Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Casey Jones: North By Downeast

Introduced by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1985's Raphael one-shot (which you can read in its entirety here, Casey Jones would become one of the central characters in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, joining the core cast of the title characters, Splinter and April on a more-or-less permanent basis from 1986's TMNT #10 on, as well as appearing in all of the cartoons (albeit just briefly in the first and most influential series), and as many of the feature films as The Shredder did (each were in three of the five films). Despite Casey's role as a sort of unofficial, human fifth Turtle, he didn't earn a comic book with his name in the title until 1994's two-part miniseries Casey Jones: North By Downeast (That same year he'd also share a title with his best friend among the Turtles in Casey Jones and Raphael, an ill-starred miniseries that Mirage only published a single issue of).

The story that fills the pages of Casey Jones actually wasn't originally intended for a miniseries. Rather, the "North By Downeast" story started out being serialized short chapter by chapter in the short-lived Mirage Studios anthology Plastron Cafe. Never finished there, Casey Jones reprinted those chapters and finished off the storyline in a set of two comics, produced in full color (the shorts in Plastron were, of course, in black-and-white, color still being fairly new to the world of the Turtles, even at that late date in the publisher's history).

Read today, Casey Jones is probably more noteworthy for who made it, rather than whose name is in the title: Character co-creator Kevin Eastman provided the story and inks, but Rick Veitch scripted, penciled and even lettered the story (Usual TMNT letterer Steve Lavigne provided the colors, and John Totleben the covers). Veitch, probably still best-known for his BratPack and Swamp Thing, despite some compelling and under-appreciated work since (including Cant' Get No and Army @ Love for Vertigo), was here making a return trip to the world of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, having previously produced the three-part storyline "The River" (TMNT #24-#26) and the weird-ass one-off TMNT #30.

If any publisher ever decides to collect TMNT comics by creator, Veitch has certainly produced enough of it to fill a good-sized trade paperback and, significantly, most of it is very good; "The River" being one of the better non-Eastman and Laird stories that wasn't a wild departure.

The pacing in "North By Downeast," as well as its set-up, betrays its origins as short strips spread across issues of an anthology. It opens cinematically, on a dark and stormy night, the first few pages of panels taking us from an establishing shot of the New York City, following the rain into a gutter, down a drainpipe, into an open manhole, and into the sewer. Casey is sneaking into the Turtles' den, and letting in enough water to short out their electricity.

He strikes a match, and begins to tell the Turtles a story...one of a solo adventure of his as random and wild as any of the Turtles' more outlandish adventures.

Veitch takes Eastman and Laird's original conception of Casey as a street vigilante who fights crime with baseball bats, hockey sticks and other blunt sporting equipment he keeps in the beat-up golf-bag slung over his shoulder to the extreme, even if it's a logical, even more realistic extreme. His Casey wears not only a hocky mask, but also hockey gloves, knee and shin pads, a cup and what appears to be either hockey or football pads (I'm no sports fan) as body armor. His bag is stuffed full of the usual sporting equipment, as well as a ski pole (for stabbing), a crowbar a saw and other useful items.
The first issue is mostly set-up, as our hero prowls the rooftops, looking for crimes to fight while occasionally watching strangers' television sets by peering in their windows, when he discovers a particularly weird crime: Crackheads stealing a tank of lobsters.

He intervenes, and soon finds himself fighting something...wrong, people that aren't quite people. He catches a cinderblock to the head, and finds himself stripped of his sporting equipment and ejected from a huge, nautilus-shaped ship of some kind.

He's rescued by a sexy fisherwoman, wearing a bikini under a slicker and hat and chomping on a corncob pipe, Popeye-style, who tells him a weird tale of lobster men from Venus, a lobster God king, a special lobster—The Royal Roe—which will allow the lobster men to regain their original form if they present it to their monstrous emperor.
In the second issue, all of the ish he learns about hits the fan, as he fashions himself a new mask and armor out of the discarded shells of some of the giant lobster men and, arming himself with an axe and a...boat thing...
...he wades into the alien lobster guys' ritual to raise an Ebirah-sized lobster. The crazy plot, which reads like a modern take on something Robert E. Howard might have pounded out over the course of a weekend, is met with crazy imagery by Veitch, as Casey's opponents shift forms mid-fight, and in an effort to reclaim his hockey mask (and save the world), he faces a lobster wearing it over his lobster face.
Eastman and Veitch give their story an old-school pulp twist ending (or, an old-school pulp-inspired old-school horror comic twist ending), with Casey leaving the Turtles as abruptly as he joined them, and leaving the story's ending—and veracity—somewhat ambiguous. Save for some evidence he leaves behind.

