Tuesday, October 17, 2017

POBB October 11, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 11, 2017
Ray Tate

This week in the Pick of the Brown Bag your opinionated guru of the review takes on All-New Wolverine, Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows, Sheena, Supergirl, Superwoman, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Uncanny Avengers, Wynonna Earp and web comic book The Good Agent.  In addition I'll look at…Blade Runner 2049.  Damn itFirst it’s Challenge of the Substitute Super-Heroes.

Red Hood and the Outlaws is likely to piss off fans of the group from Detective Comics.  I am not one of them.  The group from Detective Comics consists of Batwing and a clutch of post-Crisis Batman and Batgirl stand-ins: Azrael, Cassandra Cain, now known hilariously as the Orphan, and the lesbian Batwoman.  Their roster also includes Basil Karlo, the original Clayface who possessed none of Matt Hagen’s powers but was instead a serial killer.

New universe, new rules, but honestly, a heroic Clayface with a stabby maniac’s name is in poor taste and exhibits poor judgement.  It’s like dubbing your new protagonist Sweeney Todd.

Red Hood writer Scott Lobdell treats the group from Detective Comics as also-rans.  Although I think it’s a fair judgment, your misplaced fan heart may think otherwise.  

Batwoman for example possesses all the personality of a cinder block, which is how I think of her.  Artemis is in the room, and she doesn’t give her so much as a glance.  I think a real lesbian would indeed give an Amazon at the very least a subtle look.  So, in my opinion, Lobdell is writing Batwoman properly.  She’s humorless, redundant and sexless despite her claim to fame.  Perfect.

The same can be said for his treatment of Cassandra Cain.  What with Cassandra being illiterate and mute for the lion’s share of her existence, you never had to worry about dialogue.  I imagine a script might have looked something like this.

Black Canary: Like Shakespeare said,  “A rose by any other name—

Batgirl: would smell—

Cassandra Cain: ….

Black Canary: Um…yeah.  Okay.

Cassandra was an unimaginative ink blot with long pointy ears.  I mentioned this once before.  Cassandra Cain gave artists an easy out.  

Suppose you had a story where Catwoman guest-starred, but all of a sudden, for whatever reason, you couldn’t use Catwoman.  No problem.  Just kill all the dialogue, pull out a Sharpie, add just a dab of White Out, and voila.  

Instant Cassandra Cain.  One of the lousiest substitute Batgirls in a long history of lousy substitute Batgirls.  Thankfully, Barbara’s back on her feet.

Red Hood and Batwing on the other hand sport personalities and speech.  They launch an amusing diss war that’s well within their characterization.  Batwing is a new 52 character.  

The current model is Luke Fox, Lucius Fox’s son. You may know Lucius Fox as Morgan Freeman.

Luke is young, brash and been in the game with a comic book series that ultimately imploded.  

Jason on the other hand is an ex-Robin, former corpse, he’s been playing at this longer than Luke.  So, he’s got the seniority to be completely unimpressed by Batwing, and technically a Batwing substitute since the first was African policeman David Zavimbe.  

Jason Todd once a useless character or memento mori thrives in the new 52.  Lobdell turned Jason around by embracing his status as a low-rent hero.  The Outlaws change.  Jason remains.

Artemis is the one character in Red Hood and the Outlaws that stayed consistently entertaining no matter the era.  William Messner-Loebs and Mike Deodato introduced Artemis as the winner of the second Bullets and Bracelets Contest.  That netted her the prize of being Wonder Woman.  As Wonder Woman, Artemis had bite.   It turned out that the contest was a sham, but even after Diana reclaimed her title, Artemis returned as Diana’s prickly friend.  When Red Hood and the Outlaws adopted the character, Lobdell retained her flintiness and added a good dose of sardonic wit.

Normally, superhero slugfests depress me, but pit a bunch of losers against Red Hood and the Outlaws, a team that really shouldn’t be as fun and exciting as they are, and I’m on board.

I know.  Another issue of Superwoman, what the hell am I playing at? So, the thing is that there’s a lot in this issue to recommend.  Half of it arises from the writing of Kate Perkins, and the other half draws from Sam Basri’s damn good art.

I’ve already stated how much I liked Lana Lang as a non-powered engineer in the new 52, but Perkins makes a case for Superwoman.  She fleshes out Lana's new identity as well as her old career, an allusion to Action Comics #1 and the Bronze Age Lana Lang.  Perkins also makes use of Lana’s former role as a practical scientist.

The result is a stronger foundation that makes Superwoman seem like a goal rather than an afterthought.  

