Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 24, 2013


Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week we look at All-Star Western with Jonah Hex, Bart Simpson Comics, Batman: Dark Knight, Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave, Bionic Woman, Justice League Dark, Superman, the final issue of Witch Doctor Mal Practice and Juipiter's Legacy.

Paul Tobin better meshes his two storylines running through Bionic WomanPreviously, I said that the threat to Jamie Sommer's school chum seemed tangential to the revolt of the Fembots.  Tobin though through stronger narrative control and casually delivered dialogue smooths the flow of the story so that it seems perfectly reasonable that these two threads would weave simultaneously.

Jamie does not seem so surprised when her school chum appears to be in on the setup.  Jamie's nonplussed attitude subtley characterizes her as an experienced secret agent enured to betrayal and things being not as they seem.  Still, she seems quite willing to  help her friend, recognizing that she's way outside her depth when tossing in with the terrorist organization Bratva.  

Taking these elements into consideration, Tobin shocks the reader with an unexpected moment violence, and in this way he frames Bionic Woman as a genuine drama.  Like Justified and Burn Notice, events can play overall light and funny, but when the atmosphere turns serious, it's deadly serious.  Because of the contrast, the switch carries greater impact.

Tobin's partners artists Juan Antonio Ramirez and colorist Mark Roberts facilitate the feeling by portraying Jamie as a warm, perpetually bemused individual.  Her facial features lean toward smiles and friendliness, even when dealing with cold-blooded killers.  Piss her off though, and you get scenes like this.  

Nope.  Not going to tell you what Jamie's doing.  It's too cool.

Ramirez and Roberts lend this feeling as well to the Fembots.  Generally speaking, the lady A.I. are supposed to behave non-threateningly.  They are subterfuge assassins swathed in sensuality and style.  Ramirez and Roberts deserve special credit for multiplying Fembot Katy's comely countenance through a plethora of sister androids yet never once forgetting to imbue each with lively body language.  The Fembots despite their sobriquet do not move stiffly or stiltedly, and you'll get no blank stares from these lovelies.

Worst Batman Dark Knight ever.  The plot inches along like a snail with congestion.  The incremental calcification includes Batman tagging Natalya with a tracer, the Mad Hatter targeting Natalya in one of the most contrived twists I've seen from writer Gregg Hurwitz and a mass murder similar to the Joker's much more horrifying act of homicide in "Death of the Family."

In order to get to these scintillating nuggets--excuse me a moment whilst I yawn--we must wade through the guest artist's lack of skill.  The Mad Hatter portion of the story exacerbates his madness, adding homage to the Silver Age Lex Luthor. 

Stupid in itself, and the fierce, eye-scorching color try and fail to hide the illustrator's shortcomings.  

In contrast, the Batcave is almost pitch black.  A Windows laptop throws off more light when unplugged.  The issue was clearly put together in an act of desperation to meet a deadline, and you shouldn't reward the people behind this slapdash for sloppy work.  Avoid this unnecessary waste of coin.  Skipping the issue won't disrupt the totality of the story.

Batman's partner in crimefighting, Superman must deal with a confusing alien invasion filled with bad puns.  On the plus side, Superman thwarts the visitors by using his noggin in conjunction with his superpowers.

Unfortunately, Superman then talks to himself.  

Meanwhile, Superman's paramour Wonder Woman attends a party Lois Lane throws.  For some reason, she impresses everybody just by standing in the doorway. 

I don't get it.  What's the hubbub, bub?  Rocafort illustrates Diana as a normal woman.  Sure, she's got a bigger bust than Lois, but it's not like a drumbeat accompanies Diana's sashay.

Never-the-less, the scenes with Wonder Woman offer some genuinely enjoyable moments.  Wonder Woman quickly assesses who's who and charms the cast with her savvy.  That's not a euphemism. 

Soon, though everybody acts abby normal--except Superman and Wonder Woman--because traditional Green Lantern villain Hector Hammond throws his psychic weight around the city to tamper with normal intelligences.  

Countering Hector Hammond, Orion who's "on a mission from god," head honcho Highfather that is.  The New God quickly diverts his attention from the brain-dead Hammond to a very surprised Man of Steel to kick off what looks to be an exciting and ludicrous battle between the titans.

