Tuesday, May 31, 2016

POBB May 25, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
May 25, 2016
by
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag returns with weekly reviews.  Today I look at the conclusion to "The Darkseid War" in Justice League and the ginchy team-up Batman and the Man from UNCLE.  I also peruse the latest issues of The Adventures of Supergirl, Doctor Who, the much anticipated Rebirth, Shaft the Imitation of Life and Superman.

There's still a lot of people who don't read comic books, and with that in mind I'll be paying special attention this week to whether or not a newbie can understand the subject at hand, without the use of Wikipedia.

Believe it or not, although the Justice League concludes the highly entertaining "Darkseid War" I think any moderately intelligent person can comprehend what's going on.  Writer Geoff Johns includes numerous moments of explanation, none of which is off putting.  First, the story so far…


As you can see, Johns includes names of the characters, past major events, changes in the Justice League, etc.  He does this in the voice of Wonder Woman, which would give him the excuse to be stilted; she being a visitor from Paradise Island.  Instead, he’s quite elegant reflecting Diana's time away and careful to mimic what might be a reminisce from an Amazon’s lips.  Once again, the hardest thing for anybody who hasn’t read comics in three or four years to digest is the fact that traditional Superman villain Lex Luthor is now a member of the Justice League.

As Johns story progresses, you see Grail’s ambition twisting a good man’s soul.  The character then provides enjoyment in a stupid attempt to challenge the Justice League and a particularly slippery New God.  Once part of the League in a another era.  So his presence in "The Darkseid War" is fitting.


Grail's dialogue with Scot Free alias Mister Miracle is worth a grin for any long time fan of DC Comics that’s plugged into the Jack Kirby Fourth World Mother Box.  Anybody however can delight in Grail’s embarrassment.  

Grail is only one of the nemeses the League must contend against.  They still have a tenuous truce with The Crime Syndicate, their opposite numbers from earth 3.  Just the name and their look gives the game away to a new reader.


At this point, Geoff Johns gets impressive again.  Johns employs the Syndicate’s backfiring in the League’s favor, bringing back the status quo in a creative means that few would have seen coming.  The best part about this setup is that the Syndicate believes that they’re winning.  At this point you can credit artist Jason Fabok.  That image of Superwoman is all about madness and the gluttony of power.  It’s beautiful in its depravity.


Johns in addition to orchestrating a truly grand epic utilizes Justice League to work out things to come in the tapestry of the amended DCU.  Most of what DC promoted in the Rebirth previews actually happens here.  Rebirth has plenty going for it, but this is the book where a lot of characters evolve.


The means through which Jessica Cruz attains a true Green Lantern ring for example and not enslaved by a life-sucking parasite from earth 3 exhibits clever plotting from Johns.  Kudos again to Fabok and colorist Brad Anderson.  Through heroic imagery that matches the resonance Johns grants to an ostensibly new creation, Fabok and Anderson bestow a fighting chance for Jessica to win a place in comic book history.  All and all, you close Justice League saying to yourself, “By golly, that made sense, and it was good.”


Superman on the other hand suffers from the revelations in the Rebirth previews.  Superman dies.  Yeah.  That’s unsurprising, and what’s unfortunate is that it could have been a very shocking moment had the Powers That Be just kept all of this under wraps.  I’d even go as far to suggest that they should have blatantly lied to their audience.  Create dummy Superman issues just to preserve what should have been a dramatic moment.

Tomasi foreshadowed Superman’s death, but he kept alive an idea that Superman just might find a reprieve.  He facilitated the hope through the surprisingly light tone of the tale.


About the best I can say about Superman is former Justice League Dark artist Mikel Janin hasn’t lost a single iota in the ability to produce sweet illustration.


Superman battles his energy infused doppelg√§nger high in the sky.  It’s a real knock down, drag out fight, but you can’t help think of Sparkles up there as another Doomsday.  A plot device designed to specifically kill Superman.  I mean, Denny Swan (who?) transformed into Superman’s executioner (why?)  Damn, but it looks good though.

