Monday, September 30, 2013

Welcome to the Very Best Day of My Life


Regular readers of the POBB; or my reviews at Comics Bulletin/Silver Bullet; hell, even the reviews of Doctor Who media on the old rec.arts Usenet boards should know that the lady casually draping her arms around me is none other than Daphne Ashbrook, the link between classic Doctor Who and new Doctor Who.  




The vivacious Daphne portrayed the one that got away, Dr. Grace Holloway, in the 1996 special simply titled Doctor Who.  It is in this episode that we discover that the Doctor is "half-human, on his mother's side," later corroborated, however you please, in the new series story "A Good Man Goes to War," and likes to kiss girls, corroborated about a million times on the new series, incarnation regardless.  


Who on earth can blame him? Daphne is warm, kind, friendly and generous with her time.  She was only too happy to listen to me gush over her.  She is why I came to the Pittsburgh Comic-Con.  I didn't care at all about the rest of the con.  In fact I didn't see a lot of it.   Sorry.  I came for her.  I haven't been to a con since 1981, but thanks to Daphne making the experience absolutely wonderful, I just might go to the next.  

Daphne knows her Doctor Who.  She freely conversed about Doctor Who 1996 and the implications of the plot in the context of the new series with me.  She spoke like a pro not a layperson whose eyes glaze over when you start explaining what a sonic screwdriver is.  This is not a criticism.  My eyes glaze over when somebody tries to explain football or baseball.  To each her own.

I nearly fainted when we posed for that picture and Daphne got that close, but this is exactly how she is.  She's not at all how you imagine a celebrity to be, but she's exactly how you hoped Daphne Ashbrook would be.  

I was immensely gratified to see that I wasn't alone in my admiration.  Daphne has many fans, and despite the impressive number, the quantity present at the con probably only represents a mere scraping.  I even spoke with one young woman, dressed as Black Canary, who said that she became a Doctor Who fan after watching the 1996 special.  Because of Daphne.

  Fan-Tastic!

Doctor Who 1996 was not always lauded as the groundbreaking episode it really is.  The followers of the books hated it for daring to defy their beloved carefully laid out coddle-flop that the professional fan fictioneers called continuity.  Doctor Who 1996 instead supported the source material.  

The Doctor leaves Gallifrey in a faulty TARDIS with his granddaughter Susan.  Turns out the Doctor wasn't the product of an artificial genetic blender called the Loom but in fact a biological product from a mother and father.  Susan was part of his bloodline, not just some demented dolly who kept calling him grandfather.

These bad book lovers furthermore hated the idea of the Doctor being romantic with a companion.  The writers of the books in fact liked to emphasize the Doctor's complete disregard for sex.  

I was an old Doctor Who fan, having seen every episode, and all I could say when I saw the first kiss was "Of course."  The chemistry between Daphne Ashbrook and Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor, sold the whole thing.  

Without Daphne, the sophisticated evolution of Doctor Who we love never would have come to be.  She is ultimately why I am still a Doctor Who fan, and Daphne is just about the most personable piece of history I'm ever likely to meet.  So September 27th was indeed the very best day of my life.  Thanks, Daphne.


For more of Daphne Ashbrook, why not pop in on her website: http://www.daphneashbrook.com




Sunday, September 22, 2013

POBB: September 18, 2013



Pick of the Brown Bag
September 18, 2013
by
Ray Tate

It's Villain's Month, which means your POBB has reviews of Batman Beyond Universe, Doctor Who and Victor Gischler's new title from Dark Horse Kiss Me Satan.  I'll also have reviews of the film Naked Fear and Banshee, a television series you may have missed.


The Doctor travels to the Old West again in Tony Lee's return to IDW's Doctor Who.  There the Doctor finds a masked gunman who can kill by pointing his finger...


...as well as Calamity Jane and Oscar Wilde.


Mike Collins illustrated the Doctor's adventures for nearly a decade in Doctor Who Magazine, and he accompanies Lee on the excursion.  Collins provides dead on likenesses and colorful interpretations of the historical personages.  Surprisingly, his versatile realistic style also works well when depicting the humor that Lee evokes in the Doctor's encounter with the masked mystery.