It's a pretty ludicrous story, start to finish, but Veitch and Eastman sure do work well together, and, visually, this is probably the best Casey Jones has ever looked, or ever would look again.

Monday, August 25, 2014

On Mirage and IDW's collections of the first volume of Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

When initially perusing the Mirage site in order to avail myself of what stock of old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics they have left, now that Nickelodeon owns the characters and IDW Publishing holds the license for producing comics starring the characters, I initially balked at the price of The Collected Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mirage's original 1989 trade paperback collection of the seven-issue series that launched in 1987.

The price was $40, which translates into about $5.71 per issue, according to my calculator, and considering that I already owned Tales of... #6 and #7, $40 seemed like a particularly steep price just to get the first five issues in a reader and collector-friendly trade format.

But then I saw how IDW was collecting and selling the same material. They split the seven issue series into two volumes, both of which cost $19.99 (IDW's first collection contains four issues, their second only three, so they were re-selling each issue at $4.99 or $6.66). In other words, getting trade collections of the material would cost the same either way, and the main choice was between the original black and white version (which included a 10-issue bonus story and a four-and-a-half-page introduction by Stephen R. Bissette, who contributed a tiny bit to the final issue) or the badly-colorized IDW trades (which lacked the bonus story and the Bissette piece, but did have a one-page intro by Kevin Eastman in the first trade, and two new covers by Jim Lawson).

So I went with the Mirage version for my bookshelf, but I also ordered the IDW volumes from a library, so I could see how they stacked up.

The cover for the original collection is penciled by Lawson, inked by Peter Laird and colored by Steve Lavigne, and features a rooftop scene of the title characters and the many enemies (The Monster/Rat King, Complete Carnage, a living idol, Savanti Romero riding a pterosaur) and allies (Superheroes Radical and Nobody, fellow mutant Leatherhead, returning character Renet) they encounter in the stories in one big, wrap-around scene.

Lawson's career as a cartoonist has been fascinating to follow, and he's one of the few artists whom I've read just about everything he's produced, at least from these 1987-produced images to his 2013 Kickstart-ed original graphic novel Dragonfly (which I plan on reviewing here in the near-ish future). Many of the characters on the cover look incredibly rough, and the title characters themselves vary greatly from the more standardized versions of Lawson's Turtles that would eventually emerge.

You can see bits of Lawson's later versions of them here, in Leonardo and Raphael's faces, for example, but it's somewhat difficult to believe the artist who drew this cover is the same one who drew the stories inside, and would go on to draw the 13-part "City at War" storyline, or Paleo and Dragonfly, or even those covers on the IDW collections (which you can see below).

Not only was Lawson's artwork growing and changing, becoming more refined as he found his own style over the years and decades, but the Mirage art of this period was really a studio effort, with Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Jim Lawson and Eric Talbot, for example, changing duties in terms of lay-outs, pencils, inks and black-and-white tones, sometimes in what seemed like a story-by-story basis. Some of my favorite art of the original volume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came during the "Return to New York Storyline" (in TMNT #19-21 or The Collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Book 4), where those four artists seemed to be working in some sort of jam style that looks a bit like the work of each of them, but not entirely the work of any one of them.

This collection begins with the first page of Bissette's intro, which jumps to conclude at the end of the book. Each issue issue begins with a small, black and white reproduction of the issue's wrap-around cover on a page consisting of mostly white space (Here is one place the IDW collections beat the Mirage collection; they include the wraparound covers at full-size, and with Lavigne's original coloring. The other area in which they one-up the Mirage collection is that they include the post-story pin-ups from each issue; these aren't generally all that great, but there are some fairly nice ones, including a Laird drawing of a turtle carving a jack o'lantern with a katana and a still black-and-white "Leatherhead Portfolio" featuring images of the character by Steve Lavigne, Eastman, Laird, Bissette and Michael Gaydos).

From there, each issue opens with a pin-up splash page of a ninja turtle, usually in some form of thematic costume or setting, offering a brief introduction that always ends with "Let me tell 'ya a story..." and then the issue itself launches.

Let's briefly take 'em one by one.

