Like a Pipistrelle to a Bughouse

A column article by: Ray Tate

Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. This week, Batman tangles with new villain Mr. Toxic. The Dark Knight also crosses paths with Batwing and Nightwing to put the kibosh on the Penguin. Our World's Finest team of Huntress and Power Girl wage a battle against Hakkou. On Earth 2, Alan Scott becomes the Green Lantern. Incidentally, these last two books just might be the most realistic of the lot given the discovery of the Higgs Boson. Congrats scientists! Superman roars in Smallville. Trigger Girl wages an attack and Vampirella continues her unwanted stay in the Red Room while erstwhile Doctor Who artist/writer Matthew Dow Smith stretches his muscles for The October Girl.


Pick of the Brown Bag


Batwing #11

Judd Winnick, Marcus To, Ryan Winn, Brian Reber


Packed with action as well as high tech detective work, Batwing once again soars as the most successful spin-off starring a Batman figure that is completely unrelated to the Dark Knight and his history. There have been others, and like Icarus, they've slammed right into the ground.

Stay Aloft

The reasons behind this are many, but primarily, DC's full weight is behind this book. Judd Winnick, an excellent overall writer, has created a plausible Africa in a super-powered world that rivals Marvel's Wakanda based Africa. Batwing could have worked without a Batman tie-in. That just makes it easier, and rather than use Batman as a superficiality, Winnick integrates Batman lore into Batwing's creation and operation. The Shadow of the Bat makes a good book a great book.

Batwing and Nightwing continue their battle against an honest to goodness dragon. Winnick updates the traditional Chinese trickster by placing him squarely in organized Internet crime and boosting him as a potent adversary for Batwing and Nightwing. The detection leads to another pocket of crime before dropping the football into the lap of Gotham's foulest bird, and that allows Winnick and talented artists Marcus To, Ryan Winn and Brian Reber to pool their efforts for a pitch-perfect Batman appearance.

As Batwing aids Batman's hunt for the nuclear device bouncing on the black market, Batwing's partner Matu Ba mourns the death of his family, from last issue. Matu visits the place of burial, an African Latveria ruled by a despot with an iron fist and his creatively imagined superpowered cohorts. This trek to an an exciting cliffhanger, promising more trouble for the Winged Knight as modern lucre enriches a fascinating chapter in the opening of a new story.



Detective Comics #11

Tony S. Daniel, Julio Ferriera, Eduardo Pansica, Tomeau Morey


Writer Tony S. Daniel takes a real-world terror technique and combines it with the DNA of science fiction to explain two conundrums that arose in Detective Comics' last issue. Why would Batman doppelgängers explosively sacrifice their lives for new villain Mr. Toxic? I mean, yeah, impressing the boss is one thing, but still...Why would you demand your men to dress up like Batman in the first place? That would attract Batman like a pipistrelle to a bughouse.

Daniel imbues the science fiction elements subtly into a cutting edge real world, and there's a real Batman: The Animated Series feel to the whole exercise facilitated by the tabula rasa of the New 52. These attributes exploited by Daniel have been done elsewhere, but the delivery seems entirely fresh; as if Batman or anybody else for that matter never encountered such things before. For a comparison, check out The Animated Series two-parter involving robots. When watching the episode, the characters react as if robots were this new invention.


Daniel builds a lot of the work on the foundation of discovery. Batman observes what others fail to see. He incorporates new data which others would dismiss. In other words, he acts like "The World's Greatest Detective."

It's not all cerebral. The battle between Batman and Mr. Toxic is a visceral beat down pitting martial skill dulled by radioactive interference against a near immovable object, and artist Ferriera pulls out all the stops to depict Batman as the ultimate fighter.

Not So Enigmatic



World's Finest #3

Paul Levitz, George Perez, Scott Koblish, Hi-Fi; Kevin Maguire, Rosmarie Cheetham


Originally, World's Finest comics was known as World's Best comics. Whatever the title, once Batman and Superman partnered up, they represented the pinnacle of teamwork. Last issue, in Justice League, Batman revealed that Superman and he work together outside of the League. However, I think Helena and Kara, alias Huntress and Power Girl, have got them both beat.

