Tuesday, August 29, 2017

POBB August 23, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 23, 2017
Ray Tate

Hello.  My name is Ray Tate, and each week I review the current batch of comic books in my Brown Bag.  Today I examine Action Comics, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Harley Quinn, Heathen, Red Sonja, Scooby-Doo Team-up and Shirtless Bear Fighter.  As always if you haven’t time for the in depth reviews, you can check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.  

Though Lex Luthor will become Superman’s arch-nemesis in all media.  He did not appear in Superman’s titles until Action Comics #23.  

The Luthor you see looks and acts little like the more familiar model.  Don’t worry.  Luthor exchanges his Ming the Merciless pajamas for a business suit in Superman #4 printed a month later.  

Luthor returns inexplicably bald in Superman #10.  He’s not exactly the ideal Luthor, but he’s getting there.  

For the better part of seventy years, Lex Luthor pitted his intelligence against Kal-El’s gamut of alien power in the quest for world domination.  Because that’s what you did if you were nuts and smart.  The trouble is that as real history progressed, Luthor’s original motives became passé.  Luthor started losing a rationale to kill Superman.  The powers that be tried real hard to find one.  

I intend to become the wealthiest man on earth. Only Superman stands in my way.  Superman caused my hair loss and must die! I hate the earth and all its people.  It must die!  Clark Kent possesses a secret that I must know even if it drives me mad! Mad, I tell you! That Big Red S is the one obstacle that impedes my total economic success in dealing arms and other lethal devices to world powers.  Wait.  Maybe Luthor’s a Xenophobe.  Yeah, that’s it.  

The Powers That Be finally had to admit.  If Luthor is really, really intelligent, he could not help reaching an epiphany.  The world sure as hell needs a Superman.  Humans are as tiny as Precambrian lifeforms and the dinosaurs.  Luthor may hate Superman for whatever reason, but he’s sharp enough to go beyond personal feeling and realize that “this is a job for Superman!”  

The new 52 came along and kicked over the nostalgic house of cards.  The writers imbued Lex with more depth.  Arguably a reflection of Michael Rosenbaum’s meaningful portrayal of Lex as Clark's friend on Smallville.  

With his criminal history essentially erased, Luthor could no longer be the villain in Superman’s titles.  The logic of the this age-old battle no longer stood up to even minor scrutiny.  Luthor would instead save Superman from certain death even take pity on his former enemy.  

He would join the Justice League, and despite nobody but Wonder Woman trusting him, he would go on to contribute to the side of good.  

That’s where we are now.  Luthor’s suit of armor bearing the S symbol is a mistaken gift from Apokolips.  He wears the symbol not to honor Superman but to mock him.  However, Lex is sincere in his want to help, or is he?

The latest issue of Action Comics finishes the two part Superman and Lex Luthor team-up against modern villain the Machinist.  This is a reinforcement book, in a way, and signified by the return to classic numbering.  Is this a return to classic Lex?  Hmmn.

Remember what I said.  Lex has no motive to kill Superman, and the Rebirth event that split Superman in two and fused him back together again altered time and space.  In significant and minor ways.  For example, Lex is now back to attending school with Lana Lang and Clark Kent in Smallville, according to history, but they were never friends.  The restoration however precludes most of the post-Crisis.  As I am want to say.  Good riddance.  The lion's share of the new 52 history between Lex and Superman is bedrock.  Still, old habits die hard, or do they?

Rob Williams’ Action Comics is many things.  It’s an exciting adventure.  It’s a strong double-act.  It’s smartly written.  Williams runs through the entire history of Lex in one-issue.  Think about it.  The Machinist's mechanical tick, drives Lex mad.  He wants to kill Superman.  In this state, Lex thinks his intellect makes him superior to the Man of Steel.  His Xenophobia comes back.  His use of advanced weapons technology refers back to the businessman/arms dealer persona.  Williams however doesn't go back on Superman's history, and that's what makes the story work.  Superman never gives up on Lex.  He never keeps hoping that his greatest enemy will snap out of it and be good.  As a result, Williams' story is one of the most optimistic.  You root for Lex and Superman.  

Who growing up in the Bronze Age of comics would have ever imagined that these old enemies would be sitting together side by side, enjoying the view?  Find out what made that happen in Action Comics.

Batman drops in on the Blue Beetle, and perhaps the most startling thing about the story is how writer Keith Giffin and J.M. DeMatteis without hesitation discard the Bat's and Bug's history from their run of Justice League.

