Tuesday, April 14, 2015

POBB: April 8, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 8, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  Because of DC’s Convergence, which after this sentence I will be totally ignoring, I don’t have a lot of comic books to review this week, but is it quality over quantity? Read on as I examine Avengers Millennium, Howard the Duck, Legendary: Green Hornet, the first issue of The Masks sequel, Southern Cross, Spider-Woman, the final issue of the insanely entertaining Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes and Vampirella.

You know before that trailer, you know the one, I doubted Marvel would be able to pull off The Guardians of the Galaxy, but after the trailer, like everybody else online, and not, I became a fan.  That said.  I’m not a Brian Michael Bendis fan.  So I’ve been avoiding the comic book as well as the team-up title, until last week.  John Layman wrote the most recent issue of Guardians of the Galaxy Team-Up, and it was pretty entertaining. 

I can’t say that I’m a huge Duck follower.  In general.  I mean I like Daffy Duck, and Donald Duck had his moments, but the whole Carl Barks type Duckworld thing wasn’t my bag.  Howard the Duck seemed like a parody of that, but it wasn’t.  Arguably, Frank Brunner created the template for Howard the Duck in Quack magazine…

…but he hasn’t objected to Steve Gerber getting the credit.  So why should I?  Besides, Gerber made Howard the Duck the weird little waddler he was, and it’s why I rarely ever picked up an issue of Howard the Duck.  Anyway.  The Guardians’ guest appearance are the only reason I’m trying the new Howard the Duck title by writer Chris Zdarsky and illustrators Joe Quinones, Joe Rivera and Rico Renzi.

Rocket represents most of the Guardians action, but the entire team makes a destructive entrance later in the story.  The book’s frequently funny and uniformly goofy.  Exactly as I remember the scant issues of Howard the Duck I read.  So, yeah, if you’re a fan of this mallard, you’ll feel right at home.  If you dig the Guardians of the Galaxy, read on.  The art’s also very inviting.

Howard the Duck is a private eye in the series, but a more serious yet still fun look at a detective/superhero can be found in Spider-Woman.

In her previous book from the seventies, Jessica Drew was uber cool in demeanor, and that’s what we get here from writer Dennis Hopeless.  Jessica questions the Porcupine.  She ignores his jabs at her character.  She goes on the hunt for information through encounters with other likely suspects.

Her foray leads to hilarious heists that blow back in the faces of D-List villains and Spider-Woman action.  Ben Urich joins in on Spider-Woman’s investigation, and that’s only fair since he put her on the trail in the first place.

When the smoke clears on a fiendish trap, Spider-Woman weaves the perfect intrigue to find the culprits and ready the kibosh on a far-reaching scheme.  Jessica rightly deduces that the penny-ante crimes cannot be the ultimate goal.

As you can see the artwork is just stunning with marvelous cinematography  that hearkens back to the Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade era of detective film.  Even if one puts aside the clear allusions, Javier Rodriguez just makes Jess beautiful and brassy and every panel exciting.

The Southern Cross is a massive spacecraft built like the offspring of a luxury liner and a battleship.  It punches through wormholes to travel the stars and make ports of call to other planets.  Miners of the Zemi Corporation are the natural inhabitants of the leviathan, but the Captain also ferries passengers outside of corporate affairs.  Alex is one such passenger.

Alex seeks answers to her sister's death, ruled accidental, and she's not alone in her suspicions.  A true detective is also on board.  Make that was.

Becky Cloonan's mystery thickens with this new disappearance, a suicide in the past and a riveting investigation that could fit snugly into a crime story from 1930s onward.  

The dance steps by artists Andrew Belanger and Lee Louridge are new, but the gist is still the same.  Question persons of interest.  Follow the leads.  Hunt for information, and in the case of Cloonan create a cast of unusual characters and a sharp-eyed sleuth.

Oh, it’s a weekly.  All right then.  Avengers Milliennium this week sends two away teams back in time.  The teams unfortunately experience time/space turbulence that splits them into three.  

Captain America, Hawkeye and Quicksilver end up in the prehistoric past.  Iron Man, Spider-Man and Black Widow hit World War II while the Hulk and Scarlet Witch wind up in a desiccated future.  The reason why the future isn’t so bright?  Hydra.

The overarching plot still remains a mystery, but writer Mike Costa heightens the funny, straight out the gate.

Spider-Man and Hawkeye serve a dual role this issue.  In the debut they behaved like the team jackasses; I think it was John Byrne who deemed that every team needs at least one jackass to stir things up.  This issue they behave like jackasses and contribute to the plot.  Hawkeye figures out the reason why Hydra sent a mcguffin back in time.

Spider-Man meanwhile…

Spidey may be commenting on more recent journeys through time and space, but I’d like to think Costa refers to this seminal highly recommended three or four issue story spanning Marvel Team-Up.

