Friday, July 29, 2016

Recommended Reading for 7/29: Dark Night: A True Batman Story

Paul Dini is a creator I've written about often. This guy writes exciting super hero stories for comics and TV, funny stories of wacky animals and equally funny fantastical people. And as he points out right at the top of his graphic memoir, Dark Night: A True Batman Story, this is none of those. Dini's graphic memoir centers around a brutal mugging he suffered in 1993, and the physical and emotional aftermath of the event. It's an uncompromising and sometimes harsh look at where Dini's life was at the time and where it has gone since. But in the end, there's hope, hope inspired by a vigilante who stands in Gotham City.

Throughout the prologue of sorts, the story of Dini's life until the main events of the main plot kick off, and as it continues, Dini talks to the characters he loves, be they Beanie and Cecil when he is at his youngest, to Batman and his rogues in the main story and into the present. I think any of us who grew up as lonely, weird kids, "invisible kids" as Dini calls them,can relate to these kind of imaginary friends, being easier to talk to and interact with than real people. It's an understanding of my own youth that drew me in and immediately got me to empathize with Dini

Narrated by a present Dini, the main story flashes back to Dini around Christmas time in 1993, He's living a good life, working on a hit show and preparing for a feature (the much loved Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), but a lonely one. It feels like most of his friends are people he's just sort of passing by, and his love life is full of would-be starlets that he's using as arm candy, and who are using him for possible connections in Hollywood. He works, he leaves a geeky life that many of us would envy, and he goes to therapy. This is his life.

The mugging scene is the center of the story, and is a singularly bleak and brutal sequence. Eduardo Risso, best known for his work with Brian Azzarello on 100 Bullets and Spaceman, whose art I'll discuss more later on, draws this scene with a brutality that may make some readers uncomfortable. And that's good, because it should. It's an act of violence without conscience, the kind of thing that we are often desensitized to in media, but here it's so stark that you wince when you see what's being done, and Dini's own thoughts, the thoughts of if he's going to survive, of the people he'll be leaving behind,make it all the more painful.

After the mugging, much of the story deals with Dini thinking about what it means to write Batman when he feels like the character doesn't matter. Where was Batman when he was being beaten? Where is Batman now that the police can't find the men who beat and mugged him. I appreciate a memoir that doesn't try to apologize for the person's behavior. Dini not only looks at the dark moments that happened after, the drinking, the thoughts about buying a gun so he can feel safe, the inability to work, with self-harm he had already perpetrated even before these events. It's painful to watch someone do these things to themselves.

It's through the classic Batman characters that Dini deals with what is going on in his mind. The Joker is. not surprisingly, the voice of a nihilistic sort of self destruction. Poison Ivy asks uncomfortable questions. The Scarecrow is the voice of fear. Penguin encourages a wanton self destruction through alcohol. Two-Face is what Dini sees in the mirror in his own broken face. They are a greek chorus of bad thoughts.

Now, all of this sounds pretty bleak. And a lot of it is. But there's hope in it too, and that hope is the voice of Batman, always encouraging Dini to get up and move on. I have always found Batman to be a hopeful character, no matter what dark trappings he is wrapped in. Because Batman took one of the greatest tragedies that any person could face, and he stood up. That image, that wording, that you have to stand up, is Dini's message. "We can accept being a victim or choose to be the hero of our own stories. And we make that choice by standing up." And watching Dini come around to that statement, one he makes at the very end of the book, by realizing that his cartoons matter to people, and why Batman matters to him and to others, it's what makes this book more than just an exercise in casting out personal demons: it makes it a statement of hope.

I've always liked Eduardo Risso's noir tinged pencils, between 100 Bullets and his work on Batman, both in Wednesday Comics, Flahspoint: Batman, and Broken City. His work here is slightly different. It runs a gamut of tones from more realistic to gritty street to surreal supervillains, all while maintaining Risso's trademark style. The colors soften and harden based on how deeply you are inside Dini's frequently damaged thoughts. I love how Risso draws the different Bat villains, from a very traditional Joker, to an Arkham Asylum inspired Scarecrow with the finger needles, to a Penguin halfway between the classic and the vision from Batman Returns. But it's his illustrations of Dini himself, the facial work and body language, that really jumped out at me. There are plenty of heavy shadows and sharp angles, stuff Risso is known for, but it's in the faces and the character work that he really shines in this book, and where Risso shows himself to have whole different layers than the crime artist he is best known to be.

There's a lot more that I could say about this book, but much of it is details that I'd like for you to discover yourself as you read it. I loved seeing Dini interact with his fellow writer and artists on Batman: The Animated Series, and his comment that the story of the produciton of that series deserves its own graphic novel is something I'd love for him to swing back to at some point. It's interesting to see that one particular character, the one Dini is most associated with, Harley Quinn, only makes her first appearance at the very end of the book, but it feels right, as it's only when Dini sort of comes back to himself that Harley, who is so filled with joy and zeal, can talk to him again (although Haroley's voice actress, Arleen Sorkin, appears as one of Dini's few close friends repeatedly in the book).

Also, as a fanboy, I have to point out there are some wonderful nuggets for the Batman fan, despite this not being a book about Batman in the fictional story sense. There's a tidbit about an initial thought on Joker's fate in the world of Batman Beyond that is chilling. And there's a three page scene that reveals a treatment for an episode of Batman: The Animated Series that never was, one featuring characters from The Sandman, that I don't want to spoil any more about it, but wow, I would love to have seen this animated, and if not, Mr. Dini, if you're reading this, that would make a heck of a one-shot, I'm just saying.

Batman means a lot to me, personally. He's been my friend, my confidant, and my inspiration for many, many years. And it makes me feel a kinship to Paul Dini that he has done the same thing. Dark Night is a book about finding hope and standing up. It's one of the best graphic memoirs I've read in a long time, a mix of fact and fantasy that takes full advantage of the medium, and a worthy addition to anyone's Batman library.

Dark Knight: A True Batman Story is available in hardcover at comic shops and wherever books are sold.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Legends of the Dark Mite!

Season One, Episode Nineteen: Legends of the Dark Mite!
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Ben Jones

Plot Synopsis

Catman is holding an auction for an endangered tiger when batmn interrupts the auction. He fights off the various people bidding on the tiger, and when Catman frees the jungle cat to attack him, Batman whistles for the aid of Ace the Bat Hound, who defeats tiger, sending it scurrying away, before running Catman up a tree and getting a Bat shaped dog treat.

