Monday, August 18, 2014

POBB: August 14, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 14, 2014
by
Ray Tate

This week's Pick of the Brown Bag features reviews of Batman, Birds of Prey, Captain Marvel, Judge Anderson, Justice League United, Legendary, Princess Ugg, Smallville Chaos and World's Finest.



Justice League United pools the gang together and draws in the otherwise tangential character Keewahtin.  The tale opens with Alanna Strange, yes, they were secretly married, getting new duds.  I suppose I could say something trite like "This ain't your granddad's Alanna Strange," but that would just make me feel older than I am.  I encountered Adam Strange and Alanna via reprints in the Dollar specials put out in the seventies, not the originals.


Alanna wasn't a stereotype to begin with.  An alien from the planet Rann, she was often seen with a laser pistol in hand or holstered by her side.  The changes in this version of Alanna Strange amount to a duskier complexion and being Terran.  That doesn't fundamentally alter the character.   a gutsy, hands-on type of gal.  The new outfit compliments Adam Strange's new suit, but I prefer the Carmine Infantino fashion displays.  No bones to Mike McCone.  I do like the design.  It's just a personal preference.

Alanna encounters Keewahtin's best friend who puts her on the track of an illusory beast that League United will eventually fight.  Thank the cosmos it's not a Wendigo.  I'm really sick of every Canadian themed horror ending up being a Wendigo story.  There must be other legends.  Canada had their own comic strips and comic books, damn it.


Before United can face this beast, they must first pay their respects to Hawkman, who sacrificed himself to save the planet.  Getting off of Rann is the easy part.  This is not the action-packed issue of Justice League United you may expect.  It nevertheless entertains.  Writer Jeff Lemire amuses the reader through chemistry and character dynamics.



Not only does Lemire expand on the double-act between Green Arrow and Animal man.  He also pairs up Supergirl and Stargirl.  For the latter, the scene Lemire conceives respects both characters.  As a Supergirl fan, it's a delight to see Supergirl taking the lead rather than having her will enslaved to a Lucky Charms ring.  

Lemire furthermore hews the Martian Manhunter closer to his original characterization.  The new 52 Powers shook things up with the Manhunter by treating him as an aloof protector of the planet who was not Mr. Justice League afterall.  That's about to change as he takes the head of this new Justice League; yes, I know what the blurbs about the Future's End event state.  The Martian Manhunter has a secret plan to take over the world.


Are you pondering what I'm pondering, Pinky?

Ignore them.  Future's End is irrelevant.  It's a future that will be forgotten in a month, tops.



Legendary jumps a few months into the future, and my-oh-my, how things have changed.



Bill Willingham's and Davila's steam punk Red Sonja ends up being closer to the intent of Robert E. Howard's Ottoman Empire-era warrior.  I have in the past mistakenly misidentified the story as taking place during the Crimean War, but it's a sixteenth century tale.  So it must occur during the Ottoman-Hapsberg conflicts.  Sonja is either Russian or Balkan.

The Sonja that's most familiar to comic book readers isn't the figure from Howard's short story "Shadow of the Vulture," which is still available as of this writing at wikipedia.  Just follow the link from the entry.  Roy Thomas simply made Sonja a barbarian to conveniently place her travels in the realm of Conan, already a successful Marvel series.

Davila and Willingham mash her up again.  She still wields a sword but also a gun, like the original Red Sonja.  Her chain mail bikini still gleams, but she also wears modern clothing.  Her vocabulary and her speech also takes a spin away from the more glutteral barbarian speak.  So, this issue of Legendary is an even more pleasant a surprise, in the sense that it's not actually a reboot but a reset.

Sonja frequents a horror laden landscape due to the fact that the villains succeeded last issue with a black magic ritual to call forth a big bad.  Ironically, they gained victory by thinking outside of the villain box.  For the past six issues, they've been hunting Sonja for sacrifice, but reading the fine print in the ritual allowed them to skip that part, which they couldn't achieve anyway.  They instead found a suitable substitute for the individual roles of final sacrifice and bride.

