Thursday, December 14, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: December 13th

Detective Comics #970 (DC Comics) One thing about the bi-weekly shipping schedule of a lot of DC comics? Even when you drop a book, there's a good chance your local retailer has already ordered you the next one, so you may have to buy one more issue after you drop it. So I guess this is my last issue of Detective for a while. Although since writer James Tynion's run does seem to be reaching a climax, I suppose it's only going to be a few months before the next writer is announced. I will bet you five dollars it's going to be Brian Michael Bendis.

In this issue, Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown have a fight, Tim Drake seems to know that Lonnie Manchin is Anarky for some reason, even though he didn't appear until after Tim was dead, Batwoman, Batwoman, Azrael and Batwing fight some naked robot people, Clayface has a heart-to-heart with Doctor October, and Batwoman's dad gives her some stitches. So the plotlines all take a step or two forward.

Joe Bennett pencils while three different people ink; the art didn't looks so great this issue. Sometimes I like Bennett's work and sometimes I don't; I think a lot of it depends on the inking and coloring. This book is so over-colored, with lots of effects, and there is so much dialogue crowding out the art, that it was overall kind of a messy-looking book.

Guillem March draws the cover though. I like that Guillem March guy a lot. I wish he was handling the interior art here.

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1--Into The Twilight (Marvel Entertainment) It's been about ten years since Marvel performed a franchise-specific reboot on their flagship character in "One More Day," cosmically disentangling Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson because, as then-Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada had argued, a single Peter Parker provided many more interesting story possibilities than a married one.

This collection of the first six issues of the latest volume of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man included the first instances of a high-quality scene that could not have been published in-continuity if Peter and MJ were married. At one point early on, Spider-Man rescues an aspiring comedian who has just moved to the city, and she asks him out, throwing her business card at him and then being surprised that it bounces off and falls--she assumed that since he could crawl on walls, he was always sticky. Later, they go on a date, and Spider-Man arrives in costume, with a blazer; it doesn't go well for him, but it is an all-around pretty funny scene. So I guess it took a decade, but Quesada was proven right!

Thanks go to writer Chip Zdarksy, whose presence on the title is the main reason I picked it up at the shop today, rather than waiting a few weeks for the trade to appear at my local library. This might make me the only person, save perhaps a few of Zdarsky's friends and relatives, to pick up a new Spider-Man comic for him rather than Spider-Man or artist Adam Kubert. What can I say; I really liked Zdarsky's run on Jughead, and I was quite curious to see how he would handle the Spider-Man character in his own book, after seeing his use of Spidey in the excellent Howard The Duck (almost every scene featuring the character ended with Spider-Man on his knees, weeping about the death of Uncle Ben).

And it's not like I have anything against Spider-Man or his comics. The reboot was pretty dang alienating back then, and then Marvel jacked up their prices and their shipping schedule, and God-only-knows how many times they've relaunched Amazing Spider-Man. The not-very-helpful "Follow The Adventures Of..." reading order guide for The Amazing Spider-Man that runs on the front and back covers of this particular volume includes ten books, four volumes of Amazing Spider-Man, numbered 1-4, and then six volumes of Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide, numbered 1-6. Interestingly, Zdarsky features a lot of call-backs to past Spider-Man and other stories, many of them in the form of little jokes (like an asterisk leading to an editorial box saying to "Check out Infamous Iron Man! Unless it eats into your Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man budget!).

The stories that seem to most inform this one, however, are even older, like the 2014 original graphic novel Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business, which is apparently about Peter Parker's super-spy parents. One need not be familiar with them to follow/enjoy the book of course--I wasn't!--and even these allow for jokes (says Johnny Storm, "'I'm Spider-Man! I'm the relatable super hero with relatable problems! Just ask my long-lost sister from my super-spy parents with Nazi G--'").

Jokes are actually what the book is all about, which is a good thing, because I have found that the very best Marvel comics of the last few years have been the funny ones, and Spider-Man is on the few A-List heroes at the publisher who works perfectly well with a more comedic take, as he of course believes himself to be something of a comedian, and is notorious among his peers for his bad jokes (Zdarsky even includes a two-page scene in which Spidey takes the stage at a comedy club, and bombs). Introducing a potential love interest who is a stand-up comedian and heavily involving Spidey's BFF Johnny Storm actually helps quite a bit; Zdarsky doesn't have to stretch to include jokes in this thing...the vast bulk of the gags are organic to the characters and the dialogue.

The format is a little unwieldy, and doesn't read that great in trade at the beginning, because of some publishing decisions for the single issues that don't quite translate to the trade collection format. It opens with a ten-page short story from Free Comic Book Day 2017 (Secret Empire) #1, by Zdarsky and not-regular artist Paulo Siqueira (and a surprising three other inkers, in addition to Siqueria himself). That features The Vulture, probably because there was a movie featuring Spider-Man and the Vulture released around the same time.

Then the first six issues of PP:TSS start, but the first of those was apparently over-sized, so there's a short eight-page story tacked-on between the Kubert-drawn chapters in #1 and #2; that short is well-drawn by Goran Parlov and features Black Widow attacking the hell out of Spidey as a favor to some SHIELD types, but interrupts the flow of the story. From there though, it's smooth sailing--although Kubert is replaced on the sixth issue by Michael Walsh.

Kubert does pretty good here, even though he's probably not the ideal artist for this particular take on Spider-Man.

The storyline involves a brewing conflict between tech guy to the villains, The Tinkerer and his brother, tech guy to the heroes The Mason, plus some cell phone mystery and, complicating all of that, the sudden appearance of Peter's fake sister, an rogue agent from a black ops, off-the-books SHIELD faction who stole a bunch of dangerous info by injecting the data into her bloodstream--she's now on the run from pretty much everyone in the world.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man tries might start dating, and Aunt May almost says "casual sex" out loud. The aforementioned Human Torch guest-stars, and there are also appearances by Ironheart, Ant-Man, Kingpin and Karnak, plus some regular Spider-Man supporting characters, the most notable of which is probably J. Jonah Jameson. JJJ gets a whole issue, as Spider-Man agrees to sit down for a one-hour interview with the newspaperman-turned-blogger in exchange for some info. It's a surprisingly emotional and momentous issue, with a real milestone in the two characters' relationship.

I'd highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Sandwich Anarchy

If you're a regular reader of Every Day Is Like Wednesday, then chances are you are familiar with Cleveland-based artist John G. from one of two places. He is the co-creator of the self-published horror anthology series The Lake Erie Monster, with Jake Kelly. He is also the co-founder of Genghis Con, Cleveland's annual small press and underground comics convention (which also happens to have the best name of any comics convention in the world).

If you live in Ohio, though, then chances are you're most familiar with John G. from his gig as the poster artist for Melt Bar & Grilled, the grilled cheese joint that started in Lakewood in 2006 and has since expanded to 14 locations. John was a prolific artist who regularly created posters for bands playing in Cleveland, generally taking a Derek Hess-like approach and crafting an image evoked by the names or sounds of the bands. Around 2008, he did his first Melt-related art for local alt-weekly Scene Magazine, which brought him to the attention of Melt's Matt Fish. That lead to a rather unusual collaboration, in which John would be responsible for drawing a poster for the monthly sandwich specials.

Years later, that added up to a lot of posters, and Sandwich Anarchy: The Cult Culinary Posters of Melt Bar & Grilled (1984 Publishing) collects them into an art book as unusual as John's work and the Melt menu.

The basic approach for his posters has always been gig posters for sandwiches, and the elaborate construction of Melt's various special sandwiches and their clever names provide plenty of opportunities for an artist like John to riff off of. Take, for example, The New Bomb Turkey, a sandwich named in honor of Columbus punk band The New Bomb Turks. It's ingredients? Smoked turkey breast, "mom's homemade sage stuffing," roasted butternut squash puree, sweet cranberry dipping sauce and muenster cheese. It's basically Thanksgiving dinner, stuffed inside a grilled cheese sandwich.

Because that is a popular sandwich and is featured every November, John had to come up with new posters for it regularly, and most of these riff on turkeys or Thanksgiving in some way (a hand turkey, turkeys in Browns and Steelers uniforms playing football), although a few feature both turkeys and bombs (a member of the Melt bomb squad cautiously approaching a turkey all wired up with a detonator, a mushroom cloud in the form of a turkey).

