Friday, March 24, 2017

Marvel's June previews reviewed...plus like 18 paragraphs about race and Iron Fist, which surely no one could possibly be sick of talking about yet

Apparently Marvel's Gwen Stacy variant covers did well enough that Marvel is going to go back to the well--Well, not that exact well, but a well right next to it. And so the comics they release in June will include variant covers featuring Mary-Jane Parker Watson playing the role of whatever hero whose name is on the book, often with her one-time husband Spider-Man in tow. The above example is from Avengers, and I chose it because it is drawn by Mike Allred, and I like the way that guy draws stuff.

What else in Marvel planning to release in June? Click here to find out, and/or just keep reading this post for a few of the things I found noteworthy...


BLACK EYED PEAS: MASTERS OF THE SUN –
THE ZOMBIE CHRONICLES TPB

WRITTEN BY will.i.am & BENJAMIN JACKENDOFF
PENCILED BY DAMION SCOTT
COVER BY will.i.am
From the mind of Will.i.am comes this retro futuristic B-Boy Zombie Thriller, fusing together the unlikeliest of genres with ease!
Masters Of The Sun mixes L.A. Gang culture, B-Boy-ism and Egyptology to tell the heroic tale of a Hip-Hop group from East L.A. who must battle an ancient, alien God sent to earth to continue a Black Curse which turns drug dealers and gangsters into zombies. With a deep love of the Hip-Hop culture, Zulu-X and his crew go head-to-head with a nefarious ancient order that has infiltrated the inner cities to settle an ancient score. What happens next can only be described as the perfect blend of action, ancient wisdom and street-smarts all rolled into one epic adventure. Boasting one of the most eclectic ensemble cast of characters, Masters of The Sun delivers a powerful social allegory in the form of a new movement… #stayWOKE!!!
120 PGS./Parental Advisory …$24.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91084-6


There's a lot about this that gives me pause, from the fact that I'm not terribly familiar with the Black Eyed Peas to all the punctuation in the title to the eye-rolling hashtag at the end of the text. That said, it is penciled by artist Damion Scott, whose Batgirl run I've just re-devoured in the last month or so, and he's one of those artists whose work I'll always at least check out.


CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #18
NICK SPENCER (W) • JAVIER PINA (A)
Cover by ELIZABETH TORQUE
MARY JANE VARIANT COVER BY PAOLO RIVERA
SECRET EMPIRE TIE-IN!
• As Steve Rogers enacts his grand vision for a new Hydra world order, he is forced to confront an old friend. But will Namor, the Sub-Mariner, prove to be ally or deadly enemy?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


So here's a neat thing about superhero comics. The plot synopsis above says that Captain America Steve Rogers is taking over the world, and his old war buddy Namor, The Sub-Mariner is going to confront him. It was just a few years ago that the shoe was on the other winged foot, however, and Captain America was confronting Namor, who with a quartet of X-people had come into possession of the Phoenix Force and took over the world. In the superhero game, this is the kind of conversation you get to have from both sides at some point in your career.


DARTH VADER #1 & 2
Charles Soule (W) • GIUSEPPE CAMUNCOLI (A)
Cover by JIM CHEUNG
...
The most fearsome villain of all time returns with an all-new series! When Anakin Skywalker fell, both to the pull of the dark side and to the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he rose back up, more machine than man. Having lost everything that was once dear to him, the former chosen one must take his first steps into a darker world…as Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith! Join Vader as he learns a new way — the way of Darth Sidious and his newly formed Empire…the way of the dark side.
ISSUE #1 – 48 PGS./Rated T …$4.99
ISSUE #2 – 32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd.


Oh. So Marvel is relaunching the Darth Vader book they recently canceled, presumably in order to make way for a Doctor Aphra book. But this volume of Darth Vader is seemingly set long before the previous, first volume of Darth Vader (this series sounds like it will be set between Revenge of The Sith and A New Hope, closer to the former than the latter, whereas the previous one was set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back).

That first volume of Marvel-published Darth Vader lasted 25 issues, producing four collections, labeled Darth Vader Vols. 1-4. So at some point in the near future, maybe about two years or so, there will be two Darth Vader Vols. 1, two Vols. 2, and so on, with the ones that were published first being set after the ones that were published second.

That sounds about right.


DEFENDERS #1
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (W) • DAVID MARQUEZ (A/C)
...
Daredevil! Luke Cage! Jessica Jones! Iron Fist! Individually, these four heroes have been on the front lines of the battle to keep the streets of the city safe and secure! But now, with a deadly enemy from the dim past making a major move to unite the underworld, they will need to become more — they will need to become DEFENDERS! Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez unite to bring you the next great super-team, in the tradition of NEW AVENGERS!
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99


Hooray, a new Defenders series! That's...Oh, wait, it's those Defenders. The Netflix ones, not the real ones. And Brian Michael Bendis is writing them. That sucks.

I've probably mentioned this to you guys before, but in the wake of the various Netflix series, if I were in charge of such things at Marvel, I'd launch a new Defenders series consisting of the four big guns of the original team--Doctor Strange, The Hulk, Silver Surfer and Namor--with the four street-level, Marvel Knights-style team appearing in the series above.

Actually, I suppose it would end up being more of a Doctor Strange and the Netflix guys, with guest-appearances from the other three, as Strange and those guys are all based in NYC, while Namor, Hulk and The Surfer are pretty remote, and would have pretty long commutes to get to many of their adventures. And The Hulks are kind of a mess right now, I guess, with Bruce Banner dead, She-Hulk gray and angsty and "Totally Awesome" Hulk Amadeus Cho on The Champions. Hey, two of those things happened because of the events of the Bendis-written Civil War II...!

I just read that, by the way, and am currently trying to work up the strength to write about it. The one good part of it? David Marquez's artwork, and he's the guy drawing this book. Well, there were a lot of weak parts to the visuals of Civil War II (mainly every action scene), but Marquez draws good faces emoting, and I'm assuming that's what 95% of this comic will consist of.


DOCTOR STRANGE AND THE SORCERERS SUPREME #9
ROBBIE THOMPSON (W) • JAVIER RODRIGUEZ (A/C)
• Sir Isaac Newton, Sorcerer Supreme of his day, has mastered an ancient, evil magic and has gone power-mad.
• It’s up to the Sorcerers Supreme to stop him from sending the world – and all of their own individual timelines – into chaos.
• Unfortunately, even with the Avengers on their side, it seems like they are still no match for Newton.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Try distracting him by hitting him on the head with an apple!


EDGE OF VENOMVERSE #1 (of 5)
MATTHEW ROSENBERG (W) • ROLAND BOSCHI (A)
Cover by FRANCESCO MATTINA
...
EDGE of VENOM-VERSE starts here!
The series that sets up the epic VENOM EVENT of 2017 STARTS HERE! Each issue introduces another major Venomized character that will feed into VENOMVERSE itself! THIS ISSUE, the young mutant clone designated X-23 collides with a cryogenic tube containing a strange alien symbiote during her frenzied escape from The Facility, . Bonding with the alien enhances her already considerable abilities, and aids in her escape, but it begins to alter her mind! On the run from the very people that made her, can X-23 hold it together or is she doomed to give in to Venom!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


That's...actually a pretty good idea for a series, really.

Any thoughts on who The Venom with all the little extra heads is supposed to be, presuming all the Venoms on that cover are Venomized Marvel heroes, and not just Elseworlds What If...? Venoms...?


ICEMAN #1
SINA GRACE (W) • ALESSANDRO VITTI (A)
Cover by KEVIN WADA
...
Bobby Drake has been in the super hero game longer than most. But while reflecting on what he’s accomplished over the years, he realizes that the legacy he’s built is a few good one-liners and a string of failed relationships. Not only that, but now a younger version of himself has emerged from the timestream and he’s more put together than Bobby ever was: already a world-class hero in his own right, but also totally comfortable in his own skin, complete with a relationship with a handsome Inhuman to boot. In this new ongoing series penned by Sina Grace (Burn the Orphanage, Self-Obsessed) and drawn by Alessandro Vitti (SECRET WARRIORS), Bobby realizes that the time is never or now, and sets out to build a life and legacy he can be proud of…and be the best ICEMAN he can be!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


I wonder if this will end up lasting any longer than any other non-Wolverine solo X-Men titles do...? In theory, Iceman should work perfectly well as a solo star, but for some reason the X-Men's team affiliation seems to sour their attempts at ongoings.

You know, I really hate that costume he's wearing these days. I think I like his Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends look the best...


JEAN GREY #3
DENNIS HOPELESS (W) • VICTOR IBANEZ (A)
Cover by DAVID YARDIN
VARIANT COVER BY RUSSELL DAUTERMAN
• Desperate to find any information that will help her stave off possession by
the Phoenix, Jean Grey ventures to Atlantis to entreat its surliest former host: NAMOR, THE SUB-MARINER!
• But Namor has his own fish to fry…
• And when Jean is swept up in the Sea King’s madness, will she find herself in over her head?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99


Hey, it's Namor again! It looks like he'll be having a pretty good June...


MUPPET BABIES OMNIBUS HC
Written by STAN KAY, LAURA HITCHCOCK, BILL PRADY & ANGELO DECESARE
Penciled by MARIE SEVERIN, JEFF BUTLER & DEAN YEAGLE
Covers by MARIE SEVERIN
They’re making their dreams come true — and they’ll do the same for you! It’s all your favorite Muppets, in pint-sized antics from their youth! There’ll be adventure! Romance! Great jokes! And more! Like the ghostly tale of the haunted nursery! The fable of Kermit and the Beanstalk! And the quest for the Idol of Doom! The Muppet Babies will be lost in time and lost in space, they’ll caper in Story Land and they’ll take flight as super heroes! They’ll even end up in a comic book! And your favorite fantasy-loving frog will step into the shoes of some of fiction’s greatest heroes! Plus: Relive the Muppet Babies’ first appearance in an amazing adaptation of The Muppets Take Manhattan! Collecting MUPPET BABIES #1-26 and MARVEL SUPER SPECIAL #32.
680 PGS./All Ages …$75.00
ISBN: 978-1-302-90825-6
Trim size: oversized


So this is the single book I was most shocked to find in this round of solicits...even when the Black Eyed Peas graphic novel is taken into account.

