Wednesday, December 24, 2014

POBB: December 17, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 17, 2014
Ray Tate

This week it’s a comic book review extravaganza with Batman and Robin, Captain Marvel, Django/Zorro, Justice Inc., Justice League, Smallville: Continuity and Wonder Woman.  I'll also say a few words about Batman/Superman and Supergirl.

If you haven’t been reading Smallville, you’ve been missing out on some amazing super-hero stories.  The latest subtitled Continuity pits the Man of Steel, the Justice League and the Legion of Super-Heroes, as well as a few other costumed champions against the Monitors, who intend to disassemble and reboot the universe.

The reassembly is the result of a deal struck by the Monitors and Lex Luthor.  Lex's intentions, however honorable, are misguided.  Lex saw the destructive power of the Monitors in Russia, and he determined that being rewritten was better than being obliterated.  Hearing the characters speak out against or argue in favor of such concepts is definitely meta.  The reassembly works all well and good from a distance, but writer Bryan Q. Miller relates the point of view from those suffering within the refurbish and those witnessing the event.

In a last ditch effort, through the use of a Boom Tube, the heroes in Washington evacuate the President and the D.E.O. now headed by Colonel Steve Trevor and muscled by Wonder Woman. 

I love the whole Secret Boy theme between Wonder Woman and Steve.  It’s cute without being cheesy.  For those not in the know, Steve still met Diana on Paradise Island, but when they were both children.  This is one of those classy, clever rewrites that exemplifies the oeuvre of Smallville.

Essentially a “gathering of eagles” type of story, Continuity benefits from the presence of a roster of everybody that counts and everybody you wanted to see.  It skates on supremo characterization of the cast, the traditional World’s Finest dynamic of heroes introduced in the pages of the Smallville comic book series…

..and a knowledge of the relationships between players from the television show.  For example, only a Smallville viewer or writer would know that Green Arrow and Tess Mercer share one of the oldest friendships on the show.  Clark didn't even know Lois Lane as long.  

Ironically, the friendship mirrors that of Clark and Chloe.  Chloe and Tess were created for the series.  Clark and Oliver are well established characters in the comics.  That interaction isn’t something you can fake.  You need to know about Oliver's and Tess' time on the island.  You had to see the episode.  

Admittedly, it would be difficult to plunge into Smallville at this point.  On the other hand, the writing is so engaging that the tale just might persuade you to learn via back issues what you've been missing.    

Smallville isn't the only party guilty of insular shared world hijinks.  Nowadays, Lex Luthor is hanging out with the Justice League.  Multiple factors led to this unusual collusion.  One, the new 52.   We don’t exactly know what crimes Lex Luthor committed.  We also do not know what he instigated against Superman since Superman’s history is up in the air.  Two, Lex Luthor actually saved Superman’s life at the end of Forever Evil.  

The Crime Syndicate’s Atom doppelgänger placed a shard of kryptonite in Superman’s brain that was slowly killing him.  Lex operated.  Superman made a full recovery.  Three, Luthor on the surface appears to believe that Superman and the Justice League are necessary to stop a cosmic apocalypse heading the earth’s way.  It’s the same menace that destroyed the Crime Syndicate’s earth.  Four, Lex learned Batman’s secret identity.  Batman does not trust him.  So Batman suggested the League keep their enemies closer. 

It’s the single caveat that must be acknowledged.  Justice League of America is a book for traditionalists who like their comic books straight, simple and consistent.  When writer Geoff Johns decided to include Lex Luthor in the League, he shook things up royally.  So, yeah.  Lex Luthor is in the League now, and that always needs an explanation for people who hold the idea that Justice League is essentially Super-Friends only with more mature themes.  If you can however accept this change, you’re in for a treat because the Justice League since its reintroduction has been set at warp speed.

Last issue, Neutron, a Bronze Age Superman villain, made his auspicious modern debut.  He attempted to kill Lex Luthor by breaking into Lexcorp.   Neutron’s actions unleashed the Amazo Virus.   This virus temporarily grants people superpowers before waylaying them with illness and death.  Those already enhanced get a one way ticket to the sickbay.  Most of the League have been knocked out.  Superman and Wonder Woman are immune.  Batman of course anticipated such disasters and prepared.

The World’s Finest face off against Patient Zero.  Their hope is that Zero's blood holds the cure.  Getting Zero to make a donation however will require more than orange juice and cookies.  Fortunately for the boys, they’ve got THE girl to back them up.

Hey, DC rather than have your marketing department screw up your reputation with sexist ploys, why not start printing out tee-shirts and posters with the actual Wonder Woman imagery in the comic books? 

