Thursday, August 25, 2016

DC's November previews reviewed

DC Comics plans to publish a bunch of comics this November. Are any of them worthy of comment? Yes.

One man pulling open his shirt to reveal his superhero costume beneath it is cool. Two guys standing side-by-side doing it just look like a stripper act. (This is Clay Mann's cover for Action Comics, BTW).

Written by HOPE LARSON
“BEYOND BURNSIDE” conclusion! Batgirl faces down Teacher in the streets of Shanghai, but will fists be enough against the intelligence—enhanced foe? Babs will have to conquer the pathways of her own mind in order to defeat this vicious predator once and for all!
On sale NOVEMBER 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

As I mentioned the other day, after the first two issues, I've realized I am more of a Babs Tarr fan (and a Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher fan) than a Batgirl Barbara Gordon fan. Larson and Albuquerque are doing an okay job here, but it just doesn't have the same vibe as the previous run.

“Who Is Oracle” part five! Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress come face-to-face at last with the new Oracle…and unlock a mystery they never saw coming!
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I'm afraid I couldn't keep this on my pull-list long enough to find out who the new Oracle is. I hope it is either the pre-Flashpoint Barbara Gordon running some kind of big, elaborate scam in which she's only pretending to be helping the bad guys, or that she's the Earth-3 Barbara Gordon.

Written by TOM KING
Art and cover by MIKEL JANIN
“I am Suicide” part two! Batman now has his team, but are they ready for the most dangerous mission of their lives? As the Dark Knight prepares his squad to infiltrate Santa Prisca, he may find that it’s up to him alone to face Bane.
On sale NOVEMBER 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Other than Catwoman, I don't recognize anyone on Batman's Suicide Squad. I suppose glasses could be Hugo Strange, although I can't imagine he'd be terribly useful to have around, and the masked characters? New 52 Punch and Jewlee? Is that lady perhaps Duela Dent, or The Joker's Daughter wearing a new mask? No idea.

Batman running his own, temporary Suicide Squad for this mission seems like an all-around weird move, too, based simply on the fact that between the Justice League, his sidekicks and allies and Batman Inc., Batman has a veritable army on his friends list. Well, there's that, and the fact that Batman's respect for human life means he can't really consider anyone expendable, which is kind of the point of Suicide Squads.

Anyway, I'm interested in this upcoming story arc to see how King navigates all of that, and to see him paired with Mikel Janin again rather than David Finch (boo!), who drew the first story arc of the new Batman, which has read good and looked like garbage.

“SILENT NIGHT”! A hush of winter snowfall has fallen over Gotham City…but a quiet night in this place is never truly quiet. Batman and his allies—and his many foes—stalk the streets in this icy showcase of top talent.
On sale NOVEMBER 30 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T

Oh hey, speaking of Finch, why on earth is he drawing a cover when there are so many good Batman artists available, some of them even contributing to this very annual!

Maybe it's just the presence of Paul Dini, Batman and snow, but this reminded me of the 1995 Batman Adventures Holiday Special, one of the Batman Adventures issues that was so good, every Batman fan should have read it.

Art and cover by SHANE DAVIS and BEN CALDWELL
It’s mayoral election time in Gotham City, and while the city is up in arms, Catwoman couldn’t care less! But when the candidates get personal, the Feline Fatale decides to get involved—much to the detriment of...well, everyone! This issue contains a special bonus story featuring the return of President Beth Ross from the critically acclaimed PREZ miniseries.
ONE-SHOT • On sale NOVEMBER 2 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T

Well this is a pretty weird little book, which looks to be shoving two almost completely unrelated books into a special because they both have something to do with American electoral politics, I guess...? That, and I guess it keeps the now book-less Catwoman around, and gives Russell and Caldwell at least a few more pages of their DOA Prez reboot.

You know, if DC did decide to do another Legends of Tomorrow anthology series, that might be the place for the rest of Prez...and maybe a place for the further adventures of Catwoman, too.

Written by JOHN SEMPER JR.
Variant cover by CARLOS D’ANDA
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
“THE IMITATION OF LIFE” part five! Cyborg loses control of his robotic form when it begins attacking his friends and family at S.T.A.R. Labs. Trapped in a virtual maze of ominous visions and forgotten memories, can Vic Stone hack his way through the cybernetic gauntlet that is his own mind?
On sale NOVEMBER 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I am currently watching Teen Titans Go! Season 3, Part 1: Eat. Dance. Punch!. It is pretty much the best thing ever. For some reason I am perfectly able to compartmentalize the various versions of some DC comic book characters who appear in various media incarnations, but I just can't seem to accept a Cyborg who doesn't have telescoping limbs like Marvel's Machine Man, excitedly shout all of his dialogue, have a meatball gun and The Old Shablammo in his arsenal and is obsessed with "The Night Begins To Shine." The "real" Cyborg just seems hella boring these days.

It likely doesn't help that in the post-Flashpoint DCU he's basically been reduced to the League's switchboard operator and teleportation device, and divorced from his original friends and relationships, there's not much too him, aside from metal parts and the old, dull "Am I man, or am I machine?" conflict that The Vison and The Red Tornado have made so tiresome over the decades.

“The Victim Syndicate” part three! Batman is trying his best to hold his team together, but Spoiler might have every reason to walk out the door…and others might follow!
On sale NOVEMBER 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

So, what do you think Steph's cussing out Batman for on this cover? Did she just find out that he never built her a display case after she died in the old continuity? Is she yelling at him for not insisting that her boyfriend Red Robin get a non-dumb costume to wear? Is she yelling at him for not letting Cassandra Cain have her bat-ears, cape and one of her old codenames back? If they can't call her Batgirl and don't want to use Black Bat any more, perhaps for legal reasons, can't they just call her "Cassandra" or "Ms. Cain," similar to the way they're just calling Duke Thomas "Mr. Thomas" over in Batman and All-Star Batman now...?

Whatever the issue is, you tell him, Steph!

Written by GERARD WAY
Art and cover by NICK DERINGTON
Casey Brinke has stepped through to the other side—but where exactly is that? Given all the bizarre, unexplainable things that have come into her life over the last couple of days—robot men and talking ambulances and a guy who literally thrives on negative energy—surely this new and surprising world she has uncovered can’t be any weirder. Right?
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS

Am I the only one who thinks it's weird that Marvel's Captain Marvel is apparently on the new Doom Patrol roster...?

Cover by CARY NORD
Split from his other half, Jason Rusch, Ronnie Raymond will need to retrieve Professor Stein’s stolen research from Danton Black. But if Jason can’t fuse with Ronnie by the Firestorm Protocol…who can? The answer: his old friend, Professor Martin Stein! Collects the Firestorm stories from LEGENDS OF TOMORROW #1-6.
On sale DECEMBER 7 • 144 pg, FC, $14.99 US

So it looks like the other three features from Legends of Tomorrow--Firestorm, The Metal Men and Metamorpho--are all getting their own trade collections as well. I'm not sure why these three are coming the month after the Sugar & Spike trade, but here they are.

I'm a little curious why the Firestorm isn't numbered, as it seems to follow the New 52 Firestorm story in a way that it's more of a straight continuation, whereas the other three Legends features were all standalone stories.

Anyway, I've been curious if they were going to collect these features and, if so, how, so now I need wonder no longer. If DC did lose money on that bargain format, perhaps they can make up enough of it to at least break even with the trades. (Again, I definitely recommend Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigatipons, and maybe the Metal Men collection, if you're a fan of those characters at all. The other two features did nothing for me, and I can't imagine they will make for compelling reads once collected, which will divorce them from both their bargain-pricing and the promise of more and more interesting stories around them.

“THE SPEED OF DARKNESS” part one! A villain from The Flash’s history returns for the first time in years when The Shade visits Central City. But what does Opal City’s master of shadow want with Barry Allen and the newly christened Kid Flash?
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Okay, so James Robinson didn't create The Shade, although he did re-create him. James Robinson doesn't own The Shade, and DC Comics and their employees have every right in the world to use that character. Still, it does seem a little funny to see The Shade popping up in a comic book that James Robinson has nothing at all to do with, doesn't it...?

But then, if the publisher is so gung-ho about making Watchmen prequels and building up a Watchmen vs. The Justice League event, it's hardly surprising to see a character so closely associated with one particular writer being used in very retrograde way by an entirely different creator.

Art and cover by JUAN FERREYRA
“MURDER ON THE EMPIRE EXPRESS” part one! Queen Industries’ new Trans-Pacific Railway is an undersea vehicle that symbolizes world peace—which makes its maiden voyage the perfect place for the Ninth Circle to stage a high-profile assassination. Luckily, Green Arrow, Black Canary and John Diggle are on board as outlaw stowaways!
On sale NOVEMBER 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+

"Trans-Pacific Railway"...? That's never going to work, Ollie. If there's one thing I've learned from this election cycle, it's that American's hate things that start with the word "Trans-Pacific"...

