Monday, September 19, 2016

Reviews of comics from Wednesday 9/14

Detective Comics #940
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, & Adriano Lucas

And so ends the first arc of the new Detective Comics, and what an ending it is. I've been singing the praises of this title since it returned with its new Rebirth era creative team, and this finale doesn't disappoint. There will be SPOILERS for the issue in this review, more than I usually would put in one, but frankly the ending of this issue has been all over all the major comic news sites since Wednesday, so I feel I can address it. I want to start by talking about thee aspect of the issue that hasn't been discussed all over the place, which is James Tynion's handling of Batwoman and her confrontation with her father, Colonel Jake Kane. Kane has been the primary antagonist of this arc, him and his para-military Colony organization, and to see Batwoman stand up to her father is a bravura moment for that character. This is the strong, take no prisoners hero that was introduced all those years ago in 52, the character who should have been a star and was shunted to the side until all the buzz around her had died down. Kate Kane is a woman of principal, who stands by what she believes in, even if it means her imprisoning her own father. And Kane remains just this side of sympathetic, a man who truly believes that what he's doing is right, which makes him all the more interesting as a foe. But now I have to touch on is Tim Drake, Red Robin, and his fate. On Friday, I wrote about what makes Tim Drake such a great character. And his final showdown with the drones that the Colony were sending to kill suspected agents of the League of Shadows is a perfect indicator of what makes Tim great: he went down a hero. He knew that his chances were slim, that he might be sacrificing his own life when he set himself as the drones only target, and when he knew he couldn't win? He stood his ground and went out a hero. It was a marvelous moment, and would have been an excellent death, if that's what it was. Instead, we see him taken by the mysterious Mr. Oz. There are interesting new hints to what exactly Mr. Oz is doing, and what his plans are, which are all good for the overall progress of the DC Universe and for Tim's future, but it's also great to see Tim, the one person who kept the faith when Batman "died" in Final Crisis and was sure Bruce was alive, still having faith that his friends will find him despite his own seeming death. Add in a perfect scene of Batman showing real and true sadness at the apparent death of one of his charges, and you have an issue that is as emotionally resonant as it was action packed, a perfect superhero comic.

Faith #3
Story: Jody Houser
Art: Pere Perez and Andrew Dalhouse & Marguerite Sauvage

In case you haven't read any of my previous reviews of her series or any articles about the character, Valiant's breakout hit character Faith is a fangirl. A major league fangirl. And that part of her character is part of her charm. So it's probably not the least bit surprising that Faith would spend a story arc going to a comic con. And she's bringing her boyfriend, Archer of Archer and Armstrong along for his first con. The two head out, in cosplay naturally, and because this is a superhero comic, pretty soon they're getting involved investigating thefts at the convention and the theft turns out to be way more than just a simple fan who wants to make off with stuff he couldn't afford. The appeal of this issue comes from the interactions between Faith and Archer. We saw their first date in a recent issue of A+A, but now we're seeing them more deeply into their relationship, and on Faith's home turf. The two are so perfect together, Archer so naive and Faith so confident in this setting. And the reasons why Faith is so determined to see that justice is done at the con, and what cons mean to her, is something that I think all of us who live in a world of fandom should read, because it's something that is easily forgotten: about how cons are places where we meet and greet those we admire and more how we get to share the things we love with others who love them, and how no one has a right to interfere with that. I love how positive Faith is, how she is always looking for the best in others, but how she's also always willing to stand up for herself and others. The art for the issue by Pere Perez is especially good, with all sorts of wonderful Easter Eggs in the con scenes, and a great design for Faith's cosplay, something that still evokes her costume while having a different, piratical air. Faith is one of the best comics from Valiant, a fun superhero comic that embraces fandom and fans, with a great hero; it's also a comic that is easy to jump on to at pretty much any point, and this issue is especially good as a jumping on point, as everything you need to know is right here. Oh, and not just everything you need to know about Faith; there are con going tips throughout the issue that are well worth taking note of, even if you're an old hand at it. I mean, who knows when you're going to be called on to fight evil at your next con?

And Dan Grote is here with a review of a... Batman comic!

All-Star Batman #2
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: John Romita Jr., Danny Miki and Dean White (main story); Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire (backup strip)

At the end of Season 2 of The Venture Bros., after the Sovereign has revealed himself as (a shapeshifter who takes the form of) David Bowie, Henchmen 21 and 24 remark on their favorite Bowie albums, and 21 harps on 24 for liking “ChangesOne” because “Changes is a best-of.”

All-Star Batman is, in many ways, a best-of. But it’s also something new.

Part of it is Batman barreling through a highlight reel of his enemies (roughly) two by two as he and Two-Face buddy-cop their way across the country. So we get appearances from requisite Bat-foes like the Penguin, Killer Croc and Victor Zsasz, in addition to deeper cuts like the KGBeast and Gentleman Ghost. We also get art from John Romita Jr., one of comics’ warmest blankets for more than 30 years.

But while Scott Snyder spent five years cementing himself as one of the all-time great Bat-writers, he’s not done leaving his mark.

Take, for example, his take on Two-Face. Snyder’s Two-Face is portrayed as much darker than in years past, explaining away his campier exploits as cries for help from the Harvey Dent side of his personality. This Two-Face isn’t just setting other villains on the Bat. Even allies like Jim Gordon have a vested interest in stopping Bruce from reaching the series’ MacGuffin, a purported cure for the Two-Face side of Dent. If successful, Two-Face has threatened to release the dirt he has on everyone in Gotham, and that’s a lot of dirt.

And yes, Bruce is training a new sidekick, but despite headlining a title called We Are Robin, Duke Thomas is not taking up the mantle, nor is he wearing the standard red, green and yellow. Just the yellow. The backup strips focus on Duke’s training, which isn’t so much about learning martial arts or how to win a melee fight but a study in psychology, both in Duke’s relationship with his psychotically altered parents and in learning how Batman’s never-ending parade of Arkham escapee foes thinks. Because let’s face it, working with Batman means exposing yourself to messed-up stuff every second of the day.

Oh, and Bats uses actual shark repellant against King Shark. Because if Grant Morrison’s Unified Theory of Batman has taught us anything, it’s that Batman done right should be grimdark and silly simultaneously.

So if Matt and I had the repartee of 21 and 24, he’d be doing his duty by calling me a poseur for liking the “ChangesOne” that is All-Star Batman. Also I’d be dead in a season. But whatever, my point is, as The Matt Signal’s resident “Not a DC guy” guy, I’m loving this book. And Bowie rules.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why I Love Tim Drake

Tim Drake has been all over the comic book news sites this week. I'm not going to talk about the details of why right here, just to make sure everyone who doesn't want to be spoiled has a chance to read the issue that's causing the furor. I'm just going to make a short post today about who Tim Drake is as a character and why he's not only my favorite Robin, but one of my ten favorite comic characters ever.

I started reading comic officially (or as official as you can get) with Batman #445. Tim Drake made his first appearance in costume in Batman #442 (although he would be out of costume, simply training, and wouldn't get his own until issue 457). So first and foremost, I grew up with Tim. Now, Tim is lucky that he's perpetually stuck at an age between 16 and 18, while I have continued to grow sadly older, but I don't hold that against him. There's something about that character, a character who was new when you were just starting out as a fan, that you latch on to and connect with. That's, frankly, why sidekicks were created, to give readers and entry point for these stories about adults.

But more than just our relative newness, the thing that made Tim Drake great is he was a good kid who got into superheroing because it was the right thing to do. Ultimately, all of the many tragedies that Tim would encounter over the years took place after he took up the mantle of Robin (I'll discuss the changes made in the New 52 and why I feel they detract from Tim as a character later). Tim wasn't an orphan (although he was a rich kid with absentee parents which I doubt many readers had), he didn't have a reason to become Robin except he felt like Batman needed a Robin and Gotham and the world needed a Batman. Tim, like one of my other favorite sidekicks made good, Wally West, was basically a fanboy who got to live the dream: he got to partner with his favorite hero. And who amongst us in fandom wouldn't like that?

