Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 4

Aquaman #1 by Dan Abnett, Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessey

The Aquaman: Rebirth #1 special (discussed here) proved to be a very good indicator of what the new Aquaman series would be like, apparently, as this issue basically follows the various promises made in the special. In a gesture to try and bring peace and understanding to the dealings between his two worlds, Aquaman has set up an Atlantean embassy of sorts. During its big grand opening, Black Manta attacks. He bombs the place, killing some folks, and then, as he narrated his plans to do in the special, he goes right after Mera, because Black Manta has been reading comics long enough to know the best way to hurt your male opponent is to fridge his girlfriend/wife/fiancee.

I liked artist Brad Walker's work quite a bit, here. He only contributed the cover to the Rebirth special, but is the regular artist on the monthly series. This is by far the best work I've seen from him. That's the good news. The bad? Well, this might have seemed like a fine issue #7 or even #19 of the previous monthly series, but we're a good five years out from this new take on Aquaman, his cast and his place in the wider shared setting, and at this point the contents of this issues just seem tiresome and repetitive.

Which kinda breaks my heart a little, as I really like Aquaman. Or, at least, I liked him before Geoff Johns reimagined him in the wake of Flashpoint; the new guy seems more like a watered-down Namor.


The Flash #1 by Joshua Williamson, Carmine Di Giandomenico and Ivan Plascencia

This issue opens with a three-page revisitation to Flash Barry Allen's origin story–you know, the whole getting-hit-by-lightning-while-standing-in-front-of-a-shelf-of-chemicals thing, adding a detail. Just before it happened, a fellow police officer of Barry's was in the process of convincing him to quit obsessing over solving the cold case of his mother's own murder and instead investigating the death of the cop's brother.

That leads to a very puzzling two-page spread chockfull of frustrating continuity narration:
Someone has affected reality, taking ten years of our lives and memories from us. But I can't help but smile because my best friend, Wally West, is back.

And now he's working with the original Teen Titans to see if he can find out what happened to us.

Batman and I already have our suspicions on what was done to our world, but we decided it was best we kept our findings to ourselves until Wally gathers more evidence.

...

Wally was The Flash for years without me, so I trust him on his own. Except I'd be lying if I said I don't miss having a partner running by my side.

Yikes.

Okay, so there's a lot to unpack there. If I understand it correctly, and there's no guarantee that I do, then it would appear that Barry Allen now has two, distinct, parallel sets of memories. He remembers Wally West, he remembers the original Teen Titans (who didn't remember themselves until Titans: Rebirth #1, when Wally zapped them with memory lightning) and he remembers Wally being The Flash "for years", which was during a time when Barry was, um, dead...and apparently from those five years that someone stole from them.

At the same time that Barry has those memories, his world and his history as it has been since Flashpoint hasn't been altered, so apparently he has all of those memories as well, and has them compartmentalized.

His non-chalance about a being capable of stealing ten years from the universe, as well as completely reshaping the world and its history is a little odd, as that would seem to be like a much, much bigger deal than say, working the old day job, or having lunch with Iris West and her nephew (coincidentally also named Wally West, despite being an entirely different person). But Barry just brings this all up by way of tabling it.

Williamson probably could have–and should have–just not mentioned any of that, as he kicks the book off with continuity knots to meditate on, and reasons for a reader to question the relative unimportance of any and everything Barry's going to do when he should be trying to save reality itself from this threat h e has his suspicions about.

That said, Di Giandomenico and color artist Plascencia really save that spread, as running along the bottom tier of the pages are four panels in between which Flash jumps in the form of lighting, performing various, daring, creatively imagined and executed high-speed rescues.

The art is appropriately kinetic throughout, and while I kind of hate The Flash's lighting bolt-shaped eyebrows and the lighting bolt-shaped piping all over his costume, the art team renders it more like lighting leaking out of Flash, rather than a crappy costume design.

After the segue into a continuity rabbit hole, Williamson focuses much of the rest of the issue on Barry's frustration at not being able to be everywhere at once, which irks him particularly because he can be almost everywhere at once, some substantial panel-time focused on the other Wally West (the black one or the new one, which ever descriptor you want to use to distinguish him from the white old one), who is apparently being set up as Barry's new partner.

And then, in the climax, Barry's cop buddy from the flashback gets hit by lighting and gains super-speed.

Please note that only two of the characters on the cover who are not Barry Allen actually appear inside the issue, and one of them, New Wally West, is not dressed like that within.


Wonder Woman #1 by Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp and Laura Martin

Remind me again why everyone was so excited that Greg Rucka was returning to the character? Was it really that they liked Rucka's previous Wonder Woman run so much, or that they so disliked the runs by Brian Azzarello, Meredith Finch, Gail Simone and pretty much everyone who followed Rucka...?

This first issue reminded me of all the things I didn't like about Rucka's run: The focus on Diana as warrior rather than superhero, the plodding pace, the obviously-written-for-the-trade lack of incident, the jargon-filled dialogue, the fact that it takes about two to three minutes to read the comic.

Which isn't to say it's bad, it's just not that good, and given the strength of some of the recent Wonder Woman comics I've read or been reading–Wonder Woman: Earth One, The Legend of Wonder Woman, some of the material from DC Comics Bombshells and Sensation Comics–this felt flatter than I would have liked. The writing side of things is perfectly acceptable, with nothing all that wrong with it, it's just not that great, and I'd really like a great Wonder Woman comic, if that's not too much to ask.

So when we last left the post-DC Universe: Rebirth Wonder Woman, in the pages of Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, she was so pissed off about the fact that DC kept messing with her continuity that she punched a mirror and pretended it was continuity, and then visited Olympus to try and get to the bottom of things.

This issue does not pick up where that one left off.

Instead, Rucka reintroduces us to Wonder Woman and a handful of supporting characters. As for the title character, Rucka writes her rather well. She's very formal, even imperious, in her dealings with her foes, but there's a certain amount of sense to that, and her three warnings before kicking their asses is at least somewhat in keeping with the whole warrior fighting for peace thing.

As for the supporting cast, the first person we meet is Etta Candy, who Rucka and artist Liam Sharp have reimagined as Amanda Waller. You'll recall the original Etta Candy was awesome, but when George Perez took over and relaunched Wonder Woman (and Wonder Woman) for the first time in 1987, he changed her from a short, obese, rough-and-tumble, candy-obsessed white sorority sister into a dowdy, middle-aged, overweight and still white Naval intelligence officer. Post-Flashopoint, she was introduced as a slim, young black woman with short hair and freckles who worked under Steve Trevor at SHIELD ARGUS. This new version was apparently meant to reflect the appearance of actress Tracie Thoms, who played her in the un-aired pilot for the David E. Kelly-produced Wonder Woman TV show that never got picked up.

Here, the post-Crisis and post-Flashpoint versions are merged visually, so now she is a middle-aged big, black woman with long hair, freckles and a government gig, although now she's been promoted to "Commander"...it's not clear what military organization she's commanding from a secret base in Langley, Virgina. Steve Trevor now seems to answer to her, rather than vice versa, though; he's no longer wearing his black spandex and body armor outfit, but more standard military garb. And he's also got a beard now.

Trevor is leading his team in a fight against a warlord in Africa, and Commander Candy seems worried that Wonder Woman, who just appeared on the continent, might be flying there to get involved. She's not. She's there beating up hyena men, working her way up to their boss, who is introduced on the final, splash page: Barbara Minerva, The Cheetah.

She too has a new look, but it seems to amount to nothing more than a haircut.

Wonder Woman asks Barbara to help her find Themyscira, which she has somehow lost. The end.

The art is good. In fact, this may be the best Wonder Woman art on the regular title since...I don't know, forever? Cliff Chiang was very good too, of course, but Sharp's style is quite far removed from Chiants. Sharp balances a fantasy look with a more standard superhero comic look, with the level of detail of some of the better modern Wonder Woman artists (Perez, Phil Jimenez), but a bigger, bolder, more muscular and more dynamic look. As I said before, it reminds me a bit of Rags Morales, who is one of my favorite comics artists, period.

