Friday, July 3, 2015

Recommended Reading for 7/3: The Order of the Forge

There are comics that are great, comics that will be remembered and discussed by scholars for years. And there are comics that will warm your heart and comfort you when you need it. And then there are comics that are fun and completely batshit insane. This week's recommended reading is one of the latter. The Order of the Forge is a story of a young George Washington fighting viking zombies to protect the colonies for crown of England. And if that sounds crazy, man the actual comic is even crazier.

Conceived by produced Donn D. Berdahl, the mini-series is written by Victor Gischler, with art by Tazio Bettin. My first experience with Giscler was his superhero work, which was OK, but then I read a fantasy short story he wrote for an anthology of non-illustrated short fiction, and it struck a chord. Since then, I've read a bunch of his horror comics, especially liking Kiss Me, Satan, about a demon who is trying to do right in the world, and his current run on Angel & Faith and have found that work top notch. Factor in my love of the pre-Revolution/ Revolutionary War era of American history, and I was sold at the outset on this book, and it lived up to my wildest expectations.

The series opens with young George Washington having a fight with his father. In anger, he performs one of the acts that made him famous, which is chop down the cherry tree his father had planted. But he loses control of the ax, and it flies off and lands in a Native American totem pole. When he pulls it out, he's blasted with mystical energy. And he runs off, fleeing Virginia. Flash to six months later, where he is working as a servant at a mansion with a young Paul Revere, and they have befriended Ben Franklin. When Kate, the niece of Lord Hammond, the owner of the house, arrives, she stumbles upon her uncle's plan to find an artifact and use it to overthrow the king in the colonies. She tells George, and he and his friends must stop Hammond before it's too late. And thanks to Ben Franklin's lightning experiments combining with the magic from George's ax, they might just each have the powers to do it.

Sounds nuts, right? And it totally is. But the comic embraces this over the top premise and runs with it. It does a good job of fleshing out the characters as well. George is haunted by the curse that came with his new powers. Sure, he now has a magical ax that he can wield with amazing power. But he also literally can not tell a lie, so he comes off sort of brusk and a jerk. Paul Revere is the lighthearted member of the group, who loves nothing more than riding Guillotine, one of Lord Hammond's horses, and the magic bonds the two of them together, allowing Guillotine to be sheathed in flame and run like no normal horse. Ben Franklin is the drinking, whoring, party animal he was according to many biographers, and gets his intellect heightened so he begins building weapons like nothing seen in the 1750s. And Kate Hammond is not a shrinking violet lady of the 18th century. She's tough, smart, and gets super acrobatics and fighting skills as her magical gift. Also, as an interesting note, she is half Indian (India Indian, not native American), making her stand out distinctly from the remainder of the very white cast, and adding something to her backstory, as Lord Hammond scorns his brother for marrying a non-English woman, and producing an heir who is not white. They form a great center for the plot to revolve around.

Lord Hammond isn't a particularly three dimensional villain, but for a comic as broad as this, that's fine. I can actually hear a Peter Cushing or Alan Rickman performing his lines, really adding some classic Hammer horror  and British gravitas to his fiendish plan. He is aided by his right hand man, who has two wolves that serve as his pets, because every arch-villain needs a sidekick who is a deadly threat. That aide is named Drumknott, which is a nod to the same named secretary of Lord Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician of the city of Ankh-Morpork from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. It's not the only Discworld reference in Gischler's recent work, and so as a fellow Discworld devotee, I salute you, sir.

The comic is actually a perfect three act adventure. Issue one is the set-up where you meet the characters and understand the stakes. Issue two is the chase, as George and his friends must use the map Kate stole to find what Lord Hammond is looking for before he gets to it. And issue three is the climax, where Washington must face Hammond, where the find a buried ship called The Forge guarded by Viking zombies, and where they find the weapon Hammond seeks. In a purely critical sense, that structure is perfect, and it makes each issue exciting in its own right.

Oh, and a note of language. There is no attempt to make the language in the series sound "old timey" for want of a better word. Everything is written in modern vernacular, up to and including the sears. And there are a lot of swears. These are guys in there 20s fighting evil English lord, wolves, and zombies. Of course they're gonna cuss.

The Order of the Forge isn't going to change your life and the way you look at comics. But it's a fun, self contained story (that I can only hope leads to more stories of these characters, as it's left open ended without a cliffhanger), one you can read and walk away with a smile on your face, and on the eve of Independence Day, I thought nothing would be better to write about than out first President as a mystical hero. And I was right.

The final issue of The Order of the Forge was released two weeks ago, so all three issues should be available at your local comic shop, or easily ordered by them. A trade will be released on November, in time for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld HALFTIME REPORT

Today marks the release of issue 4 of Secret Wars, which means we’re halfway through Marvel’s multiverse-reshaping epic. Seems like a good time to take stock of what’s come so far. And so far, most of what Matt and I have read has been thoroughly enjoyable. With that in mind, here’s a power-ranking of the Secret Wars titles to date.

X-Men ’92 (Dan): An amazingly faithful extension of the old Saturday morning cartoon show, and the best of the books by my accounting, though admittedly it’s among the least involved in the larger Secret Wars story. I would love love LOVE if this series carried on into All-New, All-Different Marvel.

