Friday, September 22, 2017


September is drawing to a close, which means there are just three short months left in this year, which means a whole lot of people who write about comics are going to be writing and publishing their best-of-the-year lists before long. If you are one such person, I would like to offer you a piece of advice: Be sure to read Hamish Steele's Pantheon: The True Story of The Egyptian Deities before you begin compiling your list.

It is probably the best comic I've read so far this year. At the very least, it was the funniest, and also my favorite. It is exactly what it says it is in the sub-title, and it manages to read simultaneously straightforward and like something akin to a parody, with the characters themselves sometimes offering sarcastic exegesis in their dialogue to their own fairly fucked-up actions. And comics proves to be the ideal medium for stories that were famously told in hieroglyphics (Here's a review, in blurb form: "Hamish Steele's Pantheon is as good a comic as Gods of Egypt is a bad movie!").

Given that the only place currently paying me money to write about comics is School Library Journal's Good Comics For Kids blog, and Pantheon is most definitely not appropriate for kids, there's a very good chance I won't actually formally review it anywhere, because it is so good, and it will be, well, like work to try and write a decent review of it. So instead, I will just offer my endorsement: Hamish Steele's Pantheon is the best comic, and you should all read it.

I reviewed Abby Howard's Dinosaur Empire here. I was genuinely surprised by how great it was.

I reviewed Man-Thing by R.L. Stine here. I was genuinely surprised by how bad it was.

Namor tries to explain the diminishing returns of relaunches to a Marvel executive.
The other day Tom Spurgeon linked to this essay at Paste, explaining how the nebulous "Legacy" initiative wasn't going to fix whatever it is exactly that has gone wrong at Marvel Entertainment's comics division of late. I say "whatever," but the real answer seems pretty obvious to me: For years and years and years now Marvel has increasingly relied on marketing and publishing strategies that offered fairly enormous short-term gains, but risked long-term damage to the market and their own brand. It seems like the short-term of all those strategies is now over, Marvel has entered the point that used to be long-term, and now the chickens have come home to roost, it is time to pay the piper and other such similar such metaphors.

I think Marvel still regularly publishes a lot of great comics, and, in truth, I read pretty much as much of the line as I possibly can, excepting the corners of the Marvel Universe that bear little to no interest for me--The Inhumans, The X-Men, Captain Marvel Carol Danvers, Deadpool--and the series I do genuinely like, but often get lost trying to read. (Of course, I do read them in trades that I borrow from the library, so Marvel gets almost no money directly from me: I still buy the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl trades, and I bought the R.L. Stine's Man-Thing trade mentioned above, but for the most part, I spend hardly any money at all on Marvel Entertainment products anymore).

Anyway, while reading this latest of think pieces and explainers about what the heck is wrong with Marvel on a Wednesday, the day I generally re-visit Midtown Comics's website to look at the week's new releases, I was reminded of something I notice every time I do so. Because I don't buy Marvel in serial format, I always just scroll quickly through their section of the shipping list. And it always takes forever compared to the time it takes to scroll through the sections devoted Dark Horse, DC, Image and Dynamite. Sometimes it's even longer than the time it takes to scroll through the section devoted to "Independents," which is basically "Everything Else," including sizable publishers like Archie Comics and Boom Studios.

This week, I thought I'd count, just out of curiosity. For the week of September 20th, DC had 36 entries in their section, a full 17 of which were variants, so that's actually just 19 new comics DC published this week, in all its imprints and sub-lines. Marvel had 44 entries, of which 16 were variants, so that's 28 new comics that Marvel published, and their line isn't broken up to the degree DC's is--it's mostly just Marvel Universe stuff and Star Wars licensed comics. There were only 81 comics in the non-Big Five category, to give you a sense of how many comics DC and Marvel published this week.

I was actually surprised they were so close, as Marvel always feels like they dwarf everyone else so much more dramatically with their weekly releases. So I looked ahead to next week, September 27th. There I see DC had 44 listings, while Marvel had 62, and 35 of those are variant covers, a hell of a lot of which are for a Legacy #1, which seems to be the start of a crossover event series of some kind...? So in addition to the gimmick covers and the re-numbering, Marvel is also doing a series to go along with the more cosmetic aspects of the initiative, and they are promoting it with...let's see...17 covers.

Anyway, in short, Marvel seems to publish too many damn comics every week. I think they've gotten better, and corrected the more obvious problems, like publishing two Doctor Strange books instead of just one, or three Black Panther books instead of just one, and actually even reducing their Avengers line to just two books (In December's solicits, Avengers and Uncanny Avengers are the only Avengers books; and even if you count Champions, which is written by Avengers writer Mark Waid and was built as a spin-off of his All-New, All-Different Avengers line-up, that's still three...the lowest number of Avengers titles in a while).

There is still room to cut though, and I don't think it needs to be (or should be) the more out-there low-selling titles, which are obviously meant to appeal to niche audiences and to sell in trade paperback form in other markets.

For example, come December there will be eight ongoing X-Men books: X-Men: Blue, X-Men: Gold, Astonishing X-Men, All-New Wolverine, Old Man Logan, Iceman, Jean Grey and Weapon X. That's a lot of X-Men books, particularly at a time when the franchise isn't selling so hot. Were I Marvel, I would probably start by cutting two--Astonishing, probably, since three books starring X-Men teams seems pretty excessive in the best of times, and Old Man Logan--and then maybe go from there, with Weapon X next on the chopping block and then maybe another solo title.

The Spider-Man franchise is even more crazy. Sure, they canceled Silk and Spider-Woman, so there's now just one book starring a female version of Spider-Man instead of three books starring a female version of Spider-Man, but there's still eight books: Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Deadpool, Spider-Man (starring Miles Morales), Venom, Ben Reilly: The Scarlet Spider, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (set in an alternate reality) and Spider-Gwen (ditto, although she seems to cross over a lot with the "real" Marvel Universe). There is a lot of room to cut here, and if the majority of your Spider-books are selling super-low, and they are all serving the same audience anyway, why give the Peter Parker version two ongoings, plus one for his clone (I think?) and another for an alternate reality version of Parker?

I am far from an expert, but these are the first things I would suggest Marvel try: 1)Publishing fewer titles per franchise, 2) Quite relaunching with new #1 constantly and 3) Knock it off with all the variants.

As I said, they do seem to be starting to put some of this into practice already, although not always in the best ways possible (as I've complained frequently, the new "Legacy" numbering is basically the same as relaunching with a new #1, only more confusing). And if variant covers are a problem, and I think they probably are, well, they don't seem to be backing away from them, as the number of them on next week's shipping list attached to Legacy #1 attests...

This is just one of the three covers for this issue, naturally.
Marvel's Generations time-travel team-up one-shots aren't directly related at all to Marvel's upcoming Legacy series, but I keep forgetting that, because the names are so similar. The Ms. Marvel one is the first I've actually read. There are actually a few that they've published so far that I was at least somewhat interested in, but I was, of course, trade-waiting (I assume they will all end up in a big Generations collections, or in the trade collections of the most relevant titles or, hell, maybe even both). My friend Meredith purchased this one though, so I read her copy.

The weirdest thing was that there isn't even a the barest attempt to explain why Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan has traveled back in time from the year 2017 to the 1970s. She just does, and everything else having to do with it comes via narration, based on her own understanding of genre conventions. It reads an awful lot like a tie-in to an event series or, perhaps, like an annual from an old-school thematic crossover, but, as far as I can tell, there is no one-shot or book-ending miniseries explaining why a bunch of the modern marvel characters like Ironheart and The Totally Awesome Hulk and Thor Jane Foster are travelling back in time to meet the original heroes that they are legacy versions of (Also, what, no Moonboy and Moon Girl?). That seems really fucking weird to me. At one point, Kamala does mention a cube, so maybe I'm just missing the tie-in...maybe they all spin out of a scene of Secret Empire...?

The comic is written by regular Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson, and drawn by Paolo Villanelli ; there's a kind of cute effect where the scenes set in the past are colored so as to suggest time-faded, old school comics paper. It's pretty disappointing though, at least given the premise. Kamala randomly travels back in time to 1970s New York City, wherein her namesake Carol Danvers was running a women's magazine--called simply Woman Magazine--for J. Jonah Jameson. Meredith has repeatedly texted me pictures of panels from the Essential Ms. Marvel trade collected those original comics, and they are awesome. I would have loved nothing more than a teenage girl from the year 2017 being inserted into the angry conversations about women's lib that Jameson and Danvers were having and shutting Jameson up (and while it's not like sexism is over or anything today, not by a long shot, it is certainly the case that Kamala grew up in a world where she didn't have to have as many of the fights that Danvers and her generation did, because those fights were already fought and won and popular opinion shifted so far away from the 1970s Jameson position and towards that of 1970s Danvers).

Alas, it was not to be. Jameson's in it, but it's little more than a cameo, and he barely screams about ladies, being more concerned with Kamala--who he mistakes as a new intern--being late, than whether women should work or be stay at home moms and so on. In that respect, I don't know that there's anything in the entire issue that's as funny as some of the random panels in Essential Ms. Marvel (The best gag is Kamala's shock at how far $20 goes in the 1970s, but then, I just saw that gag a few weeks back when Jughead discovered how much food he could buy in the 1970s when he and The Archies traveled back in time to meet the Ramones).

The thing that really struck me about this issue though? Guys, it is is sent in the 1970s. I was born in 1977, and I turned 40 this year. Let's be really, really generous and say that Carol Danvers was as young as 20 in the the 1970s, and that "the 1970s" is 1979. That would make Carol Danvers 58-years-old in the present day, but, more likely somewhere in her early-to-mid-sixties. Based on the way most artists draw her, I don't think she's really meant to be that old.

No variants, but the cover is "foil-stamped" with shiny Nth Metal ink or whatever.
I also read Batman: The Red Death #1 this week. That's the one-shot Metal tie-in detailing the origins of one of the seven bad Batmen from the Dark Multiverse, specifically The Flash/Batman amalgam. It was by the/a regular Flash creative team of Joshua Williamson and Carmine Di Giandomenico.

