Sunday, April 13, 2014

POBB: April 10, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 10, 2014
Ray Tate

This week The Pick of the Brown Bag reviews Batgirl, Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon, King's Watch and Secret Avengers.  I'll also review the new horror movie Oculus.

Batgirl returns to the Pick of the Brown Bag because it's a lovely inventory issue by Marguerite Bennett and Robert Hill. 

Gotham has its own version of Bloody Mary.  

DC proudly presents...Batgirl versus the Midnight Man.  

The premise is roomy enough to give our heroine the room to breathe.  Bennett focuses on who Batgirl is and why she's important.  At the same time, she orchestrates a kickass duel against a supernatural beastie oozing out of Hill's imagination.

Bennett's characterization for Batgirl is a gem that Hill polishes with characteristic expressions and action denoting a skilled martial artist.  Batgirl narrates the story, and Bennett incorporates all the facets of the Darknight Daredoll that built her fan base.  This is exactly how we want to see Batgirl portrayed.  Not moping over a car-jacker with a heart of gold, not looking over her shoulder so as not to be shot down by her father.  Batgirl should be full of life and moxie.  We get a big spoiler in the narrative about Forever Evil, but Batgirl doesn't exactly dwell on it.  Rather, she instead thinks of the good things in her past and uses the current situation to deflect any morose thoughts.

In the new 52, Batman trained Batgirl as well as the Robins, but you don't need to know that.  In the pre-Crisis Batgirl only worked with Batman, and they traded notes.  It all works regardless of the Batgirl continuity you wish to follow; there was no Batgirl continuity in the post-Crisis, why it sucked so much.  

Batgirl is her own person.  She's not a mere opposite gender reflection of Batman.  Her attitude is markedly different, and though a detective, the second best on the planet, she's a different sort of detective than Batman.  Furthermore, her sense of humor is diverse and comparable to that of normal people.  Batman has a sense of humor, but it's a darker sort.

Though the plot is secondary to the creative team's exquisite characterization of Batgirl, Bennett and Hill mold a strong menace for Batgirl to fight and take liberty with the tropes of the horror genre.  For example, though Batgirl fights in a confined space, it's not a ramshackle house.  Though Bennett sets up a gotcha at the end of the story, it doesn't undermine Batgirl's victory over the Midnight Man.  An ideal Batgirl story.

In 1936 Lee Falk created a legend that would haunt comic strips around the world.  In the sixteenth century, a lone survivor of a ship attacked by pirates washed ashore on the coast of Bangalla.  Natives from that land rescued him, and he would swear on a skull to take the guise of a phantom and wage a war on "cruelty" and "piracy." His sons and daughters would recite the same pledge in a cave shaped like the very skull that served witness.

The Phantom still can be found in that rare newspaper with taste and online.  The Ghost Who Walks can also be found in King's Watch, along with the other Defenders of the Earth.  Legendary heroes Flash Gordon, Mandrake and Lothar, Dale Arden and Professor Zarkov.  

Writer Jeff Parker makes some shrewd additions to the legend of the Phantom.  Comic strip readers tend not to like massive change among the core continuity.  The amendments Parker imbues to the Phantom however flow into the spirit of the mythology and strengthen the Phantom legend.  There must always be a Phantom in the world.  Realizing that, Parker finds a satisfying conclusion to Ming's attempt at invasion that's Phantom based.

To be sure, the other members of the team play an important part.  Flash becomes a thorn in the side of Ming and earns the contempt the alien warlord harbors.  Parker also plants the seeds for a Mandrake series, and Marc Laming holds the entire story together with strong illustration that stands with the masters of the respective comic strips.  If you haven't been buying King's Watch, the trade will be out soon, and it's a must for fans of the Phantom and champions of justice in general.

Although King's Watch sets up the new Flash Gordon, you needn't feel lost if you hadn't read that awesome series.  Parker opens the story with brief introductions of Flash, Zarkov and Dale before storming into the story.

The story starts properly in the middle.  Due to events in King's Watch, Flash, Dale and Zarkov find themselves fighting for their lives on Mongo.  Flash pilots Dr. Zarkov's cutting-edge air/space craft powered by the quantum crystal in a high-speed chase, with our heroes as the foxes to Ming's hunters. 

