Pick of the Brown Bag
February 5, 2014
The Pick of the Brown Bag is a weekly blog where I choose the best and worst of comic books on the rack. On today's docket Action Comics, Baltimore, Batwing, Forever Evil, The Fox, The Movement, Painkiller Jane, Swamp Thing and new books Loki and Ms. Marvel.
The Fox concludes its bizarre Diamond Queen story in which the multifaceted beauty transported Paul Patton to a surreal world run by an evil Druid that bewitched her King. The Fox isn't the first hero to walk in the realm. As a result, the story excuses a Red Circle team-up.
I get the feeling the tale was meant to explain the absence of the Red Circle heroes from the comic book racks. It's essentially what the Time War is to Doctor Who. The writers though quickly hedge their bets by demonstrating that time and space does not flow quite so linearly in the diamond dimension. Thus, a year in weirdsville is only ten minutes in our world.
Dean Haspiel's and Mark Waid's Fox is essentially by-the-numbers fun albeit with superior artwork, but actually Haspiel and Waid take a few leaps that must be lauded. For example, the Red Circle heroes distinguish themselves with an attention to previously taboo subjects.
It's not a huge move considering the people behind Archie Comics introduced Kevin, a wildly popular gay character who genuinely broke new ground in Riverdale. Still, the diversity is a nice touch.
This issue also surprises with technique. The Shield stars in the the back story. The major powers battling for the earth in World War II get representatives, and these avatars of Allied Forces, Nazis and Japanese battle a foe that judges humanity, not just the Third Reich, as a weed to be eradicated through its own machinations. It's a remarkably cynical aspect from a patriotic hero's tale and sharply contrasts the theme of love in the main story.
Jimmy Palmiotti's and Justin Gray's Batwing shakes off Gothtopia for a straightforward vigilante-hunting-loved-one plot. Eduardo Pansica is also back on art duties. So, it's a fantastic looking book.
Gray and Palmiotti better establish Batwing as a Gotham fixture by bringing in Commissioner Gordon to referee the proceedings. He doesn't make that much of a contribution, but it's nice to see him in a book where he's not trying to kill Batgirl or deck Batman.
The writers further cement the status of Batwing in a scene where he's mistaken for the more recognizable Batman. This scenario also allows Palmiotti, Gray and Pansica to flex their funny bones. The gangstas sound a lot like a low-tier comedy troupe, albeit armed and semi-dangerous. Batwing puts them down with absolutely no problem, but his viciousness exemplifies the sincerity in his pursuit. Had not a family member been taken, Batwing probably would have had some laughs and taken his time to defeat the hoods.
Batwing shows no signs of fatigue. I wonder if our hero will be taking Nightwing's slot in the Batman Family after Forever Evil ends. The Year Zero issue established that Batman knew Luke Fox when young. He also fought beside the youth. Fox was also Batman's first choice for Batwing. Hmmn.
I have no interest in The Movement. I tried the premiere, and the rodent king turned me off. Vampires control vermin. Not heroes. The rest of the cast didn't interest me either. However, Batgirl guest-stars in the story, and I wanted to give Gail Simone another chance to prove that she can still write the Darknight Daredoll. I will say this. Batgirl is a lot lighter here than she is in her title book.
Last I saw she was moping around, if not outright weeping, over the fate of Ricky, the would-be car-jacker with a heart-of-gold and no prospects what-so-ever. Oh, and her Dad, the Commish, literally wanted to kill her since she sent psychopath-with-a-heart-of-gold James Jr. to his spinal snapping, that is eye-stabbing, demise. Here, Batgirl's positively quippy, oh and drawn perfectly.
Batgirl travels to Coral City to hunt down a fugitive. The U.S. Marshals' service in the DCU is apparently as effective as its constabulary. The murdering-bastard-with-a-heart of gold however is under the protection of the Movement, who also foster one of Batgirl's rogue's gallery.
I'll give Simone this.
She knows Babs' got legs and knows how to use them.
Katharsis is one of Knightfall. I'm trying to remember if the winged menace was in the debut of The Movement or not. I know she didn't register, and that's probably because Simone scrubbed her villainous personality. Here's how Simone characterized Katharsis in Batgirl.
I'll give Simone this.
She knows Babs' got legs and knows how to use them.