The Giffin, DeMatteis, Maguire Justice League was an outlier in the post-Crisis.  It was funny, charming and at times the purest of super-hero titles.  You never had to wonder about Batman being human--hard ass sure, but human, or the Black Canary being an effective fighter.  You never needed to worry about whether or not the Bat and the Canary had a history.  She's known him for years.  Blue Beetle and Booster Gold perpetually pursued get-rich quick schemes and Maxwell Lord, the League's human manager, would blow numerous gaskets over them.  Justice League was comfort food and well-written comedy/drama.  So why on earth would Giffin and DeMatteis voluntarily get rid of the Super-Buddies? Simple.  They were gone the moment some idiot singled out Maxwell Lord as a mind-controlling arch-villain that shoots his friend, his friend, Blue Beetle in the head.  You see, in the post-Crisis, you were forbidden to be happy.

So, yeah, in the new 52-Rebirth Ted Kord as the Blue Beetle never joined the Justice League.  Still, Giffin and DeMatteis couldn't resist establishing that the Bat and the Bug know each other.  Therein lies the cornerstone of the underlying comedy in Blue Beetle.  The funny is reminiscent of the Justice League, but it's not entirely the same feeling.  

DeMatteis and Giffin transported their Justice League 3000 characters to Blue Beetle's time.  Terri Magnus just divulged future information that she shouldn't have to Batman.  DeMatteis and Giffin are underrated Batman writers, what with them writing on the funny book.  However, their version of Batman was frequently more valid than whatever the hell metastasized in the Batman titles of the time.  Batman just digested that little morsel Terri gave him.  He's not going to forget it.  Given his encounter with an alternate universe Batman during his team up with the Flash, the gears are turning.  That little titbit could in fact factor into the battle against the Watchmen that DC keeps teasing.

Though making apt dramatic appearances, Batman stays in the background for most of this adventure and watches new Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes go to work.  His work involves the new villain Ghostfire, sort of introduced last issue.  This is Ghostfire's first official encounter with the Blue Beetle. 

The beetle that Jaime "wears" is sentient, and last issue, the scarab and Jaime agreed to work together for the sake of mutualism.  So, Jaime doesn't go into battle anymore with Ted yelling in his ear.  Instead, the dialogue shifts to the scarab, and it creates a more interesting, smoother dynamic.  Killing some of the friction between old-new that was a little trite.

In addition, the Beetle-Scarab union allows for some interesting twists, and it's these twists that impress Batman enough to see that Jaime is a good Beetle.  Ghostfire isn't an ordinary bank robbing out to rule the world villain.  The scarab sees into his soul, and Jaime takes a different tactic that's humanistic and more in keeping with both the themes of the new 52 and Giffin and DeMatteis Justice League.

For reasons I cannot fathom, a number of fans want Robin and Batgirl to be a couple.  As far as I can tell this shipping desire developed in the post-Crisis.  Where else.  The desire was largely due to Batgirl’s age reduction in flashback.

Originally, Batgirl was older than Robin.  Midpoint in her career, she became a Congresswoman.  In order to serve in Congress, you must at least be twenty-five.  Robin was still in college seeking his bachelor’s degree.  He could not have been more than eighteen, or older and extremely stupid.  The idea of May-December romances was not widely accepted back in the day.  So, if you grew up watching Batman or reading comics in the Bronze Age, you probably scoff at the very idea of Batgirl and Robin being together. 

Any time I see Nightwing and Batgirl in either one’s book I just cringe and prepare myself to be punched in the mouth.  You see.  The shipping wasn't an inference.  The post-Crisis writers implied an eventual relationship and retroactively planted chemistry between the two.  Another factor in this star-crossed disaster is Batgirl’s crippling.  It seemed the more adult Robin was a sort of consolation prize for the now less adult Barbara Gordon.  Like Turtle Wax.  They were a match.  Everybody demanded so.  She could no longer actively fight crime, save as an information broker.  Dick needed somebody that could understand his needs as a crime fighter.  It’s so nauseatingly simple, and sexist, and let’s leave it at that.  I could write a book on the subject.  Suffice to say, if Dick Grayson ended up in wheels, the story would have drastically changed.

The Batgirl/Nightwing dichotomy resurfaced in the new 52, but surprisingly, Gail Simone and Kyle Higgins, the writers of the characters' respective series wanted none of it.  Simone was intent to show Batgirl's worth, and Kyle Higgins did something I thought impossible.  He turned Dick Grayson from whiney little bitch into a good man.  Dick's and Barbara's relationship?  Only friendship.  Now, it's Hope Larson's and Chris Wildgoose's turn, and they impressed me with this issue of Batgirl.  Despite the hype in house ads, they downplay the non-romance for a sturdily constructed mystery with roots in Nightwing's and Batgirl's past.

Because of the new 52, Batgirl's and Nightwing's history is fertile ground.  Simone restored Batgirl to Commissioner Gordon's direct bloodline.   Barbara's mother left the family because of a fruitcake son threatening to kill his sister Barbara if she didn't.  