I was honestly a little confused at the beginning, as it is said to be occurring on "Earth-52," which I at first mistook to be the central Earth of the current DC Multiverse, but it featured Batman and The Flash fighting. The action will later move to "Earth-0," at which point I remembered that the 52 Earths of the DC Multiverse are numbered from Earth-0 to Earth-51; Earth-52 must therefore be the first Earth of the Dark Multiverse, that on the back of Grant Morrison's map of the Multiverse. Weird that the numbering would continue though, rather than there being 52 "Dark Earths" or whatever...although if the idea of the Dark Multiverse is that it is full of Earths that are always being destroyed, maybe there shouldn't be numbers there at all...?

As for The Batman vs. The Flash fight, the former was using the weapons of The Rogues, and wearing Captain Cold's glasses, for some reason. The idea is kinda cool, but also ridiculous; there's no way a Batman/Flash fight lasts longer than a few seconds, unless Batman has done some serious prep work, and having a freeze ray, weather-controlling staff and the ability to jump in and out of mirrors doesn't really cut it.

The Red Death's origin is pretty straightforward: Batman chained The Flash to the roof of a Batmobile and then drove into the The Speed Force, until he amalgamated himself with The Flash.

The story did not answer one question I have about The Red Death: Why is it that when he runs, he turns into a flock of glowing red bats? I mean, it looks cool as hell, but I'm not really sure why or how laser bats are the equivalent of lightning bolts when he uses super-speed.

Oh, and I suppose it is worth mentioning--if only because I personally find DC's obsession with the work Alan Moore did for them in the 1980s so fascinating--that there's a pretty direct and dramatic call-back to The Killing Joke in the script, as The Batman Who Laughs quotes from it.

There were three different covers for this issue too, one of which was blank. Seriously.
I also also read this, the first issue of a six-issue crossover being written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti and inked by Matt Ryan. This isn't that particular creative team's first crack at Wonder Woman, either; Simone had a 30-ish issue run on the Wonder Woman book between and 2007-2010, with the Lopresti and Ryan team  providing art for much of it (This fell between Allan Heinberg's aborted run and J. Michael Straczynski's aborted run, if you're trying to remember exactly where to place it).

I wasn't a particularly big fan of Simone and company's Wonder Woman, and I only lasted about an arc and a half or so, with occasional check-ins for interesting-looking issues (the return of Etta Candy, a Black Canary team-up, etc). That said, this miniseries by that particular old Wonder Woman team is remarkably well-timed. 

With the regular Wonder Woman title about to be temporarily turned over to writer James Robinson for a story that fans seem to have rejected upon hearing its synopsis--it's a follow-up to "The Darkseid War" and will feature Wonder Woman's brother--I imagine there will be plenty of Wondy fans dropping the main title. This could provide a pretty good home for them until DC finally figures out what to do with Wonder Woman again.

How good a Wonder Woman comic Wonder Woman/Conan actually ends up being will remain to be seen, of course. This first issue is really more of a Conan comic than a Wonder Woman one, and Diana's presence in his regular milieu isn't quite explained just yet. She's suffering from amnesia, apparently somewhat de-powered and missing her lasso and costume, although she's refashioned a crude likeness of her costume out of mud and rags.

Simone's take on Wonder Woman always seemed to accentuate her warrior aspect over every other aspect, which I found kind of grating and boring, but I suppose that will prove perfectly appropriate in a Conan comic, which Simone nails the language and rhythms of. Lopresti's art looks pretty great, but I can't help but wish one of the cover artists--Darrick Robinson and Liam Sharp--were drawing the interiors instead, or perhaps someone more completely over-the-top, like Kelley Jones or Simon Bisley.

At any rate, if you're a Wonder Woman reader distressed by the upcoming new direction of Wonder Woman, there's a pretty good chance that Wonder Woman/Conan will provide a solid substitute.

Speaking of not liking the sound of the upcoming Wonder Woman arc, I dropped the title from my pull while I was in the shop this week, and as long as I was dropping one book, I went ahead and dropped a second as well: Lumberjanes

My local comic shopkeep informed me that I was one of only two customers who had Lumberjanes on my pull, and now that I had dropped it, there was just one customer left. I didn't ask how many they were pulling at the high-point of Lumberjanes' popularity--I probably should have--but he did indicate that they had lost a lot over the years, and congratulated me for making it 42 issues. I outlasted everyone who patronizes my local comic shop, save one person!

Comic Shop Comics: September 20th

Batman #31 (DC Comics) In this issue, The Joker is in the middle of murdering someone in his secret headquarters, which the World's Greatest Detective has discovered the location of in his usual method: Kite Man told him where it was. Rather than acting to save the murder victim, Batman instead rallies with his new team of mass-murderers and terrorists--Mr. Zsasz, The Scarecrow, Two-Face, etc--and storms The Joker's headquarters via hang-gliders.

He finally makes a move to capture some of his many, many villains, taking out the majority of Team Riddler in one fell swoop, and the otherwise uneventful issue ends with The Joker, The Riddler and Batman all alone and in the same room.

As with most of the previous chapters of "The War of Jokes & Riddles," the issue is technically well-made, but the characterization is as off as any Batman story I've ever read without an "Elseworlds" logo stamped on the front.

As usual, the Tim Sale variant is so damn good it's a shame it's not the actual cover and, at this point, I'm long-past wishing I had just trade-waited Batman so I could get those Sale covers in the back of each volume:
The particular designs on Sale's cover don't quite match up with the interior art by Mikel Janin--Catwoman is wearing a version of her purple, Jim Balent costume in the interiors, and, of course, The Joker has stopped smiling--but it is otherwise a more accurate representation of the contents of the comic, as none of those characters depicted on the above cover even appear in the comic, save The Joker.

Nightwing #29 (DC) This is part two of the Dark Nights: Metal tie-in story, "Gotham Resistance." I guess part one came out last week, and was in an issue of Teen Titans, which I don't read. I kind of hate crossover stories of this nature, in which each chapter appears in a different book, as it generally means you either have to read all the books, or skip an issue you regularly read, or just try to muddle through (if I were just buying Nightwing off the rack, I likely would have just skipped the issue, but since it's on my pull-list I felt obligated to buy it).

To regular Nightwing writer Tim Seeley's credit, this issue was pretty easy to follow, with participating characters--the Teen Titans, The Suicide Squad, Green Arrow--all rather organically catching a reader up to what's brought them all together in Gotham City at this particular point. Essentially they are there to deal with the sorts of craziness that happens whenever there's this sort of world-threatening, cosmic order-altering crisis.

Apparently The Batman Who Laughs, the dark multiverse version of Batman who seems to be an amalgam of Batman and The Joker, recruits and empowers Mister Freeze, and so Nightwing, Robin, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn and Green Arrow battle their way through ice giants and wintery weather in order to beat Freeze to a cache of Nth metal weapons. This allows everyone to armor up and dress slightly differently; Nightwing's costume on the cover though is apparently a special cold-weather outfit he stopped at the Batcave to suit up in.

There are some plot points here that refer to the goings-on of Metal and previous Nightwing and Batman arcs, but for the most part it's just a bunch of characters wandering through a radically altered Gotham City, fighting and exchanging dialogue. So the muddling through works just fine.

Seeley is joined by guest penciler Paul Pelletier and inker Andrew Hennessy. Pelletier is and always has been a hell of a superhero artist, and this looks great, which no doubt goes a rather long way in helping make sense of it having skipped the first chapter. It is, after all, more difficult to get frustrated with a good-looking comic than it is a bad-looking comic.

Snotgirl #7 (Image Comics) The latest issue of Leslie Hung and Bryan Lee O'Malley's weird soap opera involving millennial fashion bloggers seemed like a particularly full one, featuring 26-pages of story and zero ads, not even one for the first Snotgirl collection, which you should totally buy and read (I'm actually kinda curious how it reads in trade, but it's one of those things I'll never really know, because even if I did read it in trade, I would have already read it serially, and so really I would be re-reading it in trade rather than reading it in trade.

Lottie tries to integrate Cool Girl into her circle of friends (or should that be "friends"...?), The Hater's Club, and they're off to a very, very rocky start. Meanwhile, the mysterious incident from the very first issue may not be in the past after all, as several other characters are circling around it. And, of course, there's another possible kinda sorta crime, or at least something that looks awfully crime-like, that Lottie may or may not be attached to. Fun stuff, for the seventh issue in a row now.

Superman #31 (DC) Fun fact: Superman isn't on my current pull-list because I want to to read 20-pages of Superman comics at $2.99 a pop every two weeks. I mean if "Superman comics, any Superman comics" were what I was interested in, well, there are hundreds and hundreds of issues of Superman comics I've never read before, many of which are created by masters of the form, and are available in more convenient formats than floppy comic books, and most of those I can get and read for free from my local library.

No, the reason Superman is on my current pull-list is I want to read Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Superman comics (with Gleason trading pencil duties off with Doug Mahnke and maybe an occasional fill-in artist).

This issue is the third in a row that is not by the "regular" creative team of Tomasi and Gleason, and the fourth out of the last six issues in which they did not participate.

 It was solicited as the start of an (admittedly kinda dumb-sounding) arc involving Lex Luthor and Apokolips, which sounds like a follow-up to Geoff Johns' last Justice League arc, "The Darkseid War" (Interestingly, Wonder Woman is also picking up on that pre-Rebirth, year+-old story arc this month too). Instead, it is the first chapter of a multi-part storyline in which Lois Lane pursues an interview with Deathstroke (and has apparently been in the drawer a bit, as it doesn't exactly line up with what's been going on in the pages of Deathstroke for a while now).

