Monday, October 29, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 24, 2012


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag looks at All-Star Western with Jonah Hex, Batman: Dark Knight, Doctor Who/Star Trek, The Flash, Justice League Dark, Lookouts, Red Sonja, Superman, Talon and Wolverine.

Well, I had planned upon bestowing Tiaras of Sphincterhood to Democrat Tom Caltagirone and Republican Representatives Mark Gillen, Keith Gillespie, Adam Harris, Mike Tobash and of course primary sponsor Rose Marie Swanger for House Bill 2718.  The Bill was designed to sort out the true rape victims, the future recipients of broken gifts from god, from the many, many welfare queens who merely say they were raped to gain filthy lucre.  Those cheeky monkeys.
However, every one of these less than honorable government officials started to flap their arms after jumping off the viral precipice of political suicide, and son of a gun, they must have wished really, really hard because they stayed aloft.  
Oh, mind you.  When they did strike the ground, they broke some things.  Let's be fair.  A lot of things, but they still survived by immediately distancing themselves from the bill, denying their part in it, confessing to brain seizures, claiming Romneysia and sheepishly withdrawing the bill from consideration, at least until election season ended.
That means the two contenders for the coveted Tiara of Sphincterhood this week are:

Cheap bastard Donald Trump for offering five dollars, with respect to his income, to charity for various records and the birth certificate that Hawaii already released for President Barack Obama.
Richard Mourdock, the waste of skin running for Senate in Indiana for belittling women and exalting children of rape as "something that God intended."

It's a tough call, but I can't do better than Stephen Colbert.

Donald Trump's October Surprise

So, that leaves Richard Mourdock.
I'm not going to criticize any woman who decides to carry a pregnancy, produced from rape, to term.  That's her choice.  I'm also an atheist, but I'm not going to condemn anybody's belief in a god.  At least not today.  That's not what this preamble to the comic book reviews is about.
I was raised Catholic.  I know how Catholics and Christians were indoctrinated, and there's this thing scalled immaculate conception that according to the mythology happened in a manger, pa-rum-pa-pa-pa-pum.  
I'm sure most have heard of it at least in passing.  What this means is that not only is the Catholic/Christian god capable of impregnating a woman without rape, unlike say Zeus.  There's evidence in the Catholic/Christian scripture of such an event happening.  Pregnancy without consummation or rape.  The immaculate.
So, here's the thing, even if you believe in god, that's no fucking excuse to stop a woman from excising not a child but an egg fertilized by a rapist.  That's not a gift from god.  That's a betrayal of biology.  If god wanted to give a woman the gift of a child, then god would not need a rapist to do it.  So for giving Republicans false logic to explain why they can morally object to granting abortion even in the case of rape, the Tiara of Sphincterhood goes to Republican nobody...

Rick Santorum

I won't put his picture up since it would probably attract rats.

"In the beginning, the universe was created.  This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."--Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Cybermen invasion of the Star Trek universe merged it with the timeline of Doctor Who.   Intriguingly, we discover in this issue that the eleventh Doctor's mere presence triggers the Cybermen to backstab the Borg.  Ironically, the infiltration itself catalyzed the Doctor's shunt into the amalgam, and the Doctor's appearance in the fused timelines rewrites his own history.  For that reason, previous incarnations of the Doctor--most notably so far "all teeth and curls"--encountered Kirk, McCoy and Spock.

As you can judge, Star Trek/Doctor Who is no simple crossover.  The level of complexity, complimentary elements and allusion is far greater than any other.  In addition to the time loops I just described, the Federation function quite well in the Great and Bountiful Human Empire that the Doctor speaks of with such fondness.  The backstab by the Cybermen acts as a nice little callback to the very first episode of Next Gen where we meet the Borg.  On that day, the Q likely saved the Federation's hides but only by "bloodying their noses."  Appearing to betray Picard and the others.

Doctor Who suggested very early in the new series that the old Cybermen are extinct, and that extinction may play a role in this mini.  The series could be offering an explanation for how the alien Cybermen went the way of the dodo, or that this campaign was a last ditch effort to prevent the curtain call.  Either way, the concept works well within the continuity of Doctor Who, and in all irony, the Cybermen's biggest fans call a truce with the Doctor and the Federation to prevent their own demise. 

