Monday, April 28, 2014

POBB: April 23, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 23, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is on the air.  This week I review Batman/Superman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Catwoman, The Flash, the brand new book 7th Sword and two issues of World's Finest held back due to the lateness of Batman/Superman.  I'll also examine the new movie Under the Skin.  Because of a shipping snafu, reviews of All-Star Western and Aquaman will be aired next week.  The POBB begins with the premiere of Justice League United

Jeff Lemire reintroduces a staple character to the new 52.  Adam Strange makes his debut.  The anthropologist discovered evidence of alien lifeforms in Canada, with his grad student/fiancee Alanna, who mysteriously disappeared.  Remember what I said about archaeologists and anthropologists in fiction? Check out the last Aquaman review if you don't.

No doubt some fans of Adam Strange will balk at Alanna's genetic makeup.  She's human not from Rann, but this is exactly the kind of shakeup the new 52 is supposed to engage in.  

The whole human falling in love with an alien "princess" theme was old hat when Julius Schwartz proposed Adam Strange/Alanna in the Silver Age anyway, and this version of Alanna adds more diversity with what appears to be Native American descent.  All of it sounds good to me, and I'm a traditionalist.

Adam takes the skull to Star Girl and Animal Man who just happen to be in Canada.  Lemire's a talented plotter.  Why are Star Girl and Animal Man in Canada? The heroes were already established as DC's caped celebrities.  Animal Man is a movie star.  Star Girl is a sort of super-hero prom queen. They're signing autographs.  

I just love how effortlessly Lemire's plot falls into place.  Star Girl was a member of Amanda Waller's anti-League, the Justice League of Ameica.  So Star Girl calls for back-up, and who should arrive but Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter. 

Believe it or not this team-up expresses oodles of tradition, and I'll wager ten Quatloos that Lemire and/or McKone are aware of it.

The two are in the nick of time.  Since, it turns out the aliens are still present and hostile.  What they're doing is anybody's guess, but it involves genetic manipulation and a surprise guest star that keys in another member of, say it with me, Justice League United.

In addition to all of this smooth as butter plotting that gets the gang together, Lemire creates a brand new character for the new 52 DCU and all the while exemplifying camaraderie between the principals through the interplay of fun banter.

Artist Mike McKone has lost none of his skill, and he ultimately contributes the final asset in easily the most entertaining book on the rack this week.  

The historic team-up between Batman,Superman, earth-two "kin" Power Girl, cousin to Superman, and Huntress, daughter of Batman and Catwoman relies on a number of seemingly inconsequential elements related in World's Finest and Batman/Superman.  Writers Greg Pak and Paul Levitz should be commended for secretly building up both books to this moment.

First and foremost, Batman and Superman met their counterparts in the debut of Batman/Superman.  Though this episode in their early lives was erased from their memories, the encounters with Huntress and Power Girl increasingly cause flickers of recognition.

The ghosts give Batman and Superman an undercurrent of trust in the strange visitors from another earth, and though unspoken there's probably an instinctive acceptance of the bloodline.  Like Pete accepting his time traveling daughter Rose before he actually sires her.

Huntress consulted Batman because her partner Power Girl's abilities went haywire and present a danger to innocents who might be in her vicinity.  It turns out the culprit behind Power Girl's bursts of energy and cutouts is an old friend that she never met.

As revealed in the World's Finest annual, on earth-two, when Power Girl still went by the name of Supergirl and served as Superman's secret weapon, she broke curfew one night and went out to party.  During this excursion, she met a man named Ken, whom she lost through a series of unfortunate contingencies.

The Ken of earth-one is not the upstanding, self-sacrificing individual that Kara met on earth-two.  He instead is a technology czar of New Gamorra, which he named after himself.  

Bad Ken infused Power Girl with nanites, which Superman during a desperate measure to re-enable Power Girl, absorbs into his own body.  With Superman under the influence of robotic control, it now became even more imperative for Batman, Huntress, Power Girl and a depleted Superman to infiltrate Ken's Gamorran base and destroy the operation.  As to Superman, Batman had a means to eliminate the power fluctuations.

