Friday, April 29, 2016

These are some graphic novels I read recently:

All-New Captain America: Hydra Ascendant Vol. 1 (Marvel Entertainment)

Not to be confused with All-New Captain America: Fear Him, which collects a four-issue miniseries by that name, this collects all six issues of the "ongoing" All-New Captain America series, which was abruptly canceled (like the rest of Marvel's line) last spring as part of the publisher's Secret Wars. So it ended up just being a mini-series, really. This was somewhat unfortunate, as it ended with a really rather dramatic revelation, which it seemed would be the focus of writer Rick Remender's second story arc on the book. Except there was no second story arc, as there were no more issues of All-New Captain America. The character did reappear in his own book after the conclusion of Secret Wars, but that book was entitled Captain America: Sam Wilson, and wasn't written by Rick Remender, but instead by Nick Spencer.

Marvel's always-frustrating publishing gymnastics aside, how is this book? It's pretty good. Stuart Immonen handles the artwork, so of course it's pretty good. Immonen is an interesting artist these days, because he has always been pretty good, but his work today is so much cleaner, crisper and kinetic than it was at the start of his now fairly lengthy career. I'd say he's currently at the top of his game, but then, I would have said that five years ago too, and his art only gets stronger and stronger.

As for the story, it seems to pick up where Remender left off in a previous Captain America title, the 25-issue 2013-2014 Captain America which introduced Steve Rogers' son, the new Nomad and apparently ended with Rogers becoming a very old man (with great abs, at least as Old Man Rogers was drawn in some of the Avengers books of the era) and passing his shield and codename on to his long-time ally Sam Wilson, The Falcon.

I say "seems" because this is very much in media res, and those all seem to be things it's assumed a reader will know (and I did know most of it, simply from what I had absorbed from other Marvel books; the new Nomad was a complete surprise to me, though).

I like Wilson as Captain America. His hybridized costume is pretty great, and probably the best of the many costumes he's worn over the years (I think the wings being completely withdrawn when he's not flying helps a lot). With some artists, the combination of the wings and the shield can look pretty awkward, but Immonen makes them work perfectly together, particularly in the action sequence of the opening issue.

The plot seems at least semi-inspired by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as it involves a very wide-reaching Hydra plot involving sleeper agents, one on each superhero team, according to one agent. The high command is made up of all of Captain America's rogues gallery, or at least the current incarnations of them, including Batroc The Leaper, Baron Zemo, Red Skull, Crossbones, Taskmaster and Baron Blood, who is ideally suited to fighting the new, winged Cap.

The bad guys' plan is to release bombs at certain cities all over the world that will sterilize everyone who isn't Hydra, reducing the world's population to a more sustainable size (Ra's al Ghul style), and it's up to the All-New Cap, the All-New Nomad, Redwing and some ad hoc allies--particularly Misty Knight, Agent of SHIELD--to shut down the bombs and save the world. Spoiler alert: They do.

The super-villain team-up makes this a nice introduction to the world of Captain America, and I'm not sure to what extent Remender and Immonen are responsible for some of their current looks and portrayals, but while some look just like they did the last time I saw them, others have cool, new looks (like Batroc) and personalities (Batroc, again, who is presented as anti-American in an elitist, dismissive way, rather than as a comic book Nazi kind of way).

There's a panel in which Knight flips mercenary Taskmaster by simply promising to pay him more than Hydra is that seemed like more of a swipe than a borrow of a similar scene in the Grant Morrison-written "Rock of Ages" JLA story (where Batman pays mercenary Mirror Master than Lex Luthor promised to, fitting in with Morrison's Batman-lead League vs. Luthor-lead Injustice Gang as corporate warfare element of that epic clash). It's possible someone did it before Morrison too, of course, but if so I didn't read that story.

The best part of the entire book, however, may be when vampire villain Baron Blood "kills" Redwing, and, a few pages later, Redwing is alive again, and Cap says something to the effect of "But what's with those red eyes? Well, I guess we'll deal with that later!" Yes, that's kind of weird that Redwing was bitten by a vampire, died and then was up and moving around, but with glowing red eyes--what could that mean?

Hopefully Spencer picks up on the Vampire Redwing plotline in his Captain America: Sam Wilson book. While the cliffhanger at the end of the volume, and the idea that each Marvel super-team has a Hydra infiltrator on it, are fairly compelling plots, what I really want to know more about is how Sam will cope with having his animal sidekick transformed into a vampire...

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (Dark Horse Books)

Andrew MacLean's original graphic novel about Aria and her sharp-faced white cat Jelly Beans as they navigate a mysterious, post-apocalyptic world on a somewhat mysterious mission. That mystery will eventually come into focus and be clarified, but a large part of what makes MacLean's story so satisfying is the gradual, casual pace at which it unfolds. His remarkably upbeat protagonist seems to just go about her business cheerfully, occasionally narrating and occasionally getting involved with a spectacular action scene, and her setting is one that is at once fresh and fantastic, while still feeling lived-in and well-worn.

On foot or on motorcycle, she travels from her  home in an abandoned subway train to the plant-encrusted mech leaning against an ancient gas station, searching for a signal, searching for apples and sometimes having to pull a sword on members of the two warring tribes in the area, both of whom speak only in intelligible alien languages, when they speak at all.

The book reminded me a bit of the work of Matt Howarth, a bit of the work of Brandon Graham, and a bit of the work of James Stokoe–three of my all-around favorite cartoonists, all of whom have produced highly imaginative and oragnic-feeling sci-fi and fantasy work–but his art doesn't really look like that of any of those three.

Many of the elements of this comic will seem extremely familiar, but it never feels derivative of anything in particular. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'd highly recommend it.

G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers Vol. 3 (IDW Productions) The current license-holder of both G.I. Joe and the Transformers, IDW, has repackaged all of the previous crossovers into a series of three trade paperbacks, starting with the original 1986 Marvel crossover and concluding with Devil's Due Publishing's 2007 The Black Horizon story, one of the two in this volume.

These two comics arcs are, to put it bluntly and gracelessly, garbage. If one were to make a diagram of the quality of all of the crossovers contained in these three volumes, it would look like a hill; the Marvel ones weren't very good, the first Devil's Due of the early 00s which featured Transformers disguised as various Cobra vehicles the best, and these two just sort of sputtered out with unambitious stories and awful artwork.

Both are by writer Tim Seeley, and the script end of things is markedly better than the art end, which gets increasingly amateurish to the point that it's kind of surprising that some of these pages even saw print as is.

The first story, originally published by Devil's Due in 2006 as G.I. Joe vs. The Transformers Vol. III: The Art of War, introduces Serpentor into the peculiar mixed continuity of the series of miniseries, in which a handful of Joes have large robot-fighting mech suits of armor derived from Cybertronian technology.

This Serpentor is created by scientists in the U.S. government at the Area 52 facility, a few floors beneath the G.I. Joe/Autobot collaborations. He's a powerful android programmed with the tactics and leadership abilities of history's greatest strategists...including Megatron, whose giant severed head is also in the facility. They wanted to use him as U.S. super-soldier, but you could guess how well that worked for them.

After Cobra attacks, the arisen Serpentor heads to Cybertron where General Hawk and a handful of Joes (Snake-Eyes, Scarlet, Road Block) go to lend a tiny, tiny fleshy hand. Once there Serpentor, Son of Megatron rallies the various warring Decepticon factions and leads them against The Autobots, along the way discovering that he lacks a soul/spark like all the human and Transformer characters, and seeks to remedy it by acquiring The Matrix of Leadership from Optimus Prime.

Interestingly, it ends up in the hands of Hawk, who becomes one with it...sorta (It would have been funny to seem him try to shove the giant Matrix into his tiny little body, but that never happens).

Seeley and the too-many artists–pencillers Joe Ng, James Raiz and Alex Milne, inkers Rob Ross, Alan Tam and "M3th"–do a pretty poor job in terms of getting characters in (Cobra Commander, The Baronnes, Zarana and Zartan are the only Cobra chracters with speaking lines; in addition to those mentioned above, the only Joes with lines are Mainframe, Firewall, Lady Jaye and Flint). There are relatively few Autobots and Decepticons, too. It's a very small crossover, considering the massive casts Seeley had to pull from (the casts are similar to the small-sized ones live-action movies, which never seem capable of juggling even a half-dozen characters from each faction).

The secondary characters are mostly un-introduced. Like, I know who the Predacons are because I played with them as a little kid, but there were a few characters that never made it into the G1 cartoons that I didn't recognize at all. Presumably, who they are isn't all that important, but given the most recent franshice smash-up that IDW has been publishing–Tom Scioli and John Barber's superior Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, both the small casts and complete lack of introductions seem even worse. Scioli has pages, hell, even panels with more characters than all of those that appear in all six of these issues, and the "filecard" intros, complete with two-to-six word intros, at least suggest a characterization. Here, many of the characters might as well be named Deception #2, G.I. Joe #7, and so on.

The settings are similarly ill-defined, with Cybertron not looking any different or more alien than what little we see of Earth (the insides of a couple of high-tech headquarters).

With Black Horizon, originally published as two over-sized issues, Seeley has a more interesting semi-high concept, pairing the villains of both 1986's The Transformers: The Movie (still the best Transformers film) and 1987's G.I. Joe: The Movie (ditto), Unicron and Cobra-La, in an alliance of sort. The metal-adverse Cobra-La, whose technology is all organic and bug-like, once held the Galactus-like planet-sized Transformer Unicron at bay, promising to summon him in a few millennia to cleanse the Earth of humanity.

That time has come in Black Horizon. The Matrix-eyed Hawk no leads a clandestine alliance of Autobots and former Joes (Firewall, Cosmos, Prowl and a few more Autobots I didn't recognize) in trying to rid the world of Cybertronian technology, like that which his former government used to build Serpentor. They stumble upon Cobra-La's plan, and with the help of Flint and Optimus try to advert the apocalypse.

In one of the neater twists in Seeley's story, he includes the original G.I. Joe characters, the Barbie-sized ones, with Joe Colton, the character G.I. Joe is named for, having been taken prisoner by Cobra-La decades ago. He too is integral in saving the day. (I'm fairly certain they even snuck some Battle Beasts in there, but I can't be sure, since Andrew Wildman's artwork was so poor; it was hard to be sure of much of anything, really.)

