Friday, May 29, 2015

The Greatest Bat-Mite Stories Ever Told... Yup, You Read That Right. BAT-MITE

Yes, Bat-Mite. Bat-Mite is one of the most reviled characters in comics from certain corners on the comic book internet, a character some view as an embodiment of everything that was wrong with a certain era of Batman stories. For those of you unfamiliar with Bat-Mite, he was introduced in Detective Comics #267, at the end of the 50s and in the height of Batman's crazy sci-fi period. An imp from another dimension, he was Batman's self-described number one fan, and if you've ever seen Misery, you know it's never good when someone says they're your number one fan. Basically, he was to Batman what Mr. Mxyzptlk was to Superman, only with less malice and more fan worship; he always tried to help Batman, but wound up getting in the way far more often than he helped. He was goofy, and the stories that surrounded him were just as goofy.

But after the 50s and early 60s, Bat-Mite vanished for quite some time, as opposed to Mxyzptlk, who continued to appear continually. I think Mxyzptlk did better in fan's eyes for a couple reasons. Superman, while made tonally less crazy than those 50s stories, Superman's stories were always lighter, so Mxy would work better. Also, Mxy was never brought in as a sidekick, as Bat-Mite was on the ill-conceived 1977 New Adventures of Batman, where Bat-Mite appeared every episode like the Great Gazoo in the room. And if O'Neil & Adams didn't kill the silliness that let Bat-Mite exist, Frank Miller and the Post-Crisis DCU certainly did.

But recent years have been kinder to Bat-Mite. A more accepting comic book audience has allowed the little guy to pop up occasionally, despite all the fans who only like their grim and gritty Batman moaning,. Grant Morrison did a service to Bat-Mite by including him in his run (more on that later). And while New Adventures of Batman nearly destroyed Bat-Mite, another animated series pretty much raised him from the dead. This coming Wednesday sees the debut of a Bat-Mite mini-series as part of the DCYou initiative, so I thought it might be fun to revisit some great Bat-Mite stories before the new series starts.

Batwoman's Publicity Agent (Batman #133)

I'm not as familiar with the Silver Age Bat-Mite stories as I probably should be, but they haven't been the most reprinted Batman stories. This is a story I read somewhere, and it stuck in my head because it's just so fun. Bat-Mite decides to help Batwoman as her partner, but falls in love with her and creates hijinks to help her beat Batman to some criminals, including shrinking everyone down to tiny size. He also gets help from Ace the Bathound, another Silver Age character who has gotten a renaissance in recent years. Between Bat-Mite, the Kathy Kane Batwoman, and Ace, this might be the most Batman Family inclusive story on the early 60s, and is tremendous fun. Written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger, it has a strong pedigree behind it, and is probably the best example of Silver Age Bat-Mite.

Bat-Mite's New York Adventure (Detective Comics #482)

This was the first Bat-Mite story I ever read, as it was included in the late 80s Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told trade, a book I read nearly to pieces when I first started reading comics. In a very meta story before meta was a big thing in comics, Bat-Mite appears in the DC offices and demands his own feature. It's a fun story, with Bat-Mite causing all sorts of chaos. While Marvel was well known for writing and drawing the Bullpen into comics, DC used the device more sparingly, and so that, plus the fact that it was a rare late 70s/early 80s appearance of Bat-Mite and the excellent Michael Golden art, make it stand out.

Legends of the Dark Mite (Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #38)

Not to be confused with the cartoon to be discussed later, this comic is technically the first post-Crisis appearance of Bat-Mite. It's not as light a story as the previous ones, but is not less trippy. Drugged out criminal Bob Overdog encounters Bat-Mite in this issue, and is brought to Bat-Mite's dimension, populated entirely by imps who play at being super-heroes. It's a twisty story, and it's not one hundred percent clear if it's real or in Overdog's head. It was followed up by a prestige format one-shot, Mitefall, that was a send up on the "Knightfall" storyline with Batman replaced by Bat-Mite, and Overdog in the Azrael roll. Not necessarily canon, but Alan Grant has a ton of fun, and Kevin O'Neill's art gives the books a truly unusual feel.

Superman and Batman: World's Funnest

The fact that this one-shot is out of print and uncollected is a complete travesty. Not only is it so delirious, insane, and funny that every fan of DC Comics should read it, but it has one of the best collections of artists I can remember in a jam comic. While Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk had met in the Silver Age, this modern age Elseworlds story written by Eltingville Club and Milk & Cheese mastermind Evan Dorkin takes their rivalry to a new level. Basically, Bat-Mite and Mxyzptlk rampage across the multiverse, with Mxy trying to destroy Bat-Mite, and basically destroying every world they encounter. In itself, this sounds like one of those fun concepts that would make for a decent comic, but nothing memorable. But when you add in Dorkin's biting commentary about the way comics take themselves so seriously (but still done with a love of comics as a medium), you get a truly hilarious comic. As for the art, a few of the absolute murderers row of artists include Bruce Timm drawing the DC Animated Universe, Alex Ross drawing the Kingdom Come universe, Ty Templeton on a whole myriad of worlds, and Frank Miller on the Dark Knight Returns universe, along with a group of other A-List artists hitting a bunch of other realities. It's one of the best Elseworlds ever, and true lost gem.

Batman R.I.P. (Batman #676-681)

There are so many resources on-line for Grant Morrison's mind-bending and elaborate Batman run of the 2000s-10s that I haven't written a ton about it outside of reviews. But if you're unfamiliar, Grant Morrison basically said that every batman story ever happened, even those weird ones, although he re-imagined them under a more modern light. And when Batman is attacked psychologically, he begins to see Bat-Mite. It turns out this Bat-Mite is a figment of Batman's imagination, part of the programming Batman put into his own head to counter and attack like this. When Batman talks to Bat-Mite about coming from his imagination, though, Bat-Mite replies that imagination IS the fifth dimension, which is such a Morrisonian concept that it works really well in context.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold

While these other appearances might have kept Bat-Mite alive in the consciousness and not one of the many completely forgotten characters of the Silver Age, I think his new series owes its existence to the use of the character in the animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Voiced to perfection by the hilarious Paul Reubens (best known as Pee-Wee Herman), this Bat-Mite is played straight as the ultimate fan boy. He's wacky, don't get me wrong, but in between his fourth wall breaking and causing of insane situations, the creators use him to make commentary on fandom in general. It works really well in the context of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, a show that mixes some modern seriousness with the zaniness of the Silver Age.

The first Bat-Mite appearance is entitled "Legends of the Dark Mite" and is basically a Bat-Mite/Batman team up. We get views of different comic book versions of Batman, we see a convention with Paul Dini and Bruce Timm in the audience, and mutant bunnies. It shows everything that is great about B:TB&TB, mixing action, comedy, a love of Batman's history, and a decent lesson (even if Bat-Mite doesn't  really take it to heart).

"Emperor Joker" is loosely based on the Superman story of the same title, only in this case Joker tricks Bat-Mite into giving his powers to Joker instead of Mxyzptlk. This episode features a Joker musical number, the first appearance of Joker-Mite, and the first B:TB&TB appearance of Harley Quinn, who's a black-and-white twenties era flapper in this world. The thing about this episode that impresses me is there's a real serious tone to a lot of the Batman/Joker interaction, and while Bite-Mite is still allowed to be some comic relief, the show balances that with the other plot. It's very smart writing.