As the teams get deeper involved in Bad Ken's schemes, they discover something even more disturbing, than what seems like a madman's aim to make Kryptonians in a petri dish.  

A puppeteer lies behind the whole scenario, and his identity explains why Power Girl, a largely unknown super-hero on earth-one, was targeted and who would be arrogant enough not to foresee the consequences.


Turns out.  It's Superman.  Not the Superman of earth-one.  The dead one on earth-two.  The World's Finest team-up in fact ties into the goings-on in Earth 2.  

Darkseid somehow possessed Superman, who sacrificed himself in the war against Apokolips.  The exact nature of the possession is debatable.  I suspect that Darkseid's Superman is similar to Joss Whedon's vampires, a shell occupied by a "demon" that pieced together its personality from the echoes of a dead mind.  Thus, Darkseid's hand puppet recognizes Lois although her consciousness now resides in an android body--the Red Tornado--but fears Batman of earth-two, despite the Dark Knight being another man.  I'll not spoil it if you haven't read the Earth-2 annual.

The real Superman would be able to microscopically compare the two Batmen.  Power Girl in fact does this when she unobtrusively scans Superman with the spectrum of her vision.  She confirms his identity, but she doesn't know that Darkseid killed his brain.  Or corrupted him, which seems less and less likely.

In any case, the logic behind the identity of the master is appealing.  Because Batman and Huntress are involved in the adventure, you would expect a fairplay reveal.  In other words, had you been paying attention, you would have been able to deduce the perpetrator.  

The red herring is that the team-up itself.  For readers that lived in the Bronze Age, this is a historic meeting, but for most it's merely new 52 small-potatoes fun.  Either way it's the distraction of a superb sleight of hand.  Never the less, the magician allows you to see is pretty entertaining in its own right.

The relationship that Batman and Huntress had died in the pre-Crisis.  In the post-Crisis, the Huntress was nobody important, and Batman hated her.  In the new 52, Levitz could have merely reinstated the previous relationship Batman  and Huntress fostered, but he's too good of a writer.  This is a different Batman and Huntress, with different experiences.  Never the less, it's inevitable that the two would become closer.  They even share a similar opinion about Superman.

Superman's relationship with Power Girl was less involved in the pre-Crisis.  Whereas Huntress referred to Batman as Uncle Bruce, Superman seldom interacted with Power Girl beyond Justice League and Justice Society meetings.  Huntress visited Batman on several occasions just to ease her loneliness.  However, Superman and Power Girl also reach a deep level of friendship after this adventure.  So, on the whole, despite the bump in the scheduling, the team-up reads as a huge success.

The current issue of World's Finest cleans up the loose ends of the team-up with style.  Batman and Superman depart leaving Power Girl and Huntress to sift through the wreckage for a potential way home.  The always skeptical Huntress however isn't convinced they had one in the first place.

Before the heroes can examine the technology, a new 52 staple shows up to claim the debris.  Apparently, Forever Evil didn't wipe out ARGUS.  DC's incredibly weak-tea SHIELD.  Power Girl and Huntress just might.  

Courtesy of the Always Welcome R.B. Silva

ARGUS's intrusion allows  Levitz to highlight the gaiety in the antics of the best friends.  The theme in Power Girl and Huntress is consistently positive.  They love being who they are, and despite coming from a war-torn world, the people that meant the most to them taught them to be better than they were.  Huntress is darker than Power Girl, but she revels in her skills as much as Kara likes tossing tanks and pulling stunts in the boardroom.

In addition to all this goodness, Levitz and Yildiary Cinar detail an episode in the life of the neophyte Huntress, just establishing her post-Robin alter-ego.  The flashback is frankly unnecessary, and I sincerely doubt the trigger of the recollection, but it's well written and illustrated.  So, no complaints.  

Ann Nocenti's Catwoman is actually half-good.  The first half is...Urgh...some tripe about Selina Kyle chucking her Catwoman identity.  The half-hearted soft reboot lacks a shred of plausibility because Nocenti spans Selina's retirement across pages that are meant to represent a bridge of time but only act as perfunctory footnotes.  Feels like a week at the most, which is way too short.

