Monday, December 24, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 19, 2012


Ray Tate

Happy Holidays from the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week we check out Bionic Woman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Doctor Who/Star Trek, Nightwing, Journey into Mystery with Sif, Simpsons Comics, Sword and Sorcery with Amethyst and Beowulf, Supergirl, the latest Witchdoctor miniseries and Wonder Woman.  I'll also have a few words about Young Justice and JSA Liberty Files.

A mystery Big Bad sent a kind of vampire (The Strigoi) to infect Dr. Vincent Morrow, the Witch DoctorThe devious bait traps Morrow into doing the Big Bad's bidding, or does it? This issue we see what tricks both opponents have up their sleeves.

Brandon Siefert is doing double duty this month.  He writes not only for his own characters but also IDW's Doctor Who.  What's really surprising is that Dr. Vincent Morrow bears several of the Doctor's traits--lightning speak and egotism--but somehow the level of intensity increasesAs seen in Siefert's excellent Doctor Who opener, the Doctor  pauses between sentences, and he explains more simply than Morrow.

Perhaps this is due to the Doctor operating in essentially our reality, whereas Dr. Vincent Morrow occupies a space nearly conjured from Siefert's imagination whole cloth.  So you have things like Strigoi and the awesome Loogaroo.  Siefert also collects a bestiary from world folklore.  For example, Siefert mentions the Asuang, which is a creature from South Asian myths and prominent in global cinema.

Monster makers Lukas Ketner and Andy Troy accompany the Witch Doctor on his travels, and they bring a sense of biology to these nightmares.  Through Ketner's and Troy's embellishment these things gain physical verisimilitude.

Doctor Who/Star Trek Next Generation ends on a high note with the Doctor and The Enterprise crew taking the fight to the Cybermen.  The battle goes pretty much how you expect.  Lots of Cybermen casualties and a couple of nondescript gold shirts lying in smoking circuitry debris.

Some Doctor Who aficionados just might object to the performance of the Cyber Controller.  Indeed, the Cyber Controller's actually a lot more livelier than the as per usual uber calm Enterprise crew.  Much to the chagrin of some fans who can't relax, Cyber scene chewing has a long tradition in Doctor Who.  The unemotive Cybermen pretty much ended at the conclusion of the second Doctor's reign.  As soon, as the Powers That Be monkeyed with the Cyber voices, making the Cybermen sound less tinny and more human, the Cybermen became vindictive and sadistic, particularly during the fifth Doctor's run.  Russell T. Davies brought back the emotion eradication by pulling the Cybermen from another universe's earth.  Emotion in fact will kill Cybermen nouveau.

The Doctor and company face the old Cybermen, characterized by an allergy to gold and prone to the occasional emotional outburst, especially when the Doctor's around.  So, that tantrum from the Cyber Leader isn't entirely out of character.  Not convinced? Try rationalizing it this way.  The Cybermen may have been able to tap their emotions more readily due to a hidden benefit from their assimilation of the Borg.

The general design of the Cybermen resembles some of the Cyber art from Doctor Who Magazine's classic Tom Baker era; the altruistic renegade Cyberman Kroton for example immediately comes to mind.  In terms of depicting humans and Time Lord, the art in Doctor Who/Star Trek could have been smoother.  After the first issue, J.K. Woodward painted over Gordon Purcell's pencils, which to my eyes wasn't necessary since Purcell is fine enough an artist, intimately familiar with licensed properties such as Star Trek. 

If Woodward couldn't meet the deadline, then IDW should have simply gone with Purcell, or allot more time for Woodward to finish.  The finale takes a hit in terms of hurriedness.  For example, the Doctor's complexion is maybe a shade more gold than Data's skin.  Matt Smith is a pale Brit, but not pasty-faced.  He's also not jaundiced.

The crew of The Enterprise while in good character often suffers from stiff-photograph syndrome.  This is a common malady striking licensed properties.  The artist illustrates the principals with the poses from source photographs and forgets to animate them.  Of course, the Next Generation was the most cerebral of Star Trek offshoots and the crew least likely to explode into action.

Still, despite a few caveats, this ending chapter contains some choice bits.  The means in which the Doctor and Crew defeat the Cybermen alludes to the mention of the Glitter Gun from the fondly remembered "Revenge of the Cybermen."  The Borg double-cross the Time Lord and Federales in a unique way, and even in the Cyberman-Borg failure, a  threat looms.  Best of all, it's rather nice that the Enterprise crew and the Doctor will remember each other after the timelines split.  

