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For the first time in...ever, DC repealed an internal fiat declared by one of its editors.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.

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