Tuesday, December 24, 2013

POBB: December 18, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 18, 2013
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is live with a really short week.  I'm lost on Pretty Deadly.  The first issue was mostly straightforward and intriguing, but when decapitation produces a stream of butterflies, I know that this book isn't for me.  Captain Midnight and Batman Beyond were weak.  Simpsons Comics is a dream-based issue that's hit and miss.  That leaves Supergirl, Ghost, Harley Quinn, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman and Batman and Two-Face.

Being a fan of the original Dark Horse series by Eric Luke, I really wanted to like Ghost, but writers Kelly Sue DeConnick and Chris Sebela do the opposite of what Eric Luke did.  So how can I like it?

Luke's book was quiet.  We followed Ghost's narration, her point of view and stimulating acumen as much as her remarkably illustrated spectral form, courtesy of such now renowned artists as Adam Hughes and then newcomer Ivan Reis.  

Throughout the impressive run, Ghost freed Arcadia from the grip of evil and considered herself an anonymous protector.  She preferred it that way.  Even when Ghost partnered with Barbwire--a street level blonde bombshell bounty hunter, Ghost felt like an Art Noveau poem come to comics. 

Ghost wasn't an occult book, and she wasn't an occult hero. Ghost mainly took out criminals with two .45 automatics, a similarity that led to her teaming up with the Shadow.  A crime boss named Crux and his flunky Dr. October were her main targets.  Ghost made enemies by interfering in the plans of the rich, powerful and corrupt would-be overlords of Arcadia.  Indeed she became Ghost because her former self investigated a story about these crimes.  

The newest volume of Ghost looks like Supernatural guest-starring Ghost and reads like a Ghostbusters riff.  Instead of fighting crime, Ghost wars against 32 flavors of demon, which is frankly disappointing.  Demon hunting is not Ghost's milieu.  She's a crimefighter not a bargain basement Buffy.

DeConnick plagues Ghost with two brothers who want in on the demon hunting action, and they're just terrible stereotypes.  One is the nice-young-man seen in so many horror movies.  The Virgin, if you will.  The other is the Dude, and I don't mean this Dude.

I mean the "Don't Tase Me, Bro" type.  The Dude of the duo never stops talking.  The Virgin never stops whining.  The Dude also has a nondescript girlfriend named Sloane.  Her name is her best trait.  Sloane's presence appears only to help define the masculine virility of the Dude and the Virgin's lack thereof.  In the original, series, Ghost fell for a young Orson Welles lookalike, which educed more depth through the romantic interest's uniqueness.

I never watched a single episode of Supernatural, but I'll bet the two Hardy Boys of the Macabre there were a lot more well developed than these two noisy yahoos.  Of course at least they have a personality, unlike Sloane, who just sort of mopes.   

The script is pure generic television pilot 101 that doesn't exhibit any of the originality or poetry of the original series.  Take somebody else's superb creation.  Drop her into the plot you couldn't sell.  Surround her with the characters that you're delighted with, and watch the hilarity of the friction ensue.

Things get a shred better when Ghost leaves the annoying, bickering duo and the couch-lamp.  Unfortunately, the Virgin follows Ghost, thereby interrupting a marginally decent investigation that echoes a scintilla of Ghost's former nuances.  It all just gets silly from there, with the Virgin acting like the Ghost's husband from a rotten 1950s film.

Now, Honey.  You shouldn't be poking your nose into areas it doesn't belong.  Go into the kitchen and make me some coffee (slap!)

Ghost's solo detective scene now becomes a subpar Nick and Nora Charles team-up.  I hate this book.  It's so Republican.  Eric Luke's Ghost shot holes in criminals and took names all by her lonesome.  Her introspection was enough fuel for the characterization.  DeConnick and Sebela seem to believe that Ghost cannot do her job without the help of these two male morons, yet they add nothing but endless, empty dialogue and egotism.  The other female character in the book is a stick of furniture.  So even with Ryan Sook's phenomenal artwork, Ghost fails on the most fundamental levels. 

Wonder Woman opens with Milan, still in the clutches of Cassandra and the Jackal Men.  The irony is that Milan is the oracle.  Cassandra is just a godly nut.  She and the Jackals seek the location of the definitively named First Born.  The unlucky deity still experiences juicily conceived torture at the hands of Apollo on Olympus.  You would think Apollo would have grown bored by now.

New God Orion Boom Boxes onto stage, and much action ensues.  Orion is suitably violent, but that's not the end of him.  Writer Brian Azzarello also displays Orion's courage and his heart.  He's not just in the melee because he likes a fight.  This version of Orion is most like the New God Jack Kirby created.  He's bellicose, but he forms deep friendships.  He can lay a score of Parademons to waste, but he can also be contemplative.  He may be the most feral of the New Gods, but he also lived for hundreds of years.  He demonstrates insight and clarity in some situations that Wonder Woman, a new new god, plausibly stumbles over.

