Monday, June 8, 2015

Reviews of Comics for Wednesday 6/3

Airboy #1
Story: James Robinson
Art: Greg Hinkle

Meta-textual commentary has been a part of comics since Stan Lee wrote the Marvel Bullpen into Fantastic Four. Grant Morrison wrote himself into Animal Man, Warren Ellis popped up in Powers, and Brian Michael Bendis recently appeared in Nailbiter, to name a few. But James Robinson and Greg Hinkle's new series using the public domain flying ace Airboy, does something a little different, and absolutely fascinating: it pulls the hero into the real world, instead of inserting the creator into the comic book world. But we don't even get much of that this issue. No, this issue is the story of a writer in a tailspin. James Robinson has been offered the chance to write Airboy by Image Comics, and he's agreed to do it despite himself. He's unhappy with his work at DC (which he talks about frankly in the dialogue), and he's sick of being "the golden age guy" but he takes the offer, despite having no ideas. When he can't get anymore ideas, he gets his artist, Greg Hinkle, to fly to San Francisco, where Robinson lives, to try to get the juices flowing. What follows is not a night of comic creating, but one of alcohol, cocaine, and anonymous sex. It's only by issue's end that Airboy pops up, and only on the last page. Robinson doesn't pull any punches in how he portrays himself; he's a drunk, he's snorting cocaine at every chance, he's cheating on his wife, and he is wallowing in self-pity. From interviews, the general plot is semi-autobiographical, and it's interesting to see a writer most associated with superhero comics writing something so straightforwardly inner facing. I've been a fan of Robinson's since he wrote a couple phenomenal arcs of Batman: Legends the Dark Knight, and this is a very different Robinson. Greg Hinkle's art style is different and interesting (something talked about in the comic, actually), and works well with the material. The muted color palette also works with Robinson's mindset, and the flash of color when Airboy appears is an excellent visual trope.  Just to warn some of you more sensitive readers, there is some sexual material in the issue (although nothing hardcore), and some full frontal male nudity, but it's nothing worse than what you see on cable. This is a comic that takes the fourth wall and pretty much smashes it to pieces, so if that, along with stories about writing, creation, and self examination catch your interest, Airboy is something you want to check out.

Batman Beyond #1
Story: Dan Jurgens
Art: Bernard Chang

Since the reboot DC Comicsa post-Flashpoint, I've been hoping to see Tim Drake get his own series again. I started reading comic within a couple months of Tim's first appearance, and he has been my favorite Robin, and probably my favorite DC Conics's character aside from Batman himself. And while he's been in Teen Titans from the outset, I wanted a book that was all about Tim. And this past week, I got my monkey paw wish in the new Batman Beyond series spinning out of The New 52: Futures End, where a Tim Drake from five years in the future has been thrust thirty more years into the future. Yes, that's a pretty complicated, timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly set up, but you don't really need to know it. What you need to know is Tim is a stranger in a strange land, on an Earth where Gotham is the last bastion standing against the reign of Brother Eye, an evil cybernetic being. This first issue establishes the status quo that Tim walks into, a mixture of what we'd expect from the current continuity and the classic animated Batman Beyond timeline. We see Terry McGinnis's little brother, Matt, who thinks he should have been made Batman when his brother died (Terry died pulling a Kyle Reese, going back to stop Brother Eye, and died in the process), and a gang of Jokerz. We meet a new character, Nora Boxer, a former Global Peace Agency agent who is Matt's guardian. And we get to see what the world outside of Gotham is like, as Tim goes to free Maxine Gibson, Terry's best friend, from a Brother Eye prison camp and runs afoul of a superhero converted into a Brother Eye drone. Who that is, I want to leave as a surprise, as well as the last page reveal of the other hero who is imprisoned in the camp. It's a lot to take in for a first issue, especially if you didn't read Futures End, but the banter between Tim and ALFRED, the Bat suit A.I. is fun, the action scenes are beautifully drawn by Bernard Chang, and it's an interesting set-up. While this isn't the Batman Beyond of old, it's an interesting take on the world, and one that has potential to honor those old stories while beating it's own path.

