Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: August 24th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and Hitler shows up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

On DC Super Hero Girls: Finals Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: August 17th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I liked it just fine.

Monday, August 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 13, 2016

High five, Gene Luen Yang!

The Bat-Man of China, the country's answer to the Batman, drives not a Batmobile, but a BUV. BUV, naturally, stands for Bat Utility Vehicle.

While  have to assume the real Batman has an SUV or 10 in his Bat-Cave and another dozen in Bruce Wayne's above-ground garage, I don't think he's ever gone so far as to brand any of his sports utility vehicles as "Bat Utility Vehicles," so bravo to the Bat-Man of China (and, of course, writer Gene Luen Yang).

This is what the BUV looks like, as drawn by pencil artist Viktor Bogdanovic, inker Richar Friend and the colorist/s of Hi-Fi:
Both images are from the pages of New Super-Man #2, which remains as well-written and entertaining as the first issue was, but also remains rather poorly illustrated, especially when stacked up against pretty much everything else Yang has written before.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Comic Shop Comics: August 10th

All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1 (Marvel Entertainment) One of the several ways in which G. Willow Wilson immediately established Kamala Khan as a sort of superhero super-fan, not unlike any other reader of Marvel comics, which sort of took who to a whole new level as a reader-identification character, was by having Kamala regularly refer to her superhero fan-fiction. This she wrote before becoming a superhero herself, of course, although she apparently still continues to write it.

What we haven't seen in the pages of Wilson's Ms. Marvel yet is the comic book performance of that fan-fiction, not as fully as we've seen, say, Nancy Whitehead's Cat Thor fan comics in the pages of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Loki spending much of an adventure with Thor and Squirrel Girl in the form of Cat Thor just to mess with his brother remains a highlight of that comic book series for me). That changes here, in the All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual (Oh my God, please just abbreviate it to a Avengers already!).

The cover is just a completely generic Alex Ross cover of three members of the team, only one of whom plays any significant role, but at least there's a large blurb along the bottom promising "The Fan-Fiction World of Ms. Marvel," the last word in her logo, and a list of the contributors, which include Wilson herself and A-N,A-DA creators Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar.

I still think this is a weird (well, dumb) place for this story to show up, rather than in a Ms. Marvel annual, but I suppose there's a marketing reason for its appearing under this title instead of the more natural place. It sure is a lot of fun, regardless.

The premise, delineated in a framing sequence by Wilson and Asrar entitled "Internet Randos," which features Kamala returning home to check how many likes her Avengers fan-fiction got, and discovering that she's now big enough a hero to have people writing fan-fic about her, like "Ms. Marvel and The Teenage Love Triangle From Space," illustrated by an image of Spider-Man Miles Morales and Nova at her feet. Against her better judgement, she reads on, and this is what she finds:

"The Once and Future Marvel," written by Mark Waid and drawn by Chip Zdarsky, in which Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel team-up to fight Skrulls in space and deliver such stilted dialogue that it's pretty clear Waid did a little research into the world of fan-fic (the poor man). It's pretty much a straight parody, but when Marvel's original Captain Marvel (you know, the man one) reappears, snatched from the time stream just before his death (as kinda sorta happened once already, but turned out to be a trick, and also kinda sorta happened to Barry Allen in a Flash story Waid himself wrote, but also turned out to be a trick). It's funny stuff, particularly because Waid manages to hold off on the Internet politics until the very last page, when it really becomes a delight.

"The Adventures of She-Hulk," by Natasha Alleri (who drew the charming sixth issue of Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat), doesn't really seem to fit here conceptually, as it would have to be a fan comic rather than fan-fiction, and isn't too terribly Avengers-y. It is darling and it is hilarious though, and is basically She-Hulk starring in a modern update of "Duck Amuck," only the unseen tormenter is actually just a pencil that hangs out around her.

"Up Close and Fursonal," by writer Zac Gorman and Jay Fosgitt, sounds like furry stuff, but is probably closest to something like Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham or the original Captain Carrot comics. Or, I don't know, is that what Zootopia is, basically? It's a Marvel Universe where everyone is an animal, and animal puns abound. It stars Hss. Marvel (a snake, but with arms!) and The Spectacular Spider-Mole (Miles, not Peter).

