Friday, May 18, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: May 16th

Batman #47 (DC Comics) Wow, was that dark. I don't often ask this sort of thing about Batman writers, given that darkness so long suffused the character and his adventures, but, um, is current Batman writer Tom King okay? Should someone maybe check on him...?

This is the third (and hopefully final) chapter of "The Gift," an too-long story arc in which Booster Gold attempts to get Batman a "For The Man Who Has Everything"-style wedding gift by rescuing his parents in the past and then de-rescuing them later, purposely creating one of the more depressing and nightmarish alternate futures of Batman's career full of depressing nightmarish alternate futures. Seriously, this makes The Dark Knight Returns look like Batman '66.

At a single issue, complete with the "Oh shit, now what?" ending, it might have been a kind of funny "Ha ha, Booster is dimwitted" done-in-one lark (albeit a dark lark). Instead, each of the following chapters has gotten darker and darker and bloodier and bloodier, to the point where this issue ends with just about everyone from the alternate future dead, mostly shot to death, a Bruce Wayne who shoots himself in the head, a Booster Gold dead and the presumably real Batman and Catwoman looking on in grim-faced silence while the presumably real Booster Gold is traumatized and in shock, even his sassy robot companion Skeets unable to utter a quip.

Seriously, this is some Max Lord-shooting-Ted Kord-in-the-head level darkness. Bwa. Ha. Ha.

Justice League: Not Justice #2 (DC) Team Testosterone, errrr, Team Entropy takes the cover for this second issue of the series, which seems to bring us up to the point in the narrative that the DC Nation #0 short story was set around, with the characters divided into their four teams, each going about a different task on Colu, while Green Arrow awaits the threat on Earth. There's a bit of a last-page surprise entrance of an unexpected character (who actually makes a lot of sense appearing where he does, in retrospect).

As in the first issue, some panel-space is afforded to demonstrate that J'onn J'onnz is the natural leader among all these characters, presumably setting up his return to the Justice League and its new iteration.

One element I found particularly funny, although not written as a joke, is the fact with Braniac having abducted all four super-teams with their own comic book series--the Justice League, the Teen Titans, the Other Titans and the Suicide Squad--Green Arrow and Amanda Waller talk about how Earth is defenseless, having lost all its superheroes (the members of those teams who aren't on the four No Justice color-coded mini-Leagues are in stasis tubes somewhere). I mean, I'm pretty sure there's at least 100 superheroes hanging around--there's at least three wearing a Superman-like S-shield on their chests, for example--and many of them would probably love to be given something useful to do. (I doubt it will come to pass, but this would be a good time have Waller collect and rally some of those "New Age of Heroes!" heroes; banding together to fight off world-eating space giants while the A-List heroes are in outer space would be like a superhero debutante debut, you know?)

Persephone (Archaia) Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky's retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone is a fairly fascinating remix, as it loses Orpheus completely, diminishes Hades' role, greatly emphasizes that of Demeter, and no longer has any sort of romantic component. Those changes are probably for the better, given that she is the protagonist of the story; why then make it the story of the guy who wants to marry and/or ravish her, and the other guy who wants to marry her...?

The story is so radically changed, however, that if those names and a few of the proper names were changed, one might not necessarily recognize this as a retelling of the Persephone myth. That's in large part because it is set in a peculiar land, far removed from its ancient Greek origins. In fact, its mixture of magic and a modern, early 20th-century Europe reminded me quite a bit of Full Metal Alchemist. Locatelli-Kourwsky's gorgeous artwork is almost as Japanese in its look and feel as it is European, and it is well worth picking the book up just to drink in all that gorgeous artwork. This was an impulse buy for me, and wasn't even on my radar, but I'd encourage you to make sure its on your radar.

I hope to write about this book more later in the coming weeks.

Star Wars: Lost Stars Vol. 1 (Yen Press) Is it just me, or does anyone else find it extremely weird that Disney went and bought themselves a whole comic book company in Marvel, but whenever it comes to adapting Disney-owned properties into comics, particularly those geared at anyone other than middle-aged Marvel Zombies, they turn to other publishers? For Star Wars, that has meant IDW publishing Star Wars Adventures and that hit-or-miss-but-mostly-hit Forces of Destiny series of one-shots and, now, Yen Press publishing the translated version of a Star Wars manga.

This is the first volume of a manga adaptation of novelist Claudia Gray's 2015 young adult novel of the same name. Yusaku Komiyama handled the adaptation and the art, and Gray gets top billing for the original story. Opening just before the battle on the ice planet of Hoth at the opening of Empire Strikes Back, it stars a Rebel Alliance pilot, who defected from the Empire, and his childhood friend, who didn't, before flashing back to their childhood to show how they came to be on opposite sides of the conflict.

The characters from the original trilogy appear, occasionally just in illustrative images, as in an opening image reminding readers of the conflict, with a panel devoted to the villains of the Empire (Vader, The Emperor, Grand Moff Tarkin) and the heroes of the Rebellion (you know who). Occasionally we see Han and Chewbacca bickering atop the Millennium Falcon as they prepare to abandon the Rebellion, Leia looking worried as they do, etc.

I didn't read the book--or listen to it, as audiobooks are the way I normally consume Star Wars novels, as those have John Williams music and laser sound effects--so I can't speak to how well the adaptation element goes, but I really rather enjoyed this as a standalone manga. Plus, I kind of love seeing manga Peter Cushing, or Chewie's angry face as a semi-super-deformed manga exaggeration, or an adorable Han who looks nothing like Harrison Ford, around the edges of the main drama.

Oh, and it's got AT-ATs. I fucking love AT-ATs. I wish the films (and books, and comics) spent less time on who designed the Death Star, who built the Death Star, getting plans for the Death Star, destroying the Death Star, etc, and more time on who designed AT-ATs and their use in combat and so on.

Anyway, I'll return to this book at greater length elsewhere...

Friday, May 11, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: May 9th

Justice League: No Justice #1 (DC Comics) It can be difficult to experience a new comic book in a vacuum, without going into it with thoughts, guesses and opinions based not only on what knows about the characters and creators, but also what one has been seeing for months in solicitations or online discussion. For me, it's impossible, even as I pay less and less attention to comics "news" sites. So I've been thinking about this weird-looking weekly miniseries for awhile now, which seemed premised as a sort of Most-Star Squadron, with members of the Justice Leagues teaming with members of the Teen Titans and some villains and other heroes to form color-coded squads with weird names like "Team Mystery" and "Team Wonder."

The short preview story that appeared in last week's DC Nation #0 was so in medias res that it didn't little to clear anything up, just showing those teams in action as they battled their way across Brainiac's homeworld of Colu that it didn't really reveal anything other than what was in the solicitations (except, perhaps, how artist Jorge Jimenez would be drawing some of the characters appearing in the upcoming Justice League relaunch).

Well now we get some clarity, as the event actually kicks-off. It is being co-written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion and Joshua Williamson. Snyder is to be expected, as he wrote Dark Nights: Metal, which was essentially a Batman-centric Justice League story, and was slated to be writing Justice League upon relaunch (Which excited me to no end, as Metal was one of the best League stories since at least the post-Flashpoint reboot). As for Tynion and Williamson, the former of whom co-writes with Snyder a lot and the latter of whom wrote Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad, their presence made a lot more sense upon the announcement of two new Justice League series, Justice League Dark by Tynion and Justice League Odyssey by Williamson. The artist for this issue, and the whole series, is Francis Manapul, who previously drew parts of Geoff Johns' climactic "Darkseid War," and classed the joint up considerably when he did so.

The book opens with the Green Lantern Corps gathering around the Source Wall, with Hal, John, Guy and Kyle in the center, and all but Kyle getting a few lines. Interestingly, Guy and John both seem to blame Hal and, as Guy puts it, "your friends on the Justice League" for breaking the wall at the end of Metal. Indeed, Metal's epilogue set up the upcoming Justice League by positing that with the Source Wall broken, things from the other side could no access and threaten the DC Universe, and it would be up to the League to stop those new threats (I found Kyle's silence, which isn't dwelt upon, interesting as well. I may be misremembering, as I haven't read Green Lantern or any Lantern books with any regularity since Johns left the franchise, but didn't one of the books contain a storyline in which Kyle was able to travel to the other side of the Source Wall and come back...? Something that was always thought to be impossible-ish...?)

Next is a neat two-page spread of 21 tight panels, jumping from three different battles to Amanda Waller in front of red computer screens flashing "Crisis Alert." It appears that Brainiac has launched simultaneous attacks on all four--are there really just the four now?--of DC's super-teams, The Suicide Squad, The Titans, The Teen Titans and, of course, The Justice League (but not Batman's "of America" team, which is apparently already out of business, even though two of its non-Batman members show up on two of the Teams). Brainiac "wins" within a matter of pages, and various characters awake in his spaceship, all of them now dressed in different versions of their regular costumes (I was, as I've said, disappointed; the costumes are essentially similar to their original ones, just with more lines in unusual places, a few light-up discs attached and the tint of their coloration skewed weirdly; personally, I think I might have preferred these temporary costumes be differently-colored versions of their regular costumes. For example, if Cyborg's redesign was consistent throughout the others. But whatever...I am assuming I'll get used to these in a few more pages, and then everyone will go back to their old costumes by the fourth issue).

