Secret Origins Special (1989)

Secret Origins Special

I always forget how much Neil Gaiman threw himself into the DC Universe when he’d write in it. This Secret Origins Special is all about Batman’s villains; a TV investigative journalist has come to Gotham to do a special. Gaiman seems to enjoy writing those scenes–the ones with the behind the scenes, the Batman cameo, the anecdotes about living in Gotham City and the DC Universe in general. He doesn’t do well with the characters though, not the TV reporter and his crew. These framing scenes have art by Mike Hoffman and Kevin Nowlan. They do better at the start than they do the finish. By the finish, they’re getting tired and the detail from the opening isn’t there anymore.

Alan Grant writes the Penguin’s origin story, which isn’t a straight origin. There’s something modern to all of the Secret Origins here. Penguin’s grabbed a childhood nemesis–who just happened to grow up to be a gangster too–and Batman’s trying to find the guy while the Penguin’s torturing him. It’s an okay script, not great, but the Sam Kieth artwork is gorgeous. Kieth does action, he does Batman, he does Penguin, he does gangsters–he does kids. The best part of it is the tenderness Kieth shows when he’s doing the kids. I always forget Kieth really does know what he’s doing.

A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.
A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.

Gaiman handles the Riddler’s origin, which ties in a lot to the framing plot. The TV crew goes to interview him. Bernie Mireault on pencils, Matt Wagner on inks. Gaiman’s enthusiastic but misguided. Lots of monologue from the Riddler, but never particularly interesting. The details about the giant objects used in Gotham’s advertising in the past is more interesting than the Riddler teasing the TV crew with the truth. The art’s solid though and gets it over the bumps.

Then there’s the Two-Face story. Mark Verheiden writing it, Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano on the art. Broderick’s pencils are full of energy and light on restraint. It’s a messy story and a fairly cool one, focusing on Grace Dent (Harvey’s wife) and her side of the story. Verheiden doesn’t write the TV crew well and Grace Dent’s a little too slight, but it’s a solid enough story. The art is brutally violent and full of anger. Everyone looks miserable and angry about it.

Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.
Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.

The issue would’ve been better with stronger art throughout from Hoffman and Nowlan and either more or less from Gaiman. The TV crew ceases to be characters after the introduction, like one of the stories came in a page or two short and Gaiman was padding it out. But the Penguin story is good, the Riddler story could be a lot worse and is technically strong, the Two-Face story is super-solid mainstream DC eighties stuff. It’s good stuff.

CREDITS

Writer, Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant and Mark Verheiden; pencillers, Mike Hoffman, Bernie Mireault and Pat Broderick; inkers, Kevin Nowlan, Matt Wagner and Dick Giordano; artist, Sam Kieth; colorists, Tom McCraw and Joe Matt; letterers, Todd Klein, Albert DeGuzman, Mireault and Agustin Mas; editor, Mark Waid; publisher, DC Comics.

Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest (November 2000)

Superman and Batman: World's Funnest

Dave Gibbons does the most art on World’s Funnest. It’s not exactly the standard Dave Gibbons art, either, it’s Dave Gibbons doing Silver Age and it’s awesome. What writer Evan Dorkin taps into with World’s Funnest is the experience of being a Batman and Superman fan in the late eighties and early nineties; it’s practically a companion piece for those Greatest [insert DC character here] Stories Ever Told. The hardcover ones with beautiful reprints of the old stories, which weren’t cool in any modern sense, but you had to do the work to appreciate them because you want to be a good fan. You want to understand. And Dorkin’s trip through the DC multiverse is all about understanding, both the multiverse and the way it presents to the reader. Even though the first eighteen or so pages are all set in the Silver Age, Dorkin’s observations about the tropes make it all very modern. It never feels wrong to the characters, but it’s rather self-aware, from injured villains to Robin’s constant need for approval; Dorkin could’ve stopped World’s Funnest with a Silver Age riff and done something awesome, but then he keeps going.

Mxy and Bat-Mite battle for Infinite Earths; art by Dave Gibbons.
Mxy and Bat-Mite battle for Infinite Earths; art by Dave Gibbons.

I didn’t know what to expect from World’s Funnest. I missed it when it first came out, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to open it to discover an impressive list of creators. Unfortunately, it’s an alphabetical list of creators. So I sorted them out in order of their contributions.

First up after Gibbons is Mike Allred, who also comes first alphabetically, so he’s a terrible example. Oh, wait, I probably need to at least acknowledge the premise of the comic, which I wasn’t familiar with either. Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite battle across the DC multiverse and its various time periods and dimensions within universes. Dorkin doesn’t get into the science, which is both awesome and surprising. I can’t believe they got away with some of this stuff.

Allred handles the Phantom Zone, but an Earth–2 Phantom Zone? Like pre-Crisis Earth–2 Phantom Zone. Or maybe just a Silver Age Phantom Zone. Again, Dorkin’s not interested in the locations for narrative purposes, just for homage. It’s a violent, pseudo-cynical homage, but it’s never mean-spirited. World’s Funnest is enamored with the comics it comments on. With the possible exception of some nineties references.

Mxy isn't sure what to make of the Marvel Family, art by Jaime Hernandez.
Mxy isn’t sure what to make of the Marvel Family, art by Jaime Hernandez.

