A Shuttle Launch Went Wrong

A column article by: Ray Tate

Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. This week Batwing teams up with Justice League International. Batman puts an end to Mr. Toxic. Lex Luthor deals a nasty blow to Superman. The World's Finest team of Huntress and Power Girl stop a giant monster from destroying Tokyo, while on their earth Alan Scott, Hawkgirl and the Flash team up to stem Solomon Grundy's rampage. The students of Avengers Academy recover from the demise of their school. Vampirella and Barnabas trade fanged notes on Jack the Ripper, and Leela loses her memory while Zapp Brannigan hatches a devious scheme.


Pick of the Brown Bag


Batwing #12

Judd Winnick, Marcus To, Ryan Winn, Brian Reber


Previously, Lord Battle, the power in the African nation of Tundi, bought a nuclear device from the Penguin. He executed a rival, corrupt African family and captured Matu, Batwing's partner and the last son of the clan Lord Battle murdered. 

This week, as the cover depicts, Batwing corrals Justice League International and Nightwing to provide backup for his assault on Lord Battle and Blood Storm, the dictator's superpowered lieutenants 


Judd Winnick is the only writer to give the New 52 Justice League International respect. Written as failures in their eponymous title and mentioned as wastes in Justice League, it's no real surprise that the team's title book is on its way to merciful cancellation. Here, however, the JLI can be heroes, and thanks to Marcus To, they can look like champions.

The team stealthily infiltrate the fiefdom, impede Blood Storm and do the leg work for Batman, allowing him to locate and nullify the nuclear threat. Good on the JLI, who deserved better than they got, and all it really took for them to excel was one issue. Good on Winnick.

Batwing reconnects with Matu, wisely saved by Lord Battle for future hostage use, and dopes out why Lord Battle has never left Tundi. The explanation borrows heavily from mythology, but writer Judd Winnick also enriches the characterization of Lord Battle, presenting a man who began good but became corrupt. That's why Battle looks so noble. He was, and in Batwing, he regains a modicum of majesty.


Detective Comics #12

Tony S. Daniel, Rob Hunter, Tomeau Morey


There was a case a few years ago about morticians selling body parts to transplant institutions. The idea of using long dead tissue in humans is both distasteful and dangerous. I suspect Tony S. Daniel and I were reading the same material when he first conceived of the new lunatic Batman villain Mr. Toxic.

The ideas Daniel flaunts in this issue of Detective Comics are quite inventive, and you can almost see the gears in Daniel's mind turning as he writes. He's thinking of ways around the pitfalls of this real-world criminal enterprise. How can grafting dead tissue to live flesh possibly work without exposing a subject to potential infection and rejection?

Weird Science

Daniel takes an atomic approach. If you can reduce the dead flesh to atoms and fuse those atoms to "living" atoms, maybe you can produce a man, and since we're reducing the macro to the subatomic, might not quantum tomfoolery also result? 

It's an original twist on Mary Shelly's masterpiece, and while the means in which Batman stops the monster that Mr. Toxic becomes could be a little sharper in explanation, you have to applaud Daniel's unusual idea.



Smallville #4

Bryan Q. Miller, Pere Perez, Chris Beckett 


This issue of Smallville smoothly strings its pearly set-pieces and subplots through the theme of contact. 

A shuttle launch went wrong. Superman, with the expert piloting of Captain Hank Henshaw, saved the crew. He also rescued Hank, but at a cost. The accident left Hank's body damaged and his mind comatose. STAR scientist Emil Hamilton uploaded Hank Henshaw's consciousness into a robotic unit created by Lexcorp. Before you can say amok, Hank went that way, and as the flashback shows, his belief that he will never touch his wife again catalyzes that rage.

Because this is Superman, our hero attempts to talk Hank down, but Hank cannot be reasoned with, and because of this rage, Hank inadvertently destroys his human body. He has no home to go back to. It's debatable whether or not Luthor planned this fiasco. Luthor's premeditation however cannot be doubted with regard to "tagging" Superman.

