Saturday, September 11, 2021

On The Shelf: Free Comic Book Day '21 revisited, and other things of interest

 Time to catch up on some reading.

Last month's Free Comic Book Day releases were a mixed bag. Your actual mileage may vary. We'll just do some thumbnail analysis to save space.

Marvel, for example, previewed forthcoming storylines for The Avengers and Hulk, coming in November.

In the case of the Avengers, a new iteration of the Masters of Evil, from a bizarre future, and led by Dr. Doom, who's been one busy fellow lately, emerges. Hulk, meanwhile, has decided to leave Earth again, this time by his own choice, declaring himself a,ah, Smashtronaut. Really clever, eh?


Avengers: B-, Hulk A-.

And, then, you have Venom & Spider-Man.

In the wake of the King in Black event, Eddie Brock, the original Venom, has passed his symbiote down to his son, Dylan, which begs to ask where Eddie got the time to actually have a family, unless he had one before he met Venom. Eddie's the new King in Black, but don't think he won't be returning to Earth, because inevitably, he will.

The latest stupid idea with Amazing Spider-Man is to bring back Ben Reilly, the clone from the 90's, and put him back in the suit. Like, the next Spider-movie is not too far down the line, so why take Peter Parker out of play, even for a few months? Because it's a cash grab. Period.


Amazing Spider-Man: Beyond: C, Venom: B.

DC's heavy summer push of the Suicide Squad includes spinning off King Shark into his own miniseries, written by Tim Seeley, and illustrated by Scott Kolins. This is not the rumblin', mumblin' comedy relief voiced by Sylvester Stallone in the movie, but rather, a more definitive version. Instead of Ratcatcher II, he gets the Defacer, an old friend of Nightwing's, as a tag along for a homecoming trip. The timing of the 1-shot is a little off, coming as it does a week after the movie, and after a Black Label miniseries, Suicide Squad: Get Joker, had launched. That gets a delayed "preview" in the back-up feature.

Brian Azzarello and Alex Maleev send the Squad after the Clown Prince of Crime, another busy dude, and even with the Black Label format, Azzarello doesn't give up all of his inhibitions, else there'd be more reason to tout the 3-issue mini. He does send Harley Quinn and the Squad to a strip club, which seems to be a personal fetish of Azzarello's.


King Shark: B-, Get Joker: A+.

Valiant recently revived some of their OG heroes from the 90's, but with mixed results.

Ninjak is cover-featured in Valiant 2021, with a beautiful cover by Tyler Kirkham. That's the good news. The bad? Javier Pulido is the series artist, instead of Kirkham, and that is a mistake. Jeff Parker is a proven commodity as a writer (i.e. Batman '66), but a Parker-Kirkham team makes more sense. Pulido is the wrong artist on this book.

X-O Manowar has already relaunched, with Dennis "Hopeless" Hallum, a long time Marvel writer, on board to script the series. Aric isn't the fish out of water he was 30 years ago, which is a good thing.

They've rebooted The Harbinger, this time as a solo act. Nice art by Robbi Rodriguez, but I'm not digging the concept.


X-O Manowar: A, The Harbinger: B-, Ninjak: D.

American Mythology's World of Zorro collects material from recent miniseries, including a preview of the new Zorro: Flights, written by Don McGregor, who scripted the Zorro series for Topps Comics in the 90's. As you'd expect, it's a mixed bag.

Rating: B.

With Batman Day next week, DC's other FCBD entry previews John Ridley's I Am Batman, starring Timothy "Jace" Fox, Luke's brother, who hadn't been seen in comics in years. Also, there's a preview of the latest Bat-event, Fear State, which they're hoping to tie to the Future State event from the first part of the year, as if they think that will be a canonical future. It isn't, not in this business. The new villain created by outgoing Bat-scribbler James Tynion IV, Simon Saint, looks like another nerd on the order of Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow, who they're trying to make into more of a major player. Jorge Jiminez's artwork shines, but that's about it. Not digging the concept.

I Am Batman, drawn by Travel Foreman, looks like a better bet. Waiting on the trade paperback on this one.

