Saturday, September 20, 2014

Marvel's December previews reviewed

Marvel Entertainment will, as of December of 2014, still be publishing and selling comics, because while it might not be the most lucrative business to be in, where are they gonna find the next Guardians of the Galaxy if they don't keep the comics division going as a Intellectual Property farm...?

What will they be publishing in the final month of 2014? You can click here to see it all, and read on to see only the few things I thought worth mentioning to you personally. Mostly so as to make bad jokes.

ALL-NEW MIRACLEMAN ANNUAL #1
GRANT MORRISON & PETER MILLIGAN (W)
JOE QUESADA & MIKE ALLRED(A)
COVER BY GABRIELE DELL’OTTO
Variant COVER BY JOE QUESADA
SKETCH VARIANT COVER BY JOE QUESADA
Variant COVER BY JEFF SMITH
• Joe Quesada illustrates Grant Morrison’s lost Miracleman story, a disturbing confrontation prior to the Battle of London
• Peter Milligan and Mike Allred reunite for a new Miracleman classic!
• Plus bonus material!
40 PGS./Parental Advisory…$4.99


Okay, I give up...how did they get Jeff smith to draw a variant cover for this dumb thing...? And hey, props for applying the term "All-New" to a comic produced from a "lost" (i.e. quite old) script.



ANGELA: ASGARD’S ASSASSIN #1
KIERON GILLEN & MARGUERITE BENNETT (W)
PHIL JIMENEZ & STEPHANIE HANS (A)
Cover by STEPHANIE HANS
...
Variant cover by SKOTTIE YOUNG
• All her life, Angela -- the finest warrior of Heven -- was raised to hate Asgard with every fiber of her being.
• And now Angela knows the truth about her identity: She is Thor’s sister. She is an Asgardian.
• Cast out of her home and wanting nothing to do with Asgard, Angela must now strike out on her own!
• But what does Angela have that both Asgard and Heven want? And why are they so eager to get it?
• Visionary writers Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett team with the legendary art team of Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans to finally throw the spotlight onto the Marvel Universe’s most dangerous inhabitant!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


I like one of those writers and one of those artists a whole lot, but I am luke warm on the other writer an other artist.

I like the logo.

I love the Skottie Young cover.

I don't know why it has two writers and two artists.

I still have no idea why this title even exists; does a "created by Neil Gaiman" credit really move comics? Was Lady In Bikini With Sword and Very Long Ribbons a design so inspired Marvel HAD to have it, even if it meant re-writing her scant history and origin...?


AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS #7 & 8 (OF 9)
RICK REMENDER (W)
Issue #7 - ADAM KUBERT (A)
Issue #8 - LEINIL FRANCIS YU (A)
CoverS by JIM CHEUNG
...
ACT III: NEW WORLD DISORDER
THIS IS IT! THE BATLE ROYALE OF YOUR DREAMS--THE ASTONISHING AVENGERS VS THE UNCANNY X-MEN FOR THE FATE OF NEW YORK!
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)


Not my dreams. The battle royale of my dreams consist of the Challengers vs. The Defenders vs. G.I. Joe vs. Transformers vs. The Marx Brothers vs. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the fate of the universe.

Also, I have no clue who the "Astonishing Avengers" are. I guess Marvel finally launched so many Avengers books that I have now officially lost my ability to keep track of them all.


AVENGERS & X-MEN: AXIS #9 (OF 9)
RICK REMENDER (W) • JIM CHEUNG (A)
Cover by JIM CHEUNG
Looper variant by Paul Renaud
...
• Who will live? Who will die? Who will remain inverted? A shocking climax that promises to crack the Marvel Universe to its very core!
• An old foe must claim the mantle of his greatest enemy to save the lives of all he cares for!
• An X-Man’s horrifying fate! An Avenger’s appalling choice! If you read only one comic this century – This is it!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99


I appreciate the hyperbole. I like how it implies that Marvel read this one, and were like, "Fuck, we'll never top that! It will be at least another three generations before a writer and artist capable of topping this story will be born!" Also, "Hey, this puts Asterios Polyp and Fun Home and Los Bros Hernandez and all that arty shit of the last 15 years to shame, doesn't it?"


CAPTAIN MARVEL #10
KELLY SUE DECONNICK (W)
DAVID LOPEZ, MARCIO TAKARA & MORE (A)
COVER BY DAVID LOPEZ
CAROL’S 100TH SOLO ISSUE ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL!
• We’re celebrating 100 issues of Carol Danvers’ high-flying, smack-talking, and butt-kicking adventures, thanks to you our beloved Carol Corps! Join writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artists David Lopez, Marcio Takara and more as we bring you a momentous (and over-sized) issue almost 50 years in the making!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99


Either you dropped a zero from the issue number, or fuck you and your terrible lies Marvel Entertainment! This is a tenth issue, not a 100th solo issue anniversary special, whatever the fuck that means. Show your math!

Props to Michael Del Mundo for a great Elektra cover.


GUARDIANS 3000 #3
DAN ABNETT (W) • GERARDO SANDOVAL (A)
Cover by ALEX ROSS
...

• Who are The Stark? What is their aim? Can the Guardians survive a lethal clash with such formidable entities? Action, cosmic wonder and some surprise allies, brought you by the Most Amazing Creators in the World, D and G....”
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Who are The Stark? I don't know, but I'm glad they've got a Stilt-Stark.

