Monday, December 10, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 4, 2012


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag treks to Metropolis with Animal Man.  Then we travel to Gotham City with Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Detective Comics and Swamp Thing.  Batwing soars in Africa.  Our next stop is anywhen with The Doctor. We then shunt off to Earth 2.  We'll take Manhattan in Creator Owned Heroes and The Human Bomb, drop by Red Circle City in New Crusaders and finally visit the Marvel Universe with Red She-Hulk.  

For the first time in forty-five years, the Doctor makes the cover of TV Guide.  Fan-tas-tic!

In other Doctor Who news, Witchdoctor creator Brandon Seifert materializes the first part of an uproarious character-driven TARDIS-based comedy that's enhanced by Philip Bond's stylish cartooning and Charlie Kirchoff's vivid coloring.

If you've read the delightful Witchdoctor, you know that Seifert has the right mind-set for Doctor Who.  He opens the story with a classy new foe, the Siblinghood of the Physcist, St. Augustine.  

Seifert's basis for this new cult featured in Doctor Who lies in the real world philosophy of presentism, and the belief was indeed supported by Saint Augustine.  Presentism basically argues that time is linear and immutable, that the present is all that can be experienced and all that is real.  It sounds almost reasonable.  Except, you're walking into the future every day.  You remember the past, and Einstein proved that time is relative to an observer.

I'm impressed that Seifert takes the time to research this idea because the cult's not really seen for very long, and a lesser writer might have just bluffed his way through.  Instead, Seifert revels in expressing imagination and educating the reader, and that makes for a stronger story.

The encounter with the cult appears to be the last straw for Rory, and he does have a point.  The Doctor visiting a place that's inimical to the very idea of time travel exemplifies poor judgment.  Of course, that assumes the Doctor aimed to actually arrive there.  Steering the TARDIS is often miraculous at the best of times, but the Doctor likes everybody to think that what he does is always on purpose.

To end the friction, Rory's wife, Amy Pond, who understands the Doctor better than her husband unveils a plan.

There's more to this conflict than just the Doctor's attraction to danger.  The Doctor and Amy share a bond, and Rory, even-though he knows nothing will happen between the Doctor and his wife, feels threatened by that bond.  It's another astute observation by Seifert.  

Seifert demonstrates his knowledge of the series both old and new by catalyzing the Doctor's and Rory's troubles with a throw of the Fast-Return-Switch.  

The Fast-Return-Switch is one of the many tricky devices built into the TARDIS that appear to be designed to lead the Doctor into extra terrible hazards.  

When the Doctor last used this handy, dandy gadget he wound up traveling to the "Edge of Destruction."  The TARDIS' telepathic circuits attempted to warn the crew by manipulating time pieces in the ship and inducing paranoia in an effort to say, "Hey, you old coot! Turn around! It's getting hot!  Big Bang hot!"  

No doubt the Doctor believes that he fixed the troublesome feature.  Given his track record of fixing the TARDIS, he of course should know better.  

As the Doctor and Rory stumble through time and space, they meet famous personages and unusual beasts.  At least they're both confident that Amy is perfectly safe.  
 Seifert sets Amy's adventure in a forgotten real-world period of England that results in six deaths.  Time however can be rewritten.  Will Amy be "lucky" seven.  

From time travel we turn our attention to parallel universes.  Earth 2 scatters our heroes.  Kendra, Hawkgirl, tries to convince Green Lantern to help form the Justice Society, or whatever it may be called in this new 52 reboot.  

Yildiray Cinar and Trevor Scott illustrate the fantastic feathered femme lovely, and the colorist bestows to her a complexion to die for.  If Alan Scott weren't gay, he might have been convinced, by her beauty if not anything else.

Khan, the head of Earth 2's UNIT, finds himself forced to work with subpar reptile Terry Sloan, the former colleague of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman known as Mr. 8, a sobriquet defining him as the eighth wonder of the world.  Khan however prepares for Sloan's inevitable backstab.  He sends another familiar name to infiltrate one of Terry Sloan's many secret labs.

