Thursday, September 3, 2015

Thursdays with Wade: Joe Kelly’s Deadpool Revisited Part 2

Today’s reading: Deadpool #2
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Ed McGuinness

Issue #2 of Kelly and McGuinness’ run on Deadpool introduces someone who will become a mainstay in Deadpool’s world: Taskmaster.

Taskmaster, real name Tony Masters, was created by David Michelinie and George Perez and first appeared in 1980’s Avengers #195. He is a master combatant, gifted with the ability to mimic the moves of anyone he watches fight. Over the years, he and DP develop what can best be described as a frenemyship, as Deadpool tortures him the same way he does his other friends, and Tasky occasionally seeks revenge for it.

Over the years, Taskmaster has become a fairly big presence in the Marvel Universe. He starred in his own miniseries in 2002 and 2010, the former of which was drawn by Udon Studios, who also drew Tasky and his ex-girlfriend, Sandi Brandenburg, during Gail Simone’s run on Deadpool/Agent X. After Civil War, he was hired by SHIELD to train heroes at Camp Hammond (and kept on after Norman Osborn started running things in the wake of Secret Invasion). He’s also appeared in other media, including as a playable character in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and as an evil substitute gym teacher on Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man.

It’d be nice to think all that started with his earliest appearance in Deadpool, but likely no one had that foresight. In fact, this is Taskmaster’s only appearance during the Kelly run. He doesn’t appear again until issue #35, by which point Christopher Priest had taken over writing duties. If anything, Priest wrote the first legitimately memorable DP-TM arc, in which the two, along with the Constrictor, join a new version of the Wizard’s Frightful Four.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Taskmaster of issue #2 is more your standard skull-faced villain with a training school in the Nevada desert. And he’s got Deadpool’s best bud, Weasel.
This ain’t no kidnapping, though. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Taskmaster is offering Weasel a job. “Ten G’s a week, a private, top-of-the-line workshop, the Playboy Channel,” which was a big deal in 1997 considering not everyone had access to free Internet porn at the time. Deadpool, naturally, gets jealous and responds the only way he can, by defeating Tasky in battle using unpredictable, chaotic movements that mostly just incorporate dance. Perhaps this is the ur-text for when Star-Lord challenged Ronan to a dance-off in Guardians. Either way, Taskmaster is humiliated, Weasel decides not to take the job and Deadpool celebrates by giving his friend a wedgie before things get too bromance-y.

In non-Taskmaster developments, issue #2 opens with Deadpool creeping outside Siryn’s bedroom at the Xavier Institute (X-Force was living at the mansion at the time), watching her sleep, a move he fully admits is stalking. Siryn’s going to keep popping up in the first trade’s worth of issues, but before long there’ll be a new woman in his life, one more in tune with his mental state.

Before any of this, though, before Panel One, even, note that the book uses a recap page to catch readers up to speed and remind you who the players are. At the time, it was one of the only if not the only Marvel book to use the convention, but soon and for a while the practice would become more widespread, with the company introducing a standard linewide format for recaps.

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, a de-powering DP is forced to turn to the man who made him for help, while Siryn tries her hardest to keep Wade from murdering him. Oh, and the Hulk shows up! So your suggested reading is Deadpool issues 3 through 5, and for extra credit, reread Deadpool: Sins of the Past, which introduces both Dr. Killebrew and Wade’s hots for Siryn.

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Requiem for a Comic Shop Guy: Remembrances of My Time at Dewey's

I've been looking at a blank screen for much of the past week, trying to think about what to write; this was originally supposed to go up Friday, but I hadn't found the angle yet. You see, this past Wednesday was my last day working regularly at Dewey's Comic City. For those of you who are people who buy comics week in and week out, you know how important a comic shop is; it's like a neighborhood pub, only with more arguing about The Hulk. It's where you go to meet and share your interests with your people. I've been shopping at Dewey's since 1998, and have worked there since 2000. That's a long time. And whole my life is entering a whole new exciting phase (including, I hope, a new exciting phase here on the blog), it's still something I'll miss and want to look back on a bit.

Right around the time i started this blog, I wrote a post about what was great about comic shops and Dewey's in particular (you can find it here). And all of that is still true to this day. Maybe even more so. Because to be frankly a bit maudlin, Dewey's is where I have made many of my closest friends. Many co-workers and former co-workers were at my wedding. They're people I will miss seeing every week. And I'd like to think that is how they, and some of our customers, will feel about me. Because a comic shop is a community. It's where you go when you really want to vent about how Cyclops was right (yes, still a sore spot for me) or about how the newest TV project based on a comic was awesome/ok/lackluster/whatever. And if done right, it's a judgement free zone, where you don't have to worry about someone being a jerk because you love this stuff.

