Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 3, 2013

Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag looks at the happenings in Ame-comic Girls, Batwing, Detective Comics, Earth 2, Legends of the Dark Knight, Miss Fury, Smallville, Swamp Thing and World's Finest.

Created by June Tarpe' Mills, Miss Fury fought Nazis in the newspaper strips months before Wonder Woman did in Sensation Comics.  Miss Fury however wasn't the first costumed heroine.  That honor belongs to the long "forgotten" Woman in Red, recently seen in Dynamite's Project Superheroes.  Miss Fury though was the first exploitation heroine. 

Tarpe' Mills illustrated feminine sexuality like no other.  Miss Fury wore a black leopard hide that left nothing to the imagination, and even when not in costume, her alter-ego, socialite Marla Drake, was frequently seen in lingerie or an array of curve-hugging haute coutre.  

Mills also demonstrated that Miss Fury lived up to her name.  At first mistaken for a jewel thief, Miss Fury quickly earned a reputation among fascists.  Stay away.  Far away.  Unlike the Black Cat, the first feline heroine to arise specifically in comic books, Miss Fury employed no judo or elegant karate chops.  Miss Fury instead used whatever worked.  As a result, her fights were no holds barred vicious, and she shed no tears over the deaths of her foes.

To contrast Jack Herbert's art in the new Miss Fury to Tarpe' Mills' illustration would be impossible.  It would be fairer to compare the work of Margaret Brundadge, Matt Baker or Alberto Vargas to that of Tarpe' Mills.  

Herbert's art is completely serviceable.  He makes Miss Fury suitably ferocious in a fight and beautiful, albeit in an Amazonian way, when she leaves the bath.  This Miss Fury is more explicit than the comic strip.  Sex and nudity are notable, but that's certainly in keeping with Tarpe' Mills' intent in the later years.

Some of the Last Work of Tarpe' Mills

While it would not be fair to contrast any modern artist with Tarpe' Mills, it is perfectly just to contrast the story and characterization to that in the original tales, also conceived entirely by Mills.  To be frank, Rob Williams' Miss Fury just doesn't feel like Miss Fury at all.  Instead, his ideas seem like a rejected Catwoman reboot.

Marla Drake was an all-around good person.  When not dispatching the Third Reich and/or saving lives, Marla was adopting the son of a dead enemy and giving dresses to the European war effort.  Tarpe' Mills invested a lot of realism in Marla's portrayal.  Marla had an active love life.  She had friends including her maid and assistant, and she demonstrated courtesy to acquaintances and strangers.

The new Marla Drake is much more like the so-called "adventuress" adversary of Miss Fury: Erica Von Kampf, a Nazi mercenary who secrets a swastika brand on her forehead.  Perhaps, Von Kampf inspired Quentin Tarentino.

In the modern story, Miss Fury intends to steal a bejeweled crown for kicks.  Her origin indicates a streak of cruelty.  She treats her servants as things rather than people.  She fights law enforcement for no reason at all, and in general she's rude and arrogant.  None of these characteristics describe Tarpe' Mills' Marla Drake, but it is easy to see Von Kampf relishing each of these elements.  For that reason, I cannot recommend Miss Fury.

The 900th issue of the venerable Detective Comics plays like a typical milestone that sneaks up on a comic book company.  Tenuously connect a story to the event.  Drop in a couple inconsequential vignettes; fill the remainder of pages with any paid-for unpublished art lying around, and charge the reader an arm and a leg.  The book costs eight bucks.  I can pay blackmail to the Parking Authority for four hours with that kind of money.

For those who came in late, the Joker recently inveigled the Penguin in his scheme to attack the Batman Family.  The Penguin left his lieutenant Ogilvy in charge of his enterprises.  Batman sent the Penguin to jail, and Ogilvy rechristened himself the Emperor Penguin.  

The Emperor exposes a section of Gotham the 900 block to an airborne contagion that turns most into Man-Bats and She-Bats.  Since yon Emperor is only interested in money.  One must ask why the mad science experiment?  

A brief tale suggests that the Emperor initiated this foolishness to have his group of D-Level cronies loot various sites in Gotham City.  The Man-Bats were meant to keep the Batman Family occupied. That's an awful lot of trouble, not to mention a good stretch up the river if caught, in exchange for a few baubles and beads.

