Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 15

Today’s reading: Deadpool/Death Annual ’98
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Steve Harris and Reggie Jones

Congratulations, Deadpool, you’ve made it to your second annual! Time to die kinda sorta.

Deadpool/Death ’98 was part of a wave of teamup annuals inspired by the previous year’s Daredevil/Deadpool ’97. Others included Iron Man/Captain America, Alpha Flight/Inhumans, and Machine Man/Bastion.

The issue opens with a close-up splash page of a freshly teleported Deadpool about to receive a killing blow to the face from Ajax, the man who’s been hunting him since issue #14. The punch sends DP backwards over a cliff, cracking his neck on the ground below.

Now, Wade’s been killed by much worse over the years, but for the purposes of this particular story, it’s enough to make him leave his own body and reunite with the living embodiment of Death, whom we’re about to learn has a history with our antihero.

Buckle in, kids, it’s origin story time!

Prior to this issue, here’s what we knew about Wade Wilson’s back story: He’s a product of the Weapon X program, and his healing factor was borrowed from Wolverine. He signed up for Weapon X because he had a rare, untreatable form of cancer. He was a mercenary even before Weapon X, and he dated a young Boston prostitute named Vanessa, who would go on to become the mercenary Copycat and impersonate X-Force’s Domino for a year. Oh, and at some point he became friends with Bullseye.

What this annual inserts into the mythos is that Wade Wilson was actually deemed a failure by the Weapon X program after they experimented on him. He was sent to a facility where the program’s rejects were held captive for further experimentation by one Dr. Emrys Killebrew.

That’s right. KillEbrew. The second E is back. I asked Kelly on Twitter about the change in spelling, in case there were some fun backstory. He deferred to Mark Waid’s original spelling with the extra E and chalked the Killbrews up to simple, forgiveable human error.

Assisting Killebrew is a man who calls himself The Attending who wears an all-black bodysuit with a big white A on it. Picture Gaston from Beauty and the Beast cosplaying as Alvin the chipmunk. The Attending – real name Francis – gets his jollies by torturing the rejects and breaking their spirits.

The rejects themselves pass the time by placing bets on when they’ll die, hence their nickname for the facility: the Deadpool. GET IT?!

The Wade Wilson who enters the Deadpool is suicidal. His hair is falling out, and the body scarring is just beginning. He feels his mind unraveling. That’s when she walks in. A skull-faced dame in a purple, slinky dress. Death comments that Wade shouldn’t be able to see her, being alive and all. She seems extremely turned on for an abstract concept. The feeling is mutual, but there’s just one small thing Wade has to do to get the girl: find a way to die. “I can’t take the captain until the ship sinks, dig?” Death tells him.

So Wade tries to kill himself again and again. And each time he is thwarted by the Attending, to the point where he locks Wade into a wheelchair with arm shackles. Eventually, Wade’s desperation, fading grip on reality and knowledge of the Attending’s real name collide, and he begins to taunt and provoke his antagonist, improving his odds in the Deadpool. His fellow rejects begin to hold him up as a hero, which, of course, Wade balks at because this is effectively the prequel to a hero’s journey.

In retaliation, Francis lobotomizes Worm, Wade’s friend in the Deadpool. Wade snaps Worm’s neck to ease his suffering, violating one of Killebrew’s chief rules about killing his test subjects. As punishment, Francis rips out Wade’s heart.

Were this a couple pages ago, Wade would have been ready to embrace Death, both figuratively and literally, but what happened to Worm filled Wade with a need for vengeance. It also kickstarted his healing factor, effectively turning him into Popeye. Wade tears through the facility, killing guards, grabbing weapons, cracking jokes and claiming Deadpool as his new name as he makes his way to Francis, whom he blows a nice hole right through.

Vengeance achieved, Wade calls for Death to come take him, but with his healing factor now working at 100 percent, such is not to be. Wade has a way of disappointing the women in his life that drives them away, be it a bonnie Irish lass, a demon succubus or the living embodiment of Death.

We then return to the present, where Ajax takes off his helmet and reveals himself as Francis to Deadpool’s ostensible corpse.

“I killed him first! He can’t just come out of nowhere and kill me back! That’s not fair!” Ghost Wade declares.

He’s then confronted by the ghosts of his fellow rejects, brought to him by Death with a request to finish what he started and kill Ajax for real this time. He steals a smooch from Death and is resurrected, overalls and all (he was wearing overalls when he was teleported to Francis at the end of last issue), his quest for vengeance reborn.

But what about the Mithras Directive and all that galactic savior stuff? Later for that, we’ve got retroactive continuity stuff to clear up. Which we’ll return to in the next reading, Deadpool #18. 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.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/24

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Lives #1
Story: Jen Van Meter
Art: Roberto De La Torre & David Baron

Valiant's The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage returns with a second volume that starts out with an issue mixing, action, emotion, a touch of humor, and some solid supernatural shivers. After the end of the first series, medium Dr. Shan Fong-Mirage has retrieved the spirit of her husband, Hwen, from the afterlife, and you'd think they'd get a happily ever after. But when one of you is a ghost who can't physically effect the world around him, that happily ever after doesn't come easily. If you'd never read the first series, the first page does a great job of establishing where Shan was with her husband without being a recap page, and the first scene, at a haunted wedding, not only establishes their current status quo, but Shan's power set. It's the lightest part of the issue, as Shan is called in to break up a haunted wedding. We learn the rules of ghosts in this universe, we see how Shan makes money as an exorcist/TV ghosthunter, and we get the first inklings of how strained things are since Shan and Hwen can't interact physically. We're also introduced to their friend/agent/producer Leo, whose suggestion upon arriving back at Shan's place, that they find a willing host for Hwen so he can interact with the camera, meets with such a vociferous negative you know that's going to be important later on in the series. The plot of the issue follows Shan and Hwen as they try to recover a scroll that potentially possess a spell to grant Hwen a more physical form, but when their copy turns out to be destroyed, they visit their old friend Seline and her family, both the living and the ancestral spirits, who might have one of the few remaining copies of the scroll. But something goes horribly wrong when the scroll is opened, and something is freed. The thing that makes this book so engaging are the characters. Shan and Hwen's relationship and dynamic is delightful to read, and Seline and her family are charming. Jen Van Meter always has had an ear for dialogue and character (I'm super excited that my copy of her new Hopeless Savages OGN arrived last week and I can't wait to dig into it), and she provides a great mix of character and supernatural suspense. Robert De La Torre's art both proves to be perfect for when Shan and Hwen are just talking and interacting as a couple, and when they're dealing with ghosts; I enjoyed his work on the first series, and this one is even stronger. This is a great jumping on point for readers who haven't tried this series or any Valiant book before, a thrilling ride, and good for fans of both super heroes and supernatural stories.

The Rocketeer at War #1
Story: Marc Guggenheim and Lisa Morton
Art: Dave Bullock

IDW's Rocketeer mini-series have all felt very different, from the wild high adventure of Cargo of Doom to the mystery of Hollywood Horror. Rocketeer at War sees Cliff Secord, the Rocketeer, as a grunt in North Africa, fighting the Nazis as a solider is World War II. The issue is a classic war story with a pulp twist, as Cliff saves a pilot from a shot down plane, and chases a Nazi spy trying to steal a component from a plane. The pulpiness happens when Cliff grabs the spy who turns out be wearing a glider suit, and so we have gliding Nazis versus the Rocketeer, even if Cliff doesn't have his rocket pack. It's an exciting issue, with a lot of set-up for what's coming, as we also see the Nazis developing a superweapon, Betty join the WACs, and we meet the pilot Cliff saved, a feisty redhead named Molly O'Hara, who greets Cliff with a kiss. Its such a standard Rocketeer trope to see Cliff as almost pathologically jealous when it comes to Betty, I'm curious to see how it works with a flip, as Cliff has another love interest this time. I don't think it's surprising that Cliff is back in his Rocketeer costume by issue's end, ready to serve his country. A Rocketeer story wouldn't be a Rocketeer story without a cameo from a historical or pulp figure, and this issue has Howard Hughes pop up, which is a great nod to the Rocketeer film, where it was Hughes, not Doc Savage, who designed the rocket pack. Dave Bullock's art is perfect for this series; he's an artist with a style that hearkens back to the classic age, and his work with Darwyn Cooke on New Frontier established his chops of stories set in the 40s and 50s. The comic also has the first chapter of a prose story, "The Rivet Gang," from writer Lisa Morton. This first chapter has Cliff and Betty going to a fancy party and Cliff tearing off after robbers to find himself in a... sticky situation. Read the story and you'll see that's a pretty bad pun, but those are the best kind.