When I started shopping at Dewey's, the store was in this little alley off of a main street. I don't even know how I found it, but when I found out there was a comic shop within walking distance from my new college, I went the minute I had some free time. It was a good shop, I could tell; a bit more space given to trades then at a lot of other shops, but it was still the late 90s, so there were a good number of back issues too. And the guy at the register, who turned out to be the owner, Dan Veltre, seemed a nice guy. Plus, there was a section I hadn't seen at any of the shops I had frequented before: a section of small press and indy comics. No longer just superheroes for Matt, oh no. It's thanks to Dewey's I encountered work from Daniel Clowes, early work from Ed Brubaker, and work from a pre-Tiny Titans Art and Franco, the adorable Patrick the Wolf Boy. And that was just in the first couple years! I don't think I'd be as well rounded a comics reader I am today without Dewey's, and for that alone, I owe Dan's more eclectic tastes.

After a couple years of working at Borders (remember Borders? I miss Borders), I got lucky to have an opening in my job schedule at the same time the store did, and I started working at Dewey's the first Wednesday in February. And I was in heaven! First grab at any of the new comics? Sign me up. That would have been halfway through my sophomore year, and after being broken in as the new comics day guy, I started working behind the counter that summer, and pretty soon I was working three days a week running the show. Between times when I was working inventory with cycle sheets (hand filling in counts of books on gridded paper; how far we've come in a handful of years) and helping customers, I started to get to know some of those regulars, and I'm happy to say many are still Dewey's customers today. Summer of 2001 involved the arduous task of moving the store out of the alley onto the more spacious and more visible digs Dewey's still resides in today, on the corner of Park Avenue in Madison. Dan always swore that we would never move again, and I'll be honest: if he broke that promise, I think I would have run. You try moving an entire comic shop in August. Not fun.

I could sit here and wax rhapsodically about all the adventures since then. The Free Comic Book Days, the sales, the creator appearances (I've gotten almost as many sketches at Dewey's appearances as I have at conventions, and from some tip top creators). I am not going to sit here and tell customer service stories. Many of those can come off as snarky, which is against this blog's purpose, and I respect the inclusivity of the comic shop. Not to mention, as Dan says, it's not like we have any higher number of oddball customers than any other business, it's just the stigma of the comic shop makes it stick out more. What I will say is I never stopped enjoying working at Dewey's, even when what was a twenty minute commute became an hour, became two hours.

But all good things, etc. etc. As I prepare for a new step in my professional career, a traditional Monday to Friday schedule has become important, and so those convenient Wednesday off are not as convenient anymore. So, I am now a man who doesn't work at a comic shop anymore. And while I'll be getting my weekly books at a shop nearer to home now, I left my reserve card in place at Dewey's, as there isn't a better shop for finding trades and indy books in New Jersey.

I have too many regulars I would love to call out here, too many former coworkers who are still friends to this day. But specifically to Dan, my boos and friends for 17 years, and to John Bush, current manager and long time friend, thanks guys. I'll be seeing you soon. And if you ever need anyone to explain the history of Hawkman, or to discuss who is the best opposite number to Batman, I'm just a phone call away.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 16

Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra
Story: David Mandel
Art: Michael Walsh and Matthew Wilson

Did you ever look at Jim Steranko’s 1960s SHIELD art and think, “Man, he’s really doing some cool, trippy stuff, but you know what this needs? Some funny observations about the male midlife crisis!”

Hank Johnson is your average Hydra-hailing schlub in a green tunic and yellow suspenders. He gets kicked in the head by Original Recipe Nick Fury on the regular, has three kids and a wife with whom he engages in typical couple’s spats such as whether to hire a nanny or whether they should leave boring parties without saying goodbye, and all he wants are some tickets to next weekend’s Nets game.

There are some great bwa-ha-ha moments in this book, which was written by an executive producer of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Watching MODOK sing “Amazing Grace” at a Hydra funeral is alone worth the price of admission. For Halloween, the Johnsons dress up as the Avengers, and Hank cosplays as Rage (Remember him? Wore a yellow luchador-ski mask thing on his face and a leather jacket with the sleeves ripped off?). And there’s a great subplot in which Hank is sexually harassed by Viper, aka Madame Hydra.

Also, just because you work for an evil organization doesn’t mean you can send your kids to school with peanut butter sandwiches. Wolfgang von Strucker Elementary is sensitive to its students’ food allergies.

Artist Michael Walsh appears to be channeling both Steranko’s psychedelic spirals and panel play and the expressive minimalism of Hawkeye’s David Aja. It’s a great mix.

The otherwise-mundane-life-of-a-henchman bit is nothing new. The first Austin Powers movie – which also takes its cues from 1960s spy flicks – included two bonus scenes on the subject, and two of The Venture Brothers’ early breakout characters were Henchmen 21 (now 1) and 24 (now dead). But Battleworld has a way of making old tropes seem fresh. Just look at Thors (police procedural) and Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde (romantic comedy/adventure).

Actually, with the exception of the Secret Wars logo on the cover and the inside-cover boilerplate Battleworld explainer, there’s no mention of God Emperor Doom, the Thors, domains or any of that SW stuff. So feel free to enjoy this book on its own merits.

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #4
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Matteo Lolli and Ruth Redmond

So what did we learn from Deadpool’s adventures in the original Secret Wars?