Sonja's hatred for her horse offers a running joke as she treks through the badlands.  Sonja's animosity toward the equine differs strongly with the Sonja we've seen in the past.  Frank Thorne's Sonja really loved horses.  This Sonja is a practical woman, and her relationship with Clover, her horse is laugh out loud funny, as is her encounter with one Don Diego De La Vega.  That's right.  In a team up you never expected to see in a trillion years, Sonja meets Zorro.  If that doesn't tickle, why are you even in the comic book shop?


Princess Ulga in her almost eponymous title Princess Ugg relates why she entered Princess School to begin with.  Her mother had an epiphany.



Ulga attends the school to learn a better way, the way of diplomacy to seek an end to the war between the barbarians, properly known as Grimmerians, and the Fost Giants.  Surprisingly, Ulga already took the first steps to lead the Grimmerians out of the Dark Ages, so to speak.  Under her own initiative, she entered the school.  I assumed she was placed there by her mother, but this issue dispels that misconception.  Ulga's there by choice.  She's willing to learn in order to honor her mother.

Ted Naifeh and Warren Wucinich warmly illustrate the tale.  The artwork compliments the soft way in which the story unfolds before broadening into slapstick of a most entertaining kind, also involving a horse of course, of course.


I've never been a Judge Dredd fan.  I wasn't exposed to the character until he teamed up with Batman.  Judge Anderson appeared in that one-shot as Dredd's more reasonable partner and even developed a thing for the Dark Knight.  Dredd struck me as a tightass foil for the two of them.  Since that team up, I've become a Judge Anderson fan.  I've read the Titan reprints of her strip and as a result exposed myself to the hyperbole of Judge Dredd's universe, which despite being a send-up of 1980s conservatism works equally well as a backdrop for Anderson's cases.  The way I see it.  Dredd mostly encounters the absurdities of Mega-City One.  Anderson meets more cogent science fiction threats.

The characterization of Judge Anderson in her latest fuses quite well with what has gone before.  Writer Matt Smith opens with a short recap of Cassandra Anderson's beginnings.  He then segues to the present where Anderson experiences a psychic warning from the future. The portent immediately triggers action, cutting out oodles of potential padding and neatly sets Anderson up for the final act which removes her from the "comforting" element of Mega-City One and into a strange alien environment.



Though this is an American publication, fans of the British  Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson series will feel right at home with U.K. artist Carl Critchlow detailing every pouch and brass wing on Anderson's uniform.  



Captain Marvel concludes on a very high note with some moxie from the Captain and an elegant means to end the conflict between the Spartax Empire and the wayfarerers of Torfa.  

The Torfans were being poisoned by a big chunk of vibranium that the Empire wants to own; this information really spoils nothing.  The toxicity-as-sickness angle would have been obvious to any six year old.  So, the Empire used that excuse to force the Torfans off the reservation for good, and they didn't mind if the inhabitants died in the process. 


Carol had a problem with that.  So she takes the fight to the Empire and in an awesome display of power becomes instrumental in ending the conflict once and for all.  I'm very surprised when I can recommend each chapter of a comic book as a comic book and a trade.  Good on Kelly Sue DeConnick and superb artist David Lopez.



Birds of Prey ends daringly with writer Christy Marx attempting to humanize Amanda Waller.  It doesn't quite work, but I give her props for trying.  Amanda Waller, no matter the dress size, will never be considered human.

The character actually appeared in several media outlets.  In comics of course, Waller formed the Suicide Squad, and Batman expressed his mistrust and disdain as soon as he learned of the Squad's existence.  That's the kiss of death in comics.  If Batman doesn't like it, it must be bad.

Waller also appeared in Smallville and Justice League.  In both instances, she did horrible things.  In Smallville, as portrayed by the legendary Pam Grier, Waller gives the order to kill Chloe Sullivan.  Second kiss of death.  Superman of course stops her cold.  In Justice League, Waller decides to dismantle the team, as she will attempt to do in Justice League of America.  



