Tuesday, November 26, 2013

POBB: November 20, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 20, 2013
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week I review Batman 66, Batman and...., Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn and the first issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up.  I'll also have a few words about Batman Beyond Universe, Supergirl, The Wake and Wonder Woman, but first I have three words for "The Day of the Doctor" as a 50th Anniversary Special.

Worthy.  Absolutely worthy.

Right.  On with the reviews.  Oh, what, you want more insight? All right then.  Drop way, way, down.  Past the yawn of Wonder Woman.

My history with Scooby-Doo is long and treasured.  It all of course started with the cartoon Scooby-Doo Where Are You?  Since then I've watched every iteration of the show, even the lousy ones with Scrappy-Doo and that Puerto Rican kid.  I followed Scooby-Doo in the comics, and I became known not just for scalding the post-Crisis but also for reviewing every DC issue of Scooby-Doo.

After years of providing Scooby-Doo fans with entertainment, DC mismanaged the franchise.  The wonderful stories by such writers as Terrance Griep Jr. and The X-Files' John Rozum accompanied by the fantastic art of Joe Staton gave way to a more overtly juvenile anthology. The stories and artwork were still amusing but these elements often didn't match the quality of the previous generation of occasionally challenging mysteries and the accomplished near animation of Staton.

As DC concentrated more on Big Stupid Events, they let Scooby-Doo fall through the cracks.  DC eventually committed fraud by charging more money for reprints of Scooby-Doo after advertising them as new.  It was the last straw for me. 

Before the crime occurred, one of the more inventive second wave Scooby-Doo writers took over as the senior scribe. Sholly 
Fisch stands behind this newest Scooby-Doo imprint, and I immediately included it on my list because I knew that there was no chance for reprints.  The idea behind the new title arises from the New Scooby-Doo Mysteries.  An hour long series that came after Scooby-Doo Where Are You?  In the most memorable episode, Scooby and the Gang meet Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin, and that's who guest stars in Scooby-Doo Team-Up.

Scooby-Doo and the Gang investigate giant bat sightings but instead of finding a monster, they uncover Batman and Robin looking into the same felonies.  Fisch acknowledges the continuity of New Scooby-Doo Mysteries  in clever snatches of dialogue.   

Fisch's cleverness however isn't isolated to that one scene. He keeps everybody in character while he relates a most enjoyable clash of worlds.  He saturates the interaction and the plot with good-natured but genuine humor, and the comedy is more sophisticated than what you would find on an upper tier sitcom.  

In addition, Fisch creates a plausible explanation to the mystery that attracts both teams of crime solvers.  He works within the formula of Scooby-Doo, while providing plenty of action for Batman and Robin.  Indeed, while this issue acts as a well above average Scooby-Doo caper, it also operates as a fine Batman and Robin episode.  With little editing, the story could have appeared in Detective Comics.  Although this villain perhaps has worn out his welcome in that title.  He seems newly energized here.

The art by Dario Brizuela is also impressive.  Scooby and the gang are on model, and Brizuela's Batman and Robin surpasses some of the so-called serious artists' interpretations of the character.  Batman can be dark in the shadows but a caped crusader in the light.  His ear length and cape design are ideal.  This is a Batman that you actually might imagine in the real world, and that's how he's supposed to be.  Robin is excellent, a younger man in the classic costume that's free of angst and full of vigor.

A crime wave involving the sleep-inducing Sandman interrupts Bruce Wayne's and Dick Grayson's fishing trip.  On the Batman television show, Michael Rennie portrayed the Sandman, and artist Ruben Procopio comes up with a pretty good likeness.  

Procopio's Batman and Robin also resemble Adam West and Burt Ward.  The cast's mirroring isn't the only nod to realism.

The Sandman isn't a crazy psychopath.  He instead fosters a plausible motive for his crime.  Extortion.  He just wants money, damn it.    He doesn't even care about finding out Batman's secret identity.    The Sandman wants to discover something about Batman, but only to gain more profit.

It's during these scenes when the Sandman tries to extract information from Batman that the tone of the book becomes more palatable to adults.  The trippy dream sequence is a surreal pleasure that's too elevated for kids.  Both audiences though will enjoy the fact that Batman deduces and combats the dream sequence head-on.

Jeff Parker's Batman 66 is a lot less campy than the television show.  Like Scooby-Doo Team-Up it just seems like an all-ages Batman book.  On the one hand Batman is not threatening.  On the other hand, he is very intelligent and resourceful and not averse to socking the bad guy.  When you put sound effects in a comic book, it's still just a comic book.

The reason I purchased Batman 66 is very obvious.

