Thursday, April 20, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: April 19th

All-Star Batman #9 (DC Comics) The issue is the concluding chapter of the second story arc of the Scott Snyder-written All-Star Batman, "The Ends of The Earth." Over the past three issues, Batman has faced a series of three different mad scientist-type rogues in issues drawn by different artists, all in an attempt to stave off an apocalyptic threat posed by a spreading "death spot" of a disease. In this climactic issue, which All-Star #6 artist Jock has returned to draw, the mastermind behind the plot is revealed. I would like to be coy here, so as not to spoil that villain's identity, but it is of course exactly the classic Batman villain obsessed with ending the world in its current form and, well, DC went ahead and spoiled his identity on Chris Burnham's variant cover for the issue:
This is a pretty good example of why I am increasingly sick and tired of seeing Ra's al Ghul in my weekly comics. Not only is Snyder using him here as his final boss villain, but Snyder's sometimes co-writer James Tynion IV is also using him as a villain in his current Detective Comics story arc (see below). That means Ra's a Ghul is the villain in two of the three main Batman books at the moment, and they are not part of a crossover or otherwise inter-related story (Additionally, the previous, just-ended arc of Teen Titans used Ra's as the main villain).

I don't begrudge Snyder for wanting to write his Ra's story. Prior to this issue, the only other time he wrote the character was in a brief appearance in Batman Eternal, and that was a comic he was writing with multiple co-writers, and the point of the appearance was simply to eliminate Ra's as a suspect from the series' core mystery. And the fact of the matter is, this is a pretty good Ra's al Ghul story, featuring Batman's immortal villain taking a slightly different tack than normal, and having a rather long, drawn-out conversation with Bruce Wayne about the nature of demons and stories, and how beliefs in the latter of varied over his very, very long life-time.

In other words, it's a pretty good Ra's al Ghul story, but it's hard to stand out as such when there's just sooo much background noise for it to compete against (I read this book prior to this week's issue of Detective, which does acknowledge All-Star #9 via an asterisk, but the later book diminished my esteem for this one, in large part because it has Ra's reverted right back to his more standard portrayal). If Snyder, Tynion and the Bat-office want to restore a sense of threat or menace to the villain--and given the fact that he generally appears in Batman comics when he's trying to wipe out a large swathe of humanity, he probably should have such a sense--then they really need to do something similar to what they've been doing with The Joker, and try to limit his use to once a year or so.

Jock's art is mostly fairly strong, but while he has a great style, he sometimes sacrifices clarity in the action department, as in a scene where Bruce gets pulled through a window of the Washington Monument and briefly fights Man-Bats...somewhere. There's no real sense of place, or interaction between the panels. Jock's portrayals of the Man-Bats are particularly unfortunate, too. They don't look anything like Man-Bat, but are mostly just silhouettes with vaguely bat-shaped wings and bird talons. Given that the first appears just as Ra's is discussing demons, a reader might be forgiven for not realizing that it's been established about a decade ago now (Jeez, has it been so long?) that Ra's had stolen Dr. Kirk Langstrom's formula and given it to a bunch of his assassins, so that he now has an army of Man-Bat ninjas. If Scott Snyder was your gateway into Batman comics and you never read Grant Morrison's run on the franchise, or Peter Tomasi's Batman and Robin (in which Ra's al Ghul also played a huge, out-size role), I don't know if these scenes would make too much sense, as it just reads like Ra's has a cabal of actual demons to serve him.

The Francesco Francavilla-drawn, Duke Thomas-starring back-up feature also seems to be concluding--a supposition I base on the fact that it's entitled "The Cursed Wheel Finale"--and I admit to being fairly lost to what happens near the end of it. It would seem that Duke Thomas isn't quite human, although he doesn't know that, as by the end of the story his eyes glow, and, when we see things from his point of view, he appears to have some kind of Daredevil vision. If that's the case, that he's going to end up being a guy who dresses like a bat and has Daredevil-like vision powers, than maybe he will take the name The Black Bat, after the pulp hero who in retrospect seems like an amalgam of Batman and Marvel's Daredevil (Sorry, Cass!), although there's a line of dialogue in here that suggests another possible future code name: The Outsider. It's not a great codename, but it's probably better than not having any codename at all, and it does have some Batman connections, being a name used by a pair of past Bat-villains, and also being the singular version of Bronze Age Batman's first post-Justice League super-team.

Archie #19 (Archie Comics) Regular writer Mark Waid is joined by new artist...Pete Woods? Huh. That's unexpected. His style works okay here, but it's not a milieu that seems expected given the artists' super-comic resume, nor does he provide the best work on the title so far (or a New Riverdale title so far).

This done-in-one story features an unlikely team-up of sorts between Veronica and Jughead, Archie's two closest friends who don't really like one another at all. That changes when Hiram Lodge and Smithers come up with a plan to cheer Veronica up by finding her a new boyfriend, a set-up that Jughead manages to see-through and intervenes to keep his best friend happy by not letting Mr. Lodge come between them.

Could this be the beginning of...Vughead? No. No it could not.

The too-short story is followed by a six-page "special preview" of the upcoming Big Moose one-shot special, but given that it's six pages, that's like one-third of the comic, not really a preview (Bring back the classic Archie strips reprints! Pleeeeaaassse! I beg you!).There's also a full-page ad for the next issues, something called "Over the Edge Part 1", which features an image of Reggie and Archie balling their fists at one another in front of their cars, and a tag promising "The Biggest Comic Book Event Of The Year!" Can that possibly be true, or did they just forget to insert the word "Archie" between "Biggest" and "Comic"...?

My main take away, however, was that it should have been called "Over The Reg."

Batman #21 (DC) Writer Tom King gets in on the Alan Moore-trolling action with this first part of a four-part crossover between Batman, The Flash and the smiley face button from Watchmen. Despite the cover,there's actually relatively-little Watchmen-related material (other than the required nine-panel grid on some pages, although pencil artist Jason Fabok is rewarded for drawing that many panels per page by getting a two-page splash spread), but there are a lot of Multiversal/reboot-related stuff: The apparent Saturn Girl is in Arkham (and a huge hockey fan?) and the interaction of the button with Psycho-Pirate's Medusa Mask summons the Flashpoint Batman (briefly) and The Reverse Flash (not The New 52 one, but the one who was in Flashpoint). How far this particular story arc will ultimately move the "What The Fuck Has Been Going On Since DC Universe: Rebirth? " storyline will remain to be seen, but, in the mean time, it should at least boost the sales of the two participating titles, particularly The Flash.

This issue is mostly just Batman and Arkham inmates watching a hockey game on TV, and then Batman fighting The Reverse Flash, a confrontation that King and Fabok handle pretty well simply by adding a stop watch to the proceedings (a round one with moving hands might have been more Watchmen-y than the rectangular, digital one, but whatever). Batman's strategy for fighting the super-speedster is quite in keeping with King's writing of the Dark Knight's confrontation with Bane in the previous issue, too. I liked the "quite the reverse" line, too.

Given how directly it follows the events of the last two arcs of King's Batman, I'm somewhat curious how this will end up being collected. I have to assume it will be under the title The Button or Batman/Flash: The Button, but I suppose maybe it will be included in both trade collections of Batman (for the fourth volume, as this is the beginning of the fourth arc of King's run) and The Flash. Again, we'll see.

Cage! (Marvel Entertainment) I would say that this really wasn't worth the incredibly long wait between when it was first announced and today, when it finally arrives in its final, collected format, but then, as I believe I mentioned before, the wait was so long that I actually forgot it even existed until just before Marvel started soliciting the single issues.

