"Eb Enog" Should Be One Word

A column article by: Ray Tate

Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. This week, I look at Jonah Hex and All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman Dark Knight and The Flash. I'll also be peering into the sepulcher of the the new crossover "Rise of the Vampires" in I, Vampire and Justice League Dark.

Creative Team Key: Writer, Penciler {p}, Inker {i}, Colorist {c}

Pick of the Brown Bag

 

All-Star Western #7

Jimmy Palimiotti & Justin Gray, Moritat, Gabriel Bautista{c}; Peter Scherberger{p}, Dan Green and Terry Austin{i}, Michael Atiyeh{c}

DC

All-Star Western is a superb character study of its star, Jonah Hex. I've never been much of a Jonah Hex fan, but ever since Hex moseyed into Gotham City, I became an ardent reader. What happened? The stories haven't became better. Palmiotti and Gray wrote Hex's adventures for a good seven or eight years now, and I have no doubt in the quality of those stories. Ultimately, I think the contrast between the city and the west better establishes the idea of Jonah Hex being a representative of the law.

The west is untamed, you see, and Hex is simply part of the ferocity, or so I thought. Now, it becomes imminently clear that Hex is as much of a hero as Batman, and shares more characteristics with the detective than mere rabble-rousing cowboy. This issue of All-Star Western exemplifies the multi-faceted Hex.

Chasing a wanted fugitive from Gotham City, Jonah Hex arrives in New Orleans with his chronicler Amadeus Arkham in tow. Anarchists blow up an establishment catering to immigrants, and Nighthawk and Cinnamon introduce themselves to the New 52 Universe audience.

His reason for being in New Orleans could have been transplanted into any private eye novel. Hunting is part of a detective's bailiwick, and Hex is a bounty hunter. His immediate decision to risk his own life to save the lives of those caught in the explosion is nothing short of remarkable heroism.

Jonah Hex to the Rescue

However, Hex isn't willing to forgo a foray into New Orleans' underworld in order to stop the bombings, until of course Nighthawk beats him in a fair fistfight, The personal code of ethics distinguishes Hex from the gumshoe. The social mores that Hex follows in this scene suggest samurai. Sergio Leone of course remade samurai films into his and Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name trilogy, but All-Star Western isn't exactly a spaghetti. It's more of a very tasty stew mixing ingredients from various genres.

Nighthawk is an extremely obscure western figure from DC's Western Comics published circa 1948. He was basically patterned after the Lone Ranger as all masked cowboys were, and he's actually best remembered dying in The Crisis of Infinite Earths

The Death of Nighthawk

Jon Ostrander, in the Hawkworld days, scoured the DCU for potential Hawkman incarnations and guaranteed Nighthawk's longevity by adding him to the pantheon. Geoff Johns I believe is the one who decided to include Cinnamon as the Hawkgirl avatar, and also paired them romantically in Hawkman just to reinforce the idea of their being entwined spiritually.

The original Cinnamon and Nighthawk

Honestly, never a rooter of every hero from the Silent Knight to whomever being a past life of a Hawk. Gray and Palmiotti reinforce the idea of Cinnamon and Nighthawk as a couple, but they don't emphasize any ties to Hawkman and Hawkgirl. There are hints to be sure.

Searching the Stars for Thanagar?

However, their approach is more holistic rather than forced. They offer Nighthawk and Cinnamon up to the reader and make them interesting. You don't need to know if they're Hawks or not. 

Masks? How Absurd

It's more important that they know Hex, that they're masked vigilantes--something Cinnamon never was until now--who are out to stop the Anarchists from enforcing their murderous, racist immigration policies. The more things change. The more things stay the same, eh?

He May Wear Gray But He's Not Against the Rainbow

Jonah Hex uses his guile and his rebel uniform to convince the Anarchists he's on their side. Here is another aspect of Hex we rarely see. In order to sell the ruse, Hex must know the politics of the situation, and he comprehends more than one imagines. Furthermore, there's an underlying hate of the fascist philosophy in his dialogue with Hiram Coy.