Spider-Man learned a valuable lesson at the end of that tale.  Maybe that lesson informs his advice to Captain America.

When the team travel through time, the lion’s share of the hi-jinks happen amid the Holocene.  So that dinosaur on the cover is a total fake out.  

Maybe it’s a previously unknown mammal with mange.   In any case, the heroes tip-toe in their battle against Hydra so as not to greatly disturb the flora and fauna around them.  This added theme of not stepping on the butterflies generates some great wow moments for Captain America, and makes Avengers Millennium a must for Cap fans.

I have a great deal of love for Cullen Bunn's writing.  He gave me scenes like this....

...and this...

Unfortunately his latest, the sequel to the entertaining Masks leaves much to be desired for.  The trouble lies in Cullen Bunn's characterization of the heroes, licensed by Dynamite and legendary in pulp circles.

The story opens with the Shadow and the Green Hornet decimating the forces of skull-masked goons with terrorism on their minds.

Cullen Bunn's personae for the Green Hornet and Kato is the only facet of the story that rings true.  The Hornet and Kato work as a well-oiled team.  With gas guns, hornet stings as well as martial arts action they behave like the champions of old.  

The rest of Bunn's cast act like different heroes only wearing the forms of the Pulps.  Bunn's Shadow is especially way off the charts.  In Masks 2 Electric Boogaloo, the Shadow behaves like Spider-Man and the Punisher all in one.

The Shadow was lethal, of that you can be sure, but in this story he exhibits no subtlety.  You can argue that this confrontation with the skull flunkies of The Red Death represents the finish to the case.  In other words, the Shadow's agents already contributed to the puzzles and the overall investigation leading to this denouement, but there's still something off about it.

The Shadow was never so acrobatic.  He instead used the darkness and stillness to his advantage.   A more Shadowy move would be to let the gas seem to overcome him, laugh mirthlessly and appear to fade with the mist.  Thereby leaving his comrades dumbfounded.   The Shadow was enigmatic, doing things eerily and stealthily.  That was part of the Shadow's mystique.  You never really learned exactly who or what he was or how he came to be.  Furthermore, Bunn's Shadow keeps spouting only the aphorisms he's known for.  

I'm sorry to say that Bunn's Shadow is a parody of the complex exterminator of crime that for all intent and purpose was created by William B. Gibson.

The Shadow's not the only hero out of sorts.  The Black Terror is a dead ringer for Superman, and if you needed any proof, this scene is the clincher.

The sonic-boom handclap is a Superman move.  When the Green Lama arrives, he mimics the time traveling, planar distancing of Dr. Fate.  The Spider is the calmest I've ever seen him.  He's not maniacally killing anybody.  

Bunn’s Spider could be anybody including Aquaman from the Super-Friends to Zebra Man.   Only Lady Satan gets a pass because she's so obscure in comic book history that she may as well be a blank slate.  Bunn assumes a taint of evil.  So she's a bit more risqué than Miss Mask for example.

Bunn segues to a one-percent masquerade, and predictably, the heroes go as themselves.  That also strikes me as very odd.  The Green Hornet and Kato, yes.  The Shadow no.  The Shadow would likely attend as Lamont Cranston, in a domino mask or such.  Cranston is the Shadow's go-to guise for ritzy affairs.  Alternately, he might delegate that task to the Hornet and have him report later.

Although Bunn's Hornet is well characterized, the Green Hornet makes his best showing this week in the world of Legendary.  I missed the second issue so this will be a dual review.

In the second issue, The Hornet captured two gang lords for questioning, and the Hornet employs a special technique for rooting out the truth.

This hilarious moment leads to the Hornet and Kato searching for a Steampunk refugee from Oz.  The trouble is that the Hornet and Kato underestimate their foe.

The conclusion of the second issue leads to the Green Hornet's and Kato's thrilling escape.  Also in the third issue, our heroes meet the orchestrator of the marionette show.

No, not him.  

That's right.  It's the old tougher vigilante wants to replace the inefficient softer crimefighter game, but the Brass Hornet listens to reason.

Both the second and the third issue despite being Steampunk in the Legendary Universe conceived by Bill Williamson, feel like authentic Green Hornet adventures.  Writer Daryl Gregory and artist Brent Peeples infuse the Hornet with the energy and cut to the bone plotting to mimic the half-hour kinetics of the television series.  Gregory also imbues a strong sense of humor to the relationship of Green Hornet and Kato.  They seem even more like equals in this series, and that leads to added fun.

Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes ends on a really high note.  This is easily the best from the Tiptons, and discovery Rachael Stott should be the natural choice for future original series Star Trek material.  Her dead accurate and animated likenesses of William Shatner, James Doohan and the late great Leonard Nimoy as well as John Colicos on the Klingon side and apes Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans made this head-scratcher of a mashup a visual feast.  Even if the story hadn't been up to snuff, no worries there, the art alone would have made Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes a must purchase.

