Monday, September 26, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 17

Cyborg #1 by John Semper Jr., Paul Pelletier, Tony Kordos, Scott Hanna and Guy Major

I found the first issue of the new, second volume of a Cyborg ongoing solo series to be surprisingly strong...although I must confess that was in large part because of how low I set the bar after the rather dull and predictable Cyborg: Rebirth #1, which simply ran through his origin one more time and introduced yet another iteration of the whether robots have souls or not issue (As I said at the time, it struck me that comic book writers only tell such stories about robots, cyborgs, androids, synthezoids and other artificial people, when really it's a pretty fundamental human concern. I worry about that kind of thing, and the only metal in my body is a filling where a cavity used to be).

After two pages of foreshadowing the threat that appears on the last two pages to engage Cyborg in a fight, the issue opens with Cyborg stopping some (relatively) petty crooks, then having an elaborate diagnostic run by his father and his friend Sarah at STAR Labs, and then she takes him out for ice cream and jazz music.

If this marks the end of his newfound worry whether he is a real human being with a real soul who has a bunch of robot parts, or if he is an elaborate machine that thinks it has a soul, then it would be a fairly satisfying conclusion to that conflict, even if the scene in which he rediscovers his soul could be viewed as rather trite, depending on how cynical vs. how generous a reader wants to be (It involves a blind jazz musician named Blue, who would stand out as a magical negro type if this comic weren't mostly populated with black folks).

To pencil artist Paul Pelletier's credit, he manages to sell Cyborg's discovery of his soul or humanity–or at least his realization that he can appreciate improvisational live jazz–really well with a few drawings and shifts in facial expression. He likewise handles all other aspects of the book pretty well.

As for the villain that picks the fight with Cyborg, after being awoken by the other villain, the one revealed at the end of the Rebirth special, it's yet one more instance of the Dan DiDio Era, worst-of-both-worlds approach to continuity. It's Kilg%re, a Flash villain from 1987 who played a role in the JLI-era Justice League comics and hasn't been heard from since.

Semper Jr. resurrects the character here, where so far it is simply a big scary robot, but if that name or history is at all attractive to you, then you've been reading DC comics rather voraciously for decades now, and are unlikely to be too terribly interested in the re-booted New 52 universe and this Cyborg comic, and if you're attracted to the NEw 52 universe because it's young, fresh continuity, then you're not really going to feel anything when a writer name-drops a minor 30-year-old character.

Kilg%re, it should go without saying, is a pretty bottom-of-the-barrel antagonist, so it's not like there is some core, timeless element to it that a rebooted version of it can accentuate to the degree that even a rebooted version of, say, Ultraman (evil Superman from an alternate, opposite reality) or Kite Man (guy who commits crimes, with kites!) might possess.

Nice art though and, as I said, I was actively worrying this would be much worse than it actually was.

Trinity #1 by Francis Manapul

One thing I've been curious about for a while now is where, when and with whom the term "trinity" originated in reference to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I know Matt Wagner's awkwardly titled 2003 miniseries Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity is the first time the three shared a book with that word in the title (a title later used for the excellent but underrated Kurt Busiek-written 2008 weekly series and now this new monthly), but I have to imagine the term pre-dates Wagner's series.

I suspect that the idea of the trio as the three greatest heroes in the DC Universe is a fannish concept, and it certainly figured in the epilogue of 1996's Kingdom Come by fans-turned-pros Mark Waid and Alex Ross. You'll recall the series ending with the three of them having lunch together, and deciding to raise Wonder Woman and Superman's child together, as a trio of parents.

It certainly seems like a rather millennial idea. In the Golden Age Batman and Superman (and Robin) shared a book, while Wonder Woman was part of the Justice Society. In the Silver Age, Batman and Superman (and Robin) continued to pal around, and were only occasional members of the Justice League, which was originally essentially all of DC's Greatest Superheroes Who Aren't Batman and Superman (and Robin)! And if by the Bronze Age Wonder Woman was seen as a peer to the World's Finest, 1985-1986's Crisis On Infinite Earths scuttled all that by re-introducing Wonder Woman into the rebooted DC Universe as a newcomer whose career was beginning something like 10 years later than the careers of the World's Finest (causing no end of problems for poor Wonder Girl, and necessitating her replacement in Justice League history with Black Canary).

Because these characters really do have a life of their own to some degree, the idea of Wonder Woman as Batman and Superman's peer rather than a sort of superhero ingenue gradually gained gravity as the years passed, so that by the time of the continuity re-shuffling of Infinite Crisis/52, she was again a Justice League founder.

As I mentioned the other day, there's something of a flaw at the foundation of the new Trinity series, though, at least on a conceptual level. In the post-Flashpoint continuity realignment, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all began their careers around the same time, all met one another almost simultaneously and all founded the Justice League together. However the Superman that is starring in Trinity is not their Superman; he's the pre-Flashpoint one, so what we have here are The New 52 Batman and Wonder Woman, who have known one another and worked together for a good 5-8 years, teaming with an older, wiser Superman from a different reality, who they have just met.

Francis Manapul, who writes, draws and colors this issue, has chosen to embrace this peculiarity to DC
s trinity, premising this first issue on Lois Lane (also from the pre-Flashpoint DCU, her New 52 counterpart having been conveniently killed off shortly after New 52 Superman died) inviting this universe's Batman and Wonder Woman over to their Hamilton County farmhouse for a surprise dinner. Her thinking being that her husband, now going as "Clark White," needs friends. So she turned to this dimension's versions of his two best friends from their home universe.

It's all a lot more complicated than it needs to be, and is unfortunately going to be something that is more-or-less constantly being referred to, as there will always be a wedge between Superman and the other points of the trinity...probably. The mysterious Mr. Oz, who doesn't appear here, has repeatedly mentioned in other books that things aren't exactly what they seem with the Supermen.

So In this issue, Manapul introduces us to the trinity in double-page splash lay-outs, as Wonder Woman and Batman converge on the White farmhouse to have dinner with Clark, Lois and their son Jonathan (who accidentally blasts the visitors with heat-vision). Their basic relationships are established pretty quickly, and Manapul writes off a further New 52 complication to the idea of these three as best superfriends (the fact that New 52 Wonder Woman and New 52 Superman were an item).

There are some cute moments, including Batman being forced to wear plaid after Jon accidentally heat-visions his shirt off, and Wonder Woman bringing a wild boar to dinner (Jesus Diana, just bring a bottle of wine; you expect Lois to clean, cure and cook that thing in order to feed her family of three? You better hope they have a meat cooler somewhere on the farm). As to where it's all going, there's some coy allusions to Jack and the Beanstalk, and it ends with the three heroes looking into a mirror where a young Clark Kent is looking back at them, his father behind him.

It's a pretty classic, pretty effective "What the heck is going on? Find out next issue!" ending, really. While there's nothing wrong with the writing, the book's great strength is Manapul's artwork. He's one of the best artists DC has working for them these days, his design style looks like a compromise between that of Cliff Chiang and Time Sale, and his coloring is particularly effective at the sunset, bucolic world of the rural parts of the DC Universe (as he ably demonstrated during his too-short run on Adventure Comics with Geoff Johns (I'd heartily recommend their Superboy: The Boy of Steel collection, if you haven't read it yet).

I'm not entirely sure of where the book is going, and what might keep it going after this initial outing. With a small, focused Justice League team–just these three and five other characters–it seems somewhat odd to have a comic book starring half the Justice League (I'd kind of like to see Aquaman force Flash, Cyborg and the Green Lanterns to hang out with him once a month or so, and they can all get together and kvetch about the "Trinity" who are too cool to hang out with them unless the world is ending and they need their help).

Given Manapul's artwork though, this should be a particularly easy "Rebirth" book to keep an eye on.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Marvel's December previews reviewed

These are all of the comics Marvel plans on publishing in December of this year. And here is some commentary on said comics...

When a new Inhuman emerges with the ability to profile the future, the Marvel Universe will be rocked to its core! While Captain Marvel harnesses Ulysses’ powers to prevent crime, Iron Man is violently opposed to the implications. As Tony Stark takes matters (and the law) into his own hands and declares war on the Inhumans, others are willing to fight — and even die — to stop him. And when one of the biggest heroes of all falls, the resulting trial of the century stokes the fire. Friendships crumble, teams are torn apart and the conflict goes galactic — but when the truth about Ulysses’ visions is revealed, all bets are off in one of the biggest battles in Marvel history! Collecting CIVIL WAR II #0-8 and material from FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2016 (CIVIL WAR II) #1.
296 PGS./Rated T+ …$50.00
ISBN: 978-1-302-90156-1

I imagine I will read this story in this particular format sometime after December...provided Marvel quits adding and/or delaying issues. Are any of you guys keeping up with it? Word on the street is that it is, as I suspected and feared it might be, garbage, but I'd be interested in hearing your opinion.