I think Nocenti was left in a quandary, and this was an act of pure desperation on her part.  She wanted some fresh way to reintroduce Catwoman to the reading public, but she just couldn't think of anything original.  So, she went to the Spider-Man well, thinking a quitting story would fit.  It so doesn't. 

DC's super-heroes never quit.  They never even think about quitting, and when a writer tries to suggest such a thing, it immediately feels wrong.  Writers have tried it with Batgirl, the whole of the Justice Society, Hal Jordan and Green Arrow.  None worked.  That's because even when the Powers That Be decide to introduce aging to a hero, those old heroes would still be a heartbeat away from putting on their cape and cowl.  

Catwoman gave up her villainous life once before to pursue a romance with Bruce Wayne, but her retirement made sense.  Catwoman was an unrepentant thief back in the day, She learned she had contracted a rare, lethal illness. Catwoman never had a death wish, and she likely believed that her final days should be less stressful, maybe filled with love.  Catwoman only returned to the life to clear her name. Afterward, she closeted the costume. It was only years later that Catwoman returned, as a reformed criminal turning to the side of justice.  With Ann Nocenti's tale, Catwoman's over the top burning of her uniform seems more like an unbelievable, destructive whim, and the way she retrieves another is utterly facetious.  

When the actual story kicks in, Catwoman reads a lot better.  Catwoman participates in a thief rally, hosted by one of the few interesting post-Crisis creations, Roulette.  This is more like the type of tale I wish to read in Catwoman.  Big heists.  The story's not without a few bumps and bruises.  Selina goes to her Q, Alice Tesla, for new toys, and some of those toys like explosive charms seem way outside her purview.  I can see her using smoke bombs, but not ordnance.  

Robert Venditti and Van Jensen make an innocuous debut on The Flash.  The story's set well after the Crime Syndicate's defeat.  So, Spoiler Ahoy, "Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once everybody lives!"  

Yup, I'm showing a gratuitous photo of the Doctor because I'm terribly bored with The Flash.  How's that for a review?

Except maybe Nightwing, but we'll see about that.  No spoilers about Dick Grayson's fate here.  Last week's Batgirl apparently did that.  Anyway, the Flash zips around fixing the city, this time with a new watch courtesy of lover Patty Spivot.  I am genuinely glad that Patty's still in his picture.  Barry's lack of punctuality was a running joke back in the day.

In his private life, Barry must see a department psychiatrist before being cleared for active duty.  He's still stuck in the Records Room at the time of the comic book's opening.  The session allows him to express his guilt over being imprisoned by the Crime Syndicate in Firestorm.  I'm sure this happens all the time. 

The much promoted time travel element of The Flash is likely to disappoint.  The fast man in the purple suit turns out not be Wally West or John Fox or anybody we were hoping for. 

Still not feeling the love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The powers that be behind the comic book really try hard to win back anybody who, justifiably infuriated by "Twilight" twaddle, gleefully struck the series from their subscription lists.  Unfortunately, they keep missing the reason why Buffy the Vampire Slayer attracted such a loyal fanbase in the first place.  It was the characterization and the acting in addition to the clever plotting.

The cast in this issue are really shallow.  They're not so much shadows of their television incarnations.  More like silhouettes.  

A case in point occurs with Faith.  She was too sad and angsty in Angel and Faith, but in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she's too uncaring about leaving Giles. 

Oh, for bloody sake, just hug him, give him a peck on the cheek and then go off with Kennedy.  It's not rocket science.

The best scene occurs with Xander and Anya, or the hallucination of Anya produced from his guilt over betraying Buffy to save Dawn....Got me....At first she seems like a ghost from a Noel Coward play, but she quickly softens and explains why she may be making like Casper.  

The rest of the book is quippy without being funny, as the Scooby Gang try to dope out the new rules and discern the identity of the dungeonmaster behind those rules.  The protocols include granting vampires a little more meat to resist dusting and shape-shifting abilities, which really doesn't seem like a game-changer at all, but at it's beautifully illustrated by Rebecca Issacs.  So, not a total loss, but close.