Lex no longer knows that Superman and Clark are one in the same, but deep down he may still know that Superman is somebody else, paired with somebody he loves. We learn the reason for the "accident," and it's a suitably vindictive scheme that curtails any contact between Lois and Clark. 

Thanks to artist Perez, the verbal duel strikes with impact. His dead-on illustration of Welling and Rosenblum portraying Superman and Lex combined with the mimicry of their movements replicates a scene never witnessed in Smallville but fits snugly within the canon.

How long Luthor's scheme lasts may depend upon Tess Mercer. Killed by Luthor in the last season, before she died, Tess erased Lex's memory to protect Clark Kent. In the comic book, she returns as an invisible, immaterial entity. I hesitate to call her a ghost, but she's definitely more than Lex's delusion. More likely an after-effect of Kryptonian science. In any case, though she cannot physically interact, it seems Tess can psionically manipulate Luthor's body while he sleeps. The potential in this subplot is quite fascinating.

Physical contact appears again as the lynchpin. Writer Miller surprises the reader by employing a science fiction tradition against another science fiction/comic book tradition. This last engagement explores the danger of touch in a multiverse, and it's the key to what appears to be the beginning of a major storyarc emerging in the cornfields of Smallville.



World's Finest #4

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


Huntress and Power Girl kick Hakkou's monster ass through fluid teamwork.

Boarding Party of One

I've never seen anything like this in a comic book. I don't even think I've seen this sort of scene in a James Bond movie. The memorable moment also exemplifies the difference between a hero with the blood of the bat and the cat in her and a simple generic vigilante. There's no way the post-Crisis Huntress could have convincingly performed such a feat, but the daughter of Batman and Catwoman? Oh, yeah. Without hesitation. The stunt and the legacy combine to generate the excitement.

Power Girl isn't stupid, but Huntress is clearly the brains of the team. Fortunately, Helena's plans to stop Hakkou calls for Power Girl to engage in carefully targeted destruction. Her actions don't exactly go over well with the military, and that's a little tweak in the tale that sets World's Finest squarely in the realistic attitude climate of the New 52. 

The truth of the New 52 is that the government doesn't like these heroes. It's really got nothing to do with destruction of government property. Kara just saved Tokyo under the noses of the U.S. Navy. She threatened the virility of the military. Huntress lambastes the alleged superiority of the male mind.

Levitz underscores this series with an unstated, yet blatant feminist motif. It's all about woman power, and it's about time. When Kevin Maguire takes his turn at the artistic bat, he demonstrates that sometimes the disintegration of male ego occurs even when Kara stands still.

Self-Inflicted Violence Against Men Who Try to Be Violent to Women

The thing about Huntress and Power Girl is that they take being surrounded by male chauvinism in stride. They have the luxury to do that because nobody's more dangerous than they are, and it's their blasé attitude toward these silly creatures that generates such a jovial mood, no matter how deadly the situation, throughout the book. 



Earth 2 #4

James Robinson, Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott, Alex Sinclair


James Robinson increases the threat of Solomon Grundy exponentially while he reforms the Justice Society. Nicola Scott ratchets the chill factor with scenes such as this...


Born on a Monday

There's something truly disturbing in that off-panel kill of this hapless woman caught in Grundy's rotting grasp. We never see her face. We can only imagine what she's feeling or felt. Grundy is just casually murdering her. The scene demonstrates Grundy's power as well as his callous disregard for life.

Scott depicts visual characterization with equal subtlety and effect. Observe the New 52 Hawkgirl.

From Hell's Heart

Technically you know nothing about Hawkgirl, but given what you do see, you suspected Hawkgirl would go down fighting. Nicola Scott with her depiction of one last little stab reinforces Kendra's attitude. Fortunately, fans of this beautiful recreation need not fear, Alan Scott is here.

As Green Lantern starts learning the ropes, Robinson fleshes out his personality. He's exactly like Alan Scott of the past. He's the hero you can depend on, interested only in doing the right thing. In another terrific scene, the Flash adopts his name while saving the lives of the innocent caught in Grundy's backlash.

