Tuesday, September 16, 2014

POBB: September 10, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 10, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is open for business.  This week I review Captain Marvel, Copperhead, Judge Anderson and Dawn/Vampirella.

Copperhead by Jay Faerber is a science fiction western, but despite the presence of aliens, it's more western than science fiction.  The sub-genre was popularized by Joss Whedon's Firefly.  Other laudable television series like Defiance have followed in Whedon's footfalls.

With her son Zeke in tow, a new sheriff, Clara Bronson, moseys into a problem-filled town.  The genre lovers reading that line probably didn't raise an eyebrow over the implication of a female sheriff.  I'd like to say that represents a shift in culture, but it sadly doesn't.

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics 

We live in a bubble where we expect women to be equal to men.  Women as private eyes, police officers, sheriffs or leaders doesn't strike us as strange, but the reality is that women still do not even earn as much money as men when doing the same job.  Idiots in power keep trying to control their sexuality, and violence against women is considered normal even in the United States.  It's important to understand that what we read and watch is wishful thinking.  Gender equality is a must if we are to advance as a species.  We must make these fantasies a reality.  Until then, we must recognize the difference.

Faerber's depiction of primitive male behavior feels almost charming in its antiquity, but these persona are met by women everywhere, every day.

The sheriff gives the lecherous males a lesson in manners.  This as we'll seems normal, but the reality is that the average man is always stronger than the average woman.  That strength has been man's sole advantage, and too many are willing to use it.  So what this Sheriff Bronson does is quite amazing, even if it doesn't seem so.

Clara finds no help from her own men, but at least it's not due to male chauvinism.  Her alien deputy wanted the job.  So, he barely conceals his resentment.  Of course, he might not be a he to begin with.

Sheriff Bronson gets her feet wet in a domestic squabble conducted by green potatoes with a decidedly country twang...

...then meets the Big Bad of the story accompanied by perhaps the only major science fiction element. 

The purple skinned gents are known as Artificials, which raise the hairs on the back of the Sheriff's neck.  No doubt there's some bad blood there, or an homage to Ripley from the Alien films.  In any case, the Artificials don't fit the traditions or tropes of the horse opera.

Faerber's story is well-written, but it's not quite distinctive enough to necessitate a purchase for comic book fans on a budget.  His message about gender however is laudable and should be commended, even if it doesn't seem particularly special to us.  Remember.  Geeks breathe rarified air.  Artist   

Scott Godlewski's layout maximizes the action and intrigue while presenting an overall lean look that let's colorist Ron Riley's hues pop.  This area of the project provides the science fiction, with aesthetically tailored body armor and the aforementioned spuds as well as the enigmatic Artificials, but it also exemplifies the disconnect.  It's as though Faerber were writing a western and Godlewski and Riley had other ideas.

Will Judge Anderson meet her demise in the jaws of a gator? Of course not, but it makes for a good opening.  

Anderson emphasizes how unusual a fate this would have been, and it's true.  You wouldn't expect the Mega-City girl to wind up dead in the belly of a natural beast, in a swamp.  More like succumbing to multiple wounds sustained during the sanction of a criminal organization. 

Anderson and her fellow Psi-Judge, DeGroot investigate the appearance of psi-powered Mutants turning up to aid and abet at a crime scene. Psi-Judge DeGroot is Anderson's swamp-guide.  She possesses the unique ability to tap into the life force of her environment, this allows her to absorb the topography of the land in which the plant life dwells.

One of the things that makes this book worthy of your coin is the intelligence behind the story.  Writer Matt Smith immerses himself in the world of telepathy and telekinesis.  Anderson makes moves that only somebody familiar with psi-powers would make.  These tactics are still innovative and identify Anderson as an imaginative thinker.  The mind-set distinguishes our favorite Psi-Judge from your average everyday law bringer, even in her own field.

When Anderson and her fellow Judge combine forces, they find a slaughterhouse that leads to a legendary crime figure from Mega-City history.  Ashberry is the Keyser Sose of Mega-City.  Although, this fellow is very real, having encountered Anderson's erstwhile partner Dredd.

