Monday, January 28, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 23, 2013


Ray Tate

It's another bonanza of reviews from the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week we check out two new Dark Horse titles: The Answer and The Black Beetle.  We'll also be sussing out old favorites like Bionic Woman, Birds of Prey, Justice League, Nightwing, Prophecy, Supergirl, Sword and Sorcery with Amethyst, Wonder Woman and Young Justice.

In Justice League, Ocean Master's forces rise from the water in number and exemplify the difference in the new 52 status quo.  This kind of loyal army would have never been at the human Ocean Master's disposal.  At best, he could have mustered a gang of scuba diving mercenaries, but he usually attacked as a lone sea wolf.  In the new 52 however the Atlanteans find Aquaman lacking, specifically the human half.

The Atlanteans have a point.  Not about hybrid heroes, but regarding Aquaman's skills as a leader.  The surface world did not launch the missiles at Atlantis.  They did however come from the surface, and Ocean Master responds logically to what appears to be an unprovoked assault.  This is not a pre-emptive strike.  

Aquaman's belief that he can broker a peace is sadly misguided.  Ocean Master may listen to reason but only once captured.  By fighting against the League, Arthur splits the team and mitigates their ability to work together as a fighting unit.

Writer Geoff Johns gives each League member a chance to shine, and the art team of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis grant visual validity to all.  Batman instigates a classic, sneaky move.  Wonder Woman attacks hordes of Atlantean warriors, and Superman lives up to his name with a feat echoing one that impressed me on Smallville.  Even Cyborg gains a little bit more respect; although he still mainly functions as a Boom Tube escort.  Johns also cannot resist the urge to include a revamp.  With the cameo, he reverses another long-standing death of a female character.  Good for him.

Wonder Woman's team up with Orion continues to be an enjoyable experience.  The new 52 Orion is yet again a different animal than the post-Crisis and pre-Crisis version.  This Orion goes to earth in order to relax, not to brood.

Milan a god from an undisclosed pantheon that sees all calls the battle between Diana and Orion a draw.  Wonder Woman is only too happy to sheath her swords, which magically arise from her bracelets thanks to Hephaestus.

We discover the identity of Hermes' aide-de-baby snatch, but the mystery man in the arctic wastelands remains so even though bets are in favor of his being Heracles.

All of these goings-on in a meaty issue of Wonder Woman get grand treatment by Cliff Chiang and colorist Matthew Wilson.  The creative team furthermore inject a certain sprightliness to the reappearance of Hera's family tree.  In fact, the personae, the body language and the timing bring to mind Uncle Arthur's and Serena's welcome manifestations in Bewitched.

Nightwing and Supergirl I'm sorry to say are completely disposable.  Of the two books, only Nightwing advances the crossover story but not in an unexpected way.  Basically, the Joker just waylays Dick and ushers him to the Batman Family banquet in preparation for the next issue of Batman.  

It's clear from the dialogue that the Joker does not know Dick's secret identity.  He has only guessed that Nightwing was a former circus performer.  Given the vast number that have come and gone at Haley's, including by the way Boston Brand, there is no way he could have determined Nightwing is in fact Dick Grayson.  Plus, the Joker's nuts.  Rationality in his thoughts is fleeting on a bad day.  

Thanks to Eddy Barrows the issue of Nightwing is a gorgeous place holder.  Barrows seems naturally drawn to Dick's acrobatic routine.  Barrows'  sense of realism, enhanced by Eber Ferreira's tactile inking and Rod Reis' spectral shades, imbues an eerier quality to the nightmarish Joker scheme.

Supergirl on the other hand takes the plot to "H'el on Earth" nowhere.  The Flash breaches the Fortress and battles the Girl of Steel.  The narration is the only element of interest, besides of course Mahmud Asrar's splendid artwork.  

Supergirl is amazed at the Flash's speed and thinks he may be faster than Superman, thus adding to the much debated historical comic book conundrum.  In my opinion the Flash is the Fastest Man Alive.

The battle carries over to Superman's alien zoo, and that allows Asrar to create Wayne Barlow inspired creatures of all sorts.  We also meet an old friend before H'el shows up to vanquish the Flash and begin his plans for earth's annihilation and a misguided time travel mission.  Which is exactly where we started from.

Trained from childhood to follow the Court of Owls' lethal commands, The Talons are nigh unstoppable immortal assassins.  The Court sent a Talon to deal with each member of the Batman Family.  Gail Simone created the only sympathetic Talon amongst the psychotics.

Batgirl defeated the Talon sent to kill her.  That same Talon later saved her life, indicating an individualism that could not be extinguished by the Court's brainwashing techniques.  After these events, Batgirl's Talon became targeted for assassination.  

Though this Talon happens to be mute, the Court intended to silence her before she divulged their secrets to authorities.  Batgirl and Catwoman intervened.  Conflict arose in what to do with the Talon.  Catwoman refused to let her go back to jail.  Concerned over the Talon's safety, Batgirl agreed and decided to find a place for her in the Birds of Prey.