The hunters think this will be an easy foray, but they don't count on Flash's consummate skill and a thrill-seeking nature that can easily be mistaken for recklessness.  Parker however portrays Flash as being a lot smarter than you expect.  He's not just an athlete.  He's observant and dopes things out rather quickly.

Flash darts his entourage in out of wormholes leading to Mongo's conquered worlds.  So all in one comic, Parker gives snapshots of the stars, engages the reader in a thrilling chase, exacerbates the animosity between Ming and Flash and samples the worlds of the Merciless Empire.  

The comic book still isn't over.  The trio finally end up on Arboria, home of the Robin Hood inspired Prince Barin, a Flash Gordon classic character, and it's here that Dale takes charge.

Eric Shaner's artwork compares to Marc Laming.  I could understand a reader being disappointed if the art didn't fall into the same illustrative category as Laming's.  Fortunately, Shaner's work is fantastic and in the realistic vein you would expect an artist to adopt for Alex Raymond's seminal characters.

Captain Marvel transports a member of an alien species to her homeworld but meets with mercenary resistance.  Once the privateer confirms the kill-order, it's bad news for Captain Carol.  Though, not really.

I would say Captain Marvel's powers are back at Binary level.  Marvel and Kelly Sue DeConnick appear to be repositioning Captain Carol as Marvel's Supergirl, the original alien female powerhouse.  

The comparison has been made before.  Roy Thomas atom-smashed the Big Red Cheese Captain Marvel and Superman to recreate the male Captain Marvel. 

Ms. Marvel, introduced as Air Force Intelligence Officer Carol Danvers, had Wonder Woman's background, Supergirl's blonde hair and blue eyes and even Supergirl artist Jim Mooney as her first penciler.  Incidentally, The Danvers adopted Supergirl, whose original identity was Linda Lee.

This means if Carol appears in any film with this level of power, DC can kiss introducing Kara in a movie good-bye.  Just like the Falcon in Captain America: Winter Soldier wiped out the hopes for a cinematic Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  Fortunately, Warner Brothers is no longer in the business of making genre movies.  So it was a pipe dream anyway.

Whether she needs it or not, Captain Marvel gains backup in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy.

This is actually my first encounter with the newest version of the Guardians of the Galaxy.  I'm more familiar with the band led by a future version of Vance Astro.  However, I'm cognizant of their solo careers.  Rocket Racoon and Groot are self-explanatory oddballs.

Star-Lord, used to be this fellow.  

I miss the old helmet.  I suppose Marvel's sliding-scale of a six year timeline adequately covers his period as a hero.  Since it never coincided with anybody else's spotlight, Star-Lord's past exhibits no conflict.  Although John Byrne drew him older.  We can dismiss that as artistic license, or maybe this historically first Star-Lord story occurs in future of the current Guardians of the Galaxy member.

A resurrected earth man, believe it or not, Drax the Destroyer, father to Moondragon, obsessed over killing Thanos in Captain Marvel's adventures and others.  As he stands now, he doesn't really offer too much of a change.  He's still green.  He might have bulked up and got rid of the purple, but his presence actually makes sense in a comic book associated Captain Marvel.

Gamora's the only sore spot.  I think you can safely call her one of Marvel's rare reboots, which damns the continuity.   Gamora used to be an assassin trained by Thanos.  I can buy the comic book logic of she being killed, absorbed into Adam Warlock's Soul Gem, returning to the real world and taking over a human form, but why hasn't she aged since? It's DC that's cornered the market on immortals, not Marvel.  So, yeah.  Gamora is a new character with new history.  The Guardians of the Galaxy Gamora isn't the same Gamora from Warlock.

Anyway, if you can get past the idea of the Guardians of the Galaxy being an entirely different group, this is a pretty fun team-up, and it's not without merit.  Who else would Captain Marvel meet in space?  

As you can see by the artwork, David Lopez does justice to the entire cast, and his spaceship battles are actually exciting, creating an illusion of true movement.