Marx fights the gravity of a character that's always been involved in shady dealings.  As a result, the idea that she could care about Dinah's feelings is really hard to swallow.

This is the final issue of Birds of Prey.  So Marx also cleans up by finding a smart solution to the problem of Strix, a Talon associated with Batgirl and Catwoman and drives a temporary wedge between the friendship of Batgirl and Black Canary.  She doesn't even try to entertain the split as permanent.  It's at best a really vicious tiff.  Ultimately, Birds of Prey could have been so much worse, and I mean that in the most positive way.  Marx really needs to be on a title with lasting power because she is too good to lose.


Batman's an inventory issue with a confused pedigree.  The story's by Scott Snyder and Gerry Duggan, but it's written by Gerry Duggan.  Ah-hah.  I have no idea what that means.

Anyhow, Batman goes on the hunt for a serial killer.  You need very little continuity knowledge to enjoy this issue.  It's pure Batman vs. Evil Bastard.  Duggan however distinguishes his monster with a particularly interesting psychological need.


Batman's humanity peeks through the darkness of his cowl in his interaction with a young new 52 Leslie Thompkins and how he appears to attract canines.  Oh, and I'm not making a crack about Leslie Thompkins' age.  She has been rejuvenated and reworked way before the new 52 ever burst onto the scene.  

Artist Matt Scalera provides artwork that's at once expressive and unique without losing sight of the basics.  So, overall, if you're looking for a decent Batman story, with a more optimistic slant and striking artwork, you can't go wrong with this one.


Smallville: Chaos drops Superman into a world of trouble, or should that be worlds, plural.  Lex Luthor makes a terrific move that exemplifies his brilliance and frames his hatred of Superman; we'll call it strong dislike, for Lois Lane.



Before Luthor stages a coup at the SuperCollider that Ted Kord and Michael Holt built, Superman fights a familiar moon-faced foe.  Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor visit the expecting Queens, Chloe and Oliver.  



Zatanna shows up when you least expect it, and Mercy helms the Watchtower while Booster Gold makes a strong cameo, in which timelines appear to be shifting.  Seriously.  Why aren't you buying this book?  Bryan Q. Miller juggles the massive cast with unparalleled expertise.  Everybody gets something to do and is in this book for a reason.



Continuing a Pattern, This Scene does Not Appear in the Pages of World's Finest

World's Finest surprisingly doesn't really focus on our favorite duo--Helena and Kara.  Instead, writer Paul Levitz introduces a new Power Girl, expertly drawn by Tyler Kirkham and Scott Kollins.

Normally such a move, despite it coming from a writer I like, would irk me, but the way Levitz relates the story and makes it seem a natural reaction to weird events kept me rapt.  That's not to say I would accept a new Power Girl even if she was bequeathed the title.



Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner brought Power Girl back, restored her pre-Crisis memories and eliminated a whole heap of past interference.  They transformed Power Girl into the last survivor of the original DC universe and the smartest business woman on the planet.  Bam.  That made way more sense than Atlantean granddaughter of Arion.  

When the new 52 arose from the ashes of an incomprehensible mishmash, Levitz restored Power Girl as the earth-two cousin to Superman.  See, that's what Power Girl must be.  That's where her resonance springs from.  They could have made her black.  It wouldn't have mattered.  As long as she was the earth-two cousin to Superman.  So, yeah, I like Tanya Spears, but the only way I'll accept her as Power Girl is in the face of an earth-two Power Girl's continued existence.  Tanya would be an adjunct not a replacement.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

POBB: Batgirl Special: August 14, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
Batgirl Special
by
Ray Tate

You would think I'd be enured to Gail Simone's sloppy writing by now.  The hackneyed dialogue, the shitty characterization, the Swiss Cheese plots and the egotistical inclusion of Mary Sue characters still feels like being hit by a brick.  

