Monday, August 31, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/26

Batman '66 #26
Story: Jeff Parker
Art: Jesse Hamm & Kelly Fitzpatrick

OK, I admit it: I have absolutely fallen in love with Jeff Parker introducing more modern Batman villains into the universe of the classic TV show. This issue, in case you couldn't tell by the cover, introduces the '66 version of Poison Ivy. Side note: I've read in various places that Ivy was created in the comics as a character to be used on the show, but the show was cancelled before she could transition over. If this is true, and while I imagine it is, I haven't found any primary sources to confirm it, it makes an interesting full circle to have her appear in the comic. The plot is pretty much what any plot of the Batman TV show or this comic is: criminal arrives in Gotham and Batman must thwart her or him. But it's the details that sell the comic. One thing I really enjoyed was how the story ties Ivy in with a foe created for the show: Milton Berle's Louie the Lilac. Louie had all these deadly plant hybrids, so saying that he purchased them from Ivy makes absolute perfect sense. Ivy herself is more playful and lighter than her traditional comic book counterpart; this is much more the thieving criminal Ivy of the 60s and 70s than the eco-warrior Ivy that Batman: The Animated Series created. Artist Jesse Hamm gives her some really great body language, with a couple panels of her moving that makes me think he envisioned her as moving like a dancer, with big kicks. Parker wrote her with a southern accent, something that hearkens back to her original appearances in the comics (thanks to Jeff Parker for replying to my tweet about this). The middle of the issue also had a cliffhanger moment that felt perfectly in line with the best cliffhangers of the show, with Batman and Robin about to be devoured by Ivy's Jupiter Flytrap (because Jupiter is a big planet, and this is a huge flytrap, naturally), which has a great joke about Robin talking about taking up the mantle of the Bat and Batman totally telling him to back off in that funnily passive aggressive way only Batman '66 can. Even if this isn't the Bruce Wayne of my heart, it's nice to have Bruce popping up in couple places as Batman while Jim Gordon runs around in the Bat armor over in the main DCU (which is a good story, but I need my fix of more traditional Batman). If you're missing some Bruce Wayne Batman, this is good stop to make while we wait for his return elsewhere.

Hellboy in Hell #7
Story: Mike Mignola
Art: Mike Mignola & Dave Stewart

Hellboy's back! Whoo-hoo! There are some comics where massive gaps between issues kill momentum and make you frustrated, but Hellboy, in any of its myriad forms, is not one of them. Mignola keeps the premise of the series simple and direct, and so when you come back in, you're back at home, and it feels good. This issue opens with Hellboy... unconscious I guess is the right word, even though he's dead he still seems to be able to slip in and out of consciousness, where he has a vision of Alice, the girl he might have loved if he had more time, and the world tree that she says he left behind in Enland upon his death. He awakes in Hell, found by two doctors who say he has an ectoplasmic parasite, and they lead him to a third doctor, Dr. Hoffman, who they say can aid him in freeing him of the parasite. But because nothing's ever easy, Hellboy finds Dr. Hoffman on trial. Hoffman gets off, but Dr. Coppelius, who is the plaintiff, is pretty pissed about it. Dr. Hoffman is able to help Hellboy, but not cure him before Coppelius, whose rage has turned him into a giant rage monster comes after Hoffman. Hellboy in Hell is a book you experience as much as read, and you just have to let it wash over you. The plot doesn't reflect half of what's going on in Mignola's incredible art, and with the way the book is written, with flashes of other things happening, and communicating with Hellboy, a synopsis doesn't work. The puppet theatre that Mignola used back in issue 1 is back, now performing the witches from Macbeth, which is a great visual. And it wouldn't be Hellboy without a touch of bizarre humor, in this case part of the backstory of the rivalry between Hoffman and Coppelius has to do with a golem who's obsessed with fish. If that line doesn't sell you on this story, well, Hellboy probably isn't for you.

Princeless Book 4: Be Yourself #3
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Emily Martin & Brett Gruning

Hey, I don't think I write about enough Jeremy Whitley comics last week, so I'm doing another one this week!  We're into the third issue of the new volume of Princeless, the story of Princess Adrienne and her friends attempting to rescue her sisters from the towers her father imprisoned them in, and things are going about as well as usual. Adrienne and Bedelia are travelling across a swamp to find the tower of the gothiest princess in all the land, Angoisse, while her dragon, Sparky, is staying to help defend a tribe of goblins from a monster called the Grimmorax. Before the issue is done, Adrienne will arrive at her sister's tower and Sparky will defeat the Grimmorax, but what struck me in this issue was a consistency of theme; specifically the theme of the use and abuse of power. The goblin plot reveals that the Grimmorax was actually purchased by the leader of the goblins to be a threat to his people that he could defend them against, thus cementing his leadership. We also learn there's a monster farm, where nobility goes to purchase creatures like the Grimmorax (and Sparky, as it turns out), to serve as guardians. The goblin king is breaking the tacit agreement between a ruler and his people by not ruling for them, but putting his own desire to be ruler over the benefit of his people. This isn't too far off what King Ash has done to his daughters (also, is it just me, or are all goblin rulers jerks? Jareth from Labyrinth, Xergiok from Adventure Time, and now this dude. Not a line of work you want to get into, unless you're already a jerk I suppose). At the tower, we get to see Angoisse and her vampire boyfriend, Raphael. Raphael comes off as this slick, mannerly prince type, but when he realizes the huge bounty on Adrienne's head, he asks Angoisse to drug her so he can bring her to King Ash and collect. He actually uses the, "If you really love me, you'll do this," argument, which is the absolute worst, and an abuse of the power two people give each other when they form a relationship. Vampires are rarely good guys, and it's pretty clear Raphael isn't one either. Princeless does a good job of playing with the themes of fairy tales, but also reaches out to more modern issues women, especially the young women who are the target demographic for the book, might face. I'm hoping the final issue of the series let's Angoisse see exactly what kind of guy Raphael is.

We Are Robin #3
Story: Lee Bermejo
Art: Joe Corona & Trish Mulvihill and Khary Randolph & Emilio Lopez

There were rumors last week of DC Comics wanting its creators to stop "Batgirling" titles and go back to more traditional superhero comics. If this is true, it's a real shame, because I've found the two titles I've enjoyed the most coming out of Convergence are two of these less traditional series: Black Canary and We Are Robin. This week's issue of We Are Robin pushes the events of the first two into a climax, as a team of Robins try to defuse the bombs set to destroy the hall of records, while others attempt to halt the riot the people from Gotham Underground has started. We're starting to get more of a feel for various members of the Robin Squad (Robin Brigade? Robin Gang?), and while I like Riko and Shug, it's still Duke Thomas who I find myself coming back to. While appearing in Batman as well, it's here that Duke gets a spotlight. He's a perfect Robin: smart, brave, and willing to do whatever it takes to help those in need. The issue has a countdown clock ticking, as the bombs near the point they'll explode, while Team Robin (there we go! I like that one) work to defuse them while ducking subway trains that pass by the bombs. The tension is high, and Lee Bermejo ratchets it up slowly until the issue comes to its explosive conclusion. Character death is often cheap in comics now, but I feel like the moments at the end, where a Robin sacrifices himself in a vain attempt to stop the explosion, hits home, partially because of the character's youth, and partly because of the nobility of the choice. The moment where the Batman (Jim Gordon) arrives at the riot and orders the Robins to disperse along with the rioters, the moment where they seem to realize that it's not Batman whose drawn them together breaks your heart, and Joe Corona flashes between Robins to show their varied reactions. And while the revelation of who is behind The Nest wasn't shocking to me (I, like many I've talked to, has seen it coming since the series beginning), to see that character's reaction, cements so much of the emotion of this title. I'm hoping that DC gives this book the time it needs to find its readership, because I think it's one of the best books DC is releasing right now, with a diverse and interesting cast, and potential to introduce a lot of new characters to the DCU.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursdays with Wade: Joe Kelly’s Deadpool Revisited Part 1

Today’s reading: Deadpool #1, Jan. 1997
Story: Joe Kelly
Art: Ed McGuinness

Joe Kelly loves Deadpool. He says so right on the letters page of the first issue of this series, his first ongoing solo title (and a springboard to future gigs writing the X-Men, Superman and Superboy).

And like any good lover, Kelly wants Wade Wilson to change. He wants him to become a hero. But, y’know, still make jokes and kill people and stuff.

Deadpool #1 is the start of a 33-issue hero’s journey. As he goes about his daily business of helping topple regimes, harassing other mercenaries and hanging out with homeless people, he’s being watched by Zoe Culloden and Noah DuBois, representatives of the pandimensional firm of Landau, Luckman & Lake (formerly Landau, Luckman, Lake & LeQuare). Zoe first appeared in 1994’s Wolverine #79 and was also a major character in that book during the mid-1990s, accompanying Logan on a mission that should have resulted in him getting his adamantium skeleton back but instead turned him feral for a time and led him to kill Cable’s son, Tyler, as well as a number of Dark Riders (mostly the lame second-generation ones).

