Dollar Binging

Spider-Boy Team Up #1
Amalgam Comics, June 1997

Hawkman Comics #12
DC Comics, Feb/Mar 1966


Spider Boy Team Up  1997  1Spider-Boy Team Up #1

Probably the last of its ilk, Amalgam Comics will be known as the final example of Marvel and DC co-publishing anything. The 12 one shots that made up this line were all amalgamations of concepts of both companies, complete in single issue stories, and a couple of them stood out.

The story here, penned by “R.K. Sternsel”, is obviously an amalgam, I’m guessing Roger Stern, but thats all the thought I’m going to put into it. While “Stern” does a decent job of hitting all the right notes of this sort of thing, including a horseshoeing in a bit of the Christmas Carol, I’m giving him extra points for the five hundred or so of the Legion of Superheroes look a-likes and their catchy names, keeping it moving yet inventive and fresh for this usually mind wiping of exercises. All the different costumes gave a great new jazz too, but that was up to-

Penciller Ladronn, with some great embellishments by Juan Vlsaco. These two were working themselves up to quite a frenzy previously in Cable, but here they are fully ensconced, full steam ahead, with an inventiveness and attention to minute detail that Geoff Darrow would poop his pants about.

This 20 page pablum, packed with a dense, continuously moving and bright script by “Roger Stern”, and the offspring of Ladronn and Vlasco at the peak of their collaborative powers make this one a steal at a buck. Smoke some weed and read this.


Hawkman  1964  12Hawkman #12

While a lot of the Silver Age hasn’t aged well, Gardner Fox, one of DC’s sci-fi writers itchin’ to write comics in his spare time, lays out the usual paces in this 24 page, 3 chapter melodrama, its once again it’s the work of the visual end, Murphy Anderson, to pull the weight needed here for me to be able to finish this.

Fox has pretty much stretched out your basic superhero plot, complete with holes, not much story development (I don’t think this was a prerequisite in the 60’s), but given just enough characters and action to keep Anderson busy.

And busy he is. Every panel of this eye candy is beautifully rendered with what can only be labeled some of the most graceful human figures to grace a comic book. While backgrounds are not common in action scenes, when an establishing shot is needed, Anderson shows why he is one of the masters of the silver age. We would be so lucky to look like the macho Katar Hol and the gorgeous redheaded Sheyera. In their masterful poses, they make humans dressed like hawk people a normal and wonderful thing to witness.

Call me an old reprobate, but there is so much drawing here that I think most modern comics artists would puke if they knew how much time and effort was spent on this. Hawkman stories are generally a snooze, but our fearsome duo flying around in their wonderfully designed costumes and masks is worth the buck alone.

Realistic Flintstones: Anthro

DC Showcase #74

DC Showcase #74
Anthro issues #1-6
DC Comics
1968-69 12-15 cents ea.

Deep within the recesses of DC’s late sixties explosion of titles, a unique direction for mainstream comics occurs. I’m referring to Anthro, Howie Post’s take on prehistoric living.

Post, a gag cartoonist, who first started drawing comic books in the golden age, was an animation director, did a stint working on scary stuff for pre-Marvel Atlas comics in the fifties, and is best known for his long running syndicated strip, The Dropouts (1968-81). Just before that he ended up proposing to DC his version of what caveman life was like. Within this framework, he eschews a natural interpretation of history, bringing along dinosaurs, some modern slang, and our protagonist, Anthro, who with his immediate family, venture forth and survive the tests of daily living.

This family unit includes his parents, his grandmother, and younger brother Lark, to complete the set. Post creates an exciting, semi realistic set of challenges for them, along with modern takes on their relationships, including Anthro’s father losing arguments regularly with his mother in law, the dangerous and regular hunt for sustenance, and his continuing distraction with those curved cavemen, known as women, whom his father claims are the most dangerous of beasts to be wary of in this challenging world.

Anthro #1

Each issue tells a chapter of his tale, from his early encounter with thwarted love, helping his father protect his miniature clan from starvation as well as attacks from wild beasts, surviving contact with superior races, culminating in a trek across many lands to avoid the “ice age”, and ultimately, his reunion with Embra, his first contact with someone of the female species of his own age. Anthro is strong enough for the challenges, yet always uncertain of their outcome, and rarely confident in his ability to win the day.

Post provides a galloping ride to the proceedings, never sitting still long before the next menace comes, keeping the plot fresh and fun to follow. His cartooning, a scratchy, yet easy on the eye type of line work, creates caricatures that while type cast, have a certain grubby charm of their own. Post keeps a light feel to the proceedings, despite the ever lurking dangers, as well as a wonderful contrast between the somewhat handsomeness of Anthro, and the primitive, Cro-Magnon look of his father and others. The girls here, are depicted with a similar grace, cute when needed, and realistically homely when the humor demands it. None of the men or women however, are sparred the indignity of at least mild unattractiveness.

Anthro #2

What sets this series apart from your “typical” adventure series is the overall warmth generated by Anthro and his family. Whether they argue about the indignities of “nuclear family” life, or teaming up to protect one another from harm, there is a genuine camaraderie about them that is fully convincing.

Here within is Post’s strong suite, taking the average and mundane, and giving it life to make us care about it. Sure, death is around every corner, but they will face it with the limited skills available, along with the earnestness of a group that really cares for one another. Post manages to tell a legitimate tale of an early family, along with an atmosphere of lightheartedness that keeps you vested in their survival.

Not too airy and not too deep, Anthro is an honest read in its aims to entertain, yet not hit us over the head with it’s wild premises and bends of reality. There is a bit of Post’s personal involvement with all the characters here, and it pays off in a mild mannered, breezy read, that brings you completely into it’s world and keeps you warm and fuzzy. The series only flaw here being it’s premature ending, with solid yet contrasting inks this issue by Wally Wood, most likely brought about from the intrusion of Post’s new gig as a syndicated cartoonist, a step up for artists, with a much better paycheck.

Anthro #6

And that’s plenty for me.

If you’re lucky enough to sample Anthro (not sure its EVER been reprinted), and enjoy it as I have, click on the link here for an interview with Post to find out how exactly alike he and his creations are.

http://twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/05post.html

Anthro. A real charmer of a sixties comic, for those of us that revel in such things, as well as a taste of a comics era that will most likely never be seen again. Sadly, it’s all the poorer for it, I think.

Batman’s Junk

Batman: Damned #1
DC comics, $6.99, 48 pages
2018

Ok then. The arrival in DC’s new line of “mature” titles featuring their biggest characters starts with an expressionistic take on the dark, forbidden knowledge portion of the Batman mythos. Not that it’s a new idea, Bats has been something various writers have stretched as far as editorial will let them after what, 75(?) years of Batman stories. Where do you go from there? In it’s quest to reinvent itself for a new generation and relevance in today’s pop culture, DC has decided a more original, adult approach is supposedly an idea whose time has come.

After reading the story, which features a trio of DC mystical characters that cameo in Bats attempt to help with the books plot, facing an unknown part of his life, that provide the impetus here. Sadly, not much is really new or different. Lots of overly used metaphors abound, along with John Constantine’s new and annoying, mysterious
narrative dialogue that pretty much abandons his former accent and smart ass attitude.

Lee Bermejo’s art, while technically accomplished, seems odd in places, perhaps with a tad too much realism to get the viewer fully engaged, being more distracting than complimentary. The Elseworlds approach used to always display to the reader this was a different type of story, not necessarily bound to the established canon with the characters. This quite often was a successful approach, with an inner sense of logic that would satisfy, and got you from point a to b in a satisfying manner.

Not that there isn’t craft of some sort operating here. It’s just that it’s not particularly original or well serviced, with a slightly askew dc universe different from the others just because it can be. All the characters seem off, not really themselves, and by not knowing a purpose for this interpretation, keeps me at a distance to care. I’m not sure where the story aims after 48 pages, and other than an interesting take on Zatanna, I’ve still got nothing invested after reading it. Murky stories and hyper realistic art aren’t a substitute here for a story I can get enthusiastic about, or even keeping me curious enough to want to read the second issue.

Then there’s the “mature” part of the story, really the only “mature” part of it, and it doesn’t add to the proceedings at all. To give this new “Black Label” an edgy, adult look and feel, we’re forced to see Batman’s full frontal junk in three shots (that I can tell, anyway), that seem ridiculously gratuitous in their inclusion. I didn’t know Bruce walked around the Batcave naked, and not sure I needed to.

Why this even exists in a Batman story is totally beyond me. I’m not a puritan, and if you gave me a valid reason to see Batman’s John Thomas I’m sure I’d go along with it. Sadly, this isn’t it. The only reason I can guess is that it gives you a reason this week to buy the new Batman comic.

Adding fuel to the fire, the week the book came out, that’s really all folks could talk about, simply because it was the only thing that made this Batman comic different from the rest. Not better or even equal, just different. The cheesy mechanization that led to this editorial decision for attention and sales elude me, and it seems this just creates more questions and problems going forward.

This brings up imaginary scenarios of my former life as a comic book retailer, where more than once I’d be confronted by a parent whose child reads Batman and wonders why this comic wasn’t out on the racks for little Joey to peruse. Following would be me demonstrating the graphic content, with the inevitable hopeless defense of why they’d make Batman inaccessible to anyone under 21 in the first place.

After all, once you get to see Batman’s junk, what’s next? Selina’s stuff?

Pass, unless you’re investing in it for speculative purposes. Even then, sell quick, cause you know this won’t be the last time we’re going to see this new, mysterious, provocative portion of Batman’s life at 7 bucks a pop.

