Defying Vatican Hate Dogma

A column article by: Ray Tate

Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. It's time for another column-a-copia of goodies -- Batwing, Creator Owned Comics, Detective, Earth 2, Pantha, World's Finest -- just to name a few -- followed by a review of Snow White and the Huntsman.


The Pick of the Brown Bag


Batwing #9

Judd Winnick, Marcus To{p}, Ryan Winn{i}, Brian Reber{c}


Now that the Massacre and the Court of Owls storyarcs have come to a close, we can really see what the neophyte addition to the Batman Family can do in what amounts to the quality-control issue.

Judd Winnick's story starts out small with the real world problem of African pirates, ably characterized as a threat and kind of a group of cock-ups. A surprising tie-in with Gotham City crime works its devilry in the background. This underlying theme as well reflects the real world. Seemingly minor crimes often can be traced to major syndicates.

This is how a story should function. Building, building and building until plot twists and guest stars foreshadow a startling reveal at the end.

An unannounced Batman Family member adds bantering contrast to our straight-laced eponymous star. The Dark Knight his own bad self cameos to offer deductive support. 

Dark Knights

Winnick however is aware of Batman's all consuming shadow, and he's sure to beef up the star's acumen and inventive genius.

Once again, Winnick demonstrates how to give a new hero wings. Batwing operates in Africa like Batman does in Gotham, but he's not isolated there. He travels to where the mystery takes him. He gladly accepts help when needed. He doesn't deny the Shadow of the Bat, and it doesn't overwhelm his own winning attributes.



Detective Comics #9

Tony S. Daniel, Ed Benes{p}, Rob Hunter{i}, Tomeau Morey{c}


Like Batwing, Detective Comics sneaks up on you. The opening premise seems absurd. Why would a crew of criminals dress as Batman to attack an armored car? Why would they commit murder in the guise of Batman? That's the kind of thing that makes you Batman's personal business.

Mr. Toxic

Mr. Toxic is a new villain that recalls the Bronze age foe Dr. Phosphorous. Mind you, he hasn't a deadly touch, but he does pack some nasty energy attacks. 

Turns out, this Batman doppelgänger stunt is meant to attract Batman because Mr. Toxic has a plan to eliminate the Dark Knight before he becomes a thorn in his side. Naturally, it fails, but the means and the intellect of the villain are nevertheless unforeseen and effective.

Batman tracks Mr. Toxic down by pure detective work, and it's a pleasure to watch the master. You might argue that the trail is hardly obfuscated, but compared to the dullard that Batman was in the post-Crisis, the quickness of his results are most welcome.

Despite the number of events, writer Tony S. Daniel still manages to include a moment shared by Bruce and Charlotte Rivers, his current paramour, injured last issue. The interlude is surprisingly moving, and guest artist Ed Benes educes believable underplayed emotion from the two lovers in the scene.



Earth 2 #2

James Robinson, Nicola Scott{p}, Trevor Scott{i}, Alex Sinclair{c}


The most surprising thing about Earth 2 isn't Alan Scott being a gay man. No, no, no. The most surprising thing about Earth 2 occurs early in the book when Mr. Terrific arrives from earth one to earth two. In Earth 2's Manhattan, which he deduces immediately as a parallel, Mr. Terrific encounters an old hero with a new spin. What happens next just left my jaw on the ground.

Alan Scott being gay is also not the best thing that happens in Earth 2. Nope. The best thing that occurs in Earth 2 is the rebirth of the Flash. Some critics thought the young Jay Garrick less than the silver-capped original. They're wrong. His origin, which is similar to the original, plays out in Earth 2. The Flash immediately goes about saving the day. Nicola Scott's, Trevor Scott's and Alex Sinclair's art energizes the Speedster. Oh, and by the way, new Hawkgirl, looking dangerous and sexy.

The Flash Runs True

So what about Alan Scott being gay? Actually, it doesn't matter a hill of beans. He's not goofy gay like Jack from Will and Grace. He still seems like the Alan Scott whose adventures I thrilled over in the DC Archives. He still resonates a helluva lot more than the cipher Batwoman, and he has picked himself out a nice man to become involved with. Kudos. Funny the Church hasn't spoken out about this updating. I guess they're too busy attacking nuns for defying Vatican hate dogma and handing out $20,000 dollar bonuses for child rape.



World's Finest #2

Paul Levitz, George Perez{p}, Scott Koblish{i}, Hi-Fi{c}; Kevin Maguire, Rosmarie Cheetham{c}


Kevin Maguire's renowned ability to imbue the most expressive characters in comic books is only one of World's Finest's assets. He also illustrates Power Girl in a bikini as she increases her company's wealth through super-powers in a unique way. I realize that's a completely horndog observation, but Power Girl in a bikni ain't nothing to sneeze at.