LL&L want Deadpool for a very important but very unclear mission. But first, they need to test him. More on that in a bit.

The book’s tone is established right away, as DP narrates a mission in the Bolivian jungles, but his prey can hear him doing so. There’s also a string of pop culture references (many now dated) in just the first scene, including bits about Marlin Perkins, Game Boy, Super Mario and a parody of lines from the Keanu Reeves movie Speed.

Ed McGuinness’ blocky, cartoonish style is perfect for this book about a master of cartoon violence. His penchant for drawing barrel-chested dudes will later get him gigs drawing the Hulk and Superman.

In the meantime, issue 1 starts a tradition of drawing what look like Street Fighter characters into Deadpool comics. One of the Bolivian soldiers looks exactly like Ryu, down to the red bandana, and Deadpool’s primary nemesis during the Kelly run, T-Ray looks like a differently-coifed variant of Akuma. Things get even more Street Fighter-y five years from this run, when Udon Studios draws the book in conjunction with writer Gail Simone. Udon has since become the primary name in Street Fighter comics.

But it’s letterer Richard Starkings who introduces one of Deadpool’s most important traits: His trademark yellow word balloons. The previous two minis, which we covered last time, had DP speaking in white balloons with yellow borders, and appearances prior to that used white balloons with red borders, but the yellow balloons are what we see today when Deadpool speaks on the page.

Also new to the Marvel Universe in this issue are the mercenaries of Hellhouse, the outfit Deadpool works for at the start of the series. Running things is Patch, a short, bald, mustachioed man who is not Wolverine’s Madripoor alter ego. Fellow mercs include T-Ray, who knows magic and hates Deadpool; C.F., a Blob-like fella who can take a beating and bounce back like a Looney Tunes character; Fenway, who speaks in baseball terminology; and, of course, Weasel, Deadpool’s best bud/punching bag/weapons and tech supplier, who will be played in next year’s movie by T.J. Miller.

Speaking of things that have carried over from the Deadpool minis, DP’s crush on X-Force’s Siryn has become official canon, with Weasel mentioning “that bonnie Irish lass” to get a rise out of Wade, who in turn socks Weasel across the jaw. Between Mark Waid and Ian Churchill’s 1994 miniseries and this issue, Wade and Theresa also teamed up in a couple issues of Jeph Loeb and Adam Pollina’s run on X-Force. If anything, said crush is one of the pre-Kelly seeds that makes Deadpool want to be as good as someone like him can be.

Siryn isn’t the only woman in Deadpool’s life, though. There’s also Blind Alfred, the vision-impaired Aunt May lookalike Wade keeps prisoner in his rundown row house in San Francisco. Why won’t be revealed for a bit, but what is revealed to us about her instantly is that while she’s a prisoner, she’s no victim. She trades barbs with Wade on the regular, hits him as needed, and her first act as an extant character is to threaten a Girl Scout with imaginary optic blasts and steal her cookies. Blind Al will be appearing in the movie as well, played by Leslie Uggams.

Then there’s Gerry, the homeless old Haight-Ashbury hippie Wade sometimes talks to. Or is he something more? (Spoiler: He is, but there’s really no indication of that at this point.)

A first issue deserves a special superhero guest star, right? So who do we get? Wolverine? The Hulk? Spidey? Nope, try again. It’s Sasquatch from Alpha Flight! Remember what I said last time about heroes being in short supply? Canada’s premier superteam was without a book at this point, but that would change in a few short months, when a second AF series would launch written by then-future Uncanny X-Men writer Steven T. Seagle and drawn by Scott Clark.

Deadpool is sent to Sasquatch’s Antarctic lab on a demolition gig trumped up by LL&L to test his abilities and see if he’ll sacrifice himself for the greater good, in the first of many years of stories in which Deadpool makes difficult choices to prove he can be a hero when he wants to be, a theme cropping up now in Cullen Bunn and Matteo Lolli’s Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars miniseries. Specifically, Wade dives into a gamma-radiation vat to keep it from melting down and giving everyone in the Southern Hemisphere cancer (a disease that’s kind of a sore spot for him). This corroborates LL&L’s belief that Deadpool can help usher in a galaxy-wide age of peace. Except when Zoe and Noah tell him that, he essentially tells them they’re full of crap and to take a hike. Don’t worry, they’ll be back.

Nostalgic ad alert: The inside back cover lets people know that Independence Day will be available to own on VHS on Nov. 22, 1996. Just in time for Christmas!

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, we’ll check out issue #2 and the beginning of Deadpool’s long, strange frenemy-ship with Taskmaster. If you’re looking for the issue in a non-digital way, check out the Deadpool Classic Vol. 2 trade, which collects issues 2 through 8, plus the Flashback Month -1 issue and the 1997 annual in which he teams up with Daredevil and steals his dog (more on that later).

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 15

This week, we're getting two one shots from Secret Wars. Dan Grote lets us in on Howard the Human, and I dig into Secret Love...

Howard the Human
Story: Skottie Young
Art: Jim Mahfood and Justin Stewart

Who’s the hairless ape now?

Whether duck or human, Howard remains trapped in a world he never made. For the purposes of Secret Wars, he’s the only human in New Quack City, a domain full of anthropomorphic animals. The Lizard runs the local bar, the Vulture is a gangster surrounded by chicken henchmen, the Black Cat looks like something out of an anime furry video, Daredevil is a mouse, the Kingpin is a gorilla, the Hand are monkeys and the police are dogs (which incidentally makes me nostalgic for that issue of Hawkeye where Clint, Wolverine and Spider-Man discuss the show “Dog Cops”).

Writer Skottie Young (Rocket Raccoon, Giant Size Little Marvels: A vs. X) gives us, in the Vulture’s own words, a “Raymond Chandler novel of the day” in which Howard has to solve the case of a dead possum while keeping his various enemies off his back, ultimately by playing them all off each other. As a one-off, the story works perfectly. Young knows what he’s going for, tells the story efficiently and it neither feels rushed nor overstays its welcome. Jim Mahfood’s art adds to the heightened surrealism of New Quack City, turning Marvel’s favorite mallard into a triangle-faced, bushy-mustached, big-haired blond P.I. (Come to think of it, he kind of looks like Wade after his face gets healed in Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars).

In the end though, more than a closed case, more than the money he owes all over town, all Howard wants is an egg. Some bacon would be nice, too. Living in a city of animals forces one to adopt a vegan diet, so when one of the Vulture’s crew lays an egg out of surprise (who doesn’t love a classic cartoon bit?), Howard loses all sense but still comes out on top.

Done-in-one storytelling sometimes feels like a lost art, and no one who complains that Secret Wars is too sprawling and continuity-dense would be wrong. But if you’re looking for an accessible, light read amid all the sturm und drang, this is a good’un.

Secret Wars: Secret Love
Creator credits listed with each story

I think I've mentioned my love for anthologies before, but in case I haven't, or haven't lately: I love anthologies, both in comic and short story form. There's something for everyone, and it's a great way to stumble across new writers/characters you've never encountered before (I'm currently reading a short story collection from Moonstone Books called Sex, Lies, and Private Eyes as my between novel cleanser, that includes a Maze Agency short by Mike W. Barr and a Silencers short by Fred Van Lente, as well as a bunch of others, some of which I've really enjoyed). So, after seeing some good buzz on this, I picked it up and found myself pleasantly surprised at the consistently high quality across the board on the stories:

Guilty Pleasure
Story & Art: Michael Fiffe

Set in the Inferno domain of Battleworld (new issue of Inferno came out this week as well, by the way, and was enjoyable. Mr. Sinister!), this story features Karen Page, who is unsure if her husband, Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil, is being faithful. Seeing Matt out fighting Typhoid Mary, the reason for one of Matt and Karen's numerous break-ups in the 616 (the code for the regular Marvel universe), the reader could easily be swayed to Karen's point of view. But as she follows Matt out into the night, we see there's more to this than meets the eye. A decent enough story, the art on this story is what really grabbed me; Michael Fiffe draws some great demons.

Fan of a Fan
Story & Art: Felipe Smith

Between Dan and I, we've written quite a bit about current Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, and her series. I am much less familiar with the current Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes. In all fairness, Ghost Rider is probably the Marvel horror hero I'm least familiar with; the character never did much for me. That didn't matter much , as Felipe Smith does a good job of establishing Robbie and his supporting cast, as well and Kamala and Bruno, her BFF, who are working at the concession stand at the big arena that I would assume the current Ghost Racers mini-series takes place. The cover of the issue features Kamala and Robbie, and I'm happy to say the cover has nothing to do with the story. It's fun, light, and very true to character.

