Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/25

DC Universe: Rebirth #1
Story: Geoff Johns
Art: Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Phil Jiminez, Brad Anderson and Jason Wright, Joe Prado, Hi-Fi Colors, Gabe Eltaeb, & Matt Santorelli

Last week, the internet broke in half twice, and I'm here to tell you about the time that filled me with joy and hope. DC Universe: Rebirth begins a new phase in the history of DC Comics, linking the old with the new, and done through one of my favorite characters of all time, Wally West, the pre-Flashpoint version. I'm not even going to try to avoid spoilers here, since everything was spoiled on the internet days before the comic came out. The book is framed around Wally trying to make his way out of the Speed Force, where he has been trapped since the events of Flashpoint. Through Wally's tour of the DC Universe as it stands, we see hints of the existence of the Justice Society and the Legion of Super-Heroes, we see the return of the idea of legacy, as Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes meet, Ryan Choi has to take up a size changing belt to aid Ray Palmer, and Wally himself sees his cousin, the Wally West of the New 52, and feels his own legacy is in good hands. We get a heart breaking scene as Wally reaches out to Linda Park, his true love and anchor, who can not remember him, and a moment of triumph as Barry Allen does. What Wally talks about, as he tries to break through, is that there is a secret threat, one that has not only stolen a decade from the lives of the DC Universe, but has also stolen love and hope. This is some intense meta-commentary about the state of DC Comics, some that has come through more and more of late (the pre-Flashpoint Superman, who has been living in secret for years and who appears here as well, has commented repeatedly in his recent mini-series how much more cynical this new world is then his own), but coming from Johns himself, it's more palpable, as he is the man who wrote Flashpoint, who wrote the flagship title of the New 52, Justice League, and who has been a driving creative force behind DC Comics for over a decade now. And the use of the characters from Watchmen, while something that will/has polarized fans, is to me a very smart move, as it is the real life story that brought that sense of cynicism to comics, for good or ill. I loved this comic more than any event comic I've read in many many years. The idea of hope and legacy coming back to DC Comics is something I've been hoping for, and this is a huge step in that direction. It's got beautiful art, and engaging story, and the return of a character I love. I could not be more excited to see where DC takes their universe next.

Munchkin #17
Story: Sam Sikes & John Kovalic
Art: Mike Lucas and Meg Casey & John Kovalic

I've talked about my love of games before, and while I have enjoyed playing Munchkin, the game where you rob tombs, kill monsters, and stab your buddies in the back, it's not a game that I play a lot. However, the comic that the game has spawned is a delight, It's a simple, fun comic that is funny and each issue features a couple of bizarre and quirky stories. I've always meant to review it, because it's fun, but never got around to it. Until today. As always, this issue features two different stories. The first one, "My Faire Munchkin" has one of the series two major Munchkins at a faire in his medieval world, attempting to win the PRINCESS (not the capitalization) in the tournament. For those of you who don't know the term, in this case munchkin means a player who plays a non-competitive game aggressively, usually to the detriment of those around him or her. Spyke initially gets trounced, and then spends the rest of the story, well, cheating. Munchkin isn't a series that rewards good behavior, but it doesn't reward bad behavior either; Spyke is a lousy little jerk, and when he wins by cheating, well, the princess he meets is not the PRINCESS he anticipated. The story that made me decide to review the issue, though, was the second, "Munchkin Fu Mikado." Written and drawn by Dork Tower creator, and original Munchkin artist, John Kovalic, this story features Spyke meeting up with a monster and fighting him, before they're both tricked out of their swag by Flower, the series other principle Munchkin. Again, pretty simple story, but what made me love this was most of the dialogue is set to the tune of songs from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. There are notes to what song you can YouTube or Spotify to read along with, but I know most of that music, and it totally works. It is singularly ridiculous, and that just completely sells me on this issue. If you want to read a comic that just gives you a laugh, this is a perfect issue.

Secret Six #14
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Tom Derenick & Jason Wright and Rex Lokus

And once again, we reach the end. The second volume of Secret Six reaches its end as the team raids the League of Assassins stronghold to rescue their lost comrade, Strix, from Lady Shiva. As they face down the guards of the League, we get a bit of narrative from each of them. We see the theme that has been central to not just this volume of Secret Six, but the original as well, that of family. It's a violent, bloody, and bizarre family, but a family nonetheless. It's a big, crazy, issue, with all the blood and guts, and all the humor, that is the trademark of Secret Six, but each of these  people, Black Alice, Elongated Man, Catman, Strix, and Porcelain, as well as the Female Furies, as Knockout calls herself and Scandal, Jeanette, Ragdoll, are a mess, and together they have made something akin to a family. Despite them all being killers, and most of them completely mad, you feel not just sympathy, but genuine affection for these characters because they are all so clearly trying to make something better of themselves. I don't use that in the respect of, "They're trying to go straight and become productive members of society." No. They're trying to become something fuller than what they are by becoming something greater together. And it's heartwarming. But there's a character I didn't mention above, and that is the Ventriloquist, and her dummy Ferdie. And that's because not everyone is wired to be like this Secret Six. Having the Ventriloquist be treacherous and selfish not only makes perfect sense for her character, and also fits well with the history of the Six, as they've had their share of traitors, but because family doesn't save everyone. Some people are just too broken. Although you have to wonder, since the part of her that was Ferdie did really and truly want to help the others, if maybe there's some kernel of light in her dark soul. The final pages are just a smile inducing scene of the team enjoying the backyard of Ralph and Sue Dibny (and they're together and happy! Thanks, Gail!), and Strix, who has been lonely and lost since she first escaped the Court of Owls some time ago, now living in a big treehouse in Ralph's back yard, ends the series with this, "I am Strix. I have a weird family. And that is enough," And I think if that was enough for everyone, we'd be in a better place. So that ends the new volume of Secret Six. As far as I know, there are no plans for a return to these characters any time soon, but I can only hope that we'll meet again.

Star Wars #19
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Lenil Franic Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, & Sunny Gho and Java Tartaglia

"Rebel Jail," the current arc on the Star Wars ongoing, wrapped up this past week, and it ends on a strong note. Leia, Dr. Aphra, and Sana have arrived at the hanger bay, only to find Luke and Han having just arrived and been captured by the armored mystery man who attacked the titular rebel jail, Sunspot Prison. And he's going to blow them up if Leia doesn't kill Aphra, to show to him that she's willing to make what he views as the hard choices. It's a war of ideals, and when the man takes off his helmet, it becomes all the harder. The man in the armor has been Eneb Ray,the Rebel spy from Star Wars Annual #1, so broken by the failure of the assassination of the Emperor that he has become this cold killer. And while things are dicey, Leia is clever enough to find a way to stop him. I love that it's the Princess who saves the men who rescued her at the Death Star this time, but not without Sana and Aphra getting their licks in. Sana and Aphra are the best human characters that have been introduced in the new Star Wars series (I say human because Triple-Zero and BeeTee-One, the evil Threepio and Artoo, are my favorites period), and adding a complicated backstory between them is a nice touch, giving them depth and not depending on their relationship to movie characters to define them. And while Leia walks out of the story with her idealism intact, offering hope and a hand to both Aphra and Ray, the parties hunting the rebels are all the closer, and this seems to be far from the last we've seen of Eneb Ray. I hope to see more of all these characters, and maybe it's time to have a spotlight mini-series for some of these new characters; we've seen plenty for movie characters, but the spotlight on new characters has always been something I've loved in Star Wars fiction. Star Wars often works best when the good guys are on the run and surviving by wits and the skin of their teeth, which is why the period between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back is such a fertile ground for stories, and it looks like the classic characters are in for it as tis series continues.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Kickstarter Spotlight On: Hexer Dusk

As I get ready for what looks to be a busy Memorial Day weekend, I just wanted to write a quick post about a Kickstarter I'm really excited about. I've written about the work from John Ostrander and Jan Duursema a bunch over the years, especially their work together on Star Wars: Republic,  Star Wars: Legacy and Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi. But now, the two of them are back together, working on a new original graphic novel Kickstarter, a sci-fi/fantasy mash up called Hexer Dusk.

