Monday, September 28, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/23

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10 #19
Story: Christos Gage & Nicholas Brendon
Art: Rebekah Isaacs & Dan Jackson

The last time I wrote about an issue of Buffy Season 10, it was an issue about my least favorite Whedon character, Andrew Wells. This issue is pretty much the opposite, featuring one of my top three Whedon characters of all time, Rupert Giles. Giles was resurrected at the end of the previous season of Angel & Faith, but has since been trapped in the body of a pre-teen. This issue, Willow finds a way to get Giles back to closer to his own age, if only for one day. And like any redblooded man, the first thing he does is go for a booty call to his on-again/off-again lady friend, Olivia. But after that, when Olivia has to go to work, we get to see exactly what Giles will do with thr rest of his day, which is... not much. Remembering back to the TV series, Giles was always most comfortable when he was a Watcher, when he had someone to look out for. He never built his own life. And so he tries to (unsuccessfully) offer Buffy advice, and goes drinking with Xander. Gage has been giving Giles a fascinating journey this season, being a middle aged man in the hormonal body of a twelve year old, and it's great to see him realize how much he can/wants to change his life. The issue ends with one of those scenes between Buddy and Giles that always touches me, with him clearly as the surrogate father to take the place of the biological one that abandoned her. And speaking of Hank Summers; king of the jerkbags, he returns this issue, to take Buffy and Dawn out to lunch, tell them he's getting married again, and tell Buffy she's not invited to the wedding, since she's a Slayer and people die around her and he has step-kids to consider. You think that's harsh, right? Well, he doesn't sugar coat it much beyond that. And while Dawn is deeply offended for Buffy, Buffy seems to understand where he's coming from. But even though this season has been about really growing up and finding your place in an adult world, it's clear how much it hurts Buffy, and how it's the perfect time to have one big hug with her grown-up mentor. And for those of you who like your conflict a little more physical, have no fear; there's a hellhound that tries to kill Giles and Xander too. It's an issue that mixes all the pathos, humor, character, and action fans expect from a Joss Whedon related story perfectly, and as we enter the last ten issues of Season 10, I can't wait to see what Gage, Brendon, and master artist Rebekah Isaacs has in store for us.

Grayson #12
Story: Tom King & Tim Seeley
Art: Mikel Janin, Hugo Petrus, Juan Castro, & Jeromy Cox

And then there was the day Dick Grayson came home. After deciding to leave Spyral after the disastrous missions he's undertaken recently and with the mission he was sent to perform by Batman complete, Dick finds Gotham a changed place. And by Gotham, I mean Bruce, who has forgotten much of his life. But while Dick is done with Spyral, Spyral is not done with Dick, as Agent Zero comes to tell him he has a day to say goodbye to his loved ones before he comes back into the fold. So we see Dick meet up with the better part of the Bat family, with varied reactions. The red duo, Red Hood and Red Robin, are angry and Jason, unsurprisingly, throws a punch. Batgirl simply turns and swings away, not willing to listen initially. And the warm reunion between Dick and Damian, as each thought the other was dead, is heartwarming. I had forgotten how much I loved the dynamic between those two from when they were Batman and Robin together, Each meeting is started with a splash page full of quotes from Dick's relationship with the character, many of which a sharp eyed Bat fan will remember. But it's really an issue about family. Each person, Alfred, Bruce, Jason, Tim, Barbara, and Damian, mean something different to Dick, and we get to see him tell them how he feels. But hidden in that is a clever code, something from earlier in the series, as Dick begins his own plans to get out from under Spyral. I love it when the Batman family acts like that, a family, so seeing them reunited here is a great turn. Add in Mikal Janin's stellar pencils, and you get a comic any Batfan should check out. I love the different flavors we get from each Bat title currently, but it's also nice to step away from the high spy action of Grayson for an issue, to get a treat that gives us this insight into how Dick Grayson ticks.

And Dan Grote returns to the team-up between the Merc with a Mouth and the Mad Titan...

Deadpool vs. Thanos #2
Story: Tim Seeley
Art: Elmo Bondoc and Ruth Redmond

Spoilers for my Thursdays with Wade column for roughly 10 weeks from now.

When the living embodiment of Death went missing last issue, it brought all kinds of people back from the dead, which, if this story took place prior to the Marvel NOW relaunch in 2013 as the recap page says, means this was the third such resurrection incident in the Marvel Universe in a fairly short period, if you remember the Necrosha (2009) and Chaos War (2010) stories.

This time around, the reversal of Death, or Great Undeathening, whatever you care to call it, has brought back an extremely important character to Deadpool’s past, the tormentor known as Ajax. Or Francis. Or the Attending. Or the A-Man. Or the Abyss Man. Or Big Baby Jesus.

Ajax was Dr. Killebrew’s assistant during Wade Wilson’s time in the Weapon X program. He got his jollies by torturing the rejects. He was created by Joe Kelly and Walter McDaniel and first appeared in 1998’s Deadpool #14, and was killed by DP five issues later. He is expected to be the main bad guy in next year’s Deadpool movie, played by Ed Skrein, who most recently starred in the “Refueling” of the Transporter franchise.

So that’s why he’s back from the dead.

Ajax doesn’t show up until the end, though. The bulk of this issue shows Deadpool and Thanos traipsing around an abandoned Shi’ar platinum-mining operation based on a logic leap made by old Chin-Riblets, which is my new nickname for Thanos forever and ever. There they fight an anthropomorphic death cult led by Bucky O’Hare (not really), followed by the pre-movie Guardians of the Galaxy. This leads to some musing by Thanos about how even when Death was a going concern, it still was a mutable power, given how many times Thanos and the various Guardians have come back from the dead over the years. Or, as Deadpool puts it, “Someone has to die for real! I mean, what is this, a Marvel comic?!”

Now, let me ask a no-prize question. Both issues of this series to date have identified Deadpool as a mutant. And while I self-identify as a big DP fan, I feel like I’m missing a retcon here, as to my knowledge, he was never been a mutant. His healing factor is a copy of Wolverine’s that was grafted onto him, for lack of a better term. His ability to teleport is technology-based. Granted, it’s become canon that his memories are fluid, leaving his past open to all manner of revision, such as that time he fought in the original Secret Wars or helped Tony Stark overcome his alcoholism, but if somebody could help me see the light on this one, I’d very much appreciate it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thursdays With Wade: Joe Kelly's Deadpool Revisited Part 5

This week’s reading: Deadpool #6 and 7
Story: Joe Kelly
Art: Ed McGuinness

Starting with Deadpool #6, our man in red’s world becomes intertwined with that of another crimson-clad leading man: Daredevil.

We start where all plots have started so far in this series – at the Hellhouse, where two jobs have come in: one to break someone out of a mental institution, and one to kill that same person.

Despite a claim that he “gave up killing for Lent” (a byproduct of his time with Siryn), Wade takes the job(s), because it’s his book. He breaks into the Gutman Institute for the Mentally Unhinged by disguising himself as a doctor attempting to commit a patient, namely Weasel, who pretends he’s convinced he’s Ricki Lake, because it’s 1997 and that is a topical reference.

Meanwhile, it turns out that in addition to hiring Deadpool both to kill and kidnap her, the patient in question, a woman named Mary with three warring personalities, hired an obscure supervillain, the Vamp, to stop Wade. The Vamp’s power was turning into a big-headed, male-presenting monster called Animus, so get ready for a bunch of Crying Game references that seem less than enlightened in the age of Transparent and I Am Cait.

Once the Vamp is dispatched, Wade fulfills the part of the contract asking him to remove Mary from the asylum, after which she reveals herself as Typhoid Mary, one of the Kingpin’s personal assassins and a primary enemy/occasional lover of Daredevil.

She also likes high kicks. Or at least Ed McGuinness liked drawing Mary performing them. He also likes drawing Patch’s eyebrows as long and gravity-defying as his white Yosemite Sam mustache, so do with that what you will.