Variant Cover by TBA
The team-up to end all team-ups is here, as two of the most different Marvel characters worlds’ collide! What new mafia threat is so great that the Punisher needs Doctor Strange’s help? Find out as the Sorcerer Supreme teams with the One Man War on Crime!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

If I put on my thinking cap and really tried, I don't know that I would be able to come up with two Marvel characters who have less in common than these two, and seem less likely to co-star in a team-up series...certainly not any two characters of their relative stature within the Marvel catalog.

That fact alone makes this series sound kind of exciting, doesn't it...?

• The all-new fanfare following the Ghost Rider heats up!
• Robbie Reyes isn’t exactly a team player, so what’s he supposed to do with Amadeus Cho, a.k.a. the HULK, following him around?
• And who’s that hot on their heels? None other than the WOLVERINE!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Ooh, the all-new, teenage Hulk and the all-new, teenage Wolverine are hanging around the all-new, teenage Ghost Rider? I hope they're all going to get Miles Morales, Spider-Man and form an all-new, teenage Fantastic Four!

Remember Hawkeye? No not that Hawkeye, our favorite Hawkeye, the chick who puts the hawk in Hawkeye, the butt-kicking hero who had to save the other Hawkeye’s butt all the time. Yup, you know her, it’s the dazzling Kate Bishop making her solo comics debut! Kate is heading west and returning to Los Angeles, with her bow and arrow and P.I. badge in tow. There are crimes to solve and she’s the best archer to handle ‘em! The City of Angels has a new guardian angel.
The talented duo of Kelly Thompson (A-Force, Jem) and Leonardo Romero (Squadron Supreme, Doctor Strange) bring you a Kate Bishop like you’ve never seen her before, in a brand-new ongoing series that really hits the mark!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

If it were up to me, I'd call this book West Coast Hawkeye, given its setting and Hawkguy's history with that adjective, but I imagine this will be good no matter what it's called (But West Coast Hawkeye or Lady Hawkguy would be better, obviously).

JENNIFER WALTERS has survived the Civil War…barely…and having risen from the rubble, she re-enters the world a different kind of hero. Fueled by a quiet rage, she is determined to move forward, to go on with her life, but the pain of the past and all she’s lost is always there – an undercurrent, a pulse, waiting to quicken and trigger Jen’s transformation into the one thing she doesn’t have control over…
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Well, I sure do hate the idea of a She-Hulk title called Hulk instead of She-Hulk, but more distressing is how...serious this title sounds. I'm sure it's quite possible to do a serious She-Hulk comic, but I think it would be awfully hard at this point to do so in-continuity (Hulks and lawyers-who-are-also-Hulks being every day and all) and I think it sounds awfully unappealing to me personally. The reason I've always liked She-Hulk better than He-Hulk is that she has been, for the longest time, the fun one.

Mariko Tamaki is a damn good get for Marvel though, so hopefully she can pull it off well enough to generate a solid trade collection or three.

IVX #1 (of 6)
The X-Men and Inhumans have been on a collision course since the link was proven between the Inhumans’ precious Terrigen Mist and the sickness and death of many mutants. When Beast discovers that the mutants have only two weeks before the planet is uninhabitable for them, an Inhuman/mutant war is unavoidable. Co-written by Charles Soule (Uncanny Inhumans, Daredevil) and Jeff Lemire (Extraordinary X-Men, Moon Knight), IVX delivers sensational set pieces, gargantuan grudge matches, all drawn by the sensational Leinil Francis Yu! Whether you’re for the X-MEN or the INHUMANS, IVX promises to shatter the Marvel Universe as you know it!
48 PGS./Rated T+ …$5.99

Huh. The Inhumans are no X-Men, despite Marvel trying to make them into the X-Men, so they're definitely no Avengers, so I imagine this will not be as fun as AVX was.

Now maybe if the "I" in "IVX" stood for "Invaders," they might be on to something here...

The first issue will have at least one great variant cover though; this "BLACK PANTHER 50th ANNIVERSARY VARIANT" by Michael del Mundo.

Cover by GREG LAND
Years before Jack Kirby introduced the world to a new age of heroic Marvels, the King of comics terrorized it with incredible creations — many of which are poised to rock the Marvel Universe once again! In this collection of strange tales to astonish, meet a menacing menagerie from Kirby’s boundless imagination, all with unforgettable names. Gorgilla! Blip! Monstrom! Grottu! Moomba! Orrgo! Bruttu! Rommbu! Vandoom’s Monster! Goom and Googam! And don’t forget Groot! Plus: Catch up with Jack’s legendary creations Devil Dinosaur and Fin Fang Foom, and meet monster hunters Elsa Bloodstone, Lady Hellbender and Moon Girl! Collecting FEARLESS DEFENDERS #8, MARVEL ZOMBIES (2015) #1, MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #1, TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #2-3, and material from STRANGE TALES (1951) #73 and #90, TALES TO ASTONISH (1959) #11-13, 15, #17, #19 and #23; and TALES OF SUSPENSE #15, #17, 19 and #22.
264 PGS./Rated T+ …$34.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90089-2

A very curious mix of classic pre-Marvel Kirby monster comics and extremely new-ish material, like issues of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and Totally Awesome Hulk. What I can't get over, though, is the fact that Marvel decided to slap a cover by Greg Land on a collection mostly drawn by Jack fucking Kirby.

I can't even think of a proper metaphor to describe the work of perhaps the best artist the superhero genre has to offer covered by the work of perhaps the worst. Krysten Ritter wearing a suit made of a living scorpions? A baby goat in a pair of pajamas that secretes extremely corrosive acid from its pajamas? Seriously, I can't think of a good one. But a Land cover on a Kirby comic sounds like some kind of cosmic crime.

• It’s up to LOGAN and the greatest supernatural hero squad the world has ever seen, the HOWLING COMMANDOS, to stop DRACULA from a dastardly plot that endangers the whole world.
• But when JUBILEE is in trouble, can the Commandos trust Logan to make the tough calls?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Is it weird that the solicitation for this issue of Old Man Logan reads more like the solicitation for an issue of the Chris Sims co-written X-Men '92...?


• ’Cause you’re getting an extra helping of POWER MAN AND IRON FIST! This Christmas will be sweet, indeed!
• But not for Luke Cage, who is feeling neither holly nor jolly.
• Surely Danny can change that! Or maybe these demonic toys will! Wait, demonic toys?! OH, NO!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

How on earth has this title never been used for a Luke Cage-related Christmas special before...?

If you love Marvel’s Jessica Jones, you will love POWERS! The secrets of Walker’s past keep pouring into the present. Find out his deepest, darkest secret right here! All on the road to the quadruple-sized POWERS 100th-issue spectacular. Miss the show? Read the comic!
32 pgs./Mature $3.99

So my first thought when reading this solicitation was, "No you won't," in response to the the first sentence. I mean, they have a few similarities--Bendis' writing, crime-solving in a world of superheroes-but those are two very different comics.

My next thought was the joke I should maybe have made instead. Ahem. "Wait, Powers is only on #9? I knew it was on an infrequent schedule, and only published new issues occasionally, but I would have expected it to be on a much higher issue number than #9 after its 16 years of publication."

• Frank gets help from an unlikely source.
• But trouble’s not far behind!
• If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure for a big surprise…
32 PGS./Parental Advisory …$3.99

Given the fact that this solicitation ends with a lyric from "The Teddy Bears' Picnic," and that the star of this book became a mass-murdering vigilante after his entire family was gunned down during a picnic in the park, I can only assume that in this issue a teddy bear loses his whole family in the crossfire of a gang war, swears vengeance and adopts the name "The Punishbear" and begins his own murderous campaign of vengeance against organized crime. So the part where it says "Frank gets help from an unlikely source"...? That unlikely source is totally gonna prove to be The Punishbear.

Issue #1 – Cover by KAMOME SHIRAHAMA
Issue #1 – Variant Cover by Jamie McKelvie
Issue #1 – Variant Cover by Elsa Charretier
Issue #1 – Droids Variant Cover by Rod Reis
Issue #1 – Action Figure Variant Cover by JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
Issue #1 – Blank Variant Cover also available
Issue #2 – VARIANT COVER BY Annie Wu
Issue #2 – Droids Variant Cover by Declan Shalvey
An all-new, TOP-SECRET ongoing Star Wars series begins this December…
ISSUE #1 – 40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99
ISSUE #2 – 32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.

