Thursday, June 01, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: May 31st

Josie and The Pussycats #7 (Archie Comics) This was, to my surprise, the most conventional, and least absurd issue of Josie to date, with less in the way of over-the-top weirdo plotting--I mean, there is still a scene in which The Pussycats use their instruments to battle a bear-themed electronica girl band with robot back-up dancers, but I'm talking relative to the first six issues--and with the pun-filled, dripping-with-allusion clever-speak turned down from, say, 16 to 7. That's not a compliant, because it's not necessarily a bad thing. Every comic needs to catch it's breath now and then, right?

The Pussycats are playing an awards show, which they are attending not only as performers but also because they have been nominated for a prestigious award. Simultaneously, they are beginning to doubt if this is exactly what they want to do with their lives; if being a big time rock and roll band is a means to an end, or an end in itself. And so they make a choice...after the aforementioned fight scene, in which we discover that Melody has something (or perhaps many things? Only future issues will tell!) in common with Marvel's Wolverine.

Oh hey, did you know Tom Grummett did a variant cover for this issue?
He did!

One bad thing about variant covers? Of, like, the many bad thing about variant covers? They inevitably make me want to drop titles and trade-wait them all, so that I don't have to choose between covers that I really, really like. I mean, I want to own an image of Tom Grummett drawing Archie's Josie, but I'm not going to buy two copies of the same comic. So why wouldn't I just wait until the trade, wherein all of the variant covers are collected? Think about it, Archie Comics! (You know what might be a good, expensive solution Archie will never do? Short, two-six page back-up stories by the sorts of artists they enlist for their various variants.)

Saga #43 (Image Comics) Now that Saga has reached over 40 issues, and spanned years of time within its pages, might it be getting a little too complicated for new readers to jump into? Its creators and/or Image Comics seem to have been thinking about that, which might explain why this issue, the first in a new run of the series (which occasionally takes breaks) is only twenty-five cents, and offers a fairly thorough recap of the most salient events leading up to this point in the series.

If you haven't yet read Saga, I assure you, this will be a quarter very well-spent, and it won't take long to catch up in trade (which you can even get from your local library! Which means you can read them for free!).

I was delighted by the shockingly unusual first page of the issue, which is unusual even for this series, which often has fairly insane first pages. I won't spoil it, but if features a humanoid owl in cowboy gear saying "Howdy, strangers" and gesturing to a old western-style sign reading four words I never expected to see, well, anywhere. Why is this alien character designed as an owl? I don't know for sure, but I suspect it is because at the end of her scene, when she walks away from a pair of our protagonists four pages longer, she can turn her head almost all the way around and look at them while she does so.

I laughed two more times before the issue was over.

So yeah, not only was it a quarter well spent, I don't know if I've ever spent a quarter so well.

Trinity Annual #1 (DC Comics) May is a month with five Wednesdays and you know what that traditionally means, right? Fifth Week Events! Er, yeah, that's what it used to mean. Now it just means "annuals," at least at DC Comics. If you religiously read this "Comic Shop Comics," which I'm pretty sure none of you do (I rarely even re-read 'em to check for spelling mistakes after I write 'em covfefe), then you know I don't regulary read Trinity. I tried the first few issues, and actually rather liked that first one, but as much as I love Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and as strong as Francis Manapul's artwork is, I thought the book itself was bewlideringly boring, and at this point I've read (and/or seen) all of the riffs on "For The Man Who Has Everything" I ever need to see. I really wish DC could find some way to just collectively move on from Alan Moore's contributions in the 1980s (Maybe after Superman gets done fighting The Watchmen, and the latest John Constantine book gets inevitably canceled again...?)

But this annual is drawn by Guillem March, a particular favorite artist of mine, and it's an annual and thus likely pretty self-contained, so what the hell, I thought?

Well the story, written by Robbie Williams, is only somewhat self-contained. It apparently picks up on something else from previous issues, involving an anti-Trinity alliance between Circe, Ra's al Ghul and...well, they tried to recruit Lex but he blew them off. And it will continue into future issues of Trinity, as the "Dark Trinity" from the current iteration of the always-getting-cancelled Red Hood book show up at the end. But, a few allusions to the past and a look at the future aside, it is fairly self-contained-ish.