Oh, and she apparently used to date T-Ray, as we learn in issue #7. So there’s that.

The alabaster one’s vendetta against DP picks up again in #7, as he tells Weasel, effectively, that Wade’s ass is grass. “I’m going to nuke your pal Wade today. About 8 p.m.,” T-Ray says, channeling his inner middle school bully.

T-Ray’s threat leads Weasel to visit Deadpool’s house for the first time, to warn his buddy of impending doom. Wade isn’t home, but he does meet Blind Al, who freaks right out, intimating violent consequences for violating Wade’s sanctum sanitarium. More on that later.

Meanwhile, back at the Hellhouse, T-Ray makes good on his threat, using his as-yet-undefined magical abilities to burn off Wade’s mask, exposing his scarred face to the other mercenaries. In a rage, Wade kicks Mary out a second-story window. Mary survives the fall uninjured, but it helps her remember something important: She has to kill Daredevil! And that’s where we’ll pick up next time, with Daredevil/Deadpool Annual ’97.

Random bit 1: Blind Al in issue #7 mentions Deadpool’s Squirrel Girl Underoos. Now, Squirrel Girl was created in 1992, but she didn’t really become popular until the past decade. In fact, according to her Wikipedia page, the character was largely MIA between 1992 and 2005, save for this one reference, so one wonders whether this joke found an audience at the time.

Random bit 2: A scene in which Gerry the Bum talks to himself about Toaster Strudel, and the price its creator paid for crossing big Pop Tart. This is the first time we’ve seen Gerry since issue #1, and while it’s a funny bit, and in hindsight we know what his deal is, reading spoiler-free it just seems tossed in. That said, it remains my favorite Gerry scene.

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, September 22, 2015

Gotham Season 2, Episode 1, "Damned If You Do"

Hey, look, Gotham's back! Gotham had a first season that was enjoyable, if incredibly uneven, and so much of enjoying it had to do with ignoring it as any precursor to an established Batman mythos, something the final episodes of last season completely cemented by throwing off the reins of any established canon. So, I came back to it with last night's premiere unsure of where I stood with this, a re-imagining of the origins of many of my favorite comic book characters. And I've decided Gotham is like that friend you have, the one who's fun at parties, but makes lots of bad decisions, and all you can do is shake your head and enjoy it when they win, or don't screw up entirely. They're good intentioned, and sometimes pull of a Hail Mary pass, but wow, what you have to do to get there.

I will say, flat out, that Gotham made some improvements this first episode. The main one, the one that leapt out at me, was that it handled its mammoth cast better than at any point last year. While there were still three plotlines (more if you count some brief touches), each and every one connected to a main plot, with Jim Gordon being kicked off the GCPD and having to find a way to get back on the force. While Bruce had his own thing going on, trying to break into his father's proto-Batcave, and Barbara Kean and the loonies in Arkham were being the loonies in Arkham, Gordon encountered each of them and we saw how they effected his decision. And Penguin's plot simply tied in to Gordon's, without there being anything going on aside from that. Riddler was a little more off to the side, but we'll get to that in a bit. Still, there were no plotlines that seemed to be sitting out in right field, not tying in to anything going on in the main plot of the series, which is a focus sorely lacking last year.

Even though the plot was consistent, there were some holes that you could drive a truck through. Gordon needing to go to Penguin to oust Commissioner Loeb seemed a questionable decision for a number of reasons, the largest being that Gordon has dirt on Loeb. There was a whole episode last season that ended with Gordon knowing Loeb's daughter killed her mother and Loeb covered it up. While Gordon might be too noble to use it, to completely ignore it seemed an odd choice. I can ignore lapses in logic that are intrinsic to a show, but simple ignoring events that are key to the show's past seems odd (frankly, that entire episode seems to be ignored, as no one has since mentioned that Gordon is head of the policeman's union).

I'm also wondering where the series is going to go with Gordon having killed a man while doing a favor for Penguin. I have to really work to wrap my brain around a Gordon who would do that, as it is completely anathema to the Jim Gordon I've read for three decades (although not to the one in Geoff Johns's Batman: Earth One, which I think the producers have been drawing some inspiration from). I'm hoping that this is an action that haunts Gordon, and not in the "Penguin is holding it over his head," way. I know Gordon has no problems taking a life when threatened in the line of duty, and I'm fine with that. But Ben McKenzie's excellent moment when he tells Leslie Thompkins, "I did a bad thing," should be something that comes back around later on.

The performances on Gotham continue to move between the sublime and the grotesque in the best possible ways. I give all the actors on the show credit for taking what they're given and committing wholeheartedly to it. There are smaller performances, like Donal Logue's Bullock, where he's much more at peace than we saw him all last year. Robin Lord Taylor continues to impress as the Penguin, and I really enjoy David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne. The Arkham crew were a delighful group of scene stealers; now that she's insane and villainous, I am enjoying Erin Richards's Barbara Kean 1000 times more, and while I don't think Cameron Monaghan's Jerome is going to be the Joker in the end, he's a pleasant maniac to watch. And my usual kudos go out to Anthony Carrigan, whose Victor Zsasz is my favorite character on this show, with his wicked performance that can switch from manic glee to violent terror in moments.

I have some issue with the direction of Edward Nygma, though none of that has to do with Cory Michael Smith's performance. The schizophrenic, talking to a slick version of himself in the mirror thing is out of character for Riddler. And I know I said you have to embrace a different mind set when looking at this show, since these aren't any version of these characters we've seen before, but we will be seeing more of district attorney Harvey Dent this season, and having two characters with the same kind of dark side and rage issues seems redundant, although Evil Ed meets Big Bad Harv might be fun (and before anyone corrects me, I know the Big Bad Harv thing is DCAU only, not straight DC canon, but it works so well here, I had to use it).

And this wouldn't be Gotham if we didn't introduce at least a couple new characters, in this case the mysterious Galvan siblings. We didn't get much from Tabitha yet, although Jessica Lucas imbues her embryonic Tigress with enough cold calculating power and violence that you know she is no one to be messed with. Her brother, the seeming new criminal mastermind of the season, Theo, is played by James Frain, an actor who I am an unabashed fan of. Frain is one of those "that guy" actors, someone who appears in everything, and is often the villainous Brit. Whether it's as vampire Franklin Mott on True Blood, corporate baddie Ferdinand on Orphan Black (the best sci-fi show on television now. You should be watching it), wicked prince Eric Renard on Grimm (the best supernatural superhero show on TV now, and one with no comic book antecedent), the supervillain Chess on The Cape (remember The Cape? Six seasons and a movie never happened there, sorry Abed), or a slew of other characters, Frain brings a palpable sense of menace to his antagonists that I admire. I'm looking forward to seeing what Frain and his Legion of Madmen do.

