Monday, April 16, 2018

I can dream, can't I...?

You've probably already seen this, right? It's a checklist of various tie-ins to the upcoming Batman event that writer Tom King has been working towards since somewhere around his second story arc on the "Rebirth" relaunch of Batman. The hero vs. villains one-shots, the titles of which all start with the words Batman: Prelude to the Wedding, didn't really sound all that promising to me upon their solicitation.

They are all written by Tim Seeley, who is a pretty good writer, they all have covers by Rafael Albuquerque, who is a very good artist, and none of the interior artists strike me as particularly poor ones whose work I might seek to avoid. They all just sound kind of...uninteresting. I'm not sure how many times and in how many different comic books we need to see Robin fight his grandfather Ra's al Ghul, you know? And besides, the stuff I am most interested in would be the stuff that Tom King will either cover in the Batman title proper, or will be left to our imaginations: Basically, all the non-fighting business involved in the wedding, like how characters react to their invitations, who brings who to the wedding as their date, where the ceremony will be, who's in the wedding party, that kinda stuff.

Anyway, when I saw the above checklist, it reminded me of how ho-hum the tie-ins seemed to me, and I got to day-dreaming. Some people write fan-fiction, and some of us--apparently!--write fan-fictive solicitations for DC comics.

For the creators I listed to make these more solicitation-like, I tried to choose ones that either currently work for DC and/or the Bat-office, have in the past, or conceivably might; other than that, I just picked creators I like a whole lot and who felt appropriate to me.

So here are the titles I wish were on that checklist, along with what I wish the solicitations for them were...


BATMAN VS MAN-BAT
Written by SCOTT BEATTY • Art and cover by KELLEY JONES
Variant cover by DAN BRERETON
Interlocking Wedding Party variant by BRIAN BOLLAND
A successful marriage takes a lot of hard work, especially when one party spends nights in the skies and on the rooftops of Gotham, making passersby point and scream, "Aaa! A giant bat!" That's the point that Kirk and Francine Langstrom want to drive home during their dinner date with Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle as their own nuptials approach. But before dessert is served, Kirk is forced into a relapse by a villain who has found a way to use his Man-Bat serum for ill. (Well, even worse ill than Kirk did, as it's not like anything good ever came out of Man-Bat serum). It's Man-Bat, She-Bat, Catwoman-Bat and Batman-Bat vs the new and improved Otis Flanegan, Batcatcher!


NGHTWING AND BATGIRL VS SCARECROW
Written by DEVIN GRAYSON • Art by BABS TARR
Variant cover by LESLIE HUNG
Interlocking Wedding Party variant by BRIAN BOLLAND
As their mentor's marriage nears, Batman's two oldest protegees find themselves re-examining their own tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship. Will either of them ever settle down, and, if and when they do, will it be with one another? Or are they always going to be just friends/allies in Batman's war on crime? As always, they are saved from having to ever really have that talk by a villain attack. The Scarecrow is back, and Gotham's master of fear has an entire arsenal of phobias at his disposal: Fear of heights! Fear of masks! Fear of fights! Fear of...commitment?


ROBIN VS BAT-MITE
Written by EVAN DORKIN • Art and cover by STEPHEN DESTEFANO
Variant cover by KYLE BAKER
Interlocking Wedding Party variant by BRIAN BOLLAND
"BAT-MITE AND ROBIN WILL NEVER DIE!" What, you thought Batman was going to forever change his status quo by getting hitched to one of his oldest villains without the Caped Crusader's number one fan in all the Multiverse weighing in? Unfortunately for Bat-Mite, Batman's not in when he visits the Batcave, so he'll have to settle for the grimmest, grittiest Robin yet, Damian Wayne, who has even less time for imps that his dad does. World's Funnest writer Evan Dorkin and Bizarro Comics artist Stephen DeStefano join forces to present the first ever meeting of Bat-Mite and Damian! And if that's not enough, this issue includes the sure-to-be-worth-something-someday first appearance of...Cat-Mite...?


ACE VS HELLHOUND
Written by PETER TOMASI • Art and cover by JOHN MCCREA
Variant cover by JIM BALENT and KEVIN NOWLAN
Interlocking Wedding Party variant by BRIAN BOLLAND
Hellhound and Catwoman go way back...like, all the way back to "Catwoman: Year One". With the woman who ruined his life distracted by her upcoming wedding, it's the perfect time for Gotham's most deadly dog-themed mercenary to pay his old friend a little visit. In order to stop a deadly plot by the closest thing Catwoman has to an archenemy, Ace The Bat-Hound will have to go deep undercover. With Alfred Pennyworth, dog's best friend at his side, Ace is going to prove once and for all who's a good boy.


JUSTICE LEAGUE VS GOTHAM UNDERGROUND
Written and drawn by PHIL JIMENEZ
Variant cover by KEVIN MAGUIRE
Interlocking Wedding Party variant by BRIAN BOLLAND
Crime doesn't take the night off to enjoy a fancy wedding and reception, so in order to make sure that Batman, Catwoman and the Bat-Family are free to take a night off, the Justice League comes to Gotham. But are even the World's Greatest Heroes enough to handle The Penguin and the Other Black and Whites, a riot at Arkham Asylum, a break out at Blackgate and every Bat-villain we could convince Phil to draw? Not if they want to enjoy the party, too, so they're going to need some back-up from the Teen Titans, the Titans, Red Hood's Outlaws and every hero who's ever teamed up with Batman that we could convince Phil to draw. It's everyone vs. everyone, as only Phil--and, okay, sure George Perez--could bring you!


...Okay, that's five, which is the number of sidekicks-vs-villains one-shot specials listed above, but Batman's got a big family, and that hardly scratches the surface of his allies.

So let's see...


RED ROBIN VS OWLMAN
Written by CHUCK DIXON • Art and cover by TOM GRUMMETT
Variant cover by JAMES HARVEY
Interlocking Bachelor Party variant by KEVIN WADA
Someone seems to have left Thomas Wayne Jr. off the guest-list, but he has plans to attend the wedding anyway. After all, he is Bruce Wayne's brother, from an alternate earth, once removed. As Owlman returns to this world's Gotham City, intent on infiltrating Bruce's life by day and Batman's life by night, Batman's second-greatest partner takes it upon himself to shut down Earth-3's evil answer to Batman. Owlman's going to need a sidekick of his own if he stands a chance against a sufficiently motivated and angry master-planner like Tim Drake. Good thing he's just recruited one--are you read for The Red Bat?


ALFRED VS KILLER MOTH
Written by KEITH GIFFEN • Art and cover by BILQUIS EVELY
Variant cover by TIM SALE
Interlocking Bachelor Party variant by KEVIN WADA
Drury Walker isn't just Gotham City's most notorious insect-themed villain. Of late, he's developed a rather weird habit: He enjoys eating clothing associated with Batman. Is it a form of pica, or is he just taking this whole moth thing way too far? (Er, even more way too far than he already has, of course). In either case, when he hears Catwoman Selina Kyle is engaged to marry Batman, Inc founder and financier Bruce Wayne, his mouth starts to water thinking of that delicious tuxedo and the sure-to-be-ridiculously-expensive dress. It's a once-in-a-life time meal, and as long as he strikes when Catwoman is out, who's going to stop him? A crusty old butler? Too bad Killer Moth didn't do his research, or he'd know that crusty old butler is ex-SAS, and is more of a killer than he'll ever be...


BATWOMAN VS MAGPIE*
Written by MARC ANDREYKO • Art and cover by MARGUERITE SAUVAGE
Variant cover by J.G. JONES
Interlocking Bachelorette Party variant by SOPHIE CAMPBELL
Long ago, Kate Kane promised her then-girlfriend Maggie Sawyer that if her cousin Bruce ever gets married, then of course she'll take her to the wedding as her date. That was a few years and a bad break-up ago, though, and now that Bruce actually is getting married, Kate's not entirely sure Maggie even remembers the promise, or would actually hold her to it. The only way to find out, of course, is to ask, but that could be...awkward. Thank heavens Sawyer is so preoccupied trying to stop Magpie's latest crime spree in Metropolis that she's actually relieved to see her ex arrive in town dressed like a bat.


THE BLACK BAT* VS TWO-FACE
Written by KELLEY PUCKETT • Art and cover by DAMION SCOTT and KLAUS JANSON
Variant cover by JOHN ROMITA JR
Interlocking Bachelorette Party variant by SOPHIE CAMPBELL
"Best Man/Worst Man!" The so-called Gotham Knights have all been assigned a major supervillain to monitor in the days leading up to the wedding, and Cassandra Cain, The Black Bat, got a doozy: Bruce Wayne's former friend and Batman's perennial enemy, Two-Face. When it comes to the Bat/Cat nuptials, it's safe to say Two-Face has...mixed feelings. When he makes his move, Cass is there to take him out before he can even flip his coin, but Two-Face was anticipating having to take on all the Bats, and so he hired some muscle in the form of The League of Assassins. And not just a bunch of generic ninjas. No, the whole League. Like, everyone of them with a Wikipedia entry. There's only one Bat who could even hope to fight them all solo, and it's her name on the front of the comic.


THE SIGNAL VS SIGNAL MAN
Written by SCOTT SNYDER • Art and cover by DECLAN SHALVEY
Variant cover by CULLY HAMNER
Interlocking Bachelor Party variant by KEVIN WADA
It had to happen!


BATWING VS THE PENGUIN
Written by JEFF PARKER • Art and cover by MIKE ALLRED
Variant cover by DAVID HAHN
Interlocking Bachelor Party variant by KEVIN WADA
As the scion of one of the oldest, wealthiest and most influential families in Gotham City history, Oswald Cobblepot expected to receive an invitation to the marriage of another scion of one of the oldest, wealthiest and most influential families in Gotham City history. Instead he was snubbed, while Wayne's hired help like Lucius Fox is invited. And why? Because of un-confirmed rumors that he may have consorted with criminals in the past? Should that really disqualify him from an invite, especially when the bride is a notorious cat burglar? Well, if Cobblepot's not invited, than The Penguin is going to crash. It's up to Luke Fox to don his BAT-tle armor and stop the one Batman villain who is always dressed for wedding.


SPOILER VS LYNX
Written by BRENDEN FLETCHER and CAMERON STEWART • Art and cover by DAVID LAFUENTE
Variant cover by RICHARD SALA
Interlocking Bachelorette Party variant by SOPHIE CAMPBELL
The Bat/Cat wedding is the social event of the century, at least among Gotham City's crimefighting vigilantes. Stephanie Brown assumes she will be going as Tim Drake's date, but lately he's been so distracted by trying to take down King Snake, the new crime lord trying to make in-roads in Gotham, and his army of enforcers The Ghost Dragons, that she worries he might miss the ceremony altogether. What's a girl to do, but take matters into her own hands and bring down The Ghost Dragons all by her self, by going straight at King Snake's lieutenant, Lynx. But little does Steph know that the one-eyed gangster has history with her on-again, off-again boyfriend.