Then Sheldon Moldoff handles the actual Earth-Two visit, Stuart Immomen and Joe Giella on Earth-Three. Frank Cho’s got some lovely art for the Quality Comics universe. Jaime Hernandez does Captain Marvel’s universe, which is a hilarious visit for the battling imps. Dorkin never directly contrasts the different universes, but lining them up and inspecting each does reveal a lot of amusing details. Scott Shaw gets Captain Carrot, Stephen DeStefano does some fumetti, then Jim Woodring gets to do the trip to the Fifth Dimension.

Now, it’s hard to imagine not being familiar with Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite as a DC Comics reader, but it gets more possible with each passing year and each rebranding and each reboot. Dorkin approaches the story with just the right mix of nostalgia and commentary; there isn’t time for introducing the various worlds though–which might actually make World’s Funnest a great primer for DC Comics history. There’s a familiarity curve to the comic book. A daunting one.

Not even Darkseid can keep a straight face during WORLD'S FUNNEST; art by David Mazzucchelli!
Not even Darkseid can keep a straight face during WORLD’S FUNNEST; art by David Mazzucchelli!

After Woodring, David Mazzucchelli does an amazing Jack Kirby trip to Apokolips. I didn’t think it was Mazzucchelli when I was reading it. I’m even more impressed now and I was rather impressed while reading it. Dorkin and Mazzucchelli match Kirby’s enthusiasm and outlandishness without letting it go absurd. Darkseid’s one of the best supporting players in the comic.

Jay Stephens does “Super Friends,” Glen Murakami and Bruce Timm do a storyboard for the animated series, then along comes Frank Miller to do a Dark Knight bit. It’s freaking amazing. And really good art from Frank too; I think the good art from Frank Miller in 2000 was what surprised me the most about it. Doug Mahnke and Norm Rapmund do the nineties flashback, which is the closest the comic gets towards being nasty about its reference points. Then Phil Jimenez does an awesome Crisis section, very Perez. Ty Templeton does a few pages of general universe transporting before the Alex Ross finale. It’s only a few pages, a few panels, but it’s awesome to see what a “Batman: The TV Show” Bat-Mite would’ve looked like (albeit in superior lighting to the show).

It's Bat-Mite by Alex Ross. Really.
It’s Bat-Mite by Alex Ross. Really.

And it’s funny. All of it’s really funny and really smart about how it’s being funny. Dorkin doesn’t have one joke not connect, even the handful I might not have fully appreciated. It’s a lovely tribute to a lot of comics and a lot of comic creators. I’m embarrassed not to have read it until now.

CREDITS

Last Imp Standing!; writer, Evan Dorkin; artists, Dave Gibbons, Mike Allred, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Cho, Jaime Hernandez, Scott Shaw, Stephen DeStefano, Jim Woodring, David Mazzucchelli, Jay Stephens, Frank Miller, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton and Alex Ross; pencillers, Stuart Immomen, Glen Murakami and Doug Mahnke; inkers, Joe Giella, Bruce Timm and Norm Rapmund; colorist, Chris Chuckry and Mazzucchelli; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

I Hate Fairyland 9 (September 2016)

I Hate Fairyland #9

I Hate Fairyland continues on its demented way, with Young throwing Gert into her next misadventure. The recap text actually made me think there might be some kind of followup to the previous issue’s events, but no, instead Young’s full steam ahead.

This issue has Gert going into Larry’s magic hat to try to find a captured beast to pay off a gambling debt. She tries to sweet talk her way out of trouble. Doesn’t work, beautifully so. Instead, she’s got to go into Larry’s hat–Larry’s a bug of some sort, in case you don’t read Fairyland, which you should–and fight lice in order to save herself both in miniature form and big form.

Young’s new plotting for the comic–done-in-ones–is going beautifully. There’s just a solid, hilarious, maybe grotesque adventure every issue. It doesn’t get much better. Or, if it could, I can’t imagine how.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Skottie Young; colorist, Jean-Francois Bealieu; letterer, Nate Piekos; publisher, Image Comics.

Manifest Destiny 23 (September 2016)

Manifest Destiny #23

As a series, Manifest Destiny started up and slowly traveled down. Though sometimes it has charged downhill in terms of plotting quality. But Roberts’s art has always been a draw. It’s always been something the series can lean on when Dingess’s writing isn’t cutting it. Until now. Roberts is either in a rush or as bored with the story as I am. He hurries through and it looks bad. Not all of it, but enough of it.

The issue has the crazy flashback guy on a mission from the evil inter dimensional bird god thing. Lewis and Clark are meeting with a Native American tribe to figure out where they’re camping for the winter–I remember when this comic had the momentum of the expedition. It’s shocking how Dingess has let it flop on the deck.

For every solid moment in the Lewis and Clark story, and there are only a handful, there’s something even worse with the flashback guy. It feels like a bad Tales of the Black Freighter knock-off, both in terms of narration as it contrasts reality and the art design.

I don’t think I can do Manifest Destiny anymore.

CREDITS

Sasquatch, Part Five; writer, Chris Dingess; penciller, Matthew Roberts; inkers, Tony Akins and Stefano Gaudiano; colorist, Owen Gieni; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Arielle Basich and Sean Mankiewicz; publisher, Image Comics.

