Thursday, January 19, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: January 18th

Archie #16 (Archie Comics) This is a sort of weird issue, in that it just barely advances the book's ongoing plot at all, instead devoting much of its page count to focusing on secondary characters Dilton, Moose and Reggie, the first two of whom have barely appeared in Archie since the relaunch, but all three of them have received attention in the other new Riverdale books (Hell, Reggie has his own book now).

This issue is also sans a back-up, instead running the same multi-page ad that ran in last week's issue or Jughead. Shame, Archie Comics, shame!

Batman #15 (DC Comics) Writer Tom King and Mitch Gerards conclude their two-part "Rooftops" story about the weird relationship between Batman and Catwoman, the weirdness of which was explored during a middle section of previous arc "I Am Suicide." This issue resolves a mystery about Catwoman that put her in that story at all--the fact that she was arrested for over 100 murders--but it is mainly the second half of a 40-page exploration of Batman and Catwoman's kinda sorta, on-again, off-again doomed romance.

I'm not a fan of Gerards' art style, but he does a neat impression of Bob Kane and David Mazzucchelli in several panels, as Batman and Catwoman compare their dueling memories of when and where they first met (he contends that their first meeting was in 1940's Batman #1, when she was a jewel thief known as The Cat, while she contends that their first meeting was in the pages of the 1987 Frank Miller-written "Batman: Year One" arc).

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #4 (DC) Tom Scioli's continuing story of the royal twins of Exxor in his "Super Powers" feature is here sandwiched between two particularly extraordinary pages. The first is set before the Judeo-Christian creation story, in The Silver City, wherein The Angel Etrigan is among the warriors who battles the Elder God Ipsissimus (Google it; not a DC character, but an interesting foe!). Etrigan is positioned as something of a DCU Lucifer, as he's one of God's greatest angels, but questions why he should have to serve the humans who are about to be created in the garden below. The usage of the hand that writes in burning letters from Jack Kirby's Fourth World mythology is interesting in its usage here; its not the sole way God communicates with his angels, but it's one way. It's interesting because not only is Etrigan also a Kirby creation, but because of the suggestions between the relationships of various DC mythologies. This is the stuff I love about the DC Universe, and Scioli is one of the few who even attempts it, aside from Grant Morrison.

The third page is set in the present, and feature Scioli's Supergirl rescuing Wonder Woman from an invisible jet crash, a fun sequence, recasts the lasso as Lassie and devotes an entire panel to what looks like the Green Lantern Corps attempting to conquer Earth...?

I can't help but be disappointed that Batlazar and Franco are getting 20 pages or so a month on their comic entitled Super Powers, while Scioli only gets three pages. Of course, three pages of a Scioli comic are like three issues of a normal comic, so I suppose it all even outs.

This is, of course, just the back-up feature in Gerard Way and Michael Avon Oeming's Cave Carson comic. It's mediocre, which I know has a terrible connotation, but which I mean in the sense of its definition. It's not great, but it's not bad either. It's a perfectly fine comic book about an underground explorer, his automatic weapon-wielding wingman and the sinister corporation trying to exploit him and his discoveries, with quirky art. If it weren't followed by Scioli's rearrangement of the DC Universe, however, I imagine I wouldn't be buying and reading it serially.

Justice League of America: The Ray--Rebirth #1 (DC) This is the third of the JLoA "Rebirth" one-shots in as many weeks, and it's the first I actually bought, on account of my affection for the Ray Terrill iteration of the character, an early nineties legacy version of Lou Fine's Golden Age character created (or should that be re-created?) by Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada (although it was writer Christopher Priest who was responsible for writing all the good Ray stories in the ongoing series that followed Harris' miniseries).

While writer Steve Orlando and artist and colorist Stephen Byrne are working with that particular version of the character here, complete with a costume hewing quite close to the one originally conceived by Quesada, this issue rather unfortunately reads like the first issue of Ultimate Ray, in the same way that the two previous specials, and that far too many of the post-Flashpoint introductions of various extant characters, read like unnecessary Ultimate comics versions of themselves (It should go without saying that The Ray and The All-New Atom don't exactly have long, complicated histories like those of Spider-Man and The X-Men that might potentially intimidate new readers curious about them
). In other words, this is basically just a re-telling of the character's origins, with some changes here and there, seemingly made to make the character fit into the current continuity, rather than to serve the character or the story (Such as the story is, as this is just a 20-page origin).

Of course, the current state of the DCU shared-setting is pretty unfriendly to a character like The Ray in general. In addition to being a legacy character, a type of superhero comic which Flashpoint made all but forbidden unless said character was a Robin, The Ray name and powers are passed down from a Golden Age character, and that time period was excised from the DCU during Flashpoint...although it may or may not be coming back in some mysterious form, thanks to...whatever DC's doing with the Watchmen characters and their universe's timeline (Johnny Storm made a brief cameo as a memory-addled old man in the pages of DC Universe: Rebirth, remember). And then there's the fact that the publisher already introduced an entirely different Ray, in an almost completely ignored miniseries, during the earlier part of The New 52.

None of which means the publisher shouldn't use The Ray at all, just that there are challenges, and with this one-shot being an origin, it only serves to emphasize how challenging the character is to use at the moment. At least for fans like me, I suppose; if this is your very first exposure to a character named The Ray, than none of the above likely matters*. (In that case though, there's probably not a lot here to make you like the character; this is a very dour story, condensing the plotline of the original miniseries into 20-pages, and making a few necessary-ish changes and one much less so change). Personally, I think Orlando's upcoming Justice League of America comic might have been better served had it simply started in media res, with Ray Terrill already operating as a superhero named The Ray, and the specifics of his origins and how they may or may not have changed during various cosmic resets and reboots glossed over rather than dwelt upon.

Visually, Byrne employs the traditional effect of The Ray's power manifestation, in which his body becomes black while bright yellow light emanates from his eyes, mouth and the highlights of his costume, but he lacks the light aura Quesdada, Howard Porter and others used to draw around him, a trailing yellow line with a jagged edge when in flight, drawing him like a literal ray. I liked that. Some of that is probably nostalgia, sure, but it was also very distinct, and made the character look different than all the other flying superheroes--of which there are no shortage. I imagine Byrne dropped that because comics coloring technology now allows for more "realistic" coloring effects. Just as no one ever draws Starfire the way George Perez used to, with her long hair turning into a sort of comet trail when she was in flight, which one could trace backwards to the horizon or the border of a panel.

I'm still curious about the character's future in the upcoming Justice League book, and I'm still hopeful his entire original series will end up in trade at some point, along with Justice League Task Force (I have some holes in my collection I'd rather fill with trades, DC). But this is a pretty skippable one-shot...not unlike The Atom and Vixen Rebirth one-shots that preceded it.

Oh, and it's not super-clear, as it is only mentioned in a single planel, but I think Ray Terrill is supposed to be gay in the new continuity (The pre-Flashpoint Ray Terrill was straight, but the version of The Ray that appeared in Grant Morrison's Multiversity issue set on Earth-10, The Mastermen was gay; Orlando is apparently a pretty big Morrison fan, as his mention of Vanity from Morrison and Mark Millar's Aztek in this issue and his repeated allusions to Morrison's late-90's DC work in the pages of his Midngihter comics seem to indicate).

That one panel has Ray sitting in a movie theater next to a guy who has his arm around him, and they are sharing popcorn together, and his narration reads "Crazy how much easier it is to find a guy when you're visible" (Um, he spent a lot of time invisible, you see). They are making really weird faces at one another, like they are talking through gritted teeth while posing for an awkward photo, though.

Nightwing #13 (DC) Not sure what's up with the creepy-ass cover, the tone of which doens't at all match the more light-hearted superhero adventure of Tim Seeley and Marcu To's interiors. This is another chapter of the arc dealing with "The Run-Offs," which feels climactic and like it should maybe be the final issue of the arc, or at least the penultimate one, but it keeps going.

The true killer who has been framing everyone, including attempting to frame Nightwing (that's why Nightwing has a creepy mask of himself on the cover), is revealed, and it is the one suspect that has been introduced so far (as far as mysteries go, this one isn't as hard as most episodes of Scooby-Doo).

