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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 14, 2012


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag this week focuses on The Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Justice League, Nightwing, Prophecy, Supergirl, Sword & Sorcery with Amethyst and Wonder Woman.

"All great deeds and all great thoughts 
have a ridiculous beginning."
--Albert Camus

The Zero Issue of Catwoman gave Ann Nocenti the opportunity to recreate Selina from the ground up.  A young, inexperienced Selina Kyle was part of that foundation.  That version of Catwoman differs strongly from her future, our present day, Selina Kyle.

The first thing you notice this issue is that Catwoman's voice sounds riper, stronger.  Selina also exhibits greater serenity and composure, which better signifies the direction of Nocenti's characterization the feline thief.  She still has a wild streak, evident in her narration, but these are the exploits of a seasoned Catwoman, who can still be shaken but not to the point of tears. 

While last issue's plot was more like Carl Sandburg's fog, Nocenti here demonstrates her ability to orchestrate a fantastic and unusual heist, worthy of Catwoman.  An unknown chess fanatic hires Selina to make an illegal move with a giant chess piece.  The story alludes to the mammoth prop plots of the Silver Age but with a certain amount of realism.  Given how cities have become the playgrounds for spelunkers, rooftop joggers and martial artists, chess players aren't too far a stretch.

Although a life-size chess game would have been enough, Nocenti adds an element of danger.  The hazard could play into "Death of the Family," but the threat's more likely an independent problem.  The Joker never expressed an interest in chess before.  Too logical a game for a maniac.

Artist Rafa Sandoval often converts Nocenti's script into full pages of visuals lacking conventional panels.

Catwoman 13

His technique gives Catwoman a sinuous quality, subtly symbolizing the title character's inherent grace.  Jordi Tarragona and Sonia Oback embellish Sandoval's pencils respectively with sharp textural inking and rich shades of blue-gray and green casts. All in all, a purrrrfect issue of Catwoman.

Tom DeFalco substitutes for Kyle Higgins this week on Nightwing and crafts a decent inventory issue detailing a day in the life of the crimefighter.  In addition, he also puts the history of Nightwing revealed last issue to good use.

There is a question of what were DeFalco's ideas and what were cliffnotes Higgins left behind while he worked on whatever or attended whichever con.  I'm guessing that the encounter with Penguin is all DeFalco.  So, that's what I'm going to concentrate upon.

I've always wondered if the general public and Batman's rogue's gallery knew that Nightwing was the original Robin.  It was difficult to decide in the old universe.  Catwoman was always aware of course, but she hardly counts as a villain.  In the new 52, at least the Penguin acknowledges his shared history with Nightwing.

The dialogue between the two old frenimies amuses, and there's once again an allusion to the Burgess Meredith Penguin in the new 52 foul fowl's tone.  Especially when he calls off his female bodyguards.

DeFalco also probably conceived the encounter between Nightwing and Batgirl.  The scene is well-illustrated by subbing artist Andres Guinaldo, but I take issue with Batgirl's characterization.  

Babs sounds too much like the weak, meek Batgirl Marv Wolfman produced for the Crisis on Infinite Earths rather than the potent, professional Batgirl seen in Scott Snyder's Batman and Simone's confident resonant Batgirl or Duane Swierzynski's reliable, resourceful Batgirl in Birds of Prey.

The Shiva episode is probably DeFalco taking off on the germ of an idea that he was given by the editor, but DeFalco's ploy for Shiva is too transparent.  I'm puzzled why Nightwing, the world's third greatest detective didn't figure it out.  Still, not a bad issue.

Batgirl appears in another title this week.  In issue twelve of Birds of Prey, Poison Ivy toxified the team, forcing them to do her bidding.  While the rest of the Birds distracted Ivy, Batgirl ran to Batman for help.

I expected this issue to open with the Birds hospitalized in a fake life and death struggle and a focus on Black Canary's guilt over placing them in danger.  Instead, writer Duane Swierczynski does something hilariously smart.  Batman came through.

The idea that the world's greatest detective, the smartest man on the earth couldn't produce an antitoxin to the poison of an arch enemy is unthinkable.  So why not take it as rote? 

