Monday, December 16, 2013

POBB: December 11, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 11, 2013
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is live.  This week it's a plethora of titles including Batman, Justice League, Justice League of America, King's Watch, Nightwing and World's Finest.  I'll also scope out the newest incarnation of Doc Savage and the latest from Honey West.  First, we kick off this posting with Smallville: Alien.

Smallville opens the presumed closing arc of "Season 11." Superman deals with the the ramifications of his last issue reveal--Shhhh, he' alien.  

A meteor that's not a meteor also crashes in Russia.  Unlike past installments where Batman finally makes an appearance in the Smallville universe or the Legion of Super-Heroes expand the cast of guest stars, nothing monumental happens here.  Instead, writer Bryan Q. Miller and artist Edgar Salazar treat the reader with smaller pleasures from the core cast.

In terms of continuity, we see Tess Mercer, the conscious hologram, wearing the new outfit Professor Hamilton designed for her.  Fashion may seem to be a low level drawing point, but as Hamilton said previously, clothing helps make us human.  Clothes are a social more.  Tess wearing her new outfit indicates the fruition of acceptance and her easing off on obsessing over her brother Lex Luthor, who killed her in the television series.  

Kudos also to colorist Carrie Strachan for Tess' shade of red.   That could have easily appeared harsh.  Instead, Tess' red is warmer and reflects a living being's infra-red signature.  Strachan however pre-ages Martha Kent, who was a full red-head throughout Clark's tenure in Smallville.

Chloe Sullivan also takes part in this issue.  She's with Oliver Queen's unborn son who we see in the finale of season ten, and in fine spirits trading banter with her cousin Lois Lane.  Either inker Dym or Rob Lean defines remarkable detail in the scene.  It's like that throughout the book.

Lois contacts her ever-intended for an exchange of wit and support, and Superman deals with runaway bullet trains while his alter-ego Clark Kent asks Lex Luthor, who has no memory of their long friendship and rivalry, the tough questions as they travel on Lexcorp's private jet to investigate the Russian mystery.

The beautifully crafted gem of writing is a preamble for bigger things yet to come.  Artist Salazar guides these characters in gentle, realistic movements that compliment the underplayed dialogue and mostly subtle use of super-powers.  Highly recommended.

In Batman Scott Snyder develops the past of the new 52 Dark Knight, and he uses the opportunity of a relatively clean slate to grant depth to Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon.  Simultaneously, he recreates a classic Batman Rogue to wreak ghoulish havoc in Gotham City.

Dr. Death gets the upper hand despite Bruce ingeniously engineering a death trap for the grotesque.  Our modern Batman doesn't mind ending his more monstrous foes.  With this in mind, Snyder alludes to the deadlier Bat-Man, below courtesy of Bob Kane and Gardner Fox. 

Once the setting shifts to hospital, things get real interesting.  Bruce Wayne confronts Lieutenant Gordon about an episode from their shared past.  Through this explanation, Snyder gives a rationale for Batman's outlier tactics.

Greg Capullo during this scenario really shines.  While his Batman is one of the best versions in history, this scene lacking costumes and distraction allows the reader to soak in Capullo's phenomenal skill.  The body language, the expression on the faces all relate a drama that doesn't actually need to be read.  You can see Bruce's anger and disappointment as well as Gordon's guilt.

Forever Evil continues to entertain with insanely twisted versions of the characters we know and multiple surprises, including the rebirth of a hero from the 1940s.  The lion's share of Justice League however relates the origin of Owlman.

Owlman is a Wayne, just not the one you expect.  The origin plays out like a backass Columbo mystery with no detective and only sadists and murderers in the spotlight.  Owlman's origin is at once chilling and over the top hilarious due to the fact that earth three is a complete Dystopia.

Juxtaposed with the origin, Owlman in the present consolidates the crime families.  Some of his tactics reflect the viciousness of the infamous pulp hero the Spider, but a difference divides the two figures, and it's more than a nuance.

