Monday, August 22, 2016

POBB August 17, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 17, 2016
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag a weekly review blog.  The yield includes All-New Wolverine, Aquaman, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Batman, The Mighty Thor, Nightwing, Simpsons Comics and Supergirl.  If you haven't the time for the full POBB effect, my reviews can be found condensed on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.


This issue of Simpsons Comics stands out as a hilarious superhero movie spoof.  Ian Boothby pits Bartman against Houseboy in a melange of Superman vs. Batman meets Civil War, done in a kids context and skewering Chief Wiggum’s constabulary at the same time.


A war needs recruits, and Houseboy rounds up a whole slew of Springfield cosplayers.  This cadre grants remarkable cartoonist Nina Matsumoto the opportunity to redesign an on-model cast in new but familiar duds.


Bart and Milhouse finally settle their differences, for Chief Wiggum has some bad ideas, and their salvation comes from a most unusual source that’s as well filled with irony.  Lastly, the fellow Springfielder facilitates one last brilliant joke that possibly only older comic book fans will get.

The second tale “Are You Duff Enough?” by Matt Davidson pits Homer against a thinly-disguised Duffman in a witty hyper-athletic game show outing.  


Davidson breezes through a funny story that takes advantage of the super-caffeinated soft drinks fad.  At the same time, Davidson plants some neatly done characterization for Homer, who only indulges in this buffoonery to win his kids' respect and gives Duffman some dignity.

I’m always surprised when I actually predict something that happens in a comic book, and it’s almost as good as I imagined.  All-New Wolverine isn’t the cream, but it’s probably as best as we can get from any Civil War tie-in.

Captain America guest stars, and this isn’t the Hydra Captain Dude.  Captain America immediately tries diplomacy.  Afterall, he and Wolverine are superheroes for the common good.


See, that’s how I expect Cap to act.  As the story continues, he instantly charms the socks off Gabby and her pet Jonathan.


Unfortunately this situation goes to hell pretty quickly with Cap buying into Mariah Hill’s malarky, and the Civil War coming up in spades.  It’s still a good book, with Wolverine and Cap duking it out for good reasons.

Mariah Hill handled this situation badly.  Somebody needs to fire her.  Her understanding of ESP is rubbish compared to Fitz’s masterful comprehension in the finale of Agents of SHIELD.  Oh, and by the way.


Not homage and not cool Marvel. 


The Mighty Thor resets the ticking clock as the Agger Initiative threatens to destroy New York with Roxxon Headquarters as the comet that killed the dinosaurs.  Thor and Agent Solomon race to stop Oubliette Midas and the Silver Samurai from ending Agger’s life.  Meanwhile, other SHIELD agents attempt to reveal Thor’s identity at a most inopportune time.  Thor is just pure gorgeously illustrated entertainment with surprises from practically every cast member involved and hip dialogue that’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny.  If Thor were a television series, this is how it would play out.


The television series Supergirl picks and chooses from the vast Supergirl mythos and the entirety of the DC Universe.  

**Please, note.  I may be obfuscating some of the facts about Supergirl to protect the innocent from spoilers.  The gist regarding the television series is true.  The contrast between the new comic book and the television series is also true.  Go, and watch Supergirl.  It’s a great show.**  

For example, Supergirl fought the Red Tornado.  The D.E.O. was once headed by perennial Superman sphincter Hank Henshaw.  Justice League associate Maxwell Lord is frequently insidious in Supergirl.  Supergirl’s best bud Wynn is actually the son of an old Superman character.  


Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s human adopted sister, is the only character created whole cloth for Supergirl.  Her adopted parents Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers are reboots of the comic book Danvers.  So they don’t actually count.  

What happens though if you base a book on a television series and do exactly what the television series did to create its mythology? That is pick and choose from the television series and graft these adjustments onto your own continuity.


Ouch.  My head.


So bear with me.  Cameron Chase heads the D.E.O. in the new 52, which is a very slight upswing in rank.  Chase was Mr. Bones’ right hand man throughout the modern age.  Her promotion makes sense.  However, she was only an agent in Supergirl as portrayed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Emma Caulfield.


Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers on the other hand were nowhere.  These characters were designed for Supergirl.  They’re both scientists.  Jeremiah was suborned into the D.E.O. by Henshaw, and lost his life because of it.  In the comic book, Jeremiah and Eliza are scientists, as introduced in Action Comics, AND willing D.E.O. agents.  Eliza as played by former Supergirl, former Superman Mom Helen Slater rightfully despises the D.E.O. 


Speaking of Action Comics, Kara’s fizzling Kryptonian powers kicks off the reason for Supergirl working with the D.E.O., and as with other Rebirth books, the time these heroes exist on earth is up in the air.

It appears that DC equates each issue of a book being published as  a day or thereabout.  So Supergirl lasted approximately forty issues.  She appeared in a handful of Batman/Superman stories and crossovers.  Chase’s time estimate is by that standard correct.  Supergirl has only been around for a few really busy months.  Although the “liability” statement was just mean.  


Supergirl defied an attractive Kryptonian philosophy.  She saved the earth and almost killed herself in the process.  So, yeah.  Mean Agent Cameron.

Anyhow, Chase presents a cover story for Supergirl.  She will be Kara Danvers and attend a school for the intellectually gifted in National City.  I like that writer Steve Orlando took into consideration that Kara is a highly intelligent Kryptonian who grew up in an advanced society.  The epiphany first arose from Bruce Timm and Company during Justice League.  Jeremiah and Eliza are Supergirl’s handlers not adopted family.  Every secret agent that’s not James Bond or Jack Bristow needs a handler.  Learned that in ALIAS.  So, obviously National City is where Supergirl flies.  The school angle is completely from left field, and I haven’t even gotten to the “main plot” of a Red Kryptonite infected monster running amok.

The only way to deal with this tale is to pretend Supergirl doesn’t exist.  Painful I know.  So Rebirth is DC’s latest attempt to re-energize the Girl of Steel.  As such, Supergirl becomes a secret agent with married handlers for the DEO now headed by Chase Cameron.  The DEO gives her the secret identity of Kara Danvers.  She operates in a school for the scientifically adept in National City.

Is any of that good?  It’s okay.  I mean, I’ve seen worse done to Supergirl.

Rebirth is nowhere near as bad as that, and it’s technically well written with some good dialogue and good characterization, but it’s not as good as Sterling Gates’ Adventures of Supergirl, which was based on the way better series, complete with Alex Danvers.  

On the other hand, the Adam Hughes cover is fantastic, capturing the attitude we want in Kara.  Then there’s this spectacular moment thanks to Emanuela Lapacchino, Ray McCarthy and Michael Atiyeh.  

The image is actually bigger than my scanner can handle.  So it’s even more impressive in the book.  As is the lead up to the big splash in the sun.

Somebody’s framing the great warriors of Atlantis.  This occurred after the unfortunate attack on the first Atlantean Embassy Spindrift by Black Manta.  The U.S. Government responded by imprisoning Aquaman.  

Aquaman agreed to the confinement and left Tula, Aquagirl, as Princess Regent to rule Atlantis in his absence.  Hostilities escalated when the Atlanteans investigated the sinking of a U.S. Naval vessel.  They encountered a very agitated Navy Seal team who saw Thunderball.  

The U.S. already remembering a previous attack chronicled in the highly recommended DC miniseries Throne of Atlantis decides its time for a fish fry.  Mera’s attempts at diplomacy fails.  So she casually tears open the jail cell in which  Aquaman stews.  Aquaman doesn’t thank his wife to be, but he does decide that it’s better to run than to die.  Naturally, the couple hits some opposition.

Aquaman could have been just a beautifully illustrated example of Atlantean power versus detailed military might courtesy of Phil Briones.  I mean that would be enough to warrant time and money.

Writer Dan Abnett though chooses this moment to evolve a lover’s tiff, and it’s a perfectly timed moment because Aquaman and Mera are not your normal Romeo and Juliet.  They’re not going to argue about sex, politics or domestic life.  Nope.  They’re going to argue about crimefighting protocol.


This is absolutely hilarious.  Aquaman keeps saving the people that Mera wants to punch out permanently, because she’s a warrior.  


