Monday, May 20, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
May 15, 2013
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, Nightwing, Simpsons Comics, Supergirl and Wonder Woman are on this week's hit list.

Originally, Bruce Gordon cut by a cursed diamond turned into Eclipso.

As time went on, writers tweaked that origin to suggest Eclipso was a dark god that inhabited the black diamond and possessed the unlucky individual injured by the gem.  

In the Bronze Age, Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn and Ernie Colon created Amethyst the Princess of Gemworld.  

Writer Christy Marx and artist Aaron Lopresti rebooted Amethyst for the new 52.  Marx in previous issues of Sword and Sorcery implied that Eclipso was an inhabitant of Gemworld.

Magical trickster John Constantine, using a portal gem left to him by Princess Amaya, gave Eclipso a one-way ticket back home.  Eclipso quickly re-established himself on Gemworld, what the inhabitants call Nilla, by disposing of various leaders and gathering disgruntled members of their Houses.  Possession also swells his ranks.

Eclipso in the last issue turned his attention to the House of Amethyst, specifically Princess Amaya's aunt Mordiel, the Big Bad since the new 52 debut of Sword and Sorcery.  Mordiel ain't going down fighting, and if she must ally herself with her sister Graciel, Amaya's mother, so be it.

Marx works in an exciting duel effortlessly illustrated by Aaron Lopresti pitting Amaya against Eclipso.  She twists the plot into a serpentine scheme and evolves a satisfying ending to the Amethyst saga that seems as if it were planned since the beginning.  I kind of doubt that because it looked to me like Marx had intended to string along the schemes and villainy of Mordiel for quite a long time.

Lady Graciel trained her daughter as a warrior since she was a child.  Marx characterized the youth as a sharp individual who quickly adapted to her new surroundings.  

These factors made DC's cancellation of Sword and Sorcery a mere nuisance rather than a true disruption to Marx's story.  Marx recoups her plans to make Amaya a real force in the DC Universe within a coherent story that doesn't really sacrifice a shred of the major plot.  Her partner Lopresti having plenty warning produces a vivid lush mural that unfolds a superb visual narrative.

In Birds of Prey Marx creates a tale of betrayal and the reaffirmation of an old friendship.  Starling threw in with Mr. Freeze last issue, but Marx, while abandoning Duane Swierzynski's fine creation, does so in style.  Marx gives Starling a rationale for betraying the Birds.

Starling has a point even if delivered badly.  Getting rid of the Owls can only be described as a good thing.  Marx attempts to humanize the Owls when Mr. Freeze tortures one, but it doesn't work.  Mr. Freeze is no longer the sympathetic character from Batman: The Animated Series, and we've seen what the Owls can do in Batman.  I felt no sympathy either way.

Because Starling sides with Mr. Freeze over a debt, Marx still characterizes her possessing a moral code, albeit somewhat warped.  Starling also refuses to kill the Birds, including Strix, and secured Mr. Freeze's guarantee of mercy in regards to her teammates.  Furthermore, consider a hidden reason behind Starling's turn.

Starling was spying on the Canary for nutso Amanda Waller. She may have decided the time was right to align herself with a villainous colleague from her past in order to remove herself and the Canary from Waller's radar.  Afterall, she can't observe Dinah when she's on the run, and Waller no longer has eyes on the birdie.  

Everything Starling does mirrors the characterization from issue one.  It's a testament to Marx's writing that she can dispense with Starling by having her act the villain yet still make these actions in character.  

Marx's Batgirl is dead-on perfect, and artist Romero Molenaar makes Batgirl's duel against Starling a forgone conclusion.  Starling gets in a couple of good shots, but Batgirl is a master of martial arts ably demonstrated by Molenaar.  It's wonderful how artists and writers embrace the Darknight Daredoll and recognize her resonance.

Daniel Sampere takes over for Adrian Syaf in Batgirl.  Syaf's semi-regular substitute illustrates an excellent Batgirl, aloft, distraught, in battle and momentarily overwhelmed.  

