Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Amazing X-Men Vol. 2: World War Wendigo

I can't help but wonder what Amazing X-Men might have been like had Jason Aaron remained onboard as its writer, instead of jumping ship for greener pastures (Star Wars, Thor). And if Marvel's X-Men plans didn't end up being so closely tied to Brian Michael Bendis' work. And if the board re-setting Secret Wars wasn't looming, building an expiration date into so many of the books in Marvel's line as it existed prior to their decision to rejigger their fictional universe.

That's a lot of ifs, I know; this second volume is just so very different from the first volume, and it certainly seems like Marvel's plans for the title changed pretty drastically at some point during Aaron's work on the initial story arc.

Aaron had, of course, been writing Wolverine for years by the time Amazing X-Men launched. For a while he wrote Wolverine: Weapon X, which was the "good" Wolverine title when there were multiple Wolverine titles. Then he wrote Wolverine. Then he wrote the excellent Wolverine and The X-Men. And, at that book's conclusion, this seemed to be the next step in Aaron's exploration of the X-Men through the prism of Wolverine, having gone from writing the character's solo adventures to writing about the X-Men's school, faculty and student body, to now focusing on the X-Men as an old-school, traditional superhero-team.

With the two A books in the franchise, the Bendis-written ones, focusing on two upstart squads of X-Men–Cyclops' outlaw, rebel faction and their New Xavier School and the time-lost original X-Men, who eventually transferred from Wolverine's school to Cyclops–Amazing X-Men really should have been the "real" X-Men book. Maybe it was techincally the (or a) B book in the franchise, but it would star the characters who both readers of the comics and the characters of the Marvel Universe would regard as the X-Men: Wolverine, Storm, Iceman and Beast...plus Northstar, Firestar (in for Kitty Pryde, who Bendis appropriated for All-New) and, at the end of the first story arc, "The Quest for Nightcrawler," Nightcrawler.

How odd, then, to open up the second collection of the relatively newly-launched title to find a fill-in story by a fill-in creative team, featuring Spider-Man teaming-up with just two of the Amazing X-Men for what reads a hell of a lot like an inventory story that could have run pretty much anywhere, but ended up in the pages of Amazing X-Men to...give Marvel an extra 30 days to find a new creative team, I guess.
That story is the one originally published in Amazing X-Men #7 and entitled "No Goats, No Glory," by writer Kathryn Immonen and the art team of Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco. It feels a little under-cooked, as if it's missing an element or two that might have improved it, but its major problem is that it just doesn't feel anything like an X-Men story at all, and doesn't seem to have anything to do with the storyline that preceded it or the one that will follow it (It's the sort of done-in-one that Marvel probably should have just not collected at all; I often wish the Big Two publishers would better curate their collections, and not just collect every single issue chronologically by default. Not doing so might actually encourage the purchasing and reading of the serially-published books–either in their comic book form or their digital form).

It's a Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends reunion story. Iceman and Firestar, in their civilian clothing, are at a Pik N Pay gorcery store right before closing (in the middle of the day, apparently), doing the shopping for a "game day" party. In the parking lot, they encounter a weird baby of unknown origin, and then Spider-Man, who is chasing the baby.

The baby has mutations and powers, and was left with Spider-Man as some sort of alien changeling when its owners/parents stole the goat Spider-Man was watching, the goat being the mascot of one of the teams playing the sport that is occurring on this particular day (Details are vague. Wait, Spidey mentions "kick off," so it's a football game of some kind). Why Spider-Man is watching a goat, why aliens might have stolen it and replaced it with their baby even though they want their baby back and why there is 21st century comic book plot about someone stealing the goat mascot of a sports teams is all left up to the reader to imagine possible explanations.

Immonen's scripting is often pretty funny, and as someone who used to watched the cartoon show that inspired this as a child, I enjoyed the reunion of these particular characters for purely nostalgic reasons, but what might work on the micro-level certainly doesn't work on the macro-level. This comic is just weird, not in its content, but in its existence, and not-finished quality.

The artwork, on the other hand, is fine, although there were details that bugged me (Like the position of the sun at closing time, or the fact that it took a raccoon two hands to hold an off-brand Oreo. Little stuff, really.)

That "intermission" of sorts between "The Quest For Nightcrawler" and the "World War Wendigo" storylines over, we have the return of artist Ed McGuinness inked by Mark Farmer for the first 1/5th of the title story, and the arrival of the new writers: Craig Kyle and Christ Yost. McGuniness and Farmer depart after that first issue, and Carlo Barberi and Iban Coello draw the rest of the storyline, with six additional inkers joining them (Barberi and Coello do some inking themselves, so there are eight inkers on the five-issue story altogether; maybe Marvel needed more than a one-issue fill-in inventory story to stall for the necessary time to put together an Amazing X-Men creative team).

Now, as many of you who have been reading EDILW for long know, I am not exactly expert in the Marvel Universe, having "only" read Marvel Comics for about 15 years now, and among my many, many, many blindspots is pre-Morrison X-Men history. So I don't have much in the way of background for a story in which The X-Men team up with Alpha Flight to fight Wendigos. And there were a couple of twists in this story arc where I was completely surprised by what occurred; it wasn't necessarily a bad thing, just surprising because I could tell that when certain new characters entered the narrative, I was meant to recognize them and perhaps have some sort of attachment to them. I didn't, and thus it just seemed like a random introduction of bizarrely random characters, but that actually contributed to my enjoyment to those twists.

Now, as far as I knew, Marvel's Wendigo was a big, cool, white furry monster that The Hulk fought in a comic that is probably worth a lot of money, as it was Wolverine's first appearance. I also know it's based on a legend of pre-European cultures in the North Americas. And I thought Marvel's Wendigo was a character, not a whole class of monsters, although I think Jeph Loeb is to blame for turning the Wendigo into Wendigos, in the pages of his Hulk run.

The rules of the Wendigo, as Kyle and Yost present them, is that any human being that consumes the flesh of another human being on Canadian soil turns into a Wendigo...rules so specific that it's actually kind of fun, as when the rampaging monsters cross over the U.S. border and immediately revert to human form. There seems to be some tinkering going on here though. An outbreak of Wendigo-ism is caused when a guy at a meat processing plant accidentally kills a co-worker, and attempts to hide his body by grinding it up with all the other meat.

And now Wendigos have the ability to infect others, turning them into Wendigos, by wounding them. So the threat is basically a zombie apocalypse sort of story, only without the zombies. Actually, maybe it's more of a werewolf or vampire apocalypse sort of story? The essential difference, beyond the visuals, is that Wendigo-ism, unlike zombie-ism, is reversible, so the X-Men and Alpha Fight (and The Avengers, guarding the U.S./Canada border) can face a potentially world-ending threat (more on how this is more than a Canadian problem in a bit) without having to kill scores or hundreds of civilians; even characters like Wolverine can become Wendigos but go back to normal at the end of the story, as superheroes inevitably must.

So Wolverine happens to visit an Alpha Flight lady (Vindicator) the day after her significant other with a matching outfit (Guardian), has gone missing. They investigate, and find a town overrun with Wendigos. Their teams come to attempt to bail them out. This X-Men squad includes Storm, Iceman, Northstar, Firestar and Nighcrawler from the previous story arc, and the newly added Colossus and Rachel Grey, apparently there because a few scenes call for a telepath to be there. Oh, and Rockslide, who stowed away in the locked bathroom of the Blackbird. His presence is also pretty random...until the climax. Alpha Flight includes Puck, Talisman, Aurora, Snowbird and Sasquatch, a character I've always liked the look of.

A few issues into the conflict, it's revealed that events are being manipulated by Tanarq, one of several god-like "Great Beasts," and apparently the bad one. These are the characters I was completely unfamiliar with. He's defeated the other spirit creatures in his realm and is growing stronger by Wendigo-izing Canadians; the more Wendigos that are made, the stronger the curse becomes, until they're capable of existing outside of the Canadian border, and thus threatening the rest of the world and, more importantly, the United States of America.
Some characters go to the spirit realm, free the Great Beasts, get temporarily turned into elemental gods (Rockslide was needed to be an Earth god, I guess) and fight a giant Tanaraq, who is ultimately killed (or "killed"...?) in a way that I swear I see some giant monster or other get killed in comics on at least a bi-monthly basis.

On a purely surface level, I enjoyed the storyline. I liked Kyle and Yost's dialogue, for the most part, and the way the various characters play off each other...at least among the X-Men. Aside from Aurora, none of the Alpha Flight characters have much of a personality (and even hers is a one-note mean girl characterization; like a cattier, Canadian Namor). The art is for the most part very strong, especially if you can forgive the hiccups in style (the one weird thing was the behavior of Storm's mohawk, which at one point gets flattened when she's plunged underwater, but when the next penciller takes over, it's standing straight up again; I guess she can probably control humidity, static electricity and heat enough to fix her own hair though, huh?).

