Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Listen Up!: Comics and Culture Podcasts You Should Check Out

So, I said I'd keep writing, even a bit more infrequently, and so here I am again.

As I haven't been blogging, I've had even more time to listen to podcasts. I've written about podcasts I listen to before, and, working from home, I've discovered so many more that are really worth listening to for comic fans. It's a brave frontier out there, folks, with plenty of interesting shows. I'm going to provide you with a rundown of the show, and a comic or two  to go along with each one; of course since many of today's are directly comic podcasts, some of those are kinda gimmes. I listen to all these podcasts through Stitcher, but they all have websites that you can visit to listen to episodes, and are available on iTunes and other podcatchers. So, to quote Hub of the first podcast I'll be talking about, without any further ado, let's a-do this.

Titan Up the Defense- Silver Age comics are wacky, I think we all know that. They are ripe for riffing and for looking back on in a light, fun way. And that's what the podcast currently known as Titan Up the Defense, and originally known as Teen Titans Wasteland, started out as. Brother Hub and Cory, with a liberal supply of "podcast juice"(that's booze to the uninitiated), spent sixty episodes digging into the madness and wonderment of Silver Age Teen Titans comics. Hub and Cory have a great rapport, with Hub being the old school Titans fan bringing Cory into it, and while you could jump in on most any episode, it's great to start from the beginning, to watch the running gags and Cory's knowledge of the Titans develop. But once they ran out of those sixties and seventies Titans comics, the show got a facelift, to become Titan Up the Defense. The current run bounces back and forth between issues of the 80s Wolfman & Perez New Teen Titans run and the classic 70s Defenders series from Marvel. I can't stress enough how much fun these guys seem to be having, and that comes through in the podcast; you laugh along with Kid Flash chugging maple syrup and appearances from Xemnu the Titan. But for all the humor, there are also some serious-ish discussions of race and politics of the time as reflected through the the lens of these series, which makes for some thing to actually think about. And while that is important, you really are tuning in to hear the guys doing mini-radio plays of Hostess ads, figuring out what Aqualad is up ti in issues he doesn't appear in, and discussions about the Titans favorite past times: eavesdropping and not understanding how secret identities work. DC recently released two Teen Titans Omnibuses of the silver and early bronze age stuff, and there are trades of the New Teen Titans run currently being published, with volume seven due out in August. The Defenders stuff is harder to track down now, but there are Essential Defenders volumes you can still find with some looking. Titan Up the Defense hits every Wednesday.

Thor: The Lightning and the Storm- In my last podcast post, I wrote about Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, a podcast that traces the history of the X-Men and their related books from the 60s to present (well, to the early 90s as of now). But Jay and Miles are taking the summer off, as Jay move to the East Coast (Welcome, Jay! Hope you survive the experience!), and for the summer, Miles is teaming with Elisabeth Allie, regular guest from his X-Men podcast, to spend 13 episodes discussing Walt Simonson's legendary run on The Might Thor. Miles has been talking up that run on X-Plain the X-Men since pretty much that podcast began, and last March I went and I read through the entire run, and hot damn it is as good as he said! And now, he and Elisabeth are hitting all the high points: the war with Surtur, Frog Thor, and "He Stood Alone at Gjallerbru." There has rarely been a podcast that radiated such excitement as this one: these are comics that Miles LOVES, and he loves sharing them with Elisabeth, who is on her first read through, and he loves sharing them with the listener. And since there's a definite beginning, middle, and end to the series, you know what commitment you're in for, and what it's building towards, although there are so many amazing climaxes in this run nearly any episode could be talking about the big finale. Episode eight dropped this week, so there's time to get in there and catch up before that final episode. Oh, and for pure crossover synergy, Elisabeth was the guest on last week's Titan Up the Defense, and Miles will be guesting this week, so check those out to get a chance to hear many great podcasters together, Walt Simonson's Mighty Thor has been collected in omnibus and four trades, all of which may or may not be in print thanks the the vagueries of Marvel's trade program; however the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok seem to be drawing from this classic run, so I bet they'll be back in print soon enough. Thor: The Lightning and the Storm hits weekly on Sundays.