Seeley also adds some Yeti (?) into the Cobra-La society, which, um, kind of clashes with their overall arthropod aesthetic, and gives them a Pretender Transformer or six to play with. These are among the weirder Transformers, ones that even as a little kid I thought were super-dumb. The toys were regular Transformers encased in plastic, two-piece shells of huge, humanoid monsters. That didn't seem to fit the whole "robots in disguise" formulation of the toy line. Like, if you were a giant robot from space, disguising yourself as a giant undead samurai isn't exactly as good a camouflage as, say, being able to turn into a helicopter or truck. In fact, I'm fairly certain a giant undead samurai is more conspicuous and alarming than a simple giant robot.

Like the previous story, this one is very small in its cast–which is especially unfortunate that one would think every single Joe would be rallied to fight off a astronomically large robot intent on eating the planet Earth–and is even worse in its drawing. The settings should be even more fantastic, but there are no real establishing shots, and we see little of the fascinatingly weird culture of Cobra-La, which here consists of little more than three name characters (Golobulus, Pythona and Nemesis Enforcer), some poorly-drawn, off-model Cobra-La soldiers and random humanoids.

Last week, I thought Scioli and Barber's Transformers vs. G.I. Joe comic was one of the best genre comics I had ever read, and certainly the based based-on-a-licensed property comic I'ever ever read. After reading how poorly produced previous crossovers between those two particular properties, I like it even more.

Star Wars Adventures: Chewbacca and the Slavers of the Shadowlands (Dark Horse Books)

While contemplating Marvel's recent Chewbacca miniseries, I became curious about the inherent difficulties in a solo story starring a character who communicates only in funny howls and growls, and how other comics writers might have addressed the Wookie language barrier in previous Chewbacca comics.

I didn't find many in existence, perhaps because of that very issue, but this Chris Cerasi-written, Jennifer L. Meyer-drawn original graphic novel was one. Cerasi's approach? To simply translate Wookie-ese into English/"Basic", so that Chewie and the other Wookies in this story simply talk to one another in the same manner that, say, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo do in other comics.

While it's kind of disconcerting to hear Chewie say, for example, "What is it, Ralrra? I'm kind of busy here," instead of a more typical "HHHRRRHHH," what really makes the dialogue in this comic weird is that the story is a story-within-the-story, told by Chewbacca himself.

So in the framing sequence, Han, Leia and Chewie have just jumped to light speed and Chewie is scolding Han for being careless ("GRAAAARRRRHH!"), and when Leia, who can't understand a fucking thing the Wookie says, asks Han why he's so upset, Han explains that his hirsute friend once had a run-in with some slavers that cost him.

Leia puts a hand on Chewie's shoulder and says, "Tell me, Chewbacca. Please?"

This is two panels after Leia asked Han what Chewie was saying. The Wookie stares off into space, and an off-panel dialogue bubble belonging to Han starts the story. And then we cut to Wookie world, "185 years before The Battle of Yavin" (Wookie's live long, BTW).

I suppose that we're meant to ignore Leia's direct plea to Chewbacca to tell her, and assume Han tells the story. But I like to imagine Chewbacca sitting there and HHHHRRRR-ing to Leia for a half hour, while she does her best to look engaged and concerned, despite having know idea what he's yowling.

In that story, Chewbacca was a reckless, rebellious teen Wookie, and seems to be prickly about the fact that an older friend of his named Tarful just passed some warrior rite of passage. To prove himself, he goes off into "The Shadowlands," with Tarful, a female friend named Ralrra and two very young, Ewok-sized Wookies in tow.

There they encounter the titular slavers, a human woman, a big fuzzy alien I recognize from the cantina scene in A New Hope but can't name and a white humanoid weasel/rat. They fight, Chewie and Tarful eventually win through a combination of home turf advantage and timely intervention by the grown-up Wookies but one of the little ones dies.

It's a pretty simple story, with some pretty heavy subject matter, given its apparently all-ages address (You can tell by the word "Adventures" in the title; why does "Adventures" mean "targeted towards kids"...? I'll never know, but it holds true throughout comics from at least the last 25 years).

Meyer's art is pretty unusual for a Star Wars comic. Only five pages of it is set in "the present," and she does a fine job of filtering the characters through her own style, which has a slightly washed-out look that appears to be somewhere between air-brushed and watercolors. She doesn't mess around with trying to draw likenesses either; she's drawing Princess Leia and Han Solo, after all, not Carrie Fischer and Harrison Ford.

On Kashyyyk, things look less Star Wars still. The forest world is full of hazily, dreamily rendered foliage and mist, and the Wookies have big, expressive eyes and readable facial expressions that give them a cute, almost manga look, and seems far, far removed from the silver screen Chewbacca (all of the current Marvel Star Wars comics, no matter the artist, seems to feature art that strives to replicate the look of the films as much as possible, sometimes to their detriment).

I've definitely never read a Star Wars comic that looks like this one, which, in and of itself, kind of recommends it.

Star Wars: Vader Down (Marvel )

The first real crossover of the new, Marvel era of Star Wars-licensed comics, this collection includes a special one-shot by regular Star Wars writer Jason Aaron and artist Mike Deodato and a handful of issues of both Aaron's Star Wars ongoing (also drawn by Deodato) and a couple of issues of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larocca's Darth Vader. The story is a lot of fun, although if one wanted to read it cynically, there's a whole lot of silly, "And then this guy shows up, and then this guy shows up, and then..." with some outright comical, cartoon-esque sequences. If one was already on board, however, then that stuff is a blast.

The basic story is pretty simple. Vader recently learned that the pilot who blew up the Death Star is named Luke Skywalker, and he is therefore scouring the galaxy to find his son. He's doing so on the sly, with the help of Doctor Aphra and her evil droid allies, Triple-Zero (a sadistic, evil opposite of C-3PO) and BT-1 (a ridiculously heavily-armed, square-headed version of R2-D2).

Vader finds Skywalker doing drills with a couple dozen rebel fighter pilots, and engages them in one of the many scenes demonstrating Vader's superhuman, superheroic levels of Force powers, but he's ultimately brought down by Luke straight-up ramming Vader's tie fighter (the first of several attempts by the Skywalker twins to take Vader out in suicide missions).

With Vader down and all alone on a mostly abandoned planet (along with a similarly downed Luke), Leia launches an all-out assault to take out Vader once and for all. Given that these comics all take place before the next two Star Wars movies, and we know exactly when and how Vader dies, there's not really much suspense as to how this all turns out, of course.

That lack of suspense doesn't make it any less interesting. The two main aspects of that interest are watching Vader tear apart whole Rebel legions (I've noted before that Comic Book Vader, in both the Dark Horse comics and now the Marvel comics, is depicted several hundred times stronger in the Force than he ever is in the original trilogy of films; if this Vader showed up on Hoth at the beginning of Empire, the series should have ended right then and there with the Empire triumphant), and Aaron and Gillen pairing the film's heroes with their comic book opposites here.

Han Solo vs. Dr. Aphra! C-3PO vs. Triple-Zero! R2-D2 vs. BT-1! Chewbacca vs. Black Krrsantan! And Leia's desire to avenge Alderann vs. her desire to not have her new friends all killed horribly!

Those last two character vs. character battles are probably the best bits, as the two little trashcan droids cuss each other out* before pulling their weapons, and R2 is severely out-gunned. As for Chewie vs. um, Blacky, our hero is on the ropes, still suffering the effects of a neurotoxin injected by Triple-Zero (who notes that the rebels have all seemed to develop a particular enmity against protocol droids for some reason). R2 administers an antidote, and things turn around instantly. It's practically a Popeye fight, with the syringe a sort of chemical space spinach.

The resolution is basically of the everyone returns to their respective corners sort that defined the original run of Marvel Star Wars comics (and all Star Wars comics starring the characters from the movies that are set between films), but there are developments in the Darth Vader book's plotline, as Vader faces against one of his major rivals (who looks like Admiral Ackbar's head on General Greivous' body).

I'm no fan of either Larocca or Deodato, the latter of whom has increasingly relied on photo reference and appropriation in his comics-making, and his images often feature an uncomfortably obvious use of dropped-in, repeated images when illustrating large numbers (dulling the impact of that first splash page, for example), and swipes of character poses and expressions straight from the films that are more than a little distracting (I found myself wondering which frame of which film a particular Han Solo face is from, for example, rather than concentrating on that particular scene of the comic).

Their styles are similar enough that there's no severe aesthetic whiplash in this collection when they hand the baton off to one another, although Deodato's Vader often looks more noticeably like a Marvel superhero than Larrocca's, and Deodato's Aphra's anatomy shifts unpredictably, depending on his photo reference, I guess.

Suicide Squad Vol. 3: Rogues (DC Comics)

With this latest 280-page collection of the John Ostrander-helmed Suicide Squad run, I realized one of the reasons that DC has had such a hard time with their recent revival attempts. A new Suicide Squad book was one of the 52 new books launched as part of The New 52. It was one of a handful of books that the market seemingly kept rejecting, but DC kept insisting on publishing anyway**, simply changing creative teams at a particularly high frequency and, at one point, cancelling it and relaunching it almost immediately (DC did the same with Teen Titans and Deathstroke).

Now, there are a couple of reasons why the book has had such a hard time taking off, including rejection of fans by some of the New 52 redesigns--like skinny, sexy Amanda Waller, or mustache-less Deadshot--and the fact that it has thus far featured either bad writing, bad art or both (2011's Suicide Squad #1 was among the worst of the 52 #1s, consisting of almost 20-pages of the protagonists being tortured and, um, that's it).

But while reading Rogues it hit me that a conceptual problem was the fact that the New 52 version of the DC Universe wasn't old enough to support the Squad. While the original one launched shortly after Crisis On Infinite Earth's hard reboot of DC history, COIE didn't hit the re-set button on everything all at once, and it affected some characters more than others; the DCU still had a history, and most of its characters were understood to have been around for a while (about ten years or so).

So when Amanda Waller's Task Force X starts recruiting the likes of Captain Boomerang, Deadshot Bronze Tiger, Nightshade and The Enchantress, these are all characters that were at least semi-familiar to readers as Flash and Batman villains, as supporting characters from older, canceled titles and curios of DC continuity. Black Orchid, Shade, The Changing Man, Vixen, The Penguin, Dr. Light--whether their roles were big or small, they were characters with history in the DC Universe and a presence in the back issue bins. If you wanted to learn more about them, you could read their old comics, because there were old comics featuring these versions of the characters.

