Friday, October 30, 2015

And the Autumn Moon is Bright: Werewolves in Comics

Recently, I read a column where someone asked the writer a question about werewolves in superhero comics, and the writer identified himself as a vampire fan more than a werewolf fan. Well, I like vampires fine, and I know zombies are the monster du jour in the public zeitgeist right now, but for me? It's all about the werewolf. I feel like werewolves are about the internal struggle of humanity between its better nature and its baser instincts, and since the person is not always he monster, it allows an incite into the person who is the monster, whether they fight the monster or embrace it. Also, you get to turn into a giant wolf or wolfman. How cool is that?

So, I spent the past couple weeks digging through my collection to pull out some of the best werewolf comics I could find. I'm avoiding a couple of the more obvious ones that are either not full on werewolf stories but more superhero stories (the infamous "Capwolf" story where Captain America becomes a werewolf, for instance, or the excellent Batman #255, "Moon of the Wolf," which was also adapted into a great episode of Batman: The Animated Series), although I am going to hit a couple of those, but mostly I'm sticking to horror and comedy versions, because there are a couple of really good werewolf comedy stories. So, if you want to check out some interesting werewolf stories, read on.

The Astounding Wolf-Man

So, not everything Robert Kirkman writes is Walking Dead or Invincible, these massively long running series, but that's not to say they aren't great comics. The Astounding Wolf-Man, which ran for twenty-five issues, was co-created by Kirkman and Jason Howard, who went on to work with Kirkman on Super Dinosaur and is now the artist on Warren Ellis's Trees,  is the story of Gary Hampton, a wealthy family fan who, while on vacation, is attacked by a werewolf and decides that he wants to use his powers to become a superhero. I know I said above I was avoiding superhero stories, and while Kirkman's story has a lot of superhero in it,there is a hart of horror to it, both because Gary's archfoe is a vampire, Zechariah (this won't be the last werewolf vs. vampire story on this list), but because much of Gary's struggle is with the beast within. Because while he can transform pretty much at will any night, when the full moon rises he becomes an out of control monster, and much of the series has to do with the ramifications of what Gary has done in werewolf form. There's a whole series of events involving another elder werewolf, plus a lot of action and superheroics. Kikman wrapped up most of the plot threads of the series, which is collected and available in four trade paperbacks, and Wolf-Man does occasionally pop up as a supporting or background hero in various books in the Invincible family.


A four issue mini-series from Boom Studios from a couple years back, Curse asks the question of how far someone will go to save someone they love. Michael Moreci and Tim Daniel write the story of Laney Griffin, a former football star who has fallen on hard times, not just financially but also in that his son is dying of an illness he can barely afford to pay the hospital to treat. But when a series of savage killings occur, and a price is placed on the head of man or animal that is committing them, Laney goes on the hunt. And he finds the killer is a bit of both, a werewolf who has lived for centuries. And so Laney captures the werewolf and spends time considering if the curse could be the salvation of his son, while others hunt the monster and Laney is caught up in other peoples plans. It's a solid story, but the art is what really gabs you. Colin Lorimer draws the lion's share, but Riley Rossmo, whose work on many other great horror comics makes him a  modern master, creates a rangy, long limbed terror in his werewolf design that is unique to the series and makes it a standout.


Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnel craft a story of one young woman's horror in Riven. Opening in Romania, readers see an American couple desperate to find a baby to adopt, and they are given Katya, a seemingly normal young girl, but the orphanage is... off. Flash forward ten years to a teen Katya, now Katy, who after an accident enters a coma where once a month, tied to the full moon, she has strange spike in brain activity. Waking from the coma after five years, Katy recovers from years of inactivity faster than anyone expected, yet still, once a month, has fits where she now can tell people she sees horrors. Katy watches a werewolf killing, and she soon realizes that the killings are getting closer. Katy is another example of someone who seems to be fighting with her own urges, although within Katy they seem less violent and more about her own awakening sexuality, which is another aspect often linked to werewolfism, especially in women (the film Ginger Snaps is a great example of this). But after she is attacked by a stalker, Katy is aided by someone who has come from Romania to help her. From here the story becomes an international chase as Katy returns to Romania to find the truth about her family, the werewolf, and what it all means to her. Followed by her adoptive family and her friends, the stage is set for a bloody confrontation with her biological family. Hampton draws the story as well as co-writing it, and his painted art is beautiful and terrifying. His werewolf is traditional, a monstrous, huge wolfman who dwarfs all around him or her. An original graphic novel, the book is still available from Dark Horse Comics.

Scary Godmother: Wild About Harry

Looking for a werewolf story that's a little more friendly to the young ones? Well, try Scary Godmother: Wild about Harry. Scary Godmother was created by Jill Thompson, an artist best known for these books and her work with Neil Gaiman on The Sandman, and is about Hannah Marie, a little girl who discovers that monsters aren't as scary as she thinks when she meets the Scary Godmother, a witch, and her monster friends. Harry is the resident werewolf, whose both a geek who lives in his gypsy mother's basement and a glutton. But when Harry's mom gets sick of him mooching, she throws him out, and the mini-series follows Harry's (failed) attempts to survive in the world. This isn't a scary story, but a very funny one, as all he Scary Godmother stories are, and is good all ages fare. It is collected in the Scary Godmother Comics Stories volume. Also, as we talk about Jill Thompson books, you should check out Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, the first collection of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's stories of a group of animals who defend their town against evil spirits and monsters. It features a story of a dog and his werewolf-boy that is touching and sad, and everything else in it is just as good.

Werewolf By Night

Comicdoms most famous werewolf is Jack Russell, the seventies horror hero known as Werewolf By Night. Yes you could probably argue Wolfsbane of the X-titles has larger fan base, but she's a mutant, not a supernatural werewolf, so for a Halloween post she doesn't really count. While admittedly not as strong a title as Marvel's horror masterpiece Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night is still a great series. It follows jack Russell as he searches for a cure for his lycanthropy, while doing his best to control his feral form on the three nights a month he changes; picture the Incredible Hulk TV series if Banner was a werewolf and fought a lot of monsters. He is supported by Topaz, an empath and mystic who was a love interest as well as ally. Russell would meet and crossover with Dracula, finding ties between his history and that of the count. After first appearing in issues two through four of Marvel Spotlight, Russell's own series ran a respectable forty-three issues. One of the series most lasting legacies is that issue thirty-two introduced Moon Knight, while Marvel Spotlight #4 introduced the concept of the Darkhold, the Mavel Universe's answer to the Necronomicon, a book that has popped up in nearly all of Marvel's horror and supernatural series at one point or another. Werewolf by Night continues to appear semi-regularly throughout the Marvel line, most recently in Mark Waid's Daredevil run, proving you can't keep a good werewolf down.

Werewolves On the Moon Versus Vampires

Again, welcome to a more comedic take on the werewolf. This is a very funny story about three werewolf buddies, Ted, Jeff, and Stan, who figure that if they only change when the moon is full, if they're ON the moon, they'll be in wolf form all the time. And while they're right, there are a few things they didn't count on: one is Maggie Pilgrim, a Moon Patrol captain. The other is a nest of vampires. A fun three issue mini-series, the werewolves are likable, if a bit dim, and the stakes are high despite the comic being a comedy. Alas it is out of print in trade, and the promised sequel Werewolves on the Moon: Moon Mummy Madness has never materialized either, but I would sure read that.