Cover by ED BENES
“THE PHANTOM RING” part two! The Phantom Ring was never supposed to return from the place where the Guardians of the Universe hid it. Can Jessica and Baz control and contain its ancient power before it falls into the waiting hands of an unexpected new foe?
On sale NOVEMBER 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I don't know about the rest of you, but I like all the rainbow ring business Geoff Johns brought into the Green Lantern franchise, much of which I feel has achieved the perfect balance between "awesome" and "stupid" that is Geoff Johns' exact wheelhouse, when he's doing his best work.

Written by BRYAN HITCH
“OUTBREAK” part one! Someone is hacking into the Justice League’s computers, causing the Batcave’s weapons and security systems to turn against the Dark Knight and the Watchtower satellite to plummet to Earth—with Cyborg trapped on board.
On sale NOVEMBER 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

This is why I liked Grant Morrison's lunar Watchtower base so much. The problem with a satellite HQ is that is constantly falling out of orbit, or at least in danger of falling out of orbit. If someone wants to attack the League's base, then they should have to commit to going all the way to the moon.

I wonder who the mysterious villain could be..?

Written by BRYAN HITCH
Variant cover by YANICK PAQUETTE
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
“OUTBREAK” part two! The Justice League is under attack from an unseen foe with a vendetta against Earth’s greatest heroes—someone with the power to reprogram Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz’s Green Lantern rings to kill any member of the Justice League.
On sale NOVEMBER 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Oh, nevermind. It must be Weapons Master.

Written by STEVE ORLANDO • Art by FERNANDO BLANCO • Cover by ACO
Midnighter’s got Henry Bendix in his hands at last-but will he have to let him go in order to join Apollo’s battle against the deadly Mawzir?
On sale NOVEMBER 2 • 32 pg, FC, 2 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+

"The deadly Mawzir"...? Like, this guy?

Written by JODY HOUSER
Art and cover by TOMMY LEE EDWARDS
Meet Violet Paige, a celebutante with a bad attitude and a temper to match, who no one suspects of having anything lying beneath the surface of her outrageous exploits. But Violet isn’t just another bored heiress in the upper echelons of Gotham City’s elite. Motivated by her traumatic youth, Violet seeks to exact vengeance on her privileged peers as the terrifying new vigilante known only as Mother Panic.
On sale NOVEMBER 9 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS

Oh good, a Gotham City vigilante motivated by a traumatic past. DC certainly doesn't publish enough comics about such characters. This is part of the new Veritgo-esque Young Animal imprint though, and it's rated "Mature Readers," so maybe Mother Panic will be different from Batwoman, Batman, Batgirl, The Huntress, Black Canary and the other dozen or so male and female vigilantes because her adventures will feature on-panel nudity and f-words.

In this new one-shot, Wonder Woman unleashes her true god of war against a parade of monsters! Superman discovers a new threat that might be bigger and badder than the joker himself! Hawkgirl solves crimes in the weird weapons unit for the GCPD! Carol Ferris and Kyle Rayner fight about ice cream in space! You’ll find all of this and so much more in NEW TALENT SHOWCASE #1, where recent graduate writers from the inaugural DC Talent Development workshop showcase some of their strongest work yet! See what they’ve learned from masters of the craft Scott Snyder, Jim Lee and Klaus Janson.
ONE-SHOT • On sale NOVEMBER 30 • 80 pg, FC, $7.99 US • RATED T

Oh snap, is this the result of that outreach DC did to try and find new writers? I...thought about looking into it, and never did, figuring the best way to get a gig at this point in my life is to publish my prose book/s and try to transition to comics from there (That said, now that the DCU is unmoored from history, I lost a lot of interest in so many of its characters; like, the books I used to dream about writing as a teenager and 20-something can't even exist at this juncture.


Anyway, I'm a little surprised to see the name "Joelle Jones" among the writers, if only because it is a name I recognize. As for the artists, I recognize all of them except for Bagenda, so I'm assuming these stories are by new writers paired with experienced artists...?

Well, at $8 this looks like a big-ass purchase, but then, it is 80 pages, so I guess this is about the price-point of Legends of Tomorrow, which felt like a steal to me.

Personally, I might have just called this book Showcase, since that's a DC word the publisher probably needs to entitle comics on a semi-regular basis, but no one asked me. No one ever asks me anything!

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
“Gulp! Space WHAAAAT??” A threatening specter from outer space? That’s the call that gets Scooby and the gang on the case. But they don’t suspect that the “specter” is really Space Ghost, or that setting Mystery Inc. against him is a trick to keep the spacefaring hero busy while some of his most formidable villains invade the Earth!
On sale NOVEMBER 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E

Well it's nice to see Scooby-Doo Team-Up venturing beyond the DC stable of superheroes to explore some of the Hanna-Barbera heroes, all of whom have recently gotten a new lease on life, thanks to DC's Future Quest, the least weird book in their new Hanna-Barbereboot line. I'm still waiting on Blue Falcon and Dyno-Mutt, but Space Ghost will certainly tide me over.

Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard-Travelin' Heroz #4
Written by GARTH ENNIS
Cover by Steve Dillon
Sixpack and the team are under attack by mummies! Only the flame of Dogwelder can save them, but will he light his torch in time? And what great mystery will his torch reveal beneath the mighty pyramids of the Egyptian desert? Could Dogwelder be the greatest hero the world has ever known, his welding of dogs the noblest of pursuits?
On sale NOVEMBER 23 • 32 pg, FC, 4 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED T+

Ennis already made Dogwelder into a legacy character in All-Star Section Eight, but I must admit to some fascination with this cover's intimation that not unlike Ghost Rider, there has always been a Dogwelder, going back through the generations to a time when welding equipment had not yet been invented, and if you wanted to weld a dog's corpse to someone's face, you had to sear it there using a torch...? I guess...?

Yeah, comic book Enchantress looks pretty dumb compared to scary-ass movie Enchantress.

As for comic book Harley vs. movie Harley, I see Jim Lee has been giving her tight T shirts not unlike the one Margot Robbie rocked in the movie, but he's also been letting her wear pants. I'm still not 100% sure why movie Harley Quinn wasn't given any pants.

Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON and MICK GRAY
“IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER” part one! For the first time, the Man of Tomorrow and the Boy of Steel team up with the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder in a father-son adventure you won’t want to miss! Damian Wayne has been hearing a lot about this mysterious new Superboy, and now’s his chance to find out who he is...
On sale NOVEMBER 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Okay, I kind of love this cover. Batman and Damian look like they're totally ready to fight, Superboy looks confident and incredulous that Damian could fight him and Superman he's about to softly kiss Batman...? I feel like that may not be the right emotion and pose for this cover.

Art and cover by ART BALTAZAR
Aw yeah, the World’s Greatest Heroes are back in a new, all-ages miniseries—except for Batman! Superman helps out by cleaning up in Gotham City, where he discovers a clue that sends Wonder Woman into space to find the Caped Crusader. Her journey brings her a step closer to Batman, but can she uncover the truth behind his disappearance? From the award-winning creative team that brought you TINY TITANS and SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES!
On sale NOVEMBER 23 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $2.99 US • RATED E

Weird. I assumed that a Justice League comic would be Art Baltazar and Franco's next series from DC, as the Justice League featured rather prominently in their last efforts towards the end, and it felt as if they might be transitioning from the Superman Family to the League.

I guess I was right, but I'm not sure why there was such a long delay. I also wonder if maybe this wasn't completely way back then and just never published, as that cover looks already dated. Note Wonder Woman's pants, which were teased and then abandoned back in the summer of 2011 as part of her New 52 redesign.

Art and cover by CLAY MANN
“BETTER TOGETHER” part three! The deadly White Mercy has Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman in its terrifying grasp! But who would dare to orchestrate this attack—and why? All will be revealed as the three most powerful heroes in the DC Universe fight for their very souls!
On sale NOVEMBER 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

The White Mercy...? Let me guess, that's a flower that does stuff to people's minds. Post-DC Universe: Rebirth, it becomes all the more hilarious every time DC uses one of Alan Moore's decades old concepts. Here Manapul seems to be riffing on the Black Mercy from "For The Man Who Has Everything," which has been done so often in the comics (let alone in multi-media adaptations) that I've actually lost count.

Anyway, the irony of DC's steadfast refusal to just quit fucking around with Watchmen because to hell with Alan Moore while simultaneously continuing to sequeeze every drop of story potential from minor detritus from the comics he wrote for them forever ago is at this point as hilarious as it is incredibly depressing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: August 24th

Archie #11 (Archie Comics) Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah. Woah. I saw something truly shocking in this issue of the ongoing Archie seriew by writer Mark Waid and rotating artists, this time the team of Ryan Jampole and Thomas Pitilli. On the last page, in an orange box in the lower right-hand corner, are the words "To Be Concluded."

