A Head is Wider Than a RopeA column article by: Ray Tate
Welcome back to Tate Necessarily So. This week, I review Batman, Birds of Prey, Domino Lady, Legend of the Wicked West, Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes, Supergirl and Wonder Woman. I also look at the second half of the 1970s Christian Comic Adventures of the Brothers.
The Pick of the Brown Bag
Scott Snyder; Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion (i), FCO (c)
It's the big blowout pitting a drugged, disheveled, severely wounded Batman against Talon, the Court of Owls assassin. Readers also discover just how much of the Court's imagery is real and fake as well as an estimate of the Court's peerage.
In last week's Batgirl, Gail Simone demonstrated Batman's humanity.
Deserves to Be Repeated
In Batman, Scott Snyder displays Batman's extraordinary willpower, his acumen and his martial ability. Even while drugged, Batman deduces a means to defeat the Court of Owls and escape their trap. Batman is badass.
Greg Capullo makes you feel every blow Batman delivers. I haven't seen this kind of animated, tactile artwork since Jim Aparo's era in Brave and the Bold.
In addition to displaying Batman's penchant for pugilism, Aparo like many artists of the era embellished the traditional symbolism of Batman; for example Bruce Wayne would frequently cast Bat shadows despite being out of costume. Capullo escalates that symbolism. Batman experiences a visual metamorphosis that transforms him into more of a bat. The feral reflection in fact springs from the pool of Batman's adrenaline.
In The Words of King Arthur...
This panel like every other just left a grin on my face. Batman's revelation of the farce masking the truth as well as his trump of Talon and the Owls actually made me laugh.
Birds of Prey #6
Duane Swiercynzski; Javier Pina, June Chung (c)
Although Jesus Saiz has flown the coop, I do apologize -- Javier Pina makes for an able successor. Pina illustrates the Birds as beautiful and dangerous. He emphasizes the heroism in Batgirl and the intelligence in the Canary as well as the cunning of Starling.
In short, when you read the Birds of Prey, you'll only notice subtle differences in the style, less so when Pina replaced Saiz on Manhunter, but not the content. Of course, June Chung is on hand to enhance Pina's impressive Birds of Prey debut with her organic colors and remarkable fleshtones.
In terms of plot, the Birds are in the midst of a battle against Choke, a villain with a conditioned army of ordinary people. Over the past five issues, we've seen how he works with trigger words. This issue Swiercynzski explains why people succumb to the conditioning, and the reasoning is based upon an excellent application of science.
An unwitting footsoldier amusingly relates the story from his point of view. Swiercynski exhibits a deft sense of humor as well as a firm understanding of the New 52 Universe, which he's helping forge with the best new character of the New 52, Starling.
Our victim at first runs from the Birds, but he believes his fates have turned around when Batgirl appears out of the darkness. The people of Gotham City love and know their bats.
One of the more surprising things about this issue is the way Swiercynzski resolves the cliffhanger from last issue. He doesn't start off with this twist right away, and in fact you may start wondering if you missed an issue. Instead Swiercynzski addresses the cliffhanger in which Starling, thinking Canary betrayed her, runs from a tac-team toward the end of the tale.
The resolution explains the situation from last issue in a different way, and Swiercynzski shows how the viewpoint can alter the way the reader judges the entire narrative. A very clever and reasonable twist.
Domino Lady: Threesome
Nancy Holder and Howard Hopkins; Sylvestre Szilagyi, James Brown(c)
Shall we get the title out of the way first? The three cover ladies do not have sex with each other or anybody else. The loaded title, a reflection of Nancy Holder's sense of humor, alludes to Domino Lady's original pulp home, Saucy Romantic Adventures.
The Domino Lady was a thief. Granted, she often stole from criminals, but she was a thief nonetheless. She also had the penchant for stripping in and out of her costume in loving detail. The thievery, the mask, the gown comprised a thread to hold together a kinky little tale, sometimes a smidgeon more competent than one might expect, that would describe as much skin as the times would allow.
Moonstone's revamped version of Domino Lady is purely hardboiled. She's a cross between Honey West and the Phantom Lady. She doesn't have adventures. She has cases.
For this case, she's joined by the Veil, a new character with deep, historical roots, and a mysterious Amazon with golden skin that comprises aspects of Futura and Gale Allen, a pair of tough female protagonists, from Fiction House's Planet Comics.
The story is pure pulp with occasional spice from the burlesque backdrop. However, Phantom artist Silvestre Szilagyi refuses to pander to the audience. As a consequence, every aspect of the story takes on greater gravitas.