I have always loved Supergirl.  I loved every incarnation of Kara     Zor-El, especially this courageous powerful new 52 version.  The closest thing to the original we had until Melissa Benoist flew across National City.  So I should be all over this fight, but as Kara battles Sunny, I can’t help but think that she’s here solely due to the success of the television series.  Cynical I know, but its her uselessness in the fight that signifies where Tomasi’ heart truly lies.


See? That’s it.  This whole Superman dying arc was meant to be a Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman story.  It’s thrilling that Batman rams the lunatic Tinkerbell with Wonder Woman flying beside him as back-up. You don’t expect this Batastic action.  You expect Wonder Woman to tear Shiny-Ass a new one.  Batman though rams him.

The truth is that if you eliminated Supergirl’s part you would improve the pace and reap some comic book gravitas.  Observe.  This is the panel immediately before Supergirl’s entrance.


Now put that together with Batman and Wonder Woman’s appearance, and you can see a seamless fight that makes way more sense than having Supergirl suddenly show up out of nowhere.  That sense is replicated when Crackles overwhelms Batman and Wonder Woman.  Superman snaps to and propels him into the stratosphere.

If you look at the past chapters, it’s clear that Tomasi intended for Supergirl to be at the Fortress of Solitude where Superman left her. The business with the DEO restoring her superpowers was a paean to her new series.  Batman was supposed to find her.  Superman was supposed to rescue her.  Boom.  Fortress.  She doesn’t belong in this fight.  She should be at the Fortress learning all she can to become Superman’s successor.


The Superman in Black fellow enters the fight late, but his appearance seems planned, like it was always meant to be there.  Given the resemblance to both Superman and Sizzler, it would be strange given his introduction if Superman in Black weren’t here for the final battle.

Rebirth kicks off the big event for DC comics.  So let me just get this out of the way first.  No, I didn't expect the big reveal.  Yes, it will upset some people, but not me.  I don't have a warm feeling for the characters incorporated as the ultimate enemy of the DCU.  Metaphorically speaking, Johns has a good point.  That said.  I am very surprised that the Time Trapper isn't behind the whole enchilada.  


Cause usually, the Legion of Super-Heroes villain is your go-to guy for cosmic reshuffling.  At least the Legion is involved.  


Rebirth does not reboot the new 52 but seeks to refine it.  In other words, no, Batgirl suddenly doesn't collapse in her wheelchair again, and Superman doesn't resurrect out of the blue.  Superman in Black on the other hand present and accounted for.  


Unfortunately, Lois doesn't have any good lines.

Batman is a surprising central figure.  Perhaps not so surprising since Geoff Johns has no problem with treating Batman as a super-hero who pals with the Justice League and “The world’s greatest detective.”  


You'll have a more rewarding reading experience if you peruse Justice League and are familiar with the Death of Superman theme running through all the Superman titles, but it's not entirely necessary.  A casual familiarity with the DC Universe is all that's required to understand, and yes, even enjoy, Rebirth.  So, once again, I applaud Johns for his skill to explain without explaining.  He didn't always write this way.  He's been practicing a lot in "The Darkseid War" in Justice League.  The subtlety and drama of Rebirth’s narrative exposition exhibits an achievement.  

I don't care for everything in Rebirth or everything being hinted at in Rebirth, but I like it a lot more than I thought I would.  It will be easier to go through the things I don't like first since these items tie into the improvements of the new 52.


Overall I hated the post-Crisis.  Johns does not discern the difference between the pre-Crisis heroes and the post-Crisis versions, nor the new 52 incarnations.  To Johns, they are all one.  To me, stark differences are obvious.  


While the post-Crisis began with good intentions, it quickly descended into a foul darkness.  Particularly with Batman, but the new 52 under the direction of Gail Simone, fixed that.  Batgirl no longer crippled, and Batman no longer heartless.  