Famous photographer but newbie writer John Raffo creates a slick piece of pure science fiction.  7th Sword occurs on the once colonized planet of Helios and stars the ronin Daniel Clay, who operates under the code of Bushido.  His mission for this issue is to escort Holly and her brother across an alien desert.

Killer androids left over from the colonization interrupt the trip, and artist Blake Nelson proves himself more than capable of matching imagery to Raffo's imagination.

Clay later finds himself rescued/captured by the citizens of a legendary city called Zenzion.  They have more problems than distrusting Mr. Clay however.

Raffo though building an alien world establishes that it arose from a recognizable earth.  The brevity in which he explains the whereabouts and what have you is deft and provides for smooth reading that shows rather than tells.

As Clay stands trial, a new danger springs from another fiefdom.  The warlord known as Kavanaugh offers the people of Zenzion an offer they cannot refuse, and he backs that ultimatum up with acid-spitting frog clones and more elegantly designed robotics.  7th Sword is an intriguing, well orchestrated story that shouldn't be dismissed.

The Saturday Afternoon Matinee

Under the Skin is an otherworldly film that relies on the unique vision of its director Jonathan Glazer and the consummate skill of actress Scartlett Johansson.  Ms. Johansson's portrayal of the Black Widow in the Marvel films appears to have opened a floodgate of experimentation in the young talent.  Later she will star in Luc Besson's action/science fiction thriller Lucy.

Glazer's film isn't so much as watched as experienced.  From the trailer, you received the impression that this flick is about a sexy, alien vampire, and it is.  However, Johansson and Glazer approach this well trodden theme in an entirely singular way.  I can't really even call Under the Skin science fiction or horror, because the principals keep the origin of the species under wraps.  

You follow Johansson through a series of vignettes, where she seems to be picking up men.  The experience isn't voyeuristic.  You are a naturalist observing the ecology of a new predator.  

Johannson's nameless figure does terrible things.  You are trapped within your seat and riveted by an inscrutable method that's parceled out through each event.  It's a testament to Johansson's chameleon acting ability that she can still coax you to empathize with her, even when discovering what's really going on.

Under the Skin isn't for every taste, but aficionados of the strange will find much to enjoy. You've never seen anything like this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

POBB: April 17, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 17, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is live! This week I review Batman, Batman and Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, Justice League, Sheena, Smallville: Lantern, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Wonder Woman.

Batman defeated Dr. Death last issue, but it turns out the Riddler never thought Batman would lose.  Dr. Death was a distraction for the neophyte Dark Knight.  As Batman concentrated on Dr. Death, the Riddler instigated various disasters and took over Gotham City.  He's willing to give it back, if somebody in Gotham riddles him a riddle he cannot answer.

Year Zero is No Man's Land done correctly.  Unlike No Man's Land, Year Zero happens in Batman's past.  At this time, Superman just began leaping over tall buildings in a single bound.  So, even were he not Metropolis-centric, he still wasn't powerful enough to aid Gotham City.  The Justice League hasn't banded together.  So you needn't ask simple, sensible questions and find less than satisfying answers.  Hey, why isn't the Justice League repairing the earthquake-ravaged Gotham and giving Batman some much needed backup against the criminal element?  Oh, right.  Big. Yellow.  Birds.

The government also hasn't turned its back on Gotham City, like it amusingly did in No Man's Land.  It's just kind of ineffective.  Heart's in the right place though.

Snyder refers to the gentlemen as members of DEVGRU.  DEVGRU is often misidentified as Seal Team Six.  Seal Team Six in fact disbanded in the late eighties.  DEVGRU arose from its ashes.  Members of DEVGRU executed infamous mass murderer Osama Bin Laden.  Newspeople just thought Seal Team Six sounded sexier and more alliterative.  Can't fault them.  DEVGRU sounds like an organization out to kill James Bond.

