Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 21, 2012


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag delves into Baltimore, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Critter, Justice League, Nightwing, Journey into Mystery with Sif, Simpsons Comics, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Sword and Sorcery with Amethyst and Beowulf, Supergirl and Wolverine.

The high-flying Condor introduced himself in the last Birds of Prey, by stealing Katana's namesake from the Dagger Clan.  The clan consists of red-suited Ninjas that have scores to settle with the Japanese swordswoman.  In this issue, the Birds concoct a clever plan to retrieve Katana's blade.

Two notable things.  I didn't expect the sword theft to be resolved so quickly.  In the former paradigm of writing, the recovery would have ended in the last chapter concluding a twelve to twenty-four issue storyarc.  I also love how writer Duane Swierszynski refuses to settle whether or not Katana's blade is indeed a soul-taker with one of those souls belonging to her husband, or if she's merely nuts.

The Birds give Katana the benefit of the doubt, but the reader hasn't a clue whether or not Katana's belief lacks a brick of foundation.  

During the pre-Crisis, Mike Barr and Jim Aparo, Katana's creators, instilled no doubt.  Aparo depicted the souls in the sword, and sometimes Mike Barr let them speak.  As with much in the new 52, this occult twist is up in the air along with the Birds.

Swierszynski borrows a page from Taken 2, by orchestrating most of the action in one setting, namely a skyscraper.  Swierszynski relies on the running joke of gravity as the Birds' greatest foe, but he uses the hazard inventively so that no gag is quite the same as the other.  One may also find amusement in the fact that none of the Birds actually possess the power of flight.  However, a moment allows the Black Canary to flaunt greater control over her trademark Cry.

When the Birds of Prey finally light, more action ensues.  Unexpectedly, the Daggers attack in force and give artist Romano Molenaar plenty of opportunity to flex his dynamic anatomy muscles.  As the Birds battle the pajama pack, comedy ripples among the one-liners.  Starling contributes a  particularly hilarious moment alluding to the revelation in the zero issue.  As usual The Birds of Prey earns my highest recommendation.

If your ex-girlfriends from a near immortal life are kind enough to put together a rescue team, you should probably be thankful for their warm thoughts.  Arrogantly quipping about the past results in pain.  

Writer Cullen Bunn makes this latest foray an absolute joy to read.  He manages to expose all the many faces of Logan in one comic book: spy, immortal, superhero.  Paul Pelletier in turn creates strong, traditional easy-on-the-eyes artwork that often bubbles with humor.  

Elsa Bloodstone fans however may be a little disappointed by the monster-hunter's lack of participation in this chapter. However, I felt the joviality and imagination in the writing more than compensates, and I'm buying the book for Elsa's guest-appearance.  

This is easily the best Critter issue since the horrid Purrfection storyarc began.  First Critter visits a police station with a low-tier miscreant whose capture she's known for.

Then in a two page spread--Fico Ossio is back! Thank the Cosmos--she proceeds to tackle every kind of criminal you can imagine.  Part of Critter's enthusiasm lies in the eternal struggle of good against evil, but Critter also uses this array of asskicking to atone for her hubris.

The catalyst for that ego-trip interrupts her girls night in with roommate Gina, but before that writer Tom Hutchison further reclaims Critter with a sharp, fast skit involving Gina, Cassia and a smart phone.  I'm simpatico with Cassia over this.  

I don't feel I need smart phone.  I therefore don't use them, and I don't know how.

When Cassia meets up with Purrfection, reconciliation isn't in the cards.  

Man, I've been waiting for this to happen.  Critter than proceeds to slap down the pheromone queen that seduced her into the group while reuniting the ghostly Josie and her beau Jason.  Finally, Paradox has a surprise in store for readers.  Oh, yes.  The slump is over.  Critter is back!

It seems to be a week for return to form.  This issue of Simpsons Comics is one of the funniest I've read for a long time.