The other thing that made me love Tim Drake initially was that he was a brain. He had figured out Batman and Robin's identities using his natural deductive skills. Tim's first solo mission isn't a Robin mission, but is Tim trying to use his computer and detective skills to try to find a hacker called Moneyspider, who turns out to be the Batman villain Anarky, a teenage villain, who would go on to be one of Tim's nemeses. Tim was naturally more physically capable than most of the readers, but he wasn't a kid acrobat like Dick Grayson; there's a great moment in Robin #10, a Zero Hour crossover where Tim briefly meets a time displaced teenage Dick Grayson, where Tim marvels at Dick's acrobatic skills and doesn't think he'll ever be able to live up to them. And that was fine, because Tim was the smartest of the Robins, the best detective of the lot. And for readers who love Batman because he's the smartest guy in the room, that made Tim the ideal Robin.

After finally taking on the name of Robin, Tim would develop his own rogues gallery and supporting cast as he starred in first three mini-series and then an ongoing series that lasted for well over one hundred issues. Tim would fight the blind martial artist and gang leader King Snake, his lieutenant, Lynx, and their street gang, the Ghost Dragons; the aforementioned Anarky, the teen anarchist; Ulysses Hadrian Arstrong, the teen strategic genius known as The General. The characters around him included his dad, Jack Drake, and step mom Dana, his geeky best friend Ives, his first girlfriend, Ariana, and his on again/off again main squeeze, Spoiler. That's not to mention his friendship with other heroes as a member of the teams Young Justice and Teen Titans, and of course his regular team-ups with Batman and the other members of the Batman family. There is a wonderful issue of Nightwing, issue twenty-five, "The Boys," that really looks into the brotherly relationship between Tim and Dick Grayson. This was a richer life as a character than either of the previous Robins had while they were Robin, and made Tim a much more interesting character,

Eventually, when a new Robin needed to come along, in this case Bruce's son Damian, he was a very different character than Tim. While Tim was an everyman sort of sidekick, Damian was completely unique and uncommon: while Tim was a fanboy, Damian had been trained since birth to be a deadly assassin. And when the time came for Tim to take up his new identity as Red Robin, the first storyline in his series reaffirmed his status as the number one Batman fan: he was the only one who believed that Bruce Wayne had not died in battle with Darkseid in Final Crisis, and he went out to find him. There's a wonderful meta-commentary there about how the hero who started out as a fan would be the one who would persevere through apparent death to believe wholeheartedly that the hero he idolized would still be alive.

But with the introduction of Damian, Tim was a little at ends as a character. Dick Grayson was able to take up the Nightwing identity when Jason Todd came along and became Robin, but Tim had a second hand new identity; Red Robin was Dick Grayson from an alternate future, whose identity had been briefly co-opted by Jason Todd before Tim took it. His last ongoing series, the Red Robin ongoing, was cut short by the New 52 reboot of DC Comics, with Tim in a very dark place. And I was hopeful that the reboot would give Tim a fresh start and make him the fun, young hero he was at his beginning.

Alas, this was not to be. The Tim Drake of the Teen Titans series from the New 52 bore only a passing resemblance to his previous incarnation. He had never been Robin and wasn't even really named Tim Drake; that was a name he took when he came to work with Batman. He was suddenly a gymnastic savant, and had a tragic backstory, where his own carelessness had forced his parents into witness protection. And mostly, he no longer had any real emotional ties to Batman and Nightwing. Batman had been a foster father to him, and Nightwing the coolest big brother you could imagine pre-New 52. Now, Tim kept them at arms length and always had, and while he was part of their family, he wasn't close with them. He did suddenly become close friends with Jason Todd, Red Hood, who had repeatedly tried to kill Tim in the old continuity, which did more to help further Jason's redemption than did anything for Tim as a character. And the greatest of indignities: while Time did still figure out Batman's identity, so did Dick Grayson, using pretty much the same methodology Tim did in the old continuity, taking away yet another thing that made Tim unique.

I don't necessarily lay all of this on the heads of the creators of those titles. Tim has been a historically difficult character to handle when taken out of his specific point of introduction. The Tim Drake in Batman: The Animated Series is much more Jason Todd than Tim Drake, as he has Jason's origin and doesn't have Tim's intellect; he basically has Tim's good nature grafted on to Jason to make him less of a jerk. The Tim in the Batman: Arkham games is a little better, but is still more of a roughneck than Tim is.  Young Justice got it closest to right; while it gave Tim's hacker skills to Dick Grayson initially, when Tim himself appeared, he was the quiet, smart member of the younger generation of heroes.

So where did that leave Tim? Well, in the past year and change, thing have gotten better for him. Batman and Robin Eternal, the weekly Batman mini-series that focused on the various Robins and other Bat family members working together in a globetrotting adventure during the brief period of time where Bruce had no memory of being Batman, did a great job of re-establishing Tim's relationship with the other member of Batman's family, and the arc of Detective Comics that wrapped this week played on all of Tim's best traits: his intellect, how well he works with others, and how much he cares about people. It got everything right, and made Tim feel like Tim again, and that Tim is a character that readers will keep hoping to see more of.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: When OMAC Attacks!

Season One, Episode Twenty-Three: When OMAC Attacks!
Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Brandon Vietti

Plot Synopsis

A mighty battles between two fleets wages in space. The Batplane flies towards them, and Batman tells his passengers, the brother heroes Hawk and Dove to deal with the ground forces while he stops the warships so he can get both sides to the bargaining table. Batman drops them off, telling them not to fight amongst themselves, and the two jump into battle, bickering all the while. Batman stops the fleet, and contacts Hawk and Dove, who are still arguing peace vs. aggression. Later, even as the treaty is signed between the Controllers and the Warlords of Okaara, the two continue to bicker.

Episode: At the headquarters of the Global Peace Agency, the faceless members of the mysterious law enforcement organization berate Batman for not completing the mission they assigned him, finding and stopping the villainous General Kafka, quickly enough for their liking. The GPA agents explain that Kafka must be stopped before he can create a biological tranformative. The GPA tells Batman they will be assigning him a partner. A janitor, Buddy Blank, comes in, and spills water on Batman while gushing over what a big fan he is of the Dark Knight. When Batman asks about the partner, they tell him Buddy is his partner, as they contact the artificially intelligent satellite Brother Eye, which transforms Buddy into the GPA's top agent, OMAC, the One Man Army Corps, a powerful entity who has no knowledge of his life as a janitor.

Later, Batman and OMAC surveil a mountain fortress. Batman says he has something that will let them slip in, but OMAC instead has Brother Eye, who can upgrade OMAC's powers on demand, enhance his strength and he leaps to the compound, busting down the wall before smashing the tanks and beating all the soldiers unconscious. Batman offers OMAC the advice that excessive force isn't the answer to everything, which OMAC promptly ignores.

In Kafka's lab, Batman and OMAC break in to find Kafka waiting. OMAC leaps for Kafka, who blasts him, and the two run off deeper into the lab. Batman is about to follow when Equinox appears, telling Batman he is not supposed to be here, that Equinox has set this whole thing in motion as part of his plan to maintain balance. batman shoots his grapnel into the air, saying he will try to tip the scales to the side of the good guys, but the grapnel cable snaps and Equinox disappears into the shadows.

OMAC and Kafka continue to fight, and when OMAC has Kafka at his mercy, he calls on Brother Eye to give him energy powers to blast Kafka. Batman interferes to stop OMAC from killing Kafka, and the stray blast hits the vat of Kafka's experimental chemical which floods the room. Batman is able to get himself and OMAC out, but the chemical washes over Kafka. Batman and OMAC stare each other down, Batman chiding OMAC for being merciless. But from the wreckage bursts Kafka, reborn from the chemicals as the metal monster, Shrapnel.