Paul Levitz fosters an easy friendship between the two legacy heroes. That friendship reflects in an experienced partnership in crimefighting that creates near telepathy between the champions. 

Taking One for the Team 

The symbiosis apparent in their relationship translates to an elegant dynamism found in George Perez's artwork. Perez honestly just exceeds his previous work. I'm talking Justice League, Teen Titans, everything just pales in comparison to his current accomplishments on World's Finest. The Huntress and Power Girl, as rebooted to what they once were, seems to invigorate his artwork. 

He's not detailing the exploits of weak imitations. These are the bona fide articles. Huntress is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. So she damn well better be the limberest detective on the planet. Power Girl is the Supergirl of earth two. So, she better have the stamina and willpower inherent to those from the House of El. Perez's depiction lives up to the should haves.

Kevin Maguire of course is known for his illustrations for expressive faces and emotive body language. That reputation is represented in two wonderful pages divided into five equal panels per page that amounts to twenty different changes in countenance.

The Eadward Muybridge of Comic Book Art

Maguire is more than just a one trick pony. He amply demonstrates the differences in Kara's and Helena's personalities through the style of clothing they wear, and he also reminds the audience that he's also no slouch when subtly displaying superpowers. 

Floaty Library Scene

Everybody on this title seems to be enjoying themselves. A lot of people outside of the comic book field consider inkers to be tracers. Okay. Think about how much fun you had as a kid tracing over your own comic books. Now imagine that feeling pumped to eleven. That's how Ray McCarthy must feel. He's probably breaking every nib he's got, so to speak, to detail Perez's tight pencils but he's enriching the pencils of a modern legend for characters that fans have been wanting to see again ever since they were erased so many years ago. Now take that black and white presentation. Oh, it looks damn good, but imagine what it would be with the right colors. Hi-Fi must be having a blast on this title, and Rosemarie Cheetham while not contributing the lion's share must know what an honor it is to be included on the World's Finest team.



Earth 2 #3

James Robinson, Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott, Alex Sinclair


Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott and Alex Sinclair combine forces to create a Hawkgirl that's a beautiful woman of color. She's a terrific example of DC's pledge to bring diversity to the comics, and this isn't some third tier character. Hawkgirl made her impact in Cartoon Network's Justice League. She's now a more iconic figure than Hawkman, who debuted in The Super-Friends.

In Earth 2, Hawkgirl tests the newest incarnation of Jay Garrick's Flash and suggests a new Dr. Fate isn't far behind on the roster. If it were just these two, Earth 2 would be a decent comic book, but the story's not merely bout a couple of heroes shadow boxing. Rather, Earth 2 focuses on the rebirth of the original Green Lantern, and that's what makes Earth 2 a great comic book.

The original green flame possessed a fairy tale type origin; it would appear thrice in the world. Once, it would bring life. Then, it would bring death. Its third avatar would usher power. This fable described the use and misuse of the green lantern forged from the cosmic metal, giving it the stigma of a Hope Diamond curse. James Robinson takes Bill Finger's and Martin Nodell's basic concept of a meteoric, empowering green flame to more resonant depths.

The future Green Lantern is one of the survivors of a bullet train disaster, one that the green flame attempted to prevent but failed. It only managed to protect the man who will wield its power. With powerful dialogue, the green flame identifies itself as a force from the earth. Now, this is something interesting. Alan Scott becomes the champion of the green, like another certain Guardian of the Universe.

He Came from Atlantis to Save the Human Race

Like Gamera, Scott draws upon the living energy of the earth to absorb an, for all intent and purpose, unlimited source of power to defend the planet. This change in origin results in two intriguing differences from the original. One, the power of the Green Lantern of earth two doesn't originate from space like the Green Lantern of earth one. Two, the power literally binds Green Lantern of earth two to the planet. 

