A Month of Wednesdays | From Archie to zombies, Superman to sea creatures

Archie: The Married Life Book Six (Archie Comics): This is a phone book-sized collection of the final seven issues of Life With Archie, the series set in a possible future where Archie is married to Betty ... and Veronica, in two alternate timelines. The narrative jumps between those parallel realities in a way that can be downright confusing when read in such a huge chunk as the collections offer.

While the stories feature the same fairly sprawling cast — and the character designs and are style are, as usual, in perfect harmony no matter whose names are in the credits — there's more differences between the two timelines than just which girl Archie settled down with. In one timeline, Jughead is dating Ethel; in the other he's having a baby with Midge. Likewise, Reggie is either a newspaper reporter or a mechanic with a reality show, and Moose is either Riverdale's mayor or Riverdale High School's janitor. And so on.

There are a few things both universes share, however, like Kevin Keller having been elected to the U.S. Senate, campaigning on gun control, an issue driven home by a mass shooting in the nearby Southport Mall. And, of course, in the final two issues, the "Death of Archie" and the epilogue that follows, the story is carefully, delicately crafted so that every line and every panel can be read so they're the conclusions of both storylines, despite all the differences between the two.

The scripts, by Paul Kupperberg, are filled with soap opera plots, but the occasionally frustrating switch between the two narratives adds an aura of the unique to the otherwise uninspired. The artwork -- penciled by Fernando Ruiz, Pat Kennedy and Tim Kennedy, and inked by Bob Smith, Jim Amash and Gary Martin — doesn't rise to any great heights, but it's effective enough to get the job done, and I'll be damned if after soaking in a few hundred pages of the broadly drawn Riverdale soap opera I didn't find myself choking up at the very end.

Batman/Superman Vol. 2: Game Over (DC Comics): Guest stars abound in the second collection of the Greg Pak-written World's Finest team-up title, and so too do guest artists, with nominal regular artist Jae Lee providing only about 60 pages worth of art in this 220-page package, not even getting to draw a single story from start to finish. It is, unfortunately, to the book's detriment, as Lee's is by far the most distinct vision and style among those of the many names involved, and with the cast and visuals changing almost constantly, there's not much in the way of consistency.

Of course, only about 100 pages of the collection are actually culled from Batman/Superman; Game Over also includes the Batman/Superman Annual and two issues of the Paul Levitz-written Worlds' Finest, which goes a way toward explaining why the book looks so much more like an anthology than an ongoing series.

First up is a three-issue arc drawn by Brett Booth and presented, rather randomly, sideways, so one needs to flip the book on its side to read. It's a different experience, granted, but not one that adds anything to the story, in which Pak, Booth and inker Norm Rapmund reintroduce Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness' Toyman, here a video game designer duped by Mongul into creating a system that allows gamers to control the title heroes and make them fight (a great deal of the dialogue reads inadvertently humorously, post-"Gamergate," as the bad guys talk about harnessing all of gamers' "suppressed anxiety and fury" to focus on Superman).

That's followed by the annual, in which Pak and three artists and three colorists send Batman, Superman, Steel, Batgirl, Red Hood, Supergirl and Krypto to Warworld to fight in gladiatorial games, and then "First Contact," the four-part Worlds' Finest crossover that alternates between Pak/Lee issues and Levitz-written, R.B. Silva-penciled issues, in which Earth 2's Power Girl and Huntress meet Earth-New 52's Superman and Batman for the first time, while combating a threat from their homeworld (and seemingly joining a story already in progress).

It's all over the place, but there's certainly pleasure to be had. I'm particularly fond of Lee's weird, remote depictions of the various heroes as weird, beautiful, often scary design elements that seep painterly special effects, and Pak's occasional zingers, as Batman and Superman bicker like an old married couple.

Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire Vol. 1 (Viz Media): Hey, what do you know, still more zombie manga! This example of the subgenre is attached to a pretty big brand name, Capcom's Resident Evil video game (and movie) franchise, a translated and repackaged version of manga-ka Naoki Serizawa's Biohazard, as the game's known in Japan.

Our hero and point-of-view character is stereotypical manga hero Ricky Tozawa, a lazy, girl-obsessed college student with a good heart and desire to do the right thing. He's studying at a university in Singapore where his uncle Professor Dough Wright teaches. When Wright receives an alarming letter from a former girlfriend, now a nun and the headmistress at a strange Catholic school called Marhawa Academy -- located deep in a jungle "somewhere in Asia" and completely cut off from the outside world -- he and his nephew go to investigate.

What they find is a zombified school girl kept chained up in the basement, and the Mother's insistence that they investigate the incident quietly, without involving any outsiders ... something that gets complicated quickly when more zombies begin to appear.

Game character Chris Redfield and other members of the Bioterrorism Secruity Assessment Alliance appear briefly in this opening volume, intent on finding and helping Wright.

This is apparently a sort of prequel to Resident Evil/Biohazard 6, a game franchise I'm completely ignorant of. The comic doesn't read anything like a game plays, however, and there's little action and a lot of atmospheric and occasionally gory horror. The main focus of the plot seems to be the mystery of where the disease is coming from, and what sort of weirdness is going on in the strange academy.

Serizawa, whose previous work was Samurai Man and Saru Lock, offers a nicely realistic setting with character designs in the rather slick, Final Fantasy-esque style, with many of the players leaning toward rather realistic portrayals. And his zombies are of a scary, corrupted corpse variety, with the copious amounts of blood appearing as big, black, artistically applied blotches of ink, giving the gore a degree of distance and a greater degree of aesthetic application.

Given the subject matter and the provenance, it's certainly not for everyone, but fans of Resident Evil and/or zombies should appreciate this rather strong bit of licensed genre comics.

The Wake (DC): The first half of writer Scott Snyder and artist Sean Murphy's strange sci-fi/horror comic for DC's Vertigo imprint was previously collected into a slim trade paperback, but this month the entire 10-issue series is available as the graphic novel it was apparently intended to be read as.

Murphy's artwork is still exceptional, both in its rendering and its inspired design work (particularly in the far-flung, post-flood world of the second half), and Snyder's writing remains sharp and imaginative as the book jumps from the claustrophobic, monster movie-like thriller of the first few issues to the 200-years-later setting of the latter installments.

I would have liked to see more of the ideas hinted at and suggested in the first half followed up on in the second half, however.

A great deal of the second half is just sort of montaged, through, and while we get a good sense of the characters and what the world is like after the strange mer-monsters were discovered and drowned the world, Leeward's questing with the pirates for the MacGuffins of the climax is compressed into a few narrated pages; given the amount of space and attention spent on introducing the mer-creatures and their conflict with humanity, and the suggestion of conflicts within the surviving humans later, that which seems to be more important isn't given much attention.

The Wake reads a little like a compromised, studio-edited version of a major feature film, whittled down from its original screenwriter and director's vision of four hours into a more marketable 150-minute picture, if that comparison makes sense. I finished the book, and found myself immediately wanting to read the director's cut instead.

As for the origins of the mer-creatures and their relationship to humanity, these prove a lot more cliched than the strange and surprising ideas suggested earlier on, and that too could have used some fleshing out, if only differentiate Snyder's ancient astronaut plotline and vaguely New Age philosophy from others you've likely encountered in comics, novels, TV and films.

If the second half is unexpectedly weaker in construction, Murphy's artwork hides it pretty well, and he takes the opportunities Snyder gives him to go pretty wild with vehicles, fashion, animals and technology (I really dug the pirate captains drone-like "parrot;" the swearing-via-pictures-of-sea-life was cute too).

It's not a perfect work by any means, nor as it as perfect as its first half might have suggested it would be, but The Wake is of a really great kind of imperfection.

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