Batgirl is a travesty.  Batgirl is so bad this week that it warrants a Pick of the Brown Bag spotlight.  Beware there will be spoilers throughout the review.  In fact, I'm not holding back anything.  The plot, the characterization, the ending in particular reaches toxic levels.  The artists however are free to go.  The illustration throughout is excellent.



Filthy rich Charise is secretly Knightfall, the vigilante to end all vigilantes.  She hates crime, which isn't a bad thing, but her methods are a little too extreme for the Batgirl.



I throw up in my mouth every time Simone has Batgirl referring to the car-jacker as her boyfriend, but I concur that bear traps for such criminals is a little much.  The original Bat-Man, maybe even the Spider, would balk at Charise's philosophy.  However, there's no consistency in her technique because Simone thinks it's perfectly sensible for somebody who hates crime to hire not just mercenaries such as Bolt, and I'll give you Copperhead, but also whack-jobs like the Mad Hatter and serial killers such as Mr. Ssazz. 



Clayface is way more dangerous than the low-level thugs that Charise is determined to snuff out, but he's on her payroll as well.  



Some Simone apologists may hypothesize this hodgepodge exemplifies Knightfall's madness.  I say that's grasping at straws to hide the laziness in Simone's comprehension of characterization consistency.

If you want Knightfall to be a vigilante who spreads her money to get the job done.  Fine.  She hires professionals to clean house, but that should be the extent.  She shouldn't be endangering the people she allegedly intends to protect by letting loose a cadre of superpowered, demented uncontrollable villainy.  



Knightfall's too intelligent not to know the difference and too dedicated to her crusade not to see the danger of the tactic she currently employs. 

According to Robert Ressler, the man behind the creation of the FBI's VICAP, a computerized database that compiles the profiling of serial killers, there are disorganized killers, such as those that leave pleas behind: "Stop me before I kill again," and organized killers that send messages to newspapers: "Catch me if you can, Mr. Lusk."  Knightfall falls in the latter category.  She believes what she's doing doing is right, but that doesn't mean she wouldn't be able to correct half-assed ideas.

As established, Knightfall lays out bear traps for idiot car jackers.  She sees the Batman Family as an inadequate deterrent against crime because they will not end criminals just turn them into the police.  



From Batgirl #11

Not only would Knightfall not work with Arkham Inmates and proven psychopaths, she would kill them herself.  Knightfall is the type of criminal that would carpet bomb Blackgate if not for the massive loss of innocent life, i.e. the warders. Plain and simple.  Simone lets the characterization get away from her.

However you feel about Knightfall's rationale, it's none the less rubbish letting she and her army get this far in the first place.   The key is that these are mercenaries from around the world coming into Gotham.  A convoy filled with armed men and kooks is going to attract attention, and its ripe for arrest.  You need to explain how the personnel managed to avoid detection from Interpol, from the police and of course from Batman.  How did they sneak into the city without setting off all these alarms?  One mercenary can do it.  Two and maybe a handful more, but a whole army--trucks after trucks--stretches the rubber band holding the suspension of disbelief to a dangerous level.



Speaking of Batman, where the hell is he? I could have accepted that Batgirl wanted to eliminate Knightfall herself, with new 52 reflection of the original Birds of Prey.  Nevertheless, she called Batman for the boat, in what I hope is an homage to Charlie's Angels, which was better written by the way and a lot more fun.



So where is the man himself? Batgirl is friends with a character called Obscura, who apparently knows every woman in the DC universe.  So, we get such luminaries as Starfire and Fairchild from Gen13 watching the home front. 



I can understand that, but Gotham City is Batman's city, and the alleged intent of sisters doing it for themselves was broken the moment that Simone's ego took over to include her own characters.  The Movement with the male Rat King or whatever the hell he's called shows up.  



Right.  The city's under siege, it needs the Prince of Vermin instead of Batman.  That's like bleating for Air-Wave instead of Superman when Mordru is moving the moon.  I didn't accept such nonsensical favoritism from Geoff Johns in JSA then.  I won't accept such flagrant disregard and hubris from Simone now.  

