Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery

I rather enjoyed this trade paperback, containing the first five issues of writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Roc Upchurch's ongoing series, but I also found it pretty disappointing.

That likely had a lot to do with my expectations being rather elevated. While I'm hard-pressed to point to a particular review of the series online, I've gotten the impressions from blogs and online media that it was a pretty popular and well-loved series. That, and I have a friend who has referred to it as her favorite thing ever, and indeed had gone so far as to always having it her bag so that she can begin re-reading it yet again at a moment's notice.

So while yes, it's pretty funny, it's not the best thing ever, and, in fact, there's not a whole lot to it.

Rat Queens is essentially just a typical sword-and-sorcery genre comic, set in a Tolkein-descended world so heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons that I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Wiebe wrote it with role-playing game source books and oddly-shaped dice. Its title characters are an adventuring party representing your four basic character classes (Fighter, Magic User, Thief and Cleric), each belonging to your four basic humanoid races (Human, Elf, Dwarf and "Smidgen," Rat Queens' version of a Halfling or Hobbit, save they lack the big, fuzzy feet).

There are a few things that differentiate their comic from, say, IDW's officially-licensed D&D comics.

First, and perhaps most notably (if not noteworthy), the characters are all women. I suspect that has a lot to do with the book's popularity among many readers online, and it has certainly played into the marketing of the book (the copy of the back cover of my trade says that it is "like Bffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!", for example; I recently saw a quote from Wiebe referring to it quite marketably as "Lord of The Rings meets Bridesmaids," which did make me wish it were being adapted into a film right this minute). While the characters are all women, the comparison to Tank Girl is an apt one. They are violent, hedonistic and the creation of two men, appearing as male fantasy characters; they're women who could just as easily be men. The gender neutrality is admirable, of course, but it's also nothing to stand up and cheer about.

Second, there's more than a hint of the self-aware to the comic, which doesn't take itself all that seriously, and regards the conventions of role-playing games and sword-and-sorcery settings as something each and every character involved are as aware of as the readers might be. The main conflict of the first story arc involves the troubles suffered by the town of Palisade because of all of the adventuring parties that have made their home base there.

Thirdly, and most significantly, is the language. The Rat Queens, the name of our heroines' party (oh yeah, and each party has a name of its own, as if they were a gang, rock band or roller derby team), swear like extremely creative sailors. Sailors who have spent the majority of their time at sea quietly thinking of new and terrible and insults, so as to make more colorful the blue streaks they swear...which accounts for a majority of the dialogue. The swearing—and thus the dialogue—reminded me quite a bit of the work of a Transmetropolitan-era Warren Ellis. I can remember few plot points from Transmet, which I haven't re-read since it first came out, but I still remember the phrase "two tugs of a dead dog's dick."

Perhaps related to that is the fact that while our leading ladies are definitely the protagonists, they're not exactly heroines. I'd have to dig a player's manual out of a dusty box in my mother's attick to consult to be sure, but they all seem to be more along the lines of Chaotic Neutral or Chaotic Good than your more typical Lawful Good; they main thing that compels them to be decent human beings humanoids is their loyalty to one another.

In this first chunk of the series, we open at a Palisade town meeting, where the townsfolk and merchants discuss what should be done about al the adventuring parties that have been hanging around, getting in bar-fights and destroying stuff. Five such parties are arrested after a rather epic drunken brawl, and each handed an assignment to do in order to work off their sentences.

All are ambushed by assassins, which lead those that survive to suspect they were set-up, and thus an investigation ensues. Each of our heroines additionally has her own sub-plot running through these issues, which will remain unresolved by book's end.

Smidgen Thief Betty wants to commit to a serious relationship with a girl she likes, but that girl thinks the Queens are a terrible, terrible influence. Dwarven Fighter Violet has run away from her home and family, and her brother seeks to bring her back. Their leader, Elven Magic-User Hannah, seems even more reckless and callous than the rest of her team, and has a strained love-hate-love relationship with the sexy captain of the town's guard. And, most amusingly, human cleric Dee is...an atheist.

That was the one aspect of the book that I thought really transcended the more surface-level action/violence-and-colorful swearing pleasures of the book. Clerics, in D&D parlance anyway, are a player class of warrior-priests with access to powerful magic that comes from their devotion to a particular deity. They're something of a cross between a fighter and magic-user then, as they are able to use many weapons and to cast spells; clerics literally kick ass for the(ir) lord.

So an atheist cleric is, in and by itself, a pretty good, pretty subversive gag. And the fact that Dee's particular god is N'Rygoth, a Lovecraftian squid god, but that she and her family talk about him people in the real world would talk about God or Jesus is, well, it's a joke that never stopped being funny to me.

Upchurch's artwork is quite strong, and he does a fine job of creating a wholly compatible world out of the various races and their vaguely medieval-esque setting—which honestly looks more like a Western artist's conception of a Japanese video game RPG-based manga world than something straight from Tolkien or Gary Gygax. The action's good, the acting's good and he manages to draw the women as sexy without ever descending into exploitation—in fact, given the attitudes of the characters, the artwork seems like it could probably bear to be a little more exploitive.

The one character I did not care for, in terms of visual design anyway, was Violet. Female dwarves don't get a lot of attention in narratives in which dwarves play big roles, so it's nice to see one prominently featured here. That's a glass ceiling no one ever thinks of breaking!
Upchruch's female dwarf, however, doesn't look all that...dwarven. She's slightly shorter than the human character, and slightly thicker—but here "thicker" just means curvier, not more stocky. (For what it's worth, Upchurch's male dwarf doesn't look all that dwarven in stature either). Additionally, she has apparently shaven off her beard, which was a surprise to me, as she never has a bit of stubble, five o'clock shadow or even the occasional nick from shaving. How does she get such a clean shave, and why can't I have one? I generally look like a bloody kiwi after shaving. Do they have enchanted razors in the Rat Queens-iverse?

Upchurch has since left the book after his November arrest for domestic violence. I don't suppose that knowledge will make anyone who hasn't yet read this first volume terribly eager to seek it out, but whether he's guilty an ultimately convicted or not, I suppose it has little bearing on how well he draws. He draws well. That knowledge did nevertheless hang over my reading experience like a pall, however.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with my friend then, this is not the best thing ever, it's not even the best comic ever, nor even the best subversive Dungeons & Dragons-style comic ever (certainly not compared to Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim and company's Dungeon,  orJoe Daly's Dungeon Quest), nor even the best feminist Dungeons & Dragons-style comic ever (DC/TSR's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, since collected into trades by IDW, has it beat on that count).

But it's pretty good and, as I said, I rather enjoyed it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Review: Death of Wolverine

Obviously there's a lot of outside calculus that goes into something like the decision to kill off a character as long-lived and popular as Wolverine. The most popular of the X-Men might not be the sales juggernaut he was at other points in his fictional history, and his solo title might have been getting regularly outsold by those of surprising upstart characters, but Wolverine is still a pretty Big Deal. Killing him off, even only extremely temporarily, as every single person who heard he was going to die immediately thought, would therefore necessarily be a pretty big event, with some pretty big knock-on events throughout the Marvel Universe...or at least their X-Men line, as over the past few years Wolverine has been elevated to the position of Charles Xavier's official, if unlikely, successor.

That said, the comic book in which Wolverine actually dies is pretty small, and it feels more tossed-off than epic. The event occurred in a four-issue miniseries entitled, quite straightforwardly, Death of Wolverine.

It was written by Charles Soule, a prolific and talented writer, albeit one with no real history with the character. (Paul Cornell, who was writing the Wolverine series up until it was canceled to make room for this book, and who started the ball rolling towards killing off Wolverine, would have been the natural choice. Jason Aaron might have made more sense still, given that he had been writing the character through a succession of titles—Wolverine: Weapon X, Wolverine, Wolverine and The X-Men, etc—and is probably the writer most closely associated with him at the moment. Len Wein, the character's co-creator, and Chris Claremont, who all but re-created and popularized him, would have also been slam-dunk choices).

It was drawn by Steve McNiven, who previously drew the character in the Mark Millar-written series Old Man Logan. (As with Soule, McNiven probably wasn't anyone's first choice for drawing the ultimate Wolverine story, but he has still has plenty of stature, thanks to his work on Civil War, so having him draw the book did invest it with at least a sense of occasion.)

Marvel's packaging of the book was certainly meant to convey that they felt it was going to be something special—or, at least, that they wanted readers and retailers to consider it such. Each issue cost $5, even though each issue's page count was only between 21 and 23 pages (back matter of dubious quality followed each serially published chapter). There were 40 covers for the four issues—40!—averaging out to about 10 an issue.

But 80 or so pages does not an epic make, and this reads like a fairly generic Wolverine story arc with a cliffhanger ending—his death doesn't even really look too terribly final, to be honest. It appears as if Soule simply did the best he could, including as many Wolverine villains and locations as possible, while keeping the character-count, the locations and, most importantly, the page-count as low as possible.

Death of Wolverine reads like what it is then: Soule and McNiven's response to being tasked with an assignment of doing a four-issue comic in which Wolverine seems to die.

In the early pages of the first issue, we get the premise: Wolverine's healing factor no longer works, making him truly, easily kill-able for the first time in a long time. The more he fights, the more often he uses his claws, the more likely he is to die in action. This is told to the reader by Reed "Mister Fantastic" Richards, who Soule has telling it to Wolverine, apparently urging him to take some time off from Wolverine-ing.

The stubborn Logan knows he can't, however, as once word gets out that he doesn't have his healing factor anymore, villains will come out of the wood work for him (As to what happened to his healing factor, it's never mentioned in this book at all, and I suppose it's not ultimately important. I believe microscopic aliens somehow turned it off near the end of Cornell's first story arc). This is patently silly, of course, in no small part because its Mister Fantastic telling him to lie low while they work out a way to turn his healing factor back on, and Wolverine doesn't take him up on it. Between his pals on The Avengers, The X-Men and, apparently, The Fantastic Four, finding a good place to stash Wolverine and keep him pretty well protected shouldn't really be a problem.

Wolverine's home is a heavily fortified and protected mansion full of superheroes that rests on a sentient patch of land that eats trespassers. He's also on another superhero team with guys like Thor, Captain Universe and Hyperion, the latter of whose powers are basically, "Like Superman's, but maybe more." If Wolvie really wanted to stay safe, he shouldn't have much problem doing so.

And this one of the strange sources of tension in the book. One has to suspend one's disbelief, particularly regarding certain aspects of the shared-universe setting, when reading about characters' solo adventures, but, well, this book includes frequent references to Wolverine's place in the Marvel Universe. He's talking to Mister Fantastic, and mentions having already gone to Tony Stark and Hank McCoy with his healing factor problem. Later he borrows a piece of Iron Man's armor to use as bait, and gets an assist from Kitty Pryde.