This is this month's example of why I think running a comic shop must be a hell of a difficult job. Given the number of variants and the fact that they are classifying the star or stars or subject matter implies that it will a bigger Star Wars book, but I technically this could be Kylo Ren or Lives of the Dewbacks or Watto or Admiral Thrawn or A Pivotal Character Who Will Be Appearing in Rogue One or Twi'lek Swimsuit Special or Wookie Swimsuit Special or Sinjir Rath Velus' Galaxy of Cocktail Recipes, and I imagine the precise ordering for any of those hypothetical titles will vary pretty widely. Fingers crossed for a Sinjir book!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: September 21

Archie #12 (Archie Comics) Wait, this wasn't funny! Like, at all, really! Well, maybe for like a panel on that last page, and, to be fair, Archie Andrews does warn us on the very first page that he's "not feeling very funny right now."

It turns out that not only are Veronica and Sayid mad at Archie and Betty because they saw them hugging, but Hiram Lodge lost his election, and has decided to move the Lodge Family out of Riverdale immediately without warning Veronica ahead of time. And so most of the issue is concerned with Sayid being mad at Betty, and Archie trying to talk to Veronica before she leaves Riverdale...perhaps forever!

Well, probably not, but still! It is all very dramatic, and more drama-focused than gag-focused. I would really rather wash this down with an issue of Jughead than let this be my last impression of Riverdale for the week.

The art this time comes from Ryan Jampole and Thomas Pitilli, credited with breakdowns and finishes, respectively. It is very good.

The "Classic Archie" back-up is an unexpected one. It's a six-page from 1990 written by...Mark Waid! I didn't even know he had ever worked at Archie, let alone written for the publisher, but he did indeed, as he explains in his prose intro to the piece and, well, then we get the piece itself, drawn by Chris Allan, to prove it.

SuperF*ckers Forever #2 (IDW) James Kochalka's return to his 2005-2007 series about a bunch of super-powered teens this summer was pretty unexpected. How unexpected? Well, unexpected enough that I didn't even have time to ask my local comic shop to order me a copy of the first issue until the week it came out. That first issue still hasn't come in yet–they ordered no rack copies, and apparently I am the only customer who has ordered SuperF*ckers, because our world is a less-than-ideal one–but the second one was in my pull this week.

At first I wasn't sure if I should read it, or wait until the first issue of the now ongoing series came in so that I won't be lost. After all, I don't remember the original series all that clearly, only that it seemed like the most realistic portrayal of teenaged superheroes I had ever read, and that Jack Krak was the motherfucker. Did I need to know more than that to read and follow this issue?

No, it turns out I did not. Jack Krak is still the motherfucker and, in fact, refers to himself as such about once a page. While I have no idea what exactly happened last issue, in this issue Princess Sunshine and Jack Krak compete for Superdan's approval, Grotessa's boyfriend Vortex sleeps on a urine-soaked couch and Superdan accidentally eats all of the drugs.

There's a back-up story by Laura Knetzger, in which Grotus sips coffee, reads the paper and tries to enjoy a morning in the kitchen. Back-ups by people who are not James Kochalka are an ongoing feature in this ongoing series, and that's going to be weird, because the characters are so James Kochalka-y that they look bizarre when drawn by someone else. Knetzger draws four panels of Jack and two of Sunshine and they look so weird. Grotus, being a purple blob, not so much.

Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm typing "SuperF*ckers" instead of "SuperFuckers," it's because IDW uses the asterisk in the logo as well as in the fine print inside the book. So I guess "SuperFukers" is officially "SuperF*ckers" now. It's still pronounced the same though!

Treehouse of Horror #22 (Bongo Comics) Just as the annual Halloween "Treehouse of Horror" episodes of The Simpsons were traditionally the best episodes of any given season–although I confess it's been a long time since I've watched any episode of The Simpsons, going on probably five years now–the annual Halloween Treehouse of Horror specials are traditionally the best issues of Simpsons comics in any given year. They are, at the very least, the ones most likely to feature the most unlikely contributors and, of course they are the ones I am most likely to pick up and check out.

In the case of the 22nd Treehouse of Horror annual (oh my God I am so old), it was the cover got me: The Simpsons family in a Ghostbusters homage, with the ladies wielding the proton packs, since this is 2016 and all. Homer and Bart also just look remarkably...right as The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and Slimer. This cover is credited to Jason Ho, Mike Rote and Nathan Kane, and they all did their jobs admirably, as they convinced me to fork over $5 on the strength of that image alone.

Sadly, the insides of the comic aren't anywhere nearly as good or effective as the cover.

The story which ties to it is "Ghost Bashers," which, like all of the stories in this issue, are drawn in a style so close to that of what one might expect of a comic based on the show as to be boring–and eliminate one of the occasional thrills of the Halloween annuals. A parody of Ghostbusters in which Homer, Lenny, Karl and Professor Frink uses a device that Frink has invented–a combination of a proton pack with a sort of laser club–to deliver beat downs to ghosts. The most effective gag may be the fact that all of the ghosts that appear are of characters who have died throughout the TV series' epically long run. Writer Tony DiGerolamo wades into some criticism of the Ghostbusters reboot, when Marge and "The female Ghostbashers" appear to help them.
Homer: Um...That's okay, Marge. We already have The Ghostbashers.

Marge: But...we're all women.

Homer: Well, we got all the same dealies. Plus we were kind of doing it first... Seems kinda pointless and redundant really...
At least he the story takes a jab at Ghostbusters II in the last panel, when Frink says "Good Glavin, this is fun! I hope we get to do it again!" and Carl responds "Ya know, probably once was enough."

That's followed immediately by an X-Files parody starring Lisa and Nelson that would also seem completely outdated...were it not for the fact that the X-Files, like Ghostbusters, also returned this year. Two more stories round out the issue: "Retirement Castle of The Vampires," where a vampire takes over Grandpa Simpson's retirement home, and "Bart & Lisa Vs. The Red Menace," a Looney Tunes parody of sorts.

Trinity #1 (DC Comics) I was a lot more excited about this title when it was originally announced, and that excitement waned quite a bit when it became clear that DC was doing something rather weird with Superman (i.e. killing off the New 52 version and replacing him with an extra-dimensional doppelganger). I will discuss the book at much greater length in a few days, as it's part of DC's "Rebirth" initiative, but it is both written and drawn by Francis Manapul, so of course it looks great (actually, he handles colors too; Steve Wands letters, but otherwise this is all Wands).

The story is pretty simple: Batman and Wonder Woman come to visit Clark "White" and his wife Lois and son Jonathan on their farm for dinner. And that's it.

It's fine, although I did feel a little like I've read some version of this story a few times already in recent months, as the new Superman keeps meeting and re-meeting these characters and considering and re-considering and re-re-reconsidering his level of engagement with them and their team and the world. It's kind of a fundamental problem there's no easy way for Manapul to work around, as it is the very premise of the series.

There's a gag with Wonder Woman that's sorta funny, but turns dumb if you stop to think about it for a second.

It's far better than any issue of Batman/Superman or Superman/Wonder Woman that I can remember reading though, so there's certainly that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

DC's December previews reviewed

In December, the presidential election will be over for almost an entire month, and depending on who wins, the United States of America should still have the necessary infrastructure and economy to support the publishing of and sale of comic books. If that is the case, then these are the comic books that DC intends to ship to your local comic shop.

And these are some thoughts I had while reading about them...

Art and cover by JOHN ROMITA JR.
Superstar writer Scott Snyder explodes into an all-new Batman series alongside legendary artist John Romita Jr., in this pencils-only DIRECTOR’S CUT of the smash-hit ALL STAR BATMAN #1. Batman must take Two-Face to a destination outside of Gotham City, but the duplicitous villain has a two of spades up his sleeve. Every assassin, bounty hunter and ordinary citizen with something to hide is on their tails with one goal: kill Batman! Handcuffed together on the road to hell, this is Batman and Two-Face as you’ve never seen them before!
On sale DECEMBER 21 • 64 pg, FC, $5.99 US • RATED T

Cover by JIM LEE
Superstar artists Jim Lee and Jason Fabok join writer Rob Williams to bring you a new vision of the Suicide Squad in this new pencils-only DIRECTOR’S CUT special! As “The Black Vault” begins, a mysterious cosmic item falls out of the heavens and into enemy hands, and America has only one option: Task Force X, Amanda Waller’s strike team of incarcerated super-criminals. A one-stop-shop for plausibly deniable espionage and ultra-violence, this “Suicide Squad” only handles missions they’re not expected to survive.
On sale DECEMBER 7 • 64 pg, FC, $5.99 US • RATED T+

Just a reminder: Comic books do not actually have directors, nor are they edited in a way at all analogous to films, so the "cut" of the issue in question will be the same "cut" as you read if you purchased the original comic book. These are just process-focused specials. Which, don't get me wrong, can still be fun! I just hate that they refer to them as "Dirctor's Cut" specials. Blah.