Writer Duane Swierzynski cleverly dubs the Talon Strix, which is the genus for owls.  Strix immediately acts as a contentious presence. 

Black Canary and Starling, who with Batgirl form the core of the team, seriously doubt Batgirl's sanity and jump to the conclusion that she might be mind-controlled.  This is an example of Swierzynski immersing himself in the lore of comic books.  Although the new 52 has featured thankfully little mind-control, it's a staple trope in comics, and a consideration for heroes when any one of them acts strangely.  Compare this to nobody figuring out that Spidey isn't in his right mind.

In terms of pure characterization, Black Canary exhibits a different concern.  In the post-Crisis, Barbara Gordon formed the Birds of Prey to be her legs.  In the new 52, the Black Canary established the team, in a bid to overthrow the Penguin and defeat Basilisk, a surreptitious arms dealer that's been skulking around this new universe throughout the Batman Family titles.  Black Canary reacts as a normal person might.  Flinching at the idea of Batgirl challenging her leadership.  That's an example of Swierzynski's pure characterization, free from the filter of comic books.  This kind of reaction could of occurred in any work.

Before anybody can act, Swierzynski throws a Condor in the works.  Now this is where Swierzynski exhibits a real understanding of each character.  Rather than immediately throw in with him and attack Strix.  Each character behaves according to her personality.  That generates immense fun and unexpected treats that allow artist Romano Molenaar to demonstrate his illustrative acrobatics, perfect sense of timing and deadpan delivery of comedy.  Later in the book, Molenaar will display an impressive rendering raw power to the panels.

Birds of Prey could have been just another change of the guard.  You know the type.  The roster adds and subtracts players, and there's some generic threat that lets them test their worth for the team.  Swierzysnki through evolves characteristic comedy through dialogue and excitement via personality clashes Molenaar, backed by Vincente Cifuentes' inking expertise and Chris Sotomayor's rich night colors turns the Birds of Prey into a vision of action-packed loveliness.

Batgirl fans definitely need to pick up Young Justice.  Trapped under Brainiac's force dome, Batgirl must face a Superboy bizarro clone, known as Match.

The Dynamic Daredoll smartly defeats her foe with tumbling, a plausible stock from her utility belt and sleight of cape.  It's an awesome Batgirl moment in an otherwise long, drawn out Brainiac story.

Reading Paul Tobin's Bionic Woman makes me hate Keith Champagne's Bionic Man vs. Bionic Woman even more.  Mr. Tobin gets everything right that Champagne got horribly, irrevocably wrong.

Jaime isn't disguised as a stripper.  In fact, she's not disguised at all.  In a smart suit, she visits her friend Nora, who was thrown off a roof in the penultimate chapter of the first recommended storyarc.  Both Nora and Jaime sparkle with personality, but Tobin clearly sets them up as opposites.  Whereas Nora is aggressive, impetuous and searching for a laugh, Jaime is restrained, rational and leaning toward dry wit.

Jaime meets Steve Austin, and Steve actually seems like a person rather than a block of wood.  Their non-date goes well, and the panels by Juan Antonio Ramirez neatly fold a span of time highlighted by a gamut of expression from both bionic humans. 

Tobin had already planted the seeds for the gist of his tale on the first page, but he does something beyond merely presenting this classic adversary of the Bionic Woman.  In addition to the surprises from Jaime's nemesis, Tobin ties-in a mercenary squad just aching to be on the receiving end of Jaime's power.  This lets Ramirez strut his bionic action chops, and he doesn't leave the reader wanting.

In Ron Marz's Prophecy Red Sonja deals with Dracula's kiss as Kulan Gath brings the world down to its figurative knees.  Not much to say about this book.

Yeah, that about sums it up.  The bizarre team-up of licensed properties hasn't disappointed from issue one on.  The conclusion to this book would have to seriously fizzle in order to leave a bad taste in my mouth, and I don't think that's going to happen.  Especially with this penultimate issue's awesome cliffhanger.

Christy Marx creates a remarkable stand-alone story in Sword and SorceryWhen last we left Amethyst, she was fighting alongside of Justice League Dark.  This issue the defacto leader of the team John Constantine, uses the House of Mystery to transport Amethyst to Chicago.  The reason is delightfully normal, fitting a teenager of Amethyst's age.

Constantine by telling her the facts pulls off a smooth con that allows him to keep the gem that opens a portal to Nilla, Gemworld ala Themyscria, and puts her in his debt.  To be fair, Constantine acts much more like a hero these days.  He's a Leaguer for crying out loud.

While Amethyst indulges her earth favorite, a crazy Republican sorceress decides to snatch the princess in order to steal her power.  Oh, you may argue that the sorceress bears no party affiliation, but I beg to differer.  Rich layabout believes she's entitled to steal somebody's power and freedom while demonstrating poor research skills screams Republican to me.  

