Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 27, 2013


Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag reviews a brief comic book week consisting of All-Star Western, Aquaman, Bart Simpsons Comics, Batman Dark Knight, Doctor Who, The Flash and Witch Doctor Mal Practice.  

First, a few words about the rest.  While this was probably the best issue of Talon since its premiere, it still wasn't outstanding.  A surprise guest appearance by Batman and Nightwing provides most of the oomph, but a horrific murder that nobody appears to hear and happening in Gotham City, Batman's city, doesn't make me happy.  Justice League Dark is essentially a filler issue in an otherwise decent storyarc dealing with Tim Hunter.  Good Frankenstein bits aside, it's mostly an exposition filled catch-up placeholder with typically gorgeous artwork by Mikal Janin.

Aquaman begins a new era by leading the Atlanteans against humans that would defy the IWC and slaughter whales.  Meanwhile, old charges of misconduct haunt Mera.

It's what's behind the scenes that sparks more interest in Aquaman, rather than the overt goodness of defeating whalers.  Amanda Waller guest stars as the new Justice League liaison, and Amanda Waller is a complete bitch.   

The new 52 version of Waller mirrors the Smallville version.  Portrayed by Pam Grier, that version of Waller is perfectly willing to squeeze the trigger on Chloe Sullivan, an innocent American citizen.  Because of Grier's massive body of work, much of which concerns Grier playing figures of justice, you can easily see that Grier grants Waller no conscience.  Neither does Geoff Johns in the new 52.

In the triumvirate of Geoff Johns titles, Amanda Waller has an ulterior motive.  She's working for the government to legally kill the Justice League.  To that end, she gives the local police the go ahead to arrest Mera for her past actions against a woman's stalker and sexual harasser.  

Mera you see no longer has the protection of Aquaman who is now King of the Seven Seas, and the sovereign nation of Atlantis. Atlantis sees Mera as a "convict" due to past conflicts between Atlantis and her people.  She also therefore cannot become queen.  However, with heavy Justice League involvement in Aquaman, I don't believe Mera will be in the soup long, especially if the League testifies on her behalf.  Mera saved hundreds of lives in each flooded city.  That should be worth something especially when weighed against assaulting a potential rapist. Nevertheless, the arrest of Mera signify bitch Waller's attempts to put a wedge between the superhero community and the law.  

Artist Paul Pelletier illustrates a clearly visible emotional state from Mera.  You don't need words to express what she's thinking.  In the case of Aquaman, Pelletier grants majesty to the artwork that's exemplary of the new DCU's new appreciation for the beauty and majesty, sorely lacking from the previous cosmos.

Artist Ethan Van Sciver evokes Batman's mystique in Dark KnightGregg Hurwitz's script which pits Batman against the Mad Hatter allows for much daring-do, and Van Sciver delights in making Batman appear and disappear like a magician to befuddle henchmen Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

At the same time Hurwitz and Van Sciver play with the convention of Batman's sudden departures when Commissioner Gordon turns his back.  Hurwitz also demonstrates Batman's sense of humor with Alfred.  The faithful man servant though isn't all fun and games.  He reminds readers of the lovely Natalya Trusevich, and hints at her impending return as Batman's new 52 Silver St. Cloud.

The Flash battles Gorilla Grodd in the realm known as the Speed Force, and there's no contest.  The ape meets his better in this lightning fast coupe-de-grace courtesy of Francis Manapul and Bruce Buccellato.

Ka-Boom.  It's over and in a grand display of color, action and unique design.  Thanks to Manapul and Buccellato The Flash looks like no other comic book, and the art fits the Fastest Man Alive's new adventures.  

More fun derrives from the pragmatism of Grodd's gorilla guerellas who when faced with insurmountable odds and a seriously pissed off Central City populace follow logic rather than their leader. 

The Rogues surprise everybody by being on the up and up during this simian slam.  I half expected them to keep the Central Citizens, but they return the hapless would-be victims of the ape armada.  Solovar appears to still have a shot at becoming Gorilla City's prime primate, and the Flash gains a decisive philosophical victory, not just a physical one, by exercising his mastery of speed to return of the trapped Central Citizens from the Speed Force.  This includes Iris West, whose rapport with the Flash becomes noticeable.  Still rooting for Patty though, who sticks by Barry.  

The Loser in all this? Well, Grodd.  Obviously, but also Dr. Elias, the turncoat scientist who started the Flash hatred in the first place.  Screw you, Elias.

Deep in space, the Lady Christina De Souza encounters the Doctor yet again.  His new face throws her somewhat, but only for a second.  The Doctor wants to find out what the master thief is up to with her escape from earth and the use of a shimmer to disguise herself as the Captain.  He doesn't trust his old acquaintance, and subtle moments such as casually discarded wine show the Doctor taking no chances with the cunning femme fatale.