Barbara became Batgirl during a criminal assault on a police precinct.  She had a taste of crimefighting.  Batman seemed to approve.  So she continued and helped Batman on numerous cases. In the current issue of Batgirl, her crimefighting life has just begun.  Like most stories of this ilk, the creative team switch back and forth between two different periods.  The segues are seamless, and the back and forth interesting.  The new character of Ainsley is full of life, and because we know something will happen to her there's a palpable sense of foreboding every time she appears, despite exhibiting normal and pleasant behavior.  In the present day, all roads lead to the Mad Hatter.  Larson and Wildgoose engage the reader with a smartly staged encounter between Dynamic Duo and the Mad Hatter's former goons.

The use of Pork Pie is particularly inventive.  It's a rare hat, and the nickname is a neat little callback to the nineteen thirties and forties.  During this skirmish, we see Batgirl is still indeed Barbara Gordon's book.  Nightwing has a meaty guest appearance, but Batgirl is the star, saving his sorry ass.

Nighting is for the most part acceptable, but he’s less mature than portrayed by Higgins, and this scene is just creepy.

You might have a thing for Batgirl, but you don’t play with her hair unless she asks.  That’s just plain wrong.  Incidentally, Grayson is on the rebound.  So the longing ain't going nowhere.  When Batgirl and Nightwing track down the Mad Hatter, they’re in for a shock, but it’s not the kind you expect.  As to the orchestrator of this little chess match, she’s a new take on Batman villain.

Harley Quinn zanily and bloodily concludes her battle against the Unconquerable 25, which sounds like a bad retitling of a Japanese samurai film.  Points.  The Mayor’s aide hired the assassins to off Harley during an impromptu birthday party.  Not only must they contend with a mad as a hornet’s nest Harley Quinn, they must deal with Poison Ivy and Catwoman.

Harley though is a one woman wrecking ball, and the Unconquerable start paying attention to what new crazy they’re dealing with.

I’m not a huge fan of wholesale slaughter, but this is a case of self-defense.  It’s a whole kit and caboodle of self-defense that Harley enjoys immensely, but it’s fair and remarkably over the top.  Furthermore, the Unconquerable 25 cannot be loved since they intended to kill all the noncombatants attending Harley’s party.  They also comported themselves as if it were their right to murder innocent people.  So, there’s really no excuse, and I cannot feel any sympathy toward these clucks.

Writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti add Harley Sinn to the mix.  I encountered Sinn in a previous issue of Harley Quinn.  She didn't make that much of an impression.  Harley Sinn intended to kill Harley awhile back but only ended up captured and locked in the basement.  Sinn in this issue throws in with the clown and fights back against the Unconquerable.  As a result, I had a warmer feeling toward her.

The leader of the Unconquerable demonstrates stones but not sense.  He’s in the thick of it, and he woefully underestimates his target.  The kibosh on this polished assassin who smugly believes he has the upper hand is a particularly satisfying slapstick moment.  Even more so thanks to Harley Quinn artist John Timms. 

You would think that the majority of the credit in this kind of kinetic bombast should go to Timms, but the dialogue courtesy of Palmiotti and Conner is amazing as well.  Because of the subject, Harley cracks wise with gusto as she puts down the Unconquerable.  The dissing of the opponents is matched by a much deeper story involving this man.

The mover and shaker listening to Harley’s tale of the Unconquerable’s assassination attempt sets the stage for a new story arc and contrasts the visceral with a refined political attack.

Red Sonja opens with the She-Devil learning the ins and outs of gunplay.  Sonja doesn’t really get the hang of it, but she does find something that does strike her fancy.

I should point out that this version of Sonja comes from a time that never existed.  Robert E. Howard's Hyborea was more or less based upon a fusion of the medieval and barbarians.  Crossbows existed forever.  However, they were big things that fired bolts and required muscle to pull back the bowstring.  The lighter weight, accuracy and different ammo of the modern crossbow would appeal to Sonja.  By the by, that is artist Caesar Gomez handing out sweets.  This issue exemplifies however that he’s more than just a babe artist.  Check out this illustration of Sonja’s friend Holly’s father.

That is a beautiful representation of an old, heavy set fatherly type.  It’s furthermore unique.  I’ve never quite seen a face like that, and Gomez's comedic expression is astounding.  However, before we get to why Sonja, Holly and Spike wind up in jail, we must go back a day or two to the continuation of the trio’s road trip, ostensibly to find the fate of Sir Max.  The police officer who got shot back through to Sonja’s time.

Writer Amy Chu keeps things breezy and humorous, but Red Sonja is definitely not kids stuff.  Sonja declared war on the dope dealing biker gang Las Aranhas on the behalf of a grieving mother, who hired her seek revenge.  The FBI picked up the pieces.  Literally.