It's therefore especially weird when he goes off on what he knows is likely a suicide mission in the book's final issue, rather than bring The X-Men, or The Avengers, or The Uncanny Avengers, or any combination of the above with him. Hell, he probably could have just stayed home and sent one of those teams there in his place.

But anyway, after Mister Fantastic explains the plot to us, Wolverine retires to an island near British Columbia to kill the various bounty hunters that come looking for him, the toughest of which is Nuke. He headbutts part of Nuke's face off (?), and gets his first clue that takes him on a trail to his death.

Next stop? Madrippor, where he goes undercover in a tuxedo (but no eye patch), and fights Viper, Sabertooth (who plays an oddly minor role, given his history) and Lady Deathstrike (ditto). Kitty saves him, and they go off to Japan to fight Ogun and, finally, to a Weapon X lab, to face the ultimate villain. Some guy named Cornelius, who has been collecting adamantium and put a contract out on Wolverine to be taken alive, because he wants Wolverine's healing factor.

His plan makes a bit of symoblic sense, in that he feels guilt for helping create the feral, killing-machine that is Wolverine and wants to atone by building real heroes out of his guinea pig/victims, adamantium and Wolvie's healing factor.

It obviously doesn't work out—Wolvie's lost his healing factor for one, which sort of contradicts Wolverine's earlier prediction that knowledge of his weakness would be what draws villains to him—and Wolverine proves he's become a hero by saving the helpless victims bound to operating tables by clawing open a molten adamantium vat before the metal could be pumped into them.

In the process, he becomes covered in the stuff, but still manages to not-die long enough to chase down Cornelius and kill him, the end.

And that's how the un-killable Wolverine finally dies: He's encased in molten adamantium which, apparently didn't burn him alive instantly or slide off his body, but instead dried like cement over him? And, of course, if his healing factor got turned back on during the process, then we would still be alive in there, just trapped and essentially buried alive. Or, if the means to turn his healing factor back on are arrived at later, then the adamantium casing he's in might be perfectly preserving his body, for an easy resurrection. Or, simplest of all, Marvel is apparently headed toward a Crisis-like reboot, so Wolverine could just be rebooted back to life.

Whatever happens after Wolverine's death, the story of his death was more than a little underwhelming. It doesn't really stand up as a dramatically satisfying story on its own for several reasons—the off-panel de-powering, the out-of-left-field random villain—and it seems a small, uninspired story arc, paling next to so many of the big, dramatic stories that have starred or prominently featured Wolverine over the years. Given how many times that guy has been extremely near death, this death, even if it's more of a "death" seemed dull, even prosaic.

The collection gets an oversized hardcover and a ton of back-matter, including all of those covers and an interview with Wein, as well as process material, but there's so much of it that it only makes the story seem smaller. It's a fairly slim book, but the 80-ish pages are followed by 40-ish pages of extras. In other words, about 1/3 of this collection is not comics, which is an awful lot of pages to not be comics in a $25 dollar book (Doing the math, as over-priced as the serially-published comic book-comics were, they were still a better investment than this, which wold break down to more than $6-per-issue. Geez, when exactly did comic books become the hobby of kings?)

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

With 40 covers, some of them were bound to be good!

My favorites?

Skottie Young's, in which Wolvie's soul ascends to heaven, looking quite surly about the whole affair:
Based on the look on his face, he doesn't seem to think he's really dead either.

And Juan Doe's:
I really like the implied action generated by the arms in different positions on the two figures, as if raising his claws transforms Logan to Wolverine, and lowering them does the opposite, as well as the contrasting colors in the two versions of the character on the image.

I also kind of like the implied costume on the shadow Wolverine in the back. The (almost) all black look is a good one.

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

I have a piece up at Robot 6 examining two new comics launched this week that are based on iconic 1980s television shows, both of which are being distributed by IDW and both of which are made extremely distinct and well worthwhile thanks to the presence of incredible artists: Jem and The Holograms and Miami Vice: Remix.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: March 25

Batman Eternal #51 (DC Comics) Well, I guess it's a good thing I remembered to use a qualifying statement like "barring any last-minute swerves in the final two installments of the story" in last week's Robot 6 column praising the reveal of the ultimate villain of this book.

This is the penultimate issue of the 52-part weekly series, and there is indeed a last-minute swerve...well, last page swerve, really. Most of the issue involves The Cluemaster, who announced himself as the villain behind-all-the villains last issue, explaining to a beaten and bound Batman how he arrived at his plan (pretty inspired idea, really), and how he pulled it off. (Mostly...the plan to frame Gordon still seems needlessly complex to me, and Cluemaster doesn't bring up the "haunted Arkham" plot, which is a little beyond the scope of pretty much every villain, as it involved communicating an arcane summoning ritual to Professor Milo through dreams, in order to have him write a magic spell book? That summoned a dead Batman villain? To bring hell to Earth?).

Cluemaster chains Batman up, cuts off his clothes with a knife (sexy!), discovers his secret identity, and, after pages of laying-out his plan, and a few pages of fisticuffs, and a few pages of checking-in with the various members of the extended Bat-Family, Cluemaster is about to shoot Batman to death when someone sneaks up behind the villain and slits his throat.

The dialogue between the pair seems to indicate that they were in on it together—"Not according to plan..." Cluemaster gurgles, "I've always had a plan of my own," the other Big Bad says—but it's just as clear that this villain is the sort of major one that Cluemaster spent so much time saying he wanted Batman to think was behind it all.

I guess I should reserve my judgement for one more week here, in case things aren't exactly what they seem, but I have to say that this is a very disappointing turn of events. Cluemaster's plan worked so well because of some of the reasons I mentioned in my piece last week and some of the reasons he discusses in the dialogue—written by James Tynion IV—this week. That he was actually in cahoots with the very sort of villain he talked about making Batman believe was lurking behind the scheme all along sort of taints the plan, and, more importantly from a reader's perspective, is a cheat. This particular villain hasn't appeared in the series at all, not even in a passing bit of dialogue (Although there have been at least three clues pointing towards him or his organization in the last few months, and he seemed likely enough a candidate that I actually actively worried that it would turn out to be him, since he seemed likely enough given those clues and his relative stature in the post-New 52 rogues gallery).

His late-in-the-game inclusion here seems to violate a rule of the mystery story, if not serial, shared-setting superhero comics, and I guess htat, at this point at least, this is very much more of the latter and less of the former...and not quite the self-contained storyline I assumed it would be. Having this guy be the big bad is a little like having Sinestro be the killer in Murders in the Rue Morgue (he didn't leave footprints because he was floating over the floor with his power ring the whole time!), or H.G. Well's Invisible Man the killer in Murder On The Orient Express (Poirot never saw him coming, because he's not a character in the story! Also, he's invisible, and therefore he can't be seen coming!).

Also, I reeeeaaalllllly hate that guy's costume. I can't remember if this is the same one he's worn previously, or if Alvaro Martinez, who pencils this penultimate issue, just draws it significantly different. It's pretty bad, though. Not as bad as New 52 Ratcatcher's costume, but still pretty bad:
Despite my disappointment, I am extremely ecited to see what happens in the final issue next Wednesday, as it's hard to imagine how exactly Batman gets out of this predicament (well, Spoiler saves him, obviously, but still), and how Scott Snyder, Tynion and company put all of these pieces back, or re-set the status quo, following this story.

Or perhaps they'll just skip the denouement all together, and the Bat-books will start in medias res in June, with what happened between the end of Batman Eternal and resumption of publishing post-Convergence being a mystery gradually resolved? If that is the case, I hope those mysteries will prove more satisfying than this one was.


Batman '66 #21 (DC) That's some pretty progressive thinking from Batman...especially considering that it was 1966 at the time he said that! This is the long-awaited—at least by us handful of Lord Death Man fans—introduction of Lord Death Man into the Batman '66 continuity. The character is honestly a rather awkward fit, despite the fact that he's from the same general time period, especially as seen here, not actively practicing his willing-himself-to-death-and-then-back-to-life gimmick, but instead messing with Batman's mind in order to trick the Caped Crusader into killing him.

That said, there's a bunch of cool stuff in this issue, including the Batgirl signal, Robin's robe, Batmobile-J and Batman and Batgirl just cold walking around doing normal, everyday stuff while in full-costume. That just looks so weird these days, and it's never not funny to me to see Batman, say, sitting on an airplane in his costume instead of, you know, flying his own Bat-plane.
This issue is the work of writer Jeff Parker and artist Sandy Jarrell, the latter of whom does a great job, although I confess that I wish it was Mike Allred who drew it instead. Every time Allred does a cover with Batgirl on it, I wish that Allred would draw the interiors of a Batman '66 issue, preferably one prominently starring Batgirl, and this was a comic prominently starring Batgirl.

Ah well, maybe DC will publish an all-Allred Batgirl '66 one-shot or miniseries someday...


Gotham Academy #6 (DC) Well, that's a weird synchronicity. Earlier in the week I started re-re-re-watching episodes of Home Movies on YouTube, and the second one I watched was, of course, the one entitled "Pizza Club." And then today I read this, which is entitled..."Pizza Club"!!! What could it mean??!!?

Anyway, this is the end of the first story arc of Gotham Academy, in which Olive faces off against Batman, and kinda sorta defeats him, but not in the exact manner depicted on the cover...and Batman ultimately gets what he wants from her anyway, in an after-the-comic back-up drawn by Mingue Helen Chen. A few of the mysteries about Olive and her mom's pasts are revealed, including the fact that Olive apparently has Firestarter powers. More importantly, our curious and charming teens decide to make it official and formally start a mystery-solving club.

Now all writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher have to do is introduce Ace the Bathound, change the title to Ace and The Bathound Gang and Gotham Academy will officially become the modern Scooby-Doo, but in Gotham comic I always dreamed would exist...!

As for that back-up, I kind of love what it promises for the next arc of Gotham Academy, but, um, what grades does this school teach? I mean, Damian's only 10, right? Or 12, at the most? I know he's super-smart and all, but I'm surprised he's old enough to enroll.


Jem and The Holograms #1 (IDW) I was pretty stressed out about the purchasing of this particular comic off the racks today. There were five covers available at my local comic shop; four Amy Mebberson covers, each featuring a different member of the title band on the cover, and one marked "subscription variant" by Sara Richard. The one I wanted, i.e. the one by interior artist Sophie Campbell, was not available, so I went with the "subscription" variant; I liked the Mebberson images, but couldn't choose between them. Maybe I should have got the Mebberson one featuring Jem herself? I don't know; this is too much choice!

