Wednesday, April 18, 2018

POBB April 11, 2018

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 11, 2018
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this column I choose the worst and the best comic books of the week. For this issue I look at the new book Dead Hand, The Exiles, Legendary Red Sonja, Oblivion Song, Supergirl, The Titans, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and X-Men Red.  No time for the blog? Check me out on Twitter; #PickoftheBrownBag

On the whole, the comic books this week were somewhat disappointing

The new book Dead Hand starts as a combination spy/superhero tale set during the waning days of the Cold War.  It turns into something else that's intriguing.


Next, Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins drops to the past to uncover the life of protagonist Carter Carlson.  The trip down memory lane culminates in his disillusion of the Black Ops Unit he works for.  

The narrative then jumps forward where it seems that Carlson retired.  Like many ex-military, or ex-spies, he finds a quiet job in law enforcement.


Normally, the shifts in time would act as detriment, but Higgins somehow makes them work in the book's favor.  The flashback fleshes out the character and builds a lie based on a love for super-heroes.  The quick discard of the opening benefits the story because Higgins wasn't really setting up an A Grade masked man.  

As the tale progresses, the plot gets murkier.  Motives and actions come into question, and the beginning of the end lies in the accidental discovery by a stranger.


Oblivion Song reiterated the premiere, only without action or suspense.  Half of Oblivion Song didn’t even thematically look like the same book from last month.  So, when I retrieved my comic books and saw the cover, I wondered why Oblivion Song found its way to my brown bag.  I flipped through the book.  I saw foot-rubs and discussion over beer. 


Sure enough.  Oblivion Song appeared to be a neorealist slice-of-life drama, and I don't subscribe to such things.  I identified this mistake to the staff at the Phantom of the Attic, and they promised to cross the outlier title off my list.  I put Oblivion Song back on the shelf.   

Luckily or unluckily, depending on your viewpoint, I started thinking that Oblivion Song misplaced another O title that was on my subscription list.  I couldn’t think of one O title that's part of my stack.  So, I looked over to the racks, and then I saw the cover to the premiere of Oblivion Song.  O, said I.  

Although I went all-in on Oblivion Song, this issue is nothing like the first.  It’s like a stage play about Oblivion Song, with no special effects, just backdrop art, talking, lots and lots of talking, and the aforementioned foot-rubs.


The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl would have been outstanding had it not been for the most recent "Enter Flash Time," Star Trek and various other projects like John D. McDonald's The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything.  In other words, the frame of reference implications of Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity isn't a new idea.


The best part of Squirrel Girl occurs when Doreen and Nancy mess with Bullseye.  Kirby and Bonnie from McDonald's novel also met violence with humiliation.  The Doctor furthermore used sleight of hand to replace Jack Harkness' Squaring Gun with a banana.




"Bananas are good."

Given the slow time travel element, I wouldn't be surprised if the scene in Squirrel Girl nodded to Doctor Who.  However, the way Ryan North and Erica Henderson present the moment is all Squirrel Girl.

In general The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a well-executed story of the type.  The characters are in top form, and you can do much worse.



McDonald's novel was a burlesque with lots of sexual hi-jinks.  The Flash is an intense forty minutes, and Star Trek is a mystery followed by straightforward drama.  Squirrel Girl just could be the right tone for you.


The premiere of Exiles on the other hand was a confusing mish-mash of exposition and unfinished Marvel earths threatened by Marvel's answer to the Anti-Monitor.  The Time-Eater turns out to be a cross between Pac-Man and a cosmic Grand Poobah, whose identity I'll not spoil.


The story begins in a parallel universe where the original Nick Fury apparently evolved into a Power Cosmic dude.  The Watchers chained him to the moon as a punishment for cosmos knows what and forced him to take the place of the more familiar alien.  

I know!  It’s a totally sensible oxymoron.  "Familiar alien" has been a totally sensible oxymoron at least since the days of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his adventures of John Carter Warlord of Mars.

Anyway, another Nick Fury brings the chained Nick Fury a bracelet that contains a shard of special crystal that…frankly I’m not sure what it does.  I’ll take a guess and suggest it’s like Man-Thing and pertains to the space-time nexus.