At Sloan's, hidden in plain sight headquarters, Wesley Dodds and his Sandmen discover a mind-controlled Mr. Terrific, awesome to see him again.  Khan expected to find the hero there, indicating that Khan may not be on Sloan's intellectual level, but his cunning and ability to gather intel should not be discounted. 

The background machinations, the return of a hero, the interplay between old friends in new guises, if this is an average issue of Earth 2, it's got quite the mean score.

One of the best chapters of New Crusaders, this is the one when the team gets together.  The two lads recover from the initial exposure to their fathers' formulas and arise as the new Fireball and Comet.

Ivette returns to the limbo dimension to confront the Jaguar god who impressed by her fire grants her the powers of her predecessor, albeit with a cooler costume.

Beware the Booties of the Jaguar!

Kelly Brand earns her wings as the Fly Girl, and a new Web gains agility with a high-tech suit.  The nimbleness of the haute couture is an unusual development in what we think of as exoskeletons.  Normally, such suits increase power or bequeath Repulsor Rays.  So, points for originality.

I also appreciated that the father of the new Steel Sterling wasn't about to subject his son to the same accident he experienced, dropped into molten metal.  He comes up with a more controlled experiment. 

Alitha Martinez, Gary Martin and Matt Herms contribute warm, welcoming artwork in a style that would fit right in with Batman: The Animated Series.  So, try this latest issue.  You just may like what you see and read.

In 1941, Roy Lincoln drank a secret explosive formula developed by his father.  He did this not on a dare, but to sacrifice his life to prevent enemy agents from gaining the potential to win the war for the Third Reich.  Against all odds, Roy Lincoln survived.  What's more he discovered that when exposed to air, his body could create concussive force.  In short, he became the Human Bomb.

The Human Bomb's adventures lasted until 1946 in Police Comics, also the home of Plastic Man, The Spirit and Phantom Lady.  About thirty years later, DC formed the Freedom Fighters.  The Human Bomb stood among them.  Another ten years, and the Bomb returned in Roy Thomas' and Jerry Ordway's All-Star Squadron.  

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray through successive mini-series are taking advantage of the new 52's clean slate to revisit the Freedom Fighters.  It's no real surprise, and it's certainly not objectionable given how entertaining these adventures have been.   

The new Human Bomb is Mike Taylor, former soldier, current welder based in Manhattan, Palmiotti's stomping grounds. 

When alleged suicide bombers explode around the city, Mike and his colleagues all express  horrified looks perfectly captured by the Human Bomb's former artist Ordway.

At first, it appears that Palmiotti and Gray will be using real world terrorism as their subject matter.  The writers instead employ Al-Quaeda as a historical backdrop.  The war waged in Afghanistan is a fact that's in Mike Taylor's past.  September 11th is modern history that's a clear and present reminder.  

The writers take a sharp diversion from reality when Mike encounters his old platoon buddy.  It's here that we discover what's really going on.  A more fanciful terrorist organization like SPECTRE from the James Bond series called CROWN lies behind the Human Bombs.  All the Human Bombs.  

When their evil agent, an extraordinary design from Ordway attempts to activate Mike, he finds instead an unresponsive rebel who not only resists whatever control CROWN had but also a hero who saves lives by absorbing the explosive force of the hapless souls that CROWN destroys.

Those colors are flawless, and overall The Human Bomb is a terrific comic book.  The story erupts with action and detonates an entertaining battle between good and evil.

Creator Owned Heroes ends with issue eight, unfortunately.  This is a pity because Creator Owned was the best comic book anthology being produced.  The opener "Trigger Girl 6" was a Phil Noto retro illustrated spy thriller bearing one helluva twist from Palmiotti and Gray.  The co-feature "American Muscle" was easily the most upbeat post-apocalyptic adventure.

This issue's "Kill Switch" began as a James Bond replicant, but soon spread out as an original treatment of a high-tech hitman.  In this chapter, Gray and Palmiotti follow the rules of Sherlock Holmes:

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.