That said, the story's not really about anything, despite gliding over various angles that could have been explored and exploited so that this storyline was something more than a superhero fight comic: The nature of the cannibal curse in the era of factory farming, the line between eating meat and eating human meat, anxiety regarding immigration, the xenophobia that X-Men comics have always looked to for dramatic tension given the new form of Canadians, conflict between the religious and secular world. There's a lot of stuff in here, but Kyle and Yost don't do anything with it. Even the denouement seems wasted, as we get a few pages assuring us that none of the mutants who were on the ropes died, and that Wolverine was successfully de-Wendigo-ized.
I suppose a cynical reader, or just a reader not terribly invested in the fictional lives of these Marvel characters, could level the same criticism at most super-comics: Hey, this isn't about anything, it's just a bunch of sexy people with superpowers fighting and exchanging snappy dialogue! But here it seems more obvious than it should.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Meanwhile, at Comics Alliance...

I interviewed Jon Morris about his awesome new book The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes From Comic Book History!. It basically a field guide to some of the weirder heroes of the Golden, Silver and Modern Ages of comic books, and I had a blast reading it (It was totally worth it just to learn about The Eye, pictured above). You can read our conversation about the book (and The Red Bee) here.

And while at Comics Alliance, you should check out the latest installment of "The Question," in which various contributors (myself included) suggest new series they would like to see Marvel announce soon, complete with creative team suggestions. You can read that here. Unlike the previous installment of the feature (same question as this one, only with DC comics), there wasn't a unanimous consensus in terms of which character everyone most wanted to see get his or her own title (everyone suggested a Lois Lane comic of one kind or another, you may recall). If I had to bet, I would assume that new books starring Black Panther, The Young Avengers and The Runaways are the most sure likely to be announced between now and San Diego Comic-Con International.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Secret Wars Journal #1 is not very good

"Fuck this comic!" my friend said of Secret Wars Journal #1 shortly after reading the first half of it last month. (That was also her review of Convergence: Superman #1, but she only read the first page of that one before making that declaration; also, she threw the Superman comic while saying it.)

She pointed out the two factors she hated most about Secret Wars Journal, and I asked to borrow it, to read and review for my blog later. My friends is, by the way, my number one–and, um, only source of Secret Wars comics at the moment. I'm extremely interested in the whole thing, but not $4-per-20-pages interested.

I suppose we should back up a bit, though. When Marvel began its new era of line-wide crossover event stories with Civil War in 2006, it also launched a companion, anthology series, Civil War: Frontline. That series compiled stories from various points-of-view around the Marvel Universe, while the main series focused on the events of the story itself: Frontline is where one could find out what the average man on the street of the Marvel Universe might think of the goings-on, or where one could find out how a minor character was affected by the Civil War storyline proper.

It was a good idea, really; it capitalized on interest in the main storyline, it gave a whole bunch of creators a great showcase for their work and it helped flesh out the importance of the event, as it wasn't just something affecting the characters with their own books, but all of the characters in the Marvel Universe (or, at least a lot of them).

Such companion series, generally street-level in focus, have accompanied most of Marvel's event series since, and it's been amusing to watch what a hard time Marvel has apparently had in coming up with titles for such series, and in distinguishing them from the series they're meant to be companions to.

My favorite was AVX: Vs, the logo of which appeared to be "Avengers Vs. X-Men," which was the title of the book it was tying into; the "v" in AVX stood for "Vs.," of course, too. By that point, they gave up on trying to think of different angles for the companion series, however, and treated that one as the comic book equivalent of deleted scenes from a DVD, as the comic didn't contain stories, just extended versions of fight scenes that appeared in Avengers Vs. X-Men.

Can you tell at a glance which of these is the main series Avengers Vs. X-Men and which is the tie-in, AVX: Vs...?

Well, Marvel's latest event series is so big it gets two companion series: Secret Wars Journal and Secret Wars: Battleworld.

Do note that the word "Battleworld" appears prominently on both, so much so that the titles actually look an awful lot like Battleworld: Secret Wars Journal and Secret Wars: Battleworld.

It doesn't really matter much; they both seem to perform the same function. The premise of Secret Wars, as the 52-word introduction on each credits page declares, is that "The Multiverse was destroyed!" and that all that remains is "A massive, patchwork planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist."

In practice, this appears to mean that Marvel told all of its editors to "go nuts" while Jonathan Hickman is writing Secret Wars, and they in turn told their various creative teams to "go nuts," and so we have all kinds of pretty nutty temporary titles.

Secret Wars Journal operates in the same fashion: Totally random stories set on "Battleworld" (i.e. the Marvel Universe gone mad), only there are two short ones per issue by various creators, and they should be able to nuttier than many of the other titles, as they only have to sustain a 10-page narrative, rather than the 20-pages of the handful of Secret Wars-related one-shots, or the 120-pages or so of the longer miniseries.

So we're up to speed then?

Okay, so Battleworld Secret Wars Journal #1 has a lovely Kevin Wada cover of an old time-y Kate Bishop in a typically pretty Kevin Wada dress, aiming her bow and arrow while Hulkling and Wiccan pose in the fog behind her.

The cover story is called "The Arrowhead," and it is written by Pru Shen and drawn by Ramon Bachs. In the first panel, we're told that the setting here is "King James' England," and a caravan is talking about The Arrowhead, who is basically Robin Hood. And is also secretly aristocrat Lady Kate of Bishop (who really should wear a mask or something when doing her thieving). She rides with a never named blonde guy and a magician named William.

Marvel fans will, of course, recognize the trio as Hawkeye Kate Bishop, Wiccan Billy Kaplan and Hulkling Teddy Altman from Young Avengers (although Kate might be more familiar to many current comic readers as the other Hawkeye, the one who appeared in every other issue of Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu and company's Hawkeye comic).

So we get an info dump: Kate is Arrowhead, who robs from the rich and she and her men are going to steal a magic orb of some kind from "The Punisher Sheriff" (Frank Castle is the Sheriff of Nottingham...?), but a trap is set for them and then the "story" suddenly ends, Shen having run out of panels, I guess, with a "See more of Lady Kate in Siege #1!"

So yeah, fuck that comic book. If you went in expecting a comic book about Kate Bishop as Robin Hood in a dress, that's gotta be pretty disappointing; me, I knew there were two stories in the issue, and it still seemed extremely abrupt and ending...in fact, even using the word "ending" to describe it is pretty generous. It's basically just a preview for a comic book that may or may not even exist yet (I don't really know what Siege is going to entail, but I hope it ends up being better than the comic it takes its name from). Honestly, about 75% of those eight-page previews that DC published in May to hype their "DCYou" initiative offered fuller, more complete and more compelling narratives than "Arrowhead."

The second half is a complete story, albeit a rather weird one. Set in "Egyptia," this one is called "We Worship What We Don't Understand" and is written by Matthew Rosenberg and drawn by Luca Pizzari. I'm not familiar with the setting, if it's one imported from somewhere familiar in the Marvel Multiverse, but it appears to be basically the Egypt of the book of Exodus, with the Israelites swapped out for mutants? The Ten Commandments or even Prince of Egypt, but with the X-Men sounds like the best idea ever, and really one that needs more than ten pages to fulfill ("Let my people go, bub").

The mutants are oppressed by the god Khonshu (the made-up Egpytian deity from Marvel's various Moon Knight comics*) and her worshippers. On this particular night, Wolverine is going to lead Shadowcat, Colossus and Nightcrawler to the goddess, so they can kill her. Wolverine's contact is a Moon Knight named Spector, but things don't go as expected, as Spector and other Moon Knights transform into Werewolf By Night-looking werewolves and fight the ancient Eyptian-ized X-Men in eighteen silent panels of brutal, dynamic action and violence running across a three-tiered, two-page spread.

There's a bit of shrugging philosophy from Khonshu, and an ironic, twist ending of the sort one might expect from an anthology comic. In that regard, while this is no longer than "Arrowhead," it at least tells a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end, has at least a few ideas to it, and is structured satisfyingly.

It's additionally a nice showcase for Pizzari. Bachs does a decent job in "The Arrowhead," but doesn't get much to do. Pizzari, on the other hand, gets to redesign, like, all of the X-Men, as well as draw lots of characters in action. Of those designs, some are just details glimpsed in passing, but they're fun ones: Bishop with an ankh tattoo over his eye rather than his traditional "M," Emma Frost still barely covering her breasts, even though now she's got mummy-like wrappings and a cape an,d, best of all, Cable's big, Moses-y beard. (Although in the X-Men version of the Book of Exodus, lets call it The Book of X-odus**, I still insist that Wolverine should play Moses.)

I remember "Egpytia" appearing on one the Battleworld maps I saw online or in the comic shop (which it might have been nice to see in these comics, actually), so I assume this isn't the only glimpse of that "domain" we'll see in the course of Secret Wars, but the ending for all of these characters seems pretty...final, so I don't know if we'll see ancient Egptian (or Egyptia-ian) X-Men again or not.

Despite the various pleasures of the second story, it is still only a good story in relation to the first; I mean, there's nothing wrong with or bad about it, it's just a competently-written, well-drawn story. It is, in other words, the least we should be able to expect from a comic book from Marvel Entertainment in the year 2015. And it follows a weird-ass stealth advertainment piece for Siege. For four goddam dollars.

So, had I paid for this, I think I would have to agree: Fuck this comic.

