Wednesday, January 18, 2017

POBB January 11, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 11, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag welcomes you to comic book reviews of new title The Deep, Earth 2 Society, Flash Gordon, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Justice League, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Sonja and Titans.   No time for the POBB? Check me out on Twitter #PickoftheBrownBag.

The latest issue of All-New Wolverine was good but nothing special.  Tom Taylor however when going the creator-owned route with The Deep, produces an absolutely lovely book that combines the Fantastic Four, Aquaman and Hanna-Barbera cartoons.  

I suppose you can argue The Deep also incorporates elements from the Silver Age Sea Devils from DC comics, but I feel The Deep’s premise goes way beyond scuba-diving.  I like the Sea Devils by the way.  No bones to them.

Co-Creator James Brouwer as you can see imbues an inviting cartoon style to the narrative.  The character design throughout excites with a singular look that expresses action, interaction and expression.  As well, it grants scope to the wide blue and a Blue Whale that becomes the crux of the crew of The Aronnax’s investigation.

The Aronnax alludes to Professor Pierre Aronnax, the narrator from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  In case you’re keeping track this is the third recent reference to Jules Verne in pop culture: NEMO is the evil organization from Aquaman and Nemo Holmes lies on one of the farcical gravestones at Musgrave in the latest season of Sherlock.  No worries.  That’s not a spoiler.

When we first tune into the crew of The Aronnax it’s a tit-for-tat dialogue between sister Fontaine and little brother Ant in a comedic training session.  Kaiko their mother puckishly interrupts their argument and later joins her husband Will.  Will demonstrates where Ant gets his pluck and imagination.

And it’s off to search for sea monsters.  The purity of this family of explorers is just so engaging that they’ll charm your socks off.

Tom Taylor also applies his talent to an unexpected team-up between the Justice League and the Might Morphin Power Rangers.  As I mentioned in another blog entry, I didn’t just glom onto everything as a kid or adolescent.  Mighty Morphin Power Rangers never appealed to me.  I just saw them as Americanized Japanese sentai, which I found out, later, that yeah, that’s exactly what they were.  

They reminded me thematically of Godzilla.  It was a case of producers deciding that Japanese heroes wouldn’t appeal to stupid Americans.  So, they needed to insert representatives of the U.S.A.  I preferred the original Ultraman and the Science Patrol.

Anyway, Taylor’s introducing me to the Power Rangers, and he does a good job of it.  They’re nothing awe-inspiring but neither are they loathsome.  Kids gifted with superpowers that protect the earth.  I’ve heard worse.

Taylor’s story opens in the future where the Justice League and the Power Rangers already established a rapport.  I’m guessing Taylor did this to assuage readers; although the Rangers and the League will fight, they will quickly ally.  Audiences are tired of superheroes trying to kill each other.  They’ve been tired of it for years.  Sure, we like hilarious squabbles like those in Captain America: Civil War, but not an outright duel.  Unless it has contextual dramatic impetus, like the one in Captain America: Civil War.  I guess what I'm saying is that Marvel movies always get it right.

Our team-up then shoots to the past where the Rangers teleport to various places in search of their missing robot.  It’s a trap of course, and this allows Taylor to strut out the villain of the piece.

In the classic tradition of Star Trek, a transporter accident sends the Rangers to the Justice League’s earth.  Not wanting to waste time, Taylor unleashes the big guns.

First Turtles and Now…

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Justice League is a fun, inventive mash with appealing artwork by Stephen Byrne.  If you’re a fan of either one of the teams, you’ll definitely want to pick it up.

The Sandmen sweep over the world to intercept the Justice Society in Earth 2 Society.  This is nothing more or less than page after gorgeously illustrated page of a big battle between the minions of evil and the forces of good.  

In between our heroes save lives.  Batman plots out the solution to the problem, and the Big Bad throws off the veil to a surprise cliffhanger.  I eat this kind of stuff up.  Seconds, please.

The Titans on the other hand is a laid back kind of issue.  The tale begins with Titans Wally, Donna and Roy fighting a giant in Manhattan.