This is, of course, the Genndy Tartakovsky Luke Cage series, set in the character's early days as the original Hero For Hire. The story is incredibly simple: Shortly after learning that various New York City superheroes are disappearing, Cage himself is captured by a pair of animal men and taken to a mysterious jungle island. There, he and other heroes from his era--Brother Voodoo, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Dazzler, Misty Knight and Black Panther--must do battle with animal men, created by the rhyming villain Professor Soos (Get it?). Only Cage is triumphant in all of his matches, because this is his comic, after all, and so he wins the grand prize: The honor of fighting Soos. He does, and after taking an incredible beating, he ultimately defeats the villain.

And, um, that's the whole story, spread over four issues that are mostly filled with pages containing rather few panels.

So no, there's not much to it, but that doesn't mean it isn't a blast. Tartakovsky's character designs are naturally all awesome, and it's a great deal of fun to see how his highly animated style translates into sequential art. His cartooning is pretty spectacular, and he knows how to tell an action scene and a joke in comics form almost as well as he does in animated form. Plotting aside, his scripting--the dialogue, the narration--have a perfectly appropriate, semi-hyperventilating, post-(but still inspired by!)Stan Lee style that would also have been appropriate to the era, although his comic is far less wordy than an actual 1970s Marvel comic might have been.

Tartakovsky's pencils are inked by Stephen DeStefano, himself a brilliant cartoonist whose work is far, far too rare (You can catch him in SpongeBob Comics now and again though), and their art is colored mostly by Scott Wills, although Bill Wray (another great cartoonist!) and Tartakovsky himself handle the colors on issue #2.

Included within are all of the many variant covers, most of which look completely inappropriate, given how different they are in style to the contents they would have covered. There's a strong list of artists who provided them, though: Bruce Timm (!), Arthur Adams, Damion Scott, Trevor Von Eeden, Bill Pressing, Marco D'Alfonso and Joe Quesada.

To help fill out the pages, and justify this being published as a trade paperback rather than something with staples or in something akin to DC's old "prestige format," Marvel has also included a reprint of 1972's Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1 by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska and Billy Graham. The trade will run you $14.99, whereas the individual issues would have cost you $15.96 (and you wouldn't get that reprint). So not only is this a little cheaper and a better value, but I have to say given how slight the story is, reading it in monthly installments probably would have been super-frustrating.

Deathstroke #17 (DC) The title character does something so despicable in this issue--well, in addition to all the killing of people and the weird-ass way he interacts with his children, of course--that I might have had trouble continuing to read his adventures, but given that there's only, like, one more issue left before the book crosses over with the two Titans books and then jumps to $3.99, I guess it hardly matters. From the looks of things, everything from the previous 18 issues (This being a Rebirth title, it had two #1s, because comics) will come to a head next issue.

Josie and The Pussycats #6 (Archie) While the cover says this is the start of an all-new story arc, this flows pretty directly from the cliffhanger ending of the last issue, in which Alexander Cabot finally made his first appearance in the series, to arrest the Pussycats for plagiarism.

The bulk of this issue is an Alexander vs. Pussycats story, in which he whisks them away to his family's ice palace in Antartica to put them on trial. It's pretty weird, but in the same delightful way that the first five issues were.

This is probably the best comic Archie is publishing right now, with Jughead it's only competition. It's definitely one of the better serially-published, monthly comics in the market at the moment. Don't not read it!

Nightwing #19 (DC) I'm a little lost to all the nuances of what might be going on here, but then I never did understand who the villain on the cover was really supposed to be; at one point I was convinced Morrison intended him to be the actual devil, but here writer Tim Seeley implies that he is just a crazy evil psychologist, and one in service of demons and devils of some sort. Then there's the bit with the knife made from a metal that allows you to maybe see the Multiverse when you get stabbed or something? I don't know. I'm enjoying the trippiness of all this, which I'm assuming is meant to be a homage of sorts to Morrison's run on the first volume of Batman and Robin (and Batman before it).

I really love that Javier Fernandez cover too, with the big, blue Nightwing heart.

Superman #21 (DC) It looks like Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason may very well be in the process of providing an excuse for the newly rebooted Kent family to leave Hamilton County for Metropolis, given that it turns out there's something extremely weird and menacing about their neighbor Farmer Cobb, and maybe his cow Bessie and maybe even his daughter, and Jon's bestie, Kathy. Also, the locals are pretty unhappy with Superman's attempt to save them from a giant squid monster (the same one from very early in the book's run) not being violent enough.

Batman has gone missing after the climax of the previous issue, so Superman, Superboy and Robin suit up to find him. Just as last issue providing a really great image highlighting the cultural and character clash between the The Man of Steel and son and The Dark Knight and son, as everyone gathered around the kitchen table for coffee and pie, this one has a pretty great scene of Robin interacting with the Superman family, as he perches atop Superman's broad back and tugs at his cape, telling him to hold steady.

I was really resistant to the very idea of Damian as Robin upon his introduction, mostly because I thought Tim Drake was the best (and ultimate, final) Robin, but I'll be damned if I haven't grown to love that little bastard, particularly the way he plays off of other characters (his short-lived solo title was maybe my least favorite book to prominently feature him). His budding relationship with Superboy in this book as well as the new Super Sons (also by Tomasi) has been a delight, and it was fun seeing him interacting so much with Superman here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The problem with Secret Empire is Civil War II

I was reminded today of not only the existence of Marvel's next big status quo-shaking, line-wide crossover event series Secret Empire, but also that it kinda sorta starts with a #0 issue this week, from a rather unlikely source of superhero comic news: Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter.

Marvel's last big status quo-shaking, line-wide crossover event series was last year's Civil War II, which is of a recent enough vintage that I had just read the collection of it within the last few weeks, and haven't yet gotten around to reviewing it yet (Between the two, Marvel also published a rather heavily hyped event entitled Monsters Unleashed, but somehow most of the market seems to have intuited that it wasn't a real event series, but a minor event series; I think maybe the number of tie-ins is how one determines whether a Marvel event series is an Event-with-a-capital-"E" or an event-with-a-lower-case-"e").

In the past few weeks I've observed a conversation about Marvel's apparently slumping periodic sales, and a Marvel suit's ill-advised statement that it likely has something to do with the market rejecting the current diversity of their super-characters, with many, many more female heroes and heroes of color starring in their own titles.

I almost jumped into the conversation at various points, but kept talking myself out of bothering, as the facts more-or-less speak for themselves, and I don't know that I had anything to say that someone else hadn't already said better than I'd be able to say it.

(But I'll babble parenthetically for a paragraph or so here anyway, I guess! I was mostly just perplexed by the sentiment, as it's not like Marvel has replaced white heroes with black or female heroes, they've just added them to their formerly mostly white and male line-up of title characters. I mean, there are two Captain America titles, one featuring Steve Rogers and the other Sam Wilson; there are two Spider-Man titles, one featuring Peter Parker and the other Miles Morales. Both the new female Thor and the old, male Thor are both still around, both the male and female Hawkeyes are in their own books, and so on. Does that cannibalize readers, so that instead of all the potential Captain America readers reading Captain America, some of them read Captain America: Steve Rogers while others read Captain America: Sam Wilson...? Maybe, but then, that's not about diversity so much as Marvel publishing too many goddam comics in general, as they have too-often done. It's the same calculation they have to make whenever they think about doing yet another Deadpool miniseries; just how hard and how fast to milk a particular cash cow? Like, in addition to Amazing Spider-Man starring Peter Parker and Spider-Man starring Miles Morales, they're also publishing three books starring female Spider-ladies--Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen and Silk, plus they're in the process of launching new Venom and Scarlet Spider books, and also there's that one set in an alternate timeline where Peter and MJ are still married? And I'm missing one or two other Spider-books, I know. They're offering more and more choices to fans of each franchise, as they've always done, but what's different now is that the goddam things cost like $4 a pop, and they are no longer offering the digital copies as incentive to spend the extra dollar and then there's the thing I actually meant for this post to be about).