Those are the sorts of words you put in the penultimate issue of a miniseries, not the eleventh issue of an ongoing series. If the new Archie, which launched a year or so ago with 12,000 variant covers for its #1, was only going to be a limited series all along, well, no one told me personally. And if they announced such information, I somehow missed hearing it/failed to retain such information.

But the contents of this issue in large part point towards a conclusion of much of what we've seen in the series thus far, with Archie Andrews and Betty Cooper finally finding some resolution to the conflict that drove and kept them apart throughout the preceding ten issues. Additionally, Archie's standing in school and in town is at something of a crisis point. And, looking at real-world factors, next issue will be the 12th, a good place to end a limited series, allowing for a series to be easily divided into two six-issue collections or three four-issue collections, and, perhaps, Mark Waid can't continue to write this series forever, although I was hoping he would at least write this red-headed, all-American protagonist as long as he wrote Marvel's red-headed, all-American protagonist Matt Murdock.

It is, of course, possible that the "To Be Concluded" is simply acknowledgment that the events in the last two panels will be dealt with and resolved next issue, as there's quite a little cliffhanger here, one that could re-set the status quo of Archie Comics' core love triangle back to a more familiar arrangement (although "to be continued" works just as well for that) or that the story arc is going to be concluded next issue, followed immediately with a new one in Archie #13. The thing is, this issue was presented as the first part of a story(or the 11th part, for that matter), as there is no story title included.

At any rate, I am now deeply worried that either the book will end, the book will be renumbered with a new #1 for a new "season" of Archie, or that Waid will move one, and while I'm sure he's not the only writer capable of writing a winning Archie, the fact of the matter is that it required a bit of a risk to convince readers to try the new Archie and, well, now we trust Waid in a way we didn't before. As I've recently discovered–like, this week–a creative team change can be enough to make a reader drop a book entirely, even when the new team is doing a good, quality job (I dropped Batgirl after reading this week's second issue by Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque; it turns out I was much more of a Babs Tarr fan, and Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher fan, than I was a Batgirl fan, it turned out. I'll still keep an eye on the book and keep up with events via library trades and what not, but I pulled it off of my pull-list).

Hopefully I am fretting over nothing, though, and the little orange box just chose to use the word "concluded" instead of "continued."

The artwork this issue comes from Mega Man artist Ryan Jampole, credited with "breakdowns", and Thomas Pitilli, credited with "finishes." Curiously, both are described on the back cover as "rising star artists," and Pitilli's credits listed are Entertainment Weekly and New York Times, which would make him an illustrator rather than a comic book artist, no?

They do a fine job. In fact, if you hadn't told me, I might not have noticed that it wasn't Fish drawing this particular issue; I might have just thought she was in a hurry or had help with the layouts, which are a little stiffer and more formal than those in her previous issues (but only on, like, a few pages). The faces are slightly rounder, slightly cuter, but each page has the somewhat scratchy, ink-heavy look of Fish's artwork.

Now I'm really curious for Archie #12. Because this issue involves our characters divided into two opposing garage bands competing in a school talent show, Mark Waid gives us a one-page article about The Archies, the real band that pretended to the band of the Archie Comics characters and generated that very popular if very annoying "Sugar, Sugar" (best known to me personally for the Mary Lou Lord and Semisonic cover of it that was one of the tracks on 1995 album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, a favorite cassette tape of mine at the time, pairing as it did many favorite bands and artists with cartoon theme songs).

That is then followed by a six-page strip from 1968, featuring Archie, Jughead and...Reggie, I think?...trying to find a place to rehearse their terrible, terrible music.

Harley's Little Black Book #4 (DC Comics) For the fourth issue of the Harley Quinn team-up book, writer Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti turn to a rather unexpected title to find their heroine playmates: DC Comics' Bombshells, with its Harley appearing with their Harley on the cover (In truth, the two share less panel-time than Harley spends with other Bombshells).

It's unexpected only in that she's only teamed with three DCU heroes so far–Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Zatanna–so it seems early to turn to an out-of-continuity, digital-first series based on a line of expensive, collectible statuettes. On the other hand, Bombshells is exactly the sort of book that would interest these creators; hell, Palmiotti previously co-wrote another regular series for DC based on a line of expensive, collectible statuettes (the less-successful Ame-Comi Girls, the failures of which were do more to the inconsistent artwork, which rarely adhered to the design style of the statuettes).

The $4.99, 38-page issue has our Harley using some sort of time-travel ball she acquired from Superman (in, um, the next issue of the series) to travel into the Bombshells-iverse, where she comes into physical contact with herself there (yes< of course the two Harleys kills; you know these creators well) and creates an alternate timeline, allowing Conner and Palmiotti to do whatever they like without worrying about how their story matches up with real World War II history (a pretty silly concern, really) or the events of Bombshells. Such a set-up is perhaps unnecessary, as the plot itself builds in a degree of equivocation, as Harley's friend and Danzig thinks she simply dreamt the entire experience.

The plot is this: Harley travels "back in time" to World War II, where an unnamed Sgt. Rock and a couple of the bombshells (Amanda Waller, Batwoman and Big Barda) all assume she is their Harley and take her with them on a mission to infiltrate a German castle and kill Nazis. Along the way, Catwoman and Zatanna cross their paths and, in the climactic battle, Supergirl, Stargirl and Wonder Woman put in appearances.

A plot complication comes up when the real Bombshell Harley enters the picture. She has gone deep undercover as a Nazi doctor/interrogator (who, for some reason, wears clown make-up) and is being sent to the same castle that the other Bombshells were planning on infiltrating, to perform the same basic mission.

Oh, and Hitler shows up.

The artwork is mostly by Billy Tucci, he has an affinity for the material, with Flaviano drawing the three-pages set in Harley's regular, DCU reality. Additionally, the great Joseph Michael Linsner (who I kinda wish could have drawn all 38, or at least 35, pages) shows up to draw a completely random and unnecessary five-page dream sequence in which Harley confronts Count Jokula, a composite of The Joker, Dracula and Hitler. It allows us to see Linsner drawing Harley (mostly in her Mad Love get-up), but it really feels grafted-on as a page-filler, being a dream sequence in what is essentially already a 30-page dream sequence.

At the climax, Harley comes face to mustache with Hitler, and tells him off while slapping him around until he finally puts a gun to his head and takes his own life, as she's so annoying he would rather die than be around her any longer (Now, I hate to agree with Hitler on anything other than vegetarianism, but he was right about the fact that Harley is hella annoying. While I had the luxury of shutting the comic book, and thus wouldn't put a gun to my temple over it, I don't know how many more formulations of her "Holee Whateverlee!" declarations I could have personally taken).

All of the artwork was strong, but this is an issue that it's really too bad Conner couldn't drawn any more of than just the cover; pin-up style superheroines are pretty much exactly her jam, you know?

I'm not a fan of she and Palmiotti's take on the character, but I'll still be sorry when this bi-monthly team-up title ends, as its six issue-run (which will include a Superman team-up drawn by Neal Adamas and a Classic Lobo team-up drawn by Simon Bisley) has included/will include some interesting pairings and great, unexpected artists.

Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz #1 (DC) There are only three problems with this comic book:

1.) The price: It's $3.99 for just 20-pages, not even 22 pages, in strict violation of DC's "Holding the Line at $2.99" pledge from a few years back, which they seem to have re-devoted themselves to as part of the "Rebirth" initiative. I suppose it's so expensive because writer Garth Ennis is expensive and sales are so low, but making a comic 33% more expensive than the rest of the line doesn't strike me as a good way to make it more desirable, but then, what do I know? Marvel, Boom, Dynamite and IDW seem to do just fine with their $4/20-ish page books.

2.) The spelling in the title: I will accept one of those intentional misspellings, but not both. That's just crazy.

3.) John McCrea is, sadly, not drawing it.

Otherwise, it's a fairly perfect continuation of Ennis and McCrea's All-Star Section Eight, a kinda sorta spin-off of Hitman that managed to use the setting and some minor character's from that title without really revisiting the story itself...while also managing to pretty savagely parody various New 52 iterations of DCU characters because the narrator and protagonists is as unreliable as one can get.

The cover is by Steve Dillon, the artist who actually partially created Dogwelder (even if Ennis and McCrea are the ones who wrote and drew him into a comic book), so it's cool that he draws him here (even if this is Dogwelder II and not the original). The interior art is by frequent Ennis collaborator Russ Brawn. He's hardly the first artist to draw these characters or this setting, and he does a fine job of it, adhering to the designs closely enough that many of the Noonan's Sleazy Bar characters look as if McCrea did draw them, but even still, if there's one thing I want from a Section Eight comic, it is John McCrea artwork.

That is especially true given all of the guest-stars here, as part of the fun of Hitman, and part of the very premise of All-Star Section Eight, was seeing Ennis and McCrea tackle DC Comics characters. Here Power Girl, Catwoman, Starfire, The Spectre and John Constantine all appear...although the Constantine is off-panel the whole time.

