Yeah, Sprok That

A column article by: Ray Tate

Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. This week I look at Avenging Spider-Man, Batman, Batgirl and Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave. I'll also say a few words about Legion Lost, Superboy and John Byrne's latest, Trio.

Of course, we open the games with a review of the new movie The Avengers. It rocks, and Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner who portray Black Widow and Hawkeye were very lucky to have Joss Whedon behind the camera and the script. These were the characters likely to be third wheels instead of integral to the plot. Now, why can't Marvel do this in the comics?


Avenging Spider-Man #7

Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen{p}, Wade von Grawbadger{i}, Matt Hollingsworth{c}


Just as slap-happy as you might expect. After cleaning up a giant monster in the sewers, Spider-Man attempts to be She-Hulk's plus one at an Egyptian art exhibit at a museum. His presence is less than appreciated, but being Spidey, he just can't take a hint. The Web-Slinger follows Shulkie to the function. At the museum, the heroes face skullduggery involving a magic cat statue. Let the magic mayhem begin.

Kathryn Immonen's dialogue fires off a laugh a second while keeping the characterization on the straight and narrow. She preps the plot for a particular punchline, in which, an apparently punch drunk power that be rewards She-Hulk with a very special present. Spidey solves the problem in a completely asinine but effective manner and just goes to show you; sometimes you need a hero willing to make a fool out of himself.

Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?

Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger keeps everything bouncy with their best streamlined art; realistic but conveying the absurdity of the situation. Well, Spidey finds it funny. Matt Hollingsworth manifests some mystical mauves in the climax of the caper and selects a lovely shade of jade for the green giantess.

Avenging Spider-Man offers the reader a crackerjack comedy and doesn't fret over current doings in the other titles or the sometimes idiotic comic book history of the Wall-Crawler. Instead, it's just a fun, stick to the basics antic. 



Night of the Owls


Batman #9

Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo{p}, Jonathan Grapion{i}, {c}


Well, I laughed a good half-hour while reading Batman, and in between I just had a big grin on my face. Batman hands the Talons their collective ass. It's just panel after panel of Batman cutting loose.

The Court of Owls never realized that Batman holds back all the time. As the Dark Knight himself states, the Talons are the undead. They're neither zombies or vampires. They're reanimated immortal assassins. They should have died a long time ago, and Batman decides to balance the books.

Scales of Justice

Greg Capullo looks to be having the time of his life while illustrating the outrageous actions against the Talons. In one particular scene, the Danny Elfman music to Scott Snyder's ready-made Batman movie reaches a crescendo. The entire creative team just hits all the right notes in this concerto for a larger than life hero in black.



Batgirl #9

Gail Simone, Adrian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes, Ulises Arreola{c}, 


Gail Simone creates an entirely different tone with her contribution to the Court of Owls saga. She details the tragic history of one of the Talons and deviates from her fellow writers by making this reanimated assassin sympathetic.

Basing her killer's history in a real failed Japanese attack against the United States during World War II, Simone imbues pathos to the Talon's characterization while simultaneously initiating a clever strategy to kill those on the Court's hit list. The assassination attempts and successes allow the Talon to relive the horror that created her. She is essentially experiencing a kind of perpetual post-traumatic stress exacerbated by her artificially induced longevity.

Duel Between Two Sides of the Same Coin

She was the wrong woman to send against Batgirl, because the Talon recognizes a kinship with Barbara Gordon. She sees right through Barbara's mask. She recognizes the tragedy that helped forge her. She sees Barbara's courage and determination as a reflection of her own undead life, and she's not that far off. In the context of the fiction, Babs resumed her Batgirl career when she could have retired, fully restored. She however is Batgirl. The mask is "branded" to her lovely countenance, and paralysis was merely a setback. The mask externalizes the feeling of being part of something bigger.

At first The Talon's sparing of Barbara appears to co-ordinate with the Court of Owls' exploitation, that is until you realize that the Court knows Batgirl's secret identity, and they will not let a member of the Batman Family live. Their promise to Commissioner Gordon is a sham, and the Court always intended to kill his daughter. The Talon defied orders and showed Barbara mercy. She may have also saw in Barbara a means to finally end a life that she had long ago tired of. Possibly the Talon sees what force of good she could have become if given the opportunity to wear a different mask. All of this subtext and psychology lies beneath an action-packed tapestry of martial arts courtesy of Adrian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes and Ulises Arreola. The artists even the match between the two combatants and create an eerie atmosphere involving the resuscitation of the Japanese attack.



The Culling



In this week's Superboy and Legion Lost, some Big Bad called Harvest decides to stage a Battle Royale (or Hunger Games, for you just-borns) between Superboy, the Teen Titans and lost Legionnaires. This goofy crossover is mostly a shoulder shrug. It lacks the urgency and coherency of the Court of Owls.


Part of the problem lies in Harvey, er…Harvest himself. He kind of reminds me of the so-called Skin of Evil that killed Tasha Yar in Star Trek: Next Generation. He's meant to be something, but you just feel insulted that a Bridge Crew member died because of the one-dimensional nothing.

The feathered nutbar doesn't really instill dread or make you sit back in your chair. You just wonder when this will all end. His aims appear to be one of those For the Greater Good Things. He's selecting the wheat from the chaff in teen super heroes. Doesn't really make sense. I mean if there's that big a threat coming, you want everybody trying to stop it. Not just the big guns like Superman. Oh, wait. Superman's not in this. Funny that.

Anyway, before we meet the Goony Bird. Scott Lobdell explores the themes of clone-killers he brought up in a previous issue. Supergirl informed Superboy that clones always become killers. Of course, that could only apply to Kryptonian clones. Different technology. Different outcome. Warblade, the one with Wolverine envy on the cover to Superboy, keeps goading Superboy into thinking that he's a killer, and this works so well.