That is a very big, every expensive book.


NOVA #7
JEFF LOVENESS & RAMON PEREZ (W)
SCOTT HEPBURN (A)
Cover by Dan Mora
• As Richard Rider struggles to come to terms with the revelations from his return to the Cancerverse, Sam Alexander struggles with homework, his family and (gulp) dating!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


For an entire split-second, I thought that said "the Canadaverse" rather than "the Cancerverse," and it seemed a lot more interesting.


PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT! VOL. 3: CARELESS WHISKER(S) TPB
Written by KATE LETH
Penciled by BRITTNEY L. WILLIAMS
Cover by BRITTNEY L. WILLIAMS
Hellcat has had nothing but bad luck ever since the Black Cat crossed her path. And now that Felicia’s got a whole girl gang in her claws, how can Patsy possibly win this cat fight?! Find out in the big showdown — gato a gato! Then, Patsy will be laid low by sickness — but this is far from a common cold! Is she having fever dreams or living nightmares? As chaos breaks out all over Brooklyn, Hellcat must rely on her nearest and dearest to put out the fires — and make soup! All she wants is to get better and hang out with Jubilee at the mall: swing by the food court, catch a movie, share a fashion montage. Certainly there’d be no fighting villains. What would a villain possibly be doing at the mall? Uh-oh! Collecting PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT! #13-17.
112 PGS./Rated T …$15.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-90662-7


Ah-ha-ha! "Careless Whiskers"...! This book is a delight.


This is the "villain variant" of Secret Empire, which reveals that...Baron Zemo got a new hood? I like it!


SHANG-CHI: MASTER OF KUNG FU OMNIBUS
VOL. 4 HC

Written by DOUG MOENCH with ALAN ZELENETZ, PETER B. GILLIS, GENE DAY & STEVEN GRANT
Penciled by GENE DAY, TOM GRINDBERG & DAN DAY with WILLIAM JOHNSON, RICK MAGYAR, MIKE ZECK, MARC SILVESTRI, DAVID MAZZUCCHELLI & ALAN KUPPERBERG
Covers by DAVID MACK & RON WILSON
Doug Moench is joined by Gene and his brothers Day — Dan and David — to rise and advance Shang-Chi to this final Omnibus collection! Demons from Shang-Chi’s past return: Razor-Fist, Pavane, the Cat, Zaran and even the Master of Kung Fu’s father, the devil doctor Fu Manchu! It all builds to the ultimate battle between father and son, stoked by years of conflict. The stakes are final, and Moench’s story and Gene Day’s shadow-drenched artwork make every moment stunning. The saga also introduces new enemies: Dark Angel, Death-Dealer, Argus, Shadow-Hand — and possibly Shang-Chi’s own mother! These iconic Marvel masterpieces have never been reprinted before, so don’t miss your chance to experience the Master of Kung Fu! Collecting MASTER OF KUNG FU (1974) #102-125, MASTER OF KUNG FU: BLEEDING BLACK and material from MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS (1988) #1-8.
784 PGS./Rated T+ …$125.00
ISBN: 978-1-302-90132-5
Trim size: oversized


Is Shang-Chi the most prominent Marvel Comics character of Asian descent?

The reason I ask is, like many of my peers, I have been thinking a lot about Asian and Asian-American representation among Marvel's superhero characters a lot of late, due to the conversation prompted by the Netflix adaptation of Roy Thomas and Gil Kane's Iron Fist character.

As a straight white man, I realize I'm not always terribly attuned to issues like representation in superhero comics and/or TV and film adaptations of them, having never been starved for characters who look like me, but I must admit that I've been pretty perplexed about elements of the conversation swirling around the Iron Fist character, in particular the demands that Marvel should have cast an Asian-American actor to play him in the Netflix series.

If I had to guess, I suspect some of that reaction is rooted not simply in the character, whose specific superpower can basically be reduced to "being really good at kung-fu," but in the timing. As pointed out by Abraham Riesman, Iron Fist is just the latest in a string of superheroes going back a dozen years now who at one point or another travels to the East to have a transformative experience and learn either wisdom and/or an ancient art from an Asian master: Batman, Iron Man, Doctor Strange. That, and the fact that "The Marvel Cinematic Universe" is now about ten years old, mean that it is probably high-time that some Asian faces started showing up in these damn things (In the official MCU films, who would be considered the most prominent Asian or Asian-American character? Hogun The Grim from the Thor movies? The doctor who treats Hawkeye's wounds in Age of Ultron? The scientist who helped straight, white male billionaire Tony Stark turn his life around in the first Iron Man film? Or on TV, would it be Daredevil season 2's Elektra, played by an actress of French and Cambodian descent?)

That and, I would further guess, the fact that Iron Fist doesn't seem to be terribly well-received (I've only seen the first episode so far, but it seemed fine to me; it was really no worse than the first episodes of Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, and not much worse than the first episode of the first season of Daredevil. It does suffer a bit from being the fourth of these things, though, and thus the audience is less forgiving of the fact that it's no worse than the three previous ones).

Based on my Twitter feed and my conversations with the one friend of mine who talks to me about such things in real life, I am surely in the minority here, but I think it would be worse if Danny Rand were an Asian-American character. While there is a degree of off-putting cultural appropriation to the character's origins--American finds Asian fantasy land, comes back with the powers and wisdom of the Orient to fight Occidental evil like a pulp adventure hero from the 1920s and '30s--I don't think "The Asian Guy Knows Martial Arts" is any better, really.

To make the MCU's only superhero of Asian descent be the one who knows kung-fu, whose "powers" are, in fact, just kung fu, seems more offensively retrograde to me (again, not that I'm the best judge of such things*) than keeping Danny Rand white (Looking just at the Netflix series, it would have made more sense to make Jessica Jones or Daredevil Asian-American than Danny Rand...although I guess Daredevil also mastered Asian martial arts, although he picked them up from another white guy who mastered them, rather than from a master in some Asian fantasy land). It would have made more sense still to just not make an Iron Fist show in 2017, and I'm assuming the only reason they even considered making an Iron Fist movie was because of Danny's friendship with Luke Cage in the comics, although in that case maybe they would have been better served by using Iron Fist as a character in a future season of Luke Cage, in the same way that Marvel heroes like Elektra, Hellcat, The Punisher and Misty Knight surfaced as secondary characters in shows named after and starring other heroes.)

Of course, whether a European-American Danny Rand or an Asian-American Danny Rand is worse is besides the point when it comes to representation of characters of Asian descent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The point, if I understand it correctly, is that maybe it's time to get some Asian characters on screen? (It took Marvel excrutiatingly long to get female and black characters on screen in the official MCU films too, of course, and they're just now ramping up to make movies starring female and black characters).

And here we run into a bit of a problem, as Marvel's "field" of Asian-American or Asian characters isn't all that deep, which is why I asked about Shang-Chi a couple of paragraphs ago. Eliminating the X-Men, since Sony has the film rights to those characters, we lose Jubilee, who I think is probably Marvel's most prominent, certainly most visible and well-known Asian-American character (This has been a problem for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general; while not having the X-Men--or Spider-Man or The Fantastic Four--to lean on has more-or-less forced them to focus on the comic book universe's second-tier of characters, it also sucked most of the diversity out of their stable of characters. I mean, the first half-dozen or so female Marvel heroes not derived from a male counterpart that I could think of to star in movies are all X-Men characters.) (No X-Men characters also gets rid of Sunfire, Lady Deathstrike, The Silver Samurai, Armor, one version of Xorn and probably another dozen I can't think of at the moment, not that it's easy to imagine many or any of those guys starring in their own film, anyway.)

And then, after Jubes? Is it Shang-Chi? Now, Marvel could have done a Shang-Chi series instead of an Iron Fist one for Netflix, although there are some problems, including his origin (he was originally the son of Sax Rohmer's pulp fiction villain Dr. Fu Manchu, and it's been fun watching various writers and editors deal with that over the decades at Marvel, as more often than not they can't actually use Fu Manchu anymore), the fact that he is basically just a martial arts film character deposited into the Marvel Universe (a 2010 movie or TV show starring Shang-Chi would have thus been dumb in the same way I think a Black Widow film would have been back then; now, however, the Cinematic Universe is established and developed enough that the setting could help power any such film and differentiate it from Generic Martial Arts Movie...or, in Black Widow's case, Generic Spy Movie) and, of course, that he would be The Asian Guy Who Knows Martial Arts. And that latter one is maybe not the way to go with your first and only Asian superhero, you know?

(Interestingly, during Secret Wars, Marvel basically combined the character of Shang-Chi with the world of Iron Fist in the miniseries Master of Kung-Fu, and blending those two characters into one would certainly have been a way to jettison Shang-Chi's Fu Manchu connection and eliminate the cultural appropriation element of Iron Fist while keeping the secret mystical city and a guy who has a fist like unto a thing unto iron aspect. That's a Secret Wars tie-in I've yet to read, but I imagine it could have provided a decent road map for how Marvel/Netflix could have made an Asian or Asian-American Iron Fist show...although, honestly, I have to imagine they were caught off guard by the negative reaction to the casting of the lead in Iron Fist.)

So if Shang-Chi and Jubilee aren't likely to star in Netflix TV series or Marvel movies any time soon, which Asian heroes?

