Wednesday, February 1, 2017

QUICK HITS: Brief reviews for comic books on-sale Jan. 25, 2017.

Hey, gang, I came home from my local comics shop with nine new comic books this week. However, two of those, BATMAN, No. 13, and GREEN LANTERNS, No. 13, were recent back issues my retailer is just now getting. Seems Diamond Distributors, which screws up my shop's order virtually every week, ROYALLY fubar'd last month, mixing up my LCS's order with some other store. By the time everything was straightened out, I had #15 of Bats & GLs before #13.

But Diamond hasn't got its act together yet. This was expected to be a big Wonder Woman week, with three title out featuring the Amazing Amazon. More than 45 years actively collecting comics and you know how many times I've come home with three Wonder Woman comics from one trip to the stands? Exactly, NEVER!

But, it was not fated to happen this week either. Diamond shorted by shop on WONDER WOMAN, No. 15, not delivering a single issue. So, it'll be two weeks, at least, before I get my copy.

Anyway, here's what I did get of this week's new releases, and what I thought of each:



BATMAN '66 MEETS WONDER WOMAN '77, No. 1 (of 6)
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $3.99)

[no title] (20 pgs)
Story by Jeff Parker and Marc Andreyko
Art by David Hahn and Karl Kesel

Well, the most unexpected aspect of this newest Batman '66 team up is that Wonder Woman '77 is actually Wonder Woman '42!

That's right, Parker has chosen to use as his muse the first season of the Wonder Woman tv show, which was set during World War II. It actually makes sense, as, given the timeframe of the Batman tv show, Bruce Wayne would have been an adolescent during the war. Of course, this means the cover cover image never actually happens — in fact, can't happen. But that's okay, because the story works so well.

It does seem a little odd, however, to have Ra's as Ghul and Talia transported into the world of Batman '66. After all, they're kind of the opposite of camp, aren't they? Parker seems to understand this, and although this is hardly a comic children are going to latch on to (because kids don't really read comic books anymore), Parker changes "The League of Assassins" to the less-frightening, "League of Shadows."

I do wish he, or his editor, had worked on some of the dialogue, though. As Batman narrates his adventure in the past with Wonder Woman, there are a few transitional snippets of dialogue that are very sitcom-y. These bits are funny enough, but not at all in keeping with the spirit of the 1966 tv show. One aspect of camp, of course, is that, while it is played for the kitschy and absurd, the characters themselves take everything quite seriously. So, those bits that would work well in the Bwa-ha-ha version of the Justice League seem out of place here, and, so, distract from the narrative.

The art was quite good — deceptively simplified, but it told the story well. Granted, Andreyko's Wonder Woman does not look particularly like Lynda Carter, but I don't think that's necessary here.

GRADE: B     **RECOMMENDED**



DOCTOR STRANGE, No. 16
(Marvel Comics, 28 pages, $3.99)

"Blood in the Aether — Chapter Five: The Dread" (20 pgs)

Story by Jason Aaron
Art by Chris Bachalo and Cory Smith

I have really, really enjoyed Aaron's version of Marvel's sorcerer supreme. He has a knack for embracing the weirdness of Strange's world, but in a way that doesn't wallow in it, as a Grant Morrison might do, making the strange more or less incomprehensible. No, this is not the kind of weird that doesn't require a key to the author's working notes in order to have any inking what's going on — this is the kind of weird that speaks directly to my inner 12-year old, and every issue of this series I read is like a trip back to my personal golden age, when I first fell in love with comics.

That said, this issue is the weakest of this particular story arc. That's to be expected. Aaron tends to fall victim to the same handicap that plagues most current comics writers — he starts a story strong with fantastic ideas, but then things fall a bit flat as all the threads are brought together at the conclusion. My assumption is this is because most writers, and their editors, have not worked out the ending of a 5-6 issue plot when they start scripting the first.

Don't get me wrong, there is some fantastic writing here, along with a few genuinely laugh-out-loud lines, and the artwork is beyond fantastic — expressive, but not at the expense of comprehension. However, Dormammu seems dispatched a little too easily for all the build-up he got, while the other villains, including Mister Misery, Baron Mordo, and the Orb, all of whom amazed and intrigued in earlier chapters devoted to them, feel a little superfluous once all the villains come together. After all, this is Dormammu's chapter. But then he's defeated, and it isn't.

This is still the best book of the week, and gets a solid A. It only disappoints because I've come to expect every issue of this series to be an A-plus.

