Simply Where The Food Is

A column article by: Ray Tate

Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. It's another DC column-a-copia this week as I review Batman, Batman Beyond, Birds of Prey, Justice League, Nightwing and Supergirl. On the licensed team-up front, I look at Star Trek and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and we'll see if Vampirella earns another five Christopher Lees or not. My final thoughts on Adventure! with the Brothers will return next week.


Pick of the Brown Bag


The events in Batman and Nightwing occur simultaneously. Batman escapes the Court of Owls and uses his skills as "the world's greatest detective." Nightwing discovers some secrets associated with his past as intertwined with the Court of Owls. That's right folks. It's owl season, and before we kick it off, I think it's important to outline a few facts about owls.

The True Owl

Owls, real owls, are extremely beneficial to the ecosystem. Some owls do occasionally prey upon bats, but ground dwelling rodents are their prime targets. As a result, these magnificent, striking creatures significantly reduce pestilence. Without owls, we would be overrun by mice, rats and voles, and that's why city owls frequently make their homes in abandoned attics and barns. Simply where the food is. 

Our Friend the Owl

Although owls are being used as symbols of villainy in the Batman titles, an echo to the Silver Age villain Owl-Man from the Crime Syndicate. According to Jeff Rovin's indispensable Encyclopedia of Super-Heroes a heroic owl man soared from Dell Comics, which published his adventures in the 1940s. He was accompanied by Owl Girl. 

The Owl and Owl Girl 

The less well known Black Owl roosted in Prize Comics, again in the 1940s. Hooty the Owl accompanied Dr. Mid-Nite on many adventures. Night Girl from the Legion of Super-Heroes chose her symbol to be the owl, and E. Nelson Bridwell and Ramona Fradon created the Native American Owl Woman of the Global Guardians for The Super-Friends.

Owl Woman

Writer Scott Snyder, the Master of the Court of Owls does a fantastic job of poisoning the image of the Owl, and it's doubtful we'll see a heroic owl or owl-related hero any time soon


The Owl That Ate the Bat That Built Bruce 


Batman #7

Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo{p}, Jonathan Glapion{i}, FCO{c}


The story juxtaposes Batman's escape from the Owl Maze/Prison last issue, his deeper investigation into the Court and the Owls rising to power. When last we saw Batman, he was drowning in a Gotham river. Though he managed to swim to the surface, a barrier prevented him from reaching land. It appeared that our hero drowned

It turns out the barrier was ice and not his worst case scenario. Presumably, Batman, with his last ounce of strength, redoubled his efforts to punch his way through the ice. Sadly, Bruce's heart stopped. All of these events occurred off panel, which indicates a bit of editing on the part of either Scott Snyder, Mike Marts or Katie Hubert. Imagine that. Editing in a comic book. Who would have thunk it?

Fortunately, Lisbeth Salander, possibly having the Batman GPS app introduced by Gail Simone in Batgirl, arrives in the nick of time to save Batman's life.

She Blinded Me With Science

Okay. The character's name is Harper, somebody I never heard of, and she's obviously a fan of the Bat, but if we compare Capullo's illustration to Noomi Rapace, the first Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I think the mistake of identity becomes quite understandable. 

Besides, who wouldn't want to see a Batman/Lisbeth Salander team-up? I'd pay good money. He's met Sherlock Holmes and the Shadow. Why not Lisbeth Salander, perhaps the world's most widely known detectives of our time?

After leaving "Lis" Batman reaches the Batcave, where Alfred shows uncommon steel as the Bat faces the dead Talon, retrieved by the Batman Family.

Overcoming his fear, Batman begins his investigation and finds something disturbing and fascinating at the same time that involves his son Nightwing.



