Monday, July 21, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/16

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth #121
Story: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Art: Laurence Campbell

So many of the B.P.R.D. stories have been so big lately, that I forget what wonderful creepy little stories the book can do as well. That's not a complaint about the big stories, as "Reign of the Black Flame," the last five -parter, was one of my fvaorite action/horror stories the series has ever done. This issue wraps up a two part story that takes place both in the present and flashbacks to 1949, and features four of my favorite characters in the who Mignola-verse; in the present, it's Kate Corrigan and Professor J.H. O'Donnell, and in the past it's Professor Bruttenholm and Hellboy. Instead of ancient Lovecraftian horrors and men with flaming heads, this is really a haunted house story, or a haunted artifact story, with some possession tossed in for good measure. The daffy professor has accidentally unleashed an evil force that has possessed Kate, and now it's up to Liz Sherman, Panya, Fenix, and Carla Giarocco to figure out what is going on and to save Kate. In the past, Bruttenholm and a young Hellboy, who insisted on going on his first field mission, confront the necromancer whose spirit is wreaking havoc in the present, and that confrontation ends with Hellboy making a decision that I hope is going to play into the events in the upcoming Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. mini-series. It's also nice to see the good guys get an unqualified win; so much of Hell on Earth has seen our heroes fighting a rearguard action to stop the world from slipping deeper into the abyss, so even if it's a small one, a real victory is nice to see. I also want to give a real shout out to Laurence Campbell, whose moody, shadowy art worked beautifully in this story. B.P.R.D. has featured art form some of my favorite artists in comics, including Guy Davis, Tyler Crook, Ryan Sook, and of course Mike Mignola himself, and Campbell looks to be another artist in a long line who is going to burn up these pages with some really terrifying art.

Fables #142
Story: Bill Willingham
Art: Mark Buckingham & Eric Shanower

First things first: SPOILERS ahead for anyone who doesn't read Fables in singles. Trust me, you don't want to be spoiled. Move along to the next review, nothing to see here. It seems like Bill Willingham has been building to this last, mega-arc of Fables for quite some time, and now that the events have started to unfold, they're unfolding rapidly. Bigby Wolf, a broken monster thanks to the machinations of Miss Douglas, has drawn the attention of the mundies, the normal humans of New York, and is killing unrepentantly.  Grimble, the troll turned sparrow, has finally found someone who understands him. Winter, Snow and Bigby's daughter who is now the embodiment of the North Wind, is gathering her vassals for the final battle. And Snow White and Rose Red's fates seem to be moving on a bullet train to confrontation. All of these disparate plot elements are balanced, so none of them feel particularly rushed or forced. It's an intricate piece of work, similar to the finals major arcs of Sandman and Starman. The part that has me most curious is the mundy reaction to Bigby's monstrous attacks; the Fabletown community has done its best to keep out of the limelight for centuries, but this looks like their downfall in that respect, and I'm curious to see how that plays into the series climax. It's great to have Mark Buckingham going full steam ahead for this final arc, and especially his monster Bigby is something to behold. This arc also includes back-ups featuring, "The Last _____ Story." Last issue's Flycatcher story was a cute one page story, but this issue's is far more sinister. Featuring art from legendary Eric Shanower, it features Sinbad and shows that, even though the Empire of old has fallen, that is not the end of Empires, and Willingham hints that he might finally be able to use the grand villain he originally planned to be the Adversary. And if he doesn't, well, it's still a great nod for those of us wrapped up in Fables history.

Robin Rising: Omega
Story: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Andy Kubert

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman has been the crown jewel of the New 52 Batman family, and rightly so; it's a gorgeous roller-coaster ride of a Batman title, with new ideas and amazing art. But the absolute heart of the Batman family has been Peter Tomasi's Batman & Robin. Tomasi, more than any other current writer of Batman, understands the emotional weight that Batman is under, and has done beautiful things with Batman's relationship not just with his currently deceased son, Damian, but with the rest of the Batman family. It's a book that has dealt with doubt, grief, and love better than most mainstream superhero comics could dream of. And now, after the quest to find the bodies of Damian and his mother, Talia al Ghul, stolen by her father, Ra's al Ghul, Batman finds himself trapped into an alliance with Ra's against the forces of Apokolips. The issue, which begins the "Robin Rising" story is mostly an action issue, with Batman, Ra's al Ghul, Batman's dog Titus, and Frankenstein battling Parademons and other minions of Darkseid lead by Glorious Godfrey to retrieve a Chaos Shard, a mystical artifact desired by Darkseid. Andy Kubert is an artist at home with massive amounts of kinetic action, and this issue gives him that in spades. And when the Justice League shows up, it's even more exciting. While all of that makes for a great comic, the first few pages, where Batman recounts his time with Damian, is the highlight of the issue. It's heartbreaking to see Batman go through everything he did, and then to lose the son that he had come to love and who had come to love and respect his father. The end of this issue sees Batman beginning a quest to retrieve Damian's body from Apokolips and to see him returned to life. I'm excited to see if he can pull it off.