In any case, bitch witch gives subbing artist Travis Moore the opportunity to display a feel for the star, dynamism, supernatural tomfoolery and a little comedy on the way.

The Black Beetle is obviously derivative of the pulps.  Francesco Francavilla's champion is not as unique as the Shadow or the Spider, nor the Green Hornet.  The writer/artist basically checks off a list of pulp necessities for a hero to possess but doesn't do anything original with these traditions.  Of course, I'm not sure that Francavilla really wanted to do anything more than send a love letter to all of those mysterious, masked heroes of yore.

The Beetle is visually striking.  Francavilla's stunning illustration recalls such greats as Toth, Jordi Bernet and Kubert.  For once Francavilla's predilection toward oranges and reds works in his favor.  This all results in The Black Beetle being Francavilla's narrative sketchbook.  That's not a bad thing to add to your collection. 

Mike Norton's Answer reads more like a question.  How much love do Dennis Hopeless and Mike Norton have for Robocop?

The Answer uses a pump action shotgun to shoot a perp's ghoulies through the skirt of a hostage.  Just like Robocop.  Robocop however uses a futuristic gun with precision ammo and a tracking system that allows him to pinpoint the woman's flesh to hit the man behind her.  I'm pretty certain that even an expert marksman would have difficulty performing the same feat with ordinary ammo and no tracking system.

The Answer karate chops one of the hoods.  His dropped lighter sets the gas station/convenience store on fire, and it promptly blows up.  Just like in Robocop.  There the thug drops a cigarette in the spilled gasoline on purpose to destroy Robocop.  He just ends up looking silly when Murphy hands him his ass.

Most people will say Devin, the librarian protagonist/catalyst, is a copy of Barbara Gordon, but actually Devin is the best part about The Answer, and she doesn't reflect Barbara Gordon at all personality wise.  Rather this obsessive puzzle solver is an original creation with an authentic voice.  She was possibly inspired by Barbara Gordon, who was the role model for librarians everywhere.  Behind the mousy exterior beat the heart of Batgirl.

Devin is no Batgirl, and her weakness for enigmas lands her into trouble and an encounter with the Answer, who isn't a horrible creation but like Francavilla's Black Beetle more visually powerful than deep.  He's an archetype of the urban vigilante, but I've seen far worse, and Norton's artwork is quite appealing.  He also carries the illustrated narrative well.  Good for anybody with disposable cash, or wait for the trade.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 16, 2013


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag looks into Ami-Comi Girls Power Girl, Batman, Batgirl, Bionic Man vs. Bionic Woman, Frankenstein, Superboy and Team 7.

Past transgressive critiques against Gail Simone's work branded me as the enemy.  Nevertheless, when Brian Cunningham fired Simone from Batgirl, I was on her side.  Gail Simone's Batgirl is simply perfect.

For the first time in...ever, DC repealed an internal fiat declared by one of its editors.  DC listened to the vociferous public instead of an unprofessional imbecile.  Even I know you don't fire somebody by e-mail.  

Gail Simone is back on Batgirl.  

This week's issue exemplifies not just Simone's intimate understanding of Batgirl, consequently why logic demands she stay on the title, but also her imagination when directed at existing characters that elicit no empathy.  Who after all can sympathize with a psychopath like the Joker?

Simone proposed the startling idea that the Joker wants to marry Batgirl.  That's of course utterly insane, or is it? Simone constructs her argument eloquently.  The Penguin used a much simpler argument when attempting to put a ring around Yvonne Craig's Barbara Gordon.  If Commissioner Gordon were his father in-law, the Penguin could literally get away with murder.

Holy Out of the Kettle, Batman!

Despite the claims, I'm convinced that The Joker does not know the secret identities of the Batman Family.  Batgirl is just an experienced mask to him, and that's ostensibly what he wants to exploit.  He frames Batgirl as a princess, and like the royals of old, a means for diplomacy. 

This is where Simone gets the Joker.  The Joker could have been one of the most brilliant criminal masterminds on the face of the earth, but due to his gestalt of mania, any seemingly intelligent scheme enters The Twilight Zone as envisioned by Salvador Dali and H.H. Holmes.

The Joker ostensibly seeks to marry Batgirl to ally himself with Batman; granting immunity.  The Joker though doesn't actually want that.  He wants an unbridled Batman to come at him.  Thus, the game he believes he plays against Batman will gain vigor.  

The Joker's comprehension of the whole idea of marriages of state degrades when his intent to sever Batgirl's limbs and keep her in a box stored in his basement becomes known.  That's the kind of thing that would have had Henry XIII arguably one of the most abominable of England's kings storm the ramparts for the sake of justice.  No need to fear though.  The whole Boxing Batgirl idea is the line that the Joker just tap danced over.  He doesn't know that this is the seventeen-year-old girl he crippled while gunning for Commissioner Gordon.  