The knowledge of the Borg combined with the Doctor's status as a time traveler offers up a plan.  As always, The Doctor cannot become caught in events, but he can travel back in time to do what he does best.  Steal.  After all, the Doctor stole a TARDIS to leave his planet.  The Doctor's idea is the kind of ploy that would have given the Time Lords conniptions.  Since he is the last, the Doctor dares even more.

Writers Scott and David Tipton generate lines for the Doctor that demonstrate laugh out loud, spot on characterization.  The writing element isn't isolated to the Time Lord.  The Ponds are also in good humor, until Amy realizes that the Doctor lied to Picard.  That's when Gordon Purcell and J.K. Woodward ply their trade.

While some may have expected nothing to come of this cream of fan fiction, the Tiptons, Purcell and Woodward are doing their best not to disappoint and create a tale that's worthy of Doctor Who and Star Trek the Next Generation.  For the lion's share of the series, they succeed.

Jeff Lemire's Justice League Dark hints at a new origin for the Black Orchid that's steeped in new 52 mythology.  In a way you can thank Sheldon Mayer and Tony DeZuniga for keeping this character's identity, the nature of her powers, in fact everything known completely secret.  

The enigma of the Black Orchid led to all sorts of imaginative ideas: from possible Kryptonian connections to plant person created with the DNA of unrequited love.  Here we get an explanation for Black Orchid's strength, mastery of disguise as well as a limited ability to grow and control plant life all depicted through the extraordinary art of Mikel Janin.  Of equal importance Lemire produces from this beginning a stronger rationale for the Orchid to fight crime.  

In addition to cultivating the Black Orchid, Lemire furthermore strengthens the character of Boston Brand.  Turned into a lothario during Peter Milligan's run, Lemire's Deadman is more like the noble acrobat that I remember reading about in the Jack Miller and Neal Adams stories.  This is the Boston Brand that would turn up in The Brave and The Bold to team up with Batman to put things right.

Lemire's imagination also builds on the TARDIS-like Houses of Mystery and Secrets.  Indeed, there's a Doctor Who feel to the time and space chase involving the domiciles.  The Doctor Who atmosphere also can be transcripted in general to the feud between John Constantine and his nemesis, whom nobody will really know or care about.  Never the less, with each but opposite character possessing a time travel device, the Doctor/Master duality is inescapable.  However, the Big Bad lacks the Master's resonance.  Like Doyle's Moriarty, the character was created to be the opposite number.  He never appeared in Hellblazer or any other DC Universe title.  Because he's so dark to Constantine's light, for lack of a better word, he seems very shallow.  Moriarty and the Master exhibited unique characteristics that gave each villain staying power.

Constantine has too much of a fan base that would allow complete change, but Lemire just might make the chain-smoking, shifty mage a bit more trustworthy and deserving of being on a Justice League team.  It's saying something that because of the disparity, Lemire actually makes you root for Constantine rather than The Super-Friends' Dr. Mist.  Mist's story should elicit sympathy but instead, you look at the former champion as a true villain obsessed.

Scott Lobdell improves Superman.  George Perez focused on a multi-media conglomerate's reaction to Superman, thereby creating a very different title that was suitable for DC's new 52.  When Perez left, the title ceased to be interesting.  Dan Jurgens returned to Superman with a horrendously out-of-step, almost Republican viewpoint of Russia and a bipolar goof of a villain.  Action Comics is just too darn hard to follow.

DC noticed that Superman was flagging, and they've been previewing this new creative team in last week's books.  I have to admit.  It looked intriguing, especially with Kenneth Rocafort's and Sunny Gho's amazing embellishment.  Rocafort and Gho give Superman a fresh look that gibes with the exciting artwork that's been a hallmark of the new 52 titles.

I've been a fan of Rocafort ever since I first encountered his neo art noveau style in Madame Mirage and enjoyed his illustration for the most recent Velocity mini-series.  While Lobdell educes depth to Clark Kent's dialogue and philosophy as well as his alter-ego's overall outlook, Rocafort creates a typically bizarre new world beneath the earth with a brand new character and former object d'flirtation for the Man of Steel, Dr. Veritas.  