No need to look him up.  He’s nobody and dealt with that way.  His defeat however isn’t a proper victory.  Now that the feel goodness of Wally’s return has become the norm, the Titans can do what they do best.  Argue.

From that Titans tradition, writer Dan Abnett segues to the idea that the Titans are not really a tradition on this earth.  The smooth transition and blending of plot and characterization just made me want to weep.  Abnett’s intriguing notions of what constitutes authenticity interweave through this title and Earth 2 Society.  At times he seems to be saying that memory and experience is more important than corporeal history.  This also explains his ready embrace of Lois Lane as the Red Tornado.  Titans is philosophical science fiction even when it’s not trying to be.

Abnett is probably the second best writer of this version of Superman.  He already guested him in Aquaman and treated him fairly as nevertheless a different Man of Steel.  You see, you can write this guy as an acceptable avatar of Superman.  You don’t have to turn him into a prick.  Superman knows Wally.  He lays down some good advice while having fun and enjoying the Titans’ return.

Juxtaposed against this is a laugh-out-loud funny tour of the new status quo.  Lilith (Omen) uses her phenomenal telepathic skills to find out how many new forms the Titans need to fill out.  Nightwing reveals their new transport.  Abnett’s dual writing of Titans and Aquaman allows him to give Aqualad more depth than anybody, and it’s all wrapped in a bow for the reader by neoclassic realist Lee Weeks.  So pretty.

Red Hood and the Outlaws concludes with Jason Todd defeating Black Mask in a fairly clever way.  The team in addition gels, but the really impressive thing about Red Hood and the Outlaws occurs after all that.  Jason confronts Batman, and the reaction is a little different than what you might expect after watching so many histrionic fits from Nightwing and a stoic Dark Knight during the post-Crisis.  Scott Lobdell understands what Batman is about, and he is easily the best man for Jason Todd.

Ming the Merciless finds a superb means to conquer the earth.  It turns out that by using the Gatestone, a wormhole creating device, he can move bits and pieces of Mongo to our planet.  Flash, the Phantoms, Mandrake, Dale and Zarkov investigate one such satrap, and they find themselves betrayed by the government.  The look on their faces, courtesy of the superb Jesse Hamm, really say it all.  Jeff Parker’s dialogue underscores the hopelessness of their situation.  

As you may expect, the Defenders of the Earth are not blown to bits.  During that scene the creative team creates a moving panel involving a little girl listening to a radio broadcast of what transpires.  The moment neatly frames what’s at stake.  I actually had that look on my face when I saw The Day After.  Still the most realistic nuclear holocaust movie ever made.

The Defenders recover and find new menaces from Mongo to fight.  At this point you realize that Parker is now detailing the long history of animosity between Flash and Ming.  Technically speaking, most of the role call in King’s Cross have known Ming just as long as Flash Gordon, unless you factor in the movie, television, serials, radio programs and of course the original comic strips by Alex Raymond.  

That’s what I think Parker is doing with Flash Gordon King’s Cross.  He’s adding to that history.  He planted the seeds in the first series.  Ming sees Flash as a distraction and challenge.  Flash is actually too innocent to hate anybody, even his nemesis.  So, he can in fact compliment Ming on his tactics while still thinking him as an evil menace.

Last but not least, Amy Chu’s and Carlos Gomez’s new take on Red Sonja builds on the mysteries and the antic of last issue.

Yes.  That lunatic Kulan Gath sent the She-Devil into the twentieth century.  Here, her reputation remains unknown, and she cannot ken the strange tongue they speak.  Curiously though, somebody can understand her.

Sonja is not a super-being.  She’s super-healthy, especially the way Gomez draws her.  So, it’s no surprise when she finds herself overpowered.  Chu uses this natural advancement of the story to display Sonja’s intelligence.  Much as Conan did in an issue of What If? Sonja begins to comprehend the world around her.

This knowledge however cannot help her in a strait-jacket, but Chu adds a new twist to what typically happens when the fictional clashes with the real.

