Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: "Evil Under the Sea!"

Season 1, Episode 3: Evil Under the Sea!
Written by Joseph Kuhr
Directed by Michael Chang

(Let's welcome Dan Grote to the Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch as our regular Aquaman correspondent, for the first appearance of the undersea adventurer)

Plot synopsis

Cold Open: Felix Faust has Batman chained to a pillar while he attempts to open Pandora’s Box. The Caped Crusader appears to use magic to escape his bonds, levitate, and defeat Faust, only for his mystical enhancements to be revealed as the handiwork of shrinking super-scientist the Atom. Specifically the modern Atom, Ryan Choi, making his first appearance on the show.

Episode: Batman tracks seismic activity near Atlantis, giving us our first taste of the show’s version of Aquaman. Something is turning the local sea life against our heroes. Batman ends up in the mouth of a whale that has an octopus inside it. Aquaman is set upon by narwhals. The rogue nautical creatures are being controlled by devices that render them immune to Aquaman’s ability to commune with sea life.
We also meet Aquaman’s two greatest nemeses: Black Manta and Ocean Master, aka Aquaman’s brother, Orm. Orm and Arthur have had their differences, but Aquaman believes his brother is reformed. Except he’s totally not. Orm is working with Manta to knock his brother off the throne and claim Atlantis for himself. That said, Manta, like the version of Joker from The Dark Knight, just wants to watch the underwater world burn.

As the plot thickens, Batman’s distrust of Orm causes a rift between the Caped Crusader and Aquaman, to the point where he has Bats ejected from Atlantis. Finally, however, Orm turns on his brother, declaring himself Ocean Master, revealing himself as the master of the rogue sea creatures and fighting the king. Meanwhile, the sharks guiding Batman back to his submarine start to circle around him, their eyes glowing red with evil intent from Ocean Master’s devices. Sorry, no Bat-shark repellant here.

Just as Ocean Master betrays Aquaman, Black Manta betrays Ocean Master, and the two brothers find themselves chained up together as Manta explains his plot to blow up the kingdom and take its riches. The allegedly obnoxious Fluke, meanwhile, saves Batman from the sharks and leads him back to the city.

As Atlantis crumbles around them, Aquaman gets a bunch of crawfish to lockpick their chains and summons all the creatures of the deep to their aid. The brothers, Batman and the sea life take out Manta’s goons. Aquaman saves his brother from a trident bolt fired by Manta. Asked why, Arthur says, “I’m the king, it’s what I do.” Orm then dismantles Manta’s seismic device.

Despite his moment of redemption at the end, Aquaman keeps Orm jailed and punishes him by recounting his stories. Batman smiles and walks off. Fade to black.

Number of times Aquaman says, “Outrageous!” – 3

Who’s Who?

Aquaman (voiced by John DiMaggio)
First comic book appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!

Aquaman is the king of Atlantis and one of the classic Big Seven of the Justice League. He can commune telepathically with underwater creatures and carries a trident. His classic uniform is an orange scale-mesh shirt and green pants, but for a period in the 1990s, under writer Peter David and artist Jim Calafiore, Aquaman went shirtless, had long, scraggly blond hair and a hook for a hand. This is considered by many Fans of a Certain Age to be the definitive Aquaman run. Aquaman will appear many more times on the cartoon, to the delight of fans, joining Batman’s new Justice League, antagonizing the Atom, singing in at least two episodes, having his voice replaced by that of classic sitcom actor Ted McGinley, and starring in his own episode alongside his family. Some may know John DiMaggio best as the voice of Bender from Futurama, others as Jake the Dog from Adventure Time. To me, he will always be, first and foremost, the Outrageous Aquaman.

Black Manta (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson)
First comic book appearance: Aquaman #35 (September 1967)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!

Like many DC characters, Manta’s origins have been tweaked and retconned over the years, but the important thing to remember is he hates the sea and wants to control it. He may also be autistic. And he’s actually black, because he was created during that period when many major black characters – Black Panther, Black Vulcan, etc., were written with their race as part of their codename. Manta is recognizable by the saucer-shaped diving helmet he wears and the submersible that bears his likeness.

Ocean Master (voiced by Wallace Langham)
First comic book appearance: Aquaman #29 (September 1966)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3: Evil Under the Sea!

Orm Curry, or Orm Marius, is Aquaman’s younger brother who desires the throne of Atlantis. His lineage has changed a number of times as DC has rewritten its continuity, but his tumultuous relationship with his brother has not.

First comic book appearance: Aquaman #11 (September 1963)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!

Mera is Aquaman’s wife and the queen of Atlantis. She has no dialogue in this episode but will appear later voiced by Sirena Irwin in an Aquaman-centric cold open and in one of my favorite episodes, “Aquaman’s Outrageous Family Adventure.”

The Atom (Ryan Choi) (voiced by James Sie)
First comic book appearance: DCU Brave New World (August 2006)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!

While a paean to the Silver Age, Brave and the Bold substitutes the modern, diverse versions of some legacy heroes, to its credit. Choi, who inherits the mantle of the Atom from Ray Palmer, is a co-creation of writers Grant Morrison and Gail Simone. As he is only in the cold open in this episode for a few seconds, he doesn’t get a whole lot to do, but it’s fitting that his appearance opens an episode with Aquaman, as the two will be teamed up in subsequent adventures, and the tension between the two makes for some great moments as the series progresses.

Felix Faust (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker)
First comics appearance: Justice League of America #10 (March 1962)
First Brave and the Bold appearance: Season 1, Episode 3- Evil Under the Sea!

A sorcerer who hungers for power and knowledge and has sold his soul to demons multiple times to acquire them, to the point where the demons stopped accepting it as payment.

Continuity, Comics connections, and notes

This episode introduces this series version of Aquaman, aka THE BEST VERSION OF AQUAMAN EVER (Sorry-not-sorries to Peter David). Brave and the Bold Aquaman, voiced by the great John DiMaggio, is foolhardy, perpetually excited, thirsty for adventure, says “Outrageous!” a lot and tortures people by recounting tales of his exploits, all of which have cool titles like “The time I wore an eyepatch to infiltrate a crew of pirates.” Also his dolphin, Fluke, is obnoxious, per Batman.

The version of Orm's origin is similar to the version from the Silver Age and the current post-Flashpoint universe. where Orm and Aquaman share a mother. In the post-Crisis version, they shared a father, who was a lecherous, immortal Atlantian sorcerer named Atlan, who needed to have two sons to keep up with an ancient prophecy saying that two brothers would always fight for the throne of Atlantis. Comics, everybody! Also, Orm does not have the power to communicate with sea life in the comics, another point of contention between the brothers.

Aquaman demonstrates the ability to conjure hard water weapons in this episode, a power Aquaman does not have in the comic. It is instead a variation on the power that Mera, as well as one of Aquaman's pre-Flashpoint sons, Koryak, who he had with an Inuit woman while he was travelling the world as a young man, has, which is to manipulate water into solid, non-ice forms.

Batman mentions Iron Heights as the prison where Black Manta will be imprisoned. Created by Geoff Johns, Iron Heights is the maximum security prison in Keystone City, where the Flash's nemeses are usually imprisoned.

This is the first episode where the teaser does not share any connection to the main story, something that will continue for nearly every episode of the series.

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/23

Batman #50
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and FCO Plascencia & Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn

While next issue will be a one off epilogue issue, Batman #50 wraps up most of the threads that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have been weaving throughout not just the current arc, "Superheavy," but their entire fifty issue run. Bruce Wayne is back as Batman, and he and Jim Gordon team up to stop Mister Bloom and the people he has infected with his seeds. It's a double-sized issue, and deservedly so, because there is a lot going on. Bruce is fighting Bloom while Gordon is heading to the Powers building to shut down the the collider under the building that is generating a "strange star" which will obliterate much of Gotham at least. And if that weren't enough, Duke Thomas has discovered the person responsible for Bloom and is headed to confront him.

The thing that Snyder spends the issue really talking about, when it comes to theme and more than a bit of dialogue, is about Batman as hope and an idea. About how the person behind Bloom wanted to e power the people of Gotham, to allow them to be their own Batman. Bloom continues to spout his usual brand if nihilistic, every man for himself, philosophy. And Jim Gordon, the Batman who should never have been, gets the big speech as he saves the day. He gets in the speech about how the world needs heroes, not super heroes. How Batman is there because he, "fights our nightmares to teach us to fight the real terrors by light of day." It's a big, climactic scene, and while Batman's return inspires the hope that people need to remove their seeds and weaken Bloom, it's great to see Jim, who has always been a hero, get the final win on this one. The epilogue to the issue has Gordon, recovering from grave wounds, thinking about the first time he saw Gotham, and talking to Batman about it, and so it brings the series full circle; issue one had narration about what Gotham was to the people of the city, and it ends the same way.

