Showcase Saturday 10.13.18

There’s a triple helping of Gail Simone this week, along with a Spooktacular special, Superman having only a ghost of a chance of surviving in the Phantom Zone, the second part of a Wonder Woman story that I didn’t read the first part of, a look at one of Catwoman’s previous lives, Arabian Nights, and some truly glorious covers, all in this week’s Showcase.

Check it:

From DC

CATWOMAN #4 – Things have gone from bad to worse for Selina in Villa Hermosa. Her new city has taken away what little she was able to carry with her from Gotham, and her rap sheet offers scant protection when local crooks frame her for murdering two police officers. The law has caught up with her and Catwoman is in the clink, giving her time to reflect on her life and all the things that led her to Vila Hermosa. Turns out she didn’t choose the move randomly or just to get away from the Batman. This special interlude issue takes us back in time to explode some previously unknown truth bombs from Selina Kyle’s past. BATWOMAN artist Fernando Blanco joins Joëlle Jones to explore a couple of the early versions of Catwoman’s nine lives.

CURSED COMICS CAVALCADE #1 – Horror! Death! Uh…Face-punching! Witness ten all-new stories that promise to be the most terrifying, most shocking and most horrific comic that DC Comics has ever published! (Hyperbole much?) Batman, Wonder Woman, Guy Gardner, Swamp Thing, Zatanna and more of your favorite heroes face unspeakable horrors from the streets of Gotham City to the darkest sectors of the universe.

PLASTIC MAN #5 – Eel O’Brian takes a flexible view of morality: you walk on your side of the line, he’ll keep his feet on his (no promises about his hands, eyes, ears or midsection). That all stopped when his alter ego Plastic Man got suckered into the high-stakes world of super-heroic traitors and super-villainous cabals. Now he’s gonna stiffen his spine, screw up his courage and take the law into his own hands. Or he’s going to swat Queen Bee into next Tuesday with his fly-swatter hand. One or the other.

SUPERMAN #4 – As Superman fights to protect the world  from Rogol Zaar and the Kryptonian convicts trapped inside the Phantom Zone, the greatest minds on Earth devise a risky plan to return the planet from the deadly prison. With the Earth continuing to crack and crumble and its greatest heroes fall, can the Man of Steel hold the line and give his adopted world a chance to escape?

WONDER WOMAN #56 – “The Witching Hour” part two! The Justice League Dark barely escaped their first encounter with Hecate, but they know she’ll be coming back for the power inside Wonder Woman. But what if Diana could tap into that power herself to take on Hecate directly?

From DC Vertigo

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #2 – Erzulie shouldn’t be in the Dreaming; in fact, she isn’t really sure how she suddenly got stranded there. Worse, she soon learns that she is no longer connected to her worshippers, which, for a deity, means only one thing: death. Against the advice of Cain and Abel, Erzulie steers her houseboat back into the rip between the worlds in an effort to return to her realm. But how will she find her way back, and what danger lies ahead in the otherworldly waters she finds herself sailing?

From Dynamite

RED SONJA/TARZAN #5 – The final showdown with Eson Duul looms ahead for Tarzan and Red Sonja. Their worlds and their people are at stake and it will take everything they have to stop a man who only wants to destroy everything he can!

From Marvel

DOMINO #7 – After the explosive events of “Killer Instinct” and DOMINO ANNUAL #1, Neena Thurman has a new mission…

EXILES #9 – ARABIAN NIGHTS! Javier Rodriguez returns on art duties with the start of a brand-new arc! On the run from rogue Watchers, the Exiles find themselves scattered in a dusty Arabian town — and with a bad case of mistaken identity! Who is the ne’er-do-well son of a tailor everyone calls “Aladdin”? What are the 40 thieves after? And most importantly…what classic Marvel villain plays the role of despotic Caliph? Saladin Ahmed brings One Thousand and One Nights to life in the pages of Marvel Comics!

That does it for this week’s Showcase. Be sure to come back tomorrow to find out if any of these comics will shine in the Spotlight.

As always, special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).

Supporting OpenDoor Comics is a thing you can do, by whitelisting the site in your ad blocker, by purchasing something from the Supply Closet or the OpenDoor Comics Shop, by creating your own comics on the OpenDoor Comics platform, or through directly giving money via Patreon or PayPal.

Spotlight Sunday 7.15.18

A desire to accentuate the positive means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Domino #4
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: David Baldeon
Cover: Greg Land
$3.99
Marvel

“I resent that. I like a lot of snacks and sexy bits. I’m a well-rounded person.”

My sister passed away this past week, marking the second loss of a family member this year, as she was preceded in death by our mother in March. I frequently make decisions about what comic to focus on based on how they align with or in some way reflect personal events in my life, and with that in mind, I considered talking about Wonder Woman #50, as the story deals with the loss of a sibling.

Ultimately, that seemed like the wrong choice, though, given that the sibling lost was Diana’s twin brother Jason, and…well, I was glad to see him go, so despite the thematic connection, the wildly-divergent response to the “loss” kept it from being a fit. (For the record, Jason didn’t die, exactly, but he was taken out of play, and given that this issue marked the end of Robinson’s run on the title, I have my doubts that anyone who follows will be eager to take advantage of the opportunity for Jason’s return that the story left.)

I also considered The Immortal Men #4, but I have to say that I just haven’t been feeling it with this book and am considering dropping it. It’s not bad, and it was one of the small number of titles in DC’s “New Age of Heroes” line that I felt was worth taking a look at, but so far, of that already small grouping, The Terrifics is the only one I can say I actually enjoy reading, as opposed to simply not minding.

There wasn’t much that I could say about a book that I feel ambivalent about, and my intention with the feature is to share a love of comics, not a benign indifference.

The point is, I wanted to write about something positive, and what could be more positive than a book that features Shang-Chi, he of the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu?