The Adventure Zone- I think I've talked before about how much I love RPGs. I have a biweekly gaming group, affectionately addressed as Nerdstorm, where my wife, five friends, and I get together and sometimes play boardgames, but usually different RPGs: Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Dresden Files, and others. And if you've never been part of an RPG group, there are certain dynamics that develop in any group. And no show, TV, web, or podcast, has ever encapsulated the development of an RPG group and campaign better to me than The Adventure Zone. Griffin McElroy DMs (Dungeonmasters, or crafts the story) a D&D campaign for his brothers, Justin and Travis, and their dad, Clint. What starts out as fairly standard D&D for beginners becomes something much deeper and more fascinating as the campaign moves forward. The plot is elaborate and the mysteries pay off wonderfully; this is a podcast you really should start from episode one. The great PCs (player characters) are: Magnus Burnsides (Travis), the fighter with a heart of gold and no patience for anything, Taako (Justin), the wizard who is also a chef and does his best work staying out of the fray, and Merle Highchurch (Clint), the at times almost agnostic cleric of Pan, all of whom have become wonderfully three dimensional characters. And Griffin's NPCs (Non-Player Characters) include some absolute delights, the kind of characters you look forward to seeing come back again and again; my favorites are Angus McDonald, the world's greatest boy detective, and Klarg the Hugbear (like a bugbear, only cuddlier; Klarg likes tea). Even if you have no interest in D&D, this is a rollicking adventure story that never goes where you're expecting it to. Currently, graphic novel adaptations of The Adventure Zone are in the works from First Second, an excellent graphic novel publisher, but if you want something with the same flavor to keep you busy, you should try Rat Queens from Image Comics to tide you over. The Adventure Zone is released biweekly on Thursdays.

Myths and Legends- Comics and mythology are inextricably linked: from Wonder Woman's mythical patrons to Thor and the Asgardians in Marvel Comics to Dream of the Endless and all the mythology in The Sandman, the well never seems to run dry for creators to find new creatures and myths. And there are a lot of podcasts that tell myths, urban legends, and stories of the paranormal. But one of the best, and the one that I think fits best with the comic book mindset, is Myths and Legends. Jason Weiser hosts and narrates each episode, and tells the original or definitive (as best as can possibly be found) version of a classic myth, legend, or fairy tale. And I mean the ORIGINAL versions of those Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, so we're talking, the weird, screwed up versions. But one of the charms of the podcast is it's not just Greek and Norse myths and European fairy tales; nope you get Japanese myths, Slavic myths, tales of the Round Table, tales of the Arabian Nights, and more. Week in and week out, you never quite know what you're going to get. And after each main story, there's a second short story, a Creature of the Week, featuring an odd mythological beast or cryptid. This week's is a personal favorite cryptid of mine, the Skunk Ape, but if you want to hear the ultimate COTW, you need to check out Butter Cat. I will also say, if you listen from episode one on, you see the growth of Weiser as a podcaster and storyteller. The early episodes are enjoyable, but he tells the stories in a fairly matter of fact way. As the podcast continues, you see more authorial voice, more narrative and charm, and it makes an enjoyable podcast a must listen. If you want comics featuring myths and legends, you should check out Image's Wayward, which heavily features Japanese mythology, Dark Horse's Hellboy, for Slavic myths, and of course Vertigo's The Sandman for a little bit of everything. Myths and Legends is released Wednesday morning, and is the podcast I download every week and listen to on my way to the comic shop, so it has a particular association for me with my Wednesday pilgrimage.

The Old Time Superman Radio Show- I first discovered host Adam Graham with his Detectives of Old Time Radio podcast, a daily podcast featuring such luminaries of 40s and 50s detection as Boston Blackie, Richard Diamond, and Johnny Dollar, plus many others. But through that show, I discovered that Graham also has a show that plays the classic Superman radio show from the 40s. It's charming, with plenty of adventure and plots that fit in well with the vibe of late Golden Age comics. There's not a lot more to say about this one, but if you're curious about those old time Superman stories, or enjoy tales of the Golden and Silver Age of comics, you should try this show out. There are plenty of collections of Superman from this era, so any good comic shop should be able to help you find some classic Superman. Stitcher has been doing weird things with my feed on this show, releasing four or five episodes at a go, so I have a hard time telling when it actually drops, but there are 900+ episodes, so there's plenty of back catalog.

