Maybe Tom Prayed Really HardA column article, Tate Necessarily So by: Ray Tate
Welcome back to Tate Necessarily So. You came at the right time. In addition to my usual weekly reviews, I've got the first critique of Adventures of the Brothers, a Christian comic from the '70s created, written and illustrated by Al Hartley, one of the pioneers for Timely and early Marvel.
The Pick of the Brown Bag
Gail Simone; Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes (c)
Wow. I mean, just wow. Gail Simone consolidates and augments everything missing from the Batman titles from the previous universe into this one issue.
How does she do this? First, she kills half of The Killing Joke. As anything Alan Moore writes must be sacrosanct, I suppose many of you will want to cry foul. Suck it. This isn't the first time creators, writers and/or hacks altered the continuity of The Killing Joke.
Upon deciding that Batman's identity needed to be absolutely secret, the Powers that Be insultingly decreed that Barbara Gordon must not know Batman and Bruce Wayne were one in the same. This was established in Suicide Squad where she unbelievably served. She knows who he is in The Killing Joke.
Various "talents" amended the Killing Joke by eliminating the original Batwoman from the post-Crisis DC Universe, not to mention Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-Hound, all sharing space in a framed photo in the Batcave. Bat-Girl turned into Flamebird. Bat-Mite resurfaced in Legends of the Dark Knight as a delusional figment.
On television, creators excised Commissioner Gordon's abduction from The Killing Joke. The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon because he discovered her secret. At the same time, the Joker orchestrates the murder of Catwoman, thus brutally catalyzing the origin of the Huntress. The much maligned Birds of Prey television series was, in respect to Barbara's situation, superior to The Killing Joke. Barbara was crippled because she was Batgirl not the Commissioner's daughter. She wasn't crippled to piss off Gordon. She was crippled because she was Batman's partner, a cape. Oh, and you can forget about that taking nudie pictures of her while she lies bleeding.
Gail Simone changes The Killing Joke continuity thusly. The Joker never kidnaped Commissioner Gordon. He crippled Barbara, and his motive wasn't part of some ham-fisted existential scheme. His rationale remains unknown. Simone however removes the idea that Barbara was crippled in order to anger the heroes of Gotham. The Joker does not know her secret identity, and it is extremely unlikely the literal torture porn shoot exists in the New 52.
I suspect, Barbara was likely crippled while protecting her father, a more apt target for the Joker's vitriol. Batman does not hunt down the Joker to save his friend. He has no need. He might have beat the clown out of the Joker for the assault, but Simone does not say. More important. Thanks to Simone's more emotionally enriching story, Batman does not ignore Barbara's emotional and practical needs. The New 52 Batman is not a prick.
Such tenderness might repulse a certain group of fans who believe Batman to be a cold borderline psychopath, and those fans can also suck it. Batman's not like that. Batman's like Simone presents him, and it's about time.
Outside of the flashback moments, Batman teams up with Batgirl to bring down a genuinely disturbed individual. Simone characterizes the villain Gretel as Barbara's opposite number, right down to the contrast in hair. It may be a subjective call, but I swear that artists Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes emphasize Barbara's hair more in this issue than previous issues. Such accenting foreshadows the tragic reveal. Of course, they're more more than just subtle partners elsewhere in the story.
Dark Knight Daredoll
Simone challenges numerous preconceptions in this issue of Batgirl. She goes against the popular grain from the previous universe when characterizing Batman; she emphasizes the importance of Batgirl; she creates a sympathetic villain that meshes with the dynamic of Batman and Batgirl to facilitate an upbeat ending.
The Brave and the Bold #16
Sholly Fisch; Rick Burchett, Dan Davis (i), Dezy Sienty (c)
Batgirl appears in another title this week. I've mostly ignored this all-ages Batman simply because I'm not a fan. I've looked at a couple of episodes, and the television series just seemed schizophrenic. It tries to be serious on occasion, but mostly it's just goofy. The Bruce Timm animated series struck just the right chords. Some of the comedic moments within these dramas were outrageously hilarious and superbly cool; Batman while bound in a straight jacket spreading dissension in the ranks of the Injustice Gang, for example.
Of course, Bat-Mite is on the cover to The Brave and the Bold. So, I knew what to expect, but Fisch's script is far funnier and more evenhanded than the television series. I'm not crazy about the modeling that's based on the show including that of Batgirl -- Green Eyes? Why! -- but Burchett who illustrated the previous Adventureverse titles based upon the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm series, crafts a far superior sense of motion and genuine aesthetic that the source material was for me incapable of producing. I particularly loved this little scene. Notice how fluid Burchett makes Batgirl's cape.
Also, I just love how both Burchett and Fish characterize Batgirl as barely holding in her laughter. It's the sort of subtlety I doubt the television series could have mustered.
Ultimately, The Brave and the Bold works as a love letter to the Filmation Batman cartoon. There, Bat- Mite also crushed on Batgirl. However, even if you have no background knowledge of Batman's animation history, the jokes hit rather than miss, and Batgirl fans will definitely want to add this one-off issue to their collection.
Legion Lost #6
Fabian Nicieza; Pete Woods, Matt Camp, (c)
Sweet cosmos! I almost overdosed on the action. If this issue of Legion Lost had a soundtrack, it would start off with Blondie's "Call Me." That opening guitar charge and high energy crooning would suit the remarkable assault by the Legion on an establishment that mirrors pre-Captain Jack Torchwood.
For those not in the know, Torchwood once an estate became an institution established by Queen Victoria to address alien invasion, and the Doctor. On the surface, Torchwood canibalizes alien technology for the good of the Crown and the people of England. Of course, it's not quite as above board as all that.