…okay, that may not track if you’re unaware of the fact that Shang-Chi is one of my all-time favorite comic book characters, but he is, and now you are aware, so it does.

But yeah, Domino.

There’s a pretty significant gap in my knowledge of a lot of Marvel characters and events, as I wasn’t reading many Marvel books even before I took my extended hiatus from reading comics at all, and in the time since I picked the habit back up I haven’t gone back and familiarized myself with the things I missed in the way I have with the DC books, but Domino had popped up often enough back in the day that I at least had a passing familiarity with her and her luck-based mutant gifts. And, of course, as portrayed by Zazie Beets, Domino was a breakout character in this year’s Deadpool 2.

Prior to this series, I wasn’t at all familiar with Domino’s friend Outlaw, a super-tough mutant gal from Texas (who also appeared in DP 2, albeit only as a cardboard cutout), but so far she’s been fun.

I’m much more familiar with the third member of Domino’s posse, the non-powered Diamondback, who is a thief turned (sort of) hero who used to date Captain America back in the day.

The Merc With a Mouth himself has turned up a time or two so far, as part of the fun for writer Gail Simone has been having the opportunity to play with some of her favorite toys in the Marvel Universe’s toy box, which, as should be obvious, includes the aforementioned Shang-Chi.

Anyway, the story so far:

Domino has luck powers. The “luck” isn’t under her control, and frequently comes at a price, as it may save her from getting killed, but might not save her from getting hurt in the process. We learn in this issue that the price isn’t always one that Domino herself has to pay.

Still, powers. She has them. And while they might not have always been ideal, she’s been able to rely on them, and use them – along with her other skills – to make a living as a mercenary and sometime-hero.

Until recently, anyway. Her powers have been failing her and given how some of her recent jobs have shaken out, it seems like one of her friends has been ratting her out, providing an unknown enemy – one who seems to be the cause of her luck running out – the opportunity to strike when Domino least expects it.

To resolve both problems, Domino decides to go on a bit of a journey, to study under the tutelage of the legendary Shang-Chi in order to sharpen the edge that’s been blunted by the recent unreliability of her powers, and to find out if it’s true that either Diamondback or Outlaw has betrayed her (accomplishing the latter by making certain they’re the only two people who know where she’s headed).

Studying under Shang-Chi either gets off to a terrible start, or a fantastic start, depending on your perspective:

Eventually, they move past the rocky start and the training begins in earnest.

Meanwhile, back home on their recently-acquired riverboat casino, Diamondback and Outlaw – after Diamondback puts two and two together and concludes that Domino thinks one of them is selling her out – decide they’re going to solve the mystery behind their recent troubles, and then head to Hong Kong to have it out with Domino for thinking that one of them could betray her. (Though the way this whole scenario plays out does make one suspect that Diamondback is the Judas in the group – as a former member of the villainous Serpent Society who went straight, this wouldn’t be the first time Diamondback has betrayed her comrades – though that seems too obvious and smacks of misdirection…unless that’s what Gail wants you to think.)

Last issue we caught a glimpse of Domino’s early life as a lab rat in one of those shady research centers that tries to create super-soldiers by experimenting on mutants – in the Marvel Universe they’re more ubiquitous than Starbucks – and in this issue we revisit that time, but from another perspective.

Domino’s mysterious new antagonists are an old man named Desmond and a woman named Topaz, the latter of whom has been the cause of Domino’s power malfunctions. Though they are unfamiliar to Domino, they seem to have a strong personal antipathy towards her. Topaz, in particular, straight-up HATES Domino, though Domino has no idea why.

In the flashback in this issue, we get a bit of an explanation. Desmond is also a mutant, and was born on the same day as Domino, and was raised in that same super-secret facility. Topaz was the daughter of the man in charge of the lab, and loved the poor little boy locked up in a cell.

It seems that Desmond is on the opposite side of a probabilistic coin from Domino; when something good happens to her, something bad happens to him. In the last issue, we saw young Domino get a kitten for her birthday. In this issue, we see the “birthday present” that Desmond gets as a result of that.

Due to this connection, the love that Topaz feels for Desmond becomes a polar opposite hatred for Domino, and, unbeknownst to her mutant-hating father, Topaz is herself a mutant.

With an assist from Deadpool, Diamondback and Outlaw make their way to the lab where Domino was raised as they search for their mysterious opponents. They hit paydirt, as Desmond and Topaz are there waiting for them. (Along with the mentally-broken doctor who ran the place.)

Desmond has been made young again and gotten a power boost from Topaz, and calls himself “Prototype,” and we cut away with the two villains seemingly victorious.

Back in Hong Kong, Domino’s training has gone well enough that she’s earned a break, and that break takes the form of a night of dancing with Shang-Chi. Not wanting to rely on her unreliable luck powers, Domino tries to make her own luck with Shang-Chi, but she soon learns that she’s not the only one who has enemies.

Okay, first of all…Shang-Chi!

Being a comic from the 1970s, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, the title in which Shang-Chi starred, was problematic as hell.

Good lord, the coloring alone was just…yeesh.

And that’s before you get into “Black” Jack Tarr constantly referring to Shang-Chi as “Chinaman,” or the fact that Shang-Chi’s father was Fu Manchu.

Like I said: yeesh.

Still, I loved me some Shang-Chi, and at his core, the character is fantastic with plenty of material to work with even if you jettison all the rest of the racist trappings.

So I was glad to see him here, handled well, and I was especially glad to see a reference to his old enemy Razorfist, because this sequence that was so brutal and yet so beautifully-crafted has been burned into my brain for decades and is at the heart of my love for this master of the martial arts.

As for the comic itself, well, it’s Gail, and she rarely disappoints.