It follows a two-part Keith Champagne-written Superman vs. Sinestro storyline drawn by Mahnke and at least three other pencil artists (a storyline that was originally solicited to be by Tomasi, Gleason and Champagne, but didn't show up in shops that way), and that followed a two-parter by the regular writers and a guest artist (that weird American history story that was...well, weird), and  before that was another fill-in issue by another creative team entirely.

I guess I'm going to drop Superman; I can always catch up in trade later.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On Harley Quinn 25th Anniversary Special #1

If you're struggling with the math--or, like me, marveling at how fast time seems to pass once you reach 40--it should perhaps be noted that DC Comics is celebrating the 25 years that have passed since Harley Quinn's first appearance on Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. She wouldn't actually debut in comics until 1993, in an issue of cartoon tie-in comic Batman Adventures, and she wouldn't join the DC Comics Universe proper until 1999's Batman: Harley Quinn special. Perhaps because of the character's non-standard path--originating in a cartoon adaptation of the comics, then gradually working her way into the comics--it's appropriate that the Harley Quinn 25th Anniversary Special tackles various versions of the character.

I'm actually a little surprised at how slim a package it is though, given the character's seemingly exponentially growing popularity. It's just a $4.99 floppy, with four short stories totaling 32 story pages and six pin-ups. In terms of size and number of high-profile contributors, it's not much bigger than any of the many Harley Quinn one-shots and special issues DC put out when it was clear that they had a hit on their hands with the post-Flashpoint, second volume of Harley Quinn (Because DC relaunched all their titles during their "Rebirth" initiative, however, we are now on our third volume of a Harley Quinn ongoing series, although the creators and direction have remained the seam between the second and the third).

Of those pin-ups, my favorite is definitely the one contributed by Babs Tarr, who draws her own hybrid Harley with her old Gotham City Sirens co-stars Catwoman and Poison Ivy.
Tarr's an amazing talent, and particularly good at drawing sexy ladies. The issue is almost worth five bucks for her pin-up alone. The others are by Annie Wu (whose image prominently features Harley's pet hyenas, engaged in helping her wreck a psychiatrist's office), Bengal, Dustin Nguyen and Greg Tocchini, Kamome Shirahama (Looking at these reminded me of the old Gallery one-shots that DC used to publish, but have long since abandoned; I imagine with the price of comics now being what it is, it would be harder to make those seem like they were worth whatever the publisher sold them for, but I used to really enjoy seeing so many different artists' takes on particular characters in 1992's The Batman Gallery, 1994's The Sandman: A Gallery of Dreams and A Death Gallery, 1997's JLA Gallery and so forth).

The first of the four stories is set firmly in current continuity, and is by the regular Harley Quinn writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, with Conner also drawing it, something that happens far too infrequently (although, truth be told, the Harley Quinn monthly and its spin-offs have all generally had pretty good art, certainly better than that of your average DC Comic).

I had a hard time getting through this story, having skipped it the first time through the book and having to try two more times before I read it. As much as I like Conner's art, when it comes to Conmiotti's Harley comics, I am not a fan. This one has their character Red Tool--pronounce it "Deadpool," but with an "R" instead of a "D"--right there in the first panel, and when I see him my eyes roll so hard it makes reading comics somewhat difficult for a while afterwards. He is in a two-page framing sequence with Harley, between which is a "lost scene" from their 2015 Harley Quinn Road Trip Special co-starring Poison Ivy and Catwoman, probably most notable for all the great artists who contributed to it (like Moritat and the too-rarely-seen-at-DC-these-days Bret Blevins and Mike Manley).

Killing time before killing some dudes, Harley tells Deadpool Red Tool about how Vegas casino owner Yosemite Sam offered the three of them an ell-expenses paid stay in one of his hotels, and they got thrown out of it.

Harley's co-creator Paul Dini scripts the next story, "Birthday Blues," which seems to be set in The Animated Series continuity, or at least adjacent to it. Rather than being paired with Bruce Timm, the noticeably absent other creator of the character, Dini is working with regular Harley Quinn artist Chad Hardin. It's a pretty fun little story with the meta angle of Harley celebrating her 25th birthday, and how The Joker and Poison Ivy are involved in said celebration. There's a twist within a twist at the end, and as short as it is, those twists serve to pretty perfectly define all three characters and their relationships.

As great as it would have been to see Timm or someone who worked on Batman Adventures draw this, it was actually really interesting to see Hardin drawing the costumes from the TV cartoon, adapting the designs into his own style, which is very different than that of Timm (And, if you've spent as many hours of your life as I have on that show, it's fun picking out which designs from which season Hardin chooses, and to what extent; his Catwoman, for example, is wearing a costume that looks like a compromise between that of the first season and her more recent Darwyn Cooke-designed comic book cat suit. The Joker has the hairstyle and pointy-nose of TAS's redesigned Joker, but not the weird eyes; Killer Croc looks as he did on the cartoon, but with spikes. And so on.)

The most surprising stories are the two that follow. The first of these is by writer Daniel Kibblesmith and artist David Lafuente (a great artist who I really wish I could see more of, preferably on a regular, ongoing basis). Entitled "Harley Quinn & Friends In...Somewhere That's Green!", it is perhaps a little too timely in its reference to a deadly hurricane bearing down on the city (New York here, not Gotham).

Gal pals Harley and Ivy are in a grocery store to get supplies, when Swamp Thing grows out of the produce stand. He needs Ivy's help because of her connection to The Green, and Harley basically invites herself along. The Swamp Thing/Harley Quinn rapport was interesting enough that I kind of wish DC hadn't cancelled Harley's Little Black Book, as I wonder if it was fun watching those two interact because the short space here meant Kibblesmith could squeeze in all the potential good bits, or if the characters really could have the chemistry to carry a whole over-sized comic story.

If nothing else, Kibblesmith gets Swamp Thing in a raincoat and rain hat for a few panels; that's awesome.

As I mentioned, I really liked Lafuente's art, but it was especially good in this story, which had enough of a comedic tone that he could fill the backgrounds with loose, cartoony, caricature-like drawings, and go pretty wild with Swamp Thing. (Colorist John Rauch deserves some props here too, particuarly given his way with Harley's hair.

The final story was probably my favorite, and it came from the unlikely team of writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Joe Quinones, who are more Marvel guys than DC guys at this point (much to DC's detriment, if you ask me!). Entitled "Bird Psychology," this is the first story in the book to involve Batman, and, of course, Robin.

It's set somewhere...unclear-ish. Harley's look here is unique to this story, not lining up with that of TAS, The New 52, or the Margot Robie-in-Suicide Squad inspired "Rebirth" redesign. There's a Robin heavily involved, but the costume doesn't really give us any clues; it looks closer to Tim Drake's original than any other design, but then, the TAS Dick Grayson's suit looked a lot like Tim's comics costume, and the post-Flashpoint Dick also wore a more Tim-like costume...this one has some of the weird elements of Dick's New 52 Robin get-up but, like Harley's costume, is unique to this story (Based on the dialogue, in which Harley intuits that he's an orphan, it is probably meant to be Dick). The Joker and Batman both look like their TAS selves or their post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint selves, but neither of them is too terribly easy placed in any particular milieu by their duds alone. All that said, the red skies, the black buildings and the particular designs and costuming of Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya all definitely suggest that this is supposed to be a Quinones-ized TAS story.

This is, in broad strokes, a Batman and Robin vs. The Joker and Harley Quinn story, in which the superhero and his archvillain do battle, assigning their sidekick and moll to fight. The Joker underestimates Harley as per usual, and she ends up choosing to do good and play hero on the sly, because as crazy a bad girl as she might be, she's not, like, evil. Harley, and, to a lesser extent, Robin, are the focus of the story.

As well constructed as Zdarsky's plot is, it was the little elements that I really dug; he does a fine job of making The Joker seem like a completely insane criminal without having to, like, dwell on his homicidal tendencies. The story just cuts from The Joker at his work bench, plotting, to his plot already in progress, where Batman and Robin are fighting goons in adult pajamas, The Joker is wearing an old timey night shirt and night cap with sheep oven mitts on his hands, and there's a giant, angry Batman Tsum Tsum with a mouth full of striped missiles...? The creators do a pretty good job of nailing '90s Joker, particularly TAS-style Joker, where he could be menacing, scary and completely insane, without also having to be, like, Freddy Krueger or whatever.

Quinones is a fine artist, and this particular script allows him to pack in all sorts of great details; every available space of The Joker's hideout has an Easter Egg to some previous Joker story from some previous medium in it.

So while I didn't love all of this, the good in it definitely outweighed the bad, and it's certainly a reliable purchase for the casual Harley Quinn fan.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Some Batman-related trades I've recently read:

Batgirl: Stephanie Brown Vol.1

It's unclear if DC is going to continue collecting the 73-issue, 2000-2006 volume of Batgirl after the third collection of Batgirl: Cassandra Cain (which ended the run by the original creators, and would be a fairly natural stopping point). The release of Batgirl: Stephanie Brown Vol. 1 at this point would seem to argue against it, though.

This collection includes the first 12 issues of the 24-issue, 2009-20011 Batgirl series, the one starring former Spoiler, former Robin Stephanie Brown as the new, third Batgirl. So yeah, with this collection released, the entire series is already half-collected; smart money says DC will definitely get around to collecting all of the issues of this particular volume of Batgirl.

This was actually kind of a fun read for me, as I skipped them the first time around, so it was all new to me.

As to the why, well DC basically "broke" Batgirl in a series of poorly considered moves starting with the "One Year Later" arc of Robin, and subsequent attempts to fix the damage they did there in comics like Teen Titans and a Batgirl miniseries. That Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, had essentially become so narratively toxic that she barely appears in this series; the moment in which she hands over her costume and her codename to her friend Stephanie Brown consists of her basically just stripping off her costume and then peacing out, disappearing into the Gotham night (in her underwear, I guess).