Super Powers #3 (DC) There's a rather unfortunate printing error in this issue, in which pages 13 and 14 seem to be swapped, so the sequence of events make no sense at all. I puzzled over what on earth happened for a while before I realized it was so nonsensical that maybe they put a page in backwards which, in fact, was what they did. So should you pick up a copy of the latest issue of Art Baltazar and Franco's DC superhero comic, be forewarned!

This issue centers around two big events. The first is the arrival of Brimstone in Metropolis. Amusingly, Baltazar draws him as a gigantic egg-shaped character with arms and legs. Supergirl, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Aquaman all take turns trying to take Brimstone down, in that order. Baltazar's Aquaman is fantastic. I would hang a poster of his Aquaman, striking the pose he does in the panel where he says, "What's up, my surface friends?!" in my apartment, were such a poster available.

Meanwhile, on New Krypton, Brainiac and Zod are up to no good, and Baltazar and Franco introduce their own version of everyone's least favorite DC character, Superboy-Prime. He's pretty different than the last version of that character we've seen, and not just because he spells "Prime" with a "Y."

Oh, and on the last page, it is revealed who the mysterious villain Luthor was talking to in previous issues really was. It will come as no surprise that it is Darkseid, although what is surprising is the way Baltazar re-designed him, so he looks much less like the fireplug shape he was in previous Baltazar-drawn comics (Like Tiny Titans, where he was the evil lunch lady of Sidekick Elementary). Now he is pretty large, with a gigantic round head that looks oddly naked without the blue hood. He looks a bit like a baleen whale with arms and legs and a tiny cape, really.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: January 11th

All-Star Batman #6 (DC Comics) For the initial story arc of the new All-Star Batman book, in which former Batman writer Scott Snyder will team with an all-star artist to tell a story arc focused on different member of Batman's extensive rogues gallery, Snyder and pencil artist John Romita Jr. treated their "My Own Worst Enemy" as an over-the-top action movie. More specifically, a modern over-the-top action movie whose filmmakers made deliberate, in-your-face stylistic choices to make elements of it evoke older, grittier action movies.

Appropriate enough for a story arc drawn by JRJR and featuring a plot that included enemies hand-cuffed together, a series of action set-pieces during a road trip and an antagonist named "The KGBeast," who had a machine gun for a hand.

This is the first issue of the new arc, and now Snyder is paired with one-named artist Jock (colored by Matt Hollingsworth), for a story about Mister Freeze. They here make a rather deliberate storytelling choice to make this arc closely resemble a prose story...to the extent that it's possible to do so in the medium, without subtracting images from the pages.

So a Bendisian amount of verbiage appears in narration boxes throughout. There are no dialogue balloons. At all. That's not because there is no dialogue, but rather the dialogue also appears in narration boxes, denoted as something spoken aloud by quotation marks...and context (There are no "Batman said" or "Mister Freeze replied" in these boxes). As for who is speaking the spoken lines, context often does it, but they are further differentiated by color: Batman in white text, Freeze in red.

I have no idea why Snyder and/or Jock may have made this particular choice--It may have been a desire not to cover up Jock's art with dialogue balloons and their attendant tails. It does allow one to see more of Jock's art on a panel by panel basis, although moving all of the dialogue into narration boxes just eats up the same if not more amount of real estate per page anyway. It may also have just been to do something different (I hope this isn't the case with every arc; I really don't want to read a Penguin story told via sitcom script or an Orca story via sea shanty...well, wait, actually I might...).

It works as far as the "being different" goal might go, but I don't know that it adds anything. Because of the sparse, painterly style in which Jock works, it basically just looks like an overly-complex children's picture book; overly illustrated prose. I'm not sure it adds anything of real value to the experience though, but, on the other hand, it doesn't subtract anything either.

As I've likely mentioned a few times before already, Mister Freeze is a particularly challenging Batman villain to center a story on, as there really only seems to be one good Mister Freeze story, and it's already been told. The threat posed here in "Ends of the Earth" is that a shirtless Freeze has raised a zombie-like army of people who had voluntarily been cryogenically frozen (the hows of that feat aren't mentioned here), and gone to the arctic circle in order to unfreeze a long dormant virus, kept inert in the ice for millennia, in order to release it on the Earth and cleans it of life, upon which time he will attempt to unfreeze his wife...if he's still alive, I guess.

Batman has a plan to counter that, of course, but the cliffhanger ending is not unlike the premise of the previous arc, in that it puts him and Freeze in very close quarters, likely depending on one another to a degree.

The Duke Thomas-starring back-up, which was absent last issue in order to make room for an extra-large climactic installment of the previous arc, returns with a fifth chapter. It is now drawn by Francesco Francavilla. It's only seven pages long, and involves Batman and Duke dealing with a deadly challenge/trap supposedly set by The Riddler. I found it well worthwhile for the tiny single panel in which Francavilla draws a pretty cool Scarecrow.


Deathstroke # (DC) Artist Cary Nord is still here, for the next installment of "Four Rooms," which features four different narrative threads starring a young, "Year One" style Slade Wilson, the current Slade Wilson, Rose Wilson and Jericho. All four are extremely well written, as one should certainly expect from Christopher Priest at this point, and they are also surprisingly substantial, each feeling longer and more eventful than their actual page allotment would suggest. Of all the "Rebirth"-launched titles, this is the one I am most surprised to find myself still reading at this point.


Detective Comics #948 (DC) Artist Ben Oliver and co-writer Marguerite Bennett joins regular writer James Tyninon IV for "Batwoman Begins," which is apparently meant to help set-up a new Batwoman monthly by Bennett, who has written a pretty fine Batwoman in the pages of Bombshells for awhile now.

There's not much to this issue, which focuses on Batman and Batwoman investigating "Monstertown" together; that is apparently the colloquial name given to the area of Gotham Harbor where the fifth and final, composite member of the Monster Men collapsed at the end of "Night of The Monster Men"...and where SHIELD ARGUS set up a quarantined research facility in order to weaponize the monster leftovers/make sure no one else weaponizes the monster leftovers.

The quarantine doesn't look very professional so far, as there appears to just be a gigantic spine and rib cage laying on the docks (I could have sworn the monster just completely vomited himself out of existence), and sea gulls are able to land on the bones, get gooped and transform into horrible monsters...the better for the Bats to fight. Let's get, like, a tarp or something to throw over those monster bones, huh ARGUS?

Page space is also devoted to recapping elements rebooted origin story (Just ten years old, and her origin already had to be revised post-Flashpoint) and re-introducing a threat from the first arc of the de-relaunched Detective Comics, The Colony. It's fine, but if what you've been reading Detective for since "Rebirth" is the cast and team dynamics, you'll likely be disappointed by what is essentially just an issue of Batwoman guest-starring Batman...or is it an issue of Batman guest-starring Batwoman...?


Gotham Academy: Second Semester #5 (DC) After the ill-timed fill-in story DC ran last month, Gotham Academy is back on track, presenting the first issue in quite a while that really seems to meet the promise of the premise.


Jughead #12 (Archie Comics) Although Jughead's name is on the book, this is as much a Reggie story as it is a Jughead one. After a seven-page sequence devoted to the gang playing a Ryan North-ized version of Mario Kart, the game's winner Reggie claims his prize: To be king for a day. Frustrated by his silly demands, Jughead challenges him to a rematch, then a re-rematch, resulting in Reggie being king of them all for a month. How will he abuse his power...? In a pretty unexpected way, that will be explored next issue.

North is still working with artist Derek Charm, who I continue to think is the best of the new Riverdale line's artists. His Reggie, with always seemingly closed, Captain Marvel-like eyes, is a real delight, and Charm does an excellent job in both the over-the-top silly world of the game and the "real" world, where his characters retain enough of their decades-old designs to feel like themselves, not matter how different the art looks from any era of Archie "house" style (There's at least one panel I can think of that looks like Dan DeCarlo or Dan Parent could have drawn it).

There's an awful lot of bizarre visual or physical comedy in this issue, and Charm just nails it all.

I do wish Archie would cut it out with all these goddam variants, though. The image I posted above? That's one of the three covers for this issue, and maybe the worst. The Charm-drawn one perfectly encapsulates the contents of the book, in terms of the particular cast, the style of the art and at least a suggestion of the plot, whereas this and the third image are more or less random.

I know there's some dumb reason involving sales and rack space that keeps publishers printing variants, but I am not a fan, and wish Archie would instead of giving two other artists paychecks to draw extra covers, maybe just invest that money in raises for Charm and North (On the other hand, I guess variants do provide the opportunity for plenty of artists to supplement their income, so I don't know).