The Klingons invaded the alternate timeline of The Planet of the Apes for no real reason except this...

...Kirk totally doped out he situation, and all through this wonderfully nutty fan fiction, there's been this underlying question of why do it.  It turns out that while the Planet of the Apes have zero impact on the world of Star Trek, it's Star Trek that brilliantly fills the blanks in The Planet of the Apes movies.

Last but not least, Nancy Collins firmly roots Vampirella in her cosmology of Biblical myth.  She reveals Vampirella's father this issue and brings back her sister Draculina, most recently seen in Vampirella Feary Tales.  However, Collins is a student of Vampirella history.  Though a throwaway character never again seen until Nancy Collins resurrected her, Draculina appeared as narrator in Vampirella's historical second adventure.  She was basically the cut-to-the-chase girl.

Collins turns Draculina into an envious antagonist, leaving Patrick Berkenkotter the leave to choreograph a sexy cat-fight...

...which you'll have to look elsewhere for because despite Vampirella and Draculina wearing straps and boots for costumes, Berkenkotter eschews prurience for an outright hateful, disturbing battle between rivals.

I'm still not overly thrilled by the Biblical allegory in Vampirella.  I prefer her as a simple little ol' alien vampire from the planet Drakulon, but Collins is so imaginative when twisting The Bible so that it exists side by side with science and evolution that I really cannot complain.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

POBB: April 1, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 1, 2015
Ray Tate

No fooling.  This week, I study Avengers Millennium, Batman and Robin, Doctor Who, Guardians Team-Up, Hellboy and the BPRD and Spider-Gwen.  I'll also review new movie Furious 7.

In the third issue of Spider-Gwen, there’s a lot of hitting.  

Not just the Vulture, but also this big bloke…

Oh, yeah.  Spider-Gwen is feminist beyond the hilt, and it’s feminist in the superhero way.

I think this is the secret of Spider-Gwen’s success.  Seeing Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy succumb to gravity emphasized how a comic book fixed point can screw up even only marginally related pop culture touchstones.

The filmmakers behind The Amazing Spider-Man built Gwen Stacy up from mere smart, bombshell girlfriend of Peter Parker to confidant and certifiable genius.  She had a future in London, where the third movie should have been set.

All that achievement didn’t matter.  A shoe-horned Green Goblin still drops Gwen from a great height, where Spider-Man still inadvertently breaks her neck.  Oh, that is after the brain trust suggest Gwen may escape her comic book fate.

Spider-Gwen is revenge.  Plain and simple.  Not against Gerry Conway but against the sphincters that made the Amazing Spider-Man sequel such a bitter pill to swallow.

This Gwen Stacy is a different sort of beastie.  This Gwen Stacy punches the crap out of anybody that gets in her way.   The “Yeah, that’s right…I’m 'just' a girl.” comment is so perfect because it addresses the poor idea that women are disposable, which is at the very heart of the damsel in distress chestnut and in reality the seedy little secret beneath real life gender inequality.  Spider-Gwen struck a nerve.

Avengers Millennium has one foot in Marvel movie continuity and a toe in Marvel comic book continuity.  That's mostly a good thing.  The story begins with Quicksilver racing across the world to Avengers Tower.

He and his sister Scarlet Witch discovered a Hydra base, but despite it being practically empty, Wanda senses something peculiar.

Over the years, Marvel has been manipulating their continuity to reflect the more successful and acceptable Marvel movie continuity.  The Civil War for example which created the most upheaval has long been forgotten, literally by its two most ardent supporters.  Iron Man rebooted his memory, and his dilettante lieutenant Captain Marvel lost hers.  Without their memories they are essentially innocent parties.  That said.  I get the feeling that in this book's implied history, The Civil War never happened.

Avengers Millennium isn't totally continuity free, but it is user friendly.  In fact those missing the all-ages Marvel Adventures line from Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin will feel right at home.  

Quicksilver doesn't have that obsessive fading borderline sick relationship with his sister.  Sure, they went on vacation together, but their trip was entirely innocuous and places them neatly on the scene.

Spider-Man is already a member of the Avengers, but we're unlikely to see him amongst the team until the third film.  Iron Man sounds a lot like Robert Downey Jr.  On the other hand, Hawkeye does not reflect Jeremy Renner's performance.  

Captain America doesn't quite mirror the sincere performance of Chris Evans.  Rather, he's the most Marvel comic books of the group, yet this is Steve Rogers and not as an old man.  The Hulk is a trusted member of the team, but his alter-ego doesn't resemble Mark Ruffalo.  Black Widow unfortunately gets little time to develop in the book.  You now cannot imagine anybody but Scarlet Johansson portraying the Black Widow.