Despite only representing white red-headed women, Lana isn’t like Batwoman.  She’s been a cast member of the Superman titles for ages, and that history grants any writer with mediocre talent a wellspring of potential.  Perkins is proving to be considerably better than mediocre.  

Superwoman has a different feel than Supergirl, and Lana isn’t trying to be a Supergirl proxy.  Indeed, Supergirl guest-starred last issue.  Lana is her own person, with her own life and her own problems.  She always has been.

Superwoman starts a new story by introducing a new villain.  This plot welcomes new readers.

Perkins comes up with some really interesting science fiction to explain Midnight’s abilities, conveyed by Traci Thirteen, daughter of minor ghost breaker Dr. Terrence Thirteen.  Traci Thirteen also happens to be gay, but a gulf separates she and one-dimensional Batwoman.

Perkins allows Traci and and Natasha Irons, niece to John Henry Irons aka Steel, to exhibit their sexuality without crossing into Vertigo territory.  Perkins is also skilled and smart enough to make the two women intelligent and contributing members of the Superwoman team.  In addition Perkins exemplifies nuances of their personalities independent of these agreeable elements.  As a result, they demonstrate fuller characterization than Batwoman ever can and better represent a diverse community.  

Though a friend of Supergirl, Maxima stuck around.  She also exhibits a fluid orientation.  This version of Maxima first introduced in Supergirl stopped by last issue to help teach a lesson in feminism.  She, Supergirl and Lana proceeded to kick the old, terrible Maxima’s ass.  Yes, this minor character is also more lively than Batwoman.

Superwoman is a book steeped in Superman Family richness, and the layers arise from different eras.  The big guest star of this issue is Lois Lane.

She and Lana renew their friendship, and if you’re thinking that there’s too much going on here to give the title star any spotlight, you can think again.  Lana Lang is the lynchpin of the cast.  Perkins gives her quite a lot to do and say, and there’s even room enough for a strong Steel appearance.

Superwoman impressed me.  There were so many ways that this book could have been boring or a narrative mess, but instead Perkins relates a cohesive, interesting multicast Superman Family story that’s given excellent visual direction by Basri.

Supergirl begins to clear the air of disparity between the comic book series and the television series.  Right up front, we get a glimpse of Kara being friendly with her cousin and his dog.

Nobody ever says.  Too much Krypto.  Krypto is always welcome.  He’s just cameoing for this tale which addresses Supergirl’s amped up power.  

The story begins properly when Kara consults with Kenan Kong the Chinese Superman.

The Chinese Superman is really an iteration of Superboy.  Superboy survived the transition to the new 52, but he got stuck on Krypton and apparently heroically sacrificed himself to preserve Supergirl’s future.  We didn’t see him die, but I think it’s safe to say, he didn’t make it. 

I think DC decided that a new Superboy would be a better deal.  So the Powers That Be created the Chinese Superman, and in fact an entire Chinese Justice League.  There’s a precedent to found in Batgirl’s Bronze Age adventures, but we won’t get into that.  More to the point, writer Steve Orlando unearths a much more interesting continuity find.

Wonder Woman’s sales experienced a slump.  At the same time, the spy craze fruited The Avengers, which hit American television airwaves when Patrick Macnee’s John Steed teamed with Diana Rigg’s Mrs. Emma Peel for a nightly course of wit and kick ass.  

The Powers Then at DC believed that reinvention in the direction of The Avengers would best suit Wonder Woman.  They killed off Steve Trevor, annexed the Amazons and turned Wonder Woman into superpower free adventurer Diana Prince, who teams up with diminutive martial artist I. Ching.

There’s a lot screwed up with this scenario, but the gamble paid off, and Wonder Woman became a best seller again.  I. Ching was slain near the end of this memorable run of Wonder Woman, but here he is, standing taller, in the new 52, training Supergirl in a different way.

I really liked this issue of Supergirl.  It’s plot is very simple.  Supergirl is too powerful.  She can accidentally cause harm.  That actually always was the case, and therein lies the solution to her problem.  The characterization of Kara as a rational person who grew up in an advanced society and doesn’t buy into Qi is a bonus.

The timing of the training seems to be a little rapid, but Supergirl is a Kryptonian, and as such, her brain as well as her body is superior to that of a human.  Supergirl can learn faster and comprehend quicker than a human being.  So, Supergirl absorbs I. Ching’s lessons at a clip.  Orlando gives other examples of Supergirl’s intelligence in the book, while still making her a strange girl in a strange land.

A potential disaster interrupts the quiet teachings of self reflection and control.  

