Thursday, July 20, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: July 19th

Archie #22 (Archie Comics) Jeez Mark Waid and Pete Woods, why are you guys trying so hard to make me cry while reading an Archie comic? They didn't quite get me there, but it sure wasn't for lack of trying. The majority of this issue is devoted to the various loved ones of The Person Who Was Injured In The Car Accident, loved ones as close as parents and as distant as school principal Mr. Weatherbee, remembering particular instances that demonstrate to them just how much they love The Person.

It should come as no surprise that the cliffhanger from the previous issue, in which The Person flatlines, turns out okay, and the doctors are able to revive The Person, but it ends with another dramatic cliffhanger, when The Person asks, "Why can't I feel my legs?"

And then there's seven pages of ads for Riverdale. Did you know there's a TV show based on Archie Comics called Riverdale? Well, there is.

I thought the cover of this issue kind of ironic, with the phrase "Everything changes" on it. Archie Comics' most defining characteristic is, after all, that nothing ever really changes for its characters and their setting. I mean, it was only 22 issues ago that the line had a major shake-up and relaunch, and even then, the changes weren't so dramatic as to completely reinvent the basic, essential characters or web of relationships between them, you know?

Anyway, I'm far more interested in the comedy Archie books (Jughead, Josie) than the dramedy ones (Archie), but after the rather rocky first chapter of this arc, Waid and Woods have been doing a pretty dang incredible job.

Batman #27 (DC Comics) There have only been two chapters of "The War and Jokes and Riddles" so far, so it seems a little early to take a break for an "Interlude," but that's where we've arrived, with "The War of Jokes and Riddles Interlude: The Ballad of Kite Man Part 1," by regular writer Tom King, guest pencil artist Clay Mann and a trio of inkers, including Mann himself.

King's fascination with Kite Man, who has at least cameo-ed in every single arc King has written since the "Rebirth" relaunch 27-issues ago, has been one of the more charming aspects of the series. Here, in this story set sometime near the end of Batman's new, post-Flashpoint "Year One" era, we get to see the origin of Kite Man, and I'm afraid it sort of drains the humor out of the character, as King must naturally give him a dark origin story (It's not quite as bad as what the Bat office did with Calendar Man, though)>

Charles Brown (Get it?) is a minor, down-on-his-luck Gotham City criminal who specializes in aerodynamics and, for reasons never made clear, always wears the same blue suit. He apparently worked with The Joker to designs The Jokermobile, and was the only one of that particular crew The Joker didn't kill. That's what leads Batman to bully Brown into establishing first contact and then a meeting with The Joker, in the hopes that Batman can then swoop in and collect The Joker.

The Riddler has also heard of the meeting, and so he kidnaps Brown and bullies him into revealing the whereabouts of the meeting as well, threatening the life of Brown's beloved son to get him to cooperate.

The meeting is a bit of a clusterfuck, although what exactly happened isn't the least bit clear--there's just a two-page spread in which we see The Joker stalking off with Brown, while Batman fights The Riddler, The Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Solomon Grundy in the background. One imagines this will be explained when the interlude is over, and King gets back to the story proper?

Meanwhile, The Riddler has pre-emptively murdered Brown's innocent young son (in this storyline's, like, third major act of completely un-Riddler-like behavior--is he a Skrull or what?) on the assumption that Brown would betray him, which pushes Brown to become a superhero and join The Joker's "side" in an attempt to get vengeance on The Riddler. This argument is laid out by the Frank Miller-like technique of television pundits arguing about news in Gotham City constantly in the background--I guess there's like a CNN devoted specifically to covering Gotham City...?