BLUEBIRD VS CALENDAR MAN
Written by TOM PEYER • Art and cover by RAGS MORALES
Variant cover by BECKY CLOONAN
Interlocking Bachelorette Party variant by SOPHIE CAMPBELL
"Save The Date!" Being sane has never been a pre-requisite for being a Batman villain, but the date-obsessed Julian Day is even less so than most, and he's just launched what may be his most insane plot yet. He's threatening to steal the date of Bruce Wane and Selina Kyle's wedding, removing it from the calendar forever, unless he is paid the ransom of the entire Wayne fortune. Is this just Calendar Man being Calendar Man, or has he really found a way to exploit bleeding edge super-physics? And why does Harper Row have to deal with this, when she and Cullen have tuxes to rent and a wedding present for one of the richest men in the world to figure out? She's supposed to be in supehero semi-retirement, but perhaps catching Calendar Man before he hurts anyone and/or the time space continuum will make for an ideal wedding gift for Batman...?


AZRAEL VS THE CULT*
Written by JIM STARLIN • Art by RILEY ROSSMO, KELLEY JONES and KEVIN NOWLAN* • Cover by BRIAN BOLLAND
Variant cover by BRET BLEVINS
So who has the honor of officiating the Bruce Wayne/Selina Kyle wedding? Certainly not Deacon Blackfire, the one-time cult leader who once gave Batman and his then-Robin Jason Todd such a hard time, and not just because he's dead (not that death has stopped him from returning before, of course). When Gotham City's homeless population rises up and begins to march on Wayne Manor, site of the extravagant wedding of the city's richest man, claiming to be lead by their resurrected messiah figure, Gotham City's Avenging Angel is only too happy to discuss theology with them...as long as he's holding a flaming sword in his metal claws, of course.



*I thought Magpie because she was the villain of the issue of Man of Steel that served as the post-Crisis first meeting of Batman and Superman, and therefore seemed like a good villain for any story involving crimefighters from Gotham and Metropolis. Given her affinity for shiny objects though, I guess a better use for the character in any wedding-related story would be to have her trying to steal the wedding ring, huh?

**Well, it's my daydream, so I'm going to just call her Black Bat instead of Orphan, since "Black Bat" is the second best codename for Cassandra Cain, after "Batgirl," whereas "Orphan" is maybe the absolute worst one. I'd change The Signal's name in here too, as I also hate that codename, except for the fact that the whole gag for his one-shot revolves around his name.

***Originally, this was gonna be AZRAEL VS CARDINAL SIN, using the New Blood character that appeared in 1993's Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #3 by Denny O'Neil, Mike Manley and company. The angel vs. priest thing is kind of appealing, and O'Neil created both Azrael and Sin, so there's that. But when I was trying to remember Sin's powers, I looked him up and saw that he had actually lost his powers at the end of that story--which I'm fairly certain I haven't reread since 1993--so I guess he'd be a rather lame villain. So then I naturally thought of the other evil priest character, and figured "The Cult" is more appealing in a title than "DEACON BLACKFIRE."

****Rossmo would draw the bulk of the issue, while Jones would draw the flashbacks to the events of the original series, Batman: The Cult. Kevin Nolwan would ink the pencils of both; he's a distinctive enough inker that you'd see his presence over both radically different pencil artists' styles. Also, how great would it be to get a single issue drawn by Rossmo and Jones, who draw the shortest Batman ears and the longest Batman ears, respectively...?



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If you are unfamiliar with any of those creators I was daydreaming about, I'd be more than happy to introduce you to their work.Scott Beatty co-wrote Robin: Year One and Batgirl: Year One, and wrote "Nightwing: Year One" (he was big on Year Ones) and had a solid run on Batman: Gotham Knights, among a whole bunch of other stuff. Kelley Jones may or may not be one of the best Batman artists of all-time, but he is definitely the most awesome; after doing Batman covers around the time of "Knightfall," he was the interior artist for the Batman title from around #516 to #552 or thereabouts. Read everything of his you can find in trade, particular his collaborations with Dough Moench and John Beatty. Dan Brereton's Batman comics are mostly limited to some Elseworlds projects and works for other writers (Thrillkiller, Thrillkiller '62, Legends of the World's Finest), but he's also a writer. Check out all of his Nocturnals comics you can get your hands on, and, if you can find it, his Giantkiller series for DC; I think about that series just about every time I see an American-made giant monster movie. Brian Bolland is an amazing artist who is responsible for some of the best covers DC has ever published; in addition to runs as cover artist on Wonder Woman, Animal Man and The Invisibles, he handled the covers of Batman: Gotham Knights for a while, and drew the cover of 1989's Secret Origins Special #1, which is an all-time classic.Oh, and he also drew a Joker comic of some notoriety once. Devin Grayson is one of my all-time favorite Batman writers, and she showed a particular proclivity for Dick Grayson and his Titans peers. She wrote the first 32 issues of Batman: Gotham Knights, had a less creatively successful run on Nightwing and co-wrote JLA/Titans, one of the best non-Morrison JLA stories of the Morrison era. More of her work should be available in trade. Babs Tarr was the artist who helped make Batgirl good, and she's currently drawing Motor Crush for Image. She draws the best Babs Gordon, and a super-sexy Dick Grayson. Leslie Hung draws Snotgirl for Image. She is great at drawing sexy young people and fashion. Evan Dorkin has written and drawn so many comics, and all of them that I've read have been good. Best known for The Eltingville Club, Milk and Cheese and Dork, I thought of him here because his World's Funnest comic featuring Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite battling through the Multiverse lived up to its name. Stephen DeStefano is one of my favorite comics artists who doesn't much draw comics anymore (he does a lot of work in animation, and if you're interested in that field at all, I'd definitely recommend his Twitter). He drew Lucky In Love for Fantagraphics back in 2010, has done some Jingle Belle and Hellboy and SpongeBob Comics stuff, but I was thinking specifically of his framing sequence for the 2003 Bizarro Comics anthology. He draws both the best Bizarro and the best Mxy ever. Ever, I say! Kyle Baker has never written and drawn a comic that wasn't somewhere between really good and unbelievably great (some of the comics he's drawn but other people write though? Those can be hit-or-miss). For DC's superhero universe, he's the first person who made a Plastic Man comic work since, I don't know, the Golden Age? Check out his On The Lam and Rubber Bandits, if and when you can. He's also responsible for one of the most controversial Superman stories of all time ("Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter"). Peter Tomasi is an editor-of-pretty-dang-good comics turned better-than-average super-comics writer, and his Bat-work has included a healthy run on Batman and Robin. John McCrea is one of my favorite artists, and is best-known for Hitman, with long-time creative partner Garth Ennis. He draws a pretty great Batman, too. Jim Balent spent a long time on the first Catwoman ongoing monthly, where he co-created the Hellhound character, before leaving DC to pursue his creator-owned book Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose. I used to really like his Batman and Catwoman art, but I didn't care for a recent cover he did for DC. I think if he had a solid inker, like Kevin Nowlan (one of the solid-est inkers!), his work would have the harder, more-present, more drawn look that I prefer. Phil Jimenez is the artist you call when you want a million heroes on the page. His most recent work for DC was the ill-starred "Rebirth" book Superwoman, but he also had a great run on Wonder Woman (including a very fun Batman crossover arc), wrote and drew Tempest, co-wrote and drew the aforementioned JLA/Titans and drew much of Infinite Crisis. His Vertigo series Otherworld is also worth a look. I always liked the way he drew Batman's cape. If I were able to assign anyone to Justice League, it would be Jimenez. Kevin Maguire is one of the all-time greatest Justice League artist, and is responsible for the iconic Justice League posed shot. You can find much of his work in the Justice League International collections, and he'll be drawing some Superman comics for DC soon. Chuck Dixon is one of the most productive, prolific and all-around best Batman comics writers of all-time. He has some pretty odious politics, though, and has taken on some pretty objectionable work in the last decade or so. If you read Batman comics anytime after, say, 1992 or so, chances are he created and/or redefined like half your favorite characters. He's currently wrapping up a Bane maxiseries with pencil artist Graham Nolan. Tom Grummett was the first artist on Robin. James Harvey drew We Are Robin #4, like two issues of Batgirl and...that's about it, really. At least as far as I can tell. He's super good, though and, along with Ian Bertram, who I didn't put in here anywhere, is someone who I hope gets to draw all the Bat-comics he could hope for. Kevin Wada seems to mostly work for Marvel, and I'm not sure if he's exclusive there or not. He's really good and drawing sexy dudes, sexy ladies and fashionable people in general; you should follow him on Twitter. Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely are responsible for that weird "Sugar and Spike" feature that  ran in that weird Legends of Tomorrow anthology that had nothing to do with the TV show of the same name and was later collected as Sugar and Spike: Metahuman Investigations. You should check out that trade; I was obviously thinking about their story when it came to Killer Moth here. Tim Sale may be the best Batman artist to never actually have a run on Batman or Detective Comics; you should read all of his Batman comics, although if you're afraid of the name "Jeph Loeb" on the cover of some of the best-known stuff, you could always start with Tales of The Batman: Tim Sale. Sale, by the way, drew one of my favorite sequences in all of comics. Marc Andreyko had the garbage assignment of writing Batwoman after that book's creative team left in a huff. He also wrote Manhunter for DC, starring the Kate Spencer version of the character. (Confession: Every time I hear Andreyko's name, I think of that comic book title in the background of a panel of Brian Michael Bendis' Fortune & Glory. Sorry, Marc Andreyko! Blame Bendis!). Marguerite Sauvage is so good. She contributed to the first issues of DC Comics Bombshells, and drawn a lot of dynamite covers for DC, Archie and others. J.G. Jones drew the covers of 52, the series that first introduced the current Batwoman character. Sophie Campbell is one of my favorite comics artists, period. I like just about everything she's ever drawn, but would recommend you start with her Wet Moon and Shadoweyes series. She's a hell of a character designer, and, based on her Jem work, I'd love to see her dress the women of Gotham City. Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott are the writer and artist of the first Batgirl ongoing series, the one starring Cassandra Cain. Klaus Janson is a legendary artist in his own right, with an incredibly distinctive inking style I would love to see applied to Scott's pencils, out of sheer curiosity. John Romita JR drew "My Own Worst Enemy," the first story arc of the short-lived, post-Batman Scott Snyder series, All-Star Batman. I think he might have drawn a book or two thousand for Marvel Comics too. Scott Snyder wrote all the good post-Flashpoint DC Universe comics; he also wrote a damn good run on Detective Comics starring the Dick Grayson Batman, but no one ever talks about that anymore. Declan Shalvey drew the Duke Thomas back-ups in the first arc of All-Star Batman, and he knocked them out of the park; Shalvey's a person everyone should keep an eye on. Cully Hamner is drawing Batman and The Signal. Jeff Parker wrote many of my favorite Marvel Comics--Agents of Atlas, X-Men: First Class, Marvel Adventures Avengers--but the Batman work he is best-known for his Batman '66 (although he also drew 2003's Batgirl #38. Did you know that? I bet you didn't even know that). Mike Allred is one of the all-around best comic book artists there is and may, in fact, be the comic book-iest comic book artist. He was the cover artist for Batman '66, and drew the interior art for last year's one-shot special Batman '66 Meets The Legion of Super-Heroes. I first became aware of David Hahn's work through his book Private  Beach, but he's done a surprisingly wide variety of work for the Big Two since, including several Batman '66 stories. Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart co-wrote the New 52  Batgirl when it was really good, and I'm pretty confident they were going to introduce Spoiler into their version of the Birds of Prey (Stewart is also a hell of an artist). David LaFuente has done a bunch of work for Marvel and, more recently, Valiant; he drew Spoiler-centric passages of Batgirl Annual #3 and Batman Eternal. Richard Sala has never drawn anything Batman-related for DC, and is actually a long-shot here. He's one of my favorite artists though, and his areas of expertise include cute young girls, hideous monster men, and people in capes and masks. I don't want to tell you what to do or anything, but the absolute best use of your time and money right now would probably be to go to fantagraphics.com, search "Richard Sala" and buy a copy of everyone of his books (Peculia, Peculia and The Groon Grove Vampires, The Grave Robber's Daughter and The Hidden are among my favorites). Tom Peyer wrote the short-lived Hourman series, one of my favorite DC Comics that wasn't JLA or Hitman. Rags Morales drew Hourman. Becky Cloonan is a writer, artist and cartoonist who has the peculiar distinction of being the first woman to ever drawn an issue of Batman; she drew Harper Row's first appearance (Since then, Joelle Jones has had a run on Batman). Jim Starlin has written a billion comics, several hundred million of them for Marvel, but among his DC work was a late 1980s run on Batman and the prestige format mini-series Batman: The Cult. Riley Rossmo is one of the better artists to draw Batman of late; check out his work on Batman: Night of The Monster Men and Batman/The Shadow: The Murder Geniuses. Bret Blevins is an artist who drew many, many comics; when it comes to Batman business, he was the primary artist on Batman: Shadow of The Bat between 1993 and 1996 (and therefore during Jean-Paul Valley's stint as Batman) and, more recently, he drew the Harley Quinn: Road Trip Special in 2015.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: April 11th