How The West Was Really Won. At Least In Comics

DC Showcase #76

DC Showcase #76, Bat Lash #1–7
DC Comics, 12–15 cents ea. 1968

Ah, Westerns.

For me, Westerns have always been that convenient, handy, all purpose source of fiction that utilizes Americans utopian, noble, and utterly romantic interpretations of ourselves and our history. A uniquely North American period of time, Westerns give forth the vision of how we wish to depict ourselves, generally in the best fashion, to the rest of the world. Filled will grandiose stories featuring our self imposed spirit, they can be not only ironic, but a glimpse into to the American psyche itself.

The timing of their popularity comes in the 50’s after the Second World War, and was solidified in pop culture by films, the expanding cultural icons of television, and the handy and cheap format of the comic book.

While it could be said the best representations of the American Western themes succeeded the most where the big money was, with films by John Ford far out-lapping the rather pedestrian fare found on episodic television shows.

Comics tread a similar path, with the best of the form saved for the better paying, self copyrighted newspaper comic strips, with outstanding examples being Rick O’Shay by Stan Lynde, or The Cisco Kid, by Jose Luis Salinas. This level of craft was later supplanted by the Belgian/French series Blueberry, by Jean Michel Charlier and Jean Giraud, their mastery of the American Western period perhaps the apex of the form for me.

In 1968, while the popularity of superhero comics was hitting its peak, DC and Marvel were expanding their empires of comics publishing, adding ever more titles to compete with each other and starve off rack space from the second tier publishers. They tried a lot of odd, sometimes goofy approaches to comics, throwing lots of stuff at the walls to see what would stick.

While many of the “bronze age” of American comics were still mired in commercial and semi conservative boundaries, this was a good time to grow, trying many avenues of approaches to see if there were readers of comics outside the tried and true superhero genre.

And among these oddities was Bat Lash.

Brainchild of gag writer Sergio Aragones (of the Mad magazine border cartoon fame), scripter Denny O’Neil (whose English and command of dialects was better than Aragones), and house artist Nick Cardy (whose art style didn’t need to change no matter what he was drawing), came yet another attempt to revisit the Western comic book.

Bat Lash, neither fish nor fowl of the typical Western epic and characters, brought a new game to it. While most American Western comics were visually flat and dull as dirt with leads and stories to match, Bat Lash always gave his cowboy a chance to shine, utilizing the typical attributes of the old west, yet adding some spice to it. Bat Lash was a handsome devil, he had an unerring direction towards the ladies, providing a continuous weak point for his goals, as well as being a bit of a selfish cad. As much as he liked the females, Bat Lash never prioritized them over the creature comforts of money and the opportunity to move on to the next one. In fairness to the apparent misogyny here, it can be said that most of the females depicted had the same attitude towards Bat, moving on once his usefulness to them was over with.

The world of Bat Lash is populated with a stereotypical cast, but one used effectively in relation to the lead, who was selfish in the extreme, yet highly appreciative of beautiful women and a gourmet meal. While demonstrating a typical Western drawl, he also possessed a vocabulary far beyond the yoklesque townies.

First published in an issue of DC’s anthology title Showcase, he then went on to a short lived seven issue series, each one a complete tale, but giving clues about Bat and his history along the way. Aragones provides great plots as only a lover of the Western genre can, O’Neil flourishes it with dialogue thats genuine and unique to each character, and Nick Cardy’s art perfectly compliments the proceedings, utilizing a messy brush that depicts the dirtiness of the old west, but also using fine pen lines to soften Bats features and give the women a delicate sweetness that put Bat Lash’s weakness on constant display.

Another feature in this series that gave it spice was its constant dedication to humor, an almost non existent entity in Westerns, at least on this level. Never quite taking itself too seriously, yet also providing grit in the realistic manner of how life could be cheap and over soon. It balanced the inevitable violence of the drama with a warm sense of humor that smoothed out the edges and make it an entertaining, positive read.

While not quite on the aesthetic level of Blueberry, this is one commercial comic book with a sense of identity in its hands that was consistent throughout. It’s never overly serious, yet always fully involved in its need to tell a story compellingly. You can’t accuse it of being a work of high art, but Bat Lash is certainly a work of high craft. Lovers of Westerns will recognize all the familiar elements here, mixed with added ingredients that provide fresh zest for the meal, as Bat Lash would surely appreciate.

Of the eight issues produced, my faves were issue two with Bat as a reluctant father figure, along with some of the best art found in a commercial comic; issue five, with a mirror themed antagonist comically named and depicted as Sergio Aragones with double crosses supreme, and the sixth issue, featuring none of the usual humor in a story that relates how Bat Lash come into being, with an ever present sadness that’s absent in the rest.

Perhaps the best thing about Bat Lash is that you really don’t have to have a soft spot for Westerns to enjoy it. But while its execution in style and craft overwhelm any need to adhere to a genre formula, it instead relishes in its submersion and loves it.

Good Oaters…

Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits Special (May 2017)

Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits Special

Given “The Banana Splits” were a thing in the late sixties, some dated references in Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits Special might make sense. But writer Tony Bedard doesn’t go for sixties or seventies jokes; instead, it’s mid-nineties racial jokes. The Banana Splits reinventing themselves gangsta rap is far less problematic than when the cops are shooting at them because cops don’t care about “Animal Americans.” The editors of the book, who work on the far better Hanna-Barbera books, clearly don’t bring anything to those better books if they let that kind of crud through. Otherwise, it’s lame with mild amusements. Harley Quinn and the Elephant are cute. Ditto Killer Croc and the monkey (almost). Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales’s art is fine, but it’s not like it needs to do much.

However, Mark Russell and Howard Porter’s Snagglepuss backup is awesome. It starts with him telling the HUAC a thing or two, then moves into an inspiration, if sad, lesson for a young writer. It’s awesome. And Porter’s got fantastic detail on anthropomorphized animals. Who knew.

CREDITS

Suicide Splits (Hey, it beats “Banana Squad”); writer, Tony Bedard; penciller, Ben Caldwell; inker, Mark Morales; colorist, Jeremy Lawson; letterers, Troy Peteri and Dave Lanphear. House Fires; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Howard Porter; colorist, Steve Buccellato; letterer, Dave Sharpe. Editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Sweatshop (2003)

Sweatshop

Sweatshop is a workplace situation comedy. While there are only six issues, creator, writer, oftentimes artist Peter Bagge gets in ten stories. The first four issues each have a couple stories. Bagge’s methodical about how he introduces the characters. They’re all comically unlikable, each with a certain charm. If not in the character, then just in how they influence the comic. It’s a great cast.

The comic is about newspaper comic strip cartoonist Mel Bowing and “Sweatshop minions.” Nick, Carrie, Alfred, Millie, and Elliot. Elliot gets hired in the first issue’s second story, everyone else gets their own story somewhere in the first three issues. The fourth issue has an Alfred and Nick team up, before giving Mel his own story. But the fourth issue is also where Bagge, as a writer, is getting comfortable with plotting all these characters together. Before, he utilizes the supporting players for some great jokes, but not really as active participants. The fifth is a single story for the whole cast. The sixth and final issue has a couple stories for Mel.

Bill Wray illustrates Carrie’s “Carrie’s Diary” strip.

Along the way, Bagge and his artists (the series has a number of them) also contribute “samples” from the cast. Carrie’s project, a zine called Carrie’s Diary is the most popular. Alfred dreams of doing superhero comics. Elliot wants to do The Boondocks only desperately obvious and unfunny. Nick wants to make fun of Carrie and Elliot being empathetic and serious. At some point in the series, there’s a sample of everyone’s work, usually Nick’s because Nick is a dick and Bagge gets a lot of mileage out of him. But the Boondocks knock-offs are practically a lecture on how to make a good, politically conscious comic strip and how not to ape one.

Initially, Bagge tries not to embrace the comics culture aspect of Sweatshop too much. The fifth’s issue single story is a trip to a comic con, complete with Bagge being downright tender with some of his observations. The first story is Mel being nominated for a comic strip award, but Bagge doesn’t get too geeky with it. Alfred’s half-issue story is about him trying to be an indie superhero guy and there’s some comic con stuff, but just for background humor. And it’s worth the wait, the comic con story is either the funniest Sweatshop or second funniest. There are even cameos–Ivan Brunetti and Neil Gaiman. It’s awesome.

Mel's become a harmless, hilarious jackass by the fourth issue. Art by Stephanie Gladden and Jim Blanchard.
Mel’s become a harmless, hilarious jackass by the fourth issue. Art by Stephanie Gladden and Jim Blanchard.

The other funniest story contender is the Mel one from the fourth issue. Not because of Mel, but because Bagge’s got this hilarious E plot with Carrie’s friend thinking Mel is hilarious. It forces the reader to take another look at the characters and their behaviors. From the first issue, Sweatshop uses its form and style to occupy a certain space in the reader’s imagination. Bagge and the artists set up the gags on the page and let them play out in the reader’s head. Bagge might not have gone for comic references right off, but from the start the comic has been incorporating tricks from comic strips. It’s about a comic strip, after all, one with zero importance on the plots, which is kind of funny in itself.

Another thing Bagge does is try to bleed readers. The first issue thrusts Alfred and Elliot into an uncomfortable situation with old white guy racist Mel. It’s immediately following Elliot getting out of an uncomfortable situation with Nick. The casual sexism against Carrie, intense from Mel, passive (aggressive) from Nick, makes the workplace seem a little more violative than it turns out to be. It’s not Bagge finding the tone, it’s Bagge understanding how to prune an audience.

