Monday, November 11, 2013

POBB: November 6, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 6, 2013
Ray Tate

Nobody can doubt my love for comics, but there's one thing that I really hate.  Subtitles.  Who remembers The Modern Prometheus? Frankenstein is what people know.

From now on, I'm ignoring the subtitles.  Daredevil is just Daredevil.  I don't care if it's Daredevil: Hamster or Daredevil: Lemming.  As far as I'm concerned, it's just Daredevil.  Baltimore is just Baltimore.  I've had enough.  It's one series.

In addition to Daredevil and Baltimore, I'll be reviewing the latest from Action Comics, Batman/Superman, Batwing, Earth 2 and Forever Evil.  

I'll also peruse the newest chapter of Painkiller Jane.  Screw the re-numbering while we're at it.  Painkiller Jane debuted in 22 Brides for Event Comics, way back in the day, and she appears under numerous publishing companies with the same unbroken continuity, including her various team-ups.  This alleged number one is the most recent copy of Painkiller Jane, which has probably hit at least the thirty issue mark by now.  First though, we explore the current Swamp Thing.

The Parliament of Trees set up Swamp Thing to fight The Seeder, a classic lunatic operating behind a shiny new 52 identity.  Hint.  Although the Seeder appeared in Swamp Thing before, he possesses a much older history with the costumed set.  In the end, this verdant venerability gets fully recycled.

The prize of the contest turns out to be more than laurels.  The winner will be crowned Champion of the Green.  I'll bet you thought Alec Holland was the Chosen One.  So did he.

Writer Charles Soule could have whipped up a tiresome duel with an obvious outcome.  Instead, he germinates a pitch black comedy that relies on fresh characterization of the Parliament.  Far from being protectors, it turns out the Parliament is as dickish as the Time Lords.

The battle alludes to Disney's Sword in the Stone.  In the film's climax, Merlin and a witch named Mim shift shapes in a battle royal.  In Swamp Thing, the victory goes to the contestant with the greater creativity and control of plant life.  Determination also separates the wheat from the chaff.

Soule and artist Jesus Saiz produce several surreal laugh out loud funny moments that feed into the idea of Swamp Thing being a rock star to flora fandom.  They tickle the funny bone while generating real excitement and cunning in the moves each combatant makes.  In addition, the tale serves as a send up of Fredric Brown's "The Arena" and all of the short story's literary descendants.

The latest issue of Baltimore the title character is a one man extermination force.  He's like the giallo murderer.  Only instead of nubile young females, Baltimore stylishly bloodies the panels with vampire blood.  Kudos to artist Ben Stenbeck and Dave Stewart.

This time the vampires have a witch on their side.  Her mission is to raise the Red King, yet another strong mythological icon, from the fertile mind of Mike Mignola, not to forget Mignola's creative partner, former Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Christopher Golden.

Baltimore intends to slaughter every last vampire on the Infernal Train, but he never once loses sight of his real goal, the complete annihilation of Haigus, the Vampire Lord that fed on and murdered his family.  It's in fact this hatred for Haigus that keeps Baltimore warm and safe at night.

Baltimore in addition targets anybody that gets in the way of his quest.  That includes the nutty but enigmatic Inquisitor who believes Baltimore to be tainted evil, simply through its association, however unfriendly.  Their meeting is a memorable moment in a book that strayed too far in previous chapters but gets right on track here.  Even the epilogue holds the readers interest.

If you haven't heard, the Crime Syndicate invaded the earth.  They achieved a temporary victory by playing a long game.  They planted the earth three Alfred on earth one, to build a Secret Society of Super-Villains.  They undid the League through a mole that incapacitated Superman.  For an encore, they suckered the gods into wielding Pandora's Box.  In reality, it was an earth three Mother Box.  Upon invading, Ultraman who feeds on kryptonite moved the moon, causing ecological disaster.  As a show of force they revealed Nightwing's secret identity.  Can anybody stop them? Of course.

Yeah.  Difficult to root for.  These villains resist because of their own agendas.  Only Captain Cold and the Flash Rogues act as almost heroes.  They have a genuine code of honor.   They don't kill.  They don't hurt the innocent.  They're out for the score.

Still, if you're looking for honest to goodness heroes, writer Geoff Johns provides them.

Awwww....That's another sweet moment in the relationship between Catwoman and Batman.  Add it to the many others in the new 52 vault.  You also discover how the League were expunged to the prison seen in Justice League of America.  It's a lot more impressive a cage than originally depicted, and Johns almost sells the possibility of the biological containment.  For another thing the timing actually works.  Divulging the fate of the League and then revealing the nature of the prison bestows more depth to the idea.  It's like an "Ah" moment and works only when you read the two issues together.

