Pick of the Brown Bag
June 12, 2013
Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag. This week, the keyword is Superman. We look at the new film, the new book, Smallville and Superman's cousin in World's Finest. Also in review, Batman, Batgirl and Nightwing. I'll then have a few words about a couple of independents, A1 and The Legends of Oz: The Wicked West.
In Man of Steel, Henry Cavill grants Superman credible gravitas, and Amy Adams transforms Lois Lane into a believable human being caught in events beyond the terrestrial. Actors Michael Shannon and Antje Traue turn Zod and Faora into hyperintelligent barbarians rather than the refined British villains portrayed by Terrence Stamp and Sarah Douglas. The rest of the cast such as Russell Crowe, Harry Lennix from Dollhouse and Christopher Meloni acquit themselves well in a superbly paced reconstruction of Superman mythology.
Zack Snyder, the talent behind the camera, goes back to the beginning where Jerry Siegel's and Joe Shuster's Superman championed the underdog. Only in this case, we are all underdogs.
Man of Steel demonstrates the fragility of human life in the face of superior alien technology and ability. There is only one way we can get out alive, and that is through Superman who takes responsibility for stewarding the planet and humanity.
Man of Steel is differs from every previous Superman project. It doesn't pick and choose from the tapestry of former works. It stands alone and is magnificent.
This week also marked the premiere of Superman Unchained by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee. The debut was good, but it wasn't spectacular, nor distinctive, nor momentous like Snyder's Night of the Owls.
Superman Unchained, not to be confused with…
…really blends quite well with Scott Lobdell's and Kenneth Rocafort's Superman. Clark, Lex Luthor, Lois and Jimmy Olsen consistently sound the same as they do in Lobdell's title. Dr. Veritas is the only person missing from the cast.
The book begins with the trigger of a mystery involving a strange visitor to Japan. It is not Superman. We then tune in for Big Blue homing in on endangered astronauts.
Snyder in these scenes lets loose his knowledge of Superman's abilities, and he also gives the reader a hint at how his version of Superman will play out in the future issues.
Superman above attempts to calm and reassure the astronauts. This is probably the warmest Superman has been during his rebirth in the new 52. Of course, it's only lately we've actually been able to experience how Superman behaves normally.
George Perez opened up by suggesting Superman was ill. Dan Jurgens wrote boring post-Crisis, useless Superman. Who knows what Grant Morrison was up to. Then the Superman team organized a reintroduction, the "H'el on Earth" crossover with Superboy and Supergirl. Still, we've had little criteria as to what defined normal level, new 52 Superman.
Some may argue that Superman's plan is dangerous and fueled by a newfound arrogance. I think it's instead a desperate situation requiring a less than perfect solution. Superman takes his only way out after calculating and discarding the alternatives. So, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, his plan will work flawlessly.
Superman next flies to the what he believes to be the source of the space station's problems, but Snyder leaves the question of whether or not Lex is behind the satellites dropping from the sky up in the air. It's during these scene that you can really see how Snyder's book and Lobdell's title gel. The instance is reminiscent of Superman's discussion with Luthor during "H'el on Earth."
Snyder next spends a few moments with Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane but quickly draws the reader back to the gist. Despite frequently posing with the flag, eagles or what have you, Superman was never really a red, white and blue hero, in the jingoistic sense. People mistook him for one long enough that he became that way, and as a result, lost the very essence of creation.
Superman was an anti-bully during a time when the biggest bully on the planet was a mono-testicled murdering madman, but there was plenty of corruption and injustice in the United States for Superman to address before Superman brought Hitler to heel in a 1940s issue of Look magazine.
The new 52 draws the pendulum back to Superman's beginnings. Superman and the United States government do not get along. They don't like something extremely powerful they cannot control walking around and doing good as he sees fit. Snyder emphasizes the theme in the final set-piece in which Superman comes under attack by a U.S. sub protecting a secret weapon against the Man of Steel that will inform the rest of the series.
In Smallville, Clark reunites with his cousin Kara in the future of the Legion of the Super-Heroes. If I'm to be honest, I prefer this version of Superman to the new 52 version. It's not that I don't like the new 52 Superman. Far from it. He's certainly superior to the staid post-Crisis version that did nothing for ten years but float over wreckage and weep. The Smallville Superman however exhibits a little more depth and versitility as a character.
Writer Bryan Miller conveys that Superman cares. He cares about his cousin Kara, and people in general. He furthermore has a sense of humor about himself. So he doesn't let things like a not all that surprising reaction from his future people go to his head.
I read Superman's adventures for a very long time, and while I absorbed each page, I realized something. Supergirl was tougher than Superman. She had to be. Superman set her up to be his secret weapon, and ever since writers perhaps unconsciously built on her characterization to be the one who would ruthlessly end any threat that might be posed to her cousin. That's why nobody was surprised when she beat the quarks out of the Anti-Monitor. Smallville follows suit.
It's REALLY Not a Good Idea to Tug On Her Cape
Meanwhile Booster Gold gets some support from the reformed Brainiac 5, in the series played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters. The time displaced shyster engages in some unexpected heroism, and he draws upon a winning lack of prejudice that outshines the more advanced humans of the Legion's time.
World's Finest reads in the same way James Taylor's "How Sweet It Is" plays.
You just cannot help but sing along.
Darkseid's minion Desaad we learn is just as a lost on earth one as Power Girl and Huntress. Don't feel too bad though. The guy's a real bastard, and he just might be worse than the old Desaad.
Writer Paul Levitz asks the same questions the fans are asking. Is there only one Darkseid and Apokolips, or are there duplicates. Mister Miracle and Big Barda appeared in Earth 2, but when Darkseid manifested in the debut of Justice League, he didn't speak English, or translate his own language. So it could go either way.
