A Bauhaus-Styled Jeff Goldblum

A column article by: Ray Tate

Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. Batman ends the Court of Owls. Batgirl faces Knightfall. Pantha battles friend and foe. Captain Marvel alias Carol Danvers teams with Spider-Man, and the Hoax Hunters debut.


Pick of the Brown Bag


Batman #11

Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, FCO Plascencia


The end of "Night of the Owls," marks an incredible milestone. It's the first Batman story arc that actually pays off. The ebola thing, "No Man's Land," "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive," "War Crimes," "War Games" -- all of these things sucked and/or fizzled at the end, leaving the reader with the question: what was all that for?

"Night of the Owls" forced Batman to question his knowledge of Gotham City. It forced him to reexamine the murder of his parents. It forced him to discover things he'd rather not discover about his son, Dick Grayson, and it taught him a lesson while reestablishing him as the hands down Gotham Protector. "Night of the Owls" was also a powerful enough story to encompass the entirety of the Batman Family, demonstrating that Batman is not alone.

The Truth

At the same time, you must admire the way Scott Snyder employed the conventions of mystery in a whole new way. The pivotal revelation of the story, the reason behind the Court's attacks, the explanation of why now all answered in style. The key to "Night of the Owls" is a classic ruse as old as Edgar Wallace novels. 

Factoring in a secret society, "Night of the Owls" in reality comprise two classic plots festooned in new plummage, and the arc at once served as an exciting mystery for Batman to solve as well as creating new foes for the Dark Knight to battle. This is exemplified by the smart tactic that the Talon, the Owl's assassin, creates for the Dark Knight.

Feel Free to Drop In at Any Time

Snyder doesn't need exposition or melodramatic hyperbole. If Batman lets go, not only will he die, but he will in all likelihood possibly doom a number of innocents. The dilemma arrives in a most unexpected way, but almost as a superhero occupational hazard. Its casualness is key. You don't question the change in environment. Of course, this could happen. It's Batman versus the Court of Owls. In another chapter, Batman had to survive drowning and a bizarre maze.

If ever there was a story to kick off the New 52 and gleam as an example of how different and good the New 52 is, the Court of Owls serves as the ideal. Look no further for the story to reboot the Batman franchise after Dark Knight Rises.



Batgirl #11

Gail Simone, Adrian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes, Ulises Arreola


Adrian Syaf returns with gusto through a knockdown, dragout fight pitting Batgirl against a group of criminal vigilantes, as opposed to the upstanding caped crusaders of the Batman Family whose methods in the New 52 are a little more vicious but nevertheless more lawful. 

The Dark Knight Daredoll is in excellent martial form as she takes these less elegant "crimefighters" down one-by-one, and her opponents' actions indicate an overall arrogance that suggests vastly different agendas that decry the claim of defending Gotham. Indeed, each attack against Batgirl signifies the ego of a gunfighter who believes himself better than the sheriff and merely wants to test the theory, no matter the consequences.

Especially This Psycho

Gail Simone impresses with narration and dialogue that suits Batgirl's historical characterization. Simone's plotting as well exhibits remarkable sharp planning. Clearly, Simone intended at least the barebones of this story long ago, since it ties into the history of Melody McKenna, the police detective who blames Batgirl for her partner's death. Otherwise, she insightfully saw where she could tie-in the troubled officer with the new menace of Knightfall. No matter the truth, it's a commendable story without a loose thread.

Batwoman shows up at the end of the tale. I suppose I'm being too hopeful in thinking that she's the Knightfall mole that Simone suggests has been planted in the Batman Family, if indeed this is the "organization" McKenna refers to. I hate Batwoman. She's just one of the many ciphers created to fulfill the role of Batgirl, when she was crippled, and in my opinion undermine her chances of returning. The latter turned out not to be accurate, but I would just feel more comfortable if Batwoman went away, and Babs came out of the closet, thereby stemming the loss of representing different orientations. In any case, I'm hoping that next issue, Batgirl kicks Batwoman's ass for the fun of it.

If for some reason you haven't been picking up Batgirl, you have a second chance with DC's scrumptious hardback collecting the first six issues including the one in which Batman his own badself guest stars and states: "I have something to tell you. You were always meant to be Batgirl, Barbara."



Pantha #2

Brandon Jerwa, Pow Podrix, Thiago Dal Bello


Pantha was a bit pissed off at being taken out of battle with the mamba woman in her Dynamite premiere. So she immediately starts out clawing and hissing at Pendragon and his Chaos fighters. Not to be confused with 99 and Maxwell Smart.

Lorelei the siren learns the hard way that Pantha is not a kitty to tease. The disgusting dude with mouths all over his body, the so-called Tongueman, is smart enough to back away from this clawed argument.

Because of the stakes, you can understand the battle between protagonists, and that's often a damn sight better a lot of comic books have managed in the past; The Civil War for example. Writer Brandon Jerwa furthermore ties in the book with recent events in Vampirella. For example, Pendragon bargained his soul to fight Chaos. So, he's guarded by ne'er do wells who add to the furnishings.

While Pantha and Pendragon's allies establish territory, Jerwa resurrects a serious Vampirella Big Bad. Readers will be surprised at the villain's attitude, as it offers a certain mature introspection that never seemed a likely component of the monster's personality. Jerwa however makes this new addition work, and the fiend's perspective adds another layer to the story.

Pow Podrix's and Thiago Dal Bello's art is decent throughout Pantha. An exceptional moment can be found in the flashback to Egypt where Pantha lost a follower to whom she pledged protection. Another god appears to gloat, and Sekhmet, Pantha's former sobriquet, takes him down a peg or two in violent and colorful fashion. You can argue that violence and gore are easy to depict, but Podrix and Bello do not merely strike one note: 

Pantha in quiet reflection over the death of her disciple that's quite effective.