This issue of Birds of Prey in fact centers on the Dagger clan stealing Katana's namesake; the soul-drinking sword that also houses her husband.  Swierczynski in addition introduces a new protagonist called Condor, and overall, the writer the strengthens Birds' bonds.

It's too early to say whether or not Condor is a friend or foe, but the high-flying character creates problems for the Dagger Clan, and Swierczynski takes a rather novel approach by rejecting the super effectiveness of Ninja.  Overwhelmed by technology and super powers such as the Canary Cry numbers are the clan's only asset.

Birds of Prey 13

Zero issue's Romano Molenaar makes a welcome return.  His superb artwork enlivens fight scenes and as well conveys the subtle little twists in Swierczynski's script.  When concentrating on the Birds' faces, he evokes strong feeling and conviction.  Molenaar furthermore easily demonstrates more complex action such as when Canary covers Katana's ears as she unleashes her trademark.  

Colorist Chris Sotomayor accompanies Molenaar on the book, and he takes some artistic license to add attractive highlights to Batgirl's body armor.  While he debuted this look in the zero issue which took place in the past, there's no reason why Batgirl couldn't have chosen to wear her old uniform while the other's being cleaned.  I'm hoping she has a purple one to compliment the gold one, and the purple lining to her cape comes back.

Batgirl's erstwhile partner and friend, Supergirl faces Simon Tycho.  Despite his metamorphic form, he hasn't changed an iota.  The Mitt Romney of villains, Tycho is a petty, entitlement-minded jackass who wants to own Supergirl and all her things just because he believes he has the right.  He includes her spiffy new Sanctuary beneath the sea on his want list.  That's where he makes a tactical error. 
Supergirl 13

While this dukearoo beneath the depths is short, it's also sweet because the writing by Mikes Green and Johnson is just so canny.  Why would Zor-El program a Kryptonian crystal to allow just anybody to walk into Supergirl's home?  He wouldn't.  That's why Tycho needs Supergirl to believe his farrago of lies.  Kara would need to require extraordinary naiveté to believe a word from Tycho's lips, and Green and Johnson proved that Supergirl may have just fallen from the sky, but she hasn't dropped off a turnip truck from Smallville.  Rather, she immediately meets Tycho's pretense with super-strength.  

Tycho doesn't outwit her.  He instead delivers an emotional blow beautifully illustrated by guest artist Sam Basri and enhanced by colorist Dave McCaig that catches Kara off guard.  She recovers quickly and demonstrates a sharp memory and a quick mind.  In the end Tycho didn't stand a chance.

Wonder Woman begins a new status quo with this issue.  We learn who's staying in the cast, how they will interact and the nature of the new threat. Hera for instance takes the position of the bitchy villainess from the soaps.  Powerless, she finds herself at odds with Zola, who after just giving birth loses the baby; that is Hermes abducted it.  Lennox heals up after his encounter with the gods.  The gods council each other for the oncoming challenge, and that cosmic dare--whom I suspect is Kalibak--reveals a new, nasty disposition that takes a strong step away from the Jack Kirby originals.  Safe this is not.  

I was getting a lot of Doctor Who flashbacks while reading Wonder Woman.  Diana is referred to as the Last Amazon.  The Doctor is the Last of the Time Lords.  Wonder Woman promised to protect Zola and her baby only to have it stolen while under her aegis.  The Doctor promised the same to Amy Pond with the same result.  There are some differences.

Wonder Woman 13

Wonder Woman goes to Libya and finds a new innocent to rescue from soldiers.  I'm guessing this story was finished before Libya officially became our ally, and DC and writer Brian Azarello didn't feel the need to change anything.  After-all, there will always be people taking advantage of their positions as soldiers to inflict terror on civilians.  It doesn't matter whether or not they're American or Arabian.  Corrupt cops exist.  Corrupt soldiers exist.  

The soldiers prove to be a little smarter than most and run from Wonder Woman, a nice touch.  From there, Wonder Woman transforms to Indiana Jones as she encounters ancient traps laid out in an archaeological find which ties into the demigod Sirocco, the Zeus offspring that Wonder Woman wishes to recruit to her side.  A little difficult given the cliffhanger.

