Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 19, 2012


Ray Tate

Today in the Pick of the Brown Bag, I'll cover The Judas Coin an original graphic novel by Walt Simonson,It's another big week for DC zero issues.  Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Nightwing, Supergirl and Wonder Woman are all ripe subjects for the POBB, as well as the brand new Sword and Sorcery with the pre-Crisis character Amethyst and the even older hero Beowulf.  I'll also look at Young Justice, the all-ages title spinning-off from the television series.

Let's Get This Party Started

I'm an atheist and because of my skepticism I have low tolerance for anything based on Christian mythology.  Crosses and holy water against vampires? That's something I can accept at least for an hour or two.  Young Samson and Goliath sure.  

Angels or a benevolent god?  Forget it.  Thankfully, I don't have to believe for a second in order to accept the premise in Walt Simonson's time-spanning graphic novel The Judas Coin.  

Simonson leaves plenty of wiggle room for people like me.  In the tradition of the storytellers of old, Simonson establishes that the story may have happened, or it may not have happened.  It's a story, related to generations and perhaps amended down the line.  So maybe we're talking about the legend of Jesus and Judas, or maybe not.  Maybe it's Brian.

The key is that a curse falls on the coin in question, or perhaps the coins in question.  Well, the Hope Diamond is supposed to be cursed, and that's a real world object.  So I can accept that lots of bad things happened to people in possession of the coin but these events weren't necessarily caused by the supernatural, merely greed and happenstance.

After the preamble, the story kicks off with one of the most obscure DC comics characters from The Brave and the Bold.  The Golden Gladiator defines honor to his friend Caesar. No, not the monkey, or Julius.  The Golden Gladiator's colleague is Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasian Augustus, a real world Emperor of Rome.  Simonson did his research.  He sets the story in Germania, where Vespasian made his first impression as legate.  Marcus and Vespasian attempt to parlay with allies.  They find traitors and outlaws that might be persuaded to join their cause, only if the accursed coin doesn't foul their intentions.

Next Jon the Viking Prince and his men discover an island tribe that use the coin as a talisman.  The encounter leads to an episode that's almost Pythonesque in nature, albeit with a more dramatic sensibility.  It's here that you notice Simonson starting to tweak his artwork to suit either the period or the fame.  It's still very vividly his style, but the illustration in this short bears some nuances from his early work which included nods to Joe Kubert, the co-creator of the Viking Prince, also representing The Brave and the Bold.  

I was a little surprised not to see the Silent Knight among the heroes contesting against the curse of the coin, but Simonson jumps ship to Adventure Comics with Captain Fear next.  In the past, Alex Nino related the pirate's escapades.  Nino's artwork and Walt Simonson's renderings look somewhat similar to begin with.  Nino however was more of an evoker.  He put in just enough nuts and bolts to recreate the atmosphere of the period.  Simonson provides sharp, focused detail for mutiny possibly caused by a rather familiar looking coin.

Galloping into the west, Simonson brilliantly characterizes the trickster Bat Lash.  Watch as DC's Maverick out-talks and out-thinks his way out of a comeuppance from a sore loser.  Of course all of these dominos could have been initially toppled by a coin lying in the kitty.

Modern times finds a coin master matching wits against rival thieves, and when the bottom falls out of Two-Face's plans, he finds himself in the odd role of spectator watching and even admiring the Batman bringing his nemeses to painful justice.  Unfortunately for the Dark Knight, chances favor the criminal, or was it chance? Might not a curse and a coin jinxed the Batman's wants?  Simonson goes black and white for this case.  Combined with the widescreen horizontal format, the story feels like a comic strip, a particularly dramatic one.

In the final short, Simonson takes the coin to the future of Manhunter, his presence no doubt a gag on Simonson's most famous character.  This Manhunter is not Paul Kirk but the near one-shot Manhunter 2070.  Simonson shifts his art to anime and breaks out looser sexual mores to make the finale even weirder.

The Judas Coin is a steal, and every page earns each penny.  The paperstock beautifully reproduces Simonson's artwork and draws out the deep rich colors of Lovern Kindzierski.  Here's hoping this isn't the last prestige hardback from Simonson.

Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns characterized the elder Selina Kyle as a madame who ran a call girl service.  That imaginary future for Batman and his mythology became canon to the post-Crisis DCU.  Miller based his Year One on the past he hinted at in Dark Knight Returns.  A poorly conceived Catwoman miniseries also corroborated Miller's hooker master-plan.

When Jo Duffy began the first ongoing Catwoman series, the first thing she did was fudge the newly minted history.  She re-established Catwoman as a lifelong thief that only pretended to be a prostitute in her early days of larceny.  Good for Duffy.

Rolling unsuspecting johns was simply an easy way to steal cash fast.  Duffy also erased Selina's friend Holly, who was killed previously in Showcase after managing to rise from the gutter to the upper crust.

Ed Brubaker cherry picked from Miller and Duffy.  He audaciously and inexplicably resurrected Holly, but he wisely glossed over Selina's past.  Jeph Loeb chucked all of Catwoman's post-Crisis continuity out the window in favor of a parallel to the animated series version.  This Catwoman also fit in with some of her appearances in Grant Morrison's JLA and Devin Grayson's Gotham Knights.

Despite all these different origins, Catwoman actually holds some immunity.  The fact is that most people have a fixed idea about who and what Catwoman is.  None of the muck tends to sticks.  The perception is quite simple.  Catwoman is a master thief who fell in love with Batman, the world's greatest detective.

The post-Crisis is no more, and the new 52 reigns supreme.  With the zero issue, Ann Nocenti debuts as the new Catwoman writer, and she orchestrates a new beginning for Selina that's closer to the ideal.  

The reason why Selina's so good at stealing is that she survived a childhood of thieving mistakes.  As a youngster, Selina and her brother were artful dodgers working for a corrupt Fagin who headed the orphanage where the siblings plied their trades.  It's funny but Gotham City had quite a few orphanages.  The addition of Selina's brother incidentally is not a new invention.  He debuted in a 1952 issue of Batman as The King of Cats.  

An example of why most 1950s comics should be avoided. 

As Selina grows older, she goes solo and starts attempting the art of disguise; a classic trick she employed in her 1940 debut as the Cat.  Although, rather than opt for a Hollywood styled makeover with latex, Selina tries to assume other roles and finds this task daunting.

Selina becomes better and better at dishonesty.  As a result she grows more cunning, and her research into different lives hones her intellect.  This is where we find her.  Only she's not searching for jewels.  She's seeking her identity.  Nocenti calls back to the distant past once more.  She plays with the idea of Catwoman's true identity.  At one point in the 1950s Batman lore, Selina Kyle suffered from amnesia.  She adopted the  Catwoman persona because she didn't actually know who she was.

The Cat seemed like a whole being.  Catwoman and Selina Kyle could have been two individuals, something Tim Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer played up in Batman Returns.  The clothes maketh the woman.  Catwoman's costume arose mainly out of comic book convention.  Costumed criminals were simply popular.  She could have theoretically stayed free from the distinction, but that's not how history played out, and the idea of she becoming a costumed felon gave greater credence to the amnesia angle.  

