Batman/The Maxx: Arkham Dreams #2 (of 5) — Writer/Artist: Sam Kieth; Colors: Ronda Pattison
From its title, I thought Batman Secret Files #1 would be like those ’90s/’00s SF versions with a story or two, and then a bunch of Who’s Who-type entries, city maps and other world-fillers. Not so; it’s a straight five-story anthology: a three-page opener by Tom King and Mikel Janin; an eight-pager about a GCPD officer’s encounter with the Scarecrow, in which writer Ram V and artist Jorge Fornes use (and then don’t use) the nine-panel grid to great effect; another eight pages about Batman’s encounter with Gotham gang members using drones made by Wayne Enterprises, with a long appearance by the too-seldom-used Lucius Fox; another about Batman stalking a monster in the snowy high-country wilderness, with a frustrating story by Jordie Bellaire redeemed by Jill Thompson art; and a teamup with Detective Chimp that’s decidedly not played for laughs, and is the better for it, by Tom Taylor, Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy: more than enough reasons to spend $5 on this comic. Batman/The Maxx: Arkham Dreams is Sam Kieth on the two characters he’s most known for; if you’ve never seen his expressionistic style on them — not to mention his version of the Joker, who appears prominently in this issue — then your comics education is incomplete.
Justice League Dark/Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour #1 (of 1) — Writer: James Tynion IV; Art: Jesus Merino, Fernando Blanco and Miguel Mendonca; Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Heroes In Crisis #2 (of 9) — Writer: Tom King; Art: Clay Mann with Travis Moore; Colors: Tomeu Morey and Arif Prianto
This was a skip week for most of DC’s regular titles, but that didn’t stop three event mini-series from coming out: Drowned Earth is, of course, Aquaman, teamed with the Justice League to battle galactic ocean-dwellers who’ve come to take over earth by, duh, drowning it, with the water turning any land-dwellers it touches into sea monsters. Last week’s Justice League #10 was the prologue to this, and it carries into the upcoming Justice League and Aquaman regular titles before ending with another one-shot. James Tynion IV, the writer, has been specializing in these weekly crossover events; he’s also the writer of Justice League Dark/Wonder Woman: The Witching Hour, which concludes after earlier chapters in a one-shot and issues of those two regular titles. You can get this week’s installment if all you want is the ending, but instead go back and gather the earlier parts too, especially if you’re a fan of the magical corners of the DC universe; it’s been pretty good, and sets up some major future plotlines for some of the characters there. Heroes in Crisis is about a therapy/recovery center for traumatized super-characters, and how either Harley Quinn or Booster Gold, or both, or neither, killed a bunch of people there, including Wally West and Roy Harper and maybe Poison Ivy; of course, if you’re a fan of any of those victims, note that Booster Gold is a time traveller, and therefore any deaths, especially this early in the game, don’t have to be permanent. Tom King’s smart, empathetic writing, especially in probing the fragile psyches of all those colorful costume wearers, is the biggest attraction.
Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound Special #1 (of 1) — Writer: Mark Russell; Pencils: Rick Leonardi; Inks: Dan Green and Ande Parks; Colors: Steve Buccellato
Nightwing/Magilla Gorilla Special #1 (of 1) — Writer: Heath Corson; Pencils: Tom Grummett and Tom Derenick; Inks: Cam Smith and Andy Owens; Colors: Pete Pantazis
DC often uses skip weeks to publish team-ups of their superhero characters with ones from the Hanna-Barbara universe; all the ones this week act like those characters have always lived side-by-side, and that on Earth-DC talking animals are normal (as Deathstroke points out in his book, if you already have a Gorilla Grodd or a King Shark, why not a Grape Ape or a Jabberjaws too?). The art all splits the difference between cartoony and realistic, and so do the plots, with more drama than comedy. In that Deathstroke book, he and Yogi Bear search for a missing Boo-Boo, and encounter bad guys kidnapping various anthropomorphics; this issue probably gets the award for most quick references to other characters, from Peter Potamus to Mr. Jinks to Touche Turtle (also: Mark Texiera art). Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound, set in the early ’70s, has the most social commentary and satire; its writer, Mark Russell, knows the territory well, with previous critically-positive runs on The Flintstones and Snagglepuss that mined the same veins. Nightwing/Magilla Gorilla is a murder mystery, with Magilla a movie star who may or may not have been framed for the murder of his manager/father figure, Mr. Peebles, and has the second-most Easter eggs for H-B fans, while Superman/Top Cat has those title characters battling alien “Kalians,” who want revenge for salad-eating Earthlings devouring their kale cousins; as that plot suggests, this is the broadest of the quartet, with a weak script by Dan Didio (he doesn’t even try to mimic T.C.’s Phil Silvers-based vocal delivery) balanced by Shane Davis’s only-occasionally-creepy artistic depiction of the sometimes-felonious feline. All four books also have an eight-page Secret Squirrel back-up serial (with chapters to be read in the same order as the books are listed here) by J. M. DeMatteis and Tom Mandrake; that’s a more-than-competent team, and a final good reason to read all four of them.