Currently, Amadeus Cho is the highest-profile character of Asian descent in the Marvel Comics Universe, unless you want to count Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel. With Bruce Banner dead, Amadeus Cho is currently The Hulk (appearing in The Totally Awesome Hulk), although if and when he appears in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seems more likely to be as Hercules' sidekick than as a Hulk, since they've already got a Hulk in the Avengers, and Marvel Studios doesn't seem overly keen to make more Hulk movies (And Cho can get in line behind She-Hulk if they do, anyway!). Fun fact? His mom is in Avengers: Age of Ultron; she's the doctor who treats Hawkeye!

And then we have Jimmy Woo. Created by Al Feldstein and Joe Maneely in 1956 for short-lived espionage series Yellow Claw, secret agent Jimmy Woo was folded into Marvel Comics' SHIELD stories in the late 1960s, and headed up SHIELD'S Godzilla-hunting efforts when the publisher briefly held the rights to publish Godzilla comics in the 1970s. Writer Jeff Parker rather completely reinvented Woo for the various Agents of Atlas comics, in which Woo lead a group of Atlas-era heroes to battle The Yellow Claw, transformed from the generic yellow peril villain in various interesting ways.

Parker actually did a lot of great, subversive things regarding the traditional depiction of Asian villains in Western pop culture, and Woo's portrayal became something akin to an early-90s Chow Yun Fat playing James Bond in Hong Kong action flicks. He also lead a team of 1950s era sci-fi/action-adventure stereotypes: A killer robot, a gorilla and an emotionless alien, plus a pair of lady superheroes in the form of a female version of Namor and a love-powered superheroine.

So, after Jubes and Shang-Chi, I'm gonna have to guess that Woo is Marvel's most prominent Asian or Asian-American character, the one best-suited to appear in a movie or TV show that wouldn't be offensive and might actually be totally awesome...? (Of course, I'm not real great at predicting what Marvel Studios will do).

Of course, they could always just cast Asian-American actors to play heroes who were white in the comics, as so many people have been suggesting they should have done with Iron Fist. But man, Marvel's starting to run out of characters, aren't they? I mean, there's really no reason Iron Man or Hawkeye or Star-Lord or Ant-Man or Captain Marvel couldn't have been played by actors of Asian descent. Of the films I've heard mentioned as being in some level of development, I think Runaways promises Marvel's first Asian-American hero, in Niko Minoru. But we'll see.

So, in conclusion, Marvel Studios should probably just make an Agents of Atlas movie ASAP, is the point I'm getting at here.


SPIDER-MAN #17
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS (w) • OSCAR BAZALDUA (a)
Cover by PATRICK BROWN
Spider-Man and his amazing friends!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99


Oh hey, it's Goldballs! He outlived Bendis' run on the X-books after all! And...some other person! I feel like I should recognize that other person, but I'm coming up blank; who is she?


THOR: HEROES RETURN OMNIBUS VOL. 1 HC
Written by DAN JURGENS, TOM DEFALCO, J.M. DEMATTEIS, HOWARD MACKIE, KURT BUSIEK,
ROGER STERN & JOE CASEY
Penciled by JOHN ROMITA JR., JOHN BUSCEMA, MIKE MCKONE, LEE WEEKS, MICHAEL RYAN,
ERIK LARSEN, ANDY KUBERT, STUART IMMONEN, RAMON BERNADO, DAN JURGENS, JERRY ORDWAY, SEAN CHEN, TERRY SHOEMAKER & MORE
Cover by JOHN ROMITA JR.
A hero returns — and an epic saga begins! Dan Jurgens ushers in one of the greatest eras of Thor — and it begins with blockbuster art by John Romita Jr.! The Thunder God walks the Earth once more, but his new lease on life comes with new enemies — and a new mortal alter ego! Will Thor’s comeback be cut short by Dark Gods, the Destroyer and Doctor Doom? Then, on the Eighth Day, the unstoppable Juggernaut will be just the beginning for Thor, Iron Man and Spider-Man! The heavy hitters keep on coming — like Mangog and Thanos! But if Thor is busy saving Midgard, who’s protecting Asgard? Collecting THOR (1998) #1-35 and ROUGH CUT, SILVER SURFER/THOR ANNUAL 1998, THOR ANNUAL 1999-2000, PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN (1999) #2 and #11, IRON MAN (1998) #21 (B STORY) and #22, and JUGGERNAUT: THE EIGHTH DAY.
1,232 PGS./Rated T+ …$125.00
ISBN: 978-1-302-90813-3
Trim size: oversized


Are these the first Thor comics to follow Marvel's weird experiment in letting Image do a handful of their heroes under the "Heroes Reborn" banner...?

I was actually thinking about "Heroes Reborn" a lot while reading the recent Superman story arc, "Superman Reborn." Specifically, I was wondering if it would be possible for DC to do something similar to what Marvel did, essentially declaring the New 52 period their "Reborn" era and then just resuming their previous continuity with a "Return" era, but I suppose it's gone on too long now, and there were too many good comics published along with all the chaff of the last five years to make that anything approaching feasible.

That said, I don't understand "Superman Reborn" and its ramifications for the DCU continuity at all.


Hey look, it's Ares! On the cover of USAvengers! And he's...not ripped in half anymore...? Neat! I don't remember seeing him anywhere since The Sentry killed (or is that "killed"...?) him during Siege; is this the first time he's reappeared since then...?


WEAPONS OF MUTANT DESTRUCTION: ALPHA #1
GREG PAK (W) • MAHMUD ASRAR (A)
COVER BY SKAN
...
THE WEAPON X PROGRAM IS BACK! Their goal is a simple one…ERADICATE ALL MUTANTS! And they’re starting their hunt with the most dangerous group of mutants on planet Earth — Old Man Logan, Sabretooth, Domino, Lady Deathstrike, Warpath and…the Hulk?! But with an army of genetic cyborgs at their disposal, this may just be the beginning…
40 PGS./ONE-SHOT/Rated T+ …$4.99


The Hulk with Wolverine claws! Has no one thought of this before...? Why has no one thought of this before? It seems so obvious!


*And I do find somewhat persuasive the argument that any hero of Asian descent, even a lame, potentially offensive one, is perhaps better than no heroes of Asian descent at all. Like, DC's Manitou Raven character, a Native American super-shaman of sorts, is head-slapping to a certain degree, but, at the same time, he was a Native American superhero on the Justice League, and he wasn't named "Apache Chief."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

DC's June previews reviewed

Remember a while back, when DC did a month's worth of variant covers depicting their superheroes interacting with Looney Tunes characters? Some of those covers were awesome, some were terrible, but one thought I had repeatedly while looking at them was that I wished the contents of the comics, rather than just the covers, featured crossovers, which, awesome or terrible (or even just good or bad, or mediocre) would have at least been interesting (My other thought was to remember the old Superman/Bugs Bunny crossover comic, with I read the first three-fourths of without finishing).

Well, guess what? Now DC is doing actual Looney Tunes crossovers (and collecting that Superman/Bugs Bunny crossover!) and, oh boy, do they look weird! There is precious little to go on here, just titles, cover images and a sentence or two of solicitation text, but based on that precious little, these seem to be at least partially inspired by the publisher's Hanna-Barbereboot, and the upcoming DC/HB crossover books they have on deck, as the various Looney Tunes characters all seem designed in the direction of the DC characters, rather than vice versa (or meeting in the middle, or staying true to their own designs and making the design clash a feature, as in the Superman/Bugs Bunny crossover).

The particular characters chosen are kind of unusual too, as you'll see in a moment, with relatively popular Looney Tunes characters like Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Sylvester and Tweety MIA, and a few relatively obscure DC heroes incapable of carrying their own books anymore, like Jonah Hex and The Legion of Super-Heroes (and maybe Lobo) present, instead of, I don't know, Harley Quinn, Green Lantern or The Flash (I guess they already did The Flash-races-Speedy Gonzales and The Road Runner gag though).

I see the books will all be rated "T for Teen," which is in keeping with most DC super-comics, but which seems unusual for a comic featuring Looney Tunes characters; another suggestion that the books owe more to Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits and Scooby Apocalypse than to Scooby-Doo Team-Up).

Finally, each of the solicits ends with mention of "a Looney Tunes backup story" that "features DC characters," whatever that will mean.

The creators of the lead stories mostly seem to be whoever DC had laying around, like, maybe the editors just looked at their inboxes and doled out assignments to every fifth name or so, and there's only one that I am genuinely super-excited about based on the characters, the story suggested by their pairing and the creators, but, to be honest, I can't wait to see all of them as, if nothing else, they should prove to be really, really weird, maybe about as weird as the Big Two can get outside of The Flintstones reboot or having Tom Scioli do the Justice League in Cave Carson back-ups....

Anyway, let's start this month's look at DC's solicitations for comics to be published three months hence with the Looney Tunes crossovers, and then go from there...


BATMAN/ELMER FUDD SPECIAL #1
Written by TOM KING • Art and cover by LEE WEEKS • Backup story art by BYRON VAUGHNS
...
After a chance meeting with billionaire Bruce Wayne, Elmer Fudd’s obsession quickly escalates into stalking Batman through the dark alleys and high-class social settings of Gotham City. Welcome to Bat Season! And the bonus Looney Tunes backup story features DC characters written by Tom King and artwork by Byron Vaughns.
On sale JUNE 28 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T


I don't even know. Weeks' cover is stylized enough that we don't get to see either of the characters beyond vague suggestions of how they might look, but that fact alone lets us know this will apparently be much more of a Batman comic than an Elmer Fudd one. Fudd, by the way, is one of the oddest choices here, as he's not exactly a top-tier Tune, but rather an antagonist to the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Which I guess puts Batman in the Bugs Bunny role? See what I mean? These are weird. Notably, King is the regular writer of Batman, so who knows, perhaps this will be a canonical encounter.


