This edition of Reading List is way late, so it reviews the comics for weeks 16, 17, and 18. We have a lot of great comics to cover: Spidey, Daredevil, Howard the Duck, Doctor Strange, Invader Zim, Miracleman, Secret Wars, TMNT Amazing Adventures, Back to the Future, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and our featured comic, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1.
Going back to basics – or back to high school, I guess – for Spider-Man, in this new series dedicated to telling the untold tales about Peter Parker’s early web-swinging days. A fun concept, and something sorely needed in the contemporary, post-Secret Wars (although not really technically post-Secret Wars, since Secret Wars is still going on) continuity with its countless Spider-Men and Spider-Women and even Peter Porker the Incredible Spider-Ham is back, which is funny but come on.
What I mean to say is that I was looking forward to this comic, and it’s good and fun and perfectly in character with Spider-Man but I’m still not going to keep reading it, and here’s why. Last week I talked about Marvel’s sliding timeline, where the past gets closer to the present as we move into the future. When Peter Parker was bitten by that radioactive spider, it was the Sixties. But in current Marvel continuity it’s 2015, and yet Parker hasn’t been Spider-Man for fifty-plus years. Which is fine, but it presents a problem when you go back into history. And that’s what’s bugging me about this series.
Teenage Peter Parker lives in a world with cell phones, hashtags, and tweeting selfie blogs – and that’s a problem. For me, it’s a problem for me. Twitter has existed for less than a decade at this point; are we supposed to believe that in current Marvel continuity, Peter Parker has been Spider-Manning for fewer than ten years? All that stuff from back in the day about how he’d get these primo shots of Spider-Man to sell to the Daily Bugle by sticking his camera to a wall while he fights a bad guy – did that still happen, or what? Because in the age of the smartphone, everybody and their Lhasa Apso would have pics of Spidey, J. Jonah Jameson wouldn’t pay Parker enough for those to cover his Netlix subscription that month.
But I totally admit that this is nothing but a personal issue with me. If that stuff doesn’t bug you, you should get on this book.
Where to Start: Here! Time Investment: No time like the present
Recommended if you like this: Silk Volume 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon
A new beginning for Daredevil – actually really new, because like at the end of the last volume Matt Murdock was living in San Francisco (having been disbarred in the State of New York), his secret identity having been revealed to everybody in the world leading him to just go ahead and write his autobiography (or get best friend Foggy Nelson, recently recovered from cancer, to ghost-write it for him) and all kinds of other stuff. Here in this new volume, post-Secret Wars (not to be confused with the PostSecret Wars, which is a completely different thing altogether), he’s back in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen district, working as an Assistant District Attorney rather than his traditional role of Defense, his secret identity intact except for Foggy, who’s really pissed off at him, and training a new apprentice (a young Chinese immigrant, codenamed Blindspot, who’s invented an invisibility suit but needs lots of money for batteries to power it).
Something has happened. We just don’t know what it is yet. It’s not simply that the Daredevil of some other world has taken over Earth-616 after the events of Secret Wars. Matt and Foggy have a heated conversation regarding the fact that Matt did something so that everyone except Foggy would forget what had happened for the past little while, so that “Matt Murdock can live his life, and Daredevil can take risks again. Everything I had to do was worth it.” But what did he do? Obviously this is going to be a big focus in this series, at least eventually, but it sounds an awful lot like the whole One More Day mess that Spider-Man got into a few years ago when the exact same thing happened: after Civil War, Peter Parker revealed his secret identity to the world in solidarity with Captain America’s anti-Superhero Registration Act side; but when Aunt May was shot and lay near death, he literally made a deal with the devil to save her life – in exchange for his marriage to Mary-Jane, which was retconned out of existence, making Spidey a (web) swinging bachelor again, with a fully functional secret identity to boot.
Did Murdock do something similar? Or, like, something exactly the same? The thing is that a storyline like that would be way more interesting for Daredevil than for Spider-Man, because Daredevil was raised Catholic and still retains scraps of his religious upbringing, and he has met and expressed extreme discomfort with Mefisto, the Marvel Universe’s version of the devil, in the past. It would make a plausible excuse for hitting the reset button while also being a cool and character-developing storyline – except for the fact that Spider-Man already did it.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
The new writer (Charles Soule) and artist (Ron Garney) are doing an excellent job so far, the story introducing the Church of Tenfingers street gang/cult and their creepy-as-hell leader, Tenfingers (so named because he has ten fingers on each hand), and a spooky mostly-black-and-white-and-red, jagged and heavily shadowed art style that suits the character and the plot perfectly. Really good start for what had been, in previous volumes, my favourite Marvel book.