The Iceberg, the Penguin's legitimate club, surely rakes in more money in a single night.  The Penguin also feathered his nest in a much more lucrative, criminal fashion.  The Penguin trafficked in weapons, including nuclear footballs, and chiseled a percentage of other criminals' takes by serving as an off the books bank for their ill-gotten funds.  You can admire the Penguin's ingenuity.  Ogilvy strikes me as an idiot with too many resources at his fingertips.

The Man-Bat story fluctuates between horror and science fiction but lacks any real bite.  There's no real consequence because you know that Batman isn't going to hurt innocent Gothamites and will likely find an antidote to the mutagen.  Batman however doesn't need to work his "little, gray cells" since Man-Bat serum creators Kirk and Francine Langstrom show up with an unwelcome escort.  Batwoman.

The inclusion of Batwoman makes this germ of an idea padded out to story-length worse.  Batwoman rarely appears in a Batman book, and this newest cipher replacement for the then crippled Batgirl certainly does not deserve to be in the 900th issue of Detective Comics.

Batgirl only rates a cameo as one of Batman's crusaders battling the cloud of Man-Bats.  Writer Jon Layman could have dropped one of the short-shorts, replaced Batwoman with Batgirl and developed her role in the story with meatier exposure.  A Batgirl and Batman team-up would have at the very least paid for half of the book.

While the historical introduction of Man-Bat by Frank Robbins wasn't exactly stirring or sensible, it was better than what's here.  Mitch Brian's Man-Bat debut in Batman: The Animated Series remains the best introduction of the Langstroms: playing like fifties science-gone-amok films with subtle horror undertones and a refreshing dearth of sexism.  Frankly, I would have been happy never to see the Langstroms again.  Pre-Crisis Man-Bat was a fine character.  The Powers That Be soured me on the post-Crisis versions, plural.  I don't see why he needed to return to the new 52.  Nobody was crying, "Where's Man-Bat!"

Here, Kirk Langstrom becomes Man-Bat to somehow expose the air to an antidote partially effective because of his DNA.  There's a lot of smoke during Langstrom's transformation.  So, I guess that's the medium of delivery.  It's contrived nonsense.  Is there any reason why Batman couldn't have found the antidote, render it gaseous and launch a balloon?  I think not.  

In Gregg Hurwitz's superior Dark Knight, Batman counteracted the Scarecrow's fear gas spread amongst the citizens of Gotham by using his own blood in a gaseous form sprayed from the Batwing.  As he dusted the mass of Gothamites, he slowly lost consciousness and hovered between life and death.  That was something.  This redo by Layman is pathetic.

The other throw-away stories give Francine Langstrom a spotlight.  Yes, everybody was blubbering for that as well. We also get the upteenth Rashomon homage from a group of police officers that are recovering from the Man-Bat plague.  Once again, done better in Batman: Animated Series, precisely "POV" where Montoya, Bullock and a rookie all relate different encounters with the Batman during the night.  The least of the group pits Bane against the Court of Owls.  Exactly who am I supposed to root for here? 

I had the same problem with Joe Harris' Legends of the Dark KnightAm I supposed to feel sorry for psychopaths possessed by a vengeful ghost? Am I supposed to believe that the Joker, who beat a child to death with a crowbar, can express a single iota of empathy for Casper?  The only way that works is if we're talking about the Caesar Romero Joker, who just might--maybe--balk at the thought of killing little kids.  Even if we accept these stories as continuity free, there must be a general basis for them.  The Joker is and always has been a evil, murderous bastard that would gladly kick a child onto the subway tracks if he thought it would give him gave a giggle.

Palmiotti and Gray surprise me with their handling of BatwingRather than opt for a scorched earth policy in which Batwing unceremoniously gets offed by a bullet in the head...

Gray and Palmiotti give Batwing a grand sendoff.  Batwing tears through the fictional African city of Tinasha, searching for a protected butcher of women.  He brings the smackdown on: Dawn, the mercenary that aided Phillip Marksbury, the butcher; Phillip's father who bribed everybody to protect his scummy son; the organization of pirates that dealt with Batwing's interference and Phillip himself, just in time to save another life.