Secret Avengers really irritates me.  It's funny.  It's well written and often self-explanatory, yet Alex Kot doesn't write the characters of Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, Maria Hill, Black Widow, Spider-Woman and Hawkeye in an any remote comparison to how they're supposed to be written. 

They just don't sound like themselves or their media counterparts.  I can't for the life of me imagine Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg or Cobie Smulders speaking like the way the SHIELD agents do in Secret Avengers.

Spider-Woman doesn't read like an experienced hero.  She instead comes off as a neophyte, which compared to Black Widow she would be, but in Secret Avengers, Kot characterizes Jessica Drew with a much younger persona.  It's as though Jessica just manifested her powers weeks ago rather than--'effin sliding-scale--six years earlier.

Black Widow gets points for being able to expertly handle a SHIELD hover car, and Hawkeye.  He's just along for the ride.  There's a big volume of subtext that Kot hammers you with involving Hawkeye's former relationships with the ladies.  Frankly, couldn't care less.  Hawkeye shoots arrows with deadly accuracy.  That's his schtick.  Although some would disagree, I felt The Avengers film gave him a great opportunity, and I can't see anybody but Jeremy Renner portraying the bowman.  Incidentally, for a real shock at Renner's range, check out American Hustle.

Then there's MODOK.  What the hell is he doing in SHIELD! Okay.  Project Paperclip and all that, but it's MODOK.  All of this aside, if you knew nothing about the Marvel Universe, and hadn't read comic books until the new 20s, you probably wouldn't notice all the reduction, but if you think Marvel's heyday was the Bronze Age in the seventies, then Secret Avengers is just going to feel like a bat smacked to the head.  Mind you, really inviting artwork by Michael Walsh.

Saturday Afternoon Matinee

After you've justifiably gushed over Captain America: Winter Soldier and Veronica Mars, cleanse the palette with Karen Gillan's new film Oculus.  This is one creepy, slick horror film that plays with the viewer's expectations, uses little if any CGI and seems old fashioned in the sense of effects but never the less demonstrates an effective use of terror.  

This baby is a take no prisoners type of horror flick that's rated R not because of boobies, not because of swearing, not because of torture porn but because of devastating  imagery, disturbing subject matter and awesome freakishness.  Imagine the atmosphere of The Night Gallery raised to the tenth power.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

POBB: April 3, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 3, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag returns this week with Action Comics, Detective Comics, Earth 2, She-Hulk and Swamp Thing.  I'll also have a few words about Angel & Faith, Batwing, Inhuman and Moon Knight.

Writer Greg Pak closes up the last loose end in the subplot running through his debut for Action Comics.  Superman takes the fight to the mysterious Harrow in this issue.  The satisfying confrontation far surpasses the inferior return of shallow nineties villain Doomsday.  In fact you begin to resent the presence of the homicidal fluff.  The section could have easily been excised to streamline a uniformly terrific Superman story.

Hand-delivering the Ghost Soldier who interfered in his and Lana Lang's largely peaceful encounter with a subterranean culture, Superman finds himself under attack and chastised.

Pak conceives a very odd foe for Superman to fight and leaves the exact nature of the beast up in the air.  Harrow is a ghost with a heartbeat, and Aaron Kuder designed her with the trappings of hero.  In her own mind, she's a protagonist.

Harrow is bent on protecting humanity, which you say, can't be a bad thing, but some threats she sees aren't really there.  Superman for example.  Her presence makes a bad situation worst.  Simultaneously, there's a lot of saber rattling behind her philosophy.  In a way, Harrow parallels the Republican theme of so-called American exceptionalism. The term originally defined the unique optimistic melting pot of American democracy.  The Right Wing subverted the meaning to serve as a catchall jingoistic phrase describing their prohibitive broken value system.  

Harrow maintains a kind of human exceptionalism.  She ignores humanity's finest attributes to foster an isolationist point of view.  The altruism that Superman represents has no place in her world.  She insults him for his want to make friends with everybody.  A welcome trait expressed during the previous episodes.  She decries his mercy.  