Wolf Moon

Cullen Bunn and Jeremy Haun crafted this year's Vertigo mini-series Wolf Moon around the concept that the werewolf curse doesn't just reshape flesh, I reshapes lives. Not he curse in the way we're used to seeing it, the werewolf in Wolf Moon jumps to a new host every month, destroying everything around them and then leaving them to pick up the pieces. Dillon Chase is a former host of the wolf, who has allied himself with others o try to track it down and kill it. But he's not the only one hunting the wolf, and as he nears another hunter who may or may not be a serial killer murdering former hosts, Dillon has to make some choices about his life and how he can reshape it. Vertigo has been the home of so many great horror comics, it's nice that they were able to add a werewolf series to their catalog, and Wolf Moon is an interesting take on the classic werewolf myth.

The Wolves of Saint August

"The Wolves of Saint August," originally presented in Dark Horse Presents, then reprinted as a prestige format, and currently in Hellboy Vol. 3: The Chained Coffin, is Hellboy's biggest encounter with werewolves, as he goes to investigate a murdered priest and a haunted chapel, only to find a story of a long lasing curse. I'm calling this out for two reasons, despite it being a much shorter work then the longer works I've featured here. One is it's the first appearance of Kate Corrigan, my favorite of the B.P.R.D. cast members. And secondly, you've got Mike Mignola drawing werewolves! How cool is that?

This is just scratching the surface (bad pun not intended but absolutely embraced) of werewolves in comics. There are two series I skipped because I plan to feature them in the future: Joe Kelly's Bad Dog and Art and Franco's Patrick the Wolf Boy that are as different as night and day from each other but are two great comics with a werewolf in the lead.

And that's it for this year's Halloween posts. Enjoy the holiday tomorrow, and we'll see you again. If you survive... ooooOOOOoooo. Ok, you'll all survive, so just have a great time.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 9

Today’s reading: Deadpool #11
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Pete Woods

To celebrate their first year, Team Deadpool wanted to do something special for its 12th issue. (Sure, Flashback Month screwed up the numbering, but not the intentions). 

What they landed on was a Forrest Gump-like tale in which Deadpool and his roommate/prisoner, Blind Al, end up in 1967’s Amazing Spider-Man #47, a classic Stan Lee/John Romita Sr. tale involving Kraven the Hunter, Osborn hair, Aunt May fainting, Mary Jane dancing for no reason and the origin story of Deadpool’s best friend/tech guy, Weasel. 

For the parts of the issue that were lifted from ASM, the team took the negatives from the original issue, covered up the parts that needed to be switched out, then drew in Al in the place of Aunt May or Deadpool in the place of Spider-Man. Panels were reordered as needed, and extra subplots involving the Daily Bugle staff were removed. The original plot was about Kraven returning to town to get revenge on Norman Osborn for stiffing him out of $20,000 in his quest to defeat Spider-Man and crashing Gwen Stacy’s send-off shindig for Flash Thompson, who was leaving town for the Army. 

P.S.: This is during that stretch when Osborn doesn’t remember being the Green Goblin, after a fight with Spidey in Amazing #39-40. 

The book switches back and forth between the past – where Wade and Al are – and the present, where Weasel and the Great Lakes Avengers are working out how to bring them back. There’s also a framing sequence featuring the Watcher, because why not pretend this romp is an event of great cosmic importance? 

Pete Woods deftly handles blending in with Romita’s ’60s art, though one suspects that classic Marvel inkers Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott helped significantly. DP regular Nathan Massengill inks Woods in the present. 

Filling out the cast is a number of classic Spidey characters, including Anna Watson, Harry Osborn, and a never-before-seen Empire State University science student named Jack Hammer, who is every bit as much of a clean-cut nerd as Peter Parker, but more of a prick about it. 

Ladies and gentlemen, meet young Weasel. 

“You gotta wonder what happens to a kid like this t’mess up his life,” Wade ponders. You happened, dude. You happened. More on that later. 

Wade and Al travel not only 30 years back in time but clear across the country, landing smack on top of Aunt May on the porch of her home in Forest Hills, Queens. Not knowing they’ve teleported through time as well as space, DP uses his belt clicker to travel to Chicago, where he believes he’ll find the Hellhouse and a ride home. What he finds, instead, is the Hellhouse’s predecessor, Sister Margaret’s Home for Wayward Girls. Said wayward girls proceed to kick Wade in the shins until he leaves, breaking his teleporter in the process. 

How the main characters in the past and present realize Wade and Al are trapped in time is a bit of not-unexpected ridiculousness. Al figures it out because Aunt May’s TV is playing way too many old shows. Flatman of the GLA figures it out because human portal Doorman coughs up a Ferragamo platform pump he believes was made circa 1967. This leads to a bunch of unfortunately of-their-time jokes about Flatman’s closeted homosexuality. 

Thankfully, the LGBTQ crowd isn’t the main target of Wade’s merciless mirth in this issue. That honor goes to the signature ribbed-for-whose-pleasure hair of the clan Osborn, which is the subject of wisecracks in 13 – count ’em (I did) – 13 separate panels. 

Deadpool and Norman Osborn will cross paths again many years in the future, in a crossover with Thunderbolts during the Daniel Way era. And yes, Wade makes more hair jokes. 

Anyway, to bring Wade and Al back, Weasel and Flatman deduce they’ll have to replicate the double-teleportation event that sent them to the past in the first place. Except Wade’s bodyslide belt is busted, so he has to find some other form of ’port technology. Fortunately, an ESU class picture on the wall of Aunt May’s home shows Peter standing next to one Jack Hammer. 

Hammer and Peter Parker may share an affinity for the sciences, but they’re far from friends. They’re both up for the same job at Osborn Chemicals, and Hammer harbors a crush on Gwen Stacy, a then-future Parker girlfriend. So it’s only natural that he scoffs at Wade, who disguised himself as Peter, when he asks him to help fix his belt. To get proto-Weasel to loosen up, Wade-Peter takes him to Gwen’s party, gets him nice and blind with drink … and then pretty much turns him into the Weasel we all know and love, aka ruins his life. 

Though, for a brief, shining moment, Wade does think about making sure the future turns out OK for his sidekick. At one point, Gwen lets Jack dance with her, and Wade, watching from the sidelines while thinking up additional Osborn-hair jokes, considers ensuring they end up together and that Weasel gets the job at Osborn Chemicals. It’d mess up the timestream, but what the hell, right? 

But then Kraven attacks, and all bets are off. Wade ditches the Peter Parker disguise and goes full Deadpool to fight the hunter. Wisecracks aside, the fun part of this is watching DP fight using Spider-Man’s moves, because he’s being drawn onto the page in place of the web-slinger. After all, isn’t Deadpool just Spidey with an extreme ’90s edge? (P.S. Have I mentioned how excited I am for Kelly and McGuinness’ upcoming Deadpool/Spidey team-up book? Because I am very excited). 

While Deadpool is out pretending to be Peter and fighting like his alter-ego, Al disguises herself as the presently unconscious Aunt May (all it takes is pulling back the hair) and suffers the misery of being cared for by Mary Jane’s aunt, Anna Watson. The real May is set up on her couch, where when she comes to, a scarecrow is set up to spook her so she passes out again.  

And what about the real Peter Parker? Wade summons the freelance photographer via payphone to Bayonne, saying there’s something out in the dumps that might ensure good pictures of Spider-Man. Mischief managed. 