Nightwing #7

Kyle Higgins, Eddy Barrows & Geraldo Borgias{p}, Eber Ferreira & Paulo Siqueira{i}, Rod Reis{c} 



Because Nightwing reveals an entire Court of Owls process, I really can't say much about that portion of the book. Suffice to say that Nightwing's current problems against the impostor Raymond a.k.a. Saiko (pronounced "psycho," I would imagine} are indeed related to Owls. Furthermore, a somewhat innocent, tangential character from the past gains a more insidious reputation.

The Horrors of Childhood

Instead, I'll talk about the superb means in which Kyle Higgins characterizes Dick Grayson as a man of honor and intellect. I am extremely impressed by the New 52 Universe Nightwing. Previously, I'd say that Nightwing had always deserved this from Batman.

Love Hurts

That blow however isn't a result of a typical episode from their Post-Crisis soap opera Nightwhiner Returns. No, Batman has a very good reason for literally knocking a tooth from son's mouth. Mind you, it's a pretty awesome example of Batman's speed. Nightwing never saw that coming, and he couldn't flip or somersault out of the way of the oncoming storm. Believe it or not, Batman and Nightwing are still good after that scenario. Batman explains himself. Nightwing understands what's going on, and you know what, there was probably no other way more merciful than popping Nightwing one.

All of this… er… interaction involves Owls. Outside of the Owls, Nightwing must solve a puzzle that Saiko created. How does he prevent the burning of everybody trapped in an enclosed circus tent? Nightwing considers his options in a very chip of the old Bat manner.

Dick comes up with a brilliant solution while dueling to the death high in the air against the Saiko. True, his solution creates another problem, and maybe Batman would have solved that one concurrently, but Nightwing did absolutely fine. 

He addressed the overwhelming dilemma, and I have no doubt that he would have conceived a solution to the new conundrum. The fact is for the first time in a long time, since he was Robin in the pre-Crisis, I actually like Dick Grayson. I felt sorry when Dick loses a woman he cares about because she never cared about him in the first place. I felt bad that Dick lost the innocence of Haley's Circus. I was elated when he returns to his home under Wayne Manor. That's saying a helluva lot. 



Batman Beyond Unlimited #2

Adam Beechen, Norm Breyfogle, Adam Elder{c}; Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen, Dustin Nguyen{p}, Derek Fridolfs{i}, Randy Mayor{c}


Mad Stan and his pocket dog Boom-Boom go nuts on a Russian arms dealer that rifled through Stan's property. Lucius Fox Jr. and Tim Drake return to Wayne, Inc. as Bruce closes a deal to upgrade Gotham PD technology, and Doug, Dana's brother, shaves his head and acts hostile. Oh, yeah, and Batman shows up as well.

This is a solidly okay issue of Batman Beyond, but the premiere gave Norm Breyfogle more action to orchestrate. Still, Mad Stan is a Judge Dredd style villain and his zaniness is quite enjoyable.

In the second story, the Justice League investigate a Cadmus Project situated on the Island That Time Forgot, in order to search for missing Atom-inspired member Micron. Batman stealths inside the Kobra operation that took over the installation and discovers a surprising prisoner while Micron traitors the hell out of the situation. Again, nice, with a sweet moment between Batman and Aquagirl, but not as entertaining as last issue.



Birds of Prey #7

Duane Swierzynski, Jesus Saiz, June Chung{c}


This is an excellent finish for the Choke storyline, or so we thought. Writer Duane Swierzynski demonstrates Black Canary's detective skills, something downplayed in the original Birds of Prey series, which weighed that scale in Barbara's favor. Canary observes and deduces like a professional, but the conclusion we discover at the end of the story turns out to be wrong. I'm certainly not going to fault the Canary. Since, I followed the clues to the same conclusion.

Keeping the Birds in Formation

Swierzynski furthermore exemplifies Canary's newfound leader status. She's never been this strong a character before. Only with her original solo years in the 1940s did she ever exhibit such independent strength. 

Pruning Ivy

The presence of Choke creates conflict and a threat to the Canary's ability to lead without denigrating the character. Mind-control trumps even the best skills and instincts, and unlike most depictions of the subject, Swierzynski's and Jesus Saiz's technique seems more realistic.