Writer Christy Marx transports readers to Gemworld where the neophyte Princess of Amethyst Amaya also known as Amy on earth learns that not everybody is wild about purple.  Inhuman creatures and their barbarian masters attack Amy and her mom Lady Graciel as well as their allies the House of Citrine.

               Sword and Sorcery 1
There's a nice bit of Xena reflection as Amy unfortunately racks her first kill, and like Gabrielle, she's not exactly celebrating.  The narration encapsulates a frozen moment of time when the young warrior feels the impact of her sword felling a foe, and you feel her unease as she describes the detail of the blow.

Meanwhile, Mordiel uses some imaginative looking beasts courtesy of artist Aaron Lopresti to track down the wayward royals.  Marx characterized Mordiel as a vampire who reduces the members of the House of Amethyst signified by their blonde hair to their powerful essences, which she then absorbs.  Marx suggested a remorseless character in the zero issue of Sword and Sorcery.  Here, pangs of emotion crack through Mordiel's demeanor and suggests genuine nostalgia and caring for Amaya.  

In the back up story, young Danelaw escorts Beowulf to his village where the hero/soldier/killer learns of the Grendel's existence.  The art by Jesus Saiz suggests the ugly beast and Beowulf share some common bonds, and the reader learns of some amusing links to the DCU.

An evil god attacks Las Vegas.  This looks like a job for the Justice League.  What a pity that the League is caught up in disjointed angst-ridden turmoil involving Wonder Woman and the Cheetah.  The magic in Prophecy makes more sense as well because in the new 52 you can become a Cheetah person through a cut by an obsidian knife and by a bite.  Is there any way that you can't become a Cheetah?

Leave Justice League on the shelf this week and instead pick up Prophecy.  Ron Marz characterizes the Evil Dead films' Ash Williams perfectly.  Smug, silly and in his own mind a renowned ladies man, Ash comes to the rescue of a Vegas waitress called Sugar.  True to the tone of the Evil Dead movies, Ash puts the moves on the little lady while Herbert West lies dying, his pleas unheard.

Alas, the would-be romance is short-lived because Ash and his boomstick quickly become involved in the global defense against Kulan Gath and his Legion of Doom.  Ash notices The Necronomicon and finally West to save the day.  

Walter Geovani's artwork has been a consistent boon for all the Dynamite titles, and Prophecy is no exception.  The Red Sonja artist is known for his gorgeous female warriors and dramatic tapestries of visual delight, and you'll get that in spades when Pantha strikes, Vampirella feeds and Athena thrusts, all in beautifully laid out poster-like pages.  In addition, Geovani mimics the bombastic body language of Bruce Campbell's Ash, finds comedy in Herbert West's predicament and as well contrasts the extremely dangerous curves on the "team" with Sugar's over the top save-me-Mr-Big-Man expression.

Prophecy 4

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 7, 2012


Ray Tate

Tucked in this week's Pick of the Brown Bag: Batman, Batgirl, Combat Jacks, Frankenstein Agent of SHADE, Honey West, MacGyver, Red She-Hulk, Team 7, Vampirella and Dark Shadows, Wolverine and the new toy-related Amecomi Wonder Woman.  I'll also review the new film Taken 2.

"Begin at the Beginning and go on until you come to an end. Then stop."--Lewis Carroll

Here are four reasons why you should pick up Ame-Comi Wonder Woman

Any questions? 

The fifth reason is that Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray produce a script that should be the basis for a new Wonder Woman television series.  They balance the idea of Amazon might and a wish for peace.  They characterize the sanest Hippolyta since the pre-Crisis.  No, scratch that.  Actually, Gray and Palmiotti's Hippolyta is even more competent than the original.  Steve Trevor is surprisingly likable, not patronizing, helpless, or equatively macho, and Wonder Woman is utterly awesome.  Brutal in battle, but hilarious when combatting with her mother, Diana exhibits a consistent exasperation with men.  Only Trevor impresses her with his intelligence and tact.