Again, I’m not that familiar with most of the characters (except for Diamondback), so they’re mostly new to me, but in four issues Gail has managed to give them all distinct personalities and a personal appeal that makes it easy to move past the lack of familiarity and appreciate them for who they are, to the extent that it’s troubling to think that one of them might be a rat.

There are obvious parallels to the Birds of Prey, but that’s not in any way a slight, as the kind of familiarity it evokes adds to the enjoyment of the distinctiveness of this group of women. The things that are similar help you appreciate the things that are different, I suppose, and vice versa.

Speaking of vice versa, I like the interesting twist on the interconnected relationship between protagonist and antagonist – though I’m sure that Desmond didn’t find the “twist” of his arm interesting – and the way it makes things simultaneously personal and impersonal.

That is, it is intensely personal for Desmond and Topaz, whereas for Domino, who has no knowledge of the why of any of it, there is no personal connection. Or at least there wouldn’t be, if it were merely a matter of the two interfering with her professional life, but they’ve made it personal for her, attacking her in her home, and sowing seeds of doubt into her relationship with her friends.

The art by Baldeon, as you can see for yourself in the included images, is fantastic, and is a perfect fit for the story being told, with smooth, flowing action, and clean, expressive line work.

On Twitter recently, Gail started a conversation about the ways in which comics have had a positive impact on the lives of readers, and many people shared great stories about how comics made them feel accepted, or that it was at least possible to be accepted, and to be true to their truest selves.

For my part, I mentioned how comics helped me deal with some of the nightmares that plagued me as a child, but that’s just one small example, and as I grapple with the loss of a sibling while still grappling with the loss of my mother, in what has been just a miserable year all around, between the general state of the world, and my own personal and professional circumstances, comics feel more important than ever, and I don’t care how silly that may sound.

That’s why I chose to talk about this book, because setting aside the actual story and the characters, at its core, this comic is an expression of love for the medium and for the power of comics. And sharing the love and power of comics is what this whole site and the vision behind it are all about.

And it’s also why I don’t write typical reviews or critiques, with star or number ratings and whatnot, and why, even when I do happen to write about a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy, I try to focus on the parts that I did enjoy (though, if I’m honest, I do also like to complain, so…).

I keep saying that these Spotlight posts are a conversation, and I mean it.

I’m talking with you about comics, and I’m doing that because I love them, and because they are a source of comfort – among so many other things – to me, and because I want you to love them, too, even if you don’t love the specific comics that I do.

I’m not a Christian, but there is a precept within Christianity that “they will know us by our love,” indicating that the best way to evangelize your way of life is to live your life well. To show your love.

I chose this comic because the comic itself loves comics just as much as I do.

There’s a lot of crap going on in my life – and in everyone else’s – but hey, at least we’ve still got comics.

I love comics. And I hope it shows.

Anyway, if you’re on Twitter and you’re not following @GailSimone, please remedy that. And if you’re not on Twitter, get on and follow @GailSimone.

Recommended Reading:

Comics! Gail Simone! Comics by Gail Simone!

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back on Saturday for the Showcase.

We live in a world in which people are trying to crowdfund $100 million so that they can give it to Kylie Jenner to push her personal worth past the $1 billion mark.

I mean, you can do what you want, but I think she’ll be okay with her $900 million, and will hit a billion soon enough anyway, so I would humbly suggest that maybe we could divert a small portion of those funds to supporting OpenDoor Comics on Patreon, or via PayPal.

Just putting that out there.



Spotlight Sunday 6.10.18

An overwhelming lack of enthusiasm means that there are spoilers ahead for…

Red Sonja/Tarzan #2
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Walter Geovani
Cover: Aaron Lopresti
Rated Teen+
$3.99
Dynamite

“I quite feel that sheathing my blade to get assistance from the man who threw me over isn’t perhaps the wisest of all strategies at this time.”

I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t want to do this.

That’s not to suggest that I’m ordinarily not honest with you, or that I have any specific opposition to writing about this particular comic.

Rather, I’m candidly admitting that I didn’t want to do the Showcase/Spotlight thing at all, for any comic, and wanted to take the weekend off.

Why? Mostly because I’m tired. So very, very tired. The demands of my day job – and, more to the point, the commute to and from it – and the general state of both the world and my life just leave me exhausted, bone-weary in a way that no amount of largely restless sleep can mitigate.

And given the toxicity of fandom that has been so put so thoroughly on display recently, it doesn’t feel like a great time to be a fan of anything.

Beyond any of that, this whole endeavor seems pointless, given the ratio of effort to reward.

But!

We do what we have to do, I guess, and so, for the five or so people who actually look at these things, let’s get started.

I had anticipated – I should, I suppose, say “expected” – writing about The Unexpected, the latest addition to DC’s line of “Metal” spin-off comics, but…meh. It didn’t grab me, and I doubt that I’ll bother continuing to pick it up.

I mentioned that I’m holding off until the end to write about The Man of Steel, and I have no interest in spilling more digital ink on Robinson’s run on Wonder Woman, which left me with only two choices, bot of them involving a certain she-devil with a…well, in the comic I opted to talk about, a dagger.

Following up on the success of Wonder Woman/Conan, Gail Simone spins another tale of time-tossed people who under normal circumstances would never be able to bridge the gap of the millennia that separate them.

Of course, these aren’t ordinary people, and these aren’t normal circumstances.

In the first issue, we found John Clayton, AKA Lord Greystoke, AKA Tarzan squaring off against a wealthy trophy hunter by the name of Eson Dull.

The battle begins as one being fought in the courts, but briefly turns physical, once the Lord of the Jungle encounters a gorilla that Dull is keeping in captivity. Still, it’s legal maneuvering that, seemingly, wins the day for Lord Greystoke.

There is, of course, more to Dull than just a weird name and being a rich douchebag, as we see by moving back thousands of years from the early 20th Century and visiting the Hyborian Age, where we find Red Sonja battered and despondent after encountering a man named, you guessed it, Eson Dull.