I have a sinking feeling this book is going to take a while to find its footing, and that while might stretch out even longer on account of the fact that the now bi-weekly Wonder Woman will be alternating between two different stories, each with a different artist and set in a different time period, for at least the first story arc...er, first two story arcs.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Miscellaneous Batmannery

This was one of the variant covers for June 16's Batman #1, by artist Tim Sale. While Sale has never had a regular run as an interior artist on any Batman ongoing series, he has done so many limited series and one-shots featuring the character that, at this point, he's got a gigantic body of Batman work built up. It's a body of work that I imagine eclipses that of many artists who have had regular runs on various Batman ongoing series, in terms of the volume of pages.

I was a little surprised to see him contributing a variant to the new, "Rebirth" era Batman at all, and more surprised still by its content. Sale doesn't draw the current, "Rebirth" Batman, but his own, "Year One" era Batman from his many collaborations with writer Jeph Loeb (Long Halloween, Dark Victory, the Legends of The Dark Knight Halloween specials, etc). Even Neal Adams, an even more classic Batman artist, decided to draw the Rebirth-ed Batman on his variant.
The villains sharing the cover with Sale's Batman are similarly the particular versions from Sale's "Year One" Batman adventures, none of whom look much at all like the New 52 versions and a few of which don't look much at all like the versions other artists draw from any period  (Poison Ivy and The Penguin in particular). Of note is the inclusion of Clayface, who hasn't previously appeared in any of Sale's Batman comics (at least, not this version; I'm pretty sure that Clayface III was in his Showcase story with writer Alan Grant), and whose design Sale seems to have based on that from Batman: The Animated Series (which, in fact, is also the basis for The New 52 version).

The presence of the blond lady baffled me for a while, but I'm like 80% sure she's supposed to be Gotham City District Attorney Janice Porter from Dark Victory, which is a really, really weird choice, considering the villains from the series Sale didn't include, like The Joker, The Riddler, Calendar Man, Carmine Falcone or any of the mob guys. Or a major Batman villain he hasn't drawn before, like, I don't know, Man-Bat or Ra's al Ghul or Harley Quinn or Bane or Killer Croc.

Anyway, it's an interesting piece I enjoyed staring at and picking apart. And much better than the regular cover by the regular artist:
Boo David Finch!





Did any of you read The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade? That was the recent prestige format one-shot in which Batman teams up with Sean Connery to find the Holy Grail before the Nazis can. No, it's the latest of DC release that makes me wonder what on Earth Brian Azzarello is doing with his life (If I had to guess, it would be working on Maus fan-fiction, just to complete the trifecta).

This is his prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, which he is currently writing the second sequel too, as drawn by John Romita Jr. and Peter Steigerwald and featuring vague, nebulous contributions from Frank Miller (He shares a "story by" credit with Azzarello, although "Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller" is the first credit; no one is credited with the script). It is a 57-page answer to a question nobody needed an answer to, which is "What exactly happened to the Robin that the old, mustachioed Batman was narrating about at the opening of Dark Knight Returns like 30 years ago?" The answer, of course, was "The Joker killed him," but then, everyone already knew all that.

This is essentially a retelling then; "A Death In The Family" without all the globe-trotting, international intrigue, adventure, super-scary death scene or heroic sacrifice. It's just an older Batman with graying temples and Robin Jason Todd fighting crime in Gotham City together, until The Joker kills Todd. Sort of. Todd is on the escaped Joker's trail when some guys who apparently work with or for The Joker beat him with pipes until red coloring effects fill the bottom of the panels, and The Joker says "Oh, the fun we're going to have little boy... The fun."

Finis!

If it's a worthwhile read at all, it's mostly because it's still kind of fresh and new and exciting to see JRJR draw DC characters, and here he gets to draw classic (or, if you prefer, the real) version of Batman and Robin, rather than the New 52 versions JRJR's been stuck with since leaving Marvel to play with DC's iconic super-characters for a few years.

It served as a pretty good reminder that there was nothing really wrong with the original Robin costume that Jason Todd wore; it's not like it couldn't look cool when drawn really well, and JRJR draws it really well and puts it and the guy wearing it in some very dramatic scenes, that red, yellow and green popping in contrast to the blues, blacks, grays and browns of Batman and everything else around Robin.

I know that a lot of people–myself included–have wondered about how much of this new suite of Dark Knight Returns material is really Miller and how much of it is Azzarello, and to what degree Azzarello is simply trying to do a pastiche of Miller. It was with some amusement that I noticed a line that either demonstrates Miller's involvement or that Azzarello was really asking himself "What Would Frank Miller Write?" during this process.

The above panel is from a scene in which Bruce Wayne visits former Catwoman Selina Kyle, whom his narration tells us he visits whenever he's feeling unsure of himself.

Check out the last two panels at the end of the scene, though:
Superheroes having sex in their costumes for kicks! You don't get a whole lot more Frank Miller than that.




The above panels are the last few in a downright shocking scene in Detective Comics #935, the second issue of the relaunched series, which is numbered #935 instead of #2 because...reasons.

What was so shocking about that scene? It's 13 panels spread across two pages. Red Robin Tim Drake is in Spoiler Stephanie Brown's apartment, taking off his costume in front of her like it's NBD. They're talking about Tim's college plans, when Batgirl Black Bat Orphan Cassandra Cain enters the window holding a plastic bag and wearing an expression of surprise.

"Hey Cass...do you think I could have the place to myself tonight?" Spoiler says. "I need to give my boyfriend a lot of crap for not being honest with people."

That's right, Tim and Stepahnie are dating. They are going steady. They are actually in a relationship.

When did this happen? Off-panel, apparently.

Stephanie Brown was only rather recently introduced into the current, post-Flashpoint continuity during the year-long weekly series Batman Eternal, and she did not meet Red Robin until one of the epilogues of the very last issue. Stephanie walks into her roommate Harper Row's bedroom to see Harper talking with Red Robin. Harper introduces them, and they shake hands...and stare silently at one another for an entire panel before Harper coughs to wake them back up from their apparent reverie, and Red Robin makes a lame, awkward excuse about needing to leave. "Um...Okay. I should go,: he says, rubbing the back of his head "Probably some kind of um...mischief going on."

And as far as I can remember, that's pretty much, like, the extent of their relationship up until this point. Stephanie is in the earliest issues of the sequel series, Batman & Robin Eternal, and shares a scene with Tim. In Batman & Robin Eteranl #2, Red Robin climbs in the window of the apartment Stephanie shares with Harper and Cullen Row and finds Dick Grayson and Stephanie, in her Spoiler costume, standing over a badly injured Harper.

How did he know to show up? He says he bugged the house with cameras and censors, which infuriates Spoiler. "I'm just monitoring for trouble," he says. "I mean, have you met yourselves?" They spend a little more time together with other Batman allies at the Rows' apartment and then in the Batcave, before Stephanie and Cullen get stashed in a safe house while everyone goes off to have an adventure that lasts most of the series (Steph and Cullen both reappear at the end).

And that's about it in terms of Tim Drake/Stephanie Brown interactions.

It therefore feels like a bit of a cheat that writer James Tynion, who is writing Detective and co-wrote the two Eternal limited series, just jumped ahead and we missed all of their flirting, Red Robin's revelation of his secret identity, whether or not it was awkward for Harper and all the humor and drama one would expect in a relationship. I mean, I feel cheated. I liked the idea of Bluebird and Spoiler as roommates, and of a possible love triangle between them and Red Robin. I liked the gradual way Tim and Stephanie's relationship played out in the pre-Flashpoint DCU (under writer Chuck Dixon, who co-created Stephanie and wrote both characters almost exclusively during the various incarnations of their relationship to one another).

I wanted to see Tim and Steph date dammit, not just move from meet-cute to one panel of bickering to suddenly being an item and banging in Steph's new apartment (She no longer lives with the Rows, as she says Batman set both her and Cassandra up with their own places, although Cassandra apparently chooses to instead crash at Harper's or Stephanie's).

I can only assume that Tim and Stephanie are going to break up pretty soon, as otherwise there doesn't seem to be much point of suddenly introducing them as a couple, and that Tynion will focus on that drama rather than the drama of their coming together.

Anyway, note their costumes touching each other on the floor of Stephanie's apartment in that last panel. Symbolism!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Marvel's September previews reviewed

Will one of Marvel's Spider-Men kill one of Marvel's Captains America because they disagree so strongly about whether or not to fight crime based on the predictions of a prophetic mutant Inhuman? Probably not!