While there are a lot of reasons to explain an alleged slump in Marvel comics sales, diversity of characters doesn't even seem to be one of the top ten likely suspects--price, the perceived drop in value, the constant renumberings and retitling and relaunching of books, the fact that film and television now provide an option for interacting with these characters, the increasing number of other comics from other publishers providing greater competition than ever before--and, even if Too Much Diversity were the source of poorer-than-desired sales, there's not really a way for Marvel to address the problem. That's basically just saying "Our audience, racists and chauvinists, don't like people who aren't white dudes. So we've decided to stop making comics that aren't about white dudes, in order to appeal to that audience which, as we just said, are a bunch of racists and chauvinists. Don't worry, though! We'll still publish Black Panther, and the X-Men will have lots of girl heroes and other minorities in them, as per usual!"

One reason I overheard while half-observing this discussion on Twitter and elsewhere had to do with the in-universe creative direction of the character Steve Rogers, which will of course culminate in the Secret Empire event. (Here's a summary of some of the attendant controversies and plot points, if you're interested).

Without discussing the merits of that particular storyline, of which I am pretty much completely ignorant, I have an alternate theory as to why Marvel sales might be falling, or why the publisher and/or the retailers who sell their wares are noticing a lack of enthusiasm: Civil War II.

Whatever one might say about Secret Empire, the fact remains that it is being written by Nick Spencer, who has been writing Captain America comics since 2015, and this upcoming event series is the culmination of all that writing, including the previous lower-case-"e" event "Standoff," which involved the Captain America and Avengers-related books. In other words, there's a plan of some sort here, and the series should provide a climax, or at least some form of punctuation, to Spencer's time with the franchise.

In that regard, the event is somewhat parallel to Secret Wars, the big Event-with-a-capital-"E" series that Jonathan Hickman wrote, capping his years-long run on Avengers and New Avengers. That particular series is another potential source for sales strife and waning enthusiasm for the publisher. As good as the series was, and as strong as Hickman's overall multi-year, multi-book narrative arc was, the publisher essentially canceled all of their books for months and months, replacing them all with alternate universe, What If...?/Elseworlds style miniseries which, regardless of their relative quality, were very, very easy to ignore if you weren't interested in the work of the creators making them. Secret War and its many, many tie-ins represented a long, forced vacation from the Marvel Universe, that anyone looking for any reason to stop reading Marvel comics could capitalize on as the push they needed.

I know the point has been made over and over and over online, but if anyone at Marvel is thinking "Hey, maybe we don't publish enough comics starring white, straight guys?", then it probably bears repeating. Every potential jumping-on point, be it a new creative team, a new direction, a new #1 or a new title and a new #1, is also a potential jumping-off point.

Which is why I bring up Civil War II. If Secret Wars and Secret Empire were extensions of ongoing storylines, the same can't be said of Civil War II, which basically came out of nowhere, and was a particularly naked attempt to capitalize on the strong sales of the original Civil War (which it wasn't a real sequel to, and had little if anything to do with) and the marketing of the Captain America: Civil War movie (ditto).

It was presented as another Event series, it sucked up (and dragged down) pretty much every comic book Marvel published, and it radically altered the status quo of many characters, leading to another round of relaunches and changes in various status quos for some of those characters, but there was no narrative build-up in any title. It was an event for an event's sake, and that's the kind of event that leads to event exhaustion.

So imagine if there was no Civil War II. Or, for that matter, Monsters Unleashed. That would mean that the last major event storyline would have been Secret Wars, which began in 2015 and wrapped up in 2016 and, when it was over, lead to the relaunching of all of Marvel's books with new #1s; the one that were around long enough are just now publishing their third collections worth of material. Secret Empire which, again, begins in earnest this week, would have thus been the first major Marvel crossover to launch in two years. While that's still pretty close on the heels of Secret Wars, at least the series wouldn't be blurring into one another, as they do when you include Civil War II, which filled up most of Marvel's 2016 publishing schedule. The further apart "events" are from one another, then the more like "events" they might feel like.

But because of Civil War II--which, and I can't over-stress this, was not part of any long-term creative strategy on the part of a writer, but an event-for-an-event's-sake--Marvel has been in a state of constant major, status quo-altering event stories for about two years straight now.

Of course readers are going to be sick of it, whether it's about Captain America being in-story retconned into a crypto-Nazi by a deus ex machina cube or not.

Anyway, that's my two cents on that.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Marvel's July previews reviewed

If you read through Marvel's solicitations for the comics they intend to publish in July of this year, which you can do here, you'll see repeated references to "X-Men trading card variant." From the examples (or should I sa x-amples?) seen, these appear to be Jim Lee-drawn trading cards from the early '90s, presumably blown-up to comic book cover size. The images above are those from Avengers, Uncanny Avengers and Generation X, respectively.

That's kind of weird, even by the standards of modern variant covers. For one, it seems like a weird, roundabout way to get variant covers from superstar comics artist and DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee for most of your books. It makes me wonder what Lee thinks about it, and what Marvel's motivation was, exactly; like, are they trolling him here? Will he get paid for each of these, or does Marvel own all those images with his signature on him, and he's already made all the money he's going to make from them, not getting any sort of royalty? If he is getting paid, then that's also kind of weird, given his current position.

But considering that these images all seem like they must have been created around 25 years or so ago now, it seems deeply unfair to Lee. It's a little like sharing a now famous and successful writers work from high school just because you have access to it, you know? Granted, Jim Lee in the early '90s was still a pretty okay artist, and was hella popular, but those aren't exactly the best examples of his work anymore.

As to the comics that will be appearing under those variant covers, well, read on for some thoughts on a few of the ones that jumped out at me this month...

As if the Guardians didn’t have enough trouble keeping off the radar of the Nova Corps, they’ve now run afoul of the Fraternity of Raptors! Can’t a space hero get a break?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Based on the cover image, I have to assume that "the Fraternity of Raptors" means "Group of Dudes Who Dress A Little Like Birds of Prey" and not, like, an actual frat whose membership is completely composed of actual raptors. Can you imagine how terrifying the latter would be? I mean, fraternities and velociraptors are like two of the scariest things I can imagine. So putting them together...? Brrr!

I like this Spider-Mobile looking car thing. I am so behind on Amazing Spider-Man at this point though I don't think I'll ever catch up, or even be able to figure out how to catch-up. The last issue I read...let's see...was the one where he met newly-elected President Barack Obama...? So yeah, I'm about eight years behind now.

