Monday, July 8, 2013

POBB: July 3, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 3, 2013

Ray Tate

This week the POBB bids a fond farewell to Jim Kelly: the first black martial arts master in movies, remembered best for his role in Enter the Dragon and his remarkable hair. 

After his discovery, Kelly starred in several Blaxploitation flicks like Black Belt Jones but also participated in bigger budget studio films such as the western Take a Hard Ride, a personal favorite.  Jim Kelly didn't have a long career in movies, but Kelly is now immortalized on DVD. 

Comic books covered this week in the POBB include Action Comics, Ame-Comi Girls, Batwing, Bionic Woman, Detective Comics and The Owl.

An unctuous business man makes Bruce Wayne an offer in not one but two Bat-related books.

The first position occurs in Jimmy Palmiotti's and Justin Gray's freewheeling Batwing.  Grave things do occur in the new Batwing's title, but the execution is anything but dour.  The bug like Marabunta attack Lucas Fox's family and kidnap his father, Lucius, yet let me emphasize.  He's abducted by insectoid criminals.

We can thank the Nolan Batman films for turning Wayne Foundation money manager Lucius Fox into Batman's Q.  I never liked that aspect of the new Batman mythology, and I'm not crazy about it in the new 52 either, which at least excuses the hitherto unknown function by blaming it on the total reboot.  I like it when Batman makes his own stuff.  Oh well, at least the new universe doesn't preclude Batman taking a part in the inventive process.

Anyhow, swallowing this lump, we can enjoy Lucas Fox discovering his father's secrets, which is admittedly a nice moment.  Apart from that, Batwing just goes to all sorts of places you don't expect, like the red-headed hottie's car. 

Photography by Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferreira, makeup Paul Mounts

This is kind of a Spider-Man move.  Only Spidey would have ended up with a trucker, shaped like Sal from Futurama.  

Palmiotti and Gray give Batwing a kind of believable luckiness.  Of course, he doesn't pursue the possibilities offered.  He has other things on his mind.

Yes, that's homage to the 1960s Batman television series, only the angle presents the tried and true as way cooler, and it works.  There's something just extremely refreshing in the way Batwing and Batman interact.  

The second offer for a piece of the Wayne comes from E.D. Caldwell of Caldwell Enterprises.  The vacuum filler of Luthorcorps.

While I dislike the idea of Lucius Fox becoming Batman's Q, I loathe every aspect of Batman Inc.  This was the stupidest idea I've ever seen, especially for somebody trying to protect his secret identity.  Unfortunately, I'm stuck with it.  

At least, I don't have to think about it in Detective Comics, since Batman Inc. isn't part of the story.  I draw upon it because writer Jon Layman parallels and perhaps parodies the idea with the Wrath.  E.D. is very clearly if not the actual Wrath, certainly connected.

The Wrath and the Wrath "Family" are cop killers which have personal reasons for hating the law, in the same way Batman despises crime, and to keep with the theme of the flip-side of the coin, the Wrath does not have a pep talk for failure.

The Wrath also appeared in a different form during the final days of the pre-Crisis, but the things these two avatars share are few.

In the early 2000s, Dynamite Publishing with modern painting phenomenon Alex Ross decided to bring the public domain superheroes such as the Black Terror, the Green Lama, Miss Masque and the original Dare-Devil back to comics.  This wasn't the first resuscitation for the heroes, but it was the most enduring.  Project Superpowers, lasted 21 issues, and succeeded in spinning off several mini-series.  

The Owl is the latest foray in the public domain barrel.  Many would consider The Owl a true scrape of the bottom.  The Owl after-all was a dopey 1940s knock-off Batman from Dell Comics, and I wouldn't be surprised if Dynamite isn't trying to capitalize on the success of Scott Snyder's and Greg Capullo's Night of the Owls in Batman.

Whatever the reason, the Owl is back.  The newly tweaked Owl was briefly seen in Project Superpowers.  Though we never knew what was in store for the old hero.

For those not in the know, we learn in Project Superpowers that all the 1940s public domain heroes were locked away in Pandora's Urn.  The Fighting Yank realizing he had been duped into confining his former comrades releases all.  When the heroes return, they return changed.  The Black Terror is a little bit nuts now.  Miss Masque can now take the image of anybody she chooses when she wears her domino namesake.

In the premiere, we discover the Owl now possesses a blackout power, like Dr. Mid-Nite's blackout bombs but more expansive.  More importantly he also amassed perspective.

Writer J.T. Krul and Ross distinguish Nick Terry, real identity of the Owl, from every incarnation of Batman by making Nick a man out of time, longing for his partner Belle, the Owl Girl.

Krul furthermore highlights a difference between the eras.  All the heroes from Project Superpowers come from the 1940s, and this was an era of equality.  

Men didn't treat women like porcelain dolls in the 1940s.  Rather, they saw them as true partners.  Women had more freedoms before and during World War II.  Women, not serving as nurses, doctors and WAFs, in fact took over most of the jobs the men had before they went to war.  

When the men came home, women were persuaded, if not outright fired, and pressed into stereotype roles.  By the 1950s Rosie the Riveter became Rosemary the Homemaker.  

It isn't surprising to see the Owl Girl as a reporter on level footing with then detective Terry.  You really get a sense of Terry's loneliness through these beautifully illustrated sepia flashbacks.  It's an honest bereavement.  He's not missing a possession.  He's not missing Belle for selfish reasons.  The 1940s heroes are all portrayed as forward thinking individuals, and the Owl is no different.