Bizarro #1
Story: Heath Corson
Art: Gustavo Duarte

All ages comics have been severely lacking in DC Comics main line since the reboot. This first week of the new line sees the debut of not one but two series. And while Bat-Mite is a fun book, it was Bizarro that totally knocked my socks off. Writer Heath Corson has been the screenwriter of many of the recent DC direct-to-DVD movies, but this is his first comic, and it's a strong showing. There's no continuity knowledge needed, just a basic understanding that Bizarro is Superman's awkward opposite number and Jimmy Olsen is Superman's pal. The comic itself is the first leg of a road trip that Jimmy and Bizarro are on together. You don't need to know why, they just are, and craziness ensues. After smashing up his car, thanks to an attack by Bizarro's pet chupacbra, Colin, Jimmy and Bizarro wind up in a tiny town. There, to get his car fixed, Jimmy meets Regis "King Tut" Tuttle, the Pharaoh of Used Cars, and his lovely daughter, Regina. Of course, King Tut winds up being empowered by Ancient Egyptian gods (sort of, anyway), and uses his new powers to exert his will on the town, and so it's Bizarro to the rescue. Bizarro is the lovable oaf here, similar to how he was presented in Superman: The Animated Series, and his backwards talk and misunderstanding of the way people interact makes for much of the humor. Jimmy is presented as put upon and completely frustrated by how to deal with Bizarro's antics, and the fact that Colin seems to want to eat him. It's a classic odd couple dynamic, only with one of the two being a chalky clone of a superhero, and it's hilarious. I'm looking forward to seeing what other kinds of trouble Bizarro can get into.

Nailbiter #13
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson

A little over a year into Nailbiter, this issue begins to give us details on the backstory of two of our leads, titular serial killer Edward Charles Warren and his ex-girlfriend, Sheriff Shannon Crane. A series of flashbacks show Warren as an odd, sort of creepy kid, not the bold and strutting killer he is today, and Sheriff Crane has softer edges then she does in the present; I somehow think being known as the ex of one of Buckaroo's serial killers has hardened her considerably. Still the chemistry between the two of them is great, and despite knowing their fates, I found myself sort of rooting for them. But in the present, there isn't any romance bubbling between the two. Instead, Crane, Warren, and our other lead Nicholas Finch, have to make it past a group of robe wearing townsfolk led by Reverend Fairgold, who are swearing to follow Warren around to make sure he never kills again. It's one of those darkly funny scenes this book does really well, as Warren confronts the mob, and we see exactly how ready they are to stand up against the Nailbiter. Once that's done, we reenter the tunnels beneath Buckaroo, where Warren has promised to show the origins of the Buckaroo Butchers. This is where the book shifts from darkly funny to just plain creepy, which is another thing this comic does well. Darkness, weird statuary and wall paintings, it all helps further the atmosphere of darkness that permeates Buckaroo. I don't think anyone is surprised that Warren slips away, and the issue ends with him confronting the reverend again, this time in the hospital room of Agent Carroll, the man who brought Finch to Buckaroo and set off the chain of events we're witnessing. Like any good horror story, the last page knocks your socks off with how disturbing it is, and I don't want to say any more to possibly spoil the surprise. Nailbiter continues to be one of the best mixes of horror, character, and comedy produced right now, and inheritor of the legacies of Hannibal Lecter books and Tales from the Crypt. Each issue brings us deeper into the mystery of Buckaroo, and every step only makes me more nervous for the characters. I just do my best not to start biting my nails...

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #6
Story: Ryan North
Art: Erica Henderson

While most of the Marvel Universe is being swept up in Secret Wars, the hilarious all-ages Unbeatable Squirrel Girl starts it's second arc with the introduction of not one, but two new heroes, as well as a new villain, and a new... something. The charm of Squirrel Girl's comic is just how real the characters are written. Despite being so cheery and chipper, Squirrel Girl feels real, as does her roommate, Nancy. And as they spend time outside the bank that Squirrel Girl needs to guard, we meet Hippo the Hippo. He's a Hippo who has been mutated into a man-hippo, sort of like High Evolutionary's Knights, only without the motivation, armor, or highfalutin speech patterns. When SG starts fighting him, she is quickly aided by two new heroes, Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boi. After some brief fisticuffs, SG is able to stop the fight be once again reasoning with the bad guy. I love that, over the course of six issues, nearly every major confrontation in this series has been solved by words, not by violence. It's both charming and sets a good precedent; Hippo isn't a bad man-hippo, he's just not sure what to do now that he's self-aware.  With the battle done, Nancy quickly calls out one of the great tropes of superhero comics, immediately identifying both the new heroes as fellow students Tomas Lara-Perez and Ken Shiga, since all they're doing is wearing domino masks. After a becoming friends montage (something the little caption narrator guy at the bottom of the pages really likes, and I do too), SG takes Nancy to the zoo to see if she can talk to any animal, since it seems everyone else can. There, though, the encounter Girl Squirrel, a superpowered squirrel. But all is not what it seems, and the final scenes, which pretty much scare the narrator of the comic away, shows that the relationship between Squirrel Girl and Girl Squirrel is not going to be the sunny one that would seem logical. The stakes are high in those final pages, the highest in the title so far. Sure, Galactus might have eaten Earth, but this is a more serious threat. Some people might think serious threats aren't something for an all ages comic, but I think we underestimate kids if we don't let them think about things. So if you're a Marvel person trying to avoid Secret Wars, now's the time to try out The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl; it's a classic Marvel comic with character and heart.

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