Barak Obama is the U.S. President in our reality and in the DC Universe.  Batman Year Zero takes place during the mid-to-late Bush years.  During that time, the Bush administration made untraceable funds readily available to persons of interest in Iraq and Afghanistan.  At least twelve-billion shrink-wrapped tax payer dollars vanished like the thieves in the night that took them.  The point is that paying off foreign parties of questionable identity? Kind of what that administration did.  DEVGRU acting as money men to offer a ransom to the Riddler? Totally believable.  However, the Riddler is a philosophical villain.  He doesn't take kindly to the thought.  

Fortunately, for Lieutenant Gordon and DEVGRU, the Riddler didn't succeed in every battle waged.  Batman is still alive and well-rested.  Now, the threads interweave to the intriguing beginning of the tale.  In case you've forgotten, which is understandable, Year Zero kicked off with this scene.

It turns out that the boy Batman saved from a bizarre shark-themed gang wasn't a random victim, but one of a family of four that rescued Bruce Wayne.  Physically overwhelmed by the Riddler's machinations, Bruce discarded his Batman uniform and succumbed to extreme fatigue.  Bruce recuperated in young Duke's home, and while absent from the battle, the Riddler secured his strangle-hold on the city.

Snyder once again associates Batman, a man whose childhood was abruptly obliterated, with children.  He's a symbol of hope for all, but children embrace the concept of the Batman more than any in Snyder's works.  Harper at first in Night of the Owls.  The Batman Family in Death of the Family.  Duke whom Bruce interacts with during the opening scene for Year Zero and this new chapter "Savage City." 

As with previous stories and chapters, Batman experiences a flashback that injects new information into the Batman mythology.  Again, it all stems back to the destruction of Bruce's childhood.  Turns out Bruce while at boarding school wooed Julie Madison, the Detective's first love interest in the history of the comic book.

Snyder positions that relationship, or a wished for relationship since this could all be in Bruce's mind, much earlier in Bruce's lifespan and he recapitulates the murder of the Waynes in the memory/dream.  

I'm sure lots of Freudians could interpret the scene to favor their philosophy, but I tend to look at this phantasm as a reminder to Bruce that he cannot under any circumstances pursue a normal life.  He saw Joe Chill murder his parents, and the memory of his mother facing him as Chill shot her through the head burns throughout his mind.  Anybody would have become Batman in Bruce's place.  Bruce however through his resources, his genius and his macabre sense of humor makes Batman special, and Year Zero like all of Snyder's works celebrates Batman.

All the DC books are beginning to coalesce now that Forever Evil is winding down.  I'd say at least three to four past months of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman adventures may have occurred after the events of Forever Evil.  Last week's Batgirl hinted at Dick Grayson's fate, and Brian Azzarello's entire Wonder Woman series may have in fact unfolded after Forever Evil.  This timeline gibes with Orion's guest-appearance in the Superman titles.  It would also explain how Wonder Woman can be so involved protecting Zola, the inadvertent lover of Zeus, and Zeke, son of Zola and Zeus, twenty-four-seven and participate in the Justice League at the same time.

Last issue, Hera returned the Amazons to their immortal forms.  Previously she changed them into snakes.  Much time has passed since then and now.  Hera is kinder and more forgiving, but there's one spell she cannot undo.

Azzarrello doesn't spell it out, and lets you decide upon why Hippolyta continues to possess feet of clay.  I tend to think that Hera will never forgive Hippolyte, but even so she should be able to reverse her own spell.  It's really Hippolyta who like the Thing resists change.  Hippolyta feels guilty over her multitude of deceptions.  She made up a fairy story about molding Diana out of clay, when in reality Diana is the blood daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus.  Hippolyta also lied to her daughter about how the ranks of the Amazons swell.  The Amazons every now and again seduce sailors to become pregnant and kill the men after they're fertilized.  They leave the male children to die, but Hephaestus finds them and nurtures them.  Hardly the Utopian society Diana believed herself a part of.

Diana needs an army to fight the First Born, who is wrecking havoc on Olympus and in the other godly planes.  Azzarello however already displays dissension in the ranks, mostly due to the heavyweight Amazon Aleka, who in the new 52 takes the place of svelte one-time Wonder Woman, Artemis.  