That's not been the case with the New 52's Suicide Squads, one of which appears in a book called New Suicide Squad. Yes, the characters all have familiar names, but unfamiliar histories, especially at the outset. The first issue of 2011's Suicide Squad was the very first introduction to the new versions of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark and company, and while they shared the universe with all the other characters, that universe was brand-new across the board.

One of the most interesting aspects of Ostrander's Squad book, that it featured ever-changing, Dirty Dozen-like congregations of characters that really had no business sharing the same story space, wasn't something that could be replicated in the New 52 DCU. It can now of course; when New Suicide Squad added the likes of Reverse Flash, Black Manta and The Joker's Daughter, these were, at least, characters with story arcs in other books, and a modicum of history, and writers were able to flesh out backstories for the more regular characters like Deadshot and Harley, but even then, their universe was younger and smaller than that of the original, Ostrander-written Squad.

I don't think that element was the chief virtue of the original series, but it was certainly one of them, and one that can't be easily manufactured (So it should be interesting to see the upcoming film, which features a cast of characters who have never appeared in any films before, excepting a Joker; it's going to come down to characterization, concept and craftsmanship, and can't coast on fights with The Doom Patrol or Justice League or trips to settings like Shade's weird-ass homeworld or Apokolips).

This particular volume collects #17-25, and 1988's Suicide Squad Annual #1. Ostrander continues to do the bulk of the writing, sometimes in conjunction with Kim Yale, and Luke McDonnell handles the lion's share of the pencil art.

There's a lot going on in these stories in terms of plot, just like there's always a lot going on in the old Suicide Squad, including the team's cover being blown and being forced to go public, an "Invasion" tie-in, Rick Flag going rogue after committing what turned out to be an exceptionally unnecessary murder and, perhaps of the greatest historical importance, the very first appearances of Oracle–here as just a voice coming out of a computer and offering her/its help to the Squad.

McDonnell and company's artwork is serviceable but unspectacular, and can read strangely today. We're so used to seeing highly-stylized art, often with style taking the driver's seat and shoving story-telling fundamentals into the backseat, that it can bee downright unusual to see such perfectly readable, but also un-showy, artwork. Especially applied to DC characters.

I am increasingly struck by the fact that no matter how dark the subject matter gets in this series, the characters almost never get any kind of costume redesigns–the exception that proves the rule here is Nighshade, who had a transformative experience in the comics collected in volume 2. There's just some kind of special energy that emanates from the friction caused by the garish, colorful supervillain costumes grinding against the deadpan serious stories of international intrigue and violent geo-politics.



*"My, what language," Triple-Zero says of their BLEEP PBEEP WUURUU BIDDA DEEBA smack-talk. "He certainly s a foul-mouthed little astromech. I wonder if he's capable of backing up such talk?"

**Which might have had something to do with a big-budget, Will Smith-starring Suicide Squad movie having been in development, and set for release this summer.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: April 27

Batgirl #51 (DC Comics) Last issue certainly read like the last issue of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr's run on Batgirl, if not the end of the book itself. That issue capped off a creatively healthy run in which Barbara Gordon reinvented herself as Batgirl and her place in Gotham City, gradually making more and more friends and allies and, in the last issue, founding a company with her civilian friends and what seemed to be a superhero team with many of her female, crime-fighting peers.

So in this issue, the penultimate one before DC cancels and relaunches the title with a new creative team and new direction, Fletcher and a handful of guest artists essentially start unravelling that status quo that was so gradually built to, apparently prepping the character and book for the Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque team. Spoiler, Bluebird and Operator fight crime in Gotham ("Are these two young women the new Batman and Robin of Burnside?" a reporter asks, covering their exploits, "This reporter likes to think so"*), Black Canary and Vixen fight crime overseas, Alysia and Frankie continue to run Gordon CLean Energy and Luke continue to wait in the (bat) wings, while Barbara seems overwhelmed and gradually withdrawing from everything.

By the end of the issue, she's taking a break from the company (remember, founded just last issue), taking a break from Luke and planning on leaving town for a while. But first, she has to deal with the menace of terrorist organization Gladius, practically the only villains from the Fletcher/Stewart/Tarr run that weren't involved in the last issue (They're from Batgirl Annual #3, the issue in which Batgirl teamed up with, like, everyone, chapter by chapter).

So this is certainly tied in with the run it ends, but it can't help but feel very sudden. I'm glad Fletcher and DC are giving him a few issues to reset things a bit, rather than having Larson come in and have the option of ignoring or radically undoing what came before, but there's still a degree of narrative whiplash involved here. And that's despite Fletcher's efforts to cushion it.

Also, Olive and Maps of Gotham Academy appear, as it looks like the big showdown with Gladius in the next issue will be on the grounds of the school. It's kind of interesting how Fletcher has carved out this little corner of the DCU for himself and his collaborators, really, as we'll see in this week's Black Canary as well.

The artwork in this issue is by the solicited Eleonora Carlini, plus Minkyu Jung and Roger Robinson. It's all pretty great, and actually transitions about as seamlessly as possible (thanks in large part to a single colorist, Serge LaPointe), with the changes in team only really becoming evident on re-read or flip-through, rather than during an initial reading.

Still one more issue to go, and I already miss the book...

Black Canary #11 (DC) Meanwhile, Fletcher's less successful book is also reaching its conclusion, as he and guest artist Sandy Jarrell (inked on the last few pages by Wayne Faucher) pit Black Canary (the superhero) against an immortal demon disguised as a performance artist who has Black Canary (the band) in his thrall.

The above sentence details the essential problem with this book; as the first story arc deal with Black Canary fighting aliens, this one has her fighting a demon, and that doesn't fit too comfortably in a book starring a street-level, martial artist/vigilante, despite Fletcher and his collaborators' efforts to reinvent the character (as with Batman or Green Arrow, the sorts of conflicts Canary faces as part of a Justice League story don't work as well in her own, Justice League-less book).

The other problem, of course, is that their reinvention is laid atop the New 52 reinvention of the character, and those changes are unfamiliar enough to me that whenever they rear their head I just have to accept them as new information, despite the fact that her new origins are meant to be understood by the reader.

As with the aliens from the first arc, however, this demon at least has a musical and sonic connection, and Fletcher has tied martial arts into the mix with this arc, so it all feels a lot more cohesive.

Jarrell's art is great, even though it's not what we were promised at the outset–that is, Annie Wu–and Lee Loughridge continues to define the look of the book through color, which has kinda sorta taken the place of sound in the narrative, as you can't really "hear" a comic book (despite Doug Moench's best efforts), even one in which sound is as important as it is here.

Once again, Batgirl makes an appearance, this time out-of-costume and long-distance, essentially co-Oracling alongside Operator. Vixen reappears as well, offering yet another reminder how awesome a Birds of Prey book spinning out of Batgirl and Black Canary could have been.

Circuit Breaker #2 (Image Comics) Kyle Baker's allusion-filled artwork in this book is simply a joy to read, and re-read. In fact, you could probably read issues of this series sans dialogue and, while the narrative obviously wouldn't be entirely clear, you would at least see some astounding cartooning and crystal clear cartooning, while also getting to pick apart the references in the art. There's one sequence where our Astro Boy-inspired heroine engages a Doraemon-like** character in which the fleeing crowd has characters resembling Baker's on-the-fly cover versions of Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters, Yoshito Usui's Crayon Shin-chan and, if I'm not mistaken, maybe even Shigeru Mizuki's Nezumi Otoko.

The plot is easy to describe, as the Japan of the future's robots rise up to face robot-racism and the sophisticated, robot-fighting robot Chiren (the "circuit breaker" of the title–get it?), tries to defend humanity and maybe somehow broker peace between the two factions, but as for its meaning...? Well, it's pretty complicated and nebulous, and analysis is better-suited to a review of a trade than single issues, lest I keep repeating myself.

Suffice it to say that writer Kevin McCarthy has crafted an enjoyable action comic narrative out of big ideas and media criticism, and Baker's cartooning is not-to-be missed.

Anyone who has–or has had–any level of engagement with manga and anime and/or anyone who loves looking at drawings should be reading Circuit Breaker.

Saga #36 (Image) This is apparently the last issue before the book goes on another regularly scheduled hiatus, and it goes out with quite a cliff-hanger. One of the most appealing things about this book–well, maybe I should say one of "the many" rather than one of "the most"–is how it continues to surprise. One would think that, after reading 35-issues of this book, in which anything can happen, including the sorts of things that one would never expect in a Big Two franchise book or even a creator-owned Image book, where certain kinds of surprises become inevitable (see: The Walking Dead; spoiler: they all die), it would be impossible for Brian K. Vaughan to surprise readers.

That is most assuredly not the case. There was a sudden act of violence in the middle of this that genuinely shocked me. Not because of how violent it was–sudden violence happens pretty frequently in this book, which has killed off several awesome characters–but because of who committed it. And then there's the last page, which kind of brings the book full circle while simultaneously prepping to launch it in a new direction.

This issue also features the genuinely terrifying Saga Costume Contest results (the dog dressed as Ghus is the only participant I wouldn't be terrified to see in my apartment, or on the street, or anywhere that wasn't a comics convention, really) and what I hope is a promise of the return of Lying Cat. The ghost/hallucination of The Brand tells her brother the fat The Will, "Go ask the one chick who calls you on your bullshit."

Huh. Is that what happens when one is without a Lying Cat...? They become addicted to drugs, gain a 150 pounds, get all murder-y and hallucinate constantly...? Is that the problem with our world, that we don't all have Lying Cats keeping us honest with ourselves all the time...?




*I know DC already announced a new Birds of Prey book by a new creative team with no links to the pages of Batgirl and that Spoiler will be appearing regularly in Detective Comics. I still think I'd prefer a Bluebird and Spoiler book like the one the Gotham reporter seemed to suggest than seeing Spoiler in 'Tec, which will, at best, be poorly drawn. Certainly when compared to Batgirl.