The bracelet calls forth Blink, a mutant time-space teleporter, from the original Exiles.  As far as I’m concerned, The Gifted on Fox better serves the character.


Clarice blinks to the moon, home of the bound Nick Fury, and finds the bracelet fetching.  Big mistake.  The bracelet takes over Blink’s GPS and bounces her through the various sloppily constructed Marvel Universes that require boring explanation to define.


Not to be a spoilsport, but Marvel actually bothered to redeem their lousy multiverse by basing a few series in them.  There’s for example the MC2 Universe and the Spiderverse.  I would have certainly rather seen the more substantial American Dream or Spider-Gwen in Exiles rather than also-rans like Iron Lad and Mad Max Ms. Marvel.  Maybe things will get better when the Tessa Thompson Valkyrie shows up.


Supergirl is similar to Exiles but not a total loss.  The story from Steve Orlando and Jody Hauser ostensibly finishes Supergirl’s battle against the D.E.O. as led by paranoid antagonist Director Bones.


Kara's and Cameron Chase's plan against the miscreants is well thought out.  It would have acted as an oiled machine like the schemes employed in the television series Mission Impossible. 



Of course even, supreme tactician Jim Phelps occasionally had to employ contingency plan A or B.

Orlando will be debuting a new DC series.  So, he uses these novel characters as spanners in the works.


Who?

A woman warrior appears out of nowhere and decides to skewer Bones and Apokolips’ answer to Josef Mengele Mokkari.  

I can applaud the sentiment, but I don’t know who this lady is, nor where she came from.  I cannot help but think her arrival would have had more impact had it been foreshadowed in previous issues of Supergirl.

Alternately, maybe Orlando should have drew in characters already familiar to DC comics readers to act as catalysts for chaos.  The Female Furies for example would have been ideal.


They're from Apokolips.  So they have a connection to Mokkari.  Being Jack Kirby creations, they're integral to the DCU.  They've invaded Supergirl's comics before and fought her in Superman: The Animated Series.



As such, Supergirl mainly succeeds because of Supergirl herself.  Independent of any one story, Supergirl is such a powerful figure of hope and strength that you can simply ignore the disarray.  Orlando's and Houser's tale also does a good job addressing the supporting cast.


Chase is notably impressive.  It’s hilarious that Houser and Orlando should choose now to show the potential in the character: as a rebel and a genuine lover for Superman’s and Supergirl’s personal physician Dr. Shay Veritas.  Previously, Orlando equivocated her with the dim-witted SHIELD agent Maria Hill.  Not to be confused with the superior cinematic version.



The uneven issue of Supergirl will nevertheless attract Kara's fans.  She gets in some good lines and throughout lives up to the S.  It's a pleasure to see Director Bones fail completely against her and Mokkari and Bones turn on each other like the villains they are.  Series artist Robson Rocha is a plus.  We may not know who the warrior woman is, but Rocha demonstrates her tangible threat in scene after scene of close combat.



Titans exemplifies why I read comic books.  It's a perfect issue.  Whereas Supergirl's extra antagonist is a head-scratching unknown player and Exiles is just a brain-freezing glop of costumes and rubbish earths, Titans benefits from familiarity, a beautifully constructed plot and a nuanced continuity that affects the story.



The Brain and Monsieur Mallah first pitted their evil plans against the Doom Patrol.  They inherited the Titans as nemeses through their association with Changeling, the artist formerly known as Beast Boy.  Doom Patrol member Rita Farr codenamed Elasti-Girl adopted Beast Boy.  The historical Doom Patrol didn't resurface in the New 52, and Beast Boy is a rejuvenated character.  



So, writer Dan Abnett shifts the Brain, Mallah and retroactively the Brotherhood of Evil to the League's Rogues Gallery.  It remains to be seen if the Titans know the Brotherhood, but their links to the League can work quite well should Abnett choose to grant them that knowledge.