Deadly Meme

Instead of thought waves depicted in squiggly lines or a strange device that looks like it might be designed from leftovers from a jumble sale, Swierzynski and letterer Carlos M. Mangual use strange rhymes with an emphasis on the tone of words. Saiz drops natural body language in favor of a marionette like jerkiness to the movements of the characters. Chung blanks eyes to indicate a clouded mind. 

Swierzynski at once uses Choke to reveal some previously undisclosed information on the Canary's new history. The frame of her killing another man creates an even stronger wedge against she and Starling, and Choke's motive is a weird one. Mind you, he's no fan of Batgirl. The bastard.

Starling and Canary have a history, but DC hasn't forgotten the friendship between Batgirl and Dinah. Now, I never really experienced that friendship. Instead, I remember the deep bond between Batgirl and Supergirl. However, Swierzynski's perfect word choice, Saiz with his masterful expressions and June Chung with her warm inviting colors make this relationship so easily felt.

When You're Down and Troubled and You Need a Helping Hand...

You need not have read a single issue of the previous volumes of Birds of Prey to understand the history between these two heroes, and that's how it should be since we don't actually know it. How much of it exists is anybody's guess, and maybe just maybe, it's all new. An entire new history yet to be written rippling through these resonant scenes.



Justice League #7

Geoff Johns, Gene Ha, Art Lyon{c}


Geoff Johns and Gene Ha jump forward in time for this issue of The Justice League, but not too far. The people of planet earth now recognize the League as their saviors. Congress is afraid of them, and the interpersonal dynamics haven't changed one bit.

Green Lamebrain

Green Lantern and Batman still loathe each other. The Flash and Green Lantern are still buddies. Aquaman and Superman get along fine, and Wonder Woman is having difficulty putting up with arguing from the others, which is a pity since she's trying to pursue some sort of relationship with Steve Trevor.


Johns generates friction in his story, and most of it evolves naturally from a clash of different personalities. We've seen this before in the Bruce Timm series, but when it comes to dangers facing the world, the League is on the same page.

Kicking Ass with the Justice League

This issue is pretty much a short-hand of where we are now and foreshadowing for what's to come. It's certainly not a bad issue, but there's no denying that the story's somewhat thin, with the climax and battle being pre-empted by a press conference followed by a Congressional hearing, both focusing questions on Steve Trevor, the League's liaison.

Gene Ha's artwork raises the issue above average. I really don't think Jim Lee would have been appropriate for scenes of people just talking and hanging out. Gene Ha on the other hand cut his teeth on Top Ten. So, he's used to depicting heroes just going about their daily business. He's also familiar with Alan Moore weirdness, and that's why his menace for the League looks so aptly surreal. His depiction of the heroes in action furthermore excels, and I suspect that he actually didn't have a lot of time to perfect his drawings, yet Ha still evolves excitement and chemistry bad or good between the Leaguers.

A lackluster Shazam back-up feature negates the fourth Hall. Johns makes Billy Batson a complete git and craps on the simplicity of the origin. Gary Frank and Brad Anderson contribute excellent artwork that's tries very hard to recapture the innocence of Billy, but the dialogue stymies their attempts, and whoever thought it was a good idea to give Captain Marvel a hoodie, should be taken out and shot.



Supergirl #7

Michael Green and Mike Johnson, Mahmud Asrar, Dave McCaig{c}


Issue #7 of Supergirl is nothing more than the Maid of Might defending the earth against Reign and her fellow World Killer comrades, and you know what? It doesn't have to be anything more. It is, but it doesn't have to be. I would have been completely delighted with Supergirl laying the smack down on these alien annihilators.

The Stolen Fetuses of the Universe

Mikes Green and Johnson brand conviction to their Supergirl who quickly decides to save the innocent from an onslaught of superpowered destruction. The narrative, related from Kara's first person voice and set in the desperate present tense combined with the World Killers' dialogue creates a clash of engrossing stratagems.

