Monday, October 24, 2016

POBB October 19, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 19, 2016
Ray Tate

Hello.  My name is Ray Tate, and welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog, I pick the best and worst from the comic book yield of the week.   The POBB is also available condensed on Twitter #PickoftheBrownBag.

My current batch of reviews includes Aquaman, Batman, Doctor Who, Hellboy and the BPRD, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  I will also review brand new title and Die Kitty Die!  First a spoiler free critique of…

After Emily Blunt made a joke about the Republican debate, Fox & Friends told Blunt to leave Hollywood and classified her as “Dixie Chicked.” 

Fox & Friends meant the remark to be a metaphor for career suicide.  Of course, their crackerjack research failed to uncover the millions and millions of dollars the Dixie Chicks earned long after they spoke out against the Iraq War; the number of awards won as well as the Dixie Chicks’ annoying habit of ignoring Fox & Friends by conducting successful tours all over the world.

Since Fox & Friends’ thought-free commentary, I’ve made it a point to watch every Emily Blunt movie that’s in my wheelhouse.  Old ones.  New ones.  There’s several reviews here under her tag.   I’m not going to watch Emily Blunt in say Return of the Native.  It was a wretched book.  It would be a wretched movie.  I will however watch a murder mystery with Emily Blunt.

The Girl on a Train is based on a novel by author Paula Hawkins, who also wrote Gone Girl.  I never read Hawkins’ works, and skipped that movie.  Nothing personal.  The subjects just didn’t seem like my type.  I’ve always been more of hardboiled private eye and Sherlock Holmes kind of reader.

From what I saw of the teasers, The Girl on a Train neither seemed like my thing.  Nevertheless, it might be a murder mystery starring Emily Blunt.  Good enough.  So let me once again dedicate this review to Fox & Friends.  I never would have become such an avid Emily Blunt movie watcher without your shrewd wit.

Let’s get this out of the way first.  The Girl on a Train is a murder mystery, it’s just not from the formulaic ilk where there’s a corpse, a brilliant sleuth and an elegant solution.  The formula nests inside a much more complex piece of feminist filmmaking.  

The female cast is numerous and each character bears far more dimension than one expects in a murder mystery.  Regardless of gender, characters in the genre frequently exist to provide motives, alibis, information, false leads.  They’re the chaff, that the detective separates to get to the wheat.  Not so in The Girl on a Train

The characters in the film mean something more, but neither are they symbols.  Rather, they’re a blend of women’s issues embodied, and that’s what makes the figures unique.  You can argue that the murder mystery is subterfuge for a drama about metamorphosis, but It’s more apt to say that the mystery catalyzes change.

Blunt is stunningly good as somebody completely unsure of herself and deducing an enigma that perhaps only she can see.  She believably portrays without a doubt one of the most unreliable witnesses in cinema.  

The rest of the cast is formidable, and that includes second and third tier character surprises.  I hesitate to say that the mystery is easy to solve, because it’s just as important to answer why as well as how.  The motive of the perpetrator harbors practicality, but the cast and crew create a believable pathological component triggering the chain of events.  The rot of one mind gives The Girl on a Train an unsettling edge and justifies the slow burn buildup of the characterization and setting of the stage.

The Shaggy Man was created by Justice League foe Professor Ivo, the same maniac behind Amazo.  The beast though covered in fur and savage like an evolutionary throwback is in fact an android with the counterintuitive ability to adapt to any attack thrown at it. 

As the story in Aquaman suggests it is nigh unstoppable usually requiring the arch teamwork of multiple heroes to finally defeat it.

Pitting the Shaggy Man against one lone Aquaman seems completely unbalanced, in more ways than one, but writer Dan Abnett knows what he's doing.  

This final issue of "Unstoppable," an apt-named story, plays fair with the reader.  Aquaman for example doesn't fire the hitherto unknown Wave-Motion Gun.  He beats the Shaggy Man through the facility the android lacks.  Guile.

The Shaggy Man rages through Atlantis and to Amnesty Bay, Aquaman's hometown.  This path of destruction allows Abnett to revisit old friends introduced in Aquaman and examine Arthur’s status as their hero.  It's telling that even those not wild about Aquaman are still willing to tolerate him.  This sample of the populace sees Aquaman more of an annoyance than a federal criminal.  In the end the acceptance of Aquaman's heroism combined with his intelligence saves the day but not without cost.

Amanda Waller is ultimately responsible for threatening the lives of Gothamites and the death of Batman's protege Gotham.

She put Hugo Strange on the payroll.  Strange in turn used the Psycho-Pirate.  