Based on the title and logo, it appears that the book will eventually congeal into a road trip comic starring Sixpack and Dogwelder. Sixpack first appears reading an upside down trade paperback collection of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics and declaring "Rashism ish bad--an' shuperheroesh are the answer...!". Additionally, Adams himself provides a variant cover that is a direct self-homage to one of those covers.

In this issue, Dogwelder II looks in on his family and is confronted by a character who seems to be Constantine ("Oh, whatcha fink yer gonna do, Son...? Weld a dog to me face?"). Meanwhile, Sixpack is struggling to keep Section Eight going. As Hacken points out (in his second appearance in the last few weeks! I have a post on New 52 Hacken's two unlikely, not-written-by-Ennis appearances so far planned, but in the meantime, Chris Sims has some info on his latest), Section Eight is down to just five members (Sixpack, Dogwelder, Guts, Bueno Excellente and Baytor) and, as Sixpack himself realizes, he's the only one who can talk (Well, Bueno says two words, and Baytor rarely strays beyond the three).

Presumably the two title characters will seek to resolve their conflicts together, but first they each have to face magical characters from the darker corners of the DCU.

I was a little surprised by at least one of the gags in this issue, given how taboo "the R-word" is...
...but now that I'm typing this, I realize that alcoholism jokes have been considered in poor taste for even longer than that, and, well, jokes about alcoholism are at the very core of Ennis' Section Eight comics.

Also, one of the stars of this book welds dead dogs to people's faces, so referring to DC's own Convergence as "Retardance" isn't really out-of-bounds, is it? I'm pretty sure this book was never mean to have bounds to go out of, you know?

Although it it is rated "T+" rather than "Mature Readers," which explains why all the swear words appear as asterisks. So I guess that's the boundary that can't be crossed here: Swear words.

Snotgirl #2 (Image Comics) Credit where credit's due, writer Bryan Lee O'Malley is doing a hell of a job drawing out suspense and making me relate to his protagonist Lottie Person: Like her, I feared her new friend died right in front of her in the club bathroom at the end of the last issue, and spent all of this issue wondering if she was really dead or what, hoping she wasn't. Me? I was hoping that was the case because the book is so early in its story that I'm not entirely sure what kind of comic it's going to be, and I'm not sure I want it to be about a dead girl. Lottie, obviously, has different reasons to worry.

O'Malley and artist Leslie Hung continue to draw us deeper into the world of Las Angeles fashion-bloggers, as Lottie withdraws from the world out of fear of what she may have witnessed and be held responsible for, while her "friends" seek to draw her out and she realizes she may have an enemy responsible for her new problems and her boy problems from the first issue.

A new character, who will almost certainly become a love interest, is introduced in the final pages. I really liked LAPD Detective John Cho ("No relation to the beloved actor"), who dropped out of fashion school to honor his dying father's wish that he go into law enforcement, and who applied himself in order to make detective, allowing him to wear nice, fashionable suits to work, rather than a uniform.

I'm still not sure what exactly to expect form this series, but at this point I've come to expect beautiful art, and much less snot than I feared when I first heard about the book.

Wonder Woman #5 (DC) Now featuring minor character and one-time Bruce Wayne bodyguard/love interest Sasha Bordeaux, created in 2000, turned into some kinda goofy cyborg in an Infinite Crisis tie-in a decade ago, and then appearing in Rucka's short-lived Checkmate revival that I never read. Man, if Rucka makes them all fight Whisper A'Daire and the goddam crime-worshipping were-people I am out.

Other than that odd call-back to his own comics from 10-20 years prior to "Rebirth," this issue was fine if slow–the accelerated schedule and the alternating chapters of two different storylines actually serve Rucka's pacing pretty well. Were this a monthly, I probably would have dropped it in favor of trade-waiting with this issue (if I didn't do so last issue).

This is one of the Liam Sharp-drawn issues, set in the present. Cheetah and Wondy are still trying to save Steve Trevor, his team and a bunch of kidnapped African girls from the same evil African deity that turned Barbara Minerva into a were-cheetah (oh man, I just realized Rucka did get to work in an animal-person already after all!). They're getting pretty close now! During one scene, Wondy confides in Barbara that she's been having trouble with her continuity lately, and there's a large panel showing a bolt of lightning shattering glass over a black field, the largest shards of glass showing scenes of Wonder Woman: I recognize an image referring to Gail Simone's pre-Flashpoint run on the character (the armored gorillas make it easy to do so), there's an image of the "Rebirth" Wonder Woman in front of a red sky, an image of the George Perez design of Ares before a Kirby dot dotted red sky and then two images I don't recognize. Well, one of these is Wonder Woman wearing her basic costume being hurled backwards by an explosion, and the other shows her in the same costume, but with a red "W" painted on her face and a bloody trident in her right hand.

I'm sure the continuity rejiggering will all be explained eventually. Heck, maybe it will even make sense!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 12

Supergirl: Rebirth #1 by Steve Orlando, Emanuela Lupachhino, Ray McCarthy and Michael Atiyeh

DC Comics sure took its time getting a Supergirl comic–any Supergirl comic–on the stands in time to meet the demand of the fairly well-received Supergirl TV show. It wasn't until late in the season that they managed a digital-first series that tied directly into the show (a sort of comic book cul-de-sac that never interested me, and always struck me as counter-productive), and showed the general lack of care that goes into the creation of pretty much all of the publisher's digital-first comics (Here, as in most cases, there were too many artists drawing in too many divergent styles). Now that the first season is completely over, and ratings have dipped enough that the show is moving from a network to CW's superhero ghetto in order to be more cheaply produced, there's finally a new, ongoing, canonical Supergirl comic, designed with one eye towards appealing to viewers of the show (Viewers who wanted a Supergirl comic, like, last year and then patiently waited until this week to get one, I guess).

It's...kind of weird, actually.

I confess to complete and total ignorance of what the publisher did to the character during the course of their 2011 New 52 reboot, aside from remembering that her costume was redesigned as a one-piece with an awkwardly-placed red panel that made it look like she flew off forgetting to put on her skirt.

This proved somewhat challenging, as writer Steve Orlando's approach to the Supergirl: Rebirth special is the "bridge" one, essentially moving the character from where she left off (Her last monthly, launched as part of The New 52, was ironically canceled just months before the debut of the Supergirl TV show, rather than simply being retooled to appeal to a different and broader audience, a la Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr's not-a-reboot recalibration of Batgirl) to where she's going. This means there's a lot of business that seems a little out-of-left-field, like the Department of Extranormal Operations helping the powerless Supergirl regain her lost super-powers, for example.

Knowing next-to-nothing about this Supergirl and her origins means I don't know where she came from, what the deal with her family is, how she escaped Krypton, why she was sent to Earth, what her relationship to Superman is, what she's been doing on Earth all this time and, oh yeah, what the deal with red Kryptonite is these days. After so many reboots, rejiggerings and resets, Supergirl is one of the handful of DC characters–The Legion of Super-Heroes, Hawkman, Donna Troy–where all of the particulars of her stories just register like white noise to me.

What's most interesting–and weird–about this series is how Orlando adopts elements of the TV show and attempts to ground them in the current DC Universe and the result feels awkward, as if the premise here is from an earlier, abandoned draft of the story bible for the show.

In Argo City (labeled here as "Survivor of Krypton's Destruction...Soon To Meet Its Own"), Supergirl's dad Zor-El is a judge sentencing a criminal of sorts to the Phantom Zone (on the show, her mom had a similar role). The DEO director is Cameron Chase (created, like the DEO, for the short-lived but promising 1998 series Chase by Dan Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III), whereas on the TV show the director was Hank Henshaw (Spoiler alert: Who was really a superhero posing as the late Henshaw), while Chase appeared in just a single episode as an FBI agent. They have assigned Kara Zor-El, who is going to work with them to repay them for helping her get her powers back and basically because she could use the support, to two married agents who will pose as her foster parents, Eliza Danvers and Jeremiah Danvers. Both characters on the TV show in small roles, although it is Kara's foster sister who is a DEO agent, not her foster parents.

They are all based in a facility in a desert outside of National City, like on the TV show, where Supergirl has been assigned the human identity of high school student Kara Danvers. Her costume is patterned after the one from the TV show, but with New 52 seams, no tights and a field of yellow behind her S-shield.

This issue is basically all set-up, the conflict being Supergirl having to deal with Lar-On, the Kryptonian werewolf that her dad sentenced to the Phantom Zone in the flashback, who was released from the Zone on Earth when Supergirl's power-restoration rocket was fired up.

Despite how much of this scanned like set-up white noise to me, I have to say, I do like the sound of "Kryptonian werewolf." (Much more so than "Cyborg-Superman," a version of which will apparently be involved in the ongoing series that will follow this).

