Tuesday, September 19, 2017

POBB September 13, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 13, 2017
by
Ray Tate

The short weeks continue with All-New Wolverine, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Runaways, Sheena Supergirl, Superwoman, Titans, Wynonna Earp and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  Should you not have time for the full reviews, you can always head to Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.


It’s a big Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid showdown for this deceptively subtitled issue of Wynonna Earp.  Though labeled Season Zero, all of Wynonna Earp’s allies join the fight against renegade bandit biker Keegan and his group of ex-soldier mercenaries.


The Wynonna Earp audience may be a little leery of investing in the comic book series, but viewers need not fear the print, especially for this mini.  A schism between the two media exists, but it’s not as pronounced as the Supergirl divide.  For example, Waverly Earp, Wynonna’s sister, became a Black Badge before Wynonna.  The transition  however will confuse nobody since Beau Smith’s and Tim Rozon’s story is a Your Ammo Monthly fueled action ride that’s peppered with hilarious dialogue and a few characterization gems.  Artwork by Angel Hernandez offers a decided resemblance to Wynonna Earp's cast, and grants the breath of life to unique characters--such as Valdez--found in the comic book. 

This issue of Wolverine concludes an intriguing story arc that began with an alien child dying in New York and unknowingly unleashing plague.  


The child’s last words were Laura's name, which involved Wolverine in ways she couldn’t expect.  Wolverine’s investigation led to writer Tom Taylor highlighting not her claws but instead her healing factor.  The discovery led to a Wolverine Family jamboree with background vocals provided by Deadpool, Logan, Daken and Gabby.  The next step in this horribly underrated miniature Marvel masterpiece led to Wolverine teaming up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to find out who launched the dying child to earth in the first place and what was the nature of the plague.  The answer appeared to begin and end with Brood.  In the previous issue, the Brood took Gabby, and Wolverine wants her cloned sister back.  That could be difficult.


The Guardians of the Galaxy read as fast and fun as the cinematic versions.  That said.  There’s more than mere satisfaction in satellite sabotage.  

Wolverine acts bravely and loyally in Gabby’s defense, but she allows the Guardians to carry out their ultimatum and simply trusts in herself to either save Gabby or die with her.  In such action, we find her fascinating persona.  The way out centers on the very heart of this story, and the epilogue, meatier than most adds a layer of depth to the already rich tale.  This includes an in synch moment between Laura and Rocket that’s quite insightful.  In addition, Leonard Kirk’s artwork is simply wonderful.  I’ve spoken before about my admiration for Kirk’s illustration in Supergirl and Justice Society, and he hasn’t lost any steam since those early excursions.

Sheena’s new debut impressed me with a strong voice and astounding artwork by All-Star Western’s Moritat.  No change.  The tale picks up where we left off.  Sheena keeps encountering drones.  Last issue, she killed one.  This issue, she chooses a different tactic.


Surprsingly, the drones do not belong to the newcomers to Sheena’s jungle.


Writers Marguerite Bennett and Christina Trujillo take some clever detours from the expected.  They for example make these armed to the teeth men somewhat reasonable for armed to the teeth men.  They also describe Sheena in different terms for different people, which adds to the complexity of characterization for this sublime basic archetype.

The custodians of the Savage Land staged a contest to attract the best and brightest computer science students.  A trip to Marvel’s Jurassic Park was the prize.  Nancy and Squirrel Girl of course made the cut, as did two Latverian students.  Latveria for those not in the know is the land ruled by Victor von Doom.


Fantastic Four Annual #2

However, the custodians had an ulterior motive.  They wanted the students to use their acumen to save the Savage Land, which is deteriorating.  As far as ultimate agendas go, rescuing a slice of unique environment is pretty benign.  The winners of the contest are more than happy to help.  Add Squirrel Girl’s best friend Nancy and the Latverian Stefan crushing on each other and heaping helpings of Doom worship for color.  Shake well, and you get an entertaining if not outstanding few chapters of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  The set up however led to a genuinely surprising reveal and the superb current issue.  

Here, a deadly Avengers foe returns in a different form that delivers hilarity and forces an odd team-up indeed.


As evinced in past issues but established in Squirrel Girl’s debut, Dr. Doom loathes Squirrel Girl.  The then neophyte hero memorably humiliated Doom.  His Doombots are probably programmed to capture if not kill her on sight.  Fortunately, this is not exactly a factory default Doombot.  Created by Stefan to solve the Savage Land’s problems, Antonio, as he is named, runs with a few helpful apps.


This allows the Doombot to partner with Squirrel Girl and kick ass.  