Remember when Marvel cancelled their entire line of superhero universe books during the course of the Secret War event series, replacing them all with limited series spinning out of the "Battleworld" premise of that series? Reading Marvel's solicitations for September, it feels like they are pretty much doing the exact same thing with Civil War II, in an unofficial way. They didn't cancel all their ongoings, but they all do seem to be interrupted to focus almost exclusively on tying in to the events of Civil War II, the premise of which doesn't appeal to me in the slightest.

I guess I'll read it in trade next year and know for sure, but it doesn't seem to have the sort of grabby hook that previous Marvel event series, even the bad ones, had. "The Marvel heroes have different opinions regarding The Minority Report" doesn't do anything for me the way that, say, "The Hulk wants to beat everyone up" or "Big, strong guys get evil Thor hammers" or "Doctor Doom has created all of reality in his own image" or "The good guys are now bad and the bag guys are now good" did.

So if all the Civil War II tie-ins sound kind of the same and also kind of lame, what does that leave us with? Not much!


BLACK PANTHER EPIC COLLECTION: PANTHER'S RAGE TPB
Volume #1 in the Black Panther Epic Collections
Written by DON McGREGOR & STAN LEE
Penciled by RICH BUCKLER, BILLY GRAHAM, GIL KANE, KEITH POLLARD & JACK KIRBY
Cover by GIL KANE
In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created an unprecedented string of classic comic-book heroes. But quite possibly the most iconic of them all was the high-tech king of Wakanda, the Black Panther! When the Panther began his own solo series, Don McGregor strove to meet Lee and Kirby's high standard with "Panther's Rage" -- an epic adventure so huge it ranged across the savannah, into the deepest jungles and up snow-topped mountains. Over its course, McGregor would explore and expand the life and culture of the Wakandans and their African kingdom in compelling detail. Then, he sent the Black Panther into very different but still dangerous territory -- the American South -- seeking justice for a murder connected to the Klan and the Soul Strangler! Collecting FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #52-53 and JUNGLE ACTION (1972) #6-24.
400 PGS./Rated T ...$34.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90190-5

This is that one classic Black Panther story arc that everyone points to as, like, the best Black Panther story arc that wasn't written by Christopher Priest ever, right?

I like the old Essential format better than these Epic Collections, but that is because I am cheap.


CAPTAIN MARVEL: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HERO VOL. 2 TPB
Written by KELLY SUE DeCONNICK & JEN VAN METER
Penciled by SCOTT HEPBURN, GERARDO SANDOVAL, PAT OLLIFFE, FILIPE ANDRADE, MATTEO BUFFAGNI,
BARRY KITSON & TERRY DODSON
Cover by JOE QUINONES
Captain Marvel and the Avengers face the enemy within! When vicious echoes from the past of Earth's Mightiest Heroes crop up all over Manhattan, Carol Danvers refuses to be grounded by her recent, mysterious loss of power. But who is the sinister figure behind the madness, and what does it have to do with Carol's calamitous condition? And most disturbing of all, is this villain even real? Matters get worse as the events of INFINITY unfold. Carol goes cosmic -- Binary cosmic -- in an epic that rocks worlds, not least hers! But when she comes back to Earth with a bump, will her biggest fan be the key to rebuilding her life? Plus: Captain Marvel and Spider-Man share a big problem! Collecting CAPTAIN MARVEL (2012) #13-17, AVENGERS: THE ENEMY WITHIN #1, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012) #16-19 and AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #9-10.
280 PGS./Rated T+ ...$29.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90128-8

"Earth's Mightiest," huh Carol? It's not bad enough that you stole poor Billy Batson's superheroic alter ego's name, now you've gotta have The World's Mightiest Mortal's nickname too? Have you no shame, Carol?


Say, does anyone read Carnage? Is at anywhere near as good a comic as its covers might lead one to believe? Because the covers are almost always awesome.


DEADPOOL V GAMBIT #5 (OF 5)
BEN ACKER & BEN BLACKER (W)
DANILO BEYRUTH (A)
Cover by KEVIN WADA
VARIANT COVER BY TBA
• The con comes to close!
• Will Deadpool and Gambit get away with the money?
• And...why on Earth is Wade now...DEADFIST?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

I don't know, Wade. Given your skin condition, I don't think the cut of Iron Fist's original costume looks quite right on you. Maybe you should try a red and black version of his current, less revealing costume...?


I haven't mentioned it in probably about a month now, but I really like Arthur Adams. This is his cover for Guardians of the Galaxy #12, which will apparently be about Marvel superheroes fighting one another over a pretty cut-and-dry non-issue, like just about every other comic book Marvel is publishing in September. Do note that Adams is only drawing the cover, but from what I've seen so far, interior artist Valerio Schiti has been doing a pretty fine job.


HOWARD THE DUCK #11
CHIP ZDARSKY (W) • JOE QUINONES (A/C)
...
• Join Chip (Zdarsky) and Joe (Quinones) as they say goodbye to Howard in a Very Special Issue that is still priced as a Regular Issue!
• Can Howard outwit fate? Can any of us? Or is the concept of predestination just shorthand for the near-infinite factors in play that are guided, at their core, by free will?
• Guest-starring Spider-Man, probably.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

WHAT?! "Say goodbye"...? Is this really the last issue of Zdarsky and Quinones' Howard The Duck? That's a rhetorical question, because I see that Zdarsky says that it is indeed ending on his Tumblr blog, and that it's ending because they've reached their pre-planned ending for the series, and not because of sales or anything.

This is terrible. I just read the second volume of the series, which is labeled "Volume 1"because Marvel, and it was just as excellent as the first volume, the one labeled "Volume 0." This series has been part of a three-way tie for my favorite Marvel comic with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat, but I guess come September there will only be two comics left in the running for  Caleb's Favorite Marvel Comic At The Moment. 

I've thus far found the title to do what I would have otherwise considered pretty impossible, which is to make me enjoy a Howard The Duck comic so far removed from Steve Gerber's work. It has been very (very, very) different, and extremely focused on Howard as a foot in the door to jokes about the Marvel Universe and their immense character catalog as a whole, but it's met those goals quite effectively. Also, it has the best Spider-Man cameos.

I've also liked the way that this and the other two Marvel books I've just mentioned have been interacting with one another pretty regularly since they've launched; the last Howard and Squirrel Girl trades both contained their inter-book crossover, and the first Patsy trade had the title character getting a job at Howard's friend's tattoo shop. 

I do hope both creators get swell gigs elsewhere, either together or separately. Hey, maybe this will free up Zdarksy's schedule to work on another Archie Comics series comparable to his excellent Jughead comic...? Maybe he and Quinones can take over a rebooted and realunched Betty and Veronica or a new That Jerk, Reggie Mantle title...


PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT! #10
KATE LETH (W) • BRITTNEY L. WILLIAMS (A/C)
DEFENDERS VARIANT COVER BY Sandy Jarrell
• Boy problems. Who's got 'em? Patsy Walker, that's who.
• Let's get lost in the final issue of our second arc (what?!) as Patsy makes the most of the fight against her (mostly) evil exes.
• Hellcat didn't just come here to dance -- she came to save her friends and save the day!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

See? There's Howard right there, on the cover of Patsy Walker #10! I continue to not like Brittney L. Williams' particular version of Son of Satan, despite loving everything about her art in general.

I really love how cute her Squirrel Girl is. I really don't think we can get enough Squirrel Girl guest appearances in this title, since that means more Squirrel Girl as drawn by Williams.


ROCKET RACCOON & GROOT #9 & 10
NICK KOCHER (W) • Michael Walsh (A)
CoverS by DAVID LOPEZ
CIVIL WAR II TIE-INS!
• We don't mean to be carpet-braggers, but you'll have to (Ulysses S.) grant that these are the best issues of the entire event!
• When Rocket, Groot, and Gwenpool all go after the same bounty in Georgia, the results are antebellum-believable!
• Get-tysburg as many copies as you can!
32 PGS. (each)/Rated T ...$3.99 (each)

Let's take a moment to applaud the mostly terribly forced Civil War puns in this solicitation copy.