"Squirrel Girl Vs. Ms. Marvel," by Faith Erin Hicks, is the contribution that made me want to read this now instead of wait for whatever trade the annual will eventually show up in. That's because it features Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel and is by Faith Erin Hicks, basically.

It's a battle between the two, although we pull out to reveal the nature of that battle, and it ends with the pair in a coffee shop full of superheroes, Squirrel Girl and her army of squirrels eating "macarons," which I assume are "macaroons." Are there different spellings? Is "Macaron" Canadian for "macaroon"...?

Finally, Scott Kurtz writes and draws "An Evening With Ms. Marvel: A True Story." It is not a true story, but it's pretty funny, and, like Waid's first story, is the one that reads most like true fan-fic.

Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy #3 (Boom Studios) As Chynna CLugston Flores, Rosemary Valero-O'Connell and Maddi Gonzalez's unlike crossover reaches the mid-way point, we finally get a pretty thorough explanation of what exactly is going on with that creepy lodge in the weird woods around the Lumberjanes camp, and learn that the lady who seems to be in charge of capturing imprisoning everyone in a weird recreation of a sweet sixteen party from the 1980s may be a victim of sorts herself, as she can't see what everyone else can (like the floating cloak-and-animal skull creatures).

I like Valero-O'Connell's pencil art, inked by Gonzalez and colored by Whitney Cogar, more and more each issue. I think it took a bit of adjustment precisely because it was so unlike the art of either Lumberjanes or Gotham Academy up to this point, but at this point I'm used to it, and really digging the degree of expression she brings to the characters, as well as all the great 1980s fashion everyone is wearing...mostly against their will.

SpongeBob Comics #59 (United Plankton Pictures) This month's theme is Westerns, and for the cover story "Dry Noon," editor Chris Duffy has lined up a contribution from Chuck Dixon and artist Raul The Third. The somewhat silly story involves Mister Krabs taking SpongeBob to the driest part of the ocean in order to procure a secret ingredient for his Krabby Patties: Black salt. And what makes black salt so salty? That's the well-executed gag. The art is pretty great, offering one of the many, many instances in which this book diverges wildly from the style and character designs of the cartoon its based on, and its colored so as if the paper, like the cover, looks old and beat-up, as if maybe it had somehow survived from cowboy times.

Most of the other stories are somehow Western related as well, and these include contributions from Maris Wicks, James Kochalka, Corey Barba and Gregg Schigiel, Jed Alexander and Sam Henderson and Greg Benton.

Wonder Woman #4 (DC Comics) This is the second chapter of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott's "Year One" origin story of Wonder Woman, and, as she is still on the island but about to leave, this chapter centers on ticking off the boxes that have to happen: What to do with Steve, who will return him to Man's World, how they will decide, what she'll wear, etc.

Because of this, it is mostly a predictable march through expected elements, only interesting in the little ways in which it diverges from past stories. Here, for example, Hippolyta doesn't forbid Diana from competing to be the island's champion, but is resigned to the fact...just as she knows her daughter will almost certainly win (She does). I liked this version of the Amazons' crafting of Wonder Woman's costume, based on the symbols found on the uniforms of the dead soldiers; even that's not original to this telling, but it's executed well, as is the wrinkle with the bullets-and-bracelets.

It's fine then, but it should get more interesting in the next few chapters.

Oh, and it needs more kangas. This version of Themyscira is basically just a Bronze Age society with some magic stuff, not the high fantasy/sci-fi mash-up world of William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter, or, more recently, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review: Dark Horse Comics/DC Comics: Superman

This 400-page collection is the latest big, fat, book of crossovers between DC characters and those owned or licensed to Dark Horse Comics. I can't quite figure out how they are organized. For example, this collection includes two Superman/Aliens crossovers, which seem like they could have just as easily appeared in the previously published DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Aliens (which did include the Superman/Batman/Aliens/Predator crossover), and the upcoming DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Justice League will include two Superman stories. I imagine it has something to do with which publisher technically publishes which collection–note the way the order of which publisher is named varies from book to book–but regardless of the behind-the-scenes organizing principal, these books include a bunch of harder-to-find-then-I'd like crossovers of the past couple decades, many of them quite good comics.

