled by DAN FRAGA, JORGE LUCAS,
JIM CALAFIORE, PATRICK ZIRCHER & JOE BENNETT
Cover by PATRICK ZIRCHER
Christopher Priest takes the Black Panther in a whole different direction! With T’Challa gone, who will inherit the mantle? Could it be…the guy with the trench coat and guns? Kevin “Kasper” Cole is out for revenge against the people who hurt his family, and his quest will bring him into conflict with corrupt cops and a brutal hunter. It’s the all-new Black Panther vs. the White Wolf as a crime novel in comic form begins — but nothing in a Priest tale is ever black and white. This gritty, street-level Panther saga will conclude with revelations about the fate of T’Challa — and set up Cole to join a whole new Crew! But can Cole, War Machine, Junta and Josiah X handle Big Trouble in Little Mogadishu? Collecting BLACK PANTHER (1998) #50-56 and #59-62, and THE CREW #1-7.
416 PGS./Rated T+ …$34.99


Wow, there's going to be four volumes of this? I'm already one volume behind, as I understand the second one has been released. I'm a little surprised to see The Crew included, as I didn't really think it was considered part of Prist's Black Panther run, but I'm glad to see it's in here. That means I can get the single issues out of my comics midden once I get this trade. I remember liking that series okay, and being disappointed when it was canceled, but also had little idea who several of the characters were, so perhaps reading them after the Black Panther comics it apparently followed will clear all that up for me.

CIVIL WAR II #3 (OF 7)
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (W) • DAVID MARQUEZ (A)
Cover by MARKO DJURDJEVIC
...
This is the one everyone will be talking about! One of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe will fall! Who it is and how and why will divide fans for years to come. Will the heroes of the Marvel Universe survive the unthinkable happening? The fallout to this issue is enormous!
40 PGS./RATED T+ ...$4.99


Alright, death! Awesome! For a while there I wasn't sure if this was going to be impotant or not, but if one of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe is going to fall, then it must be!

Based on that cover, it looks like Iron Man, as he appears to be ripped in half, but maybe that's just empty armor.

It's weird that they've done so many of these temporary deaths as part of Marvel event series at this point that, when I was trying to puzzle out who it might be, I found myself trying to figure out who hasn't died and come back to life lately.

I think Bruce Banner, presumably the Hulk on the cover above, is the most likely suspect, given that they did refer to him as one of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe (which would seem to excuse the likes of, I don't know, Nova, Captain Marvel, the new Thor, Captain Falcmerica, etc.) He's also not starring/buttressing his own title at the moment (Amadeus Cho is currently the main Hulk in the pages of The Totally Awesome Hulk), and the Banner version of Hulk hasn't really had much to do in the Marvel Universe in...years, really.

In other words, he's the biggest character that is also the most expendable at the moment, but I don't know; the premise of the series is so goofy I'm having a hard time even getting my head around it, let alone trying to understand how it might play out.

I think The Wasp is a potential possibility too, if only because word on the street is that there's going to be a new Wasp soon and she too has been MIA for a long time, only sort of appearing around the fringes of recent Avengers titles (In the pages of Uncanny Avengers, for a while).

We'll see.


DARTH VADER #23
KIERON GILLEN (W) • SALVADOR LARROCA (A/C)
...
• Vader vs. Morit on the shell of the Executor!
• DO YOU NEED MORE THAN THAT???
• Fine: Cylo's secret revealed!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.


Yes, I will need more than that. Because I have no idea who Morit is. Or what the Executor is. Or who Cylo is, actually.

Huh. I've read the first two trades of this series; are all those these things I should know from having done so? maybe I'm just having trouble retaining information from the new Star Wars Expanded Universe...


HOWARD THE DUCK #9
CHIP ZDARSKY (W) • JOE QUINONES (A/C)
• Howard is back in NEW YORK CITY! And on his strangest case yet: A missing person! His client? The missing person! WHAAA—?
• Join us as Howard encounters aliens, Brooklyn and network television with a SPECIAL GUEST STAR so SHOCKING that I am STILL SHOCKED that we're ALLOWED TO DO THIS.
• SERIOUSLY.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99


Hmmm...Is it The Shocker...?


I like this cover. That is all.