Chu never lets the reader forget that Sonja comes from a different time.  She’s a sword for hire and doesn’t care about the niceties of our modern society.  Although Max reasonably tempered her pragmatism.  The bikers receive no such courtesy.  

This issue includes a quick bout against more bikers, which indeed sends the trio to the pokey and the felons to the hospital.  Holly comes from rich blood leading to an easy out and a trip he stately manor of Holly’s parents.  There, Chu reinstates the idea that Sonja might not want to go back to the Hyborean Age in comedic fashion.  Gomez’s timing for this skit is perfect.  Like I said more than a babe artist, but what a babe artist, and Amy Chu has become my favorite Red Sonja writer.

Viking girl Aydis discovered she liked girls.  So her village demanded that she marry a man of their choice to cure her of her problem or that her father kill her.  Also, a cure.  Her father instead chose to free her.  So, Aydis set out to rescue Brynhilde, she of Norse myth and Wagner's Ring cycle.  There's a catch.  Odin is always watching, and in this issue of Heathen writer/artist/creator Nicole Altieri elegantly explains why.  So, Aydis now sets her sights on Odin's eye.  Pun intended.

Many myths and folklore are based upon the hero traveling and meeting up with strange denizens.  In that respect Heathen is no different.  Its lesbian gaze however modernizes the stories of old.  Altieri also invents a likable protagonist in Aydis, who though willing to fight would rather barter and bargain.  Aydis' first stop on her journey is to meet up with the Captain of a ship who might make her trek easier.

The Captain's concern for the safety of her crew seems to impede Aydis' progress.  So she continues to amble and runs into her old friend Ruadan the fox.  It seems that pesky mermaids stole Ruadan's cloak of shape shifting, and in sweet and hilarious artwork, Aydis notes that he's stuck in the form of a fox.  Highly bemused by the mighty Ruadan's plight, she goes to see the mermaids, very differently portrayed than legend, to see if she can't work out some kind of a deal.

A bargain is struck very cleverly and this gives Aydis the idea for a return visit to the Captain.  The brisk chapter is filled with richly characterized players and clever writing.  A treat for the faithful and a good point for newcomers to start.

Captured by a toilet paper manufacturing company CEO and his own Brother Bear, Shirtless Bear-Fighter wallows in self-pity and experiences his form of kryptonite.  As the bizarre story continues, a traitor reveals himself and we learn exactly what happened to Clementine, Shirtless Bear-Fighter's great love.

Although the story is a laugh out loud funny monstrosity, the creative team grant much dignity to the fate of Clementine.  Yes, you can argue that it's a spoof of every loss suffered by every driven crimefighter, but it's also heartfelt.  The character of Clementine is too well drawn to dismiss as a mere joke.

Though Shirtless is a Bear Fighter, for reasons explained here, he's also the protector of the forest, and in that respect he meets the criteria of the Wild Man archetype.  The whole thing is preposterous of course, but most Wild Men myths are once you get down to it.  From Tarzan to Bigfoot.  It's the execution that counts.  Because of Clementine, because of Shirtless' feelings for her, because of his growing attraction to another character and the overwhelming odds, the book becomes not just a comedy but valid in the drama department as well.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up presents one of the funniest mashes thus far.  Top Cat was a cartoon series from the 1960s.  It capitalized on The Phil Silvers Show which you may, may, remember as Sgt. Bilko.  Silvers portrayed Bilko as a con man, gambler and scrounger in the army with a group of like-minded privates trying to make a dishonest buck.  Top Cat was essentially an anthropomorphized version.  Though Top Cat fostered its own style and because of cartoon physics operated in a more absurd theater.

Scooby-Doo starts innocently enough with Top Cat hosting an illegal card game.  Never you mind about the idea of cat poker being against the law.  You've obviously leaped over the idea of cats with sufficient enough intelligence and dexterity to play cards.  The floating game attracts the attention of Top Cat's friendly nemesis Officer Dibble, and this forces Top Cat into drastic action, which forces Dibble to counter T.C.'s move with one of his own.

The dominoes fall, and Top Cat throughout tries to use his silver tongue in outrageously funny bits to convince Scooby and the Gang to go home.  He's actually dumbfounded that the ghost breakers manage to see through his "clever" ruse, which left me almost in tears.

As various parties trade the ghost back and forth, you realize that Sholly Fisch is actually applying the classic con three card monte to the narrative, and that is just perfect for Top Cat.