**Doraemon is mentioned by name, too. Chiren's friend Michiko calls the Doraemon-inspired character Kuchi-Kun "such a bite of Doraemon," and part of "the norotrious bosozoku club Super-Deformed" wears a giant Doraemon head.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Playing Robin

My nephew recently graduated from Teen Titans Go! to The Batman and Young Justice, and has therefore learned the secret origin of one of his favorite characters. My sister sent me the above message to report on what they were doing the other night.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Other Dicks.

That's the image that artist Mikel Janin's created for the cover of Grayson #4, which offers a pretty decent view of the costume that Dick Grayson wore throughout the title, which will soon be coming to an end. I wasn't terribly fond of the costume, particularly the weird, almost random-looking arrangements of straps and the fact that Grayson wore a big blue "G" sigil (Of course, the bar for quality costuming was set pretty low in the post-Flashpoint Bat-family; as much as I disliked the above ensemble, it was still 700 times better than one Dick's fellow former Robin Jason Todd wore, and at least 1,000 times better than poor Tim Drake's Red Robin get-up).

Because the super-spy agency he worked for, Sypral, employed some kinda high-tech perception warping thingamajigs they called "hypnos," it didn't really matter that Dick didn't wear a mask, as no one would be able to "make" him even when looking directly at him, and his clothing was pretty much irrelevant in terms of an in-story rationale.

I recently picked up the first collection of Grayson (having previously read the individual issues it contained), and was surprised by the back-matter, which included co-writer Tim Seeley's five-paragraph pitch for the series and several designs, which show what Dik Grayson might have worn instead of the costume above.

The first image, labeled as an early character design by Seeley, was paired with this pitch:
It's actually not too far removed from his final look, and is an all-around much simpler and straightforward design (which is an attribute when it comes to superhero costume design, if you ask me).

Like the one he ended up wearing, it more closely reflects his original Nightwing color scheme rather than the green, red and yellow of his Robin days or the black and red and of his post-Flashpoing Nightwing costume. And, unlike the final costume, it has a Spyral logo on the chest, which makes more sense than a big blue G, given that he's an agent of Sypral and all.

The pitch is somewhat noteworthy in that it refers to Spyral's head as Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman, rather than Helena Bertinelli, who was the "Matron" of Spyral in the version of Grayson that eventually saw print. I'm not entirely sure why DC would have preferred a new character whose name was the secret identity of the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint Huntress instead of Kane, who appeared as an agent of Spyral during Grant Morrison's run on Batman Incorporated.

Bertinelli is also drawn in an alternate costume, a black and purple version of the costumes the girls at St. Hadrian's Finishing School wore in Batman Inc which were themselves derived from Kathy Kane's Batwoman costume. She ended up just wearing a very tight T shirt with the white cross on black design of The Huntress' costume and a pair of functional pants, like Grayson is wearing in the image at the top of the post.

Here's Seeley's apparent next pass at a costume for Grayson:
I actually like this one a whole lot, despite how busy it is.

He still retains a Spyral logo instead of a big, blue G, and it radiates a hypnotic spiral costume that covers his entire torso; it's a "hynpotic suggestion shirt," according to the notes. It's a very striking design, and one that would stand out in pretty much any crowd of superheroes.

I really like the fact that the pattern suggests that of the old Steranko Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD covers (SHIELD being a pretty obvious inspiration for Spyral, and Steranko's iteration of SHIELD being the most influential one). This version of Dick keeps a mask, which seems like it would be a good idea to have whether you're concerned about a "secret identity" or not. Even as a super-spy, such a mask could and would have some functionality, like particular lenses or communications capabilities. Plus, it looks cooler (I would have preferred a domino mask to such a big one, actually). The pants and boots look more para-military than what he ultimately ends up with, or the pair of super-tight jeans Seeley gave him in the first design.

Next up is series artist Janin's sketch:
At this point, Dick is pretty close to where he would end up; he's even got the dumb straps that don't seem to do anything. The chief differences between this design and the final one is the color scheme and the mask, and it's easy to see why they switched to blue and ditched the mask, as this basically looks like the post-Flashpoint Nightwing wearing short sleeves and a pair of business casual pants over his tights; if the idea was to leave the Nightwing identity behind, this is a pretty poor choice for the outfit Dick would rock in Grayson...even if it does look more like what a superhero-turned-super-spy might wear.

This series was a real surprise, as the set-up doesn't make a whole lot of sense, or stand up to a few minutes worth of scrutiny, but what Seeley and co-writer Tom King managed to do with that extremely forced and unnatural-feeling premise turned out to be incredibly solid.  Once you got over the conceptual hump and managed to suspend your disbelief long enough to make it through the first issue or so, Grayson was one of the better-written and often better-looking (although Janin's particularly style isn't one I'm personally drawn to) DC books of the last few years.

Grayson Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral contains another surprise: Dick Grayson almost had a totally awesome costume with a hypnotic suggestion shirt.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Marvel's July previews reviewed

Michael Cho is the actual best.
Well, there doesn't seem to be much of interest in this month's Marvel solicitations, at least, not unless you find Civil War II particularly interesting, because that seems to be eating, like, the entire line. The thing that really caught my attention this time around was what appears to be a new format to collect comics featuring certain breakout characters like Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, X-23/The All-New Wolverine and Squirrel Girl in fairly gigantic collections that include several trades worth of comics, as well as short stories and one-shots and team-ups from here and there. Of course, I already have all those featuring the characters I like--Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl--but those are pretty cool volumes for those that want them, and should be pretty perfect for library shelves.

Alright, let's see what Marvel is offering us this July, shall we...?


BLACK PANTHER
BY CHRISTOPHER PRIEST:
THE COMPLETE
COLLECTION VOL. 4 TPB

Written by CHRISTOPHER PRIEST
Penciled by DAN FRAGA, JORGE LUCAS,
JIM CALAFIORE, PATRICK ZIRCHER & JOE BENNETT
Cover by PATRICK ZIRCHER
Christopher Priest takes the Black Panther in a whole different direction! With T’Challa gone, who will inherit the mantle? Could it be…the guy with the trench coat and guns? Kevin “Kasper” Cole is out for revenge against the people who hurt his family, and his quest will bring him into conflict with corrupt cops and a brutal hunter. It’s the all-new Black Panther vs. the White Wolf as a crime novel in comic form begins — but nothing in a Priest tale is ever black and white. This gritty, street-level Panther saga will conclude with revelations about the fate of T’Challa — and set up Cole to join a whole new Crew! But can Cole, War Machine, Junta and Josiah X handle Big Trouble in Little Mogadishu? Collecting BLACK PANTHER (1998) #50-56 and #59-62, and THE CREW #1-7.
416 PGS./Rated T+ …$34.99


Wow, there's going to be four volumes of this? I'm already one volume behind, as I understand the second one has been released. I'm a little surprised to see The Crew included, as I didn't really think it was considered part of Prist's Black Panther run, but I'm glad to see it's in here. That means I can get the single issues out of my comics midden once I get this trade. I remember liking that series okay, and being disappointed when it was canceled, but also had little idea who several of the characters were, so perhaps reading them after the Black Panther comics it apparently followed will clear all that up for me.

CIVIL WAR II #3 (OF 7)
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (W) • DAVID MARQUEZ (A)
Cover by MARKO DJURDJEVIC
...
This is the one everyone will be talking about! One of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe will fall! Who it is and how and why will divide fans for years to come. Will the heroes of the Marvel Universe survive the unthinkable happening? The fallout to this issue is enormous!
40 PGS./RATED T+ ...$4.99


Alright, death! Awesome! For a while there I wasn't sure if this was going to be impotant or not, but if one of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe is going to fall, then it must be!

Based on that cover, it looks like Iron Man, as he appears to be ripped in half, but maybe that's just empty armor.

It's weird that they've done so many of these temporary deaths as part of Marvel event series at this point that, when I was trying to puzzle out who it might be, I found myself trying to figure out who hasn't died and come back to life lately.

I think Bruce Banner, presumably the Hulk on the cover above, is the most likely suspect, given that they did refer to him as one of the biggest heroes in the Marvel Universe (which would seem to excuse the likes of, I don't know, Nova, Captain Marvel, the new Thor, Captain Falcmerica, etc.) He's also not starring/buttressing his own title at the moment (Amadeus Cho is currently the main Hulk in the pages of The Totally Awesome Hulk), and the Banner version of Hulk hasn't really had much to do in the Marvel Universe in...years, really.

In other words, he's the biggest character that is also the most expendable at the moment, but I don't know; the premise of the series is so goofy I'm having a hard time even getting my head around it, let alone trying to understand how it might play out.

I think The Wasp is a potential possibility too, if only because word on the street is that there's going to be a new Wasp soon and she too has been MIA for a long time, only sort of appearing around the fringes of recent Avengers titles (In the pages of Uncanny Avengers, for a while).

We'll see.


DARTH VADER #23
KIERON GILLEN (W) • SALVADOR LARROCA (A/C)
...
• Vader vs. Morit on the shell of the Executor!
• DO YOU NEED MORE THAN THAT???
• Fine: Cylo's secret revealed!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.


Yes, I will need more than that. Because I have no idea who Morit is. Or what the Executor is. Or who Cylo is, actually.

Huh. I've read the first two trades of this series; are all those these things I should know from having done so? maybe I'm just having trouble retaining information from the new Star Wars Expanded Universe...


HOWARD THE DUCK #9
CHIP ZDARSKY (W) • JOE QUINONES (A/C)
• Howard is back in NEW YORK CITY! And on his strangest case yet: A missing person! His client? The missing person! WHAAA—?
• Join us as Howard encounters aliens, Brooklyn and network television with a SPECIAL GUEST STAR so SHOCKING that I am STILL SHOCKED that we're ALLOWED TO DO THIS.
• SERIOUSLY.
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99


Hmmm...Is it The Shocker...?


I like this cover. That is all.


SCARLET BOOK 2 PREMIERE HC
WRITTEN BY BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
PENCILED BY ALEX MALEEV
COVER BY ALEX MALEEV
The most controversial and best-reviewed comic book on the stands today is back! From the Eisner Award-winning team of Bendis and Maleev (DAREDEVIL, SPIDER-WOMAN, MOON KNIGHT) comes the next chapter in Scarlet's one-woman American Revolution. Scarlet has declared war on a city strangled from within by corruption! Her call to arms has been heard all over the world -- but now Scarlet makes her boldest move yet, taking City Hall hostage while the entire country watches. How will the public react to her list of demands? Can a modern revolution gain traction? And what will the government do to shut her down? The answers will surprise you, as Scarlet finds herself forced to make a dangerous and desperate move: letting them capture her! The creator-owned hit is back -- and bolder than ever! Collecting SCARLET #6-10.
176 PGS./Mature ...$24.99


Not to be a jerk or anything, but I don't believe for a second that this is "the most controversial" and/or "best reviewed comic book on the stands today." In fact, I don't remember hearing anyone say anything about it anywhere since it first launched, and those comments were more like, "Wait, what is this? Why does this thing even exist?"


