Monday, October 21, 2013

POBB: October 16, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 16, 2013
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week, I review Ame-Comi Girls, Baltimore, Batman Beyond Universe, Batman and Superman, Birds of the Prey, Justice League of America, King's Watch, Rogue's Rebellion and Wonder Woman.

In Justice League, Batman and Superman met for the first time.  In Greg Pak's Batman and Superman, the two heroes meet for the first time.  What's more they meet their earth two counterparts for the first time.  The final issue of the first Batman and Superman storyarc solves the conflict in a traditional way, and that's where one of this title's problems lie.  

Batman and Superman is a very traditional book that was hyped as something different.  The title should have been momentous, but it changed nothing and did nothing special to explain the added dollar to the price tag.   The World's Best team's encounter in fact is less interesting than the interaction between the earth two Catwoman, Lois Lane and Wonder Woman, who have the rapport of old friends, because in this universe they are.  I'd rather  see a book based on them.

Art wise, Jae Lee went literally too dark on two issues, but for this chapter, he returns to a better balance of light casting, even a little brighter than his opening gambit.  As a result, we can enjoy the expressions of the characters and marvel at their musculature, especially the mid-air battle between Wonder Woman and a New God of mischief.  Hopefully the second story in Batman and Superman will spin a better yarn.

Batman and Superman's story was mediocre with a few good bits of characterization.  Justice League of America's scenario is bog-standard with practically no characterization.  J'onn J'onnz wakes in a super-powered prison that really shouldn't contain the more experienced heroes of the Justice League.  Wonder Woman, Superman and Flash nevertheless all remain impotent against the psychological succor of the high-tech jail.  They're just as easily suckered as Captain Marvel.  The issue is just really a puffy place holder consisting of empty calories.

I really like Diana's coat in Wonder Woman.  As for the story, it just establishes the status quo of the Olympians trying to make her sit in Ares' place, Strife plotting vengeance against Diana for slaying her brother and...ah...a lot of talking and no hitting.

Unlike Birds of Prey.  It's really great to see Batgirl in action again and with a partner.  Judging by the yellow bat symbol on her chest, this story occurs before the moment when she ripped it off, or maybe her Ninja costume is in the wash again.  Whatever.  The story's forgettable, but Batgirl behaving strong, confident and in charge is like a warm ray of sunshine on the face.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray expand the Ame-Comi Girls femmeverse.  In the culmination of the first issue, the duo surprised the reader by obliterating their carefully constructed reverse genderfication of the DCU.  Their reboot wasn't all that inviting.  They introduced a kind-of, sort-of zombie Jesse Quick, which I wasn't all too keen about, a pretty weak group of horror show Teen Titans and space pirate Big Barda, whom I can take or leave.

In this issue, Palmiotti and Gray restore the Justice League: Batgirl, Robin, Power Girl, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Steel.  Our heroes however only cameo.  Still, it's nice to see the more familiar characters I enjoyed in the first volume of Ame-Comi Girls, alive and well.  The League are recruiting new members.  So they watch the updates in wrap around segments that integrate with the story, as opposed to acting like narration.

Gray and Palmiotti conceive an ingenious origin for the White Canary that incorporates the Canary Cry with a nifty little twist.  The authors hint that this particular short is akin to a grindhouse movie, and the Canary's origins mirror some of the street level elements of the genre.  Her martial arts mastery, which artist Adam Archer details with gusto, fits smoothly in the chop-socky intent, and the writing partners furthermore preserve Canary's history.  They institute a clever means to draw in the Canary's choker.  The 1940s Canary completed her classic ensemble with a silk choker that sported a hollowed out amulet containing whatever she needed to complete an adventure, usually a knock-out gas capsule or smoke bomb.

The other two stories are okay, but the comedy in the Big Barda feature was a little too broad for my tastes.  Palmiotti and Gray rejigger Darkseid as an evil princess, but she just seemed like a  female cosplayer.  Miss Miracle is also a goofy concept; perhaps if I saw her without the full-face mask.  In the last tale, while Mera gains a crown independent of Aquaman, she doesn't quite radiate the potency of her new 52 counterpart.

Batman Beyond Universe just didn't pay off.  Last issue Terry, our future Batman, fought the originals Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl.  Frankly, there was no way I wasn't going to be disappointed with the explanation.  