Bagge's busy, frantic style has more action than most DC superhero comics.
Bagge’s busy, frantic style has more action than most DC superhero comics.

As I understand it, Sweatshop was supposed to be an ongoing series and it got cancelled after two, with DC finishing out the material. It’s interesting to know, to look at how the comic’s structured. Gradual introduction of the cast, then mixing it up once they’re familiar enough. Bagge does go for some belly laughs starting around issue four it doesn’t seem like he’d have tried in the first issue for sure and maybe even the second. There’s less trepidation.

Besides Bagge on the art, it’s usually Stephan DeStefano or Stephanie Gladden, plus Johnny Ryan a couple times. Bill Wray and Jim Blanchard unevenly splitting inks. No one really breaks too much from what Bagge has established as the series style. I suppose the Johnny Ryan is the most different in terms of cartooning but it’s still paced the same way in panel layout so it’s not too different.

The last issue is the heaviest, with Bagge bringing in Mel’s estranged son and wife. The son is homeless, but sells all his celebrity garbage on eBay. The wife is just awful. It’s a lot more of the belly laughs and a lot less of them hitting as hard as in the fifth issue. By the end of the series, Mel has gone from being possibly dangerous to being a harmless blowhard. Bagge plays him for laughs. After the first issue, really–and a Nick comic strip from the last issue–Bagge declaws a lot of Sweatshop throughout. It doesn’t make it more accessible, which is probably the fate of this book no matter what, but it does make it a lot funnier.

Even Mel's miserable minions get to have some joy. Art by Peter Bagge.
Even Mel’s miserable minions understand how important the comic con is! Art by Peter Bagge.

Sweatshop is a funny, sometimes hilarious, always exquisite comic book. Bagge’s transition of comic strip humor to a comic book form is masterful. When Sweatshop gets really, really funny, there’s always this beautiful flow to how Bagge gets the joke done. He’s never showy about it, he always gives it good foundation, but he also knows when he’s got a situation he can exploit for some excellent laughs. And it’s not just when Bagge does the art; Gladden does the art on that Mel story from the fourth issue. The whole crew’s great on this book. It’s smart and expert.

Just imagine if DC had been able to sell it. Hopefully Fantagraphics, who has since collected the series in a trade paperback, has some more luck.

Fantagraphics: Comics For People Who Don't Need to Go to a Convention to Get Laid. (Art by P. Bagge)
Fantagraphics: For People Who Don’t Need to Go to a Convention to Get Laid. (Art by P. Bagge)

CREDITS

Writer, Peter Bagge; pencillers, Peter Bagge, Stephen DeStefano, Bill Wray, Stephanie Gladden, and Johnny Ryan; inkers, Peter Bagge, DeStefano, Wray, Jim Blanchard, and Ryan; colorist, Joanne Bagge; letterers, Peter Bagge, DeStefano, Wray, and Ryan; editor, Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Wacky Raceland 5 (December 2016)

Wacky Raceland #5

The drivers all eat mushrooms and flashback to “The Butcher Shop,” where they got their abilities or cloned or resurrected or whatever. Pontac’s enthusiastic enough but he doesn’t have enough content. Manco’s art is, of course, fantastic and carries most of the issue. While thin, it’s amiable.

CREDITS

The Butcher Shop, Part One: Revelations; writer, Ken Pontac; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Mariana Sanzone; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Superman: American Alien (October 2016)

superamericanalienThe tagline on the back of this book is, “This is not a Superman comic.” Yes, but not because it’s a Clark Kent comic. No, it’s a Max Landis comic. Max Landis thinks he’s Clark Kent and this comic is an alternately banal and nauseating expression of his ego. Maybe it was inevitable he’d write a Superman graphic novel eventually, since his biggest fame has not come from his produced screenplays (including the found-footage superhero movie Chronicle) but from his viral YouTube videos about The Death of Superman and Clark Kent himself, which led to appearances on popular movie geek channels like Red Letter Media and Movie Fights, where he’s amusingly trashed Zack Snyder et all. A lot of people find his personality annoying but he’s at least earnestly articulate in his geek enthusiasms – especially for Superman, since Superman has been considered the uncool runner-up to Batman for about 30 years and needs the boost. But Max Landis’ version of Clark Kent is his own fantasy of being less self-aware, of wanting to be genuinely humble about possessing extraordinary talents, or at least privileges, that are his birthright – while maintaining the veneer of a happy-go-lucky geek.

Liking Superman better than Batman is arguably the Hipster’s preference. Landis actually wrote a Superman comic in 2014, a one issue imaginary first confrontation between Superman and The Joker where the punchline is that Joker can’t torment a superhero with a sense of humor and actual superpowers. Essentially, using the most popular Batman villain to argue that Superman is in another league. That and his YouTube videos have never given the impression he was affecting an ironic love of Superman. American Alien, collecting a limited series of seven issues with different artists for each story and backup one-page fill-ins, confirms Max Landis’ sincere appreciation for Superman – or at least just Clark Kent, in an unexpectedly disturbing reflection of the author’s own self-love. It’s not the kind of thing you’d notice if you weren’t familiar with Max Landis the Geek-Hollywood icon (that ignominious realm where people like Joss Whedon and Chris Hardwick dwell) but if people weren’t already familiar with Max Landis this book wouldn’t be on the New York Times bestseller list.

The first story, Dove, is about a very young Clark learning to fly. He also goes to see E.T. at the drive-in with Lana Lang, as Landis doesn’t know what life in Kansas is like but knows people go to movies. A John Deere trucker hat sees Clark riding on a pickup in cornrows and remarks, “Damn hippies.” What’s the matter with Kansas? “Maybe weird is better” says Jonathan Kent, reassuring his son who punched a mirror in fit of alien self-hate. Someday he’ll be in the big city where weird is normal and the exceptionally weird can flourish. Artist Nick Dragotta’s figures and backgrounds are fine enough but his manga-influenced facial expressions melt all over the character’s heads and their mouths are frequently just monochromatic ovals. Matthew Clark designs and illustrates a more compelling two page spread to ending the issue, with the Kent’s bulletin board collection of personal letters and photos telling the backstory of a prior miscarriage by Martha, their young professional lives as a veterinarian and lawyer, and most tellingly to Max’s unselfconscious elitism, a letter from Martha assuring John that the inheritance of his father’s farm does not mean he’s “‘trapped’ back in Smallville.”

The second story, Hawk, is Clark Kent’s first incident stopping some bad guys. They’re completely loco bad guys out of an exploitation movie, too, whose motivation is purely to kill innocent people. Clark stops them because darn it, that’s just the right thing to do. Passable teen banter between Clark and Pete Ross at the beginning, before the crushingly predictable proceedings. Tommy Lee Edwards does a good job with the art and color which has a gritty true crime feel. The inconsequential, one page Doomsday cameo at the end with art by Evan “Doc” Shaner feels like a reminder that Max’s Death and Return of Superman video is the only reason you’re wasting time reading yet another variation on the most cliched pivotal moment of every superhero’s origin story. Even Batman tried fighting crime without a costume first.

Parrot, the third story, finally finds Clark in an environment Landis knows how to write authentically: a party for stupid, fake rich people. The setup is still extremely contrived: Clark happens to win a Bahamas vacation trip where the plane just happens to crash next to a boat which just happens to be Bruce Wayne’s 21st birthday, who’s not there, so everyone just assumes Clark is Bruce. And it just so happens no one knows what Bruce Wayne looks like? He hooks up with pre-Cheetah Barbara Ann Minerva, whom he tells he wants to be a veterinarian because dumb animals don’t know how to ask for help. I think this is supposed to be touching and not condescending. Deathstroke cameos in a failed assassination attempt which, facetiously, Clark is unfazed by and immediately forgets. The closest the story comes to a meaningful moment is when Clark remarks on the decadence of rich people eating gold flakes on caviar, but the whole issue is like Max Landis doing a PG-rated Brett Easton Ellis where he uses an insider’s perspective to affirm his superior self-awareness towards the rich kids he grew up with. Really appealing art by Joëlle Jones and vibrant colors by Rico Renzi.

The one-pager at the end of this issue is a high point for the series’ creep factor. Mr. Mxyzptlk, a character whom I love, especially for his license to break the fourth wall, is turned into the hideously honest voice of Landis’ narcissism as he imparts to the reader that fame is life:

“Who’s more real, you or me?…How many people know your name?…I was created as a character in 1944…Millions of people have known my name…I don’t need a body…I’m living in your head right now…When you think of me later…I’ll be alive again…And yet, I can promise with absolute certainty that I will never once think of YOU.”

Mxyzptlk wasn’t half as frightening when Alan Moore revealed his true form and set him on Superman. This is Landis trying to do Grant Morrison, Animal-Man-can-see-you kind of philosophical comics, but it’s malicious. There’s a panel where Mxy goes monstrous looking, so maybe this kind of existentialism frightens him, too – but if he’s frightened by the fact he’ll never be as famous as Mr. Mxyyzptlk, he’s also comforted by the fact he gets to be his voice for a moment in time. If you’ve ever met the children of famous people, or even heard them speak publicly, you start to notice this equation of obscurity and oblivion.