SPIDEY VOL. 1: FIRST DAY TPB
Written by ROBBIE THOMPSON
Penciled by NICK BRADSHAW & ANDRÉ LIMA ARAÚJO
Cover by NICK BRADSHAW
Think you know everything about Peter Parker? Think again! Expect action, adventure and hilarity in equal measure as we head back to high school to explore Pete’s early days! Modern talent combines with the classic Marvel flavor to present the web-slinger’s wonder years in truly amazing, spectacular, sensational style. It’s a return to the hassles of overdue homework, not knowing how to talk to girls and a never-ending merry-go-round of madness courtesy of the best rogues’ gallery in comics! We’re talking Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Vulture and…Doctor Doom! But could our young hero ever be ready for an arch-nemesis like the Green Goblin? With these and more faces from Peter’s past — both familiar and surprising — you’ll remember what made Spider-Man the world’s greatest hero in the first place! Collecting SPIDEY #1-6.
136 PGS./Rated T …$17.99


I think Nick Bradshaw is just the best, I like the idea of this book, but I haven't read a single issue of it, choosing to instead wait for the trade. Which I guess will be out in July. So, have any of you read any issues of it yet? What's the verdict? Is this one to definitely have on one's book shelves, or more of a borrow-from-the-library kind of thing...?


STAR WARS: DARTH VADER VOL. 3 - THE SHU-TORUN WAR TPB
Written by KIERON GILLEN
Penciled by LEINIL FRANCIS YU & SALVADOR LARROCA
Cover by KAARE ANDREWS
The Dark Lord of the Sith's unstoppable march continues! The natives of Shu-Torun are revolting, and there's no way the Empire will stand for that. When Darth Vader is tasked with leading a military assault against the planet, could it be that his rise to glory has begun? But who will follow Vader into war? Would you? Then again, it's better to fight alongside Vader than against him. That's a lesson that the ore barons are about to learn. Collecting DARTH VADER #16-19 and ANNUAL #1.
120 PGS./Rated T ...$16.99
...
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.


The thing I like least about this book is Larroca's art. I mean, it's okay, and it is honestly better on this book than on other books he's worked on before, but it's just not a style I really appreciate it. I do like Yu though, so I'm pretty curious about this volume, not only to see someone other than Larroca drawing it, but to see someone so different from Larroca drawing it.


STAR WARS: HEROES FOR A NEW HOPE HC
Written by MARK WAID, CHARLES SOULE & GERRY DUGGAN
Penciled by TERRY DODSON, ALEX MALEEV & PHIL NOTO
Cover by TERRY DODSON, ALEX MALEEV & PHIL NOTO
Three of the most beloved characters in the entire Star Wars saga in their own solo adventures! After Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, Leia Organa is a princess without a world! But she still feels a duty to her people. Can she save the remaining Alderaanians from the might of the Galactic Empire? Before master of charm Lando Calrissian joined the Rebellion, or even ran Cloud City, he and faithful ally Lobot got by with the odd swindle and plenty of swagger. But this time, has Lando bitten off more than he can chew? Speaking of things getting Chewy, everybody’s favorite Wookiee warrior also faces some alone time after the battle of Yavin. Stranded on an Imperial-occupied planet, far away from Han Solo, will he make a new best friend? Collecting PRINCESS LEIA #1-5, LANDO #1-5 and CHEWBACCA #1-5.
344 PGS./Rated T …$50.00
...
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.


Huh, that's interesting. All three of these series have previously been collected in trade format, so it's odd to see them re-collected into a massive hardcover. But not that odd, obviously, as it's Star Wars, and that is a particular iron that is still particularly hot,

Of these three series, Chewbacca is the only one I've read, but I really rather liked that one.


THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #10
RYAN NORTH (W) • ERICA HENDERSON (A/C)
• Mole Man has fallen in love with Squirrel Girl, and he's holding the world hostage until she goes on a date with him!
• MOLE MEN, am I right??
• Watch as Squirrel Girl gains the help of an unlikely ally! Thrill as two people kiss! BUT WHICH TWO??
• You'll have to buy the issue to find out, so all I'll say right now is this:
• IN THIS ISSUE THERE IS A NON-ZERO CHANCE FOR EVERY MARVEL SHIP TO BECOME CANON!!
• "Ship" is short for "relationship," in case you thought I was talking about, like, Galactus' "Star Sphere" or Mr. Fantastic's "Fantasticship" or whatever.
• Anyway, enjoy!!
32 PGS./Rated T ...$3.99


This solicit reminded me of the story of Thumbelina.


VOTE LOKI #2
CHRISTOPHER HASTINGS (W) • LANGDON FOSS (A)
Cover by TRADD MOORE
VARIANT COVER BY DAVE JOHNSON
• Presidential candidate Loki Laufeyson is finding it hard to roll with the punches of the campaign trail. As if proving his eligibility isn't hard enough, the media has started the HORRIBLE rumor that his Super P.A.C. is actually a cult under Loki's control!
• Plus, the Marvel heroes finally figured out how to successfully fight Loki in his new role: attack ads. God bless (Captain) America, eh?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99


You know, if Loki really wanted to cause maximum mischief, he really should have just sat this election season out. I think we Midgardians are providing all mischief all by ourselves this time around, and Loki couldn't possibly hope to increase it even an iota.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: April 20th

Legends of Tomorrow #2 (DC Comics) I started a post discussing the first issue of this series, and the book on a sort of conceptual level, but only got a few paragraphs in before I became distracted with other matters and, well, apparently an entire month has passed and the second issue is here. I...really need to do something about my time management skills in the very near future here.

In short, this is a very weird comic book. It's an 80-page, $7.99 comic offering four different 20-page features between a single set of covers. In other words, it's basically four different comic book series, one of which was relaunched as part of 2011's New 52 initiative, the other three of which couldn't reasonably be expected to last 12 issues in the current market were they launched as their own series, sold in bulk, with the appropriate discount (Think of it as four $2 comics, and dropping $7.99 doesn't sound bad at all).

The title is so random that they might as well have called it DC Comics Presents or Showcase or Justice League or Comics or Whatever. Yes, the title is the same as that of a TV show featuring DC characters, but of the four features in here, only one–Firestorm–features a character from that show. Which is maybe the weirdest thing about the book. If you look at the line-up of characters in Legends of Tomorrow (the TV show), which runs in this very issue, it's not hard to find three other characters that could star in the non-Firestorm features here: The Atom Ray Palmer, Hawkman and Rip Hunter. The others on the show are Flash villains Captain Cold and Heatwave, Hawkgirl (who I am pretty sure only exists on Earth-2 in the current DC cosmological status quo) and a version of Black Canary (and Black Canary currently has her own title). Sure, none of those characters are exactly all-stars, and monthlies featuring any of them aren't exactly guaranteed to sell well–especially if paired with the level of talent involved with Legends of Tomorrow (the comic book)*, but then, there's a Sugar and Spike feature in here.

First up is Firestorm by writer (and character co-creator) Gerry Conway and the art team of Eduardo Pansica and Rob Hunter. It's mostly what you would expect from a Firestorm comic, including conflicts about separating, getting stuck and blowing up. I felt pretty uncomfortable during a passage where Conway writes teenager dialogue, including the word "cray-cray" and a reference to Ronnie and Jason asking their mutal female friend to Netflix and chill. I was slightly surprised to see old Captain Atom characters Waid Eiling and Major Force, the latter of whom has such a drastic redesign I thought for a moment he was a Black Lantern version of Major Force.

Next up is Metamorpho, written and drawn by Aaron Lopresti, with inks by Matt Banning. I actually kind of feel bad for Lopresti, because he's essentially re-introducing the character into current continuity, which means a do-over of Metamorpho's origin. Which, inevitably, means begging comparisons to writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon and, and it's not easy to measure up to either of them, let alone both simultaneously.

His take feels more modern, which is to say more boring (Find and snap up a Showcase Presents: Metamorpho if you can find it; those comics are decades old but still look and read fun and fresh). His Metamorpho character design looks slightly more realistic, which, again, is another way of saying more boring. Java and Simon Stagg are much more dangerous and evil, rather than having the sort of frenemy vibe they had with Rex originally (and I don't care for the way Lopresti draws Stagg, with a fatter face and double chin), and Sapphire is now a brilliant scientist who coaches Rex on the Periodic Table, rather than simply his girlfriend and Simon's daughter (she's sill the latter, not yet the former). It's easy to understand why Lopresti (or anyone) might want to revise Sapphire to give her more to do and to be a more active presence in the feature rather than simply the thing that binds the male characters together, but, well, this is both drastic and obvious. The quartet had more of a dysfunctional family vibe at the point of their creation, here that's not the case.

Oddly, Justice League villain Kanjar Ro is present too, which seems like something of a violation at this point in an origin story (I should note that this seems in keeping with DC's usage of characters from across the character catalog in their TV shows; I'm generally perplexed by who shows up in Supergirl, the show I watch, and all the characters from all over the DCU that have shown up in The Flash and Arrow).

That's followed by the weirdest, and probably best, of the four features, writer Keith Giffen and artist Bilquis Evely's Sugar & Spike. Why are the old DC characters whose entire schtick was that they were babies now a grown-up pair of private eyes specializing in working cases for the superhero set? I have no idea, and, 40 pages in, Giffen sure hasn't offered any suggestions.

Whatever the name of the feature and the names of the characters though–and, thus far at least, they could be any two characters, really–it works. Last issue the two retrieved some of Batman's weird Silver Age costumes from Killer Moth, who was eating them (No, this Batman never had a Silver Age, and yes, this Killer Moth doesn't dress like a moth at all). This time, they go to the island Superman built that is shaped like himself (another Silver Age holdover) in order to find a secret cache of Kryptonite that Superman hid there. Along the way, they meet a bunch of killer toys that are also after the Kryptonite–but they are not the Toyman's toys, which was a surprise (they seem to belong to a different character).