Following that encounter, Sonja visits a witch, to whom she tells the tale of that run-in, and who sets Sonja on the path that destiny has laid out for her.

Back in 1921, Tarzan receives some rather unpleasant “gifts” from Dull, and swears vengeance, but before he can get to that, a certain red-haired woman, dressed in a manner befitting a lady of the time, but not befitting the lady herself, shows up to warn Tarzan that Eson Dull is preparing to hunt Tarzan’s family – both the human one and the animal one.

And that’s where we pick up, with Tarzan stripping down and riding off to Dull’s estate, and with Sonja, much to the shock and dismay of Tarzan’s faithful friend N’Tubu, who struggles to cover the eyes of the children present, does the same.

At Dull’s estate, Tarzan and Sonja deal with Dull’s hired goons, and then listen to an improbable tale told by Dull’s “Chinese” gardener, a tale of a time in which Tarzan and Sonja previously encountered – and fought – each other, though neither remembers it.

The gardener, it seems, is not from China, but is instead from the land that would one day become China, which Sonja, in the Hyborian Age, knows as Khitai.

The Khitan encourages Tarzan and Sonja to seek out a “futurist” with whom Tarzan is acquainted for answers as to how this unremembered encounter – which left Tarzan with a scar that proves the tale’s veracity – could have occurred.

As they journey to visit Tarzan’s friend, Sonja reveals that the dagger she carries, given to her by the witch, allows her to speak English.

The “futurist” turns out to be H.G. Wells, who informs Tarzan that time has somehow splintered, in a way that centers around Tarzan and Sonja, and inadvertently reveals to Tarzan that he’s seen it happening, as, despite the fact that he’d promised to never do so again, he’s been making use of his time machine.

Which is what Tarzan went there for in the first place.

As with Wonder Woman/Conan, Gail sets up a bit of a mystery as to how this crossover is happening at all, revealing the answers slowly rather than simply providing starting at the beginning and providing the set up. Similarly, there’s another mystery to be explained – such as the unremembered fight scene – that has to be reconciled with the known state of things, much as she did with the Diana/Yanna thing in Wonder Woman/Conan.

We also have the whole “Our heroes fight each other to an inconclusive draw, in which one seems to have the upper hand, but only as the result of a quirk of fate.”

Overall, it’s…fine. I liked Wonder Woman/Conan more than I do this, even at this early stage in the story, though that probably has a lot to do with being more personally-invested in the characters involved in that earlier crossover. While I’m quite familiar with Sonja, I’m not as versed in Tarzan lore. I’ve never read any of the original stories by Burroughs, so I only know Tarzan from comics, movies – though I haven’t seen the most recent one – and the old cartoon from when I was a kid, and I can’t help but view him as a deeply problematic literary trope that is difficult to make relevant in the current era.

In fairness, if anyone can do that, it’s Gail, and so far she’s managed it by not delving too deeply into the more racist elements of his backstory, taking more of a high-concept approach to the character that isn’t bogged down by the details.

Still, there’s no way for “Kreegah bungolo bundolo*!” as a multipurpose phrase that means whatever it needs to mean to be anything other than ridiculous (and racist).

The other advantage that Wonder Woman/Conan had was in the art, where Aaron Lopresti knocked it out of the park with some of the finest work I’ve ever seen him produce.

Ordinarily, I’m quite fond of Walter Geovani, and I’ve particularly enjoyed his depiction of the She-Devil when he provided the art for Gail’s run as the writer of the Red Sonja ongoing series, and he’s also been excellent – again, paired with Gail – in Clean Room.

He has exactly the sort of clean, minimalist style that I respond to, and his work on Clean Room brought to mind the similarly-clean style of the late Steve Dillon.

But here, it’s…it’s kind of a mess. I’m not entirely certain where the problem lies, as, at times it looks like an issue with the coloring, and at others it looks like it may be some kind of production issue, with images improperly resized, or some problem with the printing.

It has the appearance of being rushed and of having been inked with a Sharpie; the lines are thick and flat and imprecise.

It’s not bad, exactly, just…disappointing.

The book is not without its charms; I’m particularly amused by the scenes with Sonja attempting to pull off the appearance of a proper lady of the early 20th Century, and then eagerly ripping that propriety to shreds.

The inevitable hero fight was by-the-numbers, but was staged well, and had some entertaining twists.

Still, quite apart from my lack of enthusiasm for doing this, I’m not finding the book terribly exciting, though, ultimately, In Gail I Trust, so I’ll see this one through to the end, and just hope that it – and my mood – manages to improve.

Recommended Reading:

I’m going to be lazy again this week and tell you that, despite my comments here, you should seek out all of the other works of Simone and Geovani.

(And I’ll point out that clicking through and actually buying some of these things will help with that “reward” part of my efforts.)

That does it for this week’s Spotlight Sunday. Check back on Saturday for the Showcase.

As always, special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & ArtworkmyLocal Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).

And remember that another way to provide some reward for my efforts, such as they are, is to support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon.



*I corrected the typo. I still say it’s ridiculous, but what do I know? I’m the one who screwed up and typed bungalo.

Spotlight Sunday 12.31.17

Sigh.

Okay, so now it’s a rule: one person, one vote.

I mean, I kind of wish that everyone had that much enthusiasm and would vote at least once – the Weigh In posts get a lot more views than actual votes, which is kind of odd, given that it is pretty easy to vote, and if you’re here anyway… – but I think voting once is the best way to go, and while I wasn’t bothered by it initially, I did put that constraint on the poll. If I actually wanted people to vote more than once, they’d be able to without having to take any extra steps.

It will be stated in every Weigh In going forward, and the book that got multiple votes from the same person this week is out of the running. (And anyway, it was just okay. I wouldn’t have had much to say about it. The “water torture” bit was pretty good. The art was okay. It was good enough that I’ll keep picking it up, but it wasn’t really anything special.)

