From Spooky Parody to Simian SlapstickA column article by: Ray Tate
Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. This week I look at Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar's Remedy, Batman Beyond, Doctor Who/Star Trek, Justice League, Nightwing, Prophecy and Simpsons Comics. I'll also say a few words about Avengers Academy, Birds of Prey, Red Sonja, Supergirl and Vampirella.
Pick of the Brown Bag
Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar's Remedy #2
Chirstopher Golden and Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck, Dave Stewart
Beneath this homage to Ian Fleming and giant monsters, lies the anger of Lord Baltimore whose faith in a supreme being has become shaky at best. Indeed, if there is a god in the universe of Baltimore, he must be even worse than the one that many claim to exist in our reality.
Rather than plague the world with disease and crime, tornadoes and monsoons, Baltimore's god allows vampires to roam the earth, and these aren't your ordinary blood-suckers either. They turn into gargantuan bats.
These things are your casual, everyday monster, one of which Lord Baltimore hunts for revenge. The extraordinary beast comes in the form of Leskovar himself, an acolyte of Dr. Jekyll, he finds the remedy for vampirism, and it's a violent one filled with flying intestines.
The resulting metamorphosis which immunizes most vampires from sunlight forces Lord Baltimore away from his obsession, for at heart Baltimore is a good man and into the breach once more he goes slaughtering the monsters.
Just when you think things are calming down, Golden and Mignola with the illustrative imagination of Stenbeck explain why the heck they kept cutting away from the mammoth monster/vampire battle and a group of ordinary crabs that decided to strip away the flesh of Lord Baltimore's former foe.
This is where Ian Fleming comes in. You may think of crabs as rather harmless, and honestly, they are. Dr. No however intended for them to eat Honey Rider in the James Bond adventure. Alas, his dreams come to naught. They simply ignored Honey because crabs won't eat live human. Golden and Mignola get around this by juicing the crabs with monster flesh, and suddenly, Honey's problems seem small by comparison.
Batman Beyond #6
J.T. Krul, Howard Porter, Livesay, Randy Mayor; Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen, Mayor; Adam Beechen, Norm Breyfogle, Andrew Elder
The long game of Lex Luthor and his descendent begins to aggregate, and it means bad news for the once and future Superman, but that's really not at all important. This is important.
Spoken Like a Superman
As much as I love the New 52 with its humanized Batman and Batgirl walking, the paradigm shift hasn't been equally beneficial to Superman. It's not the split of Lois and Clark or superficial things like Clark looking like a refugee from a jumble sale, though neither helps. Action Comics is mostly incomprehensible due to Morrison jumping around in the plot and/or dialogue. Hard to follow is an understatement. Superman is dull when not insulting to the intellect. The Man of Steel in both titles often comes off like a loner and a jerk, and you know, Superman does need an edge, but he also requires empathy.
Justice League presents a palatable Man of Steel, but only in Smallville can you find a Superman avatar that's powerful and kind. In Batman Beyond, we now have a Superman that resonates wisdom and history. You can imagine the Smallville Superman growing up to be this incarnation.
In addition to incorporating a Superman that sounds like the genuine article, J.T. Krul and Howard Porter in memorable scenes demonstrate the Kryptonian's power and re-establish the friendship between the original World's Finest team. Several times in the story, you observe the global trap set by Luthor, and you ask, why is nobody helping Superman? Batman answers that question. Fittingly, it's Bruce not Terry.
In the second story Terry and the Justice League Boom Tube to Apokolips where things have changed drastically. Derek Fridolfs' and Dustin Nguyen's tale places Orion on the throne and reintroduces his wife Bekka, who debuted in Jack Kirby's Hunger Dogs.
Bekka immediately sets her sights on Batman, and we learn that she and Bruce were an item. Given her genuinely voluptuous eternal appearance, it's easy to see how the siren broke through Batman's resolve; mind you, that unyielding aspect of Batman no longer exists in the New 52.
The seduction scene injects some well-timed comedy lacking burlesque, which would have been the obvious way to go. Rather, the skit ingeniously depends upon the characterization of Superman, Batman, Bekka and Orion as the participants. Back on earth in the cave, Bruce also has a moment of deadpan delivery. In addition, to the comedy, the future continuity of Darkseid, Highfather and Apokolips fascinates with an explanation in the changing of the guard as well as Darkseid's collusion with the forces of good.
Sometimes Jack Kirby Worship is a Good Thing
Finally, in the last of the anthology, Norm Breyfogle enhances Adam Beechen's "normal" solo Batman story pitting Terry against the Joker gangs that have decided to make Gotham their Mecca. Breyfogle brings his energy to the short and signs his illustration with scenes of Batman striking against multiple opponents at once.