Shrapnel fires metal projectiles at Batman and OMAC, and one hits the symbol on OMAC's chest. When Batman is able to get to OMAC, he finds that he has been transformed back into Buddy. Batman escapes with Buddy, as Shrapnel swears revenge. Back at the GPA, the agents again blame Batman for failing, but Batman warns them about Equinox, telling them he feels Equinox is probably responsible for OMAC reverting to Buddy. Batman feels the GPA is abusing Buddy, not letting him know what they're doing to him and that an OMAC with some of Buddy's heart would be a better solider.

Buddy is in his room, wishing he could get another shot at Shrapnel. Batman appears in the room's shadows startling Buddy, coming to check on him. Batman reassures Buddy that underneath it, there's a string man waiting to break out, but before they can talk more, the complex shakes. Batman assumes it's Shrapnel, and looks to find Buddy once more transformed into OMAC. In the streets outside, Shrapnel is attacking. Batman and OMAC again confront him, and OMAC again doesn't listen to Batman's ideas about being more subtle.

Before Batman can join the fight, Equinox reappears, telling Batman he warned him about interference. Equinox tells Batman he feels they are similar both trying to balance the scale, be it of justice, like Batman, or like himself in a grander sense. Batman throws a Batarang at Equinox, which he transforms into a living bat with a thought.

OMAC and Shrapnel continue to fight, only now Shrapnel has the upper hand. He tells OMAC that the GPA came to his country to stop a war, and destroyed a village in the process. It was his village, and Shrapnel survived to seek revenge on the GPA. Batman makes another attempt to stop Equinox, but a tree branch falls on him, stopping him. Equinox tells Batman that his plan is to balance the scales here, to have the city the GPA is headquartered in destroyed to balance the loss of Shrapnel's home village. Batman looks at Equinox in dawning horror as he swings off, finding that Shrapnel's path is leading towards a nuclear plant, and OMAC is not fairing well on the fight.

In the plant, OMACis continuing to take punishment, and doesn't stop all of Shrapnel's projectiles, which damage the plant's control panel, starting a meltdown. Batman rushes into the plant to try to stop the meltdown while OMAC and Shrapnel still battle. Finally, OMAC decides to listen to Batman's words, and he has Brother Eye give him full strength to shields, which stops him from being hurt when Shrapnel punches him through the building. He now knows fighting Shrapnel only makes him stronger, so he's hoping this will stop him.

Batman goes to enter the reactor to stop the meltdown to have Equinox magically appear again to stop him. The two discuss the philosophy of balance as they fight. OMAC continues, to take blow after blow from Shrapnel, and Shrapnel begins to lose his steam; OMAC has realized that Shrapnel absorbs and redirects energy, and by not fighting him, Shrapnel has nothing to fight with. OMAC uses a girder to hold Shrapnel in place, just as his own energy reserves reach zero, transforming him back to Buddy. Buddy sees the chaos at the plant and charges in.

Batman is able to get a grenade past Equinox, blowing up the security panel and gaining access to the nuclear core. Equinox warns him that the radiation will destroy him, but Batman pushes on anyway, and when Equinox tries to stop him, Buddy appears, knocking Equinox aside and letting Batman charge into the core. Batman reaches the control rods and is able to to push them into the core, stopping the meltdown, and is on the verge of death when Equinox appears and saves Batman's life, magically healing him, saying it is not his time before disappearing.

Buddy, in a radiation suit, pulls Batman from he core, and is overjoyed that he has fought a supervillain, confident he Equinox will not return. But Batman looks to the moon, sure they have not seen the end of the villain, as the moon changes to the yin yang symbol of Equinox.

Who's Who

OMAC (Voiced by Jeff Bennet)
First Comic Book Appearance:  OMAC #1 (October, 1974)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

In the not too distant future, Buddy Blank was a nobody who was taken into the employ of the Global Peace Agency and whose identity was subsumed by the GPA's perfect soldier: OMAC. OMAC was a perfect weapon who would fight for peace, and in a world where large armies were considered too dangerous and too public, it was up to OMAC to keep the peace. OMAC's series would only last eight issues, but he would pop up in other short series and backups by the likes of Jim Starlin and John Byrne. Years later, in a non-Kirby written back-up story, Buddy Blank would take his young grandson into the Command D bunker to protect him from a coming cataclysm, and that young boy would take his name from the location when he emerged, becoming Kamandi. Buddy was rarely used within the DC Universe, but was one of the aspects of Kirby creations that appeared in Countdown to Final Crisis. OMAC's powers come from the satellite Brother Eye, and include super strength and speed, density control, and energy projection.

Brother Eye (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance:  OMAC #1 (October, 1974)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

When introduced in OMAC, Brother Eye was the sentient satellite that provided OMAC with his powers. But Brother Eye has had a larger and more sinister role in the DC Universe at large. Created by Batman to spy on metahumans, the Brother MK1 satellite developed artificial intelligence and was corrupted my Maxwell Lord, the Black King of Checkmate, in his plan to destroy all superhumans. Even after Lord's death, the satellite, dubbing itself Brother Eye, would continue his plan until it was eventually destroyed by a group of superheroes during Infinite Crisis. In the post-Flashpoint universe, Brother Eye was destined to conquer the Earth and transform it's populace into mindless cybernetic soldiers, but this timeline was prevented by a time travelling Terry McGinnis. The current fate of Brother Eye remains unknown. An artificial intelligence of vast intellect and tremendous computing power that can easily overtake most other computer systems. It also controls a vast army of OMACs, cybernetic soldiers that do its bidding.

Kafka (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance:  OMAC #3 (February, 1975)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

Kafka was an Eastern European dictator and recurring nemesis of OMAC

Shrapnel (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Doom Patrol Vol.2 #7 (April, 1988)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

Much of Shrapnel''s background is unknown. It is know he was a man named Mark Scheffer, who was somehow transformed into the walking pile of metal shards, who went insane and decided to kill anyone who saw him. He would go on to fight the Doom Patrol, and would go on to be a member of the Secret Society and the Suicide Squad. Shrapnel has super strength, but his main power is the fact that he is made of small metal shards that he can fire to devastating effect, and that regenerate over time.

Equinox (voiced by Oded Fehr)
First comic book appearance: Justice League of America #111 (June 1974)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 14- Mystery in Space!

Hawk (Voiced by Jonny Rees) & Dove (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Showcase #75 (June, 1968)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Three- When OMAC Attacks!

Hank and Don Hall were brothers who could not have been more different. Created by legendary creator Steve Ditko in the late '60s, the two were typical of different philosophies of the time: Hank was belligerent and quick to anger, while Don was passive and always seeking to talk out problems. They were granted powers by a mysterious source (later determined to be members of the cosmic entities known as the Lords of Order and Chaos). They would fight crime together, and usually combat each other verbally, due to their very different points of view on how best to deal with criminals. The two would remain partners until Don's death during Crisis on Infinite Earths, shortly after which a new Dove was called, a young woman named Dawn Granger, who is still Dove today. When danger is present, Hank and Don could call out their respective superhero names to magically change into their costumes. Hawk's powers include heightened strength and stamina; Dove's powers include a heightened senses and agility.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

This episode ends the unconnected trilogy of Kirby greatness. Jack Kirby the King of Comics, created OMAC towards the end of his tenure with DC Comics, the same period that gave us Kamandi, who appeared last episode, and the New Gods, who include Mr. Miracle, who was featured in last episode's teaser, and the Female Furies and Steppenwolf, who appeared two episodes ago.

There have been numerous versions of the Hawk & Dove team throughout DC Comics history. The best known are the Hank and Don Hall versions, as they are the ones that have appeared not just in Brave and the Bold but Justice League Unlimited, and the Hank Hall and Dawn Granger versions, which has been the longest lasting version, with Hank teamed up with a female Dove after the death of his brother. There was a completely unrelated version that appeared very briefly. I'm going to avoid giving the background on what happened in the '90s and early 2000s to Hawk and Dove, because they both died and Hawk became a villain for a while, but Dawn briefly teamed with her theretofore unknown sister, Holly Granger, as Hawk before Holly died and Hank was resurrected in the Blackest Night event, and they have been Hawk and Dove again since.

