Tuesday, July 10, 2018

POBB July 4, 2018

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

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly comic book review blog.  This week, a zero spoiler critique of the much hyped Batman #50.  I understand that the NYT ruined the whole thing.  See? You should have waited to read the POBB.

I’ll also survey Astonishing X-Men, The Immortal Hulk, Nightwing and give you an opinion about the freshest volumes of Captain America, Catwoman and Project Superpowers.  First though a dissection of Justice League.  Always remember, if you just want a cut to the bone decision about a book in question the POBB is on Twitter : #PickoftheBrownBag.


When the newest incarnation of Justice League becomes more plot oriented you can’t understand a word.  It’s just a long chain of pseudoscientific gobbledygook.


We start off with Xotar’s Mechano Engine.  Why not just Xotar’s Engine?  An engine is usually mechanical by definition.  Isn’t associating an engine with the phrase mechano redundant and silly?  The same can be said about the Harp Strings of Linearity.  Strings are linear.


These are not constructs of common emotion?  What does that mean?  What’s beyond the emotions that can be identified?  Despair? Grief? Shame? No.  I can identify those emotions.  A mix? I can probably identify those.  I’m stumped.  Oh, I get it.  I’m stumped because I can’t identify those emotions.  Right.  Now, it becomes clear.


What the hell? John’s not even present amongst the full League roster.  Wonder Woman doesn’t possess that much in the way of destructive emotions.  She holds the Lasso of Truth.  She’s probably the most stable of the Leaguers.  Cyborg is more about overcoming tragedy.  The Flash is acting like Wally West, so he’s even gayer than usual.  Aquaman? What? Guilt over eating clam chowder?  


And in an homage to the Sci-Fi Channel's former trivia game Mindprobe.  What defeats the dark emotions that cannot be named? Sound waves.


Screw you, Cyborg.  I know the telltale effect of your white sound blaster.  It even went boom.  It makes more sense that you blasted the beast with “Put on a Happy Face” or “Walking on Sunshine.” It's a creature of destructive emotion.  When you're in a funk, you put on music to lift your spirits.


This explanation is one of the few things that adds up in the Justice League.  A cosmic force named the Totality is altering the genetic structure of the poor animals that hap upon its domain.  Cosmic gene editing.  Thank you.  I can buy that.

I can also accept this bit of sci-fi sleight of hand.  Classic hero Ray Palmer derived his miniaturization powers from a piece of white dwarf star, somehow.  He’s behind the micro-tech used by Batman and Hawkgirl.  He probably christened the pulse weapon the tiny Leaguers use.  White dwarfs are the dense remains of dead stars.  If you could harness the gravity wells they make in the time/space fabric, you could transmit a repulsive force that would make Iron Man envious.



Oh, what rubbish.  The invisible spectrum does not control you.  This is why crazy people donned aluminum foil hats before they became elected officials.  I hate the Lucky Charms Lanterns.

Thank you, Flash.  No truer words spoken.


Oh, good.  More color nonsense.  Black Sun, totally meaningless unless it’s an eclipse.  I could ignore the phrase if this was the only sore thumb, but it’s part of the agglutinate.  

Phantom Galaxy could be the Phantom Zone, but I’m being real generous.  The Phantoms carrying out their sentence had to really work hard to influence jack.  That’s why Krypton’s people used the punishment.


I will say that Umbrax despite being termed a Black Sun is a pretty slick cosmic being.  The opposite of Galactus and Brainiac from Superman animated.  Umbrax is a planet collector.  It’s a significant threat that sounds like can only be stopped by the Justice League.


Sigh.  Lex is calling Superman an alien again.  So we’re back to his being a racist.  As I have stated in other reviews, over the years Lex lost his motive to kill Superman.  The last one is that Lex is simply a racist.  It’s so weak.  So many aliens call earth their home.


The book finally settles into something a little more interesting.  This occurs however during the last pages.  J’onn and Superman encounter statues similar to those that festooned the Source Wall.  


Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson dealt with the origin of these beings in his seriously underrated X-Men/Teen Titans crossover, and what a magnificent explanation.  


Snyder takes a different route that's hardly groundbreaking.  I can only recommend Justice League for die-hards.  Others can wait.  Don't worry.  I'm sure the recap will catch you up to the plight of the other members.