Chu’s energetic stranger in a strange land comic has more fun in store for the reader.  Alas, though Sonja gains a coat.  I knew this would happen.

No, no, no! Don’t zip up! Awww…Damn it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

POBB January 4, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 4, 2017
Ray Tate

Welcome to the first POBB of 2017.  This week I review Aquaman, Batman, Big Trouble in Little China/Escape from New York, Hawkeye, Superman and Wynonna Earp: Legends.  First however I look at a new book from Marvel Comics…

The Unstoppable Wasp is the daughter of Hank Pym and Maria Trovaya Pym.  Ant-Man first married a Soviet scientist before tying the knot with Janet Van Dyne.  It turns out that the first marriage isn’t a retro-plant.  Maria’s brief history is outlined in The Handbook of the Marvel Universe.  Look under Yellowjacket.  If you haven’t the1980s series, don’t worry.  Talented writer Jeremy Whitley and phenomenal artist Elsa Charretier summarize the Russian/Pym connection on one page.

Our story however begins in Manhattan where Nadia Pym, the Wasp, hangs out with her best friend Ms. Marvel and finds the local pastry shop particularly inviting.  The scene hints at why Nadia’s called unstoppable.  It turns out that this isn’t a modifier of power but of will.  Nadia is one of the most confident characters in Marvel’s history.  Even topping Squirrel Girl.  

Nadia’s positivity becomes apparent when she applies for U.S. Citizenship.  Legally speaking she already is a citizen of the United States.  Unfortunately, she has no proof.  Before the process can begin Monica Rappaccini unleashes a giant robot on the city.

The narration peels back a running gag of edutainment.  "Nadia’s Neat Science Facts" asides are simply wonderful.  Back in the day, editors would sometimes include footnotes with such things listed, but this is actually better.  Fresh thanks to Nadia’s voice.  Nostalgic for reasons mentioned.  Above all informative.

The Unstoppable Wasp, Ms. Marvel and Mockingbird team-up to kibosh Monica and her robot.  Whitley tunes in Adrianne Palicki’s Mockingbird from Agents of SHIELD and combines the personality with the experience of the character.  The generation gap sparks quite a few beats of humor and contrasts with the Wasp’s optimism and energy.

Nadia and Ms. Marvel take down the robot using what else…science and a little razzle-dazzle.

When the smoke clears, the girls and Mockingbird refuel and celebrate.  That’s when we learn that Whitley isn’t ridiculing the old guard.  He’s honoring the heroes that came before The Unstoppable Wasp.  Nadia knows who Bobbi Morse is and so do I.  I can say without a doubt that every iota of history Nadia spouts is accurate.  This is likely the best I’ve seen of Mockingbird, even better than Jim McCann’s and David Lopez's Hawkeye & Mockingbird.  She's not even the star, but to Nadia, she is.

Hawkeye’s second issue ups the ante from sexual harassment internet trolls to major cult activity.  The story begins with Kate Bishop’s harsh lesson about law and order versus justice.

In the real world private investigators must obey the law.  They’re not vigilantes.  They’re licensed in each state for a reason.  So that they can be held accountable for their actions.  It’s a two-way streak however.  The law protects them as well.  Bishop is unlicensed and she should count herself even luckier that Detective Rivera didn’t arrest her or report her to the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

So far writer Kelly Thompson with only two issues in has done a great job straddling the real world with the superhero world.  Cops like Rivera only tolerate superheroes.  They’re wild cards.  Private investigators are known quantities.  When Kate pulls out the bow, she’s Hawkeye.

Complimenting the duality of her identity without turning it secret, Thompson escalates the threat level so that while the private investigator follows the leads, it’s ultimately Hawkeye that’s going to solve the crime.  There’s a lot of meat to the story that I’m glossing over; from romance complicating the case to coincidences that may not be given the nature of this particular cult.  All of these elements offer clues to the detective story.  They’ll of course not be spoilt here.