World’s Funnest (April 2016)

 worldsfunnestMr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite are arguably DC’s greatest creations. As respective foils to Superman and Batman they’re perfect critiques of the characters: Mxy the childish trickster-god to a godlike man, and Bat-Mite a child playing god with the man he worships…who is still a child inside, at least emotionally. They’re both insanely powerful and also stand-ins for any precocious young comics readers, trying to imagine the most impossible situations to challenge these men who can do virtually anything. Bat-Mite’s version of the routine underscores the irony with an ill-fitting fan costume – he’s the original comicon cosplayer. World’s Funnest collects Evan Dorkin’s one-shot of the same name from 2000 along with the imps’ first Golden Age appearances and several other quality stories, and it’s a nearly perfect greatest-hits showcase for these uniquely irreverent characters.

The titular story alone is worth the price of admission. With a stunning list of guest artists doing either parodies of their own style (Frank Miller re-creating The Dark Knight Returns) or perfect imitations of classic styles from DC history (David Mazzucchelli doing Jack Kirby’s New Gods), Evan Dorkin sends Mxyzptlk on an apocalyptic death hunt for Bat-Mite across the DC Universe, offhandedly obliterating continuities and timelines with all the slapstick ferocity of Milk and Cheese filtered through an Eltingville Club level of inside-joke comics geekery. Arguably the only flaw is how some of his best jokes rely on the reader’s familiarity with obscure DC references like Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew, but Dorkin goofs on so many other, better known targets like Superfriends and Kingdom Come that there’s something for everyone Like Eltingville Club, this is Dorkin spinning his fanboy self-hatred into comedy gold, subversively under the official DC banner – Batman and Superman are literally murdered within the first few pages, and then murdered several more times before the story is finished, as the Brian Bolland cover promises. It’s a breathtakingly hysterical, once-in-a-corporate-lifetime event that seems even more audacious sixteen years later.

mxy-first
Note the early alternate spelling

This is followed up by the first appearances, with Siegel and Shuster’s “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” from 1944 and “Batman Meets Bat-Mite” from 1959, written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. These stories have been reprinted a lot over the years but are obviously essential to an official Bat-Mite and Mxy compendium. Joe Shuster’s original design for Mxy is the most adorable he ever looked, as if a 1920s newspaper comic strip character came to visit Superman’s (slightly) more realistically-rendered world. Bat-Mite skirts the uncanny valley a little closer, resembling a midget in a Batman costume rather than a child – which is technically correct, since as he points out, he’s not an elf but comes from a dimension where all men are his size. This explanation is preceded by one of the greatest panels in comic book history:

batmite
HI!

Their debuts are followed by another oft-reprinted but essential landmark: Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s first crossover story together from a 1960 issue of World’s Finest with art by Batman luminary Dick Sprang, by which point Mxyzptlk was redesigned to be an uglier imp, something more akin to Coiley the Spring Sprite. The story by Jerry Coleman is an inconsequential spectacle, but established the dynamic between the two pests for every subsequent meetup: Bat-Mite as the annoying goody-two-shoes to the more malevolent Mxy. Sightings of either character were pretty scarce afterwards, as the collection’s next story is plucked from nearly 20 years later – an odd six page back-up story from a 1979 Detective Comics entitled Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure! In what’s basically just an excuse for some DC staff to put themselves in a comic, Bat-Mite poofs into the offices of, yes, DC Comics and cajoles the vintage 1979 nerds (not a one without glasses, several with sideburns) to put him in Detective Comics. Which is the comic you just read. Get it? While the joke fails to have a punchline, at least the art by Michael Golden features a disgustingly cute version of Bat-Mite. And to give credit writer Rob Rozakis, while his story fails to be funny it may be the first to realize the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking possibilities of Bat-Mite as a fifth dimensional imp, and by corollary Mr. Mxyzptlk.

batmitegolden
Michael Golden’s Bat-Mite is just too adorbs

DC wasn’t yet ready to full dive into post-modernism, however, as Bat-Mite’s sole appearance in the 80s was a one-page cameo in a 1983 anniversary issue of The Brave and the Bold. Just as in his prior outing, he demands recognition from the corporate overlords (this time breaking the fourth wall outright by addressing the reader) only to be erased by a giant pencil a la Duck Amuck. The art is by Stephen DeStefano, although it’s such early work in his career that his personal style isn’t yet recognizable – unlike the page he contributed 16 years later to Dorkin’s World’s Funnest. While not quite a hidden gem, the inclusion of this forgotten rarity is definitely the kind of bonus indicating the volume’s organizers relished their task. The next two stories are Mxyzptlk tales from the late 80s era of Superman, first with writer/artist John Byrne’s re-introduction of the character and then a later appearance by writers Roger Stern and Tom Peyer, with art by Paris Cullins. Byrne’s story is as exemplary of high quality mainstream superhero comics as anything else he was doing during the 80s, while Stern & Peyer pit a fun novelty matchup of Mxy against Lex Luthor for a change. Cullins, whose art I wasn’t previously familiar with, has a style similar to John Byrne’s only more unhinged – he gets some wild expressions into his human characters, while Mxyzptlk often looks like a demonic gremlin. In other words, cool stuff.

