by KC Carlson
Just got my huge box of comics and books from Westfield last week! Still digging through it all, but here’s a few “quickie” reviews.
Wayne Markley mentioned this a few days ago in his fine overview of Archie Comics, but I wanted to give another shout out to the fine folks at IDW for their excellent Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Comics: 1946-1948. Not only does this book contain almost 300 pages of early and seldom-seen (or collected) hysterical Bob Montana newspaper strips featuring Archie, Jughead, and all the gang, but there’s also a very interesting article about the history of Archie Comics — the company — tying together some previously undisclosed connections between the comic books and the pulp magazines of the era (and a bit of radio history as well), expertly researched and written by comics historian Maggie Thompson. So, you get a lot of funny comic strips and a detective story as well! Whatta deal! Yay, Maggie!
I won’t spoil too much about it, since it just came out, but DC Universe: Legacies #5 is a must-get issue, featuring 20 pages of amazing George Pérez artwork. There’s plenty of Crisis on Infinite Earth style-action (since that’s what the issue is spotlighting) and lots of Pérez back on the New Teen Titans to boot! As if that wasn’t enough, Walt Simonson delivers a one-two punch with his art for the eight-page back-up featuring Adam Strange and bunch of DC SF greats — with legendary lettering by John Workman! As always, the series is scripted by Len Wein, so it’s chock-full of old-school DC greatness!
The Hype That Wasn’t award goes to Amazing Spider-Man’s One Moment in Time, four solid issues of Marvel melodrama that resolved exactly… what? And we waited years for this story? Between the angst-filled Kraven storyline and all this wallowing, all the fun has been completely sucked out of the Spider-Man titles. Worst of all — all that hard work to recover from the bad decision that was the original One More Day story has been thrown out the window, and now it’s been thrown back in our faces as a bad reminder. It’s done some serious damage to two of Marvel’s best characters, Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker. (Or is this all justifying where the characters need to be for the next round of Spidey movies? I hate being cynical, but I hate comics that make me cynical even more.) Well, the Spidey-folk recovered from a big bomb before, so maybe they can do it again! At least the lettercols are still fun…
Some of my favorite superhero comics these days are the ones that fly under everybody’s radar, perhaps because I think that they have a little bit more “editorial freedom”, since they’re not obvious A-list titles, and therefore hopefully without so much scrutiny from above. I find myself reaching for these kind of books first, instead of the usual mega-hyped titles. They’re often (but not always) the place where the next mega-books and superstar creators come from. Who knew Frank Miller when he started on the just-hanging-on-from-cancellation 1979 Daredevil?
At DC, two of my current favorite books are both long-running characters with relatively new titles (as well as new versions of older characters). They also star female characters. That’s a lot of strikes against long-term survival right there.
The newest in a long line of new Supergirls has had a slightly checkered history since being introduced like a mega-explosion by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner in the pages of Superman/Batman #8-13. (In a storyline scheduled to be the next DC Animated release, although you couldn’t tell it from the title: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse). Quickly graduating into her own title, Supergirl floundered for what seemed like years as many talented creators attempted to forge a direction of the Girl of Steel — and all failed.
Eventually writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle turned the series around with a neat trick — instead of trying to develop high-concept storylines and situations, they simply concentrated on telling good solid stories. And it works. Both Gates and Igle excel at breaking their share of the storytelling down to its basic components, and then adding bits of flair here and there to make the stories pop and shine. They’re telling stories about a teenage girl (with incredible powers) just trying to fit into a world that she doesn’t fully understand yet. And that’s what’s compelling about what they do as storytellers.
(Plus, the first five pages of Supergirl #54 was also the best Jimmy Olsen story in years. I hope they get to keep him.)
The new Batgirl series is even newer than Supergirl, although it features a trio of characters who have been around nearly forever (at least in comic book time) — all of whom have been horribly handled (some might say tortured) in the hands of other creators. Barbara Gordon (the first Batgirl, originally introduced in the 1960s) was infamously crippled and discarded by the Joker (and DC), before being brilliantly brought back in an inspired new role as computer hacker Oracle by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, and made an even better character than the original over the years. Stephanie Brown, the former Spoiler and Robin, had so many atrocities inflicted upon her (not the least of which was death) by high-concept writers looking for a quick-and-dirty victim that there’s really not enough space here to list them all. Finally, there’s former Wonder Twin Wendy Harris, originally created for the Super Friends cartoon show in the 1970s. DC versions of her (and Marvin) were brought back a few years ago in the pages of Teen Titans as cannon fodder. They were attacked by a demon dog disguised as Wonder Dog. Marvin was killed, and Wendy was mauled so badly she was in a coma for months, and paralyzed from the waist down when she finally awoke. Oracle intervened when Wendy’s father (Oracle’s evil counterpart, The Calculator) attempted to cure her using the Anti-Life Equation. Wendy is now Oracle’s protégé, Proxy, and assists Stephanie Brown in her new role of Batgirl when Oracle is not available (due to Birds of Prey missions).