I'm not going to talk too much, because Jan and John do that better than I could on the Kickstarter page and in this new interview on Comic Book Resources, but just check that out. It sounds amazing! It's got falling sky cities, demons, and is headlined by one of the last of the solider/magic users called Hexers, Xane Dusk. Looking at the sample art, it's got a touch of Legacy, with it's broken down, hardscrabble world, some of John Ostrander's classic Grimjack, and whole lot of Jan Duursema's amazing design work.

So, go read that interview, then visit the Kickstarter and pledge! It's just about 97% funded, so your pledge might be the one that puts it over the top. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend, and see you Monday!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Return of the Fearsome Fangs!

Season One, Episode Eleven: Return of the Fearsome Fangs!
Written by Todd Casey
Directed by Brandon Vietti

Plot Synopsis

In the Old West, the bounty hunter Jonah Hex is tied to four hoses on train tracks, about to be pulled apart by the Royal Flush Gang of the era. At noon, the station whistle will startle the horses and they will pull Hex apart. As the whistle blows, a Batarang severs the ropes, and Batman pulls off a poncho and stands to fight the Gang. The Royal Flush Gang take off on horseback, but Batman and Hex chase them down. Hex asks Batman if he wants a share of the bounty, which Batman refuses, but Hex throws him a gold coin and tells him to get a proper cowboy hat, because Hex can't partner with someone in that ridiculous Bat outfit

Episode: An old man walks out of a temple at the top of a mountain, only to be fired upon by archers, but he deftly destroys the dozens of arrows with his cane. Ninjas fall upon him, but he just as easily stops them. He calls out to the ninjas' leaders, Fox, Shark, and Vulture, the Terrible Trio, asking when they will give up. Fox, their leader, says only when they have the totem. Shark and Vulture attack, but the old man bests them, mentioning he was their former master. But while the man is distracted, Fox shoots a poison dart at him, and he falls. As the sun rises, the ninjas disappear, and the Trio disappear as well, leaving the poisoned man, who Fox says will be dead by nightfall.

Batman captures The Top, who is robbing a bank, but is then pulled into a psychic realm at the voice of the old man, who he calls Master Wong Fei. Wong Fei pokes fun at Batman's form and his costume, but tells him that Batman's old classmates and their Shadow Clan are coming to take the Wudang totem, which will grant them limitless power, and Batman must come to the Wudang Temple to stop them before sunset. Batman says he will bring Bronze Tiger as well, but Wong Fei scoffs, saying Tiger is too proud to come to the school's aid. When Batman says he will see Wong Fei before nightfall, the old master says he will not, that his journey is done, and then fades away.

In the Batplane, Batman flashes back to his time as a young man in the Wudang Temple. There we see a young Batman, wearing the mask of the Bat, along with the Terrible Trio and Bronze Tiger. Wong Fei begins his training in the ways of the spirit animal he has chosen, teaching Batman how to fight blind. He fends off the Trio, but Bronze Tiger connects, and with Batman stunned, Fox begins to kick him while he's down, Wong Fei calls for a stop, but Fox continues, and Bronze Tiger knocks him down. Wong Fei chastises all three, saying Bat was terrible, Fox must not seek enjoyment in battle, and Tiger must let Bat fight his own battles. Bat does thanks Bronze Tiger, who walks off in a huff.

In a jungle, Batman finds Bronze Tiger fighting a cage match, and sees he is the undefeated champ. When Tiger sees Batman, he calls him up to fight with him. Batman doesn't want to fight, and that the Wudang Temple needs them, but Tiger refuses to help, saying he only defends this village now. Batman jumps into the ring and challenges Tiger, saying if Batman wins, Tiger must join him and fight by his side. They fight, and Tiger has the upper hand until Batman tells him the lesson Wong Fei taught after Tiger left the school: When all else fails, cheat. Batman trips Tiger with marbles and then gets him in an arm lock until Tiger taps out.

They arrive at Wudang Temple, and Batman explains about the Shadow Clan,which only exisst at night, and the Wudang totem, and how the totem will grant the Shadow Clan immeasurable power. Tiger scoffs at the magic of it all in frustration, moving into another flashback. All the students are challenged to attack Wong Fei, and Fox wonders if eh kills Wong Fei if he can jkeep the temple for himself. Wong Fei  bats Vulture and Shark aside one handed. He sidesteps Fox and knocks him aside as well, making it clear he heard Fox's snide remarks.Bat attacks, and though it takes a little more effort, Wong Fei beats him as well. Tiger, though, puts up a real fight, breaking Wong Fei's staff before he is beaten. But Wong Fei offers no compliment, again tossing insults at Tiger, who takes off his mask and walks away.

In the temple in the present, Batman and Bronze Tiger walk into the totem's room just as the Terrible Trio and the Shadow Clan arrive to take it. Fox directs his underlings to kill the heroes, and Batman fights Shark and Vulture as Tiger goes after Fox, still full of anger at him for being dismissive years ago and too proud to think he can be beaten, only to be overpowered by a mass of ninjas. With Batman and Tiger held by the ninjas, the Trio walk forward and pick up the totem together, and are transformed into animal/human hybrids of their totem animals. Tiger again goes for Fox, and when Batman goes to his aid is intercepted by Vulture, who flies him into the air and drops him off the mountain,

Seeing Batman fall, Tiger is distracted and Fox is able to grab him, and though Tiger breaks the hold, Fox defeats him, telling him that Fox will let him live just so he can see that he has failed to defeat the Trio, and the destruction of Hing Kong and his village at their hands. Tiger is left alone as the Batplane appears, and Batplane orders him to get in.

In Hong Kong, bulked up Shadow Clan ninjas and the transformed Trio are menacing the populace. The Batplane flies over and the heroes see ships sailing in filled with magically mutated Shadow Clan ninjas. Vulture flies up and disables the plane, but Batman and Tiger bail in time, only to be faced by the Trio and all their ninjas. Batman prepares for a fight, but Tiger offers his surrender if Fox swears to spare his village. Fox agrees, but only if Tiger bows before him, and Tiger agrees, saying his pride has gotten the best of him too many times, but reminds Batman of Wong Fei's greatest lesson: when outmatched, cheat.Tiger knocks the totem from Fox's hands, and Batman and Tiger grabbing it, transforming into animal hybrids themselves.

Their power now equal, Tiger defeats Shark handily, then begins defeating ninjas. Batman embraces Wong Fei's teaching, letting his other senses take over, and he is able to defeat Vulture's sneak attack from behind, and takes to the air himself on his bat wings to defeat him. As Tiger battles Fox for the totem, Batman destroys the oncoming ships. Tiger finally defeats Fox, and he and Batman take the totem back to the temple. Tiger decides to stay at the temple, bringing his people with him to restart the school and defend the totem, With a smile, Tiger challenges Batman to a rematch, and the two leap at each other as the episode ends.

Who's Who

Bronze Tiger (Voiced by Gary Anthony Sturgis)
First Comic Book Appearance: Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter #1 (April-May, 1975)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Eleven- Return of the Fearsome Fangs!

