Monday, November 12, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 7, 2012


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag this week looks at Animal Man, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Creator Owned Heroes, Detective Comics, Earth 2, Green Lantern, Smallville, Swamp Thing and World's Finest.  Let me begin however with a final analysis of the 2012 Presidential Race.

I called this race in August.  I knew the President would win the Electoral College.  It was a statistical likelihood that he would win the popular vote.  Admittedly, I did not predict such a sound victory.

My reasoning followed these lines.  The Republicans were working harder than ever to stop President Obama.  They pulled every dirty trick in the book and kept failing miserably.

Rich layabouts poured oodles of money that could have been used to reconstruct city blocks decimated by Hurricane Sandy into their pet lobotomized monkeys' campaigns.  All these damaged simians, while clawing at each other, laid into President Obama, in vain.

The money pits invested even more lucre into the blow-dried pampered dolt that would represent their party in the Presidential race.  Mr. Romney reiterated his disdain for the President.  He recouped some of the attacks his fellows set down.  Nothing happened.  

The Republicans attempted to smear the President with blatant lies.  Cheap, congenital idiots questioned the President's citizenship.  Members of the Republican Congress kept trying to frame the President as a dangerous Muslim inimical to so-called Family Values.  The GOP even tried to suppress the right to vote.  All these schemes smacked of desperation.  

The media insisted this race was a dead heat, but such promotion falls apart when you factor in the media's needs.  The Office of President had to be anybody's game in order for the media to relate a narrative, to compete for ratings, to justify the Star Trek graphics, to welcome the pundits chiming in nonsensically and the wasted time.  No media outlet likes a decisive victory.  They cannot make a sure thing interesting, and Fox News is in a reality all its own.  

If these character assaults had been embraced, if the reverberations from illegal maneuvers had deterred the populace, Romney should have had well over fifty percent of the vote in nationwide polls.  Only Republican friendly states placed Romney ahead of the President, and even those biased polls reflected low numbers.  My conclusion.  Romney lost before he began and he would never achieve the momentum necessary to topple President Obama.

Congratulations President Obama.  I'm glad I voted for you.  Let this be the start of a new Golden Age.  Enough waxing.  Let's get to the comics.

In addition to the usual intriguing articles about the business of producing comic books, creating art and writing, Darwyn Cooke stops by Creator Owned Heroes for a trifle tributing Alex Toth.  I found the metaphor of Alex Toth's growth as an artist and decay as a person to be heavy-handed and not one of Cooke's best efforts.  Fortunately, the two other tales make up for the short-short's inadequacies.

"The Black Sparrow" imbues a moody atmosphere through neorealism that mirrors the period setting.  The story reads like a particularly eerie Night Gallery episode.

The last chapter of "Killswitch" struck me as being too James Bond.  In this second part Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray distinguish their hit man from Bond and drop him in a particularly unshaken plot, which makes room for one of those bizarre, entertaining appearances that Gray and Palmiotti frequently include in their works.

Nice art as well.  You can tell just by looking at him that this cop is one dirty hombre.

Earth 2's first arc ends favorably with an impressive display from Alan Scott as he dopes out a means to stop Grundy.  Old comic book aficionados will grin at the allusion to the old GL's battle against the swamp zombie, and the means behind the familiar end offers a smart explanation that factors in Grundy's new ties to the Grey, itself a parallel to The Rot on earth 1.

Despite some controversy over the decision to have the newest version of Alan Scott be gay, Earth 2 ends up being a valid amalgamation of new and old.  These fresh takes of classic champions possess different attitudes but still seek to serve justice.  Only Terry Sloan blatantly defies the model, and that model is best known for dying in an issue of Justice League of America.

Well, I never thought I would be buying Green Lantern, especially when written by Geoff Johns, but the Justice League guest star, and I'm supporting this new reconfiguration of the League in the new 52.  

Without a doubt, the League could stand some improvement, but compared to the incarnations of the past, this one is relatively high in my ranking: Bruce Timm's Justice League, Grant Morrison's JLA, the Bronze Age League, Super-Friends, the new 52 Justice League.

The League assess the new Green Lantern, and he acts surprisingly rational.  I loved that he doesn't fight the League.  Instead, when they try to take off his ring, the emerald band lashes out, forcing the inevitable battle.  This shows Johns actually taking the time to hash things out.  We've seen too many slugfests that haven't a rationale, and Johns' self-awareness triggers his writing a way that seems organic to the continuity.    

Johns characterizes the League extremely well.  Perhaps because he has fewer pages in which to portray the heroes, he must eschew the soap opera dross and pare them to the bone for the gist.  As a result, the Justice League incentive pays off.

For those more interested in the latest ring bearer, the new Green Lantern is a pretty enjoyable character.  Hooked on cars, level-headed and altruistic, he doesn't fit any stereotype, nor does he follow in any other Green Lantern's footsteps.  Although, he's closer to Kyle than Jordan.