Hex believes he has tracked the Anarchists to a turn of the century blood sport. The audience emphasizes the perception of the genteel and the commoner. Hex would normally be ostracized from this arena, but instead, because of his service to the South, he's allowed entrance. However, there's little difference in those putting on airs and the combatants. 

Artist Moritat includes a very curious moment in which the prim and proper racist Southern bell Lenore Coy reveals her sensuality to Hex.

New Orleans Nair

It's a weird moment. It could possibly mean that the lady is in fact no lady at all, but her antebellum attitude has raised her above her former station. Alternately, she could be baiting Hex as a better might taunt one of her inferiors. It could also be a means to foreshadow the juxtaposition of sex and violence at the venue and also the equally violent dialogue between our Southern gentleman and Hex. It's doubtful that this illustration was anything but meant.

The Edge of Sylph-Like Destruction

The battle itself is a thrilling example of anatomy in motion, but it's also something more given the design of the characters. Z.C. Branke's pale features, blue eyes and blonde hair is a eugenicist's wet dream. In contrast, the opponents she and Hex face in their opening bouts are hulking, comparatively clumsy. They're immigrants, and they're set up to fail. Mind you, Hex who has no reason to kill exhibits rare mercy. Again, another side of bounty hunter.

Nighthawk and Cinnamon

Even the back up feature in All-Star Western is worth your time. Previous issues featured El Diablo and the superb Barbary Ghost. This issue features Nighthawk and Cinnamon. Peter Scherberger's pencils look excellent beneath the highly detailed inks of Terry Austin and Dan Green--both legends in the field--as well as vibrant with Atiyeh's colors. Palmiotti and Gray enrich Nighthawk's origin story with interracial and period twists. They furthermore enmesh the tale with the main story, detailing rather than merely explaining where Nighthawk retrieved his magic amulet, a Gray and Palmiotti invention.

    

 

Aquaman #7

Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis{p}, Joe Prado{i}, Rod Reis{c}

DC


 

The book opens with Black Manta gruesomely murdering a super heroine. That's the kind of scenario that in the past would send me off on a rant, but there's a difference. First, this is the New 52 Universe, and all the heroines that were killed, maimed or tortured either never existed or have been restored to their full fighting ability. Second, the unfortunate seer Kahina was created by Geoff Johns. Third, she was created to die. Fourth, she's unlikely to be the only victim.

Manta's Threat

Johns reveals that Aquaman belonged to another group before the Justice League known as the Others. Unknowns comprise this team, and unknowns of course are expendable in any genre. If you see somebody that's not the star or co-star of the picture, chances are they're red shirts. They're the unfortunate body count in the giallo leading up to the cat-and-mouse survival of the main target. They're the collateral damage of a mad bomber. They're the poor schmucks killed because of mistaken identity. Now, if Johns kills only the women in this group, then it's proper to cry foul. Even if they're his own characters. I don't believe he will. Until he proves otherwise, I'm giving Johns the benefit of doubt. 

Kahina's death almost seems to be a consequence of Johns actually considering the merit of myriad protests concerning the death of the Phantom Lady in Infinite Crisis.

Once Again, the Very Piss-Poor Death of the Phantom Lady

That was the second generation Phantom Lady. Not the Fox Character. She stood very little chance against Deathstroke. One may argue that the original's experience should have made Deathstroke's contract harder if not impossible to fulfill. In any case, both the Phantom Lady and Johns' Kahina were set up to die. The differences lie in the technique of each execution.

In Infinite Crisis, Johns displayed the Phantom Lady's demise. Nothing was left to the imagination, and as you can see, unintentional or not, it's sexualized by penetration between the Phantom Lady's breasts.

Deathstroke's total lack of respect increases the level of humiliation. Had Deathstroke been merciful or as skillful as he claimed, Phantom Lady would have felt no pain and uttered not a sound. Deathstroke instead had the final say, and his words are unacceptably glib.