Project Superpowers.  It’s ten cents.  It’s nice art from Sergio Davila for a dime.  For one thin one, you get a full-color beginning, middle and end.  The story by Rob Williams summarizes what went before and sets up the events to come all for a coin at the bottom of your pocket or stuck between couch cushions.  You would be a fool not to pick this up.  

Astonishing X-Men sports a new creative team and a new focus.  Alex Summers is Havok.  Normally I don’t know beans about the X-Men.  Believe it or not, I know Havok.  

He was a prominent background figure during the Claremont/Byrne phase of Uncanny X-Men.  Alex was the smart one from the family Summers.  He didn’t want to be a super-hero. 

Sure, he’d step in when people were threatened, but mostly, he sought to spend his life with hot green-haired mutant Lorna Dane.  Known as Polaris, she is now one of the ensemble stars of The Gifted.  Things change.


I find the irony and Alex's eagerness absolutely hilarious.  There is just not one moment I didn’t find myself laughing about this sudden switch.


It just gets worse when Alex decides that not only does he want to be a super-hero.  He wants to lead a group of X-Men.  To that end, he goes cherry-picking.  The students are too smart for him.


So many things great about this scene.  I don’t know any of the X-Men in that classroom.  Writer Matthew Rosenberg however characterizes Rockslide beautifully.  His name and appearance describe him.  His dialogue indicates his youth.  His sharp observations note his intellect, and hey, the painlessly delivered short explanation about Alex's villainy explains Iron Man’s earlier comment.  

The X-Men trademark becomes an issue.  Kitty Pryde gently tries to talk sense into Alex, but forward he goes to his buddy Hank McCoy the Beast.


Everybody seems to know what’s what except Alex, and it’s just fantastic.   Astonishing X-Men is a funny, exciting book with Greg Land, the cover and interior artist of Sojourn, potently getting back to his roots as visual narrator.


Captain America returns with Ta-Nehisi Coates behind the words. 

The story begins in Russia with Hydra transporting Alexa, a female prisoner.  They get waylaid by a powerful character later dubbed Selene.  


Selene in mythology is the Greek goddess of the moon.  This lady doesn’t exhibit any lunar powers.  So, I’m guessing the name is just a coincidence.  I don’t know either character, but they’re certainly interesting.  The highlight of the book in fact.  The two kill Hydra bastards in unique ways, and it only takes them five pages.  Escapist fare. A mini-story.  I like it.


As the rescue in Russia plays out in the past, the dude from Daredevil: Born Again, codified here as Nuke, appears mitotically right now.


The Star-Spangled Clones kill some innocent bystanders at the National Mall, but Captain America arrives to avert greater tragedy.


I should feel something when Captain America shows up.  When Chris Evans’ Captain enters the fray in Avengers Infinity War, I clapped and cheered.  


The same with the Falcon and Black Widow.  That was a powerful moment.  In fact you're probably hearing The Avengers theme right now when looking at the image.  Your heart is getting a little jump because you're reliving the moment in your mind.

I think one of the the problems in Captain America is that Coates’ and Lenil Yu’s timing is way off.  The staging is dull.


The depiction of the shield heralding Cap’s arrival is protracted and enervated.  They've slowed the path of the shield and in so doing created the impression that the shield isn't moving at all.  They should have depicted the hit in less panels and on one page.  This would have created the illusion of rapid animation.  Observe.



The moment Captain America actually appears is undermined by artistic license.  Captain America is so dark that Cap’s face goes Batman.


Captain America just shouldn’t look like that.  The whole sequence would have been better cut like this. 



Cap saves the Dad.  Retrieves his shield, and kaboom.


You don't need the multiple shield strikes.  You don't need the grandstanding splash page of Cap with Batman eyes.   You don't need a page of the Nukes sneering as Captain America attempts to reason with them.  You don't need the Nuke counterstrike.  Just shield-save, and Cap beating the crap out of them.  That's Captain America.  


Of course this kind of economy would get in the way of pretentious storytelling in which Cap's optimistic message of hope gets eaten by Bucky sniping cynicism as well as the depiction of Captain America's heavy heart.