In the wake of the Skrull Invasion, the public has lost faith in the Initiative! What a time for Reptil to make his mark on the Marvel Universe! As storm clouds gather, the members of the black-ops Shadow Initiative must abduct one of their own — who has defected to Hydra! But Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign changes everything. Where Camp Hammond once trained future Avengers, Camp H.A.M.M.E.R. now trains tomorrow’s Dark Avengers! The new principals are Taskmaster and the Hood, and they’re registering villains as heroes and spreading Norman’s empire across the nation. But those who once made up the Initiative aren’t about to let this happen. Hunted by the law, hidden from sight, a Resistance has formed — and its members are out to stop H.A.M.M.E.R. by any means necessary!
456 PGS./Rated T+ …$34.99

I'm currently about 68% finished with a year-long project to reorganize my comics midden (I only spend a few hours every other week on it, which is why it's taking so long; I have a lot of comic books in long boxes, but not that many), and am just now finishing up the Marvel teams portion of my collection. Having just bagged and boarded all these goddam Initiative books, I gotta say, this looks tempting. I wish you could, like, trade in your single issues to Marvel and for, like, a $10 fee get a collection like this back in return. I think a hoard of trades would be far preferable to a midden of comic books--and less of a fire hazard, too!

Written by JOHN BARBER
The Master of the Mystic Arts and the One-Man War on Crime unite their unique talents! When mafia demons strike, it’ll take the combined skills of Doctor Strange and the Punisher to stop them! But does this mean Stephen Strange will adopt Frank Castle’s lethal ways? Or will the Punisher learn some new tricks? The Sorcerer Supreme works on being a little more grounded, while Frank expands his worldview in surprising new directions. But with monstrous mobsters on the rampage, this mismatched pair have their work cut out for them! The very different worlds of two of Marvel’s most unique characters collide, and the fate of New York is at stake!
128 PGS./Rated T+ …$15.99

If this isn't a story about Doctor Strange and The Punisher going back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination and accidentally causing it instead, I'll consider the title of this series completely wasted.

Seriously, have any of you guys read this yet? I'm curious because of how weird the team-up itself is (although now that I've read Doctor Strange and The Secret Defenders I know Doctor Strange and The Punisher have totally teamed-up before!), but don't really know anything about the creators.

A PINK NIGHTMARE! The wall-breaking wunderkind we call Gwenpool gets ahold of the VENOM SYMBIOTE and turns into a sword-slinging, web-swinging master of disaster! But it won’t all be fun and games when Gwenpool comes across something huge… something that will directly lead to the Venom event of 2017!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

I still maintain that this is a very good idea for a comic book series. I just hope there's a Venomized Squirrel Girl in future issues. (I will settle for a Venom-possessed Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, though.)

THE SYMBIOTIC SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE! Robbie Reyes was just an average, ordinary super hero with a flaming skull…right up until he found himself bonded with a dangerous extraterrestrial symbiote! Don’t miss the first daring drive of the HOST RIDER!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Oh hey, is that what they mean when they say tongues of flame...?

The Champions are put to the ultimate test. This is no small-town problem they’re facing — it’s up to them to help right an entire world turned upside down!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Okay, I give up. Whose that patriotic-looking young man on the hoverboard...?

When Doreen Green and Nancy Whitehead enter a mysterious programming competition, they don’t suspect that the prize for winners will be…an all-expenses-paid trip to the SAVAGE LAND! Yes: THE SAVAGE LAND! Also known as “a mysterious tropical region of Antarctica that we discovered is actually populated by DINOSAURS”! In the Marvel Universe, I mean. In OUR universe, the only thing ever discovered in that region was a note from Robert Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole (he arrived there weeks after his competition, Roald Amundsen, got there first), which read in part, “This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have labored to it without the reward of priority”! The story of those Antarctic expeditions is fascinating, but OURS IS PRETTY FASCINATING TOO, plus it has Squirrel Girl AND dinosaurs in it!! So maybe read up on the other ones but definitely check out our comic right away.
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Finally, dinosaurs. Ryan North is really good at writing Squirrel Girl and cool teens, but where he really excels is in writing dinosaurs.

VENOM #152
COVER BY Francisco Herrera
“THE LAND BEFORE CRIME” CONTINUES! Eddie Brock and the Venom symbiote are reunited, but something’s wrong! The symbiote can’t contain itself within Eddie’s veins and has started seeping out of his pores as he sleeps. To make matters worse, Stegron is aiming to turn all of New York into dinosaurs by sunrise…and Venom is DINNER!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Oh hey, this new Venom series is up to issue #152 already? Huh. I guess I missed the solicitations for issues #2-#151 or so.

You know, nothing personal against Venom or anything, but I'd really rather read a comic book entitled Stegron The Dinosaur Man that guest-starred Venom rather than vice versa.

The Xavier Institute is on lockdown. But the X-Men haven’t succeeded in keeping danger out. Instead, they’ve just locked themselves inside with it. Can the X-Men stop the all-new X-CUTIONER before he claims any more of their number?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Wait, there's really a really real character named X-Cutioner? He's not a brand-new character, or a parody of a dumb '90s character? Because that doesn't seem quite right. And there's no "e" before the "c"...? It's not just a dopey spelling of the word "executioner"...? His name is pronounced "eks-cuesh-nur"...?

Monday, April 17, 2017

DC's July previews reviewed

This is the first round of solicitations to be released since the shuttering of Comics Alliance, and thus the first time in a while I've had to wonder a) where I could find and read DC or Marvel comics solicitations and b) where I should link to them, since I am no site that runs them is paying me money to write for them anymore. I'm going to go with CBR, I guess, as that's where I ended up reading them.

Written by DAN ABNETT
Art and cover by STJEPAN SEJIC
“UNDERWORLD” part two! Enraged by rumors of Arthur’s survival in the slums of Atlantis, the ruthless King Rath orders the use of ancient Atlantean techno-magic to track down the Aquaman at all costs! But the ex-king Arthur can’t hide for long when his fate collides with that of a mysterious young woman on the run from Rath’s own secret police. Her name: Dolphin.
On sale JULY 19 • 32 pg, FC • $3.99 US • EACH RATED T

It's interesting to see DC's Aquaman design seemingly slowly starting to evolve back into what it was during Peter David's early '90s, left hand-less run on the book, after it took so many years to restore him to his original design, seemingly to make the character look a bit more like Jason Momoa.

It's also interesting to see Dolphin finally appearing in Aquaman; she was added to the Aquaman cast during David's run, and sort of hung around awkwardly after David's (too) sudden departure from the book. But that was, what, three or four Aquaman #1s ago...?

Anyway, artist Stjepan Sejic's version looks a lot different than creator Jay Scott Pike's 1968 version:

Aw, poor Graham Nolan, being forced to draw the dumber, modern versions of the Bane* and Batman costumes...

I'm still looking forward to his return to Bat-comics, along with writer (and his old Detective Comics partner), Chuck Dixon in this upcoming Bane: Conquest series.

Stephanie Brown is Batgirl—and now, she must learn to balance school and crime-fighting or face the wrath of Barbara Gordon! With guest appearances from Batman and Robin and villains like Man-Bat and Scarecrow, Batgirl steps up to the mantle! Plus, Batgirl must stop a nanovirus that will turn the citizens of Gotham City into mindless techno-zombies! Collects BATGIRL #1-12.
On sale AUGUST 16 • 296 pg, FC, $29.99 US

I missed this series when it was being published serially, as I was so embittered at the time about how badly DC handled their Batgirl Cassandra Cain character around the time of Infinite Crisis and "One Year Later" (they basically forgot she existed, and then gave her a heel turn in the pages of Robin that seemed to have been written and/or edited by folks who had never read any of her previous appearances before, and then various writers spent a handful of stories bunglingly attempting to fix those mistakes). I became newly curious about it while re-reading the recent collections of the early chunk of the first Batgirl monthly, however.

I'll definitely read this, but I'm still wavering over whether I should buy it or not. Anyone wanna weight in on this important decision that will be facing me this summer...?