Misty and Danny Forever
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Gurihiru

Here's the highlight of this book. I've written plenty of reviews of Jeremy Whitley's work (heck, just yesterday I wrote up something about the new issue of his Raven: The Pirate Princess), but this is the first thing I've read by him outside his creator owned work. And it's really good. Heck, I'll say it's great. I like Danny Rand and Misty Knight, but have never read either character religiously. This story, set in Manhattan on Battleworld, sees a married Danny and Misty trying to go out for a night and recapture the spark they had before they got married; they feel like something's missing. We get cameos by Misty's partner Colleen Wing, plus Danny's old pal Luke Cage and his family, Jessica Jones and baby Dani, as well as Danny and Misty's daughter, a character created for here, as far as I know. The story has a dinosaur fight and kung fu movies, but what I really love is it's a great portrait of a marriage. It's a beautiful portrait of remembering why you loved someone in the first place, and why that person, for all the ups and downs, is THE person for you. Add in the charming art of Gurihiru, best known for Marvel's all ages Power Pack minis from the early 00s and the Dark Horse continuation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and you have a perfect little short story that makes me want to track down more stories of Danny and Misty together.

Squirrel Girl Wins a Date with Thor
Story: Marguerite Bennett
Art: Kris Anka

The title on this one pretty much says it all. Set on, I believe, Arcadia, the realm of A-Force, Squirrel Girl goes out on a date with Thor Odinson. It's a night of dancing and hijnks, and right in line with Squirrel Girl's portrayal in her ongoing. Kris Anka draws some great crowd scenes, filled with lots of Marvel cameos, and gives is a chariot drawn by giant squirrels, which is the perfect cap to this story.

Happy Ant-Iversary
Story & Art: Katie Cook

Set on Earth 0.616, where the Avengers are all bugs, this story follows the Wasp as she is lead on a trail by notes and clues left by Ant-Ant (that's the only logical name for a Hank Pym ant, right?). We see all sorts of Avengers bugs, including Black Widow as a real Black Widow, which leads to a couple great gags. Light on words, cartoonist Katie Cook uses the pictures to tell most of the story, which serves beautifully. I love Cook's Gronk, and actually have a framed piece by her on my mantle, so it was nice to see her heartwarming little story round out this solid collection of Marvel love stories.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/19

Batman: Arkham Knight #7
Story: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Viktor Bogdanovic, Art Thibert, & John Rauch

Tie-in comics are a tricky business, especially when it comes to video games. Video games are an interactive medium, and often these prequels are doing their best to not spoil any of the aspects of the game. The comics that have tied into the Arkham franchise have been mixed: some have been good, many have been passable. This issue has two stories, one the epilogue to the previous Bane story, the other the beginning of a new Suicide Squad story. The second story is fun, with a Squad made up of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and Killer Croc (all of whom will be in the upcoming movie, by the by) working for the Penguin, keeping the Squad name despite escaping Amanda Waller's leash, to assassinate Bruce Wayne. But it's the first story that impressed me. After an explosion, Batman is found in a dumpster by Archie Freeman, and old man who was scrounging for anything he can to pay off the people who are running a protection racket in his building. Batman, of course, helps him and scares off the thugs. What I liked about the story is how Batman interacts with Archie. Batman can often be portrayed as gruff and not exactly a people person. But Pete Tomasi, who beautifully built the relationship between Batman and Damian in his run on Batman and Robin, writes an empathetic Batman, who listens to Archie talk about his late wife Alice and about Archie's time as an usher at the Monarch Theater (the theater from which Bruce's family was leaving on that fateful night). There's a Batman who wants to connect, who wants to hear more about Gotham before its decline, and who wants to hear more about this man. It's a sweet story, one that reminds us that Batman is about helping people, not just beating on criminals. That's a Batman I like.

Giant Days #6
Story: John Allison
Art: Lissa Treiman & Whitney Cogar

Giant Days is the story of three roommates, Susan, Esther, and Daisy, away at college for the first time, their friendship, and the madcap adventures they get into. It's a fun series, with great characters and whimsical plots, which seems to be what the Boom Box! imprint, which also publishes Matt Signal favorite Lumberjanes, specializes in (It also specializes in suckering me into buying limited series that get expanded into ongoings or maxi-series, but since they're great comics, I try not to grumble too much). This issue takes place over the Christmas holiday, and sees Esther and Daisy called by a desperate Susan to come to her hometown and help her as she's gotten into trouble. Not answering her phone, Esther and Daisy grow more worried about Susan, and begin a wild search, from going through clutches of smokers, a joined record/comics store staffed by twins, one a record store hipster, one a comic book guy just to the good side of the Simpsons line. Discovering that Susan ran afoul of Karen Shaw, a member of the town's rough Shaw clan, Esther and Daisy track down McGraw, a school friend with a complicated past with Susan, and they head to the nightclub the Shaw's own to rescue Susan. The story ends with madness on the dance floor, lock picks, and a confrontation on the roof between Susan and Karen Shaw. This is a great issue if you haven't read Giant Days before, as it spotlights the main characters' personalities, as they're thrown into this adventure. Lissa Treiman's art is wonderful, another artist who falls into a category of artists I love, ones who draw really broad and expressive faces, ones that can tell a story almost without the words. This issue marks the halfway point in the twelve issue series, and so it's a great time to dive in and enjoy.

Princeless- Raven: The Pirate Princess #2
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Rosy Higgins & Ted Brandt

The second issue of the spin-off from the amazing all-ages fairy tale re-imagining Princeless starring Raven the Pirate Princess, hits with even more force than the first issue, which is saying something, as I thought the first issue was great. This issue sees Raven trying to gather herself a crew so she can go and find her traitorous brothers and give them what's coming to them. But before that can happen, we get some more time with characters who I feel are going to be important to the series: Dancer/pickpocket/half-elf Sunshine Alexander, Cookie, the pirate and cook who knew Raven as a young girl, and Jayla, Cookie's bookish daughter. Raven was usually scheming, trying to find a way to get her way, when she was in the main Princeless title, so this is one of the few times we've seen her with her guard down. This little domestic scene, as Cookie prepares breakfast is pleasant, and as Cookie gives Raven the advice she needs to gather a pirate crew, we segue to the bar Cookie now owns, as pirates line up to join the crew. Unfortunately, the male pirates are... I'm not sure of the word for it. Basically, everything they say could come out of the worst depths of non-swear laden internet forums, full of misogyny and arrogance, up to the point where one actually says, "not all men..." It's hilarious and a little depressing at the same time. Things look lost until Katherine "Katie" Kling shows up, looking to join Raven. Katie immediately is impressive, tall and strong, but also talking of honor and justice; she has a real Brienne of Tarth vibe going. And after Katie's suggestion of an all female crew appeals to Raven, and they get their first recruit in Sunshine, there is the somewhat expected brawl as the male pirates don't take it well. The fight ends with a little help from Jayla (who will be joining the crew next issue if I'm not at all off base), and so the course is set (pun intended). Raven: the Pirate Princess is just as good as its originating title, filled with the same joy, action, wit, and smarts as Princeless, and it a great addition to the reading list of anyone who's looking for a new take on some old tales.

And now some quick reviews I wasn't able to flesh out in my conference shortened weekend, and Dan Grote's review of the second issue of the relaunched Archie...

Black Canary #3- Bravo Brenden Fletcher. I actually like and am curious to see what happens to Kurt Lance, a character who was a walking plot device in every earlier appearance. Plus, Annie Wu continues to absolutely blow me away with every page. Black Canary is easily my favorite book launched in the post-Convergence DCU.

Book of Death #2- Valiant's event comic continues, with a great fight scene that makes me want to read Ninjak's ongoing, since he is clearly the Batman of the Valiant Universe, and a flashforward that shows you exactly why Gilad the Eternal Warrior is the best.

Secret Six #5- Answers abound in this issue, as we learn why the Six were gathered, what's up with Ralph and Sue Dibny, plus we see some more of Strix and her pet lawn gnome. I'm happy to see that Gail Simone isn't teasing this mystery out too long, and that there's a chance of a happy ending for my favorite comic couple ever.

Star Wars #8- One of the things I've enjoyed about the new Star Wars continuity is watching old things pop up for the first time. This issue reintroduces one of my favorite EU settings, Nar Shaddaa, the Smuggler's Moon. For those of you only familiar with Star Wars movies, picture if Mos Eisley, the wretched hive of scum and villainy, basically covered an entire moon. We see Luke at his most naive, and Han dealing with the fallout of his wife (or is she?), Sana, meeting an increasingly irate Princess Leia. It's a pretty fun book.

Archie #2
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Fiona Staples

Fun fact: Archie Andrews is a world-class klutz who often gets by solely through the herculean efforts of his friends, in the kind of good fortune you can only have when you’re the star of your own comic book.