The artwork by pencil artist Emanuela Lupcchhino and inker Ray McCarthy is quite strong, but having all three women in the narrative be identical-looking ones with shoulder-length blonde hair probably wasn't the smartest of choices. Lupucchino and McCarthy do great work giving the characters expressive faces, but their style isn't the sort that's devoted to giving them distinct faces.

Structured as it is, this is a difficult book to judge as anything other than a potential jumping-on point. Personally, it read as too little, too late to me (this is pretty much exactly what DC could have come up with just by watching the first highlight reel of the pilot episode, or reading descriptions of the series), but far better to have a so-so Supergirl series than not have one at all, I guess. I'd have to read another issue to know if this is a series I want to read regularly, but at this point I'm more mildly curious than excited.

Batgirl and The Birds of Prey #1 by Julia Benson, Shawn Benson, Claire Roe and Allen Passalaqua

Counting Batgirl and The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, this issue marks the first 40 pages of the new Birds of Prey book, and it just doesn't seem to be working. Again a chunk of the issue is devoted to Batgirl Barbara Gordon's time as Oracle, working as Black Canary's partner from her clocktower base...none of which ever happened, as per the Flashpoint/New 52 reboot. This sort of soft, title/s-specific reboot can occasionally work in small doses here and there, but is particularly frustrating here and now, given how frequent DC's reboots are (this could have occurred in the wake of Convergence or Multiversity, for example, or the upcoming Watchmen crossover of some sort that DC Universe: Rebirth all but promised).

Grafting the old Helena "The Huntress" Bertinelli's origin and characterization onto the new Helena Bertinelli's not really working either; co-writers Julie and Shawna Benson just seem to be writing her as is she was the previous continuity's Helena, rather than as the entirely new person with an entirely new background that she is, with only a token nod or two to the fact that she used to be the leader of an international super-spy organization.

The plot of the special continues here. Someone is using the Oracle name for nefarious purposes, and Barbara Gordon wants to stop that person, with Black Canary at her side for old time's sake. Meanwhile, The Huntress wants to murder the very same people Batgirl and Canary need info from, as they all conspired to kill her entire family a long time ago. After a very confusing fight scene involving a guy who controls snakes, in which an exploding couch is randomly drawn in background of one panel for no reason, the three women decide to strike up an uneasy alliance.

Claire Roe's art remains good in terms of draftsmanship, if it can be difficult to make sense of at times (see above), but this premise just isn't working for me at all...even if it does seem an improvement over that of the New 52 series. What makes this disappointment all the more disappointing is that the last Batgirl cream team spent so many months putting together an even bigger and far better team that was apparently sadly shelved in favor of this (and, I suppose, elements of the "Rebirth" version of Detective Comics).

Suicide Squad #1 by Rob Williams, Jim Lee, Jason Fabok, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair

After the tinkering with the premise of the New 52 Suicide Squad to bring it more in line with that of the original incarnation (and that of the film, which seemed an amalgamation of the two eras of the team) in the Suicide Squad: Rebirth special, writer Rob Williams now launches the new series in earnest, and it is essentially a canonical, comic book extrapolation of the film.

The current line-up lines up pretty much exactly: U.S. military guy Rick Flag is Amanda Waller's new field leader, superhero Katana is his lieutenant and this first mission calls for the talents of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc and one June Moon. Each of them are kept in shipping containers in Belle Reeve prison, which looks like he has been redesigned to maybe be submerged under the water of the Louisiana swamps (Legion of Doom-style), but Jim Lee's double-page splash establishing shot isn't too terribly clear on this matter (a big single image like that shows import and detail, but no movement, and buildings aren't exactly things that can be drawn with enough dynamism to suggest movement).

After the team is assembled–via a neat sequence where large, mechanical arms pluck their shippint containers up and move them to surround a meeting room of sorts, their doors sliding open to allow them entry–Waller gives them their mission and off they go, entering hostile territory via some kind of weird ring of car seats that requires them to wear space suits. When something goes wrong, Flag heroically tries to save one of their number, which endangers them all to the point that their only hope for surviving this early part of this mission is for Moon to turn into her powerful other self.

And that's it. That is the whole first chapter of this story. If you were among the many who was wondering just how on Earth notoriously slow–and presumably quite buys–artist/DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee was going to manage drawing a 20-page book on a monthly basis, the answer is, he's not. He just drew the first 13 pages. The book is apparently going to be divided roughly in half-ish, with Lee drawing the the lion's share and the remainder being filled with character-specific back-up stories by another artist (here, Jason Fabok). not ideal, but I imagine that it is well worth a less-than-satisfying issue-by-issue read in order to keep Lee art in each issue, and thus sales appropriately high. It will likely read much better collected, particularly if they put the Lee-drawn team story all together in the front of each volume, and the back-ups in the, um, back.

In this issue, that back-up is entitled "Never Miss," and is both a kinda sorta run-through of Deadshot's origin (in broad strokes) and a team-up with Batman. When a Kobra cultist kidnaps his daughter, who doesn't know her dad, in order to force him to work for them, he instead turns to Batman for help, promising to use rubber bullets. He keeps his promise, until he stops, and surrenders to Batman after they save his daughter.

I'm not sure how much, or even if, this differs from the New 52 origins of the character, but Fabok at least draws Floyd Lawton to look like Floyd Lawton, so it's already head and shoulders above the last Suicide Squad #1 from 2011 (despite forgetting Floyd's mustache on the cover, it's worth noting that Lee and Williams do remember it in the interior art).

I was a little disappointed that so few of the character/costume designs matched those of the film, which, in general, were far superior to their New 52 costumes. Deadshot is still wearing his dumb New 52 costume, rather than a pared-down version of his original, as his movie costume basically was. Katana's basically wearing what she was in her short-lived solo series (again, I liked the movie costume better, which looked both more realistic, more functional and sexier, thanks to the bared abs, rather than the bodystocking). Boomerang's wearing the same basic costume he has for a decade or so now (I don't like the hat). Enchantress, who had the most striking and scariest fucking movie redesign looks like she did during Shadowpact, really; just a green bustier and pants and a hood, making her resemble a green Raven (we only see her on the cover, though). Harley most closely resembles her movie self, but then, she went through a redesign to match that design in her own comic series recently.

Of the last two Suicide Squad #1s I've read–three, if you count the Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 too–this was by far the best, but, again, I suspect it will read better in trade.

Two quick, anal-retentive nitpicks, before I go.

First, I thought it weird that they were apparently all incarcerated with their costumes and weapons, given the pains taken to keep them isolated from one another and the prison staff, including Waller. Deadshot and Boomerang could so easily come shooting and boomeranging, for example.

Secondly, I wasn't aware Killer Croc was arrested again after the last time I saw him (the Bat-office has been transitioning him to sort of a bad-ass good guy over the last couple of years, making him more of a Catwoman-like character), or why he went to Belle Reeve instead of Arkham Asylum. Personally, I like knowing details like that (which, I suppose, could be explained in a forthcoming back-up, particularly if they are all going to cover similar ground to the back-up in this issue). Likewise, it's weird to see Harley in such a high-security prison here, whereas she's free and gainfully employed in New York in her own series. Having not been following New Suicide Squad too closely after the first issue or two, I just kind of assumed she had some very liberal work-release policy, or was volunteering with the Squad of late, but it's really hard to square Harley Quinn #1-#2 with Suicide Squad #1.

As a comedy series, the Harley monthly has a bit more wiggle room with continuity–and her Little Black Book team-up series even more so, as it's seemingly completely out-of-continuity–but given the character's popularity, it seem like DC might want to encourage readers of either series to read the other, and thus a little work to align them more closely would make some amount of sense (At present, there seem to be two Harleys with two different status quos and personalities).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

On DC Super Hero Girls: Finals Crisis

I recently reviewed the first DC Super Hero Girls graphic novel for School Library Journal's Good Comics For Kids blog and, somewhat to my own surprise, I liked it a whole lot.

Why was a I surprised? Well, I'm obviously pretty far outside of the target demographic for the Mattel toy-line from which this graphic novel and other tie-in media sprung. They're not toys I'd play with or collect, the cartoons didn't look like anything I'd watch, I'd certainly not read the prose chapter books, but comics? Yeah, I'll read those. When the line was first announced, it just sort of confused me. I didn't like the over-busy designs of most of the characters–Katana, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn were the only ones I found aesthetically pleasing–although I suppose it's worth noting that some of the poor designs are improvements over The New 52 designs (Well, Supergirl's, anyway).

Also, I guess I just didn't get the premise: All of DC's superheroes and some of their villains are high schoolers. Is this Justice League Unlimited meets Beverly Hills, 90210...? No. But it is Justice League Unlimited meets Saved By The Bell, and that's close enough for me! Check out the hallway scene above, which comes early in the book and is the point where I started to get into it. You have some of the "girls" who are the focus of the toy line, plus some Teen Titans, some founding Justice Leaguers, Blue Beetle, Hawk (sans Dove!), Animal Man and, a character who by process of elimination I've determined must be either Black Lightning's daughter Thunder or Lightning.

