Makes Gymkata look like To Kill A Mockingbird

A column article by: Ray Tate

Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. This week, I look at Superman. Has the change in writers and artists improved the title? Old favorites All-Star Western, Aquaman and The Flash are on the docket, and independents Bart Simpson Comics and the new Vampirella miniseries fill out the remainder. This week also debuts Where are the 'Bots? A section dealing with so-bad-they're -good movies available on DVD. This week, it's Night of the Lepus.


Pick of the Brown Bag


All-Star Western #8

Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, Moritat; Patrick Scherberger{p}, Dan Green{i}, Mike Atiyeh{c}


A somewhat laid-back issue of All-Star Western nevertheless still exemplifies the skilll and certainty of writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. While Hex secures his place in the New Orleans anarchists, Arkham decides to take a vacation with the opium dens and the arms of willing women bought and paid for. Intriguingly, Palmiotti and Gray once again call into question exactly what is civilization -- Arkham and what is savage -- Hex.

An Arkham in His Side

At the same time, Gray and Palmiotti use Arkham's proclivities to endanger his partner thus upsetting Hex's smooth ruse and at the same time upholding the pulp tradition of crooked cops waylaying the efforts of the honest P.I. While Arkham ruins the plan, Hex unknowingly carries out the scheme by dueling against the sylph-like sociopath Z.C. Brande. The fight isn't as grueling as some of those Hex waged, but that's to be expected since Z.C. Brande's skill and Hex's cunning balance each other out.

Surprisingly, Moritat's fight choreography while excellent doesn't offer the best scene. No, that occurs later when Z.C. exhibits puppy-like affection toward her anarchist compatriots. The scene is at once funny, weird and fitting given Z.C.'s character.

The backup features Nighthawk and Cinnamon securing the magic amulets mentioned previously. This is going to raise a number of issues involving Hawk continuity and the New 52. It's possible the amulets are Nth Metal, that which allows the Hawks to fly, but it's also reasonable to suggest the gunslingers' discoveries in the mine have nothing to do with Hawkman. 

Palmiotti and Gray keep mum on the subject and leave the continuity debatable. For those who care not, Patrick Scherberger, Dan Green and Mike Atiyeh relate Cinnamon's origin with far from parched artwork. Gray and Palmiotti take a few detours from the original Weird Western Tales and beef up the red-head's beginnings with an inclusion that will make samaurai fans happy.




Aquaman #8

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


Perhaps tying into Aquaman's past hunt for the Black Manta, the sea king finds himself under media seige after his father was found murdered. At this time the shady scientist, Shin begs Aquaman for forgiveness and gains the strange neck wound that will scar him in our present. Did Black Manta kill Aquaman's father and burn Shin in the process? Johns isn't yet ready to divulge this information. 

This issue of Aquaman teases the past while characterizing new characters that are old in the New 52. Last issue we discovered that Aquaman was part of another super team pre-dating the Justice League called the Others. This issue fills in some details about the group. With just a few lines Geoff Johns makes the Others more potent a team than Justice League International.

Johns has toughened Aquaman to no longer be Sienfeld's bitch. He's not exactly merciful in the New 52. Instead, he takes as many names as Batman does. However, the present day Aquaman is a sweetheart in comparison to his past self. That incarnation of Aquaman is driven to kill Manta and will not be dissuaded by moral distractions. The Others hunt Manta, but during their trek, they become heroes when a natural disaster strikes. Less obsessed than Aquaman, each of them comes to the same conclusion. The innocent must be rescued. 

The Others who should by all rights be generic turn out to be bona fide champions with unusual powers and valorous attitudes. They also benefit from Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis taking them seriously. As a result, the Others resonate artistically as well as through the power of their actions. The authenticity of the characters work in the background of the story. The Others' influence tempers the more familiar Aquaman's compulsion, stopping him before he becomes eaten alive by bitterness. They help shape the heroic man he will become.



The Flash #8

Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato


Mark Waid conceived the Speed Force as a mystic dimension that changed mortal beings into speedsters. This was perhaps the same domain that Speed Racer found himself transported to when he drove a car housing the dreaded GR-X engine. I always hated the Speed Force. Speed is simply kinetic energy, and it's bound by the laws of four dimensions. The Speed Force, an essentially magical realm, muddied the waters of the largely science-based Flash. 