I additionally kind of hated the new costume, a purple, black and gold affair that had an Utlimate Marvel-like quality of "realism" to it, looking like something that might appear in a live-action movie starring Batgirl, rather than a tolerable costume design (the even gave her a utility garter belt, to echo the one she had in earlier Spoiler costumes). Of course, on the other side of The New 52, wherein everybody had terrible new costumes, this one doesn't look so bad at all.

Finally, the book just kind of looked poorly-drawn. That's one of the detrimental factors that repelled me from the monthly, serially published that time has not healed. Just looking at the credit page of this collection, there are 15 credited artists. That is a lot of artists for a 12-issue series. Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott are the "regular" penciler and inker, respectively, but by my count Garbett pencils seven issues solo, with four other of the other issues involving him splitting pencilling duties with another artist. Scott inks just four issues solo, two others with another inker, one with two other inkers, and then others ink the rest. While the book looks mediocre at best for these first 12 issues, the constant fluctuations of style and ability that comes with so many artists trying to draw a single book over the course of just one year certainly don't help matters at all.

It's really a shame, because writer Bryan Q. Miller seems to be on fairly solid footing here, once old Batgirl Cassandra Cain is waved off the stage. Stephanie Brown is about to start her freshman year in college, and just about everything has changed for her and the rest of the Bat-family of late. Batman dying will do that.

It took me a bit to orient myself exactly, but at this point in Bat-history Bruce Wayne was temporarily dead, Tim Drake had taken the name Red Robin and left Gotham City, Dick Grayson had assumed the role of Batman and was fighting alongside the new Robin Damian Wayne, Alfred apparently left town to lead The Outsiders (???) and, as previously noted, Batgirl randomly decides to quit being Batgirl, handing Steph her costume with a series of short, cryptic declarative sentences: "I fought for him. But no more. Now, the fight is yours..."

So Steph continues to scratch her vigilante crime-fighting itch as the new Batgirl, until original Batgirl Barbara Gordon busts her. Like everyone else, Babs doesn't really think Stephanie has the chops for this, and wants her to stop immediately. That's one charming difference between this Batgirl and the previous ones. She's not a genius like Barbara, and she's not an invincible, natural-born fighting machine like Cassandra: She's basically just got a good heart, a lot of pluck and the experience that comes with years of trying to run with the bats, screwing up and falling short, but getting back up again. In Batman comics, Stephanie Brown is the epitome of dusting yourself off and trying again.

Miller gets that, accentuates it and makes it integral to her characterization and the premise of the series. Like Kelley Puckett and Scott Peterson did on the previous Batgirl series, he pairs Stephanie with Barbara Gordon as a mother/mentor figure, giving Babs co-star status, but Miller's series takes it a step further. While the previous Batgirl starred a teenage vigilante who was torn between to "parents" with different ideas about who she should be in Barbara Gordon and Batman, this series essentially posits Batgirl as a collaboration between Stephanie Brown and Barbara Gordon, who supplies her with a new suit, Batman-level tech and weapons and constant Oracle-ing.

Within a matter of issues, it's Barbara Gordon and Stephanie Brown against the world. Meanwhile, Babs takes a job teaching at Stephanie's school, she develops a crush on a cute classmate whose father is tied to organized crime, and new Gotham City police detective Nick Gage is posited as the center of a potential love triangle involving the ladies of Team Batgirl. Gradually, Wendy Harris is introduced to the book and becomes a greater and greater part of the cast, eventually becoming another protegee of Oracle's; Wendy, if you have forgotten, blocked it out of your mind or were lucky enough to never read it, was the DCU version of the Superfriends character, who was paralyzed by a monster version of Wonder Dog, who killed and ate her brother Marvin. It was a stupid, stupid time at DC Comics; this follows not only the events of that series, but I'm assuming something that must have happened in Birds of Prey too, as Barbara apparently has history with Wendy and The Calculator, Wendy and Marvin's father.

Because of the particular make-up of the Batman line at the time, we get to see Oracle and the new Batgirl working with (and/or against) the Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne version of the Dynamic Duo. Damian and Stephanie play off one another delightfully, as Damian is 1000-times more forceful in his condemnation of Steph than Tim or even Batman ever were, and it was actually kind of fun to see the restoration of the old Batgirl/Robin dynamic, where in Robin looked down on Batgirl and she resented the fact that he and Batman didn't accept her as a full partner. It's also fun to see Dick-as-Batman having disagreements about how to train and manage kids in capes with Barbara instead of Bruce-as-Batman, given Dick and Babs' long, occasionally romantic history, and, of course, the fact that they themselves used to be Robin and Batgirl.

Despite the relatively poor and rather inconsistent art (particularly when compared to that of the Batgirl: Cassandra Cain collections), I rather enjoyed this, and especially appreciated how these first 12 issues of the series all read like single graphic novel in one sitting. There are multiple story arcs within, but they read like chapters in one big story arc. It is also particularly effective as the culmination of Stephanie Brown's life story, whereas after years of trying to work as Robin's partner, or Batgirl's sidekick, or as Robin, or solo, she's finally found where she truly belongs.

So of course DC would cancel the book 12 issues later and reboot the whole universe, so that Stephanie Browns' years-long mega-story arc never actually happened, and we would eventually get a weird, bowdlerized version of the character that lacked the history, relationships and personality traits that made the pre-Flashpoint version of the character appealing in the first place.

DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Batman Vs. Predator

The official title is a bit of a mouthful, but this $35*, 370-page trade paperback is a pretty great collection, including all three Batman/Predator miniseries: 1991's Batman Vs. Predator, 1995's Batman Vs. Predator II: Bloodmatch and 1997's Batman Vs. Predator III: Blood Ties. As is so often the case with sequels, each consecutive miniseries was less good than the one that preceded it, but all three are head-and-shoulders above the comics featuring Batman's last two encounters with the Predator species of alien hunters, 2001's JLA Vs. Predator and 2007's Superman and Batman Vs. Alien and Predator.

I read the first of these in single issues as they were released, but this time was my first time re-reading that story in a very long time. Bloodmatch I only read for the first time rather recently and I am fairly certain this was the first time I read the third series (or, if I had read it before, I had somehow managed to completely forget ever having done so).

That first was written by Davie Gibbons and featured art by the Kubert brothers, with Andy penciling, Adam inking (and lettering) and Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh coloring. I recall it having been a rather big deal at the time, being one of the relatively early inter-company crossovers of its kind. I liked it a lot back then, and it holds up remarkably well.

Gibbons wrote what was basically a Batman story featuring a Predator alien, as the Dark Knight uses his detective skills, fighting prowess and technological achievement to solve a series of spectacularly brutal murders that are eventually attributed to a so-called "See Through Slasher."

The Predator, this one bearing the one from Predator II's massive arsenal of sci-fi weaponry, arrives in Gotham City, finds a hiding spot, and then proceeds to watch the news to look for the city's best fighters and all-around tough guys, starting with a pair of championship boxers, and then their gangster patrons, ultimately going after crime-fighters like Commissioner Gordon and, of course, the Batman himself. The final fight involved Batman suiting up in a special costume of the sort a Batman action figure line might include, and ultimately beating on his foe with a baseball bat.

It's very much the work of a writer-writer, rather than a fan writer, as Gibbons is pretty intent on telling a complete standalone story--albeit it one set within Batman continuity--instead of what one might expect from a more modern writer who grew up on such comics. Like, I'd certainly want to see Predator take on Batman's rogues gallery, although that would necessarily have to be an Elseworlds kinda comic. Gotham City is, after all, something of a game preserve stocked with the worst killers in the world.

I remembered really liking the Kubert's art back then--when this would have been among the first comics I had read--and I'm genuinely surprised at how well that holds up. There's a touch of the '90s about it, aesthetically, but it more closely resembles, say, Jim Lee inked by Joe Kubert than the art of either Kubert brother today, one of whom has since drawn a fairly healthy number of comics featuring Batman since his collaboration with Grant Morrison on "Batman and Son."

The coloring of their art is pretty stylized, with an almost Vertigo-esque palate. It looks more like a Dark Horse Predator comic of that era, rather than a Batman comic of that era, alternating between dim and dark, with the most colorful pages being somewhat washed out in their look. The brightest color in the whole comic is the red of the blood.

Bloodmatch was written by Doug Moench and featured pencil art by Paul Gulacy and inks by Terry Austin. In that one, a rogue Predator makes a surprise comeback to Gotham--the end of the first crossover implied that Batman had hoped by proving how dangerous he was to hunt, he would have scared future visits from more of that particular kind of alien--and The Huntress, who was at that point a very unwelcome presence in Gotham City, trying to fight crime there using more violent methods that Batman was willing to condone.

Moench's plot is a lot more busy than Gibbons', but it still works as both a Predator narrative and a Batman one, and Gulacy's art is always a treat. There's a real weirdness to his character designs and acting that I find enormously appealing.

Finally, there's Blood Ties. This one feels so much like a regular Batman comic that it actually could have run in the pages of Batman or Detective Comics. Maybe that has something to do with the presence of writer Chuck Dixon, who was writing like at least half of all Batman comics during any given month back then. Batman and Robin Tim Drake are dealing with Mister Freeze and his gang, when two visitors appear to join the hunt (There's a neat moment where Mister Freeze's lack of discernable body temperature renders him invisible to the Predators, who can only seen heat-signatures).

Batman tries to keep Robin completely out of the loop, as he thinks the Predators are far too dangerous for his teenage sidekick, but that ultimately proves impossible, as it turns out these two Predators are a father and son pair, and each has chosen one of the Dynamic Duo as their quarry. Batman sets a trap for them, in which he wears another special Preadtor-fighting costume--this one with a Robocop-like visor that echoes the one worn by the special alien-hunters in Bloodmatch, while Robin and Alfred face off against the younger one in the Batcave.