Well, if you believe Deadpool’s fractured, twisted memories (apologies in advance for spoilers), he helped Captain America defeat Dr. Doom during his first brush with godhood, was briefly made handsome, slept with the Wasp, made a deal with the Beyonder to resurrect the alien healer Zsaji (she who so famously broke up Colossus and a too-young-anyway Kitty Pryde) and may have played a direct role in Spider-Man’s black symbiote costume turning evil. And no one remembers any of it because the Wasp wished really hard to erase DP from her memories, forlorn both because Wade loved Zsaji more than her and because he was back to his original pizza-faced self.

Does any of this matter? Is this continuity now? Meh, who’s to say? On the one hand, Cullen Bunn’s Deadpool minis (Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Deadpool Killustrated, Deadpool Kills Deadpool) are generally non-canon romps full of violence and free from consequences. On the other, Deadpool’s flashback stories of the past few years have had consequences in the present, which is why he has a daughter now. Best to not sweat it and just enjoy the mayhem.

That said, there is one panel that sticks out a bit: When Deadpool meets the Beyonder, he realizes he might be a character in a comic book. Had this actually happened in 1984 (and Deadpool actually existed then), it predates the canonical first story about Deadpool’s fourth-wall breakthrough, during Christopher Priest’s run on the book, by more than 15 years. Chalk it up to Wade’s broken brain, maybe. Still, it’s funny how, in a story that is essentially one big retcon, this minor point sticks out.

Anyway, in case you were worried you were about to experience a Deadpool-shaped hole in your pull list (as IF), fear not, for this week marks the start of Deadpool vs. Thanos, a new mini by Tim Seeley and Elmo Bondoc. That said, if for some reason you can’t spend Wednesdays with Wade, there’s always Thursdays (see what I did there?).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/26

Batman '66 #26
Story: Jeff Parker
Art: Jesse Hamm & Kelly Fitzpatrick

OK, I admit it: I have absolutely fallen in love with Jeff Parker introducing more modern Batman villains into the universe of the classic TV show. This issue, in case you couldn't tell by the cover, introduces the '66 version of Poison Ivy. Side note: I've read in various places that Ivy was created in the comics as a character to be used on the show, but the show was cancelled before she could transition over. If this is true, and while I imagine it is, I haven't found any primary sources to confirm it, it makes an interesting full circle to have her appear in the comic. The plot is pretty much what any plot of the Batman TV show or this comic is: criminal arrives in Gotham and Batman must thwart her or him. But it's the details that sell the comic. One thing I really enjoyed was how the story ties Ivy in with a foe created for the show: Milton Berle's Louie the Lilac. Louie had all these deadly plant hybrids, so saying that he purchased them from Ivy makes absolute perfect sense. Ivy herself is more playful and lighter than her traditional comic book counterpart; this is much more the thieving criminal Ivy of the 60s and 70s than the eco-warrior Ivy that Batman: The Animated Series created. Artist Jesse Hamm gives her some really great body language, with a couple panels of her moving that makes me think he envisioned her as moving like a dancer, with big kicks. Parker wrote her with a southern accent, something that hearkens back to her original appearances in the comics (thanks to Jeff Parker for replying to my tweet about this). The middle of the issue also had a cliffhanger moment that felt perfectly in line with the best cliffhangers of the show, with Batman and Robin about to be devoured by Ivy's Jupiter Flytrap (because Jupiter is a big planet, and this is a huge flytrap, naturally), which has a great joke about Robin talking about taking up the mantle of the Bat and Batman totally telling him to back off in that funnily passive aggressive way only Batman '66 can. Even if this isn't the Bruce Wayne of my heart, it's nice to have Bruce popping up in couple places as Batman while Jim Gordon runs around in the Bat armor over in the main DCU (which is a good story, but I need my fix of more traditional Batman). If you're missing some Bruce Wayne Batman, this is good stop to make while we wait for his return elsewhere.

Hellboy in Hell #7
Story: Mike Mignola
Art: Mike Mignola & Dave Stewart

Hellboy's back! Whoo-hoo! There are some comics where massive gaps between issues kill momentum and make you frustrated, but Hellboy, in any of its myriad forms, is not one of them. Mignola keeps the premise of the series simple and direct, and so when you come back in, you're back at home, and it feels good. This issue opens with Hellboy... unconscious I guess is the right word, even though he's dead he still seems to be able to slip in and out of consciousness, where he has a vision of Alice, the girl he might have loved if he had more time, and the world tree that she says he left behind in Enland upon his death. He awakes in Hell, found by two doctors who say he has an ectoplasmic parasite, and they lead him to a third doctor, Dr. Hoffman, who they say can aid him in freeing him of the parasite. But because nothing's ever easy, Hellboy finds Dr. Hoffman on trial. Hoffman gets off, but Dr. Coppelius, who is the plaintiff, is pretty pissed about it. Dr. Hoffman is able to help Hellboy, but not cure him before Coppelius, whose rage has turned him into a giant rage monster comes after Hoffman. Hellboy in Hell is a book you experience as much as read, and you just have to let it wash over you. The plot doesn't reflect half of what's going on in Mignola's incredible art, and with the way the book is written, with flashes of other things happening, and communicating with Hellboy, a synopsis doesn't work. The puppet theatre that Mignola used back in issue 1 is back, now performing the witches from Macbeth, which is a great visual. And it wouldn't be Hellboy without a touch of bizarre humor, in this case part of the backstory of the rivalry between Hoffman and Coppelius has to do with a golem who's obsessed with fish. If that line doesn't sell you on this story, well, Hellboy probably isn't for you.