GRADE: A     **MAGICALLY RECOMMENDED**



THE FLASH, No. 15
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99)

"Rogues Reloaded, Part Two" (20 pgs)

Story by Joshua Williamson
Art by Carmine di Giandomenico

Of the five bi-weekly titles I bought into at the start of DC's Rebirth event, The Flash has been my favorite, particularly the issues when di Giandomenico is on board. The book has had a very Bronze Age feel to it, with Williams assuring that every issue, even when part of a larger story arc, has some business that is introduced, explored, and resolved, making it a complete reading experience. I also enjoy that issues of this series do not read as fast (no pun intended) as most modern comics. Where I can easily zip though most comics on the stands these days in 8 minutes or less, The Flash usually keeps me occupied for at least 15, making it feel more worth the outlay of my entertainment dollar. And yet, the scripts are not padded or overwrought with exposition, even when Williams practices the lost art of bringing the reader up to speed (okay, that pun was intended).

That said, this issue wasn't the best of the run (also intended). I like the Rogues, but find they're rarely handled as well as I'd like when operating as a group. It doesn't help that I don't have much use for the new astral version of the Golden Glider, or Kid Trickster. Like the Rouges, I'm old school, I guess. Still, this issue presents a solid story, even if I began to guess the Rogues true scheme once some of them started to fall a little too easily.

A few off bits though: Given that next issue's story is entitled "Burn, Flash, Burn!" — as noted in the next issue teaser — I half wonder if this cover was actually meant for next month? It does seem weird to focus here on Heat Wave when he was actually had kind of a minor role in this issue. Also, why include Captain Boomerang in the Rogues' Roll Call, only to explain him away in a one panel, yet leave out the Trickster, who appeared throughout? I mean, I get that he'd not Trickster Classic, but then, neither is Mirror Master. At least I don't think so. I loose track of which version of Mirror Master I'm reading.

GRADE: B+     **ROGUISHLY RECOMMENDED**



FUTURE QUEST, No. 9
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $3.99)

"The Cavalry!" (22 pgs)

Story by Jeff Parker
Art by Ron Randall

I have enjoyed this title and am disappointed it will be ending at Issue No. 12. However, this issue was the weakest so far of the series. That's mostly because it falls victim to to the same pile-on plot resolution that was a minor issue for me in the Doctor Strange issue, above. Strange, at least, had a LOT of other things going for it. But here, the solo-heroes-come-together trope is basically the entire plot. The whole issue feels like, "A shows up! Now B shows up! Now C shows up! Yay, everybody's here — LET'S FIGHT!!"

The ending confused me at first, as, when the Herculoids finally make the scene, they immediately attack Frankenstein Jr. But then I remembered their origin story from several issues ago, which included their never-ending battle against the robots that conquered their home world. If that was a factor of the old cartoon, I've long since forgotten it. But then, it's been 40 years or more since I've actually watched an episode of The Herculoids. Anyway, I guess they would immediately assume the giant robot is the bad guy, even if it is fighting the monster they tracked to Earth. Still, I think Parker needs to remember not only the old adage that, "Every issue is somebody's first," but also, "Every issue is everybody's first in at least a month." I mean, it was several minutes after I read this issue, thinking the ending kind of dumb, when I finally remembered the Herculoids chapter I read, like, four or five months ago.

GRADE: B–     **MILDLY RECOMMENDED**



KAMADI CHALLENGE, No. 1 (of 12)
(DC Comics, 40 pages, $4.99)

"The Rules" (12 pgs)
Story by Dan Didio and Keith Giffen
Art by Giffen and Scott Koblish

"K -- is for 'Kill!'" (24 pgs)
Story by Dan Abnett
Art by Dale Eaglesham

I had such high hopes for this series. I really did. I love Kamandi and I really like the round-robin concept, even if the original  attempt, 1985s DC CHALLENGE, sort of underwhelmed. Still, I thought this would be a chance to see one of the all-time killer concepts in comics handled by top talents, each forced to really mine their creative juices. But then they go and lead off with Didio.

I hate to crap on the guy, because his enthusiasm for the industry truly is infectious in every interview I see him do. Still, an infection can be deadly without an anti-biotic, and Didio wields sentences like an anti-life equation. He's a decent idea man, but he can really use a scripter. So, in that sense, having him play at being Jack Kirby makes sense, I guess. The heavy-handed Kirby and Mike Royer tributes in his tale sure do district from the story though. 

Also confusing is whether the story opens in the present, with Command D recast as a kind of Truman Show set, or closer in time to Kamandi's post-apocalyptic would. We have rat-men in the opening scene, and not that much time can have passed or Kamandi's hair would have grown out even longer, I'm supposing, and yet the classic origin requires sufficient time after the Great Disaster for all the animal mutations to take effect.