If it were left to Harrow, Baka, the young, boisterous subterranean prince would have been killed in his dangerous dragon form.  Superman instead transported the beast to his Fortress and discovered the boy that he and Lana befriend at the dragon's heart.  Harrow reacted only to the initial threat, but Superman peered deeper.  

Harrow would have gladly killed an innocent and declared war on a kingdom that preferred not to become involved with the surface world.  Superman prevented a war and saved both humanity and the races beneath, which may be human albeit a different branch, anyway.  In Harrow's mindset, killing the Prince and the underworld would have been justified.  She is a dangerous and deadly opponent not just in terms of power but also in a direct conflict against Superman's idealistic symbolism.

The New Giallo

Flash artists/writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato switch to Detective Comics, and they imbue freshness to the venerable DC title.

Buccellato and Manapul introduce new characters to Batman mythology.  Two sophisticated ladies see Gotham as a fresh start, and they neatly represent the diversity of womanhood without falling into any stereotype; the motorcross angle is a good one. 

The writers/artists also take advantage of the clean slate of the new 52 by revamping a somewhat old Rogue.  Sid the Squid debuted in the Bronze Age.  He wasn't much, but he did possess one distinction.  He actually managed to shoot Batman.  

Much later, Sid the Squid turned up on Batman: the Animated Series as a comical Woody Allen type wannabe criminal.  As you can see, Manapul and Buccellato opt for calamari of a different sort.

In addition to expanding the Batman cast and establishing their own Big Bad, Buccellato and Manapul give what all Batman fans want.

When you come down to it, we're here to watch Batman solve mysteries that lead to a beat down of bad guys that would prey upon the innocent.  Voila.

For this issue, the creative team involves Batman in a three tiered story.  On one level new Gothamite Elena convinces Bruce Wayne to abandon the largely politically motivated effort to face-lift the waterfront and coincidentally fuel a crimelord's aims.  Instead Bruce switches funding to the less fortunate denizens of the East End of Gotham City, which needs revitalized.  Through this means, Manapul and Bucellato bolster Bruce's philanthropic status.  As well, they make the first effort to acknowledge the phenomenal Scott Snyder reorganization of Batman's past continuity.

Buccellato and Manapul nod to the current continuity with the mention of Damien.  The reminder sets Bruce into motion on a project that he intended to finish for his son down the line.  I like that Batman takes a break from fighting crime and bettering the world.  He deserves a few moments for himself.  Overall Buccellato's and Manapul's personality for the Dark Knight--driven by emotion but harnessed by rationality--better suits a detective accepted by Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow as their successor.  In this vein, Buccellato and Manapul finish their first chapter with an enticing enigma.  What happened to Elena? We'll have to wait until next issue to find out.

Batwing I'm afraid lost me.  I can really sink my teeth into the concept of Batwing going on the vengeance trail to explore a lost population.  The populace is split into various cultures to create for all intent and purpose an alien world similar to the bazaars seen in pulp science fiction.  

I just cannot accept that world being situated beneath Gotham City.  Batman would know about this under city.  There's just no way around this.  Batman has a "matchless knowledge of the city."  Even accepting that this world evolved from Jonah Hex's Gotham City of yore, Batman would know about it.  There's simply too much here for him not to know.  I could have accepted a loose knit group of gangs temporarily escaping his notice, but not a thriving civilization.

Last issue, Alec Holland, Swamp Thing, fell for a con.  A group claiming to be Sureen, alleged worshipers of Avatars, bamboozled him out of his body.  You might see a parallel to Jack and the Beanstalk.  I think the joke's intentional.  

In any case, Swamp Thing now in the form of a hunky bodied grifter with a soul patch--Brrrrrrr--and the immortal Capucine hunt for the organization that stole Alec's leafy green vegetable.  Capucine discerns her first clue through the auspices of a familiar immortal colleague.

Of course nothing is free in life.  Capucine must give Vandal what he wants in return for his aid.  Because the new 52 version of Vandal Savage is less like Hannibal Lecter and more like Brian Blessed, the demand segues smoothly into a beautifully choreographed tussle.  Jesus Saiz looks like he's having the time of his life illustrating the graceful Capucine and the cunning Savage.

Vandal makes good on his word, and Alec and Capucine discover that the Sureen ain't what they used to be.