Ben Turner was a young man who travelled to Asia to learn martial arts, and mastered many of the arts along with his fellow student, Richard Dragon. Turner, taking the name Bronze Tiger, and Dragon began working for covert intelligent agencies under spymaster King Faraday and infiltrated the League of Assassins, where Tiger was taken and brainwashed to join the League. Faraday eventually discovered this and sent his agents Rick Flag and Nightshade to retrieve him and they were able to break his brainwashing. Filled with guilt at all the deaths he caused while under League control, Tiger became one of the regular members of the Suicide Squad for quite some time, until he eventually felt he had done enough and became a martial arts teacher and mentor. In the current, post-Flashpoint continuity, he is once again a member of the League of Assassins. Bronze Tiger is one of the most proficient martial artists in the world; he has bested Batman and is seen on par with Lady Shiva.

Terrible Trio 
First Comic Book Appearance: Detective Comics #253 (March, 1958)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Eleven- Return of the Fearsome Fangs!

The earliest version of the Terrible Trio were inventors who donned the masks of animals, built inventions around those themes, and became criminals. Over the years they have popped up occasionally, usually fighting Batman, although they once became heads of industry and fought the modern age Dr. Mid-Nite. A second group took up the name in Gotham during a hiatus the original group took, but only appeared the once. While they have only appeared a handful of times in the comics, they have appeared in all three of the longer lasting animated Batman animated series: Batman: The Animated Series, The Batman, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The Terrible Trio do not have any powers, but usually are presented as criminal masterminds with highly developed intelligence.

The Top
First Comic Book Appearance: Flash #122 (August, 1961)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Eleven- Return of the Fearsome Fangs!

The Top is Roscoe Dillon, an early foe of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen. Like most of the Silver Age Flash foes, he had something that was a lifelong obsession, in his case tops, and   developed a power set based around that. Somehow, this also allows him to develop powerful psychic powers that allow him to jump from body to body. He was a regular member of the Rogues early on, and the sometimes boyfriend of Lisa "Golden Glider" Snart, sister of the Rogues' leader, Captain Cold. He and Cold would often compete for leadership of the Rogues, and Top's final death was at the hands of Cold. Along with Mirror Master, he remains one of the two major Rogues yet to appear on the current Flash TV series. Top's initial power set allowed him to spin at high speeds, and carried trick tops with various gimmicks. The spinning somehow gave him heightened intelligence, and eventually telepathic and telekinetic abilities.

Jonah Hex (Voiced by Phil Morris)
First Comic Book Appearance: All-Star Western #10 (February-March, 1972)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Eleven- Return of the Fearsome Fangs!

I've written extensively about Jonah Hex before, but the short version is this: A former confederate soldier, Jonah Hex was scarred after a fight with his Apache foster brother. Now with no one to call family and nowhere to go, Hex became the wild west's deadliest and most accomplished bounty hunter. He's a cold-blooded killer and has no compunction about bringing a bounty in dead rather than alive. Hex does have a strong personal code of ethics, though, and has a habit of helping those he feels are being oppressed, usually in a lethal manner. Hex is a master tracker and gunman, and an excellent hand to hand combatant.

The Royal Flush Gang
First Comic Book Appearance: Justice League of America #43 (March, 1966)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Eleven- Return of the Fearsome Fangs!

There have been half a dozen different incarnations of the Royal Flush Gang in their fifty years in the comics. They have been the gang of arch villain Amos Fortune, the gang of Hector Hammond, and a nation-wide criminal organization with different suits all over the world. The most famous version of the gang is quite possibly the one from Batman Beyond, where they are a legacy of criminals, with titles passing down through the family for generations.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

Wong Fei is not a character from DC Comics, but is instead an actual Chinese folk hero. The subjust of many legends that have become books, tv series, and movies, Wong Fei-hung was a physician and martial artist.

As with most episodes of this series, Batman's face remains hidden even in the flashbacks; the series does its best to focus on Batman and not Bruce Wayne, so he only appears unmasked on rare occasions.

The Bat mask that Batman wears in the flashbacks is very similar to the mask he wears in the comic event "Knight's End" as he trains with Lady Shiva. While that might be a coincidence, or the mask might be based in a traditional design I haven't found, parts of that series were drawn by Mike Manley, who worked as a character designer for Brave and the Bold, so it might be intentional.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/18

Future Quest #1
Story: Jeff Parker
Art: Evan "Doc" Shaner, Steve "The Dude" Rude, Jordie Bellaire

The character mash-up series is pretty popular right now. Dynamite has two running, Gold Key Alliance, which combines classic Gold Key characters like Magnus Robot Fighter, Dr. Solar, and Turok; and King Quest, with the King Synidate heroes Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Prince Valiant, and Jungle Jim. Dc gets in on the act this week with Future Quest, which looks to tie all the 60s and 70s action cartoons from Hanna Barbera together into one universe, and the first issue is quite successful. Readers get characters from three of the better known cartoons of this era: Space Ghost, Jonny Quest, and Birdman. If you've never watched these shows, then have no fear: each character is introduced in a way that lets you know what their deal is. The opening is an origin for Space Ghost, something I'm not sure existed in the cartoon; if it did, I never saw that episode. Most of the issue centers around Jonny Quest and his extended family, his father Benton, his foster brother Haji, and his bodyguard Race Bannon, as well as his dog, Bandit, investigating vortexes opening up around the world and letting things from other worlds and times into the modern world. We also see an alliance between Dr. Zin, the Quest family's arch nemesis, who has allied with the international criminal syndicate F.E,A.R., and because of this, Quest has gotten in touch with Inter-Nation Security, who sends two agents to aid Quest, Deva Sumadi and Ray Randall, who happens to be Birdman. This allows the Quest and Birdman characters to mingle logically, and the vortexes make it clear how Space Ghost will pop in. It is a smart comic that still embraces it's crazy cartoon roots. And to add to that nearness to its roots, "Doc" Shaner and Steve Rude's pencils are both really impressive. It's beautiful, clean, and both artist have distinct styles but they complement each other nicely in this comic. It's an exciting first issue, filled with action and character, and I'm looking forward to future issues as we see more of these classic animated characters join the series.

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: Wild Card #2
Story: Jim Butcher & Mark Powers
Art: Carlos Gomez & Mohan

The first issue of the new Dresden Files mini-series, Wild Card, set up the characters and the stakes of the series. This second issue is where the action really kicks off. Last issue's cliffhanger left Harry in the clutches of a giant owl. Harry gets out of it, with the aid of his half-brother, Thomas, and through quick thinking. That opening fight really sums up a lot of what makes the Dresden Files great to me. Harry is in a mistmatched fight with something way bigger than him, he gets the crap beaten out of him, and then he out-thinks his foe; Jim Butcher's writing always rewards cleverness over main force. But once that's over, Harry doesn't get to rest, as he has to go and meet with Lara Raith, head of Clan Raith of the White Court of Vampires, and his half-brother's half-sister on the other side; Jim Butcher loves his comics, and so the relationships between characters in his books are just as complex. And because Lara like to point out how superior she is to everyone, she will only talk to Harry while they spar. And Lara's a vampire, so she's physically stronger, and not a suck your blood vampire, but a succubus, so there's some... colorful narration from Harry as Lara pummels him. The information Harry gets isn't what he was hoping for, as he has no further clues to the deaths of the girls he is investigating, but instead learns of a brewing war between the White Court and the mobs of Chicago, led by Gentleman John Marcone, who has his own supernatural connections, which all seems suspect to Harry. And one of the scenes that take place away from Harry shows that the supernatural killer from last issue is the one orchestrating these crimes. What his endgame is remains to be seen, but it's an intricate game being played, with Harry trapped in the middle of things. On the art front, I want to call out the way Gomez draws Lara Raith, who makes her first comics appearance this issue. Gomez has done a good job of presenting many of the female characters in more realistic body types; Karrin Murphy, the main female character in the books, is described as short and not described as stereotypically buxom, and he's done a good job of keeping with that. When Lara pops up she is very much in the 90s Image bad girl look, and for that character, it absolutely works, as Lara is described that way, being a succubus and all. It's exciting to see more characters from the books popping up, and the series is an fun, exciting tale of intrigue and wizardy, like the best Dresden Files stories. If you've ever enjoyed Jim Butcher's stories of Harry Dresden, this is a perfect series for you.