So, I guess this series is Marvel's "Thanks for the millions of dollars!" gesture to Dan Abnett...?


I continue to like these Javier Rodriguez covers for Axis: Hobgoblin.


MOON KNIGHT #10
BRIAN WOOD (W) • GREG SMALLWOOD (A)
Cover by DECLAN SHALVEY & JORDIE BELLAIRE
• Moon Knight’s latest mission- BREAK INTO THE UNITED NATIONS BUILDING!
• Can he possibly deal with the consequences of these actions?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


I'm still too grossed out by Brian Wood to, like, want to read his work anymore (it's the telling Rich Johnston thing that really boggles my mind; like that's the one step that took the Brian Wood story from Kinda Scummy to What The Fuck Kind of Human Being IS This?, but since he brought his dick up in the first place (like, years ago, to Rich Johnston, for a comics industry "gossip" column), I would like to point out that the creative team of Wood and Smallwood is kind of hilarious, if only from a dick-joke perspective.


SPIDER-MAN AND THE X-MEN #1
ELLIOTT KALAN (W) • MARCO FAILLA (A)
Cover by NICK BRADSHAW
Variant COVER BY BENGAL
Variant COVER BY SKOTTIE YOUNG
• Meet the Jean Grey Academy’s new guidance counselor: Spider-Man!
• What’s a non-mutant doing at a school for mutants? What secret suspicion has fueled the formation of his special student class?
• And because you demanded it! Sauron and Stegron the Dinosaur Man! The villain team 65 million years in the making! You didn’t demand it? Well somebody did.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Hey, good idea!

The one thing I rather liked about JMS's run on Amazing Spider-Man (aside from John Romita Jr's art, of course), was his making Peter Parker a teacher, which allowed the character to maintain his original connection to high school life while still allowing him to be an adult. I thought that was a perfect day job for an all grown-up, totally adult Peter Parker.

I have no idea who either of these creators are though, but Spider-Man teaching super-kids is a decent set-up for a series, I suppose, and I see Wolverine and The X-Men is not solicited for December, so I guess this takes the place of that series, becoming the place to read about the ongoing adventures of the student body at the Jean Grey School. I guess having a book called Wolverine and The X-Men without Wolverine in it, who is temporarily dead, would be weird, and yeah, I suppose Spider-Man and The X-Men is more likely to sell more comics than Storm and The X-Men or The Beast and The X-Men or Doop and The X-Men.

I don't have the book here in my apartment to check, as I read Jason Aaron's volume of Wolverine and The X-Men in library-borrowed trade collections, but I'm like 93% sure that Spidey already interviewed for a job on the Jean Grey School's faculty and was rejected by then-headmistress Kitty Pryde...


SPIDER-MAN 2099 #7
PETER DAVID(W) • WILLIAM SLINEY (A)
Cover by FRANCESCO MATTINA
SPIDER-VERSE TIE-IN!
• Weird science with Spider-people!
• Spider-Man of the year 2099 and Lady Spider of the steampunk 1800’s team up to daringly dissect Daemos of the Inheritors!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Oh, it says "Weird science with Spider-people!," and not "Weird Science with Spider-People!"

 I was almost super-excited about this one.


SPIDER-WOMAN #2
DENNIS HOPELESS (W) • GREG LAND (A/C)
...
SPIDER-VERSE TIE-IN!
• Spider-Woman & Silk get split up leaving Silk alone on her suicide mission.
• Spider-Woman doesn’t look like she’s in better shape, undercover in the most dangerous place in the multiverse!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Well, you can't see her butt in this one. Regular interior artist Greg Land just has her using her spider powers to dry-hump the corner of a girder or some indeterminate part of architecture instead.


ALL-NEW X-MEN #36
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (W) • MAHMUD ASRAR (A/C)
• The Ultimate face-off you KNEW was bound to happen! All-New X-Men versus the Ultimate X-Men! But when both side are heroes, who can be the victor? And what side does this leave Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man on?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


There are still Ultimate X-Men...? Huh.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Comic shop comics: September 17

Batman Eternal #24 (DC Comics) Is this the issue Stephanie Brown fans have been waiting for? I...don't know. I know a friend of mine who knows the character only from her volume of Batgirl asked to borrow just this issue of Batman Eternal, and was disappointed in how Ray Fawkes, Scott Snyder, James Tynion and company's Stephanie Brown was so different from Bryan Q. Milller's.

This issue, drawn by Andy Clarke, is essentially the climax of the Cluemaster/Spoiler conflict...for now, as one has to imagine we'll be seeing more of both and their conflict before it ends.

At one point, Cluemaster puts on a pair of glasses that read "CluE," and gets hit on the head with a wrench:
As he should. For wearing those glasses.

Also, Batman fights a ghost. With Nth metal. Is that from Batman: The Brave and The Bold...? That's the only place I've seen Batman fight ghosts with Nth metal before, but given how obsessed that show was with obscure DC Comics trivia, they certainly might have taken it from a 1971 back-up story somewhere.

Snyder and company are still playing he identity of Cluemaster's boss as a secret, keeping him in shadow at all times, which is strange, as Hush has been revealed as the puppet master behind many of the series' mini-bosses already. I'm not sure if this is a second mysterious puppet master, or if they just stuffed him back into the shadows for some reason (This guy dresses the same, so I'm assuming he's Hush).

I think this issue also introduces The New 52 version of Ratcatcher—the late '80s minor villain created by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle that Geoff Johns and company had killed off in Infinite Crisis—and his new design is incredibly terrible. But hell, it could have been worse: It could have been The Prankster's New 52 design, which is also seen in this issue.