Both unsurprisingly went rogue.  

The duo created havoc like downing a passenger plane, which almost succeeded in slaying Batman and causing random explosions all around the city ending the lives of innocent scores.  They turned the young hero Gotham into a killing machine and in the process murdered Waller's own soldiers.  The Black Hole of Calcutta should be reopened for Amanda Waller.  So why would Batman work for an arch criminal like Waller?

All the right reasons.  The Psycho-Pirate cast a spell of fear on Gotham Girl.  Batman needs the Medusa Mask if not the psychopath who wears it to quell Claire's fears.  The problem is that Hugo Strange sold the Psycho-Pirate to Bane, and now Batman must build his own Suicide Squad to invade Santa Prisca and retrieve the Medusa Mask.

Tom King enlivens the typical Gathering of Eagles story through ingenious surprises, off kilter recruits and one whopper of a cliffhanger.  Simultaneously, former Justice League Dark artist Michael Janin uses his appealing illustration that has one foot in realism and the other in comic book tradition to make this excursion into Gotham more like a trip to Metropolis but with more stonework.  Arkham doesn't look like a nightmare.  It looks like what it's supposed to be.  An institution designed to incarcerate the mentally disturbed and also facilitate rehabilitation.

The first member of Batman’s team is a well known rogue from the Dark Knight gallery.  No big deal, but his second is a complete redirection.

The Bronze Tiger didn't know Batman's secret identity.  They weren't old friends.  Allegedly brainwashed by the Sensei, the champion martial artist murdered the original Batwoman setting off a startling story that demonstrated just how much damage an angry Batman could wreak.

Rebirth and the New 52 permanently erases these events.  In addition the creative team use the fresh start to imbue Batman with more warmth and humanity.  Janin's attractive and fitting redesign of the Bronze Tiger also enhances his fresh start in the DC Universe.

Batman's next potential is a woman.

No, not the time-lost Saturn Girl.  Although, it's nice to see King cleverly remind the reader.  I'm now convinced that the Legion will play a large role in the upcoming battle against the Watchmen.

This is the lady in question, and her identity displays Batman's acumen, observational power and experience.  The lady is not a Batman rogue, nor is Batman's next inductee.  The pair’s obscurity indicates King's knowledge of the DC Universe and beyond.

The final teammate is either a whopper of a ruse or a complete rewrite of the staple character's history.  Not even the figure's recent reintroduction.  The entire history, barring a tiny blip in the seventies.  Hint, it's not the Joker.  Though I can see why you might conclude such an identity.  King's and Janin's Batman looks to be another thrilling, engrossing run.

The conclusion of Doctor Who is quick, entertaining and in terms of art jaw dropping beautiful.  The Doctor stumbled upon a dying TARDIS, which took over a family’s house while attracting energy scavengers.  Neither of which will foil mother Holly in her attempt to reunite with her family.

Rachael Stott’s artwork for the people in this chapter edges out her draftsman-like illustration for the house and the TARDIS.  This is because writer George Mann sets the pace of a Cloister Bell danger signal and clock.  Stott ably matches the pace with an exciting chase through the house and the TARDIS.

Gaze into the crystal ball and discover the secrets of Mjonlir in the pages of the Mighty Thor!  Or watch Jason Aaron waste a bunch of trees to tweak the familiar origin of the hammer and Thor.  A tweak that could have been covered in a paragraph.  I won't spoil the "surprise" but the only inventive thing in Thor is the wraparound by regular artist Russell Dauterman.

Can Squirrel Girl be as clever as the cover.

Yes.  Previously in Squirrel Girl, Nancy convinced Doreen to go on a vacation in the Canadian woods where her Mom rented a cabin.  She left reformed super-villain Brain Drain in charge of the city.  While Doreen fought boredom at the cabin, Brain Drain kept encountering one man multiple times.  What appeared to be just a blow off joke turned into something much more inventive and impressive.

This second issue of a rare Squirrel Girl storyarc goes even farther to highlight the threat of Enigmo.  Brain Drain also concludes something wrong, and he decides to bring help.  If you’ve guessed Ant-Man, since he’s on the cover, you’re way ahead of the game.

I can’t get over how writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson evolve the funny, freewheeling nature of Squirrel Girl into a science fiction nightmare.  The tone hasn’t changed at all, but Enigmo is something that’s genuinely frightening.  North and Henderson in original subtle ways present a takeover of the planet that’s smooth and natural.  Not a single hero, ones more powerful and arguably smarter than Squirrel Girl, can curtail the growth of Enigmo into a single power.