Thors (Dan): This book about Battleworld’s hammer-wielding enforcers of the will of Doom is a spot-on police procedural, right down to the angry captain, the forensics nerd and the drunk racist cop. Who killed all those Jane Fosters? I can’t wait to find out.

Secret Wars (Dan): The first issue of the main book felt more like what should have been the last issue of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run, but it redeemed itself quite nicely with issues 2 and 3, exploring and explaining the mysteries of Battleworld. One of my favorite Secret Wars moments comes in issue 3, when 616 Reed Richards learns the universe was saved by Dr. Doom, who is Battleworld’s god. Imagine what happens when he finds out what became of the rest of his family.

Future Imperfect (Matt): It's not like most of these regions of Battleworld are cheery, but Dystopia, home of the Maestro, might be the darkest. In a world populated by Peter David characters, always a good sign, we see a cunning evil Hulk getting ready to wipe out the resistance to his reign, but even evil Hulks can't smash everything easily, especially when the ever-lovin' blue eyed Thing standing against him. Peter David at his best.

Giant Size Little Marvels: A Vs. X (Matt): I love all ages comics. I love Skottie Young's art. So a story where kids versions of the X-Men and Avengers duke it out in cute and wacky hi jinks is a perfect fit. It's charming, funny, and yet still finds a way to reference the overall Secret Wars more than some of the more traditional tie-ins.

MODOK: Assassin (Dan): What’s yellow and pink and red all over? This fun, violent series from Chris Yost and Amilcar Pinna featuring America’s favorite big-headed Metal Organism Designed Only for Killing and his new crush, Angela.

A-Force (Dan): #INeedFeminism because watching She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Dazzler and a bunch of Marvel’s other greatest female heroes – in their best outfits, no less – punching megalodons is awesome. Glad to hear G. Willow Wilson and Jorge Molina will be continuing this series into the fall.

Secret Wars 2099 (Matt): Peter David once again goes back to his previous work, only this time with a twist. Sure, Spider-Man 2099 is here, but he doesn't have powers and is an evil corporate douchebag in this realm. What he does get to do is introduce a whole new team of Avengers 2099, all of whom are tools of evil corporation Alchemax. And the Defenders 2099, who it looks like are about to throw down with the Avengers. Oh, and Hercules is there, who I miss after the end of his Van Lente/Pak series. 

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (Dan): Dan Slott continues his run on Spider-Man by giving longtime readers what they’ve long been denied – the reunion of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson – but then having Peter quit being Spider-Man after his family is threatened. Watching Peter give zero f---s about a supervillain defeating the Avengers and taking over New York City was among the great end-of-first-issue shockers of the early Secret Wars issues.

Infinity Gauntlet (Matt): The original Infinity Gauntlet was a broad, huge, cosmic epic. This new series is instead an intimate story about a family lost in a Battleworld kingdom overrun by Annihilation Wave bugs. It's a well characterized story about survival, with hints so far of greater cosmic implications. And Thanos, which is always a plus.

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars (Dan): Marvel rewrites history by letting Wade Wilson come out and play during the original 1984 Secret Wars. Now if I only I could find his Mattel action figure mint-in-packaging with the lenticular shield.

Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos (Dan): Deadpool may be dead, but his demon-succubus wife, Shiklah, is alive and well and doing her darnedest to thwart armored-poseur Dracula and his legion of monsters, including a diabetic symbiote-covered minotaur.

Inferno (Dan): You want an old-school X-Men story, you got an old-school X-Men story! Colossus, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Illyana, Madelyn Pryor, Boom-Boom: The gang’s all here.

Runaways (Matt): When Dr. Doom likes an idea he likes, he takes it, so Runaways is set at the Von Doom School for gifted youngsters, and features a ragtag group of teen characters from throughout Marvel histotu, including Molly Hayes of the original Runaways Team, a bunch of mutants like Jubilee and Pixie, and Amadeus Cho as The Breakfast Club of Battleworld. 

Where Monsters Dwell (Matt): A solid Garth Ennis joint with dinosaurs, World War I pilots, and plenty of moral ambiguity. However, as we're ranking Secret Wars tie-ins, and this book has gone half its run without mentioning anything to do with the crossover, I can't rank it higher.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 8

X-Men ’92 #1
Story: Chris Sims and Chad Bowers
Art: Scott Koblish and Matt Milla

I’ve liked a lot of the titles connected to Secret Wars so far: the main book, Thors, MODOK: Assassin, Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars, to name a few.

I LOVE this series.

Granted, as someone who came of age in the 1990s, I’m the target market for this book, which is based on the Fox Saturday morning cartoon that ran from 1992-97.

Everything about X-Men ’92 captures the show’s essence perfectly: The lack of color gradients, Cyclops’ abject refusal to have fun, Wolverine’s action-hero one-liners, Gambit’s creepy Cajun come-ons, Rogue’s Southern charm, Storm’s need to enter into histrionics every time she uses her powers, Beast’s insistence on quoting Shakespeare, the way telepaths use their powers and then scream and pass out, Jubilee’s front-and-center status, the use of lesser X-characters as background decoration, the never-evolving Sentinels, the meddling of Basic Standards and Practices, etc. There’s also laser tag.

