Thursday, April 14, 2016

On The Shelf: A 90's icon returns, and DC reimagines some ideas from the 60's & 70's

With news that Xena, Warrior Princess is returning to television more than 20 years after her debut, Dynamite Entertainment has obtained a license to bring Xena and her BFF, Gabrielle, back to comics. Topps had the previous license back in the late 90's, but then shuttered their comics division due to low sales or some other issue.

Genevieve Valentine (ex-Catwoman) is the writer for the new series, and already there's one quibble, and that is setting the story in mid-stream, then jumping into a flashback that will last for at least a couple of issues. I'm not really a fan of that particular brand of storytelling, to be honest with you, and doesn't Gabi's clothing look a little too modern to you in the first couple of pages?

The overarching plot has to do with the fact that Xena & Gabrielle have been away for a while thanks to an enchantment from Ares, and they're walking into a little stranger world as a result. I just don't know what to make of it, and it may take a couple more issues to figure out what the heck is up.

Grade: Incomplete.

Meanwhile, Doc Savage: The Spider's Web wraps up as Doc has a one-to-one conversation with the big bad, posited as a sort-of analogue to real life scientist Stephen Hawking by writer Chris Roberson. I am not fond of Roberson's insistence on making Doc an immortal. Pulp legends like Doc have it hard enough trying to find an audience in the 21st century, and so it's a catch-22. Leave him in the past, in his proper time, and no one wants to give him more than a second look. Move the story forward through time, as Roberson has done on both of his runs with Doc, and you're going to alienate some folks. What started as a promising story went off the rails, and was only saved by an intriguing final chapter that could've still been done well had the arc been set in the Golden Age.

Final rating: B-.

Award winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates made his comics debut as the new scripter for Black Panther, whose latest series bowed last week. Coates isn't the first non-comics writer to pen T'Challa's story. Filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, now the head honcho at BET/Centric, had that honor when T'Challa was moved to the now-defunct Marvel Knights line a ways back. Coates' 1st arc looks interesting, as T'Challa must deal with civil unrest in Wakanda, and fading public support. Hmmmmm. Political commentary, anyone?

Rating: B+.

DC made readers wait two weeks before their solicitations for June became available in print with the first-ever DC-centric issue of Previews. What ye scribe can glean from it are these little nuggets of joy (and sadness):

*National City, home of TV's Supergirl, is integrated into the DCU proper with the Maid of Might's new monthly, set for September. Next month, a digital-first series, Adventures of Supergirl, makes its print debut to give readers their first look at National City---and an African-American James "Don't call me Jimmy" Olsen (played by Mehcad Brooks). Adventures will start off as a bi-weekly series to warm fans up for the next Supergirl ongoing. The difference between the two? In the DCU, Kara "Don't call me Linda" Danvers is a teenager in the DCU. Just like old times.

*Some of DC's "imaginary stories" of the 60's and 70's are being reimagined and entered into DCU canon in the 21st century. For example, the Super Sons were a frequent fill-in feature in World's Finest (1st series) as the sons of Bruce Wayne (Batman) & Clark Kent (Superman), using the unoriginal civilian ID's of Bruce Wayne, Jr. & Clark Kent, Jr.. In 2016, the Super Sons return, but now it's Damian Wayne, a regular Dennis the Menace in tights who is virtually everywhere these days, and Jonathan Kent, currently appearing in Dan Jurgens' Lois & Clark miniseries, from which Super Sons is one of the spin-offs.

You see, the "New 52" model Superman, as envisioned by Grant Morrison and friends, is dying. The pre-Flashpoint Superman & Lois Lane are back, and the more traditional model is poised to reclaim his perch, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Problem is, the fading Man of Steel's powers are being distributed, for lack of a better term. Among the designated distributees? Lex Luthor, who returns to headlining Action Comics, which Jurgens is taking over. Kenji Wong, from China, is recruited by his country's efforts to form its own Justice League (smell the crossover from as far as you can). And, then......Lois Lane???

Yep, but we don't know if it's the pre-Flashpoint Lois currently in the miniseries, or the "New 52" model. Regardless, in a scenario mirroring Marvel's current Mighty Thor, Lois' new powers are killing her. Now, there'd been an imaginary story or three where Lois was given Superman's powers by some contrivance or another. Phil Jiminez must've read those stories, because he's using them as part of his template for Superwoman, debuting in August (New Super-Man, starring Kenji Wong, bows in July).

Wong's sitch isn't too original, either. Several years ago, Batgirl fought a Chinese scientist commissioned to create a genetically altered race of "Sino-Supermen", replicating the powers of the Justice League. See what happens when you mine the past for fresh ideas, kids?

*The return of Christopher Priest. The award-winning writer, long associated mostly with Marvel (when he went by his birth name of Jim Owsley), returns to comics after a long absence to take over a rebooted Deathstroke. That should make a few headlines somewhere.

*The Birds of Prey return. Writers Julie & Shawna Benson (The 100) make their comics debut, and for their first act, resurrect Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon's old alias of Oracle---but the new Oracle is a villain. Hmmm.

Also, John Semper, Jr., better known for his work in the 90's as a writer-producer on Spider-Man, will be the new writer on Cyborg. Scott Snyder moves from Batman to Detective Comics, where the Dark Knight will be joined by Batwoman, Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan (Cassandra Cain with a new alias), and.....are you sitting down?----Clayface. Yes, a heroic Clayface. Whod'athunk? Some books will be published bi-weekly to start. For how long that lasts, I don't know. As we've talked about before, the cover price per issue drops down a dollar to $2.99, though licensed titles, such as Wacky Raceland (debuting in June), will be $3.99. The kids line (Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo) holds at $2.99.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Some might think that the writers of Arrow might've fumbled big time by seemingly killing off Laurel Lance, aka Black Canary (Katie Cassidy) last week, but when Green Arrow relaunches this summer, Oliver Queen will be reunited with Dinah Lance, the Canary that comics fans know & love. As I wrote on a message board the other day, Dinah is to Ollie what Catwoman is to Batman. The One True Love. Now, let's see if the Arrow crew can wind their way out of the creative corner they painted for themselves.....

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