As impressive as Robinson's characterization is, his ability to balance the many characters, partition the plot and beat out a pleasing rhythm to the story is far more enviable. Earth 2 never feels busy, and the unification of the Justice Society seems so natural. Nothing, not even the surprises appear to be out of left field. Robinson foreshadows what's going on, and when he unfolds that particular plot twist, you say to yourself: "Ah, now I understand."



Avengers Academy #34

Christos Gage, Tom Grummett, Corey Hamscher, Chris Sotomayor


I'm just not feeling this one. In another comic book, one of the X-Men sealed up the Avengers Academy compound. Beating a dead horse much? Hank Pym and Tigra disbanded the Academy itself last issue. The kids sagaciously decided to stay out of the Avengers/X-Men brouhaha, and we find Hazmat and Mettle on the beach commiserating other people's enjoyment of the sun and surf. That's when they receive the call from Jeremy Briggs.

Jeremy Briggs is a meta-mouth who wants to bring about a new Age of Heroes. The trouble is he wants to wipe out the old age by taking away everybody's powers, and I find him silly. He's like Tony Robbins and Internet comic book critics all rolled up in one, but it's one thing to complain about the idiot Avengers/X-Men War on-line or any other Big Stupid Event for that matter, and another to draw in those observations into the context of comic book story.

There's a very good reason why the Avengers and X-Men are fighting each other. They're written to express bellicose behavior. That's why these Big Stupid Events are so perfunctory. Everybody's being written out of character, like in Civil War, like Spider-Man abandoning his marriage to Mary Jane. None of these things made any sense because they're poorly written, and it's not just Marvel. This week a new trade paperback of No Man's Land came out. Was there anything dumber than No Man's Land? Why didn't the Justice League just fix Gotham? They were written not to, and in the most insulting way possible. Big. Yellow. Birds. That's right. Big. Yellow. Birds. kept the World's Mightiest Heroes at bay. Big. Yellow. Birds.

The truth of the matter is if there were an honest to goodness Superman in this world, the planet would function better, more lives would be saved, more disasters would be averted and less crime would manifest. Having a superhero in the real world wouldn't automatically necessitate the birth of supervillains. Supervillains are just inventions to make the plot interesting. Other heroes wouldn't necessarily arise because a "Strange Visitor from Another Planet" arrived on earth. These are reflections of creative inspiration in stories. Even if our Superman did instigate a surge in women and men with powers, there's no reason to think these heroes would ever go to war with each other. Again, that's just a story.

Jeremy Briggs is a blatant reminder of the artifice of fiction, and that's why he doesn't work. He's the common man that sees comic books as kids stuff. He's the news anchor who insists on predicating the latest superhero film with "oofs," "pows" and "biffs." He's the every man that looks askance at the success of the superhero in movies. In addition, his plan within the context of fiction is flawed to begin with. His nanomachine solution Clean Slate by self-admission will not affect powerful aliens such as Thor, or machine-armored individuals such as Iron Man. So, what is this good for?

Because Tigra isn't in it, I can't really give Avengers Academy any Tigras. Instead I'll satisfy myself with the guest-star Jennifer Kale, from Man-Thing and give this story...



Vampirella/Dark Shadows #1

Marc Andreyko, Patrick Berkenkotter, Thiago Riebero


Our dark and shadowy tale starts out with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stand-ins botch the transport of an arch vampire's corpse to her family crypt and break-necks a change in mood with a bloody foray in Victorian London. You read correctly. Marc Andreyko tackles Jack the Ripper.

I have to admit. I can't resist a good Ripping yarn. The facts of the case are actually rather meager, which is why Jack's identity remains unknown. Jack successfully murdered five to eight women in Whitechapel. His method was monstrous. He taunted the police and the proto-crime watch headed by Mr. Lusk. He occasionally mailed body parts to the same and vanished without a trace. 