*Please note: I am corrected in the comments section, as I so often am.

**I would also accept The Book of X-Men-odus.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

My apologies for such infrequent posting this week. I had a couple of bigger-than-I-expected-them-to-be pieces I was working on for sites that are not this site, and they ended up eating most of my allotted writing-about-comic books-on-the-Internet time. One of those pieces was this one, at Robot 6: Reviews of every single one of the #1 issues that DC launched this month, from All Star Section Eight to We Are...Robin. I messed around with a couple of different ways to rate the various books, something I don't normally like to do at all when writing reviews, but thought it might be useful in this particular case since I was trying to provide a survey of an entire publishing initiative. I considered stars, or Nick Lacheys, or Twix bars, but ended up using letter grades, as that way I didn't have to figure out how to make stars and half stars.

You'll note that the grades are, in general, pretty high. Since I was just grading the books against one another, I graded them on a curve. Overall, I'm pretty happy and excited about DC's new offerings.

It was nice to see so many new books devoted to humor (Section Eight, Bat-Mite, Bizarro, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, Justice League 3001, Prez, Starfire), and so many others that had a sense of fun or sense of humor to them, even if they weren't exactly out-and-out comedy books (Black Canary, Midnighter.

It was also nice to see so many new books featuring lady protagonists (Black Canary, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, Starfire, Prez), men who aren't white guys (Doctor Fate, Doomed, We Are...Robin) and one featuring a gay hero that looks like it's being built to last (Midnighter).

Perhaps more importantly to me, however, it was just nice to see so many new names in the credits for these new offerings, both in terms of great, established creators who have never worked with DC Comics before, and names that I was learning for the first time by reading these comics.

I've said it a few times already in a few posts here and elsewhere, but June of 2015 looked a whole hell of a lot like what September of 2011 should have looked like.

In May, I added Section Eight, Bat-Mite, Bizarro, Black Canary and Doctor Fate to my pull-list. Now having read the first issues, I'm considering also adding Constantine, Martian Manhunter, Midnighter and Omega Men. Or maybe I'll just trade-wait those; as much as I enjoy the comic book, I am increasingly exasperated by the storing of comic books. There are even more that I'll definitely read in trade, even if I'm not sure I'd want to buy them and own them forever.

At any rate, DC's line got a breath of fresh air this month, and I sighed with relief, rather than exasperation.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: June 24

Batgirl #41 (DC Comics) This is artist Babs Tarr's first issue of the series in which she's not working with Cameron Stewart's layouts, and it shows. The pencil art still looks like the pencil art of the last few issues, of course, but there are some angles that look wholly unlike any we've seen before. Like this third panel on page one:

It's one of a lot of awesome Barbara Gordon expressions in this issue.

Like, for example, her "My Dad Shaved His Mustache" face:

Here's her "I'm A Little Girl And I Love My Dad And Brian The Unicorn" face:

And here's her "My Dad Is Batman Face":

As you can probably tell, this issue is all about Babs and her dad. Batgirl meets the new, police sanctioned, robotic rabbit Batman when they both attempt the apprehend the same perps, and, the next morning, James Gordon shows up at Babs' place to show off his new, clean-shaven look and have a serious talk with Barbara.

Man, even Commissioner Gordon looks sexy when Babs Tarr draws him. Is there any character she draws that doesn't look sexy? Can she draw an unsexy character? I think she may be like Sophie Campbell, and just have a really hard time not drawing sexy people, you know? (I'm not complaining; sexy is good!)

Speaking of sexy, as long as I'm scanning images from this book, check out Babs' suit-ing up for action scene:

That's behind the scenes at a barcade (damn, Burnside is trendy!), where Babs and Frankie are playing the Sailor V arcade game, which is apparently a bizarre mixture of Galaga, Asteroids and...is that the Starship Enterprise there? Was there a Star Trek arcade game I never played?
Then Livewire, from Superman: The Animated Series shows up, and she has a new look (and it's a good one! Maybe Diane Nelson can hop on the Cosmic Treadmill and travel back in time and assign Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr the task of redesigning the whole DC Universe instead of letting Jim Lee and a few others do it? Imagine how sexy the DC Universe would be!). Again the new Batman shows up, and it looks like it's Gordon vs. Gordon, Bat vs. Bat!

I think this may have been my favorite issue of the series so far.

Batman '66 #24 (DC) It's Marsha, Queen of Diamonds once again, with writer Ray Fawkes handling the script of this one story-only issue. The art comes courtesy of Jon Bogdanove, and once again it's disconcerting how...different it looks than what I imagine when I hear Jon Bogdanove is drawing a Batman '66 comic.

His likenesses to not only the characters, but the actors playing the characters, is really quite uncanny, and it can be downright strange when he shows them in action, as Batman looks and acts pretty bad-ass, despite being the Adam West Batman TV show Batman. There are also a lot of pretty cartoony elements added, like floating hearts to indicate Marsha's hypnotism of her marks (including Robin, in this adventure).

Bogdanove seems to be doing a lot of work with computers here, not only in the obvious bits, like some sort of modeling on many of the "sets" and "props," or the special effects (with colorists Roberto Flores and Omar Estevez), but there's something going on regarding the amount of detail in the depth of the panels, so that the characters all look like they were drawn at enormous sizes and shrunk down. I...am dumb and don't really get computers, let alone the ways in which they can be used to produce comic book art.

It looks nice and all, and I enjoyed the issue, it just seemed a little more mechanical than I prefer my comics to be.

Superman #41 (DC) It was a little strange to read Action Comics #41 a few weeks ago, and find an asterisk telling me to check out Superman #41 for background on how it came to be that Superman's secret identity was revealed to the world and that his powers had been greatly decreased (and on a seemingly more long-term basis than the so-called "solar flare" power has decreased them in the past). But then, scheduling SNAFUs aren't exactly new to Big Two super-comics, so it wasn't exactly unheard of to see books like Action, Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman exploring the new Superman status quo (no secret identity, no costume, no powers relative to what he had before) before actually getting this issue.

Well, Superman #41 is out now and...it doesn't explain what prompted the new "Truth" status quo either. In fact, the name of this particular story is "Before Truth Part 1," so we get one page set "After Everything Changed," in which street-clothes Superman is shown, and then the remaining 21-pages are devoted to "Before." Sooooo I guess it's going to be a while before we get answers to the questions regarding the status quo change (which surprises me in large part because the ending of Superman #40 seemed to imply that Lois simply finally put two and two together, helped along by Superman's new flare-related weakness).

And you know, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with jumping around in time like this, or setting certain titles after the events of other titles. I don't think it's the best way to exploit the serial narrative of comic books, in which event should lead to the next, and a reader should always be left wanting to know "And then what?", but whatever.

Getting the long-teased outting of Superman wasn't the only reason I was looking forward to this comic, or either the main reason. This begins writer Gene Luen Yang's run as writer on the title, which is such a big deal it's really hard to overstate what a big deal it really is. Yang is joining the art team that was already in place during Geoff Johns' now concluded story arc, pencil artist John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson. So, basically, we have three great comics talents–at least two of which it would have been impossible to even imagine on a Superman comic book a few years ago–on Superman, maybe the one New 52 title that has suffered the biggest gap between high profile character/importance to the line and the reliability and longevity of it's creative team (Yang is the seventh writer or writing team on Superman since September 2011; in contrast, Batman and Justice League have only had a single writer, and Wonder Woman is only on its second writer). I was really looking forward to reading a reliably good Superman book on a monthly basis for the first time in years.

I dropped the book right after buying it, however. I guess I didn't realize that post-Convergence Superman and several other DC titles would jump 33% in price from $2.99 to $3.99; the extra $1 earning readers an extra two pages (Shouldn't that goddam Twix ad lower the price of these things, or at least keep 'em steady for a month? Do I have no idea how ads work? I thought they were used to offset the cost of producing print periodicals). I guess I'll be following Yang, Romita and Janson's Superman in trade. Which might work best anyway, given the way "Truth" is being structured.

So how is the comic? As expected, it is very good. Romita and Janson's art remains incredible, and I still haven't gotten used to seeing Romita's designs for these iconic DC characters. I still get excited every time I see a Romita drawing of Superman. As for the plot, Yang has Clark Kent and his pal Jimmy Olsen (who recently learned he's really Superman; in a twist, the current version of Superman has confided in Jimmy instead of Lois, rather than vice versa) receive an anonymous tip for a juicy story.

They follow it and get the story, although Superman has to fight a giant 3D printer and Lois Lane takes over half of the reporting before the the article actually sees print. The anonymous tipper than proceeds to blackmail Clark, as he knows his secret identity. This is his first issue, but already Yang seems to have mastered telling very classic-feeling Superman stories, even with so many of the classic elements so different. This issue was a nice reminder that no matter how much tinkering editors may do to continuity, Superman is still Superman, Lois Lane is still Lois Lane and so on. As with a lot of the new creative teams and story arcs debuting this month, I can't help wish that this saw print as Superman #1 back in 2011, rather than being issue #41 in 2015 but, again, whatever. It's nice to know there's a really good Superman comic on the stands, and one that should find its way into the heads of a hell of a lot of kids when it eventually makes it into trade.