No matter.  All the elements at play in Titans began at the very start of Rebirth.  Wally West returned to the DCU.  Nobody knew him except Barry Allen and the Titans.  Rogue Amazons and a crone created Donna Troy to kill Wonder Woman.  Wonder Woman and the true Amazons instilled false memories.  When Troy encountered Speedy, Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Lillith, the founding Teen Titans members of the New 52, she believed in her connection to Wonder Woman.  Recently, Troy discovered the truth.  Worse she met a future evil incarnation.  The avatar that succeeded in fulfilling her purpose.  Troy fought against her future self and appeared to deny that reality, but the Justice League still stepped in and disbanded the Titans.  They also keep Troy under observation at the Watchtower.

Though the League precluded the Titans reuniting, the young heroes still fight crime on their own and stay in contact.  Roy Harper investigated a drug called Bliss being sold by Intergang.  During that investigation, he encounters Cheshire, a former lover.  Cheshire doses Roy with Bliss, and Roy calls Troy for help because he believes that Cheshire is actually a symptom of a greater hazard to the world.  Roy is correct.  Cheshire takes the place of Madame Rogue in the Brotherhood of Evil.  Unfortunately, Roy's accusations sound delusional.

Troy rallies Dick and Wally to help Roy.  They all think he's the victim of drug-based hallucinations.  Roy expected their reaction.  He takes them down.  Roy now hunts Cheshire which Abnett juxtaposes against the Brain's climactic upheaval that's trapped the Justice League.  This is how you do it.

The Bliss is actually not just a drug, not just a means for the Brotherhood to fill their coffers.  Abnett comes up with a genius science fiction use that allows the Brain to enact his plan.  The plan is so devious and breathtaking in scope that the Brain even fools Batman, who is probably kicking himself for not listening to Troy.


The cover to Titans depicts a snarling Troy breaking free from chains.  That's a metaphor.  What actually happens is that a rueful, polite Donna Troy--who sweetly calls Batman "Sir"--teleports to Roy's aid then proceeds to kick Cheshire's ass.  All of these brilliant twists and a guest appearance by the entire Justice League rendered in a bona fide design by Paul Pelletier, Andrew Hennessey and Adriano Lucas whose eye-popping colors signify that this is a superhero book.


Red Hood and the Outlaws has a few good moments to its credit, but mostly it’s a daft split story with Jason Todd alias the Red Hood trying to bamboozle the Penguin and Artemis attempting to help Bizarro deal with his addition to synthetic green Kryptonite.


Legendary Red Sonja once again sticks with the basics of barbarian motifs.  The three bs.  Blood, boobs and beheadings.  The boobs arise from Sonja's excellent physique lovingly sculpted by artist Rodney Buchemi.  The blood and beheadings spring from Sonja's swordplay amidst a star-crossed love that only interests Sonja because Romeo is the son of her worst enemy, and he knows of a power that will make Khulan Gath master of the world.  A fitting theme given that Sonja freed Nemo's men from a previous mini-series and became Captain of the Nautilus.  Legendary is a steampunk adventure that certainly lives up to its name.  


X-Men Red impressed me.  It's weird.  X-Men used to rely upon the most esoteric, convoluted continuity of all time.  Now, the Powers at Marvel seems to be going out of their way to set up X-Men titles that adhere only to the barest history.  They also let really good writers sink their teeth into story craft rather than aligning the books.  This isn't to say that X-Men Red, or any other new X-Men book defies past X-Men stories.  The scribes simply don't require the reader to know them.

Red started when Jean Grey attempted to telepathically poll thinkers and philosophers, men and women, to conceive a plan to broker a peace between mutants and humans.  An X-Men foe skewered the peace plan by staging a murder and framing Jean.  This necessitated Jean forming her own team for protection and rescuing a mutant named Trinary, who solves the how done it.

The current chapter opens with the telepathically shielded enemy breaching the School for Gifted Youngsters and coldly eliminating one of the only students capable of seeing her.  It's a cruelty that defines the character.  She then performs her next trick which sets up the cliffhanger.

Before that, we join Jean and her team Wolverine, her sister Honey Badger and Nightcrawler in India battling a Sentinel.


Sentinels are comfort food for neophytes to X-Men lore.  They're big honking robots designed to kill mutants.  You cannot get simpler than that.  

The Sentinel serves as the focal point for numerous story elements.  It allows Trinary to demonstrate her mutant power.  It lets readers gauge the healing factors of the sisters, which also provide humor to the tense situation.