And that's it for this week's reviews. This actually marks the 200th post here on The Matt Signal, so I want to thank you all for reading so far. Wednesday marks Batman Day, the day DC has set aside for celebrating Batman's 75th Anniversary, so expect a post about the things I love about Batman, and some more Batman goodness over the next couple weeks. I look forward to 200 more posts!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Recommended Reading for 7/18: The Dumbest Idea Ever!

I wrote about Amelia Rules!, one of my favorite all ages comics some time ago. The series creator, Jimmy Gownley, released a new book earlier this year, called The Dumbest Idea Ever!, a graphic autobiography about how he became a cartoonist. I picked it up immediately when it came out, but it's sat on my shelf for a few months, despite an intention to review it for the blog. Firstly, at over two hundred pages, I felt it was going to take time to read, and I wanted a day I could dedicate to that, so I could go through it in one sitting, something I rarely have the time for. But more than that, I feel there's a trepidation that many have when it comes to exploring new work from a creator (be it a comic creator, a film director, or a musician) whose work you love, especially when that work is tied to one series in the case of comics. I love Amelia and her gang. While I was sure the book would be of the highest caliber quality wise, I wasn't sure if it would touch me in the same way. And let's be frank; many autobiographies are simply an excuse for either self-aggrandizement or pity parties. But this Monday, after writing my reviews, I looked at my shelf for something to read, saw the book there, and squared my shoulders to settle in with it.

I should have known better. I should have known someone who, as an grown man, not only remember what it's like to be a ten year old well enough to craft Amelia Rules!, but know character well enough to write a full realized ten year old girl, would be self-aware enough to pull this off. And he does brilliantly. It's a story not just about learning about his passion and his craft, but about first love, friendship, and growing up. Gownley touched me in a different way than he has with Amelia, but in a way that is no less affecting.

The book traces Jimmy's life from eighth grade to going out into the big world, and all the accompanying triumphs and tragedies. Jimmy lives in a small town in the Pennsylvania coal country. The Jimmy at the start is a big fish in a small pond, popular, top of his class, a star basketball player. But after a losing a month at school from a combination of chicken pox and pneumonia, he finds it hard to catch back up. And while he's sick, he finds out there is a shop that sells comic books, and only comic books in nearby Wilkes-Barre. And when his dad brings him there, Jimmy's whole world changes.

As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s in urban and suburban New Jersey, it's almost quaint to me to see the excitement of finding out there are comic shops; comic shops have been a fact of life for me as long as I can remember. But Gownley fills those pages with an exuberance that makes me understand what a revelation it must have been to find this whole world exists. It's one of my favorite sequences, as he buys, "one of everything I never heard of." This new exposure to comics and graphic novels opens up Jimmy's world, as he learns that people can self-publish comics. There begins his journey.

Jimmy enters high school, and while he isn't the academic superstar that he was before that, he begins to experiment with his creative side, As the book progresses, we see Jimmy's first failed attempt at a comic, and then his first successful one, after a friend makes the suggestion, the eponymous dumbest idea ever, to write a comic about them, about Jimmy and his friends. Shades of Gray made Jimmy something of a local celebrity, with his friends and classmates buying copies, the teachers at the high school acknowledging his talent, the local video store selling copies, and even getting a feature on the local news.

Here is where Gownley impresses me. He could have left it at that, then having a reversal at the end where he realizes his big fish in a small pond status, but instead he shows exactly what this does to him, and how big it makes his head. That kind of self-awareness is impressive, and I think we'd all be better off if we all realized, in retrospect, that we can be egotistical. You never dislike Jimmy, he's never a bad guy, but he's a teenager who got a little too big for his britches.

Another aspect of the book that is really wonderful, and something that has clearly affected Gownley's work in Amelia Rules!,  is how Gownley shows the developing friendships he has. Amelia moves to a new town in the first volume of her story, and so must make new friends. The timeline on this book has Jimmy going to high school after the first quarter of the book, and a much bigger high school than the school he was in before. While some of the friends he had before show up in the later part of the book, the three characters who are most important to the story are people who he becomes close to after he graduates middle school.

Mark Olson, and his younger brother Tracy, are public school kids (Jimmy goes to Catholic School) Jimmy meets the summer between middle school and high school. Mark is one of the characters who helps Jimmy when he's about to give up when the first issue of Shades of Gray doesn't quite work out. Tony Graziano was on the basketball team of one of Jimmy's rival middle schools, and when they go to high school, they are now in the same school. Jimmy harbors that intense dislike that we can only have when you're a kid or a grown idiot, until Tony comes to his rescue in class, and then a friendship begins. It's Tony who tells Jimmy that his first comic, a story that is clearly just Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars, isn't very good, and who states the dumb idea, the one that will lead to Shades of Gray, Amelia Rules!, and now this book. He also is the person who is willing to put Jimmy in his place when he finally becomes too insufferable; that's what a good friend is there for.

