Monday, February 29, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/24

Faith #2
Story: Jody Hauser
Art: Francis Portella, Marguerite Sauvage, & Andrew Dalhouse

The second issue of Faith is as absolutely enjoyable as the first, making it one of the most fun books on the racks right now. Having survived the explosion from the end of the first issue (not a surprise, as the comic is named after her after all), Faith now has an even more personal stake in hunting down the people who are kidnapping psiots. But Faith has a whole other life as Summer Smith, and she's not willing to give up her secret identity, so she also has to deal with work. And her boss at Zipline assigns Summer a takedown piece on Torque, who unbeknownst to the editor is Faith's ex-boyfriend, superhero turned reality star. Before I talk about that, I want to mention we're also getting a better feeling for what's happening to the kidnapped psiots, with them imprisoned somewhere surrounded by wealthy and beautiful people, once of whom seems to be sympathetic, but most who are vapid and unfeeling. Combine this with Torque not being willing to help Faith hunt down the missing psiots and his stereotypical reality star girlfriend, and we're seeing a theme of the callous upper class and society in general standing contrasted with Faith's caring. Faith also has her Torque piece rewritten by her boos because it didn't have enough bite, and the police aren't investigating the disappearance of Sam, the young psiot who Faith has been looking for. The fact that he disappeared when going to a fandom event gives him a kinship to both Faith and the readers, the majority of whom I'm sure have all gone to some convention, signing, or the like. But it's not all Faith at work and investigating. While doing that, Faith is discovered by the people who are hunting psiots, and Faith's relative naivete when it comes to secret identities (it's not the same as in the comics), gets her in quite a bind at the end of the issue. Faith is wonderfully well rounded character, so genuinely good, but with her own foibles and doubts, and the fantasy sequences drawn by Marguerite Sauvage are a great window into her head. Jody Hauser not only does a great job of giving us a well rounded heroine, but the references to Faith's previous adventures are not so dense that readers who have no previous exposure to the character get lost, but are tantalizing enough that its making me want to track down Harbinger trades. Faith #2 has a great balance of superheroics and character, and continues to build a mystery that has me waiting on bated breath for the next issue.

Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953- Beyond the Fences #1
Story: Mike Mignola & Chris Roberson
Art: Paolo Rivera, Joe Rivera, & Dave Stewart

I'm fairly sure I've said this before, but in case I haven't, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. is a breath of fresh air in the overwhelming gloom of the current Hellboy-verse status quo. I love the stuff set in the present too, but everything there is so dire, so end of the world. We're around sixty years before hell on Earth here, so while there is still danger, things are allowed to be lighter, and Hellboy has always been the brightest light in these books, full of quips, humor, and more humanity than most humans. This mini-sereis sees Hellboy, Agent Susan Xiang (the psychic who shared a spotlight with Hellboy in the Hellboy Winter Special), and Agent Jacob Stegner to investigate what may be a monster killing children in Pasadena, California; children and pets have been disappearing, and the first adult victim has been found savaged, so the possibility of monster calls for the B.P.R.D. Xiang and Stegner are perfect opposites: Xiang is a person who tries to reach out to others and cares, enhanced by her natural empathic abilities, while Stegner is a sarcastic bastard who doesn't demonstrate the smallest amount of empathy. The mystery deepens as a scientist at local lab appears to have stolen a sample of enkeladite, an extradimensional mineral introduced in B.P.R.D.: 1948. The real charm of this issue is seeing Hellboy interact with kids. In the Hellboy comics, Hellboy was never a secret like in the movies, so he's a well known personality. As the cover above hints, Hellboy is popular with kids, and a bunch of them come looking for autographs, and when Hellboy gets away from them he finds a boy crying because his dog has gone missing, and Hellboy does his best to comfort the boy. It's a charming scene, and I've become so used to Hellboy dealing with monsters and the damned, I forget how good he is with people. It's nice to see this current series tying in aspects from the earlier B.P.R.D. series set in the '40s and the previous stories with Xiang; it adds to the tapestry of Hellboy's universe. This series is drawn by Paolo Rivera, a newcomer to the Mignolaverse, and just... wow. I love Rivera's work on Daredevil and The Valiant, and he absolutely hits a homerun here. His style isn't as moody and expressionistic as many artists who have worked on Hellboy comic before, but this story, set in the suburbs and much of it in the daytime, works with his more realistic style, but that's not to say he can't draw weird. The two page spread of Stegner and B.P.R.D. agents fighting monsters in 1948 is a sight to behold, and the monster at the end of the issue is not what I would have expected but looks great. I'm happy that there's more Hellboy out in the world, and if you're looking for a good Hellboy story that isn't heavy on the continuity, this is a great choice.

Orphan Black: Helsinki #4
Story: John Fawcett, Graeme Manson, & Heli Kennedy
Art: Wayne Nichols, Fico Ossio, & Sebastian Cheng

Orphan Black is one of the tensest shows I've ever seen on television, one that slowly ratchets up that tension to keep readers on the edge of their seats and asking all sorts of questions. The current tie-in mini-series, detailing events hinted at in the series, about a clone massacre in Helsinki,
has reached the point where the tension has my skin crawling in a good way. Our protagonist clone, Veera, has been captured by the people who are conducting the clone experiments, and the beginning of the issue is the action part of the issue, as Veera and Jade, a clone who has been kept at the facility and tested, make their escape. And once their escape has been made, the two of them, along with Niki, a third clone attempt to bring the cloning experiments to light. Even though I know the inevitable ending of this is going to be ugly, it's exciting to see the slow build, as the clones attempt to get out from under the Dyad Group, and the monitors close in. Series writer Heli Kennedy, working with Orphan Black creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, have created a group of new clone characters that the reader can really engage with and care about, and that is going to make their eventual demise all the more painful, and matter all the more. The comic also takes us deeper into the relationship between self-aware clone Rachel, who works for Dyad, and Ferdinand, the cleaner (the nice term for their corporate killer) who works for them. The relationship was made clear in Ferdinand's appearances in the TV series, but seeing exactly how Rachel played him and got her to submit to her desires gives more dimension to both characters. Helsinki is a worthy addition to the mythology of Orphan Black, and a must read for any fan of the show.

Rick and Morty #11

A lot of tie-in comics try their hardest to capture he feeling of their source material, and while the hit to miss ratio feels better recently than in the past, its really rare to find an issue of a comic that feels like it could have been an episode of its source material. The Rick and Morty series from Oni is one hat pretty much always hits, and this week's issue is so delightfully and perfectly warped, it captures all the flavor of the series. As is standard in an episode of R&M, there are two plots here, a Rick and Morty plot and a plot revolving around the rest of the family. Rick and Morty's plot, while definitely the wackier, is he less character-centric here. Rick enrolls Morty in a virtual alien high school so he can get through the whole high school experience in one day. Of course, as with everything Rick has Morty do, there's way more danger involved here. Every time Morty fails, he has to rerun the lesson until he gets it right. A particularly funny one involves a little... risky business, shall we say. And just when Morty tells Rick to go shove it and seems to be making out OK on his own, well, things get kinda lethal and there's a callback to what seemed like a throwaway line a the beginning of the issue that comes back in a hilarious fashion. The b-plot, which is far more strange and character driven involves Morty's sister, Summer, and their hapless dad, Jerry, going full on Freak Friday thanks to messing with Rick's tech. Instead of having some great adventure together where they come to understand each other better, Jerry takes Summer's friends on a camping trip which seems to go over well, and Summer, well, she gets a call from Beth, her mom, who is ready for, "Beth and Jerry's Crazy Sexy Weekend Part two: Naughtytown for Me and You." We cut away from that pretty quickly, but the end of the story, and Beth's reaction, indicates nothing untoward happened, and that seems to have improved things between Beth and Jerry. The look on Summer's face as she glares at Jerry once they're back in their bodies is one of the best panels in the issue, as is Morty's reaction to Rick once Rick tries to get all sentimental on him. That sort of unexpected twist on the usual emotional beats of a family story is central to Rick and Morty, as is the warped takes on classic sci-fi tales, two things this issue has in spades and makes it perfect reading for fans of the show.

And Dan Grote reviews the much delayed and anticipated return of Warren Ellis's Karnak...

Karnak #2
Story by Warren Ellis
Art by Gerardo Zaffino, Antonio Fuso and Dan Brown

A personal matter in the life of artist Gerardo Zaffino sidelined one of All-New, All-Different Marvel’s first books, but writer Warren Ellis’ latest jerk protagonist is back with an issue that is almost entirely action.