Episode: A bomb goes off in a Gotham bank, as two mobsters go in to steal the money, only to see Batman's silhouette pop up in the door along with strange narration. The thugs immediately surrender, only to have the narrator sound his disappointment and order the mobsters to attack, and they seemingly do against their volition. They surrender quickly again, when suddenly more thugs appear, now all armed with tommy guns. Batman avoids them, and then they turn into ninjas, attacking again.

Batman demands the narrator show himself, and Batman is quickly teleported outside as Bat-Mite, an imp from the fifth dimension wearing a Batman inspired costume appears, declaring himself Batman's number one fan. Batman tries to swing away on his grapnel, only to find Bat-Mite following him. Bat-Mite explains his powers and purpose: to make Batman the greatest hero ever. He starts by changing his costume (into various ones recognizable from the characters history).

When Batman shakes this off and tells Bat- Mite he does this to fight villains too dangerous for police, Bat-Mite decides to summon the greatest villain of all for Batman to fight so the world can see how great Batman is. Batman dodges various heavy hitter before tricking Bat-Mite into summoning Calendar Man, Batman tells him to "take a dive," and he falls over. Batman tells Bat-Mite he won and Bat-Mite should go home.

But Bat-Mite isn't satisfied and turns Calendar Man into Calendar King, whi can summon holiday icons to aid him. He summons jack o'lantern men, biker Santas, and buff Uncle Sams to fight Batman, and while they are tougher than the mobsters and ninjas were, Batman defeats them, only to have giant mutant Easter bunnies attack him.

Bat-Mite wonders if this is too over the top and freezes things, heading to the Fifth Dimension's comic con to hear what the Batman fanboys have to say about it. On stage are animated versions of the crew of Brave and the Bold, and when a fan says that this version of Batman isn't the grim urban avenger and is, "not my Batman," they reply with a wonderful speech about the history of Batman and how this is a valid version. Appeased, Bat-Mite starts the fight again, before Batman knocks out the bunnies with a gas grenade and Batman decks Calendar King.

As Bat-Mite prepares to summon another villain, Batman convinces him to depart so he can fight real crime (and bribes him with a signed Batarang). Bat-Mite disappears, and Batman reappears in the bank vault with the mobsters from the beginning of the episode, who he makes short work of before returning to the Batcave.

Dropping down into the chair in front of the Batcomputer, Batman begins to talk about his night to Ace, commenting on the "weird little creep" he spent the night dealing with only to see a second Ace walking up to him. The first Ace, Bat-Mite in disguise, furiously teleports Batman to an alien world, where fling saucers and monsters attempt to kill him. A giant Bat-Mite tells Batman that the Dark Knight will be his toy, and he'll play with him until he breaks.

Batman figts his way through the aliens and monsters, stealing a flying saucer and using it for his benefit, untilhe realizes what's going on and Batman calls Bat-Mite's bluff, not fighting anymore, letting the monsters come... but none deliver a killing blow. Batman says he'd rather let himself be destroyed then be the imp's plaything, and then goads Bat-Mite into using his powers to turn himself into Batman.

Bat-Mite, his tiny head on an over-muscled Bat-body, is now in Gotham, with Batman narrating. Bat-Mite heads to the science museum to stop Gorilla Grodd, but is knocked down by Grodd who runs off with a device he stole. Batman tells Bat-Mite he needs to out-think Grodd, and Bat-Mite uses a banana to trip up the great ape, but the device explodes, sending Bat-Mite tumbling into an abyss of darkness, where many of Batman's foes are waiting.

They dogpile on him, and Bat-Mite runs away in fear. Batman appears, telling him to confront his foes and out-think them, but Bat-Mite says his imagination is running away with him and he continues to flee, only to have Kite-Man grab him and drop him from a height. He runs through traps laid out by Polka Dot Man, portals that summon villains, is frozen by Mr. Zero and smashed by the Tweedles, and is trapped by the Riddler.

Bat-Mite calls for Batman's help, who drops down and uses a combination of brains and brawn to begin defeating the villains. Inspired, Bat-Mite breaks out of his cage and defeats the last few. He zaps himself and Batman out of the hallucinatory world he created, feeling sorry for himself, but Batman tells him he should be proud of himself and his powers, and not blindly follow someone else. Bat-Mite thanks Batman, and returns him to the Batcave, where he tests to make sure Ace is really Ace before relaxing.

At a jewelry store, the villainous Copperhead is stealing handfuls of jewels before being knocked out by a boxing glove arrow. Green Arrow steps unto the light, only to hear a voice and turn around to see Bat-Mite, hovering in a Green Arrow costume, telling the archer that he's his number one fan. We fade to black and then pop back up as Bat-Mite breaks through a drum and delivers the classic Warner Bros. sign off, "That's all, folks," ala Porky Pig.

Who's Who

Bat-Mite (Voiced by Paul Reubens)
First Comic Book Appearance: Detective Comics #267 (May, 1959)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Nineteen- Legends of the Dark Mite!

Bat-Mite's origins and motivations are pretty much straight our of this episode: fifth dimensional Batman super-fan. He was introduced in the sci-fi heavy era of Batman stories from the late 50s and early 60s, and would often appear as a nuisance in Batman stories. While he disappeared, he never fully went away, appearing in occasional stories throughout the years, resurrected in Legends of the Dark Knight stories, in Grant Morrison's run on Batman, and in places like Brave and the Bold. If you want to learn more about Bat-Mite, you can check out the post I wrote before his recent mini-series.

Ace the Bat Hound (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance: Batman #92 (June, 1955)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Nineteen- Legends of the Dark Mite!

Batman's trusty dog, Ace the Bat Hound, has appeared in many different incarnations over the hiostory of Batman. Originally appearing in the '50s, Ace was a German Shepherd who Batman and Robin encountered on a case and took in. He would help them on cases, and would even wear a mask and a cape. Ace would appear throughout the 50s and early 60s, and disappear around the time Julie Schwartz took over editing the Bat titles in the mid-60s; this is the version that inspired the Brave and the Bold take on the character. A new, post-Crisis Ace was introduced in the 90s, a puggle who Batman took in after his owner passed away. This Ace rarely joined in cases and never wore the mask and cape. He also disappeared, this time after "No Man's Land." Currently, Batman has a dog in the comics, one he bought for his son, Damian, a Great Dane named Titus. A version of Ace also appeared in Batman Beyond, who was also a Great Dane, and served as the elder Bruce Wayne's guard dog. The traditional Ace was resurrected as one of the regular supporting castmembers/guest stars in the Krypto the Superdog animated series, where he wore the mask and cape and acted like a canine version of his famous owner, serious, intelligent, and stern.