The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified- So, in case you haven't read much of this blog before, I have a real soft spot for all ages comics; you know, the ones that appeal to kids and adults on different levels, or just tell stories that are enjoyable for everyone. And when it comes to podcasts, I've discovered one that fits that same criteria to a T: The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified, from my local NPR station, WHYY in Philadelphia. Eleanor Amplified is a radio journalist who knows no fear and will stop at nothing to get the scoop. She's like Lois Lane on the radio, but she doesn't have the Man of Steel to help her out, so she has to take care of herself. Told in the style of classic old time radio drama, this show has a full cast, sound effects... the works! The first season sees Eleanor taking on the CEO of Megablurg, a multinational corporation, who has designs of national and global domination. There are smugglers, robots, prisons, mad scientists, and all the trappings of a wild adventure story. The episodes are nice and short, so they'll work with the attention span of small kids, but there's also a "Road Trip Edition" available, that has the entire first season in one long form audio movie. The show was conceived by one of the producers of the popular NPR interview and review series, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, so there's a bonus episode where Gross interviews series creator John Sheehan and speaks with Eleanor herself. If you enjoy Lumberjanes, Goldie Vance, or Gotham Academy, or basically any comic with a strong female protagonist, you should check out Eleanor Amplified. The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified is currently between seasons, although a couple of bonus episodes featuring the origin of Eleanor were recently released, with the promise of season two to come.

Monday, June 12, 2017

In Memoriam: Adam West



So, it's been a while, huh? And while I'm preparing to return to The Matt Signal on a more regular basis, an event this past weekend has made me shake off the dust and write a little something in tribute to the first Batman that many of my generation share.

I can't remember if I had seen the classic Batman TV series before I received Who's Who in the DC Universe #2, the first comic I was ever given, the issue that spotlighted most characters whose name began with a "B." I know I watched it in syndication pretty regularly from when I was a kid through when it stopped being syndicated, sometime after Batman Returns, but by then I had Batman: The Animated Series and I hardly noticed. But I know that gaudy, lively, energetic series was part of my formative years, and you can't talk about that series without talking about Adam West, it's Batman, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 88.

 People have very different opinions of the Batman TV series. Glen Weldon, the NPR comic book critic who wrote the excellent book on Batman's history, The Caped Crusade, said in an episode of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour (exactly which one I alas cannot recall, and pardon the paraphrasing if you read this, Glen), that most people go through three phases when it comes to that series: as kids they love it as an adventure series, as teenagers/twenty-somethings they hate it because it's so campy and doesn't take Batman as a SERIOUS CHARACTER, and as adults they learn to love it again as a piece of crazy camp art. And a good part of that camp artistry comes from Adam West's straight faced performance as Batman.

It would have been easy to play Batman for laughs, to make him a goof or a joke, but producer William Dozier didn't want that: he knew that having a Batman who was this rock of deadpan seriousness in an absurd world is what would sell the series. And Adam West pulled that off perfectly. He delivered every line with a degree of gravitas. He only winked at the camera when it was written to do it, like when he was pulling the wool of his secret identity over the eyes of the sweet (if a bit dim) Aunt Harriet, Commissioner Gordon, and Chief O'Hara. He was dashing as Bruce Wayne, heroic as Batman, and while the villains often tried to steal the show, he held his own (which is more than can be said for other live action Batmans).

I think everyone who has come to appreciate the madcap genius of the series has favorite episodes. While the Joker is my favorite villain in Batman history, when it comes that this series, Burgess Meredith's Penguin is the performance that always grabs me, and the two parter, "Hizzonner the Penguin/Dizzoner the Penguin," where the Penguin and Batman run against each other for mayor of Gotham is clever and has Batman give great speeches about the importance of elections and government (and the concept of Penguins mayoral ambitions that has been recycled in Batman Returns, Gotham, and the tie-in comics to Batman: The Animated Series). Joker does pop up in the favorite, "Surf's Up! Joker's Under!" where Joker and Batman compete in a surfing contest, which is as delightfully absurd as it sounds. There are more episodes than I can name, with the Catwomans, the Riddlers (although, as much as I love John Astin in Addams Family and Night Court, Frank Gorshin is the truly memorable Riddler, while Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt are equally memorable as Catwoman), and numerous other villains that spring to mind, but Adam West's Batman always stood against the criminals of Gotham.



