Tuesday, July 2, 2013

POBB: June 26, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
Ray Tate

This week the POBB salutes State Senator Wendy Davis for stopping the Texas Anti-Abortion Bill SB5 cold with a 13 hour filibuster.  You are awesome Senator Davis.  No breaks.  No drinking.  No eating.  No bathroom.  No sitting down.  Just talking non-stop to prevent an injustice against women.  The POBB further salutes Senator Leticia Van de Putte and the thousands of protesters that aided Senator Davis when Lt. Governor Dewhurst attempted to cheat her out of a just victory.

You Rock!
On a different matter of ethics, The POBB also salutes Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor for overturning DOMA.  While we're at it, we also belatedly salute President Obama for refusing to defend the fake law with tax payer money long before the Court passed its historic ruling.

We would also like to extend the Tiara of Sphincterhood to the Republican majority in the Texas Senate, who even after losing the battle fair and square, tried to change the time stamp on SB5 to pretend that the bill had passed.  In a card game, these parties would have been shot.

In short, although Governor James Richard Perry has pettily demanded another special session to pass this loathsome bill on July 1st, although the Governor wasted no time when insulting State Senator Davis, although the opponents of gay marriage have promised to fight on, it's a good day to live in America because there are citizens out there that still believe they make a difference and will stand up and fight for basic human rights.

And now, the comics...

This week we discuss All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman/Superman, The Flash, Justice League, Justice League of America, Justice League Dark, Superman, Talon and The Wake.

Those expecting Talon to battle the Birds of Prey in a round two, will be sorely disappointed.  James Tynion isn't playing ball.  Birds of Prey writer Christy Marx gave Talon a more than decent showing, and all the Birds of Prey got was a lousy tee-shirt consisting of a recap and a brief ruse to fool the Court of Owls into thinking Strix has been destroyed.  Batgirl and Black Canary do not appear in the present.  Phooey.

The Flash races to find Kid Flash, and when he does fireworks erupt.  

This issue is more of an artist's issue where the visuals arrest your attention.  The story is thin but does offer some interesting rules for the new 52.

You can be a speedster yet unconnected to the Speed Force.  In the post Crisis, every speedster was touched by the Speed Force, then an almost spiritual realm rather than a physical natural phenomenon.  Mark Waid, go figure.  

Kid Flash is also not Wally West, and he's staying mum on who he is and how he's related to The Flash.  Although, the link may be flimsy.  We discover he was named Kid Flash.  He didn't choose the sobriquet.

Other than that, the Reverse Flash continues to plague Central City.  Iris West's brother tries to reacquaint with Iris, and Barry Allen continues to spark with paramour Patty Spivot.  Not as spectacular as some issues, but still worth adding to your collection if only for the new 52 continuity.

Justice League Dark opens with Xanadu's dark vision.  Should events as they are proceed, the future will include League Dark skewered on pikes, Dr. Destiny triumphant and oh, yes...

...the magical equivalent of a mushroom cloud.

Writers Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire dismantle Xanadu's foretelling with...

...and Constantine's strategizing.  Deadman's possessive power opens doors literally and figuratively.  The Flash races across the Manhattan impeding Destiny's tulpas, sort of substantial nightmares.  Xanadu chastises her son, Destiny, harshly, and Swamp Thing lets loose the vegetables of war.

As the plot unfolds, Xanadu gains more depth.  The Flash feels a sense of belonging, and Deadman's sense of fun as well as his ability to empathize at once wins the day and threatens the future.

Mikel Janin, Vincente Cifuentes and colorist Jeromy Cox idealize art and color for the mix and match of realistic characters like Constantine and Xanadu and the more flamboyant figures such as Frankenstein and the Flash, surely one of the most oddest pairings.

Justice League of America runs on a plot that works like Swiss-made clockwork.  Catwoman is alive and well.  Writer Geoff Johns instead pulls an enviable sleight-of-hand that kicks off an exciting smack in the nose against the Secret Society.  It also establishes the League of America as no threat to the Justice League, as Amanda Waller hopes, but instead a worthy auxiliary team.

The story begins non-chalantly with the induction of the new Green Lantern and an instinctive save from the hero.  

This moment segues to a gloat over Catwoman's body.  During the crowing, Signal Man turns out to be the smartest of the villainous group.  

