Tuesday, May 2, 2017

POBB April 26, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag 
April 26, 2017
Ray Tate

Pick of the Brown Bag returns with a week's worth of reviews.  I'll look at Action Comics, Batgirl, Batman and the Shadow, Batman and Wonder Woman, The Flash, Elektra, The Mighty Thor, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Satellite Falling and The Ultimates.

Satellite Falling began with the introduction of Lilly, a human cab driver on the orbiting alien colony Satellite.  She's really a bounty hunter.  Under the auspices of the local police, Lilly brings down an interstellar crime syndicate using technological tricks rather than the organic ones of the wide diversity of aliens.  Lilly digs diversity.

Not just in terms of sex but also in general.  That love for a plethora isn't shared by all of humanity.  Throughout Satellite Falling writer Steve Horton emphasized Lilly's unusual strength of character.  

Satellite Falling #3

However, he treated her open-minded attitudes, along with the implication of humanity's racism, as background noise.  Satellite Falling was about Lilly, her survival as a troubleshooter and her grief for her deceased love Eva.  Last issue Horton and remarkable artist Stephen Thompson drew the racism themes to the fore.  Still it seemed that this disturbing flashback only meant to flesh Lilly out further and explain why she left earth.

Satellite Falling #1

Last issue, Lilly's off-on gender-switching lover Police Chief Zaim asked her to not investigate a tantalizing mystery.  This wasn't normal.  The police sometimes used duress to force Lilly into working for them.  Now, they were trying to shoo her away.  Eva you see had a doppelgänger, and she was dirty.  Lilly of course didn't listen.  She put together her own team and set out to uncover the truth.

Unfortunately, she and her team were too late.  Lilly watched the Big Bad's freighter slaughter the police boats.  Among the dead, her friend/lover/pain in her ass.  This issue is about one thing.

Lilly seeks revenge but the story opens into new territory.  Lilly becomes not just a bounty hunter.  She becomes the savior of the colony.  Thrilling and thoughtful, Satellite Falling is back and not to be missed.

The Ultimates.  So, I can't fully review The Ultimates.  It's so unpredictable that spoilers can occur within hair-widths.  If you like to be surprised, check out Al Ewing's twisty little narrative in which pieces set in previous volumes up the game.  The story decides the fate of Galactus.  The sanctioning of the Ultimates finds resolution, and conclusion dovetails into America, answering one of my nagging questions.  Oh, and Black Panther and Captain Marvel still despise each other.  I can tell you that.

Electra is trapped in Arcade's Murderworld, along with cannon fodder targets reflecting various celebrity groups.

As Elektra progresses through the levels, she remembers a particularly horrible mission with Daredevil.  This memory  motivates her to fight back without quarter.

The strong issue juxtaposes Arcade's snuff film greed against the action choreography of Juann Cabal.  A potent mix.

The Mighty Thor concludes the Shi'ar godwar story in blustery Asgardian fashion.  That section of the story is easy to ken.  The Shi'ar gods whom I never heard of until Thor, get their just deific comeuppance, but then they pull a fast one that leaves me confused.  Naturally, it involves the X-Men.  Though the means resulted in head-scratching, the ends provide a lot of entertainment, including the Imperial Guard spectacularly betraying their masters, and a terrific take on the running gag in Ant-Man.

This issue of Action Comics acts as a roadmap to the restored Superman’s history.  The Powers That Be chose to pick and choose from a number of Superman myths.  For example, John Byrne’s Superman announces himself by saving an experimental plane and kicking off the post-Crisis era of comics.  The restored Superman debuts through Richard Donner homage.

This is perfectly fine by me.  The “You’ve-got-me-who’s-got-you” scene between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder is pure gold.  I like the not exact take now being official.  I furthermore like the revved up Lois Lane.

The new history reincorporates the staff and the morale of the nineteen seventies Daily Planet including Steve Lombard, sportscaster and practical joker.  Lois however is kinder.  She immediately takes a liking to Clark, and this differs from absolutely every era of Superman except the New 52, where Lois and Clark are best friends.  Originally, Lois thought Clark was a milksop.  That carried over through Bronze Age.  The whole idea of the restored Superman Family is to retroactively combat the trope of opposites attracting.  Rather, Lois likes Clark.  Clark likes Lois.  A relationship grows organically.  Marriage is inevitable.  Lois and Clark's married life also differs strongly from what we’ve seen recently.

All I wanted from Lois Lane was a spark of life, rather than a social conservative’s wet dream of womanhood.  The pilots of the Superman titles remedy this unwittingly sexist oversight with Lois Lane having a life outside the farm and motherhood.  She had a secret identity as an expose-writing author, and she and Clark never actually leave The Daily Planet for long.

In addition to these changes the Justice League have been around much longer.  The Geoff Johns/Jim Lee debut still counts as does its new 52 history.  There’s also a solid reason for Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman being a trinity.