This particular volume features comics from 1995-2002, three of which are in Superman continuity (or in continuity as it existed at the time), with the fourth and final one being an Elseworlds story. Let's take them one at a time, shall we...?

Superman/Aliens by Dan Jurgens, Kevin Nowlan, Gregory Wright and Android Images

This three-issue, 1995 miniseries is among the best of the DC/Dark Horse crossovers, and one of the better inter-publisher crossovers I've ever read. Much of that is due to the skill that went into crafting it, but more still is due to the amount of care that writer/artist Dan Jurgens put into the book.

The Aliens, like the Predators, have become such frequent participants in crossovers due to their extreme flexibility–they're basically just cool monsters to fight–that such comics can often read as extremely lazy. Jurgens, however, brings a real sense of occasion to this story.

He manages to make the story almost as much of an Aliens story as it is a Superman story, and while the superhero is the protagonist of the story, Jurgens carefully sets it up in such a way that the Aliens and their horrifying life-cycle aren't just backdrops to a Superman beat 'em up. Rather, he evokes the sort of lonely setting and the horror/suspense mood that are so prominent in the film franchise, and even uses the single, female protagonist that powered the earlier films...although here she is, of course, teamed-up with Superman.

More remarkably still, not only does Jurgens handicap Superman in such a way that the Aliens pose a real threat to him–most of the story is spent far from Earth, so his solar-based powers are waning like a dying battery throughout, and he must struggle with his refusal to take a life, even the lives of the Aliens–but he instills about as real a sense of danger that can exist in a Superman comic.

At no point did I think Superman was going to die in this comic, but when the near-powerless Superman has an Alien implanted in his no-longer invulnerable chest cavity, I did find myself wondering how exactly he was going to survive (My guess, that he would plunge himself into the sun, burning out the embryo while restoring his own powers, as soon as he returned to the solar system, turned out to be wrong; the reality was much grosser).

Oh, and Jurgens sets this story firmly within Superman's post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint continuity–inter-company crossover or no, this is canon guys–reflecting not only the status quo of the Super-books circa 1995, but also referencing a handful of previous stories from this continuity. Most of these aren't terribly important, although they are referred to in dialogue and asterisked editorial box, but one does play a big role: Superman's early career execution of the pocket universe Kryptonians, as that was when he swore never to kill again, an oath frequently tested by the Aliens (His first fight with a single Alien is actually kind of funny, as he keeps trying to communicate with it while it tries eating his face.)

Reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent are covering LexCorp's space-division as they recover an alien probe and take it to their orbiting space-station. It's a distress pod of some kind, asking for help, and Superman recognizes the language it's using as Kryptonian. He insists that he and he alone find and help the people who sent it, with the help of LexCorp, who provides him with the space ship to do it in.

The destination? Argo City, a domed city in deep space (far from a yellow sun) and peopled with too-few Kryptonian-speaking humanoids. Superman loads some injured, unconscious residents into his ship and sends it back to the station, asking them to send it back for him (as otherwise he would be stranded here). Sure, his powers are slowly starting to wane, but how dangerous can the place be...?

Pretty dangerous, it turns out, as its swarming with Aliens, and, worse still, the unconscious people he sent back to the space station, where Lois is, are of course harboring gestating Aliens in their chests. At the end of the first issue, Jurgens provides a pretty big shock for his readers at the time: The blonde teenage girl who speaks Kryptonian and is fighting for her survival on Argo City tells Superman that her name is...wait for it...Kara.

That would have been a pretty big deal in 1995, as that would make her the only other survivor of Krypton in the post-Crisis continuity, it would also make her a new version of the original (read: real) Supergirl. The one in DC Comics at the time was the weird sentient protoplasm from a pocket universe one whose back-story just got more and more confusing until DC just let Jeph Loeb restart Supergirl's origin in Superman/Batman a decade or so after this saw publication).