Marc Andreyko is the co-author of Torso, a docudrama graphic novel about Elliott Ness' encounter with the Torso Slayer of Kingsbury Run. Some true crime aficionados will be a little disappointed that Andreyko isn't plying his considerable talents to suggest an identity for Jack the Ripper, but I've heard numerous theories about Jack's identity, and none of them fit like the strait-jacket the Ripper so desperately deserved. I'll tell you something else. We'll never know. So, hey, Andreyko using the Ripper as a creature fantastic works for me.

Andreyko posits that Jack became a tool for the vampire, soon after his generally agreed upon last kill of Mary Jane Kelly. Intriguingly, the vampire kills the proposed one of three later victims Jack might have killed: Alice Mackenzie, whose throat was severed. So, I suppose there is a shred of history here to satisfy the buffs, but largely, this is a really fun book dripping with dark humor pitting Vampirella and Barnabas Collins against Jack the Ripper and his vampire benefactor.

Now, anybody who saw Dark Shadows just might wonder why the hell would an evil bastard like Barnabas Collins give a rat's behind about Jack the Ripper killing people in modern times, ala Kolchak. Apologists of the television show will no doubt say that Barnabas is a rueful hell spawn. I never saw that on the show, but I'm willing to give the fans the benefit of the doubt after seeing the Johnny Depp remake.

If we accept Barnabas' regretfulness as the premise, than his rationale sort of makes sense. Andreyko is wise to contain that guilt, in a clever plot device, that is a little more palatable given Barnabas' past lethal characterization. 

And So Another Alleged Doctor Will Say "It's like some animal bit her."

Vampirella interferes of course because she's the good guy. Of all the vampires in literature, Vampirella has the near spotless track record. She was in fact the first good vampire, not just sympathetic like Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, but a bona fide champion. Andreyko doesn't change her an iota. He already established his reputation as a writer of strong women with Manhunter, and his Vampirella is a predator of predators. Her intelligence allows her to see past the vampire veneer of the latest kill, and thanks to a human police contact, well within the verisimilitude of the Vampirella lore, she possesses all the information. 

Patrick Berkenkotter runs Vampirella through shape-shifting paces, and while he captures the likeness of the late Jonathan Frid for Barnabas, he sets up a rather black joke on the typical misunderstandings between super-heroes that lead to the inevitable slugfest. Here, Vampirella is out to kill a vampire, and Barnabas is what she's looking for. However, for once, Barnabas Collins is innocent of the crime.



Futurama #62

Jesse Leon McCann, John Delaney, Andrew Pepoy, Robert Stanley


An offhand comment leads to Leela doubting her abilities and embracing her maternal instincts however faulty they might be. Writer Jesse Leon McCann tickles the ribs with this issue of Futurama.

Now the idea of a female character trying to be a mother is prime sitcom material. The thing is no sitcom has ever been as funny as Futurama, and the comic book follows suit. McCann knows that he's got to be even more outrageous and more absurd because that's how Futurama rolls.

The McGuffin of the piece is a gem that goes boom when in the presence of gravity. Leela successfully extracts the jewel but loses her memory in the process. The scene is actually quite dramatic:

Floaty Purple Girl

The lighting effects, the colors and the position of the body makes you stop. It's as good as anything you'll find in a serious book.

A ticking clock, introspection over one's potential shortcomings, on the surface Futurama so far sounds like something one might watch on Lifetime, and that's when Zapp Brannigan shows up.

Branigan's Directive

Brannigan takes this simple plot and turns it into a masterful, self-indulgent scam. The weird thing is that the normal goal of the plan, bedding unsuspecting women, must be abandoned in favor of simple servitude. Zapp is a masterpiece of male idiocy. Tricking Leela to be the doting wife but not having sex with her? You shrewd genius. Looking at Delaney's, Pepoy's and Stanley's depiction of the seductive Leela, I think I'd risk it.

So, where does Leela's satisfaction of her maternal instincts come into the plot? Zapp apparently has acquired three robot sons. Let the games begin.



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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