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Monthly mini-reviews: ‘Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III,’ ‘Dewdrop,’ ‘Gotham High,’ and more

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
Writer: James Tynion IV
Artists: Freddie Williams II and Kevin Eastman
DC Comics; $24.99

In some ways, writer James Tynion IV and artist Freddie Williams II’s third Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover is the best of the three they’ve produced together, although it’s also an unfortunate mix of derivative and inaccessible.

In the first, the Turtles journeyed from their universe in the current IDW Publishing version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics to Batman’s world. In the second, Batman and some of his characters went to the Turtles’ world. This time, a villain has combined the two worlds into a new, awkwardly amalgamated world with a weird, new, combined version of the franchises’ narratives (ome elements of which work much better than others).

To set things right, a Turtle from the original 1980s black-and-white Mirage Studios TMNT comics visits this new world, explaining how the villain kidnapped the original Turtles and the original Golden Age Batman from the franchises’ “progenitor worlds” in order to control both the Batman and the Turtle multiverses.

If you’re already a fan of either franchise, chances are that previous sentence makes sense…and, in fact, you’ve seen something similar, in the form of the 2009 Turtles Forever animated special, in which various iterations of the Turtles team-up with their original version from the Mirage comics.  If you’re not, it probably sounds like gobbledygook…and the fact that DC got TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman to draw the original Turtles into this comic alongside the current, IDW versions that Williams draws might not prove too terribly exciting to you, either.

In that respect, this crossover series is like far too many modern superhero comics: Just how much a reader gets out of it depends on how much experience and enthusiasm they bring to it.  

Dewdrop
Writer/artist: Katie O’Neill
Oni Press; $16.99

The latest from Tea Dragon Society and Aquicorn Cove cartoonist Katie O’Neill is Dewdrop, a 30-page all-ages comic that approaches picture book territory in its simplicity. The title character is a bright and relentlessly positive axolotl, who is working on a cheerleading routine for the pond’s upcoming sports fair.

Dewdrop’s friends are all participating in different ways too, but as the festival draws closer, they each begin to get frustrated and experience doubts about their own abilities and whether they should even be participating.

Not Dewdrop! While Mia, a turtle who has signed up for the pebble-throwing contest, sees how big and strong the other participants are and thinks “Maybe there’s no point competing with them after all,” Dewdrop practices a routine for a couple panels and says, “Wow! I am so good at cheerleading!”

One by one, the little axolotl visits the others, and, one by one, they each come to a moral-like revelation that any kid (or any grown-up) could use reminding of now and then.

If you don’t know what an axolotl is, don’t worry; you will by the time you close the book. As in some of her past works, O’Neill includes information about her real-world inspiration, and after the conclusion of the story, all of the main characters get a little section explaining what species they are and some facts about their species.

I’ve yet to encounter an O’Neill comic that wasn’t great, but this one stands out as particularly accessible.

Gotham High
Writer: Melissa de la Cruz
Artist: Thomas Pitilli
DC Comics; $16.99

Archie Comics artist Thomas Pitilli transfers to a different school as the artist on popular YA prose writer Melissa de la Cruz’s Gotham High, a rather radical reimagining of Batman and some of his more prominent villains as troubled teens of the Pretty Little Liars or Riverdale variety.

Interestingly, de La Cruz doesn’t seem to be telling some sort of prequel to the various characters’ origin stories, of what they were like as teenagers before they would adopt their better-known alter egos, but rather she is remixing the basic Batman story, stripping it of its superhero trappings and recasting the familiar characters into a new setting and with new, sometimes strange relationships. Their core characteristics are present, even if little else is.

And so 17-year-old Bruce Wayne, whose parents were killed during a home invasion when he was young, has just been expelled from Arkham Preparatory School for fighting, landing him at Gotham High. There he quickly befriends Selina Garcia Kyle, who was the girl next door before his parents died and hers fell on hard times. Though there’s something between them, there’s also something between Selina and Jack Napier, a sketchy skater with a penchant for crime and card games.

A love triangle between the three soon develops, which would be unthinkable were these the versions of the characters we know from other comics and media but, of course, they are not. Things get increasingly intense when students start getting kidnapped and held for ransom, and Bruce suspects his new friends are somehow involved.

DC has published scores of “Imaginary Stories” and “Elseworlds” versions of Batman over the decades, in which they present alternate takes on a character’s basic story by tweaking the setting or a single story element, and Gotham High is definitely in that same vein…although it may be one of the stranger such stories they’ve ever published.

Pitilli’s experience drawing Riverdale’s teens certainly pays off here. He’s drawn both regular Archie comics and issues of Riverdale, the comic spin-off of the TV show, so he’s perfectly suited for drawing the sexy, dangerous teenagers of Gotham High.