It's not worth four fucking dollars though. I mean, it's good, but it's not Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe.

Monday, June 22, 2015

You know, I think I actually kind of like this new Catman costume okay.

Dale Eaglesham
I don't know if I would go so far as to say that it is better than any of the old Catman costumes (of which Norm Breyfogle's early 90s redesign was my favorite), but if the character has been so radically reinvented in the post-Flashpoint, New 52 continuity that the magical cloth his cape is made from is no longer an aspect of his origin, nor was Batman an inspiration for his own costumed identity, then there's really no reason to have him wearing a cape or so closely resembling Batman.

This new cat-mask that Secret Six artist Dale Eaglesham has drawn is pretty damn creepy, and the tight brown leather costume and the vaguely Michael Jackson-esque jacket may look like the sort of things that a costume designer on a TV show or a film might cook up for the character (One of my biggest complaints about modern superhero costume design, particularly in the post-Flashpoint DCU, is that the costumes seem like they are those that would be worn in superhero films and TV shows, rather than superhero comics), but I think it works well in the context of this series.

Especially as I don't think this series is long for this world, and this Catman may very well end up being a temporary, out-of-continuity Catman, like that in the 1993 Legends of The Dark Knight story arc. Between the unfortunate delays–this month's issue is only the third since the series launched way back in December of last year–the unlikeable (mostly) new(-ish) characters and writer Gail Simone's dimming star as a direct market sales draw, I won't be surprised if this new iteration of Secret Six dies a quiet death in six months or so.

That said, the last panel of this issue is pretty explosive, including a surprise reveal of the true identity of the current Mockingbird (Hint: It's a character tied to DC's best-selling franchise!) and an unexpected secret identity for one of the Six.

I don't know that will be enough to save the book, and hell, if they can stay on schedule form here on out it might be, but whatever happens, I'd like to take a moment to appreciate that very creepy, very different take on Catman.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Kingdom Came.

As I mentioned the other day, I recently re-read Kingdom Come via a copy of Absolute Kingdom Come, paying the most attention to the copious amounts of supplementary material in the back. While reading through all the names on the two page section marked "Memorial," which was basically a key to the 105 (105!) characters on the covers of the first three issues, I was actually taken aback by how many of these characters were introduced into the mainstream DCU before the 2011 reboot. Several of them were introduced by Ross himself during his collaboration with Geoff Johns on the 2007-launched Justice Society of America (as character creator, cover artist and eventually co-writer), but there were obviously a lot of Kingdom Come fans writing and editing at DC Comics in the last 15 years.

Just looking at the key...

A female Judomaster II was introduced in 2007's Birds of Prey #100, and she later joined the JSoA

•Magog was introduced to the DCU in the pages of JSoA, eventually earning his own short-lived solo title, and even making the transition into the post-Flashpoint, rebooted New 52 universe in the pages of Superman/Wonder Woman

•Lightning, "Black Lightning's metahuman daughter," was introduced in the pages of JSoA, albeit via a retcon that gave Jefferson Pierce his second adult daughter (Writer Judd Winick had previously retconnd Black Lightning's history to give him an adult daughter who took the name "Thunder"; Black Lightning's retconned origin would include them in Black Lightning: Year One

•Von Bach, Swastika and 666 are among "The Fourth Reich" super-Nazis that mess up a picnic in Columbus, Ohio at the opening of the 2007 Justice Society of America series

The Thunder of Kingom Come is "a new Johnny Thunder with the mischeivous spirit of the Thunderbolt;" the Jakeem Thunder that Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell introduced in 1999 JLA arc "Crisis Times Five" has some obvious differences from this Thunder (including having an exterior rather than interior Thunderbolt), but they sure look an awful lot alike

The Hawkman of Kingdom Come didn't come to the DCU, but his design did, as former Infinity, Inc. character Northwind "evolved" into that design during Johns and company's run on JSA

•Robotman III is the name that Victor Stone, AKA Cyborg takes in Kingdom Come, sometime after his half-robot body was updated to one of golden-colored liquid metal. Cyborg never took that name in the DCU, the second Robotman never stopped using it or died for very long, but he did acquire a golden-colored liquid metal body at the climax of Titans/JLA and kept it through Devin Grayson and company's The Titans ongoing. Johns changed Cy back to a more familiar design in the pages of The Flash, essentially giving Cyborg his George Perez-design, but with the gray metal parts now being colored gold. When Johns relaunched Teen Titans in 2003, Cyborg was back to the grayish metal coloration

While I've lost track of DC's Starmen over the years, Kingdom Come's Starman VIII–his costume and origin as revealed on this key completely in tact–was a member of the JSoA

Wesley Dodds's former sidekick Sandy the Golden Boy did indeed dawn the costume of Kingdom Come's Sandman IV (that of Jack Kirby's 1970s Sandman), in the pages of JSA. He didn't keep it long, though, and never really took the name Sandman for very long either, sticking with the one-syllable "Sand" for most of his career

The red-haired, tornado-powered Red Tornado III was introduced with a different name and cooler costume into the pages of JSoA as Cyclone; she's sadly been MIA since the 2011 reboot

•Atom-Smasher was probably the very first emigree from Kingdom Come to the DCU, and he also stuck around the longest. Here he's described simply as "formerly Nuklon, godson of the original Atom." Nuklon took the name Atom-Smasher in the first story arc of James Robinson, David S. Goyer, Stephen Sadowski and Michael Bair's JSA, although his costume varied somewhat (and for the better). He wore the blue full-head mask that Ross' Atom-Smasher does, but had a more traditional spandex superhero costume than the professional wrestler gear Ross outfitted him with. Atom-Smasher, like most legacy heroes, has also been MIA since the reboot

The Red Robin name and costume came to the DCU via Jason Todd during the best-ignored Countdown period of DC Comics, and was then adopted by Robin III Tim Drake, after it became clear that Robin IV wasn't going to be killed off any time soon. After the Flashpoint reboot, Tim Drake ditched the Kingdome Come costume, but kept the name. The name has apparently become strong enough that I noticed it was what was used instead of "Robin" in this goofy Batman Unlimited: Animal Instinct direct-to-DVD cartoon I watched (the costume in that looked like a stripped-down, anime-inspired version of Ross' design

Roy Harper, who first went by Speedy and then by Arsenal, never grew out his goatee or started wearing a red cap, but he began wearing a red version of the Neal Adams-designed Green Arrow costume in Dan Jurgens' Teen Titans way back in 1998. His costume changed (for the worse) a few times since then, but he returned to a red Green Arrow costume in the pages of the Brad Meltzer/Ed Benes Justice League of America, where he also finally took the name Red Arrow. He later returned to "Arsenal" and a different costume, and, since the reboot, has been going by Arsenal, but wearing a costume closer to that of his Red Arrow one

•Zatara II was introduced to the DCU during Johns' Teen Titans run, but rather than being the "son of the late Zatanna, and grandson of the original Zatara," he was the still-alive Zatanna's cosuin.

•Wildcat III is described as "a man-panther with the original's spirit;" a Wildcat with that exact design was introduced by Ross and Johns into their JSoA, although he was now the long-lost son of the original Wildcat, Ted Grant

Those are just the characters from the covers of Kingdom Comes #1-#3, of course, and thus not a complete accounting.

It's also interesting to note that in the years since these covers first appeared on comics shelves other characters with these names have all appeared, but in very, very different forms. Characters like Mr. Terriffic II (all-around good guy Michael Holt, rather than the over-equipped and over-zealous human arsenal of Kingdom Come), Joker's Duaghter II (a crazy lady with a belly shirt and The Joker's flayed-off face worn as a mask over her own, rather than a Jill Thompson-esque Harlequin with cool gadgets), Hourman III (an intelligent machine colony from the 853rd century with vast powers over time and space, rather than a strong guy who can fly), Batwoman II (a mundane human vigilante, rather than a New God fan of Batman's with an amazingly insane costume and a giant flying dog named Ace), Spy Smasher II (a lady who messes with Oracle in Birds of Prey, rather than an "indpendent operative in the post-cold war world"; neither is terribly developed, but their designs are racially different), a new version of Black Condor and The Phantom Lady (Basis updates of the originals; Kingdom Come's Condor wasn't really distinguishable from any previous Black Condors, but its Phantom Lady was an actual phantom) and a new Stars and Stripes (Plucky teenager Courtney Whitmore and her stepfather Stripey in a robot battle-suit code-named S.T.R.I.P.E., rather than the heavily armed, reckless legacy versions of Kingdom Come).

Friday, June 19, 2015


You guys probably aren't going to believe it, but this week? I wrote about comics. On the Internet. I know, right?

