Tuesday, August 19, 2014

DC's November previews reviewed

Come November of this year, DC's three-year-old "New" "52" line will be down to 47 comics, although that's counting limited series like Multiversity (which may or may not count as part of the New 52; I will be shocked if it's branded as such) and the three weekly series. Using the original conception of 52 ongoing series, they're actually down to just 43 series.

I wonder if anyone at DC ever wishes they named their new publishing initiative/shared setting something that didn't have a specific number in it, like, I don't know, The New Universe. Wait, no, that wouldn't be good.

It looks like November's variant theme will be Lego variants, and these vary from Marvel's early Lego variants in that the bendy-limbed minifigs are all leaping through black and white panels from the comics, in homage to DC's own month of zero issues.

The third weekly series Earth 2: Worlds' End will be in full swing by this point, and seems to be in sharp contrast to the other two weeklies (Batman Eternal and Futures End) in that it will apparently tie-in pretty directly other ongoings, with Earth 2 (obviously), Worlds' Finest (also rather obviously) and Constantine (?) all tying into it.

That seems like an awfully large page-count devoted to a storyline that hasn't generated great interest so far—Apokolips vs. a rather random Elseworld—but perhaps the the involvement from a character from this universe (er, that universe; Earth-New 52 or whatever) means the apostrophe is in the right place, and, as awkward as it may read, it actually refers to both Earths, just like Worlds' Finest.

Anyway, for the full solicits, you can click here; for me talking about them, you can stay where you are and merely scroll down at your leisure.

Written by JEFF PARKER
Lego Variant cover
On sale NOVEMBER 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Aquaman races to find his mother, who is suddenly very much alive – even though her presence threatens to destroy everything he has built in his kingdom

Wait, Martian Manhunter is Aquaman's mom?! That is a twist I did not see coming.

Written by DAN JURGENS
On sale NOVEMBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
While the secrets of their past continue to be used against them, The Others face down the lethal KGBeast...and it’s not going to go well! One of these heroes may not walk away from this confrontation!

While this isn't the last book I'd expect the KGBeast to show up, it's honestly pretty far down the list. Is this the Beast's first appearance in the New 52? If so, his costume, at least as it appears on the cover, isn't such a bad redesign (Although he's a character that I wonder has any real appeal outside of his history with Batman, which the reboot would necessitate readers not take into account).

Oh hey, and is that Cheshire there? She's wearing Cheshire's clothes, but seems to have gotten some face tattoos. Or be wearing some face camouflage. Or just be really confused as to how make-up works.

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by PATRICK GLEASON and MICK GRAY

On sale NOVEMBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
“Robin Rises” continues as Batman and his allies make their push toward the heart of Apokolips!

I have no idea why Red Robin, Red Hood and Batgirl are all wearing Robin body armor on this cover, but, in Red Robin's case, it looks a hell of a lot better than his usual costume.

It's not great, mind you, but with the staff and the utility belt, he looks more like himself than he has in a long time. Red Hood's battle hood there looks an awful lot like Dr. Fate's helmet, doesn't it? And Barbara Gordon seems to have gone blond. Or maybe she's Stephanie Brown and this is some alternate reality thingee...? I guess we'll see.

Written by JIRO KUWATA
Art and cover by JIRO KUWATA
On sale DECEMBER 3 • 352 pg, B&W with spot color, 1 of 3, 5.75” x 8.1875, $14.99 US • RATED T • DIGITAL FIRST
In the 1960s, at the height of the Batman TV series’ popularity, a shonen manga magazine in Japan serialized fifty-three chapters of original comics starring The Dark Knight, all written and illustrated by Managaka Jiro Kuwata. Now, DC Entertainment is proud to publish the complete Batman Manga adventures in English for the first time in three painstakingly restored volumes. The adventure begins when the Dynamic Duo faces the insidious threat of Lord Death Man!

Hell yeah, I'll take one of these.

Script by LEN WEIN
Cover by ALEX ROSS
1:25 Variant cover by JOSE LUIS GARCIA-LOPEZ and JOE PRADO
One-shot • On sale NOVEMBER 19 • 80 pg, FC, $9.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
During the original Batman television series run, legendary science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison turned in an outline for a story that would have introduced Two-Face. The story never made it to air, and Two-Face never entered the TV show’s Rogues Gallery. Now, “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” is adapted to comics by two comic book legends: writer Len Wein and artist José Luis Garcia-Lopez. Also included in this special edition are Ellison’s original prose story outline and the complete, original pencils by Garcia-Lopez.

Wow. Check out Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's and Joe Prado's Two-Face and TV version of the Dynamic Duo. It's probably worth noting that this is just one of three Batman '66 comics being published this month, including the sixth and final issue of Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet and the regular Batman '66 monthly.

Nice Catwoman cover, Jae Lee!

Nice Constantine cover, Juan Ferreyra.

On sale NOVEMBER 12 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Power Girl, Batman, Red Tornado and the new E2 Superman take on the Super Clones of Apokolips!

This series looks and sounds awful in every conceivable way, never more so than when editor Eddie Berganza was trying to sell it in a two-page advertorial feature, "5 Reasons to Pick Up Earth 2: World's [sic? The add consistently puts the apostrophe between the D and S] End."

Those reasons included "Bad-Ass Batman," as compared to the regular mewling version in the other 15 Batman books, I guess, and "Bring The Body Bags." Under that last reason, Berganza went on to say "Lots of  them."

But I was pretty surprised to see the name "Jan Duursema" pop up as one of the half-dozen artists on the issue. Duursema was the artist of the very first comic book I ever bought, the series that started me reading comics—DC/TSR's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—and has spent the last several years on Dark Horse's various Star Wars books. I was wondering what would happen to her (and many of the other Dark Horse Star Wars creators) once the license for tie-in comics officially transferred to Marvel Entertainment, and now I guess we know.

I wish she were working on something less-awful looking, and were drawing it herself, rather than being part of a Frankenstein's monster of an art team...

Speaking of Frankenstein's monster, there's the cover for Earth 2: Worlds' End #7. 

Art and cover by BRETT BOOTH and NORM RAPMUND
Lego Variant cover
On sale NOVEMBER 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Out of time! The Flash is trapped in a bizarre, lost land terrorized by castaways from the past, present, and future. But that leaves Central City without a hero...or does it?

I love dinosaurs, and loathe Booth's artwork (and Brett Booth in general, if his social media presence is indicative of the real Brett Booth), so the dinosaurs and Booth pretty much cancel each other out here.

