Monday, January 13, 2014

POBB: January 9, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 9, 2014
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this column I choose from my current batch the most enjoyable and the most disappointing comic books, and be sure to check out the POBB Special Edition below where I discuss regeneration in Doctor Who.

This week is a little thin in quantity but not in quality.  Action Comics, Batwing, Earth 2, Painkiller Jane, Smallville and Swamp Thing offer the reader all kinds of comic book goodness.  Even the less interesting ones are kind of interesting. 

The Fox is trippy but repetitive.  You could do a helluva lot worse, and although the story is getting a little tired, the art's still filled with dynamite.

Scoob-Doo Team-Up is the lesser of the two issues, but it's a young title.  Give it some time.  It's cool that writer Sholly Fisch remembered the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, but he adds too many others to the roster that were never part of the sleuthing group.  Terrence Thirteen for example doesn't belong here, and there's just too many detectives for any real focus.  That said, Ace's and Scooby's team-up against the Scarecrow makes sense and runs on fun.  The art by Dario Brizuela is once again the perfect mix.

Batwing surprised the stuffing out of me.  It's part of the "Gothtopia" thing that's holding places for bat-related titles not included in Scott Snyder's early years Batman or Forever Evil.  Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray first lay out an overview of "Gothtopia," and it's as lame as you expect.  The Scarecrow dosed Gotham with fear toxin, and he's got the citizens seeing Gotham as a utopia and Batman as crazy.  Whatever.  We've dealt with Scarecrow already.  We've dealt with this scenario before.  Let it go.

When Palmiotti and Gray actually get to Batwing, they conceive a pretty decent story that demonstrates Batwing's guile, his daring-do and his family life.  Gray and Palmiotti resurrect a Batman villain from the nineties to play havoc with our fledgling flying fox.  Ha, and they also begin grooming a previously seen figure to be Batwing's arch-nemesis.  The art by Jason Masters and Scott Kolins is different, but valid.  Reminds me a little of Bryan Talbot, but more angular.

Painkiller Jane searches for the Princess Poonwalla, who was abducted from her charge on Fire Island.  At the same time, the Princess' father calls in a smooth operator that just screams Matthew McConaughey or Timothy Olyphant.

By and large, Painkiller Jane merits its off the Marvel label with ample doses of ghoulish violence.  What makes this acceptable is that Palmiotti employs the damage to emphasize Painkiller Jane's healing factor and to demonstrate how the simplest operation can go completely south when something the protagonist doesn't expect unfolds. 

This kind of snafu occurs in the best hardboiled detective stories, and the result usually sends the hero to the hospital or shambling through a concussed daze.  Jane's got one foot in the superhero world, and the drop into into science fiction allows Palmiotti to cut to the chase.

There's also some inconsequential nudity in the book, but Palmiotti includes it for consistency's sake, after a good character-based joke.  Juan Santacruz makes the skin so matter-of-fact, that you know sensuality isn't aim.  Could have done without the depiction of body functions though.  It's one thing to say a character relieves herself in prose and another to witness the relief.

Another red head searching for trouble kicks off the action in the comics.  What? Too much of a stretch.

Lana Lang gets her pre-Crisis archaeologist on and discovers a subterranean world.  Her goals are laudable.  She seeks to discover this unknown realm for the good of humanity, and it doesn't hurt that she's showing up her former Smallville cohort Clark Kent.  Superman makes the mistake of saying: "Lana, you're an electrical engineer not an archaeologist."

It's the kind of phrase bound to ignite red's liver.  She even adds a "Just" in her head, when Clark didn't dismiss her ability.  It just sounds bad.  The dialogue and give and take between Lana and Clark however sounds fantastic.  The parlay exemplifies how you can define a new version of an old character without losing the very essence that made her such an enjoyment.  When Pak introduced Lana, I had no proof that she was Lana Lang.  These last two issues gave me all the proof I could ask for.

Superman atones for the sin of bad judgment by saving the day.  Greg Pak writes Superman better here than in Batman and Superman.  