Leonardo Romero and colorist Jordie Bellaire’s artwork is blatantly good.  Romero imbues vital personality to Kate and smooth action to her every move.  Bellaire accents the emotion in scenes with hues that mimic cinematography and camera filters.  The result is the look and feel of a slick 1970s film.

Wynonna Earp always had a great concept and was always entertaining.  Wynonna is the legacy of historical legend Wyatt Earp.  She was a badass nineties girl facing the things that go bump in the night with Peacemakers.  The television show however possesses more depth.  It’s a production.  If a television series doesn’t surpass a literally two dimensional medium, something is very wrong.

In previous volumes and specials, Wynonna Earp is already a seasoned U.S. Marshall for a Special Division of that government service.  Smith renames the sector the Black Badges in Yeti Wars.  After that, Smith’s tin star ascended.  Smith reworked Wynonna Earp in the comic books for IDW while the television series paralleled another universe for the character.

Now comes Legends.  Here, with Doc Holliday portrayer Tim Rozon, Smith draws Wynonna even closer to the television series and connects her to her older incarnation.  At the same time, Smith expands his writing to demonstrate that British writers aren’t the only sort that can characterize immortals.

Peacemaker’s glow is central to the television series.  Wynonna learned about the attribute in episode one.  In the comic book series, Smith didn’t give Wynonna’s weapons any speciality.  That changes with this issue, but the overall difference in tone of the book far outstrips the cosmetic. 

Smith and Rozon open Legends with Wynonna’s amusing Instagram summary of the story so far.  Informative and funny, the feed also bears Wynonna’s distinctive personality.  In addition it shows that Legends isn’t so much a spin-off series of the comic book but an elegantly forwarded next chapter.

Wynonna, Valdez and Doc currently hunt the immortal and crazed gunman Boone Helm.  They’re not the only ones trying to track down the serial killer.  

Wynonna more often the firecracker in a pool of kerosene is the voice of reason amidst the pack.  That’s because she’s not an immortal like her comrades.  Wynonna’s level-headedness and her willingness to follow the Black Badge protocols distinguishes this series from her previous IDW debut.

Everybody else wants to kill Helm, and I’m sure Wynonna wishes to see him dead as well, but she does something remarkable and follows the rules.

Helm is a strange piece of work, and he’s one of the more complex characters from Smith’s Big Book of Western Scum.  This is where it looks as though Smith and Rozon attempt to compete against the U.K.  Giving an immortal grindhouse monster a philosophical perspective and prettified dialogue. 

As the story progresses, the plotting becomes even sharper.  Multiple twists create impediments for the Black Badges and the Pinkertons until finally a cliffhanger sets the stage for the next Legends series this time co-written by Wynonna Earp portrayer Melanie Scrofano.

Even I couldn’t predict the longevity of Big Trouble in Little Trouble/Escape from New York.  I mean, yes, great concept for a few issues, but six is pushing it.  Still, writer Greg Pak comes up with some pretty impressive extenders.  First of all, David Lo Pan killed in BTLT haunts Jack Burton and seeks revenge.  He does this on Snake Plissken’s ENY world, and already, he reveals an ace up his sleeve.

Or several.  Pak doesn’t pull this twist from his nether regions.  He foreshadowed the eventuality by introducing the witty idea that Jack Burton and Snake are both alternate versions of each other.

Jack of course is the average Joe trucker with the added advantage of dumb luck.  Jack decided the best way to help was to infiltrate the Plisskens and find out what’s what.  This leads to a conflict amidst the survivors of Snake’s damaged world.

It turns out that Snake as he was in ENY isn’t quite the terror that his mirrors are.  Snake is in fact closer to Jack and has a sense of decency even if he doesn’t like to admit it.  He’s not really an anti-hero.  Just a pragmatist that’s forced into being the protagonist.

Pak increases the tension by turning ENY’s Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) into a devil’s advocate, heavy on the devil.  So, you don’t quite know how Snake’s foray is going to turn out.  You know that he’s not going to kill Jack Burton.  He could blow Jack’s cover, or try to kill him.

