Pick of the Brown Bag
October 23, 2013
Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag. This week we tackle a slew of comic books including All-Star Western, Aquaman, Beware the Batman, Catwoman, Doctor Who, The Flash, Futurama, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Superman and the new title Pretty Deadly.
It should come to nobody's surprise that the escapee in question is one Philip J. Fry.
Unfazed by the setback, Mom hatches a new scheme to obtain Fry's heart. She bamboozles him into accepting an internship at her corporation. Keep your friends close, your enemies closer and your unwitting organ donors next door.
Eric Rogers' story soaks the premise for all its worth and produces comedy by throwing a stone in a pond and letting the ripples wash over the antagonists. It turns out that the previously established attraction between Mom and Professor Farnsworth catalyzes a surprising rapport between Fry and Mom. As a result, Mom finds Fry endearing, and Fry tries to please Mom as if she were a favorite aunt.
Rogers' tale thrives on an undercurrent of sweetness, that anywhere else, might seem hokey. Because this is a story less dependent on slapstick, it's the natural looking expressions and body language, within the Futurama model, from Nina Matsumoto that grant authenticity to the unlikely maternal love story.
Pretty Deadly is a strange story from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios. The book opens weirdly with a gratuitous bunny killing before settling into a narrative about traveling performance artists touring the old west.
The bards in question--Fox and Sissy--relate a fable about the personification of death, which just might be Alice who leads a less than merry band in pursuit of a paper mcguffin once in the possession of a former colleague.
Meanwhile, the consummate gunfighting skill of the blind storyteller, Fox, foils a robbery and generates intrigue. His partner Sissy is a young Native American with one blue eye and one black. Visually, they're a striking pair, and DeConnick fleshes out their characterization when Fox and Sissy take refuge at Fox's friend's abode.
In terms of introductory chapters, Pretty Deadly is the best I've seen from DeConnick. Things happen. The cast are quickly established. The plotting makes sense. In addition, Emma Rios' artwork is attractive yet suitable to the gritty genre, and Jordie Bellaire's rich but earthen colors maintain a western atmosphere without relying on the perhaps overused Sergio Leone sepia.
Also in the old west this week, the Doctor solves the mystery of the mysterious, masked stranger that can kill with his finger. Though a little slow, Tony Lee's story mixes historical personages such as Oscar Wilde with a fairplay mystery that doesn't rely upon anything outlandish. The story's other plot elements utilize just a tiny science fiction nuance and a big wedge of overt science fantasy, but the actual enigmatic slayings reflect comprehensible technology. It's the face behind the weapon that's alien ugly.
Lee also generates some fun in tangential scenes, such as when Clara, the Doctor's companion, confronts the TARDIS. The TARDIS doesn't like Clara. So for the faithful viewer, it's a hoot to see that kind of interplay reiterated, and for a new comer Michael Collins' artwork tells you what's going on through Clara's determined akimbo stance.
Both All-Star Western and Forever Evil are comedies, but only one I suspect was meant to be purposely hilarious. That's All-Star Western.
Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray conclude time lost bounty hunter Jonah Hex's legal issues in the twenty-first century. Those expecting a Perry Mason like drama in which we expound upon the subtleties of the law will be sorely disappointed. The savvy Wayne legal team instead secure Hex's release from police custody by cynically playing the politics of the situation.
Arkham however is wrong, and Gray and Palmiotti's captions which deserve their own musical motifs emphasize his lack of faith in Hex's ability to adapt to new situations.
Hex and his lady friend Gina take the Easy Rider route. On the road, Hex digs for the riches he buried in the desert long ago, picks up a new pair of weapons, takes in his internet fame and winds up at Burning Man.
At Burning Man, trouble brews in the form of demons acting as harbinger to a much nastier boss. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, Hex has help in the form of John Constantine.
Moritat's artwork is absolutely perfect. It will be easier to see the way in which the illustrator handles the various moods in the collection of this time travel story, but for this issue, Moritat presents a theme of bemusement rather than ultraviolence. His cartoony women exhibit a seasoned, expressionist burlesque and contrasts the grotesque countenance of Hex himself. Though Moritat tempers even the hero's scarred surliness in a scene involving a lollipop that's at once unsettling and funny. Not to be missed.