The first issue features an Eastman intro splash (that's it at the top of the post), and Eastman and Laird are credited with the writing, Lawson with the lay-outs and pencils and Ryan Brown with the inks (Tales was mostly Lawson and Brown's book). Set during TMNT #11, according to an asterisk, the issue involves Casey, April and the Turtles settling in at the farmhouse they fled to after The Foot Clan kicked Leonardo's ass and destroyed April's building in New York City. Casey's cousin and some of his friends pay an unwelcome visit, threatening April and Casey with a gun, hoping that Casey will confess where their grandfather, a crook who hid a quarter million dollar score somewhere, hid his loot. It's up to the Turtles to take them all out without being seen, and there's a nice twist ending that resolves the Casey's-cousin-as-antagonist plot from ever boiling up again.

Tales of... #2 introduces Nobody, one of the first superheroes in the TMNT milieu, a cop-by-day, masked crimefighter (with ridiculously large cape)-by-night in Springfield, Massachusetts (which the art team of Lawson and Brown make look fairly identical to the brick building-filled New York City of the earlier issues of TMNT, complete with chimneys, stairway doors and water-towers everywhere). Eastman and Laird are again credited with writing this story. (The opening splash is again drawn by Eastman, but his work is fairly transformed by Brown into something much smoother and brighter).

The Turtles visit the city, and soon become embroiled in Nobody's case, which involves gun-dealers moving heavy armaments illegally. It's Leondardo who gives the vigilante his codename, since he never identifies himself. It's not a bad one, and compared to those of the other superheroes in the TMNT-iverse, it's probably the best (The competition consisting of the likes of Radical, Metalhead, "Stainless" Steel Steve and so on).

The third issue opens with a Turtle in a graveyard, a hand rising from a grave marked Edgar Allen Poe, pencilled by Lawson and appropriately heavily inked by Talbot. This story, entitled "All Hallow's Thieves," doesn't have any writing credits, but the art team is the same as the previous issues. Perhaps Lawson and Brown also wrote it...? Set during the Turtles' time in New York City, it features an occultist who wishes to become the magical king of thieves. To do so, he must steal an idol from April's Second Time Around Shop (which naturally involves the Turtles). He then summons a horde of looting little gremlins, and turning the six-armed idol into a nigh-unbeatable foe for the Turtles to work out how to beat.

The next issue opens with Brown and Eastman drawing a Turtle working over a monster in the style of Jack Kirby (the credits read "Thanx Jack") and contemplating the nature of monsters.

In this story, which Lawson receives both story and pencil credits for (with Brown still inking), we meet a clearly deranged man who has covered himself like a hobo mummy in swathes of rags, and believes himself to be some kind of monster. Those who only know the Turtles from the original cartoon series will recognize him immediately as The Rat King, a name he doesn't actually give himself until the very end of the story. He haunts and abandoned factory complex, and apparently goes through phases where he pretends to be various types of monsters (On the first page, he's "a shambling moss-encrusted mockery of a man," and, later, when Michaelangelo muses aloud that he almost wishes ghosts were real, the proto-Rat King thinks to himself, "That was last year.")

"The Monster" menaces the exploring Casey and the Turltes for a while, ultimately trapping them in a room which fills up with ravenous rats. Our heroes fight the swarm of rodents in a pretty amusing fight scene. My favorite image of this battle is probably Casey going to the trouble of picking up two rats just to "BONK" their heads together.
I'm hardly an expert when it comes to life-and-death, hand-to-hand combat against hordes of rats, but I don't think that's the most efficient method of rat-killing.

Nor is breaking their spines one-by-one with a well-placed karate chop:
Oddly, none of the five characters, four of whom have spent their entire lives being raised and trained by a giant anthropomorphic rat, say anything at all about Splinter throughout this whole issue.

The story ends with Leonardo thinking he's killed the wannabe monster, throwing a shuriken into his chest and knocking him from a great height, after they've safely escaped the bad guy's clutches. But the monster, who renames himself The Rat King upon realizing the rats aren't trying to eat him, survives the wound and fall. Or does he...? Read "City At War" to find out!

Tales... #5 is the Radical/Complete Carnage issue. Eastman and Laird's sole credits here are in "Eastman and Laird present: A Lawson/Brown/Lavigne Prod," and it's Lawson who draws the opening splash, of a "Super Turtle."