Shock in the Story So Far...

Of course, we're not in this to see Power Girl in a bikini, however stirring that is. We're here to see Huntress and Power Girl kick the ass of super-powered criminals, and Paul Levitz and George Perez deliver the partnership in spades.

Poor Scott Koblish. The level of detail Perez injects in his artwork is enough to make any inker suffer from a terminal case of hand-cramping, but he enhances everything that Perez puts in. It also has taken this long for color technology to catch up in order to make the most of Perez's imagination.

Perez, though more of an action artist, takes great pleasure in demonstrating the multi-facets of Huntress' and Power Girl's characterization. In one scene, Power Girl takes a more adventurous route in what should have been a routine flight, while carrying Huntress. Helena's hilariously not too keen on Karen's ebullience.

Levitz in turn explains in the writing why older fans like me waxed poetic over these two heroes. Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner did some awesome things with Power Girl as the last survivor of the pre-Crisis Universe, but that Power Girl wasn't as recognizably Kryptonian as this version. Levitz's new lease on Power Girl is that as an adult, she's equal to Superman. That's because she was Supergirl on another earth and grew into womanhood. With this maturity, her power increased. She doesn't just leap. She flies. A V-2 Rocket cannot penetrate her skin. In fact, little can, which makes the successful radiation attacks against her that more searing. However, though her opponent brings her down, she gets back up again, though not without the timely intervention of Huntress.

The Earth-2 Huntress always was ruthless, and Levitz once more exemplifies her meaner streak. In addition to her willingness to cross the line most heroes will not, Huntress comes off as the consummate detective. She exhibits a level of observational skill that the generic version of the character could never have convincingly reached. As she watches her prey, she deduces the nature of him and in the past of Maguire hypothesizes on Darkseid. Her theories may prove to have greater implications in the New 52. 

There was extremely little in the way of friendship binding the heroes in the post-Crisis. With the advent of the New 52, this changed. For instance, Batman and the League members are friends, or will be depending on what books you read, but for a true partnership, World's Finest is where it's at. Huntress and Power Girl display a give and take that was honed through a lifetime, and Levitz writes them that way to give their stories unmatched elegance. 



Smallville #2

Bryan Q. Miller, Pere Perez, Randy Mayor and Chris Beckett{c}


What does this Superman book have that others lack. Everything, I'm afraid. Lex Luthor is the antagonist. Chloe Sullivan is Clark's best friend and protector. Lois is Clark's lover and perpetual fiancee. Everybody likes either Superman or Clark Kent. Sometimes both. No cast member of the series was left behind. Cassidy Freeman's character Mercy, who turned out to be Lex's sister, died at the end of the television series. She haunts Lex in the comic book continuation. Professor Hamilton stayed on the side of the good in Smallville, and he's here as well. So is Oliver Queen, Clark's comrade and second best friend.

Clark Kent actually reports the news, hunts for a story. For this issue, we see him interviewing Hank Henshaw, who in post-Crisis continuity became the Cyborg Superman. Pere Perez who nails the likenesses of the cast creates a distinctive look for Henshaw. In a sense, his visual mimics an actor for a role that doesn't exist. You can imagine a young unknown playing this new character on the television series. In a sense, that actor is taking the role in the comic.

Whereas in the post-Crisis Henshaw was just a composite Superman designed to kill the definite article, this Henshaw proves to be a different animal. He's actually heroic -- doing everything in his power to facilitate Superman's rescue of his crew. He has a life outside the Lexcorp project. This is exactly the kind of depth shift you might find in the series. One need only look at Doomsday to see an example of how the series worked. In the comic, Doomsday was a plot device created to kill Superman. In the television series, he was a tortured individual forced and twisted into becoming this nightmare of Kryptonian genetics.

Miller's dialogue for the cast is lively through and through. Frequently you can imagine the actors saying the lines. He imitates their beats, their timing and their chemistry. Lois, the spitting image of Erica Durance, for example breaks the routine of the press conference with her refusal to stay on the subject that Lex manipulates for other members of the media. Her knowledge of Clark's dual identity makes for snappy repartee and lovely scenes.

