Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
May 1, 2013


Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week we look at....huh...just Ame-Comi Girls, Earth 2 and World's Finest.  What happened this week?

Aquaman is about everybody but Aquaman.  The new Batwing is okay, but I miss David Zavimbe's tragic resonance.  I do like Batman referring to Batwing as an "agent of chaos."  Heroes should be against total order.  

Jon Layman's Detective Comics pits Batman against one of the dopiest villains ever created.  Legends of the Dark Knight is mostly mediocre, but spotlighting some excellent artwork by Sergio Sandoval.  Gail Simone's new book The Movement adds real-world based novelty to the idea of a hero team fighting a corrupt police force, but it also features one of the most disgusting protagonists I've seen since Brother Power the Geek.

Swamp Thing sports an exceptional cameo by Superman.  Writer Charles Soule characterizes The Man of Steel perfectly and Kano, Alvaro Lopez and Matt Wilson depict him skillfully.  They follow the model of his new 52 look, but they make Kal-El friendlier in expression and non-threatening in body language.

Soule writes Superman smartly.  Under Soule's perspective, the Big Red S utilizes multiple powers at different levels of control.  In a pivotal scene, Kal-El reins in his abilities to mercifully end Swamp Thing's unwitting assault on Metropolis.

The Champion of the Green is unfortunately the least interesting character in the book.  Exposed to fear gas, Swampy takes a mind-trip, and this is the third one I've seen in the new 52 within two months.  Dr. Holland does however regains some of his oomph with a humorous off-the-cuff capture of Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow.

World's Finest rocked, and it wasn't even the best issue of the series.  Writer Paul Levitz picks up right where he left off, Karen Starr also known as Power Girl fell for DeSaad's glamour in which he looked like Michael Holt, but a kiss is telling.  With the scientific spell broken, Karen breaks out the Kryptonian while Helena backs her up by keeping Holt security away Huntress style.

Kevin Maguire illustrates these scenes with experienced gusto and takes a moment for pure aesthetic as Power Girl and Huntress make their escape.  

DeSaad's presence indicates several elements of interest.  It confirms that there is one Apokolips in the new 52, and that Darkseid's forces invaded Earth 2 first and ultimately killed that world's Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman before the Justice League on Earth 1 handed Darkseid his ass.  Darkseid however still has his sights set on Earth 1.  DeSaad appears to recognize Huntress and Power Girl as champions of Earth 2, but I doubt he knows them as Robin and Supergirl.

As indicated in the flashback, Huntress tracked Hakkou, the Apokoliptan-enhanced villain from the World's Finest debut to his previous life in the Japanese Yakuza.  A nice moment of realism indicates Huntress can be overcome by assault weapons and numbers.  Power Girl though is always there to support her friend, and while the World's Finest clean up the Yakuza, Karen enlightens Huntress with a characteristic explanation on why she made her secret identity so public.

That makes sense.  The art won't look familiar to you because it's provided by newcomer Geraldo Borges.  Borges' demonstrates tasty illustration at both ends of the gamut.

Back in the present, the media attacks Power Girl's persona for what they see, and no doubt DeSaad informed, as a public debacle at Holt Industries.  Unfortunately, the World's Finest team does not have time to fret over Karen Starr's ego.  Her Cambridge Lab faces an assault, and Levitz demonstrates how deadly and devious Darkseid's forces still are.  The display costs Power Girl and Huntress an ally, and the two make a vow of revenge.  All three of the episodes in the Worlds' Finest's lives co-mingle and deliver excitement.  At the same time, Levitz presents heroes that are far more potent than previous incarnations of Power Girl and the Huntress.

In Earth 2, Khalid dons the Helm of Fate, and writer James Robinson treats the hero more like Firestorm than the more cohesive wizard of old.  Khalid resists Nabu's influence, and instead becomes a separate entity known as Dr. Fate, the champion of Nabu.  I like this twist better than the old possession/madness shtick.  It shows that Khalid bears a strong persona, and while he listens to Nabu's advice, Khalid's knowledge combined with the magic of Nabu makes him a formidable foe, amply exemplified in Nicola Scott's awesome artwork.

