Friday, October 21, 2016

A Very Ryan North Friday

Ryan North is a writer who has slowly but surely made his way into a position where, whenever his name is attached to a project, I have to have a look. Sure, I'd read Dinosaur Comics on-line and had a good laugh. But when he started writing the Adventure Time comic, and perfectly capturing the whimsy, wit, and occasional tragedy of Finn, Jake, and all their pals I really took notice. And with the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from Marvel, one of the most joyful (and dense) comics on the racks, I moved from impressed to enamored. So, today, I'm going to focus on a couple of North's long form projects, things I've read recently that have been a real ray of sunshine.

Over the past few years, Marvel has developed a nice program of original graphic novels. Usually stand alone and new reader friendly, some, like Avengers: Rage of Ultron, wind up being important to main continuity, while others, like Jim Starlin's most recent Thanos trilogy, are delights for old fans who get to revisit old characters and creators that don't get as much play in the main MU anymore. But the most recent,released a couple weeks ago, is a giant, standalone Squirrel Girl story too big for the regular ongoing. From the regular creators of the monthly title, Ryan North and Erica Henderson, this hardcover is entitled: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe! And boy howdy does she ever.

For those of you who don't know Squirrel Girl from her appearances in Avengers comics, in her won series, or in my own reviews, well Squirrel Girl is Doreen Green, college computer programming student and superhero. Along with her friend and roommate  Nancy Whitehead, fellow superheroes Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi, and her best squirrel pal, Tippy Toe, Squirrel Girl fights crime, but often stops crime without violence by talking and reasoning with her foes. Which isn't to say she can't kick some butt when she wants to. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a fun, all-ages series, and this graphic novel provides everything you need to know about Squirrel Girl and her crew is you haven't read anything before, but is full of fun for longtime Squirrel Girl fans.

The core conceit of the graphic novel is a simple one: after winding up in a device created by the High Evolutionary that Tony Stark was puttering around with, Squirrel Girl winds up getting duplicated. The new Squirrel Girl, named Allene (Squirrel Girl's middle name), starts out as the perfect partner for Squirrel Girl, but after a couple days, takes a darker turn as she decides that the world would be better off run by squirrels. And so, while also fighting her better half, Allene decides that she needs to beat up all the other heroes and villains, as they could be a thorn in her side. And since Doreen is the unbeatable Squirrel Girl, you know she's going to win in the end, but she's never had a tougher fight than against her own doppelganger, and there are plenty of twists and turns along the way.

It's hard to review or discuss anything Squirrel Girl without just saying, over and over again, "Its just so much fun!" That's what defines this book, the pure unbridled joy of living in this big crazy superhero world. And even in what is possibly the most dire adventure in Squirrel Girl's series to date, that joy isn't lost. You still get quips, you still get adorable squirrels, and you still get more Marvel Universe Easter Eggs than any book I can remember in recent years. When it says that Squirrel Girl beats up the Marvel Universe, she does it, because there are more characters in here than you can shake a stick at. And not just big names like Iron Man (whose fault this all is), Spider-Man (who has a thing or two to say about clones), and Thor (whose hammer is super important to the story), but characters like Lady Octopus and Mysterion (knock off Spidey villains, unite!) and the newly created Johnny Fishlips, who... has fish lips, I guess. Oh, and Deadpool pops up, and while we all love Deadpool, Deadpool in an all ages sort of story usually wouldn't work, but it does here for a fun little gag. I should point out, though, that Deadpool is a regular presence in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl thanks to Doreen having a full set of "Deadpool's Guide to Supervillains" trading cards, which she uses for background info on various villains, and there are plenty of those in here too.

So, I've talked about the fun ad the excitement, but there's another thing that makes Squirrel Girl great, and that's that the character (and the book) has a huge heart. At the end of the book, a supporting character is near death's door, and instead of having a funeral for yet another supporting character in the Marvel Universe, Squirrel Girl gets the collected heroes, who have defeated Allene (I know you might think that's a spoiler, but guess what: the good guys win), to work together to save a life. With tears in her eyes, she says to Iron Man, "We have the best heroes on the planet gathered right here, and you're saying we can't save her? You shut up with that!" And then she talks to the heroes, gets them to work together, and they save a life. Because it's what heroes do. It's a noble, heart-warming moment, and in what feels like an increasingly cynical Marvel Universe, it's a breath of fresh air.

Oh, and two important things I want to point out bout reading a Squirrel Girl story by North and Henderson. There is no comic from either of the Big Two out there that is this dense, and I use that phrase in the best possible way. Most comics, I can sit down and breeze through in ten/fifteen minutes, and most original graphic novels or trades in an hour and change. A Squirrel Girl takes twice that, between how packed with dialogue and panels the pages are, and with the little text commentary at the bottom of most pages. And don't even think about skipping that text at the bottom of the pages! It's like the footnotes in a Discworld novel: a lot of the best jokes are down there.

I've talked a lot about story here, but this is a tour-de-force for artist Erica Henderson as much as for Ryan North. Henderson gets to draw everybody in her trademark style, and they all look great. Her pages are exciting and fluid, but never busy, and you can pick over them for ages looking for all the cameos she has in there. I also love how each character looks so different. It's so easy to get away with having a handful of standard faces/bodies in comic book art, but Henderson's characters are all very different and very distinct. And those different faces are all wonderfully emotive, with big eyes and open expressions that help tell the story as much as any word. It's also impressive to note that Henderson not only pencilled and inked (with an ink assist from Tom Fowler) the whole book (except for those Deadpool Villain Cards, those came from series regular colorist Rico Renzi), but she also colored it herself, and did a stellar job of it.

Oh, and before I move on, let me point out that the production backmatter is really enjoyable on this book, and you really should read to the end, even if you're usually the type of reader who isn't into that stuff. Trust me. If you've ever seen a Marvel movie, you know that things can happen after the credits.

Now speaking of Ryan North and fun, I also just finished my umpteenth journey through his choosable-path adventure book, To Be Or Not To Be. For those if us who were children of the 70s and 80s, you might remember this as Choose your Own Adventure (which is a phrase with a copyright, so to quote Groundskeeper Willy, "Shhhh, you wanna get sued?") story. But in this case, it's the story of Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, the greatest tragedy ever written, only you get to make the decisions!

Now, I know what many of you are thinking, "Aw, man, Hamlet was such a whiner. I don't want to get into his head." Well, you don't have to! First, you can make Hamlet into a man of action, which is awesome, but there are two other options as well. One you can play as Hamlet Sr., the ghost, who can go attempting to exact ghost vengeance on his crappy brother, Claudius. Or, and I can't recommend this highly enough, you can read through the path as Ophelia. And Ophelia is awesome! She's a scientist, she knows who she is and what she wants, and she's just badass. My favorite path/ending so far has been Ophelia decides that all this noise in Denmark is the pits, and so she goes off on vacation in England where she captures some terrorists and becomes this awesome spy! That's a way better ending than drowning herself!

And if all that isn't enough, there are plenty of one page illustrations that tie in to the endings form some really great comic book artists, including Noelle (Nimona, Lumberjanes) Stevenson, Becky (Demo) Cloonan, Chip (Sex Criminals, Jughead) Zdarsky, John (Bad Machinery, Giant Days) Allison, and a bunch more.

Seriously, folks, I can't recommend To Be Or Not To Be highly enough. I've written before about my love of Shakespeare (I'm going to an event in a week where I get to see an original First Folio and I'm giddy over it), and this is a great way to enjoy the world of Shakespeare even if you're not into him. It's fun, it's fresh, it's hilarious in places. You can follow along with Yorick's skull icons to follow the path of the play, or go off on whatever flights of fancy you can come up with within the book. Seriously, do yourself a favor, and go out and buy this book or get thee to a nunnery!