You can read a piece I wrote about All Star Section Eight's continuation of Garth Ennis and McCrea's making-fun-of-DC-comics-in-DC-comics here at Comics Alliance. You can read a short review of Jeremy Baum's very, very weird (and all-around beautiful) Dorfler here at Las Vegas Weekly. And, finally, you can read my review of IDW's Ghostbusters: Get Real #1 here at Robot 6. The above image of Batman blowing off a parking ticket is, of course, from Section Eight.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: June 17

Archie Vs. Predator #3 (Dark Horse Comics) The penultimate issue of the most unlikely crossover ever has probably the best (regular) cover so far; in fact, I'm pretty sure I gushed about how much I loved Gisele's cover for this issue (and the story it suggests) last month. Looking closely at the credits, I see that the variants for this particular issue are by Paul Pope and Kelley Jones, two of my favorite artists. Damn it. This may be the very, very rare case where I buy both the single issues and the trade, because I couldn't wait to read the story and I want to possess all of the covers. Damn you Archie and Dark Horse, for making such an irresistable comic book series!

So in the previous issue of Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz and Rick Koslowski's fairly bonkers story, the teenaged Predator who has come to Riverdale did away with most of the cast. There's a neat scene in this issue where about half of the remaining cast is like, "Eh, he's obviously after you guys, so we're out" and just leave the comic. Only Dilton, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and Archie are left to face the wounded Predator, and, by the end of the issue, their numbers have shrunk to just three.

With most of the cast–and a substantial percentage of the small town's population–dead, I'm not sure exactly how a sequel to this series might work. Unless they just start over, and do something more akin to the stories suggested on some of the covers, like Predator replacing Reggie as Archie's main rival for the affections of the girls, or maybe a female Predator transferring to Riverdale, and setting her sites on Archie Andrews, as all the girls in school seem to (And I mean sites metaphorically, not the actual siting mechanism of her shoulder-mounted plasma cannon).

But why get so far ahead of ourselves? We've still got one more issue of this series to go.


You know, I just re-read a bunch of Predator crossovers in the last few months, and one thing I've noticed about this series that's in sharp contrast to the others is that Archie Vs. Predator is set in its own little world, where anything can happen, and it doesn't really matter if the Predator kills Reggie or Kevin Keller or whoever, because they'll still be alive in the other Archie comics. In, say, Batman Vs. Predator II: Bloodmatch or Judge Dredd Vs. Predator and so on, the Predator conflict is set in the home continuity of the alien big game hunter's opponent, and thus not only does Batman and Judge Dredd or whoever survive (as one would expect, given that they're the protagonists), but so too do all of their supporting casts.

AvP has seen pretty much everyone but the title character and a small handful of other players get killed, but in all of Batman's matches against Predators (two good ones, three more not-so-good ones), it's not like Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Harvey Bullock, The Huntress and Robin all get their spinal cords torn out of their lifeless bodies or anything.

Black Canary #1 (DC Comics) The creative team for this new Black Canary title–her first ongoing solo title in a very, very long time–is as perfect as the premise for the series is unusual. It's being written by Brenden Fletcher, the co-writer of both Gotham Academy and Batgirl, the latter of which this is a kinda sorta spin-off of. And it's being drawn by Annie Wu, the artist who drew the Kate Bishop portions of the Matt Fraction Hawkeye comic (and essentially helped keep the book from going completely off the rails when whatever happened to its scheduling started happening).

Wu's art is extremely well complimented by colorist Lee Loughridge, who uses bright pinks and yellows to separate the action and music scenes from the rest of the comic.

Which brings us to the premise. While most of Black Canary's past adventures have been about her as a supporting character, partner or team member–Green Arrow, Justice League of America, Birds of Prey, JSA, Green Arrow/Black Canary–they've pretty much all revolved around her being a kick-ass ass-kicking martial artist, crimefighter and superhero. Here, she's the frontwoman for a band, which is called Black Canary (As for Canary, she's now going by "D.D."). During her appearances in the Cameron Stweart and Fletcher-written run of Batgirl, she learned that her meta-human voice could do more than just tear shit up as a sonic "canary cry" attack; it could also be used to sing rock music.

We join her and Black Canary as they are already on tour in support of a debut album that hasn't yet been recorded, but already has label-backing. Unfortunately, they're being dogged by regular attacks from various attackers, earning them the reputation as "The Most Dangerous Band in America." Things get weirder than usual at one show, when the seemingly meta-human guitar playing of mute bandmember Ditto reveals a few people in the audience aren't people at all, but some sort of inky black creatures. D.D. beats them up, using her microphone as a whip and then canary cries them.

What exactly is going on? As one would expect from a first issue, there are a lot of clues and questions, but no definitive answers. I felt a little lost in terms of Black Canary history, as I honestly don't know anything about the post-Flashpoint Dinah (she was not in the Justice League, she was in Team 7 and hung out with the Birds of Prey, I don't know if she's ever even met Green Arrow, etc). Fletcher doesn't make any knowledge about our title character prior to the first page of this issue mandatory or anything, but I still get a sort of uneasy feeling about essentially meeting a character I used to know so well for the first time. That said, it's refreshing to see a writer taking advantage of the reboot to tell a story that could only have been told post-reboot: This just plain would not work in-continuity pre-Flashpoint, when Black Canary was a world-famous superhero.

This is a fantastic-looking book, and the premise is so different than any other take on Black Canary–more Jem with the slightest of dashes of Scott Pilgrim–that it is automatically interesting. I love the way Wu dresses her characters, in addition to the way she draws them. This is definitely a new DC series that's going on my pull-list.

Doctor Fate #1 (DC) Wait, shouldn't this be Fate, Pre-Med instead? Our hero Khalid isn't a doctor; he hasn't even started medical school yet, but he's about to when the events of this first issue begin to unfold.

I don't have any particular affection for any of the many various Dr. Fates that have existed over the decades, nor for the character in general (I like the Kingdom Come design best, though). I do like the artwork of Sonny Liew quite a bit, however, and he's the reason I picked up this series. Liew, one half of the creative team of the recent-ish Shadow Hero original graphic novel for First Second (the other half is currently writing Superman), is exactly the sort of artist DC should be pursuing...and actually should have been pursuing when they sought to relaunch and rebrand their superhero line way back in late 2011 (In general, these "Divergence"/DCYou books all seem like the sort of comics DC should have launched when they did their post-Flashpoint reboot).

Liew is drawing a script by Paul Levitz, maybe the ultimate DC insider, and thus not exactly the sort of fresh new voice one would ideally want a book introducing a brand-new Dotor Fate drawn by Sonny Liew, but hell, no one can say Levitz doesn't know how to write a comic book script.

This issue begins a bit awkwardly, however, as it seems to pick up right where the eight-page preview that appeared in the back of...one of the month two Convergence tie-ins left off. Oddly, some of those were standalone introductory stories, while others were the first eight pages of the first issue, as seems to be the case here (you can find it and all the others online, if you hunt around dccomics.com a bit).

It's raining cats and dogs in Brooklyn, which is all part of the plan of Egyptian death god Anubis, who has taken the form of a talking, emaciated, size-changing jackal to oversee the humanity-drowning deluge. Anubis is opposed by Bastet, taking the form of Kahlid's family cat. She leads him to the helmet of Fate and he eventually, reluctantly dons it (If there's any connection to the previous Doctor Fate, the one who appeared in Earth 2, it's not mentioned; I'm assuming that Doctor Fate died like so much of the cast of Earth 2, as he didn't appear in Convergence at all, but I'm not sure; interestingly, both of these new, post-Flashpoint Fates have been named Khalid–although their surnames differ–and both have been of Egyptian descent).

I'm not crazy about the costume design, which is essentially just the same old cool helmet and medallion affixed to Khalid's street clothes, but then, this is just the first issue. While several of the elements of the comic–well, all of them, actually–are pretty derivative of many other comics, with Liew drawing them in his own, highly expressive, you-can't-mistake-his-work-for-that-of-any-other-artist style, it all looks fresh and unique.

This one is going on my pull-list as well, although I'm not quite as excited about it as I was Black Canary...or the first issues of any of the three mini-series I've tried so far (Bat-Mite, Bizarro and All Star Section Eight).

Ghostbusters: Get Real #1 (IDW Publishing) Please see Robot 6 for my review. Please note that this cover, the only one they had at my shop, is dumb and I hate it.

Lumberjanes #15 (Boom Studios) My God, is that a lot of cats on the cover of this month's issue of Lumberjanes. Just look at all those cats! How many cats is that? I lost count after 50. Was Brooke Allen paid by the cat for this cover? Is this the most cats ever drawn on a single comic book cover? Does anyone keep track of this stuff?

There are many fewer cats inside the comic, which Allen is also drawing. In fact, I only saw one, the kitten belonging to Barney, The Scouting Lad helping the 'janes find the missing Jen. In this issue, we learn a little bit more about the history of the Lumberjanes, in the form of cryptic references and mysterious clues. So I guess we don't learn much, just that there is a mysterious history to the Lumberjanes, and their true purpose.

Also, Jen's rescuer goes monster-hunting, for the biggest monster ever, apparently, but she doesn't quite catch up to it by the last page, so we'll have to wait at least a month to get a look at this monster.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #11 (DC) This issue of the Wonder Woman anthology series features a single 30-page story by writer Josh Elder, pencil artist Jamal Igle and inker Juan Castro. Entitled "Vendetta," it involves Wonder Woman's efforts to put a stop to a brutal civil war in a fictional African country, both by suiting up (in a pretty cool-looking original costume that blends the basics of her classic costume with some Bronze Age battlefield accessories) and fighting the fighters, and trying to mediate a meeting between the leaders of the two factions. She's basically serving a role akin to the blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeeping forces that are also on the ground.

