Afterlife with Archie #8
Story: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art: Francesco Francavilla
A lot of the horror of Archie Comics's recent horror revival have been placing their usually peaceful characters in violent and shocking positions. The new issue of Afterlife with Archie is actually quite quiet. There is a minimum of action in any physical sense, but it is one of the more chilling comics I've read in quite some time.The remaining Riverdale refugees have settled at the Bradbury Hotel to rest for Christmas, and the issue opens with a modified quote from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. This opening pastiche is the first of many in an issue that is a love letter to classic haunted house stories. Archie narrates much of the story to Jughead, the human patient zero for the zombie outbreak, who appears as a ghostly bartender and is making ghostly sodas for Archie in the first of many homages to Stanley Kubric's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. We get caught up on the fallout from the previous issue's death of Jason Blossom, both the vote to decide whether his suspected murderer, his sister Cheryl, would stay with the group and her eventual revelation to the ladies her motives. Reggie rides through the Bradbury on a skateboard and encounters his own ghosts like Danny on his tricycle. But much of what Archie talks about is Betty and the loss of her hope and innocence, something that we starting in the previous issue which she narrated. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has crafted a great character-based horror comic here, really delving into what makes these characters tick and where they're going. There's also a tale from Archie's mom, told to her by her grandmother, that might explain a lot about Riverdale, but also one that reminds us that nothing comes without a cost. The issue ends with Archie making a decision, one that I feel can only lead to more heartache, more death, but I can't be sure exactly where this will lead, which is another quality of good horror: it keeps you guessing. And Afterlife with Archie does exactly that.
Bodie Troll: Fuzzy Memories #1
Story & Art: Jay P. Fosgitt
I was able to track down a FCBD Bodie Troll issue, which whet my appetite for the first issue of the new Bodie mini-series, Fuzzy Memories. The issue opens with a great little scene that sets up all of the principles' personalities if you've never read Bodie's adventures before: Bodie is chasing bunnies, thinking he's scary, when the bunnies in fact think he's playing. Bodie's friend Cholly is writing her latest play. And Miz Bijou, the fairy who employs Cholly at her pub (and Bodie to a lesser degree) us being sardonic and egging Bodie on. Bodie and Miz Bijou wind up making a bet that Bodie can't eat something living, and he ups the ante by saying he'll find something in the monster forest. Cholly and Bodie wander through the forest, where Bodie once again is sure he's scary when the really scary thing is Hokun of the Kooghun, a member of a monster hunting tribe, who winds up chasing Bodie home. There's some pretty complex plotting here, not confusing but layered, where things are set up early that pay off at the end of the story. Bodie eats some Butt-Truffles, mushrooms that only grow in monster poop, and what seems like a simple gross out joke winds up having an important part in the story's end. One of the fun things about Bodie Troll is the mix of poop jokes with cute characters and the other humor; it's still all ages, frankly, if my six year old niece's sense of humor is any indication of the tolerance of little kids for poop jokes. Jay P. Fosgitt's art is wonderful as ever, with his great monster designs, adorable Bodie and bunnies, and his people who have a distinct look; Bodie dressed up in his best suit, waiting to be killed joyfully because he thinks it's because he's really scary was a delightful visual. This issue serves as a great reintroduction to Bodie's world if you've been here before, and perfect jumping on point if you're new, both letting you know who these characters are and establishing a mystery or two to keep readers coming back.
Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Jan Duursema
Ok, I'm a sucker for a happy ending. Call me a rank sentimentalist, but I saw this cover and I smiled pretty damn wide. After last issue left the future of Nightwing and Oracle up in the air, both their relationship future and their lives in general as they had to fight the Flashpoint universe Hawkwoman and Hawkman, the stakes were pretty high here. But while Nightwing goes in with escrima sticks swinging, Oracle does what she does best: she thinks. With a little help from her friends, she sets off to do battle herself. The Hawks proudly boasted that they hear everything using their Thangarian robots, but when your best friend has a sonic scream, well, you can use that to your advantage. Yes, Gail Simone gets to not only bid goodbye to this version of Barbara Gordon as Oracle, but she also gets to work in some great scenes with Black Canary, and we get to see Barbara's rapport with her fellow Bird of Prey. And when the chips are down again, it's Barbara who once again saves the day. It's not that Nightwing is portrayed poorly; he's still a hero, still tough and strong, and willing to sacrifice anything to save people. But this is Barbara's show from page one. Jan Duursema once again blew me away with her Nightwing, one who moves with such perfect grace, the same kind she instilled in her Jedi in her years of Star Wars work. I ended the review of last issue saying that if this was the end of these versions of these characters, I'm happy Simone got in the last word. I don't think I have anything else to say than that. If you ever loved Barbara Gordon as Oracle, or the Bludhaven era, happy-go-lucky Nightwing, this is a perfect send off for those characters.