In the end the whole amnesia explanation satisfied nobody, and it was relegated to the designation of ruse.  There's only one good origin for the cat motif Selina Kyle chose, and Nocenti sagely employs it.

Nocenti has somebody else throw Selina off the rooftop, but there's no doubt that the kitties that revive Selina padded from Tim Burton's cat flap.  The scene also exemplifies how well Adriana Melo choreographs action, drama and lays out dynamic panels.  

Birds of Prey writer Duane Swierczynski produces the most original of the zero issues.  

He integrates three of the Birds into the new 52's past, and this book pretty much kills the Oracle identity for Barbara Gordon.  There's simply no evidence to suggest she was anybody but Batgirl.  For me, that's pennies from heaven.  For Oracle fans, well, they can suck it, like I had to do for twenty-three years.

Every cell in my body loathed the crippling of Barbara Gordon.  That's about 100 trillion units of hate, but I also had issue with the Oracle persona.  To whit, Barbara Gordon would never have joined the Suicide Squad unless she meant to destroy it from within, but there was no indication of duplicity.  

The Bronze Tiger murdered the original Batwoman.  The original Batwoman was Babs' friend and colleague.  Depending on what day it was, the original Batwoman existed in the post-Crisis and her murder was canon, sometimes.  Batman for example mentions the original Batwoman during Knightquest, when he employs the Bronze Tiger, something that also wouldn't happen but did.  The Bronze Tiger claimed brainwashing as a defense, apparently accepted by all.  It's a crap copout, and Batman would have recognized the Tiger's state when beating the snot out of him in the pre-Crisis.

Babs working alongside Batwoman's murderer? No way in hell.  Babs ending him? That I could have accepted and admired.

When Babs creates the Birds of Prey, the conception made more sense than Babs joining the Suicide Squad.  However let me emphasize.  As soon as DC started reintroducing magic and alien technology back into the post-Crisis DCU Barbara being confined to a wheelchair stopped being even remotely possible.  As soon as Batman was healed from his crippling by a mutant named Shondra Kinsolving, Barbara's paralysis became ever more insulting.

That's of course the old.  We know that in the new timeline Barbara Gordon was crippled by the Joker.  However, she was healed, in all probability through the direct involvement of Batman, approximately two years before her re-emergence as Batgirl, with regard to the formation of the Justice League.  This adventure occurs likely a few months the Joker felled her.

Fresh from Team 7, Diana Lance learns of a deal going down at the Penguin's nightclub, the Iceberg.  She infiltrates the club under the pretense of obtaining a job with security.  Since this demands smacking around Penguin's security, artist Romano Molenaar enjoys a wide berth of artistic freedom, the freedom to have Black Canary kick ass.

Romano Molenaar's artwork is a definite boon to Birds of Prey.  His ladies are proportionate, exhibit fluid motion and engage in deadly displays of martial arts.  I wouldn't mind seeing him as the regular artist on Birds of Prey, assuming that the spectacular skills of Cliff Richards are unavailable.

Once ensconced in Penguin's nest, the Black Canary meets Evelyn alias Starling, the Penguin's henchwench.  The ladies take an immediate liking to each other despite being ostensibly on the other side. 

Starling is bisexual.  In fact, she's the best bisexual/lesbian hero in the new 52 and one of the best ever.  Thanks to writer Duane Swiercynski, Starling possesses a far more entertaining personality than depth deprived Batgirl substitute number five Batwoman.  That personality pops from the dialogue when she interacts with the Canary and when she encounters Batgirl for the first time.

Starling is sexually drawn to the Black Canary, but that's only part of the story.  Swierczynski isn't simply relating a dry origin.  He's got three surprises revealed at the conclusion for regular Birds of Prey readers.

Batgirl cameos in an issue of Young Justice this week, and her brief appearance is really the only reason why I purchased the title.  Nevertheless, it was a better read than I thought it would be.

Miss Martian is my favorite character in Young Justice.  This ridiculous post-Crisis femme Martian Manhunter, with an origin blatantly contradictory to DC's entire history works extremely well without the backdrop of the mess that was. 

In Young Justice Weisman gives her an adoptive family, a love interest, a sparkling personality and an intrinsic role on the team.  Artists Christopher Jones and Zac Atkinson furthermore make Miss Martian as cute as a button.

Another alien makes guest appearance.  Young Justice writer Greg Weisman bases this version of Superman on the animated series Superman voiced by Tim Daley and George Newbern.  Never ever a bad thing.  

Justice League colleague Zatanna appears for a warm, amusing running gag.  Zatanna it turns out was a member of Young Justice, and in the present, she just joined the Justice League.  I have to admit that it's a good and novel fit.  Batman The Animated Series introduced Zatanna as the young daughter of Zatarra who crushes on a young Bruce Wayne. 

Although for all-ages, Young Justice still exemplifies a book that doesn't talk down to its audience.  The creative team for example depict a mature relationship between nineteen year-old Dick Grayson and the grown up Bette Kane, indicating that the creators feel that kids are sophisticated enough to know that adults have sex.

Ultimately, I can't really recommend Young Justice as fully as I would have liked.  The art's elegant and welcoming like most of the all-ages tie-ins that were, Batman Adventures, for example, but the story jumps around time all too frequently, and this is not a time travel story.  Rather, for no reason at all, the story starts at a point where Nightwing is Robin, then jumps to his future.  The same kind of jump occurs when Superboy meets Clark Kent for the first time and then reacquaints with Kent when he covers the present day rally for an outspoken critic of the Qurac regime.  Weisman and company in between these flashbacks/flashforwards also cut to Nightwing and Wonder Girl recruiting the Blue Beetle.

Young Justice ties in more with the post-Crisis DCU than any other animated series.  It's still in its own continuity.  Batgirl's walking after all, but people weeping for the post-Crisis chaos may find what they want in this series.  It's not exactly the post-Crisis, but Ted Kord was murdered.  No indication if comic relief shot Beetle in the head.  Jamie Reyes is the second Blue Beetle.  The presence of Qurac is a big DCU callback as is the Queen Bee, Lagoon Boy and Rocket from the Milestone Universe.

Nightwing zero deals with familiar territory, but writer Kyle Higgins adds dimension to the death of the Graysons through an adorable birthday gift that highlights what Dick lost.  

This is a uniform trait in the new 52.  The writers don't just make the parents of the heroes footnotes in their histories.  They've been imbuing them with depth and power.  The Waynes in Scott Snyder's absolutely brilliant Night of the Owls resonate, and you feel a sense of Bruce's loss.  The Waynes were nice people who loved their son.  The Graysons are no different.

Higgins shorthands the characterization of the Graysons by qualifying them in a typical parent-child scene, and though they punish Dick Grayson for doing something stupid, they clearly punish out of love.  Dick must learn from the rules he broke.