It's a pretty basic Wonder Woman story then, one that tackles her confused "fighting for peace" mission head-on, and makes a decent attempt at making sense out of it (she still strikes me as a little too kill-happy when she's fighting lizard men, even if she's lecturing them about how they shouldn't mistake her desire to avoid vioence for the inability to deal it while stabbing the hell out of them). She gets a more easily punch-able threat in the form of Ares, who Igle draws in George Perez's design, who answers the prayers for war he heard emanating from the country, and marches on Wonder Woman and the U.N. with an army of lisping lizard people.

In terms of continuity, or era of Wonder Woman history, this is set quite squarely in the George Perez era...although I guess it could also work in the Greg Rucka era, too. It's a pretty straighforward superhero story, although one quite specific to Wonder Woman's milieu and her unique-ish place among corporate superheroes, and I thought there were a few cool moments, like Steve Trevor ordering a missile strike on Wonder Woman to save her from a horde of lizard men ("She can take the hit--they can't"), or her mention of mutual submission as a foundation for an enduring relationship. That last bit seems straight out of William Moulton Marston's philosophy for the character–and hey, it's nice to read a script by someone who seems at least as familiar with the "real" Wonder Woman of Marston's creation and comics as the dark, alternate future version from Kingdom Come–although Elder lists submission as one element of a lasting realtionship, part of Wonder Woman's last-page, peace treaty-sealing efforts (Compromise and willingness to forgive being the other two elements).

It's far from the most fun comic in Sensation so far, but it's definitely one of the better ones, and maybe the best of the straight stories.

The cover, by Stephane Roux, is no damn good. I'm not entirely sure why DC didn't just commission Igle and Castro to draw a cover of their Wonder Woman in her costume fighting Ares or something, unless DC just has a ton of generic Wonder Woman art in a file somewhere that they've already paid for and have to use somewhere. I'm not entirely sure if Roux's sleepy-eyed Wonder Woman on the cover has just released a dove from her hand, or if she's about to snatch it from mid-air in her hand.

SpongeBob Comics Annual-Size Super-Giant Swimtacular #3 (United Plankton Pictures) The theme for this year's Swimtacular, as revealed by both the cover image and blurb, are futuristic science-fiction-esque stories starring our porous protagonist. There's a fine framing device by writer Derek Drymon and artist Ramona Fradon, which takes us behind the scenes of SpongeBob Comics' creation on a pirate ship, run by Captain Pencils The Pirate. Between scenes of Pencils, we get five stories, by the usual impressive line-up of comics creators, some of the best in the business: Kaz and Raul The Third (presenting the most alt-comixy looking comic in the comic book), Drymon and Jacob Chabot (who usually do the most "straight" take on SpongeBob, but here look to Soviet Era propaganda art for inspiration to a visually stunning, conformist dystopia), James Kochalka, Drymon and Hilary Barta (a Mermaid Man tale so obvious I figured out the twist in panel 5, not to brag or anything; but hey! Hilary Barta art!) and Jay Lender.

All in all, this summer's Swimtacular is spectacular.

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #7 (IDW) Oh man, I barely have words to describe this series. This is easily the best issue of the series so far, no easy feat, given how awesome the previous seven were (it began with #0; I do know how to count). It's highly reminiscent of the two-part "There's No Place Like Springfield" episode of the original G.I. Joe cartoon where Shipwreck finds himself having his head severely fucked with, to the point he believes he's just a run-of-the-mill guy with a cool beard, and that his adventures with G.I. Joe never happened (That was some weird-ass, extremely upsetting shit to lay on a grade-schooler, let me tell you).

Here it's Scarlet, I mean, "Shanna," who is being treated by a doctor who looks an awful lot like Dr. Mindbender to deal with her strange delusions regarding being a member of the G.I. Joe team embroiled in a battle with giant, alien robots...apparently, she believes the toys, cartoons and comics are real, and she's a part of them.

She gradually fights her way out of Mindbender's mindfuck, helping rescue the other similarly mind-wiped Joes, and they fight their way out of Springfield–but not before Scarlet slits the throat of her fake husband, maybe kills her kids (it's implied she does in a rather shocking two-page sequence, although a few pages later we find out they were actually just robots, and not really alive), kills Dr. Mindbender (in a fantastic sequence that includes both a lovely homage and subtle diss of one of the most famous Mindbender scenes from the cartoon), and has an awesome battle with herself.

There is so much cool stuff in this issue, I could just sit here and say, "Hey, did you see when that happened? Wasn't it awesome? How about that thing in the next panel? That was awesome, wasn't it?" But that would probably get boring fast.

This comic book though, Jesus. There are times–like, all the times–that I can't believe Hasbro and IDW let Tom Scioli and John Barber get away with the stuff they get away with here, and it has such a profound impact on how I see other comics. Like, as good as Ghostbusters: Get Real #1 might have been, for what it was, it seemed lazy, uninspired and pointless compared to the sheer volcanic insanity of this book from the same publisher.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Marvel's September previews reviewed

Secret Wars tie-ins will still dominate Marvel's comics this September, based on their solicitations, but the end appears to be in sight, as the seventh issue of the eight-issue series is solicited, and many of the many, many tie-ins seems to be concluding. The next month or two (That is, October and November) should be particularly interesting, as that's when Marvel will start rolling out the new titles of their new status quo.

Worth noting in this round of solicitations are a new round of "True Believers" (Marvel's name for $1 reprints of important first issues/advertisements for trades), featuring their female characters (including Princess Leaia) and the fact that they'll be ramping up Star Wars output and publishing their first official, direct tie-ins to the new movie that opens this winter (with Greg Rucka tapped to be the first writer to write about the post-Return of the Jedi era in the new continuity/canon/whatever).

For the full solicitations, you can as always click here; for my "commentary" you can stay right where you are. Just maybe scroll down a little, and continue to do so as you read.

You know how it works.

Unleash your inner colorist on page after page of Ultron! The Avengers' deadliest foe is back like never before — in glorious black and white! The Adamantium menace has ravaged Earth and imposed his ruthless robotic rule. Only a few of Earth's Mightiest Heroes are left standing as they mount a desperate bid to save the day. And it's up to you to put the hue into humanity's last hope! The most exciting pages of Age of Ultron — featuring the incredible line art of Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco and more — are assembled here, just waiting for you to decorate with pens, pencils and crayons. Spent your life waiting for a pink Ultron or a purple Hulk? Then feel free to paint the (destroyed) town red! Just be sure to stay within the lines...or perish!
72 PGS./All Ages ...$7.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9524-5

The mind reels. I had a friend who once expressed a desire to purchase all of the Essential Fantastic Four volumes and color his way through those with colored pencils, so I know there's at least one person who has thought about doing something similar, although if you really want to color Marvel superheroes, I'd bet you $8 you can find some cheaper coloring books than this.

I wonder why they credit the pencil artists, but not the writer or writers....surely the words are still in there, right?

I also wonder why they didn't alter the cover, so rather than Hawkeye holding a bow and arrow in the reflection in Ultron's forehead on the cover, he's holding a crayon.

• The EXPLOSIVE finale to the first adventure of Marvel's mightiest team of Avengers: A-FORCE!
• Though She-Hulk and her team have unmasked the traitor in their midst, the villain won't rest until their utopian island is RAZED.
• As the horrors of Battleworld bear down on Arcadia, what sacrifices will the members of A-Force make to save their home...and each other?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

The more I learn about A-Force, the more fascinated I become with the Jill Lepore reaction to the first issue, and G. Willow Wilson's reaction to Lepore's reaction. One thing Wilson argued (illogically, I think) is that Lepore really needs to read the whole thing to be able to properly comment on the comic (which is kind of bullshit, on account of the fact that the publisher considers each issue discreet units to be sold and read in that manner). I can't imagine Lepore's opinion would have been that much different if she did read all the way to the end, as it's hard to imagine watching the Marvel super-ladies fight flesh-eating zombie versions of Marvel heroes somehow transforms the comic in a way that transcends all of her criticisms of it (valid and invalid).

While I write for a couple of fairly well-read websites devoted to covering comics, I am not in charge of any of them. If I were, I think I would have tried my damnedest to convince Lepore to review each issue of A-Forces for one of those sites...

FABIAN NICIEZA (w) • Iban Coello (a)
• The philosophy of Apocalypse has always been "let the fittest survive," but by its ultimate extension, that would only leave one person standing! As mutants fall from the shocking release of a devastating plague, who will live and who will die? And if Apocalypse falls, who will rule in his place...?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

As hilarious as this cover is, it occurs to me that it's exactly what the cover to an Age of Apocalypse comic book should look like, isn't it?