And then there's Ellen O'Toole. Ellen is cute, sweet, and smart. She is the girl who is going to become Jimmy's girlfriend and first love. The story follows them from when they meet to when they break up. I'm not too old to remember those feelings myself, and Gownley puts it all onto the page in a way that is tender, clever and, when need be, bittersweet. Ellen is as supportive as others, and she is the one who makes Jimmy promise never to give up on being an artist, in a scene that is one of the book's strongest.

The art on the book is definitely Gownley; there's no missing his signature style. But it feels a little different from Amelia Rules!, more... I don't know if I have the vocabulary to come up with the word. Realistic doesn't exactly fit. Amelia and her friends aren't cartoon characters, they are very well realized and their faces are beautifully expressive. But I think it's the fact that the setting is more realistic, based in real life, that makes the book seem different. There aren't kids in superhero costumes and ninja tracksuits running around, so the work seems more grounded. Although there are a couple of great scenes where Jimmy talks to the angel and devil on his shoulders and the Grim Reaper that move out of the realistic and into the fantastic that work perfectly.

There is also a sequence where Jimmy tells Ellen about his childhood best friend, Marnie Marquardt, which becomes the story of how Jimmy crafted what was really his first comic, one he made for Marnie to say goodbye when she moved away called Marnie Rules!. This section feels likes it's right out of Amelia Rules!, and is intentionally different from the rest of the book, even to the pages themselves being colored a browner tone to make them stand out. It's a sweet little short story that exists within the larger book, and while it can stand on its own, it directly impacts much of the story around it.

While the book is not divided into numbered chapters, Gownley uses a device to divide the parts of the story that is beautiful for a book that is about art and finding your way. Art boards and drawings serve to divide the book and take up full pages when a major event has just happened. The book starts with a page that is simply a blank piece of art board on a drawing board, and ends with the same page with something happening on the board. It's an excellent narrative device, and the symmetry works to show you the changes that Jimmy has gone through.

Jimmy Gownley's work is all about growing up, and this story is his own coming of age. It's a story about a kid who loves comics, who grows up to make them himself. And let's be fair, even if you can't draw, or can't come up with a story, if you've ever loved a comic, you've thought about making them yourself; I know I have. So, thank you for putting your story out there, Mr. Gownley, to inspire the next generation of creators. I look forward to seeing their work, and more of yours.

The Dumbest Idea Ever! is available at your better comic retailers, along with most bookstores, both physical and virtual.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

No Fear of a Black Cap, or Why Sam as Cap Sends Me

On Wednesday night, Marvel announced that Sam Wilson, heretofore known as the Falcon, will take up the stars, stripes and shield as the new Captain America, due to events set in motion by Rick Remender in Cap’s solo title.

Now, for some of us, it wasn’t that long ago when another of Steve Rogers’ longtime cohorts, James “Bucky” Barnes, wore the costume. Or maybe you’re a little older and you remember when John Walker wore the costume, before he became USAgent. Maybe you’re really up on your Cap continuity and you know that his published 1950s adventures were retconned as having been undertaken by other dudes wearing his costume, one of whom was driven crazy by the Super-Soldier Serum. Or you remember the story of Isaiah Bradley, who underwent a Tuskegee-style Super Soldier experiment as depicted in Truth: Red White & Black.

My point is, yeah, it’s been done before, and it’ll be done again. And also COUGH COUGH – James Rhodes, Eric Masterson, Dick Grayson, Kyle Rayner, Wally West, Miles Morales, Jamie Reyes, Sam Alexander, every Robin – COUGH COUGH. Sorry, sarcastic throat tickle. You know how it is.
Of all of Cap’s partners, sidekicks, pals and body doubles over the years, Falcon is at least the most deserving of the costume, perhaps moreso than Bucky. While Bucky needed to become Cap after the Civil War to set his redemption arc in motion and find his place in the modern Marvel Universe, Sam fought at Cap’s side for much longer and has proved himself in battle more times over the years.

Also – and this is the most important distinction between the two – Bucky was Cap’s sidekick, but the Falcon was his PARTNER. For recent evidence of this, look no further than Anthony Mackie’s most-excellent portrayal of Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Sam doesn’t follow Cap around like some awestruck fanboy. The two bust each other’s chops right off the bat, like a pair of mismatched cops that have already gotten through all the “He’s crazy”-“He’s too rigid” character work in front of their angry captain. They’re Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon 2; Schmidt and Jenko in 22 Jump Street. Hell, they’re Mahoney, Hightower, Tackleberry, Hooks and the rest of the gang in Police Academy 2 rolled into two people.