Among the innovations of Dixon's script, drawn by pencil artist Rodolfo Damaggio and inker Robert Campanella, is a fleshing out of something implied in the Predator II film, that these Predators have been visiting Earth for a very, very long time, and we see flashback-like scenes where they encounter human foes in centuries past and acquire trophies for them (which suggests another DC Comics/Predator story, in which Predators visit various historical heroes like Jonah Hex and Enemy Ace and the Crimson Avenger and Sgt. Rock and The Sandman Wesley Dodds, although perhaps there aren't any such heroes with enough name recognition to justify ever publishing such a series. It would be more interesting than anything like Superman and Batman Versus Aliens and Predator, though!).

There are plenty of goodies beyond the comics themselves in here too. There's what appears to be a Dave Gibbons foreword to the original collection of the original series, and afterwords from co-editors Diana Schutz and Denny O'Neil. That last one is particularly interesting, as in it O'Neil admits he had next to nothing to do with the actual editing of the series, and his main contribution was deciding whether or not Predator and Batman belonged in the same comic, given their diverse milieus, and the justification he came up with (While there's an aura of the sci-fi about the Predator aliens, the way they are always presented, in film as well as in the comics, is so mysterious that they are essentially just strange, monstrous killers whose origins are secondary, and thus there's little difference between Batman fighting one of them and Batman fighting, say, a vampire or werewolf or suchlike).

That justification was even needed and considered shows how unusual the crossover was in 1991 and 1992, and how much more vigilantly Batman was policed for internal, aesthetic consistencies back then.

That's followed by what's called a "Pinup and Cover Gallery," although I could swear most of those pin-ups come from what Schutz refers to as the "fershlugginer trading cards." So in addition to covers by Christopher Warner, Arthur Suydam, Simon Bisley (artist for Batman Vs. Judge Dredd, another very early inter-company crossover), DaMaggio and Gibbons, there's a fairly fantastic gallery of images of Batman fighting Predator, many of them from artists who would go on to do some pretty damn notable Batman work in the future: Arthur Adams, John Byrne, Jackson Guice, John Higgins, Adam Hughes, Michael W. Kaluta, Sam Kieth, Joe Kubert, Mike Mignola (that's a re-colored version of his image that graces the cover of this collection), Steve Rude, Tim Sale, Walt Simonson (Damn, look at those Batman ears! We often talk about Batman ear-length, but Batman ear-width gets considerably less attention), Matt Wagner and Tom Yeats.

The Wagner image is a particular favorite, and one I quite clearly remember from first seeing it some 25 years ago. It featured Batman stalking through the sewers, a black blade in each hand, one of which is shaped like a bat, while what must be a 12-foot Predator looms behind him, the dripping water short-circuiting its light-bending camouflage technology, and its face hidden in shadow save for pupil-less red eyes and white teeth.

I'm in no hurry to read another, modern Batman/Predator comic, although I can think of at least two reasons why I'd love to see one. First, I'd like to see more of Matt Wagner's version of the Predator (and Wagner's a hell of a Batman writer as well, handling a memorable Legends of the Dark Knight arc entitled "Faces," a pretty great Batman crossover with his Grendel character and, more recently, a suite of "Year One" era miniseries) and, second, I haven't seen Kelley Jones draw a Predator yet.

So maybe if DC and Dark Horse hired Wagner to write and draw a Long Halloween/Dark Victory-style and -sized series, with Kelley Jones on covers, that would be pretty alright with me.

Robin Vol. 4: Turning Point

This latest collection of the early-nineties launched, Chuck Dixon-scripted Robin ongoing series contains eight issues of Robin, plus the lead stories from two issues of Showcase '94. The interesting thing about the collection, which isn't a very good read, is that every single issue in it is part of a crossover of one kind or another, and, with the exception of the Robin/Showcase '94 crossover, none of those crossover stories can be collected here in their entirety, given their size. They have been collected elsewhere, but after the first sixty pages or so, the rest of the book is devoted to the Robin chapters of "KnightQuest," "KnightsEnd," "Prodigal" (chapters 4, 8 and the conclusion) and Zero Hour (the tie-in as well as Robin #0, both of which I just recently re-read in the Batman: Zero Hour collection).

Given the apparent remit of the series of collections, there's no other way around this, really, but it makes for a particularly off-putting reading experience. I mean, I managed just fine, but then I read almost all of these comics once before, and I also read the missing chapters of stories like "KnightsEnd" and "Prodigal" and so on. Picking this up today and reading these stories for the first time might be difficult, although I guess most readers would be able to figure out what else they need to read to make sense of what's going on.

The one complete story in the volume is entitled "Benedictions," and it features pencil art by Phil Jimenez (who actually draws a fair amount of this collection) and inks from three different inkers, one per issue. A sequel of sorts to Dixon's third pre-monthly miniseries, Robin III: Cry of The Huntress (which had some downright goofy special covers), it re-teams Robin with the mafia-hunting black sheep of Gotham City vigilantes.

Like so many of Dixon's scripts, the basic plot was somewhat generic, and could have been used for just about any superhero character: An unlikely mob boss moves to seize control of organized crime in the city, and an even more unlikely deadly vigilante attempts to stop her, with Robin and Huntress caught in the middle. That said, I always dug--and still dig--the chemistry between Dixon's version of Tim Drake and The Huntress.

Whenever Batman and Huntress teamed up (like in Batman Vs. Predator II: Bloodmatch, above), there was a predictable, even tedious dynamic between the two, with the stern Batman lecturing her on her use of force, her lack of training and the fact that Gotham was his city and he was therefore boss of everyone wearing a cape in it (His objections to her brutality always felt a little off too, as it's not like she ever actually killed anyone, or hurt her criminal prey any worse than he did, you know? If you're arguing whether shooting someone in the leg with a crossbow bolt is crueler than beating them into unconsciousness with your bare hands or giving them concussions with pointy metal projectiles well, at that point it's getting pretty academic).

Robin, being a teenager, was more of an irritating little brother to her. Judging her and always rubbing in the fact that he had Batman's sanction and knew everything about her, while she knew next to nothing about the Dynamic Duo.

That's followed by the Tom Grummett-drawn conclusion to "KnightQuest," in which Jack Drake and Bruce Wayne both return to Gotham City and Bruce sees what Jean-Paul Valley has been up to in his absence. Then there are two issues of "KnightsEnd" tie-ins, in which Grummett and inker Ray Kryssing get to draw Nightwing, Lady Shiva and both Batmen. Then there are the two Zero Hour-related issues, also by Grumett, and three chapters of "Prodigal," two-and-a-half of which are penciled by Jimenez (the final issue is divided between a tense talk between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson in the Batcave, as the former is ready to reclaim his mantle from the latter's stewardship, which is drawn by Jimenez, and Tim's battle against Steeljacket, penciled by a John Cleary).

It was nice to see such relatively early Jimenez art, which proved what a really great artist he was. His work is super-detailed, resulting in figures that were as close to photo-realistic as you were likely to get in those days (something achieved by hand, rather than with a computer), and his characters all had a George Perez-like range in their acting.

He draws a handful of great cityscapes that look like he must have labored over them forever, and I really liked the detail work he brought to the characters, the way his Tim looks like a 15-year-old kid, or his Azrael Batman's intricate costume looked realistic rather than the work of an overly fussy Jim Lee clone and, especially, the way he drew Dick Grayson Batman's  "shoulder spikes," so that they are a part of the costume, and not merely an artistic flourish.

That last issue is actually pretty great, because it contrasts the work of Jimenez with Cleary, whose work I am not familiar with, but draws here like a mix between a then-popular Todd MacFarlane/Rob Liefeld style artist and a Batman Adventures contributor, resulting in images that are ridiculously overblown but also kind of cartoony. (As I was writing this paragraph, I paused to send cellphone photos of his Renee Montoya to my friend Meredith, who likes Gotham Central's Montoya a lot; Cleary poses her in various crazy ways, my favorite panel probably being the one where she's posed at the bottom of a flight of stairs, her left foot on the floor, her right foot on the sixth step up. She looks like a giantess climbing the stairs sideways, like a crab.)

I also quite clearly remembered the end of the Grayson/Wayne conversation, which actually brought a tear to my eye.

The cliffhanger ending has Robin returning to the Batcave to find Dick back in his Nightwing costume, as Bruce Wayne was ready to go back to being Batman. Jimenez's final splash, shows Tim and Dick reacting to Batman's new costume, which is drawn so that all we can see is the whites of his eyes and the yellow of his bat-symbol and utility belt.

If you were reading back then, this was teasing the debut of his new all-black costume, which would be prominently featured on the covers for the next issues of Batman, Detective, Shadow of The Bat and Robin, including on embossed black covers.

I liked the Kelley Jones covers best. Here's the regular cover, which was awesome...
And here's the embossed one, which, um, obviously didn't photograph well, being all-black and all...

*Considerably less on Amazon, but you shouldn't buy comics from Amazon. You should totally support your local comic shop.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: September 13th

Dark Nights: Metal #2 (DC Comics) If I had to boil the feelings I experienced while reading this issue down to a single word, it would probably be this one: Glee. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and company's Metal storyline fills me with the kind of overwhelming, imagination-firing glee I used to feel when reading Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's JLA run in the late '90s, a feeling I've rarely gotten from comics since (Morrison's JLA: Classified arc, elements of 52, maybe Wednesday Comics and a few bits of Mutiversity).

Feelings aside, there is some commonality between Snyder's scripts here and Morrison's during his JLA days, including the focus on DC's flagship icon characters, the palpable sense of unfolding apocalypse and, most appealingly, the sense of synthesis that comes from reorganizing a decades-old shared universe in new and original ways that nevertheless feels right.