Superman's intelligent, courageous, wistful and actually warm, friendly and funny.  This begs the question on whether or not people gave up on the new 52 Superman too soon.  Superman's one of those characters that functions on a pendulum.  If a writer goes too far, another will swing back.  Grant Morrison probably went too far.  I didn't exactly go ga-ga for the arrogant younger version of the Man of Steel.  I did however like the Geoff Johns edgy Superman who smashed Parademons with nearby trucks.

Pak blends the traditional Superman with a more thoughtful hero.  While Superman is still willing to kill creatures that threaten the planet, he's not trigger happy.  Each situation is different, and in the case of Baka, Superman sees the innocence behind the beast.

Aaron Kuder makes Baka a real cutie and accents the comedy involving close encounters.  At the same time, he amps Superman's heroism and Lana's earthiness.  Recommended for those waiting for a more recognizable Superman to debut in the new 52.

For those that found their Superman in Smallville, the current issue is a doozy.  Technically speaking, this is Smallville: Alien.  If you're like me, you watch out for subtitles because it usually means that there were a bunch of stories buried under some dried up ramen, and since the Powers That Be already paid for them, they might as well collect them under a banner.  Smallville: Alien is Smallville, and Bryan Q. Miller is just dolloping out fangasmic moments.

Batman returns to the pages of Smallville.  He battles a well known Batman foe and then with Nightwing (Babs Gordon) in tow investigates the murder on the cover.  Nope.  The cover is not a lie.  Some chap in a Superman shirt and cape lies dead at Commissioner Gordon's feet.  

You think that's all? How about a meeting of the minds. That's right.  Chloe Sullivan, Lois Lane, Batman and Nightwing all come together.

Still want more? Rocket Reds.  A whole brigade of them.  About now you're asking.  Hey, where's Superman?

Beating the snot out of an alient threat.  That's where.  As you can see, the subtitle isn't a warning for the artwork either.  Artists Edgar Salazar, Dym, Rob Lean and Carrie Strachan merge animated comic book violence with striking likenesses.  Damn.  Fine.  Superman book.  Damn.  Fine.  Comic book.  Make me hate that dull Scott Lobdell issue of Superman even more.

Earth 2 is a page turner.  The apocalypse is here.  Darkseid turned Superman into an engine of destruction.  The wonders that comprised the Justice Society fell. Parademons fill the sky, and Batman uncovers a secret that Terry Sloan kept hidden from all.  You think you know where the story will go, but Taylor fools you.  

When last we left Batman, he infiltrated World Army's jail to free the comelier, angrier Aquawoman christened in this issue as Queen Marella.  This lady is dangerous.

A grieving Sam Lane transferred the mind of Lois Lane to Red Tornado.  Jimmy Olsen can access the Internet with his mind.  Intelligence is way cooler.  Both Superman stalwarts recognized Batman as the real deal.  Now, they have doubts, and I'm starting to come up with a crazy notion. 

Maybe, Batman is Thomas Wayne.  Not the father, but the freak who on earth three became Owlman, and died on earth one.  This would make sense because The Court of Owls was instrumental in Thomas Wayne's death.  There is no Court on earth two.  Thomas Wayne might have been estranged from Bruce, but he didn't become twisted like Owlman.  I don't know, but writer Tom Taylor and artists Nicola and Trevor Scott, Robson Rocha and Pete Pantazis make me want to know.

A lot of people bailed when Scott Snyder left Swamp Thing.  That was a mistake.  Charles Soule proved to be the perfect fit for the new adventures of Alec Holland.  This issue is no different.  He scribes a clever means of restoring Swamp Thing as the Avatar of the Green.  He introduces some bizarre characters and laces every thing with liberal doses of humor.  That said.  This issue belongs to artists Jesus Saiz and Matthew Wilson.

The imagination and beauty, sometimes honest sometimes grim, rustling through these pages is just staggering.

If you can't appreciate a Swamp Cossack, maybe you should think about getting a new hobby.

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