What follows is something I could read all day, every day.  Page after page of Batgirl beating the crap out of the Joker's weird henchmen until she faces the Clown Prince his own bad self.  Make no mistake.  She's going to kill him.

In the post-Crisis, writers and editors kept creating the impression that Barbara was perfectly okay with being confined to a wheelchair.  That wasn't okay with me.  

You can't be angry at a disease, an affliction or a genetic mutation that takes away your mobility, but you can do everything in your power to kill the poor excuse for a human that put you in the chair.  This has been one of my points all along.

Barbara was not and never has been a role model for the disabled.  The Joker shot down, and she appeared to do nothing to get back up again.  If that kind of crippling happened to me, I would try every means of technology or treatment available, and in my spare time, I'd never rest until I consigned the perpetrator of the crime to a miserable living hell.  

In the real world, the evil, the callous individuals responsible for another's crippling are either killed on the battlefield or incarcerated.  The DCU isn't the real world.  Not only were there numerous means to heal Batgirl available in the DCU, not only did time change multiple times but never in Babs' favor, but also DC wouldn't let Barbara take her revenge.

What DC implied these past twenty-three years is that the injustice meted out to Batgirl was absolutely fine.  The Joker should get away with this like he does every crime.  Cause, hey.  He's the Joker, and she's just dumb ol' Barbara Gordon.  Babs should just move on with her life and forget about her silly legs.   The Powers That Be at DC approached Barbara's crippling incorrectly.  They always had the writers hold back, to protect the Joker.  The message was as wrong as the answer: "Cripple the bitch!"

Batman was given tacit permission by Superman to kill the Joker, but he didn't do this for Barbara's sake.  He tried to kill the Joker for Jason Todd.  How is it that this upstart Robin rated more than Batgirl, who had the longer, more nuanced relationship with the Dark Knight?  I mean I certainly could argue that even in the death of heroes male chauvinism persists, but I won't.  Batgirl's back. Simone's got her, and all is right in the world. 

Gail Simone embodies Barbara's white hot anger against the Joker in startling panels of violence, dramatically smelted by Ed Benes, Daniel Sampere, Vincente Cifuentes and Ulises Arreola.

This isn't even the Babs' best moment against the Joker.

Babs' gauntlet running escalates to delivering what fans wanted her to do since the crippling.  Slay that bastard once and for all.  

Simone conveys a certainty.   Had an enigma, no, not the Riddler, robbed her victory, the Joker wouldn't be smiling ever again.  That makes all the difference in the world.  That's Barbara Gordon killing Batman's worst enemy.  That's Barbara getting her justified revenge.  That's poetry.

Captured by the Joker, Batgirl joins the other members of the Batman Family in the denouement of "Death of the Family." Scott Snyder returns Batman to Arkham Asylum. 

Inside the nut farm, we discover some of the Joker's insane plans, as well as his insane, clown posse.  In short, the Joker turns Arkham into a castle.  It's as if he's a low-budget filmmaker with an idea, definite passion for his subject but about a hundred dollars in the bank.

The Joker does things like setting fire to a horse, dressing the innocent and the guilty up in costumes and vesting silly accoutrements to Penguin, Two-Face and the Riddler.  It's the kind of goofy, grotesque executions that suit the Joker to a tee.

Catwoman's and Poison Ivy's absence among the group of arch-villains stands out.  Duane Swierzynski in Birds of Prey and to a lesser extent David Finch and Paul Jenkins in Dark Knight reformed Ivy, at least to the point where she no longer fits among the lunatics in Arkham.  

Snyder just may be saving Catwoman for the finale.  If the Joker's premise is that the Batman Family weakens Batman, Catwoman's interference would certainly symbolize how wrong the Joker is.  Such a move would certainly fall into Snyder's writing themes.  He for example cast Ivy as a champion of the Green in his remarkable Rotworld running through Swamp Thing.  Batman and Batgirl play key roles in Swamp Thing.  In other words, expect the unexpected.

Batman for the most part is in top form, and that's how he always has been for the new 52.  It's in fact very difficult for me to perceive how the Joker can present his argument.  I've seen Batman without the Family for twenty-three years, and he mostly sucks.  

The post-Crisis Batman only worked as a solo crimefighter during the Alan Grant and Alan Brennert era with Norm Breyfogle and Jim Aparo.  Even then, he had notable team-ups with the Demon as well as Looker and Judge Anderson.  Batman and Judge Dredd do not get along.  Although, they will work together.  

With a few exceptions, the rest of the body of Batman work went straight to the sewers.  This Batman I recognize as the real deal.  He's the greatest tactician on the face of the earth, the world's greatest detective recognized by the Shadow and Sherlock Holmes as the heir to their legacy, and we see these aspects as Batman thwarts each of the Joker's promises of mass murder.