The Tiptons' entire story was enjoyable.  Dialogue frequently echoed the delivery of the fine performances of the actors.  The plot was a good one with the Tiptons declaring the Cybermen would be worse than Borg, and the flashback in which the Doctor meets Kirk, McCoy and Spock was an unexpected treat.

Paul Tobin's Bionic Woman is simply strongly written drama with a familiar character at its hub.  Tobin refreshes Jamie Summers while still preserving her beginnings as a 70s super-hero.  The things she does in Bionic Woman are not really too far removed from what Lindsay Wagner would have done in character, if she were allowed to.

Tobin pushes Jamie with a threat to her friend Nora that's exacerbated by bionically enhanced criminals.  Jamie demonstrates her intelligence as she reveals her deductions about the nature of MISSION, the organization harvesting bionic parts for the wealthy.  She then displays fierceness, expressed perfectly by artist Leno Carvalho. 

Television standards and practices very rarely allowed any of the fire in Jamie's spirit to show.  As such, the concepts and the cast of Bionic Woman always out performed the scripts and terrible seventies tropes.  We always knew that Bionic Woman could have been this comic book, if the effects benefited from better technology and the censors had keeled over with food  poisoning.  I'm not a lethal kind of guy.  Just keep them out of my way.

Tobin generates friction between OSI and Jamie that actually originated during the last season of Bionic Woman.  These conflicts take the Bionic Woman out of the safety zone kitsch, inherent in bell bottoms and disco music.

This is a more mature Bionic Woman.  Jamie defies the mindset Steve Austin exhibited.  When Jamie originally suffered from her parachuting accident, Steve begged Oscar to turn Jamie into the Bionic Woman.  Oscar was stunned.  The Six-Million Dollar man's reaction to his survival from an experimental plane's crash was a suicide attempt.  Just when you think the story is about to settle.  Tobin takes out the paddles for a jump start to the next arc.

Part archaeological base, part occult police department, headed by Steve Trevor, ARGUS featured in the Justice League acts as the guardhouse for all the unusual things in the world.  It's where the Ark of the Covenant would be found.  Rather than box these items up to languish, ARGUS fosters a museum-like atmosphere and fosters a home for new 52 scientists to ply their trades.  

It appears that ARGUS holds a certain black diamond somebody wants, and Catwoman's just the kind of gal to retrieve it.  Before you can say Eclipso got your tongue, the gem overpowers our favorite feline.

Ann Nocenti's writing is unique, I'll give her that, but it's not easy to follow.  The characters sometimes appear to be talking in completely different scenes.  Their dialogue isn't in synch.

Occasionally the characters are prescient.  Dr. Peril's assistant Darwin wishes Catwoman would stop calling him "Dudwin" even-though she doesn't until later, after he actually expresses his distaste.

Some of the characters don't register enough to be on panel.  While Selina's new friend Gwen is resonant enough, her fence/handler is really ephemeral.

In the end I wish we could have a little punctuated equilibrium in which Catwoman alone plans a good heist.  Instead Nocenti Catwoman prowls onto stage with a scene of minor larceny, followed by the moment with Selina's fence.  Why didn't Nocenti start with Selina infiltration of ARGUS? That's where the story proper begins, and it more efficiently introduces the character to newcomers.

Nocenti's dialogue is difficult to assemble, but Catwoman's not an entire wash.  Once again, Rafa Sandoval and inker Jordi Tarragona create gorgeous artwork.  

As I said when reviewing the previous issue, I'm not opposed to cheesecake illustration.  Alberto Vargas is one of my favorite artists, but I buy comic books for a story.  This issue of Catwoman does feature some tasty slices, but Sandoval incorporates the morsels into the narrative, and he avoids the obvious.

Compare for example two butt shots.  Sandoval's and Tarragona's depiction is just a fit derriere.  Juan Jose Ryp's butt shot is trifle more exploitative, featuring not just ass but a little something extra. 

Ryp was primarily known as a highly detailed  T & A cartoonist, so we can expect some of his old habits being recapitulated in his new works.  This is not to say that Ryp's art is bad.  Far from it.  

