Monday, July 27, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/22

Batman '66 #25
Story: Jeff Parker (Night of the Harlequin) and Gabe Soria (Bad Men)
Art: Lukas Ketner & Kelly Fitzpatrick (Night of the Harlequin) and Ty Templeton & Tony Avina (Bad Men)

There are very few comics on the racks that are as fun as Batman '66. I've been enjoying how the book has been varying its content, from some issues with full length stories and others with two shorter pieces, and might even be enjoying the letter more; that compactness of story seems to work with these zany Batman stories. This was one of those issues, and featured another modern Batman villain making their classic TV debut. If the cover above didn't give it away, this is the issue introducing Harley Quinn '66, or just Harlequin as she goes by here, in full costume. We'd gotten hints of Harley already, as she appeared as the Joker's shrink who was driven insane by crazy science in an earlier issue, but this is where she escapes from the Arkham Institute, dons a costume and roller skates, and becomes a supervillain. It's a fun story, as Harlequin proves even more unpredictable than Joker, and Batman and Robin have to get creative to bring her to justice. We also get a great panel where Batman says Harley might be a greater threat than Joker within ear shot of Joker, and he clearly has his feelings hurt, which segues nicely into the second story of the issue, "Bad Men," which was the highlight of the issue. Barbara Gordon is working as a temp at an ad agency when Penguin, Riddler, Joker, and Catwoman (The Eartha Kitt version) take the who ad agency hostage so they can find a way to rebrand the villains and get them the attention of Gotham again. Since Barbara can't change into Batgirl, she instead has to use her wits to outsmart the villains. It's a fun story, and again does something I like in these stories, showing the heroes out-thinking their foes instead of just beating them physically. Barbara's victory is perfect, and plays on the vanity of these characters, which is a defining characteristic of each of them in pretty much all their versions; this is why Batman's foes have never banded together like Flash's Rogues for the long term: every one of them thinks they should be in charge. "Bad Men" also features art from Ty Templeton, who has done plenty of these '66 set stories, and whose art has become the style i most associate with the comics. His work is charming and gorgeous, working so well with the 60s. 

Five Ghosts #17
Story: Frank J. Barbiere
Art: Chris Mooneyham & Lauren Affe

I saw a lot of Twitter debate last week about how comics are often credited to just the writer, when the artist or artists often plays as important a roll in creating the book. I've been guilty of not crediting complete artistic teams, something I've been trying to remedy for some time, even before I saw that thread. This is a long way of saying that the new issue of Five Ghosts is a triumph not just of story and words but of art. Frank J. Barbiere does his usual excellent job of giving Fabian Gray, the protagonist of the title who is able to channel the powers of five literary "ghosts" through the dreamstone within him, the words of a dashing adventurer, and devise an exciting conclusion to the current horror arc. But this issue, which is mostly Fabian and Van Helsing fighting a mutated version of Fabian's best friend and brother-in-law Sebastian Windsor and then the man behind the mutation, Dr. Moreau, fives artist Chris Mooneyham time to shine. The battle is stunning, exciting, and flows from panel-to-panel perfectly. There's a particular series of panels where Fabian determines he can use a chandelier to trap the transformed Sebastian that sticks out in my mind as one of the best choreographed sequences I've seen in comics recently. I love the way Mooneyham shows the ghosts as Fabian channels their abilities, and the hideous transformed forms of Sebastian and Moreau will send shivers down your spine. This issue wraps up the third arc of Five Ghosts, and the epilogue sets Fabian on a collision course with The Cabal, the villains who have haunted him since the beginning of the series. I don't know if this is the final arc of the series, but if it is, it's been a heck of a ride, and if the last arc can be half as exciting as this issue was, it's going to be a spectacular conclusion.