The indication very early on in the story, from the two-part prelude, was that the title referred to Nth Metal. As it turns out, Nth is just one of five metals that Batman has been slowly being anointed with since Snyder's first story arc on the New 52 Batman. In this issue, he is touched with the fifth and final metal, which is given a name that is hilariously awesome. It is the sort of thing that Morrison's DCU writing excelled at, presenting something that is Silver Age silly, with the straight face of modern, more realistic, "darker" storytelling, so that it is ridiculous yet cool, a hyper-ventilating kind of craziness that is best achieved in superhero comics. (You've likely already heard talk of what I'm referring to, if you haven't read it yourself. Nevertheless, I'll not spoil it directly, but I will point out that Wonder Woman's bracelets used to be made out of Amazonium, and there's a fantastic Captain Marvel story in which the metals Sivanium, Shazamium and Marvelium are all invented*).

While that particular panel announcing the new metal was probably my favorite for its audaciousness, there's a lot to like in this issue. My next favorite was probably Capullo's close-up of Robin Damian Wayne driving a huge truck, where the steering wheel looks like the size of an old-time sailing ship's wheel compared to his tiny frame. I also really like Aquaman's current look, and the way Snyder and Capullo make him look bad-ass, and one of the World's Greatest Heroes, not by dwelling on and trumpeting his awesomness, but just by having him do kinda awesome stuff in the background, like here standing atop a giant river catfish in the Amazon, and taking out (a) Batman with a casual throw of his trident.

The plot for this issue has the Justice League, leading the superhero community in general, on a desperate hunt for Batman, who has absconded with a terrible weapon just as the world seems to be ending....and sprouting bat-symbols. The League finds Damian and a team of decoy Batmen in the Amazon where they throw down.

Superman and Wonder Woman eventually find and confront Batman in an Egyptian tomb, where he threatens the with an adorable but devastating weapon. Both Batman and Kendra Saunders (and a "legion" of immortals) have strategies for staving off the coming of Barbatos, but they seem very desperate, and perhaps ultimately moot, as the issue ends with Batman turning into a gate for eight evil Elseworlds characters, all of whom look like Batman crossed with a Leaguer or a villain, and one of whom looks like he's either a Batman/Spectre, or perhaps Barbados himself.

It's a lot of fun, obviously, and let me say once again: Snyder and Capullo for Justice League. This is, after all, essentially just a Justice League story, although one that is highly-focused on Batman and also has import for the DC Universe in general. Imagine 20-pages of this a month for years, and DC's comic starring a collection of its greatest heroes once more being its best (and best-selling) title.

I will, nevertheless, complain some. Okay, first of all there are just 22-story pages in this $3.99 comic. I am guessing the extra buck is because they know they can get away with it, but I don't know that metallic ink on the cover justifies that price to me. And a two-page spread devoted simply to the credits? Well, maybe that was okay for the first issue, but on the second, it's kind of annoying, and will get increasingly more annoying with each passing issue (those two pages aren't among the 22 I mentioned, as they credits don't appear over anything, just snippets of imagery from the previous issue in a dark red collage.

Also, and this isn't a complaint so much as something weird, but when Batman tries to explain to Superman and Wonder Woman what's going on and why he's going to do what he's going to do to stop it, it becomes clear that this story is a follow-up of sorts to Morrison's Final Crisis, Batman RIP and The Return of Bruce Wayne stories: It was while he was Omega Sanction-ed out of time and then had to fight his way through reincarnations to bring himself back to life that Batman came to the attention of the bat-demon Barbatos, and his plan is to get re-Omega Sanction-ed on a one-way trip to put a stop to this current apocalypse, which has been custom crafted in his image.

Now, the passages from Golden Age Hawkman Carter Hall's journals discuss the origins of the multiverse (and the familiar hand of Kronos imagery), but also make a point of saying that there are different versions of the story of where the multiverse (and, one assumes, the dark multiverse) come from. Still, it is maybe worth pausing and thinking about the fact that this storyline, a retroactive climax of sorts to Snyder's half-decade or so writing in the New 52 continuity, is premised in part on the events of Final Crisis and its aftermath. Not only should Final Crisis not have happened any more--at least, not so that any of the characters should remember, except maybe this Superman, who is the pre-Flashpoint Superman now, I guess--but it can't have happened in anything even approaching the way it did. Hell, right from the start, it's impetus was the long-dead Flash Barry Allen returning from the dead through time and being received by The Flash Wally West and, well, Barry Allen never died anymore, did he?

I don't know that I can parse the ways in which DC's various continuity altering crises relate to one another anymore--Parallax, Superman, Supergirl I and others going back in time to prevent the climax of Crisis on Infinite Earths at the end of Convergence is the point at which I become hopelessly lost--but I found it interesting that so much of Metal refers back to something so out of continuity now.

This is likely another example of Snyder mostly ignoring the changes wrought by Flashpoint--for the most part, in his Batman writing the only real evidence of the change has registered via guest-appearances by Tim Drake, dressed in a dumb-ass costume, or Batgirl Barbara Gordon, or Red Hood Jason Todd being on the inside of "The Family."

At some point--maybe by the end of Metal, maybe in Doomsday Clock--DC is going to have to clean everything up, pick a continuity and, hopefully, stick with it for a quarter century or so, but I guess we'll see. This storyline, like whatever Johns introduced in DC Universe: Rebirth and will hopefully conclude in Doomsday Clock, has introduced some complications to the post-Flashpoint/New 52 narrative, including the apparent existence of a forgotten Golden Age, and other pre-Superman heroes.

Detective Comics #964 (DC) Writer James Tynion continues his apparent quest to find the deepest of 1990s Batman comics deep cuts. In this issue, which prominently features a rebooted (and badly mangled) version of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's Anarky character fighting Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle's Spoiler character, ends with a reference to "The Moneyspider Protocol." So if you've been reading Batman comics for like 25 years now, you will recall, that is the name original Anarky Lonnie Manchin used during a brief phase when he turned to Robin Hood-style computer hacking, which, if I recall correctly (and it's been 25 years!), as his first encounter with not-yet-Robin Tim Drake, although their battle took place online (UPDATE: The Internet tells me that the "Moneyspider" name reappeared more recently attached to Manchin, during Fabian Nicieza's run near the end of Robin in 2008, long, long after I quit reading the title, due to its not-very-good-ness).

As with the first half of this two-part storyline, I kind of hated this issue, in spite of--or perhaps because of--its liberal usage of characters I like created long ago by writers and artists I like. Something about using relatively minor characters like Anarky, who didn't really "belong" to Grant and Breyfogle but, with few exceptions, were only ever used by them, feels distasteful to me, and it feels worse to be doing so on the otherside of a major reboot like Flashpoint/The New 52, wherein a reader would assume that the character is new and original to this story, the creation of Tynion and his collaborators (here again the script is co-written by Christopher Sebela and drawn by Carmen Carnero). Why would you not? The original Anarky story isn't available in collection yet--although I remain hopeful that DC will eventually publish more volumes of Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle, and I suppose a Batman: Arkham--Anarky collection is possible, given that they're going to publish a Joker's Daughter collection--and with pre-New 52 continuity meant to have been wiped out, there's no reason for a newer, younger reader to suspect that obscure characters appearing for the first time (well, second time; in the New 52, Lonnie Manchin is apparently the second Anarky, for some dumb reason) are new.

I don't know; the whole thing just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

The plotting on this storyline is rather confusing, in large part because Tynion and Sebela have split the focus between the Anarky plot and a dramatic moment in Tynion's ongoing Clayface redemption plotline. Anarky has been working off-panel with Spoiler since the end of "The Victim Syndicate," building an underground "utopia" beneath the ruins of the Gotham neighborhood ravaged by the events of "Night of The Monster Men." Even Leslie Thompkins and Harper Row are hanging out down there!

Batman arrives to put the kibosh on Anarky's participation, because he has learned Lonnie has received funding for his endeavor from The First Victim, a mysterious character from "The Victim Syndicate" storyline...and that character is still up to...something (that's who says the words "The Moneyspider Protocol" out loud). Spoiler and Batman fight Anarky in an extremely confusing action scene that is ridiculously hard to parse, and just generally poorly written, with paragraphs of dialogue coming between blows that are exchanged (in that respect, it's a little like ancient comics where there would be, say, a picture of Captain America in mid-air, executing a move that would take a split-second, while spouting some three very full dialogue bubbles).

Equal attention is paid to Clayface, though, and there's a relatively long scene in which he visits Mudface, another member of the Syndicate, in Arkham Asylum, where the First Victim is also being held. I think the story might have been better had it played out as two done-in-one arcs, one devoted to the Clayface storyline and the other to the Anarky one. Oh well, no one asks me for my advice.

Carnero's rendering is fine, but doesn't quite match up with the script when it comes to the action scenes, and the layout on at least one spread--Detective features a lot of instances of the tiers of panels going straight across both, facing pages horizontally, rather than across and down one page, and then across and down the next page--looks slightly broken. Comics are so collaborative though, it's hard to tell whose "fault" glitches in the storytelling are, as it's usually not the the script writer or the artist, per se, but something getting lost between them.

Lumberjanes #42 (Boom Studios) I imagine one of the more difficult things to depict in a comic book story is the sudden stopping of the passage of time, or, more specific to the current storyline in Lumberjanes, the stopping of of time in a specific area for specific characters, while other characters remain unaffected. After all, what is a comic book, but the composition of a narrative through images depicting frozen moments of time meant to imply movement and the overall passage of time...?

I haven't been particularly enamored of the style of current Lumberjanes artist Ayme Sotuyo, but the demands of this particular script--by Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh--reveal some previously unseen weaknesses. When, for, example, the 'Janes walk into an area where time has stopped, and Mal walks into a squirrel frozen in mid-scamper (and falls backwards, rather than forwards, as one would expect to do when walking into an object), it takes a while to figure out what the hell happened, and it is mostly accomplished via the addition of a movement line and the word "zoom" written behind the squirrel when it becomes un-frozen. Were Leyh's character designs not themselves so abstract, it might be easier for her to depict time stopping, but, at the very least, more than a single panel of "stopped" time would be needed to demonstrate it, since, after all, every panel in a comic book depicts the stoppage of time to a degree. The same page has the 'Janes regarding a quartet of their fellow campers frozen in time, and to depict that, "sound effects" are used even more bluntly--the word "FROZEN" literally appears over the frozen characters' heads.