Lucifer #6
Story: Holly Black
Art: Stephanie Hans

Holly Black follows up the end of her first arc on Lucifer with a one off issue that sets up coming events and introduces new characters, a kind of story in the tradition of both the original Lucifer and it's antecedent, The Sandman. Rosemary is on her way home from college, bringing her boyfriend, Takehiko to meet her parents. Sounds pretty normal, right? Well, it turns out Rosemary's parents are Satanists, and she's very up front about that. The issue starts out mixing both the amusing domestic scenes of Takehiko in a most unconventional household with Rosemary telling him about some of the darker aspects of her parents' past, like the girl who died in the first Satanic church, and about exactly what the different Satanists believe. But there's clearly more going on with Takehiko, things involving spontaneously cracking mirrors and wings on his back, things involving ghosts that he can see. And when they go to the Satantic church for a service, things start to get intense. The Satanists play a prank on Takehiko, and when they do, he demonstrates exactly what his powers are. What was a mundane story with tinges of horror now becomes a flat out horror stories, with revenge seeking ghosts and demons. And the revelation of exactly what Takehiko's ancestry is should have occurred to me sooner; it makes such perfect sense, is so elegantly done, and plays so nicely off the events of the original Lucifer series. The end of the issue sets up the next arc, and finds a way to build on everything that has come before and pushing it in an entirely new direction. It's also an excellent jumping on point, as what little you would need to know is explained by the characters organically in the story without a huge info dump. Add in Stephanie Hans beautiful art, with gorgeous shadows, and characters who are as handsome or beautiful as her demons are ugly, and you have an issue that is the perfect place to try this series, especially if you were a fan of the original Lucifer comic and have been holding out on trying the new volume. You will enjoy this issue, I have no doubt.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Recommended Reading for 5/20: Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade

So last week, Supergirl was renewed for a second season! I haven't written about it here, which I probably should have, since it is tied with The Flash for my favorite superhero show on television, and the crossover episode, "World's Finest," is one of my favorite episodes of television this season (probably exceeded only by the marvelous "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" episode of The X-Files revival). But with the popularity of the TV series, there wasn't any comic to go along with it. I've read a bunch of Supergirl over the years, mostly thanks to Peter David's eighty issue run, but also really enjoyed Sterling Gates's run right before Flashpoint; Gates is actually writing the tie-in comic to the TV series which made its print debut last week. But two weeks ago, an all-ages Supergirl series came back in print, and it is a wonderful, charming series you can share with any kid in your life: Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade.

The series is a six issues and perfectly self-contained: it opens with Supergirl arriving on Earth, and follows her through her first year at an Earth school. There are a lot of references to Supergirl's history: Superman is in there, so is Lex Luthor, as well as Super-Pets Streaky the Super Cat and Comet the Super Horse. Her classmates include Belinda Zee, a duplicate of her in a different way than Superman's classic Bizarro, and Lena Thorul, who it doesn't take a ton to realize whose little sister she is. There's a deep affection for the Silver Age Superman and Supergirl in this series, but it's completely accessible for those who haven't touched a comic from before the modern era.

After arriving on Earth, Superman brings his young cousin Kara to the Stanhope Boarding School so she can learn more about what it means to be human, and she takes on the identity of Linda Lee. The story presents Linda as awkward at the start of the story, not just with humans but in using her powers. Linda crashes more often than lands when flying, and her powers seem to kick out at the worst moments. And she just doesn't get humans. She says things that don't make sense to the human students, and she just gets laughed at. A lot. She feels like an outsider who will never be able to make friends or fit in. So, basically, it's a very true version of what it feels like to be in eighth grade, if memory serves

And friendshup becomes the central theme of the series. Linda tries to make friends with the Kryptonite-created duplicate, Belinda Zee, but Belinda's nature as her opposite makes it hard, but Linda never gives up. And when she does befriend Lena, she sticks by her side. They become very good friends. And when Lena learns that Linda is a Kryptonian, the one who helped put Lena's big brother in jail, Linda tries to make it clear to her that she never betrayed or lied to her, that she really is Lena's friend. And it's that friendship that saves the day in the end of the series.

I'm talking about theme and homages, and all that's important for me as an older reader, as it's something I look for. But when I'm thinking about buying this more my nieces to read, what makes it stand out most is it's just plain fun. Each issue has a nice little exciting beat to play out. Issue one has Linda arrive on Earth and get settled. Issue two introduces Belinda and sees Linda learn to deal with her first villain. Issue three has the whole school get superpowers! Issue four finds most of the students disappearing and a super-powered cat running around the school! And issues five and six are a two parter that brings in aspects from all the previous issues, paying off hints about the sinister nature of the school principal, introducing a time displaced past/future Supergirl called Supragirl, and building to a truly impressive climax. Oh, and in case time travel gives you as much of a headache as it does me, the comics does a good job of handling those messy issues and not leaving you scratching your head, which is impressive.

Eric Jones's art for the series is charming and perfectly suited to the story. It's bright and cartoony in the right way; it's not photo realistic but instead expressive. Every character wears their emotions on their faces. Every character has big eyes that serve as a window to their soul(and the boys have as big eyes as the girls, which is not often done in cartoony animation and comic art). There are some very cool design sketches in the back of the trade that shows the development of the look for Supergirl and how it informed the series. And aside from expressive faces, one of the things I really look for in comic art, his design for everything crisp and clean, he draws excellent backgrounds, and the are just grab you and makes you smile.

When it's hard to find comics featuring classic superheroes that are accessible for all ages, so when pops up, it's always worth checking out. Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade is a wonderful comic you can share with the girl or boy in your life that enjoys exciting superhero comics with heart that can make you smile..

A new printing of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade was released the first week of May and is available in better comic shops and on-line.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: The Eyes of Despero!

Season One, Episode Ten: The Eyes of Despero!
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Directed by Ben Jones

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: In a surreal landscape, the wizard Wotan flies toward the Library of Infinity, which holds the knowledge of all human experience, preparing to take it for himself. He destroys the guardians, but the mystical hero Doctor Fate appears with Batman to stop him. Fate wonders if even the mystical helm of Fate can help him stop Wotan, but Batman tells him it's the man, not the helmet, that makes the hero. Batman fights the creatures Wotan summons while Fate battles Wotan. When Wotan is able to remove Fate's helmet, the doctor proves Batman right by standing his ground and defeating Wotan with his fists, saving the day.

Episode: Many of the Green Lantern Corps leave the Lantern headquarters of Oa, led by Earth's most famous Lantern, Hal Jordan. In space, they find the three-eyed, fin headed alien conqueror, Despero, waiting. The Lanterns attacks prove fruitless, and Despero mentally takes control of them all except Jordan, who tells him his plan has failed, as the Guardians of the Universe, the alien beings who empower the Corps, have been hidden where Despero can't find them. When Despero sends his fellow Corpsbeings after him, Jordan recites the Green Lantern oath, and with an explosion of green energy, seemingly destroys all of them Corps and himself. Despero departs, confident his plan to conquer the galaxy will still come to fruition, as a lone Green Lantern ring shoots through space.