In addition to the main scheme, Fisch plays with the idea of the T.C.'s crew being feline but not true cats.  This is particularly true when Fancy Fancy sets his sights on Daphne.  Her reaction is priceless.  The addition of well known participants in Scooby-Doo adventures creates a striking metafiction quality to the whole affair, and Dave Alzarez makes Top Cat and Crew far more animated than they ever were in the limited production of Hanna-Barbera.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

POBB August 16, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 16, 2017
Ray Tate

It’s time for the Pick of the Brown Bag.  Welcome, I’m Ray Tate, the creator and writer of the POBB.  This week I review Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows, Aquaman, Astonishing X-Men, Batman, Green Arrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Monsters Unleashed, Motor Girl, The Sandman, Sheena, Space Ghost, Superman, Trinity and the Ultimates. The condensed capsule reviews can also be found on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

The introductory issue of Sheena is twenty-five cents!  I shouldn't need to review this book.  You’re a fool if you didn’t cough up a quarter.  Look what you're missing.  All for one tiny quarter.

Does the style look familiar? Moritat embellished Jonah Hex’s new adventures in All-Star Western.  Still not convinced? Did I mention it's twenty-five cents? 

Sheena takes place in the present day and starts anew with the jungle girl being less sophisticated than the modern world Sheena of Devil's Due but certainly not stupid.  This is a satisfying blend of old and new by writers Marguerite Bennett and Christina Trujillo.  Exciting, gorgeous and fresh, Sheena is also only a quarter.  What’s wrong with you!

In Motor Girl while Sam finds out her dire medical options and flashes back to the events that caused these problems, Mr. Walden attempts to capture a live alien.  The summary pales to the emotive drawings of Terry Moore.  You cannot believe how much trauma Sam endures in Iraq.

Even more than this graphic lends to the imagination.  You cannot believe the miniature one-sided war occurring between Walden, his heavily armed mercenaries and Bik, a largely innocent shape shifting alien.

Bik’s treatment instigates changes of heart from the cast members, a trick that Moore is adept in, and throughout the book humor and humanity keep it all afloat.

The Sandman returns but this isn’t a big deal.  The Sandman guest-starred in recent issues of Bug! His appearance wasn’t merely a cameo.  He played a pivotal role in Forager's return.  No matter.  There’s no such thing as too-much Sandman.  The Sandman is an anthology consisting of two new Sandman stories followed by four Jack Kirby shorts from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.  In the first Sandman tale, Jon Bogdanove mimics Jack Kirby’s energetic style while expressing his own.

You may believe I lauded Bogdanove first because the writing is subpar.  False.  I’ve been very down on Dan Jurgens lately, and Sandman is why.  Jurgens seems to be completely jazzed about Sandman and he transfers the vigor to the reading experience.  This is, I kid you not, a perfect Sandman story.  Sandman sounds authentic: selfless and dramatic.  It’s got Glob and Brute.  Jurgens generates humor through the bottled nightmares’ antagonistic relationship with the Sandman.  Sandman uses the Hypnowhistle. The story without the Sandman has a point, and it’s a fitting tribute to Jack Kirby.  With an aesthetic homage from a guest star.

I’ve said in the past that Steve Orlando is a hit or miss writer for me.  His Sandman is a hit.  A palpable hit.  This one involving Sandman’s frequent guest star Jed.  As is typical for Kirby, Jed was a long-haired lad similar in design to Kamandi, but Orlando brings Jed to maturity.

There’s the threat of deconstruction.  Orlando instead celebrates the boy inside the man.  At the same time, Orlando with artist Rick Leonardi, where the heck has he been, draws Sandman into a tale suited for the Kirby Dreamscape, complete with dialogue that's bathed in Kirby pseudoscience.

Jeff Parker and Ariel Olivetti focus their talents on Spaaaaace Ghoooost.  

Space Ghost is just fun.  The opening James Bond like gambit introduces and reintroduces Space Ghost to the familiar and unfamiliar audience.

The characterization and the exhibition of Space Ghost’s power neatly conveys his effectiveness and charisma.  From there, Parker introduces some new ideas to Space Ghost mythology.

Space Ghost never had a secret identity.  We never knew who he was, but that lack was never important.  Parker explained and identified Space Ghost in Future Quest.  The particulars were significant to his story.  Still, not to overall continuity.

Parker's history gives Space Ghost some extra depth, explaining the echo of substance that helped grant the character longevity, but in the end his origins and his name doesn't matter.  

Space Ghost embarks on a new story that’s integral to his makeup.  This tale neither bears the desperation or personal trauma depicted in Future Quest.  It's instead lighter.  More of an ordinary Tuesday in the life of Space Ghost where he bloodlessly foils intergalactic grand theft and interacts with Jan and Jace.

I misidentified the relationship between the three in a previous review as uncle, nephew and niece.  Though some articles refer to the bloodline, what’s aired does not.  Anyway, our heroes travel to Amzot to obtain the ore needed to power the remaining Space Force bands.  This of course means a meeting with the Herculoids, and nobody should be sorry for that.

Superman’s adventures rarely delve into the horror genre, but when they do, the contrast works remarkably well.  The bright and cheery Superman set against aberrant unnatural creatures often magnifies both sides of the spectra, and memorable entertainment results.  This issue of Superman is no different.