Written by DAN ABNETT
“THE DELUGE” part two! The war between the United States and Atlantis takes a turn for the worse when the U.S. activates its newest weapon to assassinate Aquaman and dismantle his undersea kingdom: the Aquamarines, super-soldiers who have been biologically enhanced to combat the abilities of any Atlantean.
On sale DECEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I have to confess that I like the name "Aquamarines." I just hope their uniforms are colored appropriately.

DC’s biggest and brightest heroes celebrate the holidays in this new special! Don’t miss a Chanukah crisis for Batwoman, a Flash family Christmas, Wonder Woman interrupting John Constantine’s hellblazing pagan party and more—including the return of Detective Chimp! Today’s top talents bring you a very special holiday gift that’ll keep on giving through the New Year! And writer Paul Dini crafts a Harley holiday tale featuring DCU guests that bridges all the stories in the weirdest, wildest way.
ONE-SHOT • On sale DECEMBER 14 • 96 pg, FC, $9.99 US • RATED

I'm a big fan of holiday specials, so I hope this one's good. It seems like a pretty good roster of writers, and I like the two artists they named, but, um, I'm not so sure about "and others" just yet.

Nguyen's cover is nicely rendered and designed and all, but it's awfully dull, and looks more like something that DC might use for their company Christmas card than the cover of a big, fat, holiday anthology full of their superheroes.

“The Poison Truth” part five! John’s gotten the djinn off his back, at least for the moment. Now he needs Mercury. As they leave English shores behind, it’s time for a heart-to-heart as Mercury tells John what happened to her while Swamp Thing was battling the Rot.
On sale DECEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

Pia Guerra alert! Pia Guerra alert!

Pia Guerra draws this issue.

That is all.

Art and cover by JASON FABOK
The first major event storyline of DC’s Rebirth era begins with a day Amanda Waller always knew would come: the Justice League discovers the existence of the Suicide Squad! This government-sponsored black-ops team of super-villains with bombs implanted in their brains is obviously a deal-breaker for Earth’s paragons of truth and justice! But you can bet that the Wall and her Task Force X won’t go down without the fight to end all fights as this weekly series gets underway!
On sale DECEMBER 21 • 40 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $4.99 US • RATED T

Wait, does that make "Night of The Monster Men" a minor event storyline...?

I was a little surprised to read the solicit copy, as I was pretty sure that the League was already well aware of the Suicide Squad's existence. Batman seems to know anything, and in a recent issue of Batman he was meeting with Amanda Waller about collaborating on some sort of suicide mission. And we've seen the Squad attack Wonder Woman and (the other, now dead) Superman. So I just sort of assumed the post-Flashpoint Task Force X wasn't a big secret.

Cover by ACO
With Henry Bendix’s trap sprung, it’ll be a long road for Midnighter to be reunited with Apollo—and the path will take him straight through the gates of Hell itself!
On sale DECEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, 3 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+

Wow, ACO drew the fuck out of that door. That's a pretty great cover image. It's a shame that a logo and credits are gonna cover any of it up at all.

This series, by the way, appears to be the only current remnant of the WildStorm universe merging with the DCU and the "Vertigo Universe" at the climax of Flashpoint.

Written by TIM SEELEY
Art and cover by MARCUS TO
“BLUDHAVEN” part one! Following “Night of the Monster Men” and his battle with Raptor, Nightwing heads to Blüdhaven for a fresh start. But that doesn’t last long when he runs into a crew of former Bat-villains!
On sale DECEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Hey everyone, please enjoy this drawing of Dick Grayson's butt.


...Is this the first time Bludhaven's been mentioned since the reboot? I don't recall it being mentioned at all since, and, in fact, when Nightwing left Gotham to strike out on his own during the previous volume of this book, he moved to Chicago rather than Bludhaven.

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
It’s hard enough for Scooby and the gang to crack the mystery of a Dickensian Yuletide ghost…but it’s harder with “help” from Mystery, Inc.’s newest member: Harley Quinn! Harley’s decided to try a new career as a ghost-busting detective—and when she swings that giant mallet, nobody’s going to tell her “no.” But the gang doesn’t suspect the real reason for Harley’s relocation: She’s on the run after a “lover’s spat” with The Joker—and Mistah J wants her back!
On sale DECEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E

In another measure of just how popular Harley Quinn has become, other than Batman, she's the only DC hero to star in more than one issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up.

Note the icon on Art Baltazar's version of The Composite Superman on the cover of his Super Powers #2. It's...not his original chest icon.

Art and cover by JOELLE JONES
Flying and crushing coal into diamonds may come easy, but try popping a Kryptonian zit! Caldecott Honor-winning and Eisner Award-winning writer Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) teams with Eisner Award-nominated artist Joëlle Jones (Lady Killer) for a coming-of-age tale like you’ve never seen before. But while growing pains shake up Kara’s world, a deadly earthquake rocks the small town of Midvale beneath her feet! The Girl of Steel has a choice: let her world die, or overcome her adolescent insecurities and be super!
PRESTIGE FORMAT • On sale DECEMBER 28 • 48 pg, FC, 1 of 4, $5.99 US • RATED T

This is a book that would have been great to have on the shelf last fall, but should eventually do gangbusters in trade in certain pieces of the market (libraries certainly, I would imagine). Given that it seems so primed to succeed in the YA book market, it's interesting to see that DC is serializing it, and as an old-school, "prestige format" miniseries at that.

It's difficult to know for sure based on what little we have to go on here, but it certainly sounds like this will be a standalone Supergirl comic, and not part of the "real" DC Universe, which will either end up being too bad or a good thing, depending on the quality of the series. Given the talent involved, I'm assuming it will be a pretty good comic book, and thus it will be too bad if it is in its own little discrete continuiti-verse instead of being the "real" origin story of the "real" Supergirl....

Art and cover by JONBOY MEYERS
“DAMIAN KNOWS BEST” part three! After Ra’s al Ghul and the Demon land a devastating blow against the Teen Titans, the team is forced to regroup. Facing an enemy that knows them better than they know themselves, what chance does this young team have? And how can they trust Damian after everything he’s put them through?
On sale DECEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Huh. When they say "the Demon," I assume they mean the Demon Etrigan...? And that makes me wonder, have Ra's al Ghul, the so-called demon's head, ever teamed or met Etrigan, the demon-with-a-capital-D...? It seems like a rather obvious pairing, particularly given the fact that Ra's and Jason Blood are immortal and therefore likely to have crossed paths repeatedly, but I've never read a story featuring the two of them, nor can I think of ever having heard of one.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The triumphant return of Kite Man (and friends)

I remember an interview with Geoff Johns that ran on Newsarama maybe as many as ten years ago at this point, which would have been several editors, site redesigns and owners ago, so I'm not even going to attempt looking for the link. But in the interview, the person asking the questions of Johns noted his impressive ability to take some of the most minor, silliest DC supervillains and make them scary. Apparently seeking to test the limits of his ability, she chose one of the most minor, silliest villains she could, Kite Man, and asked what he would do to turn him into a "serious" villain.

Johns didn't seem to miss a beat, seemingly wondering aloud if maybe Kite Man could be a serial killer who built kites out of the bones and treated and stretched-out skins of his victims.

Good answer, I guess, but it's stuck with me since, because it was such a dramatic shift from who Kite Man was created to be. Bill Finger and Dick Sprang made him a villain who used a variety of kite-related gimmicks to commit crimes and, in a telling detail of just how "serious" a threat he was meant to be, his civilian identity was Charles Brown, which he shared with a comic strip character who famously had a hard time with kites.

Not every supervillain needs to be a grisly serial killer of the Leatherface variety. It's the Crazy Quilts, Killer Moths and Calendar Men in Batman's life that make The Jokers so scary. A large part of what makes Batman such a vital character at this point is the wide variety of his adversaries, which range from organized crime types to monster men to would-be world conquerers to serial killers to terrorists to mad scientists to legitimate supervillains to silly costumed types. In 2016, there are very few Batman stories a writer can't tell, and chancse are, there's already a villain or 17 to drive a conflict in that story.

So it was fun to see the return of Kite Man after some absence (he was killed off, at least twice, between Identity Crisis and Final Crisis) in the pages of Tom King's Batman; he returned in the sixth issue of that series, which was drawn by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert.

That scene at the top of the post accounts for almost his entire appearance in the book; on the very next page the super-powered Gotham Girl grabs him by his kite and crumples it in her hand, taking him into custody.

Not only was I relieved to see that he wasn't riding a kite made of human skin and bones, but when these sort of old school Silver Age villains are played completely straight in the more serious modern comic book narratives, they become at once both humorsous and also seem a lot more insane. Like, dude just used an extremely expensive home-made kite/hang-gliding rig, risked his life and caused a few thousand dollars worth of damage just to steal a single pearl necklace. It's easy to see that guy ending up in an asylum, whereas you know the president would be ordering drone strikes on the likes of The Joker and Scarecrow at this point.