This is a Job For Superman

Superman is simply perfect. This is how Superman should look when conducting a rescue. The panel above is just filled with energy. The art, framed by speedlines, jumps at you. The onomatopoeia subliminally sets off a charge. The blurring colors mirror the effects in the series. The look of Superman as portrayed by Tom Welling is just remarkably heroic and zestful The suit he's wearing is somewhat like the New 52, but lacking the uniform collar. So it's the ideal blend of tradition and freshness that you would have been seen on Smallville

Superman/Clark Kent is so winning. The performance in the artwork of Clark Kent, filled with little touches like his habit of pushing up his glasses on his nose, dissuades you that he could be the much more confident, though not cocky, Man of Steel. They really do seem like two different people portrayed by the same actor. Perez draws them with identical features, yet the trick remains. Never has the change in hairstyle and the addition of glasses been so simply effective.

The plotting on this book is linear and easy to follow. The complexity comes from the cast and how they interact, and while Miller changes the points of view, he does so cinematically. Voice carryovers and foreshadowing in the dialogue segue scenes. It's so smoother than the staccato and jangle of Action Comics. Smallville's narrative is like jazz.



Pantha #1

Brandon Jerwa, Pow Podrix, Thiago Dal Bello{c}


Pantha returns to comics. Pantha debuted in the Vampirella magazine published by Warren. Another scantily-clad champion, Pantha was actually an avatar of the Egyptian war goddess Sekhmet.

Brandon Jerwa reintroduces Pantha in an abduction scam involving illegal immigrants at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Surprising to see amongst her allies, Pendragon, who recently betrayed Vampirella in The Scarlet Legion. I guess burning one dangerous gal wasn't enough.

Pantha intends to stop the abductors, but Pendragon wants to use her in his crusade against Chaos, the Big Bad in the Vampirella mythology, not to be confused with KAOS, the organization Maxwell Smart and Control fought in the '60s.

As introductions go, this is a pretty reader friendly one. Jerwa demonstrates Pantha's history through flashbacks and a reminder in the form of what appears to be a reincarnated follower that she attempted to protect in Egypt. At the same time, he directs excellent artist Pow Podrix and superb colorist Thiago Del Bello in a ferocious, furry excursion in which the shape-shifting Pantha takes names.

Hold that Panther

Jerwa introduces some unexpected opposition to throw a spanner in the works of what should have been a simple operation, and it's a neat example of defying the trope: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.



Prophecy #1

Ron Marz, Walter Geovani, Adriano Lucus{c}


The cover to Ron Marz's and Walter Geovani's latest merely spotlights the big dukeroo between Red Sonja and Vampirella. It's not the highlight of Prophecy. Rather it's just one aspect of coolness.

The story flows through time and starts in Victorian London. Somebody has stolen a legendary obsidian knife. The first stars investigating that theft tickled me pink. I didn't expect their appearance at all, but oh, the sense it makes.

From there, Marz segues to the history of the obsidian knife, and we find a time displaced Sonja fighting an old foe far from her usual slashing grounds. Sonja has traveled through time before. Most notably, in Marvel Team-Up to give aid to Spider-Man against Kulan Gath. So, it's at once surprising and fitting to see Sonja take on the role of time traveler yet again.

Another time jump takes her farther into the future, and it's here she meets Vampirella, who fosters the misapprehension that Sonja is in fact a minion of another arch-enemy. Geovani, already a notable Red Sonja artist, makes the warriors' clash a battle between works of art. Red Sonja and Vampirella give artists the opportunity to render the female form in beauty and battle, and Geovani is one of the finest deadly damsels artists of the modern era.

What you might not expect is his dead on rendering of the Victorian gentlemen kicking off the book, or the two page spread giving hints of who readers can expect to see in future issues as Sonja hunts for the obsidian knife to save the world and perhaps the universe from ultimate doom. Not a bad hero, for a self-described mercenary.



Creator Owned Heroes #1

Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, Phil Noto, Steve Niles, Kevin Mellon



Trigger Girl 6

Trigger Girl 6 kind of exemplifies the reason for Creator Owned Heroes' existence. In a Marvel or DC book, Trigger Girl 6's nudity would have been conveniently blocked by the fish swimming about her during her "gestation" beneath the waves. This would have been a crime since Phil Noto is a master of the female form.

As the story continues, we find ourselves transported to a shaker mixing the ingredients of Emma Peel, UFO, The Prisoner and the science fiction elements of the Resident Evil films. Visually, it's as if the ultracool pop sixties never stopped.

Trigger Girl appears to be one of many unusual assassins known to VIPs, probably since they're the ones that use them. Her target is a senator traveling by air, and implication suggests the unseen U.S. President might have sent her.

It's a little too early for definites. In this short introduction, Trigger Girl doesn't actually perform the assassination herself. In a somewhat amusing snafu, she stylishly lets those trying to stop her kill the target. Perhaps, this is the source of her name.


American Muscle

American Muscle posits a post-apocalyptic United States in which a group of friends leave the safe confines of their compound to go on a road trip to find paradise.

