Tuesday, December 16, 2014

POBB: December 10, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 10, 2014
Ray Tate

"Christian Bale recently said he felt jealous to see Ben Affleck wearing the cape and cowl – do you ever get that?"

"No. Do you know why? Because I'm Batman. I'm very secure in that."-- Michael Keaton in Shortlist interview; 
first spotted on i09


Batgirl, Flash Gordon, John Carter Warlord of Mars, Justice League United, Princess Ugg, Thor, new book the The Valiant and World’s Finest are in this week’s brown bag.  I'll also say a few words about the latest issue of Batman Eternal.  So, let’s not waste any time and get to the reviews.

Batgirl is stirring up controversy in certain circles by making the villain a drag queen.  Of course, if you read the comic book, you can see there's no indication that the guy is a drag queen or making a statement on sexual orientation.  He's instead a kook who dresses up as a woman once to perpetrate a crime in order to gain fame.  

On the bright side, Batgirl is getting press and it's not for her being crippled and/or mistaken for Batwoman, DC's former substitute Batgirl a toaster of a character lacking a single shred of personality apart from being a lesbian.  That to me is progress.

A series of events lures Batgirl into the fray.  First a clutch of low level criminals impersonate Batgirl and her imagined sidekicks to steal some bling, as in The Bling Ring.  That doesn't work out too well for them as the first awesome Batgirl moment sets the stage for martial arts action and the fine art of deduction.

Bruce Timm and company produced a series of web cartoons starring Batgirl, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy called Gotham Girls--the cool show is available in its entirety as an extra on the Birds of Prey DVD collection.  The animation, however limited when compared to Batman the Animated Series and its ilk, is more advanced than ninety percent of the cartoons available on network television; yes, there still are some.  

In any case if you were looking for a basis for a new Batgirl cartoon, you wouldn't need to look farther than this new series by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr and Maris Wicks.  

The literally and figuratively colorful adventures of Batgirl, offer clever mysteries that make excellent use of her photographic memory and whippet-lithe gymnastics.  The broad spectrum of characters turn the tales all-inclusive in terms of creed and color and the sharp deviations in personality entertain with an ebullient mix of dialogue.

Batgirl also appears in this week's Batman: Eternal.  I haven't been following the entire series, and some of the material confused me, but I have to say the current issue was pretty darn good.  The writers--Scott Snyder et al.--take a character I never liked in the first place and make him a poor example for humanity.  The figure claims to have killed Batman in a death trap and thinks he's about to be lauded, but Gotham P.D., even the cops who had a beef with Batman, are utterly disgusted by him.  Vicki Vale doesn't buy his success at all, ends their relationship and expects Batman to "punch him in the face."  Batman of course does, and the Batman Family are there to back Batman up one-hundred percent.  Batgirl, in her updated costume, gets some choice dialogue and face time in the scene.  

World's Finest reveals the first meetings between Batman and Superman of earth-two and their significant others Lois Lane and Catwoman.  Let me add a bit of detail.  It's the first time Batman encounters Lois and Superman clashes with Catwoman.

On the whole this is a pretty decent tale.   Catwoman steals every scene with her sinewy thefts and her crack-wise attitude, but Levitz distinguishes his story from other heists and burglaries with one important surprise that I shan't reveal.

Superman isn't really hunting Catwoman.

The Man of Steel once more diverts Apokolips technology that might have been lethal to the earth.  

In so doing he attracts the attention of Intri, a New God serving Darkseid who has twice attempted to recruit or kill Batman and Superman.  However they were too young to really pay attention.  Levitz uses Intri in a couple of unique ways.  First and foremost, he emphasizes the time-span of his latest run of World's Finest.  Intri appeared first on Krypton.  She now meets Superman and Batman as adults.  

Most of the time writers and artists spotlight Apokolips as mythical hell and accent the torture devices the denizens use.  Though these things are more advanced than say a wrack, you never the less don't think of them as anything special.  Intri's foreknowledge of events indicates just how advanced Apokolips is.  

Justice League United teams the League and the Legion of Super-Heroes for an all-out battle against Silver Age villain Byth.  The original was just a shape-shifting criminal that drove Hawkman and Hawkgirl to explore our world and allow Joe Kubert to exhibit his extraordinary skills.  

Tim Truman in Hawkworld recast Byth as a shape-shifting drug kingpin.  United writer Jeff Lemire drops the narcotics angle and amps Byth in a way that's more in the milieu of the super-hero.  That's not to say Byth isn't bad news.  He is.  He's just not somebody you might find hanging around in a dive distributing metamorphosis pills.

Byth's intent is to evolve the genetically spliced Ultra into the Galactus inspired devourer Infinitus.  This is the beastie that brought the Legion into our time and in conflict with the Justice League.  This newest version of the Justice League in fact formed around the discovery of Ultra and the conclave of scientists that created the tyke.

The Legion have magnanimously given the League twenty-four hours to find an alternative solution to theirs, which is to end Ultra before he begins.  Time is running out.  The ticking clock lends to a quick pace that's briskly illustrated by Neil Edwards.  Edwards art consists of no-frills realism with just an overall sense of goodness.  Visceral action shares time with authentic emotion.

