Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
      ( 2/21/2006 03:40:00 PM ) Bill S.  

COSMIC CATERWAULS – Had my doubts when I first saw Giffen & DeMatteis were writing a spin-off supergroup mini-series inspired by their Boom! Studios superhero romp Hero Squared. The idea of doing a funny superhero series devoted to characters who ostensibly horribly perished prior to the events in Squared seemed a mite tight-ropey, if you ask me. But since these two guys proved capable of squeezing chuckles out of the Justice League right on the heels of Identity Crisis, I wasn't gonna abandon hope altogether. In this case, my second inclination proved right.

The first issue of Planetary Brigade does a deft job of introducing six of the seven characters who comprise this alternate Earth supergroup (the seventh appears on the cover but is otherwise M.I.A.): Captain Valor, the surviving Superman figure who headlines Squared; the Grim Knight, a sword-wielding variation on Batman; Purring Pussycat, a provocative mercenary superheroine; Earth Goddess, a Gaia worshipping blend of Wonder Woman and She-Hulk; Third Eye, a sorceress supreme; and Mauve Visitor, a purple alien with an affinity for pricey garments and a condescending manner toward the rest of the team. Much of the dialog centers on the clash of personalities within this supergroup – the Bickersons model of characterization – the primary advantage being that Giffen & DeMatteis can be blunter with this cadre of unfamiliar characters. I especially enjoyed the testy interchanges between Mauve Visitor and the burly Earth Goddess in the book's first full battle scene, but pretty much any scene where M.V. baits his teammates is a winner.

The first issue's story is illustrated by a series of artists: a tribute to those Golden Age Justice Society of America comics, where each team member's chapter was illustrated by the artist most familiar with 'em, perhaps, though the scenes aren't as distinctly divided as they would've been in the old J.S.A. or J.L.A. stories. I found the different styles more distracting than anything, particularly when it came to the mystic Third Eye. As rendered in early parts of the book by Joe Abraham and Cynthia Martin, the heroine's third eye is a solidly implanted part of her forehead, but when Mark Badger later illustrates the character, the eye appears to be a flatter, more transient orb. Took me a few panels to even realize Badger was drawing the same character.

The plot of the two-part series (set "a few short years" before Hero Squared) involves the sudden appearance in New Amsterdam (cue Elvis Costello song) of a living portal who unwillingly is bringing in hostile creatures from another dimension. ("Dear God," Mauve Visitor sighs, "not another inter-dimensional invasion!") By the end of the first issue we still don't know very much about this disheveled human doorway – except that he doesn't particularly like what he's doing and that he's also unable to off himself. We know he's the portal for a barrage of menacing beasties, but is he responsible for 'em? By the end of the first issue, that question is still unanswered, though we're promised "Absolute Disaster – And A Few Good Laughs!" in Ish Two.

Some ripe comical doings from Giffen & DeMatteis, all told, though if pressed I'd have to state my preference for the slacker doppelganger antics that provide Square's primary chuckles – they're a smidge less comics-centered and ultimately better for it. Still as long as Boom! keeps providing these two chuckleheads a place where they can play in the superpower sandbox, I'll keep following 'em . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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