Then, of course, there’s good old ditzy Mary Jane, who apparently never stops dancing to the tune in her airy head. “So young to be involved with the crack,” Alfred-as-May thinks while watching MJ shake her hips for no apparent reason (In the original book, MJ had put on some rock ‘n’ roll records to dance to while Anna and Aunt May tidy up their new shared living space). At this point in the Gwen-Peter-MJ love triangle, Gwen clearly has the advantage. For more on the classic Gwen vs. Mary Jane argument, check out this old chestnut. 

The fight with Kraven ends anticlimactically, as it did in the original issue, when Kraven realizes Osborn doesn’t remember anything about the Green Goblin and won’t be giving him his $20,000. He walks off, DP saves Normie from falling off a building and burgeoning alcoholic Weasel, fresh from not getting the Osborn job, agrees to fix Wade’s belt, ensuring he and Al can get home. 

And so begins what has become a proud tradition of shoe-horning Deadpool into the past of the Marvel Universe, a convention used to great effect during Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn, Mike Hawthorne and Scott Koblish’s run on the character, during which DP teamed up with Power Man and Iron Fist against the White Man in the 1970s, helped Tony Stark face the Demon in a Bottle in the 1980s and wrangled the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos in the early 1990s. He also teamed up with many a classic Marvel hero against Doctor Doom and the Beyonder in this summer’s Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars miniseries, the true events of which the Wasp had erased from everyone’s memories. 

By this point, Deadpool had already cemented itself as my favorite book, but this issue, with its time travel, high joke-per-panel ratio and fun at the expense of silver-age conventions, cemented the series as one of my all-time favorites. I like Deadpool because of this series. I love him because of this issue.

Context alert: A big four-page ad in this issue teases Heroes Return, the grand re-entry of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers to the main Marvel Universe. None of them will be teaming up with Deadpool for the time being. It’s just fun to know what else was going on at the time.

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, we’ll dip back into the dark, swirling madness of T-Ray and Typhoid Mary with the two-part “Drowning Man” storyline from Deadpool #12 and 13, which will bring a number of ongoing plot threads to a head. See ya there.

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.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/21

Black Canary #5
Story: Brenden Fletcher
Art: Pia Guerra, Sandy Jarrell, & Lee Loughridge

As Black Canary (both the character and the band that she gave her superhero name to) gets near the end of their tour, the plot threads of the first arc of the most rock n' roll comic on the stands start to pull together. Dinah has begun to put the pieces together, and now wonders exactly how the record company happened to put both her and Ditto, both with mysterious powers and ties to the shadow government, on the same band, and realizes that probably isn't a coincidence. But Dinah doesn't have time to really sort this out, as the last stop on the tour is the hometown of original band members Lord Byron and Paloma Terrific. And at a signing at the local record store, we get to see a little more about Byron and Paloma's past, and it explains a lot about their personalities. Byron's mom, Judith, and sister, Shelley, show up decked out in Lord Byron fan club t-shirts and are clearly her number one fans, while Paloma's family doesn't even appear, and she doesn't seem to expect them to. No wonder Paloma is so sour and distrusting. But it wouldn't be an appearance by Black Canary if something wild didn't happen, and after a speaker flies through the record store window, the band finds a group of disgruntled bands waiting outside, ready to challenge them to a battle of the bands. And Heathcliff, road manager and former Gotham Academy student, tells Dinah, who's already itching for a different sort of battle, that this is something they have to do. Naturally, with the way things have been going for her,  Dinah has already had a battle that issue, with the mysterious white clad ninja who has ben following the band, who stole a vial of Dinah's blood for still more mysterious purposes. Aside from all this, we continue to see Kurt Lance, Dinah,s ex-husband who had his memories erased so he doesn't remember their life together, continuing to try to reach out to Dinah while travelling with the band, and continuing to be more interesting in three issues here than he's been in the entire post-Flashpoint DCU to this point, more a character than a plot point. Arriving at the battle of the bands, the generally bad feeling about the whole thing prove prescient, as another band is playing in the battle: Bo M, the new band of Bo Maeve, former member of Dinah's band and her sworn enemy (at least in Maeve's mind). Dinah gets to se Maeve begin her performance, and seeing the way Maeve dances on stage opens Dinah's mind to something about her own performance in a nice character moment before Maeve opens up with her new powers, and it looks like a big fight is on for next issue. While I miss Annie Wu's kinetic art style on this book, I'm excited to see Pia Guerra on this (and last) issue. I haven't seen much from her since the end of Y: The Last Man, but her style works well here; it's not as loose and wild as Wu's, but it has excellent flow in the fight scene, and her Ditto is too adorable for words. Black Canary has been one of the strongest new titles out of DC in its newest wave, and it's ramping up for an exciting finale to its inaugural arc.

Clean Room #1
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Jon Davis-Hunt

Gail Simon is known for being a writer who does strong characterization, strong female characters, and zany plots. But it's often forgotten just how dark her work can be. For instance, Secret Six, for all its very funny and heartfelt moments, is a book about truly broken people often doing terrible things. And those darker inclinations are the source for hew new Vertigo title, Clean Room. I'm not anywhere near sure exactly what is going on in the background of this new horror/thriller comic, but one of the great things about horror is that sense of being off-kilter. The issue starts with a family walking to church, a scene that quickly devolves into terror as a disgruntled truck driver hits the young girl in the family, and then backs over her to make sure he got her. Somehow the girl survives, but something is different. The action then moves to a woman preparing to commit suicide. This woman, Chloe Pierce, is our point of view character for most of the issue a reporter who lost her fiancĂ©e, and after being saved from suicide, now wants to find out why and what the writings of new age/self help guru Astrid Mueller had to do with the suicide. After tracking down Mikey, another man who was exposed to Astrid's cult/organization that seems to straddle the line between any self help cult and Scientology who is an addict who now wants to use but just can't bring himself to, Chloe arrives at the shining palace that is Astrid's headquarters. Meeting with an Amazonian official, Chloe strong arms her way to a meeting with Astrid, and the reveal of who Astrid is makes the beginning of the issue and the end connect. Oh, and did I mention that throughout the issue there are these truly disturbing images of monsters and horrors? The tuck bearing down on the little girl, Chloe's dead fiancĂ© with his face half blown off visiting her in the hospital, and a demon hanging from the shoulders of the woman Chloe meets before Astrid. Jon Davis-Hunt is a new name to me, and I'm hoping I'll be seeing a lot more of his work. His people are striking, but those monsters? Brrrr... The detail work throughout the issue is stunning and perfect for what Simone is doing. Vertigo is trying to get back to the forefront of edgy, dark comics, and I've been happy with what I've read this month from their new offerings, but Clean Room jumps out at me as the flagship of their new titles: creepy, deep, and already capturing the darker parts of the imagination.