Always welcome to see another smart woman in comics, and Veritas' past involvement with the Man of Steel, gives her a trifle more resonance than STAR labs guru Kitty Faulkner.  Rocafort as well recreates a bustling brightly lit city as Superman's playground and Clark's home.  Rocafort gives Clark Kent a comb, which makes a massive difference, and the artist seems comfortable with Superman's and Supergirl's new 52 costume design.  

When it comes to creating a menace for Superman to fight Rocafort turns to Ghidrah for inspiration, albeit the Godzilla enemy as seen through the lens of Alphonse Mucha.  Not a bad way to view anything really.

The Flash faces Gorilla Grodd and his army of soldier simians, but first, he's woken back to consciousness by his arch enemies the Rogues: Captain Cold, Golden Glider, Heatwave and Weather Wizard.  It's one of the reasons why I love this title.  Superman and Batman might work with an enemy for the greater good, but that enemy would turn on them.  The Rogues are on the up and up this time, once they realize there's no way out, that is.

The truce offers some great moments for artists/writers Francis Manapul and Bruce Buccellato to depict, and I love what's not spoken even more.  The Flash takes working with his greatest enemies in stride.  He has a smile on his face as he and the Rogues exhibit well-oiled teamwork.  The Flash lacks ego when requesting their help.  This is what makes the Flash different from the other characters.  There's no arrogance in him.  He's out to do the right thing, and that's that.

When fighting the guerrilla gorillas, the Flash notices a change, they're faster, and it appears that Gorilla Grodd tapped into the Speed Force.  The new 52 Grodd doesn't just want to rule Gorilla City or dominate the world.  He wants to replace the Flash.  It's a natural evolution, and a superb enhancement to the already formidable history of the character.  Grodd however is short-sighted in his overbearing.  He doesn't realize the true boon the Flash grants the universe.  Stopping the Flash just may destroy the cosmos.

Batman: Dark Knight is another solid chapter in the Scarecrow's revenge against Batman.  Gregg Hurwitz plots Batman's torture and subsequent escape.  At the same time he contrasts the sanity of the Dark Knight to the bug-shit crazy of Jonathan Crane.  He's not just a raving lunatic however.  Crane empathizes with one of his victims.  

There's two great moments in this book.  One in which Batman feels something other than disgust with his enemy.  Hurwitz's timing for the dialogue delivery is absolutely perfect and creates the illusion that Batman naturally thinks this way.  There's really no sign of the writer pulling the strings.  Instead, it's as though Batman were a real person, and he's in this situation.  The reader has been given a keyhole to peer through.

Credit must also be given to artist David Finch.  His presentation of Batman is appropriately powerful and ominous, but his depiction of the Scarecrow straining to resist his humanity forces you to actually understand that Jonathan Crane was horribly damaged, and this is the reason why he is the way he is.  Compare this version of the Scarecrow with say the darkly humorous figure in the Batman/Judge Dredd team-up, and you come away with Hurwitz's and Finch's incarnation as being far more richer and sadly realistic.

Talon sets up the series with Calvin Rose returning to Gotham after the Night of the Owls.  He finds a trap and another Talon waiting for him.  Does this mean the Owls return to roost?  No.

Throughout the book, Batman's presence is felt.  Talon confirms Batman badly beat the Owls.  Before they were a proud organization of predators.  Now, they're scavengers hiding in the woodwork.  Most of the Talons, frozen solid in the bowels of Gotham's penal system.

As you read, you notice the Owls' crazy talk seems to have degenerated, no doubt a side-effect from the substance keeping them alive.  These mad words punctuate the literally fantastic battle between Mr. Rose and the Owl.  A brutal battle in which quarter cannot be given, Calvin Rose demonstrates his willingness perform ghoulish acts steeled against the average human's stomach.  Artist Guillem March takes the opportunity to expand his artwork into the realms of horror, and though accused of cheesecake before in Gotham Sirens, March presents a duel between male and female that bears likeness to Kubert rather than Olivia.  Indeed, if not for the basic form, you could argue that March subsumes gender beneath the leathers of the Owls, and he turns she into it.