Catman (Voiced by Thomas F. Wilson)
First Comic Book Appearance: Detective Comics #311 (January, 1963)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Nineteen- Legends of the Dark Mite!

Thomas Blake was a big game hunter who had grown bored with hunting, and decided instead to take up crime to pay off his gambling debts Fashioning a costume from the cloth that had wrapped an ancient idol that was said to grant the nine lives of a cat, Blake became the criminal known as Catman. A minor Batman foe at best, Blake would be defeated regularly by Batman, as well as other heroes and his sometime rival, Catwoman. Blake would eventually retire and become the lowest of the low in the supervillain world. But hitting rock bottom made Blake look up again, and he would return to Africa, train again, and become a decidedly more deadly threat. Recruited as a member of the Secret Six, Catman was now a force to be reckoned with, a deadly hand to hand combatant and tracker. In the New 52 continuity, Blake is again a member of the Secret Six, although much of his backstory as a nemesis of Batman has been erased, with him simply being a mercenary and hunter.

Calendar Man (Voiced by Jim Piddock)
First Comic Book Appearance: Detective Comics #259 (September, 1958)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Nineteen- Legends of the Dark Mite!

Julian Day was a man obsessed with holidays and calendars, and like many villains of the 50s and 60s, used his obsession to create a criminal persona. Calendar Man would commit crimes centered on and around holidays. He would probably have faded into obscurity with the likes of Kite Man if not for the redesign by Tim Sale for his and Jeph Loeb's seminal Batman: The Long Halloween, where he became a far more frightening foe.

Gorilla Grodd (Voice by John DiMaggio)
First Comic Book Appearance: The Flash #106 (May, 1959)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

First Comic Book Appearance: Brave and the Bold #78 (June, 1968)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Nineteen- Legends of the Dark Mite!

Copperhead was a thief and killer who wore a snake costume and would use it to commit murders and other crimes. His real identity was never revealed. He was a master contortionist with or without his costume, but the costume allowed for greater abilities to pass through tight spaces and to deliver poison through the fangs.

Green Arrow (Voiced by James Arnold Taylor)
First Comic Book Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November, 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

The title of this episode is shared with Batman:Legends of the Dark Knight #38, a story by Alan Grant and Kevin O'Neill, that resurrected Bat-MIte in Post-Crisis continuity,

This episode is the Brave and the Bold debut of writer Paul Dini, one of the best Batman writers of the past twenty years. starting out on Batman: The Animated Series, before doing long runs on Detective Comics and Batman: Streets of Gotham. He might be best known as the creator of Harley Quinn, and he and B:TAS producer and artist Bruce Timm won an Eisner award for their one-shit Batman: Mad Love, Harley's origin. He recently released a graphic memoir through Vertigo, Dark Night: A True Batman Story, and appeared on last week's Nerdist Podcast, which is well worth a listen.

Batman's line, "A friend of mine in Metropolis told me about menaces like you,"is of course a reference to Superman and his own Fifth Dimensional enemy, Mr. Mxyzptlk.

The costume transformations Bat-Mite puts Batman through include:Vampire Batman from the Batman/Dracula Red Rain trilogy, Bat-Hombre from Batman #56, Adam West's Batman from the classic TV series, the costume from Joel Scumacher's Batman and Robin, Zebra Batman from Detective Comics #275, and Frank Miller's Batman from The Dark Knight Returns.

Before Bat-Mite summons Calendar Man, he summons three other villains: returning foes Solomon Grundy and Gorilla Grodd, and first timer Shaggy Man.

At the comic convention scene, the Brave and the Bold cast and crew on stage include Diedrich Bader, Michael Chang, Michael Jelenic, Ben Jones, Sam Register, Andrea Romano, James Tucker, and Brandon Vietti. In the audience, while most fans are dressed as Batman, two are dressed as Joker and Harley Quinn. Thes two are Bruce Timm (Joker) and Paul Dini (Harley).

As Bat-Mite takes on Batman's identity and enters Gotham, the city has red skies and as bat-Mite lands on a building top and is silhouetted before being brought into the light by lightning, which is a direct lift from the opening of Batman:The Animated Series.

The shot and sequence as Bat-Mite confronts the mob of villains is an homage to "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery," a classic Daffy Duck short where he takes on the roll of Duck Twacy, a Dick Tracy parody. This sequence includes many of Batman's most famous (and infamous) villains, many amking their first Brave and the Bold appearance, and includes the Penguin Catwoman, Killer Moth, Kite-Man, Riddler, Polka-Dot Man, Tiger Shark, Zebra Man, Joker, Catman, Mr. Zero (Mr. Freeze), and Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum. Later in the sequence, the Mad Hatter appears as well.

Bat-Mite's flight from the villains featured two very clear callbacks to two classic Batman covers, one is"The House that Joker Built," from Detective Comics #365, and the Riddler's first appearance cover in Detective Comics #140.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: The Color of Revenge!

Season One, Episode Eighteen: The Color of Revenge!
Written by Tod Casey
Directed by Michael Chang

Plot Synopsis

The Bat Signal shines in the Gotham skies in the not too distant past, as we see Batman and his young ward, Robin, head into Gotham. Robin looks at a painting that is a clue from Crazy Quilt, which Batman knows is leading them to an experimental Stimulated Emission Light Amplifier (SELA), a powerful laser. Batman and Robin arrive and intercept Quilt and his men, and when Quilt uses the SELA against them, firing blasts of energy, Robin reflects them back at him, seemingly blinding him.

Episode: Solomon Grundy is robbing the Bank of Blüdhaven, Gotham'e neighboring city, and an "R" Signal calls out to the now adult Robin. Robin defeats Grundy using a combination of acrobatics and intelligence, and the police thank him, making him feel confident, although he harbors some resentment clearly directed at Batman.

As he rides off on his motorcycle, he looks up at the sky and sees a large blinking eye projected into the clouds. He begins to deduce what the eye is, but Batman pulls up on his motorcycle, telling Robin the eye is blinking an address in Morse code. Batman tells Robin that Crazy Quilt has escaped and is gunning for Robin. The two bicker as they ride towards the address, Robin bitter that Batman is acting like he's in charge despite this being Robin's city.

The address is that of a closed club, and Batman continues to act like he's in charge, while Robin continues to act bitter. In the club, the lights flash on, and cut paper fish begin to fall from the air, a double clue from Crazy Quilt, whose voice begins to pipe in from the club speakers. Batman and Robin fight Quilt's color themed stooges, Red, Blue, and Green, but after their defeat, Robin dives at Quilt, only to find it's a dummy, set to lead them into a trap, a spinning room that will flatten the Dynamic Duo into two dimensional "art."

