All-Star Batman #11
As Bruce fights his way out of Thatch’s base, Alfred flashes back to a youth spent not-unlike Bruce’s.
Alfred has always been the most likable member of the Bat-Family, and I’m overjoyed that Snyder is putting him at the center of this arc. He’s cherry-picking from some previously established histories of the character, like his time in the British military, while adding new elements, like having Alfred grow up as an 80’s Punk. I don’t know about you, but imagining a teenage Alfred rocking out to The Clash is an image I didn’t know I needed in my head until reading this issue. Plus, it provides a great starting point for the man who would become the most paternal and, in many ways, un-punk members of the family.
Snyder also gives Bruce lots of fun things to do this issue, mostly getting into a fight with crocodiles. As with All-Star’s first arc, he’s showing he’s unafraid of going silly with the character, even while telling a story rooted in Alfred’s paternal emotions and fears.
And Albuquerque is a natural fit for the story, creating exactly the right sort of contrast between Bruce’s more pulpy adventures, Alfred’s punk era halcyon days, and giving Batman a bit of a dark theatricality. I’m a sucker for panels of Batman descending into scenes, cape fully unfurled, and he draws a great one!
This first issue of The War of Jokes and Riddles is entirely prologue. One year after Snyder’s Zero Year story, a new villain plagues Gotham – The Joker. Sensing a perverted kinship with this new madman, Edward Nigma breaks out of prison to offer him an ultimatum: Either they kill the Batman together, or neither will be fulfilled again. Joker, of course, has his own plans.
What’s interesting about this first issue is that it’s literally set-up: It’s revealed that Bruce is telling this story of his second year as Batman to Selina, and promises her that we’ll find out about a point where he was pushed to his limits.
But really, Batman is a bit player. The story is built on Joker and Riddler’s antagonistic chemistry. Edward demonstrates a commonality between jokes and riddles, in that they’re both a kind of misdirection; but doesn’t understand that despite that, they are incompatible. Their first meeting is Shakespearean: two madmen both alike in villainy. It feels like the start of a war. The fuse is lit.
Jon is being mind-controlled by Manchester Black, and forced to fight Superman, Batman, Robin, and the Frankensteins. And the only thing that can break Manchester’s control is a trick that makes any rowdy child immediately stop what they’re doing.
I was disappointed that the last issue of this series was basically a worse What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?, and while this issue ends with very similar notes to that book, I’m a sucker for exactly those types of cornball comic endings. I don’t even care that the ending extends like 8 pages too long because it’s 8 pages of learning how to trust friends and neighbors again, and the sweet and wholesome Clark family being adorable.
Also, Lois wasn’t fridged after all, so good on ’em there.
Green Arrow #25
In the wake of disaster, Seattle has been reborn as Star City, with the Mayor’s new hyper-capitalist policies pushing out the poorest for the sake of the wealthiest. To make room for its new luxury condos, the city demolishes the homes of anyone who can’t afford to live in a 1%er’s paradise. And Oliver Queen, recently arrested, is penniless and powerless to help. But with the help of his friends, hopefully he won’t be for long.
Again, this series is doing the best political commentary in superhero books today. Unlike some other *cough* Captain America *cough* comics, it’s unafraid to say explicitly that capitalism exploits the poor – and often already marginalized – for the sake of the rich. That it demonizes those who have the least for playing a rigged game that rewards those with the most for starting from a better position. And it’s also unafraid to point out things like techno-progressivism as the enablers of class injustice they are.
Is Green Arrow a Jacobinian screed? Not exactly, but at least it a making some sort of definitive statement, even at an elementary level, and I’ve gotta appreciate that.
The Wild Storm #5
Miles puts Mike on the Spicia case, and reviewing the footage, discovers something IO wouldn’t want him to know. Meanwhile, Spicia is approached by Adrianna, who explains who she is, and why she should come with her to Halo. And Zealot runs into a Daemon, not her first.
Can’t help but get Clean Room vibes from the Daemon; same artist, after all, but that’s not a bad book to be reminded of.
Ellis continues to pace this book very televisually, drip-feeding backstory and plot advancements in a way that gives each character plenty of room to breathe. Everything is measured and precise, and its a pleasure to read a story that’s so confident – some might say clinical – in its pacing.
Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1
Despite the too-long title, this is consciously shaping up to be a back-to-basics Spidey book. Peter is back in the city, stopping robberies, telling bad jokes, and flaking on his friends. Well, back to basics-ish. Spidey also is introduced to Mason, an Andre the Giant looking techie for heroes and brother of the Tinkerer, who helps Spidey repair his web-shooters, and points him to the location of a hacked phone similar to one he found on the robber from earlier.
Chip really is a natural fit for Peter, having already mastered the use of self-deprecating humor and one liners in his online persona, and his brand of humor fits the book like a glove, from someone throwing a card at Spidey expecting it to just stick wherever it lands, to Scott Lang teasing Spidey about all of his senior citizen enemies.
Unfortunately, Kubert’s character work leaves something to be desired, which is weird because his backgrounds are still up to snuff, and the first few pages of this issue are gorgeous. But you can pretty much see him putting less and less effort into each page as the issue goes on. Some of this may also be due to the coloring or printing of the book, which also makes things look too smudged and sketchy rather than a finished product. Normally a style I’m warm to, but only when done purposefully.
Cason Ray Bennett is a hitman for a powerful organized crime ring who just had to off an old friend. Juniper Elanore Blue is a suburban step-mom who gets sexually harassed by the men in her neighborhood and bullied (and likely cheated on) by her husband. They just swapped bodies.