Also, The Flash is one of the least interesting superheroes to have fight dinosaurs, given that they can't touch him. Also also, Booth does draw dinosaurs better than he draws everything else.

Written by RAY FAWKES
Art and cover by BEN TEMPLESMITH
On sale NOVEMBER 26 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
Strange doings are afoot in Gotham City! Look out, though – Jim Corrigan is on the case in this new series by writer Ray Fawkes (CONSTANTINE, BATMAN ETERNAL) and artist Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Ten Grand)!

Interesting. I haven't really enjoyed the Jim Corrigan thread of Batman Eternal, mostly because I have no idea who the new Corrigan is, how The Spectre works anymore or what the hell is going on exactly (additionally, Corrigan seems to be written as if he's old DCU Jason Blood rather than old DCU Jim Corrigan now), but a supernatural series set in Gotham City seems like a good premise. And that's a good assignment for Templesmith, too.

Can he keep a monthly schedule, I wonder? If not, might I suggest Kelley Jones and Ted Naifeh for fill-in artists to keep in mind...?

This Justice League Dark cover is gross and I hate it. Even though I love the work of Guillem March, the artist who produced it.

Art and cover by FRANK QUITELY
On sale NOVEMBER 19 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
Brace yourselves for the next exciting chapter of THE MULTIVERSITY as the acclaimed ALL-STAR SUPERMAN team of writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely investigate the conspiracy on Earth-4, home of Pax Americana! Told backwards through an experimental storytelling technique that reveals new mysteries with each turn of the page, PAX AMERICANA stars The Question, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Nightshade and Peacemaker like you’ve never seen them before! As the assassination of the U.S. president leads to political intrigue, interpersonal drama and astro-physical wonder, the truth behind the crime and those involved will blow your mind! What confidential conversation between the president and Captain Atom could reveal everything? How far will The Question take his hunt for the truth before he hurts his former friends – or himself? And who is the steel-handed bogeyman operating in the shadows? Discover all this and more in this exciting stand-alone issue which also acts as chapter four of the MULTIVERSITY storyline. Join us, if your dare, for THE MULTIVERSITY!

This will be maybe the most interesting of the Mutltiversity books from a few different angles, as this will essentially be Grant Morrison's version of Alan Moore's Watchmen (and I think it's noteworthy that Morrison wasn't one of the DC writers to tackle that embarrassing Before Watchmen project)I'm not sure to what extent Morrison will have written this chapter of Multiversity hat way, but this is Morrison writing the Charlton-originated superheroes that the analogues in Watchmen's cast was derived from, and Morrison can't have been unaware of the fact that he was doing so, and the results will certainly be read as Morrison's Moore's Watchmen.

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
On sale NOVEMBER 5 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E
When a test of Dr. Albrick Einstone’s time machine goes awry, Scooby and the gang find themselves the unexpected guests of everyone’s favorite modern Stone Age family, the Flintstones! And they’ve arrived just in the nick of time – because Bedrock is being plagued by that notorious spook, The Phantom of the Operrock!

Well, that's not a team-up I saw coming—surely Captain Caveman and The Teen Angels are an infinitely more likely group of cartoon characters for Scooby-Doo and the gang to rub shoulders with—but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to reading a bunch of stone and rock puns.

On sale NOVEMBER 19 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T • DIGITAL FIRST
Wonder Woman appears in a trio of tales with some offbeat guest stars! First, Diana and her friend Etta Candy are captured by Ra’s al Ghul, but he’s not the most surprising soul they meet. Then, a Thanagarian menace returns to Earth, and you won’t believe what Diana must do in her battle with Byth! Plus, the London police are confused as to why they caught Catwoman so easily. Fortunately, Wonder Woman is in town to take charge of the situation!

They had me as soon as I saw Etta Candy tackling a ninja, but I'm always up for more art from Haspiel and Mebberson, and I'm particularly interested to see Tom Lyle's name there, as I honestly can't remember the last time I saw his work, but he was one of the reasons I liked the Tim Drake character so much upon his initial introduction.

Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art and cover by DOUG MAHNKE
On sale NOVEMBER 12 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
Welcome the new creative team of writer Peter J. Tomasi (BATMAN AND ROBIN) and Doug Mahnke (JUSTICE LEAGUE)! The unity between Superman and Wonder Woman will be tested as never before as a mysterious group of villains make their New 52 debut – but first, Atomic Skull and Major Disaster cause trouble for our favorite heroic couple!

Whew, thank goodness this is at the fuck that noise price of $3.99, otherwise I'd be tempted to add this book to my pull-list, as I really like Doug Mahnke, and sometimes really like Tomasi, depending on the book and/or story arc.

That's it, New 52 Ladytron, or whoever you are! Get that costume! Tear it off! Destroy it!

Lego variant cover
On sale NOVEMBER 19 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Please welcome the new superstar creative team of writer Meredith Finch and artist David Finch! As this new epic begins, the fate of the Amazons is about to be revealed, major new characters will be introduced and a new villain will arrive with enough power to defeat the combined might of Wonder Woman and her Justice League teammates! Don’t miss the start of this story that guest stars Swamp Thing! It will define what it takes for Diana to fulfill her destiny as Wonder Woman!

So if one of complaints leveled at the original, pretty-damn-good writer of the New 52 Wonder Woman series was that the supporting cast was so large that the title character often got lost and seemed to sometimes play only a supporting role in her own book, I'm sure adding the Justice League and Swamp Thing into the mix will fix that right up.

I have nothing but reservations about this creative team ("superstar creative team"...? Is superstardom a transitive state, where one becomes a superstar by marrying a superstar? In comics?), although I'm sure I'll read their work in trade someday.

In the mean time, I'm having a hard time making up my mind-- Which of those two covers has a more realistic depiction of a human female, do you think...?

Monday, August 18, 2014

On Batman: The Cult

Batman: The Cult was a four-issue, "prestige format" miniseries published in 1988, veritably on the heels of 1986's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (another prestige format miniseries) and 1987's "Batman: Year One" story arc. The Cult was released the same year as Batman: The Killing Joke and "A Death In The Family," and the year before the original graphic novel, Arkham Asylum. It was therefore one of DC Comics' major Batman projects to see release during a creative peak in the character's history, during a time when mainstream superhero comics were completing their rather seismic shift from kid-oriented, all-ages fare to mature entertainment for primarily adult readers.

Obviously, The Cult wasn't as popular or influential as the other stories in the previous paragraph, as it didn't generate any sequels or direct-to-DVD animated adaptations, despite its impressive creative team of Jim Starlin (writer of the aforementioned "Death In..."), pencil artist Bernie Wrightson and colorist Bill Wray and despite its tonal similarities to some of those other books. (Although it occurs to me now that some aspects of it may have influenced the makers of feature film The Dark Knight Rises, although many of those aspects do overlap with aspects of the more obvious "No Man's Land" storyline).