Zaffino and co-artist Antonio Fuso make up for the wait with an issue full of martial-arts ultraviolence. Necks get snapped, faces get bashed in, eyes get gouged out and guns are shattered with the wave of a hand, all in a blur of action lines and hatch marks. Little seems to stand still. Everything, and nearly everyone, is destroyed.

Oh and hey, there’s a story, too.

Karnak, at the behest of SHIELD (see last issue) has been tasked with going after an AIM splinter cell that has kidnapped a boy who underwent terrigenesis – the transformation by which Inhumans acquire their powers – only to find the process did little more than clear up his allergies. The baddies’ base is run by a priest who claims the boy is a messiah who went with them of his own volition.

Also, said priest can make guns out of zen, which wins the award for Most Warren Ellis Thing This Issue.

Karnak dispatches the priest, but the boy is nowhere to be found. Before Karnak kills him, the priest tells him the boy is someplace called the Chapel of the Single Shadow, promising his killer a journey of discovery.

A flashback at the beginning of the issue reveals there’s some discovery to be had. We see a young Karnak stacking blocks while his parents – off-camera – argue about whether to expose their son to the Terrigen Mists, mostly because it didn’t work out so hot for his older brother, Triton, the merman-looking one. The priest knows this about Karnak, calls him “The Fake Inhuman.” The issue ends with Karnak alone outside a German bistro, watching couples do couple-y things on the street. Does a man who finds basic human needs a weakness still feel those needs himself? Hopefully we don’t have to wait another four months to find out.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Recommended Reading for 2/26: Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan

The title of this book and this post, if you are unfamiliar with the history of it, paints a very vivid picture. You can see Superman, the man of steel, swooping down and grabbing the white garbed members of the racist Ku Klux Klan and taking away their weapons, tying them up, and leaving them for the authorities. And while a remarkably satisfying fantasy, that is sadly not how life works in the real world, and not what this book is about. This book is non-fiction, about the dawn of comic books, the dawn of the Klan, and how they came to intersect in 1946, when the Adventures of Superman radio show aired a series of episodes aimed to teach kids about tolerance and about what was wrong about the KKK.

Rick Bowers book, a YA book geared for middle shcool on up, has two narratives that run separately for the first two-thirds of the book. The first is well trod territory for comic book scholars and fans: the story of Jerry Siegel, Joe, Schuster, and the creation of Superman. The story of two kids from Cleveland and how they came up with the iconic hero is a story of the American dream, but Bowers does also get into Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, the men behind what would become DC Comics, and some of their less positive traits. There are lots of books that discuss this stuff, I've read more than one, but Bowers presents in a quick, concise form that doesn't get bogged down and gives readers who don't know these stories of the Golden Age of Comics a good entry into them (if you're interested in knowing more about this aspect of comic history, I couldn't recommend Gerard Jones's Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book highly enough).

The the narrative is the story of the Ku Klux Klan, and of Stetson Kennedy, a writer who stood against them. In case you're unfamiliar with the KKK, they are an American society dedicated to racial and religious purity; this means white, Protestant men. They wore white cloaks and hoods, and since the inception of the society in the wake of the American Civil War, have been responsible for uncountable numbers of acts of racial and religious oppression, including harassment, assault, and murder.

Stetston Kennedy was a southern writer and civil rights advocate, who worked for Roosevelt's New Deal collecting stories of workers in Florida, as well as many other writing projects over the years, usually aimed at calling out racists and bigots of all stripes. Bowers does point at the Kennedy was a shameless self-promoter, so often his own stories inflated his own roles in his stories of going undercover in organizations like the KKK, but he was still an engaging figure who did put his life on this line, and whose work with the Anti-Defamation League helped provide inside data on the KKK that was used in 1946.

In 1946, in the wake of World War II, the Adventures of Superman radio show needed new villains and a new direction, so producer Robert Maxwell decided to try to give the series a message, to make it educational: he wanted to use the radio show to talk about tolerance. And after an arc that was a success, featuring a former Nazi spy as the villain, he moved on to a more present threat: the resurgent Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Working with the Anti-Defamation League, who provided intelligence by way of Kennedy and other Klan infiltrators, "The Knights of the Burning Cross," shed light not just on the racism and ignorance of the KKK, but the avarice and disingenuous nature of its leaders.

While the material is heavy and dark, and is never handled with anything but the utmost respect, Rick Bowers prose style and is light and easy to read. While the narrative of the first two third of the book bounce back and forth between the comics business and the life and death stakes of the history of the KKK and its repeated rises and falls across the American landscape, neither narrative is lost in the other. And Bowers does his best to balance the more fantastic assertions made by Kennedy, about his sole responsibility for the intelligence, and the wonderfully sentimental but far from factual idea that Superman alone put the Klan back in its grave (if temporarily) in the late 40s.

On a personal note, there was something in the book that really impacted me. I'm a born New Jersey Jew, about as liberal as they come. I look around and I live in what I view as a predominantly blue state with many progressive people, vastly outnumbering the voices of hate. I know intellectually that isn't true, but part of what gets me through the night is thinking I live in a place that isn't all that bad. What I had sort of known, but never really read, was the KKK's largest bastion in the North during the 40s was in New Jersey, and it also headquartered the US Bund, the American wing of the Nazi Party, and that the KKK and the Bund had massive joint rallies in New Jersey before the war really broke out.

I think in the time where superheroes are big business, and a big business that seems increasingly aimed at an adult audience, we can forget the power the superhero has with kids. The story of Superman being used as a way to teach kids about accepting people for their character, and not their race or religion is something the people who produce Superman for the media should remember. To know what the Man of Steel once did, well there's some learning from history to be done here.

Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/17

Archie #5
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Veronica Fish & Andre Szymanowicz with Jen Vaughn

The new issue of Archie could actually have the classic Archie's Pals 'n' Gals title, since Archie himself barely appears in the issue, having been clocked in the head by a softball and given a concussion on page three. Much of this issue takes place on the metaphorical right side of the tracks, focusing on Veronica and Reggie, and Reggie's attempts to get in good with Veronica's father, business magnate and legendary comic book hardass Hiram Lodge. Last issue really introduced Reggie, but showed him mostly in context of being the weasel next to Jughead and Betty. Here, with Veronica, her father, and their butler, Smithers, Reggie gets to be a real jerk. He sells out his own dad to Ledge, clearly wants to be with Veronica for no other reason than it puts him closer to money, and in the end sells out Archie just to get in good with Lodge. In the essay with last issue, Waid said he liked to just present Reggie as a heel, because there are people like that in the world, and he does a great job of showing Reggie just like that this issue. Meanwhile, Waid continues to give Veronica depth. Her reaction when she finds out Archie has been hurt and is in the hospital is priceless; she remains an entitled princess, but has a good heart underneath all that spoiled exterior. Meanwhile, Betty meets a new guy named Sayid (a new character I believe, but I'd be happy to be corrected by the more Archie initiated) , but there awkward first moments of flirting are cut short when Betty finds out about the softball that knocked Archie out (take a guess who hit it?). Again, it's been years since I read Archie with any regularity, so I don't remember if these are traits that were part of the classic continuity, but as we meet both Smither the butler and Pop Tate, owner of the Malt Shop, I like that they're getting personality quirks, Smithers as a busybody and Pop as the guy who knows everything in Riverdale. And a highlight from the things I do remember from Archie comics from when I would read them waiting for my orthodontist appointments in middle school, we get to see Mr. Lodge blow his stack up close for the first time; new artist Veronica Fish draws a phenomenal panel of Lodge's realization of who exactly his daughter is dating. Archie's in for some big trouble next issue when hee finally has to meet Mr. Lodge, I have no doubt.

Invincible Vol.22: Reboot?
Story: Robert Kirkman
Art: Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, & Jean-Francois Beaulieu

While Walking Dead is Robert Kirkman's most famous book, no doubt, my favorite thing he writes is still Invincible, his super hero saga about Mark Grayson, the hero known as Invincible. After the events of the last volume, where one of Invincible's friends took over Earth for its own good, or so he says, and Invincible, his fiancee Atom Eve, and their daughter Terra left Earth for the alien world of Talescria where the intergalactic government is headquartered. Invincible has spent time in space before, but changing the core location of the book to an alien world is a major shift in the status quo. The first half of this trade deals with that fallout, both on Earth and in space. Chapter One is on Earth and sees the remaining heroes escaping prison and setting up a resistance against Robot, their former friend and now secret ruler of the world. Only... the world seems like a better place. Crime is down, unemployment is down, happiness is up. So the divide amongst the rebels starts to form with the question of: if no one is getting hurt and things are better now, do the ends justify the means, the means in this case being Robot having ruthlessly seized control and killed many of their friends.

