Monday, October 22, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 14, 2012


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag this week focuses on The Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Justice League, Nightwing, Prophecy, Supergirl, Sword & Sorcery with Amethyst and Wonder Woman.

"All great deeds and all great thoughts 
have a ridiculous beginning."
--Albert Camus

The Zero Issue of Catwoman gave Ann Nocenti the opportunity to recreate Selina from the ground up.  A young, inexperienced Selina Kyle was part of that foundation.  That version of Catwoman differs strongly from her future, our present day, Selina Kyle.

The first thing you notice this issue is that Catwoman's voice sounds riper, stronger.  Selina also exhibits greater serenity and composure, which better signifies the direction of Nocenti's characterization the feline thief.  She still has a wild streak, evident in her narration, but these are the exploits of a seasoned Catwoman, who can still be shaken but not to the point of tears. 

While last issue's plot was more like Carl Sandburg's fog, Nocenti here demonstrates her ability to orchestrate a fantastic and unusual heist, worthy of Catwoman.  An unknown chess fanatic hires Selina to make an illegal move with a giant chess piece.  The story alludes to the mammoth prop plots of the Silver Age but with a certain amount of realism.  Given how cities have become the playgrounds for spelunkers, rooftop joggers and martial artists, chess players aren't too far a stretch.

Although a life-size chess game would have been enough, Nocenti adds an element of danger.  The hazard could play into "Death of the Family," but the threat's more likely an independent problem.  The Joker never expressed an interest in chess before.  Too logical a game for a maniac.

Artist Rafa Sandoval often converts Nocenti's script into full pages of visuals lacking conventional panels.

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His technique gives Catwoman a sinuous quality, subtly symbolizing the title character's inherent grace.  Jordi Tarragona and Sonia Oback embellish Sandoval's pencils respectively with sharp textural inking and rich shades of blue-gray and green casts. All in all, a purrrrfect issue of Catwoman.

Tom DeFalco substitutes for Kyle Higgins this week on Nightwing and crafts a decent inventory issue detailing a day in the life of the crimefighter.  In addition, he also puts the history of Nightwing revealed last issue to good use.

There is a question of what were DeFalco's ideas and what were cliffnotes Higgins left behind while he worked on whatever or attended whichever con.  I'm guessing that the encounter with Penguin is all DeFalco.  So, that's what I'm going to concentrate upon.

I've always wondered if the general public and Batman's rogue's gallery knew that Nightwing was the original Robin.  It was difficult to decide in the old universe.  Catwoman was always aware of course, but she hardly counts as a villain.  In the new 52, at least the Penguin acknowledges his shared history with Nightwing.

The dialogue between the two old frenimies amuses, and there's once again an allusion to the Burgess Meredith Penguin in the new 52 foul fowl's tone.  Especially when he calls off his female bodyguards.

DeFalco also probably conceived the encounter between Nightwing and Batgirl.  The scene is well-illustrated by subbing artist Andres Guinaldo, but I take issue with Batgirl's characterization.  

Babs sounds too much like the weak, meek Batgirl Marv Wolfman produced for the Crisis on Infinite Earths rather than the potent, professional Batgirl seen in Scott Snyder's Batman and Simone's confident resonant Batgirl or Duane Swierzynski's reliable, resourceful Batgirl in Birds of Prey.

The Shiva episode is probably DeFalco taking off on the germ of an idea that he was given by the editor, but DeFalco's ploy for Shiva is too transparent.  I'm puzzled why Nightwing, the world's third greatest detective didn't figure it out.  Still, not a bad issue.

Batgirl appears in another title this week.  In issue twelve of Birds of Prey, Poison Ivy toxified the team, forcing them to do her bidding.  While the rest of the Birds distracted Ivy, Batgirl ran to Batman for help.

I expected this issue to open with the Birds hospitalized in a fake life and death struggle and a focus on Black Canary's guilt over placing them in danger.  Instead, writer Duane Swierczynski does something hilariously smart.  Batman came through.

The idea that the world's greatest detective, the smartest man on the earth couldn't produce an antitoxin to the poison of an arch enemy is unthinkable.  So why not take it as rote? 

This issue of Birds of Prey in fact centers on the Dagger clan stealing Katana's namesake; the soul-drinking sword that also houses her husband.  Swierczynski in addition introduces a new protagonist called Condor, and overall, the writer the strengthens Birds' bonds.

It's too early to say whether or not Condor is a friend or foe, but the high-flying character creates problems for the Dagger Clan, and Swierczynski takes a rather novel approach by rejecting the super effectiveness of Ninja.  Overwhelmed by technology and super powers such as the Canary Cry numbers are the clan's only asset.

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Zero issue's Romano Molenaar makes a welcome return.  His superb artwork enlivens fight scenes and as well conveys the subtle little twists in Swierczynski's script.  When concentrating on the Birds' faces, he evokes strong feeling and conviction.  Molenaar furthermore easily demonstrates more complex action such as when Canary covers Katana's ears as she unleashes her trademark.  

Colorist Chris Sotomayor accompanies Molenaar on the book, and he takes some artistic license to add attractive highlights to Batgirl's body armor.  While he debuted this look in the zero issue which took place in the past, there's no reason why Batgirl couldn't have chosen to wear her old uniform while the other's being cleaned.  I'm hoping she has a purple one to compliment the gold one, and the purple lining to her cape comes back.