It turns out those five covers account for less than half of all of those available; there are 12 variants for this thing! Yeesh.

Now, I have a passing familiarity with and interest in Jem; I used to watch the cartoon, and my sister had some of the dolls. I re-watched some episodes recently with a friend on Netflix, and was kind of surprised by how weird the series was. One thing that hasn't changed? I still prefer The Misfits to the Holograms. I agree with them; their songs are better.

That's not the reason I thought I'd give this book a try, though. The main reason—sorry Kelly!—was that it was being drawn by Sophie Campbell, the artist formerly known as Ross Campbell, one of my favorite artists working today, and one of a handful of the more important artists working in mainstream comics at the moment, given the way Campbell's particular fusion of broader schools of style has a mass appeal.

Also, Campbell's Wet Moon proves how perfect she is at designing sexy, interesting-looking ladies with an alternative-style of fashion and an interest in music and music culture.

I wasn't disappointed. I won't get into it much here, as I intend to write about the book elsewhere tomorrow, but I thought Thompson did a pretty good job of finding a hook for the weird secret identity angle and setting things up—even if there's one awkward scene, and we didn't yet meet The Misfits. Campbell did not disappoint; I sometimes miss the hypersexualized artwork of Water Baby and The Abandoned, and the pre-pubescent Caleb who used to watch the cartoon would have loved to see Jem and The Holograms drawn in that Campbell style, but this is probably best, given the book's potentially wide appeal. Campbell certainly crosses the first and greatest challenge the comic presents, making the characters look like themselves without looking like the epitome of 1980s cartoon rock fashion. No easy feat, but Campbell sure makes it look easy.

I liked the logo—which unlike the one seen on the image above is, like, shiny—and the general design of the book a lot, too.

All that said, I probably won't be picking up issue #2, but will instead shift to reading it in trade, as I do most of the IDW books I'm interested in. I just can't justify buying 20-page, $3.99 comics in this format. I know I make a few exceptions—Lumberjanes, Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe—but that's only because I don't like Boom's trades and because Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe is the single greatest comic book the world has ever produced.

Jem and The Holograms? Pretty great. But not Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe great.

...

Although IDW does hold the license for Jem and Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, huh? And they are all owned by Hasbro. So, theoretically, a Scioli/Campbell/Barber/Thompson Jem and The Holograms Vs. Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe book is a possibility, right? Right?


The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 (DC) If The Multiversity Guidebook was the most DC Comic DC ever published, this might just be the most Grant Morrison comic. The writer plays all of his favorite riffs, many of them now well-established classics, as he's been playing them since the end of his Animal Man run in the late 1980s, and some of them are call-backs to favorite Silver Age comics of his.

Morrison heads-off any such criticism, however, by including it in the comic itself. This is a little complicated to explain, and probably would take much longer to explain that it would be to simply read the book itself. So long, complicated story short: This book is set on Earth-33, the former "Earth-Prime," i.e. our world, the real world, in which there are no superhumans, other than those that exist in comic books (Until Ultraa showed up pre-Crisis, of course).

So Morrison, ably assisted by pencil artist Doug Mahnke and Mahnke's posse of inkers, conceives of this comic as not only a story, but also a prop of sorts, so that Ultra can really exist in our world, because the comic exists in our world. Got all that? No? Just read the comic. It'll make sense, and it's well worth while.

If nothing else, Morrison is clever, and if Multiversity is indeed his ultimate statement on the DC Universe, on comic books in general, this is the climax. Sure, it's the penultimate issue—and there are dozens of worlds that could easily be explored in future one-shots, should Morrison want to go back and do more of these at any time—as this re-states many of the themes of his work in as powerful and as eloquent a manner as possible.

Also, this issue contains a new version of Little Boy Blue, and I don't think cuts get much deeper than that. Sure, Ultra, The Multi-Alien is in here too, but even Ultra has appeared recently, in a couple of different works by Jeff Lemire (including a short story in one of those Vertigo anthologies that was pretty much a straight version of the character, to Lemire's work on Justice League United).


Nemo: River of Ghosts (Top Shelf Productions/Knockabout) This was a total impulse buy—I haven't even read the second of the three original graphic novels starring Captain Nemo's daughter. I just saw the three busty, scantily clad women near the top of the cover, peaking out above the top of Futures End on my local comic shop's new comics rack, and picked it up, wondering what on earth it might be.

That's when I saw the title and the expected names—Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill—and gave it a flip-through. Seeing dinosaurs in it, I had scene enough to know I should buy this, take it home and read it immediately.

The river of the title—well, the literal river; I imagine it can be taken meatphorically as well—is the Amazon, and the now quite aged Nemo takes the Nautilus up the river, pursuing her immortal foe Ayesha. Naturally, she and her crew run into various obstacles from various forms of fiction until they reach their destination and have a huge, brutal battle against foes pulled from a rather weird variety of different types of fiction and yet, remarkably, everything seems to fit together.

While Moore and O'Neill have drifted rather far from their original concept of the League as a sort of Justice League of Victorian adventure fiction heroes (this story is set in 1975), they've only gone deeper and wider in answering that original question, so that rather than just "What if the stars of all those influential Victorian-era adventure fiction shared the same setting?" the question has become "What if all fiction shared the same setting?"

And while I still often feel like I'm missing a ton of the references, I also still feel rewarded when I get one (Maple White Land! I know that one!). This being so much closer to my lifetime, and calling on so many films in addition to fiction and music, I actually got quite a few of these. As per usual, the charm comes from the fact that Moore and O'Neill craft a satisfyingly dramatic adventure that doesn't depend one one knowing the characters all that well, or being familiar with every single allusion or reference, but if you do get them, they simply provide an extra layer.

Every ten pages or so, there's a splash panel that fills an entire page and half of the next page, and these images are all pretty astounding. I don't even want to describe any of them, so as not to risk ruining them.


The New 52: Futures End #47 (DC) I was sure there were actually 52 issues of this series, but this really does seem like it's the penultimate issue. The last of the storylines have been wrapped up (although, in retrospect, several of them seem kind of pointless, don't they?), and the next issue box two-page spread says simply "The End."

So, in this issue—drawn by three different penciler/inker teams—Brother Eye awakes and starts taking over the world of 2020, and Tim Drake puts on dead Terry McGinnis' Batman costume and time belt in order to go back to the year 2015 to take out Brother Eye. Re-powering the time belt for a second jump back into the past seems remarkably easy, as all it took was a pair of jumper cables and a Firestorm, which again makes me wonder why this series was so damn long in the first place.

Almost as much as I wonder about what exactly happened in this issue. Tim Drake goes back in time and convinces the Brother Eye of 2015 to self-destruct, because, if it doesn't, then refugees from the dying Earth-2 will detect Brother Eye and come to Earth-0 and, shortly afterwards, the armies of Apocalypse will follow them.

Soooooo, Tim convinces Brother Eye not to lead those spaceships full of refugees to the safety of Earth-1, but instead leave them to their fate in a universe being overrun by Apocalypse? Is that right? That doesn't seem right. I suppose the next issue, and issues of World's End, will probably explain all that.

On a sidenote, this means there are now two Tim Drakes, one of whom is Red Robin and one of whom is Batman Beyond, right? And there are three Batman Beyonds, the one from the Batman Beyond comics, the one who died in this series, and now Tim? Good thing DC rebooted their continuity in 2011; otherwise, their universe might be somewhat confusing for new readers!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Indestructible Hulk Vol. 3: S.M.A.S.H. Time

I'm afraid I can't quite figure out why this collection of issues #11-15 ofthe Mark Waid-written Indestructible Hulk series has the title it does. "Smash Time," without the former word written as if it were an acronym, makes more sense, as the story arc in this volume is about The Hulk traveling through time and smashing things; at the climax, the Hulk gets so angry, and/or is so strong, that he throws a punch that literally breaks the time barrier and travels a few decades into the future to hit a villain in the face.

The acronym "S.M.A.S.H." doesn't appear in the story at all, although I understand that there's a television cartoon entitled Hulk and The Agents of S.M.A.S.H., wherein the acronym stands for "Supreme Military Agency of Super Humans." The word "time," which is not treated as an acronym in the title, does appear in the story as an acronym at one point. "Dr. Banner, welcome to T.I.M.E.," Maria Hill tells Bruce Banner upon bringing him to a super-duper-secret S.H.I.E.L.D. lab, "Temporal Irregularity Management and Eradication."

So I could see "Smash Time" or "Smash T.I.M.E.," but I can't make sense of "S.M.A.S.H. Time."

After those puzzling two words on the cover, however, this is a pretty great superhero comic, start-to-finish. It's also something of a done-in-one trade paperback; there may be a "Vol. 3" on the spine, but this reads perfectly well as a standalone book. It's not an original graphic novel, but it reads like one; it may, in fact, be the most new reader friendly of the three volumes of the series so far, which is a little odd, I admit. The first volume wasn't a bad jumping-on point or anything, but it did deal quite a bit with establishing a premise and a new status quo for The Hulk and Bruce Banner. This introduces a conflict in the first issue, then spends four issues having the hero/es resolve that conflict, through a mixture of super-smarts and super-strength. There aren't really any plotlines from the previous volumes being carried forward here, nor is there anything of great left unresolved by volume's end).

The book opens with a really rather neat sci-fi scene, of the sort that maybe couldn't only be done in comics, but can certainly only be done in this precise way in comics. SHIELD's TIME division has sent a "chrononaut" exploring, but his protection suit is breached, and time ravages his body, aging and de-aging various parts of him. During the episode, he talks forward and backwards, the dialogue balloons the only clue as to what direction he's going in as he's tossed back and forth.

It turns out that, because time in the Marvel Universe is currently "broken" (something that was a long time coming, apparently, but the events of Age of Ultron were the straws that broke the camel's back), only The Hulk can safely travel through time, and SHIELD needs to send someone back through time, as extremely minor supervillain Zarrko, "The Tomorrow Man" explains to his SHIELD jailers that various bizarre goings-on are related to a villain/group of villains—The Chronarchist/s—manipulating events in the past in order to achieve their desired results. This, however, wreaks havoc, as, say, and an airport disappears because it was made to suddenly never exist...just as a plane is about to land. And so on.

After the better part of an issue is spent explaining the very comic book-y—but still rather clever comic book-y—plot and stakes, and preparing our heroes for their task. Because they need Hulk in Hulk form to survive time travel, but they need Banner's reasoning abilities in order to actually get anything done, they devise a way to download Banner's brain temporarily into a floating, indestructible, ball-shaped droid, and so Banner and Hulk can "team up" with one another.