Look.  We all know Spider-Gwen is fantastic.  I mean almost every issue has been a justification of comic book love, but this done in one story is like richest, tastiest caramel in existence.

Betty is so Betty!

The Mary Janes take their drummer Gwen Stacy out trick or treating to try to cheer her up.  

The tender love and care also involves a trip to a haunted carnival.  This carnival isn’t haunted by just any ghost however.

It’s Mysterio.

Mysterio differs from the more familiar dead fiend from The Amazing Spider-Man.  He's not really a villain in Spider-Gwen.  His motive is just to scare the snot out of the Mary Janes.

Every Halloween, I want this.  I don’t want Mysterio to become a recurring Spider-Gwen antagonist.  I don't want him robbing banks.  I don't want him trying to actually kill anybody.  I just want him to mess with the Mary Janes every Halloween.  

No reason except to revel in the pure delight of scaring people with his mastery of magic and illusion.  I don’t want to know anything about Mysterio.  I don’t want to know his history.  His thoughts.  I just want him to be the same personification of weirdo forces in Spider-Gwen.  That is all.

Die Kitty Die was an extreme disappointment.  From the blurb in Previews I expected a murder plot against a character in a long running comic book series by "real" forces like the artist and the writer.  The character would then somehow stubbornly resist.  That sounded interesting.  Alas.

The book begins with a book in a book.  The main draw appears to be boobs and pin-up poses spliced into Archie Comics, an umbrella reference hereby representing all the titles such as Betty and Veronica, Jughead, Josie and the Pussycats, etc.  

The cachonga fest doesn’t make any sense.  Archie Comics, for the lion's share of its existence, has been tamer than tame.  In order for a parody to work, there must be some underlying truth hidden in the source.  That’s where a parody finds its humor.  Any eroticism in Archie Comics is pure inference. 

By the conclusion, the book within a book conceit becomes apparent.  The entire story posits a media empire based on a “real life” witch named Kitty.  

The setup resembles Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat.  Although, the meta-twist dates back to early sixties Fantastic Four, which established that Marvel Comics published titles about “real life” super-heroes.  ‘Nuff Said.  

The knee-jerk response would be to suggest Kitty is in fact a send up of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.  That’s not actually the case.  Kitty’s a riff on Wendy the Good Little Witch.  The last card missing in a grotesque cavalcade of Harvey Comics' juvenile alternates.

With the exception of the ever-so awesome Black Cat, Harvey Comics made Archie Comics look like Playboy.  If Archie was an all-ages book.  Harvey’s Casper and pals were definitely for kids and absolutely harmless.  Picking on them is particularly gutless.

The mogul of the now fading Kitty Empire offers to give Casper his own book if he kills Kitty.  Casper is a ghost, and he can attempt to kill Kitty in numerous ways.  Invisibility, density control, freezing powers are all potentials Casper can unleash, but for some reason he defies his motivation, his only motivation, in order to…

What. the.  fuck.  

The wit in this scene is non-existent.  It lacks a single shred of sense and doesn’t figure into the plot.  The moment just seems to be borne out of the artist’s desire to imply that Casper is depraved.  Mind you.  Parent does perform this sick feat off panel.  I guess he wanted the sexual harassment to be in good taste.

By this time, you should know that Die Kitty Die is only for Dan Parent art fans.  Parent is best known for his work on surprise Archie Comics, and he’s an exceptional cartoonist.  Archie however requires cleansing.  Parent here breaks loose from the restraints of standards and practices, but for absolutely no good reason and without courage.

Parent self-censors.  I didn’t add any cute little ineffective censored text because I didn’t have to.  Die Kitty Die is neither pornographic, nor even spicy.  So Die Kitty Die fails in that respect as well.  There’s nothing remotely daring in Die Kitty Die just a surfeit of stupidity.

The mogul plots his crime with two eyewitnesses, who are not only okay with the murder of an innocent woman but now also must be considered conspirators.  If we accept the rules of this book, the real world constitutes normal humans and normal humans that practice magic.  A normal cast a spell that cast off Kitty’s clothing.  Kitty may be something more than human, but still.  Human enough.  In any case, not many people would know that Kitty is a real witch.  They would doubt the evidence presented in a comic book.  My point? Murder is murder, and the woman questioning whether it’s murder if the victim is a witch is an idiot.  The police will not hesitate to arrest the whole lot of these cretins for conspiracy to commit murder.  