When Tony Zucco murders the Graysons, Higgins looks to the animated series for inspiration.  When Bruce speaks you can hear Kevin Conroy's empathy toward "the boy."  This is no mere copy.  Higgins once again brings nuances to a scene enhanced by artists Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira and Rod Reis.  Co-plotter Tom DeFalco with Higgins furthermore gently tease the bare bones of Robin's origin story into the twenty-first century of the new 52.  Dick does not become Bruce Wayne's ward.  Rather, Bruce Wayne offers the police a safe haven where Dick Grayson can recuperate.  Bruce takes Dick out of the Wayne Care Center when Batman encounters Dick searching for Zucco by himself on the streets, another echo to the animated series.

Fans of the character won't want to miss the special zero issue since it presents Nightwing in full uniform as Robin for the first time.  An attractive affair without the traditional short pants.  The story gives a strong reason why Robin dons the costume, and the illustrations of the Batman of the past in the new 52 visually allude to the original Dark Knight from Neal Adams.  If that's not enough I don't know what will fulfill your desires gentle readers.

Although Nightwing is a sad book.  It's not the saddest.  Supergirl feels like a gut punch.

The combination of Supergirl's youthful innocence, her absolute trust in her father Zor-El, and his willingness to sacrifice anything for her is just about the most heart-wrenching fiction I've experienced this year.  Thank not just Michaels Green and Johnson but also Mahmud Asrar's incredibly moving artwork.  His endearing body language for Kara, and the horrible eaten alive by guilt expressions of Zor-El combine to strike with potent impact that once again makes the reader feel what this hero has lost.

Supergirl divulges heretofore unknown details about the history of Krypton and the House of El.  The zero issue also reinforces what's already known. 

Green and Johnson emphasize that cloning is forbidden.  Kara is not a clone.  We do see however that Zor-El was conducting experiments on his daughter to make her more receptive to the gifts of the yellow sun, and he is somehow responsible for the World-Killers that Supergirl faced in her regular issues.  These experiments caused the rift between he and his brother Jor-El.  He always intended for Kara to stay in stasis in order to saturate her with yellow sunlight, which nicely sidesteps the age issue.  Kara was indeed young Kal-El's baby sitter, and while the emphasis is on Zor-El, Alura also appears to express love for her daughter.

I don't have much to say about Wonder Woman except that Brian Azarello and DC take the smartest step they've ever made in the Wonder Woman/Donna Troy/Cassie Sandsmark triangle.  They eliminate one side and "proudly present" the newest version of Wonder Girl.

Wonder Woman was Wonder Girl.  Thank the cosmos! No crazy John Byrne villain magic cloning! No firemen rescuing crying baby! No Wonder Girl predating Wonder Woman!  No Terry Long! Wonder Woman was Wonder Girl, just like she was back in the Bronze Age.  Presumably she was Wonder Baby as well.  Fan-tas-tic! Cliff Chiang's artwork even echoes that sweet Ross Andru illustration that made Wonder Girl's adventures so enjoyable.

I know didley-squat about Amethyst.  I saw ads for her series around the time of The Crisis on Infinite Earths, but the comic book was never available, and since I'm a tough sell on sword and sorcery books, I never looked into getting the back issues.  No worries.  The new 52 Amethyst is pretty self-explanatory.  On earth, she's a cross between Veronica Mars and Lisbeth Salander.  Off earth, blend in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the modern interpretation of Red Sonja, the original chick in chain mail.

Writers Cristy Marx and Tony Bedard make Sword and Sorcery very user friendly but not all ages.  The writers take a tip from C.S. Lewis.  The children who entered the Wardrobe leading to the land of Narnia aged and gained the wisdom and experience of adults.  When they returned to earth, they became children again.  This should come as no shock to any Captain Marvel readers.  A similar magic affects Amethyst.

On earth, she appears to be Goth with dark features and a preference for dark clothes.  Once on Gemworld here referred to as Nilla, she gains the more familiar blonde hair and purple garb.  In an ingenious twist, she's just as surprised as the reader.

Amethyst's mother, Grace, has been training her since she was able to pick up a sword.  That gives Amethyst, or Amy, skills rare to other young women her age.  Those skills come in handy when she stops an attempted gang rape.

Such a crime might seem out of place in a book that's ostensibly a fairy tale, but rape and murder was the catalyst of Veronica Mars, and the books of Narnia and the Oz books of L. Frank Baum while written for kids didn't scrub their stories.  Gruesome things happened in these novels.  

The crime is furthemore not in the book for titillation.  The writers instead typify rape as a power trip and an act of humiliation, and it is attempted rape.  Amethyst intervenes thereby establishing her creds as no mean feminist hero.

When Amethyst and her mother set foot on Gemworld, their problems arise from Amethyst's aunt.  A witch of the highest order, or lowest depending on your viewpoint, Lady Mordiel absorbs the lifeforce of her bloodline, identified by the blonde hair.  All and all, it's a promising start to a new series that's not quite all sorcery or sword.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 12, 2012


Ray Tate

Hello, and welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  Today, we clean up with reviews of Smallville, Lookouts and Creator-Owned Heroes.  We turn to this week's batch of comics including the zero issues of Batgirl, Batman, Frankenstein and Team 7.  We'll also look at some licensed properties such as Vampirella and Dark Shadows as well as Doctor Who and The Saint.

Batman finally arrives in Smallville, the comic book that is.  Creators of the show tried introduce Batman on the series, and failed consistently over rights issues that frankly still confuse the hell out of me.  Warner Brothers owns Batman and Superman.  Smallville was broadcast on the CW.  What was the problem!

Anyway....As with Hank Henshaw in the first Smallville comics, an "actor," you may have seen him before in a smaller part, assumes the role of Batman.  The creative team also fashion his new costume with the limitations of television in mind.

Looks Better Than Bale if You Ask Me

In other words, rather than embrace the unlimited parameters of a comic book like Buffy the Vampire Slayer did, the creative team mimic the format of a television show and, though increasing their budget, they still act as if constrained by reality.  This is actually a good way to go.  Because of these self-imposed margins Smallville looks like no other on the rack.

Rather than adhere to tradition with Robin or Batgirl, the creators introduce Nightwing as an amalgam of both.  Of course there was some controversy over the statements made by writer Bryan Q Miller regarding Batman's Smallville partner.  If you believe Miller, Nightwing was meant to be Stephanie Brown.  This is not how she appears in Smallville.  So, the artists at least had a heads up on DC's plans, and I suspect Miller made his statements before he actually secured permission from DC.

Again this is the smart way to go.  Batgirl is known to be Barbara Gordon or Yvonne Craig by the general public.  Barbara Gordon appeared in costume in no less than six television series.  The people buying and more importantly downloading Smallville aren't necessarily habitual comic book buyers.  Stephanie Brown? Who's she?  We expect Barbara Gordon to be Batgirl.  There can be no other.