As the series progresses, we learn whether or not this Kara is the Kara, but, more importantly from the stand-point of making a good Superman/Aliens crossover, Jurgens has effectively split the action into two settings, both evocative of the first two Aliens movies. On the space station, the hatched and escaped Aliens stalk Lois, LexCorp's Dr. Kimble and the rest of the much more expendable cast, while on Argo City, Superman gradually loses all of his powers and must face a series of blows to his confidence and optimism: That he can't just punch out the millions of Aliens, that he sent a ship-full of them towards a space station containing Lois and orbiting Earth, that no ship is coming to retrieve him and, ultimately, that he and Kara both have Aliens gestating in their chests.

As unlikely a pairing as the two multi-media franchises may be–seriously, pause and compare the films Superman and Superman II to Alien and Aliens in your mind for a moment–Jurgens makes them fit naturally, and manages to deliver a story that honors the attributes of Aliens while cutting to the core of what makes Superman such a great, aspirational, noble and heroic character.

You know what else is an unlikely pairing? Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan. Jurgens pencils the book, while Nolan inks it, but based on the results, it looks like Jurgens provided fairly full lay-outs and Nowlan finished them. It's a great collaboration, as it looks at once like the art of Jurgens and the art of Nowlan, two very distinctive, very prolific artists whose work is easily recognizable at a glance.

There are therefore a lot of the familiar lay-outs and heroic poses of Jurgens' Superman comics–having drawn Superman as long as he has, Jurgens' work often suggests the "real" Superman in the way that, say, long-time Batman artist the late Jim Aparo's Batman poses and expressions often seem genuine in a way that those of other artists don't–but here the art is all more detailed and smoother, with thicker, bolder black lines.

I enjoy the work of current Superman artists Doug Mahnke and Patrick Gleason, but honestly, I can't remember the last time I read a Superman comic where I enjoyed the artwork this much.

(I suppose it's also worth mentioning how odd it is to read this story after reading Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's first story arc of Justice League in 2011 and early 2012, the story in which Superman and his League allies so cavalierly kill Parademons without a second thought. This story is a good illustration of why that was so strange to see. Here Superman tries to communicate with an Alien before even striking it, and resolutely refuses to pick up a gun and destroy one even at his most hopeless, because a life is still a life. In Justice League, he was tearing apart Parademons that were, until recently, normal human beings, without even stopping to consider what they were.)

Superman/Aliens II: God War by Chuck Dixon, Jon Bogdanove, Kevin Nowlan and Dave Stewart

As is so often–too often–the case, the sequel is not nearly as good as the original. This 2002 miniseries, which retains only inker Kevin Nowlan from the first Superman/Aliens crossover, is as much a New Gods comic as it is a Superman or Aliens fact, Superman and the Aliens both seem like guest-stars in a New Gods comic.

Writer Chuck Dixon has Superman visiting New Genesis, just sort of hanging out with other humanoid super-aliens who can fly and are invulnerable and dress as colorfully as he does, when Darkseid launches a horrible attack. Having discovered the Aliens, Jack Kirby's god of evil impregnates a battalion of his warriors and sends them to attack New Genesis, essentially using them as trojan horses carrying the real weapon, the Aliens themselves.

During the course of the battle, which includes Lightray, Barda and Forager but no Mister Miracle, Orion gets an Alien implanted in his chest. Knowing his time is limited, he decided to go straight for Apokolips, with Superman tagging along. Meanwhile, Barda and her forces try to stave off the invasion of the Aliens that Darkseid rained down on them.

It is, in other words, everything the original Superman/Aliens was not. Here the Aliens are just cool-looking, dramatic monsters appearing in a Superman beat 'em up, but Superman is only one of several heroes doing the beating. If one wonders how Orion survived, I'll spoil it for you, although it should be noted that he should be invulnerable enough to survive in a manner more similar to that of Superman in the original. Basically, Darkseid shows mercy on his son, and uses the Omega beams to destroy the growing Alien. His long-term plan, he explains to lackeys like Desaad, is to instill a sense of indebtedness to his biological son, so that Orion may someday side with him over Highfather.