For his big finale, Capullo pulls out all the stops, drawing legions of Bloom's freaks and different generations of Bat armor. The final big fight, between a giant Bloom and a giant Bat-Mech is a sight to behold, Capullo also debuted a new Batman costume, a slight variation on the classic theme, that is a nice final touch, a little something to remember him by.

With the announcement of the changes in creative teams coming with Rebirth, Batman #50 is a perfect coda to everything that Scott Snyder has had to say about Batman. It talks about hope and people, and while there's plenty to mill over about the nature of heroism and superheroism, there's still a ton of things going boom. This issue finds the right balance between destruction and thought, like the best blockbusters. I'm looking forward to what Snyder has planned for All-Star Batman, but he's got a tough act to follow after this.

Birthright #15
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas

Like all of Joshua Williamson's series, Birthright has a strong mix of character, action, and big surprises that makes it a rewarding read, and this issue, the end of the series' third arc, is a perfect example of this. Two confrontations of very different kind take place in this issue. While Wendy, mother of our leads, and winger-warrior Ryo are trapped in a cage by Mastema, one of the mages barbarian Mikey is hunting, Mikey and Brennan are surrounded by a SWAT team and Agent Kylen, secretly another of the mages. The two scenarios play to all Williamson and Bressan's strengths. The scene with Wendy and Ryo discusses the nature of prophecy, exactly what Mikey's journey was like in the fantasy world of Terrenos, and Wendy coming to terms with what her son now is. A spread over two pages shows Mikey growing up, and it's very cool to see the intermediate steps between the young boy we see in his origin flashbacks and the looming barbarian he is now. And Wendy's journey to truly believing that all this is real has finally reached the place where she's ready to embrace Mikey as her son, which makes me hope for a reunion soon.. Mikey's fight with the SWAT team is short and brutal, and it's in the reactions and expressions of his brother, Brennan, and his father, Aaron, manipulated by Kylen into leading him to Mikey, that really carries the scenes impact. That and the smugly satisfied look on Kylen's face. But that expression leaves when Sameal, the final sorcerer appears, and instead of fighting with Kylen's men, quickly dispatches them. The "spirit smoke" he uses moves across the pages, undulating and terrifying, as the ninja-like Sameal picks off the SWAT team one by one (and boy howdy, if these pages don't say Bressan should do Batman at some point in the future, I don't know what would). I will also admit I did not see the big last page reveal of Sameal's identity coming, and when I saw it, I realized how much sense it makes, and how much it's going to change things for Aaron especially. There's a two month break before arc four begins, so that's plenty of time for everyone out there to get the first two trades, and volume three when it hits, and be caught up when Birthright returns, so what are you waiting for?

The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage: Second Lives #4
Story: Jen Van Meter
Art: Roberto De La Torre, Al Barrionuevo, & David Baron

The second mini-series starring Valiant's supernatural heroes Drs. Shan and Hwen Mirage ends with an exciting ghost battle and some amazing visuals. The showdown with the ghost of evil sorcerer Denis De Walt is on the horizon, and so Hwen, himself a ghost, enters into the magic scroll known as the Vita Secunda to learn what it will take to stop De Walt. The pages with Hwen inside the scroll are stunning, some of Roberto De La Torre's most impressive, reflecting a strange world at first beautiful and then corrupted by the abuse of the primal magic. It's trippy in that classic Ditko Dr. Strange way, and aided by David Baron's colors. The thing that really sets this comic above and beyond and that drives not only the story engine but the readers interest is the wonderful relationship between the living Shan and the ghostly Hwen, and so as the two set their plan in motion to stop De Walt, the palpable sense of dread that Hwen might have to sacrifice himself to win makes the book all the more tense. The final battle is won more through cleverness than brute strength, something Shan excels at, and it's nice to get a comic with a happy ending. That final battle is again really benefited by Baron's colors, both in the way that he makes the ghosts look, each one of the important ones a slightly different color to help easily remind the reader who's who and who's dead. Also, as Hwen and De Walt cast spells at each other, their word balloons stop having words but instead symbols and colors, which I think is a fascinating representation of magic, being more feelings than actual words, and I wonder if that was handled by the artists or the letterer; one way or the other, I hope it's used again when we get another Doctor Mirage tale. The final pages, as Shan starts up the old TV show she and Hwen had before he died with actor Alex standing in for Hwen has a couple teases;  Hwen's expanding powers and the ramifications of Alex's brief possession by De Walt, setting up a third mini-series in the not too distant future. Each Valiant title has a very different feel, and I like that the supernatural adventure and romance of Death-Defying Doctor Mirage makes it a fairly unique series on the racks, and one that I enjoy each time a new issue comes out.

Secret Six #12
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Dale Eaglesham, Tom Derenick, & Jason Wright

I'm putting this review last so you can stop if you're shy about spoilers and don't want to know about the end of this issue. So HERE THERE BE SPOILERS...


Writing about the new issue is Secret Six is tricky. Not because it is at any point lacking in the usual brand of off kilter friendship as any other issue, or lacks in brutal action. But because at the end of the issue, a reunion between two characters happens, and it made me, a grown man, squeal with joy. There are certain characters in comics that you just love. And for me, among those characters are Ralph and Sue Dibny. I wrote in the review above about how I love the relationship between Shan and Hwen Mirage. That goes triple for Ralph and Sue. They are characters that belong together. Ralph might be a pliable and hilarious detective on his own, and Sue might be a whip-smart globe trotting socialite, but through their fifty plus years in comics, they have been the best couple; they make each other better, like the best couple do in real life. They have inside jokes and tolerate each other's foibles (although most of those foibles are Ralph's). So the end of this issue, when Ralph comes home and finds Sue back, her memory restored, and they embrace? God, my heart grew three sizes. Gail Simone, congratulations on making me smile so hard my face hurt.

Aside from that, the issue also spotlights the thing that makes Secret Six such an interesting comic: no matter the version of it, these characters are a family more than a team. They're all broken in some way, and in many ways completely insane, but they care for each other. Facing down Lady Shiva, a character who has been used sparingly since Flashpoint, it would have been easy to make the issue a wall-to-wall fight, but Strix, who Shiva is seeking, won't let that happen. Because these people are her friends and family, and she won't let them enter a battle that she knows will get them killed. And so we get a sad farewell between the conscious members of the Six and Batgirl for Strix, and then she's off with Shiva. And while Ralph gets his happy reunion, the others think about what to do next. The growth these characters have gone through in twelve issues, from the disparate band of loonies into this family us never clearer. It's great how these characters, who mostly exist just on the verge of doing something monstrous, can also tug at the heart strings. I'm going to miss Secret Six when it bows out soon, but until then, I'm going to enjoy this crazy ride for as long as I can.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Couple Quick Friday Notes:

So, you'll have to excuse the shortness of today's post. It's been a busy week, and I spent the morning at the movies seeing a movie I won't' be talking about on my blog where I like to stay positive. So instead I have a couple quick notes about some stuff I'm reading and a question for those of you who read this here blog.

- This past Tuesday, Glen Weldon's The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture was released. I've mentioned Weldon here before, but for those of you who are unfamiliar, Glen Weldon, "writes about books and comic books for the NPR website," as he says on NPRs weekly pop culture podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. He's a smart guy and a huge Batman fan, so I've been waiting for this book for some time. I'm about a fifth of the way in (I said it's been a busy week), but I can't recommend it highly enough. Thoroughly researched and wittily written, Weldon knows his Batman and I won't lie, his vision of the core of the character and mine are pretty well in line. I'll be doing a full recommended reading on it once I'm done, but I'd be remiss to not get the word out right now.

- So I doubt it's surprising I also love board games, card games, and RPGs. While the correlation between gamers and comic fans isn't 100%, it's high enough that it's pretty obvious I'm into games too. I was actually hoping to get up a column about some of my favorite comic book and superhero based games today, but the time got away from me, and so I'd like to ask those of you reading this: Do you have a favorite game, board or card (customizable or boxed) featuring either comic book characters (superheroes or not) or superheroic figures? It seems odd to break that out, but a game I recently discovered, Power Play, is a pulpy GM-less one session RPG that is based around you playing as one of various super villains (this will definitely be included in the gaming post, trust me), and I know there are plenty of games that take the super heroic ideal and create new heroes and worlds around them. So, I'd love to hear your favorites in the comments here, on the Facebook page, or on twitter @mattlaz1013.