STAR WARS LEGENDS EPIC COLLECTION: LEGACY VOL. 1 TPB
Written by JOHN OSTRANDER & JAN DUURSEMA
Penciled by JAN DUURSEMA, TRAVEL FOREMAN, ADAM DEKRAKER & COLIN WILSON
Cover by ADAM HUGHES
Head far into the future of long ago! A new evil has arisen, shattering a resurgent Empire and seeking to put an end to the Jedi once and for all. The Sith Lord Darth Krayt sits on the throne. Only one hope remains -- the last remaining heir to the Skywalker legacy. Cade may be strong in the Force -- but years after a tragedy, he is a bounty hunter, working with Jariah Syn and Deliah Blue. When he reluctantly finds himself at the center of galactic turmoil, Cade may be forced to embrace his heritage. But will the path on which he embarks be one of redemption, or damnation? Collecting STAR WARS: LEGACY (2006) #0-19.
464 PGS./Rated T+ ...$39.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90012-0
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Despite the obvious pains that were taken to make Luke Skywalker's descendent Cade appear as bad-ass and anti-Luke as possible–Tattoos! Space drugs! Piracy!–I actually ended up really rather enjoying this series. The two big reasons are, of course, John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, both of whom are great talents who have done particularly great work on the Star Wars franchise.

I also kind of liked just how far removed this series was from the two eras of Galactic history from the two trilogies, and how it therefore boasted a lot of familiar elements of the franchise, but in radically remixed ways.

So yeah, while I will admit that no one who makes fun of Cade and how hard this book occasionally tried, I would still recommend it.

Um, if you like Star Wars comics. If you don't, this probably isn't the one that's going to win you over.


THUNDERBOLTS #5
JIM ZUB (W) • JON MALIN (A/C)
...
CIVIL WAR II TIE-IN!
• It's the Winter Soldier versus Spider-Man and only one of them is going to walk away.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Really? Only one of these characters is going to walk away from the fight? If the implication is that one of them is going to die, well, that's not very suspenseful, is it? The Winter Soldier is totally going to bite it. Sure, he may have home book advantage, and he may have already died like three times already, but the other guy is Spider-Man. Well, a Spider-Man. But still! A Spider-Man is still a bigger deal than a Winter Solider.

Of course, maybe the solicitation copy is just being coy. Only one of them is going to walk away...because the other one will swing away on a web!


Huh. I thought the only metal Wolverine was interested in was adamantium.

Also, I wonder what Toadies album Jubilee is looking at on the cover of X-Men '92, given that their first full-length album (and their big break through) didn't see release until 1994. And a quick Google search does indeed reveal that the cover doesn't look like that, anyway, even if Kang The Conqueror dropped his copy of Rubberneck in a Tower Records while time-traveling through the era.

I suppose things like the particular year of an album's release or its cover art could be different in the Marvel Universe, though...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: June 22nd

Archie #9 (Archie Comics) Mark Waid and Veronica Fish's latest issue of Archie continues the trend of the earlier issues, in which each one stands alone as a complete story, while continuing to advance a broader narrative. In that respect, the series has been somewhat TV-like, with each issue similar to an episode. In this one, Archie and Veronica decide that given her father's hatred of him, maybe they should hang out at his house rather than hers. This proves to be something of a challenge for Veronica though, as she's not used to such a non-mansion household. Mild hilarity ensues.

As does some romantic tension between Archie and Betty...although the former is of course oblivious to it, as he's fairly oblivious to everything.

Mark Waid's introduction to the reprint back-up is of interest, as the writer admits in it that Archie's everymankid nature can make hims particularly challenging to write...something I imagine has only gotten harder and harder as the decades past and Archie's generally bland portrayal calcified. As Waid notes in talking up the attributes of classic Archie artist Harry Lucey (Waid's favorite), however, it's in the artwork that characterization can often be added back into the character.

I found that all rather fascinating, as the rotating artists of the new, rebooted Archie has made Waid the prime creative force behind the character, and he seems to have done a pretty fine job so far of giving the character a distinct enough personality.

She Wolf #1 (Image Comics) At just 20-pages for $3.99, this price point was pretty far outside my personal comfort zone–not crazy about the paperstock, either, or the way the back cover takes my fingerprints–but, as you can see, it was an extremely light week, and this looked pretty fantastic.

It is, as you can probably guess from the title and cover, a werewolf comic, and it is by Rich Tommaso. The setting is apparently the 1980s, based on the fashion and a few minor cultural touchstones. Our heroine Gabby Catella, whose boyfriend was apparently a werewolf, until he is gunned down by policemen in front of her. And now she might be a werewolf...or might not be.

There are some challenging jump cuts in this narrative that make it difficult to tell exactly what is happening when (for example, on page three, Gabby is nude and looking out her bedroom window, where she's a werewolf running around, while in the first panel of page four we see her reacting to what she sees out the window, and she's fully dressed). There is at least one extended dream sequence, as well as some jumps it time.

That made for a slightly disorienting read.

I really love Tomasso's artwork here, though. There's a slight suggestion–an accent, really–in the visual language that reminds me of Richard Sala, but that may be simply because of the somewhat abstracted, flat style and the fact that Tomasso is drawing pretty young girls and a monster.

I really like the way he draws these werewolves, as they seem to have some human-like features and some wolf-like features, but also look completely distinct from either. There's something long, sleek and unnatural about them; in some panels they appear like gigantic, semi-erect minks rather than the more traditional hairy-person-with-a-wolf-head we usually see in post-Howling comics and movies.

Wonder Woman #1 (DC Comics) This is the first issue of the new Wonder Woman series, and it is by writer Greg Rucka and the first of the two artists he will be working with. This issue is part of the storyline set in the present, and featuring the lovely, detailed, fairly realistic artwork of Liam Sharp, whose style reminded me quite a bit of Rags Morales, a favorite artist of mine. Rucka and Sharp collaborated on the last six pages or so of Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, but this story doesn't directly pick up on that sequence at all.

I'll refrain from going into much detail here, as I'll be writing about this later in the week as part of the "Afterbirth" series of posts I've been doing (maybe I should have worked on that name a little harder). For now, I'll be brief. The art is great, the story is boring and very little happens (i.e. it's a Greg Rucka Wonder Woman comic), the characterization of Wonder Woman is stronger than it's been in five years, Etta Candy's post-Crisis and New 52 looks have apparently been amalgamated, Steve Trevor grew a beard and stopped wearing black spandex and The Cheetah got a new 'do.

Overall, it's fine, but not sensational, or even terribly satisfying. Like Rucka's last run on the character, I assume it will read far better in trade than in single issues, as it seems to be written once again for the former rather than the latter.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

DC's September previews reviewed


Hopefully you're not sick of DC's "Rebirth" initiative already, because three months from now they will still be launching new titles under that particular banner, as the latest round of solicitations make clear. I know that they announced this gradual, months long roll-out at the outset, but I was still a little surprised to see things like Supergirl #1 and Teen Titans #1 showing up in here, as those titles, creative teams and covers were announced so long ago now that it feels like they should be coming out, say, this week, rather than this fall.

Other than the tail end of DC's months-long "Rebirth"-ing process, perhaps the most notable releases in the solicits were an inter-book Batman crossover that is the latest cover version of a Golden Age story from Batman #1, last seen in Matt Wagner's excellent 2006, "Year One" era miniseries Batman and The Monster Men (here they appear more monstrous than ever), as well as the very first release from Gerard Way's apparent Vertigo replacement publishing-line-within-a-publishing-line, Young Animal.

Let's take a look, shall we?

ACTION COMICS #963
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art by PATRICK ZIRCHER
Cover by CLAY MANN and SETH MANN
...
“WHO IS CLARK KENT?” part 1! Look—down there on the ground! It’s a guy, he’s kinda ordinary...it’s—Clark Kent?! As Metropolis recovers from the devastating attack of Doomsday, the mysterious figure claiming to be Clark Kent takes the spotlight to clear his name and prove once and for all that Clark Kent is not Superman!
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


ACTION COMICS #964
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art by PATRICK ZIRCHER •
Cover by CLAY MANN and SETH MANN
...
“WHO IS CLARK KENT?” part 2! Superman comes face to face with Clark Kent, and he wants answers! But first the Man of Steel must protect his former alter ego. Clark Kent tells all in this shocking issue! And don’t miss the return of a ghost from Smallville past…
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Wait, Dan Jurgens will just be getting around to starting to explain what's up with that Clark Kent who appeared in the first issue of the now bi-weekly Action Comics in September? Oh man; I understand wanting to take your time with a suspenseful mystery, but that's like 120 pages into Jurgens run, and that is certainly a more compelling interesting storyline than Superman vs. Doomsday, Round One Million.