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 2--Most Wanted (Marvel Entertainment) This trade collects the next four issues of writer Chip Zdarsky's new Spider-Man series, which here means issues #297-300, because Marvel. It is very much a continuation of the same story that was in the first volume, a feud between villain The Tinkerer and his brother Mason, with the former upgrading tech-based villains and the latter tech-based heroes, with Spider-Man and his kinda sorta sister Teresa caught in the middle, and it will continue into at least the next volume as well, as there's a turn in here that means Spidey and company will still be dealing with the outcome of The Tinkerer's machinations for at least a few more issues. As a superhero plot, it works just fine, and Zdarsky writes an excellent Spider-Man, although the first volume was much funnier, and contained more scenes written just for the sake of being funny and/or character work.

There's at least one pretty amazing image in here, a splash page drawn by the book's on-again, off-again artist Adam Kubert that demonstrates just how close the two brothers actually are. There's another image that should be pretty funny, but the way it's drawn and colored blunts the impact pretty severely (When Peter Parker needs to suit-up in an emergency situation, he's left with only a poorly-packed spare costume, which here means his black-and-white suit, but with the red and blue suit's gloves and mask).

I was a lot more impressed with the first volume than this second one, to the extent that I'm questioning whether this is a series I need to buy in trade or just borrow from the library. I wonder if the book might be better-served by an artist whose storytelling sensibilities are closer to Zdarsky's...and who can draw every issue of the series...?


Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? #92 (DC Comics) While I've been enjoying Scooby-Doo Team-Up immensely, it has been a long, long time since I've checked out the main Scooby-Doo comic. I decided this would be a good time to check in with it given that 1) I've been watching the second half of the first season of Be Cool, Scooby-Doo on DVD, putting me in more of a Scooby-Doo mood than usual, 2) There's not much on my comic book shop shopping list that's out this week (which has been occurring more and more lately, to the point where I will likely be revising this particular feature on my blog in the near future), and 3) That's a pretty intriguing cover, of the sort that can make a curious reader want to pick up the book just to see what exactly is going on (Even though I do find the image of Scooby-Doo wearing a mask of his own face somewhat terrifying).

The comic is still broken up into multiple stories, at least one of which is pretty clearly a reprint (although was still new to me). The cover story is written by Ivan Cohen and drawn by Walter Carzon and Horacio Ottolini. Mystery Inc are the guests of honor at "Sleuth Con International," which is basically just Comic Con for...mystery-solving, I guess. They are there for less than a page when they find that a crime has been committed--someone has stolen a collection of masks that they have pulled off of ghosts and monsters in the past. They find investigating difficult though, as they keep getting stopped by fans, so they switch clothes so they can blend in with the other cosplayers (Scooby, who has no one to change clothes with, dons a mask of his own face--Brr!).

It's a neat idea for a visual gag, but not terribly well-executed, I'm afraid. Like, Shaggy and Daphne should be swimming in Fred and Velma's clothes; Shaggy's baggy clothes should be tight-fitting on Fred, and Velma should be threatening to burst the seams of Daphne's tiny little purple number. Carzon doesn't do anything with the visuals though to make the wardrobe-swapping even noteworthy, and Cohen's story takes the path of least resistance from Point A to Point B, leaving plenty of jokes on the table. The one thing he did do that was kind of clever was putting "Old Man Carruthers", a former Scooby-Doo villain, as a reformed criminal, now exploiting the notoriety of his brush with Scooby and the gang to make a living off the convention circuit.

That's followed by a four-page story by Scott Peterson, Tim Levins and Dan Davis, a Shaggy-starring homage/parody of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," perhaps appropriate given that someone dressed like Poe plays a role in the lead story (Page three of the story is actually surprisingly dark, as Shaggy begins to wonder if his friends have all died, although the dialogue never makes a direct reference to death).

Finally, there's an eight-page story by Frank Strom and Scott Neely which is pretty clearly a reprint, as the second panel contains a banner reading "2009 International Surf Open."

I suppose the comic is okay, but I think it falls into a weird area where it's definitely not all-ages, but also a kid would have to be old enough to read fairly well to get much out of it. I suspect the window in which a kid is of the right age for the book is a particularly small one. Certainly when compared to Team-Up, which is a genuinely all-ages book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On The Curse of Brimstone #1


*The cover is awful. Not necessarily the one you see above, but the vertical fold-out one. Remember, all of these "New Age of Heroes" comics have fold-out covers, but rather than the more traditional horizontal fold-out covers, they are vertical ones, so what you see on the cover is the middle third of the image, and there is more of it above and below. It is, as I've said before, a very awkward and unnatural space to fill with a superhero image of any kind, and none of the books have really been great about filling it. The Silencer probably handled it the best, and even that one was less than idea.

Anyway, while I suppose it's interesting that they tried something different, based on the results, I don't think they should ever do this again. Unless George Perez wants to draw every Legion member ever on a cover or something like that, or there's an incredibly detailed cutaway image of The Justice League Watchtower or Dr. Fate's tower, maybe. Ooh, or something like the cover of Crisis On Infinite Earths #12, where there's a much less-dynamic image of a giant antagonist being swarmed at all levels by a large group of superheroes...

So maybe there is a way to use the space on a DC super-comic that would be interesting, but the composition of Curse of Brimestone is, like the others, a weird sort of portrait of the character with way too much background placed awkwardly and here filled, as it is in other covers in the line, but images of supporting characters.

*As with most of the previous books in the "The New Age of Heroes" line--the ones I actually read anyway--there's nothing within the pages of the book itself to indicate that this does indeed somehow spin out of the pages of Dark Nights: Metal, save for the bit in the corner box saying that this is part of the "Dark Nights: Metal" family of comics. Now that Metal is over and we've all read the final issue, it's clear how they tie in. And that is? Just barely. There's a panel in the epilogue section of Metal #6 where Kendra Saunders says "The rupture of the barrier between realms of The Multiverse has unleashed new energies, revealed new beings...and new battles," and Immortal Man intones gravely, "This is the dawn of a New Age of Heroes... if they can survive what's coming for them." And that's it!

*I actually flipped back to the cover after seeing the first page of the issue, because I was curious if that first age was simply repeating the cover image. It's not. It is a splash page depicting the head, torso and arms of the main character in a field of flame, however, just like the cover.

*On the second page, our young protagonist Joe Chamberlain narrates about his hometown, York Hills. It was, he tells us, "great once", and the town and the people were "here because of coal. When the coal left, the factories came. When the factories left... ...nothing came." It's just four panels, but co-writers Philip Tan and Justin Jordan have presented a very Election Year setting, of a depressed coal town with few economic prospects in need of being made great again. Our hero's father was injured in a factory, and his disability check is currently supporting the prospect-less Joe and his sister, who works tirelessly at a diner while studying to become a nurse.

*Joe, who is extremely civic-minded, because that's what he needs to be in order to drive the plot, has what one assumes is a rather typically bad day when his beat-up old truck dies for the second time. He's offered a ride by a guy in a business suit who wants to talk about turning things around in York Hills, and Joe gets in the car with him. Despite the fact that it totally sounds like the guy is trying to get Joe to sell his soul to him, Joe tells him exactly what he wants and then takes his hand, at which point Joe bursts into flames for a few pages and there are some fire tornadoes or something and then the book ends.

*Tan, the artist co-creator who will be drawing at least the first few issues, has his art colored by a Rain Beredo. I've never been a fan of Tan's work, and I can remember when I first saw it on a pretty high-profile DC book, I was quite disappointed, as, up until that point, all of the art on that book had been excellent for years. That said, I didn't mind, and actually kinda liked it here.

Tan and Beredo use either a lot of inks or a lot of blacks or a little of both. Everything in the book looks its crumbling into ruin; even Joe's dad's easy chair, which we see him slumped asleep in at one point, looks like its been riddled with bullets. There are several points where the entire panel around Joe are filled with nothing but darkness, just a field of black for a background, but here it feels intentional--an artistic choice to show the character's isolation--rather than a time or work-saving technique.