That leaves us with a tie, and given that one of those books gets a Bonus entry anyway, that means that the last Spotlight Sunday of the year contains spoilers for…

Kamandi Challege #12
Writer: Gail Simone, Paul Levitz
Artist: Jill Thompson, Ryan Sook, José Luis García-López
Cover: Frank Miller
Variant Cover: Ryan Sook, José Luis García-López
Rated T
$4.99
DC

Back in the mid-eighties, when I got most of my comics from whatever random place I could – grocery stores and gas stations, mostly – in a scattershot fashion, I rarely had money for subscriptions, which, lacking an actual comic shop, was pretty much my only option for ensuring that I was able to get hold of any particular series on a consistent basis.

Even on those occasions when I did manage to pay for a subscription, whether I got every issue was hit-or-miss. Despite the near-zero population level of the area, I shared a name with someone else in the same rural mail route in which I lived. While I was Jon-Paul Maki and he was John Paul Maki, it was enough to frequently cause a mix-up at the post office, leading to him getting the comics intended for me. (I sometimes got mail intended for him, but it was never anything good.)

A few times, my mom put up enough of a stink on my behalf that I eventually got what was mine, but…well, to put it delicately, my similarly-named counterpart had developmental issues, and so, often, it just seemed easier, and kinder, I suppose, to let him keep them.

(It’s worth noting that we always made sure that he got his mail when it came to me, and I’d like to think that we would have done that even if it had ever been anything good.)

Anyway, the point is, back in the mid-eighties, DC advertised a new twelve-issue maxi-series called DC Challenge. I was intrigued, and given that it was only available via direct sales – meaning, it wouldn’t be sold at any of the places where I got my comics – and I happened to have some money, I opted to subscribe to it. (And I actually got all twelve issues delivered to me.)

It wasn’t…well, it wasn’t particularly memorable, at any rate, beyond the basic concept behind it, which was a “storytelling in the round” approach in which a different creative team produced each issue and ended it on a seemingly-unresolvable cliffhanger which the next month’s team would have to resolve (and then end with a cliffhanger for the next team).

The other thing that was memorable was that the creators were free to use any character that existed in the DC stable, which made for some deep cuts, which was kind of a “thing” that year – it was DC’s 50th anniversary – between Challenge, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the index of characters and concepts that was Who’s Who in the DC Universe.

(The other thing I remember is Albert Einstein making an appearance, a callback to his appearance in writer Elliot S! Maggin’s prose novel Superman: The Last Son of Krypton. Maggin wrote that issue of Challenge, of course.)

I bring up DC Challenge, of course, because The Kamandi Challenge is something of a spiritual successor, taking the same new creative team/cliffhanger ending approach.

The Kamandi Challenge was part of DC’s year-long celebration of what would have been the 100th birthday of Kamandi’s creator Jack “King” Kirby, and, as is only fitting, the King himself makes an appearance in the finale. Overall, I liked it a lot more than I did its predecessor, and issue #9 by Mister Miracle scribe Tom King and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle co-creator Kevin Eastman is one of the best single issues of a comic I’ve read all year.

The concluding chapter by Gail Simone starts off by completely ignoring the cliffhanger from the previous issue, focusing not on the Last Boy on Earth, and instead introducing us to the Last Girl on Earth, who was raised in a bunker called Command A, and took on the name Kamanda as she ventured out into the world that has risen in the wake of The Great Disaster, a world devoid of humans such as herself, populated instead by warring factions of anthropomorphic animals.

Kamanda stumbles upon something she thought she’d never see: a boy! Like her, this boy was raised in a bunker – Command D – and thought that he was the last of his kind.

As the boy and girl prepare to do what comes naturally, we learn that there is no Kamanda, and that this is just the idle imagination of Kamandi as he loses consciousness while plummeting to the Earth below after having destroyed the Tek-Moon of the evil Misfit.

Fortunately for Kamandi and his gorilla and orangutan companions, among the debris falling with them is a control gauntlet for a jetpack, and while it doesn’t have enough power for them to land safely, it does slow them sufficiently to allow the gorilla, Silverbeck, to protect Kamandi and Royer (the orangutan) from the impact of their landing with his own body, at the cost of  his life.

Upon landing, Kamandi and Royer are set upon by rats – like the ones Kamanda warned Kamandi about in his daydream – but after a brief tussle, the rats realize who Kamandi is and apologize for the misunderstanding. They explain that his coming has been prophesied, and that he is the hero who can lead the world out of hate.

The rats know a little something about that; they recall their treatment at the hands of humans before the Great Disaster. The rats had attempted to preserve what was left of humanity and use the humans as an army to defend them, breeding and experimenting on them, but in time, the Eye – which prophesied Kamandi’s arrival – showed them that they were wrong, and now they choose to try to create a world in which people help each other.

Meanwhile, though his plans were ruined, Misfit is not quite dead yet, and unleashes a giant robot to destroy all life on Earth.

Fortunately, with Kamandi in the lead, the rats are prepared, and so, after having told Kamandi about the way rats in captivity before the Great Disaster would sometimes form “rat kings” and that humans would cause this for the sake of fun, and for the sake of hate, the rats all tie their tails together for the sake of life, and so we get this:

With the Terror-Naut defeated, thanks in part to the leadership of Kamandi, the rats use the Eye to bring Kamandi’s quest to an end. He had started his adventure seeking out his parents, and while he’d thought he’d found his mother in an earlier issue, she turned out to be a robot – which was, interestingly enough, very similar to a recent storyline on Adventure Time, a show that was inspired, in part, by Kamandi – but now, in the end, he meets his father: Jack Kirby.