The seemingly random nature of the assembled characters is at least explained in-story: Brainiac realizes the potential of Earth's superheroes, but he thinks they "waste it in comfortable formations" based on bonds their "fragile emotions" have engendered among them. So he defeated all the world's defenders to a) prove his point and b) abduct the heroes he needs. He has then formed them into the teams that make victory against the new threat most probable.

As an aside here, it's fun to think of who he plucked and from where. Most of the current Justice League's line-up was taken, while Aquaman was the only one left on Earth (The League's Lanterns, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, weren't present in the fight with Brainiac, nor at the Source Wall with the GLC). From the Teen Titans, he took Robin, Beast Boy, Raven and Starfire; again, most of the line-up. From the Suicide Squad he took only Harley Quinn. And from The Titans, the grown-up sidekicks plus Omen, he one. Huh. I guess he beat them all up just for fun. Then there are all the random characters: Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, Doctor Fate (although I don't know which one, there have been three or four since Flashpoint), Lobo, The Demon Etrigan and The Atom (Choi, it looks like). And then the villains: Lex Luthor, Deathstroke, Sinestro and, most randomly, Starro, fresh from his star (fish) turn in Metal.

In the real world, it will be interesting to see the rationale for these characters as the stories develop. Certainly some are likely just there for fun (Starro) or their popularity (Harley, maybe Deathstroke), and others to the ground work for the upcoming League line-ups, but a lot of the above characters do not appear to be on the new League line-ups (For example, one might expect to see Fate or Etrigan on Justice League Dark after this series, but only Wonder Woman and Zatanna from this event are). Further, the solicitation for the fourth issue mentions that "some heroes will be lost forever," so I suppose it's quite possible that some of these folks are here to act as cannon fodder.

As for what Brainiac needs them for, and why he's re-dressed them all, it appears that the hole in the Source Wall allowed Marvel's Celestials The Millennium Giants The Omega Titans to enter the universe, where they will begin eating planets Galactus style, deciding which of them gets to eat which planet based by the dominant fundamental force in that planet: Entropy, Mystery, Wisdom and Wonder. Brainiac's plan to abduct a bunch of super-people, break them into ideal teams, outfit them with nodes that imbue them with the appropriate energy to match the four forces of the four planet-eaters and thwart them; to ensure the Justice League's cooperation, he set it up so that Earth will be the Galactuses next stop if they eat Colu.

It seems like a decent plan but it all goes to hell in time for the cliffhanger ending, as a scene from Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad comes into play and Brainiac is unexpectedly removed from the equation.

By banding all these diverse characters together (and by diverse I mean from various places; there are three times green-skinned people as there are brown-skinned people among the assembled characters, and as many orange-skinned, pink-skinned or giant, psychic starfish as there are Earthlings of color), this issue has the feel of an crisis-style event comic, with characters from different corners of the DCU all bumping into one another (sometimes literally), arguing and discussing their pasts and futures, together and apart.

So there's a lot of exciting stuff going on here, perhaps particularly for DC Comics fans--I've no idea what this reads like to someone not already soaking in the DCU--and the artwork is perfect. I could ask for more--better costume design, a more representative cast--but I'm satisfied with what I got, and am looking forward to the rest of the month.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

On The Immortal Men #1

*As I've noted previously, Immortal Men probably should have been the first of DC's "The New Age of Heroes" line of books to be released, in order to get the line's roll-out started off on the right foot as a proper spin-off of the Dark Nights: Metal event series.

In terms of personnel, Immortal Men is co-written by one of the co-writers of various Metal tie-ins, James Tynion, as well as being drawn by Metal variant cover artist Jim Lee. In terms of plot, it seems to involve various immortal characters, and a cabal of pre-existing DC Universe immortals were somewhat prominently featured in the early parts of the Metal event and, of course, one the event's more popular characters--The Batman Who Laughs, with his crowing pack of leashed, cannibal Robins--appears on about page of this issue, briefly consulting with what appears to be the new series' main villain.

In terms of business, this issue is pencilled entirely by Jim Lee (with Scott Williams and Richard Friend inking), and thus was always going to do pretty decent sales; I'm not sure what draw Tynion and his co-writer Ryan Benjamin are in the direct market, but certainly Tynion's Detective Comics has long been DC's second best-selling ongoing series (after Tom King and company's Batman; in both cases, I suppose one can argue whether it's the Batman or the people making the Batman that make those books the hits they are). In other words, Immortal Men was poised to move a lot more copies than, say, Sideways or The Silencer.

Wouldn't it therefore have been better for the health of the entire line to start with Immortal Men? Instead, it's the sixth of the "New Age" books to debut, and it's taken so long to arrive--Damage #1 was released in January, remember--that we were seeing estimates of how well the line was doing before Immortal Men even showed up in comics shops. And it didn't look good; The Terrifics seemed to be a decent mid-list seller for DC, with everything else far below that and seemingly steaming ahead towards cancellation (Remember too that these books were apparently designed to launch big and drop off precipitously, as the artist/creators responsible for coming up with the new characters were only scheduled to draw the first few issues and then bolt).

Might the whole line not be doing a bit better right now if Immortal Men had launched in January or February...?

*If not the first book, then Immortal Men should maybe have been the second. There's definitely an argument to be made for writer Scott Snyder's New Challengers having kicked off the line. Challengers Mountain may have only played a small-ish role in Metal, but then, Snyder wrote the damn thing, so if his was the first "New Age" spin-off, it would definitely sent a signal that maybe the folks who dug Metal should be trying out all these books with the words "Dark Knights: Metal" emblazoned in their corner boxes. Instead, it looks like No Justice is being viewed as the real follow-up to Metal...

*The title seems to be derived from that of a minor-ish Silver Age DC character, the imaginatively named immortal man, Immortal Man. He first appeared in a 1965 issue of Strange Adventures drawn by Jack Sparling, and then appeared in a few more issues of that series.
Good question, Immortal Man.
He later showing up as part of The Forgotten Heroes in the 1980s, and more randomly in the pages of Animal Man, The Flash and Resurrection Man in the 1990s.

*I haven't really liked any of these covers, which have all been vertical gate-folds. This one is no different. The main image, the middle third (seen above), features the title team. We will get to them in a bit, but for now I just wanted to note that the posing of the one character, who looks a bit like a bolt of green lightning dressed as a mystery man character, seems to indicate that he is their leader, or perhaps a villain, neither of which really seems to be the case.

The top third features another rather mystery man-like character in an action pose, a series of floating heads behind him. These seem to belong to Hawkman (or a Thanagarian with a helmet like Hawkman's), Ra's al Ghul, Barbatos (?), a guy who looks like Vandal Savage but is apparently Immortal Man and..someone I don't recognize who is much better groomed than Ra's or Immortal Man.

The bottom third features a group of characters with spears made of light, one of whom has the rather Saga-esque name of The Hunt and appears within these pages.. There's also a...thing that looks like Hawkman's mask if it came to life in a 1980s horror movie. The three images don't really go together; this scans more like a vertical triptych than a single image.

*This is the plot of the first issue: A teenager name Caden Park has a recurring dream in which he finds some sort of underground superhero school referred to as "The Campus" based around a pyramid structure. All around him, other teens with super-powers are being killed, but he is rescued by the guy with the green energy body and wide-brimmed hate on the cover, and sees a mysterious man  who we will soon learn is Immortal Man. The dream is dramatized for the reader, but Caden is telling the story to his therapist Dr. Calendar, as the last time he had it he woke up on the ground at Grand Central Station. Additionally, he's lately discovered that he may have some kind of latent but growing psychic powers, as when he touches someone he sees a brief image from their life.

Meanwhile, The Hunt kills a surviving super-hero in the ruins of the real Campus, where he is met by The Infinite Woman, the apparent sister to The Immortal Man, who she is warring against. The pair are then joined by The Batman Who Laughs. They are after Caden, who a group of four agents of the Immortal Man are also seeking. These four are the characters on the cover, and they make a point of saying one another's names during their scene, to let readers know who they are.

In the book's final scene, Caden is attacked on the train. He thinks he sees the Immortal Man from his dreams, but it turns out to be a hologram luring him into an attack by The Infinite Woman's "Bloodless," which appear to be some sort of big, red monsters that resemble, from different angles, either a human embryo or a beluga. The quartet of super-people come to his rescue and announce themselves as "The Immortal Men." Yes, they are 50% female, but hey, The X-Men all call themselves "X-Men" regardless of gender.

