Friday, October 9, 2015

On The Shelf: Of zombie detectives, teenagers, and other random musings

The other day, I was at a minor convention in Colonie. The venue had just undergone a change of ownership three days before the show, which left more than a few people confused. Didn't buy much, but I did find something worth discussing.

Amidst three bundles of bargain-basement books, there was perhaps one of the worst Batman miniseries of all time. Batman Unseen offers a twisted, modern-day homage to HG Wells' The Invisible Man, courtesy of writer Doug Moench, who'd written some better Bat-tales in the 80's after coming over from Marvel. Unfortunately, artist Kelley (Along Came) Jones, proving once again that it's one thing to emulate an icon, such as Berni Wrightson in this case, kills the interest deader than a picnic full of ants showered with Raid. Visually repulsive, although the script was fine.

Rating: D.

Dynamite has taken liberties with some of their licensed titles, as we've discussed here in the past. Around 2010-11, they entrusted former DC writer Scott Beatty with rebooting and updating Lee Falk's seminal jungle hero, The Phantom. Unfortunately, The Last Phantom lasted a year, plus an annual, and is bogged down with 21st century technology trying to overrun the tradition Falk had established with the "Ghost Who Walks". Small wonder, then, that the rights to the franchise are now split between Dynamite and Hermes Press.

Anyway, Beatty tells the story of a modern-day descendant who reluctantly adopts the mantle of the Phantom after his wife & child are killed. Turns out his business partner was a duplicitous, greedy jerk (aren't they all in literature these days) who wanted their business for himself and his criminal schemes. Lex Luthor or Wilson Fisk, he ain't. Not even close. Sadly, he stuck around for the entirety of the run.

Rating: C--.

Bill Morrison has long been associated with Bongo Comics' Simpsons line of books, but he moves over to Dark Horse for a wickedly amusing mini-series, Dead Vengeance, which launched this week. Morrison wrote & penciled the tale of a crusading reporter, long thought dead, but turns up as a zombie entombed in a water chamber at a carnival. An innocent youth recites a minor incantation that brings the guy back to life, amnesiac, and trying to put the pieces back together before setting out to avenge his own death. Oh, this is fun reading.

Rating: A-.

The 21st century makeover of the Archie Comics line continues with Jughead being relaunched under the auspices of writer Chip Zdarsky (Howard the Duck) and artist Erica Henderson (Squirrel Girl). As revealed in the pages of Archie, Jughead's family was wealthy, too, until some misfortune dropped them down the tax bracket ladder, if you will. The Jugster is smarter than he seems, although he still comes across as being the forerunner to the likes of Maynard G. Krebs (Dobie Gillis' sidekick) and Scooby-Doo's eternally hungry master, Shaggy.

What drives the plot is a commentary on the recent trend toward pushing healthier lunch programs in schools, coupled with the surprising decision, albeit short-term at best, to "retire" long-time Riverdale HS principal Waldo Weatherbee. As with Archie, the evolution of the old house style is revisited in the form of reprints in the backup slot.

Another interesting trend? Both Jughead & Archie are being drawn by women. As we've noted, it's been reported that the pending relaunch of Betty & Veronica had Adam Hughes attached. Go figure.

Jughead gets an A. Zdarsky's script reads better than his work on Howard the Duck.

More Archie news: The Archie Horror line has run into another snag, as artists Robert Hack (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and Francesco Francavilla (Afterlife With Archie) are so in demand for variant covers with other publishers, plus other Archie books, that they've both fallen way behind again. One message board writer mused that issue 9 of Afterlife might not be out until after the 1st of the year. That doesn't bode well for the future, in this writer's opinion. Archie is already undergoing artistic changes due to Fiona Staples' commitments to Image's Saga. Annie Wu (Black Canary) draws issue 4, which was intentionally pushed back to Thanksgiving week (11/25) to give Ms. Wu some extra time. After that, Veronica Fish takes over with issue 5, which should be out in time for Christmas. It's funny. At the hometown comics shop over the summer, I'd met a customer who was a fan of Saga, so I touted the relaunch of Archie. Not sure if she took my advice, free of charge as it was.

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