Tom Taylor is the writer of All-New Wolverine.  Generally speaking it's an action book with themes about free will and slavery.  X-Men Red addresses identity and acceptance.

Originally, I never saw mutants as a metaphor for gays and lesbians.  They just seemed to be a cool variation of superhero.  Over time, as I've witnessed hatred for the LGBT community, and heard the bigotry, it's now very easy to see the parallels.  Taylor drives that point home with the disturbing revelation, also seen last issue.   


Jean's words not only pertain to the LGBT population but also women and minorities in general.  Rape culture in India is an extreme example of dehumanizing women, and slavery reduced people to property.  Classifying mutants as monsters redefines them as things.  All of these methods make it easier to kill, which is the ultimate goal of the racists and fascists.







Tuesday, April 10, 2018

POBB April 4, 2018

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 4, 2018
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a comic book review blog that looks at the most enjoyable and the most disappointing titles of the week.  For this posting I examine Analog the newest work from Guardians of the Galaxy writer Gerry Duggan, All-New Wolverine, Batman, The Green Hornet, The New Mutants, Red Sonja and Runaways.  If you haven’t time for the in-depth reviews, check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.


Tom King’s Batman run will go down in history as one of the most literate and entertaining.  In his latest, King reweaves archival moments from the seventy-eight year relationship of Batman and Catwoman.  


What makes this restoration so fascinating is that King chooses classic Golden Age and Silver Age vignettes as his reconstitutes.  

The Batman scribe practically uses the same dialogue.  He shifts the order of speech and the timing of the delivery to execute a different feeling and generate friction between Batman and Catwoman.  

Frequently King elicits genuine drama and humor out of innocuous material.


At the same time, he makes a joke out of reboots, soft and hard, often designated by the costumes of the characters.  For King, these are superficial changes.  The characters remain who they are despite any writer that may attempt to create an upheaval in persona or artist that tries to go completely off model.

Batman now generally speaking relies on two impressive illustrators and you may be torn over who visualizes the best Batman adventures.  The Pick of the Brown Bag recognizes that every artist has her own style, and neither artist should be compared.  This issue of Batman however makes it easy for you.  Both Joelle Jones and Mikel Janin provide the fantastic exploration of Batman and Catwoman.

Jones embellishes the present day where Selina searches for the purrfect dress for a most important turning point.


Janin takes care of the memoirs.  


The entire team create a remarkable experience for Batman fans of every generation.


Green Hornet will surprise the hell out of mystery buffs while amusing faithful Hornet buzz-seekers.  The story opens with new Green Hornet Mulan Kato and her father the classic Kato reestablishing that the city belongs to the Green Hornet.  

The Hornet is unique among heroes.  He is the only champion known to operate as a villain.  Whereas the Shadow allowed people to believe his motives were nebulous and the police hunted the Spider as if he were a crook, only the Green Hornet directly fostered the ruse that he was a gang boss that involved himself in criminal affairs for a taste of the honey.

Writer Amy Chu next segues to new Hornet cast member Clutch.  In a few strokes Chu defines the character and simultaneously reinforces Green Hornet continuity.


The reason for Mulan’s unexpected inheritance is due to the mysterious disappearance of Britt Reid.  Under Kato’s leadership the reporters of the Daily Sentinel seek information about their publisher’s whereabouts and seek to deter a hostile takeover.  


The bullpen includes Hornet staple Michael Axford and updates the roster with new investigators Tai and of course Mulan.  The ladies quickly take their lead to Turkey.


This is where mystery fans will feel that they’ve seen the story before, but an attack and a superb cliffhanger reveal throws the jaded sleuth completely off kilter.  Chu’s study in green is as entertaining and authentic as her run of Red Sonja.

For those who came in late, Red Sonja fought her arch-enemy Khulan Gath in the village of Meru.  His spell sent he and she forward in time along with a few of the Meruvians caught in the backdraft.  One of those Meruvians was a dabbler in sorcery who renamed himself Wallace.  In combat against Gath’s forces the combination of science and magic either sent Wallace and Sonja back through time or their supernaturally crafted doppelg√§ngers.  