Writer Ian Boothby checks out some literary classics and lets John Costanza, Phyllis Novin and Art Villanueva bind them in The Simpsons cartoon style.

Bart takes over for Dorian Gray, and instead of aging the tyke, Boothby goes modern with the idea of the picture taking the hits while Bart walks away smiling.  In addition to being a yuck-fest, filled with slapstick and wild expressions, the story carries an unexpected dramatic sting.

"The Selfish Giant" naturally concerns Homer in the part of the Gargantuan.  His terrible nature results in Mother Nature freezing his keester.  Along comes Ralph Wiggums to thaw his heart.  The sense of scale and proportion in this short is remarkable.


The last story is a weird one that turns Krusty the Clown, Side-show Bob and the rest of the carny company into fireworks.  

The bizarre tale features some prime comedy that depends on the continuity of the television series permeating the alternate reality.

Even the wraparounds securing the superior anthology offer comedy and insight.  A fine addition to the collection.

While Simpsons Comics celebrates libraries in Baltimore the play's the thing to capture the heart of the vampire king.  Some readers are going to be dejected by Lord Baltimore's lack of involvement.

Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden instead flashback and focus on Haigus, Baltimore's vampiric arch foe.

Haigus finds himself bewitched by a lovely ingenue and staging a play based upon Poe's "The Masque of Red Death."  

The last story in Simpsons Comics was outré and outrageous, but Baltimore takes the biscuit when depicting surreal, unexpected moments.  To explain would spoil the ghoulish surprises.  So let me just say, that these treasures are worth the price of admission.

Kathryn Immonen opens Journey into Mystery with a hysterical tribute to Sif and Shaft, yes, "the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks."  

Simultaneously, Immonen also indicates that the speech of the Asgardians  evolved as Midgard placed cultural pressures on their society.  

All through the book, Immonen takes pleasure in updating the dialogue, and it's more than just the modern tongue with a few verilies thrown in for good measure.  Immonen changes the rhythms of the vocal translation.

Remember, the Asgardians are not actually speaking English.  They're speaking their own language, but modern Asgardian as opposed to "high" dialect from the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby years.  

Kudos also go to Clayton Cowles, whose lettering gets Immonen's point across with an old timey font that's not quite ancient runes or Times Roman.  His layout furthermore stresses the poetic intent of Immonen's words.

In terms of story, Asgard appears to be besieged with fire giants.  Sif comes to the rescue of Volstagg's family.  Later as she sups with them, she decides to pursue a course of action that she believes will hone her into a better warrior.  It's an intriguing almost Xena like direction for the character.  

Immonen however takes several diversions from the expected.  Artist Valerio Schiti and Jordie Bellaire swathe a sumptuous arras across the panels, and Sif her own bad self flexes crisp, bodacious anatomy when weilding her sword or scratching a dragon's itch.

Princess Amaya in Sword and Sorcery makes a choice that will affect her mother and her aunt, the evil Lady Graciel, but before this important decision, writer Christy Marx fascinates the reader with a world based on favors promised to various gem houses.  

One historically accurate scene in the book indicates a decidedly mature demographic target.  The observation shouldn't be construed as limiting.  Rather, the moment details the nuances in characterization.  Amethyst's new adventures do not delineate black and white.  There are shades of gray as well.  The House of Diamond isn't just a deadly rival.  Its members varry in temperament and behavior.

The Rich, Detailed Art of Aaron Lopresti

In the Beowulf backup feature, Tony Bedard plays cagey with callbacks to the DCU and of all things one major story arc.  Artists Jesus Saiz delights in Beowulf's effective barbarism.

I have no idea what's going on in Catwoman.  We discover who's behind the giant chess game introduced last issue, and the Joker pays a visit, but the whole thing is goofy.  

The Joker doesn't seem to be as lethal as he is in the other books, more like the animated series Joker with the occasional successful murder under his belt.  On the bright side, the story strips Catwoman out of uniform twice allowing Rafa Sandoval the opportunity to serve up some good cheesecake.

