Monday, April 7, 2014

POBB: April 3, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 3, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag returns this week with Action Comics, Detective Comics, Earth 2, She-Hulk and Swamp Thing.  I'll also have a few words about Angel & Faith, Batwing, Inhuman and Moon Knight.

Writer Greg Pak closes up the last loose end in the subplot running through his debut for Action Comics.  Superman takes the fight to the mysterious Harrow in this issue.  The satisfying confrontation far surpasses the inferior return of shallow nineties villain Doomsday.  In fact you begin to resent the presence of the homicidal fluff.  The section could have easily been excised to streamline a uniformly terrific Superman story.

Hand-delivering the Ghost Soldier who interfered in his and Lana Lang's largely peaceful encounter with a subterranean culture, Superman finds himself under attack and chastised.

Pak conceives a very odd foe for Superman to fight and leaves the exact nature of the beast up in the air.  Harrow is a ghost with a heartbeat, and Aaron Kuder designed her with the trappings of hero.  In her own mind, she's a protagonist.

Harrow is bent on protecting humanity, which you say, can't be a bad thing, but some threats she sees aren't really there.  Superman for example.  Her presence makes a bad situation worst.  Simultaneously, there's a lot of saber rattling behind her philosophy.  In a way, Harrow parallels the Republican theme of so-called American exceptionalism. The term originally defined the unique optimistic melting pot of American democracy.  The Right Wing subverted the meaning to serve as a catchall jingoistic phrase describing their prohibitive broken value system.  

Harrow maintains a kind of human exceptionalism.  She ignores humanity's finest attributes to foster an isolationist point of view.  The altruism that Superman represents has no place in her world.  She insults him for his want to make friends with everybody.  A welcome trait expressed during the previous episodes.  She decries his mercy.  

If it were left to Harrow, Baka, the young, boisterous subterranean prince would have been killed in his dangerous dragon form.  Superman instead transported the beast to his Fortress and discovered the boy that he and Lana befriend at the dragon's heart.  Harrow reacted only to the initial threat, but Superman peered deeper.  

Harrow would have gladly killed an innocent and declared war on a kingdom that preferred not to become involved with the surface world.  Superman prevented a war and saved both humanity and the races beneath, which may be human albeit a different branch, anyway.  In Harrow's mindset, killing the Prince and the underworld would have been justified.  She is a dangerous and deadly opponent not just in terms of power but also in a direct conflict against Superman's idealistic symbolism.

The New Giallo

Flash artists/writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato switch to Detective Comics, and they imbue freshness to the venerable DC title.

Buccellato and Manapul introduce new characters to Batman mythology.  Two sophisticated ladies see Gotham as a fresh start, and they neatly represent the diversity of womanhood without falling into any stereotype; the motorcross angle is a good one. 

The writers/artists also take advantage of the clean slate of the new 52 by revamping a somewhat old Rogue.  Sid the Squid debuted in the Bronze Age.  He wasn't much, but he did possess one distinction.  He actually managed to shoot Batman.  

Much later, Sid the Squid turned up on Batman: the Animated Series as a comical Woody Allen type wannabe criminal.  As you can see, Manapul and Buccellato opt for calamari of a different sort.

In addition to expanding the Batman cast and establishing their own Big Bad, Buccellato and Manapul give what all Batman fans want.

When you come down to it, we're here to watch Batman solve mysteries that lead to a beat down of bad guys that would prey upon the innocent.  Voila.

For this issue, the creative team involves Batman in a three tiered story.  On one level new Gothamite Elena convinces Bruce Wayne to abandon the largely politically motivated effort to face-lift the waterfront and coincidentally fuel a crimelord's aims.  Instead Bruce switches funding to the less fortunate denizens of the East End of Gotham City, which needs revitalized.  Through this means, Manapul and Bucellato bolster Bruce's philanthropic status.  As well, they make the first effort to acknowledge the phenomenal Scott Snyder reorganization of Batman's past continuity.

Buccellato and Manapul nod to the current continuity with the mention of Damien.  The reminder sets Bruce into motion on a project that he intended to finish for his son down the line.  I like that Batman takes a break from fighting crime and bettering the world.  He deserves a few moments for himself.  Overall Buccellato's and Manapul's personality for the Dark Knight--driven by emotion but harnessed by rationality--better suits a detective accepted by Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow as their successor.  In this vein, Buccellato and Manapul finish their first chapter with an enticing enigma.  What happened to Elena? We'll have to wait until next issue to find out.

Batwing I'm afraid lost me.  I can really sink my teeth into the concept of Batwing going on the vengeance trail to explore a lost population.  The populace is split into various cultures to create for all intent and purpose an alien world similar to the bazaars seen in pulp science fiction.  

I just cannot accept that world being situated beneath Gotham City.  Batman would know about this under city.  There's just no way around this.  Batman has a "matchless knowledge of the city."  Even accepting that this world evolved from Jonah Hex's Gotham City of yore, Batman would know about it.  There's simply too much here for him not to know.  I could have accepted a loose knit group of gangs temporarily escaping his notice, but not a thriving civilization.