I know that's not much, but I'll be back with reviews on Monday and a regular Friday recommended reading next week. ave a good weekend, and a happy Easter to those who celebrate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: "Terror on Dinosaur Island!"

Season One, Episode Two: Terror on Dinosaur Island!
Written by Steven Melching
Directed by Brandon Vietti

Plot Synopsis

Teaser: In Mexico for Dia de los Muertos, Batman and Plastic Man are pursuing Gentleman Ghost. Plastic Man is distracted by the bag of money Gentleman Ghost stole, leaving Batman to face Ghost alone in a cemetery, where the timely intervention of Fire helps save Batman from Ghost's trap

Episode: A cruise ship sails through the seas, filled with the wealthy. A couple in a tux and evening dress look out over the sea to see something flying towards them. What that something is turns out to be pterosaurs being ridden by gorilla soldiers. A pterosaur sets down, revealing Gorilla Grodd, telling the humans that their time is finished and the day of the ape is at hand. Grodd blasts one of the people on the ship with a raygun that seems to de-evolve him into a caveman form.

On the Bat-plane, Batman lectures Plastic Man about trying to make off with some of Gentleman Ghost's loot, saying that he stuck his neck out for Plastic Man in front of the law and the Justice League. Batman is tempted to use the ejector seat, until a distress signal from the ship calls for his attention.

On the ship, Grodd is angry that his "E-Ray" was not functioning as he wished. Deciding to leave, the pterosaurs attach cables to the ship and begin flying it off. As the Bat-Plane arrives, Grodd observes that Batman in the only human worthy of his intellect, and his arrival is, "unfortunate." Grodd and the gorilla soldiers not carrying the ship begin a dogfight with the Bat-Plane. Batman seems to be winning until Grodd uses his mind powers to enthrall Batman, and one of Batman's own missles strikes the Bat-Plane.

Using Plastic Man as a parachute, Batman and Plas land in Dinosaur Island, to be immediately confronted by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Plas winds up accidentally in the T-Rex's mouth, but once the dinosaur spits him out, he is able to swing through the jungle and wing off with Batman, out of the T-Rex's reach.

Batman looks out over the island, still displeased with Plastic Man, and Plas tries to get Batman to give him another chance to help, reminding Batman that he is partially responsible for common criminal Eel O'Brian becoming Plastic Man: O'Brian was a member of Kite Man's gang, and when Batman confronted the gang in a chemical plant, a Batarang knocked him into a vat of chemicals as he tried to make off with the money instead of simply escaping; this gave him his powers. Batman tells Plas that he has to make the best of his life now and walks off.

Finding Grodd's fortress, Batman and Plas see numerous yachts, and Plas again begins thinking about all the loot that Grodd must have. Batman tells him to focus, and they begin to make their way to the fortress, trying to avoid all manner of detection. They avoid cameras and lasers, but when they seem to be out of danger, Plas leans against the tree arrogantly, and triggers a panel on the tree that sets off an alarm. Soon, the heroes find themselves surrounded by gorillas riding Triceratops and pterosaurs.

Grodd tells Batman his evil plan, that he is going to use his E-Ray to evolve man into intelligent apes that he will rule. Grodd prepares to test the E-Ray on Batman, but Batman spooks the Triceratops Grodd is riding with a smoke bomb, and a Batman versus ape battle begins. Grodd attempts to mind control Batman again, but this time Batman is ready and blocks the mental attack. But the physically stronger Grodd still defeats Batman in hand to hand combat, and Plastic Man is shot across the island by two dinosaurs pulling and releasing him like a rubber band. Grodd sends a search party after Plas.

Alone, Plas remembers Batman saving him from the chemicals and being there for him as he recovered and helped him get out of jail, promising to help him rehabilitate. Plas swears he will save Batman.

Back at Grodd's fortress, Batman awakens to find himself chained to a chair. Grodd gives a speech, asking Batman to join him, but Batman scoffs, secretly working to pick the locks holding him. Plas arrives back at the fortress, and sneaks in. Grodd continues talking about how man is trying to destroy Earth, and baits Grodd and frees himself, again fighting ape soldiers.

Plas, arriving inside the fortress after an unfortunate incident involving shape shifting into a shovel and being used to clean the dinosaur pens, finds himself in Grodd's treasure horde. Unable to resist his base instincts, he shovels as much gold and gems into himself before heading off to find Batman. Batman is still fighting Grodd, and Plas arrives too late; finding Batman transformed into an intelligent ape.

Batape and Plas now face Grodd and his soldiers together, but Grodd has activated a device that will release E-Rays on every human within 500 miles, so the clock is ticking. Batape charges Grodd, while Plas fights off Grodd's soldiers. Realizing it's the only way to keep the apes off Batape , Plas begins using the gold and jewels he swallowed as ammunition, spitting them at the soldiers like he was a machine gun.

Batman is able to fend off Grodd, but too late to stop the massive E-Ray explosion. But the explosion does not have the effect Grodd anticipated. Batman, as well as the de-evolved humans from the cruise ships and yachts, are human again, and Grodd and his apes have been evolved into humans, to Grodd's dismay: Batman reversed the device while Grodd was distracted.

Plastic Man holds out a bag to Batman, telling him he rounded up all the jewels and gold, and offers to let Batman count. Batman tells him he doesn't need to because he trusts Plas. After Batman leaves the room, Plas take a large diamond out of his ear and deposits it with the rest of the loot. Finally, in prison, Grodd, now human, contemplates revenge while hanging from a bar like an ape, eating a banana.

Who's Who

Plastic Man (Voiced by Tom Kenny)

First Comic Book Appearance: Police Comics #1 (August 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

Plastic Man is the jester of the super hero set. Crated by Jack Cole in the 40s, Plas's origin is portrayed pretty close to what it is in the comics in this episode, only remove him as the sidekick of a supervillain and make Eel O'Brian a typical 40s gangster. Plastic Man stories are known to be as surreal and twisty as the body of the hero, and his supporting cast includes a goofy, over-weight sidekick named Woozy Winks. While Plastic Man hasn't carried a series of his own in modern times, he is often a member of modern Justice Leagues, used regularly through the Grant Morrison/Mark Waid/Joe Kelly era of the title. Plas has defied the trend to make a character grim and dark, remaining light and fun, even thought his characterization has been deepened throughout the years. His powers allow him to change his size and shape into almost anything, even though the color must remain his normal color scheme of red, yellow, and black.

Fire (Voiced by Grey Griffin)
First Comic Book Appearance: Super Friends #25 (October, 1979)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

Beatriz da Costa was a model and secret agent for the Brazilian government before gaining super powers and becoming a member of the Global Guardians, an international team of superheroes. When the Guardians disbanded, Bea, who was going by the codename Green Flame at the time, joined the newly formed Justice League International along with her best friend, Tara Olafsdotter, the heroine known as Ice Maiden; the two would change their code names to simply Fire and Ice during their time with the League. The two were regular members of the comedic Justice League of the 80s and early 90s, and stayed with the team throughout that incarnation until it was replaced by Grant Morrison's JLA. Fire would appear occasionally for the next few years, usually in JLI reunion stories, but was used very well by Greg Rucka during his tenure on Checkmate, where Fire became an agent of the international peacekeeping organization. She has appeared in modern, post Flashpoint DC continuity as a member of the short lived Justice League International. Quick to anger, Fire's personality matches her combustive ability, able to project high intensity green fire and enrobe herself in it, allowing her to fly.

Gentleman Ghost (Voiced by Jonny Rees)
First Comic Book Appearance: Flash Comics #88 (October, 1947)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

Gentleman Ghost is the spectre of "Gentleman" Jim Craddock,an English highwayman who, after being hung, rose from the grave and became the Gentleman Ghost. In the comics, while Gentleman Ghost has fought many heroes, including Batman, Superman, Hawkman, the Justice League, and the Flash, he is most known for being a rival of the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, and the Justice Society of America, the original super hero team of the 1940s. Gentleman Ghost has all the typical abilities of a ghost, including flight, intangibility, and the ability to produce weapons from thin air that can damage the living.