Underused Justice League member Cyborg guest stars in the epilogue of The FlashRegrettably, the epilogue is really the only thing memorable.  Cyborg gains a bit more personality.  Batman gets name-checked in a surveillance routine that coincides with the Flash's loss of powers, and the Reverse Flash of the new 52 introduces himself ominously.

Before the final pages, non-powered, Barry Allen foils an attempt to break Trickster out of Iron Gate prison.  It's a mostly by rote plot with decent artwork but nothing spectacular like previous issues.

The Flash however makes for a great guest-star in this week's explosive Justice League Dark.  Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes team up again for a strong story in which somebody scampers off with the House of Mystery, JLD's TARDIS-like headquarters.

The issue is a great jump-on point.  Lemire and Fawkes essentially reintroduce Justice League Dark to new readers, without being obvious about it.  

Constantine opens the book at the races, where an attempt on his life turns out to be a comedic, cunning means of sorcery.  At the same time, Deadman, demonstrating his possession powers, chats to the JLD's former government liason Steve Trevor in an amusing moment that also clues the reader into the schism between the Justice League and the Justice League of America, created to destroy Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest.  The League unlikely feel the same about the JLD, who exist to combat magical threats to the world.

Constantine calls the team together to meet at Madame Xanadu's, and this is where Lemire and Fawkes issue a change with the talented title artist Michael Janin.  

Xanadu used to be very tight lipped, but with her rejuvenation comes more openness about her prophecies.  She can still be cryptic, but most of her foresight is useful rather than color commentary.  She might have even said to Barbara Gordon, "Hit the Dirt when the Clown knocks in the Dark."

We have two monsters on the team this week.  Frankenstein Agent of SHADE continues to aid JLD.  Frankenstein resigned from SHADE during Rotworld, but that timeline no longer exists.  So, Frankenstein is still fighting on behalf of the secret organization.  Constantine also calls Swamp Thing, and this is a momentous occasion since Swamp Thing doesn't really know Constantine, except from Rotworld.  Ironic, since the occult conman was introduced Swamp Thing's post-Crisis title.  It's the new 52, baby.

The whole shebang turns out to be a clever shell game perpetuated by a classic Justice League foe that foreshadows Justice League Dark's participation in the Trinity War.  It just occurred to me that the Trinity may not be who we expect but may represent the three Justice League groups.

Jupiter's Legacy will soon be a christened a critical darling.  I'd expect nothing less in response to a calculated, cynical, exploitation of the superhero concept.  Rubbish is often mistaken for art.

Sheldon Sampson in 1932 takes siblings and college chums to an island where they inexplicably receive superpowers to become Golden Age crimefighters.  I say inexplicable because writer Mark Millar feels that the origin itself is unimportant, as long as we get from point A to point D.

Millar skips points B and C which likely consisted of champions of justice shutting down the Nazi war machine.  If Millar actually showed the Golden Age superheroes of his fiction fighting Nazis, the reader might consider those superheroes as forces for idealism and want more.  This would diminish Millar's central treatise: superheroes are actually a malevolent phenomena when not useless.  

I'm really, really sick of this argument.  It does not hold a drop of water.  For all the claims that superheroes represent fascism, not a single pulp hero from Doc Savage to the Spider supported the Nazis.  Not a sole comic strip hero from Dick Tracy to The Phantom ever once lifted a finger to help the Axis Powers.  Not one comic book hero from Aquaman to Zatara threw his lot in with the Third Reich, and the Ku Klux Klan's secrets were revealed on the Superman radio show.

The facetious drivel expounded upon in Jupiter's Legacy cannot be traced to the most minuscule shred in the fabric of history.  The heroes throughout time destroyed crime even if that crime was on a global scale, and that's because the heroes' creators and contributors frequently suspended their passions to go and do their part to fight goose-stepping terrorists, whom they disdained.

Let's see if I can discern Millar's complex argument.  I'm not that cunning after-all.  It appears that Mark Millar is saying that if superheroes existed in our century, indeed throughout history, they would make no difference and succumb to the same pressures that affect normal people; turning them into a kind of sanctioned thug brigade…

...and/or hypocritical, egotistical prima donas, represented by kid heroes who abuse their powers to become celebrities and slackers.

James Bond saves the world 24/7.  He deserves all the sex he can handle.  The layabout toad in Jupiter's Legacy deserves conjugal visits with porcupines. 