I'm a tough sell on a post-apocalyptic anything. I find most treatments to be too optimistic. There's always some rag-tag band of humans scraping to survive the nuclear holocaust/zombie attack. I just don't see it. 

The Day After and Doctor Who's "Turn Left" are the most realistic presentations of the concept I've witnessed. In The Day After everybody dies. The scant survivors will soon die of cancer, even the children. There is no hope. Brilliant and true. In "Turn Left" because the Doctor dies, a chain of tragedies unfolds because he's not there to stop them. Sarah Jane dies. Torchwood dies. The human race undergoes austerity measures that make Greece look like Legoland until the Daleks institute their masterplan. Everybody, the entire universe dies.

Humans aren't clever enough to stop a pernicious global epidemic. We haven't the technology to combat alien conquerors. We would not survive a nuclear strike. There is no Doctor. We've been incredibly lucky so far.

So honestly, I never would have bought American Muscle because I just cannot for an instant suspend my disbelief when it comes to post-apocalypse settings. It takes Milla Jovovich to make me watch and her violent ballet to distract me from the implications of a zombie-inducing virus, not that that can happen, but still...

So, basically, for me, American Muscle is a bonus story to compliment the Phil Noto, Palmiotti and Gray main feature. I still cannot accept the cheery outlook where there's still a group of survivors, but I will say this that the cause of the apocalypse is original, and Steve Niles' dialogue is sterling, creating plausible interaction and never letting you forget that the stars are friends. 



Avengers Academy #30

Christos Gage, Tom Grummett{p}, Corey Hamscher{i}, Chris Sotomayor{c}


Simply put, the smartest, most rationale explanation to start a slugfest between superheroes. Gage's clever upending of a silly Big Stupid Event uses the consequences and the ultimate umbrella effect of these major bellicose crossovers to expose just how silly they are.

It's having your cake and eating it too. Gage gets to pit hero against hero, write funny dialogue and deepen the characterization as well as pick off one of the X-Men for his own team. Grummett takes the rare opportunity to lighten up his artwork with grins, smiles and hamminess from the cast. Sebastian Shaw once again compliments Tigra. Perfect book.



The Saturday Matinee


Snow White and the Huntsman



Well-written, well-acted, Snow White and the Huntsman succeeds as a riveting dark fantasy by eschewing silliness and instead mounting an impressive, dramatic restaging. Gone are the for-kids Disneyfications, and back are the traditions of the Teutonic fable, in which the Huntsman does indeed play a part.

Ninety-five percent unpredictable, Snow White and the Huntsman creates a believable world that's not filled with magic but hides pockets of it, such as the enchanted glen which serves as a piece of living art. For the most part, the setting functions on medieval realism. For example, in the great battle, the combatants use weaponry common for the era. Fireballs fly from catapults, and hot tar boils those that would dare storm the castle. The tide of war depends on natural forces not mystic. Magical manifestations such as the spotlit rock crystal soldiers seen in the trailer are rare and for that reason memorable.



The writers furthermore dispense with chestnuts that would likely feed lesser works for their entire length. For instance, the Queen promises to bring the Huntsman's wife back to life if he aids her, but early in the hunt her promise falls apart and sets up a visceral duel for a later scene. Allusions to Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Celtic myth and Ayesha from the H. Rider Haggard novels haunt the script and the imagery. When the dwarves do appear, they are about as far from the genial Disney caricatures as you can imagine, and Snow White experiences a remarkable transformation that parallels those of historical warrior queens such as Zenobia of Syria.

Charlize Theron commands every one of her scenes as Ravena the witch queen usurper. Rather than bore the audience with a two-dimensional practitioner of dark magic, the writers give her a sad history, which Theron uses to illicit sympathy. We don't boo or hiss at Theron. Instead, we pity her as much as Snow White does. 

Kristen Stewart, a Twilight alum I'm told, surprises by actually having acting, rather than mere moping, ability. Indeed, she conveys innocence without being naive. Rather, she ably embodies the qualities of heroism and goodness while, in a surprising scene of seduction, conveying believable sensuality. She like the rest of the cast do not deliver one-note performances, and her Snow White is a strong role model for little girls without being a preachy one. 

Chris Hemsworth brings Thor down to earth for his portrayal of the Huntsman, and Sam Claflin imbues his handsome prince with substance as well as conviction in battle. Although there is a love story on the edges of the story, this is not a tale about love but the restoration of the royal line to save the realm and lift the blight on the land. Don't expect a traditional ending. This is less a bedtime story and more of a Masterpiece Theater serial elegantly condensed into a single film.




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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