I state the above objectively.  In general, I don't like Gail Simone's writing.  I find her work sloppy, lacking in drama with a bizarre unfunny sense of humor, but she focused for two to three arcs on Batgirl before losing sight of the star and falling in love with her miserable creation Ricky, car jacker with a heart of gold caught in a bear trap.

Another difference in characterization can be found in the relationship between Green Arrow and Black Canary.  To be fair, only Alex Toth really got their involvement right.  Outside of Toth, at the very best Green Arrow was overly possessive of Black Canary.  Their relationship wasn’t really pleasant to witness in the pre-Crisis, but tolerable.  In the post-Crisis, things got progressively worse, Green Arrow neglected the Canary and cheated on her.  To artificially build the Arrow’s strength, Mike Grell in The Longbow Hunters orchestrated the Black Canary’s torture by knife-wielding pudgy guy.  Never you mind that Black Canary possesses a sonic cry that can level a building.


I honestly stopped liking Green Arrow when he started growing a beard and went political, but his treatment of the Black Canary cemented my opinion of the jerk.  I’m mostly a liberal by the way.  Still don’t like Green Arrow.  The new 52 Green Arrow is a solid super-hero who never met the Black Canary.  I would have liked it kept that way because Black Canary flourished without him and Green Arrow contributed positively to Justice League United.


I don’t want to see these two together again because even if Johns somehow manages to tap into the Toth vibe, and I don’t think he will, everybody else will fuck it up.  Even the best writing will come to naught because some other hack will think its a cool idea to have Ollie being dick-bait for women.  So these two should stay as far apart from each other as possible.

I have other caveats that are spoilers.  So let’s get to what I liked in Rebirth.  I like that Johns believes Batman is reasonable and personable.  There’s no basis for the narrator to recognize this sanity in Batman since most of his interaction with the Dark Knight occurred in the post-Crisis where Batman had been mostly portrayed as an automaton, but nuts to that.  Johns imagines something better, and who am I to stop him?  The narrator even refers to Batman as “Bruce.”  This flies in the face of the post-Crisis nobody can know Batman’s secret identity routine even the crippled girl who refers to him as “Bruce” in The Killing Joke.  Now, I know that particular noisome instance was alleviated and quickly, but I wanted to demonstrate that the post-Crisis started displaying its stupidity early.  I still hate the post-Crisis with a blazing passion.  Sue me.


Dr. Fate returns to costume and discards the Puma Man slacks.


That was just an awful idea.  From the new 52.  So, yeah.  Every era has its assets and faults.  Dr. Fate wears one of the best costume designs in the DCU, and you make him wear slacks.


Ted Cord is back, young and filled with optimism.  He's not a goof like he was in the Giffin/DeMatteis/Maguire League, which I enjoyed, but Johns proves Ted can be valid without being dark or slapstick.  Johns reintroduces a number of inheritors as sidekicks.  This at once brings diversity to the DCU without losing the heroes we actually want to see like Ray Palmer as the Atom.  Johns gives these proteges dignity, and not all the relationships are repetitive.


Aquaman and Mera have an awesome working and personal relationship filled with humor and love.  Because Johns is intimately familiar with these two, it’s like he never left Aquaman.

Now we get to a really delicate matter.  Rebirth is narrated by a character who is for all intents and purposes lost.  He confronts people he knows, but they do not him.  When he faces one champion, it’s an excruciating moment played absolutely perfect by Johns.  Lacking arrogance, our narrator instead thanks the hero for all he has done.  The crimefighter in turn realizes that to have such conviction, the narrator must be speaking true.  It’s a moment of superb drama.  It’s a moment that reminds you once again why you invested in myths that became so malleable it seemed like they would never shake off their crippling.  The new 52 proved me wrong.  Rebirth just may do the same.


Previously a mysterious operative known as Corvid united Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery to work for enemy organization THRUSH.  Though at first, UNCLE agents Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin believed Bruce Wayne to be a THRUSH pawn, they teamed up with Batman, Robin and Batgirl to thwart their plans. 