The Multiversity: The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of The Counter-World #1 (DC) At first blush, this comic with the way-too-complicated title looks an awful lot like a lost Grant Morrison contribution to the doomed, short-lived "First Wave" sub-line of DC Comics from a few years back, where they combined a rather random assortment of characters—Doc Savage, The Spirit, Batman The Blackhawks, Rima the Jungle Girl—into a new, old-school pulp inspired DC Universe that never went anywhere.

At second blush, it looks like Grant Morrison's pitch for a New 52 Earth 2 book that never came to pass.

But once you sit down to actually read the book, it's at once both more complicated and more simple than that. Morrison and his chief artistic collaborator on the issue, pencil artist Chris Sprouse, aren't simply confining their quoting and borrowing from a single era of comics, or shunting it all into a single aesthetic. Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Master, Watchmen, Young All-Stars and Geoff Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth are as ripe for picking as the earliest super-hero comics characters taht DC would eventually acquire.

In other words, it's a fairly broad remixing of a random swathe of the DC intellectual property into a story-shaped, insignificant sound-and-fury with a charmingly-drawn interbellum aesthetic.

Here's a world, Earth 20 if you wanna go by the cover design, where a cape-less, pistol-packing Doctor Fate in jodhpurs—"I prefer 'Doc'"—assembles a Society of Superheroes (S.O.S., get it?) consisting of Immortal Man (who was also Anthro), Green Lantern Abin Sur (whose face now resembles that of a sleeker version of Etrigan's, and who wears a more elegant and less color-blind costume inspired by that of the Golden Age Green Lantern), Al "The Atom" Pratt ("The only person who ever completed the Iron Munro bodypower course," and whose blue face mask now has the same atomic symbol that Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore gave the blue-faced Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen) and The Lady Blackhawks (The Blackhawks...only ladies!).

What have they been assembled to do? Combat an invasion from a neighboring "Counter-Earth," apparently consisting of only villains, who are kinda sorta vaguely the opposite numbers of the S.O.S. team...? Maybe...? (Some of the evil opposites are more obvious than others; Shiva, for example, seems to mainly share "being a woman" with the Lady Blackhawks). These are Vandal Savage, "Doctor" Felix Faust, Lady Shiva, Blockbuster and the nattily-dressed Count Sinestro, who has under his power Parallax, "The Fear-Beast" (This Parallax is a particularly great design by Sprouse and/or Morrison).

There's some mention of the Monitors, Nix Uotan and the haunted comic from Multiversity #1, but the book mostly stands on its own, and even then only as a sort of exercise in character redesigning. Lots of fun rethinking goes into the characters, in terms of origin, characterization and costuming, but the story basically just boils down to A) An introduction to the heroes, B) A narration summary of a war between the heroes and the villains, C) An introduction to the villains, met in the process of being bested by the heroes, D) The end.

It's fun, and I enjoyed reading it, but it's not good comics, if that makes any sense at all. It's a very well drawn, completely produced pitch for a comic series...one that will likely never come to pass, of course, because no one really does Morrison as well as Morrison (not anyone that DC can get to work for them at the moment, anyway), and Sprouse seems either too expensive or too distinctive an artist to produce a monthly for DC.

Morrison has always trusted his readers a lot, and left a lot of the actual story off the page, leaving it to the readers to write in their own imaginations and only putting the important and/or cool bits on the page. I wonder if, at this point, Morrison's gotten a little too good at that trick, as this is all cool bits and the basic mechanics of a story, but it doesn't say or do anything at all.

Morrison can still write a good kick-in-the-balls joke, though:


No matter how disappointing a project of his might be, or how uncomfortable his obsession with tugging at Alan Moore's beard might make you, you can't take that away from him.


The New 52: Futures End (DC) Don't let the cover fool you: The Joker is not in this issue. Not the Joker from the modern DCU, or the Joker from the "Five Years From Now" DCU, nor the one from the "Thirty-Five Years From Now" DCU. Well, the teeth of that last Joker might be in this issue, during a grotesque slideshow that 2049 Brother Eye shows 2049 Mr. Terrific, but who can tell for sure?

I guess they put him on the cover, because what else could they put there? Fifty-Sue talking to her Cadmus Island buddies? Bearded Tim Drake talking to Lois Lane? Bearded Tim Drake talking to his girlfriend? 2019 Mr. Terrific talking to Coil and The Key? A lot of talking in this issue, really.


Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #2 (DC) This is the second issue in a row where I've found myself pretty disappointed in the contents, despite really liking the fact that the comic exists at all, and finding myself wanting it to be good (I don't remember the launch of the similar digital-first anthology series Legends of the Dark Knight and Adventures of Superman being quite so rocky, but both series produced some good comics during their short runs).

Under Gene Ha's cover of New 52 Wonder Woman lifting something are two standalone Wonder Woman stories, the first seemingly set firmly in pre-New 52, Phil Jimenez/Greg Rucka continuity, the latter being set during Wonder Woman's youth (Sadly, she is not Wonder Tot in it, but one hopes they'll get around to a Wonder Tot comic before the series' cancelation).

That first one is a pretty basic, fill-in feeling story by writer Ivan Cohen and artist Marcus To, in which Wonder Woman faces Dr. Psycho...and the Barbara Minerva, were-cheetah version of The Cheetah. It was nice to see more familiar versions of Wondy and Doctor Psycho, even if the latter is a little more...Law and Order: SVU than my favorite incarnation of him (The original Golden Age iteration, by his creators William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter).