The lack of morality in all three of the imbeciles probably plays into writer Fernando Ruiz and Parent’s critique of…drumroll, please…what’s wrong with comics.  They take a tour of lousy comic book tropes and events. They travel this path through clunky ham-fisted dialogue spouted from multiple cast members.  

That means, Die Kitty Die also becomes an irrelevant platform.  Everything every character states has been criticized by better observers and more pertinently.  Me, for instance.  I’ve been doing this for quite some time.  I’ve been a champion for Batgirl forever, and you know what? Batgirl is free of her wheelchair and kicking ass again.  Babs Gordon’s mobility is symbolic of a new attentiveness to how a shared universe should work.  

Nobody twists your arm to buy comic books.  If you don’t want “52 chapters to know what’s happening in the main book,” a horribly gross exaggeration, don’t purchase them.  Die Kitty Die is neither funny, appropriately critical, sexy or plotted well.  It's got practically nothing going for it.

Having found what appeared to be a flying saucer, Hellboy spun into a weird, underground base and dropped into a nest of vipers.

Yeah.  It’s Hellboy beating the crap out of Nazis building flying saucers.  How can you not want this?  

Hellboy just brought tears to my eyes.  Mignola taps into a nerve we all possess.  It throbs when Fourth Reich trash tries to save Hitler’s brain, or makes long winded speeches about how superior they are to we defective non-Aryan people.

The real Nazis were probably one of the most terrifying things civilized humankind ever faced, but we’ve taken them into our hearts to domesticate them into an enemy that we ridicule.  

They were this crazy but not nearly as fun I imagine.  The Nazis intend to use Hellboy to suck out his satanic life force in order to power their ships.  Thereby allowing them to conquer the world.  There’s but one flaw in this plan.

Monday, October 17, 2016

POBB October 12, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 12, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly comic book review blog, examines the merits of Deathstroke, Red Hood and the Outlaws, The Shield, Southern Cross and Wynonna Earp but first a look at James Franco's remake of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger.

Mother, May I Sleep With Danger is a fairly solid B-Movie focusing on vampires.  That wasn't the original's premise.  James Franco only agreed to remake this potboiler story if given free rein, and Franco decided that this must be a story about a lesbian vampire, one of the kindest in the genre, and the human she falls in love with.  

Leila George

In that respect, Pearl, the vampire, differs strongly from the first lesbian vampire Carmilla.  Carmilla was a predator of women, who does fall in love with a human but nevertheless intends to kill her.  

Emily Meade

Not so Pearl who though accepting her vampiric existence does not particularly like it.  Having the human Leah in love with her allows her to fight to keep her own humanity, but Leah isn't a means to an ends.  Nor is Pearl obsessed with Leah.  Director Franco also rewrote the story, and he cleverly introduces another character that demonstrates the difference.  

The two lead actresses successfully convey the overwhelming, intense power of love.  Other vampires in Franco's story are zombie or traditionally witch like, creatures who prey upon humans.  They have given up their previous lives readily and willingly.  Pearl is different, but they give her an ultimatum.  Turn Leah, or they will.

Direction and writing is smart.  Furthermore Mother May I Sleep With Danger benefits from being mostly free of padding.  Although the film was made for Lifetime, it stands out for being gory--though not in the sense of torture porn--and sensual.  

Fans of the genre will spot several moments that exemplify Franco's study of vampire cinema, and it's very clear that he didn't just look at mainstream vampire films.  You can see that Franco examined Jess Franco's work and some of the more visceral seventies flicks.  At the same time, James Franco and screenwriter Amber Coney says something with this little horror movie.  Franco’s not just demonstrating his own skills.  He and Coney address things like rape, otherness, acceptance and of course love.

So, Deathstroke.  Anybody that regularly reads the Pick of the Brown Bag knows I don't normally purchase Deathstroke.  I don't particularly care about the character.  Batman’s guest appearance explains why I selected this title.

Deathstroke has a weird history.  Marv Wolfman and George Perez created Slade Wilson alias Deathstroke for The New Teen Titans.

In the Teen Titans Deathstroke was a normal guy who became a killer of animals then a killer of men.  This origin of course dates back to that old whack job Count Zaroff from The Most Dangerous Game, maybe even earlier if you count Sebastian Moran from Sherlock Holmes.  Deathstroke is actually a villainous knockoff of Paul Kirk the second Manhunter.

Right down to a healing factor that predates Wolverine’s mutant power.  Slade achieved these abilities through military experimentation.  Translated in New 52 as Team 7.