His sister isn't much better.  She reflects the airhead celebutantes of the world, but you know what, celebrities that are frequent targets of media ridicule often do lots of good.  For example, Paris Hilton very quietly supports several worthwhile charities such as Cancer Research UK, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Starlight and Clothes off Our Backs.  

In the fiction, Chloe Sampson supports an endometriosis foundation, if we're to believe her brother for brand recognition.  Endometriosis is an incurable real life condition, and to make light of it would be inexcusable, but I don't think endometriosis lies in the same category as cancer or AIDS.  Birth control pills reduce the risk of endometriosis.  Numerous medications can control the symptoms.  Surgery can be employed when the condition manifests severely.   

In real life, endometriosis organizations exist, but I must ask why would Millar pick endometriosis and not cancer, AIDS or a rape prevention organization.  I think the answer can be found in the overall unfamiliarity with endometriosis.  By picking a condition that's not as instantly recognizable as say leukemia, Millar eliminates the possibility for sympathy with Chloe Sampson.  Whereas if Chloe supported for instance victims of domestic violence, she would be doing something that a superhero would do.  Such a move would undermines Millar's entire premise.

Jupiter's Legacy tarnishes the actual legacy of the pulps, comic strips, comic books and the large family of artists and writers that gave us such entertaining adventures.  Because of Kickass, Mark Millar can write what he wants.  He chose this thing.  I hope that one day, he'll once again see superheroes not as the enemy but as the inspirations that they are, such as when he wrote Superman Adventures:

Superman Adventures #23

The dialogue burns with strong emotion as opposed to schmaltzy melodrama, and Superman may never have been so enraged as he batters Brainiac into the Arctic Circle...

Superman Adventures #35

Mark Millar winds the clockwork of a twisted little mystery that relies upon the Toyman's psychosis in Superman Adventures.  The Man of Steel in Mr. Millar's hands makes a surprisingly--well, not really. This is afterall Mark Millar--talented detective, fitting his reporter persona, but he is also a man who speaks with the voice of one who can defy gravity.
Without a doubt the most entertaining read this week is All-Star WesternWe begin the book with Jonah Hex investigating a recent shooting of gold prospectors.  He suspects this to be the work of Clem Hootkins and his Gang.

Clem thanks to artist Moritat bears a striking resemblance to Klaus Kinski's Loco from The Great Silence.

The most bizarre thing about All-Star Western is that this analogue from one of the darkest spaghetti westerns ever made, mosies into a pitch black comedy slaughter in what's essentially a throwback to The Brave and the Bold.  

You see, the surly Jonah Hex isn't accompanied by constant source of consternation Professor Amadeus Arkham.  Instead, Hex encounters, and that is the right word, time traveler Booster Gold.

I should explain that over the years I came to hate Booster Gold.  His self-serving attitude as he competed against Superman grated on me.  His role in an interminable company wide crossover and its dependence on football passes as the major turning point vexed me.  In Booster Gold's second volume, DC used the time traveler to explain why Batgirl's crippling actually made perfect sense in a DC Universe, filled with scientific wonder, magic and time travel.  Yeah, I pretty much loathed Booster Gold after that.

It's the new 52, and Booster's first foray involved the formation of Justice League International.  We know how that went down, but writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray get Booster just right.  This is how a time traveler from a Utopian future should act, and I think it's how comic book fans would behave if given the opportunity to wield great power.  

Booster pops up all smiles, wanting to have fun.  He accepts the responsibility given to him and tries to do the best he can, even though he's clearly out of his depth.  He has issue with Jonah Hex's use of guns as well as his cavalier attitude about the worth of life, but Booster recognizes the bounty hunter as more experienced.  At the same time, he's not about to just bow out.  Originally, Booster was no better than the bastards in Jupiter's Legacy.  Here, he's actually a good representative of the superhero community.  

The back up feature introduces Cody Barrow, ace circus gunfighter and trick rider.  This brilliant character made up from nothing and bearing the resonance of a Silver Age cowpoke fights werewolves.  Really, do I need to say any more than that?

In the latest issue of Witch Doctor's letters page, writer Brandon Siefert hopes that he tied up all the loose ends in Mal Practice.  Let's see.  Had the title character Dr. Vincent Morrow, his assistant Eric Ghast, the demonically infected Charlotte and cute consulting necromancer from Resuscitation kick the assess of the Big Bad's flunkies, check.  A Bram Stoker Award worthy moment from Penny Dreadful, check.