It's still early enough in the series that its unclear what the exact premise will be. Of the four stories DC has published, two were apparently post-Crisis, pre-New 52, one was set in the New 52 and the fourth could probably fit in any Wonder Woman continuity. With Adventures, the Superman stories were almost exclusively post-Crisis, pre-New 52, but generally continuity-lite enough that they simply felt like classic Superman stories. Wonder Woman's more complicated history of reboots has saddled her with a few more iteration signifiers than Superman or Batman though, so it's quite possible these stories will end up reflecting certain eras in exclusion of others. It remains to be seen.

Anyway, the Cohen/To story is fine. Unremarkable, but therefore not remarkably bad, either.

The back-up, by writer Jason Bischoff and artist David Williams, is a much more elegant-looking piece, with Williams' art evoking that of Stuart Immonen or Sara Pichelli or Olivier Coipel here and there—good company, aesthetically speaking. The story is a tad generic, but effective: Queen Hippolyta narrates of her love of her child, and how she once inadvertently challenged young Diana to defeat her, which lead to a childhood-long quest to best her in combat.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Meanwhile...

I reviewed Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Son of The Sun for Good Comics For Kids. That's the first collection in Fantagraphics' new Don Rosa Library, collecting the work of the second best Disney duck artist. What makes this particular Rosa collection--and, I imagine, future ones--so fun and interesting is the amount of input and commentary from Rosa himself, something that couldn't really be don with the Carl Barks Library collection.

Then, over at Robot 6 this week, I had two pieces. The first is a review of two books featuring super men and wonder women in relationships: Charles Soule, Tony S. Daniel and company's Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple and Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross's Astro City: Victory. The second is a review of a handful of this week's Futures End one-shot specials that don't really tie-in to The New 52: Futures End weekly series, like, at all. (That's probably either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you're expecting; if all you're expecting is a 3D lenticular cover, your expectations will definitely be met, maybe eve exceeded).

And, finally, I have a short little feature on Vegas-based cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez and his (excellent) new original graphic novel, Bumperhead, in this week's issue of Las Vegas Weekly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

DC's December previews reviewed

December will be another month, and, this being 2014, that means it will be another month in which DC will publish themed variant covers for much of their line. This December, that theme will be "Covers Drawn by Darwyn Cooke," or, put another way, "Good Covers." Which is a little weird, right? Shouldn't all of the covers be good all the time?

I think this Comics Alliance headline puts it pretty perfectly—"Darwyn Cooke Illustrates 23 Variant Covers for the DC Universe You Wish Really Existed"—but as striking as the images all are, they are more striking still when you contrast them to the covers they are variants of.
Cooke's DC heroes, almost all of which are drawn in some version of a Silver Age or classic get-up (with possible exceptions of Wonder Woman and Supergirl, which look like his own, original designs), are all instantly recognizable, wearing smooth, bright, clear costumes that look easy to draw (and easy to draw well), and they are almost always engaged in feats or actions that make having superpowers, or being a superhero, look like a good, positive, even fun activity.

(For the life of me, I never understood why DC didn't turn to someone like Darwyn Cooke or Alex Ross to redesign their entire universe for the New 52, rather than Jim Lee, whose costume re-designs before then included, what, the universally reviled dog-collar costume for Green Lantern Kyle Rayner? The hot-pants and exposed abs costume of The Huntress?)

Let's look at a few of the variants vs. regular covers, for contrast.

For example, Cooke's Action Comics cover features Superman using his speed and ability to fly to rescue a little boy from a deadly train accident, smiling with some combination of joy and relief:

The regular Action cover? Superman standing over a field of ashes and skeletons:

Here's Cooke's Wonder Woman variant, where the powerfully-built but still pneumatic and beautiful Wonder Woman uses her magic lasso and super-strength to defeat an army of foes in a dynamic panel:

Here's artist and co-writer David Finch's cover for the same book, in which a skinny Wonder Woman arches her back, squeezes her legs together awkwardly, opens her mouth in a strange expression and reaches a deformed hand up toward what I imagian are meant to be the Stymphalian birds, while Amazons look on, one with a completely unreadable expression:
(In the Cooke image, which bears an identical, vaguely mythological setting, Wonder Woman looks like she's yanking the world apart around her; in the Finch drawing, it looks like she's going to topple over because someone bound her knees and  ankles or something).

Or wait, here's a pretty good contrast. This is Cooke's variant for The Flash, featuring the character in his original, perfect superhero costume—one of the all-time greatest designs—outrunning various speedy vehicles with satisfied determination:

Meanwhile, interior artist Brett Booth draws a darker, future version of The Flash—one willing to take his foes' lives—upside down and in agony, as a foe with glowing, skeletal hands does something bad to him:
The single-sentence solicitation for the issue simply reads, "Behold the all-new, all-murderous Flash!"

Yeesh.

Anyway, this month DC has 45 "New 52" ongoing series, for those of you keeping track. Other than some nice variant covers, let's see what DC has to offer in the month of December, shall we...?


AQUAMAN AND THE OTHERS #8
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art by LAN MEDINA and ALLEN MARTINEZ
Cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
On sale DECEMBER 3 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The Others try to survive the repercussions of their secret histories as Cheshire and the KGBeast look to thin the team’s ranks – permanently!


