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.

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