Monday, July 29, 2013

POBB: July 24, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 24, 2013

Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week we look at All-Star Western, Aquaman, Catwoman, The Flash, Justice League Dark, Superman and Superman and Batman.

Another solid issue of Aquaman succeeds in dividing time between numerous plot threads while not losing sight of the prize of entertainment. 

Aquaman fights a long Dead King, the first king of Atlantis, and our hero learns some unsettling facts about the shared history of he and his people.

Speakng of Arthur's people, Tula, Murk and Swatt stage less than grand theft truck to embark on a road trip to Belle Reve where Orm, Ocean Master cools his heels.  This excursion could have really been be uproarious, but artist Paul Pelletier and colorist Rod Reis mitigate the integral humor of the situation with dramatic cinematography.  The scenario's still compromised by Geoff Johns' dialogue, which borders on the silly, but for the most part, the speech doesn't dilute the intent of the tale.

Other Atlanteans exhibit different points of view.  Johns introduces us to Urn, warden of Vulko, betrayer of Atlantis.  This impressive character with his loyalty to the crown and his duties has staying power.  He might be the most engaging pure-blood Atlantean thus far introduced.

Aquaman during his battle against the Dead King, frees his paramour Mera.  She in turn frees her people to raise an army.  Except, this army has a few surprises for our superheroic couple.  Add that to the Scavenger making his move, and you have an engrossing chapter in the growing saga of Aquaman.

The Flash tries to protect the forlorn Iris West from the Reverse Flash, who kills those exposed to the Speed Force.  In that spirit, Barry constructs a fetching costume to conceal Iris' Speed Force signature.

Writers/artists Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato put together a zippy chapter in the Reverse Flash chapter play while building momentum on the subplot focusing on Flash mad scientist Darwin Elias.  

At the same time, they inject forensic detail to the tale and demonstrate how useful a lover with knowledge of a secret identity can be.

The Flash doesn't need to alter his voice in this scene or assume different body language.  Patty knows the Flash is Barry Allen.  So, she can tacitly lend credence to the idea that Barry, whose absence would normally be suspect especially to a reporter, is elsewhere and not speeding in scarlet.

Manapul and Buccellato as per usual make this issue a unique, artistic experience.  The illustration in The Flash looks like nothing else.  It's an infusion of color blending with figure drawing that blasts off the pages and facilitates the idea of The Fastest Man Alive.

Superman gains artist Eddy Barrows.  As a consequence the panels acquire a more traditional look as opposed to Kenneth Rocafort's European influenced illustration.  

Barrows' artwork is excellent, in what I surmise was an assignment in which he was pressed for time.  Barrows has a strong grasp of the Man of Steel as well as his supporting cast.

The scene with Cat grants insight into the Man of Steel's innate goodness, allowing him to put others' needs before his own.  It also establishes the split personality at work.

Action Comics #9 1939

Superman used to be two people.  Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter, was a disguise that Superman assumed.  The real man was Superman.  

When John Byrne and Roger Stern rebooted Superman, Clark and the Big Red S became mostly indistinguishable.

Superman #6 1987

The new 52 offers a different take.  Kal-El is incredibly kind.  We can see it in his thoughts.  Clark while mostly a nice guy is a somewhat exasperated front that Kal displays to people.  Kal's mostly Clark, but not quite.  Superman on the other hand is aloof.  He's polite to his friends and acquaintances and a take charge individual.  Nobody would mistake him for the distinctive Clark Kent.  

Writer Scott Lobdell makes each facet of Kal-El sound and behave differently.  Barrows in turn gives each alter-ego different body language.   The creative team's entire effort suggests a tribute to the way Bud Collyer lowered his voice on the radio and the old Filmation cartoons when Clark revealed the S beneath his shirt.

Although Superman is more about the characterization of our hero, there's still action, and Lobdell continues to center on HIVE.  Set a few ticks in the past, with respect to Action Comics, colossal cranium Hector Hammond invades HIVE, and the Queen of the realm fights back; revealing a link to a classic Superman villain.

It's Trinity War Season in the new 52 DCU.  In the first chapter, Superman seemed to slay a member of the Justice League of America.  

This led to a brief skirmish in the desert of Khandaq, birthplace of Black Adam followed by Superman ending the battle before it really started.

Defying the deceptive advertising campaign of DC, Batman and Wonder Woman stick by their historical friend.  They investigate the crime, from two different fronts.  Batman seeks a scientific explanation.  Wonder Woman believes Superman's recent encounter with the legendary Pandora's Box tipped the scales in corruption's favor.

To this end, Wonder Woman seeks the help of Justice League Dark to find the elusive Pandora, but unknown to the Amazon, she's playing into one of the traps set by the Secret Society of Super Villains, established way, way early in the premiere of Justice League.