Owl, the fourth story, introduces Lex Luthor, and as great heroes are defined by their villains, so too do neurotic writers define themselves by their hero’s villains. Telegraphed as a follower of “Ayn Rand bull” by Lois Lane, Luthor gives a monologue to budding reporter Clark Kent about his philosophy of life, which is basically that geniuses who can work hard are rare, and they don’t tend to be people who’ve had things handed to them, and he doesn’t need people to like him in order to carry on what he thinks is his important work. Sounds like an okay guy, right? Is this what Landis thinks sounds sinister? Sure he’s arrogant about it, but this is the ethos of people who actually exist in real life and want to advance the human race, not a fantasy figure of Christlike selflessness. Christ didn’t need to be liked, either. Apparently Landis just has genuine contempt for the self-made Lex Luthors of the world. Clark then runs into the young Robin, who tells him that Batman needs a counterpart because darkness needs light, and fear needs hope, and I’m so tired of superhero dialogue where they talk about their own marketing strategies.

Jae Lee does great art, even though she draws everyone Asian. Lois Lane looks like Lois Long. Colorist June Chung does really beautiful impressionist style backgrounds.

Steve Dillon illustrates a slick 12 panel silent origin for the Parasite. This was one of the last pages he ever drew. RIP.

The fifth story, Eagle, is a routine as hackneyed as Hawk – Superman’s first encounter with a monster of Luthor’s creation, he shows up at Luthor’s office, Luthor has plausible deniability, yadda yadda yadda. The only interesting detail is how Clark’s inspiration to put an “S” on his chest came from an off-hand sarcastic remark from Luthor in the previous issue (about how special people don’t just put an “S” on their chests) and in this issue he decides that the “S” stands for “Super” based on another sarcastic remark from Luthor. Superman’s whole shtick is a troll on Luthor! Earlier in the issue, Clark says “I’m sincere a lot. It’s my thing” which is a good encapsulation of Landis’ faux-humility he projects onto Clark.

The one-pager closer is a real toss-off: a letter from Jimmy Olsen quitting The Daily Planet for not running a story exposing how Two-Face is really Harvey Dent. If Max Landis is so smart why does he think The Dark Knight is a good movie worth referencing?

Speaking of Jimmy Olsen, in the following story Angel he’s revealed as a gay black man, so maybe Max also thought Superman Lives was worth referencing. Or he’s simply into forced revisionist diversity. Just kidding, I read his Twitter feed; it’s the latter. Pete Ross visits from Smallville to mention that the “S” was also on the side of baby Kal-El’s pod, like Landis realized his mistake in the previous issues about its origin and decided to hedge bets that Luthor’s remarks were a coincidence. Almost the entire issue is Pete Ross telling Clark he needs to take being Superman more seriously. It’s very boring, but with nice art & color by Jonathan Case.

Valkyrie, the final story, is Superman meeting Lobo, whom Landis absolutely has no clue how to write. They fight and it’s kind of a rewrite of the Zod fight from Man of Steel, all over and done with pretty quickly, though artist Jock makes it look cool with his own unique style. A real anticlimax of a finish.

Superman: American Alien manages to be boring, pretentious and derivative all at once. It’s sheer mediocrity propped up by good-to-great artists who deserved better material. Landis likes Superman and has absolutely nothing to say with the character, only about him, without the conciseness of a ten minute YouTube diatribe. The book is a bestseller because its author is Internet famous for talking about Superman, wrestling, Star Wars and other clickbait, not because it’s good. Don’t even wait for the softcover edition. Track down his Joker-meets-Superman story with nice art by Jock – The Sound of One Hand Clapping, instead. It’s a lot better than anything in this waste of shelf space.

CREDITS

Writer, Max Landis; artists, Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joëlle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock; colorists, Alex Guimares, Tommy Lee Edwards, Rico Renzi, June Chung, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Lee Loughridge; lettering, John Workman; publisher, DC Comics.

Wacky Raceland 4 (November 2016)

Wacky Raceland #4

It’s the first issue of Wacky Raceland I don’t really care about. The racers end up in post-apocalyptic Las Vegas–complete with a comb-over gang fronted by someone wanting to put up a wall to protect Vegas–and one of them gets the rest in trouble. Will the cars, which talk into the same colloquialisms as the Vegas gang members, be able to save their racers.

The idea of the cars talking to each other, which I don’t remember from any other issues but maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, is pretty cool. Unfortunately, it’s a lot cooler than anything the regular cast does in the issue. They get captured, they have to fight gladiator-style, Manco’s art is great. But there’s no momentum to the issue–the Vegas trip is shore leave, basically, and there’s not enough character development to make it matter. So it’s just a pause.

If it weren’t for Manco’s art, this issue wouldn’t have anything going for it. It’d be fine, I suppose, it just wouldn’t be worth reading. Not the place to be for the fourth issue. Hopefully Pontac’s got some better ideas on the horizon.

CREDITS

What Happens in Vegas…; writer, Ken Pontac; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Mariana Sanzone; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wacky Raceland 3 (October 2016)

Wacky Raceland #3

Once again, I’m left a little perplexed by Wacky Raceland. It’s still not wacky, unless they’re trying to rebrand “wacky” as something out of a Mad Max movie, which would make sense. Wacky Raceland feels like corporate synergy on overdrive but it doesn’t matter because writer Pontac’s ideas are engaging enough. Oh, and because Leonardo Manco’s art is awesome. There’s not a lot of original design, just good execution of the standards for post-apocalyptic societies with old cars. Lots of examples for that setting.

And Pontac does try to build the characters. He has a pattern now–a few characters get a story, the other ones fight well-drawn but a little too obscure monsters, then things wrap-up. Every issue is kind of a done-in-one.

This issue’s character is some girl who ran away from a bad situation and things went even worse because of the apocalypse. Manco does that story as a Greek fable. It’s not successful. It’s well-intentioned, but it’s not successful.

But it barely slows the comic down just because of the momentum Pontac and Manco work up in the rest of it. Wacky Raceland’s a cool comic.

CREDITS

Poseidon’s Toilet; writer, Ken Pontac; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Mariana Sanzone; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Deathstroke: Rebirth 1 (October 2016)

Deathstroke

All right, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve got to open this discussion of Deathstroke: Rebirth with the following disclaimer–I’m probably not going to read another one of these comics. I hope other people buy it, I hope other people read it, I hope Priest sticks around at DC. I would love to read more new Priest books, especially ones with good artists like this series. Carlo Pagulayan draws a beautiful espionage thriller with a little bit of DC Universe connection.

It’s a modern day spy thriller, nothing more, nothing else. Slade is haunted by whatever happened to his two sons and whatever happened to his old handler. But he’s a mercenary in Africa now and there’s this whole Deathstroke mystique going with the locals. It’s kind of cool. Priest writes the dialogue well. But it’s nothing a solid Deathstroke story from twenty years ago wouldn’t have had.

And that solid feel is where I can’t get excited, can’t get motivated for the monthly commitment. I’m glad DC can make this book though. You go back a few years, they wouldn’t have–pretty sure I read the New 52 Deathstroke. It would’ve either been lame or terrible. Not a good mainstream super-anti-hero book.

I just need to remember to check in when the first arc gets collected.

CREDITS

The Professional, Part One; writer, Priest; penciller, Carlo Pagulayan; inker, Jason Paz; colorist, Jeromy Cox; letterer, Willie Schubert; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Alex Antone; publisher, DC Comics.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Suicide Squad: The Movie Special

Suicide squad joker poster

Matt talked me into seeing Suicide Squad, which I actually forgot to give him crap about on this podcast special.

We talk about the movie, we talk about the comics, we talk about comic book movies. It’s Marvel Comics movies vs. DC Comics movies from a couple DC Comics fans (definitely more so than not, anyway) who don’t even like the Marvel Comics movies too much. Suicide Squad is just so objectively bad, it forces uneasy alliances and unlikely sympathies.

In hindsight, however, the Suicide Squad trailer did have Jared Leto’s Tony Montana meets Patrick Bateman rendition of The Joker promising to hurt someone really, really bad. And the movie delivers. It hurts your brain, really, really bad. Because it’s really, really bad.

So join Matt and I as we relive the lows and lowers and lowests of David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad.

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Dark Night: A True Batman Story (June 2016)

Dark_Night_A_True_Batman_Story_2016Superheroes appeal to children because, as Paul Dini points out in this memoir, they’re a child’s power fantasy. This book is about how he got brutally injured in a mugging while working as a writer on Batman: The Animated Series and his irrational shock that Batman wasn’t there to save him. Therefore the book is also about the fragile mental state of adults who still idolize superheroes beyond childhood, but Dini skims over that. He still idolizes funny underwear men for a living to this day, and that perceptual limitation is really the only thing keeping this very good comic from being great. Still, it’s probably the best Batman story of the year by far. They should’ve gone all out on promotion, instead of making it a Vertigo Book and arbitrarily consigning it to second-tier notice, for the sin of admitting Batman isn’t real.

A young man’s interest in fictional superheroes as objects of sincere admiration, rather than entertainment, grows inversely to their maturation, including the ability to physically defend themselves. This is the true stereotype of the 98 pound weakling who’d rather read Batman comics than play sports growing up – and now it’s worse, they’d rather play the Arkham Asylum games which Paul happened to write. Batman wins every millennial’s popularity contest for being the so-called “most realistic” superhero. His lack of superpowers suggests the illusion that if his geekiest admirers were sufficiently motivated by the most primal early trauma (premature loss of parents) and had access to unlimited time and money, they too could become strong enough to scare bullies. To step back and chart one’s enjoyment of Batman over time is to graph one’s personal growth or lack thereof. For those lucky enough to land a job writing the character, reality can get even more confused if you’re not sufficiently grounded. Paul Dini was vicariously living in Batman’s world for a living before reality kicked the living shit out of him.