Again set during their earlier NYC days, the story consists of the Turtles riding around with April in her Volkswagen van (Vanity license plate? "TMNT"). They almost run over a daring young bike messenger who is promptly attacked by a hand reaching out of the road to grab her bike tire. The messenger is secretly Radical, NYC's resident superhero, who can fly and shoot energy blasts and other cool stuff, but has a pretty lame-ass superhero costume. The hand belongs to her archenemy, Complete Carnage, who looks like a gargoyle in a cape and speedo, and who has the power to move through and absorb any man-made material.

The penultimate issue of Tales... opens with a moody Brown/Talbot image of a Turtle fishing off the side of a boat "here on the bayou," while alligators break the black surface of the water, a snake coils in his direction, and a long-legged, crane-like bird takes flight in the background. This is the Leatherhead issue, in which an amoral hunter of endangered species ("You did it, Mr. Marlin! You shot the last Madagascan Blue Elephant!" an assistant shouts congratulations to him) hunts the mutant alligator. This one too has no writing credits, just art credits.

The poacher Marlin decides to hunt an urban myth, a large alligator sighted in the sewers of New York, and while down there he runs into the Ninja Turtles, who were between skirmishes in a running battle with the Foot Clan. Two more players enter the fray, including Leatherhead (a sewer-dwelling alligator mutated by the Utrom/TCRI Aliens' mutagen that gave birth to Splinter and the Turtles, and is thus much smarter and more bipedal then the gator Marlin was looking for), and an unnamed man who hunts Marlin, ultimately severing the tendon that controls his trigger finger with a throwing knife.

It's strange how different the character of Leatherhead and his relationship with the Turtles is here—in the original cartoon and toy line, he was a villain—just as it's strange he didn't ever play a larger role in the first volume of the comics, not returning in any sizable capacity until TMNT #45.

The final issue of the series sees Peter Laird returning, getting credit for story and layouts, while Lawson pencils, Brown inks and Bissette and Talbot both get thanks for "toning assistance" (In addition, Bissette drew the opening splash, of a turtle atop a grazing triceratops, while pterosaurs fly in the background).

While April—whose skin is more darkly toned than that of the Turtles, and here appears like she might actually be a black woman—and the disguised Turtles are in a museum, a fossil rearranges itself into the gloating head of Savanti Romero, the sorcerer villain from TMNT #8 (the Cerebus team-up issue).
Romero challenges the turtles to face him in the Cretaceous period, where he was exiled, and just as they're pondering how they're supposed to do that, apprentice Time Lord Renet arrives, now outfitted with a digital version of the Sands of Time scepter (and he clocks that once dangled all over her costume and helmet have now been replaced by little digital time pieces).

She takes the Turtles back in time with her, and there we get ninja turtle vs. dinosaur action! Michaelangelo and Donatello take on a couple of deinonychus, while Raphael and Leonardo face off against a Tyrannosaur, atop of which sits Romero. Leo mounts a triceratops, the official dinosaur of Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and goads it into helping them dispatch the T-Rex.

This was and may actually remain one of my favorite Turtles comics, in large part because of the way it suggests so many other adventures that there just aren't room to squeeze into a single issue. When Romero is seemingly killed and the scepter lost, Renet and the turtles spend three months in dinosaur times which, honestly, sounds about as interesting as any other Turtles premise I've encountered in any medium.

Just one thing, though. This is the Cretaceous period, right?
So where the hell did they get all of those mammal skins to make their caveman outfits from?

I suppose Renet and some of the guys' fur coverings (wait, why are the turtles wearing clothes at all? They usually just wear masks and wristbands and kneepads, but are otherwise nude) could have been made from killing, skinning and sewing together the pelts of dozens of tiny little mammals, but one of them is clearly wearing some sort of leopard skin.

Anyway, let's move on.

The 10-page bonus story is another Nobodoy story with a rather sharp, if perhaps open to interpretation, political statement at the end (although I'm thinking it's a lot more anti-gun then pro-gun, given the other parts of the the book, and the TMNT comics in general). Nobody looks much better here, his black costume a much more solid black. Also, this story involves one of the turtles in a wig, glasses and dress, pretending to be an old lady and then kicking a dude's ass. Oddly enough, that's the second time that's happened in a short story in the characters' first half-decade of existence.

Here are the covers for the IDW collections.

