Monday, January 6, 2014

POBB: January 2, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 2, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is brand new for a brand new year.  If you're seeking a 2013 comic book retrospective, direct your browser elsewhere.  The Pick of the Brown Bag looks at the most entertaining and the most disappointing comic books of the week.  

There were practically no books in the brown bag last week.  This year however kicks off with All-Star Western, Aquaman, Baltimore, The Flash, Forever Evil, Justice League Dark, Rocket Girl and Superman in addition to the new and highly-hyped Legendary.

Before I begin with the reviews...2013 was the Year of the Doctor!  We witnessed no less than three regenerations. 

Simulcast in 94 countries, thereby breaking the Guinness World Record, with "Day of the Doctor," Doctor Who finally made it to theaters crowning the box office on the day it was shown in the United States, topping the download chart and kicking ass in DVD sales.  

In "Name of the Doctor," through a bit of television "jiggery-pokery," we returned to the very beginning of Doctor Who, where a hyper-curious grandfather and his equally inquisitive granddaughter stole a faulty TARDIS to leave their planet.  

In "Time of the Doctor," The Time Lords regained some of their altruistic reputation of yore, something we haven't seen since "The Three Doctors."  Stephen Moffat lay his finger next to his nose to give fans the greatest gift of all, after justifiably explaining that we've been miscounting for eight years.  2013, the most ecstatic year for Doctor Who fans.  

And now....the comic book reviews.

Superman was super-dull.  It was duller than a pair of mono-toned, gray-faced, bald men in three-piece suits discussing the benefits of trickle-down economic theory.  How would you open a Superman book, the first Superman book of the year?  Would you begin your story with...

a) Superman beating the snot out of a monster.
b) Superman shot-putting a dictator to the Hague.
c) Superman saving innocent citizens from being killed by a heavy, toppling object, or...
d) the tail end of a boring date with Wonder Woman.

If you chose d) you probably never read a Superman book in your entire life, and you should do more research before embarking on your DC writing career.  However, once you have that career, you can apparently get away with choice d) since editors will no longer pay attention to your writing and stop you from contributing fatiguing ideas; gets in the way of time spent on Angry Birds.  

Lobdell continues Superman's scintillating journey with no hope of sex and an interruption by Great Gazoo stand-in Lois Lane.  Lois can astral project herself now because she was infected with a Brainiac-induced mind-boosting virus.  Her physical body still lies in a coma at Metropolis General.  So no sex from her either.

The excitement thickens when Sam Lane visits Lois at her bedside.  An alien warlord bursts through the wall--oh, who am I kidding.  Sam Lane informs the comatose Lois about his new job and kisses her on the forehead while Superman floats a respective distance outside.  

Hold onto your socks because brother it just gets unbelievably, amazingly kinetic after this incredibly active scene.  Lois' boyfriend/fiancee/stand-in/whatever visits her bedside!  That's right.  Catch your breath people because Superman reverts back to Clark Kent to give Jonathan an inspiring pep talk.

Something finally happens in the last pages, but I doubt your eyes will be open, gentle reader.  The Parasite attacks.  If you're like me, you think of the Parasite as welcome as the other purple menace Barney, but I fail to see why the Powers That Be could not have started here.  Accompanied by the uninteresting artwork of Kevin Lashley, Scott Lobdell's Superman practically defines ennui.

Fortunately Superman's Justice League colleagues Aquaman and the Flash atone for the Man of Steel's complete enervation.  In fact some of the fun arises from the heroes trying their best to replicate one of Superman's powers.  I'm thinking that careful observation of the covers will clue you into which.

Jeff Parker opens Aquaman with arresting foreshadowing of the Pacific Rim setup yet to come.  On page three however, he switches gears, taking readers on a subdued hunt for the King of the Seven Seas.  Intriguingly, Parker comes up with his own version of a secret identity for Aquaman that does not involve glasses and mussed up hair.

That's pretty slick, and it's just one of Parker's many innovations.  Below the waves, Aquaman and Mera ply their heroism on behalf of the Atlantean half of his heritage.  The danger and daring also permit Parker to exhibit his skill at depicting Mera, as viewed with the depth imbued to her by Geoff Johns in the environs of the new 52.  She's also thanks to the artists, no heroin-chic chicken of the sea.