Mera just can’t understand her husband’s want to save those intending to kill him.  She furthermore can’t understand why he doesn’t comprehend that a warrior’s lot in life is to die.  Mera is way more Klingon than human.  That's why she's a massive improvement over the older version of Mera.  Aquaman continues to make its normal outstanding, and the art brings you to tears of joy. 


The curtain falls on the tragic story of Gotham in Batman.  Filled with pathos and poetry, Tom King’s tale is predictable because there was only one logical way for the direction of the narrative to go.  Because of the power in the dialogue and the solid characterization combined with the superb art of David Finch, the inevitability doesn’t matter one whit.  It still packs the wallop of a spike gloved fist to the face.


Batgirl tracks Nightwing to Norway.  He and his new partner The Raptor, who just may be Batman in disguise, have been sent to kill a maze maker who wronged the Parliament of Owls.


The maze maker of course learned of a prophecy involving his assassination.  So he turned his house into, what else a deadly maze.  This story would be preposterous if it didn’t have a real world reflection.  H.H. Holmes was the first American serial killer, and he ran a hotel that was a catacomb specifically designed to trap and kill the unwary.  Utterly nuts, but true. 


As Nightwing, Raptor and Batgirl negotiate through the maze, Nightwing recalls incidents from his past in the narration that muddy his traditional wholesomeness… 


...and demonstrates why there has always been an obstacle between he and Batgirl.  

It's all on her.  Apparently, she’s just too much of a law-abiding goody two-shoes.  It’s why she wears a mask and fights as a vigilante.  Idiot.

I’ve got a different thought about what stands between Babs and Grayson.  It’s called self-centeredness.  He’s just too self-absorbed to see it and too much of a beef slab to feel it.

Anyhow, trickery abounds in a mostly okay Nightwing story that features better Batgirl writing than Batgirl and the Birds of Prey.

The formula continues to devolve in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey.  


The Bensons still pining for the days when DC maimed female characters begins this second issue with a superfluous, perfunctory Oracle flashback.  Black Canary and Oracle stop a runaway subway train.  Such an act might have been heroic if they hadn’t wrecked it in the first place.


Which begs the question why didn’t Black Canary just clobber the suspicious looking guy before he made it to the conductor’s booth?


Because the Bensons didn’t think things through when they created this little fan service.  All they wanted to do was show how kewl Babs was as Oracle and that she was more than an information broker.  Although in this case, that’s all that was needed.  Information about an attack.  Black Canary to prevent it.  Emphasis on prevent.  Barbara could have also informed the police, ensuring a car loaded with cops. 


Alas, the Bensons opted for kewl.

If you think I’m being too harsh or biased because of my hatred of Oracle, don’t care.  This is the final issue of Birds of Prey I’ll be reviewing until there's a change in writers.  I’ve decided to drop the title.  I was going to continue buying the book to support Batgirl, but I can also see the Powers that Be misconstruing the sales numbers as a want to see Oracle return.  I shan’t be party to that.  I support Batgirl, not Oracle.

We cut to Batgirl and Black Canary in pursuit of the second shitty Huntress.  This time a carbon copy of the first shitty Huntress.
Being black is all the Huntress has got going for her, and why she’s in this book.  I’ve already lamented the missed opportunity for Vixen to join as the third Bird of Prey, but it’s not to be.  

This issue of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey accents why the second shitty Huntress is so wrong.  First and foremost, Huntress has nothing to do with the Oracle identity theft.  She furthermore never worked with Batgirl or Black Canary.  

Second, she’s a murderer.  In this week’s Nightwing, Batgirl justifiably chastises Dick Grayson for throwing in with a criminal, whom she also thought was an assassin.  


If she joins forces with a killer, she’s just being hypocritical. Her anger becomes vainglorious.  Teaming up with Catwoman would be more ethical, and Babs isn’t exactly a fan of Catwoman.  Third, Huntress catalyzes idiocy on Babs’ part.


No, seriously.  This is the calm and rational Batgirl I grew up reading about.  Bloody hell.  Fourth, with the inclusion of the Huntress, Birds of Prey becomes a dumping ground for Dick Grayson's exes.  The Bensons commit to Robin/Batgirl shipping, when Tim Seeley only suggested it and the lion's share of writers say no.  Back in the day Chuck Dixon specifically wanted to use Black Canary and Barbara Gordon because Dinah had become defined by her relationship with Green Arrow, and Babs was just the cripple in the corner.  He wanted to change that.  Giving this book a sub-theme that amounts to "all my exes living in Texas" is chauvinistic.