Convergence: The Question #2
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Cully Hamner
Greg Rucka's last hurrah with Renee Montoya, a character he redefined entirely, is as satisfying as Gail Simone's with Oracle; Rucka turned Renee from another Gotham cop into a down on her luck drunk and then into the Question, a feat in itself. Rucka knows Renee inside and out, and after being knocked out by Two-Face last issue, she teams up with her roommate, Huntress, and her ex, Batwoman, to try to stop Harvey from committing a bizarre form of suicide, going to fight an alternate universe version of himself and letting that version kill him. While the heroes are jumping across rooftops and storming the Gotham Courthouse where Two-Face is, we get some great character bits; the awkwardness between Question and Batwoman, Batwoman being jealous of Huntress and Question, and Huntress putting Batwoman in her place since she and Question are just friends. It's never catty, never over the top, but Rucka knows his characters, and knows how to make them sing, metaphorically. He also knows Two-Face, and presents a great scene where our disfigured Harvey Dent talks to a whole version of himself, one with everything our Harvey lost. The story is naturally narrated by our title character, with Renee talking about loss and regret, and there's a one moment where she remembers Charlie, her friend, who was the original question, who died on cancer, and she gets a final moment to see her estranged father, who is also dying of cancer, and gets to have the moment where they share their love one more time. It's a touching scene, and it's nice to see Renee get her own kind of happy ending. In an interesting tonal mismatch, the preview of a new DC title in the back of this issue is for Starfire, from Harley Quinn writing team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, a much lighter title. Starfire is trying to find a new home, and we get a view into her head as she meets with various allies and frenemies for help her in her decision. Finally, with some help from Superman, Starfire settles on a place, a place with no superheroic history to it. It's a cute eight pager, and it sets up this new series well.
After weeks of talking about everything that led to it, Dan Grote looks at the beginning of the new Marvel event...
Secret Wars #1
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina
In the beginning, there was Reed Richards …
… I mean, I guess if you completely ignore the Golden Age and start with the Silver Age, when Marvel Comics actually started calling itself Marvel Comics.
The first issue of Marvel’s big end-of-the-worlds event is very much a tale of two Reeds: The 616 Reed and the Reed of the so-called Ultimate Universe. One is a super-scientist and a father making a last-ditch effort to save whatever he can of his world. The other is, to quote Ultimate Nick Fury (aka MCU Nick Fury): “a thousand-year-old megalomaniacal boy genius who wiped out most of Europe on a whim.”
616 Reed has built a ship full of scientists and superheroes to flee Earth and find a way to rebuild. While our Reed is clearly depicted as the nobler of the two, it bears noting that at least half the ship’s passengers are members of his immediate family and the Future Foundation, the science enclave created during Hickman’s run on FF. The rest are random heroes not given the luxury of escaping with their loved ones.
1610 Reed, on the other hand, has isolated himself in a temporal dome called the City, from which he manipulates his Nick Fury into attacking 616 Earth, launches a doomsday weapon and hangs out with the 616’s scariest villains, including Thanos and Maximus the Mad Inhuman.
In the end, one Reed loses everything. I mean, I guess everyone loses everything when two Earths smash into each other, but the reader only gets to see one man’s heart break.
The book boasts a large cast, but everyone who isn't named Reed Richards is basically there just to punch each other as if that would somehow save the world. How that doesn't result in a single hero meeting his or her 1610 counterpart is beyond me. Only Ultimate Iron Man gets a meeting with a 616 hero – Captain Marvel – and he dutifully hits on her.
The award for Best Scene, however, goes to the 616’s villains, who throw an end-of-the-world party at the Bar with No Name only for it to be broken up by an uninvited guest with a skull on his shirt and a desire to unload a surplus of bullets.