In between watching the detectives, illustrator Carl Critchlow demonstrates the exotica of the psi-realm.  These scenes could have easily drifted into the erotic, what with the traditional implication of nude astral bodies.  However the all-business attitude and Critchlow's depiction of restrained femininity keeps preserves the intent.

Joseph Michael Linsner's Dawn is part artistic mascot and part horror host.  As Linsner explains in his afterward.  He was inspired by Vampirella, who doubled as an action hero in her own adventures and the host of the B side features in her Warren magazine.

When a demon has a vision of being the father of a baby with two different colored eyes, he decides to abduct the most likely mothers: Dawn and Vampirella.  He intends to have the ladies fight it out and rape the winner; there's really no getting around that.

So at first glance there's a lot to object to in this historic meeting, but are the objections sound?  I judge no.  Obviously, the implied rape is an unsavory element, but it's supposed to be.  Dude's a demon.  They don't play nice, and it's highly unlikely he'll succeed anyway.  The threat of rape is a perfectly valid plot device because it acknowledges reality, adds suspense and gives the hero of the story a potential escape.  Linsner isn't undercutting his tale with rape-as-titilation.  He's using the threat as a logical outcome from the subject.  

Then there's the scantily clad stars, but frankly you should have known what you were getting into when you saw the ladies' names.  Vampirella and Dawn always bare skin.  They're not meant to be kiddie super-heroes.  Besides, when Linsner's drawing rather than painting, his artwork leans toward the cartoony side.  The result is burlesque not eroticism.

To preclude bloodshed, Dawn suggests that she and Vampirella hold a story-telling contest.  Though freedom isn't in the bargain.  Dawn and Vampirella face a lust-filled demon.  He's not going to play fair. The demon of course knows his captives stall for time.  He believes they cannot win. but he's willing to give the ladies hope before he crushes it.  

Linsner's Dawn Vampirella winds up being less of a riff on The Tales of the Arabian Knights, which bears much more elegance than even the common definition belies.  Linsner's tale instead is far more innocent, abrim with humor, but with the potential, however improbable, for greater brutality.

In the frame of the anthology, Vampirella and Dawn are as you expect them, but in the vignettes, they take on different roles and behave as portrayals.  In other words, they are actresses.  

The necklace is something Vampirella or Dawn might wear.  So these tales are told within the ladies'  perspective.  Through the point of view, Linsner eschews an inherent problem with unrelated flip-sides in anthologies.  The tertiary characters are seldom as interesting as the hosts.  Having Vampirella and Dawn play different parts immediately invigorates the shorts.

After the strong space adventure for the premiere, Kelly Sue DeConnick opts for an all out comedy issue pitting Captain Marvel against Rocket Raccoon over the identity of the Captain's cat.

DeConnick uses the catalyst to kick off the next antic.  Artist Marcio Takara perfectly captures the amusing gestures and body language of all parties.  You'll be done with the book in five minutes, but you'll still be glad you bought it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

POBB: September 3, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 3, 2014
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  My name is Ray Tate, and here's what I'll be reviewing today: Angel and Faith, Doctor Mirage, Futurama Comics, Justice League, Moon Knight, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Shadow vs. Grendel and Vampirella.

If you're looking for reviews of the Future's End titles, look elsewhere.  I'm not falling for DC's latest lenticular cover scam.  Any story that tackles the future in either the DC or Marvel universe, instantly becomes irrelevant.

DC will not stick to the five years established in these books.  They couldn't even adhere to a one year jump during the post-Crisis.  I'm confident that five years from now I'm going to be reading a relatively unchanged DCU.   Now, on with the critiques.

In Eric Rogers' Futurama Comics, Leela rescues a ship endangered by everybody's favorite doofus Zapp Brannigan.

The bravado earns her a promotion by President Nixon's head.  She becomes the Captain of the Nimbus.  The Out-of-work Zapp wheedles his way into the empty position at Planet Express.  So twists the status quo.

You may think that Leela will make a dynamite captain, but Rogers plausibly demonstrates that the captain's chair itself is lethal to even the most competent star pilot.  Because Leela now has access to all the troops on the Nimbus, because she doesn't actually need to go planet-side, Leela's physical health deteriorates along with her common sense.  Meanwhile, exposed to actual work Zapp generates a gray cell.