That looks like a remarkably easy puzzle for the World's Greatest Detective to be wasting his time on. It's The Joker, Batman, and that piece goes right there!

Aw, look at how cute Riley Rossmo's Scarface is...!

Written by ALAN GRANT
Follow Bruce Wayne through Gotham City’s underworld, a crazed carnival, the streets of London and even into the deep, dark recesses of the Batman’s mind in these 1990s stories! Collects BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT #13-24 and BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT ANNUAL #1. In stories that tie into the “Knightquest” epic, Jean-Paul Valley, formerly known as Azrael, takes over as Batman to battle Scarecrow and more!
On sale AUGUST 30 • 352 pg, FC, $29.99 US

That's a lot of great Batman artists right there! Let's see, this marks a particularly awkward period in Shadow of The Bat, as it was transitioning from being a showcase title for the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle creative team to being Just Another Batman Book (Albeit It One Written By Alan Grant), and, during these issues, the Batmen literally change from Bruce Wayne to Jean-Paul Valley; the the end of the third story arc he's wearing his clawed armor with the gauntlet-mounted machine guns that shoot little bat-symbol shaped darts.

The first issue collected within is Breyfogle's last on Shadow, "The Nobody," and then there's two issues of Staton before the new "regular" artist Bret Blevins takes over, although Vince Giarrano was a round a lot then, too. These issues feature both JPV on the streets of Gotham, and the temporarily wheelchair-bound Bruce Wayne and Alfred looking fro the kidnapped Shondra Kinsolving in England. They also feature the introduction of minor recurring Batman villain The Tally Man (basically a hitman who dresses super-fancy) and English superhero The Hood, who Grant Morrison would repurpose and use fairly extensively during his run on the Bat-books, specifically when his Batman and Robin gave way to Batman, Inc (The Hood was one of the English Batmen).

While the JPV comics mostly don't hold up so great today, Giarrano drew a particularly good rendition of the character, as his hart was so very pointy.

That annual, by the way, is the "Bloodlines" tie-in, introducing "New Blood" Joe Public, a patriotic-themed superhero who could "borrow" strength from those around him. I hated his design at the time, but it seems less stupid to me now that I am a more mellow adult. Very minor Gotham vigilante Pagan also appears in that story; I wonder how she would play to a modern, 21st century comics audience as, if I recall her two or three appearances correctly, she was a feminist who punched male criminals who preyed upon women in the face. That was her particular beat. Her brown costume featured a the circle and cross symbol for female over one eye.

Written by LEE ALLRED
Art and cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
In pursuit of the time-traveling criminal known as Universo, the super-powered kids from the 30th century travel back to the 1960s to enlist the aid of the “greatest teen superhero ever”—Robin, the Boy Wonder! But Batman’s hard-boiled nemesis Egghead has stolen one of their unattended time bubbles and taken off to the Legion’s own time period. Looks like Batman has to head to the far-flung future with one group of heroes while Robin stays in the swinging sixties with another. Holy time-travel paradox!
One-shot • On sale JULY 19 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED E

This is quite literally the first time in my entire life I am actually excited about the release of a Legion of Super-Heroes comic book.

The Joker’s surprise attack threatens to lay waste to all of Batman’s carefully laid plans. Will the Dark Knight be able to regain the trust of his closest allies, Green Lantern and Duke, and prevent the forces of darkness from consuming the DC Universe?! Will Hawkman’s warning stop our heroes from peering into the abyss?
The great comics event of summer 2017 is on its way, courtesy of superstar writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV with art by a master class of comics artists: Andy Kubert, Jim Lee and John Romita Jr.!
ONE-SHOT • On sale JULY 12 • 40 pg, FC, card-stock cover, $4.99 US • RATED T+

I feel a little anxious for Scott Snyder here, as I'm afraid he's stepping up, and stepping into, some real Geoff Johns-ian territory, and I'd hate to see him spend all his street cred on what could very well end up being a deeply stupid comic book, depending on whether or not this is the event that finally deals with all that Watchmen business or not (Is that what the various metallurgy sub-titles refer to? Is Batman forging a giant smiley face button or something?).

Written by MIKE BARON
Deadman has gone from supernatural hero to insane spirit of evil, and with a tide of demons threatening humanity, his true power can only be unlocked if he faces the secret within him that has driven him mad. Collects DEADMAN: LOVE AFTER DEATH #1-2 and DEADMAN: EXORCISM #1-2, plus stories from ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #618-621 and 623-626.
On sale AUGUST 30 • 272 pg, FC, $24.99 US

Ha, check it out: The only creator consistent to all of the comics collected herein is writer Mike Baron, and yet it is artist Kelley Jones whose name is in the title. Shouldn't this then be Deadman By Mike Baron, or at least Deadman By Mike Baron and Kelley Jones? (I would also accept Deadman By Mike Baron, Kelley Jones and Pals). These comics are all pretty great, particularly Love After Death (which I just re-read) and Exorcism. The Action Comics story is Jones-less for large swathes, and not thus not as spectacularly, weirdly drawn as the other bits, but it does feature both President Ronald Reagan, First Lady Nancy Reagan and I want to say Gorbachev, with Deadman and a demon hopping in and out of their bodies.

If the focus of this book was Jones' Deadman vs. Baron's, it would also include that story arc from Dough Moench and Jones' run on Batman where Deadman teams up with Batman to fight Incan mummies...those issues had cool glow-in-the-dark covers.

Cover by RYAN SOOK
“DEFIANCE” part one! A new day has dawned for Deathstroke. Having emerged from the Speed Force a changed man, Slade Wilson takes aim at living a better life—a life in service of justice. But when the world refuses to accept the new Deathstroke, Slade recruits a group of young heroes to join him including including former Teen Titans, Kid Flash and Power Girl, his children, Rose and Jericho, and the bombastic Terra! But has Slade truly shed his villainous past? And what other shadowy forces are working against him? Find out as Deathstroke’s bold new direction begins here!
On sale JULY 5 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T+

Well this is...unexpected. That color scheme doesn't really work for Deathstroke, even if its definitely a better color scheme than orange and blue. I would have loved to see what all those jokers look like if they were forced to wear orange and blue versions of their costumes, instead of the more tasteful black and white. You know what also doesn't work for 'Stroke? A cape. Yeesh.

“The Ballad of Olive Silverlock” part three! A terrible revelation sends Maps on a quest for answers at Wayne Manor! With Two-Face hot on their trail, Maps and Damian Wayne must work together to stop Olive’s rampage of destruction across Gotham City.
On sale JULY 12 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Damian's few interactions with Maps have been a real highlight of Gotham Academy's relatively short life. I would personally be pretty okay if this book were replaced on the schedule with Damian and Maps or maybe Maps, Girl Wonder featuring Robin...

It’s the sensational team-up series in which Harley meets (and annoys) DC’s greatest heroes and villains! Harley meets up with Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Lobo and more! But can she keep up with beings of this caliber? Collects HARLEY’S LITTLE BLACK BOOK #1-6.
On sale AUGUST 2 • 256 pg, FC, $29.99 US

Now I can't remember if I read the Zatanna issue or not, which leads me to assume that, if I did, it must not have been that good, as I have no memory of it all. The Wonder Woman issue was a little iffy, as was the Green Lantern one, but otherwise these are all pretty solid, and head, shoulders and torso above the regular Harley Quinn monthly. I'll definitely flip through this, if only to see how they address the apparent nudity of the Simon Bisley-drawn Lobo team-up issue, which they handled terribly in the single issue that was just published. Maybe by the time the trade hits they will have figured out a better way to deal with it, including maybe just leaving Lobo's dogs testicles visible, rather than hidden under a slapped-on clip-art red flag...?

