Tuesday, February 4, 2014

POBB: January 29, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 29, 2014
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this weekly blog I choose the wheat from the chafe on the comic book rack.  Then I kick the chafe.  Today I examine All-Star Western, Aquaman, Bart Simpson, The Flash and Superman.  I'll also look at the new annuals from DC which include Earth 2 and World's Finest.

Batman's parents were originally gunned down by a nameless hood.

Over the years DC added to that origin.  They gave the hood a name.  Batman in fact finally tracks him down and in his own way ends him.

Batman #47

The Powers That Be built on the story even more by saying that mob boss Lew Moxon hired Joe Chill to hit the Waynes.

Detective Comics #235

During a criminal action, a bullet struck Moxon.  His men nabbed Thomas Wayne to remove the shrapnel from his wound.  In thanks, Moxon intended to kill Thomas Wayne, but Wayne overpowered the hood, weakened by blood loss and shock.  Thomas Wayne later testified against Moxon.  The rest is tragic history.

Many feel that the updated history doesn't better the original elegance of having the nameless punk step out of the shadows and kill the Waynes, but I disagree.  Thomas Wayne acted ethically and lawfully.  Moxon's success demonstrates that the legal system is broken.  Moxon didn't even need to corrupt the police in order to carry out his plans.  He posted bail.  While on bail, he made his move.  Batman exists not just to stop the Joe Chills of the world.  He exists to put an end to the Moxons, the criminals who believe themselves untouchable.

The incident impacts strongly on writer Tom Taylor's annual, which takes place in the seventies and ties into modern Moxton crime family the Falcones.  Intriguingly, the seventies influences catalyze the Wayne Family growth in Gotham, and while inevitably crime takes the Wayne's lives, the tendrils are even more far reaching.

Earth 2 doesn't disappoint when it reveals the identity of the new Batman.  Naturally, I won't be spoiling it.  Pick up the annual if you're even mildly curious.  Taylor appears to be a student of DC history and not just a very good writer. He brings in a lot of well-known DC lore to sell the solution to his Batman mystery.  We discover that Batman is in fact a combintion of two superheroes, but not in a Firestorm sense.  Best of all, Taylor provides explanations for every one of Batman's actions.  Taylor gives a reason why Batman connected to Hawkgirl so readily and why he knows Lois Lane.  There are no loose threads to pull.

The tight story gets a big artistic boost from World's Finest illustrator Robson Rocha.  Starting off with an impressive classic Batman, Rocha continues by recapturing seventies fashion and depicting the madness of revenge.  

He also gains points for the later moods of the main character seen in flashback as well as imaging the spectacular death of the first Earth Two Batman.

The World's Finest Annual is a little more straightforward but no less entertaining.  Writer Paul Levitz creates three chapters that act as three short stories while interconnecting with each other.

Diogenese Nieves handles the shadows of Gotham and the flames of Metropolis equally well.  He really creates an impression of youth in Helena and Supergirl, and the battles and gymnastics impress with ease.

In the first story, Batman and Robin crash a brothel in the heart of a posh area of Gotham City.  Heh.  This is definitely the kind of thing you wouldn't see in a Batman book pre-Crisis or post-Crisis.  I suspect Levitz is getting away with the seamy specifically because it's an Earth Two story.  Therefore, it doesn't really count in a way.  The past setting also benefits Levitz beause it creates a seedy once upon a time feeling that futher undermines what we'll call modern verisimilitude   It couldn't happen today, but yesterday? Sure.

In any case, Robin quickly becomes overwhelmed, and Batman begins experiencing doubts despite Catwoman's assurances.  She's ready according to his wife.  So Batman silently follows Robin to see what she can do on her own, and he finds her to be quite impressive and lethal.

That's another difference and always has been amidst the Earth Two books.  The heroes have Golden Age mentality.  They're quite willing to kill if the need arises.

In the second tale, Supergirl breaks free from her role as Superman's secret weapon.  She intends to only go dancing and hook up with a nice guy, but an Apokoliptan incursion turns an innocent night out into an explosive threat, which must be confronted by Supergirl.

In the third tale, Kara confides in Helana, and the two teen heroes, watched closely by Batman and Superman, deduce the culprit behind Kara's crime.  Rematch.  The identity of figure naturally brings in Wonder Woman into the fray, and Levitz pulls a reveal in the finale.

Jonah Hex meets Superman, and it goes probably not how you expected.  The knee jerk reaction would be that Hex completely despises Superman because of their conflicting personalities.  However, he did get along with Booster Gold, who started this whole thing by inadvertently transporting Hex through time.

Neither does the opposite reaction happen.  Palmiotti and Gray instead offer Hex in a nuanced moment as he dissects Superman's virtues and faults in a heartbeat.  In a world of relative peace, when comparison to the old west, Jonah Hex turns out to be quite the philosopher.  Gray and Palmiotti also confirm what we already suspected.  Hex is bothered by the spill of innocent blood.

After encountering Superman, Gina, Hex's riding companion, offers the bright idea of taking her man to a surprising exhibition at the Metropolis museum, and in an echo to the past volumes of Jonah Hex, the bounty hunter sees what could be his ultimate future.  He doesn't react well.