Imagine looking at Penny's actions and realizing that there was nothing you could do to save yourself from that thing.  Siefert and artist Lucas Ketner just send chills up the spine.  The Loogaroo in Penny's sights is going to die, and she knows she's going to die.  The fact that the creature is cogent makes this feeling even more uncomfortable to experience.

The good Dr. Morrow himself goes off to face the Big Bad that intends to spread the supernatural plague through an entirely plausible and practical method.  Siefert deserves kudos for the original means in which the battle between good and evil plays out.  Evil cheats, but Dr. Morrow while down isn't out.  The finale leads to a very humorous epilogue in which unknown forces plan bad things for Dr. Morrow and his crew, the Witch Doctor strikes a bargain with Charlotte, who gains a friend, and more embarrassment for Eric.

The latest issue of Bela Lugosi is a treasure trove for horror fans.  As always, the late great Dracula narrates the anthology, and all the writers of these voiceovers capture Lugosi's plum, dramatic delivery.

In the first story the talented Michael Leal reanimates the noveau zombie genre. "The Last Survivor" has all the trappings of a zombie film in which plague appears to bring back the dead, gruesomely illustrated by Nik Poliwko.  The twist however cleverly turns the idea on its head.

"The Mummy's Ring" by Sam F. Park facilitates Henry Mayo's illustration of a zaftig femme fatale about to discover that a mummy's curse cannot be broken.  I have a special fondness for mummy stories, and this one is an excellent reshuffling of Universal mummy tropes.

"Second to One" by Benton Jew is reminiscent of an EC nasty.  The tale of two long distance runners gains suspense from Jew's ghoulish sensibilities as well as comprehension of the runner's world.
Mike Hoffman known as a babe artists cannot help but add a strange nymph amidst a two-man play that looks to be shot on the Red Planet Mars turned green.  "Those Crazy Kids on Vlad 7" is a short but sweet gag horror with some notable monster art.

The awesome "Further Adventures of Dr. Vornoff and Lobo" by Joe Freire is a single page Robot Chicken inspired sequel to Lugosi's and Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster.  Freire soundly captures the voices and the unintelligible grunts of the stars as they seek out new blood for their experiments.

Finally, "Bloodwatch" by Lugosi descendent Jonathan Sparks is a juicily descriptive vignette that should not be skipped.

In "The Martin Chronicles" Ian Boothby bases his story on Martin's want for popularity, evinced in a subplot for The Simpsons episode "Bart of Darkness."  Martin coldly calculates that all he needs to do to gain popularity is to eliminate the second least popular kid in Springfield Elementary, one Milhouse Van Houten.  This leads to a battle of the brainy and the brainless for Bart's esteem.  The whole thing goes to phooey when Boothby introduces a hilariously contrived school rule.

As always Phil Ortiz, Mike Rote and Nathan Hamill bring the cast to life and make use of some infrequent guest stars, such as Allison Taylor from "Lisa's Rival."  Note also how the artists portray Bart's anxiety over making an ill-fated mistake that likely could not be avoided.

Tony Digerlamo in "Springfield Babies" spoofs the original Deadzone movie.  This leads to artist Dexter Reed's spot on Christopher Walken impression through a Matt Groening lens.

Ian Brill's "Nights of the Dinner Table" posits a midnight encounter that beautifully employs the chemistry of Homer and Bart.  This terrific father and son antic is enlivened by Rex Lindsey's sharp imitation of The Simpsons design and a sight-gag of fashion as the two dim male Simpsons attempt to disguise themselves.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 17, 2013


Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this column, Catwoman, Justice League, Lookouts, Nightwing, Simpsons Comics and Wonder Woman are on the docket.  I'll also discuss the merits or demerits of Birds of Prey, Lookouts, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Supergirl and Sword and Sorcery.  

Justice League begins in the Batcave with a surprising infiltration.  Unfortunately, the Red Hood and Alfred interfere too late.

The identity of the mystery man provides some intrigue, but the interaction between Batman and Red Hood is far more rewarding.  Geoff Johns takes note of the happenings in Jason Todd's own title and bases the conversation on the closer relationship Batman now has with his prodigal son.  