Further tweaks tie in with events that just occurred in the premiere and second issue of Earth 2. The Green Flame only appears when a champion is needed. It didn't manifest until the day when Alan's bullet train was attacked because Superman -- "The Sun God" -- defended the planet. Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman sacrificed their lives to save their earth from Darkseid. The death of Alan's lover spurs him into wearing the ring he intended for Sam and allowing the Green Flame to change it into the more familiar Green Lantern ring.

I was lucky enough to meet and talk to the man who created Green Lantern. Martin Nodell drew upon the mythologies of the world to craft Green Lantern. The look of his boots for example alluded to Thor. The wooden bane came from the legend of Balder and mistletoe. James Robinson makes Green Lantern less a conglomerate of myth and more of an existential symbol of life and hope. This is even more evident when he establishes dualism with the simultaneous rebirth of the yang to Scott's yin. The villain's name is well known, but Robinson studies the grotesque figure and sees a pattern that others missed to make him the symbol of death and despair.



Smallville #3

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


Yeah, this is how it's done. Smallville has everything anybody can want in a story. Superman wants to talk to Luthor about Hank Henshaw's "accident."

Walkin' on Walkin' on Walkin' on Broken Glass

This is their first meeting as far as Luthor's concern because in the series finale of Smallville Tess Mercer, Lex's sister injected him with toxin that wiped out his memory -- thereby protecting Clark's secret identity.

Although Luthor killed Tess, she exists as a phantom, but writer Bryan Q. Miller sells a more rational pseudoscientific alternative, which neatly explains Luthor's want for a guinea pig in Henshaw and giving him a rationale for sabotage.

Superman's rescue of Henshaw and his crew on the shuttle piques the military's interest, and they stupidly wage a war in the skies that threatens innocent civilian life, including General Lane's daughter Lois. Superman of course saves her in an action packed scenario also rippling with hilarious dialogue that mimics Erica Durrance's delivery.

Sweeping Her Off Her Feet

The rescue leads to romantic moment with the two would-be spouses -- they just can't seem to find the time to get the marriage on the rails.

The actual married couple in the book, Oliver Queen alias the Green Arrow and Chloe Sullivan-Queen, alias Watchtower search the Smallville cornfields for a downed starship. The Nick and Nora Charles of the superhero set find a more intriguing mystery than aliens.

Queen and Country

So what do we have? Arch-villainy, daring-do with plenty of action, romance and comedy. Am I leaving anything out? How about the artwork by Pere Perez, Randy Mayor and Chris Beckett which effortlessly capture's the cast's likeness? Smallville is the best Superman book DC's publishing. It will please the fans, the newbies and just somebody looking for a good story.



Creator Owned Heroes #2

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


Trigger Girl 6

Trigger Girl operates a flying suit to reach her target, the U.S. President; kiboshing my original thought that the President was targeting the Senator from last issue. The whole thing looks like a movie storyboard, gracefully detailing the visual narrative.

The hit all goes swimmingly, up to a point. In addition to the sweet action, Phil Noto adds a little scene of humanity. When Trigger Girl bursts onto the scene of a catwalk, she takes a moment to brush the glass out of her hair. The chapter ends on an original, eye-raising plot twist, courtesy of Palmiotti and Gray. 

American Muscle

Maybe it's because of the celebratory douchery in Prometheus, but I greatly appreciated the camaraderie between the road trippers in American Muscle

The way they stick together and help each other survive is a winning contrast to the post-apocalyptic desolation that mutated the populace. I'm a tough sell on this particular sub-genre of scifi, but because of the relationships American Muscle works for me.

The remainder of the comic book magazine includes an in interview with Paul Pope, an article speaking out against censorship, a review of a Wacom drawing tablet and other goodies.



Vampirella: The Red Room #2

Dan Brereton, Jean Diaz, Alex Guimaraes


When last we left Vampirella she engaged in cage fighting against vampires and humans injected with vampire blood. Believe it or not, things go from bad to worse.

