Tuesday, March 3, 2015

POBB: February 25, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 25, 2015
By
Ray Tate


Leonard Nimoy died on February 27, 2016.  I share the sadness of millions of fans.  As a child, when watching Star Trek, I stuck masking tape to my ears to bring them to points.  I liked Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew, but I identified with Spock.


Leonard Nimoy was Spock, and without Spock, I would be a different person.  There is no doubt in my mind.  I grasped the fundamentals of logic and reason through Mr. Spock.  I also found myself expanding my vocabulary because of Mr. Spock.  To this day, anomaly is one of my favorite words.  

I owe Leonard Nimoy a lot.  So, in his memory, I will try to “live long, and prosper.”  I will continue to be ever logical, but not forget my human side when appropriate.


Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week I review Aquaman,  D4ve, Django/Zorro, Futurama, Joe Frankenstein, John Carter: Warlord  of Mars and The Phantom.   But first...The wait is over, people.  Spider-Gwen is here!  Let me just say, right off the bat.  I love that Marvel actually christened the book Spider-Gwen.


Gwen Stacy  also known as Spider-Woman returns to her alternate universe.  Nothing much has changed.  J. Jonah Jameson still blames her for the death of Peter Parker.  She's wanted by the authorities.  Her father, Captain Stacy, who discovered her identity in the premiere, wants to talk about these developments.  The Mary Janes, who consist of Glory Grant, Mary Jane and Betty Brant, took their hit single "Face It Tiger, You've Hit the Jackpot!" off the charts.  Gwen won't have any part of their fame if M.J. has anything to say about it, but the group's experiencing problems replacing Gwen's expertise at drumming.


If you missed out on The Edge of the Spider-Verse one-shot that introduced the welcoming world to Spider-Gwen, you need not fear.  Writer Jason Latour frames the status quo with Gwen using her spider powers to crawl around the edges, as quietly as her namesake, to let the reader eavesdrop and introduce new characters like Randy Robertson, son of Daily Bugle editor Robbie Robertson.


Simultaneously, Latour segues through cell phone to distinguish this universe farther.  After dirtying Matt Murdock in the debut, Latour places Foggy Nelson in the District Attorney's office and brings in a surprising change that will definitely make things interesting if not hazardous for Spider-Gwen in future issues.


For Spider-Gwen's first official issue, Latour and returning artist Robbi Rodriguez pit the Vulture against Spider-Gwen.  The duo go back to the basics of Adrian Toomes.  He's old.  He's vicious, and he's almost not human, with Rodriguez adding a grotesque nuance to his features.


Spider-Gwen sees the Vulture's rampage as an opportunity to clean up her image.  That's not an entirely altruistic rationale for going after the Vulture, but Gwen is still new at this.  Furthermore, she's just found out that she's not alone and that the various worlds can be quite receptive to some of her fellow Spider-Men.  Nevertheless it's brave to show Gwen without heroic purity, and it hearkens back to some issues spotlighting Spider-Man’s mortal flaws.


As the self-appointed Archduke of Arizona ponders what happened to his pigeon LeQuint, Don Diego de la Vega sends Django out on a fact-finding mission.  


Django doesn't quite know what to make of his current employer. After seeing Zorro threaten LeQuint, thus necessitating the Archduke's backer's swift retreat, Django begins to connect the two.   


As Django speaks with the railroad workers, Zorro stirs the masses with a rousing speech on justice, and that’s really just for starters.

Django Zorro is the team up you’ve always wanted but you didn’t know possible.  It’s Quentin Tarantino bringing his inimitable style to the pages of a comic book, along with no slouch Matt Wagner.  Zorro and Django as a result sound like the real deal, and they ply their trade in a history lesson of the haves and have nots. 

The Archduke appears to be based on the historical personage James Gadsden, a racist Army Officer from South Carolina who was responsible for numerous Native American displacements.  He became the President of the South Carolina railroad company and attempted to build a railroad through the Southern territories, which is the similar setting here.

Tarantino and Wagner naturally pull in some common racism against Django, but nothing like what he faced in the film Django Unchained.  For one thing, Django has a champion in Don Diego, and for another, Django is full on bounty hunterIn addition, the twit from Richmond is all by his lonesome.  So this latest Django excursion is a trifle calmer and less brutal.