mxy
The gloriously gross 80s: Paris Cullins’ Mxyzptlk

The second best comic in the collection after Dorkin’s is Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s post-Crisis reintroduction of Bat-Mite from 1992, Legend of the Dark Mite, which I cajoled Andrew into reading and reviewing here. Surprisingly, generously also included is Grant & O’Neill’s perennially unpopular follow-up from 1995, Mitefall (it’s great, but shops are still trying to get it out of their discount bins to this day) which continues the adventures of Bob Overdog and Bat-Mite in order to take the piss out of Knightfall storyline. Between this and Dorkin’s story, Bat-Mite really achieves his full potential as an avatar for writers seeking to mock DC from within. Sandwiched between these tales is a more sedate 1999 World’s Finest meeting of Bat-Mite and Mxy, which actually isn’t out of order thanks to an opening caption declaring it to take place “five years earlier” so the continuity commissars can’t complain. The Imp-Possible Dream has a humdrum plot but a surprisingly wry and snarky script by Karl Kesel – only Mxy could really get away with a Batman/Robin gay joke, right? Artist Peter Doherty’s versions of the imps kind of resemble Sylvester P. Smythe of Cracked magazine, while his human figures and faces are unfortunately stiff by comparison. Overall, it’s okay. Really, the book’s sole offensive inclusion is the concluding two-parter from 2008, Lil’ Leaguers, from the series Superman/Batman. In what Mxyzptlk admits to be a sales-generating gimmick (the most crass use of fourth wall breaking), superdeformed chibi versions of the DCU invade Batman and Superman’s world to run around being cuter, more marketable versions of them. Bat-Mite shows up for two pages at the conclusion to explain his collusion in the prank. It’s not a Mxy story, it’s not a Bat-Mite story and there’s a creepy lolicon vibe when lil’ Catwoman jumps on regular-size Batman. While not a bad comic – Rafael Albuquerque’s art is certainly appealing – it feels like unnecessary filler.

batman-legends
Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s Legend of the Dark Mite: comics in the 90s assumed you’d read the classics

Born of the era in comics when superheroes excelled at flights of fancy, Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s history is almost as long as Superman and Batman’s. In 1986, the year of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when superheroes were being put to bed, Alan Moore’s revelation of a malignant Mxy as Superman’s ultimate nemesis in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow spoke slyly to the genre’s sea change; that powerful forces once joyful and innocent were degenerating into something sinister. Bat-Mite has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, with media such as the animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold employing him as a post-modern mouthpiece for multiple generations of Bat-fans, with the inspired casting of Paul Reubens. As superheroes are ultimately creatures of the comics medium no matter how many movies and cartoons are shoveled out for the illiterate masses, Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk are creatures representing the medium’s unlimited possibilities for pure anarchic imagination. The talents who contributed to this book are many of the greatest in the industry. World’s Funnest  both the Evan Dorkin story and now the expanded collection bearing the same name, is an absolute must-have.

CREDITS

World’s Funnest; writers, Evan Dorkin, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Bob Rozakis, Stephen DeStefano, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Tom Peyer, Alan Grant, Karl Kesel, Michael Green, Mike Johnson; artists, Mike Allred, Frank Cho, Stephen DeStefano, Dave Gibbons, Jaime Hernandez, Stuart Immonen, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Sheldon Moldoff, Glen Murakami, Alex Ross, Scott Shaw, Jay Stephens, Ty Templeton, Jim Woodring, Joe Shuster, Dick Sprang, Michael Golden, John Byrne, Paris Cullins, Kevin O’Neill, Peter Doherty, Rafael Albuquerque; collection editor, Robin Wildman; publisher, DC Comics.

Cinema Purgatorio 5 (August 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #5

The movie fan in me resents Moore’s title for the Cinema Purgatorio story–The Time of Our Lives, just because it reminds me of The Best Years of Our Lives and Moore isn’t doing a commentary on that film. Instead, he’s doing a thing about post-WWII culture in America, but more the fifties than the late forties. That caveat aside, it’s a solid entry from he and O’Neill. Nothing too exciting, just solid.

This issue’s Code Pru is similarly okay. Nowhere near as good as the Purgatorio but a not bad possession story. It’s unfortunate because Ennis can’t help but hint at what might be in a better Code Pru book, not just this truncated version of the concept. Decent art from Caceres but nothing too outstanding.

The Modded from Gillen and Calero is simultaneously awful (Gillen rips off Mad Max this time, not Scott Pilgrim) and competently illustrated. It’s a shame Calero doesn’t get better writing.

Ditto the More Perfect Union entry. Though DiPascale does some fantastic art this entry. Brooks barely has a script, but every panel is gorgeous. Maybe the less writing Brooks does, the better chance DiPascale has to turn the strip into something tolerable. Mildly tolerable.

And Gage and Andrade’s Vast is more tolerable than usual as well, just because there’s a little more story in this Pacific Rim rip-off.