The next two chapters deal with Mark and Eve adjusting to Talescria. Kirkman does a string job of making so much of the planet seem alien. Sure, it's a city, but the local fauna is really weird. And while they have friends there, it's still a whole world of new people. And the threat of Thragg, the warlord of Invincible's people who has gone rogue, looms, and Mark has to take a leave from his family to go and confront Thragg, but not before spending a day of daddy-daughter time with his baby daughter. And that's important for what happens next, because while searching for Thragg, Mark is grabbed by a strange creature and awakens...

... In his own past and in his own body. The last three chapters play out the events of the first dozen or so issues of Invincible, but with a Mark who knows everything that's coming I've always been fascinated by how much of Invincible is about maturity and morality, and so Mark has to make a lot of tough choices, especially dealing with his father, who he knows is a good man underneath but is about to do some really terrible things. And when he makes those choices, he sees the world change for the better, maybe, somewhat, but his own life is worse for it. But Mark's a good guy, and willing to live a worse life for a better world. Until the other shoe really drops. As readers of genre fiction, we're often presented with the classic quandry of, "If you could kill Hitler before he was HITLER, would you?" But what if the question isn't about killing someone for the potential evil they will do, but "Would you sacrifice the person you love the most in the world, and by sacrifice I mean they will never be born and you will never know them, to make a better world?" And that is the question that Mark has to deal with at the end of the trade, and it's a heartbreaker. And even when he makes the choice, and I won't say which way he goes on here, but as ever with a Kirkman book, there's a price to be paid. Twenty-two trades (That's 126  issue folks) in, Invincible still finds way to stay fresh and interesting, and keep the reader guessing about where it's going next.

And hey, look, Dan Grote is back to reviewing, this month with a most Excellent comic (cue air guitar)...

Bill & Ted Go to Hell
Story by Brian Joines
Art by Bachan and Jeremy Lawson

I recently showed my 4-year-old son – you guys remember Logan, right?Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for the first time. He’s already seen Back to the Future a bunch of times, and I wanted to show him there are cinematic time travelers way cooler than Marty McFly. At least Bill and Ted use the phone booth to go to more places than their own town.

Apparently, more than 25 years later, strange things remain afoot at the Circle K, as Wyld Stallyns’ co-founders are still kicking, at least in comics form.

Last year, BOOM Studios brought the pair back in Bill & Ted’s Most Triumphant Return, and this year they return again, most triumphantly, in Bill & Ted Go to Hell, the plot for which is as advertised. Someone has kidnapped B&T’s pal Death, which our heroes realize because he doesn’t show up at band practice Wednesday evening. To rescue Death, they round up their old friends Rufus, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln and Billy the Kid (Billy’s best friend, Socrates, isn’t invited) and mount a mission to hell, where they discover that the beast normally in charge of the place has been usurped. I won’t give away the final splash-page reveal, but suffice it to say the story’s big bad is another familiar yet most heinous face.

Bachan’s art captures the absurdity of the franchise, which went off the rails from time travel to the afterlife in the second film. In some ways it resembles a (slightly) toned-down version of the cartoon style Rob Guillory deploys on Image’s Chew. How else to draw a book that features a monstrous Easter bunny, good-robot versions of Bill & Ted and a giant, naked Satan?

The first issue alone features much of the movies’ supporting cast, including B&T’s princess wives, their infant sons, the aforementioned robots, their time-traveling companions, their dads, their ex-stepmom Missy, Death, Bogus Journey villain-turned-friend Chuck de Nomolos, military-school recruiter Col. Oats, et al. Brian Joines also nails Bill and Ted’s vocal ticks – that mix of stoner cadence and dime-store words like “egregious” and “odious.” (Seriously, are B&T smart or dumb? They nearly failed history in the first movie, but somehow they were able to figure out time travel enough to orchestrate a jailbreak.)

If you’re a fan of the movies and their minutiae, and you have the disposable income for a silly yet most epic adventure, the book’s a lot of fun. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to rewatch Bogus Journey, because it occurs to me I remember next to nothing about that film.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Recommended Reading for 2/19: Nixon's Pals

In my trades and back issue reading, I've been on a Joe Casey kick lately, and I realized that I had never written about anything Joe Casey before, and I knew that immediately needed to be remedied, as Casey writes some of the most interesting comics on the racks, with his work often about the intersection between current culture, technology, corporations, and super-heroes. His work is sometimes deconstruction (Automatic Kafka and The Intimates), sometimes straight superhero with a twist (Adventures of Superman and Cable), sometimes a mix of the two (Wildcats and Uncanny X-Men), and sometimes something completely unique and interesting (Godland). The book I picked today is a perfect example of Casey's ability to bend and mix genres together in ways that few other writers can: Nixon's Pals, the story of the parole officer for Los Angeles's super-powered criminal set.

Things aren't going great for Nixon Cooper at the beginning of the graphic novel. He's fighting with his wife about the odd hours his job makes him keep, and he's about to do an after hours home visit on one of his parolees who has missed a couple of check ins. And when Nixon goes in to check on The Bricklayer, you quickly learn something about him: while he might work with super-powered criminals, Nixon doesn't have any super-powers of his own, as The Bricklayer basically beast the crap out of him, breaks his arm, and when the house comes down on them, it leaves Nixon far worse for wear.

Nixon's status as an everyman is part of what makes him such an interesting protagonist in this world of supercreeps. He's a good guy who really wants to do right by his parolees, especially when set against his coworker Carlisle who happily admits to enjoying smacking around his parolees. But the couple of days that the story takes place over are those kind of days that push an everyman beyond the point of no return, Falling Down style. He finds out his wife is cheating on him with a supercriminal; all his parolees seems to be sliding back towards their criminal past; and he's having these frighteningly realistic alien abduction nightmares. It's a bad day.

If Nixon wasn't a sympathetic protagonist, you might take some glee in watching his life collapse, but he is one, and so you're rooting for him. But he's also a realistic protagonist, and that means he isn't always the nicest guy. As much as his wife tries to explain to him what was going on with her to get her to the point where she'd cheat, he won't listen; as a matter of fact he's cold and bordering on cruel when dealing with her. It's not an easy situation to be in, but he's not helping it. And eventually he reaches the point where he feels like the system just isn't working, so violence becomes his answer. This is a super-powered character comic, so you expect a degree of action, but this isn't a guy who's fighting the good fight because that's what he does, this is a guy out for revenge much of the time, but while still trying to do right by the people who are his parolees. It's a slippery slope he spends much of the book sliding down.

And in the end, he doesn't solve his problems legally, but he confronts supervillains with supervillains, and he gets a new and different life. It's a noir ending, where not even the hero walks out unscathed in the best noir traditions. I write often about Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip's comic book noirs, and my favorite is still Sleeper from Wildstorm (Joe Caeey also worked on a lot of great Wildstorm titles in that imprint's salad days), and if you're a fan of that book and its grey morality and crazy supervillains, this is right up your alley.

Surrounding Nixon are a group of parolees who are fascinatingly conceived supervillains. Sputter Kane is a man who can't miss with a firearm, and really wants to go straight. Maxfield Reactor is a guy walking around in a super-powered iron lung that gives his super strength and vents rocket fuel from his *ahem* derriere. And Alcehma is a former call girl turned stripper who has faces in her breasts and nipples where her eyes should be. In case you didn't get it before, this is NOT an all ages comic. There is also mad scientist Hugo Blivion, whose parole ended and he's out and about who has a real problem with Nixon, and is behind one of the book's most disturbing sequences.

That sequence is the continually more graphic and brutal alien abduction visions that Nixon experiences. Blivion is demonstrating his dream invasion tech on Nixon for the mob to see, and is doing it by trying to slowly drive Nixon insane with visions of alien experimentation on him. They're truly creepy and disgusting as they should be.

Chris Burnham, best known to me before this for his run on Batman Incorporated, is the artist in the book, and he really does great work here. He keeps Nixon looking like a normal guy even when surrounded by some truly obscene and bizarre figures. I don't know if the book was done full script or Marvel style, and how many of these villains sprang from his mind and how many were specifically designed by Casey, but if you factor in the tons of background villains in the restaurant where Nixon has his final confrontation with Black Eyed Pete, the never convicted super crook whose been sleeping with his wife, you know this is a guy with a wild imagination for grotesques in the best way.