SCARLET BOOK 2 PREMIERE HC
WRITTEN BY BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
PENCILED BY ALEX MALEEV
COVER BY ALEX MALEEV
The most controversial and best-reviewed comic book on the stands today is back! From the Eisner Award-winning team of Bendis and Maleev (DAREDEVIL, SPIDER-WOMAN, MOON KNIGHT) comes the next chapter in Scarlet's one-woman American Revolution. Scarlet has declared war on a city strangled from within by corruption! Her call to arms has been heard all over the world -- but now Scarlet makes her boldest move yet, taking City Hall hostage while the entire country watches. How will the public react to her list of demands? Can a modern revolution gain traction? And what will the government do to shut her down? The answers will surprise you, as Scarlet finds herself forced to make a dangerous and desperate move: letting them capture her! The creator-owned hit is back -- and bolder than ever! Collecting SCARLET #6-10.
176 PGS./Mature ...$24.99


Not to be a jerk or anything, but I don't believe for a second that this is "the most controversial" and/or "best reviewed comic book on the stands today." In fact, I don't remember hearing anyone say anything about it anywhere since it first launched, and those comments were more like, "Wait, what is this? Why does this thing even exist?"


SPIDEY VOL. 1: FIRST DAY TPB
Written by ROBBIE THOMPSON
Penciled by NICK BRADSHAW & ANDRÉ LIMA ARAÚJO
Cover by NICK BRADSHAW
Think you know everything about Peter Parker? Think again! Expect action, adventure and hilarity in equal measure as we head back to high school to explore Pete’s early days! Modern talent combines with the classic Marvel flavor to present the web-slinger’s wonder years in truly amazing, spectacular, sensational style. It’s a return to the hassles of overdue homework, not knowing how to talk to girls and a never-ending merry-go-round of madness courtesy of the best rogues’ gallery in comics! We’re talking Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Vulture and…Doctor Doom! But could our young hero ever be ready for an arch-nemesis like the Green Goblin? With these and more faces from Peter’s past — both familiar and surprising — you’ll remember what made Spider-Man the world’s greatest hero in the first place! Collecting SPIDEY #1-6.
136 PGS./Rated T …$17.99


I think Nick Bradshaw is just the best, I like the idea of this book, but I haven't read a single issue of it, choosing to instead wait for the trade. Which I guess will be out in July. So, have any of you read any issues of it yet? What's the verdict? Is this one to definitely have on one's book shelves, or more of a borrow-from-the-library kind of thing...?


STAR WARS: DARTH VADER VOL. 3 - THE SHU-TORUN WAR TPB
Written by KIERON GILLEN
Penciled by LEINIL FRANCIS YU & SALVADOR LARROCA
Cover by KAARE ANDREWS
The Dark Lord of the Sith's unstoppable march continues! The natives of Shu-Torun are revolting, and there's no way the Empire will stand for that. When Darth Vader is tasked with leading a military assault against the planet, could it be that his rise to glory has begun? But who will follow Vader into war? Would you? Then again, it's better to fight alongside Vader than against him. That's a lesson that the ore barons are about to learn. Collecting DARTH VADER #16-19 and ANNUAL #1.
120 PGS./Rated T ...$16.99
...
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.


The thing I like least about this book is Larroca's art. I mean, it's okay, and it is honestly better on this book than on other books he's worked on before, but it's just not a style I really appreciate it. I do like Yu though, so I'm pretty curious about this volume, not only to see someone other than Larroca drawing it, but to see someone so different from Larroca drawing it.


STAR WARS: HEROES FOR A NEW HOPE HC
Written by MARK WAID, CHARLES SOULE & GERRY DUGGAN
Penciled by TERRY DODSON, ALEX MALEEV & PHIL NOTO
Cover by TERRY DODSON, ALEX MALEEV & PHIL NOTO
Three of the most beloved characters in the entire Star Wars saga in their own solo adventures! After Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, Leia Organa is a princess without a world! But she still feels a duty to her people. Can she save the remaining Alderaanians from the might of the Galactic Empire? Before master of charm Lando Calrissian joined the Rebellion, or even ran Cloud City, he and faithful ally Lobot got by with the odd swindle and plenty of swagger. But this time, has Lando bitten off more than he can chew? Speaking of things getting Chewy, everybody’s favorite Wookiee warrior also faces some alone time after the battle of Yavin. Stranded on an Imperial-occupied planet, far away from Han Solo, will he make a new best friend? Collecting PRINCESS LEIA #1-5, LANDO #1-5 and CHEWBACCA #1-5.
344 PGS./Rated T …$50.00
...
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.


Huh, that's interesting. All three of these series have previously been collected in trade format, so it's odd to see them re-collected into a massive hardcover. But not that odd, obviously, as it's Star Wars, and that is a particular iron that is still particularly hot,

Of these three series, Chewbacca is the only one I've read, but I really rather liked that one.


THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #10
RYAN NORTH (W) • ERICA HENDERSON (A/C)
• Mole Man has fallen in love with Squirrel Girl, and he's holding the world hostage until she goes on a date with him!
• MOLE MEN, am I right??
• Watch as Squirrel Girl gains the help of an unlikely ally! Thrill as two people kiss! BUT WHICH TWO??
• You'll have to buy the issue to find out, so all I'll say right now is this:
• IN THIS ISSUE THERE IS A NON-ZERO CHANCE FOR EVERY MARVEL SHIP TO BECOME CANON!!
• "Ship" is short for "relationship," in case you thought I was talking about, like, Galactus' "Star Sphere" or Mr. Fantastic's "Fantasticship" or whatever.
• Anyway, enjoy!!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99


This solicit reminded me of the story of Thumbelina.


VOTE LOKI #2
CHRISTOPHER HASTINGS (W) • LANGDON FOSS (A)
Cover by TRADD MOORE
VARIANT COVER BY DAVE JOHNSON
• Presidential candidate Loki Laufeyson is finding it hard to roll with the punches of the campaign trail. As if proving his eligibility isn't hard enough, the media has started the HORRIBLE rumor that his Super P.A.C. is actually a cult under Loki's control!
• Plus, the Marvel heroes finally figured out how to successfully fight Loki in his new role: attack ads. God bless (Captain) America, eh?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99


You know, if Loki really wanted to cause maximum mischief, he really should have just sat this election season out. I think we Midgardians are providing all mischief all by ourselves this time around, and Loki couldn't possibly hope to increase it even an iota.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: April 20th

Legends of Tomorrow #2 (DC Comics) I started a post discussing the first issue of this series, and the book on a sort of conceptual level, but only got a few paragraphs in before I became distracted with other matters and, well, apparently an entire month has passed and the second issue is here. I...really need to do something about my time management skills in the very near future here.

In short, this is a very weird comic book. It's an 80-page, $7.99 comic offering four different 20-page features between a single set of covers. In other words, it's basically four different comic book series, one of which was relaunched as part of 2011's New 52 initiative, the other three of which couldn't reasonably be expected to last 12 issues in the current market were they launched as their own series, sold in bulk, with the appropriate discount (Think of it as four $2 comics, and dropping $7.99 doesn't sound bad at all).

The title is so random that they might as well have called it DC Comics Presents or Showcase or Justice League or Comics or Whatever. Yes, the title is the same as that of a TV show featuring DC characters, but of the four features in here, only one–Firestorm–features a character from that show. Which is maybe the weirdest thing about the book. If you look at the line-up of characters in Legends of Tomorrow (the TV show), which runs in this very issue, it's not hard to find three other characters that could star in the non-Firestorm features here: The Atom Ray Palmer, Hawkman and Rip Hunter. The others on the show are Flash villains Captain Cold and Heatwave, Hawkgirl (who I am pretty sure only exists on Earth-2 in the current DC cosmological status quo) and a version of Black Canary (and Black Canary currently has her own title). Sure, none of those characters are exactly all-stars, and monthlies featuring any of them aren't exactly guaranteed to sell well–especially if paired with the level of talent involved with Legends of Tomorrow (the comic book)*, but then, there's a Sugar and Spike feature in here.

First up is Firestorm by writer (and character co-creator) Gerry Conway and the art team of Eduardo Pansica and Rob Hunter. It's mostly what you would expect from a Firestorm comic, including conflicts about separating, getting stuck and blowing up. I felt pretty uncomfortable during a passage where Conway writes teenager dialogue, including the word "cray-cray" and a reference to Ronnie and Jason asking their mutal female friend to Netflix and chill. I was slightly surprised to see old Captain Atom characters Waid Eiling and Major Force, the latter of whom has such a drastic redesign I thought for a moment he was a Black Lantern version of Major Force.

Next up is Metamorpho, written and drawn by Aaron Lopresti, with inks by Matt Banning. I actually kind of feel bad for Lopresti, because he's essentially re-introducing the character into current continuity, which means a do-over of Metamorpho's origin. Which, inevitably, means begging comparisons to writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon and, and it's not easy to measure up to either of them, let alone both simultaneously.