The friendship, the fact that this version of Batman makes friends, foreshadows Batman's strong ties to the Justice League.  I love that Batman opens the previously off-limits inner sanctum to the League.  Granted, it's a logical step to test the security and track the intruder's movement, but the old paranoid Batman would have never allowed Justice Leaguers to roam freely about the Batcave.  Unless of course the editor wasn't paying attention.  There's greater consistency in the new 52.

The intruder's target appears to be one of the suitcases Batman keeps locked away.  These suitcases likely contain countermeasures for a potentially compromised League member.  Fans of the Justice League will recall that Mark Waid raised the idea of Batman thinking of ways to kill the League should they turn.  Coincidentally, this is when I turned away from the book.  

Batman would determine a means to stop the League but not kill them.  He refused to kill his enemies.  Why would he choose to kill his friends? I also never believed he would be stupid enough to record these plans and leave them in the Batcave for an enemy that learned his secret identity or an ally come puppet.  Geoff Johns' updating of the tradition, which really began with Cary Bates and Neal Adams...

...exhibits more sense and tactics.  While Batman's identity is known in the superhero community, few of the Dark Knight's enemies know Bruce and Batman are one in the same. He also installed safeguards, which we see the intruder overcome, and as his comrades in the League confirm, this was no mean thief. 

Due to the break in, Batman must call upon Superman and Wonder Woman, who stage a daring rescue in one of the fictional Arab lands of the DCU.  This is the kind of thing the heroes did all the time in the Bronze Age.  Having learned the art of disguise, usually from Batman, they would secret themselves among the victims or the villains and reveal themselves as wolves amongst the attack dogs.

Batman first confronts Superman and Wonder Woman about their personal mission and their budding romance, but it doesn't go as some readers might expect.

As you can see, Batman expresses no anger or jealousy, just concern.  Batman has strong bonds to these two.  Also, his statement describes exactly where he stands on the subject, on which side he will fall if or when Amanda Waller wages her insane war against the League. 

Aquaman artists Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and colorist Rod Reis provide the lush, lavish artwork.  Attention to anatomy, design, detail as well as cinema-styled angles make even potentially innocuous scenes something special.

Wonder Woman offers several points of interest for the reader.  Turning the fold out cover will reveal the surprise, and it's mostly accurate, except in execution.  

When Diana confronts Orion about his behavior, she does so violently.  That's perfectly in character, but it never should have come to this.  I'm not happy with the way Orion developed.  Flirting is one thing.  I think Orion's overt hitting on Wonder Woman is a mistake.  It borders on the burlesque.  The art by Goran Sudzuko however is stunning, especially with Matt Wilson's natural hues.

On the flip-side, writer Brian Azzarello takes Hera into a good direction, and this twist makes perfect sense.  After all, Hera is the mother of the majority of the Greek gods.  One of her characteristics is a love for children.  Her hatred for Zeus' illegitimate children is frequently tempered in myth.  Mind you, some times it's bribery that gets the job done.  This Hera however is far from the peacock feathered nude creature wandering the earth attempting to kill Zola.

There's no doubt however that Azzarello's original plans of making Wonder Woman a horror book went south.  It couldn't now even be classified as Dark Fantasy.  I don't really think an editorial edict necessitated the change.  Rather, horror trappings fall quickly when faced with an effective Amazon princess.

When Azzarello turns the focus to the prophecy--that Zola's demigod baby will smite the god that sits on the throne--he begins to line up the ducks that might be ready for a comeuppance.  Hera appeared to be premature in her assessment of the situation.  Baby might not have been gunning for her at all.

While it's become something of a trope to place the hero in a straight jacket and orchestrate a smack down on the bad guys with judicious kicks, both arms literally tied behind her back, it's still a striking visual if done correctly.  

Rafa Sandoval does it correctly.

The Justice League of America position Catwoman in Arkham Asylum to hear the inmates' idle chatter about the Secret Society.  While this Ann Nocenti story is easy to follow and sort of makes sense--the Secret Society did recruit the Scarecrow, it's not very interesting.  