Princeless: Raven- The Pirate Princess #4
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Rosy Higgins & Ted Brandt

A pirate's life for Raven and her crew is at hand, as long as they can get past those pesky villagers with pitchforks and torches. Having recruited her crew last issue, Raven, the daughter of the pirate king who is on a quest to reclaim her birthright from her usurping brothers, arrives back at the inn owned by her friend Cookie and his daughter to find it besieged by townsfolk who believe Jayla, Cookie's daughter, is a witch and want to burn her alive. It's some quick thinking from Ximena, Raven's former best friend and the freshly recruited navigator of her ship, that saves Jayla in a scene comically reminiscent of Carrie, which is a sentence I didn't think it was possible to write. With the guards and the mob driven off, Raven finds Jayla, angry a her father's protective nature, ready to head off on Raven's all female pirate ship. Left alone with Raven, Cookie makes a speech that is beautiful, asking Raven to take care of his daughter and make sure she never comes back to the one horse town they live in, because Jayla's too good for it and deserves better. Cookie is a fascinating counterpoint to all the other fathers in the Princeless universe: Raven's own father was taken in by his sons and locked Raven away. King Ash, father of main Princeless series heroine Adrienne, did something like that to all his daughters, and is at best condescending if not a full on misogynist. And Adrienne's best friend Bedelia's father is a drunkard whose work Bedelia had to do to keep the two of them afloat (although the cause if his alcoholism remains unknown, so there might be more story there). Cookie not only unabashedly loves his daughter, but is willing to let her go so she can have a better life because she's smart. Not only that, but as Raven prepares to set off, Cookie gives her some sage advice about the life of a pirate. Let's be frank: Cookie is a father figure up there with Alfred and Uncle Ben in the pantheon of great comic book pseudo-dads. We also do get to spend some more time with the core of Raven's crew, Katie, her first mate, and Sunshine, who Raven befriended at Cookie's, and he final page of the issue has the two of them, along with Ximena, Jayla, and Raven (the core cast of the series) standing on board of Raven's ship preparing for the adventures to come. The mix of action, comedy, and character has been one of the hallmarks of Raven- The Pirate Princess, and with the whole cast now gathered, I'm looking forward to getting to know each of these very fun and different characters and how they relate to each other as they sail the high seas.

Dan Grote checks out the first issue of Warren Ellis's new Marvel series, Karnak...

Karnak #1
Story by Warren Ellis
Art by Gerardo Zaffino and Dan Brown

Of course Karnak, the member of the Inhuman royal family who sees the flaw in everything, is a good fit for Warren Ellis – he’s an aloof jerk with hand-to-hand combat skills.
That’s right, from the guy who brought you Pete Wisdom, Spider Jerusalem, and Moon Knight, it’s Karnak.
But Dan, don’t you have some kind of thing about the Inhumans that you mention every time you review an issue of Ms. Marvel?
Oh sure, but Karnak isn’t so much about Marvel’s new-favorite race as it is about how Karnak thinks he’s better than everyone and can generally back it up, the sort of arrogant-jerk fantasy shared by perhaps one too many comics readers.
These days, Karnak has broken ties with the Inhuman royals and lives as the hermetic philosopher-king of the Tower of Wisdom. He occasionally comes out of hiding to run extralegal missions for SHIELD, in exchange for more money for the tower and the ability to mess with people.
Guest starring in this issue are screen-to-page SHIELD transplants Phil Coulson and Gemma Simmons, who enlist special K’s aid retrieving a fellow Inhuman from an AIM splinter cell that has infiltrated SHIELD (and Captain America just finished scrubbing the place of Hydra).
“Is there anyone left at SHIELD who actually only works for SHIELD?” K (and the reader) asks Coulson (and Marvel editorial).
In exchange for his services, Karnak tells Coulson and the parents of the missing Inhuman boy that the boy must become a disciple at the Tower of Wisdom, to be released back into society at a time of Karnak’s choosing. The parents also must give him “the single thing that allows you to believe that the universe is a kind and beautiful place,” because, per Karnak, “humans are no more important than objects, and both humans and objects are meaningless.” Oh, and $1 million. He also gets that.
Finally, let’s peep the art. David Aja covers are always welcome, especially in this post-Hawkguy era. Dan Brown’s muted green color palette also has me missing a previous Aja joint, the Immortal Iron Fist. A panel drawn by Gerardo Zaffino in which K chops a bullet in half has me just as misty.
Oh, and apropos of nothing, Karnak has a Zack Morris-style cellphone. There, I think I just sold you this book.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

And By the Flaming Sword You Shall Know Him

SPOILERS for last night's episode of Gotham, "Scarification"

Well, that was unexpected. I had my own theories about exactly who Theo Galavan was. I know a lot of people were thinking Ra's al Ghul or someone with connections to the League of Assassins. I never went that way. With all his talk about the founding of Gotham, my money had been on him being a new grandmaster of the Court of Owls, since the Owls are fresh in people's minds, but I had also considered a member of the Arkham family, or even someone connected with the Religion of Crime. But no, no, it's connected to something even more deeply entrenched and completely insane in the Batman mythos (which works beautifully as Gotham embraces its Burtonian insanity), The Sacred Order of St. Dumas. If you're curious about the comic book history of the group who are making their debut on Gotham, read on.

The Order of St. Dumas made it's first appearance on Batman: The Sword of Azrael #1, written by legendary Bat scribe Denny O'Neil with art by Joe Quesada, a mini-series designed to introduce a new character into the Batman mythos for a very specific purpose we'll get to shortly. They were not connected in any way to the founding of Gotham as on the show, although the list of founding familes given in Gotham do include three of the four well established founding families of Gotham: The Waynes (Batman's paternal family), the Elliots (family of Batman's nemesis, Hush, who appeared in Gotham as the kid Bruce beat down with his father's watch in season one), and the Kanes (Batman's maternal family, and also the family of Batwoman). The fourth name mentioned, Crowne, has certain ties to the Court of Owls, but is probably the least of the names, and not listed in the comics as a founding family. The comics have a fourth founding family, the Cobblepots, Penguin's family, but the continuity of Gotham clearly precludes that.

The Order of St. Dumas are a splinter group from the Knights Templar, because what fictional universe doesn't have at least one group whose origins lie with the Crusades and the Templars? Led by a knight named Dumas (who wasn't a saint by anyone's reckoning except his order), the Order was able to escape the purge of the Templars and went underground, slowly building up wealth and influence over the centuries. They remained secret by having a champion, and assassin called Azrael, programmed from birth via something they called The System to guarantee his loyalty and to provide the training needed to be their deadly angel, who would eliminate any member who stepped out of line.

When it first appeared, the Order appeared to be in decline, a small group of the richest men in the world who stuck together more for their mutual benefit than any real religious affiliation. One of them, Carlton LeHah, had betrayed the others and begun siphoning off the Order's money, and when Azrael was sent to kill him, he was prepared and shot Azrael with armor piercing bullets. Azrael, dying, found his son, a student in Gotham City named Jean-Paul Valley, and passed the mantle on to him, while LeHah took up the name and guise of the Demon Biis, St. Dumas's great enemy, to wipe out the remains of the Order. The murders drew the attention of Batman, and Batman joined forces with Jean-Paul, the new Azrael, to stop LeHah.

With LeHah defeated and what seemed the rest of the Order wiped out, Azrael became a new apprentice of Batman to try to beat The System and use his abilities for good. The story of Azrael becoming a temporary Batman after Bruce's crippling at the hands of Bane is one of the seminal Batman stories of the past twenty-five years, the Knightfall epic. Throughout the story, Jean-Paul continues to see visions of St. Dumas brought about by The System, and when Bruce finally is healed and returns, Azrael wanders off, disgraced.

But Azrael soon discovered the Order was not what he had thought. There was actually still a more traditional religious order in existence, headed by a man called Brother Rollo, who had an ice cathedral in the Swiss Alps (I love sentences like that), and with the aid of Sister Lilley, one of the Order's own nuns who had grown disenchanted, Azrael spent the first twenty-five issues of his own series fighting the Order. Along the way, readers found out that the Order had a history with the League of Assassins and had a group of troll-like servants, one of whom, named Nomoz (pictured above), we had met in Sword of Azrael. They went as far as unleashing a plague on Gotham as part of a plan to cleanse Earth of non-believers, which was the first of the major catastrophes that would lead to "No Man's Land."