While Bat-Mite also narrates "Bat-Mite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases" that episode doesn't really have much Bat-Mite in action. The last major appearance of Bat-Mite is, in fact, the final episode of the series, "Mitefall!" The episode features Bat-Mite, bored with the lighter toned B:TB&TB, deciding to get the show cancelled. It's so wonderfully written, filled with jokes about TV shows and comics and the ways they fail, and with Bat-Mite standing in for every fan who has ever complained about the show they once loved going downhill. Ambush Bug pops up to counter Bat-Mite, and we get a lot of fourth wall breaking. Aside from changing actors and adding little kids, classic examples of desperation moves to get viewers on TV shows that usually backfire, Bat-Mite also introduces a vehicle that is clearly created to be a toy, the Neon Talking Super Street Batluge (pictured below). And I will honestly admit, if they ever made that toy, I would buy it in a heartbeat. The episode ends with Batman breaking the fourth wall, and bidding his audience a fond farewell. It's not a Bat-Mite moment, but it's an excellent sign off to the show.

So, this Wednesday, if you're feeling like you want a comic out of DC that isn't full of doom and gloom, you might want to give Bat-Mite a try. You can check out an eight page preview here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Animated Discussions: Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts

I try to get these animation reviews up promptly within a couple days of release, but the past couple weeks have been busy, and so I didn't even get to watch the first movie in the all-ages Batman Unlimited line until Monday, two weeks after it's release. But I decided I wanted to write this review anyway because I was really impressed by the movie and figured many people might have passed on it, since it was clearly aimed at younger audiences and is part of a program to push a new toy line.

I won't deny that you can see the influence of the toy line in the movie. Batman wears a huge variety of different costume variants that are just there begging to be made into action figures, and robot animals that turned into vehicles, which would have been a dream toy for me if I was eight.  Each of the heroes and villains are slightly redesigned to make for a unique action figure of their own. But most of the designs work, they have a very dynamic look to them. I was especially pleased to see Green Arrow in his goatee look; while I have no problem with the Arrow based look, that Neal Adams vibe is a classic. I was less enamored with Flash's redesign (there's something about the way the lightning bolt ears attached to the cowl that seemed off), but it wasn't offensive and still carried the Flash spirit, so I could understand it.

One of the things that jumped out at me from the first moment of the movie was how indebted it was to previous animated Batman, and that the creators were going to run with that. The Gotham of Batman Unlimited is much more sci-fi than the classic Burton Batman movies/Batman: The Animated Series art deco look, or the grotty urban feel of the Nolan movies. The opening scene has a flying police car, which clearly drew its design inspiration from Batman Beyond, and the flying costume Batman is wearing in that opening scene is black and red in a color homage to that particular series. It was a nice touch that was there for Batman animation geeks like me to smile over, and I always appreciate those extra little touches.

The plot of the movie is pretty straightforward. A group of animal themed villains calling itself the Ani-militia, consisting of Silverback, Cheetah, Killer Croc, and Man-Bat, and aided by robotic animals, are pulling heists in Gotham, and Batman and his allies, including Nightwing, Red Robin, Green Arrow, and Flash, are trying to stop them. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot is opening the tallest building in Gotham, and there is talk that the Midas Heart Comet, a comet that's core is made entirely of gold, will be passing over Gotham in a few days. If you know anything about Batman, you know who Cobblepot is (spoilers if you've never read a Batman comic, seen Batman '66Batman Returns, or Gotham, or seen a Batman cartoon before: he's arch-villain The Penguin), and his scheme and involvement with the other villains isn't hard to figure out.

The nice thing is that while the plot is simple, it doesn't talk down to the audience. In the same way Batman: The Brave and the Bold was an all ages show that adults could enjoy, this movie works the same way. The nice rapport between Batman and Green Arrow, not the competitive one of B:TB&TB, but more the one of old comrades, Nightwing's frustration with the A.D.D./act first/ think later Flash (one who I have to assume is Wally West, since his personality is much closer to Wally than to Barry Allen, although we never see him unmasked), and Red Robin's attitude as a still in training hero are all solid character beats that keep those of us who are looking for more than just Batman fighting robots engaged, although the robot fighting is pretty great too.

There's also a nice character arc for Kirk Langstrom, the villain known as Man-Bat, a sort of werebat creature. Langstrom is mild-mannered scientist who, like all good comic book scientists, experimented on himself and his experiment went wrong. When Batman figures this out and works up a temporary cure, we see Langstrom is haunted by what he does as Man-Bat and does his best to make reparations while he's still human, and makes a connection with Red Robin. In the end, Red Robin is able to get through to Langstrom in Man-Bat form and we get a nice little redemptive thing with him at the end of the movie. It's not something you'd do in one of those old cartoons that were big toy ads, and I like that we get that kind of character depth.

The voice cast is an excellent line up of established voice actors. Roger Craig Smith voices Batman, reprising a role he played in Arkham Origins, and he's clearly influenced by Kevin Conroy's seminal performance. Will Friedle, best known as Terry McGinnis/Batman in Batman Beyond, does a great job as Nightwing. Yuri Lowenthal, who has spent years as Ben 10 on various incarnations of that franchise, brings his youthful exuberance to Red Robin. Another interesting return to a character is Alastair Duncan, voicing Alfred, a part he voiced in The Batman, the series that aired between Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and is often forgotten these days. And on the villain front, Dana Snyder (Master Shake on Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Alchemist on The Venture Bros. to name a couple credits) does an exceptional job as the Penguin, giving him not just the haughtiness, but a touch of humanity as he deals with the way the people of Gotham look at him.

For one of these younger audience directed animated movies, I was pleased to see a couple solid special features. There's a short documentary on The Penguin, talking to the movie's screenwriter Heath Corson, TV comic writer Adam Glass, and one of Glass's children. about the Penguin's personality and history. It's not as in depth as the ones you get on the DC Animated line, but it hits on a lot of the important character points, and I like that they discuss the Penguin as a victim of bullying who turned on his bullies, something that comes up in the movie. There's also a selection of DC Nation animated shorts, the ones that used to air in and around Young Justice and Green Lantern. Not surprising with the animal theme of the movie, these are mostly the DC Superpets shorts based on the style of Tiny Titans artists Art Baltazar and Franco, and are adorable. There's also a Justice League of Animals short where Batmongoose encounters his nemeses The Croaker, Catcat, and Moo Face, and Wonder Wombat teaches us an important lesson about wombat's dietary needs. But the highlight is the three part Batman of Shanghai, a gorgeous anime influenced three part caper involving a Batman, Catwoman, and Bane redesigned to be set in 1930s Shanghai. Hey, Warner Home Video, any chance we cold get a DVD that's just a massive anthology of all the DC Nation shorts? There were a lot of really amazing ones, and I'd love to see them again.

A couple of final random thoughts. I would have liked to see a little more diversity in the team of heroes. It's clear that there was a, "strike while the iron is hot," idea by having Batman and his usual allies team up with the leads of DC's two big hit TV series, but I would have liked to see Black Canary thrown in there too. That's a minor quibble in an all around fun movie. Oh, and the robo-wolf that Batman is able to reprogram to work with him (and turn into a motorcycle)? He names him Ace. Don't get the reference. Look up Ace the Bathound when you have a second. It'll be worth your time.

There has been no further movies in the Batman Unlimited brand announced yet, buy from this one, hopefully there will be. There's enough room on the DVD racks for both these all ages adventure movies and the darker Batman Vs. Robin style movies. I'd be curious to see what other characters would look like with these new designs. It's nice to see that, as I've said before, there are a lot of people with a lot of different versions of Batman, and this one is a pleasant surprise that you can enjoy with your kids.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Reasons You Should Care about … MODOK

He’s a giant head in a chair with tiny, dangly arms and legs and psychic powers, in a design that could have only been created by Jack Kirby, and he’s about to kill a lot of people.