Because Smallville is a "television show" the creators do take liberties.  Despite her appearance alluding to her role as a librarian, Babs appears to be Bruce Wayne's personal assistant.  When the heroes are out of uniform, they exhibit a most appealing Avengers dynamic.  As Nightwing and Batman, they are a very tough and downright mean dynamic duo, with Barbara humiliating her targets while Batman scares the hell out of his prey.

When Batman meets Superman, it's an explosive confrontation.  I'm guessing that Batman reacted violently to Superman's interference because Batman believes if he gets in one good punch, he can escape.  Batman is sadly mistaken.

Superman in Smallville is effective.  Superman saves a bus-load of kids taken hostage, by a criminal exploiting stolen teleport technology.  Our hero follows that lead to Lex Luthor, but after questioning the villain, Superman deduces Intergang's involvement.  This conclusion leads Superman to Belle Reve where Bruno Manheim resides.  That's where Batman enters the picture.

Oh, and just in case you were thinking the historic team-up/rivalry overwhelms the personal subplots, you can think again.  Last issue, Lex found a way to identify Superman wherever he flies.  This issue, thanks to a little help from his friends, Superman and Lois have some well-deserved quality time in the Fortress of Solitude.  When Lois returns to The Daily Planet a lovestruck intern--he's into Clark--suffers her particular brand of Loisness.  It's an uproarious moment in which artist Chris Gross stretches his muscles toward the Kevin Maguire spectrum and doesn't do bad at all in the attempt.

A year to a year and a half ago new 52 time, Barbara Gordon was crippled by the Joker, but before that Barbara became Batgirl for the first time.  Batman's and Batgirl's zero issues reinforce the idea that DC's post-Crisis history is no more, and I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

The Killing Joke in particular no longer exists; given that it had all the trappings of an earth-two story, featuring Batman tooling around in a 1940s Batmobile and a photo of the original Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Ace the Bathound, it never should have been incorporated into the DCU in the first place.  The Killing Joke was the eye of the black hole that decimated all that was good in DC comics.

Just a shred of old DC remains, and The Joker's crime is no longer as powerful.  Batgirl is back.  Permanently.  Finally.  In fact, DC went out of its way to make her feel welcome.  The retroplanted, garbage Batgirl substitute and token lesbian Batwoman still pollutes the racks, but no other Batgirl ever was in DC comics.  In the new timeline, Barbara Gordon was, is and will always be Batgirl.  That's how it should be.  That's how it should have always been.

Batman, Batgirl and last week's Detective Comics link to reveal decidedly different incarnations of Batman and Batgirl.  Better versions.  Detective Comics isn't very good until you read Batman and Batgirl and realize that Batman Dark Knight writer Gregg Hurwitz wasn't actually following the old pursuit of presenting a cold, robotic Batman.  

In Hurwitz's Detective Comics, the mentally tortured wife of Bruce's sensei hires a ninja to kill her husband.  Her husband believed that sublimating the emotions is the only way to be a true warrior.  The murder of Bruce's sensei turns out to be key in the forging of a much more empathic Batman of the new 52.  The neophyte Batman learned from the killer of his sensei.  Don't lock up your heart and humanity because this way leads to betrayal and death.

The lesson informs Batman, and when Bruce returns home, he hugs Alfred.  At the time, I simply thought the backup story in Detective Comics was the result of problems in communication between writers.  Now, I see it as the beginning of a pattern.  Yes, Batman will become dark.  Yes, Batman will terrify criminals, but as we see in the future, he will head the Batman Family.  He will make friends with members of the Justice League.  He won't just be a part of the team; we've seen his welcoming attitude toward the Flash in Flashpoint.  He will romance Catwoman.  He will hold Barbara's hand in the ICU.  All of this arises from a single point in the maelstrom of Detective Comics.

Batman details Bruce's first encounter with the Joker in his guise of the Red Hood.  In The Killing Joke, the Joker is presented as a victim.  He's a stand up comic with a wife, and he's duped into wearing the Red Hood.  The gang suckered a schlep to wear the Hood to act as a target.

Writer Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo follow Gail Simone's example.  They throw out Alan Moore's deconstructive origin story for the Joker.  Snyder and Capullo go back to the beginning, in which the diabolical Red Hood was one of the Batman's first adversaries.  He never uncovered the Hood's identity until Robin discovers through criminological analysis that the returning Red Hood's hair is actually green.  When trying to escape Batman, the Red Hood swam through chemicals, and that is how the Joker arose.

Later in the myths, it's suggested that the chemicals twisted his already abnormal brain even farther, and that's where Snyder begins.  He presents the Hood as a joke-telling psychopath prone to violence and mass murder by poison, but nowhere yet near the insanity exhibited by his future persona.  Capullo in turn draws the Hood's head as elongated, sporting a half-grin.  He's only half-way to full ahead nuts.

Batman is a reflective comic.  Capullo expresses the wry humor of Lieutenant Gordon.  Gordon's twitchy mustache through the panels demonstrates youth and Groucho subtlety.  He and Bruce appear to be sharing a private joke that mirrors the body language and veiled meaning in Batman's and Gordon's conversation about The Dark Knight's and "The Joker's" pairing up against the Arkham inmates early in the new 52 series.  The Joker in this case was the disguised Dick Grayson.

Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd and Tim Drake all appear in the backup story by James Tynion and Andy Clarke.  The tale better insinuates the Batman Family siblings into Batman's timeline and cements their ages.  Dick is the elder.  Barbara is the second-eldest, as established in a previous issue of Batgirl.  Jason comes next and finally Tim.  Now we can see how a youthful Batman can have four Robins and one Batgirl at his side.

As this week's Batgirl reinforces, Batgirl fought beside Batman and Robin (Dick Grayson).  As Red Hood and the Outlaws indicates, she never met Jason Todd or Tim Drake as Robin.  We can then guess that Dick Grayson wasn't Robin long and took on the Nightwing guise when college age.  Jason only a few years younger assumes the role of Robin, but because of his upbringing on the streets, this harder figure conflicted with Batman who promptly fired him after a few months, half a year at most.  Death in the Family likely no longer exists and thankfully neither does Superboy punching time to reanimate the dead but not the crippled.  Tim Drake then became Robin, and finally Damian Wayne.  It's a tight fit, but it's a fit.

So, what about Batgirl?  Originally, Barbara Gordon was considered "mousy."  In reality, she hid her devastating intellect beneath a guise of propriety as she worked in the Gotham City Library and disguised her brown belt with restrained demeanor.  Fed up with the way people judged her, Barbara intended to wow her friends, father and colleagues with the "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl."  She made her own sexy, dynamic Batgirl uniform and simply hoped to reveal herself at a costume party.  Her plans changed when she saw Bruce Wayne endangered by the Killer Moth.

Unlike the post-Crisis writers, Simone keeps the core of Barbara's origin.  Rather than become a martial artist in secret Barbara Gordon learns self-defense because she's the Commissioner's daughter.  The Commissioner's well aware of what Barbara can do.  In the old cosmology, Barbara began her career as Batgirl when older.  She already had a PhD.