Other episode highlights included Bruce and Alfred building a bomb and high-fiving when it works, Barbara's little phone call to Leslie, and the production design on Penguin's minions and the club Gordon goes to collect Penguin's money. Whatever else you have to say about this show, it is designed gorgeously,

So, where are we with Gotham now? Is the show perfect? By no stretch. Is it a fun carnival ride of madness and poor decision making by characters who should know better? Absolutely. And really, that's all I'm asking for at this point.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/16

The Fade Out #9
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser

The final act of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's The Fade Out explores the relationship between two of the series main characters: series protagonist and blocked screenwriter Charlie Parish and his best friend, blacklisted screenwriter Gil Mason. Charlie and Gil's fractured friendship has been one of the emotional centers of the title, but this issue sees things come to a head, as Charlie recalls the major beats of their lives together as they get into a fist fight. In the span of a normal comic, we see the history of these two men in Hollywood, from Gil's arrival as a novelist-turned-screenwriter, to his partnership with Charlie, who's a wide eyed new kid, to Gil's mounting jealousy as Charlie seems to be gaining more success and prestige. And we see exactly why these two guys are working for Victory Street Pictures, and how deep the commitment that ties these men, and the jealousy that drives them apart, goes. It's made even more complicated by the relationship between Gil and his wife, Melba, and the relationship that exists between Melba and Charlie. It's a web of love and resentment. I love how Brubaker finds a way to mix character development with plot in this issue. Brubaker wrote in the letter column of this issue that The Fade Out is really a serialized novel, and that because it's one big story, that's why some issues are far more focused on character than plot (also, because character is what interests him as a writer moreso than plot). But in the scenes that take place in the present, the plot is pushed forward towards the inevitable collision, as Charlie confronts Gil about Gil's blackmailing of the studio, and Gill shows Charlie the evidence he's collected and what his plans really are. I don't think exactly what the studio heads are up to is particularly surprising if you've been reading all along and you aren't blind or naive, but it makes it no less repulsive, and you want Charlie and Gil to get the justice for the victims, not just the Valeria Sommers, whose death set off this whole chain of events, but all the victims that this issue implies. Still, this is a noir, so happy endings aren't usually in the cards for anyone, and with three issues left, there's plenty of room for sad endings all around. I was initially saddened by learning that The Fade Out was going to be only twelve issues, but I feel like Brubaker knows the story he wants to tell, and so if it's a twelve issue story, let it be twelve issues. But once it's over, I hope Brubkaer and Phillips have another project lined up.

Ivar, Timewalker #9
Story: Fred Van Lente
Art (Main Story): Pere Perez & Andrew Dalhouse
Art (Archer & Armstrong #1 pages): Clayton Henry, Matt Milla, & Dave Lanphear

It's funny to write about two issue nines that marks the beginning of a third and final act of a series that I love in a row, but here I go. Ivar, Timewalker #9 opens with a scene familiar to anyone who has been following the adventures of the brothers Anni-Padda in the new Valiant Universe: It's the opening scene from the first issue of Archer & Armstrong, the origin of the brothers, Aram (Armstrong), Gilad (Eternal Warrior), and Ivar. But this time, there's a twist: Neela Sethi, Ivar's companion in the series, pops up and spirits him away. We follow Neela and Ivar as they travel through the time arcs that allow them to travel through time, only now not only are they hopping time, they're hopping through alternate timelines, thanks to the Null, the nihilists who exploded a superweapon that is destroying all of time (and are led by an alternate future evil Neela). There is a lot to love in this issue. Firstly, it's a great inversion of the first issue of the series, where it was Ivar dragging Neela through time and had hidden feelings for her. Here, it is Neela who is the experienced timewalker, with Ivar the blustering jerk he was in ancient times. And boy, is he a blustering jerk. A brilliant one, no doubt, but when he patronizingly tells Neela she can't come on the adventure because she's a woman, or when he offers to make him one of his wives, well, you kind of want to smack him almost as much as Neela does. And Neela has developed into one of the best characters at Valiant, this mix of determination, regret, and hope that you just can't help but root for. Van Lente also does a good job of making all the timey-wimey science stuff read clearly; time travel and paradoxes are often just giant headaches, but here? It works. But aside from all the character beats and kooky science, the highlight of the issue is the timeline gags. There are three distinct alternate worlds that Neela and Ivar experience, and each is distinct. The least hilarious is one where Native Americans seem to have overrun the white man, and everything is inverted; there's a sports team called the Whiteys, which is a nice jab at some of the controversies in the sports world about the Washington Redskins. But the other two worlds? Oh good lord I nearly fell over in laughter and joy. One has clown vikings. Yes, you read that right. The other, well, I usually do my best to not spoil last page reveals. I really do. But I have to this time. In a world where Neela and Ivar encounter bipedal, human size animal men, the world is ruled by dinosaurs. Talking, intelligent dinosaurs. Talking, intelligent, T-Rexes that ride Triceratops and where Roman looking armor. If that's not the coolest thing I've ever written on this blog, I don't know what is.

Secret Identities #7
Story: Brian Joines & Jay Faerber
Art: Ilias Kyriazis & Ron Riley

Friday's piece about series ending too soon was mostly in response to other recently announced cancellations, but it could have just as easily been about Secret Identities. The series debuted, introducing a brand new team of super heroes, all of whom had secrets they were keeping from the others and the world. It was a great concept, and a series I really enjoyed, but low sales meant that an ongoing was cut down to seven issues, and writers Brian Joines and Jay Faerber do their best to wrap up the plot in this oversized final issue, and they're pretty successful with it. The Front Line, our team of heroes, are divided, dealing with two threats: while most of the team is fighting a V'Ren, a giant alien weapon/ship/monster, the Recluse, the team's Batman analogue, is fighting Crosswind, the traitor who has been working the team since issue one, trying to learn their secrets. The first two thirds of the issue deals with these two fights. In those battles, we learn aspects of the Recluse's backstory, explaining exactly what the hunger and curse he's been keeping a secret is, and we learn more about the origin of the power of team leader Luminary, and how it ties to the V'Ren. These are satisfying answers to questions, and Ilias Kyriazis draws two very impressive fight scenes of different scales, nicely balancing the city wide destruction of one with the more personally brutal of the other. The latter third of the book ties up loose threads, explaining why the Front Line's police contact used Crosswind to infiltrate the team, and giving a small spotlight to each character, showing where they went after the events of the series proper. This answers some of the book's other mysteries, while also tying up some of the character beats that time didn't allow to be resolved. But the final page does something very clever, keeping the theme of secrets that has been central to the book a major part of the conclusion; it would have been easy to end the series on an info dump, but pulling thing around full circle, to secrets within secrets, and the things we do to keep them, was a great tonal moment for the title. While it would be nice to see some more with these characters, all the creators have other projects they're working on, but there will be a complete series trade coming out shortly, and it will be well worth your time to check it out.

And Dan Grote looks at the debut issue of the newest Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Marvel mini-series...

Captain America: White #1
Story: Jeph Loeb
Art: Tim Sale

Seven years ago, Marvel released Captain America: White #0, a tale about Cap and Bucky’s earliest days as partners in 1941. It was supposed to be the start of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s next “color” series for Marvel, following Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Grey and Spider-Man: Blue. Each of those books explored how one of Marvel’s founding fathers dealt with loss: Daredevil with Karen Page, Hulk with Betty Ross and Spider-Man with Gwen Stacy.

Cap’s diverted from the pattern in that it dealt not with the loss of a romantic love interest (slash fiction ain’t canon, kids) but of a young sidekick. Certainly when Cap came out of the ice in the 1960s Avengers comics, he spent most of his nonfighting time grieving over Bucky, whose character was retconned as having died in a rocket explosion planned by Baron Zemo.

And that’s where, seven years later, Cap: White #1 picks up. Or at least the framing device for the five-issue (six if you include #0) story. The book opens with Cap coming to in a retelling of 1964’s Avengers #4, with the original members of the team – Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man and the Wasp – standing over him. He then meets up with an old war contact, none other than Original Recipe Nick Fury, which leads to the meat of the issue, an extended flashback to the first time Cap and Bucky ever met Fury and Dum Dum Dugan.

Marvel’s been telling Untold Tales of Captain America from World War II since, well, World War II, practically. But even a cynic would have to admit watching these four characters interact with each other for the first time is entertaining. Fury argues with Dum Dum, Cap argues with Bucky, then they pair up and argue with each other, all with German forces shooting at them. Fury and Dum Dum even steal Cap’s motorcycle. Later, Cap mixes it up with the rest of the Howling Commandoes at a GI-friendly bar in Casablanca, leading to one heck of a brawl.

In the end, they all find themselves on assignment together, leading to the issue’s cliffhanger.

As a backup, helpfully, the book includes issue #0, for those who never read it and others who may not remember. Zero rehashes the moment when Bucky first discovered Steve Rogers was Captain America, and then largely is a montage of Cap training Bucky to fight Nazis.