Gorilla Grodd (Voice by John DiMaggio)
First Comic Book Appearance: The Flash #106 (May, 1959)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

Grodd is more than just a gorilla. A resident of Gorilla City, a city hidden in Africa populated entirely by super intelligent, telepathic gorillas, Grodd was the city's one criminal, often doing his best to conquer the city, and from there, the world. A principal rogue of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, Grodd would also menace his successor, Wally West, on numerous occasions, and would often team up with other villains while fighting the Justice League. Grodd consistently believes himself superior to humans, and believes apes should rule the planet. Grodd was one of the principle antagonists of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series, where he would lead different versions of the Injustice Gang and the Secret Society of Super Villains. Grodd not only has the physical strength and speed of an ape, but has a genius level intellect and a telepathic "Force of Mind," that allows him to mentally dominate others. You can read more about Grodd in this piece written by Dan Grote right before Grodd's first appearance on The Flash TV series.

Dinosaur Island
First Comic Book Appearance: Star Spangled War Stories #90 (April-May 1960)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

The name pretty much says it all. It's an island where dinosaurs still lived. Introduced in the war comic Star Spangled War Stories, Dinosaur Island was the setting for a recurring feature, "The War That Time Forgot." It has popped up over time in other DC Comics. ITs most notable appearance for me was as a setting in Darwyn Cooke's brilliant re-imagining of the dawn of the Silver Age, DC: The New Frontier.

Kite Man
First Comic Book Appearance: Batman #133 (August, 1960)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode Two- Terror on Dinosaur Island!

If there was an entry in the dictionary for Z-List villain, Kite Man would be the picture used to illustrate it. Charles Brown (yup, his name is Charlie Brown, nemesis of kite eating trees everywhere) was a criminal with a kite themed gimmick. And that's it. No backstory, no deep trauma. He's just a dude with a thing about kites who fought Batman a few times. He is so unmemorable that he was killed off twice over the course of a year by other villains, once by Deathstroke and once by Bruno Mannheim, probably because no one remembered he was killed off the first time.

Continuity, Comics Connections, and Notes

A fun episode, featuring two things that were thought to sell comics during the Silver Age: Apes and dinosaurs. The emotional arc of the episode, about Plastic Man overcoming his criminal tendencies, isn't played for laughs and is done smartly, but never bogs down the narrative.

The teaser for this episode, like the pilot, ties directly into the main plot of the episode, something that will grow less common as the series progresses.

To stop Gentleman Ghost, Batman says he uses Nth Metal knuckles and cuffs. Nth Metal is the anti-gravity material used by Hawman and Hawkgirl to fly, and is known to have anti-magical properties in certain stories.

Plastic Man mentions Superman at one point. Due to rights issues, Superman could not appear in these early episode of Brave and the Bold, along with his supporting cast and rogues, and neither could Wonder Woman. These issues would be worked out by season trhee, allowing DC's entire trinity to appear together.

Grodd is the first character on Brave and the Bold voiced John DiMaggio, one of the premiere voice actors in the world, best known as Jake the Dog on Adventure Time and Bender on Futurama, but it won't be his last. Next week's episode will feature the character that he is best known for on this show so come back to find out who.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/16

This week' we'll be starting off with Dan Grote's review of the first issue of the new series starring everyone's favorite drunken immortal and naive assassin, Archer and Armstrong. Welcome to the Valiant fold, my friend...

A&A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #1
Story by Rafer Roberts
Art by David LaFuente, Ryan Winn and Brian Reber

Sometimes you pick up a comic and you wonder why you waited so long to make it a part of your life.

Matt’s written pretty consistently about Archer and Armstrong, always making it a point to note the book’s humor. As somebody whose favorite comics include Deadpool and Chew, it’s always sounded right up my alley yet somehow just out of reach. Fortunately, this relaunch is extremely new-reader friendly.

There’s not much you need to know going in. Armstrong, aka Aram Anni-Padda, is a millennia-old, bear-sized immortal with a hunger for adventure and a thirst for booze. Obadiah Archer is a teenager trained from birth in every form of combat but is so pure of heart that he substitutes swearing for phrases like “mumble-fudgers” and “Son of a lady dog!” And his sister, Mary-Maria, leads a cult of ninja nuns and is mostly evil.

Pretty darned accessible for characters that have been around since 1992.

In this latest iteration of the title, Armstrong has gotten himself stuck in his bottomless satchel (think Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, but cooler) trying to retrieve a bottle of 1907 Lagavulin whiskey he stole from some Mafia guys in 1953. Because the satchel is left open (Armstrong is tethered to the bed in his motel room by a length of rope), the monsters that dwell inside are free to escape. Archer, who was out making a vending machine run, returns to the room to subdue the monsters and make them watch Maury Povich. He then has the plot explained to him by another creature that escaped the bag, a talking mackerel named Davey who dresses like an old gumshoe.

(It was about this point I decided I was on board.)

Archer dives into the satchel to find his partner, but not before begging Mary-Maria to watch the bag, and not steal it.

Inside the satchel is a giant library out of an M.C. Escher painting, run by goblins of indeterminate gender. Deeper inside is Bacchus, the half-human, half-goat god of wine and merriment, whom Armstrong apparently stuck in the bag thousands of years ago but doesn’t remember, much to Bacchus’ disappointment.

“Whatever, I don’t care. It’s not like I’ve been planning this moment for 3,000 years or anything,” he says when he confronts a reunited Archer and Armstrong.

Nevertheless, he sets his trash golems upon the pair, who now must rely on Mary-Maria to save them. Except she’s already decided to cut the rope and steal the satchel, so whoopsadoodle on trusting her.

The book opens with a flashback showing Armstrong and an old friend punching Mafioso and stealing the plot-driving booze. Mission accomplished, the two rest a spell on a park bench and toast to a job well done.

“Here’s to the successful end of another stupid and poorly planned adventure,” Armstrong says. May all A&A’s adventures be this stupid and poorly planned.

Clean Room #6
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Jon Davis-Hunt & Quinton Winter

I've enjoyed a lot of the recent Vertigo launches, but of them,Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt's Clean Room has been the strongest. This issue, the final part of the first arc, gives us some answers... and asks a whole bunch of questions based on those answers. The past couple issue's plot of Astrid Mueller, self hope guru and knower of mysteries, trapped in a locked room with one of the demons may have ended last issue, but this issue places out series's main character, journalist in just as tenuous a place. The demon, Spark, who possessed one of her neighbors gives Chloe an insight into the suicide of her fiancee, the thing that set her on the quest to find out about Mueller and her cult, but then it... tries to save her from another demon-possessed man, this one called The Surgeon, and when Mueller finds out, she does everything  she can to save Chloe, including revealing her secret plans. We find out what Mueller was doing with the strange Dr. Hagen from a couple issues back, and while I remembered Hagen the minute he was mentioned, I hadn't thought about him since the one scene that introduced him. Simone is a clever writer who knows how to seed hints and backstory so that when it becomes relevant, the reader slaps their forehead and smiles because it all makes sense now. But even with these answers, there are now more questions: are there factions in these possessing creatures? What exactly is their physical home? How did Astird find out about Chloe's ability to communicate with the dead? And what does The Surgeon's final cryptic line mean? The balance between mystery and reveal is hard to keep in a suspense/horror comic, but Simone has it down pat. But on top of this, the emotional life of Chloe is so rich, and her reactions left me feeling deeply for her. And Astrid Mueller remains a mystery to me; even though we got some insight into what she's doing, and why, she moves from reacting with what seems like passion to cold calculation so quickly I'm still not sure how much Chloe, and the reader, can trust her. And Jon Davis-Hunt's art is some of the top notch creepiest I've seen in a while. His distorted, monstrous faces of the possessed make your skin crawl because they balance what should be with what most assuredly not. Clean Room is a great horror comic, and one I'm glad is published by Vertigo: Vertigo started as a horror imprint, after all, and Clean Room belongs in the long line of skin crawling horror that traces back to Sandman and Hellblazer.