The Superman side-B is just a bloody fight between The Man of Steel and Jax-Ur in the Phantom Zone, but stick with it, and Aquagirl gets her due in a spectacular moment.

Best book of the week.  King's Watch.  The second issue of the Defenders of the Earth redux features the same fantastic, realistic art that recalls some of the best newspaper strip illustrators.  The scenarios spotlight Flash Gordon and Dale Arden fisticuffs against the Cobra's minions in serial glory, a stunning manifestation of Mandrake the Magician, performing more than mere illusion here and The Phantom being a guide in the marvelously diverse African habitat.  

Jeff Parker doesn't so much recreate these legends from the newspaper.  Rather he returns them back to what they were, even cleverly absorbs the original polo background of Flash Gordon into this modern update.  He only makes changes to the figures that were the product of societal pressure.  

Lothar was always a bad example of stereotyping until most of society, those not in the Tea Party, grew up.  So Lothar becomes a mirror to his cartoon persona, albeit without the sort of action hero background.  Parker instead gives Lothar a more realistic avenue to pursue that's interrupted by the nightmare beasts seeping into the earth through quantum tunnels opened by science fiction devices so powerful that they follow Clarke's Law, a law that Dale Arden understands.  

Parker turns Flash Gordon's girlfriend into Sarah Jane Smith, although with an edgier personality.  Doctor Who fans will know that Sarah was a science reporter, and that role fits the new sophisticated Dale Arden to a tee.  To be fair this was neither the first time Dale became a reporter or fluent in science, but it's nice to see these attributes come back in a sophisticated package.

Second best dramatic comic book of the week.  Baltimore: The Infernal Train.  Finally, some action.  Too many Baltimore books were just dull, unconnected horror stories.  This one is pretty damn good, and pure Baltimore.

Our lordship duels the crazed inquisition priest Duvic as he affirms his stance.  Baltimore isn't an atheist.  He believes whatever force created the universe died.  This is a rational man, who when faced with insane horrors concludes that no benevolent deity could allow such terror to exist.  

In the eyes of Duvic, Lord Baltimore blasphemes, and his obsession to kill Baltimore through purification carries through the entire book.  Even when a greater evil presents itself, there's no throwing in with the enemy.  It's every man for himself and then I'll skewer you with my trusty sword, in god's name.  

Such craziness makes Infernal Train outstanding entertainment.  In fact, Duvic's mental issues often usurp the title danger, which is a pity, because it's a fantastic mash of the Doctor Who episode "State of Decay" and the bizarre cult classic Amok Train, which you should watch with somebody you love.

Rogue's Rebellion played out exactly as I thought it would.  The Flash Rogues are bank robbers who haven't any chance for survival in the superpowered dictatorship spawned in moments by the Crime Syndicate.

The Flash writer Brian Buccellato also relies on a personal reason for two of the Rogues to resist.  Lisa Snart, alias the Golden Glider lies in a hospital that the Syndicate orders to be razed to the ground. 

The Rogues are so off board with the Syndicate that they even release the cops, that were miraculously left alive after Grodd's slaughter of Central City.  This occurred in one of those lame "Villain's Month" fiascoes   So, I know nothing about it, but it's awfully nice of the monkey to keep the Flash's supporting cast breathing, for a fickle of reasoning.

Patrick Zircher orchestrates the artwork, but you're unlikely to recognize Zircher's usually fine pencils or draftsmanship because Scott Hepburn and colorist Nick Filardi turn everything dark and nearly Vertigo strange in look.

Dark subject matter gets turned on its head in Ian Boothby's Simpsons Comics.  The long dormant Springfield Volcano erupts prompting Diamond Joe Quimby to make a life-affirming decision.  He decrees that the most innocent Springfielder will be sacrificed.  Innocence translates to dumb, and the candidates left include the following.

Numerous gags ripple through a contest of cretins.  Boothby keeps all the cast--however moronic--in character.  That includes a sweet little move by Chief Wiggum to save his son Ralph from the gaping maw.  The tactic once again exemplifies Wiggum's unconditional love for his son.  Putting aside the sugar, Boothby also makes time for hilarity symbolized by such tomfoolery as Cletis' kid catapult.

Though Boothby's tale is set in the normal stomping grounds, artists Phil Ortiz, Mike DeCarlo and Art Villanueva have plenty to do as slapstick strikes and weird non sequitur guests drop in for more laughs.  

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