JONAH HEX/YOSEMITE SAM SPECIAL #1
Written by JIMMY PALMIOTTI
Art and cover by MARK TEXEIRA
Backup story written by BILL MATHENY
Backup story art by DAVE ALVAREZ
...
When miner Yosemite Sam strikes it rich, word gets out as everyone comes gunning for his wealth! To protect himself and his new riches, he hires bounty hunter Jonah Hex-—but the man protecting him may be his worst nightmare! And the bonus Looney Tunes backup story features DC characters written by Bill Matheny and artwork by Dave Alvarez.
On sale JUNE 28 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T


This one is unusual in that neither character is a particularly popular one--Sam is about at Fudd's level, while Hex's books have generally sold at cancellation level since DC kept publishing Palmiotti and/or Justin Gray-written Hex comics. It's also unusual in just how compatible the characters are, both coming from a similar milieu...and both boasting similar fashion sense.

I'm curious who the giant bird is. His size makes me think Foghorn Leghorn, but I suppose he could also be a radically redesigned Beaky Buzzard.


LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES/BUGS BUNNY SPECIAL #1
Written by SAM HUMPHRIES
Art by TOM GRUMMETT and SCOTT HANNA
Cover by TOM GRUMMETT and KARL KESEL
Backup story written by JUAN ORTIZ
Backup story art by JUAN ORTIZ
...
The Legion of Super-Heroes always thought they had taken their inspiration from the 21st Century’s Superboy. But when they try to bring that hero into their future time, the team discovers to their surprise the caped champion isn’t who—or even what—they expected! And the bonus Looney Tunes backup story features DC characters with story and art by Juan Ortiz!
On sale JUNE 14 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T


Bugs looks really fucking weird here, although I like the idea that it wasn't really Superboy/Superman who inspired the Legion, but Super-Rabbit. Reality warps details as real people become legends, particularly when time is measured by centuries; is it really so hard to imagine that a Super-Rabbit could become a super-human over a millennium...?

I really hate the Super-Rabbit redesign, though!


LOBO/ROAD RUNNER SPECIAL #1
Written by BILL MORRISON
Art and cover by KELLEY JONES
Backup story art by BILL MORRISON
...
Wile E. Coyote travels to the far reaches of space to hire Lobo to hunt down and kill his greatest nemesis of all time, the Road Runner. And when the Coyote and Lobo are
after him, the Road Runner knows if they catch him—he’s through. And the bonus Looney Tunes backup story features DC characters with story and art by Bill Morrison!
On sale JUNE 21 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T


This is the one I'm most looking forward, to. As you probably guessed. Not only do I love Kelley Jones' work, but the story suggests itself from the mere juxtaposition of the characters' names, and Bill Morrison is one of the back-up artists' whose name I recognize immediately. Lobo, like other bounty-hunter and assassin types, fits easily into the antagonist role of the basic Looney Tunes formula generally occupied by hunters and predators, and Jones' stylized art ought to look every bit as weird as applied to Lobo as it would the cartoon characters.


MARTIAN MANHUNTER/ MARVIN THE MARTIAN SPECIAL #1
Written by STEVE ORLANDO and FRANK BARBERE
Art by AARON LOPRESTI and JEROME K. MOORE
Cover by AARON LOPRESTI
Backup story written by JIM FANNING
Backup story art by JOHN LOTER
...
Martian Manhunter tries to halt Marvin the Martian’s determination for world domination. J’onn is conflicted with his own Martian identity as he attempts to stop the hapless, determined Marvin from blowing Earth to bits in order to gain a clear view of Venus. And the bonus Looney Tunes backup story features DC characters written by Jim Fanning with art by John Loter!
On sale JUNE 14 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T


Yeah, that one looks about perfect, doesn't it? Not crazy about J'onn's dumb-ass costume there, but I suppose he's worn worse.


WONDER WOMAN/TASMANIAN DEVIL SPECIAL #1
Written by TONY BEDARD
Art by BARRY KITSON
Backup story art by BEN CALDWELL
Cover by JIM LEE
...
Not since the twelve labors of Hercules has a Greek warrior faced as great a danger and as destructive a peril as the Tasmanian Devil! And the bonus Looney Tunes backup story features DC characters with story by Tony Bedard and art by Ben Caldwell!
On sale JUNE 21 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T


Yikes. That particular image comes courtesy of Jim Lee, who was also responsible for the Scooby Apocalypse redesigns, which were terrible. Unlike some of the others, this one doesn't really suggest a storyline, so it will be interesting to see what Bedard comes up with. Personally, I would like it to include a lengthy scene in which the DC superhero named Tasmanian Devil confronts Taz and complains about how his entire career he has had to put up with stupid questions about why he doesn't spin around like a tornado and so on.

That, or a Captain Boomerang appearance.


BATMAN: THE CAPED CRUSADER VOL. 1 HC
Written by MIKE W. BARR, JO DUFFY, JOHN WAGNER, ALAN GRANT and JIM STARLIN
Art by ALAN DAVIS, TODD McFARLANE, NORM BREYFOGLE, JIM BAIKIE, JIM APARO and others • Cover by MIKE MIGNOLA
In these stories that immediately followed BATMAN: YEAR ONE, the Caped Crusader learns what kind of compromises he must make to be the hero that Gotham City truly needs. As he battles against the deadly Reaper, the city’s first vigilante hero, Batman must work with the man who murdered his parents and a cadre of mob bosses to protect Gotham City. Collects DETECTIVE COMICS #575-584 and BATMAN #413-420.
On sale JULY 5 • 440 pg, FC, $49.99 US


Huh. This is an interesting collection. Detective Comics #575-578 are "Batman: Year Two," the Todd McFarlane-penciled sequel to "Batman: Year One" that used to be a big enough deal to deserve a trade of its own, but is now just sandwiched in with a bunch of other business and, in fact, its not even McFarlane who gets the cover, but Mike Mignola, who drew that cover for 'Tec #584. As for the rest of those issues from Detective, Norm Breyfogle drew #579 (featuring The Crime Doctor), Jim Baikie drew a Two-Face story in #580 and #581 and then there are three more issues penciled by Breyfogle.

Over in Batman, you've got Aparo-drawn comics mostly written by Starlin, the climax of which comes in the form of the four-part "Ten Nights of The Beast" story arc, introducing the KGBeast.

If you had $50 to spend and the patience to look for them, I'm fairly confident that you could find all of these comics and still have a decent chunk of that $50 in your pocket, but there are certainly worse ways to spend your money than on 400+ pages of classic late 1980s Batman comics from some of the very best Batman artists of all time.


Holy shit. That is some cover.


BUG!: THE ADVENTURES OF FORAGER #2
Written by LEE ALLRED
Art and cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
Backup story written by and art by JAMES HARVEY
...
Bug’s tumble through dimensions ends up taking him back in time, to the start of General Electric’s mad scheme. In the remote Himalayas, the mad scientist leads his robot army in search of a precious magical metal. Sandman, Sandy, Blue Beetle and the Losers are already out in the snow looking to stop him, but only Bug knows that the fate of the multiverse hangs in the balance. Plus, we begin a new backup feature by James Harvey (Masterplasty, We Are Robin).
On sale JUNE 7 • 32 pg, FC, 2 of 6 • $3.99 US • MATURE READERS


Team Allred doing Kirby? That sounds exciting enough but man, check out the other obscure heroes appearing in this issue: The original Sandman (during his post-gas mask phase), the original Blue Beetle and The Losers? I imagine this is going to be either continuity-lite or set in the pre-Flashpoint DCU, but I'm not entirely certain. The other Young Animal books all seem to fit loosely into the pre-Flashpoint DCU, and Mother Panic seems to fit into DCU continuity before or after Flashpoint, but I honestly haven't thought too deeply about it. Cave Carson is the only one I've stuck with, and I'm actually an issue behind on that.

Speaking of which...


CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #9
Written by JON RIVERA
Art and cover by MICHAEL AVON OEMING
Backup story written by MARK RUSSELL
Backup story art by BRANDON BIRD
...
Team Carson continues in hot pursuit of Cave’s cybernetic eye, which has its sights set on the emotionally draining and life-sucking Whisperer and its cult. But just where are they going? Or better yet, when?
On sale JUNE 21 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US• MATURE READERS


Hey, back up by Brandon Bird...? Where's Tom Scioli's Super Powers feature? It can't possibly be over already, can it? Is it taking a month off? Did DC decide to move it to an original graphic novel or something? I need to know, as I've been reading CCHaCE mainly for the back-up.


DARK DAYS: THE FORGE #1
Written by SCOTT SNYDER and JAMES TYNION IV • Art by JIM LEE, ANDY KUBERT, JOHN ROMITA JR. and others
Cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
...
DARKNESS COMES TO THE DC UNIVERSE WITH THE MYSTERY OF THE FORGE! Aquaman, The Flash and more of DC’s pantheon of heroes suspect Batman of hiding a dark secret that could threaten the very existence of the multiverse! It’s an epic that will span generations—but how does it connect to the origins of one of DC’s most legendary heroes?
The great comics event of summer 2017 is about to begin courtesy of superstar writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV and illustrated by a master class of comics artists: Andy Kubert, Jim Lee and John Romita Jr.! You do not want to miss this one!
ONE-SHOT • On sale JUNE 14 • 40 pg, FC, card-stock covers, $4.99 US • RATED T


Oh good, finally DC is going to do a dark comic book featuring their characters.