As usual, Gregg Capullo puts some Keaton flourishes in his illustration of Batman.  Observe the subtle lines in the face and the lips.  Although they're not cupid's-bow, they still evoke the superior cinematic Batman.

When illustrating the setting of Arkham, Capullo takes the tack of minimizing the surroundings as opposed to imbuing the edifice with Dave McKean levels of hades.  

He uses the cast of light and shadow highlighted by space to get his artistic point across.  Plascencia's colors follow suit and strike out the atmosphere with judicious use of fiery shades.  The minimalism works because the story isn't about Arkham.  Arkham is a backdrop.  "Death of the Family" is about the man and the maniac. 

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman really didn't know each other that well in the post-Crisis.  Superman and Batman crossed swords in Man of Steel.  Wonder Woman briefly met the two acquaintances in Legends then disappeared from their shared history until she popped in to say hello to Batman in Millennium.  Batman rebuffed any attempts to get close.  

DC never really tried to restore the relationship between all three heroes, but Wonder Woman writer Eric Luke did the next best thing.  He shunted Bruce, Clark and Diana into a dreamworld that played out like a lifetime.

In that alternate state, which in real time occurred within the equivalency of a few hours, DC had the chance, a true chance to restore the cohesion that they lost.  Of course, everybody ignored that story.  Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were colleagues in Grant Morrison's JLA, and then the Powers That Be played fast and loose with the continuity as they always do.  Some creators fostered their traditional relationship.  Others treated them like strangers that respected each other out of principle.

What's nice about the new 52 is that we've got clear starting and mid points.  We know Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman met in the first issue of Justice League.  We also know that Superman and Batman worked together since the first arc of Justice League.  We know that Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman and the Flash establish a rapport by the time of Dark Knight's future, with respect to the first arc of Justice League.  Currently, Superman is pursuing a relationship with Wonder Woman in Justice League.  That relationship has legs in "The H'el on Earth" Superman Family crossover, and the Trinity has held up since the relative now as well.

The trouble is that the Trinity shouldn't be the subject of my enthusiasm while reading Superboy.  I should be interested in Superboy himself, but I just coldn't work up any investment in the kid at all.  He's a nice guy, but kind of bland.

As the Fortress of Solitude's defenses kick in, I just couldn't help but wonder if this carnage was necessary?  Why didn't Superman install off-switches to his robots?  This whole exercise might have been avoided had Superman applied a password.  One shout of "plantain" could have shut down the Kryptonian worker drones.

To be fair, robots aren't the only things that attack the Justice League while they attempt to access the Fortress.  Superman appears to have collected a ton of weaponry "too dangerous to even attempt to destroy."  Lame.  Seriously, lame.  

Technology is always prone to physical forces.  Superman should have just tossed these weapons on Venus.  Nothing survives the hostile atmosphere of Venus.  Proteins literally fall apart on Venus.  Metal turns to steam.  While I can see an argument against tossing things into the sun, Venus would make an excellent disposal site.

Turning to the main plot points.  The prevailing H'el story doesn't really advance all that much.  Superman and Superboy end up being teleported somewhere.  

Another Kryptonian enjoys a better showing this week.  Even if the artwork makes burlesque blush.  The Ami-Comi Power Girl relies on the sexist traditions of anime and Power Girl.

Supersize Me

The inking is also a little too heavy for my liking.  However, the story reads like a slightly altered issue of Jimmy Palmiotti's and Justin Gray's remarkable Power Girl series published at the end of the old DCU and that's like surprise whipped cream on dessert.

Gray and Palmiotti detail an even more open Power Girl.  Rather than just position her as the head of Starr Technologies, she is a publicly known alien.  Therefore, she judiciously employs Kryptonian technology to better the world.

The Ami-Comi universe lacks male heroes.  So, Ma and Pa Kent found Power Girl in the Kansas cornfields long ago.  This issue Power Girl discovers her cousin Supergirl.

At the same time, female Manhunters from Oa attack as a kind of Shadow Proclamation ala' you know who, and story of Brainiac's collusion with Duela Dent arrives just in time for the conclusion.
Grifter proves to be a way better hero in the entertaining Team 7 than in his title series.  In fact, he acts a lot like the savvy, funny fellow from Wildcats.

The new 52 Eclipso is very reminiscent of the original weird being that plagued archaeologist Bruce Gordon, and Essence, the chosen one to combat Eclipso, appears to be from the House of Onyx; cementing the gem's ties to Sword and Sorcery and the world of Amethyst.

The disposition of Eclipso's gem reveals some facts about ARGUS, and there's an interesting scene with Deathstroke that will interest Teen Titans fans of old.

Meanwhile, Dinah Lance continues to distinguish herself as the champion of the group.  Amanda Waller acts like a sterling soldier, which begs the question what in the hell happens to her to hone the cynical leader of the Suicide Squad.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE bows out gracefully with a stand-alone issue where Rot-Like beings unleash a bioweapon thwarted by the mad monster with a sword.  It's good, old fashioned patchwork fun in which the observations of an FBI agent running a sting on the Plague describe the violence of the Creature Commandos in a hilarious, stunned voice.  Look for Frankenstein in Justice League Dark.