In Gotham City, Batman finds the Cavalier robbing a bank. Batman makes short work of the villain as the Green Lantern ring arrives, surrounds him in a bubble of energy, which takes off into space. Batman arrives on Oa and begins investigating, finding the planet empty except for three Lanterns in jail cells: Guy Gardner, the obnoxious human, the canine G'Nort, and the Korugaran Sinestro. Gardner tries to grab the ring that is leading Batman around, but Sinestro tells him to back down, which Gardner grudgingly does. Sinestro tells Batman why he and Gardner are in the brig: Gardner for throwing a tantrum in the commissary and Sinestro for excessive force; G'Nort brought the other two lunch and locked himself in accidentally.

Batman and the three Lanterns use a ring to see what befell the rest of the Corps, and Batman heads off with the others, wearing armor forged by the rings of the others, allowing him to travel with them. Batman puts himself in charge of the mission, which Gardner immediately rejects, but Sinestro gets in the middle, as he and Gardner are butting heads. As the three argue, Despero appears, now gigantic. Guy doesn't listen to Batman's plan and is swatted away, but Batman and Sinestro work together, Batman thinking he can trust Sinestro.

Despero gets the upper hand, imprisoning the heroes in rings of force, but Sinestro uses his ring, and Batman his armor, to channel their will and break free. They seemingly defeat Despero, who turns out to be a psychic illusion. Despero psychically tells the heroes that he has distracted them while he heads to the Lantern who will be his ultimate weapon. Batman is unaware, and Sinestro and G'Nort tell Batman that Despero is heading for Mogo, a Green Lantern who is a sentient planet, and if Despero can control him, Mogo will make Despero unstoppable.

Despero arrives on Mogo and begins remaking the world in his own image. He heads the world of Xudar and uses Mogo to conquer all the minds on the planet before heading to his next target: Earth. Batman and the Lanterns are watching, and Batman tells the three they can defeat Despero if they follow his orders. Gardner says no, that he's working alone from here on out, and Batman decks him with one punch. Gardner grudgingly agrees, and Batman tells the Lanterns his plan: drain Mogo's power battery into one of their rings, thus removing Mogo as a weapon for Despero. Batman sends Sinestro to put a protective bubble around Earth, Gardner to distract Mogo, while Batman himself fights Despero, leaving G'Nort to drain the battery. G'Nort os doubtful he can do it, because he's a screw up and his ring is low on energy, but Batman tells him it's not the ring, it's the man.

Gardner creates a giant construct and challenges Mogo, who uses his own surface as a weapon to fight him. G'Nort finds the power battery, but blanks on the oath that will allow him to use his ring. Batman and Despero are in a full power brawl as Gardner awakens from Mogo knocking him out to find Sinestro planting massive bombs on Mogo to destroy the planet and stop Despero. Sinestro believes the ends justify the means, and while Gardner stands up to Sinestro, Sinestro attacks him. Meanwhile, Despero has again captured Batman and is monologuing at him, and in so doing reveals the truth about Sinestro: Sinestro didn't just use excessive force by attacking the Warlords of Okaara after they surrendered. He massacred them and then the planet he had sworn to protect.

Gardner continues to fight Sinestro, who makes his own speech, saying he is better than all the other Lanterns. Sinestro assumes Gardner is fighting to prove himself the best, but Gardner instead says it's about saving Mogo and G'Nort, and is able to knock Sinestro back. Batman is able to break free of Despero's energy bands and fights him as Garnder and Sinestro continue to battle. Gardner is able to defeat Sinestro, and G'Nort finally remembers he has the Lantern oath written on his wrist, and successfully recites it, draining Mogo's battery.

Batman is able to resist Despero's attempts to control his mind long enough to head butt him, and then the awakened Mogo sends a massive rock to knock Despero out. With Despero defeated and Mogo freed, the Green Lantern ring that sought Batman out leaves his utility belt, and a burst of light reveals that Hal Jordan, the Guardians, and the other Lanterns have been in the ring all along, and Jordan sent the ring to Batman for safe keeping. Back on Oa, Batman and Guy Gardner congratulate each other on a job well done, and Batman finds out Guy has Sinestro imprisoned in his ring. Batman gives the credit for the win to the Lantern he says deserves it most: G'Nort, who jumps into Batman's arms, excited, as the Corps cheers him.

Who's Who

Guy Gardner (Voiced by James Arnold Taylor)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Green Lantern #59 (August, 1968)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Five- Day of the Dark Knight!

G'Nort (Voiced by Alexander Polinsky)
First Comic Book Appearance: Justice League International #10 (February, 1988)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Ten- The Eyes of Despero!

G'Nort, one of a canine species, was allowed to join the Green Lantern Corps due to the influence of a powerful uncle. He became a bungling member of the Corps, often causing more trouble than he ever helped remedy. He met the Justice League during the Manhunter invasion in the crossover Millennium, and tagged along with them on Earth for some time, becoming a member of the Justice League Antarctica, a post where the League would ship off undesirables who wouldn't leave them alone. While occasionally portrayed as having a good and heroic heart, as in this episode, G'Nort is usually simply comic relief. G'Nort possesses a Green Lantern ring, which allows him to manifest constructs on pure will, as well as the heightened sense of smell and tracking abilities of a dog.

Sinestro (Voiced by Xander Berkley)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Green Lantern #7 (August, 1961)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Ten- The Eyes of Despero!

Thaal Sinestro was once considered one of the greatest of Green Lanterns. He was the Green Lnatern of Sector 1417, which included his home planet of Korugar, and would often aid on the training of other Lanterns, including the human Hal Jordan. The two became friends, until Hal learned Sinestro's dark secret: Sinestro had taken complete control of Korugar, believing that the best way to maintain order was through fascism. Hal was able to defeat Sinestro, and the Guardians of the Universe stripped Sinestro of his rank and banished him to the anti-matter universe world of Qward. There, Sinestro had the Weaponers of Qward fashion him a ring that channeled the yellow energy of fear, and Sinestro would go on to be the Corps, and Hal Jordan's, greatest nemesis. He would eventually form the Sinestro Corps, a corps of villains and monsters who used yellow rings, that would challenge the Green Lantern Corps, and while occasionally still acting as an anti-hero, truly believes the universe would be better under his rule. Whether using a Green or Yellow Lantern ring, Sinestro can manifest constructs of intense power. He is a brilliant tactician and a confident and competent leader.

Hal Jordan (Voiced by Loren Lester)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Showcase #22 (October, 1959)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Ten- The Eyes of Despero!

A test pilot, Hal Jordan was a man who knew no fear. And one day, when Abin Sur, Green Lantern of Sector 2814 came crashing to Earth, it was that characteristic that called Jordan to the alien's side and made him the new Green Lantern of the sector. Jordan would go on to make himself the greatest Green Lantern in the Corps's storied history, as well as its greatest failure. He would defeat Sinestro, the Weaponers of Qward, the Manhunters, and many other foes, both cosmic and Earthbound, but after the destruction of his home, Coast City, he would fall under the sway of Parallax, the fear entity, and nearly destroy the Corps. But Jordan would rise again, defeat and purge Parallax, and return to being a standard bearer for the Green Lantern Corps. Hal Jordan possesses a Green Lantern ring, which allows him to create constructs based purely on his willpower. He is also a remarkable pilot.

Despero (Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson)
First Comic Book Appearance: Justice League of America #1 (October, 1960)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Ten- The Eyes of Despero!