The cover to Superman gives the game away, and it’s a damn shame.  Writer Keith Champagne intended and treats the story as a missing persons mystery; its solution nestles in the territory of terror, grotesquely realized by penciler Doug Mahnke, inkers Scott Hanna and Rob Hanson and colorist Wil Quintana.

Superman is no detective, but as a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper, he is a sleuth.  With his extraordinary science fiction powers, he’s a remarkable tracker.  John Byrne frequently played with this idea when he reintroduced the character in Man of Steel.  Superman would utilize his extraordinary senses to investigate unusual phenomena, like Batman for instance, before using muscle or more overt ability.

Somebody is abducting children, and Superman vows to stop him.  My first thoughts turned to the Byrne Superman villain Skyhook.  It’s his m.o.  However, Champagne slowly peels back the veil to reveal something even more insidious, and illustrated Lovecraftian.  It’s difficult to find things that can match wit and strength against Superman, but the creative team takes something that I considered ridiculous and reconstitutes it as something wicked. More than a match for the Man of Steel.  Although the cover divulges the nature behind the secret, the actual monstrosity is still a nightmare, and you shouldn't eschew adding Superman to your bag even if like me you hate the concept of Lucky Charms Lanterns.

Aquaman was very strong this week.  For those that haven’t been following the underrated comic book…Trump-like Atlantean usurper Rath ordered Aquaman to be killed, Atlantis surrounded by magical nettles and artifacts of power collected.

Mera escaped Atlantis.  Her story is just as interesting as Aquaman’s.  Maybe more so.  Using her power to control water, Mera attempted to hammer at the magical shield, ending up threatening the coastlines and alerting the Justice League.  Batman offered her a home and a purpose in the League, which she accepted.

Aquaman ended up in the underworld of Atlantis, best explained this issue by Krush a mutant gang lord.

Presumed dead, Aquaman took the name Orin and eked out a living as a scrimshaw carver, but in secret he would become the Aquaman a spectral defender of the oppressed.

One of those oppressed is Dolphin, a Silver Age superhero introduced in Showcase and infrequent champion of the Bronze Age.  Krush exploits her against Aquaman in a brilliant scene where he confirms that Aquaman is indeed Arthur Curry, the supposedly Dead Sea King.

Readers should have had no doubt about Aquaman’s rumor of demise.  However, Murk, Aquaman's alleged assassin has much to explain.  

If Murk somehow secreted Aquaman among the living and not buried him like he claimed, then he’s been on Arthur’s side all along.  That should be obvious, but the way Murk comports himself makes him one of the greatest underwater thespians or a true warrior that nevertheless failed in performing his duty.

In addition to this intrigue, Throne of Atlantis architect Vulko escaped his imprisonment, and now allies with a rogue member of the Widowhood, a group of weird Atlantean women with quasi-religious motives.

Behind the scenes, Witchblade artist Stjepan Šejić replaced sharing artists Ivan Reis and Brad Walker.  Šejić's artwork uniformly creates bemusement amongst the characters.  This look I think facilitates writer Dan Abnett’s intent.  Without Rath in sight Aquaman benefits from an Errol Flynn Robin Hood atmosphere.  Rath is overtly political, but Aquaman’s dynamic with Krush and Dolphin though dramatic is humorous and given to swashbuckling.  Aquaman’s Sheriff of Nottingham Murk bumbles with less than adequate cohorts in the hunt, and Aquaman’s Friar Tuck Vulko meets another of the Merry Men.  The post Crisis creators and fans sometimes liked to parallel Aquaman to King Arthur, but he’s so much more at home in Sherwood.

Tom King reaches a penultimate point in Batman “War of Jokes and Riddles.”  I cannot really put down any graphics in this review.  Any one will spoil the bizarre turn of events.  What I can say is that once again Mikel Janin’s artwork is a gold mine of eye candy.  Janin’s take on the Joker in particular is notable for the villain's youth and an adherence to the classic look with a feel of realism exhibited by the original.

King’s story takes place in the second year of Batman, and this gives the writer the opportunity to rewrite the Batman mythology as he sees it.  King’s vision is unique and one that agrees with mine.  Even though I would have never thought to write certain characters exactly in his way, I say yes.  This is how they should have always been written.  

I love for example that King’s Batman and Catwoman don’t often talk to each other that much.  Their few lines of dialogue instead bookmark an almost telepathic understanding.  That communication says everything about their relationship.

Scott Snyder reintroduced the Riddler in his odd de facto post apocalyptic Zero Year.  I cannot connect King’s Riddler to that version.  There’s more disconnect throughout.  Penguin and Poison Ivy are the only characters that appear to sway with their counterparts in present day new 52.  Even so, they stand out in certain respects.  I look at King’s work as a total recreation of Batman’s history, and this issue reinterprets the persona of Bruce Wayne.

