Monday, June 24, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 19, 2013

Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week we look at Birds of Prey, Doctor Who, Supergirl, Wonder Woman and the debut of "Season 10" of The X-Files.  We'll also take a peek at the newest version of a really old hero in Captain Midnight.  Finally, I'll list The Top 21 Ways in Which Superman is not like Jesus Christ.

Calvin Rose from Talon attacks Batgirl in the opening of The Birds of Prey.  Romano Molenaar choreographs the exciting duel between masters of unarmed combat.  Writer Christy Marx demonstrates how thinking too much, Batgirl's only weakness, can lose the battle.  Artist and writer also display the tactical impracticality of wearing a cape.

Rose's real target is Strix, the Talon adopted by Catwoman and Batgirl.  Gail Simone created her to be more than a killer, and Marx builds on Simone's platform, while Molenaar mimics in his illustration the delivery of a fine actress capable of conveying emotion without uttering a single line.

Black Canary fans get short-sheeted this issue.  Dinah becomes closer to Duane Swierzynski creation Condor, but sadly doesn't throw a punch this issue or let let loose a note.

Things come to a head in Wonder WomanDiana, Lennox and Orion attack Hera's First Born.  It turns out that this figure is not Hercules as I originally thought but a heretofore unknown child predating the famous demigod.  No name so don't bother investigating on wikipedia.

Cliff Chiang is on hand to make the fight scenes awesome, and writer Brian Azzarello adds intrigue to the new 52 debut of an old DC character while colorist Matthew Wilson increases the tension in original scenes of science fiction mayhem.  Fans of Jack Kirby, an artist not often associated with Wonder Woman, will definitely want to check this book out.

Writer Michael Alan Nelson opens Supergirl in the middle with Kara rocketing through space on an experimental vehicle stolen from Dr. Veritas.  She's trying to live out the rest of her days by seeing the cosmos.  

During the "H'el on Earth" crossover, Kara saved the world but in the process exposed herself kryptonite.  Despite temporary controls, the radiation is slowly ending her.

During her sightseeing tour Kara tunes in on a distress call.  What seems like a clear cut planet in trouble, exactly what the doctor ordered, actually turns out to be much more complex.

No, even more complex than that.  Nelson's story is slickly told science fiction and a good opening chapter.  His characterization for Kara is particularly winning and gibes with her personality creators Mike Green and Mike Johnson.  There are a lot of Mikes involved in Kara's adventures.

Artist Diogenes Neves and Robert Bonk provide strong artwork to accompany Kara's second journey through space.  Neves has a delicate hand when depicting the Girl of Steel.  He creates a sense of fantasy and wonder through his art, more so than dynamic violence.  Bonk provides remarkably light, precise inks that enhance the details of Neves' illustration, and Dave McCaig's  colors build on Neves' and Bonk's foundation as well as introduce a shade of metaphor.

I've only heard about Captain Midnight, but I like to think I'm very good at doing research.  Captain Midnight began as a radio show in 1938.  It went through various changes as radio shows did when America went to war, but the premise stayed the same.  Jim Albright, was a master pilot who could fly anything.  He was nicknamed Captain Midnight for his speedy delivery of complete missions.

Captain Midnight didn't stay confined to radio.  Captain Marvel introduced Midnight''s Fawcett run, and he gained the wings you see on the cover soon after.  The movies blurb is a bit of a stretch.  Midnight did however star in several serials and television.

Is it time for Captain Midnight to return? I don't see why not.  Writer Joshua Williamson takes the wise move of making this Captain Midnight the original embarking on new adventures in the present.  Williamson eschews the dangers of cheese and innocence of the perceived reality of World War II by updating Midnight as a historian would.  

The adventures written and related on the airwaves only scratched the surface.  The real Captain Midnight is a much more savvy figure, who can still fly any aircraft.

Part of Midnight's quick acclimation comes from the idea that super heroes in general are supposed to be more advanced.  The pulp heroes of yore were privy to hidden knowledge or masterpieces of pulp science fiction.  

The thrills come in the form of kinetic artwork form Victor Ibanez, and I also like how each story in the anthology leads from the other.  The first introduces Midnight.  The second brings in the perspective of somebody who lived in the time of Midnight, and the third looks in on an enemy.  They're all chapters in a well written novel.

In Doctor Who, the Doctor hasn't been doing much traveling.  In fact we discover something a little interesting...

This is a clue to the Doctor's whereabouts, and writers Andy Diggle and Eddie Rochon also have more in store for the reader.  The Doctor puts together one of his jury-rigged miracle machines.

It's always dangerous to laden a story with technobabble.  On a particularly bad day, somebody with superior knowledge might challenge you on it and make you look like a fool. Diggle and Rochon sell the feat by slipping in jargon that describes actual concepts.  