Later, another adverse effect of time going crazy registers, and it is that a supporting character is suddenly transformed into a very young child, I think,but because Sotuyo's character designs are all so similar, and everyone looks to be about the same age, I'm not entirely sure what happened; a character is just suddenly very short.

Wonder Woman #30 (DC) This concludes writer Shea Fontana's five-issue fill-in arc on Wonder Woman, which does indeed end up feeling a lot like a fill-in arc. While Wonder Woman is wrestling with whether or not she should allow the scientist of Man's World to have blood samples to study in an attempt to work out cures for various diseases, the decision is made infinitely easier when she learns that the scientist in charge will get to the disease curing eventually, but first wants to start by manufacturing super-soldiers fueled by her blood.

Overall, the arc was well-written, if maybe overly long; to me, at least, it seemed like DC asked Fontana to stretch her pitch out to fill a certain number of issues, rather than her story naturally being a five-issue long one. Somewhat unfortunately, the artists changed enough that it never felt like she had a real partner on the arc, either.

Ah well. The next issue launches the next fill-in arc, this one a follow-up to last year's pre-"Rebirth" "Darkseid War" storyline from Justice League. Remind me to cancel my pull before then...

*So if Doc Magnus placed responsometers into sufficiently large samples of metals like Amazonium, Shazamium, Marvelium, Nth Metal and this new metal from Metal, he could created a team of Super-Metal Men, right?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: Monsters Unleashed: Battleground

Writer Cullen Bunn and company's between-events event series Monsters Unleashed had far fewer tie-ins than Civil War II. In fact, it had so few tie-ins--just eight--that they could all fit in a single trade paperback collection and that, in fact, is exactly what Monsters Unleashed: Battleground is. Rather than taking over issues of the ongoing monthlies starring particular characters, Marvel decided to publish specially, weirdly numbered issues of those series in which to put the Monsters Unleashed tie-in stories, separating them from whatever the ongoing storylines in those titles might be. So, for example, instead of taking over an issue of the Mark Waid-written Avengers, Marvel published Avengers #1.MU. This was their strategy for the Age of Ultron event's tie-ins as well.

I'm not sure if it's all that great a strategy in terms of sales, as it demarcates these issues as ones readers of participating titles like Avengers need not read if they are not also reading Monsters Unleashed. Particularly since the creative teams are different. These days, the artists changing every arc or so might not be that big a deal, but, for example, Avengers #1.MU isn't written by Waid, nor is Champions #1.MU. In fact, none of these seem to be the work of the regular titles' writers.

I think this strategy likely runs counter to the traditional conventional wisdom regarding crossover events--part of the point of them is to get readers who are interested in the event to check out books they don't already read and might not otherwise have tried--but the mainstream comics market seems so broken, or at least so changed since the days when crossover events still seemed like events, that maybe the publisher has decided it's better for the health of the ongoings not to risk associating them with crossovers, and perhaps prompting readers to jump off...?

While I can't speak to that aspect of the comics, I can speak to the quality of them, and so I will.

It should be noted that the cover is kind of terrible (the cover from the Avengers issue, featuring a bunch of recognizable-ish characters asi t does, or from Spider-Man/Deadpool #1.MU, featuring two very marketable characters and a solid gag, might have been preferable). Ron Lim's drawing of said cover is fine, I suppose, and it does feature Marvel's flagship character alongside some monsters, but the monsters are pretty poorly chosen. They are The Blip, Devil Dinosaur, Orrgo and Tim Boom Ba (I'm just guessing on that last one, but it looks an awful lot like TBB).

Of the four monsters, only Orrgo appears in the comics collected under the cover at all, and Orrgo's appearance is limited to a one-panel cameo. The monsters that the various heroes--The Avengers, The (All-New) X-Men, The Champions, The Inhumans, The Guardians of The Galaxy and Deadpool, Doctor Strange and The (Totally Awesome) Hulk--are engaged in battle with throughout this collection are The Leviathons, the alien monsters invading Earth. Of the Marvel monsters, only Googam and Xemnu have roles within these stories, and you'll note a distinct lack of either Googam or Xemnu on that cover.

Avengers #1.MU by writer Jim Zub, artist Sean Izaaske and colorist Frank D'Armata

Something I hadn't noted until just now that may have been another reason Marvel decided to publish these tie-ins as standalone issues rather than part of the regular series? They apparently upped the price by a whole dollar, so that each of these things ran you $4.99, instead of the customary $3.99. Of course, they are longer than the standard issue--this story is 29 pages--but man, that's a lot of money when one considers how inconsequential the story is (and a good argument for trade-waiting; this thing costs $29.99, but the individual issues would have cost you $ tax, probably!).

Writer Jim Zub basically takes a scene from the first issue of Monsters Unleashed, re-presents it so that he and artist Sean Izaaske can essentially do a cover version of it, and than adds in a bunch of filler as a way of delaying the tie-in. It's really an awful lot of padding.

Amazing Spider-Man Peter Parker gets a tip about a mob meeting in Boston, something that he himself notes isn't really the kind of thing he spends too much time on these days ("Nowadays, I usually leave street level stuff to my younger protegee, but for the sake of nostalgia..."), and as he has a flight to catch in eight short hours, he's not sure he has time to deal with it. So he calls in the then-current adjective-less Avengers roster--Captain America Sam Wilson, The Vision, The Wasp Nadia Pym, Hercules and Thor--to help him. They too spend a few panels discussing whether or not this is worthy of The Avengers' time. So while Zub's dialogue might be snappy and clever, it's probably problematic when the superheroes themselves are second-guessing the plot contrivance.

Luckily, there's a supervillain involved, to justify the involvement of a half-dozen Avengers, two of them with god-like powers, and they have to fight The Controller for a few pages. Right where what reads just like a fill-in issue of Avengers should end, a Leviathon attacks. And then another. This passage of the issue--a full 14-pages--is right out of Monsters Unleashed. It's the same scene: Same dialogue, same action, same everything, just staged and drawn differently, and with a few extra panels between the ones it is essentially just recreating from Monsters Unleashed.

Looked at one way, I suppose that's actually kind of interesting, given that Izaaske obviously didn't have time to see what Monsters Unleashed #1 artist Steve McNiven drew, and so one curious about process could look at the issues side by side and compare and contrast how Izaaske and McNiven both approached identical elements in overlapping scripts, but man, I don't know. I read both in trades I borrowed from the library, and basically just felt a sort of deja vu that turned to mild irritation when I realized what Zub was doing; if I paid for the comics, I'd be downright pissed that I was essentially paying for filler plus a repeat.

There's a last page original to this comic, in which Spider-Man suddenly disappears before the others' eyes. It's a very weird sort of tie-in, and while it's fine looking and well-written on a mechanical level, it was basically just a huge disappointment. Given all the "toys" Monsters Unleashed offered, the Avengers tie-in eschewed them all. It is thus unsurprising that the issue isn't much fun.

Spider-Man/Deadpool #1.MU by writer Joshua Corin, artist Tigh Walker and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg

Despite occurring after the opening of Monsters Unleashed, in which monsters are literally falling from the sky, this issue is similar to the Avengers tie-in in that it sets up what reads like it might have been a normal Spider-Man/Deadpool story, only to throw in a Leviathon. After two in a row, I began to wonder if that was an intentional choice, to speak in some meta way about how crossovers are unwelcome invasions of ongoing narratives, as the Leviathons come hurtling from above into stories already in progress and then derail them as the heroes have to rather suddenly change focus (this will be even more apparent in the next issue in the collection). Of course, if that is in intent, then the format--standalone, weirdly-numbered one-shots rather than issues of the regular series--would have helped sell it even better.

Spider-Man has been plucked from the last page of Avengers #1.MU and deposited into Spider-Man/Deadpool #1.MU because a coven of private girls school witches outside of Toronto had captured Deadpool and cast a spell to summon his "heartmate" (they were aiming for his demon wife, but got Spidey instead). The plan was to put the spirit of their dead headmistress into said demon wife, but they have to settle for Spider-Man. While the pair are trying to sort things out, a Leviathon crashlands and starts heading towards downtown Toronto.

Spider-Man fights it from the outside, while trying to stave off his possession by the witch, who is slowly taking him over, while Deadpool tries to fight it from the outside, after he is swallowed whole by it. Eventually, and with some unexpected help, they kill it.

Given the characters, it is appropriate that Corin's script is a little sillier and a lot funnier than the previous tie-in or Monsters Unleashed itself, and given that I haven't yet read a collection of Spider-Man/Deadpool, I enjoyed the chemistry between the large part because it's unusual to see Spider-Man play the straight man, as whenever he's around other super-people he's generally portrayed as the irritating, joke-cracking character.

Tigh Walker's art was nice too. Not only does he do a good job of getting his leads to emote, despite being handicapped by their full face-masks, and distinguishing them rather sharply despite their similar costumes, his monster is cool-looking and his art in general has a slightly quirky look and appealing energy to it.

All-New X-Men #1.MU by writer Jeremy Whitley, pencilers Carolos Barberi and Ron Lim, inkers Walden Wong and Terry Pallot and colorist artist Cris Peter

The "All-New" X-Men team is the one that would become the stars of current book X-Men: Blue. Though this is only a single crossover event back, its team status quo is already dated, as it was an entire X-Men franchise reconfiguration and relaunch ago. The team here consists of the time-lost original X-Men, minus Cyclops and Jean and plus All-New Wolverine Laura Kinney, Oya (although Idie Okonkwo pretty much never, ever uses her mutant name, does she?) and Genesis. They are visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and Whitley basically approaches the story as a Laura team-up with Gambit, in which the rest of the team play the dual roles of supporting characters and time-wasters/space-fillers.