*So who are these Immortal Men? They certainly seem like Jim Lee creations! They are:
Ghost Fist: This is the character who is drawn extra-large and seems to be presenting or clutching at the others on the cover, the one who looks a little like a lightning bolt dressed like The Green Hornet. He appears to be a dude in a trench coat with a fedora and old-school domino mask. He lights up when using his electrical powers. They aren't really explained here, but I didn't think the name fit the design all that well. I was honestly expecting him to be called Doctor Zzzap (with three z's because that's how many are in his sound effect) or Mr. Shock or something. 
Stray: This is the bestial character whose head looks to be borrowed from Jeff Smith's stupid, stupid rat creatures. I kind of like the jack o' lantern like mouth, although the particular design seems somewhat strange in the otherwise realistic Lee-drawn world.

Reload: I actually didn't catch this guy's name the first time through the book. He's the one dressed all in white with the red eyes. If he has any powers, they weren't demonstrated. He does have a gun though, to go with his lame G.I. Joe-esque name. Under his hood he wears a full-face mask, and those lines stretch over its entirety. Based on the cover image, in which much of his face is in shadow, I thought perhaps that was supposed to be a big smile. 
Timber: This is the Native American character. It's difficult to get any real sense of scale from the cover images, but I think she is supposed to be giant in size all of the time. Even within the book, though, there isn't really a good demonstration of this. As she was a very large Native American super-lady appearing in a DC comic, I was afraid she would end up being a New 52 answer to Apache Chief, or at least Manitou Raven or Manitou Dawn, the Apache Chief-inspired ancient shaman characters Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke introduced during their JLA/Justice League Elite run/s. Again, we know next to nothing about her save for her name and basic appearance, but if she has a DCU antecedent, it may be Tall Tree, one of four Native American shamans who made up The Renegades in 1977's Freedom Fighters #11, by Bob Rozakias, Dick Ayers and Jack Abel (and reappeared in a different form in Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and company's 2010 Freedom Fighters). Tall Tree's power was to grow into giant size.

*There are a few panels that look particularly rough around the edges. Look at Caden and, especially, his parents on the fourth panel of page six, for example. Or the fifth panel on page five, where Dr. Calendar is shown sitting at home in front of...a giant bong? A dehumidifier? A hookah? Maybe the sort of bottle that the title character of I Dream of Jeanie was trapped in...?

*It's a fairly solid first issue, introducing a bunch of new characters and various elements (like "houses" of immortals with certain spheres of influence, for example) and offers just enough of them to let a reader get a pretty good idea of whether or not this is the sort of book they are going to want to keep reading. I think if I had to follow one of the six "New Age" books that have debuted so far, this would be the one I would follow.


On The Curse of Brimstone #1

On The Terrifics #1

On Sideways #1

On The Silencer #1

On Damage #1

Monday, May 07, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: May 2nd

Batman #46 (DC Comics) The second chapter of Tom King, Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea's "The Gift" picks up "One Year Later"--there's a familiar-sounding jump in time--from the ending of the first chapter, to find Booster Gold bearded, bereft of Skeets (and, Skeets' time machine), talking in jittery, crazy-person dialogue and trapped in the nightmare world he created when he saved Batman's parents from being killed as part of elaborate and misguided wedding gift. It's quite a bit rougher than the first chapter.

While it's unclear what Booster has been doing for a year, other than growing his beard, he has hit on a plan to save the day by introducing Catwoman Selina Kyle to Bruce Wayne. Of course, this Selina is a criminally insane serial killer who is only able to communicate via cat noises. Nevertheless, Booster breaks her out of Arkham Asylum, says he's no good at sewing but still manages to make her a very good replica of the costume Michelle Pfeiffer wore in Batman Returns (and he gave it razor-sharp claws, for some reason), and he then takes her to Wayne Manor, where lots of different people get shot and or clawed (the injury Batman Dick Grayson received? I actually felt that while reading, so good job there, guys!).

Although the story has familiar elements of everything from It's a Wonderful Life to "For The Man Who Has Everything," it is definitely of the sort that one shouldn't think too much about, as if one starts questioning it, one will find that it grows more and more frustrating. Take for example, this alternate timeline's Batman, Dick Grayson. The idea that Dick might have grown up to be a gun-wielding, lethal vigilante without the guidance of Bruce Wayne and Batman more or less checks out, but why would Dick have adopted the name and costume of "Batman," for example...?

Bombshells United #17 (DC Comics) Oh wow, I guess the imminent ending of writer Marguerite Bennett's long-running Bombshells epic came a lot more suddenly than expected after all. The first few pages have a little boy put on his Batwoman hat and turn up the radio to hear the old-timey radio announcer explain what's going on, and it sounds like Bennett might have been making use of all the notes she had for potential, future storylines, as the announcer mentions off-panel conflicts, some featuring characters that were teased to be introduced near the beginning of the book's relaunch under it's new title:
You have stayed with us through every trouble, every crisis-- From the ghostly invasion of Japan by the spirits of the dead, and the spy called Katana who put them down! From Etta Candy's Bonbon Brigade to Cassandra Cain's Bats of Blood and Iron!...When Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy scathed The Scarecrow! When Batwoman bombarded the bullies of Bizarro World!
Aw man, I love Etta Candy, Cassandra Cain, The Scarecrow and Bizarro World! (I wonder what Bizarro Bombshells would be like? Would they be all-male and mostly straight superheroes...? Oh wait, I guess that wouldn't be the Bombshells-iverse's Bizarro World; that just be "The DC Universe," huh...?)

Aside from such mentions.--those were just some in three of the first four panels of the issue--this issue's plot moves at lightning pace. Sometime between the end of the last issue and the beginning of this one, Apokolips invaded earth, along with various alien armadas, like those of Thanagar, and other space alien threats (Brainiac, Parallax) all under the leadership of the book's surprise/out-of-left field Big Bad, Lena Luthor, whose long ago disappearance ties into the behind-the-scenes motivations of several of the major characters in the overall book's narrative. Some of these characters, and the revelations of their plots, also seem like Bennett simply trying to get them worked into the book in one form or another before the series ends (Brainiac and Edward Nygma teaming-up to black out the United States, only to have their plot foiled on the next page by the introduction of Bombshell Jesse Quick, for example).

The art, which is here all provided by Siya Oum, also looks a lot more rough and rushed than I would have liked, as just about every character that has appeared in the Bombshells books at one point or another makes at least a cameo here, but they're not all terribly recognizable, and in some cases I might actually just be projecting who I think a character is supposed to be onto a tiny, sketchy figure in the background of a panel because that's who I think should be there.

DC Nation #0 (DC) This specially-priced, so-cheap-you-have-to-buy-it issue is comprised of three short stories, each previewing a point of emphasis of the publisher's in the coming months: Batman and Catwoman's upcoming marriage in the pages of Batman, writer Brian Michael Bendis' arrival at DC and take over of the Superman line and the No Justice miniseries which leads in to a relaunch of Justice League and two supplementary Justice League books. As these stories are all told by the same creators working on the regular series in question, there's a lot of top talent being mustered here.

The strongest of the three is Tom King and Clay Mann's "Your Big Day," as it stands more-or-less completely on its own. It certainly fits within the context of the current overarching Batman narrative, but even divorced from that--like, say if you picked it up in six or ten years time--it still makes sense as a Joker-being-crazy/scary story. The Joker has broken into some poor sap's house and is holding him hostage, awaiting the arrival of the day's mail, as he is convinced that he is going to receive his invitation to Batman and Catwoman's wedding at this random man's house (So, I guess maybe The Joker does know Batman's secret identity? King has thus far not really shown us how the news of the wedding has been received--or if it has been received at all--by the world outside of Batman's immediate superhero peers. Surely the general public is going raise their collective eyebrows about the fact that Gotham's perpetually eligible bachelor Bruce Wayne, famous for his funding of Batman, is marrying master thief and one-time organized crime boss Selina Kyle, aka Batman villain Catwoman, right?).

As is so often the case with King, there's a somewhat rigid format to the story, with almost every page beginning with the word "Later..." in a narration box as the story jumps ahead in time from beat to beat of the pair's interminable--especially for the victim--waiting game. This is the second time King has written The Joker at any length, after his "War of Jokes and Riddles" story arc (which I kind of hated), and the first time he's written The Joker in a story set in the present. This Joker is pretty similar to that Joker, although instead of having lost his ability to smile and laugh, here he wears a perpetual, pained grin-turned-grimace. He still peppers his dialogue with jokes, but seems to enjoy them a bit. Mann sure makes him scary-looking, never more so than on the bottom of page five, when he's told a pretty decent joke and then stares intently at his victim, waiting for him to laugh.