Batman does not fire David Zavimbe, and David makes no grave error in judgment that leads to his giving up the identity, as the cover so wrongly suggests.  Rather David believes that the idea of Batman cannot work in Africa, and the final words from a friend convince him to give up the armor.

Batman and David parting with a handshake is a much better way to end this era of the series.  The lack of animosity between two characters I like makes me more open to the plans of Gray and Palmiotti to introduce an inheritor to the Batwing mantle, revealed on the last pages.  No crippling needed here.

I'm impressed that Palmiotti and Gray even bothered to write for David Zavimbe.  While it's clear that they had an inkling of what's what in the old Batwing, it's also clear that it's not yet their book.  

Gray and Palmiotti characterize the main players well, and we can chalk up Dawn to a less than coherent idea from Winnick.  Dawn was once a vigilante fighting a cult leader.  Suddenly, she's a mercenary.  Winnick however consistently made a point to display the rampant, ubiquitous corruption of the Tinasha police force that even touched Kia, the female officer David wanted to be closer to.  Gray and Palmiotti pretty much drop all of this.  The force is sorry to see David go.  In Winnick's stories, they would have been popping champagne open.  This caveat aside, the final issue of the original Batwing is another winner.

Palmiotti and Gray conclude their first story arc of the Justice League in the feminized world of Ame-Comi GirlsWonder Woman leads the heroes into the maw of Brainiac, but it's Jesse Quick who gets the closest to the alien parasite.

Meanwhile at the planet's core, the absolutely charming A.I. that evolved from Brainiac's cybernetic accoutrements throw their lot in with Power Girl.  Wonder Woman and Power Girl literally pull apart Brainiac tendril by tendril and the main plot ends with boom rather than a whimper, but the story's not over.  There's still half a comic book to enjoy.

The previous Ame-Comi Girls issues felt like self contained chapters of trade paperback waiting to happen, but now that the new series got green lit, Gray and Palmiotti expand the narrative.  The group of ladies decide to form a team, but objections ensue, and this leads to some fascinating cleverness involving ambassadorships and honorary citizen bestowals.  The contentions continue when Power Girl returns two of the team home, and the heroes come clean with their secret identities.  All does not go as planned, and out in space, the Manhunters report back to the Guardians.  Here's another detour from the expected.

In the pre-Crisis, the Manhunters were the Guardians' first line of protectors, but the robots turned on their creators necessitating the formation of the Green Lanterns.  Here, the Manhunters work with the Guardians and the Green Lanterns, and this will impact on the Ame-Comi universe.

The art by Eduardo Francisco emphasizes the beauty and power of the Justice League femme.  His style lends itself to action, but he also conveys emotion within cartoony context quite well.  Francisco furthermore exhibits an imaginative remake of staple DC characters.  Colorist Wes Hartman redeems himself with some special effect shades depicting Kara's heat vision and the glowing emerald of Oa.  I still feel however that the regular colors need to be brighter.

Paul Levitz in World's Finest with artists Ken Lashley and Barry Kitson generates intense suspense as Helena tracks down the weapons that the Holt mercenaries used against she and Kara Zor-El, the Supergirl of Earth 2 now known as Power Girl.

Levitz is a master of the mystery as presented in the context of the superhero universe.  He opens the book with Helena's exciting elimination of a weapons dealer in Mali.  While the art is short on fisticuffs, Levitz has already did the groundwork.  Helena is no mean fighter, and this guy is an unarmed nuisance.  His business is the menace.  Four panels is all that Lashley and Levitz need to demonstrate Helena's consummate skill.

Levitz fuses two plot threads, the embezzling of funds from Wayne enterprises and Apokolips.  He expresses theories through Kara's voice, and he presents the enigma of a Michael Holt that appears to know Power Girl.  How? You won't find out until the very last page, and the conclusion is a good one.  

On Earth 2 Wotan holds the Flash's mom hostage while he and Khalid seek the helm of Dr. Fate.  Earth 2 while not treading new ground is just extremely rhythmic.  James Robinson's dialogue is a joy to read.  It's a textbook example of how to instill interest in a traditional plot and cast of characters.