Simone sagely takes Barbara's age in consideration as well as her introverted personality and dumps the party idea; perfect for a young woman, not a good idea for a teenager.  The change retains Babs' public shyness, which hides the fact that she's nuts about the concept of Batman.  Her eyes light up when she thinks of Batman, but it's not romance she's after.

Simone outfits Barbara through a very clever means.  The uniform's in fact waiting for her, and she puts it on to protect her psychopathic brother James Jr.  We can assume Year One if long gone from the DC canon.  This is not the child Batman saved during a motorcycle chase.  The Commissioner does not have an affair with Sara Essen.  Indeed, James Jr. coerces his mother to leave the family, detailed chillingly in a previous issue of Batgirl.

A cult/militia leader not the Killer Moth catalyzes Barbara's birth as Batgirl, and in a very strange way, Simone parallels the debut of Batgirl on television.  In that episode of the kitschy Batman,  the Penguin kidnaps Barbara with the intent to forcibly marry her and thereby bulletproof himself against the Commissioner.  In a very clever move, the Penguin hides in the apartment next to Barbara Gordon's flat.  He's right to think nobody would look for them there, but it also gives Barbara the opportunity to work her way along the ledge to sneak home and change into Batgirl.

Simone works the same idea but with a more realistic situation.  Barbara's taken hostage in the police department by a thug who uses her as a bargaining chip.  The thug intends to kill James Jr. mainly because he sees the psychotic personality lurking behind his eyes.  Junior's dangerous.  Barbara uses the tear gas attack to her advantage in order to change into Batgirl and defeat the thug.  Oh, and there's no henchmen around wearing uniforms that say "Henchman."

When the smoke has almost cleared, Batman appears, with the intent to rescue her, but she doesn't need the help.  Her actions instead impress him.  He even compliments her.  At that moment, Barbara joins the Batman family.

I can't say that this origin is better than the original.  Rather, like last week's World's Finest spotlighting a new death of the earth-two Catwoman, the origin suits the character within the new 52 environment, and Simone should be justly proud of reversing Barbara's twenty-three years of misfortune and recouping most of what makes Barbara Gordon special to her fans.

A different type of bat girl casts her shadow in Dark Shadows and VampirellaOf course the similarities are few.  Ed Benes illustrates Batgirl elegantly and has nothing to fear from bad breast artist Patrick Berkenkotter.

There's just really no call for drawing a woman like this, even Vampirella, who isn't shy about displaying her sexuality.  Indeed, being a vampire, she must issue seduction as part of the hunting process, but this is ridiculous and not at all sensual.  They look like rotting cantaloupes.

What's worse, is that the depiction distracts you from a decent story in which the proper Jonathan Frid Barnabas Collins mixes and matches with Vampirella on a stalk for a serial killer that has dared to snatch one of Barnabas' victims' descendants; under his protection don't you know.

Writer Marc Andreyko makes the duel between the vamps not just about strength but also attitude, and the often amusing dialogue paves the way for a weird team-up.  Andreyko also partners an incarnation of Pantha, who doesn't sport the ridiculous boobs of Vampirella, and the werewolf Quentin.

From vampires, we turn to a Modern Prometheus.  Mary Shelley never actually went into great detail about how the monster, whom she named Adam, arrived in the world.  She hinted that Victor Frankenstein used dead tissue to construct his eight foot tall beast and electricity to bring him to life, overtly disclosed in the Universal film with Boris Karloff.  DC's Frankenstein is even more twisted.

In Shelley's Frankenstein, Victor was a tragic hero.  The monster murdered his intended Elizabeth and his younger brother William.  Victor pursued his creation to the ends of the earth in order to destroy him.

Writer Matt Kidnt turns the creature's creator into a murdering madman.  He doesn't just use dead tissue to stitch up the glimmer in his eye.  He kills living men and women to harvest the raw material and power the furnace that will give the Monster life.

Upon gaining the spark of life, Frankenstein is appalled at Victor's lack of morality and promptly deals with him, though not fatally.  He sets Victor's victims free, and when he encounters Elizabeth, the meeting is a far cry from that of the Shelley novel.

Kindt compresses a massive number of ideas into one book, and I really wish he took the time to expand them because they're so intriguing.  This is the same feeling I had when Frankenstein starred in Men at War.  I so wanted to see a series where Frankenstein killed Nazis in inventive ways issue after issue and with G.I. Robot J.A.K.E. flanking him.

In this zero issue, we discover very quickly how Frankenstein's bride arose and S.H.A.D.E's continued involvement.  Frankenstein fights a baby-eating monster and as a result becomes a tribe member.  Victor pursues his creation with a band of period cyborg pirates to South America, not the Antarctic.  I suppose you could call them Steampunk, but that movement tends to focus on elegant clockwork and the beauty of steam-powered invention.  These gents are ugly, and artists Alberto Ponticelli and Wayne Faucher intended that homeliness.  In fact even the most unblemished of characters still has the reality of imperfection.

One of "Shelley's children" roams in "Trigger Girl."  Trigger Girl 6's body was based on the President's mother, and there's a reason for that.  "Trigger Girl 6" easily represents Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray at their most outrageous and original.  It's very clear to me why they had to make their own label Creator-Owned Heroes in order to publish this story.  I can just imagine the pitch.

"It's Kill Bill meets classic Disney cartoons!"

Even the most adventurous publisher would probably take a pass on it.  A pity, because the story makes sense, relates a message without preaching and follows a narrative principle you might have learned in English class.  The events and lessons a character learns within a story change that character by the end.

Steve Niles and Kevin Mellon also earn points by crafting the first comedic post-apocalypse story that I've ever read.  The only thing that comes close to approaching the humor is Cherry 2000, and although light, I don't consider that movie an outright comedy.

The Road Runner/Coyote conclusive chase, the self-deprecation of the ostensible hero and the hillbilly behavior of the mutants all classify "American Muscle" as an absurd jest.  The usual articles, an interview and a short sketchbook by Mellon complete the entertaining package.

Another independent, this time from Cryptozoic, Lookouts certainly demands your attention.  The art on the cover reflects what's in the book, but the story isn't quite so innocent or cartoony.

The writers pit their gruff Ranger and his plethora of diverse students against a rare beast, so beautifully rendered I almost wish I could spoil it.  The thing however is not a Disney animal but a murderous monster that wipes out a family of four thankfully off screen.

The packaging for the new IDW Doctor Who Special is nothing short of gorgeous.  The Special sports lovely paper stock and a square-bound spine.  It's a definite step-up from the Marvel Annuals which even with Alan Davis' artwork felt disposable.  Of course, the question is does the interior match the quality of the exterior.  I'm happy to say that all four stories are illustrated and written with flair.

In the first story, the always welcome Matthew Dow Smith with textural colors by Adrian Salmons illustrates the sandy environs of Morocco for the Doctor's encounter with an old enemy.  It's great to see these things again.  Their plan follows the m.o. of using humanity's own unification and numbers against it, and the Doctor's brilliant yet simple means to defeat them is classic to his characterization.  Who knew Len Wein was a Doctor Who fan?