But if you've stuck with this piece this long, here's a bonus recommendation, sine Nixon's Pals isn't the only Casey/Burnham collaboration. And as much about character as that book is, Officer Downe, a one-shot from Image from a couple years ago, is in many ways the opposite. So much of Nixon's Pals is understanding and liking Nixon, while Officer Downe is just a madhouse of chaos and violence.

Officer Downe is an immortalish LAPD officer who goes out and fights crime by killing it. He's brutal, packs a lot of firepower, and doesn't fear death. Everytime he dies, the collective telekinetic power of the world's most powerful psychic puts him back together and resurrects him, and he goes out and fights another day. It's one of the most brutal and bloody comics I've ever seen, and is told with a slapstick sensibility to it. In an interview at the back of the issue, Casey says he and Burnham worked off each other in a free form process, so this insanity is both of their brainchilds. There's not a lot more to say about this book other than if you enjoy a comic that's Judge Dredd meets Deadpool meets Axe Cop, then this is one to try. And a film is in post production starring Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy) as Officer Downe.

Oh, fun fact, Joe Casey is part of the Man of Action collective, best known probably for Ben 10 and Generator Rex, and both of these books were published under the MoA banner, so for those of you who think that MoA is just for kids... yeah, not so much.

Nixon's Pals and Officer Downe are available at better comic and book stores in a nice premium hardcover format that expands on their original releases.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Matt and Dan Go to the Movies- Deadpool

Dan Grote: Guys, I’m biased. You know that. Of the 119 posts I’ve written for the Matt Signal since February 2014, nearly 38 percent have been about Deadpool. This is a fan’s review.

That said, this movie nails it. Is it the best comic book movie ever? No. Is it the best Marvel movie? Also no. Is it the best possible filmic representation of my favorite character? Yes.

Ryan Reynolds, director Tim Miller and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick gave us a Wade Wilson who was funny, filthy, F’d up, violent and as much a thorn in the side of his enemies as his allies, all key ingredients in a Deadpool stew. If this movie were created purely as fan service, then sir or madam, I have been serviced.

And it’s a love story. Morena Baccarin (Gotham, Firefly) plays Vanessa as Wade’s equal in tragic backstory and sexual depravity. Trailers appeared to give her a little more to do than be damseled, which turns out not to be the case, but the strength of their relationship is still the movie’s emotional linchpin.

Matt Lazorwitz: And because the love story is important to the plot, the love story works! Since I only write about things I like on here, I’ve never discussed how love stories in superhero movies often feel tacked on, and lack chemistry between the leads. There are exceptions clearly (Chris Evans and Haley Atwell as Cap and Agent Carter jump immediately to mind), but often the standard romantic subplot in a superhero movie leaves me cold. Here though, because it’s important and it underlines so much of Wade’s motivation, it makes sense.

And aside from plot elements, Reynolds and Baccarin play off each other wonderfully. As Dan said, Baccarin plays her part as Wade’s equal, but she also is tough as nails and has a life her own. When Wade leaves, she goes on with her life; she’s not pining for him when he decides to come back. Morena Baccarin is becoming an actress with a ton of comic book acting credits, between Leslie Thompkins on Gotham, the voice of GIDEON on The Flash, and voicing Talia al Ghul in recent DC Direct-to-DVD films, but I have to say Vanessa is my favorite of her roles in a comic book property (Firefly/Serenity doesn’t count as a comic book property, so no angry comments).

DG: If there was one character I would have loved to have seen more of, it was Leslie Uggams’ Blind Al. I could have watched another five minutes of her and Wade arguing about Ikea furniture or Wade stroking her face with his regenerating baby hand. More of her in the sequel, please.

Deadpool works best when someone is trying to realign him from chaotic neutral to chaotic good. For the purposes of the film, that realigner is Colossus, a CGI character voiced by Stefan Kapicic, inheriting the role from Daniel Cudmore. Kapicic’s Colossus is a cartoon. His accent is ripped straight from the ’90s animated series (I kept waiting for him to yell “Illyana, my sister!”), and his personality is something out of a G.I. Joe public service announcement, whether he’s encouraging his trainee, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, to eat a healthy breakfast or lecturing Deadpool about how killing is wrong. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. To the contrary, it was just another thing that kept me laughing.

ML: Negasonic Teenage Warhead is a really deep cut, an obscure Grant Morrison character, played wonderfully by relative newcomer Brianna Hildebrand. Her quiet, sullen, surly teenage girl could easily have been eye-rollingly over played, but she keeps the right balance to it, and I liked that she and Wade wound up being friendly, if not friends. Also, it was great to see that under her Goth clothes she’s wearing an X-Men training uniform similar to those in the comics and in X-Men: First Class; little nods to the existing continuity make me smile.

DG: So can we all agree the final fight scene was staged at one of the three SHIELD helicarriers that blew up at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Obviously, nobody involved with the movie is ever going to confirm this, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people’s head canons are synchronized on this one.

ML: And little nods like that are part of Deadpool. There are a lot of references to Ryan Reynolds somewhat checkered past with superhero movies, like comments about green CG costumes and a mouthless X-Men Origins: Wolverine Weapon XI action figure. Also, while there is no Wolverine cameo, Deadpool makes a few barbed references to Fox’s previous mutant cashcow. And the fourth wall is completely shattered when Colossus says he’s bringing Wade to see Professor X, and not only does Wade ask “Stewart or McAvoy” but makes a continuity joke. These aren’t the jokes for every viewer, there are plenty of those, but the writers didn’t forget to lay out their fanboy Easter eggs.

Also, from a strictly movie making standpoint, the film had some great fight choreography. Sure, there are the standard bullet-time shots, but Wade’s pure brutality is spot on, and the fights are stylish. Also, credit for one of the best super strength fights I’ve seen between Colossus and Angel Dust. And while the soundtrack isn’t Guardians of the Galaxy’s “Awesome Mix,” the schizophrenia of bouncing from Juice Newton’s cover of “Angel of the Morning” to DMX’s “X Gon’ Give it to Ya” to Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl” (used in a way I bet he never imagined) to Team Headkick’s “Deadpool Rap” seems to speak perfectly to the spirit of the character and film.

DG: The closing credits thank Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, who co-created the character 25 years ago, but so much of this movie’s DNA comes from writer Joe Kelly and artists like Ed McGuinness and Walter McDaniel who worked on the early issues of Deadpool’s first solo series. Ajax, Blind Al, Sister Margaret’s Home for Wayward Girls, Wade’s self-loathing and aversion to/infatuation with becoming a hero, the origin of his name and the already-dated-no-matter-how-topical cultural references are all Kelly’s brainchildren. And while we’re doling out credit, the fourth-wall breaking comes from Christopher Priest, the pansexual winks come from the Internet, and Nicieza is responsible for Weasel, Vanessa and Bob. Dopinder the cab driver is an original character.

Yes, the post-credits scene was anticlimactic, but that was part of the movie’s metatextual commentary. And, hey, I’m still pretty excited that we’re getting [redacted] in the sequel. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/10

Batman #49
Story: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Art: Yanick Paquette & Nathan Fairbairn

Damn, I promised myself I wouldn't cry...  So, the one true Batman is back, and my heart is as broken as I expected it to be by the choices Bruce Wayne had to make, and even moreso by the choices the people who love him had to make. Snyder uses the mind download device from his short in Detective Comics #27 as the way that Bruce can reclaim his past, which makes a fun Elseworlds-type story into a very cool bit of foreshadowing. And as the attempts to download the old memories into the new Bruce's mind fail, we see visions of possible Batmen in Bruce's mind die with each failed download. These different realities all show different, unusual Batmen, some with hints of classic other versions of Batman, some completely new, and it's a credit to both Snyder and Tynion for the ideas, and artist Yanick Paquette for their execution; the centerpiece visions of Batman as Gotham's white knight is gorgeous, but a post-apocalyptic desert Batman with a similarly garbed Robin is the one that grabbed my attention the most. But as cool as the science fiction of the issue is, and all the alternate Batmen are, the thing that grounds the issue and that makes it one of the best Batman stories of Snyder's run on Batman is the interaction between Bruce and Alfred. This Bruce, the one without the trauma, is possibly an even grater hero than his old self, because he willingly makes the sacrifice of everything that makes him happy to save Gotham. And this isn't a "For the Man Who Has Everything" situation, where he's rejecting a fantasy. No, he's rejecting a better life and a better self. And Alfred, loyal Alfred, is pleading with him to not do it. Everything Alfred says, whether before he is forced to use the machine that might return Bruce's memories or might just kill him or after, are the words of someone who loves this man he is talking to like his son. And between those words and the absolute, heart-rending pain that Paquette draws on his face, you can't help but feeling your heart break too. And when Julie Madison enters the Batcave and... I don't want to spoil exactly what she has to do, but her backstory with Bruce has been really well seeded throughout the series, and her choice is just as heroic as Bruce's. The original Golden Age Julie Madison was never that memorable compared to other Batman love interests, and while Matt Wagner did some great stuff with her in Batman & The Mad Monk and Batman and the Monster Men, it's these stories that have earned her a place in my heart alongside Selina Kyle and Talia as one of the great loves of Batman and a great character in her own right. The final panel of the issue shows a Bruce Wayne, shorn of the beard he has worn in his recent life by the heat and lightning of the machine that has given birth to Batman once more, wearing a look that is pure Batman, and with two lines, "Save it for the car. Let's go to work," you know he's back, and that the evil Mr. Bloom's day in Gotham are numbered.

