Wednesday, March 14, 2018

POBB March 7, 2018

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 7, 2018
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, my name is Ray Tate, and every week I review comic books.  For this installment, I look at Batman, The Green Hornet, Green Lanterns, Infinity Countdown, Oblivion Song and X-Men Red.  Tweeted teensy-weensy capsular reviews can be found on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Tom King's Batman can be read story by story, issue by issue.  It can also be read as a whole run.   You don’t need to do this. You’ll simply get a richer experience if you choose to do so.  

King's debut "I am Gotham" introduced the heroes Gotham and Gotham Girl.  Two youths saved by Batman who wanted to pay it forward.  To that end, they gained superpowers with the hope of joining Batman’s crusade.  The duo saves Batman’s life upon their first meeting.  

You may ask how does this story affect Poison Ivy’s latest ploy.  It doesn’t.  Not really.  However, one may also ask why is Catwoman working side by side with Batman? Or more to the point.  Why this time? 

The answer to that question can be found in past issues of Tom King’s epic.  Batman recruited Catwoman to infiltrate Bane’s island nation.  He needed to abduct the Pycho-Pirate to undo the psychological damage inflicted upon Gotham Girl.  Gotham Girl once cured gained insight into Batman's psyche.  Through what appeared to be a simple conversation, but was in fact a gentle probing, she did what she and her brother Gotham set out to do.  Help Batman.

The conversation between Batman and Gotham Girl explains Catwoman's presence.  That dialogue explains why Batman inoculated Catwoman against Ivy’s latest concoction.  Batman and Catwoman are together fighting Ivy.  

In a previous review, I suggested that Catwoman and Ivy don't actually know each other or like each other.  That may have been presumptuous.  King clarifies their relationship in another scene.  It's not the friendship depicted in askew DC book Harley Quinn, seen above.  

You should look at King's run as a chapter-play novel, distinct from the abundant continuity of DC Comics.  King draws from that well, but it's not exact.  At some point Catwoman and Ivy met and fostered an amenable relationship.  That doesn't mean the bond is derived from anything actually published in the past.

The rationale behind Ivy’s scheme lies in the past created by King.  King directly references the events in “The War of Jokes and Riddles.”  You do not need to know this information, but you’ll have a more rewarding experience if you read that chapter.  "The War of Jokes and Riddles" characterized Tom King's version of Poison Ivy.  A killer of men.  A defender of the Green, and the planet in general.  These actions motivate her plan in the current issue of Batman.

You can tell by the cover that Ivy used her botanical genius to possess the Justice League.  Batman and Catwoman are not just battling Ivy but also the League turned into pawns.  Batman recently teamed up with Superman and Wonder Woman in two of King's bookends.  Little did we know that King used those tales to foreshadow the confrontation here.  He furthermore had a hand in the Batman/Flash crossover.  The Ivy-controlled Flash appeared last issue and returns this issue.

I've said in the past that mind control is one of my least favorite plot devices, but perhaps that's because of the sloppy execution.  King's method is anything but, and Batman detects the source of Ivy's power.  He deduces a flaw in Ivy's supposed perfection and uses that knowledge as a weapon.  Mind you, Batman's one crazy son of a bitch for doing this shocking thing.  Goading Ivy, Batman triggers a scenario that makes you gasp.  More than just for the sake of horror, King utilizes the event to once again add depth to Ivy.  Demonstrate her limits and define her villainy.  He advances Batman's plan to thwart his foe in ways that even surprise the most invested Batman fan.

Created by George Trendle and Fran Striker in 1936, The Green Hornet and Kato fought the criminal underworld first on radio then in comic books.  They next buzzed through two serials, and in the sixties, Van Williams and Bruce Lee embodied the duo. 

The Green Hornet returned about thirty years later.  Now Comics produced the longest run of Green Hornet comic books.  In these issues, Kato’s daughter became the partner of the new Green Hornet.  The owners of the license while appreciating the change felt that Bruce Lee could only be Kato.  So an older Kato resumed the role.  