Both Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe and To Be Or Not To Be are available wherever books are sold, and at may finer comic book stores.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Inside the Outsiders!

Season One, Episode Twenty-Four: Inside the Outsiders!
Written by Alex Van Dyne
Directed by Michael Chang

Plot Synopsis

Batman and Green Arrow are tied at the top a post that is slowly lowering as large jungle cats growl at them and try to reach them. Green Arrow is irritated that Batman didn't see the trap that got them into this situation coming, as Batman should know better having fought Catwoman numerous times. Batman and Catwoman talk, with batman trying to talk her out of her life of crime, and Green Arrow is shocked (and annoyed) when he realizes they're flirting. As they near the cats, Batman uses a Batarang to sever the ropes tying the heroes and they swing to safety. Green Arrow fights Catwoman's thugs, while Batman fights the villain herself. The heroes defeat Catwoman and her goons, and are preparing to take them in when Catwoman escapes, leaving Batman with a note including her phone number and a message that says, "Call Me."

Batman runs through a hallway covered in creeoy golden masks that shoot blasts at him, but he makes it through, crashing into a room where the Psycho Pirate sits in a high tech throne. The Outsiders are in glass tubes that are feeding energy into Psycho Pirate, who is feeding on their emotions. Batman plans to open the chambers, but doing that will fry their brains, and the only way Batman has to save them is to enter the dream world of Psycho Pirate to pull them out, so he dons one of Psycho Pirate's helmets and heads in.

He appears in what appears to be a Japanese temple, and he sees a younger Katana and her old master. She has revealed the location of a sword, and an evil ronin has now arrived seeking it. Katana watches her memory play out, seeing her master die, as Batman tries to snap her out of it. Katana tells Batman this is her nightmare, but this time she will get revenge, and grabs the sword to fight Takeo, the ronin. Takeo tells her that it was her mouth that killed her master, and she prepares to strike down her foe.

At the last moment, Batman intercepts her blade with the energy sword from his utility belt, and the two of them commence dueling, Batman telling her this is now their way, or that of her master. Takeo again goads her on, saying she is now silent because she was responsible for her master's death and feels guilty, while Batman says that she is silent to honor him. This reminder snaps her out of it, and she stops fighting. Takeo transforms into Psycho Pirate, who had been playing on her guilt, who then disappears. Batman knows Psycho Pirate feeds off rage, and he thinks Black Lighting is the main course.

Appearing in an alleyway, Batman and Katana head out to find Black Lightning, prepared for the worst. What they find is a Black Lightning who is attacking people not for crimes but for little social infractions and anything that irritates him. Batman talks to him, trying to get him to calm down, and instead Black Lighting attacks, annoyed at Batman's cape. Katana saves a bystander who turns into Psycho Pirate who tries to get her to again attack, but she does not and he seems offput by it.

Black Lightning continues to attack Batman, Psycho Pirate growing more powerful, and then Black Lightning sees on TV... Uni the Unicorn (an homage to Barney the Dinosaur), and his anger grows. Black Lightning says hugs don't solve everything, and Batman tells him neither does rage, and that his anger was just making Psycho Pirate stronger. Psycho Pirate disappears in a flash, but as he does he causes Uni to leap from the screen and break through the glass. Black Lightning blasts him into confetti, but an army of Uni's come at him. Batman again tells him to channel his anger and energy into stopping Psycho Pirate, and this time Black Lightning listens. he embraces the possibility of happiness and the Uni's disappear. Again Psycho Pirate disappears, and Black Lightning is sure the worst is behind them, since Metamorpho is a happy guy. But as the clouds turn into a huge, angry Metamorpho, Batman knows that the worst is yet to come.

Now in what looks like the wreck of a city, Metamorpho transforms into more and more destructive forms, destroying everything. Batman realizes that Metamorpho's bottled up rage has been fueling Psycho Pirate all along. Psycho Pirate hovers near Metamorpho's ear like the devil on his shoulder, feeding his anger: anger that he is a freak who can't go out in public, anger that part of him believes his friends are laughing at him, not with him. and Metamorpho attacks.

Batman tells the Outsiders they can't harm Metamorpho, since he would be hurt in real life too, and so they have to reason with him. Black Lightning tells him they count on him, that he has the coolest powers in the world, but Psych Pirate counters that all they're doing is using him, and Metamorpho attacks again, saved only by Batman flying them away in his jetpack. He tells Black Lightning and Katana to keep reasoning with Metamorpho while he takes care of Psycho Pirate.

While the Outsiders dodge Metamorpho, Batman attacks Psycho Pirate. Black Lightning and Katana stand under the giant Metamorpho, and it's Katana speaking that stops him. They talk to him, telling him that they're a team, friends, and that they need him, and as he calms down, Batman begins to gain the upper hand on Psycho Pirate. Finally, Metamorpho shrinks down and hugs his friends, back to his normal self.

The dream world splits apart, and Batman awakens, but finds Psycho Pirate out of his throne, standing by a switch which the villain throws, obliterating the Outsiders. In a rage, Batman begins to pound on Psycho Pirate, who is feeding on the anger of the righteous, but Batman realizes this is still a dream, and Batman centers himself, feeding Psycho Pirate happy thoughts, which he can't take, and proceeds to happily knock out the villain.

With the Psycho Pirate finally defeated, Batman and the Outsiders stand over the defeated Psycho Pirate. As Batman walks off to call the authorities, the Outsiders wonder what are Batman's happiest thoughts.

Who's Who

Black Lightning (Voiced by Bumper Robinson)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Black Lightning #1 (April, 1977)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Katana (Voiced by Vyvan Pham)
First Comic Book Appearance:  The Brave and the Bold #200 (July, 1983)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Metamorpho (Voiced by Scott Menville)
First Comic Book Appearance:  The Brave and the Bold #57 (January, 1965)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Psycho Pirate (Voiced by Armin Shimmerman)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Showcase #56 (May-June 1965)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Four: Inside the Outsiders!

The Psycho Pirate who appears in Brave and the Bold is the second character to use that name in the comics, Roger Hayden. He was a villain of Earth-2, the Justice Society's Earth, who received the Medusa Mask, a relic that allowed him to manipulate emotions, from the original Psycho Pirate. Psycho Pirate would be a thorn in the side of various members of the Justice Society, but would reach new prominence during DC's legendary crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, where he would become an accomplice and agent of the Anti-Monitor. He would survive the Crisis, and would be the only person with a full memory of the existence of the Pre-Crisis multiverse, knowledge which drove him mad. He would appear very sporadically over the course of the next twenty years, most notably in Grant Morrison's Animal Man, before he was recruited by Alexander Luthor during Infinite Crisis, where he was killed by Black Adam. Psycho Pirate has recently reappeared in the Rebirth era Battman series, as a part of Task Force X, and is the mcguffin of the new arc of that series, which begins today. While Psycho Pirate has no innate abilities, the Medusa Mask which he possesses allows him to force emotional states on others and to enhance emotions they already feel.

Green Arrow (Voiced by James Arnold Taylor)
First Comic Book Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November, 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Catwoman (Voiced by Nike Futterman)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Batman #1 (Spring, 1940)
First Full  Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Four: Inside the Outsiders!