*That slick devil-type guy is pretty mysterious, and the issue ends without really defining him. He seems to travel with something he refers to as "The Hound," of which even less is revealed, other than The Hound's ability to freeze a human body solid. The diabolical businessman puts on a weird mask at the end, which is something of an upside down emoji, and it's very manga-esque in its conception, even though the rendering of it--and all of Tan's artwork--otherwise betrays no influence from popular Japanese comics.


*It's rather unfortunate that the issue ends as it does, with an unresolved issues of who the devil-like deal-maker guy is, what he's done to Joe and what direction the book might be headed. Unfortunate only in that one doesn't really get a real sense of where the book might be headed after buying the first issue, and you apparently need to read at least the first two issues of the series in order get a sense of the premise. I think both The Silencer and Damage did a better job of establishing a premise, and allowing readers to decide whether or not they would be for them or not.

I think, in general, that if you need to read at least two issues of a brand-new comic book to decide if you really want to read more issues of it or not is usually an indication that you don't.

*I do like one element of the artwork quite a bit though, and that is the blackness of the basic character design, which, at least in the scene at the end of the book, is somewhat evocative of the 1990's Ray design, and also here seems to spread burnt ash and cinders in little flurries. From what I've seen of the design in this issue--and yeah, I guess we don't really get a good look at the superhero within the pages of the first issue of the new superhero comic, which is also a weakness--the design is rather uninspired.

*If you're curious if this book has any relationship to DC's previous Brimstone character, the Apokalyptian giant that Johns Byrne and Ostrander created for their 1986 Legends series, there doesn't seem to be one. Other than the fact that they share a name, and the new Brimstone's design echoes the original's a bit in the face. As with the new Damage's relationship to the old Damage, then, this seems to be more a matter of recycling a name than anything else...although it's possible that the deal-maker character could end up having some relationship to Darkseid or Apokolips that will be revealed in future issues.

*All in all, this was probably one of the better of the new line of books, along with The Silencer, I suppose. I mean, I could bring myself to read it, and to read it all the way through, which makes it superior to Sideways and The Terrifics, and it wasn't as bad as Damage, so there's that.



Previously...

On The Terrifics #1

On Sideways #1

On The Silencer #1

On Damage #1

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: April 4th

Batman #44 (DC Comics) The latest issue of Batman, drawn by both of the title's current primary artists, Joelle Jones and Mikel Janin, rather nicely illustrates both writer Tom King's strengths and weaknesses. The plot is pretty simpl, leaving it to the artists to do the heavy-lifting (as it should), while picking an interesting throughline to the Batman/Catwoman relationship over the years to focus on.

In simplest form, the plot is this: Catwoman goes shopping for a wedding dress. This being Catwoman, she does so by sneaking out of Bruce Wayne's bed in the wee hours of the night, breaking into a dress store, trying on a bunch and stealing them. Meanwhile, flashbacks demonstrate the changing nature of their relationship to one another, with their costumes being the most immediate and obvious signifiers as to which era they are supposedly occurring in (You know the cover for 2004 collection Catwoman: Nine Lives of a Feline Fatale...? In this comic, we see all but two of those costumes). Jones draws the modern scenes, and I guess one could question why the female artist has to draw the dress-shopping, but I suppose the answer is simple: Jones is the better artists, and those scenes require the most acting and nuance.

As for what the story reveals about King's weakness, it's another illustration of the showiness of his writing. He's a good writer, but he always seems to be trying to demonstrate it, or call attention to it, often by employing gimmicks where no gimmicks are needed. So, for this issue's example, every single panel in the modern day sequences have a time stamp embedded in it, letting us know exactly what time it is, as if that mattered. The first panel, for example, is an image of Bruce and Selina in bed together, his eyes closed in sleep while hers are wide open. It is, we see, 2:37 a.m. Next panel? She gets dressed. It's 2:54 a.m. And on and on until she seemingly finds the dress she likes (at 6:37 a.m., if you're wondering) until she gets back and bed and closes her eyes, eventually falling asleep at 7:46 a.m.

Not only is it distracting from the story, it also sometimes works against the story. As I mentioned on Twitter, there's this sequence:
Without the time stamps, it's pretty clear that Selina took a swig of the champagne, wiped her mouth, and proceeded with her dress shopping. But looking at the time stamps, the time that elapses between when she takes a drink and when she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand is...nine minutes? Did she very, very, very gradually chug the whole bottle over almost ten minutes? Or just stand in place, taking drink after drink, for nine minutes? It's not an important thing to think about, but the only reason I'm thinking about it at all is because King felt it necessary to tell us the precise time that every action occurs.

Not only is Jones' art super-clear in terms of moving the character through time as well as space, but even if King and the editors thought it was super-important that we know the story begins in the middle of the night and ends in the early morning, the drawn images convey that (Catwoman wakes up when her boyfriend is asleep in a bed in a darkened room, she returns to the house when Alfred is up and puttering around), as does the work of colorist Jordie Bellaire (or is it June Chung? Both are listed as colorists, but I'm assuming one was attached to each artist), who gives all of the night scenes cool, dim blues, while the scene set in the morning is warmer yellows and pinks.

Interestingly, there's no such obsession over time when it comes to the years. That is, the flashbacks don't each open with a "Five Years Ago" or "Three Years Ago" caption. I guess they couldn't. This is the sort of thing that only bothers fan-readers like me, I realize, but the general timeline laid out here is quite pre-Crisis, or, perhaps, a sort of Morrisonian post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint timeline, where "everything happened." Catwoman's costumes and capers run the gamut from her Golden Age first appearance, to several short-lived Silver Age outfits to her Jim Balent-designed costume, the one she was wearing in King and Janin's "War of Jokes and Riddles" flashback story. Batman also has changes in his costume, but these are much more minor, and seemingly meant to reflect whatever his "new", post-Flashpoint fashion history is. His bat-symbols change slightly, and sometimes his briefs appear or disappear, even in the same scene, likely do to coloring mistakes more than anything else.

The thing is, that pre-Flashpoint continuity was pretty loudly done away with by DC, even though DC's creators still try to use it as often as possible. (Is it worth nothing that the Catwoman costume that doesn't appear is the one that she wore post-Crisis? The gray bodysuit with her super-short hair under her cowl, from Batman: Year One, the 1989 Catwoman miniseries and her pre-Balent appearances?) The company line on the current, post-Flashpoint timeline is that Batman's career is something like 5-6-years long, plus something like 3 years, with Catwoman dressed in a version of the Darwyn Cooke-designed modern costume throughout those last three or so years (The three years comes from in-story markers, like the artificially-aged ten-year-old Damian Wayne celebrating his 13th birthday in DC Universe: Rebirth; there were other markers of shorter passages of time, but that seems to be the biggest one in terms of elapsed time since The New 52 relaunch).

Since Catwoman was shown wearing the Balent-ish costume in "War of Jokes and Riddles," which not only appeared in this very comic book but was also written by the very same writer who wrote this issue, and that story was meant to take place during Batman's first year, or close to it, then that means Catwoman had five different costumes and approaches to Batman in the first...year of their respective careers? Huh. (The appearance of another character, Robin, only complicates matters further; it appears to be the post-Flashpoint Dick Grayson version of Robin, but I don't think he was around during "War," which means he debuted after, but here he's shown with a pre-"War" Catwoman, so...?!?!?!)

Long story short? The reboot was dumb, no one seems to have thought it was a good idea (not even comics creators doing high-profile work for DC Comics, like Tom King, for example), and it continues to ruin everything (The eye-rolling solution, of course, is simply that the reality-warping events at the climax of Dark Nights: Metal had several continuity-rejiggering elements, like restoring Batman's timeline to a 10-15-year length that comports more with pre-Flashpoint comics than the New 52 era, but whatever).

And while I'm nitpicking, my favorite part of this issue was page 10, where we see Catwoman wearing my favorite one of her little-seen costumes:
I love everything about this page. I always enjoy seeing Batman riding on a horse. But Batman riding a horse to chase Catwoman, who is riding a tiger as if it was a horse...? Even better!

I love the fact that Catwoman is hyping up the virtues of cats, how it is in their nature to be proud and independent, while she is literally riding on a cat as if it were a domesticated beast of burden (The only thing that would be better would be if that tiger were rolling its eyes in that last panel. I mean, if that cat were really proud and independent, wouldn't it just buck Catwoman off and make a break for it?)

I also like to imagine that in the very next panel, the tiger asks itself what it's doing, and then whirls and mauls the horse while Batman and Catwoman go flying off their respective mounts.

Also also? I kind of love the fact that this story is premised on notorious insomniac and creature of the night Batman sleeping from soundly from about 2:30 a.m. until at least almost 8 a.m. the next morning--Did crime finally take a night off, Batman?--and not waking up at any point when Catwoman slunk out of his bed and went into the city to commit crimes. With explosives.

I hate to agree with Burgess Meredith from Rocky, especially since Meredith also played an archenemy of Batman's in the 1960s, but he might have been onto something. Maybe women really do cost men their edge...?

Anyway, Batman is an excellent comic that could--and should--be a bit better still.


Bombshells United #15 (DC) Aneke draws this issue, which continues the story of the Batgirls, Bumblebee and Suicide Squad's investigation into...whatever exactly is going on with Black Canary and Oliver Queen and Hawaii. The panel of Bombshells Canary surfing was pretty amazing, and she and Batgirl lock lips at one point--during mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; don't get too excited--but other than that, this issue doesn't offer all that much that's noteworthy.


Justice League #42 (DC) Oh boy do I hate the text on these covers. Almost as big as the logo for the book, this issue contains a pair of blocks of text, saying, "WHO SHOT WONDER WOMAN? THE ANSWER WILL SHOCK YOU!" It probably won't shock you though. Mainly because she got shot last issue, and you already saw who shot her: Some random kid in Africa who took a shot at Superman and the bullets--or, it turns out, some shrapnel from the bullets--apparently bounced off the Man of Steel and into the Amazing Amazon's throat somehow, without either super-speedster being able to catch, deflect or avoid it.

Writer Priest does make a point of explaining that Wonder Woman can't deflect attacks when she doesn't know they're coming, which, okay, but it doesn't really explain why Superman didn't catch them. Or how bullet fragments pierced her skin (She is invulvernable at the moment, right?). Or why Superman, The Flash and or The Green Lanterns didn't solve that problem, like, immediately for her (There's a scene of Superman using his heat vision to do...something to her neck. I thought maybe he was destroying the bullet fragments and then cauterizing the wound, but maybe he just did one at not the other? I don't know; after he does it, she still seems to be dying.

The Flash takes her from Superman and uses his even more super super-speed to take her to...San Francisco, where he has Kid Flash Wally West (the newer Wally West, not the older Wally West) to get Raven, for some reason. We'll find out next issue if she can use her vague magic powers to save Wonder Woman's life, or if she's totally going to die!