Like her namesake, Wolvie is more interested in going off on her own for a side mission than any sort of tourism or team socializing, and she and Gambit team-up for a swamp adventure. In perhaps the best, most deliberate example of Monsters Unleashed-preempting-a-story, Whitley doesn't even bother to get his story off the ground. The villain who Gambit and Wolverine are tracking, one Doctor Chimera, is in the middle of explaining his plan when a Leviathon crashlands and, within three panels, devours Doctor Chimera, putting an end to that plot (as for how Whitley fills his 31-pages, much of it involves the X-Men who aren't Gambit and Laura running around New Orleans doing fun stuff, until the Leviathon enters and they must all team-up to destroy it. They do.

The Champions #1.MU by writer Jeremy Whitley, artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt and colorist Frank D'Armata

In keeping with The Champions ongoing's focus on fictionalized versions of real-world conflicts, Whitley has our young, activist heroes showing up at the site of a riot-in-the-making that echoes the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline (although here Roxxon is involved, making the already fairly black-and-white real world issues even starker black-and-white, given that Roxxon is basically Evil Incarnate in the Marvel Universe). The company has hired a team of young super-people with incredibly dumb names--Crush, Hotness, Might, Panic, Cursed Cass--to provide "security." These mercenaries, who collectively call themselves The Freelancers, are actually there to put down the protests, but, when The Champions get there, they provide someone for the heroes to fight.

In the venerable Marvel tradition, the conflict stops when they are faced with a bigger, more pressing threat: A couple of Leviathons. The first of these looks a little like a gigantic, spider-esque creature made out of lava, and the second is a more traditional giant lizard thing, with acid spit. Some of the more useful/less evil Freelancers help the Champions put down the Leviathons and rescue the many, many civilians who were there.

Whitely's dialogue is mostly pretty sharp, with an emphasis on zingers. The Freelancers are all pretty lame, but in at least a few cases they seem to be lame on purpose. Whitley has Ms. Marvel embiggen to kaiju wrestling-size, which was a nice application of her powers, and ends the tie-in with the team rushing off to L.A. to fight the giant eyeball Leviathon they tangled with in the pages of Monsters Unleashed proper (So props to Whitley for handling his tie-in better than Zub handled the Avengers one).

Doctor Strange #1.MU by writer Chip Zdarsky, artist Julian Lopez, inker Scott Hanna and colorist Frank D'Armata

This is the strongest of the tie-ins, as it abandons the format of the previous ones--a regular adventure followed by pages of Leviathon fighting--and ties into the most appealing part of the crossover series proper, and Monsters Unleashed's mostly unfulfilled promise. It opens in the midst of the big battle outside of San Diego, in which the Marvel heroes and the Marvel monsters fought alongside each other against the invading army of Leviathons.

Our hero is also our narrator, and Doctor Strange is in way over his head, reduced to using magical weapons and items, having been greatly de-powered at the start of his new series (Remember that Monsters Unleashed had five art teams, and Doctor Strange is one of the characters who suffered the most from the various art teams not all being on the same page; his costume design goes back and forth from his current one, his old one and back to his current one. Watch for the change in the color of his cape throughout. Similarly, Star-Lord's costume changes, depending on the artist).

This is the only story in this collection in which the monsters from the Prelude play any role whatsover. Fin Fang Foom and the previously mentioned Orrgo have cameos, and Goom and Googam both have speaking parts, with Googam actually playing a part in Zdarsky's story, which is basically a Strange/Googam team-up.

Googam is somewhat embarrassed by the fact that his dad intervenes to save him from a Leviathon at one point, and when Googam resums his battle against it, Doctor Strange hits it with an arrow that teleports it away, either saving Googam's life or robbing the Son of Goom from his victory, depending on whose take you wish to rely on (that is, either your own eyes or Googam's word). A few days later, Googam strides down New York City streets in a an old school Ben Grimm-style "disguise" of a trench coat and wide brimmed hat--which naturally looks tiny atop his enormous head--and goes to confront Strange.

Rather than fighting him, Strange recruits him for a mission to regain his honor: Helping him track down and put down the Leviathon he had teleported to a random location. Hijinks ensue.

Spider-Man Peter Parker has a few small but key scenes, and it is perhaps noteworthy that one of the strategies Strange employs against this Leviathon is the same one that Deadpool and Spidey used against theirs in Toronto a few tie-ins back. Here it is much more effective, however. I'm not sure if it was in the back of Zdarsky's head when he was scripting this or not, but it echoes the way in which Googam was killed at the end of his first appearance.

Artist Julian Lopez does a pretty superb job here. The monsters and super-characters all look appropriately monstrous and super, but Lopez really manages to sell the absurdity of the clash between, say, Googam and a city street, and to he does a fine job of wringing emotion out of the bulbous-headed monster. The funniest part of the last page isn't what happens, although given the player it happens to, it is pretty funny, but the look on Googam's face as he reacts to it.

Uncanny Inhumans #1.MU by writer Paul Allor, artist Brian Level and colorist Jordan Boyd

Huh. So I think this is the first Inhumans comic I've ever read. I mean, I have obviously read comics in which The Inhumans appear--how could one not, these days?--but this is the first one with the word Inhumans right there in the title.

What's a little weird about it is that the thing people are always saying about how Marvel is trying to make the Inhumans into the X-Men? That is basically what this reads like: An X-Men comic without the X-Men.

The lead character is someone named Swain, who wears a fancy costume that, these being the Inhumans, I can't tell is meant to be a hip fashion statement, or if that's just how pilots for the Inhumans dress. But she's a pilot who has the mutant Inhuman power to touch the minds of others around her; she leaves the superheroing to the other (Medusa, Crystal, Karnak, Triton, not-really-an-Inhuman Johnny Storm and the seemingly identically powered Inferno).

While they are fighting a Leviathon in Italy (as seen in the pages of Monsters Unleashed), Swain is flying civilians out of harm's way in a space ship, but ends up having to try to lead them to safety on foot, pursued by a particularly scary-looking Leviathon. Forced to fight with her powers in a way she never has before, she has to sacrifice a piece of her self to save the others.

It's...fine. I can't say it endeared the characters to me, and I remain mostly baffled by Marvel's insistence on putting them front and center in the hopes that they will someday, somehow catch on. It didn't quite answer the lingering question I have about the Inhumans, which is why they are so front and center in public at the moment, and why they have become what at leas here feels like a traditional superhero team, complete with a member of the Fantastic Four on their "roster."

The art by Brian Level is among the strongest and most distinct in this collection. I mentioned the design of the one Leviathon, but everything here has an interesting energy and a sense of herky-jerky movement to it. I liked the look of it a lot.

Guardians of The Galaxy #1.MU by writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, artist David Baldeon and colorist Marcio Menyz

The Guardians story somehow manages to spend all 30 pages around one of their fight scenes from Monsters Unleashed, as the team tangles with a Leviathon at a naval base in San Diego. Well, I shouldn't say "somehow," as I know how. To help fill those pages, Bowers and Sims reveal a connection between Groot and the particular Leviathon, explored in a flashback set on Groot's homeworld when he looked a bit more like he did in the latest Guardians of The Galaxy movie, as opposed to his design here, which is one I'm not terribly fond of (It's the same he had in Civil War II, with the green "hair", and the vines acting as connective tissues around his wooden limbs.

The Guardians' status quo at the time of this one-shot was pretty fraught. From what I understand, they were kinda sorta broken up at this point, and all stuck on Earth doing their own things. They are together in this issue mainly because Marvel decided to publish a Guardians of the Galaxy tie-in issue to Monsters Unleashed, as far as I can tell.

Bowers and Sims do okay with what they have here, but they don't really manage to keep from the readers how artificial the premise is.

Totally Awesome Hulk #1.MU by writers Bryan Edward Hill and Leah Williams, artists Ty Templeton and Jahnoy Lindsay and colorists Mat Lopes and Esther Sanz

The final book in the collection fills its over-sized space in a way unlike any of the previous issues. It is split into two stories, both with their own creative teams, and connected so that one leads into the other. The first story is by Hill and Templeton (whose artwork I didn't even recognize; that guy has a pretty tremendous range of styles, and his work looks good in all of them). Set in Seoul, South Korea, it features Amadeus Cho being called before Korean superhero and apparently government agent White Fox, who asks for his help in finding and stopping a monster. The monster looks like Godzilla wearing bits of armor, and no sooner has Cho beat it up that he realizes that something is wrong, and this whole story must be a dream...which it is!

The second story, by Williams and Lindsay, features Hulk waking from that dream to find its cause: Xemnu, The Hulk Titan. A Marvel monster dating from the same era as Orrgo, Googam and company, Xemnu was left out of the Prelude for some reason...and if he appeared at all in Monsters Unleashed, I have already forgotten it. Like his fellow Marvel monsters, Xemnu is trying to save the world from the invading Leviathons...but he's trying to do it by conquering the world. He has put everyone in Seoul in a trance, feeding them pleasant dreams, until Cho managed to shake it off. The art on this story is particularly good, and there are a few pretty bananas-looking transformation sequences, in which Lindsay is able to illustrate, say, Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk in a single image, varying the sizes of the Hulk's body parts to show him growing.

Then that's followed by...wait, that's three stories, with three distinct art styles. But the credits only list two stories by two artists...

Okay, wait, wait, wait. According to, Hill and Templeton did indeed create that first story. The second one is also written by Hill, but drawn by the uncredited (in the collection) Ricardo López Ortiz. That's who did the great art in the Xemnu sequence (Each of the stories has it's own title, by the way; this second story isn't included in the table of contents at all). Then there is a third story; that's the one by Leah Williams and Jahnoy Lindsay. It features Amadeus' younger sister and fellow super-genius Maddy using her genius to track down galactic monster-hunting expert Lady Hellbender and then Oracle-ing her through a dangerous facility in exchange for useful monster intel.

Man. I can't believe Marvel fucked up the table of contents for this book so badly...