Remender writing Falcon also seems like an amazing opportunity to continue harkening to one of the craziest, most breathless, ASTONISHING, PULSE-POUNDING, ALL CAPS, END-EVERY-SENTENCE-WITH-AN-EXCLAMATION-POINT-AND-DON’T-STOP-FOR-A-CUP-OF-BENDIS-BRAND-COFFEE runs in Cap history: Jack Kirby’s stretch in the mid 1970s. Remender started his volume of Cap with a Kirby throwback story in which Steve Rogers finds himself trapped in a dimension ruled by Arnim Zola, the Nazi scientist created by Kirby in the ’70s, immediately differentiating his run from the more grounded espionage-and-intrigue of Ed Brubaker’s eight-year arc.

And while I’m not saying Remender should just rehash characters such as the Midnight People, the Swine and Mr. Budda (the latter would be a bit insensitive), it would be refreshing to revisit that sort of new-threat-every-issue, stakes-have-never-been-higher tone with Sam. Because while the Falcon has tended to be a grounding voice for Cap, he’s not immune to crazy. Remember, he spent much of his early years thinking he shared a split personality with a West Coast drug dealer named Snap Wilson, even though he grew up in Harlem and worked as a social worker. I could see Remender having a field day with that. Although maybe not, after that nonsense from the other week.

Of course, change is the order of the day for the Avengers’ big three. Marvel unloaded a wheelbarrow full of pre-San Diego news this week, not the least of which is that a woman will become Thor and that Thor will become the un-Thor or something, and that Tony Stark’s title will change to Superior Iron Man, with a West Coast move in the works a la Daredevil and the Punisher.

The key thing to remember, nonsports fans, is this: If you don’t like these changes, wait. There’s always the next creative team, and you’re likely to get your precious status quo back sooner than you think.

Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/9

Daredevil #5
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee

Five issues into the new volume of Daredevil from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, and we get the answers to why and how everyone believes Foggy Nelson is dead, and it makes for an excellent issue. Set in between the volumes, we see Matt being attacked by Frog Man and Foggy getting caught in the middle, proving the point that Matt was making to Foggy at the beginning of the issue, that the revelation of Matt's identity to the public puts Foggy in the crosshairs. Frog Man is not exactly an intimidating foe, and while Waid does a little here to make him more of a threat, he doesn't redeem him in the same way that he did the Spot at the beginning of the first volume. Waid also continues to use Hank Pym as a supporting character, and uses him better than pretty much any writer has in years, coming up with interesting ways to use Pym's shrinking technology. The plot is mostly to give Foggy an out that really proves the heroism inherent in Daredevil's best friend. Foggy has been fighting cancer for most of the last volume of Daredevil, and Waid has been clear that Foggy is a brave guy just for fighting with that, but in this issue, when presented with lethal danger, Foggy does what he has to; he tries to save people, even if it would cost him his life. Other writers have done things with Foggy, but that's mostly been in his roll as Matt's go-to guy. Waid has done a great job of letting Foggy stand on his own as a human being, and that has made Foggy a more interesting character. With this lingering question now answered, I hope Waid continues to develop Foggy, making him stand even higher in the ranks of comics's best supporting characters.

Grayson #1
Story: Tim Seeley & Tom King
Art: Mikel Janin

The new status quo for Dick Grayson begins with this issue, and I have to say, I'm pretty darn pleased with it. Writers Tim Seeley and Tom King jump us right into Dick Grayson on a mission for Spyral, the spy organization created by Grant Morrison for his run on Batman Incorporated. And while the stakes are clearly high, with a rogue nuclear powered metahuman, Russian agents, and a fight with the Midnighter, the thing that stands this book apart from so much of what DC is putting out right now is that it was fun. Not all ages fun, but Dick reads like he's having a good time while infiltrating Spyral and doing some good in the world. He isn't moaning and brooding. Dick Grayson has always been a character who quips his way through a fight, and so a lighter air is something that should be part of his book. I am of mixed feelings about him using a gun, but I have to say that he doesn't take a life, which is more important to me; Dick's parents weren't killed by guns, so he doesn't have the same hang-up Batman does about firearms, so I accept him being able to use one. As for his supporting cast, well I like this new Helena Bertinelli. She's smart and tough, just like her pre-New 52 counterpart. I am curious to see exactly how close she will be to that earlier version, a character I really liked. And as for Mister Minos, the seeming head of Spyral, this guy I don't trust. From employing the daughter of Otto Netz, war criminal Dr. Dedalus who worked for Spyral and Leviathan, to his mission to unmask all masked heroes, it's clear to see why Batman sent Dick undercover in Spyral. I look forward to future revelations about Minos, plus an eventual appearance by former Batwoman, Kathy Kane in her position as an agent of Spyral. I've stated before how much I love a standalone first issue, and this one does a great job of being a done in one story and still setting up plenty of plot threads to be answered later. If you've given up on the New 52 thanks to its unremitting darkness, you might want to try out this issue; it's something very different and worth your time.