Dark Night is about his rehabilitation and the wisdom garnered, only he didn’t seem to learn all that much in the final analysis. So he uses Batman, who has more moral authority than Jesus to people of my generation, as one of several licensed characters serving as an imaginary chorus whose words can convince us, and himself. It’s a very well done comic, but also a bit of a therapy session that’s overly self-congratulatory. Big questions about the power of myth or the actual danger of crime are sidestepped in favor of solipsism. At the conclusion he postures towards sharing some greater knowledge from the experience, but it winds up a fatuous “shit happens, dust yourself off and don’t be bitter” kind of message, after frequent avoidances of weightier aspects touched briefly and then ignored. The only one he devotes any attention to, since it figured most prominently into the difficulty of his recovery, is the low self-esteem of the average nerd. Even one whose dream of writing Batman cartoons came true.

I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series and as many fans will tell you, Dini wrote several of the most memorable episodes. What seems obvious in hindsight is how many of his episodes were either about bullied wimps or the lovesick: Joker’s Favor, The Man Who Killed Batman, Heart of Ice, and especially Mad as a Hatter – an effective origin tale for The Mad Hatter in which Jervis Tetch plays White Knight to his own workplace Alice and becomes a Dark Knight villain. At the episode’s climax, Alice is rendered comatose by mind control and Batman enrages the lovelorn geek by pointing out that what he truly wants is “a soulless little doll,” not an actual three-dimensional woman. Dini makes a big point of establishing his unsuccessful love life as the catalyst of fateful evening, albeit indirectly – it happened after he walked home from a bad date, rather than accepting a ride from the young would-be starlet who’d just given him the kiss-off. As Dini points out, the walk was through wealthy West Hollywood so it wasn’t an irrational assumption that he’d be safe. As he imagines various Batman villains anthropomorphizing his inner demons, the face of womanly torment is Poison Ivy rather the perhaps more apt choice of Mad Hatter. When narratively taking stock of his poor life decisions, chief among them is his pursuit of dating actress/model types whom he could brag about to his friends, rather than a woman he could someday marry. Soulless little dolls. As the adage goes, Hollywood is high school with money and a writer for Tiny Toons with ties to Steven Spielberg is like a dork whose rich parents are lending him their Bentley.

Dini puts so much weight into his lack of validation by beautiful women before getting jumped – and then, weirdly, the only follow-up is the unsurprising detail that one of these gold diggers barely cared about his situation when called up for sympathy. By this point we’ve already read the chilling page where, bloodied and beaten, he realizes upon staggering home that there will be no one inside to comfort him. Later in a flashback sequence during his hospitalization, he recalls being stood up by another pretty girl as his date to the Emmys. Despite winning and taking home one of the awards, his self-loathing apparently ran so deep he proceeded to cut himself in front of the mirror using the statuette, expressing disgust with his own chubby bespectacled nerd self. It’s a stunning and powerfully symbolic admission. He prefaces the night of his attack with all this fear of sexual inadequacy, but fails to draw any connection between the twin injuries to his masculinity: romantic rejection and getting your ass kicked. It doesn’t get any worse than that for the male ego, especially in the course of a single evening. His subsequent despair that he somehow deserved what happened, as karmic balance to his artistic success in life, is a crisis of manhood that he thinks himself too unique to grapple with. As his own narrator to this chapter in his life, he never lets on any understanding that the reader might have endured the same fears and sufferings, including his soon-to-be lowest point.

Recuperating from the horrific attack, holed up in his apartment and descending into depression, the principal question quickly becomes how Paul will find the will to continue writing Batman in a world where Batman doesn’t swoop in to save you IRL. The most striking passages of this comic aren’t Dini imagining Batman as a stern father figure, telling him to get up and stand tall after being knocked down. They are of The Joker insidiously urging him to wallow in self-pity and retreat into comforting overindulgence – fast food, video games, movies, et cetera – after the world has traumatized him. Joker even sells this retreat as a return to the “childhood bedroom” of Dini’s “invisible” youth, fleshed out in a few autobiographical pages at the start. This is particularly fascinating when taking into account how The Joker has equaled or eclipsed Batman’s popularity in mainstream culture by embodying narcissistic hedonism. (The 1989 film puts the sensitive creative person’s spin on this: The Joker as the dark power fantasy of the insensitive artist who “makes art until someone dies.”) Paul’s apartment is a den of toys, animation cells and “the trappings of geek nirvana.” Holy Target Audience, does he even realize he’s describing a large section of his readership? What’s disappointing is that he took what could have been a widely relatable true-life parable for every superhero fan about the limits of their escapism, and the soul death of arrested development, and instead portrays the restoration of his professional status quo – product output at the dream factory – as the crucial triumph.

Probably the most fascinating and telling scene is Dini’s anecdotal rebuttal to the traditional methods of manning up. As the wounds start to heal, Batman recommends that if he feels unattractive and physically vulnerable, he could lose weight, get in shape and start learning how to fight. In response to this completely reasonable proposal, Paul does a shock jump-forward to the day he almost bought a gun. Batman then mocks him for wanting to be like James Bond. In an evasive obfuscation, Paul retorts that he could never be like Batman. Now, Batman wasn’t implying that Paul become a real life Batman, just that he could regain confidence by dropping a few pounds and looking less of an easy target. Batman, who is of course Paul Dini writing a dialogue with himself, accuses Paul Dini of engaging in a power fantasy. It’s circular and manipulative; Paul is actually reassuring himself that there’s no middle ground between being totally defenseless and deluding yourself into thinking you can become James Bond by buying a gun, or Batman by taking karate lessons.

In the introspective wrap-up of the book’s conclusion, The Scarecrow taunts Paul with the potentiality of living his life in fear of future assailants, to which he retorts that he can’t live his life in fear of lightning strikes, either. He seems oblivious to the fact it is an extraordinarily privileged position to regard potentially fatal assault and battery as a statistical freak occurrence, no more predictable than natural disasters. For pity’s sake, one of the best scenes in the comic is the LAPD’s indifference to Paul’s plight after the incident, and his incredulousness that they’re not even going to dust for prints like The Dark Knight Detective™. He certainly admits to the hard-learned fact that the police aren’t always going to be there for him, let alone Batman, but he still won’t take any personal measures to feel safer in the future, still regarding violence as something unreal. Rationalizing to Batman that he’d have been murdered if he’d “tried anything physical,” he’s more or less alluding to the “one bad day” trope of The Killing Joke every Bat-fan knows by heart, telling The Joker that to “embrace anger and cruelty and try to use them to feel powerful” would be going down the path of Joker rather than Batman. Jeez, Paul, we get it, you didn’t want to start lifting weights. It’s a bit socially irresponsible to promote the idea that taking measures towards self-defense is tempting fate, just because you never thought you’d have your life threatened and don’t want to believe it could ever happen twice.

There’s an awkward racial component in Dark Night, injected but never acknowledged, which may help explain why Dini depicts himself as so guilty over his instinct to somehow toughen up after his bloody beating. Yes, the two guys who stomped him bore the curse of Ham and moments before their paths cross, Dini’s inner monologue chastises himself not to “be the dick who changes direction just because he sees a couple of black guys.” Later, Batman criticizes him for not thinking like Batman would upon seeing “two figures huddled close together, faces obscured, moving toward toward you in a predatory manner!” Hey, Bats, you don’t really need to profile when you live in a fictional city unstuck in time where all the criminals still wear fedoras. Batman then blames Paul for not changing direction from the two thug-lyfe looking gentlemen because he was “too worried about looking scared or judgmental.” It’s worth considering that at the time, it had only been a year since the Rodney King riots and Los Angeles was still on edge about black-on-white violence. One page later, a black colleague at the Warner Brothers Animation office bluntly asks Paul if the guys who did it were black. And he lies – he says only one of them was. “Damn it” the staffer says, and offers Paul a handshake, an implicit apology on behalf of all brothers. The matter is never brought up afterwards, and Dini doesn’t feel it incumbent on himself to explain to the reader what it says about him that he felt the need to lie. Later, there’s a suspicious glance cast at a black guy who approaches him in a music store, but whew – turns out he’s just a Tiny Toons fan. Again, as omniscient narrator, Dini never acknowledges any of this racial tension. I’d guess his reluctance to start seeing the world in a harsher light is at least somewhat tied to a fear of racially profiling which his conscience can’t allow. This fits right in to his self-absolving faith that the morally superior attitude towards violent crime is, as he literally states, to think of it as lightning which won’t strike him twice.

Dark Night promises more than it delivers in terms of thematic depth. However, the emotion is all there. The concept of a Batman writer, especially a talented one like Paul Dini, using the characters as invisible friends and enemies throughout his true story of surviving being the victim of a violent crime is such a solid, inspired basis for a graphic novel. It’s the kind of meta-story for which these characters are very well suited after 75 years of exhausting every possible straightforward comic book plot. They function best now as icons, which is why the comic is a clever and enjoyable read and The Lego Batman Movie will make more money than all the other Batman movies combined. It’s always preferable to see more poetic use of the characters than seeing them wedged into ill-fitting “realistic” stories. Dini does muddle around the big questions when he uses Batman for rhetorical stances on actual important matters like guns and criminal justice. What’s genuinely moving are the times when he sincerely exposes his vulnerability, holds his ego to account and examines how creative artistry shapes his worldview, in good times and bad.

Speaking of artistry, there’s really nothing to say about Eduardo Risso’s illustration except that it’s masterful. Dini’s career requires him to visually reference not only Batman: The Animated Series but other pop culture from Beany and Cecil to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and he’s always on-model. His own original designs for the Batman villains are simultaneously ugly and very appealing. He draws Paul past and present, in realistic and caricatured styles, sometimes changing from panel to panel depending on narrative needs, without ever misstepping. The color is also incredible, emphasizing every mood and blending human beings with Paul’s cartoon imaginings seamlessly.