Or there's General Tso's Delicious Manchu Dynasty Melt. The Chicken and Waffles Melt. The Rocktobernator. The Voodoo Zombie Jerk Chicken Melt. The Flying Falafel Melt. And so on.

Each poster contains all of the necessary information--the name, the ingredients, the locations and the dates--but at the center of each is John's imagery, typically working in a foregrounded drawing of the sandwich and a visual that has fun with the name, while John's own interests are often present, including the championing of a Rust Belt, Cleveland aesthetic and love of music and music culture.

Part of the fun of the collection is seeing all of John's posters at once, which allows one to see the recurring characters and attendant dramas that he fills them with. The Hungry Hungarian Melt features an anthropomorphic polar bear in the winter time, his family steadily growing from poster to poster. The Melt Pig Roast features a wolf man with an eye patch engaged in various conflicts with pigs. The Prime Time Prime Rib Melt features an anthropomorphic bull who is also a boxer, usually engaged in a fight with an anthropomorphic chicken, and we get fight posters, a Muhammad Ali homage, an image based on Mike Tyson's Punch Out, a manga-style action shot of a punch being throw, etc.

Because Melt created sandwiches to tie-in to Cleveland Cinema's cult classic late shift events, there are a lot of sandwiches based on movies, and these lead to some fun posters, and fun-sounding sandwiches--even if you couldn't pay me to eat most of them, even the vegan versions. The Gizmo Chicken and Waffles Melt (to go with Gremlins), the A London Style Fish & Chips Melt In America (to go with An American Werewolf in London), The Queen Mother Alien Melt (Aliens) The Lord Humongous Turducken Melt (The Road Warrior) and on and on.
Some of film-inspired sandwiches are on the regular rotation or always on the menu, like The Godfather, The Dude Abides Melt and so on, and there are a few specialty sandwiches meant to coincide with the release of popular films, two of the Star Wars-themed sandwiches having the best names--Vader's Thai Fighter Melt and The Obi Wan Canoli Melt.

Oh, and then there's the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Melt, which naturally has six different forms of bacon (hickory smoked bacon, black pepper crusted slab cut bacon, maple bourbon glazed smoked pork belly, Italian pancetta, herb cream cheese with bacon bits and bacon-infused mayonnaise...with sharp cheddar, lettuce and tomato), and appears in the book at least as many times as The New Bomb Turkey, which means John must continually think of different ways to draw Kevin Bacon, usually using a scene from a movie, and occasionally just riffing on him in weird ways (like the Kevin Bacon-as-Saint Nicholas-for-some-reason poster).

Basically, these pop culture sandwiches allow John G. to draw trolls, Robocop, Eddie Murphy, the cast of Dazed and Confused and others into his art, and they become part of the inky, gritty iconography just as much as the animal-headed people and robots that populate John G.'s world.
Of perhaps special interest to comics readers are his posters for The Firecracker Chicken sandwich, which started with an image of a Captain America-like supehrero with the head of a chicken, and gradually morphed into a "Captain Ohio" (think Captain America, but with the Ohio flag as the basis of his costume instead of the American flag), fighting alongside a Wonder Woman-esque chicken-headed lady against robot fascists with "FF" armbands. The "FF" stands for for "Fast Food."

And, as I've mentioned on the blog before, he's drawn several Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles posters. These were for The TMNT Cowabunga Pizza Roll Melt, which sounds fucking awful (deep-fried pizza rolls, marinara sauce, "green ooze" basil pesto cream cheese, provolone and romano cheeses, with optional pepperoni). Commenting on his first poster, featuring the four turtles, John wrote "It's tough to draw the Ninja Turtles in your own style since they are so iconic," which sounded insane to me, but, well, maybe John hasn't read all that many Turtles comics.

Anyway, I really like his Turtles. I guess he was going for a more realistic version of the movie turtles--the first poster coincided with a showing of the original live-action film--but in general his ink-heavy artwork and various washes actually suggests Kevin Eastman's art. John G. Ninja Turtles wouldn't look out of place on an IDW variant cover, really. There are five TMNT images in the book all together: The aforementioned group shot, solo images of Michaelangelo and Donatello, an image featuring their weapons and a pizza design and another group shot that adds The Shredder, Casey Jones and an April in her cartoon yellow jump suit.

The 200-page book features a brief, two-page introduction by John G., and then devotes a page apiece to the posters, each with a sentence or two worth of commentary below, in which John G. talks about some aspect of the work, from inspiration to reception to a detail that might not be immediately obvious. At the end of the book, there are two pages on process, and then a nine-page chronology, showing all of the posters in order of their release in postage stamp-sized images, 30-ish to a page. These include all of those featured in the previous pages, plus 50 others.

It's definitely worth a look, although fair warning--chances are you're going to want to visit a Melt after reading.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: December 6th

Archie #26 (Archie Comics) I can't tell you how glad I am that the sitcom-like complication of one character overhearing part of a conversation and jumping to a melodramatic conclusion has resolved within the space of an issue, as that is a trope I have little patience for. Better still, not only does writer Mark Waid abandon it after using it for a cliffhanger and one fairly dramatic encounter at the Pop's, but he uses it to allow for the next cliffhanging conflict. Veronica and Archie realize that the fact that the misunderstanding happened at all means there must be a grain of something to it in their hearts, and she forces him to choose between herself and Betty: "You need to decide right now which of us you truly love."

It's a pretty ironic moment, and rather telling in just how different the new Riverdale comics are compared to the old. The fact that Archie can never truly choose between Betty or Veronica, and that the pair continue to fight over him anyway, has been a fact of life in Archie Comics for about as long as there have been Archie Comics. Hell, I noticed that the cover of Betty and Veronica Friends Winter Annual #257, which Good Comics For Kids just previewed, makes a gag of that fact on the cover. (Do you guys check in with GC4K regularly-ish? I don't update this blog as daily-ish as I used to, but that's the other major source for Caleb-writing-about-comics these days).

Meanwhile, to make for a parallel cliffhanger, Dilton decides to let Betty know exactly how he feels about her, in a perhaps too forceful kind of way:
I can't go on this unsure. Buddy or boyfriend? Exactly what am I to you? Choose.
Jeez, Dilton. Like she doesn't have enough going on at the moment.

Audrey Mok is still drawing. While I think Derek Charm is still my favorite of all the artists to have drawn any of the new Riverdale comics, Mok is up there, and probably one of the better, if not the best, to have drawn the main Archie title.

Batman #36 (DC Comics) Hey, how about those new corner boxes on the DC's covers? I'm not too crazy about the lowest tier, where the symbols are--here, it's a bat-symbol, apparently to let readers know that Batman is a Batman comic--but I do like the overall design. I see the ones that are DCU comics are branded "DC Universe," while others--like Bombshells United, below--are "DC Comics." This reminds me a little of Grant Morrison's discussed plan for the post-52 Multiverse, where different books would be set on different Earths and noted as such on the covers, but that never actually came to be.

Inside the cover? This is a pretty good example of what is peculiar to writer Tom King's Batman run. It is a very well-written issue, but it is also probably a little too well-written, in that it is overly clever in such a way as to be irritating.

The plot is that Lois Lane wants Superman to call Batman to discuss his recent engagement to Catwoman, but Superman is reluctant to do so for a variety of unconvincing reasons. And besides, he and Lois are both pretty busy working different angles of a major crime. Meanwhile, Catwoman wants Batman to call Superman to discuss their recent engagment, but Batman is reluctant for the same variety of the same unconvincing reasons. And besides, he and Catwoman are both busy working to foil a major crime.

The book is structure to jump back and forth between scenes featuring each couple, and many pages are split right down the middle, with one tier focusing on the Gotham City power couple, the other on the Metropolis power couple.

Like I said, it's all pretty good, but King makes the scenes so parallel that he hammers his point that the World's Finest heroes are much more alike then either would admit, even to himself, with a big cartoon mallet. With blinking lights and strings of bells on it. (For what it's worth, I found King's take on their relationship very 1988 in some respects).

Despite some quibbles--Catwoman having figured out Superman's secret identity seems pretty pre-Flashpoint, especially considering the fact that Clark Kent and Superman co-existed for such a long time in the New 52-iverse--I do like where this is going, with Batman and Superman punching out their respective foes, and then Superman asking everyone if they want to get something to eat.

World's Finest double-date!