Jeff Lemire also teams up with fellow Frankenstein writer Matt Kindt for The Valiant, by the publisher of the same name.  

An immortal hero named Gilad, brother to staple immortal Armstrong, of Archer and Armstrong, protects earth's Geomancer, like Swamp Thing without the walking salad look.  

Throughout history a creature of entropy pursued and killed the Geomancer, leaving behind scars on Gilad's face as a reminder of his failure.  Indeed we discover Beowulf was actually a tale recounting such an exploit, a neat twist.
Nowadays, the Geomancer is Kay McHenry.  

As much as it is a story about a supernatural stalker and the immortal defender, it's also about Kay her growth as a Geomancer.

As you can see, Paolo Rivera provides extraordinary artwork for this story.  The facial expressions and body language in that series of panels is well worth the price of the book.  Rivera is an artistic force to be reckoned with.  Neither action, period detail or a shift in genre seems to phase him.

The gentlemen above is named Bloodshot, a nanotechnology enhanced soldier working for the British government.  How he will impact on the war between The Agent of Entropy and the Immortal Gilad over the life of the Geomancer will be revealed in future issues.

Thor by Jason Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman continues feeling out the new, momentarily controversial female Thor.   Aaron reveals why the Frost Giants broke the treaty and how it involves Marvel staple baddie Roxxon Industries, now being headed by an amoral business man who harbors a secret.

Dario Stands in the way of the female Thor trying to broker a peace between the Frost Giants and the rest of civilization.  That said.  She's not about to let humanity being diced in the process; if she's who I think she is, she may be human herself.  

The ice club Thor uses is actually a piece of one of the Frost Giants she just killed.  The remarkably rendered scenes are frequently amusing despite the horrid realization that these great creatures are being slaughtered.  The amusement comes from the scale and scope Dauterman grants to the spectacle.  It's always funny to see your expectations upended.  In this case, tiny human versus massive giants should end up with squashed human, happy giants.  Instead, it doesn't pan out that way at all.  Especially when Thor retrieves her hammer.

Princess Ugg tackles a group of bandits that seek to sell the she and the other princesses into slavery under the pretense of a simple money-exchange kidnaping.  Nothing really to see here except the awesome might of Ulga of the north laying waste to criminals who really have no idea what they're dealing with.

Ted Naifeh adds a layer of depth to the violent frivolity by adding temptation courtesy of the bandit leader, and this is the perfect twist.

You can almost see the parallel world developing from such a decision.  You know, of course, that Ulga will not take up the bandit on his offer.  For one thing, she could never trust him. However, it makes perfect sense for the bandit to plant the suggestion, especially since he's genuinely impressed by Ulga and like any good evil overlord probably thinks to exploit that talent for his own gain.  The bandit actually reminds me of Kabai Singh from The Phantom.

Portrayed with appropriate gusto by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa 

Both Shikera and Kabai Sengh could have simply been one-dimensional baddies, but their visions and their memories of once being normal men distinguish them from the typical cannon-fodder   

Ulga's rescue of the princesses wins their respect, but she finds no favor with the bitchy Princess Julifer, and her final actions, which include delicious gender role reversal, pretty much cement the wedge between them. 

John Carter Warlord of Mars qualifies Ron Marz's knowledge of his subject.  The entirety of the John Carter portion of the story is written by Carter's sense of honor.

Carter's reliance on a fair-play code earns him the deference  of enemies that knew of no other way and secures him allies from some of the oddest denizens on Barsoom, the Native name for Mars.

Meanwhile, his opposite number, who invaded Helium, the Capitol exhibits a bloodlust and pettiness that shape him into the perfect enemy for Carter. 

Captain Joshua Clark is a whole-cloth Ron Marz creation,  and he should be commended for it.  Racism catalyzed the Civil War.  Don't ever let anybody steer you elsewhere.  However, many who joined the Confederacy did not do so out of bigotry.  John Carter, a veteran of the Civil War, clearly exhibits color blindness.  While we can of course argue that Dejah Thoris' exotic red skin is hardly a stumbling block, rather an enticement, John Carter's best friend is a four-armed, tusked green giant.  Carter also seeks to unite all of Mars, regardless of color.  Clark though fighting on the side of the morally correct likely didn't join the Union to secure the freedom of black slaves.  It's likely that he simply represents those enamored with killing.  And those he symbolizes fought on both sides.  It's important to remember that no matter how justified the cause, war is the flame that attracts all species of moths, including the particularly nasty variety.

Flash Gordon allies himself with Vulko of the Hawk People in boisterous and unexpected moments from the Brian Blessed voiced war chief.

Writer Jeff Parker gives a very good reason for the Hawk People's freedom from Mongo, and it ties in brilliantly with the wicked science of Ming the Merciless as well as the weird environment that the Hawk People live in.  

Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire produce a treasure trove of fantastic colorful artwork that produces a visual narrative that's equal to the past glory of Flash Gordon artists.  Alex Raymond set a mold demanding the fiercely-talented and King Features always bent over backwards to find artists capable of if not matching, then coming close to the illustration feats of Raymond.  I'm pleased to say Shaner and Bellaire certainly honor the memory of Flash's esteemed creator.  That alone should make Flash Gordon a must have.

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