For King there is no schism between Batman and Bruce Wayne.  They are the same man, but Batman presents Bruce as something dissimilar to the truth.  Rather than make him an obvious foil or see-through opposite, King presents Bruce Wayne as a highly intelligent problem solver.  Bruce isn’t the playboy dilettante of the past, but a savior of Gotham City.  A traditional Wayne, for Wayne history is filled with examples of the family saving Gotham.  King owes a debt to Snyder for this addition, but he expands upon the grain so much.  Simultaneously, Batman is creating a ploy worthy of the Shadow that allows him to control the entire situation.  This issue of Batman gives the reader at least three different aspects of Batman/Bruce Wayne to appreciate.  In addition it is a pitch black comedy to imbibe with delight.

Green Arrow's hunt to end the Ninth Circle leads him to Gotham City and Batman.  

Green Arrow frequently guest-starred in Batman's titles, and in the Bronze Age, they were friends and colleagues in the Justice League.  This latest team-up is a little different because of the new 52.  Benjamin Percy combines several of the more recent elements in Batman stories, namely the Court of Owls.

Percy, adds philosophical arguments about the rich preying on the poor.  Yet, at its basic level, the adventure is really about the Brave and the Bold saving innocent lives from whack jobs.

Percy and his artistic cohort Juan Ferreya make Green Arrow an enticing blend of archetypes and giallo styled flourishes.

While there's political commentary, the pendulum doesn't really swing all the way to Green Arrow's argument.  Batman introduces a counter.  It's not money that makes people bad.  It's the people themselves that are rotten to the core.  Give those people money, and you give them a weapon.  The same is true in real life.  Donald Trump is the Nightmare Idiot.  On the other hand Angelina Jolie is a generous Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N.  The Court of Owls isn't so much the Purge.  The wealth of this newest flock is incidental.

The original Owls were the Nazis.  The current Owls are the Neo-Nazis.  Fit enough against the innocent and unarmed running through dark tunnels.  Piss poor when meeting a marginally gifted martial artist or a large enough crowd of outspoken protestors.

In Trinity, Batman calls upon Zatanna, Deadman and Constantine to save the Red Hood.  This is Rob Williams' latest chapter in his Pandora Pits saga.  Ra's Al Ghul and Circe have formed their own Trinity, although they just can't seem to find that third member.  Denied by Luthor, overcome by a freed from Jason Blood Etrigan, their latest foray draws in Red Hood and the Outlaws.  The villains appear to be increasingly desperate.

The newly demonized Red Hood attacked Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman only to be tied down to a table and given the supernatural treatment by the three Batman called.  

Batman effortlessly networks in the new 52.  Not only can he form a Trinity with a phone call, belongs to the Superman and Wonder Woman Trinity, he's also a founding member of the Justice League and the establisher of a new "street" level group, an extended Batman family in Detective Comics and finally the patriarch of the traditional Batman Family.  In other words, Circe's and Ra's people skills suck.

Trinity is a book that you cannot take seriously for a moment.  The promise of bloody entrails threats to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman is so very unlikely to happen, especially when Ra's and Circe are in charge.  These two are so remarkably incompetent.  The Red Hood's possessed form is similar to the Mask, which is genuinely amusing.

Somebody's jaw is going to be sore when they wake up.

Williams' handling of the supernatural Trinity leaves much to be desired for.  Constantine is a libidinous parody of himself.  

Zatanna's role is to tell Constantine to shut up in nigh every panel.  Deadman just floats around.  By the time Constantine actually steps up, it's too late.  You already hate the shallow jackass in the first part of the story, and you don't miss Zatanna or Deadman at all.

Monsters Unleashed ends its first arc high.  Mole Man joined the Intelligentsia specifically to betray them and kidnap Kei Kawade, known as Kid Kaiju for his unique ability to draw monsters and giant robots then animate them.  Like so.

Mole Man wished for Kei to resurrect his dead monsters, but the Kid knew that would be wrong and denied Mole Man his wish.  The Intelligentsia--consisting of Marvel's greatest brainy fruitcakes--recapture the Kid and his monsters, miniaturized by SHIELD because Dum-Dum Dugan is actually Dumb-Dumb Dugan.

What she said.  SHIELD has been completely useless in this affair; unwittingly aiding the bad guys and facilitating a threat to the world.  The same cannot be said for Elsa Bloodstone, Kei's bodyguard.  Cullen Bunn has been amazing for her.

The Mole Man accepted Kei's ethical argument and decided that the world's a better place without the Intelligentsia in it.  So he throws in with Elsa and the surface dwellers.  This is perfectly within his historical mercurial characterization.  The combination of the two protagonists added with amusing events in the previous issues cements a hilarious and fitting comeuppance for the Intelligentsia.  