Selina Kyle is Batman's most persistent female foe. Her origins have changed and morphed over her more than seventy-five years of existence, but it always comes around to her being the world's best cat burglar and a lover of all things feline. In some versions she is abused wife, in others a prostitute, and other times simply a runaway kid. She and Batman spar, each often trying to win the other over to their side of the law, and in recent years, she has been as often an anti-hero as she has been a villain. She is probably Batman's greatest love interest (at least in my opinion), and in more than one universe in the multiverse or adaptation of Batman in other media, it is Catwoman who Batman winds up with. She is one of the greatest characters in comics, and one of the most visible female characters, bot defined by the male hero she is attached to, by clever, powerful, and often wickedly funny in her own right. Catwoman has no superhuman abilities, but is an expert thief, acrobat, escape artist, and hand-to-hand fighter. Her weapons of choice include a cat o'nine tails whip and claws built into her gloves.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

So, if you're watching along on DVDs, you will notice that this is not the next episode on the DVD. There care three orders in which the last three episodes of Season One  ("Inside the Outsiders", "Menace of the Music Meister", and The Fate of Equinox") can be looked. There is the DVD order, which places this episode last in the season, the order in which they were aired which puts Music Meister before this episode, or the episode numbers, which is the order I chose, meaning this episode is next, followed by Music Meister, and and ending with the Equinox episode, which feels like a season finale.

Catwoman gets her Who's Who entry this week, despite having cameoed twice before, in Legends of the Dark Mite! and Hail the Tornado Tyrant! However, both of those were silent cameos, and this being her first full appearance, I held off spotlighting her until now.

Armin Shimmerman, who voiced Psycho Pirate this episode, and is best known to genre TV fans as Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Principal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  has appeared on Brave and the Bold once before, voicing Calculator in Night of the Huntress, and will appear one more time, but that's for the future.

I just want to call out a very cool visual in this episode. During the Black Lightning sequence, the whole world in in grey scale except for the people who are frustrating him, who appear in color.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/12

Darth Vader #25
Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Salvador Larroca & Edgar Delgado and Max Fiumara & Dave Stewart 

Darth Vader has been a consistent high point of Marvel's new Star Wars line. It's been a slow burn of a series, where all twenty-four issues and an annual have built towards this final issue. Dr. Cylo, the mad scientist who has been Vader's adversary throughout the series, first attempting to replace Vader in Emperor Palpatine's eyes and then to take over the Empire itself, faces his final battle with Vader this issue, and its a testament to artist Salvador Larroca. Vader is a force of nature, silent and terrifying. I went through and counted, and Vader has no more than fifteen word balloons throughout not just the battle, but the entire issue, many of which are one or two words. And Vader's face is covered the entire time, so an artist can't even fall back on facial expressions. So Larroca uses body language to show the readers what is going through Vader's mind, much of which is, well, pretty much murder. Beyond the battle with Cylo, we get a scene between Vader and the Emperor which is one of my favorite scenes between the two in a long time. It shows the twisted relationship between the Sith, how manipulation and betrayal are so central to everything they represent, and makes the reader feel for Vader in a way, as the one mentor figure he has left applauds him for betrayal. The final scenes of the main story show Vader dealing with his underling Dr. Aphra, and shows that while Palpatine has embraced the ideal of betrayal as strength and rewards it, Vader most assuredly has not, and we see Vader deal, quite harshly, with his other Imperial nemesis, this one a political foe, Grand General Tagge, and while I don't want to give too much away there, well, if you've seen the original Star Wars trilogy, you know what happens when you screw up in front of Vader, something Admiral Ozzel, who stood there and watched maybe should have learned from before the events of The Empire Strikes Back. But the final two pages take Vader in a different direction, as we get a silent view into his mind, and see him considering a much less violent confrontation with his son, Luke. This issue shows all manner of aspects of Vader: warrior enforcer, apprentice, leader, and father, and through that shows just what an incredibly nuanced character he is, no matter what words he speaks. The two epilogues to the issue are interesting in their own right. One is a brief scene that sets up Dr. Aphra's upcoming series, and helps establish her new trajectory and her supporting cast (the Wookiee bounty hunter Black Krrsantan and the evil droids Triple Zero and Beetee-One ). The other is a silent piece, set on Tatooine, as we see the results of what Vader has done to the Tusken Raiders, the Sand People. It's a chilling little story, and is hard to write about without laying it out point by point, but needs to be seen. I'm going to miss the Darth Vader ongoing series, it's powerful narrative and dark turns, but I'm looking forward to see where Gillen takes the Doctor Aphra series.

The Fix #6
Story: Nick Spencer
Art: Steve Lieber & Ryan Hill

In most cases, I have a hard time with stories where there are no redeeming characters, Even stories starring anti-heroes or downright villains show a nuanced portrayal of those characters, like Darth Vader in the previous review or Walter White in Breaking Bad. However, The Fix, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, is the exception to this rule, as there is not a single character in this book who has a redeeming characteristic. When the principal character who is the least morally reprehensible is the crooked internal affairs cop (with the exception of Pretzels the dog. Pretzels is the best), you know you're in for a ride. This issue gives us a new one of lead character Roy's crooked side businesses, trafficking in stolen celebrity personal items. And frankly, this is far from the worst thing we've seen Roy do, but it's the fact that he's actively employing meth addicts to do it that makes it even more reprehensible. The story of how Roy met Matty, the chief meth addict, is one of the darkly comedic things that makes The Fix work so well. I mean, I honestly laughed out loud so hard I doubled over and got a very strange look from my wife, and when I tried to explain why it was funny, the look just got stranger. In theory, bum fight shouldn't be funny, and in real life practice they aren't, but in the twisted world that Spencer and Lieber have created, the whole sequence is utterly hilarious. And as we understand exactly what Roy has been up to, and exactly where this has gone, and exactly what Roy has planned for Matty's friends who he assumed are responsible for the death of the starlet he had them rob and he assumed killed, well the hole he dug just keeps getting bigger. And the big reveal of what this has all been about, what the killers were looking for, well, I don't know if it would work in any other comic, but it sure as heck works here. If all of that wasn't enough, we get two scenes away from Roy, and if you were hoping for characters you could empathize with and see as light in a corrupt world, you are in the wrong place. We get a scene that further develops the mayor of L.A., who has a... unique habit during press conferences, and one with Donovan, the movie producer, and his really interesting fantasy life. The thing that keeps me coming back to this book, aside from the twisty plot, the comedy, and the excellent Steve Lieber art, is the fact that these characters have to get their comeuppance sooner or later, and I just can't wait to see how big a hole they can dig before they fall into it. And after this issue, I can't wait to see them all get what's coming to them more than ever, in the best possible way.

Hard Case Crime: Peepland #1
Story: Christa Faust & Gary Phillips
Art: Andrea Camerini & Marco Lesko

The Hard Case Crime label is an impressive publishing initiative that has presented both reissues of classic noirs and new stories in the best noir and crime fiction styles, and I became familiar with their novels by the publication of two original works by Stephen King, The Colorado Kid and Joyland. And when I heard they were going to partner with Titan Comics to produce new crime comics, I was excited, and I'm pleased to say that Peepland, one of their inaugural offerings, is an excellent crime comic. I chose to try this series for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the writers. I'm familiar with Christa Faust only by reputation, but Gary Phillips has written some amazing crime comics over his career, most notably to me the Vertigo mini-series Angeltown and from Boom Studios The Rinse. The setting also appeals to me. The comic is set in New York City in the mid-80s, back before the city was sanitized. I was a kid back then, so it's not like I spent any time wandering those red light districts, but I know people who did, people who tell stories of Time Square before Disney rolled in, and so I get a sense of the city I love from bygone days. And this comic is set deep in those red light districts. Starring Roxy, a peepshow performer, the comic starts with a man running for his life from two thugs before hiding a video cassette (remember those?) in Roxy's booth. Pretty soon, the police are involved as the man, the producer of a Girls Gone Wild-esque series of pornographic videos, is dead and more than one group is looking for the tape. Roxy is a sympathetic protagonist, and presented in a real way: she's not the sex worker who's just doing it to pay her way through law school or some similar trope, but is someone who does what she does and has a life outside it, an uncle slowly dying of AIDS when AIDS was a short-term death sentence, an ex-boyfriend, and curiosity about that tape that is going to get her in trouble before the series is out, I have no doubt, especially when we see what's on the tape. Aside from our lead, we get plenty of other characters, all fitting into a classic crime/noir mold: other dancers and performers at Peepland, thugs and toughs, hardnose cops; this might be set in the 80s, and the events might only work in that particular era, but it's got a gritty feel right out of the best 40s noirs. In case the title didn't make it clear, by the way, this is a comic for mature audiences, with nudity and lots of bad language, but it's also for mature audiences because it's smart and complex, with characters and a mystery that will appeal to readers who are looking for something to really dig their teeth into.