Even if we allow that Batman chose to ignore the potential of netting a whole slew of dangerous criminals, Batman should still be real interested in wringing the Mad Hatter's scrawny neck.  That particular criminal murdered Natalya Trusevich, the Ukrainian pianist who fell in love with Batman.  Batman was so involved with Natalya that he revealed his secret identity.  He also broke off his on again/off again relationship with Catwoman to devote himself to Natalya.  Batman should be keeping tabs on the Hatter.  He should have known that Jervis Tech was back in town and plan a nice little bit of broken limb vengeance.

Let's argue that the really big guns Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were on duty somewhere else, in space.  Batman after getting the call from Batgirl and handing over the boat voyaged into space.  Fine.  Starfire seldom goes into battle without the Red Hood and Speedy.  Starfire is part of a team.  Red Hood is part of the Batman Family.  So, why aren't Jason and Roy fighting alongside their teammate?  Because they're men? You lost that right the moment Rat Boy showed up.  So you're saying maybe the Movement is there as a favor to Batgirl.  The Red Hood also owes Batgirl favors.  Batman owes Batgirl favors.  All right.  Let's suppose the rest of the Outsiders were busy as well and that only female heroes, mostly, were available.

Any protest you want to make supporting Simone's style of writing fails miserably when this creature shows up.



That is Batgirl substitute number 157 created by Simone as her first Mary Sue in the thank cosmos it's Friday years of the post-Crisis.  One group of creator owned characters saving the day is passable, but adding a second from the mists of obscurity is suspect.  Of course, she's nothing in comparison to the current Mary Sue.



Nothing puts a face on the threat like endangering a beloved character.  In Batgirl we get Ricky.  Cosmos knows we never tire of seeing this heart of gold car jacking son-of-a-bitch that inexplicably became Babs' boyfriend through default.  No, really.  He's neither smart enough, strong enough, nor kind enough to be anybody's boyfriend.  I'd sooner see Ambush Bug be Barbara's boyfriend.  Ricky should be in jail, but you know what this also hammers home the inconsistent characterization.  The legal system set Ricky free.  It's doubtful that he could raise enough cash to pay the bond.  So he's technically not a criminal.  The legal system on the other hand condemned numerous wanted felons in Knightfall's employ.  See? No logic.

Aside from the dearth of characterization, how's the rest of the book?  The plot starts off well enough with Batgirl, Huntress and Black Canary in pursuit, boarding said yacht and cutting through Charise's inner circle, which includes a couple of Batgirl foes, only one of whom should be working for Knightfall.  It's overall mediocre with good fight choreography.  No spectacular moments and pedestrian dialogue.



It could have been an average unmemorable story, and we could have all gotten on with our lives waiting for Cameron Stewart to relaunch the title.  The story however takes such a diversion that Oprah Winfrey should have showed up as Rod Serling.  The whole tale turns into this sort of feel-good coddle-flop where the villain turns out to be just a teary-eyed, misunderstood working woman rather than a psychopath that makes the Shadow look warm and fuzzy.  Words cannot describe this jaw-dropping idiocy.  Take a look.

Our hearts are open wide...This wretched issue of Batgirl reinforces my belief that Gail Simone is a lousy writer, and those stellar early Batgirl storyarcs (pre-Ricky) were examples of Simone working her hardest, focusing, excelling beyond her usual level of claptrap and striving to get it right.  She doesn't have the staying power.  So the issues after that fluctuate from average, to bad, to ugly.  This ugly issue represents the level at which Simone is at her worst.  



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

POBB: August 6, 2014

The Pick of the Brown Bag
by
August 6, 2014
Ray Tate

Welcome to The Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog, I select the best and worst from the week's yield.  On the current docket Angel and Faith, Batman Eternal, Detective Comics, Earth 2, Flash Gordon, Moon Knight, Painkiller Jane, Swamp Thing and Vampirella.