The Green Hornet premiered on the silver screen in a less than successful movie, but this newest stab catalyzed Dynamite to publish new Green Hornet adventures.  I was keen on them as much as I was enamored by their version of the Shadow and berry-juice Phantom.  Happily, the newest Green Hornet series makes the recent past moot.

The Green Hornet shares the same conceit as the Phantom.  Both are defined by legacy.  However, the adventures don’t really reflect that legacy.  Now Comics radically changed the Green Hornet.  Concert pianist and composer Paul Reid nephew of Britt Reid became the Green Hornet.  Every other Hornet however is Britt Reid, crusading newspaper publisher of The Daily Sentinel.

Britt’s disappearance is the source of renewal.  When it comes to heroes, periods of absence, rumors of death are occupational hazards.  Kato stays optimistic.  It’s only when somebody tries to besmirch the legacy that he and his daughter take action.

Green Hornet’s seedy ruse sets him apart from other heroes.  The Hornet pretends to be a criminal boss that already owns the city.  He allows other criminals to operate only if he gets a taste of the honey.

Britt’s disappearance behaves as a power vacuum.  Would-be hero Hornets aren’t trying to follow in his footfalls.  Felons are.  Only the Katos and the Hornet’s allies know the truth about the Green Hornet.  So they must provide a suitable descendent.  

Amy Chu impressed me with Red Sonja, and she makes a good first impression with the Green Hornet premiere.  In many ways she does the same thing.  She sets the timer back to what the fans already know.   Then she begins relating her new take which includes an apropos joke involving Pink Panther lore.   

Artists German Erramouspe and Brittany Pezzillo demonstrate a mastery of Green Hornet atmosphere.  They spotlight the criminal world that the Hornet inhabits and violent spurts of action reminiscent of the Van Williams/Lee series.  The new Green Hornet era begins.

Using the fictional app Caper, Green Lantern Simon Baz hooked up with the new hero Night Pilot and didn’t really think anything would happen beyond that one night.   Little did Simon realize that Caper was in fact a means to select candidates for an interstellar superhuman trafficking ring.  Night Pilot, the latest victim. 

In a past review, I credited Green Lanterns writer Tim Seeley with the original idea.  A POBB reader pointed out that Amunet the Brit villain played with wicked glee by Katee Sackhoff from The Flash utilized the twist first.  

I’m not sure that’s accurate.  Amunet Black debuted as a crime boss.  Killer Frost owed her a debt.  Neither indentured servitude or human trafficking came into play until much later.  I’d argue that Seeley and the writers of The Flash conceived the idea about the same time and neither influenced the other.  Still, The Flash did much more with the concept.  Unfortunately, Seeley’s story is faltering.

Baz and his partner Jessica Cruz take their investigation into superhuman trafficking to their superiors, and what they find is green tape.

I’m not crazy about this whole idea of a legalese subset of the Green Lantern Corps.  It’s a silly idea.  The Lanterns have plenty of evidence to warrant a Green Lantern Corps jamboree upside the Church of Steed’s metaphorical head.  The Justice League would have happily invaded the Nebula to Free the slaves and break some slaver bones.

Instead, the Lanterns must perform another infiltration.  Their tactic repeats the previous issue with less imaginative disguises and a montage of action that substitutes for actual subterfuge.

Their contact in this whole shebang is Scraps, one of the new Omega Men, incidentally identified by the ring as terrorists only two issues ago.

Scraps behavior also puzzles me.  She expressed no regret over her actions and only co-operated with the Lanterns under duress.  Now, she’s a gung-ho vigilante who claims ignorance to the superhuman trafficking.  Where is this coming from?

What started out as a good idea is now wearing out its welcome.  The impediments to the finish line strike me as contrived, and the added implementation of a tiresome plot device combined with wishy-washy characterization force me to suggest that you skip this issue of the Green Lanterns.