Lee is an old hand at Doctor Who, and there's plenty of dialogue that reflects his study of Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman (Clara).  He perhaps references too many of their episodes: mentioning things like "big friendly buttons," which Clara shouldn't remember by the way.

When reduced, the plot resembles the series 7 epsiode "A Town Called Mercy," but I'm sure that Lee knows that, and he's planning several diversions after this agreeable setup.


We go back to the future of Batman Beyond to discover in the second chapter by Kyle Higgins a second suspect in the slaying of the mayor.


Who better to kill the current grand poobah than the lieutenant with dreams of power?  On the other hand, maybe it was that old standby?  The wife, who inherits the Mayor's wealth, or was it somebody else?


Batman won't discover the answer this week, but Higgins leaves the reader on a massive what-the-hell cliffhanger that just can't have a very satisfying solution next issue.  Still, I admire Higgins' moxie for even trying such a thing.

That's the second short.  Batman Beyond Universe opens with latest from the Superman serial.  Previously, the Man of Steel decided to rejoin the human race by taking on a new identity.  Clark Kent died with Lois Lane. He's now taken the guise of a firefighter named Kal Kent, and he's a hit with his fellow smoke-eaters, especially Rita, who asked him out last issue.


Previously, Superman along with his fellows attempted to extinguish a conflagration.  No big deal for a Man of Steel, but somebody made Superman's powers go haywire.  Rather than hide in the Fortress of Solitude, Superman nullified his abilities.  A robot doppelg√§nger took his place amongst the Justice League.

Superman seeks answers to his problems in the Phantom Zone, but before that he addresses another concern.  The fellow's out of practice.


Generally speaking, superheroes have lousy dates.  They usually have to duck out at the last minute to go fight Ali Babble or something.  The datee isn't impressed by the hero's tardiness or simple callous disregard for the social graces.  So, all things considered, Superman's date goes pretty well.  Yeah, a giant mecha attacks, but Rita does ask for a second date.

For Kiss Me Satan we head to New Orleans, and as hero Barnabus Black states in the book "New Orleans is a werewolf town."  Gischler appears to be banking on the legend of Loup-Garoux and the Beast of Gevaudan, mixing the French Quarter with Lycanthropy.  

I'm always happy to see a werewolf story.  Werewolves are underrated monsters.  Perhaps because traditionally there's really only one way to go with them.  Vampires can be sensual, cunning and maniacal--sometimes all in one fell swoop.  Patchwork monsters like you know who had the misunderstood childlike nature going for them.  Mummies were unstoppable guardians.  The Creature from the Black Lagoon had an eye for the ladies, and I still don't understand the fascination with zombies, but werewolves never had the flexibility of other monsters.  Man turns into wolf, end of story.

That wasn't always the case.  The lore of the werewolf involved a willing participant, not the tragic Larry Talbot of Universal horrors.  The man that sought to become a beast made a pact with Satan, to become a wolf in order to perform even more evil deeds that he couldn't quite manage as a man.  

We don't know yet where Gischler will take his lupine origins, but for Kiss Me Satan, Gischler posits a lineage of werewolf organized crime controlling New Orleans.  The werewolf don hopes his uborn son will take over his empire, but there's a problem.  The kid doesn't bear the mark of the beast.

Ruh, roh.  This hiccup turns the don into a desperate monster that wars against his own kind and wants to silence anybody that knows the truth.  He puts a hit on the witches, and that's where Barnabus Black, fresh from his own travails enters our story. 


I didn't like Gischler's mystical take on the Shadow, for Dynamite.  I prefer the unadorned arch-illusionist crimefighter created by Walter B. Gibson.  Gischler however finds a much stronger voice with his own creations.  The blend is original but allusive, and his take on the supernatural creatures of myth, including a hilarious angel, is unique.  Artist Juan Ferreyra's clean illustration, incorporating an excellent color sense, keeps things hopping and neatly and distinctively modernizes the occult.

The Saturday Afternoon Movie

Naked Fear is of as one might expect a variation on The Most Dangerous Game filmed in 1932 with Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Leslie Banks.  You know the drill.  Hunting animals loses its spark.  To spice up the "sport" some nut decides to stalk humans on a preserve or private island.  