This issue of Birds of Prey is brimming with strong action scenes that overwhelm any brief flirtations with explicitness.

Ryp also demonstrates consistency.  Katana when she dislocates her shoulder cannot use that arm in the adventure.

Duane Swierczynski torpedoed Batwoman out of the water by creating an infectious bisexual hero whole cloth and not from scraps left over from a discarded Batgirl makeover.  Starling often displays a stylish sense of comedy, and Ryp who is not known for his comic sensibilities none the less conveys this aspect of character.

Rafa Sandoval on Catwoman also effectively conveys Selina's sense of fun.  Her choice of disguise for example alludes to Michelle Pfeiffer's performance in Batman Returns, the best of the two Batman films. 

Notice Sandoval's display of stooped body language.  The disguise also recalls Catwoman's original shtick.  Catwoman frequently plastered putty to her puss to hide as an old lady or a homely maid.  So kudos also go to Nocenti for her awareness of comic book history.

Kyle Higgins returns to Nightwing, and this issue feels like a rewrite of the Tom DeFalco inventory stories.  The change in tone is remarkable.

Batgirl cameos again this issue, but Higgins perfectly characterizes her as a strong-willed, powerful crimefighter.  

Sparks fly as Sonia Zucco and Dick Grayson almost become closer, but the difference lies in the execution.  Dick doesn't take for granted that Sonia is going to fall for him, and he believes the entanglement is a bad idea.  Sonia Zucco's father Tony Zucco murdered his parents.  Kind of puts a damper on things.

While sometimes, DC puts a Joker mask on books that actually lack "Death of a Family" content, Nightwing actually deserves to wear the Joker facade.  The gist of the plot--also a kind of reverberation of the DeFalco stories--pits Nighting against a sword wielding Raya, the sister and remorseful accomplice to the murderous Nightwing copycat that kicked off Nightwing's new 52 series.

The Joker identifies Nightwing as a Batman poser.  This designation interests for numerous reasons, but primarily it would mean that the Joker, unlike the Penguin, doesn't even actually know that Nightwing was Robin.  The Joker attacks Nightwing because he believes he's a knock-off of Batman, not the inheritor of Batman's legacy.  If he knew Nightwing was Robin, and Dick Grayson, then the Joker would base his attacks on the idea of Dick being the son of Batman.  Instead, he dresses Raya, the accomplice of a copycat, as an ersatz Nightwing to mock, in the Joker's twisted mind, Dick's masquerade.

Raya's presence may lead to many thinking that she has to be a personal assault on Dick Grayson not Nightwing, but I disagree.  The Joker could be using her because he likes the poetry of somebody who had ties to a copy of Nightwing assaulting the crimefighter.  He also could have noticed Nightwing's more than passing interest in the femme fatale through media coverage.  Nightwing unlike Batman doesn't pull vanishing acts.

Batgirl fans also may want to add Young Justice to their shopping lists.  She's in the book for an eye blink, but the quality of those bat-snaps outweighs the quantity.  It's also a decent story incorporating the Justice League, especially the Big Three.  The actual Young Justice team comes off better here than they have since Peter David coined the title, and post-Crisis/Etch-a-Sketch universe figure Miss Martian amasses more depth of character.

Mikes Green and Johnson clarify Supergirl's position in "The Reign of H'el."  Kara's opinion reflects her inexperience without turning her dumb.  Unlike her cousin Kal-El, Krypton was her home, and the creative team exemplify this feeling through flashbacks.

In addition to the lovely life-like expressions by artist Mahmud Asrar, this playful scenario gives you an idea what Kara lost.

Fortunately for Kara, or unfortunately depending on how this storyarc plays out, Brainiac preserved Kandor, and like he did  in the pre-Crisis universe, Superman keeps the remnant of Brainiac's mania safe in the Fortress of Solitude.  H'el teleports he and Supergirl to the Fortress while evicting Superman and Superboy.

H'el is far more powerful than a mere Kryptonian.  In additon to teleportation, we discover he can change the size of objects, including Kara.  On the other hand, H'el just might be a memory leech and illusionist.  He already created a convincing fantastique in which he took the appearance of Superman and threatened Kara's life.

The entire sequence however awesome may only be occurring in Kara's mind.  The foreshadowing could have been a complete red herring.  There's no proof that Kara's friend ever made it to Kandor before Krypton met its demise. 