It feels like ages since Batgirl was stabbed in the back by Knightfall, yet it's been only one issue.  Perhaps, because the zero issue spanned a year of Batgirl history.  Perhaps, because Batgirl's back is a touchy subject.  Whatever the reason, Simone imbues the book with a sense of relief.  Page after page, Batgirl kicks Knightfall's ass.

Is this plausible? Yes.  Adrenaline, as Batgirl herself suggests, keeps Babs standing and dulls most of the pain.  No doubt, she also picked up a few tricks from Batman.  

Ed Benes who demonstrated his renewed investment in the DCU on the zero issue of Batgirl choreographs Batgirl's takedown of Knightfall.  Each of Batgirl's moves characterize her as a superb martial artist, and Ulisses Areola makes the bout a colorful one.  

As Batgirl beats on Knightfall, she psychologically analyzes her opponent's personality.  Unlike her assessment of Grendel, who she saw as damaged and possibly redeemable, Batgirl sees no hope for Knightfall.  Ironically, Knightfall ostensibly has the same ends as the Batman Family.  Her methods are harder and unforgiving.  To Batgirl, however, the degree that Knightfall seeks is unacceptable, and Simone pays off Batgirl's faith in humanity by giving her a respite from an unusual Gotham City source.  

Although Batgirl is advertised as a prologue to the Joker ushering in "Death of the Family," the connection to the arc is brief.  Indeed, the book ends with the remainder of Knightfall forming a Batgirl revenge squad that promises to trigger more thrills for the Darknight Damsel's audience.

Feel that charge of electricity in the air?  It's Batman.  Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo continue the rejuvenation of Batman by introducing the Joker to the new 52.  Technically speaking, the creative team did this during the zero issue.  With this chapter, Snyder confirms that the Joker was the Red Hood, a murderous, criminal gang leader, not the innocent dupe from The Killing Joke.  Batman in his early days chased the Red Hood through the Ace Chemical Plant, where the Joker escaped through a vat of unknown substances that altered his face into the parody of a playing card.

In Detective Comics, The Joker hired the Dollmaker to remove his face.  In Batman, the Joker reclaims his face, racks up a high body count, threatens Commissioner Gordon and places Harley Quinn in a position she has never been in.  

The Joker appears to have been hurt by Batman growing beyond their relationship.  In a tryst, Commissioner Gordon would be considered a third wheel, and obsession doesn't lend itself to threesomes.  Snyder however plausibly alters the traditional deconstructionist romantic relationship between Batman and the Joker to that of playmate.  He turns a sadistic love affair into a more sensible kindergarten "friendship."  That's why the Joker accepts Gordon.  So, in the Joker's mind, he has three friends he used to play with in the sandbox.  Those friends grew up and left him behind.  Not that the Joker can grow up.

The arc is called "Death of a Family."  The Joker's murders ultimately eliminates the Batman's second and third cousins.  His immediate family, Nightwing, Red Robin and Batgirl, who appear with perfect pitch dialogue, are The Joker's main targets.

Although Batman primarily can be classified as drama, artist Greg Capullo starts the book with an emphasis on genuine comedy with Gordon and his twitchy mustache sharing a joke with Harvey Bullock.  The scene turns to abject terror when the Joker arrives and begins a system of fear in the dark.  Capullo then reassures readers with a potent depiction of Batman.

Despite the Joker's relative success, Snyder and Capullo have already set him up for an equally long drop.  It's in Harley Quinn.  The normally loyal henchwench is truly petrified of her once intended, and it's my guess that she will betray the Joker just because this Joker essentially killed the Mr. J. she knew.

If we accept Batman: The Animated Series as a basis for the continuity, and that's really the only place Harley ever had a history with the Joker, then the Joker isn't just cutting through his own history to emerge as his old self from the original Bob Kane and Bill Finger stories.

So where do you put the metahuman menaces that you've captured? In a floating jail of course.  Team 7 must infiltrate the impossible prison in order to discover why the facility and Lynch's headquarters lost contact.  Hint.  It involves a classic DC menace.  

Through Lynch's narration, writer Justin Jordan delights in detailing the faults of a team doomed to fray and disband.  Deathstroke for example is a sphincter.  Fairchild is all about the paycheck.  Dinah Drake is too good of a person to be on DC's answer to The Dirty Dozen.