Harrow County #9
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Carla Speed McNeil & Jenn Manley Lee

After taking a couple months off, Dark Horse Comics' southern Gothic, Harrow County, returns with an issue focusing on one the series' principal supporting characters: the Skinless Boy, one of the "haints" that serves Emmy, the series protagonist. The issue takes place over one night, and starts out with a mysterious new character jumping from a train and entering Harrow County, catching a sparrow from the air and fashioning it into a flute, and with the music of the flute he summons the Skinless Boy. This new character is clearly a witch (wizard? sorcerer? monster?) in his own right, as he spends the night leading the Skinless Boy through a journey of discovery. What makes this story chilling is the way this new character gets into the head of the Skinless Boy, the way he taunts him about what his life was like before he became what he is, and how he leads him along this path, through the woods, to the brier patch where Emmy found his empty skin, which he carries with him, and to the house where there are answers to the question of who he was and what his name was. And when he enters the house, what he finds shows readers a new secret of Harrow County, a secret about how Hester, the witch who is both Emmy's mother and possibly Emmy herself, created all the creatures that she populated her little corner of the world with. And even as the man offers the Skinless Boy a chance to maybe reclaim something, a name and a life, we see that what appears to be a monster may be much less one. The Skinless Boy remains loyal to Emmy, but this new man, who addresses himself as, "The Boogeyman's Boogeyman," is out there, and it's clear he knows more about Emmy and Harrow County than maybe she does. This issue is a great jumping on point for this series, because even if it doesn't feature the series lead in a leading role, it gives the reader a sense of the atmosphere that Harrow County provides, and that atmosphere, of dark dread, is part of what makes this comic outstanding. Guest artist Carla Speed McNeil does a great job blending her own style with that or series regular artist Tyler Crook to make the issue feel like a seamless part of the same world that readers are familiar with. If the weather outside isn't chilly enough for you, pick up this new issue of Harrow County to get a good chill up your spine.

King's Road #1
Story: Peter Hogan
Art: Phil Winslade and Staz Johnson & Douglas Sirios

It's a testament to how much I enjoyed the King's Road serial in Dark Horse Presents that ran from April through June of 2013 that I remembered it clearly when this mini-series was solicited and was excited to see where the story went. And for those of you not reading Dark Horse Presents, this first issue reprints the three part prequel, so you're getting twice as much story for the price of one comic! King's Road is the story of Don, a man who left his home world, a fantasy type one, and through magic traveled to Earth, where he set up a normal life. But now, his brother the king is dead, and his sister the general has been transformed into a dog, and so he's now king. So Don and his wife Sophie, along with his kids, Ashley and Tyler, have to go back to his homeworld and stop the evil sorceress Malicia. Only the kids have no idea that their dad is from a fantasy world; they think he's just a boring regular dad. This first issue spends time with each member of the family, as well as Aunt Amerine, who is now a talking dog, so it feels like an ensemble book. There are monsters, sorcerers, a creepy amusement park, guardians disguised as friends, and a traitor in their midst. The charm of this issue is that it takes so many fantasy tropes and plays them straight. There's no deconstruction of the genre, just high fantasy mixed with a touch if family drama. There's something abut a well trod tale told well, and Peter Hogan knows his fantasy well enough to keep it interesting, and knows how to build likable characters. The opening chapter is by the inestimable Phil Winslade, one of those artists who has the chops to do great superhero comics, great horror, and great fantasy, all with a distinct style all his own. Staz Johnson comes in with the new material, and he's able to capture the same sense of motion and excitement as Winslade, but not lose his own work in Winslade's style; Johnson is one of those artists who did a lot of Batman adjacent work in the 90s-00s, and I have fond remembrances of his work their, and he's only gotten better. King's Road is a great comic if you're looking for a light, exciting action and fantasy comic that has touches of the best of heroic fantasy.

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars #4
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Pitarra & Michael Garland

After a considerable delay, the new Manhattan Projects arc/mini-series, The Sun Beyond the Stars wraps up, and it's quite an ending. When last we left Yuri Gagarin and Laika, they were on a space ship with a group of criminals, surrounded by a fleet of Sionnu Science Union ships ready to board them, and with Justice Ryleth, the insane judge whose been chasing them, waiting to board the ship as well. And things don't get better, Like, not one bit. Jonathan Hickman's creator owned books from Image don't really have much of a sentimental streak, and this is an issue that ends like a Shakespearean tragedy: there are bodies everywhere. Hickman gets to run rampant with the action, with a big fight between most of the crew and Ryleth, while Primor, the escaped Sionnu slave that has led an entire race of vile super scientists down upon their heads, prepares for his endgame. And boy it's quite an endgame. Nick Pitarra gets to really go to town this issue, drawing fighting aliens and robots, as well as giant tentacle monsters. Chekhov's (ray)gun goes off, with the spores that were the cause of much of this hunt going off at the end of the series, and leaving us with a pretty barren playing field. And with just our Manhattan Projects alums left, Laika and Yuri floating in space, you think you might get a final sweet reunion between a spaceman and his dog right? Hah, you don't know The Manhattan Projects do you? While many issues of The Manhattan Projects are full of mad science and lots of talking, it's nice to get this climax that's full of action and humor. Well humor as long as your sense of humor is warped enough, and I recommend a particularly warped one if you're going in to this comic. Now with this arc over, and Hickman's contract with Marvel complete (mostly anyway, C'mon, let's get the end of SHIELD please!), I'm hoping we'll get a new arc set back on Earth of Manhattan Projects soon, but as send offs go, this is a very good one for our astronauts.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thursdays with (Wade?) Jack: The Final (?) Chapter Of Joe Kelly's Deadpool Revisited

Today’s reading: Deadpool #30-33, July-October 1999
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Pete Woods (#30-32), Walden Wong (#31) and David Brewer (#31-33)

And now, the retcon you’ve all been waiting for ...

T-Ray is Wade Wilson. Deadpool is some guy named Jack. But not Jack Hammer. That’s Weasel, whom we haven’t seen since issue #14. None of this may be true, but also all of it may be.

Confused? Good. Let’s begin.

Issue #30 takes us back to that old den of mercenaries and plot setups, the Hellhouse, where Wade’s current boss, Alestaire Grunch, has come seeking aid from his former partner, Patch, the merc den mother of diminutive frame and demonstrative mustache. Alestaire is wracked with guilt after setting up Deadpool to take the Atlanta job arranged by T-Ray in issue #28, the one that reunited him with his dead wife, Mercedes.

Things have changed at the Hellhouse since T-Ray declared himself boss at the end of the “Drowning Man” story in issues #12 and 13. Most of the mercs have sided with the mystical albino, while the last two loyal to Deadpool – C.F. and Fenway – have gotten a lot meaner-looking to compensate.

Meanwhile, Deadpool has finally opened up to Mercedes – and the readers – about the night she died: Once upon a time in Maine, Wade and Mercedes Wilson were in love. They had a nice, cozy, secluded little place, where they spent a lot of time listening to Patsy Cline records and reading. One day, the two went down to the river for water when they came upon a frozen, hulking behemoth with a bandage on his nose. They took the man in and nursed him back to health, until one day, in the middle of a blizzard, the man killed Mercedes and left Wade for dead.

One big thing to note in Deadpool’s flashback: Wade Wilson has long, brown hair and a full beard. In nearly all previous drawings of pre-cancer Wade to date, he is depicted as having short, wavy blond hair and a little bit of scruff. It’s actually one of his go-to image inducer disguises.