The Bendis-written Superman story is perhaps most notable for its excellent artwork, provided by pencil artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and inker Dexter Vines. Beyond that, it accomplishes a few modest goals, introducing a new character to the staff of the Daily Planet, and teasing a shift in the status quo and an upcoming conflict. The character is Miss Robinson Goode, and Perry White is very proud of her (but, er, shouldn't that be "Ms," Perry?), but, in the last panels of the story, we see her seated at a table talking to someone we aren't shown about how she's in and how she will soon be running the place. Her motivations are apparently pretty sinister. The bigger tease is that something has happened to Lois Lane, and she's apparently been missing for a while. Her office is empty, Perry White doesn't know where she is, no one seems to know where she is, and Perry tries to get that information out of Clark, but he insists that he doesn't know either.

That's...not a terribly compelling aspect of the books, as it seems like the Superman status quo had pretty much just changed, but I suppose it's good to know that Lois wasn't wiped out of continuity or anything. I do hope she and Jon haven't been somehow cosmically rebooted out of Superman's life, though. I suppose we'll see.

The part that actually stuck with me the most from the story--hell, the whole issue--however? That would be the fashion cape wore to her fist day at the Planet.

Finally, the Justice League story is striking in just how in medias res it is. The League has teamed with some Titans and magical types as well as a completely random assortment of supervillains (Deathstroke, Harley Quinn, Sinestro, Starro) to save Brainiac's home world from what look like Marvel's Celestials (Maybe that is what was on the other side of the Source Wall that came in after it was broken in the conclusion of Metal...the Marvel Universe). They are four in number, each representing one of the four fundamental forces of the universe, and to combat them the League has split into four teams, each devoted to one of those forces (and, weirdly, redesigning their costumes so that the characters on each "team" are wearing matching colors, that last bit of which feels a little too close to what Geoff Johns did with his emotional spectrum during his Green Lantern run).

It makes sense, which is something of an accomplishment given how weird the No Justice teams looked upon announcement, but, even more so than the Superman story, it doesn't seem like this one's going to be terribly relevant for too terribly long. And, like Bendis' contribution, I find myself wondering where this will fit in the overall story, when No Justice is collected, as it doesn't read like the beginning of the story, so much as a passage of maybe the second issue or something (I suppose this could kick off the no Justice collection, and then No Justice #1 could start with a "Two days ago" or something... As for Bendis' Superman runs, this is the second short, teasing preview, following the one that was in Action #1,000).

The art is by Jorge Jimenez, and it's not too terribly good. Perhaps owing to the compressed nature of the story--there's 21 name characters on two planets fighting battles on four or five fronts in just 10 pages--it's a little cluttered and confusing. But then, perhaps it's not the best way to judge how good Jimenez is going to be at drawing Justice League after this event wraps up, and he becomes one of that series' two primary artists.

Green Lantern: Kyle Rayner Vol. 2 (DC) The second collection of the Kyle Rayner era of Green Lantern--or Ron Marz era, if you prefer--covers much of 1995 and, like the first volume, is more than complete. That is, not only does it contain the next chunk of issues from that particular volume of Green Lantern (#58-#65), but because there are a pair of crossover storylines that included issues of Green Lantern, other titles participating in those storylines are included herein as well.

So two issues of Guy Gardner: Warrior, which begin the "Capitol Punishment" three-parter that concludes in Green Lantern, are also collected in this volume, and the last storyline in the book is "The Siege of the Zi Charam,"a five-parter that began and ended in New Titans, and included an issue a piece of Darkstars, Damage and, of course, Green Lantern.

Marz writes the lion's share of these comics, although Beau Smith, Marv Wolfman, Michel Jan Friedman and Tom Joyner also contribute, scripting the books they were writing at the time. Darryl Banks and Romeo Tanghal are similarly the primary pencil artist and inker, but there are a total of 19 other artists involved, perhaps the most surprising of whom was Cully Hamner, who draws part of single issue of Green Lantern, in which his current style is only just recognizable, and I likely would have passed over it without recognizing it had I not read that issue's credit box.

This period finds Kyle Rayner getting settled into his new life in New York City, which includes membership on the Titans superhero team being lead by Arsenal Roy Harper, and a burgeoning friendship-becoming-romance with fellow Titan Darkstar Donna Troy. He's grown increasingly comfortable with his new role as a superhero, and there's another one of those teases of Hal Jordan reclaiming the mantle, only to reinforce that it's Kyle's again. That comes in a two-parter entitled "Parallax View," in which both Ganthet and Hal show up at his apartment at the same time, both asking for the ring back. While Kyle and Hal fight using green light constructs, Ganthet teleports around the DCU collecting a little ad hoc Justice League to throw at Hal: Superman, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Flash Wally West, the then-composite Hawkman and Green Arrow Oliver Queen (wearing the costume that Connor Hawke would be assuming shortly). That's...a lot of dudes, isn't it? Ganthet visits Black Canary, who he interrupts while admiring herself in her classic fishnet costume and saying that she doesn't care if it is sexist since she looks so good in it, but when she informs him that she's lost her sonic scream he leaves without her.

The aforementioned "Capitol Crimes" storyline is mostly a Guy Gardner one--this occurs shortly after he lost his Sinestro ring and learned that he's Vuldarian and has weird, gross new powers--that intersects with Kyle's story in that he fights Major Force, who has stuffed a woman into another refrigerator (the cliffhanger implies that it is Guy's mom, but we later find out it in Guy's mom's friend...and Guy's mom's cat!). For some reason, I had never heard of this particular woman in this particular refrigerator, so I guess that Alexandra DeWitt dying as part of Kyle's origin wasn't exactly the straw the broke the camel's back in that regard, even if it did eventually lend a name to the phenomenon.

The relationship with Donna includes a quieter issue where she helps Kyle unpack his new apartment (that's the issue that includes Hamner art), a Christmas issue set partially at the Titans HQ, a team-up in which Kyle draws the attention of Darkseid and the pair have to battle Kalibak and the aforementioned "Siege" crossover, a actually pretty weird, sci-fi story that is a natural fit for GL and Darkstar/s and the new Titans character Jarras Minion, but not so much the rest of the Titans team (here, that's Arsenal, Terra II, Mirage, Damage and the-Matrix-verison-of-Supergirl, as Impulse missed the spaceship's launch).

In addition to all of those characters, Steel puts in a brief appearance, and Kyle briefly battles Felix Faust and Doctor Polaris.

The art in this issue is mostly of the not-very-good sort, although some of the most egregious examples are the fault of the style of the time more so than just all-around poor work. I think the most striking work might have been that of Warrior artist Mitch Byrd; there are some cringey-looking panels, but his figures are always thick, somewhat squat, and don't much look like anything anyone else was drawing in these issues. In general, the Banks art was strong, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Ron Lim pencils during the "Siege" storyline.

I'm not sure how much this book will have to offer many readers who weren't at least somewhat familiar with the state of the DCU at the time--I think I had only read two issues of these Green Lantern comics, plus most of "Siege" previously from back-issue bins--given how of their time they are. That is, almost every hero who Kyle crosses paths with, particularly Guy and Donna, are in such strange and such different places than they are now that I imagine anyone coming into these collections cold would have a lot of questions.

I'm enjoying them for the most part, though, even if it is clear at a glance that these aren't exactly the best-drawn comic books DC was publishing in the mid-1990s.

Looking ahead, which is something I like to do with these collections, it looks like the next volume should contain the very first Flash team-up (the fact that Wally disliked Kyle as much as most Hal Jordan fans and only rather gradually got to the point where he begrudgingly became his friend was one of the aspects of those characters I really liked), some Underworld Unleashed business, "Hero Quest" (in which Kyle tries to force Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel to teach him something about being a hero) and maybe the first meeting and team-up with the new Green Arrow (another interesting relationship of the era of DC heroes), although given the collections inclusion of other books thus far, one never knows. I doubt we'll see any more issue of Titans though, as after "Siege" that book just had one more story arc, the five-part finale, "Meltdown."

Street Angel Goes To Juvie (Image Comics) The latest of Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's hardcover, oversized, 9-by-12-inch Street Angel album from Image Comics (and the fourth such album, unless I missed one, which would be a terrible tragedy), finds our heroine Jesse Sanchez going deep undercover as "Shiraz Thunderbird" to juvie, aka "Alcatraz Junior." She's kinda sorta on a mission to bust someone close to a local superhero out, but she's also kind of their on vacation because, as it turns out, Street Angel fucking loves prison life. They feed her as much food as she can eat three times a day, they let her sleep in a bed, school is taught at her precise learning level and they get to watch movies once in a while!

The central gag, that Street Angel actually kinda sorta loves being in jail because prison life is infinitely easier than being a homeless little girl, never quite gets old, as Rugg and Maruca keep finding new ways to demonstrate that tension and, well, it's a pretty short comic, so it's not like any gag has too much time to wear out it's welcome. This comic contains pretty much all of the images of Jesse smiling I can remember seeing, too; eventually she gets so happy that her face looks not entirely unlike that of a smiling emoji.

As with previous books in the series, there's a ton of fun back matter, including book club discussion questions (man, I really need to start a Street Angel book club), and I particularly enjoyed the end pages, which are presented as a sort of scrap book including newspaper clippings of Jesse's adventures and various mug shots that reveal other dubious aliases, like Jenny Sandwich, Johnny Manchez and Finnley McGee.