We furthermore see Beechen and Breyfogle turn Terry into a threatening figure, which is quite riveting especially when knowing Terry's secret connection to Bruce Wayne. In contrast, when not facing the Joker gangs, Terry exhibits remarkable maturity as he reconciles with girlfriend and future bride Dana. The dialogue here was simply perfect.
Kyle Higgins, Eddy Barrows & Andres Guinaldo, Eber Ferreira, Ruy Jose & Mark Irwin, Rod Reis and Peter Pantazis
A group of well-armed, disgruntled men surround Nightwing. The Strayhorns, the fraternal victims of a crime Nightwing didn't commit, were part of this gathering. Nightwing attempts to convince the cadre of his innocence. Alas, Paragon, the Big Bad of the piece, does not believe his story, and so artist Renato Guedes energetically illustrates this disagreement between natural gymnast and expert martial artist trained by Batman and the electric whip wielding cult.
So far so good, but is it really outstanding? No. The outstanding moment occurs when writer Kyle Higgins has the Big Bad drop a giant clock face on the people of Gotham City. How will Nightwing save the innocent bystanders? With a move worthy of Batman, and that's why Nightwing earns....
Of course, for those with a taste for more traditional drama, Higgins offers Dick's struggles to reburbish an amusement park and provide Haley's Circus a permanent home in Gotham. His desires are met with a lack of sympathy. Previously, Nightwing was often written as an angsty, bitter sphincter, but Higgins demonstrates Nightwing can jump to a conclusion about somebody, in this case Tony Zucco's daughter, and make an understandable mistake without sacrificing his dignity or maturity. In other words, you do not automatically become a jackass just because you're in error.
Doctor Who/Star Trek: The Next Generation #3
Scott and David Tipton with Tony Lee, J.K. Woodward; the Sharp Brothers
Time is being rewritten. The Doctor begins to remember things that never happened to him. All of this ties into the collaboration -- both in body and in mind -- of the Cybermen and the Borg. What can this mean? I'll tell you what it means. One of the most awesome team-ups in the history of comics!
The eleventh Doctor experiences an attack on Jean-Luc Picard's Enterprise. That's because his personal timeline gains the experience of interacting with the Federation of the past. The fourth Doctor meets the crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701. That's right people. It's the very first comic book meeting of the Doctor, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Checkov.
Kirk and company visit a Federation outpost to investigate communication issues with the stationed science community. They appear to have a good, Star Trek explanation for the problem, but a locked door proves to be too much temptation for Kirk.
Who is This Man?
And that's not even the most brilliant thing that happens.
The new Cybermen that appear during the reigns of the tenth and eleventh Doctors actually developed on earth, albeit a parallel version. The old Cybermen were alien invaders, and it is these old enemies that the Doctor in the company of Kirk encounters. The writers conceive one of the cleverest defeats of the old Cybermen by employing a Star Trek standard delivered by the Doctor. Hint, it doesn't involve phaser fire, nor the Vulcan neck-pinch. The moment exemplifies a simply flawless merger between two very different science fiction franchises.
Justice League #11
Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Scott Williams with Jonathan Glapion, Alex Sinclair with Gabe Eltaeb
An intense issue of Justice League. The League breaks free of David Graves' spectral attack, and investigates the disappearance of Steve Trevor. This constitutes a visit to Tracy Trevor, Steve's sister, after Graves' has left and spread misery.
Tracy blames Wonder Woman for getting too close to Steve and placing him in this predicament. Not as much as she blames herself, and her anger and guilt catalyzes a massive upswell of emotion.
The Wonder Woman Method of Pest Control
As Batman attempts to reason with Diana, through a curious comment suggesting a surprising healthy attitude toward relationships, the Green Lantern makes a huge mistake when trying to contain the Amazon while attempting to talk her down.
Challenging Wonder Woman as the bombastic art of Jim Lee demonstrates in an impressive two page spread is an idiotic idea. After painful conflict, eventually, Superman calms her, but this tempestuous version of Wonder Woman is a remarkable incarnation and I'm betting Geoff Johns is surprised at how much he enjoys writing the character.
Ron Marz, Walter Geovani, Adriano Lucus
It's really surprising how good Prophecy is turning out. I mean lets face it. Dynamite's licensed properties aren't as well known to the comic book reading public let alone the public in general. DC and Marvel still rule the racks, but Ron Marz creates a smart interaction, and if you do know these figures, you're in for a treat. If Prophecy has one drawback. It's that. You have to know the characters to fully comprehend Marz's cleverness.
This week's surprise guest star is a cult figure from film more so than comic books. Marz mimics the delivery of the actor who portrayed the mad scientist in the dialogue while Red Sonja artist Walter Geovani captures his likeness.