Spider-Man 2099 #1
Story: Peter David
Art: Will Sliney

I'm a big fan of the original Spider-Man 2099 series, about a new hero taking up the mantle of Spider-Man in the distant future, and so when Dan Slott brought the character to and stranded him in the present during his run on Superior Spider-Man, I wanted to see more. And now, not only do I get a monthly dose of Miguel O'Hara (or Mike O'Mara as he's calling himself in the present), but ti's from original series writer, and the character's creator, Peter David. The issue matches the tone of the previous series, a tone familiar to fans os Peter David, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The humor is bit more dark and bitter, similar to David's Sir Apropos of Nothing novels, but that doesn't make it less funny. There is one cute little gag, about Miguel renting unit 2099 in his building, but the rest of the humor, between the blood on the floor of his new apartment, his boss/grandfather, Tiberius Stone, jumping into a panic room, and leaving Mike out to be killed by a time travelling cop sent to eliminate him, and his confrontation with Liz Allen, the head of Alechemax, are all dark. Miguel isn't as light a character as Peter Parker, which is easily established when he kills the guy sent after him. Now, this guy was technically a member of some organization that's job was to patrol the timeline and keep it clean, but as he had no problem with collateral damage, it didn't leave Miguel with much of a choice, but still, this isn't what Peter Parker would have done. It's nice that this book and Grayson came out in the same week, as the tone, of action and humor, seem akin to each other, and both serve as good introductions to their leads and the supporting cast and world they live in. I'd wager this isn't the last Miguel has seen of other time travellers after him, and as the end of the issue seems to be one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that time travel causes and that makes the reader's head ache, I'm looking forward to seeing where David takes this.

Star Trek #35
Story: Mike Johnson
Art: Tony Shashteen

I've always been more a Star Wars guy than a Star Trek guy. I like Star Trek fine, especially Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, but when it comes to the comic book/novel tie-ins, unless it's written by Peter David, I've never gotten too into it. But when I saw the solicitation for this issue, I knew I was going to pick it up, because it features one of my favorite characters in all Star Trek mythos. Yes, the crew of the new Enterprise, the one from the current movies, is meeting Q, the nigh-omnipotent consonant based being played by the brilliant John deLancie. After a stopover in the classic Trek timeline and a conversation with his old sparring partner, once-Captain-now-Ambassador Jean-Luc Picard, whose advice he characteristically ignores, Q pops over to the neo-Trek timeline to have a conversation with Kirk. It seems Q knows that something Kirk is going to do is going to lead to a cataclysm in that timeline, and he has taken some interest and wants to help avert this crisis. But in his Q-like way, instead of appearing and talking about it, he places the Enterprise in danger, kidnaps Kirk, and then sends the ship into the future (although it is unknown which timeline's future it is). Q is written dead on; I could hear de Lancie reading the dialogue. And the art is some of the most faithful to the actors I have ever seen, which is good, but I'm curious to see if keeping the look so spot on will be a hindrance for character as the series progresses. If it is, well, I'm along for the ride so I'll see. This is a good start to an arc, though, and I'm excited to see Kirk and crew meet some other characters from the other parts of the franchise.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Recommended Reading for 7/11: Batman '66

On an episode of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, comic book scholar and critic Glen Weldon talked about the 1960s Batman TV series, and said something very interesting (pardon me as I paraphrase). He said fans (modern ones anyway) go through three phases when it comes to Batman if you're a Batman fan. When you're a kid, you love it because it's big and loud and crazy and fun. When you hit your teens/20s, you hate it because you're viewing it as making fun of this thing that you love. And when you grow up, you look at it as the piece of pop/camp art that it is, and you see the fun again. Unfortunately, so many of today's fans remain stuck in that second phase. Me? I have come to really appreciate the craft of the series, and with the announcement of a DVD/Blu-Ray release of the series on November, and this past weekend's Fourth of July marathon on IFC, I thought it was time to talk about the current Batman '66 comic, with an eye on talking more about the show itself when the DVDs hit.

Batman '66 is one of DC's digital first comics, but I read it in physical form (someday I'll probably talk about why I have yet to embrace digital comics, but that's a whole other topic), and when it was first announced, I was skeptical. Would this be able to work without the jaw-droppingly earnest performances from Adam West and Burt Ward and the manic performances of the various actors portraying the villains? Or would it come off as too corny? Seeing Jeff Parker as the series principal writer helped assuage me, and by the time I read issue one, I was pretty well sold, and each issue has sold me further. Looking back over the past year, I was surprised to see I hadn't actually reviewed an issue yet, and so I thought the best way to remedy that was to do this entire feature.

Batman '66 is a pitch perfect reminder of what makes the Batman series from the 60s memorable and classic. Batman is square jawed and seems to know pretty much everything. Robin is genuinely surprised by everything. Alfred is the loyal retainer, Aunt Harriet is confused and always underfoot, Batgirl is awesome (Yvonne Craig's Batgirl was my first TV crush. Don't judge me!), and the GCPD desperately needs Batman. And the villains? Oh the villains! Plus the plots are wild and convoluted, yet simple enough for a kid to follow, the set pieces are gorgeous, and you get at least one, if not two stories in each issue!