Rick and Morty #4
Story: Zac Gorman
Art: CJ Cannon & Ryan Hill and Marc Ellerby

With season two having debuted last night (or this morning, since it was midnight and some people love their semantics) on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, I think I have Rick and Morty on the brain. If you don't know the show, Rick and Morty was created by Dan (Community) Harmon and Justin Roiland, and is about a mad and amoral scientist (Rick Sanchez) who comes to live with his daughter and her family and takes his grandson (Morty) world/universe/multiverse spanning adventures, mostly for his own amusement and profit. The comic book tie-in are original adventures, and this one-shot story will give you a good idea if you will like the comic and animated series. Rick wakes Morty up in the middle of the night and drags him to an alien world where Rick is basically a carpetbagger, running a plantation on a world that was decimated by a civil war, and he needs Morty to spy on the workers who Rick believes are planning a revolt. Morty quickly comes to empathize with the workers, especially when he learns Rick is the one who started the war in the first place, which shouldn't surprise anyone who has seen the show. I'll be honest, if you want a protagonist who you can like and respect more than ten percent of the time, you should probably move along. Rick is at his best amoral, and often puts others in danger for no other reason than it's the easiest way to do it. Morty is an ok kid, but he's a hormonal teenager, and does, as Rick points out, often have "wienerbrain." But this issue ends with a scene that's kind of touching and shows that small fraction of the time where you see a decent guy in Rick. Or you think so until it all goes downhill again. The comic does a perfect job of capturing the joke a minute pace of the source cartoon, as well as its warped sense of humor. This issue's backup story spotlights Jerry, Morty's dad and Rick's son-in-law, and a normal day in his life, and how Rick just sort of... well, you'll see if you read it. It's a nice insight into the character who is usually played for nothing but laughs. So if you like the cartoon, or other similar ones like The Venture Bros., you should give the comic a shot.

And Dan Grote continues our love affair with the new Archie Comics with this crossover that makes Archie Vs. Predator (which ended this week in bizarre and hilarious fashion as well) look plain normal...

Archie vs. Sharknado
Story: Anthony C. Ferrante
Pencils: Dan Parent

Veronica’s dad gets his arms bit off by sharks, followed by the rest of him. Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s limbs are also bitten off, as she tries to cast a spell. A beloved teacher is eaten.

Yes, even in Riverdale, when a Sharknado comes to town, there is a death toll.

The name of this comic is Archie vs. Sharknado, but the real heroes of this double-sized one-shot, the Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, if you will, are Betty and Veronica, who first encounter the titular shark storm on a trip to Washington, D.C., ostensibly the same one from last week’s Syfy original movie Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No. The two quickly find themselves improvising new ways to kill sharks, use their clothing to survive falls from great heights and steal a motorcycle and a helicopter, in that order.

If the comic hews closely to the conventions of the Sharknado trilogy, that’s largely because it’s written by Anthony Ferrante, the director of the movies, the latest of which bowed the day of Archie vs. Sharknado’s release. Meanwhile, classic Archie penciler Dan Parent gives it that pre-reboot Riverdale look.

Ridiculous moments abound. Archie and Cheryl Blossom climb onto a boat using a staircase made of unconscious sharks. Jughead bites a shark that in turn steals his trademark hat. Veronica shoots flaming arrows with a crossbow. Josie and the Pussycats sing the Sharknado theme song. Svenson the janitor reveals a shed full of chainsaws (and a tractor equipped with a nitro-boost button) that he keeps “because the trees are taking over Riverdale.” Principal Weatherby has a war flashback. Archie chainsaws Cheryl out of a shark, just like Ziering did in the first movie. And perhaps most incredulously, A TEACHER LETS HIS STUDENTS BUILD A BOMB IN POST-COLUMBINE AMERICA!

All the while, sharks slaughter mercilessly and are slaughtered mercilessly in their turn. Shark innards rain from the sky and pile up on the ground, and teenagers run around soaked in blood and wielding chainsaws, blades and whatever else they can get their hands on. If Archie is an all-ages-friendly company, they sure do like messing with readers’ heads when the opportunity arises.

Final note: As sharks rain down from the sky, there’s a running discussion between Riverdale’s biggest nerd, Dilton, and his girlfriend about classic disaster-movie tropes and whether Dilton himself is too important to die or just disposable enough to be offed in a way that would enrich the plot. It very much reminded me of the discussion Henchmen 21 and 24 had during Season 3 of The Venture Brothers in which 21 declares “We’re, like, main characters” … and then 24 dies in an explosion at the end of the season. I’m not saying that’s what happens to Dilton, but I’m also not not saying it.

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