The reversal of fortune is smart and funny, with enough room for some terrific character moments and apropos guest appearances.  Simultaneously, artists John Lloyd, Andrew Pepoy and Nathan Hamill produce a cosmic backdrop that's quite beautiful and unexpected for a funny book.

I've had a love/hate relationship with Geoff Johns.  He debuted with Stars and STRIPE, a stark, zippy contrast to a dark, repellent DC universe.  Soon after, I loathed Johns' stories.  His Justice Society kept getting worse and worse until it hit rock bottom with consistent sexism.  

At the denouement of the post-Crisis, Johns' writing was mostly incomprehensible.  That just may have had something to do with the source material.  No writer could really pull out anything good from the morass without softly rebooting: Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke on Catwoman for example.  Johns appeared to return to his roots with the advent of the new 52, and this issue of Justice League exemplifies the skill I once credited Johns with.  

Johns offers a superb follow up to his opening chapters of Justice League.  Previously, he reintroduced the Doom Patrol and shook up the traditional roster with the surprise additions of Lex Luthor and Captain Cold.  Lex furthermore discovered Batman's secret identity, and the parasitic Power Ring from the Crime Syndicate's universe took over another host.

Johns pulls a sleight of hand with the current issue.  He appears to concentrate on the measuring contest between Lex Luthor and Niles Caulder.  With the dialogue, he identifies neither as a good person, but Lex might be the lesser of two evils.

The duel and the background battles pitting Justice League against the Doom Patrol are actually smoke screens for the moving characterization of Batman.  If you look closely, he's in the background, inexorably nearing his target.

Kudos must also be given to artist Doug Mahnke whose timing in the scenes with Batman and Jessica is tantamount.

Scooby-Doo and the Gang team-up with the Super-Friends.  Writer Sholly Fisch generates the most plausible circumstances to explain the partnership between The World's Greatest Super-Heroes and the Mystery Machine.  Due to Fisch's masterful plotting we also get a terrific Supergirl cameo, gorgeously illustrated by artist Dario Brizuela.

The tale takes several ingenious turns all based on classic and well known DC continuity.  One such twist inventively exploits stupid post-Crisis amendments.  The result brilliantly transforms the perpetually petrified Shaggy and Scooby into heroes.  The camaraderie of both teams underpins the story, and the persona based jokes are as funny as those arising from the plotting.  Notable in respect.  Daphne chiding Fred, and Velma outwitting a legion of baddies.

Dr. Mirage returns to comics with a new number one and a new gender.  Written by Jen Van Meter, the book is a pleasant surprise.  You don't need to know anything about the previous Dr. Mirage to enjoy this one.  I knew of the character, but not the specifics.  

Van Meter introduces Shan, Dr. Mirage, as a psychic, occult investigator.  Now, I have a low tolerance for psychics, what with their not existing.  However, Van Meter infuses the concept correctly.  It's not just that Dr. Mirage is a psychic.  She's a psychic in a world that's tilted toward the supernatural.  So there's context.

Dr. Mirage distinguishes herself by connecting with the dead.  It's a classic flimflam, but Dr. Mirage is for real.  She differs from the con-men in several ways.  She uses no psychometry or seance.  It's not a performance, and she doesn't charge the desperate.  She simply concentrates and finds the ghosts to give the survivors peace of mind.  

Van Meter conceives of a poetic Achilles Heel for the new Dr. Mirage.  She can contact the dead, but not her dead husband Hwen.  Every time she engages, it serves as a reminder of her loss.  She's never happy doing these small favors.  She never can take pleasure in her good deeds.  The limitation grants Dr. Mirage grand pathos.

After the introduction where we also meet Shan's aide Leo, Van meter employs our heroine for a more lucrative project.  Working odd occult jobs for those that can afford her services is Dr. Mirage's bread and butter.  The monetary element pushes Dr. Mirage away from the super-hero field.  She instead seems more like an adventurer, and gives the book a classic comic strip feel.