What if, however, somebody did this for real?  That occurred in the 1970s when lunatic Robert Hansen piloted women to his hunting lodge, stripped them, hunted them in the Alaskan wilderness and killed them until finally being captured by the police, in 1983.  Naked Fear is based upon this true crime.

The difference between Naked Fear and Mystery Science Theater's Bloodlust--another version of The Most Dangerous Game--can be summed up in one word: gravitas.  The acting throughout Naked Fear is sincere and uniformly riveting, with Danielle De Luca as the victim projecting a remarkable range that rivals suspects J.D. Garfield, a superb character actor, and Fat Tony himself Joe Montagne, who gives his best here as much as he gives anywhere else.

The tight script by writer Christine Olivia Vasquez reveals the culprit half way through the film so his identity doesn't become a gimmick, and she takes very little liberties in detailing the facts of the case, even noting Hansen's trophy collecting and the reason why killers gather these mementos in the first place.  

The filmmakers move the setting from Alaska to New Mexico, but they suffer nothing from the change in venue.  In fact director Thom Eberhardt and cinematographer John Grace gain inspiration from the simply gorgeous environment, and the crew use it to their advantage.  

The sunny setting and day to night shots grant the whole affair authenticity.  This isn't a fictional horror story where the environment is creepy and out to get you.  Rather, these are areas ideal for enjoying nature.   The crew also show how the vastness of the territory can swallow the missing and as well serve as a weapon against a psychopath.  Several scenes show Diana, our heroine, blending into the surroundings to avoid becoming prey.  These wide-angled shots are startling and convincing.

Naked Fear transcends the usual exploitation fare.  Its seamy subject of course is prime rib for the grindhouse.  Danielle De Luca isn't afraid to provide abundant nudity, but there's an important difference.  She's so good that you frequently forget that she's naked, until the crew remind you that nudity in this situation equivocates to vulnerability.  

Whereas some movies of this ilk revel in the violence and create the sense of audience participation--you become the hunter, Naked Fear consistently allies the viewer with the victim.  The crew however make no grand statements.  Naked Fear is neither a treatise in misogyny or a feminist cry.  Women are hostile to women.  Men are hostile to women.  Men try to help women.  Women try to help women.  The filmmakers instead present the case in a realistic manner.  The cops might be jaded, but they never forget.  Not everybody in a strip club is an evil opportunistic bastard.  Naked Fear instead of relying on hyperbole functions on understatement.  It's well worth your time.  At this writing, the DVD is still available.


While we were sleeping, Cinemax actually started to do more than show skin.  While nudity is still a staple in their trade, they also became a channel that fosters pulp stories.  This is most evident in the delightfully decadent anthology Femme Fatales.  Now comes Banshee.


Antony Starr portrays a nameless ex-con who comes to Banshee, Pennsylvania ostensibly looking for his former partner and lover Anna, played by Ivana Milicivic, who created a new life for herself with Banshee's district attorney.  He finds more.  

At heart, Banshee is a love story with bitchin' action and outrageous moments that will make your jaw drop.  Insanely addictive, I always watched a second episode after deciding only to watch one, Banshee takes plot turns that are astonishing.  The pilot starts with a vicious chase scene that leaves a high body count and stunning property damage.  That first episode hooks you and never lets you go.  The amazing thing is that Banshee just gets better as the story unfolds.  First season now available on DVD.




Monday, September 16, 2013

POBB: September 11, 2013


Pick of the Brown Bag
September 11, 2013
by
Ray Tate

Only three comic books serve as subjects for this week's Pick of the Brown Bag: Fearless Defenders, King's Watch and Smallville.  So, it's a good time for a movie review, and this week it's Fade to Black.


My favorite type of cheesecake is the pineapple upside down variety from The Cheesecake Factory.  That's what Smallville feels like.  A piece of fresh pineapple upside down cheesecake.

Writer Bryan Q. Miller continues to thumb his nose at Warner Brothers' indecisiveness over Wonder Woman.  He demonstrates quite soundly that not only is Wonder Woman relevant.  She can easily, easily, be reintroduced for modern times.  Warner Brothers' media friendly rationale is pure bullshit.