Swordswoman

Deathstroke's murder of Phantom Lady is casually cruel. Black Manta on the other hand must first outmaneuver Kahina's precognitive powers. He must then contend with her martial skills. Black Manta in the end cannot win fairly. He must cheat. Thus, Johns really goes out of his way to bolster this created-whole-cloth character.

Whereas Deathstroke's attitude is sexist, Manta almost salutes Kahina by removing his helmet as he lowers her veil. There's a degree of deference between these foes who will meet an end face to face. Black Manta still of course hates Kahina. We don't learn why, but the claw marks on his face might have something to do with it. These likely belong to the panther accompanying Johns' new savage girl Ya'Wara, Kahina's team mate.

The Death of Kahina

When Manta kills Kahina, we do not see her slaying. The implicit maximizes the impact. Unlike the death of Phantom Lady, Kahina's death does not turn into a moment of torture porn, in the literal and/or figurative sense. He also made no bones about it. Manta intended for Kahina to die slowly and painfully. He states that he will "clean" her family like fish. In contrast to Deathstroke, it's very doubtful even if we cannot see the final moment that Manta intended for the sword he uses to be a phallic substitute. Given his movements, he appears to be using the blade to slash and gut not stab.

Kahina's death is a strong, dramatic death. She fights to the last. Manta must cheat in order to win, and he acts stone-cold. He takes no pleasure in Kahina's death. He's a machine. It didn't matter that she was a woman. To Manta, she was one of the Others, and his goal is to exterminate them one by one.

Meanwhile, Aquaman and Mera rescue a ship. When Ya'Wara reappears she implicates Dr. Shin, whom Aquaman visits for information. Aquaman also must stop a duel between Ya'Wara and Mera before it begins.

It may sound like there's not a lot of Aquaman in the eponymous title, but honestly, he's in half the book. Kahina's death that is simply the most riveting, and that's how it should be.

   

 

Batman: The Dark Knight #7

David Finch, Paul Jenkins, David Finch{p}, Richard Friend{i}, Jeromy Cox{c}

DC

The worst-written Batman book happens also to be the one with the most continuity. Previously, Dark Knight featured The Birds of Prey, The Batman Family and even Batwoman.

That wasn't enough to save the pedantic narration about "Fear being a cannibal," art that signified nothing and the apparent 16-year old being touted as Batman's latest love interest. The writers raised the stakes with the Flash's guest appearance.

Dark Knight became a the book where we see the first Batman/Superman team up. 

These guest appearances exemplify the New 52 Universe's cohesiveness, but for everything the writers gave...

...they took something away.

What the Hell?

Finally, Bane revealed himself to be the master of this mish-mash. It turns out his latest batch of Venom increased his intelligence, but apparently not enough to smartly kill Batman during the many chances given to him.

So what do the writers have in store for readers this issue? It's another cavalcade of super-powered guest stars. 

Poison Ivy thrives in these pages, and we learn that Batman approves of her inclusion in Birds of Prey. Probably figures the team to be a better form of rehabilitation. Superman soars for a cameo, and The Flash has a pivotal role.

Dark Knight is another triumph for the New 52, but in terms of story, it's an agonizing migraine.

No, really. What the Hell!

 

 

 

The Flash #7

Francis Manapul, Bruce Buccellatto{c}

DC

The Flash must save two boatloads of innocent Central City denizens from the ice of Captain Cold. Does he make it? Francis Manapul amps the stakes by placing the Flash's current lady love on one of the boats and Iris West, his traditional partner. It's a classic Lady or the Tiger situation, and Manapul uses the consequences of the Flash's power to make it better and worse at the same time.

Flash of Brilliance

There's oodles to recommend. The art continues to use the panels in the most imaginative ways. The tension is turned to 11, and the underlying backbone of the title is science, but ultimately Manapul's characterization of Barry Allen is the best thing about this issue of the Flash.