What’s not in this mix is Superman and Wonder Woman as a couple, which a helluva lot of people didn’t like in the first place.  Me? I didn’t actually care and didn’t think it would last.  Historically Superman and Lois end up together.  The run of Superman and Wonder Woman may still count, just without the romance.  Batman’s partnership with Superman is legendary in every era, and the new 52 was never an exception.  So it didn't need a change.  DC merely refined it, placing Batman in key moments, in Superman's life.

Previous Superboys and Supergirls also fall by the wayside in the new history.  Superman is still killed by Doomsday.  False Supermen and Steel arise, but no leather-jacked Superboy and no new 52 Con-El.  What’s surprising about this move is that its intelligently motivated.  Both versions of Superboy had their fans.  DC eliminates them all the same.  The new 52 is all about clarity and cooperation.  The Powers don’t even complicate Superman’s resurrection with Dr. Occult, who played a role.  Smart.  Surprisingly smart.

Batman and Wonder Woman concludes with several clever moves.  These aren't true spoilers, but if you'd like to know nothing about the issue, and just want a recommendation, you've got it.  Drop down to the Batgirl cover.

Still here? Okay, then.  The story began in a hedge maze at Wayne Manor, and it ends in the labyrinth where the Amazons imprison their criminals.

You have to appreciate the wit and wile in that.  I wonder which maze came first.  Talia's conflicted feelings for Batman complicate matters, as usual.  Ra's Al-Ghul's easy escape becomes anything but.  The cavalry arrives in the splendid form of Amazon imagery.  An unexpected but should have been expected guest star also exhibits perfect timing.

Finally, and most unexpectedly, Catwoman finds a means out of Batman's custody that's appropriate and indicative of Amazon culture.  I recommend the entire miniseries.

It's another crappy issue of Batgirl.  The cover leads you to  believe Batgirl spotlights a father-daughter team-up extraordinaire.  The cover lies.  

There’s no vaulting or dodging of bullets.  However, you may if you strike this issue of Batgirl from your list.  Batgirl only consults with Jim Gordon in the aftermath of Ethan's attack on his father's nightclub. 

Heaven forbid Babs actually attempt to stop an attack in progress.  Cause that would be exciting.  Since returning to Burnside, Babs has only managed to deal with petty crimes and the Kylo Ren of criminals.   

She hasn't used an iota of the martial arts she honed on her Asian trip.  Hope Larson also wrote the road trip.  So I don't understand the problem with incorporating Babs' sharper battle prowess here like she did over there.  Larson instead embraces hyperfocus.

Some hocus-pocus that's supposed to be a reservoir of impossible knowledge that Babs can tap into if she shuts off her natural eidetic memory.  Here's the trigger.  While Babs chats with her friends, Ethan hacks a car and launches it at her.

This is what Babs can "see" with her hyperfocus.

Rubbish!  Sherlock Holmes could not have possibly predicted the entire back story that led to the crash at glance.  There are no clues and none of the driver’s history was remotely necessary.  It all boils down to Ethan hacked the car.  Oh, and if Babs was going to use magic anyhow, she could have tuned in to the small riots at the Iceberg.  Also impossible, but at least, we might have had some action.

Ethan is the Penguin’s son.  This is why the chapter begins with Babs playing ping-pong against the Penguin in Ethan’s apartment.

I admire the originality of the depiction.  It’s a departure from the typical poker or chess moment in a story.  Neither of the participants own the apartment.  So the Penguin cannot offer Batgirl the niceties of hospitality.  The Penguin isn’t trying to threaten Babs.  Nor visa-versa.  So they have to pass the time in some way while they chat.  Furthermore, Batgirl and the Penguin are in character for this scene.  I’d actually say that this is the best instance in the whole book if not for the moment when Babs deals with an eager young space cadet.

This is of course the Michael Keaton Batman Back Fist.
Babs is a member of the Batman Family, and it’s fitting that she use that move.  

The reasons why however are depressing.  Batgirl set herself up as a honeytrap to get closer to Ethan.  Ethan dumps her this issue, and it hurts her feelings.  The tactic was beneath Batgirl in the first place.  It garnered no useable intel, endangered her friends’ lives and created a lousy soap opera.

As any reader of this blog will attest, I am a fan of Batman and the Shadow, but canon means something to me.  I see the bona fide Shadow as the character that Walter B. Gibson shaped into being.  The idea began in somebody else’s head, but Gibson was the creative force behind the Shadow.

Gibson’s Shadow is Kent Allard, a World War I Flying Ace, who upon returning home saw a world where criminals preyed upon the innocent.  Allard created a new persona based on his nickname The Dark Eagle and employed all the skills he learned on his travels, including taking the place of socialite Lamont Cranston.  Many who are aware of the Shadow believe this to be his true identity.