Outside this arena, Strife works on Zola in a bid to estrange her siblings.  Zola started the entire affair by unwittingly siring Zeus' son.  She sought the aid of Wonder Woman in London.  That seems like a long time ago, which is a testament, really, to Azzarello's skill at advancing the story yet still connecting the characters despite the change in scenery and premise.  

Strife seeks revenge against Wonder Woman because she killed Strife's brother War.  In case you're wondering, War was in fact Ares, Diana's traditional enemy.  In the new 52, War once mentored young Diana of Paradise Island, and she and War shared a special relationship.  

When reestablishing Wonder Woman, Azzarello chucked most of the comic book rules in the fire.  At a guess, he looks more to Joseph Campbell and actual mythology for his inspiration.  The gods no matter the pantheon are all related, and Wonder Woman is the daughter of Zeus.  The gods manifest themselves in various forms.  Azzarello being a modern writer considers them in a period framework.  Though some of the gods behave honorably, you shouldn't judge them by human standards.  They can flip on dime, and they ally and betray quicker than an eye-blink, but Azzarello gives the "good ones" rationales for their seemingly uncharacteristic behavior.  It all imbues Wonder Woman with an extra flavor and distinguishes her adventures from her super-powered ilk.

This is a superior issue of Wonder Woman.  Azzarello balances Shakespearean type drama in Strife's scenario with meaningful fisticuffs in Orion's opener.  He in addition engenders good will among Wonder Woman fans with classic moments that Goran Sudzuka, Jose Marzan Jr. and colorist Matt Wilson are only too happy to exercise.

Supergirl is already the center of controversy, and it's not even about Kara Zor-El.  Guest-star Lobo is the problem.  There's really no cause for the hubbub.  The new 52 Lobo is still a bad ass bounty hunter and the last of the Czarnians.  His look is different, but in terms of personality, he resembles the original, retconned model.

Lobo didn't premiere as an idiot.  Although first debuting in Omega Men, most encountered the pasty-skinned killer in Justice League or LEGION.  As you can see he differed greatly from his hyper-muscled, over the top, semi-literate final state.  At first, he looked more like Beetlejuice, if you ask me.  

Lobo the space barbarian however exists.  Lobo II Electric Boogaloo claims that Lobo the barbarian stole his name and reputation.  Maybe.  Lobo's hunt takes him to earth where he wishes to question Shay Veritas, the Superman cast's go-to-gal for science.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Shay is an awesome addition to the Superman mythos.  She defies stereotypes.  She seems on the up and up, and she genuinely likes Superman and Supergirl.

Lobo picked the wrong day to infiltrate the Block.  This is the day that Supergirl returns.   Shay was trying to decontaminate Supergirl or at the very least treat the symptoms of Kryptonite poisoning.  Supergirl finally rid herself of the lethal crystal when aliens reconstituted her after breaking her down to Kryptonian bits.  She naturally wants to make certain the kryptonite truly has left her system.  It has.  There's refreshingly no gotcha.

Supergirl attempts diplomacy when first encountering Lobo, but he's having none of it.  Bad news for Lobo.

The issue is the first by Tony Bedard, and he's joined by Yildiray Cinar.  It's therefore solidly entertaining and beautifully drawn.  Lobo fans have no reason to eschew the tale because their Lobo is still around, and we haven't actually established who's the real McCoy.  The original Lobo had the power of spontaneously generating duplicates from his blood; stem cell regeneration to its extreme.  So both Lobos could be genuine.  

Of course, Supergirl just might have killed the "impostor" at the end of the first chapter so fans should rejoice.  Even though something stupid and red this way comes, Supergirl is still at the moment enjoyable, with the Girl of Steel in fine, fighting form.

Want to see Supergirl's erstwhile partner in the same light, pick up this issue of Birds of Prey.  While Gail Simone let Batgirl fans down after two storyarcs, Christy Marx picks up the slack.  

No bullshit.  This is just Batgirl as an arch martial artist, choreographed by breakout talent Romano Molenaar.  Marx demonstrates Batgirl's importance to the team in several scenes, and the Darknight Daredoll is pivotal when ending the ultimate threat which comes from a teammate.

Black Canary suffers a betrayal.  It's not like she didn't see this coming.  Amanda Waller exists for the sake of betrayal.  Waller and Canary used to be on Team 7, established as a response to the emergence of super-humans.  Larry and Dinah used to be a personal team, but things changed when their powers commingled and led Canary to unleash her sonic scream to devastating effect.  Dinah thought she killed Larry.  Instead, Waller secreted his comatose body.  Reunited, it's time to hit the high note.