Although the writing in Planet Comics could be described as serious, or at least serious for the era, there can be no denying an emphasis on Good Girl art, focusing especially on the gals' gams. Nothing wrong with that given the quality of illustration.
Szilagyi, a Phantom artist, creates a moodiness that would be out of place in Planet Comics, and that atmosphere such as the positively grim meeting between Domino Lady and LAPD Detective Morgan Vernia combined with Holder's and Howard Hopkins' straight-faced kidnapping narrative weaves a tale that could have been appeared in Batman the Animated Series. Indeed, Domino Lady's excursion with the Spider involving a killer cult was more playful.
Get Out of Her Way
Szilagyi imbues the mysterious Amazon with the conviction missing from cheesecake works. You do not want to mess with this lady. Szilagyi's Domino Lady is far from bubbly, and his depiction of Veil is downright weird.
Howard Hopkins' Veil was likely inspired by the Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, star of a 1940s comic strip as well as a handful of novels. I first became aware of the character when I read Trina Robbins' indispensable Great Women Superheroes, and I suspect Hopkins' decision to christen The Veil Trina was no accident. Hopkins ties this character in with lesser known military conspiracy theory, and it's the implications of this belief that further distinguish Veil from other ghostly women to lend an edge and a sense of tragedy to the sweet southern belle.
Legend of the Wicked West #2
Tom Hutchison; Allison Borges, Kate Finnegan (c)
Big Dog Ink
This is a phenomenal follow-up to the premiere issue. Legend of the Wicked West swathes Dorothy Gale in leathers, six guns and ruby spurs. Her traditional companions on the Yellow Brick Road have been recast as well.
Last issue, Dorothy met the Tin Man, imagined as a mysterious rider, apparently a former lawman. She also encountered the Cowardly Lion, a sad animal character whose clown painted face might frown in a spaghetti western. This issue, Dorothy makes him an ally.
Dorothy having killed one Flying Ape isn't all that keen on the others, but she's a reasonable heroine. Of course, she doesn't brook sass.
Some might suggest that Dorothy's behavior is quite out of the purview of Frank L. Baum, but Baum, a proto-feminist, portrayed the immortal Dorothy as a problem-solver. Her keen mind helped many denizens in Oz. Granted, she wasn't a violent sort, but when in the West, best strap on some guns and throw a mean right cross.
As you can see by the selection, Allison Borges and Kate Finnegan make Legend of the Wicked West a pure pleasure for the eyes, and their visuals grant liveliness to the characters.
These attributes compliment Hutchison's sharp dialogue that spouts not a wasted word.
Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #5
Chris Roberson; Jeff Moy, Philip Moy, Romulo Fajardo Jr. (c)
The universe is out of joint and it's largely because Vandal Savage captured enormous power in the past and has an unsavory use for time travelers in the present. Roberson's characterization of Savage is masterful. While Savage seems to be urbane, his feral nature resurfaces quickly. He literally uses people. This has been a running theme in all his appearances.
The power should be apparent to every Star Trek fan once a mystery guest signs in during the past. There an Away Team of Legionnaires and Enterprise bridge crew having been captured by primitives led by Savage await their fates.
In the present, Kirk once again hits on Shadow Lass. His timing is completely off as previously, and I don't believe Kirk would engage in such jock behavior when lives are hanging in the balance. However Kirk's "persistence" allows for the first incident of the Moys signatures.
That's right! Cham sticks his tongue out! Yes! In every Legion book rendered by the Moys at least one member of the team if not more stuck out his or her tongue. The writers seldom if ever requested such tomfoolery. The Moys simply slipped the imagery in to enhance the upbeat mood and to add visual characterization. Could there be more?
Savage takes the Legion and Enterprise crew on a tour of his time travel museum. Please note the police box as well as the column. The column is the Master's TARDIS from the Doctor Who story "Logopolis." I trust I don't have to explain the significance of the police box. Savage's museum is full of recognizable science fiction time travel devices, and yet again they're all more signatures of the Moys run in the Legion books. The Moys would slip in all sorts of references, from Doctor Who to Mystery Science Theater 3000. I wonder if their freedom to do so in the IDW book is a relief or disappointment. Are they pleased to finally be able to do this legally or would they have preferred to sneak them in?
In any case, the tongue, the TARDIS all make Star Trek/Legion more distinctly Moy, and Chris Roberson's addition of the guest star as a catalyst for Vandal Savage's alteration of the timeline is nothing short of brilliant.