Ratings: I Am Batman: A-, Fear State: B--. Invest in Fear State at your own risk.

Dynamite Entertainment has pushed some of their licensed properties to the max, overmilking the golden geese because they don't know any better, or that they think their target audience hasn't grown up.

For example, Vampirella, under the guidance of veteran Christopher Priest, is experiencing an identity crisis. And people think this is compelling drama?!? Not to me, it ain't.

Rating: C-.

Next year, the original movie version of "Blade Runner" turns 40. Titan Books has two series based on the franchise, which was born in a Philip K. Dick novel many moons ago. If you're already belt-deep into the franchise, you're already invested. Blade Runner: 2023 & Blade Runner: Origins stand on their own.

Rating for both: A.

Finally, Ablaze has the license for the comics version of Netflix's Philippines import, Trese. Drawn in noir-style black & white, the preview of a trade volume includes a central player in an episode of the anime miniseries (which we reviewed at Saturday Morning Archives). Meet Alexandra Trese:

Rating: A.
Now, for some current releases:

Archie Comics' lone regular series running these days is the bi-monthly Archie & Friends anthology, which has a #1 for each issue. The current issue, #15, comes way too early for its theme, as it's a Halloween number featuring Betty & Veronica in one new story, plus some recent reprints. Sabrina shows up in that lead feature, too, and the Sabrina-centric reprint had previously been used for Halloween Comic-Fest a few years back. The sight of girl-next-door Betty Cooper in a witch's hat and fishnet stockings on the cover, as drawn by Dan Parent, is worth the price of admission.

The traditional style has held out as the "New Riverdale", introduced six years ago, has hit too many bumps in the road, coupled with corporate issues.

Rating for the issue: B.
DC decided to revisit the animated universe, but it appears they're treating Justice League Infinity as an ongoing series. Series producer-director and sometime writer James Tucker teams with J. Marc DeMatteis for a DCAU spin on the just concluded Infinite Frontier miniseries, covering virtually the same ground. However, the tease for the 4th issue, due next month, will remind Super Friends fans of a plot line from the mid-80's that was cringe-worthy then, and still is. Ugh.

Rating: B-.
Epix's Pennyworth, now in its 2nd season, finally merits a comics adaptation from DC, a 7 issue miniseries, which further posits young Alfred Pennyworth as DC's answer to James Bond, long before he ever met the Batman. Producers Bruno Heller & Danny Cannon (ex-Gotham) may very well have had Bond in mind when conceiving the show. Then again, after the trainwreck that Gotham became, anything is better.

Rating: A.
In the tradition of Batman '66, DC has released two new miniseries that provide fan service for specific cinematic periods of two cherished, iconic franchises.

Superman '78, by Robert Venditti & Wilfredo Torres, continues the story begun in the first "Superman" movie. Torres tries to hew as close as he can to the actors (i.e. Christopher Reeve, Jackie Cooper) in his designs, while at the same time offering ideas on what would've followed, as Brainiac factors into this 6 issue set.

Meanwhile, Sam Hamm, whose last work for DC was helping to adapt his first "Batman" script for director Tim Burton, helms Batman '89, and teases that he & Burton had intentions of introducing Two-Face into the mix, but not in the way that Burton's replacement, Joel Schumacher did. Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) is a little rougher around the edges here, suggesting the influence of the Burton-influenced animated series that followed 1992's "Batman Returns". This is fun reading.

Ratings: Superman '78: B-, Batman '89: A-.
Other stuff: DC has recruited actor Danny DeVito (The Penguin in "Batman Returns") as the latest to dip into the waters of comics writing. DeVito is doing a Penguin-centric story for a villains anthology due in November. DeVito follows Natalie Maines (Supergirl) and Camrus Johnson (Batwoman) to DC.

Dynamite's latest licensing acquisition is Sheena, Queen of The Jungle, who debuts in November. Mind you, this is the pre-Gena Lee Nolin iteration, so that means no shape-changing. Hey, old school works if done right. 

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