Forever Evil offers a different kind of humor. It's just so over the top, you cannot help but laugh. Ultraman comes from a planet where Lara and Jor-El barely tolerate each other. The animosity couple send baby Ultraman to earth from a doomed planet Krypton in which escape is readily available if the evacuees can stop fighting over the pods.
Lara and Jor-El kill their way through their fellow Kryptonians to secure a means for their son to travel because...well...let's go with gene pool survival. They don't actually love their son. Love is a five letter word on Krypton. Everywhere else too, but that's not my point. As young Kal rockets away from Krypton. His parents give no words of comfort or encouragement.
Klingons imbue more love and support to their children. Our bony-headed samurai don't consider their itty-bitty children weak. They see it as an honor to protect their babies until they come of age. There is no way this Kryptonian civilization could have possibly formed. Civilization depends upon co-operation and tolerance, not Tea Party ethics based on Ayn Rand egotism.
Kal rockets from the doomed planet Krypton, but the Kents he finds are far cries from the kindly, nourishing salt of the earth folk our Kal-El discovered. Instead, we have a pair of gold mining reptiles from the opening of a pulp novel, with Martha Kent as an added bonus being a heroin addict. Fantastic, and what the hell?
As we jump to modern times, Ultraman takes in the sights and sounds of earth one to examine how different his allies are. On Ultraman's earth Jim Olsen is a photographer, but I'm guessing the earth three Olsen was a lot like the typically sleazy photographers from giallo.
His subject was apparently Lois Lane, Superwoman on earth three. This is where we learn that Ultraman doesn't even like Superwoman. He just sees her as a vessel for his heir. The thought of these two mating would be the most frightening thing imaginable if not for the fact it's so riotously over the top.
Superwoman also saw Ultraman as a primo sperm factory, but the whole thing just reads as a skyrocketing sendup of a soap opera. If you've ever seen Roy Thinnes as an openly philandering doctor on General Hospital you know what I mean. These slices of goofiness served as shorts for Mystery Science Theater. That's how ridiculous they were.
So apart from this tour de farce of decadence is there anything at all that might, just might attract somebody not looking for a laugh? Two words.
And now a couple for Justice League Dark. This issue is entirely skippable. J.M. DeMatteis substitutes for Jeff Lemire and/or Ray Fawkes, and his story can be summed up pretty quickly as Constantine tripping. True, there's no drugs involved, but the narrative's a farrago of falsehood. Every scene is just some hallucination caused by exposure from Pandora's Box and the setting being the House of Mystery. The tale could be subtitled "It Came from the Editor's Inventory Drawer," and it's a pity that Michael Janin can do no wrong. His art is as usual spectacular. He rises above the shopworn writing, but there's simply no way I can recommend such a callous placeholder.
Of course, Justice League Dark if boring is at least coherent. Beware the Batman is like Batman in a foreign language, French I would say. Why is Katana Bruce Wayne's chauffeur? Is it because Kato's Japanese? Why does Alfred look like a dock worker from Liverpool? Why does Anarky look like Phantom Girl after a trip to Sweden? Why is Bruce Wayne's nemesis Metamorpho's Simon Stagg? How did Amanda Waller become the Mayor of Gotham? Who would vote for her? What's with the giant, sad, puppy-dog eyes on every character? The only thing I can support is the design of Batman. Long ears, flowing cape, dark leotard, substantial utility belt, glowing eyes. Put him in something I can recognize, and I would read this title in a heart beat.
Superman lies unconscious at the feet of the new 52 reboot of the Psycho Pirate, whose nutso agenda is to "free" humanity of rationality. Without reason, the Metropolitians riot and revert to savagery. Can anybody stop them. Looks like it just might be Lois Lane.
Superman doesn't suffer from the same malaise that Forever Evil inadvertently caused Batgirl and Nightwing. That's because Mike Johnson relates an entertaining tale that ends with an impact that's independent from the events unfolding in Forever Evil. Accomplished artwork from Eddy Barrows helps sell the solid story.