The hapless victims were investigating one of a series of fissures that suddenly opened and spewed lava.  Here's where Parker performs some multi-tasking.  In a single scene, he reveals where Atlantis' power comes from and demonstrates the toughness of Atlantean technology.  The cutting edge suits were the only things protecting the investigators before Mera and Aquaman arrived, and remember Atlanteans are more prone to dehydration than we humans.  Aquaman decides that this is a job for the Atlantean Science Council. The what?

Aquaman establishing a science council makes a lot of sense, but Parker isn't just out to have a group of intelligentsia solve all the problems.  In fact their squabbling creates friction as well as liberal doses of comedy that furthermore mirror the different attitudes Atlanteans hold for Aquaman.  Surprisingly, although Mera is by Atlantean law a criminal, if not a terrorist, Parker creates the impression that the Atlanteans are more disappointed in Aquaman.  At least with Mera, the sea people know where they stand.  Aquaman's still an unknown quantity. 

From the boardroom, Aquaman uses a new device to pirouette him to the coast of Iceland.  Here be fight.

As with the clear inspiration, the monster is more than mere beast.  It turns out that Aquaman and the creature share some history, but that won't help as Mera and Neol race to the rescue while the rest of the Science Council impassively watch.  Not exactly fans of the surface dwellers, their neutrality is subtle characterization that also offers the reader some sly commentary.  Now, this.  This is a comic book.

Christos Gage stops by for an inventory issue of The Flash, but this is no throwaway.  Gage and artist Neil Googe ably maintain the new 52 paradigm while crafting a strong showcase for the Flash's versatility and intellect.  

This show of speed was spurred on by heinous death of a friend.  The police at first dismiss the murder as an accident until Barry Allen and his lady love Patty Spivot reveal evidence that points skyward.

Gage and Googe create a new villain for the Flash to battle.  She's so intriguing and archaically flashy that if not for her callous murdering ways you can almost root for Spitfire.  The beauty of such a character is how the attitude alludes to the outlaws of days past.  These criminals often became folk heroes, and it was partially their outsider attributes and attractiveness that allowed society to turn a blind eye to their psychopathic tendencies.

Forever Evil produces some excellent Catwoman and Batman moments.  These two haven't been this sweet to each other ever, even on earth two where they married.

They're honest with each other.  They clearly smolder for each other, and the new 52's Batman isn't such a stickler for the law, which frankly never made sense to me.  Nope.  Can't sleep with you.  You're a thief.  I'm a vigilante.  Oh, hang on a tick...

As everybody who has read a paper or seen a broadcast knows, Batman and Selina already crossed the line, several times in fact, but Selina clearly loves Batman.  He's not just a fling, and all of the new 52 books in this respect gel quite well with the concept, even an ostensible Big Event book like Forever Evil.

Batman reveals to Selina almost everything except his identity, but with his mask half torn, and "Richard Grayson's" secret blown, Catwoman's bound to add it all up once she sees a photo of Bruce Wayne.

In addition to building on the Batman and Catwoman relationship, writer Geoff Johns peels back some layers in the new 52 Lex Luthor.  Johns mixes and matches the traditional, the post-Crisis version and the Smallville incarnation to foster a substantive archvillain.  Johns at the same time explains how Captain Cold became the leader of the Flash Rogues; how he became a virtual genius with cryotechnology.  It turns out that he's less of a Tesla and more of an Edison, and Johns seamlessly blends that redefinition with Lex's characterization.

Johns then turns his attention to The Crime Syndicate.  Black comedy involving Metallo kicks off an exchange between Ultraman and Superwoman, and it leaves the faithful wondering about the earth three Lois Lane.  She's clearly on her own side, playing Ultraman against Owlman and visa-versa.  Johns emphasized the idea that Owlman might be the father of Superwoman's baby, but now I'm starting to wonder if the mysterious prisoner may not be be father. 

It would make sense.  Ultraman and Owlman kill each other, after they do the heavy lifting.  Superwoman moves in with her family.  Forever Evil continues to daunt your expectations.

Judging from the cover, Justice League Dark should be important, but it's not really.  The story picks up from another spooky title.  Possibly Constantine, maybe Pandora, but it doesn't actually matter.  All you need to know is that John's substitute team has acquired Dr. Thirteen as a mascot and fight a Jungian big bad named Blight. The earth three Aquaman, who died on arrival, is sort of the menace in the current issue, but there's a catch.