Hal Jordan and his partner Sinestro--what the hell--appear to be trapped in some limbo of the Guardians' design.  They're not the only denizens of the cosmos trapped.  The Doctor's secure in the Pandorica.  Oh, wait.  That's just a remarkable likeness, and it's not the Doctor but the stalwart little Blue people.  

The renegades no doubt will supplant the Time Lords that were crazed by the Time War against--sorry, the Guardians of the Universe once defeated.  The Doctor Who comparisons are unavoidable.  However, if the book only ran on the underlying themes, I'd be pissed off rather than amused. 

Doug Mahnke enhances Johns' writing with a rich tapestry of superhero goodness.  His League looks powerful and capable.  His Flash is particularly lively, and the new Green Lantern, reflects racing in his imagination of green escape vehicles.  Mahnke visualizes The Big Bad attack dogs of the Guardians as cosmic versions of the Trench from Aquaman, and he brings a decadent feel to guest villain the Black Hand.  Lots of things apparently happened to this low-key bank robber, but Mahnke sums them up in his depiction so you don't need to know the details.

Animal Man feels like solid superhero fare.  It plays as a de facto elseworld where the Rot won; leaving behind a hodgepodge of heroes that know they're not the Justice League, even if two of them are.  Indeed, these champions still believe in their hearts that Batman will somehow pull all their asses out of the fire.  I share that belief.

Jeff Lemire is totally on board.  Despite Animal Man and Swamp Thing being vital in the fight against the Rot, Lemire foreshadows that the bat in the belfry will be instrumental in bringing low the Rot.  Another writer would balk at the idea of giving the limelight to the Dark Knight, but if this hypothesis holds true, it's indicative of how the new 52 differs from the previous mishmash universe, how the writers are in complete concert.  Egos mostly put aside to create the most entertaining, integrated mythology.

Obviously it's still too early to say whether or not Batman himself is amongst the living, just waiting for the right moment to strike.  Mind you, I don't believe Man-Bat is in the Cave as a  preview cover to Swamp Thing suggests.  

I think Man-Bat is actually Batman.  He probably thought the best way to guard the weapon against the Rot, perhaps something only Swamp Thing or Animal Man can use, would be to become a monster.  So, he injected Kirk Langstrom's formula.  That's my guess anyway.

Putting aside all of this intrigue and thought, Animal Man still interests in a number of other ways.  First, Buddy Baker is in good form, and that's arguably the most important asset. 

Second, Lemire introduces more hints at the Black Orchid's origin.

Third, callbacks to nostalgia add a layer of amusement.  Beast Boy and Cyborg never met in the new 52, but Beast Boy and Steel act like the old double-act from The New Teen Titans of the pre-Crisis.  Fourth, just when you think you have this book figured out, Lemire stings you with an awesome cliffhanger that in itself possesses one of the coolest of easter eggs.

Although less occurs in Swamp Thing than in Animal Man, this issue of Swamp Thing is still a lot of fun.  I can't really reveal what happens in Swamp Thing without ruining the surprise, but let's just say that Scott Snyder likes Godzilla films and allow that clue to marinate in your minds.

As in Animal Man, Swamp Thing turns Batman and the Batcave into near fable.  Swamp Thing, like Animal Man, also intends to journey to Gotham in order to find the device that Batman made to destroy the Rot.  In many ways, Rotworld is a variation on the Oz novels by L. Frank Baum.  Swamp Thing (Tin Woodsman) and Animal Man (The Cowardly Lion) are the travelers down the Yellow Brick Road to seek Batman (The Wizard.)  In addition to these attributes, Dead Man (The Scarecrow) makes an excellent foil for Swamp Thing, and his creation of a Pea Pod to sail into Gotham is rather inspired.  

The fact that Swamp Thing knows who Superboy is suggests that this rewrite of the timeline still occurs in the future of the new 52.  Although all the titles are slowly converging to a relative present.  Detective Comics is one such title.  

Previously in the Detective Comics, Batman was involved with Charlotte Rivers.  You can argue that this was Tony Daniel's influence, but the multiple period settings facilitated a personal choice in love interests and casts.

John Layman brings Detective Comics up to date.  Batman is now dating Natalya, the Ukrainian pianist, from Gregg Hurwitz's Dark Knight.  We see her in an Ivy-induced hallucination.  Batman's attitude toward Ivy becomes increasingly optimistic, and this direction ties in with the events occurring in Birds of Prey.

Black Canary established the Birds of Prey soon after meeting Starling and Batgirl during her infiltration of the Penguin's floating nightclub the Iceberg.  Canary later inducted Katana and Ivy.  Batman appears to know Black Canary from her days on Team 7. When he encounters the Birds of Prey during The Night of the Owls, he remains unimpressed, regarding Black Canary as "sloppy."  Batman however respects Batgirl, and he tolerates the Birds of Prey as a result.  

Between this time and the setting of Dark Knight, Batman sees the Birds of Prey as viable.  For that reason, he returns Poison Ivy to the Birds of Prey after rescuing her from Bane. He feels the Birds is a good place to reform Ivy and where she can use her power for good. 