Spider-Man & Venom: Double Trouble
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artists: Gurihiru
Marvel Entertainment; $12.99

What if Spider-Man and Venom weren’t just occasional enemies and sometimes allies, but were instead roommates? Well, that would probably be pretty terrible. At least, it would be pretty terrible for Spider-Man.

That’s the set-up for Mariko Tamaki and art team Gurihiru’s Double Trouble, which finds this particular odd couple sharing an apartment—not in their secret identities of Peter Parker and Eddie Brock, mind you, but as Spider-Man and Venom, neither of them ever using their real names or ever removing their suits or masks.

If that sounds slightly silly, it gets a little sillier: Ghost-Spider is their downstairs neighbor, offering a sounding board to Spidey when he needs to vent about how Venom eats all the food and never does chores.

By the end of the first issue/chapter, Venom manages to take being a bad roommate to the next level, by hooking the sleeping Spidey up to a” transcorporeal brain transfer machine”, which swaps their minds and bodies, Freaky Friday style.

Venom’s plan is nefarious, but not that nefarious: He only wants to enter a televised “Battle of The Heroes” obstacle course contest, which he wouldn’t qualify for in his own villainous body, and then maybe exploit Spider-Man’s fame to do a few body spray commercials.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man-in-Venom’s-body must track Venom-in-Spider-Man’s-body down, while trying to evade the Green Goblin.

Oh, and then their minds get accidentally re-transferred, putting Spider-Man in a squirrel’s body and Venom in a cat’s body.

It’s fast-paced, all-ages fun, featuring fantastic artwork in which the team of Gurihiru’s always open and appealing style is loosened up a little further than usual, the most notable effect of which is making the sometimes scary Venom look less monstrous and more abstracted and expressive.

As a bonus, the Double Trouble mini-series is collected with a reprint of last year’s kid-friendly Marvel Super Hero Adventures: Spider-Man—Web of Intrigue #1.

The Super Sisters
Writers: Cazenove and William
Artist: William
Papercutz; $9.99 or $14.99

The Super Sisters is a spin-off of Cazenove and William’s The Sisters series, which is five volumes strong so far, with more on the way. Here big sister Wendy and her little sister Maureen are space-faring superheroes with matching costumes, fantastic super-powers, and high-tech gadgets, but their personalities, character quirks and, of course, their relationship to one another remain unchanged.

There are a half-dozen shorter stories of six to ten pages in length, followed by a 44-page story that feels like an epic by comparison. The shorts have the girls up to fairly typical genre scenarios in typical genre settings, like fighting off alien invaders, a giant robot, or zombies and visiting dinosaur times or an undersea kingdom. In each case, however, there’s a little gag-driven twist, either in the precise reason for the conflict, or in the way in which it is resolved.

In the longer story at the end, the girls split up—Maureen to go to school, Wendy to get her hair done—and fall victims to a revenge plot by a villain with an army of clones, the most powerful of which are adult clones of the Super Sisters.

Not every joke seems to land quite right, which is likely the result of the material being translated from French to English, and not all of the wordplay aligning quite right. But the art is great, and whether one comes to the book because they’re fans of the Sisters series and want to see them in a new genre, or fans of the genre meeting Wendy and Maureen for the very first time, there should be something in here to entertain.

Wonder Pony
Writer/artist: Marie Spénale
Boom Studios; $9.99

Sixth-grader Louison has just started at a new boarding school, and despite being worried about fitting in and making new friends, she seems to be getting the hang of it and bonding with her two new roommates. And then she makes another new friend: A pink toy pony she finds in a box in her dorm room’s drop ceiling.

Late one night, the pony begins talking to her and asks her to take it into the bathroom and touch its haunches three times. She does so, and is then magically transported into a world of pink clouds where the pony, which will eventually decide to go by the name Jean-Pierre, explains that he is the spirit of the school, and that Louison has been chosen to be the school’s guardian, Wonder Pony.

When he transforms her to fight monsters, she gets a mask and a costume with a ponytail, and the strength of a pony (“Hey! We’re more jacked than you think!” he explains).

The school’s monsters all turn out to be the manifestations of various students’ fears and insecurities, and so Wonder Pony finds herself confronting a broccoli monster, a giant spider, and a pretty weird squirrel creature—although her track record on actually defeating them isn’t all that spectacular, as she becomes preoccupied with her own social problems, some of which stem from her new dual identity.

Spénale’s narrative employs various superhero and magical girl tropes, but more often than not deflates them to the extent that Wonder Pony is much more of a parody of the genre than an exercise in it. It’s really quite funny too, and I’d highly recommend it—to readers of any age.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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