I’d buy this print in a heartbeat.  Wonder Woman in Justice League behaves like Wonder Woman.  We see her kick ass, rescue Batman and Superman, use her magic lasso and deflect heat rays off her bracelets.  Bask in the glory that is Diana of Paradise Island in Justice League.  Sadly, this superb version of Wonder Woman cannot be found in...

Wonder Woman appears to be campaigning for the Prometheus Award for Poor Story Mechanics in Literature.

The sad part of the whole affair is that Meredith Finch at least tries to base her story in mythology.  Right idea.  Wrong execution.

The tale comprises two parts.  One, giant stupid hawks attack the Amazons with the consistency and efficacy of Five-O-Clock Charlie in MASH.  Two, a pair of sorceresses, at least I think they're sorceresses, decide they don't need Wonder Woman.  They can make their own queen.

As stated in Finch's story, the Stymphalian Birds were in fact the pets of Ares.  They brooded in the fens of Arcadia before Hercules slew them with poison-tipped arrows during his Sixth Labor. 

Some escaped to flock to other myths.  However, Paradise Island is situated in the Bermuda Triangle.  That's over seven thousand kilometers from Greece.  I just have a problem digesting this whole scenario.

Since the Stymphalian Birds never attacked Paradise Island before, their assaults must be a recent development.  Apparently, they're looking for Wonder Woman, who is now the God of War.  That doesn't make sense.  Wonder Woman is in hot water for living in Man's World, and only visiting Paradise Island.

It doesn't work.  The Stymphalian Birds are either dopey animals, intelligent and/or magic.  All three of these possibilities require them to flock anywhere but Paradise Island.  Wonder Woman is rarely there.  Dopey animals would sense it.  Intelligent creatures would conclude it.  Magic avians would home in on their new mistress.  This means that they should be assailing a dojo somewhere.

In Wonder Woman, Batman or Superman, hard to tell with out the dialogue identifying him as "Clark," spars with Diana because...ah...Let's put it this way.  When Bat-Supes suggests that they hit the showers afterward, he means they should take separate showers, unlike this happy couple.

Another Reason Why Smallville is Awesome

The sparring scene is just dumb.  I mean Superman and Wonder Woman are a couple.  Couples do other things in addition to having sex: seeing a movie or a site like the zoo, eating together, games and puzzles, concerts, short or long walks.  If you want to take a break from the idiocy of the main plot, do it with some modicum of style.  Sparring.  Really.

Part two of the book, is just as cretinous as the rest of the tale.  In this section of the story, Finch makes a ham-fisted shout out to a superior work.  The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

Khoura, portrayed by Tom Baker before he became the Doctor, creates a homunculus by soaking mandrake root in a few chemicals and dripping his own blood on the beast.  In Wonder Woman, the sorceresses use a different, overly dramatic brew.

The visage you see before you is the remains of Hippolyte.  The reason why she's been turned into a mud pie is that Finch didn't bother to read the entirety of Azzarello's story or ignored the bits that didn't suit her.  Finch, to be kind, thought that Hippolyte remained an immobile clay statue.  Not realizing that Hera fully reanimated her.

This means that Finch's attempt at poignancy last issue falls apart.  It just makes Hippolyte look stupid for not coming out of the rain.  Amazons have discovered the utility of roofs.

More Stupid from the previous issue of Wonder Woman

Anyhow, in addition to the remaining bits of Hippolyte, the sorceresses must also use a blood sacrifice.  I don't know what irritates me more.  The deviation from Khoura's method; using his own blood, or the fact that the lucky selection dies with her nipple erect.  I'm going with dying with her nipple erect.  It just sends the wrong message, and it seems like overkill 

I'm Pointing to Heaven

This whole exercise is rubbish because according to continuity Hippolyte was still Queen.  Wonder Woman was the God of War.  Hippolyte was capable of leading while in a Claymation state.  Meredith Finch just threw her away so she could kill some nameless victim in a process that traditionally doesn't require death.  And for what?

Don't get me wrong.  I like cachongas as much as the next straight fellow or lesbian, but having cachongas is not a testament to leadership ability.  Yes, she presents well.  Primed to be screwed, but do you really want a leader to submit herself so readily? I mean let's face it.  This is the typical position a Congressperson assumes for quite a number of lobbyists.  Few of them would make good leaders.  None with sore sphincters.

As bad as the main plot is, I think the basic mechanics of the story are worse.  Half the time the reader doesn't know where the hell she is.  When not on Paradise Island we're in a dojo.  When not in the dojo, we're in this place.