I guess this issue of Purgatorio is something of a let down after the last one, but when doesn’t this anthology disappoint. At least there’s solid art. And Modded goes by somewhat quickly. It’s easily the worst of the bunch thanks to Gillen’s writing.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, The Time of Our Lives; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Your Mother Knits Socks in Hell; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Ignacio Calero. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Michael DiPascale. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Doom Patrol 1 (November 2016)

Doom Patrol #1

The all-new Doom Patrol is so desperately hip, I wish they’d included the market research on whether or not having the protagonist talk about Twitter as opposed to writer Gerard Way’s letter assuring readers he’s not a corporate goon, he likes Grant Morrison. It’s edgy–there are swear words–and it’s quirky–wow, it’s like we’re not even in the DC Universe. This Doom Patrol would never have happened in the New 52!

It’s also so pedestrian, it should come with a list of Image comics from the last eight years people should read instead of this comic book. Admittedly, Way writes lame dialogue from page one, so I was starting from a hostile position, but then everything he does is something someone else has done better. Sometimes indie people–and it’s not like I’ve even read ten percent of what Image has put out in the last eight years–sometimes mainstream people. All of them, even if they didn’t have better art, did it better.

Because Way’s Doom Patrol feels a little like what would happen if, instead of cloning Superman in Quest for Peace, Lex had cloned Wes Anderson and made him make terrible comics. Only Doom Patrol isn’t terrible, I’m just being cynical because it’s a soulless commercial product. I mean, Nick Derington’s art is fine. Sure, a lot of it seems to be ripping off what Marcos Martin did on The Private Eye and not anywhere near as well, but it’s fine. Derington’s definitely capable of doing something better than the script he gets here.

As the flagship of DC’s “Young Animal” imprint, Doom Patrol makes me never want to type those words again, much less read them on a comic book cover.

CREDITS

Brick by Brick, Part One: Happy Birthday, Casey Brinke; writer, Gerard Way; artist, Nick Derington; colorist, Tamra Bonvillain; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Molly Mahan and Shelly Bond; publisher, DC Comics.

Hadrian’s Wall 1 (September 2016)

Hadrian's Wall #1

Hadrian’s Wall opens with a paragraph explaining the setting–it’s set in an alternate future because it has an alternate past (the U.S. and U.S.S.R. nuked each other in 1985 so the future’s different)–but then it’s just a traditional future cop sci-fi thing. And it’s pretty good at it too. Writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel just have one major mystery for the cop to solve–who killed his ex-wife’s new husband? Who she initially had an affair with, who got him fired, who shot him four times.

The protagonist is now a painkiller popping wreck of a man. Will he be able to unravel the mystery out in the stars–Hadrian’s Wall refers to the ship where there a limited number of suspects. And we already know someone isn’t what they seem.

Basically, it’s an excuse to look at some gorgeous artwork from Rod Reis. The dialogue is fine–it’s pulpy future cop stuff (and it’s hard to believe it didn’t start as a screenplay)–the characters are okay. The art on them is great. I mean, it’s not an ambitious book, it’s just a solid one.

CREDITS

Writers, Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel; artist, Rod Reis; letterer, Troy Peteri; editor, Matt Idelson; publisher, Image Comics.

Kaijumax: Season Two 4 (September 2016)

Kaijumax: Season Two #4

Cannon doesn’t offer a breather after a heavy previous issue. He sends Electrogor under the sea into the old gods’ territory (with Cthulhu showing up at the end) and it’s a real downer. I feel like it’s the first time he’s branched into different monster mythologies to this degree in Kaijumax–I mean, Cthulhu’s never been a kaiju (right?). Most of Electrogor’s half of the issue is spent with him feeling terrible, which is sort of his thing, but for really good reason as he meets the residents of this hidden, undersea slum. It’s heartbreaking and horrifying, but not in for any predictable reasons.

At the same time, Chisato the good mecha, gets herself a new partner and has to work vice, which provides Cannon the opportunity to do some mixed size action sequences. It doesn’t necessarily seem heavy, but then Cannon sticks the reader right at the end of the issue. He’s heavy on the “real life, real crime” parallels, which isn’t as successful as just when he sticks to the complicated world of Kaijumax.

Season Two is working out to be far more successful than the previous one, which is no small feat. Between Chisato and her character development–it’s not like the humans in Kaijumax have ever been particularly sympathetic so seeing someone try to be more like them is rather effective; her new partner–the burnout human–is a wonderful contrast, of course.

It’s such a good comic. It’s just brutally downbeat.

CREDITS

The Seamy Underbelly; writer, artist and letterer, Zander Cannon; colorists, Cannon and Jason Fischer; editor, Charlie Chu; publisher, Oni Press.

Resident Alien: The Man with No Name 1 (September 2016)

Resident Alien: The Man with No Name #1

Resident Alien is back. As always, cause for rejoicing, especially with Steve Parkhouse having a great time returning to the characters. He maintains the series’s comfortable feel, but with a visible enthusiasm. As far as the writing goes, Peter Hogan eases the reader back into the adventures of Harry and company. Even the series title–The Man with No Name–goes unanswered this issue; Hogan and Parkhouse know how to set up a limited series.

These series have to read great in trade.

This issue’s highlights include Harry going for a walk with the mayor, who’s running for re-election, the Men in Black tracking down Asta and the local sheriff having a talk with her, then Harry going to the mayor’s poker night. It’s just a mellow book with great dialogue, great characterization and great art.