All that business aside--and I suspect Wonder Woman was put in such peril to remove her from the thorny ethical and political issues the League finds itself faced with when The Fan plops them down in the middle of a fictional African country filled with warring tribes and a despotic ruler in a cat costume, since that is historically the sort of thing she's supposed to specialize in--this is a strong penultimate chapter of the League's difficulties in addressing real world-ish problems.

I additionally dig the beginnings of the character work Priest has managed here, particularly with the Lanterns, but also in simple differences of opinions, like Batman's blanket "no killing, EVER" in contrast to Aquaman's more pragmatic "well, sometimes you gotta kill someone" stance. It's a shame his run on the League ends next issue, honestly, as he's demonstrated a lot of potential, although the storyline is rather obviously constrained by its limited nature.

DC has announced, but not yet solicited, a too-ambitious line of Justice League books, including a new Justice League with a new line-up written by Scott Snyder (good idea) and spinning out of Dark Nights: Metal and more questionable choices: Justice League Dark written by Snyder's occasional co-writer James Tynion starring the Wonder Woman and a new iteration of the Sentinels of Magic/Shadowpact/Justice League Dark team DC keeps trying to make stick and a Justice League Odyssey book written by Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad's Joshua Williamson, which will features Cyborg and Jessica Cruz leading a grab-bag team that includes Starfire, Azrael and Darkseid.

Snyder's flagship book is going to be published bi-weekly, but carry the $3.99 price point of DC's monthly books. If Dark and Odyssey do likewise, then it looks like the publisher has set the line up to implode right out of the gate. (They've struggled with a secondary League book pretty much since the 2011 relaunch, so jumping right to a second and third seems...questionable.) Anyway, I imagine they have a plan to make the books all compliment one another pretty intricately, and that's why Snyder collaborators on past books and the upcoming No Justice series are involved, but it still strikes me as a shame to have three Justice League books, and not have Priest writing one of them.


Nightwing #42 (DC) This is a fill-in issue, a particularly evergreen-feeling done-in-one by the writing team of Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, with Jorge Corona providing the artwork. Although I decided to jump off the book at the conclusion of the previous arc last issue, I was attracted to this issue because it reteamed Dick Grayson with Damian Wayne, and Corona's somewhat off-kilter art--particularly for a current DC comic--sealed the deal.

A narrator not revealed until the last page tells a story of Nightwing's battle against The Crimson Kabuki, a criminal organization in Tokyo that has captured Robin and plans to use the powerful blood of Batman and the al Ghuls for some kind of no-good. It's up to Nightwing, dressed in a nice suit over his spandex work clothes, to fight his way through a three-level tower to meet their leader atop the roof. Movie references abound in Dick's dialogue, but the action is all pretty well executed and, again, Corona's art is different enough looking from that of the previous few issues, and so much of what you'll find between the covers of most DC comics at the moment, that the book looks incredibly refreshing (and hell, a 20-page story with a beginning middle and end after what felt like a 16-part storyarc about The Judge in Bludhaven was even more refreshing).

Batman, Goliath and Batcow all make one-panel cameos.


Snotgirl #10 (Image Comics) I often feel this comic is very much not for me--that is, that I'm not it's intended audience at all--but I love Leslie Hung's artwork, and am growing to like Lottie as a character the better I get to know her. Bryan Lee O'Malley's weird soap opera plotting remains engaging, but I think I've liked this two-part arc, "The Weekend," better than the previous eight or so issues, as there's a hint of supernatural weirdness that only heightens all of the books regular attributes.

Batman on a horse! (And Catwoman on a tiger)

Mikel Janin draws Batman on a horse (and Catwoman on a tiger) in Batman #44.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: March 28th

Dark Nights: Metal #6 (DC Comics) That's Jim Lee's variant cover for this week's final issue of Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and company's Dark Nights: Metal event series. I didn't buy it. I got the Capullo cover, but I didn't use that here because it has that weird metal ink on it and a gloss that means you can't really see decent images of it online. So I'm using the Lee one to illustrate this post instead.

As you'll note, it features a few alternate Batmen from alternate dimensions/"Earths", which is something that I'll get to further down. But, for now, I would just like to point out that one of those Batmans in apparently meant to be the Kelley Jones-designed vampire Batman from the trilogy of vampire Batman original graphic novels that Jones did with Dough Moench, and, off the top of my head, this is the first instance of Lee drawing a Jones design that I can think of. I am not impressed. Those ears should be much, much longer. They look like they barely crack six inches there!

Anyway, the final issue of this Batman-centric, Justice League story with Multiversal implications ends as strongly as it started, maybe a little more so, as the various teams of heroes all fulfill their tasks, play their various aces in the hole and reunite for what feels like the ultimate battle between good and evil for the fate of the existence...as all big Justice League stories should.

This is perhaps my favorite thing that Snyder has written to date, and I was pretty thoroughly impressed with how he played various notes and themes throughout: Metals, the power of story and dream, how all are one.

In the afterword, Snyder thanks various writers for inspiration and advice, and it's unsurprising to see Neil Gaiman (whose post-Sandman Dream/Daniel and Lucien play roles within it) and Grant Morrison (whose Batman run, Final Crisis and Multiversity inspired plot points and themes throughout; Metal is built as a sort of continuation of elements from Final Crisis and "Batman: RIP"/The Return of Bruce Wayne). I was actually even a little taken aback to see how much the climax echoed that of "World War III," the final story and climax of Morrison's JLA run (That's the story, remember, where it took the combined effort of every single human being on the planet, including you, the reader, using our newly gifted superhpowers against Maggedon, The Anti-Sun).

(An even bigger surprise, the biggest, really, was how the story broke a literal barrier in the DC Universe and, in doing so, seemed to break a long-standing, retroactively foundational rule of that fictional shared-setting).

Anyway, this is a very skilled writer taking inspiration from a few of DC's best writers to tell the biggest, Crisis-level story of his career, and the biggest that DC has dared in a long while...and, unlike the last few they've tried, it seemed to be immediately of consequence, as it set the stage for, like, everything the publisher has planned in the near future, most obviously the new Justice League comic (er, family of comics, I guess) and "The New Age of Heroes" line.

The book is divided into two pretty distinct sections. The first 32 pages are the conclusion of Metal, written by Snyder and drawn by Capullo--and that's 32 story pages; there are no ads here. It is followed by a 12-page "Coda" written by Snyder and his occasional co-writer James Tynion IV, and drawn mainly by Batman artist Mikel Janin.

The coda begins with Alfred inviting the Justice League, and new additions J'onn J'onnz and Kendra Saunders, into a formal dinner. He apparently tailored tuxedos for all of them, which is a pretty weird thing to do. (The scene reminded me of that nice piece of art from a while back, where Adam Hughes dressed various super-ladies from the DCU in dresses. It inspired me to draw their male counterparts in tuxes...it was pretty poor art on my part, as per usual, but I think the ideas were solid. I'm a writer, not an artist, dammit!)

Batman makes a long-ass toast/speech, and yields the floor to Kendra for a long-ass info dump, and it doesn't appear anyone gets to eat anything, but the talking part makes for a decent transition of Snyder's focus from Batman to the Justice League, while catching us up on how the DC Universe and Multiverse may have changed, if Hawkman's going to be okay and teasing the way in which "The New Age of DC Heroes" might actually connect to Metal ("Tell us, Immortal Man," one of the characters appearing in The Immortal Men asks the one that is apparently Immortal Man, "what does it mean?" as they regard images of Sideways and some other characters, and Immortal Man answers, "This is the dawn of a New Age of Heroes... If they can survive what's coming for them." Presumably he's taking about market apathy, low sales and cancellation...? Anyway, that panel is how those series all tie into Metal, I guess!) and, somewhat tiresomely, glimpses of future events across various DC books, a scene that looks like it was written and drawn after the creators had already seen the solicitations for coming months (A new version of Darkstar suit appears, there's a mention of "The Flash War," the "Dark Pantheon" from upcoming issues of Wonder Woman, etc).

Then this new-and-improved League enters a room where many other players from the drama are also dressed in formal wear, while Damian, Jon and Alfred's band performs. I kind of hated this image, if only because there were so many characters I couldn't recognize in it (I suspect many of the ones I don't recognize are meant to be the Titans...not the Teen Titans, but the other ones).

On the last page, Bruce Wayne walks Clark Kent and Wonder Woman into a room where he tells them he has a plan, and we see the blue prints for a "Hall of Justice," which looks pretty much just like the one from Super Friends. I do not approve. That version of their HQ officially entered the DCU when Brad Meltzer briefly wrote Justice League of America, and it is most memorable for a kind of basic, hilarious mistake that got both real world history and DCU continuity super-wrong*. In cartoons, we've seen that  basic base reconfigured in a few different ways, putting it atop a skyscraper, for example, or covering it in a dome and having it orbiting earth as a satellite, but I'd prefer to see something new.**

Anyway, as I've praised Metal so much in past reviews, and everyone else has had so many nice things to say about it over past months, I just want to concentrate on the things I didn't like about Metal #6 here, if that's cool with you guys (and even if it's not, I'm going to go ahead and do so anyway).

So, here are The Things I Didn't Like About Metal #6:

1.) There are way too few Batmen on page 10. So, a major plot point of the event, the one that lead to all those one-shots, is that Barbatos has recruited a Justice League's worth of failed, nightmare Batmen from various fallen worlds to serve as his army, right? On page nine, a voice from off-panel tells Barbatos "Well, we've been across the Multiverse, too. And we see your evil Batmen..." And then, on page 10, we see that the speaker is Cyborg, and he finishes the sentence: "...And we raise."

It's a splash page, and a Cyborg and a few tiny figures--Flash and Raven--are shown in the distance, on the bridge of Nix Uotan's Ultima Thule. Detective Chimp, Mr. Stubbs and a handful of alternate Batmen from across the Multiverse are shown leaping into the fray.

It's...disappointing. There are only four Batmen, after all, from The Dark Knight Returns, Red Rain, Red Son and Gotham By Gaslight (I think) and...that's it. If you're going to raise, shouldn't you have more Batmen, not less...? Or at least, like, an equal number of Batmen? (There are seven Nightmare Batmen). I guess Stubbs and Detective Chimp do make it seven, but neither of them are Batmen--not in this universe, anyway--so it's a very weird page, one where the writing seems to suggest something much, much bigger and more dramatic than the art reveals. I would have expected a page full of Batmen (also, these are some weak-ass Batmen to bring into a superhero fight; Speeding Bullets and In Darkest Night Batmen would be better-suited to the task than 3/4ths of these Elseworlds Batmen).

Oh, and where the hell are the Primate Legion...?