I was sorry to see Joelle Jones wasn't drawing this issue. Instead, Clay Mann pencils and inks, with Seth Mann also getting an inking credit. JOrdie Bellaire handles the colors. It is a very nice-looking comic. Mann's designs for the superheroes are pretty evocative of Jim Lee's, but he handles the non-superheroes just as well, if not better, and the inks and colors never over-power the pencil work. It's a very drawn looking book.

Bombshells United #7 (DC) Okay, see how instead of a bat-symbol, this one has a bombshell with a stylized "B" in the space below the number and price? Given that this is the only Bombshells book, that's...not really necessary, is it? It's just a little more space eaten up on the cover. Well, at least there's no dumb text obscuring the art, as there so often is on DC comics (Nightwing before, has the words "Death From Above!" on the cover for some reason).

With this issue, the action have moved to Spain. Writer Marguerite Bennett spends some time recapping Batwoman Kate Kane's history to date, with particular attention to her time fighting in the Spanish Civil War with Renee Montoya, and then setting up their conflict with Spain's new dictator, Black Adam (Not "Adam Negro"...?). Bennett introduces the Religion of Crime into the story, which actually made me groan a little, but that was more so because of the way writer Greg Rucka seemed completely unable to let the idea go during his years at DC. I suppose it makes sense, given the presence of both Batwoman and Montoya, who Rucka had previously involved in battles against the Religion of Crime, but still...

I really liked this version of Black Adam. While his costume is basically just a generic-ish military uniform with a lightning bolt pattern on it, he is gigantic, maybe twice as tall as Batwoman.

Richard Ortiz handles the art, and gets to draw pretty much every character from the previous Bombshells for at least a panel, thanks to all the flashbacks. It's good stuff, but then, this being Bombshells, who knows how long Ortiz will be around, and if he will even get to draw the entirety of this story arc.

A couple of quibbles:

--I was surprised to see Bruce Wayne portrayed as a little kid, as it would make him younger than not only the Bombsehlls-iverse versions of all his peers, male and female a like, but younger even than this universe's versions of his sidekicks, like Barbara Gordon and Tim Drake and Jason Todd and Harper Row and so on. Besides, there is a grown man version of a Bombshell least, there was on a variant cover when DC did a round of Bombshells-themed variant covers

--Ortiz draws a full broke-back pose at one point--page three, panel two--which surprised me, given how solid the artwork is in general.

--I didn't like that Miriam Marvel was referred to as "Shazam" on the radio. I will probably never let go of the fact that "Shazam" has gone from magic word to magic word-and-character name. Perhaps it is a personal failing.

--The execution of the final scene was poor. Batwoman falls into a chasm, and Renee dives in after her as if she were divining into water, not seeking to catch her. Granted, I'm fairly certain there is going to be water or something soft at the bottom of the chasm, as it would be weird to kill them both off that way, but Renee wouldn't know that, and it reads as if she's just committing suicide for no reason at the end.

Classic Monsters of Pre-Code Horror Comics: Mummies (IDW Publishing) If this 128-page collection of horror comics from the 1950s were organized around just about any other major monster group, I likely wouldn't have thought twice about it but, well, there's just something special about mummies. As monsters go, they are iconic, but not ubiquitous in the way that, say, vampires or werewolves or zombies are. Their "also-ran" status is actually something that Steven Thompson talks a bit about in his long-ish prose introduction, which is essentially just a walk-through of mummies in modern pop culture, medium by medium. After a shorter introduction by editor Steve Banes, who makes some interesting comparisons between finding mummy comics in long boxes and opening the tombs of actual mummies, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 short stories, and a handful of shorter-still one-page comics, all originally published between 1949 and 1954. The artists include Mike Sekowsky, Bob Powell and a bunch of other artists whose work I am unfamiliar with (Jay Disbrow, Hward Nostrand, Lin Streeter, Albert Tyler, etc).

While there are plenty of killings throughout, and most of the stories contain at least one shapely young woman, I was actually a little surprised at how tame and gentle the stories were. Having grown-up reading about how scandalous the post-super hero boom, pre-Code crime and horror comics were, I expected a collection of pre-code horror comics to be a lot more exploitative. It's actually kind of hard to imagine these stories frightening or shocking anyone, even in the early 1950s, save, perhaps, archaeologists and Egyptians.

The first story presented, a 1953, Harry Lazarus-drawn story simply entitled "The Mummy," is about a rogue scientist who uses forbidden knowledge to raise a huge, hulking mummy with surprisingly dainty hands to strangle all of his one-time academic rivals. That's a basic pattern that is followed by pretty much all of the stories. Mummies are either brought to life by modern men using sorcery or science or both, or they come to life on their own to kill modern men for messing with their tombs. Occasionally there are some different takes, like cursed objects, but, for the most part, it's mummies running amok for a handful of pages.

Oddly, one story--a 1952 Powell-drawn tale called "The Unburied Mummy"--is repeated beat for beat in a 1954, John Belfi-drawn story called "The Mummy's Curse." Odder than the fact that the later story is pretty clearly a re-telling of the earlier one with a few small changes, like the gender of the killer mummy, is that both get collected in the same book.

As fun as the collection is, I think I might have preferred one that gave a little more historical context to the stories in the form of a paragraph or two, as opposed to the simple notation of the date, artist and the name of the comic they originally appeared in.

Mummies is not a bad way to spend an evening by any means, but, at the same time, it's hardly a must-read.

Nightwing #34 (DC) This is the end of Tim Seeley's run on Nightwing, and he seems to do a pretty fine job of having moved the character forward from where he was at the beginning of the run, and establishing a new status quo--new city, new allies--while also pulling back from the more dramatic changes and moving the major villains he introduced off of the board. There's also a secret or two revealed about Dick Grayson's past or, more precisely, that of his mother. Overall, despite some ups and downs, this was a very solid run on the character and the book, one that was extremely well plotted and restored him to a new version of his most successful status quo (that of Bludhaven's answer to Batman during Chuck Dixon's long run as writer of the Nightwing series).

Sam Humphries takes over next issue. Fingers crossed; this has been the longest I have read Nightwing on a monthly basis, I think.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

On DC New Talent Showcase 2017 #1

Last year DC published DC New Talent Showcase #1, a $7.99, 72-page anthology comic featuring nine eight-page stories by writers from the publisher's new talent development program, each drawn by a more veteran artist who was involved in some aspect of the program. This year, they are publishing their second New Talent Showcase, and, rather than numbering this issue #2, they've added a date to the title, so that they can use the supposedly magical "#1" on the cover to increase the guaranteed-to-be-quite-low sales a little.

Seems appropriate. These new creators should know that superstitious numerology is more important to the Big Two comics publishers than basic math skills.

This installment differs from the first in a few key ways. Most immediately noticeable to me was that this time around the remit seemed to be on completely-complete stories that stand on their own and seem to more-or-less fit into a recognizable DC continuity (as fluid as their continuity has been of late). Last year's Showcase was weird in that almost every story seemed like an eight-page first issue of a miniseries or new run on a series, many featuring cliffhangers that would never be resolved. It made for a frustrating reading experience, and seemed a poor way to showcase the writers' skills. And hell, who wants to read the first eight pages of a 120-page story that will never actually get published, you know?

This time, the artists as well as the writer's are new to DC...or newer than many of those that participated in last year's Showcase, anyway.  Additionally, the stories are all longer--there are seven, 10-page stories--which likely went a long way toward making the individual stories more satisfying reads.

Finally, there's a "bonus" story (although since they charged us for it, it's not really a "bonus," but whatever) written by Scott Snyder.

Let's take a look, shall we? Oh, and please note that I linked to the newer creators' websites or Twitter feeds where I could find them, should you want to know more about who some of these people are. On the whole, from what I could tell by Googling, they seem to be mostly working professionals who have either worked in comics previously--just not all that much for DC--or, in the case of the writers, worked in other media.

The Red Hood and Duke in "Roll Call" by writer Tony Patrick, pencil artist Minkyu Jung and inker Klaus Janson

The first page of this story is a splash featuring a somewhat unfortunate image to kick the book off with. Pencil artist Minkyu Jung draws Batman's current apprentice Duke Thomas, who has yet to earn his upcoming codename "The Signal", launching a flying kick at Red Hood Jason Todd in what looks like a prison hallway. The anatomy on Duke looks, and in more of a mistake-y way than a stylistic way.