This “True Batman Story” ends on a note of hope, with Harley Quinn welcoming Dini back to work. Harley Quinn is one of the worst Batman characters ever created, a supremely irritating Manic Pixie Dream Girl that could only have been invented by someone with issues around women.

Still, at least she only shows up in the last couple pages. Highly recommended!

CREDITS

Dark Night: A True Batman Story; story, Paul Dini; art, Eduardo Risso; letterer, Todd Klein; publisher, DC Comics.

Future Quest 3 (September 2016)

Future Quest #3

I was considering dropping Future Quest based on this issue but Parker takes that option away. Or tries to take it away. He does a fill-in issue with Birdman and the Herculoids each getting an origin story. The Birdman story has Steve Rude art. It’s awesome Steve Rude art too. Even when something is dumb–and it’s really dumb because Parker’s not trying to tone down the Hanna-Barbera dumb stuff. He’s embracing it. Future Quest feels like a cartoon you watched as a kid, only you’re watching it as an adult and the art is a lot better than it should be. But the writing is either on the same level or just being a little too self-aware.

If it were the sensation of watching a Saturday morning cartoon block, it’d be something. But it isn’t. Parker isn’t going for that sensation–he’s just doing a Crisis of Infinite Hanna-Barberas. It’s a very mundane stuff.

I mean, the Herculoids story doesn’t have Steve Rude art and it has more content (and opportunity to be dumb), but it’s still better. Maybe because it’s the second story and it means the comic is over, but Aaron Lopresti and Karl Kesel can do action art, even with dumb actors. Lopresti and Kesel don’t make the Herculoids look cool, but they do make their action sequences competent. It’s action versus the Birdman story, which was iconic superhero action without an iconic superhero. And a dumb James Bond knock-off plot. Herculoids is always dumb, but it’s imaginatively dumb.

But neither story continues the main plot. So do I want to keep reading a comic just for Steve Rude art. Because it’s not a disappointment. No one could do this approach better than Parker. It’s all just too stupid to be taken seriously. With these properties, it’s just a bad idea.

CREDITS

The Deadly Distance; artist, Steve Rude; colorist, Steve Buccellato. Vortex Tales: The Herculoids in Mine-Crash!; penciller, Aaron Lopresti; inker, Karl Kesel; colorist, Hi-Fi Colour Design. Writer, Jeff Parker; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Batman: The Killing Joke Special

The very BEST Alan Moore ending in his entire body of work. – Guillermo del Toro, filmmaker

The Killing Joke is a story about Batman and the Joker; it isn’t about anything that you’re ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived. So there’s no important human information being imparted … Yeah, it was something that I thought was clumsy, misjudged and had no real human importance. It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn’t really relate to the real world in any way. – Alan Moore, the original writer, The Killing Joke

Wanna say that again, pussy? – Brian Azzarello, screenwriter, Batman: The Killing Joke

Out of nowhere–well, the questionably sincere loins of 2016 DC Animation–comes Batman: The Killing Joke, the animated adaptation of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s seminal 1988 comic book one-shot, starring Tara Strong as Batgirl, Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill in his much-anticipated return as The Joker. Matthew Hurwitz and I thought it might be nice to sit down and hash over the film, much like we did for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Little did we know Killing Joke wouldn’t just turn out to be terrible, it would find astoundingly terrible ways to be terrible.

So join us now, as we gaze long into Batman: The Killing Joke and peel back each layer of superhero comics, animation and movie history that lead from the original book to a movie that did virtually everything wrong. Yeah, you knew we were the only ones up to the task. While everyone else is ranting about the instantly-infamous Batman / Batgirl hookup sex scene, only The Comics Fondle Podcast gives equal time to discussing the idiocy of this version having The Joker use circus freaks as a gang of deadly goons.

(We do actually get to discuss some good things, like “Batman: The Animated Series” and some comics. It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s whimsy)

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Batgirl and the Birds of Prey 1 (September 2016)

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1

Well, isn’t Batgirl and the Birds of Prey a bit of a surprise? It’s a Rebirth tie-in so there’s a lot of exposition setting up post-Crisis, post-New 52 Batgirl and Black Canary (and Huntress), but writers Julie Benson and Shawna Benson pace it pretty well. The Barbara Gordon narration is strong. There’s some awkward points–mostly in how it addresses the Killing Joke and the writers kind of swerve, which is okay because this comic is going for fun. It’s got this dark, noirish art from Claire Roe, but it’s a fun book.

I do wish it were twice as long. Black Canary doesn’t show up until the second half or so, doesn’t get her own origin recap, which makes it seem a little unbalanced (especially since Birds of Prey was Canary’s book originally). But she and Babs are great together. Their bickering is fun to see with Batgirl fighting alongside Canary.

And this Canary is still the punk rock New 52 brawler Black Canary, which is still kind of funny to me because it’s too much. They went too far with it, but they’re committed.

Huntress isn’t impressive so far. Huntress hasn’t been impressive since Earth–2, so there’s not much to be said about it. She’s kind of like “Ultimate” Huntress, but the writers do get her setup done fairly well. They’re quick about it. Maybe too quick because then the comic’s over in a few more pages and I really wanted more story. I’m excited to read more of this comic.

CREDITS

Rebirth; writers, Julie Benson and Shawna Benson; artist, Claire Roe; colorist, Allen Passalaqua; letterer, Steve Wands; editors, Dave Wielgosz and Chris Conroy; publisher, DC Comics.

Wacky Raceland 2 (September 2016)

Wacky Raceland #2

Wacky Raceland continues to be a zany, antisocial, mildly disturbing wondrous mess. There’s action all over the place, but Manco keeps it all in check. It’s like he can do wild, but it’s contained wild. It’s the perfect mix.

But Pontac comes through on the story too. He’s got this depressing, awful flashback into one of the racers’ pre-apocalypse lives. Turns out being sympathetic to the characters might be a mistake. This issue’s flashback is for Dick Dastardly and it’s part of the main story instead of a back-up. It works better this way; it makes Pontac have to do expository about the setting and it means Manco gets to draw different things in combination with one another. Manco has a very classical style and his uniform application of it–sci-fi and horror, for example–brings disparate visual elements beautifully. It’s fun to look at Wacky Raceland. It’s well done, but it’s also fun to see this stuff.

There’s also the Hanna-Barbera element. You never take Wacky Raceland too seriously, you never worry about some development being a disappointment. It’s a prime gig as far as reader expectation (if it were bad, it’d be the reader’s fault for buying it–come on, DC doing grim and gritty Hanna Barbara titles), but Pontac and Manco are still doing a great job with it.

CREDITS

A Night at the Opera; writer, Ken Pontac; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Mariana Sanzone; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Batman/Judge Dredd Files (1991-99)

The Batman/Judge Dredd Files

Batman. Judge Dredd. They ought to be an interesting team-up, right? Judge Dredd is the law, Batman isn’t. There’s a lot of gristle for competing philosophies, if one wanted to do a story with a lot of gristle. The Batman/Judge Dredd Files consists of three one-shots and a two-parter. It took DC eight years to get these comics out. The first one-shot, Judgment on Gotham came out in 1991 (I remember buying it, my first exposure to Dredd). The second issue of the two-parter, Die Laughing, came out in 1999. The first one-shot still stands out. It’s an interesting mix of a 2000AD Dredd adventure with a Batman comic, with some truly beautiful art from Simon Bisley. The rest of the Files is a waste of time (through it varies depending on the one-shot).

Since Judgment’s the only one worth spending much time on (or reading at all), I’ll go through its “sequels” first.

Glenn Fabry paints the Joker and friends for DIE LAUGHING.
Glenn Fabry paints the Joker and friends for DIE LAUGHING.

Each of the included issues–including both parts of Die Laughing–have different artists. They have the same two writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner, who both wrote a lot of Dredd and a lot of Batman. It seems like they should be the perfect creators for these team-ups, but things go dreadfully wrong with the second special and never get any better.

Vendetta in Gotham, with some rather light art from Cam Kennedy, is mostly about Batman and Dredd fighting while Scarface and Ventriloquist kill some kids. No, really, they’re going to kill some kids. It’s a good Scarface and Ventriloquist story from Grant and Wagner, but it’s a terrible comic. Batman and Dredd’s issue long fist fight is a bore. The whole thing is a setup for the next special, which promises something interesting given the title–Die Laughing.

From Dermot Power's half of THE ULTIMATE RIDDLE.
From Dermot Power’s half of THE ULTIMATE RIDDLE.

Only the next special is The Ultimate Riddle, with some incredibly wanting painted art by Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power (they split the special). Judgment on Gotham, with that glorious Bisley, shouldn’t have been the visual standard for the team-ups. Before I forget, it’s interesting how the Batmobiles in each series look like whatever’s in the movies at the time. It’s like DC wasn’t sure a 2000AD reader coming to the team-up would be familiar with the latest Batman continuity.

Except there’s a terrible tie-in to Zero Hour in The Ultimate Riddle, which has Dredd and Batman trying to get out of a Most Dangerous Game-type situation. It’s dramatically inert and often really dumb, but Dredd’s got a criminal along with him and it does provide some comic relief. There’s very little for 2000AD fans in Riddle, so it helps a lot.

Then comes Die Laughing, with the Joker. DC published it as two issues, each with different artists. One wonders if Ultimate Riddle originally had a similar publishing plan. Anyway, Glenn Fabry does the art on the first issue, Jim Murray does the art on the second. Both painted; it’s Batman/Judge Dredd after all. It needs to be painted.