The Shrapnel character has two entries in this week's Who's Who section because the Brave and the Bold version is a conflation of two completely different comic book characters. It is not uncommon in media adaptations of comics for a new character gets an established super hero/villain identity, but this kind of conflation, while not unheard of, is rarer, and I like it here. Kafka isn't a physical threat for OMAC, and Shrapnel is a fairly generic thug in the comics, personality-wise, so merging them creates a fascinating new character.

The Global Peace Agency were created for the OMAC series, which didn't appear to be part of the DC Universe, Grant Morrison, master of bringing in elements from all over the history of comics, brought them into the DCU in Final Crisis, cleverly tying them in with the Question, who is similarly faceless. They would appear in the trippy and criminally under-rated Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape and Nemesis: The Imposter mini-series before disappearing after Flashpoint.

The name OMAC has a very different connotation in modern DC Comics. OMACs were mindless servants of Checkmate and Brother Eye, who had been injected with nano-bots to transform them into super strong metahuman hunters, in the mini-series The OMAC Project and Infinite Crisis. These events would spawn a mini-series featuring a self aware OMAC as part of the aftermath of those crossovers. One of the New 52 series was another new OMAC, more similar to Buddy Blank in that it was a sole protagonist, in this case a young man named Kevin Kho, although this title was short lived, being one of the first to be cancelled in DC's new universe.

Although not named, the two races fighting at the beginning of this episode are the Warlords of Okaara and the Controllers. The Okaarans were known for training beings in the art of combat, including Starfire and her sister, Blackfire, while the Controllers were an offshoot of the Guardians of the Universe, who once created a competing galactic police force, the Darkstars.

This episode is the second part of the Equinox trilogy. The first episode, where Equinox appeared just in the trailer, was Mystery in Space! In this episode he appears as the secondary villain, manipulating the main events of the episode. He will appear again, as the main antagonist, in the season finale, The Fate of Equinox!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 9/7

A+A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #7
Story: Rafer Roberts
Art: Mike Norton, David Lafuente, Brian Reber, & Allen Passalaqua

I find that there are a lot more comics that are just plane fun now then there were back in the 90s when I started reading comics, and I'm glad for it. But there are few comics that are not only fun, but completely embraces the mad absurdity of comics than A+A, the current series that stars one of Valiant's classic odd couples, Archer and Armstrong. On a quest to find Armstrong's long forgotten wife (he got drunk and forgot he got married), the mismatched pair of Archer, the young man trained to be an assassin and can summon up any physical skill, and Armstrong, the drunken immortal, have instead stumbled across a Russian circus where everyone who performs bears and odd resemblance to Armstrong. That was last issue, but this issue, now that the scientists who created the circus are attacking, we get an entire issue of crazy escapades. Archer and Armstrong fight Soviet scientists, Archer and Armstrong meet the members of the freak show, the failed experiments, learn exactly what the nature of the circus people who resemble Armstrong are (and it is neither his illegitimate descendants or clones, as Archer theorized), perform in the circus in disguise, fight clowns, and meet the scientists behind the project, one of whom is a talking bear. It's a delightfully off kilter story, but while it is utterly bizarre, it is grounded in the reactions and the well established characters of the leads. Archer is curious an wants to get answers, and his recent time with his new girlfriend, Valiant's breakout heroine Faith, has him trying to solve problems by talking rather than punching, which doesn't sit well with the more bull in a china shop style of his partner. The issue is simply a delight to read. And if all that doesn't sound like enough story, well Archer's step-sister, Mary-Maria, is dealing with a coup within the order of assassin nuns she's the head of. And in a back-up, Davey the Mackerel, an anthropomorphic fish man who escaped the confines of Armstrong's bottomless bag (and shout out to all my fellow D&D players who look at it and think of Bags of Holding), is dealing with his time as the assistant and guide to a dark god who escaped the bag without his powers and who used to work making bags, satchels, and purses. The dynamic there is just killer; picture Doctor Doom, down to the ranting, if he made purses. I know that this review contained a little more plot than I usually put in a review, but the issue is so packed with stuff that I felt like calling that out; Valiant does a great job of making their comics dense with story, and A+A is one of the titles that really takes a bit of time to read in the best possible way.

Everafter: From the Pages of Fables #1
Story: Dave Justus & Matthew Sturges
Art: Travis Moore & Michael Wiggam

Vertigo has a long history of spin-offs from its best known titles. Some, like The Dreaming, are mostly forgotten. Some, like Lucifer, have spawned spin-offs of their own. Everafter is the first spin-off from Fables since that series, a personal favorite, wrapped up at issue 150, and is a good start to this series. At the end of Fables, magic came to the Mundane world, meaning Earth as we know it, and now things there are all sorts of screwy, and the Fables are trying to help keep things straight. Two plotlines run through this first issue, introducing, or reintroducing in some cases, the characters I assume will be the principal cast. One plot features Connor Wolf, one of the cubs of Bigby Wolf and Snow White, two of the principles of the original series, being recruited into the covert ops organization of Fables that polices magic in the now not-so-Mundy world. Connor was one of the least developed of the cubs in the original series, so there's a lot of wiggle room the creators have to work with on his personality. He's a great entry character, because he's dashing but headstrong, and looking to find his place in the world. You get an idea of what this operation is, who the key players are, and what they're doing through Conner's eyes. The second, more action oriented plot, features three of the agents on a mission in St. Louis. Bo Peep and Peter Piper, former thieves and assassins who starred in the Fables novel Peter and Max, and Hansel, the former Adversary's chief Witchfinder, are hunting down something that is causing a terrifying outbreak of monsters. The art from Travis Moore is spectacular, showing all sorts of great creatures, and the character action is exciting and clear. It's not unexpected that Hansel, someone who hunts and kills witches for a living, is not exactly the most pleasant of characters, and doesn't get along with the husband and wife team of Bo Peep and Peter, but as they near the goal, Hansel's motives are more clear and not unexpected. Dave Justus and Matthew Sturges have a history with Fables, having co-written the adaptation of the video game Fables: The Wolf Among Us, and Sturges co-wrote the original Fables spin-off, Jack of Fables, and they show a deft hand with both the characters we already know and the new ones. It's really exciting and interesting first issue, and even if you don't have any knowledge of Fables, you should be able to pick it up.

Kill or be Killed #2
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser

I was on vacation when the first issue of Kill or be Killed was released, and so I didn't write it up, which I regret, because it was one of the best debuts in recent memory, but I will try to make up for that with a glowing recommendation of issue two. This isn't surprising, since the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been pretty much flawless in everything they have ever done together. Kill or be Killed exists in a the gritty world of a Brubaker and Phillips comic, a place that exists almost entirely in shades of moral grey to black, and explores the idea of vigilantism and how it effects people in a real world setting. This issue follows our lead, Dylan, on his first kill. If you didn't read the first issue and don't know the set up, Dylan survived what should have been a lethal fall only to be visited by a demon that says he is living on borrowed time and must commit an evil soul to Hell each month to keep on living. While I think we're supposed to take on faith that the demon is real, there's enough ambiguity to leave us questioning whether this is real or not, especially as the demon doesn't appear in this second issue; it's just Dylan systematically looking for a gun and a person who deserves to die. The issue is narrated by Dylan and is the usual tremendous character work that Brubaker does; it's hard not to sympathize with Dylan as you see that he doesn't want to die himself, and after all, he's only killing bad people. And Brubaker gives us the worst of the worst here, as Dylan tracks down the elder brother of a childhood friend of his that Dylan only realized too late was molesting his friend, who eventually died from drugs and depression. This is a person (and I use that term loosely) that no one would have sympathy for, and you feel yourself cheering for Dylan when he puts him down. But should you really? Is it right? These are the questions I think Brubaker wants us to contemplate. I'm just scratching the surface of the issue, a comic that explores Dylan's childhood and his father's life, and continues to lay out his present. Sean Phllips is at the top of his game, not just in the sequences in the past and present, but in a beautiful slash that shows the art that Dylan's father made for *ahem* gentlemen's pulp magazines. It's the kind of piece, painted by Phillips himself, that might be a little too good for those trashy porno mags, a really beautiful piece of art, which is just right for the art of a man who felt his dreams being crushed by doing art for a place that is beneath him. You don't buy a comic by Brubaker and Phillips for a happy trip; you read it to be entertained, certainly, but it will also make you think, be challenged, and to watch the idea of genres be broken, as nothing is off limits. Kill or be Killed is another gem in Image Comics crown, and in the constantly evolving and breathtaking work of these two amazing creators.