In Earth 2 Superman returns.  Officially, he came back earlier.  We just didn't know that the Baron Karza lookalike rocketing around was in fact the earth two Man of Steel, corrupted by Darkseid.  

There's a precedent for this Kryptonian takeover.  John Byrne wiped out Superman's memory, and the evil New God for laughs convinced Superman that he was his father.  Darkseid, not Byrne.  Bruce Timm adapted the story for Superman: The Animated Series.

Writer Tom Taylor adds an unparalleled ferocity to the debauched hero that Byrne and Timm eschewed.  Previously, Superman used his heat vision to laser the conquering Steppenwolf in two.  This issue, we see him attack the wonders of planet earth.  The hit list includes Flash, Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, Sandman, Atom and Mr. Terrific from earth one.  

Earth 2 doesn't quite play out the way you think it will.  Taylor's Superman appears to be without conscience, and his attack on the likes of Dr. Fate and Green Lantern is quite painful to watch.  The wincing can also be credited to artist Nicola Scott.  Scott provides convincing illustration of the damage and countless loss of life.  Sometimes in graphic detail.

Setting aside an almost drunken revelry of Superman's power gone amok, Taylor intrigues with two revelations.  First, we can knock off Terry Sloan as a possible identity for the second earth two Batman.  Batman infiltrates a World Army facility at the same time Terry Sloan consults with the organization.  The Flash can almost be in two places at once, but Terry Sloan cannot.

Second, Taylor reintroduces one of DC's oldest characters in an entirely new form.  Taylor combines the earth one and earth two versions of the hero and looks to the needs of his plot for the finishing buff.  I know that there will be a lot of criticism over this twist, but I give Taylor credit for trying something entirely new that pays tribute to DC's legacy.  It also makes sense on a contextual, emotional level.

Superman's a lot nicer in a very strange Batman and Superman.  A pest with too much money and inventiveness gets the bright idea to make a game out of the World's Best team.  Literally.  To that end he hires a tech guru to engineer, I don't know, nanites, that will usurp Batman's will.  Our dark hero battles hard light holograms similar to Star Trek's EMH but as a whim to whomever plays him. Meanwhile, Superman pulverizes an asteroid.

The strange plot from Greg Pak simply wallows in nostalgia.  The mastermind behind the scheme resembles the post-Crisis Superboy.  

He wears a Composite Superman tee-shirt and goes by the alias Toyman.  He's got nothing to do with the portly eyesore from the Silver Age, nor the child killing revamp of the Post Crisis.  

The avatars of the game look a little like fifth dimensional imps, and Metallo, who has been around since the Bronze Age, is the first dude Batman fights.

On the whole, I would find the whole enchilada extremely hard to believe if not for two elements.  A classic Bronze Age alien monster who connects with the history with Batman and Superman secretly orchestrates the entirety.  Batman is in character throughout the book.  He in fact throws off the control reins well before the true master of the game reveals himself.  

Even in the now year old new 52, Batman and Superman have known each other for five years.  So Pak presents a genuine friendship that's mostly unaffected by the new 52 realities.  Batman is the elder statesman.  Superman is a younger hero.  That's about it.  The fact however subtly emphasizes Batman's mortality and gives the ending a little more punch.

Throughout the book, moonlighting Nightwing artist Brett Booth generates action and excitement in a pleasing widescreen presentation that's worthy of DC's flagship heroes.  Still not sure if I like this story or not.  It's a weird one.

This month the Powers That Be thought it would be a good idea to tether most of the DC titles to Scott Snyder's "Year Zero" in Batman.  By "tether" I mean Silly String.  Action Comics is the first to take advantage, and so far it's the least important.  

Early jeans and tee-shirt Superman puts the kibosh on a group of human Daleks.  Because this is early Superman, he resembles Captain Marvel, as portrayed in the back-up strip in Justice League

If you ask me, that really goes too far character-wise.  When Grant Morrison debuted this newest version of the Man of Steel, Superman wasn't quite as over the top egotistical as seen in Greg Pak's stand-alone.  Greg Pak? Him again? I strongly object to the gleeful depiction of Superman's youthful arrogance.  Especially since he's aware of it.

The battle between Superman and the Supremacists acts as a James Bond like opening that introduces readers to the old Kal-El.  A few pages earlier, Pak debuts Lana Lang for the new 52, and the problem for me is that she could actually be anybody.  Nothing about her speaks Lana Lang.  Yeah, she knows Clark's secret identity, but that doesn't define Lana Lang.