More than ever, Batman wants to turn Ivy, not imprison her.  This is largely in part because of the new 52 embracing the Bruce Timm model for Ivy, turning her into an eco-terrorist rather than a damaged woman obsessed with Batman.  

Ivy burned her bridge to the Birds of Prey when she forced them to do her bidding.  Batgirl however escaped, and Batman found the antidote for the Ivy toxin, freeing the Birds.  This occurred "off screen" during the interim when DC published the zero issue.

Batman's more optimistic approach to his enemies marks a remarkable development.  In the previous universe, he lacked a shred of optimism.  In the new 52 it appears that he just might actually be able to cure some of his enemies of their madness and harness their criminal tendencies toward lawfulness.

For the moment though, Batman must deal with Ivy's worst enemy, herself of course.  He finds a cunning means to combat Ivy's pheromones, and the story's wonderfully elliptical since all roads lead back to the Penguin, who is turning out to be a major behind the scenes villain in the new 52.

Jason Fabok accompanies Layman on Detective Comics.  His art is much as you see on the cover.  However, the cover doesn't capture the fluid animation that he manages to convey in addition to the intense detail he puts into every panel.  Jeromy Cox continues to make the Dark Knight's cases more colorful with vivid greens and red fighting blue gray against a rust red dusk.  Andy Clarke also returns with sinewy artwork for this issue's back-up feature as Layman gets inside of Ivy's head.

Damien Wayne makes a guest appearance in Detective Comics, but I still can't stand the little snot.  Paul Levitz however in World's Finest almost made me like the little bastard, and that's even with his beating on one of my favorite characters Huntress, Helena Wayne, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.

Levitz characterizes Damien as an arrogant but skilled martial artist that might have chop-sockied out of a seventies Hong Kong flick, and that persona works! That persona works better than anything that's been.  Remember, I tried Batman & Robin.  There's a reason why it's not on my subscription list.  Every subsequent guest appearance by the twerp has been painful to experience, but Levitz has got him.  He's found a means to preserve the "edginess" that fans like without having Damien grate on an audience that couldn't care less about him.

When Huntress intends to siphon off some money from Bruce Wayne, she finds Damien waiting for her.  Huntress holds back when fighting Damien.  Although she constantly humiliates him with taunts over his inadequacy as Robin.  She should know being a former Girl Wonder, and as they fight they recognize each other as brother and sister.  

Damien doesn't know the meaning of the word restraint.  He's willing to kill the Huntress, but he can't win.  Helena has something Damien will never allow himself to have.

If that scene had been broadcast, I would rewind it and replay it until the moment burned onto the screen.

Outmatched, Damien tunes down his anger and viciousness.  He almost becomes reasonable, and that's when he learns that the trail of money he followed hasn't led him to Helena.  She has only borrowed money from her Uncle Bruce twice.  Somebody else is using Bruce Wayne as their piggy-bank.

Kevin Maguire contributes the lion's share of artwork this issue, and how lucky we are.  It's his mastery of expression and body language that injects energy into what could have been a boring slugfest between siblings.  Instead, we witness a fantastic display of the world's finest martial artist and her brother from another earth as well as faces that display the emotional gamut underlying the battle.

I'm honestly not a fan of Ben Templesmith's style.  This sort of edgy defiance of classical anatomy.  However, he does bring out a lot of the black comedy in a one-stop Joker story by B. Clay Moore in Legends of the Dark Knight.  I actually found myself laughing at the sickness in the gag, and Moore's punchline with Batman is particularly clever. 

Batman appears in another book this week, and this book, my friends, is awesome.  The cover appears to be a gimmick.  

I mean shooting Superman with Kryptonite bullets first of all seems too simple to achieve, and it should put an end to the Man of Steel.  Believe it or not, this actually happens.

Art by Criss Cross and Marc Deering

That in itself is stunning, but what Bryan Q. Miller does with the scene is far more inspiring.  He uses it to cement the trust and friendship between Batman and Superman.  The scenario finally establishes the entire Justice League, with Batman and Nightwing using the "party line."  He employs the scene to not just to build on the suspense but also to demonstrate Lois' love for her Big Red S.

The pivotal moment in Smallville furthermore drops the flag for a car chase like no other.  Had this been on screen, the audience would have cheered at the same time, and the sound wave would knock the earth a couple of inches off its axis.  It's that good.

As you can see by the examples of artwork I pulled, we're talking some fantastic likenesses to Tom Welling, Erica Durance, Alison Mack, Justin Hartley and unnamed actors portraying Batman and Nightwing.  

Colors by Carrie Strachan

The special effects handled entirely through the masterful illustration of Chris Cross never the less take on life that mimics what would be seen on television or on the big screen.  I cannot stress this enough.  Smallville is a must purchase.

Next week, in addition to the usual madness, look for a review of the graphic novel adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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