Monday, September 9, 2013

POBB: September 4, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 4, 2013
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.



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.

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