X-Men Red began when Jean Grey attempted to broker a peace between humans and mutants.  Unbeknownst to her an enemy from the X-Men's past lethally sabotaged the efforts.  Because of this event televised live, Jean and the X-Men she asked to help her forge a dream are on the run. Wakanda and Atlantis of course granted Jean and the X-Men asylum.  That doesn't make her feel any less guilty about her efforts. 

Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar in many ways do the same thing that Tom King does in Batman.  They work within their own continuity.  For example, Nightcrawler may look even more grittier on the cover of X-Men Red, but as you can see in the graphic, he just looks like the same old Kurt Wagner.  Taylor in turn does not explain Jean's return.  She just has.  Although, he's currently guiding the adventures of Wolverine and her clone sister Honey Badger, he lets their dialogue and personality speak.  Taylor furthermore fools me.

Trinary is an original mutant creation from Taylor and Asrar.  It's the last thing I'd expect from an X-Men book.  X-Men writers are content to throw mutants at the reader without any explanation.  They expect anybody that picked up an X-Men book attended X-Men State University and knows what color toothbrush Sunfire uses.  Trick question.  Sunfire doesn't have to brush his teeth.  He can just burn them clean.  In any case, Taylor introduces a new mutant, makes her pertinent to the story and uses her in a statement decrying misogyny.  

Trinary faces betrayal not because she's a mutant but because she's a woman. That evokes an even sadder realism.  Fortunately, for Trinary, the X-Men are coming to get her and less you think that the book is too philosophical...

...A montage of X-Team action speeds the pace of Trinary's rescue and induction into X-Men Red.  The reference to the Green Lanterns isn't accidental, but Taylor's and Asrar's tactics for the X-Men are better paced and executed.  Furthermore, nobody's acting out of character.

This issue of Infinity Countdown is actually Guardians of the Galaxy.  Now, I don't know why there would be fans of the Infinity Stones that would object to the Guardians of the Galaxy, but I'm laying it out for you.  If you're not a Guardians of the Galaxy fan, and I can't imagine anybody that fits this profile, then you can comfortably skip this chapter.  For everybody else, strap yourself in because this is an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy that actually feels as whacky as the films.  The story begins with Fargo via Nova.

That's Eve Bakian, the pregnant Nova that the Guardians met during their investigation into the Nova Corps.  Shi'ar assassins known as the Talonar placed moles in the organization.  The Guardians ferreted them out.  Perhaps Raccoon-ed would be a better word.  Since Rocket was all over this assignment, and he deduced the identities of the spies.  Eve and her Novas are some of the good Novas, they remained planet-side to guard the Infinity Stone of Power, which swelled to the size of a skyscraper.  Telling you this doesn't really spoil anything because the Infinity Stone is actually a MacGuffin.  The whole point of this part of the story is to send the Talonar into the welcoming hands of Drax.

He's not a fan.  Drax's dialogue and his actions is pure cinematic goodness.  He's absolutely hilarious in the destruction of the Talonar.  The example scene is just a sample of Drax's ingenuity when fighting the Talonar.  Drax for example attempts to use Talonar accoutrements to ease his mission of smacking them silly, and succeeds in Drax fashion.  This is where a classic rock song might play in the film.  The timing of the moment and the other comedic beats belongs to artist Aaron Kuder.  

Drax is the Guardian that involves himself the most with the Infinity Countdown.  The other Guardians are busy cleaning up the trash of a sub-plot from Gerry Duggan's premiere issue of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy readers know that something stunted Groot's natural ripening.  They also know that somebody was planting crazy versions of Groot big and small.  That somebody turned out to be an Elder of the Universe.  Also featuring big in Guardians of the Galaxy.

While beating the snot out of an Elder of the Universe certainly generates a lot of fun.  Duggan surprises with even stranger developments.

Robert Kirkman's Oblivion Song at first seemed like a typical post-Apocalyptic genre bender, beginning with hunting humans in a nuclear wasteland.