As many Batman comics as I've read since I picked up the comics-reading habit in the early '90s, I've never read The Cult, nor felt compelled to pick it up by its reputation or references to its events in other comics. Until recently, my only relationship with the book was the memory of its very striking first issue cover, which I remember seeing hanging in plastic bags on the walls of the first comic shop I ever entered:
Like just about every other one of those Batman stories I've mentioned, save maybe "Year One," The Cult was remarkable for what exactly was in it; it's the sort of thing that read decades later, it's kind of hard to believe DC Comics actually published, let alone so long ago.

It's extremely bloody, maybe featuring more on-panel blood then any other Batman comic I can recall reading (and unlike some of the gorier affairs of recent years, it's extremely well-drawn, so if Starlin and company were going for cheap thrills, Wrightson and Wray sure made them look expensive). There's an awful lot of gunplay, with Batman and Robin taking up rifles (that shoot tranquilizer darts) and mounting a machine gun (ditto) and a missile launcher (no, these are real, explodey missiles) on their new Batmobile. Batman fantasizes about machine-gunning down Two-Face, and it turns out he was actually totally murdering a mobster with a gun—he was brainwashed at the time, but still.

Someone says "shithead." That's not a word you hear a lot in Batman comics.

The storyline is fairly insane. Batman has been captured, starved, deprived of sleep, drugged and lectured to by cultists in the thrall of Deacon Jospeh Blackfire, an extremely buff, cryptic Christian preacher with long white hair pulled back in a pony tail. The details of his invented religion are all pretty vague, with terms like light, dark, sin, redemption and truth thrown around, but he is dressed all in black, with a white collar and, of course, goes by the title of "deacon."

He is either an extremely gifted and charismatic con man, or an actual agent of the supernatural. He claims to have lived for centuries, and to have gained his immortality through a ritualistically bathing in blood once a month. The comic equivocates on which telling is true, presenting evidence to back up he latter, but not so much as to make it definitive.

This cult that Blackfire—subtle name, that—has assembled consists mainly of the homeless and downtrodden of Gotham, yet slowly grows to a huge size, and gains a degree of sympathy from Gotham's populace, conveyed through the very Dark Knight Returns means of talking heads on television shows, excerpted ad naseum throughou Starlin's script. These sewer-dwelling faithful fight crime in Gotham, by emerging from manholes and stabbing, chopping and bludgeoning criminals of any kind with knives, axes and clubs.

They eventually break Batman's will, and he joins Blacfire's murderous mob, until Robin Jason Todd is able to find and help Batman break his programming, a scene that culminates with a two-page splash page of the Dynamic Duo in a cavern filled with corpses (slowly revealed by a three-page build-up of many-paneled lay-outs of dialogue bubbles over all-black panels, gradually giving way to a twelve-panel page in which Todd's flashlight plays over the dead bodies. It's as grand guignol a moment as anything the more adult-oriented, death and dismemberment-filled DC comics of today offers—in fact, Batman: Earth One has a fairly similar scene—but it's so carefully constructed and meticulously dramatized that as over-the-top as the imagery may be, the comic and its makers earn the shock it brings with it.

Things spiral further and further out of control, Blackfire's cult doing to Gotham what it took the earthquake of "Cataclysm" to do to the city in the late '90s. They kill the mayor and assassinate the entirety of the city council. Commissioner Gordon catches a bullet that lands him in the hospital for the rest of the narrative. The police try to challenge the cult, and are mostly killed. The governor declares martial law, the city is evacuated and the National Guard get sent in...and they die in the sewers as well.

It eventually comes down to Batman, Robin and the new Batmobile, a sort of tank on wheels so gigantic that calling them monster truck wheels is an understatement; they're kaiju truck wheels (Batman tooled around in a similar vehicle during "Cataclysm," but the wheels of this Bamobile are the size of the entirety of that Bat-monster truck).
With this Batmobile's missile launcher, tranq dart machine gun and their rifles, Batman and Robin storm the city, taking out an army of hobos.
When Batman finally descends from the driver seat of his three-story tall truck, he does so on a long gangway that looks like something that would descend from a UFO. There he faces the last conscious hobo soldier, and tells him to warn Blackfire that he's coming for him (That's the splash page atop this post).

It all comes down to a fight to the finish between Batman and Blackfire, and, when Blackfire's followers see him laid low in physical combat by the Dark Knight, the cultists turn on their leader and kill him.

The end.


An appearance as a Black Lantern in 2009's Blackest Night: Batman aside—Batman has so few dead enemies that actually stayed dead—that was all we heard of Deacon Blackfire until this year's weekly series plotted by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, Batman Eternal.

In the second issue of the series, drawn by artist Jason Fabok, a skeletal specter wearing the garments of a priest appears within a cell at Arkham Asylum, and is identified by the inmate it approaches as "Blackfire."

The ghost of Deacon Blackfire is one of several major antagonists from throughout Batman's history that Snyder, Tynion and their co-writers have introduced into the series, and Blackfire is the villain of the supernatural sub-plot in which Batwing and Jim Corrigan struggle against worshipers, possessed victims and demons apparently serving a now out-and-out, unequivocally supernatural Blackfire.
The seventeenth issue of the series, scripted by Ray Fawkes and drawn by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs, includes a flashback to Snyder and Tynion's "New 52" version of the events of The Cult. In their rebooted version, they seem to have kept only the beginning and an element of the end of the story. It still begins with Batman starved, drugged and sleep-deprived, hanging from a pipe with his bat-symbol torn from his costume, but he rallies and escapes as soon as Blackfire comes within kicking range, and Blackfire's followers turn on and kill him immediately.
The whole bit with the taking over the city, killing hundreds and Jason Todd and the missile-launching super Bat-truck was apparently rebooted away.

It's one of the peculiarities of the New 52 DC Universe that the publisher and its editors and writers want to make near-constant use of the stable of characters and the elaborate backstories and history of the DC Universe, but they don't want to be beholden to those stories. So, in general, there exists this weird, quasi-secret crypto-continuity, where everything that happened before the reboot maybe/probably still happened in some form or another, just not the way you remember it, and not the way it happened in any of the many collections of older series DC would be happy to still sell you. The hows are generally ignored and glossed over unless they are meant to play a prominent role in the events, in which case they are dramatized, as they are here, but in a way that manifests the differences.

