Friday, April 17, 2015

You will believe might be persuaded to suspend your disbelief regarding whether or not a Predator can fly.

In recognition of the release of the first issue of Archie Vs. Predator, I put together a little list of what used to be Predator's weirdest hunts for Comics Alliance. You can read the post here. Guess which one tuned out to be the weirdest? The panel above ought to offer a pretty good clue, and do note that it's the work of pencil artist Graham Nolan, rather than Alex Maleev or Ariel Olivetti.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reggie Mantle is a gosh-darn sexual Tyrannosaur.

That's right, Alex de Campi and Fernando Ruiz's Archie Vs. Predator not only pits Archie and his friends against a Predator, it also has several unexpected references to the original film, like the one above. I reviewed the first issue for Robot 6 today, if you'd like to go read about it now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

This should totally be the next DC superhero film:

Together, they are...THE FORGOTTEN HEROES!

Bonus? The line-up is set and the casting is already done, so all they'd need to do is get a script and a director. Which means this movie that I just imagined is just about as close to completion as the Wonder Woman film is, right?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: All-New X-Men Vol. 5: One Down

Brian Michael Bendis has been writing the main books of the X-Men franchise for a while now, and I've been keeping up with it in trade, mostly by borrowing the trades from the library as soon as they are available. But I've been wondering how difficult it might be to come in on the series, like, right now. Would it be terribly difficult to figure out what trades to read in what order?

As of right this second, there are five volumes of All-New X-Men and four volumes of Uncanny X-Men (the fifth will come out on Wednesday). They are all numbered, which certainly helps, at least in terms of which volume in each of those titles to read in which order. But the two series are inter-connected, so you wouldn't want to read, like, all five volumes of All-New and then start in on Uncanny. Also, Battle of The Atom, a massive, 250-page collection of a storyline running through several different X-books including All-New and Uncanny, happens between volumes of both series. So that's pretty important to read. And Guardians of The Galaxy/All-New X-Men: The Trial of Jean Grey is kinda important to the proceedings of All-New (but not Uncanny), so you'd want to read that too. I think the reading order would be something like All-New Vols. 1-3, Battle of The Atom, All-New Vol. 4, Trial of Jean Grey and then All-New Vol. 5. That's at least half of Bendis' run on X-Men, but just the half that follows the All-New team, the five original X-Men brought forward from their past into our present/their future. Oh, yeah, there's time-travel involved too!

These movies, they're kind of hard to walk in on the middle of, aren't they? Even if you're watching them on DVD. Because some have numbers on the spine, and some don't. I guess the trades, like this one, all start with a recap page, but the two paragraphs of text at the beginning of this one are pretty vague and meaningless. I'd prefer a, "Hey dummy, make sure you read these trades in this order" kind of thing.

Anyway—All-New X-Men Vol. 5: One Down.

This was kind of a frustrating read, because it was a Brian Michael Bendis-written comic and an X-Men comic, so of course it was frustrating, but what I found most frustrating was that I couldn't figure out what the sub-title referred to. Was it that one of the original X-Men left? Because he did that in comics previous to the ones collected herein. I thought it might refer to a runaway student of the New Xavier School—the one Grown-Up Cyclops runs, not the establishment school that Wolverine was running until he "died"; that's called The Jean Grey School now—but she actually comes back shortly after she tries to leave. I thought it might also refer to one of the time-traveling villains, who gets caught by the end of this trade, but then he gets away by writing a letter to himself in the future. So that's probably not it either.

Speaking of frustrating, this six-issue collection kicks off with All-New X-Men #25, which is treated as a noteworthy anniversary issue, despite the fact that Marvel's randomly accelerated publishing schedules means it doesn't take 25 months to reach 25 issues anymore, and their willingness to reset the issue clock back to #1 at the drop of Tom Brevoort's hatsometimes the creative team doesn't even have to change—that numbering's not really relevant anymore.

Unequivocally awesome? Rafael Grampa's variant
I'm sort of torn on whether All-New X-Men #25, which includes a slew of high-profile guest-artists, some of whom are actually really great, and really unlikely, "gets"—is an example of Bendis using his powers (i.e. his clout) for good...or for evil. Because on the one hand, yes, we do get to see the likes of Bruce Timm, Ronnie del Carmen*, Maris Wicks, Jason Shiga and Jill Thompson contribute pages of X-Men art alongside more traditional superhero artists, like Arthur Adams, J.G. Jones, J. Scott Campbell and so on.

But on the other hand: The plot.

It boils down to this: The Beast is having trouble sleeping, and a bald man is in the corner of his bedroom, mumbling a bunch of random nonsense about alternate realities for 32 pages, with the 18 guest art teams mostly contributing pin-ups with random subject matter. There are a few examples of sequences that occur within the pin-ups, like a segment in which Adams draws a bestial Beast hunting and eating dinosaurs in The Savage Land, and, more weirdly still, there are entire short, jokey, 1-2 page comic strips that occur within the story—during which time the mysterious bald figure conveniently stops narrating. It's a really fucking weird comic; I liked seeing so many great artists play with the characters, even if the majority of them are restricted to what often amounts to no more than a cover featuring a single character, but at the same time it's irritatingly pointless. In fact, it may or may not be a dream of Beast's, and it doesn't matter either way if it is or isn't.

Well, a bald man talking endlessly at a frustrated, captive audience about completely irrelevant non-events to kill time does serve a pretty good metaphor for an awful lot of Bendis' writing for Marvel. His X-Men run in particular, as Secret Wars looks like it will be resolving the plotlines of All-New in a rather expected and transparent fashion (although I hope I'm wrong, as "and then we rebooted the timeline" would be the most disappointing ending imaginable to this story of the time-lost X-Men).

After the story of Beast's dreams of pin-ups—which Marvel charged $4.99 for, despite the fact that 15 of those pages were simple splashes, and three of 'em double-page splashes!—the book resumes telling a story of some kind.

The narrative apparently picks up after the events of The Trial of Jean Grey, with Jean troubled by her newfound power and power levels and Teen Cyclops missing from the team, having elected to stay in space with his space-pirate dad.

X-23, who has barely been in the book at all—a subject of repeated jokes, actually—elects to leave, but as she's going she meets someone else coming—The Brotherhood from Battle of The Atom, i.e. the evil future X-Men lead by Charles Xavier Jr. who came back in time to force the present X-Men to send the past X-Men back to the past before they fuck up the future.

It's essentially a big rematch fight then, but this time there are relatively fewer X-Men around to oppose The Brotherhood, and Bendis takes time to jump around in the villains' own personal timelines, to show their origins and what banded many of them together. It ends with a pair of significant revelations, and a clever twist on the idea of time travelling villains from the future...although it's an aspect of time travel stories I've never liked (I remembered being really upset by it while watching Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure as a 12-year-old).

The final issue is a chill-out one of the sort that often occurs between big story arcs in super-team books, in which Angel and X-23 go dancing at a club together and then hook up. It, and thus the collection, ends with a pretty big cliffhanger, as a handful of the Jean Grey School's X-Men arrive at the supposedly secret location of the New Xavier School, but it's a cliffhanger that will pick up in Uncanny rather than All-New; next on All-New's agenda is a trip to the Ultimate Universe.

*One of my favorite artists, and one whose work appears in comics way too infrequently. I have no no idea who his two-page splash depicted though. Magick or two or three other X-ladies...?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Who's Who in the DC Convergence #1

Created by Grant Morrison, Gail Simone and John Byrne, based on the character created by Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox and Gil Kane, which was very loosely based on the character created by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Conner
Alter Ego: Ryan Choi
Known relatives: A disapproving father
Occupation: Professor at Ivy University
Base of Operations: Ivy Town, somewhere in New England
First Appearance: DCU: BRAVE NEW WORLD (2006)

Hong Kong-born scientist Ryan Choi was a longtime admirer of Ray Palmer, with whom he exchanged letters for years. When Palmer disappeared after the events of Identity Crisis (if you haven’t read it, don’t; it’s terrible), Choi moved to America with his father and took Palmer’s place on Ivy University’s teaching staff…and, upon finding a size and density-changing belt, he also took Palmer’s place as The Atom.

Palmer’s years of weird adventures in and around Ivy Town had warped the fabric of reality, making the place a sort of hotspot for various weird and paranormal menaces, which Choi bravely fought using his keen mind and Palmer-gifted abilities to shrink.

He battled a cancer god, microscopic aliens, a shrinking serial killer and Wonder Woman villain Giganta before being pulled into the unfortunate events of Countdown (Don’t read that either; it’s even worse than Identity Crisis).

When Palmer finally returned, he and Choi straightened out the nature of their relationship—which wasn’t as Choi and readers thought it was—but they both continued to use the name The Atom.

And then Choi got killed by Deathstroke and a team of lame-ass villains, and his tiny little body was stuck in a matchbox.

Choi wore a “bio-belt” that gave him powers identical to those of his predecessor, Ray Palmer. He could shrink to unimaginably small sizes, while retaining his density, so, like Palmer, he could shrink to the size of a flea, but still punch with the force of a grown man.

Also like Palmer, Choi is a brilliant scientist specializing in physics and the emerging field of super-science.