I actually sighed at this scene.  I keep telling you.  If one nation launches a nuclear strike at the United States.  Every life form on this planet is going to die.  The lucky ones will experience the quick flash frying at ground zero.  The rest of the populace will suffer from breakdowns of the immune system and cancer followed by a slower death.  There's no way out of this.  It doesn't matter who fires first.  Automated spoilsport systems will finish the job.  Anyhow, Kirkman wants me to think his new world is cool.  I can taste the manipulation.  I'm supposed to root for the hunter.  The killer.

He's got a gun and a cape.  Of course I must root for him.  Yeah.  Right.  So, my sighs grow deeper.  Even when a giant monster shows up with an appetite.  

Then, something happens.  I turn the page, and I realize that Kirkman counted on me feeling this way.  Oblivion Song isn't actually a post-Apocalyptic story at all.  It's a science fiction story that shares far more in common with the 1950s films than 1980s nuclear survivor movies.  

The hunter turns out to be a scientist.  He's not actually hunting humans.  He's saving them, and I don't mean that he's shooting them to put them out of their miseries.  He's doing something quite different, and that's why Oblivion Song is worth your time and coin.  

Kirkman employs 1950s archetypes with depth to relate a story that he addresses on multiple levels. The difference also lies in the way he unfolds the tale.  In 1950s, the government of creature features saw eye to eye with heroic scientists,  Certainly the Powers That Be first scoffed at the very idea of giant grasshoppers or deadly mantises, but eventually they came around and combined forces with the brains of the outfits for the common good.  Religion didn't even enter into it unless in a rare instance one of the stars recited a parable from The Bible at the end.  In Oblivion Song, Kirkman's hero butts heads with budgetary concerns, a callous government and religious yahoos.  His reasons aren't entirely altruistic, but they're certainly more noble than shucking his duty to humanity.  No, Oblivion Song isn't the book you think it is.  It's way better.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

POBB February 28, 2018

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 28, 2018
Ray Tate

As expected the GOP got down on their knees to service the NRA’s cocks by deciding not to debate any measures on gun control.  

You shit-holes are going to be voted out by an angry generation that you abandoned.  Some are the survivors of the gun violence that you lot enabled.  They see you for the fuck ups that you are.  You are out of here.

Criminal-in-Chief Donald Trump after promising the Parkland victims that he would stand up to the NRA backed down by hamstringing President Obama’s gun safety regulations.

On the flip side, give some love to Dick’s Sporting Goods.  Dick's will no longer sell assault rifles.  They in addition raised the age limit for purchasing guns.  We also can thank Enterprise, Hertz, MetLife, Delta and United Airlines for hitting the NRA where it counts.

In happier news, this week the Pick of the Brown Bag takes on All-New Wolverine, Batgirl, The Flash, Lockjaw, Mera Queen of Atlantis, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Rough Riders, Scooby-Doo Team-Up and new DC book The Terrifics.  Haven’t the time for the full dose of POBB goodness.  Check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

It’s another perfect issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up.  Scooby and the Gang take a holiday from ghost-breaking and have a picnic in Jellystone National Park.  Before you can say pork pie, Yogi Bear appears with a scheme to snatch Shaggy’s and Scooby’s gimongous picnic basket.

Sholly Fisch’s clever Yogi cons are worthy of the beloved moocher.  His meta gags are even funnier.  

The comedy portion in Scooby-Doo Team-Up is frequently laugh out loud and so varied.  The ghost is tailored to fit.

It seems a rash of picnic basket thefts set Mr. Ranger on high alert.  Naturally, he thinks Yogi is the culprit and may be behind the Ghost.

Yogi is not the culprit.  Indeed, Yogi though smarter than the average bear isn’t in Top Cat’s league.  Yogi may be a grifter, but he’s motivated by gluttony.  He doesn’t stack the plans like Top Cat.   

While Yogi can fast talk the foolish out of their culinary booty, he won’t go to such great lengths as faking a haunting to protect his stash of deliciousness.  Once tumbled, Yogi admits defeat or bids a hasty retreat.  That’s why despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, even the Gang appear to be on Yogi’s side.

The solution to the mystery isn’t quite fairplay, but certainly makes sense.  Fisch on the other hand well foreshadows the trap for the spook, and artist Walter Carzon captures the simplified cartoon design of Yogi Bear while amplifying the illusion of animation.