Red Sonja is the headliner of Prophecy. She vowed to kill Kulan Gath no matter when or where he appears. This latest foray brings Sonja in the period of Dracula, Pantha and of course Vampirella. Because Geovani is so familiar with Sonja, her star power is evident in the book, and his renderings of Sonja's co-stars aren't so shabby either.
They're Creepy and They're Kooky
The smooth working partnership between Dracula and Vampirella may surprise newer readers of Vee's eponymous title, but I suspect the period seen in Prophecy is not the modern day. Rather an echo of the past where Vampirella felt attraction and sympathy toward Dracula in the original Warren magazines written by the late Archie Goodwin. Such a setting would explain Vee's rather casual dismissal of Dracula's intent to drain Sonja. Alternately, this may be a time immediately following Adam Van Helsing's death. Since Van Helsing was Vee's lover, his demise would explain her bitterness and willingness to work with Dracula.
As the story progresses, Geovani turns the unusual but well-thought out team up into a Ray Harryhausen homage pitting weird multiple-limbed gods against our -- ah, heroes. Technically speaking, Red Sonja is a mercenary. Vampirella is a hero, but in Prophecy their roles kind of reverse, which makes for an interesting read. Pantha is a goddess. Dracula is Dracula, and our mystery guest is nuts. These are the saviors of the earth.
Just when you think the fun is over, another surprise guest star manifests, and I've already spoken very highly of the creation when reviewing her own series. Again, it's another classic case of having to know who the character is in order to fully receive the impact of her appearance.
Unless you haven't been reading any Dynamite books, in which case, I'd knock the score down to four. It's still a fairly high grade, and that's because even if you don't know the characters, you'll still appreciate some of the poetic undercurrent of the dialogue as well as the gorgeous artwork.
Simpsons Comics #192
Chuck Dixon and Eric Blackburn, John Delaney, Andrew Pepoy, Art Villanueva
You know part of me was just going to refuse to give Chuck Dixon any more publicity than he fell into with the whole cretinous Bane metaphor that fathead Rush Limbaugh started promoting on his moronic radio show. Still, whatever you think of the man, or his politics for that matter, Dixon writes some truly hilarious hijinks, and this outrageous story deserves recognition. Oh, and his writing partner Eric Blackburn definitely deserves equal credit.
Dixon and Blackburn send Bart and Milhouse on a sea voyage. Now, this would be unheard of or contrived nonsense in any other sitcom, but the insightful writing team know that this premise is rock solid thanks to the inclusion of the Sea Captain in the cast of the television series. Oh, he was probably just a flourish at one point; some little sight gag, but "Aaaar," the Captain has appeared in many a Simpsons sea-chanty.
What the Weird?
The overall combination of sinister shadows set on dramatic violet and Basil Wolverton styled sailors gives this Simpsons Comics tale an unusual, even uneasy atmosphere that reflects the emotions of Bart and Milhouse as they experience a very different sort of life, one away from the relative safety of Springfield and suburbia.
The row of dominoes, from laugh aloud stowaway situation, followed by a ludicrous mutiny and riotous monkeys, in that order, creates plenty of opportunity for artists John Delaney, Andrew Pepoy and Art Villanueva to shift from spooky parody to simian slapstick.
Not Reviewed But Not Bad
Sorry, I can't get worked up over a Sentinel being turned into the Iron Giant, and really this whole Avengers vs. X-Men thing is just becoming tiresome, even in tangentially associated books. It's sweet that the Cadets of Avengers Academy stick by Juston and his Sentinel though.
Poison Ivy betrays the Birds of Prey while staying true to her ecoterrorist self. That's not exactly daring is it? Poison Ivy, a villain, betrays her heroic teammates. Zut alors! Sorry. Not feeling it. Travel Foreman's artwork is solidly okay this issue.
Red Sonja's eponymous comic features a nice little stand-alone by Eric Trautmann. The beast she faces is a more ingenious creation than the cover dinosaur, and there's a lot of adventure to be had in the few scant pages, but in comparison to the previous issues, it just lacks a bit of pizzaz. Artist Marcio Abreau's art is a little rough in places and a little anatomically law breaking in others, but on the whole, he does a decent job illustrating the She-Devil.
Kara goes on her first date in Supergirl only to run into a silver-suited loonie. She makes short work of him, and it just lacks the usual oomph. Mind you, the payoff is a good one. However, if this were Doctor Who, the reversal of fortune wouldn't go down quite so easily.
Vampirella faces something that reminds me of the alien calamari from Prometheus. Don't remind me of Prometheus. In addition, either I'm missing a page or accomplished artist Jose Malaga forgot to include Vampirella among the toothy, tentacled Muppets.
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.