While Dr. Fate battles Wotan in the sky, the Justice Society run interference against the authorities.  Robinson in these scenes distinguishes his heroes from the champions of old.  Green Lantern teamed up with Kendra, the new Hawkgirl, to look into the death of his lover Sam.  Kendra proves to be a superb detective, and it's clear she'll take Batman's role in the new Society.  I approve.  The Silver Age Hawks from Thanagar were alien police officers, which is why their adventures frequently appeared in Detective Comics during the seventies.

Robinson looks to another hero to separate his Green Lantern Alan Scott from the space corps of Earth 1. 

The dialogue and Nicola Scott's flourishes evoke the imagery of a Golden Age character known as the Flame, last seen in Dynamite's Project Superpowers.  The Flame could manifest from any source of fire, like a djinn.  I like that Robinson connects the Green Lantern more with the Green Flame that is the source of his powers instead of the ring.  It makes him unique amongst the various takes on the Original Green Lantern.  Norse legends influenced the Green Lantern's co-creator Mart Nodell.  That and seeing the distorted light of lanterns in the fog.

As to the Flash, young Jay Garrick proves to be an inspiration as well as a natural when employing his speed.  He exhibits little of the ego that he previously demonstrated in his civilian guise.  He steps up to honor the Flash legacy, and his mother makes for an enjoyable guest star.

Ame-Comi Girls introduces a Green Lantern to the feminized universe of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.  Gray and Palmiotti choose a Chinese woman for their Lantern, and I couldn't be more pleased.  A Green Lantern, the representative of Oa, the defender of all earth should not be a white American.  It just smacks of jingoism and sexism, and while Hal Jordan was  predicated in a far too homogenous 1950s, there is no reason for him to wield the ring in the modern day melting pot, unless he's just one of many earth Lanterns.  That's not however how the Green Lanterns work.  One Lantern, one space sector usually spanning multiple galaxies, teeming with planets.

Rapidly, yet economically Palmiotti and Gray detail Jade Yifei as the perfect Green Lantern.  She's exactly who you would want to represent the planet.  Her entire outlook is one of acceptance and adaptation, which if you ask me would be the most important aspects for one tasked to save alien species from menaces far and wide.  A great moment occurs when the Chinese government demand that she forfeit the ring.  That's the scene that defines exactly where the Green Lantern will stand.  She doesn't see nations.  She sees planets.  She sees the whole not the portions.

Wonder Woman and Power Girl also see the planet as one.  A feisty Diana expresses the same attitudes as Green Lantern albeit in a louder way.

Ame-Comi Girls is absolutely delightful.  Smart and funny, it also has a comic strip feel.  Gray and Palmiotti aren't just writing a book about a few heroes.  They're covering an entire cosmos of them, and as Power Girl and Wonder Girl address the United Nations, you realize that the writers cover the story on a day to day basis, just like a comic strip.  Thus, they're giving us something rare by resuscitating a form: the adventure strip, whose prominence fell to the humor strip long ago.

Because this week was a little lackluster, I'm including a bonus review.  I've spoken about Carol Lay's Wonder Woman book several times in previous reviews of her work.  Well, here's the actual review, unabridged, just spell-checked.  Oh, and the ISBN is still good.  Enjoy.

Subj: Wonder Woman: Mythos
Date: 2/4/2003 7:29:41 PM Eastern Standard Time

Wonder Woman: Mythos

Author: Carol Lay
Publisher: Pocket
ISBN: 0743417119 

One of the best comic books starring Wonder Woman I've read does not feature a single overt picture. All the artwork is in the mind's eye. Carol Lay's novel in terms of entertainment value easily comes a close second to Chris Moeller's JLA: League of One and ekes out by a golden strand Paul Dini's and Alex Ross' Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth as well as Alan Grant's debut Justice League novel Batman: The Stone King. It's that good.