Despero was the conqueror and ruler of the planet Kalanor, which brought him into conflict with the Justice League as he often sought to expand his empire to other worlds. Despero would become one of the most consistent thorns in the side of the various incarnations of the Justice League, developing a vendetta against the League and would often test his psychic powers against those of the Martian Manhunter. Despero has appeared in many forms with many different abilities. Initially a more cerebral foe, Despero has a third eye through which he can channel psychic powers almost on scale with those of Martian Manhunter. He can possess the wills of others, cast illusions, and is a telekinetic and telepath. He eventually took magical abilities from the "Flames of Py'tar," which granted him control of his own mass, allowing him to bulk up and gain superhuman strength and durability.

Doctor Fate (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance: More Fun Comics #55 (May, 1940)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Ten- The Eyes of Despero!

Archaeologist Kent Nelson was exploring an ancient tomb with his father when poison gas killed Kent's father. Kent was able to find the Helm of Nabu, an ancient Egyptian sorcerer and a Lord of Order, and along with the cloak and amulet of Nabu, becomes Doctor Fate, on of the Golden Age's first mystical defenders. Kent, along with his wife Inza, would defend the world against mystical threats for decades, both wearing the helmet, which served as a conduit to the mind and consciousness of Nabum and the helmet would be passed along to others over the years, all would be guided by Nabu to defend order. Doctor Fate is one of the preeminent sorcerers in the DC Universe, able to cast a myriad of spells that not only create magical effects but grant him numerous superhuman powers. Kent Nelson was an Egyptologist of some renown, with an encyclopedic knowledge of ancient Egypt.

Wotan (Voiced by James Arnold Taylor)
First Comic Book Appearance: More Fun Comics #55 (May, 1940)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Ten- The Eyes of Despero!

Wotan has a particularly complicated backstory. Wotan was born a female in ancient times and was raped by the purported servant of a god. She spent her life learning mystical secrets, developing a cult around herself, and eventually learned to reincarnate at her will and choosing. Down the centuries she switches identity and gender until incarnating as the male Wotan of the present. Wotan seeks great power and to supplant all gods, being the only worshiped being in the universe, which often brings Wotan into conflict with the Spectre and Doctor Fate. Wotan is a powerful sorcerer and is equally adept with science, and due to their ability to switch bodies and control reincarnation, is functionally immortal.

Cavalier (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Detective Comics #81 (November, 1943)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Ten- The Eyes of Despero!

Cavalier is a minor Batman villain whose real identity is Mortimer Drake. A man who obsessively collected rare and exotic historical items, when he started running out of money, he took to crime, never posing a serious threat to Batman. Shortly before the Flashpoint event, he seemingly reformed, working with Leslie Thompkins as her bodyguard. He has only appeared in the background since the New 52 reboot. Cavalier is an expert swordsman and a good hand-to-hand combatant.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

J.M. DeMatteis returns to write this episode, after writing "Day of the Dark Knight," bringing with him several characters he has written in the comics. Guy Gardner and G'Nort both had featured roles in his run on Justice League International, and he also wrote an extended run on Doctor Fate, both an ongoing and a mini-series.

When Hal Jordan is battling Despero at the beginning of the episode, once of his constructs is a giant green boxing glove, which was a trademark construct of his in the Silver Age Green Lantern stories,

There are comic book precedents for Batman working with not just Earth bound Green lanterns, but the Corps itself, and using Green Lantern rings. In the Elseworlds tale Batman: In Darkest Night, created by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham (the creators behind the legendary graphic novel, Batman: Son of the Demon) , Bruce Wayne became Green Lantern of Earth. In recent years, Batman has briefly donned a Yellow, Green, and White Lantern ring in stories by Geoff Johns.

The Warlords of Okaara, mentioned in Sinestro's story, are an alien race of conquerors in the DC Universe, and  Xudar, the planet Despero takes over, is the home of Green Lantern Tomar Re in Sector 2815, the neighbor to Earth's sector, 2814.

Batman's knockout of Guy Gardner is directly inspired by a famous scene in Justice League #5. where Gardner challenges Batman for leadership of the Justice League, and Batman knocks him out with one punch, and then just walks off. G'Nort's exclamation of "ONE PUNCH! ONE PUNCH!" and his body language mirrors that of Blue Beetle Ted Kord's in that scene.

Ten episodes in, and we're starting to see a building of an almost repertory cast for the series. Jonny Rees has appeared before as Gentleman Ghost & Dr. Canus, Kevin Michael Richardson  as Black Manta & B'Wana Beast, and James Arnold Taylor as Green Arrow. There are other regular guest voices, who I will call out as they appear, including John DiMaggio who has already voiced Grodd and Aquaman, and Grey Griffin who voiced Fire earlier on and will recur as both that character and Black Canary.

This is another episode where the teaser and the main episode share a specific thematic connection, in this case that it is the man, and not the tool, that makes a hero

Monday, May 16, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/11

4001 A.D.: X-O Manowar #1
Story: Robert Venditti
Art: Clayton Henry

There are many comic with deep messages that make you think. And then there are comics that are just plain action from wall-to-wall and have giant robots. Take a guess which one this is? The first one-shot tying into Valiant's new event mini-series, 4001 A.D., features a story from regular X-O Manowar writer Robert Venditti and original Archer and Armstrong artist Clayton Henry, and provides the backstory for the giant robot from the first issue of the event series, and how it ties into X-O Manowar's armor. The issue provides a lot of backstory for those of us unfamiliar with the future status quo of the Valiant Universe, like why Japan is an island floating in space, and how the rest of the world reacted when that happened; it's not essential for the main series at all, but it makes for an interesting story. I don't think it's spoiling too much to say that the world governments design giant robots to send after New Japan and its controlling artificial intelligence, Father. We follow the American pilot, as he prepares to take his Manowar up into space to fight Father. He's a hero, with a family, and he's doing what he thinks is best. And things go horribly wrong. Venditti provides a platform for Clayton Henry to go to town, drawing giant robots in a Charge of the Light Brigade style suicide mission against Father. Henry is able to not just draw that extremely well, but the reactions from the American pilot, stuck in his hanger, and the American control room as one of Father's agents, the former Armor Hunter known as Helix, makes short work of them, are intense and heart breaking. This is how a crossover issue should be done. It stands alone on its own, inform a bit about the characters and backstory (or fate, in the case of a crossover set in the future) of its native book, and gives nuggets of information that informs the main event. If you're a fan of X-O Manowar and haven't tried this issue because you were worried you'd be lost if you're not reading the main event, have no fear. And if you just like comics about big robots fighting, you should also give this a chance, and really, who doesn't like that?

Batman #52
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Riley Rossmo, Brian Level, Ivan Plascencia, & Jordan Boyd

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo wrapped their run on Batman with issue fifty-one, so the final issue of this volume comes from James Tynion IV and Riley Rossmo, who provide a nice companion to the series.The issue follows Batman as he chases a new villain, Crypsis, who has stolen something from a safe deposit box, while we see a series of flashbacks to Bruce's youngest days after the death of his parents, followed by some others of his training across the world. The narrative device that ties it all together is a journal that Bruce is given at the beginning by Leslie Thompkins, a character I have sorely missed since the reboot; she pops up infrequently and with oddly divergent backstory/characterization. Nonetheless, here she gives a journal to Bruce where he can write ideas on "How to Move On,"and we see how he takes those ideas and uses them to forge his training, and how he uses them in his hunt for Crypsis. And while the battle is very cool, and it's really exciting to see Riley Rossmo, one of my favorite artists in comics right now, doing a full issue of Batman, and him hitting it out of the park with a spectacular design for the villain and a great, dynamic Batman, it's the scenes between Bruce and Alfred that are the spine of the comic, as it has been throughout so much of this volume of Batman. Bruce and Alfred are in radio contact the entire time, as we figure out that the safe deposit box is Bruce's, and we see a flashback to Alfred trying to help Bruce along on his grieving, and that while the young Bruce doesn't take kindly to it, the grown Bruce has learned enough to take the words to heart. Alfred has always been more than just Jiminey Cricket to Bruce's Pinocchio, he's been a father figure, confidant, and friend, and this issue's ending ties that aspect of their relationship together nicely. It gives Batman's mission a warm spin,makes it a crusade and not just a dark mission of vengeance. It's a message that Batman is more than what so many think of him as, more the Knight than the Dark, something this series has been exploring since its inception. I'm going to miss this version of Batman, but I'm curious to see what comes next, and hopeful it can keep up this message.