The stories all are perfectly suited to the tone of the series. From a story of Penguin and Mr. Freeze driving a giant iceberg into Gotham Harbor and having it declared an independent nation or to a team up between Joker (always with a hint of Cesar Romero'ssignature mustache beneath his make-up) and Catwoman (and yes, by the way, some stories have featured the Julie Newmar Catwoman, and some the Eartha Kitt one), the stories are fun adventures that are appropriate for all ages. And there are stories featuring not only these classic comic book Batman rogues, but of course the rogues that originated from the show. Bookworm, the Minstrel, and the Siren all pop up, and so do the most famous TV originated rogues, King Tut and Egghead. There's a fun Egghead story is issue three, and issue eight is a King Tut feature, dealing with time travel to ancient Egypt. It's great to read such fun stories that fit so perfectly with this era of Batman.

Another fun aspect of the series is that Parker is bringing in elements from more modern Batman comics, but giving them a '66 twist. The Arkham Institute has appeared as the home for the villains who Batman brings in. The story in issue three tied the Red Hood into the Joker's background, and we met his doctor at Arkham, Dr. Quinn, who has appeared a couple times, and in a recent issue became an accomplice to the Joker, although not in the same way as the comic. And my favorite nod is in the King Tut time travel story. One of King Tut's thugs is a large, hulking guy named Waylon, who drinks too much of an extract that is said to give him the tough hide of crocodile. He runs off before the transformation is complete, but I'm hoping this will mean that we will soon see a '66 version of Killer Croc.

Jeff Parker has written the lion's share of the series, but other writers have joined in the fun, including Tom Peyer and Art Baltazar and Franco. And along with the campy and fun stories, the varied artists on the book have all provided tonally perfect art. Colleen Cover's Batgirl story, featuring her fighting the Eartha Kitt Catwoman is a favorite, but Jonathan Case's art from issue set the tone for the rest of the series, and artists like Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, and Craig Rousseau have all contributed some great art. The Mike Allred covers are always a treat, and always serve as perfect teasers for the stories within.

I understand that Batman '66 isn't going to be to everyone's taste. Some people really don't like these simple, light tales of a very different Batman than the one we've gotten since the O'Neil and Adams run in the 70s. But everyone should really try an issue. The creators are doing something different and fun with a character who has proven infinitely malleable. And the craft is worth the price of admission. Plus, you get to see what the writers come up with for Robin to, "Holy!" each issue, and that's some pretty great fun all on its own.

Batman '66 is released monthly at your local comic shop, and digitally through your favorite comics apps. Aside from the current ongoing, there is a mini-series, Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet from writers Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman and art by Ty Templeton. The first hardcover collection of the series, collecting issues 1-5 is currently available, with a paperback collection released this fall just in time for the DVD release of the series.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I’ve Got the Runs: Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, issues 1-35, 2010-12

It's a weird week to be writing about Rick Remender, I suppose, after all that business from a couple days ago. But I actually wrote this last month. I was prepared to write a different column, based on something I'd read Sunday that I was pretty excited about, but that announcement was never made, replaced instead by damage control over a firestorm created by a few people misreading 21 issues of Captain America.

Anyway, this is what you get. Enjoy!

Killing is bad. Some people are killers. Those people won’t stop killing unless they are killed. But killing killers makes the killers into killers. And then what’s the difference between the killers and the killer killers? And if you don’t kill the killers, are you responsible for all their future kills?

Cross-eyed yet? Welcome to the rabbit hole that is Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, quite possibly the best book ever to bear the name X-Force. The series is 37 issues (Marvel threw two of those .1 issues into the mix) of the above moral dilemma, featuring five of the darker, edgier, more X-treme X-Men, and nothing but the biggest villains.

Magneto, Apocalypse, Sabertooth, the Shadow King, Mystique, the Blob, Daken, the Reavers, Lady Deathstrike, the fake children of Omega Red, the gang’s all here. Literally: Many of the aforementioned villains formed an alliance to take down Wolverine & Co.

The team also goes on reality-hopping adventures in the Age of Apocalypse and Otherworld, the omniversal home of the Captain Britain Corps., and travels to the future to see what their actions hath wrought, complete with elderly super guest stars.

Our story starts with the age-old dilemma: Would you kill Hitler as a baby? Only in this case, baby Hitler is a 10-year-old Apocalypse. How the team decides to handle young Evan sets into motion the events of the entire series, which alternate between bloodbaths and mental anguish.

“I’m making sure to tell you stories with beginnings, middles and ends, and when those stories are put together, they form a much bigger story – like a Voltron of nerdocity,” Remender told Comic Book Resources in a 2012 interview.

One of Remender’s greatest feats is fleshing out Weapon XIII, Fantomex, the smooth-talking spy/sentinel created during Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men. Fantomex’s actions at the end of the first arc set in motion much of the plot of the rest of the series. Watch the master of misdirection woo Psylocke, stand trial by order of Betsy’s brothers and face off against the Skinless Man, aka Weapon III, a newly introduced graduate of the Weapon Plus program, another Morrison-bred concept. Fantomex is hands-down the most physically tortured member of the team, but in undergoing said tortures – and remember, this book is for mature readers, so it’s some pretty grisly stuff – he finds redemption.