Azrael did eventually triumph over the Order and destroyed them and their cathedral, but it turned out there were more splinters of the Order. Lilley joined with one in Asia and tried to resurrect the Order, but failed. One was revealed, saying that it was in fact the original Order, with Brother Rollo's faction that created the Azraels being a splinter itself, and tried to recruit Mark Shaw, the international man of mystery who had once taken up the names Manhunter and Dumas, to be their new agent (a clear retcon in the last few issues of Manhunter, but a clever tie to the Dumas alias from the 80s and the Order). And another became known as the Order of Purity, and were central to the last Azrael series, feauring Michael Lane, a former GCPD officer, taking up the mantle of Azrael and a cursed suit of armor called the Suit of Sorrows. And that was the last we heard of any part of the Order before Flahspoint rearranged DC history.

I know that original Azrael armor gets a lot of heat for being the most '90s of '90s comic book costumes, and damn it is, but I have a soft spot for it and all it's Joe Quesada designed flare.. The Order of St. Dumas has been absent from DC continuity since the Flashpoint reboot, but Azrael is too cool a concept to keep away, and in the solicitations released yesterday, DC announced it will be collecting Sword of Azrael and the first six issues of the original Azrael series in a new trade, so I can only expect that the return of Azrael and the Order is closer than I had imagined before yesterday.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/14

Batman #45
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, & FCO Plascenia

Just when you start settling into your life as a costumed hero, you get fired. Picking up right where issue 43 left off, Batman is in an industrial furnace about to be burnt into a cinder. He gets out of it by being clever, which is important to show that Jim Gordon is doing his best to take up the mantle of the Bat and while he's not the Batman we're used to, he's got a lot of the same spirit. And once he's out, he does get the living hell stomped out of him by he Devil Pigs, the gang he was trying to stop. Only the timely intervention of the robot suit, which now has some rudimentary AI to aid him and which he dubs Rookie, saves him from an untimely death. And after that debacle, well Geri Powers fires Jim. She does her best to explain nicely, but it boils down to Jim not following orders. I keep waiting for Powers to turn out to be evil (and she actually jokes about that in this issue, and the mention of her nephew Derek in the recent Batman Annual doesn't help put to rest the fact that when I think of the Powers family I think of villains), but I don't think she's evil, I just think she's doing what she thinks is best, and that might not line up with what I expect as a reader. The whole discussion of super colliders and new elements is an interesting analogy for what Snyder is having her do, and I admit I want something made out of an element called Batmanium 206. Meanwhile, we get to see the connection between Duke Thomas and Tam Batman member Daryl Gutierrez, and I admit to feeling dense when I didn't realize that it was Daryl in the previous issue; it adds both to Daryl's place in this story and the resonance of that impressive issue to have a character from it become a central part of the regular cast, and I just think Duke is the best addition to the Batman in a long time. At the press conference where Jim is supposed to resign as Batman, we get a conversation between him and Julia Pennyworth, who is just the person that this Batman needs, someone to encourage him and keep him going, showing that Pennyworths and Batmen are destined to be intertwined. The end of the issue promises a confrontation between Jim and Mr. Bloom finally, and after all the build up, I bet it's going to be quite a fight.

But there's one other plotline in this issue: what's going on with Bruce Wayne. The thrust of the plot has to do with the fact that the artifacts from the Batcave the Joker co-opted during "Endgame" have been dumped in a vacant lot right next to the rec center Bruce works at with Julie Madison. Bruce sees how the children react to the Joker-fied dinosaur and all the memories, and when he can't get it hauled away, he does what Batman does, and he remakes a tragedy into something that you can move forward from. He also actively addresses the things as trophies, and I begin to wonder how far gone his memories are. And there's a part of me that really wants this to be Bruce's happy ending, because dammit but he's happy. He's compassionate and while he no longer has the drive that made him Batman, he's got he same heart, and it's much closer to the surface now. I know Bruce is going to be back in the cowl sooner rather than later, and I know if he was gone for too long I'd miss him, but it's going to be sad to watch him lose this happiness. But that's the kind of pathos that makes a good story, and so I accept it and look forward to seeing where Snyder takes us before it hits.

Ms. Marvel #19
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Adrian Alphona & Ian Herring

As the End Days arc for Ms. Marvel wraps up, we get a most unique issue of the series, one where Kamala Khan, our titular heroine, never dons her costume. This entire issue is dedicated not to superhero fights and the craziness that comes with existing in a world with Inhuman, mutants, and  monsters, but what anyone would do when there might be no tomorrow. Kamala spends time with each of the non-super characters who have been an important part of her life throughout the series: her parents and brother, her best friends Bruno and Nakia, and even the local mean girl, Zoe. And each of them shows what a great person and character Kamala is. The scene where Kamala and her mother talk about being Ms. Marvel, and Kamala's realization that her parents have done the best by her and her brother they can is highly mature for a teenager, but it's also perfectly in character for Kamla. That level of introspection is surprisingly equaled by Zoe, who apologizes to Kamala for all the closed-minded things Zoe's said to her; maybe it's the end times that bring out the best in us. And Kamala also has to make her own amends: Nakia, who was clearly one of her best friends when we met her at the beginning of the series had more or less disappeared, and so Kamala has to talk to her and try to make things right. And the scene on the roof where Kamala and Bruno talk? Oh, my heart! It's the most mature discussion of feelings I've ever seen high school students have in a comic, and is frankly more mature than most adults have. It maintains the bond of rust and friendship Kamala and Bruno have, while still really getting to the heart of the complexity of their relationship, and the issue of religion, which has been talked about as the main problem for them being together, is barely a factor in it. I admit to being a bit confused by one statement in the issue though: he people, gathered in the high school gym, waiting for either the end or for the heroes to fix things, decide to have dance, and say that's how we do it in Jersey. I tell you, I was born in New Jersey, I went to high school in Jersey City, not too far from where this comic is set, and I have never been involved in any random New Jersey dancing. Maybe I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd... Ah, well, one way or the other, see you in volume two, Kamala Khan.

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens- Shattered Empire #3
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta, & Andres Massa

The time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is ripe with story potential, and Greg Rucka's Shattered Empire is the first story I've read set primarily in this new timeline. Introducing two new characters, Lt. Shara Bey, a pilot who flew an A-Wing at the Battle of Endor, and her husband, Sgt. Kes Dameron, a commando who helped raid the shield generator on the Forest Moon. After gong off on separate missions last issue, this ones sees them drawn back together, as Dameron's squad finds out about the Empire's Operation: Cinder, a plan to wipe out various worlds, one of which is Naboo, where Bey has flown Princess Leia to meet with the current queen of Naboo. Greg Rucka writes great crime and spy comics and novels, so him writing a comic that focuses on a pair of "normal" Rebels is exactly what I was hoping for an expecting. The first two issues were enjoyable, but this one jumps out at me because of the amazing sequence where, as Imperial satellites devastate the ecology of Naboo, Bey, Leia, and Queen Soruna of Naboo get into the three last surviving Naboo fighters and fly up to destroy the satellites. Not only does artist Marco Checchetto draw the hell out of these scenes, but as the odds get longer, as the Star Destroyer sends wing after wing of TIE Fighters, Bey shows the resolve and spirit of the Rebellion as she is willing to stall for time, and maybe not make it, to give Leia and Soruna the time to destroy the last of the satellites. Fortunately, it doesn't come to that, but it's those moments that stir feelings of some of the best of the EU of old, the Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston X-Wing novels, about valiant pilots. There are also some great cameos from Lando, Han Solo, and a gorgeously drawn Chewbacca (and speaking of that, you also should check out the first issue of Chewbacca, the new mini-series from Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto, which was excellent), and a particular moment tying the prequels to the classic trilogy and now into the time after. With the new trailer for The Force Awakens dropping in just a couple hours, my excitement for the new Star Wars is getting higher every day, and great comics like this are only helping.