Supergirl just isn’t very good.  Fortunately it looks like the badness circles the drain at the end of this issue.  I can however recommend without hesitation Robson Rocha’s and Daniel Henriques’ artwork.  If you’re a fan of either gentlemen, then you’ll want to add Supergirl to your collection.

Supergirl is packed with action and Rocha’s and Henriques’ wonderful expressive illustration swathed in a sheen of Michael Atiyeh’s masterful colors.  


However, we’re stuck with this story and the ending to the split personality continuity that I discussed before.
The climax to Supergirl is the cover.  Supergirl kills the Eye of Ekron, and the fact that the Powers That Be displayed what should have been kept secret so overtly I believe indicates desperation.  DC knew that things weren’t working in Supergirl.  So, they wanted everybody to know that they weren’t messing around anymore.  This is the last issue of awful.  Watch Supergirl rip the Eye asunder.

Before we get to that, the reader must suffer through another interminable chapter of the Cyborg Superman is really Zor-El saga.  Don’t misread.  This was not Steve Orlando’s fault.  The identity of CySupes is not his doing.  However, he could have just dropped it.  Perpetuating this painfully stupid plot device is definitely on him.  Making it the fulcrum to Empress’ schemes to discredit Supergirl is again courtesy of him.  As I read the latest business, I kept saying to myself, I don’t care.  In fact, I don’t think anybody cares.  

Orlando entertains the reader more when he turns his attention to present day Fatal Five members Magog and Selena pitted against the Kryptonian Lycanthrope Lar-On.


This scene is genuinely funny.  First, I like the whole idea that the high and mighty Magog, a dorky villain if ever there was one, bit off more than he can chew.  Second, the disposable sorceress Selena knows a werewolf is outside of her weight class.  She owes no loyalty.  So, she does the smart thing.  Third, she steals Magog’s hat on the way.    The pragmatism and theft actually imbues Selena with greater depth than a third tier character should have.  As a result, I hope to see Selena again.

I’ve already suggested through reviews of the recent Batgirl/Supergirl team-up that Orlando can be a good writer when not adhering to continuity, mostly his confectionary.  The whimsy with Selena is another exemplar, and not the only one within Supergirl.  Shay Veritas, reintroduced previously, contributes the kindness I wanted to see consistently.  Orlando finally dumps that idiot Cameron Chase, and he better gels the Danvers’ with the Danvers from the television series.  His finale introduction of a new antagonist promises better things on the horizon.


Supergirl guest stars in Superwoman, and though the narrative would benefit from better construction, it’s an interesting issue for a number of reasons.  


The least of the story involves clean up of the Friend You Never Heard of is a Red Kryptonite monster plot point.  Lana Lang is also part of the mess.


The jump cut between issues is one of the faults in the structure of the title’s literal continuity; as opposed to defining continuity as fictional history.  

The previous issue ended here.


It appeared that there would be a Lex and Supergirl team-up, with the goal of restoring the Red K Superwoman to Lana Lang.  Writer Mike Perkins eschews the slugfest and speeds to the inevitable conclusion.  Supergirl and Lex overcame Superwoman off panel and talked her down.  The end.

Perhaps, Perkins had no investment in the tale and wanted to conclude the chapter quickly to reach this friendlier interaction between Lana and Supergirl.


Lana Lang and Supergirl rarely crossed paths.  Supergirl may have said hi to her in the Legion when Lana became an honorary member as Insect Queen.  So there’s a bit of historical value in the cousin of Superman meeting one of the classic cast members in Superman lore.  

The history of the Superman cast indeed provides the crux of the plot.  Lana Lang existed to be Superboy’s love interest.  The crush before Lois Lane, dubbed “Superman’s Girlfriend.”  

Lana Lang essentially was a sex fantasy.  To a lesser extent so was Lois Lane.  These characters were not sex fantasies in the traditional sense.  Rather they exhibited the characteristics of a 1950s Republican ideal.  Their sole purpose in that period was to provide the impetus of imagining them as Superman’s wives to produce babies.  Reading these comics is an excruciating experience and can only be enjoyed in the same way one enjoys bad movies. 

It would be ten years before Ian Fleming unwittingly emancipated women in pop culture with his James Bond novels turned to movies.  Before that women were portrayed as husband hungry because a woman could not, would not have sex except in the capacity of a wife to make babies.  


Any openly sexually inquisitive woman was considered a hussy, a Jezebel, a lesbian or a woman from the wrong side of the tracks.  I’m not saying that any of these definitions were true.  Rather the public pretense characterized a repressive era.  You can trace the roots of fundamentalist hatred of women to the want to recapitulate this remarkably terrible facade in history.  Thanks to misogynists, the idea of women only being grateful baby making machines has never gone away, and this issue of Superwoman addresses the nauseating stereotype with the character of Maxima.