Unlike Palmer, he often fought with a weapon of sorts, which he called a “Bangstick.” Originally conceived by his friends in the Lighter Than Air Society as a means for sub-atomic propulsion, this special staff could also produce a concussive effect. As for why it was called a Bangstick instead of a "Boom Stick," well, the latter was already taken.

Choi also knew martial arts, because he was Asian, so of course he had to know martial arts.

For further reading: Choi starred in The All-New Atom, which lasted 25 issues, and was collected in four trade collections. He was an interesting character, and the series had an interesting premise, but it was overall pretty terrible from start to finish.

Phil Noto
Stephanie Brown/Spoiler created by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle; Batgirl created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, inspired by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff's Bat-Girl.
Alter Ego: Stephanie Brown
Occupation: Gotham University student
Known relatives: Arthur Brown/Cluemaster (father), Crystal Brown (mother) and a daughter she gave up for adoption
Group Affiliation: Batman, Incorporated
Base of Operatons: Gotham City
Favorite color: Purple
Favorite food: Waffles, apparently
First Appearance: As Stephanie Brown, DETECTIVE COMICS #647 (1992); as Batgirl, BATGIRL #1 (2009)

The daughter of Z-List Gotham criminal Arthur "Cluemaster" Brown, Stephanie grew up resenting her father for spending most of her childhood in jail, and for being an all-around bad guy. As a teenager, she created a fuchsia costume and began her career as the vigilante crimefighter The Spoiler; this was back when a "spoiler" was someone who spoiled things, and did not yet refer to giving away the ending of a movie, television show or other piece of popular entertainment on the Internet. What she wanted to spoil was simply her father's criminal plans.

This brought her into Batman and Robin's orbit, and, before long, she took a romantic interest in then-Robin Tim Drake. The pair had an intense on-again, off-again relationship; sometimes romantic, sometimes as crime-fighting partners, sometimes as just friends.

Despite her closeness to Tim, Stephanie was never very readily accepted by Batman and the rest of Gotham's vigilante community, most of whom repeatedly attempted to get her stop trying to be a superhero. She did seem to finally gain Batman's acceptance when he made her the fourth Robin, replacing Tim Drake when Drake temporarily quit. This was, in actuality, just one in a long line of dick moves by Batman, as he took Stephanie on as Robin mainly to convince Tim to return to the role.

After Batman fired her as his sidekick, she resumed her Spoiler identity and sought to prove herself by...well, this part never really made sense to me. "War Games," that is. It was a big, stupid Batman crossover story in which Spoiler somehow accidentally set-off a gang war in Gotham City, but the war and her role in it didn't really make any goddam sense. She was tortured to death via power tools by the villain The Black Mask, because The Joker was apparently busy.

No one in the whole world liked this, so it was later retconned to reveal that Stephanie and Dr. Leslie Thompkins had faked the former's death, in an attempt to make Batman feel bad about violence. That seems like kind of a dick move, too.

Anyway, she next became Batgirl, when her friend Cassandra Cain decided to stop being Batgirl, since she could no longer make sense of her own continuity, as every story involving Cassandra Cain since the concusion of her title made even less sense than "War Games" did. Stephanie started out by rocking Cassandra's costume, but eventually Barbara "Oracle" Gordon, the original Batgirl, decided to quit giving Stephanie static, and became her partner and mentor, even designing her a brand-new Batgirl costume, which included lots of purple and a utility garter belt.

Stephanie seemed to flourish as Batgirl, earning Oracle's respect and, upon his return from his "death," even Batman's official sanctioning, as he made her a part of his Batman, Incorporated initiative.

And then Flashpoint happened.

Stephanie Brown has no super-powers, and hasn't had the years of extensive training that many of those in Batman's circle of allies have had, making her the least formidable of the three Batgirls to date. She has trained with Robin Tim Drake, Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Batman himself and The Birds of Prey, particularly Huntress, with whom she shares an affinity for purple.


Andy Kubert
Created by James Robinson, Carlos Urbano and Julius Gopez, based on the character “created” “by” “Bob Kane”
Alter Ego: Dr. Thomas Wayne
Occupation: He's Batman.
Marital Status: Widower (His wife is deeaaaaaad!!!)
Group Affiliation: The World Army
First Appearance: EARTH 2 ANNUAL #1 (2013)

While still a medical student, Thomas Wayne fell in with the Falcone crime family, and spent some time partying and doing lots of drugs with Frankie Falcone. It was Frankie who introduced Wayne to a young woman named Martha.

After Thomas and Martha married and had a son together, Wayne tried to sever all ties with Falcone, who eventually decided to have the Waynes killed. Thomas survived the attack that claimed his wife’s life, but decided to pretend to be dead in order to better pursue a life of vengeance against Falcone. He was able to accomplish this in part through using the miraculous super-steroid drug Miralco, which he stole from colleague Rex Tyler.

Disowned by his adult son Bruce “Batman” Wayne, who was less-than-happy when he found out about his father’s poor life choices, Thomas eventually took up the mantle of Batman after his son gave his life staving off the initial Apokolyptian invasion of Earth-2.

When Apokolips renewed its attacks on Earth-2, Thomas joined forces with a second generation of Earth-2 super-people, including Green Lantern, The Flash, Hawkgirl, Red Tornado and others.

Thomas Wayne possesses the superior crime-fighting, justice-loving genes of the Wayne Family, and he is an expert hand-to-hand combatant, expert athlete and knows lots of doctor stuff.

The Miraclo super-drug gives him super-human strength, speed and stamina, as well as an enhanced level of invulnerability. But these powers only last for 60 minutes, and then the human body requires 24 hours between usages. Additionally, if Miralco is anything like Earth-Prime steroids, it also causes acne and dramatic mood swings, shrinks your genitals and makes your head look pretty weird…so just say no to drugs, kids! Remember: Miralco is wacko.

For further reading: EARTH 2 VOL. 3: BATTLECRY and EARTH 2 VOL. 4: THE DARK AGE, plus current issues of EARTH 2 and EARTH 2: WORLD’S END

Chris Burnham
Cassandra Cain created by Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott; Black Bat created by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
Alter Ego: Cassandra Cain
Occupation: Professional crime-fighter in the employ of Bamtman, Incorporated
Known relatives:David Cain (father), Lady Shiva (mother)
Base of Operations: Hong Kong
Favorite Saying: "..."
First Appearance: As Cassandra Cain, BATMAN #567 (1999); as Black Bat, BATMAN, INC #6 (2011)

Cassandra Cain was conceived of—even before her actual conception—by her father David Cain as the greatest assassin the world had ever known. He sought out Sandra Wu-San—the woman who would become Lady Shiva, widely believed to be the greatest martial artist in the world—to reproduce with him.

He raised the resulting child exclusively in the language of violence, teaching her how to dodge bullets by shooting guns at her, and that sort of thing. As a result, young Cassandra never learned to speak or read, but she did learn to read body language to the extent that she could "predict" what someone would do before they did it, an ability that would eventually make her one of the world's greatest martial artists.

By the time she was eight, her father was ready to start using her as a weapon. After he put her hair in pigtails and gave her a frilly dress, she certainly looked harmless—right up until she ripped the throat out of her designated victim with her bare hand.

The shock of actually taking a man's life—compounded by her reading his pain and horror via her unique skills—horrified young Cassandra, and she ran away from her father at that point, and managed to stay off his radar for years.

She eventually ended up in Gotham City, during the lowest point in the city's history, after the United States Government officially excised the city from its territory and declared it a no man's land. Cassandra became one of Oracle's many civilian agents during this lawless time, and she eventually so impressed both Oracle and Batman that the pair decided to make her the new Batgirl, giving her a modified costume first worn by The Huntress when attempting to fill-in for an MIA Batman.

While not the greatest detective, and not terribly socialized, Cassandra became an excellent crime-fighter, particularly when paired with minders like Batman, Oracle, Robin, Nightwing or even Spoiler, who could help her navigate the social mores that were still alien to her.

During this time she eventually learned to speak and read, and among her accomplishments were fighting Lady Shiva to the death—twice (The first time, Shiva "kills" her quickly, but, realizing Cassandra has a death wish, she resurrects her immediately, so that Cassandra was only "technically" dead; the second time, Cassandra wins, but refuses to kill Shiva).

Around the time that Superboy-Prime started punching DC continuity, after the cancellation of Batgirl, Cassandra's story gets so garbled as to be non-sensical and at one point DC even had to launch a Batgirl miniseries to make sense of all the nonsense stories involving the character over a period of a few years (If I recall correctly, she was injected with mind-conrol drugs by Deathstroke?).

It's best to pretend that nothing after the cancellation of her own series even happened (and the last arc or so of that series wasn't very good, either).

She would later appear as Black Bat, wearing a modified version of her old Batgirl costume, as Batman's Hong Kong agent in his Batman, Incorporated initiative.