I suppose that will finally answer the question of how DC plans to re-secretize Superman's secret identity after he was outted. Part of me thinks that the guys who did the outting, the ones who let that particular genie out of the bottle, should also be the ones to solve it, and put that particular genie back in its bottle. But another part of me likes the fact that Geoff Johns and Gene Luen Yang (or, perhaps more likely, Eddie Berganza and Dan DiDio) just left the problem there for whoever came along next to try and solve, like a challenge.


BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY #2
Written by JULIE BENSON and SHAWNA BENSON
Art by CLAIRE ROE
Cover by YANICK PAQUETTE
...
“WHO IS ORACLE?” part 3! Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress must team up with the GCPD to protect a mafia capo from an attack by his one-time friends! He’s the only man with a lead on the nefarious new Oracle…but dead men tell no tales! Of course, it’s hard to make a team-up work when the team’s ready to tear itself apart on its first mission!
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I wonder if Batgirls friends make fun of her for bringing her dad with her on team-ups, or if they think its cute?

Speaking of whom, Jim, I know it doesn't really work with cover artist Yanick Paquette's cover design here, but you should really be hanging out  your own window, rather than standing in the driver's lap in order to fire out of his window.


BATMAN BEYOND: REBIRTH #1
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art and cover by RYAN SOOK
...
Six months have passed since the events of BATMAN BEYOND #16. While areas of destruction remain in the outside world, Gotham City has made great strides toward reclaiming its bright future. But new threats arise and old adversaries may be coming back. And the question still remains: whatever happened to Bruce Wayne?
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I've lost track of how many #1 issues of series based on the Batman Beyond cartoon there have been in the last five years at this point, but I'm pretty confident that whether it is four or seven, this one is one too many.


CYBORG: REBIRTH #1
Written by JOHN SEMPER JR.
Art by PAUL PELLETIER, SANDRA HOPE and TONY KORDOS
Cover by WILL CONRAD
...
Victor Stone was once a star athlete and brilliant student with a bright future. But after a tragic accident destroyed over half of his body, Victor was kept alive by merging flesh with advanced technology. Today he is the Justice League co-founder called Cyborg. But is the young hero a man…or a machine that merely believes it’s a man?
On sale SEPTEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Oh, neat. The focus of this new Cyborg solo series will be on his existential angst over whether he is a man or a machine. That's a fresh, new take on the part-man, part-machine character that I don't think anyone has ever thought to explore before.

CYBORG #1
Written by JOHN SEMPER JR.
Art and cover by WILL CONRAD
...
“THE IMITATION OF LIFE” part one! Cyborg is thrown into conflict with every robotic threat to the DC Universe as a brand new era begins for Victor Stone, courtesy of writer John Semper Jr. (Spider-Man: The Animated Series) and artist Will Conrad (Angel & Faith)!
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Okay, I take back my sarcasm regarding the Rebirth-branded one-shot's completely generic-sounding solicit. "Conflict with every robotic threat to the DC Universe" is actually an interesting-sounding premise, although given the fact that the DC Universe is only like five years old now (our time), I don't actually know how many robotic threats they've experienced.



DOOM PATROL #1
Written by GERARD WAY
Art and cover by NICK DERINGTON
Variant cover by BRIAN BOLLAND
Variant cover by SANFORD GREENE
Variant cover by JAIME HERNANDEZ
Variant cover by BRIAN CHIPPENDALE
Variant cover by BABS TARR
Retailers: This issue will ship with six covers. Please see the order form for details.
On sale SEPTEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS
The atoms are buzzing. The daydreams crowd sentient streets, and the creative team has been warned, “Turn back now or suffer the mighty consequence of sheer, psycho-maniacal mayhem.” Generation-arsonists unite—this is DOOM PATROL, and the God of the Super Heroes is bleeding on the floor.
A blenderized reimagining of the ultimate series of the strange, DOOM PATROL combines elements from classic runs, new directions, and things that could not be. Our entry point is Casey Brinke, a young EMT on the graveyard shift to abstract enlightenment, with a past so odd that she’s not entirely sure what is real and what is not. Along with her partner, Sam Reynolds, the pair blaze a path through the city and its denizens, finding the only quiet that exists at 3am is the chaos of the brain. When the pair answer a hit-and-run call, they find themselves face to face with a familiar figure: Cliff Steele, AKA Robotman.
“It gets weirder from here,” writer Gerard Way had to say about the book, with artist Nick Derington gripping tightly on the wheel of the ambulance. The pair’s only communication? Shouting out of the open windows while at high velocity. Who needs a new roommate? Who names a cat “Lotion”? And when do we get to see all those muscles?
Find your answers inside the pages of this comic book, as we set the stage for new beginnings, as well as the re-introduction of some classic DOOM PATROL characters, including Niles Caulder, Negative Man, Flex Mentallo, and Crazy Jane.
The debut title of DC’s Young Animal line kicks off with a removable sticker on its cover: Pull back the gyro to reveal its secrets, but be warned—there is no turning back.

So can you tell Gerard Way has been hanging out with Grant Morrison?

That epic-length solicitation sounds more like a one-page pitch for the series than anything else, but seeing Way attempt a Morrison pastiche with a Doom Patrol revival should be interesting. I thought his Umbrella Academy miniseries read an awful lot like a cool, 21st-century version of the X-Men, so I'd certainly like to see what he does with X-Men's more aggressively weird doppleganger team of freaks who fight under the direction of a wheelchair-bound professor to protect a world that doesn't much care for them.

I kept the variant cover artists in there because I thought it worth noting the variety of them; there's a mix of oddballs, talented artist you'd expect to see on DCU books and Vertigo alums.


NIGHTWING #4
Written by TIM SEELEY
Art and cover by JAVIER FERNANDEZ
...
“BETTER THAN BATMAN” part 4! At last, Nightwing and Raptor enact their endgame to shut down the Parliament of Owls permanently! But the Parliament has one last card up its sleeves: The Moloch, a giant owl monster whose mission is simple: eviscerate Nightwing and Raptor.
On sale SEPTEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

The Moloch is scary.

That is all.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #18
Written by SHOLLY FISCH
Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
Can it be? The entire universe threatened by the spectral spirit of Canis Major, the dog star? To get to the bottom of the space-spanning mystery, canine crimebuster Scooby will have to team up with some of DC’s greatest dog heroes, including old friends Krypto and Ace the Bat-Hound, plus G’Nort, Wonder Dog, and the Space Canine Patrol Agency!
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E

Hard to believe it took Sholly Fisch 18 issues to get around to teaming Scooby-Doo up with DC's various superdogs, but, in his defense, he has already had Scooby meet Ace the Bat-Hound and Krypto.

I read the solicitation before I looked at the cover image, so when I saw "Wonder Dog," I thought briefly that it would be Rex, The Wonder Dog, DC Comics' greatest hero and the dog I personally consider the third part of the DC Comics canine Trinity, rather than Marvin and Wendy's canine pal from Super Friends.

And speaking of Rex, The Wonder Dog, where is my The Rex, The Wonder Dog Chronicles collection, DC?



TEEN TITANS: REBIRTH #1
Written by BENJAMIN PERCY
Art and cover by JONBOY MEYERS
Variant cover by EVAN “DOC” SHANER
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
The Teen Titans are farther apart than ever before…until Damian Wayne recruits Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and the new Kid Flash to join him in a fight against his own grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul! But true leadership is more than just calling the shots—is Robin really up to the task? Or will the Teen Titans dismiss this diminutive dictator?
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Swap out the new Kid Flash with Blue Beetle, and this is the exact Teen Titans line-up from the recent direct-to-DVD movie Justice League vs. Teen Titans. I didn't much care for that movie, and the only thing that really sticks with me as particularly worthwhile at this point is Starfire's magical girl transformation sequence.