Rather than go through the fable that her creator imagined, Miller eschews the games that allowed Amazons to compete for the title of Wonder Woman.  This makes sense since it was a forgone conclusion that Diana would win.  H.G. Peters' artwork, the Kangaroos that the Amazons rode, the culture of the Amazons made the fable worth viewing.

Everyone now knows this story, since it was also replicated--minus the Kangaroos--on Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman.  So, Miller comes up with a different way to explain Diana's journey to Man's World.  Miller furthermore integrates the reasons with Steve Trevor's protection as well as an overall look at Amazonian science, something I always appreciated.  

The Amazons were not entirely magical.  They developed advanced technology that allowed them to create a Utopian society.  Miller also includes a dig at destiny.  The Oracles can predict the most likely future, but it does not have to be.


Miller's recreation of Diana is truly distinctive from the versions that came before.  She resembles the Bronze Age interpretation the most, but Miller does something that I never saw any creator do before.  He includes amidst her pantheon of powers the ability of confidence.
  

Diana as you see in the caption identifies it as a super power, and it is here that he sublimely casts her as a role model.  Any woman can have confidence or strive for it but maintaining confidence in a world where assholes run amok is indeed a feat of strength.


In addition to that one word that resonates throughout the book, we see ample moments of Wonder Woman utilizing the gamut of her powers.  Miller opts for the nigh invulnerable Amazon that's level to Supergirl's strength and that makes for an exciting adventure brilliantly illustrated by artists Jorge Jimenez and Carrie Strachan.  


The D.E.O. and the U.S. military want Wonder Woman in chains, but for different reasons.  Miller connects Mr. Bones with a cabal of magicians including the Big Bad Felix Faust.  Faust has bad plans for Wonder Woman and Hippolyta, who gets the fairest shake since John Byrne decided to reconfigure the former Amazon queen as the World War II Wonder Woman; to take a stab at solving one of the problems left behind by The Crisis on Infinite Earths.

By this time, you may think there's no room for Lois and Clark.  Wonder Woman basks in the spotlight of Miller's writing.  Of that there can be no doubt, but the regular cast also enjoy Miller's special care.  

In a perfectly staged scene, the Superman of Smallville is quite willing to trust Diana with his secret identity.  Superman readily teams up with Wonder Woman and uses his powers to help her investigate.  Superman also catalyzes humor and distinguishes himself from his new 52 counterpart.  

Refreshingly, Miller eliminates any hint of jealousy that Lois Lane might feel over Wonder Woman, a common annoyance a lot of writers employed in recent years when the three met.  That included when Superman was married to Lois.  The Smallville Lois dated Steve Trevor.


Lois is so devoted to her eternal fiancee--surely they'll be wed by common law soon--that she defends him in a hilarious instance that draws the echo of Erica Durance into the dialogue.  Smallville earns my highest recommendation.


Guest-stars abound in Fearless Defenders.  Writer Cullen Bunn orchestrates a would-be boyfriend intervention.  This is a throwback to the embarrassing issue of The Avengers in which the image of Valkyrie debuted.  It turns out that the Enchantress was behind that mischief, trying to create strife between the male and female contingent of the team.  The story had a very chauvinistic message that didn't treat the Women's Liberation Movement at all seriously.  Kind of like Hal Jordan cubed.

Bunn inverts that issue.  The women are doing just fine thanks.  He gives ample example by juxtaposing the boyfriend bemoaning with the ladies battling well-known Defenders foes.  


These include the Headmen and the new Enchantress, as well as some goofy mobile monoliths.  The Headmen and the Enchantress operate under the auspices of Caroline LeFay, the Little Bad of the book.  Her mother Morganne would be slapping her head over LeFay's failed machinations, and her alleged Daddy Doctor Doom would have probably disowned her by now.


Numerous gags proliferate the dialogue in an issue funny throughout that's also packed with superhero goodness.  Things to look out for include the delicate balance between Valkyrie and her human host Annabelle Riggs.  