Circe and Ra's have found something called Pandora Pits which have some kind of terrible evil power, and they are plotting against our heroes, when a mysterious man in a cloak arrives at their hidden island, drawn by the evil of the pits. When he is confronted by a bunch of League of Assassins ninjas, he recites a poem that reveals his identity:
Oh shit, it's Jason Blood! Well, it was Jason Blood, and now it's Etrigan. I like how much fidelity to Jack Kirby's original design March's depiction shows. He doesn't really seem to tweak the design at all, but still makes it somewhat his own by the virtue of his particular rendering style. His Demon is bigger, taller, leaner, because that's the way March draws his super-characters (I was also relieved not to see Etrigan in his dumb Demon Knights armor, which he was stuck wearing in the rather weird Justice League Dark direct-to-DVD animated film).

(Note the faces, especially)

The bad guys toss Etrigan in a pit, hoping that will be the end of him, but it isn't; he rises out, free of Blood, as big or bigger than the devil in the "Night On Bald Mountain" part of Fantasia and leading an army of sterotypical-looking red devils. It's up to The Trinity, who were having a nice dinner at one of Bruce Wayne's restaurants, to save the day.

Spoiler alert: They do.

I'm not crazy about Williams' poetry, which lacked the blunt, often lazy humor of Garth Ennis' or Alan Grant's, as well as lacing the floweriness of Alan Moore's, nor do I care for Circe's redesign, which includes a pointy piece of armor somewhere on her arm I never could make sense of, no matter how long I looked at a picture of it, but overall, as a fight comic, it's a fine one.

I like not only March's figure work, but also the way he draws action, some of it fairly subtle, as when his Etrigan regains the form of man, and a shroud of subtle speed lines and wisps of flame surround him, as if the demon's being washed off of Blood, or when Superman or the giant-sized Etrigan throw a blow with one hand, the way their other draws back. Oh how I wish March was working on one of those books that I read for the writing, but can't really ever enjoy because of the weak art (Batman and Detective leap most immediately to mind).

Wonder Woman Annual #1 (DC) While I suppose it's a shame that it costs $5--which is what, about half a movie ticket?--I suppose it's a good thing that this particular comic book will be on new comics racks the week that the Wonder Woman movie finally comes out. An anthology featuring four short, continuity-lite views of the character whose design was recently reconfigured to better resemble the movie version, this is a pretty okay place to start should you find yourself in a comic shop after having seen the movie, and wanting to try a Wonder Woman comic.

The first is from the "Wonder Woman: Year One" team of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott and entitled "And Then There Were Three..." In complete disregard of DC's current, five-and-a-half-year-old continuity, it depicts the first time Batman and Superman, who here already know one another, met Wonder Woman, almost immediately after events of that "Year One" story (If you care, they supposedly all met one another during the course of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's initial Justice League arc, in the midst of the invasion from Apokolips). Rucka has written all three of these characters during healthy runs in the past so it's no surprise how well he's got them all down; they all feel like "themselves" in a refreshing, if hard to explain way, right down to the banter between Batman and Alfred or Clark and Lois. It's great to see Scott, a consistently underrated talent, getting to draw Superman and Batman as well as Wonder Woman, too.

There's not a whole lot to the story, but at only 10-pages it does a pretty good job of defining the characters, the relationship between the World's Finest, and how admirable a character Wonder Woman is, to the point that Batman intimates that both he and Superman need to emulate her.

Next is "In Defense of Truth and Justice," by writer Vita Ayala (who wrote that terrible Flash/Wonder Woman team-up in that New Talent Showcase #1 special; this is much better) and artist Claire Roe. One-time Superboy villain King Shark, poorly-served by his random New 52 redesign which changed the shape of his head to that of a hammerhead shark, is about to be put to death for a crime he didn't commit in one of DC's various fictional Eastern European countries. Wonder Woman swoops in to save the day with some fisticuffs and proving the villain's innocence of this particular crime. Roe's art is pretty great. Her Wonder Woman is muscular and imposing, her posing always highly athletic, and Roe's art has thick lines and lots of blacks; as with Jordie Bellaire's bleak coloring, it seems perfectly appropriate for the grim occasion. The action scene is short, but it's effective, and I love the way Roe has Wondy rather casually blocking a pair of bullets with a flick of her wrist, and the loo of annoyance on her face as she does so. Plus, there's a nice Aquaman cameo!