In other words, Sonja could still be in the present riding a motorcycle and carving up drug-dealing biker gangs.  A lovely sentiment.  In any case, for all intent and purpose, Sonja and Wallace found themselves in Hades.  After a helluva battle, Sonja and Wallace now seek passage to face Gath, hopefully for the last time.


Amy Chu and Erik Burnham take Sonja back to the basics of sword and sorcery.  The three bs.  Boobs, blood and beheadings.  Except it’s really not that quite simple.  Charon’s weird sense of humor foreshadows that perhaps Sonja’s tales are about to take a thematic twist despite still being set in the Hyborean Age, or thereabouts.  


Most of Red Sonja’s stories are fairly stoic in terms of comedy.  Humor underlies the latest foray.  Sonja’s exposure to the modern world shows in her dialogue.  It's a flavor.  There's a nuance between the unexposed Sonja to the seasoned time traveling Sonja.


As to the boobs and the blood.  They’re there, thank the cosmos.  Carlos Gomez has become one of the best Sonja artists.  I’d rank him up there with Thorne, Romita Sr and John Byrne.  This is due to Gomez’s insistence on muscular proportion.  The more balanced a figure, the more attractive.  His Sonja doesn’t just look pulchritudinous.  She looks powerful.  You look at Sonja’s beauty from afar because any closer, and you’re going to lose a hand.


Series writer Tom Taylor takes All-New Wolverine into the future where Latverian terrorists meet more than their match.


That is not Laura Kinney.  Instead, Gabby, Laura’s clone sister, dons the costume.  In an outrageous moment, Gabby demonstrates her healing powers and her hilarious personality before unsheathing her spruced up claws.  So whatever happened to Laura Kinney?


Madripoor.  Marvel’s cross between Tortuga and the Pacific Islands circa World War II.  Laura Kinney’s association with Madripoor lies in her legacy.  


Logan the original Wolverine for some reason recreated himself on Madripoor as Patch, apparently a bizarre take on Rick Blaine from Casablanca.


Laura recently saved Tyger, Tyger, ruler of Madripoor, when she was once again brainwashed by arch-nemesis Kimura.  This act and no doubt heretofore future excursions put Laura in good standing with the citizenry.  So, Laura is Queen.  She’s not the only Marvel hero who rises.


Taylor elects a person that would make Donald Trump’s skin crawl, but given the way this character is written in the present day, the progression to the White House makes perfect sense.  Laura as you can see below still takes the costume out of the closet on occasion.  This occasion serves as the premise.  Laura intends to save another clone sister and kill a Marvel staple that triggers a war.



Taylor appears to be the only writer that believes the contextual Mariah Hill is worth something.  I’m not convinced.  However, she and Wolverine’s bad cop and insane cop routine to elicit information is quite entertaining.  


I don't know why Marvel decided to put a Frost Giant on the cover of The New Mutants.  Writer Matthew Rosenberg clearly wanted that to be the solution to a mystery that starts off in classic Doctor Who fashion.


See? He's clearly building up to the revelation of a Frost Giant.  That would have been surprising given The New Mutants' newfound penchant for horror.  Frost Giants are more fantasy figures in Thor mythology.  So having one in a horror story is an outlier.


Though Marvel spoils the discovery, there's still much in Rosenberg's story that entertains.  Before the New Mutants find the Frost Giant, they have a confab about their away team leader Ilyana that goes horribly wrong.


Illyana is Peter Rasputin's little sister.  I remember when she was this sweet kid that befriended Kitty Pryde.  I'm not exactly certain what happened to Illyana because I dropped out from X-Men College at an early stage.  From what I gleaned from the classes I audited here and there, some being from hell tortured Illyana.  Her personality afterward fluctuated.  Other writers straightened Illyana out or ignored the psychological torment all together, but Rosenberg straddles the middle ground.  Illyana is whole, but her experiences left her with some scars that express in an off-kilter persona.

Illyana's behavior is such a boon to this title.  She's a marvelously strange character.  Although she's not being a deadpan wit on purpose, nevertheless, that's how she comes off.  Whether suddenly conjuring uniforms or defeating the Frost Giant in a certain way that's laugh out loud funny.  Rosenberg furthermore adds an element of conspiracy to the supernatural occurrences that some may find tantalizing.  For me, it's enough to delve into the ribald way our super-powered paranormal investigators deal with the occult.