Even as he’s laying the groundwork for the eventual mystery, Hogan makes sure to work on the characters first. The poker game is one of the issue’s longer, more amusing scenes. Hogan writes the book through Harry’s appreciative, forgiving eyes, even when he’s not in a scene. It’s positive without being unnecessarily idealistic. Bad things can still happen, of course. And the issue ends on a fairly ominous hard cliffhanger.

CREDITS

Writer, Peter Hogan; artist, Steve Parkhouse; editors, Megan Walker and Philip R. Simon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Kong of Skull Island 3 (September 2016)

Kong of Skull Island #3

Giant apes are more interesting than political intrigue, even political intrigue involving multiple betrayals. These betrayals all happen during a crisis and all happen with characters it’s impossible to really care about because we’re three issues into Kong of Skull Island–the title does now make awesome (and plural) sense, however.

Still Asmus does a bit of a better job this issue than the last time around. Not good enough to right the course of the comic but at least enough to encourage further time and reading energy.

Another problem this issue is how much Magno has to do with the art and in how little time. He’s got a volcanic eruption, a political coup and a Kong riot. By the time the lava gets to some stranded folks, I’d forgotten about the volcano entirely. There was too much of the other stuff–including that pointless political intrigue. At least the Kong wrangler lady gets more to do, even if way too much of it happens off panel so Asmus can concentrate on moving the disaster part of it forward.

But next issue promises lots of giant apes versus dinosaurs–and some yawn-inducing political intrigue, no doubt–so I’ll be back. But Kong’s almost out of the goodwill the first issue generated.

CREDITS

Writer, James Asmus; artist, Carlos Magno; colorist, Brad Simpson; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editors, Alex Galer and Dafna Pleban; publisher, Boom! Studios.

War Stories 19 (June 2016)

War Stories #19

Whenever Garth Ennis does WWII and he does something with the UK, I assume it’s a little bit of a capitulation. What does one expect from Ennis except WWII and UK war comics? I mean, really. There’s even squabbling among the airmen based on one not being from the same part of the UK. It’s exactly what one would expect.

And it’s pretty darn all right. He doesn’t do much with the characters–thankfully Tomas Aira gives them different enough uniforms and body types, but it’s not like Ennis is throwing a lot of character development in. He’s playing for the scene. The draw is the subject matter, which is the RAF putting together their night fighter squadron. Ennis even opens it with a text introduction to the era.

It works. It all works out. Aira’s fine on the airplanes and his composition for the talking heads scenes are getting better. War comics need good composition for briefing sequences. It’s a lot to juggle; Aira doesn’t have the detail on faces and the coloring is still War Stories atrocious–I really hope Ennis has it in some contract if these things catch up commercially, they’ll get recolored–but it’s the best first issue of a War Stories arc the series has had in ages.

It’s also a four-parter, instead of the traditional three. The cynic in me wonders if it’s a drawer script Ennis has had around for a while.

CREDITS

Vampire Squadron, Part One: A Barrel of Guinness; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Future Quest 4 (October 2016)

Future Quest #4

What did I just read? I know why I read it, but what was it? Future Quest has become a hodgepodge of Hanna-Barbera properties thrown together without any apparent rhyme or reason; all because Doc Shaner’s late on the art? I mean, why else is writer Jeff Parker filling in on the art himself? Parker’s art is fine. In some ways it has more personality than Shaner’s just because Shaner’s style doesn’t fit this content at all. Jonny Quest teaming up with Space Ghost’s annoying tween sidekicks isn’t content anyone should illustrate cleanly and Shaner’s nothing if not clean.

Ron Randall also does some pages and he’s fine. But none of it matters because the story is just a bunch of–well–the story is a bunch of hooey. It reminds of those old DC pseudo-event mini-series throwing together some properties they were trying to keep copyright on back in the late nineties and early aughts, only without any charm. Whenever Parker runs out of story, he puts some little kid in danger and it’s apparently supposed to be enough.

Or there’s a dinosaur. Or a cameo from some other Hanna-Barbera character you didn’t even admit liking when you watched the cartoon when you were a kid.

I think Future Quest can go on without me.

CREDITS

How the Mighty Fall!; artist, Evan Shaner. The Structure of Fear; artist, Jeff Parker. Frankenstein Jr. Making Friends; artist, Ron Randall. Writer, Parker; colorist, Hi-Fi Colour Design; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Night’s Dominion 1 (September 2016)

Night's Dominion #1

Here’s the strangest thing about the first issue of Night’s Dominion–it goes on forever. Ted Naifeh goes on and on and on trying to setup the story and he never quite does. He raises a lot of questions, but the hinted answers aren’t really as interesting as they need to be. The one time I thought he was going to do something crazy, he doesn’t. Instead he introduces Batman.

Because Night’s Dominion is–according to the editor’s note in the back–a superhero comic. Just one set in, basically, in a Conan setting. The art’s good, because it’s Ted Naifeh, and even some of the banter between the characters is good, but there’s not a story yet. Whatever ideas he’s got for the comic haven’t gelled quite yet. The Night is this master thief who operates in the city. Batman’s kind of her nemesis, making her Catwoman.