The issue of All-Star Western makes the most of the Superman guest appearance.  The conclusion puts the brakes on Hex's return to the past, and I look forward as always to the next issue.

Superman improves from last disappointing issue, but it's mostly due to the shift in focus away from Lois Lane, now infected with super-genius, and Superman's boring battle against the Parasite.

The happenings at Clarkcatropolis are much more interesting.  The Daily Planet recently fired Cat Grant, its go-to gal for gossip and entertainment news.  Clark quit because he didn't like his new boss Morgan Edge or the way his team reported the news.  Sort of Fox light and usually against Superman.

Clark filed a scoop that sent repurcussions through the journalism community.  Sam Lane accepted a high level position in the government.  Now, Clarkcatropolis is a hit, and Morgan Edge has an offer for Cat.

Will she bite or won't she? The temptation must be excrutiating.  Cat's a single mother.  The money would pay for her son's entire future, but I'm betting Cat won't sell.  She was fired, and Clarkcatropolis just may be worth more than Edge is willing to give.

On the flip side, the fight pitting Superman against the Parasite isn't very engrossing, and it's not because of Ed Benes excellent artwork, probably done with limited time, since Superman apparantly lost a regular artist.  Rather, Parasite at best was the Venom of his time, and he's always been inherently dull.  Even the cartoon series couldn't inject much intrigue to Parasite.  He's defined by his name.

Usually Parasite has a jones for Superman, the most powerful being on the planet and therefore dinner.  This year Lois is the entree, after being infected with Brainiac's "gift" of psionics and super-intellect.  I'm not absolutely sure that I buy mind boosting to be filled with higher calories than a sun induced gamut of abiltities, but whatever.

Superman protects Lois, but her boyfriend Jonathan steps up to the plate in an inadvertently hilarious twist.  Jonathan's like the whole Whitney thing on Smallville, but on steroids.  Whitney was a small impediment to Clark getting together with Lana Lang, but the writers had to soften his jockiness and give him a little bit more depth in order to end his arc satisfyingly, without it being detrimental to Clark's and Lana's relationship.

Jonathan is Lois' boyfriend.  So Scott Lobdell must beef him up a bit to make him a palatable choice, when standing next to Superman.  Of course, he makes Jonathan a soldier, and he almost cares too much about Lois, as if he's proving a point.  If Jonathan were the main character in a novel, I'd call him mediocre.  So, he gets no pass here.

Lobdell exploits the whole fiasco in a pedictable manner to cure Lois Lane.  I'm not really spoiling things.  If somebody explodes with super-power and the Parasite is in the vicinity, I'd be surprised if the writer wasn't going to solve that character's problem with the Parasite's predilection.  Lobdell however makes a bad choice by muddying Superman's waters.  Did Superman hope the Parasite would cure Lois Lane or did he wish the exposure would wipe out the knowledge of his secret identity from her mind?  The answer is no.  Superman is above board and we shouldn't question his motives.  I resent the implication.

Patrick Zircher's and Matt Hollingworth's art accents the moodier tone for this week's Flash.  Barry upon defeating two loser villains discovers a serial killer's burial ground.  The cold case leads to a murderer already caught and executed by the state, but he just may have had an accomplice.  This killer could have been responsible for the murder of Barry's mother.  During the course of the investigation, Captain Dylan admits to what we expected all along.

While this is a perfectly solid story, I don't really consider it Flash material.  Rather it looks like the writer was auditioning for Detective Comics.  You can imagine Batman in Barry's place quite easily, gathering the facts and observing silently.  

There's very little speed-related action apart from the prologue, which is fairly timid in comparison to Barry's other more impressive feats.  So, yeah.  This issue of The Flash won't hurt you, but it won't wow you either, and Flash fans I think will be disappointed.

Aquaman unfolds as an exciting battle between Aquaman and a sea beast.  It turns out telepathic commands do nothing more than inform Aquaman about the beast's intent.  There's no malice in the creature.  It's just hungry, but it won't stop.

Parker set up the idea that this monster is Atlantis' legendary protector the Karquan.  Maybe so, but it still means death to the surface world, and Aquaman isn't quite so sure it's the same monster.  Whatever the case, it must be stopped. Atlanteans romantacized it in legend.  It's really just ravenous.

Aquaman fights the monster and saves innocent lives in the process.  He gains a lot of respect from the Icelandic people, and he entertains the reader to no end via the energetic artwork by Paul Pelletier.

Meanwhile, Dr. Shin turns into the conscience of Triton Base, a scientific organization that Parker's shaping into the nefarious Big Bad of the series, and the reporter searching for Aquaman in Amnesty Bay, gets a little closer.  Action-packed, terrific artwork  and with interesting sub-plots, Aquaman is a winner.

Two tales comprise this week's issue of Bart Simpson Comics.  The latter's a goofy super-hero spoof with a few amusing gags but nothing spectacular.

The opener however begins thusly:

Martin serves as the prosecution against Bart Simpson, represented at first by Ralph Wiggum.  Damning testimony and hilarious judicial gags courtesy of writer Matt Davison, including a Matlock joke, added to Ryan Rivette's, Mike DeCarlo's and Art Villanueva's superb cartoons with special focus on Ralph's antics makes the story a riveting laugh fest.

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