Kanan #12
Story: Greg Weisman
Art: Andrea Broccardo & David Curiel

A year's worth of origins story comes to a conclusion in the final issue of Marvel's Star Wars: Rebels tie-in series, Kanan. The animated series has been a great success, getting better with each episode, and this series has been enjoyable; telling the stories of how Jedi Padawam Caleb Dume became rogue Kanan Jarrus feels like the book that embodies the transition from The Clone Wars to Rebels. This issue, set entirely in the present of the series, meaning during the Rebellion era, wraps up all the threads from the series, bringing in the characters that Caleb met as a Padawan and that he met when he first changed his name to Kanan to hide from the Empire, and now having them meet Kanan as an adult, and a master in his own right. Much of the issue has Kanan and his Padawan, Ezra going to save one of those long ago friends. The issue also has a cameo from one of the animated series big bads and features an appearance from an Imperial character from the first new continuity novel, A New Dawn, which was the story of how Kanan met Hera, another of the leads of Rebels. I've always liked when the comics and the novels tie together nicely, and with the new Lucasfilm Story Group overseeing all other media to make one streamlined continuity, I've been hoping for this kind of tight tie-in before, and it's the first time I've seen that kind of tie-in. But most important the little one off issue gives you everything that is good in a Star Wars story: action, aliens, strange worlds, Stormtroopers, and Jedi. I like that even thought this features characters introduced over eleven issues and a novel, the issue stands alone, making an exciting Star Wars adventure.

Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems #1
Story: Josceline Fenton
Art: Chrystin Garland & Leigh Luna

I came late to the Steven Universe party; I only started watching the series a few months ago, deep into the animated series' second season, but fell quickly in love with the deep characterization and the message at the heart of the series, that love is universal and that it brings us together and makes us better than we are alone. And so a new mini-series featuring Steven and his fellow Crystal Gems seemed like a good issue to pick up. For those who don't know the show, Steven Universe is an eternally optimistic half human/half alien boy who spends his time having adventures with the Crystal Gems, aliens who served with his mother to defend Earth from their homeworld that planned to conquer it: confident Garnet, fussy Pearl, and prankster Amethyst. One word adjective descriptors don't do any of these characters justice, as they are all remarkably deep characters. One of the things that makes the series fun is that the Gems, despite being thousands of years old, don't really get the whole human thing, and Steven often tries to explain these things to them, things like birthdays and slumber parties. This mini-series starts with Steven having another of these adventures, this time taking the Gems on a camping trip. The fish out of water aspect as the Gems try to do normal camping things makes for great comedy: Pearl (my favorite character on the show) putting up a tent to be aesthetically pleasing and using all the parts, not realizing there were instructions to make it functional, is the kind of thing that makes for great comedy. The centerpiece of the issue is the highlight of a camping trip for Steven, the telling of scary stories around the fire. Steven's story, a riff on the classic "The call's coming from inside the house!" urban legend falls flat as the Gems overthink the scare. But then Pearl decides to tell the story she and Garnet used to keep Amethyst, the youngest gem, from wandering off when she was younger, the story of the Glass Ghost. The scary stories are colored differently from the main story, and differently from each other, and the muted color palette helps give them a spooky vibe. The issue is well structured, mixing it's scares with its jokes, and a moment with Steven finding broken glass when he went to look for firewood means the story of the Glass Ghost is obviously going to be tied into the real world; I don't think it's a real spoiler to reveal Steven sees a Glass Ghost at issue's end, and it's design is phenomenal. Chrystin Garland perfectly captures the characters looks and designs, and the art is as vibrant as the animation on the cartoon. Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems #1 is a great issue for fans of the cartoon, but works just as well as an introduction to Steven and his friends.

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #5
Story: Robert Venditti
Art: Juan Jose Ryp & Jordie Bellaire

The first arc of Wrath of the Eternal Warrior took place in the afterlife, and followed Gilad Anni-Padda (younger brother of Armstrong from Archer and Armstrong. Of course, younger is a relative term when they're both over six thousand years old) as he left the paradise where the family he has built over his long life dwells on his quest back to life. This issue is actually a flashback to a time millenia ago, in ancient Mesopotamia. One of the great things about having a long lived protagonist is that you can do this kind of story, a tale of their past that illuminates something about what they are currently going through or will go through soon. Gilad is out hunting when a raiding party finds the village that he is living in and massacres everyone and takes his son. Upon returning home, he finds the wreck of the village and goes to hunt down those who perpetrated the atrocity. During the hunt, the panels have three color schemes: full color for the present of Gilad's hunt, yellow for what he's able to determine of those who killed Janna, his wife, and took Kalam, his son, and red for flashbacks to Gilad and Janna during the time that led up to this. It makes what happened all the more tragic as you understand the choices that Gilad made to lead to having a child with a woman he knew he would outlive, a child he knew he would also outlive. Gilad is the fist and steel of Earth, the guardian of the planet and the Geomancers, the world's guardians, and so it's not often that he is presented as emotional. This series has been building a fuller, more three dimensional Gilad, a tragic hero; here we see Gilad make a decision that there might be more than just that life for him, and we see what comes of it. It's cool to watch him use his skills as a tracker and hunter to find his way to the city of the men who took Kalam, a character we saw in the afterlife, and I think we'll learn more of why Kalam resented Gilad in that world. The art on this issue is decidedly different from the previous arc; Juan Jose Ryp made his bones working with Warren Ellis over at Avatar Press, and his style is informed by those origins: his art is hyper detailed and he draws carnage like few others. His Gilad is a muscled barbarian, befitting the time and setting, and the look on his face as he sees what has been done to those he loves and the cold determination to save his son and revenge himself are chilling. I'm looking forward to see what Gilad does next issue, and I hope that these flashback stories with different artists become a staple of this title. Gilad was my favorite character from the classic Valiant universe, and every issue of this series makes me glad to see him get the series he has deserved since his reintroduction.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Great Batman: The Brave and the Bold Rewatch: "Rise of the Blue Beetle"

Welcome, one and all, to this special Matt Signal post. This is special for a couple reasons. Firstly, it's the beginning of what I hope is a new weekly feature, where I'm going to rewatch every episode of the wonderful Batman animated series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I've been thinking about a rewatch or reread project for a while, and I decided to do this series for a few reasons. First, when this show debuted, I was leery about it's lighter take on Batman and his world, but I was completely blown away by how fun and fast and fresh it was; it's probably second only to Batman: The Animated Series when it comes to animated interpretations of Batman. Second, other Batman properties have gotten this treatment on other sites and blogs, so I figured this was fresher ground. Finally, honestly, things in the world around us are kinda scary right now, and this show is one of those complete joy bombs that makes me laugh and cheer like I as a kid again, and I don't know about anyone else out there, but I could use that right about now. Each episode will be dissected in a few ways, and you'll find some italicized commentary on each section this first post to help explain my thinking. In the future, expect these posts to show up weekly on Wednesday or Thursday.

The second reason this post is special is because this is post 500 here on the Matt Signal. That's a lot of posts. I want to thank Dan Grote for his regular contributions (and don't be surprised if you see him pop up on these Brave and the Bold recaps as time goes on), as well as Brandon Borzelli, Nancy Kindraka, and John Bush for their guest spots. And I want to thank everyone for reading my little blog, for supporting me, and supporting the creators I write about.

And without further ado, the great Batman: The Brave and the Bold rewatch begins...

Season One, Episode One: Rise of the Blue Beetle
Written by Michael Jelenic
Directed by Ben Jones

Plot Synopsis (OK, this part is pretty self explanatory)

Teaser (each episode of Brave and the Bold began with a short teaser before the credits, usually unrelated to the main plot): Batman and Green Arrow escape from an elaborate death trap set by the Clock King involving a giant cuckoo clock before heading off to defeat the villain.

Episode: Teenager Jaime Reyes and his best friend, Paco, sit in Jaime's room, a room adorned with Batman posters and news clippings, discussing classic, fanboy, who would win scenarios. Jaime is an obvious Batman fanboy, saying Batman would always win. As they channel surf, they see the end of the fight begun in the teaser, as Batman and Green Arrow defeat Clock King.

Paco brushes off Jaime's questions about whether Jaime could ever be a hero, and after Paco leaves, Jaime finds Batman waiting outside his window.Batman asks Jaime to help him deal with a meteor on a collision course with a space station, so Jaime armors up, revealing his superheroic identity as Blue Beetle.

The two heroes fly up into space (Batman narrating that he's doing this to see if Jaime has what it takes to be a hero), and when the meteor comes into sight, Jaime's alien armor goes haywire, shooting him toward the meteor. The armor forms a warp that pulls the heroes away and deposits them on an alien world.

The heroes arrive to watch the planet's small, amoeba-like alien residents being attacked by a ship controlled by the alien conqueror Kanjar Ro. The aliens come out of hiding and are overjoyed that the great one has returned to save them, and while Jaime assumes they're talking about Batman, a statue nearby indicates to the shocked Blue Beetle the aliens mean him.