Fortunately, that is probably the worst drawing in the story, which consists of the pair of Batman lieutenants sparring and comparing notes on their shared mission in Arkham Asylum...which, we learn on page five, is actually The Danger Room The Mud Room introduced in James Tynion's Detective Comics run.

After a few pages, all of the cells open up, and rather than fighting one another, the boys are fighting the likes of Bane, The Joker, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, giving Jung the opportunity to draw a pretty sizable swathe of Batman characters. There's also a surprise guest star.

Over all, Patrick does a good job on the characters' voices, and presents a pretty convincing take on their relationship, particularly considering how little Jason and Duke have actually interacted with one another up to this point in previous comics.

I suppose that's pretty good news, since Patrick will be co-writing the upcoming Batman and The Signal miniseries with Scott Snyder.

Hmm, now I wonder who should I blame for that dumb-ass codename, Snyder or Patrick...?

Katana in "To The Hilt" by writer Aaron Gillespie and artist Lynne Yoshii

This is basically just a Katana-focused Suicide Squad story, which I found notable mainly because it was actually a lot better than the Katana solo story that ran in the back of one of the earliest issues of the "Rebirth" volume of Suicide Squad.

The basic plot line is that Katana loses her mystical sword during a Squad mission, and, despite being blown up at one point and bleeding badly from her wounds, she dives out of the Squad's escaping helicopter to go after her sword. It's pretty special to her, given that it possesses the soul of her dead husband and all.

The villain of the piece is kind of an interesting choice. Though for the purposes of the story it really only needs to be a generic bad guy, maybe someone who can conceivably hold their own in a fight against a martial artist, Gillespie uses King Snake, the blind, blond master from Chuck Dixon's original Robin miniseries (I've lost track of so many character after the reboot; I'm not sure if this is his first post-Flashpoint appearance or not).

Yoshii has a nice, clean line and the artwork is smooth, open and appealing. There's a bit of manga influence in the characters' faces, although it's not terribly evident until the last page, when we see Katana without her mask on. I would definitely read more comics drawn by Yoshii.

Nightwing in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Family" by writer Al Letson and artist Siya Oum

Only three stories in, and there's already another appearance by the Bat-Family. This one is a Nightwing story, although writer Al Letson uses Nightwing as a sort of prism through which to discuss the Bats in general.

Nightwing is trying to safeguard a couple and their baby from Green Arrow villain Count Vertigo--ugh, that redesign!--as a favor to GA, and he's narrating the whole time. Occasionally, like, every few panels, he will think of what Batman or another member of the extended family--Batgirl, Batwoman, Robin--would say, and their busts will appear in little circles floating above the panels, with their words appearing in color-coded thought bubbles. I thought it worked surprisingly well, although if you just told me about it the way I just told you about it, I probably would have groaned.

Nightwing has to basically fight his way up a tall building, while Vertigo and his small army of goons pursue. His goal is to get to the top, from where he can call in help from some of the very people he's been thinking about, plus Red Robin, in an off-model version of his first post-Flashpoint costume (but given how bad that costume was, the more off-model the better, I say!).

Artist Siya Oum's figure work didn't do a whole lot for me, but I really like the way the pages are laid out, and the way the story moves upon them. Letson's script only works because of how well it's visually constructed, though, so Oum obviously did some stuff pretty right.

Oh, and as dumb as this Count Vertigo looks, he still looks better than he did when he first appeared in the New 52 Green Arrow comic.

Poison Ivy in "Silent Screams" by writer Owl Goingback and artist Matt Merhoff

Owl Goingback's Poison Ivy is more anti-hero than villain, at least in this story, where she has traveled to rural Georgia to avenge the plants killed by "a shape-shifting Babylonian she-devil," which conveienetly looks to be made out of black ropes or dead vines in the vague shape of a monster woman. The demon has also been taking children and killing animals and suchlike, but Ivy's just there to avenge the plants.

There's not much to the story, other than offering a different take on the character by removing her from her regular role in the Gotham City-based melodramas she usually inhabits: She goes hunting for a demon, she fights it and wins.

Artist Matt Merhoff is a pretty spectacular talent. The opening splash, showing Ivy striding down the street in a cloak of leaves while her hair flares out like searching vines is a pretty striking image, and, paired with the background, essentially previews the bulk of the story to follow. Underneath the cloak, which includes a hood of ivy, she is wearing a version of her original costume, albeit with a skimpier cut, and more detailed in its make-up, being composed entirely of little ivy leaves, rather than any green fabric.

There's maybe one wonky pose--page 8, panel 1--but otherwise Merhoff's art is pretty exceptional, with an almost Brian Bolland-esque level of detail to it. As with Yoshii, Merhoff is someone whose work I'll be looking out for in the future.

Deadshot in "Mercy" by writers Erica Harrell and Desiree Proctor, pencil artist Lalit Sharma and inker Jagdish Kumar

This story resembles the earlier Katana one in that it stars a Suicide Squad member on a mission, with Amanda Waller talking in their ear throughout the entire story--and appearing in a few panels, particularly at the end. It's actually a pretty significant story, as it ties into and rewrites an element of the Deadshot's origin story, although it's not entirely clear if the stories in this special actually "count" (and I've lost track of what's canonical and what isn't in Deadshot's life story anyway).

Deadshot's been tasked with retrieving a cybernetic maguffin embedded in a mad doctor's head no matter the cost, but the mission becomes a lot more complicated when he discovers that one of the many victims of said mad doctor--disabled people he has experimented on and given implants so that he can mentally control them like puppets--is his very own brother, who he had spent his entire adult life thinking he had accidentally killed when aiming for their abusive father.

Deadshot kills everyone and shakes his blood-soaked fist at Waller. The end.

The art in this one is actually a little rough. In general the story-telling is clear, and there's something likable about the big, bold figures, but the anatomy is occasionally off in distracting ways. Like, Floyd's legs sometimes look too long, and they bend upon the floor in unnatural ways.

Doctor Fate in "The Cost of Magic" by writer David Accampo and artist Sam Lotfi

The particular Doctor Fate in this particular Doctor Fate story is Kent Nelson--or, at least, a version of Kent Nelson. There's a flashback reference to him meeting Nabu as a child, which seems new to me, but I've really got no idea what the current state of Doctor Fate is these days (Post-Flashpoint, there was a Doctor Fate introduced on Earth-2 in Earth 2, and, later, a DCU/Earth-0 Doctor Fate was introduced in Doctor Fate, although I believe the original, Nelson version showed up in that series too before I dropped it).

Writer David Accampo's story is pretty simple, maybe even simplistic, demonstrating that the spirit of Nabu in Doctor Fate's helmet--and the source of his power--is maybe kinda sorta a real jerk, and that using the near infinite powers comes with a high cost. Namely, it seems to be turning Nelson into a sweaty, melty orc with a particularly poor complexion, until he accepts his fate...? I guess? I don't know. He fights a cool-looking monster.

Despite the lack of a real hook or interesting conflict to the story, the art by Sam Lotfi is pretty incredible--perhaps the all-around best in the book, as it not only demonstrates clear storytelling and a lack of any mistakes or drawbacks, but it also has a lot of style, and the details with which Lotfi fills his panels make them a ton of fun to pore over.

Wonder Woman in "The Archive" by writer Scott Snyder and artist Ibrahim Moustafa

Wait, Scott Snyder? What's DC's number one writer doing in here? Well, he apparently was in charge of the writers' workshops (Klaus Janson and Andy Kubert lead the artists workshop), and I imagine his presence in the book--a fact trumpeted on the cover--ought to help move a few more copies. He teams with artist Ibrahim Moustafa for a Wonder Woman story that is something of a meditation of her as an avatar of, or at least fierce proponent of, The Truth-with-a-capital-"T".

Given that this is Snyder rather than a new-ish to DC Comics writer, it is perhaps no real surprise that this is probably the best-written of the issue's stories.

After a flashback to young Diana--sadly, not Wonder Tot--on Themyscira in a room full of magical, Amazonian artifacts--we jump to the present, where Steve Trevor, Agent of ARGUS has taken her into a warehouse full of magical artifacts that the U.S. government has found and can't figure out exactly what they are. Apparently she is called in because of her experience with ancient magical shit, and she wanders around a bit with Steve, naming some of the items and their uses, while disastrous occult shit happens in Washington, D.C. There's a very solid ending, tying things together in such a way that validates Steve's belief in her and her desire to courageously do the right thing, no matter what some mean, old men might think.