Post-flashback, Wade is summoned to the Hellhouse, which works out as his next stop was tracking down Alestaire anyway. But to quote my favorite Star Wars character, it’s a trap. The T-Ray-aligned mercs are ready for Wade, and so he must stab, shoot and kick his way through a gauntlet of Street Fighter knockoffs, with the help of Patch, C.F. and Fenway.

The four of them manage to subdue the rest of the mercs, but the issue ends with Alestaire seized upon by a horde of possessed cats in a fit of karmic retribution, and Monty strung up in the Hellhouse by Deadpool’s old teleportation belt, having appeared there in a burst of green flame.

His friend in desperate need of medical attention, issue #31 opens with Deadpool taking Monty to the only place that might know how to treat him: Landau Luckman & Lake.

Except their old pal Zoe Culloden isn’t the same determined cheerleader she was in the run-up to “Dead Reckoning.” She’s an overboss now, and despite ordering Monty decommissioned for “experiencing unauthorized emotions” (aka kissing her), she’s decided Monty is LL&L property again and reclaims him. As for Deadpool, she incapacitates him and throws him in a cell, along with Mercedes and pilot Ilaney Bruckner, who were along for the ride.

Fortunately, Wade always keeps explosives wrapped in latex in his stomach for just such an occasion. A little boomsy-boom later, the three are taking up arms – even Mercedes, who by now is starting to grow accustomed to her husband’s hyperviolent lifestyle – against a squad of LL&L stormtroopers.

Meanwhile, Zoe, who has been tending to the unconscious Monty, begins to feel pangs of guilt. Finally, his brain starts to register activity again, and she sees what he’s dreaming about – him and Zoe on a date, Monty walking and rocking a pretty sweet purple deep V-neck sweater. This gives Zoe the push to take out her own men and aid Deadpool and company in their escape, and also quit LL&L.

Zoe and Monty teleport off into the sunset, but before they go, Monty offers one final prediction:

“Through that doorway sits your last opportunity at a normal life with the woman you love. If you take it, go somewhere T-Ray can’t find you. I promise you, you’ll live happily ever after.”

Wade, Mercedes and Ilaney step through the LL&L portal and wind up in Maine, at the house the Wilsons once shared, where T-Ray lies in wait. Seriously, Monty was never that good of a precog.

By issue #32, T-Ray is using more magic than he has ever been shown using before. He’s interfering in teleportation matrices, changing his appearance, casting illusions and trapping Wade, Mercedes and Ilaney in their own nightmares.

Being an ancillary character, T-Ray gives Ilaney an out, telling her she can go back home and let the main cast settle its business. But the former Alpine hermit has become a thrill junkie who feels indebted to Wade for pulling her back into the world:

“Before I meet Deadpool, my life is nothing. Loneliness. Thinking of suicide. Just guilt and pain. But that maniac thought enough of me to save my life. My worthless, pathetic life. I will never forget that debt. So you can take your cowardly offer, Herr T-Ray, and SHOVE IT!”

T-Ray responds to Ilaney’s bravado by calling her a piggie (seriously with the fat-shaming, you guys!) and having her eaten alive by little green bat-demons that transport her into an illusion in which she is forced to relive over and over the plane crash that drove her into hermitage. Among the passengers inserted into the illusion are Mercedes’ parents … whom Deadpool does not recognize.

Also unrecognizable to DP, the Hawaii beach where Wade and Mercedes spent their honeymoon. And the spot at their Calgary college where the Wilsons first met. And the fact that today is their anniversary.

Issue #32 closes with another visit to the scene where Wade and Mercedes rescue their frozen future killer. Except things are different this time. Their guest has a mustache instead of a nose bandage and is wearing familiar red-and-black pants.

Next issue, T-Ray tells Mercedes what we’re all meant to believe at this point: “I am Wade Wilson. Your husband. Happy anniversary, angel.” Honey, if that’s true, you married a real creep.

Amid more flashbacks, T-Ray tells the story of a mercenary named Jack who had long, brown hair, a mustache and wore a maskless version of Deadpool’s suit. He had failed a mission in Canada and ran across the border seeking to disappear. There, he was rescued by the Wilsons. He planned to kill Wade – drawn by artist David Brewer looking more like the pre-cancer Wade we’ve seen before – and steal his identity. Instead, Jack killed Mercedes. He thought he had killed Wade, too, but Wade was rescued by the people seeking to kill Jack. They trained him to become a mercenary as well, and he studied further in Japan to learn sorcery.

Jack, in the meantime, had snapped and believed he truly was Wade Wilson (If this is true, this is only the first time he’d lose his grip on sanity, the second being after the Weapon X cancer treatments that turned him into Deadpool, as shown in the Deadpool/Death ’98 annual).

To twist the knife further, T-Ray gives Mercedes a portion of his magic, turning her into a leather-lady version of the Goblin Queen from Inferno. He then shows Wade everyone he’s ever killed, from Ajax to the Executive Elite from his very first miniseries. (The “here’s everyone you’ve ever killed” schtick will resurface in the Deadpool vs. Thanos mini.)

At this point, T-Ray believes he has won and truly crushed Deadpool’s spirit. That’s when DP starts to laugh. He gives a long speech, but here’s the good bits:

“You ever see that old cartoon with the squirrel who’s trying to eat a coconut? Chuck Jones, I think. This squirrel finds a coconut and thinks that he’s hit the giant acorn motherlode, only he can’t crack the nut. It’s too hard. So he gets a jackhammer, he throws it downstairs, runs it over with a truck, nothing. Finally, he pushes this monster up a gazillion stairs all the way to the top of the Empire State Building and heaves it. Crack. Slowly, the shell peels back. And you know what’s inside? Another coconut shell. That squirrel is in cartoon hell. That squirrel is me. … But just like that squirrel, in another month or so, the cartoon reruns, and I try again.”

He talks about how he doesn’t regret trying to do the right thing, in spite of all the terrible things he’s done. He apologizes to Mercedes for everything. Then, he confronts his other victims:

“As for the rest of you – ahem – I wouldn’t apologize to you if you threatened to consign me to spend all eternity smothered in chocolate sauce and trapped in a Roseanne Barr/Star Jones sandwich! I’m glad you’re dead! If I could, I’d kill you again! Then I’d go back in time, impregnate each of your mothers to make sure you were born, and I’d kill you again! So if you want me to turn into some sort of bleeding heart and weep out an apology, you’re gonna have to rip it out of me!”

Now that’s the Deadpool I know and love.

DP gets in a few last licks on T-Ray, but Mercedes uses magic to teleport herself and T-Ray away and free Ilaney from her nightmare, effectively ending the battle. Deadpool, meanwhile, is left to fight his victims, which sends him, for the first time in a while, to the place between life and Death, where he can meet up with an old flame … for at least the next 30 days.

So there you have it, 33 issues of comedy, violence, self-loathing and guys named Jack. The “Who is the real Wade Wilson?” mystery is revisited by subsequent writers. Both Deadpool and T-Ray are proved to be unreliable narrators, and the rotating cast of artists and inkers over the past few issues has kept things so inconsistent as to render either view plausible.

From here, Christopher Priest takes over writing duties and does things like make Deadpool realize he’s a character in a comic book and induct him into a new Frightful Four alongside his old nonbuddy Taskmaster. The series will run through issue #69, to be resurrected as a Gail Simone-Udon Studios body-swapping book called Agent X. This is followed by the Fabian Nicieza-penned team-up book Cable & Deadpool, then a solo series by Daniel Way, and finally the modern creative team of Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne, et al.

As for Kelly, he would go on to write Action Comics and JLA for DC and the soon-to-be-a-movie I Kill Giants series for Image, and co-found Man of Action Studios, responsible for cartoons such as Ben 10 and Ultimate Spider-Man. He and artist Ed McGuinness also recently returned to our favorite mercenary in the new series Spider-Man/Deadpool. So he’s doing alright.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this deep dive down memory lane, and hopefully we all enjoy the Deadpool movie, which bows tomorrow. I won’t say this is the last Thursdays with Wade post – if this series proves anything, I’ll always have something to say about the man in the red-and-black pajamas – but it’s the last for a while. So until next time, may your katana always find its mark, and may your chimichangas be thoroughly microwaved.