And, in the stinger ending, if not, well, Darkseid still has a hidden vault full of warriors with face-huggers on them, apparently in stasis to pull out when needed.

The only real pleasure I took in this particular story was the art. I like both Jon Bogdanove, a one-time constant presence on the Superman family of books, and Kevin Nowlan alot, although their styles seem even further apart from that of Jurgens and Nowlan.

Weirdly but understandably, Bogdanove seems to have attempted to town down the Bogdanovicity of his pencil work in an attempt to draw more Kirby-esque, and Nowlan followed his lead. The results are...weird. The New Gods characters all look extremely Kirby-esque, with some panels looking like Kirby himself drw them. Superman is a strange mixture of the thick-torsoed Silver Age Superman with flashes of a primal, angry Kirby face and Bogdanove's normal Man of Steel, and the Aliens look like, well, Aliens.

Dixon's Superman was so changed by his first meeting with these creatures, that he doesn't have any of the moral compunctions about seeing them exterminated that he originally had, and, even if he did, he spends much of the time fighting either alongside Barda or Orion, so it's not like it matters; he's not about to fight Orion to the death to stop the dying New God from turning massive Alien hives into pools of acidic blood.

Other than picking apart the various influences and letting one's eyes surf along the curious braiding of various art styles, there is still some pleasure to be had in the artwork. Dixon and company provide a few interesting images, particularly the scene that follows the mass-birthing of the Aliens from Darkseid's invasion troops, where we see a panel in which the just-born, snake-form of the baby Aliens cover the ground like a carpet.

It's a disappointing read, but then, it hardly matters in this particular collection, as it is but one of four stories, and it is sandwiched between two such great ones.

The Superman/Madman Hullabaloo by Mike Allred and Laura Allred

The second Aliens crossover is followed by Madman creator Mike Allred's three-issue, 1997 miniseries in which his signature creation meets the original and greatest superhero.

Allred was one of the greatest superhero comics artists of the time, and he remains as such–if anything, he's gotten better. His style is the sort that no longer seems as sought after by the Big Two as perhaps it should, but he he has a great line, and produces work that is clean, simple, just-flat-enough and classic-looking...more timeless than nostalgic. When I close my eyes and imagine "comic book art," its Allred's style that immediately springs to mind.

While the artist has long since done a great deal of work for both DC and Marvel, this was a rare and early example of Allred drawing non-Madman, non-Allred creations, and it is pretty glorious.

The plot finds Superman and Madman both aiding their respective bearded scientist friends in researching some weird energy at the same time, the result being a sort of cosmic collision in which they pass through one another and then materialize in one another's dimension.

Superman is in Madman's body, with an amalgamated costume (Allred is one of the great costume designers, and would have been up their with Alex Ross and Darwyn Cooke if I were Dan DiDio and I was trying to decide which artist to let redesign the whole DC Universe for The New 52; DiDio, obviously, went with Jim Lee instead), lands in Snap City. Madman, in Superman's considerably handsomer and more powerful body, lands in Metropolis, also with an amalgamated costume (here somewhat resembling a leather jacket-less '90s Superboy, but with more prominent yellow, and a strip of Madman-mask, so we'd recognize him).

While messing around on one another's Earth and meeting one another's supporting cast (Lois Lane and Professor Hamilton both get pretty big roles, while pretty much everyone from the Madman comics of the time show up), they figure out what's going on and how to fix it. Meanwhile, the collision dispersed bits of Superman's powers throughout both universes, so once restored the pair and their pals must track down individuals exhibiting super-strength and suck those powers out of them with a mad science device.

The root of all this madness? Mr. Mxyzptlk (Here pronounced "Mix-Yez-Pittle-Ick" rather than "Mix-Yez-Spit-Lick," as it was pronounced by Gilbert Gottfried on Superman: The Animated Series, which is how I've been pronouncing it since.)

While technically "in continuity," Allred's Superman and Lois are perfectly classic in their look and characterization, so that with only minor alterations to their clothing they could be Bronze Age, Silver Age or maybe even Golden Age Superman and Lois, or from various media. It's amazing what a good handle Allred had on the characters' essence, and the way he's able to boil them down so perfectly.