There are some deep, deep DCU cuts for a book like this, as the Silver Age Elasti-Girl shows up in a panel with Bunker, The Ray and a hooded Mary Marvel (whose name goes unspoken) are in another, there's Vibe opening his locker in the background of one panel.

What's interesting about all of this is that in attempting to provide as diverse a line-up of dolls/action figures, and as diverse a student body as possible, they had to dig pretty deep, eschewing the legacy versions of some characters (there's no Jason Rusch Firestorm, no John Stewart Green Lantern, no Ryan Choi version of The Atom, etc), but used plenty of relatively minor characters who are black or Asian or Hispanic: Thunder (or Lightning?), Xs, Bumblebee, Katana, Lady Shiva, Vibe, Bunker and so on.

This has long been an ongoing discussion in bringing diversity to super-comics–creating new non-white characters vs. giving the names of white characters to non-white characters–and while both methods have their merits and drawbacks, this looks like a good compromise. Rather than creating brand-new non-white characters unlikely to catch on, or keep adding new, non-white Green Lanterns or passing the mantles of The Atom or Firestorm or Blue Beetle (wait, that last one's a bad example, as Jaime is the Beetle in here...although, he's the primary Beetle in mass-media), seek out the relatively minor minority characters and focus on them.

Sure it may look forced to a terrible old man like me, who will glance at the cover of the book and immediately realize that Bumblebee and Katana don't exactly seem to "fit" with Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl and even the Bat-villains Harley and Ivy (kinda surprised they're there and Catwoman is relegated to a one-panel cameo, actually), but this isn't a comic for Caleb and, as one reads, this is a brand-new, self-contained world, so it doesn't matter if Wonder Woman hails from the Justice Society and Justice League while Bumblebee was a minor Teen Titan and Katana a member of The Outsiders, because here they're just classmates at Super Hero High, you know?

I appreciated the sense of humor that went into staffing Super Hero High. Above you see phys-ed teacher Coach Wildcat, Crazy Quilt teaches a class on costume design, Gorilla Grodd is the Vice Principal, and Amanda Waller the principal. Art Baltazar and Franco's Tiny Titans did something similar--and also got there first with a "Finals Crisis" joke--with various Titans villains on faculty at Sidekick Elementary (There, Dr. Light taught science, Slad Wilson was the principal, Darkseid was the lunch lady and Lobo handled phys-ed). Anyway, look at Wildcat's awesome/dumb little cat-ear hoodie...! That's adorkable.

Okay, I know I shouldn't laugh at the bullies' jokes, but this Kryptonian mean girl's diss of Kara Zor-El for riding to school on horseback in this flashback sequence was pretty good. They also make fun of the fact that she has her house crest (i.e. the S-sheild) on her clothes and backpack, which is akin to having your mom write your name on all yours stuff so you don't lose it, and they push her in a very conspicuously-place mud puddle, which looks like it is only there to push bullied students into.

We shouldn't feel too badly for Kara, though. Just remember, all of those Kryptonian mean girls died with the rest of Krypton! You know what they say; surviving the eradication of pretty much your species is the best revenge!

While I'm laughing at Kara, I particularly liked that she got a little circle with a line through it attached to a big diamond, which is Kryptonian for "F" (It wasn't entirely her fault, though; the super-mean girls sabotaged her project by screwing around with her horse).

I also appreciate that writer Shea Fontana captured Hal Jordan's core characteristic so clearly: Hal is dumb. Not only do we see Star Sapphire asking him to ask her out so she can say maybe here, but note the fact that he wears a mask (as well as his dumb bomber jacket) and she calls him "Green Lantern." But check out his cup. Apparently when the server at The Max or wherever they are asked what name to put on his drink order, he said "Hal" rather than "Green Lantern." The poor sap hasn't even finished his first semester of high school, and his secret identity has already been compromised!

So yeah, this turned out to be a pretty fun comic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: August 17th

Legends of Tomorrow #6 (DC Comics) This book was especially welcome this week, when there was only one other book in my pull-list (I added Superf*ckers Forever too late, alas; hopefully it will arrive next week). If you're only going to have two comic books to read on a Wednesday afternoon, it's better if one of them is actually four comic books in one, after all.

This is, sadly, the last issue of Legends of Tomorrow. If the fact that there's no #7 in next month's solicitations weren't clue enough, the fact that all four stories seem to resolve themselves with great finality here drives the point home (although, it should be pointed out, half of them actually end with the words "The Beginning" or something to that effect).

As I've said before, I really enjoy the format of this book, and, especially the price point. I liked the four features in degrees that varied wildly (from "Completely Uninterested" to "This Is Mediocre, But I'm Curious" to "Say, That's Pretty Good" to "This Isn't That Bad"), which, given the super-value price-point (at $7.99/80-pages, it's like four $2 comics) turned out to be enough for me to buy all six issues. (If you bought none of them, you didn't miss much; just pick up the upcoming Sugar & Spike trade and you're golden, really.)

Therefore, I wouldn't mind another six issues featuring four–or maybe just three?–new features, preferably ones that feature characters from the TV show that the book is named after (Maybe keep Sugar & Spike, and add a Rip Hunter feature–with guest-stars from different time periods–and, I don't know, Hawkman & Hawkgirl and Captain Cold and/or The Rogues...? I'd suggest The Atom, but he seems fairly screwed up by the New 52 reboot.) Or, hell, give it a different title completely, and it can function pretty much like this: A way to re-introduce a character (Metamorpho), greenlight an otherwise un-greenlight-able series (Sugar & Spike), provide another arc of a canceled book (Firestorm) and/or try out frequent guest-stars in their own feature (The Metal Men).

As I've only took one other book home from the shop tonight, I guess we can take these one by one.

First, there's the Firestorm feature by Gerry Conway, Eduardo Pansica and Rob Hunter. It...actually, I have absolutely nothing to say about it. It was readable, which is more than I can say for some DC comic books. I think the character suffered during the New 52-boot (remember, he was coming off of a high-profile Firestorm: Rebirth-like story in the Geoff Johns-written Brightest Day and was in the best shape of his post-80s career when DC hit the reset button). Here Conway essentially restores the character to his classic composition, without completely jettisoning Jason. Still, it seemed like a 120-page status quo readjustment more than anything else, and was more character-driven than a showcase of what makes the character so neat. That would be fine if the character's weren't so flat and generic but, well, they were. The art was okay, but not anywhere near good enough to transcend the story itself. This one ended with a splash page, and the words "THE BEGINNING" in the lower right-hand corner.

Up next is Aaron Lopresti and Livesay's Metamorpho. This was basically another new origin story for Metamorpho, a character who doesn't need an new origin story, or even an origin story: He was pretty perfect as is, and, I was a little surprised upon reading Showcase Presents: Metamorpho how timeless those original stories were. Lopresti, who wrote and penciled, tried to update things in a way to make them more 21st century, like giving Sapphire a doctorate and a more active role, but he also made everyone occupy a similarly gray moral area that doesn't really suit an adventure character whose powers are the Periodic Table and whose supporting cast includes an unfrozen caveman named Java. This chapter ends with Sapphire seemingly transformed and dead, and Metamorpho about to murder her father in revenge. Hooray...? It actually ends with the words "The End." If we see Metamorpho in the new Rebirth-iverse, maybe we'll just pretend none of this ever happened...?

Then it's Keith Giffen and Bilquis Evely's "Sugar & Spike," the reason to read this series at all. Evely's the MVP of this book, and a rising star; I hope DC finds something really great for her to do next. Maybe Batman? That book really should have a female artist on it at some point, right? Giffen has scripted his sixth and final chapter in this Sheldon Moldoff's-baby-characters-from-a-gag-comic-are-adult-Private Investigators-specializing-in-superheroes-for-some-reason series without ever justifying using Sugar & Spike and not, like, anyone else, up to and including original characters. This issue focuses on the Legion of Super-Heroes, and mainly involves a pile-up of their time-travel devices as various representatives of various incarnations of the team appear in order to stop something from happening, and all end up arguing with one another. It's funnier than most of the previous installments, in large part because the nature of the Legion means the feature's hands-off approach to continuity works just fine, in larger part because little of Giffen's time is spent on making Sugar a horrible shrew and in larger part still because it gives Evely so much room for visual gags, the best being the effect of flight on Sugar's hair...although there's something to be said for the look on the original Saturn Girl's face when she sees what a later Saturn Girl is wearing. This one ends with a "The End" as well.