Now, Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr. have rightly been getting lots of praise–including from me!–for rehabbing and revitalizing a bunch of minor villains in the pages of their All-Star Batman, but it's worth noting that King and company are doing their part with this issue, as well.
In addition to Kite Man, Gotham Girl also takes down Colonel Blimp and Captain Stingaree (that's him on the page above). The former is a 1982 Paul Kupperberg and Don Newton creation who uses blimps to steal (Chris Sims will happily walk you through his first appearance) and the latter is a pirate-themed crazy person created by Bob Rozakis, Michael Uslan and Ernie Chan for a 1976 story in Detective Comics.

Interestingly, King only gives them each a page or two, but with similar stories as those of the villains' original appearances apparently having occurred off-page (Stingaree, it should be noted, was written pre-Flashpoint by Brad Meltzer in the pages of his short-lived–and terrible!–run on Justice League of America, where Meltzer made Stingaree a closeted homosexual in a relationship with his fellow sword-weilding, fancy dress-wearing Batman villain The Cavalier, who Black Lightning blackmails. Not very PC, guys!).

So King managed to reintroduce three minor Batman villains and keep their stories in tact while transplanting them into a current Batman narrative, and he did it in about six pages of a 20-page story, which is actually about Gotham Girl going a little loopy after the events of the previous five issues, and Batman trying to comfort her. But the Kite Man page at the top of this post? It's by far the best of those 20 pages.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The best part of Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps #4:

Captured by the Sinestro Corps, Green Lantern Guy Gardner is brought before their leader with just the minimum charge left in his power ring. Guy immediately expends this last bit of energy attempting to attack Sinestro, and so his ring-generated costume dissipates. Sinestro is in the middle of monologuing about his Fear Engine super-weapon when he glances over his shoulder to see that Guy doesn't even wear a pair of underwear when he's in his uniform, so, with his ring-generated costume gone, he's now standing there naked.

The look on Sinestro's face in that third panel, drawn by Ethan Van Sciver, is maybe my favorite single image of the week, and there were a lot of great images in this week's comics. Writer Robert Venditti does a pretty swell job with the entire Gardner/Sinestro scene, actually; despite their many battles over the years, those two just don't quite fit together right as archenemies the way Hal Jordan and Sinestro do.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 16

Okay, so here's a question that didn't occur to me until literally five minutes ago: Is Gotham Academy: Second Semester, the only new DC comic to launch this week that wasn't on the new Young Animal imprint, part of the "Rebirth" initiative or not?

I had been operating under the belief that it was, seeing as how it was a shared-universe, DCU book that was canceled around the time as all of the other such books, and being relaunched with a new #1 during the roll-out of all the other "Rebirth" titles, even if it was near the end of that roll-out (I believe there are just two more books yet to debut, Teen Titans and Trinity).

But when I sat down to write about Gotham Academy: Second Semester #1, I see that it lacks the "Rebirth" branding along the top that all of the other "Rebirth" books have:
Which reminds me that when DC first announced the line-up of Rebirth books, Gotham Academy didn't appear on that list, which lead to fans wondering for a few days if it was being canceled and staying canceled, rather than being canceled just to be relaunched.

I can't imagine why it wouldn't be considered part of "Rebirth," as it's a non-imprint, DCU title set in the shared-universe (unlike, say, DC Comics Bombshells or The Legend of Wonder Woman or Scooby-Doo Team-Up or Scooby Apoaclypse), but there is clearly now "Rebirth" logo atop the first issue.

As a relatively poorer-selling DCU comic that is nevertheless high-quality and all-ages in address, it's the sort of book that DC should be publishing and continue to publish as long as they can, and one that could probably use any sales boost it can get. Which, I suppose begs a question for the retailers in the reading audience--Does the "Rebirth" banner across the top help sell more books if all other factors are even?

Like, would Gotham Academy: Second Semester #1 see a sales increase based solely on the "Rebirth" logo? Little else here in direction or creative team has changed, so it's difficult to even find another comic in the exact same place as Gotham Academy. Given how relatively deep a corner of the Bat-Family books Gotham Academy occupies, I suppose it's theoretically possible that the "Rebirth" logo might have hurt it, as a long-time reader who only reads that book from DC's line might be intimidated, thinking it's part of a bigger crossover?

I have no idea. I'm just wondering aloud, basically.

Given that I'm not sure, I suppose I won't offer a review here...especially since I just reviewed it as part of this week's "Comic Shop Comics" the other day.

I will recommend it, though, and Gotham Academy in general. The series centers on an unofficial Detective Club as a prestigious, Gotham City boarding school, the members of which are constantly finding themselves engaged in the weird goings-on there, and at the weird city in general.

It's not really a Bat-Family title, despite its participation in the fringes of certain events, having published an "Endgame" tie-in one-shot and participated in "Robin War." Bruce Wayne gets mentioned and occasionally appears, and Robin Damian Wayne has appeared more frequently, striking up a friendship of sorts with Maps, the weirdest and quirkiest and most mystery-obsessed member of Detective Club. And the faculty of the school seems to consist of one Professor MacPherson and a bunch of Batman villains, ranging from Dr. Langstrom (Man-Bat, natch) to Mister Scarlet (Batman '66's Bookworm).

I like it a lot. I will note that it reads better in trade than in single issues, though.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: September 14

All-Star Batman #2 (DC Comics) Writer Scott Snyder's collaboration with the great John Romita Jr continues to be an absolute blast, with the pair conceiving of these earliest issues as if they were a little paper action movie, complete with set-pieces and dumb/clever quips from the action hero. There's a plot, but it isn't foregrounded, and is still in the process of unfolding anyway, so the emphasis goes instead to the premise: Batman trying to transport Two-Face 500 miles with apparently every villain John Romita Jr. feels like drawing appearing to stop Batman and collect on an astronomical bounty.

Last issue we saw heavily visually re-vamped versions of Firefly, Killer Moth, Black Spider and a de-re-vamped Gentleman Ghost (the latter of whom Batman apparently dispatched between issues). Here we see Cheshire, Copperhead (not that one, a different one), Killer Croc, King Shark, Amygdala (who I was, oddly enough, just talking about) and The KGBeast, who unlike the others we've seen so far is being set up as a bigger threat; his introduction, in which three name Gotham City villains hire him, takes longer than some of the fight scenes (Still other villains get name-checked, like Orca, who would have fit in quite nicely in the group participating in the train-top fight scene).

Snyder simply machine-gunning all these characters at the reader works in large part because they amount to little more than cameos of varying length; in most cases, all that really matters is that they are colorful opponents. And that, of course, works on two levels. Longtime fans who know/care about Amygdala, KGBeast and Orca get the delight of seeing those essentially trivial characters, or at least having them acknowledged, while newer readers get to meet them for the first time.

And each of them looks great. It's hard to imagine an artist redesigning such a large chunk of Batman's rogues gallery (and the wider DCU supervillain community) and having it work as well as JRJR manages. Some characters look about as one might expect; Croc, for example, looks as he has since Flashpoint, just bigger, pointier and more threatening. Others, like King Shark, are completely different than last time we saw them, but they are generally all being redesigned in a way that looks appropriate to their starting points (for example, there are no horrible aesthetic misfires akin to the redesign of Gentleman Ghost, who appeared in his previous form here). The Beast, for example, looks less 1980s, but keeps the same basic costume motif.

I can't quite get over the King Shark design, which is so different from his three previous incarnations (Superboy, Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis and The New 52). It may be an entirely new character, I don't know; it's only vaguely shark-like, but the panels he appears in, lumbering next to Croc and Amygdala, are so effective. They look like kaiju stomping toward Batman.
Those are a whole bunch of words, but to simply repeat what I tweeted as I first read the book earlier, Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr.'s All-Star Batman has been completely bonkers, in the very best sense of that word.

How bonkers? Well, I'm very glad you asked that question!
This immediately reminded me of that time Batman shot his own ears into a foe's face, revealing that they are projectile weapons. I love the fact that Snyder found a second way in which to weaponize Batman's ears.

Because that means Batman has more than one cowl in which the ears are weaponized. When he's getting dressed for the night, Batman has to therefore decide if he wants to wear a standard cowl with normal ears, or if he's likely to be in a situation where he might need to hit someone with sharp projectiles but he won't be able to throw because his arms are pinned, or if he's more likely to be in a situation where he needs to stab someone, and therefore needs to wear the cowl with the ears that are also knives.

So as not to gush overmuch, I suppose I should point out a continuity error:
That is in line with Croc's original origin (I just read and am working on a post about Batman Arkham: Killer Croc, so Croc continuity is particularly fresh in my mind at the moment), but The New 52 Killer Croc was actually from Gotham City, originally.

(Also, Croc going after Batman for a bounty here is pretty out-of-line with what we've seen from him in the Snyder co-written Batman Eternal lately, and certainly doesn't jibe with Suicide Squad, where he is currently incarcerated in Belle Reeve when not being sent out on suicide missions.)

