Monday, July 14, 2014

POBB: July 9, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 9, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag this week focuses on Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Black Dynamite,  Justice League United, Smallville: Lantern, World's Finest and the new book Death Vigil.

Batgirl appears in two books this week.  First, in her own title, she teams up with the Huntress and Black Canary to battle Knightfall.  There's the typical misunderstanding that happens when super-heroes get together the first time.

Writer Gail Simone's rationale for Batgirl is on par with several other writers when it comes to superheroes beating each other up.  So I can hardly complain, and I applaud that Simone's aware that Huntress is now a different person and reacts differently.

The inaction parallels Batman's tactic, when he tried to make amends for his past loony behavior against Frankenstein.

Huntress doesn't know what's going on with Batgirl, but she knows that she and Canary are two of the good guys.  Being Batman's and Catwoman's daughter, she can take some punishment, which Batgirl hands out in spades.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Knightfall believes she's Gotham's savior and has given the criminals of the city an ultimatum.  Get out or get killed.   Even the Shadow and the Spider were more specific.  Knightfall's methods have become more extreme, indicating an escalating madness.  Her team of like-minded super powered lunatics aren't enough.  The vigilante expresses a penchant for amputation and bombs.

As well as threesomes, which amused me, as it's the typical bad boy behavior gender-reversed.  This scene will probably draw some flack from the more prudish sectors of the Internet.  Frankly, I would say that three-ways would be fair game for some superheroes--Power Girl for instance.  In any case, sexual openness is a traditional expression of lawlessness.  So I don't see any problem with the scene.

I do have a problem with roping in Barbara's transgendered roommate to the hitching post of the plot.  Bad Michael, one of Knightfall's henchmen, trying to persuade Alysia and her girlfriend to plant a bomb? That's just too contrived and goofy.  It's furthermore too blatant a gimmee to the detective in this story.  I'm not keen on Batgirl's lack of confidence in the narration either.  Simone seems to have lost Barbara's internal voice, which used to be strong and certain.  

I might have chalked this hesitance to Batgirl experiencing stress.  Her war against Knightfall takes place around the time of the events transpiring in Batman Eternal.  There somebody framed her father Commissioner Gordon for mass murder.  However, she only sounds a little bit better than she did when she decided to stop being Batgirl, a rubbishy plotted mess that forced my decision to take Batgirl off my subscription list.

Of course, the albatross tied around her throat may also explain her lack of internal conviction.  Babs now thinks of Ricky, the car-jacker with a soul, as her "boyfriend," and that made me throw up a little in my mouth.  Why Gail Simone fell in love with this lousy character, I'll never know.  I would sooner have seen Babs become involved with that drip Jason Bard again.

I have a shot at getting lucky with a hot red-head.  How can I prevent that?

On the bright side, Batgirl faced with unfavorable odds does the rational thing and calls in the troops.  I have to admit.  I didn't think Simone would engage the smart move at the end of the book.  

She surprised me. 

Birds of Prey pits Black Canary against Amanda Waller in a knock-down drag-out fight, over Kurt Lance.  Waller and Canary used to serve on Team 7, a government black ops group.  During their tenure, Black Canary gained her sonic cry; Deathstroke became a killing machine, and the team destroyed the island of Gamorra.  Worse for Canary, she believed that her husband had died in the ensuing disaster.  

Waller began exhibiting a presence since readers learned that founding Birds of Prey member Sparrow was actually Waller's spy.  It's during this time readers discover that Waller secured the comatose body of Kurt Lance.  Dinah believes she has the answer why.

That's unlikely since Waller is incapable of exhibiting feelings outside of the acid range.  The whole Suicide Squad versus Birds of Prey showdown turns out to be a means to an end.  Dinah took advantage of Birds of Prey sponsor Mother Eve's want to do good to set up Amanda for a fall at her hands.

Dinah's ploy doesn't suit Batgirl, but she backs up her best friend's plan and takes out her frustrations on Harley Quinn.  Writer Chrysty Marx though focusing on the duel between Waller and Dinah adds depth to her story by remarking on Batgirl's history with the Joker.  