This issue does not contain a back-up, but rather a five-page sequence that is basically just an ad for the upcoming dark, sexy Archie TV show, Riverdale. Normally, that would annoy the hell out of me...but this revealed to me that Luke Perry was going to play Archie's dad in the cast! Luke Perry! Of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame! What could be better than that? For the very first time, I find myself super-excited abut dark, sexy Archie!


Justice League/Power Rangers #1 (DC/Boom Studios) Well, I was naturally disappointed with this, but then, I usually am disappointed with crossovers featuring sets of characters that have lived in my imagination in one way or another for most of my life...as was the case with Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or DC Universe Vs. Masters of The Universe, there's really no way I could not be disappointed (That said, the first issue of this was superior to the first issue of either of those...by a long, long, long ways, in the case of the He-Man one).

Writer Tom Taylor and artist Stephen Byrne do okay here though, using the safest set-up that would allow for this story to be kinda sorta in-continuity--the two title franchises are set in their own universes, and the wall between those dimensions is breached (Of course, the Superman who shows up here has the red boots of New 52 Superman, not the blue ones of "Rebirth" Superman, even though Batman is wearing his Rebirth costume). So Taylor isn't reimagining either franchise too much, or imagining them in the same world, making for a distinct, standalone crossover story (like, say, IDW's last Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe series), nor is he presenting this as, like, an episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers crossed with an issue of Justice League. It's just the two comic book series, featuring the characters literally crossing over a dimensional barrier so they can temporarily share settings. .

I'm going to write about this at some length elsewhere, so I won't get too deep into it here. It didn't knock my socks off or meet my un-meetable expectations, but it was fine, and given the amount of page-space devoted to set-up, it will be difficult to judge how well Taylor handles certain parts of the equation. We get all of the Rangers, Lord Zedd and Zordon, but only Batman, The Flash and, briefly, Superman and Cyborg (The Karl Kerschl cover promises Green Lantern John Stewart, which would further make this hard to place in DC continuity, as he hasn't been on the League since the reboot).

I thought the coloring, also by Byrne, was a little too dark, particularly considering that half of the participating characters are literally defined by their bright colors. Otherwise, the art is pretty great, and manages to capture the likenesses of some of the actors playing the Rangers on the TV show without the character designs ever looking too stiff or forced (Sole exception? Kimberly--no artist can capture the beauty of Amy Jo Johnson, I'm afraid).

So the Power Rangers accidentally land in Gotham City, assume Batman is a Lord Zedd monster (as if; his costume is way less goofy-looking than any of those guys!), and he calls in the League for back-up when it becomes apparent that even Batman can't fight six Power Rangers at once. It ends with a wonderful line of dialogue.

I'd definitely recommend it to Power Rangers fans...and perhaps to Justice League fans desperate for a decent Justice League comic (I can't speak for all fans of Leagues of superheroes assembling to fight for Justice, but I haven't really enjoyed any of their adventures in a long, long time, and the Bryan Hitch-written monthly seems even less engaging than all the mediocre New 52 stuff that preceded it).
But after seeing Dan Hipp's cover, I realized what I really wanted to read was a Batman/Pink Ranger crossover, where Kimberly ends up in Gotham City and decides to stay. She becomes Batman's new partner, and after issues of arguing bats vs. dinosaurs, robins vs. pterodactyls and color schemes, she eventually becomes The Pink Robin.


Reggie and Me #2 (Archie) It's a little weird that two Archie comics prominently featuring Reggie Mantle came out today, and the stronger of the two isn't the one with Reggie's name in the title. In the second issue of the Vader-narrated Reggie And Me (Vader being the rescue dog who is the "And Me" of the title), we learn a bit about the history of Reggie and Archie enmity, and, as I read it, it seems to basically boil down to Betty being kind of a jerk to Reggie and being over-infatuated with "Little Archie," as she kept referring to the young Archie in these flashbacks (part of a in-joke, of course). Writer Tom DeFalco and artist Sandy Jarrell do a pretty great job of giving Reggie a real sense of pathos in this issue, explaining why he is such a jerk, but where the book falls down compared to the rest of the new Riverdale line is the fact that it's just not really that funny. It's not that the jokes are bad, it's just that there are remarkably fewer jokes than there are in the rest of the other books. I was pleased to see there was a back-up, this one a six-pager from 1949 in which Ms. Grundy and Mr. Weatherbee decide to go a little easier on Reggie than they initially planned after realizing that they too were somewhat Reggie-esque in their youth.


Suicide Squad (DC) Feh. Who needs Jim Lee? Artist Riley Rossmo steps up to handle the art chores usually reserved for DC's co-publisher and a guest-artist, Rossmo drawing an entire 20-page story (the book's first since "Rebirth"). A kinda sorta tie-in to the ongoing Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad crossover series, this flashback story details the story of Amanda Waller's first Suicide Squad: Lobo, The Emerald Enchantress, Doctor Polaris, Johnny Sorrow, field commander Rustam and last-minute addition Cyclotron (If you're reading JL V. SS, then you know which of them don't survive this particular suicide mission.

That mission? Take out the metahuman soldier/weapons created by a vaguely North Korea-like fictional island country in the Pacific, as well as the infrastructure needed to make more. This powerful team meets that goal, even when new facts on the ground reveal that the amount of collateral damage necessary to do so will lead to a five-figure body count. That's fine with them, but no so much with Waller, who tries to kill them all and then reevaluates the idea of using a rewards-based incentive for her teams of psychotic super-villains, thinking maybe tiny bombs planted in their brains would be better (She skipped right over explosive bracelets meant to destroy their arms!).

There's not much too the story of this issue, which is pretty much literally a fight comic, pitting New 52/Rebirth-ed villains against new, one-off nationalistic super-soldiers, but it proves a nice showcase for Rossmo, who does his usual superb job on the art. I particularly like the expressiveness he brings to Johnny Sorrow's empty suit and mask.


Wonder Woman #14 (DC) Ares' helmet is out of control. It's like he sat down with Nicola Scott to design his new costume, and she was like, "Okay, well here are some evil signifiers I've come up with for your helmet to show what a bad-ass god of war you are, which would you like to try?" And Ares is just like "All of them. Also, more horns. And snakes. Living snakes."
Not pictured? His ponytail. Seriously.
Similarly, his dialogue bubbles are kind of out of control here. If he's not going to be in a debating club with Dream and The Endless, he probably doesn't need one quite so specific.

This issue concludes the "Year One" story arc, in which Wonder Woman confronts Ares, with an assist from her patrons (in animal form). Writer Greg Rucka does a fine job of the basic conflict between Wonder Woman and Ares/War here, which has become central to the character outside of her original World War II context, as it becomes war in general that she has left her island to combat, rather than to fight in a specific war. I liked the splash page in which she defeats him, and he explodes into a pile of scary animals, but maybe not for the right reasons. The climax of the SEAR group terrorist plot is a little anti-climatic, following the confrontation with the god of war himself, but also kind of funny, as Wonder Woman flies around the world with shirtless Steve Trevor tucked under her arm like a doll, foiling simultaneous terror plots (mapped out by an owl on a smart phone).

Rucka has moved beyond a shared interest in the poetry of Sappho to demonstrate that Etta Candy and Barbara Minerva are romantically interested in one another, by the way. Still trying to wrap my head around an Etta that has a passionate interest in anything other than candy, but that's likely because I've spent too much time in the Golden Age (Certainly the Etta of The Legend of Wonder Woman was into boys, and the post-Crisis Etta did marry Steve). Scott's art, here colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr., looks better than it ever has before. There's a real sense of the detail that George Perez brought and brings to his art, but the lay-outs are far less crowded and claustrophobic than Perez's Wonder Woman could be. She's pretty much the perfect, or at least a perfect, Wonder Woman artist for 2017.

Monday, January 09, 2017

"Night of the Monster Men," reviewed

It might seem a little early for a crossover story, given that DC Comics' "Rebirth" initiative is only a few months old and that the first story arcs of this period are just now wrapping up, but you know how it is in Gotham City. One night it's a paramilitary organization attempting to assassinate citizens with drone-mounted weapons, the next giant monsters are rampaging.