Wash with Lava

I will say this. Although Scott Lobdell is writing about something I really can't work up any feeling for, I can appreciate his skill. The dialogue elegantly characterizes all the combatants, gloms me into the theme of the Teen Titans and injects some humor into the grim proceedings.

Tom DeFalco, on the other hand, ladles on the exposition and plays with a big reveal that frankly I have sincere doubts about. He hinted at the "silly" virus hunt being a ruse before and suggested the Legion were in the dark about their true mission. He now reveals another Echo Agent besides Chameleon Girl. Yeah, Sprok that. 

The rest of the dialogue struck me as mechanical, as if DeFalco were waiting for something better and was just doing Legion Lost to pass the time. There's no passion or feeling in the words, and as a result the characters come off as a little stale, not lively like they are in Superboy. Wildfire is the one exception. DeFalco singles him out for some dramatic moments that are unfortunately ultimately scattered by deus ex machina.

In terms of the art, I have no complaints about either book.

R.B. Silva's Dawnstar

Pete Wood's Dawnstar

Yeah, what the fruitcake said. So, sue me, I like sexy, exotic winged chicks.





John Byrne, Ronda Pattison{c}


Well, there's no denying that Trio is John Byrne's version of the Fantastic Four unfettered by its history, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Next Men was John Byrne's version of the X-Men unfettered by its history, and it was pretty fascinating for awhile. Ironically, Next Men became just as confusing and convoluted as X-Men, but in an entirely different way. Let's hope Byrne sticks with the basics in Trio.

Trio isn't an identical copy of the FF. Byrne does some things differently. For example, they're multi-ethnic: consisting of a woman of Asian descent, a man of Arabian descent and a young black teen. Namor arises from the water, but in a more alien form.

Namor by Any Other Name

Rock, Paper, Scissors comprises the Trio. That's not how they refer to themselves, preferring numbers to code names. Byrne adopted a motif first appearing in Superman, the Movie, and it became a theme in his past works The heroes don't name themselves. Reporters do. The recognition of property damage is another of Byrne's consistent threads, and it appears in the dialogue of some of the hopelessly outgunned cops. Byrne also always thinks things through. He looks at how the powers work not just that they do. So even the exposition is interesting because of his pseudoscience.

In short, Trio feels and looks like a Byrne book. The paper stock does justice to his artwork, and he's firing on all cylinders for this debut. With the more deft colorist Ronda Pattison as well as an overall improvement in color technology, Trio easily comes off as one of Byrne's most polished projects. Marvel at the different textures of Rock's hide. An application of color that would be impossible during the Terrax years of The Fantastic Four produces the effect.

If you admire Byrne's skills in illustration and/or writing, you're probably going to enjoy The Trio. I have to admit that I tried Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four when Spidey and Dr. Doom joined the team. Inspired choices. However, I became exasperated by the slow pacing. I would rather read Trio than the actual Fantastic Four title. Byrne is a master of comic book writing. He knows how to shorthand introductions to get on with the rapidly measured story, and he knows that familiarity doesn't necessarily breed contempt.



Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave #2



Bela Lugosi's Tales from the Grave succeeds where other anthology books fail in my opinion. The key I think is in the presence of Lugosi himself. Kerry Gammill's narration beginning inside the cover replicates Bela's rich accented words, and that flows all the way through these weird tales, save of course the one hosted by Nosferina: a cutey-pie vampire that admires Lugosi and visits him during the night to hear his eerie tales. 

What Sight Did He See?

Legendary special-effects artist Rick Baker contributes the striking cover, and the subject features in the first short by Gammill and Kurt Kochanski. Modern day sea salvagers uncover an old tar that returns to his mistress. The joke serving as the spine of the story is a good one, and the Bernie Wrightson inspired artwork suits the grotesque twist in an early 20th century comic strip.

Santo's Little Brother Skippy

"Walgurgis Knight" by Jack Herman and Neil Vokes, who also illustrates the highly recommended love-letter to Hammer studios Flesh and Blood, mashes Mexican wrestling and the Chupacabra for a heady, heroic yet humorous tale of dark fantasy. 

Everybody's favorite horrible, indescribable evil octopoid god squelches in the next story, and writer/artist Michael Dubisch nods to its descendent The Flying Spaghetti Monster and Pastafarians everywhere while retelling the Deep Ones legend in a decidedly modern day setting. Dubitsch furthermore mimics Lovecraft's verbosity and poetic turn of phrase in the narration. I like this story, but the ubiquitous green tinting wears thin after awhile, and I would have liked to seen the monster in full hue. Mind you, I love how the master himself makes a cameo appearance.

Writer Sam Park in "Claws of the Werewolf" finds a new coat of fur for the traditional werewolf tale, and comeuppance for the canine exhibits rare cunning. Before that, though a classic instantly recognizable Internet guru meets his demise. Strong art by James Groman in the EC tradition marks this frightful fancy.

Finally in Joe Freire's outright comedy, we revisit Dr. Vornoff and Lobo from Bride of the Monster in a stop-animation farce in which the good doctor's latest experiment runs amok. This is just a really riotous chaser for the book. Everything from Lobo's non-speech and Vornoff's unholy glee as well as the placement of the tale works hilariously. 

The facts about zombies as told by Lugosi, an attractive Lugosi art gallery and a short but informative interview with Rick Baker fill the remainder of pages. 

This is how we all wanted Lugosi to end up. We wanted him to finish his days or live on forever as a classy horror movie host. Narrating the atrocious Ed Wood opus Glen and Glenda was the closest he came, and that's about as near as Timbuktu. Until somebody discovers the art of resurrection, Tales from the Grave will keep the master alive.




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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