Condor also gets a good showing.  The new character performs impressively against the fan-favorite Batman rogue Deathstroke.  Strix takes on Harley Quinn, much more lethal and insane than her out of continuity title.  Batgirl also takes on the humongous King Shark, and by orchestrating such a fight, Marx clicks Babs firmly into place among the Batman Family.  Fighting foes whose power far outstrips your own and overcoming these fiends is kind of a Batman Family signature.

Huntress and her partner Power Girl take one last look at earth one in World's Finest.  Paul Levitz concentrates on the differences of the personae in each of his creations, before granting them one last battle against Apokolips henchman Desaad and his personal complement of Parademons.

Levitz opens the story with Huntress' sweet tooth and Power Girl's appetite for hedonism.  He follows through with a playful exchange of skill.  Ends Power Girl's financial ties in a show of philanthropy, which is a nice turnabout given Huntress being the daughter of the prime philanthropist of both earths. 

Most wouldn't consider World's Finest eventful, but the thing about World's Finest is that it doesn't have to be.  Levitz is so in synch with these characters that everything he writes about them is worth reading.  They come alive, and this is the closest thing to a comic strip in DC comics because Levitz is consistent in his storytelling.  The adventures of Helena and Kara follow a seamless line that actually starts with the Huntress mini-series published without fanfare early in the new 52 and will end with his finale.  Levitz builds on the pair's characterization throughout the series while relating entertaining episodes of their super-hero partnership, which unlike others remains rock solid throughout.

Tyler Kirkham joins Levitz this issue and his illustration beautifully captures the heroes' moments of reflection, food, fun and action.  As usual, World's Finest is not to be missed.

In the penultimate chapter of Justice League United's debut story, the Martian Manhunter assumes command of the collective consisting of Alana, Animal Man, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Stargirl, Adam Strange and Supergirl.  This is the most J'onn's J'onzz has sounded like himself in years, and let me just assure you, that's before the new 52 burst on the scene.

Before J'onn resumes his leadership status, Lobo last seen having his ass handed to him by Hawkman decides to finish what he started with Supergirl.  Big.  Big.  Mistake.

The only thing different about the new 52 Girl of Steel from her pre-Crisis avatar is that the sweetness she had as an adolescent Linda Lee never developed.  Of course, maybe had earthmen not immediately attacked her, she would have had a few moments to appreciate this planet's beauty and people.  Alas, the epiphany never occurred, but Supergirl mellowed to a point where she is now quite willing to stick with the good fight.

Writer Jeff Lemire also takes advantage of another change in the new 52, and by doing so he finally gives an old fan favorite a moment to recapture his glory.

In addition to these moments and Mike McKone's smooth as butter artwork, Lemire also defies convention by switching Byth's dance partner.  It's here we learn that Byth is becoming a major player in the DCU, and in a bizarre, humorous twist, Lobo appears to be turning into his well-paid henchman.

Smallville: Lantern concludes with a big Justice League send-off.  John Stewart in a previous issue recruited Kal-El as a Green Lantern.  While Superman practiced using his new power, an old foe of the Green Lantern Corps reared its ugly head: Parallax.

That name should immediately induce a sympathetic headache to any comic book reader within a three hundred mile radius.  At first Parallax was Hal Jordan gone nuts.  This upset Hal Jordan fans, amongst which I do not, repeat do not, count myself.  So, the Powers That Be undid the whole Jordan gone amok thing and conjectured something ridiculous involving the color yellow, fear, yellow rings and space possession.  At one point Jordan became the Spectre because of Parallax.  Somehow.  It's all irrelevant.  Hal Jordan isn't the male chauvinist pig that he was.  He's just an overall jackass, which is far more palatable.  He never went bananas, which is apt given the color.

Scribe Bryan Q. Miller pits Superman and John Stewart against Parallax, and without that confusing Hal Jordan history, Parallax is a straight forward cosmic parasite that feeds on fear.  Boom.  We're done here.  To facilitate his dinner habits, Parallax spreads yellow rings to compatible individuals.  Namely, those who let their fear guide their actions.  The gifts of Parallax create a disaster that gives everybody in the cast something to do, especially Batman.