It doesn't actually matter, at least for now. Desaad believes Power Girl and Huntress might know a way out. So he sends a friendly talking doggie as his emissary.
Sorry, Scooby. This is the dog Desaad sends.
Before you know it, Power Girl and Huntress are fighting for their lives and the lives of others. Levitz once again clarifies why the earth two Power Girl and Huntress were so much better than their generic counterparts.
That is Batman's and Catwoman's daughter, and her partnership with Power Girl turns them into well-oiled machines. World's Finest indeed.
Jerry Ordway and Kevin Maguire illustrated the premiere issues of World's Finest, and Maguire popped a few issues ago as well. It looks like the schedule of the book is forcing DC to hire some substitutes, but surprise, surprise, the substitutes are actually doing a bang up job. Robson Rocha the latest in the line of guest artists exhibits a flair for action and anatomy. His visual narrative is crystal and the aesthetic wonderful. All and all, he maintains the high quality this book debuted with and deserves.
I don't think anybody can doubt my love for Batgirl, or my newfound respect for Gail Simone's writing. Mind you, make no bones about it, she conceived some really terrible stories in the past and I do not apologize for anything I said regarding them. I call them like I see them. That said, I won't be reviewing Batgirl for awhile. I'm still going to buy the book, but I just hate the current angst-ridden theme.
You see, Batgirl paralyzed and sent her psychotic brother in the drink, and naturally that would cause friction between she and her father as well as instill incredible guilt, but you know what? The disconnect of Suicide Squad just undermines Batgirl so much. James Jr is alive and well. He's not paralyzed, and he's on Amanda Waller's payroll.
We know this, and we can't unknow it. So, Batgirl's mental anguish over doing the logical thing and excising her crazy brother from the planet, turns out to be wasted. He's still breathing and mostly undamaged.
Yeah, he lost an eye, but that's not the same thing as losing your mobility for twenty-four years.
Commissioner Gordon wants to hunt down Batgirl for the homicide, and that plotline is absolutely meaningless. I mean technically speaking, Batgirl's standard hasn't flagged, but nobody can write this story. It doesn't make sense in the context of the entire new 52.
Hopefully, this won't last. Batman should be disassembling Amanda Waller's teams soon when he seeks revenge for Catwoman, and that should direct him to encounter James Jr, but right now, Batgirl is just empty, and it's unfair. Because this void isn't Gail Simone's fault, nor is it the fault of spectacular artist Fernando Pasarin.
Nightwing and Prankster make a deal to escape the cops, and it plays out just the way it sounds: exciting, comedic and smart. This is the best Nightwing's been in awhile. However, as soon as Tony Zucco steps into the spotlight, Nightwing comes to a complete stop. On the bright side, Nightwing now knows where Zucco lives. So this shouldn't be the story for long.
Scott Snyder begins Year Zero in Batman. As the name implies, this is the first new 52 year of Batman, but the story jumps around in three different times. Six years ago from the present Batman contends against the Tiger Shark, I'm guessing, mentioned in a previous issue of Batman.
So, the purported death of Batman in fact didn't occur in Final Crisis but during these hithertofore unknown events.
The Shark's henchmen are depicted well-weird by Greg Capullo, and he also has a flair for the Red Hood and his gang, who rage through Gotham five months earlier from the Tiger Shark episode.
Snyder continues to characterize the once and future Joker well during a spectacular Batman rescue.
Meanwhile, Alfred attempts to convince Bruce to relinquish his vigilante madness and take the reins of his father's financial empire.
This is where Snyder introduces the third time period. He asks a very valid question through Bruce Wayne's father, who bears some semblance to Dick Van Dyke. Nice, I didn't see that coming.
The answer I suspect will push Bruce to conflict with his uncle, Phillip Kane who we discover is up to no good. No surprise there. This is the staple of many a detective story, however Snyder adds one little enigmatic twist.
Legend of Oz: the Wicked West still reads like clockwork. Jack relates his and Tip's story after he and Dorothy's posse deal with his former partner in the guard. The Tin Man lives up to his need, and the Cowardly Lion gains some courage to aid the crew. Though Jack attempts to make amends to his former comrade, thus decrying his gruesome mien. During the story within a story, Tip reveals a particular ability that throws off the balance.
In a moment of naturalism, Glinda comforts young Tip. Some may suggest that this scene exemplifies rather overt cheesecake. On the contrary, I found this particular moment very realistic.
Women have no idea what effect they have on young prepubescent boys, and speaking from personal experience they don't hesitate to hug boys that age, thus causing extreme fluster and embarrassment. It must be because they think we're harmless and not thinking like men. The truth is though, we're thinking about something. We just haven't figured out what it is, why we're feeling so warm and why do women feel so soft and good. Tip though being who I suspect he is, may not suffer from this common boyish malady.
As to the anthology A1, yeesh. The first story must be what feels like when coming down from an acid trip. The tale combines Dr. Moreau, Alice in Wonderland, Dr. Jecky and funny animals. There's also this inappropriate recurring motif of Alice walking around without pants.
The second story also feels like a fever dream. Don't even ask me what this tale is about. I haven't figured it out. Okay. Fine. A goofy group of superheroes, including a dude with an eightball for a head splotch the heads of would be world beaters. It's like a Bill Plympton cartoon only stranger.
The final short is easier to grasp. It involves the military seeking occult power and sacrificing their soldiers to do it. The metaphor is plain. The artwork elegant and realistic. If I were to choose one story to read out of the pack. This would be it. The art in other stories isn't without attraction, but it's in a stylish cartoony vein. The cover offers the best in the illustration.
So, there you have it. The best of the week is still Man of Steel. Different and magnificent. Go see the film as soon as possible.