I think the creators have done some press on this, or DC has issued some press releases, but all I've seen about it is what you see above. I like all the creators, and it's interesting that DC is enlisting creators who are both popular and talented instead of just having Geoff Johns and Jim Lee or whoever do it (not that those guys aren't talented, but I don't think Johns has ever written anything as good as some of Snyder's better work, for example).

I can't guess from what is above whether or not this is the Watchmen vs. The DCU event that DC has been teasing for so long now (there's a hard tease in this week's super-confusified conclusion to "Superman Reborn," by the way). Part of me hopes that it is not; as much as I'd like DC to rip that bandage off and just get on with it, part of me also thinks Geoff Johns needs to put his name on that eventual travesty. We'll see.

As for the identity of "one of DC's most legendary heroes"...? Fingers crossed for Crimson Avenger...!


DC/LOONEY TUNES 100-PAGE SUPER SPECTACULAR #1
Written by MARK EVANIER
Art by JOE STATON, MIKE DeCARLO and TOM PALMER
Cover by STEVE RUDE
The miniseries from 2000 that first united the best-known heroes from two very different universes is back in a single issue collection featuring SUPERMAN/BUGS BUNNY #1-4! All the Looney Tunes are making their way into the DC Universe thanks to Mr. Mxyzptlk and the Do-Do—and only Superman stands a chance of keeping the universes apart…with the help of a certain wascally wabbit!
On sale JUNE 7 • 96 pg, FC, $7.99 US


Hooray! This is the trade I was hoping to eventually get, although I guess this will be in the trade-with-ads format that previous "100-Page Super Spectacular" collections have been in. I recall it being pretty insane, and not as bad as one might think; the presence of Mr. Mxyzptlk helped, as his presence excuses pretty much anything, no matter how weird, in a Superman-related narrative. Despite the title it was originally published under, this is really much more of a Looney Tunes/Justice League crossover, and, if I recall correctly, it will have some particular legacy characters that will date it to the year of its release, like having Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and Green Arrow Conner Hawke present (Wally West is, of course, The Flash in this, but as he and Barry Allen look so similar, I doubt that will be an issue for anyone).


ELSEWORLDS: JUSTICE LEAGUE VOL. 2 TP
Written by RANDY L’OFFICIER, JEAN-MARC L’OFFICIER, DOUG MOENCH and others
Art by TED McKEEVER, DAVE ROSS, GEORGE FREEMAN and others
Cover by TY TEMPLETON
These alternate histories of the Justice League are collected for the first time! Includes JLA: ACT OF GOD #1-3, SUPERMAN: METROPOLIS #1, BATMAN: NOSFERATU #1 and WONDER WOMAN: BLUE AMAZON #1, plus ELSEWORLDS 80-PAGE GIANT #1!
On sale JULY 19 • 424 pg, FC, $34.99 US


Based on this cover, I don't think I read that particular 80-Page Giant (I loved and miss those, by the way, but I suppose they are no longer economically feasible to do). The Trinity-specific one-shots are all excellent, if you're wondering. This is a pretty good $35 investment in solid DC Elseworlds comics, I believe (I'm still only about half-way through the first Elseworlds: Justice League collection.


THE FLINTSTONES #12
Written by MARK RUSSELL
Art by STEVE PUGH
Cover by RICK LEONARDI and SCOTT HANNA
...
You are now leaving Bedrock! The Great Gazoo is on his way home to the stars, while Fred and company leave the Church of Gerald, and Mr. Slate leaves behind being a jerk— at least for a little while. Say good-bye to Pebbles, Bowling Ball, Philip the turtle, Fred and Barney, and the whole cast in this final issue of what critics are calling the best comic of 2016!
On sale JUNE 7 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T • FINAL ISSUE


On the one hand, I'm shocked this lasted 12 issues, given how insanely weird this comic was. On the other hand, I'm kinda surprised that this and Future Quest--i.e. the "good" Hanna-Barbereboot books--have been canceled, but Scooby Apocalypse is still going on (The fourth of the mini-line, Wacky Raceland, was both the worst and the first of them to be canceled).

Hey, some new iteration of The Terrible Trio will be appearing in Gotham Academy: Second Semester in June--Hey, wait a minute! That's a crow, not a vulture! What is going on here...?


GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER VOL. 1 TP
Written by BRENDEN FLETCHER, KARL KERSCHL and BECKY CLOONAN
Art by ADAM ARCHER, SANDRA HOPE and MSASSYK
Cover by KARL KERSCHL
With a new semester under way, Olive and the rest of the Detective Club have a new mystery: the Book of Gotham! The club must find out why this book is so important as Olive faces her destiny! Collects GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #1-3, #5-8.
On sale JULY 19 • 160 pg, FC, $16.99


Check out that title. It strikes me as unfortunate that a book that is as bookstore and library-friendly as Gotham Academy is going to have a confusing numbering of volumes due to the "Rebirth" reboot and accompanying title change--from just Gotham Academy to Gotham Academy: Second Semester, but I guess DC was more-or-less forced into it by the decision to reboot and re-title. Although I guess they could have just collected Second Semester under Gotham Academy in trade, right?


I'm switching to trade on this due to the price increase, but I just wanted to use this opportunity to recommend Super Sons. Those are two great characters, and that book has been pretty good so far. I do love this title; I wonder if I will ever get to the point where Batman's robot dinosaur doesn't amuse and delight me whenever I see it...?


SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #27
Written by SHOLLY FISCH
Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
A fortune-teller has predicted doom for Plastic Man’s sidekick, Woozy Winks! Plas needs the Scooby gang to find out if the fortune-teller’s curse is a scam. But if the curse isn’t real, who’s behind the series of accidents that might guarantee that it comes true?
On sale JUNE 28 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E


I'm actually slightly shocked that it has taken this long for Plastic Man to appear in the pages of Scooby-Doo Team-Up, especially when one considers that Plas had his own cartoon show, even it was a Ruby-Spears rather than Hanna-Barbera production. This will actually be the first Plastic Man comic of any kind DC has produced in quite a while now; in fact, the only ones that they've published since Flashpoint that I can think of right now are that one Injustice annual and then the two-issue Convergence-related mini-series, Plastic Man and The Freedom Fighters. I know Geoff Johns introduced an Eel O'Brien who gets shot full of holes and goes all melt-y during Forever Evil, and it sure seemed like a New 52 Plastic Man was on the horizon, but if he or anyone else at DC were planning on going anywhere with that, plans apparently changed at some point.


WONDER WOMAN #25
Written by GREG RUCKA • Art by LIAM SHARP and BILQUIS EVELY • Cover by LIAM SHAR
...
Writer Greg Rucka weaves together the threads of “The Lies,” “Year One,” “The Truth,” and “Godwatch”—every story in WONDER WOMAN since the start of the DC Universe Rebirth era—in this extra-sized anniversary issue!
On sale JUNE 28 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • Each RATED T


If that's accurate, that should be quite a feat of writing, as that is a lot of different threads.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: March 15th

All-Star Batman #8 (DC Comics) This is the third installment of Scott Snyder's "Ends of The Earth" story arc, and it is the third in a row to feature a new artist (here Giuseppi Camuncoli, penciled by Mark Morales) and a mad scientist-style villain who once had some business or other with Bruce Wayne's company (here The Mad Hatter).

I confess being somewhat surprised, even shocked, by how good the issue was; in fact, it may be the best Mad Hatter comic I've ever read (The Paul Dini-scripted Batman: The Animated Series episode "Mad as a Hatter" is probably the best Mad Hatter story ever told, though). I can certainly think of Mad Hatter stories with more interesting designs and artwork (1994's Legends of The Dark Knight Halloween special Batman: Madness by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale leaps immediately to mind), and there have certainly been a variety of wildly divergent takes on the character that are noteworthy (I'm thinking, for example, of Gail Simone's use of the character in her Villains United/Secret Six comics, in which she turned his hat obsession into an actual sexual fetish for hats), but I'm honestly coming up empty for a high-quality Mad Hatter comic book story here. (Any suggestions? I certainly wasn't a fan of that Gregg Hurwtiz/Ethan Van Sciver story arc in Batman: The Dark Knight, and most of the good Mad Hatter comics I can think of are ones that appeared in non-canonical comics adapted from various cartoon shows.)

After a few pages of connective tissue linking this particular issue to the storyline it is a part of (although, like the first two chapters, it reads relatively complete on its own, making it a good candidate for any sort of future "best of" collection of Mad Hatter comics), Batman confronts The Hatter in a specially-built headquarters, and recalls their very first meeting.

The diminutive villain, here dressed in a rather fancy, even classy-looking white suit, attempts to convince Batman/Bruce Wayne--he knows his secret identity, somehow--that upon their very first meeting, he had planted one of his mind-controlling microchips on Wayne, and that Batman's entire career has simply been an elaborate fantasy created by a combination of Wayne's own imagination and The Hatter's technology.

To Snyder's credit, while this proposal obviously isn't true, he has The Hatter present a fairly compelling case to Batman, and a good chunk of the issue is devoted to Batman questioning whether it is true or not. Snyder indulges in the villain's Lewis Carroll obsession, but in a rather unusual way: Sure, there are various allusions to elements of the two Alice novels, but Snyder goes a bit deeper than most Batman writers ever bother, connecting his plot to to thematic (or interpreted) aspects of the Alice books. That is, the questioning of reality, and whether one is dreaming or not.

While the quality, and some of Snyder's storytelling choices, might be surprising, the actual outcome won't surprise anyone: It turns out Batman wasn't just a dream of Bruce Wayne's, and the superhero manages to fight his way out of the elaborate mind trap the villain set for him and comes out on top of this particular conflict, through sheer force of will and a judicious application of violence (I guess one thing this story shares with "Mad," that aforementioned Hurwitz-scripted Mad Hatter arc from The Dark Knight, is that Batman comes off as a bit of a bully by so brutally fighting against such a diminutive foe--and here he even threatens The Hatter with drowning).