Princeless Book 4: Be Yourself #3
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Emily Martin & Brett Gruning

Hey, I don't think I write about enough Jeremy Whitley comics last week, so I'm doing another one this week!  We're into the third issue of the new volume of Princeless, the story of Princess Adrienne and her friends attempting to rescue her sisters from the towers her father imprisoned them in, and things are going about as well as usual. Adrienne and Bedelia are travelling across a swamp to find the tower of the gothiest princess in all the land, Angoisse, while her dragon, Sparky, is staying to help defend a tribe of goblins from a monster called the Grimmorax. Before the issue is done, Adrienne will arrive at her sister's tower and Sparky will defeat the Grimmorax, but what struck me in this issue was a consistency of theme; specifically the theme of the use and abuse of power. The goblin plot reveals that the Grimmorax was actually purchased by the leader of the goblins to be a threat to his people that he could defend them against, thus cementing his leadership. We also learn there's a monster farm, where nobility goes to purchase creatures like the Grimmorax (and Sparky, as it turns out), to serve as guardians. The goblin king is breaking the tacit agreement between a ruler and his people by not ruling for them, but putting his own desire to be ruler over the benefit of his people. This isn't too far off what King Ash has done to his daughters (also, is it just me, or are all goblin rulers jerks? Jareth from Labyrinth, Xergiok from Adventure Time, and now this dude. Not a line of work you want to get into, unless you're already a jerk I suppose). At the tower, we get to see Angoisse and her vampire boyfriend, Raphael. Raphael comes off as this slick, mannerly prince type, but when he realizes the huge bounty on Adrienne's head, he asks Angoisse to drug her so he can bring her to King Ash and collect. He actually uses the, "If you really love me, you'll do this," argument, which is the absolute worst, and an abuse of the power two people give each other when they form a relationship. Vampires are rarely good guys, and it's pretty clear Raphael isn't one either. Princeless does a good job of playing with the themes of fairy tales, but also reaches out to more modern issues women, especially the young women who are the target demographic for the book, might face. I'm hoping the final issue of the series let's Angoisse see exactly what kind of guy Raphael is.

We Are Robin #3
Story: Lee Bermejo
Art: Joe Corona & Trish Mulvihill and Khary Randolph & Emilio Lopez

There were rumors last week of DC Comics wanting its creators to stop "Batgirling" titles and go back to more traditional superhero comics. If this is true, it's a real shame, because I've found the two titles I've enjoyed the most coming out of Convergence are two of these less traditional series: Black Canary and We Are Robin. This week's issue of We Are Robin pushes the events of the first two into a climax, as a team of Robins try to defuse the bombs set to destroy the hall of records, while others attempt to halt the riot the people from Gotham Underground has started. We're starting to get more of a feel for various members of the Robin Squad (Robin Brigade? Robin Gang?), and while I like Riko and Shug, it's still Duke Thomas who I find myself coming back to. While appearing in Batman as well, it's here that Duke gets a spotlight. He's a perfect Robin: smart, brave, and willing to do whatever it takes to help those in need. The issue has a countdown clock ticking, as the bombs near the point they'll explode, while Team Robin (there we go! I like that one) work to defuse them while ducking subway trains that pass by the bombs. The tension is high, and Lee Bermejo ratchets it up slowly until the issue comes to its explosive conclusion. Character death is often cheap in comics now, but I feel like the moments at the end, where a Robin sacrifices himself in a vain attempt to stop the explosion, hits home, partially because of the character's youth, and partly because of the nobility of the choice. The moment where the Batman (Jim Gordon) arrives at the riot and orders the Robins to disperse along with the rioters, the moment where they seem to realize that it's not Batman whose drawn them together breaks your heart, and Joe Corona flashes between Robins to show their varied reactions. And while the revelation of who is behind The Nest wasn't shocking to me (I, like many I've talked to, has seen it coming since the series beginning), to see that character's reaction, cements so much of the emotion of this title. I'm hoping that DC gives this book the time it needs to find its readership, because I think it's one of the best books DC is releasing right now, with a diverse and interesting cast, and potential to introduce a lot of new characters to the DCU.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursdays with Wade: Joe Kelly’s Deadpool Revisited Part 1

Today’s reading: Deadpool #1, Jan. 1997
Story: Joe Kelly
Art: Ed McGuinness

Joe Kelly loves Deadpool. He says so right on the letters page of the first issue of this series, his first ongoing solo title (and a springboard to future gigs writing the X-Men, Superman and Superboy).