As you can see, they are also by Lawson and have the same basic idea—put most of the characters from the stories on the covers with the Turtles in one big scene—but, the stories having been divided into two collections, there are fewer characters per cover (That's Casey's cousin clutching what he hopes is a treasure box on the cover of the first issue, if you're wondering).

The IDW collections are much clearer in terms of who wrote what. The first three issues were by Eastman and Laird, the fourth by Lawson, the fifth by Lawson and Brown, the sixth by Brown and the seventh by Laird. No one is credited for the coloring of these issues, not even "Digikore," the company that's colorized the other TMNT collections from IDW I've seen.

Among the dubious coloring choices are the decision to render these 3-D glasses one of the guys wears in #2 and #3 as red and pale, almost-white blue, and then just making them into regular, albeit opaque glasses, in the next issue. Then there's April's constant wearing of ugly pink sweaters (and, on one instance, an ugly turquoise sweater), giving Leonardo a golden rather than silver colored shurkien, the use of that brown-ish red or red-sh brown that Gnatrat and his "The Fannywhacker" identity were both given in TMNT Classics Vol. 2 to the "Super Turtle" pin-up...
...and I'm not sure how I feel about this red and gray look for the Foot Clan:
While The Shredder did originally apparently wear red, and the Foot have often been depicted in Hand-like red early on, more often than not they were depicted in blue or black.

For example, here are the earliest Foot Clan color appearances from the Mirage comic book era I can find, ranging from a reprint of 1984's TMNT #1 to 1992's TMNT #52. (The image with no text on it is the back cover of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness role-playing game source book, published in 1985).

It looks like IDW's mysterious colorist, whoever that is (Nobody, now retired from the force and making ends meet by coloring, perhaps?) went with the First Comics color-scheme for the Foot uniforms, at least as is evident from that First cover (I've never read those collections, so I'm not sure what The Foot wore on the interiors).

I see no reason to give The Foot glowing eyes though.

Oh, and the heavily-toned panels of April from Tales... #7, a few of which I included above, look pretty terrible in the IDW collection, as the tones weren't removed, a light, Crayola peach crayon color was just added atop them, so April's got black lines all over her face for some reason in the final product.

Finally, regarding the IDW collections, I was somewhat intrigued by the little starbursts on the cover reading "Ages 13 and Up Recommended," and a disclaimer on the title pages:
These reprints of 1980s-era comics were inteded for mature audiences, and do not reflect today's values or those of Nickelodeon or IDW Publishing. Except for the addition of color, the comics are presented here as originally published.
I can understand the caution, given that Nickelodeon does have a children's cartoon currently airing, and IDW is printing and/or reprinting two Turtles-for-kids books (I think? I can't keep up), and the general confusion of the audience for Ninja Turtles (a confusion quite evident in the latest film).

I was a little surprised by the "today's values" bit though, as that seems like the sort of disclaimer one might find before, say, a Will Eisner Spirit collection or a Osamu Tezuka book with their offensive stereotypes of black folks or Native Americans, maybe a reprint of classic Disney material, which can read pretty racist.

But I'm not sure what it might refer to here. There are no people of color in the books. The one man from the original stories who seems to be black, the man hunting Marlin, seems to have been re-colored into yet another white guy.

I don't recall any uses of derivations of the words "retard" or "gay" or "fag," words used much, much more often in the 1980s then now (if my experiences in grade school were representative); now they are used probably far less than even "the N-word," which at least some people have sought to retake and make their own.

I thought the word "bimbo" might have been employed to refer to April or Renet at some point, as it cropped up an awful lot to basically mean a not very smart woman in the page of a slightly later vintage of Mirage comic I also read this week, but I couldn't find any instance of that either.

So perhaps they were simply referring to the fact that it was more acceptable to kill rats, dinosaurs and crazy hobo mummies in 1980s narratives then it is today...? Or perhaps that's just a legal, blanket disclaimer appearing in all of IDW's TMNT reprints after a certain point (It wasn't in the only IDW reprint book I've bought so far, Classics Vol.1).

Sunday, August 24, 2014


The top image is a section of a panel from Mark Martin's 1990 Green-Grey Sponge-Suit Sushi Turtles, a Mirage-published, Mad magazine-style parody of that year's live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, a comic book published by Mirage Studios. The character is Toyoduh, the Donatello character who Martin has wearing glasses over his purple mask, making fun of Hollywood's lazy short-hand of designated smart or nerdy characters by just giving them glasses.