And after that more bleak review, something lighter and more fun from Dan Grote...

Jughead #9
Story by Ryan Q. North
Art by Derek Charm

Let’s be clear: Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s run on Jughead was a ton of fun and used some of the sillier aspects of Archie history (Jughead’s Time Police, anyone?) to its advantage. They will be missed on this book.

But Forsythe Pendleton Jones III has been passed on to the best possible hands.

Writer Ryan Q. North (Henderson’s partner on Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) and artist Derek Charm roll fast and heavy with the comedy in Jughead’s solo series, right from the opening splash page featuring a sculpture of our hero composed of burgers, hot dogs and pizza, which he made to win an art contest.

Zdarsky’s Jughead was canonically asexual, but North has him questioning that identity after a girl takes the form of his favorite thing: a burger. Pop’s Diner has employed a mascot who stands outside and hands out coupons and menu advice to passing prospective customers, her costume changing based on the day’s special (that’s a hefty budget to be pouring into wardrobe, Pop Tate).

Jughead discovers he has feelings for this walking, talking all-beef Patty, and so he turns to his friends for advice on love, all of which is naturally terrible (Reggie: “Love is possession. It’s seeing something really cool that someone else has, and knowing if you had it, you’d be just as great as they are, and then they’d be worse, because they wouldn’t have it anymore.”).

Except for Betty’s. Betty’s advice about how to approach a woman is mandatory reading for every teen and adult male alive and takes into account things like consent and how to properly compliment someone while acknowledging that romance is complicated. Be like Betty. Don’t be like Reggie.

If we lived in an age where covers and solicitation text didn’t instantly spoil endings, it’d be spoiling things to say Jughead’s burger babe turns out to be none other than Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but c’est la vie. It will be fun to watch them interact more next issue.

And kudos to North for giving us even more comedy between the panels. Additional narration boxes accompany the bottom of half the pages in the book, rightly pointing out that Zdarsky was ripping off the reader by not providing the same, touting the importance of self-care and poking fun at Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory.

A new creative team on a book can often be a cause for concern, but at least for me, “Jughead” retains its Most Favored Comic status.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A History of Batman Vs. Deathstroke

So, Deathstroke the Terminator is going to be the villain in the upcoming solo Batman movie. I am of mixed feelings about this, as I find Deathstroke to often be written in odd and confounding ways, ways that put him way stronger than his weight class. But the more I considered it, the more I realized I have the same problem with Deathstroke that a lot of readers have with Batman, and so with a shrug of my shoulders I decided that it was a pretty cool idea, and decided that I wanted to write about Deathstroke.

But how to do that? There have already been plenty of articles on sites with way bigger readership than mine about who Deathstroke is. So I decided to come at it from the angle I'm best qualified for: the specific relationship between Batman and Deathstroke, and their confrontations, as well as a little about my history with Deathstroke. So what you're going to find is a little personal history, followed by a brief bio, and then a spotlight on the comic book and associated media battle between Batman and Deathstroke.

So I first encountered Deathstroke as a reader in New Titans #72 (well, a cameo at the end of #71 technically, but that was one panel), the issue at the top of this post, which was the second part of the famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) "Titans Hunt" story, the one that drastically altered the Titans line-up and began Deathstroke's trip from villain to anti-hero. It was the '90s, after all, and the only thing the big publishers liked more than a hero was an anti-hero. So I got to know Deathstroke as this tortured sort of good guy who still killed. And that was his status quo for a quite a while at DC. He had an ongoing, he guest starred in the various Titans titles a lot, and he never did much for me.

I actually started liking Deathstroke more when he returned to flat out villainy in the first volume of Titans and the Geoff Johns written Teen Titans series. By that point, I had read "The Judas Contract," which remains the definitive Deathstroke story, and other earlier appearances, and there, while he had a code of honor, he was still a hardcore villain. And he's sort of waffled from that over time, sometimes returning to being an almost anti-hero, but usually now being portrayed as a homicidal maniac for the highest bidder. When you factor in the infamous Identity Crisis #3, where he takes out the entire Justice League single handedly by counting on such plot improbabilities as Kyle Rayner, the Green Lantern who is not a scrapper, deciding to come at him by punching him instead of, oh I don't know, trapping him in a bubble, and you get a character who is sort of all over the place, often portrayed as a deus ex machina sort of character.

Deathstroke made his first appearance in New Teen Titans #2, created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, where he accepted a contract on the Titans after the Ravager, his son Grant, died in battle with the Titans. Over time it was revealed that Deathstroke was Slade Wilson, a former soldier who had agreed to go through an experimental process that did not work as planned: it was supposed to make him more resistant to chemical interrogation, but instead granted him access to the 90% of his brain a normal human doesn't, which increased his tactical skills and reflexes, as well as enhanced strength, speed, and durability. When he left the army, he became a mercenary and assassin for hire. When fellow assassins kidnapped one of his sons, Deathstroke was not fast enough to save the boy from having his throat slit. While the child, Joe Wilson, survived, this drove a wedge between Deathstroke and his wife, Adeline, that was furthered when, enraged, Adeline tried to kill him, but Slade used his enhanced reflexes to dodge the bullet, just losing his eye and earning his trademark eyepatch; the two split up.

Deathstroke's earliest appearances were all in relation to the Titans, trying to complete the contract that his elder son, Ravager, had accepted from the HIVE to take them down. Eventually, Deathstroke employed Terra, a young metahuman, to go undercover and get him all the secrets of the Titans; which she did, giving him the information he needed to defeat the team. Fortunately, Robin had recently left the team, and returned, with the new identity of Nightwing, with help from Deathstroke's younger son, Joe, who was the mute hero Jericho, to save the Titans and capture Deathstroke. Deathstroke was found not guilty, and returned to his mercenary ways, but had a newfound respect for the Titans.

As I said above, this led to a period of cooperation between the Titans and Deathstroke, a period that included Deathstroke having to kill Jericho, who had been possessed by the Trigon corrupted spirits of the people of Azarath (ah, there's a statement you could only make in comics). As the '90s waned, so did Deathstroke's popularity, and with the loss of his ongoing series, he returned to his status first as a Titans supporting cast member, and then adversary.

Since the return of Jericho, who as it turned out wasn't dead but had used his power to possess people to enter Deathstroke's body and had lain in wait, dormant, until he was strong enough to exert control, Deathstroke has been more of a full-on villain than he ever was before. He has worked with Alexander Luthor's Secret Society, bombed Bludhaven with a nuclear Chemo, and tried to kill the Titans on numerous occasions. The Deathstroke of the New 52 has no real ties to the Titans anymore, and is just the world's greatest assassin.

That was a really elementary rundown of who Deathstroke is, and there's a whole lot more to it, especially when you start to bring in more about Jericho, Grant, and Slade's daughter, Rose, who is the on-again-off-again Titan who took the name Ravager. All of these children have also appeared in the new DC continuity, although none with a real Titans connection (Rose worked for Harvest, the evil being who hunted teen heroes, but that's about it). Also, in recent years, Deathstroke became a regular nemesis of Green Arrow, something made even more a part of the character as he has been a recurring threat on Arrow.