The art's okay, and the last page is pretty great, but I don't think the world really needed the dark, secret origin of Kite Man any more than it needed violent serial killer Riddler. The very idea of the city's supervillains picking sides like this is also an ongoing spot of complete weirdness, especially since they are picking the side of either a chaotic serial killer/terrorist who is almost definitely kill them (and is not a team player of any sort, rarely if ever teaming up with anyone, and generally no more than one other bad guy at a time...and usually Lex Luthor at that) and a methodical, ingenious thief who is now being presented as just as vicious as The Joker. If this were The Penguin or Luthor (or hell, Two-Face or Bane or Hush, just so long as it's a rational actor with incredible resources and some form of interest in the actual gains of a gang war) hiring these guys to fight Falcone or a traditional, rational actor with a reason for engaging in a gang war at all, then I guess it might be more plausible, but in this interlude we see a bunch of villains having already taken one side or another, but no real justification has been given as to why they've chosen one violent lunatic with no real ability to make it worth their while over the other.The two generals in the crime war should have something to offer their soldiers, something of so much value that they would get involved at all, and, in many cases, it would have to be a lot more than just money, which most of them are perfectly capable of stealing on their own.

So far, the only justification given is that from the Frank Miller-style Greek chorus of TV punditry:
We're supposed to have leadership. We're supposed to decide. We want safety, someone has to win. So pick a winner. We want The Joker gone, we help The Riddler. We want The Riddler gone, we help the damn Joker!
Again, maybe this will be explained when we get out of the interlude and back to the story proper--we did see The Joker threatening The Penguin to be his lieutenant and The Riddler lying to get Poison Ivy on his side earlier--but, at this point, the villains seem to be taking sides simply because that's the premise of the story arc King has come up with, not because he's made it part of the story. But thus far, this story has been incredibly unsatisfying; King's strings are far too visible, and it all seems too artificial to be immersive.

Sadly, this issue does not include a variant cover by Tim Sale, but instead has one by Tony Daniel, and Daniel's features not Kite Man, but Batman posing on a scary gargoyle. It's too bad; I'd really like to see a Sale version of Kite Man. The sole virtue of the Sale variants on Rebirth Batman has been seeing Sale draw modern characters, and those we haven't already seen his often quite idiosyncratic versions of in his past Batman work.

Batman '66 Meets The Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC) This is the first of DC's Batman '66 comics I've read since Adam West passed away and it is admittedly a little uncomfortable, particularly because artist Mike Allred--who here actually provides all of the interior art as well as the cover art, the latter of which he has been contributing to these comics as long as DC has been publishing them--is so adept and marrying recognizable celebrity likenesses with his own style.

That aside, this is the exact Batman '66 comic I've been waiting for since I saw Allred's very first cover. Well, not the Legion of Super-Heroes part, obviously (that is actually a little out of left field), but an all-Allred issue, cover as well as interiors (Well, actually, I wanted it to be very Batgirl-centric, and she only has a few panels in this issue).

So Lee Allred, Mike Allred and Laura Allred have the Dynamic Duo holed up in the Bat-cave, using the Bat-computer to track their foe Egghead. When who should appear but a half-dozen Legionnaires--the ones on the cover there--who have journeyed back from the year 2966 to recruit the greatest teenage superhero of all-time to help them capture Universo, who is on the loose in the 20th century. And bears a rather striking resemblance to Egghead.

It turns out that this is only a one-shot special, rather than a miniseries, which is the format the Batman '66 material has taken since the monthly was canceled. I was at first a little surprised and a little disappointed by this, as more Allred art is better than less Allred art, but this length actually works pretty well, giving the creators just enough room to work in as many characters from both settings as they want, at least in cameo form (the rest of the LOSH and the Legion of Super-Pets appear in the skies in the background of one panel, for example).

It's a lot of fun, and I say that as someone not overly enamored of the Batman '66 milieu and actually rather repelled by the LOSH in general. Near the end, when Robin says that it might have been fun to join a group of fellow teenage superheroes, Batman points out there are probably some teenage superheroes right there in the present that he could hang out with, which Robin says sounds like a "titanic" idea.