I have mixed feelings about the latest issue of Detective Comics.  The best thing I can say is that the murder mystery's solution results from a logical elimination of possible suspects.  In addition, the artwork of course is striking and effective.  You would expect nothing less from Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, but man, is this dark.



The presence of Batman's suit of armor, the science fiction elements of a giant squid and essentially a lightning man fail to alleviate the film noir miasma of doom that hangs over the story.  Buccellato and Manapul create a pit that swallows innocent people whole.  That pit is Gotham City, prompting the question why would anybody live there?



Annette came to Gotham City, unwillingly.  Her reservations proved correct.  She lost her mother, her innocence and the promise of a new beginning.  At the end of the story, she intends to get out of Gotham City while she still can.  Smart girl.



Annette's suffering is exactly what Batman's supposed to prevent.  Batman became who he is to destroy crime before the criminal element could decimate families, leaving behind orphans such as he.  Any victory he achieves by beating the crap out of the bad guys after the fact is Pyrrhic.  Batman's triumphs lie in determent.  In that sense, Detective Comics is an epic fail for the Dark Knight.

It's as though Manapul and Buccellato looked at Scott Snyder's and Gregg Capullo's optimistic Batman interpretation, the man who finally shattered the Owls, the vigilante who fights crime and corrupt cops like a modern day Zorro, and decided the image and the present needed tarnish.  Too much, if you ask me.



I'm only dipping into Scott Snyder's Batman Eternal for the Batgirl content.  In that respect I wasn't disappointed, but the surrounding material didn't upset me either.  So, bonus.

Batman Eternal features a good bit of Batgirl intrigue.  She teams up with the Red Hood and Batwoman to infiltrate a Brazilian sweatshop.  The head honcho may be involved in framing her father Commissioner Gordon.  He could also be a red herring.  So, don't get your hopes up.  His shtick is mind control, but his rationale for interfering in Gotham City escapes me.  The writers aren't inclined to elucidate either.

Snyder and team emphasize new continuity over the old.  So, fans of Babs' thirty-five year crippling probably aren't going to be too happy.  Screw 'em.   Batgirl fans will want to add this issue of Batman Eternal to their list.  Not only does Andy Clarke illustrate Batgirl beautifully, Snyder and team include the following passage.



The observation exalts Batgirl, validating the appreciation of the character.  Furthermore, the writers treat Batwoman as a neophyte, in contrast to Batgirl.  Batgirl in fact actually finds something for the fledgling heroine to do.  For the first time, Batwoman has a reason to exist.



As well as Batgirl action, Batman, Jason Bard and Killer Croc team-up to find out what's preying on the people of Gotham City.  I like the idea of Croc being a defender and Batman not immediately blaming him for the crimes, when the evidence points elsewhere.



Jim Gordon meanwhile stews in Blackgate.  Harper and Spoiler by the way do not appear in this issue.  So keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to cough up the coin.



Moon Knight ends with a bang.  Warren Ellis concludes his run by going back to his debut and plucking his villain from a maelstrom of jealousy and envy.



The cop, Ryan, one of those attached to the first Mr. Knight investigation in the premiere delves into Moon Knight's past to learn about a man he makes an enemy.  



As a result, we discover the fates of Marlene and Frenchie, Moon Knight's lover and cohort, respectively.  Ellis gives each of the Moon Knight's former associates pretty decent lives, but this is unsurprising.  Ellis is one of the more idealistic Brit writers and realizes that superheroes require at least a germ of humanity's more appealing attributes to justify their crusade.



Once he feels he knows his enemy, Ryan fortifies himself with explosives and darts.  He christens himself the new Black Spectre, and falls headlong into failure.  In the end, Moon Knight proves to be even more altruistic than first thought.  



Angel and Faith is a good jump-on point where regular writer Victor Gischler introduces new readers to Angel, his new digs of London and his supporting cast.