Sadly, the story is saddled with Giffen's art. His layouts are fine and tell the story well — and in that sense he stands well above most of what's on the stands these days — but the art looks like he tried to pass off his thumbnail sketches as finished work. That actually seems like something Giffen might try and do, as his cynicism about the comics industry seems to grow with his every outing. The small favor, I guess, is that there were no Legionnaires running around this issue for him to kill. (Note: If I ever get a chance to write the Legion of Super-Heroes for DC, I fully intend to have a character with some variation of Keith Giffen's name die in every issue.)

As to the second story, there's not much to it. Or at least I assume not. When I sat down to write this review I actually couldn't remember any of what I'd just read a few hours earlier. So, here's hoping for more in subsequent issues. I will buy this entire series, I just expect more out of the character and the concept to awaken the gosh-wow wide-eyed wonder that is my inner 12 year old. But, sadly, this issue wasn't it — or, at least, not as much of it as I was hoping to get. It could just be that I allowed by expectations to run a little too high for this series. 

I do, however, like Didio's idea of having each writer include how he (or she) would have resolved the cliffhanger left for the following writer. That should prove interesting.

GRADE: B–     **BARELY RECOMMENDED**



SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP, No. 22
(DC Comics, 32 pages, $2.99)

"Nothing is Impossible" (20 pgs)

Story by Sholly Fisch
Art by Dave Alvarez

It was kind of weird to read this cartoon version of Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles the same week their "real world" counterparts appeared over in Future Quest. Both versions are equally enjoyable, even if there's next to nothing to the plot here, and absolutely nothing to the background art

I actually found the gradient screens used in most panels a bit distracting. It was also amusing, in a way, to have the gang directing the concert audience to safety without us ever seeing a single person from the crowd.

Also, while I do love the idea of this series, and think Alvarez gets all of the characters absolutely spot on-model, I'm often pulled out of the story by the fact his work is so obviously produced via computer. A lot of the characters look like they're drawn first and then pasted into place, sometimes producing line weights that seem off as figures are apparently increased or reduced in size to fit. There also are a couple of Freddie panels in this issue that look like the exact same piece of clip art, but for a small change in the mouth. That produced an unintended chuckle when it reminded me of those horrible old Marvel Comics cartoons of the 1960s.

Ah well, this issue was fun, and okay for what it's supposed to be. It was interesting though to see that both this version of The Impossibles and the one in Future Quest play with the idea that nobody is supposed to be able to figure out that the music group and the super-hero team are one and the same. Was that a frequent plot point of the cartoon? I don't remember. Like the Herculoids, I haven't actually seen an Impossibles cartoon in several decades.

GRADE: C+     **RECOMMENDED FOR KIDS**



WONDER WOMAN '77 MEETS THE BIONIC WOMAN, No. 2 (of 6)
(IDW Publishing, 32 pages, $3.99)

[no title] (20 pgs)

Story by Andy Mangels
Art by Judit Tondora

 I was a little hard on this series in my review of the first issue. This second outing is better, although it remains a tough sell at $4 a pop and I'd probably drop it if it wasn't a mini series, and I wasn't already pre-ordered up to Issue No. 4.

Tondora's art is generally better this time, so far as storytelling goes. She does a very good job, too, of capturing the likenesses of Lynda Carter and, to a lesser extent, Lindsay Wagner, in most panels. The male characters also look like who they're supposed to be, so kudos there. The difference between this and this week's Batman '66 book, of course, is that Tondora was trying to capture human likenesses, while Andreyko was just drawing the character. This, when on panel doesn't look much like the actor in question, it becomes a lot more noticeable, sometimes to the point of distraction. Meanwhile, there are still several panels in which the characters are posed stiffly, or look like they've been finished from a thumbnail rough. I also continue to not love the coloring, as I find its faux-painted style a bit off-putting, especially where it takes the place of line work.

There's not much to complain about so far as the story goes, although Wonder Woman's change to her diving suit feels like bad product placement, while the "discovery" of the secret identity serves less to make Jaime Sommers look brilliant than all of WW's supporting cast seem imbecilic. There's also a couple of pages of a meeting that gets a little heavy on exposition, but Tondora does a decent job of making them visually interesting, with the second one of her better pages in the issue.

Still, while the plot and dialogue is pretty basic, there's no questioning Mangels respect for the characters, and that makes this book worth respecting in return. Even so, this is a series that, so far, I love much better in concept then execution.

Lastly, while the key to the characters on the Aaron Loresti variant cover is appreciated, the run-down of Easter eggs in Issue No. 1 would have been better placed in Issue No. 1, I think.

GRADE: C+     **MILDLY RECOMMENDED**



So, there yet go. Oh, and for what it's worth, comics that came out that week that remained in my pull file, because buying them would have put be over my $30 weekly limit, included:

BLUE BEETLE, No. 5,
SERENITY: NO POWER IN THE 'VERSE, No. 4, and
SKYBOURNE, No. 3

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