So I guess Snyder and Tynion and company wanted to use Blackfire, and some events of The Cult, and so reduced the story in size, scope and scale, to just two story beats of the original? It's a shame. Because The Cult is, as I said, insane, and Batman Eternal could and should draw attention to it. It's the reason I read it this month. I just find it peculiar that DC would drive readers to an old story, one that is likely still readily available at your local comic shop and library thanks to a 2009 reprinting of the collection, where they will only discover how drastically different it was from what the new, canonical version.


The trade collection opens with a three-page foreword by Starlin, originally penned in 1990, and sounding like it (he specifically mentions televangelists, Tipper Gore, Jesse Helms, the movements to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and to ban or censor rap albums). He writes about his history with the character and with comics, and how Baman comics have been negatively effected by public moralists seeking to control the contents of comics (i.e., the Seduction of the Innocent era scrutiny and the resulting Comics Code Authority, which kept words like "shithead" and scenes set in caverns of corpses out of Batman and Detective Comics, forcing the Caped Crusaders to do battle with aliens and robots).

I like introductions in my collections. If a comic book story isn't worthy of the writer or someone else writing a few hundred words about it, it probably isn't worth collecting in the first place, I say.

The very first words of the script are "This is insane!" So Starlin wasn't unaware of how crazy this story is. Those words are narrated by Batman, and appear in a narration box of an establishing shot of a gothic looking Wayne Mantor, high atop a steep hill and shaded mostly black, with a red, blood-splattered looking sky behind it, and the tiny figure of a boy also colored in red at the foot of the hill. This is Bruce Wayne as a boy, and before the page ends, he'll repeat "It's crazy...almost unreal."

It's a dream sequence, and Starlin and Wrightson send young Bruce Wayne wandering through the halls of his parents house until he meets The Joker, who offers one of those uncomfortably suggestive remarks he sometimes makes towards young boys, "My! What have we got here? Such a cute little boy! Just my type!"

"Ol' Uncle Joker" reveals a vest of dynamite, which he proceeds to light, and after a tense 13-panel page, it explodes, showering them in flowers. Young Bruce Wayne morphs into a full grown, long-eared, red-eyed, sharp-toothed Batman, looking a bit like a less exaggerated version of Kelley Jones' vampire Batman (Jones' Batman, I see, owes a lot to Wrightson).

Batman then proceeds to hack the Joker to pieces with an axe.
This is mere pages after Starlin's intro complained of the Comics Code stripping away Batman's "fearsome anger" and forced the character "to be something he wasn't: A happy, smiling father-figure chasing aliens around a Day-Glo Gotham City." Apparently, this is what Batman should be doing: Hacking his archenemies to death with axes. (Has DC Direct ever released an Axe-Murderer Batman action figure...?)

This was all in Batman's head, of course; we find him chained to a drain pipe underground, covered in blood, which is probably mostly his own, with his bat-symbol torn off his costume. One of the cultists tells him the story of Blackfire, which begins "over a thousand years ago" with "these Indians" that called themselves "The Miagani...The people."

I honestly thought they were an invention of Grant Morrison's, as he used them in his Batman run, specifically during the Return of Bruce Wayne stretch of it, making them into a sort Native Americans who have special reverence of the bat. Snyder has also mentioned them, in reference to the cave system that connects under Wayne Manor. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they predate Morrison's story, as so much of it was devoted to synthesizing various detritus from throughout Batman's 75 years of comics history into one big, mega-story.

The Miagani were the first people to meet "Shaman Blackfire," but they didn't believe in him, instead trying unsuccessfully to kill him and then sealing him away in a cave, where he waited, never dying rom the many arrow and spear wounds he suffered. Bad fortune then befell the Miagani. Blackfire was released centuries later by Dutch colonists, and the same pattern was repeated.

During the course of these events, Batman flashes back to how he wound up in these circumstances, how he first became aware of Deacon Blackfire and the mysterious murdererous that emerge from the sewers, massacre criminals, and descend back to whence they came they find a badly wounded Batman, and take him down with them, for conversion.

Gordon and Robin consult about Batman's disappearance, when he's been MIA for over a week. It's interesting how they solve the "problem" of Robin, this one still wearing the original yellow, red and green costume with shorts and pixie boots, for the dark, grim, gritty 1980s. Wray simply colors the panels extremely darkly; when Robin first appears, its in a dark office lit only by a desk lamp and a burning pipe, so he's all shadow, tinted in either yellow or blue.

Meanwhile, Blackfire debates with the now quite-rattled Batman, at one point injecting him with a powerful hallucinogenic drug. It's really rather hard to imagine this comic drawn by someone other than Wrightson. Check out this panel, as Batman is carried by two men while freaking the fuck out:

Here are some more of Wrightson and Wray's great Batman-out-of-his-Batmind images:

Gradually, the cultists start targeting less and less evil criminals, like teenager Don Perry, who simply works as a bagman for a numbers guy. He dreams, the narrator tells us, of becoming "a famous comic book artist. Just like Jack Kirby."

I don't know why, but that struck me as super-weird, seeing a real comic book artist name dropped like that, and as an artist a teenager in 1988 would aspire to emulate. Kirby's career wasn't exactly ideal, despite his titanic creative achievements and the regard his peers held him in. If Don really wanted to make money, he should be seeking to emulate Stan Lee or, I don't know, in the late '80s? Frank Miller? Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird? Alan Moore....?
It ultimately doesn't matter, as he's brutally killed. Off-panel. If you look at his sketch on the far right there, you can see he does a pretty good Kirby-style hand.

Here's another odd scene, in which the character Batman knows only as Ratface introduces him to a neighbor of his, and tries to convince Batman that the character is a pimp. It feels odd in 2014 for how blunt and unequivocal the racism on display is, not only in Ratface's confessed motive ("I've seen him with white girls!"), but the way Wrightson draws the cartoon pimp, and way Wray colors the the "real" panel vs. the suggestive, hallucinatory panel.
The man is a black man, but you can't tell in the more realistically colored ones, where his skin is the same shade of shadow as his clothes and car, as the white skin of Batman and Ratface, where his skin pops as brown in the cartoon-colored hallucination.

Batman's not convinced entirely. Ratface kills his neighbor, and when a police officer arrives, Batman sees Ratface as a little red devil. He knocks him out, but then also knocks out the police officer, and then runs away to the park, where what is probably my favorite part of the whole crazy story occurs.