Speaking of Batman and Catwoman, didn’t Naifeh pitch a great Batman comic to DC once and they turned him down? I sort of remember some art.

The Night herself is an interesting character… when she’s not being the Night. When she is the Night, she’s just dealing with a bunch of morons who don’t think a woman can do the job. Again, it seems like Naifeh’s trying too hard to make the comic work.

Obviously, I’m not giving up on it after one, but it’s not off to the start one would hope given the creator.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Ted Naifeh; letterer, Aditya Bidikar; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

War Stories 18 (April 2016)

War Stories #18

Ennis pushes through to the end of his gunboat arc and it’s a bit of a chore. Aira doesn’t do well with the second half of the issue, which is where there’s all the action. It’s not exciting action; these characters aren’t sympathetic, they’re obnoxious and annoying and intentionally so. It’s so strange to see Ennis go out of his way to make these characters so unlikable. I wish there were some deeper commentary to it and there may be, but it doesn’t come across.

The strangest thing about the issue is Aira’s art. Not the stuff on the boat, which is confusing and there’s a couple panels where the side of a guy’s head disappears, but some of the long shots in the early part of the issue. If it weren’t so poorly computer colored–War Stories and its digital shading for perspective are the pits–and if it were in black and white, there might be something to it. Aira’s shapes, in the distance, have presence.

I wish someone knew what to do with this comic book. It doesn’t seem like anyone–Avatar, Ennis, Aira–have the slightest idea what War Stories should be doing. It’s a shame.

CREDITS

Send a Gunboat, Part Three: Commence, Commence, Commence; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

The Flintstones 3 (November 2016)

The Flintstones #3

Wow. It’s beautiful and all, but, wow, what a downer. I mean, the whole thing is just depressing from page three, especially since Pebbles understands The Flintstones exists in a world without any value whatsoever on human life. It’s not hard to see what kind of commentary Russell is making about our modern world, gorgeous Steve Pugh art or not.

Space aliens visit Bedrock and basically destroy the place with their technology. It’s strange for a third issue because the main cast–even though they have important things to do–don’t have much to do as the main cast. Russell’s not building character relationships, he’s not developing anything. If Betty even shows up, she doesn’t have much in the way of lines. Certainly none memorable. Even Fred’s part in the story is only memorable because of how tragic it gets.

It’s kind of a heavy book. Gorgeous, but heavy. It might be too cynical, in fact. Russell’s writing is fine–I suppose the story’s a little light (it’s basically snippets of disaster)–but it’s fine. It’s just so fatalistic I don’t know why I want to read it. There’s better social commentary out there–the Fox News joke is the most obvious and the weakest–and I’m always onboard for Pugh….

But, come on, give the reader a single smile, right? PTSD group sessions don’t lead to smiles, neither does mass murder.

CREDITS

A Space Oddity; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Afterlife with Archie 10 (October 2016)

Afterlife with Archie #10

Someday, someone will do tragedy in mainstream comics better than Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, but if this latest issue of Afterlife with Archie is any indication, it’s not going to be any time soon. This issue–a done-in-one prologue to the series–features the Afterlife version of Josie and the Pussycats. Once again, Aguirre-Sacasa mixes pop culture sensibility, horror and so much good characterization.

It might be impossible to talk about the issue without spoiling anything, but I’m going to try. Aguirre-Sacasa structures it as an interview, set in modernity, with Josie telling a reporter all about the Pussycats’ history. There’s a lot of social history, some hints at ties to the overarching Afterlife story and some singing and dancing. There’s also friendship and tragedy.

There’s also a lot of unbelievably good Francesco Francavilla artwork. How Aguirre-Sacasa comes up with the content to give Francavilla the opportunity to do these panels–whether it’s a rock concert, a scene set in a small town in the South or an airplane ride–not to mention the interview panels themselves–it’s awesome, over and over again. Francavilla does the horror, he does the characters, he does the relationships between the two. There’s so much tragedy, the issue practically bleeds it.

This comic book, out of nowhere, isn’t just consistently excellent, it’s consistently exquisite. Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla put Afterlife in a league all its own.

CREDITS

Betty: R.I.P., Chapter Five: Interview/Interlude with the Pussycats; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.

Kill or be Killed 2 (September 2016)

Kill or be Killed #2

It’s definitely a better issue of Kill or be Killed, though Brubaker spends about a third of the issue just writing first person prose from the still obnoxious protagonist. And the prose isn’t particularly good. I mean, if it’s supposed to be the first person perspective from some annoying twenty-something entitled white kid who doesn’t know anything about writing prose, it’s fine. It also seems like Brubaker’s using it to give Phillips less to draw and, it’s already clear Kill or be Killed isn’t going to be one of Brubaker’s successes, so at least let the reader have as much great Phillips art as possible.

And there is some great Phillips art. There’s some paintings even–though it almost seems like they’re matching the story to what Phillips might have already around.

This issue doesn’t have the demon, which raises some questions (is the protagonist just insane?), and the protagonist–who’s so memorable I don’t even remember his name, annoying entitled white dude sums him up just as well (who’s shitty to his mom)–finds his first guilty victim. A thinking man’s Punisher this comic ain’t.