Replacing artist David Baldeon with Ramon Bachs doesn't hit the artwork, and I'm pleased that this kitchen sink book found a larger audience.

In Guardians of Galaxy, Darkhawks formerly of the Shiar Empire poisoned Rocket Raccoon.  He lays dying on the hamstrung Milano.  This is unfortunate for the Guardians since he's the only one that knows the ins and outs of the ship.

Rocket's condition catalyzes a recreation of the team's camaraderie from film.  When writer Gerry Duggan first started the series, they were on the outs, and this was to be their last job.  Peter Quill though is determined to save Rocket using the object of power the Guardians discovered during their fight with the Darkhawks.  He does this not for tactical reasons but because Rocket is his friend.  Which is so sweet.

The rescue creates a battle royal pitting Peter against a Darkhawk that harbors an unexplained personal grudge.  Guardians is moving, thrilling with the artwork of Marcus To and still damn funny with a conclusion that's perfectly Peter Quill.

Astonishing X-Men is written with a deference for those unversed in X-Men continuity.  It's a literate tale of super powered individuals related to each other in some way that must defuse a psychic's use of other telepaths as lethal weapons.  The protagonists travel to the astral plane of psychics for a mental duel against the antagonist in a dense artistic experience by Mike Deodato.  I refer to the X-Men as protagonists for the same reason the British government exhibits caution when addressing their presence.  All of the characters have been heroes and villains at one time.  That's also an example of the depth this story possesses.  Writer Charles Soule doesn't just examine the X-Men, he looks at the consequences of their history and the perspectives of outsiders.

Putting down a graphic does a disservice to the whole.  What I can pull is the revelation of the shape shifting Mystique as one of the travelers.

I can analyze Mystique.  This is clearly a version drawing more from the Jennifer Lawrence performance than Raven Darkholm of the Marvel Universe.  The story cannot easily be dissected.  Rather the art and the writing work together to create something fascinating to read.  

The conclusion, yet again, to the Ultimates is an awesome blend of cosmic and terrestrial dealings.  The Ultimates confront the High Evolutionary and the Maker, a counter Earth Reed Richards who injected the First Firmament into Eternity.  The goals were laudable.  The result was not.  The First Firmament--the First Universe--acts as a virus, and it in fact was the warden of Eternity.  The imprisonment of Eternity catalyzed the whole series, turning Galactus the Life Bringer, into a celestial gumshoe resented enough by the Lords of Order and Chaos to be rubbed out.

Though at first willing to listen to the remarkable weighted brainpower on the Ultimates teams, the Maker quickly reverts to type and recreates a suitable counter group to fight Galactus' team.

I never got into the original Ultimate universe.  I was quite comfortable in the Marvel Universe even with its slipshod explanations, but the way Al Ewing writes the Ultimate Avengers coveys to me their importance.  The Maker you see recreates the team too well, and he would have to.  Mere copies couldn't possibly beat the Ultimates.  They would have to be the real deal, perhaps even better than they were.

The Maker by performing this substantial magic trick flicks the first domino, and it is a series of dominoes.  Ewing's conclusion falls in elegant cause and effect fashion to retain what's lost and improve the Marvel Universe.  If you read his farewell piece at the end of the book, you'll learn of an alternate ending that he ultimately--see what I did there--concluded would be wrong given the fight.  He was right.  This is the only way The Ultimates could have ended to satisfy any reader following the book all along.

Ryan Stegman fully takes over the writing of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows and he brings a new level of outright comedy to the book.  Mary Jane's busy schedule precludes her taking part in the story, and Stegman draws on the sometimes backup features for his inspiration.  It's Daddy-Daughter Day for the Parkers, but it's not Tuesday.  The Spider Family fights the Lizard, plus one.

Stegman brings the Lizard's arc to fruition.  Simultaneously he imbues sympathy to Curt Connor's plight.  It's important that the Lizard wasn't the cause of this mishap.  The Lizard originally was a victim.  He never set out to become a monster.  His goal was humane.  The best Lizard stories build on the source material.  The worst turn the Lizard into a mere beast.  The battle pitting spider and lizard juxtaposes with Norman Osborn's birthday and his life as the heir to the Green Goblin.

Stegman surprised me with his knowledge of Spider-Man history.  I know that Marvel doesn't throw out anything, even when they should, but I didn't expect Stegman to reflect on the death of the second Green Goblin and his heroism.  Harry Osborn was another victim in the Spider-Man mythology.  He was psychologically damaged by his father, the true villain of the piece Norman Osborn.  Stegman uses this moment in time to establish conflict in young Norman's mind.  He so wants to be loved, but he can't experience it properly.  For a moment he seems to recognize reason, but Stegman quickly and plausibly turns that epiphany on its ear for a stirring cliffhanger.