Among this week’s new Secret Wars tie-in series is MODOK: Assassin by Chris Yost and Amilcar Pinna, in which the titular Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing will prove why he’s the top assassin in the Battleworld domain of Killville. This comes after a turn running with SHIELD agents in the most recent Secret Avengers series.

“For a guy who was designed only for killing, who has he really killed?” Yost asked CBR.

Here’s the skinny on old fathead, a Lee/Kirby joint who first appeared in 1967’s Tales of Suspense 93:

1) He was once a maaaaan. A MAAAAAN: MODOK started out as an AIM scientist named George Tarleton. The scienterrorists mutated Tarleton into a living computer so they could better understand the Cosmic Cube (or Tesseract, for those more familiar with the Marvel movies). Their Mental Organism Designed Only for Computing turns on his masters, becoming a Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.

2) He gave the world Deathbird: During an arc in the original 1978 Ms. Marvel series, MODOK hires an assassin named Deathbird to take out Carol Danvers. Writer Chris Claremont would later port Deathbird into his most well-known title, Uncanny X-Men, making her the Shi’ar empress Lilandra’s power-mad sister. MODOK would also have a hand in the creation of the Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk, aka Gen. Thunderbolt Ross and his daughter, Betty.

3) He’s died: Dissatisfied with their homicidal supercomputer, AIM had the Serpent Society take MODOK out. A rogue AIM scientist played Weekend at Bernie’s with MODOK’s body for a time, but the body was destroyed in a fuel explosion amid a fight with Iron Man. AIM later resurrected MODOK when it needed help constructing another Cosmic Cube. And during the “World War Hulks” storyline, Amadeus Cho, given the power to warp reality within a small radius of himself, reverted MODOK back to his original, human form.

4) There are many kinds of MODOKs:

a.       For starters, there’s Ms. MODOK, a scientist MODOK turned into the female version of himself until she convinced him to transform her back.
b.      A second female MODOK was believed to be patterned after Hank Pym’s first wife and was originally named SODAM (Specialized Organism Designed for Aggressive Maneuvers) but was later renamed MODAM (Mental Organism etc.)
c.       There’s the cluster of cloned MODOK brains acting as one sentient supercomputer, one of which crowned itself MODOK Superior and surrounded himself with smaller pawn versions of himself.
d.      A Mobile Organism Designed Only for Talking appeared in a Howard the Duck series.
e.      A splinter cell of AIM created the Mobile Organism Designed Only for Genocide, which Iron Man dispatched handily during Matt Fraction’s run on the hero.
f.        For the kids, there’s the Mental Organism Designed Only for Conquest that appeared in Marvel Adventures: The Avengers.
g.       An Ultimate Universe version of MODOK lived inside the head of a cyborg version of Captain America villain Dr. Faustus.
h.      The brilliant and hysterical Warren Ellis series Nextwave: Agents of HATE features an infant MODOK that was the product of lovemaking between MODOK and MODAM, so pleasant dreams with that mental image. The series also featured four versions of MODOK patterned after Elvis Presley.
i.         The Marvel/DC mashup Amalgam Comics combined MODOK with Green Lantern villain Hector Hammond, another big-headed foe, to create HECTOR, the Highly Evolved Creature Totally Oriented on Revenge.
j.        The Mental Organism Designed Only for Roller Derby, or MODORD, appears in a Dazzler story from 2011 that is now my life’s mission to track down.

5) He’s played the good guy. MODOK has, in the past, cooperated with the government if it allowed him to retake control of AIM or get revenge on his enemies. A cluster of MODOKs also saved Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) from being disincorporated, and MODOK was on the team of Ales Kot and Michael Walsh’s just-wrapped arc of Secret Avengers, alongside Nick Fury Jr., Maria Hill, Phil Coulson, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman.

Read this: The most recent volume of Secret Avengers by Kot and Walsh (issues 1-15). For a MODOK-led heist caper, check out 2007’s five-issue Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK’s 11, by Fred Van Lente and Francis Portella.

Watch that: Marvel’s kid-tested, father-approved Super Hero Squad show, which ran from 2009 to 2011 and featured MODOK (the K is for Kicking butt) as one of the main henchmen of Doctor Doom. Specifically, watch the episode “Mental Organism Designed Only for Kisses,” in which, through botched sorcery by the Enchantress, MODOK and Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) fall in love and make googly eyes at each other through a montage set to fake ’60s pop music. It’s pretty great. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/20 & Greetings from Battleworld

Convergence: Justice League of America #2
Story: Fabian Nicieza
Art: ChrisCross

The highlight of Convergence for me, and I think for most, has been revisiting old characters that have been changed tremendously or forgotten in the most recent DC reboot.While the Justice League Detroit was a little before my time, this series is narrated by Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny. They are my favorite married couple in comics history, and it's great to see them back. This issue, with the drastically underpowered Justice League facing down the Secret Six of the Tangent Universe (a favorite alternate reality from DC history), a group comprising the most powerful superbeings of its world, is a classic underdog story. With Ralph leading the inexperienced team while it's most powerful members have already been taken out, we get to see characters like Vibe and Vixen using their powers as best they can and fighting with guts and smarts. Superhero comics are at their best when the heroes don't just use their brawn, but their brains and hearts to deal with their problems, and Ralph Dibny has always has always been a character who relies on brains over brawn. We also see Sue working with the GCPD to free the trapped members of the League, and we get the sense that they are true partners. Fabian Nicieza shows he understands all these characters and liked them, giving them a story that allows the B-list to shine. With versions of two of these characters currently appearing or set to appear in the DC TV universe (the new Vibe on Flash and Vixen on her own animated web series), it makes sense to give them a spotlight where they aren't being used as a punchline. And now that Convergence is wrapping up, it would be nice to see some of these characters pop up again in the prime DC Universe; I'd love to see the Dibnys show up in Flash comics again, for instance.

Ghosted #20
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Goran Sudzuka and Laci

Sometimes the end of a series creeps up on you. I probably should have realized that after the last issue ended with the death of series protagonist Jackson Winters that this would be the final issue of Ghosted, but I didn't until I reached the very end of the issue. And it was a pleasant surprise in its way, since it was a great send off to the title. The issue opens with original series artist Goran Sudzuka returning to draw the confrontation that has been brewing since the series began: Jackson Winters meets Death. And Jackson takes about as much crap from the Grim Reaper as he took from anyone else in the series. He's glib, sarcastic, and we finally get to understand exactly what Death's fascination with the thief is. And after that winds down, we slip back into the land of the dead from the past few issues, where the confrontation between Jackson's friends and his nemesis, Schrecken, has reached it's conclusion. But leave it to Jackson to steal the scene in the end, popping up as Death's newest employee and turning the tables on Schrecken, who gets his wish of eternal life, but not in the way that he was hoping for. Ghosted has played on a lot of classic horror story and movie cliches in its run, so ending on a classic Twilight Zone/ Monkey's Paw note seems appropriate for the villain. And the series last page, focused on Nina, the young woman Jackson saved and would up being his protege of sorts over the last half of the series, shows that while Jackson might be gone, he's not forgotten. With two other series coming out from Image regularly (Birthright and Nailbiter), it's not like I'll be wanting for Joshua Williamson, but Ghosted was an exciting supernatural caper comic, combining two of my favorite genres, one with great characters. If you never picked it up, well, there are four trades out with a fifth on the way. What are you waiting for?

Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #3
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: J. Bone

It would have been easy to translate the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast over to comic form and just make it a wacky humor comic. But series creators Acker & Blacker instead fully embraced the medium, giving us a story that wouldn't work as well in the radio format. This issue of Sparks Nevada features an extended fight scene between Sparks and bounty hunter Orna Peganu on top of a space stage coach. While we could have easily heard the witty repartee over the radio (including Sparks discussing how that whole we only use ten percent of our brain thing is hogwash), and it would have been delightful. But since we have the full visual medium, it allows artist J. Bone to really go to town, drawing a great background in the lava fields of Mars, and creating an excellent alien design for Orna. The main story also ties into the flashbacks we've been seeing, with a character other than Sparks now showing up in both. I also love the parallels drawn between Sparks and James T. Kirk in those flashbacks, and I'm curious to see how Sparks's no-win situation turns out next issue. We also get to see more of Croach the Tracker interacting with the Johnsons; it's interesting to see how different Croach was in these stories set early in continuity versus how he appears on the show now; here he does seem to be unemotional and detached, versus how he is in the show now, where he claims to be but clearly has emotional ties. With one issue to go, we now know that someone is a deadly outlaw, and Sparks is about to come face-to-face with someone he fears (so it must have to do with intimacy, since everyone knows Sparks has intimacy issues). It's all the highlights of a Sparks Nevada story, with some great art. So, go and ride the plains of the Red Planet with everyone's favorite Martian lawman who's... from Earth.

Dan Grote now brings you the first full installment of Greetings from Battleworld, our Secret Wars feature, that will have this Tuesday spot on its own starting next week

A-Force #1
Story: Marguerite Bennett & G. Willow Wilson
Art: Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung, Laura Martin and Matt Milla

“In the vast oceans of our planet, isolated from the forbidden domains of Battleworld, there is an island. … Welcome to Arcadia. It’s pretty tight.”

Yeah, it is.

The domain of A-Force, the all-female superhero team, is essentially the suburbs for superheroes. Where the main Secret Wars book gives us decapitations and God Emperor Doom casting those who oppose him into a pit of zombies, A-Force shows a peaceful fiefdom where the Cage family can go for a stroll without fear of attack by the Wrecking Crew, where even the female-form Loki of J. Michael Straczynski’s Thor run is a force for good.

Until a prehistoric shark attacks the island.

A-Force promptly kicks the megalodon’s butt and, in a continued effort to shame the movie Man of Steel, prioritizes civilian safety as much as they do punching a sea-kaiju. (If you haven’t read Michael Calia’s Wall Street Journal piece on civilian casualties in superhero movies, click that last link. We’ll be here when you get back.)

These are some of Marvel’s greatest heroines as their best selves. Why else would we get Dazzler in her disco jumper and roller skates or Carol Danvers in her Captain Marvel outfit or Jubilee back in the yellow trenchcoat and pink shades, fireworks shooting out her fingers on the cover? And artist Jorge Molina draws each and every one of these women as beautiful and powerful as they are, as they should be.

But in defeating a thing that shouldn’t be, A-Force runs afoul of Doom’s laws, requiring one of their own to be thrown to the zombies and leading some team members to question the leadership of She-Hulk, who is one of Doom’s barons.

The book ends with She-Hulk asking Namor and his kin to investigate the appearance of the megalodon and the arrival of a new character, Singularity, who was teased in images soliciting the series, including the cover of the first issue.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I have lots of questions. The following are not meant to be taken as criticisms of the book or its creators, but as things I don’t yet understand about Secret Wars as a whole:

A-Force works out of the Hall of Justice. Is that really not trademarked?

Was flight always part of Dazzler’s skill set? Either way, she’s fabulous.

A-Force features a Meggan who is not pregnant, as opposed to the one shown in Secret Wars #2 whom Baron Sinister kept calling a cow. Is this meant to be the same woman, or do multiple versions of people exist on Battleworld? Same question applies to Namor.

Considering what we know about the makeup of Battleworld, is it weird that characters like Captain Britain and Ms. America Chavez can exist in this world, as symbols of lands that don’t technically exist?

Ms. America at one point references “Sharknado.” It made me laugh. It made my wife laugh. It’s a good line. BUT, if this is Doom’s world, and he’s got Dr. Strange basically mandating everyone believe Doom’s creation myth, is a 2013 cable TV movie something anyone should remember?

Also, if Doom is God, is there a chance this island is just some creepy Doom spandex fantasy? It might explain why this team wears fan-favorite uniforms as opposed to matching ones.

How has no one thought to make Sam Wilson a Thor before this? That man is Worthy as all get-out. Certainly worthier than Eric Masterson. (On behalf of my generation, I apologize that Thunderstrike a) is still around and b) has a cameo in this book).

I’m 100 percent willing to believe I may be overthinking some things.

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #1
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Matteo Lolli and Ruth Redmond

Part of Team Deadpool’s schtick the past few years has been retroactively inserting him into stories set before the character’s first appearance in 1991. And so we’ve had Deadpool stealing the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos or teaming up with Power Man and Iron Fist against an alabaster villain called the White Man.

In the Merc with a Mouth’s latest retro romp, we find out what role he played in the original Secret Wars from 1984.

Deadpool gets zapped to Battleworld alongside Earth’s heroes, including Spider-Man, Hulk and members of the Avengers, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. And Magneto, whom DP promptly villain-shames. As usual, no one recognizes him, despite his now-established history in the MU. By the end of the issue, it appears the heroes have all been killed, save Deadpool, who now looks like … nope, not gonna spoil it.

Cullen Bunn’s Deadpool minis have always been madcap romps where continuity takes a backseat to fun and ultraviolence, so it’s great to see him giving this revisionist history lesson, and pointing out inconsistencies such as the state of Charles Xavier’s paralysis at the time. Artist Matteo Lolli perfectly captures the heroes’ 1984 fashions, re-creating Mike Zeck’s original panels where warranted as Bunn re-creates Jim Shooter’s original (cornball) dialogue. Not only that, fans of Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn’s run on the book will recognize the 1980s version of DP’s costume – complete with the letters DP on the chest – from artist Scott Koblish’s throwback issues.

The award for most Deadpool moment in this issue goes to when he shoots at the Absorbing Man to the tune of Scandal’s “The Warrior.” Honorable mention goes to DP mule-kicking Kang the Conqueror in the nards.

In a bonus strip, Deadpool is inserted into 1982’s Contest of Champions, teaming up with Howard the Duck, Doop, She-Man-Thing, Rocket Racer, and other Z-list heroes at the whim of cosmic beings.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

5 Reasons You Should Care about … Rip Hunter

As well it should, DC is leaning in to its TV slate this fall, debuting two new series: Supergirl on CBS and a show called Legends of Tomorrow on the CW, home to Arrow and personal favorite The Flash.

Long thought to be a showcase for Brandon Routh’s Atom character, Legends will actually have at its core Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who) as the time traveler Rip Hunter, in a cast that also includes Hawkgirl, Captain Cold, Heatwave, half of Firestorm and possibly a Black Canary.

Most of these characters were previously introduced either in Arrow or The Flash, or, in Hawkgirl’s case, a big part of the DCAU Justice League cartoons. Rip Hunter, on the other hand, will likely be brand new to almost everyone watching the show.

So who is Rip Hunter, and why he is so hard-up to hunt rips? Well, I’ll tell you.

The basics: Rip Hunter was created by Jack Miller and Ruben Moreira and first appeared in 1959’s Showcase #20.

1. That’s not his real name: Rip keeps his birth name, home address, bank PIN, and other personal information secret to keep other time travelers from killing his ancestors or otherwise making it so he’s never born. And I assume he chose Rip Hunter as a nom de time travel for the same reason Homer Simpson briefly went by Max Power: It just sounds awesome.

