Monday, October 14, 2013

On The Shelf: A trip back in time, and a mistake revisited

It's been a while, but let's take a look at some recent releases.

45 years after Batman ended its ABC run, DC has finally decided to pay homage with the whimsical Batman '66, which bowed in July on store shelves after launching online several months earlier. However, other "digital first" books have fallen by the wayside due largely to poor sales. The fact that DC is charging a dollar more for the "digital first" line than most of their regular books may have something to do with it, and the fact that anyone that has already downloaded the online version doesn't need to spend any additional money.

I digress. Writer Jeff Parker captures the spirit of the series perfectly, and while DC's rights & clearances department couldn't get all the actors' likenesses, they're doing the best they can. For example, in issue 2's backup feature, Chandell more closely resembles Michael Douglas, who played Chandell's portrayer, Liberace, in a HBO special earlier this year, instead of Liberace himself. Also, an editorial directive to include as many characters as possible who debuted after Batman ended, such as Harley Quinn and, coming soon, Killer Croc, may in time be a hindrance instead of a help, since it'll take away from the spirit of the project. It's the only DC book I'm buying now, and may be for a long time. Rating: A.

Dynamite Entertainment has been hit or miss with a lot of their licensed titles, and some of the current crop is no exception.

On the heels of the recently concluded Masks miniseries---in which ye scribe correctly guessed the identity of the main villain on a message board two months before the reveal---Dynamite teams The Shadow & Green Hornet together in another miniseries, Dark Nights, which pits the two heroes not only against each other for a time, but also against Shadow's ancient nemesis, Shiwan Khan. In turn, they're taking creative liberties with historical figures by linking Khan with Hitler and the Axis Powers, since this is set at the dawn of World War II. The idea of two radio legends teaming up required the rights holders to both signing off on the project, though with Dynamite's history of not going all the way with licenses (i.e., their Tarzan book being published as Lord of the Jungle), I wonder if they actually did. It's a decent read, which looks like it could go 8 issues, as Masks did before it. Rating: B+.

Meanwhile, Khan figures into another Shadow miniseries that Dynamite just released, and would've been better off if a different writer, with a better vision, put the story together.

The Shadow Now posits the Dark Avenger in the present day, having preserved himself by hiding out in Asia for a number of years, then returning to America, posing as the grandson of Lamont Cranston. Writer David Liss, in the Shadow's narrative, acknowledges that Margo Lane was the Shadow's girlfriend, and that her granddaughter is part of the current network of agents. However, there's a traitor in the midst, involving another 3rd generation agent, whose grandfather hasn't appeared in the current Shadow monthly. I like the realistic, computer painted artwork, but that's all I like about it. I recall Howard Chaykin taking similar liberties with the Shadow in the 80's (and Dynamite picked up the rights to reprint his story, Blood & Judgment), setting the stage for DC's 2nd Shadow monthly, which Street & Smith, the rights holder, pressured DC into ending while Kyle Baker was drawing the book. Mr. Liss should be sent a copy of the writings of Santayana posthaste.

What the story should be is what it might be if the Shadow & Khan existed today in their primes. Liss misfires, and loses at least one reader. Rating: D-.

Archie Comics is getting back into the horror business with the new Afterlife With Archie, which bowed last week. I don't know about you, but the neighborhood comics shop under-ordered, and sold out before I even had a chance to sample the book. Sabrina figures prominently in the first storyline, and one has to assume she has her short platinum blonde hair back. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa cut his comics teeth at Marvel a decade ago, and is attached to a movie adaptation of Archie's adventures. Looks like I'll have to invest in a trade paperback for this one.

Coming attractions: Archie welcomes back one of their 60's heroes, one that didn't make the jump to DC in the 90's, with The Fox, due later this month. Could be the start of a revival of their Red Circle Adventure heroes at long last. I'll go along with that. Dynamite, predictably, picked up the license for Doc Savage, and the Man of Bronze will return in December. Good way to end the year.

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