What I didn't know is that I would also be getting Colleen Coover artwork.  As a result, the Batgirl feature is a charming, delightful short choreographing Batgirl's battle against Catwoman, as portrayed by Eartha Kitt.  
Again, there's no camp.  Just action, action and more gorgeously illustrated action.  The dead-on Batgirl and the kinetic escapade is even more rewarding given the dire dip in quality that's currently the norm in Gail Simone's Batgirl.

Batman fares pretty well in the new 52 this week.  It appeared that Peter Tomasi was doing his best to turn Batman insane.  Affected by the death of his son Damien, Batman even dissected Frankenstein to discover the secret of bringing back the dead.  He was hostile to Batgirl, but she's on the road to a nervous breakdown.  So, I'm pretty sure that they were both at fault.

Tomasi started the healing process with Batman having an encounter with Catwoman.  She suckers him into doing the right thing, and by saving a little girl's life, he starts to come out of the deep well he dropped into.  

For this issue of Batman and... Tomasi presents Batman back to normal.  He saves a handful of lives by thwarting Two-Face and then follows up by reprising his role as a classic Bronze Age persona, that's a lot of fun to watch.  

The reason behind the charade ties into previously unknown history between Batman, Two-Face and a hardened criminal named Erin McKillen, think of her as if Fiona Glennan never met Michael Westen.  McKillen is a daughter of the Irish Mob, and Two-Face wants her dead for reasons that become clear.  Batman cannot allow that.

Tomasi and his partner Patrick Gleason detail excitement in the present and in the past.  They turn their attention to Gotham Penetentiary and end the book on a laugh out loud funny comment from Alfred, back to being Batman's behind the scenes partner. 

In the new 52, Christy Marx puts together a pretty decent "Year Zero" tie-in.  That's mainly because she really only pays the moments lip service and instead exploits the opportunity to flesh out the Black Canary's past.  

Marx relates Diana's origin, and it's a refreshing change from the old one where Ted Grant trains her.  Wildcat is a boxer.  Black Canary is historically one of the top three female martial artists in comics: Batgirl, Black Canary and Harvey's the Black Cat.  I always felt there was no need for every hero having a link to Wildcat, especially when his method of fighting wasn't pertinent.  

Marx's newst version drops continuity in favor of martial arts movie traditions but wrapped in a decidedly American kung-fu diversity.

Most importantly, there's a lot of violence, courtesy of regular Birds of Prey artist Romano Molenaar, involving gang-bangers, looters and Ninja.  So, it's not dull, and Marx just for fun throws in a tie-in to Team 7.

Harley Quinn is also not dull, but it's not as funny as some people are crediting.  It's more of a hit or miss and potluck.  Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conners haven't yet focused on how this comic book is going to work.  This issue is a free-for-all that's dependent mostly on slapstick and sight gags.  For example...

This is a sample of my favorite page in debut.  I have no idea why the thought of Harley fighting crime while riding dolphins tickles me, but I could not stop laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing.  This scene just clicks.

Dan Panosian offers a slice of delicious cheesecake, but the actual parody fell flat for me.

Bruce Timm strives and succeeds at presenting both cheesecake and comedy.  Other artists opt for a more traditional approach.

The thing is with such a variety, you're bound to find something you like in Harley's premiere.  I'm hoping however the second issue is a bit more substantial so the gags hang better.

I can read about Supergirl beating the crap out of H'el all day long, every day.  She already killed him once, what did he think was going to happen? It actually gets worse for the time traveling putz.  This is part three in a Superman story arc, but I'm still recommending it for Kara's toughness.  Bad ass and artist Paolo Sequeira's dynamic artwork.

Batman Beyond Universe also gets a recommendation for Christos Gage's terrific Superman/Justice League story.  The Kyle Higgins Batman mystery just kind of peters out, but we've got scenes such as this in Gage's tale.

Although the Phantom Zone levels the powers to zero, the Justice League are still dangerous.  I grinned from ear to ear upon seeing that.

Wake me up when this guy stops talking.  Wake started out really interesting but it just went nowhere unexpected and stretched out the whole Gill-Man vs. Humans war by having the folklorist drop knowledge acid at random moments.  Wake just isn't as good as American Vampire or Batman

Wow! Just look at the cover! I can't wait to read this.  Wait.  Wait.  What? It's all talking and exploring feelings, and what the hell, this scene isn't in the book at all! Bastards.  

Spoilers Ahead!

You Have Been Warned

Like "Night of the Doctor," a few multidimensional Easter eggs await older fans.  I mean in addition to all thirteen Doctors being represented, which is well done and superbly paced.