Whether or not Cassandra's abilities to intuit the movements of others constitutes a meta-human superpower or not is probably up for debate. It's an ability she shares with her mother Lady Shiva, however, and, as with Lady Shiva, it has made her one of—if not the—best hand-to-hand fighters in the world. As stated above, it allowed her to defeat Lady Shiva herself, and Batgirl has fought Batman to a draw on at least one occassion—she was all messed up on drugs at the time, though, and he was trying not to hurt her, so it wasn't exactly a "fair" fight, since she wasn't in her right mind and he wasn't trying to fight her. My money would be on Cass though.

Aside from being able to beat up pretty much anyone, Batgirl probably has Bat-arangs and other Bat-stuff, as hers is the biggest utility belt with the biggest pouches in the whole history of utility belts.

For further reading: As Black Bat, Cassandra Cain only had a few brief appearances in BATMAN INCORPORATED, which has been collected into three trades: BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL. 1, BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL.1 (not a typo!) and BATMAN INCORPORATED VOL.2; all are worth reading, even if the Black Bat content is extremely low.

As Batgirl, Cassandra Cain was the first Batgirl to support her own title, and at 73 issues she still holds the record for the longest extant Batgirl title (the current Batgirl series, the first to star Barbara Gordon, ironically enough, is only at issue #40, but barring a relaunch should eventually catch and surpass Cassandra's series). Most, of Cassandra Cain's BATGIRL has been collected in trade; the first 37 issues or so, by the book's original creative team, are the best, although the rest of the run has its moments, particularly writer Dylan Horrocks' run, which had all those gorgeous James Jean covers...and is oddly uncollected. BATGIRL: SILENT RUNNING, BATGIRL: A KNIGHT ALONE, BATGIRL: DEATH WISH and BATGIRL: FISTS OF FURY collect the good stuff, by the original creative team of Scott Peterson and/or Kelley Puckett, Damion Scott and Robert Campanella. I remember liking 2001's SUPERBOY #85, by Joe Kelly, Pascual Ferry and Keith Champagne pretty well; and 2006's SOLO #10, the Damion Scott issue, has two pretty good Cassandra Cain stories in it—a Spoiler/Batgirl team-up, and a possible future story where Batman Tim Drake has married Batgirl Cassandra Cain.

Ryan Sook
Created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino
Alter Egos: Milton Fine, Vril Dox
Marital Status: Married to his work.
Hobby: Shrinking cities, putting them in bottles
Favorite colors: Purple and green
First Appearance: ACTION COMICS #242 (1958)

God, where to start? Brainiac is probably the most fluid character in Superman's corner of the DC Universe, going through constant reboots, retcons, rejiggers and updates—occasionally for in-story reasons, often in response to a cosmic reset button pushed by the publishers here on Earth-33.

The original Brainiac was a bald, green-skinned alien and/or android with a tight-fitting pink shirt and boots, no pants, and diodes atop his head. He went about trying to shrink various cities on Earth to put in bottles, as he had previously done to the Kryptonian city of Kandor. Because Brainiac had collected Kandor before the planet was destroyed, it was the only city to survive. So Superman wasn't exactly the last son of Krypton, just the last full-sized son of Krypton. Superman kept Kandor safe in his Fortress of Solitude, promising to figure out how to restore it to full-size at some point. ("Yeah right," Reed Richards laughed, "Right after I cure Ben Grimm!")

Brainiac got a bit of a make-over in the 1980s thanks to writer Marv Wolfman and artist Ed Hannigan, who gave him new robot body resembling a metal skeleton with a giant brain, as well as a huge, tentacled ship that looked like his head.

Crisis On Infinite Earths didn't affect his design, but did affect his origin, as he was then a criminal scientist named Vril Dox from the planet Colu, who was sentenced to death but whose intelligence melded with that of Earth man Milton fine, a psychic sideshow mentalist.

As for our current version, the one who existed after the events of Flashpoint rejiggered the DC Multiverse yet again, he was still a criminal scientist named Vril Dox, living on the planet Yod-Colu. Aware of an imminent, planet-devouring danger from the Fifth Dimension called "The Multitude," Dox shrunk a city on his home planet to keep it and his family safe, and then sent out drones throughout the universe, to similarly preserves cities from different planets. He takes Metropolis from Earth about five or six years ago, but it is saved by a jeans and t shirt rocking young Superman, who takes his first flight in order to reach Brainiac's ship, and discovers his godawful New 52 costume on that ship.

After that defeat, Brainiac next returns to Earth after having infected Superman with the "Doomsday" virus, but is defeated once again, this time being thrown out of the universe and discovering the Multiverse in the process. Meanwhile, in the year 2019, Brainiac kills the majority of StormWatch in The Bleed, and begins another attack on Earth, this time as a kaiju-sized giant with a scary, many-eyed face. He is once again thwarted by Superman.

Brainiac is, as his name implies, very smart. Like, really, really smart. With those smarts, he's created a truly fearsome arsenal of weaponry and a technology that can be difficult to comprehend. But then, he did build a ship many times larger than Earth, multitudes of robot bodies and the ability to shrink and store entire cities.

He also has vaguely defined mental powers, which allow him to do mind-stuff, occasionally possessing human brains as easily as he can hijack computers and technology of various kinds. He is at his strongest, and has the greatest number of abilities, when inside his ship.

For further reading: Running just slightly behind Lex Luthor in the race to be Superman's archenemy, there are scores of Brainiac stories, and he often appears in at least a supporting role in some of the better Superman stories (Like "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?", for example).

DC Comics did put together a nice sampler of stories in the form of the 2008 trade paperback SUPERMAN VS. BRAINIAC, collecting stories from throughout the characters' history of conflicts.

For the purposes of Convergence, however, DC likely wants you to be most familiar with 1) Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics, which introduced the New 52 Braniac, which means SUPERMAN—ACTION COMICS: VOLS. 1-3 (which is really quite good, despite the inconsistent art by an ever-shifting array of artists), 2) SUPERMAN: DOOMED and 3) THE NEW 52: FUTURES END, only the first chunk of which is available in trade so far.

Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's SSUPERMAN: BRAINIAC, part of Johns' pre-New 52 run on the character, was pretty good. Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway's SUPERMAN: PANIC IN THE SKY! is pretty good if you can find that; it was a Superman story arc with a Crisis-sized cast, and was popular enough to be collected in trade paperback back in 1993, when trade collections of superhero comics were still pretty rare. Finally, Jim Krueger and Alex Ross' JUSTICE is great fun; that's essentially their attempt at producing a grown-up version of Challenge of The Super-Friends, and while it's of course out-of-continuity (think All-Star Justice League), it uses the original version of Brainiac as the lead villain.

Bruce Timm
Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm
Alter Ego: Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel
Occupation: Career criminal/disbarred psychologist
Marital status: Still waiting Mister J makes an honest woman out of her
Known relatives: Mr. Quinzel (father), Sharon Quinzel (mother), Barry Quinzel (brother)
Group Afilliations: The Secret Six, "The Gotham City Sirens"
Base of operations: Gotham City
Not to be confused with: Harlequin
First appearance: "Joker's Favor" episode of Batman: The Animated Series (1992)

Harley's Brooklyn parents were probably asking for trouble when they named their daughter Harleen Quinzel. Whip-smart, Quinzel decided on a career in psychology at a young age, perhaps because she sought to understand what was wrong with her own family. In college, her boyfriend committed suicide, starting her obsession with the Gotham City master-criminal and mass-murderer The Joker.

She had the opportunity to become exceptionally close to The Joker while serving as an intern at Arkham Asylum, during which point the Clown Prince of Crime seduced her and they began their mad love affair. When Quinn was finally discovered to be complicit in his escapes, she herself was thrown in a padded cell in Arkham.

She made her escape during the earthquake that devastated the city, and adopted her own colorful criminal code-name: Harley Quinn. She teamed with one-time fellow Arkham inmate Poison Ivy, who gave her a chemical concoction that greatly enhanced her strength, speed and agility, making Harley a genuine physical threat to Batman—and more than a match for The Joker in a fair fight.

The two set on a crime spree, intending to take down both Batman and the Joker, but Harley was unable to bring herself to kill The Joker, and ended up back in his thrall, working with him throughout much of the time in which Gotham City was declared a federal "no man's land."

She would work with The Joker on and off for a while, but eventually attempted to get out from under his shadow by striking out as a villain in her own right. She reconciled with Poison Ivy, and together the pair relocated from Gotham City to Metropolis for a while.

After a variety of adventures and misadventures on both sides of the law—Harley Quinn may be a criminally insane supervillain obsessed with the worst killer in human history, but she actually kinda sorta has a heart of gold—she found herself re-teaming with Poison Ivy and Catwoman, an alliance that lasted a bit longer than most involving two or more super-villains might. In the trio's case, it was men who came between them: Batman and The Joker, in particular.

A low-level meta-human, Quinn received enhanced strength, speed, endurance and agility thanks to a chemical compound created by Poison Ivy. It also made her immune to many poisons and toxins, which allowed her to associate freely with Ivy with little fear of being accidentally poisoned to death.

Harley is a superb gymnast, and has honed her fighting ability by taking on pretty much every hero and villain in Gotham City at one point or another. Her favorite weapon is a comically large mallet.