"Night of the Monster Men" was a six-part story that ran weekly through two issues a piece of Batman, Detective Comics and Nightwing, detailing Batman and his many allies' attempts to safeguard the city from bizarre monsters created by Hugo Strange and set loose on the city as part of an elaborate (and rather silly) attempt to dramatize the renegade psychologist's diagnosis of Batman's flawed psyche.

Before we get into the story itself, it is probably useful to remind ourselves what's been going on in Gotham City just prior to this event story.

Batman recently took Duke Thomas under his wing and began training him as a new partner, here taking the unusual step of not naming him Robin (Duke wears a black and yellow, bat-themed costume when on the streets, but thus far hasn't taken a codename of any kind). Among their very first challenges were facing two metahuman superheroes–Gotham and Gotham Girl–driven mad by Psycho-Pirate's Medusa Mask. Gotham died, but Gotham Girl survived, and has been living in the Batcave with them (For more on Duke, check out All-Star Batman; he's been appearing in both the main story and starring in a back-up feature).

At Batman's behest, Batwoman has been training Spoiler (Stephanie Brown), Orphan (Cassandra Cain) and criminally insane supervillain Clayface (Basil Karlo). Their first big mission was trying to stop her father and his secret splinter group of the U.S. military from killing dozens of Gothamites that they believed were part of a conspiracy that may or may not even exist. Batman's new team succeeded, but at the cost of Red Robin Tim Drake's life...or so it seemed. In reality, he was saved only to be imprisoned by the mysterious Mr. Oz (This was the first story arc of the recently de-relaunched Detective Comics).

The original Robin, Dick Grayson, recently retired from his brief career as a super-spy for Spyral and resumed his Nightwing identity. He's currently working alongside a sketchy new partner named Raptor to stop the Court of Owls from going international (in the pages of Nightwing, obviously).

As for Batman's other allies, current Robin Damian Wayne is MIA (apparently off founding a new iteration of the Teen Titans, as can be seen in the pages of Teen Titans), Batgirl is traveling Asia (in Batgirl) and Red Hood is semi-undercover as a bad guy in an effort to infiltrate Black Mask's criminal organization (in Red Hood and The Outlaws).

Now, if the Monster Men sound familiar to you, there's a good reason for that. Batman first faced off against Hugo Strange's Monster Men in 1940's Batman #1, in a story entitled "The Giants of Hugo Strange." In that story, most likely written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson (although credits weren't exactly trustworthy in that particular franchise at that particular point in time), Strange injected five insane men with a super-serum that turned them into 15-foot-tall ogres bent on mindless destruction–a perfect cover for his robberies.

Matt Wagner returned to that material for his 2006 miniseries Batman and The Monster Men, which expanded and updated the story to fit into modern Batman continuity and meet modern comic story-telling style. Both would have been knocked out of the character's official history with 2011's Flashpoint-driven reboot, making this third version of the story the official one. The monster men in Wagner's telling were still very man-like; not so in writer Steve Orlando and company's version.

Batman #7 ("Night of the Monster Men," Part 1) by writers Steve Orlando and Tom King and artist Riley Rossmo

Even without the threat of monster men, this is going to be a pretty terrible night for Gotham City, as Hurricane Milton is bearing down on it. That's right, a hurricane. Gotham City not only sits atop a massive fault line (see "Cataclysm" and "No Man's Land"), it's also in the path of hurricanes, making it the most dangerous place to live on the eastern seaboard, and that's just when considering the natural disasters!

This is explained via a radio announcer, for which I blame the issue's co-plotter Tom King, as he used that device in "Robin War" as well. Batman is meeting with his top lieutenants Batwoman and Nightwing atop a building, telling them that they are going to make sure no one dies at all, no matter what, to which they both essentially reply not to be so crazy, Batman; it's not like you can punch out a hurricane. Batman is really upset about Tim Drake's fake death, though, and so he calls "everyone" in.

Here "everyone" merely means Spoiler, Orphan, Clayface and the Gotham City Police Department. I've already mentioned where his other sidekicks are, although I'm not sure why he hasn't called in the Justice League, as presumably Superman, for example, actually could punch out the hurricane...or at least use his various spectacular powers to divert it. Of course, one could always ask why Batman doesn't just call his bro Superman to come solve any problem he's faced with, and readers of Batman comics generally have to just accept the fact that Batman won't call in the League because they are reading a Batman comic and not a Justice League comic. That's a little more difficult in this case, though, as he just called the League in two issues ago to help him take down Gotham (the mad superhero, not the city), and, as we'll see, the League eventually shows up during the course of this story, right when they are needed the least.

The plan is for Clayface to split into a bunch of selves, each of them in the shape of GCPD officer, and his clay-selves, Spoiler and Orphan will help evacuate the city and keep peace at the caves outside of town.

And then a monster shows up, so Batman takes Batwoman and Nightwing to deal with that while the others handle crowd control.

Said monster is very, very different from the previous versions of the monster men. These monsters begin their "lives" as corpses laid out on tables in a morgue, and then start...dripping. Red goo. Hugo Strange, meanwhile, is working out in the nude.
You can see his butt and everything. He looks at his watch and says, "It is time to start." And bam, the corpses start going "FSSSSSS" and swelling and bubbling and dripping and mutating (one of these, I should note, is a woman, not a man, so maybe this should have been called "Night of the Monster People").

The first monster looks like a two-story tall baby, one fat baby arm bigger, redder and fatter than the other, with a massive, swollen, mushroom cloud-shaped head with a huge red eye in the middle of it.
Batman loses his Batplane to it immediately, then starts buzzing it in a cool little "combat capsule" jetpack thingee that Steel apparently built for or with him ("Remind me to thank John Henry. Steel was right. Handles like a dream"). Batman then manages to kill the monster with fire, but don't worry; as Alfred and Duke, oracle-ing from the Batcave inform him, it's not "traditionally alive." Besides, we saw it mutate from a corpse, so we know it was dead before the battle began, meaning Batman is free to "kill" these monsters.

Using giant syringes to take tissue samples and with Alfred and Duke on the computers, Batman and team are able to determine that the giant baby monster was the guy who slit his own throat in front of Commissioner Gordon the previous Batman arc, warning "The Monster Men are...coming." Also, it has heavily modified cells, "like programmable stem cells, but super-charged."

But this is, of course, only the first monster. A second appears on the final splash page (that's the one at the top of the post), this one even less human in appearance, bearing a body something like that of a huge pteradon, but with a long, maned neck terminating in a fang-filled animal head with six red eyes. At this point it becomes pretty clear what this story is going to end up being all about: Batman vs. kaiju, basically.

I immediately thought of Steve Niles and Kelley Jones' series Batman: Gotham After Midnight, during the course of which Batman broke out a giant monster-fighting machine he had made, which was essentially just a giant metal punching machine.
Batman's giant monster punching machine, from Batman: Gotham After Midnight #3.
If you'll recall, he used that device to fight Clayface, who, in that story, had grown to giant proportions. As Clayface is now on Batman's side, perhaps he would grow giant and fight a monster hand-to-hand in this too...? One could only hope.

My next thought? Okay, maybe now you call in the Justice League. Multiple giant monsters seems more like a League-level threat than Gotham (the guy, not the city) was in issue #5, you know?

This chapter is drawn by Rossmo, who is probably the strongest of the three artists involved in this story. I'm not sure who designed the monsters, but they deserve high-fives; they are all very different from one another, and some of them look like Guy Davis-level weird; more anime monsters than old-school kaiju (Cover artist Yannick Paquette unfortunately does a poor job of featuring the monsters themselves on these covers, as you can see above; I can't tell you how disappointed I am that they didn't have Jones draw these covers, as Batman and monsters are pretty much his exact wheelhouse).
The most noticeable thing about Rossmo's Batman? Goodness are his ears tiny! I mean, Paquette draws fairly small ears on Batman, but Rossmo's Batman has ears that are smaller than Bob Brown or Dick Sprang's Batman ears; they are only slightly longer than those of Kingdome Come Red Robin's or Midnighter's bat-ears, and, if you say, "But Kingdom Come's Red Robin and Midnighter don't have bat-ears," then I say to you, "Exactly."

I wonder where Sims would place Rossmo's bat-ears on the Sprang-Jones scale...?