It helps that the book is written by a guy who spent months cataloging the show’s every eccentricity for an online audience. It helps even more that the book is drawn by an artist known for illustrating flashback issues of Deadpool in Marvel’s past house styles.

Fitting, given all that, that the book’s antagonist is perhaps the most decidedly un-’90s X-villain: Cassandra Nova, created by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely at the dawn of the following decade. Nova’s cartoon-verse origin is not the same as Morrison’s, but equally as convoluted: She’s a clone of Charles Xavier created by Apocalypse that ends up serving as a vessel for the Shadow King. And she wants to force peace through mind-control. “The era of the extreme is over,” she says, in dialogue that could not be veiled more thinly. “The world that’s coming deserves a better class of mutant, one that isn’t burdened by all those pouches filled with aggression and inner turmoil.”

How does all this tie in to Secret Wars? Westchester is its own domain of Battleworld, ruled by Baron Kelly, aka Sen. Robert Kelly (aaka President Kelly in the cartoon), who wears a cloak over his suit and flies around on a chariot pulled by Warwolves from the early issues of Excalibur. That’s about it, really.

Easter egg: Look for cameos by Rachel Edidin and Miles Stokes, the hosts of the excellent and authoritative Rachel & Miles X-plain the X-Men podcast. Sims is a friend of and past guest on the show, and I could hear his pleased-with-himself fanboy giggle in my head as I read this book.

In fact, for more ’90s X-Men fun, check out the second most recent episode of X-plain the X-Men, in which the hosts play a tabletop game based on the cartoon, voices and all.

 MODOK: Assassin #2
Story: Christopher Yost
Art: Amilcar Pinna, Terry Pallott, Ed Tadeo and Rachelle Rosenberg

MODOK is the best at what he does, until he finds a woman who can give his swelled head a [redacted for poor joke quality].

The second issue of the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing’s adventures in Killville is a protracted misunderstanding/fight scene, as the Angela-Thor that fell into his domain at the end of the first issue comes to and the first thing she sees is one of Jack Kirby’s most famous grotesqueries.

And that grotesquery is in love. So much so that he can barely focus to counter Angela’s thrusts and parries with his arsenal of guns, bombs and chainsaws. It’s adorable really, especially when the creative team plays up the fact that his little T-Rex hands can’t reach his nose to wipe the blood off it or help him get up under his own power, like a homicidal turtle stuck on its back.

Meantime, the three leaders of the Assassins Guild – Wilson Fisk, Viper and the Shroud – are investigating Bullseye’s murder, and all the evidence points to ol’ bighead.

As the book closes, there are new mysteries to be solved. What has made Angela-Thor unworthy of wielding her hammer? And how will she and MODOK fare against the murderer’s row of, well, murderers the Assassins Guild is about to send their way? Stay tuned.

Infinity Gauntlet #2
Story: Dustin Weaver & Gerry Duggan
Art: Dustin Weaver

Even on a world overrun by giant bugs, family is important. After last issue's harrowing escape from Annihilation bugs, series narrator Anwen has been reunited with her mother, Eve, and they have found the rest of their family. Not having time to mourn her grandfather, who gave his life to save her, Anwen is immediately given a Nova uniform and pressed into service by her mother, along with the rest of her family. I like that, despite being overjoyed that they're together again, Menzin, Anwen's dad, doesn't immediately think this is a good idea, giving his daughters suits of alien armor and preparing to fight the bugs. Of course, with how dangerous the world is, it winds up having to be that way, and Fayne, Anwen's little sister, and their dog Zigzag, also get Nova uniforms and are ready as the bugs attack. Things seem to be going badly until Eve finds out her daughter has found the Mind Stone (something I still have a hard time typing. They're the Infinity Gems to me and always will be), which she uses to wipe out the bugs that are attacking. It's clear that the war has had an impact on Eve, and that the stones are what she came back to Earth for. She's glad to have the one stone, but isn't as happy to find the Nova base has been destroyed and the Stone they already had is gone from the Nova Gauntlet. Here's one of those things that has become sort of canon in recent years and I want to address. There's a good explanation as to why a Nova Gauntlet needed to be created to harness the gems for a normal mortal, but I find it odd that many recent writers make the Infinity Gauntlet an artifact of its own, when it was originally just the glove Thanos was wearing as he gathered the gems. Back to the actual issue, with the main story of the family over for the issue, we get to see the other players in this cosmic drama. We see who stole the Stone, and it's not Thanos. It's Star-Lord and Gamora, both of whom are considerably more mercenary than we are used to seeing them. And after a jump into the future where we see Thanos fighting Anwen, we return to the present with the future Thanos to see him meet his present self, and Thanos learns the last person you should trust is Thanos, even if that's you. Infinity Gauntlet continues to be a well rendered character piece, sort of a cosmic Walking Dead, with gorgeous art from Dustin Weaver. This issue starts moving the plot out of just a family drama into something more cosmic, and I hope that the character driven aspect doesn't get lost as the cosmic amps up.