Daniel Bayliss and colorist Triona Farrel accompany Pak on this wild ride.  The art is just perfect for the subject matter.  Bayliss turns Jack and Snake into caricatures of Kurt Russell in his prime.  They’re big, larger than life chins, with a cartoony expressiveness that mimics the actor’s sense of humor in the portrayals.  Farrell’s colors vibrantly and uniquely paint an apocalyptic world.

As you know, modern era Superman died.  A Superman from another universe took his place.  I haven’t been a fan.  On the flip side, Peter Tomasi’s writing of that particular version of the character easily eclipses the writing of the avatar elsewhere.  He at least sounds like a version of Superman.  So if I must read about this other dimensional Kryptonian, and sometimes to keep track of changes in the DC Universe I must, I’d rather do it here, where Tomasi’s writing.

The story begins with Superman encountering the Russian Red Son Superman.  It turns out a group of creatures called the Gatherers are stalking the Supermen of the Multiverse on behalf of unknown parties.

See what I mean about Peter Tomasi’s treatment of the character? No.  This isn’t exactly the Superman I know and love, but he’s saving lives and taking names.  Give him his due.  He’s a Superman.  The strange thing about this whole scheme is that the Gatherers are particular about which Supermen they need to retrieve.

“Inconsequential.”  Dude, that’s harsh.  I mean I don’t like the Superman from another universe, but that is harsh.  Things get trippier during another arrival.

That’s essentially President Obama as Superman.  Grant Morrison introduced him in Final Crisis.  The other characters arise from Morrison’s Multiversity, Mary Marvel being the exception. Although her earth designation is Morrison’s idea.

The League hunt the Gatherers and the Gatherers hunt the Supermen.  It’s a circle of predator vs prey with the universe hanging in the balance.  As the story continues, we see the Gatherers in all their weird glory.

So, yeah.  Not a fan of Superman from another Universe, but I didn’t express a single emotion about the Chinese Superman that started flying around.  Until now.  Nobody deserves what the Gatherers dish out.  It’s tar nasty, and I’m not even sure what it does.  

During “I am Suicide” readers discovered that Rebirth altered Catwoman’s history.  She still knew Batman and Bruce Wayne are one in the same, but her benign record of crime darkened.  Batman nevertheless needed her on his team to snatch the Psycho-Pirate from Bane’s hands.  He furthermore intended to help her.  In this issue of Batman, stellar Batman writer Tom King reveals the nature Batman’s deal with Amanda Waller regarding Catwoman.  It’s a good one.  The issue also details Catwoman’s last night of freedom.

During the modern era of comics, the writers and artists of Catwoman and Batman dealt with their relationship in mature terms.  They portrayed them as adults with a case of severe love.  The quaint idea that Batman couldn’t possibly consummate that love with a thief no longer made any sense.  In addition to sex, Batman and Catwoman helped each other emotionally when the other suffered.

Because of the opportunity presented by Rebirth King reexamines their relationship.  There’s a sweet, sadness to it.  An underlying doom that was never there as well as innocence.  It’s really rather beautiful.

The most surprising thing about this week’s Aquaman is that Phil Briones’ artwork actually manages to outdo Dan Abnett’s writing.  Briones introduces the Aquamarines, chimeric American soldiers, not Abnett.  We don’t actually care about who they are.  Their look however is amazing.

In Atlantis, Aquaman reveals some disturbing news for ally Joanna Stubbs, and while Abnett adds humor to the scene with his dialogue, it’s Briones that conveys the awkwardness.

When the Aquamarines attack, it’s a horrible thing.  Atlanteans die left and right for crimes that they never took part in.  They heroically sacrifice themselves for their King, and when Aquaman finally meets the Aquamarines it’s an impressive sight.  

Kudos also for inker Gale Eltaeb's enhancement of Aquaman’s anger.  It just gets more awesome: a Mera splash page that must be owned, another moment where Aquaman’s rage boils the water.  Aquaman isn’t just one of the best written of DC’s books.  It’s also the place for consistently great art.