Robin thinks that he can use a Batarang, combining his strnegth and the force of the spinning to cut through the wall, but Batman believes they will be crushed first, thinking to use his bat laser to blast the spinning lights, thinking blowing them out will short the power. Robin doesn't listen and begins his plan, but it's Batman's that works, and Robin angrily says his way would have worked. They head out to stop Quilt, only to find the villain has trashed Robin's bike, leaving the former sidekick to ride on the Batcycle's sidecar, to his chagrin.

The two heroes continue to not connect, as Robin provides Batman a clue, and the Dark Knight doesn't even listen as his former sidekick makes the same deduction he did first, heading to S.T.A.R. Labs. The guard at S.T.A.R. runs up to Batman, not Robin (heightening Rabin's annoyance), and tells batman that Quilt is after the SELA again. Quilt is inside, again using scissors and paper to make art, but sees Batman and Robin as blobs, but sees well enough to duck Robin's thrown bolo. Again, Batman and Robin fight Quilt's henchmen, but this time Quilt is prepared, wielding the SELA. Robin plans to go after Quilt, but Batman orders him to pursue Red, who has run off. Robin does so, finding Red waiting with a gattling gun.

Quilt fires at Batman, but his very limited vision keeps him from hitting Batman. He brags that he plans to wire the SELA into his optic nerves and use it to make art by carving things with his new vision. He is finally able to connect with the SELA, knocking Batman unconscious, and escapes with Batman in the tank he's mounted the SELA on, but not before gloating at Robin about weaving Batman into a rug he will walk all over and blasting the lab walls, crumbling them on top of Robin.

At the Blüdhaven textile mill, Quilt has Batman tied up on a loom, and monologues about destroying the city and blaming Robin. Back at S.T.A.R., Robin pulls himself from the rubble, broken but unbowed, and takes the Batcycle. Remembering Quilt's brag, he deduces that Quilt is at the textile mill. He infiltrates the mill and takes out the henchmen, and finds a series of paintings all featuring Robin, showing the depths of Quilt's obsession.

Batman calls out to Robin, and begins to give him orders on how to free him from the loom. But with a captive audience, Robin begins to enumerate his grievances at Batman, telling him he's not a kid anymore and that he needs to be treated as an adult in his city. By the time he turns around Batman has freed himself, and thanks Robin for taking out the henchmen. Quilt reappears, now with the SELA hooked into his helmet, and begins to attack the heroes.

Quilt fires blasts from the SELA, destroying the mill, and corners Batman and Robin. When Robin asks Batman for a plan, Batman tells him, "Your villain. Your call." Robin smiles, draws a small laser torch, and says he has this. Batman jumps out to distract Quilt, while Robin gets above him, cutting a girder which falls on top of the SELA breaking it. Quilt fires blasts from his helmet, but Robin acrobatically dodges them, before landing in front of Quilt and decks him.

In the aftermath of the battle, Quilt is carted back off to Arkham, Robin thanks Batman and says he's glad Batman finally has faith he can handle things on his own. Batman says he's always had faith in Robin's abilities, and Robin thanks Batman. Commissioner Gordon gets in touch, saying Killer Moth has hijacked a train, and the two heroes head out together to stop him, although Robin still has to ride in the sidecar.

Who's Who

Robin (Voiced by Crawford Wilson; Young Robin voiced by Jeremy Shada)
First Comic Book Appearance: Detective Comics #38 (April, 1940)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Eighteen- The Color of Revenge!

Dick Grayson was a circus kid, the son of John and Mary Grayson, the aerialists known as the Flying Graysons. But when Haley's Circus stopped in Gotham City, Boss Tony Zucco, on of Gotham's local mobsters, tried to extort money from Mr. Haley, and when he refused, Zucco decided to show Haley he meant business. He tampered with the Grayson's ropes, and Richard and Mary fell to their deaths. But two other things happened that night that changed Dick's life: he witnessed Zucco threatening Mr. Haley, and Bruce Wayne was in the audience. Bruce Wayne took in the young circus performer, and began to train him to be Batman's partner in crime fighting, Robin the Boy Wonder. Robin became the first of the kid sidekicks, leader of the Teen Titans, and a great hero. The two would work together until Dick grew to adulthood, when he would strike out on his own, taking on the identity of Nightwing. Dick has been a fixture of the DC Universe since its earliest days, has led the Titans and the Justice League, and has been a stand in for Batman when Bruce was lost in time. He has been a hero, a spy, a ladies man, and a friend. Dick Grayson is one of the most talented acrobats in the world, a talented martial artist, and a well trained detective.

Crazy Quilt (Voiced by Jeffrey Tambor)
First Comic Book Appearance: Boy Commandos #15 (June, 1946)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Fifteen- Trials of the Demon!

Solomon Grundy  (Voiced by Diedrich Bader)
First Comic Book Appearance: All-American Comics #61 (October, 1944)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Sixteen- Night of the Huntress!

S.T.A.R. Labs 
First Comic Book Appearance: Superman #246 (December, 1971)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Four- Invasion of the Secret Santas!

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

This entire episode is filled with references to the classic Batman TV series from the '60s. The teaser features many direct pulls, including the bust of Shakespeare used to trigger the Batpole entrance to the Batcave and the moment where Batman and Robin climb up the wall at the villain's target. Crazy Quilt, while not a villain from the show, has the same broad personality, obsession with his motif, and clue riddled speechifying. The deathtraps are also very broad and feel like something from the old TV show, especially Batman being turned into a rug on a loom.

Blüdhaven, the city that Robin patrols, was the city that Nightwing lived in and guarded when he was given his own ongoing. Created by Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel, the city was considered Gotham's uglier sister, a city that had gone downhill and didn't have a Batman to protect it. It was often considered Newark to Gotham's New York City.

The eye blinking signal that draws Batman and Robin into Crazy Quilt's trap sends them to the, "Corner of Haney and Aparo." Bob Haney, writer, and Jim Aparo, penciller, were two of the creators on the classic Brave and the Bold comic series from the 60s, 70s, and 80s that inspired the animated series,

The club where Crazy Quil laid his trap is Club 38. 38 is the issue number of Robin's first appearance, Detective Comics #38.