For further reading: BATMAN: HARLEY QUINN (2000), HARLEY QUINN: PRELUDES AND KNOCK KNOCK JOKES, HARLEY QUINN: NIGHT AND DAY, HARLEY QUINN: WELCOME TO METROPOLIS, GOTHAM CITY SIRENS VOLS. 1-4 (Please note that the now-difficult to find BATMAN: HARLEY QUINN special is being collected along with other pre-New 52 Harley material in a collection also due out in July, also entitled BATMAN: HARLEY QUINN).

Scott McDaniel
Dick Grayson created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson; Nightwing identity created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, although the superhero identity "Nightwing" first appeared in a 1963 Superman story, and the costume has been repeatedly updated from Perez's original designs.
Alter Ego:Dick Grayson
Formerly: Robin, Batman
Martial Status: The DC Universe's most eligible bachelor, once almost married Starfire
Known Relatives: Adopted father Bruce Wayne
Group Affiliations: The Teen Titans, The New Teen Titans, The New Titans, The Titans, Justice League Task Force, The JLA, The Outsiders and Batman, Incorporated
BFF: Wally West
First Appearance: As Robin, DETECTIVE COMICS #38 (1940); as Nightwing, TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS #44 (1984)

Dick Grayson grew up in the Haley Circus, where he and his parents performed as the acrobatic team The Flying Grayson. Gangsters trying to shake down Haley for protection money sabotaged one of the trapezes on one tragic night, and young Dick Grayson lost both of his parents during a performance, as the pair plunged to their deaths before his eyes.

Luckily for Dick, Bruce Wayne was in attendance and, seeing himself in the young, tragically orphaned boy, Bruce makes Dick his ward and begins training him to be his sidekick, Robin. After a long, productive career as Batman and Robin, The Dynamic Duo, Grayson went off to college at Hudson University, and teamed with Batman less-and-less.

After a falling-out with Batman, Grayson devoted more and more time to his work with the Teen Titans, a group he had been leading since he first teamed up with Kid Flash and Aqualad years before. To further sever his ties with Batman, and step out of his mentor's shadow, he took the new identity of Nightwing. During his time with The Titans, Grayson developed a very close relationship with the alien princess Koriand'r, codenamed Starfire, almost marrying her at one point.

He was eventually drawn back into Batman's orbit when the Dark Knight started to lose it in the years after Batgirl Barbara Gordon's severe injuries and the second Robin Jason Todd's death at the hands of The Joker. A brilliant young boy named Tim Drake had deduced Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne's true identities, and noticed that, without a Robin, Batman had become increasingly unhinged. Drake tried and failed to convince Grayson to resume his role as Robin, but he did manage to convince Grayson and Wayne to reunite...and to convince Grayson and Alfred Pennyworth that Batman did indeed need a Robin. The pari decided that rather than Grayson putting on the old Robin costume, it should be Drake.

After Nightwing helped Batman and the new Robin defeat Jean-Paul Valley, who had temporarily taken on the role of Batman and had gone a bit around the bend, Grayson briefly assumed the mantle of Batman, while Bruce Wayne disappeared for a while on mysterious business. Nightwing then moved to Gotham's never-before-mentioned sister city Bludhaven, protecting it as Batman protected Gotham. During that time, he worked on and off with the various incarnations of the Titans and with Batman, Robin, Oracle, Huntress and their allies. It was during this time that Grayson and Barbara Gordon began a serious romantic relationship.

When Batman—and the rest of the JLA—were seemingly killed, Nightwing lead a new incarnation of the Justice League.

And, not long after, when Batman was again seemingly killed again, Nightwing again resumed the mantle of Batman, now working with Bruce's biological son Damian as Robin, rather than Tim Drake, and again joining and leading a new incarnation of the Justice League. When Batman returned from the dead this time, he and Grayson both went by the name Batman.

Then Flashpoint happened, and scrambled Nightwing's continuity pretty badly, to the point where much of what's above didn't happen, and that which did happen has now happened in very different ways, most of which haven't been revealed.

Raised in a circus by circus acrobats before he even started training in the fine art of climbing buildings, running around rooftops and swinging around the city on grappling hooks and bat-ropes, Nightwing is an extremely gifted acrobat and gymnast, as at home in great heights as it's possible for anyone who can't fly to be.

Having been trained since childhood by Batman, Nightwing is also an excellent detective, martial artist, and can do pretty much anything Batman can do, about as well as Batman can. The one area in which he far exceeds his mentor, however, is in his leadership abilities and people-skills. An affable, likeable and all-around charismatic guy, Grayson has spent his whole life among superheroes (particularly Superman and his fellow sidekicks), and has been leading various superhero teams since puberty. Even if Batman is a brilliant tactician in his own right, his off-putting personality and territorialism regarding his city make him a hard person to work with. Other superheroes may follow Batman because they have to, whereas they follow Nightwing because they want to.

Nightwing is also proficient at throwing Bat-shaped things at people, although his weapon of choice has long been a pair of Eskrima sticks.

He is widely regarded as the sexiest superhero in the DC Universe, and in possession of the best butt.

For further reading: As one of the oldest and most popular characters in DC Comics history, there are obviously a lot of comics featuring Dick Grayson available in trade. For a decent post-Crisis, pre-New 52 history, try BATMAN: YEAR THREE and/or ROBIN: YEAR ONE, NIGHTWING: YEAR ONE, BATMAN: A LONELY PLACE OF DYING, BATMAN: PRODIGAL, any of the Chuck Dixon/Scott McDaniel run on the 1996-2009 Nightwing ongoing series (BLUDHAVEN is he first volume) and BATMAN & ROBIN Vols. 1-3. He also appears in many of the Titans trades from this period, as well as all of the big Batman event stories and line-wide crossover stories; Nightwing is actually a hard DC superhero not to run into when reading DC Comics.

Barbara Gordon was created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, her Oracle identity was created by Kim Yale and John Ostrander
Alter Ego: Barbara Gordon
Marital status: Single
Known relatives: Father James Gordon, psycho-killer brother James Gordon Jr.
Group Affiliations: American Library Association, Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, JLA, Batman, Incorporated
Base of Operations: Gotham City
BFF: Black Canary Dinah Lance
First Appearance: As Batgirl, DETECTIVE COMICS #359 (1967); as Oracle, SUICIDE SQUAD #23 (1989)

Super-smart twenty-something Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon from his first marriage, moved to Gotham to live with him and take a position as the head librarian of the Gotham City Public Library. One night she was on her way to a costume party dressed in a sexy, Carmine Infantino-designed Rule 63 Batman costume, and happened upon costumed criminal Killer Moth.

Despite having no prior experience fighting crime, she was able to take the villain down, either on account of the fact that she was just that awesome, or because he was Killer Moth (I believe he used to just go by "Moth," but added "Killer" to sound slightly more menacing).

Despite the instant-disapproval of the He-Man, Women-Hating Dynamic Duo, Batgirl embarked on a fairly successful career as a Gotham City crime-fighter, occasionally working with Batman and Robin, but never taken completely into their confidence. She eventually retired of her own accord, and pursued a career in politics.

Her life was forever changed when she was visiting her father and answered the door, only to find The Joker on the other side. He shot her instantly through the spine, and then went about stripping and photographing her, as part of his plan to drive her father and Batman as mad as he was.

Barbara never recovered the use of her legs, and was henceforth confined to wheelchair, but she soon reinvented herself as a computer expert, hacker and information broker, working for a time with the Suicide Squad under the codename Oracle. She achieved much greater success as Oracle than she ever had as Batgirl, working closely with Batman and his various allies, often supplying them with information and coordinating their actions.

She later developed first a working relationship and then an extremely close friendship with Black Canary, and together the two formed an informal partnership, with Oracle providing the brains and Canary the brawn. They would occasionally recruit other heroes to help them on missions and, later, added permanent members to their team, including The Huntress and Lady Blackhawk.

In addition to her work with the Bat-Squad and her Birds of Prey team, Oracle also joined the JLA, playing a key role and fending off the anti-sun Maggeddon, and gradually became the information broker for much of the DC Universe's superhero establishment. During this time, she had an intense and passionate—though on-again, off-again—romanric relationship with former Robin and current Nightwing Dick Grayson, and she helped Batman train Cassandra Cain to be the new Batgirl.

Oracle naturally joined Batman in his Batman, Incorporated endeavor, fighting cybercrime both as Oracle and as an online Batgirl avatar.

Barbara Gordon possesses a photographic memory, and is an unparalleled computer hacker.


Now, if you're looking for BIRDS OF PREY in trade, ORACLE/BLACK CANARY: BIRDS OF PREY was a 1996 one-shot, essentially kicking off a series of specials and miniseries, and introducing the premise of Oracle and Black Canary as a team. An ongoing series was launched in 1999 and ran through 2009, and was followed by a short-lived, 15-issue second volume, before the New 52 reboot launched a third, Oracle-less volume. When looking for trade collections, once again "Chuck Dixon" is a good signifier of quality; he was followed by Terry Moore, Gilbert Hernandez and Gail Simone, the last of whom would eventually become the most closely-associated with the premise, her 65-issues across two volumes eventually eclipsing Dixon's own 52-issue run, which included the original one-shots and minis as well as the first few years of the ongoing. Dixon's and Simone's were the longest and most heavily-collected runs; regarding the latter, it's probably worth noting that her series gets less good the longer it runs, so those from the second volume are pretty poor compared to her run on the original title.