At the same time, Jordan adds depth and dimension to the characters who will likely carry Team 7 into the future.  Characters that we never met before like Summer Ramos, the second best pilot on the planet according to Lynch, will probably form the core of the present day group.  Assuming of course Team 7 survives the transition.

Jesus Merino has an intriguing task.  How does he equip and arm the team without making them seem like nineties rejects.  Of course, Deathstroke always will look that way.  He's a nineties character, but the others sport some sharp science fiction hardware, like funky goggles for flying sophisticated planes, more Trek than Youngblood.  As well, Merino keeps Dinah and Kurt svelte in their spywear.

Merino evokes the feeling that despite the presence of anti-heroes, Team 7 still takes place in the DC universe.  Although, he's playing with a group of sanctioned mercenaries and a horror setting, he never lets you forget that you're in a place of wonder turned nightmare.  That's where Blackhawk failed.  It seemed too far removed from the DCU.  Team 7 with its familiar names and the creature they fight remains firmly secured to the whole of the new 52.

Combat Jacks operates with the same plot as Team 7 but on a planetary scale.  An away team of marines, not mercenaries, descends on a terraformed planet that lost contact with the commonwealth.  Their investigation leads to death and giant pumpkins.

I can't say whether or not Combat Jacks is an ongoing series or a Halloween special.  This issue is definitely holiday themed, and Mark McKenna, Jason Baroody and Kate Finnegan deserve special credit for getting this book out in a timely fashion.

Writer McKenna makes excellent use of his gourdian menace and conveys his enjoyment of the hilarious pumpkin-related dissing and science fiction styled pulpy terror from the vineyard absurdity.  

Artist Baroody plays it straight with anatomy, proportion, realistic expression and streamlined tech, which makes the visual presentation an attractive poe-faced number that serves to increase the level of comedy.  The sublime colors of Finnegan further the pretense of a serious situation and not a zany antic.

Here's hoping that this isn't the last we've seen of Combat Jacks, either as a dramatic excursion in the field of space opera or as a comedy/horror foray.

In the zero issue of Frankenstein Agent of SHADE we learned the origin of the Frankenstein monster, and yes, it was similar to the Mary Shelley version.  More to the point, we found out about the device Victor Frankenstein used to create his masterpiece.  In addition, unlike Shelley's original, writer Matt Kidnt presented Victor as an outright villain obsessed with killing his creation.

For the past two issues, Frankenstein after quitting SHADE discovered a community of former SHADE operatives living inside the belly of a Leviathan from the sea.  This issue finds Frank leaving the monster for dry land at the behest of Father Time, leader of SHADE.  

SHADE is under assault by the Rot, the pervasion sweeping through Swamp Thing, Animal Man and soon Justice League Dark.  In Frankenstein, the Rot picks a rather unexpected representative for its particular brand of evil.  In addition to this twist, Kidnt introduces an unusual yet sensible second surprise for readers of Rotworld that justifies Frank's participation in the weird book storyarc.

Alberto Ponticelli produces powerful artwork detailing the rise of Frankenstein's greatest enemy and the ramifications of the Rot's assault on the DCU.  He also distinguishes Frank as the hero of the piece with imagery fitting the sobriquet.  Frank charging forth on a magnificent steed isn't as stirring as Frank leaping out of his plane to drive a sword through Luftwaffe aircraft, but what is? The symbolism is still unmistakeable and quite eye-catching.

Has it really come to this? Am I that desperate for a Tigra series that I'll stoop to reading Red She-Hulk.  Yes.  I am that desperate.  Anything for Tigra.

Still, with Jeff Parker writing Red She-Hulk how bad can it be? Not bad at all.  First, for those not in the know, Red She-Hulk is Betty Ross, Bruce Banner's ex-wife.  Her surprising transformation isn't without some merit.  Marvel's claim is that everybody who witnessed Bruce Banner's first Gamma Bomb test was exposed to the radiation.  It even makes sense that the radiation would have taken this long to affect Betty and her father who turned out to be Red Hulk.  Bruce was at ground zero.  Betty and her father witnessed the blast from the "safety" of the bunker.