Batgirl's erstwhile partner and friend, Supergirl faces Simon Tycho.  Despite his metamorphic form, he hasn't changed an iota.  The Mitt Romney of villains, Tycho is a petty, entitlement-minded jackass who wants to own Supergirl and all her things just because he believes he has the right.  He includes her spiffy new Sanctuary beneath the sea on his want list.  That's where he makes a tactical error. 
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While this dukearoo beneath the depths is short, it's also sweet because the writing by Mikes Green and Johnson is just so canny.  Why would Zor-El program a Kryptonian crystal to allow just anybody to walk into Supergirl's home?  He wouldn't.  That's why Tycho needs Supergirl to believe his farrago of lies.  Kara would need to require extraordinary naiveté to believe a word from Tycho's lips, and Green and Johnson proved that Supergirl may have just fallen from the sky, but she hasn't dropped off a turnip truck from Smallville.  Rather, she immediately meets Tycho's pretense with super-strength.  

Tycho doesn't outwit her.  He instead delivers an emotional blow beautifully illustrated by guest artist Sam Basri and enhanced by colorist Dave McCaig that catches Kara off guard.  She recovers quickly and demonstrates a sharp memory and a quick mind.  In the end Tycho didn't stand a chance.

Wonder Woman begins a new status quo with this issue.  We learn who's staying in the cast, how they will interact and the nature of the new threat. Hera for instance takes the position of the bitchy villainess from the soaps.  Powerless, she finds herself at odds with Zola, who after just giving birth loses the baby; that is Hermes abducted it.  Lennox heals up after his encounter with the gods.  The gods council each other for the oncoming challenge, and that cosmic dare--whom I suspect is Kalibak--reveals a new, nasty disposition that takes a strong step away from the Jack Kirby originals.  Safe this is not.  

I was getting a lot of Doctor Who flashbacks while reading Wonder Woman.  Diana is referred to as the Last Amazon.  The Doctor is the Last of the Time Lords.  Wonder Woman promised to protect Zola and her baby only to have it stolen while under her aegis.  The Doctor promised the same to Amy Pond with the same result.  There are some differences.

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Wonder Woman goes to Libya and finds a new innocent to rescue from soldiers.  I'm guessing this story was finished before Libya officially became our ally, and DC and writer Brian Azarello didn't feel the need to change anything.  After-all, there will always be people taking advantage of their positions as soldiers to inflict terror on civilians.  It doesn't matter whether or not they're American or Arabian.  Corrupt cops exist.  Corrupt soldiers exist.  

The soldiers prove to be a little smarter than most and run from Wonder Woman, a nice touch.  From there, Wonder Woman transforms to Indiana Jones as she encounters ancient traps laid out in an archaeological find which ties into the demigod Sirocco, the Zeus offspring that Wonder Woman wishes to recruit to her side.  A little difficult given the cliffhanger.

Writer Christy Marx transports readers to Gemworld where the neophyte Princess of Amethyst Amaya also known as Amy on earth learns that not everybody is wild about purple.  Inhuman creatures and their barbarian masters attack Amy and her mom Lady Graciel as well as their allies the House of Citrine.

               Sword and Sorcery 1
There's a nice bit of Xena reflection as Amy unfortunately racks her first kill, and like Gabrielle, she's not exactly celebrating.  The narration encapsulates a frozen moment of time when the young warrior feels the impact of her sword felling a foe, and you feel her unease as she describes the detail of the blow.

Meanwhile, Mordiel uses some imaginative looking beasts courtesy of artist Aaron Lopresti to track down the wayward royals.  Marx characterized Mordiel as a vampire who reduces the members of the House of Amethyst signified by their blonde hair to their powerful essences, which she then absorbs.  Marx suggested a remorseless character in the zero issue of Sword and Sorcery.  Here, pangs of emotion crack through Mordiel's demeanor and suggests genuine nostalgia and caring for Amaya.  

In the back up story, young Danelaw escorts Beowulf to his village where the hero/soldier/killer learns of the Grendel's existence.  The art by Jesus Saiz suggests the ugly beast and Beowulf share some common bonds, and the reader learns of some amusing links to the DCU.

An evil god attacks Las Vegas.  This looks like a job for the Justice League.  What a pity that the League is caught up in disjointed angst-ridden turmoil involving Wonder Woman and the Cheetah.  The magic in Prophecy makes more sense as well because in the new 52 you can become a Cheetah person through a cut by an obsidian knife and by a bite.  Is there any way that you can't become a Cheetah?

Leave Justice League on the shelf this week and instead pick up Prophecy.  Ron Marz characterizes the Evil Dead films' Ash Williams perfectly.  Smug, silly and in his own mind a renowned ladies man, Ash comes to the rescue of a Vegas waitress called Sugar.  True to the tone of the Evil Dead movies, Ash puts the moves on the little lady while Herbert West lies dying, his pleas unheard.

Alas, the would-be romance is short-lived because Ash and his boomstick quickly become involved in the global defense against Kulan Gath and his Legion of Doom.  Ash notices The Necronomicon and finally West to save the day.  

Walter Geovani's artwork has been a consistent boon for all the Dynamite titles, and Prophecy is no exception.  The Red Sonja artist is known for his gorgeous female warriors and dramatic tapestries of visual delight, and you'll get that in spades when Pantha strikes, Vampirella feeds and Athena thrusts, all in beautifully laid out poster-like pages.  In addition, Geovani mimics the bombastic body language of Bruce Campbell's Ash, finds comedy in Herbert West's predicament and as well contrasts the extremely dangerous curves on the "team" with Sugar's over the top save-me-Mr-Big-Man expression.

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