Nightwing #5 ("Night of The Monster Men," Pt. 2) by writers Steve Orlando and Tim Seeley and artist Roge Antonio

In the Batcave, Duke is whining to Alfred about having to stay indoors with him doing computer stuff instead of being out there fighting giant monsters with Batman, while Gotham Girl, wearing Duke's old Robin jacket over her superhero costume like they are going steady or something, remarks that she can hear buildings crumbling and giant heartbeats with her super-hearing. Guys, there's an entire mansion a short elevator ride above you; surely you can find Gotham Girl something to wear aside from Duke's old coat.

In the city, Batman and Batwoman take on the second of the monsters, the one that looks a bit like a huge furry pterosaur with a weird head, while Nightwing is tasked with tracking down Hugo Strange, starting with the morgue where the corpse that grew into the first monster was last seen.

Before he goes, Nightwing mentions that Batman does have a giant-monster fighting plan (Ooh, I hope it's that Kelley Jones contraption!), which he calls "The Tower contingencies" and Batman calls "The Wayne Watchtowers." By whatever name they are called, however, we are told that they are too dangerous to activate before the city has been completely cleared.

Does Batman have giant-monster fighting mechas all folded-up inside a few of his properties? Is the climax of this series going to involve our heroes launching giant, bat-themed Evas?

We'll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Batman activates Duke's "special project," "The Bat-Beacon." This is essentially Batman's own emergency broadcast system, which projects holograms of Batman out of all the street lights, so he can tell people to evacuate and to keep a stiff upper-lip and everything.

From there, he and Batwoman grab some super-motorcycles to fight the monster with; by the time they've engaged it thusly, it has grown two more heads.

As for the girls, they are helping Detective Harvey Bullock and other members of the GCPD move evacuees into the cave system outside of town, but something weird is going on there. Everyone is getting irritable and angry, as is prone to happen in such situations, but there's a red liquid covering them, so maybe their anger isn't entirely natural?

At the morgue, Nightwing does not find Strange, nude or otherwise, but he does find evidence that there are not two, but four monsters that have burrowed their way out of there. Our Oracle Bros Alfred and Duke help determine the identity of one of the dead guys-turned-monster, and Nightwing realizes that it is headed for Blackgate prison.

This is the monster on the cover. Monster #3 is roughly human-sized from the waist up, with a Nosferatu-like head, a desiccated torso and insect-like arms and legs. It drags a gigantic, bloated mass behind it, likely containing something super-gross.

Nigthwing is in the process of hurriedly assembling a hang glider or something to fly out to Blackgate with when Gotham Girl rockets passed him on her way to save the day. If you missed Tom King's initial Batman arc, her deal is that she and her brother were both given Superman-like powers, but the more they use them, the quicker they burn out their life forces. Additionally, she is suffering the effects of a the Psycho-Pirate's Medusa Mask, so Batman and Duke would both prefer she just hang out in the Batcave, rather than fly off to fight giant monsters.
In this scene, it becomes clear why she is still wearing her superhero costume with a zip-up jacket over it; it's so she can un-zip that jacket to reveal the big, one-letter logo of her superhero costume, Superman-style.

Detective Comics #941 ("Night of The Monster Men," Pt. 3) by writers Steve Orlando and James Tynion IV and artist Andy MacDonald

Batwoman, still fighting Monster #2 atop a motorcycle, checks in with everyone via radio, so that during the course of a five-panel sequence we can be reminded of who is doing what where (and also see incoming artist Andy MacDonald's renditions of all the characters right off the, um, bat). Batman continues to try to talk Gotham Girl out of flying to confront Monster #3 at Blackgate, saying Nightwing will be there soon, and she talks a bit of smack: "Whoever Nightwing is he isn't fast enough or strong enough."

Much of the action in this issue is divided between two battlegrounds: The caves outside Gotham where Spoiler, Orphan and the GCPD have corralled the evacuating citizens, and Blackgate prison.

The people in the caves have gradually started questioning authority and fighting one another and, thanks to the red goop, begin to act with a sort of hive mind, turning on the heroes and law enforcement.
In an incredible act of being-smart, Spoiler starts thinking about the way plants, molds, fungi and algae communicate, and thus how to combat this goop, which is apparently another monster of sorts. New 52 Stephanie Brown, who is now apparently a genius (she sure made out in the reboot, huh?) comes up with a plan to neutralize the goop without killing or harming the people it's possessing: Raising the heat in the caves. So she, Orphan and the un-gooped cops start shoving road flares all over the cave walls and ceilings. This explains in part what Stephanie keeps in her many pockets and pouches--so many road flares.

At Blackgate, Gotham Girl lands in a superhero pose that shatters the cement beneath her, accompanied by the sound effect GA-THOOM. That is the sound of Gotham Girl smash-landing on cement: "GA-THOOM." What does she find there? Dog-sized creatures that look a bit like giant toads crossed with superman villain Doomsday, attaching themselves to the shoulders and heads of inmates and snaking their long, gross Venom tongues down around them. These are the things apparently hatching out of the huge, gross egg-sack that Monster #3 drags behind it. Nightwing arrives and tries to talk Gotham Girl down a bit, suggesting that maybe tearing the monster to pieces isn't the best course of action, but she basically goes into berserker mode and tearing through the monster's egg sac and then just ripping and ripping and ripping in one of the grossest sequences I've seen in a long time: She and Nightwing are just covered in dead monster gore by the time she's done.
As for the Bats, they are still motorcycle-fighting Monster #2, which continues to grow heads along its long neck. By the end of this issue, it's up to five heads, the topmost of which SPLURTs out a huge knife-shaped horn somewhat reminiscent of Gamera's goofiest-looking opponent, Guiron. They call Nightwing to check in on him and Gotham Girl, but they get no response: Nightwing can't come to the Bat-radio right now, because he's too busy being transformed by the monster blood and guts into a monster himself! Both he and Gotham Girl are turning into monsters, and, in Dick's case, ironically so, as his new monster form is that of a half-bird, half-bat creature.

Batman #8 ("Night of The Monster Men," Pt. 4) by writers Steve Orlando and Tom King and artist Riley Rossmo

The five-headed, building-sized Monster #2 has taken flight, and Batman is still crouched atop his motorcycle, which is attached to the monster by a grappling hook. That's right, he and Batwoman are still fighting the five-headed, blade-horned furry pteradon-esque creature. Surely at this point a call to Superman wouldn't be out of the question, right? He could be in Gotham knocking that thing out and back in Metropolis in less than a minute. I'm sure it would be no trouble at all!

After another quick recap of who is where, the increasingly eager to join the fight Duke reveals to Batman that he and Alfred have discovered what it was that created the monsters: A super-steroid with notable similarities to Venom, the super-steroid that Bane used to take to get super-jacked (and Batman was briefly addicted to, pre-reboot).

Nightwing and Gotham Girl, both mutated into monsters--albeit human-sized ones--by the viscera of Monster #3, both arrive on the scene for some more fighting. Batwoman keeps them busy while Batman finishes off the kaiju via a judicious application of electricity, and joins Batwoman by popping a wheelie and slapping Gotham Girl across the face with it. Oh, that Batman!
That's actually just the first of the cool tricks he tries out here, including wearing Clayface as a big suit of battle armor to go hand-to-hand with Gotham Girl.

It's not enough though, and the day isn't saved until Duke Thomas arrives on the scene with a monster cure in a giant syringe, which he pokes G.G. with. Meanwhile, Batwoman and the monster-ized Nightwing fight in the sky and, outside of town, Spoiler's gambit with all the road flares worked, and the red goop making the Gothamites act all crazy melts off them, forms a river of black goop, and streams out of the cave, where it transforms into Monster #4, the biggest, scariest of the monsters so far.
It's humanoid in shape, but with four long arms, and a body that looks a little like a robe, with a long, dangling red veil. Sprouting from its shoulders are a pair of huge trees with red leaves.

Again, Paquette's cover really rather sells the monster short. With giant monsters, it's all about scale guys...although I suppose it's understandable that the artist might want to focus on the human-sized hero whose name is on the book in the cover image rather than on his titanic opponents.

Nightwing #6 ("Night of The Monster Men," Pt. 5) by writers Steve Orlando and Tim Seeley and artist Roge Antonio

Batwoman and the de-monsterized Gotham Girl manage to administer Duke's de-monstrification serum to Nightwing by the former essentially roping and riding the mutated Nightwing into the syringe the latter was holding up. Nightwing pukes up a bunch of monster juice, and is back to his old self, only missing his mask and a few small pieces of his shirt. Really, he could have stood to lose his entire shirt. I mean, don't you guys want to sell comics, DC? Then lets get Dick Grayson more shirtless more often!