2. His dad’s in the Justice League: Rip’s father is none other than the 25th century’s own Booster Gold, a fact unbeknownst to Booster for the reasons previously stated. Considering Booster’s floating robot companion, Skeets, once tried to kill a bunch of time travelers, Rip’s logic appears justifiable. To protect the timeline, Rip works behind the scenes to make his dad look like a self-absorbed screw-up.

3. He survived the first Crisis: Rip was one of the few characters to survive 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths with memories of the DC multiverse as it existed before. What’s more, the condensed post-Crisis universe had its own Rip, who also was a time traveler.

4. He shows up for the big stuff: Rip’s the perfect character for DC’s Crises and other major events, the kind of guy who can show up on a last-page splash backlit by a swirling vortex, looking completely different from the last time anyone saw him, yelling “STOP!” and then explaining that the major characters are about to do something that unravels the space-time continuum. Also his secret base had lots of notes lying around and a big blackboard offering clues to future storylines.

5. He’s saved the multiverse: During a series called The Kingdom, Rip breaks down the barrier to Hypertime, revealing the rest of the multiverse was there all along, contrary to what Crisis on Infinite Earths had everyone believe. He also paves the way for pre-Crisis characters Alex Luthor, Superman and Superboy-Prime to escape from an alternate dimension. Hunter later helps prevent a hyperfly that used to be Mr. Mind from devouring some of DC’s 52 universes.

Read this: For Silver Age Rip, check out Rip Hunter, Time Master, by Jack Miller, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito and others, which ran for 29 issues from 1961 to 1965. For post-Crisis Rip, there’s the eight-issue Time Masters series from 1990, by Bob Wayne and Lewis Shiner. For pre-Flashpoint Rip-Booster nonbonding, check out Booster’s 2007-11 series, written at varying points by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens, J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen.

Watch that: Rip appears in one episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In “Time Out for Vengeance,” Rip helps the Justice League traverse the timestream to protect Batmen throughout history from Equinox. The JLI episodes of Brave and the Bold – featuring Aquaman, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Martian Manhunter, Fire and Ice – were among the best of a great series.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reviews of Comics for Wednesday 5/13

Abe Sapien #23
Story: Mike Mignola & Scott Allie
Art: Kevin Nowlan

The world of Hellboy has been getting exceedingly dark in recent years. This isn't a complaint; when monsters are rising all over the world and society is crumbling, that's to be expected. The B.P.R.D. is barely holding the line, Hellboy is dead, and probably hardest hit is Abe Sapien, wandering the highways of America, trying to find some indication he isn't the forerunner of a new race and encountering people who always seem to wind up hurt or worse. But this issue? This is a different thing. It's a flashback to 1992, and the world is a lighter place. Hellboy and Abe are on a mission for the B.P.R.D., investigating a death that is being attributed to Ogopogo, Canada's answer to the Loch Ness Monster. What might be a simple monster story turns into a story that has human greed at its center, as well as a worshipper of the old gods and creatures, something that's pretty standard for Hellboy and Abe. The thing that got me really excited for this issue was that it's a Hellboy and Abe story. When you look back on the publication history of the characters, you realize that they've been apart for more years than they were a team, but many of the most memorable Hellboy stories feature Abe. The two have that comfortable partnership that shows how good friends they are, and they play off each other perfectly; Hellboy is the bull in the china shop, while Abe tries to think things out more. And Kevin Nowlan's art is gorgeous as ever. While his stuff isn't as dark and foreboding as many of the other artists who work on Mignolaverse stories, he still captures the essence of the characters. If you've been away from Hellboy and his world for a while, or if you've been curious for a while to try it out, this is a great one-off to start with.

And Dan Grote hits us with a Marvel twofer this week...

Ms. Marvel 15
Story: G. Willow Wilson
Art: Takeshi Miyazawa and Ian Herring

Let’s take a minute to talk about Bruno, because if we don’t talk about Bruno, I’m gonna go on a rant about the Inhumans supplanting mutants that’s not fit for this blog.

(But seriously, there’s a scene in this issue in which Kitty Kamala turns the Danger Room New Attilan training salle on a N’Garai demon pair of Inhuman goons on Christmas Eve Mother’s Day).

As much as I’ve had problems with the current arc of Ms. Marvel based on my own biases against the Inhumans post-Infinity, no one can deny G. Willow Wilson writes characters worth giving a damn about. And I love the friendship/partnership between Kamala and Bruno. When Kamala finds herself caught by Inhuman insurrectionists, Bruno drops everything, runs out of his chemistry class, leaps – arms flapping – over giant dinosaur bones being transported down a hallway (props to Takeshi Miyazawa for this imagery), scrambles through the streets of Jersey City yelling at his phone, charters a water taxi to New Attilan, gets accosted by guards and, finally, jumps down a garbage chute with our hero and pulls her to safety. The only power at play here is friendship, and it’s extremely affirming.

Also, if you read any other book filled with Star Wars and Star Trek references this month, make it this one. In addition to the garbage chute scene, the main Inhuman baddie, Lineage (who totally looks like someone gave the Purple Man anime horns), effectively says, “There is another,” explaining that one of Kamala’s relatives is an Inhuman. As for the Star Trek reference, well, think about what Kamala’s last name is, and extrapolate from there.

Secret Wars #2
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina

Where the first issue of Secret Wars felt like an ending, issue 2 feels like the beginning, like we’ve joined a new story in media res. At long last, the reader has arrived at Marvel’s promised destination. Behold Battleworld.

It wouldn’t be a Jonathan Hickman story if there weren’t about 616 balls in the air at once, so here’s the laundry list of what we know so far:

Doctor Doom is God. He rules Battleworld from the trunk of Yggdrasil alongside a council that includes Doctor Strange and Susan and Valeria Richards. His castle is guarded by a Galactus that stands like a giant incinerator churning flames up into the sky, Franklin Richards meditating in the palm of his hand. Strange, the Sheriff of Agamatto, acts as Doom’s voice, speaking for him and meting out punishments on Doom’s behalf unless Doom wishes otherwise.

The world is policed by Thors, plural, and in fact the POV character for this issue is a rookie Thor on his first day on the job.

Battleworld is broken up into kingdoms runs by barons, including Higher Avalon, ruled by the Braddock family, and Bar Sinister, ruled by Mr. Sinister.

Sinister is one of the book’s best characters, showing a casual disdain for the authority of others while clearly benefitting from that authority’s largesse. When the Thors come to arrest him for discord, he is splayed spread-eagle on his throne being waited on by servants who fetch him hamburgers and attach his fringed cape. Even decapitated in battle, Sinister mocks those around him.

Those who displease Doom are tossed over the Shield, a giant wall protecting the rest of the kingdom from hordes of zombies, Ultrons, and the drones of Annihilus. Among the zombies shown in this issue is a Venom.

Reed Richards’ Raft – shown fleeing Earth 616 amid the incursion in the last issue – has been discovered crash-landed on a section of Battleworld called Utopolis populated with Moloids. At issue’s end, the hatch opens, in a reveal I won’t spoil.

The mixing and matching of characters adds fun to the book’s Game of Thrones-y tone. Watching Brian Braddock and Sinister joust for Doom’s benefit while characters like Apocalypse, Madelyn Pryor, Hyperion, Roma, and the Maestro (the Hulk of Future Imperfect) look on feels like something new, even if the characters are all known quantities and the book wears its inspirations on its sleeve.

Esad Ribic’s art is straight-up beautiful. Powerful imagery strafes this entire issue, from the Doom godhead to which the Thors pay tribute, to the smoking Galactus, to Baron Sinister’s kingdom of ruby quartz, to the sight of the Raft stuck in the ruins of an old statue of what appears to be Captain America.