Where to Start: Here again. Time investment: Same.
Recommended if you like this: Daredevil Volume 4: The Autobiography of Matt Murdock
Howard the Duck #2
Seems like Chip Zdarsky is doing something a little bit more serious with this volume than he did with the last one, a little more emotionally weighty – which is weird, since this issue deals with how the female clones of Howard the Duck and Rocket Raccoon (shades of X-23) were created by the Master Collector back when Howard and Rocket were his prisoner, how they grew up under the care of Gatherer D-3X (known to the clones – Linda the Duck and Shocket – as Daddy), escaped from the facility, travelled back in time twenty-five years, and then went in search of a Nexus of Realities, which led to them meeting the original Howard at the end of the previous issue.
Not that it isn’t still funny. It is. Just less so. And not in a bad way. Not in a bad way at all. The thing is, I’m just getting pretty tired of these gender-swapped versions of characters. Can’t we have interesting female characters who are original? Who aren’t just characters we already know and like but with boobs? I honestly just do not understand this trend. Why do Thor and Wolverine have to be women now? It just doesn’t make any sense to me. We have Jessica Jones and Squirrel Girl, for instance, to name just two (which would make a pretty good team-up, actually, since they already know each other; Squirrel Girl was the long-term babysitter for Jessica and Luke Cage’s daughter) – a couple of very compelling, original female superheroes who don’t have to piggyback on the reputation of existing male characters. It clearly can be done. So what’s with this trend? I genuinely don’t get it. Why is this happening? Can anybody explain?
Doctor Strange #3
Forcibly kicked into his astral form, Doctor Strange fights some Een’gawori slugs and then heads to Fandazar Foo, a nexus point between dimensions, which he finds all the magic burned away and the corpses of several Sorcerors Supreme from multiple different dimensions. Chris Bachalo’s art is wonderfully surreal and appropriate for Doctor Strange’s strangeness, but something is really going to have to happen soon in this series if they want to keep readers – they’re teasing some really interesting stuff with the anti-magic fundamentalists the Emirikul, but the dramatic irony is wearing thin. We’re going to need to see Doctor Strange taking them on directly – or at least indirectly – before we get bored with the (albeit awesome) pretty colours and shapes.
Invader Zim #5
Good news and bad news: the good news is that this is the best issue of the Invader Zim comic so far (even though there’s no Zim in it except for one panel of alternate-universe versions with sandwiches for heads and things like that); the bad news is that this is also Jhonen Vasquez’s last issue as writer on the book. It’ll be exciting to see what other artists and writers do with it, but seeing Vasquez leave after creating such a great issue is bittersweet.
Dib, really enthusiastic about something that no one else cares about as usual, turns off his sister Gaz’s videogame just as her clan is about to be the first to slay Queen Blotchulax and Gaz demands revenge – as would we all. So she transports him to a parallel universe where non-gamers (or NPCs – non-playable characters) are destroyed or imprisoned – and “phone games where you can pay real money to buy fake money to speed up timers and stuff” don’t count!
As his punishment, Dib gets plugged into various parodies of games and forced to enact whatever the player wants. And the parodies are amazing. There’s Minecraft, The Binding of Isaac (or “The Binding of Bleep Bloop”), Call of Duty (“Soldier of Doody 25”), Dark Souls (“Dank Souls”), Mario Kart (“Bloatyo Kart 9”), Portal (“Puzhole,” which I could never actually play because it made me motionsick), Animal Crossing (“Critter Debt Simulator”), Angry Birds (“Angry Turds,” naturally), and Metal Gear Solid (“Meat Gear Solid 13,” continuing Vasquez’s characteristic meat-obsession). The whole thing is gold, and if you like videogames you’ll be Lolling Out Loud (as the kids say). Also Gaz is my favourite character and she was always tragically underused in the series, so it’s grea to see her really shine here in all her myopically-sadistic glory.
In this interview with IGN, Vasquez says about gaming, “It’s just a huge part of my life and when people roll their eyes and think I’m wasting it I think of all the inspiration I get from it and then I look at their families and their ‘children’ and ‘important lives’ and pity them for thinking it’s any more real than me flying through space or exploring other worlds or crying alone in my house where if I died nobody would find me for weeks probably.” And that point is well made. Videogames aren’t just distractions. They affect us and teach us and inspire us. I know that I’ve gained plenty of understanding of the world and of myself from playing videogames (even from Guitar Hero, believe it or not) – and if that’s a part of our experience as human beings then what makes it “false”? Right now I’m trying to finish writing these reviews as fast as I can because now that my winter break has started I just want to go home and start playing Fallout 4.
