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?


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