Corvid revealed himself to be somebody close to home in Gotham’s constabulary.  He then took the agents and the Batman Family to a THRUSH undersea base and proceeded to induce a rigorous program of brainwashing.

Jeff Parker’s story is a fine example of meshing pop culture icons.  THRUSH doesn’t want to rule a cinder.  THRUSH wants to dominate the entire population of the planet.  An operative like Corvid would be a remarkable asset to their aims.  Instead of fighting UNCLE, THRUSH would be able to suborn them, which is essentially in THRUSH’s mission statement.

In the last issue, we saw ample exemplars of Corvid’s brainwashing technique.  This issue opens with the mastermind apparently chipping away at the Batman Family’s and UNCLE’s mental defenses.  I like how Corvid is willing to follow through.  He understands that persuading men like UNCLE and Batman and women like Batgirl to switch sides will not be sudden but incremental.  For that reason, Corvid allows the Batman Family and UNCLE a certain quantity of freedom within the base.  He has no choice.  

However, Corvid’s scheme is ultimately doomed to fail.  Not because he won’t eventually penetrate his subjects' willpower.  I have not doubt given an infinite amount of time, Batman and UNCLE would break.  Batman however is a practical doctor of criminal psychology.  He doesn’t need mind-control to shatter THRUSH’s happy family.

With everybody now on board, the fun kicks into high gear.  The villains use their gimmicks for sabotage on behalf of Batman and UNCLE.  Parker’s villains delight in mischief, any kind of mischief.  Such emotions highlight their derangement, even if based on a family friendly style.

Parker during the escape relates the differences between UNCLE and Batman.  


This will be a running joke through the remainder of the story, and it’s a fine choice to make the black sheep Solo the one who wishes to see total destruction.  

Parker’s last twist should shock nobody.  The villains double-cross the heroes because they are villains, and Batman uses science to overcome the obstacles to pursuit.  

If you haven’t bought Batman and the Man from UNCLE, do yourself a favor and pick up the hardback collection coming soon.  Parker’s story is a strong tribute to both shows, and the art by David Hahn, Karl Kesel and colorist Madpencil is a uniformly beautiful compliment to the actors and actresses that essayed the starring roles. 

The Adventures of Supergirl throws Supergirl’s best friend Winn Schott to the law dogs of National City.  Has Toy Man’s son reverted to his father’s ways, or is there something more afoot? If you chose B, you're correct.  Kara investigates the charges against Winn, but at first in a most un-Kryptonian fashion. 


The panels neatly take Supergirl out of the comics and into the real world.  I’ve heard of the horrible things women must endure to establish an internet presence, and it’s disgusting.  Kara’s offhand comment to James establishes a verisimilitude that the television show just might have used.

As Supergirl delves deeper into Cyberspace, she uncovers what appears to be an a.i. created by Winn, and the helpful Daemon identifies Winn under threat.  Shades of Person of Interest.  Except the whole thing is a sham.


It’s no spoiler to reveal Sterling Gates’ nemesis for the Girl of Steel.  It’s Vril Dox, the green Colouan on the cover.  If you’re not familiar with Colou or Vril Dox, not to worry.  Gates creates a new identity for the continuity head of LEGION involving the Kryptonian stronghold Fort Rozz and a new home planet.  Supergirl by the way already featured Melissa Vanderhoot as Brainiac, going by the name Indigo.  So, that precludes linkage.


Supergirl and Winn employ some local help to defeat the Doxing Darling.  Gates’ strong creation exhibits all sorts of traits defying the stereotype of a typical hacker. Rabiah Zinoman is a wonderful guest-star, and I hope she returns.

If you’re worried about there being no actual action in The Adventures of Supergirl, worry no longer.


Yeah.  Supergirl is as feisty as ever.  This story could have been a kind of throwaway piece of fluff, but Gates has a lot to say about how women are treated in the cyberworld, and how keeping one’s secrets is about personal dignity.