Hitting the Girl from Mars with a Car

This technique nicely eliminates any need for expository dialogue that would logically inform Supergirl's opponents of her plans and creates a more sophisticated version of the traditional thought balloon. We're let into Kara's head to see her thinking. We see the whys and the hows, and when necessary Green and Johnson unleash surprises that make the duel all the more thrilling.

Eye Spy

In terms of the fight choreography, it's all Mahmud Asrar's and Dave McCaig's show. What a show it is. Supergirl is in prime form, as she batters her opponents, often with lethal intent.

Rock... Rock. Rock Lobster!

Asrar and McCaig combine Kara's speed, strength and invulnerability into one potent punch. They at the same express Kara's relative inexperience and moral vulnerability in her expression. She simply cannot comprehend the the wanton mass murder these creatures wish to revel in.

Catch The Train

In the end, Supergirl triumphs by not just using preternatural strength and speed but also through a sharp intellect and a force of will that's simply indomitable.




Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #6

Chris Roberson, Jeff Moy{p}, Phil Moy{i}, Romulo Fajardo Jr.{c}


One scene can determine a book's fate. The wrong moment can destroy all the build up and all the good intentions of any writer, but sometimes, on a rare occasion one scene can define all that is right with a book.

There's plenty of enjoyment to be found in this issue of Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes. The way in which Spock and Brainiac 5 free the Q is absolutely perfect. The epilogue with Flint is fantastic and leaves the book on a high note unreliant on battle scenes but more on a shared philosophy. 

However, it's the following speech in the following scene that raises the bar. Not only does Captain James T. Kirk score a hit, a palpable hit against Vandal Savage with the most brilliant explanation for the rationale of any conqueror, his strike is carried on the kind of eloquent dialogue Kirk was known for. You can almost imagine his real life interpreter speaking... these lines... in that... uncanny... staccato delivery.

Happy Birthday William Shatner



Vampirella #15

Eric Trautmann, Jose Malaga, Stefani Rennee{c}


The Church has been in the news lately. Under the facade of protecting religious freedom, the white collars have been speaking out against women and homosexuality while at the same time finding time to keep on secreting their child molesting brethren. Their tune hasn't changed arrangement in decades upon decades, and it still sounds like a cat being strangled. The parallels of such hypocrisy can be seen in Vampirella.

Schuld, Vampirella's Vatican handler, admits to an unsettling truth about himself. He's just a man, and he's not much of one. See, this is where ordinary people screw up the most. They see a vocation as a stopgap to human nature, good and evil. Priests can be rotten and corrupt to the very core, just like anybody else. Priests are mortal beings. They are not holy. Eric Trautmann of course takes Schuld's case to the extremes of supernaturally based vileness but the metaphor isn't lost.

Ironically, it's Vampirella, a vampire, the traditional villain of the piece, who maintains the higher moral ground. It is Vampirella, the scantily clad, wanton looking woman who is the hero. She wants to keep Sofia safe. She readily admits to the truth about herself, and she fights her blood-lust to maintain a connection with humanity. When she unleashes her full power, she does so in defense of others. 

Hero versus Monster

The notable artwork by Malaga and Rennee emphasize the otherworldly attributes of Vampirella. They never let you forget that she is a vampire. The prominent fangs, her shape-changing ability, and her naked ferocity denote a predator. 

Beautiful Beast

They also imbue confidence and courage in her mien. Vampire she is, and she doesn't sparkle, but she also walks the walk of a champion. In contrast, Schuld is a hobgoblin of a man, shrinking with guilt as the lest vestiges of his humanity fall victim to his thirst for power.

Someone on the net apparently doesn't think Vampirella deserves five of anything. They'll be pleased to learn that this issue isn't a five. It's a four. A solidly, good entertaining issue that also makes you think about what makes a hero and what makes a villain.




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.

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