Evely's art makes this–it's by far the best-looking feature in this anthology–and while Giffen's bickering between the protagonists is so harsh and aggressive that it reads a lot like most of his other recent DC work, he's so far demonstrated a knack for finding bits of "forgotten" DC history for his characters to try and rebury on behalf of their employers (Actually, I'm not entirely sure how and if they get paid; like, I know Batman could afford to pay a couple of PI's, but I'm not sure about Superman, just as I'm not sure what he's doing for money now. Last I knew he was a blogger turned professional wrestler).

Finally, there's another installment of Len Wein and Yildiray Cinar and Trevor Scott's Metal Men, working from the version that was introduced by Geoff Johns in his Justice League and "Forever Evil" books and then appeared in the pages of Cyborg. I didn't love those specific designs, and Cinar's art doesn't make particularly awesome use of the characters and their abilities visually, but the Metal Men are rather hard characters to get "wrong" (Like Metamorpho, their original adventures hold up pretty well; look for their Showcase too!). Wein has introduced an Internet villain named Anonymous Nameless, who is after the Metal Men, and here there are appearances by two more robot characters–Well, one is technically a cyborg, with a human brain in a robot body, and the other is an android. I think. This is the first time the latter has appeared on Earth-0 in the post-Flashpoint status quo, at least to my knowledge, and his new design may be that rarest of things: A New 52 design that is an improvement over the previous one. Maybe. I'd need to see more of it, I guess.

Were these features all being sold separately, I probably would have dropped them all save the theoretictal Sugar & Spike book by now (actually, I never would have even picked up theoretical issues of Firestorm, Metamorpho and Metal Men in the first place), so perhaps there is some wisdom to this format, as weird as elements of it may be.

Lumberjanes #25 (Boom Studios) Wow, hard to believe that Lumberjanes has lasted this long...and that I've kept buying it!

On a macro level, the book's ability to survive through some pretty dramatic creative team changes is particularly impressive, and probably speaks to the strength of the characters, the concept and the specifics of the milieu that went into the book's original creation. I have noticed that the book has become pretty stagnant, however, with all of the weirdness surround the 'Janes and their camp becoming an accepted norm by all parties–characters, creators, readers–rather than clues to part of a big, mega-storyline (It's as if, to use a TV example, this were a version of The X-Files that was all standalone, weird cases, with no "mythology" episodes).

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and it may help the book survive another 25, 50 or 100 issues, but it's certainly a zag where I was expecting a zig.

This oversized ($4.99?! Fuck) issue features a cover by original artist Brooke Allen, a 22-page story which certainly reads like a perfectly acceptable standalone story (but is actually to be continued) by the regular creative team, and then a 10-page back-up by writer Chynna Clugston Flores and artists Laura Lewis and Mad Rupert.

That back-up is of special note because Clugston is writing the upcoming Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy crossover series (a six-page preview of which is included herein), and might give readers some clues as to what they might expect from that crossover. I...was not overly impressed, which disappointed me greatly, as I was such a fan of Blue Monday and Scooter Girl. It's not bad, mind you, but Clugston does a lot of narration in the form of April's journal and, well, it's a mode that differs greatly from all previous Lumberjanes stories (and not in a good way), and is also something a lot of comics artists-turned-writers do: Rely too heavily on words.

The artwork on this storyline is great, however; very simple, with lots of small panels on every page (it "reads" as long as the opening story, despite being half its length) and artwork that departs with the more familiar style sharply without contradicting it.

(Oh, by the way, we didn't get a badge for reading this month's issue, which is bullshit.)

Teen Titans Go! #15 (DC) I actually just bought this to give to my nephew, who loves the show, but you're damn right I read it first. The format hasn't changed any since the last time I read an issue of it, nor has the general quality. The first one has a pretty good gag in the Scaredy Pants, special pants designed by Raven and Cyborg that make whoever wears them terrified of any and everything around them. The second one guest-stars the Teen Titans East, and pits them against "our" Titans in a friendly game of baseball, which Cyborg (rightly) thinks is the worst sport in the world...at least until a baseball smashes into the computer part of his skull. The first is by writers HEather Nuhfer and Paul Morrissey and artist Marcelo Di Chiara, the second is by writer Merrill Hagan and artist Jeremy Lawson. Dan Hipp, sadly, provides only the cover, which is excellent as always.

But let's talk about this instead:
Crazy Quilt, filtered through Tim Gunn, to become a teacher at whatever school the girls of DC SuperHero Girls go to?! Whaaaaaaaaat?

Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #12 (IDW) It's hard to believe that Tom Scioli and John Barber's excellent series, maybe the single best ongoing comic on the market today**, is actually ending. This is the penultimate issue.

The great thing–well, one of the great things–about the title is that Scioli generally manages to put at least one awesome thing on every single page, and while that's true in this issue too, here he pulls off something even cooler, as the awesome things continually escalate throughout the entire issue, so that every turn of the page not only brings you something awesome, but something more awesome than on the previous page.

So here's the returned Cobra Commander in his awesome costume, surrounded by loyalists, with the forces of Cobra La and the substitute Cobra Commander just Easter Eggs in a typically baroque panel, here are almost all the masked characters unmasking, here's a drawing of...every single member of the Jotobot alliance?...marching on Megatron, here's... Crystal Ball? The last G.I. Joe figure I personally bought as a child!

And man, Snake Eyes and Scarlet's reunion, or the pages where Wheeljack, Blaster and Metroplex take on Trypticon...? I don't even have words. And there's also a fucking Say Anything allusion...

Seriously, this issue boggled my mind and tied my tongue; I can barely process, let alone talk about, all the great stuff in it.

A note on the unmaskings: In their regular story commentary, the creators discuss the problems of unmaskings that are actually pay-offs, with Scioli saying he doesn't subscribe to the belief that the mask is always more interesting than whatever you can actually show to have been beneath it all along. I disagree.

His Cobra Commander unmasking struck me as just as lame as the unmasking of the character in G.I. Joe: The Movie, which even as a little kid I realized couldn't possibly match the suggestion of the unimaginable a never-removed mask offers. That said, I applaud Scioli for going for it here, and understand that unmaskings play a role in the original Marvel G.I. Joe comic book, which has been a major source of inspiration for this series, at least as prominent–if not more so–than the toy lines or cartoons.

His Snake Eyes unmasking, on the other hand, was a lot more successful, especially since it was accompanied by dialogue. It, unlike the Cobra Commander one, offered a true surprise.

I am both looking forward to and dreading the next issue. Looking forward to it because I always look forward to the next issue of Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, and because I can't imagine how they're actually going to wrap up this gigantic conflict (Earth has already been destroyed, and Megatron is currently destroying the sun), and dreading it because not only will it be the last original issue of the series (which, sadly, means no more shocking surprises, but of course I can always re-read the issues they've published), but I don't think I'll ever be able to see a G.I. Joe or Transformers comic the same way again. After reading this, it's going to be hard to go back to the non-Scioli iterations, you know...?



*That is, highly competent, but not exactly name, superstar types who move books by their involvement alone. The creators involved in this comic are mostly those from DC's reliable stable of creators, who, were they not doing this, would be doing something else similar for the publisher.


**Seriously.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

DC's July previews reviewed

Clay Mann's cover for Action Comics, depicting Doomsday, Superman and a Clark Kent

DC has released the solicitations for the comics they plan to publish in July of this year, and just what the heck is happening to their universe's increasingly fluid and flexible history and status quo during their "Rebirth" initiative still isn't clear. You'll find some clues scattered throughout, of course, but it seems like, for the most part, if there is any sort of rebooting, retconning or rejiggering, it should be fairly mild. There's a lot of carry over from The New 52, a term they're apparently trying not to use any more (although it's much less cumbersome than post-Flashpoint, if you ask me), and some titles look barely affected.

That's not the case for DC's flagship character, however. After Convergence we learned that the pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane ended up in the post-Flashpoint, New 52's Earth-0, after having spent a year together in Brainiac and Telos' domed city (and having a kid together, who will apparently be going by the name Superboy now).

It doesn't look like they will be smooshing the two Supermen together into a single Superman, and while I'm not exactly sure how there can even be two of them if Earth-0 was made out of the raw material of the pre-Flashpoint DCU (with two other alternate universes blended into it), then New 52 Superman should just be an altered version of pre-Flashpoint Superman, right...?

Anyway, I assumed that "Rebirth" would somehow blend the two characters together. Having read the first two chapters of Peter Tomasi's "The Final Days of Superman," in which New 52 Superman discovers he's dying (yeah, just like in All-Star Superman), it seems possible that New 52 Superman will die, and old Superman will replace him.

This is...problematic, for a couple of reasons. First, it would make Superman at least 11 years older than his peers like Batman and Wonder Woman. And then it would mean he would have all the memories of the old DCU, while the current DC characters would never really consider him their Superman. And then there's the fact that he didn't come to this continuity alone, but brought Lois Lane with him, meaning there are also two Lois Lanes in the DCU at the moment.

I'm still hoping for some kind of rejiggering of the two that reconciles them, but I don't know; the clues currently all point to the current version of Superman dying and being replaced by the previous one. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

And, after waiting for three months, here are some of the things we'll be seeing...


BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY: REBIRTH #1
Written by JULIE BENSON and SHAWNA BENSON
Art by CLAIRE ROE
Cover by YANICK PAQUETTE
...
"WHO IS ORACLE" Chapter One: Batgirl and Black Canary are together again, working a case that strikes right at the heart of their partnership! Someone's uncovered the greatest secret Barbara Gordon ever kept: her time as Oracle, the most powerful hacker on the planet. And not only do they know her secret, they're using her name to sell dangerous information to criminals! Now one of those deals has brought some major heat to Gotham City...Helena Bertinelli is out of Spyral, wearing the hood of the Huntress, and making mafia blood run in the streets! Everything you thought was hidden will be revealed if the Oracle has their way...
On sale JULY 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Well, this solicitation copy answers one of my questions about this new series, namely who on Earth The Huntress was. Her New 52 continuity is ridiculously convoluted (She was introduced as Helena Bertinelli, but later revealed to be Helena Wayne, the Robin of Earth-2 who adopted the late Bertinelli's name and the guise of The Huntress to hide her true identity, and then they introduced another Helena Bertinelli in the pages of Grayson...did I get that right?). It looks like they're simply turning Grayson's Bertinellin into The Huntress II and, I would imagine, ignoring the existence of Huntress I as hard as they can.