If so, there will be hell to pay when Kara snaps out of the fog.  Manipulating the emotions of a young girl who can benchpress tanks, is always a bad idea.

Wonder Woman is a lot like Frankenstein Agent of SHADE.  It's a consistently good to great book, but to review it is to fill the paragraphs with spoilers.  This week I can say a little about the new adventures of Diana.

Cliff Chiang is back.  So there should be much rejoicing; although all the substitute artists like Tony Aiken have been doing nothing but offer their best, and in the shortest time.
 It's safe to say that the New Gods arise in the pages of Wonder Woman.  This is the first that the new 52 has ever heard of them, not counting Darkseid, of course, and writer Brian Azarello balances Jack Kirby classicism with Grant Morrison postmodernism.  

Meanwhile, Hephaestus tinkers with Wonder Woman's bracelets for one of many memorable moments including Wonder Woman meeting Orion's idle boast.

The cover to Sword and Sorcery is a bit of a fib.  Amethyst does indeed face the big bruiser, but beyond the ballyhoo, this is where the truth lies.

Amethyst is simply put a gorgeous diplomatic fantasy.  Writer Chrysty Marx doesn't just emphasize the title elements.  She sets the story against the backdrop of alliances and debts between Houses, all of which arise from a common origin.  

The meat of the plot relies on a formal declaration of war between Amethyst's mother Graciel and her sister Mordiel.  In addition the focus seldom wavers from Amy learning something new about Gemworld.  

Marx characterizes Amy as a science girl, and that's an awesome thing to do, especially since magic rather than hard science is the stereotype associated with the femininity.  Amy questions everything like a student of science.  That's what sets her apart from everybody.

In the backup feature, Beowulf discovers where his world came from, and here Tony Bedard really turns back the clock to examine how this future ties into the new 52.  Obviously, it's an alternate timeline like the Rotworld, but it's interesting none the less, as is the art of Jesus Saiz cuing both barbarism and sterile hyperscience.

Journey into Mystery continues to focus on Sif's want to harness the power of the berserkers.  She darts to and fro Asgard and Midgard to stir trouble.  I like that Kathryn Immonen is willing to present Sif's quest as wrong. She picks a bar fight quelled by the bartender.  She attacks Fandral.  She injures one of Volstagg's scholarly daughters until finally she tries to kick Heimdal's ass.

You expect a female author to show female characters lacking believable flaws to sort of make up for all the consistently rotten representation they received from male creators, but Immonen instead demonstrates that even female characters can cock things up.  They're not automatically more pensive or serene just because they're women.  Instead, they can display just as much idiocy and short-sightedness as the men folk.

Ian Boothby in The Simpsons pulls together the continuity in some of the television episodes to find a fresh new venue for Homer to pursue.  In "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner," Homer begins living up to the question's answer, and that role is key to Boothby's tale of gustatory dissatisfaction.

After a particularly bad burger at Krusty's, Homer accepts the challenge of making his own.  Meanwhile, Marge is worried over Maggie's inability or lack of enthusiasm in talking.  A chance encounter leads to a fine scam.

It takes a con man to tumble a con man, and Bart's just the fellow to thwart the clever obscure Simpsons character.  The discovery also allows Boothby to strengthen Bart's relationship with Maggie while Homer's relationship with Lisa disintigrates.  So, there's a nice contrast running through the tale while the antics rumble the belly laughter.

Of course, by the end, the status quo returns, and the family is as strong as always.  The artists for this issue lack the opportunity to relish any zany outrageous slapstick.  Instead, Boothby's tale is a comedy of characterization.  So, Phil Ortiz and Mike DeCarlo hone their facial expressions for Springfield's cast and transfer the body language from the characters on television to the panels.  This grants the entire book a valid appearance that lends the story more authenticity.  Oh, and lest I forget.  Art Villanueva's colors are magnificent, building a surreal candy coated town reflective of the series.

Those with decidedly unusual tastes might want to sample JSA Liberty Files which stars two bizarre new 1940s heroes along with more realistic presentations of familiar Golden Age heroes.  However, JSA fans might get a little raw when they see the group's roster relegated to cameos.

That's it for this week's POBB.  Check us out again next week for more timely comic book reviews.

No comments:

Post a Comment