Bionic Man vs. Bionic Woman my red ripe fanny.  They're not even in the same room together, and the plot of Bionic Showdown II Electric Boogaloo is a ridiculous mishmash of bad science and chestnut spy elements.  

Jamie Sommers left OSI, but in Bionic Woman, she and the agency reached an agreement.  She became a part-time operative.  In Paul Tobin's and Lee Carvalho's excellent comic book series, Jamie is a free agent, living her life beyond OSI.  In fact, hiding from them.

Keith Champagne's story takes place in the past when Jamie and Steve Austin, the Six-Million Dollar Man, worked for Oscar Goldman and OSI.  So right from the start, Champagne diminishes the threat level.  You know both Bionic agents will come out of this story alive.

A big bionic monster, not our friendly alien, bionic Bigfoot, rips out hearts from unsuspecting victims to replace his own.

OSI catches wind of the cyborg cardiophile when he destroys a squad of police officers and the detective that bad-lucked onto the case.  

Heart transplantation is a delicate operation, filled with multiple complications.  For example, bionic or not, the brute still must undergo tissue matching tests in order to use the organs he pilfers from unwilling donors.

You canna just tear a heart out and plop it into your chest, laddie. It canna be done.  

The trauma of plucking a heart out of the chest will likely kill it.  At the very least shock will damage the heart.  The torn arteries and veins will present added problems.  

Apart from the ludicrous gist of the tale, Bionic Showdown II suffers from poor characterization and unimaginative spy elements.  

The Bionic Man looks and acts like a roving Ken Doll.  I know Lee Majors generally preferred understatement rather than scenery chewing, but this is ridiculous.  The Bionic Man in this story doesn't express an iota of emotion, even when he attempts to make a joke.

We find Jamie a little more animated in the story.  She's posing as a stripper to gain information from an arms dealer.  If I had a nickel for every time a female spy posed as a stripper, I'd accumulate fifty dollars in a matter of weeks.  The ground has been broken, paved over, jack-hammered and asphalted again.  If you pose your agent as a stripper or beauty pageant contestant, do something in addition to the disguise.

Congratulations, Keith Champagne, you made this episode better.

Jamie's part in this fiasco can by the way be written out.  Champagne grants her the impact of the supporting cast, which issues the resonance of Batwoman, without the marginally spicy addition of lesbianism.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 10, 2013


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag this week looks at Animal Man, Detective Comics, Doctor Who, Honey West/Kolchak, Smallville, Swamp Thing and World's Finest.

For this issue of Doctor Who, Brandon Siefert gives all the good bits to the Doctor's companion Amy Pond.  He characterizes her as a brave, experienced time traveler whose ability to use firearms is in serious doubt.

The art team mostly render a sleek caricature of Karen Gillan that bottles her firecracker performance as Ms. Pond.  Some might however question the bright green of her eyes.  It's a fair criticism.  However, Gillan describes her eyes as greenish hazel.  So, the artistic license is acceptable.

Amy deals with two items of interest.  The 1814 Beer Flood, believe it or not, a real historical event and an Agent of the Silence, the multi-species organization pledged to kill the Doctor.  Siefert adds to the Silence's mission statement.  He suggests when not trying to assassinate the Doctor that they seek to preserve history as they see it.  Perhaps as a counter to the Doctor's frequent interference.  That goal carries sudsy consequences.

Amy distinguishes herself as one of the Doctor's disciples.  Inaction would be inimical for a heroine of the now, but Amy's quite willing to do nothing if time demands it.  She wouldn't like it, but she would accept it as a fact.  Amy however immediately sees the flaw in the Agent's "logic."  She deduces the exact nature of the Beer Flood.  She knows what she can do and acts like an altruistic time traveler. 

Siefert through Amy plays with the idea of plot devices, historical writing and fiction versus fact.  It's a very meta issue of Doctor Who beneath the guise of a rompSiefert furthermore exemplifies how to best use the chapter serial.  Whereas the Doctor and Rory took the center stage in Siefert's first issue, Amy enjoys the spotlight for the second chapter.  Both parts are recommended, therefore the whole of the story.

Amy Pond changes history.  In Animal Man and Swamp Thing the writers offer two different reset buttons to undo the damage of the Rot.  Ironically, for all its horror, gore and destruction Rotworld goes against the grain of conventional DC storytelling.  Rotworld is optimistic.  

First and foremost, we find out that the thing Barbara Gordon destroyed last issue was indeed Batman.  Mourn him not, for as a creature of the Rot, Batman can regenerate.  This means all the heroes affected by the Rot can can be recovered.  None of the champions have yet to truly die.