It seems the aliens bodies provide the fuel for Kanjar Ro's ship, and he returns every season to harvest them. The Gibbles (the cute little aliens) are surprised to see the "Blue One" return after his last encounter with Kanjar Ro and his Gamma Gong, but they are excited; Batman deduces the previous owner of Blue Beetle's Scarab, the alien device that grants him his powers, must be the one who helped the Gibbles before.

The Gibbles assume Batman is Blue Beetle's sidekick, to Jaime's dismay, as the Gibbles and Batman bow to him. Batman tells Jaime he should play along to the Gibbles hero worship, as they need someone to believe in. Batman tells Beetle that he has to rally the Gibbles to aid them in defeating Kanjar Ro, and despite being nervous, Jaime makes a good speech, telling the Gibbles to find "the power within," and the Gibbles agree to work with the heroes.

Batman, Blue Beetle, and the Gibbles fly off on a Gibble ship to raid Kanjar Ro's ship and save their fellows. We see Ro draining the Gibbles of their energy, and then the battle begins. Ro recognizes and confronts Blue Beetle.and Beetle does a good job of fending off Ro, even saving Batman from his weapon, and Jaime thinks he's finally getting a feel for how the Scarab works. However, as the Gibbles begin to file back to their ships, it's clear the victory has gotten to Jaime's head, Ro returns from the bowels of his ship with the Gamma Gong. Jaime tells Batman he can handle this, but the Gong weakens the Scarab, leaving Jaime without his armor active. Ro captures Jaime, planning to remove the Scarab for his own use, and send Batman and the Gibbles off into space on probes,

Tied to the probes, Batman and the Gibbles are quickly surrounded by flying space squid monsters, who begin circling, preparing to devour them. Batman is able to free a hand and punch one of the monsters, then takes an electric cable from the probe and plugs it into a Gibble, who stores the charge and when a monster tries to bite it, the monster is shocked and the swarm flies off. The Gibble now knows it has power within.

On his ship, Kanjar Ro is using his Gamma Gong to try to figure out which frequency will remove the Scarab from Jaime so he can wear it himself. Batman and the Gibbles return to the ship, and Batman begins to infiltrate the ship, taking out Ro's crew. Batman enters Ro's chamber, and punches the villain, who flies into the Gamma Gong; that is the frequency that finally makes the Scarab disengage from Jaime. Ro quickly snatches up the Scarab and, placing it on his back as it was on Jaime, the Blue Beetle armor covers him.

Ro and Batman engage in a fight, and Ro's more violent nature seems to allow him to channel the Scarab's destructive powers more easily than Jaime could. Jaime, alone, realizes he had gotten a swelled head before, and begins to think instead of just using his fist. He is able to get free from the table imprisoning him, and picks up the Gamma Gong, which he uses to blast the Scarab off Ro and reclaim it. But before he can don it, Ro pulls a blaster and is about to shoot down Jaime and Batman when a blast knocks his gun aside: the Gibbles have discovered "the power within" and are channeling their energy into blasters, bow able to defend themselves.

The Gibbles thank Blue Beetle for saving them, and teaching them to save themselves, and they thank Batman as well, saying he has proven a worthy sidekick to Blue Beetle. They even erect a statue to him, albeit one considerably smaller then Beetle's. Batman and Beetle head back through the wormhole created by the Scarab and find no time has passed; Batman spouts some techno babble, but his own internal monologue is, "That's weird." Batman happily thinks that he came to see if Jaime had hero potential, and watched instead as the young Blue Beetle became a hero. With a, "Ready, partner?" Batman and Beetle head to stop the meteor.

Who's Who (Brave and the Bold was created to be a team-up series, where Batman met all sorts of new and different characters, so in this section, I'll give comic book and animation background on each of the newly introduced characters from this episode, and links to characters who have already appeared)

Batman (Voiced by Diedrich Bader)
First Comic Book Appearance: Detective Comics #27 (May, 1939)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

He needs little introduction, but just in case... Batman is one of the greatest and most published super heroes in comic books. After his parents were killed in front of him by a mugger, young Bruce Wayne dedicated his life to making sure it never happened again. Honing his mind and body to the peak of human perfection, Bruce became Batman to protect Gotham City and the world from crime.

Green Arrow (Voiced by James Arnold Taylor)
First Comic Book Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (Novemeber, 1941)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Created in the early 40s, Green Arrow was introduced as a blatant Batman ripoff: he had an Arrowcave, an Arrowmobile, and a kid sidekick, Speedy. He was Oliver Queen, a millionaire who was stranded on a desert island for a time, and there learned to become a master archer, only to return to civilization to fight crime. The Green Arrow of Brave and the Bold wears this original costume, and doesn't have the more famous Robin Hood-like costume Green Arrow adopted in the 1970s. At that time, Arrow became a different character, a defender of the downtrodden and the most liberal of superheroes, politically. In recent years, Green Arrow has had a resurgence, thanks to appearances on Smallville (where he took the place of Batman, who was unavailable due to rights issues), and on his own CW drama, Arrow.

Blue Beetle (Voiced by Will Friedle)
First Comic Book Appearance: Infinite Crisis #3 (February, 2006)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Jaime Reyes was the third hero to go by the name Blue Beetle, making him on of DC's legacy characters. Finding the Scarab once possessed by original Blue Beetle Dan Garett during the crossover event, Infinite Crisis, Jaime became a young superhero when the Scarab bonded to him. With the help of his friends Paco and Brenda, along with a supportive family, Jaime became a hero to El Paso, Texas. Over time, he learned the Scarab was not mystical, as had been assumed for years, but in fact an artifact from a race of alien conquerors known as The Reach, and he was instrumental ins topping a Reach invasion of Earth. He was a Spider-Man type hero, a young man trying to find his way in the world, minus much of the angst, making him a fun character; he had his own series that ran for thirty-six issues. His reboot in the New 52 kept much of this, but made the world around him darker and made his family not know his secret identity, causing additional strife in his life. That series ended quickly, but a new Blue Beetle series is part of DC's upcoming "Rebirth" initiative.

Clock King (Voice by Dee Bradley Baker)
First Comic Book Appearance: World's Finest Comics #111 (August, 1960)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Clock King is a C-List villain, one William Tockman, who was a thorn in Green Arrow's side during his early appearances. Obsessed with clocks, he had no superpowers. He was intelligent, and built his crimes and his weapons around a clock theme. He made very few appearances in comics, although in the '80s he was a member of the comedic Injustice Gang as part of the light-hearted Justice League series of that era. There are, however, various version of Clock King with different identities, who have appeared in comics, live-action TV, and other animated projects, most notably Batman: The Animated Series, where Clock King was a former efficiency expert named Temple Fugit, and the classic Batman TV show of the 60s. The Tockman verison of the character has appeared on both Arrow and The Flash.

Kanjar Ro (Voice by Marc Worden)
First Comic Book Appearance: Justice League of America #3 (February, 1961)
First Brave and the Bold Appearance: Season One, Episode One- Rise of the Blue Beetle

Kanjar Ro is one of the oldest nemeses of the Justice League of America, a planetary despot from the world of Dhor. Always seeking more power, Ro's attempts to expand his planetary empire often brought him into conflict with the Justice League, Adam Strange, and Hawkman, After the universe changing Crisis on Infinite Earths, Ro became more of a scheming villain, a political manipulator on the planet Thanagar, but this revised origin and background eventually changed back to the original, and he more often then not now appears as a conqueror and not a bureaucrat.

Continuity, Comic Connections, and Notes (Here's where I dig into how this episode fits into the overall scheme of the series, how the episode connects to Batman comic stories, fun facts about the voice cast, and personal observations)

In the teaser, Batman uses a laser sword from his utility belt, and in the opening scene of the episode, show he has a rocket pack hidden under his cape. These are both original aspects of Brave and the Bold and become trademarks of this series' Batman

Will Friedle, who voice Blue Beetle, is no stranger to Batman animation. He is best known for playing, Terry McGinnis, the young Batman in Batman Beyond.

A poster in Jaime's room shows Batman's holding his hands in front in a fighter's stance with the words, "Hammers of Justice." Batman will address his fists as the Hammers of Justice throughout the series.