Both issues explore the relationship between Cap and Bucky, and the idea that while the Super Soldier Serum made Rogers into a dashing leading man who looks like one of Hitler’s master race, on the inside he’s still the scrawny kid from Brooklyn who got labeled 4F, unfit for military service. Maybe that’s why he’s more comfortable palling around with an orphaned Army brat than the women who take an interest in him overseas. It’s clear Loeb’s given some real thought to the actual dynamics of Cap and Bucky’s relationship, building on the canonical fact that Cap cared deeply for Bucky and felt responsible for him, and mourned him for decades before Ed Brubaker brought the character back as the Winter Soldier. It’s because of all this groundwork that Bucky has become more than the first dead Robin.

It’s also really nice to see Sale drawing again. Sale’s style falls somewhere on the spectrum between Jack Kirby and Bruce Timm, with more heavy shadows, which made him the perfect person to draw something like Batman: The Long Halloween, and is equally as comforting to see here. It also gives me the warm fuzzies for some lesser-appreciated Loeb/Sale ’90s jams, such as the Wolverine and Gambit: Victims miniseries or the standalone Cable #23, in which Nathan and Domino have to hunt down a feral Grizzly.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Gone Before Their Time: Series That Were Cancelled Too Soon

This past week, DC Comics announced it would be cancelling a group of comics, many of which barely made it six issues, leading to a good deal of head-shaking among fandom; also this week marked the sadly premature end of Secret Identities, Jay Faerber and Brian Joines's excellent super-hero title from Image (but more on that come Monday). I'm not going to talk about the pros and cons (mostly cons, I admit) of cancelling low selling titles before they get a chance to get their feet under them, because it's not a new phenomenon. What I am going to do is talk about some of my favorite comics that ended before their time. I went back and forth on what constituted "before its time"; whether it was a plot thing, where the book felt incomplete, or a number of issues thing. I settled on an admittedly arbitrary number: no comic that lasted more than twenty four issues would make this particular list. So without further ado, here are ten series that I feel should have been given more time, presented in alphabetical order.

Captain Britian and MI-13
Ran: 15 issues and 1 annual

I wrote a whole recommended reading for this series a few years ago, but when it comes to short-lived series, it's one of the ones I miss the most. Captain Britain and MI-13 was a supernatural superhero book starring a group of British characters, including Captain Britain, Spitfire, Black Knight, Blade, a new character who was named Excalibur, and my favorite British Marvel character, Pete Wisdom. Over the course of its short run, written by Paul Cornell, the team fought Skrulls, demons, and vampires, and has the distinction of being the final appearance of what I like to think of as the real Marvel Dracula, the classy cape wearing one from Tomb of Dracula. Cornell captured Wisdom's voice just right, and did interesting things with Blade and Spitfire, pairing off the two daywalkers in a way no one had thought to before. In a time before Marvel's push for diversity, Excalibur was Faiza Hussain, a British Muslim doctor, and is more than just those things, but a fully formed character in her own right. Sadly, the introduction during Marvel's Secret Invasion crossover and the tangential ties to the X-Men family of titles didn't get enough attention to the title, though Cornell was able to wrap the book up in the exciting "Vampire Nation" story. The trades for the series are sadly out of print, but with some digging you should be able to find them, or the original single issues.

Ran: (9 issues and an issue 1,000,000 as part of a crossover)

Chase is a case of unfortunately bad timing. A superhero adjacent procedural, about a government agent who dislikes superheroes but is forced to investigate and work with them, is a great pitch, but the industry wasn't quite ready for it in the late 90s. Writer D. Curtis Johnson built a hardass yet multi-dimensional character in Cameron Chase, one who had an elaborate backstory that the series only scratched the surface of. Factor in early work from now superstar J.H. Williams III and you have a book that a few years later, at the height of popularity for titles like Powers, Alias, and Gotham Central, would have gotten more attention and would have lasted a few years. Instead, we got ten issues, counting a crossover with DC One Million. Still those nine issues included Chase having to work with the Suicide Squad, investigating Batman's secret identity, and a glimpse into her father's time as a member of a 70s superhero team called The Justice Experience. Johnson and Williams were able to co-write a series of Chase shorts that appeared in various DC Secret Files issues (these sort of primer issues that gave readers backgrounds and lost stories of different major characters and teams), and Chase went on to appear in a good number of other series, including John Ostrander's Martian Manhunter and a regular spot as a supporting character in Marc Andreyko's Manhunter (both series I would have liked to last longer, but they both ran well beyond the twenty four issues limit I set for this piece). Williams even brought her back as a character in his run on Batwoman as part of the New 52. But those first issues are outstanding, and should be read even if you have no intention of following the character. DC released a trade of the series a few years back, and it should still be in print.

Crossing Midnight
Ran: 19 issues

In between epic runs on Lucifer and The Unwritten, Mike Carey wrote another series for Vertigo. Crossing Midnight was a series that mixed Japanese mythology with a more Western fairy tale aesthetic. The tale of two twins, one born just before midnight, the other just after, they each have distinct abilities that attract the attention of supernatural forces. Carey mixes in some social commentary along with the mythology, and built an interesting take on many tropes. I wish I had a chance to reread it before I wrote this up, so I could lay out more details, but time is at a premium right now, and so I might have to do a fuller "Lost Legends" piece on it in the future. Jim Fern's art is luscious and he draws some excellent monsters throughout. Carey clearly had a long game planned on this series, and the last arc, and especially the last issue, are rushed, as he knew the series was ending, but there is at least a degree of closure. The trades are currently out of print.

Ran: 24 issues

For this title, I pushed the issue limit of this piece from eighteen to twenty four. Loveless was a western from 100 Bullets auteur Brian Azzarello and initially his previous Hellblazer collaborator Marcelo Frusin (and later with Danijel Zezelj and Werther Dell'edera) that is in the traditions of the darkest of tales of the old west. Wes Cutter arrives home from his time in a prison camp after the Civil War to find his home occupied by carpetbaggers, and the people of the town, Blackwater, hating him. The series follows Wes's reunion with his wife, Ruth, and their plans to revenge themselves against the people of the town for all the ills that occurred during the war. As with much of Azzarello's work, pretty much every character exists in varying shades of grey, no one being a purely good character, and frankly the characters here are even greyer than those in 100 Bullets. Wes and Ruth both have their reasons to be as angry as they are, and in many cases rightly so. The series moved forward in time shortly before the series ended, after a final conflagration at Blackwater that saw one of our main protagonists dead, to a series of stories that dealt more deeply with racial and social issues in America. Azzarello had a four year plan for the title, but with the end after just two, there were a lot of plot threads left dangling. The trades are currently out of print.

The Movement
Ran: 12 issues

Here's an example of how even a big name creator can have a title that ends too soon. The Movement was a noble experiment by Gail Simone to create a team of brand new young heroes set in the DC Universe. Set in a new city, Coral City, the team was fighting against a city that is even more corrupt than Gotham City. The series had a slow build, and it gradually revealed more and more about the characters, who worked outside the law to try to defend the people of the city who had no other respite from the corrupt establishment. As with much of Simone's work,the cast is diverse in all respects, and I enjoyed the simple fact that all but two of the cast were brand new characters (of those two, one, Katharsis, was introduced by Simone in her run on Batgirl, so was practically new as it was; the other, Rainmaker, was a member of the Wildstorm team Gen13). Part of the title's problems was in how it was marketed; lumped in with another title, Green Team, it seemed to be DC trying to catch the rising tide of the then very relevant Occupy movement. Simone had to explain in interviews it wasn't just Occupy DC, but was a book about power and disenfranchisement, with more of an appeal than the particular pigeonhole it seemed to be set in, but from responses I got when working at the comic shop, most people didn't get past that initial advertising to try it out, which is a shame. Simone has also said DC stood behind the book, and it did last considerably longer than Green Team. The entire series is collected in two trades, both of which are still in print.