It was humankind mucking about with primal forces that changed all that day into Hulks, and Betty took it as a warning.  Humans are not as smart as they think, and the army's nuts for trying to hack into the genome to create obedient super soldiers.  That's the premise of Jeff Parker's Red She-Hulk.  Betty's out to stop the program before it starts.

Art by Carlos Pagulayan and Val Staples

Reginald Fortean, love the name choice, heads Echelon the team of superhero wannabes, and the lion's share of the book devotes itself to depicting Red She-Hulk fighting the super soldiers as well as the source of the super soldiers' powers.  At first the uber-Janissaries seem evenly matched against Betty, but then you realize that Betty's just been testing them.  

It's not surprising that Betty might turn into the Red She-Hulk.  It is surprising that Betty has this kind of intelligence.  In the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby stories, Betty was nothing special.  She was a pampered daddy's girl who had the habit of referring to Bruce Banner as a "Milksop" while making eyes at the handsome, mustachioed Captain.

We can trace some of Betty's increase in intellect to John Byrne's run in The Incredible Hulk.  There, all around idiot Doc Samson separated Banner from the Hulk.  The schism left a mindless Hulk lacking Banner's ability to stop his rage.  Banner intended to kill the Hulk and established "Hulk-Busters!" "I ain't afraid of no Hulk."  Betty was a constant presence on the team, and she was involved in the scientific end of things.

Whatever the reason, this increase in brainpower distinguishes Red She-Hulk from plain ol' She-Hulk, who has a fine legal mind but not scientific acumen.  Ironically, Red She-Hulk is more like another character John Byrne created as a gag on the Hulk for his Superman run.

Kitty Faulkner Alias Rampage

Vampirella was never meant to be read by kids.  That's not to say Vampirella was pornographic.  Far from it.  Oh, there were nudes in the backup stories, but Vee herself was modest.

Despite being one of the contenders for least dressed super-heroine in literature, Vampirellla seldom revealed much.  Side boob and shadowed nudity was perfectly valid, but the adult nature of Vampirella's adventures lay more in the sophistication of storytelling, the blood-drinking, always taboo, and Vee's opponents frequently being worshippers of Satan, Cthulhu or Chaos.  

Marc Andreyko and artist Jose Malaga use this issue of Vampirella to payoff the adolescents that were always reading with the hope of seeing our title hero doff her clothing or rut some lucky disciple.  

The issue is packed with nudity; none of it veiled as you can see the goods beneath the steam, and while the sex isn't explicit, the issue drips in it.  Artist Jose Malaga makes certain there's more than a modicum of taste and definitely a sense of proportion to all the couples involved.  Mind you, Vee, being as contrite as usual, dons more clothing than she normally wears.

There is a story here.  With Manhunter's Marc Andreyko, how could there not be?  We discover for example who has been abducting the women in New York City.  We already knew that the Ripper was involved, but in Dark Shadows and Vampirella, the mistress reveals her identity, another infamous historical personage leading to decadent mind-scapes eerily rendered by Malaga and colorist Thiago Ribeiro. 

Furthermore as Quentin and Pantha find common interest, literally and figuratively.  Barnabas and Vampirella clash when culture is the subject.  Now, some could construe this butting of heads as out of character for Vee, but her liberalism was a given in all her adventures.  She never needed to speak out.  In other words, throw a liberal in a room with Romney-bots, and you'll get an earful.

Andreyko includes a scene that would be in any other book a complete ripoff of Justice League where Superman fights Wonder Woman while under an enchantment.  The difference is that Barnabas and Vampirella are about as far away from the untarnished champions of DC as you can get, and the inside joke because of the protagonists' personae is thoroughly amusing.

Honey West returns this week, and she looks Anne Frantastic thanks to the Phantom's Sylvestre Szilagyi.  A curvy bombshell not a zero-sized waif.  Honey karate chops her way through the second part of a mystery with clues that sadly went adrift due to the time span between issues.

Writer Trina Robbins however recoups her losses by fashioning an additional stand-alone fairplay puzzle that connects to Honey's investigation.  Needless to say Honey dopes out the new crime.