And like any good lover, Kelly wants Wade Wilson to change. He wants him to become a hero. But, y’know, still make jokes and kill people and stuff.

Deadpool #1 is the start of a 33-issue hero’s journey. As he goes about his daily business of helping topple regimes, harassing other mercenaries and hanging out with homeless people, he’s being watched by Zoe Culloden and Noah DuBois, representatives of the pandimensional firm of Landau, Luckman & Lake (formerly Landau, Luckman, Lake & LeQuare). Zoe first appeared in 1994’s Wolverine #79 and was also a major character in that book during the mid-1990s, accompanying Logan on a mission that should have resulted in him getting his adamantium skeleton back but instead turned him feral for a time and led him to kill Cable’s son, Tyler, as well as a number of Dark Riders (mostly the lame second-generation ones).

LL&L want Deadpool for a very important but very unclear mission. But first, they need to test him. More on that in a bit.

The book’s tone is established right away, as DP narrates a mission in the Bolivian jungles, but his prey can hear him doing so. There’s also a string of pop culture references (many now dated) in just the first scene, including bits about Marlin Perkins, Game Boy, Super Mario and a parody of lines from the Keanu Reeves movie Speed.

Ed McGuinness’ blocky, cartoonish style is perfect for this book about a master of cartoon violence. His penchant for drawing barrel-chested dudes will later get him gigs drawing the Hulk and Superman.

In the meantime, issue 1 starts a tradition of drawing what look like Street Fighter characters into Deadpool comics. One of the Bolivian soldiers looks exactly like Ryu, down to the red bandana, and Deadpool’s primary nemesis during the Kelly run, T-Ray looks like a differently-coifed variant of Akuma. Things get even more Street Fighter-y five years from this run, when Udon Studios draws the book in conjunction with writer Gail Simone. Udon has since become the primary name in Street Fighter comics.

But it’s letterer Richard Starkings who introduces one of Deadpool’s most important traits: His trademark yellow word balloons. The previous two minis, which we covered last time, had DP speaking in white balloons with yellow borders, and appearances prior to that used white balloons with red borders, but the yellow balloons are what we see today when Deadpool speaks on the page.

Also new to the Marvel Universe in this issue are the mercenaries of Hellhouse, the outfit Deadpool works for at the start of the series. Running things is Patch, a short, bald, mustachioed man who is not Wolverine’s Madripoor alter ego. Fellow mercs include T-Ray, who knows magic and hates Deadpool; C.F., a Blob-like fella who can take a beating and bounce back like a Looney Tunes character; Fenway, who speaks in baseball terminology; and, of course, Weasel, Deadpool’s best bud/punching bag/weapons and tech supplier, who will be played in next year’s movie by T.J. Miller.

Speaking of things that have carried over from the Deadpool minis, DP’s crush on X-Force’s Siryn has become official canon, with Weasel mentioning “that bonnie Irish lass” to get a rise out of Wade, who in turn socks Weasel across the jaw. Between Mark Waid and Ian Churchill’s 1994 miniseries and this issue, Wade and Theresa also teamed up in a couple issues of Jeph Loeb and Adam Pollina’s run on X-Force. If anything, said crush is one of the pre-Kelly seeds that makes Deadpool want to be as good as someone like him can be.

Siryn isn’t the only woman in Deadpool’s life, though. There’s also Blind Alfred, the vision-impaired Aunt May lookalike Wade keeps prisoner in his rundown row house in San Francisco. Why won’t be revealed for a bit, but what is revealed to us about her instantly is that while she’s a prisoner, she’s no victim. She trades barbs with Wade on the regular, hits him as needed, and her first act as an extant character is to threaten a Girl Scout with imaginary optic blasts and steal her cookies. Blind Al will be appearing in the movie as well, played by Leslie Uggams.

Then there’s Gerry, the homeless old Haight-Ashbury hippie Wade sometimes talks to. Or is he something more? (Spoiler: He is, but there’s really no indication of that at this point.)

A first issue deserves a special superhero guest star, right? So who do we get? Wolverine? The Hulk? Spidey? Nope, try again. It’s Sasquatch from Alpha Flight! Remember what I said last time about heroes being in short supply? Canada’s premier superteam was without a book at this point, but that would change in a few short months, when a second AF series would launch written by then-future Uncanny X-Men writer Steven T. Seagle and drawn by Scott Clark.

Deadpool is sent to Sasquatch’s Antarctic lab on a demolition gig trumped up by LL&L to test his abilities and see if he’ll sacrifice himself for the greater good, in the first of many years of stories in which Deadpool makes difficult choices to prove he can be a hero when he wants to be, a theme cropping up now in Cullen Bunn and Matteo Lolli’s Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars miniseries. Specifically, Wade dives into a gamma-radiation vat to keep it from melting down and giving everyone in the Southern Hemisphere cancer (a disease that’s kind of a sore spot for him). This corroborates LL&L’s belief that Deadpool can help usher in a galaxy-wide age of peace. Except when Zoe and Noah tell him that, he essentially tells them they’re full of crap and to take a hike. Don’t worry, they’ll be back.