The current issue of John Carter Warlord of Mars relates how Edgar Rice Burroughs gentlemen, ex-Confederate Virginian meets his opposite number in blue coat homicidal maniac Joshua Clark, the creation of Ron Marz and artist Ahbishek Malsuni.  The lion's share of the story is therefore one hellacious sword-fight superbly choreographed Malsuni. 


Inker Zsolt H. Garisa had his work cut out for him, but shadows and light along with the hues of Nathan Jamberi emphasize detail and symbolic color schemes over traditional grit and despair.  

Some may take offense at turning historical bloodshed into entertainment, but this is a comic book, and there's supposed to be a motif of swashbuckling.  John Carter isn't about the Civil War.  It's about the title character and his sense of honor.

In addition to the duel, Dejah Thoris caught in an escape attempt exhibits her strength of character, which sets up an execution or a daring rescue at the cliffhanger.  I'll let you choose the most likely candidate.

Two classic characters return in different roles as the Phantom contends against the Singh Brotherhood.  There's not much I can say about the latest from Peter David and anatomist Sal Velluto without spoiling the identities of the guest-stars.  

Suffice to say that, you can judge by the cover that David positions these characters as an alternate Tarzan and Jane.  There are some amusing distinctions however.

The presence of Falling Water in the middle of the jungle is a pretty good joke, as is the twist on Tarzan's hidden escarpment.  David's contrast between the Phantom and Diana relationship-greetings with the de facto Tarzan and Jane is extremely amusing.  On the other hand I felt the animosity and jealousy the Phantom displays over the Tarzan was over the top.  Still, it's difficult to complain about a book with this kind of action.


Aquaman locates his mother Atlanna, but it's far from a happy reunion.


Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier bring another awesome issue of Aquaman to the racks.  The story is filled with action and terrific illustration of a  Pellucidar type lost environment ruled by Atlanna.


Parker reintroduces the mythology of the purple-eyed outcasts, which played an important role in the formation of the former universe's Aqualad.   He also starts to smooth out the history of Atlantis by giving Atlanna a strong point of view, and a stronger sense of justice.  Mind you, she might have gone mad.


Also interesting is her expression of love for Aquaman's father.  I didn't really expect that given the iteration of a usurper dynasty in past issues.   I anticipated instead a mating of convenience, but it seems that Atlanna possessed true feelings for Aquaman's surface-world father.

Aquaman takes drastic steps to survive in a one-sided battle, and these moves are surprisingly underhanded, especially for a shiny hero.  That just builds on Arthur’s character as a tactician and King.  Mera also gains good dialogue and moments as she for once holds back her might to keep from denting her mother-in-law.  An excellent issue that’s over far too soon.


A pizza delivery boy, shades of Futurama, finds himself at first in what he believes a porno situation.  


Looks like Joe forgot his Star Trek..  Any strange woman on an alien planet not first met by Kirk or Spock is ninety-percent likely to be some sort of vampire.  Fortunately our pizza boy has a guardian angel that he never knew about.


Former Detective Comics partners Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon, team-up once more for the latest reiteration of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  The monster in the novel lives up to its sobriquet.  Despite exhibiting early moments of conscience, the nameless creature in Shelley’s novel is ultimately cunning and murderous. 

Boris Karloff's performance as the simple, misunderstood beast helped set the public's mind.  Frankenstein's Monster was now a sympathetic being, and even a tragic hero in The Bride of Frankenstein who absolves his creator from blame.  It was a short road from there to the jovial good-natured Herman Munster to the downright heroic Agent of SHADE.

So how does Dixon's and Nolan's twist on Frankenstein’s creation stack up?  Quite on par with other beneficent creatures and benefiting from a focus that turns the Universal sequels upside down.  Turns out there was a reason for all those Frankenstein descendants meeting the monster.  In short Joe Frankenstein is a lot of fun and an excellent addition to the collections of Frankenstein freaks.

Ian Boothby crafts a book-length adventure in Futurama by destroying the What-If Machine, and unleashing a whole lot of reality-bashing confusion on New New York.


The narrative follows Fry and Bender, the only crew unaffected since they were present in the eye of the storm, trying to recover pieces of the device to reconstruct all and restore the continuity line.

Boothby's science fiction plot is actually better than than the jokes, which are pretty hilarious to begin with.  For example, the denizens find themselves transformed into Pooh characters.