The particulars of the story give Camuncoli a whole bunch of cool stuff to draw. Not just Batman and the Mad Hatter (in various forms), but also Batman's allies Batwoman, Nightwing, Red Hood and Duke Thomas, plus villains The Joker, Bane, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and The Riddler.

Snyder again eschews dialogue balloons in favor of narration boxes, filled with Batman's first-person narration of the events, with The Hatter's dialogue appearing in a different font as quoted by Batman. Here it works better than it has previously, in large part because Batman finds himself struggling against a character who has taken his name from a work of prose fiction, a character trying to convince Batman that his 75+ years of comic book adventures never happened.

The Duke-starring back-up, still being drawn by Francesco Francavilla (who really ought to be hard at work on drawing Riverdale residents in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, if you as me), finds Duke ready to quit being Batman's partner, and visiting the community center where he and Bruce Wayne worked together during Wayne's bearded, amnesiac period. There he meets fellow former We Are Robin Robin Izzy, who discusses Duke's still non-existent code name: "Dre figured something like Lark? Dax, he thought you'd go for something with "Bat" in it, like Bat-Claw, Bat-16, Bat-Guano....Rama?"

They are all terrible.


Archie #18 (Archie Comics) Artist Pete Woods joins Mark Waid for this issue, in which the 19-page story (plus a pin-up; kind of a rip-off for a $3.99 book) deals mostly with the evolving romantic relationships of Archie, Veronica, Betty and...Dilton?!

Back from her forced exile, Veronica and Archie discover they can't quite pick up exactly where they left off. Meanwhile, Betty and Dilton hang out and aren't exactly hitting it off, until they discover their shared love of car mechanics (Cars being basically just science machines, as Dilton notes at one point). Meanwhile, the Blossoms try to enlist Jughead to do detective work for them, and Jughead enlists the Blossoms to buy him burgers.

Waid and Woods get off some good jokes here and there, but not nearly enough. Bring back the back-ups, dammit! (Or maybe hire Ryan North to write bonus jokes on the bottom of each page?) These things are expensive!


Batgirl Vol. 3: Point Blank (DC) This collects the final 12 issues of the Kelley Puckett/Scott Peterson/Damion Scott run on Batgirl, and thus concludes one of the strongest runs on book bearing the title "Batgirl." In retrospect, it's a damn shame that the run only lasted about 36 issues or three years (the book, and the character, would endure longer, of course), but I'm sure that at the time all involved found it a perfectly acceptable time to pass the metaphorical baton. The two-year Lady Shiva on-again, off-again arc and Batgirl's struggle against a death wish born of crushing guilt was resolved by the end of the last collection, and while the drama around her, as she is continually torn between two father figures and the lives they represent--assassin David Cain and superhero Batman--wasn't resolved, it was explored repeatedly in different ways, and was integrated into the character as a continuing aspect.

At this point, the character was pretty much established, so why not leave? The answer, again in retrospect, is because what would follow (for the title and for the character) would never be quite this good again, but hell, they didn't know that in 2003, did they?

The longest arc of this book is actually by guest writer Chuck Dixon, who sends then-Green Arrow Connor Hawke and his kinda/sorta sidekick Eddie Fyers to Gotham City, trailing an ancient Roman cult that has begun assassinating people...with arrows. Spotting Hawke on a rooftop with a bow, Batgirl attacks, and we get to see a Scott draw a martial arts battle between two of the DCU's best martial artists (While one could assume Batgirl would be the ultimate victor, Hawke is on defense, so it's actually pretty one-sided). The assassins' targets include Jack Drake, which then gets Robin and Spoiler involved, and they serve as bridge characters between the two somewhat out-of-it weirdo heroes, who were raised in various forms of isolation from society at large. This arc not only highlighted what was so damn likable about these characters--none of whom survived Flashpoint unmangled-beyond-all-recognition--but also gave Scott a great opportunity to demonstrate his dynamic action storytelling. It helps that we see his pencils and/or lay-outs drawn not by regular inker Robert Campanella, but by such a distinct stylist as Klaus Janson (in the first issue of this arc) and then Wade Von Grawbadger).

There are two more issues that tie in to the then-ongoing "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive?" storyline, as Cassandra uses her mastery of the fighting arts to try and determine whether or not Bruce Wayne actually killed Vesper Fairchild (first with just her budding gal pal Spoiler, later with Alfred, Nightwing and Oracle). There's exploration of her friendship with Stephanie Brown, which occurs throughout the course of a single issue, in which Cassandra Cain goes from refusing to train Steph because she is so beneath her level to looking forward to their sparring as pretty much her only contact with a human being outside of crime-fighting. There's also a few scenes starring the pair that suggested what I would have liked to see in a post-Infinite Crisis Batgirl comic: Cassandra and Stephanie sharing the mantle, while Oracle Barbara Gordon serves as their mentor (and the pair train each other; with Cass teaching Steph how to fight, and Steph teaching Cass how to read and act like a normal teenage girl).

The final story is a four-pager from Batgirl Secret Files & Origins #1 by Scott Peterson, pencil artist Giuseppe Camuncoli (whose issue of All-Star Batman saw release today; weird) and inker Cameron Stewart. It's obviously very short, but does a perfect job of illustrating the differences between the two Batgirls. Cassandra finds herself facing Batgirl Barbara Gordon in Oracle's "holo room," and can't understand why Babs was so terrible at fighting (it takes Cassandra less than two seconds to defeat her). Hologram Barbara eventually gets the upper-hand, though, demonstrating that what she might have lacked in invincible kung fu, she made up for in smarts and sneakiness.

If I did the math right, I think there are still three 12-issue collections worth of issues of this volume of DC's Batgirl ongoing, featuring runs by writer Dylan Horrocks (okay, but not as good as this one) and Andersen Gabrych (not very good). I'm not sure if DC will pursue collecting those or not, but I'd buy 'em if they did. Looking back, what is most memorable about the second half of this series are the covers, including a run of rather gorgeous covers by James Jean, and later one by Tim Sale, who is one of the very few artists who can draw that particular character and costume really well*.

Oh hey, fun fact! Not only was this the first Batgirl ongoing that DC ever published, it remains the longest-lived one, at 73-issues. The 2011, New 52 series starring a rebooted Barbara Gordon lasted 53 issues, before DC relaunched it with a new #1 as part of their "Rebirth" initiative. If they hadn't, Babs woulda caught Cass in another year or so. As is, it's gonna take a good six years or so...if they don't cancel it before then or, more likely, relaunch it.


Batman #19 (DC) The most classic Bane vs. Batman battle remains their first one of any real import, the 1993 storyline "Knightfall." In it, Bane attempts to exhaust Batman by staging a mass break-out of Arkham Asylum's inmates, essentially forcing Batman to run a gauntlet of many of his criminally insane foes before facing Bane in hand-to-hand combat.

Here, writer Tom King has Batman pulling the same stunt on Bane, as Batman holes up deep within Arkham, forcing Bane to fight his way through its inmates. The opponents vary though, with only The Scarecrow, Two-Face, The Riddler, The Mad Hatter, Mr. Zsasz, Firefly and Amygdala appearing in both the "Knightfall" gauntlet and this issue. King also has Bane going up against The Black Spider (in new All-Star Batman design), Calendar Man, Copperhead, Dr. Phosphorous, The Flamingo, Hush, Man-Bat, Maxie Zeus (Is this his post-Flashpoint introduction?), Mister Freeze and Solomon Grundy. Bane disposes of each within either a panel or a page, the most space being devoted to the first foe he faces, Two-Face. Most of the fights take place more-or-less off-panel, or between pages, as Bane delivers a pithy, '80s movie-style fight quip. "I don't have nightmares," he yells at The Scarecrow, for example, "I give nightmares!"

One could quibble with some of these villains appearing at all (Like, I'm not sure how Copperhead or Solomon Grundy got in there, and Man-Bat seems particularly out of place), and one could certainly wonder how one earth Bane actually defeats some of them (It should take more than venom and gumption to put him in Grundy's weight class, for example, and Dr. Phosphorous shouldn't be punch-able with a more-or-less bare fist).

What makes less sense is Batman's decision to a) release all of the inmates, even if only from their cells instead of the building and b) to arm them with their various weapons. Alfred mentions that doing so is kind of crazy, and King doesn't really cover why none of them immediately attack Batman, for example, or why Bane doesn't simply kill any of them (Since Bane has no compunction against killing his foes, and most of these guys are themselves serial killers, it seems like a near-certainty that someone would get killed during all the fights, and Batman's not exactly a fan of anyone killing anyone). I'm also not sure why Batman and Alfred just can't use the Psycho-Pirate on Bane or, again, why Batman doesn't just call Batman and Wonder Woman in to kick Bane's ass for him (There is a line of dialogue answering that last bit, but it didn't make much sense to me; as I noted a few issues ago, Batman literally flies up to Superman's Fortress of Solitude and asks him to do him a favor, and asking him to spend like five minutes flying down to Gotham and beating Bane up would have been a smaller ask, really).

My biggest concern with the story, which is actually kind of fun in its way, is the art. This is, remember, David Finch drawing, and so it's not very good looking. Finch gets the opportunity to draw a pretty huge swathe of Batman villains, and the results are predictably uninteresting, mostly just a whole bunch of panels of people posing and flexing in proximity to one another. The cover is a pretty good example of Finch's artwork within.

What's going on? Well, there's Bane, from the knees up, flexing. And he's surrounded by a bunch of heads of random sizes and placement, featuring some of the villains he faces, all of them in their costumes (Inside, they are just wearing white prison/asylum uniforms). The guy with the sideburns? That's Maxie Zeus. He's not wearing his costume, inside or out.