His take feels more modern, which is to say more boring (Find and snap up a Showcase Presents: Metamorpho if you can find it; those comics are decades old but still look and read fun and fresh). His Metamorpho character design looks slightly more realistic, which, again, is another way of saying more boring. Java and Simon Stagg are much more dangerous and evil, rather than having the sort of frenemy vibe they had with Rex originally (and I don't care for the way Lopresti draws Stagg, with a fatter face and double chin), and Sapphire is now a brilliant scientist who coaches Rex on the Periodic Table, rather than simply his girlfriend and Simon's daughter (she's sill the latter, not yet the former). It's easy to understand why Lopresti (or anyone) might want to revise Sapphire to give her more to do and to be a more active presence in the feature rather than simply the thing that binds the male characters together, but, well, this is both drastic and obvious. The quartet had more of a dysfunctional family vibe at the point of their creation, here that's not the case.

Oddly, Justice League villain Kanjar Ro is present too, which seems like something of a violation at this point in an origin story (I should note that this seems in keeping with DC's usage of characters from across the character catalog in their TV shows; I'm generally perplexed by who shows up in Supergirl, the show I watch, and all the characters from all over the DCU that have shown up in The Flash and Arrow).

That's followed by the weirdest, and probably best, of the four features, writer Keith Giffen and artist Bilquis Evely's Sugar & Spike. Why are the old DC characters whose entire schtick was that they were babies now a grown-up pair of private eyes specializing in working cases for the superhero set? I have no idea, and, 40 pages in, Giffen sure hasn't offered any suggestions.

Whatever the name of the feature and the names of the characters though–and, thus far at least, they could be any two characters, really–it works. Last issue the two retrieved some of Batman's weird Silver Age costumes from Killer Moth, who was eating them (No, this Batman never had a Silver Age, and yes, this Killer Moth doesn't dress like a moth at all). This time, they go to the island Superman built that is shaped like himself (another Silver Age holdover) in order to find a secret cache of Kryptonite that Superman hid there. Along the way, they meet a bunch of killer toys that are also after the Kryptonite–but they are not the Toyman's toys, which was a surprise (they seem to belong to a different character).

Evely's art makes this–it's by far the best-looking feature in this anthology–and while Giffen's bickering between the protagonists is so harsh and aggressive that it reads a lot like most of his other recent DC work, he's so far demonstrated a knack for finding bits of "forgotten" DC history for his characters to try and rebury on behalf of their employers (Actually, I'm not entirely sure how and if they get paid; like, I know Batman could afford to pay a couple of PI's, but I'm not sure about Superman, just as I'm not sure what he's doing for money now. Last I knew he was a blogger turned professional wrestler).

Finally, there's another installment of Len Wein and Yildiray Cinar and Trevor Scott's Metal Men, working from the version that was introduced by Geoff Johns in his Justice League and "Forever Evil" books and then appeared in the pages of Cyborg. I didn't love those specific designs, and Cinar's art doesn't make particularly awesome use of the characters and their abilities visually, but the Metal Men are rather hard characters to get "wrong" (Like Metamorpho, their original adventures hold up pretty well; look for their Showcase too!). Wein has introduced an Internet villain named Anonymous Nameless, who is after the Metal Men, and here there are appearances by two more robot characters–Well, one is technically a cyborg, with a human brain in a robot body, and the other is an android. I think. This is the first time the latter has appeared on Earth-0 in the post-Flashpoint status quo, at least to my knowledge, and his new design may be that rarest of things: A New 52 design that is an improvement over the previous one. Maybe. I'd need to see more of it, I guess.

Were these features all being sold separately, I probably would have dropped them all save the theoretictal Sugar & Spike book by now (actually, I never would have even picked up theoretical issues of Firestorm, Metamorpho and Metal Men in the first place), so perhaps there is some wisdom to this format, as weird as elements of it may be.

Lumberjanes #25 (Boom Studios) Wow, hard to believe that Lumberjanes has lasted this long...and that I've kept buying it!

On a macro level, the book's ability to survive through some pretty dramatic creative team changes is particularly impressive, and probably speaks to the strength of the characters, the concept and the specifics of the milieu that went into the book's original creation. I have noticed that the book has become pretty stagnant, however, with all of the weirdness surround the 'Janes and their camp becoming an accepted norm by all parties–characters, creators, readers–rather than clues to part of a big, mega-storyline (It's as if, to use a TV example, this were a version of The X-Files that was all standalone, weird cases, with no "mythology" episodes).

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and it may help the book survive another 25, 50 or 100 issues, but it's certainly a zag where I was expecting a zig.

This oversized ($4.99?! Fuck) issue features a cover by original artist Brooke Allen, a 22-page story which certainly reads like a perfectly acceptable standalone story (but is actually to be continued) by the regular creative team, and then a 10-page back-up by writer Chynna Clugston Flores and artists Laura Lewis and Mad Rupert.