I know less about The Runaways and Power Pack than I do the X-Men.  I've always heard good things about both.   I furthermore encountered several of the characters in Avengers Academy.


Although the cover promises lesbian romance, that's not the reason why I bought the issue.  On the flip-through at the Phantom of the Attic, free plug, guys, I discovered Runaways features a special guest star that always makes a book better.  No, it's not Tigra.  I wish it were Tigra, but no.  So, his presence catalyzed the extra purchase, but is the book good enough without it?


Runaways is well-written, humorous with a strong cast.  The art is clean lifework benefitting from a gamut of color.  The characters that interested me in Avengers Academy interest me in the new title.  Although, I would have liked to seen Nico be more participatory.  The single-spell witch impressed me in the far too short run of the all-female hero A-Force.  Unfortunately, something happened to her to voluntarily negate her magic-use.


Julie Power acts more than just a girlfriend.  Her guest appearance serves to help the Runaways become a more cohesive force for good, and youngest Runaway Molly Hayes is a hoot.  Her interaction with Julie is some of the best, and I like that Julie doesn't act like a hypocrite.  She and her brothers were a super-team, facing dangerous situations.  She shouldn't curtail Molly's want for action, and she does not.


This issue of Monstro Mechanica is quite substantial.  If you haven't followed the story.  Leonardo da Vinci hired an apprentice named Isabella, and together they craft a primitive android.  This machination isn't entirely fictional.  Leonardo drew plans for an autonomous knight that modern scientists engineered.  

Leonardo's support of a female apprentice is purely the idea of writer Paul Allor.  Women were not held in such station despite the scandalous adoption of pants, which begins our chapter.

We take pants for granted, but in this day in age outside the golden site of civilization called Pittsburgh, idiots continue to force women to wear what they want.  Not what she wants.  The cretins of the world punish women for "inciting" male hormones.  Since most of these wardens of purity are men, heaven forbid they punish the males for bad behavior and lack of control.  No, that's just boys being boys.  The problem lies in women, their comeliness and slutty fashion sense.  A sincere fuck you all.


The pants are mere preamble however to the events of previous issue.  Leonardo sent Isabella and his creation to rescue a vital Vatican supporter.  Their energetic assault on the city also secured their favor in the Court of the Medicis.  This results however in Alessandro's curfew and more.


The writing filled with dark humor matches the streamlined narrative of Chris Evenhuis.  The war between the Medicis and the Vatican adds historical spice to the fiction.


Everybody wants Leonardo da Vinci to work for them, but he just wants out.  In a beautifully bittersweet scene, Leonardo voices his desires plainly.  

Isabella shows an interest in bettering herself and using her mind and body for something other than seeking out a husband and spitting out babies from her nether region.  No, there's nothing wrong with that, but that's not the be all, end all to womanhood.  Nor should it be.  Monstro Mechanica is thus a feminist story, which should come as no surprise.  Mary Shelley was a feminist.


Isabella respects Leonardo, but she also as previous issues detail prepares to thwart him if necessary.  This created an antagonistic underpinning, but it seems that the cards are all on the table for this issue.  The transparency in Isabella's hope for honest dealings instills more comedy to the affair, which is much needed since Leonardo's soldier is a blunt weapon.  It's attacks brutal and jarring in this tableau of Renaissance beauty so ably rendered.  




Analog seems a lot like That Man Bolt.  Fred Williamson portrayed a fully-bonded courier named Jefferson Bolt.  That's what ordinarily named Jack McGuinness is in Analog.  The difference lies in the setting.  

Whereas Jefferson Bolt operated in the seventies, Jack works in a future where everybody's internet secrets have been exposed.  So you get scenes with two people screwing in a car in broad daylight.  However, the setting doesn't really differentiate Bolt and Jack.  Thanks to Fred Williamson's performance as well as the more exciting execution, That Man Bolt is still better than Analog.  I may be willing to try another issue, but unless it's spectacular, I'd rather re-watch That Man Bolt.