Besides “Cason” being a distractingly dumb name for a person, this is a really strong first issue. This issue’s big job was establishing these two characters before the body swap, and it does so spectacularly, even if because of this we probably don’t start really start the plot in this issue.
Cason (ugh) is good at his job and he knows it. He’s a man who clearly watched a lot of James Bond growing up, emulating him in terms of guns, suits, women, and likely morality, or lack thereof. Juniper, meanwhile, is underappreciated and overburdened by the pressures of her family and the constant harassment she lives with as an attractive woman, and seemingly ignorant of her husband’s infidelity. So, we have a hyper-aggressive man and an over-domesticated women swapping bodies right before he discovers a corpse in his boss’ son’s bathtub, and she has to prepare an elaborate meal for her husband’s boss. Perfect little nugget of a set-up, and I can’t want to see how it plays out.
Stagg is killing it on art here, with a heavy rotoscoped style that captures each character’s body language and nuance. Even without words, you can tell that the body-swap happened just by each character’s posture after the fact. Cason-as-Juniper stands up straight and confidently walks from room to room, while Juniper-as-Cason starts fidgiting and covering his face with his hands.
Short Reviews of Comics from 6/14/17
Dark Days: The Forge #1: All the canon is crashing on into itself. I like to think I *understand* the DC universe, and this issue still threw me for a whirl. I imagine it’s basically impenetrable to anyone with fresh eyes. Basically, Batman discovered the universe’s biggest mystery, and everyone from the government to the Green Lantern Corps want to keep him from prodding. It somehow involves Hawkman. The shift from Kubert to Romita Jr.’s art is like going from eating an NY strip steak to a bare McDonald’s patty.
Wonder Woman #24: Diana ties up one loose thread, searching for Cheetah to bring her home, and finds her attacking a grieving Veronica. More than anything else, this issue closes Veronica’s story, rewarding her ten year quest for revenge with a daughter she can never see again, a friend she pushes away, and an angry demi-god out for her blood. Perhaps an unnecessary epilogue, but one that further contrasts Wonder Woman with her enemies.
The Flash #24: The Flash and Green Lantern put away Multiplex, and then have a bit of a therapy session for Barry as he asks Hal whether to tell Iris about his secret identity. Meanwhile, Reverse-Flash corners Iris and Wally, and is the scariest person in the entire DCU at the moment. While I appreciate that this series has given plenty of room for Barry’s emotions – and there should be room for emotions in superhero comics – I am getting bored of angsty Barry having the same discussion about Iris with everyone and making no progress on this arc.
Secret Empire #4: Hydra and the Underground each send a team to stealthily retrieve a cube fragment from Hank Pym/Ultron, but end up running into each other, and Ultron. This series is so much better when it just ignores all the half-assed analogies to fascism and is just about Superheroes fighting each-other/an evil empire. The dinner party scene with Steve, Tony, Ultron, and their respective teams is so good and tense and creepy – probably the best moment of this event so far. It really sucks we have to go back to – you know – next issue.
Black Panther and the Crew #3: T’Challa and Ororo investigate some luxury condos that Ezra was looking into before he died, and find that Ezra was onto a much larger plot than just gentrification. More like the first issue than the last one, this one is centered by a strong action-focus, investigating the condos, that is then enhanced through the characters’ experience of performing them. T’Challa is still conflicted about his place in the world, as a king of a foreign nation, an ex-husband, an international superhero, a black man, and part of Ezra’s plan for a world-wide crusade. He compares his lack of focus to Ezra’s sureness of vision in his own goals; both men on the cusp of empires, only one positive of his role in what he created.
Ms. Marvel #19: Ms. Marvel takes Secret Empire’s lunch, eats it, and then adds a nice serving of biryani for good measure. While she’s been away from Jersey City, the mayor has been ousted and replaced by Chuck Worthy – the gentrifying Hydra agent from a few arcs ago – who installed a new agency to police neighborhoods for people who don’t belong in Jersey City. Naturally, this means Kamala’s family. Spencer, you paying attention? THIS is how you tell a story about Trump’s America in a superhero comic.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #21: Squirrel Girl takes a vacation, leaving NYC in the capable crime-fighting hands of Chipmunk Hunk, Koi Boi, and Brain Drain; who have to navigate their friendship while also defeating a new and sneaky wave of crime. Putting the focus on the side characters is a refreshing change for this issue, especially Brain Drain, whose combination of robotic mannerisms and encyclopedic knowledge of existentialist philosophy makes him one of the best comedic characters in comics. I also really love the Reign of the Supermen reference – that’s killer.
Green Valley #9: It’s a happy ending for all as Bertwald defeats Douglas and stops his time travelling once and for all, Ralphus gets sent to the past on his own time adventure, and Gulliver finally slays a dragon. Looking at his track record so far, maybe Landis should stick with comics.
Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1: This anthology showcasing three stories of women of Bitch Planet do a lot of world building of the planet outside the orbiting jail, telling the story of a former female guard turned maid, a senatorial secretary’s first day on the job, and a woman whose lack of bosom prevents her from getting noticed by her bosses for promotions. These are women who may not be in jail, but are still prisoners of the extreme patriarchy of Bitch Planet. The last two stories in particular do a great job of showing how normal this sort of patriarchy is, depicting the types of harassment that just happen in the real world; and the second story also has a great example of how mediocre white men are set up to succeed no matter how unprepared they are for their jobs. The backmatter essay this time concerns the place of violence in protest (Might be worth a read, Spencer), and is a great read as always.