Will Alec be reunited with his body, or will the pleasures of the flesh tempt him like his fellow former Avatars?  In reality, option b isn't open to him.  It turns out that Alec is racing against the clock.  He'll burn out his human body in a matter of hours, and the longer he's separated from his Swamp Thing incarnation the worse off he becomes.  Still, all is not lost.  Help arrives in the strangest form.

Swamp Thing continues to be a harvest of surprises.  The dialogue between Capucine and Vandal Savage entertains as do the schemes of the Swamp Thing Family, so to speak.  It's unfortunate that Alec is pushed out of his own series.  He's the least interesting of the cast, but that's a given since he's being portrayed as out of his depth and far younger than all around him.

Soule gives She-Hulk a much better showing.  Kristoff Vernard, the son of Doom seeks asylum.  Soule gives Kristoff a very shiny personality.  However, the guest star doesn't undermine the star power of She-Hulk.

The Jade Giant plies her legal know-how in Kristoff's defense, organizes a cunning plan and when that fails gets down to smashing Doom-bots.  

Soule not only engages the reader with a clever scam, he also educates through dollops of easy to swallow legal maneuvers.  Simultaneously, Javier Pulido arrests your attention with a unique style and attractively cartoony character modeling.  She-Hulk is informative, fun and friendly to new and old readers alike.

Although Green Lantern blasts away on the cover of Earth 2, he only opens the proceedings.  The Green resurrects Alan Scott to champion the cause of the earth once more, but at the moment of Apokoliptan victory, there's a momentary lull as eagles gather and vultures regroup.

Tom Taylor and returning artist Nicola Scott grant equal time to all the players to instill the atmosphere of an ensemble production.  The addled from battle Dr. Fate speaks in riddles, which Hawkgirl deciphers.  These answers simultaneously serve to fill in new readers on the story so far.  It's a clever technique.

The being who may or may not be Superman recognizes the real enemy, and naturally, it's Batman.  The revelation of his identity in the Earth 2 annual explains why even Superman would mistake a stranger behind the mask for Bruce Wayne.  Both men of the bat would have similar bone structures.

As Superman prepares a preemptive strike, the heroes prepare for battle on the Wayne estate.  Lois Lane becomes a key player in this fight as her humanity coaxes Val, the Kryptonian from the House of Zod, to learn how to use his powers for the sake of humanity.  

Scenes of Val learning out how to fly may recall the classics, but Taylor and Scott nevertheless imbue a true sense of exhilaration to the moments.  Despite being a conscious robot, Lois is spectacular, given real depth and pathos.  

Will Conrad's art rocks the house in Angel & Faith, but this reads like the sad bizarro version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10's premiere.  I couldn't understand why Faith would be so upset over seeing Buffy and Giles back together.  

Faith's jealousy of Buffy died when she and Buffy switched bodies.  Afterward, Angel helped Faith reform.  Furthermore, she was content to follow Buffy in the bona fide series finale.  As a friend of Buffy and Giles and now a full-fledged fellow Slayer, not the betrayer she once was, Faith should have been delighted, or at least content, at seeing Buffy's and Giles' reunion.  Instead the Powers That Be went all angsty.  Bleah

Charles Soule has three books this week.  His debut of the new title Inhuman features some great Medusa moments, but do we really need another Molten Man, even if he's an Inhuman? The back story left me behind.  Black Bolt's apparently dead.  Medusa and he had a son who also died.  The rest of the book is well-written, with Soule's talent for creating new characters midst strong treatments older ones evident, but Inhuman hasn't really grabbed me yet.  

The second issue of Moon Knight exemplifies art over story.  The evocative illustration of Declan Shalvey provides the meat on a bare bones tale by Warren Ellis.  If you're a Moon Knight fan, you'll not want to miss that, but others more into comic books for the complexity of storycraft may want to pass. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

POBB: March 26, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 26, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is live! This week I review All-Star Western, Aquaman, Captain Midnight, Catwoman, Doc Savage, The Flash and Justice League Dark.  It you're wondering where World's Finest is.  Like you, I have to wait for the third part before I read the fourth part.  Thank you, DC.  That was ham-fisted.