Where Monsters Dwell #2
Story: Garth Ennis
Art: Russel Braun

You know that story where two very different people come together in hardship and find some common ground to succeed? The modern version of which comes from the novel/movie The African Queen and is a plot device done a million times in mainstream comics? Yeah, this doesn't seem to be shaping up to be that. Stuck together in a land that time forgot, Where Monsters Dwell protagonists airman Karl Kaufmann (The Phantom Eagle) and lady who I'm pretty sure is a spy or secret agent of some kind Clementine Franklin-Cox hate each other. HATE. And for good reason. Kaufmann is a sleaze. Not a Han Solo charming rogue, but an honest to God crappy person. He flat out says he came back from war expecting people to worship him, but women who didn't drop to their knees to do that him make sick. And when he propositions Clementine and she spurns him, he says that if things got complicated, she could always get an abortion. Garth Ennis tends to write characters in moral shades of grey to pitch black, with little to no white, and boy howdy if he wants us to hope the dinosaurs eat Kaufmann, he's succeeding. I can't say Ennis is failing at characterization, because we see Kaufmann as exactly what he is. I do want to know more Clementine, as I'm still not exactly sure what her game is. Last issue, I thought she planned to go to this dinosaur land, but it's now clear she didn't, so I'm not sure what her deal is. I do have to say, though, that Russel Braun is the star of this show. Between his drawings of natives, of the jungles, of crocodiles, and of dinosaurs (particularly a gorgeous T-Rex devouring said natives), you are completely drawn into this world. And as with the previous issue, there is no indication whatsoever that this takes place on Battleworld or has anything to do with Secret Wars, so if you're feeling a little Battleworld fatigue, this might be a place to stop by and rest before re-entering a world of Doom.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/24

The Fade Out #7
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips

As readers get deeper into Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's filmland noir, The Fade Out, they see that every player in the series is haunted by something. Most of the issue is actually taken up by the romantic and sexual romp of the series protagonist, screenwriter Charlie Parrish, and Maya Silver, the starlet who replaced the murdered Valeria Sommers. But even as the two of them dance and have sex at a beach house away from all the pressures of Hollywood, that world doesn't release them. A particular physical trait of Maya's causes Charlie to ask a question that once again brings to mind Val and the suspicions he has about the hedonism of the head of the studio he's working for and exactly how much that might play into Val's murder. And when they're called back to the city early, Charlie gets himself immediately sloshed and into a fist fight with another writer who attacks him for naming names and getting his old partner, Gil, blacklisted. Charlie is haunted by Val's death and his own writer's block, by the corruption of the world around him. And when he goes to clean up after getting beaten down, he finally has a conversation with the man he remembers seeing the night of Val's death, who identifies himself as Drake Miller from the studio, who clearly knows that Charlie is a front for Gil's writing. Charlie knows the threat for what it is, that being outed as a front is suicide in Hollywood at this time, and still does nothing. This paralysis of action is Charlie's defining character trait and flaw, and clearly is connected with his wartime experiences in Germany. The issue also has us drop in on PR girl Dottie and Tyler Graves, the closeted gay James Dean analogue, forwarding their plots, but it's really Charlie and Maya's issue. We do get a little more about Maya and exactly what she went through to get her job on this movie. Brubaker doesn't forward the plot of the series as much as the character, although the final scene with Miller and the note he slips to Charlie are clearly important, something he's done with various issues of his earlier series as well. Phillips balances both the lovely beach scenes with the deeper darks of the bedroom scenes, which are not graphic but sexual. The Fade Out, more than any of Brubaker and Phillips previous series, is a slow burn, piecing out its information slowly while bathing us in atmosphere. I'm wondering if there were clues in this issue that will come back around to be more important later. Oh, and if you've been enjoying Devin Feraci's essays on Hollywood of days gone by that accompany each issue, you should check out You Must Remember This, an excellent podcast about the history of Hollywood in the 20th century.

Gotham By Midnight #6
Story: Ray Fawkes
Art: Juan Ferreyra

After the two month Convergence hiatus, Gotham By Midnight returns with its strongest issue to date, thanks in no small part to new series artist Juan Ferreyra. Ben Templesmith did a good job on the first arc, but I'm a huge fan of Ferreyra's from his work on Colder and Kiss Me, Satan and his talent for drawing the supernatural and the disquieting is well suited to Gotham City in general, and the macabre cases of the Midnight Shift in particular. The ghost haunting Powers Corp R&D is grotesque and shiver-inducing, exactly what I'd expect out of Ferreyra. The issue's story picks up shirtly after the conclusion of the previous arc, with the Midnight Shift attending the funeral of Sister Justine, who fell to help stop the Spectre from wiping out Gotham, and still under investigation by Sgt. Rook of Internal Affairs. After a tense argument about the powers of both Jim Corrigan as The Spectre and his partner, Lisa, Drake, who is part banshee, the two are sent to investigate the aforementioned haunting at Powers Corp. The story there is a tale we've heard before, of corporate greed run rampant, caring more for the bottom line than the human lives of those who work for it, but Fawkes infuses it with character, and makes you really want to slap around the unctuous Mark Jenner, whose corporate think and ultimatums led to the death of George Wooley, who haunts Jenner and Powers to get his justice, something the Spectre can understand. Meanwhile, Lt. Weaver spends time with Dr. Tarr, the Midnight Shift's resident scientist, who has taken Sister Justine's death the hardest, and who continues to investigate the black flowers from Slaughter Swamp, which take on an eerie turn. If that wasn't enough, the final page reintroduces one of my favorite DC characters, one who hasn't been seen since the universe reshuffling that was Flahspoint: Kate Spencer! Yes, the last character to bear the name Manhunter, the tough as nails superhero/attorney is back. Methinks this might mean a recommended reading for Manhunter is coming soon from this very blog, but for now I just want to thanks Ray Fawkes for bringing Kate back, and adding her to the cast of this comic.