Artemis had a small fan base, but I suspect she's absent in name, body and personality for several reasons.  She's too tethered to the post-Crisis, and DC eliminated the post-Crisis.  Good riddance.  Artemis objected to Diana's less reactionary philosophy and competed against Diana for her title, but she eventually became one of Diana's allies.  By introducing the similarly designed Aleka, the writers have more options with her fate, and she can be more of a thorn in Wonder Woman's side, without the appearance of chucking history aside.

Primarily the story sets up Azzarello's ducks, and does so in an entertaining way.  The dialogue is thoughtful and coincides with a natural conflict.  The whole chapter continues the exploration of Wonder Woman's original themes of loving submission.  This foray furthermore contrasts the horrific moments the First Born shares with the reader and his unwilling subjects.

Lousiest Boss Ever

When Azzarello focuses on the First Born, his original intent for the new 52 Wonder Woman resurfaces.  Azzarello opined that his book would be a horror novel, and indeed with the advent of Hera in the early chapters it was, but the story softened as time flowed, and Azzarello being a good writer went with that.  Redeeming Hera from madness was perfectly acceptable.  Still, Greek myth is rife with terror, and Azzarello as well as the superb Cliff Chiang substitute Goran Sudzuka takes advantage of the Greek's fascination with godly excess and the defiance of taboo.

As I said, the DC books are beginning to once again come together into a strongly knit continuity.  The time differentials are becoming less and less important.  DC might have planned Forever Evil a little better in terms of timing, but the impact of the series and its execution have been less damaging than previous terrible Big Stupid Events of the post-Crisis.  Azzarello introduced Wonder Woman in London, and that's where Batman finds her at the end of Batman and Aquaman.

In Batman and Wonder Woman the internal continuity recapitulated in this week's Wonder Woman all get checked off.  Writer Peter Tomasi mentions that until recently the Amazons were snakes and notes their mating rituals.  Diana visits her transformed mother.  She reveals her deity nature to Batman, and Aleka is still a jackass.  So, once again, this issue must occur after Forever Evil and the events in Wonder Woman.  

Though not without merit, Batman and Wonder Woman isn't one of Tomasi's best of the defacto new 52 Brave and Bold.  The conflict between Wonder Woman, Batman and Aleka is horribly contrived.  All the Amazon technology available, and Wonder Woman can't phone ahead to say she'll be bringing a male guest with her to Paradise Island.  

The whole initial verbal duel quells with some posturing and a poor twist involving unmasking.  Really you just get the impression that Tomasi or the editors were hoping to sandwich in a Wonder Woman team-up with Batman along the search for Damien's body.  It only kind of makes sense.  If you discard godly energies, how do the Amazons keep eternal? Lazarus Pit.  So, naturally, Ra's would seek out Paradise Island.  You see? You see?  Huh? Huh? I'm not all that convinced of the premise. Still there's a little fun to be had here.

The best scene occurs when Batman consults the Oracle of Paradise Island.  The moment's filled with whimsy and a lot more thought than the entire book.  

Of course, the Oracle should have foresaw Batman's visit and informed Aleka and the others that Wonder Woman would be bringing a guest and that they should be on their best behavior.  No seduction, fertilization and slaying, thank you very much.  

At this point Patrick Gleason's artwork sharpens.  He made some atrocious corner cutting in the early scenes, but he has the opportunity to introduce the Oracle to the new 52, and he doesn't ignore it.  Gleason comes up with a neat looking headdress that recalls Ray Harryhausen's style, and his work continues to improve as the action starts.

There's no denying the entertainment value in Batman and Wonder Woman's assault on al Ghul's forces and the creature from the Greek grotto, but the story ends with an unforgivable, blatant swipe from the Doctor Who episode "Dalek."

Batman and Wonder Woman fans deserved better.

Quite a few readers looked at Cyborg as a token hero meant to overtly force diversity into the new 52 Justice League.  I doubt you can argue such a thing given Geoff Johns' fanboy persona clearly at work when redeveloping the DC Universe.  It's more likely that Johns remembered the moment when Cyborg joined the Super-Friends on television.