Batman started playing chess against Arcane as soon as he unleashed the Rot on the world.  Alec Holland is one of Batman's knights.  The power of Swamp Thing is a means to position Alec Holland where Batman needs him.

Batman's plan for defeating the Rot hinges upon Holland's genius and his biorestorative formula.  The reasoning behind Batman's plan indicates a change in the DC paradigm.  

For the past twenty-eight years, writers portrayed Swamp Thing as an elemental, a creature not a scientist.  The new 52 version recreated by Scott Snyder goes back to the Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson beginning.  Alec Holland is Swamp Thing, and Alec Holland is needed. 

Barbara Gordon is also vital to the survival of the earth.  Batman injected her with Kirk Langstrom's formula turning her into a Girl-Bat.  You may ask why Batman used the formula on Barbara and not himself.  There are many reasons.  Barbara's intelligence is second only to his own.  She's the one person he can always rely upon.  She's the sole individual other than himself capable of overcoming her emotions to do the right thing, and she's too often overlooked by the opposition.  Batman I suspect had another reason.  One that has less to do with tactical acumen.

I believe Batman simply couldn't allow Barbara to stomach another crippling, this time from epidemic sickness.  Barbara paid her dues, and for Batman that was enough.  If true, Batman's humanity once again becomes the focus of his characterization, and the new 52 scheme of fostering more humanistic writing ultimately results in a better story.

Animal Man pin-points the exact moment when the Rot won, and that's where writer Jeff Lemire might send Buddy Baker back to his proper time in order to derail the Rot before it begins.  Right now, Buddy fights with the survivors of the DCU in rare displays of superhero gusto.

Lemire also demonstrates the power of the Green Lantern, and our floral Guardian just may also be the catalyst for Batman's and Alec's restorative.  Think about it.  A substance that grows plants in the blink of the eye "grafted" onto Batman's "brilliant" base--perhaps something to aid in healing fauna--combined with the power of the Green Lantern's willpower.  

We might not need time travel after-all.  Oh, and when a certain item from Batman's arsenal makes its appearance, 'elfin awesome.

The Joker produces a different kind of rot in Jon Layman's Detective Comics.  This is another tie-in with "Death of the Family" but Layman's story could have also been stand-alone with little difficulty, and it in a way foreshadows the proliferation of the Jokerz in Batman Beyond.  

Layman posits that the Joker would attract more than copycats but act as a trigger for like-minded budding psychopaths.  The psychoses manifests in various degrees of potency, but the sheer number of the lunatics makes Batman's night a little more hectic.  As such, the Dark Knight drifts through episodes of Joker outbreak and deals with the symptoms by various means.

The difference though lies in the leader and lieutenant of the group being more original than expected.  Rather than assume a Joker homage for a disguise.  The Grand Poobah chooses a new, creative identity, elegantly and eerily designed by artist Jason Fabok.  

At the same time, the Penguin's lieutenant Ogilvy decides to do a little scorched earth housecleaning by framing the Joker for the crimes.  So, Layman and Fabok take something that should have been forgettable and make it memorable.  Something that should have been complementary, singular.

Iconic imagery signifies this week's issue of World's Finest.  The power in Perez's illustration is unmistakable.  Every move Huntress makes designates her as the daughter of the Bat and the Cat and exemplifies how the writer and the artist have upped their game to suit the character.

Keep in mind that the Huntress manages these martial feats while suffering from the shock and trauma of a gunshot wound.  Not to mention it was likely a hollow point.  Though she eliminates her foes, Helena finds herself in custody.

Writer Paul Levitz reminds readers that Huntress doesn't enjoy the special deputy status of her "Uncle Bruce" and the rest of the Justice League.  She's wanted by Interpol, the real life international police force.  Fortunately, for Helena, she has a friend, and the outstanding rescue kicks off Power Girl's portion of the book.

Power Girl explains why you shouldn't attack her cohorts.  Cliff Richards, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum, is intimately familiar with potent blondes, and he invigorates the lesson with extraordinary panels in which Kara lives up to her sobriquet.  

Rosemary Cheetham's subtle colors facilitate Richards' achievement, and they make a better team overall than Perez and Hi-Fi.

On Smallville, Veronica Mars' Kyle Gallner portrayed the fastest man alive.  For the comic book, the writers go a little more Barry Allen and cast a newer "actor" for the role. This is generally speaking the only deviation.  Artist Jorge Jimenez does an excellent job reflecting the cast of Smallville in his illustration.

Jimenez keeps the Speedster active as he and the Big Red S race around the world.  From Metropolis to India to France. Jimenez's artwork is stylish and bereft of busy line work. The elegance, the lack of the distraction enhances the outrageous comedy in a spectacular art heist at the Louvre. 

Writer Bryan Q. Miller hammers out characteristic yet hilarious dialogue from Superman as he battles classic villains, changed forever by one issue of comic book merriment.  Supes' repartee with Bart sounds natural and easy, and their fight against the monkeys of Paris neatly capture the zaniness of the Julie Schwartz era while still maintaining the high verisimilitude of the television series. 