Jim Murray paints Batman getting his reward for a job well done in DIE LAUGHING.
Jim Murray paints Batman getting his reward for a job well done in DIE LAUGHING.

Fabry’s painting is okay. Murray’s is bad. Murray’s is a little more ambitious though. Fabry’s just churning it out as fast as he can. There’s no enthusiasm to Fabry’s issue, just magnificent competence. Murray flops, but he tries for some humor, which is important since the story’s so strange. It’s like a 2000AD Dredd story, with the Dark Judges trying to take over a hedonist biodome (or some such location), but Batman’s around. And he gets together with Judge Anderson. He seduces her, rather creepily. It’s disappointing. (For her; Batman’s a bit of a tool in Die Laughing).

Oh, and the promise of the Joker and Judge Death and Dredd and Batman and so on? It’s lame. Wagner and Grant have no story involving Joker and Batman going to Mega-City One. Did they sign a deal for these series with DC after the success of Judgment and spend almost a decade churning out lame scripts?

Simon Bisley knows what Judge Death fears in JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM.
Simon Bisley knows what Judge Death fears in JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM.

Now for Judgment on Gotham, which features Dredd in Gotham hunting down the Scarecrow. Judge Anderson’s along. Bisley’s Anderson is a lot different than Murray’s. She gets to be just as iconic, as a female Judge, as the boys do in Bisley’s Gotham, whereas Murray tries for cheesecake in Die Laughing. Fabry does a little better, but not much. Her writing is terrible in Die Laughing. It’s great in Judgment. Judgment is this great Judge Dredd 2000AD story where Batman guest stars.

JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM: Bisley imagines Batman's rogues gallery.
JUDGMENT ON GOTHAM: Bisley imagines Batman’s rogues gallery.

The comic has that early nineties Batman enthusiasm–after the movies, DC thought they’d get new readers and went all out creatively. Bisley’s perfect for it. His Gotham is nightmarish but incredibly realistic. It’s scary because Bisley’s got so much reality to the physicality of everything, he can sell the darkness. This approach to the painting is what the other team-up specials choke on (and what Vendetta doesn’t even attempt). Bisley’s engaging in the characters’ iconic natures every page. Even Scarecrow. It’s glorious to behold.

At the time Judgment on Gotham came out–and I was thirteen years old–I remember Scarecrow seemed a strange villain choice for a team-up. But having since read some 2000AD–by Grant and Wagner–Scarecrow makes such a better villain for Dredd. Mean Machine Angel shows up too, facing off against Batman, who’s hilariously out of place. Judgment has the humor of a Dredd comic. The rest of the collection doesn’t.

JUDGMENT: Bisley illustrates the fast friends.
JUDGMENT: Bisley illustrates the fast friends.

I didn’t even know there were subsequent Batman/Judge Dredd team-ups. I’ve always had a decent memory of Judgment (Bisley’s art is fantastic), but it’s better than I remember. Even when compared to its entirely lacking follow-ups, Judgment on Gotham is a high point for “event” crossovers.

CREDITS

Judgment on Gotham; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artist, Simon Bisley; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Kelly Puckett and Dennis O’Neil. Vendetta in Gotham; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artist, Cam Kennedy; colorist, Digital Chameleon; letterer, Ken Bruzenak; editors, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and Richard Burton. The Ultimate Riddle; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power; letterer, Richard Starkings; editors, John Tomlinson, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and Steve MacManus. Die Laughing; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Glenn Fabry, Jim Murray and Jason Brashill; letterer, Ellie de Ville; editors, Andy Diggle, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and David Bishop.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 5 (August 2016)

DKTMR-Cv5-ds-aa40bAs the millennials like to say, I just can’t. Go on reading The Master Race any longer, that is. Maybe Miller and Azzarrello have something amazing planned for the conclusion, but anyone following this series bimonthly instead of waiting for the trade is throwing their money away. Half the issues so far have been mediocre, but this is the first to be a total waste of time. With the exception of a nice underwater Aquaman double splash page, and some cool panels of the Kandorians finally getting some of the wind knocked out of their sails, all of the imagery is recycled – not only from previous issues of the series; Miller actually swipes from himself by putting us in the cockpit of the Bat-Tank once again, and putting him back in his power suit. The only twist is that he’s now joined, in a lame pseudo-big moment cliffhanger, by Superman in his own powersuit – Superman, whose apparent death in a previous issue has now been revealed to have only been so much pointless padding for the already anemic storyline.

The mini-comic is a real stunner of a disappointment as well. There are almost no backgrounds whatsoever; Superman’s daughter and a Kandorian are flying around trading vacuous quips atop fluorescent gradients. Nothing remotely interesting happens.

The only reason I didn’t ask for my money back is that comic book shops are dying and need all the help they can get, but crap like this is exactly why they’re dying. Monthly comics probably shouldn’t be a thing any longer, unless publishers want to make a real effort towards content that justifies the price tag. Maybe they should focus on publishing “graphic novels” and transitioning the shops into full-on bookstores, while putting more effort into promoting work like Paul Dini’s Dark Night: A True Batman Story which could appeal to both casual and longtime Batman fans. Last month’s double-issue-length Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade was surprisingly entertaining – clearly Miller and Azzarello are capable of doing decent, serviceable Batman stories, which only makes a comic like this one so insulting. If the whole trifle were published all at once in one volume, it might be an overall enjoyable read. But at present, this series is a scam.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Three; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

Future Quest 2 (September 2016)

Future Quest #2

I’m going to just have to say it–I’m not digging Future Quest. Yes, Shaner’s art is great, yes, Jonathan Case’s art is great, sure, Ron Randall’s art is fine (I think I’d prefer him on the Jonny Quest arc anyway–he’s more enthused about drawing adolescent adventuring). But Crisis on Infinite Earths or Secret Wars with Hanna-Barbera superheroes and adventurers? The cartoons you didn’t really want to watch because, while technically competent, they were just kind of lame?

Yeah, they’re still kind of lame. Parker just has them banter at each other, which doesn’t help the comic at all, but what else is he going to do? Future Quest has way too many characters, way too poorly contrived teaming-up, way too little graceful action. Future Quest is frantic. It feels like there’s a quota for panel appearances by character. Parker’s script is boring. More fighting in the Everglades. The most boring Battleworld ever. There’s so much going on, there’s not time for the artists do anything. They’ve got to fill panels with characters no one cares about. And not because no one has nostalgia for these properties, but because Parker doesn’t spend any time establishing any of them as characters.

He also cops out of the Space Ghost cliffhanger from the previous issue.

So, like I said, I’m not digging this book. It’s a strange misstep in DC’s otherwise shockingly successful Hanna-Barbara titles. Maybe Parker’s not the right guy for it. The artists are all right on, but Parker isn’t connecting with these characters or their team-up.

CREDITS

Visitors from Beyond; writer, Jeff Parker; artists, Evan Shaner, Ron Randall and Jonathan Case; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade (June 2016)

lastcrusadeIn their 2016 campaign to Make Batman Great Again, Miller and Azzarello have temporarily abandoned all pretense of progress – as indicated by the retro DC logo on the cover – and gone straight back to the source with this one-shot prequel to The Dark Knight Returns. Batman nerds know Miller predicted the death of Jason Todd in the first issue of that series, before DC made it official with the Death in the Family storyline. You know, the one where fans could dial a 1-800 number and cast their vote to not to let Jason survive The Joker’s beating. Thus does The Last Crusade have a weird circuitous purpose: retelling a story whose conclusion is foregone, as the prequel to a story which predicted the event…as a hypothetical aside. Retcon-Elseworlds-Rehashing at its most truly incestuous.

The pleasant surprise is that Miller and Azzarello actually outdo their recent efforts. The Last Crusade is a more enjoyable read than The Master Race has been so far, and a better value at $6.99 for 57 pages compared to Master Race’s $5.99 for 35. Unlike the shallow bombast of Batman and Superman saving the world from Kandorians, this story aims low and deep and hits its target. From the start, there’s a nicely quiet sense of dread on a personal, non-apocalyptic level, building suspense as The Joker orchestrates his escape from Arkham while the division between Jason and an aged Batman grows deeper. The thrust of the action is utterly perfunctory as they investigate the most routine of Poison Ivy schemes, with a little special guest muscle by Killer Croc. Joker is separate from all this to the point of practically being in another book, his portentous importance is telegraphed by the cover. Even for the Batman comics reader unfamiliar with Jason Todd’s death at Joker’s hands, their fatal crossing of paths carries the aura of grim inevitability although the final pages don’t make the actual fatality particularly apparent.

I didn’t grow up in the Jason Todd years of the comics but if his gimmick was being a “Dick” instead of a “Dick Grayson”, it does read slightly weird for the Batman of Frank Miller’s sovereign Dark Knight Universe to reprimand this Robin for being too sadistic or reckless, when he’s been far and away the most inglorious bastard Batman of all time. Under questioning, Miller and Azzarello would probably argue that since this is the near-retirement stage of that Batman, he’s a little more mature and less psychotic than he was in the All-Star Batman and Robin days. Everything about superhero continuity lore has become so cyclical since the 80s, yet Miller and Azzarello still kind of justify this rehash by returning to the idea of Batman as a prize fighter whom everyone knows is past his prime – exploring his shame, the fact he knows he’s slowing down, that his friends and enemies are noticing too. This focus on aging, and on flesh not keeping up with a willing spirit, creates a thematic through-line with Dark Knight Returns and inadvertently kind of points up the absurdity of the sequels, where Bruce never seems to get tired anymore although he’s older than ever. Batman’s internal monologues and narration aren’t as memorable as those of Dark Knight Returns but they absolutely flow from the same vein. Prequel or sequel, this slim volume is so much closer to the kind of follow-up fans wanted than The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Better late than never?