In facing a wayward Rocket Red, Kara and Kenan find divisiveness generated by political strife.  Those looking for a knock down, drag out fight with the Rocket Reds will be disappointed.  Wouldn't last very long any way.  Instead, a common ground becomes established.  The optimistic resolution may be a little too pat for some, but when you realize that fear and posturing prevented smoothing over misunderstandings, you can accept that the presence of powerful, altruistic symbols like Supergirl and Kenan can provide the calming impetus for reason and communication.

Sheena’s third issue, it began with zero, neatly frames the similarities and differences with other versions of Sheena.  In other words, what makes this treatment of Sheena unique?

Devil’s Due and Moonstone contributed to the Sheena mythology with two series.  Both brought Sheena to the modern age, and both drew upon a sophisticated Sheena.  In both continuities, Sheena gained a secret identity.  The writers for Dynamite’s new Sheena series dispense with that.  Sheena’s intelligent, yes, but she’s a wild child raised by the jungle, very much like the original.

Marguerite Bennett and Christina Trujillo demonstrate a knack for understanding what Sheena wouldn’t.  At the same time, there’s no “Me, Sheena.  You James” examples of stilted speech.  Instead, they bestow a fluent tongue to Sheena, but a dialect that’s believably alien to our own civilized manner of talking.

Traditionally, a witch doctor raised Sheena and taught her the tricks of the trade.  In the original adventures, she never communicated with jungle animals with the exception of Chim, her chimpanzee companion.  Over the years, animal communication became a staple of Sheena’s abilities.  Geena Nolin’s Sheena in fact could turn into jungle beasts.  Bennett and Trujillo don’t go quite that far.  They instead generate an intriguing empathy with animals.

This has the potential to be fascinating.  It allows Sheena to mostly be pacifistic toward jungle creatures but leaves room to fight them as well.  The artists' depiction of jaguars is equal to the powerful imagery of Sheena.  The sequence with the big cats and Sheena alone is worth the purchase.

Squirrel Girl concludes her Savage Land vacation with the final battle against Ultron.  At stake a reformed Kraven the Hunter’s life, and the dinosaurs living in the tropical pocket of Marvel’s Antarctica.

I think the most winning thing about The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl apart from the comedy is Doreen’s determination to stay above the line.

No hero I know has ever taken a vow not to kill Ultron.  The Avengers go out of their way to snuff out Ultron, and I don’t believe they know for sure he’ll be back.  It’s just that old rule of comics.  Robots don’t have rights.  They’re not human.  So, you can wail on them until they’re done.  Doreen though believes Ultron has the right to exist, just not as a whacking huge monster out to exterminate the Savage Land.

This is probably my first issue of Uncanny Avengers.  I do lose track.  I picked it up specifically for the Wonder Man/Beast team-up.  These two heroes began a partnership back in the late seventies in The Avengers, and I really enjoyed that friendship.  I hoped to see the buddies rekindle in the issue, and I wasn’t disappointed.

With artist formerly known as Shamrock no less.  Fair warning though, there’s a two page spread of their waxing about events in their lives that I doubt fans of the Beast-Wonder Man bromance will give a rat’s behind about.  

It’s sort of become a tradition that when a writer or artist tries to revert to a more innocent time, the heroes will invariably become embroiled in a simple game of good guys vs. bad guys.  This issue of Uncanny Avengers is no different.

Except in the execution.  Simon Williams has taken up pacifism, and he launches into crimefighting again with a distinctive humorous twist.

In addition to the reunification and the lovely art by Sean Izaaske and Tamara Bonvillain, a financial windfall for Johnny Storm catalyzes lots of comical bits.  Rogue and Janet Van Dyne have a good talk, and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch appear in the same magazine without making me ill.  So, success.

I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t be reviewing Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your VowsI don’t care about the Green Goblin.  I never have.  He’s never been Spidey’s arch foe.  That would be Doctor Octopus.  Norman Osborn was the Dad that just didn’t like his son’s best friend and a nutter to boot.  Harry Osborn was a victim of his Dad’s madness.  He died a hero saving his wife Liz Allen and his son Normie.  The first Goblin was just a dip with a gimmick.  The second Goblin wasn't a true villain.  Still, I’d take any Green Goblin, or even Hobgoblin, over Venom in rank any day.  Venom rates an appearance on the cover.  His involvement in this concluding chapter however is slim to none.  

If you haven’t been following Renew Your Vows, Liz Allen continued to grow Oscorp while neglecting her son Normie.  Normie started collecting leftover tech from various parties, and developing what looked like an obsession over Annie May Parker, M.J.'s and Peter's spider-powered daughter.  Before you know it, there’s a giant Green Goblin robot fighting Spider-Man and guest stars, the X-Men.