Saga #32
Art: Fiona Staples
Story: Brian K. Vaughan

Saga is about sixteen comics in one. There are issues that are love stories between leads Alana and Marko, while others are domestic dramas with those two and their daughter Hazel. There are political intrigue stories featuring Prince Robot IV. The previous arc wrapped up with a quest story featuring The Brand, Sophie, Lying Cat, and Gwendolyn. The stories with D. Oswald Heist spent a lot of time discussing morality and war. And this are just a few off the top of my head. This month's issue hits one of my favorite genres: it's a caper, as Alana and Marko break into an administrative building to get a lead on Hazel's location. As Hazel points out in her narration, Alana and Marko are closer now then they ever have been, working as a well oiled machine to find their stolen little girl, and it's important to remember they've been doing this for YEARS,and they're still at it. The issue sees them knock out a guard, use technology and magic, and jump out of a window into their passing tree-rocket in the tradition of the best caper movies.Between this and the previous issue, we've reset where our principals are, and know exactly what the stakes are at this point. And while I love Saga's story, it's one of the best marriages of art and writing in comics, as Fiona Staples is a master of design, and this issue's new creatures/characters, the constables on the world of Variegate, are nightmares out of a fever dream dreamed after reading Fahrenheit 451, but as you read the issue, their looks as unstoppable monster are pretty misleading. We get reacquainted with a couple more Saga favorites by issue's end, including Sir Robot IV, his son Squire, and adorable little seal-man Ghus and his walrus pet, Friendo (I had to write all them out because it's just amazing to have that assortment of characters with such amusing names), and the stage is set for what might be a big jailbreak story, another new story type for Saga Thirty-two issues in, and Staples and Vaughan are still world building like no other comic, and that's what keeps me coming back to Saga month in and month out.

This week, Dan Grote looks at the debut issue of an All-New, All-Different Marvel title...

Patsy Walker aka Hellcat #1
Story by Kate Leth
Art by Brittney L. Williams and Megan Wilson

What is it about 68 Jay Street that produces such wonderful books? She-Hulk was arguably Charles Soule’s best Marvel work, Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones have set Howard the Duck in the same Brooklyn building, and now Kate Leth and Brittney Williams have given Shulkie sidekick Hellcat her own book that may be even more fun than the other two.

Historically, Patsy Walker is something of a continuity mess. She started out the star of the company’s early teen-romance comics, then was rebranded in the 1970s as a superhero whose early, Archie-esque stories were written by her exploitative mother. She married Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, and she was written into Marvel Divas, the company’s less-than-beloved attempt to craft its own Sex and the City-style book, alongside the Black Cat, Firestar and Monica Rambeau.

Soule’s Patsy – a feisty, hard-partying, charge-ahead PI bestie to Jennifer Walters’ She-Hulk – began the character’s rehab, which makes fitting the new series’ inciting event: She-Hulk lets her go because she can’t afford a PI anymore, and Shulkie’s landlord figures out Patsy’s been living in a storage closet in the building and kicks her out (politely; they’re friends).

If you’re coming to this book from Netflix’s Jessica Jones, these are not the droids you’re looking for. Comics Patsy is, first of all, not “Trish.” She’s not a talk-radio host with a fortified apartment and funky trust issues. In fact, if this book contains any DNA from a Netflix original series, it’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, with the title character’s infectious optimism amid a sea of troubles and unwanted past publicity.

(Inserts break to let everyone quietly sing a few bars of the Kimmy Schmidt theme. Dammit!)

Patsy needs money. One would think that being the star of a long-running series of comics would open her up to royalties, but after her mother died, the rights went to her longtime frenemy, Hedy. After a run-in with a wannabe baddie Inhuman with the unfortunate nom de crime Telekinian (He can move objects with his mind, and his name is Ian), she realizes there are many down-on-their-luck Inhumans, mutants, and otherwise powered folk who need jobs, and not necessarily hero or villain work. So she pitches The Patsy Walker Agency for Heroes and Other Cool Friends What Are in Need of Work, a job-placement agency, which she’ll have to fund by working retail.

Oh, and she moves in with Ian. It’s OK, though, he reformed after she beat him up. Also, just like Kimmy and Titus!

Seriously, though, this first issue was a lot of fun. I was already a Kate Leth fan from her Adventure Time work and following her on Twitter, and artist Brittney Williams draws Patsy as an adorable go-getter ready to show Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl they didn’t invent young, female superheroes with moxie. Definitely pick it up.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 24: Batman Beyond "Out of the Past"

Batman Beyond
Season 3, Episode 5, "Out of the Past," 2000

Matt Says:

I had a hard time deciding how to wrap up the Advent Calendar this year. I knew I wasn't going to go chronologically by release, and so after some thinking I decided to end with the episode set furthest in the future. Batman Beyond was a series that followed the exploits of Terry McGinnis, a young man who an elderly Bruce Wayne took under his wing to be a new Batman. The series created a new supporting cast and many new villains, rarely going back to the classic rogues. One of the few exceptions was the series finest episode, "Out of the Past," where Talia al Ghul returns and offers Bruce the chance to reclaim his youth.

Much of the episode is pretty deep for a kids cartoon, exploring questions about aging and if its right to reclaim your youth at any cost. We watch Bruce haunted by his lost loves, by his body failing, bu his inability to save a girl from street thugs that he could have easily beaten not too long before. Bruce goes as far as giving in and using the Lazarus Pit before accepting that it's unnatural. Getting to see Bruce and terry fight side by side is one of the series highlights, accompanied by a version of the classic Batman: The Animated Series theme song, played with lots of synthesizer like we imagined music would sound in the future back in the late 90s-early 00s.

I've seen the episode so many times over the years, I don't remember if the big twist at the end of act two, the fact that [SPOILER for a fifteen year old episode] Ra's has had his mind transferred into Talia's body, really shocked me. Knowing the twist, there are tons of clues littered throughout the first half of the episode, and it's cleverly done.

And the final fun facts of this year's Advent Calendar. This episode features a brief cameo by Michael Rosenbaum, his first DC Animated work, but far from his last, as he would go on to voice Ghoul in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and have a starring role on Justice League/Justice League Unlimited as The Flash (as well as Deadshot). The episode also begins with the hilarious musical number from a Batman musical Terry brings Bruce to for his birthday. I dare you to watch the episode and not be singing, "A superstitious cowardly lot," under your breath for days. Finally, to keep up the tradition four years running of a post around the holidays featuring his work, this episode was written by the inimitable Paul Dini.

And that's it for this year's Advent Calendar. We hope you've enjoyed reading about some of our favorite episodes of these great cartoons. Have a safe and happy Christmas, for those who celebrate, and we'll be back next week with a couple posts before the New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 23: Wolverine & the X-Men "Greetings from Genosha"

Wolverine and the X-Men 
Season 1, Episode 10, "Greetings from Genosha," 2009

Matt Says:

Bet you thought I'd go for another Cyclops-centric episode, huh? Nope, for Wolverine and the X-Men I went with an episode about my second favorite X-Man, Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler is as criminally miswritten as Cyclops in so many modern stories, but this animated series got him pitch perfect: swashbuckling, fun, but still with a sort of inner sadness from being treated as an outsider because of his looks.