But it’s just all right enough, with Phillips getting just enough to do–a trip to upstate New York, some flashbacks involving the protagonist’s father (the guy’s family life is more interesting than anything Brubaker has for him to do as a demonically empowered vigilante), those awesome paintings of Phillips’s–to keep Kill or be Killed going. But it’s not a good comic. It probably won’t ever be a good comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Snow White: A Graphic Novel (2016)

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Snow White is a peculiar retelling of the fairy tale. I’m not familiar with most Snow White versions, not Grimm, not Disney, so I don’t know if they hit the same emotional beats Matt Phelan does in this one. I sort of doubt it because what the ones he hits are so tied to the setting–New York City soon after the stock market crash. Phelan uses dialogue sparingly. It’s more about how Snow White looks, whether it’s Samantha (Snow) White as a young child playing with her mother before tragedy strikes, the introduction of her stepmother–a Ziegfield girl, a truly terrifying chase through Hooverville, or Snow’s protectors, a youth gang called the Seven. They refuse to tell her their names, which eventually leads to a couple beautiful moments. All of the emotional potency of these scenes are because of Phelan’s approach to the narrative, the way he conveys movement between panels, the way he paces out the action. He puts a lot of work into Snow White, even in the panels where his ink washes are overpowering.

The "wicked stepmother" arrives.
The “wicked stepmother” arrives.

Phelan does a lot with the visual setting–art deco, New York in the thirties, the clothing, the bustling streets, the occasional grandiosity (the introduction of the wicked stepmother is just awesome)–but the characters are where it’s at. Snow and the Seven, her often silent interactions with these orphaned boys. The wicked stepmother and her insane scheming. The Huntsman character gets a great chapter to himself, told without dialogue. Phelan finds the beauty in the wretchedness of the Great Depression without ever lessening that wretchedness. It’s very precisely, very seriously executed.

He splits the graphic novel into short chapters; they can run five pages, they can run twenty. There’s a quick pace to the comic, Phelan’s quite good at drawing the reader’s attention to the salient elements in each panel and how they relate to the panels before and after. The period detail isn’t exactly background, but his focus is always on the character, whether it’s the good ones or the bad. It’s almost a cinematic pacing, especially since there’s so little dialogue in the book.

Snow White, snow-covered Central Park.
Snow White, snow-covered Central Park.

It is an adaptation so there are some set plot points he has to hit. He gets a lot out of them, but they’re not where Snow White hits its highest notes. It’s no longer a story about a princess on the run from her wicked stepmother, it’s a story about trying to survive the Depression and retain one’s humanity. It’s about trying to find beauty where it doesn’t seem like there could be any beauty.

Phelan’s work is technically stellar. The aforementioned chase scene is nothing compared to the final action sequence, where he goes very, very big to resolve some loose ends. There’s such a gentleness to the book as well; Phelan finds the small, human moments in his story and emphasizes them. He never seems rushed, never seems erratic, but always gets right to the deepest part of a moment. It’s fantastic.

Snow White sleeps.
Snow White sleeps.

The only feasible complaint with Snow White is its physical size–Phelan’s art begs for enormous pages. It’s a wonderful book.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Matt Phelan; publisher, Candlewick Press.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 33

We missed a month, but we sure do talk about a lot here.

Here’s what we talk about.

  • Kill or Be Killed
  • Demonic
  • Snotgirl
  • Lazarus
  • Black Hammer
  • Lady Killer
  • Afterlife with Archie
  • Sabrina
  • Betty and Veronica
  • Tokyo Ghost
  • Jupiters Legacy
  • Lake of Fire
  • Manifest Destiny
  • Cinema Purgatorio
  • I Hate Fairyland
  • Ringside
  • Kong of Skull Island
  • Prophet Earth War
  • Kaijumax
  • Satans Sodomy Baby
  • Blubber
  • Velvet
  • Midnight of the Soul
  • Flintstones
  • Future Quest
  • Scooby
  • Wacky Raceland
  • Providence
  • Johnny Red
  • Train Called Love
  • Baker Street Peculiars
  • Starve
  • Snow White
  • Spidey Zine

you can also subscribe on iTunes…

Lazarus 24 (August 2016)

Lazarus #24

It’s a perfectly good issue of Lazarus but it feels a little slight. Rucka’s trying to do too much at once–Forever’s story, little Forever’s story, the family, then the action stuff… it’s just too much. Lark’s good at expressive action from characters and the juxtaposition of young and regular Forever is cute, but it’s not enough.

Lazarus has been running so lean for so long, having an issue where Rucka spins a bunch of subplot wheels for future development is a little strange. He’s moved the book away from Forever’s point of view and hasn’t returned to her. Everything’s still strong–like I said, perfectly good–but it feels off. Taking Forever out of the action–especially since the action sequences are just assassination missions–makes the action seems a lot less salient.

With so much going on in the book now–I mean, there are two Forevers, double the usual amount–I suppose an unevenly paced issue is inevitable. Or maybe I just want Forever, the real Forever, back in action.

CREDITS

Cull, Part Three; writer, Greg Rucka; penciller, Michael Lark; inkers, Lark and Tyler Boss; colorist, Santiago Arcas; letterer, Jodi Wynne; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

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