Monday, March 3, 2014

POBB: February 26, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 26, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is on the air...This week we review two parts of a historic team-up Batman/Superman and World's Finest.  We also look at Aquaman, Captain Midnight, Doc Savage and the Flash.

Since the new 52 reintroduction of Helena Wayne and Karen (Kara) Starr a.k.a. Huntress and Power Girl, fans have been whetting their appetites for the meeting of the minds; namely the earth two legacies encountering the earth one Batman and Superman.  We need not wait any longer.  Greg Pak and Paul Levitz manifest our dreams in the current issues of  Batman/Superman and World's Finest.

The story actually began with Power Girl's out of control powers, a subplot in World's Finest that built momentum to become the centerpiece.  The repetition of the phenomenon urged Helena to seek help from Batman in a previous issue.

Batman immediately overwhelmed her, and that's where our story begins in Batman/Superman.  

After confirming her identity, and being freaked out about it, Batman agrees to help, but not before some great subtle character bits.  

Pak avoids the traditional slugfest by relying on the intellects of the cast.  For example, Pak utilizes modern science to his advantage.  Batman need not deduce that Huntress is his daughter.  DNA solves that problem, and if he can't trust the facts, Huntress' ability to subtly escape his traps, traps that would thwart the most intelligent criminal adds to the evidence. 

This Scene Never Happens

However, this is the new 52 and not the pre-Crisis.  Pak and Levitz, in the two books, establish a different relationship between Dark Knight and Dark Daughter.  After reading Batman's narration in the previous excerpt, you may think that the writers are simply following tradition.  In the post-Crisis, Batman was paranoid and an anti-social bordering on psychotic.  In this case, I think anybody would react the same way.  You would instinctively trust this person from another earth because you reflexively recognize her, but rationally, you would watch those feelings because you don't really know her.  

That said.  The pre-Crisis Batman and Huntress treated each other like long lost friends mainly because Batman was already aware of earth two.  The groundwork had been laid. Batman could therefore accept what was really his heart's content.  Family.  This version of Batman is just realizing the existence of earth two.  Still if you read between the lines, you find a relationship building on mutual curiosity, which isn't a bad thing.  It's also characteristic of their shared roles as detectives.

On the flip side, Superman encounters Power Girl as a threat, but because he's Superman, he immediately tries to help somebody he quickly deduces to be a Kryptonian.  Yes, Superman deduces, and I know what you're saying.  What else could Power Girl be?  It's not so simple in a shared world.  Daxamites replicate the powers of Kryptonians.  Shape changers are always a possibility.  

Pak contrasts both World's Finest teams while celebrating the similarities.  He emphasizes Superman's intelligence as well as his abilities.  Pak's version of Superman is very appealing.  While his start on Batman/Superman didn't actually characterize the Man of Steel as he is in the present, Pak's Action Comics offers a fully evolved Superman.  The writer simply gets what Superman is about. Superman is a symbol of unrelenting optimism.  He does the right thing without calculation.

The story continues in Paul Levitz's World's Finest



In Batman/Superman Superman contained the latest blast of energy from Power Girl, but at great cost.

This power discharge is nothing new in the new 52, but what's surprising is that only Supergirl is capable of unleashing such a flash of energy without harm.  Both Power Girl and Superman fail to harness the power like Kara of earth one.  In fact, as you can see above, it wipes out the Man of Steel.  To be fair, this energy is not natural.  Supergirl's blasts are.

Batman of course came prepared, and he uses the classic gift of trust that Superman bestowed to him in the post-Crisis to combat the assault on the Kryptonian.  The Kryptonite Ring is one of the few moments of actual myth making from that era.  It's nice to see it carry over in the new 52.  I'm not absolutely sure when Superman gave Batman the ring, but if we accept the post-Crisis origin of the moment, it still fits in neatly within the new continuity.

Having already traced the crackling to its source, Batman suggests a mix and match of partners that only adds to the enjoyment.  Huntress and Superman will take the high road, and Power Girl and Huntress will take the low road.  Or rather, Batman will.  Levitz demonstrates immediate friction between Batman and Power Girl that decides her actions.  Batman merely adapts.

Meanwhile, Superman comes out of his power-discharge loss of consciousness and finds out how useless normal humans are.  There's a sense of unfairness in the example.  Levitz clearly shows that Superman simply isn't used to being a human.  Huntress exhibits a fighting prowess with "mere" human ability that's the equivalent to the acumen of her uncle.

The identity of the culprit just might be disappointing.  It's not for example Darkseid.  At least not yet, nor is it Desaad, who gave Huntress and Power Girl nettles in their own title.  The culprit in a way has been seen before in World's Finest, and there is a tie-in to several titles from the new 52.  The plan is good one, and the plotting superb, but for those expecting a massive Big Bad...prepare to be undercut.

Batman/Superman and World's Finest  benefit from excellent  however wildly different artwork.  I complained about Jae Lee being a little too dark and shadowy in previous issues of Batman/Superman.  For this chapter he strikes the right balance to create unique imagery.  Scott McDaniel and Rob Silva on the other hand opt for more traditional dynamic anatomy zipping through an action-packed visual narrative.  Neither is above the other.  Each technique has its pluses and minuses, but together or individually, each artist enhances the outstanding story.

Jeff Parker splits the ongoing saga of Aquaman right down the middle.  In Parker's debut, Aquaman plunged into Pacific Rim styled giant monster fighting.  This week Aquaman, Mera and members of his Atlantean Science Council track down the part of the Karquan stolen by Triton Base's agents.  Although it doesn't go down well for one of those operators.