Archaeology.  In the real world, it's an innocuous safe science in which you uncover and explore the origins of humankind through inanimate objects and dead languages.  In cinema, archaeology, with the exception of anthropology, is the most dangerous career choice one can make.

Archaeology students in the new 52 fair worse than archaeology students in cinema.  When Doctor Evans uses Aquaman's stolen trident to open what appeared to be a gateway between Atlantis and the surface world, all hell literally breaks lose.  Woe be tide to his students.

You may think because this is a comic book and not truly geared for mature readers that the girl's safety is assured.  Afraid not.  This issue of Aquaman sports one of the highest body counts I've ever seen in a superhero comic book.  Artist Paul Pelletier delights in disturbing off panel deaths and explicit demises seen in silhouette caused by grotesque monsters that are half-Muppet and half-Lovecraft.

Normally I would be railing about the portrayal of inefficacy in superheroes, but writer Jeff Parker and artist Pelletier convince the reader that these deaths were inevitable.  The cards were stacked against the ambitious Dr. Evans, and none of this disaster is on Aquaman.  Furthermore, the monsters are extraordinarily cunning and not mindless beasts, which makes their bloodfest gluttony all that more unsettling.  They pulled a remarkable mind trick on Dr. Evans that at once reinforces their power and the ability of their jailers.

Aquaman arrives as quick as possible, but he's not the Flash.  He cannot stop an onslaught that happens in an eye-blink.  As soon as the creatures escape, they begin to feed.  When Aquaman does arrive, however, have at thee.

That Would Be Aquaman Decking a Giant Worm-Thing

Aquaman demonstrates his strength, speed, intellect, wisdom and telepathic power to control aquatic life all in one fell swoop.  It's a terrific issue filled with the things that make comic books special: superheroes, monsters and one massive surprise that arises at the cliffhanger.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up's Sholly Fisch dips his toe once again into the continuity pool with a highly enjoyable inventory issue of Catwoman.  Fisch introduces Selina Kyle to new readers and reminds faithful fans exactly what distinguishes Catwoman from all others in DC comics.  She's a thief.  Not just any thief.  She's a master thief, the best thief on the planet.

Catwoman crashes a gala ball signifying the merger of a pharmaceutical company and Waynetech.  The merchandise.  A pair of experimental drugs: one for cancer the other a powerful steroid.  

Marvel as Fisch times out a clockwork heist in which Catwoman outwits and out-maneuvers multiple security devices and personnel.  This is kind of what I hoped Catwoman would be about.  Selina planning out and pulling off various crimes, without a single body dropping.

Catwoman has a near spotless history of being averse to murder and uses violence only when necessary.  Even while Batman was still sending criminals to their doom, Catwoman exhibited mercy.

Selina's score goes haywire when she finds out the hard way exactly why her client wished one of the drugs destroyed.  This surprising turn of events institutes an exploration into Catwoman's secondary trait, heroism.  Catwoman is a member of the Batman Family for a reason. She doesn't put her own needs above all else.

The save also demonstrates some terrific visual continuity on the part of artist Pat Oliffe.  The little girl in danger appears on page two of the book. 

She's not just some faceless victim.  There's a finite population in the room.  Oliffe takes advantage of that.

Oliffe's artwork is overall exciting,  He cut his teeth on a very animated Untold Tales of Spider-Man, followed through with Spider-Girl and now orchestrates the slinky exploits of somebody perfect for his lanky style of frenetic figure illustration.  Recommended, especially for those dissatisfied with Catwoman's current role in the DCU.

As a whole, this issue of Justice League Dark is pretty good.  Despite J.M. DeMatteis' insistence otherwise, the plot is easy to follow, even if you've come in late to the show.  Technically speaking, this is only a chapter in a sorcery wide crossover all dovetailing theoretically from the events of Forever Evil.  Honestly though.  Missing other chapters won't hurt a bit.  

The husk of Felix Faust lies on the floor.  The good guys are stuck in a Big Cosmic Doohickey.  Constantine gains a doppelganger.  One of the trench-coats wants to take Faust's place.  The other seeks to restore the occult abilities of former teammates and free them.