J.M. DeMatteis offers readers a serviceable script in Justice League Dark, but I can't really say that it was involving.  Michael Janin is the reason to add Justice League Dark to your subscription list:

Janin's stunning artwork makes reading Justice League Dark a mere afterthought.

Legendary mashes all of Dynamite's licensed characters, and they own the leases to quite a few, into a steampunk world created by Bill Willingham.  He's come a long way from providing accompanying artwork for TSR.

The story opens with an old time styled news report, where a reporter looks in on the hoi polloi at the Scarlet Club.  While an apparently background cast adds color to the main feature, Vampirella dines with the Green Hornet, Britt Reid, whose publishing/media empire provides the on-the-spot reporting.  The conversation is very perfunctory involving the way to make a perfect martini, the kind of snobbish past time that fits Reid's facade to a tea and pays some homage to James Bond.

Between the lines, one can see a dalliance between Vampirella and Britt, which is one of the interesting things that this singular continuity allows Willingham to foster.

A familiar looking red head bursts onto the scene looking for help.  She's being followed by an army of idiots.  To be fair, they clearly didn't know they were breaking into a vampire's retreat, but they gain that knowledge before quickly dying in the most horrific way.  Vampirella though an alien, possessed all the powers of a traditional vampire.  However, she always held back when fighting humans.  Willingham, given a free reign, displays just how terribly powerful Vampirella is, and the startling imagery turns her into a kind of supernatural Wonder Woman.  This is what Diana could do if she wanted.  With Vampirella, the ferocity is less unthinkable.

Leaving behind a lot of questions for the constabulary, Vampirella and Green Hornet secret the mysterious red head and learn of her traveling sister Sonja.  The combinations are inventive, and the continuity free zone allows Willingham to inject new life into the old favorites.  If he keeps the berry juice off the Phantom, I'll be a very happy man.  Right now, I'm interested enough to continue my trip to the world of Legendary.

Baltimore significantly moves the plot along with Haigus, the king of the vampires, setting a trap for our hero, involving three of his friends.  Mignola reverses the roles of the hunter and the hunted however by revealing that Haigus is tired of running, and artist Ben Stenbeck supports the view with a haggard image of the once menacing vampire.

Haigus searches for pity in his fight against Baltimore by arguing that Baltimore started the whole thing by daring to defend himself against the then animal like vampires preying upon the dying soldiers left on the World War I battlefields, but don't you believe it.  It's like blaming the Doctor for the Daleks becoming more dangerous over the years.  You either do nothing and let the beast prey upon you, or you take action for the sake of survival.  Evolution stops when life stops.

Dayoung the Rocket Girl finds herself in police custody with her gear acquired by her friends.  Since her new 80s mates have links to Quintum, the Big Bad corporation from the future that Dayoung intended to shut down for violations of time travel law, she's understandably perturbed.

Rocket Girl is full of excitement.  Dayoung initiates a daring escape using an intellect that belies her youthfulness.  It is actually her youth that predicates her role.  In the future, a youth police corp established because adults could no longer be trusted.  Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare certainly have a point.  Corruption is centered among the adult world.

Rocket Girl makes her way back to her friends' eighties digs and even her entrance back "home" offers the reader comedy and action.  The writers juxtapose the now with the then, but both states of time are connected.  

They reveal two familiar faces from the past working in the future and how Rocket Girl's journey into the past to ostensibly shut down Quintum may in fact be a clever time looped trap to preserve the status quo.

All-Star Western opens weirdly back in horse opera time with Tullulah Black pregnant and about to marry Jonah Hex. The surreal wedding story is filled with off-kilter imagery courtesy of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray cohort Dave Johnson.  There's a reason for all of this happening, and the rationale is steeped in DC pre-Crisis lore that takes root in Jonah Hex's adventures in the present, where Moritat resumes the artistic reins.

After extricating himself from the predicament, Hex comedicaly forces John Constantine into action and shares some expertly timed words with his traveling mate, Gina.  The argument results a ribald screwball moment that also dictates the setting.  Remember.  This whole slice of time-lost goodness began at Burning Man.  The key to Hex's return to the west lies in the heart of a classic DC city, and herein lies the guest-star.  Brilliant from start to finish.

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