I suppose that could work, although I'm still in mourning for the Birds of Prey line-up that never was–

Now what's all this about Barbara Gordon having been Oracle? Because she totally wasn't Oracle in DC's post-Flashpoint, New 52 continuity. Is this another suggestion that there's an element of continuity rejiggering, or at least some strategic retconning, going on as part of "Rebirth"...? Or when the solicitation copy writer refers to Babs' "time as Oracle" as "the greatest secret Barbara Gordon ever kept," does that mean she was Oracle, but no one ever knew, not even the readers...?

Hmm... It's hard to imagine how that would work, given that Flashpoint knocked just about every Oracle story I can think of out of continuity so completely it's hard to even imagine Babs having Oracle-ed in the current continuitiverse, but I guess we'll see...


BATMAN '66 MEETS STEED AND MRS. PEEL #1
Written by IAN EDGINTON
Art by MATTHEW DOW SMITH
Cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
...
England swings and so does the Dynamic Duo in this historic pairing of two of the hippest shows from 1960s television. DC Comics and BOOM! Studios join forces to bring these iconic characters together for the first time!
As Bruce Wayne shows the beautiful head of a UK electronics company the sights of Gotham, they are interrupted by the felonious feline Catwoman! Unwilling to leave Miss Michaela Gough unprotected, Bruce resigns himself to the fact that Batman cannot save the day. But some new players have arrived in town -- though even as the lovely, catsuit-clad Mrs. Peel and her comrade John Steed take control of the situation, nefarious plots continue apace!
On sale JULY 6 • 32 pg, FC, 1 of 6, $3.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST


Steed and Peel...? Oh, from the old Avengers TV show! Huh. I wonder why they didn't just call his comic Batman Meets The Avengers...? I have to imagine that would move a lot more comics. I can't see any reason why–OH. Yeah. Nevermind.


THE FLINTSTONES #1
Written by MARK RUSSELL
Art and cover by STEVE PUGH
Fred and Wilma variant cover by IVAN REIS
Barney and Betty variant by WALTER SIMONSON
Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm variant cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN
Cave Pets variant cover by DAN HIPP
Coloring book cover by STEVE PUGH
...
Welcome to Bedrock, where Paleolithic humans head to dinner for a taste of artisanal mammoth after shopping at Neandertall & Big Men's Clothing, where Wilma shows her modern art, and where, if you take a plane, you could literally end up sitting ON the tail section. Join Fred and Barney as Mister Slate sends them on a mission to show some Neanderthals a night on the town in hopes of luring them into this new system called "working for a living." In Slate's Quarry, of course. Is Fred's ship about to come in? Find out when the gang finishes out the evening at the employee hot tub party, where they learn how the one percent lives here in Bedrock, home to the world's first civilization and the modern stone-age family -- The Flintstones. Don't miss this extra-sized debut issue!
On sale JULY 6 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T


Of the various Hanna-Barbera "reboot" comics that DC will be rolling out, this one looks like it might the be the weirdest, if only because The Flintstones are so synonymous with one particular design, the live action movies being the only real deviations.

This is somewhat ironic, because simply reading the solicitation copy above makes this sound like it will be the most straightforward of the series, as least in that there is no grand high-concept, as with Scooby Apocalypse or Wacky Raceland (Even Future Quest has the "crisis" motif of a grand cross-over between many of the heroic franchises), and even tonally it sounds like the main source of humor will be dumb (read: awesome) prehistoric and geological puns.

I honestly can't imagine Steve Pugh drawing a Flintstones comic, and that's even with an example of his Flintstones art staring me right in the face. I don't normally list all the variants, but I wanted to in this case because, as weird as Steve Pugh's Flintstones might sound, can you imagine Ivan Reis'...? Or Walter Simonson's...?


HAL JORDAN AND THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS: REBIRTH #1
Written by ROBERT VENDITTI
Art and cover by ETHAN VAN SCIVER
...
Superstar artist Ethan Van Sciver returns to the world of Green Lantern! In the absence of the Green Lantern Corps, Sinestro and his fear-inducing Yellow Lantern Corps patrol the universe as its sole protectors -- but deep in space, a green light still burns. Harnessing the remainder of his will, Hal Jordan must become a one-man GL Corps to defeat his greatest foe and restore freedom to the cosmos.
On sale JULY 13 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Isn't Ethan Van Sciver currently in the world of Green Lantern? I thought he was drawing the current GL Corps mini-series? At least, he drew the last issue of it that I personally read.

Both the solicit for this copy and that for the first issue of Hal Jordan and The Green Lantern Corps accentuates the fact that Hal is the last GL in the universe, but I'm pretty sure everything's going to work out okay for the Corps. I mean, not only do we know that Green Lantern Simon Baz and the current Power Ring will both be Green Lanterns post-"Rebirth," but the title of this book is Hal Jordan AND The Green Lantern Corps, rather than Hal Jordan, OMGLC....


THE HELLBLAZER: REBIRTH #1
Written by SIMON OLIVER
Art and Cover by MORITAT
...
John Constantine's lost weekend in New York City was fun, but London's where his heart is -- only a pissed-off demon and a curse on his soul stand in his way. Even Constantine's questionable ethics are pushed to the limit when he puts eight million souls on the line to get what he wants...
On sale JULY 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+


If ever there was a character that needed some downtime...


JUSTICE LEAGUE: REBIRTH #1
Written by BRYAN HITCH
Art by BRYAN HITCH
Cover by TONY S. DANIEL
Variant cover by JOE MADUREIRA
...
Spinning out of the events of DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1, a new day dawns for Earth's greatest heroes as they welcome three new members to the team, including...Superman? Who is this strange visitor from a dead world -- and can he be trusted? Batman and Wonder Woman aren't so sure.
On sale JULY 6 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


Here's another indication that the Superman sticking around post-"Rebirth" is going to be the one from Superman: Lois & Clark, rather than the one from the current DC Universe/Earth-0.

I'm a little surprised to see Hitch taking over DC's flagship as its writer, as he's had relatively little writing experience and his current book, JLA, which he has been both writing and drawing, hasn't been very good.

The writing's fine, really. I man, there's nothing drastically wrong with it, and DC certainly publishes more poorly-scripted comics, but it's not actually any good either. It's really the exact definition of mediocre, and having been devoted so long to telling a single, not-terribly-compelling story, it's also been pretty dull...and disconnected from the goings-on of the DC Universe in general (I was kind of surprised in the issues that I read that Hitch didn't seem to be familiar even with the only four-year-old Justice League continuity, for example).

As you can see below, Hitch may be writing and drawing the Rebirth special, but he'll only be writing the upcoming ongoing, because a monthly is far beyond his abilities to meet the deadlines of, let alone a more-than-monthly book.

Do note who is providing the variant cover–another artist notorious for his inability to hit deadlines.


JUSTICE LEAGUE #1
Written by BRYAN HITCH
Art by TONY S. DANIEL and SANDU FLOREA
Cover by TONY S. DANIEL
...
"THE EXTINCTION MACHINE" Chapter One
The oceans rise. The earth quakes. And an ancient power rises to reclaim not just the world, but the universe itself -- and not even the combined might of the Justice League can stop it. An all-new era begins with this epic by comic book legend Bryan Hitch (JLA, The Ultimates) and master storyteller Tony S. Daniel (BATMAN: R.I.P., DEATHSTROKE).
On sale JULY 20 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


That's right, "master storyteller Tony S. Daniel." I assume the solicitation copy-writer is just being extremely generous/disingenuous by referring to Daniel as such, but here's a scary thought: What if the solicitation copy-writer actually believes Tony S. Daniel is a master storyteller.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Could there possibly be someone in the employ of DC Comics, even just a solicitation copy-writer, who has read so few comics that they think Daniel qualifies as a mast of the medium? I mean, even if you only read DC Comics, and you just started, like, three years ago, you can still find dozens and dozens of examples of artists who are better at visual storytelling than Daniel.

NEW SUPER-MAN #1
Written by GENE LUEN YANG
Art and cover by VICTOR BOGDANOVIC
...
"MADE IN CHINA" Chapter One: An impulsive act of heroism thrusts an arrogant young man into the limelight of Shanghai as China begins to form its own Justice League of powerful heroes. Rising from the ashes of The Final Days of Superman, award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang and on-the-rise art star Victor Bogdanovic introduce readers to Kong Kenan -- the New Super-Man! When the world needed a new hero, China made him!
On sale JULY 13 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T


I was honestly sort of disappointed--and even a little confused--by DC's usage of a creator of Yang's caliber on their main Superman book, as despite how much input he might have had in the overall story, since he took the reigns of the title it's been stuck in franchise-wide crossover mode.

Here, finally, Yang gets to do his own thing, and DC gets to publish (hopefully!) easy-to-follow, discrete, Yang-written comics.

I really rather like the new Superman's costume, too, at least the color scheme. It is probably a coincidence, but amusing nonetheless, that the costume so closely resembles that of Mark Millar and Leinil Frances Yu's Superman/Captain Marvel analogue Superior from the pages of their Superior.


RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS: REBIRTH #1
Written by SCOTT LOBDELL
Art by DEXTER SOY
Cover by GIUSEPPE CAMUNCOLI and CAM SMITH
...
When a shocking encounter with Batman solidifies the Red Hood's status as a villain, Jason Todd goes deep undercover to take down Gotham City's criminal underworld from the inside. Along the way, Jason meets two unlikely allies: a disgraced Amazon warrior named Artemis and a half-baked Superman clone called Bizarro -- and the DCU's "Dark Trinity" is born!
On sale JULY 27 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+


Like John Constantine (and Teen Titans, and Deathstroke, and Suicide Squad), this is a book that keeps getting tinkered with to no avail, and which could probably benefit from some time off (Unlike those other books, they haven't tried changing writers yet, though).