Moustafa's art is fine, but it honestly wasn't the most exciting in the book, and I really found myself wondering what, say, Lotfi's version of the giant monster on the last pages might have looked like.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: November 29th

Batman Annual #2 (DC Comics) Regular Batman writer Tom King is joined by a pair of above-par artists for this 38-page issue tying into his ongoing Batman-and-Catwoman-are-getting-married plot line. Lee Weeks, who collaborated on that super-weird Batman/Elmer Fudd Special, draws the bulk of this issue, with Michael Lark drawing the remainder (You know what's also weird? The bar and one of the characters from the Looney Tunes crossover show up briefly in this issue). Although the two segments are presented as a single story, they are pretty neatly divided into two completely different time periods...and maybe even dimensions/realities/continuitiverses.

The 30-page Weeks section is set "Near The beginning," and features Catwoman repeatedly breaking into the Batcave and Wayne Manor to get a rise out of Batman/Bruce Wayne, whose identity she seems to have sussed out almost immediately (this is in sharp contrast to the post-Flashpoint New 52 continuity, but increasingly DC seems to be pretending that the majority of the comics published between, say, 2011-2013 were never actually published. It fits in pretty well with King's ongoing narrative regarding the two characters' relationship, and Weeks' art is so far above the bulk of what DC publishes that it seems petty to even criticize the few weak points--like that panel where Catwoman looks like she jumped a half mile out of a window, for example.

I do wish Elizabeth Breitweiser's coloring was a little more clear, however, as I had trouble telling if Catwoman was wearing gray or purple or alternating costumes throughout the story. Or am I color-blind...?

The last eight pages, drawn by Lark and colored by June Chung, are just plain weird. This passage is set "later," and features elderly, gray-haired versions of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, as Bruce is diagnosed with some kind of chronic illness, and slowly sips towards death. The presence of their grown daughter Helena, a black-haired lady wearing a Batwoman costume, and Bruce's reference to an Earth out there where he "never got old...or married, or sick or anything," are pretty slap-in-the-face clear that this is an (original) Earth-2 story...or at least King's possible-future-that-will-never-come-to-pass that alludes to the original conception of Earth-2. Whatever; it's weird as hell. Nice to see some Lark art in a Batman-related comic book again, though!

Justice League of America Annual #1 (DC) I gave up on Steve Orlando's Justice League of America title after just a few issues--although I just caught up on the first chunk via trade, as discussed here--but there's one sure-fire way to get me to pick up a comic book: Have Kelley Jones draw it.

The over-sized issue stars just two of the current JLoA line-up, the pair you see on the cover. One is Lobo, whose ridiculous, over-the-top nature makes him a practically ideal subject for Jones' particular, peculiarly expressionist style (as he proved recently with the Lobo/Road Runner Special #1). The other is Black Canary, who, as a beautiful woman, isn't the sort of character that fits all that easily in Jones' style. But, as you can see from the cover, he does a remarkably good job on Canary, with only a few panels finding her drawn overly abstracted, or in a form of exaggeration that feels particularly off (Jones does seem to struggle with the tight, black booty shorts of her post-Rebirth redesign, however, as he draws them quite baggy and ill-fitting).

The plot deals with Lobo cashing in a particular favor that Batman has been using to entice him to work with the League: The location of the space dolphin home world. He has an old enemy who has been hunting the dolphins there, and, now that he finally has the location he's headed there to, well, frag them. But he can't do it alone, and so he convinces the Canary to come with. It is, therefore, essentially an extremely unlikely Lobo/Black Canary team-up, for the fate of the only thing Lobo seems to truly care about.

Because Lobo's foe turns out to be--spoiler alert--the second-to-Last Czarnian, that means he has the same regenerative powers as Lobo, which in turns means Jones gets to draw stuff like Canary literally screaming his face off, so that he spends a few panels with just a skull atop his body, and using her canary cry to blow off his hand, so that he spends a few panels with a tiny little baby hand, as it regrows.

The villain's final fate is gorier still, but in keeping with the "worse than death" non-deaths of many League foes, Lobo and Canary don't outright kill-kill him, although if given the choice, you might prefer an outright death-death over what befalls him.

Orlando continues to try and find depths to Lobo that aren't readily apparent--and, perhaps, shouldn't be there at all--but it's worth noting that he mostly pulls it off in this issue, and that Jones similarly manages the difficult aspects of the script, like a few pages of conversation between the leads here and there.

The alien environments--deep space, a wormhole through space, the dolphin homeworld and the bad guy's ship and technology--offers plenty of strange, extreme stuff for Jones to draw. Over all, it's a pretty fun issue, although if you don't like either Jones or Lobo--both of which can be acquired tastes--than it probably won't sell you on either of those things.

I read two other new comics that were released this week, but don't qualify for this column. The first was the new Mystik U by Alisa Kwitney and Mike Norton, which I found to be surprisingly good. Like, there's probably no regular reader of DC Comics who is as hard-to-please as I am, but I genuinely liked this, and thought they did a good job of introducing a rather radical new concept with several pre-existing magical characters while simultaneously grounding the new concept within current continuity (or a current continuity? The DC Universe' cosmology and history are pretty fucking messy. right now).

The other was this year's edition of DC's New Talent Showcase, which I'd like to devote a whole post to, as I did last year. In the mean time, I can say that I think it was all around much better than last year's, and it was never the slog to get through that last year's was at times.

Monday, November 27, 2017

These are some recent DC books I've read recently:

Batman: The Dark Knight--Master Race

The inherent weirdness of a Frank Miller comic without Frank Miller that saturated the individual, serially-published issues of Dark Knight III: The Master Race was only accentuated when reading the entire series start-to-finish in a single, slightly re-titled volume.

I know that Miller was technically pretty involved in the series, sharing a story credit with Brian Azzarello and providing extremely loose artwork for the mini-comics that appeared in the middle of each of the nine issues--which are here blown-up to full-size and appear between chapters of Dark Knight III--but it's pretty apparent that it was Azzarello who did the majority of the heavy-lifting. At the beginning, it's clear that some work is being done to make it feel like a Dark Knight comic, but that work only accentuates that it's not, that it's an homage, rather than Miller doing Miller and, increasingly as the series goes on, there are more of Azzarello's ticks evident in the scripting.

As for the overarching story, it seems to be set in the Dark Knight-iverse, but there's really not much to it. It's not a story about anything in particular, it doesn't really comment on anything and, in fact, its plot is so similar to one that could be occurring in the regular DC Universe that it already has occurred in the regular DC Universe to a certain extent. It is just a little too palpably an exercise in brand extension, and an apparent variant cover-generating machine (How many variants were there attached to this book? I don't know, but they were so numerous they appear in their own hardcover collection that Amazon is calling Batman: The Art of The Dark Knight: The Master Race--the words on the cover of the book say something different, however--and the solicitation copy says it includes over 150 covers).

What's been going on in the relatively short time that has passed since 2002's final issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again...? Well, Batman is recovering from some particularly grievous wounds, so Robin-turned-Catgirl-turned-Batgirl Carrie Kelly is masquerading as him by wearing some kind of weird man suit. Wonder Woman is raising her and Superman's son, who she wears in a little papoose as she runs around the Amazon jungle, home of the Amazons, fighting monsters and shit. Superman has withdrawn even farther than he usually does in these alternate stories, having basically decided to just sit still in his Arctic Fortress of Solitude until he froze solid within a thick block of ice.

Given Miller's politics, the title of this third Dark Knight book might have have been responsible for a feeling of dread in many comics readers, but it turns out that the "master race" here isn't a race so much as a species: Kryptonian.

And the plot involving them is more or less pure pot-boiling superhero stuff. Lara, Superman and Wonder Woman's headstrong daughter, recruits The Atom Ray Palmer to help her free and un-shrink the microscopic Kryptonians living in The Bottle City of Kandor. These are lead by Quar, a psychotic, murderous cult leader who seeks to subjugate all of humanity and take over the world. So, not entirely unlike the year-long "New Krypton" storyline which found 100,000 Kryptonians freed from Kandor and flooding Earth with a whole people who had Superman's powers, but not necessarily his morals.