Lunatic speak becomes tiresome in a short span of time, as does Jeremiah Arkham's attempts to screw around with Selina's mind using nightmarish methods that have been disparaged for years.  This isn't a caveat, per se.  Jeremiah Arkham is scum.  Batman doesn't trust him, and neither do I.  He's certainly no Bob Hartley, and Arkham's without a doubt one of the reasons nobody gets better in Gotham City.
Nocenti's story does provide greater evidence that Batman is well aware of the Justice League of America's threat.  I wouldn't be surprised if Catwoman turns out to be his operative within that bastardized League.  Batman would know if Catwoman were committed to the Asylum, and he would prioritize her release, unless he condoned it.  The only way that he would agree to such a turn of events is if the League's plans were already transparent to him.

Nightwing comes to Chicago, where the atmosphere is more compelling than the main story.  Chicago banned masked superheroes, due to a past catastrophe caused by one of the superhero community.  I'm not trying to be vague.  This is as much as we know.  

Presumably, the ban would still allow exceptions for Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman.  Chicago may express a disdain for vigilantes like Nightwing, but the Powers That Be there aren't dummies.  Meteorites fall outside the purview of local authorities.  You occasionally need an Amazon, but not a Nightwing.

Nightwing intends to suss out Tony Zucco, the killer of his parents, thought dead.  Tony Zucco's continued existence is a consequence not of the new 52, but of a historical paradigm shift.  The super heroes of the DCU do kill.  Never in cold blood, and monsters no longer have rights.  In the Golden Age, the champions we know had a sharper idea of right and wrong.

With that historical snapshot long gone.  Zucco has a habit of staying alive in any continuity you would care to name.  Now, he's back in the new 52, and Nightwing wants him.  Unfortunately, that's not where the story stays aimed.

Nightwing meets his roommate.  He's subletting.  He rides the rails, and he seeks an information broker.  Meanwhile, the Prankster, a local celebrity, delivers the ultimate punishment to a child enslaver that's ensconced in local government.

Personally, I think Higgins really could have cut to the chase in these disjointed episodes and improved the flow.  Nightwing could have simply started in his his new digs.  His narration would inform the reader that the apartment was sublet.  Better yet, Nightwing should have housesat.  This would eliminate an unnecessary character.

Nightwing's only visiting Chicago.  So, we needn't get to know his roomie.  It's not like Batgirl and Alysia.  Nightwing cannot survive long term in a city inimical to masked men.  The GCPD wanted Batman captured and incarcerated.  How Commissioner Gordon's relationship with Batman evolved is anybody's guess, but the League cemented Batman's good standing with law enforcement.

Higgins also adds to the disorientation by breaking the point of view.  He should have stuck with Nightwing and go forward from there.  Instead, he shifts the viewpoint to that of the broker and finally the Prankster.  The technique works better in novels with distinctive chapters and voices.  In a comic book it just creates a cacophony. 

Red Hood finally lost me.  New writer James Tynion takes the reader into deep continuity territory, and unlike former writer Scott Lobdell, Tynion doesn't explain enough about what's going on.  

Near as I can figure, Jason goes to an old guru to obliterate some of his memories.  Ooopsie, the little fellow takes all of them.  This is truly insulting.  The whole point of Jason's spirit walk in a previous issue was to accept himself as a whole.

On the trail, Kori and Speedy.  Kori gets little to do but show off her boobs.  Terrible, terrible grasp of proportion.  You realize of course that since those girls aren't restrained, Kori could actually knock herself out with just one.  She might even be able to smother herself given that the cosmic cachongas are each larger than her head.

In the lactose intolerant category, Speedy takes a spirit walk just like Jason Todd did.  It's neither as rich nor illuminating, more like lazy repetition exposing Speedy as an alcoholic and Green Arrow's former sidekick.  

Chrysty Marx's stint on The Birds of Prey continues to honor the great writing of Duane Swierzynski, who created this team and their new 52 personas.  For example, Marx already proved that she could write for Starling, Swierzysnki's whole-cloth conception.  She demonstrated a superb ear for Starling's wit.  Now, she does the same for Condor in a scene that also displays Batgirl's natural acumen and Canary's detective skills.  She also builds on Dinah's status as a martial artist in a flashback featuring a cameo of Team 7.

Mr. Freeze offers to make a trade.  Starling for Strix, the former Court of Owls assassin that Batgirl and Catwoman took custody of in the awesome Batgirl Annual. During the encounter, Marx gels the team, which now includes Condor.  It's interesting to see Marx's handling of the only male amidst the Birds because he as well is a Swierzynski creation. 

As the story unfolds, we discover the cover is less of a come on than originally thought, but I don't believe that this is the end to the surprises and double-crosses.