While fighting, Robin uses a bo staff, the weapon that has been often associated with Robin in recent years thanks to it being used by the version of the character in the Teen Titans animated series. However, this is not a weapon usually used by Dick Grayson in the comics; he uses escrima fighting sticks. The bo is the weapon of Tim Drake, the third Robin, that he adapted as his own in his first solo mini-series.

The paintings that Robin finds in Crazy Quilt's lair of him include onces ispired by Munch's "The Scream," as well as works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Picasso.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/13

Daredevil #9
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Goran Suduka & Matt Milla

Daredevil is probably my favorite non-cosmic or mutant Marvel character. I've read his book regularly since the Marvel Knights relaunch, and have picked up plenty of back issues and trades along the way. And I was absolutely in love with Mark Waid's run on the series, with it's lighter tone. And I was excited when Charles Soule, an actual lawyer whose legal-centric run on She-Hulk is one of my favorite Marvel series in the past decade. The tone of his first arc was darker, as was his Daredevil, more akin to Bendis then Waid, and it took me a little while to adjust to the darker tone. But this two part story, of Daredevil in Macau playing poker and fighting the Triads, finds a nice balance between the dark Daredevil and the light one, helped by the guest-star: Spider-Man. Soule writes a great Spidey, quipping away constantly, and the less quippy Daredevil is a great straight man for him, and brings out the sense of humor in Daredevil, who makes his own share of quips. The majority of the issue is a chase, as Daredevil and Spidey chase a briefcase, the reason that Daredevil came to Macau to begin with. Artist Goran Sudzuka draws some amazing fight scenes, full of acrobatic action and flying billy clubs. But it's the character moments between Daredevil and Spider-Man that really makes the issue sing. The two of them, riding a hydrofoil from Macau to Hong Kong while basically parasailing using web-lines and billy-club lines, and Daredevil enjoying it. And the end of the issue, as Daredevil explains to Spider-Man why Spidey suddenly has holes in his memory involving Daredevil and what the briefcase is continues to show that Daredevil didn't fully think out whatever plan he had to remove the knowledge of his identity from the world. With all that going down, Soule gives Spidey one of the best last lines I've read in a long time, " Watch out for those black-costume phases. They can really do a number on you." It's a smart callback to one of Spidey's legendary stories and an acknowledgment of exactly where Daredevil seems to be now. This issue has me excited to see where exactly Soule plans to take Daredevil.

Detective Comics #936
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, & Brad Anderson

Detective Comics just might be my favorite book out of the DC: Rebirth relaunch. After last issue's finale, with Batman taken out by the group of armored Bat soldier called The Colony, this issue opens with a much quieter moment: Kate Kane, Batwoman, out at a bar with her ex, GCPD detective Renee Montoya, talking about Kate's time in the military and her role as a leader. There's clearly still strain in their relationship, but I have to say, it's great to see Renee again. A call from Red Robin gets Batwoman to the belfry to watch the video of the assault on Batman, and they quickly call in the rest of the team, as well as Kate's father, Colonel Jake Kane. And as the others, including Kane, gather, Oprhan, Cassandra Cain, is attacked by the Colony. And it's only once Kane is in the Belfry that the other shoe falls: The Colony is a military project that Kane is in charge of, and he's here to recruit Batman's team, as well as get access to the Bat computer for the mission he has for The Colony. And even as the team makes their escape, Kane is sure that his plan will still work. The whole scene with Kane talking to the team, and to Kate specifically, is brilliantly tense. All the problems that Kate and her father have been having since Greg Rucka's original run on Detective, all the secrets and lies that have been pushing them apart, come to a head here. The idea, that the government would use Batman's example to create a black ops force, is a cool one, and the fact that it's being used against Batman and his allies is all the more intense. And placing Batwoman's father, Batman's uncle, at the head of it? I love it. All of this while working in strong character development and interactions between the cast, especially Batwoman and Red Robin, makes it an exciting and thoughtful read. The art from Alvaro Martinez is excellent, especially in the hints of the fight between The Colony and Orphan; most of it takes place off panel, but you see the set-up, as the soldiers surround her against a rainy and lightning filled Gotham sky, and the end, as she finishes off one of the soldiers, crashing to the floor of the Belfry through the skylight. It's beautiful, and shows the strength and speed of Orphan, and is stylishly done. Each issue of Detective has been better than the last, and as the fight with The Colony amps up, I can't wait to see where it goes.

Stumptown #10
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Justin Greenwood & Ryan Hill

Each case private investigator Dex Parios has been involved in since the beginning of Stumptown have been byzantine affairs no matter how simple they seem on paper. But this issue, "The Case of the Night That Wouldn't End" is a one off story that has a couple of twists to it,because what good PI story doesn't, but is at its heart fairly simple: Dex is hired to find out if a man's wife is cheating on him, and she follows the wife to a motel. The issue actually features two of my favorite types of comics: a great one off issue, and a great mostly silent issue, both of which are few and far between in comics nowadays (and don't I sound like an old fogey?). Justin Greenwood tells the story with his art as ex silently watches her suspect and a younger man meet at the motel, but not everything is as it seems. There are little details about their interactions, plus what's going on with a courier skateboarding out in the rain that are hints to things going on deeper with all these characters. PI and mystery shorts are some of the trickiest to write, since you have to establish everything and have it pay off not only for the reader the first time, but also on a second reading if they already know the solution, and this story succeeds. Rucka doesn't forget about Dex's personal life, or lack thereof, as we get hints of exactly how bad Dex is at dealing with personal relationships through a series of texts. It's a really solid introduction to the world of Stumptown, so if you're looking for a good crime comic, and want to get in and try it before the new volume starts in January, this is a great place to start.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Peak Inside My Stechbook

It's been kind of a hectic few days, and what was supposed to be a more relaxed day turned out to be... not so much one. So as I'm preparing to head up to Morristown, NJ for Garden State Comic Fest tomorrow to hopefully add a sketch to my sketchbook from one of my all time favorite comic artists, I thought I'd put up a handful today.

I started this sketchbook on Free Comic Book Day back in 2011, and have constantly added new sketches at each FCBD and con I've gone to since. I've got over 50 sketches based around the theme of Batman, his allies, and his enemies (I know, what a surprise from me), and here are some of my favorites.

Here's the very first sketch I got, a classic Batman from Fernando Ruiz, best known for his work on Archie, Archie Vs. Predator, and his creator owned Die, Kitty, Die!

Art Baltazar, co-creator of Tiny Titans, does great crayon sketches, and back at NYCC, I got him to draw the three Robins, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake, as well as his creator owned character Patrick the Wolf Boy dressed up like Robin. Some day, I'm going to dig up my Patrick singles and write up a recommendation on it, 'cause it's awesome.