Readers knew their conflicting sexual orientations would be a problem, but Bunn actually treats the idea with a little more maturity and sophistication than past alter-ego problems; such as those in the Marvel Family, outside of their original adventures.  Writers just couldn't help going in the gutter.

In JLA/Avengers Hercules and the post-Crisis Wonder Woman meet on the battlefield, and Wonder Woman doesn't take too kindly to him.  The DC Hercules raped her mother.  Hippolyte is a different kind of woman in the Marvel Universe, and Bunn confirms that the Marvel Hercules and Hippolyte had a consensual if unsatisfying tryst.  


After the Silver Age, Dr. Strange became quite the player.  Bunn and artist Will Sliney nail that characterization and give the put-upon Clea a backbone.  It should be noted that Dr. Strange wasn't really singled out to be this figure.  Magic however was always related to the New Age, with its crystals and Pyramid Power.  The New Age believers were mostly leftovers from the Hippie movement, and Hippies of course promoted free love.  So, it was a natural fit that Dr. Strange would be the Hippie turned Hef of the Marvel Universe.


In addition to the surprise inclusion of one of the most obscure characters in the Marvel Universe, Bunn revisits the still strong relationship between Iron Fist and Misty Knight.  Their affair was a groundbreaking one in the seventies.  One of the only interracial loving in comics.  Not counting aliens.


The Defenders of the Earth return in King's Watch.   Awesome Agents of Atlas writer Jeff Parker does not disappoint with the first Dynamite team-up of The Phantom, Mandrake and Flash Gordon.  Along the way, you can expect Dale Arden and Lothar.  Best of all the Phantom isn't hawking blueberries.  This is the Phantom.  


Skull Ring, check.  Good Symbol Ring, check.  Twin .45 automatics, check.  Hero, check.  Devil, check.  Most important of all purple body-suit, check.  Screw you, streaky, sticky Phantom. 


I'll be completely honest here.  I don't give a rat's behind about the rest.  I'm in this for the Phantom, the accurate portrayal of the Phantom.  Artist Marc Laming delivers.



Billy Zane would have looked incredibly lame squelching around in a speedo.  Isn't that a scene from 50 Shades of Periwinkle?  Besides, Stephen King already beat Dynamite to the Hawaiian Punch.


Although I really only care about the Phantom, I will say that Parker's Mandrake is strong, and this is probably the only time I ever felt remotely interested in Flash Gordon.  Parker takes the most detours with the blonde All-American and his cast.  Some traditionalists may find them a little off-putting.  For example, Professor Zarkov is a surly fellow and apparently has a good or bad liver.


Dale Arden was introduced just as Flash's girlfriend.  In the glam film by Dino De Laurentis, Dale became a reporter.  Parker preserves the movie role and updates the heroine for modern times. 


Lois? No. De Laurentis.  Seriously though Lois and Dale share very little in common.  Laming's Dale Arden bears a unique face and a different hairdo than the brunette firecracker from Metropolis.  Parker gives Dale a harder edge.  Lois is frequently comedic.  Dale Arden is tortured by her dreams and steely.

King's Watch posits a breach in a dimensional gate that allows phantasms to pursue individuals in their sleep and unusual creatures to roam the earth.  As well, the plot creates an opening to relate Flash Gordon's origin story.  You can readily see the three legends combining forces.  Parker wastes no time. 


Lothar encounters the Phantom in a pulpy episode.  Mandrake cannot be too far behind.  As you can see from the examples Marc Laming's artwork continues the illustrious traditions of Alex Raymond, Ray Moore and Phil Davis.  Best of all nobody gets slimed.


The Saturday Afternoon Movie

Fade to Black is a wonderful surprise.  Character actor Danny Huston, most recently seen as Ben Diamond in Magic City, embodies a young Orson Welles.  The factual actor/director becomes entangled in a murder mystery while filming the infamous Black Magic, where Welles portrayed Cagliostro.  

Welles filmed Black Magic in Italy.  After World War II in 1948, Italy was a chaotic place.  The unrest serves as a constant backdrop to the story, giving viewers a history lesson.