I like this as a pilot episode. As a show aimed at younger audiences, having Blue Beetle, a teenage guest star, for the first episode, someone closer to their age, mirrors the use of Robin in the original comics, to give the audience a point of view character they relate to. Jaime is a good kid, not as tough and streetwise as the Outsiders, who we'll be meeting shortly, or as bitter toward Batman as this universe's Robin, and his fanboy nature is easily understood by fans.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Recommended Reading for 3/17: Bandette

There are a lot of words I could use to describe Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's Bandette, words like charming, clever, romantic (mostly in the sense of mystery and glamour and not romantic love, but there's a touch of that too). It is an utterly delightful series that is the perfect cure if you're down in the dumps from all the too serious, too dark comics you might be reading.

Bandette is the world's greatest thief who also just happens to be a teenage girl.  Living in Paris, she steals from the unworthy, mostly criminals, and returns many of the pieces to the insurance companies for the rewards; I say many because she does keep a treasure trove of her own. She does all of this with grace, a sense of adventure, a wide smile, and a cry of "Presto!" She's a thief with a heart of absolute gold and a quirky sense of humor.

And like so many of her progenitors like Sherlock Holmes, The Shadow, and Doc Savage, Bandette has her band of helpers, which she calls her Urchins, to help her make her astonishing getaways when the owners of the ill gotten gains she is "acquiring" are in pursuit. These include Daniel, a Thai food delivery guy who has the least veiled crush in the world on Bandette, the three ballerinas Adalind, Mannon, and Kiyomi, a band of teens lead by a girl named Freckles, and a young girl named Belda. Oh, and while Bandette often likens herself to a cat, and has an affinity for them, she has a pet dog, Pimento, who dons a cape and mask and sometimes adventures with his master.

And what would a master thief be without police officers? Of course, since Bandette isn't your usual rogue, her relationship with the police is somewhat different, with her main police contact, Inspector B.D. Belgique not only having a grudging respect for Bandette, but calling upon her aid when it comes to dealing with more dangerous criminals. Always at Belgique's side is Lieutenant Heloise Price, whose crush on Belgique is only a shade less adorable than Daniel's crush on Bandette.

The first two volumes of Bandette form one big arc, telling the story of Bandette dealing with both a rival and an enemy. The rival is Monsieur, a gentleman thief in the classic mold: educated, erudite, and suave. There are those who believe he is the greatest thief in the world, and he and Bandette maintain a friendly air between them, It is friendly enough that, while on a job of his, Monsieur overhears the plans of Absinthe, the leader of an international criminal syndicate called FINIS, planning the death of Bandette, and Monsieur contacts her and tries to warn her, only to be ambushed by FINIS agents and their top assassin, Matadori, a matador themed hitwoman who banters with Badette as much as she attempts to fulfill her job.

Volume one sets up all these characters and the stakes, and volume two moves us into the great contest. Monsieur has a list of seven of Absinthe's prized possessions, given to him by Absinthe's femme fatale, Margot, who has grown disenchanted with Absinthe's cold, ruthless ways, things like an existing copy of Shakespeare's lost Cardenio, and he and Bandette set out to see who can steal the most. And Absinthe is sending a much more frightening assassin after Bandette, Il Tredici, the Strangler. It's an action packed volume as we get to see Bandette pulling capers and Monsieur invading Absinthe's house, and getting into a game of cat and mouse with the guards, all while Bandette is tracked implacably by Il Tredici. There are set pieces like a fight on a plane, a police raid of Absinthe's manor, and delicious pastries, described in a way that made me want to run to the local bakery as soon as I could.

Tobin and Coover find a way to keep these stakes very high but still make the book accessible to all ages. Sure, there's gun play, but no blood. Absinthe and Il Tredici are truly scary nemeses (especially Il Tredici. In the backmatter for volume two, Coover comments that her inspirations for Il Tredici's look come from James Coburn and Henry Fonda, but when I first saw him Boris Karloff jumped immediately to mind). There's action, and a plot that moves forward at breakneck pace, but the book never stops being fun. And that's probably what helps it the most: Bandette is an inherently fun character, and she moves with such confidence that, while you might be worried for her, she never seems too worried about herself. In his introduction to volume one, Paul Cornell says he thinks that rating of 15+ for this book is over-cautious, and I have to agree: I think there are far worse role models for a little girl (or boy) than a thief/magician who is smart and fun.

The language of the book is light and interestingly accented. Little bits of French pop up here and there, all words that are common in English, or easily translated, and the way the dialogue is written seems like English translated from French, with a very continental style, without using awkward and clumsy accents. And speaking of writing, I have to say that Bandette and Monsieur especially love books. That love of books and the written word warms a fellow bibliophile's heart and endears the two of them to me even more than they would have been as just wonderful characters.

If you're unfamiliar with Colleen Coover's art, well, then you should get on that, whether it's here, her adult comic, Small Favors, her delightful all ages mini-series (also with Tobin), Banana Sunday (the story of a teenage girl and her friends, three talking monkeys. Yeah, it's out of print right now, but I have to dig that one up for a Lost Legends column soon), or the back-ups in the X-Men: First Class comics. Her style is light and airy, perfectly suited to Bandette, with wonderfully expressive faces, which is something I always look for in an artist. Her Bandette moves like a dancer, and that sense of joy and motion comes through in every panel our titular heroine is on. The layouts for the pages are normally in a nine panel grid, but the panels across each row are often linked to make bigger panels. This makes for easy reading, and it another reason it would be an excellent book to give to a new, younger comics reader.

Aside from this main story, each volume of Bandette collects a group of short, two to five page shorts featuring various members of Bandette's Urchins, allies, and rogues. These shorts give the readers a real feel for the characters who would otherwise be cute background. I especially like the Heloise one and the two Monsieur ones from volume one and the Daniel and Pimento ones from volume two. Each short has a different artist, so you get to see the characters in different styles, which is always a treat. There is also a short story with each volume, the first being Daniel's narration of an adventure with, and how he met, Bandette, which is romantic and charming, the second featuring Absinthe's traitorous, and thus better natured, femme fatale, Margot. These are deeper dives into the characters, and are both really exciting.

I read a lot of comics, and I like to strike a balance between all the genres I'm a fan of. And a lot of those genres, like modern super-hero, horror, suspense, spy, and science fiction are often serious and pretty dark. Bandette is the perfect cure for all that. I read both hardcover collections in the course of one  day, and put them down feeling refreshed and cheered in a way I haven't in a long time. Bandette is a comic that reminds you about the joy comics can bring.

Two collections of Bandette are available, published by Dark Horse, Presto! and Stealers, Keepers!. New issues are released digitally through Monkey Brain Comics; two issues beyond the ones collected are currently available.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/9

The Baker Street Peculiars #1
Story: Roger Langridge
Art: Andy Hirsch & Fred Stresing

I love Sherlock Holmes. I love the work of Roger Langridge. So a comic by Roger Langridge working in the world of Sherlock Holmes is guaranteed to catch my interest. But being that this is a Roger Langridge project, it's not going to be a straight adaptation. The issue introduces us to three children, street smart Rajani, sweet Molly, and upper crust Humphrey (along with his dog/valet Wellington), who start the issue chasing after what seems to be a lion statue come to life. Artist Andy Hirsh has a style well in line with Langridge's own, and his page layouts and especially a page where the kids are chased by a police officer feel like a natural fit. The kids' personalities  compliment each other nicely, creating a cast that is charming an likable, but distinct. Rajani is a street kid, while Humphrey is going to the boarding school St. Baskerville's (another Holmes nod, obviously), with Molly as the middle ground between them. Their meeting with "Holmes" officially makes the kids part of Holmes's network of informants and agents, usually called irregulars. The big twist at the end, though, is that Holmes is not in fact Holmes, but is Mrs. Hudson, Holmes's redoubtable landlady. It's clear from her reaction when Molly says that her grandfather says all Molly can be is a housekeeper and never a detective, that Mrs. Hudson understands what it's like to have people react to her like that; Langridge's comics, as fun as they are, never exist on just that one level of fun. There's always more to them. And so the kids are now helping "Holmes" investigate the statues that have been going missing all over London. And while Mrs. Hudson does not believe in any magic that may have animated the statues, we readers know different, and the title of the series, "The Case of the Cockney Golem" gives readers who know their myths another hint of what's going on. It's great to have a new Roger Langridge series with it's usual mix of charm, wit, and warmth, and the extra flavor ofSherlock Holmes is going to make The Baker Street Peculiars something really special.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #4
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Freddie Williams II & Jeremy Colwell