Ryan Dunlavey, who's worked with Fred Vane Lente on Action Philosophers and Comic Book Comics, as well as the upcoming Action Presidents, did an appearance at Dewey's, and he gave me my first Mr. Freeze in his classic Batman: The Animated Series armor.

I've loved Jim Calafiore's art from the time he worked with Peter David on Aquaman, and have followed his work in Exiles, Leaving Megalopolis, and plenty of other comics. But my favorite work of his has to be Secret Six with Gail Simone, so I asked him to do Deadshot for me, and not only did he do it, but he rolled up the mask so we could see Deadshot's signature 'stache.

Tim Sale. Tim freakin' Sale. He has drawn some of my favorite Batman stories of all time, from "Blades" in Legends of the Dark Knight, to the Haunted Knight Halloween specials, Long Halloween, and Dark Victory. And when I got the opportunity to get a Sale, I was completely torn on who to choose, so I went with Scarecrow. With a little ink and a few brushstrokes, he was able to evoke his signature Scarecrow.

Joe Staton is a living legend, having worked with Paul Levitz on the '70s revival of the JSA, where he also co-created the original Huntress. But he also drew one of the stories from The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, Brave and the Bold #197, "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne," the story of how the Batman of Earth-2 and the Catwoman of that world finally got together, so his piece is  Catwoman of Earth-2

And the final piece for today is a recent addition, from Diane Leto, who co-created The Halloween Legion, as well a plenty of other work. I was really pleased to finally get my first classic Harley Quinn, here with her signature mallet and everything.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!

Season One, Episode Seventeen: Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!
Written by Matt Wayne
Directed by Brandon Vietti

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: Wildcat rides on the top of a train and leaps to a passing train trellis at the rail yard to find Batman waiting, saying he called Wildcat to help him take down an escaped con. They see the man and Batman catches him with a Bataranng through the coat, which he seemingly can't remove. Wildcat laughs, not understanding why Batman asked for help with such a seemingly weak opponent, only for Batman to reveal the villain is Bane, who then uses the super steroid Venom to  grow to massive size. The heroes engage in an impressive fistfight with Bane, and it's only through quick thinking by Wildcat, using the Batarang to sever the tube that supplies Bane his Venom, spraying the third rail and electrocuting the villain, that takes him down.

Episode: The episode opens with with a video detailing the origin of Booster Gold, narrated by his robot sidekick, Skeets. Booster is at the Acme Toys company, pitching himself to the company for an actin figure line. As the Acme execs ask if Booster's origin about being a time travelling hero from the 24th century is true, he tells them it is, while a flashback to his origins shows that he is indeed from the future, but is a security guard who stole all this future tech to come to the present to make his fortune. The execs blow off Booster, saying he has no name recognition, and needs to team up with an A-list hero like Batman. When they kick Booster out, he decides that's just what he needs to do.

Batman is taking down the criminals Punch and Jewelee after they rob a jewelry exchange when Booster finds him, telling Batman that he's his new partner. Batman will have nothing to do with Booster since he feels Booster is a gloryhound, and while Booster is distracted, Batman just drives off. Batman makes it to the Batcave, and Booster pops up; since hes from the future, the Batcave is a tourist attraction then and Booster knows where it is. Booster asks Batman what he's investigating, and Batman tells him about recent thefts of lutonium and a stolen meteorite, which Batman connects to the ancient immortal caveman, Kru'll the Eternal; Booster flashes to a memory of himself in the future, encountering a nattily suited Kru'll and bumping into him, spilling coffee on the Caveman. Batman needs a way to track Kru'll, and Skeets can track the lutonium, as his battery is made from lutonium, so Batman grudgingly agrees to work with Booster.

At another building, we find Kru'll experimenting with a lutonium powered ray on the meteorite to no avail; Kru'll observes he needs more lutonium to awaken the meteor. Batman and Booster arrive, and Kru'll reveals he found the stolen meteorite ten thousand years ago, and charges Batman. The two begin to fight, and when Booster tries to aid Batman, Kr'ull grabs Booster by the arm and uses the wrist blasters in Booster's suit to blast Batman, before turning it on Booster himself. Booster awakens to find himself and Skeets shackled to a standing platform about to be passed into a super-collider where he will be smashed into a wall at high speed.

As Booster is spinning around the collider track, Batman is working the ropes binding him into a chair. As Skeets and Booster spin, Skeets says he can try to overload the magnetic field that is containing them and blast them free. As Batman frees himself and fights Kru'll, Skeets succeeds, just in time to keep Kru'll from killing Batman. Kru'll is shocked that Booster could escape the magnetic field, and Booster brags about Skeets's lutonium battery. Kru'll blows a water pipe with a blast from his club, creating steam, and escapes with Skeets and the meteorite.

Batman and Booster rush off in the Batmobile, Booster feeling very guilty about getting Skeets abducted, and when he says he's not much of a hero, Batman tells him that maybe he's never had a reason to be a real hero before.

In Kru'll's lab in the natural history museum, the caveman has gathered a group of henchmen dressed as historic conquerors, and is planning to grant them immortality and power like his own. He reveals it is the meteroite that granted him his immortality and more advanced intellect, and that he has grown weary of conquering just to see all that he has conquered pass away in time, so now he wishes to have an army of immortal super soldiers to do his bidding. But the meteorite needs a massive infusion of lutonic energy, which he plans to siphon from Skeets.

Batman and Booster arrive at the museum and head into the ducts, to surprise Kru'll. Kru'll has hooked Skeets up to the meteorite, and Booster shouts his robot friend's name, attracting Kru'll's attention, and Kru'll once again blasts Batman and Booster unconscious. As Batman awakes, he finds himself and Booster in a guillotine. As Kru'll prepares to behead the heroes, Booster says he'd happily help Kru'll form his empire with his knowledge of marketing and product placement. Kru'll disregards him and releases the blade. Batman begins working to pick the lock while Booster flips his prototype toy Boostermobile into the groove the blade runs in, stopping it in its tracks.

Batman pulls Booster free, and the heroes begin fighting Kru'll's henchmen, with the heroes clearly having the upper hand.But as they are distracted, Kru'll turns his ray on the henchmen, turning them into massively muscled super cavemen like him. Booster fights them as best he can, and holds his own for a time, as Batman takes on Kru'll himself. Soon, though, Booster is being pummeled by all the henchmen, and Kru'll seems to have Batman on the ropes. But Batman positions himself in such a way as to pull down a T-Rex skeleton on Kru'll, pointing out that brains trump brute force every time,

Hearing that, Booster tells Skeets to dump his charge, overloading the ray and returning Kru'll's henchmen to normal. Booster rushes to Skeets, worried he has lost his friend, but Skeets is still functional, assuring Booster he knew that he would save him.