But if Fantomex spends the series being physically tortured, Psylocke, the team’s resident telepath, spends it being mentally tortured. Betsy hasn’t been this interesting since Chris Claremont turned a purple-haired British woman into the Mandarin’s personal ninja in the late ’80s. In her attempts to be the team’s conscience, Psylocke is repeatedly forced to make difficult choices and then forced to watch in horror as the consequences of those choices play out, both in the present and in the future. Her despair is so great that at one point she makes a deal that requires her to yield her ability to feel sorrow, and though she makes it, it really doesn’t stick, as her former captive, the Shadow King, exacts revenge on her as a member of a newly formed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Remender’s Deadpool may be my favorite version of the character in any of his ongoing titles of the past few years, primarily because he’s sharing the spotlight with four other people and therefore not exhaustingly front and center as he is in his solo title and spinoff series. You could argue the fact that he’s not the center of attention makes the character work harder for it. I’m pretty sure I laughed harder at his heart-to-heart with Evan at the end of the series than I have in much of Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn’s current Deadpool solo book. And I’m a Deadpool fan from way back.

And lest we forget, there’s Wolverine, the whole reason this incarnation of X-Force exists. At this point in his career, Wolverine has become all things to all people. On X-Force, he’s the head killer in charge. In Wolverine & the X-Men, he’s the head of a school, raising the next generation of mutants to fight the good fight. On the Avengers, he’s a brawler in an army of supermen ready to be fastball-specialed at Thanos on a moment’s notice. And while Wolverine is the best at what he does, he still struggles with his conscience and the animal inside, just like he did 40 years ago when Claremont first gave the character depth. And nowhere is his conscience more active than when it comes to his son, Daken, who assembles an Army of royal X-pains – including Sabertooth – to work out his daddy-abandonment issues.

Archangel is also in this book, but I’m not quite sure how to talk about what happens to him without spoiling one of the series’ best arcs, except to say about midway through the series, Nightcrawler joins the team. Not the 616 Nightcrawler, of course, he’s dead at this point. Instead, we get the Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler, who is much like our Nightcrawler, except he has a red face tattoo, he doesn’t like being called Elf, he’ll betray the team if it means getting revenge on the ones who wronged him, he gets along well with his mother, Mystique, and he really likes teleporting people’s heads off their bodies. Otherwise, totally the same old Kurt Wagner.

And then there’s Deathlok, who serves as the team’s Jiminy Cricket, crossing the time stream to show X-Force how its kills affect the future.

One of the best things about Remender’s run is that it’s self-contained. You don’t have to read a whole bunch of other X-titles or drown in an incomprehensible crossover to enjoy the book. It even completely sidesteps Fear Itself and Avengers Vs. X-Men.

Speaking of the latter crossover, Remender’s next book, Uncanny Avengers, picks up after the events of AvX with a combined team of Avengers and X-Men who spend much of their time cleaning up the messes X-Force made in their last book, in addition to facing big Avengers villains such as the Red Skull and Kang. So if you like Uncanny X-Force, keep reading.

Remender’s Uncanny X-Force is collected in seven trade paperbacks: The Apocalypse Solution, Deathlok Nation, The Dark Angel Saga Books 1 and 2, Otherworld, and Final Execution Books 1 and 2. The series is also available in a hardcover omnibus.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/2

Daredevil #0.1
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Peter Krause

I've been enjoying Mark Waid's new volume of Daredevil, with Daredevil now operating out of San Francisco, and this new issue collects the digital first story that bridges the gap between the first volume and the second. Called, "Road Warrior," it tells the story of Matt Murdock travelling with Kirsten McDuffie, his partner and love interest. Of course, Matt is Daredevil, and so when their flight is grounded halfway across the country by weather, and he finds one of the passengers has not heartbeat but is moving around, he goes to investigate and leaves Kirsten behind and gets into an adventure involving an Adaptoid and the Mad Thinker. There are a lot of things in this issue to love. Firstly, it stand completely alone; you need little knowledge of Daredevil going in, and while the story ends with Matt on his way to complete his journey, there is no cliffhanger. Waid has done more to really underline that Daredevil is blind and his senses and experience of the world are not like everyone else's than any writer I can think of, and this issue really uses those perceptions well. It opens with an internal monologue of Matt trying to put into words how his "radar sense" works, and not having the words because they don't exist, and I think that's a very cool observation. I also was impressed with the final fight for a couple of reasons. First, I like it when Daredevil is out of his depth. He isn't anywhere near the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe, and so often when he has to fight a villain who isn't one of his rogues, he has to rely on his mind, not his powers, to win, and he does so in a very clever way here. Waid also takes one of the main tropes of science fiction, the robot who wants to be human, and completely subverts it here. The Adaptoid, a robot Mad Thinker built, has begin to think it's human, and at the end, well, let's just say it's not Mister Data. If you haven't tried out any of Waid's run on Daredevil and want to dip your toe in, this is a great place to start.