Dan Grote looks at another number one from All New, All Different Marvel...

Sam Wilson: Captain America #1

Story: Nick Spencer
Art: Daniel Acuna
Nick Spencer has made his name at Marvel writing scoundrels of varying levels of endearingness, from the heroic-but-still-a-thief Scott Lang to the heist-happy non-heroes of Superior Foes of Spider-Man.
His newest series gives us a Captain America who is broke and less than universally loved, but not deservedly so.

Sam Wilson has been wielding the shield for a while now, since Steve Rogers was aged, which was only last year, but since then there’ve been more than a few time jumps. Apparently, things have only gotten more difficult. He’s broken ties with SHIELD, where the name Steve Rogers has become a dirty word. He’s an Avenger, but it’s a rookie team and half of them are teenagers with homework and curfews. His philosophical differences from his predecessor have led partisan America to brand him a traitor and a fraud (people still love his bird, though). His solo operation – funded partially with donations from his brother’s ministry – consists of combing through video nuisance complaints and requests to help Moby lookalikes impress Taylor Swift until he comes across someone legitimately in need of help.

To be clear, Spencer is taking a partisan stance with this book. He openly mocks the American right-left divide. The issue’s main villains, the Sons of the Serpent, are portrayed as border-wall loving rednecks harassing Mexican migrants because their leader doesn’t want to press one for English. If they were any more of a caricature, they’d be wearing red “Make America great again” caps over their Cobra Commander-style head bags. They’re still a nice change of pace from Hydra, though.

Wilson isn’t alone in his solo title. Working with him are Misty Knight, one of Marvel’s empirically best women, and the book’s Spencer-iest character, Dennis Dunphy, formerly known as D-Man, who dates to the late ’80s, when original-recipe Cap spent a lot of time fighting and allying with ex-pro wrestlers juiced up by the Power Broker. Now, he’s Sam’s pilot, except they can’t afford a plane. Apparently Sam spent the last of his money on body armor for Dunphy and a sonic cannon for Redwing.

The creators appear to be working toward a Sam-Misty hookup, but then Marvel released a picture last week of Sam smooching on Jane Foster’s Thor in an upcoming issue of Avengers, so who knows what’s going on.

Full disclosure: I dropped the last volume of Captain America, by Rick Remender and Stuart Immomen, after issue 2. I love Sam as Cap, but the execution just wasn’t working for me. Spencer and Acuna’s book (quick shout-out to Acuna’s coloring work, btw), however, so far is hitting the right notes, building character rather than hitting me over the head with big villains. Here’s to their continued success on one of my favorite characters.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Recommended Reading for 10/16: Tales of the Multiverse- Batman: Vampire

Batman can trace  his literary roots back to a lot of different sources. The pulps are a major source, especially The Shadow and Zorro. But going deeper in, there are two Victorian characters who are hugely influential: Sherlock Holmes and Dracula. I discussed Batman's meeting with Holmes nearly three years ago to this very day. And Batman has met Dracula as well, in the fist of a trio of original graphic novels we'll be discussing today.

The three volumes, Batman/Dracula: Red Rain, Batman: Bloodstorm, and Batman: Crimson Mist were all written by then Batman writer Doug Moench, with art by Kelly Jones, who had been doing covers for Batman for some time, and during the years the trilogy would be released over, would spend some time as regular penciler on the title. It's a tale of horror and superheroics mixed and about the downfall of a good man to the curse of the vampire, as we watch Batman fall into the trap Nietzsche laid out, about those who fight  monsters being careful to not become monsters in the process.

The Batman: Vampire trilogy came out at the height of Elseworlds, DC's tales of heroes in unfamiliar circumstances, and is by far one of the most popular and successful, having spawned one of the 52 Earths of the current DC Multiverse. And while these stories take place in a Gotham nearer to the one we're familiar with in monthly comics, one not as removed as the Victorian Gotham of Gotham By Gaslight or the church-ruled one of Holy Terror, it is a Gotham of even darker corners, and of a constant red rain falling from the sky, pollution run rampant that now portends the coming evil.

Batman/Dracula: Red Rain, the first in the series, seemed to be written to be a stand alone novel. In it, Batman finds Gotham's homeless being murdered, and their throats slashed, and learns that the cut throats are to mask the telltale vampire bites. He comes into conflict with the hordes of the undead and their leader, Dracula, and is aided by a group of reformed vampires, those who drink a serum that satisfies their bloodlust, led by the beautiful Tanya, who had been turned by Dracula himself and after years of being his consort, realized the horror of what she was doing and vowed to stop him. Tanya gifted Batman with her blood, giving him vampire powers without the weaknesses, but at the story's end, Dracula's bite finishes the transformation, and a vampire Batman is born. 

The story is itself a wonderful horror yarn, with the vampires mostly monstrous bloodsucking creatures with no mind or soul, with the traditional weaknesses to sunlight, stakes, crosses, etc. Batman is himself at a loss at the beginning of the story, outmatched by the vampires' powers, and only through becoming more like them is he finally able to stop them. It's a gorgeously gothic landscape as only Kelly Jones could craft, but I'll spend more time on the art later.

The world of this book is interesting in the slight differences between it and the Gotham we are accustomed to. There seems to be no Robin or other superheroes of any kind in the world, making it a world of a more lonely Batman. This is a Batman who, as committed to his principles as he is, is somewhat darker, not having that grounding in his humanity. While Alfred and Jim Gordon are still there, this Batman seems less emotionally involved with either of them, but whether that is his nature or a part of his vampiric transformation remains a question left to the reader.

Moench's Dracula isn't the cape and amulet wearing Bela Lugosi version, or sympathetic either. His Dracula is a mad, monstrous creature who knows nothing but his hunger for blood. Not as mindless as his spawn, his goal is simply to build an army of vampires and feed. While there aren't a lot of levels there, it works very well with Dracula as a character; he is bloodlust incarnate. Tanya is a character with an... interesting design. No traditional vampire wife of Dracula, she's in a one piece purple bathing suit with knee-high purple boots for much of the story; how very '90s. But she's a sympathetic character; she is completely driven to destroy Dracula, even at the cost of her own life, but does it to prevent anyone else from falling to his curse, making her an interesting parallel to Batman, who reacts the same way to his traumatic experience; he is willing to sacrifice himself to stop crime in the same way she is to stop vampirism.

Red Rain also spends some of its time pursuing far more real world issues than either of its successors. The fact that he victims are all homeless, and that the mayor actively tells Gordon to keep a lid on it because he doesn't want to start a panic and who cares about these people anyway is an indictment on society in general's treatment of the homeless. Also, signs throughout the issue in the background of scenes are for vaccinations, and so the idea of vampirism as a disease is eased out; published in 1991, at the beginning of the time when AIDS was coming into the forefront of social consciousness, it's not hard to link vampirism and blood borne illness either, and also to hear Dracula ant about how mankind has poisoned its blood with disease and drugs adds to this elemen.