The Bensons' tale reaches a mediocre level when the girls track down what might be a lead to Oracle and find Huntress already waterboarding the guy.


Lucky for the ladies that Huntress decided not to off him quickly, huh?  The Huntress agrees to help Batgirl and Black Canary track down the Oracle thief, but why? Why on earth does Batgirl need any help other than Black Canary?  If she needed an in to the criminal world, she actually could have gone to Catwoman, or better yet Poison Ivy, who was in the Birds of Prey.  She could have used Starling, who was a Wiseguy in The Penguin's crew and a founding member of the Birds of Prey.  Starling's time in the Birds ended badly with a betrayal.  That betrayal would have also provided the needed friction to make the character dynamic interesting.  But no, we need to replicate the Birds of Prey from the post-Crisis and somehow include Oracle despite Batgirl being back on her feet.  I hate the post-Crisis.  Screw you.  I'm done.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

POBB August 10, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 10, 2016
by
Ray Tate

Another short week for the Pick of the Brown Bag.  For this posting I look at All-New X-Men, All-Star Batman, Doctor Who, King's Quest, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Starring Sonja Devereaux and Vampirella.  For those in a rush check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.


In the latest issue of Doctor Who, the seasoned Mickey Smith reacquaints himself with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor.  Some effect is turning people into superheroes and Gargoyles—with David Tennant companion, Mickey’s wife, Martha Jones under the influence.  Because Rose and Captain Jack must stay separated from the Doctor and the older, wiser Mickey, a lot of banter and Doctor/companion dynamic gets lost.  The Doctor teams up with Mickey, but Mickey’s disdain for the Eccleston Doctor and his preference for the Tennant Doctor just generates a feeling of angst.   Cavan Scott’s story isn’t horrible.  It just should be so much more fun.  


Dennis Hopeless finally returns to the themes of All-New X-Men that originally attracted me to the title in the first place.


Hopeless’ characterization for Wolverine matches that of Tom Taylor’s characterization for Laura in her title book.  Both by the way are damn good.  I never was interested in X-23, until she exhibited a more mature attitude in Avengers Academy.  When Hopeless and Taylor began writing her, intriguing became impressive.   Because of Hopeless' skill I also became invested in Laura's relationship with Angel.  

Hopeless' treatment of Wolverine and the time displaced X-Men makes me wish that I never see the grown up versions again.  For example, Hopeless' Scott Summers is back to being Captain America cool.  


Scott sets up this whole series of dominoes that sends Wolverine on mini-missions designed to give her the kill-release she needs to relax and get her head back in the game.


Scott however has a secret agenda, and unlike his older self, Scott’s motive is pure.  So, Hopeless demonstrates at once, Scott’s ability as a natural leader, his presence of mind to be a caring individual and somebody who pays attention.  


Hopeless delights in running Wolverine through her paces and impeding her progress with expertly timed comedy beats.


Meanwhile, Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessey, Nolan Woodward produce quintessential Wolverine artwork that’s not just confined to the tropes of superhero comic books.  Though they eventually show Wolverine in action…


…they springboard off of Hopeless’ witty and warm story to present visuals unusual for any genre, except perhaps the Muppet Show. 

Prince Valiant takes over the narration of King's Quest, and the reader benefits from a unique voice that directs certain and sure violent action.

The story began pretty dark with a water planet that used to be the home of fun-loving fish people turned into a desert.  Ming forced Dale Arden and the Queen to battle to the near death.  Ming then took a fiercely vile turn from The Creature Walks Among Us.  


He transformed Queen Darya into an air-breathing slave, forever.  He also did something even more disgusting that isn’t for the weak stomached among us.  Suffice to say, Ming was an asshole who deserved to die, and Dale saw to that when he tried to exert his husbandly duties on her.  Yes, Dale married the monster.