The Phantom Stranger meets all the Leagues for the first time, and he comes with a warning.  Wonder Woman's quest for Pandora will lead to catastrophe.  Batman who didn't like the idea of Wonder Woman wasting her time on a mythical artifact immediately tracks her down, but things don't go well for Batman.  Teams split and reconfigure, taking opposite sides.  Still, to call this a war is a bit much.  Everybody wants to help Superman.  They just employ different tactics.

The Question meanwhile reveals the identity of Superman's manipulator, and the person of interest just might play into the Psi War that will be trending through the Superman Family titles soon.  To say Superman is angry is an understatement.

As you can see, Mikel Janin pulls out all the stops, surpassing past enviable efforts with his art in Justice League Dark.  

Janin furthermore loses none of his attention to detail, body language or aesthetic spacing when illustrating the plethora of heroes taking part in the Trinity War.  

Most impressive, as per usual, he delivered the issue in a timely fashion, and Jeromy Cox's vivid variegation is extra icing on a satisfying multi-layered superhero cake.

Comparing and contrasting different writers and artists has never been my baliwick, but when juxtaposing the artwork of Mikel Janin and Jeromy Cox to that of Jae Lee in Batman Superman, Lee leaves me wanting more.  

While Lee is a talented artist, and we saw that exhibited in the Batman Superman premiere, this second issue mainly consists of shadow puppetry.

You may argue that this is an example of artistic license, and the Batcave is supposed to be dark anyhow, but what's Lee's excuse when he goes down on the Kent farm?

I count nine pages of "full" artwork, and I'm being generous.  Maybe the shadows add a smidgeon of drama, but I think they're too overwhelming at times and not really a necessity.  It's the equivalent of too much air in soft ice cream.

That said, the story by Greg Pak is pure gold.  It's got comedy, action, pathos and an overall optimistic outlook.  Superman and Batman are older than their earth one counterparts, and they've accomplished much more than their younger incarnations.  In addition, Pak includes a guest appearance by....


Wonder Woman.

Catwoman was actually good.

That's the plot in a nutshell, but the intrigue and conflict arises from how Catwoman gains her equipment to safely explore the hole and the advent of the Gotham Underworld.

It seems that like Ron Koslow's Beauty and the Beast an entire civilization thrives beneath the sewer system of Gotham.  There may be some precedence for such a city state. 

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, in All-Star Western, established that officials back in the nineteenth century walled up a section of the city due to plague.  Perhaps the Underworld developed from the survivorship of that disaster.

Catwoman goes to Anne Nocenti's juvenile scientist Alice, introduced last issue, for help.  She has a price.

Once Catwoman meets the price in her own inimitable style, she descends into a wierd world populated by familiar and unfamiliar figures.  Although the superpowered denizens of the tribes just may put you in mind of Futurama's sendup of the various underground mutants populating science fiction, Nocenti grounds the group in Gotham lore to add another layer of complexity.

Dr. Phosphorous was one Batman's most dangerous foes, created by Steve Engelheart and Walter Simonson.  This was the enemy that Batman actually could not get close to, nor deliver punches to, without protections, such as a radiation retardant cape.

In the new 52, it appears that Dr. Phosophorous' radioactive nature has been tempered, or the villain's been given more control over this deadly force.  Since Catwoman decks him right out.

Unfortunately, Selina cannot overcome the menace, and she yet again must accept being pressed into service, this time to be the messenger to another group living beneath Gotham's City streets.  Pretty engrossing, especially with Rafa Sandoval's composition and superb lithe depiction of Catwoman.

In other parts of Gotham City, a time displaced cowboy finds himself confined in Arkham Asylum, probably the last place Hex would be.

Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti take great delight in smacking Hex around with culture shock from the most unusual places.  Cigarettes for example have a different taste than the old timey cigarettes you would see gunfighters sometimes roll and smoke.  Actually, this makes perfect sense.  Sherlock Holmes made a massive study of the different kinds of tobacco in the world as he knew it.  He'd be stymied in modern times using a cigarette as a clue.

More than flourishes, Hex pulls a rabbit out of his hat that he hopes might furnish his escape.  When Hex agreed to rescue Catherine Wayne, her husband Alan Wayne gave him thirty percent of Wayne Casino.  Arkham naturally consults Bruce Wayne, and low and behold, the Dark Knight Detective finds the answer in his ancestors belongings.

Before Batman can actually come invovled, Arkham himself discovers the truth about Hex's incarceration.  This leads to an escape that's impeded by a Mutant firefight which exposes Hex at his most lethal and his most human.  'effin' awesome.

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