Pick of the Brown Bag
May 21, 2014
We return to The Pick of the Brown Bag...already in progress. Now that we've dispensed with the buffoonery of Chris Mazin and David S. Goyer, let's look at how the current models of feminine justice are doing.
Dayoung Johnsson alias Rocket Girl serves in a future, teen police force. The citizens of her time decided that corruption and adulthood went hand in hand. So they negated the problem by bestowing authority to the youth of the world.
Rocket Girl jetted to our time in order to prevent Quintum Technology benefiting from a time displaced nudge. At first it seemed as though creators Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare intended to base their time travel on a causal loop. In other words, Rocket Girl's presence in the present is necessary to bring her future into being. Turns out it's a little more complex than that.
The duplicates have yet to be explained. It appears that in a parallel timeline, the officer and his partner will join Quintum Tech and be tossed back into the past to hunt down Dayoung. Thus gaining their revenge against the teen cop. Dayoung severely embarrassed the two when they tried to arrest her on her first day in the past. The younger version however will not follow the same routine. His future is still shiny.
With the introduction of the two elders as antagonists, Reeder subtly setup an intriguing example of corruption eating away at the mature. The younger versions of these old security guards would probably look at their wrinkled avatars in disgust. At least one would.
The old officer's loss of memory can be described through the actions of Annie, one of the Quintum scientists Dayoung befriended. As the Quintum group in the past tries to find a way to have their cake in eat it too, Annie does the logical dramatic thing and gets arrested for her trouble. Fortunately, Rocket Girl is in her corner.
Rocket Girl also finds solace in the citizens of New York, who know a hero when they see one. I love it when the protectees become the protectors. I loved it in Superman II and the second Spider-Man film. I loved it in Another Nail where the citizens attempt to guard Hawkgirl, and this comedy-infused flip of the shield is just as appealing.
Rocket Girl touches upon science fiction themes, comedy and heroism, but those simply looking for hyperkinetic action will still not be disappointed.
Fair warning though. Reeder and Montclare include a depiction of Dayoung in her tasteful underwear. Goyers and Mazins of the world unite and begin your shaming cycle.
Speaking of sex and the single sci-fi girl. Remember how certain corners of the internet were horrified when they learned Starfire slept with Roy Harper and Jason Todd? They felt that this behavior was beneath Kori and decried the dumbing down of the character. Well, Red Hood and the Outlaws is being cancelled, which is too bad because after catching up on the series in trade and the odd issue here and there, I found Red Hood to be surprisingly entertaining with excellent characterization. That's saying a lot, considering I had zero interest in Jason Todd. Just avoid those Tynion issues. Brrrrr. In any case, Will Pfeifer sends off the Outlaws with honor and intelligence that belies the accusations.
The hand Roy kicks belongs to Lobo, the Main Man on the cover. More stink emanated when fans learned that DC's new 52 Lobo was like Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz rather than a combination of Beetlejuice and the Dude. Fret not. The cover is no mirage.
Lobo as you like him takes a page from the Slitheen and intends to incinerate the earth to demonstrate the weapon he intends to sell to warring factions of the cosmos. The scientific acumen in the story is wonderfully sound. Such a weapon described by Lobo would do exactly as it says because its beam behaves just as Lobo describes. So, if you didn't know these consequences before, you'll know them now.
Setting aside the science, Red Hood and the Outlaws relies upon the characters' intelligence. Jason, Kori and Roy outwit the superior might and firepower of Lobo, and the Main Man's duplicitous characterization results in smart plot twists that exemplify the price of arrogance.
Also in the cancellation file, Birds of Prey.
Gail Simone shot herself in the foot when she fell in love with her annoying creation the Car-Jacking-Boy-Caught-In-A-Bear-Trap. If Batgirl was Ricky-free it would improve astronomically, but Simone's blind to Ricky's incredible dearth of charm. She set this criminal idiot up as Babs' boyfriend, which is sickening. Jason Bard was a better match for Babs in the pre-Crisis, and he was totally insubstantial. Ricky also catalyzed a series of unlikely events to make Batgirl's personal life even more hellish. Ricky's like a human hemorrhoid.
Fortunately, since the new 52 kicked off a proper multiverse, there has been an alternative to Batgirl's eponymous title. When written either by Duane Swierczynski or Christy Marx, Batgirl rocked. Observe the Darknight Daredoll calling the shots to a sound strategy combating a teleporting ganglord.
The Big Bad targets Commissioner Gordon, but as it turns out, Gordon has been friends with the means of his survival all along, in addition of course his daughter Barbara Gordon. It's a plausible coincidence that's easy to take.
Ed Wallis is a member of Mother Eve's cadre. The immortal Mother Eve currently sponsors the Birds of Prey, who follow Batgirl's commands to the letter. The results are lightning strike attacks as quick as the teleporter appears and disappears.
Almost reading like a fantastic inventory issue, Birds of Prey still incorporates multiple threads found in other titles. Marx utilizes these nuggets of continuity for cohesiveness, not needless exposition.