But this episode, where he arrives on Magneto's mutant haven of Genosha, sees Kurt in a place where he doesn't have to hide or get sidelong glances from everyone he passes. He gets a tour guide in Scarlet Witch, and gets to go to a concert with her. But when things look to good to be true, they probably are, and Kurt finds the underbelly of Magneto's order, and what's great about Kurt is he doesn't think twice: he does what's right immediately, even though it means he has to give up his burgeoning romance with Wanda and the place where he finally fits in. That nobility is one of the many reasons Nightcrawler is such a great character.

One of the best things about Wolverine and the X-Men was the vast well of characters that the series drew from. X-Men stuck to '90s characters mostly, and X-Men: Evolution didn't stray too far from its core cast. This episode, set on Genosha, allows the animators and team to go wild with mutants. Dazzler appears in her original '70s costume.'90s Acolytes Senyaka, Scanner, and Mellancamp appear. Sauron is shown in Magneto's prison. And '00s characters Mercury, Pixie, Squid Boy, and Dust (a phenomenal character animated beautifully here) all have speaking parts. And sharp-eyed viewers even get to see Wolfsbane run across screen. It's an X-Men Easter egg hunt of epic proportions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 22: Teen Titans Go! "Salty Codgers"

Teen Titans Go!
“Salty Codgers,” Season 2, Episode 8, 2014

Dan Says:

Teen Titans Go! is one of those shows my 4-year-old can watch incessantly, and I don’t mind. Its DNA contains everything from Batman: The Brave and the Bold to Ren & Stimpy, and it’s generally a silly delight.

But the episode that gets me giggling the hardest is “Salty Codgers,” in which the villain Mad Mod, who shares Austin Powers’ fashion sense, turns the Titans into old people. Except Raven, who while normally the crankiest member, delights at being surrounded by sweet-smelling “salty codger” versions of her friends.

There’s also a chase scene in which the Titans go up against 1960s-style British animation (read: Yellow Submarine and Monty Python), but somehow it gets lost in all the scenes of Raven kissing wrinkly foreheads.

Somehow, by being transformed into a senior citizen, Cyborg inherits grandchildren. “Where did the grandbabies come from?” an aged Starfire asks Raven. “Nooobody knoooows,” Raven replies, then both look to camera. For some reason, this cracks me up every time.

But, like all old people, the Titans die, leaving Raven to journey to the underworld to revive her friends, who return as incoherent zombies, pleasing the half-demon hero even more. The episode ends there, sans lesson, and it’s never mentioned again, because this isn’t the ’80s and children’s cartoons don’t end with little lessons like “Don’t play with matches” or “Don’t resurrect the dead.”

For more on Teen Titans Go!, check out this DVD review I wrote earlier this year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

That Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 21: Freakazoid "Normadeus"

“Normadeus,” Season 2, Episode 11 (series finale), 1997

How does getting sucked into cyberspace turn someone into a blue-skinned, red-longjohned Jerry Lewis analog? Who cares! It was the ’90s, no one understood computers yet, and Warner Bros. animation had built an entire cottage industry around new cartoons with old-Hollywood gags (Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, etc.).

For its come-too-soon finale after only 24 episodes, Kids WB’s Freakazoid pulled out all the stops with a huge celebrity guest: America’s No. 2 TV carpenter Norm Abram! (Kids, ask your parents, then wait patiently while they try to recall who that is because it’s been so long since This Old House was a going concern.)

Jealous of Abram’s craftsmanship and unable to duplicate it, big-brained villain the Lobe is driven mad and committed to a sanitarium in an opening sequence intended to parody the movie Amadeus. He then has his goons kidnap the master carpenter so he can build a giant wooden horn the frequency of which will destroy our hero.

To celebrate his pending victory, the Lobe invites over all the other villains from the show and holds a raffle to determine who will get to deliver the killing blow, literally, to a strung-up Freakazoid. That honor falls to Gutierrez, the Ricardo Montalban-esque villain from the very first episode. Before he can do that, however, Abram frees himself and lets Freakazoid loose with a box cutter (You won’t see that in a post-9/11 cartoon!). The two then team up to punch, kick and hurl the baddies away. Because Norm Abram apparently can do that in addition to installing a spiral staircase in your foyer.

The series ends with some safety tips from Norm and an all-cast singalong of “We’ll Meet Again,” the same song Stephen Colbert used to close out The Colbert Report. Satisfying. And ridiculous.

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/17

Batman '66 #30
Story: Lee Allred
Art: Mike Allred & Laura Allred

All good things must come to an end, alas, and this week marks the final issue of the regular Batman '66 title. But its a phenomenal way to go out. This issue, written by Lee Allred with art by his brother and sister-in-law Mike and Laura Allred, is everything you'd expect from the wonderful oddness attached to the Allred name, as the story finds a way to put all those random funky images from the opening credits from the TV show and works them into a story. The basic plot is simple: Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman have set up a convention for all of Gotham's villains. All except Riddler, who they're just sick of because he "might as well be working with Batman" giving away their crimes. So, of course, Riddler decides to send clues to the police about the location out of spite, so this might not have been the best villainous plan. Arriving at the movie studio where the convention is taking place, Batman and Robin work their way through a gauntlet of villains, with the different images from the credits representing the defeat of the villains. The Batmobile gets a remote controlled spotlight moment, and Batgirl sweeps in for a last minute save. Pretty much every villain from the series, and most of the new ones introduced in the comic, pop up in the villainous crowd scenes, and some make their first appearance, like King Cobra (who's in the opening credits but never in the show or this comic before) and (despite being unmasked the whole time), the Terrible Trio, If that weren't enough cameos, as Batman and Robin climbing the studio, they find a legitimate meeting going on, and out of the window pop... Perry White, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen right out of the classic George Reeves Superman TV series, and the final press conference also happens to have Clark Kent, Billy Batson, Jack Ryder, Vickie Vale,  Nelli Majors (a reporter from an episode of the TV show), and "Ritt Bried" since they can't use Britt Ried, the Green Hornet, without the license. It's a great send off to a fun series. This isn't the last we'll see of this universe, with Batman '66 Meets the Mn from UNCLE starting this week, and Batman '66 Meets the Avengers (the Steed and Peel ones), already announced, but for now, I'm glad this big, flashy issue is the final on.

Grampa Simpson's Unbelievable Adventures #1
Story: Max Davison
Art: Hilary Barta, Andrew Pepoy, & Art Villanueva

The Simpson comics One Shot Wonders series have produced lots of interesting and fun comics. While many have been anthologies featuring that issue's spotlight character, but others have been more experimental, such as the McBain one shot that was a comic that folded out into a poster. This issue, focusing on Abe "Grampa" Simpson, is one of those more unusual issues, as it is what us kids of the '70s and '80s know as a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, where at the bottom of each page, you get to choose what happens next by turning to one page or another. You'd think with only 22 pages to work with, that would really limit the potential, but it works exceptionally well. If you've ever watched The Simpsons, you know that Grampa has a habit of telling some... colorful stories (and by colorful I mean completely crazy and rambling), so if there's any character that works with this format, it's him. Page one has Grampa in a spaceship, and from there it just gets crazier. Depending on your choices, Grampa can fight aliens or pirates, become a jazzman, take up his professional wrestling career one more time, become a wheelman for Fat Tony, and more. It's all the fun of "Choose Your Own Adventure" with none of the logic!