And if I'm talking about Adam West and Batman, I need to briefly discuss the feature film tied into that series. Not only did it have the most spectacular scenes that ever were tied to West, including Shark Repellent Bat Spray, dehydrated pirate goons in the Batcave, and a bomb on the boardwalk, it also allowed West to do some real acting. Early in the movie, he becomes smitten by a reporter (who is clearly Catwoman in disguise to the viewer), and throughout the movie he romances her, and when it is revealed she is Catwoman, he genuinely looks pained by the betrayal. It's a nice bit of acting, and proves that West is more than just a stiff, cardboard cut-out of an actor, but is actually trying, and acting as Batman.

Sadly, most of the stars of this classic bit of superhero lore have now passed on. Burt Ward (Robin) and Julie Newmar (the first Catwoman) are the only regular or recurring members of the cast who are still with us. Adam West was a fixture at conventions, always out talking to his fans and reminding them of when Batman would dance (I never met him myself, and admit to having heard mixed opinions on how he was with fans, but it is undeniable he was an ambassador for his own take on Batman, and had an easy smile when someone came up to him). Towards the end of his life, I know he was working on a second direct-to-DVD animated film, a sequel to last year's charming Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, voicing Batman in the lost episode featuring Two-Face, which was adapted into a comic a couple years back, and would have William Shatner voicing the villain; I am unsure if the recording was completed before Mr. West's passing, but I hope it was, as it would make a great final testament to his lasting impact as Batman.

So, goodbye Adam West. Safe journey to whatever might be next, and may you never have one of those days where you just can't get rid of a bomb.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Mayhem of the Music Meister!



Season One, Episode Twenty-Five: Mayhem of the Music Meister!
Written by Michael Jelenic
Directed by Ben Jones

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: The Music Meister walks out in front of a curtain and starts to conduct an orchestra.

Episode:
(Song titles appear in italics as they appear in the episode)

The curtain parts and shows a military base, where Black Manta's walker fires on the soldiers, causing them to flee. Black Manta, Gorilla Grodd, and Clock King are inside, preparing to hijack the rocket that holds the United Nations new communications satellite, which they plan to use to cause chaos on global communications. But before they can get on the rocket, the are interrupted by Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Aquaman. But before they can start fighting, the begin... to sing.

As they sing in bewilderment, the mastermind behind the singing appears: The Music Meister, who instructs them to stop fighting him, which they do and he begins to details his plan and origin (I'm the Music Meister). The heroes and villains begin to dance and sing back-up as he explains he controls people by singing at them. Observing from a distance, Batman sees the singing and dancing as the heroes prepare the satellite to launch.

When Music Meister hears Black Canary sing, he becomes enchanted by her, but her Canary Cry knocks him off his feet as Batman drops from his Bat-gyro, having out in an earpiece to protect him from Music Meister's hypnosis. While Batman easily gets the upperhand on Music Meister, the villains sends his controlled heroes and villains to attack Batman. Batman is able to fight the others to a standstill until Music Meister sets off the rocket to launch, and commands the heroes and villains to do a kickline into the flames blasting from the rocket, as the curtains close again, ending Act One.

As Music Meister speeds away on a keyboard on wheels, Batman chooses to save his friends and enemies from being burned alive by using two Bat-grapnels to hold them in place and then fire a net from the Bat-gyro to hold them. With the rocket and Music Meister gone, the spell is broken, and the heroes knock out the villains. Batman knows there's more to Music Meister's plan, and Black Canary asks to join him in hunting down the new foe. He gives the heroes earplugs to protect them, and tells them to stay with the defeated villains until the police arrive, taking off alone, and Black Canary ignores Green Arrows attempts to court her affections.

At a concert hall, Music Meister plays the organ and talks to a cardboard audience, detailing his plan to use the satellite to spread his hypnotic power over the world, musing there's one thing that can stop him. And as he says it, Batman appears, and Music Meister hits keys in the organ which spews smoke to let him escape and begins to sing about Batman's ability to drive villains crazy an ruin their plans (Drives Us Bats).

Music Meister leads Batman on a chase through the city, getting people to randomly attack him, before arriving at Blackgate Prison and causing a mass breakout, which is foiled by Batman and his allies. As they fight, Black Canary watches Batman fight and sings about her wanting Batman to love her (If Only). Music Meister joins in, singing about his own feelings for Canary, making it a duet. He is able to blast Canary and Batman with an energy bolt, knocking them unconscious as the curtain falls on Act Two.