The Shadow #100
Story & Art: Various listed below

I don't know exactly what math was used to determine that Dynamite was at issue one hundred of the comic featuring pulpdom's original masked vigilante, but however they got to the number, the celebrated it with an impressive prestige format anthology collecting six stories of The Shadow.

Story 1: "The Laughing Corpse," written and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla, is the story of the Shadow following leads as prominent scientists are dying with their bodies contorted and  with grotesque smiles on their faces. No, it's not a crossover with another famous masked avenger (that's for later), but a story of revenge with Francavilla's usual style and grace, with gorgeous layouts an tons of atmosphere.

Story 2: Writer Victor Gischler and artist Stephen B. Scott's story deals with members of the card club frequented by the Shadow's alter ego of Lamont Cranston being robbed and killed. It's the most detective oriented story in the collection, although the reader is on on what's going on from the beginning.

Story 3: "Black and White and Red All Over" by writer/artist Howard Chaykin, who has quite a history with the Shadow, deals with The Shadow dealing with an old friend of his from World War I who is now a published of this new fad, comic books. We get a tale right out of the early days of comics, with gangsters and unscrupulous businessmen. And the final page shows an incensed Margo Lane, the Shadow's female companion, irked that the same crooks who bought out Shadow's old friend are no publishing a Shadow comic, something the Shadow takes in stride. Less so in...

Story 4: Michael Uslan, best known for being the producer of the Burton Batman films but who has written some comics featuring both the caped crusader and The Shadow in the past, and artist Giovanni Timpano, tell a story with so much 30s charm and in jokes that I couldn't help but smile. After The Shadow saves a couple and their young son from being mugged (if it wasn't clear who they are to readers at the outset, there's a bit with pearls that seal the deal), the Shadow slips off to tell off the guy who's voicing a radio version of his, something the Shadow does not approve of. If you know anything about the classic Shadow radio show, you know who this is, and Timpano captures the actor's look perfectly, and the final page mentions of Hearst and Rosebud  again make it clear what famous actor the Shadow has set on a course to make his masterpiece

Story 5: Left out of the credits at the beginning of the comic, the back cover told me this story, of a criminal watching as the Shadow takes apart the underworld, comes from Chris Roberson and artist Ivan Rodriguez. This story feels like it follows in the footsteps of some of the best Will Eisner Spirit stories, where the Spirit, or in this case The Shadow, serves as more a plot device, letting us get into the head of a denizen of the city, in this case a crook with a sense of honor who the Shadow seeks to add to his collection of agents.

Story 6: The collection is rounded out by " The Curse of Blackbeard's Skull" a prose story with accompanying illustrations by Matt Wagner. The format, similar to that of the pulps where the Shadow comes from, makes it an excellent choice to end the anthology, and Wagner knows the Shadow. A story of rich men dying after possessing the cursed skull turns into a story of greed and avarice.

If you've never read a story of The Shadow before, or only know him vaguely, this is a great place to first read him, as it will give you a good feel for the character and his world.

We Are Robin #1
Story: Lee Bermejo
Art: Jorge Corona & Rob Haynes

The final major issue one of this month from DC is We Are Robin, where the idea of Robin, of a teenager doing something to protect Gotham from the crime that infests it, has reached a point where it has become a movement. But we only get hints of that this issue. The main focus of this issue is Duke Thomas, who will be the series point of view character. For those of you who haven't read Duke's earlier appearances, he has popped up a couple times in Scott Snyder's run on Batman, most recently in "Endgame," where the Joker used Duke and his parents as bait for Batman. This issue opens with Duke in foster care, as his parents are among the missing after the Joker's rampage. His case worker is long time Batman supporting cast member Leslie Thompkins, who has popped up intermittently and inconsistently since the reboot, and writer Lee Bermejo captures her in a way that makes me hope she is a regular supporting cast member in the book. As for Duke, one issue in and I love him. He's likable, clever, with a bit of an attitude, but he's not written to be a stereotypical street kid in any way. He's already well rounded by Bermejo just by drawing on his few appearances in Batman and what Bermejo does in this one issue. Looking for his missing parents, Duke goes into Gotham Underground and comes across a plan to blow up Gotham City proper. And when he's in trouble, that's when the Robins show up. Someone has been directing them to Duke, and we don't exactly know who that is or what their agenda is, but the final pages indicate someone with some resources is backing up the Robins.Jorge Corona, drawing off breakdowns by Rob Haynes, provides art removed from the DC house style, but with a lot of energy, appropriate for a book that is going to be populated by young, acrobatic characters. With mainstream superhero comics' recent push for greater diversity, a book featuring a young African-American lead and a group that looks to cross every possible societal group is a smart choice for the less than diverse recent DC Universe, but Duke is presented as a character first here, and that's the key to a solid character and title, something this first issue of We Are Robin sets up well.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Random Link Friday

I had a couple plans for this week's recommended reading, but I haven't had time to do my standard research, and I think the timing isn't right now, so instead I'm just tossing out a few links that I think you might all might enjoy.