The Owl sacrificed and fought during World War II.  He genuinely loved another.  These points of interest in his persona conflict with the cynical detectives of the modern era.  The Owl naturally seeks a job in the police force, where he's best suited and there he meets and connects with a woman looking for a missing man. 

Krul appears to be foreshadowing private investigation in the Owl's future.  He seems not to appreciate any red tape such as the twenty-four hour rule for missing persons, and the scene offers a good establishing shot in terms of future plotting and characterization.

At night, the Owl hunts the modern criminal, and finds him lacking in even the most basic codes.  This is reflective of how older felons, a generation mostly long gone, see the younger turks.  The Owl is not alone in his foray.

The new Owl Girl, if she is that, is a very nineties looking hero, and I'm glad to say that dark age is mostly gone.  With the new 52, DC returned their champions back to their heroic essences, but this Owl Girl serves as a reminder and an intriguing plot development.

Scott Lobdell wastes no time in making Action Comics his book.  Though you would get a richer reading experience by adding this title and Superman to your subscription list, you still don't have to.  Action Comics is user friendly, and the exposition is mostly seamlessly woven into dialogue.

Fresh from his breakout from STAR Labs and his takeover of HIVE, Hector Hammond goes out to inspect HIVE's Deathstar.  He runs into something hilariously nettlesome.

The chap that just punted Hector Hammond is new character Straith, First Knight of Pax Galactica.  This fun-loving fellow for a change is on the side of good, and he promptly makes his mark literally.

I weeped with laughter.  Hammond is so pissed off that he contacts Superman, who as Clark Kent, a moment ago escorted his blog writing partner Cat Grant to an amusing gala.  

Hammond rationalizes that Superman would be interested in anybody who could do such damage to HIVE.  Superman of course attempts a friendly salutation, but he gets nowhere fast, and kicks himself as he battles the First Knight.

Tyler Kirkham's artwork never really sent me before, but with colorist Arif Prianto he fits right in with Superman, mostly now defined by Kenneth Rocafort.  

The back up story by Frank Hannah and Tom Derenick is a pleasant time waster in which Jor-El meets Lara under bellicose circumstances.  

We know what happens to the doomed planet and the doomed parents to be, but the story doesn't wear out its welcome, and it's fun to see Lara as a military counterpoint to Jor-El's scientist archetype.

Pamiotti and Gray reintroduce Hawkgirl and "Adam" Strange in Ame-Comi Girls.  The story condenses the life of Shayera Thath into one thick story.  The tale opens with young Shayera being scolded for fighting on the behalf of downsider Katar Hol.  This establishes Shay's tomboy nature and contrarian attitude toward her stepmother.

Horacio Domingues and Randy Mayor give these moments an almost Disneysque spin in the artwork.  The team illustrate Shay as a spindly youth with an uncanny Don Bluth styled visage.  I was reminded of a cross between Princess Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Penny from The Rescuers

Within a few pages, Palmiotti and Gray jump ahead.  Hawkgirl marries Carter and joins the police as an act of rebellion against her stepmother and to honor her father.  On a fateful day, the Hawks find themselves under attack.  Tragedy strikes in the form of Sinestra--the feminized Sinestro, and Hawkgirl vows revenge.
Gray and Palmiotti now separate their cosmos from what's known.  Thanagar goes the way of Krypton, but in an ingenious move, the writers employ a traditional trope of the Silver Age, Adam Strange's Zeta Beam, in a novel way.

Through the Zeta Beam Hawkgirl meets Alana Strange, and artist Ted Naifeh elegantly embellishes her origin.  Palmiotti and Gray tie in Alana's birth with a classic supporting character and a bit of superbly employed earth history.  

Amelia Earheart became the symbol of women in flight, but she wasn't the only female pilot out there.  A number of aviatrixes formed the Ninety-Nines, of which Earheart became President.  The organization is more than a flight club, and the message has not changed: 

"advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support while honoring a unique history and sharing a passion for flight."

Ideally, the Ninety-Nines of the past, much more in the news then, promoted international sisterhood through a feminist freedom, and it's rather appropriate that one of the Ninety-Nines provides Alana's human side.  Highly recommended for fans of history, Adam Strange, Hawkgirl or just female superheroes in general.

On the Bionic Woman television series, the Fembots counted as the Jaime Sommers' number one foe.  They however were mere robot duplicates of targeted females.  

Paul Tobin for his second Bionic Woman storyarc reintroduced the Fembots as enslaved A.I. Emphasis on intelligence, for the Fembots recognized Jamie as the mother of their kind, and saw her autonomy as something to aspire to.  This newfound life led Katy, a Fembot to seek out Jamie in order to lead a revolution.

Another writer might create a big budget, sound and fury spectacle in which Fembots and humans battle it out in number for dominance.  Not Paul Tobin.  Tobin understands the Bionic Woman.  Even on the old series, Jamie resigned from OSI, leading to a Prisoner-like hunt followed by a detente in which she gained her freedom by working for OSI on a contractual basis.  Jamie was tired of spy games and the violence that comes with such espionage, and that's not the kind of person who would lead a bloody coup.

Rather she takes appropriate names and  instead brokers an uneasy peace between humans and Fembots.  In the process, Jaime embarrasses a lot of airbags in the world government, much to the amusement of Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman.

Juan Antonio Ramirez perfectly captures Jamie's attitude as a pragmatic pacifist.  He expertly times the bionic action, as well as the comedy.  Sometimes at the same time.  Ramirez as usual deserves special credit for spreading a gamut of multiple expressions for the identical faces of the Fembots.  In addition he bestows to each singular personality.  Do not miss The Bionic Woman.

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