2.) It's super-weird that we never see Flash or Cyborg before the coda.  Other than that glimpse of them in the extreme background of page 10, where I wouldn't even know for sure that the characters in the image were Flash and Cyborg had I not read the tie-in The Wild Hunt, they spend the climax of the series talking to the other Leaguers over the radio, but we never see them on-panel.

3.) I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the breaching of the Source Wall, but I suppose it will depend on when or if that is ever followed-up on. I'm pretty sure the Wall's been traveled past or through before--didn't Kyle Rayner do so since the Flashpoint/New 52 reboot?--but I don't have any clear memory of what's on the other side exactly, so I won't know how well this will line up with previous stories. But like finding out what the Anti-Life Equation is, it just seems like one of those things better left mysterious.

4.) I hate Wonder Woman's dress. I don't know if Alfred made that for her, or if it's her own, but I found it to be pretty hideous, mirroring her regular costume too much. I think she should have rocked a tuxedo like all the guys did. If former President Trump enabler Hope Hicks could pull it off, certainly Diana of Themyscira could.

5.) The tie-in to the "New Age of Heroes" was pretty weak. And I had, at this point, assumed there wasn't even going to be a tie-in within the pages of Metal.

6.) I already mentioned the bits about the last three pages I didn't like. I should add that it seems weird to find Mister Terrific at the after-party, but not Plastic Man. Neither of them are at the dinner, and neither will be part of the new Justice League, which seems...well, a little unnatural given the events of the series, but then, I suppose that's because of The Terrifics. From what I understand, they are lost in the Dark Multiverse or something in that book, but here we see Mister Terrific at the party, Plas-less.

And I didn't notice this, but I suppose it can be listed among the flaws of the issue...

7.) Mike Sterling caught a pretty egregious typo. 

I have some concerns about what follows--No Justice and then a new, too-big Justice League line of books with a Snyder-written main book at its center--but Metal was a blast, and I hope Snyder is able to have as creatively strong and successful run on that book as he was on Batman.


Saga #50 (Image Comics) Fifty issues is a lot of issues. Especially in this decade. And especially from a single creative team in this decade. Let's take a moment to appreciate and applaud what Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have managed to accomplish here, presenting a compelling, 50-issue narrative (so far!) powered more by imaginative character design and character-focused writing than on any sort of particularly hooky premise of the sort that generally drives new series.

My only criticism of this particular issue? There are two panels on page three. I wish the bottom panel were removed, and the top one filled the entire page, making it the best splash page in comic book history. Because it would have a double-meaning in that context, you see. Or you don't see, unless you are looking at the page in question, or...never mind.

Another good issue of a great series.


Scooby-Doo Team-Up #36 (DC) Sure, Dark Nights: Metal is the DC comic that everyone's going to be all jazzed about this week, but I think it's well worth pointing out that this particular issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up features almost as many characters as the penultimate issue of Metal, and its DC character catalog deep cuts are far deeper than the deepest you'll find in Metal.

While regular writer Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela's DC superhero team-ups sometimes focus on a particular character or team, they occasionally do thematic issues, in which Scooby and the gang encounter, say, all of the ghost characters, or all of the alien characters, or all of the superhero dogs and so on.

This is one of those issues, which is why the title of the story--"Too Many Kooks"--appears on the cover instead of  the words "Angel and The Ape,"who are on either side of Shaggy and Scooby on that cover. The monster seen in silhouette is also a relatively obscure-ish and comedic DC Comics character, and his name, at least as it appears in the title of his feature, is "Monster."

The theme for this issue? A bunch of the kookier DC characters, I guess, including analogues of Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope, who used to have DC comics (and whose names the publisher apparently can't use as cavalierly as they can use Angel and The Ape).

A young Jerry Lewis Louie Jervis is hosting his regular charity telethon when he sees a monster just off-camera. Luckily for him, in the audience are Scooby-Doo and Mystery, Inc. As well as private investigators Angel O'Day and Sam Simeon.  And superhero team The Inferior Five.

But wait, there's more! Stanley and His Monster, The Maniaks, Bob Hope Rob Pope...and that's not even mentioning the even more obscure characters who get name-dropped, or spoiling the identity of some of the meddling kids.

This is one of, if not the best, issues of the series to date. Many of the above guest-stars would have provided enough material to fill a 20-page Scooby-Doo crossover. But with all of them together in a single book? There's barely space for a slow or dull panel.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

On a few collections of DC comics from the '90s: Aquaman, Green Lantern, Robin and Superboy

Aquaman By Peter David Book One

Peter David started writing Aquaman almost as soon as the previous ongoing series had ended. The thirteenth and final issue of the Shaun McLaughlin-scripted series shipped in 1992, while Peter David's four-part miniseries, Aquaman: Time and Tide, was released in 1993, paving the way for David's ongoing series, which began in 1994.

So hardly any time at all had really passed between the end of one series and the start of another, and yet reading David's Aquaman, it felt more like an entire age had passed, he so completely reinvented the character. His Arthur Curry--whose real Atlantean name Orin is used more and more--is a brooding, grumpy, self-pitying misanthrope, a former king more or less forced to continue his career as a superhero, because no one will leave him alone.

It is the visual shift that occurs in the early issues of Aquaman that are best-remembered, though. This is when Aquaman grew his hair long and grew a beard--it's more or less impossible to imagine Jason Momoa having been cast to play Aquaman in the Warner Bros live-action movies without this run of Aquaman comics having been published--and it's when he lost his left hand in perhaps the most ironic fashion imaginable, replacing it with a harpoon. By the end of this first collection of David's run on the character, he is wearing his new costume, too, his makeover complete.

The visual changes were all quite intentional, signalling not only a break with the character's clean-cut, Silver Age past, but an attempt by David, as he has his protagonist explaining within the scripts, to come up with an iconic symbol of his own, in the form of a weapon...specifically a weapon that surface-dwellers used against the creatures of the sea, repurposed and turned back on them by the sea's greatest defender.

Say what you will about the darker, more bad-ass take on Aquaman, it certainly worked. The series was the longest-running one Aquaman has ever had (David left after the 46th issue, but it continued under writers Erik Larsen and then Dan Jurgens, making it all the way to 75 issues). It was also, in my opinion, the best. This is the version of Aquaman that appeared throughout Grant Morrison's JLA, and has been around ever since...to a degree. During the New 52, Geoff Johns reasserted the character's original, Silver Age origins over those of David, Robert Loren Fleming and other Aquaman writers of the 1980s--in addition to upping his power levels to Golden Age Superman levels--but otherwise kept much of the character's chip-on-his-shoulder surliness.

Much of the strength of David's run came from neither reinventing the wheel--this isn't the self-conscious, revisionist, "Ultimate Aquaman" of Johns' more recent run, for example--nor jettisoning continuity, but rather of picking the character up where he was last left, giving him something new and life-changing to deal with (not the hand thing, so much as his discovery of The Atlantis Chronicles and coming to terms with what he learned in them), while fashioning for him interesting adventures dependent on interpersonal drama and as much mythology as superheroics. David never fell into the trap of recycling Aquaman's rogue's gallery--in this volume, Ocean Master and Black Manta both only appear briefly, and in flashbacks or dream sequences--or thinking of him as a reactive superhero who had to deal with, like, sea-going crime.

There was also a great deal of rewarding long-term plotting, some of which you can see here, as the events of Time and Tide inform those of the first year or so worth of the ongoing, as well as just good old-fashioned, shared-setting comic book scripting. The first issue of Aquaman I read monthly was #26, although I was easily coaxed into the series by well-executed guest appearances, each of which felt organic to an ongoing narrative, while also doing the job of drawing eyeballs to the book (For example, in this volume, Aquaman fights Superboy in one issue, and Lobo in another; the former is there because his turf is Hawaii, where there happens to be a pretty big naval base that Aquaman has business with, while the latter comes to Earth in order to avenge some dolphins, the only thing he cares about in the universe).

It also helped that David had a hell of a creative partner in Martin Egeland, the pencil artist who draws the bulk of this collection. I really liked Egeland in the 1990s, and his work remains pretty solid today, too. His characters are all quite expressive, and though he is prone to the excesses of the era--and there's an image or two where the muscles get out of control  and one shouldn't look too long at them or one will wonder why said pages were ever even allowed to go to print--there's a nice, fluid grace to the characters' implied movements. There are some incredibly dynamic scenes of Aquaman and Aqualad swimming, leaping and, in one memorable image, sort of skipping along a tunnel.

Looking back form 2018, I see a bit of Todd McFarlane in Egeland's style, although his fundamentals seem far better than McFarlane's ever were. (Does anyone know whatever happened to Egeland? I searched the name on comics.org after finishing this volume, and found relatively little beyond Aquaman and some superhero work from that time. Did he quit comics, or is Egeland a pseudonym, or...?).

This Book One collection begins with Time and Tide, which was drawn by pencil artist Kirk Jarvinen and inker Brad Vancata. The premise of the series was that Aquaman had retreated to his Aquacave in an attempt to continue the Atlantis Chronicles by writing about his own life, leading to a series of flashbacks. The first issue depict his first encounter with a superhero--The Flash Barry Allen--at the dawn of the Silver Age.

The second is devoted to his childhood, in which he is rescued from Mercy Reef as an infant by Porm, a friendly dolphin, who raises him as her own among her pod. It's a very Tarzan of The Apes sequence, and, in fact David takes quite a bit of inspiration from Tarzan in his portrayal of Aquaman, who he sees as something of an Atlantean answer to Lord Greystoke.

In the third, he is a teenager, and visits an Inuit village in Alaska, where he befriends--and inadvertently makes a baby with--a young woman named Kako. He also fights a polar bear and the first of the mythological deities he'll face during David's run.

And finally, in the fourth, we see Aquaman and Aqualad at the height of their Silver Age status quo, as they encounter Ocean Master who, at that point, is just another supervillain to Aquaman.

When Aquaman begins, Garth pulls Aquaman out of his cave--where he's sprawled like Conan on a throne of coral--to help him investigate a downed nuclear submarine for the US Navy. It turns out to be a trap set by new, short-lived villain Charybdis, who has already captured a minor DC aquatic adventurer, Dolphin. It's in this battle with Charybdis that Aquaman ultimately loses his hand.

After he's slightly healed--or at least has managed to affix a harpoon to the stump--he and his new running crew head to Pearl Harbor in order to get answers about the trap the Navy sent them into, where they have to fight Superboy (whose Spider-Man-like fight chatter makes him a better fit for David than Aquaman, whose jokes sometimes feel out of character). Before they get their answers, they are sent to Japan in order to rescue Porm, and there meet Lobo.