In the second tale the Doctor encounters a lost alien and finds himself on the run from Time Lords.  What? But, the Time Lords are locked in eternal battle with the Daleks, courtesy of the Doctor.  How did this lot escape? Writer Richard Dinnick pulls same trick on the reader that Tony Lee performed when the Shadow Proclamation put the Doctor on trial.  We've really got to stop falling for this.  Josh Adams provides good, solid artwork with rainbow wielder Charlie Kirchoff.

In the third tale, the Doctor saves one of his friends from alien hit-men that invade Alcatraz.  That plot could suit any character, but The Doctor's method of rescue depends on his intrinsic sense of whimsy and of course time travel.  It's all whacky fun by Tony Lee and Mitch Gerads who makes the panels seem like consolidated Radio Times covers.

Mark Buckingham, yes, that one, contributes realistic artwork for the Doctor's encounter with a Nazi spy.  Andy Diggle characterizes the Doctor as a finder of trouble and demonstrates the penalty for any that do not heed his warnings.

The harvesters of the bionic parts decide to sink the ship that Jamie merely threatened to keelhaul.  Mind you she did back up her threat with a bionic punch that sent the ocean rushing in.

The launchers of the s.a.m. (surface-to-air-missile) intend to net Jamie from the drink.  They're unaware and do not care about Jamie's friend Nora, which is a mistake as they will soon see, nor their former man with the scalpel.

Artist Juan Antonio Ramirez keeps the visual narrative clear and dynamic, as Jamie refuses to let these reapers get the upper hand or jeopardize her friends' lives.  Tobin's story smartly exemplifies Jamie's wits and her toughness.  He also inveigles a guest appearance by one of Jamie's old friends and uses him as a double-edge to coax out humorous jealousy from Nora, who sobers up rather quickly when she realizes her chances with Jamie are slim to none.  Nora's such a great character, damn dangerous as well.

Leslie Charteris created the Saint in 1928, but you probably encountered him as the suave, sophisticated Roger Moore in the ITV television series from the sixties.  While certainly valid, Roger Moore's Saint was scrubbed quite a bit for the audience and probably to better suit Moore's easygoing personality.

In the novels, the Saint is ruthless and has no qualms when killing a villain.  In The Saint in New York for example, Simon Templar entertains a kidnaped child by slaying her abductors.  He is a prototype pulp hero:  his enemies monstrous like those of the Spider but without the Grand Guignol flourishes and his cold dispatch of justice equal to the Shadow.

Science fiction author Mel Odom and freaking great artist Eduardo Barreto adapt a Leslie Charteris short story, the "Sizzlin' Saboteur," for this low-priced preview of the full comic book.  Charteris believe it or not wrote the Saint's stories until the 1960s, including some of the teleplays in the Roger Moore series.  This story set in 1942 was published in the 1943 collection The Saint on Guard.

Right from the opening, Barreto reels you in with a horrific depiction of being burned alive.  The most terrifying thing about the scene is that he doesn't actually show the murder.  Instead, he foreshadows it with fiery colors and depicts the steps to the homicide.

Later our Saint encounters the aftermath.  Without a photorealistic appearance, Baretto's Saint still evokes Roger Moore's "the infamous Simon Templar" if he had portrayed him in the forties.

The Saint is easily one of the breeziest characters Barretto ever illustrated.  He's usually known for figures that might have burst from Men's Action magazines.  Odom's first person narration and dialogue neatly characterizes Simon Templar.  He captures the dry wit in his voice and choice of phrasing as well as the hero's intelligence.

The most anticipated of the DC Zero books is Team 7.  The reason why is simple.  This is essentially DC's ground floor book.  It's where we hope to learn the history of DC.  Already, we know that Superman and the Flash are two of the first superhumans known to the public.

We also know this team will implode, and learning the reasons why these characters will split is kind of interesting.  Will these rationales be based upon further sightings of capes and cowls?  Will differences in philosophies clash to breaking points?

Dinah Drake, Kurt Lance, Slade Wilson, Cole Cash, Amanda Waller, Lynch, Alex Fairchild and then came James Bronson and Captain Summer Ramos comprise the team.  Oddly enough, there's nine members to this Team 7, but I'm sure that will be explained by the deaths of two.  Possibly the ones we never heard of before.

In any case, the seven formed to combat superhumans counts amongst its roster some familiar names.  Dinah marries Kurt, and she becomes the Black Canary, whom Batman knows and feels unimpressed by.  Slade Wilson gains his Deathstroke gear during the outfitting of the group, and Cole Cash dons his Grifter mask for the first time--no explanation on why only he is masked.

Justin Jordan scribes a competent gang-getting-together story.  He characterizes Dinah as the mvp, a wise decision, and pours in enough action to make Jesus Merino and his fans very happy.  Merino's artwork hasn't changed all that much from his Star Trek Voyager days.  It's just gotten sharper and more fluid.  Nathan Eyring's colors are particularly notable when depicting Dinah's cold-blue stare and the familiar hair color of Alex Fairchild, a second hint in case you've missed the connection.

Well, there you have it, all the books I missed last week combined with this week's yield gives you a particularly meaty POBB.  Next week, the usual suspects and a review of Walt Simonson's The Judas Coin.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 5, 2012


Ray Tate

Hello, and welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  Thanks to a number of premieres and the infamous zero issues of DC's new 52, the yield this week is even larger than last week.  In fact, main competition Marvel Comics looks pretty anemic in comparison.

For once, the biggest news floating through the humanoshere, isn't the GOP's war against women, sexual orientation, science, or voters, nor is it "turbulent priests" molesting kids or trying to silence nuns.  No, today we turn to biology.  Mind you, former President Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC, was awesome beyond awesome.  It easily rates second place by a hair's width to this news item.

Scientists have discovered that eighty percent of so-called junk DNA in the human genome actually controls neighboring genes encoding for the probabilities of human disease.  These activated genetic switches amongst the "junk" are in fact stepping stones when explaining such things as why some people in the same family contract cancer while others do not.

"Junk" DNA is a frequent device used in science fiction to describe all sorts of maladies and mutations, but have no fear.  Few novels and television series need to be rewritten.  While eighty percent of the "junk" is actually useful, that still leaves creators with twenty percent of approximately three meters of DNA to play with.  For now. 

A more thorough foray into the findings can be discovered in the latest issue of Nature, and for a good overview, read the September 6, 2012 issue of The New York Times.  No subscription? Support your local library.

Fair warning.  I've decided to ditch the rating system.  I never used one when I first started the POBB on the usenet back in--geez, am I that old?--and it's just a little ridiculous.  I know some people like some shorthand for whether or not to buy a book, but honestly, if you can't figure out what I like or dislike from the first few paragraphs then I'm not doing this properly.  Oh, occasionally, hopefully only occasionally, the kick to the groin rating will reappear.  I kind of like that expression of misery.