The story opens with Angel's nightmare.  Angelus, lays waste to a convent of nuns.  Religious icons and people do not seem to particularly bother vampires from the Joss Whedon universe.  Indeed, one may argue in order to burn you have to have your soul returned.  Whedon on the other hand did incorporate one of the seldom used vampire traditions in his cosmology.  Vampires must be invited to the party, unless they seek entry to a public place, like a church.  

The feast is indeed theoretically possible.  Whatever the case, the nightmare effectively foreshadows the demon inside Angel.  For those not in the know, the gypsies cursed Angelus for the slaughter of one of their own.  They called back Angel's soul from beyond to forever combat the demon inhabiting Angel's body.  This is why for example Angel listens to Barry Manilow.  To torture Angelus, which is not to say that Angel doesn't appreciate Barry Manilow.  

Angel begins his day properly at Mos Eisley's Cafe, or it's occult equivalent.  There he meets Inspector Brandt who entices Angel with a strange case.



The facts intrigue Angel.  The vampire stalker operates in broad daylight, something vampires such as he cannot do.  Enlisting the aid of The Watcher Giles' preternaturally young aunts Lavinia and Sophie, Angel lures the vampire into a trap.  The aunts prove to be dangerous bait.  Fortunate since plausible complications arise in Angel's trek through the sewers to seal the trap.



Gischler's story gives him the opportunity to display his strong characterization skills and how he can twist an agreeably predictable plot that still allows the reader to get her feet wet.  Regular artist Will Conrad was unavailable, but Dark Horse acquired the services of able substitute Delris Santacruz.  Santacruz produces a strong ringer for David Boreanaz and does well when presenting the action in a visual narrative rich with realistic detail.



Nancy Collins continues to entertain with Vampirella's quest to rid herself of the spirit of Umbra.  Her age-old enemy Ethan Shroud suckered her into playing host for the shadow demon.  Collins' own creation Sonja Blue also shares her body with a creature she refers to as the Other, but the Other is clearly a part of Sonja.  Not so with Umbra who seductively attempts to possess the noble vampire.  

In order to get expunge the parasite, Vampirella must undergo Herculean labors.  For the first task of her quest, the dark heroine needs to kill and use the parts of specific monsters.  This means the return of an old favorite.



The beastie last appeared in Brandon Seifert's Witchdoctor.  Two appearances of the Asian demon within a few years of comic book reading.  I must be doing something right.  The Krasue is a unique bit of floating folklore that's at once hilarious and grotesque.  I've had a soft spot for the beast ever since seeing the cheapjack special effects stills from Thai films that made her manifestation possible.

The Krasue actually does very little in the story apart from a sorry attempt at strangulation.  From reading the plots of these films, the Krasue often served as showstopping window dressing.  So, in a way Collins maintains tradition by making the beastie a supernatural McGuffin in a story about Vampirella.  Collins generates most of the intrigue through Ella's resistance to Umbra's enticements.  Though she does quench a different kind of thirst.  



Wowsers! Seriously though.  Vampirella debuted as a Warren magazine for mature audiences.  Vampirella having sex shouldn't really be a big deal, and Collins has never been one to shy away from the subject.

I found Collins' wit far more surprising.  Collins' Sonja Blue novels were fairly straight-up horror adventure stories.  The title character might have had a sense of humor but she hid it well.  Vampirella on the flip side is quite funny thanks to the inclusion of the sardonic nostferatu Drago.  



This isn't even the funniest line.

Patrick Berkonkotter illustrates the beautiful and the beastly with equal skill, and his depiction of the antagonist is impressive.  His art makes it look like the Krasue's been animated by way bigger budgets than all the Thai films combined. 



Painkiller Jane and the 22 Brides investigate the mad bomber of New York.  They finally get a break by tracing the phone setting off the charge to the bomber's associates.  Writer/creator Jimmy Palmiotti however diverts the plot from the expected and by doing so tailors the gist to Jane's characterization.  Jane gets fierce when Maureen suffers an injury, however minor.