Lumberjanes #21
Story: Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh
Art: Carey Pietsch & Maarta Laiho

Every issue of Lumberjanes is a collection of fun, character, and excitement; there are very few other comics on the market that pack more all ages wonder into its pages. Opening with the greatest beach volleyball scene ever in comics, and maybe in pop culture, what starts out as seemingly an easy merit badge accomplishment for April turns into a crusade when it turns out every one of the Roanoke Cabin has to succeed before any of them get the badge, and April, still stinging from last arc where her she put her own goals above her friends for a while, feels like councilor Seafarin' Karen has implied our lead aren't a good team, and she has to prove her wrong. And because this is Lumberjanes, it turns out Karen's boat has been stolen by selkies (mythological women who can turn into seals and back), and so April figures the best way to prove to Karen that they're a great team is to help Karen get her boat back. And so Roanoke Cabin split up: Jo, April, and Mal go to work out a plan with Karen, while Molly and Ripley, along with Ripley's raccoon friend Bubbles, head into the woods to find the Bear Woman, figuring they might learn some more about shape-shifters from her. The Bear Woman is her usual... pleasant self, grumping at Molly and Ripley and indicating there's a difference between what she can do and what the selkies can. Meanwhile, we learn the selkies believe Karen stole one of the seal skins that allows one of their friends to turn back into a seal, something Karen denies, and won't return the boat until they get it back. And we also learn a secret about Karen at the end of the issue I won't reveal here, but I have to say: with two weeks left in the year, Seafarin' Karen is the character find of the year for me. She's gruff, tough, has scars and wears an eyepatch, and that last page reveal? Well, read the comic, and if you've read this blog for a while, you'll know what I think is so awesome. The charm of the issue is in the determination our leads show, and how they really want to help Karen. We see lots of little character beats, like Ripley being excited to hug a seal, which shows that she is just the most innocent and wide eyed of the cast, a reminder of Mal's fear of the water, and April really trying to show her friends that she learned her lesson. I can't say enough good things about Lumberjanes; it's a comic about friendship and mythological monsters, which is a combination that works beautifully.

Pinocchio Vampire Slayer Versus the Vampire Zoo
Story: Van Jensen
Art: Dusty Higgins

It really is one of those ideas that's so perfect, you're surprised nobody thought of it before: Pinocchio, who's made of wood and whose nose grows every time he lies, is made to slay vampires. Just break off the nose and instant stake! After four graphic novels, the Pinocchio Vampire Slayer series ended last year, and I'll be honest, it's waiting for the full recommended reading treatment, because it's great. This one shot, though, is a lost chapter, based off what felt like a throw away line in one of the later volumes about a vampire gorilla. The title really says it all about this comic. Pinocchio, along with his friend Carlotta, a group of other living wooden puppets, and the blue fairy and the woodsman Cherry (this book draws from the original Carlo Collodi novel, not the bowdlerized Disney version), run across a zoo populated by vampire animals, led by a glasses wearing, intelligent gorilla; basically it's Grodd if he were a vampire, which is pretty damn terrifying. If you've never read any volume of the series before, this issue gives you a good feeling for who Pinocchio is, as well as all the commedia dell'arte influenced puppets of the Great Puppet Theater. If you're looking for a fun comic that has a lot of action and some creepy vampire animals drawn beautifully, well this is a comic that was made for you.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 20: Ultimate Spider-Man "Ultimate Deadpool"

Ultimate Spider-Man
“Ultimate Deadpool,” Season 2, Episode 16, 2013

Dan Says:

Deadpool hasn’t made a lot of appearances in Marvel cartoons over the years, mostly because he’s not the most kid-friendly character in the world. He’s violent, he kills people and, unlike, say, Wolverine, who also does those things, he more often than not has no remorse about it.

That said, DP is known for breaking the fourth wall, a trait shared by the version of Spider-Man proffered on Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man.

Cartoon Deadpool is a flashier, more heightened version of cartoon Spidey. He talks to camera, he uses video game logic and he even has a little Skottie Young version of himself who pops up for asides and gags. Actor Will Friedle (Batman Beyond, Batman: The Brave and the Bold) voices Wade as a shriller version of Drake Bell’s Peter Parker.

Are there jokes about pouches? Hell yes, there are jokes about pouches!

Within the world of the show, Deadpool is a former SHIELD trainee who decided to become a “freelance hero” (mercenary) and make lots of money “un-aliving” people. In this particular episode, he’s on the trail of Taskmaster, a previous baddie on the cartoon and someone long linked to Deadpool in the comics. Old Tasky has a file with all the dirt on every superhero who works for SHIELD, so Spidey tags along with DP on a mission to retrieve it and a missing SHIELD Agent MacGuffin who, spoilers, doesn’t actually exist.

Spidey takes issue with Deadpool’s pro-kill lifestyle, and after Taskmaster is webbed up and out of the way, the two come to blows via fantasy fight. Said fight involves the It’s a Small World ride at Disney World, giant chickens, cows with toupees and a rumination on the classic Silver Age phrase “Go soak your head,” all before Deadpool escapes via jetpack. His last words: “Ow, my butt’s burnin’.”

If you’re a fan of Deadpool-Spidey team-ups, a new series that does exactly that launches Jan. 6 from Marvel, reuniting the original Deadpool ongoing team of writer Joe Kelly and artist Ed McGuinness. In a word, squee.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 19: Spectacular Spider-Man "Growing Pains"

Spectacular Spider-Man
Season 2, Episode 6, "Growing Pains," 2009

Matt Says:

If you watch enough animation, you notice that there are certain creators who bring certain things they love to their work. And one of my favorite showrunners/writers in animation, Greg Weisman, has one that we share: Weisman loves Shakespeare. Weisman worked on Young Justice, which I already wrote about, Star Wars: Rebels, and one of my top three animated series of all time, Gargoyles, which I was tempted to include an episode of here, but tried to stick closer to comics, and I have no doubt I'll talk about Gargoyles on its own some day. Gargoyles had Shakespeare as part of its DNA, and Wesiman wound up using the works of the bard heavily in the back half of the second season of another show he produced, the criminally underrated Spectacular Spider-Man.

Spectacular Spider-Man was a Spidey in high school series, one that was deeply character focused (another hallmark of a Weisman project) and pulled deeply from the Spider-Man mythos. I'm not a big Spidey fan myself, admittedly, but this is the best interpretation of Spider-Man I've ever encountered, full of action, teen angst, and most of Spidey's big rogues (interestingly, due to his rights being connected with Daredevil, the show couldn't use Kingpin, but instead substituted Tombstone, which worked out really well). 

This episode does a great job of balancing three separate plots, two that wind together and one that stands on its own but comments on the action of the other. The two superhero plots involve Venom returning to frame Spidey for crimes he's committing; the Venom of this show is similar to the one from Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man comic, an Eddie Brock with ties to a young Peter Parker, but is less of a jerk and so his transformation into Venom and descent into hatred for Peter are more affecting. Meanwhile, John Jameson, son of J. Jonah Jameson, has returned to Earth (he's an astronaut) and found he was infected with alien spores that are increasing his strength and mass. He becomes Captain Jupiter, a superhero, but as the spores continue to affect his mind, eh grows unstable, and when Venom turns him against Spidey, it takes a lot for Peter to stop him.

The more personal plot of the episode sees the kids of the Midtown Manhattan Magnet High School auditioning for the school play. Nearly every scene change in the episode is framed by one of the supporting cast delivering a line from Shakespeare against a dark stage. And these aren't "To be or not to be" or "Out damned spot!" Weisman knows his Shakespeare and digs deep to get quotes the are appropriate to what is going on in Spidey's life; especially good are James Arnold Taylor's delivery, as Harry Osborn, of lines from 2 Henry IV, Kelly Hu as Sha Shan Nguyen with a line from Richard III, and  Grey Griffin performing a... unique take on lines from Hamlet as cheerleader Sally Avril. Kudos to showrunner Weisman and episode writer Nicole Dubuc for working the works of the Shakespeare into an animated series in a way that makes it understandable to a younger audience and enjoyable to an old hand like me.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 18: Star Wars: The Clone Wars "The Hunt for Ziro"

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 9, "The Hunt for Ziro," 2010

Matt Says:

Today, there was nothing else I planned on posting about other than Star Wars, so for the advent calendar, I felt it was time to write about a Star Wars cartoon, and one featuring the introduction into the Star Wars official canon one of the best characters to come out of the Star Wars comics: Quinlan Vos. The Quinlan of the cartoon is very different form his comic counterpart; in the comics, he is dark and haunted, but here he's a brash and jovial character. Still, he's got the same psychometric powers, still doesn't follow council orders well, and he's still Quinlan Vos, and this is a great buddy cop comedy episode.