Near Death
Ran: 11 issues

Near Death was a title I reviewed on my very first week writing this blog. A crime comic out of Image, Jay Faerber and Simone Guglielmini tell the story of Markham, a cold as ice hitman who has a near death experience and sees what is waiting for him on the other side. With that in mind, he decides to clean up his act, not only not killing anymore, but defending those who other professional killers are after. Through a series of crime stories, we see Markham's progression from someone who views other people as a means to an end into someone who can make the right choice for the right reason. He's a layered and morally grey character, which is something I always like in my crime story protagonists. Add in Guglielmini's great art, and you had a crime comic that I would have loved to read more of. Faerber has indicated on Twitter that he's working on another Near Death story now, so in a few year's time, adding the series together, this book might fall off this list, and I would be pleased to see that. The original series is available in two trades that are available at finer comic shops and on-line.

Saucer Country
Ran: 14 issues

Paul Cornell makes a return to this list, this time with his Vertigo series, Saucer Country. A mix of politics and modern UFO legends, the title was often addressed as a combination of The X-Files and The West Wing, which are two of my favorite TV series of all time, so I was sold from the moment it started. The series focuses on Gov. Arcadia Alvarado, who is running to become the first Latina president of the United States when she is abducted by aliens. Or is she? She and her campaign team, along with a scientist who is studying UFOlogy, begin to dig deep into a web of conspiracies that may or may not involve aliens, but certainly involves the US government, to find out exactly what happened to Arcadia. Was she abducted? Is this part of a decades long project? Is it just her opponents trying to discredit her? And what do the visions Professor Kidd, the scientist, has been having of the couple inscribed on the gold disc from the Voyager space probe have to do with anything? Filled with interesting characters and more twists and turns in one issue than most series have in a year's worth, Saucer Country was a great series for those of us who love a good conspiracy story. The series is currently unavailable, but Cornell has stated he would love to do more when the rights revert to him.

Ran: 12 issues

She-Hulk, the gamma powered lawyer Jen Walters, has had plenty of series over the years (four ongoings at least). And this most recent volume, from Charles Soule and Javier Pulido isn't the first to focus on her career as a lawyer as much as her superheroic one (that goes to the Dan Slott series from the early 00s). But this series impressed the heck out of me. Soule, who is a practicing lawyer as well as a comics writer, balanced Jen's two lifestyles beautifully, and wrote some great courtroom cases for Jen, including an asylum request from Dr. Doom's son, someone seeking to sell his patent for knock-off Pym Particles, and a suit for wrongful death against Captain America. All of this was set against the backdrop of a mysterious Blue File that names Jen and a group of other superpeople as defendants in a case no one can remember. I love how he portrays Jen, as someone trying to make it in a world that isn't cooperating, and her supporting cast, her investigator Patsy Walker (that's Hellcat) and her mysterious paralegal Angie Huang are delightful. And Pulido is one of the most capable artists in comics, doing great things with She-Hulk and her... it's not really a transformation, but bulking up (Ron Wemberly, who pinch hits for a couple issues, also does an able job). Soule was able to wrap up his plotlines before the book ended, but I hope to see She-Hulk show up in his upcoming run on Daredevil. Oh, and the series created a phenomenal new character who I hope we see again somewhere: Matt Rocks, an unabsorbed duplictae of Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man who is now and entertainment lawyer. Comics, everybody! The whole series is available in two trades, and if you want to see more about the series, check out my reviews here.

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire
Ran: 10 issues over two mini-series

Dark Horse Comics losing the Star Wars license saw quite a few books come to a premature end. Both Dawn of the Jedi and Invasion could have been on this list as well. But the title I felt got the most disservice was the excellent Agent of the Empire. John Ostrander, Matt Signal favorite creator, created Jahan Cross, an Imperial Intelligence agent who is the James Bond of the Star Wars Universe. The two mini-series, Iron Eclipse and Hard Targets, had very different feels, the former a techno thriller and the latter a tale of political intrigue, but both featured Cross as a slick operator with complex morality; this wasn't a goatee stroking villain like Grand Moff Tarkin or Cross's boss, head of Imperial Intelligence Armand Isard. No, Cross was doing what he was doing because he thought he was making the galaxy a better place; he is one of the tradition of Noble Imperials, a trope I love that includes characters like Thrawn, Admiral Pellaeon, and Baron Fel. Over the course of the two adventures we saw, Cross crossed paths with such characters as Han Solo, Boba Fett, and Bail Organa, putting Cross firmly in the thick of the Star Wars universe. The second mini-series ended with Cross starting to question some of the Empire's methods, and I would have been curious to see where his story went (and what would have happened if he had a run in with Armand Isard's daughter, the notorious Rogue Squadron villain, Ysanne Isard). None of the Dark Horse Star Wars material is available to order any longer, but many stores still have it in stock, so you can find it with some industrious searching.

Ran: 5 issues

By far the shortest lived title on this list, SWORD was a series dedicated to the alien fighting military organization of the Marvel Universe. Starring Abigail Brand, thee head of SWORD, her boyfriend Hank McCoy, the Beast, her lieutenant, the alien Sydren, and Lockheed the alien dragon, SWORD only got one story before it was cancelled, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Steve Sanders, has Henry Peter Gyrich, described as the Marvel Universe's answer to Ghostbuster's Walter Peck, gets all aliens banned from Earth, and SWORD must do its best to balance obeying their duty with finding a way to get the law overturned. It's a great story, and introduces the strange villainous android UNIT, who Gillen would use to great effect in his run on Uncanny X-Men. The five issues of SWORD were collected in a trade, which was recently on one of Diamond Comics Distributors clearance sales, so you should be able to find that at a lot of comics shops.

So those are ten series I wish had lasted longer. I would love to hear from you, readers, what series you wish had some more issues. Reply to this post, over on Facebook, or on Twitter (@mattlaz1013) with your suggestions.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thursday's With Wade: Joe Kelly's Deadpool Revisited Part 4

This week’s reading: Deadpool -1, July 1997
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Aaron Lopresti and Rachel Dodson

Let us now flash back to Marvel’s Flashback Month, a 1997 editorial gimmick in which the company’s entire line interrupted itself to tell tales set 10 years in the fictional past, just before the dawn of the Marvel Universe as we know it. And so we got stories such as the day Cable landed in the 20th century with long hair speaking the Askani language of the future, or the time Professor Xavier confronted Magneto shortly before his first appearance in 1963’s X-Men #1, or the time young Peter Parker went fishing with his Uncle Ben and there were monsters, but it was only a dream.

Deadpool -1 isn’t so much about Deadpool’s past as it is the past of his supporting cast, specifically Vanessa Carlysle, his ex-girlfriend and the mutant known as Copycat, and Zoe Culloden, his would-be handler from the pandimensional firm of Landau, Luckman, Lake & Lequare. Notice that fourth L? We’ll find out who that is later. Much later.

Zoe – whom we haven’t seen in this book since issue +1 – has been tracking Wade for five years as of the events of this issue. She follows him to Boston, where Vanessa works as a prostitute, believing Wade is at a “flux point” in his life where the choices he makes could affect whether he becomes the galactic savior later. Most people at LLL&L, including Zoe’s boss, believe Wade is not the droids they’re looking for, but Zoe wants a promotion so badly she goes undercover as a rookie prostitute – changing from skintight bodysuit to skintight minidress – in an attempt to manipulate events.

Meanwhile, young Vanessa puts up a tough front as a prostitute, but she’s hopelessly in love with Wade and truly believes they can escape their lives and move to the suburbs, a far cry from the woman who posed as Domino for a year. Also her mutant powers don’t appear to have manifested yet, so no blue skin or shapeshifting this issue.

Needless to say, this issue definitely does not pass the Bechdel-Wallace test. While Vanessa and Zoe are the leads, they spend nearly all their time talking about Wade.