Johns negates Catwoman's death, but he still preserves the veracity of the words she spoke last issue. 

Her death would have resulted in the quickest comeuppance in villain history.  Batman would have ripped through the Secret Society like a scythe through wheat, calling in favors, hastily burying hatchets all to bring down an army of heroes for the sake of vengeance.  Batman's wrath however would have done DC no favors, as they are planning a massive upset amongst the Leagues to lead off into Villain's Month.

In addition to the cleverness in League of America's plotting, Johns orchestrates a remarkable sense of teamwork as well as writer's judgement.  He smoothly switches from battle, to escape, to reveals and intrigue back at headquarters.

This story in addition spotlights some spectacular moments from the team.  Brett Booth, who's getting a lot of work from DC these days, inker Norm Rapmund and colorist Andrew Dalhouse amply illustrate The Star-Spangled Kid. 

Hawkman displays a bellicose nature, and Johns unveils a surprise, plausible explanation as to how the Secret Society moves their headquarters from place to place.  Well, plausible for comics anyway.

For some reason, Amanda Waller is looking for Booster Gold, and he might just arrive in time to experience her bitchiness first hand, since All-Star Western opens a new vista for Jonah Hex.

Hex experiences the future in one fell swoop, and his unhesitant answer to cries for help immediately define him as a hero.  I'm beginning to understand a little more of Hex's moral code.  If the person is an innocent that didn't ask for trouble, Hex will intervene.  Otherwise, it's up in the air or dependent on how well he's paid.

The fact that writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti chose to use the Mutants, Frank Miller's educationally challenged punk species from Dark Knight Returns, heightens the comedy.  Of course, Hex's brand of justice isn't exactly pc, and it puts him on a collision course with Gotham PD and the Batman Family.

The battle against Batwing, now a fixture in Gotham City, and coincidentally the star of another Gray and Palmiotti title, plus a mention of an old colleague lands Hex in the most logical place for him to recuperate.  Hex's diversion in time and space is exciting, historic and obscenely entertaining.   You might be inclined to just skip over the backup, but you would be wrong to do so.  All-Star Western's B-Sides are often as enjoyable as the mains.

The Pecos Stormwatch is equally outrageous and beautifully illustrated.  It's not a blow-off.

Speaking of humor, Scott Lobdell, Kenneth Rocafort with the blessing of the Powers That Be at DC appear to be poised to make classic Silver Age Green Lantern villain Hector Hammond the Modok of the new 52. 

Tales of Suspense #93
How on earth can you take something like that seriously? Could Rocafort illustrate him any more preposterously? The sequence of events that led to this scene involve the reintroduction of HIVE.  

HIVE was a terrorist organization that targeted the Superman Family during the Bronze Age.  Later aiming their blasters at the Teen Titans.  Lobdell adds three new spins to the new 52 version of the group.

Superman Family #205

First, HIVE has a queen, and Rocafort starkly contrasts her against Hammond.

Second, HIVE's attitude is at once old school nuts but with a more focused rational.  HIVE's new objective is similar to that of THRUSH, which is why Lobdell positions STAR as a sort of scientific, nonviolent UNCLE of the DCU.  Also absolutely useless.  The vibe works, and this fascinating backdrop of tech cliques at war almost threatens to usurp Superman from the forefront.  Almost.  

Lobdell offers plentiful moments of Superman's humorous, laid-back new 52 visage.

Greg Pak introduces a good version of the younger Superman to the new 52 in the new Batman/Superman.  His Dark Knight ain't no slouch either.  

Batman and Superman as debuting in Justice League were simpatico.  Geoff Johns gave you an idea of the new rules.  Superman is no longer a boy scout, and Batman is no longer a machine.  Pak demonstrates subtle differences still exist.

Batman and Superman investigate a series of murders of Wayntech employees in Metropolis.  The strangest thing is that it's not a crime per se, but a chain thrown out by a supervillain to lure the Caped Crusaders into a first meeting that doesn't go well at all.  

Pak then surprises everybody by also entangling Superman and Batman with their earth two counterparts.  For this issue, Superman immediately sets upon the earth two Batman.  

More familiar with his nemesis than our Batman, the earth two Batman quickly overcomes the Man of Steel, who he mistakes for his friend.  The entire book offers an intriguing spin to the continuity of the new 52.  It already suggests that what we know about this fresh cosmos is wrong.  