Nostalgic ad alert: The inside back cover lets people know that Independence Day will be available to own on VHS on Nov. 22, 1996. Just in time for Christmas!

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, we’ll check out issue #2 and the beginning of Deadpool’s long, strange frenemy-ship with Taskmaster. If you’re looking for the issue in a non-digital way, check out the Deadpool Classic Vol. 2 trade, which collects issues 2 through 8, plus the Flashback Month -1 issue and the 1997 annual in which he teams up with Daredevil and steals his dog (more on that later).

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 15

This week, we're getting two one shots from Secret Wars. Dan Grote lets us in on Howard the Human, and I dig into Secret Love...

Howard the Human
Story: Skottie Young
Art: Jim Mahfood and Justin Stewart

Who’s the hairless ape now?

Whether duck or human, Howard remains trapped in a world he never made. For the purposes of Secret Wars, he’s the only human in New Quack City, a domain full of anthropomorphic animals. The Lizard runs the local bar, the Vulture is a gangster surrounded by chicken henchmen, the Black Cat looks like something out of an anime furry video, Daredevil is a mouse, the Kingpin is a gorilla, the Hand are monkeys and the police are dogs (which incidentally makes me nostalgic for that issue of Hawkeye where Clint, Wolverine and Spider-Man discuss the show “Dog Cops”).

Writer Skottie Young (Rocket Raccoon, Giant Size Little Marvels: A vs. X) gives us, in the Vulture’s own words, a “Raymond Chandler novel of the day” in which Howard has to solve the case of a dead possum while keeping his various enemies off his back, ultimately by playing them all off each other. As a one-off, the story works perfectly. Young knows what he’s going for, tells the story efficiently and it neither feels rushed nor overstays its welcome. Jim Mahfood’s art adds to the heightened surrealism of New Quack City, turning Marvel’s favorite mallard into a triangle-faced, bushy-mustached, big-haired blond P.I. (Come to think of it, he kind of looks like Wade after his face gets healed in Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars).

In the end though, more than a closed case, more than the money he owes all over town, all Howard wants is an egg. Some bacon would be nice, too. Living in a city of animals forces one to adopt a vegan diet, so when one of the Vulture’s crew lays an egg out of surprise (who doesn’t love a classic cartoon bit?), Howard loses all sense but still comes out on top.

Done-in-one storytelling sometimes feels like a lost art, and no one who complains that Secret Wars is too sprawling and continuity-dense would be wrong. But if you’re looking for an accessible, light read amid all the sturm und drang, this is a good’un.

Secret Wars: Secret Love
Creator credits listed with each story

I think I've mentioned my love for anthologies before, but in case I haven't, or haven't lately: I love anthologies, both in comic and short story form. There's something for everyone, and it's a great way to stumble across new writers/characters you've never encountered before (I'm currently reading a short story collection from Moonstone Books called Sex, Lies, and Private Eyes as my between novel cleanser, that includes a Maze Agency short by Mike W. Barr and a Silencers short by Fred Van Lente, as well as a bunch of others, some of which I've really enjoyed). So, after seeing some good buzz on this, I picked it up and found myself pleasantly surprised at the consistently high quality across the board on the stories:

Guilty Pleasure
Story & Art: Michael Fiffe

Set in the Inferno domain of Battleworld (new issue of Inferno came out this week as well, by the way, and was enjoyable. Mr. Sinister!), this story features Karen Page, who is unsure if her husband, Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil, is being faithful. Seeing Matt out fighting Typhoid Mary, the reason for one of Matt and Karen's numerous break-ups in the 616 (the code for the regular Marvel universe), the reader could easily be swayed to Karen's point of view. But as she follows Matt out into the night, we see there's more to this than meets the eye. A decent enough story, the art on this story is what really grabbed me; Michael Fiffe draws some great demons.

Fan of a Fan
Story & Art: Felipe Smith

Between Dan and I, we've written quite a bit about current Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, and her series. I am much less familiar with the current Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes. In all fairness, Ghost Rider is probably the Marvel horror hero I'm least familiar with; the character never did much for me. That didn't matter much , as Felipe Smith does a good job of establishing Robbie and his supporting cast, as well and Kamala and Bruno, her BFF, who are working at the concession stand at the big arena that I would assume the current Ghost Racers mini-series takes place. The cover of the issue features Kamala and Robbie, and I'm happy to say the cover has nothing to do with the story. It's fun, light, and very true to character.

Misty and Danny Forever
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Gurihiru

Here's the highlight of this book. I've written plenty of reviews of Jeremy Whitley's work (heck, just yesterday I wrote up something about the new issue of his Raven: The Pirate Princess), but this is the first thing I've read by him outside his creator owned work. And it's really good. Heck, I'll say it's great. I like Danny Rand and Misty Knight, but have never read either character religiously. This story, set in Manhattan on Battleworld, sees a married Danny and Misty trying to go out for a night and recapture the spark they had before they got married; they feel like something's missing. We get cameos by Misty's partner Colleen Wing, plus Danny's old pal Luke Cage and his family, Jessica Jones and baby Dani, as well as Danny and Misty's daughter, a character created for here, as far as I know. The story has a dinosaur fight and kung fu movies, but what I really love is it's a great portrait of a marriage. It's a beautiful portrait of remembering why you loved someone in the first place, and why that person, for all the ups and downs, is THE person for you. Add in the charming art of Gurihiru, best known for Marvel's all ages Power Pack minis from the early 00s and the Dark Horse continuation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and you have a perfect little short story that makes me want to track down more stories of Danny and Misty together.