Written by BRYAN HITCH
“AFTERLIVES” part three! Our heroes’ mission into the afterlife goes horribly wrong when the Demons Three trap the Justice League in a hellish realm where they’re haunted and tortured by the ghosts of fallen heroes, dead villains and innocent civilians whose lives they failed to save.
On sale JULY 5 • 32 pg, $2.99 US • FC, RATED T

This synopsis is kind of interesting in that I don't know if or how many fallen heroes there actually are to use in the post-Flashpoint, seven-year-old, Golden Age-less DC Universe.

Backup story art by JAN DUURSEMA
Variant cover by JILL THOMPSON
We finally catch up to the migrating monsters—and their destination is even more horrifying than anyone imagined! But before the gang can act, Scrappy-Doo and his pack of smart mutts show up with a heck of a grudge against Scooby. It’s two threats for the price of one! And, in the backup story, Scrappy strikes again—and someone pays the ultimate price!
On sale JULY 12 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Jill Thompson, Jan Duursema and Dale Eaglesham? Man, this single issue will manage to waste the talent of a lot of skilled artists that DC could (and should) be better employing elsewhere in their line.

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
The gang uncovers a tale of their great-great-grandparents (and grand-dog!) in the old West. When monstrous rumors bring the Weirdness Wagon to town, will they find a fearsome beast, or just come face-to-scarred-face with the lawman Jonah Hex?
On sale JULY 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E

Ha, using the gang's ancestors in a cowboy-era team-up with Jonah Hex sounds like a fun way to use that character and not involve time travel. Hopefully that's not actually their great-great-grandparents on the cover though, as they just look the exact same; I would wanna see a few subtle differences, like a big Wild Bill-style mustache on Fred's great-great-grandfather, old-timey spectacles on Velma's ancestor and so on.

In 1992 Jim Lee changed the course of comics history with the founding of WildStorm Productions, which would revolutionize the business and launch the careers of so many top creators. Now, the WS crew is back to celebrate 25 years of WildStorm with new short stories of the imprint’s greatest heroes by their classic creative teams, including WildC.A.T.s by Brandon Choi and Jim Lee; the Authority by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch; Gen13 by J. Scott Campbell; WildCats by Christos Gage and Dustin Nguyen; Backlash by Brett Booth, and more!
This new hardcover also includes a massive pinup gallery featuring new art by WS alumni including John Cassaday, Tim Sale, Adam Hughes, Carlos D’Anda, Adam Warren, Tony Harris, Lee Bermejo, Ryan Benjamin, Neil Googe, Fiona Staples, Cully Hamner and more, plus behind-the-scenes material that will blow your mind, and epic reprints of some of WildStorm’s greatest stories! This new hardcover is a must-have for old fans and new readers alike!
On sale AUGUST 23 • 240 pg, FC, $29.99 US

"Changed the course of comics history"...? That's laying it on a bit thick, isn't it? Wracking my brain to think of ways in which the WildStorm corner of Image Comics moved the needle at all, I'm having some trouble here. I guess it helped launch the career of prolific variant cover artist J. Scott Campbell? And maybe Bryan Hitch? Ellis' decision to step away from The Authority allowed the promising writer Mark Millar to get a blast of limelight that pretty much ruined his ability to write coherent comic books while boosting his career into a stratospheric trajectory.

Um...that's all I got.

I guess it's nice that DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee is celebrating a lot of the worthy creators who have worked on WildStorm comics over the years here, but from where I'm currently sitting, it's very difficult (well, impossible) to disentangle some industry-wide impact that the founding of WildStorm had that was distinct from the rest of Image at the time of its founding, and it really seems like DC purchased WildStorm as a roundabout way to get Jim Lee to start drawing comics for them. Jim Lee pencils seem like the most valuable thing DC got from that particular deal; the WildStorm catalog of characters and "universe" has otherwise been something of an albatross around the neck of the publisher.

The adventures of Wonder Girl are collected for the first time! These stories include appearances by Wonder Woman, the Teen Titans and more from the pages of WONDER WOMAN #105 (1959), THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #60, TEEN TITANS #22, ADVENTURE COMICS #461, WONDER WOMAN #105 and 113, WONDER WOMAN: DONNA TROY #1 and WONDER GIRL #1.
On sale AUGUST 30 • 168 pg, FC, $14.99 US

This is a super-weird looking collection. The Cassandra Sandsmark version is on the cover, but this looks like it will have more Donna Troy than Cassie in it...and maybe even a little of original Wonder Girl Diana.

*Actually, I've been told that's Nolan's own redesign of Bane's costume. I prefer the original one from the '90s, but then, I am old. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: April 12th

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #8 (DC Comics) Oh hey, Gotham Academy is indeed being canceled. I'm a little disappointed, but not terribly surprised, given some of the erratic publishing decisions associated with the book. Given that it's about as far removed from Batman while still being technically part of the extended Batman franchise, it's not the sort of series that could really sustain very many decisions like, say, to take a few months off to tell that "Yearbook" anthology story arc, or to take another few months off to lay fallow, or to relaunch with a slightly different title.

Because its cancellation doesn't come as a surprise, that sure helps temper the disappointment. I've had, like, a year to mentally prepare myself for this moment, you know? This issue is more-or-less the conclusion to the current arc, although it ends with a cliffhanger, and the words "Next: The Ballad of Olive Silverlock Part One! Gear Up for Gotham Academy's Final Story Arc That Will Decide The Fate of Olive And Her Friends!" This issue ties pretty much everything together from the start of the series, and the writing team--still Brenden Fletcher scripting a story credited to himself, Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl--finally makes explicit all of that stuff that they've been hinting regarding Olive, her mom, their fire powers and their lineage.

Suicide Squad #15 (DC) Thus concludes the weirdly-formatted "Burning Down The House" story arc, with this final issue telling a single, issue-length story drawn by both art teams (John Romita Jr. and Richard Friend on one, Eddy Barrows and Eber Ferreira the other), rather than two shorter distinct-but-intertwined stories. To the surprise of no one, Amanda Waller is not really dead, Harley Quinn is not really dead (the latter cheats death by wearing a low-cut Kevlar bustier under her regular spandex bustier, and I guess that works if you expect to be shot between the boobs) and Deadshot didn't betray the team after all! Or, if he did, he only did a little bit.

The real surprise, for me at least, were how brutal this particular issue was, with Deadshot losing a large portion of his arm, and JRJR's panel showing it being severed revealing the meat and bone of his arm as if it were a hunk of Easter ham and Captain Boomerang killing one of the newly redesigned and reintroduced characters of the old Jihad team (now renamed "The Burning Earth") in a pretty final fashion, standing over his foe's decapitated boy, which lay in a literal pool of blood.

Super Powers #6 (DC) This was a lot of fun, and this concluding chapter seems to reveal Art Baltazar and Franco's true purpose with the project: Simply getting to write and draw all their favorite DC superheroes, as even at this late point in the miniseries they are still throwing characters in. This is the climactic battle against Darkseid in the streets of Gotham, and the way in which the assembled heroes finally defeat him is pretty complex, involving a (comic book) science plan and creative uses of multiple heroes' individual powers. It was a very classic Justice League ending to a story that was basically just a Baltazar-drawn Superman comic with a dozen or two different heroic and villainous guest-stars. It looks like it's for kids, and it is, but it's also plenty entertaining for adult readers of a certain type. Like, um, my type.