Maxima created in the post-Crisis was alien royalty that followed her society’s demands for her to marry and mate with a suitable candidate.  She is a horrendous idea.  Here is a powerful woman whose assets are many, but her sole function is to produce a child.  

Superwoman speaks out against the antiquated zeitgeist through the voice of Supergirl, never meant to be a sex fantasy, and Lana Lang who was Betty to Lois Lane’s Veronica.

In a surprise stroke, Perkins draws upon Maxima’s more recent incarnation from the pages of Supergirl for the purpose of contrast and to demonstrate an enlightened twenty first century opinion about women.  

Women are baby producers by a default of genetic chance.  Men could have easily evolved for this task.  Women are complex individuals not simplified roles.  That’s the whole point of Superwoman.  That's what makes this issue notable.

When Lex Luthor prevailed in saving Bizarro’s life, he catalyzed a strange transformation in his creation.  Red Hood and the Outlaws features the first Brainy Bizarro outing.  The story’s nothing but a fun outtake of rocket packs and a TARDIS like headquarters.  The cool toys way in which Bizarro thanks his teammates.  Bizarro’s state will likely not last, but Red Hood and the Outlaws' consistent entertainment value probably will.


Bombshell dropped.  Nightwing is the cuckoo in the Titans' nest.  Is it for real?  Is he a doppelganger? Did the Court of Owls gain influence or perhaps a spy organization? Dan Abnett arrives at a satisfying sci-fi answer, and his restructuring of HIVE creates intriguing potential.


I don’t know beans about the Runaways, but it’s issue one, and the art by Kris Anka looked sweet.  So I took the premiere home.  I do actually know a little bit about the Runaways because of their guest appearance in Avengers Academy and the central sorceress Nico helping to establish A-Force, a casualty of Big Stupid Events.


The beauty of writer Rainbow Rowell’s story is that you don’t really need to know jack about the Runaways in order to enjoy their latest series.  The stakes are really simple.


Somebody Nico knows is dying, and that somebody requires magical help.  Having been forced to endure twenty five years of Barbara Gordon being crippled, it was a distinct pleasure to watch Nico whip spell after spell to do exactly what should have been done to heal Barbara’s spine.  Rowell doesn’t give Nico an easy out once, but she accepts that magic, science fiction technology and even time travel exist in the Marvel Universe.  These fantastical notions do not undermine the drama of survival.




Sunday, September 10, 2017

POBB September 6, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 6, 2017
by
Ray Tate

It’s another short week for the Pick of the Brown Bag. In this posting, I review Astonishing X-Men, Batman, Green Lanterns, Guardians of the Galaxy, Harley Quinn and Superman.  Of course, if you haven’t the time to read the entirety, you can always look me up on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

All the comic books were good.  The narratives strong.  The dialogue attune to the characterization.  Along with uniformly attractive artwork, each title did at least one thing storywise that stood out.

What’s outstanding about Harley Quinn is that it’s still entertaining.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  I’ve had a lot of good luck from these breather issues, and Frank Tieri’s work on Catwoman already impressed me.  Still, it’s always a crap shoot when another writer steps in even for a bit.  Tieri substitutes for Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti with an inventive tale pitting Harley against the Penguin.  


Despite the promise of violence in the depiction, Harley Quinn is literally a bloodless affair.  Tieri opts for a game of maneuvers between the two players.  The Penguin unknowingly fires the first shot.


Writer Chuck Dixon struck upon the idea of transforming the Penguin from a gimmicky Batman rogue ala Burgess Meredith into a less successful version of the Kingpin.  Dixon granted the Penguin ownership of a nightclub, the Iceberg.  With the nightclub, the Penguin became wealthy, and it also served as a convenient front for his less savory affairs.  This type of Penguin with all the accoutrements carried over to the new 52.  

The Penguin’s latest venture involves the expansion of his territory into New York.  The Penguin maintains a clean enough facade that allows him to exploit the law.  What Tieri states about eminent domain is true, and you must ask yourself what can Harley do to stop a state-backed Penguin? It’s a challenging question given a satisfying answer.

While Harley’s first instinct is to go nuts, the Penguin comes prepared.  His countermeasures force Harley into achieving a cleverer solution based upon her experience with the Penguin in all incarnations. 


Batman is exceptional because the comic book, related through Kite Man’s tragic point of view, details Batman picking off his Rogue’s Gallery one by one.  


Each move Batman makes against his enemies carries the panache you expect from the Dark Knight.  Thus, writer Tom King demonstrates how much of a difference Batman makes in Gotham City.