Next? My least favorite of the four stories. "The Curse and The Honor" is by writer Michael Moreci and artist Stephanie Hans. It starts with a snowy sword fight between Wonder Woman and a Japanese sword master in a village somewhere, and then folds into a monster fight. The master has taken on a particular curse in order to save the village, but the cost is that he turns into a monster and thus has invited Wonder Woman there to kill him. She obliges. The problematic nature of the story is pretty evident. Wonder Woman might be reluctant to kill him, but you wouldn't really know it from reading the story. The short length means that Moreci and Hans can't show us Wonder Woman exhausting every other possibility first, but they Moreci could maybe at least mention that somewhere before Wonder Woman results to killing him. This is, sadly, fitting with a particular strain of Wonder Woman portrayal, where she's ruled by a pragmatic bloodthirstiness that aligns her closer with, say, Marvel's Wolverine or The Punisher than with DC's Batman and Superman.

It is probably particularly galling since it is followed immediately here by a story in which Wonder Woman is again faced with a monster, and she finds a peaceful solution (Actually, if you want to consider King Shark a monster, then I guess "The Curse" is actually sandwiched between two stories in which Wonder Woman spares monsters).

Finally, there's "The Last Kaiju" by writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing and artist David Lafuente. As much as I liked the first two stories in this annual, this one's my favorite, as it has a giant monster, dinosaurs and Lafuente, an artist whose work I like a lot, and wish I could see on a regular basis (I kinda hoped he would be drawing Batgirl and The Birds of Prey, back when I thought it might be the Birds who appeared in Batgirl near the end of the Carmeron Stewart/Brenden Fletcher/Babs Tarr run, or Detective Comics, after he drew a few passages near the end of Batman and Robin Eternal...or was that Batman Eternal...? Man, I don't think I have the memory for comics blogging anymore...!).

The plot? A Godzilla-esque giant monster, with a cool, geometric-shaped head, is off the Pacific Coast of somewhere, and SHIELD ARGUS is attempting to put it down. Wonder Woman joins the fray and, when she realizes that the monster is intelligent enough to speak after it comes in contact with her lasso, she defends it, ultimately flying it off to Dinosaur Island.

I'm a fan of Lafuente's art, and while I wouldn't have pegged him for someone who would be particularly adept at Wonder Woman, I like his tall, muscular with a cloud of black hair, and the way he accentuates the metallic highlights of her costume, right down to the boots, which appear to be as much brass sandals as actual boots. His monster is cool, too, suggestive of various kaiju without being a strict ape of any of them, and the face he draws on it when it is happy actually made me laugh out loud.

Of the four stories here, this is the one I think presents Wonder Woman at her very best. It demonstrates her many powers, including the rather unique one involving her lasso, and has her resolving a conflict peacefully--albeit it through action and the application of super-powers--rather than through violence.

This being an anthology, I assume other readers will have different reactions to the four stories than I did, but that doesn't change the fact that this is Wonder Woman anthology featuring four rather different artists drawing the character in different styles, and short, easily digestible stories that do a decent job of starting to define the character. It really read a bit like a long-lost issue of the recent-ish Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman digital-first series, although with consistent costuming.


Jer said...

Can't we all just agree to forget about Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's "Justice League" run? Or at least the first 12 issues of that run? Maybe we can pretend it all happened on "Earth-52"* and forget about it that way?

Especially that first arc. Which is clearly an attempt to give a "movie version" to how the Justice League was formed that presumed that the characters didn't know each other before that first Justice League outing. Since the movies are going in a different direction, there's no point to that arc at all and it's really terrible. (Not as terrible as the second arc, which is abysmally terrible, but worse than any of the ones that came after the first 12 issues).

* I am in fact in favor of having it turn out that every story that was written post-Flashpoint actually "really happened" off on the currently non-existent Earth-52. Folks who like the post New-52 continuity can keep it while DC adjusts to the new status quo. As to how to explain why things happened both on "Earth-0" and on this "Earth-52" in parallel - who cares? DC never explains anything to anyone's satisfaction anyway. Maybe they can blame it on Mopee and be done with it.

Caleb said...

Yeah, in retrospect, that first Justice League arc seems like it might have been better were it published in an original graphic novel as part of the Earth One line or something, as those have all felt more-or-less like OGN versions of movie versions of the comics. It's already been adapted into a direct-to-DVD animated movie, and it looks like it will heavily inspire the Justice League live-action movie. So I guess it did it's job in that respect, even if it hasn't done a very good job of setting up the Justice League in the DCU.