Monday, June 20, 2016

POBB June 15, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 15, 2016
Ray Tate

It’s the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review blog of comic books.  I’m Ray Tate.  I’ll be your critical tour guide to Rebirth Batman, Rebirth Green Lanterns, Justice League and Rebirth Titans.  I'll also laud and/or raspberry Simpsons Comics, Spider-Gwen and Vote Loki.   Teensy-tiny versions of my reviews can be found on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Strangely, I’m supportive of DC’s latest polyglot of the multiverse.  Here’s why.  Overall, so far, it’s a good story.  The villains of the piece are well known as is their metaphor.  They are a group of characters you wouldn’t expect to come traipsing into the DCU.  No, it’s not the Avengers.  Seek out Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s Avengers/Justice League for that.  Absolute Edition if you saved your pennies.

Rebirth isn’t a reboot.  It’s not throwing away the shiny new 52 where Batgirl is fully mobile and where Batman is a humanist as well as the “world’s greatest detective.”  These are our heroes.  The new 52 gave us the quintessential, and that’s what we get in Rebirth.  

The ties that bind are already strong in the new 52, and although I’m totally against some of the restorations attempted, I see no harm in drawing upon good memories and re-establishing old friendships, as long as the bad ones aren’t dredged up.

The plot thickens in three out of four Rebirth titles.  Despite the lack of a Rebirth banner Justice League is a Rebirth prologue.

Set ten years before Rebirth, Justice League aims to explain how the Enemy breached the League’s universe in the first place.   Writer Dan Abnett in addition tries to create a crackerjack story featuring none other than Dick Grayson, the original Robin.

Under the stealth guise of an inventory issue, Justice League is actually hugely significant.  This is in fact the only moment where we actually experience an original Robin tale, with respect to the new 52.  Sure.  We’ve had glimpses and vignettes, but this is classic Batman and Robin working with the Justice League in a full-length story, which in itself is a first in any era if you don’t count The Super-Friends.

Batman and Robin are more like father than son than the antagonists of the post-Crisis.  Justice League is a retroactive reboot where Robin never wore short pants, Batman never forbade Dick from being Robin and where Batman and Robin/Nighwing pretty much got along fine.  Scenes involving this asshole never happened.

Justice League gibes with the timeline my friend and I figured out for the new 52.  

It also connects nicely with the idea of the Justice League forming in the waning years of the Bush Administration. This story furthermore predates the history Robin has with Superman as part of the World’s Finest team.

You would think that since Superman is dead in the present day, he would have a grander part in the story.  Instead, Superman mainly stays in the background for superhero punching.  

Although when he speaks, he sounds like the real deal, not the Man of Sphincters from another universe.  Abnett's current character Aquaman joins Superman on the outskirts of the focus. 

Robin interacts with Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash and surprisingly Cyborg.  The last time Cyborg had such an active role in the Justice League occurred during Forever Evil.  In any case, each character is written superbly.  Each expresses interesting dialogue and acts the part.

The story begins with Batman taking Robin to the Satellite and introducing him to the Justice League during the address of an emergency in Metropolis.  Things don't start swimmingly for the feeling out of his depth Robin.

The Dynamic Duo check in for an unusual crisis.  Abnett uses an old explanation for Fortean phenomena as the gist for the story and a run up to Rebirth.  No accident he uses crisis.  It's the watch word for multiple earth engagement.

There's so much more cleverness.   Abnett demonstrates Batman's pure detective knowledge.  Fortean phenomena is so silly and harmless that Batman could have only been motivated by pure curiosity to investigate it.

There's something special about the Dark Knight knowing about Charles Fort.  The knowledge expands his characterization by projecting him away from his plot-based vengeance/caped crusader history.  Giving him greater depth in an unusual way.

When the League arrive at the scene, they discover three menaces: War Hounds from Apokolips, specifically those from Legends, a Colouan from Legion of Super-Heroes lore and Mammoth from  The New Teen Titans.  The League at first can't make a dent in the War Hounds, but Batman and Robin succeed where the super powered fail.

In the process, each Justice Leaguer who at first wary of the child hero turns to Robin who begins to deduce what's going on.  The League including Hal Jordan are also cool enough to give Robin accolades.  Abnett aware of the Mary Sue as well as Charles Fort phenomena takes care not to diminish the League as he supports Robin.  Abnett gives each Leaguer a moment, and Wonder Woman particularly excels.

Of course Abnett’s words could have been lost in the wash of bad art, but as you can see Paul Pelletier probably just itching at the chance for another shot at the Justice League doesn’t waste his moment in the sun.  All the of the League look fantastic and formidable.  His updated Robin fits in perfectly, and Sandra Hope deserves kudos for conscientious inks that only serve to emphasize the subtleties in Pelletier’s pencils.  Colorist Adriano Lucas shows you what a super-hero book should look like.  Action Comics team take notes.

Justice League is a stand alone.  The book however touches upon long ranging aspects that according to the blurb continues in the Titans.  If it does I have no idea how.

Granted.  The Titans is a Rebirth issue, but it's a total feel good reunion between the Titans and Wally West, whom the Flash is fittingly oblivious to in Justice League.  Barry only remembers Wally years later in Rebirth.

When the new 52 began, it began without the old Teen Titans.  There were on and off hints that Nightwing knew and fell for Starfire, but Cyborg one of the creations of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, arose only with the formation of the Justice League.  Beast Boy wound up in the new 52 Teen Titans which were composed of mostly reinvented post-Crisis teen heroes.  Oh, and lest you forget.  Donna Troy only recently returned in the most inauspicious manner.  I’ll not exacerbate the point with a repeated image.  That would be really mean.  Instead, enjoy a Nick Cardy cover of The Teen Titans, courtesy of the Grand Comics Database.