The bottom image is a section of a frame from 2014's live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, in which the filmmakers decided to depict Donatello wearing glasses over his purple mask, designating him as the smart and nerdy character.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Comic shop comics: August 21

Batman Eternal #20 (DC Comics) This issue, scripted by Tim Seeley and drawn by Emanuel Simeoni, seems to bring four different storylines to, well, not their conclusions, per se, but at least to turning points. Three of those four storylines are on the cover.

Batgirl and her new posse of Red Hood and Batwoman bust the person that was responsible for mentally manipulating Commissioner Gordon into thinking that dude he shot at in the first issue had a gun (the perpetrator was killed by an unknown assassin who left a big clue, but Batwoman got "evidence...pulled hundreds of computer files" off-panel). Gordon himself stops the Penguin/Falcone gang prison riot in Blackgate pretty much single-handedly, getting a little bit of help from his mysterious cellmate. (OMG who would have thought that the legendary gang boss The Lion referred to with respect by both the cops and the crooks in the same issue would have shown up at some point in this story? Who could have guessed it was the guy known only by the name Leo?! Me. That's who.)

Batman, Killer Croc and Jason Bard deal with their supernatural threat that...may or may not have something to do with the supernatural threat taking place in the bowels of Arkham Asylum. Both events are supernatural, both are underground, and the Ten-Eyed Man was in both locations, but the folks working with him here don't look anything at all like those working with the Ghost of Deacon Blackfire and The Joker's Daughter under Arkham.

And, finally, The New 52 Spoiler debuts her New 52 Spoiler costume.
In general, I like the deeper purple color, but I'm not a fan of the rather generic ninja-style mask or fae plate. Her old mask, consisting only of two big, opaque eyes on an almost spherical black mask that covered her entire head (it was a bit like Global Guardian Jack O' Lantern's mask, actually), was probably the most striking feature of her costume, and that's been excised. I don't really like the gloves or what looks like armor plating on it, as this costume looks less "home-made" than her original one (Also, you can now see her hair and eye color; I imagine it won't be too hard for Cluemaster to figure out who this new vigilante is.

The costume may change, and it may change soon—Spider-Man didn't keep the costume he first made for himself very long either, did he?. Oh, and Seeley and/or the other four contributing writers make an effort to to explain and justify Spoiler's codename for an era in which the word "spoiler" is more commonly meant to refer to something other than someone who spoils something (like a C-List supervillain's plot, for example), but It doesn't really work.

Oh, and the list of candidates for Catwoman's real father grew by one this issue.

I don't really care for Simeoni's work, colored by Blond. There's enough weird shit going on in the Batman scenes that it's difficult to tell what is an artistic flourish from necessary visual information; for example, is that blood coming out of the hooded guys that Batman and company are tearing through, made by Blonde and Simeoni to look more like mist, or is it some kinda red, spooky, ghost mist? I don't know.

Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #3 (DC) This came out a week or two ago—as did Tiny Titans, discussed below—but I somehow missed em. Anyway, this issue of the Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman-written, Ty Templeton-drawn six-parter features maybe my favorite Alex Ross cover for the series yet. I just love the expression and posture Ross gives Batman, and the way he (at least sorta) sells a Robin vs. Kato fight.

The two sidekicks are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of The Joker and General Gumm, and I was sort of surprised that Kato didn't just kick off Robin's head in the first one second of the fight, until I remembered this isn't really Burt Ward '66 vs. Bruce Lee '66, but that those real human beings were just the actors portraying the characters that appear in this comic. That made it a bit easier to take a Kato vs. Robin fight seriously.

The Multiversity #1 (DC) So, this fucking thing.

The long, long in the works Grant Morrison Explores The New, 52-Earth Multiverse Established At The End Of 2006's 52 (And Perhaps Rejiggered A Bit in His 2008 Final Crisis And Maybe His Brief New 52 Action Comics Reboot) series reveals just how long it's been in the works by the fact that it is a more-or-less direct sequel to Final Crisis.

This first issue in the event series revolves around the character of Nix Uotan (whose story I didn't quite follow when I read Final Crisis).

Now, there were a few problems with Final Crisis, but one of them that likely grated with many readers of DC's other comics, was how different it was from the DC Universe it was set in and was nominally about, contradicting the continuity of pretty much everything DC had been publishing for years, even Morrison's own comics, like his JLA and the then on-going Batman storyline, which hopped from book to book.