The cast exhibit valid personalities.  Zatanna narrates, but I don't believe she would speak like DeMatteis.  Her patter would resemble the sharpie dialogue of a performing magician.  Somebody used to the limelight and an audience.  

The implications in Justice League Dark could be vast in scope and explain why there's no carnage from Forever Evil in the future.  Artwork by Batgirl's Vincente Cifuentes is impressive, almost making up for the loss of Michael Janin.  In addition, the story changes the status quo, with Zatanna assuming leadership of Justice League Dark and exhibiting some real teeth.

On the other hand, J.M. DeMatteis is exposition crazy and terribly afraid his audience won't get it.  So he spells it out.  A lot.  Worse, he's frequently a pastiche of other writers.  We start off with a riff on Russell T. Davies' Doctor Who.

That of course sounds like Rose Tyler and her curtain call from "The Army of Ghosts."

Then we have an unfortunate Rod Serling parody.

Nobody delivered lines such as these like Serling.  Nobody could and still can't.  So why attempt it? Fortunately, this preoccupation with momento mori doesn't last long.  A group of demons attacks the team at what they see as their most vulnerable moment.  Swamp Thing begs to differ.

As Constantine makes a hasty exit stage right, Zatanna directs Swampy, Black Orchid, Pandora, Frankenstein and the rest to beat the snot out of the bad guys, and really, that's half the battle of making a good comic book.  So despite the wordiness, and the annoying mimicry of other writers, I'm still recommending Justice League Dark.  

The Flash cleans up its supernatural killer story.  Despite this tale relying on a lot of hocus-pocus nonsense, departing writer Brian Buccellato uses scientific explanations interlaced with the Flash's powers to explain how the Scarlet Speedster defeats the apparition.  He simultaneously gives a good reason for Deadman's team-up with the Flash, which was cool no matter what, and more importantly he crafts a satisfying conclusion to the subplot of the Flash perhaps being Captain Darryl Frye's son.  Buccellato doesn't answer all the questions, but it's this personal drama that's more of a draw to the issue.

Captain Midnight takes on Fury Shark just as she's planning her next move.  The major disruption leads to moments of Midnight's new team dispatching Nazis with alacrity and a moment for redemption.  When Midnight finally questions Fury Shark, he learns some unwelcome truths about how the Nazi daughter gained access to his technology.  Fury Shark gets the best moments this issue through her attempts to fluster Midnight with her Nazi philosophy, but something unexpected happens to reaffirm Midnight's somewhat old fashioned ideals.  It's a definitely unpredictable comic book.

Doc Savage returns in the late seventies to stop a dangerous science experiment begun by one of his former aides.  The science is cobbled together from a hardware store metaphor and a primer, but that doesn't matter.  I'm recommending the book because of the great character dynamic between Doc and a nihilistic punk rocker.  He reaches her.  She reaches him.  It all plays authentic because the punk movement arose in part as a response to hypocrisy and the ersatz.  Doc's feelings are genuine.  His optimism is true, and a punk rocker would admire that.  

Booster Gold returned Jonah Hex back to his proper time, and Gina went along for the ride.  Unfortunately, they found themselves surrounded by Natives, who didn't believe Jonah was who he claimed.  This was due to surgeons from our time repairing his face, which they thought was the result from his motorcycle accident.  

It's no great surprise how Jonah gets out of this particular situation, and his method is always very entertaining, echoing the efficiency of Django.  Either one.  The segue develops into a story within a story, in which Jonah keeps Gina awake with a tale sporting an antagonist all too familiar.

How sad that this type of jackass still exists.  Even worse.  Some of them are in Congress.  Palmiotti and Gray however once again remind readers that Jonah Hex, despite being a bounty killer, is a proponent of law and order.  They also peel back Hex's layers to give a more nuanced look at Hex's mind-set.  He's not a straightforward gunslinger.  

Though Moritat is absent again this issue, Will Conrad admirably substitutes with a disconcerting realism that makes Hex's past disfigurement all the more startling. The ugliness acutely contrasts the uniform aestheticism of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer artist.