Kru'll is ushered off by the police, and Batman tries to explain to Booster he was a hero because he was ignoring the glory, but Booster heads off to talk to his agent; Batman then heads off, saying no more. Kru'll watches Booster, swearing revenge for when they meet again. Flash one final time to the 24th century, we again see Booster bump into Kru'll, and the caveman remembering who Booster is as the episode fades to black.

Who's Who

Booster Gold (Voiced by Tom Everett Scott)
First Comic Book Appearance: Booster Gold #1 (February, 1986)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seventeen- Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!

Skeets (Voiced by Billy West)
First Comic Book Appearance: Booster Gold #1 (February, 1986)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seventeen- Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!

Michael Jon Carter was born in the 24th century, and looked like he had everything ahead of him: a promising football career and a charmed life. But when he was caught gambling on his own games, he lost it all. The only job he could get was as a nightwatchman at the Metropolis Space Museum. But deciding he wanted one more chance, he stole items from exhibits and reprogrammed one of the security droids, Skeets, and traveled back in time to make his fame and fortune as a superhero, using his knowledge of future events to stop crime. Booster had a lot of growing up to do, and he did it, slowly, joining the Justice League, where he became best friends with fellow Leaguer Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle. Booster and Beetle got into and out if trouble, got involved in get rich quick schemes, and eventually both retired from regular supeheroing. But when Ted was killed, Booster took up his costume again, and when he teamed up with Rip Hunter, Time Master, Booster Gold became the greatest hero you've never heard of, using his persona as a buffoon to hide the fact that he and Skeets now guard the timestream from those who want to change it. Booster Gold's costume grants him various powers, including a force field, laser blasts, and enhanced strength. He wears a Legion of Super Heroes flight ring that allows him to fly. Skeets can fly and fire energy blasts, and has a database of future knowledge. 

Kru'll (Voiced by Michael Dorn)
First Comic Book Appearance: None
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seventeen- Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!

Kru'll is a Cro Magnon who was exposed to a meteor from space. The meteor granted him immortality and expanded his intelligence. He has spent millennia conquering and manipulating world events to make him one of history's great conquerors.  Read in the Connections section below to find out about how Kru'll ties to comic book characters.

Punch & Jewelee
First Comic Book Appearance: 
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seventeen- Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!

Punch and Jewelee grew up together, fell in love, and after finding some leftover alien tech, decided nothing would be more fun than to be Bonny & Clyde in puppet costumes. They're nothing more than a minor inconvenience to most superheroes, having fought Captain Atom most often, but others on occasion. More often than not, they are seen as members of the Suicide Squad, as they are often incarcerated.

Wildcat (Voiced by R. Lee Ermey)
First Comic Book Appearance: Sensation Comics #1 (January, 1942)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Six- Enter the Outsiders!

Bane (Voiced by Michael Dorn)
First Comic Book Appearance: Batman: The Vengeance of Bane #1 (January, 1993)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seventeen- Menace of the Conqueror Caveman!

On the Caribbean island of Santa Prisca, the child who would grow up to be Bane was born in prison, serving a life sentence; his father had taken part in a rebellion against the government, and his unborn sun had to carry out the sentence when his father escaped. Spending his formative years in the prison, the child trained his body and mind to human pinnacle, and became the test subject of the super steroid, Venom. when he finally escaped prison, he decided he must prove himself against the man who represented his childhood fear, a giant bat monster, the Batman. Bane would challenge Batman, and would go as far as breaking his back. Bane wold eventually straddle the line between hero and villain, aiding Batman almost as often as fighting him. But in the end, Bane's drive to conquer, to be the best, wins out, and he returns to being one Batman's most deadly enemies. Bane is a brilliant tactician and intellect, and his body is honed to near perfection. When he takes the drug Venom, his strength is enhanced to near superhuman levels, but at the cost of his intellect and self-control.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

Tom Everett Scott and Billy West return to voicing the characters of Booster Gold and Skeets; they had previously voiced those characters in the excellent Justice League Unlimited episode, "The Greatest Story Never Told." This makes them two of the few actors to play the same roles in the classic DC Animated Universe and Brave and the Bold.

Kru'll might technically be a Brave and the Bold original character, but he has two direct antecedents. His origin is taken directly for that of longtime JSA and JLA villain Vandal Savage, the immortal caveman. When producers found out they could not use Savage because of rights, they changed him to King Kull, a Captain Marvel foe, whose design Kru'll resembles very closely. Unfortunately, King Kull was not available either, so they renamed him Kru'll

Monday, July 4, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 6/29

Grayson Annual #3
Story: Jackson Lanzing & Collin Kelly
Art: Roge Antonio and Jeremy Cox, Natasha Alterici, Christian Duce and Mat Lopes, Flaviano and Jeremy Cox, & Javier Fernandez and Chris Sotomayor

Grayson wraps up with this annual a final issue that is of dubious placement in the timeline (something referenced intentionally in a bit of narration), but that doesn't matter because this is more a story about who Dick Grayson is and all that parts that make him up. The issue opens with Harley Quinn arriving at a room where Azrael, Green Lantern Simon Baz, and John Constantine already waiting. They have been called together by Jim Corrigan, the detective who is the host of the Spectre, to find out about their encounters with Agent 37, Dick's Spyral identity, and to try to determine who he is. What follows are four vignettes revealing never before told tales of these heroes and anti-heroes meeting Dick, and spotlighting a different aspect of his personality that lines up with each of the characters he meets. With John Constantine, he's "The Charmer," where he fight vampires with the power of his good looks and remarkable posterior (I do hope that when Dick returns to his Nightwing identity, the now established fact that he has the best tuchus in the DC Universe is not forgotten). With Azrael, he is "The Savior," working with him to stop the Order of St. Dumas from stealing a holy relic from the people who guard it. Harley meets, "The Acrobat," in a beautiful and gracefully illustrated segment where the two dance their way through security lasers to retrieve super villain paraphernalia from a millionaire collector. And finally, with Simon Baz, he is "The Superhero," as he and Simon work together to figure out what Parademons are doing on Earth again, and Simon, who tends to be angry and aggressive, learns from Dick's years of experience. Each of the stories in fun and exciting, but more than that, it starts to play into the Rebirth theme of the return of legacy to the DC Universe: pre-Flashpoint, Dick Grayson was the glue that connected the old guard of the Justice League generation with the heroes of the Teen Titans generation, someone universally respected by all. Seeing him again with all these heroes, and seeing how he impacted them, even when they couldn't see his face,  begins repositioning Dick as the hero's hero. In the end, Dick makes an unexpected appearance, and then heads off into the night for one final adventure with his former Spyral partner, Helena Bertinelli, tying a nice bow on the superspy portion of his life, and positioning him for Nightwing: Rebirth.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #9
Writer: Ryan North
Art: Erica Henderson, Tom Fowler, & Rico Renzi (with guest page  by David Malki)

