Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Brave & the Bold, the Birds of Prey and the Many Writers of Checkmate

This was a good week for books so here’s our take on the titles FanBoyWonder brought home for the week of Feb. 21.

The Brave and the Bold #1

The Upshot from DC Comics: The greatest team-up title of all time is back! A proud DC tradition is restored as writer Mark Waid and legendary artists George Pérez put Batman and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) on the trail of what could be the greatest weapon in the DCU! The trail leads to Ventura, the gambling planet…wanna bet what'll happen if they don't get their hands on the weapon?

As a young lad FanBoyWonder has fond memories of collecting the original Brave & Bold title. Back in the day it was illustrated by the late Jim Aparo for many years until the title folded after 200 issues in 1983.

It was a Batman team-up book that paired the Dark Knight Detective with and introduced readers to a wide array of heroes throughout the DCU from the Guardians of the Universe to Scalphunter to the Spectre.

Flash forward nearly 25 years and DC has brought back the team-up book with a new Brave and Bold—in a nod to the old days, Issue 1 has Batman teamed up with Green Lantern Hal Jordan but this isn’t a Bat-book nor will it be a series of one-off stories.

Veteran comic book writer Mark Waid and artistic great George Perez have collaborated to create several issue story arcs with a number of different hero teams passing the plot baton between issues—following Batman & GL, Green Lantern teams with Supergirl next issue to be followed by Batman and Blue Beetle.

On the merits, Brave & Bold #1 was a solid book both plot and artwise. Given the acrimonious history over the last several years between the two characters following Hal Jordan’s Parallax—it was a genuine pleasure to see Batman and Green Lantern get on so well even as their styles are a study in contrast.

Our favorite scene came in the Las Vegas casino with billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and working class flyboy Hal Jordan at the blackjack table together after Hal “recklessly” plays the long odds and piles up the chips. “I wish Barry had lived to see you with money,” Bruce deadpans—a cute moment reminiscent of the pre-CRISIS late Silver Age.

Birds of Prey #103

The Upshot from DC Comics: "Blood and Circuits" concludes, setting up the new Birds of Prey as a formidable espionage unit with a burgeoning roster of super-heroine specialists — which the new Spy Smasher simply cannot allow to continue!

We had gotten used to Oracle/Barbara Gordon never making mistakes, always being three steps ahead of everyone else—so it never occurred to us that she would lose, which is to say that she would be outmaneuvered, outsmarted and boxed into a corner.

There is a reason why Gail Simone one of the best writers in the DC bullpen and this issue has it all going on.

The new Spy Smasher is every bit the worthy adversary that Oracle has lacked until now—this time it’s personal. It turns out, Oracle and Spy Smasher are old college classmates—two of a kind gifted girl wonders—smart and athletic rivals.

Spy Smasher is confident to the point of arrogance but she has the goods to back it up not to mention the full power of the United States Government. Oracle has been operating outside the law and as easy as it is to dislike Spy Smasher and root for Oracle, Spy-girl has the law on her side.

This a compelling dilemma but Simone makes a critical error in a single panel of the story when she has Spy Smasher points a gun at the head of the hapless State Department feeb that she’s been bullying for the past two issues—because he didn’t bring her coffee quick enough. This instantly drains the character’s credibility making her unlikable and dangerous.

Meanwhile, it turns out Manhunter wasn’t working for Oracle but just using her and the team for her own purposes while the mafia princess that the Birds sought to rescue from a Mexican prison turns out to be a villain not a victim—when Oracle goofs, she goofs all the way.

As the walls close in, Spy Smasher gives Oracle a choice—work for her or get shut down, arrested and let shock and disgrace kill her father. This is Oracle’s Bane moment—Barbara surrenders and is broken and this book is only just getting started.

Checkmate #11

The Upshot From DC Comics: Part 1 of the 2-part "Corvalho" with guest art by SHADOWPACT'S Steve Scott! Fire, the Black King's Knight, tries to break free from Amanda Waller's blackmail in a move that will shake the agency from top to bottom!

We are of two minds about this issue: Our first impression immediately after reading the issue was that it was the best of the last several issues and that it’s finally starting to live up to its full potential.

What’s wrong? Well the fact that series writer Greg Rucka shares the writing chores with co-writers Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir. We’re frankly not sure what to make of this collaborative effort except that the book clearly benefits from the contributions of DeFilppis and Weir.

Then we realize the last time we thought the book was this good—during issues 6 and 7 which featured the Suicide Squad reunion—issues that it turns out were also co-written by DeFilippis and Weir.

On the merits of the issue, we had more character development with Fire in this single issue than during all of her years with the Justice League as the resident bimbo. More character development comes as we learn more about White King’s Knight Tommy Jagger.

He’s the son of the Judomaster (the original, not the chick by the same name and costume in Birds of Prey) who as you may remember was one of many killed during the melee that was Infinite Crisis #7.

Judomaster was killed by Bane who has gone Hugo Chavez and taken over the tiny island country of Santa Prisca thanks to Amanda Waller’s illegal and unauthorized use of the Suicide Squad to engineer election fraud.

We can see Rucka being behind the plot’s and spy intreque being but the improvement following the addition of co-writers makes it clear that he just doesn’t have a firm grasp of the characters.

52 Week 42

The Upshot from DC Comics: The month begins with one of the main players in 52 having everything — and everyone — taken away from him, and ends with messages from beyond the grave that will have a lasting impact on several DC heroes. Also, Ralph Dibny's fate — or is that Fate? — is at last revealed as he solves the greatest mystery of all. Plus, more Origins of the DCU!

We are left shaking our head after this issue. Just like the Steel/Luthor storyline, the saga of Ralph Dibny has played out for nearly a year only to be “resolved” this issue with an out of left field culmination which seems to contribute nothing to the final few weeks and the impending World War III event.

So we already knew that Ralph wouldn’t be the new Dr. Fate but Fate as we find out was nowhere to be had all throughout the whole storyline. Again we have another Supernova like monologue to explain to the bad guy and the reader how he knew all along what the score was.

This story started with such promise about a man shattered at the loss of his wife. Instead of a character finding a way to move on, we’re all lead on a wild goose chase. Ralph Dibny deserved better than this and frankly so have the readers who have hung in there all these months.

DC has already announced that it will kick off another weekly year-long series, Countdown, after 52 wraps up. While team 52 should be commended for the very effort of getting every issue out on time each week, the lesson that team Countdown and DC should learn is that you need both tell a compelling story AND meet the deadline.


Blogger Mark "Puff" Anderson said...


See...I felt that the Ralph story was about his figuring out the mystery and putting both of the bad guys in an inescapable trap.

Pyrrhic(sp) victory, but victory nonetheless.

And if he is passed, hopefully, he is with Sue...though whether he is dead or not is up in the air, since Faust appeared in one of those early new Justice League of America issues.

Heck of a way to die though, wouldn't you say? Bet my ex-wife wishes she could have done that to me.

And this was right up Neron's alley, an overly elaborate attempt to corrupt a soul.


3:19 AM, February 26, 2007  

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