The part where Batman turns into Yogi Bear, stealing picnic baskets:

Eventually, Batman and Robin reunite in the sewers, discover what goes on behind the scenes of Blackfire's cult, including the aforementioned cavern of corpses, and they make their escape. The Boy Wonder, who Wray still colors in a very muted palette, so even when his more garish colors are on display, they're not bright primary colors, but reddish-brown, green-ish brown and yellow-ish brown, helps Batman keep it together:

Finally, Robin gets his revenge for all those slaps Batman's delivered via meme over the years!

Things get worse and worse for the city, until Batman and Robin gear-up, and things get less horror movie, and more 1980s action movie.

It is, as I said, insane, culminating with Batman and Robin running through the sewers, gunning down their opposition, until Robin takes a slug to the leg. Batman picks up a revolver—a real, bullet-shooting kind—and goes to face a Blackfire who is intent on being martyred. Batman decides not to shoot. He beats the living hell out of Blackfire and takes his knife, ultimately deciding not to kill Blackfire at all. Blackfire's followers do the job instead, in a decidedly bloodier way than its staging in Batman Eternal:
The death of Blackfire, in The Cult #4.

The death of Blackfire, in Batman Eternal #17.
(One strange aspect of the stating of the rebooted version of Blackfire's death is the fact that Batman makes no move to save his foe, despite being mere steps away from him, and in apparently in much better shape then he was in The Cult. In the first version, he at least makes an excuse for not attempting to save Blackfire from his followers.)

All in all, it's as weird a Batman story as I've ever read, if not the weirdest, and that weirdness is in large part what makes The Cult awesome, and probably well worth revisiting and reconsidering.

I remain puzzled by semi-reboot aspects of The New 52, as both a business model and a mode of creating good comics, but as puzzling as the decision to make Batman Eternal at least partially a sequel to The Cult while rewriting the events of The Cult may be, at least Snyder, Tynion and company are potentially driving a new generation of readers to Starlin, Wrightson and Wray's demented should-be classic.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reading (and reviewing) my way through that package from Mirage Publishing

As previously mentioned, I recently-ish secured a pretty fat stack of Mirage-published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics which I ordered directly from the publisher online; they are apparently in a "ramping down" phase, according to their site, but they still have plenty of pretty good deals.

For example, a collection of Mark Martin's three issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in their original black and white, sells for $7, whereas the IDW collection featuring the exact same contents only (poorly) colorized will run you $17.99.

Here's what I got, and, as always, what I thought...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #45: The sewer-dwelling mutant alligator Leatherhead should be something akin to a cousin of the Turtles. Not only is he a reptile, but he became an anthropomorphic one thanks to exposure to the same mutagenic compound of the TCRI aliens that mutated the Turtles and Splinter.  The character made his first appearance in a 1987 issue of the original volume of Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and in this one-off issue by Dan Berger, he returns.

Like a lot of the issues of TMNT from this period—this was 1992, and still five issues away from the epic, 13-part "City At War" mega-arc that closed out the first volume of the series—how and where this particular story fits into the greater Turtles story is ambiguous, as our heroes are in New York City, and fighting remnants of the Foot Clan when the story begins.

Berger opens with a quite conscious three-page homage to Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, including a two-page splash in which he "covers" that from the characters' first appearance. His Turtles are big and blocky, and have a great deal of texture and shadow about them (Leatherhead's creator, cartoonist Ryan Brown, is credited with tones on the book). His most notable innovation is in Raphael's teeth. I suppose he was going for an evil grin of some sort ("I feign insanity," he narrates the opening fight scene, "Makes it more fun for me, an' it gives Leo justification for my..."BEHAVIOR"), but he gives Raphael about ten times too many teeth (well, it was the '90s), so he looks like he's got the mouth of a mutant baleen whale).

The opening scene is a deliberate echo of the Turtles' fight with The Purple Dragons, but here they are fighting Foot ninja. As is explained afterwards, the Foot are in disarray after the (second) death of The Shredder, and there's something of a ninja crime wave currently effecting the city. One of the Foot soldiers then takes over narrating, and we get the story of four Foot (these ones wearing different and differentiated costumes), as they flee the Turtles only to end up in Leatherhead's clutches.

They agree to help the alligator man complete his "Transmat Device," with which he hopes to teleport himself to his human family (he need nimble human fingers to perform some of the work). Together, the Turtles and Foot help him, but it's all for naught: His machine blows up, leaving Leatherhead swearing vengeance on everyone involved.

It's an extremely talky, and somewhat silly story, but it fits in nicely with the ongoing Foot plot, and, as is always the case with the Turtles comics of t is period, it's interesting to see different artists offer their own interpretations of the characters.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #46-#47: This two-part story is by frequent TMNT contributor Michael Dooney (#13, #27, a four-part contribution to the Turtle Soup mini, etc), and is, according to the introduction by publishers Eastman and Laird, inspired by Dooney's contribution to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Portfolio, which included nine color plates. Dooney's was of Leonardo dressed like a samurai, the ditzy timelord-in-training Renet  (from #8, the Cerebus crossover) slung over his shoulder.

In fact, this story has an awful lot of continuity in it for a Turtles comic, as it not only features Renet and the evil time lord Savanti Romero, but also Hattori, from TMNT #7 (the "Pre-Teen" Mutant Ninja Turtles issue, where the characters had different masks and used different weapons).

The plot of the story, "Masks," involves Hattori coming to the Massachusetts farmhouse, suffering from   something that Splinter's mystic ninja arts tells him involves someone attempting to change the past in a way that effects Hattori's ancestors. Enter Renet, who Dooney draws sans cape or funny helmet (so basically just in a bathing suit), and writes in her original, more Valley Girl conception. She takes the Turtles back in time to set things right and what, exactly, was setting things wrong?
Another time-displaced, reptile-man: An anthropomorphic dinosaur samurai named Chote, who serves a mysterious lord whose identity I've already spoiled.

Dinosaur samurai vs. regular samurai! Ninja turtles vs. samurai! Ninja turtles vs. dinosaur samurai! Renet and Romero, the latter dressed in a new, 14th century Japanese costume for much of the proceedings! All drawn by Dooney, one of the all-around better TMNT artists, as he had his own distinct style, but not one that was so radically different from that of Eastman and Laird that the style overwhelmed the story and took focus from the characters.