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato take that poorly worked idea and give it Newtonian teeth. Their elegant explanation of how the Speed Force works undermines the apparent sorcery behind the "dimension." Manapul and Buccellato suggest that the Speed Force is a mass of energy, not a place. It's so huge that it's mistaken for a place. The energy field's natural presence in the universe possibly the multiverse facilitates speedsters like the Flash through scientific mechanisms not via miracle. It's not zen. It's thermodynamics.

The ideas conceived by Manapul and Buccellato lie perfectly within the realms of physics. Furthermore not just the Speed Force makes the Flash. Rather, some quirk in biology, or perhaps the alteration of Barry Allen's biology by the chemical bath allowed him to become a conduit and living battery for the energy. That makes sense.

Indeed, the original accident lacks providence as well as the designs of a fifth-dimensional imp suggested by a horrible Silver Age story. Rather, the lightning that struck Barry is an inevitable consequence of the Speed Force. I love this explanation. 

Manapul's and Brucellato's ingenious theorizing furthermore elegantly explains the current dilemma the Flash faces. We discover he's not actually pulling objects from different periods in the time stream. It's much more complex than that and involves a lost Tuskegee Airman. The inclusion of this new character suffering from the opposite concern of the Flash is utterly brilliant. I can can visualize these events in my head, hear the sound effects and sympathize with the cause.


Because I love science.


Superman #8

Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens{co-writer and artist}, Jesus Merino{art finishes}, Tanya and Richard Horie{c}


For some reason Dan Jurgens' adequate to actually decent writing skills suffer in the New 52 Universe. Like Justice League International, he drops plotlines willy-nilly and expects you simply to accept the missing page. Either that, or Keith Giffen, picked up the script after Dan Jurgens wrote the first chapter and ignored everything Jurgens put down on paper. Just looked at the pictures. Either way, lousy techniques.

I'm a Nutter!

Last issue, Helspont, the chap that looks like the Ghost Rider girded in a suit of Jack Kirby armor rolled his eyes, attacked Superman and gibbered like a maniac. This issue, he pulls a Mongul and stuffs Superman's mouth with a Black Mercy, just like in "For the Man Who Has Everything." Naturally, it gives Superman a nightmare; mind you, Alan Moore's original botany lesson was much more satisfying and complex. In Moore's tale, Superman gains his fondest desire, only his fantasy goes horribly wrong. In the current issue of Superman Kal-El immediately rejects the false reality.

After Superman denies the make-believe, Helspont comes off as this borderline caring, neutral being. He apologizes for his "unfortunate outburst" and conducts his business with Superman more civilly. This of course does not make sense unless the Daemonite, whatever the hell that is, suffers from bipolar disorder.

No, wait. I'm not. Would you like a cup of tea?

Helspont's mannerly behavior doesn't last long. After a leisurely walk, the Jurgens creation decides to resume his original performance and accompanies the try out for Arkham with another attack on Superman.

Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! I AM a nutter!

At least the artwork in this issue of Superman is more energetic than the last mediocre presentation. There appears to be a lot more Jesus Merino influence in these pages than before, and our jolly finisher with the Horries amps the impact with detailed levels of destruction.



Bart Simpson Comics #70

Michael Auschenker, James Lloyd{p}, Mike Rote{i}, Art Villanueva{c}; Eric Rogers, Nina Matsumoto{p}, Terry Austin{i}, Nathan Hamill{c}


In "The Black Tooth," Michael Aushcenker scares Bart out of his candy compulsion. In "Girl Power," Lisa's contribution to her father's job at the nuclear power plant improves his standing to a dangerous end.

"Black Tooth" is a decent story but not a massively funny tale. Amusing scenes involving ethereal angels and hellish devils floating on over Bart's shoulders offering Bart advice echo back to Looney Tunes. The advice from both is lousy, and fits The Simpsons motto of "Don't even try." 