Oh, poor, Cap.  Poor reader, is more like.  Captain America is supposed to be a tonic to what you see on the news.  He's meant to be the antidote to mass-murdering, flag-waving psychopaths.  Chris Evans as Captain America demonstrates that all Captain America needs to be is Captain America. 

Making him something more is a trap.  He doesn't symbolize the ever changing America.  He symbolizes an unshakeable ideal of America from World War II.  That we have seen evil, and we are not that.  He should be unchanging.  He's not affected by horror.  He sees it.  He stares it straight in the eye, and he smacks it in the face with his shield.

Captain America attempts to soothe the tyke.  One of the Nuke’s shot his father.  


This is Cap's only expression in the entire book.  The father got hit by about three bullets traveling at high velocity.  The shock didn’t kill him, and his son is probably the only thing keeping him alive.  I wouldn't put it past Coates to kill the Dad to give Cap more unnecessary angst, but for the time being, the dad's being choppered to the hospital.  At this point, Coates draws in some of Captain Hydra continuity and introduces the rest of the cast.


General Thaddeus Thunderbolt Ross is the blowhard from The Incredible Hulk.  Sharon Carter is a staple guest star in Captain America.  She’s been around since the sixties, and yes, she’s the niece of Peggy Carter who also premiered in the sixties despite being a 1940s flashback. 


The cinematic universe and Hayley Atwell definitely gave Peggy more substance, but we’ve yet to see Emily VanCamp match her comic book counterpart.


Black Widow basically took the role Sharon Carter had.  She’s Cap’s partner in Winter Soldier and her loyalties to Cap thread through Civil War and Avengers Infinity.  No bones to VanCamp.  Black Widow’s greater participation is a result of streamlining the continuity of Marvel Comics.  Black Widow simply never had a past where she acted against the Avengers.  She's total SHIELD.  The point is Sharon Carter was the Black Widow, and she does get in the action in Coates' Captain America.  However I'm underwhelmed.


Props for Sharon, for working the big gun, but exactly how many Nukes were there?  I I counted at least four.  Cap beat up three of them.  Bucky killed the fourth.  Why was Sharon actually needed?  Regardless, Sharon shouldn't have been behind an innocuous assault.  She should be running, smacking around the bad guys with her hair flying.
  

Yeah, like that.  You can argue that Sharon’s an old woman now, so she doesn’t want to break a hip or something, but Sharon’s a fit looking whatever-age she is.  I don't however think the lack of vitality relies on the age of the character.  The sort of television movie of the week pacing in the newest volume of Captain America simply doesn't suit anybody.  

In terms of history, Sharon if twenty in 1966 should be in her seventies now.  Marvel doesn't usually give a flying fig about character ages.  They usually blow off the reality factor with a sliding scale of time.  Everything happens in Marvel ten to fifteen years ago.  That paradigm is falling apart because Marvel keeps introducing younger characters.  

This selective aging isn’t the kind of quasi-realism that’s remotely interesting to me.  I mean Thunderbolt Ross should be dead or in a nursing home.  He was an old asshole when introduced.  So how can Sharon be a near contemporary?

I can’t however blame Coates for that.  This is the fault of the previous writer.  Coates is just stuck with the continuity and maybe he’ll do something with it.  I just really loathe that he’s made Sharon into a wallower.


Sharon's aging is one of those comic book things that should have been cleaned up by comic book means.  


Sharon should have gotten—what was it this time?—cosmic cubed like everybody else.  Psst.  Spoiler alert.  Black Widow is alive and teleporting with the Infinity Stone.


In the second issue of The Immortal Hulk, writer Al Ewing fleshes out some of the rules in the shared life between Bruce Banner and the Hulk.  Some are surprisingly old ones that haven’t been brought to bear for years.


The Hulk in this new series returns to being nocturnal, which alludes to the Jack Kirby and Stan Lee originals.  Like the television series, Bruce and the Hulk get tangled up in a small town problem.  The clue is hidden in plain sight.

Keeping in synch with the idea of Bruce on the run Ewing runs through some creative thinking probably developed by watching the television series, and he name checks the new McGee.

Bruce and the Hulk work in concert and separately.  Here Ewing departs from the show.  