(Also also, Batman sure uses some potentially deadly force to remove Croc from the battle in this issue.)
I was less enthusiastic with the back-up, drawn by Declan Shalvey and featuring Duke Thomas as the star. It occurred to me while reading this particular issue that Snyder seems to have transferred chunks of Tim Drake's origin to Duke's, and, in fact, the character's are written more or less identically. The villain is Mr. Zsasz, and while Snyder does seem to have at least re-read "The Last Arkham" before proceeding (he would have almost had to, in order to remember Amygdala), both Zsasz's physical appearance and competency This isn't a complaint unique to Snyder and, of course, but it always kind of irritates me that someone meant as a one-off character like that keeps getting trotted out over and over, despite the fact that nobody has much of anything to say or do with him. In fact, I don't think he's ever had any further or deeper characterization than what co-creator Alan Grant came up with for him in "The Last Arkham."

DC Comics Bombshells #17 (DC) By spreading out the countries of origin of the dozens of American DC superheroes, writer Marguerite Bennett occasionally manages to really surprise with the reveal of a new DCU character in the Bombshells-iverse in a way that would be easy to see coming if the character were American and had their traditional American name.

Like, for example, when Batwoman Kate Kane spends a few pages talking with the little Jewish girl in a red dress named Miriam in a German ghetto the night before she and the other Bombshells plan to lead an uprising, I never expected that girl to turn out to be "Miri Marvel." Her patrons, Jewish heroines, are detailed in the above splash page. It probably wouldn't work in the DCU, as those patrons don't exactly offer the formal suite of typical Marvel Family powers like flight and super-strength and invulnerability, but they always did play kind of fast and loose with which god or "god" offered which power. It was generally just an exercise in matching mythological characters to fit the pre-existing acronym of "Shazam."

And I suppose Mary, er, Miri only demonstrates that she can fly and has magical abilities, so I suppose it works just fine. Plus, you know, anything basically goes in this extended Elseworlds/"Imaginary Story" narrative.

I really liked the sequence, as well as the surprise of it (which I may have just ruined for some of you) and the simple presence of a member of the Marvel Family, a group of characters I love and DC can't seem to find a good showcase for.

As always, Bombshells remains wonderfully drawn.

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #1 (DC) Gotham Academy is back, and with more byzantine art credits than ever! Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl and Becky Cloonan all share a story credit, while only the first two get credited for the script. As for the art, Adam archer pencils, Sandra Hope inks, Chris Sotomayor and Serge Lapointe color, a "Msassyk" gets credited with "background painting" and Rob Haynes gets "breakdowns" credit. So...rather than the typical two or three artists, I guess each page passed through the hands of five different artists...?

It looks great, and I do generally like the Gotham Academy aesthetic, which can call to mind that of animation cels, but holy moley it seems pretty labor intensive, and I wonder if the book might not read just as well with a single talented cartoonist or more traditional art team.

In this issue, Fletcher and company seem to be easing us back into the world of Gotham Academy, and providing an easy entrance for new readers (so, you know, good jumping on point, guys and gals). Olive Silverlock is spending the holidays pretty much alone at the more-or-less closed down campus, with only Professor MacPherson there to occasionally keep her company.

That is, until, a new transfer student–a bad girl–shows up as her new roommate, and immediately begins being a bad influence on Olive. She entices her to break into one of campus' many weird buildings, and there they encounter the boy version of Maps, who has made some notes and maps about a new mystery that will no doubt play a big role in the story that follows.

The rest of Detective Club doesn't assemble to the very last page.

With the hiatus and the fun but time-killing "Yearbook" storyline over, it's good to resume a Gotham Academy story proper.

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #4 (Boom Studios) Well, writer Chynna Clugston Flores has certainly honored one aspect of the Lumberjanes side of this crossover: This story arc seems to be going on an issue or two longer than its story offers support for. We're just about at the turning point here, where the kids all figure out a potential way out of their predicament, only to have it fall apart on the last page, meaning we've got two more issues of climax to go.

Like your typical Lumberjanes arc, it's not tedious or anything, it's just notably shaggy and loose. It's not a problem because the characters are generally fun to hang out with, and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell and Maddi Gonzalez's art is fun to live in, but this is really a book that really just hangs out more than moves.

SpongeBob Comics #60 (United Plankton Pictures) I've been thinking about Chuck Dixon a lot lately. It can be hard not to, if you read many DC Comics from the '90s, and I've been reading DC's collections of Birds of Prey, Robin, their Dark Horse crossovers and some Elseworlds collections, so, thanks to DC's current slate of reprints, I'm probably reading as much Chuck Dixon as I ever have. Additionally, some of his creations and characters he is closely associated with have returned to the Bat-books in relatively big ways of late.

It can be surprising to see his name show up in the credits of a SpongeBob comic then, in part because it's so far removed from what he's best known for, and he's so far removed from the rather eclectic line-up of other SpongeBob contributors (In this issue, that includes James Kochalka, Maris Wicks, David DeGrand and Charles Brubaker...not exactly folks I would think to seat at the same table at Dixon if I were planning a wedding to which Every Comic Book Professional Ever were invited).

I just wonder why he's contributing short gag comics here instead of working on any of those characters the spent so much time on at DC, a publisher which sometimes seems like it could use more writers of Dixon's skill and experience, as while I'm sure this is a rewarding enough gig, it doesn't carry quite the same prestige as a Batman comic in certain circles (nor, I imagine, royalties).

And then the other day one of the comics sites linked to another comics site that linked to an interview about diversity in comics that Dixon gave to Breitbart, and I found myself wondering why, conservative in his politics or not, Dixon might be talking to such an odious media institution about anything. And then just now, when I went to look at that interview and see if it was worth linking to or not, I see that Dixon adapted Peter Schweizer's Clinton Cash into a graphic novel. It was previously adapted into a film which was funded by Breitbart News executive chairman and current Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, who, if you've read the work of or read much of anything about, you know is one of those deplorables in Hilary's first basket.

And man, Breitbart, Bannon, Trump, the alt-right and conspiracy theories about the goddam Clintons aren't really the sort of thing I want to be swirling around in the back of my head while reading funny comics about an anthropomorphic sponge.

Suicide Squad #2 (DC) Trust me, I'm as surprised as you.

Rob Williams' Suicide Squad is still divided into two smaller chunks, a 13-page story featuring the title characters that is apparently of a size pencil artist/co-publisher Jim Lee can fit into his schedule and an eight-page back-up story spotlighting the origins of one of the Squad's members.

The first half features the team from the movie attempting to break into a highly-fortified base, which includes killing many of the people within, rescuing a character who is apparently going to join the team (Harley Quinn super-fan Hack) and finding a mysterious object containing a Superman-level threat that the Squad certainly can't survive on their own (Well, unless June Moon becomes Enchantress).

On the third-to-last page, one of the Suicide Squad members appears to die, getting disintegrated from the boots up in a blast of super-powerful heat. I just sort of assumed he wasn't really dead, because A) He's one of the two members you've gotta have on your Suicide Squad book, B) They had killed him off previously and spent a lot of rigamarole bringing him back (before rebooting the universe anyway) and C) His death looked an awful lot like someone else's death this week, and that death was immediately revealed to be a fake-out (also, the two characters had an unusual connection, from one of the worst-written and better-drawn event series in DC history).

The short page-count must help focus Williams' scripting, because this is pretty much just all action and quips. There are a few particularly good Captain Boomerang moments, as he "boomerangs" something that is not at all a boomerang in an action scene and, in one panel, Harley admonishes him, "You're good at boomerangs. WE GET IT."

Jim Lee's pencil work, here inked by his frequent collaborator Scott Williams, is both one of this iteration of Suicide Squad's stronger selling points, and one of it's weaker points. Yes, this by far the best looking Suicide Squad book DC has attempted since the relaunch (and remember, this is their third try), and Lee's work is perfectly easy to read in a way so many other issues of the previous two attempts and so many DC Comics of the last five years haven't been.

That said, it could and should be better, but hell, how does an editor tell his boss, the company co-publisher and still one of the most popular artists in comics, to redraw some panels or pages? He has a weird habit of making Harley look grim and determined all the time, so that she never smiles when she's cracking a joke, nor does she ever look slightly crazy. That image of her on the cover? That's about as close to happy–psychotically or otherwise–she ever looks in the book. She doesn't look much like the Harley of Harley Quinn, nor Margot Robbie's of the Suicide Squad Film (who inspired her new hairstyle), nor even the Harley in DC Comics Bombshells, while we're at it.

She quips in Williams' script, but she does so with a humorlessness and lack of enthusiasm in her delivery that makes me think of Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger deadpanning "lines" in movies.