Depending on who’s doing the writing in the other Bat-books, the male Bat-folks are either tolerant/supportive of the female Bat-contingent or lunkheaded macho stereotypes. So it’s good to see a ‘sisters are doin’ it for themselves’ vibe in the regular Batgirl title, ably written by Bryan Q. Miller and usually drawn by Lee Garbett. If you’re looking for a good single issue to sample, try #14’s very fun Batgirl/Supergirl team-up issue, where the new Dynamic Duo take on 24 different, yet the same, 3-D Draculas. (I can say no more.) If you like your comics without so much Big Event screaming and death (and maybe a bit of fun), you won’t regret checking out Batgirl and Supergirl.
Also, a quick plug for Marvel’s I Am An Avenger and other anthology books (Age of Heroes). I know a lot of fans are largely ignoring these collection of short stories, thinking that nothing much ever happens in them (at least compared to the Big Event books). Here’s where you’re wrong.
I love the anthology books for these reasons: 1) There’s always a chance that one of my fave creators can squeeze in a short story between other regular assignments. 2) The anthologies are the only place where new talents can break in and strut their stuff (while also learning their craft). Granted, first work isn’t always stellar work, but you could be witnessing tomorrow’s superstars today! 3) They feature chances to see fan-favorite characters you might not get to see anywhere else. 4) They run other kinds of stories — mostly stories that don’t necessarily rely on people hitting other people. Case in point: The beautiful “The Books of the Iron Fist” in I Am An Avenger #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jason Latour. Apparently, it’s a side-story to the Shadowland event book (that I have no interest in reading), so I don’t know exactly what I’m reading about here, but I can see the beauty of this short character piece and can feel the pain of two long-running Marvel characters as their lives are being torn apart.
So, check out the anthologies whenever you can. ‘Course it might be nice if they didn’t cost $4…
When I saw that Johnny DC was relaunching their long-running Scooby-Doo title with a new #1 (and new title: Scooby-Doo: Where Are You?), I was hoping that they’d incorporate some of the elements making the new Cartoon Network Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated show so much fun to watch. You’d think that after ten different cartoon series, two big-budget live-action movies, plus a slew of made-for-TV movies (both animated and live-action), there wouldn’t be much new to do with the franchise after almost 40 years. You’d be wrong.
The new show returns to the core of the original series — solving mysteries — instead of simply chasing ghosts and monsters (although there’s still a bit of that). Plus, Mystery Incorporated is spending some time fleshing out the core characters by giving them more personality and characterization and exploring their family background (parents and siblings make frequent appearances). Interpersonal relationships (i.e. romance) between the characters are now core to many of the new storylines, as well as adding both humor (Scooby jealous of Shaggy and Velma’s attraction) and teen angst (Daphne’s ongoing frustration about getting oblivious Fred’s attention). In addition, besides the new mystery every episode, there is an ongoing puzzle about another gang of teenage mystery-solvers from many years ago (who bear an eerie resemblance to the current Mystery Incorporated gang), featuring weekly clues from the mysterious Mr. E (geddit?), voiced by comedian Lewis Black.
The voice work in the show is exceptional, featuring Patrick Warburton as Sheriff Stone, Gary Cole as Mayor Fred Jones, Sr., and Matthew Lillard as Shaggy. (The original Shaggy voice, Casey Kasem, remains on the show as Shaggy’s dad, Colton.) Frank Welker continues as both Scooby-Doo and Fred, and Mindy Cohn continues as Velma. (You probably know that she started on The Facts of Life, but she’s been voicing Velma for about a decade as well.) That leaves Daphne, who is now voiced by Grey DeLisle, well-known for her many other roles as a voice actress, especially in the Star Wars universe. She’s also a talented singer, which she got to show off in the musical episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold playing Black Canary, as well as my favorite SD:MI episode, In Fear of the Phantom. In that, Daphne, frustrated with Fred’s inattention, quits Mystery Inc., turns goth (or at least as goth as cartoons get), and becomes the lead singer of the Hex Girls, calling herself Crush, and writes and sings a torch song about Fred, “Trap of Love”.
Anyway, really cool show. Are any of these new, fun elements anywhere in the new Scooby-Doo comic book? No such luck. How disappointing. So much for corporate synergy. But maybe something might happen in the future, since Westfield’s own Bob Greenberger has got a Scooby story or two coming up in the book. Watch for them! Other former DC editors are also participating in the comic. Chris Duffy has a fun story in issue #1, and former Bat-Editor Scott Peterson is Scooby’s new editor!
Although the show is currently in a cycle of reruns (so you can catch up!), new episodes of Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated air Monday nights at 7 P.M. (EST) on Cartoon Network in the US, and are repeated frequently throughout the week. And watch for a SD:MI/Batman: The Brave and the Bold crossover that’s reportedly in the works.
KC CARLSON is thinking about dogs. I don’t know why. Woof!
DISCLAIMER: Westfield Comics is a fine company who never disparages anybody, ever. And loves dogs. KC Carlson is an idiot who’s read too many comic books and thinks he knows things. He’s usually wrong. He also doesn’t think he likes dogs, but for some reason they like him.