Rafael Albuquerque
Renee Montoya created by Sean Catherine Derke, Laren Bright and Mitch Brian; The Question created by Steve Ditko
Alter Ego: Renee Montoya
Occupation: Freelance crime-fighter
Marital status: Single, but looking...ladies.
Known relatives: Disapproving parents, ally brother
Base of Operations: Gotham City and The Outer Banks of North Carolina
Distinguishing characteristics: No face
First appearance: The Question, BLUE BEETLE #1 (1967); Renee Montoya BATMAN #475 (1992)

Renee Montoya's crime-fighting career began with the Gotham City Police Department, where she made homicide detective, eventually assigned to the GCPD's Major Crimes Unit. She was originally partnered with Harvey Bullock and, later, Crispus Allen.

She came into frequent contact with Batman and Gotham's other colorful crime-fighters and criminals, beginning a particularly strange relationship with master criminal (and one-time Gotham City District Attorney) Two-Face, aka Harvey Dent.

Montoya was one of the police officers to stay behind in Gotham City after it was declared a "no man's land" by the federal government, and she served as a go-between of sorts between Two-Face and the James Gordon camps during the crisis, repeatedly appealing to Two-Face's Dent persona. Dent falls in love with her, which doesn't work out all that well for him. Not simply because he is a criminally insane murderer and arch-criminal, nor because he's hideously—yet symmetrically!—disfigured, nor even because his morality teeters between good and evil and is decided decision by decision by the literal flip of a coin. Well, those things are all factors, sure, but Montoya is also a lesbian, which Two-Face will later out her as in revenge.

Montoya ultimately leaves the force in disgust after her partner is murdered, and tries to lose herself in alcohol and naked ladies until she's approached by the mysterious vigilante The Question, who recruits her as a sort of sidekick during his year-long investigation of Intergang and The Crime Bible. Before long, Montoya finds herself training under The Question, and upon his death from lung cancer, she takes up his mantle. And by "mantle" I mean freaky face-less mask and a fedora. I didn't like this at the time, and I still don't like it, as it seemed to take two interesting characters and reduce their number to one. That's just bad math.

As The Question, Montoya had some boring adventures in various back-up sand event tie-in comics, mostly involving The Crime Bible and her ex-girlfriend Batwoman, and then Flashpoint seemingly erased Montoya from existence, introducing a weird new version of The Question.

Montoya lacks anything in the way of super-powers, but she does have the various skills and abilities of most successful career big city homicide detectives and street-level vigilantes. Detective skills, martial arts skills—she briefly trained under Richard Dragon, one of the world's best martial artists—and the ability to shoot guns pretty well. That sort of thing.

For further reading: THE QUESTION VOLS. 1-6 (starring the original Question), GOTHAM CENTRAL VOLS. 1-5 (starring Montoya; particularly VOL 2: HALF A LIFE), 52, THE QUESTION: THE PIPELINE

Andy Kubert
Created by Tom Taylor, Nicola Scott and Robson Rocha, based on the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Alter Ego: Val-Zod
Marital Status: Single
Group Affiliation: The World Army
Often Mistaken For: Earth-23 Superman President Calvin Ellis
First Appearance: EARTH 2 #19 (2014)

One of the few survivors of the destruction of his universe's Krypton (two universes over from the DC Universe proper, in the current Multiverse), Val-Zod was discovered not by some kindly old Midwesterners, but by Earth-2's Terry Sloan, one of the world's smartest men...and a real bastard. He offered to protect Val, and stuck the young Kryptonian refugee in a deep, dark basement below the World Army's Arkham base, where Val was deprived of sunlight (and thus couldn't charge up his Kyrptonian cells, and gain the sorts of amazing super-powers possessed by his fellow Kryptonian survivors Kal-El (who would become Superman) and Kara Zor-El (who would become Supergirl, and then Power Girl).

His traumatic past and life in a cell made Val-Zod an unlikely candidate to take up the mantle of Superman after Kal-El gave his life (along with Batman and Wonder Woman) saving his Earth from the invading forces of Apokolips, as in addition to being a pacifist, Val was also afraid of wide open spaces.

After some understanding prodding from the Red Tornado Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, and some tough love from Batman II Thomas Wayne, Val eventually stood up to help defend the world from Brutaal, an evil clone of Superman that had lead a second Apokolytpian invasion of Earth-2.

Superman II possesses the same Kryptonian physiology as his late predecessor, and thus the regular laundry list of powers: Super-strength, super-speed, super-breath, invulnerability, flight, X-Ray and heat vision, ridiculously enhanced senses, and so on.

For further reading: EARTH 2 Vol. 4: THE DARK AGE, EARTH 2: WORLDS'S END

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: April 8

Convergence #1 (DC Comics) It's going to be a pretty long two months for DC Comics fans, huh?

The $4.99, 30-page first issue of this weekly event series just about catches readers up to the plot points that DC has been openly advertising and discussing for months now. Last week's 30-page #0 issue was spent revealing the fact that there is a Multiverse, and that Brainiac has been collecting cities from various doomed timelines within it on a sentient planet. This issue gives that sentient planet its name—Telos—and the big climax is the revelation of the premise of the series, which we've all known for months now: Various characters from various cities from various realities will have to fight one another for the survival of their homes.

So far, then, the creators of Convergence have spent about 60-pages getting to the premise of the series. That's...not encouraging. This issue, entitled "Domesday," has a different creative team than the #0 issue—with the exception of Jeff King, who co-wrote both—although it's quality is about equivalent. Scott Lobdell is King's co-writer here, while Carlos Pagulayan pencils and Jason Paz inks.

We begin in media res in what I suppose is the setting of the based-on-the-videogame comic book series Injustice ("A city where a great injustice was done," a Superman narrates, "To me"), although things are at a very different point then where they were when I last read any of it (I've read the first two trades). Superman has an S-shaped scar over one eye, and was maybe in jail? He argues with Batman, Flash and Harley Quinn as Telos seemingly destroys them and their timeline's version of Gotham City.

The rest of the issue consists of a few survivors of Earth 2: World's End—Green Lantern, The Flash, Batman II, Superman II, Dick Grayson and Yolanda Montez–appearing in the alien desert landscape of Telos, and then listening to Telos tell them how it's going to be. You know, different cities from different realities fighting one another.

It's all a lot more complicated than it needs to be, although that won't become apparent until one reads the tie-ins. But apparently the captured cities have been trapped under force-field domes for an entire year, and champions from each are just now beginning their death matches. So the plot of Convergence is basically that of the original Secret Wars and Countdown: Arena, with a bit of Stephen King's Under The Dome mixed in...?

While the premise is simple enough to explain, the execution seems to vary from tie-in to tie-in, and can be pretty over-complicated. If a reader were just looking forward to, say, seeing the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl or married Superman again, they're going to likely be rather disappointed that there's all this dome business and contest of champions shit going on.

The concept of doomed timelines has given me a pretty incredible headache too, as I try to wrap my head around the mechanics of what Brainiac and Telos have accomplished, exactly. It was my understanding, and Multiversity seems to bear this out, that the New 52 universe wasn't an entirely new entity created from scratch, but rather an altered version of the pre-Flashpoint DCU. In fact, all of DC's rejiggerings of their Multiverse and/or timelines occurred in continuity, and, whatever was changed, was changed as part of a story, right?

So, let's stick with Stephanie Brown for a moment. The Stephanie Brown that appeared in Batman Eternal (i.e. after Flashpoint, during the New 52 status quo) is the same Stephanie Brown—like, ontologically—as the pre-Flashpoint version, but the changes made to the timeline by The Flashes and Pandora's mysterious, still never-explained tinkering altered the fabric of the universe, so that the specifics of her history were different, but she was still herself.

Or let's take Batman. The New 52 Batman of Earth-0 is the same pre-Flashpoint Batman of New Earth, who was the same pre-Infinite Crisis Batman of the DC Universe, who was the same post-Crisis Batman, who was the same Batman of pre-Crisis Earth-1, right? Like, details might have changed, but he is the same essential person?

That's what I've always thought, but I'm having trouble reconciling the existence of these characters under these domes with the fact that so many of them—almost all of those that appear in this week's tie-ins, for example—exist post-Flashpoint. Part of me naturally enough wants to tell the rest of me not to think too much about it, as it's comics, but, on the other hand, it's the entire basis of this event series, so it's actually kind of integral to the proceedings, isn't it?

Anyway, wrestling with these issues proved to be the most diverting part of this particular issue, in which nothing happened. Maybe next issue?

Convergence: Batgirl #1 (DC) My local comic shop only had a single issue of this particular tie-in left when I got there around 5:30 today, so I had no choice—I had to purchase the one with the stupid Chip Kidd designed cover, in which a blown-up image of an old piece of Pere Perez and Guy Major art fades into blue. Not white or black, as one might expect—when the timeline was being destroyed during Zero Hour, the tie-ins ended with the panels fading into blank white pages—but blue. I guess it maybe has something meta to say about the four-color nature of comics, back in the day? Whatever the case, they're not very nice-looking covers.