Flash Out of the Fire

Of all the heroes, The Flash is the nicest. Everybody likes him because he's a stand-up guy who tries to do the right thing. He rescued Patty from the one boat, only to lose Iris. Did he ever try though. He takes down Cold, but when he finds out the whys behind the attack, he relents and makes that promise. You know he'll keep it. 

More Than a Flash of Morality

   

 

Rise of the Vampires

 

Justice League Dark #7

Peter Milligan, Admira Wijaya, Daniel Sampere, Wijaya{c}

DC

Detective Comics #638

Whatever happened to Peter Milligan? He was the writer who reminded us that Batman was human at a time when nobody else believed.

The Human Bomb

He turned into the writer that ruined Jeff Parker's delightful Agents of Atlas by having Jimmy Woo and Namora hooking up. Taking something wonderfully charming and turning it into something "mature."

Then he started Justice League Dark, well-enough until you read the second or third issue where the honorable Boston Brand starts acting like a rat.

This book is horribly written. It's as if Hollywood decided to put together a superhero movie using Vertigo characters and hired the Batman Forever team to create it. That's right. Joel Schumacher as director. Akiva Goldsman as writer. All that's missing are the nipples on the costumes.

The dialogue in Justice League Dark is horrendous. The interactions are nightmarish, and the exposition is poorly realized. Why would anybody need to know Zatanna is the one who speaks her spells backwards, when you can see that she does? John Constantine, who is basically a British guy in a raincoat, is the one who would need the most explanation for newcomers. 

Might As Well Call Them Gladys and Abner

The sole entertainment comes from the guest-star, and she's written in the most bare-bones manner, yet Batgirl fans will want to add this book to their collection. Babs gets to kicks vampire ass. What Batgirl fan wouldn't want to see that?

Best Moment in Justice League Dark

So, it turns out that as Gotham goes to hell, Xanadu's team of supernatural heroes (misfits) can't get their act together to actually combat the vampire menace.

Ever Think About Joining T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents?

I mean, is this entertaining or am I so far out of mainstream that I can't recognize it as entertaining? It's possible. I listen to Blondie, the Go-Gos and the B-52s not Katy Perry or whatever American Idol that's king or queen of the microphone. I want to see a group of professionals deciding how best to deal with a problem and then carry out those plans. I want to see heroes save lives, not bicker about the stupidest things.

Why is it that I cannot enjoy a single moment from even Zatanna? I can only look at the disarray and the dysfunction as the source, and that lies in Peter Milligan's heartless team-up. The artwork certainly doesn't let you down, but what can you say about a writer who even gets the grammar wrong.

"Eb Enog" should be one word.

 

 

I Vampire #7

Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andrea Sorrentino, Marcello Maiolo{c}

DC

The story continues in I Vampire, but really this only offers a slight improvement. The dialogue is much sharper here than in Justice League Dark. The team of Batman Family and Bennett's group more united.

The biggest problem in I Vampire is that Bennett finds himself in the Zero Room. The fifth incarnation of the Doctor retreated to the Zero Room in "Castrovalva" to heal after his fourth regeneration. It's a sort of sensory deprivation chamber in the TARDIS. Only more extreme in that it may be a pocket dimension, within the pocket dimension that comprises the interior of the TARDIS.

Zero Room

Bennett we discover was a supernatural lock setup to prevent Cain, the Big Bad, from escaping. When his ingenue companion chopped off his head last issue, Cain arose to control the vampires. 

One of the other assets in I Vampires favor is that it contains far less exposition than this critique. The writer lets you absorb the story rather than tell it, but the story's predictable if you've seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I mean, we knew Mary, Bennett's former lover and arch-nemesis, would throw her lot in with the heroes because Darla did the same when her baby was threatened on Angel. Spike changed sides when he saw that Adam's scheme was doomed to fail in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Again, this is only a book you want to add to your box if you are a Batman Family completist.

  

 


 

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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