The only bad part of the book? There's a mention of Street Angel's Dog, a Free Comic Book Day comic, and I completely forgot this Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, which means I probably missed my chance to get a copy of that.

True Believers: Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1 (Marvel Entertainment) My sister is an elementary school teacher and a few years ago she asked if I had any kids comics I could give to her for use in her class. From what I understand, she has her own little personal library of books and now comics and graphic novels that the students in her class are allowed to pick out and read when they finish their work early or during free or down time or whatever. They are third-graders, and they seem to particularly enjoy the DC Super Hero Girls original graphic novels and the various IDW-published Star Wars-related comics I've sent their way.

I generally ignore Marvel's "True Believers" $1 reprint line, given that most of the stories that appear in them can be read in their entirety in collected form, but this week when my eyes fell on them among the new releases in my local comics shop, it occurred to me that they might make for a good source of cheap comics to send to my sister's students--after I read them myself, of course.

Kitty Pryde and Wolverine #1 seemed like a good bet, starring as it does the preeminent juvenile point-of-view character of the X-Men franchise, if not the Marvel Universe as a whole. It is, as most readers with a deeper knowledge of the X-Men and Marvel than I know, the first issue of a 1984 miniseries, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Al Milgrom (or Allen Milgrom, here). Despite the shared billing, this issue at least is a Kitty comic, with Wolverine only appearing in a panel or two, when Kitty calls the mansion in a moment of desperation and he picks up the phone.

I liked it okay, and it was a pretty good reminder that, for all of Claremont's quirks and as sophisticated as comics storytelling has become in the decades since, the sort of first pass through of X-Men adventures were perhaps their strongest, as the franchise hadn't yet expanded horizontally into too many books, nor been passed between so many different editors and writers, so many of them quoting and homaging their own favorite stories from the Claremont era, that X-Men comics can often seem to be something between unwelcoming and impenetrable to new readers. Like, I picked this up with no knowledge of what the hell was going on in the early 1980s, and it was easy to follow. I can't say the same of the first issue of virtually any X-Men comic I can pick up these days, despite keeping at least an eye on what Marvel's been up to in that corner of their publishing line for the past, oh, 18 years or so.

That said, I suppose I should have double-checked the credits box before purchasing this, because I forgot how much verbiage Claremont comics used to bear...some of his scripts can make Brian Michael Bendis read like Raymond Carver, and this issue had more words in it than most chapter books. Aside from just how much reading it involves, the content seemed okay for third-graders, but Marvel doesn't seem to agree, as they labeled it T. So I guess I won't be passing this on, after all.

Milgrom's art is really quite great though. I really love his line work throughout this, particularly the inking on the trees in the park on the opening splash page, and the scenes involving water--a rainstorm in Tokyo, a scene set in the sewer. By the time I reached the last page, I was curious to see what happens next, so I guess the book succeeded in enticing me into reading another Marvel collection (if not buying one; that's what library's are for, after all). It just didn't seem to meet the purpose I bought it for (passing it on to a bunch of third-graders; I suppose if I wanted to get them a high-quality comic featuring Wolverine and Kitty Pryde, I'd have to look for some Wolverine: First Class back issues from Fred Van Lente and company).

Still, it wasn't anywhere nearly as inappropriate for little kids I'm not related to as...

True Believers: Wolverine--Sword Quest #1 (Marvel) I bought this for the same reason I did Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, but by the sixth panel the script started alluding to rape, and the first dozen or so pages continually do so. That's on top of all the killing, mostly accomplished by stabbing with claws and, as tastefully as it is all staged--that is, it's neither gratuitous nor gory--it adds up to something that reads way too much like an R-rated 1980s action movie to hand to a bunch of third-graders, I think, as cool as they no doubt think Wolverine is.

This is another Chris Claremont joint, the first issue of the first Wolverine ongoing series, launched in 1988. The sub-title of the True Believers edition, "Sword Quest," is just the name of the story arc, but adding it to the cover sure sold me on it. I mean, I like Wolverine just fine, and I quite naturally like both swords and quests, so why wouldn't I buy this for a $1...?

Despite not being anywhere near appropriate for the kids, this comic is perfectly appropriate for Caleb's. Again, I have no sense of what the hell was going on with the X-Men at this point, but from Wolverine's narration, the world apparently thinks they are all dead, and he works to try and keep the fact that he's not dead a secret. I suppose that explains why he's not wearing his Wolverine costume, but is instead wearing all-black, with some pain around his eyes to form something of a mask, although one imagines the wolfman hairstyle and the claws coming out of his knuckles would be a pretty good giveaway that he is, in fact, Wolverine of the X-Men, regardless of what he's wearing or how well one can see the area around his eyes.

He later adopts and even dumber disguise, when he meets someone who actually knew him. He puts on an eye-patch and a hat while in Madripoor--not sure if this is the beginning of his "Patch" identity or not--and apparently that's enough to make Lindsay McCabe not recognize him, despite the fact that he's still a pretty short guy with extremely prominent, not-at-all-in-style Civil War era sideburns.

The art is penciled by John Buscema and inked by Al Williamson, and it's pretty good stuff. There's something particularly Joe Kurbert-y about it, particularly in the first half of the book, which features a lot of modern pirates and some uniforms. There are a lot headbands, bandoliers, coats with collars and folds filled with shadows, knives and firearms, and haunted, world-weary looks.

I really dig their Wolverine. While he looks like he's wearing all-black on the cover, the costume he sports in the interiors looks more-or-less like his traditional one, sans the cowl, only the color is a light blue with darker blue and and black highlights (Of course, his hair also looks blue, not unlike the way Superman and Wonder Woman used to have blue-black hair). Their Wolverine has a magnificent mane, and in at least one splash page, he doesn't even seem to have a human head, just a too-small, mask-like face fringed by swoops of blue hair that form a sort of four-pointed star around his twisted-face scowl.

He kills so many pirates, in one scene they pile on top of him, and he somehow seems to make a human shish kebab out of them a stack of seven flailing bodies stacked atop his extended right arm, which he then hurls through the walls of a shack. When he's not in dude-killing mode, his hair seems to calm down quite a bit. For example, when he's in disguise later, his sideburns lay down flat. I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, but the implication is that Wolverine's head of hair bristles like that of a wolf when in battle...?

A lot of what is in here now seems like cliche business, with Wolverine spouting off his catchphrases, and Madripoor, the eye patch, his Canadian samurai posture, even the particular sword he's questing after, but that's only because I'm reading this in 30 years after it was originally published, and those are all elements that the scores of other Wolverine writers to follow Claremont all incorporated into their own comics over and over and over again until they became cliche.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: April 18th and 25th

Action Comics #1,000 (DC Comics) I'm beginning to think that maybe--just maybe--the publisher-to-Diamond-to-direct market retailer-to-me system of comics distribution isn't the ideal form of comics distribution.

Take, for example, Action Comics #1,000. DC published what I believe is somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand different variant covers for the special issue, and they were freely order-able. Meaning that a few months ago you just could just look at all the pictures of all the covers, realize Mike Allred's cover was by far the best, and then you could tell your local comics shopkeep to order you one copy of the Mike Allred cover, please. Which I did!
The best.
But then April 18th arrived, and my clerk handed me the rather generic Jim Lee cover--the worst of the lot! Apparently Diamond shorted my shop of several covers, including both the Allred cover and the blank cover. I suppose I could have just waited to see if the shop and/or Diamond were able to secure the cover I had originally requested (and the other missing ones), but one never knows how long that will take. So I traded the Lee cover in for the Dave Gibbons one--which is, admittedly, pretty great--and went on my way, my expectations once more dashed by Diamond.


So, what's in this $7.99, 80-page, spine-bearing, ad-free special issue? So much! Let's take the short stories, one at a time.

"From The City That Has Everything" by Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund and Hi-Fi

This is the sort of obvious, slightly sappy sort of celebratory story one might expect from writer/artist Dan Jurgens, who has been involved with the character at least as long as I have been reading comics, maybe even further back. The city of Metropolis is hosting a Superman Day celebration to honor their hero, and the Man of Steel wants nothing to do with it. In fact, he's reluctant to even show up as Clark Kent and hang out with his wife and son.

While various citizens offer testimonials about how Superman saved and/or changed their lives, Superman keeps an eye peeled for signs of danger--and an excuse to take off to address it--while Lois keeps getting calls from "Perry." Near the end, there's a nice moment that echoes the scene from Superman and Lois' wedding, when Batman organized pretty much all of the heroes to protect Metropolis and the world from danger in order to give Superman a night off to focus on his nuptials. Given the recent-ish reboot, it's interesting to see who Jurgens considers all the heroes of the DC universe at the moment, and how he goes about drawing them.