The idea of a "Dark Trinity" is interesting, but I don't think these three characters go together in such a capacity. If Red Hood is the "Dark Batman"–and really, he's more of a "Dark" Robin or, more precisely still, a "Dark" Nightwing–then his Wonder Woman equivalent should be New 52 Donna Troy, maybe, and...actually, there isn't a dark lieutenant Superman equivalent, at least not in this continuity, is there? I don't know what became of New 52 Supergirl or New 52 Superboy, the latter of whom I'm not sure I ever actually read a comic featuring, so I'm not sure where they are or how "dark" they were.

You can pick any of the three characters and see how they don't really fit together though. Bizarro, for example, is a reverse Superman, not an evil opposite or dark version of Superman...particularly if they're using the one from last year's Bizarro miniseries rather than the Frankenstein's monster-like version from Forever Evil. Batman and Wonder Woman don't have equivalents, unless you count Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness' Batzarro from the pages of Superman/Batman and Bizarra from the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner/Eric Powell Action Comics story arc "Escape From Bizarro World." The closest character in Batman's section of the DC stable might be Man-Bat, which is who Scott Kolins paired with Bizarro to form a monster version of the World's Finest in his two-part Blackest Night tie-in arc from Superman/Batman.

As for Artemis, I think this would be her New 52 debut, but I stopped paying attention to the Finchs Wonder Woman after a few issues, so it's possible she's appeared there. Originally a darker, take-no-prisoners version of Wonder Woman who temporarily usurped the Amazing Amazon's book in the '90s, her equivalents would be Azrael-turned-Batman-turned-Azrael Again Jean-Paul Valley (recently introduced in Batman & Robin Eternal and The Eradicator.

Of course, that's just me dissecting the concept of this particular trio as a "Dark Trinity." Lobdell's pairing of the three isn't wrong or anything, it just doesn't feel too terribly natural. Of course, neither does having a resurrected Jason Todd adopt the name Red Hood and starring in a continuous series of canceled and relaunched ongoing monthlies all written by Scott Lobdell.

This line-up at least sounds more interesting than that of the original Red Hood, Arsenal, Starfire line-up–but then, every cast is greatly improved by the presence of Bizarro in it.


ROBIN VOL. 3: SOLO TP
Written by CHUCK DIXON, ALAN GRANT and JOHN WAGNER
Art by TOM GRUMMETT, RAY KRYSSING, PHIL JIMENEZ, TOM LYLE, KIERON DWYER and others
Cover by TOM GRUMMETT and SCOTT HANNA
Robin recovers from the tragic death of his predecessor and faces untold threats -- all without the Dark Knight by his side. Collects ROBIN #1-6 and ROBIN ANNUAL #1-2.
On sale AUGUST 3 • 304 pg, FC, $24.99 US


I recently read the second volume of this series–despite having previously read all of those issues when they were originally published–and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm looking forward to future volumes, as I dropped the monthly Robin series around #4 or #5, only picking it up occasionally after that.

The first six issues of Robin feature 15-year-old Tim Drake getting a special early driver's license (since his dad needs driven around, being partially paralyzed and all) and a Robinmobile called "The Red Bird," a concept I hated at the time (One thing I really liked about some of the comics in Robin Vol. 2 was how Tim had to bum rides off Alfred to even get into the city without Batman; Alfred was like a parent dropping their kid off at some afterschool activity and then picking him up later). I also hated Tim's relationship with Ariana, come to think of it; maybe the combination of those factors is what caused me to drop the book, despite having read and enjoyed the three Robin mini-series that preceded the ongoing...?

Anyway, in addition to the new ride, these stories feature a lot of returning characters from Dixon's previous Robin stories in the minis and in Detective: Cluemaster, The Electrocutioner, Spoiler and The Huntress. I was really surprised to see that the first two Robin annuals, the first of which preceded the existence of the monthly, are included in here. Here are the covers, for an indication of why I was surprised:

As you can see, they are tie-ins to the Eclipso: The Darkness Within and Bloodlines summer annual tie-in events. It's been a while since I've re-read either, obviously, but, if I recall correctly, the first should hold-up okay, as it's relatively stand alone (It's penciled by Tom Lyle, the artist of most of Robin's appearances up until that point, but written by Anarky creator Alan Grant, rather than Dixon, who Lyle usually worked with. And, as you can see, it had an awesome Sam Kieth cover).

The latter is by Dixon and Kieron Dwyer, and introduced Razorsharp*, a kinda cool characther with a decent power, although the fact that she was a computer hacker, and part of a computer hacking gang that wore matching uniforms and called themselves the–and I am not making this up–The Psyba-Rats kind of dates the story in an incredibly peculiar way. Like, I'm fairly certain that the comic didn't present an accurate portrayal of computer hacking culture in the '90s when it was published, I can only imagine how bizarre it will read today. (Hey, is it weird that Razorsharp and Oracle never crossed paths? That seems weird to me.)

If I recall that story, it does not stand alone all that well, as relatively few of the Bloodlines annuals did. In each story, one of the half-dozen Parasite aliens comes to the city the comic is set on, kills and sucks the spinal fluid out of a bunch of people, one of them gets super-powers, and then the new hero and the book's protagonist team-up and drive the Parasite away. That happened like 56 times in 1993, until the miniseries that concluded the storyline.

This one's written by Dixon and penciled by Kieron Dwyer, and the cover is by Jim Balent. You might not recognize his work, given that Razorsharp's breasts are relatively small for a Balent character, and rather covered up.


SUPERMAN AND THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA VOL. 2 TP
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art by DAN JURGENS, RICK BURCHETT, SAL VELLUTO and BOB SMITH
Cover by DAN JURGENS and RICK BURCHETT
The Man of Steel has died! Falling at the hands of the monster Doomsday, the Justice League's most powerful member is now gone, and along with killing him, the creature grievously injures Leaguers Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and more! How will the Justice League re-collect in this moment of crisis? Who will be the newest members? And how will they deal in a world without Superman? Learn all the answers in these tales from JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #69-77!
On sale AUGUST 31 • 240 pg, FC, $19.99 US


I was just speculating about this when writing about the first volume the other day. This will collect the second half of Dan Jurgens' Justice League America run, and while Superman and Justice League America sounds better than Dan Jurgens' Justice League America, it doesn't seem as accurate for the second volume as it might have for the first. After all, Superman is dead by the second of the eight issues collected in this volume.


WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON HC
Written by JILL THOMPSON
Art and cover by JILL THOMPSON
WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON is Jill Thompson's original graphic novel reimagining of the early years of the Amazon Princess Diana, who would grow up to become Wonder Woman. This fully painted graphic novel is unlike any Wonder Woman tale you have ever read, told as only Eisner Award- winning writer/artist Thompson could. When young Diana has the fawning attention of a nation, she grows spoiled. But a series of tragic events take their toll, and Diana must learn to grow up, take responsibility, and seize her destiny.

Steeped in the mythology of this iconic character's original conception, WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON is designed to appeal to a wide range of readers. It's a fresh, stand-alone interpretation of the most famous and iconic female superhero of all time and the fulfillment of a dream project by one of contemporary comics' most acclaimed creators.
On sale SEPTEMBER 28 • 128 pg, FC, $22.99 US


As I mentioned the other day, I've been reading DC's recently released Wonder Woman: War of The Gods**, which collects the portions of the massive storyline that ran through the Wonder Woman monthly and the War of The Gods miniseries. The Wonder Woman issues were drawn by Jill Thompson, and I always thought it was too bad that Thompson drew Wonder Woman so relatively early in her career, rather than a few decades later, during the post-Scary Godmother, post-Magic Trixie height of her powers.

And what do you know? She is drawing–and writing, and painting–an original Wonder Woman graphic novel! This was a really huge surprise for me, as when I ran across it in the solicits was literally the first I heard of it, and "Jill Thompson is working on an original graphic novel starring Wonder Woman" certainly sounds like the sort of thing people should have been talking about for a while now. I mean, I'm pretty sure DC and Grant Morrison mentioned his Wonder Woman: Earth One book sometime around 1987 or so.

I love Jill Thompson's work, and I love Wonder Woman, so I'm pretty excited about this, and can't imagine it won't be worthwhile, whatever direction Thompson chooses to go with it ("The mythology of this iconic character's original conception" sure sounds a lot like what Morrison and Yanick Paquette just did in Wonder Woman: Earth One, though; I wonder if that's merely bad phrasing though, and the solicit is actually trying to convey that the book will be steeped in the mythology that was a part of the character's original conception, which is a kanga of a different color. We'll see, I guess.)

The other language I couldn't help but underlining in red while reading? "Reimagining", "unlike any WOnder Woman tale", "a fresh, stand-alone interpretation"...those are all positives, of course, and it will be great to finally have a great Wonder Woman graphic novel you could put in any interested reader's hands (Earth One is pretty YA and up, rather than all-ages), but this sure sounds like it will be an "Imaginary Story"/Elseworlds-like book, than anything that might become part of Wonder Woman canon, and thus effect future Wonder Woman stories.

I've been reading a lot of great Wonder Woman comics lately–Renae De Liz's The Legend of Wonder Woman, Marguerite Bennett and company's DC Comics Bombshells, the aforementioned Earth One–but they all seem to be out-of-continuity Wonder Woman comics. Why can't DC do a great Wonder Woman comic that "counts"...? I'm really hoping that Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott and company can manage it...




*Her real name? Rae Sharp. She literally just added a "zur" sound between her first and last names to come up with her codename. Or hell, maybe her middle name was "Zora;" I wouldn't put it past Dixon.

**I'm only a few issues in, but so far it is not very good...perhaps because so much space is devoted to setting up the tie-ins, the pay-offs of which happened in all the other books that aren't included in the collection. For example, the second issue in the collection is Wonder Woman #58, and it includes a little numeral "2" beneath the "War of The Gods" banner on top of the cover, indicating that it is the second part of the storyline, which spread across everything DC was publishing at the time. The next issue in the collection is War of The Gods #2, and it has a little number "11" on it. Nine entire chapters passed between issues in this collection. Granted, many of those weren't exactly necessary, as has always been the case with these things, but that is a lot of comics to just skip over, you know? I personally would have preferred something big, huge and maybe multi-volume that collected every single chapter–that would better replicate what I currently have in my longboxes, allowing me to rid myself of many of those old comics and get the entire storyline, but perhaps that's just me. Great art, though! Sometimes I wonder why DC ever let anyone other than George Perez draw one of their crisis comics...