And Dan Grote's back with a very special issue of Deadpool...

Deadpool #20
Story by Gerry Duggan
Art by Matteo Lolli and Guru-eFX

In which Deadpool stops someone from committing suicide through violence.

Let that sink in for a second.

We’ve all seen superheroes talk ordinary folks off the ledge, literally and figuratively. Superman arguably did it best in All-Star Superman.

Deadpool is not Superman. Hell, he’s barely a superhero. He’s a guy who often wants to be good but doesn’t know how because he’s lived a life of violence and insanity. Which is why he gloms onto other superheroes – Spider-Man, Captain America, etc. – and demands to become their new best friend whether they like it or not.

On this night, a young woman named Danielle is staring down at the street from the roof of the Schafer Theatre, formerly the home of the Avengers’ Unity Team, the Mercs for Money, and Deadpool. Wade leads with “Don’t jump!” and follows with “Parker Industries is just a few blocks down.”

Now, things have been pretty crappy – well, crappier, I guess – for Wade lately. His wife has been cheating on him, his team has abandoned him, his base was destroyed. Frankly, if this were the Joe Kelly era, he’d be in the depths of a sadomasochistic pity party and probably push her off the building himself.

Instead, Wade takes her to see Hamilton and lets her go on a ridealong while he beats up deadbeats as part of his pro bono work. Along the way, Danielle learns useful things like the best way to get bad guys to come to the door (Yell “Sexy maids!”) and when to kick or blow down said door and begin delivering beatings. Danielle even picks up a bat at one point and joins in the fun.

“Violence solves everything if you’re good at it,” Wade insists.

Their magical smashy-smashy tour ends at the emergency room, where Wade drops her off for pre-arranged help.

“I’m smart enough to know I’m dumb enough that I can’t help you,” he says. “But they can.”

This isn’t Wade doing the right thing to impress Spider-Man or Agent Preston or Cable or any of his usual over-the-shoulder angels. Nobody’s watching. This is Wade doing genuine good the best way he knows how, while remaining completely in character and recognizing his own flaws. This is Gerry Duggan once again teaching a master class on how to develop a chaotic-neutral quasihero.

After Danielle walks into the ER, Wade finally finds the perfect thing to say: “You gotta remember: No matter how bad things get … that life is fluid. There’s always the chance that something great is waiting around the next corner. (Steps in dog poop) You just have to find a way to keep rounding corners.”

In other words, “You’re much stronger than you think you are.”

Deadpool’s been teasing a showdown with Madcap for months now, but recent issues have had next to nothing to do with that. This issue is no exception, but it’s also probably one of the best standalone ‘Pool issues ever.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reviews of comics from Wednesday 9/14

Detective Comics #940
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, & Adriano Lucas

And so ends the first arc of the new Detective Comics, and what an ending it is. I've been singing the praises of this title since it returned with its new Rebirth era creative team, and this finale doesn't disappoint. There will be SPOILERS for the issue in this review, more than I usually would put in one, but frankly the ending of this issue has been all over all the major comic news sites since Wednesday, so I feel I can address it. I want to start by talking about thee aspect of the issue that hasn't been discussed all over the place, which is James Tynion's handling of Batwoman and her confrontation with her father, Colonel Jake Kane. Kane has been the primary antagonist of this arc, him and his para-military Colony organization, and to see Batwoman stand up to her father is a bravura moment for that character. This is the strong, take no prisoners hero that was introduced all those years ago in 52, the character who should have been a star and was shunted to the side until all the buzz around her had died down. Kate Kane is a woman of principal, who stands by what she believes in, even if it means her imprisoning her own father. And Kane remains just this side of sympathetic, a man who truly believes that what he's doing is right, which makes him all the more interesting as a foe. But now I have to touch on is Tim Drake, Red Robin, and his fate. On Friday, I wrote about what makes Tim Drake such a great character. And his final showdown with the drones that the Colony were sending to kill suspected agents of the League of Shadows is a perfect indicator of what makes Tim great: he went down a hero. He knew that his chances were slim, that he might be sacrificing his own life when he set himself as the drones only target, and when he knew he couldn't win? He stood his ground and went out a hero. It was a marvelous moment, and would have been an excellent death, if that's what it was. Instead, we see him taken by the mysterious Mr. Oz. There are interesting new hints to what exactly Mr. Oz is doing, and what his plans are, which are all good for the overall progress of the DC Universe and for Tim's future, but it's also great to see Tim, the one person who kept the faith when Batman "died" in Final Crisis and was sure Bruce was alive, still having faith that his friends will find him despite his own seeming death. Add in a perfect scene of Batman showing real and true sadness at the apparent death of one of his charges, and you have an issue that is as emotionally resonant as it was action packed, a perfect superhero comic.

Faith #3
Story: Jody Houser
Art: Pere Perez and Andrew Dalhouse & Marguerite Sauvage

In case you haven't read any of my previous reviews of her series or any articles about the character, Valiant's breakout hit character Faith is a fangirl. A major league fangirl. And that part of her character is part of her charm. So it's probably not the least bit surprising that Faith would spend a story arc going to a comic con. And she's bringing her boyfriend, Archer of Archer and Armstrong along for his first con. The two head out, in cosplay naturally, and because this is a superhero comic, pretty soon they're getting involved investigating thefts at the convention and the theft turns out to be way more than just a simple fan who wants to make off with stuff he couldn't afford. The appeal of this issue comes from the interactions between Faith and Archer. We saw their first date in a recent issue of A+A, but now we're seeing them more deeply into their relationship, and on Faith's home turf. The two are so perfect together, Archer so naive and Faith so confident in this setting. And the reasons why Faith is so determined to see that justice is done at the con, and what cons mean to her, is something that I think all of us who live in a world of fandom should read, because it's something that is easily forgotten: about how cons are places where we meet and greet those we admire and more how we get to share the things we love with others who love them, and how no one has a right to interfere with that. I love how positive Faith is, how she is always looking for the best in others, but how she's also always willing to stand up for herself and others. The art for the issue by Pere Perez is especially good, with all sorts of wonderful Easter Eggs in the con scenes, and a great design for Faith's cosplay, something that still evokes her costume while having a different, piratical air. Faith is one of the best comics from Valiant, a fun superhero comic that embraces fandom and fans, with a great hero; it's also a comic that is easy to jump on to at pretty much any point, and this issue is especially good as a jumping on point, as everything you need to know is right here. Oh, and not just everything you need to know about Faith; there are con going tips throughout the issue that are well worth taking note of, even if you're an old hand at it. I mean, who knows when you're going to be called on to fight evil at your next con?

And Dan Grote is here with a review of a... Batman comic!