"Never-Ending Battle" by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Alejando Sanchez

The recent Superman creative team of Tomasi and Gleason reunite for a piece offering a sort of prism through which to look at the various takes on Superman that have existed over the last 80 years. It's told in a series of splash pages, with lines of narration appearing on boxes overlaid against each big piece of Gleason art, the last page revealing that it was Superman explaining to Lois and Jon why he was running late to what looks to be a birthday party for him (There's a pretty massive cake there for just the three of them...and Krypto, I guess).

The first splash features a nice image in the foreground of Vandal Savage posing as if in the middle of a particular dramatic, even Shakespearean monologue, although we can't hear what he's saying; we just see Superman's words in the narration boxes. Anyway, apparently Savage captured him and had devised a plan to "weaponize Hypertime," sending Superman through a maze of alternate pasts that will effectively remove him from Savage's timeline forever, so Savage can do his thing, free of all interference from Superman.

It's basically an excuse of Gleason to draw stuff, like Superman in the earliest version of his costume, with the badge-like S-shied and boots reminiscent of gladiator gear, punching up gagsters in the 1930. Or lifting a tank over his head while wearing a Flescher-like costume. The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, "Reign of the Superman"'s a gallery as story, culminating in Superman escaping Savage's trap. It is perhaps over-written, as Tomasi seems to write much more than necessary in order to justify his lack of presence, I guess, but it has the weird effect of making Superman's story to his wife and kid sound way too flowery for even a long-winded explanation (and were the candles on the cake burning the whole time?).

"An Enemy Within" by Marv Wolfman, Curt Swan and Butch Guice

This doesn't really work for me, and it feels really off and awkward upon reading, but it's a nice idea. Apparently Wolfman hound found four pages of never-published pencil art by Curt Swan, and in order to include a new contribution from one of the definitive Superman artists in this special issue, Wolfman wrote a story to go with the pencils...and, since Superman himself doesn't appear within the story at all, they repurpose an image of Superman from Superman: The Secret Years #2 to use as the fifth and final page.

I wonder if it might have worked better to just publish the unfinished, previously unpublished Swan pages, with a prose contribution from Wolfman about Swan and Superman...?

The Swan pages include a three-page scene in which a woman with a bullhorn--identified as Maggie Sawyer--with the Metropolis Police trying to diffuse a hostage situation at a high school, where a man has a rifle pointed at the head of a student. Then there is a page of the woman sitting in the park, watching as a fellow officer rouses a sleeping hobo from a bench, and he then goes to plug grass from the ground near a bird bath or drinking fountain. And that's it.

In narration and dialogue, Wolfman tells a story narrated by Superman himself. He's in Japan fighting Brainiac robots, but keeping abreast of the drama in Metropolis via the super-senses that make him nigh-omniscient (how he picks and chooses which threats to address given that is one of the themes of the story). Apparently the guy with the gun is being told to kill by voices in his head...voices put there by Brainiac, who is attempting large-scale mind-control on Earth's population, only to find that they are too strong-willed, and fight back against him.

It's an okay Superman story, but it doesn't really match up with the imagery, which isn't too terribly surprising, given that Wolfman was apparently trying to fit a story to the art, which was itself Superman-free.

"The Car" by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Olivier Coipel

The title refers to the green sedan that Superman lifts over his head and smashes against a boulder on the cover of Action Comics #1, the image that announced Superman, and the coming of the superhero, to the world way back in 1939. Sometimes writing partners Geoff Johns and Richard Donner re-team for a five-page story about what happened next, as he guy who owned the car has it towed to the shop ("Hey, buddy... ...What'd you hit? An elephant?" "A man. Wearing red underwear.") As the crook walks away from the shop, he finds Superman waiting for him, and the Man of Steel tells him off, asks about his rough childhood, and the compares the man's life to that of the wrecked car ("It's your life, Butch. YOu can fix it... ...or you can junk it").

It's a clever idea for a story, particularly a story for Action Comics #1,000, and it's rather elegantly told.

"The Fifth Season" by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Dave McCaig

Superman catches up with Lex Luthor at the Smallville Planetarium, where the villain tells his archenemy a little, ironic story about his childhood. But, of course, Superman already knows it, as he too was there, and he even saved Lex's life at that point, using his vision powers from the shadows. It's a nice meditation on their relationship with one another, what they have in common, and how they have different ways of looking at the knowledge that they are more-or-less eternally locked in opposition to one another.

"Of Tomorrow" by Tom King, Clay Mann and Jordie Bellaire

It's billions of years in the future, and lifeless Earth is about to be swallowed up by our sun, which is now a red giant. Superman has returned one last time to visit the grave of his parent, Jonathan and Martha Kent, to them about stuff. He mentions how Lois is still alive thanks to an "eternity formula," and so too is his son Jonathan. For his part, Superman hasn't even gone gray at the temples like his one-time Earth-2 counterpart yet.

It's an okay story, but, on second reading, I was struck by the fact that Superman probably shouldn't have the full complement of super-powers he demonstrates here, if the sun has gone red, should he...?

"Five Minutes" by Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway and Dave McCaig

Unless you want to count Cindy Goff, who wrote the original script for the pages that Curt Swan drew and were then repurposed, than Louise Simonson is the only woman involved with the production of this comic book, which seems kind of shocking for a comic book produced in 2018. I suppose one could argue that if the idea was to get as many people who have worked on Superman comics in the past as involved as possible, then that would inevitably mean getting a whole bunch of dudes plus Louise Simonson together, but then, it's not like Olivier Coipel, Rafael ALbuquerque, Tom King, Clay Mann or Brad Meltzer have done much work on Superman comics over the years. DC really couldn't have asked Tom King collaborator and Supergirl: Being Super artist Joelle Jones to draw King's five-page story instead of Mann...?

Anyway, this was a pretty great little story, and it was a pleasure both to see Simonson working on Superman again and seeing Ordway's version of Superman, Clark and company once more. There's not a whole lot to the story, but it's a nice day in the life--well, few minutes in the life--type of story showing the challenges of a high-stress, deadline-focused job like journalism when it's coupled with the even higher-stress, every-second counts job like being Superman. Perry White might be breathing down Clark's neck to finish a story, but when his super-senses detect a train full of people about to crash, what's he doing to do? Ignore it to type the last few paragraphs of a story...?

"Actionland!" by Paul Dini, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan

This one is predictable--particularly given the writer--but still a lot of fun. A gorgeous, shapely red-haired and apparently super-powered woman acts as a tour-guide, ushering tourists into a replica of the rocket Superman arrived to Earth in so she can give them a tour of Superman's life. It all falls apart at the end though, when the villain pulling the strings has trouble thinking of a death grand enough for Superman's final battle against him.

It's at this point that Mr. Mxyzptlk appears, and we learn that the tour guide is Gsptlsnz, as seen in the Dini-written introduction of Mxy into Superman: The Animated Series. Dini pretty clearly uses the Fifth Dimensional imp, with the god-like ability to do whatever he wanted to and with Superman, as a parallel to that of the comic book writer, and while that idea could get tiresome if used too long, it's kind of endearing in such a short story. It certainly helps that Garcia-Lopez is drawing; this is maybe the best-looking story in a book filled-to-bursting with great artwork.

"Faster Than a Speeding Bullet" by Brad Meltzer, John Cassaday and Laura Martin

Oh. Brad Meltzer. First it was femtosecond, now it's attosecond. Can't you just say "split-second"...? Or "less than a second"...? Or "in less time than it takes me to think these words"...? I' physicist, but given how fast Superman is, and how relatively close he is, "attosecond" can't possibly be the right word anyway.

In the Metropolis subway, a guy has a gun to a woman's head, and Superman is on his way to save her when the gun is fired. Will he be able to reach her in time? No, he tells us, as he watches the bullet start to move through the gun and toward her temple, but he flies there at top-speed anyway. He actually does make it, because she does something with her head that adds a variable to the equation--I actually didn't understand this part of the story at all.

It's interesting to note that if you completely removed all of the words from the story, it still reads pretty clearly--maybe even more clearly--and is even more intense and suspenseful. In therms of plotting and lay-out, the drama and conflict are all readily apparent; the words just get in the way.

On the other hand, as superfluous as Superman's narration is--Cassaday makes it abundantly clear that he's racing to reach the woman before the bullet can--if you did remove all the words, you would miss out on a nice busting-of-Superman's-chops exchange, when Superman tells her what she did was brave and she replies, "I just did what Batman would do."

Speaking of superfluous, the last panel has a stack of dialogue exchanges between Superman and Lois Lane, each in their color-coded and initialed narration box style, in which the two talk about his day. Nice sentiments are expressed, but it reads awkwardly, given that Lois isn't even in the story until this point, and that's a lot of dialogue to tack on to the last panel.