Triton Base thanks Aquaman's heroism with missiles shot in his general direction.  Fortunately or unfortunately depending on which side you're on, Dr. Shin continues to act as the Base's outgunned voice of reason and sanity.

It's really remarkable how quickly Parker brings a sense of nuttiness to the outwardly cogent personnel on Triton.  They all act in this scarily calm manner while discussing screwball ideas and enacting whole suitcases full of crazy.

Aquaman and Mera leave the water-logged Arkham Asylum alone for now, and they also take a break from the soaked pomp and circumstance of Atlantis.  They return to their lighthouse on Amnesty Bay. There the duo learn of a high school reunion, and Parker takes advantage of Aquaman's lesser known history to produce a comedy of character.  Artist Paul Pelletier sees the opportunity for some red carpet wowing.

Hokey Smokes!

At the reunion, Arthur learns of an individual torn up with guilt and a little fear over a past transgression.  The gentleman running away.  He gets more than two cents about the Atlantean attack on the mainland, but mostly Parker and Pelletier produce a role call of Arthur's former classmates that can now after years of wondering clear up moments in which Arthur saved their lives in secret.  Oh, and there's this awesome sequence.

Look out, Arthur.

Parker eschews cheap sentiment and histrionics and instead presents kids who have grown up, moved on but look at the past fondly.  Including Aquaman.

I'm not wild about the odd turn in tone The Flash took.  I still think that Buccellato is either preparing and/or trying out for his run with Francis Manapul on Detective Comics.  I'm looking forward to it.  He might also be preparing the reader for a darker take on the Flash by the incoming Robert Venditti.  However, whatever my misgivings, the second part of the story is better than the first, with Deadman paying the Flash a visit, because he heard stirrings or something.

Anyway, Deadman and the Flash met before in Justice League Dark, so the team-up offers the reader a bit of unexpected continuity, solely based on the new 52 paradigm, and Patrick Zircher's moody artwork is suitable for the macabre atmosphere.  I just prefer my Flash to be more super speed stunt-based and scientific.  

Speaking of Justice League Dark, I can't really recommend this issue for fans.  J.M. DeMatteis' script is filled with a lot of talking and angst.  It's missing the fun that Jeff Lemire infused, and Vincente Cifuentes while a fantastic inker, as evidenced in Batgirl, produces some very bland art for admittedly bland characters.  Maybe he didn't have a lot of time to produce his best caliber, or maybe the cast didn't excite him.  They certainly did nothing for me. 

Under the sterling late great Jim Aparo, Cassandra Craft strutted into The Phantom Stranger as his love interest.

Now, I don't care if you reintroduce Cassandra as black, but why does she have to be so dull?  The new Cassandra Craft dresses dull.  She talks dull.  Why does she lack an iota of personality or flair in her fashion sense?  She could have been black and still possess white hair for example, or she could have been black and still be wearing the same type of groovy sixties outfits.  Albeit maybe with a different color scheme to better compliment her chocolate complexion.  Black, blouse and jeans from the Gap.  How imaginative.

Jonah Hex regains his good looks in the latest issue of All-Star Western, but his attitude remains the same.  Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray spice up the obvious by renewing Hex's relationship with Gina, and interrupting the normal operations with a dangerous individual dealt with by time displaced gunfighter.  Hex's historically misplaced status just may end.  Since this fellow shows up in the last act.

The only thing missing from the issue is phenomenal artist Moritat.  Staz Johnson ain't no slouch, but I'm surprised that Moritat isn't on hand for this turning point in Hex's history.

Last issue, Pat Savage succumbed to a ray that enervated her: turning her into an old lady before her time.  Doc reversed her condition with a special herb--Silphium--that he has been working on as a cure-all for death.  In other words, Doc perfected the immortality serum, introduced in the early Lester Dent adventure Fear Cay.

This issue, set in 1961, Doc reveals his discovery to the government, but not before a former villain hands Savage a defeat he'll remember for years to come and Nixon blathers about.

I can't really say too much about Doc Savage, other than it kills off two of Doc's new crew before they're properly introduced.  Therein lies the main problem.  If we can't feel anything about, let's call them Laurel and Hardy to preserve the mystery, what's the point of the dramatic kill? It would be different had it been Ham and Monk who met their demise, but nobody wants to see Doc's original "brothers" and his cousin die.  So I can see writer Chris Roberson's quandary.

I'm not saying that this issue of Doc Savage isn't fun with its references to well known mythos.  It just feels disposable and not as impressive as the last issue or as promising as the premiere.  

Ironically, Captain Midnight proves to be just as exciting without the good Captain at the hub of the action.  Joyce Ryan flashes back to a time when she first met Captain Midnight, and still young, she travels to Mexico to contend against surviving Nazi daughter and nemesis to Midnight Fury Shark.  

The two female leads entertain in a battle of wits, and the creators of new Captain Midnight demonstrate how Chuck, Midnight's former sidekick, might be sidelined and turn resentful.  I don't buy into the idea that Chuck made a deal with Fury Shark in order to serve a greater good.  I think he was just itching to rake in millions on Midnight's inventions.

Helos, the teleporting mercenary, introduced last issue, is also on hand, and he meets up with a Fury associate that's equally intriguing.  Their duel while less interesting than that of Fury and Joyce still allows for mild amusement and excellent fight choreography, which is more than you can say for a lot of new characters.

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