And, on the subject of samurai, these issues must have been published just as Mirage was gearing up to publish Stan Sakai's Space Usagi miniseries, as #46 included four pages of Sakai's sketches and design work, and #47 included an eight-page story entitled "Hare Today, Hare Tomorrow," in which a scientist friend of the Usagi of the future's machine accidentally pulls the original Usagi Yojimbo out of a battle with ninjas and into the present...temporarily.
Reading "Masks," I was reminded of reading something one of the Turtles' two creators said around the time that the computer-animated TMNT movie came out (so I'm assuming it was Laird), how they never intended for The Shredder to become the sort of Darth Vader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe. Which makes sense; they did kill him off in the very first issue (Although he returned, sort of, in Leonardo #1, and that return explained in the "Return to New York" storyline and...that was pretty much if for The Shredder in the original volume of the Mirage series and related publications, right? Three stories? Only one of which featured the real Shredder, the other two bizarrely created worm-colony clones?).

By contrast, Savanti Romero appeared in TMNT #8, Tales of the TMNT #7 and this two-issue storyline. That's three times as many appearances as that of the "real" Shredder (He would also appear in the next volume of Tales of... too, but then, so to did worm-colony clone Shredder). I found myself wondering, given his more frequent appearances, why Romero was never a villain of any great import in later or extra-comics appearances of the Turtles—there have now been five feature films, for example, three of which feature The Shredder and zero of which feature Romero—but, just as I was wondering, I answered my own question. Because The Shredder was the guy in the cartoon, duh.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #48: This issue marks a pretty major turning point in the story of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story, being the first part of a two-issue prelude to the 13-part "City At War" storyline that closes out the original volume of the series, and finds a more-or-less stable creative team in place, with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird once again heavily involved. Here they're credited with the story, while Laird and pencil artist Jim Lawson share the script credit, with Keith Aiken inking (and A.C. Farley providing the cover).

The characters are doing something of a routine training mission. Casey Jones gets a three-hour head-start to hide somewhere in the nearby city of Springfield, Massachusetts, while April drives the Turtles into town and drops them off. An elaborate game of ninja hide-and-seek, they have until 1 a.m. to find Casey and get a ride home and, if they lose, they have to hike all 20 miles back.

Things go really, really wrong when a trio of young thugs try to mug him in a playground (why they chose to pull a knife on a big guy wearing a hockey mask and a golf bag full of sporting equipment with which to hit them, I don't know). Casey accidentally hits one of the kids a little too hard, and kills him, something that should happen in superhero comics on a fairly regular basis, but pretty much never does, one of those little conceits of the genre readers just have to learn to accept if they're going to read the damn things (Casey in particular should probably being killing people left and right, given he's an untrained vigilante whose weapons of choice include hockey sticks, baseball bats and golf clubs; bashing in the heads of ninja assassins seems a little more acceptable than street criminals).

Local vigilante Nobody, a costumed vigilante who is a police officer by day and who previously met the Turtles in an issue of Tales of..., tries to bring Casey down for the crime, but the Turtles intervene. The pay-off for all of this, and a few panel interlude in which April's truck breaks down and a stranger offers to help, will come in the next issue, where the makeshift family unit of the Splinter, The Turtles, April and Casey will break apart, drifting into four different directions for "City At War."

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Flaming Carrot Crossover #2-#4: I read the first issue of this series in 1993, and then the comic shop in my home town either folded or didn't order the rest of the story, so I never found out what happened next. Until now!

Despite the title, The Flaming Carrot plays a relatively small role in the proceedings, as he is just one of the many Mystery Men characters who appear in the story, characters who would go on to get their own bad movie with a great cast in 1999 (Beating the X-Men to the silver screen by a year!).

The first issue of the story, entitled within as "The Green Flame," featured the two teams journeying to South America independently to investigate strange goings-on in the jungle. Bizarre little creatures made entirely of green fire were sighted, and a team of scientists went missing. The Turtles are here working with the U.S. military, which is obviously pretty weird, but presented in a purely matter-of-fact way, while the Mystery Men are of independent superhero team, like a highly-dysfunctional Justice League.

The story is...well, it's not much good, to be honest. I enjoyed the first issue in large part because it was my first introduction to the weird-ass Mystery Men characters—The Shovelor, The Spleen, Screwball (who scans an awful lot like the modern Deadpool without guns), Star Shark, Mister Furious, etc—but once the story gets going in earnest, it's fairly random and meandering in its plot, and the Turtles are for the most part superfluous to the story, and play roles that any of the other Mystery Men easily could have played.

The plot basically boils down to this: A bunch of crazy shit happens for four issues. Which, fair enough, the comic does have "Flaming Carrot" in the title, so that's works well enough. But having waited over 20 years for the conclusion, it obviously didn't live up to what I was expecting (That said, if IDW republished this, and included the original TMNT appearances from Flaming Carrot's own comic, I would totally buy that trade).

The creative team for the first issue was a pretty much ideal one for the endeavor: Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden wrote it, and TMNT artist Jim Lawson drew it, with Mary Woodring coloring the art (and doing a damn site better than whoever colorizes those IDW collections does).  By the second issue, however, artist Neil Vokes takes over some of the drawing, and Eric Vincent the coloring, with Vokes and Vincent handling all of issues #3 and #4.

I like Vokes' work just fine, but it's a pretty jarring change from that of Lawson, and it seems unusual to find this sort of thing on a small-press book like this, as, in my mind at least, I tend to associate it with DC Comics' recent attempts to never miss a shipping date (unless its a Jim Lee-drawn book), no matter how many different artists have to draw a single issue (Say, did anyone read New Suicide Squad #2 this week? One artist did layouts, and four others did finishes; and that's a 20-page comic!).

The Collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 2:
The specific issues of the original  TMNT run collected in this book—#12, #13 and #14—were among Holy Grail-like ones to me when I was a teenager, just setting out reading and collecting comics. These issues were among the few that were new enough that they weren't collected in the fairly massive Vol. 1 (which collected the first 11 issues, plus the four "micro-series" one-shots), but were old enough that I could never, ever find them in back-issue bins.

It was therefore quite a pleasure to finally get my hands on this collection, which included those early but not that early issues of the series. Plus I've always dug that evocative A.C. Farley cover, of the Turtles scaling a building, Raphael already at the top, with his mask down.

The first of these is an all Peter Laird issue (with Steve Lavigne providing the lettering), in which Splinter, April, Casey and the Turtles are enjoying a picnic in their still-new, rural, post-Leonardo #1 farmhouse existence. They're interrupted by a lost and hysterical grad student, who manages to sputter enough about his crazy, survivalist militia captors before being shot by one of them to put the fear of nuclear armageddon into our heroes: Apparently, he has been forced to build a crude nuclear bomb for the bad guys.

The bulk of the issue is thus devoted to the survivalist hunting Splinter and the Turtles, who get to show off their ninja skills taking them down, before the bomb can be set off.