All-Star Batman #2
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: John Romita Jr., Danny Miki and Dean White (main story); Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire (backup strip)

At the end of Season 2 of The Venture Bros., after the Sovereign has revealed himself as (a shapeshifter who takes the form of) David Bowie, Henchmen 21 and 24 remark on their favorite Bowie albums, and 21 harps on 24 for liking “ChangesOne” because “Changes is a best-of.”

All-Star Batman is, in many ways, a best-of. But it’s also something new.

Part of it is Batman barreling through a highlight reel of his enemies (roughly) two by two as he and Two-Face buddy-cop their way across the country. So we get appearances from requisite Bat-foes like the Penguin, Killer Croc and Victor Zsasz, in addition to deeper cuts like the KGBeast and Gentleman Ghost. We also get art from John Romita Jr., one of comics’ warmest blankets for more than 30 years.

But while Scott Snyder spent five years cementing himself as one of the all-time great Bat-writers, he’s not done leaving his mark.

Take, for example, his take on Two-Face. Snyder’s Two-Face is portrayed as much darker than in years past, explaining away his campier exploits as cries for help from the Harvey Dent side of his personality. This Two-Face isn’t just setting other villains on the Bat. Even allies like Jim Gordon have a vested interest in stopping Bruce from reaching the series’ MacGuffin, a purported cure for the Two-Face side of Dent. If successful, Two-Face has threatened to release the dirt he has on everyone in Gotham, and that’s a lot of dirt.

And yes, Bruce is training a new sidekick, but despite headlining a title called We Are Robin, Duke Thomas is not taking up the mantle, nor is he wearing the standard red, green and yellow. Just the yellow. The backup strips focus on Duke’s training, which isn’t so much about learning martial arts or how to win a melee fight but a study in psychology, both in Duke’s relationship with his psychotically altered parents and in learning how Batman’s never-ending parade of Arkham escapee foes thinks. Because let’s face it, working with Batman means exposing yourself to messed-up stuff every second of the day.

Oh, and Bats uses actual shark repellant against King Shark. Because if Grant Morrison’s Unified Theory of Batman has taught us anything, it’s that Batman done right should be grimdark and silly simultaneously.

So if Matt and I had the repartee of 21 and 24, he’d be doing his duty by calling me a poseur for liking the “ChangesOne” that is All-Star Batman. Also I’d be dead in a season. But whatever, my point is, as The Matt Signal’s resident “Not a DC guy” guy, I’m loving this book. And Bowie rules.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why I Love Tim Drake

Tim Drake has been all over the comic book news sites this week. I'm not going to talk about the details of why right here, just to make sure everyone who doesn't want to be spoiled has a chance to read the issue that's causing the furor. I'm just going to make a short post today about who Tim Drake is as a character and why he's not only my favorite Robin, but one of my ten favorite comic characters ever.

I started reading comic officially (or as official as you can get) with Batman #445. Tim Drake made his first appearance in costume in Batman #442 (although he would be out of costume, simply training, and wouldn't get his own until issue 457). So first and foremost, I grew up with Tim. Now, Tim is lucky that he's perpetually stuck at an age between 16 and 18, while I have continued to grow sadly older, but I don't hold that against him. There's something about that character, a character who was new when you were just starting out as a fan, that you latch on to and connect with. That's, frankly, why sidekicks were created, to give readers and entry point for these stories about adults.

But more than just our relative newness, the thing that made Tim Drake great is he was a good kid who got into superheroing because it was the right thing to do. Ultimately, all of the many tragedies that Tim would encounter over the years took place after he took up the mantle of Robin (I'll discuss the changes made in the New 52 and why I feel they detract from Tim as a character later). Tim wasn't an orphan (although he was a rich kid with absentee parents which I doubt many readers had), he didn't have a reason to become Robin except he felt like Batman needed a Robin and Gotham and the world needed a Batman. Tim, like one of my other favorite sidekicks made good, Wally West, was basically a fanboy who got to live the dream: he got to partner with his favorite hero. And who amongst us in fandom wouldn't like that.

The other thing that made me love Tim Drake initially was that he was a brain. He had figured out Batman and Robin's identities using his natural deductive skills. Tim's first solo mission isn't a Robin mission, but is Tim trying to use his computer and detective skills to try to find a hacker called Moneyspider, who turns out to be the Batman villain Anarky, a teenage villain, who would go on to be one of Tim's nemeses. Tim was naturally more physically capable than most of the readers, but he wasn't a kid acrobat like Dick Grayson; there's a great moment in Robin #10, a Zero Hour crossover where Tim briefly meets a time displaced teenage Dick Grayson, where Tim marvels as Dick's acrobatic skills and doesn't think he'll ever be able to live up to them. And that was fine, because Tim was the smartest of the Robins, the best detective of the lot. And for readers who love Batman because he's the smartest guy in the room, that made Tim the ideal Robin.

After finally taking on the name of Robin, Tim would develop his own rogues gallery and supporting cast as he starred in first three mini-series and then an ongoing series that lasted for well over one hundred issues. Tim would fight the blind martial artist and gang leader King Snake,his lieutenant, Lynx, and their street gang, the Ghost Dragons; the aforementioned Anarky, the teen anarchist; Ulysses Hadrian Arstrong, the teen strategic genius known as The General. The characters around him included his dad, Jack Drake and step mom Dana, his geeky best friend Ives, his first girlfriend, Ariana, and his on again/off again main squeeze, Spoiler. That's not to mention his friendship with other heroes as a member of the teams Young Justice and Teen Titans, and of course his regular team-ups with Batman and the other members of the Batman family. There is a wonderful issue of Nightwing, issue twenty-five, "The Boys," that really looks into the brotherly relationship between Tim and Dick Grayson. This was a richer life as a character than either of the previous Robins had while they were Robin, and made Tim a much more interesting character,

Eventually, when a new Robin need to come along, in this case Bruce's son Damian, he was a very different character than Tim. While Tim was an everyman sort of sidekick, Damian was completely unique and uncommon: while Tim was a fanboy, Damian had been trained since birth to be a deadly assassin. And when the time came for Tim to take up his new identity as Red Robin, the first storyline in his series reaffirmed his status as the number one Batman fan: he was the only one who believed that Bruce Wayne had not died in battle with Darkseid in Final Crisis, and he went out to find him. There's a wonderful met-commentary there about how the hero who started out as a fan would be the one who  would persevere through apparent death to believe wholeheartedly that the hero he idolized would still be alive.

But with the introduction of Damian, Tim was a little at ends as a character. Dick Grayson was able to take up the Nightwing identity when Jason Todd came along and became Robin, but Tim had a second hand new identity; Red Robin was Dick Grayson from an alternate future, whose identity had been briefly co-opted by Jason Todd before Tim took it. His last ongoing series, the Red Robin ongoing, was cut short by the New 52 reboot of DC Comics, with Tim in a very dark place. And I was hopeful that the reboot would give Tim a fresh start and make him the fun, young hero he was at his beginning.

Alas, this was not to be. The Tim Drake of the Teen Titans series from the New 52 bore only a passing resemblance to his previous incarnation. He had never been Robin and wasn't even really named Tim Drake; that was a name he took when he came to work with Batman. He was suddenly a gymnastic savant, and had a tragic backstory, where his own carelessness had forced hi parents into witness protection. And mostly, he no longer had any real emotional ties to Batman and Nightwing. Batman had been a foster father to him, and Nightwing the coolest big brother you could imagine pre-New 52. Now, Tim kept them at arms length and always had, and while he was part of their family, he wasn't close with them. He did suddenly become close friends with Jason Todd, Red Hood, who had repeatedly tried to kill Tim in the old continuity, which did more to help further Jason's redemption than did anything for Tim as a character. And the greatest of indignities: while Time did still figure out Batman's identity, so did Dick Grayson, using pretty much the same methodology Tim did in the old continuity, taking away yet another thing that made Tim unique.