- I think I've brought it up before here as well as on Facebook, but in case I haven't, I've also been writing reviews for Graphic Novel Reporter. I've gotten three up so far, Bone Vol.1: Tribute Edition, Twisted Dark Vol.1, and Exquisite Corpse. Check them out, and keep your eye out, because there will be two more of my reviews popping up in a short while, Louise Brooks: Detective and The League of Regrettable Superheroes. And once you've read my reviews, poke around on the site and read some others. These are smart, great people writing.

- I'm a big fan of Adventure Time, the fantasy/sci-fi/coming-of-age/everything-including the kitchen sink animated series from Cartoon Network. And I'm a big fan of podcasts. Last week, a new podcast dedicated to Adventure Time started on the Infinite Guest network, called Conversation Parade. Hosted by John Moe, comedian and host of the comedy/music variety show Wits (look it up, seriously. Neil Gaiman has been a repeat guest, and they did a phenomenal crossover with The Thrilling Adventure Hour), and Open Mike Eagle, rapper and Wits regular guest, there are only two episodes up, so you don't have a lot of catching up to do. The first episode has the hosts discussing the fraternal relationship between Finn and Jake, and an interview with the voice of Jake, John DiMaggio (who has also voiced Bender on Futurama, The Joker in Batman: Under the Red Hood, and more other parts than I can name readily). The second discusses the Enchiridion and the Ice King's crown as well as the Earl of Lemongrab, and has an interview with co-executive producer Adam Muto. It's a wonderful, thoughtful look at what might be the deepest and most insane cartoon on television right now.

- Atomic Robo is back! Well, sort of. New material is now popping up on It's just, none of it features Robo yet. We're building towards Robo's big return after the events of his time travel adventure in Knights of the Golden Circle. Here's the link to the beginning of the new material, so check it out and keep reading for regular doses of new Robo, which is a highlight for any day.

- I've been playing a lot of RPGs with my bi-weekly gaming group lately. I'm currently running a Dresden Files RPG campaign that I can't say too much about, since some of my players read this and I don't want to spoil my Machiavellian plans by giving away too much. And the Kickstarter for an RPG based on the excellent weird Western comic The Sixth Gun closed yesterday, and I'm pretty sure I'll be playing that one once my copies arrive. I love RPGs, as they allow you to immerse yourself in a character and world in an interactive manner. I've run games and played as well, and it's all just a ton of fun.

- And don't forget, The Matt Signal's own Dan Grote is currently writing The Press of Atlantic City's pop culture blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback. Always worth a check Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Does a Mall Babe Eat Chili Fries? 10 Best Episodes/Stories of the 1990s X-Men Cartoon

This week marks the print debut of X-Men ’92, a digital-first Secret Wars series by writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers and artist Scott Koblish based on the Fox Saturday morning cartoon that ran from 1992-97. I’ve written about the glory that is that cartoon before, as has Sims, but as I’ll never pass up an opportunity to talk about one of the seminal shows of my teen years, here’s a look at some of its best work:

A caveat before we begin: I have a soft spot in my heart for the kitchen sink episodes that feature multiple guest stars. And time travel. And Apocalypse. Also I’m going to cheat and write up multiparters as one episode each.

“Night of the Sentinels” (two-parter, Season 1, episodes 1-2): Seriously, does a mall babe eat chili fries? When X-fans of a Certain Age remember Jubilee, this is the Jubilee they remember, the one with the yellow trench coat and the past-its-prime Valley Girl speak, getting chased down by Sentinels. The two-parter that opens the series is also notable for introducing a brand-new X-man, Morph, just to kill him off immediately (he gets better), imprisoning Beast for an entire season, Cyclops making a “not” joke and a scene in which the president of the United States power-walks on a treadmill in the Oval Office while dressing down Henry Peter Gyrich.

“Slave Island” (Season 1, episode 7): “Who are you?” “The Wild Man of Borneo.” The time-traveling, gun-toting, shoulder pad-embiggening Cable introduces himself on the island of Genosha by making a reference I was too young to get at 12. Not to mention, if Cable’s from the far future, should HE even get that reference?

“The Cure” (Season 1, episode 9): This episode introduces several major X-villains, including Apocalypse, Mystique, Pyro and Avalanche. The latter two, who will return along with Blob as Mystique’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, get a lot of play as a pair of violent but somewhat bumbling henchmen, and their comedic timing is made evident from jump.