Accompanying Welles on a foray for the truth, Diego Luna acts as Welles bodyguard and savvy Watson.  Paz Vega plays the object of desire, and desirable she is.  Christopher Walken shows up as a displaced American State Department Official.  He is not playing Christopher Walken.  The whole cast offer deft performances.  

Fade to Black shouldn't be missed by anybody that likes a twisted tale.  Fair warning.  Just because this movie casts Orson Welles as a character in a play, the viewer should not expect a locked-room puzzle or a tame piece of fluff.  This is a story about corruption and has the flavor of a hard-boiled private eye case.  

A well-shot period piece that looked to be have a respectable budget, Fade to Black is ably brought out by the Image disc's impeccable widescreen presentation.  The sound is clear, but you may need to raise the volume when important whispers drift across the screen.  Extras consist of previews and a trailer.  The DVD is still in print and available at most online retailers.



Monday, September 9, 2013

POBB: September 4, 2013


Pick of the Brown Bag
September 4, 2013
by 
Ray Tate

This week in the Pick of the Brown Bag, I review new Dynamite title Codename: Action and the latest issue of The Owl.  I'll also look at the new universe of Ami-Comi Girls, and to get the ball rolling, it's a spoiler ridden review of Forever Evil.  Don't skip ahead yet though.  I'll give you ample warning when I'm ready to divulge.


I'm recommending this title for it's sheer audacity. Forever Evil puts the kibosh on four storyarcs from Nightwing, Batgirl, Batman and Superman, without so much as a by your leave.


Lex Luthor was working to secure his release from prison in Superman and Action Comics.  Now, he's out and reacquiring assets, while gaining new ones.  At least that was the plan.


After Death of the Family, The Batman Family treated Bruce as a pariah.  Barbara Gordon declares this alienation over, and you don't argue with Batgirl.


Nightwing went to Chicago to discover the truth about the killer of his parents, Tony Zucco.  Along the way, he encountered a new villain called the Prankster, but you can forget that.


Babs also made a bid for the Oscar for Best Guilt-Ridden Maven.  After wrongfully thinking she killed her psychotic brother, who is currently serving in the Suicide Squad glee club for the equally nutso Amanda Waller, Babs ripped the bat symbol off her chest, and then stopped wearing the costume all together.  As you can see, she got over it.


Oh, and by the way, Ms. Oback.  Babs' eyes are blue, baby.  They're blue.  They've always been blue.  They always will be blue.  Blue.

I can see the talent behind these tales being miffed, but the reader shouldn't feel the same.  


The story developments weren't exactly brilliant or groundbreaking, and they would have petered out anyway.  So, I'm not really sorry to see Forever Evil writer Geoff Johns obliterate them in one fell swoop.

S
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A
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!

Pandora's Box turned out to be the Mother Box of Earth 3. It was a teleportation device meant to transport the Crime Syndicate to a new venue to conquer.


For those unfamiliar with the history, the Crime Syndicate first appeared way, way back in Justice League of America #29.  They've since made numerous returns to vex the Justice League.  These core members continue to serve evil in the new 52, only now with Atomica--the artist formerly known as the Atom, Deathstorm, a skeletal analogue of Firestorm, and a robot called Grid who inhabited Cyborg's armor.

If you believe the Crime Syndicate, they, between the Trinity War which ended last week and Forever Evil, killed the Justice League.  Why you would believe them however is beyond me.  It's most likely that they think they killed the League, but in reality Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are regrouping and healing their wounds.  Atomica speared a shard of Kryptonite into Superman's brain.  So, that's one of the problems the Trinity still need to deal with.  It's also possible that the Justice League were transported to Earth 3 and remain trapped there until Batman figures out a means to get them back.

Whatever the case, the Crime Syndicate have been busy during the past months, laying the foundation for a massive gathering of villainy.  They did all this through the auspices of an Earth 3 Alfred, a new addition to the mythology.  Indeed with rare exceptions, the Crime Syndicate traditionally are not the same people as their heroic counterparts.  Hence, Bruce Wayne is usually not Owl-Man.