Monster #4, the last of the Monster Men People, strides towards downtown Gotham, scooping up a train car in one of its massive hands. Ah, giant monsters and trains! A classic combination.

Spoiler and Orphan arrive in a station wagon (?) to join the rest of the Bat-squad, just in time to dodge the train engine the latest monster chucks at them. Nightwing takes Spoiler to the top of a Wayne Tower, where she plugs her...super-computer staff?...into the floor and she and Nightwing start reviewing various clues regarding Hugo Strange's whereabouts on the Iron Man: The Movie like hard-light computers it projects...?
Again, I'm not sure how or why Spoiler is fucking Oracle all of a sudden, but I don't really like this new, hyper-competent version of a character whose original charm came from the fact that she was an extremely willful amateur with more heart and guts than actual skills. I suppose this is just the way James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder and other Bat-writers and editors decide to characterize her post-reboot, but for someone who has been reading her for a very long time, it sure feels off, like she was absorbing Tim Drake's mad computer skills through his kisses or something.

By way of explaining how she's able to crack encryptions in a matter of seconds and follow a money trail involving the Monster Venom and the facilities to process it, she tells Nightwing, "I'm The Cluemaster's daughter, Dick." Um, yeah, exactly my point, Steph.

Meanwhile, Dick watches a few seconds of recorded sessions between Strange and the four patients of his that he ended up turning into his Monster People, showing no respect for patient doctor privilege. Those few seconds are enough for Dick to boil each patient's diagnosis down to a single word--Manipulator, Fear, Grief and Child. He's starting to put it together.

The monster knows what they are up to, and starts scaling the tower to get to them, so Batman must activate the Wayne Watchtowers. Is this where one of his buildings transforms into a giant monster-fighting robot? No, sadly nothing that dramatic. The activation does apparently knock all power out of the city and then maybe divert it to the building or something, as it heats up and sets the monster on fire or something with a "SCHWUFF" as Spoiler and Nightwing jump to safety, Strange's location uncovered just in time.

So that's all four monsters down and out, has The Night of The Monster People ended so soon, with a whole issue yet to go?

Ha, Batman and friends wish!

No, the "dead" monsters have all been linking some kind of pink goo that has been gradually sliming its way together, forming an even bigger monster than the biggest of the first four. This final monster isn't too sensational of a design; he looks a little like Spider-Man villain The Rhino, but with a giant Sarlacc Pit mouth for a face.
So this is the climax: One final, big-ass monster for Batman's team to fight while he goes to face Strange. As he's about to go, Nightwing tells Batman what he's figured out about Strange's plan. They monsters aren't just monsters, but they are a statement. People wrestling with childhood trauma, facing grief and fear and manipulating others around them, all of them combining into one, single monster. The Monsters are, Nightwing says, Strange's diagnosis of Batman.

So Batman does the sensible thing: He calls The Justice League and asks them to come take care of this monster for him while he and his team go beat the crap out of Strange.

No, I'm just playing. He tells his team to use The Watchtowers--special fortified buildings bristling with high-tech weaponry that Batman built after Darkseid's "Year One" invasion--while he goes to fight Strange himself. On the final splash page, we finally see Strange again. He is not nude, but he is wearing a Batman suit. Not the cape and cowl, just the suit from, like, the neck down. Which is really too bad, because I'd love to see what he would look like wearing the cowl. Like, it's hard to imagine a Batman with a beard and glasses, isn't it?

And that's the final page of the penultimate chapter of "Night of The Monster Men"...! Just one more issue to go!

Detective Comics #942 ("Night of The Monster Men," Pt. 6) by writers Steve Orlando and artist Andy MacDonald

This is page four of this comic book, in its entirety:

That totally looks like they are all jumping into their own individual robot lions or vehicles or Megazords or whatever, and they are totally going to combine them to form a giant robot, right? I mean, everything about that page, right?

I found the third tier the most intriguing, because it shows that each of the four Watchtowers is apparently programmed with a particular symbol for a particular member of Batman's Bat-squad to light up on its side. I have to imagine those symbols change depending on who is in the individual towers' cockpits, as it's really hard to imagine that Batman had a tower all set up for Spoiler and Orphan, neither of whom even really have symbols, but not ones for Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood or Batgirl.

As for the symbols, the girls have some terrible ones. Spoiler's icon is...a pink "O"...? Not even an "S" for Spoiler? Or something, anything, purple? And Orphan, whose name does begin with the letter "O" gets, what, a hashmark indicating five? A symbol representative of the stitching over the mouth of her current, dumb mask? That's kinda dumb.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that Orphan's symbol looks a little like a crudely drawn, hobo version of the bat-symbol--imagine the little lines in the middle as its ears and two of the lower points on the serrated bottom of the traditional bat-symbol, and the two larger lines on the edges as the largest points of the wings--which kind of works for Cassandra Cain.

Damn I wish she'd hurry up and re-adopt the name Black Bat and a better, more bat-like costume...

Batman arrives in Hugo Strange's penthouse hideout to confront him, and Strange is an all-around amazing decorator! The walls have all these weird, Batman-specific medical charts. Like, there will be a profile of Batman's head, with the mask and skull cut away to reveal Batman's brain, and then all these little (unfortunately illegible) scribbled notes and lines, pointing to which part of Batman's brain thinks about what (Justice? Bat-shapes? Vengeance? Black? His mom's pearls?). There's even a Vitruvian Man, only with Batman in it--so, a Vitruvian Batman, I guess. It's like Strange took a bunch of medical textbooks, and then drew Batman costumes on all the figures.

These are plastered everywhere on the walls, while Strange himself sits atop a throne of psychology books (My favorite title? "Crazy People"), some thick, sticky substance along the bottom (I would assume it's that red stuff that Monster #3 leaked to make people crazy.

Before Batman can strike across the room and punch out Strange, the doctor warns him that he's wearing a "suicide suit," and therefore if Batman strikes him at all, it will kill him, breaking one of Batman's cardinal rules about crime-fighting. They begin their long talk about Batman's psychology, which essentially amounts to Strange's belief that Batman's mental health issues are flaws that make him a weaker crime-fighter, whereas Batman believes they are actually strengths, or at least he's been able to master them and turn them into strengths, which help make him a better crime fighter. Guess who's right?

Meanwhile, the watchtowers prove to not be able to transform into robots. Rather, they are just kitted out with a bunch of laser guns and giant harpoons and stuff like that. These are enough to temporarily stop the monster, but not enough to do so permanently. And this monster's hide is so tough that the giant syringe of monster cure won't pierce its hide. What are they to do? Spoiler alert: Nightwing run across one of the harpoon lines anchoring the monster in place, dives into its open mouth and administers the cure to its softer insides, causing it to vomit him out. And keep vomitting. Re-reading it now, it looks like the monster may actually have vomited itself out through it's mouth, if that makes any sense.

And back to the Batman vs. Strange battle, the latter talks himself into unconsciousness, as Batman secretly brought back-up with him. Clayface blanketed the top few floors of the building with his own malleable body, completely sealing the flow of air into the room. Apparently, Batman can just go without air a lot longer than Strange, who passed out during his speechifying. (It here occurred to me that this particular move was a very Plastic Man-like move, and made me reevaluate Clayface's role on the team. I wondered if at some point Tynion hadn't considered using Plas or Metamorpho or maybe eve Elongated Man in the book, but either changed his mind or had it changed for him by DC; it would explain Clayface's presence, given that as a villain who has pretty much never shown a "good" side before he is a definite odd one out on this Bat-squad team of Tynion's Detective.