The Legion pull a Where Eagles Dare to rescue Yera, also known as Chameleon Girl, soon to be dissected by Major Nicholson and her crew of merry men. Of course Gates has other ideas.
This is an example of Nicieza's perfect union between comedy, characterization and frenetic heroics. There's just something hilarious about the little bug, popping in and out to deliver well-deserved violence as well as insults to the military-industrial complex. Gates isn't the only comedian in the group.
That was the Martian Manhunter in the background, and he plays a pivotal role in Legion Lost. He serves as an impediment for the Legion as well as a solution to Yera's shape-shifting problems. I also like the science behind the answer.
While shapeshifting is of course only possible among the invertebrates beneath the oceans, and even then in a limited fashion when compared to the make-believe Durlans, Nicieza boils the problem down to a question of conservation of mass. This science behind the science fiction gives the whole adventure more of a backbone. If the Legion used some sort of technobabble device essentially "magic" to save their comrade the plot element would have added artifice, and that's something you want to avoid.
Every Legionnaire gets a spotlight through Pete Woods', Matt Camp's and Brad Anderson's stellar artwork. Dawnstar spectacularly puts an end to an exo-suit by hitting it in just the right spot; thus without exposition framing her sensory powers.
The fetchingly armored Wildfire cuts loose with a wave of energy, countered by J'onn J'onzz's mastery of form.
Tyroc earns a spotlight in two ways. His sonic powers get a workout, and his diplomatic skills as a team leader end the conflict in an obvious, but daring way.
The Legion appeared in Action Comics last week, but this team-up between Legionnaires and 21st Century superhero is a more satisfying presentation.
"Hang In There"
The premise of this book is essentially what if the Hardy Boys were Christians. Pete and Tom substitute for Frank and Joe, and instead of mysteries, they solve problems associated with their father a medical doctor who is also a missionary. The book is called Adventures of the Brothers because Pete and Tom are brothers, and their surname is Brothers. Um...yeah.
In the first issue, or at least the one that I picked up first, since these things aren't numbered, the story suddenly happens.
White on White
This is essentially the kind of foreshadowing you might receive in the comic strip on the back of a Big Jim Action Pack doll from the '70s, but whatever. At least it's quick.
I don't have a problem with Dr. Brothers wanting to safeguard his wife. That's acceptable behavior given that if this situation occurred in the real world his wife would probably be passed around the rebels like a joint. Assigning the task to Tom and Pete gets them to safety without doubting their abilities. The father in this instance is being responsible for his family. That's what fathers are supposed to do. Geek Translation: the intended results of Dr. Brothers' strategy is exactly the same as the Doctor tricking Rose into the TARDIS, locking the doors and sending her home.
Now this scene, is absolutely irritating and on so many level. It's also the moment where you begin to understand why so many ridicule Christian comics.
The mother has been at the encampment for as long as the boys and her husband, yet the sight of crocs, animals that should be common as crows in her neck of the jungle, make her scream. Give me a break.
From a plotting standpoint, there's simply no way Pete and Tom could have hidden the boat, and it's pretty stupid to keep the presence of an escape boat from your parents. It's not like Pete and Tom are using it to get to the Christian girls' encampment upstream. A simple heads up, "If anything should happen to us, Mom, we buried an emergency escape boat by the river's shore."
Of course, maybe it's just arrogance, that they are impervious to harm because their god is watching over them. Pete looks pretty damn smug in that spotlight panel. He also resembles this fellow:
You know him as the voice of the Penguin. Paul Williams, a talented singer, songwriter, was justifiably popular in the '70s. Perhaps, Al Hartley was looking to associate Spire Comics with pop culture like the mainstream titles did.
Meanwhile, back in the village the rebels invade, and Al Hartley displays his dual history. In the first panel he expresses his newfound devotion to his god. In the second panel, well…I can't really make this up.
Coming for God
Tom decides to return to the village, and if this were cinema, that stunt would have been created by simply running the film backwards. That is just absolutely impossible. Maybe, Tom prayed really hard.
Tom secretly spies upon the rebels and divulges yet another unforeshadowed contingency plan.
You actually start feeling sorry for the villains. Considering that this is a Christian comic book, and they're not actually allowed to act -- you know, villainous -- they haven't really done anything to warrant being blown up by a true believer. Seems to have glossed over a commandment.
Death Occurs, my friend. Death.
Tom covertly returns to the encampment. The readers discover that The Brothers also taught the villagers smugness.
I can impart to you no more smugness, my sons. Go, spread the words from the Book of Arrogance, and the Bible, while you're at it.
Tom finds his worst nightmare, and the villains finally commit a crime in the eyes of well, Tom.
I'm pleased to be counted among Tom's enemies. I will give Tom credit for this act of heroism, and a nod to Hartley for serving the nonviolence code in the Christian comic, while preserving the integrity of the plot.
Good for Tom
Heroes shouldn't wait for something horrible to happen. The villain appears to genuinely threaten the girl, and this scenario could have appeared in anything from Tarzan to Sheena and still work without being changed.
Looks like Tom and Pete are vulnerable after all. Tom's bravery earns him a crack in the noggin from a rifle butt. At best, in reality, such a wound would probably require stitches, but I can't fault Hartley on this one. Pat Savage has been conked far too many times to count without ending up being operated on by her famous cousin.
Dr. Brothers diagnoses severe concussion, but this turns out to be a bizarre ruse where Pete takes the place of Tom lying in bed. Why Pete couldn't perform the same kind of mischief Tom gets up to is anybody's guess.
Of course it does provide us with this curiosity.
Got to admit, Hartley almost had me believing, but if the Shadow were god, there would be considerably less evil people in the world, especially child-raping priests. Next week, Part Two of "Hang In There."
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.