Although Bruce spots the particulars about the mystery, the Hulk’s instincts drew him to it.  In the television series, the Hulk is the coda.  Bruce is the catalyst.  In The Immortal Hulk, Hulk is catalyst and coda.  Bruce is the legman and the gatherer of information.


This isn’t to say Bruce does not enjoy the puzzle.  Bruce clearly needs the diversion, even if it will ultimately lead to the Hulk being released.  Perhaps, Bruce hopes the mystery will lead nowhere, that the Hulk’s instincts are incorrect, and that’s why he doggedly pursues the truth.  He can prove that for once the Hulk isn’t need’t.


Of course, that’s not the case.  That’s why Bruce is on the phone, and that’s why the Hulk appears.

The Hulk is the voice of rage shaped by intelligence.  Ewing doesn’t portray the Hulk as dumb.  Far from it.  He understands everything, cuts through the pleas to sympathy and humanity and exacts justice, while protecting the innocent.  

In The Immortal Hulk, he’s one of the scariest heroes, and Joe Bennett draws him that way.  The Hulk looks like a monster.  Bennett uses the extreme closeups and cutaways to exacerbate the Hulk’s threat.  This guy is not the Avenger.  He’s the Hulk that chased after the Black Widow in the shadows of the SHIELD Helicarrier.  He’s that Hulk.  Only with a maliciousness streak. 


Have you heard the news? Batman and Catwoman are getting married.  Look, it’s not a spoiler.  It’s the cover, and I think I’ve been doing an admirable job these past months keeping Tom King’s secret, but yes, Batman and Catwoman decide to get married, and DC makes the fiftieth issue of Batman an artistic celebration of Catwoman’s and Batman’s relationship. 

In addition to Tom King’s and Mikel Janin’s story and optics, you get a series of pin-ups depicting Batman’s and Catwoman’s relationship.


Jose Garcia-Lopez became involved with DC Comics years ago.  He developed the definitive design of the heroes and villains that would appear on lunchboxes, decals and other material as well as contributing memorable comic book series such as DC Comics Presents, Atari Force and an Elseworld Batman/Scarlet Pimpernel mashup.  He hasn’t lost his touch.

While you don’t usually associate artist Tony S. Daniel with comedy, it’s difficult not to be amused by the expression on Catwoman’s face and the little puffs of hearts.


Have you ever noticed that when you say I’ll bet that’s the work Amanda Conner, it usually turns out to be Amanda Conner?  Not only is her style unmistakeable but so is her sense of humor.

The other artists include Becky Cloonan, Jason Fabok, Frank Miller, Lee Beremejo, Neal Adams, Rafael Albuquerque, Andy Kubert, Tim Sale, Paul Pope, Ty Templeton, David Finch, Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Lee Weeks and callback artists depicting “lost” pages from the work on Batman: Mitch Gerads, Clay Mann and Joelle Jones.

As to the story itself, this plays out how you expect apart from long held secrets being divulged between friends and a special moment between Alfred and Bruce.  The last panel however threw me completely off.  If the panel is just an homage to the run of Tom King, it makes sense.  If it’s more than that, then every triumph Batman had during King's run reverses.  This is why I think that it’s more of an homage than an actual part of the story.

There you have it.  A spoiler free critique of Batman number fifty.  For the people who have read the story and would like an explanation.  I’ve included a few words about a spoiler from a previous Batman chapter that I don’t actually think anybody considered.


Catwoman as the cover promises does spoil the whole thing.  I on the other hand will not.  The story takes place in Catwoman’s future.  It’s a near future.  So nobody’s using blasters or time machines.  She’s having a good time by herself at the casino tables of Villa Hermosa, another made up principality in the DC Universe.


Selina appears to be having the time of her life until she’s rousted by the cops.


When the officer states that Catwoman murdered two policewoman, you know something’s up.

The story is an old one, that’s clawed its way into consciousness as early as Miss Fury, but writer/artist Joelle Jones knows you’re smart enough to figure things out by yourself.  In fact, when viewing the first page, you’ll be suspicious.  By the seventh page the cat’s out of the bag, but not before Selina’s dynamic escape.  Bristling with energy, Catwoman focuses on the elegant jewel thief with a network of helpers and hidey-holes across the world.  It’s Catwoman by way of Modesty Blaise and To Catch a Thief.  Gorgeous, fluffy but still dangerous.