Writer Andy Diggle abets DeSouza with strong characterization reflective of the series, fast repartee between she and the Doctor as well as solid science behind the fiction.  The quick but rich two parter whets one's appetite for Diggle's Action Comics.

Artists Josh Adams, Mike Deering and Charlie Kirchoff illustrate strong but not perfect likenesses of the cast.  With a few changes in proportion and anatomy, they craft a new plausible alien race that's believably vulnerable but not helpless.  The artists' depiction of the turning point in the story also demonstrates a command of the abstract.

Eric Ghast takes exciting and drastic steps to help his friend and mentor, The Witch DoctorThe root of the problem is a kind of occult wasp called the Strigoi using the good doctor's body as an incubator for its eggs.  Condition, terminal.

Eric's ambulance driving is effective.  Not unfortunately against the Strigoi or the villainous vector that infected Dr. Vincent Morrow.  However he educes much jocularity from the good doctor himself and the audience.  

For an encore, Eric allies himself with a previous Witch Doctor alum that does alleviate the immediate symptoms, but ultimately, Dr. Vincent Morrow yields to the old adage.  Physician heal thyself.  Writer Brandon Siefert cleverly comes up with a "cure" by answering Fantastic Voyage with a supernatural counterpart. 

Meanwhile, Penny Dreadful, captured last issue, promises the monsters that she and the creature that she hosts, are in concert.  They will both kill the bad seeds of myth.

Lukas Ketner and Andy Troy exhibit their usual accomplishment when presenting the spectral, the grotesque and the purely dramatic, and it all seems that it might actually work in the real world.  Thus lending verisimilitude to the whacky world of the Witch Doctor.

An old immortal villain moseys into turn of the century Gotham City for this week's All-Star Western, and with him comes cannibal plague, amusingly referred to as cholera by the city officials.

As per usual, Jonah Hex shocks the reader with a mind more attune to detection.  Even more surprising, Hex exhibits sympathy for the plight of Catherine Wayne.  He only asks for thirty percent of Alan Wayne's casino as payment for rescuing her.  That's amazingly generous, but then Hex respects Wayne and genuinely likes Catherine.

I really hope somehow through the annals of time, a Hex appears in modern day Gotham City, a descendent to ally himself or herself with Batman or Bruce.  It would make so much sense, especially now that Jonah Hex will own thirty percent of a Wayne enterprise.

At the moment, Jonah has his hands full.  Palmiotti, Gray and Moritat display the callous disregard for human life of the time.  The west was considered savage, but civilization strikes me as no better.  While some may argue that officials are quarantining the victims.  They're really not.

The victims kidnaped Catherine with the hope of receiving better treatment by the government.  You know, food and doctors, instead of walling them up to die and in vain attempting to stop the sickness from spreading.  While medicine was still primitive at this time, doctors might have at the very least been able to diagnose the disease.

In any case, the story's a little deeper than a simple hunt for a kidnap victim.  Palmiotti's and Gray's research coupled with the history of DC comics provides a fascinating backdrop that evinces how the Powers That Be use famine, death, murder and disease as a convenient means to dispose of so-called undesirable elements.

More puzzling from a historical point of view is the backup feature.  Jenny Freedom fights in a post Civil War setting to prevent the assassination of the President.  Though one wonders what the mostly innocuous Chester Arthur did to deserve such consideration.  As a President he was about as exciting as tofu.  

Staz Johnson and Rob Schwager provide far more intrigue with a change in art.  Johnson did a run of Batman in the nineties, and his art was more in synch with Image house art, although with a greater sense of proportion and scale.  The more attractive art style in All-Star Western exhibits smoother, simpler blends rather than uber detail and busy linework.  

Last but not least, a trio of stories comprise a rib-tickling issue of Bart Simpson Comics.

Eric Rogers focuses on Springfield Elementary to find a gang run by an obscure Simpsons character.  Bart looks ripe for recruitment, and it looks like the rapscallion has finally crossed to the dark side for good.  Will his love for Lisa be able to save him?

Rogers patterns this short on the long game con.  It openly seems to be a pulp fiction with corruption of a decent figure, if we can call Bart that.  The story though quickly twists and turns, unerringly driving the tale to a clever climax an even smarter punchline.  Nina Matsumoto is on hand to provide dead on slapstick comedy The Simpsons way.  From atomic wedgies to over the top drama, Matsumoto recreates the three-dimensional animated mayhem on the two dimensions of the comic book page.

The second tale by Tony Digerolamo and Mike Kazaleh means to educate readers on two off-beat chemical/physical reactions.  Professor Frink acts as teacher, and while the lessons in the hands of Bart and Lisa are funny, Digerolamo goes that extra distance to upend a well known conceit of children's documentaries.

In the third story, Carol Lay provides both art and prose to a simply charming little tale in which Homer tries to repay Maggie's sharp thinking with an impossible task.  It doesn't matter than the whole concept is absurd, that just makes the story funnier and sweeter.

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