The inter-company crossover is a tricky beast. You have all these moving parts, and all these characters, and it can be easy to just make it this big slugfest. But after three high octane action issues, the fourth issue of Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles takes a step back. Aside from some sparring between Batman and Leonardo, and some off panel fighting, this is a character issue. While the Turtles and Splinter are trapped on Batman's world, with the mutagen that created them due to wear off any time now and leave them as normal animals, and three of the brothers are just living and enjoying their time: Leo is sparring with Batman, Donatello is looking at Batman's tech, and Michelangelo is infuriating Alfred by riding his skateboard in the house. But the interaction with the infuriated Raphael is the centerpiece of the issue. Raph is furious about how little is being done, and views Batman as a poseur, and lets him know. It's not exactly an uncommon argument in fandom, about Batman just being a rich guy whop beats on crooks. But when Bruce picks up Raph in the Batmobile and takes him to Crime Alley and explains to him the whys and wherefores of what he does, well James Tynion has a really good understanding of who Batman is. Meanwhile, Shredder and his new ally, Ra's al Ghul, have been able to open a portal to the Turtles home, connecting to a signal from that world, and who pops out but one of the Turtles main allies, Casey Jones. The battle between Jones and the League of Assassins is entirely off panel, which is a shame, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing Casey fight all sorts of monster and mutants as the series reaches its climax. It was also nice to see Tynion revisit Dr. Mahreen Zaheer, the Arkham doctor he wrote about in his "Endgame" back-ups, something you don't need to know to appreciate the scenes with the Foot Clan Ninjas in Arkham, it's a nice nod for those of use who are big Batman readers. If you're a fan of either of these franchises in comic or animated form, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a must read.

The Haunted Mansion #1
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Jorge Coelho & Jean-Francois Bealieu

After writing about Joshua Williamson's decidedly non-all ages Nailbiter on Friday, it's interesting to visit his work that, while still tinged with horror, is decidedly more family friendly. The most recent "Disney Kingdoms" mini-series from Marvel is inspired by my favorite Disney ride, Haunted Mansion. Danny is a kid who recently lost his grandfather, a world traveler and adventurer. Before his grandfather left on his last adventure, he promised Danny that the two of them would investigate the local haunted house when he got back. But now, Danny has lost his grandfather, and his parents are both not taking it well either. But one night, not long after his grandfather's death, a spirit from inside the house reaches out and calls Danny to come to the house to help save his grandfather's spirit. And so Danny sets out for the mansion, and when he gets there, the house is filled to brimming with all sorts of spirits, most of them seemingly malevolent. And so, after talking to the spirit of the fortune teller Madame Leota, Danny knows that he must find a way to stop the ghost of the evil Captain to save his grandfather and the other good spirits in the house. The first issue already has a few images cribbed right from the ride, and I'd be disappointed if all the more of them don't pop up over the rest of the series. Artist Jorge Coelho draws the ghosts and goblins really well, making them perfectly creepy and right in tone with the writing. But he also draws the more benevolent spirits in a way that is otherworldly but not frightening. Williamson's writing walks that perfect line for all ages horror. I think we don't give younger readers enough credit; they're more resilient than grown-ups think they are a lot of the time. If you're a grown-up who likes to share a spooky story with the little ones in your life, I think The Haunted Mansion is going to be a great choice for you.

Spider-Man 2099 #8
Story: Peter David
Art: Will Sliney & Rachelle Rosenberg

Peter David is a writer who plays a long game. After a two parter involving Inhumans and terrigensis (the second part of which was excellent, and due to a problem with shipping to me local shop I only got this week as well), we return to Spider-Man 2099 Miguel O'Hara's tragic love life. And not tragic in the, "Oh, no Mary Jane can't know I'm Spider-Man way," but in the, "My fiancee's mother faked her death and I just found out," way. Yes, thanks to keeping Tempest, Miguel's fiancee, in the hospital, Miguel's employee, Jasmine, wounded in the previous issue, sees Tempest, and Miguel storms the hospital looking for answers. And at the hospital, he finds the room Tespest is in being guarded by Man Mountain Marko, a C-List Spidey villain (not to be confused with Cain Marko, the considerably harder to fight Juggernaut). I really liked the fight scene between Miguel, both in and out of costume, and Marko. Will Sliney's fight choreography is excellent. You need a good handle on layout when you're dealing with an acrobatic hero, and Sliney has that in spades. I also think the panel where Miguel loses his temper with his assistant Raul when he finds out Tempest might still be alive is phenomenal, his look of rage chilling; he also lets his fangs slip, so I'm wondering what that's going to mean for future issues (see, like I said, David plays the long game). The way David writes Miguel at this point rings very true to me. Many super-heroes, when faced with a tragedy or a mystery close to them, do this cold, rational approach. Not Miguel. He goes in guns blazing and filled to the brim with anger. And while, with a little help from a friend, he succeeds, it looks like things are only going to get worse. I also have to admit that when Man Mountain Marko showed up, I kinda laughed him off, but David makes him a threat through his actions; this guy has no qualms about threatening the most innocent people, and so I hope he comes back soon so Miguel gets a chance to lay him out. Peter David has been weaving a lot of threads throughout the first eight issues of this volume of Spider-Man 2099 (not to mention the ones left over from the previous volume), and I think those threads are finally tightening into something that is going to only get more exciting.

Dan Grote takes on the book he was born to talk about, Joe Kelly's SpiderMan/Deadpool...

Spider-Man/Deadpool #3
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales, & Jason Keith

I’ve avoided writing about this book up to now largely because, quite frankly, I needed to take a break from writing about Deadpool.

Spidey and Deadpool are an odd pairing. On one hand, teaming up Marvel’s two biggest jokers sounds like a naturally funny book. On the other hand, it forces one of them – specifically Spidey – into the role of straight man. In any other Marvel Team-Up, old Double-P would be the one getting asked to stuff a sock in it.

Spider-Man/Deadpool plays off current continuity, in which Peter Parker is the CEO of a major tech company and Wade is a universally beloved superhero, Avenger and head of his own band of misanthropic mercenaries. He’s also been hired to off Parker by an as-yet-unseen enemy, and he sees cozying up to Parker’s errand boy, Spidey, as the best way to get close enough to him to do the deed. Spidey can’t stand Deadpool, but he sees that Deadpool actually has an understanding of what it means to be a good guy and is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In the meantime, they partner up with each other’s supporting casts and punch baddies from Spidey’s rogues gallery. In this issue, they tackle the obscure nihilistic duo Styx and Stone, who are terrorizing a Bolivian drug-farming village Wade and the Mercs for Money were hired to protect.

Once Spidey realizes he’s protecting a drug farm, he climbs up on his high horse, but Deadpool – who earlier in the issue rode an actual horse, which he later forgets about – ends up providing the situation’s moral nuance:

“We’re not here helping Scarface or Pablo Escobar. Look at these people – it’s cook drugs or get shot for half of them. Then it’s get shot or farm drugs for the other half. We don’t all get to be white guys in America. What they’re doing is for their own survival.” Also, “The check cleared.”

Having successfully checked Spidey’s privilege, DP continues to surprise the wall-crawler by introducing him to his daughter, Ellie, thoroughly melting whatever was left of Spidey’s anti-Deadpool heart.

“Just when you think you know a guy you hate,” he says as he webs off.

Don’t get too misty, though. While they were in Bolivia, Wade had one of his mercs, Foolkiller, scan Spidey for weaknesses, looking for a way to take him down so he can take out his boss, Parker, because Wade believes they are two different people (Hobie Brown, the former Prowler, dresses up as Spidey early in the issue so Spidey and Parker can be in the same room at the same time).

This book does a great job showing how Ed McGuinness’ art has evolved over the years. McGuinness’ original, short-lived run on DP showed off a blocky, cartoonish style that ultimately got him gigs drawing the Hulk and Superman. Here, his edges are rounder and his heroes trimmer. Merc-for-Money Slapstick may be the tiniest heroes he’s ever drawn (unless he drew the Atom at some point while at DC).

While this book reunites the creative team from the original Deadpool ongoing, it’s no nostalgia trip. Kelly and McGuinness are telling a brand-new story, and so old DP mainstays like Blind Al, Weasel, and Deuce the Devil Dog are nowhere to be found. That said, after 15 years away, Kelly may have a firmer grasp now on what makes Deadpool tick than he did when he originally wrote the character. Spider-Man/Deadpool is an excellent companion to Wade’s solo series, and if you’ve got the dollars to commit to a second Deadpool title each month, this should be the one.