This is the first we’ve seen of Vanessa in a while. She hasn’t appeared or even been mentioned in the current series yet, and hasn’t been featured regularly since 1993’s Deadpool: The Circle Chase, although she did make a guest appearance alongside Wade and current boyfriend Garrison Kane in 1994’s Wolverine #88.

As for the main man himself, Wade appears twice in this issue, very briefly, his face and hair in shadow, though still looking nothing like the blond, wavy-haired, mustachioed, hairy-chested dreamboat he was healed to resemble in Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars. At this point, Wade is just a heavy-duty mercenary, “responsible for more suffering and carnage than your average cholera outbreak,” in the words of Zoe’s boss. He had just completed the mission in which he captured Blind Al (whom he was supposed to kill), and he’s just found out he has cancer, so the character as we know and love him is still years away. Yet somehow he still manages to speak in his trademark yellow word balloons, perhaps in an overly cautious bid by the editorial team to make sure he was still recognizable.

Rounding out the cast is Montgomery, a precog for LLL&L, making his first appearance. If a post-cancer Wade Wilson and the Cryptkeeper from Tales from the Crypt had a baby, and that baby grew up and were jammed into Mojo’s hoverchair, that’s about what Monty (as Wade will come to call him) looks like.

The “flux point” so overly discussed in this issue appears to have to do with the fact that Wade disobeyed the people who hired him by saving Al and killing everyone else. In retaliation, an assassin is sent after Vanessa, though Zoe ultimately kills him. Thinking this was all she had to do get Wade over the flux point, she returns to LLL&L to gloat, only to be told by Montgomery it was all pointless because the cancer will ruin him anyway, something he probably should have seen coming earlier.

Aaron Lopresti guests on art this issue and gives us some great homages to Jim Steranko’s ’60s work, especially on the cover and the Stan Lee intro and outro (Smilin’ Stan framed all the Flashback Month stories).

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, we return to our regularly scheduled continuity with Deadpool #6 and 7, in which our sociopathic antihero makes a new friend who’s just as crazy as he is!

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, September 15, 2015

Greetings from Battleworld: Secret Wars Week 18

Three Secret Wars mini-series wrap up this week. Dan Grote looks at the end of Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos and Red Skull, while I say farewell to Marville in Giant-Size Little Marvels: AvX.

Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos #4 (of 4)
Story: Gerry Duggan
Art: Salva Espin and Val Staples

Well, that took a turn.

Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos wraps as a Shakespearean tragedy of Hamlet-ish proportions, but with monsters. And a ghost, because there’s always a bloody ghost.

In the end, and regardless of the outcome, the fighting between Shiklah and Dracula was futile because, as Deadpool’s ghost rightly points out, there’s a bigger monster up on the surface world: God Emperor Doom. And Doom can’t be taken out with a MacGuffin left on a world he created. Also he has Thors, lots and lots of Thors.

P.S.: Kudos to Salva Espin for drawing Thors that don’t look like the Thors from all the other Secret Wars books. Most books are still drawing Beta Ray Bill even though he (at least one of him) died at the end of Thors #1. And Eric Masterson. Espin’s got funky-afro Thor, lizard-Thor, monkey-Thor, centaur-Thor, a Thor that looks like Marvel editor Jordan White, etc.

Shiklah’s fate in this reality spooks ghost Deadpool – who, like us, already knows he’ll be alive again after Secret Wars ends – and drives him to look up foreshadowing in the dictionary. Writer Gerry Duggan has said on his Tumblr that he has “big plans for her,” which is good, because I enjoy the dynamic between Shiklah and Deadpool. She’s certainly a healthier paramour for him than Death, even if she is a demon succubus.

As for the Howling Commandos, look for them and SHIELD mainstay Dum Dum Dugan in a new series written by Frank Barbiere and drawn by Brent Schoonover.

Red Skull #3 (of 3)
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Luca Pizzari and Rainier Beredo

The first two Secret Wars books I read all the way through – Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders and Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde – had happy endings. This week’s miniseries finales, not so much.

One could argue there was never anyone to really root for in Red Skull. The Skull was clearly trying to make himself a mythic figure and a symbol of rebellion, but he was still the same Nazi scum who spent decades plaguing Captain America by doing ridiculous things like disguising himself as a Hollywood producer and the secretary of defense. Magneto has his moments where he’s a tragic figure trying to do right in a world that hates and fears him, but he’s neutered so frequently in this book that by the end you just feel sorry for him. Who does that leave? The snarky zombies shuffling around the Deadlands looking for scraps? Annihilus’ bugs? Crossbones, who arranged this whole suicide mission in the first place?

Certainly if this book has a hero, it’s the concept of doublecrossing, which shines brighter than any of the villains practicing this lost art. There’s also Abigail Brand – a friendly, green-haired face I haven’t seen in a long time – who makes short work of protecting the Shield from the Skull’s insurrection without calling in a single Thor, just a squadron of plastic Sentinels.

So hooray for doublecrossing! Here’s hoping it gets its own All-New, All-Different series and that Williamson, Pizzari and Beredo get to continue on as the creative team.

Giant-Size Little Marvel: AvX #4
Story: Skottie Young
Art: Skottie Young & Jean-Francois Beaulieu

The Secret Wars mini-series are ending, and I'm going to miss many of them, but none more than Giant-Size Little Marvel. Skottie Young had produced four issues of hilarious fun that reaches it's climax this issue with the X-Men, the Avengers, and now the Guardians of the Galaxy competing to get twins Zoe and Zachary to join their teams. This issue is, more than any of the prior issues, a showcase of Young's skills as an artist. There are three two page spreads, one at the opening and two in the middle, full of details and characters that you should pour over to see all the details. Everyone will see a particular version of a character that will grab their attention: for me, a child of '90s X-books, it was seeing a classic Shatterstar in Little Marvels style. Who ever thought they'd see that? The issue ends with another group joining in, and there's a great bit about the fallacy of naming your team the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Oh, and the little cute "theme song" sequence at the beginning of each issue? This one includes a panel with a variety of versions of Cyclops (try to name them all), including "Quitely Lips and floppy 90s hair." That alone is worth the price of admission. I don't expect to see a Little Marvel ongoing popping up anytime soon, partially because Young is going to be busy with his creator owned I Hate Fairyland and writing the new Rocket Raccoon and Groot series, but I would love to see an annual special set in Marville, just to see how many different characters Young can squeeze into an issue.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/9

Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire #1
Story: Brian Clevinger
Art: Scott Wegener & Anthony Clark

Atomic Robo is back, and now coming out from IDW! And after all the recent stressful events in his life, he's taking some time off in the '60s to tour with Johnny Cash! Oh, wait, no it's a completely different ring of fire. We're back in the present this story, and following Bernie, Lang, and Vik, the Action Scientists who survived Robo's "final" clash with Dr. Dinosaur, months after that battle, and things are not looking good. Majestic, the secret government agency, has claimed all of Tesladyne's property, arrested all the employees they know are alive, and Robo is presumed dead. Of course, if you read Knights of the Golden Circle, you know where Robo wound up, and this issue, with some spiffy science that I didn't completely understand (it involved a fifth dimensional cardinal direction called zorth), the team, along with new member Foley, head out to retrieve a package that the reader knows is Robo. The four scientists are distinct in personality: Vik sort of den father to the team, Bernard frustrated with the situation and having to pull himself out of a bottle, Lang staunchly dedicated, and Foley as the newbie. The mix of personalities gives a nice conflict. Breaking into Tesla's old Colorado Springs facility is a fun caper sequence, with decoy drones, soldiers, and a warehouse that makes the one from Raiders of the Lost Ark look like a filing cabinet. And once it's done, the team is rewarded. All of that would be enough for most comics, but in Japan, Majestic is encountering a whole other set of problems, a "biomega" threat that can't be any good for anyone, but will involve giant mech suits, which is always a major plus. Atomic Robo is a comic full of big crazy ideas, as well a lot of fun moments, and well written characters. With distribution through IDW, a higher profile can only help get Robo out to more people, and that's great news. There's only so many times and ways I can say it, but I'll say it again: GO READ ATOMIC ROBO!!!