Hex Wives #1 — Writer: Ben Blacker; Art: Mirka Andolfo; Colors: Marissa Lewis
In the Terrifics Annual, Simon Stagg sneaks some of Plastic Man’s DNA to use in cloning experiments, with predictably-disastrous results (as the cover just to the right there indicates); a smart script by Gene Luen Yang and solid pencils from Joe Bennett make it work. There are two back-up stories: one, by the dependable Mark Russell and Evan “Doc” Shaner, focuses on Java’s history, while another, by James Asmus and Jose Luis, looks at how Tom Strong got to the point where the group found his recording during their first adventure. Hex Wives is a Vertigo series about a group of witches and their male adversaries, who start in Salem in the 1600s and then keep getting reincarnated and acting out the same conflict again, with the witches always winning — until the modern-day guys figure out a way to turn them into harmless, obedient suburban housewives. Yeah, that’s going to end well… it’s an intriguing Stepford Wives/Witches of Eastwick combo, with nice-looking art from Mirka Andolfo (Unnatural), and this first issue suggests that it just might become a hit.
What If? Magik #1 (of 1) — Writer: Leah Williams; Art: Filipe Andrade; Colors: Chris O’Halloran
True Believers: What If Legion Had Killed Magneto? #1 (of 1) — Story: Benny Powell; Dialogue: Warren Ellis; Pencils: Hector Gomez; Inks: John Livesay and Mike Halblieb; Colors: Sam Parsons
Spider-Geddon: Spider-Force #1 (of 3) — Writer: Christopher Priest; Pencils: Paulo Siqueira; Inks: Oren Junior and Craig Yeung; Colors: Guru e-fx
Avengers Halloween Special is another superhero horror anthology, with a cool-looking Geoffrey Shaw Venom/pumpkins/trick-or-treaters cover, and a number of Simpsons Treehouse of Horror-type out-of-continuity, stories. The lineup offers five six-pagers: a Daredevil-gets-new-eyes tale by Rob Fee and Eoin Marron; a Fantastic Four saga where they’re actually the bad guys, and Doctor Doom is the hero, by Gerry Duggan and Laura Braga; a Thing From Another World/Captain America mashup (they were both found frozen in ice, right…?) by Jen and Sylvia Soska and Jonas Scharf; a similar Punisher/Phantom of the Opera combo by Jay Baruchei and Luca Pizzari, and a story about trick-or-treaters venturing into the abandoned X-Men mansion, and finding it haunted, by Robbie Thompson and Bob Quinn. This week’s new What If? is Halloween-themed, too, with Illyana Rasputin seeking out Doctor Strange, instead of the X-Men, when she first escapes Limbo as a teenager, and becoming his apprentice; fans of that character should like it quite a bit. The two What If? “True Believer” $1 reprints involve TV-series star Legion (from What If? #77) and an earlier late-’70s Fantastic Four story (from What If? volume 1 #6) by Roy Thomas and Jim Craig, about that foursome getting a different cosmic-ray power set; Thomas was writing the regular FF title at that point, so this feels more “real” than many of the alternate-universe tales. Then, there are the inevitable Spider-Geddon tie-in mini-series; Spider-Force is distinguished by the Christopher Priest script, and has Kaine recruiting Jessica Drew and a 13-year-old other-dimensional Peter Parker to undertake a black-ops mission to take out one of the Inheritors. Vault of Spiders is an anthology title spotlighting various web-versions; a prologue by Jed MacKay and Scott Koblish leads to a Wild-West Spidey by Cullen Bunn and the great Javier Pulido, followed by a black-and-white manga-type tale by MacKay and Sheldon Vella, a modern-cyberspace one by Nilah Magruder and Alberto Albuquerque, and one where Pete gets raised by giant spiders in the Savage Land and fights the Kingpin, by James Asmus and Juan Gedeon; those eight western pages by Pulido are worth the $4.99 by themselves.