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, February 8, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 2/3

Nailbiter #19
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson & Adam Guzowski

So, for every answer we get in Nailbiter, two more questions get asked. "Devil Went Down to Georgia" wraps up with the answer to who is the Devil Killer, and we finally pay off Agent Barker's continued homicidal fantasies. The payoff on the identity of the Devil Killer is perfect, and made so much sense when I saw it I don't know how I hadn't put two and two together on it before; I want to reread the arc and see if there were clues laid out that I completely missed the first time. But that answer opens up a bigger question involving The Master (who I've called The Doctor in the past) and The Butcher, the serial killers who seemingly protect or control Buckaroo's secrets. Whatever they're doing, we now know that while it is tied to  Buckaroo, it is not exclusively linked to that locale, which adds a whole new level of creepy, knowing they can turn people wherever they want, or so it seems. So many questions! But beyond the plot, there's the usual excellent character work this book does. Alice finally wakes up from her coma, with Sheriff Crane waiting by her bedside, and the fact that Alice is about to learn about the truth of who her parents are can only mean big things for her next arc. Finch continues to be the rock the book rests on, the most stable (which is saying something since he has crazy rage issues himself)of the lot, but his interview with Edward Charles Warren, the Nailbiter himself, opens up with a question that I never thought to ask: How many of Warren's forty-six victims did he really kill? I've always chalked Warren's odd behavior to him being a serial killer with a code of ethics, but now I'm wondering how much of a serial killer he is. And we get to finally see more of Agent Carroll, who is now back in FBI care, since he had his legs and arms cut off in Buckaroo, presumably by The Butcher. And without spoiling anything, if you thought things couldn't get any worse for him, it can. I want to take a minute and really call out Mike Henderson's art on this issue and this title in general. This book is a synthesis of story and art like all comics, but Williamson and Henderson work together perfectly, Henderson has a sense of pacing that works really well in the horror scenes, like the confrontation between Barker and Carroll at the end of the issue, and he draws precise, intimate fight scenes; they're not your big superhero slugfests, but down-and-dirty, up close and personal fights. And his faces! This issue, there were some really great expressions, specifically a panel of Barker as she gets hit with the news there is no cure for what happens in Buckaroo, Finch as her begins to interview Warren, and pretty much all of Warren during that interview. The raw emotion or sly satisfaction are played out in a way that few other artists can capture. Nailbiter is taking a two month break between issues, one for the new trade and one for a hardcover of the first two arcs. I'm planning a full recommended reading for the book in between now and then to really spread the word, so if you like horror or suspense, really give it a shot. You won't be disappointed.

Princeless- Raven: The Pirate Princess #5
Story: Jeremy Whitley
Art: Rosy Higgins & Ted Brandt

I'm about to speak a blasphemy. As much as I love Princeless, and I love Princeless, I think I'm starting to love the spinoff, Raven: The Pirate Princess, even more. It has everything Princeless has, all the amazing female characters, social commentary, smart plots, only there's even more of it. This issue takes place on Raven's pirate ship as the all female crew of pirates she took on last issue are just getting their sea legs. Before this issue, the women were pretty much just first mate Katie's role-playing friends, but this issue we get to tour the ship with Ximena, Raven's former best friend and current navigator of the ship, and get a brief moment with most of the crew. There are women who are physically fit and looking for challenges that way, there are some who are playing games, some who are just working around the ship. One is deaf, one is lounging around, one is wearing something akin to traditional hijab, and there's a brief discussion about the choice to wear that, and how others might view it as oppression but in many cases, the women who wear them are doing so by their choice, which was something that got Ximena to think, and me too. This really impressed me, since it would be so easy to have a ship full of red shirts, since it's an entire crew, and just focus on Raven, Ximena, Katie, Sunshine, and Jayla, the five characters we met in the first arc. Giving these characters in the crew fuller personality means the reader has more buy in, and I know I don't want to see any of them die or be hurt; I don't think I felt that about any random crewman on the Enterprise. A lot of Raven's part of this issue sees her getting her feet under her as a captain. There's a lot about Raven that I like. Despite being captain, she's willing to make much of what the ship does a democracy, as long as her crew remembers who's in charge during battle; democracy during fights gets people killed. She wants to be the best captain she can be. And when she has to deal with Jayla, resident scientist and doctor of sorts, who is being something of a complete brat, when she stops to think, she gives Jayla a shot, and assures her that people will listen. Jayla is the youngest of the crew, and a lot of her bratiness comes from wanting to be taken seriously. This is the first issue of the series with the whole cast, and we're already getting relationships building, be it Sunshine befriending Jayla after Jayla put together a seasickness cure, or the continually frayed relationship between Raven and Ximena. I'm also impressed by the fact that Rosy Higgins has created a crew of I think sixteen characters all with diverse ethnicity and body type who are also facially distinct. Each issue of Raven: The Pirate Princess builds off the last and gives us more and more characters to love, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when the crew does their first pirating. That has to be coming, after all, because they're pirates, but for now, this issue is a wonderful calm before the storm.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Recommended Reading for 2/5: Super Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice

The concept of younger versions of adult characters meeting and having adventures isn't anything new. I remember Muppet Babies when I was a kid, and to this day, once of my favorite movies of all time is Barry Levinson's vastly underrated Young Sherlock Holmes. I've written about Skottie Young's charming Little Marvels, Art and Franco's Tiny Titans and Itty Bitty Hellboy,and Yale Stewart's JL8. A couple of weeks back, a new entry into this genre was released, from creators familiar to The Matt Signal, I hope: creators of Li'l Gotham, Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen released Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice through Scholastic Books.

Study Hall of Justice isn't just Li'l Gotham in a new form; there are two very distinct differences. Firstly, the characters in Li'l Gotham were the regular adult versions of the characters, just drawn in Dustin Nguyen's most cartoony style. More importantly, the format is completely different. While there are comic pages, this book falls into the same journal mixed with comics style similar to the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid, My Dumb Diaries, and Jeffrey Brown's Jedi Academy books. Told from Bruce Wayne's perspective, the book is the story of Bruce at his new school, Ducard Academy , which is filled with familiar faces, both heroic and villainous (although mostly villainous).

If the cover didn't completely give it away, while Bruce Wayne might be our narrator and lead, his friends are also recognizable stars of the DC trinity, Clark Kent and Diana Prince. Each of out leads are recognizable as who they will become, but are clearly still finding out who they are. Bruce is the detective, investigating and curious, and takes himself a bit too seriously. Clark is as earnest as you'd expect from a young Superman, but doesn't entirely have the mastery of his powers or of not occasionally mentioning he might be an alien. Diana is still finding the balance between the Amazon teachings of peace and war, and has a bit of a temper. Much of the book is the three of them, all kids who are different and don't have many friends, learning not only about the mysteries of Ducard Academy, but also about friendship.

The other students in the school are not quite as concerned with friendship and doing right as our three leads. One of the joys as a longtime fan of DC Comics in reading this book is seeing all the characters Nguyen crams into his illustrations. Some villains have prominent rolls, like Lex Luthor (class president), Circe, Poison Ivy, and Mister Freeze (the staff of the school paper), Bane (the school bully), Talia, Catwoman, and a gang of clowns led by Joker and Harley. But pretty much every student is a recognizable villain, and it's fun to play the game of, "I know that character!" The teaching staff, by the way, is of as dubious character as many of the students, including history teacher Vandal Savage, Mr. Jervis Tetch teaching English (just one book, Alice in Wonderland), a Brainiac robot as the librarian, and teaching Boy's Gym is Coach Zod.

The plot that drives the book and makes it more than just a cute bunch of in jokes for nerds like me and lessons about getting along is the mystery of what exactly is going on at Ducard Academy. Bruce is immediately suspicious when he sees ninjas hiding around the school, and the fact that bullying, cheating, and generally bad behavior seems encouraged, as well as the fact that the teachers aren't really teaching much, has his detective senses on high alert. Once he meets and becomes friends with Clark and Diana, they begin trying to find out the secret of the school, as well as its mysterious, never seen principal. If you've seen Batman Begins the school's name is a pretty good hint as to who is behind this whole school for villains.

The investigations leads the "Criminal Investigations Unit," as Bruce calls them (and don't call the Junior Detectives! That's for kids), to try to join sports teams, run for student office, write for the school paper, all to no avail. There's a lot of comedy in these attempts, and in the interactions between our leads. Bruce's too serious attitude alienates his friends at time, and  the ever optimistic Clark doesn't understand Bruce's brooding or Diana's anger. These are really well defined versions of the characters, even if they're different from the ones I read about each month, and I like how Fridolfs and Nguyen handle them. They're relatable to kids in a way that the grown up versions aren't, but the book never talks down to the younger readers who are the target audience.