The tale could have been wrenchingly unreadable, but writers Ben Acker and Heath Corson took some daring moves to surprise and delight readers.  The Defenders of the Earth provided oodles of humorous friction.  Jen Harris, the neophyte Phantom, is in love with Dale Arden.  


Turns out they are on-again/off-again bedmates.  Dale suddenly betrayed the Defenders of the Earth.  You didn’t know if she was playing a long game, or really corrupt.  


You see, the writers kept the readers on their toes with twist after twist obfuscating a straightforward narrative of good versus evil.  We’re still not sure who the bad guys are and if Dale is one of them.


This issue, thanks mostly to artists Bob Q and Omi Remlante, takes a giant leap into escapist action.  Prince Valiant wreaks havoc with Flash Gordon.  


Meanwhile, Jen draws upon a previously unmentioned Phantom ability.  

I would normally object to such spectral happenstance, but King's Quest isn’t the never-ending comic strip, and it’s also not the “power of ten tigers.”  So, yeah, it’s a minor weirdness not normally associated with the Phantom.  I’ve seen worse in berry juice.  


Every iota of graphic evidence suggests that the tragic Two-Face finally shot himself at the end of Batman and Robin.  However, we never saw the consequences.  So in theory, Two-Face may return.


All-Star Batman however is one of those books that deals with stories outside of the current continuity.  Not exactly Legend of the Dark Knight or an Elseworld graphic novel, but closer to their spirit than to the events transpiring in Batman or Detective Comics.  

Two-Face just put a bounty on Batman's head.  Stop the Dark Knight from delivering him to wherever and he'll keep all your sordid secrets to himself and give you a nice lucrative bonus to boot.  This leads to "honest" Gothamites and criminals from Batman's rogue's gallery trying to kill the big, bad Batman.


All-Star Batman is John Romita's third attempt to illustrate Batman.  He debuted his Batman to the comic book reading world in Punisher/Batman... 

...and contributed a one-off Justice League story in Superman.  Romita’s Batman is a lot more relaxed, as if he's an athlete waiting for the meet to start and action-oriented.  


His Batman looks the part as well.  No ridiculous Helmet Man short-ears for Romita's Batman.  Likewise, Romita illustrates an on-model Alfred and a hirsute but acceptable Commissioner Gordon.  Perhaps The Commish grew the beard to support the Gotham Knights sports franchise.


Romita’s Two-Face is somewhat anime-styled but valid.  Romita's Gotham City is straight out of Anton Furst's sketchbook, and an appropriately cavernous Batcave looms in the background.  The meat of the tale takes place on the outskirts of Gotham's farmland so extras that might be seen at a Manhattan deli established in an average issue of The Amazing Spider-Man are forgivable.


The script by Scott Snyder is unfortunately pedestrian and how a Batman movie might play in today's climate of big budget DC Comics flops from Warner Brothers.  


Batman isn't a necessity for a story that has roots tracing back to Mike Shayne’s Sleepers West from 1941 itself based on a 1933 novel by Frederick Nebel.



Any hero would have been acceptable.  Lloyd Nolan with his unmatchable portrayal of Mike Shayne made Sleepers West his own.  Snyder’s and Romita’s Batman is a little shaky, as if the Batman from the Owl dramas in the debut of the new 52 isn’t quite all there.  It’s a difficult feeling to describe.  Batman just seems off.  Perhaps because he’s so visible. 


Batman's belief in Gotham is winnable, but the betrayal by the citizenship isn't all that disheartening or surprising since they've been set up to ethically fail.  Honesty and bravery would have been a twist.  Something similar to how the citizenry of Midway gathered around to protect Hawkgirl from the forces of a zealous dictatorship in The Nail.


Red Hood and the Outlaws once again just entertains the hell out of me.  I never was a Jason Todd fan until the new 52 did a complete revamp of the snot.  

Scott Lobdell was behind Jason Todd right from the start, and Scott Snyder happily brought Jason back to the Batman Family fold. Even Batgirl tolerated him.


From Batman Eternal

For this latest version of Red Hood and the Outlaws the McGuffin is a nano-virus that Jason is trying to track down from inside of the bad guy circle.  That’s right.  Jason is taking over the undercover role from Dick Grayson.  Although, he’s not joining some dopey new DC spy organization.  He’s setting up shop with Black Mask.