Robbins as well as constructing a strong detective story enriches the plot with the presence of a shifty private eye out to sample the Honey Pot, or is that all his intent? Whatever the reason, Honey's pet ocelot serves as her protector, and Szilagyi perfectly forms the taut musculature of the dangerous kitty.

Ridiculed by Side-Show Bob on The Simpsons, a joke due to Richard Dean Anderson's mullet, parodied by Saturday Night Live's "MacGruber," MacGyver has not stood the test of time, but it's time to admit something.  MacGyver wasn't a bad show.  Formulaic, sure, but promoting brain over brawn with well-researched jury-rigged escapes and defeats of world threats.

Compared to what's available now and the heyday of television from the sixties, MacGyver still at the very least is a B show.  When considering the vast wasteland of television that stretched from the seventies until the nineties when Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess and the X-Files changed everything, that's an achievement.  If the transfer to DVD wasn't of such reportedly poor quality, MacGyver might even be remembered fondly and establish a new audience.

MacGyver returned in three television films of various quality: the least being an Indiana Jones knockoff, the best dropping Mac in London to prevent a nuclear holocaust.  In these films, Mac had shorn his hockey-hair for a more sensible cut and ditched the Phoenix Foundation, as much as an honorable necessity as a creative decision since Dana Elcar suffered from glaucoma during the final seasons of the television series.

The writer and creator of MacGyver Lee David Zoltoff surfaces with a new Mac adventure, but this time in a new medium of choice.  Now, if you ask me MacGyver is tailor made for comics, always was.  So really all you needed to do was get a comic book writer that watched the show.  Tony Lee appears to be a fan, and that's not really a surprise since MacGyver was more popular in England than here in America. 

In the comic book, MacGyver visits an old Biology professor friend of his.  The modern, cutting-edge tale concentrates on the value of genetic crop modification and a company with a name that rhymes with Monsanto.  Meanwhile, somebody put a hit on MacGyver and just for laughs added a ticking clock.  For every day MacGyver breathes, the bounty loses a million dollars.  I have to say that this is a novel twist to the hit man subgenre.

Art by Will Sliney and Ciaran Lucus

MacGyver has of course no idea what's going, but being the master of focus, he tables that issue, and concentrates on the matter at hand.  He naturally uses the objects around him to combat armed gunmen and escape from a makeshift brig.  An undercover Interpol operation spices the plot even farther, and since MacGyver and the hit man have no personal animosity their conversation is very entertaining.  Various characters also attempt to use Mac's reputation against him, but fairplay doesn't equivocate to naiveté.

Though it may surprise some readers of the POBB, after John Byrne quit The Uncanny X-Men, I seldom touched a Wolverine book.  I never got into the whole WOLVERINE movement of comic books that coincided with the dark nineties.  Still, this is the second month where I bought a Wolverine comic book.  One can be excused as being a massive fan of Alan Davis, but this issue of Wolverine isn't so easy to dismiss.  Perhaps this will help.

Better? I loved Nextwave.  I still miss Nexwave, and while the team apparently disbanded, they're still here and there in the Marvel Universe, mostly in character, sometimes a little bit more effective than they were in the comedic Nextwave.  Elsa Bloodstone is no exception.  She appeared in the hilarious Legion of Monsters mini-series, and now she makes a characteristic cameo in Wolverine.

On the other hand, a bad writer could have made me avoid Elsa Bloodstone's appearance like the plague.  Look what Peter Milligan did to Namora and Jimmy Woo, tainting The Agents of ATLAS in a manner similar to the ass who attempted to take over Clandestine when Alan Davis left the series.  Davis returned triumphant, dismissing the ass' designs as nothing more than young Rory's nightmare.  Wolverine was there as well.  See a pattern?

Cullen Bunn wowed me with The Deep, a mini-series that I expected to hurt.  Instead, Bunn put together a team of defacto Defenders that were exhilarating.  Unfortunately, Marvel took this to mean that readers wanted to see another group of Defenders being ushered in by a different writer.  Bunn then knocked me over with Fearless in which Valkyrie takes the center stage of awesomeness.