This means either that this was a particularly popular Convergence tie-in at my shop—almost as popular as Nightwing/Oracle, which was sold-out completely—or my shop didn't order enough copies. I remember asking the owner about how he planned to order Convergence a few months back, and he said he was going to be looking to the subscriptions for guidance, as he didn't really have any idea how the books would sell based on the premise and the fact that they were unrelated to the books currently on the stands.

Before we get to the actual comics, I wanted to note the ancillary material, which we are apparently being charged for, as this cost $3.99, despite running only 22 pages. The inside front cover looks like this:
I have no idea how to read that, in terms of which city is fighting/competing with which city. Are all five fighting one another? Or is it Pre-Flashpoint Gotham City, which is so much bigger than the other four, vs. those other four?

There's a similarly hard-to-read two-page prose and picture feature in the back, which shows various panels from various comics (with none of the artists credited) and paragraphs of information about the Batgirls. They're arranged so haphazardly though that I was unsure how to even read them; like, in which order to read which paragraphs. These will be features in all of the tie-ins, apparently, based on those I've read and/or flipped-through so far this week.

Now, this week is pre-Flashpoint week, so all of the titles are set in the DC Universe that existed before The New 52-boot, or, as Tom Bondurant likes to call it, "Earth-August" (as The New 52 launched in September of 2011). So the Batgirl in question is Stephanie Brown, who was starring in the Bryan Q. Miller-written Batgirl series that got canceled to make way for the New 52, Gail Simone-written Batgirl starring a un-paralyzed Barbara Gordon.

Oddly, DC did not hire Miller to write this series, or an artist associated with that volume of Batgirl. Or maybe it's not that odd, as this Batgirl has been changed by spending a year living in a city completely cut off from the outside world.

The writer is instead former Vertigo editor, The Dreaming writer and prose novelist Alisa Kwitney, working with pencil artist Rick Leonardi and inker Mark Pennington, whose work here is really, really rough.

We begin with Batgirl, Black Bat (and former Batgirl) Cassandra Cain and Red Robin Tim Drake all camping out in the desert of Telos. Apparently Batgirl was the one chosen to fight for her Gotham (in this book, anyway), and her friends are just there to support her.

She's attacked by the Flashpoint versions of Catman and then Gorilla Grodd, both of whom appear to be the same as the DCU versions. Then we flashback to the events leading up to this, as Stephanie tells us about her life after her Gotham was domed. She quit being Batgirl to instead devote herself to midwifery, while sharing an apartment with Cassandra Cain, who kept on superheroing. Lucky for Cass she was visiting Gotham from Hong Kong when the dome came down, I guess? Not sure what's up with Batman and the extended Bat-family; they don't come up.

I like all three of these characters a whole lot, and would really like to read a comic book about Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain, roommates, perhaps with a love triangle or team-up triangle with Tim Drake. This hints at that, but is instead focused on the plot, leaving little room for character interaction. So, as predicted, this is DC giving fans exactly what they want, in a way they don't want it.

Ah well. It's still nice to see Cassandra Cain again, and to see Tim Drake wearing a less godawful costume than he wears in The New 52...

Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle (DC) Here at least DC hired a writer who was writing one of the title characters prior to Flashpoint—Gail Simone, who has probably at this point written as many pages of Barbara Gordon comics as anyone else in the history of the character. She has Gordon narrating the issue, which goes a long way towards making it clear exactly what's going on and doing so much more efficiently than Kwitney managed in Batgirl but, on the other hand, there are a couple of scenes that Gordon's not privy too, and thus having her as a narrator doesn't really make a lick of sense. I mean, it kinda/sorta works in comics, if you translate narration boxes into thought clouds, but it wouldn't fly in other media, and doesn't really work here either, without one making a conscious effort to either ignore it, or make the effort to think of narration as thought clouds.

Her narration kind of gets in the way at times too, particularly during an action scene in which Nightwing takes on Mister Freeze, and his fight chatter and acts of derring do are constantly interrupted by her mopey thoughts on having been domed.

So it's been a year here too, and Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon are dating. Dick's ready to take it to the next level, after consulting with his friend and former fiancee Starfire, drawn here wearing her most conservative costume ever (By the way, what the fuck is Starfire doing in Gotham? Is it weird that Dick talks to her about proposing to Babs instead of Batman or Alfred, neither of whom are mentioned here?).

Their opponents are the Flashpoint versions of Hawkman and Hawkwoman; I don't think I read whichever tie-ins they were in, but I kind of like how barbarian-esque they are drawn here. They kick Nighwing's ass a little, offer the pair a radical proposal and then fly off, while Barbara Gordon alludes to Watchmen.

This issue is penciled by Jan Duursema, and while I'm always going to be a pro-Duursema partisan, I liked it an awful lot (and it's cool she got to draw Hawks again, having drawn one of DC's Hawkman titles for a while). I'm not crazy about the re-design of Nightwing's costume—although it's still better than the New 52 redesign!—but she's equally good at the action and "acting." I confess to liking cover artist Jill Thompson's work even more though, and would have loved to read 22 pages of her versions of these characters.

Saga #27 (Image Comics) Marko trips balls, his twisted memories helping him come to grips with his own troubling relationship with violence, from childhood to his time as a soldier to his present, unfortunate circumstances. Meanwhile, Prince Robot and that little baby seal-looking guy are in their adorable night clothes, trying to figure out what to do. My favorite part, however, is the panel above. I can't tell you how fascinated I am by Robot anatomy and biology, so I really appreciated seeing one's skeleton in the doctor's office.

SpongeBob Comics #43 (United Plankton Pictures) I've come to expect the unexpected when it comes to this title, but I was still shocked to see that the cover was drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, who also provides a pin-up/poster related to Derek Drymon and Gregg Schiegiel's story "Fry Cook 2.0," in which SpongeBob becomes one with the kitchen of the Krusty Krab.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #6 (IDW) This issue is completely off-the-charts insane, even by the standards of this series, which has, from issue #0, always been completely insane. I mean, it's been the most insane book on the stands since it launched, and the fact that it is based on two corporate-owned toy licenses only makes it a million times more so.

The climax is a jam-packed, two-page splash in which, oh man, in which General Flagg fights of the GIJONIN ninjas on the arms of Brutuicus, a combiner composed of Combaticons disguised as various Joe vehicles, one of which is a Tomahawk, it's rotors still whirling, blending ninjas into mist...while the strange snake god-monster Koh-Buru-LaH approaches over the horizon of New York City...while Showckwave and Starscream play tug-of-war with a winged, sword-wielding Optimus Prime over the reanimated Soundwave (who has the dead Bumblee's body as his head, with Dr. Venom in it, and the ghosts of Greenshirt Joe's ejecting from his cassette cavity...while Battleforce 2000, the "futuristic" G.I. Joe sub-team now 15 years out-of-date rushes into battle against the forces of Decepticobra...while fucking Crocmaster steps out of a manhole with two giant crocodiles that make meals of other Green Shirts.

That's just two pages. Also in this issue? Readings from the Decepticobra Bible, a connection drawn between the angel Metatraon and the Decepticon Megatron, Snake Eyes fucking cold walking into a Cybertronian saloon, climbing up a stool and then starting a bar fight (and winning!), an incredible new design for Astrotrain (in both his train engine and space shuttle mode), a school bus transformer (has there really never been a school bus Transformers before? That's one of several vehicle modes for Transformers that I can't believe no one has ever done, but I don't want to mention the others in case I ever get a chance to write a Transformers comic book, and thus completing one of my life-long dreams), Tunnel Rat tunneling through the gutters of the comic, a cameo Kwinn and, I don't know, about a million goddam other things.

Is there a better comic book in the world? Shut up, there is not.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: Guardians Disassembled

I would really like to sit the person in charge of putting Marvel's trade collections together down, maybe on a small comfortable couch next to writer Brian Michael Bendis, and ask them, "Person In Charge Of Putting Marvel's Trade Collections Together, what are you doing with Guardians of The Galaxy, exactly? These collections are a complete and total mess."

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the fourth volume collecting Beindis' run on the title—between volumes 2 and 3 there's the Bendis-written All-New X-Men crossover, in the un-numbered trade Guardians of The Galaxy/All-New X-Men: The Trial of Jean Grey. It's the fifth if you want to count Bendis' first arc on Avengers Assemble, collected simply as "Avengers Assemble", an Avengers/Guardians team-up that accounted for the writers first time writing the characters.

Contained in this 160-page collection are but four issues of the title Guardians of The Galaxy, plus Free Comic Book Day 2014 (Guardians of The Galaxy) #1. Plus a pair of short stories, one written by Andy Lanning and drawn by Phil Jimenez and Livesay and the other written by Dan Abnett and drawn by Gerardo Sandoval, featuring the origin story of Groot and a prequel to the Guardians 3000 series, respectively. Plus the first issue of the 2012 Kelley Sue DeConnick-written Captain Marvel series, and a story from a 2011 issue of Amazing Spider-Man, written by Dan Slott and drawn by a pair of pencilers and three inkers.