That's followed by Michael Dooney's #13, "The People's Choice," the first Eastman-less, Laird-free fill-in issue of the series (Lavigne once again provides the letters). I just recently wrote about this story when discussing IDW's collection of early Turtles comics in their colorized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comics Classics #1. This is the one where the guys encounter a female politician/warrior from another planet who is pursued by another politician/warrior from another planet, where elections are settled by battle. As the second lady has four aliens to help her kill the first, the Turtles join in to even the odds. Unsurprisingly, it reads much better in black and white than the rather hurried, poorly done re-coloring job of the IDW collection.

The final issue is by Eastman and Talbot, and is a sort of gangster movie pastiche set in Northampton. Casey Jones, wearing a fedora and trench coat with his hockey mask, assigns himself a case: To find the missing cow statue torn from atop a local business. The case gradually involves April, who we learn is working as a waitress in town now (I always wondered what they did for money in the country; if they were just living off April's savings account or what) and the Turtles, who, before all is said in done, wear human clothes and hold guns...although they never actually seem to shoot them at anyone.

It makes for a pretty fun genre mash-up, as so many of the comics from this period seem to be interested in, and has a lot of characters, a lot of players and a lot of moving parts, making for a particularly meaty single-issue story.

Not included in the collection?

This pretty swell, if not exactly centered, wrap-around cover featuring the characters in gangster movie drag.

The Collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 3: Say, is this cover image by A.C. Farley what inspired 1993 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III? It sure looks like a more detailed, more serious version of the Turtles-as-samurai image from the movie's poster.

This slim trade collects three extremely different comics of the original series, by some rather different artists. Within are 1988's #15 and 1989's #17 and #18, each of which features a different setting and a different genre for the Turtles characters to rub up against and become enfolded by.

The first of these is Peter Laird's "Dome Doom," featuring inks by Jim Lawson, which is an honest-to-goodness, straightforward superhero story, the first of the series, predating Michael Dooney's one-issue story of Radical and Carnage in #27 by a year or so.

In it, Casey and a poorly disguised Raphael and Michaelangelo are in a comic book store, shopping and discussing other Mirage Comic Puma Blues, when some robots attack the joint: It seems the store is run by two former, retired superhereos, who used to run with the team Justice Force: "Stainless" Steve Steel and Metalhead.

The robots were sent by their old, aged enemy Dr. Dome, and the heroes convene their similarly retired teammates as Mike, Raph and Casey call up their teammates, and soon the action shifts to a house full of superheroes and vigilantes besiege with his robots.

The Turtles seem sort of out of place in the story, but they are meant to be. Aside from Metalhead, Laird's hero creations aren't terribly original or interesting—there's a stretchy guy, a speedster, etc—but the idea of a couple of former superheroes managing a comic book shop is rather inspired, and the friction between the most prevalent genre of American comics with the Turtles comic is just as fun as it's meant to be.

One neat thing about the book at this point, when Eastman and Laird were still contributing to various extents, was how different it would look from issue to issue, depending on who was penciling and who was inking. This issue stands in extremely sharp contrast to the next one collected here, as Laird and Lawson use relatively few lines, and the art looks very open, bright and airy, particularly considering that it's in black and white.

That next issue is drawn by Eric Talbot, and written by Talbot and Kevin Eastman. Entitled "Distractions," for a reason that will be obvious on the last page, it is essentially just a weird goof of a comic, in which a lone Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle—who turns out to be Michaelangelo—finds himself in a high-fantasy samurai narrative, complete with a wizard, in a land that evokes feudal Japan. It reads like a rather feverish mash-up of Lone Wolf and Cub and Conan, and while I loved it upon first reading some 20 years ago now, the story seems weaker and weaker with each subsequent reading.

Not that it necessarily needs to be all that strong, given the premise: The last page, a splash, features Mikey in his room at his desk, a stack of papers full of hand-writing next to him, a pen in his hand, as he rubs his head and asks his cat, "Well, that's the story so far, what do you think, Klunk—too corny?"

Talbot's artwork on the story, on the other hand, seems just as good, gritty, imaginative and exciting now as it did when I first read it. His art remains among my favorite of the series after Eastman and Laird's own, and this story in particular is full of meticulously inked and shaded imagery. It would be harder to imagine a story that visually contrasts more strongly with the previous superhero story. Without one of them being in color, of course.

The final issue is credited to Kevin Eastman and Mark Bode, though the credits go into no greater detail than that. The artwork is definitely that of Bode, and, according to comics.org, Eastman and Bode co-wrote the script, while Eastman and Talbot inked Bode's pencils.

A sort of unofficial Turtles/Bruce Lee team-up, this story, entitled "Shell of the Dragon," finds our four heroes traveling to China, where they immediately witness a restaurant being vandalized as part of the villainous gangster Beancurd's plan to force all of the area restaurants to use his dangerous and unnatural ingredients. The turtles intervene, just when Bruce Lee stand-in Chang Lee, the nephew of the restaurant's owner, appears.

Together the five of them take on the gang and, obviously, ultimately arise triumphant.

Bode's art is somewhat unusual for the series, although we are by now entering a point where "unusual" starts to become "usual" in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ongoing. Most of the characters who aren't Lee are extremely cartoony in design—just as much so as the title characters, really—and Bode does this neat thing where all of the sound effects and dialogue bubbles appear in the white space above each panel, so none of the words obscure any of the art.

It's a great deal of fun to see the Turtles in a setting, starring in what is essentially a comic book version of a kung fu movie. Bode would return to the title again in about a year's time, for 1990's #32, in which the Turtles journey to Egypt and do battle with Egyptian gods.

This single issue was also released as a color special, which is how I first read it.

The Collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 5: This volume also includes three issues of the original Mirage volume of Turtles comics, which are among the weirder of those from the anthology-like era of the title. What binds the three issues—1988's #17 and 1989's #22 and #23—together is that all three are the work of Mark Martin, one of the more singular creators to have offered his own particular version of the Eastman and Laird's creations over the years.

In fact, the only bit of this collection not by Martin is the cover, which like all of those for the collected books, is drawn by A.C. Farley. It's interesting to see Farley's very particular, very realistic take on the turltes and Splinter sharing space with Martin's creations Dale Evans McGillicutty and Gnatrat on the cover, neither of whom look particularly close to Martin's designs for them (particular Dale).

