Sunday, August 4, 2013

POBB: July 31, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 31, 2013

Ray Tate

This week in the POBB, Captain Midnight soars.  Fearless Defenders sinks.  The Superman Annual kicks off a new Superman Family crossover.  The Flash Annual reveals what happened during the first meeting between Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, and Lois Lane teams up with Lana Lang in the latest Smallville special.

Once upon a time, I called Dan Jurgens' artwork boring.  I'm happy to reassess.  Who knew that Jurgens had something like the Superman Annual in him?



Lois Lane dies.

I'm guessing the Powers behind Superman chose Dan Jurgens as artist for the Superman Annual because he would lend authenticity to Lois Lane's demise.  Jurgens sketched twelve to fifteen years of Superman's post-Crisis existence. You would want that kind of experience to shock the reader with such a pivotal turning point, yet there's my former observation.

At worse, Jurgens' artwork could be static and sluggish, which is not to say that he was always at his worst.  Mind you, he is responsible for creating Waverider.

Jurgens' brief new 52 stint where he had Superman outwit those shrewd, wily Russians should justifiably be forgotten.  Here, Jurgens is energized, and the Superman Annual is the artist's magnum opus.

Jurgens uses multiple-angles.

He employs close-ups.

He generates atmosphere.

Jurgens superimposes illustration over the gutters of panels, sometimes using the depiction itself as a border.  He does everything in his power to make the art exciting.

You can partially credit inker Norm Rapmund for the overall finished product.  He and Jurgens make a good team, and colorist Hi-Fi gives the book Big Budget polish.

Make no bones about it though.  It all starts and ends with Dan Jurgens doing the best work of his career for a challenging story by Scott Lobdell.

Lobdell uses the Superman Annual not for filler but to kick off the Psi War.  The storyarc's not necessarily what I thought it to be.  Current thorn in Superman's side, Hector Hammond may be a small potatoes in this telepathic tit for tat.  

Lobdell instead goes back to Grant Morrison's Action Comics to reveal an unexpected consequence of Brainiac's attack on Metropolis.  He also gives Brainiac a rationale that uses the traditional collector mentality merely as a springboard.  

The advent of Brainiac appears to hint at another Superman nemesis waiting in the wings.  It's a good bet that the new 52 treatment of the creature will be nothing like the innocent Golden Age debut or the comfort zoned Silver Age version.  

The Psi War is the undercurrent.  For the meat of the story, Lobdell casts Lois Lane as a literal ghost writer.  We follow Lois assembling puzzle pieces and ultimately succumbing to the results of her excellent detective work.  

Whereas the Powers at DC have been falling over themselves to promote the Superman/Wonder Woman romance, they kept this far more historical payoff hush-hush.  Kudos for the secrecy.  

The Flash Annual is a different barrel of monkeys.  Writer Brian Buccellato uses the standalone to unveil the first meeting between traditional best friends Flash and Green Lantern.

The contrasting dynamic between arrogant space cop and amiable jazz-loving police scientist generates the interest.  Thankfully, it's much better in the modern day.  In the present, Flash and GL work like badly oiled gears in a massive smoke-belching justice machine that's on its last legs.  The Flash and Green Lantern are the heroes most likely to re-enact Neil Simon's Odd Couple: "can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy."  Granted, neither hero has married yet, but you get the gist.

The plot's an old pulp.  You might even sneeze when hit with the science fiction detritus.  In the past, somebody's kidnapping children across the nation.  These abductions attract the attention of our showcase superheroes.  When the champions find a cosmic connection, they discover a planet that's detrimental to their abilities.  Although, Green Lantern simply left his namesake on earth.

What a dope.

Artist Sami Basri, known more for his Power Girl renderings, tries his hand at the masculine set.  His art compliments the future Justice Leaguers, and also conveys the comedy of errors, perpetuated by the Lantern's ego.  In addition, Basri concocts aliens that wouldn't be too out of place as bouncers in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

A stronger dynamic duo strikes a blow for justice in the second Smallville Special.  It's no spoiler to divulge the identities of Lois Lane and Lana Lang, who feature on the cover.  

Lois travels with U.N. Peacekeepers to Africa in order to investigate The Angel of the Plateau.  Three guesses who that turns out to be.

The story offers relevance with a brief overview of bastard criminals recruiting children to do their dirty work, and it relates its information unpretentiously.  

If you're wondering what little ol' Lana Lang can do about such things, you clearly haven't been keeping up on your Smallville continuity.  Not to worry.  Writer Bryan Q. Miller devotes two pages to flashback to the crossroads in Lana Lang's life.  It's not like Lana's ability hasn't a precedent.

In truth none of this matters.  The real world based good versus evil plot is sauce for the goose.  The lovely artwork accurately depicting Lois and Lana as Erica Durance and Kristin Kreuk courtesy of Phantom Lady's Cat Staggs and Carrie Strachan is necessary, but it's not why I'm recommending Smallville to everybody, even non-fans.