That ends Gail’s contribution, but the story continues with an epilogue written by Paul Levitz, in which Kirby, who admits that he’s not exactly Kamandi’s father, proves to be the godlike being that he was in real life

“D’Jinn–Genie–Genius–What’s the difference? Thing is, I can make stuff up, and make it real.”

In the process of granting Kamandi three wishes, he reveals that the whole quest to find his parents was really just a means of unleashing Kamandi’s hidden power: the power to command.

Kamandi wishes to fix the whole world, bringing all of the warring tribes together, but despite his newfound power, he’s intimidated at the prospect of leading everyone, and so, we end on a pun, as Kirby reveals that Kamandi can use his third wish to restore everything, to reset it all. The power is in his name: Command+D.

For non-Mac users, Command+D was a keyboard shortcut for “Don’t Save,” which gets Kamandi, as Kirby puts it, “fresh copy,” and after the world resets we find young Cameron leaving his ordinary house in his ordinary, pre-Great Disaster world, walking to school and thinking about the strange dream he had, and as he walks past a zoo, we get the last word from Bobo, the Detective Chimp.

We also get a nice tribute to the late Len Wein by Paul Levitz, who filled in to write the epilogue that Wein was originally slated to provide. Had he lived long enough to complete it, Wein would have been the only contributor to The Kamandi Challenge who had also contributed to DC Challenge. (By filling in for his late friend, Levitz took on that distinction.)

As I said, I enjoyed this more than I recall enjoying its predecessor, but ultimately, while it was a lot of fun – and, again, #9 really stands out – this approach doesn’t really make for the most coherent story.

It’s clear that everyone had a lot of fun working on it, and it was a nice touch to have each issue include a note from the writer of the previous issue explaining how they would have resolved the cliffhanger they ended their issue with, and, of course, talking about how much Kirby and his creations meant to them.

Gail clearly had a lot of fun, and I liked some of the little touches she added, such as revealing that Kamanda’s real name was Dot. Kirby Dot. (I don’t recall offhand if the previous writer named the orangutan, but his name was a reference to Kirby’s frequent collaborator – as an inker – Mike Royer.) I also liked that the rats referred to Kamandi throughout as “Kingson,” and there were plenty of other “King” references throughout.

And, of course, the Eye, the artifact that the rats had, looked like Brother Eye, the satellite partner of another Kirby creation, OMAC, the “One-Man Army Corps,” who was eventually revealed to be Kamandi’s grandfather in the original comics (in these comics it was his grandmother, rather than his grandfather, who raised Kamandi in the bunker).

If the credits didn’t list her, I wouldn’t have guessed that Jill Thompson provided the art for the first five pages (the “Kamanda” sequence), as the style is so different than what I’m accustomed to. I can see her style when I look at the art more closely, but if I’d gone into it not knowing it was her, I might have guessed that it was done by Shawn McManus. This isn’t a complaint or criticism – it’s good work – but just an observation.

Ryan Sook provides the art for the remainder of Gail’s story, and I like his style a lot. It reminds me of a cleaner, somewhat more minimalist version of the work of the late Alfredo Alcala. This isn’t his first go-round with Kamandi; he provided the art for the Kamandi segment in DC’s Wednesday Comics several years back (And that also looked great).

The Epilogue is illustrated by José Luis García-López, and I don’t need to say anything more about it other than what I often say: José Luis García-López is a goddamn national treasure.

The Frank Miller cover is…well, it’s late-period Frank Miller. And it makes me sad.

It was a fitting tribute to the King, and the final issue of a twelve-month-long story, one which offers the promise of a reset, is a fitting choice for ending the year.

Recommended Reading:

KAMANDI BY JACK KIRBY OMNIBUS (March, 2018) – Kamandi-one of the few survivors of a Great Disaster that has destroyed civilization–must search for a safe haven in a world populated by bizarre mutated animals and other strange wonders! Considered one of Jack Kirby’s most creative works, KAMANDI features a band of anthropomorphic supporting characters who accompany Kamandi as he searches for answers and adventure across the wastelands of Earth.

THE KAMANDI CHALLENGE (April, 2018) – Born from the mind of Jack “King” Kirby, the post-apocalyptic Earth of Kamandi has been a fan favorite for decades. Prepare to take part in one of the greatest adventures from the infinite future of the DC Universe, and join the industry’s top creative teams in a round-robin, no-holds-barred storytelling extravaganza titled THE KAMANDI CHALLENGE!

WEDNESDAY COMICS – This oversized hardcover edition collects the entire critically acclaimed anthology series that reinvented the classic weekly newspaper comics section. It features 16-different stories starring the World’s Greatest Super Heroes including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash, as well as lesser known characters including Metamorpho and Metal Men written and Illustrated by the comic industry’s top talents including including Neil Gaiman (THE SANDMAN), Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo (JOKER), Dave Gibbons (WATCHMEN) Eduardo Risso (100 BULLETS), Joe Kubert (SGT. ROCK) and Paul Pope (BATMAN: YEAR ONE HUNDRED).

WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON – See Wonder Woman like you’ve never seen her before in WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON, an original graphic novel from Eisner Award-winning writer and artist Jill Thompson. Join Princess Diana in her early years, as she develops into the formidable hero we know and love.

Bonus:

“Children of the Gods” began with a scene showing how the story ends. In its conclusion in Wonder Woman #37, it…well, that scene doesn’t make an appearance. There’s a scene kind of like it, but Diana is saying something completely different in it.

In any case, while Wonder Woman fought Darkseid and Jason fought Grail last issue, Zeus showed up and decided it was time for an Old God to whip some New God ass. This was, of course, Darkseid’s plan all along, as he was just killing Zeus’s kids to get the god himself to show up so he could drain the power – and life – out of him and completely restore himself back to his former infernal glory. And that’s what happens, as Diana works to protect the innocent civilians caught in harm’s way during the battle, and Jason, who had a change of heart last issue, takes on Grail. With Zeus dead, Diana prepares to take on Darkseid alone, but doesn’t get the chance, as the rest of the League shows up and Darkseid and Grail decide to Boom Tube it on outta there.