So if issue 1 left you doubting the readability of Secret Wars, I’d still suggest trying issue 2, as it’s far more the jumping-on point issue 1 should have been.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Recommended Reading for 5/15: Rat Queens

So, I'd have to figure some of you, my loyal readers, are also Dungeons and Dragons players. I've played D&D on and off since high school, and have been part of a regular Thursday game group for years now, playing various RPGs and board games. And while there are plenty of fantasy comics, I can't think of many that really capture the spirit of the D&D campaign. Even the D&D comics seem to be more idealized versions of what a campaign is/should be. But Image Comics has come to the rescue with Rat Queens, a fantasy series written by Kurtis J. Wiebe that captures all the fun, action, and completely bawdy humor of a great RPG campaign.

The core conceit of Rat Queens is pretty simple: a party of four female adventurer/mercenaries go out and have mercenary adventures. But what makes the book phenomenal are the personalities, the world building, and the completely off the wall sense of humor. The comic has picked up a dedicated female fan base for its strong characterization of female characters and treatment of them. But it reaches a wide audience by being a crazy fantasy comic with a ton of action, character, and charm.

Each of the four Rat Queens (which is the name of their team/guild/party, not an indication of any affinity to rats) is of a distinct fantasy race and class. The closest thing the group of chaotic characters has to a leader is Hannah, who is an Elf necromancer. Violet is a warrior Dwarf, although she shaves her beard to stand against the old dwarf order. Dee is a human cleric of a tentacled dark god, N'Rygoth, although at the beginning of the series is an agnostic, unsure of where her magic comes from and doubting the existence of the god of her parents. And Betty is a Smidgen, this world's answer to the halfling or hobbit, who is a rogue with a knack for mixing drinks and taking all sorts of mind altering substances.

The first issue of Rat Queens opens in the town of Palisade, where the ladies live, and the first time we see them, they're standing among a group of vanquished foes... after a bar fight. And the mayor and the people of the city are very much not happy with this. I love the fact that this is an issue. So much high and low fantasy ignore the ramifications of the heroes rolling into town, but it's a major plot point here. Sure the Queens kill monsters, but they also get really drunk and cause a ton a havoc when in between jobs. After getting locked up for all the destruction, along with the other adventurers in the city who they were fighting, the Queens are given an assignment to get out of jail. So we get an inciting incident and a convenient way to meet the rivals and supporting characters, including the local captain of the guard, Sawyer, who shares a will they/won't they chemistry with Hannah. The other adventurers include groups called the Four Daves (four adventurers named Dave), and the Peaches, who are shinier looking then the Rat Queens, and are led by Tizzie, who was friends with Hannah at one point before a falling out that has yet to be explained.

The plot structure of the first two volumes is cleverly done. While trying to figure out who sent assassins to kill all the adventurers of Palisade in the first volume, and pissing off the matron of a troll clan along the way, there was a scene dealing with the merchant's guild. The very end of volume one reveals exactly what the merchant in charge was up to, and it was subtly played out throughout that volume to perfectly set him up as the big bad in volume two. It was smart plotting, and there's a lot of that here. A lot of little things that come back to prove important later on done with subtlety. Of course, in a lot of ways, that's one of the few subtle things about this book.

The joy of Rat Queens is it's lack of subtlety in some of the best ways. The ladies fight. They swear. They drink. The have sex. And it's all presented in the same way it would be if they were male characters. These are fantasy adventurers and they blow off steam like all fantasy adventurers. The swearing is one of the most hilarious aspects of a very funny comic, mixing real world swear words with fantasy situations. Issue one features Sawyer saying the chaos has made him not just annoyed, but, "hotter than a dragon getting his dick tickled." That is not anywhere near the most inventive or graphic one either, just the first. It also proves you should be careful what you say, since happy-go-lucky Betty is confused by it, pointing out that would probably make said dragon happy.

The humor is also situational, not just word games. A character met at the beginning of the first volume is "Old Lady Bernadette," a local shopkeeper who keeps getting her store wrecked by the Queens' antics. Of course, Bernadette keeps pointing out she's only thirty-nine, which falls on deaf ears. Gary, the incompetent member of the city guard, is one of those perfect comic relief characters. And Betty's reactions to the stream of mind-altering chemicals she takes just leave you breathless from laughter.

The action and violence also pull no punches. When pushed to the point of true rage, Hannah uses her powers to beat a troll to death with her own club. The fight scenes are as gory as you would expect in a world where everyone fights with blades and clubs. And it's well choreographed. The action scenes are all set to be easily followed and to allow for enough space to let the Queens banter while fighting, which is a key component to a book where so much of the humor is in the banter and the character interaction.

And there's the thing that elevates this from what could have been a simple D&D pastiche and fantasy send-up into a truly excellent comic. All of these characters are wrought with care and have interesting backstories and inner lives. It would be easy to have thrown them into the situations they're in and just played it all for laughs. But it's clear that there's so much beneath the surface.

Hannah is standoffish with a dark sense of humor, appropriate for a necromancer (that's a spellcaster who uses the power of the dead in their spells for those of you who aren't fantasy types). She has what seems to be a strained relationship with her parents; she carries a runestone that works like a cell phone, and there are a couple of very funny exchanges between her and her mother. Her relationship with Sawyer is deeper than the typical, "are they going to get together" thing; they are clearly sleeping together, but the reason she refuses to get involved more deeply is something that is teased out until the end of the volume two. But, like all the others, she's fiercely loyal to her friends.

Dee and Violet are both interesting in how the stand against their upbringing, yet still embrace aspects of it. Dee has given up on worshiping the Lovecraftian horror that her family does, while Violet wouldn't stand for being left to model armor while her less adept brother, Barrie, got to represent their clan in tournaments. But just because they're similar in history doesn't mean their personalities are similar. Violet is outgoing, a woman of action who drinks and carouses with the best of them. Dee is quieter; in one scene at a victory party, she's sitting in a corner reading a book and blows off the guy who hits on her. As someone who has spent more parties curled up in a corner with a book than he can count, I feel a kinship with Dee.

And then there's Betty. Betty is absolutely hilarious. Watching Betty make her way through life, taking every magic mushroom she can, mixing her signature drink, "The Betty," a drink it's better not to ask what's in it. While we haven't gotten as deeply into Betty's backstory as the others, she's sweet and romantic. We see her with her nascent girlfriend, Faeyri, in volume one, and how the other Rat Queens and their temperament gets in the way of that budding romance. But it works out in the end. She's also as savage a fighter as the others, and since she fights dirty, she's all the deadlier.

Original series artist Roc Upchurch did an excellent job not just setting up a gorgeous world design, but establishing the look of each of the Queens and their distinct fighting/magic using style, and new artist Stejpan Sejic runs with it even harder. The designs of each character fits their skill set and the tradition they fall in, but are distinct not just to the world, but within it as well; Hannah doesn't dress like other spell casters, and Dee's outfit mixes both the look of the city and the look of her demongod worshiping clan. They also have very distinct body types and racial characteristics. They're not all the generic superhero comic buxom look; as a matter of fact none of them are.

Rat Queens isn't like any other comic on the racks. It's a rousing, character based fantasy story with a sense of humor and action that skews decidedly adult. If you've ever played a tabletop RPG like D&D , or even an MMO like World of Warcraft, and want the feel of those sessions with friends put down on paper as a great comic, it's the perfect book to try.

Two trades of Rat Queens are currently available, Sass & Sorcery and The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth, each collecting five issues. The series is released semi-monthly from Image Comics, and is available in both formats in better comic shops.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

5 Reasons You Should Care about … Sharon Carter

It was announced last week that actress Emily Van Camp (ABC’s Revenge) would be returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Agent 13 in next year’s Captain America: Civil War, in a cast list that’s shaping up to make it Avengers 2.5.