In the second issue of the adventures of Archie 2.0, Riverdale’s mainest character tries to get a construction job so he can afford to fix up his old beater of a car, since his previous mechanic was his ex-girlfriend.

Archie gets the job and immediately wrecks the work site, despite the best efforts of ancillary characters Dilton, Kevin, et al. He then returns later in the evening to fix the damage, only to completely tear down the frame of soon-to-be-stately Lodge Manor.

The story serves to reintroduce two important characters to the Archieverse: Veronica Lodge and her father, the new richest man in town (social standing is a big part of Archie. Veronica has it, Reggie wants it, Jughead used to have it, and Archie does not).

Fiona Staples draws Veronica exactly how you’d expect her to: as a raven-haired knockout in heels. She doesn’t get any dialogue, just a coquettish giggle, but Archie falls in love at first sight.

But let’s shift focus to the first girl in Archie’s life: Betty Cooper. It’s B’s birthday, and her friends are trying to get her out of her post-Archie funk, and push her into embracing her budding womanhood. This leads to a wonderful montage of Betty awkwardly applying hair extensions, false eyelashes, makeup, heels, teeth-whitening strips and press-on nails, then hating the face she sees in the mirror. Mark Waid’s Betty would rather be playing video games and fixing cars, specifically Archie’s car, which she does – secretly, and in collusion with Archie’s dad – before she finally feels feminine enough to make her grand party entrance. Watch what she wishes for when she blows out the candles.

For historical evidence of Archie’s butterfingers and dumb luck, consult the 1942 backup strip at the end of this book, completely with a handy glossary of dated terms.

In other news, I’m bummed to hear that Fiona Staples is leaving Archie with this issue. Her pencils have been 50 percent of the reason to read the book. That said, Annie Wu (Hawkeye, Black Canary) will be filling in on issue 4, which is about as fine a substitute as you can find.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Greeting from Battleword: Secret Wars Week 14

Secret Wars #5
Story by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina

God Emperor Dr. Doom’s sense of control over Battleworld is starting to slip. As a result, last issue, he got murder-y, killing both a Phoenix-powered Cyclops and Sheriff Dr. Strange, heretofore his right-hand man.

Strange gets a hero’s funeral in Doomgard, a huge statue and a lovely eulogy by an elderly Thor. Then Doom sets his daughter, Valeria (actually Reed Richards’ daughter), on a quest to find The Real Killers, because you can’t spell God Emperor Doom without OJ … wait, yes you can. When Valeria questions the facts surrounding Strange’s death, Doom threatens to kill her in the guise of being a stern parent. Conversely, Franklin Von Doom (ne Richards) vows to “mash into little pieces” whoever killed his friend the sheriff. So there’s a lot of death threats hanging in the air.

Meanwhile, guess who’s not dead? The Molecule Man! Turns out the Beyonders’ multiversal bomb lives beneath the surface of Battleworld, under that memorial statue of him in Doomgard, holding it all together. And he’d really like someone to bring him some food.

Apart from being the planet’s engine, MM also serves as an exposition machine, flashing the reader back to what exactly happened when he, Doom and Strange confronted the Beyonders. All that explanation (and re-explanation of stuff that was previously explained in the last issue of New Avengers) leads the issue to be a little light on action, but don’t worry, we get a glimpse of Thanos at the end of the issue, ready to F up some S.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Strange’s choices leading to and during Secret Wars inform his journey after the event. As the Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen is theoretically one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes, but some of his most memorable moments come when his confidence fails to match his ability. When Doom confronts the Beyonders and takes their energy, Strange flat-out refuses to decide what can be saved and what can’t, yielding total control to Doom, who has no problem making such decisions. A confrontation between the two was inevitable, as was Stephen losing that confrontation. Of course there’s also the question of how he gets un-dead after this, but I’m less worried about that.

Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde #2
Story by Sam Humphries
Art by Alti Firmansyah and Jessica Kholinne

In the multiplex of Secret Wars books, if Thors is the gritty police procedural, Giant Size Little Marvels: A vs. X is the kids film, and nearly every other book is the YA dark dystopian reality where a hero shall rise, Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde is the sassy romantic comedy where the leads banter back and forth as they fall in love. Except unlike most such movies, I actually like this.

As romantic leads, Pryde and Peter Quill are fulfilling prescribed roles. Quill is the charming, quippy, not-really-a-bad boy. So, basically, Chris Pratt. And Kitty is the smart, feisty but still vulnerable skeptic. Let’s call her the Kate Hudson. Neither of them has any real reason to dislike the other, but they’re both scared of what the other represents. Quill is living proof that Doom’s law is not infallible, which, if word got out, would likely be the end of Kitty, whose job it is to discredit anomalies found on Battleworld. And Kitty – especially after she stabs a guy through the chest with her wrist-mounted Wolverine claws – is a reminder that the 616 Kitty, Quill’s Kitty, is gone, along with almost everything else Quill ever knew or cared about.

Brian Michael Bendis brought these two crazy kids together, but Sam Humphries is giving them a chemistry that almost – ALMOST – makes me forget how much I shipped Kitty and Pete Wisdom back in the day. And Alti Firmansyah’s art just makes them all the more adorable, retractable claws and all.

But if you’ve come to ship Pryde-Lord or whatever their portmanteau is, stay for the classic X-Men jokes. Last issue gave us Quill singing Disney covers with X-Factor as his backing band, calling himself Steve Rogers and looking like Alex Summers. This issue gives us the New Mutdroids, an all-robot version of the New Mutants led by Doug Ramsey (not Age of Apocalypse Doug, to be clear) from inside his technoorganic bestie, Warlock. The Mutdroids serve Gambit the Collector and serve up Chris Claremont’s most classic catchphrases, from “Ah’m nigh invulnerable when I’m blastin’” to “the focused totality of my psychic powers.” (If references like this make you smile ear to ear, then we must again beseech you to listen the Rachel & Miles Xplain the X-Men podcast. Like Val Kilmer says in Real Genius, it’s a moral imperative.)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Thursdays with Wade: Joe Kelly’s Deadpool Revisited Part 0

We’re entering what is increasingly becoming a rare lull in the superhero movie calendar. With Fantastic Four out of the way, the next stop on the tour is Feb. 12, when Fox’s Deadpool bows in theaters.

So I thought I’d spend the next however many weeks till the movie revisiting the run that elevated Deadpool from mouthy Deathstroke/Spider-Man/Wolverine ripoff to a character who could support a movie on his own: Joe Kelly, Ed McGuinness, et al’s first ongoing Deadpool series. As of right now, the plan is to focus on an issue a week, but we’ll see how things go.

Before we dive in to issue #1, however, some background:

Deadpool was co-created by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza and first appeared in 1991’s New Mutants #98. Prior to getting his own ongoing series in November 1996, he starred in two miniseries. 1993’s The Circle Chase, by Nicieza and Joe Madureira, saw him tussle with Black Tom Cassidy, Juggernaut and a host of others over the will of Tolliver, the late arms dealer who was actually Cable’s son, Tyler, who actually wasn’t dead until Wolverine killed him a couple years later. 1994’s Sins of the Past, by Mark Waid and Ian Churchill, saw DP team up with Banshee and his daughter, Siryn, vs. Black Tom again. He also was a recurring character in X-Force, which remained a Nicieza joint after Liefeld left the title to co-found Image Comics. Jeph Loeb took over X-Force after Nicieza left in 1995 and continued to use the character, especially in team-ups with Siryn.

So what do we know about Deadpool going into Kelly and McGuinness’ series? Well, we know his real name is Wade Wilson; he was a by-product of the Weapon X program (this is before Grant Morrison turned it into Weapon Plus, so let’s don’t get bogged down in that); he can heal fast and has teleportation tech; he worked as a mercenary for Tolliver alongside his ex-girlfriend, Vanessa Carlyle, aka Copycat, and his tech guy, Weasel; his speech is depicted in yellow word balloons (previously white balloons with yellow borders); his primary enemies are Cable and Weapon-X-mate Garrison Kane; and as of Sins of the Past, he has a crush on Siryn.

One more thing worth noting: When Deadpool opens, it’s in a world where heroes are in short supply. Onslaught had just happened that summer, and so the Avengers and Fantastic Four were MIA, having been sucked into a pocket dimension created by Franklin Richards in a yearlong arc called “Heroes Reborn” that saw Liefeld return to Marvel alongside fellow X-pat Jim Lee. The X-Men were still around, but the events of Onslaught made them more hated and feared than normal. In some cases, villains filled the void the heroes left behind. The same month that Deadpool debuted, the Thunderbolts first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #449. The first incarnation of the ‘Bolts was, in fact, Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil. What better time for a mercenary to take a hero’s journey?

We’ll take that journey starting next week (or the week after, schedules permitting), when we analyze issue #1 in earnest. That’s right, I just gave you guys homework!