Avenging Spider-Man #9

Kelly Sue DeConnick, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Edgar Delgado


So, I have Captain Marvel on my list of titles to buy, and I thought that Avenging Spider-Man would give me a taste of things to come. I hope not.

My problems could arise from the fact that, due to the occult annulment of his marriage, I haven't read a continuity Spider-Man book in years. Is he really such a whiny sphincter nowadays? If so, I don't think I'll be picking up any more Spider-Man books.

The old Spidey was an intelligent, stand-up guy with a mouth that wouldn't quit, but in terms of wisecracking. Not complaining about flying, which is really a curious thing for an award-winning photojournalist. Is that gone as well? 

Spider-Man tends to humiliate his villains while beating on them. To be fair, there's nobody to humiliate here. The antagonist is a young girl with an anarchist's heart. Her dialogue is mighty strange, and Spidey doesn't sound like the web-slinger I knew. His speech is rather flat, and I don't recall Spidey carping like a stereotype curmudgeon trying to return soup that's a tad too hot.

I see Spidey saying something like: "So, how many frequent flyer miles do you get with that jet pack?" and/or "Do you think a jet pack would clash with my webbing?" not weak tea like this:


The antagonist is a bank robber, apparently, we don't see the swag, and somehow the law's been suspended to allow banks the luxury to hire armored guards that blast unarmed little girls out of the sky with surface to air missiles.

Now, financial institutions are crap, and I don't mean the local banks where most people keep money. I refer to the mothership conglomerates that helped kneecap the economy by dry humping toxic assets. As bad as the CEOs of these places are, would they actually get away with hiring some former Blackwater thug to murder a cute girl who isn't packing heat and doesn't represent a threat to innocent people? I'm thinking no. Licensed private investigators cannot commit executions. On what planet would mercenaries be allowed to do that? You know, whenever you hear of somebody trying to hire a hit man in on the news, invariably that hit man turns out to be an undercover cop, and the hirer goes to jail. Contractors only thrive in third world countries where the law can be bought.

Even if we accept bank presidents can get away with murder, such an attack would be a public relations nightmare. They can deflect charges of increasing unemployment and driving people into poverty since these slow deaths are the result of complex economic sleights of hand. Outright murder is simpler and easier to trace, and no matter how many palms are greased, murder still bears stigma that demands public outrage. Furthermore, the actions of this thug in armor, are especially ridiculous since there are so many more advanced, non-lethal ways to deal with such crusaders: bean bag rounds, tasers, money dye-packs, just to name a few. Those are in reality, in fiction we have the ever reliable mercy bullet. So, I find the premise to the story a very hard to swallow.

The artifice of the tale does neither Spider-Man or the barely there Ms. Marvel any favors, but one thing is certain. The Dodsons' artwork is absolutely charming, and they eschew the charges of cheesecake that have plagued them ever since Kevin Smith's crime against humanity Spider-Man/Black Cat The Evil That Men Do. Reworked as an art deco statuette come to life, Captain Marvel visually looks stunning. Unfortunately, Kelly Sue DeConnick's scripting just doesn't match the potency of the artwork:

Erte II Electric Boogaloo



Hoax Hunters #1

Matt Moreci & Steve Seeley, Axel Medellin


I stopped believing in Bigfoot and Nessie after the best evidence had been proven false. In the case of Bigfoot, a clear money trail explained the perpetuation of the myth. The man behind the classic photograph of Nessie demonstrated how they created the image. I'm afraid these facts laid the last hint of religion in my life to rest, unless you count an existential conviction in humanity ultimately evolving to be a force of good. However, I can still enjoy a good Bigfoot tale.

Operating under the guise of a debunking television series, the Hoax Hunters in truth protect the Cryptozoology on our planet. The well-written story combines X-Files, Ghost Hunters and Sanctuary for a trip to the bayou in which a swampy species of Sasquatch finds itself under threat. The Hoax Hunters investigate the mystery.

Judging from the clues, it appears the government sponsors the Hoax Hunters, and wouldn't it be a hoot if their budget was found in the Endangered Species Act? The hominids in question however are a little more intelligent than one expects, and there's an idea that they are not just a separate species but a culture living reserves.

The Hoax Hunters consist of a bizarre cameraman in an astronaut suit; a cynical gent in black, sort of a Bauhaus-styled Jeff Goldblum archetype from Jurassic Park; Jack, the big Luke Cage chap, and Regan, the foxy little number on the cover. Though these characters might look familiar, their characterization forms from strong dialogue implying original, rich histories. Imagine a science fiction series that casts a group of unknowns in clearly cut from the mold roles, but it turns out these unknowns can really act. That's the feeling you get while reading Hoax Hunters.



Not Reviewed this Week

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE was a little too derivative of Gamera, The Prisoner and the Doctor Who episode "The Beast Below." Still entertaining though.

There was nothing at all wrong with Swamp Thing, it's just more visual than most issues with a duel between Arcane and Swampy that's reminiscent of giant monster fights. Therefore recommended.

Thunderbolts features a sweet move against Dr. Doom by Satana, but I don't give a rat's behind about the Dark Avengers. The exchange between Skaar and Luke Cage was nice though.


The Saturday Matinee

I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man last week, and I liked it. Thought it was second only to Spider-Man 2, the one with Doc Ock. Don't know why my colleagues seem to be taking pot-shots at it. Andrew Garfield is an appealing web-slinger and Peter Parker. Emma Stone imbues more depth to Gwen Stacy than the character actually possessed. The supporting cast was great. Several memorable moments punctuated the visual narrative, and the makers of the film gave poor Curt Conners some dignity. If Dark Knight Rises is as good as Amazing Spider-Man, I'll be a happy man.




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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