One of the things that makes the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl a real treat as a comic is that it's protagonist, Squirrel Girl, does her best to solve conflicts nonviolently. And more often than not? This works for her. She's convinced Kraven to stop hunting people. She convinced Galactus to not devour Earth. She's awesome that way (she did kick Dr. Doom's butt, but he totally had it coming). But it's nice to see Ryan North and Erica Henderson, who've been working on this book since the first issue one, still find new ways to challenge Squirrel Girl. This time, Just being as nice as she is comes back to bite Squirrel Girl, because the Mole Man shows up to get revenge on her for inadvertently siccing Kraven in monsters. And after she explains the mishap and is kind to him... he proposes. And when she says no, he doesn't take no for an answer easily. There's some solid feminism in here about nice guy syndrome and consent, especially when Squirrel Girl's roommate and best friend smacks him for grabbing Squirrel Girl's hand without permission and how Mole Man blames her friends for her not being into him, as opposed to his own behavior, but it doesn't weigh down the book; it's a natural extension of the story itself. And as Mole Man's plans get even more ridiculous, Squirrel Girl continues to be nice to him, and it's interesting to see her admitting not being nice all the time is necessary; we know she'll always be optimistic and bright, but the idea that sometimes you need to just say, "No," is an important lesson that a lot of people need to know. But not everything is resolved this issue, so we will be getting more Mole Man and Squirrel Girl next issue, and now he's pushed her to the point where it's no more Ms, Nice squirrel Themed Heroine, so that's going to be interesting. But there are some absolutely wonderful little moments in the issue I want to call out. There's one page that explains, "Mole Man's deal..." (that's what the credits call it), drawn by David Malki, which looks like turn of the twentieth century art, referencing the fact that Mole Man is apparently over one hundred years old (something I did not know, so you learn something new every day), and it's just absolutely charming. Oh, and when Mole Man proposes to Squirrel Girl, he asks if she'll be his Mole Ma'am. Sure, me, but I love that kind of word play.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Recommended Reading for 7/1: Camp Midnight

It's the beginning of July, so that means summer is really here now, and there are lots of things that people think about when it's summer. One of the things that many kids look forward to most is camp, and all the different fun things you get to do there. I never did sleepaway camp, but I know lots of people who did, and many still fondly remember it years later. But what would happen if you wound up on the wrong bus, to the wrong camp, with people who weren't like you? As a matter of fact, you wound up at a camp that wasn't for people at all, but for child monsters? That's the premise of Steven T. Seagle and Jason Adam Katzenstein's all ages graphic novel, Camp Midnight.

Skye's parents split up a couple years ago, and she's on the way to spend her summer with her dad, and his new wife, who Skye calls her "step-monster." In all fairness, Gayle isn't exactly warm and fuzzy, and when Skye finds out she won't be spending summer with her dad, but sent away to camp, she makes it clear she won't enjoy it. And when they're running late, they arrive to find all the buses heading off to the different camps, and since neither Skye's dad or Gayle can quite remember the name of the camp Skye's supposed to go to, just that it has an M in the name, they get her on the first bus that looks right: the bus to Camp Midnight.

If the name of the camp wasn't ominous enough, the bus was oddly quiet and dark, and the camp itself is... strange. The only person Skye meets who seems normal is Mia, a shy girl who wants to be Skye's friend. Skye is resistant, just to put the screws to Gayle, to make it clear she won't make friends or enjoy anything. But she starts to warm to Mia pretty quickly, But she doesn't warm to the camp, especially when she finds out that most of the camp activities take place at night, and that the other campers aren't normal kids, but monsters!

The story reads like a normal camp story, with games, contests, and scary stories, with the coming of age aspects of making friends, cute boys, and dealing with the popular kids, but mixing in all the monster elements to give it an extra air of creepiness. The cute boy, Griffin, who seems to like Skye just happens to be a werewolf. The queen of the mean girls in Skye's cabin, Abcynthia, isn't just the daughter of Head Counselor Cobb, but also happens to be a witch. And there's the question of exactly what Mia is, something that plays out over the course of the whole book.

Sky's adventures at Camp Midnight are, thematically, about her learning to be herself, and to give new things a chance. She arrives so sure that she won't enjoy camp, that Gayle is wrong, that she shuts herself off from everyone, and makes it hard for Mia and Griffin to be friends with her. The mystique she builds around herself by not revealing her true form (which she doesn't have, since she's human), makes her a mystery at camp, but doesn't help with people getting close to her. And over the course of the book, she opens up. She learns that just because you're a monster doesn't mean you're evil and scary, and even things that monsters are afraid of aren't bad.

While Skye is the central character, we spend a lot of time getting to know Mia too. She's very shy, very excitable, and seems to be keeping a secret from Skye and everyone else. She seems to have her own baggage, something that is keeping her from connecting with anyone else, but as opposed to Skye, she seems to want to. The balance of their relationship, and the questions about what each of them are, drives much of the story and Skye's journey.

Jason Adam Katzenstein's art is not photorealistic, but plays with all sorts of weird body shapes and exaggerations. His style gits the world view of a teenager, who when she's angry her head and mouth enlarge to show her rage, for instance. His style makes the monsters especially creepy, since they not only don't look human, but their proportions and body language also seems off. The lettering and sound effects also are eye-grabbing, as little bits of desecration that are coming from inside Skye's head pop-up on page as she sees something. It's not the kind of art you're used to seeing, but it works very well for this book.

Steven T. Seagle is one of the founder of Man Of Action, the studio that has created such all ages hits as Ben 10 and the characters in Big Hero 6, so when it comes to a pedigree for all ages far, it doesn't come a lot higher than that. The book is full of scares that aren't too much for a kid, and a moral about being yourself that is great for kids if all ages. Camp Midnight is a perfect read for a summer afternoon, for both the grown-ups and the kids in your life.