In the premiere, the Crime Syndicate start their takeover, and they seem to offer their hands in partnership to the super-villains of the DC Universe.  I'm sure this is all a pretense.  Villains seldom work together for long.  Never the less, Johns and artist David Finch gather the vultures and allude to the neo-archetype seen in Crisis on Infinite Earths, where the Monitor collects all the heroes of multiple earths on his satellite headquarters.


Indeed, the villains did combine forces during that first Big Event, and the aggregate went south rather quickly.  After that historic union, every subsequent evil hootenanny lacked intensity, but Forever Evil bears more quality.  I won't say Forever Evil is as good as past villainous team-ups in the Justice League of America, but it is about a million times better than dreck such as Infinite Crisis:

...without a doubt one of the stupidest things I have read in two decades, yet because it's written without a scintilla of feeling, I cannot muster any anger over the conclusion; just wide-eyed, mouth agape disbelief at the grand stupidity that almost but not quite reaches the level of a Mystery Science Theater experiment. 

The premise to Forever Evil on the other hand actually makes sense.  The Crime Syndicate are despots, and they make it hard to conduct criminal enterprises.  For example, the Flash Rogues aren't interested in world domination.  They want to rob banks to buy stuff.  The Rogues depend on capitalism.  They want people to get ahead.  They want people to make oodles and oodles of money, so they can steal it.  Tyrants ruin the economy, and if these czars of evil start putting their faces on money and begin an onslaught of random killing, that just makes it worse.  

Forever Evil furthermore exceeds expectations by actually doing something that will have impact.  Things change in the new 52.  Death of the Family killed the Joker.  Trinity War will likely end Amanda Waller's war against the Justice League; they know what she's up to now.  Forever Evil kills Nightwing.


Just kidding.  Something bad happens to Nightwing.  It's permanent, but not death and not maiming.  The Crime Syndicate attacks him where he lives.  No, not down there.  That was the post-Crisis Nightwing that had nailed nearly every super-heroine in the DCU.  This Nightwing is actually a decent guy, with less notches in his bedpost.  The Crime Syndicate however know exactly how to hurt him, and its representative of Johns knowing what makes these characters tick, finally.  Credit where credit is due.  Johns also wrote The Infinite Crisis


Codename: Action reads like terrible fan fiction.  The point of view character, our Mary Sue, is an unknown American agent codenamed Operator 1001.  Oh, wait.  I thought he was codenamed Action.  As in Captain Action, as in Dynamite didn't get the license for Captain Action.  

After Operative 1001 tests his spy prowess, he meets his new partner, the infamous pulp hero Operator 5, last seen in a Moonstone Spider backup, which really shouldn't be a surprise since Dynamite poached nearly all their heroes from Moonstone.
  
When Nazi inspired armies and would be Fantomas announced themselves by ghoulishly killing American citizens, U.S. Intelligence would send Operator 5 to eliminate them.  Real name, Jimmy Christopher he was James Bond before James Bond.  Perhaps, this is what inspired writer Chris Roberson to turn his Agency into a defacto MI-6, with a Judi Dench like M...


...and a Q, which always was short for quartermaster.


He's black because it's America and a melting pot, not the homogeneous white chocolate at the British counterpart.


Oh Snap!  

The agency orders the two operators, smooth they are not, to investigate the unusually bellicose behavior of world leaders everywhere.  The reason behind this trouble originates from a shaggy dog that served as a ludicrous plot twist for the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, a paragon for bad writing and bad taste.


By the by, the book Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming is widely available and superior in every aspect: from its focus on Bond breaking a diamond smuggling ring to Bond's more meaningful relationship with Tiffany Case, who is much richer in character.  Avoid the movie.  Read the book.


Along the tour of the Cold War shenanigans, Roberson reintroduces readers to other heroes of the era, but he mostly botches his research.  While, yes, the public domain American Crusader, last seen in Project Superpowers, was indeed American, Black Venus, inexplicably becomes French.


Codename: Action reads tired, but as with many a Dynamite product, the art surpasses the weakness of the story.  Jonathan Lau's renditions are just gorgeous with vivid colors by Ivan Nunes. So, if you like the artwork, Codename: Wait for the Trade.

This was the worst issue of Ame-Comi Girls.  What with each issue of Jimmy Palmiotti's and Justin Gray's series knocking it out of the park every month, it's easy to make such a judgment.