Thus, a reader with an inkling of electronics and physics will know that a gamma ray containment field would be vital if you intend to use an adapted atomic bomb as your fuel source.  Nuclear explosions emit gamma radiation.

The path to get the parts the Doctor needs to feed his mad scheme is incredibly fun and bears the same lighthearted escapism present in the majority of Doctor Who stories.  

For those that came late to the show, these facts were established in The X-Files television series.  Mulder's favorite television series was The Magician starring Bill Bixby as Anthony Blake.  This was an actual television series.

Mulder and Scully are a couple.  Scully and Mulder had a child named William.  Because of their enemies' constant harassment, Scully gave up the child for adoption.  

The collusion between aliens and highly placed government officials dissolved.  Most of the aliens' allies were executed by aliens or fellow conspirators.  The aliens no longer appear to be interested in the humans as a slave race.  This seems to be due to an antidote perfected to combat the Black Oil, the medium in which an alien species usurps the wills of humans.  Mulder used this antidote to immunize Scully in the first X-Files film Fight the Future.  The antidote also left a devastating effect on an alien spacecraft.

The second X-Files film I Want to Believe added the following information.  Unlike the heroic Lone Gunmen, Assistant Deputy Director Skinner is alive and well.  The images Mulder saw in the finale of the television series were a product of his imagination and not supernaturally manifested.  

Mulder and Scully no longer have any interest in pursuing cases designated as X-Files. Indeed, it is likley the classification no longer exists.  The department investigating the X-Files was disbanded.  The X-Files were probably reclassified amidst the FBI's cold cases. 

Mulder and Scully live together under assumed names.  They are not officially in witness protection.  The FBI occasionally call upon Mulder and Scully as consultants.  After uncovering a black market organ farm, Mulder was last seen rowing Scully to a tropical island for a well deserved vacation.

Writer Joe Harris begins at an exciting point in Season 10.  A wounded Scully is being pursued by unknown parties, and she cannot get in touch with the FBI.  

Harris then bounces back to the origins of the story, where Scully as Dr. Blake treats an unusual child with an even more unusual mother.

While this occurs, Deputy Director Skinner visits the Blakes and informs them that a reality-relevant hacking job possibly exposed their information.  Mulder is non-plussed.  Scully looks at this breach a little more seriously, but both former special agents become embroiled in a new mystery.

Harris just about nails everything that was cool about the X-Files without repeating what has gone before.  Chris Carter it should be pointed out is the showrunner on this comic book series.  So whomever is responsible, Mulder and Scully sound like David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.  Thanks to artist Michael Walsh.  They look the part as well.

The story indicates a new beginning for the series, for now devoid of alien influence.  It's more likely advanced science--like the super-soldier program from the television series--or the occult, also valid in The X-Files fuels Harris tale.  Alternately, different kinds of aliens may be responsible.  Whatever orchestrates the menace, Season 10 is recommended for X-Philes.  

The staff at Entertainment Weekly really hate Man of Steel, maybe even more so than Mark Waid does.  If it's not Chris Nashawaty's piss-poor reviewing, or the Bulls-Eye taking a cheap shot, it's Darren Franich spouting nonsense like this: "The less terrible movie constitutes Man of Steel's first half, a simultaneous retelling of Superman's origin story and Jesus Christ's origin story, which means there's nothing surprising for anyone who's read a comic book or been to church."

Comparing Hero A to Christ is one of the laziest, unimaginative tropes in reviewing or critiquing.  I've seen it used for Batman, the Doctor, Spock and of course Superman hundreds of times.

I'm an atheist, but I'm not using today's column to debate religion today.  No.  I simply want writing 101 grads like Franich to stop using a tired metaphor that doesn't actually apply.  Superman and Christ have very little, if anything, in common.  Oh, and that goes for the majority of the heroes that you'd care to name.  While a handful of heroes can duplicate, Christ's miracles, only two champions share the true elements of Jesus Christ, and we'll get to them at the end of…

The Top 21 Ways in Which Superman Is In No Way Shape or Form Like Jesus Christ.

Warning Some Spoilers Imminent!

Do Not Read if You Want to Be Completely Surprised by Man of Steel

No.  Franich is wrong.  You will be surprised even if you have read the comics or gone to church.

Right Then...

1. First, the superficial.  While Superman does sport a beard in Man of Steel, he shaves and always goes with short hair.  Jesus prefers long hair, a beard and mustache.