Jane's method of detection differs from Sherlock Holmes and the typical gumshoe of old.  Because of her power to heal, she meets things head on, seldom using stealth.  Essentially, she stakes out her claim and calls out the bad guy.



Jane's technique brings Act IV smashing headlong into what should have been Act II.  Cutting to the chase literally involves throwing Jane at a helicopter and ending on a vicious looking cliffhanger.  Believe me, you won't miss the expected padding one bit.



On the planet Arborea, Flash Gordon surreptitiously teams with Prince Barin to lead the first Mongo imperium revolt.  Last issue, Flash prevented the Lion Man Thun and Mox the Rhino Man from losing their intellect to become true enslaved Beast Men.  This issue Flash, Dale and Zarkov decimate Mongo's forces, enact serious property damage with admittedly convenient explosive berries and raspberry Ming the Merciless by daring to resist.



Flash is instrumental in the rebellion, but obviously he could not have turned the tide alone.  Nevertheless, it's very easy to see how Ming will build an animosity toward Flash that's legendary.  Flash is willing to take credit for all the turmoil in order to shield his extraterrestrial allies from reprisals.  Thus, the Flash's grandstanding isn't, and his motives are completely altruistic.  Flash in fact lacks an ego when it comes to matters of right and wrong, and he's unaware of it when he launches into a new challenge.


Writer Jeff Parker's light touch with the Flash Gordon adventures also enlivens Zarkov and Dale Arden.  Zarkov exhibits quite a bit of ego in the story, not unwarranted, and this translates into some funny moments.  Dale is the hard-nosed reporter that Lois Lane wants to be, and she becomes a storyteller again as she recounts the events in the highly recommended King's Watch.  Dale as you can see also displays her comedy chops.




Charles Soule ends the storyarc in which Swamp Thing silenced the Parliament of Trees, regained his status as Champion of the Green and returned past avatars to earth in human form as a reward for their help in changing the guard.



Alas, the Avatars Lady Weeds and the Wolf didn't take too kindly to Alec Holland's present and chose to whittle him down to size.  Each of their plans failed miserably, and in a last ditch effort, the Wolf became less than human to fight Swamp Thing on equal footing.  Joshua, the benevolent Avatar who offered immortal Capucine protection, got caught in the crossfire.

Soule finishes the story with a full flourish of foliage.  Swamp Thing mitigates the damage, and the Wolf demonstrates that even in a hideous form he still holds a glimmer of humanity.  That's not however a guarantee of mercy.  Capucine exacts a crucial delicious revenge on Weeds, and although this issue of Swamp Thing is basically a good guys-over-bad guys- win, the story's neither disposable or predictable.  The characters with robust depth lead the tale of revenge and triumph.



On Earth 2, everybody's on the same page.  Stop Darkseid's forces from invading the planet again.  Writer Tom Taylor however demonstrates that there's more than one way to skin an Apokoliptan War-Rat. 



Lois, her mind ensconced in the Red Tornado, stops "Superman" from continuing his rampage, and Taylor reveals  a secret from our returning Man of Steel.  Suffice to say old Superman fans should be delighted.

Marella, Batman and the Flash however serve as the centerpiece in a strike against the opposition that displays the elegance of a butterfly in flight.



One disappointment is a given.  Though Power Girl appears on the cover of Earth 2, she's nowhere to be found in the pages.

I would be remiss not to mention the colorists of this week's yield.  Whether it's Jordie Bellaire granting power to conflagration, or Blond and his dueling red-heads, with a Red Hood watching from the sidelines, the colorists did a spectacular job.  Pete Pantazis and his wonder hues spark a rainbow in Earth 2.  It would be perfectly acceptable for a black and white Angel and Faith to hit the racks, but the shades of Michelle Madsen on hand, why would you?  Likewise for Vampirella's Jorge Sutil.  His bloody yet varied reds emphasize Vampirella's need, while Matt Wilson's choices bring out a kaiju element that mirrors the Wes Craven Swamp Thing.  To the unsung heroes of the comic book world, the colorists.