I don't necessarily lay all of this on the heads of the creators of those titles. Tim has been a historically difficult character to handle when taken out of his specific point of introduction. The Tim Drake in Batman: The Animated Series is much more Jason Todd than Tim Drake, as he has Jason's origin and doesn't have Tim's intellect; he basically has Tim's good nature grafted on to Jason to make him less of a jerk. The Tim in the Batman: Arkham games is a little better, but is still more of a roughneck than Tim is.  Young Justice got it closest to right; while it gave Tim's hacker skills to Diclk Grayson initially, when Tim himself appeared, he was the quiet, smart member of the younger generation of heroes.

So where did that leave Tim? Well, in the past year and change, thing have gotten better for him. Batman and Robin Eternal, the weekly Batman mini-series that focused on the various Robins and other Bat family members working together in a globetrotting adventure during the brief period of time where Bruce had no memory of being Batman, did a great job of re-establishing Tim's relationship with the other member of Batman's family, and the arc of Detective Comics that wrapped this week played on all of Tim's best traits: his intellect, how well he works with others, and how much he cares about people. It got everything right, and made Tim feel like Tim again, and that Tim is a character that readers will keep hoping to see more of.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: When OMAC Attacks!

Season One, Episode Twenty-Three: When OMAC Attacks!
Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Brandon Vietti

Plot Synopsis

A mighty battles between two fleets wages in space. The Batplane flies towards them, and Batman tells his passengers, the brother heroes Hawk and Dove to deal with the ground forces while he stops the warships so he can get both sides to the bargaining table. Batman drops them off, telling them not to fight amongst themselves, and the two jump into battle, bickering all the while. Batman stops the fleet, and contacts Hawk and Dove, who are still arguing peace vs. aggression. Later, even as the treaty is signed between the Controllers and the Warlords of Okaara, the two continue to bicker.

Episode: At the headquarters of the Global Peace Agency, the faceless members of the mysterious law enforcement organization berate Batman for not completing the mission they assigned him, finding and stopping the villainous General Kafka, quickly enough for their liking. The GPA agents explain that Kafka must be stopped before he can create a biological tranformative. The GPA tells Batman they will be assigning him a partner. A janitor, Buddy Blank, comes in, and spills water on Batman while gushing over what a big fan he is of the Dark Knight. When Batman asks about the partner, they tell him Buddy is his partner, as they contact the artificially intelligent satellite Brother Eye, which transforms Buddy into the GPA's top agent, OMAC, the One Man Army Corps, a powerful entity who has no knowledge of his life as a janitor.

Later, Batman and OMAC surveil a mountain fortress. Batman says he has something that will let them slip in, but OMAC instead has Brother Eye, who can upgrade OMAC's powers on demand, enhance his strength and he leaps to the compound, busting down the wall before smashing the tanks and beating all the soldiers unconscious. Batman offers OMAC the advice that excessive force isn't the answer to everything, which OMAC promptly ignores.

In Kafka's lab, Batman and OMAC break in to find Kafka waiting. OMAC leaps for Kafka, who blasts him, and the two run off deeper into the lab. Batman is about to follow when Equinox appears, telling Batman he is not supposed to be here, that Equinox has set this whole thing in motion as part of his plan to maintain balance. batman shoots his grapnel into the air, saying he will try to tip the scales to the side of the good guys, but the grapnel cable snaps and Equinox disappears into the shadows.

OMAC and Kafka continue to fight, and when OMAC has Kafka at his mercy, he calls on Brother Eye to give him energy powers to blast Kafka. Batman interferes to stop OMAC from killing Kafka, and the stray blast hits the vat of Kafka's experimental chemical which floods the room. Batman is able to get himself and OMAC out, but the chemical washes over Kafka. Batman and OMAC stare each other down, Batman chiding OMAC for being merciless. But from the wreckage bursts Kafka, reborn from the chemicals as the metal monster, Shrapnel.

Shrapnel fires metal projectiles at Batman and OMAC, and one hits the symbol on OMAC's chest. When Batman is able to get to OMAC, he finds that he has been transformed back into Buddy. Batman escapes with Buddy, as Shrapnel swears revenge. Back at the GPA, the agents again blame Batman for failing, but Batman warns them about Equinox, telling them he feels Equinox is probably responsible for OMAC reverting to Buddy. Batman feels the GPA is abusing Buddy, not letting him know what they're doing to him and that an OMAC with some of Buddy's heart would be a better solider.

Buddy is in his room, wishing he could get another shot at Shrapnel. Batman appears in the room's shadows startling Buddy, coming to check on him. Batman reassures Buddy that underneath it, there's a string man waiting to break out, but before they can talk more, the complex shakes. Batman assumes it's Shrapnel, and looks to find Buddy once more transformed into OMAC. In the streets outside, Shrapnel is attacking. Batman and OMAC again confront him, and OMAC again doesn't listen to Batman's ideas about being more subtle.

Before Batman can join the fight, Equinox reappears, telling Batman he warned him about interference. Equinox tells Batman he feels they are similar both trying to balance the scale, be it of justice, like Batman, or like himself in a grander sense. Batman throws a Batarang at Equinox, which he transforms into a living bat with a thought.

OMAC and Shrapnel continue to fight, only now Shrapnel has the upper hand. He tells OMAC that the GPA came to his country to stop a war, and destroyed a village in the process. It was his village, and Shrapnel survived to seek revenge on the GPA. Batman makes another attempt to stop Equinox, but a tree branch falls on him, stopping him. Equinox tells Batman that his plan is to balance the scales here, to have the city the GPA is headquartered in destroyed to balance the loss of Shrapnel's home village. Batman looks at Equinox in dawning horror as he swings off, finding that Shrapnel's path is leading towards a nuclear plant, and OMAC is not fairing well on the fight.

In the plant, OMACis continuing to take punishment, and doesn't stop all of Shrapnel's projectiles, which damage the plant's control panel, starting a meltdown. Batman rushes into the plant to try to stop the meltdown while OMAC and Shrapnel still battle. Finally, OMAC decides to listen to Batman's words, and he has Brother Eye give him full strength to shields, which stops him from being hurt when Shrapnel punches him through the building. He now knows fighting Shrapnel only makes him stronger, so he's hoping this will stop him.

Batman goes to enter the reactor to stop the meltdown to have Equinox magically appear again to stop him. The two discuss the philosophy of balance as they fight. OMAC continues, to take blow after blow from Shrapnel, and Shrapnel begins to lose his steam; OMAC has realized that Shrapnel absorbs and redirects energy, and by not fighting him, Shrapnel has nothing to fight with. OMAC uses a girder to hold Shrapnel in place, just as his own energy reserves reach zero, transforming him back to Buddy. Buddy sees the chaos at the plant and charges in.

Batman is able to get a grenade past Equinox, blowing up the security panel and gaining access to the nuclear core. Equinox warns him that the radiation will destroy him, but Batman pushes on anyway, and when Equinox tries to stop him, Buddy appears, knocking Equinox aside and letting Batman charge into the core. Batman reaches the control rods and is able to to push them into the core, stopping the meltdown, and is on the verge of death when Equinox appears and saves Batman's life, magically healing him, saying it is not his time before disappearing.

Buddy, in a radiation suit, pulls Batman from he core, and is overjoyed that he has fought a supervillain, confident he Equinox will not return. But Batman looks to the moon, sure they have not seen the end of the villain, as the moon changes to the yin yang symbol of Equinox.