"The Truth" by Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Lee and Scott Williams

And, finally, the main event: The first ten pages of longtime Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis' Superman run, drawn by DC co-publisher Jim Lee. It's an action-packed 12-page fight scene which, again, seems appropriate given the title of this particular comic book. Superman is skipping like a stone through the city, having been struck by a monstrous foe who is huge in stature, has an apparently deformed face, wields a weapon that is both awesome and stupid at the same time (it's a battle ax with a sword for a handle) and rants about having destroyed Krypton and having come here to finish the job. He throws Superman around, and is briefly interrupted by Supergirl, who he flings away just as easily.

There's not much to go on here. As a conflict, big, strong-looking cosmic bad guy with a connection to Krypton isn't exactly new and exciting, and since this is all action scene, there's not really enough here to judge, in terms of whether or not Bendis' run on the Super-books is going to be worth pursuing or not (I mean, I'm going to pursue it out of curiosity, but I can't speak for you).

I did like the part where Superman "stopped" himself from hitting a store he was being thrown at. I'm not sure exactly how Superman's flight works, but that seems to fit with what he can do, even though I've never seen him essentially put on the brakes like that before.

There are a few pages where two women who work at a restaurant that Superman gets thrown into banter quite Bendisly that gave me something of a sinking feeling.

So those two elements cancel each other out. I'm still excited.

Rounding out the book are a handful of pin-ups, most of which seem like they might have been in a drawer, rather than created specifically for this occasion. These are by John Romita Jr., Walter Simonson and Jorge Jimenez, and are of Superman being struck by lightning, Superman flying in space and Superman man-spreading while sitting atop a cloud like on the cover of All-Star Superman #1, respectively.

Archie #30 (Archie Comics) Audrey's Mok's art is so good that every time I pick up an issue of Archie I'm surprised again by how good it is. You would think I would have gotten used to it by now. That's her cover above--there were three, but that's the best one--and she handles the interior art as well.

This issue, like the last, is the rare reminder that I should probably be reading Archie in trade rather than in single issues. The current story arc revolves around an event, a big dance, where a bunch of little sub-plots are going to come to some sort of fruition. That this is an event both in-story and out in evidenced by all the characters involved: Pretty much everyone, with even Josie and The Pussycats making a surprise, last-minute appearance (Hey Archie Comics, what's up with their comic? That was really good. Almost as good as Jughead, which, like Afterlife With Archie, has gone MIA). But this issue ends with pretty much the same cliffhanger as the last issue, and one very similar to the one before that. Writer Mark Waid seems to have chosen one of those poorly, or this would read better in a big chunk--as this sort of story in general would, given as how it's centered on a school dance (Like, I can't imagine the spring formal episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 spanning two or more episodes, you know?)

Anyway, Archie not only remains really good, but, thanks to Mok's addition to the creative team, it's pretty much better than ever. Oh, and in this issue Moose and Midge have their meet-cute, which raises a question in my mind: Have Moose and Midge not been an item for the past 30 issues?! Did Reggie miss his chance?

Batman #45 (DC) There are just two elements of this otherwise quite strong issue that I disliked, and both are relatively minor taken on their own. On-again, off-again Batman artist Tony S. Daniel returns to Batman to pencil this issue by regular writer Tom King, starring Booster Gold, of all people.

Booster and Skeets--when Blue Beetle Ted Kord isn't available, Skeets makes the best straight man for Booster--are in Gotham City, looking for Batman. But the Gotham City they are in isn't the same one that was in the last 44-issues of Batman. Rather, they are in a nightmarish, alternate Gotham City, where Batman is a gun-toting maniac. What exactly is going on? Well, Booster Gold wanted to get Batman a special gift for his wedding--er, apparently Booster Gold and Batman know each other again--and he decided to alter Batman's timeline in such a way to dramatically improve it...and also turn his life into the sort of nightmare that would make him appreciate his everyday life more. It is, of course, a terrible idea an even worse plan, but that sort of works with this particular character. Or, at least, it would to a point. Which brings us to one of those problems.

The idea of Booster trying to do Batman a dramatic, life-altering favor for a wedding gift only to find out the butterfly effect of it doesn't work out the way he wanted is, in and of itself, a fine idea for a story. But King takes it so far, altering Bruce Wayne's life in such radical ways and re-writing all of reality for the much, much worse--the opening panels feature Hal Jordan blowing his own brains out after holding his ring up to his own temple--and adding the second-step to Booster's boneheaded plan that implies that he wanted to make Bruce Wayne's life horrible on purpose. It's basically a matter of degree; rather than not thinking things through enough, King makes Booster not only a little careless, but truly callous. And by making this Gotham so bad and making clear that Booster pretty much wanted it to go this bad, makes him seem like a psychopath.

The other problem is Booster's inspiration: "That story you and Supes tell. About the orchid thing. Where Supes was trapped in his own mind." He is, of course, referring to "For The Man Who Has Everything," the classic story from 1985's Superman Annual #11, drawn by Dave Gibbons and written by--who else?--Alan Moore (He even says, "You got a wedding, you need a present...but what do I get for the man who has everything?"). So yes, here's Example #357,983 of DC not just ignoring Alan Moore, but constantly recycling his work (granted, this is much, much, much more innocent than Before Watchmen, Doomsday Clock or importing America's Best Comics characters into the pages of The Terrifics and the since-canceled Justice League of America). This isn't offensive so much as another tired riff on a too-often-riffed-upon story (Oddly, King hardly needed Booster to bring up "For The Man Who Has Everything"...although maybe after his recent, apparently-accidental re-telling of "Immortal Beloved," he wanted to make sure he name-checked his sources). I remember finding it kind of cheap when Geoff Johns took Mongul and The Black Mercy from that story to retell it in the pages of Green Lantern in 2006. And I had trouble reading the 2008 arc in Green Lantern Corps by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason that was set on a planet full of Black Mercy flowers, seeing as my eyes kept rolling. I may have screamed at the TV when I was watching the Supergirl episode, "For The Girl Who Has Everything."

Granted, this goes into the Caleb's Personal Pet Peeve file, but with DC more-or-less making trolling Alan Moore a publishing strategy, each and every reference to his relatively limited, decades-old work at the publisher seems like one more paper cut on the dead horse, you know?

As I said, King handles everything as well as he could given a few questionable decisions, but this really struck me as a really good, almost great issue, where one could see exactly where King was falling short.

The bigger surprise, for me at least, was how good the visuals are. I am not a fan of Daniel's work, but it's actually pretty great here. Sure, the cover is a little messier than it should be--between the bat symbol-shaped skyline and the Bat-signal itself, it looks like Batman has two bat symbols on his chest, and his Jokerized Hal Jordan doesn't look too terrible Jokerized--his grin doesn't approach Jokerized levels until the fourth image--but otherwise this is some of the best Daniel art I've seen (John Livesay gets a credit for "inking assists" and Tomeu Morey colors the issue).

I think it helped quite a bit that the script was apparently pretty rigid when it came to the lay-out. There are a lot of close-up panels of Booster in conversation, rather evocative of the old JLI issues, where we'll see the same basic head-and-shoulders image, with subtle changes in the expression and gestures. For example, the explanation of his gift to Bruce Wayne takes place over a nine-panel grid, the "camera" focused on Booster from the shoulders up as he explains. Right after Hal commits suicide, there's a half-page image of his corpse falling from the sky, and then a tier of four panels of Booster cleaning Hal's blood of his goggles.

So this issue is par for the course, really; another very good, almost great issue that could (and should) have been even better.

Bombshells United #16 (DC) This seems to be the conclusion of the latest story arc, the one involving Black Canary, some Batgirls and the Suicide Squad in Hawaii, trying to defeat some sort of evil, singing/music related menace. The revelation of who the ultimate villain is here to me, although it's not hard to see how Marguerite Bennett was trying to link a sort of DC Universe ultimate evil with pleasant, pleasing, feminine qualities, like happiness, gentleness, tendereness and song. That said, this particular character was always somewhat one-note, the contrast being simply between her name, which did embody all of those things, and, um, everything else about her. One could say that the name was merely ironic, like calling a huge guy "Tiny," although her appearance in this does allow artist Sandy Jarrell to draw someone outside of the young, hot and female categories that the majority of the cast falls into (some of the most fun designs have been those that do not fit that criteria, like Superman, Swamp Thing and Trigon, for example).

Similarly, the heroine called in to save the day--see the cover--is an odd choice for the conclusion of this arc, if only because she hasn't really appeared in it at any point prior (and hasn't been in the book all that much in a while). Some effort is made to link her story to that of the villain, but both of them seem weirdly out of place, almost as if this particular issue is from an entirely different draft of the story than all of the previous chapters of the arc.

Can I make a confession? I stopped reading the lyrics to all of the many songs that appear in this book a long time ago. Like, after the first annual. I treat the songs in DC Comics Bombshells/Bombshells United like I do the songs in J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth stuff: Something it's clear that the writer is super-into, but which I just skip over because it doesn't seem to do anything to affect the plot one way or the other.