And for extra credit, here’s some recommended reading:

Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1-4 sets up Deadpool’s rivalry with a number of other baddies, including Juggernaut and Black Tom and the villain Slayback. Not long after, artist Joe Madureira would become the regular penciller on Uncanny X-Men.

Deadpool: Sins of the Past #1-4 establishes Deadpool’s crush on Siryn and gives us some background on Banshee, who was being groomed to train his own team of X-Men in Generation X. Writer Mark Waid would go on to write the adjectiveless X-Men book for a time, and artist Ian Churchill would later be assigned to Cable.

The Deadpool Classic Vol. 1 TPB compiles both DP minis along with New Mutants #98 and Deadpool #1 and is the perfect textbook for this post. explores the market value of Deadpool’s first appearance, and why it may be artificially inflated. (The site’s a bit out of date, as it references the movie being in “Development Hell,” but it’s still a great read for those interested in the collector market.)

For more on the Weapon Plus program and how it didn’t exist when Deadpool was created, check out this installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed.

And for those of you nostalgic for other eras of Deadpool, check out this announcement about a new Cable & Deadpool digital-first miniseries coming this fall from Nicieza and Reilly Brown.

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Greeting from Battleword: Secret Wars Week 14

Dan Grote starts us off this week with Kamala Khan's last adventure on Earth-616, and Red Skull and Magneto make the world's most awkward partnership...

Ms. Marvel #17
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring (cover by Kris Anka)

The world is ending. The renegade Inhumans have kidnapped Kamala Khan’s brother. People are abandoning kittens and stealing electrical wires all over Jersey City.

Seems like as good a time as any for Kamala to meet her hero: Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel.

Even with a planet from another reality careening toward Earth, Kamala remains the most adorable superhero in the Marvel Universe. She freezes, she forgets her prepared speech, she screams “Everything sucks except for you!” and Carol takes it all in regal stride, while agreeing to help Ms. M save her brother amid the chaos in the streets (not bad, considering she has a space-raft to catch).

And of course, it wouldn’t be an issue of Ms. Marvel without our hero a) lecturing goons about their responsibility to use their skills to help people and b) learning one of the tougher lessons about life in the mask game. Kamala’s heart breaks when she realizes she has neither the time nor the ability to save a building full of purposely-drawn-adorable kittens she stumbles upon in the search for her brother. Had those cats been dogs, I’d be right there with her.

Colorist Ian Herring keeps the focus on Kamala, muting the world around her – including Carol – in shades of twilight gold.

Oh, and if you liked the cover art of Carol by Kris Anka, better get used to it, as Anka will be the regular artist on Captain Marvel come the fall.

Red Skull #2
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Luca Pizzari and Rainier Beredo

What started out as a Thunderbolts-style romp through the Shield last issue quickly becomes a tale of two of Marvel’s biggest bads – the Red Skull and Magneto – plotting to overthrow an even bigger bad –Dr. Doom.

If you were at all concerned that the Skull would be playing a hero in this book, you needn’t worry. He still makes Walter White look like Steve Rogers (whom he still very much hates, btw). He basically keeps Magneto on an inhibitor-collar leash the entire issue, until such time as he requires Mags’ full power. He also keeps a copy of Mein Kampf in his Sentinel-head bunker, drinks a can of Trask-brand Sentinel coolant (“keeps me on edge”) and practically does a Mr. Burns-style “excellent” at issue’s end.

The Magneto of this book does not appear to be an all-the-way evil Magneto. After being knocked out by the Skull, he dreams about his reality’s incursion, where he apparently leads if not the, then some X-Men, including Rogue and Gambit. He also feels a bit broken. This is a Magneto who has been captured, castrated via inhibitor collar and keeps getting his ass handed to him by the only person who can give him his freedom back.

(Then, of course, there’s the whole general dynamic of a Jewish mutant who survived the Holocaust being forced to work for Marvel’s most famous Nazi.)

Together, the two plot to break the Shield, the barrier holding back Battleworld’s nastiest hordes, and overthrow God Emperor Doom. To do that, the Skull seeks to enlist one of those hordes, specifically Annihilus’ drones, by letting Magneto off the chain to rage-kill a bunch of them.

Will their plan work? Probably not in any way they intended. Can the Skull, Magneto and Annihilus go an issue without stabbing each other in the back? Definitely not. Does Sentinel coolant taste good? Can’t imagine so.

And I go back to the cutest realm on Battleworld...

Giant-Size Little Marvel A Vs. X #3
Story & Art: Skottie Young
Colors: Jean-Francis Beaulieu

I love this comic. There are a lot of comics that are grim for no more reason then to be grim, but this one is fun for no other reason than to be fun. From the first page, with Skottie Young visions of other Battleworld realms to the final, where we see Little Marvel versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy, every page is jammed with jokes, Easter eggs, and the delightful designs that have made Skottie Young a comic book star. This issue still sees the X-Men and Avengers competing to get new-in-town twins Zachary and Zoe to join their respective teams. The X-Men's treehouse tour includes a visit to Beast's lab where the twins get mutated, a trip through Iceman's ice-slide rollercoaster, and of course The Danger Room, while the Avengers show them a set of special twins Iron Man armor, a web-fluid bouncy room, and Asgard. Every locale is designed with Young's wonderfully detailed style, and is a sight to behold. There are some laugh out loud funny moments, including a fastball special with Blob serving as a soft target, Avengers paintball, Wolverine popping up on both teams as a meta-gag, and a blink and you'll miss it background shot of Kitty Pryde walking Lockheed the dragon. Oh, and there's Fin Fang Foom, who makes pretty much any comic he's in better. The final pages introduce the Guardians, as I said above, as well as Little Marvel Galactus and Thanos, and I never thought I could enjoy a cute Thanos as much as I did here. Fans of Marvel Comics should be reading this just to test their knowledge of all the characters and little in jokes, yet none of that is necessary to enjoy the comic. Marvel, seriously, make this an ongoing out of Secret Wars and I will buy it, and encourage everyone else to do so.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/5

Detective Comics #43
Story: Brian Buccellato
Art: Fernando Blanco 

I'm going to miss Brian Buccellato's run on Detective Comics when it wraps next month. It's been a nice mix of crime and super heroics, definitely the best use of crime comics plot points in a DC Comic since the reboot. This issue opens right on the heels of last issue, with Bullock and the Batman support team of GCPD officers rushing to help Batman, whose armor has been incapacitated by the assassins called La Morte. We've been seeing in Batman as well as here that Jim Gordon doesn't need the armor to be Batman, but the splash page of this issue, of a beaten but unbowed Gordon standing over two of the three La Morte hitmen is a great moment for him. But it also points out that Gordon isn't Bruce Wayne: three talented assassins is what Bruce would have called a warm up, and one of these guys got away, along with the power core to the Bat armor. The remainder of the issue follows three separate plot threads. One is Gordon, who feels like he's failed letting La Morte steal the core. Buccellato strikes a good balance between keeping Gordon from seeming self-pitying, but also making it clear how serious he takes this and how this failure has effected him. The remaining member of La Morte, meanwhile, goes and presents the power core to the person who hired him to steal it: The Joker's Daughter. Frankly, this is the first time I had any misgivings about this story. I haven't been a fan of this new Joker's Daughter since her introduction; she struck me as one of those instances where a character was introduced with some head and suddenly she was everywhere without enough time being spent on her personality. But her with a cult of Joker smiling underdwellers, and the final page revealing what she needs the power core? I'm willing to suspend my suspicion of the character because that's some very cool stuff. We also see La Morte has a second contract in Gotham, one with Stafano Falcone, but the who on that one remains to be seen next issue, and I'd place money it ties into the third plot of the issue. Bullock finds out pretty early in the issue that his partner (and lover) Nancy Yip is dirty, and Bullock tries to figure out what she's into. Buccellato writes the best Bullock since his heyday in the Moench/Grant/Dixon '90s run, and I like him as this gruff but good cop. It's sad to see him confront Yip, to deal with Montoya and Internal Affairs, and then to talk about what needs to be done with Batman. We come back around to the scene that was in the preview for this run that came out after Convergence, and I know there's more to it, since we know no one involved is a cold blooded killer. Next issue is going to have to wrap up a lot, including an assassination at a circus, the fate of Yip, and a giant Joker robot. That's a tall order, but I think Bucellato and Blanco can pull it off.