Lara sides with the Kandorians over her own parents, even going so far as to beat her dad bloody, and it is, as always, down to Batman to save the world. With the help of a rag tag group of allies, including Batirl, The Flash and eventually Superman and Wonder Woman, he does so. He dies at one point, but gets tossed into a Lazarus Pit and comes out young and vibrant again (There is of course a gross scene where the now grown-up Carrie sees the now youthful's Bruce's rejuvenated genitals).

And...that's it, really. Evil Kryptonians vs. Batman and some other heroes. Andy Kubert is the pencil artist with the tough, thankless assignment of trying to draw a Dark Knight comic, and it actually is sort of fun to see his attempts to approximate Miller art. It no doubt helps tremendously that he's working with DKR inker Klaus Janson.

I don't want to say anything too terribly mean about Miller's art--he pencils most of the interlude comics, although Eduardo Risso randomly draws one--as I understand he was in very poor health at the time but, well, the art is extremely rough, to the point where some of the extremely spare images lean towards the unintelligible, and there are strange inconsistencies that the inker, colorist and editor should have noticed and fixed (the placement of Batgirl's bat-symbols, for example).

In the end, what stuck with me about the book is some strong images throughout.

There's Wonder Woman's nipple, something you don't see too often, as she prepares to breastfeed her child. There's Green Lantern Hal Jordan losing his ring hand, and then searching for and ultimately recovering it (He is able to use the ring, but his hand just float around him, rather than attaching itself back to his arm at the wrist). There's the strange, goofy battle armor that Superman dons to protect him from the Kryptonite-seeded rain that Batman causes to fall over Gotham. There's Carrie Kelly's hot pink and yellow Batgirl costume (her final Batwoman costume is pretty nice, actually; it basically just reverses the black and gray portions of Batman's). There's the redesigned Hawks. And I still dig Miller's redesigns for The Flash and Wonder Woman, previously seen in Dark Knight Strikes Again.

Visually, there's a lot in here to interest the eye, particularly of a longtime DC Comics fan. Otherwise, though, there's little to it other than a superhero beat-'em-up with a handful of allusions to Dark Knight Strikes Again.

DC Super Hero Girls: Past Times at Super Hero High

I arched an eyebrow when this DC Comics/Mattel collaboration was first announced. Though I grew up with similar toy/cartoon/comics marketing vehicles like Masters of The Universe, G.I. Joe and Transformers, they seem incredibly cynical to me now, and it struck me as somewhat sad that DC felt the need to essentially create a girl-friendly version of their universe, as it was an indication of just how girl un-friendly the regular version was.

While the toys and cartoons generated by the premise--where DC's heroes and villains attend a high school where Principal Amanda Waller and weird faculty of bad guys and older heroes teach them a superhero-focused curriculum--I was naturally interested in how it translated to comics. As it turned out, quite well. The first original graphic novel, Finals Crisis, was actually a lot of fun, as were those that followed, Hits and Myths and Summer Olympus. All three were the work of writer Shea Fontana, who helped create the concept and recently penned a fill-in arc on DC's Wonder Woman arc, and artist Yancey Labat.

This fourth graphic novel, Past Times at Super Hero High, varies only in that Labat has two other collaborators on the art, Agnes Garbowska and Marcelo DiChiara. They are all working from some pretty strict style guides in terms of character design, so it's not exactly clear who draws which sections, but there are points where the art does feel a little off.

The plot for this particular adventure is essentially just The Magic School Bus in the DC Universe, which is pretty damn charming in its simplicity. Driving the school bus-shaped time machine for a field trip into the Jurassic Period is teacher Miss Liberty Belle, whose mouth Fontana fills with all kinds of old time-y slang. This Liberty Belle is presumably the original one, Libby Lawrence, and something of a time traveler herself. While Golden Age hero Wildcat is SHH's gym coach, Miss Liberty Belle at one points mentions not having had so much fun since "the Coolidge administration" (1923-1929).

Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Katana, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and token boy Beast Boy travel back to dinosaur times, where their bus breaks in half and Liberty Belle is abducted by a pterodactyl. Everyone eventually gets back to the present, but due to some meddling withe the timestream--Harley swiped a pterodactyl egg--their present has been altered so that now immortal caveman Vandal Savage is their principal, the kids based on villains are now all super-villainous and the field trippers have to figure out how to reset time.

That mostly falls to frenemies Batgirl and Harley, who travel throughout the past and to the future before bringing the pterodactyl egg, now a baby pterodactyl, back to its own time, where Harley offers a not-very-scientific theory regarding how her baby Bitey McPuddin'-Face prevented Savage from ever encountering his immortality-granting meteorite.

What remains most fun about this series, to me at least, is seeing the occasional deep cut show up, like Batgirl and Harley meeting the giant dalmatian-riding Atomic Knights in the future, or seeing Principal Waller when she was just a teen in the 1980s, sitting on a stoop listening to her boom box.

There are some fun dinosaur moments in here, like Beast Boy's attempts to blend in and preach harmony between predator and prey species, but it's worth noting that this isn't exactly an educational look at dinosaurs, as their depiction seems a few decades out of date. For the latest on dinosaurs in all-ages comics format, I can't recommend Abby Howard's Dinosaur Empire strongly enough.

Justice League of America Vol. 1: The Extremists

The Steve Orlando-written Justice League book, which features Batman leading a rag-tag team of Steve Orlando's favorite characters and thus feels almost as much of a Batman and The Outsiders book than a League book, suffers in the same way that too much of his writing (and far too much of DC's post-Flashpoint output) suffers. It tries very hard to trade on nostalgia, on readers knowing, liking and caring who the individual members of the team are and therefore already being invested in their setting, their history and their villains, but it does so on the other side of a reboot that purposely erased all of that.

This is that worst-of-both-worlds problem I talk about all the time, and Orlando's solution seems to be to just ignore it. Maybe that is the best choice--after all, I think this is something like the third version of Lobo that has been introduced in the last six years, for example--but the end result is a comic book essentially just introducing a team and assuming you'll care about them, without putting any real effort into trying to convince you to care (and certainly the publisher has given us mixed signals, if they were, say, willing to wipe out The Ray and then replace him with a brand new character that no one likes or remembers and then just reintroduce the original shows that they aren't too terribly pro-The Ray, you know?).

While Batman has obviously been front and center in a whole slew of books since the reboot, and some of the other characters like Black Canary and Vixen have been knocking around, and even Lobo 3.0 and Killer Frost had a role in the Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad book that served as an intro this ongoing, other characters, like The Ray and The Atom, we're meeting for basically the first time (This new version of Ryan Choi appeared previously in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, while I don't think we saw The Ray until Justice League of America: The Ray--Rebirth #1...which is collected with three other character introduction one-shots and Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 in the collection Justice League of America: The Road to Rebirth).

From the pages of Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad Batman brings Killer Frost to the Justice League's original Happy Harbor, Rhode Island headquarters, which, um, shouldn't exist any longer, but still does for some reason (that was the last continuity). He then goes about recruiting a League that includes (a) Lobo, Black Canary, Vixen, The Atom Ryan Choi (he's initially looking for Ray Palmer, whose history post-Flashpoint I couldn't begin to make sense of) and The Ray, a new superhero protecting the city of Vanity (the setting of Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and company's short-lived Aztek: The Ultimate Man series).

Batman's rationale for needing/wanting a new League is waved at in passing a few times, but it's not terribly convincing. He basically says he wants a team that consists of real people, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the people they are protecting, rather than gods. The make-up of his particular team, which include a couple of folks with god-like powers and one literal super-alien, seems to argue against that, however.

After the recruiting issue of Justice League of America: Rebirth #1--which, yes, is double-collected in both this and Justice League of America: Road To Rebirth--they fend off an extra-dimensional invasion of The Extremists, Giffen/DeMatteis era villains who are analogues to Marvel villains. Dr. Diehard has conquered a small, European country, and the League joins the resistance to help liberate it. By having the League do the sort of thing they explicitly avoid all the time, it raises the question of why they don't do this all the time. The question goes unanswered, though.

That's followed by a shorter story in which the team holds a press conference--sans Batman--and then go to liberate an American city that has been taken over by relatively obscure Wonder Woman villain Aegeus, an arms dealer who sells folklore-based super-weapons.