Miller introduces another villain for Smallville.  Psimon first plied his cheesy knock off Brainiac shtick in one of the last pre-Crisis issues of The Teen Titans.  

With a few tweaks Psimon works well in the Smallville universe, and his beef against Lex Luthor allows for some smart interaction and some comedic interplay between the bald billionaire bad guy and the Man of Steel.

Lex is pretty much everybody's punching bag in this issue of Smallville.  His dead sister Mercy, who inhabits his body, resists his attempts to wrest the secrets of Superman and usurps control when Luthor lets down the guard of his willpower.  

Lois Lane makes mince meat out him in an interview and Psimon turns out to be less of an ally and more of an uncooperative expensive nuisance.  Put it all together, and you have got the best Superman book on the racks.

This issue of Honey West could have easily been part of the series rather than a special that partners the blonde bombshell with Kolchak the Night Stalker.  I can however see writer Janet Hetherton's reasoning behind the snappy dialogue.  

She's got a story where Honey searches for a missing girl and ends up facing a goofy yet dangerous cult.  G.G. Fickling's Honey West publishing history spanned the late fifties to mid-sixties.  The Honey West television series broadcast in the mid sixties.  Kolchak the Night Stalker arose in the seventies.  Carl Kolchak would be a young reporter during Honey West's time, and crazy cult has Kolchak's name written all over it.  Moonstone currently rents the Kolchak license.  The story element demanded inclusion.

Hetherton casts Carl in a prime spot and recognizes the glimmer of his characterization pre-Janos Skorzeny.  Before his fateful encounter, Carl was a skeptical crime reporter.  His girlfriend, portrayed by the lovely Carol Lynley, had to convince him that the murderer wasn't a serial killing fan of the undead, but the genuine article.  The more Carl read about vampires, the more Carl became convinced.

Hetherton's cult isn't actually supernatural.  So, it's a good fit for the neophyte Night Stalker, and certainly falls in Honey West's purview.  The underlying theme of male animosity toward women also makes the tale a perfect case for the early feminist private eye.  One of the very first in fact written by a woman.  G.G. Fickling was the pen name for a husband and wife writing team.

Like Fickling and the television series, Hetherton reverses the conventions of a woman's role in fiction and fact.  The burlesque club that serves as the setting allows women to express their sexuality and earn an honest living.  The men however behave badly, and Honey will not have any of it.  Honey states that she's not a virgin, but she survives the horror trappings.  She's the effective force that tears through the decidedly male killers.  Artist Ronn Sutton revels in these moments.

In These Shoes, Are You Kidding?

It's actually Carl that assumes the traditional female role.  He's a reporter working undercover, which was one of the few options that a woman in film and television could traditionally hold. Normally, though she would give up the so-called rat-race in a heartbeat to marry the male lead.  There were however exceptions.  Torchy Blane wants to marry her Lieutenant McClane like a good little Hays Code girl, but a good story always gets in the way.  

Speaking of good girls.  Carl is the virgin of the story, and that makes him the target when Honey rescues the substitute.  Whereas most of the cult members just get their kicks watching nubiles die, the cult leader is a different flavored fruitcake.  Carl furthermore becomes an impediment for Honey's easy victory.  

To be sure, all of these quirks actually fit the down-on-his luck Carl Kolchak, and while he will become braver as well as more formidable, this persona will still be the mortal clay that in fact makes Carl unique.

So how did the rest do this week?  New Crusaders from Archie Comics offers good, solid storytelling and cartoony artwork in the style of Bruce Timm as the Brain Emperor breaks out the people he needs from jail.  Trouble is that some guests of the Big House were the more lethal heroes of the day.  The kids do all right in the first meeting against crime, and the reprint of the Gray Morrow Black Hood story, which sadly rips off the Green Hornet/Lone Ranger legacy, is still worth reading because it's Gray Morrow.  I remember enjoying this tale in an Archie Digest special long ago.  I smelled the odor of the derivative even then, but I also had an eye for art.  Gray Morrow, people!

Batwing benefits from Fabian Nicieza's absolute professionalism and experience.  The story however could have taken place anywhere, but we'll see where Nicieza finishes the tale.  New artist Fabrizio Fiorentino presents a style that's more open to light than shadow.  It's not bad just different and will take time getting used to.

The Human Bomb offers a good follow up to the premiere, but that premiere was really, really great.  We get a better glimpse of the characters that will comprise the support team of the new Freedom Fighters.  Uncle Sam, may not be the superhuman icon in a different form, and Joan although sharing the name of Miss America, is unlikely a new version of that character, who possessed the power of shape-shifting.

Earth 2 was honestly a disappointment.  While this reintroduces a new version of an old favorite, the fact is that she's not on the side of angels yet.  So what we have here is a villain attacking another villain, followed by more villains attacking other villains.  Why should I care?