So, with all that laid out, what exactly does Deathstroke have to do with Batman? For a pair of characters with such similar backgrounds (highly trained fighters with massive extended families that are Shakespearean in their trauma), they have actually met face-to-face relatively few times. Mostly, Deathstroke is thought of as one of the main nemeses of Nightwing, as the two have a long history. Deathstroke also had more than his share of run-ins with Tim Drake in his days as Robin with the Titans, and Deathstroke manipulated Cassandra Cain, then Batgirl, with a drug to make her one of his puppets in his vendetta against the Titans. So, what are the notable battles between Batman and Deathstroke, and who came out ahead in each?

City of Assassins (Deathstroke the Termination V.1 #6-9)

The first on page meeting of the two characters, this storyline sees the two initially fighting, and then teaming up, to save the life of a mob hitman who has escaped witness protection. It is an exciting four part story, Marv Wolfman at his best on Deathstroke. It does feature a scene of Deathstroke pretty savagely beating Batman down, which establishes which side of the debate on who would win in a fight Deathstroke's co-creator falls on.

The Death Lottery (Detective Comics #708-710)

When a dying man decides his last wish is to see the wealthy of Gotham die as well, a contract is put out on the wealthiest men in Gotham, bringing assassins to the city for around the world, including low level Batman rogue Gunhawk. Deathstoke, who had previous encounters with Gunhawk, has also come to Gotham to get revenge against the assassin. Batman and Deathstroke fight twice in this arc, the first time with a clear win by Dethastroke, and once with Batman victorious, although he did attack by surprise. This story is from Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan's nearly 100 issue run on Detective, a vastly under-rated run of solid stories, and features a notable instance of Batman using firearms.

Infinite Crisis (Infinite Crisis TPB)

When DC released it's crossover event Infinite Crisis in collection, it made certain strategic art and dialogue changes, as well as adding a few pages of new content. One of those pages was a confrontation between Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Deathstroke. This time, it's Batman who pretty clearly wins, although this is Deathstroke at one of his lowest points, driven pretty crazy by the loss of his family, so you have to take mental stress into account.

Stop Me If You've Heard This One... (Superman Batman Annual #1)

So, Batman doesn't really fight Deathstroke in this issue, but they both appear, as Slade has been hire to kill Bruce Wayne. Needless to say it is not successful. This is a tremendous comic, one that I am always surprised that more people don't know. Written by Joe Kelly, with principle pencils by Ed McGuinness (with various others throughout), it retells a Golden Age story of how Batman and Superman learned each other's identities, while also tossing in counterparts from the morality reversed Earth-3. And not just Owlman and Ultraman, but an unnamed Deathstroke doppelganger, who is obviously Deadpool. And it's written by Joe Kelly, master of the Deadpool quip. Oh, and no matter what some people might want to believe, Slade Wilson/Wade Wilson? Come on, there's clearly a connection.

Battle Royale (Deathstroke Vol.2 #5)

Deathstroke comes to Gotham. Batman fights Deathstroke. They both get in some good punches. Deathstroke escapes. That's pretty much it. It's some of Tony Daniel's most action packed art, really well drawn, but is pretty much an issue long fight sequence.

Son of Batman

Again, not really much Deathstroke Vs. Batman in here, mostly Damian vs. Deathstroke. This was the first Batman movie in the new DC Direct-to-DVD universe, and introduced Damian in a story VERY loosely based on Grant Morrison's "Batman and Son." And by based on, I mean it introduces Damian and has a similar name. In the story, Slade kills Ra's al Ghul to take over the League of Assassins, and when Damian comes to get revenge on Slade for the death of his grandfather, we get a sort of war of philosophies between Slade's merciless assassin thinking and Batman's value of life. Damian spares Slade,so you can chalk this up a a win for Batman.

Batman: Arkham Origins

On Christmas Eve, Black Mask has hired some of the world's best assassins to kill Batman. And when you're hiring the world's best assassins, you have to get Deathstroke in there. But since the game has Batman in the name, and you're playing as Batman, take a guess who wins this fight? Although I will say Deathstroke puts up one of the best fights of any of the big bads in the game. From what I gather, Deathstroke also appears in the final game in the Arkham series, Arkham Knight, but I don't have a PS4 yet so I don't know how that one turns out, but the game isn't called Deathstroke: Arkham Knight, so I've got to give the edge to Bats there again.

So, what has past experience taught us about who will win in the movie fight between Batman and Deathstroke? Well, it's going to be a big fight, that's for sure, but I have to give the edge to Batman, since it's his movie. Still. it's rare to see Batman fight a character on the big screen who is his physical equal, so I'm excited to see the fight choreography on it, and I like Joe Manganiello, announced yesterday to be playing Deathstroke (and returning to comic book movie acting, as he played Flash Thompson in Spider-Man), so I remain cautiously optimistic on this one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Great Batman: Brave and the Bold Rewatch: Last Bat on Earth!

Season One, Episode Twenty-Two: Last Bat on Earth!
Written by Steven Melching
Directed by Ben Jones

Plot Synopsis

Batman and Mr. Miracle are chained to a roller coaster car passing through a booby trap littered roller coaster. They progressively escape from such death traps as blades, hammers, and fire, all while undoing the chains that hold them. At the last minute, before they are about to crash into a spiked wall, they break free and land on stage; this has been a charity stunt to raise money for orphans, and Miracle's wife, Big Barda, and manager, Oberon, are waiting.

Episode: In a post-apocalyptic future, a tribe of tiger men in armor march to meet a similar army of gorillas. Watching from a distance is Kamandi, the last boy on Earth, and his friend and mentor, the dog-man Dr. Canus. They are waiting for the battle to begin so they can liberate the humans who both sides keep as slaves. The battle is joined, and the tiger king, Great Caesar,  urges his son, Tuftan, friend of Kamandi, into battle. The battle is brutal, and when Tuftan is lassoed, Kamandi jumps into battle to save his friend, and the two ride off on horseback together.

The tigers win the day, driving off the gorillas, but Caesar is disappointed that his son has abandoned him. Meanwhile, at the gorilla camp, the gorilla general is berating his soldiers, when a cloaked figure appears and says the loss is the general's fault. The figure removes his cowl and reveals his identity: Gorilla Grodd.

Back in the present, Batman finds himself in the lab of Professor Nichols, a scientist working on time travel. Batman finds Nichols tied up and gagged, and when Batman removes the gag, Nichols tells him that Grodd coerced Nichols into sending him to the future. Batman asks Nichols to send him after Grodd, and after receiving a beacon that will allow him to return, Batman goes after Grodd.

Back in the future, Grodd challenges the general to a battle to determine the leader of the gorillas and bests him, taking over the gorilla army. In the tiger encampment, we see tiger warriors gathering more human slaves as Kamandi and Tuftan attack. While they distract the guards, Canus tries to free the humans, but is captured in a net as is Kamandi, but before a tiger guard can smash Kamandi with a club, a batarang disarms him and Batman appears to aid Kamandi and his friends. Batman and Kamandi begin to defeat the tigers, but are forced to surrender when the guards threaten to kill the humans, Tuftan, and Canus unless they do.

In the city of the tigers, Batman, Kamandi, Canus, and Tuftan are imprisoned. Great Caesar comes down to tell them that Tuftan will be left imprisoned and the others will be executed. Batman tries to warn Caesar of the coming on Grodd, but Caesar scoffs until he hears the war chant of the gorillas: Grodd has arrived outside the citadel with his army. Grodd has come to the future with technology, including a power gauntlet for himself and other weapons, and after Caesar insults Grodd by calling him a monkey. Grodd has his soldiers fire a sonic cannon, which has an even stronger effect on the sensitive hearing of the cats. Grodd then has a huge ape named Tiny smash the tigers' gates and the gorillas attack.

In the jail, Batman uses acid to melt through the bars and escape with Kamandi and friends. Tuftan uses his knowledge of the city to lead them through the streets, but Grodd smells Batman and sends his soldiers after him, but Batman and company slip into the sewers and escape. Batman takes Kamandi and Canus to prepare his plan to stop Grodd, while he sends Tuftan on another mission.