Finally, there's Len Wein, Yildiray Cinar and Trevor Scott's Metal Men feature, which includes an introduction of a villain and an editorial box reading "See the last incarnation of BLACKHAWK for details." Yeah, I'll be sure to hit the back-issue bins for issues of the almost-immediately-canceled New 52 Blackhawk book right away. Anyway, that character was behind the various troubles that Will Magnus and his Metal Men have been through over the course of the last five guest-star-spangled installments. In this final one, both sets of Metal Men team-up to take on Chemo, all of them dying in the process of defeating him. Which is fine; being destroyed and being rebuilt is pretty much their thing. Magnus is able to rebuild his entire team, but only one member of the second set of Metal Men–Copper, who I assumed would join the originals before this was all over (as she was introduced in a previous Metal Men mini-series). Sadly, the new Metal Men designs are even worse than they were throughout this series, but hopefully these bodies will get destroyed pretty quickly and then can assume newer, less terrible forms. This one ends with the words "Only The Beginning."

And that's that. Farewell Legends of Tomorrow; I'll miss you!

Lumberjanes #29 (Boom Studios) Thus begins a weirdly continuity-heavy story arc in Lumberjanes, in that it refers back to several things that have previously occurred in the series. Perhaps not in a You won't be able to understand this comic book if you didn't read those previous issues kinda way, but in a way that seems fairly unusual for this title, which hasn't deviated too very far from it's premise of "Girls at a camp get into hijinks involving monsters and strangeness in the woods."

The villain of the first arc has returned, and an enemy of hers has attacked one The Zodiac Cabin (which now includes former Scouting Lad Barney, the first-ever male Lumberjane), and our heroines from Roanoke Cabin must ally themselves with their former enemy to save Barney and their other fellow 'janes. Because the backdrop involves Greek mythology, it provides writers Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh to discuss family, and how it pertains to one of the 'janes in particular, which had me trying (and failing) to remember the details of that one issue in which we saw all the girls getting dropped off at the camp by their parents.

I liked it just fine.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Afterbirth: DC's "Rebirth" initiative, week 11

Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 by Christopher Priest, Jason Paz and Jeromy Cox

Deathstroke is, like Red Hood, another book that the market seems to have rejected, but DC seems determined to find a way to make work, even if there's no real mass-media incentive for doing so (as with, say, Suicide Squad and Teen Titans). The ongoing series that will launch following this Rebirth one-shot will be the third Deathstroke series since fall of 2011. The first, which ran through three writers, lasted 20 issues. The second, which launched in 2014, also lasted 20 issues, and only burned through two writers in that time. Prior to 2011's new 52 relaunch, Deathstroke hadn't supported his own book since his 60-issue, 1991-1995 title, written by co-creator Marv Wolfman.

This new book would therefore seem to have something of an uphill climb, but it does have something of a secret weapon this time out: It's being written by Christopher Priest. An extremely talented, awfully under-appreciated and too-rarely-seen comic book writer, Priest is due for a greater and wider appreciation in the coming months, as Marvel has reprinted his Black Panther run in anticipation of the upcoming feature film that will almost certainly draw upon it for inspiration, and it was just recently announced that a animated series based on The Ray is in the works. While that character has been around in various incarnations since 1940, the only ongoing series he supported was a 29-issue, 1994-1996 series written by Priest (which I hope DC will be collecting shortly, as I've never read it in its entirety in order, having tried to assemble the run in back-issues; and hey, DC, while you're at it, can you also collect Priest's excellent Justice League Task Force run? Thanks!).

I found that development a little disappointing, on account of the fact that I really like Priest, and really have no interest in Deathstroke, one of the many, many characters who suffered from the erasure of history that accompanied the New 52 reboot and who, simultaneously, seemed to suffer from overexposure. (I read a handful of Tony Daniel's run on the second New 52 volume of the series, and I still feel like I've seen Deathstroke in about 85 or so different appearances throughout the line).

So what are the first twenty pages of the Priest/Deathstroke pairing like? "The Professional" is broken up into tiny sub-chapters, with titles appearing in all-black panels. The action jumps back and forth from what appears to the rather distant past, in which a blonde, two-eyed Slade takes his to small children camping, and the present, in which Deathstroke takes a job in Africa for a warlord that is complicated by the surprise appearance of a supervillain.

Wintergreen is also involved, and thanks to the reboot and all of the appearances of Slade and the Wilson children that I haven't read, I have no idea what current continuity is regarding all of these characters, which is probably for the best. This feels and reads like a completely fresh start, which is as it should be.

The surprise villain, who Deathstroke is at first paid to kill, but is having some trouble doing, and then redirects his attention elsewhere, is an apparently elderly and terminally ill Clock King. Refreshingly, he's in his classic costume, which looks more like a pair of pajama's covered in clocks than anything else (He's not wearing the mask, though; that would just be silly). It's perhaps a little weird that in this short-lived universe any super-people have been around long enough to get old, but it's nice to see that the creators haven't tried to make Clock King look more realistic or bad-ass, neither of which has suited the character very well in the past.

There is a lot of mystery involved in the plot, particularly in how these various things connect, and what it is that makes Deathstroke change his direction, but these are of the intriguing, rather than confusing, variety of mystery.

Carlos Pagulayan's pencils, inked by Jason Paz and colored by Jeromy Cox, are the best applied to this character and his adventures in...well, I can't remember the last time I read a comic called Deathstroke that looked this good. The style is perhaps nothing special, and is, in fact, even boring, but its professionally executed, and there's obviously a high degree of talent involved. It is, by no means, bad, which, in the unfortunately low standards of superhero comic book art, the same as being really rather good.

The design of the lead character is a functional one, and his colors have been rendered rather drab. The orange is a sickly shade, the blue is no black, and the fish-scale style armor is now silver chain mail. It is neither as colorfully super-villainous as the original George Perez design, nor as outlandish as the the New 52 redesign, which only really looked all that good when occasional cover artist Simon Bisley was drawing it with the sense of exaggeration it deserved.

I personally can't say I'm excited or terribly enthusiastic about what follows, but this is certainly the firs time I've been interested in what happens next in a Deathstroke comic since, I don't know, he fought Batman in 1992 or whenever...?

All-Star Batman #1 by Scott Snyder, John Romita Jr., Danny Miki and Dean White

When DC first started announcing their new "Rebirth"-branded line of books, the most notable absence was writer Scott Snyder, whose run on Batman with pencil artist Greg Capullo was the New 52's one completely unqualified hit. Sndyder's apparent leave from the Bat-books was cause for some concern for a bit–right up until his All-Star Batman, a new series apparently focusing on Batman's rogue's gallery, was announced.

The title is a rather uncomfortable fit, as "All-Star" was used by the publisher to denote out-of-continuity books featuring their biggest characters by the biggest creators, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's limited-series All-Star Superman and Frank Miller and Jim Lee's unfinished All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder (there was talk of an All-Star Wonder Woman and an All-Star Batgirl, but neither ever materialized). The only other All-Star-branded book was the recent "DCYou" launch, the miniseries All-Star Section Eight, a quasi-canonical miniseries featuring a continuity I doubt will ever be referred to outside of writer Garth Ennis' future Section Eight comics (The fact that Batman scoffs at his many unpaid parking tickets or that Martian Manhunter smells godawful is unlikely to come up elsewhere, you know?).

The "All-Star" of this book seems to be in reference to the talent. While Snyder is the new ongoing's writer, the artists will rotate arc-by-arc. In this initial story arc, "My Own Worst Enemy," pencil artist John Romiat Jr. is joining the old Batman team of Snyder, inker Danny Miki and colorist Dean White. JRJR was a high-profile "get" for DC, and I'm sorry to say that a rather unremarkable run on Superman is all they've gotten out of him thus far. This looks like it will be a correction of that, as well as providing a better showcase for JRJR's skills at action and design.

This $4.99, 32-page comic also features a back-up story drawn by Declan Shalvey, and Paul Pope, Sean Murphy, Francesco Francavilla and Jock are among the artists announced for future contributions to the book.

The villain in this first arc was a genuinely surprising one: Two-Face. For reasons I'm not entirely sure of, the villain has been all but absent in the New 52. Snyder used him briefly in his "Death of the Family" story arc, appearing alongside The Penguin and The Riddler in a Joker-prompted gathering of Batman's worst enemies, and his only other appearance has been Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and company's Batman and Robin story arc, collected in Batman and Robin Vol. 5: The Big Burn, in which they give the character a brand-new origin story...and kill him off (and in a much more final way than the typical comic book villain death; he shoots himself in the head during a daily game of Russian roulette).

Snyder begins in medias res, with Batman escorting Two-Face somewhere 500 miles north of Gotham City, with seemingly everyone wanting to stop the pair from getting to their destination. As gradually comes out, after Two-Face engages in some sort of city-destroying attack (all of Batman's enemies are now terrorists) involving acid rain, Two-Face offers a carrot-and-stick deal to everyone. The carrot is the sum of the top three gangsters in Gotham City's net worth, while the stick is the release of all of the information Two-Face has accumulated on everyone in Gotham City during his years as a prosecutor and villain. Stop Batman and you get the money...and stop the secrets, including yours, from getting out.

There's still some important bits of information to be revealed, and it's being held back from drama's sake–Batman is betrayed by someone very close to him, which results in the Batplane being knocked out of the sky one mile into the journey–but Snyder does the job of delivering a simple, action-movie premise. Batman must get an unwilling Two-Face somewhere, while a bunch of super-villains attempt to stop him.