Lockjaw opens on the moon where the giant dog waits out Medusa’s and Black Bolt’s clothed canoodling.

The hound then visits Karnak.  Karnak recently metamorphosed into a sourpuss.  Nevertheless he still likes Lockjaw.  Who doesn't? Somebody without a heart.  That's who.

After a short tour of Attilan, the doggie teleports to earth where he immediately ingratiates himself to a small human.

Lockjaw loves humans and Inhumans.  He’s just an all around love-fest.  Surprisingly, Lockjaw does not stay with the earthling long.  It’s not that kind of book.  He moves on to his real purpose.

Lockjaw apparently has kin on earth.  Just by a happy coincidence, that canine lives next door to D-Man, short for Demolition Man.

Wrong Demolition Man.  D-Man is a goofy cross between Daredevil and Wolverine with a generic low-level Superman power-set.  Nowadays, he’s just got some wrestling prowess.

That said, helping Lockjaw take down some alien invaders out to kill an innocent puppy? Yeah, D-Man’s got that.

Although Lockjaw cannot be taken too seriously, the curiously named writer Daniel Kibblesmith and artists Carlos Villa, Roberto Poggi and Chris O’Halloran treat D-Man respectfully and give the antic a strong but plausible counterweight.

Tom Taylor takes a break from chapter-plays for a standalone in All-New Wolverine.  Laura Kinney is Wolverine.  Last year, she discovered the crazed individuals that created her also cloned sisters.  One of the bunch, Gabby, turned out okay.  Gabby lives with Laura and takes care of her.  

The story begins on a breeze that leads Gabby and her pet wolverine Jonathan to walkies.  All goes well until, Jonathan nearly tears Gabby’s arm off when he pulls her to a specific building.  Housing the scientists that turned him into the upgraded animal he is today.  

Gabby does the math, and she calls her friend Deadpool.  Due to his origin, a distant family member of the Wolverine Clan.  

Let the gleeful games begin.  Ryan Reynolds was the best thing to ever happen to Deadpool, and that’s who Taylor channels for the characterization.  Together, Gabby and Deadpool discover hilarious science fiction horrors and overcome them with the prowess you expect.

Wolverine begins to worry about her sister.  So, she tracks her down and discovers what’s been going on.  Wolverine is all about justice.  So, she’s in.

Taylor’s story injects new life into a tedious trope and comments on that chestnut’s characteristics in clever ways.  The camaraderie between Deadpool and Gabby is at once strange and sweet.  Wolverine joining the marshmallow roast neatly distinguishes her from the sometimes responsible adult that she needs to be where Gabby is concerned, and every panel is crafted with sublime care by Marcio Failla.

Peter Parker reaches its 300th issue.  If you’re wondering if that nap you took turned into a Rip Van Winkle the answer is no.  Not counting the one-shot magazine, the first volume of  Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man began in the mid seventies.  Marvel ceased publication of the title in the late nineties before reintroducing the book last year.  Is this ballyhooed issue special?  Possibly.

Teresa Parker, Spider-Man’s maybe sister, appeared at Spidey’s doorstep with information about Graysword, a SHIELD department headed by Agent Mintz.  The mission statement aimed to root out and exploit the secret identities and the weaknesses of superheroes.

Always be wary of those seeking the greater good.  Spock being the exception.  Teresa hid the incriminating data in her DNA, a trick I first encountered on Star Trek: Enterprise, and based upon the science of junk DNA.  

The consequences of Teresa’s bravery led to she being declared a public enemy.  Spidey of course followed his sister on the list, in both identities.

At the same time, Spider-Man uncovered what appeared to be a phone network for villains.  This led to avenues of mystery and surprisingly tied into Agent Mintz’s bend to save the world no matter how scorched by his actions.