The well-written premiere with rich, informative dialogue establishes a strong female hero in a realistic plot that's invaded by the unknown.  The schism between the two worlds is better defined by the artwork of Roberto De La Torre.  At times, his illustration recalls that of Jim Holdaway of Modesty Blaise fame. 

 Anybody familiar with my reviews knows that's a good thing.

Angel and Faith split the issue.  Angel gets his butt handed to him by a landlubbing gill-man named Catfish Bob.  He's rescued by old Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Amy Madison, who had the misfortune of turning herself into a rat.  In the comic book Amy joined a team of also-rans to fight the Slayer.  She may swing both ways in Angel and Faith.  I mean of course the pendulum between good and evil.

Faith quit Deepscan, former Slayers now operating as private contractors, but another Buffy ally Riley Finn disappeared into the jungle to look for his wife Samantha, also introduced on the series.  Faith owes Riley, so she postpones her resignation.

Writer Vincent Gischler has an excellent handle on these characters and artist Will Conrad returns to keep the photorealism to an all-time high.

Nancy Collins opens Vampirella with some old fashioned narration that details what Patrick Berkenkotter's art design cannot capture.  

Collins' words sound as if they're coming from her latest novel, and that injects depth to the horror comic book.

The every man follows an obvious lure to his doom, and in the climax of death Collins lets Berkenkotter's art do the startling with the visual of Vampirella's latest target, the  Scylla from Greek myth.

Vampirella, or Ella as Collins nicknames her, must hunt down specific vampires and feed from their blood in order to prevent her possession by evil goddess Umbra, represented by the crescent brand on her breast.

Ella reconnoiters on the beach where her natural beauty attracts an admirer and guide.  

Vampirella is one of the few vampires in literature that isn't bothered by sunlight.  In fact she tends to bask in it.  The idea of sunlight incinerating a vampire is pure Hollywood myth.  However, vampires were traditionally depicted as "lethargic" in the day time.  Oh, and for the record, decapitation always works.  Staking is also very popular in folklore, but depending on the culture, the practice is frequently tree-specific.

Vampirella ends up being a straight forward affair in which Collins continues to solidify Ella's characterization through contrast against scenes where Umbra appears to usurp and her Nostferatu benefactor Drago exhibits humorous pragmatism.

Collins is such a good writer and Berkenkotter such a craftsman that you really don't need much more for your enjoyment.  However Collins provides a nice twist at the climax that's full of dark comedy and modern context.

In the late 1980s, Matt Wagner created Grendel, a master criminal with a reincarnated essence.  Grendel is best known as Hunter Rose.  He's as charismatic and as knowledgable as Patricia Highsmith's Ripley and as much of a bloody psychopath as Leatherface, although he uses a more elegant weapon than a chainsaw.

The Grendel returns after a long absence to face the Shadow.  After acquiring an ancient urn and reading the incantation on a parchment, Hunter Rose travels back to the time of The Shadow.  His timing is impeccable.

Needless to say, Grendel intends to fill this vacuum, no matter how much the imposition damages history.  To get to the top however will require Rose to step over The Shadow's corpse.  He'll find that a little easier imagined than managed.

While Wagner's Shadow is darkly poetic in his crusade against crime, he's a little too robotically portrayed outside the arena.  Even when play acting as Lamont Cranston, the Shadow is one-dimensional.  This seems to be an obvious conceit that allows Wagner to explore The Shadow's relationship with Margo Lane.

I don't like to compare writers with different styles approaching the same character, but Wagner's interpretation of the Margo Lane/Shadow relationship just seems completely off.  His Shadow is also somewhat one-dimensional.

Ron Marz a few weeks ago portrayed the Shadow and Margo as an ideal team in The Shadow Over Innsmouth.  The Shadow also appeared to have fun violently debunking the Deep Ones.  Gerard Jones in The Shadow Strikes presented the Shadow with all the depth Walter B. Gibson imbued, and he can take even greater pride with his characterization of Margo Lane.  Gibson never liked dealing with Margo Lane.  She was a character from the radio show foisted upon him.  Jones turned her into a willing compatriot who gladly took part in the Shadow's crusade, perhaps for atonement.  Jones hinted that Margo was tainted somehow, and the Shadow protected her secrets.