Donna Troy is a continuity headache almost equal to Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  The problems began in the post-Crisis.  George Perez removed Wonder Woman from history.  Roy Thomas supplied various Justice Society substitutes for Wonder Woman.  Black Canary assumed Wonder Woman’s role in the JLA.  John Byrne then restored Wonder Woman to history, albeit Hippolyta.  For no good reason he also attempted to give Donna Troy a new origin.  During and after, Donna Troy became a multiple casualty of logjam.  Here’s another great Nick Cardy cover.

In the new 52, Donna is something else entirely.  On the bright side, Terry Long doesn't exist, and Donna's origin is a lot simpler and concrete now.  She getting her memories back probably won't change a thing except her characterization.  

You can imagine a scene where Donna says, "Well, technically pissed off Amazons formed me out of magic clay to be a replacement for Wonder Woman, but I'm actually her sister from another space and time.  Groovy, isn't it?”  Have a Jim Aparo cover.

This is actually a pretty cool issue where the Titans essentially become the Mod Squad.

Although the Powers That Be appear to be content with returning the Titans to comics, they are not turning back the clock to the sixties.  Instead, the Titans' memories exist within the context of the new 52.  So Speedy remembers Green Arrow.  He wasn't however a drug addict.  Some fans will consistently be upset that DC isn't restoring everything, but that would be hilariously clumsy if they did.  Still you got to give them credit for some incredibly obscure Titans continuity.

I don’t actually remember Lilith and Kid Flash being an item.  It vaguely sounds right.  So maybe I saw them kiss or something way back in the day.  Either that, or she’s substituting for Raven, who was reintroduced in the new 52 already.  Kid Flash and Raven were an item.  At least he wanted them to be.  

In summary, the Teen Titans are back.  Their memories have been restored.  Donna's no longer a black hole of continuity slag.  Bonus.  No Terry Long.  

The Enemy attacks Batman where he lives, metaphorically and literally.  This attack however is more subtle than the others.  Within an intricate setup, Kobra operatives prove just as effective as they were during the Bronze Age.

The shadowy figure is part of Rebirth, in what capacity remains as  unseen as the person of interest's precise identity.  For whatever reason, this stranger kills the Kobra stooge to acquire the armaments he stole.  He then shoots a surface to air missile to down a plane in Gotham City.  Batman's no fool.

The unavailability of the Justice League, and they will hate themselves when they find out about this event, added to the death of Superman forces Batman to perform the absolutely bat-shit crazy.

There's a Batman Out There!

Now, nobody else could convincingly carry out what mathematical madness Batman performs, and writer Tom King takes full advantage of Batman's resonance.  Theoretically Batman's absolutely insane idea can work, but if Captain Gerbil Man had attempted such a feat, you would not could not believe it.  Batman? Of course, he can do it.  He's Batman.

As per usual, Batman is fully willing to sacrifice himself to save the innocent, and he touchingly says his goodbyes and personally philosophizes.  It's nice to see Alfred one hundred percent on board with his Master Bruce, and not trying to talk him out of the plan.  There's just one Spock of a choice to be made, and Alfred sees that.

Fortunately, new characters debut just in the nick of time, and if they are part of the Enemy's plan and not perhaps unwitting pawns in the chess game, the Enemy is an idiot.  The Enemy should have let Batman die.  If the Enemy thinks he can play with Batman or that it's better to demoralize him into thinking his usefulness is at an end, the Enemy is freaking brain-dead.

The Guardians or the Corps called Hal Jordan off planet, which is why Batman can’t get in touch with him.  In his place, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz are the partnered Lanterns of Sector 2814.  The Rebirth issue introducing them was perfect.  This story lives up to exactly what I feared.  A cursory glance at their lives, followed by the incursion of some stupid Lucky Charms ring wielders that I’m supposed to know but don’t.  Lord Atrocious.  His Harley Quinn fashioned henchwench.  Bah.

The Radioactive Spider-Gwen shares the same problem as Green Lanterns.  It’s basically clean up after Spider-Women a mini-series that kind of sucked.   So there’s a lot of confusion this issue. Spider-Gwen is apparently now hooked on the substance that gives her powers back.  Taken away at some point in Spider-Women.  She’s also doing a lot of vacillating with the Mary Janes.  Whether or not she can be Spider-Gwen and a drummer at the same time.  Boring until Frank Castle shows up, which happens at the end.

Vote Loki is simply too inane to be funny and too silly to be satire.  Loki spins a lie to make himself eligible to throw his helmet in the ring.  Along the way, he tries to convince journalist Nisa Contreres who experienced his villainy first hand that he's cleaned up his act.  The gags are fairly predictable, even when Loki becomes a woman again to score some sympathetic PR.  Loki doesn't even hide the cynicism in politics.  He instead thrives on it and treats it as a joke. Guest-stars Angela and Thor might peak your interest, but only for a brief moment.

Simpsons Comics on the other hand is a masterful two tale comedy fiesta.  The first story bears some resemblance to “Three Men and a Comic Book.”  However, the video game motif allows for a line of antics courtesy of James Lloyd, Andrew Pepoy and Art Villanueva.

As impressive as all of this is, Homer’s comeback at the end provides the most impact with a terrific crayon-shifting moment.

The second tale by Tony Digerolamo pulls Marge out of retirement from the force.

Somebody has stolen all the doughnuts from Springfield, and Marge stands by her man in his time of need.  She will find the culprit and the sugary booty.

Marge and Chief Wiggum smash through numerous absurd crime rings in police-action filled moments by Jason Ho that mimic the excitement of a Streets of San Francisco opening.  Always better than the program itself.  When Marge and Wiggum track down the doughnut thieves, the solution is a hilarious moment of callous villainy that spurts into the science fiction arena.

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