That back-up is of special note because Clugston is writing the upcoming Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy crossover series (a six-page preview of which is included herein), and might give readers some clues as to what they might expect from that crossover. I...was not overly impressed, which disappointed me greatly, as I was such a fan of Blue Monday and Scooter Girl. It's not bad, mind you, but Clugston does a lot of narration in the form of April's journal and, well, it's a mode that differs greatly from all previous Lumberjanes stories (and not in a good way), and is also something a lot of comics artists-turned-writers do: Rely too heavily on words.

The artwork on this storyline is great, however; very simple, with lots of small panels on every page (it "reads" as long as the opening story, despite being half its length) and artwork that departs with the more familiar style sharply without contradicting it.

(Oh, by the way, we didn't get a badge for reading this month's issue, which is bullshit.)

Teen Titans Go! #15 (DC) I actually just bought this to give to my nephew, who loves the show, but you're damn right I read it first. The format hasn't changed any since the last time I read an issue of it, nor has the general quality. The first one has a pretty good gag in the Scaredy Pants, special pants designed by Raven and Cyborg that make whoever wears them terrified of any and everything around them. The second one guest-stars the Teen Titans East, and pits them against "our" Titans in a friendly game of baseball, which Cyborg (rightly) thinks is the worst sport in the world...at least until a baseball smashes into the computer part of his skull. The first is by writers HEather Nuhfer and Paul Morrissey and artist Marcelo Di Chiara, the second is by writer Merrill Hagan and artist Jeremy Lawson. Dan Hipp, sadly, provides only the cover, which is excellent as always.

But let's talk about this instead:
Crazy Quilt, filtered through Tim Gunn, to become a teacher at whatever school the girls of DC SuperHero Girls go to?! Whaaaaaaaaat?

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #12 (IDW) It's hard to believe that Tom Scioli and John Barber's excellent series, maybe the single best ongoing comic on the market today**, is actually ending. This is the penultimate issue.

The great thing–well, one of the great things–about the title is that Scioli generally manages to put at least one awesome thing on every single page, and while that's true in this issue too, here he pulls off something even cooler, as the awesome things continually escalate throughout the entire issue, so that every turn of the page not only brings you something awesome, but something more awesome than on the previous page.

So here's the returned Cobra Commander in his awesome costume, surrounded by loyalists, with the forces of Cobra La and the substitute Cobra Commander just Easter Eggs in a typically baroque panel, here are almost all the masked characters unmasking, here's a drawing of...every single member of the Jotobot alliance?...marching on Megatron, here's... Crystal Ball? The last G.I. Joe figure I personally bought as a child!

And man, Snake Eyes and Scarlet's reunion, or the pages where Wheeljack, Blaster and Metroplex take on Trypticon...? I don't even have words. And there's also a fucking Say Anything allusion...

Seriously, this issue boggled my mind and tied my tongue; I can barely process, let alone talk about, all the great stuff in it.

A note on the unmaskings: In their regular story commentary, the creators discuss the problems of unmaskings that are actually pay-offs, with Scioli saying he doesn't subscribe to the belief that the mask is always more interesting than whatever you can actually show to have been beneath it all along. I disagree.

His Cobra Commander unmasking struck me as just as lame as the unmasking of the character in G.I. Joe: The Movie, which even as a little kid I realized couldn't possibly match the suggestion of the unimaginable a never-removed mask offers. That said, I applaud Scioli for going for it here, and understand that unmaskings play a role in the original Marvel G.I. Joe comic book, which has been a major source of inspiration for this series, at least as prominent–if not more so–than the toy lines or cartoons.

His Snake Eyes unmasking, on the other hand, was a lot more successful, especially since it was accompanied by dialogue. It, unlike the Cobra Commander one, offered a true surprise.

I am both looking forward to and dreading the next issue. Looking forward to it because I always look forward to the next issue of Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, and because I can't imagine how they're actually going to wrap up this gigantic conflict (Earth has already been destroyed, and Megatron is currently destroying the sun), and dreading it because not only will it be the last original issue of the series (which, sadly, means no more shocking surprises, but of course I can always re-read the issues they've published), but I don't think I'll ever be able to see a G.I. Joe or Transformers comic the same way again. After reading this, it's going to be hard to go back to the non-Scioli iterations, you know...?



*That is, highly competent, but not exactly name, superstar types who move books by their involvement alone. The creators involved in this comic are mostly those from DC's reliable stable of creators, who, were they not doing this, would be doing something else similar for the publisher.


**Seriously.