Despite this issue being an Interlude in King’s “War of Jokes and Riddles,” it’s actually a more integrated chapter.  For example, the consequences of last issue’s dinner party fruit in this story, and Two-Face details how the new protocols in the war work.  Batman is somewhat cold and calculating in this issue.  Expected given the circumstances, but he also exhibits empathy toward the Kite-Man.  Thus alluding to the miscreant's origin.


Superman’s notable for several aspects.  The first chapter in Keith Champagne’s story was firmly secured in the horror genre.  This conclusion to the two-parter tethers to the science fiction of the Lanterns.


I never liked the rainbow Lantern concept.  I did like the idea of the Weaponers of Qward, residents of the anti-matter universe, being so afraid of the Guardians of the Universe that they pooled all their energy and resources into forging a single yellow ring that would be worn by Sinestro, a disgraced and decommissioned Green Lantern. 


When I wasn’t paying attention to the Lantern saga, namely ever, not only did the Lanterns bloom into a box of Crayolas, Sinestro somehow redeemed himself.  Sinestro was no longer a wanted despot and maniacal criminal bent on revenge.  He was just another ass with a ring, only this time, yellow.  No better or worse than Guy Gardner, really.  In case you’re wondering where a life long Hal Jordan hater first encountered Sinestro, you need look no farther than Challenge of the Super-Friends.  


Superman is a memento of Sinestro’s historical villainy.  Sinestro’s motives for battling the Man of Steel are all selfish.  He wants the monster Parallax to use as a battery.  He callously considers murdering his girlfriend when he suspects, only suspects, mind you, that Parallex possesses her.  She's apparently one of Shadow Lass’ people and hasn't figured that she can do way better than Sinestro.  Hell, Guy Gardner would be a step up.


Sinestro furthermore intends to leave Superman to die, when he does not have to.  Before that he gleefully tortures Clark with all the fortitude of Snidely Whiplash.  When Superman of course gains the upper hand, through optimism and mercy, Sinestro promises a reckoning.  For those that remember the good old days of Sinestro cackling over the prostrate form of Hal Jordan, this issue is for you, and me.


Thrown back in time, Green Lanterns Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz train the original seven Green Lanterns to face and defeat Volthoom, the first Lantern.  


In the future Volthoom will become trapped as a parasite in the Power Ring of the Crime Syndicate’s earth.  He will furthermore attempt to leech off of Jessica Cruz, until ultimately defeated by her willpower.  Unfortunately, she can die in the past, and Simon appears powerless to help his partner.

Green Lanterns is an effective time travel story.  Everything that happens in this book, already happened.  Simon and Jessica do not alter history.  They instead contribute their part, like they always have.  Sam Humphries’ narrative as well acts as a strong Green Lantern tale.  It also fosters a killer cliffhanger by elegantly playing by the rules of the ring.


Guardians of the Galaxy is another personal story set in the Guardians’ past.  In this case, the tale focuses on Rocket and Groot.  What’s however surprising is that, the tale isn’t just dismissible, however entertaining, fodder.  It reveals the culprit behind Groot’s growth stunting, and the subplot of Groot's cultivation by unknown parties.  The identity of the perpetrator is just so obvious.  I could kick myself for not thinking of him.  

Before the story hits that point, the reader can simply revel in Gerry Duggan’s hilarious characterization of Rocket and Groot as well as the striking drama their loyalty engenders.  In addition the cliffhanger is utterly mind-blowing.


This is the least dense issue of Astonishing X-Men, yet Charles Soule’s impressive story already laid the ground work in characterization and plot detail.  This chapter is the result of everything that came before.  So, it can be forgiven to read a little thin by comparison.  That said, it’s still worth your time.

The X-Men fight Farouk the Shadow King on the Astral Plane.  In the real world, the English government perceives a threat from the X-Men.  Amazingly, Soule doesn’t succumb to stupid writing.


This is sooooo refreshing.  Instead of engaging in a dumb, senseless, bloody battle, the hero attempts to reason things out with the opposition by playing straight with them.  I wish this intelligent twist would happen more often.


Unbeknownst to the X-Men, the still dead Charles Xavier is also battling his old enemy.  Soule sets up Xavier’s return.  All he needs is a cloned body, and Marvel loves its clones.  That however is not the gist of the story.


It all resides with Logan.  The Wolverine from another earth.  Soule briefly explores the concept of alternate entities through Logan while simultaneously demonstrating the X-Men’s sense of family, and Logan’s single-mindedness.  

If not for the previous issues of Soule’s Astonishing X-Men, this chapter would be spectacular.  Instead, it’s merely very good.  Wow.  That’s harsh.