Don't assume you're still on Paradise Island.  Yes, the crone from the Witching Hour is still there.

But we also get this nameless amphibious dominatrix.

Only the crone gets christened this issue.  I looked Derinoe up.  She's an Amazon that fought in the Trojan War.  Apparently, in the DC universe, she was out sick on the day the Amazons were granted eternal youth by the gods.  Her froggy cohort could be anybody.  All we know is that Kamen Rider serves her.

In addition to all this badness, Wonder Woman has the worst expression of time I've ever seen.  Because the narrative flow of the story is akin to the staccato of a machine gun, there's no way to discern how long the story occurs.  The birds attack at dusk.  Next char-broiled Stygian sky.  Next scene broad daylight dojo.  Back to hell.  Day time Paradise Island.  Bird dusk.  Back to hell.  Gah! Avoid Wonder Woman at all costs.

As insane as Batman and Robin is, and it is indeed insane, it still follows the basic precepts of good writing that Meredith Finch fails to adhere to.  The reader knows exactly where she is--Apokolips, how long the story takes--probably a few days and who the characters are: the Batman Family, Cyborg, Darkseid and Kalibak.  The plot's nuts from the perspective of reality, but it nevertheless flows from one event to the next to create an easy to follow narrative, both visually and prosaically.

Batman basically beats the crap out of Darkseid, in page after page of over the top comic book action.  Naturally, some will complain that Batman is only human and he doesn't stand a chance against an evil New God, even if Batman's wearing a super charged suit of armor.  To those Kiljoys I have two words to say. Suck it.  This was amazing.

Batman pauses a moment to take care of Kalibak, and the point of view shifts only to one other character.  Batgirl must figure out a means to use Cyborg's armor to generate a Boom Tube in order to effect the team's escape.  

I'm even going to forgive the green eyes.  They're blue, baby.  Blue.

Of course this is also fantastic since it demonstrates Batgirl's intelligence and the vital components she contributes to the Batman Family.  Batgirl is particularly important as a witness for this latest Batman victory.  She was a beneficiary of Batman's obsessive pursuit of justice.

The resurrection of Damien wasn't at all important to me, and it's still not.  However, I've seen worse, and this one actually kind of makes a strange sort of sense.  The Grand Cosmic Doohickey that Kalibak wanted plays a part.  So immediately, the McGuffin of the tale gains a bit more weight.  The explanation of why the Shard itself didn't spontaneously resurrect those exposed to it keeps the tale in the realms of science fiction.  The shard's power must be harnessed.  The way Batman performs the deed alludes to the moment he picked up the crystal and saw that Damien could, nay had to be resurrected.  He saw that if he reached point (a) in the future, he would need to do point (b) using point (c).  Yes, there's as well poetry in Batman's actions, and it also sets up future stories where Darkseid will have a personal vendetta against the Dark Knight.

It just goes to show you that no matter how incredibly lunatic the plot may be, if you concentrate on the story's fundamentals, convey the plot through well written characters, the audience will follow.  Batman and Robin's plot is bat-shit crazy, but we know these characters; we know where we are and the internal consistency sells it all.

I wasn't originally going to even mention Batman/Superman or Supergirl, but Wonder Woman's sheer badness made me reconsider.

If you missed the previous issue, Superman has his own Joker.  He's a mystery foe that strikes without warning, using technology beyond that of most of the Man of Steel's foes.  He's not killing a person.  He's killing Superman's meaning.  Batman and Superman are no closer to finding the culprit this issue, but there are several elements in the story that are notable.  

Lex Luthor explains how saving his life is the equivalent to saving countless other lives, and the way writer Gregg Pak breaks it down displays an unusually rapt attention to consequences.  Others have already mentioned that one of the victims is Glory Maui whose former identity was Reagan, the kid that Superman stopped from committing suicide in Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman.  So the resonance of her death is universal in our shared knowledge.

The relationship between Batman and Superman is quite enjoyable to experience.  Despite the seriousness of the situation, they have a moment, as they do in Justice League, to lighten the mood.

Pak also includes a Wonder Woman cameo that's ten times the worth of the sum of her appearances in Wonder Woman.

You see that? She's playing chess while guarding a potential target.  Not sparring.  Not whining.  Not being an idiot.  

Batman/Superman is by no means perfect.  Pak has jones for Hector Hammond, and he appears in these pages.  I'm not absolutely sure the reasoning behind the cameo is sound either.  The person he leads Superman to is so not the "Joker" that it's almost a laughable contrivance.  That said.  Way better than Wonder Woman.