Justice League #43 (DC) This is the final issue of Christopher Priest's run on the book, and the final issue of this particular volume of the Justice League title, the second since 2011. A third volume is set to launch in June, I believe. It looks like there will be a rather lot of changes by the time Scott Snyder and company's Justice League #1 lands--Cyborg will be dropping the surprisingly strong redesign he got in this story arc and resuming his previous look, for example--but I was both surprised and impressed that Priest didn't just treat this arc as the filler it was apparently intended to be, but some work is done on "ending" the book and the current status quo, while promising something that will be both new and familiar in the near-future (It's really a pretty great ending; the last six panels of this issue are pretty much perfect).

In the area of epilogues, we also get resolutions to the Green Lanterns' relatively long-running individual emotional freak-outs involving the World's Finest--Superman asked Simon to lunch to get to know him better, Jessica spontaneously kissed Batman--that are both quite satisfying and funny (Although Simon is missing from the covers of both Justice League and the two other League-branded books, which, depending on how or if his absence is addressed, may make it look like Superman really did fire him or that he quite the League because he was so convinced that Superman was about to fire him).

As for the resolution of the fight-y stuff, the explanation of what the heck happened to Wonder Woman specifically is explained a bit here, and she fights for her life but--shocking, I know--does not, in fact, die. I remain completely unconvinced that shrapnel could pierce her skin and threaten her life, but whatever. And, in Africa, the League make a bargain with Deathstroke that results in dispersing the mob safely (The cover is quite evocative of the Meltzer-launched volume of Justice League of America, with the Leaguers all laying around, isn't ? Don't worry, though; they're faking).

I remain a bit disappointed that there are going to be three Justice League books by summer and Priest isn't writing any of them but, on the other hand, I expect the non-Snyder ones to get canceled pretty quickly, so maybe Priest will get to write a second League book within the next couple years. He's certainly good at it.

Runaways By Rainbow Rowell Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home (Marvel Entertainment) The fundamental problem with doing a new Runaways comic now is that the only reason Marvel decided to do a new Runaways comic right now is that there is a television show based on the comic, which was created way back in 2003 by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona.

It might not be too difficult to launch a new book starring the once high-concept team of teenagers had everyone at Marvel left their gloves off the characters after the last of the three volumes of their ongoing series ended in 2009. Were that the case, a new creative team could essentially pick the characters up where they were left by writer Kathryn Immonen and company. But Nico was plucked away from her team to appear in Avengers Arena, Avengers Undercover and then in A-Force. Victor similarly appeared in the extremely short-lived Avengers AI book and, apparently, The Vision (I only found out about the latter thanks to a footnote in this collection, which stated that's where he died). Molly appeared in a few X-Men comics, but only as an adult from a possible future, so that doesn't count. At any rate, the team had been split up, a few of the seemingly have moved on, which means for a new book to start, they would have to be reunited (In that respect, relaunching Runaways in response to a new TV show was a lot different than relaunching Alias as Jessica Jones in response to that TV show.

The new creative team is a good one, consisting of YA fiction writer Rainbow Rowell and artist Kris Anka. Runaways has always been lucky to have good and/or popular writers attached, and Rowell is actually only the fifth (After Vaughan came Joss Whedon, whose influence on Vaughan's dialogue was always readily apparent, then Terry Moore and finally Immonen). I was actually quite happily surprised that Rowell not only correctly diagnosed the problems with relaunching Runaways at this particular point in time--nine years after the kids were last seen, and 15 years after they first ran away from their super-villain parents--and came up with a rather elegant solution.

The surviving members of the original cast--Nico, Chase, Karolina and Molly--have all moved on and grown up, their original reason for banding together and their reasons for staying together now long past. It's just not possible to pretend like all those other series (and those other stories) didn't happen. To drive that point home, Rowell begins the story by introducing a point-of-view character who, like Marvel and most of the readers, desperately wants to just pick up where things were left off, preferably somewhere around the time when Vaughan was still writing the book. Well, I suppose I should say reintroducing, as that character is of course Gert Yorke (Dead no longer means dead, of course, as it did when Vaughan killed her off; that was one of former EIC Joe Quesada's rules that didn't even last as long as Quesada did). Via time-travel, Chase kinda sorta brings the dying Gert back to the present, and Nico uses her magic to heal her. So there's your premise: Gert closes her eyes to die, then wakes up years of Marvel time later to find that her friends are all older and, though it's only been a few years, are almost completely different than they were when she had last seen them. This felt extremely true to me; I remember how disconcerting to find how much me and my friends and our worlds had changed between the summer before my first year of college and the summer after. It really doesn't take long for a group of friends to find what connected them dissipating.

The remainder of the first volume, which collects the first six issues of the series, finds Chase and Nico rather reluctantly joining Gert on a journey to round-up the rest of the team, starting with Karolina and then moving on to Molly, with Victor being picked up along the way (Klara and Xavin's absences are explained, but in passing; given Xavin and Karolina's relationship, her absence is a big deal, which I imagine will be dealt with in a future story). Both visits only reinforce the whole you can't-go-home-again feeling, as Karolina is a seemingly happy,normal college student now and Molly is a seemingly happy, normal high school student living with her grandmother now (The former still has some issues stemming from her traumatic past, the and the latter knows her grandma isn't exactly lawful good, but puts up with her unethical science eccentricities because she's her grandmother).

But because of the narrative demands of the book, the pieces have to go back together, whether they like it or not, and so Molly's grandmother turns out to be pretty villainous--which is maybe convenient, but not unrealistically so. After all, she did raise Molly's parents, who turned out to be evil villains themselves. The rest of the team therefore find that circumstances contrive to get Gert her wish: They have to reunite and save Molly after all.

It feels convenient and a little forced, but, to Rowell's credit, the character's themselves see this, and while they all have mixed feelings of getting the team back together, they are together at the end of the volume. It works here--I do wonder if it might have worked slightly better if Karolina at least decided to stay off the team, though--but I think it won't be until the next volume that we see if a Runaways reunion is actually sustainable or not. Unlike most other superhero groups, these kids didn't form a team to save the world or fight crime or anything. They were very much thrown together, and were united to survive, and mostly just reacted to things thrown at them. They don't have the same sort of tangible reason to stay together, particularly once more than a few of them are 18, that, say, any X-Men team or Avengers or Justice Leaguers might have. Giving them a reason, and making it convincing, will ultimately be the challenger here.

Anka's artwork has always been incredible, and I think it's safe to say this is his best work to date. Depicting the passage of time and how the kids have grown-up--or, in Gert's case, haven't--is an interesting challenge for a Marvel artist, since the way time generally works in the Marvel Universe is that no one is allowed to age, ever, except kids (think Franklin and Valeria), and even then it tends to be at a variable rate. But Anka makes Nico, Chase, Karolina and even Molly look like the years have passed for them all, while still looking like themselves. It's subtle, but strong work, and, I'd argue, something too few mainstream, Big Two artists could even pull off.

Anka manages that while meeting all the other challenges the book offers. Action, drama, emotional "acting" on the part of the characters--Anka does an amazing job on the book. So much so that it's kind of hard to imagine it without him.

Saga #51 (Image Comics) Man, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are ruthless with their characters. Which is one of the things that makes the book so compelling, of course, as it's always had a palpable sense that anyone could die at any moment, but man. Although I suppose I should note that this is a comic book, even if it's not a superhero one per se, so just because someone gets shot in the heart in one issue, that doesn't mean they are necessarily totally dead forever. But Saga's track record on totally killing off characters unexpectedly and keeping them pretty much dead is pretty solid.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #37 (DC) Regular Scooby-Doo Team-Up artist Dario Brizuela does fine work on this book, generally managing to juggle the highly-contrasting design styles of the regular cast and their guest-stars. There's a scene in this issue in which Linda Lee Danvers' college frenemy Nasthalthia "Nasty" Luthor suspects that Daphne Blake is Supegirl's secret identity, and one suspects she does so because Daphne has the same build of the Supergirl Nasty would have gone to college with. When Linda Lee arrives, though, she has the same standard, mom-like build that Brizuela gives many of his female characters. It was one of the few times when reading this book that I noticed some pains being taken not to make a character look hot (Supergirl just looks like a blonde Linda in different clothes, after all). Ironically, Daphne gets away with her hourglass figure because her design, like that of the rest of the Scooby gang, adheres to their original cartoon appearances.

Anyway, Supergirl calls Mystery, Inc to her home in Midvale, where she has been haunted by the ghosts of Argo City (specifically those of her dead birth parents). The gang pretty quickly solves that particular mystery, as well as the mystery of how ordinary Earth cat Streaky managed to receive powers so similar to those of Kryptonians-on-Earth. I was actually disappointed with this particular issue, as I was really looking forward to Scooby-Doo's interactions with a super-powered cat. The pair bicker a bit, but they are otherwise rather congenial with one another. Given that the cat/dog dynamic seemed to be the only real hook that this Silver Age-ish Supergirl had in which to interact with the Scooby-Doo cast, it turns into a team-up that feels much more forced than many of the other team-ups with DC super-heroes.