The plot to Mythos is well crafted. The male partner of a diving couple on their Honeymoon discovers the male counterpart to Themyscria (Paradise Island) at the cost of his former life. Wonder Woman becomes involved in the search for this "missing" person. I like the idea--and always have--of no problem being too small for the Justice League to solve. If a miscreant snatched a woman's purse before the eyes of Superman, surely he wouldn't dismiss such a crime as being not worth his time; instead, he'd be more likely to melt the thief's shoes and trip him up. Ms. Lay starts her novel small and naturally, and with grace, builds on the disappearance to create a conflict that demands the League's attention.

Ms. Lay makes it clear that although Wonder Woman is the star of her story, the League is needed. She makes it clear that without the League's presence, the earth would become veiled in blood. Their influence shows how their power can change the course of history, and it is this kind of writing that brings a smile to the face and thrill to the mind.

The most disappointing story I can read is one in which the world's finest team fails to triumph over evil. If there is a menace that Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, the Flash and Green Lantern cannot defeat then the writer in my opinion hasn't been paying attention to forty years of history. Thankfully, the early grim mood accented by horrific imagery shifts as the League, carrying almost sixty years of experience, move in to investigate. We know these heroes will not fail. Somehow no matter how difficult the battle these heroes always win. If they did not the reader would feel cheated.

Mythos will not meet everybody's approval, but when writing from the heart rather than from the dictation of an artificial cosmology, you should not expect to please everybody. Ms. Lay employs what elements from the history of these characters' works. The interaction of the League is friendly and respectful like the animated incarnation or the bronze age pre-Crisis classic version The mess that is the post-Crisis is mainly ignored though not utterly forgotten. Artemis plays a cameo-part in the book. Oracle is indeed a member of the League. Her existence is however easier to stomach since there's no reason to believe that magic users such as Dr. Fate or Zatanna ever were. The main characters however belong solely to Carol Lay.

Ms. Lay's Batman does not jibe with the psychotic running around in the topsy-turvy continuity of the so-called Original Universe. Lay bases him on her own beliefs on how he should behave. Green Lantern in the story considers him "a gentleman" which suits the idealization of his social status. He's also portrayed as heroic. He is a master of dark deception and of all strategy. Best of all, he can be touched. He can be moved. He is sane and definitely Batman; not once would anybody consider this incarnation the killer of Vesper Fairchild.

For Superman, Ms. Lay reminds readers of his power. A fantastic scene she creates involves Superman lying in fire. Naturally, he will stubbornly not burn, but the imagery is magical. This sublime moment does more to exemplify the Man of Steel's invulnerability than tens of thousands of pages of his being hit through skyscrapers. She takes his power down to a human level of understanding. We cannot perceive of ever being smashed through walls or even to the moon, but we have all touched something too hot at one time. We can see that what hurt us does not hurt Superman. The technique makes the Man of Steel despite having powers that seem to defy physics more realistic.

While the Flash and Green Lantern are only briefly given the spotlight, Ms. Lay captures the characters' humor and sincerity. A scene for instance details the Flash's prediction of the unspoken race: who will arrive at the arena after he. Another scenario shows Green Lantern's love for Alex--she who would kick off Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators website--as well as his attraction to the charming and nice Ana Lindstadt. Too often the victims are written as deserving their punishment. Ana deserves none of what happens to her except her contact with the League.

Carol Lay's Wonder Woman again is a character who was created solely by the author not continuity. Wonder Woman in the story is sharp and powerful. At times she can be purposely hilarious, such as when she imagines herself painting a smiley face on a particular character. Lay while not eliminating the mythologic and Greek connections to the character still makes Diana thoroughly modern. She bears no naiveté which I always felt was a failing in the post-Crisis Wonder Woman. She is more integrated in Mythos to the real world and will sometimes use catch phrases that will confuse her fellow Amazons, especially her mother Hippolyta. Lay simply makes Wonder Woman more cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Again, the characterization smoothly fits like a golden girdle around the waist.

Mythos is a triumph of heroic characterization and shows how well a reduced DCU works within a strong story. Fans of the old League and the animated League as well as the Grant Morrison avatars will be delighted by the book. Generations of Wonder Woman fans will also rediscover their favorite hero in a warm and brighter light. 

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