Friday, October 18, 2013

It all started with the Big Bang! Part 15 (issue #30)

Jumping forward a bit (and retiring that qualifier since there's only five issues left and the only sequential ones I plan to look at are #33 and #34), we get an oddly modern-style cover (or modern for 1999, at least). This issue stars the Verdict, AKA the Knight Watchman's answer to the Outsiders. If you don't know a lot about the Outsiders, Siskoid will hook you up, but long story short -- they kind of sucked.


The interesting thing about the Verdict is that they were created by Mike W. Barr -- creator of the Outsiders themselves! I don't  think it's super amazing (it was pretty stupid after all, and to be honest so is this issue), but it adds a couple layers to the proceeding story.

This all starts with the Knight Watchman staking out the meeting of some secret society, only for it to be crashed by Psi-Mage, the woman you probably noticed the hardest on the cover up there. Let me just say -- I don't for one second claim to understand what Psi-Mage's powers really are, she seems capable of basically anything. She can even see through that blindfold, I guess, as it's not mentioned to hinder her at all.


She steals that book, but the Knight Watchman bursts in and starts fighting her, even though they're clearly both enemies of the same secret society of wizards or whatever. I never really thought about it, but jeez, superheroes can be so immature; cops don't get into fights over collars like this, for instance.

Also in the group are Hot Wire, some electrical ghost who inhabits the body of a wanted murderer (below) and an edged weapons expert called Kuttar. Similar to how the A-Team gets BA on planes, they have to drug and handcuff the murderess when Hot Wire wants to come out and play. Credit where it's due, that's a somewhat interesting concept.


They get their own action scene where they steal computer codes from some secret criminal cabal. In utter defiance of the rule of threes, there isn't a third secret group to steal from -- the book and the codes were all they needed. The two of them meet back up with Psi-Mage at a motel, where they're interrupted by the Knight Watchman, who is interested in hearing what the hell their freaking deal is.

These are the Verdict -- Psi-Mage, Kuttar, Hot Wire, and Quintessence, your fakey Looker, Katana, Halo (or maybe Black Lightning, or both), and Metamorpho. Of the bunch, Kuttar is the most similar to her inspiration, being an Indian woman wielding and named after a katar (cool spelling, Mike Barr) rather than a Japanese woman with a katana.

Note that their story is more similar to Gen13 or the DNAgents, though, being as they are refugees from some secret project. I can't help but think this panel is a little melodramatic, though -- surely the Round Table of America is a bigger deal than these guys. Anyway, the Knight Watchman knows idiots when he sees them, and insists he come along with them on their quest to retrieve their 4th member, Quintessence.


Also unlike the Outsiders, the Verdict (especially leader Psi-Mage) is very much in the driver's seat throughout the rest of the issue, with the Knight Watchman just along for the ride. I'm not sure if this is more or less embarrassing than Batman's relationship with the Outsiders. Again, I don't know a whole lot about the Outsiders, but I never would have guessed Looker was Barr's clear favorite.

Anyway, they've traced Quintessence's location to a water purification plant, and discover him chained up in the bowels of the place. He doesn't seem to remember them and is soon mind-controlled into fighting them by their old captor Dr. Smight. The Big Q's powers are sort of like the elemental version of Ultra Boy's:


..and so on in that fashion, air, water, 'n all that 'n all that, only one at a time. The fifth power is a mystery. Oh, and yes, this makes him the Metamorpho equivalent, duh, though like a lot of these guys (except Kuttar I guess) he's a pretty loose counterpart. Somehow it turns out that Smight is actually in the next room, along with her evil sidekick Dr. Rajeev, Kuttar's father.

"Smight", that's cute. I do sort of like the evil old crippled scientist being a woman for once, that's pretty unusual. Kuttar's dad being evil is clearly a cheap way to tie her into the backstory, as there's nothing superhuman about her at all, though. Oh, and when Smight says that, yeah, his daughter has to go, he's like "oh, okay then." Gee, thanks, pops. 

Quintessence is ordered to attack, but Psi-Mage tries to override his brainwashing. She can't take over his mind, but she can activate one part of it, making him use his fifth power: basically just exploding. The Verdict and the Knight Watchman escape the blast, but Smight and Rajeev don't appear to be so lucky. They regroup at their motel and say their goodbyes to the Knight Watchman, who for some reason still cares about their asinine lives.

 Next is a Psi-Mage solo story. It basically reads like an extremely self-gratifying dream Psi-Mage might have -- people praise her beauty left and right. The art and story are also shamelessly exploitative, though blame should be shared among Barr and artist John Watkins-Chow. In any case, we start off by getting into her head a little for the story's sole dramatic moment


















...which is itself pretty silly anyway. And then she walks into a health spa, turning heads and stopping traffic on the way. This is a for really-real line that gets said of her: "If I had madame's figure all I'd wear is a wet t-shirt and a thong." I don't know about sexist, but this material is pretty repulsive. Like, you ever seen Queen's Blade? I'm about as embarrassed as when I tried to watch that. Anyway, clients keep their valuables locked up in a room while they get treated, and naturally a heist goes down while Psi-Mage is there.


































Based on the tone of the story thus far, I was pretty surprised that Barr gave her a way to magically put her clothes on. And nice job handwaving why her costume from the first story wasn't the one on the cover, by the way. In any case, 'putting clothes on' doesn't stop the "Psi Mage is so hot you guys" train at all. She even stops to admire herself, like a wrestler with a narcissist gimmick.


I really can't overstate how hard this comic tries to be sensual. And I guess it more or less succeeds, in the sense that it's making me very uncomfortable. Jeez, I'm a huge fan of Danger Girl, why is this getting to me? Probably because it's more like Codename: Knockout. If you found Psi-Mage at all likeable before, you probably hate her as much as I do now. She does, however, use her powers creatively, tricking the thieves into thinking she has the Philosopher's Stone and can turn stuff into other stuff when she's really just messing with t

 With them taken care of, the woman at the front desk pulls a gun on Psi-Mage, demanding she hand over the stone and her cape. What comes next actually happens for real, not via illusion.


Psi-Mage seriously thinks "that's what she gets for calling me 'blondie'!" God, I liked Wesley Crusher more than this freak. Still, so ends the drama. Psi-Mage can't stick around for the cops to show up and thus can't get her regular clothes, so she (sigh) struts out of the spa wearing her costume, with the cape wrapped around her in such a way that it sort of looks like a dress. 

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