Batgirl is on the receiving end of some pain thanks to the surprising edge Batgirl writer Gail Simone gives to a new Ventriloquist.  I'm a tough sale on Chucky-type stories, and even Simone and Batgirl cannot bring me to exactly cheer this tale of floppy legs.  That said, I still admire Simone's attempts to get around the usual, impossible demonic doll traditions.  

Realistically, somebody like Chucky can only be successful at sneak attacks.  A doll doesn't possess the weight to engage in leverage dependent viciousness.  A ventriloquist dummy cannot throw his weight around because he hasn't any.  You can create a magical exception, but it's still difficult to suspend one's belief over anything that can be punted.

Simone finds a unique murderous method for the doll to employ that's perfectly plausible, and the hidden mechanism gives the vent figure enough weight to make a superhuman push a viable threat.  Still Simone's really asking a lot from the reader.  Dummies just aren't remotely threatening, even to a Batgirl that's emotionally turbulent.

Babs suffers from guilt over, well nothing really.  

It looks like the Powers That Be decided that Simone couldn't orchestrate Batgirl's paralyzation of her brother after all.  According to a colleague from Yamagato Industries Business Report James Jr. is alive and about as well as can be expected in Suicide Squad.  The damage Batgirl inflicted now amounts to putting out his eye.  That's really weak, DC.

Catwoman targets the Penguin as he returns to power.  Ann Nocenti produces some excellent characterization for the foul bird and his feline femme fatale.  In a brilliant move, Nocenti demonstrates Catwoman's cunning with a carefully concealed bug in the Gotham PD.  This street level heist and eyes on the prize really suit Catwoman's persona.  Her fight against one of the Penguin's demonically possessed henchmen is less Successful but artistically impressive.

Nightwing features serviceable artwork by Brett Booth and a bit of the old Kyle Higgins.  Turning Nightwing into a cardshark thanks to his circus history is clever, original and fitting, but the Chicago story continues to sag with the introduction of an additional character and a goofy attempt to instill empathy in Tony Zucco.

Wonder Woman kicks ass in a really good melee against her namesake as Apollo tries to protect the throne of Olympus from the perceived threat of a "widdle" baby.  There's not much else to say about the story because writer Brian Azzarello lets Cliff Chiang speak for him.


Michael Alan Nelson returns to Supergirl for a mediocre farce in which Supergirl's underwater Sanctuary attacks the Girl of Steel and her earth two counterpart Power Girl because it can't tell the difference between the two.  It assumes one must be a clone, verboten on Krypton.  If it wasn't for Mahmud Asrar's assured artwork this story would be entirely forgettable.  

Asrar has a way with superheroes that's fresh and clean.  While agreeing with the traditions of anatomy and proportion, Asrar also appears to be a student of Chuck Jones animation where the subtle shift of a brow indicates volumes of emotion.

Finally in a masterful Simpsons Comics Ian Boothby generates comedy out of an absurdity that could be a reality.  Forced to take two jobs at the nuclear plant, Homer finds himself in a very odd situation.

Something even more implausible occurs in Springfield Elementary.  Bart finds the ultimate cheat code.  This leads him on a whirlwind ride that somehow spins him to Homer's place of work.

Boothby's gut-busting gags evolve within the massive joke being perpetuated in the plot, and the means in which he returns to the status quo is a splendiferous slapstick orchestrated expertly by Phil Ortiz and Mike DeCarlo.  Art Villanueva provides an explosion of hue and awe for the candy-colored city of Springfield.

The artists expand a little when turning to Bart's virtual world, but by and large this issue of Simpsons Comics exemplifies what the talent does best.  They explore familiar settings from the television series and sharply stick to the modeling.  Their imagination comes in the form of how they deconstruct the animation.  Converting the fluid into static yet lively panels that issue the illusion of the very movement the artists used as source material.

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