Turmoil in the Gem Houses marks this issue of Sword and Sorcery.  In the House of Onyx, a not so favored son returns.  Linking Eclipso to the world of Amethyst is an inspired choice by writer Christy Marx.  His presence immediately increases the momentum of the overall story, and I suspect he will catalyze the tying of loose ends.

It's unfortunate that this series is on the chopping block, but you can already see the threads coming together.  Amethyst's friend and fellow princess Ingvie, gains the knowledge of her mother, who Eclipso killed last issue.  The Shadow Walkers of Onxy suffer immense casualties, and unite the survivors against the bloodthirsty, blue beast.  The House of Diamond falls with a beheading, collusion and betrayal.  

Remember.  This is all in one issue. Amethyst's mother Graciel falls to weakness from her battle against her sister Mordiel, and Mordiel's thirst for power seems likely to be tabled for the good of all Gemworld.  Amethyst herself? Promises vengeance and will likely be the Buffy to battle Eclipso.

Despite being packed with plot points and characterization twists, the book doesn't feel hurried at all.  We can credit that to Aaron Lopresti who provided the absolutely lovely artwork throughout the run and expanding the fantasy genre of comic books with his remarkable imagination and eye for design.  Lopresti here in addition must be commended for his control of the visual narrative, judiciously segueing from facet to facet, following Eclipso's desires for domination.

Because of the subject matter, a world of gems cannot be rendered in black and white.  I'm betting Lopresti imagines the colors as he illustrates.  The colorists demonstrate what a feel for the rainbow and skill with the amazing technology available today can do for a book dependent on opulence.

I don't believe Power Girl officially met Supergirl before.  I'd remember scenes like this even if not rendered in Mahmud Asrar's spectacular artwork and Dave McCaig's popping colors.

Now working solo, Michael Johnson does something original with the parallel universe concept in SupergirlUnexpectedly, it is through Power Girl that he sends Supergirl's kryptonite poisoning into temporary stasis.

Rather than rely on a clunky dialogued meeting between the two Maids of Might, Johnson crafts nuggets of speech that fit both characters and draws on only the gist of what occurs to inform the reader.  He relies on the reader's intellect to read between the lines as he insightfully employs the consequences of the new 52 to bring these heroes together.  

The cover to Lookouts gives you an idea of the attractive cartoony artwork and hints at a major plot point for the story.  One of Ranger Samson's Lookouts possesses a hitherto unknown power, amusingly highlighted in flashback, yet the best scene in Lookouts occurs in a tale within the tale.

One of the Lookouts, Lark, recounts a fable that may give them a clue on how to defeat the Sphinx that refuses to allow passage.  It seems that a young girl faced down the beast and with guile impressed the creature enough that it allowed her to live.  More to the point, it flew off to greener pastures.  I got a Buffy vibe from the moment.  So big kudos there.  Another female protagonist aids Boli in the flashback.  This integration of the sexes in the pool of bravery and adventure injects Lookouts with a much needed estrogen/adrenaline boost.

Carol Lay concocts a mystery birthday party for Marge in Simpsons Comics, and Lay surprises me.  It's not that I didn't think that she was capable of creating a feature length story, juiced with continuity.  Carol Lay after-all wrote Wonder Woman: Mythos, a prose novel I thoroughly enjoyed in 2003.  I simply associate her with shorter and more abstract stories in The Simpsons comics line.  Often her tales defy convention by being based purely on art or even sound, which is doubly challenging given the medium.

Nevertheless, Lay here creates a fairplay mystery within the world of the Simpsons, and it's equal to the number of mysteries aired on the television series.  Lay presents all the clues for the reader to witness.  Your job is to figure out what's going.  Some of the means by which she hides the enigma in plain sight are ingenious, and her twists to reach certain  conventions of the detective genre are comedic as well as effective.

Artistically speaking, Lay here uses the idea of specific models for cartoon characters perfectly.  I admit that I really didn't latch on to the idea of this particular culprit until Lay blatantly foreshadows the identity through commentary from one of the cast.  This would be the pity clue.

To say any more would give the game away.  By turning back to the introduction, and focusing on the face you can see a resemblance even when Lay keeps the antagonist's noticeable features hidden.  Suddenly, Clark Kent's glasses do not seem so poor a disguise for Superman.