Meeeee-oooow, Baby!

Honestly, if Ann Nocenti weren't writing Catwoman, the internet would be abuzz at the apparent reduction of Selina to sex object.  Not that I didn't mind ogling.

Tom DeFalco puts together a very good issue of Nightwing pitting the grown Robin against Lady Shiva, much more mysterious in the new 52.  Mention is made of their mutual history, and a classic Batman foe serves as the keen mastermind behind a complex plot that involves Sonia Zucco testifying to the SEC.  

I do however question Dick Grayson's immediate assumption that Sonia's apology for postponing a business meeting is an overture for romance.  That appears to be naive sliver of horndog leftover from Nightwing's characterization from the previous universe.

Red Hood and the Outlaws is in reality about nothing integral to their own adventures.  Rather it succeeds by overlapping a powerful guest star with the kick off of its part in the Joker-centered Death of the Family.

The Outlaws surprises by being innocuous and readable.  I've heard a lot of bad things about this book: the dumbing down of Starfire, the implied threesome with Jason (The Red Hood) and Roy (Speedy), the frank sexual talk.

In theory, I don't find two out of three of these things damaging.  Frank sexual talk is fine as long as it's truly honest and not a babble of terrible euphemism, fifties B movie smarm or modern, gross-out excess.  I also do not find three-ways bad.  The hero gets a girl and another girl?  Good for Bond.  Kori gets a guy and another guy.  Good for Kori.  

In any case, there's nothing like that in this issue of The Outlaws.  Jason gets lucky off panel with a smart stewardess picked up by the group last issue.  Didn't read that one, but it's pretty clear in Jason's narration.  She acts as mediator between our hero Superman and the Outlaws.

A Khund refers to Roy and Jason as Kori's consorts, but that can be interpreted a number of ways, especially since it's a Khund commenting.  As to Kori being dumb.  She's the captain of a starship.  So, we're talking advanced alien intelligence, and if she likes three-ways with her consorts? So what?  That just means she's in charge more ways than one.

Scott Lobdell's such an overall excellent writer, with a talent for repartee and characterization that I almost cared what happened to the Red Hood and Speedy.  For the record, I still don't.  I never liked these characters, but after this issue I do come away with a different read on Jason.  

Jason Todd is actually one of the last pre-Crisis creations from DC comics.  Originally, Jason was a ginger-haired aerialist that lost his parents to Killer Croc.  He becomes Bruce Wayne's ward  and later in Batman #366 Batman's Robin.

Jason was a duplicate of Dick Grayson, right down to costume.  The little, bland fellow even dyed his hair black, disturbing when you think of about it.  

Post-Crisis tampering gave Jason a low-level criminal origin.  He boosted Batman's wheels.  Later, Jason's past grew darker: his father murdered by Two-Face, his mother, who abandoned him, an associate of the Joker.  His mother literally leads him to his demise by crowbar.  

Nothing but women in wheelchairs were forever in the prior universe.  Superboy, a paradox from the pre-Crisis, punched time and reanimated Jason Todd.  There has never been anything stupider in a comic book.

The new 52 version of Jason actually comes off as a character, not merely a substitute Dick Grayson, nor edgier 90s Robin still better known through his resurrection via blatant idiocy.

Jason appears to be openly defying Batman just as a "teenage" act of rebellion.  He uses guns, the things Batman loathes.  He assumes an identity associated with a vicious gang from Batman's past.  The shtick all just seems like a cry for attention, and Batman appears to notice.

It seems that as far as Batman is concerned, Jason never left the Batman Family.  Good for Batman.  

Based on Jason's reaction to Superman, I would say that Jason's new persona leans toward paranoia, but as it turns out, in the new 52, only Batman seems to actually like Superman.  Maybe the Flash.  Kori's unimpressed.  Speedy's and Jason's opinions jibe.  