Southern Bastards #14
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Jason Latour

After a bit of a delay, the final part of the third arc of Southern Bastards arrives, giving readers their first real exposure to Roberta Tubb, daughter of Earl Tubb, the protagonist of the first arc, who was brutally murdered by Coach Boss. Roberta gets back to Afghanistan, and immediately heads to Earl's house, despite having been estranged from her father before his death. And as she gets into the deep South of Alabama, things almost immediately go wrong for her, because while Earl might have been white, it seems Roberta's mother was not, so all the locals near Earl's old house just see her as an uppity black girl in their neighborhood. The police are called when she walks into her own father's house. The neighbor advises her to leave, that there are plenty of houses in other places where she would be better off. And when she finds that her father's riding lawnmower has been stolen and retrieves it? Well, it ends with people on the ground in a lot of pain, and a rude lesson that not even the children in the town can escape the racism that runs through it. As we get to learn more about Roberta, we can absolutely see Earl in her; she stands up to those she sees as wrong without thinking about the ramifications, or probably more accurately not caring about them. She's tough, savvy, and nothing is going to stand in her way. It's clear her mother doesn't like the idea of her looking into her father's death, but that isn't stopping Roberta in the least. I want to go back and reread all of the "Homecoming" arc now, to be ready for the next arc. It feels like Roberta is the last puzzle piece this book needed to move forward, the person out to avenge Earl, as things close in around Coach Boss, and her being a deep and nuanced character makes me all the more interested to see what her next move will be.

Star Wars: Darth Vader #20
Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Salvador Larroca & Edgar Delgado, Mike Norton & David Curiel

I was talking to my friend and former Dewey's co-worker John Bush not too long ago, and he commented how Darth Vader was his favorite of the current Star Wars series, as it treated Vader as a force of nature, moving silently through the book, spotlighting those around him and how they react to him, sort of like what Garth Ennis did in his MAX run on The Punisher. It's an apt comparison, and as the series begins its final arc, Vader as an unstoppable force seems to be the perfect way to describe him. With the Imperial scientist Cylo, who had been designing cyborgs to replace Vader, on the run, Vader is called before Emperor Palpatine, where Palpatine explains how all of this had been part of his plan to break Cylo and strengthen Vader, which Vader knows is only half the story, as Vader observes Palpatine would be making a version of this speech to Cylo had his cyborgs bested Vader. Vader knows that Palpatine is always playing every side. With that taken care of, Vader goes to meet Inspector Thanoth, the Imperial agent sent to investigate a crime Vader perpetrated through his agent, Dr. Aphra, who has seemingly finally discovered the truth. And it's more than seeing, as Thanoth tells Vader he knows the truth, and knows where Aphra is. But he also tells Vader he has not and will not tell the Emperor, as he serves the Empire, and not the Emperor, and he sees the Empire's future in Vader. The power and manipulations are everywhere in this book, with everyone having their own agenda, Vader included, but it's Vader's agenda that is ventral, Vader who will stop at nothing, even killing the man who has provided him the information (a man who goes willingly, since he believes it is for the best). And as Vader heads off to face Cylo, he sends his droids, Triple-Zero and BeeTee to find and remove Aphra, the last evidence of his treachery against the Empire. We get a fun little back-up story of the two of them visiting a droid maker to repair Triple Zero's arm and get them back in proper torturing shape after the events of the "Vader Down" crossover, and we see again that the two droids are as clever and ruthless as their masters. With five issues left, I can only imagine the swath of destruction that Vader will reap across the galaxy.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Darwyn Cooke: A Remembrance of His Work

I had a completely different, much lighter piece planned for yesterday, and I'll probably post that recommended reading next Friday, but when I heard the new that Darwyn Cooke, easily one of my favorite cartoonists in comics, had entered palliative care for aggressive cancer,  I decided to pull back and write an appreciation of Cooke's work and post it today. Sadly, it was just confirmed that Darwyn Cooke has passed away, and while part of me wanted to wait a little longer, I decided instead to just pour out my feelings right here and right now.

I picked up Batman: Ego, a prestige format one-shot that Cooke both wrote and drew the week it came out, and that was a comic that completely blew me off my feet. It was an examination of Batman's psyche, diving into the dark recesses of why Batman does what he does, and when I put it down, I looked at the name of the creator and I though, "This guy is going to be huge." I found out he had next to no comic credits before that. but had worked with Warner Animation on Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, and you could see the influence of those shows' designs on his work, or vice verse, but everything Cooke touched had its own special Cooke feel as well.

Cooke didn't stick to one genre. While he drew amazing superheroes, he didn't even stick to one universe. His work on DC was usually reminiscent of the Silver Age, with bright, bold panels, but he drew the first arc of Ed Brubaker's Catwoman, one of the most noir influenced of any Batman title, and Cooke wrote and drew the original graphic novel Selina's Big Score, a prequel to that run that was an absolute noir. While he wrote two charming, Silver Age-inspired Spider-Man stories in the anthology title Tangled Web he also pencilled an issue of the late X-Force series, a character spotlight on U-Go-Girl, a comic that was very modern in theme and tone, as well as a the spinoff mini-series Wolverine/Doop.

It was clear from his work how much Cooke loved crime stories. Not only did he do Selina's Big Score, but he resurrected Will Eisner's The Spirit for DC, following Eisner's mystery man/crime formula, folding Denny Colt into a more modern milieu without losing what made the series what it was. And his adaptations of Donald Westlake/Richard Stark's Parker series were a delight, these gritty noir stories adapted perfectly into comics, with style that matched the content; I write a recommendation of them very early on in this blog's life, and those books are some of the best adaptations of prose into comics that I have ever read.

There's so many other things Cooke did, that it wold take a series of posts to discuss them all. His Before Watchmen: Minutemen spotlighted his attention to historical detail. His work on Jonah Hex and All-Star Western showed he was just as capable with Westerns as he was with crime stories. He drew countless covers for all manner of comics. His last work (to date anyway. We can hope for some remaining work to make it out as a tribute), Twilight Children, was a sci-fi or fantasy piece with Gilbert Hernandez that was a strange little tale of a town in Latin America that is nothing like anything Cooke had done before.

And I've left one piece off this post until the end, because it was something that is so special to me that I wanted to thing a bit before I wrote. DC: The New Frontier was a retelling of the origins of the Silver Age of DC Comics set in a more or less historically accurate late 1950s. The Red Scare is in full swing, and racism is a day to day fact. But, despite all of that, it is a story of hope, of the dawning of a new age, of heroes, and of possibility. It is a comic that is filled with every DC hero you can imagine, and many an obscure Silver Age appearance. Martian Manhunter is a huge part of it, and Cooke captures the lost soul/stranger in a strange land thing better than most. Hal Jordan, the test pilot, is the standard bearer for the age, as he was a hero in both identities, but ti doesn't skimp on the big three either; as a matter of fact, his Wonder Woman in the series is one of the most physically intimidating and fascinating portrayals of the character I've ever seen. I not only bought all six issues, but I have the gorgeous, slipcased Absolute Edition with tons of research and background, and it's one of my favorite graphic novels in my collection.