DC cruelly hired Tim Sale to draw the variant cover for this issue:
I'm kinda glad they did, because it means we get to see Sale's Scarecrow again, and, as I've said many times before, Sale's Scarecrow is my favorite Scarecrow. I find it amusing that Sale just draws his own versions of these characters, rather than bothering to stay on-model with the various New 52/Rebirth designs of the characters; with the exception of Bane, who wasn't in it, all the other villains on the cover look like the versions Sale drew in Long Halloween (Firefly doesn't look like he does in the pages of this comic, but like he did the last time Sale drew him, in that Showcase story in which the Arkham inmates played softball against the Blackgate inmates).

What makes it cruel, however, is that it reminds a reader that someone other than Finch could have been drawing the interiors of this book. Maybe someone like Sale. Man, this book would looks so different, so much better if it had Sale's artwork within...!

Anyway, this is a fun if kinda dumb script, drawn in such a way that the dumb is accentuated over the fun.


DC Comics Bombshells #23 (DC) This issue concludes the Bombshells' adventures in Vixen's kingdom of Zambesi, as writer Marguerite Bennettt ties Hawkgirl and Vixen's origins together just as tightly than she binds them romantically (maybe more so, as she has Vixen's amulet being forged forged from Thanagarian Nth Metal generations upon generations ago). The writing on this series remains far, far better than it needs to be, and certainly better than would be expected of it, as Bennett goes to the trouble of including characterization and themes to a plot that is basically a semi-silly romp. Thanagraian robot animals and a giant mech piloted by a Nazi dominatrix battle a bunch of scantily-clad versions of DC superheroines, and the climax involves Vixen invoking the powers of a gigantic sphinx, which is visible to everyone, in a way that doesn't seem like it would work with what we know about her powers. But whatever, there's also a dog wearing an army helmet that Vixen stole from Hitler after she raced a snakewoman in the Berlin Olympics so, you know, I probably shouldn't get overly hung-up on such things.

Richard Ortiz and Laura Braga draw this issue.


Nightwing #17 (DC) I confess complete befuddlement as to what the hell is going on with DC's more-mutable-than-ever continuity these days, as the fact that something is going on seems to be the new status quo, rather than a single cosmic crisis that violently (but efficiently) rejiggers everything within the space of six-to-twelve issues or so.

Nightwing's girlfriend, who may possibly be pregnant with his unborn child, has been captured by Deathwing, who by all indications seems like he may be the Dick Grayson from an alternate timeline or dimension or Earth or whatever. There's a weird scene where Dick sees a drop of his own blood, and temporarily glimpses the various Earths of the DC Multiverse, including different versions of himself looking at him (Robin Damian Wayne gets a similar vision shortly afterwards).

The mystery of Deathwing doesn't get resolved, but the villain behind her abduction and the one responsible for Deathwing's visage (and that of a Damian-sized Robin wearing Dick's pre-Flashpoint original costume who joins the fray) is revealed in the final scene. In keeping with writer Tim Seeley's use of this arc as a sort of Batman and Robin reunion, it is a new villain introduced during Grant Morrison's run on the Bat-books.

Javier Fernandez draws. He's not my favorite artist of the current Nightwing book, but he does a damn fine job, particularly in distinguishing the two 'Wings from one another and the two Robins from one another; not simply in the way they look, but in the way they are designed and moved. Also, he does a particularly creepy version of the villain, who is one of Batman's creepier villains.


Superman #19 (DC) If you've been reading Superman comics for very long, you've probably already solved at least one aspect of the Two Supermans mystery that has been going on since about the time Convergence ended, and heated up around the time of DC Universe: Rebirth and the accompanying relaunches, even if you don't have all the mechanics figured out yet. The cover for next week's Action Comics, which was released during DC's solicitations three months ago, makes it pretty explicit and, in retrospect, it explains why this Superman (who is the pre-Flashpoint one, who was spared being rebooted during Flashpoint because he was trapped by Brainiac in events that lead to Convergence, only to somehow prevent events from Crisis On Infinite Earths and land in The New 52-iverse, wears blue boots instead of red ones, and why his narration boxes are blue.

This is, of course, another extended homage to 1963 "Imaginary Story" "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue," with New 52 Superman playing the part of Superman-Red and the Convergence-ed post-Crisis Superman we've been reading about since Rebirth playing the part of Superman-Blue. The twist? Well, a twist? There were apparently a Lois Lane-Red and Lois Lane-Blue too...? I guess...?

This is only the penultimate issue of "Superman Reborn," so, like I said, the mechanics remain unrevealed. Co-writers Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason pick up Jon's story where it left off in the previous issue of the series, the first part of the four-part story, with Jon and the pictures from pre-Flashpoint continuity floating in a void. Mr. Mxyzptlk, who pencil artist Gleason and inker Mick Gray make look just as creepy in his classic design as Action pencil artist Doug Mahnke managed, challenges Superman and Lois to a game. If they win, they get Jon back; if they lose, Mxy keeps Jon as a playmate.

As the issue nears its climax, Jon encounters two red spheres of sentient lightning that communicate with him and feel like his parents, but different to him. Alighting on his fists, the orbs take him to Mxy and his parents and there's an explosion and Superman appears in his dumb, high-collared New 52 costume (though Gleason and Gray have seemingly done away with the armor plating element). Jon isn't really sure it's them, and Mxy simply shouts "Deja-New-52!"

So I guess the dead New 52 Superman and the dead New 52 Lois Lane have fused with their Convergence-ed, "Rebirth" era counterparts? What, exactly does that mean? What exactly happened to divider their essences in such a manner in the first place? And what does it have to do with the mysterious Mr. Oz, who appears on this cover but doesn't appear within the book at all, a being so powerful he had captured and trapped a 5th dimensional being?

Answers will presumably appear in Action Comics #976. I'm not sure about where this is going, but so far "Reborn" has had fantastic artwork, and I dig the weekly scheduling, which allows this story arc to build-up the sort of momentum that monthly comics, or even bi-monthly ones, can't quite achieve.



*Ironically, Vince Giarrano, who I mentioned in passing in the previous post, draws the first issue in this collection. He does such a good job of aping Scott's style on the title character and Spoiler, that the only place it is really apparent that it is Giarrano drawing is in the face of the antagonist, and probably then only if you've read other Giaarrano comics.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: Doctor Strange and the Secret Defenders

Don't be fooled by the cover, like I was!

Sure, the cover may feature a very nice, if slightly off-model, portrait-style image of Doctor Strange by Tim Sale, and yes, that is certainly the sort of thing that earns a second look. But be careful; that the date on Sale's signature indicates that he produced the image in 2015. So it was only just recently created, and by an artist who has nothing at all to do with the interior comics, which were originally produced between 1993 and 1994.

Aside from the fact that Doctor Strange is indeed in the book, this cover in no way reflects the contents. How secret are these Secret Defenders? So secret that Marvel couldn't even show them to you on the cover!

Those contents are the first 11 issues of Secret Defenders, collected under the title Doctor Strange and The... because Marvel is betting that Doctor Strange will move more books than Secret Defenders (note that the second half of the series is collected as Deadpool and The Secret Defenders*). That, or Marvel felt pressed to get as many Doctor Strange-branded books on shelves as possible as the movie premier loomed, and there weren't really a whole lot of choices for great material.

Writer Roy Thomas has a pretty strong central concept for this particular iteration of Marvel's famed "non-team," a sort of misfit, B-side answer to their Avengers franchise. Pushing the non-team further away from the team concept, this book would feature a Defenders line-up without a set, steady line-up.

Instead, original Defender Doctor Strange would begin each arc consulting his tarot deck, upon which various Marvel superheroes--generally a mixture of the popular and the odd-ball--would appear. Strange would then gather up those fairly random characters and throw them at some threat or another.

The results read a lot like Thomas was doing the same thing he had Strange doing, working from a set of cards featuring Marvel heroes, and plucking a handful at random, but I suppose it had the advantage of getting Wolverine or Spider-Man into a few issues of a Defenders comic.

Despite how solid the concept seems, the execution is, as always, everything, and, well, this is certainly a Marvel comic book circa 1993.
Thomas is paired with pencil artist Andre Coates for the first eight issues of the title collected herein, and Coates does his job just fine. There's nothing terribly noteworthy or memorable about his work, which does the job well enough. I admit I found a lot of the panels downright hilarious, but in retrospect, that had more to do with the strange costuming choices than any real deficiency on his part.

The book does get quite a bit more lively towards the end, when pencil artist Tom Grindberg comes on. His work here is...well, it's something. He draws all of his figures as big, bold behemoths that not only fill the pages, but crowd them. There's a real Mignola-like look and feel to his figure work, and his over-exaggerated musculature--his Silver Surfer and Thunderstrike have tiny heads, smaller than their any single muscle on their bodies--is so expressive that I couldn't tell if he was drawing sarcastically or not. (Vince Giarrano and Kelley Jones, two artist whose work I really like, also sometimes draw in such an exaggerated manner I sometimes wonder if they are being sarcastic or not).

There are five different stories in this collection, meaning there are five different Secret Defenders line-ups. Coates draws the first three, Grindberg the last two.

In the first, Strange gathers Wolverine, Darkhawk, Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter version) and a Nomad I was blissfully unaware of before this story (long-haired, gun-toting Jack Monroe, who wore big, dumb wraparound sunglasses and a trench coat, his only nod to a costume being a big, dumb N-shaped belt-buckle; he had a baby on his back for most of the story, and I just sort of assumed he was a Marvel Universe answer to Lone Wolf and Cub...?). They are called on to break-up a weird-ass invasion/scheme by extradimensional beings who have disguised themselves and the stupidest looking supervillains with the worst codenames (See: Dreadlox) and were turning old hobos into teenagers, for reasons.