Who's Who

OMAC (Voiced by Jeff Bennet)
First Comic Book Appearance:  OMAC #1 (October, 1974)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

In the not too distant future, Buddy Blank was a nobody who was taken into the employ of the Global Peace Agency and whose identity was subsumed by the GPA's perfect soldier: OMAC. OMAC was a perfect weapon who would fight for peace, and in a world where large armies were considered too dangerous and too public, it was up to OMAC to keep the peace. OMAC's series would only last eight issues, but he would pop up in other short series and backups by the likes of Jim Starlin and John Byrne. Years later, in a non-Kirby written back-up story, Buddy Blank would take his young grandson into the Command D bunker to protect him from a coming cataclysm, and that young boy would take his name from the location when he emerged, becoming Kamandi. Buddy was rarely used within the DC Universe, but was one of the aspects of Kirby creations that appeared in Countdown to Final Crisis. OMAC's powers come from the satellite Brother Eye, and include super strength and speed, density control, and energy projection.

Brother Eye (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance:  OMAC #1 (October, 1974)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

When introduced in OMAC, Brother Eye was the sentient satellite that provided OMAC with his powers. But Brother Eye has had a larger and more sinister role in the DC Universe at large. Created by Batman to spy on metahumans, the Brother MK1 satellite developed artificial intelligence and was corrupted my Maxwell Lord, the Black King of Checkmate, in his plan to destroy all superhumans. Even after Lord's death, the satellite, dubbing itself Brother Eye, would continue his plan until it was eventually destroyed by a group of superheroes during Infinite Crisis. In the post-Flashpoint universe, Brother Eye was destined to conquer the Earth and transform it's populace into mindless cybernetic soldiers, but this timeline was prevented by a time travelling Terry McGinnis. The current fate of Brother Eye remains unknown. An artificial intelligence of vast intellect and tremendous computing power that can easily overtake most other computer systems. It also controls a vast army of OMACs, cybernetic soldiers that do its bidding.

Kafka (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance:  OMAC #3 (February, 1975)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

Kafka was an Eastern European dictator and recurring nemesis of OMAC

Shrapnel (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Doom Patrol Vol.2 #7 (April, 1988)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

Much of Shrapnel''s background is unknown. It is know he was a man named Mark Scheffer, who was somehow transformed into the walking pile of metal shards, who went insane and decided to kill anyone who saw him. He would go on to fight the Doom Patrol, and would go on to be a member of the Secret Society and the Suicide Squad. Shrapnel has super strength, but his main power is the fact that he is made of small metal shards that he can fire to devastating effect, and that regenerate over time.

Equinox (voiced by Oded Fehr)
First comic book appearance: Justice League of America #111 (June 1974)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 14- Mystery in Space!

Hawk (Voiced by Jonny Rees) & Dove (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Showcase #75 (June, 1968)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

Hank and Don Hall were brothers who could not have been more different. Created by legendary creator Steve Ditko in the late '60s, the two were typical of different philosophies of the time: Hank was belligerent and quick to anger, while Don was passive and always seeking to talk out problems. They were granted powers by a mysterious source (later determined to be members of the cosmic entities known as the Lords of Order and Chaos). They would fight crime together, and usually combat each other verbally, due to their very different points of view on how best to deal with criminals. The two would remain partners until Don's death during Crisis on Infinite Earths, shortly after which a new Dove was called, a young woman named Dawn Granger, who is still Dove today. When danger is present, Hank and Don could call out their respective superhero names to magically change into their costumes. Hawk's powers include heightened strength and stamina; Dove's powers include a heightened senses and agility.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

This episode ends the unconnected trilogy of Kirby greatness. Jack Kirby the King of Comics, created OMAC towards the end of his tenure with DC Comics, the same period that gave us Kamandi, who appeared last episode, and the New Gods, who include Mr. Miracle, who was featured in last episode's teaser, and the Female Furies and Steppenwolf, who appeared two episodes ago.

There have been numerous versions of the Hawk & Dove team throughout DC Comics history. The best known are the Hank and Don Hall versions, as they are the ones that have appeared not just in Brave and the Bold but Justice League Unlimited, and the Hank Hall and Dawn Granger versions, which has been the longest lasting version, with Hank teamed up with a female Dove after the death of his brother. There was a completely unrelated version that appeared very briefly. I'm going to avoid giving the background on what happened in the '90s and early 2000s to Hawk and Dove, because they both died and Hawk became a villain for a while, but Dawn briefly teamed with her theretofore unknown sister, Holly Granger, as Hawk before Holly died and Hank was resurrected in the Blackest Night event, and they have been Hawk and Dove again since.

The Shrapnel character has two entries in this week's Who's Who section because the Brave and the Bold version is a conflation of two completely different comic book characters. It is not uncommon in media adaptations of comics for a new character gets an established super hero/villain identity, but this kind of conflation, while not unheard of, is rarer, and I like it here. Kafka isn't a physical threat for OMAC, and Shrapnel is a fairly generic thug in the comics, personality-wise, so merging them creates a fascinating new character.

The Global Peace Agency were created for the OMAC series, which didn't appear to be part of the DC Universe, Grant Morrison, master of bringing in elements from all over the history of comics, brought them into the DCU in Final Crisis, cleverly tying them in with the Question, who is similarly faceless. They would appear in the trippy and criminally under-rated Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape and Nemesis: The Imposter mini-series before disappearing after Flashpoint.

The name OMAC has a very different connotation in modern DC Comics. OMACs were mindless servants of Checkmate and Brother Eye, who had been injected with nano-bots to transform them into super strong metahuman hunters, in the mini-series The OMAC Project and Infinite Crisis. These events would spawn a mini-series featuring a self aware OMAC as part of the aftermath of those crossovers. One of the New 52 series was another new OMAC, more similar to Buddy Blank in that it was a sole protagonist, in this case a young man named Kevin Kho, although this title was short lived, being one of the first to be cancelled in DC's new universe.

Although not named, the two races fighting at the beginning of this episode are the Warlords of Okaara and the Controllers. The Okaarans were known for training beings in the art of combat, including Starfire and her sister, Blackfire, while the Controllers were an offshoot of the Guardians of the Universe, who once created a competing galactic police force, the Darkstars.

This episode is the second part of the Equinox trilogy. The first episode, where Equinox appeared just in the trailer, was Mystery in Space! In this episode he appears as the secondary villain, manipulating the main events of the episode. He will appear again, as the main antagonist, in the season finale, The Fate of Equinox!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/7

A+A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #7
Story: Rafer Roberts
Art: Mike Norton, David Lafuente, Brian Reber, & Allen Passalaqua