This is about as twisted as I've seen Dan Brereton get. The Nocturnals creator is better known for his pulp excursions, noir as well as a love for giant monsters, but if I hadn't had the credits before me, I'd attribute the Red Room to Joe R. Lansdale.

Lansdale is known for his macabre, back woods horror stories. Main Big Bad, Rigger, has that huckster, Mr. Haney gone terribly wrong type of personality. The grub things that Vampirella now faces make one a little queasy, and although Jethro's bigger, uglier brother is a vampire, you feel a little pity for him when Rigger begins sawing. All of these characters and events would be right at home in a Lansdale grotesquerie. 

Corn Fried Horror

Other Brereton creations, the ones on the side of angels echo Elmore Leonard. Vampirella's ally, the upstanding Southern sheriff, with his gentlemanly attitude and unique slang could guest star on Justified. The sore thumb of the weird little play is Vampirella her own badself.

Brereton's characterization for Vee is dead-on. She holds back when fighting humans that can possibly be saved and turns positively vicious when battling the supernatural. She knows she's a monster, but she certainly doesn't act like it. 

Vampirella stands out in the art as well as the writing. She's the one element that just screams defiant. Everything else in this story looks like it was pulled out of the discards from a Texas Chainsaw Massacre editing session, but Vampirella with her quiet power in her traditional garb looks like what she always was a horror superhero. She's an empowered Alice in Wonderland with fangs and pointed ears stuck in a trailer park wonderland.



Creator's Corner

The October Girl #1

Matthew Dow Smith


Matthew Dow Smith wrote a quite enjoyable tale for IDW's Doctor Who Annual, he was of course the main artist on the Doctor Who and ably illustrated human cartoon David Tennant as well as the gawky tall man in an overgrown child's body Matt Smith. October Girl represents his first foray in an original work. How does it pan out? Actually quite well.

Dow Smith gifted me with his first issue, but it's a little tricky to call it an issue. It's "a 120 page graphic novel that's being released in 10-page 'chapters' at .99 cents." Okay. So you might fairly ask what does ten pages give you. Well, we might compare this to a short story in a 120 page anthology. I've recently read two comic book anthologies. Creator Owned Heroes is the one I've chosen to keep on my subscription list. Dark Horse Presents on the other hand just gives you a taste of story. Not enough to warrant buying. The chapters in October Girl give you a complete story while unfolding a larger one. 

With October Girl, Dow Smith fuses art and words. In the opening he captures the ennui of reality. The grind as it were. The day to day necessities we must perform to exist. This is an emotion difficult to capture in artwork. At its heart, art is expressionistic and dynamic. You're supposed to find the beauty in a bowl of fruit. You're supposed to make that bowl of fruit be the most enticing bowl of fruit on the face of the earth. In addition, you're supposed to capture the lady's smile, the curvature of her body, the future of motion in one pose after the other. There are however other emotions. Emotions that we seldom want to talk about, and that's where Dow Smith excels in the current chapter of October Girl. He illustrates boredom, the melancholy of a teenage girl named Autumn who dreams of a universe that's far stranger than it is. She's about to get her wish, but it's not about a Madman in a Box. Rather, Dow Smith establishes an original fantasy juxtaposed against the mirror of the real world.

Now, I'm in the predicament of whether or not to recommend October Girl, and I feel that if it were sixteen pages on the shelf, I'd buy it. If it were the entire graphic novel, I'd buy it. As a download, well, I'm just not that familiar with these things. I buy comic books the old-fashioned way. What I can say is that in ten pages Dow Smith relates a very strong opening, that still follows that ever important rule about beginning, middle and end. When you're done reading, you feel that you've read something, unlike say the Ghost feature in Dark Horse Presents, which just left me shrugging my shoulders and saying "Okay." For October Girl, ten pages is enough to get the first point across and intrigue. So for the artwork, the writing and the underlying complexity of emotion, I'm giving October Girl….


The October Girl #1 can be found at Comixology.



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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