I'm somewhat curious as to how this particular team will even come together, give the fact that few of these character have any history with one another at all–New 52 Beast Boy and Raven were on the previous Teen Titans team at the same time, and that's it as far as I know–and Starfire is no longer a teen, nor does she know any of these people.


TRINITY #1
Written by FRANCIS MANAPUL
Art and cover by FRANCIS MANAPUL
...
“BETTER TOGETHER” part 1! Together again for the first time! Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. The core of the World's Greatest Heroes…but with a new Man of Steel, the bonds these three share will be tested and redefined by super-star writer/artist Francis Manapul. In this premiere issue, see the trio travel from Metropolis to Gotham City and beyond to learn what forces launched their heroic careers. But how will this journey of discovery lead them to a new threat?
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Yes. Yes, I am going to go ahead and say with some certainty that this journey of discover will, in fact, lead them to a new threat.

I've got to say, I was a lot more interested in this title before it became clear that the "Rebirth" Superman would be an entirely different Superman than the New 52 one , and is therefore apparently just now meeting and getting to know Batman and Wonder Woman.


WACKY RACELAND #4
Written by KEN PONTAC
Art and cover by LEONARDO MANCO
...
Our heroes head to the radioactive remains of Las Vegas for a little R&R between races, hoping for a jackpot of ammunition to add to their dwindling supplies. Instead, they arouse the ire of the ganglord Neon Caesar, who’s got an ax to grind with Red. Meanwhile, Muttley and his vehicles are lost in the labyrinthine sewers beneath the streets when the gangs of Vegas unite to eradicate the Racers. Our heroes must go it alone against the combined might of the Caesars, the Pharaohs, the Clowns, and the terrifying Combovers, who have great weapons. Terrific weapons. Really, they have the best weapons.
On sale SEPTEMBER 21 • 32 pg, FC, 4 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+

The Combovers, huh? Who have great weapons. Terrific weapons. Gee, I wonder what divisive political figure they might be referring to here?

Of course given the news I've read and heard in the last few days, I wonder if that particular divisive political figure will still be a nominee for president of the United States of America on September 21, given the fact that he apparently raised less money last month than the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter did in 2014.

Perhaps during the July convention, the Republican Party will decide not to nominate the presumptive nominee after all, but instead nominate the Veronica Mars movie. The Veronica Mars movie may lack the experience of the presumptive Democratic nominee, and thus not be the best candidate running for president this year, but I'm certain it would be a better president than the current Republican standard bearer.

Politics!

Friday, June 17, 2016

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

Titans: Rebirth #1 by Dan Abnett, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse

The sole "Rebirth" one-shot this week should be of particular interest to fans and/or readers wondering what, exactly, the fuck is going on with the structure of the DC Universe after the events of DC Universe: Rebirth, starring as it does pre-Flashpoint Wally West, newly arrived in the post-Flashpoint DCU and centering on a new version of an old team that forgot they were ever a team because of...Fuck, I don't know.

DC was apparently banking on the fact that sticking the new (read "old") Wally West on the cover would be all it would take to generate that interest (read "sales"), because the book doesn't haven't anything else going for it. It's by far the worst of the Rebirth one-shots so far and it is, to use the proper critical term, garbage.

Abnett's brief story amounts to this. Wally West, now decked out in the new red-and-silver (and cool-looking!) version of his Kid Flash costume, breaks into Nightwing Dick Grayson's apartment. Dick attacks him and, when they touch, Dick remembers who Wally is. Then "The Titans"--Donna Troy, Garth, Arsenal Roy Harper and a green character that is apparently the post-Flashpoint version of Lilith (although she looks more like Ragman)--all appear in Dick's apartment simultaneously and attack Wally.

Every time one of them touches him, they get a jolt of his silver lightning and then flashback to a memory of their time as the Teen Titans.

The end.

It is not particularly well-drawn. I'm not sure why Brett Booth keeps getting relatively high-profile gigs, but a quick flip-through of this should demonstrate why he should not. I suppose it's possible he's enormously popular with a certain sub-section of DC Comics fans--though sales on the books he has worked on does not seem to indicate that he brings tens of thousands of fans with him to these projects--but he has a lot of trouble drawing things like hands and feet. It's not just his style, which obviously different readers will have different opinions regarding, but it's his the mechanics of his art. He's just not a really good superhero comic artist, which is why it's a little weird that he keeps getting hired to draw superhero comics for one of the two biggest publishers in that particular market. (Again, I do love that Wally West costume though. I think Booth designed that? It's a good design!)

There is an inherent problem with this series as it fits into DC's currently fucked-up continuity, but it's so complicated that I don't really know how to get into it. The events of DC Universe: Rebirth indicated that during the creation of The New 52, someone (Doctor Manhattan) stole ten years from DC continuity while it was being rejiggered by The Flash, Reverse-Flash and Pandora. Only Wally, and the people he's told, know anything at all about this though.

The implication here is that these group of characters--who reunited during the fairly awful Convergence spin-off Titans Hunt, of which I only read the first two issues, and could stand no more--are "remembering" their pasts that they had somehow forgotten.

Whether someone or some force made their pasts so that they never happened or simply made them forget are two very different things, though, and it's unclear here which it is. The flashback scenes show the various characters in "new" or New 52 costumes--Dick Grayson is wearing the Tim Drake-inspired New 52 Robin costume, not the pre-Flashpoint one, for example, while Roy and Garth similarly have new old costumes. Meanwhile, Wally and Donna are dressed in versions of their pre-Flashpoint Teen Titans costumes during the flashbacks.

But then, we've seen the birth/creation of Donna Troy, and it happened long after Dick and Roy were introduced. She emerged from a witch's cauldron on Paradise Island as a grown woman, some sort of evil magical golem created to kill Wonder Woman. She's like, maybe a few months old in DC time. Maybe Abnett, who also wrote Titans Hunt already explained that, but it doesn't make any goddam sense in the context of this, which really should stand on its own, as it has that "#1" on the cover and, like the rest of DC's "Rebirth" initiative, it is meant to be a jumping-on point, selling future series and/or franchises (This leads directly into Titans #1, featuring this grouping of characters, as opposed to Teen Titans, which will feature the current Teen Titans).

At any rate, as far as I can tell, there were at least three changes that the characters are struggling with: 1) Their rebooted past (in Flashpoint), 2) The loss of ten years of continuity (as revealed in DC Universe: Rebirth) and 3) the loss of their memories of each other and their time as a team together. It seems as if these things should all be related, but apparently they're not.

Further confounding things is the fact that Wally finds a scrapbook in Dick's apartment, featuring a photo of the Teen Titans line-up from their time as Teen Titans. If that happened in a different universe, than that photo is some sort of weird artifact from a past universe that somehow survived this one's cosmic reorderings (not unlike Batman's letter from his Flashpoint dad, which we've recently seen under glass at the Batcave). And if it happened in this universe, it means that Dick Grayson kept a scrapbook in which he posed for a photo with some teenage superheroes he had no memory of ever being on a team with, or even knowing existed, as is the case with Wally.

I honestly can't make heads or tails of this title, and the fact that the art is so poor, I don't even want to try. I suspect DC would have been in much, much better shape if they let Geoff Johns handle any of the books that are going to directly focus on his reboot stories and how they make sense. Sure, elements of DC Universe: Rebirth were dumb, but they made sense. Maybe Johns would have been able to apply them to titles like this and still make sense in a way that Abnett can't, simply because he's not the guy who wrote all of the cosmic continuity shenanigans that painted these particular characters and this particular shared setting into the corner they and it are currently stuck in.

Batman #1 by Tom King, David Finch, Matt Banning and Jordie Bellaire

The cover kinda sorta spoils the ending–in which Batman meets two super-strong, flying superheroes who call themselves Gotham and Gotham Girl–but then, the PR blitz that has accompanied DC's "Rebirth" initiative likely already did that before anyone who was terribly excited about this book had picked it up anyway.

The entire issue spans only a few minutes, as Batman races to try and save a jetliner full of people from crashing into downtown Gotham after it's tail is blown off by a shoulder-mounted missile launcher stolen by a terrorist (with Kobra, rather than any real-world organization). In so doing, we see the new Batmobile--which looks like that of The Animated Series, save for a Batman head mounted on the front--and his two Oracles, Alfred Pennyworth and Duke Thomas.