Owlman's motives are purely selfish.  The Spider slays criminals and leaves his mark to save the innocent and preserve civilization.  Owlman wants to control the city and the world.  The Spider wants to free the city and the world from the tyranny of people like Owlman.  Motive defines everything.

After some casual murder, Owlman confronts the imprisoned Dick Grayson.  This is where Forever Evil becomes a must purchase.  Writer Geoff Johns flashes back into the past to contrast Owlman's and the earth three Nightwing's relationship with that of Batman's and Robin's.

That may look more like a comparison, but trust me.  This is a contrast.  As always, Batman is a stand up guy.  Doing the right thing, his humanity seeping through the dark of his mien and adopting an echo of his own past to make this newly orphaned youth's life better.  Owlman on the other hand is a sick parody of paternalism.  Read the book to find out why.

Between the choppy retelling of the Star-Spangled Kid's origin, Justice League of America unveils...

Dum.  Dum.  Dum.  Dum....the nature of the Justice League's prison.  This would mean something and would have been pretty clever, not to mention mind-blowing, had not Forever Evil in Justice League already spoiled the surprise.

If you're interested in Courtney's beginnings, do yourself a favor, and buy Stars and STRIPE, written by neophyte Geoff Johns before he sunk into the mire of the post-Crisis but got better again with the new 52.

Forever Evil seriously tampers with the future of Nightwing, and this week's issue reflects no differently.  However Kyle Higgins still makes the current Nightwing exceptional.  He does this by eschewing the novelty of Dick Grayson operating in Chicago, pays only lip-service to Dick's new friends and roommates and concentrates on the surprising turn of events in the plot.

The tale concerns the theft of a new drug, and Higgins pivots early on.  You think you know what's happening, but the writer deters initial low-expectations.

Nightwing pursues the true thief across the rooftops, and thanks to returning artist Will Conrad, he's smiling all the way, thus presenting a unique attitude of swashbuckling that fits Dick Grayson to a tee.  When Dick finally corners the culprit, Higgins pulls off an even more stunning feat.

Forever Evil doesn't leave Nightwing alone.  It's a big spoiling machine.  Nightwing's remaining readers are likely die-hard fans or just riding out the final issues.  However, Higgins and Conrad prove you can relate an engrossing comic book that occurs in the immediate past despite unfolding next to a juggernaut that pretty much scorches the earth.

In King's Watch, excitement and adventure await the fans of the Phantom, Mandrake, Lothar, Flash Gordon and Dale Arden.  Writer Jeff Parker sneaks in a previously unknown plausible connection between two Defenders of the Earth to kick off the story, and once he starts that ball rolling he doesn't stop.

Flash, Dale and Mandrake fight the Cobra's men in Flash's all-atmospheric-vehicle hangar.  The quantum crystal which enables the engine to breach the stars is the prize.  It's one of three, and Cobra already has one.

Desperate to stop the villain, the quartet bee-line to Tanzania where the Phantom and Lothar are on hand to battle even more of the Cobra's forces.  There Mandrake produces one of his most awesome illusions, expertly given ethereal life by artists Marc Laming and Jordan Boyd, that will make Phantom fans grin.

The presence of one woman midst the army indicates somebody did their research.  In addition, to all of this action-packed goodness, we also learn the identity of Cobra's helpmate.  A shocking turn of events.

Doc Savage is the granddaddy of all super-heroes.  Beginning in 1933 Street and Smith hired reliable pulp writer Lester Dent to relate the adventures of Dr. Clark Savage Jr.  The world of literature would never be the same.  

Dent can be attributed as the creator of Doc Savage because of the overwhelming development that he bestowed to publishers Henry Ralston's and John Nanovic's thumbnail outline of the man that would become Doc Savage.

Dent established all of Doc's trademarks, from his headquarters on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building to his brothers, the five man "amazing crew" that aided Doc in his pursuit of justice.  Dent created Doc's inquisitive, equally impressive cousin Pat Savage and the Fortress of Solitude, which Superman's creators borrowed for their Man of Steel.