Wow, still not canceled! If it made it this far, I guess it's safe to assume it will make it to at least #12 now.


Now that's a costume redesign...!


BATMAN AND ROBIN #37
Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON and MICK GRAY
Variant cover by DARWYN COOKE
On sale DECEMBER 17 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
Batman vs. Darkseid! The penultimate chapter of “Robin Rises” is here! Can Batman bring Damian Wayne back from death? Concluded in this month’s [sic]


I know Grant Morrirson's given us Batman vs. Darkseid repeatedly, so that lopsided mismatch doesn't really sound all that exciting, but I kind of like the idea, or at least the implication, of Darkseid as DC's devil figure (or, at least, its Hades/Pluto), and Batman having to therefore confront him w hile trying to rescue his dead son from the "hell" of Apokolips.

I like the omega symbol-shaped smoke or energy radiating out of Darkseid's eyes on the cover, too. That's a nice little touch.

The Cooke cover for this book shows Batman with Dick Grayson in his original Robin costume:
That's interesting because DC is so against that particular costume for whatever fucked-up psychological reasons, that when they rebooted the DCU and retconned their entire history, that suit never, ever existed, so no Robin, not even Dick Grayson, ever wore it. When we do see flashbacks to Grayson's time as Robin—most recently in Grayson: Futures End #1, he was wearing what looked like a busier version of Tim Drake's Robin costume, with long pants.


DETECTIVE COMICS #37
Written by FRANCIS MANAPUL and BRIAN BUCCELLATO
Art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
Variant cover by DARWYN COOKE
...
On sale DECEMBER 3 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US
RATED T
Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato return – and now’s the time to take back Gotham City! Anarky now!

I do so love Anarky, partiularly in his earlier appearances as a sort of Anti-Robin, but given what this creative team did to a "How Do You Fuck That Up?" character like Calendar Man, I'm not looking forward to seeing what they have in store for Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's philosophical vigilante anti-hero character.


GRAYSON #5
Written by TIM SEELEY and TOM KING
Art and cover by MIKEL JANIN
Variant cover by DARWYN COOKE
On sale DECEMBER 3 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Grayson is on a mission to stop Paragon from using the body parts of a dead villain to create something far more sinister!

Wait, a villain using the body parts of dead villains? Where did I read that plot? Oh yeah, the too-brief Peter Tomasi and Rags Morales run on Nightwingfeaturing...Dick Grayson.

That's the variant cover up there, by the way, one of the relatively rare examples of Cooke drawing the New 52 versions of the characters (the others being Justice League United, Harley Quinn and Batgirl. And maybe Justice League Dark; hard to tell with that one because the team is in the extreme background).


GREEN ARROW #37
Written by ANDREW KREISBERG and BEN SOKOLOWSKI
Art by DANIEL SAMPERE and JONATHAN GLAPION
Cover by BRYAN HITCH
On sale DECEMBER 3 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Blood will be shed when Green Arrow faces off against the assassin known as Merlyn!


New 52 Merlyn's hair and goatee are as weak as New 52 Oliver Queen's, apparently. I was going to comment on how much these two super-archers resemble Ultiamte Hawkeye, and then I noticed who drew this cover: Ultimate Hawkeye designer Bryan Hitch.


HE-MAN: THE ETERNITY WAR #1
Written by DAN ABNETT
Art by POP MHAN
Cover by STJEPAN SEJIC
Variant cover by DARWYN COOKE
On sale DECEMBER 24 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
...
The war to end all wars has begun in Eternia! Hordak and the villainous Dark Horde have taken over Castle Grayskull and plan to use it as a weapon to terrorize and rule the universe. However, a resistance is building led by She-Ra, The Sorceress Teela and the benevolent warrior He-Man! To what lengths will the Masters of the Universe go to reclaim their kingdom? What sacrifices must He-Man make to salvage his family legacy? Don’t miss a moment of this epic new MOTU series!


This doesn't sound so hot, and I've passionately hated every He-Man related comic DC has produced thus far, but that is probably the best cover I've seen so far, and the first He-man image DC has produced that looked even anywhere in the neighborhood as exiciting as your typical box art from the original toy line of the 1980s.

It would be weird if they had a Cooke variant on this though, wouldn't it?
Weird, but awesome!

Surely artist Guillem March deserves some kind of prize for this fucked-up masterpiece of a cover for Justice League Dark...


JUSTICE LEAGUE 3000 #12
Written by KEITH GIFFEN and J.M. DeMATTEIS
Art and cover by HOWARD PORTER
On sale DECEMBER 3 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Two words: Blue and Gold. Well, okay, three. Three words, the Blue and the Go...Wait, that’s four words. Okay, let’s try this. The team of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are BACK! By Giffen and DeMatteis! Is the universe ready for either of them…? Are you?


Booster Gold and Blue Beetle return to a Justice League title, written by the writers most associated with their relationship, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, and drawn tby one of the artists most associated with the Blue and Gold team, Howard Port—Er, that's not right, is it...?

Hey, you know what would be cool? If Kevin Maguire were drawing this series. Then I bet that would get a lot of old school Justice League fans to see Blue and Gold in this book...


KLARION #3
Written by ANN NOCENTI
Art by TREVOR McCARTHY
Cover by FELIPE SMITH
...
On sale DECEMBER 10 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
Agents from S.H.A.D.E. are hot on Klarion’s trail, Zell’s powers are out of control, there’s a spy in the Moody Museum and buddybots are taking over the city! As if that weren’t bad enough, Klarion’s pagan magic finds its match in the tech wizardry of Coal and the Necrots. Will Klarion save his first new friends on Earth – or will he slip out a dimensional back door?