Renew Your Vows didn’t play out like I thought it would.  Not only did the Green Gobot pay off with a clever use of that technology Normie picked up, but writer Ryan Stegman upends the importance of the X-Men as contributors to Spidey’s survival.  The Venom tights that hug Mary Jane get some wear and tear.  The uplifting ending depends upon Spiderling and an unexpected source.  Renew Your Vows surprised the hell out of me by being so good.  I actually cared about what happened in a Green Goblin story.

Elektra’s Juann Cabal joins All-New Wolverine as writer Tom Taylor kicks off a new story—this time earthbound.  The setup first involves a past episode from the life of the original Wolverine.

I have no idea how Logan's revenge pertains to the current day.  In the present, the ever sour Daken finds duplicity that winds up being a most unexpected nod to the awesome cult horror film Scream and Scream Again.

Laura goes on the hunt for Daken, but what she finds is an astonishment instead.  As usual, humor from Laura’s interaction with her clone sister Gabby tempers the darkness in this story.  In addition, Taylor firmly plants the foundation of the tale in the superhero genre.  Unlike Wolverine and Old Man Logan, Laura gets along with the authorities.  So they defer to her Batman like when things get strange.  That tone works quite well.

Dan Membiella known for his work at London By Night in the nineties re-enters the comic book world with the Good Agent. 

Membiella posits a group of super-powered white supremacists that jack cars.  There’s an enviable weirdness to the whole thing.  

The supremacists seem to have more power in this world.  Though they’re still seen as criminals.  They also appear to worship their own religion.  At the same time, they’ve retained some of their Nazi heritage through a corruption of language.

The Good Agent as he’s dubbed by the press becomes the supremacists’ nemesis, though they don’t know it quite yet.

The black and white art presumably also by Membiella is attractive cartoonish and choreographed with action in mind.   The premiere is available from comixology.com.  

Saturday Afternoon at the Movies

You mother— All right.  As spoiler free a review as I can.  Despite the epiphanies others experience when witnessing Blade Runner 2049, I just don’t get it.  I understand the story.  I comprehend what’s going on, but I just don’t get what’s going on in the real world.  

My friend begged me to see Blade Runner 2049.  I said, “All right.  All right, when it comes out on DVD—“  No, said he, with glee in his eyes.  “You have to see it on the big screen.”  Fine, said I.  So I did.  

It’s not that Blade Runner 2049 is a bad movie.  I didn’t hate it.  It’s decent.  I just couldn’t feel any attachment.  Maybe this lack of feeling makes me the perfect person to review the film.  Cause I really don’t care about it one way or the other.

Ryan Gosling plays K a Replicant Blade Runner.  For those not in the know, a Blade Runner is a futuristic policeman that kills Replicants—androids—that are well past their manufacturer warranty.  Ripley probably wished there had been a Blade Runner on the Nostromo.  

“The A2s always were a bit twitchy.”

The original Blade Runner and the sequel are based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Blade Runner 2049 actually comes up with a funny on that title during a conversation.  It’s one of the only funny moments in Blade Runner 2049, which is probably one of the reasons I couldn’t feel anything for it. 

 It’s so dreary.  

Let me start with the good about Blade Runner 2049.  It’s a good mystery.  There’s no doubt about that.  I was fooled, though perhaps not in the way you think.  I didn’t follow the red herring, but I didn’t dope out who the person of interest was.  The writers played fair.  So, for that, bravo.  Blade Runner 2049 is an above average intellectual puzzle.  

The acting is uniformly good.  Same with the directing, but the characters are remarkably dull.  That may seem counterintuitive, but bear with me.  The major villain just comes off as a murderous goofball, and he only kills one person.  

Niander Wallace, a painful attempt at a slurred drunken pun, sends an android out to do most of his killing, but since only one of the victims exhibits more emotion than plywood, it’s difficult to get very upset.  

Now, I know there’s an argument going around which sums this up as “exactly.” Actual people have lost their humanity.  The Replicants are more emotional than people.  No, they’re not.  Did the human enjoy dying? No, of course not.  I have no doubt that the killer android takes pleasure in killing, but so what? Blade Runner 2049 dumps the Three Laws of Robotics, and we’re back to killer robots from pulp novels.  You’re not breaking any ground here.  