Squirrel Girl Wins a Date with Thor
Story: Marguerite Bennett
Art: Kris Anka

The title on this one pretty much says it all. Set on, I believe, Arcadia, the realm of A-Force, Squirrel Girl goes out on a date with Thor Odinson. It's a night of dancing and hijnks, and right in line with Squirrel Girl's portrayal in her ongoing. Kris Anka draws some great crowd scenes, filled with lots of Marvel cameos, and gives is a chariot drawn by giant squirrels, which is the perfect cap to this story.

Happy Ant-Iversary
Story & Art: Katie Cook

Set on Earth 0.616, where the Avengers are all bugs, this story follows the Wasp as she is lead on a trail by notes and clues left by Ant-Ant (that's the only logical name for a Hank Pym ant, right?). We see all sorts of Avengers bugs, including Black Widow as a real Black Widow, which leads to a couple great gags. Light on words, cartoonist Katie Cook uses the pictures to tell most of the story, which serves beautifully. I love Cook's Gronk, and actually have a framed piece by her on my mantle, so it was nice to see her heartwarming little story round out this solid collection of Marvel love stories.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/19

Batman: Arkham Knight #7
Story: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Viktor Bogdanovic, Art Thibert, & John Rauch

Tie-in comics are a tricky business, especially when it comes to video games. Video games are an interactive medium, and often these prequels are doing their best to not spoil any of the aspects of the game. The comics that have tied into the Arkham franchise have been mixed, some have been good, many have been passable. This issue has two stories, one the epilogue to the previous Bane story, the other the beginning of a new Suicide Squad story. The second story is fun, with a Squad made up of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and Killer Croc (all of whom will be in the upcoming movie, by the by) working for the Penguin, keeping the Squad name despite escaping Amanda Waller's leash, to assassinate Bruce Wayne. But it's the first story that impressed me. After an explosion, Batman is found in a dumpster by Archie Freeman, and old man who was scrounging for anything he can to pay off the people who are running a protection racket in his building. Batman, of course, helps him and scares off the thugs. What I liked about the story is how Batman interacts with Archie. Batman can often be portrayed as gruff and not exactly a people person. But Pete Tomasi, who beautifully built the relationship between Batman and Damian in his run on Batman and Robin, writes an empathetic Batman, who listens to Archie talk about his late wife Alice, about Archie's time as an usher at the Monarch Theater (the theater from which Bruce's family was leaving on that fateful night). There's a Batman who wants to connect, who wants to hear more about Gotham before its decline, and who wants to hear more about this man. It's a sweet story, one that reminds us that Batman is about helping people, not just beating on criminals. That's a Batman I like.

Giant Days #6
Story: John Allison
Art: Lissa Treiman & Whitney Cogar

Giant Days is the story of three roommates, Susan, Esther, and Daisy, away at college for the first time, their friendship, and the madcap adventures they get into. It's a fun series, with great characters and whimsical plots, which seems to be what the Boom Box! imprint, which also publishes Matt Signal favorite Lumberjanes, specializes in (It also specializes in suckering me into buying limited series that get expanded into ongoings or maxi-series, but since they're great comics, I try not to grumble too much). This issue takes place over the Christmas holiday, and sees Esther and Daisy called by a desperate Susan to come to her hometown and help her as she's gotten into trouble. Not answering her phone, Esther and Diasy grow more worried about Susan, and begin a wild search, from going through clutches of smokers, a joined record/comics store staffed by twins, one a record store hipster, one a comic book guy just to the good side of the Simpsons line. Discovering that Susan ran afoul of Karen Shaw, a member of the town's rough Shaw clan, Esther and Daisy track down McGraw, a school friend with a complicated path with Susan, and they head to the nightclub the Shaw's own to rescue Susan. The story ends with madness on the dance floor, lock picks, and a confrontation on the roof between Susan and Karen Shaw. This is a great issue if you haven't read Giant Days before, as it spotlights the main characters' personalities, as they're thrown into this adventure. Lissa Treiman's art is wonderful, another artist who falls into a category of artists I love, ones who draw really broad and expressive faces, ones that can tell a story almost without the words. This issue marks the halfway point in the twelve issue series, and so it's a great time to dive in and enjoy.