Batman takes Kamandi and Canus to the Batcave, which has fallen into disrepair over the centuries, and is now populated by man-bats, who attack Batman for mocking them with his costume. Batman and Kamandi fight the man-bats, and when they defeat the leader, the man-bats leave. Batmanreveaks his plan, and begins preparing technology of his own to stand against Grodd's.

Grodd and his army march out of the city, only ot be met by an army of tigers, snakes, rats and other animals, led by Tuftan. Tuftan again goads Grodd by calling him a chimp, and Grodd unleashes the sonic cannon, but as Grodd orders the charge, Batman appears with the Batplane, which fires missles that destroy the sonic cannons, helping to level the playing field.

As the armies meet, Batman, Kamandi, and Canus escape the Batplane with an ejector seat, and the plane crashes into the mountain, raining rubble down on the gorillas. As they drift to the ground, the man-bats return, swearing allegiance to Batman, and joining the battle against the gorillas, stealing their clubs from them. The armies are warring when Grodd sends Tiny into combat. Kamandi takes some rope from Batman and goes to deal with Tiny while Batman goes to deal with Grodd.

Kamandi and Tuftan are able to die Tiny's feet together, and when he falls the assembled armies easily defeat him. Grodd is caught in the flight of his gorilla army, as they flee after their strongest member and their weapons are destroyed, leaving him for Batman to retrieve. With the battle over, Great Caesar thanks Batman and Kamandi, finding that humans are more than he thought, and after congratulating his son as well, he frees the human slaves. Kamandi says goodbye to Batman, who returns to his own time with Grodd, leaving Kamandi excited at the idea of maybe visiting Batman in his time someday.

Who's Who

Kamandi (Voiced by Mikey Kelley)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth (October, 1972)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Seven- Dawn of the Deadman!

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!

Mr. Miracle (Voiced by Yuri Lowenthal)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Mister Miracle #1 (April, 1971)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Two- Last Bat on Earth!

One of the New Gods of New Genesis, Scott Free is the son of the leader of that world, Highfather. But as a part of the pact that brought about the cease fire between New Genesis and its opposite number, evil Apokolips, Scott was given over to Darkseid to raise as a hostage, while Darkseid's son was given to Highfather, Not surprisingly, Darkseid was not a loving father, and dumped Scott into one of his orphanages, to be raised at the not so tender mercies of Granny Goodness. But Scott never gave in, and eventually did what no one ever had: he escaped. He came to Earth, where he would take up the name of Mr. Miracle and be both a superhero and the world's greatest escape artist. He would be a member of the Justice League. He would make friends and marry Big Barda, another escapee from Apokolips. But above all else, he would be free. Mr. Miracle has many of the standard powers of a New God, including immortality and enhanced durability, but its his mind that is truly impressive. A master inventor, he builds his own traps to escape. He is the world's greatest escape artist, and emplyes otherworldly tech including the sentient computer Mother Box.

Big Barda (Voiced by Diane Delano)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Mister Miracle #4 (October, 1971)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Two- Last Bat on Earth!

Big Barda was raised by Granny Goodness to be the leader of her Female Furies, the elite female warriors trained to, "Die for Darkseid." But a meeting with a young Scott Free changed all that, and after helping him and other rebels against the despotic ruler of Apokolips, Barda fled Apokolips for Earth. There she found Scott, and the two were married. Barda would travel with her husband, and would join the Justice League, both at his side and on her own. Barda is a powerful presence with a personality equal to her huge stature, but is at heart someone who loves life as much as she loves Scott. Barda is physically powerful, even by the standards of the New Gods, exceedingly strong and nearly indestructible.

Oberon (Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance:  Mister Miracle #1 (April, 1971)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Twenty-Two- Last Bat on Earth!

Oberon was the manager and assistant to the original Mr. Miracle, the human escape artist Thaddeus Brown, and when Scott Free came to Earth and inherited the mantle, Oberon stayed with him in those capacities, but also as friend and mentor here on Earth. Oberon is most often seen with Scott, although he did spend some time with Maxwell Lord as his assistant when Lord was leading the Justice League, but returned to working with Scott when that incarnation of the League folded. Oberon is a normal human, although he has an excellent knowledge of business and escapology.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

The creations of Jack Kirby, the King of Comics, feature heavily in this episode. Both Mr. Miracle and his supporting cast, and the world of Kamandi are Kirby creations. Last episode also featured Kirby creations, in that case Steppenwolf and members of the Female Furies. And next episode also guest stars Kirby creations, but we'll get to that next week,

Professor Nichols, the scientist who sends Batman and Grodd into the future, was a Silver Age character, who would appear in those stories to use "time travel hypnosis" to send Batman and Robin through time. Grant Morrison would revisit the character, as he did with many Silver Age concepts, during his extended run on the Batman titles.

Tiny has some King Kong-inspired moments in this episode, and it would be easy to assume a giant ape is just a generic concept. But Tiny is a character right out of the Kamandi comics, specifically issue seven of Kamandi's original series. There he could talk, though, so that version has some advantages.

Yuri Lowenthal makes his Brave and the Bold debut in this episode, voicing Mr. Miracle, but as another voice actor with a long list of credits, this is far from his only DC animated credit. He voiced Lagoon Boy and Icicle Jr. in Young Justice, and has voiced Red Robin in the direct to video Batman Unlimited features.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 8/31

Deadpool V Gambit #4
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: Danilo Beyruth & Cris Peter

There have been a lot of groups of mutant villain henchmen over the years (if you want to learn more about them, check out Dan Grote's posts here and here). And when there are that many members of a team whose main purpose is to hench for some big bad, there's a good chance that those characters are one note characters. So it's interesting when writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker pull back from the comedic caper that has been the first three issues of Deadpool V Gambit to spend pretty much the entire fourth issue not focusing on either of their leads, but instead telling the story of Scrambler. Scrambler is a member of the Marauders, the group that works for Mr. Sinister, but that isn't even important to know for this issue. Acker & Blacker start the story off by establishing the basics, that Scramber was a bad guy who fought the X-Men and who has tried to go straight. Acker and Blacker make us care about Kim Il Sung, a villain who has had very little development before this. Not only do they logically update his power set, which is trickier than you'd think, but they also give him a love interest, a family, and a logical desire to be a better person for them. I encountered Acker & Blacker through The Thrilling Adventure Hour, which is one of the funniest things, well, ever, and the earlier issues of this series have been lighter in tone. Even their Thunderbolts work, which had something of a darker tone, had a large portion of humor to it. And while this issue isn't grim (the reason Scrambler has it in for Gambit and Deadpool spins out of a scene that is actually pretty darn funny), this issue is much more a character study. We see Scrambler at his lowest, then his best, ans then dragged down back to the lowest by situations beyond his control. It's a really solid single issue in the middle of a mini-series, and while the series' two leads are pretty much incidental, it doesn't feel like something completely outside the scope of the series. There's a big reveal at the end of the issue, actually, that casts the events of the series in a completely different light. If you've been suffering from Gambit withdrawal since he hasn't been a regular in a series in a while, you just need some more Deadpool, or you like to see the other side of villains, you should really check out Deadpool V Gambit.