Sound in reality can knock down bridges or institute flame.  Dinah's sonic scream eclipses the threat from the C rate villains Regulus gathered.  Marx exhibits just how powerful Canary really is.  Her scream soundly puts an end to Regulus and his team of super-flunkies, but it may also just split the land on which they stand.  

This is where Batgirl becomes pivotal.  Batgirl's long friendship with Black Canary allows for a peaceful end to the threat.  Her ability gives her the skill needed to prevent any need for violence.  In short, Batgirl and Black Canary elegantly work out the way the battle had to end.  

Duane Swierczynski recreated the Birds of Prey for the new 52, and his leaving the title was a blow to the fledgling clean slate.  However, Marx proved to be a worthy successor and with artist Romano Molenaar kept this title an enjoyable addition to the subscription list.

Harley Quinn makes a proper debut this week.  This is the second solo series for the animated creation, and most thankfully it's a comedy.  Of course, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm introduced Harley on Batman: Animated Series.  She could have been nothing more than a visual henchwench for the Joker, like similar female characters were on the 1960s Batman television series.  In the comic books of the times, the Joker, the Penguin and Riddler employed goons not gals.  

The role went to Arlene Sorkin who imbued Harley with so much hilarious personality that you could not help but fall for the hapless femme fatale.  So DC spotting her popularity decided to incorporate her into their universe.  DC at the time did not comprehend bad ideas.  Harley was an ill-fit for the dank cesspool.  Just ask Wendy of The Super-Friends, who was crippled in a heartbeat.

Harley Quinn fits far better in the new 52.  Despite the cosmos' flaws, it's still a far more inviting and sane place than the post-Crisis.  Harley is also a lot more savvy and gains a few marbles.  For example, Harley may be a little crazy, but she now recognizes bug-shit insane.  When guest-starring in Batman she turned away from the reattach-your-face-to-your-skull Joker.

Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner springboard off Harley's new freedom.  They give her a brand new start in a brand new city, at least for her.  The opener indeed acts as a strange send up of The Mary Tyler Moore show.  Mary Richards leaves her old job in the pilot, in a car as the melodic theme plays on her casual, wistful journey to a new life.  Harely roars into the city with a cacophony of imagery, sound and assassins on her tail.  

These scenes offer a variety of laugh-out-loud gags, including the means by which Harley gains a furry friend.  Artist Chad Hardin turns a handful of panels into Chuck Jones styled chuckles.

Harley deals with the problem of her wannabe killer with sublime style involving the very large mallet on the cover.  There's no explanation of her super-strength, but we can chalk that up to Warners Brothers cartoons and artistic license. 

Conner and Palmiotti cast Harley as the landlord of a tenement situated on Coney Island.  Her tenants happen to be Freak Show and circus performers.  So, Harley fits right in, and actually suits the role visually as the straight man while mentally acts the Stooge.

The rest of the book centers on Harley's quest to find a job.  Here again is a rare moment that in itself is funny because of the character.  You really don't expect Harley to go on the straight and narrow just so she can maintain her inheritance, and you may have forgotten that the original gag was she being the Joker's psychiatrist.  Conner and Palmiotti are here to remind you.

Batman and Two-Face isn't really a team-up.  Instead, Batman seeks to keep an old acquaintance safe from Harvey Dent.  There's a lot of intriguing continuity in Peter Tomasi's story.  For one thing, Two-Face can never return to being Harvey Dent.  Tomasi eliminates the idea that plastic surgery might help.  Nothing can help Harvey because the object of his rage killed his wife Gilda.  

Although Gilda was introduced as a minor character in the comics, her counterpart Grace Lamont, voiced by Murphy Cross, with a startling performance by comedian Richard Moll convinced viewers that Harvey Dent had hope.  That hope died last issue when Erin murdered Gilda.  Erin and her twin went to jail for murder.

Tomasi believably creates a link that just wasn't there between Bruce, new characters Shannon and Erin and Harvey Dent.  Bruce furthermore sells the idea that he really didn't have a choice when harboring a fugitive and paying his alter-ego to save Erin from Two-Face's vengeance.  

This farce unfolds over the first pages at a comedic dinner performance perfectly layed out by artist Patrick Gleason.  Mick Gray's inks give Gleason's pencils a smoother look, and John Kalisz's spare variance of color enhances the mood.

Batman's ploy gets out of hand as a betrayal sets up Erin for the noose, but this excuses some terrific action scenes in which Batman mops the cemetery with Two-Face and his cohorts.  An overall superior comic book with evolving new 52 continuity.

No comic book reviews next week.  I'm taking off for the holiday, and don't forget.  The Doctor regenerates 9:00 p.m. Christmas Day.  I'm really going to miss Matt Smith.

Happy Holidays to One and All.  

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