Nailbiter #15
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson & Adam Guzowski

Wow. That's how you end an arc, my friends. With last issue ending with our core cast of protagonists facing down the seemingly unstoppable Bucakroo Butcher, and the Butcher having stabbed Alice viciously, I though we'd get a chase story through the tunnels. And we do, but there's so much more in the issue. The final flashback to a young Sheriff Crane sets up this issue's big reveal, and I'll get to that later, but I have to stress how much these flashbacks in this arc have helped not only flesh out Crane's character, but have actually built some real sympathy for our titular serial killer, Edward Charles Warren. That is only enhanced when Warren lures the Butcher away and gives Crane and Agent Finch the directions out of the tunnels to save Alice. He also gives Finch and Crane additional clues to the mystery of Buckaroo, but that will have to be dealt with when the series returns, as Warren is overtaken by the Butcher and his (her?) master, who I've taken to calling The Doctor, and the threat against his loved ones that the Doctor levels at the defeated Warren is made all the more horrifying by one of the big reveals at the end of the issue (SPOILER WARNING): Alice is Warren and Crane's daughter. Since we're entering a skip month before the next arc begins in October I might have to go back and reread the series to date, because that's a major blow. I don't remember Alice mentioning she's adopted, but there's no reason she should have, and I don't feel this was a cheat in the least. As a matter of fact, with a distinct possibility of there being something genetic in what creates Buckaroo's serial killers, it makes Alice's own fears she's turning into one all the more chilling. I love Mike Henderson's design for The Butcher, and I can't stress enough how much his art helps make this book; the atmosphere in the tunnels, all the work he's done to make the characters distinct and emotive. You'd think this would be enough for one issue, but we also get further evidence of what the Doctor's ministrations did to FBI Agent Baker, and last two page spread that is a shocking twist that left me wanting to grab the next issue right there and then. I can now safely say that Nailbiter is my favorite horror comic on the market, and if you are even the least bit a fan of good horror fiction, do yourself a favor and get caught up before the next arc starts.

And Dan Grote visits World War II with a drugged out writer/artist team and Airboy...

Airboy #3
Story by James Robinson
Art by Greg Hinkle

When last we left this book, James and Greg, its creators and stars, had introduced Golden Age public-domain hero Airboy to their world, complete with alcohol, drugs and some light transphobia. Getting fed up with that quickly, Airboy – through means yet to be explained or explicitly illustrated – transports James and Greg to his world, where it’s still World War II, London has been bombed by the Nazis and steampunk battlesuits prowl the streets.

“Like something Mignola would draw,” James comments, referring to the creator of Hellboy.

How do the two creative types adjust to being thrust into the middle of a warzone? Well, after a plane buzzes them on a rooftop, James gets a massive erection, and Greg poops himself.

In need of a place to hide and clean Greg’s soiled trousers, Airboy takes them to his secret hangar and introduces them to his running crew. There’s Skywolf, who wears a wolf’s head atop his own; the Flying Dutchman, who is not Belgian; Iron Ace, who flies in full knight’s armor; Black Angel, who dresses in leather; and, finally, Valkyrie, Airboy’s lover, whom Greg almost immediately shags, condemning himself and James to greater self-induced punishment ahead (and giving readers another peak at his self-drawn endowment).

Hinkle’s layouts really shine in this issue, now that he gets to draw fighter planes and bombed-out landscapes. There’s a great splash page of the three leads climbing up the wreckage of a building, in which the reader is forced to follow the word balloons from the bottom left up, retraining the reader’s eyes and exploring metacommentary about the Assassin’s Creed games in the process. The color work is also phenomenal, as James and Greg remain painted in the muted blues of their world against the brighter – but still simple – pallet of Airboy’s.

What is actually happening – be it a dream sequence or drug-induced hallucination on the part of James, Greg or even Airboy – has yet to be delineated. That said, the morgue in Airboy’s hangar includes one particular body that deepens the mystery, though I’m not entirely convinced it’s a mystery the creators plan to – or even need to – explain.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Recommended Reading for 8/7: Quantum & Woody

There are many intentionally bad super hero teams, including The Legion of Substitute Heroes, The Justice League Antarctica, and the Great Lakes Avengers (there are also the unintentionally awful, like the Champions and Extreme Justice, but we won't go there), but there's only one that actively bills itself as the world's worst superhero team, and that's Quantum and Woody! Part of the Valiant renaissance (I'm talking about the current series, from writer James Asmus and various excellent artists, not the original Chris Priest/MD Bright version, although I might get to that some day too), Quantum and Woody features two brothers Eric and Woody Henderson, one of whom at the series' beginning is an uptight security guard and the other is a con man who's not as slick as he thinks he is, who through an accident of super science gain super powers but must touch the bracelets they both wear together every twenty-four hours (with a great sound effect of KLANG) or their molecules will dis-corporate, and so they decide to become heroes for hire. And they have a pet goat who's the Poyo ungulate world. And things just get crazier from there.

The events of the series are set off by the murder of Eric Henderson and his adoptive brother Woody's father, a scientist working at Quantum Laboratories. Eric and Woody haven't seen each other in years, since Woody ran away when they were teenagers. But as they begin to investigate their father's murder separately (after getting into a fist fight over his coffin), they are drawn together, both figuratively and literally as one of their father's experiments explodes, granting Woody the ability to fire energy blasts, and Eric, who dons a mask and starts calling himself Quantum,the power to create force fields. Their investigation leads them to a cabal of scientists Edison's Radical Acquisitions (ERA for short), who are all bizarre, freaks of science, including The Crone, who is seeking immortality through harvesting organs from her clones, Beta-Max, a cyborg from the 80s, and a bunch of equally creepy others.

Quantum and Woody are a classic odd couple pairing. Eric is type A personality who has everything in his life scheduled and to a pattern. Woody is constantly on the move since he does whatever he can to not work an honest day in his life, usually by committing some sort of con. Also, just to make it clear that the differences are both skin deep and deeper. Eric is black and Woody is white. The interaction between the two of them, this strange love/hate relationship that you can really only truly understand if you have a frustrating brother, is the cornerstone of the series, and the engine that drives the emotional core of the title.

So I've talked about super science, murdered dads, and feuding brothers, none of which makes clear something that's also really important here: this comic is hilarious! Like completely fall out of your seat, squirt tears out of your eyes funny. The banter between Quantum and Woody, the bizarre rogues gallery, the Goat (more on him later), and just the situations they wind up in, and all perfect fodder for comedy. There are bits about whether Woody disguising himself as Eric constitutes blackface (the actual scene takes place off page, so it's only conceptually offensive), of Eric trying to get Woody to do one normal thing in a day that spirals out of control, and Quantum having to defend a group of white supremacists as they are the lesser of two evils that all just play out as screwball superhero comedy in the best tradition.

The circle of supporting characters is kept pretty tight in the series, really meaning two characters. Or is it one? Oh, clones... Yes, the two other recurring human characters are both clones of the ERA member The Crone. The Crone sent her clones out into the world to have them in positions where they would benefit ERA before she harvested one. One of these clones became a Washington DC police detective, Alejandra Cejudo, who got involved with Quantum and Woody as they investigated their father's death. She's not just a competent cop, but she does not want to take any of the crap that Woody, and to a lesser degree Quantum, dish out and get suckered into. She also declares autonomy from The Crone, trying to make her own life, which doesn't go over well. The other clone in the orbit of our hapless duo is Clone Number 69 (yes, yes, get all the jokes out of your system now, and be prepared for new ones in the comic, because they plum the depths). 69 is a naive clone in her late teens who leaves the ERA base with Woody and the two become a couple. There's a lot of humor on how she interacts with the world, not knowing much about the outside, and also in how she interacts with Woody, since the only thing she seems to know less about than the normal world is relationships.

And there's one other character I mentioned earlier who is a series regular, and that's The Goat. The Goat is, well, a goat. A goat that ERA experimented on. A goat that now has more super powers than it probably should, and is clearly more intelligent than a normal goat. I compared The Goat to Poyo, Chew's luchador rooster, earlier, and I think the description is apt, as The Goat is a breakout hit, who got an origin story in Quantum and Woody #0 and let me tell you, that origin is more involved than you can imagine and is something I don't want to spoil. The Goat is just awesome, and if there's a way for a new Valiant and Image crossover could ever happen, like the 90s Deathmate event, I think it should totally be called Deathbarn, and just be Poyo and The Goat destroying everything in their path.

Oh, and all this plot stuff I've talked about, with the ERA and the investigation of Quantum and Woody's dad? Yeah, that's just the first volume of Quantum and Woody! One of the things I really have to give Valiant credit for is that nearly all their comics are jam packed with stuff. I can't think of one that is a comic you just breeze through in five minutes. Volume two is a story where the now stuck together Quantum and Woody move in together, only for Quantum to get a new security job that isn't what it seems and our hapless heroes have to stop a war within the United States from breaking out. And volume three has the return of a vengeance seeking ERA and the rise of a reborn Thomas Edison who is... yeah, I'll let you read that for yourself.

And after those first three trades, Quantum and Woody went on hiatus and was replaced by The Delinquents. This was a crossover between Quantum and Woody and Valiant's other mismatched and hilarious duo, Archer and Armstrong. I went to link to reviews I did, and am kicking myself for seeing I only reviewed one issue of what is one of the best crossovers I've read in years. It's two odd couples having to work together to solve a mystery involving The Hobo Code (not to be confused with The Hobo Way of Thrilling Adventure Hour fame), genetically modified foods, Cow/man hybrids, and The Big Rock Candy Mountain. It's a great comic, you don't need any previous knowledge of either series to enjoy it, and it probably deserves a recommended reading of its own someday, since it is an absolute joy to read.