But hey, at least Diana and her bro can try to take this opportunity to get a fresh start.

The framing of this issue involves Diana recounting the events to an unseen Steve Trevor, and she talks about how mad she is that the League showed up? She’s convinced that she could have taken Darkseid down herself, even after he’s fully recharged, and is mad that the Leauge’s arrival prevented that from happening. The charitable reading is that she believes that she could have eliminated him once and for all if the League hadn’t chased him away, but it comes across more like she feels like she has something to prove, and it’s just…off. Even being mad that she was deprived of the opportunity to avenge her father and her fallen half-brothers and half-sisters would have been a better motive than sheer cockiness.

Anyway, that’s done. We’ll see what happens next…but not in the Bonus section, as the end of a storyline means the end of its automatic inclusion here.

And so we end the final Spotlight Sunday of 2017, and look forward to new year of new comics and new opportunities to vote on them. Make it a resolution to only vote once (but please do vote), and even if you don’t manage to stick to it, I’ll stick to it for you.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one). And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!

Spotlight Sunday 9.24.17

If you’ve read any of my Spotlight Sunday entries, and have also read traditional reviews of, well, anything, you know that what I write here isn’t really a traditional review so much as a rambling recap of what happened in the selected comic, along with somewhat-related side anecdotes, and just my overall feeling about the words and pictures the comic contains. I don’t even do any sort of rating, stellar or bodily appendage-related or otherwise.

That’s largely because reviews aren’t really what this site is about; I’m mostly just taking the opportunity to throw some thoughts out there while building a content library as I continue the task of trying to entice other creators to start utilizing the platform I’m trying to build, and to talk about comics. Because talking about comics is a thing I like to do.

Still, there are spoilers – though while I may spoil the overall story, there are usually a lot of details I don’t get into, and I encourage you to pick up the comics in the Spotlight for yourselves and see what you’re missing – contained in this whatever-you-want-to-call-it, so consider yourself warned as we take a look at this week’s Weigh In Wednesday winner:

Wonder Woman/Conan #1
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Aaron Lopresti
Cover: Darick Robertson
Rated T+
DC with Dark Horse

In last week’s entry, I mentioned that I’ve never read any of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels, as I had already aged out of the target audience by the time they landed, but I was probably never really in the target audience anyway. I won’t give in to the airy nonsense of claiming to have “an old soul” or even lay claim to having been especially precocious – if anything, I’d just say that I’ve pretty much been a cranky old many since I was twelve and/or at that age I was a pretentious git who was impressed by his own “maturity” – but as I expanded my reading habits to include things other than comics and moved past books aimed at the very young, I pretty much just skipped right over the books that were written specifically for adolescents and teens. (I have read many of them as an adult, however.)

I jumped straight to new and classic works of Science Fiction and Fantasy, not even bothering to stick my pimply nose in the kids’ and teens’ sections of the library or the bookstore.

More than anything else at that time, I read a lot of Conan novels. And by a lot, I mean all of them, or at least as many of them as I could get my hands on. I read all the original stories by Robert E. Howard, the expanded and reworked – some would say “mutilated” – and original works by Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp, as well as newer Conan novels by authors like Robert Jordan.

It was a logical transition for someone looking to move from being someone who read comics almost exclusively to someone who also consumed more straightforward prose, as I read a lot of Conan comics, too.

The point of this longer-than-intended tangent is that it’s fair to say that I’m a big fan of REH’s sullen-eyed, iron-thewed Cimmerian.

I’m also a big fan of Wonder Woman – I just watched the movie again the other day and, once again, tears of joy streamed down my face during the “No Man’s Land” segment, which is, in my estimation, the single greatest depiction of super-heroism to ever grace the Silver Screen – and of Gail Simone.

So, yeah, of course I picked up Wonder Woman/Conan. (I didn’t even have to pick it up – the folks at my comic shop know me well enough that they added it to my pull list without me needing to ask.)

The obvious first question when considering a crossover involving these two characters is “How do they manage to be in the same place at the same time?” Conan, after all, lived in what’s called as the Hyborian Age, a (fictional) prehistoric era thousands of years in the past sometime between the sinking of Atlantis and the beginnings of Western civilization.

Granted, as an Amazon, Wonder Woman is generally depicted as being immortal, but most iterations of the character still have her being relatively young when she first ventures out into Patriarch’s World, and I haven’t seen many stories in which the Amazons were shown to have existed quite that far back in the past, though there is, of course, nothing really ruling that out.

Whatever the case, we don’t get the answer to that question in this issue, so I assume it’s a mystery whose nature will be revealed as the story progresses.

Our story opens with a young Conan, accompanying his father, journeying away from his own village for the first time in his young life, and encountering a young girl named Yanna who, to Conan, “walked in mystery.”
Cut to a slightly later time and a different place, and we find an adult Conan encountering a group of men from Asgard, a country that neighbors Conan’s native Cimmeria, preparing to burn off a man’s jaw. Having no particular love for Aquilonians – such as the would-be Baron Ünderbheit cosplayer – Conan prepares to walk away, until Kian, the Aquilonian, offers to pay Conan handsomely for his assistance.

An altercation soon follows, one which leaves the jaw-collecting Aesir without a jaw, or, you know, continuing existences. They do not, however, all expire before one of them informs Conan that the reason they were after Kian’s jaw was that he welched on a debt.

Kian explains that soon enough he will have gold aplenty, as he has bet a large sum of gold against the house-favored champion at a nearby gladiatorial arena. He’s certain that the champion will lose and he will win his fortune, because said champion is a mere woman.

It’s a losing bet, of course, as the so-called “Warrior Witch” doing battle in the arena wearing a mud-and-blood-spattered outfit that evokes the design of her more iconic costume is clearly Wonder Woman.