In another scene, Marx exploits Batgirl's secret identity. She utilizes the rocky relationship for the unknowing Dad and daughter that Simone introduced in Batgirl, but in a positive way. Birds of Prey is good, solid entertainment. It deserved a better fate.
In the latest issue of Batman 66, Batgirl, Batman and Robin face the team of Joker and Catwoman. Parker begins the story with an homage to the Batman movie opening.
The Batman movie, made before the television series, actually had a very cool prologue where tint-lensed flashlights revealed the cast. This almost avant garde touch was replaced by the familiar theme song accompanied by the Dick Sprang style animation.
The reason why our trio of crimefighters laughs becomes apparent as the story unfolds. In many ways, Parker's story reads as a PG version of The Killing Joke. Obviously, the salaciousness and utter malice in the Joker's actions fail to manifest in Batman '66. Thank the cosmos. However, the reduced underlying theme of The Killing Joke, that the Joker wants Batman to understand him very much fuels Parker's story.
The blonde the Joker hugs is none other than Harley Quinn, and just as in the animated series, she's a psychiatrist working at Arkham Asylum. It's here where Batman 66 diverges from the comics and related media. Batman 66 actually makes more sense.
Arkham Asylum isn't this nightmarish almost organic monstrosity inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft that serves only to exacerbate the criminally insane's abnormal behavior. Arkham is actually a rehabilitation facility complete with a recreation hall, in this case a talent show from the inmates. Harley's not in love with the Joker. She's a rational scientist that's actually trying to help him recover his sanity but goes too far. Parker also imagines a new way in which she becomes Batman's foe, and it's far more plausible.
Imagine a group of scripters forced to deal with Moore's unwanted opus as a television special. There's this great big whacking moment in The Killing Joke where the Joker cripples Barbara Gordon, strips her and then photographs her nude writhing in pain. Want a graphic? We don't degrade women in The Pick of the Brown Bag.
The script writers are horrified. The producers want Barbara Gordon in this story. They brainstorm. They look into Barbara Gordon's history, and they find something they can use. Barbara Gordon is secretly Batgirl.
They eliminate the whole section of maiming, but now they need something for Batgirl to do, and this is what Catwoman is in the story for. Catwoman dislikes Batgirl.
To be sure, Batgirl displays her intellect and thirst for adventure. She also totally ignores the Boy Wonder, which reinforces the idea that she is way out of his league. The motif as well relates a running joke and mirrors the interaction present in the television series. Ultimately though, Catwoman and Batgirl rely upon each other as a dueling double-act, which just increases the strangeness of the title.
Peter J. Tomasi's Batman and Frankenstein starts off by dealing with Batman's moment of insanity in a previous issue. Batman in an effort to resurrect his son Damien dissected Frank. No, really.
This is clearly the comedy relief chapter in Batman's hunt for Ra's Al Ghul, but it also demonstrates that Batman's in his right mind again, which is nice. Batman furthermore admits that he was way off his rocker, offering a change from his previous post-Crisis incarnation, forever in denial.
Frankenstein is written terrifically, and he seems to just engender good writing from any scribe. On the other side of the creative coin, artist Doug Mankhe returns to the character he first animated in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory.
Frankenstein actually came about because Morrison was unable to convince DC to let him employ the Martian Manhunter. Frank's popularity is utterly serendipitous, and the very idea that he would actually become a staple in the new 52 is remarkable. Frank's ubiquitousness is even more amazing. He works anywhere and in any book.
The latest surreal effort features of all things a tribe of Yeti...
...which surprisingly isn't breaking any new ground in Batman comics. The Dark Knight met the son of the Yeti in a terrific Bronze Age one-off by Gerry Conway and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez.
Tomasi's tale is even more bizarre than Conway's story. Others have offered takes about man-beast/human crosses, including the deranged, delightful Night of the Demon. In Tomasi's story, Batman relies upon observation and deduction to do something completely unexpected. Even Frankenstein is surprised by Batman's move, but he follows The Dark Knight's lead to a quirky yet satisfying conclusion.
I was going to skip reviewing Batman/Superman since its part of Doomed, a storyline weaving its way through the Superman titles like a tapeworm, but Greg Pak's part in this affair is actually too good not to mention.
Superman's been infected by Doomsday. That's the gist I get from his whole thing. Batman is right where you would expect him to be. In Superman's corner, searching for a cure. Batman is a biochemist. What's more, he observes the way the world reacts to the news as a detective.
Pak instills the story with a sense of finality. This is never more so evident when Batman interacts with Krypto.
You get the feeling that Batman is a pallbearer, and he's touching bases with all of the Superman Family as his best friend dies while turning into something inhuman. The story seems less like a stunt and more like a foreboding inevitable future.
Batman interacts not only with Krypto this issue but also Wonder Woman and Steel. The hound leads Batman to trace the infection back to the Phantom Zone. Wonder Woman accompanies Batman to back him up. The story again alludes to the DC Trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. What's interesting is how this trio continues to recapitulate, and the friendship has less to do with the facts than it has to do with how people believe their relationship should be.
Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman seldom interacted in the Golden Age of comics. They rarely encountered each other as a trio in the Silver Age, and even in the Bronze Age they seldom got together apart from Justice League meetings. Batman teamed up with Wonder Woman more than Superman did during that era. Where does this bond come from then? Lunchboxes. Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman were often seen in the forefront of seventies lunchboxes, decals, coloring books and DC advertising often courtesy of Dick Giordano or Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. A single Superman Annual brought the perception of pop culture to fruition.
"For the Man Who Has Everything" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons pit Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman against Mongul and his dream-inducing gift the Black Mercy. Since that issue, writers have been trying to replicate the easy feeling of friendship the three fostered in that one-off. The new 52 writers are no different. Strangers in the premiere of Justice League, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman forged a five year friendship between issues. It's an ultimately unsatisfying explanation, leaving so many holes.
In Batman/Superman, Batman narrates the mission, and throughout Pak highlights the similarities in character between Batman and Wonder Woman. Both are down to earth. Wonder Woman is a warrior. Batman is a scholar and cynic. Each tries to live up to the ideal example Superman sets, or at least temper their own pragmatism with Superman's optimism and selflessness. Pak's take on these characters is undeniably intriguing and draws upon a lot of depth not apparent in the new 52 versions elsewhere. What we get here is a seasoned Batman reflecting the arch ratiocinator from Detective Comics and a Wonder Woman, similar to the Brian Azarello version of the character.
Inside the Phantom Zone, Batman and Wonder Woman find history, but the foe is not behind the Man of Steel's latest malady. Instead, it turns out that the events in Pak's Action Comics play a vital role in Superman's traumas. Batman/ Superman is recommended even for those not following the latest intrinsic crossover.
Forever Evil surprised me by mostly avoiding carnage and instead concentrated on expanding the characterization of heroes and villains. It reintroduced a Justice League level hazard and worked upon building actual world threatening drama. Forever Evil also benefited from artistic consistency courtesy of David Finch. So, not only do I recommend this issue for those just wanting to see how the status quo changes, I recommend the entire mini-series for DC comics fans.
Death isn't the constant companion of Forever Evil. Back in the old days, Big Stupid Events seemed to be designed to kill off fan favorite characters: from Strange Visitor slain in Our Worlds at War to Blue Beetle infamously shot in the head during Countdown to Infinite Crisis. Forever Evil built up enormous foreshadowing of Nightwing's impending doom. Last issue, Lex Luthor killed him, albeit for the best of reasons. Batman naturally went bat-shit crazy.
Dan Didio originally intended to end Nightwing during The Infinite Crisis, but was persuaded not to. Would Forever Evil finally see the end of Dick Grayson?
The solicits to his new series, Grayson, and the narrative of Marguerite Bennett's last issue of Batgirl prove to be incorrect. Writer Geoff Johns played it smart. He made it seem inevitable that Nightwing would die. He unveiled Nightwing's identity to the world. He stuck him in a no-win situation. The Crime Syndicate's Owlman took a liking to the sidekick he had failed. You expected Nightwing to die at any point during Forever Evil, but he lives.
Death stalks certain individuals in Forever Evil, but the scythe falls on nobody the reader cares about.
The changes arising from Forever Evil are mostly optimistic. In addition to Batman's reconciliation with Nightwing, Lex Luthor becomes a slightly better person.
Lex Luthor expresses the kind of lucidity he had in Smallville. His hatred for Superman subsides, as he turns his attention to a greater unexpected danger, the same entity that wiped out the Crime Syndicate's universe. Luthor also experiences a kind of empathy toward Bizarro, a creation that originally was a means to an end, but became something more to Luthor.
As you can see from the cover, the Justice League changes because of the events of Forever Evil. The world exalts Lex Luthor as a hero, justifiably so. He did in fact help save the earth. Luthor's status in the Superman mythology argues for guilt by association.
Most of Luthor's history with Superman; either pre-Crisis and post-Crisis is no longer relevant, and the new 52 is pretty vague in regards to Luthor's crimes against Superman.
The fact is Lex Luthor of the new 52 is a blank slate with the nostalgic pang of his green and purple armor from the pre-Crisis. He stands as a reminder of evil, but there's just no telling what he did to Superman to warrant the hatred of The Daily Planet, which is not to say that it's a good idea to place him in the Justice League. It's a good idea for a while though because this is exactly the kind of shakeup that the new 52 meant to create.
This issue is mostly a setup story beginning in the middle with Luthor leading the League to stop the remainder of villains plotting under the aegis of the Secret Society. It then jumps to how this whole shebang started, with Luthor giving the League the gift of a satellite, offering his services as a member, and fine champagne. Batman is suspicious but sees some truth in Luthor's words. Wonder Woman verifies his story via magic lasso--which is a really smart and intelligent move from writer Geoff Johns, and Superman of course snarls a lot at Luthor for reasons that the reader cannot fathom. It's actually a lot of fun.