• From his re-awakening in the present day to his days on the battlefield during World War II, follow CAPTAIN AMERICA as he recalls a special mission during THE BIG ONE!
• It's 1941 and the HOWLING COMMANDOS are just looking to kick back and relax...
• But CAP and BUCKY are about to make their night a whole lot worse!
• The EISNER AWARD-WINNING team of JEPH LOEB and TIM SALE reunite to tell a shocking story of CAPTAIN AMERICA AND BUCKY!
• Extra-sized issue featuring CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE #0
64 PGS./Rated T+ ...$4.99
• CAPTAIN AMERICA AND BUCKY are ready to lead the HOWLING COMMANDOS, but are the HOWLING COMMANDOS ready to follow?
• Things go from bad to worse and only Bucky can save the day!
• Will a shocking appearance from an old ally turn the tide of battle?
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99

Hey, I remember this series! Announced a billion years ago, sometime after Loeb and Sale's second year-long Batman series and their Superman For All Seasons, it was to be part of their "color" series for Marvel. I read Spider-Man: Blue and rather hated it, and then read Hulk: Gray and Daredevil: Yellow sometime later in trade. I recall liking Gray okay, but man, I can't recall anything at all about Yellow. So I guess it wasn't terribly memorable...?

At any rate, the best part of each was seeing Tim Sale draw stuff, and I imagine this series will give him another opportunity to do just that. I mean, I want to see Tim Sales Dum Dum Duggan, so I imagine everyone else on earth must too, right?

I wonder how the Loeb/Sale Marvel comics sell, in general. Their two big Batman series–The Long Halloween and Dark Victory–seem to have become evergreens, if not modern classics, and I rarely see a comic shop or book store that sells superhero collections that doesn't have at least those two books in it (if not their other handful of collections featuring their work on DC characters).

On the other hand, I don't think I've ever seen collections of Blue, Gray and Yellow out in the wild. Does that have something to do with their Marvel work not being as well received as their DC work, with Batman being more popular than those other guys, or the holiday theme a grabbier one than the random color theme of the Marvel minis, or is it merely a matter of Marvel's trade program being so goddam awful compared to DC's...?

Anyway: Captain America: White is finally coming out.

I'm not so sure it should be coming out at the same time that Marvel has a black man in the role of Captain America, but no one asked my advice...

Just out of curiosity, did the female Ghost Rider on the far left of this cover, the one with the mask covering just her nose and face, pre-date Mad Max: Fury Road...? Because her mask looks a lot like that worn by the main bad guy in the movie.

Oscar Greenberg is not your typical vampire. He doesn't drink human blood, for one. He's a successful author — albeit prone to writer's block. And he's a good son, who's kept his secret from his dear old Mama. Oscar's also very much in love with Denise, the vamp who turned him. Their happily ever after might actually last forever — unless someone comes between them. Someone like Arthur Keaton: Vampire Hunter, who also happens to be Denise's brother! Then there's the demonic Lilith, who's long had designs on Oscar. She'll go to great lengths to seduce him, in a bid to usher the world into a new age of wanton lust. Can true love conquer all, even for the undead? Rediscover a forgotten tale of fangs, family and infatuation! Collecting MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #20 and material from BIZARRE ADVENTURES #29.
104 PGS./Mature ...$15.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9791-1

I have never heard of this character. Which seems weird, given how often even the smallest character to ever appear in a Marvel comic book resurfaces somewhere or other now and then.

ISSUE #1 – Variant cover by JOE QUESADA
Variant cover by SIMONE BIANCHI
• Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham's Age of Miracles begins!
• Two years have passed since the decimation of London. Miracleman presides over mankind's Golden Age from atop Olympus. Pilgrims climb its miles-high peak to petition their new god. Each carries hopes that are pure. The motives they conceal, however...
• Miracleman explores Infraspace in the opening chapter of "Retrieval," but just what, or who, is he looking for?
• Including material originally presented in MIRACLEMAN (1985) #17, plus bonus content.
48 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$4.99
• John Gallaway rejected Miracleman's new world, rejected companionship, rejected love — until the night Miraclewoman visited him...
• The schoolyard rebels strut their stuff and debate the teenage idol of The Golden Age, Johnny Bates, in "Trends."
• Miracleman explores deeper into Infra-Space in "Retrieval."
• Including material originally presented in MIRACLEMAN (1985) #18, plus bonus content.
48 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$4.99

I was going to ask if this was the start of "new" material or not, but now that I read the solicitations' bullet points a little closer I see that these are indeed still reprints of old comics, with price-jacking-up "bonus" content.

I am curious about the re-numbering. Did the original comics and/or original reprints renumber at this point, or is Marvel simply taking advantage of Neil Gaiman's name to help sell some of these comics, and/or taking advantage of the fact that now they can name the writer who wrote them?

Howling variant by GIUSEPPE CAMUNCOLI
• The battle royale between Shiklah and Dracula for the Monster Metropolis...
• Oh, and did we mention that Deadpool's ghost is in this series?
• Because he is.
• Like...since issue 1.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

If I had married Deadpool, I"m pretty sure I would have kept my maiden name, since–woah, woah woah. Is that a werewolf with a Venom symbiote? Do the Eisner judges know about this comic yet...?

• Horror icons THE SOSKA SISTERS make their mighty Marvel debut in a twisted tale of demonic disease! Fortunately for the savaged citizens of the Wasteland, NIGHT NURSE is on duty!
• Audacious AARON ALEXOVICH also enters the hallowed House of Ideas with a superlative story of Doom's PR and Outreach robot extraordinaire, MILL-E: THE MODEL CITIZEN!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Night Nurse and a robot Millie the Model, in the same comic? Sign me--er, nevermind. I'll wait for the trade.

"Icons" is a pretty srong word for The Soska Sisters at this early point in their career, but that's certainly a good "get" for Marvel. Don't care for that particular Night Nurse design–I like the one from Dr. Strange: The Oath the best, although I'd add a litle black domino mask–but it's Secret Wars, so it hardly matters what anyone looks like. Designs, like everything else regarding the temporary status quo, seem like they should be subject to change.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #10
• Howard the Duck side by side with SHIELD! Why a duck? Because Coulson knows a secret about Howard that could save the multiverse!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Well, here's a pretty good test of how "gray" the audience for some Marvel comic books may be: Raise your hand if you're familiar with the gag referenced in the second sentence. (I can't tell you how disappointed I am that I couldn't find a clip of that scene on YouTube, and that I only own The Cocoanuts, one of my three favorite Marx Brothers movies, on VHS).

ULTIMATE END #5 (of 5)
• 2000 – 2015
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Oh hey, why is Miles Morales looking back at the reader on the cover of this issue? It's almost as if he will have a different fate than everyone else in the Ultimate Universe but what could that possible be I have no idea?!

Okay, the real reason I posted that image? I wanted to ask who the tall guy with the cape was.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

DC's September previews reviewed

The theme for DC's variant covers this month is Green Lantern, in honor of Martin Nodell's character's 75th anniversary (The original, Alan Scott iteration of the character first appeared in All-American Comics #16 in 1940). So as they've previously done with Batman, The Joker and The Flash, there are variant covers guest-starring Green Lantern throughout the publisher's line in September. Noticeably, the vast majority of the Green Lanterns appearing on the variant are the Hal Jordan version of the character (created in 1959); I only spotted two appearances of Scott (one of which is the variant for Green Lantern #44 by Howard Chaykin, above), and no appearances of the other major Earth Green Lanterns from throughout the past 75 years (Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner and Simon Baz...the latter of whom I haven't seen anywhere in a long time now).

Something else to look for this month are the price tags and page-counts on the books. DC is apparently joining the Marvel bandwagon in an attempt to drive more and more people out of the serially-published comic book market and into trades, as more and more titles reach the $3.99/22-page price point.

They do still have quite a few $2.99 comics, and these tend to be their new ones or newer ones, and comics without the built-in, guaranteed audiences of Batman or Justice League comics (Marvel similarly started out with just their biggest books at $3.99, like the various Avengers books of the time), so it looks like DC is actually incentivzing trying their new series out. That seems pretty smart on their part, although it's well worth noting that if you're a Batman fan who's spending an extra $3 a month on Batman, Detective Comics and Batman/Superman, you're not going to have the $3 you'd need to try out We Are...RObin or Robin: Son of Batman...let alone Dr. Fate.

That said, DC does seem more committed to reasonably priced comics than their major rival, as Marvel is down to just three $2.99 comics, only one of which is part of their main superhero universe (Ms. Marvel).

Still, the way in which DC rolled out the increased price points seems pretty sneaky; they took two months off for Convergence, the tie-ins for which were priced at $3.99 but did offer extras in an attempt at compensation (those unintelligibly scrambled wikipedia entries in the backs of month one's offerings, and then the eight-page preludes to their post-Convergence comics in their month two books), and when the "regular" books all returned, most of them had the new, inflated price points.

The Twix ads further masked the change, as it spread a single page of comics content over two pages, so that the books all looked at least a page longer than they were.

Fie. Fie I say to $3.99 comics!

At any rate, you can see the solicitations for all of the comics and suchlike that DC plans to publish in September here, and you can read my blathering about many of them by staying right where you are.