The story send Obi-Wan and Quinlan on a mission together, to find Ziro the Hutt, a mobster who escaped Republic jail. Obi-Wan and Quin are diametrically opposed in personality; Obi-wan is calm and reserved, while Quin is always charging forward, and has no problem with who gets in the way or gets offended. This leads to some great banter between the two.

As the two hunt for Ziro, they fight swamp monsters, see Ziro's mother, who might be the biggest Hutt anywhere in Star Wars history, and wind up in a hand-to hand, semi-aerial fight with bounty hunter Cad Bane, jumping from rock spire to rock spire on the planet Teth. That final battle with Cad Bane is one of the highlights of this series for me, taking full advantage of animation. It's gorgeous to look at and allows Jedi to do things even more outrageous than what they can do in a live action film.

The episode is littered with Easter eggs. A musical number at the palace of the Hutt clans is inspired by the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The ruling council of Hutts include Hutts set to resemble Don Vito Corleone, Marlon Brando's character from The Godfather, and Edward G Robinson, legendary Hollywood gangster actor. There's even a droid that looks like one from the '80s cult film *batteries not included.

The Matt Signal (Brief and Non-Spoilery) Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I've been sitting and milling over exactly what I wanted to say about Star Wars: The Force Awakens for a while now. I went into this movie having read and seen as little as possible about it. I went in with high hopes but a nervousness that I haven't felt for a movie in a long time.

And it was good. It was very good. I enjoyed it a lot.

This is going to be a very short reviews, mostly bullet points, because I don't want to give anything away, but here are the things that jumped out at me.

-There was a good deal of intentional twinning with the events of A New Hope. Certain character beats and settings intentionally evoke strong ties to the film that started it all, but at the same time aren't so close as to be rip-offs.

-The performances ranged from OK to excellent. There was no performance that I was pained to watch. The two leads, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, were wonderful. They had great chemistry and delivered everything they were given perfectly. I loved Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron (more on him in a minute). I was hoping for a little more nuance from the villains, but at the same time this is Star Wars, and nuanced villains have never been part of the film franchise, so I'll take what I can get. It was great to see the old guard back too, but saying too much about their performances could make me slip up and spoil something, so I'll leave it at that.

-My favorite character was the aforementioned Poe Dameron, The EU gave me a taste for quick-witted pilots (Thank you Michael J. Stackpole and Aaron Allston's X-Wing series), and this guy was a Rogue or a Wraith in screen. He was tough, a great pilot, and funny! That's a character that was made for me.

-Since I haven't read any behind-the-scenes stuff yet (that's a goal for this evening), I don't know how many of the effects and sets were practical vs. CG, but everything felt much more practical than the prequels and many big-budget sci-fi movies. The world felt lived in and real, not as spic and span as CG usually looked. I also thought the two truly CG characters, Supreme Leader Snoke and Maz Kanata, were both far more realistic than any other CG character this side of Gollum. Luita Nyong'o as Maz was a great turn,

-I love Chewbacca. Man, if the new continuity does nothing else, it gave us potential for more tales of Han and Chewie being scoundrels, and that just makes me happy.

-It was funny, and the humor was drawn from character, not slapstick or poodoo jokes! There were some really funny moments, especially Poe's first meeting with Kylo Ren, and the revelation of exactly what's Finn's job was working at a First Order facility (I had to backspace over "Imperial" there twice).

I could ramble on a lot more, but I want to just leave that there, let it all sink in some more, and maybe write something longer and fuller after my second or third viewing. And there will be second and third viewings. May the Force be with you all!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 17: Marvel’s Super Hero Squad Show “Mental Organism Designed Only for Kissing”

Marvel’s Super Hero Squad Show
“Mental Organism Designed Only for Kissing,” Season 1, Episode 14, 2009

Dan Says:

As gateways for younger viewers go, Marvel’s Super Hero Squad Show, which ran on Cartoon Network from 2009-11, was a lot of fun. It pulled from a deep bench of classic Marvel characters and stories, always kept things light and, when necessary, peppered in fart jokes.

The basic premise of the show was that all the superheroes (except Spider-Man, who never appears) lived in their own city, the mayor of which was Stan Lee. Just over a heavily fortified wall was Villainville, where Dr. Doom spent all this time plotting, yelling at his henchman and generally being a real crankypants. The main hero characters are Iron Man, Wolverine, Thor, Hulk, Falcon, and Silver Surfer, replaced by Scarlet Witch in Season 2. The main villains are Doom, the Abomination, and MODOK.

In this episode, Amora the Enchantress comes to Doom claiming she can make Thor fall in love with her, thus allowing him to be turned to Doom’s devices.

When asked what Amora gets out of the deal, she flashes back to high school, when Thor was in a garage hair metal band with the Warriors Three and she had a huge crush on him. As they play, Thor demands more cowbell. That level of humor, clearly presented for the parents watching with their children, is prevalent throughout the series.

Unrequited love apparently is rampant on Asgard. Skurge the Executioner is in love with the Enchantress, who is in love with Thor, who is infatuated with the new-in-town Valkyrie.

(It should be noted that Thor offers to take Valkyrie, or Val, out for shawarma, three years before the Avengers were seen exhaustedly stuffing their faces with it on film.)

Amora’s love spell goes wrong amid a battle between goodies and baddies, leading Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers, who hadn’t yet been promoted to captain) to fall in love with MODOK. Within the world of the show, Ms. M is a high-level SHIELD agent often portrayed as being in a bad mood, and MODOK is an incompetent giant floating head with a voice like a malevolent chipmunk. A montage shows the two sharing root beer floats, running/floating through fields and making goo-goo eyes at each other against a fake Beach Boys song that’s a lot funnier than my description of it.

Their relationship makes Ms. M a liability, however, and SHIELD sends Hawkeye to take her out. The Enchantress, grossed out by what she’s done, provides him with an arrow that can break the previous spell, setting everything to rights, which is to say Ms. M comes to, beats the crap out of MODOK and throws him in jail. Roll credits.

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 14

Today’s reading: Deadpool #17, 1998
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Walter McDaniel

For about a year and a half now, Zoe Culloden has teased Wade with promises of playing a role of cosmic importance. Now that Wade’s on the Landau, Luckman & Lake payroll, it’s time to explain what that means.

At least, according to Overboss Dixon it’s time. Zoe still thinks Wade’s not ready to process what’s being requested of him. And Dixon just wants Wade to fail anyway.

Per team LL&L, an alien lifeform has been on a direct course for Earth for at least 20 years (pretty slow when you consider how many times the Shi’ar, Kree, Skrulls, Galactus, et al have popped by for visits in that span). Somehow, Wade’s involvement, as the so-called Mithras, “the light before the sun,” is supposed to allow whatever’s coming to usher in a new age of enlightenment and utopia on Earth.

To make their point, they show Wade a virtual-reality hologram of New York City circa 2002. Allegedly the city becomes a futuristic utopia or at the very least a green-hued version of New New York from Futurama, which won’t premiere on Fox for about a year from the publication of this comic. Oh, and there’s a giant statue of Deadpool.

“I guess Giuliani’s quality-of-life laws really did the trick, huh?” Wade says. Topical!

All jokes aside, DP predictably flips out and says he’s not their man.

“A guy like me isn’t even allowed to walk on the same block as Avengers Mansion,” he tells Zoe. Just give it 17 years, Wade.

Fortunately, Dixon purports to have a backup Mithras. But whoever that is may not be necessary, as Montgomery the precog shares a trio of visions with Wade that snap him out of his post-exposition freakout:

“You will close the door to the sharpest edge of your soul and open a bitter heart. The kiss of Death (capitalization mine) will mean a lease on life to a walking ghost. Finally, in the coldest circle of Hell, the devil will teach you mercy, and for a brief moment, you will believe. When these three events transpire, you will know that I can see through the veil of time, that I speak true.”