The villains here are all bug-themed. Batman makes his entrance being flying-tackled through plate glass by Firefly and Killer Moth, both in elaborate new, matching insect-costumes that allow them to fly (I don't think we've seen Firefly in the New 52 yet, and Killer Moth's costume looks 1,000 times better here than the very weak, un-moth-like one he's been wearing previously; I think his costume should be lame, lamer than this, actually, but at least this one is moth-themed). This is, by the way, the sort of scene JRJR excels at.

The other villain is Black Spider, whose costume looks a little like post-Crisis Black Spider II's costume, only cooler, and with Doctor Octopus-like arms I'm not a fan of, but it does allow Batman to fight him with a chainsaw, so that's fine.

Two-Face's dramatic first appearance–he spends much of the book wearing a hood–also reveals a great new design, and the impact of the moment is bolstered by the fact that we've barely seen the once omnipresent villain over the course of the last five years (DC's various Batman writers really should endeavor to create more new villains, allowing them to keep big one's out of the spotlight for longer and longer; the decision to use The Joker and Two-Face sparingly have made the appearances of both seem like really big deals).

A fourth villain appears on the last pages, and he is restored to his pre-New 52 look, thank God. Without spoiling his identity, this villain had one of the most striking designs of any DC villain and thus suffered more than most of the bad guys when given a New 52 redesign. He's not really a Batman villain–only in one particular Batman cartoon–so seeing him here at all was kind of a fun surprise.

The Shalvey drawn back-up, colored by Jordie Bellaire, is "The Cursed Wheel," and it's the first part of a story focusing on Duke Thomas' new training regime as...whoever he is now, in his black and yellow colored Bat-costume. ("So can I call you Robin?" Commissioner Gordon asks Thomas in the main story, and Batman answers for him, "I'm trying something New, Jim. Something...better, I hope." Well, when you do figure out what to call him, can you let the rest of us know? It's really bugging me. And if we decide that we don't have to have names for superheroes any more, can we stop calling Cassandra Cain "Orphan" and not call her anything either...?).

Having read the first few issues of Batman and Detective Comics and just the first issue of All-Star Batman, I feel pretty confident in saying that if you only read one Batman comic book, this should be that one. It has the best art by far, it's most focused on the title character as the star, and between the business with Duke and the super-villain gauntlet Batman's running outside of Gotham City, it it's the book that feels like it's doing something newer and more unexpected with the 75+-year-old character than any of the others.

Red Hood and The Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell, Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini

This is the first official issue of the third Red Hood ongoing of the past five years, but the title actually began two weeks ago with Red Hood and The Outlaws: Rebirth #1. "The Outlaws" of the title–a new version of Artemis and some iteration of Bizarro–show up on the cover of this issue, but 40 pages into Scott Lobdell's new storyline, it is still very much a Red Hood solo story (Artemis gets three lines of dialogue, and makes her first appearance on the last page of this issue).

Based on the fact that these first 40 pages or so have been the best and most readable that Lobdell has written featuring The Red Hood, and that the premise so far established–the Hood infiltrates the criminal underworld, trading on his not undeserved reputation as a Gotham villain–doesn't really require a team, I can't help but wonder if maybe DC and Lobdell should have tried a Red Hood solo series this time out (the first Red Hood and The Outlaws teamed him with Arsenal and Starfire, and that was followed by a Starfire-free Red Hood/Arsenal book).

As in the Rebirth special, this issue opens with a Batman-starring flashback, cleverly colored by Veronica Gandini to look sort of black-and-white-ish with bright spot red color on teenage Jason and faded bits of color here and there. He is gradually working his way into the good graces of Gotham crime boss The Black Mask, and seems to have gotten to the second-in-command position pretty much overnight (Still no reference to, or explanation why, he wear Batman's bat-symbol on his chest is he's supposed to be a bad guy who recently fought Batman. Surely the skull symbol of the supervillain costume he wore in Batman and Robin, or nothing at all, would be a better look for a bad guy supposedly completely unaffiliated with Batman? Nightwing and the various Robins looks less visually allied with Batman than Red Hood does). Black Mask has a job for Red Hood, a train heist, and it is aboard the train he meets Artemis, who artist Dexter Soy draws wearing what looks like an Elseworlds version of a Wonder Woman costume, standing with her hip jutted out as if she just reached the end of the catwalk and carrying a comically large, manga-style battle axe.

No real mystery what will happen in the next issue ("Next Issue: Red Hood V. Artemis!" reads the bottom corner of the final page), but it remains to be seen how Lobdell will manage to form a workable team out of such three divergent characters, and how exactly that will fit in with the plot of these first issues.

Superwoman #1 by Phil Jiemenz, Matt Santorelli and Jeromy Cox

It would be wrong to call this the most unexpected of the new, "Rebirth" era Superman family of books–New Super-Man features a Chinese teenager with Superman powers, for example, and Super-Sons will features Superman and Lois' extra-dimensional son teaming up with Robin Damian Wayne–but Lois Lane-gets-superpowers is surely a rather unexpected premise for a new ongoing series (although this is the sort of thing that would have powered, say, 12 pages or so of a Silver Age Superman book).

"Unexpected" is probably an important word to keep in mind here, as there's a rather good chance that a great deal of marketing misdirection went into this book. I don't want to risk ruining it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, so after the next paragraph, if you haven't yet read the book but don't want to be spoiled, you can quit reading the post now. Deal?

Writer/penciller Phil Jimenez does a pretty phenomenal job of presenting a particular dense, satisfying read. Almost every page has a lot of panels on them, many of them full of highly-detailed artwork and a fair amount of dialogue. Few name American artists could get away with this amount of visual information per page in a mainstream super-book–Jimenez inspiration George Perez comes to mind–but he pulls it off rather beautifully. It also means that when we get a two-page splash page showing the new Superwoman in flight over Metropolis, the image hits with the impact a splash is supposed to have. They have become so commonplace in superhero comics that they rarely even work anymore. The plot focuses on New 52 Lois Lane (not to be confused with the other Lois Lane, the one from the pre-Flashpoint timeline who was living in secret with her husband and son) teaming up with Lana Lang as Superwoman to carry on the legacy of their dead friend, Superman (The New 52 one, not the pre-Flashpoint Superman, who is currently starring in Action Comics and Superman).

You may remember from the death of Superman, one of several recent Superman comics referred to via asterisk and editorial box here, when he died, red bolts of lightning shot out of his body and hit Lana and Lois, imbuing them both with super-powers. Lois seems to have gotten the traditional suite of Superman powers, while Lana got the Electric Superman powers somehow, and when she goes into action as the other Superwoman, she looks like the Superman Red version of Strange Visitor.

So there are two Superwomen. Why is the book called Superwoman instead of Superwomen then? Good question. Do note that the placement of the S-shield in the logo does make the book look like it may be called Superwomans, though.

In this issue, other Superman Lex Luthor has built a giant helicarrier-like boat to help protect Metropolis, and wouldn't you know it, something goes wrong, necessitating both Lois and Lana to go into action. Later, while investigating the boat, Super-Lois gets attacked by what looks like some kind of female Bizarro, and is killed.

Now, I assumed she was "killed" rather than killed, and she would turn out to be A-OK next issue, as is often the case in superhero comics. It is her book, right?

My comics dealer, in asking me what I thought of the book (he liked it too, for what it's worth), noted that it seems to have solved the Rebirth DCU's "Two Lois" problem. Killing off New 52 Lois means pre-Flashpoint Lois would be the only Lois in the current DCU, and as for keeping this title going, well, if Lana Lang is also Superwoman, then she would simply become the Superwoman that stars in Superwoman.

Like I said, the thought didn't even occur to me while reading, but that does clean up the Superman books kind of easily (even if it's all extremely fucking confusing), and will (hopefully) allow the various creative teams to just get on with it already (If they even want to, of course. Dan Jurgens has had Superman fighting Doomsday in the pages of Action Comics for, what, like 80 pages now?).

I guess we'll have to wait and see. If that is what happened, then that is both an admirable subversion and a rather annoying bit of subterfuge on the part of DC. If not, well, they have to do something with the extra Lois somewhere down the line, right? (I'm not sure how the older Lois from a different universe will take the place of the younger Lois of this universe, particularly since they don't look too terribly alike, but then, I don't know how they plan on resolving Superman's outted secret identity yet either).

At any rate, I can't say I'm too terribly thrilled about where Jiminez is working at the moment–I'd prefer him on Justice League or trying to fix the Titans, I think–but it's nice to see DC hiring Jimenez to both write and draw a book. He's good at both, but he's best when he's doing both simultaneously. And there's no better value in comics outside of Legends of Tomorrow, at the moment, as 20 Jimenez pages contain about as much story information as 40-60 Everyone Else pages.