So, I guess Wolverine is the big time for Cullen Bunn, and Bunn does it again.  Do I know anything about Melita and her relationship with Logan.  Nope.  Neither does he, and I haven't a clue about his selective amnesia.  Who is this Vanessa Baker Tinkerbell that keeps popping up? No idea.

Bunn though puts it all together along with Elsa Bloodstone's guest appearance to craft a free-wheeling, catch-up or die adventure.  Now, the cover although dull isn't exactly without merit.  Bunn sets up Wolverine in a flashback that's exactly like an Indiana Jones excavation, but with one crucial difference, Wolverine doesn't need to use his brains to avoid the gauntlet.  He just runs through it and lets his mutant healing factor deal with everything.

Paul Pelletier and David Meikis, who puts a smooth polish to Pelletier's pencils, punches up the action in these scenes and those with Elsa.  They go positively whimsical when Vanessa Baker shows up.  It's this kind of flux that you just don't expect in a Wolverine comic book that makes it all worthwhile.

Taken 2 is about vengeance.  The relations of the Albanian slavers that ex-operative Bryan Mills decimated in Taken target he and his family, and as a result the sequel to Taken isn't a chase.  It's an extraction.  

There's a miniature chase to be sure, but it's not like the relentless pursuit across multiple platforms of transportation and settings that Bryan undertook to save his daughter Kim Mills; embodied by actress Maggie Grace.  That chase sped through the whole film.  Taken 2 largely takes place in one location.  There lies the challenge.

Lots of low budget films use two actors, one closet and a lot of imagination.  Most often these movies fail because no matter how good the intentions or the actors, the setting is static.  

Taken 2 centers most of the the action at the way-station of the criminals, but the cameras fly to the rooftops of turkey, the direction follows the hidden dungeons below.  Despite being largely confined in one place, Taken 2 moves, and as a result it succeeds at the core.  It replicates the adrenaline rush of the first film without copying it.

Liam Neeson is a very interesting actor.  He could have been one of those dry, staid actors that do Regency films and that's it.  He in fact did a few of those period pieces, probably as a result of his portrayal of Oskar Schindler, who is in Schindler's List make no mistake as much of a symbol of good as Neeson's first heroic portrayal Darkman.

Neeson instead of becoming known for the Edwardian frocked gentleman embraced his roots and took on roles in which he cut through an Albanian slaver network like a laser beam through gold, led the A-Team as Hannibal Smith, fought off wolves in Alaska and conveyed the intensity of a man with "a very particular set of skills." 

Taken spotlit an underbelly of corruption in Europe and a Balkan criminal network victimizing women, but the theme still lacked overall misogyny.  Rather it just seemed that the movie revealed for some, confirmed for others a sad truth.  Some subhumans, emphasis on some, see women as chattel and commodities.

In Taken 2, Kim a veteran of trauma, actually becomes a protagonist, not as tactically impressive as her father who proceeds to systematically ends the Albanian legacy, but still effective in her own right as a resourceful, smart girl who learned from her horrendous experience.  That shared history furthermore allows Bryan Mills to see his daughter as an asset.  

Famke Janssen has an even more difficult task of conveying strength while being completely helpless.  Needless to say, she makes Lenore warmer to Bryan and harsh to the avengers of evil men.  At the same time, she is not Mrs. Peel.  She is a normal woman thrown into an abnormal situation.  She acquits herself as well as anybody possibly could have.

There is simply no way that Lenore can run, hide or free herself from the literal chains that hold her down.  Credit the filmmakers and the writers to make all her misfortunes just that.  They catalyze her capture by fouling Bryan Mills' characteristic belief in the perfect plan.  He can't predict everything, and just one tiny butterfly throws his entire scheme into chaos.  As a result, Lenore is taken, and not through a mistake she, the woman makes.

After seeing Taken I really didn't believe there would be a sequel.  I thought logistically how could there be? If you abduct Kim again, you would create the pretense that she just attracts trouble and turn high impact drama into unwitting comedy.  I'm happy to say that Taken 2 is a different movie, one that grows organically out of the first film.