Palmiotti and Gray foreshadowed only one solution to "Killswitch" and they follow through.

The second feature "Meatbag" by Steve Niles and Scott Morse is a pure pulpy private eye novel involving a duplicitous cheating wife and a strange, violent murder.  

Niles hits all the right notes of the convention.  Scott Morse's work reminds one of pop illustration that might have appeared in a Black Mask had the publication continued in the fifties and sixties.

Superior to Dark Horse Presents and Heavy Metal, this issue also benefits from an interview with Brandon Seifert--it does seem to be his month, doesn't it--and sound advice from professionals about illustrating and writing for fun and profit.

Mike Mignola returns to art and writing duties for Hellboy, and a greater comedic bent becomes blatantly obvious.

The evil witch Nimue took out Hellboy's heart as he killed her dragon-form.  His mortal body fell.  His astral form plummeted into the pit.

The brief words from the Baba Yaga that open the story acts almost like a send-up of Frank Miller's verisimilitude in Dark Knight Returns

Mignola's execution and onomatopoeia in the battle between Hellboy and the Black Knight, who seeks revenge for his defeat, doubles down on the amusing absurdity, and of course, Hellboy's dialogue is a treasure as always.

A must for fans of the character.

The Swamp Thing/Animal Man duo-logy continues with in synch stories by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire.  Each one however tries to top the other.

When last we left Buddy Baker, the gorillas under Gorilla Grodd's control attempted to stop Animal Man's progress to Metropolis.  Well, actually they didn't care where he was heading.  They just wanted to stop him out of malevolent principle.

This issue the cavalry arrives, and the scenario is just another one of those moments that just exemplify why I read comic books.  There's poetry in the guest hero's violence, and Steve Pugh puts together grotesquely gorgeous imagery of the resonant hero on horseback.

In Swamp Thing, a familiar Justice League foe under the control of Arcane attacks, and while this isn't quite so delightful as the jaw dropping rescue in Animal Man, there's still a lot of power in that image.  The conqueror was once a staple figure in the DCU, but now its merely a puppet for a boy with too much power and not enough conscience.

The final fate of Abigail Arcane looks horribly grim with some truly outré graphics from artist Marco Rudy, and yet there's such hope in these dark fantasies despite the Rot appearing to have overcome the entire world.  I attribute the feeling to Swamp Thing and Animal Man being woven into the tapestry of the new 52. 

The stories would have generated quite a different feeling had they come from the Vertigo imprint.  Not that Vertigo is in any way less than DC.  The characters borrowed from DC however were orphaned from the greater universe, and without the promise of the grand figures that Swamp Thing and Animal Man find in the Batcave--as I predicted not Man-Bat--and Arcane's prison in Metropolis--a completely unexpected discovery, these tales would be filled with woe and darkness.

Instead, Batman's got a plan.  He's not in the book, yet, but he has a plan.  Swamp Thing is integral to that plan.  My call? Time travel.  I suspect Batman, Swamp Thing, Justice League Dark, Animal Man and our mystery guests intend to rewrite time.  Batman will send our heroes back nanoseconds after they enter the Rot with the means to destroy it.

Another plant-based figure appears in a more stable Gotham City this week in Detective Comics.  Poison Ivy benefited greatly from the new 52.  Originally, she was just a thief obsessed with Batman.  A sort of leafy Catwoman.  After Bruce Timm cultivated the character on Batman: The Animated Series, she became an ecoterrorist.  DC comics attempted to follow suit, but Ivy's larcenous history still pursued her, and they couldn't replicate the relationship Ivy had with Harley Quinn, however deep you wish to infer.

The Powers That Be behind the new 52 debuted Ivy in The Birds of Prey.  The writer of that stellar series, Duane Swierczynski turned Ivy into a protagonist.  It was actually disappointing when Ivy reverted to her former criminal behavior.  Still, at least on behalf of the planet.