The curtains open on a closed club now filled with huge machinery chugging away, producing a beat that Music Mesiter sings to about his death trap (Death Trap). Batman and Canary are tied together, and as Music Meister leaves, acid and lasers begin moving towards the heroes, the walls start closing in, and a bomb starts ticking, but Batman is able to use his gadgets to get Canary and himself out.

Music Meister has set up in Gotham Square, with Aquaman and Green Arrow guarding him, preparing for the finale of his scheme, but Batman and Canary appear to stop him. But Music Meister's final costume change has speakers built in, allowing him to project his voice farther and create an army of innocent citizens to protect him (The World is Mine), while others begin to steal everything they can. And coupling the speakers and mic system with the satellite, all of Gotham begins to bring Music Meister everything they can get their hands on, not just in Gotham, but everywhere.

Under Music Meister's control, Aquaman grabs Black Canary, but Green Arrow is able to break the mind control long enough to free Canary before Aquaman starts and outrageous hero on hero fight. Batman and Canary again try to stop Music Meister, but his legion of thralls interfere. They are able to grab Canary and remove her earplugs, leaving Batman alone to fight. Canary turns on Batman, and begins fighting Batman, but Batman challenges Music Meister to have Canary match him in a singing contest, note for note, going higher and higher. Distracted by the singing, Music Meister doesn't see Batman loop a Batrope tied to a Batarang around his microphone. Batman pulls the mike in front of Canary as she hits the high note, her Canary Cry triggering and blowing out all the speakers and breaking Music Meister's spell, before Batman slugs the villain, knocking him unconscious and saving the world from musical mind control.

Canary goes to Batman, who explains he used a gadget to match her voice, and she asks him to dinner, but he refuses, because crime doesn't take breaks. before he swings off. Canary begins to sing again about her crush in Batman, but Green Arrow joins in about his feelings for her (If Only [Reprise]), and she is shocked by his singing voice, and the two join hands and sing in front of the sparkling lights of the damaged stage as a single spotlight shines on them, and the curtain closes on the heroes looking into each other's eyes.

Who's Who




Music Meister (Voiced by Neil Patrick Harris)
First Comic Book Appearance:  None
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Five: Mayhem of the Music Meister!

As a young child, the Music Meister was bullied because he could sing beautifully in choir. But one day, when surrounded by bullies, he began to sing and they stopped. And soon he was controlling them. He realized he could control people with the sound of his voice, and so began his path to supervillainy. This is the Music Meister's only full appearance; he will cameo a few more times, but never speaks or sings in any of them. Music Meister can control anyone in the sound of his singing voice, and has many music related gadgets.


Black Canary (Voiced by Grey Griffin)
First Comic Book Appearance: Flash Comics #86 (August, 1947)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Sixteen- Night of the Huntress!


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



Aquaman (voiced by John DiMaggio)
First comic book appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!


Gorilla Grodd (Voice by John DiMaggio)
First Comic Book Appearance: The Flash #106 (May, 1959)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!


Black Manta (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson)
First comic book appearance: Aquaman #35 (September 1967)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!


Clock King (Voice by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance: World's Finest Comics #111 (August, 1960)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle


Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes


"Mayhem of the Music Meister" is one of the most popular episodes Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Seriously, I can't tell you how wonderful it is. The songs are whip smart and catchy, Neil Patrick Harris, star of stage and screen best known as the title character on Doogie Howser, M.D. and as the womanizing Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother, completely knocks his performance out of the park, and it's just delightful through and through. It's so popular that contributor Dan Grote included it as one of his picks for best animated episodes in last year's Advent Calendar.

If you watch the episode and love it, the soundtrack was released to download and on CD through Amazon.

Batman's singing voice is provided not by Diedrich Bader, who voices Batman in the series, but Jeff Bennett, who voices the Joker on the series.

Among the numerous references in this episode, there's a particularly fun one. As Music Meister sends the heroes and villains at the beginning to fight Batman, they start snapping their fingers, which is a nod to the classic musical West Side Story, where the two street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, snap at the beginning of their dance based rumbles.