I only understand about 50% of the words in this solicitation. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.


THE MULTIVERSITY: THUNDERWORLD #1
Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art and cover by CAMERON STEWART
...
On sale DECEMBER 17 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
...
The fifth chapter of the greatest adventure in DC Comics history is here!
Acclaimed for their collaborations on BATMAN AND ROBIN, SEAGUY and SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY: THE MANHATTAN GUARDIAN, superstar writer Grant Morrison and renowned artist Cameron Stewart deliver some magic to THE MULTIVERSITY with a breathtaking journey to Earth-5 – A.K.A. Thunderworld!

With a single word, Billy Batson transforms from boy reporter for Whiz Media into the world’s Mightiest Mortal – Captain Marvel! Along with the other members of the Marvel Family, Captain Marvel battles dastardly villains like Mr. Mind and the Monster Society of Evil! But now, his greatest foe has attacked the Rock of Eternity – the source of the Marvel Family’s power – and it could mean the end of reality as we know it! What impossible villains are Sivana teaming up with who could spell doom for the Multiverse? From where did Sivana’s children get their newfound super powers? And what does the appearance of one mysterious comic book mean for the heroes of Thunderworld?
Find out all that and more in this exciting issue that acts as chapter five of THE MULTIVERSITY.


Just wanted to note how odd it is that the out-of-continuity, alternate Earth version of the Captain Marvel character and milieu looks and sounds like the real, official version, while DC's current real, official version looks and sounds like an out-of-continuity, alternate Earth version.

Also, check it out: They used the words "Captain Marvel" and "Marvel Family"...!


SECRET ORIGINS #8
Written by TIM SEELEY, TOM KING, JEFF LEMIRE and ANN NOCENTI
Art by TRAVEL FOREMAN, CLIFF RICHARDS and STEPHEN MOONEY
Cover by BRYAN HITCH
On sale DECEMBER 24 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
Three more stars of the DC Universe shine as their origin stories are revealed! Don’t miss the DC Comics – The New 52 origins of Grayson by Tim Seeley, Tom King and Stephen Mooney; Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman; and Katana by Ann Nocenti Cliff Richards!


Well, we've already gotten Dick Grayson's origin as Robin in a previous issue of this strange series, and we've watched his origin as a secret agent unfold in real-time in the pages of Grayson, which will only be on issue #5 when this book ships, so I can't imagine what the secret origin of Grayson in this issue will actually cover.

Maybe just his parents meeting and conceiving him...?


SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #5
Written by CORINNA BECHKO and GABRIEL HARDMAN
Art by GABRIEL HARDMAN
Cover by LAWRENCE REYNOLDS
On sale DECEMBER 17 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T • DIGITAL FIRST
Wonder Woman has accepted a covert mission from Queen Hippolyta: infiltrate Apokolips, find a group of Amazons imprisoned there by Darkseid, and bring them home alive. But a battle with the Female Furies almost proves fatal and throws Diana’s plans into chaos!


Well that sure looks like the worst cover ever, but if Hardman's drawing the interiors, then it should actually look pretty nice once you turn the cover.


SHOWCASE PRESENTS: BLUE BEETLE TP
Written by LEN WEIN and JOEY CAVALIERI
Art by PARIS CULLINS, BRUCE PATTERSON, CHUCK PATTON, ROSS ANDRU, GIL KANE and others
Cover by PARIS CULLINS and BRUCE PATTERSON
On sale JANUARY 28 • 584 pg, B&W, $19.99 US
This value-priced title collects the entire 24-issue run of BLUE BEETLE from the 1980s, including the Beetle’s battles against DC Universe villains Chronos and Dr. Alchemy. Includes appearances by The Question and the Teen Titans in stories from BLUE BEETLE #1-24.


Well that's unexpected. Welcome, but unexpected.

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 2

The comics industry of 1993, it goes without saying, was a much different one than that of 2014. In fact, it was likely almost as different from today's as it was from 1984's, which is the industry that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird launched their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series into, coming up with a surprise hit that had myriad, unpredictable consequences, not the least of which was making that unlikely collection of nouns into a household name.

Looking back from the year 2014, it's difficult to tell, or even guess or theorize as to what exactly went wrong with Eastman, Laird and their Mirage Studios' second volume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a full-color series that launched in the wake of the 13-part "City At War" storyline that brought the first volume, which ran for 63 issues over almost a decade, to a close.

Sure, it had new #1 issue (generally thought of as a good thing, even to this day), and yes, it was now in full color for the first time ever (Certain Turtles specials and reprint projects aside). The logo was new-ish, but it was the same one that had been adorning Mirage's TMNT book since "City At War" kicked off with the fiftieth issue. The creative team hadn't really changed at all since "City At War"; Jim Lawson was still drawing and writing it (Eastman and Laird were apparently overseeing he storyline closely, but didn't get writing credits). Jason Tumjin Minor was still inking it, when other Mirage regulars like Eric Talbot weren't.

Heck, "City" cover artist A.C. Farley even provided the first cover, although after that cover duties were taken over by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, who would really be the ideal artists to draw covers for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, no?