Last issue, Alec Holland, Swamp Thing, fell for a con.  A group claiming to be Sureen, alleged worshipers of Avatars, bamboozled him out of his body.  You might see a parallel to Jack and the Beanstalk.  I think the joke's intentional.  

In any case, Swamp Thing now in the form of a hunky bodied grifter with a soul patch--Brrrrrrr--and the immortal Capucine hunt for the organization that stole Alec's leafy green vegetable.  Capucine discerns her first clue through the auspices of a familiar immortal colleague.

Of course nothing is free in life.  Capucine must give Vandal what he wants in return for his aid.  Because the new 52 version of Vandal Savage is less like Hannibal Lecter and more like Brian Blessed, the demand segues smoothly into a beautifully choreographed tussle.  Jesus Saiz looks like he's having the time of his life illustrating the graceful Capucine and the cunning Savage.

Vandal makes good on his word, and Alec and Capucine discover that the Sureen ain't what they used to be.


Will Alec be reunited with his body, or will the pleasures of the flesh tempt him like his fellow former Avatars?  In reality, option b isn't open to him.  It turns out that Alec is racing against the clock.  He'll burn out his human body in a matter of hours, and the longer he's separated from his Swamp Thing incarnation the worse off he becomes.  Still, all is not lost.  Help arrives in the strangest form.

Swamp Thing continues to be a harvest of surprises.  The dialogue between Capucine and Vandal Savage entertains as do the schemes of the Swamp Thing Family, so to speak.  It's unfortunate that Alec is pushed out of his own series.  He's the least interesting of the cast, but that's a given since he's being portrayed as out of his depth and far younger than all around him.

Soule gives She-Hulk a much better showing.  Kristoff Vernard, the son of Doom seeks asylum.  Soule gives Kristoff a very shiny personality.  However, the guest star doesn't undermine the star power of She-Hulk.

The Jade Giant plies her legal know-how in Kristoff's defense, organizes a cunning plan and when that fails gets down to smashing Doom-bots.  

Soule not only engages the reader with a clever scam, he also educates through dollops of easy to swallow legal maneuvers.  Simultaneously, Javier Pulido arrests your attention with a unique style and attractively cartoony character modeling.  She-Hulk is informative, fun and friendly to new and old readers alike.

Although Green Lantern blasts away on the cover of Earth 2, he only opens the proceedings.  The Green resurrects Alan Scott to champion the cause of the earth once more, but at the moment of Apokoliptan victory, there's a momentary lull as eagles gather and vultures regroup.

Tom Taylor and returning artist Nicola Scott grant equal time to all the players to instill the atmosphere of an ensemble production.  The addled from battle Dr. Fate speaks in riddles, which Hawkgirl deciphers.  These answers simultaneously serve to fill in new readers on the story so far.  It's a clever technique.

The being who may or may not be Superman recognizes the real enemy, and naturally, it's Batman.  The revelation of his identity in the Earth 2 annual explains why even Superman would mistake a stranger behind the mask for Bruce Wayne.  Both men of the bat would have similar bone structures.

As Superman prepares a preemptive strike, the heroes prepare for battle on the Wayne estate.  Lois Lane becomes a key player in this fight as her humanity coaxes Val, the Kryptonian from the House of Zod, to learn how to use his powers for the sake of humanity.  

Scenes of Val learning out how to fly may recall the classics, but Taylor and Scott nevertheless imbue a true sense of exhilaration to the moments.  Despite being a conscious robot, Lois is spectacular, given real depth and pathos.  

Will Conrad's art rocks the house in Angel & Faith, but this reads like the sad bizarro version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10's premiere.  I couldn't understand why Faith would be so upset over seeing Buffy and Giles back together.  

Faith's jealousy of Buffy died when she and Buffy switched bodies.  Afterward, Angel helped Faith reform.  Furthermore, she was content to follow Buffy in the bona fide series finale.  As a friend of Buffy and Giles and now a full-fledged fellow Slayer, not the betrayer she once was, Faith should have been delighted, or at least content, at seeing Buffy's and Giles' reunion.  Instead the Powers That Be went all angsty.  Bleah

Charles Soule has three books this week.  His debut of the new title Inhuman features some great Medusa moments, but do we really need another Molten Man, even if he's an Inhuman? The back story left me behind.  Black Bolt's apparently dead.  Medusa and he had a son who also died.  The rest of the book is well-written, with Soule's talent for creating new characters midst strong treatments older ones evident, but Inhuman hasn't really grabbed me yet.  

The second issue of Moon Knight exemplifies art over story.  The evocative illustration of Declan Shalvey provides the meat on a bare bones tale by Warren Ellis.  If you're a Moon Knight fan, you'll not want to miss that, but others more into comic books for the complexity of storycraft may want to pass. 

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