Last issue in Detective Comics, Batman attempted to reach Ivy with reason.  She attacked the wrong polluters.  All the dirty water flowed back to the Penguin.  This issue, we find Ivy in dire straits actually hoping Batman will rescue her.  This richly faceted characterization by John Layman builds on the solid foundation others in the New 52 established.

Batman unfortunately cannot aid Ivy because he must deal with the new 52 Clayface with a tried and true Bob Kane/Bill Finger name Basil Karlo.  Ivy tricked Basil into marrying her, but Layman peels back the layers and reveals even worse bamboozlement based upon science fiction bolstered by solid science and latin classification, unearthed by "The World's Greatest Detective."

Batman fans might be alarmed to discover a surfeit of Joker action in a book that sports a Joker mask.  Apart from the Penguin's passing reference, both the main story and the back up focus on Poison Ivy and Clayface.  Fear not, the Clown Prince harasses Batman in Steve Niles' Legends of the Dark Knight.

With Trevor Hairsine, Niles resuscitates a Batman tradition last seen in The Untold Legend of Batman.  The Joker's constant threats to Gotham, and Arkham Asylum's inefficacy as a containment facility eats Batman alive.

Commissioner Gordon and Alfred goad Batman into reading the mail he received over the years.  If you think this is far fetched, especially those old-fangled things called letters, think again.  Real people wrote to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street.  They simply could not accept that somebody created Holmes.

Strangers can't e-mail Batman, nor send him tweets.  Letters are the only way he might be reached.  He reads all the missives, but he focuses on several not just because of their heartfelt meaning, and they are heartfelt.  That's how a normal man might view these tears of joy thank yous.  In addition, Batman sees a pattern and uses it to find the Joker to put an end to his reign of terror once and for all.  The letters of course renew Batman's belief in himself, and Niles ends this story on the perfect comedic beat, perfectly choreographed by Hairsine.

I'm sorry that Judd Winnick left Batwing, but Fabian Nicieza doesn't miss a beat as he takes over the reins.  He concludes Winnick's story, and it feels as if Winnick never left.  There's no stiffness that some replacement writers leave in the wake of a last chapter.

Instead, Nicieza directs artist Fiorentino Fabrizio to flood the tale with subtle dreamlike imagery where Batwing faces Father Lost, the head of a mind-control cult.  Nicieza reveals how even a strong figure like Batwing can fall into the trap that Father Lost sets; he doesn't use weakness as bait but a character's strength.

Nicieza characterizes Batwing's friend and mentor Mantu well.  The writer adds a flourish of humor to the handler.  The means in which Mantu frees his friend from the clutches of Father Lost make sense, and Batwing himself exhibits some fine reasoning to hand Father Lost his ultimate defeat.

At the same time, Nicieza deepens the suspicions of David Zavimbe's fellow officer and possible love interest Kia.  David admits that she's too smart to be kept in the dark about his secret for long.  Soon she'll discover that he is Batwing.  All in all a strong debut with superb coloring by Pete Pantazis. 

Red She-Hulk actually showed me something.  Parker switches the narration to the much more amiable and familiar Aaron Stack, alias Machine Man.  This allows for an unbiased observer to catalog Betty Ross' actions.

I have to concur with Stack, Betty does behave like a hero in the end when fighting the Avengers.  Even when she creates a destructive distraction, she becomes more palatable.  I still don't feel connected to Red She-Hulk, but I can accept her more readily now as a protagonist.

Eric Trautmann continues to write bang up Red Sonja, and this adventure is a violent spectacle brought to robust life by artist Marcio Abreau, who continues to impress eventhough he appears to be a new kid on the block.

Smallville winds down with some choice bits of dialogue midst the kibosh the World's Finest unleashes on Mr. Freeze and the Prankster.  Bryan Q. Miller also may be the first writer to use the absence of a secret identity positively, and there's a terrific team up between Lois Lane and Nightwing (Barbara Gordon), a first as far as I know.

That's it for this week.  Tune back next week for the latest installment The Pick of the Brown Bag.

No comments:

Post a Comment