Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 27, 2013

Ray Tate

Let Us Now Bow Our Heads and Have a Moment of Silence for DOMA.

The Pick of the Brown Bag looks at the happenings in All-Star Western, Aquaman, Bart Simpson Comics, Batman Dark Knight, Doctor Who, The Flash, Justice League Dark, Legend of the Wicked West, Superman, Talon and Witch Doctor Mal Practice. 

Justice League Dark is a pretty decent with some good lines from John Constantine, now forced to tell the truth, and Zatanna being extremely heroic.  The story concludes the Tim Hunter story begun mid post-Crisis, and the people that were interested in Tim Hunter will probably get more out of it. 

Upon returning home, Constantine and League Dark decide to cut off ties from ARGUS, and this constitutes a weird threat by Steve Trevor.

That's way out of character for Steve.  Neither the League or Steve Trevor would go for a petty, revenge strike against League Dark.  That's the kind of thing Amanda Waller would do.  Something like shooting a missile at the House of Secrets: the TARDIS-like home and transport of League Dark.

Michael Janin's artwork is always a boon to Justice League Dark.  He has one foot in Vertigo realism and one foot in superhero dynamism.  No matter your interest level in this war of the faerie against the Judge Dredd like police force, the gorgeous illustration will attract your attention.

The Flash entertains with an updating to the status quo.  Barry having been thought dead took a job under an alias.  He now tends bar in a pub catering to Rogues and low-level criminals.  The job places Barry on the scene to witness the Trickster's arrest for murder.  Barry dismisses the charges.  

After searching for the proof of the Trickster's innocence, the Flash returns home.  We discover he's now living with his lover Patty Spivot.

Traditional paramour Iris West isn't completely out of the picture.  Writer Francis Manapul draws her back into the adventures with the revelation of the Speed Force.
No, Seriously?

Manapul only handles the writing on this issue of The Flash, but artist Marcio Takara executes Manapul's orchestrations quite skillfully.  He doesn't only just hit the right notes when it comes to anatomy and narrative; he mimics the often imiginative panel layout that signifies TheFlash

Aquaman is the biggest fish in the sea this week.  It reads like a the second or third episode of an Aquaman television series.  

In this issue, a classic,low-level Aquaman foe gets a modern makeover that effectively updates him and turns him into a credible threat.  Aquaman leads his army to retrieve and impede the use of Atlantean weaponry by surface dwellers, and the Sea King makes a promise to his brother's step-sister. 

The presence of Tula, formerly known as Aquagirl, in addition reverses one of DC's most permanent and unnecessary deaths.  

On the surface, Mera must address the authorities.  Several issues ago, she stopped an employer from sexually harrassing his employee.  The sphincter pressed charges, and thanks to an assist by Amanda Waller, who else, the police made their move to apprehend Mera.  In this issue, Mera gains a uniformed ally.

With introduction of this ally, Johns very subtly suggests a longer history for Aquaman on land.  Even in the pre-Crisis, Aquaman's past, his influences, his experiences were almost never discussed and rarely did they travel farther than his father's lighthouse.

The "effects budget" of Aquaman centers on a new foe that takes a page from the kaiju playbook and assaults an arctic front.  It's amazing how many monsters in the history of horror and science fiction turned the ice of Antarctica into an arena: The Frankenstein Monster in Shelly's book and Frankenstein the True Story, The Thing, the Deadly Mantis, Gamera, Godzilla in Final Wars.  This new enemy presents a threat to both Aquaman and Mera. 

Aquaman doesn't read like a typical comic book.  Instead, it follows like a submerged episode of Masterpiece Theater in the vein of By the Sword Divided but with a decidedly science fiction bias.  Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons and Rod Reis remain on the title to expertly render the drama and the super-hero cinematography.

Scott Lobdell began his run on Superman by throwing the Man of Steel and in fact the entire Superman Family into the fire of H'el.  This issue represents the level of quality at the normal setting.

Lobdell first introduces a concept that I just really never thought about.  For me, the Fortress of Solitude was always Superman's home.  It was a Fortress only in name, not meaning, but in the battle against H'el, humanity became aware of something we readers always took as rote.