Far From Zero

In general the zero issues of DC Comics present heretofore unknown facts about the origins of our favorite heroes, review those beginnings and/or paint the landscape of the new 52 in less abstract brushstrokes.

Ann Nocenti adds a prelude to Green Arrow's marooning on the island in which he sharpens his skills.  The incident on the oil rig draws in the fallibility of the Green Arrow from the seventies, but doesn't do much else.  

During the Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams run, the Arrow accidentally kills a criminal.  Green Arrow's guilt over the criminal's death sends him into a deep spiral of despair.  He renounces his superhero status, destroys his equipment and gets thee to a monastery.  

Nocenti uses the new 52 Arrow's miscalculation during a hostage siege to motivate the hero he will become.  Freddie Williams provides decent if busy artwork but Green Arrow is really only a supplemental purchase.  Likewise for Animal Man and Swamp Thing.  

Animal Man doesn't cover any new ground, but Steve Pugh fans will not want to miss it, and Scott Snyder in Swamp Thing dispenses with the organized crime angle causing the fateful explosion that swallowed Alec Holland and instead embraces a dubious Rotworld tweak.  

Batwing rehashes most of what we already know into a bona fide origin story competently told by Judd Winick and Marcus To.  G.I. Combat features the Unknown Soldier, but I'm sorry to say that the Palmiotti and Gray version pales when compared to the original master of espionage and disguise from the Bronze Age.  Having the new 52 Soldier be a master of combat just isn't interesting enough in a multiverse filled with martial artists, dead-eye shots and of course the Batman Family.

World's Finest is easily the best of the zero issues.  Here, we discover how Helena Wayne became the Robin of earth-two, under what circumstances she met Supergirl and how Darkseid and the war against Apokolips affected her life.

Writer Paul Levitz sticks to Supergirl's traditional origin.  The Superman of earth-two keeps Supergirl's existence secret.  The pre-Crisis Power Girl didn't stand for that.  Indeed, she wasn't kind or sweet, but abrasive and forward.  She mellowed a tad over the years, but just a tad.  

The clandestine Superman tactic of the Silver Age always catalyzed argument among Supergirl fans.  One camp said that it made Superman look sexist.  The other camp averred that the scheme simply kept Superman's and Supergirl's adventures separate.  I tend to stand with the latter.  

Numerous imaginary stories appeared during the course of Superman's history in which Lex Luthor or another foe kills him.  The writers of that era were good to their words.  Once Superman died, Supergirl sought vengeance.  The writers weren't doing this to save face.  Sexism was rampant and commonplace at the time.  So they wouldn't even know how to define such a thing.  Instead, the writers paid off the reader with the logical consequence of Superman's death.  Supergirl becomes the protector of the planet, as he always intended.

The earth two Superman is definitely not keeping Supergirl's existence hush because she's an untrained girl cousin.  He does have personal reasons, but there is an actual war being fought against Apokolips.  The environs on earth two are more hazardous than those of earth one, and Superman will die, as we see in the premiere of Earth-Two.  Thus, it makes sense to keep Supergirl hidden as a literal secret weapon. 

Levitz created the Huntress with Joe Staton.  In World's Finest, Levitz factors in the new realities of the new 52 to imagine a new origin for, beloved by fans everywhere, Helena Wayne.

In the original story of the Huntress, Catwoman's henchman forged blackmail material to extort his former feline boss into committing one last crime. The semi-retired Batman answers the call, and tragedy strikes.

Batman vows to give up his cape and cowl forever.  He eventually becomes Commissioner of Gotham City, but Helena Wayne has other ideas.  She takes the guise of the Huntress, the toughest heroine of the pre-Crisis, and seeks vengeance for her mother as she honors her father.  

The relative youth of the new 52 plays a key role in Levitz's new designs.  Batman did not retire on earth two, and he married Catwoman while younger.  He and Catwoman are still active when Helena becomes Robin.  Although Batman objects to Helena risking her life as Robin, Selena...ahem...convinces Bruce that Helena is ready.  

Artist Kevin Maguire perfectly syncopates comedy that's wrapped in the history of the characters.  First Batman and Catwoman would fight.  Then they would love.  Nothing has changed although both heroes now fight alongside each other as husband and wife.  Neither their marriage, nor their child, cooled their heat at all.

It's a testament to Levitz's ability that he can recognize the potential of the setting.  Catwoman's death in World's Finest isn't as tragic as her death in the pre-Crisis.  She dies completely evolved as a defender of the earth, as Batman's teammate, his wife and the mother of Robin.  She in fact has had it all in a full, rich life.  Her demise triggers the creation of not just the Huntress, but the World's Finest team.  I cannot think of a better way for her to go.


Each death of each incarnation of Catwoman suits the world in which she lives, but the new earth two's Catwoman's life could have spanned a series of novels cataloguing the character's changes.  Although we don't really know this version of Catwoman, we know that something very special has been snuffed out by an underhanded trap set by Darkseid.  There is simply put no better comic book to buy this week.

The second best written zero issue surprises for two reasons.  One, it's a comic book I don't normally buy, and two, Peter Milligan writes the book.  

Although I loved his nineties Batman stories, Peter Milligan sucked on Justice League Dark.  His team was an unlikeable and just made me feel sad.  Stormwatch is a different animal.  Working together for a better world, Stormwatch consists of artists formerly known as the Authority and the Martian Manhunter.  Jenny Quantum explains it best.   Stormwatch is a family, her family, not just a superhero team.  They're the modern day Super-Friends.  

I would say that they have updated ideals, but The Super-Friends never spoke their opinions on sexuality and to assume they would have a Republican parochial mentality about gay marriage or a woman's role in society would be an injustice.  The Boards of Standards and Practices would have forbidden such talk, but on the whole, I'm of the belief that the Super-Friends would have reflected the values of Stormwatch not the Romney-bots of the world.  

"Hah! Hah! Tommy has two daddies! Tommy has two daddies!"
"It's Superman!"
"I was flying overhead when I heard you taunting poor Tommy.  Why the teasing, kids?"
"Tommy has two daddies, Superman! It's weird!"
"Not at all.  Lots of kids adopted and otherwise have two daddies or two mommies.  What matters is that these children have parents that love them, as much as your parents love you."
"Gee, Superman.  We never thought of it like that."
"Uh-oh.  Looks like trouble on the moon!  The Prankster's about to vandalize Neil Armstrong's footprint!  Got to go, Kids.  Up, up and awaaaaaay!"
"Hey, Tommy, we're sorry."
"Yeah, we were jerks."
"That's okay, fellas.  Let's go play some B-Ball!"

In any case Adam-One, Stormwatch's Benjamin Button, informs the reader and Jenny Quantum of the Jennys that came before her.  This turns her into a quasi-Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Appropriate since former Buffy artists Will Conrad and Guy Major are responsible for the sumptuous realism that swathes the visuals.  

The artists put a lot of charm in the scenes, but they shouldn't be given sole credit.  Milligan injects the dialogue with an equal amount of caring between the two teammates, and reveals a well reasoned history tying into one of DC's other new 52 teams.  