They visit various time periods for various page counts, finding allies among the locals as they face different Chronarchists. So an issue is spent in the Old West, where Hulk and Banner teams up with Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt and The Rawhide Kid to fight all the dinosaurs the Chronarchist imported to serve as muscle. The next issue is set during the time of King Arthur, where The Black Knight naturally aids our heroes (and we learn that the Ebony Blade really can cut through anything, just as later we learn that Hulk really is the strongest force there is, able to punch through time itself).

Much of the fourth issue has The Hulk and Banner hopping through various time-periods montage style. Here's Hulk fighting The Abomination on The Moon, here he is fighting The Sandman in ancient Egypt, and, as the saying goes, "In 1492, Hulk punched out Fin Fang Foom."

His final showdown with The Chronarchist occurs on the day Banner is set to test that fateful Gamma Bomb, and things get pretty weird, with The Hulk becoming The Hulk in the blast instead of Banner, so there's like, a Hulk squared (it's not a terribly good design, sadly; The Hulked-out Hulk just has long hair and some spikes for some reason, instead of being to The Hulk as The Hulk is to Banner).

The bulk of the art is the work of Matteo Scalera, who handles the majority of the first three of the five issues, and the last three are drawn primarily by Kim Jacinto (although Jacinto shares a "with Mahmud Asrar" credit for #14). The styles of the artists blend together fairly well, although it's clear when Jacinto and/or Asrar assume artistic duties. Jacinto has a much, much thicker line, and the characters and figures all therefore look a bit bigger, a tiny bit more static, and in much greater contrast to their surroundings. I liked Scaleara's art much better, however I suppose that may be in large part due to the fact that the story starts out with his artwork before changing.

That minor imperfection is really the only weakness to the book, though (And it's hardly one unique to this volume or this title; Marvel's accelerated shipping schedules has only furthered the primacy of writer over artist on most of their titles, to the point where books as associated with a single artist the way they are a single writer are fewer and farther between then ever before). Otherwise it's a pretty perfect superhero genre comic (That is, in other words, if you like superhero comics, you'll like this one; no need to start with Vols. 1 or 2...although those are pretty good too).

As much fun as the story itself is, Michael del Mundo's variant covers—included in the back of the collection—are better still. There's one of The Hulk punching the nose of the sphinx, another of the front page of The Bugle from the day The Hulk landed on the moon in 1969, another of The Hulk as the Mona Lisa, and my two favorites.

First, there's this:
"Puny Hancock, Hulk's is the biggest one there is!" Sadly, Hulk does not actually attend the writing of and signing of the Declaration of Independence, but how great a story would that have been?

Maybe in a Secret Wars tie-in...

And, secondly and finally, this one:
"Puny assassin, Abrahulk Lincoln smash!"

Forgive me; I neglected to mention Ice Cream Kitty.

In my enthusiasm about the version of Casey Jones that was introduced during the second season of the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television show yesterday, I completely forgot to mention the other new character introduced during season two who would become a member of the Turtles' family.

It is, by far, the weirdest mutant in any iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which, considering some of the character introduced over the decades, is a pretty bold statement, I realize. I am, of course, referring to Ice Cream Kitty.

Ice Cream Kitty was once an ordinary stray cat, lurking around the background of various episodes until season two's episode "Of Rats and Men," in which The Rat King returns and attempts to take over the city with an army of giant rats. In one scene, April brings the stray cat to the Turltes' lair, and asks Michelangelo to watch it for a moment. I was fairly certain it was going to end up being the cartoon version of Klunk...until it licks some spilled ice cream of Michelangelo's, and then some mutagen and began to grotesquely disintegrate (Mutagen must be delicious, based on how often it gets licked by animals in this show). Luckily for the cat, falling apart was just part of its mutation, and it then transformed into, um, Ice Cream Kitty—a cat made of ice cream.

It became Mikey's pet, and he stored it in the Turtles' freezer, where it would generally cameo whenever someone needed to get something out of the freezer. When the Turtles flee the city at the end of the season, Ice Cream Kitty comes along—in a cooler.

The above image is actually from season three, during a scene in "Buried Secrets" where Michaelangelo opens up to it while making a cherry-topped whip cream turban for Ice Cream Kitty.

Kevin Eastman apparently voiced Ice Cream Kitty (whose dialogue is limited to "meow"), although I noticed he didn't get a voice credit during any of the episodes in season three. If he did continue voicing Ice Cream Kitty after the mutant's first appearance, Eastman does a pretty good cat impression, as Ice Cream Kitty would hiss, yowl and make various other cat noises beyond the standard meow in season three.

Monday, March 23, 2015

On the second season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (i.e. the one where they introduce Casey Jones)

Despite being the exact same length as the first season—26 episodes—the second season of the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series seemed to be much longer, perhaps because of the fact that the scale of the stories increased dramatically. There's that, and, I think, the fact that this particular season is broken up into several smaller arcs within the overall, season-long conflict of the Turtles trying to save New York City and the world from The Foot Clan and the invading extra-dimensional alien conquerors, The Kraang.

Those smaller arcs include the opening one in which the now over-confident Turtles try to finish off The Kraang, accidentally releasing a bunch of canisters of mutagen into the city. One of these lands on April's father Kirby O'Neil, transforming him into a hideous bat-monster for much of the season (Michelangelo attempts to ub him "Wingnut," the name of a humanoid bat character from the old Archie Comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, but the others prevent him from assigning April's dad a villain  or monster name). This drives a wedge between April and the Turtles, who she rather rightfully blames, and for a while she cuts herself off completely from her mutant family and spends all of her time with her new human friends, a rough kid named Casey Jones and a Daria-like classmate named Irma (whose name, at least, is imported from the original 1987 cartoon, but who is otherwise quite thoroughly redesigned, looking more like Enid from Ghost World than the other Irma from a ninja turtles cartoon).

Later, a great deal of focus is spent on Karai, who is torn between serving two competing father figures—The Shredder and his Foot Clan, and Splinter and the Turtles—and Leonardo spearheads an effort to convince her to leave The Foot, which results in a tug-of-war that ends quite badly for the character (I spoiled her identity in the last piece on the series, so I guess there's no harm in spoiling something about her story in this piece to: By the end of the series, she too is mutated, becoming a snake monster, although apparently able to revert to human form by "shedding" her human skin).

And, finally, there's a pretty epic battle in which Kraang Sub-Prime (Gilbert Godfired) and Kraang Prime (Roseanne Barr) recruit The Shredder's Foot Clan and together launch an all-out invasion of New York City, one that destroys large sections of it, including the Turtles' lair, and takes Kirby O'Neil out of the picture again, some time after he was cured of his bat mutation. The Kraang/Foot alliance starts early in, with Baxter Stockman reverse-engineering new robot Foot soldiers from Kraang technology (The first season's Foot ninja were, like those in the original comics, actual human ninja; in the second season, they are replaced by robots then, making them like the Foot Soldiers from the 1987 carton series, although these are designed the same as those form last season, save for the fact that they can sprout an extra pair of arms, tipped with outlandish weaponry like buzz-saws and drills).

That battle, which plays out in the two-part "The Invasion," is a pretty dramatic one, pitting The Turtles, Splinter, April, Leatherhead and their new ally Casey Jones against The Foot and Kraang, including a giant robot housing the giant Kraang-Prime. These episodes offer one of the more distinct echoes of the original comics, as Leonardo is split from his brothers and is hounded and harried by The Foot Clan (as in 1986 one-shot Leonardo) and the Turtles and allies have their home destroyed and retreat from the city in the face of overwhelming odds (as in 1987's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10), fleeing for April's farm house (where a good chunk of that first volume of Turtles comics was set).

It's a surprisingly down ending for a kid's cartoon—Leo badly wounded, Splinter even more so after what looked like a savage fight to the death with The Shredder, Kirby lost, our heroes all turning tail and leaving the city to the alien invaders—but a fairly spectacular climax to the season (and the show so far). The cliffhanger ending is in sharp contrast to the ending of the first season, in which April and the Turtles have a post-invasion repelling dance party.

An even louder echo of the original cartoon comes in the episode "The Good, The Bad and Casey Jones," which is essentially this series' cover version of 1985's Rahapel one-shot. After losing his cool badly while sparring with his brothers—here, however, Raph doesn't nearly kill one of them in a fit of rage—Raphael takes to the streets to cool down, and meets a kindred spirit in human vigilante Casey Jones. After fighting one another, the two become friends.

Of all the re-imagined characters that appear in this series, I think the producers and designers did the best job with Casey (That's concept art for the character at the top of the post). Introduced in that aforementioned one-shot, and officially joining the cast of the original comics series in the also aforementioned TMNT #10, Casey Jones was conceived by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a parody of the typical street-level superhero or action movie character. Rather than being motivated to fight crime by an actual tragedy in his own life, he's instead motivated by cop shows and action movies, and makes his own costume and weaponry in order to become a vigilante crime-fighter (Note this was 23 years before Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.'s Kick-Ass #1, which introduced a superpower-less, regular New Yorker motivated to become a vigilante crime-fighter by comic books and movies).

Originally portrayed as a psychopath in the comics, when Casey reappeared later, he was essentially just a regular guy hanging out with the Turtles, Splinter and April. He was a sort of POV character, and, the most regular and relatable character in the series, even more so than April.

Here, of course, Casey is re-cast as a teenager, as was April. We first meet him as a somewhat abrasive, extremely arrogant punk kid with a crush on April, his tutor. He's not friends with April long before he starts getting pulled into the craziness of her life, helping her fight against The Mutagen Man and, later, Foot robots, which he battles on the ice rink while practicing hockey, hitting them in their heads with hockey pucks.

When Casey finally suits up to fight crime, the producers design him in what is easily the best-equipped and coolest looking version of the character, even more so than that of Rick Veitch's Casey Jones from Casey Jones: North By Downeast, who was pretty thoroughly armored in hockey padding and carried a golf bag bristling with more weapons and equipment than the comic book version usually sported. (Ha! "Sported.")

This Casey fights with hockey stick and baseball bats, wears tricked-out hockey mitts and various padding for defense, and even has skates for transportation and fighting purposes, which are apparently folded up along his calves and spring-loaded to attach to his feet when necessary. He also has a bunch of awesome gadgets. He has spray paint can bombs and hockey pucks (some with M80s attached) as ammunition, he has a homemade taser made from a potato masher, and the bike he rides to fight crime on is even tricked out with a flamethrower. . He's got a real  Goonies sort of feel to his equipment, or maybe a Home Alone kid-meets-MacGuyver, in order to play Q vibe. His entire aesthetic is much more that of a high school punk rock/metal homemade superhero than in any other incarnation, and it fits in perfectly with this particular show's look and cast.