Princeless- Raven: The Pirate Princess #2
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Rosy Higgins & Ted Brandt

The second issue of the spin-off from the amazing all-ages fairy tale re-imagining Princeless starring Raven the Pirate Princess, hits with even more force than the first issue, which is saying something, as I thought the first issue was great. This issue sees Raven trying to gather herself a crew so she can go and find her traitorous brothers and give them what's coming to them. But before that can happen, we get some more time with character who I feel are going to be important to the series: Dancer/pickpocket/half-elf Sunshine Alexander, Cookie, the pirate and cook who knew Raven as a young girl, and Jayla, Cookie's bookish daughter. Raven was usually scheming, trying to find a way to get her way, when she was in the main Princeless title, so this is one of the few times we've seen her with her guard down. This little domestic scene, as Cookie prepares breakfast is pleasant, and as Cookie gives Raven the advice she needs to gather a pirate crew, we segue to the bar Cookie now owns, as pirates line up to join the crew. Unfortunately, the male pirates are... I'm not sure of the word for it. Basically, everything they say could come out of the worst depths of non-swear laden internet forums, full of misogyny and arrogance, up to the point where one actually says, "not all men..." It's hilarious and a little depressing at the same time. Things look lost until Katherine "Katie" Kling shows up, looking to join Raven. Katie immediately is impressive, tall and strong, but also talking of honor and justice; she has a real Brienne of Tarth vibe going. And after Katie's suggestion of an all female crew appeals to Raven, and they get their first recruit in Sunshine, there is the somewhat expected brawl as the male pirates don't take it well. The fight ends with a little help from Jayla (who will be joining the crew next issue if I'm not at all off base), and so the course is set (pun intended). Raven: the Pirate Princess is just as good as its originating title, filled with the same joy, action, wit, and smarts as Princeless, and it a great addition to the reading list of anyone who's looking for a new take on some old tales.

And now some quick reviews I wasn't able to flesh out in my conference shortened weekend, and Dan Grote's review of the second issue of the relaunched Archie...

Black Canary #3- Bravo Brenden Fletcher. I actually like and am curious to see what happens to Kurt Lance, a character who was a walking plot device in every earlier appearance. Plus, Annie Wu continues to absolutely blow me away with every page. Black Canary is easily my favorite book launched in the post-Convergence DCU.

Book of Death #2- Valiant's event comic continues, with a great fight scene that makes me want to read Ninjak's ongoing, since he is clearly the Batman of the Valiant Universe, and a flashforward that shows you exactly why Gilad the Eternal Warrior is the best.

Secret Six #5- Answers abound in this issue, as we learn why the Six were gathered, what's up with Ralph and Sue Dibny, plus we see some more of Strix and her pet lawn gnome. I'm happy to see that Gail Simone isn't teasing this mystery out too long, and that there's a chance of a happy ending for my favorite comic couple ever.

Star Wars #8- One of the things I'v enjoyed about the new Star Wars continuity is watching old things pop up for the first time. This issue reintroduces one of my favorite EU settings, Nar Shaddaa, the Smuggler's Moon. For those of you only familiar with Star Wars movies, picture of Mos Eisley, the wretched hive of scum and villainy, basically covered an entire moon. We see Luke at his most naive, and Han dealing with the fallout of his wife (or is she), Sana, meeting an increasingly irate Princess Leia. It's a pretty fun book.

Archie #2
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Fiona Staples

Fun fact: Archie Andrews is a world-class klutz who often gets by solely through the herculean efforts of his friends, in the kind of good fortune you can only have when you’re the star of your own comic book.

In the second issue of the adventures of Archie 2.0, Riverdale’s mainest character tries to get a construction job so he can afford to fix up his old beater of a car, since his previous mechanic was his ex-girlfriend.

Archie gets the job and immediately wrecks the work site, despite the best efforts of ancillary characters Dilton, Kevin, et al. He then returns later in the evening to fix the damage, only to completely tear down the frame of soon-to-be-stately Lodge Manor.

The story serves to reintroduce two important characters to the Archieverse: Veronica Lodge and her father, the new richest man in town (social standing is a big part of Archie. Veronica has it, Reggie wants it, Jughead used to have it, and Archie does not).

Fiona Staples draws Veronica exactly how you’d expect her to: as a raven-haired knockout in heels. She doesn’t get any dialogue, just a coquettish giggle, but Archie falls in love at first sight.

But let’s shift focus to the first girl in Archie’s life: Betty Cooper. It’s B’s birthday, and her friends are trying to get her out of her post-Archie funk, and push her into embracing her budding womanhood. This leads to a wonderful montage of Betty awkwardly applying hair extensions, false eyelashes, makeup, heels, teeth-whitening strips and press-on nails, then hating the face she sees in the mirror. Mark Waid’s Betty would rather be playing video games and fixing cars, specifically Archie’s car, which she does – secretly, and in collusion with Archie’s dad – before she finally feels feminine enough to make her grand party entrance. Watch what she wishes for when she blows out the candles.

For historical evidence of Archie’s butterfingers and dumb luck, consult the 1942 backup strip at the end of this book, completely with a handy glossary of dated terms.

In other news, I’m bummed to hear that Fiona Staples is leaving Archie with this issue. Her pencils have been 50 percent of the reason to read the book. That said, Annie Wu (Hawkeye, Black Canary) will be filling in on issue 4, which is about as fine a substitute as you can find.