Van Camp’s character had maybe the least to do in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the truth is she’s been an important part of Steve Rogers’ life for nearly 50 years now, since her first appearance in 1966’s Tales of Suspense #75. She also played a very crucial role in one of the defining moments of the Civil War comics story from which the 2016 movie takes its name.

Here’s some more fun facts about this Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation:

1. She’s the sequel to Agent Carter: Sharon was originally the younger sister of Peggy Carter, Steve Rogers’ love interest from World War II. Rogers was thawed out in the 1960s, when Peggy and Sharon being sisters would have been plausible. Comics’ sliding timescale has since made Peggy Sharon’s aunt and later great aunt. Minor point: The issue in which Sharon first appeared also marked the first appearance of everyone’s favorite French foot fighter, Batroc the Leaper.

2. She’s been Steve’s No. 1 gal far longer than Peggy: In the comics, Steve and Sharon have been on-again, off-again lovers for the better part of five decades. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, they just met, and her relation to Peggy hasn't been explicitly revealed yet. Also, in what is absolutely a good problem to have, Peggy has become one of the MCU’s most beloved characters, to the point where ABC last week announced a second season of her TV series (Marvel had a busy news week last week). Perhaps, with Revenge having just been canceled, there’s room for both Agents Carter to share the spotlight, in a passing-of-the-torch story that jumps between past and present.

3. She’s died at least twice in the comics: Sharon Carter was first killed in Captain America #233, when she detonated an explosive on her person while under the control of a group called the National Force led by perennial Cap villain Dr. Faustus. She stayed dead for more than 200 issues, finally returning in issue 444, at the hand of writer Mark Waid, who’d revealed Sharon had faked her death to run a covert op for Nick Fury and later got caught up in a plot to resurrect Hitler. Much later, in 2013, Rick Remender made it look like he’d killed Sharon again during his first arc on Captain America, during a mission to save Cap from a dimension ruled by the mad biogeneticist Arnim Zola. Instead, she survived and raised Steve’s adopted son, whom he’d taken from Zola.

4. She killed Captain America: In Ed Brubaker’s brilliant 2000s run on Cap, Sharon was brainwashed once again by Dr. Faustus, this time into shooting Steve in the stomach post-Civil War as part of a long-game plan by the Red Skull. Sharon was pregnant with Steve’s child at the time, unbeknownst to her, and loses the child amid a fight with the Skull’s daughter, Sin. Faustus then makes her forget being pregnant. Steve’s death set up his original sidekick, Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, to take his place for a time as the good captain.

5. She’s been an Avenger: Sharon was part of the cast of the 2010-13 volume of Secret Avengers, running covert missions alongside Steve, Black Widow and other heavy-hitters. Brubaker was the first among a chain of writers on this series.

Read this: Ed Brubaker’s phenomenal run on Captain America, which we've covered before and which served as the inspiration for the Winter Soldier movie. The lion’s share of it is available in three hardcover ominbi that start at the beginning of the run in 2004 and end with Steve Rogers’ resurrection in 2010.

Watch that: Watch The Winter Soldier again, because even though she’s barely in it, it’s just that damn good.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/6

Afterlife with Archie #8
Story: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art: Francesco Francavilla

A lot of the horror of Archie Comics's recent horror revival have been placing their usually peaceful characters in violent and shocking positions. The new issue of Afterlife with Archie is actually quite quiet. There is a minimum of action in any physical sense, but it is one of the more chilling comics I've read in quite some time.The remaining Riverdale refugees have settled at the Bradbury Hotel to rest for Christmas, and the issue opens with a modified quote from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. This opening pastiche is the first of many in an issue that is a love letter to classic haunted house stories. Archie narrates much of the story to Jughead, the human patient zero for the zombie outbreak, who appears as a ghostly bartender and is making ghostly sodas for Archie in the first of many homages to Stanley Kubric's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining. We get caught up on the fallout from the previous issue's death of Jason Blossom, both the vote to decide whether his suspected murderer, his sister Cheryl, would stay with the group and her eventual revelation to the ladies her motives. Reggie rides through the Bradbury on a skateboard and encounters his own ghosts like Danny on his tricycle. But much of what Archie talks about is Betty and the loss of her hope and innocence, something that we starting in the previous issue which she narrated. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has crafted a great character-based horror comic here, really delving into what makes these characters tick and where they're going. There's also a tale from Archie's mom, told to her by her grandmother, that might explain a lot about Riverdale, but also one that reminds us that nothing comes without a cost. The issue ends with Archie making a decision, one that I feel can only lead to more heartache, more death, but I can't be sure exactly where this will lead, which is another quality of good horror: it keeps you guessing. And Afterlife with Archie does exactly that.

Bodie Troll: Fuzzy Memories #1
Story & Art: Jay P. Fosgitt

I was able to track down a FCBD Bodie Troll issue, which whet my appetite for the first issue of the new Bodie mini-series, Fuzzy Memories. The issue opens with a great little scene that sets up all of the principles' personalities if you've never read Bodie's adventures before: Bodie is chasing bunnies, thinking he's scary, when the bunnies in fact think he's playing. Bodie's friend Cholly is writing her latest play. And Miz Bijou, the fairy who employs Cholly at her pub (and Bodie to a lesser degree) us being sardonic and egging Bodie on. Bodie and Miz Bijou wind up making a bet that Bodie can't eat something living, and he ups the ante by saying he'll find something in the monster forest. Cholly and Bodie wander through the forest, where Bodie once again is sure he's scary when the really scary thing is Hokun of the Kooghun, a member of a monster hunting tribe, who winds up chasing Bodie home. There's some pretty complex plotting here, not confusing but layered, where things are set up early that pay off at the end of the story. Bodie eats some Butt-Truffles, mushrooms that only grow in monster poop, and what seems like a simple gross out joke winds up having an important part in the story's end. One of the fun things about Bodie Troll is the mix of poop jokes with cute characters and the other humor; it's still all ages, frankly, if my six year old niece's sense of humor is any indication of the tolerance of little kids for poop jokes. Jay P. Fosgitt's art is wonderful as ever, with his great monster designs, adorable Bodie and bunnies, and his people who have a distinct look; Bodie dressed up in his best suit, waiting to be killed joyfully because he thinks it's because he's really scary was a delightful visual. This issue serves as a great reintroduction to Bodie's world if you've been here before, and perfect jumping on point if you're new, both letting you know who these characters are and establishing a mystery or two to keep readers coming back.

Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #2
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Jan Duursema

Ok, I'm a sucker for a happy ending. Call me a rank sentimentalist, but I saw this cover and I smiled pretty damn wide. After last issue left the future of Nightwing and Oracle up in the air, both their relationship future and their lives in general as they had to fight the Flashpoint universe Hawkwoman and Hawkman, the stakes were pretty high here. But while Nightwing goes in with escrima sticks swinging, Oracle does what she does best: she thinks. With a little help from her friends, she sets off to do battle herself. The Hawks proudly boasted that they hear everything using their Thangarian robots, but when your best friend has a sonic scream, well, you can use that to your advantage. Yes, Gail Simone gets to not only bid goodbye to this version of Barbara Gordon as Oracle, but she also gets to work in some great scenes with Black Canary, and we get to see Barbara's rapport with her fellow Bird of Prey. And when the chips are down again, it's Barbara who once again saves the day. It's not that Nightwing is portrayed poorly; he's still a hero, still tough and strong, and willing to sacrifice anything to save people. But this is Barbara's show from page one. Jan Duursema once again blew me away with her Nightwing, one who moves with such perfect grace, the same kind she instilled in her Jedi in her years of Star Wars work. I ended the review of last issue saying that if this was the end of these versions of these characters, I'm happy Simone got in the last word. I don't think I have anything else to say than that. If you ever loved Barbara Gordon as Oracle, or the Bludhaven era, happy-go-lucky Nightwing, this is a perfect send off for those characters.