In the Fleischer cartoons, Superman was "mightier than a hurricane."  The proto-Superman isn't.  He's willing to tackle the phenomena just as much as new Lana is willing to risk her life to repair a sputtering ship in the vicinity.  Both protagonists however come up short and must settle for a kind of victory.

Action Comics succeeds in the way that it demonstrates how Superman and Lana make a difference by saving lives.  It fails on the fronts of characterization and fostering excitement in a plot that's set in the past and irrelevant to the present as well as "Year Zero."  Aaron Kuder's art however is effective when depicting Superman's battle with the elements and when Lana tries to mend the persnickety engine.  You get the feeling that you should feel your heart race, but it's just not there.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are a little more honest with their "Year Zero" tie-in.  Batman, complete with little purple gloves, drops from the Gotham skies to save young Luke Fox from a revenge driven gang.

Terrific fight choreography by regular Batwing artists Eduardo Pansica and Julio Ferrera accompanies the moment, and the synchronization of the two fighters lends the idea that had Luke lost his parents, he would have probably become Robin.  That makes Batwing less of an afterthought and more integrated in the Batman Family.

The Batman/Luke Fox encounter really just steals the spotlight from the core of the plot.  School bullies victimize Luke's friend Russ, and as a result, Russ becomes darker and meaner.  Unfortunately, Palmiotti and Gray don't make me care.  The characterization of Russ seems schizophrenic.  On the one hand, he seems to be willing to learn how to fight in the opening, which builds on something that doesn't pay off.  Gray and Palmiotti bestow Russ with synesthesia, but they don't really do anything with it.  Russ ultimately circles the drain toward a more infamous Batman villain, and that villain is really small potatoes when compared to Batman's classic Rogue's Gallery.   Mind you, Russ looks good thanks to the color co-ordination of Paul Mounts.

Jane Vasco returns in Jimmy Palmiotti's Painkiller Jane.  When last we saw Jane, she was fighting Terminators over at Dynamite.  This issue, Palmiotti brings her back to reality.  

Maureen is Jane's best friend and less-than-secret unofficial partner in the police department.  Their history's covered in a backup vignette illustrated as a stylish cartoon by Sam Lofti.  

Palmiotti though makes the ladies' relationship pretty clear from the get go in the main story.  Although you're unlikely to deduce some of the advances, however supplementary, in that friendship without the primer.  

Maureen sends Jane to the airport in order to protect a Saudi Princess, but bad luck sours Jane's assignment.  The bad luck facilitates the comedy, and some of the humor is directly linked to Jane's healing abilities.  Afterall, very few people can provoke laughs from the presence of barbed wire.

It's not all fun and games.  Palmiotti characterizes a very brave body guard out of the aether, and his sacrifice touches the outwardly spoiled princess.  What I like about Palmiotti's characters is that what you see on the surface isn't necessarily what you get, just in real life.  

Some people are as they seem, but at times individuals can exhibit extraordinary depth, kindness as well as cruelty and pettiness outside their facades.  The princess lived in a pampered bubble.  She simply never faced anything so authentic as death.  Shocked into reality, she behaves with empathy.  Likewise, she's grateful enough to Jane to point out a problem. 

Palmiotti takes advantage of the newest Marvel imprint to give Jane even greater freedom in terms of standards and practices.  As per usual, there's nothing gratuitous in the presentation.  The nudity's just a little bit more casual and open.  Palmiotti uses that nod to the real world to reveal more of Jane's character.  Jane doesn't adapt to society.  She takes what she likes and discards the rest.

Over the years, numerous artists have put their stamp on Painkiller Jane, from Rick Leonardi to Lee Moder.  For this series, Juan Santacruz produces extraordinary artwork.  His attention to realism and caricature as a backdrop that defines the new era of Painkiller Jane.  

Santacruz's Jane is suitably strong both in body and action. His background characters exhibit singular appearances that one may find in crowds crossing the street.  In terms of technique, Santacruz exhibits exquisite comic timing in a fluid visual narrative.  Once again, Painkiller Jane is not to be missed.

Palmiotti's week continues when he drops Daredevil into Burn Notice Miami.  Misty Knight plays Fiona to DD's Michael Westen in a mural of dynamism courtesy of Thony Silas and Nelson DeCastro.  Antonio Fabela finishes the weave with sun soaked shades.

The plot's somewhat simple.  Matt and Misty try to protect a witness from being hit by a drug kingpin and keep any passerby from getting diced in the process.  Palmiotti though enriches the story with Matt's first person narration, which captures the verisimilitude of a blind man's perceptions.  Let's face it though, Palmiotti isn't emulating Shakespeare here.  He succeeds in creating a lark that allows the art to do most of the talking.


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