And then, after all give giant monsters have been defeated by Clayface, Gotham Girl and a half-dozen physically fit people with masks and capes but no powers, guess who shows up? The Justice League has the gall to arrive to help with clean-up. Yeah Green Lanterns, that's cool you guys can use your power rings--the so called "most powerful weapons in the universe"--to lift and move rubble, but where you a few pages ago? You couldn't have been using those rings to beat up Godzillas with giant boxing gloves!
(By the way, one of the things I don't like about the new Cyborg is his undefined, apparently limitless powers. Like, what's he doing there? I thought he just shot sonic weaponry out of his hand-cannon things, but here he's apparently lifting girders and masonry as if he had a blue-tinted Green Lantern ring. I love that The Flash, The Fastest Man Alive, is literally just standing there next to him though. What's Flash doing exactly, supervising? )

On the final pages, we see Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane in a cemetery, remarking on the headstones erected for the four victims that Strange used to make his monsters, which an anonymous donor paid for (I bet you five dollars it was Bruce Wayne; no, ten dollars!). They talk to one another in a brief conversation meant to set up future storylines. When Kate asks Bruce if Strange was sent to Arkham, he says no, but "somewhere...better equipped for his mind." (Hm, maybe Bruce Wayne bought Oolong Island?). He also said that Strange's Venom was given to him by Bane, in exchange for the Psycho-Pirate, and that he's "not waiting to find out" why. If you've been reading Tom King's Batman, you already know why, because that storyline, "I Am Suicide," just ended.

Batman further tells Kate that SHIELD ARGUS has "pulled eminent domain" and built a big research facility around the mostly-vomit body of the final monster, and since the monster goop can be weaponized, it "bears...watching." This will apparently be followed up on in Tynion's Detective and the upcoming Batwoman book.

And that is that.


********************

Since DC re-relaunched Batman last year, they have been having Tim Sale providing variant covers for the series. I personally find this kind of ridiculous, as Sale's covers are almost always superior to those of the "regular" artists and, while I continue to not understand the specific economics of variant cover sales, it always seemed more logical to me to pay one artist to draw a single cover for a single issue of a comic, rather than paying two or more to provide multiple covers for the same damn book.

Anyway, as I've stated repeatedly above, Paquette's "regular" covers may have included pretty decent images of Batman, Batwoman and Nightwing, they usually failed to depict the monsters in any way that demonstrated their size and/or scariness. That was definitely not the case with Sale's variants, the first and fourth of those below.

As you can see, he makes the monsters look huge, while also putting Batman at the center of the action, and he does so using some fairly basic visual tricks. The Nightwing variants are penciled by Ivan Reis (the second and fifth of the images below), and Rafael Albuquerque drew the Detective variants (the third and the sixth).

Overall, Albuquerque and Sale do the best job of making the giant monsters look like giant monsters; Reis' images aren't really all that fair to compare to Paquette's on that score, as the monsters he draws are more less human-sized.

Anyway, for comparison's sake, here are what the other artists involved in drawing the Monster People came up with:






Saturday, January 07, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: January 4th

Batman #14 (DC Comics) Regular writer Tom King is joined by guest artist Mitch Gerards for the first of a two-part "I Am Suicide" epilogue story. Catwoman was on Batman's unofficial Suicide Squad, and her payment for her assistance in retrieving The Psycho-Pirate is that her sentence has been commuted from death to life without parole, and she'll be locked up forever not in Arkham, where he found her at the beginning of the last arc, but in Blackgate (Why they would be keeping someone sentenced to death in an insane asylum where none of the inmates are ever sent to be executed, I don't know; "Because Gotham City," I suppose, or otherwise The Joker, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Mad Hatter, Harley Quinn any anyone else who have killed double-to-triple-digits of people in terrorist attacks would be either killed in drone attacks or sent to Guantanamo).

Batman wants more, he wants to exonerate her for the 100+ murders she's been charged with (I don't know, it was mentioned but not explained in the previous arc), and she wants more, too--she wants one last night of freedom on the rooftops of Gotham with Batman, doing whatever they want.

He, of course, wants to fight super-crime. So much of the issue allows for King to parade a bunch of minor villains, many of them being reintroduced for the first time in the current continuity here: Magpie, Signal Man, The Gorilla Boss (of Gotham City), The Ten-Eyed Man, Copperhead, Amygdala, King Snake, Condiment King, The Cavalier, Zerbra Man, Film Freak and The Mad Monk. Also appearing are Kite Man, which I'm afraid I have to call bullshit on. I know King is a little obsessed with Kite Man, and that's cool; hell, it's endearing, and I would certainly look forward to a Kite Man story arc in the future. But he just showed us Kite Man locked up in Arkham at the beginning of "I Am Suicide"; that was, what, days ago? I also need to call bullshit on The Clock King. He appears here, in a redesigned version of his Batman: The Animated Series look. Which is completely different than that of the "classic" Clock King look he sported in Deathstroke a few weeks back. Oh, and Deathstroke totally killed him. Unless there are two Clock Kings, but really, how many Clock Kings does a single comics line need?

As for Catwoman, she would rather just have sex with Batman, and they do. She spreads out a bed of diamonds on some filthy Gotham rooftop and they take off their costumes (in defiance to Frank Miller's repeated insistence that superhero sex is better with the costumes on, and that weird scene on the last page of 2011's Catwoman #1 where Batman and Catwoman had fully-clothed sex). Now, I have never had sex on a bagful of diamonds scattered atop a rooftop. Hell, I've never accidentally sat on a diamond, naked or clothed, so I can't be certain, but I always imagined that diamonds are hard and pointy, and thus I can't imagine that would be the most comfortable way to do it.

It's a pretty nicely written story, and a better exploration of this particular relationship than other stories about it of late. Gerads handles pencils, inks and colors, and while his style is not to my particular taste--it's a little too realistic--I feel silly voicing any objections about the artwork in Batman, given that one of the two regular artists is David Finch (He drew the initial story arc "I Am Gotham," and is returning for the next one, "I Am Bane"), and he is pretty much the worst person to draw a Batman comic in maybe...ever?

The double-page splash is very well handled, as is the sex scene (again, compared to that one in Catwoman #1). The sequence on page 12 though, where Batman takes on Cavalier, Zebra Man, Film Freak and Mad Monk in four consecutive horizontal panels? That didn't work for me at all. The setting remained the same in all four panels, and Batman fights his way across that setting, from left to right, while Catwoman stands stationary at the very end, continuing a conversation from panel to panel, suggesting it's all happening in a matter of seconds. But the villains appear and disappear in each panel. That is, Batman kicks The Cavalier in the first panel, and the other three villains aren't right there behind Cavalier. Then, in the next panel, Batman is kicking Zebra Man, and the presumably now unconscious Cavalier is no longer there, not lying behind Batman. It...doesn't work at all, and I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the page, trying to make sense of the story it was trying to tell.

So, all in all, this was maybe the very definition of a mediocre Batman issue in this particular run. Not as good, visually or in terms of script, let alone both, as "I Am Suicide" or the "I Am Gotham" epilogue issue (penciled by Ivan Reis), but better than the opening arc "I Am Gotham").

The cover is by Stephanie Hans, so it's representative of the content of the story, if not the style of the art within. Stephanie Hans is a woman and not a man, so I really think DC should consider moving her to Batman interiors. Because of that whole there's-never-been-a-female-artist-on-a-Batman-book thing. Hans wouldn't be my first choice to correct that unfortunate pattern, but if she's drawing the cover, then one assumes editor Mark Doyle likes her work okay and already has her contact info. And since David Finch is one of the two regular artists on Batman right now, it's not like DC cares who's drawing Batman at all, so why not let Hans or a female artists take over for Finch? Or, you know, anyone?

DC Comics Bombshells #21 (DC) For this books frankly much longer than I imagine anyone might have guessed run, Ant Luca has been providing the covers. Why? Luca is the artist who designed the original DC Comic Bombshells statuettes that this series is based on...or at least inspired by. This issue features a cover by Marguerite Sauvage, however, a too-infrequent contributor to the book who has drawn some of its best passages to date. Hopefully she'll stay on cover duty; that way Bomshells readers will get at least one image per issue from her.

If you're not reading this book, I would cajole you give it a shot. It's basically an all-lesbian remake of All-Star Squadron, except not really. In the current story arc, writer Marguerite Bennett has sent a team of Bombshells--Batwoman, Catwoman and Renee Montoya--to join Vixen and her more-than-likely girlfriend Hawkgirl in Vixen's kingdom of Zambesi. They are there to beat the Nazis to some sort of secret, ancient super-weapon, which turn out to be monstrous, metal versions of various representatives of African fauna, all of whom can speak and consider themselves gods.