Michael Green & Michael Johnson; Mahmud Asrar, Dave McCaig (c)
Last issue the World Killer known as Reign beat the tar out of Supergirl as she found the dead city of Argo. Away from the yellow sun, her powers began to fade, and Reign left her to fate. In this issue, Supergirl dies like the beaten little girl she is.
Indomitable will of Supergirl
Mikes Green and Johnson once again demonstrates why Supergirl has acquired so many fans over the years and why it wasn't enough to have substitutes in the place of Kara Zor-El. We love Supergirl because of the contrast and symbolism. Her slender form contains the power of a Kryptonian.
When you see Superman, you kind of expect that he's a badass. He's all muscled and squared, but Kara looked young and soft. She can juggle tanks. It's the kind of thing you can only find in comic books, and it makes you chuckle and at the same time, it makes you drop your jaw in awe. This is the cousin to Superman. She defends the earth.
Artists Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig give ample evidence to Supergirl's survival instincts, and her strength. This issue she establishes her home as earth, issues warnings and painfully demonstrates her abilities to Reign. It's simply perfect.
Wonder Woman #6
Brian Azzarello, Tony Akins, Dan Green (i), Matt Wilson (c)
This chapter of Wonder Woman is stronger than Issue 5, simply because there's more of Diana. Last issue focused on Diana's fellow demigod Lennox, and that simply wasn't interesting.
In the latest, Wonder Woman persuades Poseidon and Hades to join her in a quest to bar Hera from possessing Olympus and consequently protect the innocent human Zola, who carries Zeus' child.
Tony Akins exhibits a keen sense of forced perspective and a style recalling the fine lines of the late Marshall Rogers. His Wonder Woman conveys power and the grace of an Olympian, and his Poseidon manifests an air of grotesqueness.
The only issue I have is that after setting up and following through with a clever two-step ploy that first calls out Hera and then thwarts her, Azarello continues the story after it has ended. I don't believe he can sustain something better than this finale, and the epilogue offers no promises.
The Adventures of the Brothers
"Hang In There"
When last we left the Brothers, Pete had just mistook The Shadow for God during his plan to impersonate Tom.
Might as Well Ask for A Mercedes Benz
The rebel leader tumbles onto the scheme leading to Dr. Brothers profound dialogue. It looks like despite being a Christian, he doesn't discriminate.
Race, Creed, Color or Textile
The rebel leader reveals that Dr. Brothers was once a successful, rich man. He's baffled why Brothers gave it up. Of course, he has a special kind of blindness.
What's better? Money and Fame or Unmitigated Arrogance?
The rebel leader rightfully mad, pounds his fist on the table, and naturally hurts himself. This prompts Dr. Brothers to recall some acid he dropped in the sixties.
Meanwhile, Tom's been up to some mischief.
This is an example of Tom pulling things out of his holier than thine ass. It shant be the only dropping.
Pete goes to join his brother only to be stopped by a reluctant rebel. Here again is a rare moment when Hartley exhibits skill equal to his past work. This image isn't just haunting for Adventures of the Brothers. In any comic book, it would be evocative.
And then there's Maude.
After that embarrassment, we return to Tom. He decides to unleash a wave of fireworks against the rebels. I'm going to allow this one. It could have been foreshadowed way, way better, but it's plausible for the village to have fireworks for a celebration.
Pete and Tom appear to have come up with a reunion site off-panel, but it's a very dicey choice.
Isn't that Sacrilegious?
When Pete reaches the gorge, we discover proof positive that Adventures of the Brothers is piss-poor entertainment.
Ator the Flying Eagle from Mystery Science Theater 3000
Without foreshadowing or reason, Ator the Flying Eagle, produced a hang glider out of his ass, and the Satellite of Love Crew justifiably cried foul. When a book mimics the insanity of Ator the Flying Eagle, make no bones about it, it has to be bad.
That's Not Just Pete Up There. It's the Human Spirit.
After Tom douses the rebels with smoke bombs--from his Christian Utility Belt no doubt, the rebel leader suddenly reveals that he's got a sharp-shooter, that he didn't use before.
A head is wider than a rope, but hey, I'm sure the leader knows what he's doing.
Or not. The shrewd strategy earns him a nosedive off the gorge while Tom soars away with Ator's hang glider. Hartley just can't however resist a Bible quote.
I'm sure altar boys were thinking that while suffering the indignity of holy sausage in the keister. Hartley concludes the story by arguing in favor of atheism.
I've got a prayer for you, you smug bastard
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.