Pick of the Brown Bag
February 19, 2014
The Pick of the Brown Bag is live! This week, I observe the assets and plot holes of Batman and Two Face, Harley Quinn, Justice League, King's Watch, New Warriors, Nova, Supergirl and Wonder Woman but first a review of the mystery/horror title Cascade.
Editor Liam Webb was kind enough to send me a copy of Cascade. The contemporary story by Chris Cabiano focuses on a fateful trip home for expecting couple Mark and Sue.
On the way, they meet up with Sue's old boyfriend Steve, and the fun begins. Steve catalyzes the possibility of a curse, but also acts suspicious in his own right. Is he a killer, or is he just trying to win Sue back in a totally inappropriate way?
The story doesn't go as expected. It's smart. Smarter than you think it will be. It's smart enough to be an episode of Thriller or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. However, there's enough blood and twisted nature to satisfy a giallo fan.
The art by Larry Nadolsky offers a strong attention to body movement. At first these motions are natural, but in the last act, the hidden antagonist performs a macabre dance that indicates why this artist was chosen to breathe visual life into the presentation. It also evinces why the story is ideal for the comic book format. Whereas the description could be replicated in prose form, it would be difficult for words to capture the precision of the body language.
Cascade is a complete two issue comic book available for download at www.drivethrucomics.com. If you have a bias for the aforementioned genre or genres. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.
In 1975, Supergirl saves taxpayer dollars by eliminating threats to the Viking Mars Probe. As mentioned when she returns to earth, NASA could have found a means to avoid the meteors, but it would have pushed back the time table and cost millions.
Although, Kara routinely flies into space, this tight short story demonstrates that she comprehends the importance of human exploration. Humanity cannot stop growing just because gods walk among them. Superheroes exist to aid in human discovery not impede it.
By interfering at an opportune moment, Supergirl gives humankind just enough of a push, without directly meddling in history. She looks great doing it thanks to Mike Vosburg's ultimate good girl art accompanied by an unusually light inking touch from Al Milgrom.
Kara learns of another problem at the Jet Propulsion Lab, and this very cleverly sets up the premise of Jack Harris' story while seeming to simply be an aside.
After briefly returning to her secret identity of Linda Danvers, the discoveries of NASA prompt Supergirl's return to J.P.L.
Supergirl is shocked as the reader to discover the root of the J.P.L. scientists' dismay.
It's an especially crushing blow for Supergirl since she spent most of the Silver Age trying to remove the threat of kryptonite to repay her cousin's kindness. Harris informs the reader with just as much recent continuity that's needed, but there's more going on in the panels than just plot.
One of the things I like about the scene is how above board the scientists behave. They immediately inform Supergirl about the startling revelation. Relating the information serves multiple purposes. They thank her for her service to NASA. They recognize her status as Superman's lieutenant. They also respect Supergirl as an equal if not better. While this confab occurs, the spy in the house of love informs his master. None other than...
It may seem silly, but disguising a rocket as a redwood is ingenious. How could you otherwise hide something so large? Conceal the rocket in a warehouse, and somebody's bound to stumble across it. Those with X-Ray Vision do not routinely use this power to scan forests.
As it turns out, Supergirl deduced what Luthor would do. Being tutored by the World's Greatest Detective and having a best friend who's the second, on earth one, is likely to make an impact. Supergirl furthermore was raised mostly on Argo City and consistently exposed to advanced ideas and technology.
When dealing with Kryptonians and mad geniuses, cutting to the chase is easy, even if the chase occurs in space or on a familiar red planet. Harris quickly snaps the reader to Mars, where it looks like Supergirl's scheme backfires. Luthor fuels a Kryptonite Gun and adds insult to injury.
Will Supergirl succumb to the deadly rays and fall to a ruse of her own making?
By now, you're probably confused, gentle reader. Likely, you expected me to review this:
Sorry to disappoint you, but since DC declined to put Supergirl in the book, I decided to opt for a review of the authentic Girl of Steel.
This is Supergirl.
This is also Supergirl.
...is a symptom of brain rot.
Shocking moments occur in Batman and Two-Face, but these are welcome changes in the traditional paradigm. They're so so fresh that I cannot talk about them. I can only discuss the elements that in addition make this issue of the defacto Brave and Bold for the new 52 entertaining.
Batman and Two-Face reaffirms Batman's sanity. By witnessing the characters from his past and their off the rails present behavior, Batman pulls farther from the brink. The distraction of having to save villains from themselves and the innocent Gothamites caught in the crossfire of a blood feud honed that razor sharp mind of his, forcing him to act rationally and heroically.
Batman is in rare form this chapter. He demonstrates a multifaceted personality that counters Harvey's black and white damaged understanding of the world. In the opening, Batman's hilarious as he dispenses with Erin.
He next quickly deduces where the mob took Harvey, and he even gains the admiration of the Penguin who watches along with Gotham at the interrupted airwaves. Batman fights Harvey's insanity and tries to save him from himself. He rationally chooses to let the villain go in order to stave off the death of a friend.
Catwoman did the groundwork, but this story pitting Erin McKillin against Harvey Dent gave Batman the opportunity to experience rebirth. Fantastic, under-hyped and underrated.