Batman #44
Story: Scott Snyder & Brian Azzarello
Art: Jock & Lee Loughridge

While I love Scott Snyder's long story arcs on Batman, I've found that some of his best stories have been the shorter one or two issue stories he has done. This issue (with a writing assist from 100 Bullets creator Brian Azzarello) is another of those impressive single issues, one that, while set long before the events of the main story, establishes some of the background of the new villain, Mr. Bloom, and also tells a tale of Gotham City and the crime that we don't often see Batman deal with. It's an issue that pulls in a lot of the issues we're dealing with in society, issues like the origins of urban crime, of police shootings, and gentrification, but the comic never forgets it is a story about Batman, and never preaches. The story begins with Batman finding the body of Peter Duggio, an African American youth who has not only been shot repeatedly, but seems to have been dropped out of a plane and onto the marshes outside the city. Batman follows a trail that leads him to The Corner, a part of Gotham's crime ridden Narrows, where Duggio's father owned a shop, and on to the Penguin, the local gang called the Four Fives, to a police officer, to Bruce Wayne, and finally to a mysterious alley where (unbeknownst to Batman) Mr. Bloom had set up shop. We see exactly how far the circumstances of his life led to Peter's death, and how no one was there to help him when he needed it. The narrator of the story if omnipotent, not the usual first person of many of Snyder's Batman stories, and may well be Gotham itself, talking about Peter, about Bruce as a young man, and about all the people who were involved to get Peter to the place he ended up. And at the issue's end, we see that Batman might have learned something, something about how he must be as much a part of the city as he is above it, and how he must listen to it. I have written before that I feel like Batman needs to be a character who does his best to protect the innocent as much (if not more than) punish the guilty, and a Batman who will listen to the people of the city is a step in that direction. On top of an excellent story, this issue is drawn by Jock, who worked with Snyder back on his impressive Batman debut, "The Black Mirror" in Detective Comics. Jock's rough, dark style really works with this tale of Gotham's gritty side, but also has faces that express the pain and frustration of people on The Corner, and Batman's own anger at the death of Peter Duggio. He also draws an impressive monster, but you'll have to read the comic to find out why that talent in required for this story. If you've read my reviews of this title, or anyone's, and have been curious to see what this book is really like, I can think of few better issues than this one to try out.

Harley Quinn Road Trip Special
Story: Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Art: Bret Blevins, Moritat, Flaviano Armentaro, Pasquale Qualaro, Jed Dougherty, Mike Manley, & Paul Mounts

These Harley Quinn jam specials are some of the most fun comics DC puts out, and I'm glad to see Conner and Palmiotti continuing to do them. After an annual, the Holidays, Comic Con, and Valentine's Day, this special focuses on Harley on a road trip with her gal pal, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. I like that Harley Quinn as a series remains unbeholden to so much of the continuity of the New DC, as Harley has interacted little with Catwoman since the relaunch, but that doesn't matter for this story. The plot revolves around Harley finding out that her beloved uncle Louie has passed away, and it's up to her to not only pick up her inheritance (a classic RV) in Los Angeles, but drive it and Louie's ashes back to New York so he can be buried with his wife, Aunt Alice. With a couple of phone calls, Harley recruits Ivy, who is mid-battle with Batman, and Catwoman, who was considering going out to L.A. anyway to steal a necklace someone stole before her anyway, and they're off to California. The comic is a wild road trip story, with the Sirens (yes, I know they're never addressed as Gotham City Sirens anywhere, but it's a good shorthand), going to parties in L.A. and Vegas, having some of the RV, a brief run-in with Bizarro and Jimmy Olsen on their own road trip in the Bizarro mini-series, and running afoul of Darwolf, the thief Catwoman liberated the necklace from. There's really no threat there, because let's be fair, very few people could stand up to these three. The story is as bawdy as readers have come to expect from these Harley stories, with more double entendres per panel than pretty much any comic you can imagine. An if that's all that this comic had, it would be perfect bubblegum comics: not filling, but a ton of fun. But we get Harley dealing with the loss of her uncle, and some smart character work with Harley and her ever growing extended family of wacky characters. Poison Ivy, who in many other comics is portrayed as cold and calculating, has her best nature brought out by Harley, and while I'm enjoying Catwoman the crime boss in her won book, it's fun to get a classic version of the character here. And I'd have to go back and double check if it's in all of them, but this is at least the third of the big Harley issues with a crazy hallucination/dream sequence, this time from Moritat, one of my favorite artists in comics now. And it was great to see Bret Blevins back. Blevins draws about half this issue, and has a long history with Batman, having drawn a sizable run on Shadow of the Bat back in the day. If you're looking for a great comic to wind down the summer with as autumn grows nearer, you should check out the Harley Quinn Road Trip Special.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fiction Friday: Some New Prose Books of Note

Things have continued to be a bit hectic in these parts, as I prepare to transition to a new full time job for the first time in thirteen years and have been doing some work on my house, so I haven't had the time for the intensive reading/research that my usual Friday recommended readings or lost legends entail. I have started reading some books for a lost legends, but I'm not done yet, so today I thought I'd give a quick rundown of some interesting novels/novellas/etc. that have some links to comics that have come out in the past month or so. Not reviews, as they're all on my shelf to be read, but stuff that I think you all might enjoy.

A week ago was Force Friday. For those of you who don't know or haven't read any number of articles complaining about the lack of toys at retailers, this was the day when merch for Star Wars Episode Seven: The Force Awakens started hitting stores. I do my best to avoid buying too many toys anymore, due to a lack a space, but books? Man, I'll buy as many of those as I can get my hands on. And aside from toys, five novels, four for the YA crowd and one for the grown-up audience were released. I didn't order them all (yet), but the one that has me really excited is Smuggler's Run. First and foremost, it's a story of Han Solo, who was my favorite of the big three from the original movies, and his Wookiee partner, the inimitable Chewbacca on an adventure. But what makes it even more exciting? It's written by Greg Rucka! Yes that Greg Rucka, the one who wrote some of the best Batman stories of the past 15 years and some of the best crime comics ever. This is the book I'll be reading the minute I finish my current book. And if you like Rucka and/or Star Wars, you should probably check out Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens- Shattered Empire, the comic Rucka is writing that bridges some of the gap between Return of the Jedi and Force Awakens, with his Punisher artist Marco Checchetto.

While I enjoy Star Trek TV, I've never gotten into the Star Trek Expanded Universes in the same way I got into the Star Wars one. The notable exception to this has been anything written by Peter David, who I've written about more than nearly any other writer in comics. After doing a series of novels with the Next Generation cast, and a couple with the original series cast, and even one with the Deep Space Nine cast, David was given his own little corner of the Star Trek Universe. He got an original ship, the Excalibur, staffed mostly by original characters (a handful of the crew are one-or-two episode characters from TNG), and a new region of space to explore in the New Frontier series. The series let David develop, change, and kill characters in a way you could never do in novels featuring characters who appear in other aspects of the franchise. It's a great series, and all the characters read like Peter David characters: well developed, witty, a bit arch. The Captain, Mackenzie Calhoun, is an original creation who is the former liberator and warlord of his homeplanet planet (David has likened him to William Wallace). After years of exciting adventures on the printed page, the New Frontier series seemed to end three years ago with the end of David's contract, not the completion of his plans. I bought the last novel, Blind Man's Bluff, the day it came out, and left it on my shelf, unread, until I was sure no new novels would appear, and entropy took it from there until all those years had passed and it remained unread. That, though, has changed, as a three part novel, The Returned, has been released through Amazon as e-books, the final chapter of which came out this week. So I dusted off my Blind Man's Bluff, am about two thirds of the way through, and planning on reading The Returned after Smuggler's Run. Seriously, folks, even if you aren't Star Trek fans, these are great books, and the level of Star Trek continuity you need to know is minor, and is explained in the books. David has stated the future of New Frontier rests in people buying these e-books, so give them a shot. The entire New Frontier series are available for the Kindle, so there's no better time to start. I think I see a recommended reading in the future with more about the series. Oh, two additional fun facts. One: there have been two New Frontier comics, a one-shot from Wildstorm and a mini-series from IDW. Two: Mackenzie Calhoun is the only Star Trek character to never appear on any TV show to get his own official action figure. It was a mail away item, and I spent ages trying to win on on eBay before triumphing. He will have a place of honor in my nerdcave when it's complete.