The even more random team of The Punisher, Namorita and Sleepwalker are convened by Strange to tackle Roadkill, a sort of zombie Hulk who drives semis that he turns into vehicles of pure-fire (He kinda Ghost Rider-izes 'em, but he does the whole truck and trailer, not just the wheels) and travels the American highways with his talking sidekick, a dead cat named Splatt. He is really a Cryptkeeper-like horror host from a TV anthology show brougth to life, and unaware of that fact. My favorite part of this story, aside from my fascination with the Sleepwalker character, is that Strange's astral projection finds The Punisher standing over the bodies of two muggers he just executed in the street, and he doesn't say anything. I'm endlessly amused by the Marvel universe's convenient ignoring of the fact that The Punisher is a deranged serial killer. Like, Spider-Man or Daredevil might argue about it or come to blows with him when they happen to see him murdering someone, but it's generally treated more like a bad habit than serious crime for which she should be put in a cell next to Taskmaster or The Hobgoblin or whoever. Strange just acts like he didn't even notice.

That's followed by the most tedious arc, a three-parter that feels like a thirty-parter in which Strange, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch and Captain America battle Xandu, newly empowered by the Wand of Watoomb. It is perhaps noteworthy for how hands-on Strange is in this one compared to some of the others, and it reads like a Doctor Strange story with guest-stars. It is based on a bunch of older comics I hadn't read; it makes sense and everything, it's just kind of repetitive, as Thomas drags out the story longer than the false drama can sustain (Will Xandu merge Earth with The Death Dimension, kill all the heroes and become Emperor of the new realm? No, no he will not).

Cue Grindberg, who shows up to pencil a two-parter in which The Silver Surfer visits his fellow former Defender to ask him to recruit him some allies to go after Nebula (this one is also based on a bunch of other, older comics; there's a whole page full of recap panels with asterisks pointing a reader towards the issues it references). Surfer insists they be allies that Nebula has never met, so Strange provides him with iron Man understudy War Machine and Thor understudy Thunderstrike.

The final issue is written by Ron Marz, and its labeled as the third chapter of the "Starblast" crossover. I've no idea how it fits in, or what the heck that is exactly, but for the purposes of this issue-long story, it simply provides a super-fast, super-strong robot that a very, very long-haired Nova wants to fight, but he can't catch it. Strange gives him Northstar, who can catch it, but neither of them are strong enough to defeat the robot, so then Doc sends in The Incredible Hulk to punch it to pieces in a great, two-page spread.

And that is that. The issue has a coda of sorts, in which Thanos appears and will take over the book for a few issues, but those issues apparently aren't terribly marketable in 2017, so the next collection of the title is Deadpool and The Secret Defenders. The kids love Deadpool.

I still kinda like the premise of this title, and it seems to be a more-or-less evergreen one, although Marvel already has two Doctor Strange titles at the moment, so I imagine it will be a few years before they even attempted an arrival. Plus, for some reason, the market is forever rejecting Defenders books, no matter how awesome they are (I really dug that one by Matt Fraction, for example).



*Deadpool and The Secret Defenders collects issues #15-25, so the only issues of the series that remain uncollected are #12-#14, which feature a Thanos-led team that includes The Super Skrull, The Rhino, Nitro and Titanium Man. While attaching "Doctor Strange" and "Deadpool" to the title for the sake of selling the collections does indeed make some sense, it also somewhat unfortunately obscures the fact that they are collecting issues from the same series. I'll have to read Deadpool and The...before I can say whether the two volumes are distinct enough to stand on their own, or if they need to be read in sequence.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review: Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness

Hey, I remember this one! It was an extra-long prestige format comic published in 1991. My grandfather and my siblings were shopping downtown, back when my hometown's downtown still had stores in it, including a comics shop, and my little brother, then considering maybe getting into comics, asked my grandfather to buy it for him. My grandfather, for whom comic books used to cost a dime, was taken aback by the $4.95 price tag (which was actually steep even for 1991), but ultimately relented.

I wonder what he would make of this new trade paperback edition, which costs $15.99; hell, having read the 1991 one-shot, I couldn't imagine how Marvel could get away with that price tag. Turns out they did so by including a sequel I didn't know existed until I started reading this new edition, the 1994 Dark Design (plus a five-page Marvel Age interview with Hearts pencil artist John Romita Jr).

The premise of Hearts of Darkness was that the three characters whose names came before the sub-title--Ghost Rider, Wolverine and Punisher--represented a new* breed of hero with levels of darkness in their hearts that pushed them so close to evil that the demon prince Blackheart thought he could tempt the three of them to assist him in assassinating his father, Mephisto who was, of course, one of Marvel's various Satan analogues.

It was probably just a happy coincidence that, in the early 1990s, these were also three of Marvel's most popular characters. Writer Howard Mackie certainly knew what he was doing in terms of proposing a comic book.
It's an extremely simple, straightforward story. Blackheart invites Danny Ketch, Frank Castle and Logan to the town of Christ's Crown--apparently named because of a hill surrounded with thick thickets of thorn bushes nearby--via letters promising them information they might want, signing the missives B.H.

All three show up on the same day at the same boarding house, run by a woman whose little girl Lucy is extremely trusting and takes to each of the dark, scowling men immediately. Her mother portentously notes her daughter strange trusting nature, and how it's almost like there isn't a bad bone in her body.

That night, Blackheart reveals himself to the three anti-heroes simultaneously, and, when they all tell him to get bent--they may occasionally kill their foes, or, in Frank's case, constantly kill their foes, but that doesn't mean they are going to sign up to work with the a devil (There's a lot of hair-splitting and semi-silly speechifying about how they all walk the razor's edge without falling over the cliff, and other such metaphor mixing).

To try to convince them, Blackheart snatches up Lucy, the only pure soul in Christ's Crown, and takes over the minds of the rest of the city, all of whom have enough sin in them that they can control them. He also steals Danny's bike.

Together, the three popular badasses are able to claw, shoot and hot-chain their way through hordes of little frog-like demons, journey to hell, turn Blackheart into gory chewing gum and save Lucy.

The chief pleasure of the book, then as now, was John Romita Jr.'s artwork, inked by a perfectly compatible Klaus Janson. I really loved his Blackheart design. He looks a bit like a giant, humanoid porcupine, with a head, shoulders and back covered in a mane of bristling spines. He has a tail, bit red eyes and no mouth; additionally, Romita and Janson give him what look like thorns all over his skin. It's a sharp, uncomfortable, jittery, anxious design. It's a hell of a devil, really (I wish that's what the version in the first Ghost Rider movie looked like; it might have gone a ways towards improving that film).

The version of Mephisto who appears here was pretty unfamiliar to me, looking like a gigantic, bloated humanoid with large breasts (and long, string-like nipples), and a vaguely avian head that looks like a primitive ceremonial mask of a bird. There's something of a primitive fertility goddess statue about him. He never gets up off his haunches, but is shown big enough to grab the mooshed-up Blackheart in his hand and throw him into his mouth.

JRJR draws the three title characters exceptionally well, of course. I particularly liked seeing how small and stocky his Wolverine looked; perhaps it was the influence of the films, or simply the slackening of Big Two style guides over the decades, but Wolverine tends to be as tall whoever is drawing him these days wants him to be, so it was kinda refreshing to see a little Wolverine standing next to a giant Frank Castle.
Dark Design is...not very good. Mackie writes it, but Ron Garney pencils and Al Milgrom inks. I like both artists, and Garney in particular has evolved in style into something I quite like now, but back in 1994 he was very much working in a 1990s Jime Lee-like style. Unlike Hearts, this sequel doesn't age well at all, and seems to be, visually at least, inextricably linked to the time in which it was published.

Blackheart has returned to Christ's Crown, and is now sort of insane. He has somehow transformed and twisted the town into a goth sci-fi big city, and enslaved portions of the population, who are called The Corrupt. They wear dumb spandex costumes, have visible black veins, and wield weird laser guns.

Lucy, now a tween or teen, is protected by a small and dwindling band of rebels. I'm not sure why Blackheart didn't just take over their minds too, but it may have something to do with her burgeoning psychic powers, with which she summons Ghost Rider, Wolvie and Punisher back to town. After killing their way through The Corrupt, they take on Blackheart again, this time interrupting his wedding to Lucy (Ew).

He gets what he needs from her, though: Her innocent blood on the tip of his knife, with which he seemingly kills his father.

As I said, Garney's style here is pretty much just default early '90s superhero art. His Blackheart lacks all the pointy parts of JRJR's, looks smaller and wears a coat; he reminded me of an extremely off-model Nightcrawler throughout. He draws the weird bird version of Mephisto, but with a few alterations, like some sort of make-up or mask on his face, and huger, blacker nipples.

Wolverine has traded his brown and yellow costume in for his blue and gold one at this point, but Ghost Rider and Punisher have barely changed (the latter traded in his white boots for black ones, but that's the most drastic wardrobe change he made during the years between these comics). The coloring, by Paul Mounts, is much more garish and nauseous in the second story, but that likely has a lot to do with the changing technology of comic book coloring of the day. There were many more new options suddenly available, and colorists went for them.

I'm not sure what the originals cost these days, should you find them in back-issue bins, but I'd be shocked if they had increased in value so much that you couldn't find them there for cheaper than the cost of this collection. On the other hand, new collections are easier to buy. If you really want to. Like I said, this is a nice showcase of JRJR's art from a previous stage in his career, and serves as a nice time capsule of a certain time in Marvel comics history, but it's not exactly literature.



*Created between 1972 and 1974, these characters weren't exactly brand-new in 1991, although they were definitely among the second generation of Marvel characters. This Ghost Rider was introduced just around the time this comic was originally published though.