All three comics are rather closely related, and all three are ones I had never yet read before, despite really loving the covers for all of them:

The first is narrated by little girl Dale Evans McGillicuty, who uses a rather neat looking time machine that resembles a flexible white cube to tell a fast-paced, light-hearted time travel story that cycles around a few times in a pretty fascinating way, and which the Turtles get swept up in. Martin draws them for the first time almost exactly as they appear on the cover Teenage Mutant Ninja Turltes #1 (complete with Donatello having a katana tucked into his belt wile holding his bo staff), and, after that first appearance in a large panel, their designs vary only rather slightly. In a way, Martin's Ninja Turtles are truer to Eastman and Laird's designs in the original comic than Eastman and Laird's are in the comics that followed it.

The following pair of stories more heavily involve the Turtles, as well as Splinter, Dale and Martin's own creation Gnatrat, a Batman parody who is an anthropomorphic rat who dresses in a gnat-themed costume (He's appeared in a handful of comics beyond these ones, none of which I've been able to track down).

In the far-flung future of 1995, a strange, floating alien called a Skwal approaches Dale and tells her that the only way she can save Earth is travel back in time 2 million years to make life easier for Homo Habilis, which leads to an un-PC joke it might be harder to get away with today—
The Skwal's theory is that if life was easier for the humanity at the dawn of man, Earth might turn out to be a bettter, more peaceful, more paradisical world. Dale complies, and it turns out the Skwals were right, but their motivation was sinister: With Earth a peaceful paradise, it will be much easier for them to conquer. Dale then recruits The Fannywhacker, Gnatrat's truant officer identity in the new world (as truancy is the worst crime left to fight) to go back in time and un-pamper that homo.

Meanwhile, April receives a bomb-threat, and the Turtles tear the house apart looking for it, but to no avail...their bodies are destroyed in the blast. Splinter, who is a much more light-hearted, acidic and funny character here than usual, stores their brains in robot bodies while he repairs their physical bodies using his secret Eastern mystic arts, and they must fight a little crime while in those cobbled-together robot bodies.

They also spend some time reverted back to normal turtles, after Dale "fixes" Earth for the Skwals to invade, and before Gnatrat can un-fix it.

Much of the second half of the story involves Gnatrat recruiting his friend Splinter—independent comics anthropomorphic rat characters apparently all knew each other in the late-eighties—to help him return to his own time.

It's all pretty silly stuff, but still well within the acceptable level of silliness of your average TMNT story of the time. Those last two issues featuring Gnatrat are a pretty interesting example of a very organic Turtles crossover with a relatively minor character from the indie comics of their day. Everyone remembers Dave Sim's Cerebus and Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, but the likes of Martin's Gnatrat and Matt Howarth's Those Annoying Post Bros seem to slip through the cracks.

The Collected Paleo: Tales of the Late Cretaceous: There are no turtles in this trade paperback collection, unless one counts the archelon in book four, but this is nevertheless the work of the Mirage family of creators. It's the work of Jim Lawson, who has probably produced more pages of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle art than any other creator in the characters' 30-year-existence. He writes and draws every panel of every issue. But, in addition, Peter Laird assisted on inks on two of the six issues collected here, A.C. Farley designed the book, Laird and Farley lettered it and Michael Dooney painted over Larson to help provide the cover of the collection (and the usually quite beautiful individual covers of the series, which only appear in black and white within this all-black-and-white collection).

A dinosaur comic in the tradition of Ricardo Delgado's Age of Reptiles or S.R. Bissette's Tyrant, each issue of Lawson's Paleo tells the story of a different dinosaur—or prehistoric dinosaur contemporary—in a dramtic fashion, while trying to keep the temptation to anthropomorphize the characters at bay as much as possible. The "characters" have no names, no motivation beyond survival and no emotions or feelings beyond the more primal, animal ones of hunger, fear, pain, frustration, exhaustion and so on. Each issue is basically a sort of dinosaur documentary, necessarily extrapolated and dramatized rather than based on direct observation, but seemingly hewing fairly closely to more modern paleontological thought as it existed at the beginning of the 21st century.

In the first issue, a young female triceratops becomes separated from her herd by large Daspletosaurs and flees into the forest, where she encounters a series of dangers, and, at the climax, she faces one of them, and is saved by an unlikely "ally." The second focuses on a pack of raptor-like Dromeosaurs as they hunt and are hunted. The third features a young, bone-headed Stegoceras' short, tragic relationship with a Quetzalcoatlus following the death of his mother at the hands, foot-claws and jaw of a pack of Dromeosaurs. Book four stars a Plotosaurus, a huge sea-going mososaur, as it seeks prey in the shallows of the coast and the deep of the ocean, constantly competing with other large predators for every kill. Book five stars an aging Albertosaurus, who finds himself in a due-to-the-death with a fellow predator, a younger Tyrannosaurus. And, finally, in book six, we hear the entire life story of one of the era's most successful if smaller predators, a dragonfly (Lawson gets all of the protagonist species on to the cover of the book, though you'll have to look closely to see the dragonfly and the Plotosaurus).

With the exception of the final story, which gets some mileage out of the breathless narration suggesting a bigger, badder predator than the dragonfly that eventually emerges, and mmmaaayybe the fifth issue, which features some of the best writing, the stories could probably due without Lawson's narration, and the only thing that would really be lost would be the specific names of the specific species.

The storytelling, and the art, is that good.

Those who have only see Lawson's art on his Ninja Turtles books might be surprised by how it looks here, given the great degree of detail he invests in all of his prehistoric creatures, and the world they move through. It's really quite incredibly detailed, full of rich linework which, when paired with the lack of human and/or anthropomorphic character, removes it quite far from Lawson's usual work (The dinosaurs here are even more richly designed and rendered than other Lawson dinosaurs I've seen, like those in his illustrations for the Palladium RPG source book, Transdimensional TMNT).

These stories (the first five of which you can find serialized online here) are book-ended by two really great features.

There's a ten-page essay serving as an introduction to the book entitled "The Paleo Path: Paleo and the History of Dinosaur Comics" by Bissette, who knows a thing or two about dinosaur comics (and has the issues of Tyrant to prove it). In addition to singing Lawson's praises, he also offers a very thorough history of dinosaur comics, carefully separating comics with dinosaurs in them (in Lawson's case, that would include his early-nineties two-issue Dino Island and his kickstarted Dragonfly) from true dinosaur comics, featuring dinosaurs in realistic, human-free comics devoted solely to dinosaurs (Sticking with Lawson, Paleo).

And, in the back and labeled as "bonus material," is a short, six-page, wordless story in which two predatory dinosaurs, with the basic features of raptors, only of very small stature, fight. It's beautifully rendered, and much differently than all that proceeded it. It's told in reverse silhouette, with the figures and plant life all solid white, and the black ground all black.
It's a really beautiful piece.