In any case, Avengers Millennium is a mostly pleasant experience with the heroes investigating a tantalizing mystery, and Hydra entering the lot of loser villains in the traditional green robes.  The comedy mostly works, and the payoff looks promising.  The various illustrators offer a decent aesthetic; though it won't be for everybody.

Otto Schmidt’s art in Guardians of the Galaxy is likely to be the tipping point.  I like it.  Angular, lending toward the illusion of animation, with a sense of humor expressing in the faces of even the aliens.

Schmidt also exhibits a great sense of scale evident in the scenes where She-Hulk stands among normal people and Hulks Out to even greater pulchritude.

John Layman’s story is an entertaining no-brainer of mixing green with green.  He employs the current She-Hulk template; thus you get scenes of She-Hulk operating as a lawyer with Angie, her monkey-loving paralegal assistant.  Layman’s Gamora exhibits remarkable depth as an assassin looking for Xena-like redemption.  

The change of dance partners and the nonjudgemental tones also add to the reading pleasure of the done-in-one partnership.

My favorite version of the Doctor makes his comic series debut.  Writer Cavan Scott captures the look, sound and feel of Christopher Eccleston's Doctor.  Artist Blair Shedd offers an excellent likeness of Eccleston, John Barrowman and Billie Piper.  More than that.  The creative team bottles the energy of those early episodes.  The Doctor’s first word in the series and the theme of revamped Doctor Who was and always shall be “Run.”

Writer Scott draws upon the idea of time and space being jarred by the Time War; a feeling that has unfortunately largely dissipated.   Admittedly though that could have grown tiresome, but it’s nice for the Doctor to materialize somewhere and recognize something wrong with history.

In this case, the Doctor’s appearance coincides with two antagonistic forces, and that means trouble for the TARDIS crew.  Exciting, accurate and impressive.  Even more so than the regular Doctor Who comic book series.

Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin Annual is just plain good.  It’s so good that you forget that Batman isn’t out of his element in space.  I mean he’s on the Justice League satellite, for pity’s sake.  His time in space easily matches his time fighting crime on earth.

Tomasi just dispensed with Robin’s powerful resurrection in the regular issues of the series, yet this book just feels special.  It’s Batman and Robin on the moon, fighting off an alien invasion and simultaneously bonding as father and son.

Tomasi creates this bizarre sense of family.  As if Batman’s life is completely normal.  He has a son.  He has a dog.  He just on occasion destroys invading alien lifeforms with his son and his dog.

DC didn’t skimp on the artwork either.  Juan Ryp returns to the Batman Family.  Ryp illustrated a phenomenal Batgirl in The Birds of Prey.  In the Batman and Robin Annual, he weaves a potent narrative in which a badass Batman in perfect proportion with a boisterous Robin and a hilariously friendly Titus trash imaginative aliens.

Any thoughts that Mike Mignola may have grown tired of Hellboy vanish in this book.  We opened with a monster that turned out to be a twist on Scooby-Doo.  That wasn't the end of it.

The unmasking led to something even weirder.

The bodies sent the plot veering into Frankenstein territory.  That would have been enough, but Mignola simply wasn't done. 

Yes, we have a head in a jar that has offered his research as a prize for history's most insane.  Still not enough.  This issue demonstrates what will become Hellboy's trademark...

...beating the crap out of monsters.  The story also answers a question and paves the way for more early adventures.  Fan-tas-ic.

Saturday Afternoon at the Movies

I never saw a Fast and Furious movie, until now.  All those dudes and Michelle Rodriquez.  I figured she would get shorted out of screen time.  This one looked different.  Ms. Rodriquez posted a behind the scenes look at her fight scene with a Ronda Rousy, a UFC champ, and I always support actors who do their own action scenes.  I also liked that Jason Statham was among the cast as the villain.

Statham has a personal vendetta against the team of street outlaws, and he goes out to hunt them down one by one.  It's not a complex film, but it's not as shallow as you may think.  Chances are, Furious 7 will surprise you.  It surprised me in several moments.

The plot is clever, and the car stunts outstanding.  There's an early establishment of how far Statham and Vin Diesel are willing to go, and it's a jarring moment.  Later there's a beautiful physics lesson involving an elastic collision.  The fight between Rodriguez and Rousy is definitely worth seeing, and the other cast members are engaging in their roles.  

People that are fans of the series and Paul Walker aficionados will be impressed by just how frequent he's in each scene.  The cast's affection for the late actor gives what could have been a good, solid action film additional kindness and heart.

If I had one complaint it's that as inventive as the stunts and the action are, the dialogue could have used trimming in some places.  For example, it wasn't necessary for the Rock to look at a conflagration and the camera to close in on him just so we could hear him grumble "Torino."  That scene would have been more effective silent.  I know.  It's a Fast and Furious movie.  It's not Shakespeare, but that doesn't mean you should treat it with any less respect.  Largely the filmmakers do.