Cyborg suited the Powers That Be's well-meant intentions for a more flavorful cast, but you could not argue tokenism then either.  Cyborg was an extremely popular character; The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez possibly the hottest DC title of the era.

Geoff Johns never meant Cyborg to be a token.  However, there's no excusing the fact that Johns sidelined the character in every Justice League excursion come to pass.  Skin color however was immaterial.  If Victor Stone were white, he still would have been neglected.  

Part of the blame lies with Jim Lee.  Lee illustrated Victor Stone with a love of anime in mind.  The problem is that a big clunky exoskeleton doesn't grant much in the way of movement.  It's freakin' hard to draw, especially from cosmos knows how many angles.

As a result, occasionally, Cyborg would get in a few lines and white sound blasts, but mostly writer Johns and artist Lee reduced Cyborg to a slightly mobile model of Star Trek's Guardian of Forever.  Slightly.

With readily available Boom Tube Technology, Victor became a highly advanced door.  His purpose was to cart the League off to wherever they needed to be.  The creative team thusly checked Cyborg's participation off the list.  Lee could forgo illustrating Cyborg in the actual adventure.  At a guess, I think Johns knew that this technique just wasn't fair to Cyborg, a hero that he actually liked.  Integrating Cyborg back into the Justice League became one of Johns' priorities in Forever Evil.  

With Lee gone from regular art duties, Johns could create a story that would serve multiple purposes.  One of those aims: more dialogue and action from Cyborg.  Johns came up with a really good plan to rid Cyborg of the hard to operate Jim Lee accouterments.  He introduced a new member of the Crime Syndicate designated Grid.

Grid was Cyborg's metal half.  Johns posited that the advanced system developed a consciousness, although not a conscience, and it wanted to be rid of the fleshy meat that was Victor Stone.  However, it envied Victor's ability to feel.  Grid suffered from emotional envy.  He was the exact opposite of a Cyberman, and Johns deserves a lot of credit for this attractive idea.  By conceiving a flip-side to Victor Stone, he actually repurposed Cyborg to be a bona fide champion.  You know you've made it in the super hero business when you meet your bearded Spock.

In conjunction with Johns' goals of a more versatile Cyborg, artist Ivan Reis redesigned Cyborg to facilitate animation and recall his old look.  Though Doug Mahnke is on art duty, I'd say he's relieved and really excels at putting Cyborg through his more expressive and limber paces.  

Last issue Cyborg attempted to convince Doc Magnus to resurrect the Metal Men.  This issue, Cyborg asks the Metal Men for help.  So Johns also makes Cyborg a man that inspires.  Not that the Metal Men need inspiration.

The Metal Men are on hand to add comedy and be just awesome, but their issue was the last one.  This issue of the Justice League belongs to Cyborg as he duels against the Grid and plausibly stems the assured victory of the Crime Syndicate.  Every page of the story is stirring, and Cyborg hasn't been written this well since Marv Wolfman penned the character.

It's my understanding that Red Hood and the Outlaws will soon be cancelled, and that's a pity because everything I liked about the title, and it came as a surprise to me because I hated Jason Todd and wasn't all that keen on Speedy as Arsenal either, is in this inventory issue.

First there's a lack of Tynion.  When Scott Lobdell left the title, James Tynion took over and sank it.  I'm sure of it.  The first storyline he began involved a confusing Jason Todd amnesia story.  I didn't want to see this.  Lobdell wrote a substantial Jason Todd whom Batman liked.  As a result, I started to like this throwaway Robin.  Well, he's back.  He knows Kori and Roy.  He makes some clever moves, and shows off a sense of humor, evident in writer Will Pfeifer's banter between the two teammates.  

Second, Kori's really, really intelligent.  Readers and non-readers came down on Lobdell like a ton of bricks when he suggested Kori slept with Jason and Roy.  Like anybody would have objected were she a man.  