James Lloyd, Rote and Villanueva depict a plausible boyish nightmare in the Black Tooth. The visual recalls the cheap costumes of Attack of the Giant Leeches. The biggest laugh however arises from the killler punch line and that laugh lasts longest.

"Girl Power," on the other hand, is a sweet tale with its jokes running through the Power Plant. Homer takes advantage of Lisa's want to be tidy, and in a way her own instincts set up her downfall. 

Fortunately, her father loves her more than life itself, and Nine Matsumoto with legendary inker Terry Austin convey Homer's willingness to do anything for his daughter including act like a extra sloven buffoon to better her future. In this case the punch line strikes with a genuinely sweet impact. 



Vampirella: The Red Room #1

Dan Brereton, Jean Diaz, Alex Guimaraes{c}


In Dan Brereton's latest, Vampirella stalks a vampire to an ultimate fighting arena. On the way, she may have gained an ally in a former sheriff named Aaron Aubrey Burr. Of course, his name may say it all. Mind you, Burr was acquitted of treason.

Jean Diaz and Alex Guimaraes tap a vein that depicts Vampirella in a tall, elegant lank form early in the story. 

"A Hero in Black"

When Vee inevitably enters the ring, she wears her trademark red bathing suit, leaving little to the imagination. However, Diaz and Guimaraes nevertheless characterize her visually as a predator. Her eyes grow red. She bears her fangs as well as flesh, and while her nipples harden -- more in a reaction to the excitement of blood lust rather than sexual desire, her muscle also flexes.

Watch Out, Boy. She'll Chew You Up

In addition to Vee's presence, Diaz and Guimaraes choreograph Brereton's action-packed direction. Like Vee's regular creative team, Trautmann and Berkenkotter, Brereton and his artists orchestrate a dance macabre that highlight's Vee's supernatural strength. However, there's simply no way either team could have known about the other's intent. Instead, I'm betting that these moments of sheer ferocity arose from serendipity. Brereton and Trautmann probably looked at past works and saw Vee holding back. Both decided she is a vampire. Let's show it, and we'll screw Twilight in the process.

Diaz's and Guimaraes' artwork is impressive, but it's Brereton's narration the raises this Vampirella miniseries even above the many good issues in her regular series. Brereton, known more for his artwork than his writing, paints words in unashamed pulp prose:

"We're walking through a lurid paperback now…ripe with crime, whiskey and corruption."

That's the kind of prickly turn of phrase I relish. 



Where Are the Bots?


Night of the Lepus

Available as an MOD (made to order DVD) from the Warner Brothers Archive.

Whomever convinced somebody to shell out money for this remarkable film should be knighted, and the investors should never be allowed to handle coin again. With big genre headliners such as Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun and DeForest Kelly, the quality of the acting far, far, far outstrips the material, and what material it is.

You will find it difficult to keep a straight face as forced perspective giant bunnies trounce a western town. Easily the cutest invasion ever filmed, Night of the Lepus is surprisingly gory, which just adds to the fun. The very idea that these cuddly puffball refugees from the pet store could be the culprits behind mass murder is just absurd. Attempts to paint the rabbits' mouths and teeth with strawberry jam standing in for grue are hilarious, and nothing in the movie issues the remotest shred of threat. If a call for help went out to Gamera, and our hero arrived to find giant bunnies hopping at his feet, their paws red from the guts of their victims, his first thought would be "What the fuck?"

From a technical standpoint, the disc is flawless. The crisp presentation is way better than this flick deserves. The scenery looks gorgeous. Every sweet little hair on the bunny fur bristles. The blacks are solid so you can appreciate the literal display of the title, and as always the enhanced digital quality captures more of the actors' nuanced performances, which just makes this straight-faced defense against giant rabbit invasion even more riotous. The crystal clear audio preserves a fantastically out of place soundtrack that belongs in a giallo and the ludicrous woaws of wabbits.

Night of the Lepus is outrageously silly. It's an ideal party flick, or a great relaxant when one has had a grueling day at work. Popcorn welcome. 

Finally, speaking of bad ideas. What the hell?

This just makes Gymkata look like To Kill A Mockingbird.



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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