His hockey mask is spray-painted to look more skull-like, and, in one great scene, the Turtles remove his mask to find he has his face painted in the same skull pattern, and he hisses at them.

Because of the all-ages nature of the cartoon, this Casey isn't quite the violent psychopath his comics inspiration was, but he's an all-around pretty awesome character, and the fact that he's a high school kid renders a lot of his unusual choices in hobbies and style charming (Seeing the TV show's Casey, I was really quite retroactively disappointed in IDW's Casey Jones, as they similarly made Casey into a teenager instead of a grown-up, but little to no effort was put into making him look different, let alone cool). That is, a grown-up Casey outfitted and acting like this seems kind of crazy, but a high school juvenile delinquent doing it fits, as you'd expect a 15-year-old to think all of this stuff is cool (His "war journal" is another nice nod to the comics, as he draws himself like Kevin Eastman drew adult Casey).

As Casey first appears as a classmate of April's, he's closer to her than the Turtles, and in addition to becoming best friends with Raphael before their first episode together ends (One of the Turtles says something along the lines of, "Great, now we've got two Raphaels"), he has a romantic interest in April, which provides some conflict between the two, and a stronger still conflict between Casey and Donatello, who is also interested in April (Man, there's a great scene in this where Splinter calls Donnie into his room and knocks him down, saying he's trying to teach him to enjoy being knocked down. After a couple of falls, Donatello protests, that it's impossible to make someone like something they don't like, getting the lesson before even finishing the sentence. Great life lesson! Where was this cartoon when I was, like, 22?)

In further acknowledgment of his creators, Casey uses Laird and East-Man brand hockey equipment, and his battle cry is "Goongala!", whatever that means.
(I'm not afraid to admit that the first time Casey shouts "Goongala!" on the show, and is shown jumping up in the air ready to bring a piece of sporting equipment down on a foe as in the above image, my heart skipped a beat).

Other characters are introduced to the show in this season, obviously, although none with as prominent a role as Casey, obviouslier.

Raphael's pet turtle Spike gets into some mutagen at one point, and grows into a much bigger and scarier version of a mutant turtle. He convinces Raphael that he's a better teammate for him than his brothers, and Raphael gives him a black bandanna mask and a huge spiked mace. They set out to fight crime together, but Spike tells Raph he prefers the name "Slash." While Slash looks more like Tokka from the live-action film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of The Ooze, the name is, of course, that of a villain from the original cartoon series, who later appeared in both the Archie comics and the current IDW line. In one of the most interesting bits of casting the show has had to date, they enlisted Corey Feldman—who voiced Donatello in the first films—to play Slash. He appears in a few episodes.

Dogpound, the Foot Clan lieutenant who was basically just Chuck Norris until he was mutated into a giant dog-man, gets "double-mutated" this season, becoming Rahzar (the name of the other evil mutant in Secret of The Ooze). It's a much cooler, scarier design; referred to at one point as a "zombie wolf." Baxter Stockman also gets dosed, mutating into a fly—as he was upon his first appearance in the original cartoon series—although here he's much creepier-looking, and the debt the original cartoon iteration owes to the sci-fi films The Fly are much more obvious.

Rat King, The Newtralizer, Metalhead and Leatherhead all make return appearances for at least one episode a piece, and new characters include Tiger Claw,a tiger man with a jet pack and laser guns that The Shredder recruits in Japan to oversee Dogpound/Rahzar and Fishface, and an Anton Zeck, a master thief with a weird, Tron-esque suit that allows him to stick to walls, turn invisible, throw his laser mohawk like a weapon and other applications. Zeck is voiced by J.B. Smoove, who has the character frequently make Michael Jackson-like noises.

This season also has some of the weirder, more noteworthy episodes, including two that are simply extended riffs on particular films. The first is actually the second episode of the series, "Invasion of The Squirrelanoids!," an Alien/s homage. Some squirrels get into one of the lost canisters of mutagen, and do a kid-friendly version of Alien reproduction: Forcibly climbing into the mouths and down the throats of their victims, gestating in their stomachs and then causing them to them up. A few seconds later, they grow—off-camera—into huge monsters which, here, look just like H.R. Giger's aliens, save with big bushy tails and a few other little squirrel features.

Later, "A Chinatown Ghost Story" has the Turtle-version of Big Trouble In Little China, with James Hong, who played Lo Pan in Big Trouble, voicing the Lo Pan-like Ho Chan character.

The other extended pop culture homage/parody/riff in this season is doled out in smaller doses throughout the entire series, as Michelangelo finds a crate of VHS tapes of an old anime series that's a mixture of Voltron and Battle of The Planets/G-Force (and similar shows). This takes the place of Space Heroes form the first season, as the guys watch episodes of the show and continually find eerie similarities between their own lives and the events of the show. Donatello ultimately takes inspiration from it while they prepare for the imminent invasion of New York City by The Kraang. He constructs a giant robot that requires a whole team to pilot in order to take on Kraang-Prime's giant robot body.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Marvel's June previews reviewed

Marvel's Secret Wars storyline and its attendant tie-ins and crossovers will continue to dominate the publisher's output this June. I remain baffled by the event, as Marvel keeps announcing new tie-in series that appear to be ongoings, but most of which are tied in to very specific "What If?" premises or storylines from previous or particular time periods, few if any of which seem like anything more than miniseries (Marvel just doesn't seem to be calling them miniseries...?).

I kind of want to read, or at least look at, all of 'em. Well, not all of them, but a lot of them, but I'm not sure what conceivable entry point there is, exactly, nor do I know how they might ultimately be collected, since the length of all these weird-ass new series seem to be indeterminate at this point. As I can't afford to read, let's see...any Marvel comics serially, I trade-wait everything they publish (buying a few series, borrowing most from the library), so I imagine it will be a long time before I have to decide which I want to read and how.

It's just weird how weird the event, and its affects on their line, look from the outside. It appears as if Marvel editorial just asked for everyone's most insane pitches, and picked those that looked to be the potentially most profitable and a few of the most insane-looking ones.

If Marvel announced the exact nature of their June variants, and had examples to show somewhere, I missed it, but, after reading their solicits repeatedly to put this together, I finally figured out what all those weird variants with odd words beginning with the letter G referred to. I guess there's a Spider-Gwen inspired variant program, where they will have covers showing the Gwen Stacy version of various Marvel heroes, like Gwenverine, Gwen The Duck, Gwoot and so on...?

That could be hilarious or ridiculous or hildiculous...I'm eager to see them.

As always, for Marvel's complete solicitations, you can visit Comic Book Resources. Otherwise, read on...


DAREDEVIL VOL. 3: THE DAREDEVIL YOU KNOW TPB
Written by MARK WAID
Penciled by CHRIS SAMNEE
Cover by CHRIS SAMNEE
The end begins here! Mark Waid and Chris Samnee start the slow build to the shocking climax of their beloved, Eisner Award-winning run with the return of one of Matt Murdock’s oldest and (now) scariest enemies. But who? A mystery that’s been building since the very beginning starts to pay off big as Daredevil’s recent traumas have him coping in an unexpected way! Writing his own life story has forced Matt Murdock to face his darkest demons — and it’s changing him. Kirsten and Foggy don’t like the man Daredevil is becoming — and neither do the San Francisco police! As the Owl sets his machinations into motion, another old foe waits in the wings to blindside Daredevil. Matt must make some hard choices — but is he going off the deep end? Guest-starring the Stunt-Master! Collecting DAREDEVIL (2014) #11-15.
112 PGS./Rated T+ …$15.99


Say, that volume number doesn't look right...

Did Marvel honestly re-start the volume numbering of their collections of Mark Waid's Daredevil along with the re-numbered single issues? I know the publisher relaunched Daredevil by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee with a new #1 (and higher price point) for the slightest of reasons—that Matt Murdock moved from New York City to return to San Francisco—but I didn't realize they would do the same with the collections as well.

So, if I tried to recommend Mark Waid and company's Daredevil to someone, how do I do so? "By the way, there are two volume ones, two volume twos, two volume threes and maybe doubles of some other volumes; just remember that one of the volume ones comes after the last volume collecting the first volume of Waid's Daredevil run, oh and I mean 'volume' as in "volume of the series,' not volume of the collection, obviously."

Aaaa!

I had planned on catching up on the second volume—that is, the relaunched Daredevil—at some point, as I dropped it when the re-set the dial on the numbering and raised the price, but now I wonder if I'll even be able to figure it out...?


That's Ian Bertram's cover for the Chris Burnham-written (!), Ramon Villalobos-drawn E Is For Extinction, which seemingly tackles the Grant Morrison-era of The X-Men (Note the cover's homage to New X-Men). Too bad Bertram's not doing interiors too; he's a perfect guy for a book based on Frank Quitely designs and art. One interesting thing about this event is how many goddam X-Men books there are, seemingly one for every era of X-Men. I don't even like the X-Men all that much, and there are two X-Men books here I can't wait to read. (The other one's at the bottom, and is based on that horrible cartoon that introduced me to the X-Men, and made me fear and hate them...while stoking my curiosity).


DARTH VADER #6 & 7
KIERON GILLEN (W) • SALVADOR LARROCA (a)
Cover by ADI GRANOV
• The Emperor’s machinations revealed!
• Everything changes for Vader!
• The tale of Vader’s transformation from A New Hope to The Empire Strikes Back continues!
32 PGS. (each)/Rated T …$3.99 (each)
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd.


I recently listened to the audiobook version of James Luceno's novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader (shut up I like listening to pyew pyew blaster noises and light saber sound effects while driving long distances is that a crime?), and, at the end of it, Obi-Wan is having second thoughts about leaving baby Luke on Tatooine, given that Anakin's last living relatives live there and it would be, like, the first place he might go looking for his son if he suspected he had one. But then the ghost of Lian Neeson assures Obs that Vader will never return to Tatooine, as it holds so much pain for him, and baby Luke is totally safe there.

But in this comci book series, Vader is on Tatooine! Did the Force ghost of Liam Neeson lie, or make a mistake?

I mentioned this at a comics shop recently, and was told by a knowledgeable man that Luceno's novel is no longer canon; only the films, the Rebels cartoon, the new Marvel Comics and a few of the newer novels count now. It's like the New 52 all over again! All is confusion!