Johns introduced the new 52's prime movers in Justice League, and Batman and Superman didn't seem to know each other.  Pak suggests that Batman and Superman were apparently playing dumb in Justice League, and the ruse does explain why Batman was so intent to rescue Superman once Darkseid captured the Kryptonian.  

Jae Lee was essentially a clone of Bill Sienkiewicz in his early weird period on Namor.  Now his artwork is more in vein with Frazetta and Tom Yeates.  I never would have framed him as a delicate penciller his Batman/Superman lacks the bombast of his early 90s work and instead offers authentic subtlety with explosions of drama.  

The cover to Justice League suggesting a stand alone Captain Marvel adventure may make you run for the hills.  I can understand.  I have also been underwhelmed by the new 52 Captain Marvel, henceforth known as Shazam.  However, this issue debuts Mary Marvel, and Mary makes all the difference in the world.

I never was a huge fan of Captain Marvel.  I liked him fine enough, but I always saw him as a cut-rate Superman.  So did DC, which is why they sued Fawcett, among others, years ago for copyright infringement.  Later they bought the Fawcett characters.  On the other hand, I always liked Mary Marvel.

Supergirl, a creation of the nineteen fifties, was stymied by the restrictions of the comics code.  Mary, a creation of the forties, always had a good right cross prepared for the opposition.  Supergirl's stories weren't often violent.  Instead, they were clever, frequently focusing on Kara's quest to find a means to negate kryptonite.
Captain Marvel Adventures #18
Mary's tales on the other hand were filled with crooks looking to kill her.  It was a pleasure to watch the contrast.  The often hulking bad guys shoot, stab and strike a little girl, who laughs at their attempts.  Mary didn't fly so much as glide.  She was always graceful, and the artwork from Marc Swayze to Don Newton was stunning.

Gary Frank actually illustrates Mary well.  She's full of power and poise.  In fact, this is probably the best Frank's work looked since he started to artistically debauch his characters; largely due in part to the sea-change with Marvel's Squadron Supreme.  Up until now he drew Billy Batson as a brat and Captain Marvel as a thug, but this marks the first time both avatars appear themselves, albeit mostly angry.  Mary is perfect.

Billy and Mary are joined by a new Marvel Family, and this is the result from a clever application of why Captain Marvel is now called Shazam.  The Marvel Family run interference while Billy battles Black Adam, and in the end, Billy beats the villain by exhibiting way more courage and selflessness than he has in the previous back-ups.  Basically, Billy got better.  So maybe the back-ups will read better now.  They certainly couldn't read worse.

Fans of Aquaman should not miss this issue. The Ice King plot, the mutiny in Atlantis theme and Mera's subplot develop.  Piss poor Aquaman villain the Scavenger gets a massive rewrite that builds on his mercenary, collective persona, turning him into a canny foe who respects Aquaman's threat.  However the real reason why Aquaman fans need this issue can be expressed in one graphic by the phenomenal team of Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons and Rod Reis:

Aquaman throws a submarine out of the ocean!

The sequel to the superb Creature from the Black Lagoon reeked so bad that it ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it does feature one good quote, in an otherwise abominable script.

"The beast exists because it's stronger than the thing you call evolution."

The Creature, like the great white shark or the saltwater crocodile, hasn't evolved much with respect to its ancestral form.  This was due to a cul-de-sac in his habitat.

The Wake posits a different explanation for its mermaid.  In the 1970s a few biologists got together and came up with a hypothesis since disproven called the Aquatic Ape.

Dr. Archer's explanation of the idea is pretty much how the aquatic ape played.  It's an fanciful idea that you almost wish were true that's sadly brutally waylaid by the facts.  I'm not going to fault The Wake for re-energizing the concept because it's such a charming, harmless application of punctuated equilibrium.  However, it misses a basic observation: dolphins and whales stayed in the water; they didn't evolve back to land dwellers.

Archer's embrace of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis characterizes her as an open minded somewhat Mulderesque scientist, and this suits her role in the story.  Scribe Scott Snyder also indicates that she just might be blowing smoke to protect a secret, and it would be just like a scientist to resurrect a lovely, hoary goof like the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis in order to safeguard the truth, which might be nastier than one expects.

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