And then there's this bizarre sequence:
I had to take a picture of it rather than scan it, because my scanner is not that big. It's a hallway fight with a fixed point-of-view, showing Harley and Katana killing their way through a crowd of shoulders at lightning fast pace, while Captain Boomerang's boomerang sails over their hands, taking out just the one, last guy. Lee draws it well, and it's a cool action scene that shows off the various characters' abilities while also including a bit of a dark joke in the contrast in the efficacy of their fighting styles.

But, for the life of me, I can't figure out why Lee resorted to this sort of lay-out. The five thin, horizontal, fixed-perspective panels would quite easily have fit on the same page, making for a faster, smoother, more focused read–not to mention a hell of a single page.

Instead, Lee splits the repeating perspective panels into two different pages, so the gutter between them breaks the flow, and starts everything off with a too-big panel of Harley and Katana pose-fighting, and then ends the spread with two panels the same size as the hallway fight ones, but with wildly shifting-perspectives.

It's just a weird thing, where you see a better lay-out right there, screaming at you, while the artist took another direction. Or maybe I'm just assuming it was Lee; it's possible that Williams wrote it that way, and co-publisher Lee didn't ask if he can do it better, but just drew it as written because deadline loomed. I don't know.

That's followed by "Boomerang, Agent of Oz" written by WIlliams and drawn by pencil artist Ivan Reis and inker Oclair Albert. It's amazing, and one for the Greatest Captain Boomerang Stories Ever Told, if such a book ever sees print (It won't).

In it, Amanda Waller interviews the incarcerated Captain Boomerang, trying to get him to review his Geoff Johns-written origin, but he tells his own version, which is essentially just a James Bond pastiche in which Captain Boomerang is the 007 of Australia. It's as awesome as it sounds, if not more so, and it includes a scene in which Boomerang "boomerangs" something else that's not a boomerang. I love the fact that Williams names the villain Drop Bear, but doesn't explain what the fuck a drop bear is. Um, do you guys know what drop bears are...? I only do because I talked to a girl who went to Australia at a party like five years ago.

Anyway, this is a surprisingly good book, one that's so good one wonders why it took DC like five years to get the concept to work at all (did they really just need to see the trailers for the movie to inspire them?), but it's not perfect, and, because it is so good, those particular imperfections can seem glaring.

Finally, this has nothing to do with this particular comic, but it just occurred to me. For the life of me, I couldn't understand how Katana ended up on the roster for the team that appeared in the film Suicide Squad, but as I was reading Suicide Squad Vol. 4: The Janus Directive (which is great and you should totally read; I forgot how awesome 1980s Peacemaker was), it occurred to me that she basically fills Bronze Tiger's role as the martial artist and more-or-less token "good guy" on the team.

Her inclusion on the the squad in the film probably makes the prospects of a Batman and The Outsiders film that much less likely at this point, huh?

Wonder Woman #6 (DC) Nicola Scott returns for the third chapter of Greg Rucka's version of Wonder Woman's origin, which here devotes about 20 pages to covering what Grant Morrison and Yannick Paquette handled in about a half-dozen in Wonder Woman: Earth One. Wonder Woman arrives in man's world, a fish out of water who can't understand anyone's language, and only knows the word "Steve," and she is immediately taken into custody by the Navy, and just rather patiently endures captivity. She meets Etta Candy for the first time, but this is basically just the same dull version of Etta that George Perez introduced, with a few changes (now she's black, and apparently has a higher rank than Steve). She also meets future Cheetah Barbara Minerva, who is presented here as a sort of Indiana Jones figure.

It's fine, but nothing special, and certainly a disappointment compared to the other Wonder Woman origins we've seen recently. It's kind of too bad that the dullest of the three is the one that is meant to be canonical.

And it still strikes me as weird how prominent Steve Trevor is in Wonder Woman's origin story. Rather than an inciting incident, he is essentially a co-star, and this issue he gets more panel time and more lines than Diana. I know he is (and should be) a big part of Wonder Woman's story, as Lois Lane is and should be in Superman's story, but rather than serving as a point-of-view character in Wonder Woman's story, he seems to edge her out sometimes. That may be more noticeable in this issue, which focuses on her introduction to his world, though. I suppose we'll see.

I like it enough to keep it on my pull-list indefinitely, but like Rucka's last run on the character, individual issues just strike me as decent and diverting enough to keep reading, but nothing to get excited about.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Four noteworthy images from Superman #6 (three of which feature his dog)

Given that Superman and Action Comics share the same editor in Eddie Berganza, it's not a coincidence that both titles began their new, "Rebirth" era runs by telling pretty much the exact same stories. In the pages of Superman, Superman has been battling against a threat made popular during the "Death of Superman" era of the franchise that is bound and determined to do harm to his wife Lois and son Jonathan. In the pages of Action, Superman has been battling against a threat made popular during the "Death of Superman" era of the franchise that is bound and determined to do harm to his wife Lois and son Jonathan. In the former, it's The Eradicator, in the latter, it's Doomsday.

It's not a coincidence, but it is a decision I can't really understand.

Of the two books, Superman has told that story in a far better fashion, and it helps that creators Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have determined goals they accomplish in their too-long, six-issue arc. That is, they want to demonstrate that through his feats here, the new (old) Superman has convinced the public that he is indeed the "real" Superman, and, further, to introduce Jonathan as the new Superboy. (In Action, meanwhile, writer Dan Jurgens has been teasing a mystery, as both the new/old Superman and a Clark Kent are present in the same place at the same time throughout much of the story, and the Mr. Oz character lurks in the background, talking cryptically to himself).

The art in Superman is just really, really good too. That in the sixth issue comes courtesy of pencil artist Patrick Gleason, inker Mick Gray and colorist John Kalisz. I thought there were four extremely striking images in the book.

First, there's this bit of body horror. The deal with this version of The Eradicator is that he has sucked in the souls of all the dead Kryptonians, and now wants to "eradicate" Jonathan, whose Kryptonian DNA is tainted by Lois Lane's contribution to his genetic make-up. Superman wants to stop him from eradicating his son. So they've been fighting for like 100 pages or so.

At various points, Superman is able to convince the Kryptonian ghosts to stop power-ing up The Eradicator and help him and, as their fight reaches it's climax, Superman opens The Eradicator's mouth and shouts into it, calling for his dog. In the next panel, Krypto starts to a giant fucking st of canine mouth pushing up through The Eradicator's S-shield.

I don't mind telling you I found this image to be deeply terrifying, as well as just plain weird (Why didn't Krypto just come out of his mouth? Burst through his chest? Why is his gaping maw so gigantic as he tries to push his way out? Why does it look more like The Eradicator's chest is turning into Krypto's snout and mouth than that the super-dog is trying to force his way out?)

Then there's this rather delightful image. Superman encourages to Krypto to bite down on his arm through the stretched skin of The Eradicator, and then just pulls him through. I've stared at this panel for long minutes on several different occasions, and there's no way around it: Gleason drew Krypto upside down, as a comparison to the position of his jaws on the previous page makes clear.

No matter. I love the fact that Krypto is upside down here. It's every bit as weird as the previous image, but not as scary. I just imagine Krypto rotating around Superman's forearm there.

After man and dog team up to finish The Eradicator, Superman takes his fallen foes cape and ties it around his dog. Huzzah, a more "classic" conception of Krypto has returned to the DC Universe, after the saber-toothed dire wolf version seen early in the New 52.

Finally, there's this perfect ending splash page, in which Superman introduces his son to the other two points of the trinity.

I love this page so much. The expressions on all four characters' faces are all perfect and, at least in the case of the three I know best, perfectly suited to what one might expect their faces to look like in that situation.

If you read just one six-issue story arc about Superman battling against a threat made popular during the "Death of Superman" era of the franchise that is bound and determined to do harm to his wife Lois and son Jonathan this year, I'd recommend you make it the first six issues of Superman.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 15

Cyborg: Rebirth #1 by John Semper Jr., Paul Pelletier, Sandra Hope, Tony Kordos and Guy Major

Like most of the (in-story) third generation of DC superheroes, Marv Wolfman and George Perez's character Cyborg suffered from the 2011 continuity-scrambling Flashpoint/New 52 initiative, but he did so in a rather unique way. He survived the purge that affected much of that generation of heroes, and while his history (i.e. that which made him him) was completely erased, he was promoted (or re-promoted, I guess) from a Titan/Teen Titan to a member of the Justice League in the new continuity.

And so he ascended to number seven in the overall ranking of all DC superheroes (above Martian Manhunter, who traditionally held that spot for decades), but he was now a blank slate, nothing more than a name and set of kind of generic computer-related powers. For much of the last five years in the pages of Justice League, Cyborg was little more than a receptionist and transportation system for the other six Leaguers.