A Senate Judiciary Committee, hilariously and justifiably illustrated as old men if imagined by Bill Plympton, calls Superman to Capitol Hill to explain the Fortress of Solitude.  Not happy with Superman's answer--it's his home, stupid--the Senate then demand to be let into the ice palace.

Frankly, I can imagine the Senate doing this.  Superman makes them feel impotent.  They can't get away with their usual intractability.  So they attack him the only way they know how with red tape, a sense of entitlement and pure stubbornness.  Of course, they also want to confiscate any useful technology that might net them a profit.

The old Superman might have kowtowed to these octogenarian sphincters, but the new 52 Superman has more meat on his unbreakable bones.

When he leaves the Senate, Superman finds himself under the scrutiny of an old friend.  With this scene, Lobdell recoups some of George Perez's modern day media focus without losing the spotlight on the Man of Steel himself.

Lois isn't the only reporter on the beat.  Superman in his guise as Clark Kent finds himself in the sights of Cat Grant, and this version is a little more serious than the post-Crisis ditzy blonde.  Lobdell integrates this possible turning point with the Big Bad plot.  He achieves the promise of the cover.

Batman Dark Knight is historic.  Batman makes a decision that will affect his future.  At the same time, he attempts to dismantle the Mad Hatter's operation.

This is not the best issue of Dark Knight, and it's a damn shame because writer Gregg Hurwitz puts a lot of effort into making each set piece within entire story fascinating.  Batman's choice is momentous, and its given a massive crescendo by artist Ethan Van Sciver.  Likewise, Van Sciver conducts a delicate balance between drama and comedy, when turning his attention to the major plot points.

Batman comes down hard on Mad Hatter's henchman Tweedle-Dee.  It's intrinsically dramatic, but the scene also displays something that the reader can laugh with because of the execution.  

The new origin of the Mad Hatter, while far-fetched, melds a pharmaceutical cause and effect that's plausible and suitable to apocrypha associated with the Lewis Carroll stories.

Carroll, a pseudonym for Charles Dodgson, was an expert mathematician.  He did not use drugs to conjure his tales.  Rather, he used logic games, mathematical principles and his imagination to entertain one Alice Liddel, the child of a friend.  That said, drug use will likely always be associated with the Looking Glass, in part because of the numerous after the fact adaptations and documentaries.

With all this good in Dark Knight, you're probably wondering why it fails to live up to previous issues.  The answer lies in the pacing.  Hurwitz's previous issues just had better rhythm.  

All-Star Western I'm sorry to say is just disappointing.  After the build up to what looked to be an excellent confrontation pitting Jonah Hex against Vandal Savage on behalf of Alan and Catherine Wayne, we get a scene that undermines the drama of the promise and even lacks the comedy of understatement.  

I didn't necessarily want a knock-down drag-out fight, but I did want something with impact.  Something vicious.  Something humorous, or something outrageous.  Something that has been defining Jonah Hex since he arrived in Gotham City. 

The most improved comic book this week is Talon.  Holy crap.  After lulling us into thinking we knew what Talon was about, Scott Snyder and James Tynon pull the rug out from under the reader.  It's not a question of everything you know being wrong.  It's a question of everything you assumed being wrong.  The very premise of the book, which I took to be formulaic and user friendly turns out to be as complex as Rotworld.

Rather than spoil the grand narrative behind what appeared to be nothing more than Azrael done correctly, I can focus on the exciting events in the sewers where Calvin Rose finally demonstrates the aspect he was supposed to be known for: escape.

Calvin exhibits an understanding about the underpinnings of the Court of Owls that comes from insider experience.  He defeats the O'Malleys--a whole family of undead Talons--by employing his insights.  Meanwhile, Casey Washington, Calvin's lover, and the reason why he turned against the Court, exploits the talent that made her a target in the first place.  

As you can see, a Bat-Signal brands the sky on the cover to Talon, and Batman makes a stirring appearance in the book.  He doesn't however alight with the same impact as he did in the Swamp Thing/Animal Man crossover.  

Batman investigates a murderous act committed by Felix Harmon.  The butcher murdered an innocent couple to pass the time and assuage his dejection over losing the trail of Calvin Rose.  I didn't like this slaughter occurring in Batman's town, but maybe I was too harsh.  It looks like Commissioner Gordon and Batman arrived on the scene as quick as possible, after somebody probably hearing the screams reported the incident.  The butcher got away with murder, thus far, but Batman is on his trail instantly, and the Court fears the Dark Knight's interference.