By the climax, Batman is able to save everyone on the plane and in its original path--thanks to math and the mini-jet engines he apparently carries in his car--but at the cost of his own life. It's a pretty nice, touching moment between he and Alfred, really and, as they say, it would have been "a good death"...if not for the intervention of the caped strongman, who saves Batman's life.

I have some questions about the direction--I'm particularly curious about Duke's role and his eventual codename*--and about changes that were probably already answered in an issue I missed somewhere (How James Gordon was reinstated as police commissioner--and why he started smoking again--and the whereabouts of Julia Pennyworth). Overall though, it's a very effective, action-oriented script that goes along way towards detailing aspects of the current status quo and introducing a big, unusual conflict.

There is one rather questionable aspect, in which a mystery antagonist is introduced; he apparently killed the Kobra agent and took the shot himself...or did he kill the agent after he took the shot...? Either way, it's a mysterious figure seen in an extreme long-shot, apparently dressed in a long-ish coat, who talks to himself, telling Batman to "watch the clock."

Given the events of DC Universe: Rebirth and the promise of more Watchmen nonsense to come in it's last pages, I wonder if that is meant to be Ozymandius...? Hopefully not! (Tom Spurgeon posted a link--and additional commentary--to something Ed Brubaker wrote about DC's recent use of Watchmen, and why it is so disappointing. I go a lot farther than Brubaker--I do blame everyone who worked on Before Watchmen, and think their doing so was incredibly scummy, but then, I'm lucky enough that I'll never be forced to have to choose between making money and doing something I find morally or ethically reprehensible...and, for all I know, Lee Bermejo had a relative who needed an expensive operation and Brian Azzarello has dozens of kids he needs to feed).

The artwork is by David Finch, and the best thing that can be said about it is that, given the fact that it is David Finch, it could have been much, much worse. And it will likely will, based on his past performance and his relationship to deadlines.

It boggles my mind that this is who DC thinks should be drawing their number one book, but then, they boggle my mind pretty frequently.

Green Arrow #1 by Benjamin Percy and Otto Schmidt

Huh. Well, they didn't exactly attempt to draw any will they/won't they tension out of the Green Arrow/Black Canary relationship, did they? While this is from page eight of the first issue of the new Green Arrow series, I suppose it's worth remembering that counting Green Arrow: Rebirth #1, Green Arrow #1 is actually the second book of the new Green Arrow series by. So they drew it out for 27 pages pages, rather than just seven.

I still like Schmidt's art quite a bit, and I particularly liked the way that his version of GA's goatee actually looks a bit like an arrow in terms of its shape. Percy's script is fine, but it's already started to bore me with its straightforward employment of generic superhero comic tropes--but then, maybe someone who has been reading DC Comics for 25 years no isn't the intended audience?--and inclusion of the elements of the New 52 Green Arrow that are new and unfamiliar and therefore unappealing to me personally (Ollie has a little half-sister who is also a skilled archer, he works with a male Oracle type named Harry, et cetera).

As I said of the Rebirth special, Green Arrow seems more readable than it has in years. I'm afraid I'm just not interested, though.

Green Lanterns #1 by Sam Humphries, Robson Rocha, Jay Leisten and Blond

Writer Sam Humphries and artist do a pretty fine job of presenting Green Lanterns Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz as space cops, in the way they talk and they way they hold their rings like guns and so forth, but the portrayal seems a little off for these two particular Green Lanterns, as Jessica has never trained with anyone in the Corps, and while Baz has, Humprhies seems to be playing him up as a rookie too, as if he got his ring a few weeks rather than years ago (It's difficult to tell how time moves in comic book universe's, but based on Damian Wayne's birthday cake in DC Universe: Rebirth, it's been three years since Green Lantern #1.

Both characters have pretty crappy attitudes, dictated by the bickering partners premise, and neither are all that much fun to hang around with (Which I find surprising, as I genuinely liked Baz during Geoff John's run on the previous volume of the title). I find Cruz's agoraphobia pretty compelling for personal reasons, but I kinda wish she looked and acted a little bit more like someone who has suffered debilitating anxiety that kept her inside her own apartment for years, rather than just another superhero character.

Overall, it's fairly mediocre super-comics, but then, mediocre is better than bad. It's certainly head-and-shoulders above the Green Lantern where it left off prior to "Rebirth."

Superman #1 by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz

So that's a picture of the smoldering corpse of Goldie, the pet cat of Superman and Lois Lane's son Jonathan White. How did it get into that state? Well, an apparently enormously large and powerful hawk swooped down and carried the cat off. When young Jonathan tried to stop angrily stop the bird, he let loose a powerful burst of heat vision that incinerated both the bird and the cat, the latter's corpse falling right at Jonathan's feet, the bell on its collar tinkling as it its the ground.

Pardon me if I misread it, but I was fairly certain that the Geoff Johns-written DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot that kicked off this line-wide relaunch all but promised a return to a lighter, brighter, less grim and cynical DC Universe than that of The New 52. And yet, here's a drawing of a cat's corpse, accidentally murdered by a little kid.

It's not the only dark scene in the book. While it is played as some kind of grotesque joke (note the bell, landing like a punchline), the climax of the issue features Jonathan and his dad Superman arguing about whether having secret identities makes them a bunch of liars or not and being sent to his room.

Later, Batman and Wonder Woman show up to converse about him with his dad, and there's a creepy scene where all three look up at him as one. The cliffhanger ending is a splash page of Superman, bathed in shadow, telling his son he needs to come with him immediately. Now, Tomasi and Gleason both do a decent job of showing how the world of adults--especially serious adults who are acting in a child's best interests, whether the child sees that or not--can be scary. They put the reader in Jonathan's shoes. But jeez, it's a pretty unusual take to a story that amounts to "What if Superman was your dad?" (Based on what promotional materials DC has released regarding this title, Superman probably isn't taking his son out to be murdered by Batman and Wonder Woman or anything like that; he's taking him out to begin training this new Superboy in the use of his emerging super-powers).

As with DC Universe: Rebirth, Superman: Rebirth and Action Comics #957, what exactly is going on with the Superman franchise is still up in the air. Tomasi reminds us that it's probably not as cut-and-dry as Old Man Superman carrying on the legacy of the late New 52 Superman on the first page, when the former visits the latter's grave and something weird happens, and he remembers being told by a "Mr. Oz" that they aren't what they seem.

This issue rather reiterates the White family's status quo: Lois White writes books under an assumed name, Superman is a farmer (although he has now shaved off his disguise of a beard and stopped wearing the all-black costume in favor of a new one with the red and blue colors) and they are raising their half-Kryptonian son on an isolated farm in Hamilton County, in whatever state Metropolis is in. Jonathan seems to be the focus of this issue, at least, as not only is he slightly traumatized by accidentally killing his own cat, but he's also seen doing it by a neighbor girl.

The storytelling, despite the choices Tomasi and Gleason are making, are pretty superb, and there's a really fantastic double-page splash that uses its space to draw attention to an extremely basic action in many Superman narratives, but here making it seem new, fresh and completely monumental.

So far, Superman looks great, and if you're patient to wait out the explanations of what the shifting status quo will eventually settle into and don't mind DC's apparent inability to not tell dark superhero stories anymore, then it's definitely a worthwhile comic.



*A commenter on the first installment of "Afterbirth" guessed Golden Bat, which isn't bad...but I'd rather see it applied to a Japanese character, myself.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: June 15th

Circuit-Breaker #3 (Image Comics) The latest issue of Kevin McCarthy and Kyle Baker's ultra-dense dissertation on Japanese pop culture in the form of a pastiche adventure comic has so much going on that my brain can barely catalog all the references.

The first eight pages–just eight pages!–features a flashback to the war between the U.S. and Japan 50 years ago, and that war was fought primarily between the American superheroes (whose catchphrases their leader Commodore 64 steals without remorse) and the robot heroes of Japan, the climax a battle between the Gigantor analogue (I think) and the Americans' Godzilla-like kaiju, which a character calls out as such: "This is psychological warfare! They think they can walk all over us with their goofy 'Godzill?'").