“Days of Future Past” (two-parter, Season 1, episodes 11-12): This two-piece kills two birds with one stone, adapting a Chris Claremont/John Byrne classic (not the first time they’ll go to that refreshing well) and introducing the best mullet in time travel, Bishop, who comes complete with his own harmonica music. In this version, Bish comes back in time to stop the assassination of Sen. Robert Kelly by the traitor Gambit (attempted assassin not actually Gambit).

“Time Fugitives” (2-parter, Season 2, episodes 7 and 8): What’s better than one overly muscled time traveler with a ridiculous laser gun? TWO overly muscled time travelers with ridiculous laser guns! Bishop and Cable come to the present from two different points in the future to wrestle over Apocalypse and a virus that wracks mankind. Craziest thing that happens: A change in the timestream creates lightning tornadoes in Cable’s future and makes his son, Tyler, disappear.

“Mojovision” (Season 2, episode 11): No X-Men series would be complete without a visit to the Mojoverse. Because a morbidly obese, spineless extradimensional being obsessed with television is the perfect baddie for a Saturday morning cartoon.

“The Phoenix Saga” (5-parter, Season 3, episodes 3-7): Most of the Season 3 is dedicated to revisiting the Golden Age of the Claremont run, which means lots and lots of Phoenix stuff. These five episodes re-create classic moments with the Phoenix Force, the Shi’ar, Erik the Red, Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy, Banshee, the Starjammers and, best of all, Super Doctor Astronaut Peter Corbeau.

“The Dark Phoenix Saga” (4-parter, Season 3, episodes 11 to 14): The show peaked with this mostly faithful retelling of the classic 1980 Claremont/Byrne story, hitting all the major points, from the Hellfire Club to Jason Wyngarde’s mental manipulations of Jean Grey to the first appearances of Dazzler and Kitty Pryde. While the arc concludes in a way that is more network BS&P-friendly than the original (Jean is saved by sharing the “life forces” of the other X-Men as opposed to, you know, dying), it still laid the groundwork for future adaptations of X-stories outside the comics (and was better than X-Men: The Last Stand).

“One Man’s Worth” (2-parter, Season 4, episodes 1-2): That’s right, kids, more time travel! In a story that could have only been told in the ’90s and after Back to the Future II, Trevor Fitzroy travels back to 1959 to kill Professor Xavier, creating an alternate dystopian timeline in which Magneto leads the X-Men and Wolverine and Storm are married. Bishop, his sister Shard, Storm and Wolverine then go to the future to convince Forge to let them use his time machine so they can go back and stop Fitzroy in the past. Then Marty goes to the Old West to rescue Doc Brown, only to find out he doesn’t want to be saved because he’s fallen in love with Mary Steenburgen. And another Tannen falls for the old manure trap.

“Beyond Good and Evil” (4-parter, Season 4, episodes 8-11): Because this cartoon made Apocalypse my favorite X-Men villain, I might have been more excited about this arc than I was about the Dark Phoenix retelling, despite my earlier statement about the show having peaked in Season 3. Apoc kidnaps a number of psychics, including Professor X, Jean Grey and Psylocke, as part of his latest quest for global domination. His actions are undone by the X-Men and Cable, as well as Bishop, who finds himself stuck in a place called the Axis of Time with a quirky janitor who turns out to be the Avengers villain Immortus. “Beyond Good and Evil” was originally supposed to be the end of the series, until Fox ordered more episodes. And so after this, the animation style changes and we got wrong-sounding Gambit.

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.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 7

Thors #1
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Sprouse, Karl Story and Marte Gracia

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups: the Thors who investigate crime, and the Sheriff of Agamotto who prosecutes the offenders. These are their stories.


Who would’ve thought a bunch of blond guys flying around with hammers and battle armor would make for a great police procedural?

Thors has all the elements of a great cop show: Partner protagonists whom the other cops find unorthodox, a murder of the week, fellow officers who stand around making snarky comments and bragging about their records, a drunk racist cop, a rookie who barfs at the scene of his first homicide, an angry captain who wants results, dammit, a forensics (Thorensics?) nerd, primetime network TV levels of swearing, etc.

It’s also got random Ghost Rider attacks and a Groot-Thor that says only “I am Thor” and has a cape made of leaves, in perhaps my favorite bit of stunt-casting in this book. And while all the characters speak in Marvel’s Official Thor Font, their dialogue could have come right out of any episode of “Law & Order” or “NYPD Blue.”

The central Thors in this book are Thorlief Golmen, the Thor of the Ultimate Universe, whom the other Thors have derisively nicknamed “The Ultimate Thor” for his ability to get stuck with cases none of the other Thors wants, and Beta Ray Thor, the one with the horse face. True to form, the two get stuck with the latest “Allthing” – a bizarre case that must be solved immediately to avoid the wrath of God Emperor Doom. Describing the Allthing would give too much away, but suffice it to say it’s a case that could only exist on a planet in which multiple realities and times exist simultaneously.

Rounding out the cast are Odin as the lawspeaker (angry captain), Frog Thor (Throg) as the forensics guy, and Groot, Storm and the Destroyer, among others, as fellow officers. And, of course, keep your eyes peeled for cameos.