Lester Dent was almost as prolific as his darker contemporary Walter B. Gibson, but unlike the Shadow, Doc delved into weird, abused science.  For example, what fiendish miasma caused a mysterious blind death that struck men down?  Doc Savage found the answer, and always those answers involved science fiction, sometimes as plausible as the knowledge of the time would allow.

Doc Savage's comic book history is well known.  Doc graced DC in two different eras, Marvel in two different formats, Millennium and Dark Horse.  Dynamite takes its first crack at Doc with Chris Roberson at the helm.  In an interview, Roberson admitted that he was unfamiliar with the adventures of Doc Savage, and it's very clear that a novice wrote this premiere.  The tale is more a regurgitation than one written by a fan.  If that sounds harsh, it's not meant to be.  

Roberson's skill as a writer is evident in the story.  The basic premise if scientifically dubious is ripe enough for Doc Savage to pluck.  Roberson nails foundation of the group, and he favors of all the five, Long Tom, the electrical engineer, over the others.  An interesting choice.  It's a good start, and I look forward to seeing whether or not Roberson's energy and verve increases as he continues writing.  As to the artwork, by Bilquis Evely and Daniela Miwa, they accurately depict the young Savage and most of his men.  Monk could be a little homelier, and Long Tom should be paler, but the ensemble cuts fairly strong figures, similar to their description.  Renny's over-sized fists are notable, and the period flourishes work well.

Honey West meets T.H.E. Cat.  Congratulations.  T.H.E. Cat is the one television show I have never seen or read about.  So, I can't judge the accuracy.  What I can say is that writer Trina Robbins fits Honey West as tightly as a slinky dress or a midnight catsuit.  Reading Robbins' Honey West is like tuning into a spicier version of Anne Francis' superb show.  She combines the hard edge of the pulps with the personality of the portrayal.

For this issue Honey and Bruce, her pet Ocelot, an invention of the television series that would have fit in with the original mysteries of husband and wife team G.G. Fickling, travel to Vegas.  Their cause to investigate the accidents plaguing a casino.  

Robbins is no stranger to multiplying suspects and even obfuscating the identity of Honey's client for good measure. She comes up with plausible threats, and although I cannot say if The Cat is in fit form, I can say that Robbins "creates" a very good protagonist for Honey to play against.  Or is he an antagonist for Honey to snare?

Former Phantom artist Sylvestre Szilagyi continues matching  Honey's lines, both verbal and otherwise.  Robbins includes several scenes in which Honey undresses, a frequent treat in the novels, but a censor no-no in the television series.  Szilagyi respects his subject by showing skin but not angling the point of view to a gratuitous level.  It seems perfectly natural for Honey to be undressing.  Her beauty causes the thrill, and her intellect comes through in her expression.  

World's Finest is of course as good as every other issue.  Writer Paul Levitz finishes the hunt for the new Tattooed Man, a woman in the new 52, but you get my drift.  The writer ties in the foray with the characterization of best friends Huntress and Power Girl.  So the story isn't just a simple chase.  It's a case of characterization and plot melding together for another perfect chapter in the lives of these fan favorites.

I like how Levitz first contrasts the duo but also displays their similarities.  It's this dualism that explains their friendship.  They're just enough alike to feel empathy toward each other, and they're different enough to keep things interesting. Furthermore, Levitz never lets the reader forget that Power Girl and Huntress are a team.  They're two halves of a single effective unit that functions on each hero's strengths.

The characters don't dwell on their weaknesses.  Power Girl could have said something like Huntress is foolish for trying to fight crime without powers.  Instead, she's impressed by Helena's guile.  She doesn't need to be careful.  Power Girl is there to be careful for her.  Huntress doesn't feel embarrassed being saved by Power Girl.  She depends on it, just like she's there for Kara when a risk doesn't pan out.

The heroes' acceptance of each other, and their refreshing lack of rivalry make World's Finest a pleasure to read.  

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