Ravenna Mosaic depicting pax vobiscum

2. When performing his duties, Jesus wears robes.  Superman wears the Kryptonian dress blues and reds of his House.

3. Jesus is the son of a god.  Those of Jewish faith have different beliefs regarding Jesus' parentage, but Christians and Catholics believe Jesus is the bona fide son of their god, and Mary didn't have anything to do with it, which should in fact relieve and perplex her husband Joseph to no end.  Superman on the other hand is the son of Jor-El and Lara, two mortal parents who loved each other very much, had sex and a natural child birth.

4. Jesus' dad resides in Heaven, a realm beyond our ken, though many think that it involves harps, angels and more robes.  Christianity and Catholicism are generally speaking robe-based religions.  Jor-El lived on the planet Krypton, an alien world that orbited a Red Giant.

5. According to most organized religions, Jesus' dad still lives.  Jor-El and Lara die on Krypton.  

6. Heaven is eternal.  Jesus loses nothing.  Krypton blows up.  Superman loses everything.

7. Superman travels to earth via the advanced technology of Krypton, specifically the genius of Jor-El and Lara.  Jesus wouldn't have known what a spaceship was, unless god whispered in his ear.

8. However you want to frame it, Jesus was born on earth.  Superman was born on Krypton.  Jesus is a supernatural earth citizen.  Superman is "a strange, visitor from another planet."

9. King Herod attempts to prevent Jesus' reign by wiping out all the newborn boys in Egypt.  No widespread newborn boy genocide on Krypton.  

10. Joseph and Mary do not adopt Jesus.  He is a gift from god, or something like that.  The Kents adopt Kal-El after discovering him in a Kansas field.  He was sent to earth in order to escape.  His parents didn't give him away.

11. Jesus is known as Jesus.  Superman's birth name is Kal-El.  If Superman were Jesus.  He'd be named Jesus.  That one seems obvious doesn't it?  

12. Superman's earth name is Clark Kent.  He however acquires many other names during his travels, including Superman.  Jesus has only one name and one identity.

13. Pa Kent at first thinks that Kal-El is a test subject sent from either Cold War power, until he realizes that Superman's starcraft is far too advanced for United States or Soviet construction.  Everybody knew where Jesus came from.  Magi.  Manger.  Son of God.  Mary. Joseph.  

14. Jesus' early life, his childhood, whether or not he was a scamp, is a mystery.  Superman's childhood is known and relatively normal with the occasional life-saving use of superpowers.  We know, Superman went through the Smallville School District.  Because his parents instructed him to keep his abilities secret, he made few friends, the exception being Pete Ross.

15. Jesus was a carpenter.  When leaving the farm, Superman takes on various jobs, learning about the human condition through various walks of life.  In this way, Superman is more like Jack London, author of such books as The Sea Wolf and White Fang.

16. Jesus established a church and demanded people worship his dad.  Superman wants only to lead a normal life, while utilizing his life-saving superpowers for the good of humanity.  He does not want to be worshipped and doesn't care whether or not you worship a god.

17. Superman is a product of a science.  His cells fed off the yellow sunlight emitted from our sun.  The Kryptonian musculature developed under the conditions of a higher gravity world.  Superman is not magic.  Every Kryptonian that comes to earth possesses the same abilities.  Jesus is magic.

18. Jesus has a different set of magical powers than Superman's science fiction abilities.  Jesus can walk on water, turn loaves of bread into fish, you know the drill.  Perhaps, his most impressive feat is coming back from the dead.  Superman performs none of these "miracles."  Superman can fly.  He possesses super strength and super speed.  He is invulnerable.  He demonstrates heat and x-ray vision.  

19. Jesus was tempted by Mary Magdalene. Jesus wasn't allowed to partake in earthly pleasures.  Food, wine, yeah, but not sex, for some unknown reason.

Superman on the other hand falls for Lois Lane, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for The Daily Planet.  There is no temptation.  Temptation implies restriction.  Superman is not restricted.  He can have sex.  

While Larry Niven wrote the absurdist "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," most writers have gotten around the idea of Superman being forced to be chaste because of his superpowers by reminding people that Superman is a fictional character.  

Superman and Lois do not have sex in Man of Steel.  Superman however kisses Lois Lane and does not press hard enough to break her neck. So we can assume that there will be no tragedy in the bedroom.  Jesus does not have sex and dies a virgin.  In that respect, he in fact has more in common with…

20. Jesus Christ is crucified by Roman soldiers in Judea.  Superman is taken prisoner by Zod and offered a partnership.  Let's remake Krypton on earth.

21.  Christ's crucifixion and resurrection somehow absolves mankind of original sin.  He saves humans metaphorically.  Superman saves the human race the same way he always does.  Through the time honored tradition of kicking ass and wrecking world threatening devices.

22.  Screw you, Entertainment Weekly.  Screw you.

So which two heroes are the most like Jesus…The answers are Xena and Gabrielle.  Both were crucified by the Romans.  You can't get more like Jesus than that.

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