The Flash is a great comic book. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato conclude the Reverse Flash tale with a satisfying reaffirmation of Barry Allen's heroism, thereby justifying his return.
Flashpoint readers will grin at the the mention of time travel. It was this incarnation of the Flash that re-established the new 52 after the post-Crisis Flash altered time and space by attempting to rewrite his mother's murder out of the continuum. Manapul and Buccellato thus recapitulate the very first Flash story in the new 52 while giving a more salient explanation of just how the Flash repairs time.
Manapul and Buccellato relate their science fiction through powerful artwork that combines animated penciling and colorful finishing. Picking up The Flash results in being transported into a specific world with a singular look. It's one of the few books on the shelf that visually imprints a sense of wonder.
Buccellato and Manapul end the Reverse Flash story in a few pages. That's all they need. They have plenty of space left over, and they address more issues within their Flash run. What should have felt episodic instead rolls together in a sturdy framework.
After the defeat of the Reverse Flash, Barry takes care of premiere pest Professor Elias Darwin. Patty Spivot, Barry's lady love, attended her parents wedding anniversary. Barry late, though not that late, attends the party, and in the narration expresses his love for Patty.
I've been on team Patty since the beginning. Buccellato and Manapul made it clear that despite her hotness, especially in a Flash costume, Iris will not be Barry's paramour. At least not on their watch. Iris blew her chance to become Barry's number one when she attempted to use him on behalf of her crazy brother David, the Reverse Flash. In that moment everything pivoted even farther to the new 52.
Patty has always been loyal to Barry, and it hasn't been easy, but Buccellato and Manapul characterize her as a rational woman, a fellow police scientist. She is an objective observer hopelessly in love with Barry. For that reason, she hated the Flash. Evidence suggested he killed Barry. Later, she learns about the one link in the chain missing from her investigation. Rather than carp about a betrayal of trust, she readily accepts that the Flash and Barry are one in the same. She understands the conflict between the hero the Flash appeared to be and his callous "murder" of Barry Allen. Now, she can be with the man she loves wholly.
When Patty awakens, Barry's gone. The Flash is about momentum. Barry knows the mistake the Reverse Flash made cannot be repeated, and it's likely that this knowledge informs his decision to stop the post-Crisis Flash in Flashpoint. Barry reopens his mother's murder case. He pours over the details like a cop. He doesn't even think once to go back in time to prevent the killing.
Patty finds the boxes of evidence on the floor, but no sign of Barry. There's a plane about to crash into Central City. Millions will die, but thanks to Manapul and Buccellato, the Flash is a quintessential hero, once again.
In Aquaman the Sea-King awakens six months later, which strangely puts him outside of the events in Forever Evil, a mini-series by Aquaman scribe Geoff Johns. Maybe this is a means to clean the slate for upcoming talent Jeff Parker to take over the reins. Whatever. Vulko reveals the secret of Aquaman and the Atlanteans this issue. So what?
There are a lot of interesting ideas in this issue of Aquaman. The Atlanteans share a common ancestor with other denizens of the sea. The Atlanteans also appear to have already expressed the biological equipment needed to breathe underwater while living on land. Else, how could some of them immediately survive the sinking? All these fascinating nuggets are mostly ignored in favor of an episode of submerged Game of Thrones.
I can see a lot of Harlequin fans being angry at DC over the new 52 Duela Dent alias the Joker's Daughter. Catwoman says it best.
Yeah. This isn't Duela Dent from the pre-Crisis Teen Titans, nor the post-Crisis cameo girl. DC just stole her name for an inferior character. The same thing happened to Kathy Kane. Don't worry about it. Just ignore her until her star fades.
At the very least, the new Duela Dent fits into the Gotham Underground, which is well weird. At the same time, I'm having a difficult time believing that Batman can be unaware of a considerable number of multiple tribes living in the bowels of his city and allowing these potential threats--from pink biohazards to explosive blue diamonds--to manifest.
Ignoring the Batman factor, although this is difficult, the chapter gives Catwoman closure while shifting the focus away from one mcguffin in favor of another. Well illustrated by Rafa Sandoval and with a special thanks to Scott McDaniel, getting around in the DCU lately, you could do worse than picking up Ann Nocenti's Catwoman.