The art is kind of all over the place, with Ivan Reis pencilling the Rebirth special and the first and final issues of the four-part Extremists arc, while a pair of different artists, Felipe Watanabe and Diogenes Neves, pencil the middle chapters. The two-part Aegeus arc features fine art by Andy MacDonald, but it's in pretty sharp contrast to what it's following...and fails to sell a fairly silly scene that really needed to be sold hard to get over.

Like its sister book Justice League and all of DC's post-Flashpoint Justice League books, then, the latest iteration of JLoA isn't very good, but given it's weird line-up and Orlando's ticks, it is at least interesting.

Wonder Woman and Justice League America Vol. 2

When I discussed the first Wonder Woman and Justice League America collection, I speculated what might be in this one. It turns out they skipped the annuals, and stuck to just six issues of Justice League America--plus two issues apiece of Justice League International and Justice League Task Force, which means this trade collects the entire six-issue "Judgement Day" crossover between all three Justice League books, as well as a coda issue, that repurposes the "Funeral For a Friend" slug from the aftermath of Superman's fight to the death against Doomsday. It also concludes writer Dan Vado's time on the Justice League America title.

The first three issues are concerned with the JLA facing off against Dreamslayer of The Extremists yet again, while natural disasters rage the world over and spooky hints about the end of the world are related to heroes and readers: Darkseid writes off the planet Earth, Vandal Savage appears to the League to warn them and T.O. Morrow tries to tell Max Lord the end is near. Then "Judgement Day" begins in earnest, and it's all hands one deck, with the three Justice Leagues fighting one another, and other unexpected foes, as to the best way to proceed against "The Overmaster," a giant alien humanoid and world-ender who has landed his ship atop Mount Everest and announced the end of the world, saying that any move against him will only result in a lessening of the time left.

Because "Judgement Day" ran two issues apiece in all of the books, that means Vado and primary JLA artists Marc Campos, Ken Branch and Kevin Conrad pass the creative team baton on to writers Gerard Jones and Mark Waid and pencil artists Chuck Wojtkiewicz and Sal Velluto.

Visually, the book is very much of its time--1994. Campos is probably the weakest of the artists, and his anatomy features the worst of excesses, so that the women are all boobs and hips--in one early panel featuring the Leaguers in flight, Wonder Woman and Maxima are literally just busts, a limb or three extending from somewhere behind their boobs and heads--and the men universally ripped and wearing fabrics whose tightness fall somewhere between spandex and body paint, even the decidedly non-superheroic Max Lord and Oberon. Campos is at least consistent, but his work is so detailed and overly-inked that each panel just looks like a wall of unnecessary detail.

Sal Velutto, a very accomplished artist, has his own ideas of character design, one that marries the huge, heroic figures of the Silver Age League with the detailed musculature of '90s superhero art, but even that is inconsistently applied. Only Chuck Wojtkiewicz's art really ages gracefully. Thankfully he's the one who draws the climax, wherein an ad hoc group of some of the more powerful Leaguers--Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Captain Atom, The Flash, Fire, Booster Gold and Amazing Man try to take the Overmaster on hand-to-hand in his ship, while Blue Beetle races to figure out a way to shut it all down.

The story is probably best remembered for being the one that killed off  Ice--she spends this collection in possession of greater than usual powers and weird mood swings, before joining the Overmaster and, finally, betraying him--and it's true, there's not a whole lot to it other than that. There are some neat touches though, like T.O. Morrow looking at his checklist of things that will happen as the League seeks to reach Overmaster, and crossing off each event as it comes to pass (That was in a Waid-written issue).

This storyline and its epilogue were  followed by a Zero Hour crossover introducing Triumph as a founding Justice Leaguer who got knocked out of the time-stream almost immediately, and then the creative team of Gerard Jones and Chuck Wojtkiewicz take over Justice League America for the remaining 23 issues. If the Jones and Wojtkieicz issues all get collected, I think we could be looking at two more volumes of Wonder Woman and Justice League America. If the Zero Hour tie-in does, I don't know, maybe three more? It doesn't quite fit in with the rest of this stuff, though, and might makes more sense in a Justice League: Zero Hour collection, or with the Triumph solo series or Justice League Task Force.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

I think it's always good to keep in mind who created what component of big superhero films like Justice League.

Spoiler alert: Starro The Conqueror does not appear in the film at all.
  • The Justice League of America was created in 1960 by Gardner Fox, although it was based on an earlier super-team he created with Sheldon Mayer in 1940, The Justice Society of America.
  • Superman and Lois Lane were created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Ma and Pa Kent were created by the pair the following year.
  • Batman and Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon were created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Alfred Pennyworth was created by Kane and Don Cameron in 1939.
  • Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter
  • The Flash Barry Allen was created in 1956 by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, although he was a reimagined version of a character with that name and power-set originated in 1940 by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert.
  • Aquaman was created in 1941 by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris. Mera was created in 1963 by Jack Miller and Nick Cardy.
  • Cyborg was created in 1980 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez.
  • Steppenwolf, Parademons, Darkseid and Mother Boxes were all created by Jack Kirby as part of his "Fourth World" cycle of cosmic comics in the early 1970s.

The first appearance of Steppenwolf, left; note that his sweet hate, cape and giant ride-able dog do not appear in the new film.

The above gentlemen were responsible for originally creating all of the characters and concepts you see in the Justice League, but it's probably also worth noting that the particular iterations of the characters all seem to come from certain places, too.

For example, the film's version of Aquaman is the long-haired, bearded, grumpy version from the Peter David-written, 1994 series...mixed with the loud, boisterous version of the character from the 2008 Batman: The Brave and The Bold cartoon. While The Flash is named Barry Allen, he's young and inexperienced, needs to constantly eat and is aware of The Speed Force, like the Wally West of the immediate post-Crisis Flash comics. Batman, inexplicably, is an aging, grizzled, 20-year-veteran of crime-fighting, designed to resemble the version from Frank Miller and company's 1986 The Dark Knight Returns miniseries.

Pieces and parts are taken from all sorts of different comics, with even a small, gag moment like when Aquaman got tangled in Wonder Woman's lasso of truth and couldn't stop telling the truth out loud, having appeared in print first. Christopher Priest-penned short story in 1998's JLA 80-Page Giant #1 where the very same thing happened, for example.

That said, somewhat surprisingly, in terms of plot, the film struck pretty closely to presenting a newer, more Hollywood version of just two comics stories:

Justice League (2011) #1-#6 / Justice League Vol. 1: Origin by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams and others: Apokolyptian Parademons invade planet Earth, necessitating seven superheroes--the very six in the film, plus Green Lantern Hal Jordan--to unite and repel the invasion. The newest and youngest hero, Cyborg, is himself created during the course of the invasion, with the help of Mother Box technology.

Earth 2 #1-#6 / Earth 2 Vol 1: The Gathering by James Robinson, Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott: Apokolyptian Parademons led by the ax-wielding Steppenwolf invade an alternate reality, attempting to conquer it and transform it into a new version of Apokolips. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman give their lives fending off the invasion, and a new group of heroes rise to protect the badly shaken world. Nicola Scott's helmet design for the villain is imported directly into the film.

Neither of those are particularly good comics, mind you, but having seen the film, it's pretty clear why they made some of the choices they did in order to introduce such a relatively wide variety of characters in as efficient a way as possible.

If you need suggestions for good Justice League comics to read, I would start with Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and company's JLA and keep reading until you hit the end of Mark Waid's run on the title. The Giffen/DeMatteis comics are pretty great, too, although perhaps a bit dated at this point and lacking the super-star power. The Alex Ross comics--2005's Justice with Jim Krueger and Doug Braithwaite and the just-published collection of all of his collaboration with Paul Dini, Absolute Justice League: The World's Greatest Heroes--are pretty great entry points, too.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Justice League doesn't really seem to enjoy reading DC Comics.

Many of this past week's DC Comics contained a two-page house ad promoting the DC Essential Catalog, which you can find at your comic shop, or online at It's designed to help sell DC's graphic novels and collections as gifts. Most of the ad consists of the above image by pencil artist David Finch, depicting the founding members of the New 52 Justice League, crowded around a pile of short boxes and graphic novels and reading in the snow in front of the Hall of Justice. The far right includes a checklist of the Top 25 collections and graphic novels on that "essentials" list, under the heading "DC Essential Graphic Novels 2018" (More on that in a bit).