Multiple guest stars added to the scope of Peter Parker and made the title almost thematically Marvel Team-Up.  The Human Torch, Ironheart, Karnak, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Hawkeye and the Falcon signed in.  This issue introduces another guest-star, who partnered with Spider-Man way back in the day, and it’s that team-up writer Chip Zdarsky references as he takes Spider-Man smoothly from the street to the stars.

In terms of tone, Peter Parker Spider-Man pretty much gets everything right.  It’s uproarious, and the characterization recalls the Bronze Age Spider-Man I grew up with.  Still a young hero but old enough to hand out some advice.

Ironheart’s loss of armor connects to the grand finale in which an arch Spider-Man foe unveils his ingenious ploy and a measured turnabout that grants him some surprising depth.

The third act of “Perfect Storm” doesn’t move forward with any great momentum.  The best comes from Wally West.  Flash arch-villain Abracadabra took Wally out of time and space while he stayed hidden under another guise.  In conjunction, unknown forces edited twelve years out of the New 52, and Superman’s timeline rewove.  Perhaps as a result from the pattern of temporal disruption, Wally returned from the great unknown.  However, only a few people know that he ever existed, first as Kid Flash then as the Flash.

Writer Joshua Williams and artist Carlos D’Anda creates the perfect feeling for a man out of time.  Wally is a true hero.  He accepts the abominable trick that his foe played on him.  He moves beyond it save Central City one citizen at a time.  This isn’t about him.  This isn’t about his own problems.  It’s about them.  Wally saves the lives of the people he loves even if nobody will love him back.

Dan Abnett’s Aquaman epic needed another book to hold all that’s transpiring beneath the waves.  So, Mera Queen of Atlantis debuts.  Despite genuinely focusing on Mera, the tale unfolds with former King Orm the Ocean Master.

Ocean Master is Aquaman’s opposite number.  At least he used to be until Geoff Johns reintroduced the character for the New 52.  Originally, Ocean Master was Aquaman’s fully human step-brother who used technology to become an underwater threat.  

Johns turned Orm into a full blooded Atlantean who is the rightful King of Atlantis.  That changed when classic Aquaman advisor Vulko pitted Atlantis and the Surface World against each other.  Aquaman defeats Orm, and Orm is eventually remanded into Amanda Waller’s custody.  During Forever Evil, Orm escaped and eventually fell in love with the human woman Erin.

Orm should be declared innocent of all crimes, however heinous.  He acted on behalf of Atlantis.  Although his actions resulted in countless deaths, he knew no more of Vulko’s scheme than Aquaman.  That’s moot.

When Abnett turns his attention to the title star, he does so in style.  The Eel is one of the more obscure Aquaman Rogues.  Somebody’s hired the mercenary to ice Mera.

Abnett uses the battle to commit Mera to reverie about her life and how it's now being used against her desires.  Much as in Royal history, Mera’s Xebel pure bloodline makes her the ideal choice to retake the throne.  I trust I need not explain the Trump-like imitator that now rules Atlantis.

Mera would like nothing better but to marry and settle down with Aquaman at the lighthouse on Amnesty Bay, while being a superhero in the Justice League.  That Justice League issue is another example of Abnett expanding the Aquaman Family’s role in the DCU.  Batman invited Mera to join the League without inviting her to join the League.  So, you know it’s legit.

Illustrated by Lan Medina, Richard Friend and Veronica Gandini, Mera looks great in battle and expressive in Abnett’s character study.  Queen of Atlantis fosters a different tone than Aquaman.  This book is all about duty, destiny and desire and how they sometimes clash.  It’s a gem on the Trident of Aquaman.

Hope Larson concludes her snow-shrouded Batgirl story with a satisfying battle against the Penguin and Son.  They’re on the cover.  They could have been a red herring, but come on, this isn’t really a spoiler.

The previous issue was a mystery, where Batgirl followed clues and attempted to solve a crime of obfuscation.  Somebody blinded the National Weather Service.  The technological tomfoolery allowed a snowstorm to sneak into Gotham.  The purpose, Larson reveals in this issue, and its a far-reaching doozy with ties to a classic Penguin gimmick.