Serious kudos to writer Jason Aaron, who since 2012 has continued to find new ways to play with the god of thunder, from telling a story across time to giving the hammer to Jane Foster to turning the Worthy into a multiversal peacekeeping force. And to artist Chris Sprouse for making sure each Thor is distinguishable from the next.

Also, whether intended or not, this book makes me want to rewatch one of my favorite episodes of Community, season 3’s “Advanced Lupine Urology.”


Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #2
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Matteo Lolli and Ruth Redmond

Wade Wilson’s heretofore untold adventures in the original Secret Wars continue with an explanation of why our sometimes-hero looks like the protagonist of a Hal Needham movie, a series of flashbacks told to the Lizard and the introduction of a love story.

A major part of the plot of this issue is the lenticular shields that were packaged with the action figures that were essentially the driving force of Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck’s original series. Deadpool finds a whole mess of them amid a fight with Spider-Man and takes one for himself, then brags about his cool new weapon to the other heroes until Reed Richards dismantles it to save them after the Molecule Man traps them in a mountain.

I’m enjoying the nonlinear nature of the book, as the constant flashing forward and back keeps the plot – most of which was pre-existing – from being completely predictable. It helps that this is a four-issue miniseries as opposed to the original 12, which forces tighter writing and limits the original’s major plot points to a highlight reel. It’s also always fun to revisit classic superhero fashions, such as Storm’s Mohawk or Cyclops’ plain blue spandex togs.

Speaking of which, art for next issue teases Deadpool in Spider-Man’s black costume. Maybe it’s a feint, maybe it’s not. Either way, I’m 99.9 percent certain hijinks will ensue. See ya there!

Ms. Marvel #16
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona

While the various Secret Wars tie-ins take place on the hodgepodge planet of Battleworld, the "Last Days" tie-ins follow heroes and villains as the last two Earths prepare to crash into each other. Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel, starts the story out still mourning the fact that her crush, fellow Pakistani Inhuman Kamran, turned out to be a villain to a hot dog vendor. But as she sees people charging out of New York City into her own native Jersey City, Kamala heads to NYC where she sees the other Earth coming. I hadn't realized that you could only see the point of incursion from New York before, and I might have missed it, but it's a nice touch. But just because things are only visible from New York, doesn't mean there isn't chaos across the river. So, Kamala starts out by getting people to head to her school, which has been reinforced to deal with robot attacks and is protected by "hipster viking magic," which credit where credit is due, is pretty cool. I love that new-Loki is being called a hipster Viking, by the way; it makes me smile. But when Kamala heads home to get her family, she finds Kamran there and her brother gone, paying off the hint from last issue that another Khan might be an Inhuman. We've seen Kamala with her friends in danger before, sure, but this is different. This is family. This is classic Marvel hero tropes, like Spider-Man having to fight the Green Goblin, who knows he's Peter Parker. It's a test, and Kamala does what she knows is right, which is make sure everything is settled and safe at the school before doing what she has to for her family. It's a testament to her strength that she doesn't give in and abandon her responsibility. The final page of the issue sets up the meeting that readers have been waiting for since issue one. Even if the world is ending it's an exciting time for Ms. Marvel fans.

Runaways #1
Story: Noelle Stevenson
Art: Sanford Greene

Only on Battleworld could you find a school more prone to get you killed than Xavier's, the Victor Von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths. Runaways is the story of The Breakfast Club of Battleworld, a bunch of kids who are part of a program to find the best and brightest who are all rebellious. It's an interesting combination of characters, from various eras of young heroes from the 90s to the past few years. I was most excited to see Amadeus Cho and the Delphyne Gorgon from The Incredible Hercules pop up, but it's also nice to see Molly Hayes from the original Runaways there as well. Readers are treated to a lot of teen bickering and fighting mixed in with the kind of things you'd expect to see at a school dedicated to Doom: end of years finals the end in expulsion if you and a team don't win at some sort of elaborate test. It's a fun comic, with these different characters playing off each other. I like that Skaar, son of Hulk, becomes Amadeus Cho's bodyguard and buddy, fitting well with Cho's usual m.o. of palling around with someone physically bigger than him. The identity and power inverted version of Cloak & Dagger are also a nice touch. And introducing a new character in the middle of it, Sanna Strand, Frostbite, makes me wonder if she's going to be a new important character after Secret Wars ends, or if she's cannon fodder. And I love that tough Jubilee has a girl gang right out of a 90s movie, the include the Gorgon and Jubilee's best friend/ex Pixie. All these characters, in detention after a fight between Frostbite and Jubilee, wind up on a team for the final exam. Noelle Stevenson is so good at inverting tropes in Lumberjanes, I'm sure there is more than the typical teen movie set up of a bunch of different people must work together and learn that they're not all that different, especially as we see the headmistress of the school and her right hand hall monitor, Bucky Barnes the Winter Soldier, have it out for the Runaways (a title never used in the comic). I don't think Molly Ringwald ever faced someone trying to kill her in a John Hughes movie, so I can only expect more action and excitement as the kids try to make it out; I hope they curvive the experience.