During the number "Drives Us Bats," the cuts to the villains singing in Arkham includes nearly every villain who has appeared in this series, not to mention most of the original villains from the Batman TV series from the '60s: King Tut, Psycho Pirate, Top, Crazy Quilt, Mad Hatter, Calendar Man, Mr. Freeze, Tweedles, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Joker, False Face, Shame, Cavalier, Egghead, Kiteman, Babyface, Louie the Lilac, Felix Faust, Fun Haus, Shark, Sportsmaster, Bookworm, The Archer, Grodd, Black Manta, Clock King

Music Meister makes numerous costume changes throughout the episode, hitting on various musical genres and musical influences including Phantom of the Opera, Liberace, Mozart, Marching Band, Disco King, Kiss, Behorned Opera Singer. Elvis, and Punk.

During "Death Trap" the walls of the room surrounding Batman and Black Cnaary are platered with what look like band stickers, and each of the stickers has the name of DC Universe team, both great and small. It would take forever to list them all, but if you pause your DVD or stream with the DC Wiki open, you'll see some amazing deep cuts in there.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/19


The Backstagers #3
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Rian Sygh & Walter Baiamonte

I have find memories about both working backstage on student productions and high school theatricals, although not connected (I did most of my production work in college, while I acted in high school. I died on stage twice in one play!). So, because of this, I was drawn to The Backstagers, another of Boom Box's YA titles, along the same lines as Lumberjanes and Goldie Vance, and it is as delightful and charming as those titles, while being its own book. The Backstagers features a cast of five high school boys at an all boys school who are the stage crew on this year's production, a so-thinly-veiled-it's not-at-all-veiled production of Les Miserables. But what makes this more than just a behind-the-scenes of a play comic is that the backstage is full of tunnels, hallways, and passages full of monsters and creatures (which isn't too far off some of the back stages I've been in over the years. While the first two issues did a lot to set the tone and establish the characters through the eyes of new crew member Jory, issue three takes us to that most dreaded of times for a stage crew: Tech Week, the week where you run the show over and over and make sure everything works. This issue focuses on Beckett, one of the long time members of the crew, who has been the most, shall we say, standoffish member of the crew in those first couple of issue. Writer James Tynion IV does a great job of explaining why Beckett is the way he is in this issue, really fleshing out his character; not just establishing his crush on the play's leading lady, Bailey Brentwood, who is by no means the prima donna mean girl that one might expect from a high school drama star, but also exploring that Beckett is a classic introvert, someone who just needs his own time and space, something this introvert respects and understands with every part of his being.. Also, teaming the grumpy Beckett with the joyful little sprite that is other Backstager Sasha creates a classic duo who don't work. The issue has some great art from Rian Sygh, specifically a splash page of a scene from the play with cast members standing on a barricade, giving you an idea of just how weird this play is (it's Les Mis! Only they're clowns! And there's a bear!). And another two page spread that has small panels over a lighting plot where you get to see much of the crew and cast doing their work in little snippets is one of the best comic representations of what I picture as a TV or movie montage that I've ever seen. This issue is a great work in both character and craft, and just a ton of fun. And while this issue has very little of the supernatural aspects that the first couple have had, short of a magic crystal that powers the lights and lighting board, which is something every theater, high school, college, or professional, would love to have, the set up for what's coming next issue has the promise of all sorts of magic and monsters. Between Backstagers and Detective Comics, James Tynion IV is proving to be an amazing writer of ensemble, character based comics, and I'm looking forwar to where he takes this book next. And, yes, I swore after Goldie Vance that is Boom Box did another mini-series to ongoing transition I wouldn't get suckered in, but, well, if the folks at Boom read this and happen to make that decision, I'm in for the long haul.