Keep in mind that Katharsis "marked" a mostly harmless sad sack that's missing his leg from the lower calf down. One marvels at exactly how this scene played out. "Hey, kid, I'm sorry about the leg. That was evil, but I'm just mean. So, I'm gonna scar your puss a little. You might need plastic surgery when I'm done, but at least I'm not going to set a bear trap to take out your other leg. Yeah?"
In The Movement, Katharsis is just a bitch who has a severe problem with Batgirl. She's half a step away from being the Cordelia who trips a book laden Babs in high school.
So, did The Movement convince me to return to Batgirl? No. Just because Babs is normal here doesn't mean she's better in her own title. Simone's lack of consistency with Katharsis convinces me that she doesn't keep notes, and that she might in fact unwittingly plague Batgirl with mood swings. One moment, she's a sobbing Ninja who refuses to wear the bat symbol. The next issue she'll be the Darknight Damsel we all know and love. Frankly, Simone is just a sloppy writer, and I'm starting to think those two wonderful opening arcs of Batgirl were the exceptions, not the rule.
Tom Taylor's Earth 2 is engrossing. The story advances along nicely, and the characterization of Batman and the rest of the Earth Two champions entertain to no end.
Barry Kitson's actually fairly unfamiliar with these characters. He's an old school type of guy, but he does a bang up job visually representing the heroes' personalities and powers. He nails their costumes. It also looks like he was enjoying himself immensely when depicting Marella, alias Aquawoman. His manifestation of the elements is absolutely breathtaking. You just sit back and go ooo.
Kitson next wowed me with his visual narrative of Lois Lane convincing Val the young Kryptonian to step out into the sun and gain his birthright. Lois is dead on earth two. Her mind lies in the circuitry of the Red Tornado.
Kitson's depiction of the gamut of emotion at play through the panels is really beautiful. It's even more impressive given that he really doesn't have a lot to work with. The body housing Lois' mind isn't quite as featured as a human face. Kitson however rises to the challenge.
No bones to Nicola Scott, Earth 2's regular and remarkable illustrator, but I really wouldn't mind seeing more of Kitson's work on the title.
Greg Pak is turning out to be a helluva Superman writer. For his run, he reintroduced Lana Lang to the mythos. She's an electrical engineer in the new 52 and confidante of Clark Kent from Smallville. She knows that Clark is Superman. While working on a new power complex, Lana discovered a monster, and Superman quickly darted in to take care of the fellow, just not in the way Lana and the others believed.
Still in the under world, Superman and Lana meet the Queen. You know that if she were sealed up. Something must be rotten, and Pak will get to that in surprising turn after turn of events.
Pinned to all of this goodness, the interaction between Lana and Clark forges history from scratch. The byplay between the two Smallville denizens reads genuine, and their humor bridges a masterful comprehension of what makes these characters tick. Pak couldn't have done any of this in the post-Crisis. Lana's character there was static, and Aaron Kuder's artwork is too outside the concept of painted musclemen and gravity defying beauties to be welcomed.
Forever Evil is a weird one. Lex Luthor and his team of super-villains collude with Batman and Catwoman. Sinestro, with extreme prejudice, deals against Power Ring, and the Crime Syndicate appears to be splitting at the seams.
Geoff Johns' latest reads like an episode of Challenge of the Super-Friends, if broadcast on prime time television. There's oodles of death and ghoulish violence in these pages, but you cannot get worked up about it.
All of it is at the expense of the super-villains of the DC Universe, and there's a certain bit of black comedy in the murders, especially for somebody who follows comic book history.
These elements Johns juxtaposes against antagonists who really sound like their old selves on Saturday mornings. This is especially true of Luthor and Black Manta. Don't care if the latter is black. Here, he sounds like Ted Cassidy enhanced by that tinny echo effect that the makers of Super-Friends employed.
How many times have you asked. Why doesn't a comic book company produce a comic book that actually mirrors what occurs in the offshoot movies? Ask no more. Loki is that comic book.
Loki is no longer the evil, cackling bad guy of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby originals. Instead, he's Tom Hiddleston portraying secret agent Loki. This works.
If you're asking how does Tom Hiddleston's super-spy Loki jibe with the films, well...In Thor: The Dark World, Loki reveals that he doesn't hate Thor, and he loves his mother, who showed him only mercy. He hates Odin. So, in the film, Loki allies with Thor for reasons I won't spoil here, and he also promotes his own agenda that will allow him to one-up Odin. Still have doubts? Look who the Avengers are.