The book's organization flows okay—in terms of events, the visuals are all over the map as per usual—but it's a bizarre reading experience, as it essentially tells a single story, kinda sorta continued from Trial of Jean Grey (rather than GOTG Vol. 2) for 80 pages, and the rest of the book is given over to out-of-sequence filler material.

As for the visuals, even if you just concentrate on the 80-pages of Bendis-written GOTG material, there are six different pencil artists, and six different inkers. In a sense, the imagery on the pages that are meant to be read as part of the same story is every bit as inconsistent as the collision of stories that have nothing to do with one another (although their inclusion makes a certain sense, as you'll see; putting an issue of Captain Marvel or a Venom story in here isn't as completely random as throwing in, say, a Dr. Strange and a 3-D Man story might be. Rather, it's just sort of irritating).

The trade begins with a 10-page short from the FCBD special, in which Tony Stark sits down with Flash Thompson, who the Venom symbiote is currently bonded to, and asks him if he would be willing to join the Guardians of the Galaxy as a representative of Earth. This involves Stark explaining the Guardians and discussing them one by one in typical Bendis-ian, which is used as narration over pages of the characters in action, killing what I assume are random Badoon soldiers.

It's a short, effective introduction to the book's premise and cast, and one that adds a new member. In other words, it's a good jumping-on point, and a good story for a FCBD special from Marvel. It's penciled by Nick Bradshaw, a really rather incredible artist who was one of the best parts of the generally excellent Jason Aaron-written Wolverine and The X-Men; Bradshaw, whose very detailed, Arthur Adams-like work excels at filling panels with weird, cool-looking stuff, and is a perfect artist for a book set in space (He previous did several scenes in which Wolverine and Quentin Quire travelled into outer space to rub shoulders with aliens during Wolverine and The X-Men). Bradshaw is apparently meant to be the regular artist, but this is the only story he finishes in its entirety; the remaining issues of GOTG all have secondary pencil artists as well.

These include Cameron Stewart (one of may all-around favorite artists), Michael Oeming (one of Bendis' longest and most natural collaborators), Todd Nauck, Jason Masters and David Marquez. If you know more than one name on that list, than you also know not all of those artists draw in similar styles. Hell, Bradshaw's hyper-detailed work is almost the polar opposite of Oeming's abstracted, flat and cartoonish style; I love the work of both, but they don't exactly blend, you know?

After the FCBD short, there are the four issues of GOTG, the "Disassmbled" arc. The various characters have all split-up for whatever reason—Thompson/Venom is with Drax on Knowhere, buying space weapons—when they are all each attacked and kidnapped, taken hostage by different alien races.

It is all part of a plan by Peter Quill/Star-Lord's father, king of Spartax, to bring his rebellious, half-human son to heel and disgrace and dispose of his team. Star-Lord is taken by Spartax, Rocket is taken by the Kree and set for vivisection, Drax is taken by the Shi'ar and sentenced to death, Gamora is taken to the Badoon and beaten for information on the whereabouts of her father Thanos, Groot is taken by The Brood and Venom is taken by the Skrulls.

Things work ultimately work out just fine, thanks to some sudden appearances of guest-stars Captain Marvel Carol Danvers, who comes out of nowhere (not Knowhere, but nowhere) to rescue Star-Lord, and Angela, who also appears as a bit of deus ex mahina, but who at least was a member of the team previously—the sub-title of the second volume was Angela, remember—so her swooping in to rescue Gamora makes more sense than Danvers' appearance.

The rest of the book is all filler. The Guardians-related shorts are apparently from #14, a "double-sized anniversary issue!" (I have no idea which anniversary that could be referring to). The Groot story is interesting in its attempt to tell an entire story with variations of "I am Groot" as the only dialogue between all of the characters and for the way Jimenez draws gritty tree-people, while the other story is simply a sort of advertainment inducement to get a reader interested in Guardians 3000, a title starring a version of the team that the popular Guardians of The Galaxy took their name from.

The Captain Marvel and Venom stories are apparently there to fill readers in on the characters, although they're really there to fill up space (I know the Captain Marvel story is collected in a Captain Marvel trade, and I imagine the Venom story appears in a Spider-Man trade somewhere). Given the relatively small roles the two play in the book, and the fact that there's not all that much that needs explained about them that these stories offer that Bendis didn't include, they're kind of pointless additions.

It's collections like these that make me happy that not only did I wait for the trade, but I waited for the trade from the library, rather than shelling out $25 for 80-pages worth of Guardians of The Galaxy comics mostly by the guys who have their names on the cover.

Monday, April 06, 2015

On the first part of the third season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Despite giving the latest animated series based on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics a few years head start, I have now, somewhat unfortunately, caught up with the series on DVD, thanks to a few weeks of binge-watching. I haven't seen all of the third season yet then, only what has been so far released on DVD: The first seven episodes, in a collection entitled Retreat!

The second season concluded with a rather down ending, strongly echoing the events of 1986's Leonardo #1 and 1987's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10, in which The Shredder and The Foot Clan returned, hounded and hunted Leonardo, and eventually defeated the Turtles and their allies, sending them all fleeing New York City for an abandoned farm house in the countryside (events the current IDW similarly echoed in the transition from the "City Fall" story arc to one called, straightforwardly enough, "Northampton").

In the show, it was an alliance between The Kraang and The Shredder's Foot Clan that sent our heroes in retreat. Leonardo was badly beaten and near-death, Splinter was seemingly dead (viewers, unlike the Turtles, knew he was merely badly injured and separated from the others) and, in a pretty big departure from the comics (and most cartoons of this sort), New York City was completely conquered by the alien invaders.

That last bit sticks out as pretty unusual in this first batch of episodes, as while our heroes acknowledge their defeat and the changes to the cast, and while they do have television and access to news from the rest of the world, we don't know exactly what NYC's status quo is...and if The Kraang stopped there (Their plan, like that of all alien invaders, was to conquer the whole world, not just a city; specifically, they wanted to terraform the Earth into a new homeworld).

We know the Turtles get TV because, as with the last season, they get a new cartoon-with-the-cartoon to watch. In the first season, it was a Star Trek parody in old, Hanna-Barbera Sealab-style, which Leonardo used to get leadership tips from the Captain Kirk stand-in. In the second season, it was a Voltron/Battle of The Planets-style anime show. This time around, it's a Thundarr The Barbarian-like show.

In addition to the change in setting, the loss of Splinter and the absence of the foes they've been dealing with for the bulk of the first two season, this season has another pretty big change: Jason Biggs no longer voices Leonardo, but is replaced by Seth Green (there were a few episodes at the end of the previous season in which Dominic Catrambone played Leo, but it wasn't as jarring a transition, as his voice isn't as recognizable to me as Green's).

The change is actually addressed within the show, as in the first episode, when Leonardo wakes up, they immediately notice he sounds different. Donatello explains that his vocal chords were badly damaged—along with just about every other part of his body. Apparently The Foot Clan beat the Jason Biggs right out of Leonardo.

It's always rough to get used to a new voice actor in a cartoon series, and this one is particularly difficult in that Seth Green is just talking like Seth Green, rather than doing a voice (as he does on, say, Family Guy), and isn't attempting to use Biggs' characterization (Of course, Biggs wasn't doing anything over-the-top with the voice anyway; it's not like Matthew Lillard replacing Casey Kasem on Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo cartoons, as Lillard is doing his level best to do an impression of Kasem doing a Shaggy voice, and Shaggy is a character with a particular sound to his voice).

I suppose I'll eventually get used to it, just as I eventually got used to the fact that Michaelangelo sounds exactly like Beast Boy from Teen Titans Go! (they're both voiced by Greg Cipes) or that Donatello sounds so much like Yakko Warner from Animaniacs (on account of both being played by Rob Paulsen).

Since I haven't seen the whole season, and thus can't discuss it as a whole as I did with the previous two, I thought I'd just take a look at these episodes, a few of which are full of allusions to previous Turtles media that should be of particular interest to long-time fans of the characters.

"Within The Woods"

The first few minutes of this episode are practically a cover version for the TMNT #11, using the framing device of April writing in her journal to catch viewers up on what happened back in New York in the previous season, the new status quo, what the individual characters have been up to and how much time has passed (a few months). In the comic, it was a shorthand to move past all that trauma and get on with telling new stories; same here, really, but it happens even faster. The entire sequence takes place in the few minutes before the opening credit sequence.

After Leonardo awakes, with the voice of Seth Green, he has an extremely difficult time adjusting back to his "normal" life, hobblng around on a homemade crutch and not wearing his ninja mask. He tries taking a "mutagen medicine" Donatello made for him (it takes a lot of trust to swallow something radioactive and glowing green just because your brother says it will help), but ultimately all it does is make him sick, and he throws it up near a stream.

Mirroring the events of the comics series, where weird things didn't stop happening to them after they left New York (and they were in Northampton a long time in the original volume of the series, essentially from 1987's #11 to 1992's #49, not including flashbacks and the three-part 1989 arc, "Return To New York"). If anything, things seem to get weirder.