I find that there are a lot more comics that are just plane fun now then there were back in the 90s when I started reading comics, and I'm glad for it. But there are few comics that are not only fun, but completely embraces the mad absurdity of comics than A+A, the current series that stars one of Valiant's classic odd couples, Archer and Armstrong. On a quest to find Armstrong's long forgotten wife (he got drunk and forgot he got married), the mismatched pair of Archer, the young man trained to be an assassin and can summon up any physical skill, and Armstrong, the drunken immortal, have instead stumbled across a Russian circus where everyone who performs bears and odd resemblance to Armstrong. That was last issue, but this issue, now that the scientists who created the circus are attacking, we get an entire issue of crazy escapades. Archer and Armstrong fight Soviet scientists, Archer and Armstrong meet the members of the freak show, the failed experiments, learn exactly what the nature of the circus people who resemble Armstrong are (and it is neither his illegitimate descendants or clones, as Archer theorized), perform in the circus in disguise, fight clowns, and meet the scientists behind the project, one of whom is a talking bear. It's a delightfully off kilter story, but while it is utterly bizarre, it is grounded in the reactions and the well established characters of the leads. Archer is curious an wants to get answers, and his recent time with his new girlfriend, Valiant's breakout heroine Faith, has him trying to solve problems by talking rather than punching, which doesn't sit well with the more bull in a china shop style of his partner. The issue is simply a delight to read. And if all that doesn't sound like enough story, well Archer's step-sister, Mary-Maria, is dealing with a coup within the order of assassin nuns she's the head of. And in a back-up, Davey the Mackerel, an anthropomorphic fish man who escaped the confines of Armstrong's bottomless bag (and shout out to all my fellow D&D players who look at it and think of Bags of Holding), is dealing with his time as the assistant and guide to a dark god who escaped the bag without his powers and who used to work making bags, satchels, and purses. The dynamic there is just killer; picture Doctor Doom, down to the ranting, if he made purses. I know that this review contained a little more plot than I usually put in a review, but the issue is so packed with stuff that I felt like calling that out; Valiant does a great job of making their comics dense with story, and A+A is one of the titles that really takes a bit of time to read in the best possible way.

Everafter: From the Pages of Fables #1
Story: Dave Justus & Matthew Sturges
Art: Travis Moore & Michael Wiggam

Vertigo has a long history of spin-offs from its best known titles. Some, like The Dreaming, are mostly forgotten. Some, like Lucifer, have spawned spin-offs of their own. Everafter is the first spin-off from Fables since that series, a personal favorite, wrapped up at issue 150, and is a good start to this series. At the end of Fables, magic came to the Mundane world, meaning Earth as we know it, and now things there are all sorts of screwy, and the Fables are trying to help keep things straight. Two plotlines run through this first issue, introducing, or reintroducing in some cases, the characters I assume will be the principal cast. One plot features Connor Wolf, one of the cubs of Bigby Wolf and Snow White, two of the principles of the original series, being recruited into the covert ops organization of Fables that polices magic in the now not-so-Mundy world. Connor was one of the least developed of the cubs in the original series, so there's a lot of wiggle room the creators have to work with on his personality. He's a great entry character, because he's dashing but headstrong, and looking to find his place in the world. You get an idea of what this operation is, who the key players are, and what they're doing through Conner's eyes. The second, more action oriented plot, features three of the agents on a mission in St. Louis. Bo Peep and Peter Piper, former thieves and assassins who starred in the Fables novel Peter and Max, and Hansel, the former Adversary's chief Witchfinder, are hunting down something that is causing a terrifying outbreak of monsters. The art from Travis Moore is spectacular, showing all sorts of great creatures, and the character action is exciting and clear. It's not unexpected that Hansel, someone who hunts and kills witches for a living, is not exactly the most pleasant of characters, and doesn't get along with the husband and wife team of Bo Peep and Peter, but as they near the goal, Hansel's motives are more clear and not unexpected. Dave Justus and Matthew Sturges have a history with Fables, having co-written the adaptation of the video game Fables: The Wolf Among Us, and Sturges co-wrote the original Fables spin-off, Jack of Fables, and they show a deft hand with both the characters we already know and the new ones. It's really exciting and interesting first issue, and even if you don't have any knowledge of Fables, you should be able to pick it up.

Kill or be Killed #2
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser

I was on vacation when the first issue of Kill or be Killed was released, and so I didn't write it up, which I regret, because it was one of the best debuts in recent memory, but I will try to make up for that with a glowing recommendation of issue two. This isn't surprising, since the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been pretty much flawless in everything they have ever done together. Kill or be Killed exists in a the gritty world of a Brubaker and Phillips comic, a place that exists almost entirely in shades of moral grey to black, and explores the idea of vigilantism and how it effects people in a real world setting. This issue follows our lead, Dylan, on his first kill. If you didn't read the first issue and don't know the set up, Dylan survived what should have been a lethal fall only to be visited by a demon that says he is living on borrowed time and must commit an evil soul to Hell each month to keep on living. While I think we're supposed to take on faith that the demon is real, there's enough ambiguity to leave us questioning whether this is real or not, especially as the demon doesn't appear in this second issue; it's just Dylan systematically looking for a gun and a person who deserves to die. The issue is narrated by Dylan and is the usual tremendous character work that Brubaker does; it's hard not to sympathize with Dylan as you see that he doesn't want to die himself, and after all, he's only killing bad people. And Brubaker gives us the worst of the worst here, as Dylan tracks down the elder brother of a childhood friend of his that Dylan only realized too late was molesting his friend, who eventually died from drugs and depression. This is a person (and I use that term loosely) that no one would have sympathy for, and you feel yourself cheering for Dylan when he puts him down. But should you really? Is it right? These are the questions I think Brubaker wants us to contemplate. I'm just scratching the surface of the issue, a comic that explores Dylan's childhood and his father's life, and continues to lay out his present. Sean Phllips is at the top of his game, not just in the sequences in the past and present, but in a beautiful slash that shows the art that Dylan's father made for *ahem* gentlemen's pulp magazines. It's the kind of piece, painted by Phillips himself, that might be a little too good for those trashy porno mags, a really beautiful piece of art, which is just right for the art of a man who felt his dreams being crushed by doing art for a place that is beneath him. You don't buy a comic by Brubaker and Phillips for a happy trip; you read it to be entertained, certainly, but it will also make you think, be challenged, and to watch the idea of genres be broken, as nothing is off limits. Kill or be Killed is another gem in Image Comics crown, and in the constantly evolving and breathtaking work of these two amazing creators.

And after that more bleak review, something lighter and more fun from Dan Grote...

Jughead #9
Story by Ryan Q. North
Art by Derek Charm

Let’s be clear: Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s run on Jughead was a ton of fun and used some of the sillier aspects of Archie history (Jughead’s Time Police, anyone?) to its advantage. They will be missed on this book.

But Forsythe Pendleton Jones III has been passed on to the best possible hands.

Writer Ryan Q. North (Henderson’s partner on Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) and artist Derek Charm roll fast and heavy with the comedy in Jughead’s solo series, right from the opening splash page featuring a sculpture of our hero composed of burgers, hot dogs and pizza, which he made to win an art contest.

Zdarsky’s Jughead was canonically asexual, but North has him questioning that identity after a girl takes the form of his favorite thing: a burger. Pop’s Diner has employed a mascot who stands outside and hands out coupons and menu advice to passing prospective customers, her costume changing based on the day’s special (that’s a hefty budget to be pouring into wardrobe, Pop Tate).

Jughead discovers he has feelings for this walking, talking all-beef Patty, and so he turns to his friends for advice on love, all of which is naturally terrible (Reggie: “Love is possession. It’s seeing something really cool that someone else has, and knowing if you had it, you’d be just as great as they are, and then they’d be worse, because they wouldn’t have it anymore.”).

Except for Betty’s. Betty’s advice about how to approach a woman is mandatory reading for every teen and adult male alive and takes into account things like consent and how to properly compliment someone while acknowledging that romance is complicated. Be like Betty. Don’t be like Reggie.

If we lived in an age where covers and solicitation text didn’t instantly spoil endings, it’d be spoiling things to say Jughead’s burger babe turns out to be none other than Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but c’est la vie. It will be fun to watch them interact more next issue.

And kudos to North for giving us even more comedy between the panels. Additional narration boxes accompany the bottom of half the pages in the book, rightly pointing out that Zdarsky was ripping off the reader by not providing the same, touting the importance of self-care and poking fun at Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory.

A new creative team on a book can often be a cause for concern, but at least for me, “Jughead” retains its Most Favored Comic status.