After those eight pages, the storyline resumes, the pace of the craziness doesn't let-up at all.

The action climax involves a transforming truck robot that is only something of an allusion to the Transformers and the revelation of our heroine's real nature to her enemies in the robot terrorist cell.

Two random thoughts: 1) I need to set this issue aside for the next time my Japanese friend visits, so she can translate the sound effects and names that appear in some panels and 2) When Marvel next tries to relaunch the Fantastic Four, they should give Kyle Baker a crack at them–he does a great Thing, from what little we see of Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew in this issue.

Dark Night: A True Batman Story (DC Comics) I actually haven't read a page of this yet. In fact, I haven't even torn the cellophane off. So I'm just listing it here because I bought it at the shop today. This is Paul Dini's graphic novel-format memoir about surviving and recovering from a brutal physical attack in the 1990s, when he was working on Batman: The Animated Series. It's drawn by Eduardo Risso, one of the greatest Batman artists around these days who hasn't really gotten to draw Batman as much as one might hope he would. I'm both really excited to read this, and a little anxious, given the subject matter.

Jughead #7 (Archie Comics) I feel weird saying this, as I thought Erica Henderson's artwork on the first six-issues of the Chip Zdarsky-written Jughead was perfect, but I think I might prefer the work of Derek Charm. Granted, Henderson's version of Jughead's nose was better, as she managed to retain it's unrealistic cartooniness while fusing it to her own personal, not-at-all-indebted-to-the-old-Archie Comics-house style style, but Charm's character designs are a nice fusion of "new" art with the flat, gag comic look of Archie Comics.

Not that one needs to rate Charm and Henderson against one another or anything. I just point this out because I was a little worried about the change in artists, and it turned out that I liked this new guy who isn't Erica Henderson a whole lot.

Chip Zdarsky's plot for this new arc isn't as crazy as that of the previous arc (at least, not yet), but it includes lots of jokes, some of which are wonderfully surreal (like the Mantle family reunion). What I found most surprising, however, is the way in which there's some actual character conflict and drama in this issue, as Jughead loses his temper with Archie, who perpetually values girls over him.

It's a weird thing to realize, but guys, Archie Comics are really, really great right now, and I look forward to reading them in a 100% non-ironic way. In fact, this was the first comic I read this week (I don't know about you, but I generally stack up all my new comics in the order of which I am most excited to read them, with any trades going at the bottom. This week it was Jughead, Circuit-Breaker, Swamp Thing, Lumberjanes and SpongeBob).

Lumberjanes #27 (Boom Studios) Well, what do we have here? It's another Lumberjanes story arc that seems to be going on way too long for what relatively little story there is. It hasn't dragged yet or anything, but just knowing that this is the third issue in what will be a four-to-six-issue arc has given me something of a sinking feeling.

Jen, Roanoke Cabin, Scouting Lad Barney and, um, that other 'jane from a different cabin and their magical, super-powered kittens are all reunited with Rosie and The Grand Lodge ladies...and they are now all stuck in the next of the giant, horned monster bird that turns out to be a Roc (rather than a Thunderbird, as I assumed; I guess that makes sense, since despite the North American setting the majority of the monsters the 'janes face are from classical myth).

Their our two opinions on how best to deal with the giant monster bird, one of which is to kill it, and the other of which is to escape without killing it. Barney finds the key through the power of bird-watching, and the new girl comes up with a plan, the realization of which makes for an actually rather dramatic cliffhanger, as she figures it out but doesn't spill, leaving a reader (or at least this reader) to puzzle over it in their (or my) head, but not getting any satisfaction. Next issue, I guess.

Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat Vol. 1: Hooked on a Feline (Marvel Entertainment) I haven't read all of this first trade paperback collection of Kate Leth and Brittney Williams' new Hellcat comic yet–that's what I'm going to do as soon as I hit the "publish" button after finishing this post–but I've read the first two issues as they were serially published, and they were excellent. While I've read many more issues of the other two series, based on what I know so far, I would hold this up next to Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones' Howard The Duck and Ryan North and Erica Henderson's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl as one of Marvel's very best comic books, a perfect example of how genuinely fun and funny the Marvel Universe and its characters can be when they are allowed to be.

SpongeBob Comics Annual-Size Swimtacular #4 (United Plankton Pictures) For the fourth SpongeBob summer annual, the comic is once again devoted to superheroes, which means a whole lot of pages featuring Aquaman parody Mermaid Man. This particular installment includes some work from some honest-go-goodness, what-are-these-guys-doing-here? superhero comics creators, including Jerry Ordway (who drew the cover), Jon Bogdanove (who drew the table of contents) and Neal Adams, who pencils and inks a Derek Drymon written and laid out story that parodies the Adams illustrated, "relevant" Green Arrow/Green Lantern stories of the late 1960s. In this version, Green Arrow stand-in The Green Harpoon convinces Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy to quit saving the city from supervillains and instead devote themselves to "the boring problems of the common citizen!"

Seeing Adams' version of Mermaid Man, who has the too-big muscles, neck and chin of a superhero parody, sharing the panel with what look like pretty straight versions of typical Adams characters run through a SpongeBob filter, is pretty great fun.

The other stand-outs in this over-sized, 48-page comic are the Drymon-written, Robb Bihun-drawn "SongeBob BabysitterPants," drawn in a rather realistically rendered, ink-heavy style, and Scott Roberts "Speed O 'Lightning," an entire, 10-page story written to the tune of the Underdog theme song. You should probably read that one out loud for the full effect.

Swamp Thing #6 (DC) The final issue of Len Wein and Kelley Jones' Swamp Thing miniseries ends with a bit of a whimper, as T.S. Eliot predicted (and Wein points out himself in his narration). That's mostly because this is the last issue though, and there's really only one way the conflict can end. Matt Cable has cured Alec Holland from the curse of being Swamp Thing, and he's done so by becoming Swamp Thing in Holland's stead...and then promptly using his newfound, god-like powers to threaten to conquer the world. SHIELD ARGUS has nukes pointed at Houma, Louisiana, where the conflict is set, and it can therefore end in one of three ways. First, Cable can take over the world. Second, ARGUS can wipe Holland, Cable and a portion of Louisiana off the map. Or, third, Holland can take the Swamp Thing powers back from Cable and everything can go back to where it was at the start of the series.

Guess which of those three options Wein goes with?

Of some surprise, if only because it is such a contrast to what we've seen before, a few classic Swamp Thing characters make appearances, and there are guest-stars galore. Not only do Steve Trevor Agent of ARGUS, The Phantom Stranger, The Spectre and Zatanna all reappear, but so too does Etrigan, The Demon.

It's great fun to see Jones' versions of all of these characters. I particularly liked his Zatanna, which is just so...different than the way everyone else draws her, and some of the expressions his Spectre makes. I wasn't very enamored of his Demon (I didn't care for his Etrigan when it appeared in his run on Batman either), but it's still interesting to see Jones' bizarre style applied to different characters just to see how he interprets them. Like, I'd be excited if Santa Claus showed up in a Kelley Jones comic, just to see how Jones would draw that jolly old elf (Hey, that's not a bad idea! Mr. Wein! Can your next miniseries with Kelley Jones involve Santa Claus? Maybe he can team up with Batman to fight Calendar Man and The Krampus or something...)

I suppose one could read something into the last panels in which Swamp Thing is overly emphatic about the fact that he knows exactly who he is, that he is Alec Holland and definitely not a sentient plant with Holland's memories, as some kind of meta-response to what Alan Moore did with Wein's character during the classic run which is the main reason anyone knows/cares about Swamp Thing at all (especially given DC's apparent decision to base their latest relaunch on calling out Watchmen as some kind of wound on the DC Universe), but I've become somewhat inured to DC comics writing criticism or conversation with Moore's work for the publisher a generation ago...to the point where I can sometimes spot it, but rarely care enough to think about it.

As with the previous issues, I cam for the Kelley Jones art, and everything else about the comic was just some sort of Kelley Jones delivery system.


Okay, that's it for tonight. I'll probably write at greater length about Dark Knight and Patsy Walker later, and do come back this weekend for reviews of this week's DC "Rebirth" books, of which there were many.