I'm late to the game with Humble Bundles, I admit. A lot of that has to do with my general preference for physical media versus digital. You see them talked about all over for comics, where you can get large swaths of a series digitally for a reasonable price and part of the proceeds benefit a charity. As a matter of fact, on Monday, I was sitting on the couch and commented to my wife that I was thinking of buying the then current books bundle, a set of nine Star Wars audio adaptations, but I know that this a rabbit hole I could fall down easily. And you know what? I was right. I bought the Star Wars bundle, and the next day, the new bundle was announced, and this one? Neil Gaiman rarities. It's seventeen uncollected or out of print pieces by Neil Gaiman. This has kind of blown up, as many things Gaiman is involved with, and has set records for Humble Bundles, and been featured in various articles on the internet over the past few days. Now, I own about half a dozen of them, but that's a lot of Gaiman I haven't read. And the charities that are being benefited are The Moth, the live storytelling series, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. How could you say no? You can give as much or as little as you like, but to get the full set of books (including Neil's biography of the band Duran Duran that he wrote as a young journalist), you have to pay above the average contribution, which is currently $19.46.  That's a very good price for a lot of interesting material. Here's the link: the bundle is live for twelve more days, so get it while the getting is good.

And finally, The Shepherd's Crown, the final novel by Sir Terry Pratchett, mastermind behind Discworld, is now available to buy here in the states. I have my copy, and will be reading it after the other books I've talked about. I have quite a reading docket ahead of me. There are worse things...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Thursday's With Wade: Joe Kelly's Deadpool Revisited Part 3

Today’s reading: Deadpool: Sins of the Past #1-4 and Deadpool (Vol. 3) #3-5

Story by Mark Waid (Sins of the Past) and Joe Kelly (Vol. 3)
Art by Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks and Ken Lashley (Sins of the Past) and Ed McGuinness and Kevin Lau (Vol. 3)

Issues 3 through 5 of Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness’ Deadpool tell the book’s first long arc and give us more of a peak into Wade’s past than we’ve gotten previously.

Spiritually, these three issues act as a sequel to Mark Waid and Ian Churchill’s 1994 Deadpool: Sins of the Past miniseries, as they pick up two big threads from that four-issue story: They reintroduce Dr. Killbrew, the scientist responsible both for curing Wade’s cancer and disfiguring his entire body, and reteam Deadpool with Siryn, the X-Force member on whom he has developed a major crush.

We also get a pretty sweet fight between Deadpool and the Hulk, and we get to see what the mercenaries of Hellhouse get up to when Wade’s not around (Hint: It mostly consists of cowering in front of T-Ray).

A lot of what transpires in issues 3 through 5 depends on some working knowledge of Sins of the Past, so here’s some context: In Sins, Black Tom Cassidy, who was effectively turning into a living tree, had obtained the services of one Dr. Killebrew (note the spelling; it changes when he resurfaces in Kelly’s run) to help cure him. Killebrew believes the only way to cure Tom is to give him some of Deadpool’s regenerative cells (Note: Deadpool’s healing factor is itself a warped genetic copy of Wolverine’s). So Tom has some goons try to take Deadpool in, one of whom slices off DP’s hand, which Killebrew then affixes to Tom, red glove and all. The series ends with Deadpool taking Killebrew away in a boat, demanding the doctor fix his healing factor, as Wade noticed it was taking him an inordinately long time to grow his hand back.

… Except Deadpool apparently skipped out on the doctor shortly thereafter, never actually addressing the issue, according to Kelly. So when Deadpool loses a finger to Taskmaster in issue 2, he’s right back where he started, unable to grow back more than a wee nubbin.

Cue the opening of issue 3, and the arrival of a mysterious package at the Hellhouse that turns out to be Wade’s missing glove, along with a love note from Black Tom. Wade decides to go on a revenge run, enlisting Siryn – Black Tom’s niece – in the process. The two track Tom down to a chalet in the Swiss Alps, only to find not Tom – who at the time was busy harassing the students of Generation X – but Killbrew, and a box full of red gloves.

In addition to being spelled differently, Dr. K looks different, too. Churchill drew Killebrew with Sandy-colored hair and a little more wisdom in his eyes: Albert Einstein meets David Crosby. McGuinness’ Killbrew has grayish-white hair, a fuller mustache and is rounder of belly: Wilford Brimley meets Dr. Light from the Mega Man games.

Either way, Killbrew tells Deadpool he’s dying and wants to fix him as penance for past wrongs. The only thing that can save Wade is an infusion of gamma-irradiated blood, and only because he took that gamma bath in issue 1.

And so, Deadpool gets his biggest, greenest guest star to date in issue 4. During this period, the Hulk had taken over one of the Florida Keys and was in one of his more violent “Leave Hulk alone” phases. So after a fight that ends with Deadpool impaling the Hulk on a rusty street sign, DP gets his blood, Killbrew gets his cure and Wade can set about crossing “Kill Killbrew” off his bucket list.

… Except that Siryn gets between the two and pleads with Wade to spare Killbrew’s life, which he does, after much hemming and hawing. Siryn serves as the angel on Deadpool’s shoulder throughout this arc, getting Wade’s hopes up for a romantic relationship just enough to get him to do good, while making it clear to him that her primary duty is to X-Force – of which she had recently become a junior leader – and that they could only be friends, at least for now, and possibly moreso if Wade continues playing nice. That being said, she also reveals she’s cool with him essentially stalking her, knowing that he watches her sleep outside her bedroom window at the Xavier Institute, leaving her “safe t’dream.” Sorry, that’s just creepy.

The Siryn-Deadpool relationship never really develops beyond this. Deadpool, in fact, moves on rather quickly to a new woman who is in no way good for his mental health, and not long after that the living embodiment of Death, with whom he still maintains a relationship. Siryn bounces from team to team for a while, moving from X-Force to X-Corp to X-Factor Investigations, where she ends up impregnated with a clone of Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man. According to writer Peter David, Deadpool made one cameo appearance in that iteration of X-Factor, off-panel.

As for Killbrew, we’ll see him again in about a year’s time, in a story that further fleshes out Wade’s experiences in the Weapon X program and introduces an even bigger threat from his past.

Before we part ways, let’s check in on the other denizens of that marvelous mercenary meat market, the Hellhouse. Issue 5 ends with a look at T-Ray inside his lair after a big hit, where it’s revealed his powers involve some kind of magic, and his back is covered in a large, horrific scar, with names carved into his flesh below it, including Wilson’s. He’s clearly being built up as a big-bad for Wade – one who has no qualms killing children for money, it turns out. Exactly why he hates Deadpool so much will be revealed much later, and then retconned and unconned and may or may not involve Thanos. But for now, let’s enjoy T-Ray for the menacing, alabaster Street Fighter knockoff he is (speaking of which, keep your eyes peeled for the Kevin Lau-drawn Zangief knockoff hanging around Hellhouse).

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, we’ll cover Deadpool’s Flashback Month issue, which tells the story of Wade’s ex-girlfriend, Copycat, and just how long Landau, Luckman & Lake have been keeping tabs on the man in the red pajamas.

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.