Monday, August 25, 2014

POBB: August 20, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 20, 2014
Ray Tate

Pick of the Brown Bag returns with short yield of reviews including Batman and Robin, Doctor Who and Justice Inc.

Justice Inc. is the title of the latest pulp collage from Dynamite.  This project teams up Doc Savage, the Shadow and the lesser known hero the Avenger.  

The Avenger's adventures were written briskly by science fiction author Paul Ernst under the house name Kenneth Robeson.  The Avenger's true name is Richard Henry Benson.  A tragedy freezes Benson's face; changes his hair bolt white and turns his complexion to the consistency of putty.  The metamorphosis allows Richard to shape his waxy visage into any form he wishes, making him even more of a master of disguise than the Spider or the Shadow.  Benson's method of crimefighting involved luring criminals into the death traps they set for others, sometimes Benson himself.  During his adventures, Richard acquires several aides, and together they form Justice Inc.  

Writer Michael Uslan takes few diversions when introducing the Avenger to a new audience.  In the stories, Richard made his wealth through mercenary activity.  In Justice Inc., Uslan finds a possible motive in Richard's inherited wealth.  Richard is a legacy who finds the board of directors to his father's company wanting.

The events that catalyze the Avenger's creation were never explicit in Ernst's adventures.  We never learn what actually happened or the true identity of the culprit.  In fact, Ron Goulart, who took over the resuscitated series in the seventies promised an even deeper mystery to be had.  Anyway, the enigma allows Uslan a lot of room to ply his tale.  Through a seamless narrative, Uslan effortlessly merges the tragic hero's origin with the events in play here.

In the present, Doc Savage uses cutting edge science to prove a theory of time travel suggesting that everything that was, is and will be occurs simultaneously.  A barrier exists between the past, present and future.  Doc's experiment, the production of a stable wormhole, inadvertently captures a modern aircraft and sends it back in time to 1939.  Doc of course follows.

Back in time, Doc calls his friend Howard Hughes to prove his claims.  Hughes' knowledge of airplanes and his friendship with Doc prove invaluable.  In the story, we learn that Hughes was also instrumental in rescuing the Shadow from the Yucatan.  These events occurred in The Shadow/Green Hornet; also written by Uslan.  The Shadow therefore keeps tabs on Howard Hughes, and he gets wind of Doc Savage's presence.

Frankly, it just tickles me to have the Shadow mention Pat Savage, Doc's illustrious cousin.  Beyond all this, an old Shadow foe, one of the few to survive an encounter with the Shadow, also has his beady eyes set on the meeting.  Because of Benson's enemies, however, the traditional antagonist just may throw in with the pulp heroes.  Oh, and it's not Shiwan Khan, Shadow fans.

According to an interview in the CBG, Uslan was unfamiliar with the Avenger.  That unfamiliarity does not manifest in these pages.  His relative freshness to the series indeed may have actually been a boon.  I doubt a writer that was a fan of the Avenger would ever think to blend Benson's origin with Doc and/or the Shadow.  The story however works so well.  Uslan keeps the tales separate enough to assure individuality, yet still these tales entangle.  In other words, on one track the Avenger will be born.  On another track, he will be born in the presence of Doc and the Shadow.  On a third track, all three heroes will be combatting something wicked.

Double your Doctors, double your fun?  Titan takes over Doctor Who comics.  Rather than just stick with the current Doctor, Titan takes a gamble with number eleven David Tennant and number twelve Matt Smith.  If you're confused by the Doctor numbering, then you haven't seen "Day of the Doctor."  So, really.  You need to watch that right now.  I'll wait...

Alone, missing Donna, the companion who must forget, the Doctor hunts for an otherworldly threat while clashing into the life of Gabriella, the character most likely to become the Doctor's new companion.

Given the Doctor's more or less happy go lucky attitude, the story likely takes place between "Planet of the Dead," where the Doctor refuses companionship from the fit like a glove Lady Christina de Souza, and "Waters of Mars," where the Doctor makes a fundamental error in attempting to alter a fixed point in history.  His defiance of time haunts him throughout his final story.  The span is a good choice for a stable interlude voluminous enough to fill with adventures.

Our tale begins on earth in New York, at a laundromat, which is part of the problem for Gabriella.  Gabriella is dissatisfied with her life because her father mapped it out for her.  He forgot to include important aspects like fun and relaxation.  Trapped by the obligation of tradition, she wants out, and it's likely the Doctor will provide the exit.  