So, that's Quantum and Woody. Seriously, if you enjoy superhero comics like Deadpool, the Giffen/Dematteis Justice League, or Archer and Armstrong, all of which mix strong character work with zany humor, you can't go wrong with this comic.

Three trades of Quantum and Woody, "World's Worst Superhero Team," "In Security," and "Crooked Pasts, Present Tense," are all out and readily available, as is the trade for The Delinquents. The fourth volume of the series, "Quantum and Woody Must Die!" comes out on Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 13

In an ambitious turn, Dan Grote reviews not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR Secret Wars tie-ins this week. read on, True Believers...

X-Men ’92 #2
Story: Chad Bowers and Chris Sims
Art: Scott Koblish and Matt Milla

When we last left the X-Men of the ’90s, ’00s villain Cassandra Nova (or more accurately the Shadow King possessing Nova’s body) had them hooked up to machines, trying to cure them of their violent tendencies. And so we get that lovely trope of characters being shown their deepest desires and innermost demons while being psychically manipulated.

Wolverine goes first, because of course he does. Logan’s sequence is an exercise in seeing how many Easter eggs can dance on the head of a pin, as he wrestles first with a cadre of his then-greatest non-Sabretooth foes – Lady Deathstryke, Cyber, Silver Samurai, Omega Red and Viper – then with every version of himself that was ever made into an action figure, from first-appearance Wolverine with the whiskers on his cowl to Uncanny X-Force Wolverine with the black-and-gray costume. And at the end they all hug. For serious.

However much they’re paying artist Scott Koblish, it isn’t enough. Given the number of cameos, throwbacks and downright homages – especially in the Wolverine section – Koblish spends the entire issue playing chameleon, mimicking the designs of John Byrne, Barry Windsor-Smith, Chris Bachalo, Joe Madureira and others, many times in the same panel.

As Nova makes her way through the team her motivations become a bit clearer. The Shadow King-powered Nova is in touch with the psychic energies of everyone on Battleworld, including the X-Men of other realities, nearly all of which are much darker (Age of Apocalypse, House of M, Inferno, etc.). She claims if she doesn’t turn the X-Men of Westchester into a patch of peaceful vegetables, the same fate will befall their domain.

“I’ll die before I see the Thors place a ‘suggested for mature residents’ sign outside Westchester,” she tells Storm, once again winking so hard at the reader as to risk being stuck with permanent Popeye face.

While the X-Men are trapped in Nova’s Clear Mountain, another team of mutants is trying to track them down to rescue them. If the X-Force at the end of this issue – Cable, Domino, Bishop, Archangel, Psylocke and Deadpool – would have appeared together on the original Saturday morning cartoon, 13-year-old me would have lost it (and possibly asked why, if it were X-Force, Cannonball, Boom-Boom, Sunspot, et al, weren’t there). Cable even yells “Stab his eyes!” which I don’t think I’ve seen on a page in 20 years.

Another made-up team of familiar faces in this book is the Rej-X, freaks who failed Nova’s mind tests and have been locked away to strip Sentinels for parts. Among them are Masque, Feral, Artie and Leech, a pre-horseman Caliban, Sauron, Maggot, Chamber, and one of Sinister’s Nasty Boys, the purple one.

Guys, when you read a book in 2015 that has Maggot and a Nasty Boy in it, you know the Dream of the ’90s is alive.

But the best cameo in this book – and there may be more this issue than in the first one – is the 1992 X-Men arcade game, which Jubilee kills time playing while she waits for the rest of the team. The arcade game debuted the same year as the cartoon but featured a decidedly more ’80s team of X-Men, including Nightcrawler, Colossus, and, much to Jubilee’s consternation, Dazzler.

Finally, a stray thought: Where’s Morph? He’s gotta show up at some point, right?


Thors #2
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka, Karl Story, and Marte Gracia

Someone is killing all of Battleworld’s Jane Fosters, and now there’s one less Thor to find out who.

The second issue of Thors opens with a call for vengeance, as Doom’s hammer-wielding police force spreads out and roughs up every Hulk, zombie, Ultron and Morbius who might have an inkling as to why Beta Ray Thor was killed and by whom.

Meanwhile, Thorlief Golmen, aka the Ultimate Thor, continues his investigation into the Foster murders, only to discover a fellow Thor – make that ex-fellow Thor – has been collecting evidence of his own.

There’s no way to tell for sure whether this de-powered, ax-wielding, one-armed Thor is the 616 Odinson. He claims to know things the other Thors don’t – as Loki did in the previous issue – but he reveals little before sinking back into the shadows.

The end of the issue reveals a new body – this time not a Jane Foster – and a new suspect. Well, new for Thorlief, anyway. Whatever’s going on, it may be connected to the truth about Battleworld, how much of which people know varies by book, domain and creative team. But it’s definitely way too soon to tell, and kudos to Jason Aaron, Chris Sprouse, et al, for keeping us in the dark while keeping us entertained with this Asgardian police procedural.

MODOK: Assassin #3
Story: Christopher Yost
Art: Amilcar Pinna, Terry Pallot and Rachelle Rosenberg

There’s violence, there’s ultraviolence and there’s this issue of MODOK: Assassin, in which practically anybody who’s ever killed somebody in the Marvel Universe is sent after MODOK and his crush, Angela-Thor.

Who’s everybody? Well, there’s the Scarlet Spider, the Grim Reaper, Jack-O-Lantern, Boomerang, Screaming Mimi, Bushwacker, the Ghost, Hit Monkey, Black Widow, the Punisher, Typhoid Mary, Wolverine, Sabretooth, the Kingpin, the Shroud, Viper, a resurrected Doctor Octopus (remember when he died in the first issue?), and, finally, the Mindless Ones: empty, demonic beings who generally serve Dormammu.

Many of these characters die in the most grisly ways possible: Decapitation via chainsaw, psychic energy blast, having their head crushed in the bare hands of a Thor, getting run over, impalement, getting sliced in half from head to crotch, etc. Flying eyeballs, freshly loosed from their sockets, are not an uncommon sight. There hasn’t been a celebration of cartoon violence this loud and proud since the Itchy and Scratchy shorts on The Simpsons. The only reason this isn’t a MAX title is because nobody’s cursing or having sex. Seriously, good on you, Amilcar Pinna.

Apart from all this psychotic glee, however, there’s still a mystery to solve. Someone back at Thor HQ finally realized one of their own is missing (ironically, it’s Beta Ray Thor, who, if you’ve been reading Thors, or even the review of Thors above this, you know has been killed). Angela-Thor has been de-hammered and cloaked so, while MODOK can see her (and continually comment on her beauty and the way she wields a sword), he can’t “see” her with any sort of tracking device, and the Thors also can’t get a read on her using any of their science or magic. Clearly, someone wants her out of the picture, likely the same person who sent the Mindless Ones after her at the end of this issue.

Next issue, I fully expect a higher body count, more mayhem and, maybe, some light plot resolution.

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #3
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Matteo Lolli and Ruth Redmond

Part of what has made Deadpool Deadpool more and more over the years is the fact that, while he’s an unhinged psychopath with no qualms about murdering for fun and profit, he still knows how to make a heroic sacrifice.

That side of the character is front and center in this revisionist take on the original Secret Wars. Last issue, he gave up his cool lenticular shield to help Reed Richards rescue the heroes from the mountain they were trapped under. This issue he sacrifices his good looks, and his feelings for the alien healer Zsaji, to resurrect the other heroes. Doubtless DP is not done sacrificing yet, especially with one more issue to go and the fact remaining that nobody will actually remember him being there.

But if Deadpool is good, he’s chaotic good at best. And according to this issue, he maaaaaay have had a hand in creating Venom. When the heroes find the Star Trek-like replicator machine that makes new outfits, Wade gets his mitts on the black alien-symbiote costume before Spider-Man. (His review: “Could use a few more pouches.” Amen, brother.) But when he feels the symbiote feeding off his thoughts, he promptly removes the costume and passes the savings on to Spidey. Though not before a dress-up montage that shows him looking like everyone from Captain America to Cruella de Vil.