The Shadow was the ultimate stage magician and performed tricks that other prestidigitators could only dream about.  Magicians don’t break the laws of physics, they exploit them to create an illusion of mysticism, and the Shadow was no different.   Throughout The Private Annals of the Shadow, we see him engage in disappearing acts, sleight of hand, ventriloquism, secret messaging and mesmerism.  He enacted justice by punching .45 caliber holes in his quarry and forged a network of trusted agents to gather clues and perform important tasks on his behalf.  Harry Vincent, Burbank, Myra Reldon, Shrevvy, Clyde Burke just to name a few were the magician’s assistants.

A lot of what’s known of the Shadow to newcomers arises from the nineties work of Howard Chaykin.  I have no beef with Chaykin.  I’m a fan of his Dominic Fortune/the Scorpion, but he sucks as a Shadow writer, and I’m not all that fond of his Shadow art either.  Chaykin turned the Shadow into a pig of a man.  Not in corpulence, but in his attitudes.  Especially toward women.  He introduced the idea that any woman could be the Shadow's conquest simply because women no matter how liberated secretly want to be dominated.  Thus, a brainy woman that protests the Shadow at first falls under the Shadow's newfound sexual sway and refers to him as “Master."  This was garbage.

Batman already met the Shadow twice before: Batman #253 and #259.  It was in the latter that I first read of the Shadow, accurately presented in the comics.  

In Batman #253, the Shadow, old but spry, approves of Batman as his successor.  In Batman #259 the Shadow comes out of retirement to help Bruce face a psychological trauma.  In this latest story, the slate of history wiped clean, Batman and the Shadow fight each other.

Aren't we done with this obsession yet? The Shadow and Batman would not fight.  They're on the same side, and how can it be that Batman the arch-criminologist doesn’t recognize the Shadow, even as a myth?  When Batman confronts the surviving Shadow agents we get the usual flatulence of writing: deconstructive resentment and hate.

How quaint.  Harry Vincent became a senile fool.  He forgot that he agreed to the Shadow's proposal on the bridge.  

Harry knew what he was getting into, and his gun metaphor—I presume it’s a metaphor—doesn’t make a lick of sense.

I can see how a relation might misinterpret a Shadow agent's sense of duty.  Shrevvy volunteered his cab because the Shadow helped him out of a jam.  He was proud to be a Shadow agent, and I can’t believe that he wouldn’t have conveyed that pride in some way.

Batman/Shadow plays mainly to Chaykin-bias.  The Shadow isn’t a good guy.  His agents secretly despise him.  They’ve grown old and bitter.  The Shadow is immortal.  The Shadow’s not in the game to save lives and make the world a better place.  

He’s in it to satisfy a psychological need.  What traditional Shadow fans get is the superficial.  He at least looks like the Shadow, but he doesn’t act the part.  He’s instead stupid.  He needlessly attacks Batman with the murder weapon.  If there’s some rationale in the Shadow’s actions, they escape me.  How can the Shadow be this dumb?  

A much better team up can be found in The Flash.  Batman and the Flash continue their investigation of the Watchman button.  Last issue, a villain from the past, so to speak, dueled Batman in the Batcave.  Only Batman’s observational skills saved him from death, but the villain paid a price when he attempted to solve the mystery of the Button.

Batman recuperates from the encounter, and he and the Flash compare notes.  There’s a nice bit of congruity that writer Joshua Williamson notes about the characters.

The idea of Batman and Flash chatting about criminology over coffee in the Watchtower gives them personality and establishes friendship.  The final issue of Flashpoint hinted at the camaraderie, and the idea of Wally West first appearing in the Batcave cemented the connection.

With Batman convalescing, the Flash investigates the case on his own, or so he thinks.

One of the best things about the new 52 is its cohesiveness.  During the post-Crisis, writers and editors harbored this bizarre notion that Batman was a street-level vigilante, shouldn't be playing with the Justice League and immediately needs to be suspicious of superpowers and superheroes.  That ship sailed the moment Batman met Superman for the first time in the 1950s.  

Since then Batman lived in the same world as all the other DC Legends.  That didn’t stop Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams redefining Batman in the seventies.  It also didn’t hurt the sales of Brave and the Bold.  A darker but sensible Batman also worked fine in the Justice League of America.  I admit that Batman’s admission of time travel may tickle only me, but I think it speaks volumes of how far the DCU has come.

Scooby-Doo and the gang meet up with the Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams Green Arrow and Green Lantern.  Some of Sholly Fisch's send-up works.  He demonstrates how painfully dated these redefinitions are.

In that scene, Shaggy is the character that sounds the most reasonable.  Anyway, Fisch's script draws on the split between Lantern the social conservative and Arrow the liberal, but our mystery-solving friends who represent cliques that are far older and more ingrained than politics keep a level head to dope out a villain behind the animosity.

Of course, there's a brilliant gag in that scene for those who pay attention.  Then, there's a surprise guest-star that saves the day at the conclusion.  I don't want to spoil anything, but fans of the character might want to know and not miss a special appearance to add to their collection.  So, drop down below for the image.


And yes, Dario Brizuella draws her breathtakingly as well.

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