Okay, I give up. Why does Superman have a red force-field akin to the Green Lantern Corps' green forcefields on Neil Edwards' GL variant cover for Action Comics? I don't see a Red Lantern ring on his finger, and if he was wearing one, he'd also be vomiting blood while he flew, right?

Francis Manapul's GL variant cover for this month's issue of Aquaman is pretty dope.

BATMAN ‘66 #27
Written by JEFF PARKER
On sale SEPTEMBER 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST
Riddle me this: What kind of ring isn’t round? A wrestling ring, of course. This issue, Batman finds himself in the middle of a rigged contest. The Caped Crusader pursues The Riddler south of the border and encounters half of a terrifying tag team: the masked menace known only as Bane! All this, and Batgirl too!

We've seen more and more Batman comics characters being introduced into the Batman '66-iverse, with Clayface and Solomon Grundy appearing in the last issue published, but I honestly didn't expect to see Bane, who isn't a very Silver Age character, like, at all. Allred sells it on his cover though, and I'm looking forward to seeing if and how Jeff Parker and Scott Koawalchuk pull of Bane '66.

On sale OCTOBER 7 • 296 pg, FC, $19.99 US
In BLACK CANARY/ORACLE: BIRDS OF PREY #1, BIRDS OF PREY: REVOLUTION #1, BIRDS OF PREY: MANHUNT #1-4, BIRDS OF PREY: WOLVES #1, BIRDS OF PREY: BATGIRL #1 and SHOWCASE ‘96 #3, Oracle must help Catwoman take down a Catwoman impersonator, Black Canary invades Santa Prisca to stop a slavery ring, and Black Canary pursues a felon with secrets that could be deadly, and more.

At almost 300-pages for $20, this seems like a hell of a deal, and these are comics that I think a lot of people would have liked to read in trade form for a very long time, but have been sadly unavailable. Gail Simone's run of BOP, and those of the writers who followed her on the series, have long been available in trade, but the original adventures of the character? Not so much.

By the way, if you only know Greg Land from his Marvel work, don't let his name as one of the four named artists scare you away from this book; this was back when Land was drawing, really drawing, his comics. I can't remember how good his work was now, but I know it didn't look anything at all like the weird, stiff, airbrushed-over magazine photos thing he's been doing for...God, a decade now? Longer?

Art and cover by GUSTAVE DUARTE
On sale SEPTEMBER 2 • 32 pg, FC, 4 of 6, $2.99 US • RATED E
Cigam! Look out Zatanna—you’re about to meet your match in backwards magic spells when Bizarro and Jimmy break up your act in Branson, Missouri!

Backwards Superman Bizarro and backwards-dialogue speaking Zatanna are such a perfect compliment to one another–I know I've previously coupled the pair together when talking about characters that are perfect for the comics medium that don't operate as well outside of their home environment–that pairing them seems obvious. That said, I don't think I've ever seen them in the same story together before, interacting with one another, and while I've noticed the similarity of their relationship to appearing in printed comics, I've never thought of pairing them before either. So good job, Heath Corson!

Written by GREG PAK
On sale SEPTEMBER 9 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
The epic “Truth” arc reaches its finale as Superman discovers the true fate of Batman and makes a fateful decision.

You know the number one problem with DC Comics at the moment? Dave Bullock doesn't have an ongoing monthly, and thus there isn't more Dave Bullock art on a more regular bases.

I wonder what the "fateful decision" regarding the "true fate of Batman" will be? Maybe Superman will move into the Batcave, done Batman's costume and become the new Batman...?

Cover by ANNIE WU
On sale SEPTEMBER 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Guest artist Pia Guerra (Y: THE LAST MAN) joins the series! Dinah is on the hunt for her kidnapped guitarist, Ditto, and when she finds the person responsible, you better believe she’ll make them pay! Also: Uncover the secret of the band’s former singer, and how she plans to exact revenge on them for kicking her out!

Fuck yeah, Pia Guerra! This is one of those comics where I don't really want to see people other than the regular artist drawing it...until they announce a fill-in artist, and it turns out to be someone totally awesome, like Pia Guerra.

As for regular artist Annie Wu, I like the way she draws Black Canary's "costume," so that she's always wearing her signature fishnets and black, but various versions of the familiar outfit. Also, the mic stand as weapon? Awesome.

Cute idea for a Catwoman GL variant. It would be cuter still if all of the cats had GL rings on their tales and were flying around in adorable little Green Lantern uniforms with little green masks on, but it's not bad.

Cliff Chiang's GL variant cover features a "First Appearance" Batman teaming up with the original Green Lantern, now with buttons! As with many of these variants, and the variants DC publishes in general, the stories suggested by them seem a lot more interesting than what's underneath them (Here, for example, the story is about The Joker's Daughter in conflict against the new Batman, Bullock and Montoya).

Things That Should Not Be: Jay Garrick with a faux-hawk. Oh, and I guess he's drinking awfully heavily for Jay Garrick, but still, that's nothing compared to the faux pas of his faux-hawk...

Written by TOM KING and TIM SEELEY
On sale SEPTEMBER 30 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
When Dick comes home to find that the Batman he knew is gone, he seeks out his mentor, Superman. But both friends have changed since they last met. Can they find common ground and team up to stop Blockbuster’s plans for Spyral?

Interesting that the solicit here refers to Superman as Dick's "mentor;" given how short a time New 52 Dick spent as Robin, and how short the time between the beginning of Superman's career and today (about six years), it would seem as if Dick lost the relationship he had with Superman in past continuities.

I've always liked the implication of young Dick Grayson seeing Superman as sort of a cool uncle, and the fact that he eventually grew up to be peers with Superman, after he became Nightwing (a name suggested by Superman) and worked with the Titans more than Batman.

No idea what's going on in this GL variant for Green Arrow, except for the fact that it was drawn by Neal Adams, which, well, maybe that explains what's happening–it was drawn by post-Odyssey Neal Adams.

Both of the Harley Quinn covers, Amanda Conner's featuring Harley's renovation to the Hollywood sign and Dan Panosian's riff on the old yellow weakness, have pretty decent gags to them.

Speaking of Harley Quinn covers, Neil Googe draws the Basically Just Lingerie version of her costume that she wears in the pages of Injustice on the cover of Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Four #10.

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by JASON FABOK
On sale SEPTEMBER 16 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Darkseid versus Anti-Monitor! A corrupted Superman versus Lex Luthor! Myrina Black versus Grail! This chapter of "Darkseid War" has it all—plus an ending that will change the League forever!

What? A corrupted Superman? I don't think anyone's ever thought of that before!

Written by JEFF PARKER
On sale SEPTEMBER 9 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Guest artist Paul Pelletier joins the JLU for a special storyline that sees Stargirl and the team of Steel, Robotman, Batgirl and Vandal Savage enter a war zone that’s at once very familiar and utterly weird. Plus: the long awaited return of a legendary DC Comics hero.

I like that creative team, and I like almost all of those characters named–with Stargirl being the only one I don't care much for, at least in this iteration of the DCU–but this sounds a lot like a comic I would have loved to read in the old DC Universe, but not so much the new. Like, I loved the original Steel, but haven't yet warmed to this new, cape-less, history-less version yet.

I wonder who the "legendary DC Comics hero" might be; the cover that appears to feature Swamp Thing, Poison Ivy and a bunch of birds doesn't seem to offer any clues.


It's not Manitou Raven, is it? Because as much as I like that guy, I don't think he counts as "legendary"...

On sale SEPTEMBER 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
What is tying four individuals around the world to the ghost of J’onn J’onzz? And will they find out before they’re torn to pieces by the unstoppable Martian Maneater?!

Hey, has no one ever thought to use "Martian Maneater" before...? If not, that seems like a glaring oversight, and I'm glad Rob Williams has corrected it.

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
On sale SEPTEMBER 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E
An urgent cry for help sends Scooby and the gang rushing to Gotham City—but the call was made by Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy! They stole an ancient relic, and now they’re sure it was cursed. Our heroes have to join Harley and Ivy to get to the bottom of the mystery—and, with a little help from Batgirl, they just might capture the villains, too!

If this isn't a testament to Harley's current popularity, I don't know what is: She's guest-starring in a Scooby-Doo comic! It looks like this will be the Batman: The Animated Series version of the character, particularly given Poison Ivy's costume on the cover. That makes sense. This one could be a particularly weird issue of SDTU, but there are few creative teams with as kick-ass a track record as Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela on this title, so I'm assuming it's going to turn out pretty okay.

Hey, it's Joe Quinones! I like his art quite a bit. This is his GL variant cover for Superman/Wonder Woman, as you probably guessed by the fact that it has GL, Superman and Wnder Woman on it. I don't like the glowing, ropey-looking energy emanating from Hal's ring, as it sort of muddles things given how much it looks like Wondy's lasso, but the overall concept is good, the drawing is nice and Wonder Woman especially looks good.

I guess we can add Mike McKone's name to the list of artists who can't help the New 52 Teen Titans look cool. Raven? Red Robin? I'm afraid there's just no hope for you guys–change clothes, already!

I'm not that crazy about the execution, but that's kind of a cute idea for an image pairing Wonder Woman with the superhero-whose-secret identity-is-a-pilot.