Milligan samples the group's antics in episodic events, some plausible--Princess Jenny meets King Arthur--and others ludicrous--the dolphin invasion, a ridiculous notion pre-parodied by The Simpsons twelve years ago.  Stormwatch furthermore presents a vital clue to the future of the DCU.  It's a portent of doom echoed in last week's sneak peaks in Justice League and this week's Earth Two zero issue.  World's Finest brings the heroes in focus.   Stormwatch reaches out for a broader view of the new 52, the team's place in the DCU and the future, which hints that DC hasn't finished dominating the comic book industry.

If you notice the cover of Earth 2 you'll see a stranger among three of the most recognizable heroes.  The identity of the stranger is critical, for this ally's avatar operated under another name back in the day.  He's an old hero from the forties, and his new name reflects a new attitude that clashes with the stalwart champion of yore.  This was necessary.

Although the guardian's resurgence was largely due to his death in the pre-Crisis, if you're an admirer of the superhero concept, then you really do not want to see these guys dragged through the mud.  So with that in mind, writer James Robinson very thoughtfully rechristened him.  He may share the same identity with this new embodiment, but that's all the two characters share. The 1940s hero remains untarnished.

In Earth 2, ally becomes enemy in a series of flashbacks lushly rendered by newcomer Tomas Giorello and colorist Nathan Eyring.  

There's almost a Gene Colon nuance to the shadows, but a stronger command of anatomy, offering an ideal mix of evocation and concrete physique.  

As you can plainly see, Catwoman does not appear in this issue.  I suspect that DC didn't want to undermine her debut in World's Finest but forgot to edit the dialogue.  Communication snafu aside, Earth 2 stacks up as a pretty potent read with a strong motivation for a foe that's right under the Trinity's noses. 

Not all of the good team books are zero issues.  Guarding the Globe presents a for all intent and purpose new team of diverse heroes that patrol the world.  

Because Phil Hester is writing and Todd Nauck, of Young Justice fame, illustrates, Guarding the Globe is a wholly entertaining book that's superior to the last arc of Justice League.  
Hester offers just the right blend of action and personal drama, with a good dose of humor and thought in dealing with the long-term ramifications of alien invasion.  Hester deals with the real life problem of autism in a non-sensational way, and he economically introduces the cast with such skill that you may already pick favorites by the end of the story.  Japandroid is mine.

The Mighty Crusaders consisted of the Fly, Flygirl, Jaguar, the Web, the Shield, The Comet, the Black Hood and some lesser players from the Red Circle Archie comics books.  Some may be surprised to learn that only one of those heroes, the Jaguar, arose during the Silver Age.  The rest of the team operated individually in the 1940s, and the Black Hood, a rather blatant Phantom imitation, even manifested in a few pulp magazines.  

The actual team formed in the sixties but didn't last long.  In the nineties, Archie partnered with DC to return the Red Circle heroes to comics.  Soaring under the banner of Impact, a pool of talent illustrated the adventures of new versions of the Archie characters in uniformly enjoyable adventures; Mike Parobeck, Rick Burchett, Tom Lyle, Jose Marzan Jr. all graced the line.

Now, Archie, one of the most consistently successful comic book companies in the history of the industry, is publishing the Mighty Crusaders.  On the back of the cover, some goof compares this book to Watchmen.  Yeah...um...no.  This is like the anti-Watchmen as well as the anti-Before Watchmen.

Whereas Watchmen introduced the whole idea of deconstructing heroes and giving them highly mortal feet of clay, Mighty Crusaders is simply a really good legacy book.  One of the Crusaders isn't a traitor out to save the world by killing the others.  Instead, the Crusaders have matured, maintained strong bonds as a team through the years and vanquished most of the evils of the globe.  In short they won.  

The victory itself offers a difference in philosophy.  The heroes are not bored with peace.  They're not without purpose.  Rather, they simply have become fighters against political injustice, pursuers of science and good parents.  The story begins at a place where the heroes are happy.  It's a big difference from Watchmen, which is suffused with angst.  In fact even the old pre-Crisis Justice Society wasn't as happy as The Mighty Crusaders.  

The Crusaders meet for an anniversary dinner, and this time they've brought their sons, daughters and proteges with them.  As the kids get to know one another and renew old acquaintances, an old enemy crashes the party and wreaks havoc.  Fortunately, one of the Crusaders never believed the fight could end, and he made preparations.

Writer Ian Flynn charges the dialogue with familiarity and camaraderie.  He crafts a simple plot that obviously lays out the path for the next generation but in a way that just seems suitable for these neophytes.  Artist Ben Bates demonstrates a mastery of cartoon style, but make no mistake although Mighty Crusaders appears to be all ages, there is still gravity in the story which Bates dramatically visualizes.   Gary Martin usually associated with Steve Rude and Nexus contributes a crispness and clarity to the art, and Matt Herms adds special effects through color.  As well he emphasizes the drama through blood red.

The usual suspects on my subscription list do not fare all that well this week.  Vampirella is a mish-mash of confused writing and features an artist who wants to illustrate Vampirella well but nobody else.  This leads to a sub-par presentation.  Damn fine cover though.

Avengers Academy is depressingly cliche.  Last issue, the highly annoying Jeremy Briggs took away the powers of the Cadets.  This issue they get them back, and artist Di Vito tries to inject power into the moments, but we always knew that Hazmat and Mettle, the characters who want their powers the least, would of course step up to retrieve them for the common good.  Gage works best when his touch is light.  This was a heavy-handed story.

I could not for the life of me follow the narrative in Thunderbolts or Dark Avengers or insert new title here, which for this time traveling issue is a Judge Dredd spoof, juxtaposed with an assault on T-Bolt HQ and adventure on the moon with also-ran villains indentured into heroism.

Thor seems like a fairly straight-forward kind of hero.  He's a guy with a hammer that likes to wreck things with said hammer.  Once Matt Fraction talks about Odin and Frigga, or Freya if you prefer, I've fallen off of the ship and need a life preserver.  

If memory serves, The Vanir are supposed to be the Norse version of the Fates, but here, they are another race of beings, nationalities, what the hell?  Frigga appears to be one of them, and this sends me out farther with the current.  

I was pretty happy with Frigga being the leader of the Valkyrie, as she is in myth.  It sort of made sense.  Having her be one of the Vanir just clouds up the elegance of her more prominent warrior role in the Marvel Universe, and when did Odin become such a sleaze? Bad enough he was a complete jackass in the Fear Itself fiasco, but this?



Thor however happens to be gorgeous thanks to Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and colorist Rod Rodriquez.  I'll wait for this baby to be collected.

There are plenty more comic books in the Brown Bag: Smallville, Lookouts, Damsels, Detective Comics, Fathom, Creator Owned Heroes.  These will have to wait for next week.  I only review the books I have actually read, and frankly, this hellacious truckload of books just left me overwhelmed.  Hopefully, I've left you all sated with the many I've commented on today.