The pacing is really well done.  The Doctor darts in and out of Gabriella's life.  He keeps just missing his future companion until the very end, and I'm wondering if that isn't an allusion to "The Romans," a William Hartnell episode.

In any case, the story isn't as fluffy as the twelfth Doctor's tale.  The scary, subtle moments are effective and naturally build up the chapter into something bigger.  Writer Nick Abadzis' replication of Tennant's performance, right down to the raw heroism he displays at the cliffhanger also impresses with a dead on earnestness.  As you can see, artist Elena Casagrande nails Tennant's look.  The skill involved demands at least a try-out.

While technically accomplished, Al Ewing's and Rob Williams' Matt Smith inspired Doctor Who isn't quite as a meaty as Abadzis' monster-of-the-week.  The story starts off with Alice, the Doctor's soon-to-be companion, suffering through life.  

Colorist Gary Caldwell literally paints this episode in the gray, but because of artist Simon Fraser, the choice doesn't feel overdone.  The art convincingly portray's Alice's sorrow. The gun metal shades enhance the feeling.  Naturally, all of this changes when the Doctor chases a Rainbow Dog.

It seems obvious doesn't it? Gray life.  Boom! Rainbow Dog.  Ewing's and Williams' story is however justified.  This is what Matt Smith's reign as the Doctor was in metaphor.  A massive sudden blast of the color.  Jazz to elevator music.  Even in death, Matt Smith's Doctor maintained a remarkable optimistic attitude because it wasn't really the end. 

If you don't mind the derivation from "Vincent and the Doctor," without the poignancy, the story runs at a good tick, and it won't hurt you.  It's done in one.  It introduces the companion without muss or fuss.  The writers mirror Matt Smith's charm and charisma.  His Doctor is sort of an off the cuff authority figure.  He'll take command because nobody else knows how, but he really just wants to explore and see the wonders of the universe with a good friend.

Batman intends to infiltrate Apokolips to retrieve and resurrect his son Damien.  So, what else is new? For one thing, history is on his side.  Batman glimpsed the future by touching alien technology sufficiently advanced enough that it behaved like magic, with respect to Clarke.  So he knows that the future of all is predicated on Damien's return.

I still don't care about Damien.  I don't care if he stays dead or returns.  It's not important.  As a McGuffin, the cold tyke has been extraordinary.  First, Damien's death triggered believable Bat-Shit Crazy.  Next, Damien's repose drew the battle between Ra's Al Ghul and Batman.  That everlasting duel's gravity attracted DC stalwarts such as Aquaman and Wonder Woman into the fray.  The quest itself served to foreshadow the Justice League's interference with Batman's plans.  With this story, Damien's corpse catalyzes the reunification of the Batman Family.

This is mainly telling the reader of all the Batman titles, or even just the lion's share, what she already knew.  Somewhere down the line, the entire Batman Family buried the hatchet.  The chasm began with the Joker's final assault, and though Snyder intended for a chasm to develop.  It's doubtful he meant to widen it so much as his colleagues.  The reconciliation is evident in Batman Eternal set slightly in the future.  All the Batman Family appear to be on speaking terms. 

Batman and Robin is the missing piece to rationalize all the writing from folk that really just weren't privy to Scott Snyder's plans.  Of course, sometimes it was Batman and Robin writer Peter Tomasi that had to play catch up to the fringe, but Snyder's work was above all that.  He was the molder, not somebody that must follow the contours.  Now, it's Tomasi's turn.  Batman and Robin cannot help being big.  It must have far-reaching consequences because of its subject matter.

Few missing pieces in my experience have ever been necessary or even entertaining.  "Night of the Doctor" and "Day of the Doctor" are exceptions.  Batman and Robin is another.  Tomasi writes this story so well.  It's a tale where Batman doesn't throw a punch, but still resonates by admitting to his mistakes and opening himself up to his family.  

There's a stark difference between the new 52 versions of these characters and the post Crisis avatars.  Although Batman isn't the warmest individual in the DCU, he's nevertheless healthier than his predecessor.  This Batman is more familiar with his compatriots.  His agreement to "unconditional truth now and forever" is phenomenal in the context of the machine he became in the post-Crisis, and this is Tomasi's Batman.  It's all been about this.  Tomasi took Batman through a gauntlet and this story is the threshold.


No comments:

Post a Comment