Convergence: The Question #2
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Cully Hamner

Greg Rucka's last hurrah with Renee Montoya, a character he redefined entirely, is as satisfying as Gail Simone's with Oracle; Rucka turned Renee from another Gotham cop into a down on her luck drunk and then into the Question, a feat in itself. Rucka knows Renee inside and out, and after being knocked out by Two-Face last issue, she teams up with her roommate, Huntress, and her ex, Batwoman, to try to stop Harvey from committing a bizarre form of suicide, going to fight an alternate universe version of himself and letting that version kill him. While the heroes are jumping across rooftops and storming the Gotham Courthouse where Two-Face is, we get some great character bits; the awkwardness between Question and Batwoman, Batwoman being jealous of Huntress and Question, and Huntress putting Batwoman in her place since she and Question are just friends. It's never catty, never over the top, but Rucka knows his characters, and knows how to make them sing, metaphorically. He also knows Two-Face, and presents a great scene where our disfigured Harvey Dent talks to a whole version of himself, one with everything our Harvey lost. The story is naturally narrated by our title character, with Renee talking about loss and regret, and there's a one moment where she remembers Charlie, her friend, who was the original question, who died on cancer, and she gets a final moment to see her estranged father, who is also dying of cancer, and gets to have the moment where they share their love one more time. It's a touching scene, and it's nice to see Renee get her own kind of happy ending. In an interesting tonal mismatch, the preview of a new DC title in the back of this issue is for Starfire, from Harley Quinn writing team of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, a much lighter title. Starfire is trying to find a new home, and we get a view into her head as she meets with various allies and frenemies for help her in her decision. Finally, with some help from Superman, Starfire settles on a place, a place with no superheroic history to it. It's a cute eight pager, and it sets up this new series well.

After weeks of talking about everything that led to it, Dan Grote looks at the beginning of the new Marvel event...

Secret Wars #1
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art:  Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina

In the beginning, there was Reed Richards …

… I mean, I guess if you completely ignore the Golden Age and start with the Silver Age, when Marvel Comics actually started calling itself Marvel Comics.

The first issue of Marvel’s big end-of-the-worlds event is very much a tale of two Reeds: The 616 Reed and the Reed of the so-called Ultimate Universe. One is a super-scientist and a father making a last-ditch effort to save whatever he can of his world. The other is, to quote Ultimate Nick Fury (aka MCU Nick Fury): “a thousand-year-old megalomaniacal boy genius who wiped out most of Europe on a whim.”

616 Reed has built a ship full of scientists and superheroes to flee Earth and find a way to rebuild. While our Reed is clearly depicted as the nobler of the two, it bears noting that at least half the ship’s passengers are members of his immediate family and the Future Foundation, the science enclave created during Hickman’s run on FF. The rest are random heroes not given the luxury of escaping with their loved ones.

1610 Reed, on the other hand, has isolated himself in a temporal dome called the City, from which he  manipulates his Nick Fury into attacking 616 Earth, launches a doomsday weapon and hangs out with the 616’s scariest villains, including Thanos and Maximus the Mad Inhuman.

In the end, one Reed loses everything. I mean, I guess everyone loses everything when two Earths smash into each other, but the reader only gets to see one man’s heart break.

The book boasts a large cast, but everyone who isn't named Reed Richards is basically there just to punch each other as if that would somehow save the world. How that doesn't result in a single hero meeting his or her 1610 counterpart is beyond me. Only Ultimate Iron Man gets a meeting with a 616 hero – Captain Marvel – and he dutifully hits on her.

The award for Best Scene, however, goes to the 616’s villains, who throw an end-of-the-world party at the Bar with No Name only for it to be broken up by an uninvited guest with a skull on his shirt and a desire to unload a surplus of bullets.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

5 Reasons You Should Care About … Molecule Man

Molecule Man, Molecule Man / Doing the things a molecule can / What’s he like, it’s not important / Molecule Man

Among the common threads of Marvel’s Secret Wars stories is Owen Reece, the Molecule Man, the supervillain scientist who, at times of mental clarity, would really much rather have a nice, quiet, suburban life, except the Beyonders keep mucking it up for him.

The basics: Molecule Man was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first appeared in 1963’s Fantastic Four #20.

1. He’s a god, man: The nuclear mishap that gave MM his powers allows him to control matter at the molecular level, hence the name. It basically means he can do whatever he wants, though there was a time when he believed his powers could not affect organic matter, to the point that the Fantastic Four disguised themselves as statues to trick him into defeat. How he hadn’t destroyed the world prior to the latest Secret Wars and why he’d rather not be a supervillain with that skills set is Beyond me.

2. He and Harry Potter have a couple things in common: In addition to powers, the accident gave MM lightning bolt scars all over his face, like if Voldemort had designed Mike Tyson’s face tattoo. MM also occasionally uses a wand, which turns out to be unnecessary, because THE MAGIC WAS IN HIM ALL ALONG! Actually, for a while, MM’s consciousness resided in the wand, and he would try to possess whoever held it, from Reed Richards to a hobo to a little girl to a snake.

3. He may find himself living in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife: MM met his future wife, Volcana, during the first Secret Wars. She was an Earth woman who’d been pulled to Battleworld and, while there, was given lava powers by Dr. Doom. After the war, they found a nice little place in Denver (Both are native Coloradans). They separate for a time in the ’90s, and he attempts to win her back by carving her likeness into Mount Rushmore. Your move, Lloyd Dobler.

4. Every time he gets out, the Beyonder pulls him back in: In the gift that keeps on giving, the accident that gave MM powers also caused a dimensional rift that allowed the Beyonder to discover the 616 reality (or maybe the Beyonders caused the accident so MM could destroy reality; more on that later). MM had retired from villainy before the first Secret Wars, but he was still among the baddies pulled to Battleworld by the Beyonder. Later, in Secret Wars II, the Beyonder shows up at the Reeces’ doorstep, during his wacky quest to understand humanity, and MM ends up engaging in a fairly epic battle with the extradimensional entity, to the point where he appears to have exhausted his powers. The two characters even merged for a time in the ’90s, forming a Cosmic Cube.

5. He’s a multiversal bomb: In New Avengers #33, the last issue before Secret Wars, MM explains that he is the same in every reality, and in every reality, he is the Beyonders’ tool for the destruction of that reality. As such, Dr. Doom has been going from reality to reality killing Molecule Men with the help of the doomsday cult he built for himself. Not that it did any good.

Read this: 1985’s Secret Wars II, in which the Beyonder tries to crash on the couch of his good buddy Molecule Man, and Spider-Man teaches the Beyonder how to poop (not a joke). A Stan-and-Jack creation though he may be, Secret Wars scribe and former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter had a big hand in crafting MM’s personality beyond that of generic purple-and-green-clad villain.

Watch that: Marvel’s kid-friendly Super Hero Squad Show, which ran from 2009-11 and is available on Netflix. Specifically watch the episodes “Villainy Redux Syndrome,” in which the retired and mistakenly summoned MM frees Dr. Doom, MODOK and the Abomination from prison, and “When Strikes the Surfer,” in which MM gives Nebula a new mouth after her old one was removed by an Infinity Gauntlet-fueled Silver Surfer. Volcana also appears in both episodes. No sign of the Beyonder, though. Comedian Fred Stoller voices MM in both episodes.