A sort of in-story excuse was offered by the suggestion taht the death of Darkseid and his fall through time sent out continuity/history altering ripples, but whenever you have to No-Prize your way out of glithes it's really problematic, to say the least (For another good 21st century example in a DC event/crossover story, see Infinite Crisis, Superboy Prime and continuity punches).

The Multiversity is similar to Final Crisis in that it doesn't fit snugly into the shared setting it's about (one almost wishes that Morrison had employed Geoff Johns, in both instances, as some sort of continuity massaging advisor, helping him finesse his stories so that they made the various connections needed to function as he wanted them to while also being about the people and places he wanted them to be about).

The once-infinite Multiverse, we were told in both Final Crisis and Multiversity, consisted of 52 alternate Earths, all occupying the same space, but vibrating at different frequencies. But at the climax of 2011's Flashpoint, Pandora somehow—they still haven't gotten around to that story—smooshed three of those worlds into one, single world, which would reduce the number of alternate earths to 50 (and Morrison did write for The New 52 line; in addition to the aforementioned Action Comics, which this issue contains a few references to, he got to finish his years-long Batman story in a second volume of Batman Inc, to which he consented to have the edges sanded off his square Batman pegs in order to shove them into the round holes of The New 52-iverse).

Now, there is a reference to 50 rather than 52 worlds in this story—"From there you can summon the greatest heroes of fifty worlds!" Uotan shouts to one of this issue's two Thor analgoues—which could refer to the 50 worlds left after Pandora's world-smooshing, but could just as likely refer to a hero-less world like the old Earth-Prime and the world that fell to the the bad guys that call themselves The Gentry, who are a bit like Alan Moore's Great Evil Beast from Swamp Thing and a bit like Morrison's own Sheeda from Seven Soldiers and, in one case, like Mickey Eye from Morrison's Seaguy (this one particular villain speaks in text-like abbreviations and spelling errors—"We want 2 make yu like us"—which may signal Morrison's continuing criticism of that goddam Internet, despite the fact that Morrison's corporate super-comic writing has apparently crossed some boundary into un-editability, so that now the only way to make sense of his comics is to turn to Internet articles from people who only read Morrison's work extremely closely, and have them explain them to you*).

Nix Uoatan goes to Marvel Analogue-iverse 1 and Marvel Analgoue-iverse 2, while various heroes from throughout the multiverse are called to The House of Heroes, where we see cameos of superheroes from all over DC Comics and beyond—Hey, it's...Bloodwynd?! Huh.

Our point-view-hero seems to be cover boy President Superman (previously seen in both Final Crisis and Action Comics, who allies himself with a New 52 redesign of Captain Carrot, Aquawoman (a lady version of Arthur Curry), The Thunderer (one of the aforementioned Thor analogues) and Red Racer (a Flash). Together they journey to another Marvel Analogue world, and face "The Retaliators," most of whom are pretty lazy Avengers-riffs (the weirdest probably being The Behemoth, who is basically a blue Hulk that turns into a muscular giant baby...with a huge, old-fashioned cloth diaper and diaper pin, that must appear on him when he transforms, because otherwise there's no way Doctor David Dibble had that on under his suit pants.
Look at the size of that diaper pin!
Pencil artist Ivan Reis (inked by Joe Prado and colored by Nei Ruffino) acquits himself quite nicely. Everything looks gorgeous. I really rather liked Morrison and Reis' Captain Carrot revamp, although I'm not sure it works, given the fact that he's meant to be from a cartoon universe—
—but rather than cartoony, he looks just as realistic, detailed and articulated as all the human heroes (he's even got a weird, New 52-esque costume).

Of all the unexpected appearances though, the one that threw me the most was that of "Dino-Cop," an orange Savage Dragon with stegosaurus plates, one of which takes the place of Savage Dragon's head fin.
Look, more Bloodwynd cameo action!
His presence implies that the threat is one to all of comics, which, well, if that's the case, 50-52 worlds don't seem to be enough Earths, although I suppose by stories end we may learn the Multiverse is much bigger than we've been told (or than Uotan believed).

(I also wondered why they bothered with making a Dino-Cop instead of just asking Erik Larsen if they could throw Savage Dragon into 3-7 panels. I don't know the guy, but given all the weird crossovers Larsen's character has been used in, this wouldn't seem all that out of the ordinary).