Some of these gags however could be lost on newbies.  A lot of the amusement arises from twists in characterization and stories from the television series.  Whatever your comfort level, the plethora of imagination evident in the artwork by James Lloyd, Andrew Pepoy and Robert Stanley, is an immediate draw.


D4ve is a cross between The Terminator and Tony Isabella’s and George Perez’s short story "War Toy" from Marvel's Bizarre Adventures.  Humans built the machines and without John Connor, the machines took over.  However, they were not alone.


The robots defended their newly won property, but now, things have quieted down.

D4ve has gotten some rave reviews, and it's all right, but it's not laugh out loud funny yet.  Things could change, but for now the most interesting thing about the book is the idea of robots becoming human out of habit because they have no other role model.  That said.  A lot of the stabs at comedy such as robot strippers, robot Gone With the Wind have been done, to better effect, on Futurama.





Tuesday, February 24, 2015

POBB: February 18, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 18, 2015
By
Ray Tate

This week I review Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Batman and Superman, Legendary: Green Hornet, Justice League, Reyn, Simpsons Comics and The Valiant.  First though, I take a look at the new spider-powered character Silk.


You know what fascinates me about Silk?  It stands as a testament to Batgirl's power.  Ask people on the street who's Batgirl, and they would invariably say, "Yvonne Craig" or "The Commissioner's Daughter from Batman."  A new generation saw Batgirl on the Filmation television series as well as syndication.  A third generation witnessed Bruce Timm’s reintroduction of Batgirl for Batman: the Animated Series.

In comic books, it was a different story with the same inevitable outcome.  You can retire her.  You can cripple her.  You can remove her from Commissioner Gordon's bloodline.  The adopted niece? Really? Screw you, DC.  You can modify her costume for an illiterate mute and a lesbian who has the personality of a spanner, but you cannot kill an idea.  Barbara Gordon is Batgirl.  It took the Powers That Be at DC twenty-five years to accept this.  Marvel on the other hand adhered to the idea in three years.  Silk is Marvel's new 52 Batgirl.

Cindy Moon aka Silk has an eidetic memory; she’s a super-hero; she’s a detective, in the sense that she’s searching for her parents.  She’s also a member of the Spider-Man Family who isn’t actually a blood relative.  Though this isn’t unusual since most of the Spider-Man Family are not related.

Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl has an eidetic memory; she’s a super-hero; she’s a detective, no in a sense.  She’s also a member of the Batman Family who isn’t actually a blood relative.  Though this isn’t unusual since most of the Batman Family are not related.

Wait.  Says you.  There must be something that distinguishes Silk from Barbara Gordon.  Very little.  Silk has a black hair and super powers.

Batgirl has red hair and a superb set of skills.  Mind you.  As introduced on television, she’s a brunette that wears a red wig, and nobody can out match her on a motorcycle.  

Here’s something neat.


Except that’s just a souped up version of this.


There’s a subtle as a hammer attempt to mimic Batgirl’s world as seen through the eyes of Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher and Babs Tarr.


Stacey Lee’s artwork is very open and animated just like Babs Tarr’s.  They’re not the same by any scale, and I like it a lot.  It’s absolutely perfect for the character.  The form-fit also describes Babs Tarr for Batgirl.  Tarr's and Lee’s styles differ by nuances rather than tiers.  Maybe though, Lee and Tarr are symptoms of a beneficial condition.  The receptiveness to unique artwork rather than a house-style.

There’s also an attempt to be more inclusive, which I support whole heartedly.

Career Woman Lesbians! Yay!

I’m not saying that Silk is written badly.  It’s not.  In fact, I knew nothing about Silk until Robbie Thompson introduced me to the character.  I came away from the book with an understanding.  This is the thing that turned me off most, and it has little to do with Silk.


It’s not that Spider-Man is by historical standards older than me.  Cosmos knows, I wouldn’t turn away a “weird, awesome thing” with a just legal lady.  It rankles me that he’s with anybody at all.  As far as I’m concerned, Spidey’s cheating on Mary Jane.  Screw you, Marvel.  You can’t undo this.


I actually liked some of the scenes in Silk.  Mostly though these were independent of Silk.