As you can judge by the graphics, the art splits in two with a distinctive cartoony look in the opening chapters by Johnboy Meyers and a more realistic appearance from Pop Mahn in the second part.  Both should clash.  Instead, they agree with  each other.

The Doctor on occasion meets himself.  Past incarnations team-up or get thrown together, usually by the Time Lords.  However, the Doctor doesn’t usually meet himself.  That is in the same form, but when the ninth Doctor encounters himself on an alien planet, he has his well-founded doubts that this showboating explosive expert is the genuine article.  He’s not alone.  Investigator Estiva arrested the Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness, and she unveils a keen mind.


Writer Cavan Scott invests quite a bit of character to the Investigator.  As much as she’s interested in the mystery, she also exhibits the depth to care about Yani.


The Doctor, Jack and the Investigator hunt down the culprits of the impersonation.  What they find is the equivalent of a gun-moll and a dead-end.  The contagious excitement, the rapid pace, the alien presence cognizant of the Doctor and the Time Lords, the Doctor’s take-charge attitude all mirror Series One perfectly.  Scott though goes beyond the solid action of Doctor Who.  He also touches on the series' humanistic approach. 


If that’s enough of an enticement, go no further in the review.  Otherwise…

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Rose tried to find out who the fake Doctor might be.  Imagine her surprise when he unzipped his head.  It turns out that the crime family Slitheen are up to their old tricks again, taking revenge on the Doctor by sullying his reputation and using his form to stage a coup on Raxacoricofallapatorius.


Rose’s fury over the death of the Doctor of course is misplaced.  We know the Doctor lives to even surpass his regenerative cycle.  The story takes place in the future where the Slitheen needn’t kill anybody and can select somebody regardless of size.  Thus, Scott diminishes the Slitheen’s claim to fame as deadly arch-villains even farther, but these somewhat inept intergalactic conmen always did share more in common with the Apple Dumpling Gang than the Sontarans or the Krals.


Artist Andriano Melo and Matheus Lopes are students of Series One Doctor Who actors.  The accuracy with the likenesses helps frame Rose’s fire and lends greater strength to Scott’s expert mimicry of Christopher Eccleston’s delivery.


Any book based on the number one Blaxploitation hero that starts out defining Mimesis deserves to be read.  Writer David Walker ties in Shaft’s musing of Mimesis with the subtitle of Dynamite’s latest Shaft mini-series.  The Imitation of Life.


Shaft’s easy meta job was to become a consultant for a Blaxploitation movie.  Trouble is the mob banked the picture, and the money ran out.  With no influx, the mob abducted the star.  So, Shaft against his better judgment does the moral thing.


Before Shaft decided to vacation with an easy job, he attempted to locate a missing gay teen named Mike Prosser, who goes by the name Angel Face.  All this coincided with meeting another gay man named Tito Salazar, who was looking for his boyfriend.  Tito’s case turned out to have a happy ending.  Tito though felt he owed Shaft for the attempt to investigate and to ultimately save his life.  He found Mike.  All three cases intertwined into a neat little bow, and all Shaft thinks he must do is pay the man to get the actor back.

The Big Bad however doesn’t have all his marbles.  He’s a deranged evil business man that’s about to find out that Shaft is one bad mother fu—



The explosive finale to Shaft satisfies on a number of levels.  First, it’s a wonderful visceral moment rendered by artist Dietrich Smith.  I just love that snarl.  It’s so Shaft.  Second, it demonstrates the extrapolation of filth.  Peraino isn’t just a porn kingpin.  He’s not just making adult films with volunteers.  He’s inducing sexual slavery, implying even more nastiness.  In short, he deserves Shaft.  Third, the elliptical evolution of Tito Salazar is surprising and welcome.  I fully expected a different ending for Shaft’s unwanted sidekick.  Fourth, the punchiline involving the finished Blaxploitation product is just magnificent.  “Imitation of Life” is considerably lighter in tone than the origin story of Shaft, and although the conclusion is easily the darkest of the chapters, its sense of humor is still a prominent feature.



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