Batman isn't the only hero to earn super-cool moments.  Green Arrow suits up to defy Prometheus, the Grant Morrison update of the Calculator.  Prometheus uploaded all the data on his targets to a personal computer synched to his brain and then processed the information to defeat each of his intended kills.  In Smallville, Prometheus is a skillful mercenary capable of defeating a small DEO contingent and severely damaging fan-favorite character Chase Cameron.  He defeated Green Arrow almost as an afterthought.  It rubbed the emerald archer the wrong way.

Meanwhile, the Man of Steel faces the source of the problem head on by precluding Parallax's major victory, altering the Green Lantern Corps' protocols and finally using Kryptonian super-strength to kick Parallax's ass back to the dimension it spate from.  

There's of course more to the engrossing story which features Mercy, Chloe Sullivan, Nighting, Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor and many more.   I hope you'll be intrigued enough to pick up Smallville: Lantern.  No matter the subtitle, Smallville is the logical extension of the television series and just as entertaining.  

People enured to Stephen Sejic's digital realism in Witchblade are in for quite a delightful surprise when they read Death Vigil.  In fact even if not familiar with Sejic's typical artwork, you will be surprised just by the contrast of the content and the title.  Death Vigil conjures up the image of some direct to Blockbuster video eighties action bacchanal starring Dolph Lundgren's little brother Skippy, or perhaps some dank, incomprehensible period Vertigo fare with artwork that looks like the result of splattering cat innards on a canvas.  Instead, you get this.

Death Vigil sports Sejic's most playful and personally styled illustration.  The characters lean toward the exaggeration of cartoon rather than the photographic.  Not that Death Vigil is any less detailed than Sara Pezini's world.  It's just emphasized differently, and there's a greater sense of bemusement and expression.  

In terms of story, Death Vigil is a cross between a Hammer film and a superhero book with a good liberal dose of Bwa-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha comedy.  The tale turns  the Grim Reaper who looks a helluva lot better than her storied skeletal appearance and her group on immortal friends against Necromancers out to do cosmos knows what for who knows what reason.  Don't misread.  I'm not suggesting the book is vague.  I simply never understood the Necromancers' want to bring back old bastard gods to ravage the world.  It's not like any bargain they make with these entities will be kept.

Sejic on the other hand personalizes the central Necromancer's desire.  



The douche needs a sacrifice to appease the dark god in question, in order to bring back his father.  Dickweed's sorrow over the loss of his dad, is completely understandable, but his deep-end resurrection scheme is completely asinine   A normal person would have started his life over with the opportunity knocking, but this sphincter not only squanders the chance, he also takes some arrogant pleasure in the emotional manipulation he unwittingly engaged in.

What a mother...

Anyway, any sympathy you may feel in his ends diminishes with his means, and this is where Sejic departs from the Hammer basis of "virgin" sacrifice by some Satanic lunatic. The Grim Reaper referred to as "Bernie" and her team have a purpose.  In a terrific little twist akin to the core of Buffy the Vampire Slayer the victim becomes strong.

Hailing from Top Cow, Death Vigil is for anybody looking for something a little different from the usual occult fare.  Sejic even distinguishes Bernie from Neil Gaiman's sweet, lovable version of Death.  Highly recommended.

Black Dynamite meets up with his new associates to discuss the Illumanti's latest scheme.  It involves a Buddhist monastery and physical manifestations of martial arts moves.  The goofy tale could have sprung from any serious seventies exploitation movie, but writer Brian Ash quickly departs from the sensible action-fare and takes a different approach that suits Dynamite to a tee.

Dynamite's words sing in the hearts of the typical pacifist monks that can be found in dozens of B-Z cinematic treats.  The impact of Dynamite's words offers a riotous, wrong, ever so wrong, finale that in addition results from all sorts of monster ass kicking.

Just when you think the book can't become funnier, an epilogue resurrects the Big Bad in a brilliant done in one alternate universe parody of infamous schlock.  It took the movie its entire idiotic length to accomplish what the Black Dynamite people do in two pages.

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