So how is the comic?

Well, it's interesting. It's certainly well-drawn. It reads like slightly out-of-date, slightly out-of-touch, second-to-last draft Grant Morrison. But hell, it's fun, and packed with more characters and compelling concepts then the rest of the comics in the New 52 line combined. In fact, you could probably find 52 new comic book titles to launch between the covers of this single book, 52 new titles that would be just as interesting, if not more so, then that which DC has to keep throwing at the wall to replace their cancelled books in order to maintain 50-ish superhero ongoings a month.

The New 52: Futures End #16 (DC) There was a lot of little, glitchy, confusing stuff in this week's issue, but by far my favorite part was the opening scene, in which new character Stormguard performs a sting operation on a couple of crooks selling fake I.D. cards. Stormguard's disguise consists of a trenchcoat and a hoodie—wide-brimmed hats are out now, apparently—which he naturally wears over his superhero costume, mask, cape, glowing belt and all.

If those two couldn't make Stormguard in that half-assed disguise, they pretty much deserve to get busted and do a "long 20" years.

I also love that splash page. Compare how much dialogue our hero gets off, compared to what the guy he's punching manages to say before getting punched, "Da--"

Second most amusing is probably the weird-ass Cadmus Island scene on page seen. See panel four; I have no idea who that is saying "Didn't I used to have a reputation?" I assumed it was Cole "Grifter" Cash, having the door slammed in his face...but he never enters the room. Tom Bondurant read it as Slade Wilson leaving the room and re-entering it for some reason (or, more likely, the folks who made this dumb page forgetting he was already drawn in the room and given lines there before he was out of the room, and then come back...?).

I don't know. It is such a weird, bad page though that I can't help but laugh at it.

I've heard the term "hate-reading" and "hate-watching" used to describe the phenomena of people consuming media they don't like, but do enjoy some aspect of that dislike. That's not what I'm doing here; I am bemused-reading Futures End though.

Nothing else of any great import or interest occurs in this issue, which this time around is drawn by pencil artist Jesus Merino and Dan Green. Rampage and Superman fight again, and it's revealed that Brother Eye and Brainiac are one and the same.

Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse #3 (DC) What originally began as the Titans' search for their missing tree house headquarters, or at least a suitable replacement, has turned in to something of a tour of the DCU. In this issue, they visit the Rock of Eternity with Billy, Mary and Freddie. There they meet The Wizard (simply referred to as "The Wizard," rather than Shazam), who has a lightning bolt pattern all over his robe, making it look more like a novelty bathrobe then anything more ceremonial.

Hoppy The Marvel Bunny also appears, or at least the Tiny Titans version does, and in his brief storyline he joins the Just Us Cows, a team of super-cows headquartered in Ma Kent's barn.

Some of the gags are funnier than the others, as per usual, but there's always something kind of inspired in each issue. This time it is probably Captain Marvel Jr.'s word of power, which, remember, is "Captain Marvel!", because Cap lends him some of his power so Freddie can transform into Junior (Billy and Mary both say "Shazam!" because they get their power directly from the wizard named Shazam).

Robin and Mary say "Aquaman!" or "Etrigan!" and this turns Freddie into whatever they shout the words, their ability to transform Freddie explained simply by Mary's statement t hat "The magic up here on the mountain is kind of unpredictable."
Actually, if those words did work to transform Freddie, then they should turn him into Aquaman Jr. or Etrigan Jr., with differently-colored versions of those characters' costumes, shouldn't they? But whatever, it's good enough for a gag, and that's what this issue is; a series of gentle, kid-friendly gags riffing on various aspects of the Captain Marvel franchise.

*To be clear, that's not a commentary on David Uzumeri's writing on Morrison's writing. That's a great and, I'd argue, almost necessary piece of writing for the heads-or-tails making-out of The Multiversity. Hell, Uzumeri at least remembers what the fuck happened in Final Crisis. I suppose I could have reread it in preparation for Multiversity, but, frankly, there are a lot of good comics being published today, so many that I don't really feel all that jazzed about re-reading so-so ones instead, as an act of homework to get ready to read the next one from Morrison, you know?

Friday, August 22, 2014

(Thanks to Bram Meehan, an actual wizard, who somehow used his magical powers to make these two images into one animated, like image, so now I can sit and stare at the Dynamic Duo slapping one another for hours at a time.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014