By the end of the issue, Dr. Doom has defeated the Beyonder and taken his power for himself (sound familiar?), and Deadpool tries to reason with him, newly handsome person to newly handsome person. One guess how that goes.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/29

Batgirl Annual #3
Story: Cameron Stewart & Brenden Flecther
Art: Bengal (Chapter 1)
        David Lafuente & Gabe Eltaeb (Chapter 2)
        Ming Doyle & Ivan Plascencia (Chapter 3)
        Mingjue Helen Chen (Chapter 4)

One of the pluses of the recent new wave of Batman related titles is how each book stands almost entirely on its own feet; you can read Grayson, Batgirl, Gotham Academy, Gotham by Midnight, or the reimagined Catwoman and not have to read any other Batman comic to understand what's going on in that title. This past week's Batgirl Annual is a great comic, and while it is a perfect standalone story, what it does is set Batgirl's adventures in the wider context of what's going on in Gotham City. If you haven't been reading Batgirl, Barbara Gordon has been the defender of Burnside, the hip, Brooklyn-esque neighborhood of Gotham for the past year or so. But this issue, after finding an amnesiac UN official wandering through her neighborhood, Barbara is sent on a collision course with many of the other members of the Bat-family. The first chapter has her working with Helena Bertinelli, the director of the spy organization Spyral and another agent, Dick Grayson, who Barbara thinks is dead and who does his best to keep his identity a secret; the second chapter has Barbara run into Spoiler, recently reintroduced to the DCU and currently appearing in Catwoman; chapter three features a team-up with Kate Kane, Batwoman, whose title has ended and is currently in limbo; and finally Batgirl goes to Gotham Academy, where she meets Olive Silverlock and Maps Mizoguchi, the protagonists of that title. The main plot element, what Batgirl and her allies are looking to find and stop, is an absolute McGuffin (it's called the Negahedron, such a classic 50s pseudo-science name it works best as something that you don't think too much about) to arrange these character meetings, and that's perfectly fine. Each interaction has its own flavor and purpose. The Gotham Academy segment pulls the two books Brenden Flecther writes together and allows us to see Maps, that book's consummate fangirl, get to work with a superhero and get some sidekick dreams, which is just adorable. Batwoman has pretty much disappeared since her title ended, and it was just nice to see Kate back. But I think long time fans were really looking at those first two chapters for something big. In the pre-reboot times, Barbara Gordon as Oracle had very strong ties to both Helena Bertinelli and Stephanie Brown in their other identities, Stephanie as the third Batgirl and Helena as Huntress. These are the first real interactions between the new era Batgirl and her former friends, and while the rapport is different, it's still nice to see how they fit together. Helena and Barbara work together as a well oiled machine, fighting their way through the troops of the terrorist organization Gladius, all while trying to avoid Dick Grayson (and Dick's pain at having to avoid Barbara is palpable). Spoiler is still a novice, and she's so pleased to nearly best Batgirl at the super-hero game; I would love to see Baba work more with Stephanie when Steph's apprenticeship in Catwoman is over. All-in-all, the issue mixes action, adventure, and strong character moments to wonderful effect and makes it essential if you're enjoying any of the titles that are involved. Oh, and on a final note, I love Barbara momentarily recognizes Dick Grayson, who disguises his face and voice, by his butt, which seems to be his new defining physical characteristic; it's such a nice nod to what's going on in Grayson and hilarious in how well Barbara remembers Dick. I want those crazy kids to find a way together, sue me.

Copperhead #9
Story: Jay Faerber
Art: Scott Godlewski & Ron Riley

The second arc of the sci-fi Western Copperhead moves forward at breakneck speed, as Sheriff Clara Bronson gathers a posse to retrieve her deputy, Boo, who has been kidnapped by a band of outlaws. Last issue saw Boo's part of the story, as the outlaws make their way to The Bastion, a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and what Boo does to try to stop them or at least slow their progress. This issue is Clara's story from that same time period, and we get to see certain events from the previous issue from a different point of view. But before their paths cross, we see Barton gather a posse that is made up almost entirely of people she doesn't trust: Cletus, the criminal she dealt with in the first arc, Ishmael, the artificial humanoid hermit who lives in the desert, and two other artificials provided by local land baron Hickory, who is not a nice man at all. The journey through the wasteland is a classic Western trope, and we get the character interaction that defines much of Jay Faerber's work; he finds a way to keep the action of a series going while mining his characters for important personal beats. Even after he has proven trustworthy and not a bad guy in the past, Bronson still doesn't trust Ishmael, which is to be expected, as she has stated how little she trusts artificials. What's more interesting is to see how Ishmael interacts with the two other artificials, how they view him as an outsider and how they think about their own place in the world. And while Bronson talks to Cletus, and we get a better idea of exactly what is going on in his head, it's the artificials that really captured my attention in this issue. Their "bred for battle" attitude and culture, how they act when confronted with death, and the way they look at the death of their own once it happens, it fills in some gaps about how these beings exist. This worldbuilding is key in good science fiction, and I'm glad to see that Faerber has all this background. In addition to this, the slow burn about Barton's ex-huband's escape from jail continues; this is going to be a big deal when he arrives on Japser (the planet where Copperhead is), and the little bits here and there about him just make the tension even higher. Next issue wraps up the second arc, and all the pieces are now in place for a showdown.

Invisible Republic #5
Story: Gabriel Hardman & Corinna Bechko
Art: Gabriel Hardman & Jordan Boyd

Invisible Republic the series from Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko that takes place on a planet after a dictatorship has fallen and follows a reporter who has found a diary of an unknown cousin of that dictator, wraps its first arc with an issue that takes place nearly entirely in those diaries. Maia Reveron, cousin to Arthur McBride, has found a life away from her cousin with beekeepers and honey seller Archi and Luis, who said they could pay her way out of indentured servitude and take her on as an apprentice. But as her connection to McBride is revealed, things start looking bleaker. Even moreso when Maia winds up in the middle of a demonstration, finds out that Luis is working with McBride's underground, and when the demonstration becomes a riot, Maia has to make a decision. It's a telling moment for Maia, who we see as a good and loyal person being more and more swept up in events beyond her control, but who still tries to do what's right in her mind. It's an issue that will change the status quo moving forward when, at the end of the issue, we meet a character from that flashbacks for the first time in the present. There's so much to love about this series, with it's depth of character and it's wide world, but what continues to blow my mind each issue is Hardman's art. The gritty world he's crafted fits perfectly with the tone of the series and defines it. Everything is absolutely clear, nothing gets lost in a single panel, but everything is dirty and used. This isn't the pristine world of Star Trek or the Western influenced sci-fi of Firefly. The closest I can think of is Lazarus (which also had a very solid issue this week, by the way), a future world that is very much extrapolated from the world as it is now, with all the dirt and creases you'd see. The riot scene, where the military comes down on McBride and disperses the crowd violently, can be viewed as some commentary on recent events in America, but knowing exactly what McBride is and how manipulative he is, that particular commentary has its legs cut out from under it: McBride is not some innocent revolutionary as he would have the people believe. He's a cold blooded killer. And watching him build his cult of personality makes him all the more powerful and creepy as a character. Science Fiction is genre that embraces all kinds of stories, and Invisible Republic, with its politics and humanity, is one of the strongest science fiction comics on the market. It's a perfect time to go out and snag all five issues that are out and read them together, and be ready when the new arc starts.

The X-Files Annual 2015
Story: Mike Raicht
Art: Kevin VanHook & Mat Lopes

While there were some good monster-of-the-week style stories in the recently completed X-Files Season 10 comic, much of that series was dedicated to building a new, cohesive mythology for the series to move forward. This year's annual, though, is a monster story of the best order, the kind that not just tells a spooky story, but delves into Mulder and Scully. The story follows Mulder as he barges into a high school reunion to try to find out what happened to a student who disappeared years ago in a haunted house. This is a very Mulder thing to do, as is lying to Scully to drag her along. I know a lot of people who are Mulder fans could read this issue and be really annoyed at Scully for not just her skepticism but her annoyance at Mulder, and while it seems a times very harsh, I can see why she's upset; Mulder dragged her away on a weekend to investigate a case without telling her; she has very right to be annoyed. But as the case of the disappearance of Colin Matthews deepens, Mulder learns more about Colin and his friends, Tristan Nolan and Kelly McGreevy, who have made a career as ghost hunters by talking about what they witnessed the night Colin disappeared, and details about psychic powers and exactly what kind of people these now adults were set Mulder on a path that not only leads him to confront Tristan and Kelly, but to get some resolution on a case for once. But because he's Fox Mulder, he looks a little deeper, and what he finally deduces is even more disturbing than a disappearance, It's got a great twist ending, like many of the best X-Files, and it's the twist within the twist that really makes it. I was also impressed that, while it's referenced in places, the fact that Mulder investigates a disappearance in the anniversary of the disappearance of his sister, there's no big long speech about Samantha. Mulder's own hunt for his sister is the thing that's defined his entire life, and how he deals with it here is allowed to play out subtextually, in a show not tell way. With The X-Files about to return to television, I'm not sure how much big mythology stuff that the comic has been doing is going to be valid anymore, so stories like this, strong done in one monster stories, are a great place for the comic to live, and this issue would be a good prototype for upcoming stories.