Juxtaposed against a battle pitting Olympian overlord Apollo against the First Born, Wonder Woman allies with the moon in order to find Zola and her baby Zeke. Moon quickly tracks down the wayward charges. They're with Dio.
As I predicted in the review of last issue, Dio meant Zola and Zeke no harm when he took her on the truffle hunt. He saw his transmogrifying power as a completely natural means to secure the services of swine and score the elusive mushrooms. He's a god who doesn't think like a human.
Intrigue occurs when Cassandra makes a return appearance. For once, a god isn't after Zola and Zeke, but that won't stop Wonder Woman from saving her kin and upsetting the First Born's plans for Olympian domination.
While not as exemplary of the exploration of Wonder Woman's central themes in the previous issue, this chapter entertains with remarkable artwork by the returning Cliff Chiang and a tale featuring a clutch of unusual bedfellows as well as the modernization of myth from Brian Azzarello, still promoting the dark fantasy feel.
Justice League reintroduces the Metal Men for the new 52. Simply put. Best. New Metal Men Story. Ever.
Johns also demonstrates the relevance of the Metal Men, through the duplicity of war mongers, and Ivan Reis' artwork makes for nice shiny carapaces. Despite being a Forever Evil tie-in, the issue isn't to be missed. Not just Metal Men fans, but any comic book reader will enjoy this book.
Ming the Merciless speaks his ultimatum in King's Watch, and Jeff Parker grants a new sophistication to the alien menace.
Resisting the cosmic despot, The Defenders of the Earth: Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon, Lothar, Dale Arden and Professor Zarkov. As well as Parker's newest addition to the ranks Karma.
Parker relates an exciting rebellion with the Defenders first traveling to London to meet the invaders, pulply beast men, head on. The battle highlights the best from the group. The Phantom's cunning. Mandrake's illusory ability. Flash Gordon's daring-do.
Parker immediately paves the way for his new Flash Gordon series by establishing the animosity between Flash and Ming. Ming finds Flash a particularly stabby thorn in his side. The alien tyrant can almost understand the strength of the resistance in legends such as the Phantom and the power from Mandrake, but Ming justifiably identifies Flash as a menace. He's new. He's optimistic and exactly the kind of rallying cry, Ming would want stamped out.
Nevertheless it's a mixture of brawn and brain that ultimately thwarts Ming. Parker astutely remembers Lothar's original role in the Mandrake comic strip, and he puts that idiom to good use.
This is an adequate introduction to the New Warriors. Each youthful champion gets a vignette, but few come together. So it looks like it might be a slow build.
Vance Astro and Speedball end up in a town that's protected by old Fantastic Four foes The Salem's Seven. The group now reformed and trying to belie their parentage offer protection to the magical misfits of the world. I'd actually prefer to see a book about them rather than the New Warriors, except for this lady:
Wowsers! Has anybody else noticed how the Atlanteans have become Marvel's Picard-era Klingons? The noble warrior, adept in the art of war but also poetry. Now, it's true that I don't know what this latest relation to Namora might scribe, but I do like the rhythm she's already using.
As for the others...Meh. Clone of Spider-Man Kaine is paired with an okay goddess I've never heard of. The new Sun Girl is a generic super hero, and I've always hated Vance Astro. Speedball at least bucked up from his bout of Marvel idiocy.
The new Nova is also on the team, but his moments in New Warriors are entirely forgettable. Worth watching to see what happens next. I'll be picking it up New Warriors when there's Atlantean awesomeness. Agents of Atlas routinely functioned on that fuel, but all the other characters from Jimmy Woo to the Uranian appealed to me.
I purchased the premiere of Nova and it didn't wow me then. It doesn't wow me now. However, wild horses couldn't stop me from lauding an appearance of Beta Ray Bill.
The alien warrior gets a lot of respect as he battles Nova, who committed an unwitting crime, last issue. Part of the fun occurs when the rest of Nova's cast reacts to Beta Ray's visage, and I actually enjoyed the match between Nova and Beta-Ray. Usually, fighting heroes depress me, but since I had nothing invested in Nova, i could enjoy Beta Ray's point of view. In any case, the heroes eventually come to a truce and team up in preparation for next issue.
Jimmy Palmiotti's and Amanda Conner's Harley Quinn is an almost timely Valentine's Day treat turning Harley into the feline object of desire from Pepe LePew cartoons. When Harley feels down on love, she makes the mistake of eating a berry from a plant that Ivy left behind. This infuses her with love potion number 9 and carries her through laugh filled mayhem.
The difference between Harley Quinn and the more familiar suave skunk lies in the more mature tone of the book. Even when setting the hilarious double-entendre aside, Harley must contend with another hit man and amorous hardened criminals.
The violence though over the top and delivered with an Acme Mallet still borders on realistic artwork which takes a dive when Chad Hardin is feeling a little more cartoony traditional.
It's not all fun and games. Conner and Palmiotti make some shrewd commentary about costuming. They in addition advance the overall plot about Harley inheriting a building but needing to stay afloat to pay for the privilege. Also, pay attention to the little details. Ivy clearly marked the plants and translated into Harley-speak. Harley's wallpaper on her phone is of course the Joker, but it's the old Joker, not the one who had his face removed then haphazardly sewn back on. The comedy in Harley Quinn is sharp, but so is the characterization.