Batman #9
Story: Tom King
Art: Mikel Janin & June Chung

Detective Comics has been the Bat book that has absorbed my love and attention since the beginning of the Rebirth era, which is not to say that Batman to this point hasn't been a good comic. It's been a solid, big screen action comics with some nice character beats and work establishing Duke Thomas's relationship with Batman and the new character of Gotham Girl. But the new arc that debuts this issue, "I Am Suicide" looks to be a story that is going to take a good book and push it to new heights. Batman has plans to go to Santa Prisca, home of Bane, to retrieve the villainous Psycho Pirate, who used his powers to infect Gotham Girl with a never ending cycle of fear, and to do it, he's going to need backup, and in this case, he's been offered it by Amanda Waller. Yes, Batman is leading a Suicide Squad. Before we get to Batman, though, the issue opens with Bane and Psycho Pirate, and a bit of a recap of some of Bane's formative years, which are horrifying, and why Bane has taken Psycho Pirate, which is interesting. Bane has been an odd character since the New 52 tossed away much of his later character development, returning him to the character he was in his earlier appearances, or worse to the more thuggish version from various media interpretations, but here it seems King is attempting to deepen the psychology of Bane, which makes for a truly creepy few pages. The majority of this issue a classic, "assembling the team," sequence, but it's not in a sunny happy place like the gathering of a new Justice League. Nope, we're in the bowels of Arkham Asylum. Batman walks out of the Asylum with five members for his team, each very different from the next, Firstly we get the original Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker. Wesker was one of the characters resurrected by the continuity changes of Flashpoint, but has appeared only in cameos, and has been in many ways overshadowed by the new Ventriloquist created by Gail Simone for Batgirl and Secret Six. Here we get a half reformed Wesker who has broken away from Scarface, but still is seeking someone to pull his strings, which is an interesting view of the character. Bronze Tiger has also been a character who the New 52 continuity didn't treat well, turning him from noble fighter fighting his darker urges into just another member of the League of Assassins. This issue, though, returns him to the classic Suicide Squad member and gives him a great two page sparring session with Batman, one that ends with a smile and the two being revealed to share a history. Punch and Jewlee have been minor characters at the best of times, although they do have a history with the Squad as well, and I'm curious to see what King does to make them more than D-List Joker and Harley. And finally, well, here there be SPOILERS ... is Catwoman, awaiting execution for over two hundred counts of murder. When we last saw Catwoman, which was before Rebirth, she had given up leading Gotham's crime families and had returned to her old status quo, so this is a big, big shocker, and I'm curious to see exactly where King is taking this. On top of all of this, the art from Mikel Janin keeps getting better and better, Seriously, how this guy is not a star is beyond me, with a style reminiscent of early J.H. Williams III. The Bane flashback alone is chilling, and his take on Arkham is excellently creepy.This first issue sets up so much promise for this arc, I can't wait to see how it pays off.



Faith #4
Story: Jody Houser
Art: Pere Perez, Marguerite Sauvage, & Andrew Dalhouse

There are times when I feel like heroism in superhero comics are in short supply. DC is trying to course correct more in this direction with Rebirth, and the results are promising but still early. Marvel continues to have its heroes fighting other heroes more than villains, with some exceptions (like Squirrel Girl). But there's one comic you can always go to where heroism is front and center, and that is Valiant's Faith. At the end of last month a magical artifact created a duplicate Faith, and now both Faith's, along with Faith's boyfriend Obadiah Archer, are hunting down the villain who is using the magical duplication artifact to rob a comic con. It would be easy enough to make this an evil duplicate thing, but that's not where this story goes. Instead we have two heroic Faiths dealing with a legion of criminal doubles all cosplaying a character called Murderous Mouse. I again have to applaud Jody Houser for finding a way to make even the second part of a two-parter new reader friendly. You get a good explanation of Faith's status quo and you get to see all the best parts of her. There's a great exchange between the two Faiths about ysalamiri and how much they miss the Star Wars E.U., which touches on Faith's status as fangirl. You get to see her in action, showing her as a superhero. You get those delightful Marguerite Sauvage drawn daydreams, including a comment on how having two of her would make, "dating weird" (which reminds me of a hilarious moment from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "The Replacement," You know, the one with two Xanders, when Anya talks about keeping both of them around for a while. Hey, I'm reviewing Faith. Pop culture references are a must), which show that Faith has her head in the clouds at times. And at the end of the story, the duplicate Faith performs an amazingly heroic act, one I don't want to spoil, which shows that no matter which version of her you have, Faith is a hero at heart. And I have to say, while I want to see Faith on her own with her regular supporting cast, and Archer needs Armstrong, I would love a quarterly, "Archer & Faith," series where we just see them go on dates and get into crazy adventures because their dynamic is just adorable. Faith remains a book in classic superheroic tradition, where good wins, and good guys are good guys, and I will take that and relish it month in and month out.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Very Ryan North Friday

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

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



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

Plot Synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Who's Who



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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/12


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

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


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

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



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

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



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


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

In which Deadpool stops someone from committing suicide through violence.

Let that sink in for a second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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