Wonder Woman #20 (DC) So, you've probably already heard that Greg Rucka is leaving the now twice-monthly Wonder Woman book, huh? I find myself more irritated than anything else by the news. I don't think he's that great a Wonder Woman writer. The stories are always better than average, but, on an issue-by-issue basis, they often amount to little more than a scene or three, and need to be read in trade to really be appreciated. Most issues are just rather blah and boring, although this one seems to be bringing "Godwatch," which I think is maybe only his third story arc, to its climax (It's hard to say, as each issue alternates between timelines; it may be the fourth...? A tag in this issue says it occurs seven years Wonder Woman arrived, which I guess makes sense as "the present" in the current, post-Flashpoint DCU, but it also shows the origin of her dogs, which were present earlier issues set in the present, soooo...I don't know? I'm a little lost, I guess).

What irritates me is that basically Rucka has used the opportunity presented by whatever continuity shenanigans are going on to re-reboot Wonder Woman's just rebooted (like, six years ago) origin story, and...that's about it, really. The entirety of his run has been working its way to revealing her true origins, which she herself has been deluded regarding.

And then someone else is going to take over as writer, but they will be saddled with Rucka's interpretation of Wonder Woman's supporting characters, which honestly isn't all that much different from George Perez's. The new writer will be stuck with an Etta Candy who is basically just a black, lesbian version of Steve Trevor, for example, and, like Trevor, she'll be a hard-nosed, bad-ass military person with no discernable personality. Sasha fucking Bordeaux will be involved. Rucka's Veronica Cale will be Wonder Woman's Lex Luthor again, and he's reintroduced reinterpreted versions of The Cheetah, Dr. Poison, Dr. Cyber and, as of this issue, Circe.

It's not that every new writer should get carte blanche to redesign the character's whole world, although that sure seems like the current remit, given the two post-Flashpoint volumes of Wonder Woman did pretty much exactly that, but if that's all Rucka was going to do before splitting, well, it might have been preferable if he adopted a more hyper-compressed storytelling style, or worked within the already established margins, as screwed up as they might be. I don't know, there's still five issues to go, so I guess we'll see.

As for this issue? It finally introduces Circe into Cale's cadre of reimagined Wonder Woman villains, and once again paints Cale as a more tragic figure, one pushed to bad things by bad gods, rather than an inherently wicked or selfish person.

Bilquis Evely is still drawing--artist Liam Sharp is apparently leaving with Rucka, and the first post-Rucka artist will be another talented one who worked on Bombshells alongside Evely--and she does her usual amazing job. The Circe redesign is nice, and the action scene in which she and Wonder Woman first encounter one another is great. Evely sure does a fine job on the bullets-and-bracelets trick.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

This was my favorite part of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

It is a two-page sequence in which 14-year-old Doreen Green's best human friend Ana Sofia asks her if she actually knows the individual names of all of the scores of squirrels that have gathered around their tree house, and Doreen proves it by pointing them out one by one. This goes on for one giant paragraph that fills two pages before Ana Sofia finally cuts her off.

It reminded me of the list of Seven Hundred Hobo Names in John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise, although the section here doesn't really compete, in large part because writers Shannon Hale and Dean Hale don't even try to hit 700, although I think they could have if they really wanted to put the effort in (Also because as funny as squirrels might be, they are just not as funny as hobos).

I was a little wary of this book, which I listened to on audiobook (Recommended! I liked hearing a grown woman speaking aloud lines like "Chkkt!" and "Chktt-kit" and so on pretty much constantl) rather than read, as that is my preferred way to consume prose fiction. The reason I was wary was because what I like most about Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (the comic) is the way that Ryan North and Erica Henderson make it, as a comic, rather than anything in particular about the character, as likable as she may be (and as awesome as squirrels might be).

That said, I ended up really enjoying the book, which is geared towards a juvenile audience (I'll likely talk about it at greater length in the next installment of my occasional-ish "Everything Else" feature). It probably helped that it was a sort of secret origin Squirrel Girl story, set a good five years or so before Squirrel Girl's current comic book series, and that its continuity was murky, somewhere between that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel (comics) Universe.

But back to squirrel names for a moment. I had always assumed that it was Squirrel Girl who came up with the squirrel names and assigned them to her squirrel friends. After all, of the two she has adventured with the longest--Monkey Joe and Tippy-Toe--the former doesn't seem like the sort of name that a squirrel would come up with for itself. I mean, how would a squirrel even know what a monkey was in the first place? It's not like monkeys are commonplace in North American suburban neighborhoods. Rather, it seemed like the sort of silly name a silly teenage girl might give to a pet.

But in this book it is made quite clear that the squirrels come up with their own names (or, at least, their parents name them). That really rather blew my mind. A large portion of the book is told from Tippy-Toe's point of view--the POV character changes from chapter to chapter, and Tippy-Toe gets a lot of those chapters--so we see squirrel world from her vantage point, on the inside, and yeah, that was her name all along. Doreen didn't give it to her.

As I said, my favorite part of the audio-book was the above section, which is funnier when read aloud than it is sitting there on the page (the narrator's performance of Squirrel Girl's texts to Iron Man are similarly funnier when heard than they are when read), but now that I am looking at it in print, I find myself feeling somewhat disappointed by at least one of those squirrel's names (several of them are Marvel Comics in-jokes, by the way). One of the squirrels is named "Geraldine Ferraro." Spelled just like that, rather than a squirrel-ized "Geraldine Furraro." Seems like a lost opportunity, but still funny, I suppose.

Anyway, Squirrel Girl: Not just in comic books anymore!
There's a little art in the book, too. The cover image is by a Bruno Mangyoku, and you'll notice that Squirrel Girl looks somewhat off-model there. That is intentional, as the costume she ends up wearing in this adventure is a sort of accidental, ad hoc one, and it predates the Steve Ditko-designed one of her first comic book appearance, or any of the later updates to follow.

Mangyoku also draws Tippy-Toe on the back cover and on the inside of the book; I don't like how cartoony his Tippy is, as she resembles a television cartoon squirrel rather than a real squirrel, and I found myself wondering why they didn't just have Erica Henderson (or anyone from Marvel Comics, really) handle the handful of illustrations. There is a really nice image on the end-pages though, of Squirrel Girl in silhouette, leaping in front of a bright full moon above a city skyline. Tippy-Toe is by her side, identifiable by her bow, and a whole cloud of squirrels follow Squirrel Girl, almost like a second tail. I imagine this is from Mangyoku too (no other artist is credited anywhere). It's a really great, even beautiful image.
Elle Collins took this picture, and it ran with her review of the book for Comics Alliance, which I still haven't read, because I don't like to read reviews of stuff I'm gonna write about until I write about them myself. But there's no reason you can't read her review now!
So hell, I don't know. The audiobook was really fun and funny to listen to, but the book allow you to check the spelling of those squirrel names and has those nice end-pages. I guess I'm torn here. Maybe borrow the audio-book from the library, and buy the book from the store? Or just borrow them both from the library like I did...?

Monday, April 10, 2017

On Wonder Woman and Justice League America Vol. 1

This 280-page collection of issues from Justice League America from 1993-1994 comprise the beginning of writer (and Slave Labor Graphics founder) Dan Vado's run on the main title of the then multi-book Justice League franchise, following the conclusion of Dan Jurgens' run as writer/penciler.