That's how it should be.  After the sound shellacking, the Owls should be terrified of Batman, quintessentially rendered by artist Guillem March.  March crafts a dynamite action-packed visual narrative, mutates a distorted once human monster and puppeteers sunken-eyed scientific zombies.

I can finally reveal the cleverness of Brandon Siefert's Witch Doctor Mal Practice.  Dr. Vincent Morrow took a tumble with a hot red head and wound up with a occult parasite.  Don't worry.  This isn't some sort of religious AIDS Mary warning about "the cost of sex."  Siefert clears the red head, Charlotte of all wrong doing.  It wasn't her fault that some lunatic mage used her as a honey trap.  

Fortunately, Vincent isn't just any practitioner of macabre medicine.  Writer Siefert first comes up with a brilliant occult answer to Fantastic Voyage and makes novel use of an old supernatural trope.  Siefert however goes one better.  The thing inside Vincent's body just won't succumb to even abnormal treatment, including a "vorpal blade."  To finally end the beast, Siefert resorts to a twisted use of classic medical science.

Siefert's partner in crime Lukus Ketner artistically sires another fantastic monster.  His style for malignancy is truly unbridled, but I noticed Ketner's timing the most in this week's Witch Doctor.

The visual narrative features a number of humorous moments that depend upon cinematic match cuts and unusual points of view as well as subtle and hyperbolic emotional expression.  So, Ketner's artwork from a raw technical aspect runs a gamut.  He's not just a one trick pony bent on a lethal bestiary.

First Andy Diggle and now Josh Hale Fialkov.  Seems that everybody that leaves DC ends up on Doctor WhoFialkov already made his mark in Doctor Who comics with a Casablanca pastiche involving the Silurians.  That was a trifle too padded and some of the Doctor's behavior was off.  This two parter so far seems just right.

The would-be Green Lantern writer transports The Doctor to space to meet cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, first man to walk in space. Mind you.  He's early, but the real trouble is that somebody's already waiting for Alexey's stroll.  An old Doctor Who enemy waits in the vacuum.

Fortunately for Alexey, the Doctor picks up his distress call.  Unfortunately for both the TARDIS' cockamamie defense systems kick in stranding Doctor and Alexey on his even for earth technology primitive capsule.  
Fialkov has no problem when generating suspense in the deadly Doctor Who species, nor when mimicking Matt Smith's delivery of the Doctor's mile-a-minute mind fueling what appears to be the scattershot dialogue of a mental patient.  Artist Horacio Domingues also brings skillful caricature and dramatic cartooning to the adventure.  Recommended.

The first story in Bart Simpson Comics sends up Rashomon tributes.  It's a forgettable fluff, but the second story by former Batman writer Mike W. Barr and stalwart artists John Delaney, Andrew Pepoy and Nathan Hamill is a winner.  

Rod and Todd are two of the most boring characters on The Simpsons, yet Barr and company make their unexpected journey a funny romp that incorporates such unexpected treats as seductively illustrated sirens inhabiting the most unexpected places.  The way in which Rod and Todd find their way home is laugh out loud funny, and Ned's love for his boys is just awesome.

Last but not least Tom Hutchison's Legend of the Wicked West is indeed doing the entire story of Ozma of Oz.  So, the ramifications of that fable will be very interesting to witness in the modern verse.  As I stated previously, L. Frank Baum was a feminist before the term had been coined, and particularly in this climate of gay rights fights, the ultimate return of Ozma should be eventful indeed.

In this issue, Jack and Tip bamboozle their way into Glinda's palace.  The Musketeer femmes from last issue were her personal guard.  Hutchison and artists Alisson Borges portray a singular Glinda, the Good Witch of Oz.  The skill though isn't merely isolated to the characters.

Most artists that haven't reached one of the big companies like DC, Marvel or Dark Horse tend to favor people over backdrops, and I don't usually fault them since my artwork suffers from the same malady.  Borges and colorist Kate Finnegan outdo themselves when depicting the rooms of Glinda's elegant estate.  Legend of the Wicked West is a remarkable feat in terms of writing and artwork in its totality. 

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