Miracleman Book 4 #5
Here’s where Neil Gaiman invented the Matrix. In a world where everything is perfect – or at least the people (or “people”) in charge of that world are trying to make everything perfect and everybody happy – what to do with those who have been trained all their lives for suspicion? This issue, “Spy Story,” asks and answers that question, but also makes you start to think about everything around you with the eye of a paranoiac. And it makes you begin to wonder if living in a world of conspiracies would be fun, or drive you toward madness, or a little bit of both.
The backup story, “Screaming,” was Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s first Miracleman story ever, published in Total Eclipse #4 in 1988. It’s mostly a monologue by a character who had a minor but life-changing encounter with Miracleman back before he went and turned the world upside-down – in the good way. Shows exactly what Gaiman was thinking about while Alan Moore was doing his thing, and it’s well worth including here although I wonder why they waited until Issue 5.
Secret Wars #8
Almost finished. Giant The Thing squishes Maestro, but refuses to kill Franklin Richards riding on Galactus. Star-Lord grows a giant Groot from a toothpick, destroying Castle Doom. And Doom himself pulls out Thanos’s skeleton with his bare hands. That was pretty cool. Otherwise, I can’t wait for this “event” to be over already.
Where to Start: Secret Wars #1 Time Investment: 7 issues
Recommended if you like this: Therapy for your obvious Stockholm Syndrome
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Amazing Adventures #5
It’s pretty cute watching Leonardo having a tea party with a little kid who’s super excited when she hears that Leo has three turtle brothers, but the main story in this issue is just Don, Mike, and Raph being outfought by Baxter Stockman and Tigerclaw. Really not much there. Similarly, the backup story by Ian Flynn and Coleman Engle, has a neat quirky art style, but it’s just a cliché story about Don not being able to get any peace and quiet while trying to do some work. Unimpressive issue, all around.
Upon the announcement that the Back to the Future comic miniseries will now become an ongoing series, I’m starting to worry if they’re already running out of interesting stuff to do here. In 1958, George McFly and Lorraine Baines, Marty’s future parents, separately but at the same time come to Doc Brown (who, remember, claimed to be Calvin “Marty” Klein’s uncle) for help finding Marty, because they’re having some trouble with their relationship. In the second story, “Jurassic Biff,” we find out that after Old Biff from 2015 stole the time machine, he actually travelled back more than 65 million years before figuring out how the time machine works. It’s kinda fun to see Biff whack a velociraptor with his cane, and we do learn why Biff chose the particular day of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance to give his younger self the Sports Almanac (because he remembered where he was that day…kind of anticlimactic, really). There must be more compelling stories than these within the BTTF mythos without resorting to “new adventures” in the way that the writers told us they don’t want to do. At least I hope so.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #3
Squirrel Girl and Tippy-Toe are still stuck in the past! Doctor Doom from the (more recent) past (in fact from immediately following his first meeting with Squirrel Girl (and Iron Man) when Squirrel Girl totally kicked his ass by summoning a squirrel-load of squirrels to vox him) shows up and Nancy enlists him to help her retrieve Squirrel Girl from 1962! Cameos by Jubilee and the Punisher! This series continues to be hilarious and action-packed and great. SEE YOU NEXT MONTH DOREEN. SEE YOU EVERY NEXT MONTH PLEASE.
Where to Start: Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1, but really Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume 1 Time investment: Two issues, or ten issues if you want to do yourself a favour.
Recommended if you like this: Jughead Volume 1 – seriously!
Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1
DC Comics / IDW Publishing
And now for the comic I’ve been waiting for practically my whole life.
First of all, I’m glad that they got a Batman writer and artist to do this book rather than a Ninja Turtles writer and artist. Not that the people at IDW are doing a bad job on the ongoing TMNT book – not at all, by and large they’re doing some really good stuff over there – but it just feels somehow more legit for DC to be publishing a Turtles book than it would for IDW to be publishing a Batman book, if you know what I mean. If a classic TMNT guy from the Mirage days like Jim Lawson or Michael Dooney or Dan Berger could have done it (even I’m not delusional enough to dream that Turtles creators Kevin Eastman or Peter would be tapped for this gig – that would just be too good to be true) it would have been a different story. But the current TMNT team, as talented as they all are, would have brought too much of an IDW-particular feel to this book, whereas I think the mega-big-deal of the Turtles actually finally crossing over with Batman deserves a more let’s say ecumenical version of both characters. The art is really quite good, even if Freddie E. Williams II is a bit weirdly into drawing nostrils, although he didn’t draw any on the Turtles which proves he understands them a hell of a lot more than whoever did the designs for those new movies.