I find Wagner's treatment of Margo a little patronizing.  All of the Shadow's agents were loyal because they believed in what the Shadow accomplished.  A Shadow agent seeking a life outside the work is almost sacrilegious.  The Shadow did not pressure his agents.  If we take the words of the Shadow spoken to Harry Vincent as a motif in the pattern, we see willful obedience in exchange for a higher purpose:

Moon Knight marks Brian Wood's debut as writer.  For the most part, he does a fairly solid imitation of Warren Ellis, just as well as Greg Smallwood standing in for Declan Shalvey.  You'll notice the difference quickly.  Wood's Moon Knight is chattier, and Wood is less likely to let Smallwood's artwork do the talking.  Ellis choreographed a near wordless issue for Shalvey to spotlight; don't bother looking for the review.  It was impossible to critique.  It's not that Wood's Moon Knight is bad.  Far from it.  It's just not different enough.  Ellis and Shalvey produced something really unique.

Monday, September 1, 2014

POBB: August 27, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 27 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag this week reviews All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman/Superman, Doctor Who, Flash Gordon.  I'll also say a few words about Baltimore and Justice League Dark.  In addition, I'll look at the new movie November Man.

In the last issue of Doctor Who.  We met Gabriella, the new companion, who worked as a waitress at her domineering father's restaurant and watched over his new enterprise a coin-operated laundry.  The laundromat unfortunately became the center of an alien incursion, and strange things began to happen. This attracted the Doctor.  Last issue ended with an impressive steely resolve.

Ooooo.  Chilling? No.  Unfortunately, writer Nick Abadzis doesn't follow through.  Instead, he starts doing--I can't really describe it.

That's really ridiculous.  I get that Abadzis was trying to keep the Doctor peaceful, but it's the wrong direction.  The Doctor tries to be a pacifist, but he's not.  The universe won't let him.

"No.  The Question is what do you make of me.  You make me into this."

In every incarnation, The Doctor always made credible threats and backed them up with action.

"You want dominion over the living, yet all you do is kill!"

If he didn't, the universe would be Dalek.  So, it's a massive let down when Abadzis tries to be saccharine twee after he set up the promise of a great Doctor moment.  It's not dark when the Doctor fights.  It's heroic.  There's a difference.  Abadzis could have had the Doctor attempt to disrupt the thing's psychic hold with his sonic screwdriver as an explanation.  That's more Doctorish.  It also makes more sense. 

I mean Abadzis' is quite willing to play up the Doctor being catnip to imaginative girls; gaining companions he does not wish to endanger.  He still feels guilt over having to take away Donna's memories.  So we can have angst but not power? Feh.

The story perks up when the Doctor inevitably gives in to Gabriella's inquisitiveness, and he introduces her to an interesting idea.

Abadzis' Pranavores are an intriguing creation, and they fit in with the mechanisms of the Doctor Who universe.  In Doctor Who, telepathy is an uncommon trait in humans, but it does exist.  So, the concept of another species subsisting on an empathic plain and developing a natural history maintains the science fiction.

Further investigation reveals a connection between the Pranavores and the invading species.  Finally, Abadzis' Doctor shows some spine.

On the whole, despite my reservations, this is a good issue of Doctor Who, primarily due to the bond quickly but plausibly cemented between the Doctor and Gabriella.  Abadzis monsters are imaginative, and the references to the Shadow Proclamation and the first Doctor episode "The Aztecs" gives the Doctor a sense of inner continuity that's welcome.  However, it could have been a great Doctor Who comic book had Abadzis delivered in that opening scene.

Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Doctor Zarkov travel through the interplanetary territories held by Ming the Merciless.  Their destination.  Sky World.  Home of the hawk people.

At first this issue of Flash Gordon just seemed to be a valid homage to the pulps.  The trio have a close encounter with a space type amoeba.  That sort of thing happened before in such periodicals as Astounding Science Fiction and Amazing Stories.  This is what makes the meeting unique.