Bloodstorm, the second volume of the trilogy, begins bringing in figures from the established Batman mythos, as the Joker uses his wiles to become leader of the remaining vampires and begins a war to take over Gotham's mobs. Batman, now a full vampire, must fight the call to drink blood, instead subsisting on Tanya's blood substitute formula as the hunger increases. But his mind is put at ease when he meets Selina Kyle, in this reality a were-cat after being bitten by Creach, Joker's right hand vampire who was in a wolf form at the time, and he two hunt together until Joker kills Catwoman, and Batman finally breaks, killing Joker and drinking his blood, leaving it up to Gordon and Alfred to do what must be done, giving us one of the book's indelible images, of them driving a stake through Batman's heart, reciting the mantra Tanya introduced in volume one, "To death... in peace."

While the plot seems very similar to the first volume, with Joker taking Dracula's place and Selina taking Tanya's, they are very different stories. Most importantly, this story is not about Batman discovering and coming to terms with the existence of vampires, and about being haunted by visions of Tanya until he realizes the truth, but about him fighting the beast inside him. Much of Batman's internal narrative is about how hard it is to resist the urge to drink blood. It shows Batman's strength of will, and more how insidious the vampire disease/curse is, and makes it all the more tragic when he finally submits to it.

Joker and Catwoman work well as deepening the connection between this world and the prime DCU while also pointing out how different they are. Joker is, well, pretty much Joker, mad and cunning, using the vampires to turn mobsters instead of the homeless, while still staying human. It's interesting that Joker does not seem to desire the immortality of the vampire, but instead simply uses them as a means to an end. Keeping him human establishes him even more as a counterpoint to the vampiric Batman. Meanwhile, the Selina Kyle of this world seems to bear little resemblance to her traditional counterpart, other than her affection for cats. There is no indication that she is a thief, but instead just a woman who wound up on the wrong side of a vampire. She is also tremendously noble, often addressed as an innocent woman, since it is the love of an innocent woman that is said to hold off the curse. More than that, it is her nobility that leads to her downfall, as she takes a crossbow bolt meant for Batman.

This second volume takes the horror of the first volume and amps it up to eleven. There's almost a black comedy vibe, appropriate for a Joker story, as the vampire deaths and murders seem more grotesque, from Creah tearing himself open to expose his internal organs to a mobster before tearing ones face off with his fangs (that vampire is later seen with his face stitched on) to a vampire who was shot in the head before being turned having a small Band-Aid to cover up the wound. Also, Batman gets a new weapon that is just so cool I have to call it out, these silver-cored wooden throwing knives with bat-tooled hilts; even when he's slaying vampires, Batman does it in style.

You'd think that being staked would put an end to Batman's problems, but you would be wrong. In this vampire mythos, a stake just immobilizes a vampire, and only beheading or sunlight seems to make he undead permanently dead. And when the costumed criminals of Gotham run completely amok, Alfred makes the hard decision and pulls the stake. Batman rises from the dead, more monstrous than ever, and begins to hunt down and slay Gotham's criminals unrepentantly, but still enough of himself to behead each one to not spawn more vampires. Finally, after a series of atrocities, it comes down to an unholy alliance between Jim Gordon, Alfred, Two-Face, and Killer Croc to put an end to the vampire Batman. And in a final battle with a body count straight out of a Shakespearean tragedy, Batman is given his final rest, along with everyone else.

By this point in the series, the vampire Batman has become nearly entirely a monster. He hangs onto his humanity by barely a thread, and its only there in that he only kills the guilty, but he is constantly tempted to give in and just drink from anyone else he runs across. Still, the haunting narration has Batman almost as a passenger in a body driven by his hunger. I say almost because even he acknowledges that it's still him in there, just with the hunger pushing him. One of the major differences between this volume and the former two is that Batman is the only vampire in the story, and while not the only monster, he is by far the scariest.

The other monsters in the story are pretty much all of Batman's remaining major rogues, who pop up to mostly be victims of Batman's insatiable thirst. Some appear as they traditionally have: Penguin, Poison Ivy, Black Mask, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and Two-Face all look like you'd expect. Riddler, though, gets a creepy resdesign, with question marks etched into his face and chest with stitching. I also seems that the timeline is different than what we're used to, as both Two-Face and Scarecrow are just being introduced to the world, with no previous history with Batman. It's Two-Face who is the most used of the villains, as most fall pretty quickly. Two-Face, with Croc as his henchman, is the one planning on finding a way to eliminate Batman and ascend o king of Gotham, and its a Two-Face similar to the one Moench wrote when he was writing Batman, whose personality is far more split than he's often portrayed, referring to himself as "we."

This volume also spends considerably more time developing both Jim Gordon and Alfred's character arcs. While both have had parts in the first two volumes, it is here they not only come into their own, but in the final battle show their defining characteristics. Alfred sacrifices himself to Batman's thirst after Batman is struck by a crossbow bolt so Batman can stop Two-Face from killing Gordon, showing his intense loyalty, and Gordon finally hits a detonator that opens to cavern ceiling above the Batcave, showing his resolve by being willing to not only kill his one-time friend but in the end dying to stop him. The last page, spotlighting the three fallen friends and heroes, is another one of the series highlights.

While Moench's story is excellent and haunting, I don't think this story would stick out as one of the greatest Batman Elseworlds stories if not for the art by Kelly Jones. Jones is a master of horror, his art very stylized and exaggerated to almost the point of the grotesque, with many great horror comics in his past, one of the most notable being the legendary Sandman: A Season of Mists. Gotham, though, seems to be a place he was meant to draw. His Gotham is one of the most haunting versions out there, with gargoyles and creepy buildings at every turn. The red rain and he general atmosphere gives the already horror filled story an extra edge.

And even if Gotham wasn't at it's darkest, Batman most assuredly is. Jones is most famous for how he portrays Batman's cape, competing with Todd Macfarlane for artist who draws the biggest, most billowy, most almost alive cape award, but here he adds Batman's slow descent into monsterdom; it is perfectly shown in the art. Batman starts out looking exactly like you're used to seeing him, and over the course of the first volume, he changes slowly, but even at the end he's pretty much the same, only with wings and fangs. By the second, he is slightly more grotesque, broader and more haunted looking, with he fangs ever evident. By volume three, Batman is a revenant, basically a walking corpse, with ribs evident, his vertebrae appearing almost as spikes down his back, sallow skin, and regularly shifting into a form similar to Man-Bat and to the titular crimson mist. It's Batman as the biggest, scariest monster in the series, and that makes it all the worse, as he is the guy you want to root for now transformed into the terror of the night.

Of the other monsters and villains, the designs are similarly spectacular. The were-cat Selina is lithe and sexy, while still being a terrifying monster when she is in combat. The various vampires are all hideous and scary, and I really like the design for Creach as a werewolf; he's a massive hulking brute. Oh, and the Joker has crazy long hair, almost pushing mullet levels. Nowhere else will you see a mullet Joker.

Before I close up, I want to toss in a few other interesting Batman Elsworlds and vampire stories. Sadly not as well known or in print as these ones, Moench and Jones did another Elseworld Batman original graphic novel, Dark Joker: The Wild, set in a fantasy world with Joker as an evil sorcerer. Also, for a very different take on Baman fighting Dracula, there's the direct to DVD Batman Vs. Dracula, the one feature length animated film from the continuity of the oft-forgotten animated Batman series, The Batman. Its probably the best part of that series, with some really atmospheric moments, and is well worth watching if you have the time.