This is the best issue of Nightwing I’ve read since Kyle Higgins left the book.  So, you’re thinking Batgirl’s in it.  Of course, I’m going to like it.  Faithful fans know how much I love Batgirl.  True.  What’s interesting is how writer Benjamin Percy utilizes Batgirl to expand on Dick Grayson’s characterization through contrast.

Dick Grayson was taught to be a detective by Batman, and he’s a good detective.  Percy in fact gives ample examples of Dick’s Sherlockian skills.


Percy demonstrates Dick’s loyalty to his friends and emphasizes in a threat of torture that though Batman redirected Dick's life, he still is a survivor of crime.


Percy draws upon the friendship between Nightwing and Batgirl to create an easy-breezy team-up to fight a  genuinely interesting cyberpunk menace.


Somebody created a technological means to hijack neural networks.  The answer leads to an analogue of Cambridge Analytics on the Dark Web.  At least that’s as far Batgirl could reach.

Percy opens the story with Dick Grayson’s quick thinking and acrobatic escape.  A save by Batgirl brings her elegantly into the picture, and together they begin the mortar and brick investigation.

The suspenseful story with intelligent countermeasures by the young heroes nevertheless leaves a lot of room for humor.  The comedy reinforces the character of Dick Grayson as something of a luddite in comparison to Batgirl.


You get honestly good gags that refer to that relationship and a welcome reversal of stereotypes.  Whenever there’s a scene involving a fallen female protagonist, she ends up naked or suited up, which means she was naked.  I don’t have anything against that type of scene, and no, it's not what you think.  Gratuitous nudity isn't usually involved in the action.

There’s often a good reason why the person ends up naked: the uniform’s destroyed during the course of investigation, the facilitation of an antiseptic personal environment to prevent the spread of disease—as in this case—tracking device woven into cloth.  There are just lots of rationales.  While this often invites sexual tension, it's not a necessity and usually downplayed.  In fact, it's nigh always implication.   A writer might even introduce an older gent like Alfred being the clothier.  Apparently, that gent or matron is above such carnal things.  However, I have never, ever seen the explicit reversal of gender in this scenario.  So good on Percy having Batgirl strip and dress Nightwing.

Batgirl acts as Nightwing’s Q, whipping him up something that will combat the current menace, and with that device in place, our team is ready to put the kibosh on the man behind the Wyrm.  Percy ratchets up the do-or-die atmosphere to the very end of this first chapter.  

The inclusion of old cast members and newcomers help establish a setting that you care not to see demolished.  


You may think this is a small thing, but I read Nightwing of old in the post-Crisis.  The creation of Bludhaven out of nothing always struck me as goofy.  Oh, yeah.  Bludhaven is Gotham City's sister city.  It's always been around.  Right. You put Vicki Vale from Batman lore in Budhaven, you have my interest.  This now becomes a place, someone’s home.  Not an artifice.

I never liked Nightwing until he stopped whining about his life and unloading his problems on Batman.  Chuck Dixon started this growth in the post-Crisis, but it didn’t stick.  In the New 52, Kyle Higgins debuted Nightwing as a together young man shaped by Batman, and Dan Abnett turned him into a leader.  Benjamin Percy gives me a Nightwing that I actually see as a unique superhero. 

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So, I can imagine that some people are a little raw about the Wedding issue.  The thing is.  It doesn’t matter.  Tom King already provided the answer in Batman Annual #2.

Batman and Catwoman marry at some point in the future and have a daughter named Helena who becomes Batwoman.

Now, you can argue that it’s an alternate universe.  Batman even states in the annual that on another earth, there’s another, younger Batman that’s alone.  

However, since the annual makes a point of drawing your attention to an early Bat/Cat encounter that segues into this last Batman story well…Look, you decide.  

King put in a lot of work to make the Batman and Catwoman wedding a thing.  It seems unlikely he’d abandon his plans even if by edict.  So, he put in a loophole.  No matter if Catwoman finds somebody else, male or female.  The future belongs to she and Batman.