Having been led on a wild goose chase, Batgirl relies on something more reliable than a computer her eidetic memory.  She maps out the streets to determine where a secret lab may be found.  There she discovers the creator of the McGuffin, her former Q Qadir.

Once she finds out what device Quadir fashioned, Batgirl determines the Penguin and Son are behind the whole white as snow forecast and aims to stop them.

Because of the nature of the device, Batgirl initially falls in line with other citizens of Gotham City.  Distance makes her mind stronger, and Batgirl opts for a direct confrontation.

Larson’s finally got her groove back.  Her characterization of Batgirl is spot-on, imbuing her with humanity and a fortified sense of justice.  Pitting her against the Penguin is a time honored Batgirl tradition, and the Penguin’s reinventions work in his favor.  Sam Basiri’s artwork is a boon for Batgirl.  Basiri uses multiple angles to energize the narrative while putting together an attractive snowy redesign of Babs Gordon.  He works equally well on detection as well as action, and the colors by Jessica Kholinne adding pink to Batgirl’s cheeks educe dimension and weight to Babs’ bone structure.  I won’t mention the green eyes.

The Terrifics are basically the Fantastic Four with Michael Holt aka Mr. Terrific as Mr. Fantastic.  Called to action when Simon Stagg opens a portal to the Negative Zone, or as DC refers to it, the Dark Multiverse, Mr. Terrific saves Ben Grimm now played by Metamorpho.  He enacts the rescue by activating the dormant Human Torch, Plastic Man.

Looks a bit different, doesn’t he?  Plastic Man apparently now wears a pair of horrid black bicycle shorts instead of his perfect classic costume.  

Ah, says you.  That’s only three FF members.  Where then is the Invisible Girl.  

Bgztl is Phantom Girl’s planet.  Tinya Wazzo is the Legionnaire’s real name.  Linnya is likely her ancestor.

With the team together again, for the first time, all we need to do now is enjoy the typical antics of the FF.  Doesn’t work.  

The relationship between Metamorpho and Plastic Man meant to accommodate the Ben/Johnny banter/bickering is forced.  Not counting a few Bronze Age issues of The Brave and the Bold, Metamorpho and Plastic Man never met until now, but they appear to be old rivals.  Furthermore, they never once had personalities similar to Ben and Johnny.

If you slog through the gobbledygook disguised as technobabble and the lackluster Fantastic Four imitation, you will be rewarded.  Although the characters appearing at the end of the book are an acquired taste.

The latest Rough Riders series takes place in 1906 when Alice Roosevelt married.  That sets the book about two years from the last Rough Riders adventure.  Tempers haven’t cooled.

Harry Houdini seeks out Teddy Roosevelt to use his connections and reunite the Rough Riders.  

Writer Adam Glass first honors Houdini’s status as one of the first debunkers of the supernatural.  He spins a yarn in atmospheric Pat Oliffe artwork that mirrors Teddy Roosevelt’s life.  Houdini however is no psychic.  He exploited fact to deduce the President’s history.  He employed the charisma of a bard to lure Roosevelt into believing the lie.

Houdini on one of his expeditions into the world of charlatans and parlor tricks uncovers a real supernatural threat that performs feats impossible for even the illusions of stage magic.  The fate of the world now rests on the Rough Riders shoulders.

Tensions are high in this series.  Thomas Edison is the Rough Rider most unlike his historical record, but this book never was meant to be a docudrama.  So, I've come to terms with Edison's bellicosity.  Edison meets up with Annie Oakley again.  Annie however is no longer the woman she was.

Had Edison used his genius to resurrect Annie Oakley because he was sweet on her, he might have gained sympathy.  She and the other Rough Riders discovered that she was Edison's experiment and nothing more.  

Of all the Rough Riders, Jack Johnson and Monk Eastman at the very least tolerate each other’s presence.  Monk still won’t shake hands with Jack, but he’s at least cordial with the boxer.  All these scenarios lead to the very interesting inclusion of a famed master of the occult.  Given this figure’s history I’ll be interested to see how he reacts to all the Rough Riders.