It's true that Iron Man's color scheme is all wrong, but Marvel thoughtfully brought the Avengers from the movies in to confront Loki. They all in fact behave like their movie counterparts. Hawkeye and Black Widow for example just hang out. None of their past history is ever broached. You wouldn't know that Natasha was a former Russian spy who seduced Hawkeye into going up against Iron Man. These two are the SHIELD agents. Everybody likes the Hulk. In fact it's only when Al Ewing brings up past Big Stupid Events that the book chimes a false note.
To be fair, Ewing isn't trying to erase Marvel history. Loki is. It's how he's paid, and that's a real clever premise. Loki doesn't actually want to be that maniacal character of old. He wants a fresh start, and he's a god. So by golly, why not?
Given this really funny Loki story, it's easy to overlook Lee Garbett's contribution, but Garbett's art goes a long way to sell Loki's earnestness. He makes Loki such a young, molded in the image of Hiddleston figure that you can't help but to accept him. You find yourself even wondering why the Avengers have such angry bees in their bonnets.
Ms. Marvel has been getting a lot of attention for its depiction of a Muslim heroine, but really this is just the old Marvel Spider-Man love of a young, outsider gaining superpowers. It's a good solid read, but it's not actually as groundbreaking as a lot of people claim.
Our protagonist isn't a fundamentalist because heroes can't be. It doesn't matter what religion. A fundamentalist Christian can be just as terrifying as a fundamentalist Muslim or Hebrew. Christian terrorists and Muslim terrorists are just terrorists, and even that is a little lofty a definition. Terrorists are just plain murderers.
Kamala's a teenager with a moderate Muslim upbringing. Her father is a businessman. Her mother is a little shallow in her depiction. So, I can't really pin-point her. Her brother is essentially a Muslim hippie. He's using the faith for his own inaction. Her sister is a little more reverent to her culture. Kamala has a Flash Thompson as well. The rest of the jocks are morons.
A few Buffy the Vampire Slayer nods foreshadow the picture of the independent female super-hero to come. While cues to Bollywood offer a singular, inviting goofiness. There is one sharp difference that I don't believe will benefit the future of the character's staying power.
Spider-Man's origin is a streamlined classic. Peter Parker gains the hair of the radioactive arachnid that bit him. Reduced, the original Ms. Marvel is the product of accidental exposure to an alien device, but the new Ms. Marvel's origin is tied to the exposure to Terragen mist. The problem is that she shares the origin with others. I would have preferred something unique to her to bathe her in super powers.
Jane of course survives the fight. Her hyper healing factor kicks in, but Palmiotti demonstrates that there are fates worse than death for somebody who can survive almost any damage.
When Jane recovers, she displays her detective skills, tracking down the absconded Princess Poonwalla and lover Tony, her bodyguard.
Palmiotti has balls for identifying the tradition in the plot, and it shows he's not frightened of recycling. So long as it's done in an interesting way. The simplicity of the gist allowed Palmiotti to play with Jane's characterization, identifying what kind of woman she is; revisit her history with Maureen, her best friend and police "handler"; add modern twists to generate freshness in the tradition and much more.
The new life of Painkiller Jane as an Icon imprint hits just the right mature tone for pulp readers and artist Juan Santacruz is comfortable when depicting anything Palmiotti throws at him or Jane.
Writer Charles Soule splits Swamp Thing with two tales. He opens the book with the aftermath of Alec Holland's attempts to free himself from the Green and resume his position as Champion. In order to do that he lulled the Green into dormancy and beat the crap out of his successor. This leaves him three very rusty former Champions on his hands, and now they have regained their humanity.
The second story reveals the origin of Capuine, and it's a classic that's nevertheless well told and gorgeously captured by Javier Pina. Capucine is the second new 52 protagonist that's tickled me. Starling was the first.
Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck conclude the first chapter of Lord Baltimore's life with vampire slashing and the reaffirmation of a codependent relationship between vampires and humans that almost seems natural.
Mignola's conclusion also kicks off the second part of Baltimore's story by manifesting the image of the Big Bad hinted at in the Infernal Train. He and Stenbeck conclude the tale with one of the most macabre moments in horror lit, and it also serves as a startling finale that reveals Mignola's allusive inspiration for the whole of the tale.