Despite exhibiting considerably less than the full extent of her fighting prowess, she’s able to defeat all of her challengers. She is not, however, able to overcome her captors who are forcing her to fight, and is soon hauled back into the dungeon and chained to the wall.

While the question of how Diana found herself in such a situation is a mystery to us, the woman herself is a mystery to Conan, who flashes back to his memories of Yanna.

Finding a way in to the dungeon, Conan seeks to free “Yanna,” who has no clear memory of who she is, but is not certain that she’s who Conan thinks she is. Some part of her does assert itself, though, and she declares that she is not the “Warrior Witch,” as her captors call her, but rather, Wonder Woman.

As she stands to her full height with a proud and regal bearing at the memory of this other name, Conan responds the only way he can: “Crom!”

Unfortunately for our heroes, the slavers have no intention of setting their champion free, sneaking up and delivering a sharp blow to Conan’s head that knocks him out colder than a Nazi getting a much-deserved sock on the jaw from Diana. As the issue ends, they announce their plan to chain Conan and Wonder Woman together and force them to fight each other…TO THE DEATH!

That’s what I just said!

Along with the mysteries of how Diana found herself in this time and place, without access to her memories and apparently bereft of the full use of her powers, and the question of whether Diana and Yanna are one and the same, or if not, who or what Yanna was, we also have the mystery of the enigmatic Corvidae, a pair of talking crows who had enjoyed the bounty that Conan left behind for them in the form of the dead Aesir, and who reveal, after watching the gladiatorial match, that they aren’t always crows.

The implication is that the Corvidae are somehow driving the action. It’s kind of an interesting coincidence that this would be the case, as in the current storyline in Conan’s ongoing solo series the action is being driven, in part, by a corpse-eating ghul who’s been following Conan and devouring the deadcrumbs he leaves in his bloody wake. Given the nature of this story, though, it’s clear that there’s more involved than simply ensuring that a bloody-handed reaver continues to put food on the table.

Along with the questions about what in the name of Crom and Mitra is going on in this crossover event that are in place to push readers to find out what happens next, the writing is sharp, clever, and funny, as befits a story by Gail Simone. I’ve mentioned this before, but if you aren’t following Gail on Twitter – @GailSimone – you should be.

I’ve never really been a fan of Aaron Lopresti, by which I mean his work doesn’t engender the same kind of enthusiasm from me that the work of some of my favorite artists, like, say, Nicola Scott, or Amanda Conner, or George Perez, does. Which is normal; not all artists, no matter how good they are, can rank among my favorites.

Still, he’s good. In fact, as you can see for yourself, he’s very good, and I don’t intend any insult or to damn him with faint praise. Quite the reverse; Lopresti has always struck me, through his work, as someone who is solid and dependable, and while it might not seem like it, for a comic book artist, that is pretty high praise. Solid and dependable are very good things for artists who work in a deadline-driven medium to be.

In fact, I was glad to see that the art chores for this book were placed in his more-than capable hands, and I will add that I’ve long viewed his work during Gail’s run on the regular Wonder Woman comic as some of his best.

When you’re doing a comic like this that has a premise that’s a bit out there – even if, on an intuitive level, high-concept level, it makes perfect sense – it seems to me that it’s very important to get the art right. Not that it isn’t always important to get the look right in a visual medium, but for something like this, it seems like it’s an even greater imperative, and Lopresti is an excellent choice for meeting that standard.

His work here is great; good design work – particularly with Diana’s dirty gladiatorial outfit – and an excellent visual flow, and overall it just hits the right tone.

On Twitter, Gail stated that she tried to stay true to the original REH vision of Conan, and I think she does. I’ve maintained for years that one of the strengths of Conan as a character, and the key to his longevity in popular culture, is that in his purest form, as originally envisioned by Howard, he can be adapted to fit into any context, and, when handled well, doesn’t seem out-of-place in virtually any genre. Conan is just such an elemental creature, driven by simple, primal motives, though ultimately much more complex than many people realize, that you can build a story around him in the same way you might build a story around a storm, or a fire.

(One of my favorite Conan comics stories casts him in the role of detective in what is essentially a locked-room murder mystery. And, as a story, it works, because Conan works pretty much anywhere.)

And, of course, we all know – or at least we should – that Gail has a very good handle on Diana, so I look forward to #2, which will, no doubt, be the winner of its own Weigh In Wednesday vote.

Recommended Reading:

Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception – For whatever reason, most of Gail’s work on Wonder Woman is not currently widely-available in TPB form, so try something completely different: From the minds of superstar writer Gail Simone and gifted artist Jon Davis-Hunt comes CLEAN ROOM VOL. 1: IMMACULATE CONCEPTION—a new vision of horror that takes you inside the locked chambers of sex, science, celebrity, and the supernatural.

The Savage Sword of Conan, Vol. 1 – In the mid 1970s following the colossal success of Conan the Barbarian, Roy Thomas helped expand the universe of Conan to showcase further stories and the talents of some of the comics industry’s best with the equally popular Savage Sword of Conan magazine. Now, for the first time in over thirty years, these primal tales, featuring Robert E. Howard’s most popular character, are available in this, the first in a series of massive trade paperbacks, collecting all Savage Sword Conan stories beginning with issue one.

Wonder Woman:  A Celebration of 75 Years – Collecting more than 400 pages of the iconic heroine’s best stories, from her first appearance by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter, to her mod ’60s redesign by Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky, to her present-day adventures by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Other legendary talents featured include George Pérez, Darwyn Cooke, Robert Kanigher, Gene Colan, Phil Jimenez, Mike Deodato, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone and more.

That’s it for this Spotlight Sunday. Thanks to everyone who voted, and be sure to come back for the next Weigh In Wednesday.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).  And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!