Elseworlds stories range from the sublime to the, well, the stuff I don't talk about on this blog, and as there were more Batman Elseworlds than any other character, you would expect a mix of both. The Batman: Vampire trilogy falls in the sublime category, mixing the elements of Batman with some great horror elements to create a vision of Batman like no other.

All three books in the Batman: Vampire series are in print and available as one volume, whose name I used for the title of this post, Tales of the Multiverse: Batman-Vampire.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 8

Today’s reading: Deadpool #9 and 10
Story: Joe Kelly
Art: Ed McGuinness (issue #9 only), Shannon Denton and Nathan Massengill

After a heavy few issues involving Typhoid Mary, Team Deadpool gives us a breather to concentrate on one of the many things Wade does best: Poking fun at lame characters.

It’s not an entirely care-free romp, however. Wade is still unpacking Mary’s emotional damage, his head swimming in darkness as he struggles to find the light. In fact, issue #9 opens with Wade hiding away in an attic room Blind Al refers to as “the box.” We don’t get to see what’s in there, apart from some silhouetted chains, spikes, hooks and a mace. He claims to be meditating, but he also warns Al that if she says the M word again, “Expect bad things.” You can tell he means business because the word balloon has icicles at the bottom.

He then heads over to the Hellhouse, where he has his cronies, C.F. and Fenway, distract Patch while he beats up everyone allied with T-Ray. When Patch asks what happened, DP blames all the limp mercenaries on a banana peel, then asks him whether he has any work in a more heroic vein. Of course, it’s a mercenary business, so there is pretty much nothing, but Patch says the events of Onslaught also diminished the need for hero work, which seems odd, as Onslaught removed a number of heroes from the playing field, so you’d think there’d be more need, if anything.

Before we’re left to dwell on pesky things like logic, a purple-cloaked stranger interrupts their conversation claiming to have work rescuing a princess, a job so classically heroic it is the premise of most early video games.

Said stranger turns out to be a new villain named Deathtrap, who knocks out Deadpool and takes him to his vaguely European lair, straps him to a table, dresses him up like a baby, explains away his plans and proceeds to let a giant voice-activated teddy bear slowly fall on him, each word out of Wade’s mouth bringing him closer to death by suffocation.

Sigh … I miss Arcade.

True to form, Deadpool refuses to shut up, fighting back with a barrage of yo-momma jokes, bad observational comedy and references to Martha Quinn, Jack Palance, Fat Albert and the “Where’s the Beef?” lady, as the plunging plushie attains ramming speed.

By this point, however, Deadpool had already broken both his wrists and ankles, allowing him to free himself from Deathtrap’s deathtrap, but leaving him a weak-limbed mess on the floor. Deathtrap, thoroughly amused by all of this, knocks DP out again and delivers him back to the Hellhouse with a note taped to his chest that reads, “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

He is never seen again.

“Where’s the message in the story? What’s the lesson?” Deadpool (and the reader) is left asking. An excellent question that is never answered.


Oh well. On to issue #10, in which we spend a lot of time making fun of the Great Lakes Avengers, but the story is really all about Blind Alfred’s relationship with Deadpool.

Al’s spent the past couple of issues both pissed at and concerned about her captor. Deadpool essentially gave his vision-impaired prisoner a service dog just to further torment her, a mock-kindness she repaid in issue #9 by tampering with all his weapons, as he discovered while he was held prisoner by Deathtrap. At the same time, knowing Wade had been spending time in “the box” had her concerned for his mental state. Normally, a quick trip to the Xavier Institute for some late-night Siryn stalking would help him find his center, but, as he discovers in issue #10, the mansion’s been cleared out by Bastion as a part of the Operation: Zero Tolerance crossover of summer 1997.

Wade gets revenge on Al for her weapons prank by subjecting her to a game called Road-Trip Roulette, promising exotic destinations such as Graceland, the Grand Canyon, Def Comedy Jam (’90s pop culture reference, take a drink) and, in the smallest sliver of the wheel, freedom.

P.S. If Alfred is blind, why build an elaborate game-show wheel she can’t see?

Anyway, the wheel lands on the aquarium (after Wade blows it off freedom), which is apparently where they went the last time they played this game.

Going out in public lets Wade have fun with his image inducer, disguising himself at points as a morbidly obese man, a Latino gangster (a repeat disguise from issue #1), a guy with a long, curly mustache and a ruggedly handsome blond man (another repeat from issue #1). If you look at the last two long enough, you’ll start to see a little bit of the way Wade appeared after he was healed by Zsaji in Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars. But considering how he was drawn in his Flashback Month issue, that’s likely pure coincidence.

At the aquarium, Wade does something unexpected. After rehashing his recent conflicted feelings about good and evil, he offers Al her freedom, tells her to leave and never come back.

Except Al doesn’t go for it. She stays put in the bird sanctuary. Deuce runs all the way home, but she parks herself right on a bench. Now, the book doesn’t actively address Stockholm syndrome, the psychological condition in which hostages bond with their captors. But that doesn’t really apply to Al anyway. She tends to torment Wade almost as much as he does her. But she definitely wants him to turn his life around, and she’s been burned by past promises of freedom. Maybe she’s just old and tired, maybe after all this time, the thought of being out in the world is scarier than being confined to a rowhouse in San Francisco. “… Maybe ’cause my seeing-eye mongrel abandoned me. Maybe ’cause you’d never match your socks without me.”

Either way, Wade’s short attention span gets the better of him, and after counting to 500 (and skipping a bunch of numbers in the process), Wade shuts off his image inducer, whips out his weapons and whips the crowd up into a panic as he begins to hunt for the woman he just set free. Which attracts the attention of this issue’s special guests: The Lightning Rods, formerly the Great Lakes Avengers.

The GLA were created by John Byrne and first appeared in 1989’s West Coast Avengers #46. They include Flatman, a two-dimensional version of Mr. Fantastic; Mr. Immortal, who cannot be killed and talks like Sam Guthrie; Dinah Soar, a bipedal pterodactyl; Big Bertha, a supermodel who can grow into a female version of the Blob; and Doorman, whose body is an interdimensional portal. Their then-new name, the Lightning Rods, was a reference to the Thunderbolts, a series that had just started and featured members of the Masters of Evil parading as superheroes in the wake of Onslaught (because there is a demand for hero-work, Patch!).

Once he finds Al, Wade attempts to teleport her away from the approaching Lightning Rods. Except Doorman lands on them as they’re bodysliding. The effect of two teleportation events happening simultaneously in the same space gets them stuck in time, and in Doorman. When do they end up? Keep reading!

Random observation 1: When Wade drops the disguises and goes full Deadpool at the aquarium, he tells the panicked crowd he is on a mission “to ventilate all killer whales in captivity, to ensure that the world will never have to suffer through Free Willy Four.” Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove, the fourth movie in the franchise, was released in 2010 and stars Bindi Irwin and Beau Bridges. You failed Wade. You failed.

Random observation 2: In issue #9, DP tells Deathtrap: “Yo mama so fat, she sat on a dollar bill and four quarters came out!” In issue #10, he tells Big Bertha: “Hey, I heard you sat on the rainbow and Skittles came out!” Fat-shaming aside, it might be time for some new material.

Next Thursday, we tackle Deadpool #11, in which Wade and Al get trapped in 1967’s Amazing Spider-Man #47. I love this issue so much I turned the cover into a T-shirt. See you then!

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.