I don't know of Team Allred will follow through with a Batman '66 Meets The Teen Titans or not, but it certainly suggested a new way forward for DC's use of the characters. If the latest model was miniseries teaming them up with the stars of other live-action TV shows, maybe the next one should be teaming them up with various '66-iterations of other DC superheroes.

DC Comics Bombshells #31 (DC) In this issue, it's the secret origin of Killer Frost, and the secret origin of Supergirl, which is different from the origin of Supergirl, which we've already seen. This new origin ties her pretty directly to Faora and Krypton, and we learn how Faora has been behind pretty much all of the various villains the various Bombshells have faced off against up until this point in the series. There's really a sense of writer Marguerite Bennett winding things down now, in preparation for the already announced next iteration of a Bombshells comic.

Nightwing #25 (DC) This over-sized twenty-fifth issue seems to be the conclusion of the "Blockbuster" arc, or at least a turning point in in Nightwing's fight with Blockbuster, as the villain has fairly successfully used Nightwing to take out Tiger Shark's operation for him.

Also, Dick Grayson finally gets a job! But it's too late; Shawn has dumped him for his...unwillingness to get a job doing menial labor...? I never really got this part of the arc, which, as I've said before, seems more like the kind of plot point for a different super-comic starring a different superhero, not the one who grew up in an obscenely generous zillionaire's mansion.

The "tiger sharks" were cool.

Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat Vol. 3: Careless Whisker(s) (Marvel Entertainment) I still have one more issue of those collected in this third and final trade of Kate Leth and Brittney Williams' all-around superlative title yet to read, and I'm actually kind of reluctant to do so, as it means that I will no longer have any more issues of their Patsy Walker to look forward to.

It's too bad. This was one of my favorite Marvel comics of the last few years (with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl being the other one) , and, in my humble opinion as a semi-professional comics critic, it was also one of the better Marvel comics of the last few years.

I understand Leth is leaving comics-scripting behind in the near-future, but I do hope Marvel finds something for Williams to draw for them on a regular basis. Preferably whatever the hell she wants. In a perfect world, it would be Jubes, as Williams and Leth have been maybe the only creative team to really make the weird-ass current version of Jubilee work, by having her embrace her weird, disparate elements--mutant, X-Man, superhero, single mom, vampire, etc.

Superman #27 (DC) Scott Godlewski is the guest-artist for what may be the single preachiest comic book I have ever, ever read. After a frankly weird scene where Superman falls asleep while flying home one night--I could have sworn I had read in various '90s Superman comics that he doesn't need to sleep, he just does it out of habit and to feel human--Lois Lane decides to rent a mobile home so the family can spend the Fourth of July holiday driving around the country and learning shit.

Check this out:
If you thought, "God, shut up Lois!" at any point during that, then you will hate this issue, as the entire issue is like that. The pages showing the Super-Family spending time together or doing normal-ish, family-on-vacation stufff are just bridges between history lessons like the one above. Also covered is the meaning of the famous "COEXIST" bumper sticker, the horror of Word War I, the bravery of the founding fathers in signing the Declaration of Independence and, in a fairly cringe-inducing scene, Clark and company inviting a paralyzed Iraq war vet to join them for dinner and, when the hostess balks, Clark gives a very respectfully-delivered public-shaming to her about how vets rule. The dinner changes the man's life! He even gets offered a job as a dish-washer!

Now, as cynical an asshole as I may be, I don't necessarily disagree with...let's see...anything at all that either Clark or Lois say in this issue, but holy hell, did writers Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have to convey it in the form of a lecture? Superman is already Superman, and super-comics work with blunt force symbology; you can share broad, treacly, impossible-to-argue-with political sentiments in a way that can be, you know, entertaining. At the very least, they could have tried to do less telling and more showing.

That said, it wasn't any less entertaining than another issue of Superman and Superboy fighting Manchester Black, I guess; I actually had fun yelling at the characters in the comic to shut up, so, you know, there's that.

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