The entirety of Jurgens' run was collected in two volumes rebranded Superman and Justice League America, and apparently DC is doing the same with Vado's run, giving Wonder Woman top-billing in an apparent attempt to goose interest in a collection of these issues, which, if not the absolute nadir of the franchise, is certainly well into a valley between the peaks of the Giffen/DeMatteis run and the Grant Morrison.

The new title is more or less meaningless, just as that of the previous two collections was (as I mentioned before, Superman is barely in Superman and Justice League America Vol. 2, that's just a better title than The Second Half of Dan Jurgens' Justice League America). In fact, Wonder Woman took over leadership of this Justice League in Superman and.. Vol. 2, and she doesn't exactly play a bigger-than-average role in these comics.

Not only are we wading pretty deep into the era where DC was trying to keep the Giffen/DeMatteis conception of the League going past its expiration date at this point, but this book makes for an interesting read in 2017, given the fact that Vado is so clearly writing in the "old", pre-trade market, soap-operatic model of superhero comics. That is, rather than writing story arcs as part of a bigger, overarching storyline, Vado picks up the cast right where it was, making few if any real changes, and gives each of those characters a conflict of their own to wrestle with from issue to issue, major conflicts moving from the background to the foreground and necessary.

At this point, the League is still operating out of the new New York headquarters from their Jurgens run, with Max Lord essentially their boss and Oberon his assistant. Wonder Woman is the field leader of a team that consists of mainstays Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner (still wearing Sinestro's yellow ring), Booster Gold, Fire and Ice, plus Jurgens additions Maxima, Bloodwynd and their newest recruit, The Ray.

Of the long-timers, they are still all somewhere between reeling and sidelined by their fight with Doomsday, the one that killed the recently-resurrected Superman (the destruction of Coast City comes up in conversation at one point, and when Hal Jordan of Justice League Europe--Or was it International at this point?--shows up for a few panels, he's wearing his arm in a sling). Booster Gold's costume is still shredded, so he is wearing a big, goofy suit of armor that looks like a futuristic football uniform to me; Ted Kord has hung up his Beetle costume and devoted himself to lab work, leery of jumping back into the sorts of superhero fights that had landed him in a coma; Fire is still powerless; and Ice has left the team, but not the book, as she returns to her hidden ice kingdom.*

The foregrounded plots involve one in which Wonder Woman leading the team to secure an airport in a fictional war-torn country with an assist from original Flash Jay Garrick (who sadly doesn't stick around too long), only to face off against Dreamslayer and the "new" Extremists. Then she extends an offer of sanctuary to a pair of wanted space criminals who crash land on Earth, leading to a tense stand-off with Captain Atom and his '90s-looking back-up, The Peacemakers, who are working on behalf of President Bill Clinton. Finally, the team heads to the hidden kingdom Ice hails from, where her similarly-powered brother has initiated a hostile take over, and plans to march on northern Europe with the help of mystical weapons and the patronage of a shadowy threat which, if I remember correctly, will end up being the driving threat of the upcoming multi-book crossover event, "Judgement Day."

This collection has a nice new cover by Tom Grummet...unless DC found a nice Grummet drawing of this team in a drawer somewhere and repurposed it here. The bulk of the interiors are drawn by Kevin West, who arrives with the third issue of the collection, originally inked by Rick Burchett. West's style is quite strong, and pretty much perfect for the book at this point in its existence, as he draws figures as well as Jurgens--and, in fact, some of his lay-outs look so Jurgens-like it looks as if Jurgens himself was doing breakdowns--but he also has a strong facility for facial expressions, and several close-ups reminded me of the work of Kevin Maguire, the Giffen/DeMatteis team's original artistic collaborator.

The influence of the era can be seen slowly creeping into the book, visually as well as in the scripting, as when Blue Beetle finally puts his costume back on it looks a lot like Todd MacFarlane's Spider-Man, Booster armors up and Fire and Ice both get new, much more-revealing costumes.

The rest of the art in the book comes from pencil artist Mike Collins (two issues), Chris Hunter (one issue of Guy Gardner scripted by Chuck Dixon, which is a direct tie-in to JLA) and the art team of penciler Greg LaRocque and a trio of inkers, who draw Justice League America Annual #7, which is placed at the end of the collection (That's from the "Bloodlines" event, and introduces New Blood Terrorsmith, who has a neat look and a neat power, but never really went anywhere after this, save a Showcase appearance...there are three even less interesting and less appealing New Bloods who show up as well to help the League fight him).

The overall quality of the book is rocky, and despite its title, it's definitely for fans of the Justice League, not of Wonder Woman. That is, if you were picking this up specifically because of it's title, chances are you're going to be sorely disappointed. The art and story actually age pretty okay, although Gardner's lewd come-ons seem incredibly weird today, and it's hard to understand why Wonder Woman or Maxima aren't constantly throwing him through walls or breaking his bones. This Wonder Woman is a lot more patient and less violent than more modern takes, I guess.


As I noted when writing a little preview of this for Comics Alliance, back when there still was a Comics Alliance (sniff), this particular volume contains 1.) The Ray on the Justice League, 2.) The Justice League fighting a version of The Extremists and 3.) Terrorsmith, so one can't help but imagine a young Steve Orlando read and internalized these issues, given that he just launched a new comic book series called Justice League of America featuring The Ray on the the team, their first foes are a version of The Extremists and future solicitations reveal that Terrorsmith will be making, like, his third appearance ever.


Amazon has an entry for an October volume of Wonder Woman and Justice League of America that collects the series through issues #91. That's only six more issues, and considering that those six include part 1, part 4 and an "aftermath" of "Judgement Day," I have to assume parts 2 and 3 of "Judgement Day" will be in there as well. (Vado also wrote Justice League America Annual #8, but given that it's an "Elseworlds" annual I imagine arguments could be made for and against collecting it; the best argument for being maybe that Evan Dorkin draws a back-up in it called "The O Squad," in which all of the many, many JLA villains whose names end in "O" team-up).

Then there's one chapter of the the Zero Hour tie-in that ran across the various League titles by Christopher Priest (The story introducing Triumph, which...well, I don't know if that would get collected with Triumph or Priest's (excellent) run on Justice League Task Force or...what. Priest wrote JLA Annual #9, part of the weird-ish "Legends of The Dead Earth", Elseworlds-esque themed annuals).

Then the Gerard Jones-written run begins, the last before DC cancels the whole Justice League franchise, clearing the decks for Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's JLA. That lasts 23 issues, and if DC ends up collecting them--and at this point, they've come so far, why not?--I'm curious if they will keep the the Wonder Woman... and title for volumes 3 and 4 and maybe 5 or...what, exactly.
Say, is this temporary, one-arc line-up the closest a League comes to The Big Seven between the end of the Detroit Era and JLA...?
I'm also curious if at any point they will collect the other early '90s League titles, Justice League International (perhaps re-christened in trade as Green Lantern and Justice League Europe?), Justice League Task Force (originally conceived with rotating line-ups and writers, a first volume seems an easy sell, as the pre-Zero Hour conception would/could include scripts from Peter David, Jeph Loeb and Mark Waid) and the unfortunately titled, originally-rather-poorly-drawn Extreme Justice.

Extreeeeeme! I do like Amazing Man a lot, though, and was sorry to see that his death was treated as a real, permanent death. That guy should totally be on the Justice League right now. 

*Did DC miss a huge opportunity by not pushing Ice, a superhero who is also an ice-powered princess, a few years ago, in the wake of 2013's Frozen movie? Like, if they were reinventing, rebooting and relaunching all their characters anyway, it occurred to me while reading this volume that in many ways Ice is basically just Elsa, only a superhero.