And, like the last year or so of the first volume (and the fourth volume, that would follow almost a decade later, in 2001), there weren't really discrete story arcs with beginnings, middle and ends, but rather,t he storyline just kept going on in an old-school, truly serial fashion.

So why did the second volume of Eastman and Laird's TMNT last only 13 issues, the same length as "City At War"...?

I have no idea, and I wonder if it might not have had more to do with external forces than any particular rejection of the book by the comics market of 1993-1995, or any sort of creative exhaustion of the concept.

Reading it all at once for the first time though, I can tell you that it was not very good. Of the three Mirage-produced volumes of the series, it is probably the weakest, but I'm guessing it was something more akin to external forces that cut the series short, based on the fact that Lawson really seemed to be setting up future directions for the characters, as the four title characters were starting to go their own ways, even finding new places to live, before they were quite quickly brought back together to resolve all of the dangling plotlines in a rather abrupt fashion.

The series begins more-or-less where the last ended. Donatello, who broke his leg in the climactic fight with the Foot Clan in "City At War," is living in a cave in rural Massachusetts with Splinter. The other three Turtles are living in New York City, in the basement of the new apartment building owned by April and Casey, who are living together as a couple and raising Shadow, the baby Casey adopted from his dead lover Gabrielle, as their own.

This first issue—the one with the striking, wraparound Farley painting of the Turtles racing through a dimly-lit sewer for a cover—is entitled "Memories of the Future," and serves as a sort of dreamy preview of the series, consisting almost entirely of scenes of the cast between disturbing visions and dreams, some of which presage events to come in the following 12 issues, some of which ultimately go nowhere—perhaps because plans changed, or perhaps because the book ended earlier than intended.

Splinter dreams of himself bloody and beaten at the feet of one of the Turtles, whose right hand is stained in blood. When he and Donatello meditate on it further, Don sees himself in Japan in the future, but he can't imagine why he was there; "To bury me," Splinter tells him.

Casey dreams of a big, monstrous verson of himself in a black hockey mask; a sort of Casey Jones-specific grim reaper.
April has a nightmare of her old, evil boss Baxter Stockman rescuing her from marauding Mousers.

Raphael is running around the sewers, where he encounters a giant rat. Leonardo is strapped to a table, a blue (Blue? I always thought they were orange) Triceraton and an alien injecting him with a shot. And Michalengelo? He was watches TV.

Though the creative team doesn't change too significantly throughout the rest of the series—Talbot will occasionally ink, colorist Eric Vincent will occasionally get assistance from "Altered Earth,"—this is for whatever reason the best-looking book of the volume. Perhaps it owes to the fact that there was the greatest lead-time, given even the apparently always-fast Lawson time to linger over the pages longer than usual, or perhaps it owes simply to the fact that story and plot are almost incidental to the issue, making for a greater emphasis on visuals.

For whatever reason, the story of the second volume begins in earnest in the next issue.

The Turtles start to go their own ways, with Raphael deciding to move out (he finds a nice abandoned storage attic atop a cathedral, but never actually gets to move in), Leonardo returning to the sewer lair (where he has an adventure of his own featuring a gigantic, monstrous, almost Gamera-sized snapping turtle and a fish-creature akin to those from TMNT #28 and/or the syndicated newspaper comic strip. Michelangelo, for his part, plans to stay in the basement apartment, close to Shadow.
The main villain of this volume is the mad robotocist and Mouser inventor Baxter Stockman, not seen since the first handful of issues of volume one (The current IDW series, and the cartoon shows, made much greater use of the character). He has apparently been held all this time at a secret Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency facility, where he built himself an incredibly powerful robot body...and then cut his own brain out and installed it into the body. From there, he headed towards New York City, to finally get his revenge on April and the Turtles.

Federal agents and a mysterious bald guy are, understandably, interested.

Stockman's revenge on April involves jabbing her with a syringe full of...something (it would take ten years for that to resolve itself in Vol. 4), but the battle with the Turtles is a bit more traditional, involving guns and rockets on rooftops.

The three Turtles are eventually joined in the battle by Donatello and their Massachusetts vigilante friend Nobody (now sporting a very '90s costume, one which replaces the cape with a bunch of pouches and makes him look more like an off-model Snake Eyes than a logo-less or branding-free Moon Knight or Batman type vigilante).
The good guys win, and Stockman's robot body (and the human brain inside it) are eventually completely destroyed, but not before Stockman can hurl Raph off a rooftop.

He survives, but ends up being taken by...someone.

The final few issues of the series deal with the Turtles and their friends—Nobody, Casey, and a mysterious bald psychic fellow who is able to deus ex machina them the location of Raph—arriving in the Nevada desert to infiltrate the DARPA facility and free him.

It turns out Raphael's being kept with a veritable menagerie of various aliens, including an off-model Aliens alien and a Triceraton (orange again). Despite the number of ninjas in the group, their entrance is very loud generates a great deal of attention, meaning they will have to try and fight their way out. Making matters worse, the Triceraton proves somewhat treacherous, and he has a ship full of allies not too far away, ones who would rather attack Earth in a kamikaze, world-ending fashion than admit defeat.

So what begins as an action-packed infiltration scene eventually transforms into a save-the-world type scenario.
Suffice it to say, nobody dies—well, Nobody dies, but nobody other than Nobody dies—the world is saved, and their new psychic friend even manages to put everyone back together with little memory of what actually happened. In the final scene, Leonardo awakes as if from a dream, and Casey has no memory of what just occurred. (I think it worth noting here too that the interior art really rallies in the last few issues, when Lawson begins inking his own work, and a great deal of detail returns to the pencil art that wasn't there in some of the previous issues).