There's the devotee's scarf, which is obvious.  There's a record of the Doctor's companions and his granddaughter, whom Clara recognizes from her visit to Gallifrey in "The Name of the Doctor."   The companions are the Doctor's history.  You expect them to be identifiable, and it makes sense that UNIT would keep tabs on the Doctor's friends to prevent the odd impostor from infiltrating secret bases.

The two biggest Easter eggs occur in the beginning and toward the end.  Clara works in Coal Hill Secondary School, which is where it originally all began on screen.  Two curious teachers follow an unearthly child to Totter's Lane where awaits a Police Box in I.M. Foreman's Scrapyard.  Hint, it's not a Police Box.  One of those teachers, Ian Chesterton, is now a Chairman on the Board of Governors to the school.   Go back and read the plaque.  Clara's lesson plan also includes the phrase "no more time" from a quote by Marcus Aurelius.  "Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be.  Be one."  I'll let you decipher the importance.

The other big Easter egg is the the reappearance of the Time/Space Telegraph, which the Doctor, during his fourth incarnation, did indeed give to the Brigadier.  The Brigadier used the device to call the Doctor back to earth to fight the Zygons and the Loch Ness Monster in the episode "Terror of the Zygons."  Just released on DVD.  That was the episode that started it all for me.  Oh, and the Zygons reappear in "Day of the Doctor" largely unchanged.  They were really beautifully designed Doctor Who aliens.  Why fix what's not broken?

"Day of the Doctor" calls back to recent history as well as classic history.  For example, Queen Elizabeth I is the catalyst of this whole adventure.  She first appeared in the Third Series episode "The Shakespeare Code," and wanted to behead the Doctor for past crimes, whatever they may be.  As the Doctor indicates in "End of Time," the now next to last David Tennant special, the Doctor does indeed marry Queen Elizabeth.  That racks up the Doctor's marriage count to three.  The Doctor married a Time Lady and had a daughter who in turn mothered Susan.  The Doctor married the Queen.  The Doctor married River Song.

Stephen Moffat sidesteps a lot of continuity headaches by bringing Billie Piper back as an entity rather than specifically as Rose Tyler.  This eliminates any need for Rose to act jealous of Clara, ask for an explanation from twelfth Doctor Matt Smith on where she is in his life and eschews the potential undermining of drama in Rose's ultimate fate.  The way Moffat manages this also retains the power of Rose being in love with the Doctor while importing a crucial plot point to "The Day of the Doctor." At the same time, Moffat drops a stitch or two to another anniversary episode "Silver Nemesis," in which the seventh Doctor frees a different conscious Gallifreyan weapon.  That's hindsight foreshadowing.

The premise of the story really grants John Hurt a lot of meat for his status as the ninth Doctor.  Like I said about "Night of the Doctor" it seemed as though Moffat made Hurt a legitimate Doctor, and guess what?  He did.  People however looking for a dark Doctor are going to be somewhat disappointed.  Cause, baby, this isn't any one of those wretched books.

John Hurt's Doctor fought the Time War--which as established touched not just Time Lords and Daleks.  He aged because of it, but he's still the Doctor.  He may have done some terrible things, but he didn't do that one thing the Doctor must never do.   Condemn an entire species to death.  Genocide.

As it turns out John Hurt's Doctor isn't a phantom Doctor.  His memories are phantoms.  Moffat is a sly-boots.  He anticipated what we thought and turned it around on us.  As a result, Moffat keeps the Russell T. Davies series in a crystal composed of false memory but still valid.  The men the Doctor becomes are the result of a regret for nothing done but nevertheless very real to the observer; hence the Doctor's perusal of a book about quantum theory in the opening scene.

The children of Gallifrey are the prime reason behind the Doctor's decision.  We assumed they died before the events in "The End of Time" unfold; of course adherents of the books believed they never existed, indeed could not exist--Ooooo, there's that shriek again.  I never tire of hearing it.  No.  You know what? It's time to put these books out of their misery.  


There.  As of today, there's no need to ever contrast or compare.  The books have never been relevant, but now, they're really not relevant.

It turns out that the Daleks did not exterminate the children and the innocent on Gallifrey.  It turns out that the High Council of Gallifrey led by Rassilon wasn't all that was left of the Doctor's scorched world.  It's just all we saw of Gallifrey.  It was furthermore necessary for the Doctor to send Rassilon back into the howling void of the Time Lock.  Rassilon furthermore must be killed by the Master in "End of Time" in order for a saner regime to take over.   So this isn't "wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey,"as some of have alleged.  Instead, "The Day of the Doctor" is quite linear, fitting into the previous series as well as classic Doctor Who without so much as even a tiny snag.  Well done.  Well done indeed. 

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