Supergirl I was going to skip, but the Darwyn Cooke cover was just too juicy to pass up.  The story is prettily illustrated by Emanuela Lupacchino, expressing a lot of visual imagination, but it's basically an innocuous tale where Supergirl joins the DC equivalent of the X-Men.  Give writers K. Perkins and Mike Johnson props however for reintroducing Comet, albeit not the super-horse, at least not yet and Maxima.  It's Maxima that gives the book its sole depth.

Maxima and Supergirl remarking on gender issues makes Supergirl superior to Wonder Woman.  Wonder Woman says nothing and offers you gratuitous tits and ass.  Supergirl says something and does so in a natural way.  Not many fans argue over who's stronger Supergirl or Wonder Woman.  I can say Supergirl makes a stronger statement than Wonder Woman and relates a better constructed story.

Has it really been 100 issues for Captain Marvel? Could be if you factor in the original twenty-three issues.  At any rate, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Captain Marvel illustrators David Lopez, Marcio Takara and Laura Braga pop in on Carol's friends through the clever plot device of snail mail in space.

Carol reads a letter detailing the day Manhattan was over-run with mind-controlled rats.  The letter is comprised of the roles played by Captain Marvel's young friend Kit, Spider-Woman and Rhodey.  

This lark of a tale features a wide-range of artwork.  All of it excellent.  Lopez's part sports fun-loving kids.  In fact, I wrongly supposed that this whole letter would be a product of Kit's high-octane imagination.

But no.  A more reliable witness continues the story, and DeConnick is the only writer who seems to get that Spider-Woman has a sense of humor.  The understatement in Takara's work neatly fits the comedy.

She also comprehends the closeness of the two women.  They've been friends ever since Spider-Woman rescued Carol from plummeting off the Golden Gate Bridge.  The then evil Rogue absorbed all her powers and threw Carol to her death.  

Rhodey concludes the letter.  In my opinion, Rhodey works way better in the Iron Man films than he does in the comics, but DeConnick uses the character beautifully.

Because she's not po-faced about it, this turns out be one of his best appearances.  Neither is Rhodey the butt of everybody's joke.  In confronting the villain, he proves to be a valid superhero, and DeConnick also manages to sneak in a little sweetness regarding his relationship with Carol.  The 100th issue of Captain Marvel didn't need to be spectacular, yet it is.

Quentin Tarantino pulls a fast one in Django/Zorro.  Don Diego De La Vega relates the story of the villain of the piece to Django, and the way he tells the tale suggests sympathy for the devil.  You really believe that you know where the story will be going, and then Tarantino demonstrates how well he characterizes the casual evil bastards that populated and still populate the world.

A wealthy father notices how his son has taken to Conchita a native Mexican girl, and if it were a good person or a normal person, the relationship would flourish exactly how you think it should.  Sure Dad's a little obsessive, but Batman saw the future; set about invading Apokolips and duking it out with Darkseid on behalf of his son.  Obsession in itself isn't a bad trait to possess.  The father in Django/Zorro is one sick son-of-bitch and his evil is an onion.  Peel away one layer and another presents itself.

Normally my mind shuts down when a comic book shifts focus away from the heroes.  I see villains as cannon fodder.  Always have, always will, but occasionally the writer does his job so well that I cannot help applaud the level of villainy or the honor among thieves.  This is one of those occasions, yet the fleeing moments when Zorro takes the center change are still memorable because a passage of dialogue defines the Fox.

Michael Uslan's Justice Inc. delivers the birth of the Avenger in the context a of a world shared by the Shadow and Doc Savage.  In this issue Uslan  meets the promise of a Pat Savage encounter with he Shadow.  It goes as one would hope.

After protests from Margo, partially due to jealousy, partially due to the avoidance of mutually assured destruction, Pat teams up with the Avenger while the Shadow and Margo infiltrate the lair of  the Voodoo Master.

The former introduces Pat to the Avenger's singular ability to mold his face into anybody and establishes the Avenger's method of dealing with criminals.  The previous issues indicated that Richard Henry Benson did not lose his respect for the law when faced with the disappearance of his wife and child, but this issue he learns of their true fate.  You can almost see that last vestige of social mores snap.

No.  Benson will not kill if he can help it, but he will show no compunction in inverting the death traps that his prey set for him.  The Avenger's foes fall victim to their own evil machinations.

In the latter scenario, Uslan demonstrates Doc Savage's amazing physical feats.   These include remarkable stamina and strength as well as extraordinary tolerance for pain.  Surprisingly despite his connection to Superman, Doc is mainly remembered for his uncanny intellect and inventive mind.  All and all, Justice Inc. is turning out to be a fitting excursion into a pulp lover's dream.

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