Wade responds to Monty’s vision by returning home and fulfilling the first prophecy, by sealing up the door to The Box and apologizing to Blind Al for putting her in there back in issue #13. He’s about to tell her she’s free to leave when his teleportation belt clicks on by itself and whisks him away.

Where’s he going? Well, he’s about to meet the man who’s been on his tail since issue #14. Ajax has found his best lead yet in one Dr. Emrys Killbrew. (Remember him from issues 3-5?) Turns out the two are old friends, dating to when Killbrew worked for the Weapon X program. Ajax tortures Killbrew a bunch till Dr. K – whom McDaniel draws much less like Wilford Brimley – gives up how to find Deadpool, which involves hacking the signal on his belt and, through the magic of science, bringing him to them.

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, Deadpool and Ajax have their first confrontation, and Wade meets the next most important woman in his life. This one’s real bony, though. See ya 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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 16: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero "Twenty Questions"

G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero
“Twenty Questions,” Season 1, Episode 23, 1985

Dan Says:

They didn’t have powers, but in the 1980s, when cartoons were merely vehicles to sell … well, vehicles … the men and women of America’s elite paramilitary strike force were my superheroes. Some of my earliest comics were the Larry Hama Joe books from the 1980s, and of course Hama wrote the file cards that came with the action figures.

“Twenty Questions” finds the Joes pestered by a TV news crew led by Geraldo Rivera analog Hector Ramirez, who appeared in multiple Sunbow Productions cartoons, including Transformers, Inhumanoids and, Jem and the Holograms (See, shared universes were totally a thing even then!). Ramirez’s crew includes a producer who swears Cobra is a made-up organization fabricated by the Joes to waste taxpayer dollars. For being aimed at the Y7 crowd, this episode is extremely concerned with government spending and the U.S. military’s Base Realignment and Closure program.

Duke’s off base, so the job of taking Ramirez and his crew on tour goes to Shipwreck, the snarkiest Joe. The sailor takes the news team up in a helicopter (like sailors do), only to get shot down by a surface-to-air missile over the Rockies, where it turns out Cobra is drilling underground to access a military gas-storage base.

Cobra kidnaps Shipwreck and the news team, and it turns out the producer was the Baroness in disguise, on a mission to discredit the Joes via the media. A search party including Scarlet, Gung-Ho, Spirit and Alpine finds Cobra’s cave base, everyone shoots lasers at each other and at some point the cave is flooded with laughing gas. The last two to three minutes of the cartoon is just footage of Joe, Cobra and journalist alike bent over laughing, while struggling to point out that if they don’t flee the cave, they will be crushed and killed. Six-year-old me didn’t understand what BRAC was, but he sure as heck understood that near-fatal laughing gas attacks were hilarious!

Ramirez would go on to be featured in several more episodes of the Joe cartoon and, according to writer Buzz Dixon, almost made it into a My Little Pony feature in a sequence that also would have included Optimus Prime and Shipwreck. Alas, such a wonder never came to be.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 15: Young Justice "Coldhearted"

Young Justice
“Coldhearted,” Season 1, Episode 20, 2012

Matt Says:

I knew I had to include an episode of Young Justice in my list for this year, as it is up there with JLU as one of the best superhero team animated series ever. But picking a single episode was tricky, as it is a very serialized show, one where I have a hard time picking a single episode that stands above the rest, especially when you get to the ambitious second season. This isn't the only show on this list where I ran into that problem, two more coming up had a similar issue, and one of those is another show produced by Greg Weisman. But thinking about what images stuck in my head, I was struck with Kid Flash running through the snow on a mission of life and death, and so I decided to go with "Coldhearted."

I'm a big fan of Wally West; I grew up in the 90s, and that makes Wally my Flash. He was the Flash in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, and neither of the episodes I picked for those shows had a lot of Wally, so that's another reason to choose this episode; It's a great spotlight for the character, who is still in his Kid Flash identity at this point, still Barry Allen's sidekick.

Wally's sixteenth birthday starts out perfect: big breakfast with his parents, snow day from school, surprise party from his superhero friends at Mount Justice, and when it turns out coast-to-coast snow is man made, a team up between the Justice League and the Team (what the young heroes are called as a group). But Wally's excitement is quashed pretty quickly: while the other young heroes are off to fight the flying ice fortresses, he has been given a mission to run a transplant heart from Boston to Seattle to save a little girl's life. This isn't the exciting adventure he was hoping for, and he's disappointed.

As Wally runs the heart, he begins to realize how important it is, even as he's distracted by cute doctors, food, and Vandal Savage, who's waiting along the route to get revenge on Flash, who he assumed would be running the heart. Wally fights Savage, only to realize that it's not important, that it's not his mission. Wally arrives in Seattle to find that the girl has died... or that's what he's told by a man who tries to steal the heart. The girl is Queen Perdita of Vlatava, and her uncle, the supervillain Count Vertigo, is trying to wait out the clock and let her die so he can inherit the throne. It's up to Wally to make one last ditch effort to retrieve the heart and save the girl.

What's great about the story is that not only is it an exciting and well told superhero story, interspersed with scenes of the other heroes fighting the flying ice fortresses on top of Wally's adventure, but it's a great coming of age story. In the end, Wally realizes the import of his mission, not just because he saved a country from being taken over by a supervillain, but because he saved a little girl's life. Those strong character beats are one of the highlights of Young Justice, and this episode is a perfect example of them.

Fun fact: this episode serves as a sort of sequel to a Green Arrow short that was originally released with the DC Direct-to-DVD movie Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, which introduced Queen Perdita and featured Green Arrow having to save her from one of Vertigo's earlier attempts on her life. In that short, written by Young Justice producer Greg Weisman, Green Arrow was voiced by Neal McDonough, better known as Dum-Dum Dugan in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and currently plaguing Green Arrow as Damien Darkh on Arrow.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 14: Superman "World's Finest"

Superman: The Animated Series
“World's Finest,” Season 2, Episode 16-18, 1997

Matt Says:

In the beginning, there was Batman: The Animated Series, and it was good. And when that legendary series ended, the creators went on from Fox to the WB, and there they produced Superman. A phenomenal series, it does for Superman what the other series did for Batman, distilling the essence of a legendary character and his cast down to what is essential. And with both series under their belts, fans began asking, "When is Superman going to meet Batman?" And as the WB commissioned new Batman episodes, the time was right for a three part epic that would introduce the characters to each other, "World's Finest."

Originally aired as a ninety minute movie, then broken up into three episodes of Superman, "World's Finest" has pretty much everything. It not only teams up Batman and Superman, but their two arch nemeses, Joker and Lex Luthor, and develops a rivalry between Harley Quinn and Mercy Graves, Joker and Luthor's henchwomen. Lois Lane plays an important part in the series, and the idea of pairing her with Bruce Wayne is an inspired idea; they're both driven, hard-headed characters, and while Lois and Clark are meant to be, the scenes between Lois and Bruce in the episodes are phenomenal. It's only a little weird that Lois is voiced by Dana Delaney, who also voiced  Andrea Beaumont, Bruce's lost love, in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm; I guess Bruce has a type when it comes to the voices of women he's involved with.

The story finds a great balance between Batman and Superman, never letting the one drown out the other. There are phenomenal set pieces throughout, with battles taking place in a LexCorp lab, the daily planet printing press, the harbor, and on a giant flying wing the Joker has stolen from Lex. There are thugs, robots, and super villains. It's everything you could want from the first meeting between Batman and Superman, and it set the tone for Justice League and the other big superhero shows of the DC Animated Universe for years to come.