The animosity toward the Man of Steel leads to an inevitable fight, but Lobdell is aware of the stale nature of the slugfest.  He freshens the palate by using The Outlaws as a platform to demonstrate the extremes of Superman's power.

It turns out Supergirl isn't crazy about her illustrious cousin either.  Supergirl and Superman transport the apparently Kryptonian Dragon that wreaked havoc in Superman to Dr. Vertias for examination.  During the examination, Mikes Johnson and Greene enrich Kara's characterization.

Superman was raised to be human.  He likes humans.  Kara is a Kryptonian in blood and culture.  She never-the-less saved the human race from destruction twice now, and she doesn't particularly like humanity.  Not surprising given that all they do is attack her.  Kara however maintains a "humanist" philosophy.  Humans deserve to be saved because they are still a sentient species.  Kara's code of ethics makes her even nobler.

Greene and Johnson appear to be clued into Lobdell's Dr. Veritas because she seems perfectly in character here.  This new 52 creation, another devastatingly intelligent female character, knows Superman of old and acts as his personal physician.  A scientist, she's naturally curious about Kara.

Supergirl #14

This is a less focused issue of Supergirl, but the room to breathe actually offers an array of factors in Kara's new life.  One of those influences is the Silver Banshee.  Unlike John Byrne's creation, Siobhan is actually a cursed protagonist, and it appears her curse resurfaces this issue.  What this means for Kara is anybody's guess, but you really want to find out.

Kara stays with Siobhan when on land, but last issue she gained her own Fortress of Solitude, the Sanctuary Beneath the Sea.  What an awesome addition to the Supergirl mythology.  

Within her Sanctuary, Supergirl actually seeks confirmation of Superman's identity, but the edifice's true purpose and it's a lovely thought is revealed this issue. 

Every Hero Needs a Place to Sleep Safely

We're not done yet.  The powerful entity that brought the dragon to Metropolis parlays with Kara, and sometimes his actions speak louder than words.  That's bad news for Superboy, but fortunately, Kara is soft-hearted.  I'd expect nothing less.  She's warm and fuzzy sheathed in a body of steel, and that's what Mahmud Asrar is so expert in capturing, the contrast between Kara's innocence and her amazing power.

Justice League benefits from a sound strategy hammered out by Wonder Woman and Aquaman against the Cheetah.  Geoff Johns makes a little bit more mystical sense out of the Cheetah metamorphosis, and turning Barbara Minerva into a criminal chameleon before she became the Cheetah is inspired.  

The identities allude to the entire range of Wonder Woman comics including her original title Sensation Comics, and this trip down memory lane is carried out all in one panel.

Weighing against all of this good will, Superman's and Wonder Woman's budding relationship.  I've never seen such dour tryst participants.  Lighten up for bloody's sake!  Also, what the hell's up with Batman spying on the couple? It's mucho pervy and really none of his business.  

Johns appears to be attempting to resurrect Batman's interest in Wonder Woman to generate friction between the Trinity.  It doesn't work.  

Batman's more of a player in the new 52, and the kind of friction Johns aims for depends upon passion smoldering from love, not dating.  In case you're keeping score, Batman is involved with Ukrainian pianist Natalya and Catwoman.  In his earlier adventures, Charlotte Rivers.

Tony S. Daniel created Charlotte for Detective Comics.  He takes over the artistic chores of Justice League this issue, but you can't really tell.  Daniel's work was a lot smoother and richer in Detective Comics.  In Justice League, he appears to be trying to imitate Jim Lee.  I would have preferred he stick to his own style, but in certain instances, especially when illustrating women he makes a better Lee than Lee.

The Captain Marvel back up feature is terrible, but we kind of expect that now.  So, it's not exactly a surprise.

Finally, Batgirl fans with disposable cash may wish to add Young Justice to their brown bags.  Batgirl's in the book for a heartbeat, but it's a rhythm that expresses the Dynamic Daredoll's intellect.

Whew.  That's it for now.  Be back here next week for another heap of comic book reviews in The Pick of the Brown Bag.

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