In this episode, directed for the most part as an extended homage to modern horror movies (in which no cliche of shot, staging or instance is left un-used), the mutagen creates a big, towering, slasher movie villain, essentially a swamp monster (he's all vines and plants) dressed in bib overalls and wearing a bag over his head. After he takes down Casey—he takes them all down, one by one, naturally—he exchanges the bag for Casey's skull-shaped hockey mask, making him look even more Jason Voorhees-esque still.

"A Foot Too Big"

The Turtles make the acquaintance of a new neighbor—Bigfoot. It's a pretty neat design, more tall and lanky than muscular and stocky, with very long legs ending in very big feet. This Bigfoot talks...sort of, in a weird, fluctuating mumbly voice provided by Diedrich Bader, and is surprised to find out that everyone knows who he is. Well, she, I should say. Bigfoot is a woman. Or a female.

Bigfoot moves into the farmhouse with April, Casey and the Turtles, and her romantic interest in Dontaello wreaks as much comedic havoc as the various gags about having a Bigfoot as a roommate. There's a bit of a tragic nature to the relationship too, however, as Donatello eventually realizes that April must see him in the same way that he sees Bigfoot. Although, to complicate things, April kisses Donatello at the end. Maybe just to keep that plotline open as a source of comedy, and maybe just to keep the episode from getting to be too much of a bummer.

As weird as the Bigfoot character is, she's nothing compared to a survivalist/hunter type with a very familiar voice who refers to himself as "The Finger." This is apparently because he was a creepy, extra finger on one hand—a fact that isn't nearly as creepy as the fact that he wears a shrunken head of his mother around his neck and has conversations with it, doing both voices—but more likely because he is voiced by former wrestler, actor and Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, who has previously gone by nicknames "The Body" and "The Mind." That also explains why The Finger attacks the Turtles with at least one trap that is a shot-for-shot homage to one that Arnold Schwarzenegger's character sprung on the Predator in Predator.

"Buried Secrets"

The gang finds a Kraang ship with April's long lost—and long assumed dead—mother in a stasis chamber under the farm house (In this version, the house belongs to April's parents, and was their summer home). Here then we return tot he Kraang mega-plot, and the fact that April is very important to them, being half-Kraang in her genetic make-up (and thus having psychic powers that allow her to occasionally attack the Kraang mentally).

Michelangelo and Ice Cream Kitty are the first to figure out that something's not right about April's mom (played, in a nice bit of stunt-casting, by Renae Jacobs, who voiced the April O'Neil of the 1987 TMNT series), and they repeat the From Mars tribute bit where no one believes Michaelangelo because he's Michaelangelo that was used in the first episode of the series (He was the first to discover The Kraang, but his brothers didn't believe him that there were brain-like aliens hiding the stomach cavities of robots disguised as humans).

Mrs. O'Neil's true form is...well, it's pretty damn horrifying, to be honest. I'm having a hard time imagining a more horrifying, more Lovecraftian (in its sense of wrongness) monster in a film, let alone a television cartoon show for kids.

This is the episode in which Michelangelo makes whip cream turbans for Ice Cream Kitty, as previously discussed.

"The Croaking"

In the original, 1987 TMNT cartoon series, The Shredder sought to create his own mutant warriors with which to combat the Turtles (other than Rocksteady and Bebop). He got them in the form of four mutant frogs. Just as Splinter namedhis green-skinned pupils after his favorite Renaissance artists, Shredder named his after his favorite conquerors: Atilla the Frog, Genghis Frog, Napoleon Bonafrog and Rasputin The Mad Frog.

This episode uses those characters...sorta.

It is, in actuality, a rather extended homage to Napolean Dynamite, as this Napoleon Bonafrog is essentially just a mutant frog version of the character John Heder played in that film. Hell, they got Heder himself to voice the character.

While the other three frogs, and their small army of name-less frog warriors, are cunning and anti-human, Napoleon is the screw-up of the group, which is why he and Michelangelo become fast friends. There are a couple of pretty great action scenes in this episode, including one in which the frogs lay siege to the farmhouse, and eventually drag our heroes out one by one using their sticky tongues, and there's enough going on that the entire episode doesn't just use that single, one-note joke—he's more Napoleon Dynamite than Napoleon Bonaparte!—to fuel its running length. I didn't much care for that film, and was mystified by its popularity from the start, but I appreciated the subversion of expectations, and the commitment to get Heder himself to voice the character.

"In Dreams"

This is likely the most bonkers episode of the entire series so far, although there's a good chance it is only mind-boggling to me...and what I imagine is the relatively small category of viewers of thse show to which I belong.

As I'm sure I've mentioned somewhere in the previous 3,000+ posts on the blog, my first introduction to Eastman and Laird's characters, after seeing them in toy aisles and the cartoon show, was the 1985 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness role-playing game from Palladium Books. It was written by the late Erick Wujcik, and contained illustrations and an original comic by Eastman and Laird.

Among the characters original to Other Strangeness were The Terror Bears, a subversive parody of The Care Bears (a parody that would become somewhat ironic a few years after they were created, when the Turtles themselves entered toy aisles, and became a hot toy commodity supported by their own cartoon/advertisement, similar to Care Bears).

Pain Bear, Fear Bear, Doom Bear and Nightmare Bear were little black bear cubs with frightening belly badges centered around skulls, rather than hearts. The product of vague military experiments, the super-powered, super-evil bears escaped their captors and were now at large, ready for game-masters to include in their scenarios.

"In Dreams" introduces Dark Beaver, Dire Beaver, Dread Beaver and Dave Beaver, four differently-colored beavers with skull-themed belly badges. These are extra-dimensional monsters that attack people through their dreams, slowly draining away their life force. Why beavers rather than bears? Well, it could be that the producers thought that the Terror Bears were too close to the Care Bears to get away with in such a public venue as a cartoon show. Or it could be that they were just too scary. Or, more likely still, they just liked the way that "Dream Beaver" sounds like "Dream Weaver."

Voicing the Dream Beavers are Robert Englund, who certainly knows how to play a villain that attacks his victims by manipulating their dreams, and John Kassir, voice of The Cryptkeeper from Tales From The Crypt.

If that weren't enough stunt-casting, there's the mortal enemy of the Dream Beavers, a strange man named Bernie who has struggled for 40 years to keep the Dream Beavers from entering the real world. He's voiced by horror movie actor Bill Moseley, who played "Chop-Top" in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and, in one scene he attacks Casey with a chainsaw inscribed with the words "The Saw Is Family."

"The Race With The Demon"

The latest mutant menace is a, um, mutant car. Its tire ran over a puddle left by some misplaced mutagen in "The Croaking," and it is now a monstrous car with a horrifying mouth under its hood, one that gobbles up victims and forces them to be its driver. Its rather uninspired name? Speed Demon.

After a few encounters with the Turtles and friends, Casey Jones eventually challenges the mutant muscle car to a race in the souped-up car he and Donatello have been working on for the entire season to date. In the comics, Casey and the Turtles previously faced off against hot-rodding monsters in 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #30 by Rick Veitch and 2005's Tales of The TMNT #15, by Steve Murphy, Jim Lawson, Eric Talbot and Peter Laird.

This encounter is more reminiscent of the latter, in that Casey is drag-racing the demon car for his very soul, and in design. The bad guy in Tales was Von Clutch, a Ed Roth-style monster. At the climax of this episode, Speed Demon eats Donatello, fuses with him, and further mutates him into a monstrous ninja turtle Roth homage.

This episode also features the introduction of Dr. Cluckingsworth, M.D. He was one of Michelangelo's chickens (who gave him his new name), who pecked at some mutagen and developed a gigantic brain and attendant intelligence. The doctor is unable to speak, but can communicate by typing with his beak. He's used as a navigator on Casey and Donatello's hot rod, in order to calculate Speed Demon's moves and counter them, and can also lay glowing green mutagen eggs that can be converted into fuel to give the racer a boost of incredible speed.

Not quite Ice Cream Kitty weird, but close.

"Eyes of the Chimera"

After the previous two episodes, this one seems downright prosaic. When Speed Demon exploded in the previous episode his (its?) mutagen landed on a bird...that ate a fish...that ate a worm. So naturally all three combined into a monstrous new form, a giant bird monster with fish and worm-like characteristics. It attacks at a somewhat inopportune time, as Donatello's experimenting with Kraang technology from the spaceship in the basement and April's psychic powers rendered her temporarily blind...ish (she can't see out of her own eyes, but she can psychically see out of the chimera's eyes. Hence the title).

When the Chimera captures Michelangelo, Raphael, Casey and Donatello, it's up to the still-recovering Leonardo and the now-blind April to help one another overcome their difficulties and save the day...which they do.

This one', as I said, isn't too terribly remarkable, but I did like the Michelangelo/Donatello exchange that occurred when the monster first attacks. "Ooh! Bird, worm and fish," Mikey says. "Three animals, one body. I know this one, there's a perfect name for it in mythology!"

"Chimera?" Donatello incorrectly correctly guesses.

"No, Turducken!"

Man, Bellerophon would have had a much easier time of it if he had to fight a Turducken instead of a Chimera...