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 12/10

Batman #47
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, & FCO Plascencia

Jim Gordon's fight with Mr. Bloom continues as the countdown to Bruce Wayne's memory returning kicks into high gear. The end of last issues looked pretty grim for Gordon, as Mr. Bloom has taken over Gordon's Bat-armor and set it against him. Jim once again proves that he's more clever than people have given him credit for, by not only having the blocker that he was prepared to use on Bloom, but another handy device or two. And when thrown through the roof by his now villain-possessed armor, Jim uses his Bat tools and his smarts to avoid a particularly gory death in an action beat that Capullo handles beautifully; it's only two pages, but it shows exactly how talented Capullo is when it comes to motion and to faces, as the smile on Gordon's is priceless. Meanwhile, the two other character plots for the previous couple issues intersect, as Duke Thomas, still trying to make his way out of the Penguin's Iceberg Casino with Penguin and his fellow freak mobsters on his tail. But when it looks like two of Penguin's men have the drop on him, it turns out that it's Bruce Wayne who has the drop on them, having figured out where Duke was going. And it's Duke who is finally the person who pushes Bruce, who tells him who he is without flat out saying it. He points out that Bruce is the best in the world at deduction, and gives him the clues he needs. And standing in front of an oncoming subway train, as Bruce sees the lights bearing down on them, just before he pushes Duke out of the way, he sees the shape of what he was. If I haven't said it before, between here, We Are Robin, and his appearances in this week's "Robin War" issues, sign me up for the official Duke Thomas should be Batman's new partner club. He is my favorite new character launching out of the Bat books in years (Sorry, Harper Row. I like you too, but Duke is awesome). Meanwhile, things aren't quite as easy for Jim as it would seem, as we learn the one thing that is more creepy than one flower masked, gangly monster villain.And I don't want to say anything about the last page, even though it's been spoiled by various articles on-line, but it FINALLY begins answering a question I've been asking since we saw Bruce up and about again in issue forty-two, one that I'm surprised no one on the context of the comic has been asking, Whether we get payoff on it next issue, or it's going to be a long term plot, well, we'll have to see, but I'm excited to see where it goes.

Harrow County #8
Story: Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook
Art: Tyler Crook and Simon Roy

The second arc of Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook's exemplary horror coming, Harrow County, comes to an end with a war of ghosts and witches. The war between the series protagonist, Emmy, and her twin sister, the wicked witch Kammi, allows both of the series creators to show their strengths. Emmy's fight through the woods from the army of "haints" that have allied with her sister is full of some of Crook's painstakingly designed monsters, with things like harpies, swamp monsters, mud monsters, along with the ghost bears and flaming skeletons that remain loyal to Emmy. The woods themselves have an air of creepiness that Crook brings out in the long shadowed dark corners and the scrubby grass, and when you add in the monsters, it is a place you would not want to go in day or night. It's also impressive to see how, with an identical protagonist and antagonist, it's never hard to tell the two apart, even when Kammi is glamoured to have the same hair and clothes as Emmy. Expressions and body language are perfectly suited to each. The final confrontation between the sisters is Bunn's shining moment, letting everything the two have been feeling for the past arc come to the surface. And the final twist, as Emmy is able to dispose of Kammi, is a terrifying moment, one that makes perfect sense in the world, and ends in a heartbreaking splash of Emmy, once again alone. And while the end of the story seems a country idyll, as the narration points out, the things are still out there, waiting, which is the cornerstone of good horror. Throw in the one page back-up written by Crook and drawn by Simon Roy, a horror tied to something any homeowner knows and fears for mundane reasons, and you have a top notch issue. Two arcs in and Harrow County is one of the best horror comics on the racks right now.

Star Wars Annual #1
Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Angel Unzueto & Paul Mounts

After Friday's post about Star Wars comics I'd like to see featured two espionage titles, I found it oddly fitting that this week's Star Wars Annual would be a story of the Rebel spy embedded in the Empire. Eneb Ray is a new character, working as a tax collector under the name Tharius Demo. I like the idea that the Rebellion is exploiting the colossal bureaucracy of the Empire to get its people in places where they can effect change, and that through taxes and tariffs they are able to impact change. But Ray isn't just a number cruncher, and he receives a mission more fitting a comic book, as he must go and liberate a group of senators who have spoken against the Empire from prison before they are executed. Ray's entrance to the prison, drawn beautifully by Angel Unzueto, is right out of Mission: Impossible or the James Bond series, with Ray diving off a pseeding transport, using magnetic gloves to stick to the side of the prison, and enter through the vents with the aid of a magnetic grapple gun. But the mission changes when Ray finds out that the Emperor himself is coming to have one last interview with the senators, and Ray decides it's time to make a play at assassinating Palpatine. Calling in all of the Rebellion's assets on Coruscant, Ray mounts what seems to be a very successful assassination of the Emperor. Too successful if you know anything about Star Wars, and I can't resist quoting everyone's favorite Mon Cal by simply pointing out, "It's a trap!" In the end, as good a spy as Ray is, he's nothing compared to the master of manipulation that is Palpatine, and things don't turn out too well for the Rebels. The issue is narrated by Ray, who thinks of himself as a man who makes the hard choices and not a hero. The journey that he makes throughout the issue is well written and is a great character arc. This is a new character who I hope gets to come back in future issues of this title, or in Darth Vader, which is written by this annual's writer, Kieron Gillen,

And Dan Grote is coming at you with two reviews this week...

Deadpool #3
Story: Gerry Duggan
Art: Mike Hawthorne, Terry Pallot, & Guru eFX.

It’s payday at Deadpool’s Mercs for Money ... or it would be if their checks hadn’t all bounced.

That means Solo can't pay alimony to his ex-wife, Terror can’t afford organ transplants from Morbius the Living Vampire, Slapstick can’t afford the prostitutes he pays to pretend to be his family, and Foolkiller can’t afford more guns.

Meanwhile, original-recipe Deadpool is being interrogated by the police about the killing of the zoning commissioner in issue 1. Turns out the cops don’t think he did it, even though whoever did left loud evidence to the contrary. As part of a crazy-like-a-fox plan, Wade has the cops formally arrest him. While being transported to jail, his bus is attacked by the fake DP who’s been causing all the trouble. The two fight, and we get a brief glimpse under the mask. Whoever’s under there has jaundiced, scaly skin and black eyes.

(Hey, you guys remember Slayback? Just a thought.)

Fake DP gets away, but he leaves Wade a present – a well-beaten, possibly actually still alive Scott Adsit, last seen stabbed in issue 2.

Now for the two Deadpools we haven’t talked about yet. Turns out Stingray has been working as a mole for Steve Rogers, Wade’s Uncanny Avengers boss. Stingray has some concerns about fellow faux-Pool Madcap, who apparently wasn’t so much invited to join DP’s M4M as he just showed up one day. And so the two go to confront him.

Madcap’s hotel room, in a word, is great. A bubble machine blows nonstop, and there are lava lamps and welcome mats everywhere. Told to straighten up and fly right, Madcap boops Stingray on the nose and tried to do the same to Old Man Rogers, who grabs his finger and threatens to do World War II things to him. In response, Madcap cuts off his own finger and jumps out a window. “He needs to go,” Rogers declares. I disagree.

Last week I declared Doctor Strange my favorite of the All-New, All-Different Marvel titles so far. That ranking holds, but Deadpool is a close second. The book has taken such a sharp turn from the previous volume, with a nearly entirely new supporting cast, yet still feels solid. The creative team clearly has a plan for each of the Mercs for Money and refuses to allow them to become one bland mass of red-and-black-clad lunatic killers. A-game stuff.

Gwenpool Holiday Special
Stories: Charles Soule (She-Hulk), Margaret Stohl (Ms. Marvel), Gerry Duggan (Hawkeye & Deadpool), and Christopher Hastings (Gwenpool)
Art: Langdon Foss (She-Hulk), Juan Gedeon (Ms. Marvel), Danilo S. Beyruth (Hawkeye & Deadpool), and Gurihiru (Gwenpool)

What if I told you there was a place where all your favorite canceled but beloved Marvel series characters gathered in one place to warm your heart and make you smile?

What if I told you Deadpool was there, too? And his alternate-Earth Gwen Stacy counterpart that started life as a variant-cover gimmick?

Welcome to Marvel’s 2015 holiday special, billed as a Gwenpool one-shot but actually mostly a She-Hulk story reuniting the Atomic Age attorney with writer Charles Soule.