John Romita Jr.’s art provides the work a needed prequel continuity as well. His draftsmanship’s sketchy grittiness is much closer to Miller’s style than Andy Kubert, as is Peter Steigerwald’s pale and muted coloring. The script doesn’t make the insulting choices seen in The Master Race, of padding a thin plotline across pointlessly large action panels. Here the terse writing is thoughtfully staged at a steady pace without filler. As a comic the action feels alive, rather than looking like conceptual art for a film or storyboards for a cartoon.

A few words about The Joker: first of all, he sells comics. That’s why he’s on the cover. But as someone who’s thoroughly tired of the character’s overexposure and hype, I’d forgotten how much I like Frank Miller’s Joker and it’s kind of nice to spend time with him again. Given Frank’s politics, I’m shocked he’s not re-teamed with the Ayatollah Khomeini. Miller’s Joker was conceived pre-Killing Joke and was arguably (unfortunately) more the basis for the modern mainstream conception of Joker, the version who’s supposed to be scary and edgy and never actually funny. This take made the most sense when envisioning an older version of the character to fight an older version of Batman – sort of what the real life Bill Murray became; not so much a sad clown as a clown grown jaded and smug. Miller just writes him so well as a wistful queen, and unlike Heath Ledger Miller’s Joker is genuinely enigmatic and creepy because Miller is kind of crazy himself.

If you haven’t bothered picking up The Master Race yet, you should definitely wait for the trade. But if you’d like a swig of Frank Miller that actually tastes like The Dark Knight Returns, The Last Crusade is a satisfying little one-shot.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, John Romita Jr; inks and colors, Peter Steigerwald; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

Scooby Apocalypse 2 (August 2016)

Scooby Apocalypse #2

It’s Aliens. Giffen and DeMatteis are doing “Serious Scooby-Doo Meets Aliens.” And it’s pretty good.

This issue has the gang trapped in an underground bunker where they have to crawl through the ceilings but avoid the monsters crawling through the ceilings. There’s a lot of emphasis on the humanity of the situation, but then there’s Porter’s art doing these exaggerated hero poses for the characters. What’s so strange is how little it has to do with Scooby-Doo. Giffen and DeMatteis have almost no interest in the dog (or his interactions with Shaggy). It’s not pop culture fulfillment, it’s a brand relaunch.

Hence the lack of Doo in the title?

It’s strongly plotted, great dialogue, excellent visual style. Scooby Apocalypse is great corporate product. It’s not sublime, but it’s great at what it’s trying to do. I just wonder how long Jim Lee, who’s credited with the concept, worked at it and whether or not he had help (or was filling a request from corporate).

CREDITS

Apocalypse Right Now!; writers, Keith Griffen and J.M. DeMatteis; artist, Howard Porter; colorist, Hi-Fi; letterer, Nick J. Napolitano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 934 (August 2016)

Detective Comics #934

What a nice pilot for a new Detective Comics. Batman and Batwoman are partners–their mission is to train the vigilantes of Gotham to fight some new threat. This threat follows them around with little bat-drones, but Batman can’t figure out they’re still being followed. It’s a team book, but with familiar Bat-family members and a decidedly modern approach. Heavy on the one-liners, heavy on implied action, light on actual content.

Is the problem the art or the story? Well, Eddy Barrows’s art isn’t there but it might be with a better inker. Eber Ferreira doesn’t have a feel for the art. He rounds it, reduces it, instead of emboldening it. Would better art make a significant difference? No. Would great art make a significant difference? Sure. But it’s a monthly superhero book and Barrows delivers it.

So is it the writing? Yeah, sure? Sorry to be so noncommittal but Detective Comics feels pretty noncommittal. Writer James Tynion IV mostly gives everyone sound bites instead of dialogue. Spoiler and Robin have a conversation, Batman and Batwoman, Batman and Clayface, but these are quippy, fast conversations. It’s meant to entertain not tell a story, because Tynion doesn’t have a story to tell.

I suppose Detective Comics is better than I was expecting (though nowhere near what I was hoping for). But it’s just a mediocre superhero book (in desperate need of better editing).

CREDITS

Rise of the Batmen, Part One: The Young and the Brave; writer, James Tynion IV; penciller, Eddy Barrows; inker, Eber Ferreira; colorist, Adriano Honorato Lucas; letterer, Marilyn Patrizio; editors, Dave Wielgosz and Chris Conroy; publisher, DC Comics.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 4 (June 2016)

STK699760Once again Miller and Azzarello punish me for getting my hopes up with this series. Once again, too, I notice myself praising Miller alone for every good chapter and the two of them for every bad one. As the series lurches onward, the finality of The Dark Knight Returns and its pitch perfect “good enough” grace note of a conclusion to Batman’s adventures are only further diluted. The Master Race is in an alternating holding pattern, as I recall issue #2 was similarly lethargic. The plot progresses predictably with zero surprises to the reader. The spoilers are two sentences long. $5.99 for two sentences worth of plot development, stretched out by endless splash panels and another mini-comic of wonky Frank Miller art, which is sadly the only memorable part of the experience. For DC, not Detective Comics but the asset of Time Warner’s media empire, to charge $5.99 for this while an indy outfit like Avatar Press charges a buck less per new installment of Providence is utterly pitiful. On the plus side Miller does retain a consistently pessimistic, contemporary point of view – Obama and Trump are again invoked and this time disparaged as equally cowardly appeasers to the eponymous Master Race. He and Azzarello do know how to plot out their simple, cynical story. The insult to the reader, which ruins these positives, is how blatantly he’s elongating a four issue story across eight issues for what can only be a contractual obligation. Per Miller’s worst habits, they haven’t even been published in a timely manner.

Being a member of that tiny hipster elite who can find some value in The Dark Knight Strikes Back, it saddens me to realize every time I reach Miller’s mini-comic midway through a new Master Race that his late-period derangement, which Big Two fanboys consider his weakness, isn’t even present here. His art is still big and crazy, he just didn’t care about this project enough to contribute more than a few pages every couple months, leaving Andy Kubert to carry that load with competence that feels reliably adequate to the point of blandness. The new series has been dishearteningly lacking in any big or crazy ideas; the storyline is neither as jarringly off-kilter as Dark Knight 2 nor as fresh and original as Dark Knight 1. This is a book that goes out of its way not to take chances. Dark Knight 3 simply exists, as Dark Knight 4 could someday exist and make all thast came before just a little less special. Something like All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was at least a beautiful disaster; a joyously irreverent prank. Master Race reads as though Azzarello came up with the uninspired story purely as a mechanical continuation of what is now a franchise (there’s a prequel coming) and Miller peppered in his stylized dialogue afterward.

Has anything really innovative actually been done with Bats or Supes since 1986 when Miller and Moore wrote their imaginary final adventures? Every other week DC relaunches their “universe” hoping someone will figure out how to make them relevant again, and it seems increasingly apparent that The Dark Knight Returns and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow really were the ultimate showstoppers. If Batman is doomed like all superheroes of the current era to be merely an amorphous multimedia IP rather than a comics character, the best entertainment anyone can hope for are occasionally some good cartoons. Maybe when The Lego Batman Movie is the highest profiting Batman movie of all time DC will finally give up on self-serious, pointless cash grab comics for nostalgic manboy fanboys and grow a new comics readership where the real money is: actual children.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Four; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

Wacky Raceland 1 (August 2016)

Wacky Raceland #1

I’m going to make a bold statement.

Wacky Raceland is the best soulless corporate synergy comic book of all time. I’m not sure how many serious competitors it has, because for this kind of corporate synergy you need a comic book company–DC–another company to license properties from–Hanna-Barbera–and another company with some kind brand reference–Warner Bros. Wacky Raceland is a Warner Bros. subsidiary mash-up, with writer Ken Pontac and artist Leonardo Manco not referencing a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, but instead bring Mad Max to comic books. Mad Max: Fury Road being a Warner Bros. film. And, you know, Warner owns DC.

So it’s synergy.

And it’s soulless, right? It has to be soulless. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it weren’t? Wouldn’t it be amazing if instead of just being really cool, somehow Pontac actually conveys an important storyline. I don’t think it’ll happen, but what if it did. It’d be amazing. But it’s already amazing. Does it need to be more amazing? Is there a place for purely entertaining entertainment, where the artistry is in how digestibly involving the material reads or plays?

I mean, Manco’s art is phenomenal. I’ve always liked him, but he juggles a lot of intentionally contrasting visualize styles and he rocks the Grim and Gritty Hanna-Barbera apocalypse. If DC’s Hanna-Barbera move is meant to answer Afterlife with Archie and other inventively done “pop culture” series, Raceland is the first sign they might have the secret weapon–enough pop culture properties, brands and icons to overwhelm the competition.

And Pontac’s essential here too. Because Raceland is a lot all at once. Pontac concentrates on making the story pleasing to read before anything else. He’s got a great pace to the endless dialogue, which is almost never expository.

It’s kind of awesome. If only Pontac could come up with a cliffhanger. He fails. But then there’s a cool backup where they riff on The Revenant. Because pop culture awareness is important and this book gets it. It’s great entertainment.

CREDITS

Writer, Ken Pontac; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Mariana Sanzone; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

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