Of the two specials, Smallville is superior to the Flash Annual.  That's because Miller doesn't rely on a traditional conflict between protagonists to carry the plot.  Instead, Lana and Lois are simpatico.  That means the writer must be smarter.  He has to generate interest in the story, in the characterization without using common friction.  Writing The Odd Couple is easy.  Writing about the In Sync Couple is harder.

Even setting aside these elements, you still cannot miss Smallville.  Lois is a riot.  She's perfectly in character.  Her voice echoes that of Durance, and her behavior is pure Lois, which is why her dialogue and every scene that she takes part in is worth its weight in gold.  The sequence when the ladies kick ass is appropriately thrilling, and when Lois speaks you laugh out loud.

This is only good.  I'm keeping the great part under wraps.

Oh, Fearless Defenders, why do you vex me so? Last issue, Annabelle Riggs saved Valkyrie from giving in to her rage as a Doomaiden; think Viking Manhunters with respect to Shieldmaidens as Norse Green Lanterns.

This issue finds Annabelle freshly killed living la vida Valhalla.  Only, it's not the heaven that it's purported to be.  Why, Annabelle seems to be the only lesbian present.

As invitations go, that's pretty damn weak.  When not escaping the pawing of Norsemen, Annabelle pouts in her lavish room and wears ravishing gowns.  

Gowns! There's gonna be gowns in this movie!

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy died for real.  She was angry when being pulled from the afterlife.  Buffy apparently made it to paradise. Annabelle's received a pretty shitty deal, which means she's ready to pack her bags and get out of Dodge.  Actually, she's pretty neutral about it all.  On the one hand, Valhalla sucks.  On the other hand, she's too good of a person to put Valkyrie in jeopardy again.

Val however has a cohort that can help her and Annabelle on the path to earth.  I'll not reveal the name of the character, but suffice to say, it's good to see her again.  I haven't laid eyes on her since the nineties.

Cullen Bunn first attracted my attention with his phenomenal Fear Itself mini-series The Deep.  There he gathered another group of Defenders with two of the originals: Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer.  The trouble is that after Fearless Defenders' awesome premiere, it's been hit or miss.  That weird tie-in to whatever Big Stupid Event Marvel was promoting didn't help the momentum, and there wasn't really a reason why the Doomaiden discreetly finished Annabelle off panel.  Unless that pitiful strangulation scene counted as the actual death.  Bunn knew Annabelle was coming back.  There was no need to be dainty.  Doom maiden.  Emphasis on Doom.

In any case this issue of Fearless Defenders suffers from a lack of Deep comic book goodness.  Here are some of the terrific moments from The Deep.

That's the normally whiny Silver Surfer using his board to beat down one of Attuma's monsters.  No Power Cosmic needed.  The Silver Surfer is just a bad ass.  I never thought I'd use that sentence.

I didn't know anything about Loa, the character She-Hulk Two Electric Boogaloo is hurtling, but Bunn made me fall in love.

Fisting Image unavailable in missionary areas supporting Ken Cuccinelli.

This issue of Fearless Defenders lacks a single image of coolness.  There's a courtesy battle between Val and a couple of stupid trolls, but it lacks oomph.  My advice mirrors Hawkgirl's motto.

"Less Talking.  More Hitting."

Captain Midnight follows Shayera's advice.  Our timelost hero finds himself fighting Nazis and the U.S. government all under the thumb of his arch-nemesis.  Fury Shark.

She's in shapely, updated business savvy Nazi form courtesy of artist Fernando Dagnino, but she's not a new invention.  Genders were equal on the radio and in serials.  As with the heroes of yore, the villains came in both models.  

Original Fury Shark Luana Walters

Writer Joshua Williamson levels his playing field with the introduction of Charlotte, the granddaughter of Midnight's now aged assistant Joyce.

Joyce sends her granddaughter because she believes the Captain is out of his depth, and normally that would be the case.  Midnight experiences little culture shock.  

In the zero issue, Midnight stole and flew a modern plane to escape.  Williamson doesn't insult your intelligence, and he embraces the futurism of the superhero.  This is perhaps the greatest crime of the nineties vigilante.  They weren't representative of the future.  They mirrored the now.

Doc Savage, the Shadow and the Spider would not be out of sorts in the future.  They were uncomfortable with their present.  That's why they did what they did.  They lived in a world of scientifically manufactured zombies, electronic brains crafted by mad scientists, microwave ray guns.  Captain Midnight is no different.  He's had little exposure to the rest of the world, but he already decided that the protocols of the current U.S. government do him no good, and the technology isn't even as advanced as he would like it.  He gets to work tinkering and waits for the law to catch up.  

The arrangement is different, but the tune is the same.  The Nazis are still trying to take over the world.  They simply dress better and embedded themselves in Wall Street and Halliburton.  It will be up to a no-frills superhero like Captain Midnight to stop them.

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