A holiday happening at the Brooklyn building that houses Shulkie’s law office (and Howard the Duck’s PI agency) acts as the framing device for the book, as Jen and the gang party the night away to ward off insectlike Realtors who use magic to convince people to give up on their dreams and turn over their property so it can be flipped at higher values. In other words, Charles Soule wrote a Charles Soule She-Hulk story, you guys!

A series of interludes shows other heroes making their way to Jen’s party, stopping only to bust a skull or two.

In the first one, Ms. Marvel battles her conflicted feelings about the holidays as a practicing Muslim, a Secret Santa exchange with her platonic-but-not-really bestie Bruno and a store-robbing Santa. Though not handled by her normal creative team, Kamala is as delightful as ever, even when she’s being a Christmas crank. (Even her brother, the most devout Muslim in her family, can find the joy in Rudolph.) After toppling bad Santa, K exchanges gifts with her mentor, Captain Marvel, and the two head off to She-Hulk’s place.

Next up, fellow Avengers Deadpool and Hawkeye (Clint Barton) team up to catch a pickpocket who stole money from Simone, one of the residents of Clint’s apartment building from the Fraction/Aja series. Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) catches the crook, who says he was just trying to get money to buy presents for his son. Wade opens his heart and his wallet, and the three deliver the boy gifts before whisking his dad off to the police. Then it’s off to Jen’s party … and just as quickly away from it, as she has a strict no-Deadpool policy.

Finally, we come to Gwenpool, who combines all the cutesiness of a superconfident fictional teenage girl with the murderiness and colored speech balloons of Deadpool. Gwen is hired to take out a sword-swinging snake-man who looks like the genie from Aladdin, requiring her to watch hours of sword-training videos on YouTube till she gives up and decides to just blow him up with a bomb. Because she’s been a supporting player in Howard the Duck, she too ends up at She-Hulk’s party, where she bonds with Ms. Marvel over karaoke, but not so much over murdering dudes.

Quick shoutout to Langdon Foss, who drew the She-Hulk bits. His splash pages are like a superhero Where’s Waldo, with many more Marvel characters drawn into them than I’ve mentioned.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 13: "Pryde of the X-Men"

“Pryde of the X-Men”
X-Men cartoon pilot, 1989

Dan Says:

Seems hard to fathom today, but Marvel tried twice in the 1980s to launch an X-Men cartoon but couldn’t get past a pilot (or a backdoor pilot, in the case of the “X-Men Adventure” episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends).

“Pryde of the X-Men” featured a classic team lineup – Professor X, Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Dazzler, Kitty Pryde – and went on to inspire a 1992 arcade game memorable for its great multiplayer action and bad English dubbing (“X-chickens, welcome to die!”).

In the cartoon, Magneto is freed from a military prison by the White Queen and leads the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – Juggernaut, Pyro, Blob and Toad – on a mission to steal the magical orb that powers Cerebro so he can enhance his powers and take control of a comet hurtling toward Earth because magnets.

The animation style is reminiscent of G.I. Joe, my favorite cartoon from that decade. And for a 20-minute+ pilot, there are some pretty spot-on X-moments. Kitty, the POV character, is afraid of Nightcrawler at first because of his demonic appearance, but she comes to adore the fuzzy elf fairly quickly. Magneto is his classic Silver Age self, right down to verbally abusing Toad. One could even argue that, while underused, the “Pryde” version of Storm is superior to her ’90s cartoon counterpart, in that she doesn’t make a histrionic speech every time she uses her powers. No one’s gonna meet this goddess AT THE MONORAAAAAAAIIIL!!!!

Is it a perfect toon? Oh, heavens, no. There’s plenty to nitpick, which I won’t do here, but it’d be weird if we didn’t point out that Wolverine, whose Canadian-ness is essential to his character, is voiced with an Australian accent. He even calls Toad a dingo at one point. I might appreciate this more if, through some sort of script mix-up, Pyro, who is actually Australian, had been voiced with a Canadian accent. “Ooh, soory I singed you there, eh? Put a Molson on that, it’ll cool right off.”

Financial troubles allegedly kept this version of X-Men from becoming a series, but just three years later, we got what was for many the definitive X-Men cartoon. “Pryde of the X-Men,” however, was nothing if not valiant in the attempt.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 12: Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends "The X-Men Adventure"

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
“The X-Men Adventure,” Season 3, Episode 7, 1983

Dan Says:

This one’s pretty silly, so I’m including it mainly for nostalgic purposes.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, which ran from 1981 to 1983 Saturday mornings on NBC, was an odd mix of pulling characters from all over the Marvel Universe and making stuff up as it went along. “The X-Men Adventure” is the perfect example of that.

For starters, Spidey’s Amazing Friends, Iceman and Firestar, were graduates of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, but Firestar – whom we now know as a former New Warrior, Avenger and X-Man – was created for the TV show and for some reason in her civilian identity looked exactly like a more conservatively dressed Mary Jane.

The X-Men, for the purposes of this episode, are Professor X, Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Sprite aka Kitty Pryde and … Thunderbird. You know, the X-Man who died on his first mission? Oh, and he can transform into a grizzly bear apparently.

Notice anyone missing? Someone with adamantium claws, berserker rage and a penchant for cigars and samurai swords?

In this episode, Spidey and his pals visit the X-Mansion and play around in the Danger Room. Until the mansion is invaded by that classic X-Man villain Cyberiad, who only ever appears in this single cartoon.

Cyberiad is half-man, half-machine, literally, right down the middle of his body. At one point, he gets into an actual fight with himself. In a past life, he was a noted physicist, and apparently he and Firestar used to date.

Firestar is a college student.

Cyberiad tricks and traps the X-Men one by one, then creates holograms of the kidnapped mutants to trick the other members of the team. Why not just use Arcade? Good question, I’ve no idea. Eventually, the X-Men corner Cyberiad, and Firestar kills him with a radiation blast.

Kills him. On a Saturday morning cartoon meant for younger viewers.

It sounds like I picked this episode just to mock it, but fun fact: Legend has it “The X-Men Adventure” was supposed to be a backdoor pilot for an actual X-Men cartoon. Obviously, that did not pan out, but eventually we got “Pryde of the X-Men,” and not long after that we got the ’90s X-Men cartoon we all know and love. So let’s respect this episode for the wacky cartoon forefather that it is.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 11: Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes "To Steal an Ant-Man"

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
“To Steal an Ant-Man,” Season 2, Episode 5, 2012

Dan Says:

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was great for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the way it adapted classic stories. Among the best examples is this animated take on 1979’s Marvel Premiere #47, in which Scott Lang assumes the Ant-Man identity from Hank Pym.

The Ant-Man movie goes back to this same adaptation well, with more than a few changes and a wider audience, to be sure, but EMH did it first and best. There’s a great montage in which Lang shrinks for the first time and discovers what Pym’s tech can do, narrated over by Pym, that serves as an example of how exposition can work without feeling forced.

As EMH episodes go, it’s a quieter, self-contained one. Such episodes became more common in Season 2, after the first year rolled out everyone from Loki to Kang to Ultron. Pym, racked with guilt over having created a killer robot dedicated to wiping out all humans, has given up superheroing and is in the process of moving out of the Avengers’ mansion.

While packing, he catches a news report showing someone using his shrinking technology to commit bank robberies: Lang. Rather than go to the Avengers, given his current feelings about the team, he hires Marvel’s best best friends, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, to track down the culprit. No disrespect to Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man, but I much prefer seeing the animated adult Cage and Fist banter over their teenage USM counterparts.

When Lang is uncovered by the Heroes for Hire, he launches into the familiar story about how he’s forced to steal to save his daughter, Cassie. In the end, Pym, Lang, Cage and Fist take down Darren Cross – more generic crime boss than generic corrupt industrialist in this iteration – and his goons, and Pym lets Lang keep the Ant-Man gear, providing the alibi that Lang was on an undercover operation for the Avengers.

And Cage gets off the last line: “Yo, Pym, where should I send our bill?” It’s no “Where’s my money, honey?” but it works in a pinch.