There's a neat scene where Madman asks Superman about God, and even a bit of a moral as Mxyzptlk challenges Madman to a magic-free challenge that can only be won physically. It's...well, it's pretty great.

The comic ends with a "The End?!" a gag referring to Dr. Flem's use of Madman as a sort of living crash-test dummy, but it's actually kind of disappointing that it did indeed turn out to be the end. At least we've since gotten to see Allred draw much of the DC Universe in his issue of Solo, and Metamorpho in the pages of Wednesday Comics and so many characters from the original Batman TV show on the covers of Batman '66 and...

Superman/Tarzan: Sons of The Jungle by Chuck Dixon, Carlos Meglia and Dave Stewart

The 2001 three-part miniseries Superman/Tarzan: Sons of The Jungle adhered to the popular (to the point of default) formula for Superman Elseworlds stories of the time: What if the rocket that carried baby Superman from the exploding Krypton to the planet Earth landed in some other place or some other time? Here the rocket crashes not only in late 19th Century Africa, but into the pages of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan origin story.

So just as the mutineers were about to strand Lord Greystoke and his pregnant wife Alice on the coast, they see a fireball from the sky and take it as a sign not to do so, instead taking them to the next port. The fireball was, of course, Superman's baby rocket. And so it is Kal-El rather than Tarzan who is discovered, adopted and raised by the apes, while the-man-who-would-have-been-Tarzan is born in English society, although he becomes a mopey, Byronic figure, aware that something's wrong, that he's not where he's supposed to be, and so he travels the world in a funk, looking for his place.

The characters' stories are too powerful to be altered for long, however, and the original Superman and Tarzan narratives gradually but inexorably reassert themselves. When Greystoke joins a aerial zeppelin expedition of the ruins of a lost city in Africa, an expedition covered by Lois Lane of the Daily Planet and her assistant Jane Porter,
they are shot down by Princess La and her people.

Superman, decked out in a leopard-skin loincloth with a red "S" drawn on his bare chest, comes to the aid of the white-skinned people who fell from the sky. Along the way, Lois falls for this powerful man of action, while Lord Greystoke and Porter ultimately decide to stay behind in Africa, Greystoke finally having found what he was missing there.

So, at the end, Superman becomes Superman (albeit a bit earlier than usual, and thus the costue he wears for a single panel at the end in Metropolis looks much more Flash Gordon than superehro, and Tarzan becomes Tarzan.

Of particular interest is a prose piece entitled "Sons of the Jungle?" written by Robert R. Barrett, identified as "Edgar Rice Burroughs archivist." He recounts the relationships between the two heroes who would eventually both become stars of prose stories, comic strips, comic books, film and television animation, highlighting Superman co-creator and writer Jerry Siegel's overture to Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1934, which included a treatment for a John Carter of Mars adaptation in "cartoon-form," to run alongside the Tarzan Sunday strips. Burroughs, as per policy, never even read the letter. Barrett also address Burroughs' reaction about bringing Tarzan from his jungle setting to the modern, civilized , urban world, which would of course have made him into more of a Superman-like figure, to which Burroughs objected, saying that if Tarzan could not "out-superman Superman...he might suffer by comparison."

As interesting as all this is, I particularly like the paragraph devoted to this comic book series, in which he says that Dixon's "quite...entertaining" story is "interestingly illustrated by the team of Carlos Meglia and Dave Stewart."

"Interesting" is certainly one way to refer to Meglia's art, which is unlike any generally applied to either Superman or Tarzan. Highly cartoony and animated, to the point that the static characters sometimes appear to lurch or launch across the panels, Meglia's arwork is exaggerated as it can be while still being readable. I like it–although I'm not so sure about his obsession with drawing individual strands of hair on a man's arm or chin–but it's certainly not what I would have thought to apply to a crossover of these two characters. I can't help but imagine what a Superman/Tarzan comic drawn by the likes of Joe Kubert circa 2001 might have looked like, for example.