Only two individuals in the film actually spark, and those are the only two people I cared about.  The protagonist is not one of them.  Do not misinterpret.  Ryan Gosling actor is not the problem.  For example, his “Driver” in Drive is amazing.  In Blade Runner, I imagine he was directed to downplay everything like the rest of the cast.  I think that’s one of the biggest problems this movie suffers from.  A flatline approach to tone.  We dare not present comedy or excitement for fear of losing the downbeat drama.

Every mystery is emotional.  Even the Sherlock Holmes stories.  The detective is out to solve a murder, or a theft. She’s out to save a missing person.  The detective enjoys the pursuit.  He’s trying to right a wrong.  The detective harbors a thirst for justice.  Right from the beginning.  It takes a helluva long time for K to stop being a Blade Runner and start being a detective, and when he develops an iota of curiosity, the movie’s almost over.

So, in summary, Blade Runner 2049 is a good mystery.  The acting is good.  There’s one or two characters I liked.  There’s one joke in the movie, and it made me laugh…Um…Nudity.  There’s nudity.  There should have been more, but thank the cosmos, there’s nudity.

Which brings up the counter argument.  Is Blade Runner 2049 sexist and/or misogynistic? No.  Number one,  Blade Runner 2049 gave meaty parts to Robin Wright, Ana De Armas and Sylvia Hoeks.  It also employed numerous actresses in secondary but important roles as well as a number of female tertiaries and extras.  In fact, the women outnumber the men in this movie.  Ah, but a large number of these women have been cast as sex bots, and the extras are on display literally like candy in the window of a chocolate shop.  Yeah.  Well, it's really a star that shows the most amount of skin.  A lot of the nudity is subtle and fleeting.  You can actually miss it.  I however never harbored any puritan ideals.  I don't believe nudity to be necessarily exploitative.  Especially in a movie like Blade Runner 2049.  That brings me to number two.  If we ever manage to build an android that can emote like a human, we will build sex bots.  There’s no denying this, and the sex bots in Blade Runner 2049 are in reality background noise to signify a dying, dystopian world.  There's a point to the sex bots.  It's meant to be objective, but me, I have the opposite reaction.  Crap.  Trump nuked us all.  We’re slowly dying, but at least I’ve got me a sex bot for the night.  

There are way too many gag sex images involving Rosie on the internet.  Way too many.  Shouldn’t even be one.

You aren’t demeaning women by engaging a sex bot.  You aren’t condoning a new kind of slavery.  Sex bots do not exist.  Our robo-technology is so advanced that we hold contests for brilliant people to construct a robot that’s capable of opening a simple door.  Failing lots of times.  

Female androids being used like their ancestral blow-up dolls in a dark science fiction fantasy.  Sorry.  No threat to actual human women.  Oh, but what if the androids are real women despite their pedigrees? That must open up some kind of woman hatred can of worms? Sorry.  No.  You can't even extrapolate this as a metaphor.  The Blade Runner universe’s system of laws and governing principles differs sharply from our own.  You can make the argument that in another cosmos should an android protest being made into a sex bot, it would have its day in court.

Amusingly, I can actually imagine an android thinking outside its programming and getting a fair hearing from Judge Dredd.  

She doesn’t want to have sex with you.  She refused your money.  Move along, citizen android.  You on the other hand attempted to solicit sex for money.  A class B misdemeanor.  You will be remanded to a cube until community service can be determined.  Count yourself lucky, citizen.

Blade Runner asked the question what is it to be human when faced with a hideously complex advanced android that fundamentally cares whether you live or die?  Blade Runner 2049 asks an entirely different question that is pure science fiction and doesn’t really reflect anything seedy or true.  That artifice hurts the film.  Any philosophy the movie may have wanted to broach is lost to the intellectual puzzle and can't be fully appreciated since very few characters including the humans exhibit life signs anyway.

Blade Runner 2049 also lacks in another important aspect.  Dialogue.  The speech lacks crackle.  In a mystery, there should be an “Ah, Hah!” of discovery.  A little wit would be nice.  The words of Blade Runner 2049 are merely functional.  Even the characters I like don’t really have any poetry in their words or sizzle in their lines.  They instead must convey these things with emotion and delivery, and that’s why I think these two characters shine in an otherwise dismal world.  They’re speaking through actions that make them charming and charismatic outliers.  Who cares about the rest of the cast? I don’t.

You see.  That is dialogue.  It’s not artsy.  It’s visceral, characteristic and threatening.  It calls back to Wynonna Earp Season One, and it’s the element of writing that carries the action through the comic book.  

Wynonna Earp brings in new players as old enemies fall to the superior teamwork of Earp and her friends.  It’s a pure gorgeous ride with the velocity of words making you stop to admire the skill behind the book.