What most struck me about the ad, however, is how downright unhappy the Justice Leaguers all look to be reading comics at all.

Granted, most people don't grin, smile or otherwise evince great joy while they are reading, but come on gang, aren't you trying to sell these dang things? It wouldn't hurt to at least fake some enthusiasm!

Here we see Superman and Wonder Woman, both standing up and reading--they both have super-endurance, so it may not be as uncomfortable for them to stand up and read as it would be for any of us--and standing incredibly close to one another while they do so. Each of them hold half of the book in one hand, and I have no idea who turns the pages, given that they are so close neither would be able to reach it with their other arm.

They are reading DC Universe: Rebirth #1. Superman looks pretty bored, while Wonder Woman either has a slight smile, or maybe that's just the way she did her lipstick. Perhaps Superman is bored, though; he can probably read each spread at super-speed, and then has to wait for Wonder Woman to catch up.

Green Lantern Hal Jordan is hovering above his teammates reading Batman Vol. 1: I Am Gotham by Tom King, David Finch and others. He seems to be the happiest of all the Leaguers, but I think there's a pretty good chance he's just faking it for the picture. After all, I'm not entirely sure that Hal Jordan can read.

The Flash is reading Watchmen over Batman's shoulder. He looks bored, but then, he probably is bored, given the speed at which he can read. He may be off fighting the Rogues in Central City, and just running back to the Hall of Justice to read a page every thirty seconds or so during the slow parts of the battle.

Cyborg, resting his huge mechanical bulk atop a pair of short boxes and no doubt crushing the contents within--so much for Near Mint!--is taking in Sandman: Overture. He looks pissed.

Aquaman has similarly tried to make himself comfortable by using the short boxes full of comics as furniture. They don't have either comic books or cardboard boxes in Atlantis, so perhaps his confusion is understandable, but I can't imagine his super-dense, well-muscled body is good for the boxes or the books within. If this scene continues very long, I imagine both he and Cyborg will fall through the collapsing boxes at some point.

Aquaman is frowning at the pages of Justice League Vol. 1: Origins, and I don't blame him! What has got him so upset about the book? Is he shocked at how casually Superman murders his foes? Is he appalled at everyone's New 52 costume redesigns? Is he missing his pal Martian Manhunter? Or can he just not believe his sideburns and necklaces in that story?

Finally, here's Batman's frozen scowl as he reads Watchmen. Does he hate the book? Or is he simply irritated that Flash is reading over his shoulder? Neither. That's the face he always makes; he's Batman, after all.

As for the top 25 books on the 2018 reading list, I was struck by how damn old so many of them are. From the 1980s you have Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, V For Vendetta and Batman: Year One. Of slightly more recent vintage is The Sandman Vol. 1: Predludes & Nocturnes which, of course, brings us into the '90s, when such books as Batman Adventures: Mad Love, Preacher Book One and Batman: The Long Halloween were published.

There are a handful of collections from The New 52 reboot/relaunch, including Justice League Vol. 1: Origin, Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls, Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood, The Flash Vol. 1: Move Forward and Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench. From the most recent publishing initiative, the "Rebirth" era, there's DC Universe: Rebirth, Batman Vol. 1: I Am Gotham and Superman Vol. 1: Son of Superman.

I think Batman: The Dark Knight: Master Race is the most recent publication on the list.

Many of those 25 are classics of the super-comic genre, and are therefore evergreens, but I found it somewhat striking that there are so many decades-old comics being promoted in that house ad, you know?

Of possible interest is the fact that of these 25 books,  two are drawn by DC co-publisher Jim Lee, three are written by the publisher's president and chief creative officer Geoff Johns, three are either written and/or drawn in part by Frank Miller and three are written by Alan Moore, whose Watchmen is currently being used as fodder for a DC Universe event story written by the company's publisher, very much against his will.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: November 22nd

Detective Comics #969 (DC Comics) I'm a big fan of artist Guillem March's work, which is something I have likely said on this blog four or five thousand times before, so I was happy to see his cover here, showing the entire "Gotham Knights" team assembled next to one of the big, crazy gargoyles he seems to favor drawing (Too bad it's obscured by the unnecessary tag line, "United For The Last Time?"). I do so wish he was a regular artist on one of the Bat-titles.

This is the first issue of what feels like it could be the last story arc of writer James Tynion's run on the title, or at least the beginning of the last portion of his run, given the way in which it seems to be ramping up towards a summation of the run so far (Also, ever since they announced that Brian Michael Bendis would be joining DC, I just sort of assumed he would be taking over some Bat-titles, perhaps, given the pace at which he pumps out comics, both Batman and Detective. This is, of course, just an assumption on my part, but Batman is both the biggest franchise DC would have to attract him, and seems to fit within his area of interest, at least in terms of the crime sub-genre).

It is definitely my second-to-last issue of the series. As I've said before, buying a mediocre comic I only sort of half-like and then complaining about it on the Internet every other week makes me feel like a bit of an asshole. I'll catch up in library trade, eventually.

The issue is divided almost in half, with the first half focusing mostly on Stephanie Brown. She goes to visit Anarky Lonnie Manchin in Arkham Asylum--not sure why they're keeping him there of all places, but whatever--and then reunites with the back-from-the-dead Red Robin Tim Drake. From there, the narrative jumps ahead three weeks, and we see Red Robin's plan to use the 'Tec team--which he calls The Gotham Knights, a good name for a team that was unfortunately already used for various Gotham sporting teams over the years--to eradicate organized crime and super-crime in Gotham City.

Then Killer Moth--wearing a version of his original costume, rather than the odd gas mask he's been wearing since Flashpoint--comes up with a new version of his Batman-but-for-criminals racket, this one employing a team of super-villains, just as Batman and Red Robin have been using a team of vigilantes (the make-up of said team is pretty random and not particularly threatening, including as it does Mr. Zsasz, Firefly and The Ratcatcher, back in his old, Norm Breyfogle-designed costume rather than the dumb-looking one from Batman Eternal), which intentionally or not echoes a kernel of the plot from Alan Grant's "The Misfits" story arc from Shadow of The Bat.

Before the end, we see that Anarky is joining forces with The Victim Syndicate, one of the secret societies that Tyinon has been throwing at The Bats.

Joe Bennett pencils this issue, and Sal Regla handles the inks.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #32 (DC) Disclaimer: I am not an Atom Ant fan and, racking my brain, I don't actually have any memory of every having watched an Atom Ant cartoon, although it's quite possible I did. Therefore, this particular pairing doesn't really do anything for me personally, but regular writer Sholly Fisch and guest artist Scott Jeralds to a fine job of telling a story involving Scooby and the gang and a superhero who is also an ant.

This seems to be more of an Atom Ant story than a Scooby one--there's no real mystery to solve, and the monsters involved are actual monsters drawn in a style that is more likely Atom Ant's. It is, like almost every single issue of the series so far, professionally made and of a decent enough quality that anyone who can read should be able to wring some enjoyment out of it.

Snotgirl #8 (Image Comics) "The Boy Issue" focuses on the, well, the boys: Lottie's ex Sunny, Lottie's friend's horndog fiancee Ashley, fashionista-turned-police-detective John Cho and and Lottie's other friend's brother Virgil, who is here creepy as hell. Perhaps because of how self-contained it is, this issue struck me as one of the stronger and funnier ones.

While Ashley and Sunny intentionally--if reluctantly--hang out at a health club in this issue, the other character's cross their paths in what seems like it may or may not be coincidence. There is a lot of locker room talk, and some pretty good penis jokes. I may not be able to watch an episode of Power Rangers for some time without thinking of dicks, thanks to this issue.

Artist Leslie Hung does her usual incredible job on the art work, which spends a lot of time on something one rarely sees in comics: Genuinely hot guys, drawn hotly. Even in the manga I've read that has been devoted to boy-on-boy relationships, the depiction of those boys seems to be more pretty or cute than, well, all muscley and hunky, as it is here.

Lottie shows up for a key scene or two, but she seems confined to her house with allergies, so this is a Snotgirl comic in the fact that it shows the way so many other characters think about and talk about her.

If you haven't tried the series out yet, this might be a good one to sample. Sure, the storyline is a decent way along, but this is a kinda sorta done-in-one that gives a reader the flavor of the book and a decent sketch of the main character.