Another thing that’s interesting is that this is the mainstream DC Universe version of Batman, and the IDW version of the Turtles; this is probably for the best, as I don’t really think a crossover between, say, the Mirage Turtles (who haven’t had an ongoing series for years – the most recent Mirage issue, Volume 4 #32, was published in May 2014, with the previous one having only been posted on Peter Laird’s website three and a half years earlier) and Batman would really have made a lot of sense. The Mirage Turtles could convincingly crossover with Usagi Yojimbo or Cerebus the Aardvark – i.e. other black-and-white funny animal indie comics – and Batman doesn’t seem too out of place next to Judge Dredd or even the Predator – but then again, Batman met Spawn, and Spawn met Cerebus, and Cerebus met the Turtles, so maybe it’s not that farfetched after all. And then also of course Batman met Punisher, and Punisher met Archie, and Archie met the Ninja Turtles from the cartoon-spinoff TMNT Adventures comics, so…maybe we shouldn’t be thinking about the logistics of the whole thing too much. Okay, I, maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about the logistics of the whole thing too much.
Anyway, whatever, the point I’m trying to make is that crossovers are weird. The other thing about them is that, because most of these characters inhabit mutually contradictory continuities, a lot of them focus on “how are we going to get back to our own universe???” And that can get tedious if it isn’t done well. Unfortunately, Batman/TMNT looks like it’s going to be one of those, as the Turtles, Shredder, and the Foot Clan have found themselves in Batman’s Gotham City; as Donatello helpfully points out, “Back home, this whole city is just a big field right in the center of the state of – ” before he’s cut off by Killer Croc roaring. Which is pretty funny on a “what state is Springfield in?” kind of way, since it’s never been canonically established where Gotham actually is, although it seems pretty clear that it’s supposed to be in New Jersey (and Metropolis is probably in Delaware).
But also: the Turtles fighting Killer Croc is perfect and exactly what I had hoped was going to happen in this issue. The best crossovers zero in on the common tropes and metaphors of both properties and builds the story around that, rather than making it all gimmicks and fanservice. And at least to start out, this crossover is doing just that.
Batman knows all about ninjas, so when the Foot Clan attack and rob a technology company working on an experimental power generator, and Batman learns about it (identifying the assailants as ninjas based on analyzing the patterns of injuries on the survivors of the attack – which is a totally Batman thing to do), Alfred suggests it could be the League of Assassins. Batman instantly discounts this, because the attackers’ fighting style is much more specialized than the League’s, plus according to Ra’s al Ghul’s M.O. he would have already made a more blatant attack against Gotham or Batman himself. The ninjas have hit four separate high-tech labs already, and Batman (and the Gotham City Police Department)’s betting that Wayne Enterprises will be next, so Batman declines the GCPD’s offer of extra security so he can set a trap for them and wait.
In other words, he’s doing detective work. He’s being Batman. This is real Batman stuff, not a gimmick. Similarly, the Turtles are trying to find a way home just like the Foot are, but of course they’re not robbing places to do it; in fact, they’re trying to stop the Foot from getting what they want, which unfortunately implicates them in the robberies as well, since bystanders can’t really tell the difference. As far as Batman knows, the “metahumans” are on the same side as these other ninjas.
Which brings us back to the Turtles versus Killer Croc: Croc realizes that Batman’s going to be at Wayne Enterprises to foil the Foot attack, and uses the sewers to access the area, hoping to strip the Batmobile while Batman is inside and sell the parts for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Except he makes the mistake of stomping right through the very sewer where the Turtles and Splinter have set up camp.
Setting the Turtles up against Batman’s reptillian humanoid foe sets exactly the right tone, the same way that making the connection between the Foot and the League of Assassins does. Establishing points of contact and highlighting contrasts is what creates an interesting scenario, sets up the conditions for conflict and resolution. It’s also pretty fun to see Donatello geek out over the Batmobile.
By the end of this issue everything’s all set up for the requisite Batman vs Turtles Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny that all intercontinuity crossovers have to have, which is a cliché but it’s also going to be supremely cool so I’m not complaining. All in all, so far I’m very impressed and I’m going to have to pinch myself a little bit over the next five months when subsequent issues of this hit the shelf.
Next: can we have TMNT/Daredevil? That would be a crossover made in heaven.
And, uh…can I write it, please?
Where to Start: Don’t you dare go anywhere. Time investment: Only as long as it takes you to read this ten times in a row, as you inevitably will.
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