Originally,  Deathstroke became the main Teen Titans foe because the organization known as Hive used his son Grant in an attempt to kill the Titans.  That’s him in blue up there.  Grant could be hyperkinetic like his father, but at the cost of artificial aging.  So, Grant, already a loser, lickety-split paved the way for the sexier, more successful second Ravager, Deathstroke’s daughter, Rose.

A funny thing happened after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Deathstroke became a semi good guy.   

Deathstroke’s main claim to fame was to kill Gar Logan, Changeling nee Beast Boy.  Events in the Crisis erased that moment.  So only Deathstroke’s introduction was valid, and since at the end of the story, Deathstroke could have simply accepted responsibility, blame Hive and leave the Titans alone, he did this time around.  

Deathstroke in all comic book craziness became a loyal Titan ally and cognizant of Batman's secret identity through his knowledge of Nightwing's alter-ego.

So it's the new 52.  Slade Wilson made his return in Team 7 and tried to briefly assassinate Batman in Dark Knight, but Rebirth Deathstroke is similar to the post-Crisis Deathstroke.  With his daughter Rose, introduced some time at the cusp of the new 52, in tow Slade, makes his way to Gotham City in Christopher Priest's typical episodic narrative.

This isn't a bad story for Deathstroke, and it neatly balances the idea of his being an arch assassin and an occasional protagonist.  He's not exactly an anti-hero because of the presence of Rose, his association with the Black Canary and the fact that he hasn't actually committed any unforgivable crimes against the hero world.  He may have fought Superman before he died, but honestly.  It's Superman.

The reason for the foray becomes apparent, and Priest's version of Batman through Deathstroke's point of view is better than the lion's share of Batman characterization from the post-Crisis.  His Batman fits snugly with the more effective and more empathic Batman of the new 52.  Deathstroke fans will buy this book no matter what, but Batman fans shouldn't pass it up.  Especially if you’re avoiding the siege of the Monster Men.

In Red Hood and the Outlaws, Jason Todd went undercover in Black Mask's gang.  Tasked with recovering a secret weapon, Jason encountered the Amazon Artemis and discovered the weapon was in fact a Superman clone discarded or stolen from Lex Luthor.

Scott Lobdell has made the various Red Hood series remarkably entertaining.  Turning Jason into a low-rent Nightwing but with the training of Batman.  Reveling in his fallibility, and transforming him into an almost private investigator and almost hardboiled.  

The rampant comedy that Lobdell imbues to the title mostly eliminates any meandering melodrama that signified Jason's impending doom back in the nineties.  Red Hood and the Outlaws can still be serious or sweet, but mostly this is the Blackadder of DC comics.  This issue is no different.

I wish I could say the same thing about The Shield.  After two  fantastic debut issues, this third just confused the hell out of me.  Why does the enemy of the Revolution create The Shield?  

To quote “Robot of Sherwood Forest:”

“Why would we create an enemy to fight us? What sense would that make? That would be a terrible idea.” 

“Yes! Yes, it would. Wouldn't it? Yes, that would be a rubbish idea.”

The only way I see The Shield making any sense is if it turns out that the mystery lady with her face covered is actually the Shield time-traveled.  She tricked the ancestor of Walter Chase into imbuing her past self with immortality to preserve her life, not to mention history.  That supposition however is likely wishful thinking, and we’re stuck with some nonsense about the Shield horrible looking in black tracking Russian bikers.  Seriously.  WTF.

Wynonna Earp on the other hand is a stand-alone issue where Wynonna plies her trade as a U.S. Marshall, Black Badge division.  Writer/Creator Beau Smith drops himself into the adventure ala Hitchcock.

With the exquisite art of Chris Evanhuis, Smith builds on the mythology of the Black Badges, straight from the U.S. Marshall playbook.  They’re just as involved in Witness Protection.  Only they happen to be dealing with werewolves.

Smith’s story ties into the overall background of the Wynonna Earp comic book series.  The idea of the monsters using modern tools to commit crimes.  In addition, Smith conceives of some brilliant updates to lycanthropy lore and for television fans, he introduces a popular cast member of the television series to the cast of his book.  Thus drawing Wynonna Earp even closer to Justified and Raylin.  

As always, I’ll be honest.  For the first few pages, Southern Cross wasn’t wowing me.  The summary was necessary, I suppose, but the story just wasn’t moving.  Quite suddenly, in a superbly staged awesome instance, writer Becky Cloonan with her artistic partners Andy Bellanger and Lee Louridge tie together both volumes of Southern Cross.  From that jump start, Cloonan and company leads the reader to internal conflict aboard the Titan rig,   They demonstrate the future’s method for dealing with a working man’s fear and drop another bomb for the cliffhanger.