GHOST RACERS #1
FELIPE SMITH (w) • JUAN GEDEON (a)
Cover by FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA
...
FURIOUS RACE FROM HELL IN A BLAZING ARENA OF HORROR!!!
• Welcome to the scorching-hot track where cursed souls race at the speed of sin, anything and everything goes and the only rule is no rule--it’s the spectacle known as the GHOST RACES; the most hellish “entertainment” known to BATTLEWORLD!
• 1st place prize: Temporary freedom from the ARENA, but what happens to the unlucky and unholy losers?
• It’s all-out, high-speed warfare among the most bizarre and vicious GHOST RIDERS of the MARVEL UNIVERSE. Expect MANY familiar SKULLS!!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


I'm sorry, I'm not sure if I'm seeing that cover right. I think I'm overdue for an eye exam. Would you guys mind taking a look and telling me, is...is that a centaur Ghost Rider on that cover...?


GROOT #1
JEFF LOVENESS (W) • BRIAN KESINGER (a)
Cover by DECLAN SHALVEY
GWOOT VARIANT COVER BY TBA
VARIANT COVER BY TBA• For the first time ever, the most famous talking-tree-thing in the Marvel Universe is starring in his own series! You might recognize him from Guardians of the Galaxy, the biggest movie of 2014.
• When Rocket and Groot are on an intergalactic roadtrip and calamity strikes, the two get separated – and for the first time in years, Groot’s on his own!
• Written by comedic ace Jeff Loveness (Jimmy Kimmel Live!) and drawn by Marvel Comics newcomer Brian Kesinger (Disney Animation), get a front row seat for EXPLOSIONS, SPACE SHARKS, ALIENS, AND INTERGALACTIC HITCHIKING (YEAH, BABY! YOU READ THAT RIGHT.)!
• Whatever may be coming Groot’s way, one thing’s for sure -- it’s going to be a GROOT adventure!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Rocket, Star-Lord and now Groot? Looks like all of the Guardians of The Galaxy are getting their own books. At least, all of the ones that don't have green skin. Interesting. I guess it's like Kanye West once said, Alex Alonso doesn't care about green people.


HOUSE OF HEM
FRED HEMBECK with JIM SHOOTER (w)
FRED HEMBECK with RON WILSON, JOHN BYRNE, MICHAEL GOLDEN, AL MILGROM, JOHN BUSCEMA & MORE (a)
Cover by FRED HEMBECK
• For over thirty years, cartoonist Fred Hembeck has been poking fun at Marvel’s mightiest heroes. Now, some of his greatest works are collected in a giant-sized one-shot that’s bursting with belly laughs!
• Fred relentlessly roasts the Fantastic Four with the help of an all-star cast of artists!
• Fred wipes out the Marvel Universe in the tale they said couldn’t be published (and almost wasn’t)!
• Even Spider-Man and the Hulk are no match for Hembeck’s trademark wit!
• Plus: a cornucopia of side-splitting short strips from the pages of Marvel Age — and an all-new introduction by the man himself!
• Collecting FANTASTIC FOUR ROAST, FRED HEMBECK DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN DIGITAL COMIC #16 — and material from HULK ANNUAL ’99; and MARVEL AGE #50, #52, #54-55, #69, #97, #122-123 and #130-131.
104 PGS./Rated T+ …$7.99


That's a very cheap price point for a book that big, so I'm assuming this has staples, ads and no spine, being more of a huge-ass comic book than a comic book book. I'll probably get it anyway though, as I can't imagine it will reappear with a spine later.


HOWARD THE DUCK: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION VOL. 1 TPB
Written by STEVE GERBER
Penciled by VAL MAYERIK, FRANK BRUNNER, JOHN BUSCEMA, GENE COLAN, SAL BUSCEMA & MORE
Cover by FRANK BRUNNER
Get the full story of how Marvel’s most notorious movie star became trapped in a world he never made! Howard the Duck takes an adventure into fear when he’s plucked from Duckworld and finds himself on Earth, bill to proboscis with the melancholy muck-monster Man-Thing! Stuck here on a planet of hairless apes, the furious fowl forges a future for himself in, of all places, Cleveland. But the would-be Master of Quack Fu will have his wings full hanging out with Spider-Man — and waging “waaaugh” with madcap menaces like the Space Turnip, the Cookie Creature, the Beaver and Doctor Bong. Will that earn him a spot on the Defenders? Better yet, Howard for president! Collecting FEAR #19, MAN-THING (1974) #1, HOWARD THE DUCK (1976) #1-16 and ANNUAL #1, MARVEL TREASURY EDITION #12, and material from GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4-5.
456 PGS./Rated T+ …$34.99


Now I really regret not picking up The Essential Howard The Duck immediately upon release, rather than putting it on my "To Buy" list. If I knew Marvel and DC would start phasing out their Essential and Showcase Presents collections, I probably would have bought them all upon the week of release and just hoarded them until I could find time to read them.


MS. MARVEL #16
G. WILLOW WILSON (w) • ADRIAN ALPHONA (a)
COVER BY KRIS ANKA
•When the world is about to end, do you still keep fighting?
•From the moment Kamala put on her costume, she’s been challenged, but nothing has prepared her for this: the Last Days of the Marvel Universe.
•Fists up, let’s do this, Jersey City.
•Plus a VERY special guest appearance fans have been clamoring for!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99


Leave Ms. Marvel alone, Secret Wars!

Oh hey, Adrian Alphona's back. That's cool.


OLD MAN LOGAN #2
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (w) • ANDREA SORRENTINO (a/C)
GWENVERINE VARIANT COVER BY CHRIS SAMNEE
VARIANT COVER BY TBA
• He may be an Old Man, but never before has the world needed Logan as much as it does now.
• The people he loved have become mere memories. The world that he loved has decayed, becoming a festering Wasteland.
• But in a world devoid of heroes, even someone who is the best there is at what he does may find themselves overmatched by evil.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99


Huh. Bendis picking up a ball Mark Millar left. I haven't seen that since...Ultimate X-Men, I guess. Which is to say, forever ago.


RUNAWAYS #1NOELLE STEVENSON (w) • SANFORD GREENE (a/C)
VARIANT COVER BY PHIL NOTO
• The best and brightest teens from all corners of Battleworld are chosen to attend a prestigious school on the planet’s capital!
• But what does the new class do when they discover the school’s beloved headmaster is actually a diabolical super villain? RUN AWAY!
• A SECRET WARS story like none other from the remarkable minds of Noelle Stevenson (LUMBERJANES) and Sanford Greene (UNCANNY AVENGERS)!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Stevenson is such a great artist that I get a little disappointed when I see a comic she's working on where she's not also drawing it, even when the artist involved is also an awesome artist, like Sandford Greene, for example.

I'm particularly curious about this weird-looking Secret Wars tie-in series, as it has the name of a Marvel comic I liked a lot, but the cast seems missing. Well, I'm pretty sure that's Molly on the above cover, but I don't recognize any other characters, and the Phil Noto variant appears to show Valeria Richards on the cover.

Meanwhile, Nico and Karolina are on the covers for the all-female Avengers Secret Wars tie-in book, A-Force.


SECRET WARS #3 (OF 8)
JONATHAN HICKMAN (w) • ESAD RIBIC (a)
Cover by ALEX ROSS
VARIANT cover by ESAD RIBIC
Connecting cover by SIMONE BIANCHI
VARIANT cover by MARGUERITE SAUVAGE
ACTION FIGURE VARIANT COVER BY JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
DR. GWENDGE VARIANT COVER BY NICK BRADSHAW
VARIANT COVER BY BOB MCLEOD
ALL THE DEVILS DANCE!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

SECRET WARS #4 (OF 8)
JONATHAN HICKMAN (w) • ESAD RIBIC (a)
Cover by ALEX ROSS
Connecting cover by SIMONE BIANCHI
VARIANT COVER by ERICA HENDERSON
ACTION FIGURE VARIANT COVER BY JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
AGWENGERS VARIANT COVER BY CHRIS SAMNEE
VARIANT COVER BY ESAD RIBIC
VARIANT COVER BY Jim Starlin
ALL THE ANGELS SING!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


"All the devils dance!" and "All the angels sing!"...?

You know, I don't think it would be possible for Marvel to tell us less about these issues. I mean, sure, they could have just put "CLASSIFIED!" in there instead, but then, that at least says something; namely that there is content in this book, but we can't tell you what it is, as its surprise nature is what makes it noteworthy.

Those meaningless metaphors though? They say less than nothing, poetically: Not so much "something secret happens" as "something vague, nebulous and ultimately meaningless happens"...


1602 WITCH HUNTER ANGELA #1
MARGUERITE BENNETT with KIERON GILLEN (w)
STEPHANIE HANS with MARGUERITE SAUVAGE (a)
Cover by STEPHANIE HANS
...
GWENGELA VARIANT COVER BY TBA
• In the altered realms of BATTLEWORLD, Angela and Sera are WITCH HUNTERS, the scourges of King James’ England, 1602.
• In a land beset by magic and monstrosity, they seek a new and seductive evil—not witchbreed, but deal-making FAUSTIANS, who bargain with ancient creatures for unnatural power!
• Moral ambiguity? Fancy allusions? Marguerite making the most of that English degree?
• – try 1602 WITCH HUNTER ANGELA #1!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Okay, that's kind of clever. They've stuck the Neil Gaiman-created—and gifted to Marvel—character Angela in the setting of Gaiman's best-known Marvel work, 1602.


SPIDER-WOMAN #8
DENNIS HOPELESS (w) • JAVIER RODRIGUEZ (a/C)
• A knockdown drag-out bout between Spider-Woman and a dangerous new foe – LADY CATERPILLAR!
• AND Spider-Woman’s first joint-investigation with Ben Urich comes to a close!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


I just read the first issue of this series last night—and by "the first issue" I actually mean #5, because when deciding whether to re-number a series or not, Marvel apparently figures out which would be most logical, and then does the opposite—and was really surprised by how much I liked it. And I liked it purely on the basis of the quality, as I have no real affection for or even interest in the character. It was just really well-written, really well-drawn, all-around well-done comic book making.


If I were artist Erica Henderson, I would definitely pick Invisible Woman as one, because I am lazy and she looks particularly easy to draw.


X-MEN ‘92 #1
CHRIS SIMS & CHAD BOWERS (w) • SCOTT KOBLISH (a)
Cover by PEPE LARRAZ
...
THE X-GWEN VARIANT COVER BY RYAN STEGMAN
...
• Everyone’s favorite version of the X-Men from the ’90s is back!
• When Baron Kelly charges the Clear Mountain Project and it’s mysterious new director with “mutant rehabilitation,” it’s up to the X-Men to investigate!
• PLUS: Free Range Sentiels?!?
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99


I'm pretty excited to see that Marvel hired one person that readers can rest assured has watched, re-watched and thought long and hard about every single episode of the X-Men cartoon to handle this series. If you only know Sims' writing from Comics Alliance, he has written or co-written a whole mess of comics, although the only one I've read (because I don't do digital, because I am an old man) is the Oni Press-published original graphic novel Down, Set, Fight. Which was awesome. His co-writer on that book was...let's see...Chad Bowers. Oh good. This should be pretty awesome then, too.

