Monday, April 10, 2017

DC's 'Convergence,' 'Batman/TMNT Adventures' are fun

One of the reasons I started reading comic books as a boy was escaping the hum-drum of real life in a very small town. Now as a (sadly admittedly) middle-aged adult, it's still essentially true; I enjoy the escapism that comics deliver.

And when I want to escape the stress or everyday-ness of real life, I want a lot of the "F" word: Fun.

That's what I got when I recently purchased two back issues of the two-issue CONVERGENCE series from DC Comics (published in 2015). I ended up with the second issue each of BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS and HARLEY QUINN, but it hardly mattered; I could tell what was going on. They are blast-from-the-past reads from my pre-teen and teenage days and in my opinion, the best era in comics -- the Bronze Age (1970-1985).

Even more fun is the DC Comics/IDW Publishing series BATMAN/TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES ADVENTURES.

Writer Matthew K. Manning perfectly blends the tone of "Batman: The Animated Series" with the latest "TMNT" series on Nickelodeon. Artist Jon Sommariva's fluid pencils capture the vibe of each universe while making it all distinctly his own. Colorist Leonardo Ito seals the deal, but more on that ongoing series in a bit.

In CONVERGENCE, DC characters battle those from by-gone eras for supremacy and the right to exist in DC's next incarnation. This was a way to warm up readers for the "Rebirth" continuity, which judging from the first volume of the NIGHTWING trade paperback is palatable yet not inspiring or memorable. Grade: C 

I want to read the BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS collections (more from curiosity than anything else) before giving "Rebirth" a final verdict, since the way DC handles its Batman titles usually says a lot for the rest of its series. Again, this is just a quick judgment call, but the interior art of any of the issues I've scanned hasn't impressed me at all. Not even enough to pick a No. 1 at a comic book convention for $2. However, I will say the covers for individual issues of BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY are striking.

Back to the two CONVERGENCE issues I bought recently.

What a treat it is to see Batman playing nice with others -- OK, he's barking orders at the Outsiders, but the sentiment is the same. It's a pleasant surprise to see the "Rebirth" writers having the Dark Knight interacting positively with his supporting cast, something I noticed in Bruce Wayne/Batman's relationship with Dick Grayson/Nightwing. Writer Marc Andreyko obviously has a knack for picking up where another scribe left off; he does the same for creator Mike W. Barr's team as he did for J.H. Williams III in the New 52 BATWOMAN series.

Harley Quinn taking on Captain Carrot is just goofy enough of a combination to work. Harley is back in the black-and-red harlequin costume from "B:TAS" and pre-New 52 continuity. She's a misguided fool, much more fun than the demented, bloodthirsty nasty she's been lately. Grades: B

ADVENTURES is a delight.

It brings me great joy to once again have a truly kid-friendly series I can recommend to youngsters' parents I talk to at comic book conventions. As I always tell those same parents, they can't go wrong when they see the ADVENTURES brand (from DC and Marvel) and buy a comic or two for their young children -- without having to preview it themselves.

In baseball terms, the previous Batman-Turtles limited series from DC and IDW (reviewed briefly here) was a solid double. The overdone interior art was better left to the covers and the tone was a bit too serious to adequately bring the Dark Knight and Turtles together, so that means it barely made it to second base. (Issue 1 gets the CCC review treatment here.)

On the other hand, ADVENTURES is the comic book-equivalent of Babe Ruth calling his home run before the first pitch and then doing a big man's happy dance before touching home. Yup, it's out-of-the-park fun.

This series offers something for Batman and Turtles fans alike. There's no sense of Manning working hard to do this; everything just flows together well. The Joker decides to take over the Foot Clan from Shredder -- and puts smiley faces on the robot-ninja's masks. Such fun stuff!

The Turtles have their distinctive personalities. (Although I've never been able to readily ID each Turtle by their weapons or the color of their masks. However, I do know each one's name!) You've got Bebop and Rocksteady in a world where Donatello falls for Batgirl.

The design for the credits/title page on the inside front cover is a perfect example of melding Gotham City with the Turtles' universe.

Sommariva -- and/or the two companies -- have designed a logo for each issue, one which is based on the second variation of "Batman: The Animated Series" when it was rebranded "The Batman and Robin Adventures." Batman and the Turtles are in the shadow-y Dynamic Duo-based logo of No. 1 while the characters appearing or being featured in the subsequent ones in the their respective logos: Harley Quinn and the Joker with the Foot Clan, Poison Ivy with Snakewood and so on.

The Turtles' humor and the inside jokes Manning writes for them are spot on, without ever going too far into cheesy slapstick. I love how Raphael teases Robin (Grayson in the Tim Drake costume) that he works with heroes named Batman and Batgirl, but he goes by Robin -- surely a name that doesn't exactly "strike fear in the hearts of criminals everywhere."

Sommariva's coves are spectacular. They don't just catch your eye, they tease and recap/encapsulate the contents of each issue -- a rarity these days.

ADVENTURES appears to be based on five-issue story arcs. I found Nos. 1 through 5 at my local comic-book shop and sure enough, the story ended at the conclusion of the fifth issue -- with Batman, Robin and Batgirl chowing down on some pizza on the Gotham rooftops in the final splash-page no less!

As long as the creative team continues to deliver the magic and fun, Manning can come up with imaginative yet plausible ways for Team Batman to combine efforts with the Turtles and of course, those inter-dimensional portals don't close, I expect a fruitful run for these, well, uh, adventures.

Recommended reading! It's well worth the $3.99 cover price -- something I don't often say.

Grade: the very rare A+

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