Fairest #27
Story: Mark Buckingham
Art: Russel Braun

The final arc of Fairest begins. I'm going to miss the heck out of Fables and the universe of spin offs that it has built, and this final arc of Fairest ties very heavily into the events that are taking place in the home title. There is unrest at the Farm, the home for Fables who can't pass for human, caused partly by Reynard, the wily fox, rubbing his new ability to transform into a human form, and the other animal and non-human Fables deciding they are finally due the similar glamour that they were promised. Tying back into an earlier issue of Fairest, we spend a lot of time with Reynard, who is mourning his clumsiness and lack of romantic luck in his human form. With dissent building, Rose Red, the queen of the new Camelot she is building on the Farm, calls for King Cole and the Witches of Fabletown to come along and help settle the rumblings. It's a complex issue, with lots of moving pieces and different characters, but it's enjoyable if you have been reading Fables and Fairest for a while. There is also a feeling of symmetry, as the first arc that featured the Farm dealt with an attempted coup, and now we're here at the end with chaos about the ensue again. It's also interesting since this story is written by Mark Buckingham, the principle artist on much of Fables, whose first arc was that initial Farm story. While Fairest has mostly featured the female cast of Fables, and I'm sure they will play a big roll as this continues, this story was a spotlight for Reynard, whose final page reveal of who he has decided to woo is only going to lead to a bigger problem for him and some comedic chaos that I am very much looking forward to.

Rocket Raccoon #1
Story & Art: Skottie Young

From foxes to raccoons, we're now off to space to spend a little time with the Guardians of the Galaxy's favorite rodent and his tree sidekick. Rocket has been a character I've loved since he was re-introduced back during the Annihilation: Conquest event, and his recently raised profile thanks to what I'm sure will be a star turn in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film has led Marvel to launch this ongoing series from cartoonist Skottie Young. This first issue is a ton of fun, starting with a princess rescue, followed by Rocket on a date watching Groot, his partner who happens to be a walking and talking tree monster, in a wrestling match, and then Rocket on the run with a bounty on his head. It's a wacky buddy comedy sort of adventure issue, which is the perfect tone for this book; nobody wants a grim and gritty adventure about a talking raccoon. I must point out that you don't get a story that works on its own. This is very much the beginning of an arc, and has lots of hints of what's to come in this first arc. But it does better than many first issue in that we get a lot of character mixed in with a ton of action; this isn't a talking heads comic. If you're coming for a fun, light story, though, you're staying for Skottie Young's incredible art. His style is fun and cartoony, perfect for Rocket and Groot, but is hyper-detailed at the same time. You can spend hours pouring over the panels of the city Rocket is in, looking at the backgrounds with all the crazy creatures and designs. And when the other Guardians appear briefly, while they are all in Young's distinct style, they are still very much themselves. Marvel has done a lot of interesting, different comics lately, and this new series is a perfect addition of that stable: a sci-fi/action/humor comic. If you enjoy crazy outer space action with talking animals, you need to try out Rocket Raccoon.

Southern Bastards #3
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour

It seems that in one of those cases of bad fortune, the weeks I've missed doing reviews the past couple months have overlapped with the release of Jason Aaron's new southern crime series, Southern Bastards. I've talked about Scalped here before, and this book is a worthy successor to that title. Earl Tubbs has returned to his home town in Craw County, Alabama to put family affairs in order, only to find the place rotten to the core, and after the death of his old friend Dusty last issue, it's time for Earl to get some answers. Armed with a big stick, one very reminiscent of the one his father, who was the sheriff and a local legend, wielded, Earl heads into town and makes a show of beating down a couple of the thugs who work for Coach Boss, the local football coach and crime boss/gang leader/all around bad guy. It's an exciting scene, and the reverence the townsfolk play to the stick makes me even more curious to see what exactly the story is of Earl's father. And the more we see of the town, a town that seems deep friend and crinkly around the edges, and almost completely lacking in southern hospitality, the more we see how rotten things are. The issue ends with a message being prepared by Coach Boss's tugs for Earl, one that isn't a peace offering. Earl continues to leave voicemails for a mystery woman, someone I hope we get some answers about soon. It's a great series, full of atmosphere and grit. Plus there's a recipe for deep friend apple pie from Jason Aaron's mom, which looks delicious. If a comic can also provide deliciousness, you know it's a keeper.

And as a final addition, check out this blog post from my coworker, Annie Gribbins. Annie brought her daughter to her first con a couple weeks back, Wizard World Philly, to meet Evan Peters, of X-Men: Days of Future Past and American Horror Story fame. It's a great post, and fun for a grizzled vetran like me to read the reaction of a first time con goer.