As I've said about Marvel's Star Wars books previously, I hope they incorporate musical greeting card technology into this book, so that when you open the cover the theme song starts playing.

Meanwhile... (SPOILER FOR BATMAN ETERNAL!!!!!)

Remember when Stephanie Brown walked in on her dad having a meeting with some Y-List Batman villains, and their mysterious leader, concealed in the shadows, who clubs her from behind? You know the only worse thing for a teenager to walk in on than her parents having sex? To walk in on one of her parents having a meeting with Lock-Up and Signalman.
I wrote about the big reveal in Batman Eternal #50 at Robot 6 this week, and was somewhat surprised to see all of the comments attached to the article, but I suppose that's a good thing. Skimming it, I noticed that several commenters mentioned Lincoln March, Wayne's maybe brother (or a crazy guy who thinks he's Wayne's brother) from Scott Snyder's first big story arc after the New 52-boot. That's actually who I was worrying it would be all along, but am pretty confident that DC wouldn't use a character that hasn't yet appeared in the series (I mean, Identity Crisis was a terrible mystery comic that didn't make any sense at all, but the culprit was there all along, even if the motivation for the crime and the specifics of the crime made no sense at all).

As I mentioned on Twitter, there's a good chance it could be someone else pulling Cluemaster's strings—Rex "Calabrese" The Lion being the most likely suspect, Mr. Mind posing as Alfred's mustache being the most awesome suspect—but Snyder and company are just plain out of room. They've only got 40 pages left to have Catwoman and appear, chuck Cluemaster off a room and say, "My dad says 'hi'" or something, and then explain all that. Like I said, I don't think they played quite fair—it was either Hush or Bard in the kitchen with Cluemaster and company in the Cluemaster's first appearance, before it was revealed that there was another shadowy figure aside from Hush—but it's going to be a big, hard-to-execute swerve if a chunk of those last 40 pages reveal another villain behind the villain (Cluemaster) behind the villain (Hush) behind the villain (Bard).

So I'm about 95% confident it is Cluemaster. And while I'm sure the World's Greatest Detective is frustrated he didn't figure it out himself, I think it's fair to Batman to note that Cluemaster is really only a suspect over March because of the rules and trends of fiction that we can see from outside the comic. Batman, as a character, doesn't have to eliminate suspects that haven't appeared in the first 49 issues (in fact, that's why he bothered to go after Ra's, who did not appear previously), nor does Batman know he's in a comic book series that only has two issues left to go.

I had one more piece that ran somewhere that wasn't here this week. Las Vegas Weekly is trying something a little new in their comics coverage, so instead of a review of the sort I've been doing, here's a preview of four upcoming, interesting-looking comics: Big Hard Sex Criminals, Archie Vs. Predator #1, Groo Vs. Conan and Supermutant Magic Academy.

Oh, and as long as I'm linking to things, here's a story I would have written, if Juliet Kahn didn't beat me to it (these kids today with their devices, reading digital-first stories digitally before we old men can read them on paper!): How James Tynion IV and Noelle Stevenson's "Wonder World" story from this week's (paper version) of Sensation Comics is the best thing ever (It is!). Sadly, the best panel—Wonder Woman eating ice cream—was not in the article, probably for the same reason I couldn't stick it in my post Wednesday night, it was irregularly-shaped. But that may just be the best, most iconic image of Wonder Woman ever. I hope DC commissions a poster, statue and action figure of Noelle Stevenson's Wonder Woman Eating Ice Cream.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: March 11-18

Please note: There are two covers. I got this one.
Batgirl #40 (DC Comics) This is the concluding issue of the first story arc of the new direction of Batgirl by Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr and Brenden Fletcher, although it's well worth noting that each of the six issues that make up the arc have stood fairly well on their own as complete stories, with plotlines running through each (in that regard, it was somewhat like a TV show, much more so than a written-for-the-trade comic book arc). The cliffhanger ending of the previous issue was the revelation of who Batgirl's villain is, the character claiming to be the real Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, and here we learn the exact origins of that particular villain.

I'm not sure to what extent co-writers Stewart and Fletcher might have intended their arc to read as a sort of rebuttal to the previous, thirty-odd issues by Gail Simone—with their dark, ugly, angry and violent tone—but this sure seems to underline a major difference between their Batgirl and who she was (And to be fair to Simone, a large part of her portrayal of Batgirl was likely editorially mandated, as I'm sure she didn't decide all by herself that The Killing Joke was going to be the only post-Crisis story to remain in continuity).

So in this issue, Batgirl battles herself—rather literally—in order to save Burnside and all of the supporting characters we've been introduced to over the course of the last few issues.
Also, Batgirl and Black Canary totally make up just as the latter announces she's off to star in her own series (I honestly teared up a bit when they hugged in the second-to-last panel*) and, while I'm not 100% sure, I think the New 52 Oracle gets introduced in this issue, although "she" is facing away from the reader, for the sake of suspense.
By the way, among all of the trivial bullshit various comics professionals have been arguing about online in the past week that I half paid attention to, I could have sworn someone very talented, hard-working and professional pointed to Batgirl as an example of people wanting all the superheroines to "cover up."

Reading this, I wonder if that pro even reads Batgirl (a title whose title character who was never really un-covered, and went from wearing a goofy suit of Hollywood superhero movie battle armor to this more realistic, cosplayable homemade costume). Because not only is the book full of beautifully drawn beautiful people—like a CW drama, the cast of Batgirl seems to very between sexy and drop dead gorgeous—but I can't recall ever seeing Black Canary wearing less clothes than she did in this issue.
Of course, that's what she was wearing to perform in a rock show, not fight crime in.

I was a little taken aback by this, the first page in a four-page house ad for DC's upcoming, two-month Convergence event, which appeared in all of the DC books I got that were released this week:
DC and Marvel quite often seem to parallel one another in eerie ways—both Convergence and Secret Wars sound remarkably similar in an abstract synopsis—but I found the working on this page weird, as that is exactly the conflict of Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers run, which has been leading up to Secret Wars since it launched a few years ago.


Batgirl: Endgame #1 (DC) Jeez Babs, such language!

First off, I'm glad that DC decided to go this route for their tie-ins to the current Batman story arc, rather than having it intrude on the regular titles as they previously did with "Death of The Family" and "Zero Year," as those ended up interrupting the other books in sometimes weird ways, and lead to some weir collections. Also, while I'm reading Batgirl monthly, I'm reading Batman in trade, so it will be a few months before I get to the "Endgame" story arc, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to follow along.

I was actually planning to skip this book, assuming it would be collecting with all the other tie-ins in an eventual Endgame trade, but then I noticed that the regular writing team was still writing (Cameron Stewart does not provide breakdowns, however), and while it's missing Babs Tarr's art, maybe the chief pleasure of Batgirl, the art inside was so gorgeous I didn't want to not read it.

That's provided by Bengal, of whom I know nothing. Is Bengal a man, woman, or tiger...? I don't know. But Bengal's art is, as I said, gorgeous.

The biggest difference between this book and the regular issues of Batgirl, however, is that while each of the current creative team's issues on the monthly have been very full, very satisfying reads, this took about three to five minutes to read, and that's with occasional pauses to drink in Bengal's expressions or laugh at Babs having a Batsmiley emoticon on her Batphone.

That's mostly because this is a silent issue.

Now, I have no idea what's going on in "Endgame," although it appears to involve The Joker jokerizing the Justice League and the populace of Gotham City, as he did in Joker's Last Laugh. Here it appears that the Joker venom turns people into rictus-grinned zombies (had they different expressions, this wold just read like a zombie comic), and they appear to be attracted to sound, like the zombies in World War Z (the movie; I didn't read the book).

That would explain why this is a silent issue.

As for the plot, it's so tangental to "Endgame" that one need not have any idea what's going on in it; "The Joker has jokerized people" is the takeaway as it applies to this book, and it's apparent from what's in the issue itself. Batgirl is helping to evacuate the non-Jokerized, and she saves a little girl from the Joker zombies, through a combination of punching, kicking, coaching, bus-crashing and hang-gliding.

Beautiful art, lots of action, a few funny moments—it's worth reading, but man, I was acutely aware of how goddam expensive comic books are these days while I did so.


Batman Eternal #49 (DC) Okay guys, quit screwing around. There are only three more issues to go in this series. That's sixty pages. That is not very much time to reveal the identity of your mystery villain (It's not Cluemaster is it? Is that why he gets a scene in this issue? No, that wouldn't make sense...), have a climactic battle and then work on some sort of denouement in which various characters have their new status quos revealed (and so much has changed in this issue, it's actually going to take some pages to reveal things like how many Pennyworths will be leaving in the Batcave, where Bruce Wayne will live, where the criminally insane will be incarcerated, what Jim Gordon's next job will be, etc).

This issue has another great cover by Cliff Chiang, and interior art that's less so—but not bad at all—by Fernando Blanco. At least Chiang has the advantage of being a little more symbolic on his cover than Blanco had to be in his interiors. In the scene depicted on the cover, Bane is actually wearing a giant suit of robot armor, and Baman appears to be about to ram him with a fighter jet, despite the fact that he's on a crowded city street (I'm pretty confused about what's going on with Bane in general here; he put on a giant robot suit of armor to fight in a cage match for the entertainment of the patrons of a dive bar in Gotham? And then he fought The Red Hood for a few issues? And here he just sort of wanders away from Red Hood? Maybe it's not Bane, but a Bane mask on a robot; he barely even talks, let alone gloat and speechify like Bane, after all).

So in this issue, scripted by Kyle Higgins from Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV's plot, Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth both get to beat the hell out of major Batman villains, the sidekicks all have their equipment restored so they can continue their fights with the various "leveled up" Arkham escapees, Cluemaster has an exchange with Spoiler which seems to indicate they both know who the real villain is, and, as previously mentioned, Batman flies a jet at Bane.

The series has grown rather frustrating for me, but in a good way, I suppose, as I'm frustrated by not knowing the solution to the mystery. I just hope it's not who I suspect it is, and that it turns out that Snyder and the rest of the writing team have been playing fair with us all along. And that the resolution and denouement of this gigantic story arc turns out to be a satisfying one, whether it occurs in this title or elsewhere.


Batman Eternal #50 (DC) Hooray, the ultimate villain of the piece is finally revealed and it's not who I feared it would be. In fact, series plotters Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV ended up playing fair: It was a character who appeared early in the series, and was checked in on throughout the series, and never explicitly eliminated as a suspect (There's no scene where he flat out tells Batman it's not him, or shows an invitation from another villain indicating that he was just one more player in this grand Take Down Batman scheme). I think there was a bit where they cheated early on in the series that rather ruins the reveal here, but I don't want to discuss that here—hell, the guy on the last page of this issue who is claiming responsibility may not actually be responsible, but I rather expect it's him, as there are only two more issues left to go.