DC awarded him his own ongoing monthly series–his first since his 1980 creation–in 2015, and it lasted the same 12-ish issues as the other series DC launched around that time, just enough to fill two trades. Did it get canceled due to poor sales, or simply because DC canceled everything around that time, in order to relaunch many of the books as part of the "Rebirth" initiative...?

I don't know, but I would imagine from the fact that Cyborg is one of the latest of the "Rebirth" relaunches, followed only by low-selling (but good!) Gotham Academy, that it was a combination of the two.

Cyborg 2.0 has an entirely new creative team, in writer John Semper Jr. (David F. Walker wrote the majority fo the previous volume, followed briefly by Wolfman) and pencil artist Paul Pelletier, here inked by Sandra Hope and Tony Kordos. I would like to say they have an entirely new story to tell, but they don't seem to have anything to say about the new, New 52 version of the character that hasn't already been said in the previous volume, Justice League and related comics.

An unseen narrator, who isn't revealed until the surprise ending, tells Cyborg Victor Stone's origin story, starting with the meeting of his parents and ending in his joining of the Justice League, while the superhero battles against a big, monstrous artificially intelligent threat with self-repair powers and its own dialogue bubble style. The bad guy, named "Malware" (If I were texting you this review, I would hear include the eye-roll emoji), is trying to get to and through the Red Room in S.T.A.R. Labs, which is either where the little, backwards talking, funny-dancing guy from Twin Peaks hangs out or where Doctor Silas Stone and Doctor T.O. Morrow keep all the alien technology, I forget which.

Then he reaches a secret room, where Stone keeps a secret about his son's recreation as a cyborg. Are you ready for the big revelation? Get this. What if Cyborg, being mostly mechanical, doesn't have a soul? What if he is more machine than man? What if–hey, did you pass out? Wake up, wake up! Yes, I know this is like, Robot Guy Plot 101, and DC and Marvel have been writing various versions about this since before Cyborg was even created, and yeah, you can probably think of a dozen different manga and anime series with the same conflict, and while I don't read prose science fiction because of all the words, something tells me someone or eighty authors have covered that ground pretty thoroughly as well, but, well, that's what they're going with here, I guess. Maybe the series will last 12 issues...?

(Why is it only androids and cyborgs who worry about that stuff, by the way? In real life, don't we all wonder if we have souls or not? Why isn't there a Batman series premised on his philosophical questions?)

The one aspect of the book I did find interesting was the second-to-last page,where we see the surprise-ish bad guy looking at a huge bank of monitors on which we sell a whole mess of various robot and cyborg characters from throughout the current DCU–The Metal Men, OMAC, Robotman, Red Tornado, The Brain, Cyborg Superman,  Steel (for some reason), some characters I don't recognize–and intimates that they are all part of some bigger plan.

The artwork is fine. I've always like Pelletier's pencil work, which is well-suited to classic super-heroics, but here he's inked in such a way that it all looks a little too New 52 to me. It's the same visual white noise that makes so many of the DC comics of this area (although they are steadily improving!) boring to look at, which is something a superhero comic book should never be.

I'll read the first issue of the series proper, for the purposes of this feature on my blog, but I'm not looking forward to it, and can't imagine I'll be reading #2. (Well, maybe I'll play "The Night Begins To Shine" on repeat while I read the Cyborg #1. Perhaps that will improve it. It certainly can't hurt it!)


You know, while I'm on the subject of a Wolfman/Perez-era Titans creation, it may be worth considering how DC has made use of that group of characters since their reboot. While DC kept Cyborg's basic origin–suffering what should have been a fatal accident, Victor Stone's super-scientist father saves him with robot parts-–itt was now attached to Jack Kirby's Fourth World characters, and occurred in the pages of Justice League, where he was the team's sole teenage member.

Starfire hung out with Robin II-turned-The Red Hood Jason Todd and Arsenal Roy Harper in the pages of Red Hood and The Outlaws, briefly earned her own ongoing series and is now poised to join the next iteration of the Teen Titans, as its sole adult member (the membership of this line-up will reflect that of the recent Justice League Vs. Teen Titans movie, and Geoff Johns' basic conception of a post-Young Justice Teen Titans series in which Starfire, Cyborg and Beast Boy served as mentors to the fourth generation of heroes.)

And Beast Boy and Raven? They're a good five years younger than their two former peers, and have been appearing in the pages of Teen Titans, where they have been peers of characters who used to be among the fourth generation of DC's heroes, like (Red) Robin Tim Drake and Wonder Girl Cassandra Sandsmark.

None of the four are involved in the new Titans series, which features the grown-up sidekicks who were the original Teen Titans which...I actually can't make sense of following Flashpoint/The New 52/Convergence/DC Universe: Rebirth. From what I've read of it so far, it seems to me a more appropriate title might be Nightwing and The Donna Troys.


Oh! One more thing, and then I'll move on, I swear. The narrator is extremely specific about how long Cyborg has been Cyborg in this comic, even counting the seconds. But the years he places at five, and then a few months, suggesting only five years and a few months have passed since Justice League #1-6. That's fine...except time seems to move faster in Gotham City than anywhere else in the world. At least twice Scott Snyder's scripts have suggested a year has passed (between The Joker having his face flayed off and "Death of The Family," and then again between "Death of The Family" and "Endgame"). And, of course, in DC Universe: Rebirth we saw 10-year-old Damian Wayne blow out the candles on his birthday cake which indicated he was now 13.

So a few months in Detroit is three years in Gotham City, I guess...? Man, Alan Moore and Doctor Manhattan must have really did a number on the DC Universe!

Supergirl #1 by Steve Orlando, Brian Chin and Michael Atiyeh

It may be in large part because the Rebirth special braced me for the many ways in which the new Supergirl series will cover very similar territory to the television series, but do so by veering in different directions, but I found this issue a lot easier to parse. And a large part of that is also definitely the art by Brian Chin, which features more distinct character designs, so that for example, the four blonde women all look like different people.

Writer Steve Orlando attempts an All-Star Superman homage on the first page, attempting to boil Supergirl's origin down to just four panels and short phrases just as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely managed to do with Superman's origin in their book, but it doesn't really work here. That's partly because Superman's origin, for all the tinkering it's gone through over 75+ years, has had enough commonality in all of those versions that Morrison and Quitely could pick the phrases and images that repeated in all of them. No such luck with Supergirl, whose origin changes so greatly from version to version, and even having read the Rebirth special, I'm still not entirely sure of the specifics as presented here (I think Supergirl is from Argo City, a floating city in a forcefield above Krypton, that was destroyed along with Krypton...?).

It's rather unfortunate, because the homage attempt is so obvious, the fact that it doesn't quite land is sort of embarrassing to watch, like a basketball player on a fast break going for a three-pointer and getting an air ball, rather than going for the easy lay-up (Sports metaphor!).

Things improve on pages two and three, and remain strong after that. While a relatively large part of the Rebirth special was devoted to info-dumping, here Orlando re-states the new book's premise by showing rather than telling: Because adolescent Supergirl didn't grow up an Earthling the way her cousin Superman did, the government doesn't trust her as much. So Department of Extranormal Operations head Cameron Chase has made a deal with S-girl. In exchange for restoring her lost super-powers, they've assigned her foster parents who are DEO agents and the secret identity of Kara Danvers, via which she will attend high school in National City and continue to acclimate to Earth. As in the TV show, Supergirl and the DEO will work together to fight super-threats (I hope Orlando's DEO better-resembles the version from D. Curtis Johnson's Chase, John Ostrander's Martian Manhunter and other comics of that era, rather than the version on the TV show, which consists of a base with four rooms and like a dozen not particularly bright agents in matching black uniforms.)

This issue is mostly devoted to demonstrating Kara's difficulties in acclimating to her new world, as Orlando and Ching continually flip-flop back and forth between daily life on Krypton to that on Earth. In this issue we also meet Cat Grant, who appears to be characterized more closely to how she is on the TV show than how she has been previously in the comics (that is, she scans here more like a particularly bitchy Lois Lane than anything else). We also meet a new supporting character (the guy in the glasses in the lower left-hand corner). And Kara comes face-to-face with the same villain introduced in the epilogue of the special, The New 52 Cyborg Superman, who is apparently her father and whom I know absolutely nothing about (I think his presence here is particularly wonky, though, given that the television show has used "Hank Henshaw," the secret identity of the original, pre-Flashpoint/New 52 Cyborg Superman as the director of the D.E.O. who never, ever turns into a cyborg of any kind).

I liked this a lot better than the special, as I've already mentioned, and actually think it makes for a better starting point, particularly since it also demonstrates the visual style of the series (the special was drawn by several different artists, none of whom were Ching). I think it will take a few issues before we can really get a sense of how good it may or may not be, and if DC has finally gotten around to giving fans of the show a solid, in-universe comic to enjoy, but so far so good.