In the opening, Robinson reveals the history between Wotan and Nabu, the sorcerous power behind Dr. Fate.  Wotan divulges this information to Jay Garrick's mom, held within what looks like the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, a classic binding spell used by Dr. Strange.

This scene exemplifies the power and plain utility of the the comic book medium.  Robinson could have written the dialogue resonating the same effect in a prose novel.  Wotan in a book would have to tell a story within a story to present the same idea, or Robinson would have to start a new chapter, breaking the momentum of the narrative, to relate what happened.  Artist Nicola Scott however conveys the scenario in a more comprehensible way and conceives imagery that better describes the events that occurred in the past simultaneously, which is something a book could not do.

Inside the Tower Jay faces a beast while Khalid searches for the helm.  This section of the book is basically by rote, and while Scott's artwork is still technically good, it cannot go above and beyond.  Rather, the dialogue takes care of that.  Robinson through choice of words and the pattern of those words shows Jay being the hero that his mother thinks he can be.  So much so that he inspires Khalid to wear the helm of Fate and imbues him with the strength to maintain his personality.

The Animal Man/Swamp Thing crossover Rotworld occurred in the DCU, but the events unfolded in an alternate timeline in which Arcane won.  The villain's victory twisted the universe that we knew, and it was up to Swamp Thing and Animal Man to restore time.  Both however lost something personal in each battle.

This week's Animal Man is way too glum to recommend.  Buddy Baker's losses compound, and that's not fair.  The press accosts him.  He confronts the Totems that granted him the power of the animals, and as you may expect, that goes badly. 

Though I cannot recommend Animal Man personally.  LeMire's story is technically without flaw, but it's difficult to invest in this massive dumping on Buddy, especially after he saved the world.  Steve Pugh's artwork however is simply astonishing.

Although Swamp Thing lost Abby Arcane during Rotworld, Buddy Baker's erstwhile partner in justice enjoys a healthier state of mind.  New writer Charles Soule kicks off things by planting Swamp Thing firmly in the DC Universe.  

In this issue, writer Soule takes the interesting tack of turning Swamp Thing into the idol of the plant world.  Unlike previous continuities, Swamp Thing doesn't just control plants like an aloof god.  The plants obey him gladly like a group of teeming fans.  He in turn fortifies them and makes them whole.

Heavy lies the crown.  Somebody has been darting all around the world and creating oases where there were deserts; thus tampering with web of life.  Despite the possible good intentions, Swamp Thing must take back these gifts to desperate humanity, and he seeks advice on how to remain a man while executing his duties as the Champion of the Green by traveling to Metropolis and searching for the Man of Steel.

This is the second time Superman appeared in Swamp Thing, but he only arises in the skies of his city on the last page.  For the rest of the story Swamp Thing battles the Scarecrow.  The Powers That Be at the new 52 DC have a real Jones for the Scarecrow.  He premiered in Batman Dark Knight, escaped to return in Justice League of America and now plies his trade in Swamp Thing.

The art by Kano maintains the high standard set by Yanick Pacquette.  Swamp Thing looks like the monster that he was originally rather than the leafy elemental created for Alan Moore.  There's definitely more Wrightson and Yeates here than Bissette.  Kano's more concrete linework is evident as well in his beautiful architecture.

Finally, in Smallville, Bryan Q Miller concludes "The Haunted" with a startling, heroic sacrifice, predicated by an enigmatic statement from Bart Allen alias Impulse.  While the mood is dead serious, Bart's humor zips through the dialogue.

Bart's means of attack eliminates a Lex Luthor scheme perpetuated on the Man of Steel, and as Chloe remembers things that never happened to her.  She warns Clark of the impending multiverse doom inching toward them but shares hers and Oliver's baby news in contrast.

Last but not least, the gang get together to confront Lex Luthor about a certain plea for help.a 


Tarpe' Mills & Miss Fury IDW ISBN-13: 978-1600109058

Trina Robbins The Great Women Super Heroes Kitchen Sink Press ISBN: 0-87816-481-2

Neal Adams Batman Illustrated vol 2 DC ISBN: 1-4012-0269-1

No comments:

Post a Comment