The last four issues of the collection are an arc of sorts in which Aquaman returns to Kako's village with Dolphin, only to discover the son he never knew he sired--Koryak, who will become a supporting character in the series--and a group of Fourth World villains, The Deep Six. Meanwhile, Garth goes off on a mission of his own, to follow a lead that he thinks might indicate that his late girlfriend Tula (or Aquagirl, as you and I know her) is still alive, meeting Letifos, who will play a role in the Tempest miniseries. It's during these issues that Jim Calafiore's work appears for the first time; he's just there to fill-in for an issue or so, but he will eventually take over as the series' primary artist...to the detriment of the series, if you ask me.

This collection, which includes 13 issues altogether, also includes a new introduction from Peter David, in which he describes how he approached the series and how he tried to sell it. I was glad to read it; as I always say, all trade collections should have introductions. If they don't deserve introductions, then maybe they don't deserve to be collected at all, you know?


Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner Vol. 1

I was a fan of the Kyle Rayner version of Green Lantern, DC's sole Green Lantern for much of the 1990s and the one that was featured in the Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Joe Kelly runs on JLA. I could go on at some length about the virtues of the character versus that of his predecessor, Hal Jordan, but the two main things that attracted me to the character was that 1) he was new and debuted around the time I started paying attention to the DC Universe outside of Gotham City and 2) a coffee-obsessed, twenty-something, freelance artist based in New York City was a lot more appealing to me than a middle-aged, former test pilot-turned-space cop from a blandly generic imaginary city.

I never quite understood the vehemence with which so many Hal Jordan fans hated the change at the time. Of course, the very first issue of Green Lantern I read was 1996's Green Lantern #76, which featured Kyle Rayner soaring through the sky above Gotham City, the bat-signal in the background. This was the first issue in the three-part "Hero Quest," in which the green Green Lantern went from city to city seeking some form of guidance from his more established peers: Batman and Robin in Gotham, then Captain Marvel in Fawcett and, finally, Wonder Woman in Gateway (He had already met Superman, The Flash, Donna Troy and the Titans in his adventures).

That issue, for what it's worth, was a good 20 issues of Green Lantern into Kyle's career, plus Zero Hour and several issues of New Titans and whatever other appearance he made in his first two years or so wearing the ring. While I read earlier issues too, I did so out of back-issue bins, meaning out of order. I had never read Kyle Rayner's first year or so as Green Lantern in the way it was meant to be read, the way it was published. DC is making that possible though, collecting his adventures into Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner, which begins with his very first appearance...that means three issues of "Emerald Twilight," in which Hal Jordan was still officially the Green Lantern of the title.

These issues are rough. It's not until #57, when Kyle moves to New York City, that the book starts to feel like the Green Lantern I knew, and thought the book was; that's a good six issues into his time as Green Lantern. Writer Ron Marz is the poor guy who had the job of turning stalwart Silver Age hero Hal Jordan into a cosmic-scale villain, doing away with the Green Lantern Corps and The Guardians of the Universe and all the trappings of the franchise from the past few decades and introducing a new character--in just three issues.

He doesn't do as good a job in the space allotted as I always assumed he had done, but then, I think Dan Jurgens also did a lot of the work in (retroactively) justifying Hal Jordan's heel turn in the pages of Zero Hour. I guess I had just filled in the blanks in my imagination, or imagined that they were filled in in the pages of Green Lantern.

So the book begins with "Emerald Twilight." The first issue, penciled by Bill Willingham and inked by Romeo Tanghal and Robert Campanella, is really quite good. In the crater that was Coast City, utterly destroyed in the events of "Reign of The Supermen," Hal uses his wish-granting ring in an attempt to bring it back...although this mostly amounts to his conjuring holograms or hard-light constructs of it as he remembered it, and having conversations with his loved ones...though he's essentially just talking to himself through the medium of his ring. Anyway, it's all handled pretty well; I've always thought having your city completely erased from existence, including just about everyone you know except your friends from work (with "work" being "the Justice League" and "The Green Lantern Coprs") is as good as any other contrivance to drive a fictional character mad more-or-less overnight.

In the last few pages of part one, the Guardians tell Hal to quit fucking around and come back to Oa. Pissed at them, them streaks off to comply, while Kyle makes his first appearance; seeing Hal in the distance, he thinks he sees a shooting star.

The next two chapters? Things get dicey. (Visually, as well as in the story. Part two is penciled by a Fred Haynes, in a very '90s style with lots of splashes. Darryl Banks, who draws much of the rest of the book and is the artist most closely associated with Kyle, comes on during the third chapter)

During the second chapter, Hal is confronted by a series of allies from the Corps, each trying and failing to either calm him down or beat him up, as at this point it's pretty clear his trip to Oa isn't going to be a friendly one. He fights and defeats eight Lanterns, stealing each ring and adding them to his own fingers, increasing his power as he collects rings. When he gets to Oa, he's faced with Killowog. He tells Killowog that he didn't kill any of the Lanterns, but left them with enough power to survive. The two of them fight though, and The Guardians play their last, desperate attempt to stop Hal: They release Sinestro, newly empowered with a GLC power ring.

The bulk of the last issue is a fight to the death between Hal and Sinestro, with our hero breaking his archenemies neck and then killing Kilowog and destroying the main power battery and, apparently, The Guardians...?

In the last pages, the lone surviving Guardian, Ganthet, meets Kyle Rayner in an LA alley, seemingly at random, and hands him the last power ring in the universe, then disappears forever or so.

And the torch is thus passed.

Regarding "Emerald Twilight," what surprised me most is how few Lanterns Hal actually faces. It was my understanding that he killed the entire Green Lantern Corps which would have meant some 3600 Lanterns, right? Although I have absolutely no idea what was going on in Green Lantern comics just prior to this storyline, so maybe there were only a handful of Lanterns left at that point...? Or did destroying the battery somehow kill everyone? I have no idea.

Things stay rough for the next five issues, the first of Kyle's career. These issue's are pretty notorious, mostly because of what happens to Kyle's girlfriend, Alex DeWitt--this is the storyline from which the term "women in refrigerators" came from. And while it doesn't read any better in 2018, I do now wonder if perhaps this story wasn't a sort of necessary evil? Like, if it wasn't so egregious that it served as a sort of straw-that-broke-the-camel's back, drawing so much attention to the trope, giving it a name, that it was easier for other creators to avoid in the future? (Not that the phenomenon of killing off or visiting violence upon the female loved ones of male heroes as a way to motivate their actions went away afterwards, of course, but it's always easier to address a problem once that problem has been named.)

I'm also a little curious about how on-the-fly these decisions were made (This comic book series at this time in comic book history is a nexus for so many aspects of the mainstream comics industry and fandom that followed, that I think there could probably be a book written about it). The Kyle Rayner that seems to be getting introduced in the first few issues is a completely different one then the one who emerges a few issues later. When we first meet Kyle, he's a slacker in LA with a girlfriend trying to break into news photography, making for yet another superhero-with-a-media girlfriend pairing (Superboy, introduced just before Kyle, would also get a media girlfriend, in the form of Tana Moon).

She is killed off-panel and infamously stuffed inside of a refrigerator within issues of her first appearance, however, and after Kyle contemplates killing her killer in an act of vengeance, he ultimately leaves the city to begin a new life, at which point what would emerge as steady aspects of his turn as the main Green Lantern would emerge: His job, his city, his landlord, his relationships with super-women (First Donna Troy, then Jennifer-Lynn "Jade" Hayden). It makes me wonder if the sharp change in direction was intended to be subversive, or if Marz was making it up as he was going along, reacting to input from his editors.

In the middle of all that, DCU events intervene. Kyle briefly meets long-haired Superman and teams up with him against Mongul, the guy responsible for Coast City's destruction in the first place. Directly after Alex's death, Kyle finds Green Lantern Alan Scott--or perhaps he was Sentinel Alan Scott at that point?--waiting for him in his dark apartment, wanting to recruit him into helping with the whole Zero Hour thing (He does, but you have to read Zero Hour for that; here Scott does give Kyle a quick history of the Green Lantern Corps, told across four very full pages).

In Green Lantern #0, which seems to follow immediately on the heels of Zero Hour, Kyle and Hal battle on Oa, and there's a pretty interesting fake-out where it seems like Kyle might return the ring and legacy back to Hal, as if maybe his time as Green Lantern was meant to be more story-line specific, like when Jean-Paul Valley replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman, rather than when Wally West replaced Barry Allen as the Flash.

The collection includes two issues of New Titans, part of a crossover with that series that initiated Kyle's brief stint as a Titan (This era of Titans comics weren't all that great, but that was honestly my favorite line-up of Titans, with the possible exception of the Devin Grayson-written team), and the first issue of REBELS '94.

I suspect the next volume will be when the series starts to get pretty good, but these issues are all still intensely interesting, particularly from the perspective of what was going on with DC comics in the early 1990s, and various trends that were waxing and waning. Knowing how things have changed since only make some elements of these comics even more interesting too. For example, it's easy to imagine a young Geoff Johns reading these comics and getting pissed off, daydreaming about one day being able to undo all of the changes Ron Marz wrought.

And young Geoff Johns' dream came true!


Robin Vol. 5: War of The Dragons

One problem with these complete packages of particular series is evident from the first pages of the fifth issue of Chuck Dixon and company's long, healthy run on the Tim Drake version of Robin. This particular collection covers Robin #14-22, Robin Annual #3 and Detective Comics #685 and #686. Robin #14 was part of the four-part "Troika" story that introduced Batman's then-new costume and ran through the four main Batman books of the time. Actually, Robin #14 was the fourth part of it, so this collection opens with the conclusion of a story; it's beginning and middle somewhere else, probably uncollected (The solution, I suppose, would have been to either stick the first three chapters in here, or just collect "Troika" as its own, 90-ish page trade).

There's another multi-book arc collected in this trade, the title one, but the two Detective Comics chapters of "War of The Dragons" are included, perhaps because that entire arc was written by Dixon, who was then writing 'Tec as well as Robin, or because of how Robin-y that story was, as the warring dragons were King Snake, Lynx and The Ghost Dragons, the villains from the very first Robin mini-series.

So after the opening, in which Robin must try and hold his own against The KGBeast, there's a two-part story penciled by Tom Grummett featuring Batman, The Spoiler and Cluemaster; the three-part "War" featuring art by penciller Steve Lieber and inkers Klaus Janson and Enrique Villagran (Huntress and Nightwing put in guest-appearances, and The Silver Monkey is introduced) and then the volume contains the transition from Grummett to new pencil artist, the late, great Mike Wieringo, which accompanies a series of extremely well-made shorter one and two-issue stories, which are something of a relief after the relative chaos of the Bat-family titles up to that point, with their years worth of inter-book crossover epics.

The unfortunately also late, but also great Mike Parobeck and Stan Woch draw "The Mouse That Ate Gotham," in which Robin meets an unlikely foe that causes chaos by attacking key points of key infrastructure. Ringo then takes over as penciler for a two-parter involving the return of The General (a badly bowlderized version of whom has been appearing off and on in the James Tynion-written Detective), which is followed by a second two-parter, this one sending Tim undercover to infiltrate a ninja-themed summer camp in order to stop a string of robberies by faux ninja second-story men (and women).