Gotham Academy Annual #1
Story: Brenden Fletcher & Becky Cloonan
Art: Adam Archer, Msassyk, Michael Dialynas, Chris Wildgoose, Sandra Hope, Serge Lapointe, & Rob Haynes

We've been away from Gotham Academy for a few months now (unless you've been checking out the very fun Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy, which you all should be), so the choice to do a one off annual to refresh current readers and introduce new ones before the new Gotham Academy: Second Semester starts was a good one, and this issue is a great jumping on point for new readers. A mysterious ailment is sweeping Gotham Academy, and our leads, the members of Detective Club, are split down the middle on what they think is responsible: Pomeline, always looking for a magical explanation, thinks it's a vampire, while Colton believes visiting professor Derek Powers is behind this. So Colton takes Kyle, and Pomeline takes Tristan, and Maps is left trapped in the middle. We get to see Olive, who is usually in the center of everything, on the sidelines in this issue, which allows the other characters to really stand out. What this issue does, which is a great example of what Gotham Academy does best, is balance the character work with the mystery and the macabre, while also tying into the deep mythology of Batman as a character. Note I didn't say the history of Batman, as what this issue ties into is actually the future of Batman. If you're at all familiar with Batman Beyond, either the animated series or the comics that have been released to tie into it, you know the name Derek Powers and know that no good will come of it. Also returning this issue is Warren McGinnis, introduced back in issue four of the series, who also has ties to the Batman Beyond universe. There's ealso an appearance from a supernatural one-off Bat villain, a character I never thought would pop up again, which is something that just fills me with joy; no other series from either of the Big Two embraces the crazy history of comics like Gotham Academy does. But what's even better is that if you're unfamiliar with any and all of that, nothing of the issue is lost on you. Instead you get two interlocking mysteries featuring two sets of likable protagonists. Pomeline is at her most demanding, and Colton at his most slick, but we get hints that there's more to Colton than we've seen before; of all the regular cast, he's the one who's gotten the least development so far, more or less being the campus ne'er-do-well, so it's nice that we're beginning to see more of his personality and his backstory come out. There are multiples artists across this issue, but fortunately Rob Haynes did breakdowns across the whole issue so the art has a consistent feel, but each plotline has a distinct look. Gotham Academy Annual #1 is an exciting romp across the grounds of the titular Academy and a treat for Batman fans of all ages and knowledge.

Suicide Squad: War Crimes Special
Story John Ostrander
Art: Gus Vazquez, Carlos Rodriguez, & Gabe Eltaeb

Now THIS is the Suicide Squad. I haven't written as much about the Suicide Squad as I feel like is deserved for how much I love the concept and the characters on this blog, mostly because the series as it's been running since I started writing here has rarely been a book I really loved. But this one-shot, written by the man who redefined the Squad in the '80s and a writer I have written a lot about, John Ostrander, hits every note that makes a good Suicide Squad story. Let's count them down, shall we?

1) It has great characters and character moments: The Squad in this issue is mostly made up of staples of the Squad: Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and Rick Flag from the original series; Harley Quinn and El Diable from the New 52 era; and a new member, Mad Dog, who you know is not long for the team right out front. Flag and Deadshot have a great rapport in the issue, working together, and Ostrander writes one truly funny Harley moment. But it's Boomerang who Ostrander really captures. The arrogant, smarmy, easy to anger, quick to seek revenge Boomerang of those classic books is on display here, to the point that he is responsible for Mag Dog's death just because the bounty hunter rubbed him the wrong way. Boomerang is often played as comic relief or the team punching bag, but Ostrander remembers that he is a nasty piece of work at heart.

2) Interesting foes: Ostrander gave the Suicide Squad some really interesting enemies in his original run. The international mercenaries known as the Jihad (changed to Onslaught after their first appearance) were a great collection of characters with interesting powers and looks. The Loa was another fascinating nemesis. This story introduces Strikeforce Europa, a team of European mercenaries. And while they don't exactly walk out of this unscathed, they don't feel like characters who were created simply to be disposed of; they have a backstory and work as characters who have potential.

3) Real world events effect comic book stories: There was an interview I read somewhere once that I wasn't able to find to get the exact quote where Ostrander said he stopped writing stories for Suicide Squad set in real places because it seemed like every time he did it seemed that place popped up on the news. And while recent Suicide Squad stories have taken place in real countries, they are often just using those places as a setting and not discussing the political realities. This issue takes something very real and while changing the names to protect the innocent (or to protect the publisher from libel suits), there is a reality to this story. The Secretary of Defense from the "previous administration" has been kidnapped by Strikeforce Europa to stand trial for war crimes, for starting the last "Gulf action" to benefit "Black Mountain" the private military security contractor he has worked for an with. If you have any notion of modern American politics, none of this is particularly veiled commentary on politics, and it creates an interesting mission, as the Squad must rescue him.

4) Action action and more action: Much of this issue is an elaborate heist type story, only with what the team is trying to take is a human being. We get the Squad in battle with Strikeforce Europa, with the assassin Shado, who was sent by Black Mountain to silence the Secretary of Defense before he spilled their secrets at the World Court, not to mention your standard issue security forces. You get car chases, super powered fights, and a really cool scene with Deadshot on a motorcycle. It has an excellent balance of action and character, which was the hallmark of the best Suicide Squad stories.

5) The Wall: John Ostrander created Amanda Waller, and there are very few, if any, writers who get her better than Ostrander. Whether it's giving the team a briefing with her patented hardass attitude and biting humor, or debriefing when the team gets back, and all her contact in between, this is the Waller I hear in my head when I think of best Waller moments.And I've seen people of two minds on how coldly homicidal Waller was in the recent Suicide Squad movie, but anyone with any familiarity with the character would see that her actions at the end of this issue, and the reasoning behind them, are so perfectly logical that it's one of my favorite Waller moments of all time.

Seriously folks, whether you miss the old Squad stories or are a fan of the new ones, this is a perfect gem of a Suicide Squad story that everyone should check out.

And look! Dan Grote is back, with a review featuring two of his great fan passions: the X-Men and '90s music...

X-Men ’92 #6
Story by Chris Sims & Chad Bowers
Art by Alti Firmansyah & Matt Milla

Matt often writes about how sometimes a book is so consistently good, he sometimes passes on reviewing it because there are only so many ways to say “This book is consistently good” month after month.

The same can be said for Marvel’s X-Men ’92, which is if nothing else a love letter to the 1990s animated series and the comics of the time period.

Except this issue ups the ante considerably by working in the music of the Extreme Era as well. Coming of age in the ’90s as I did, I spent my teen years a) devouring X-Men comics and b) listening to alternative radio. So to read a comic in which the X-Men work as bodyguards for Lila Cheney at a music festival that includes the Flaming Lips and the Toadies is to relive those years in their purest, most crystalized form. The only thing missing is all those Sunday afternoons I killed playing The Sims and Final Fantasy VI on the Super Nintendo.

After a prologue that brings Joss Whedon creation SWORD into the ’92-niverse, the comic opens with intergalactic rockstar Cheney joining the Lips on stage for “Race for the Prize,” complete with lettered lyrics that sent me combing through my CDs to see if I still had a copy of “The Soft Bulletin.” Even Beast is singing along, and let’s face it, he would like an up-tempo song about two scientists competing to save a dying sun.

And seriously, the Toadies? The Toadies?! Raise your hand if you’ve thought about the Toadies at any point after 1996. They’re about as ’90s as Adam X the X-Treme.

Anyway, it turns out Lila’s on Earth because there’s a bounty on her head, and she’s being hunted down by British-import robot space bounty hunter Death’s Head. Hence her asking the X-Men to act as security.

Also lurking around disguised as a be-ponytailed roadie is none other than Acolyte-slash-Upstart Fabian Cortez, whom a narration box accurately describes as having “the power to make mutants mutant harder.” Cortez amps up Cheney’s already-considerable teleportation powers amid the fight with Death’s Head, transporting herself, the X-Men, Death’s Head and SWORD’s Abigail Brand to an alienated planet populated by [spoilers].

I can’t say enough how much of this book is sold on the strength of Alti Firmansyah’s art. Chris Sims and Chad Bowers get the cheesiness of the era and what characters will make fans wistful, but Firmansyah nails the fashion, the facial expressions and the fun of what, at its worst, was a melodramatically angsty time. It doesn’t mimic the animation style of the cartoon – if anything, she seems to take her cues from “Voltron” and the Joe Madureira style of manga-light art that took hold mid-decade – but you can see that she’s having fun, and I’d love to read more of her work.