As presented the space creature wouldn't be very difficult to enslave, but why waste the time? The cow-like intelligences appear mostly harmless.  Only a complete megalomaniac would bother, and that's Ming in a nutshell.  I imagine he wasted his limitless resources to capture and alter every one of the poor things.  Parker's scene thus works two-fold.  One, the scenario alludes to the heyday of pulp.  Two, it characterizes Ming as completely bonkers.

When our trio find their way to Sky World, things get somewhat better before Flash and Zarkov succumb to a more sophisticated version of another pulp staple. 

No.  It's not Cop Rock.  Though Flash's refrain could be a sly reference to Queen's theme song for the Dino De Laurentiis movie.

Parker updates the motifs of yore while dignifying them in a modern context.  While doing so, he loses none of the resonance that this imagery originally possessed.  At the same time, he chisels out his versions of the comic strip characters, turning them into likable figures that fit within our reality while still tethered to the source material of Alex Raymond. Flash Gordon doesn't disappoint.  Instead, it surprises and with artist Evan Shaner's strong illustration conveys a sense of wonder.

Aquaman is a book-length duel pitting our title hero against Chimera, the composite villain that comprises one deep sea diver and the deadliest forms of sea-life.  Add a heady mix of megalomania and delusion, and you have a menace that's tailor-made for Aquaman.

Writer Jeff Parker choreographs the entire enterprise and includes neat facts about sea dwellers.  For instance, electrified animals cannot avoid shocking themselves along with their prey.  So when Chimera uses that power, biological fact comes into play.  It also explains why he doesn't use that ploy all the time.

With such a great knock-down drag out fight you better have a good artist to manifest the ferocity.  Fortunately regular artist Paul Pelletier--hmmm, appears nowhere to be found.  Uh-oh.

Not to worry.  Carlos Rodriguez substitutes admirably.  He combines an excellent grasp of anatomy, action and monster illustration all in one inviting package.

Gregg Pak returns a neo-classic villain to the new 52.  Satanus debuts in the still freshly minted DCU. He's not happy about Kaiyo operating on his turf.

Pak really surprised me by making Kaiyo a recurring antagonist.  I assumed wrongly that she was just a means to an ends.  I should have known better.  You give a villain a New Gods background, she's bound to return.

Pak positions Kaiyo as DC's Loki.  Previously, in the debut of Batman/Superman she introduced the heroes to their counterparts on earth-two.  She did this to prepare them for Darkseid's arrival, with the hope that the world's best team would end the evil lord once and for all. 

Unimpressed by Superman's and Batman's five year camaraderie, which Kaiyo feels made them soft, she wiped out the heroes' memories for laughs.  This issue plops them into unfamiliar territory.

Catwoman must know who Superman is, if only by reputation.  Batman/Superman likely takes place before the events of Forever Evil, or perhaps Catwoman, a trickster in her own right, merely decides to have some fun with the situation.  She's not the only one.

Scarecrow finds himself worse off with this blank slate Batman.  Nothing seems to faze him, and he has the reflexes of the experienced detective.

Amnesia is a plot device that was old the moment it was conceived.  However, Pak and artist Jae Lee, use it almost in parody.  As a result the reader enjoys some hilarious scenes generated by Batman and Superman.  Renewed by fresh possibilities, our heroes just might be inclined to sway even farther away from the path that Kaiyo wants them to take.  With guest-stars Catwoman and Lois Lane in good voice, this story can only get juicier.  

Jonah Hex didn't lose his memory.  He lost his scars and while he was away in the future, he lost his identity.  This issue Hex reclaims what is his and abandons baggage he no longer needs.

Throughout the series, Gray and Palmiotti insisted that Jonah Hex was more than just a mercenary, which is how I saw him pre-Crisis and post-Crisis.  As soon as Hex arrived in Gotham City, they framed him as a man of the law.  They suggested bounty hunting was as valid a profession as private investigator without losing the harder edge of Sergio Leone styled films.  

With the reintroduction of Tallulah Black to Hex's life, Palmiotti and Gray created a contrast to Hex.  Tallulah was even more pragmatic than Hex, who kept demonstrating compassion and altruism when you least expected it.  Tallulah still possessed these qualities just in lesser degrees.  These satisfying portrayals kept me coming back for more and made me question how I judged Jonah Hex.