The final chunk of the book is the third Robin annual, one of 1994's Elseworlds-themed annuals. In this one, Batman is a samurai in feudal Japan, and Robin is his orphaned apprentice, who must try to complete his final mission after Batman is killed off. There are a clan of cat-eared female ninja , but beyond those Batmanly touches, it is mostly just a pastiche of samurai flicks. Villagran handles the art.

Reading and/or re-reading all these comics today--the annual, The Mouse and the ninja camp stories were the only ones I hadn't read when they were originally published--what seems most striking to me is how much effort Dixon put in to trying to make the teenage characters seem semi-realistic as crime-fighters. Batman was very protective of Robin, and Tim had to be very careful about who he fought and how, so as not to risk his life needlessly; when he confronted someone like The KGBeast, it stuck out as a dramatic moment because it was so relatively rare. In this volume, for example, he mostly deals with younger opponents, and/or the sorts of crimes that might not necessarily warrant Batman's undivided attention.

Dixon's Spoiler is as different from Tynion's Spoiler as his Tim Drake is; rather than hyper-competent, she's very much an amateur and work-in-progress, and it's a lot more fun to see her arguing with the Dynamic Duo, as, on the one hand, she's totally right to call Batman and Robin out for being sanctimonious jerks to her, but, on the other hand, they're proven right that she's really not ready to be a crimefighter (as when Robin takes two in the chest due to her recklessness, for example; thank God for Kevlar!)

I was also struck by how much The General--a ridiculously brilliant and mature military strategist who just so happens to still be a little kid--seems like a precursor to Damian, right down to his look. Here he basically looks like Damian with a different haircut. All of which kind of makes me want to read a comic featuring the current Robin and the original version of The General, although I suppose the New 52 reboot and Tynion's version of The General would make that impossible-ish.

Robin was in pretty great hands with Grummett handling the art for so much of the first year or so of the book, but Ringo was pretty much born to draw the character, and it is great to see the energy he pours into these early issues. I can remember being a teenager and finding myself much more excited about the book when Ringo's art started appearing under the covers. My esteem for all of these artists have only grown in the years since then, but yeah, there's a pretty clear line in the book's look as Grummett gave way to Ringo.

Looking ahead, it looks like the next dozen or so issues will contain the "Underworld Unleashed" tie-in (during which Killer Moth becomes Charaxes, something I recall hating and writing a letter to the editor about), a few issues of "Contagion" and probably "Legacy" tie-ins, and guest-appearances by Green Arrow Conner Hawke and Wildcat.


Superboy Book 1: Trouble In Paradise

DC begins its perhaps belated collection of the 1994-2002, 100-issue Superboy series with this 270-page, 11-issue trade paperback. The particular Superboy in question is, of course, the '90s one, the clone who was introduced in the post-"Death of Superman" 1993 storyline "The Reign of The Supermen" and then graduated to his own title, by his creators writer Karl Kesel and artist Tom Grummett.

This volume makes for some curious reading, as it starts off with what appears to be four issues of a very solid ongoing comic book series, then detours into four issues of almost impossible to make sense of crossovers, before getting back on track for a few issues.

Kesel writes all 11 of the issues included herein, and Grummett pencils most of them, usually inked by Doug Hazelwood. As for those first four issues, they are most remarkable in for how quickly they establish a premise for the series, which needed a pretty dramatic form of differentiation from the then-four Superman monthlies, and how quickly the creators start filling out Superboy's cast with new characters.

That differentiation turned out to be geographic, as Superboy, his manager Rex Leech, his manager's teenage daughter Roxy Leech, and Superboy's Cadmus-appointed chaperone Dubbilex, a psychic "DNAlien", arrive in Hawaii for the next leg of their "Superboy National Tour," an attempt to turn a buck on Superboy merch, and they more or less decide to stay...in large part because Superboy's crush Tana Moon has relocated there from Metropolis, where she firstmet and was covering Superboy for a time.

We immediately meet Sidearm, a low-level bad guy whose gimmick is a couple extra robot arm attachments; Silversword, the curator of a Hawaiian cultural museum who comes into the possession of a super-powered "animetal"; The Scavenger, a collector of mystical and super-powered artifacts (not to be confused with the Aquaman villain of the same name) and, of course, Knockout, a super-powered stripper who develops a sort of Batman/Catwoman sort of relationship with the Teen of Steel. In the first issue we also meet Sam Makoa, a federal agent working on the islands to combat villainous organization the Silicon Dragons.

Again, all of those new characters appear in just the first 80 or so pages. Then things get a little messy. This is a problem with all of these collections. On the one hand, if the goal is to make them complete collections, then naturally they should include all of the issues of the series. On the other hand, because comics of the time so frequently included crossovers to other books--and Superboy, like Robin, would find this happening a lot, as in addition to line-wide crossovers like Zero Hour, it would also participate in the family-specific crossovers--that means including random chapters of larger stories that sometimes don't make much sense when read alone.

So by the fourth issue, Superboy is showing signs of the "clone plague," and heads to Metropolis to participate in "The Fall of Metropolis" crossover in the Superman books (there is no participating issue of Superboy though; he just heads off to Metropolis in one issue, and then the story picks up with Superboy cured).

Then there are two issues from "World Collide," the 14-part, 1994 Superman family/Milestone crossover that ran through seven different titles, and a one-shot. The third and eighth parts appear here, and they don't really make much sense at all read like this; the first of these is mostly intelligible, involving Superboy and Superman fighting The Parasite in the ruins of Metropolis, but the latter finds the storyline in full-swing. Superman and The Blood Syndicate are dealing with the results of a towering, omnipotent giant's attack on one side of a dimensional rift between the DCU's Metropolis and Milestone's Dakota, while Superboy teams up with Static and Rocket to tackle the giant head-on. There's some nice interaction between The Kid and his fellow teen heroes from the Milestone-iverse, but plot-wise? It reads a lot like the eighth issue of a 14-issue storyline. (I'm not sure what the market for it would be, but if DC's going to go ahead and publish these little slices of it, they might as well release "Worlds Collide" as a trade paperback of its own.)

And then we get two issues of Zero Hour tie-ins. As I've noted before, as tie-ins to line-wide crossovers, the Zero Hour tie-ins are generally pretty easy to read on their own, as most of them deal not with the plot mechanics of the main miniseries per se, but with the fall-out of those mechanics, which mainly means a standalone story in which the title character must deal with time going crazy. Those issues were then immediately followed by loose, thematic tie-ins--#0 issues recapping the heroes' origin stories and setting up future storylines. They were, essentially, jumping-on point comics.

For the tie-in, Kesel and Hazelwood introduce Superboy to the original Superboy; pre-Crisis Clark Kent when he was a boy. That Superboy arrives in Smallville, Kansas just as a plane carrying Dubbilex and our Superboy crashlands outside of town, and his Smallville occasionally appears and overwrites modern Smallville. It's a pretty great comic, really, and includes my favorite page in this whole book. Clark is confronted with the modern Superboy, and then walks off panel saying "Excuse me. I'll be right back." Just as our Superboy turns to the adult Lana Lang to ask what's up with Clark, he comes streaking back on to the scene, now in his Superboy costume, and clocks his modern incarnation. It's a wonder that guy even had a secret identity so long...

For the zero issue, Superboy has a rematch with Sidearm, and then he and Tana Moon spend some time with vacationing Metropolis super-scientist Emil Hamilton, who runs tests on Superboy as his origin is retold...including his first encoutner with Sidearm, from Metropolis on his first night outside of Cadmus. This is the issue in which Superboy acquires his special sunglasses--the first bit of tinkering with what would prove to be a very flexible costume--which gives him X-Ray vision, as well as approximating other Superman powers (Remember, at this point, Superboy was a clone whose sole super-power was tactile telekenisis, which he used to approximate Superman's strength, speed, invulnerability and flight, but didn't grant him Superman's various visions; Geoff Johns would later retcon the character to be an actual clone of Superman, with all of Superman's powers).

It is there that the series resumes the momentum Kesel had planned for it, free of crossovers. The final two issues collected herein introduce King Shark, one of the characters most formidable and, perhaps, longest-lived villains (although Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone and others would rather radically change his personality and, ultimately, his design, in the next decade or so), and a shape-changing character named B.E.M., who can transform into monsters based on whatever the last thing he touched was. These two issues were penciled by Humberto Ramos, whose style was a sharp departure from that of Grummett's, and was, at this point in his career at least, still rather rough. Ramos would get a lot better rather quickly though, and would eventually become a favorite of mine.

These comics are now almost 25 years old, and it certainly shows. The art, particularly that of Grummett, aged quite nicely...if anything, it looks better today, compared to what you might see in too many other DC Comics on the shelves at the moment (seriously, compare this to the insides of the New 52 Superboy or Teen Titans, originally starring a new version of this character, for example). The costume design, well, that's another matter. Superboy's fashion choices look downright bizarre now, and if you scan the covers of the series on comics.org, you'll see him gradually adopting differing costume elements as artists try to find something less 1994 for him to wear. Other than the main character, though, most of the other new characters look more or less timeless; certainly compared to the Milestone heroes, almost all of whom look as early 1990s as super-characters can look (Even poor Icon, who should have a pretty iconic costume, has that weird thing going on around his eyes).

Kesel's use of slang--and Superboy was very much in the constantly chattering, Spider-Man mold of quipping superhero--is dated to the point where it can be kind of crige-worthy, although, perhaps ironically, we are now so far removed from 1994 that it's easy to assume that maybe that's just how people all talked back then...? Like, when I read Silver Age Stan Lee-written comics, I just assume every one in the 1960s talked like, say Benjamin Grimm and Johnny Storm, you know?

Somewhat intriguingly, this collection is more thoroughly designed than the others in this post. While the figure of Superboy on the cover is re-purposed from Grummett and Hazelwood's image from Superboy #1, the background of that image is removed, the figure is enlarged so that his extremities extend beyond the borders of the space, and even the logo has been redesigned. There's a sort of Trapper Keeper aesthetic to the collection, which is...well, which is appropriate.

I had previously only read two of these 11 issues--Superboy #1 and Superboy #0; my comics budget was a lot more limited in 1994 than it is now--and I enjoyed this book immensely. I do hope DC continues collecting Superboy. Looking ahead, it appears that the next 11 issues includes "Watery Grave," a Suicide Squad story, in which Superboy, Knockout, King Shark and Sidearm work alongside Captain Boomerang and Deadshot, and, depending on whether or not they include Superboy Annual #1, guest-appearances by New Blood Loose Cannon, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and maybe The Legion of Super-Heroes.