In this issue, drawn by Mirka Andolfo, Richard Ortiz and Laura Braga, Barbara Minerva allies herself with these monster gods and delivers them to her mistress, Baroness Paula Von Ghunther. Gadgeteer Hawkgirl builds her team "an animal-unaffiliated-mobile" that looks an awful lot like a Batmobile (there are two pointy fins atop it reminiscent of Batman's cowl). Each claims it for their own species. "Fox," Vixen says. "Bat," Batwoman says. "Cat," Catwoman says. "Or, y'know, Hawk," Hawkgirl throws in.

I think given its current gray color, Batwoman and Catwoman have the strongest claim; however a red paint job could seal the deal for Vixen. I can't really get Hawk out of it though, Hawkgirl; maybe a paint job and some feather decals on the fins atop it to make them look like the wings on the Hawks' helmets...?

The ongoing, present-day action is broken up by the origin of Minerva, explaining how she came to be a soldier of fortune working for Von Gunther, but it looks like her origin is ongoing, and she's about to get a redesign to make her look more like the Modern Age Minerva than she currently does (so far, she's just been rocking generic Safari garb with an animal print belt and sometimes visible boustier).

Because this book never credits which artist drew which section, I'm not 100% positive who is responsible for a few of the glitches in this issue, where in the images drawn clearly don't reflect what the text says, but there are a noticeable amount of them. On page three, Hawkgirl tells Vixen the tail she just ripped off of a mechanical cheetah regenerated while the image shows that is definitely not the case. Hawkgirl gives Vixen a pair of boots to wear so she won't continue the adventure in high heels (as Catwoman does), but every drawing of Vixen afterwards still shows her in the heels, not the boots. There appears to be the butt of a rifle sticking out of the mouth of a hanged man in one panel, but the angle of the head is wrong, if the intent was to show that his killer shoved the rifle down his throat (if she broke it in half and then did so, well that's not clear).

Am I nitpicking? Sure. But then, that's what I do.

Nightwing #12 (DC) Poor Orca. Created during Larry Hama and Scott McDaniel's millennial run on Batman, during a time in which Batman was meant to be the book that focused on Batman-as-superhero, she was pretty maligned at the time as a pretty lame Batman character--that entire run, regardless of sales, doesn't have a particularly good reputation (Batman took on Orca, for example, by donning a special Bat-scuba suit that made him resemble an ancillary figure from a Batman toy line).

From there, Orca only appeared briefly in Joker's Last Laugh, during a scene where several of the "sea monster" type characters are released from their cells in supervillain prison The Slab, and then turned up dead in James Robinson's not very good "One Year Later" story arc, "Face The Face."

But thanks to the magic of rebooting, she's alive again! After being name-dropped in the initial All-Star Batman story arc ("My Own Worst Enemy"; buy it in trade if you missed it, as it is awesome), she is now appearing in Nightwing.

This current story arc finds her in her Orca form--initially she cold switch back and forth between paralyzed marine biologist Dr. Grace Balin and the monstrous Orca--and working as muscle in Bludhaven, which in the "Rebirth" era is essentially a crime-ridden analogue to Atlantic City, where various '90s and millennial Gotham-based villains end up when they want to turn their lives around (and, one presumes, quite getting beat up by Batman).

As drawn by artist Marcus To, she looks much bigger and more muscular than she did in her initial Scott McDaniel design. In truth, she should be a pretty terrible threat to Batman and his allies, as she is basically a sort of were-killer whale now. So imagine Killer Croc or King Shark, only instead of having strength and "powers" similar to crocodiles or Great White sharks, she would/should have strength and powers similar to a killer whale*, and they are bigger and more deadly than either.**

Nightwing wins his fight with her, of course, but he gets some help in the form of The Run-Offs, reforming supervillains like Mouse, Giz, Stallion and Thrill Devil (I hope writer Tim Seeley is writing Chuck Dixon, who co-created all these guys, thank you notes twice a month). Also, like the rest of The Run-Offs, her heart doesn't really seem to be in crime these days.

That's kind of too bad, in that I like the idea of Bludhaven, a sort of Gotham Jr., under the protection of Nightwing, a sort of Batman Jr., being full of junior versions of Gotham City's villains, but then, I also like the idea of Nightwing being the sort of friendly vigilante who believes in reforming villains instead of just beating them within an inch of their lives and throwing them in the least effective mental health facility in the world.

As I said the other day, I'm really digging the current story arc. I like To's art an awful lot, and, with Nightwing back in Bludhaven and crossing paths with the sorts of villains that Dixon wrote back when he was writing Nightwing, this is the first time Nightwing has felt like the old Nightwing in a very long time.

Superman #14 (DC) I was a little disappointed to see that neither of the regular pencil artists on this book, Patrick Gleason or Doug Mahnke would be drawing this issue. Not only are they both great artists (and Gleason the book's co-writer, with Peter Tomasi), but their art is pretty compatible in terms of style and tone, and that's something that can't be said of all of the rotating art teams on DC's bi-monthly books (see, for example, Batman, complained about above).

The artist here isn't a bad one, though; it's Ivan Reis, teamed with Joe Prado. They are also a damn appropriate art team, given this new story arc's guest-stars: Justice League Incarnate, the superhero team composed of heroes from various parallel Earth's that was at the center of the Grant Morrison-written Multiversity. Reis and Prado drew the bookend issues.

Here "our" Superman encounters Red Son Superman, who is on the run from some vague, kinda generic-looking alien army traveling the Multiverse collecting each Earth's Superman. They are on Earth-0 not for the Superman who stars in this book, but for Kenan Kong, the New Super-Man from New Super-Man (Earth-0's Superman is dead, remember, and this Superman is the Superman from a previous iteration of Earth-0, prior to the Dark Trinity of Pandora, Doctor Manhattan and Geoff Johns rebootifying of it).

Anyway, here's a team-up between Superman and Justice League Incarnate to rescue New-Superman and at least a dozen other Supermen, including Captain Carrot, who this implies is the Superman of his Earth. Given how individual a talent Morrison is and how difficult it is to follow him, I'd normally be worried about this arc, but Tomasi, Gleason, Reis, Prado and company pulled this first chapter off just fine, and Tomasi and Gleason have already teamed Superman up with the Morrison/Mahnke Frankenstein, Garth Ennis and John McCrea's Hacken from Hitman and a survivor from an early chapter of Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, so in about six months worth of their book, they have managed to pretty successfully reference and riff on other disparate DC stories from some of the publisher's most distinct creative teams, so hell, if anyone can pull it off...

Aditionally, it's just plain neat to see characters like President Superman and the Green Lantern-who-is-also-The Demon again, and I'm really looking forward to the first meetings between Superman and Kenan Kong. It was reading this issue that I realized one of the things that is so appealing about Kenan: He is basically the 21st century answer to the Superboy of the '90s.



*Hey, want to hear my pitch for a Predator comic? Okay, it goes like this. There's this one, particularly old and experienced Predator who has been visiting Earth on hunting trips for pretty much ever and has killed all sorts of bad-ass human beings. He's pretty jaded about the whole experience, really. He human beings like to talk about how we're "the most dangerous game" but really, we're damn easy to kill. You have to get a pretty large group of us together and arm us pretty well to really prove a challenge to a Predator alien, unless the human in question is, say, Dutch, Dutch's brother or Batman. So this predator learns that there's actually a predatory mammal that can reach lengths of up to 30 feet and weights of up to six tons, and, if that wasn't formidable enough, it lives in the water, often in the most inhospitable place on Earth for the Predator aliens: The frozen north. Intrigued, this particular Predator abandons humans and sets out to be the first of his kind to kill an orca. Along the way he comes into combat with other formidable creatures of the arctic and, when he finally does battle with an orca, he finds he is unable to remove the skull as a trophy due to its size and the fact that it sinks. His fellows don't believe him. So he must return to try again, and this time he perishes while trying to remove the skull from the dead and sinking whale. It would have no words except alien clicking and whale noises, and basically be the Moby Dick of Predator comics...by which I mean it will be really, really fucking long.


**Say, did you ever see 1977 movie Orca? Much scarier than jaws, as the sea-going predator in the title is basically like Jaws if Jaws was a bit bigger and also a brilliant strategist. Like, the shark in Jaws would eat you if he could get to you, but the orca in Orca would find a way to trick you into coming to him. He would cut your brake lines so you would get in a car accident on your way to work and if anyone suspected foul play, they surely wouldn't expect that it was a whale that did it. Don't fuck with orcas, I believe was the moral of the film.