Kenneth Rocafort's remarkable artwork came under scrutiny as well when he redesigned Starfire's uniform with as little covering as possible.  Hello.  Starfire always was sexually free and didn't at all care if anybody saw her nude.  In any case, Kori in this issue is more than just an alien Kewpie doll.  She asks Jason all the right questions and displays her power not her pulchritude.

Third, Roy happens to be trapped on a spaceship with alien bastards that want to destroy the planet.  Roy's opening gambit is actually interesting and smart.  Sandoval's artwork is easy on the eyes, and last but certainly not least...


Chrysty Marx has been adding substance to the Birds of Prey throughout her run.  She ably characterized Batgirl, Black Canary, Katana, Strix and Condor while introducing the new immortal Mother Eve and exhibiting Ra's Al Ghul's madness.  You kind of expected such attributes from the writer of Amethyst.  She's into world-building and evolving depth from the cast.  What you didn't really count upon and what this issue of Birds of Prey demonstrates is how well Marx orchestrates a plot dependent on strategy.

Batgirl is now the leader of the Birds of Prey.  Black Canary stepped down after she realized her concern for Kurt, her comatose husband, overwhelmed her ability to make good, tactical decisions.  In a strange way, the passive means in which Canary backs away from the position reflects the Legion of Super-Heroes' leaders forfeiting rank.  They usually still served on the team.  They just wanted a breather from all that responsibility.  Black Canary still remains a key member of the Birds of Prey, but Batgirl is calling the shots, and when she does, they're all excellent calls.  The way in which she thwarts a gas attack for example mirrors her brilliance.

Marx set up two of the Birds for a potential fall from grace last issue.  This issue she fortifies her characters by having them all do the rational thing.  As a result, each player serves to strengthen Batgirl's status as a strong, decisive leader.  She new something was up, but she had faith in her team, and that faith pays off.  Yeah, spoiler ahoy, I guess, but you honestly didn't think either Canary or Condor would falter from the straight and narrow.  It's so beneath their character that it doesn't bear thinking about.

Sheena returns to comic books.  This time she lights to Moonstone.  I've always been a fan of Moonstone publishing since it's advent with Mr. Nightmare.  So, I'm happy as punch when they score a good character.  Sheena was the first jungle woman in comics, and the best.

Recently, these same writers, the DeSouzas, reintroduced Sheena to the modern reader under the aegis of Devil's Due.  I'm happy to say that though Sheena moved to Moonstone, the continuity remains the same.  The DeSouzas gave Sheena a secret identity, which sounds bizarre, but before Sheena was Sheena, she was a little girl from the civilized world rescued and raised by African tribes.  Although in these adventures, Sheena swings through the trees of the South American fiction of Val Verde, which sounds good really.

The idea of a pure idiot jungle man and/or jungle woman is passé.  Nobody buys the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan anymore because we expect our heroes to adapt to an increasingly intrusive modern world.  Sheena's ferocity nets her an urban legend status.  Sheena's take no prisoner's attitude was best seen on Geena Nolin's Sheena series.  There she covered herself in mud and actually fostered a dark continent urban legend.  Here it's more of a meme.

The DeSouzas involve Sheena in an emerald smuggling cartel.  It's a little refreshing to see something other than drugs as a "natural resource."  The DeSouzas juxtapose the battle against greed with Rachel's sponsorship of an archaeological expedition.  This too offers intrigue in the form of sexual impropriety from a professor.  In addition, something attacks, and it looks as though it might be Sheena's black panther companion.  A good start with colorist James Brown vividly gracing artist Jake Minor's lovely lines.  Minor follows the footfalls of many a grand Sheena artist by not just making the blond beautiful but also bold and baleful.

The cover says it all in Smallville.  Tomar Re having failed to prevent the destruction of Krypton seeks out a worthy Kryptonian to wield the Green Lantern ring.  The Bryan Q. Miller story is a lot of fun, but compared to past issues pretty fluffy, not that there's anything wrong with lighter writing.  He also introduces John Stewart to the Smallville universe and checks in with the Queens with a very cute vow.  Recommended and Marcio Takara's artwork keeps the ball rolling with a streamline look to the Lanterns that should really be adopted in a much needed reboot.