I sadly never got the chance to meet Darwyn Cooke. I read all sorts of stories about him; some said that he could be prickly, others said he was a warm, pleasant soul. I think that just makes him human. He was the number one artist I would have wanted to get a commission from, and would have paid top dollar, and although I probably would have asked for the Batman Beyond suit to stay with my Batman theme, it would have been hard to resist asking for Martian Manhunter. Sadly, that will never come to pass. I wish he could have done a couple more Parker adaptations. I wish he could have released the Image mini-series, Revengeance, that was announced last year. I wish his family could have spent more time with him. My condolences to the Cooke family, and I hope you know how much his work touched me and his other fans. Thank you, Darwyn Cooke.

In his memory, the Cooke family has asked for donations to be made to the HERO Initiative and the Canadian Cancer Society.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Journey to the Center of the Bat!

Season One, Episode Nine: Journey to the Center of the Bat!
Written by Matt Wayne

Directed by Michael Chang

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: DC’s two stretchiest heroes, Plastic Man and the Elongated Man, foil a bank robbery by Babyface and his gang. EM expresses jealousy over PM’s popularity and the hang time he gets with Batman while proclaiming himself the nobler rubber-limbed do-gooder (Plastic Man is a reformed villain, after all). The two get themselves tangled in a trap, at which point Bats shows up and delivers the knockout blow to Babyface, closing with the line “Truth be told, between the two of you, I prefer to work alone.”

Episode: Professor Ryan Choi, the Atom, is in the middle of a delicate experiment when he receives a call from Aquaman, who appears to want to shoot the breeze, only to reveal as an afterthought that Batman has fallen ill after a battle with Chemo, a giant green toxic-waste monster currently attacking the country of Bialya.

To combat the microorganisms ravaging Batman’s system, the Atom volunteers to go inside the Caped Crusader. And Aquaman asks to come with, which Batman agrees to either because he genuinely thinks Atom could use the extra muscle or because he’d rather be rid of both of them for a while. It’s obvious from jump we’re set up for an Odd Couple-style buddy comedy between the two guest heroes. Atom is an easily frustrated man of science, while Aquaman charges ahead, laughs in the face of everything and is generally awesome.

Meanwhile, a sickened Batman, his body growing all manner of warts and losing motor control, continues taking the fight to Chemo alongside the Navy, to little avail.

Inside the Dark Knight, our other two heroes are experiencing difficulties both repelling the invading nasties and working with each other.

“The problem with you, Atom, is that you think when you should feel,” Aquaman says as he slices apart the invading microbes with his waterborne weaponry, only for them to multiply.

Atom then fries the enemy an electromagnetic shock, which does not result in their mitosis.

“See? Thinking’s not so tough. Maybe you should try it some time,” he says before they are surrounded and outnumbered.

Amid the ensuing battle, Aquaman befriends a white blood cell he names platelet (despite, as Atom rightly points out, the fact that it is not a platelet) and rides as if it were one of his seahorses.

Outside Batman, it is revealed that Chemo was after a nuclear missile and was being controlled by the Brain, a villain that is, in fact, a brain with a French accent attached to a computer on wheels. As the Brain makes plain his threat to Bialya, Chemo eats the nuke, and Batman ejects from his submarine and into the mouth of the beast.

And as Batman ventures inside Chemo, Aquaman and Atom journey further into Batman aboard Platelet to the Dark Knight’s brain, where the mutating nanonasties have established their base camp.

Inside Chemo, Batman fries the nuclear missile and throws some bombs to discorporate the monster. He then locates the Brain’s submarine. He attacks the villain, but in his weakened state falls over, knocking the Brain down with him.

Meanwhile, as they watch the bugs lay waste to Batman’s brain, Atom sees every possible course of action as having unacceptable consequences. Aquaman, on the other hand, sees this as the time to charge headlong toward Bats’ brain.

“At least I’ll have one heckuva story,” he reasons. And we all know how Aquaman loves his stories. As the king of Atlantis attacks, the microorganisms claim Platelet, sending Atom into a long-overdue rage full of punches and screaming.

“What about the plan?” Aquaman asks.

“Blah blah blah! Let’s punch ‘em!” he retorts.

Atom uses his weapon on the seed cell, healing Batman in time to defeat the Brain. Now, it’s just a matter of getting the Dark Knight to cry so they can escape out his tear duct.

“But surely Batman never cries!” Aquman muses. Fade to black.

Number of times someone yells “Outrageous!”: Aquaman 2, Atom 1.

Who's Who

Aquaman (voiced by John DiMaggio)
First comic book appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!

The Atom (Ryan Choi) (voiced by James Sie)
First comic book appearance: DCU Brave New World (August 2006)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!

Plastic Man (Voiced by Tom Kenny)
First Comic Book Appearance: Police Comics #1 (August 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

Elongated Man (voiced by Sean Donnellan)
First comic book appearance: The Flash vol. 1 #112 (May 1960)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 9 – Journey to the Center of the Bat!

Co-created by John Broome and legendary Flash artist Carmine Infantino, Ralph Dibny is one of two rubber-limbed heroes in the DCU. But while Plastic Man is a reformed villain often mined for comedic relief, Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, is known for his skills as a detective, much like the Dark Knight himself. He acquired his stretchiness by drinking a chemical concoction brewed from a rare fruit found in Latin America. He and his wife, Sue (to whom something quite horrible happened that we need not revisit here), spent the 1960s and ’70s driving around in a convertible solving mysteries. This is not EM’s first animated rodeo; he also appeared in the Justice League Unlimited series alongside pretty much every other DC hero ever created.

Baby Face (voiced by Tom Kenny)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 9 – Journey to the Center of the Bat!

A character created for the show and clearly meant to evoke the spirit of ’66. Baby Face – real name Alfonso Vincenzo Giuseppe Face – is an as-advertised Bat villain, a gangster with the face of a baby, complete with Edward G. Robinson voice. He will appear a few more times during the series.

Chemo (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First comics appearance: Showcase #39 (July-August 1962)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 9 – Journey to the Center of the Bat!

Chemo (pronounced Kem-O, not KEE-Mo) is a sentient batch of toxic chemicals from failed experiments that originally fought the Metal Men. During the “Infinite Crisis” crossover, the monster nearly destroys all of Bludhaven, the adopted city of Nightwing, the very first Robin.

The Brain (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First comic book appearance: Doom Patrol #86 (May 1964)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 9 – Journey to the Center of the Bat!

A brilliant scientist who was killed in a lab accident, only to have his brain transferred into a computer, the Brain in the comics is generally paired with his talking gorilla assistant, Monsieur Mallah. Fun fact: In Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol, he had the Brain and Mallah express their love for each other and kiss before exploding, which may be one of the most Grant Morrison-y things he’s ever done.

First comic book appearance: Justice League #2 (June 1987)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 9 – Journey to the Center of the Bat!

Bialya is a fictional country located north of Saudi Arabia and Iran. It was created by J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen during their run on Justice Leauge. At one point, Shazam villain Black Adam kills millions of its inhabitants.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

The Atom-Aquaman pairing will be mined again later in the series, specifically Season 3’s “Sword of the Atom!” in which Batman, Aquaman and Choi look for the original Atom, Ray Palmer, whom you may know from Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. That episode also contains my favorite cold open of the series, which we’ll come to in due time.

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 PressofAC.com/Life. 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.