As is the custom with this format, the book also has "artifact" pages, almost like scrapbook items, as part of it. Report cards, student evaluations, and pages from the school paper give readers a better idea of what's going on around school. Aside from the text of Bruce's journal and the comic pages, we also see "screen grabs" from various on-line chats between Bruce, Diana, and Clark. These pages can also be packed with Easter Eggs. The report Bruce gets from an outside, grownup detective about some of the clues at the school comes from Vic Sage, P.I., and a page that shows Bruce's locker has photos of Sherlock Holmes, Zorro, and the Grey Ghost, as well as a copy of Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs, and a can of shark repellent.

The art throughout is top notch, something I'd expect from an artist like Dustin Nguyen. His character designs are stellar, not drawing little adults but kids, aging the characters down but making them still recognizable. The highlight of the art are a few two-page spreads that really let Nguyen show off. The Halloween spread shows many of the kids in costumes that they will wear again as grown-ups, the Valentines Day spread is full of Easter Eggs as we see Valentines from various girls to Bruce, all of which have hints of what their identities will be as adults villains and heroes. and the Christmas spread shows the home lives of our three leads.

I've always enjoyed all ages comics and YA books, and like championing them to as wide an audience as I can. Super Hero Society is a perfect book to share with the kids in your life, or to read on your own: it's charming, well structured, well illustrated, and a blast to read. Every fan of DC Comics should give it a shot, and if you aren't? Read it anyway. You might become one.

Super Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice is available at comic shops and book stores now.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 20

Today’s reading: Deadpool #26-29, March-June 1999
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Pete Woods (#26, 28 & 29) and Walter McDaniel (#27)

You just saved the world, and your book’s been spared from cancellation. Now what?

This is the question Joe Kelly is left to wrestle with as he continues writing a series that was supposed to end with issue #25.

Fortunately, there’s one big mystery left over from the previous 25 issues: Why does T-Ray hate Deadpool so much?

The answer to that question is one big retcon that has since been unretconned, reretconned and contraretconned, in what can only be described as the Continuity Curse of the Kelly Run.

But first, a cast reshuffle, a Howard the Duck villain, and a pointless fight with Wolverine!

Deadpool has pulled up stakes from San Francisco and moved into the Bolivian fortress he raided in issue #1. And he’s got a new roommate. Blind Al is, inexplicably, out, and Montgomery, the former Landau Luckman & Lake precog, is in. You may recall from the end of issue #25 that Monty kissed his true love and co-worker, Zoe Culloden, who upon promotion to overboss had him decommissioned and thrown out of the company because she couldn’t handle having a skinless, wheelchair-bound boyfriend.

Wade also has a new pilot: Ilaney Bruckner, whom you may remember from the Ajax story. Turns out she didn’t die after all!

(Writer’s aside: This seems like something I should’ve known and pointed out in writing about Ilaney earlier, right? Yes. If I’m being completely honest, the eight issues that make up Kelly’s Deadpool denouement kind of faded from my memory, save for the big T-Ray reveal at the end and the fight with Wolverine.)

Sadly, much like before, Ilaney is the butt of a number of fat jokes that I still maintain were wholly unnecessary.

Despite having saved the world, Wade is still a miserable sack of stuffing. Part of him believes all he did was curse the human race to remain unhappy as a result of getting to keep its free will. He’s no longer on the LL&L payroll, and so he’s gone back to mercenary work, though this time for a Moroccan gentleman named Alestaire Grunch who tortures cats and used to be the business (and life?) partner of Patch, the diminutive old curmudgeon who runs Hellhouse.

Wade’s also going a bit nuts … OK, nutser. He’s begun hallucinating a beautiful, raven-haired woman who hangs out with bunnies and pours liquor into milk jugs. And so he’s started seeing a shrink. Or rather, he’s started seeing Howard the Duck villain Doctor Bong. His prescription, or Deadpool’s interpretation of it, at least: Go fight Wolverine.

Logan just so happens to be in San Francisco’s Chinatown district, visiting a generic old friend. And he’s brought fellow X-Man Kitty Pryde along with him. Kelly does a great job of mocking Wolverine’s narration boxes from the time period, that mix of violent 1970s antihero appropriating Eastern zen wisdom:

“Smell is the sense that most closely links us to memory. A breath of half stale air in a district like Chinatown unlocks a glut of images. Old friends, lovers, dead goat on a beach, my tricycle, Ginger, the spice and the castaway, chopsticks jutting out of a guy’s eyeballs like cockroach antennae. Sometimes, I wish that when I smelled an egg roll, it just smelled like an egg roll.”

Deadpool disguises himself as an old-lady street merchant but drops the ruse once Wolverine’s sniffer susses him out. He then proceeds to provoke Logan, who doesn’t appear to be in a fighting mood until Wade hits Kitty with an uppercut straight outta Street Fighter. As Wade and Wolvie exchange blows, Wade comes to the realization that he knows the woman in his hallucinations.

“She’s just the broad who stole my heart a long time ago, then got dead,” he tells Doctor Bong. Issue #27 closes with the actual woman of Deadpool’s hallucinations running from some unseen terror in Atlanta. She drops a locket, inside which is a picture of her with a man, and the inscription reads, “Love always, Wade.”

Issue #28 opens with some creepy looking narration boxes we haven’t seen in a while, familiar green flames and a fella in a cloak plotting to make Wade Wilson’s life miserable from afar. We’ll get back to him.

In the meantime, Alestaire’s got a new assignment for Deadpool, in Atlanta of all places, a job that came on magic paper that turns into green flames (SEE?!). The target, the raven-haired woman from Wade’s hallucinations. But he’s not the only merc on the job.

Enter Bullseye. How long has it been since these two crazy kids hung out?

Issue sixteen. Greece,” Wade replies, a mere hint of the fourth-wall breaking that will become far more pervasive under the next writer, Christopher Priest.

Deadpool sees this familiar woman as the key to his sanity and tries to talk his old friend out of making the hit. Bullseye responds by stabbing Deadpool in the side and bounds off to do his anything-can-be-a-deadly-projectile schtick. They have a pretty sweet fight that ends with Bullseye taking a boomerang-shaped spoiler to the chest. Despite the mask – and the face covered in scars beneath it – the woman, Mercedes, believes Deadpool to be Wade Wilson, her long lost husband. And Deadpool believes Mercedes should be dead.

But wait, when was Wade ever married? Was this before or after Weapon X? How come this wasn’t mentioned in the Flashback Month issue? And what does T-Ray have to do with any of this?

Patience, my friends. We’re getting there.

Issue #29 opens with Deadpool forcing Latverian scientists to run DNA tests to prove Mercedes isn’t a clone, by threatening their prized collection of Star Trek memorabilia.

Monty, meanwhile, wants to know who this woman is who’s sleeping in Wade’s bed and why he’s never heard of her, despite spending years researching his life in preparation for him to become the Mithras.

Deadpool doesn’t get very far in explaining when a horde of zombies comes crashing into his Bolivian pad, led by none other than Black Talon.

For those who did not read this past fall’s Deadpool vs. Thanos miniseries. Black Talon is a voodoo priest who wears a rooster costume and practices necromancy. He comes seeking Mercedes because as a resurrected dead woman she is a near-perfect construct and he wants to learn her secrets.

This fight scene is played nearly entirely for laughs, including Deadpool’s own. Assisting in the hilarity is Monty, who, given his physical appearance, attempts to blend in with the zombies, grunting things like “Brains is good food” and “Eep op ork ahh ahh.”

Eventually, though, the old ultraviolence kicks in, and Mercedes screams for Wade to stop mercilessly wailing on Black Talon, who by now has lost control of his zombie horde, which has turned to dust. Wade responds in sadly characteristic Wade fashion:

“Maybe you didn’t notice, but this chicken McNugget impaled me with a ten-inch steak knife! Healing factor or not, I’d say I’m entitled to a little payback! So get off my hump before I forget my life has gone ape snot since you breezed back into it and wish I’d never saved you in the first place!”

Mercedes runs off, and Deadpool lets slip to Monty this key bit of backstory to close out the issue:

“Years ago, in the snow, “Crazy” (the Patsy Cline song, later featured in the Deadpool video game) playing in the house behind us, my wife was murdered, and all I could do was watch.”

The story of Mercedes’ death, and how Deadpool and T-Ray play into it, will be revealed across the final four issues of the Kelly run, which we’ll cover in next week’s final Thursdays with Wade before the Deadpool movie premiere. 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.