All-Star Western features a killer clown, but don't look for the ancestor of Joker in turn of the century Gotham.  While the fatal funnyman does put a grin on his victims' faces, he's actually the innocent victim of Dr. Jeckyll's infamous potion.  

The formula releasing the inner beast, free from the inhibitions of the mind, tears through Haley's Circus like a plague, and as a result Jonah Hex and Black Tullulah must face all sorts of danger spectacularly illustrated by artist Moritat.  In one instance a splash page highlights nature gone amok, and surely this page is a contender for Spectrum Fantastic Art.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray craft a plot that turns Amadeus Arkham into a psychological Watson while Hex and Black act as surprisingly valid avatars of Sherlock Holmes.  The difference is that they know the root cause of all the mayhem, but there's still room for predicting the culprits/victims of the crimes.

In addition to the Jekyll and Hyde connections, somebody else attends the circus in search of her mother.

The Barbary Ghost battles the tong with Hex and Black by her side, once again giving Moritat the leave to cut loose.

Finally, Gray and Palmiotti fill in another blank in DC's new 52 history.  They turn Tomahawk into a Native American in a Colonial period story that pits the fierce aboriginal hero against Mad Anthony Wayne.  Inspired.

Red Sonja faces an evil wizard and master of the serpents in her eponymous title.  Writer Eric Trautmann emulates Robert E. Howard with lusty dialogue for a dangerous woman.  Surprise comes with metamorphosis and humor arises in the double-act of Johndro and Barranes, Sonja's comrades in arms.  One character receives a noble death.

Artist Marcio Abreau is either a talented amateur who will simply grow better as he gains more experience or he's a professional that was forced to cut corners due to the deadline.  Right now, he has a decent handle of anatomy.  While emphasizing Sonja's attributes, he also makes her very powerful in frame, and masters the needs of a visual narrative.  

Years ago, Wolverine was tasked by a cabal of period luminaries to kill a woman that would bring the universe to its figurative knees.  He instead rescued her.  The group returned last issue. Only this time, they directed Elsa Bloodstone to kill the monster.  Vanessa Baker a former member of the Coventry, which originally directed Wolverine's mission, warned Wolverine of the Big Bads' plans.

The encounter between Wolverine and Elsa Bloodstone resulted in Wolverine having his face blown off by Elsa's shotgun.  Wolverine's mutant healing power kicked in, and presumably he sewed up his mask.  This issue features a more conventional teamup between Elsa and Wolverine, but one that's no less entertaining as the duo face a wizard straight from the Shaw Brothers brand of magic, complete with the sorcerer announcing his occult moves and bizarre body horror including but not limited to strangling hair.

Wolverine is particularly vicious in this story, but his ferocity actually works in his favor since just as in Hong Kong films magic users are notoriously hard to kill.  Even when Wolverine does something outrageous with his adamantium claws, he fully expects the bastard to recover, and not within a day but hours later.  

This doesn't actually happen.  Instead, Wolverine and Elsa contend against mecha from yet another member of the Coventry.  What's nice about all of this is that writer Cullen Bunn makes the continuity comprehensible.  I never heard about the Coventry or Vanessa Baker before the Wolverine comic book, but I understood what occurred, the major players and the gist of those cast members.

Artist Paul Pelletier brings his realism and traditional comic book sensibilities to the tale, granting the whole exercise a degree of soberness.  Ideal given the mad, anything-goes nuances.

Last but not least, The Master Ranger and his Lookouts face the cover menace in a rollicking adventure.  The good Master wants his Lookouts to learn how to think.  One, Dore, just wants to fight.  Fortunately, the humorous look to the Troll is indeed a phenotypic expression of the creature's lack of guile and buffoonish nature.

The Troll is a good workout before the Lookouts tackle the Sphinx.  The Troll is a riddler that believes he's clever, when he's not.  The Spinx on the other hand is a terribly intelligent foe and far beyond the Lookouts' capabilities, at the moment.

Lookouts is a superb all-ages book.  The violence and death occur off panel, and there's a nice lesson to be learned in the power of books.  The art comes off classic Disney while the modeling of the characters have a Warners Brothers feel to them.

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