Lobdell knows that there’s more to Jason Todd than a phone-in contest that led to his being beaten to death by the Joker.  Believe it, or not.  Jason Todd is a pre-Crisis character.  He was the second Robin before the reboot.  He and his parents were acrobats like the flying Grayons.  His parents were originally murdered by Killer Croc.  The reboot linked him strangely enough to Two-Face, and he was introduced in the post-Crisis, as an orphan boosting Batman’s tires. 

That story also introduced Jason's first arch-foe.  The infamous Ma Gunn.  Ma Gunn is one of the few comic book villains that would work in the Adam West version of Batman as well as a Tim Burton styled Batman.  She’s goofy enough to be camp.   She’s quirky enough to be taken seriously.  Cut her a little bit, and she could actually be real.  Ma Gunn runs an orphanage that's a facade for child criminals. 

Black Mask, who comes straight out of recent issues of Catwoman, targeted Ma Gunn after she refused his generous offer of leadership.  The weird thing is that he doesn’t come on quite so hardball with Jason.


I would usually argue that this is an inconsistency, but Black Mask is certifiable.  His mercurial violence toward to his own people actually grants him a strange authenticity.  You may be wondering how Jason meets the other Outlaws.  Well, that would be telling, but I can reveal that by the end of the story, Artemis makes her presence known.


Feel good Vampirella stories are few and far between.  The latest stand-alone by Kate Leth is one of them.  She gets it right.  If you’re going to do this kind of Vampirella tale, it still must be horror related.  The sympathetic, misjudged character possesses acidic blood.  So you know things are going to get messy.  Because of recent Hollywood themes in Leth’s Vampirella the writer also links the unwitting antagonist to a screen luminary.  Leth furthermore displays Vampirella’s acumen and empathy.  She’s not just a gorgeous face on a monster fighting body.


Although stand-alone, the story still deals with motifs from Leth’s Vampirella debut.  Thus, Vee’s agent/friend Juliette and her lover make the scene.  Tristan is on hand with Vee’s gentleman’s gentleman Coleridge getting a mention.  


Starring Sonya Devereaux is an original comic book idea from Nicholas Capetanakis, Todd Livingston and Brendon and Brian Fraim.  The only thing that comes close to Starring Sonja Devereaux is The Black Cat.  However, the Black Cat was a super-hero first and actress/stunt woman Linda Turner second.  


Sonya Devereaux is a modern day scream queen, and the story gives you a glimpse into her life before she hosts her newest film Naked Are the Damned 2.  After the prologue and opening lines, the movie unfolds, and it is brilliantly stupid.


Sonya portrays Camille, a healthy farm girl, who attempts to save the homestead from an evil corporation by getting an honest job in the city.  Fortunately, she’s rescued by a talent scout for a nude modeling agency.

The plot thickens when it turns out Satan heads the corporation and, through the beat of bongos of the damned, he takes control of your will and swells his ranks.


The filmstrip within the panels of the comic book spools with an understanding of just how a B-Movie operates.  The actress can be quite good, but she should be showing off her assets in a halter top.  The plot could have come out of the Grapes of Wrath, but the execution includes lines that make one's jaw drop.  Nudity could be part of the plot, but that plot is likely meant to be a vehicle for nudity no matter what.  


I’ll say it before, and I’ll say again.  Sometimes nudity is an actress apologizing for the crap that you’ve just endured: “Omigosh.  You just sat through Prometheus.  Let me show you my ta-tas.”  There was no nudity in Prometheus.  There damn well should have been.  Full frontal lesbians given the wretchedness.

In any case, the writers and artists know their stuff.  You can have all of these elements, but the truly remarkable B-Movies, the ones that you talk about with your friends, assuming they’re hip enough to appreciate say Alley Cat, don’t just offer T & A, nor just incredulous plotting and wtf dialogue.  No, the truly remarkable films know exactly what they are, and how to go beyond their status by including things like a Voodoo Priestess with an ammo collection.

The creators/writers/artists round off the page count with coming attractions and a printing of the complete original web-comic sequence introducing Sonya Devereux.  It’s just as nutty and wonderfully exploitative.