I had mentioned that the book wasn't very good, but what, precisely, was wrong with it? Well, the little editorial-like introductions to the issues often signed by Peter Laird, and what commentary I've read from he and Eastman elsewhere indicated that with "City At War" and this volume they wanted to reassert control over the lives and stories of their characters, as the book had become more-or-less an anthology title for much of what occurred between #12 and #47 of the original series, with different creators offering wildly different takes and tones, some of which clearly didn't fit within anything resembling a greater continuity (Michael Zulli's three-issue arc, for example), even if they were awesome comics.

It's true, of course, but then, even when Eastman and Laird were doing pretty much everything themselves on the title, in the first dozen issues or so, it didn't exactly read like an ongoing storyline with a long-term plot or consistent direction. The characters were introduced, their origin told, they met their archenemy and killed him—end issue #1. The next few issues, they met a human friend in April, fought some robots, the end. They went into outer-space for a few issues. They travelled back in time—or to another comic book's universe—to meet and fight alongside Dave Sim's Cerebus the Aardvark, for one issue.

The series, from the beginning, was one that occurred more-or-less in fits and starts, with little in the way of issue-to-issue continuity. I think Rick Veitch's three-issue "The River" run was about as long as any storyline Eastman and Laird produced before "City At War." The Turtles characters, at least in the Mirage books, seemed to be a group of character that, collectively or individually (remember, key points of their history—the introduction of Casey Jones, the return of the Foot Clan and "The Shredder"—occurred in single-issue "micro-series) had weird stuff happen to them, quite often at something approaching random.

That's what made "City At War" seem so unusual and, I suppose, Volume Two so strange. It's another 13-part story arc, featuring characters that only quite rarely had story arcs, and almost never of that length, rather full of call-backs to earlier continuity which, again, isn't something that was too often encountered in Turtles comics.

Could that have been what went wrong? I don't know. Read all at once like this, the plot holds together fairly well, despite the few paths suggested and abandoned, but I imagine it was incredibly frustrating when read on its original monthly—or bi-monthly, I suppose—schedule, when the free-form, punctuation-free, endless narrative would likely seem to meander quite a bit (particularly at a time in comics when, if "writing for the trade" hadn't yet emerged as an everywhere-you-look phenomenon, at the very least story arcs were the dominant form of serial comics storytelling. Also,t hat weird first issue where nothing really happened that wasn't a dream likely didn't help get anyone too excited about issue #2, two months hence).

Personally, I enjoyed the plotting just fine (this time around), but there was little-to-no character development, which seemed rather strange given the big events in the characters' lives, like the four brothers being separated for the first time, or April and one-time practically insane vigilante Casey Jones being in a relationship with one another and trying to raise an orphaned child. Perhaps it's silly to want more out of a comic book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I felt like the plot and sophistication of the comics-making might have grown as I grew, but the storytelling hadn't...certainly not enough to justify scrapping the book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had become before "City" in an attempt to recapture a book it never really was, whether that was what it's original creators intended it to be or not.

I additionally found it a little weird that Splinter never reappears after the first issue, April has almost nothing at all to do for the entirety of the series and Casey goes mask-less and bat-less throughout, even when fighting, as in one instance where he attacks some federal agents...
and in the assault on DARPA plot that fills the last few issues, wherein he spend the entire time brainwashed into thinking he's Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I planted a suggestion in Casey's brain that he was the world's best assault team leader," the mysterious bald psychic man says, by way of explaining some of Casey's action heroics.
I don't think color helped much, although I did appreciate the look of it in the first and final issues (Color on Lawson art is, I realized, something I've very, very rarely seen). The color on the covers tends to look pretty sickly though, which I think may have been more a result of the coloring technology of the time period than any sort of misapplication. Comics coloring was moving in leaps and bounds at that time period, and a lot of ugly-looking comics resulted. I like Laird's art, I like Eastman's art, I like the way their collaborative art looks, but a lot of these covers are pretty terrible-looking.




************************

Most of the issues contain back-up stories of varying degrees of quality. The first of these is "I.M.P." It's a three-part story by Eric Talbot and Lawson about a little black cat with white "socks" of fur trying to escape a high-security facility and doing so, despite all the guns fired at it.
A much longer one is the seven-part "Bog: Swamp Demon" by writer Ryan Brown and artists Matt Roach, which features a Swamp Thing/Man-Thing/Heap-like swamp creature, albeit one with a decidedly more supernatural and demonic twist. The Bernie Wrightson-like art features a "star" who looks more-or-less like your standard muck man from the neck down, but has a horrifying skull-like visage (atop of his head is actually see white skull peeking up out of the dark green skin), and a crown of gnarled branches emanating from its head.
The writing and art are very reminiscent of 1970s horror comics from superhero publishers, as Bog deals with his own tragic origin, fighting a human serial killer that isn't actually human, and plenty of other monsters and demons, including Satan himself.

The story is a little hard to follow, and not helped any by the fact that its chapters are printed out of order. The coloring shifts from dark and muddy at the beginning, to sharp and clear at the end, making it a lot easier to appreciate Roach's artwork.

I was tempted to devote a whole blog post to Bog, if only to provide more swamp monster content for comics retailer, blogger and muck-encrusted mockery of a man enthusiast Mike Sterling, but it sounds like he may be pretty busy in the near future.