Last issue, Gray and Palmiotti wiped out their entire universe and reformed it at the conclusion with the birth of New Genesis and Apokolips.  This issue picks up that thread in the last few pages with the introduction of Big Barda and a version of the Female Furies, but Palmiotti and Gray devote the lion's share to the excruciating Teen Hellions.


Gray and Palmiotti half-heartedly attempt to create a DC version of the Legion of Monsters.  They turn the Jesse Quick version of the Flash into a zombie, Raven into a vampire, a feminized Beast Boy into a werewolf, etc.  However, it doesn't quite add up. 

Zombies and vampires are undead.  So, while the speed feasting Flash is an interesting inhuman creature, you really can't call her a zombie.  Zombies are the hobos of the undead.  They smell bad, shamble and lack a dress sense.  The Flash cleans up well, and apparently the speed provides enough energy to keep her cells alive.  Her heart would have to beat as well.  All of this would stave off necrosis and prevent the odor decaying flesh, what with her actually being alive and everything.

Vampires aren't born.  They're made.  While Red Raven is vampire-like, she is the daughter of a human woman and Trigon, who is the antagonist of the issue.  So, yeah.  She doesn't sparkle, and she feeds on the blood of humans, but true vampire of legend? No.  Vampirella is more of a vampire, although she comes from the planet Drakulon and positively basks in the sun.

Cyborg and Starfire also serve on the team, but apart from the gender shift in Cyborg, they remain unchanged.  Trying to fit Cyborg into the Frankenstein archetype doesn't work.  She's too shiny for one thing, and the Frankenstein Monster's status as horrific depends on the patched together dead body parts.  None of that here, and Starfire remains Starfire.  So how is a beautiful alien princess a monster? Perhaps if she ate kiddie brains.


From the mind-blowing Gamera vs. Guiron

Tempest is the only real monster on the team.  She fits the mold of a bona fide Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Gray and Palmiotti fish in new 52 waters for one of the piranha men in the Trench, turn her into a piranha woman, well not really, and in regards to the the Beast Boy analogue, the werewolf association is a stretch, even with the Gypsy curse.

In addition to the flawed premise, Palmiotti and Gray rely on some of the most annoying cliches about teenagers to construct the team's interchangeable personalities.  They're a group of emotive, flighty girls obsessed with pop culture, and this cloud of Clueless conflicts with the intended drama of their battling demons and Trigon, who is a joke.


Gray and Palmiotti turn him into an estranged father who wants to spend time with his daughter.  Crap, I'm afraid.


The star book of the week is The Owl.  J.T. Krul with artists Heubert Khan Michael and Vinicius Andrade   continue develop the Owl's and the new Owl Girl's shaky relationship.  With this issue, a crime lord offers Owl Girl an offer that makes practical sense and accents the ease in which she could fall to the criminal's side.  It helps that Michael and Andrade make this character completely human and not a grotesque Dick Tracy type villain.  He's instead a sleazy European.  Molto Bene.


The Owl is mindful of Megan, his partner's granddaughter, but he's conscious that its her decision.  He plumbs the depths of his history for an episode that reflects his flawed humanity in the hopes of swaying her away from a dark migration.


Megan believes herself a champion, and she may be, but she also collects funds from the criminal element.  She destroys a drug operation, but she keeps the money and uses it as a means to keep herself afloat: a nice apartment, clothes, car, etc.  The Owl disapproves, but he can see that she's not really doing this for the money.  She wants to destroy crime.

Khan and Andrade display a strong sense of emotional conveyance in the quiet scenes focusing on Owl Girl.  It quite naturally creates a feeling of indecision and uneasiness that grants resonance to an already strong superhero vs super villain match of the week.

For that bout, the creative team orchestrate a classic rooftop duel against an assassin hired by Jasper, the diminutive mastermind bent on killing Owl Girl.  Even without Megan's angst, the story would have been notable for the speed in which Owl Girl attacks and the experience the Owl exhibits.  A good solid action-packed tale becomes reinforced with an underlying skeleton examining the slow build corruption of a crimefighter.