All in all though, I like the villain used for several reasons...one of them being that it's a villain I've never, ever been the least bit interested in (So you know it's not The Scarecrow then, right?) and another what a surprise it is that it's him.

So once again we have a pretty incredible Cliff Chiang cover, of the sort that really makes one wish he was drawing interiors for this or another Batman series. I especially like how his Tim Drake looks like a teenager and his Batgirl looks young, but significantly older (and taller!) than Tim. Chiang also does a nice job of drawing them all banged-up pretty badly, but still making it clear that this is not a group you want to fuck with, no matter how many pints of blood they might be down. Batgirl still looks tough and determined, like she's getting her second wind; Batman looks like he's about to rip someone in half. Also, the color scheme—Chiang seems to have colored this himself—mutes the more garish, lame-ish aspects of Red Robin and Red Hood's costumes, while highlighting the characters' wounds.

Really a great, great cover. Unlike the other DC weekly I'm reading, Batman Eternal hasn't had a single cover artist throughout its run. While Ryan Sook's constant presence on the covers of Futures End have really allowed him to essentially tell the story of the book in 50-some images, Batman Eternal's covers vary in style and quality as often as the interiors do. After the last few weeks though, I kind I find myself wondering what the book might have looked like if every issue had a Chiang cover on it.

This issue opens with Batman having just crashed a fighter jet into Battle Armor Bane (yes, that's insane, and kind of dumb), and then Batman goes from sidekick to sidekick, helping them win their fights with their respective mini-bosses, before ascending to the rooftop where the first page of Batman Eternal #1 was set and meeting the mastermind of the whole plot.

Like I said, it's an interesting reveal, and it's more-or-less fair, which was something I was really starting to worry about, as so many clues pointed to it being a character that hadn't appeared in the series at all.

Alvaro Martinez pencils and Raul Fernandez inks this issue. It's a fine-looking book; not the best in the series by any stretch of the imagination, but not one of the worst ones either.


Frankenstein Underground #1 (Dark Horse Comics) The letters page of this comic opens with editor Scott Allie writing, "First of all, to anyone who picked this up because Mike Mignola doing Frankenstein was too good to pass up..."

Hey, that's me!

I did pick this up specifically because I thought it was Mignola doing Frankenstein—and it is—and because I assumed it was divorced from the "Mignola-verse" stuff, as it didn't have "Hellboy" or "BPRD" in the title or on the cover. When I picked it up to read it and saw the tiny "From the pages of Hellboy" atop the cover, I sighed. I haven't kept up with Hellboy at all. I started it in trade many, many years ago, but it just got so big that I've never had the time or sense of direction to sit down and read it all. I will someday, I'm sure.

Luckily, as Allie went on to explain, Mignola's Frankenstein and a few of the other characters in this issue did appear in previous titles, but having read those titles is not terribly important—certainly I didn't feel all that confused while reading the issue, even when Hellboy and Frankenstein's monster appeared in a Mexican wrestling ring together in a flashback—and what little history one needs to know is in the book itself.

Mignola restricts his drawing to the cover, which is really too bad, as I think his art style is a perfect match for this character, particularly the square-headed, movie version, which seems to have informed the design a bit. He writes, with Ben Stenbeck providing the interior art and Dave Stewart coloring. I liked Stewart's art quite a bit, it's got a touch of the Mignola-esque about it, particularly when drawing monsters and totems and creepy people, but is otherwise a bit rounder, softer, fuller...more realistic, I guess.

It's the mid-1950s, and the monster stumbles upon a witch in a temple in the jungle. He recounts his life story to her, in a series of panels that show the troubles he's endured over the century and a half of life he's had since his creation, while a guy who looks like George Washington watches him in a magic mirror, and sends one of his several strange minions after Frankenstein, intent on adding him to his collection.

It's really too bad that I read most of the Dark Horse comics I read in trade format, because their serially published comics are a pretty great package. It's 22-pages of ad-free comics, a four-page preview of an upcoming Mignola book, and a two-page letters page—for $3.50, a nice compromise price between DC's standard $2.99 and Marvel's standard $3.99, but with more content presented in a more reader-friendly way.

As for the title, it looks like it may be quite literal, as this issue ends with Frankenstein plunging into darkness when the temple he's in collapses on him. I'm hoping he lands in Wonderland, but only because Frankenstein's Adventures In Wonderland would be awesome. Not that this is shaping up to be the least bit shabby or anything. I just want to see Frankenstein flip the table at the Mad Tea Party and go "HHRRNNNGH!" to all the wordplay the Wonderlanders through at Alice, I guess is what I'm saying.


Lumberjanes #12 (Boom Studios) This appears to be the end of the Noelle Srtevenson and Shannon Watters-written, Carolyn Nowak-drawn story in which Mal, Molly and Bear Woman go to the land of dinosaurs to recover the lost reading glasses of "B-Dubs," while the remaining 'janes try and fail to earn easy merit badges.

This comics has dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs in it, and is therefore worth your time.


The New 52: Futures End #45 (DC) Hmm, I wonder if this would have been a more satisfying read if, instead of actually published 53 issues of a 20-page comic on a weekly basis, they just put out a single, oversized 53-page comic featuring nothing but Ryan Sook's covers, and let readers just imagine what was happening between those static images? The covers are often very nice, after all, and each tell a bit of a story, at least in that they suggest major events.

This one maybe a little les so, although it does check in with four different groups of characters—five, if you separate Superman from Captain Marvel Shazam, Firestorm and Dr. Polaris—at least suggesting what they might be facing or dealing with, in terms of tone or mood if not specifics.

This week's issue is drawn by Stephen Thompson, Jack Herbert and Vicente Cifuentes, and the story they're tasked with drawing seems to be one that's entered the tying-up of loose ends phase. Unlike Batman Eternal, there's no mystery mastermind to puzzle out here, as the main villain was revealed at the beginning of the story and the series has been all about stopping him/it from coming to power, and what's next for the characters and plot lines started here is pretty apparent: It will continue, or at least lead in to, Convergence.

Frankenstein dies in Amethyst's arms, giving her new resolve. Superman, Shazam and Firestorm do some clean-up in New York City, with assistance from Dr. Polaris...until he escapes. The book reminds us that King Faraday, Sgt. Rock and some dumb lady superheroes that filled up page-space earlier in the series still exist. And Mr. Terrific, The Atom, the Batmen and friends realize that as bad as Brainiac might have been, Brother Eye is going to be whole other problem. The book ends with Brother Eye turning the corpses of all those dead SHIELD agents into cyborg zombies, which, you'll recall from the nightmare future of the #0 issue, is what he did with all the dead superheroes in 2044.


The New 52: Futures End #46 (DC) Skynet Brother Eye is online, cyborg murder-bot zombies are shambling around and it looks like Terry McGinnis has failed to prevent the nightmare future he traveled back to the year 2019 to stop. But he's got a plan! Send someone else back to the right time, that is, the present, in order to stop all of this from happening. He does this by giving his time belt to Batman 2019, Mister Terrific and The Atom, telling the super-geniuses, "Hey, I've got a time-travel device. Fix it and save the future." Why didn't he do this in, I don't know, issue #5? Because this is a year-long weekly series.

He also totally dies this issue (That's not a spoiler is it? It's on the cover). But I wouldn't worry too much, as another Batman is going to go back in time to fix all this crap—and I assume that will explain how this ties into Earth 2: World's End and Convergence—and he's got a new monthly book coming up in June.

Scot Eaton penciled and Scott Hanna inked this issue, which also seems to provide a happy ending of sorts for Grifter, Earth-2 Lana Lang and Fifty Sue, who end up having pretty much nothing at all to do with the overarching story arc, aside from being among the earlier characters to run afoul of Brother Eye. So what exactly was the point of the whole Grifter/Cadmus/Fifty Sue storyline? Oh right; year-long weekly series.


Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #8 (DC) The biggest disappointment about this issue is the cover. It's a really nice cover by Jae Lee, of course, but, well, it promises the Silver Age Justice League—look, there's J'onn J'onnz in his original costume and with his regular head and everything!—but they're just on the cover for, um, some reason. Wonder Woman is the only character on the cover who actually appears insdie the book.

I really like Wonder Woman's expression on that cover. I imagine the heroes are all supposed to be looking up at...something, bt Wonder Woman looks like she's regarding the logo of her book, and not feeling particularly enthused about it.

This $3.99 issue has two stories in it, the first of which is one of the better I've read in this anthology series. It's written by James Tynion IV, who is not a guy I would have expected had a really great, really funny Wonder Woman story in him based on his previously published work, and drawn by Noelle Stevenson, who I would have expected to have a really great, really funny Wonder Woman story in her, based on her previously published work.

In their story, "Wonder World," a 15-year-old Diana visit Man's World and discovers a few of its joys, like ice cream, friendship, rollerskating, ice cream, video games and ice cream. It's great stuff, and oh how I wish it wasn't just a single story in the Wonder Woman anthology book, but the first issue of a new Wonder Girl series by Tynion and Stevenson.

That's followed by writer Heather Nuhfer and artist Ryan Benjamin's much more conventional story, in which Wonder Woman does more typical superhero stuff: Punches meteors, fights robots, discovers and thwarts corporate sabotage by Lex Luthor. It's basically a Superman story with Wonder Woman playing the part of Superman. Benjamin's art is art is incredibly dynamic, but sacrifices clarity in a few key moments.


SpongeBob Comics #42 (United Plankton Pictures) The latest issue of this criminally under-appreciated series—Criminally, I say! People should go to jail and do hard time for not appreciating this comic sufficiently!—is a "special interactive issue," and I'll be damned if every single story in the thing doesn't have some clever interactive component, from the cover, to the inside front cover, to the eight stories within to the fold-in back cover. There are search and finds, "spot the differences," finish-drawing-the-images, a mixed-up strip you an cut-out and paste together, a choose-your-own-adventure strip (or two), and so on. Al Jaffe (!), Graham Annable, James Kochalka, Jason Shiga, Dave Roman, Michael T. Gilbert and Travis Nichols, and Jacob Chabot are among the cartoonists who contributed to this issue, which, in addition to being of high quality, is simply impressive for he quantity and variety of its different takes on interactivity.



*Last night I read Kinoko Inu - Mushroom Pup Vol. 1, and I was sobbing at the end of the last chapter, when Mushroom Pup gives Hotaru his message. That is one great comic.