Tony Stark: Iron Man #5 (Legacy #605) — Writer: Dan Slott; Art: Max Dunbar and Gang Hyuk Lim; Colors: Dono Sanchez-Almara
Infinity Warps: Iron Hammer #2 (of 2) — Writer: Al Ewing; Art: Ramon Rosanas; Colors: Jason Keith
Old Man Logan #50 (of 50) — Writer: Ed Brisson; Art: Ibraim Roberson and Neil Edwards; Colors: Carlos Lopez
Extermination #4 (of 5) — Writer: Ed Brisson; Layouts: Pepe Larraz; Pencils: Arid Anindito; Inks: Dexter Vines; Colors: Erick Arciniega
The final X-Men: Black this week features Emma Frost, drawn by Chris Bachalo; you really don’t need to know anything else to buy it, although it also sets Emma up in a new power position and has the last chapter of that Apocalypse back-up that’s been running in the previous issues of the series. Tony Stark: Iron Man #5 is entirely about the other Stark, Arno, checking in on him as he problem-solves for various clients, most of whom end up misleading him or disregarding his instructions, and then paying the consequences; unlike his brother, who’d feel some guilt about them, Arno lets them stew in their own juices, empathy for fools not being a part of his personality. It’s an interesting spotlight on a supporting character, presumably setting up some subplots for down the road, and another example of Dan Slott’s careful, detailed work on this title. Infinity Warps: Iron Hammer is the conclusion of a two-part Iron Man/Thor mashup, with perpetual Iron Man foe Stane filling in for Loki, and a Malekith/Mandarin combo; Al Ewing channels middle-period Stan Lee in the dialogue, to good effect. Old Man Logan ends its run at the nice round number of 50, with a big battle with Old Man Hulk, otherwise known as The Maestro; you can guess how it goes by the title of a new comic coming out next month: Dead Man Logan (and no, I’m not kidding…). West Coast Avengers continues to be a worthy successor to that fondly-remembered ’80s title, with writer Kelly Thompson mixing a lot of the new (Kate Bishop Hawkeye, Quentin Quire, Gwenpool and Ms. America Chavez) with some old (Clint Barton Hawkeye, Tigra, and a bad guy who’s M.O.D.O.K. in a handsome new California-surfer body and calling himself B.R.O.D.O.K — the only thing big about his head now being his ego). If any of that sounds intriguing to you, at least flip through it, and the Stefano Caselli art might be enough to complete the deal. Extermination, the mutant mini-series, has two goals: (1) get the “young” versions of the X-Men who’ve been running around the present Marvel universe back to their own time, and (2) reincarnate and re-establish the ’70s/’80s team of Uncanny X-Men as the premiere Marvel mutant book. This penultimate issue has the usual explanations and backstory reveals in preparation for the conclusion, and ends on a cliffhanger death involving the most problematic X-person, given what’s happened to him over the last few years; as with Heroes in Crisis, though, there’s a time traveller involved, so all plot developments and dead bodies may not be as final as they appear….
Wytches: Bad Egg Halloween Special #1 (of 1) — Writer: Scott Snyder; Art: Jock; Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Rick and Morty #43 — Writer: Kyle Starks; Art: Sabrina Mati; Colors: Sarah Stern
Two of the indy first-issue debuts this week involve witchcraft (no surprise, given the season…); Sex Death Revolution starts in the aftermath of a modern coven’s break-up, after something mysterious went wrong; now, the main character’s past seems… off, as though it’s being rewritten, and her lover and she have to figure out what happened, and how to fix it. Clear, attractive art and interesting characters get it off on the right foot. Wytches is a one-shot sequel (actually a prequel) to the Scott Snyder/Jock mini-series from a few years ago; the “wytches” here aren’t human, but occult insect-like monsters bred by evil accolytes for their power, and fought and exterminated by our heroes. You don’t need to have read the previous series to understand this one, and it’s a done-in-one, 67-page horror tale, so it’s a perfect diversion for a late-fall evening. Rick and Morty involves an alternate-dimension version of that duo taking over while the “real” ones are away, and being better-liked by the family; it, too, is a welcome diversion, especially during the long wait for the TV show’s fourth season to arrive (in a typically-meta move, the comic’s alternate cover name-checks just that yearning by fans). Kim Reaper: Vampire Island is a particularly appropriate Hallowe’en-week comic, too, with its main character an apprentice Grim Reaper named Kim; it works because of its bright, cartoony style and humor (and how they contrast with the dark set-up), because of the teamwork and character interaction between Kim and her girlfriend ‘Becka — and because it’s just a simple, fun comic. Can’t have too many of those….