The final issue of All Star Western doesn't play at all like you think it will.  The presence of artist Darwyn Cooke at his most inviting and playful changes the atmosphere.

Cooke can do dark work.  This is evident in his Klan-era set John Henry vignette for The New Frontier, but he's most at home among the pulps and lighter fare.  Here, Cooke turns the tropes of the spaghetti western into an optimistic tableau.  The mood shifts believably and draws upon the multiple facets of the bounty hunters' personalities.

Some may balk at Cooke's feminization of Tallulah Black.  Never has a scarred woman looked so inviting.  He also emphasizes Hex's new good looks.  I see Cooke's romanticism of the couple as a brilliant coda.  They're Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman acting their hearts out in roles they really have no business assuming.  

Cooke's ideal of the duo doesn't invalidate the past rougher art of Moritat and Staz Johnson.  Instead, Cooke presents the two lovers as they see each other.  Cooke's illustration makes the ending to All Star Western even more inevitable.

The termination of Jonah Hex was predicated long before the new 52, and Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray saw that as a challenge.  In the final issue of All-Star Western, they preserve the future created by others and simultaneously give the gunslingers their just desserts.  The last roundup of All Star Western is a perfect, unforeseen yet elegantly foreshadowed conclusion exemplifying writing, specifically in a shared world, at its finest.

Justice League Dark is a little too chatty for my tastes.  Boston Brand finds himself living and breathing in Nanda Parbat, which to any reader of Deadman's adventures is old news.  Meanwhile, the Justice League finds themselves magically bound by a nasty creature called Pantheon who comprises a lot of old evil gods.  In DeMatteis' favor, he includes a lovely scene with a young Boston Brand being groomed for his role as Deadman.  I never expected something so soft and sweet to come out of DeMatteis' metaphysically inclined pen.  Also, artist Andres Guinaldo, though no Michael Janin, cuts loose with Swamp Thing's shape-shifting ability.  Not a terrible issue, but it's too often bogged down by needless verbiage.

No complaints about Baltimore the Witch of Harju.   I just can't review it since it hinges on the shock of monsters where you least expect them.  Last issue, Lord Baltimore and his entourage took down a zombified domestic abuser and took in the victim who told the story of a demonic cat.  There's more than meets the eye in this story.  It's not about zombies, and the inclusion of Harish, a cool Sikh character is reminiscent of Ram Singh from the Spider.

The Saturday Afternoon Matinee

This week I went to see The November Man.  Pierce Brosnan was my favorite James Bond.  I still miss him.  He combined heroism with lethality.  So, when I discovered somebody did a brilliant thing and cast James Bond as a spy, I had to see the result.

Brosnan has lost none of his acting or action chops.  He brings a sense of authenticity to Peter Devereux, a character created by late Edgar Award winning author Bill Granger in a series of novels.  

Devereux is a retired spy dragged back into the arena out of loyalty to a friend.  He quickly uncovers political machinations that catalyze a series of assassinations.  What I really loved about the story, apart from the depth of characterization planted squarely amidst a high body count, was how the screen writers updated the events and the technology.  

Granger wrote the Devereux books in the eighties.  Well, the Cold War thawed.  The script writers however conceive a heinous trigger that suits the geopolitical world that we live in now.  Technology has also been updated.  Drones for example appear in a pivotal scene.  None of this however stymies Devereux who is simply smarter than all of his opponents and willing to kill without hesitation.  He's not a fish out of water.  He adapts like an evolutionary survivor.

A brilliant cast supports Brosnan.  Olga Kurylenko whom I have only heard of and seen in photos is a revelation.  Newcomer Luke Bracey demonstrates remarkable skill at his craft.  Veteran performer Bill Smirtovitch is terrific as Devereux's far from stereotypical old spy friend.  

November Man succeeds as the James Bond film that Pierce Brosnan always wanted to do.  It's gritty.  It shadows the romance of the spy.  It never the less gives us a bona fide hero to root for.