J.Jonah Jameson Has Not Left the Building

Spider-Woman came by her detective status through an evolution that reflects the character process in novels: Hydra agent, turned SHIELD informer, turned licensed private investigator.  Bad spy; good spy; private contractor.  Marvel fell into a pile of luck with Spider-Gwen.  Gwen Stacy was already established in Spider-Man history.  She’s a police Captain’s daughter.  Captain Stacy is also part of Spider-Man history.  Spider-Gwen isn’t really a spider-woman.  She’s an alternate Spider-Man actually.  Spider-Man doesn’t exist on her earth.  The majority of the audience wanted her to live in Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Gwen mirrors the promise of a famous quote.  Give the public what it wants, and they will come.  Silk just seems too obviously designed to appeal.  I will however give Silk this.  She’s less generic than the post-Crisis Huntress, the S & M look faux Batgirl and the lesbian Batgirl substitute.

In all honesty this issue of Batgirl is probably better than I'm crediting.  It's just that the last issue left such a bad taste, that all I can say is that this current chapter is an improvement.  I mean.  I should be elated, but that last story in which Cameron Stewart forced me to defend Justin Bieber really pissed me off.

So the tale opens with Batgirl running from the citizens of Burnside.  They're angry because she destroyed a pastry shop and caused property destruction when she decided to teach Mr. Bieber a lesson.

Batgirl aims to restock not just her arsenal but her life.  Finally, she begins to question her actions and start restoring her relationship with the Black Canary.  There's some irony in how these two get over the bumps and ice the bruises.


It's during her exercises that Babs figures out who has been gunning for her.

There's some really good stuff to be found in Batgirl.  It's funny how the smoke bombs she drops to hamper her pursuers only gives them a dramatic entrance.

The scene in which she confronts Captain Jean-Luc Picard with an altered thesis demonstrates just how smart she is.  She basically scrounged together a plan B, after somebody stole her laptop along with her original proposal.


Her appeal to Diana is heartfelt, and you can see the sorrow on both their faces; the realization that their rage-filled directions have led them too far away from each other.  When they finally get back together it's a physical release, and foreshadows some good-natured kidding as Batgirl races to the rescue and reveals the person behind all her woes of late.


The Superman Family stars with Batman in Batman/Superman.  Batman, Superman and Supergirl consult with former JLA luminary to discover the nature behind the vanishing bullets that felled several Superman beneficiaries and almost dropped Supergirl, Steel, Krypto and Batman his own bad self.  I will not be revealing any specific plot points to the utterly twisted, ingenious plot twist.  Suffice to say that this is a problem worthy of the World’s Finest.

Writer Greg Pak emphasizes the stakes in play, but he also takes time for some characteristic humor.


If you’re wondering why Lois is so concerned about Batman, you haven’t been reading this mostly excellent title.  Batman lost his memory in an issue of Batman/Superman, and he made a connection with Lois while in this state.  Once Batman’s memory resurfaced, Lois no longer could entertain a relationship with the Dark Knight.  She still cares about him because that man she felt something with is still in there, buried deep behind the trauma in Batman’s origin.  The dynamic lasts a panel, but it’s there and speaks volumes.


This however is Lois getting payback for Superman’s persuasive argument to keep her out of danger.  It also distinguishes this version of Lois Lane from the more Superman-involved incarnations.  Lois in the new 52 admires Superman.  She also believes in him as a concept not as a man.

About the only shortcoming I see in this issue of Batman/Superman is that Batman and Supergirl don’t interact all that much.  In the past, when they did team up, those meetings were memorable.  I have always entertained the idea that she saw Batman as her Uncle Arthur ala Bewitched.  I would love to see a new 52 partnering of Supergirl and Batman.


The partnership between Batman and Robin has never been funnier.  Damien came back from the dead through Apokoliptan technology, and superpowers are an unusual side-effect.  

The story opens with Robin calling/forcing a meeting with the bad guys.  This leads to a hilarious replication of Golden Age Superman style discussion.


Still the Batman Family always think in terms of rope, and ropes tend to break.  The scene brings Batman into the fray, and promptly takes the book to eleven as the Dark Knight attempts to reason with his son.


In the end, Batman escorts Robin to Justice League headquarters.  Perhaps he feels that if Damien’s around others with superpowers, he’ll get a better handle on them.  Maybe it’s just for laughs.  Maybe Superman talked him into it.

Whatever the reason, it just keeps the book rollicking forward.  I thought I would cancel Batman and Robin after Damien came back, but his new lease on life just introduces new comic highlights, without losing the characterization.  Damien is a lot easier to take now that he exhibits a smidgeon of gratitude toward his father, and The Brave and the Bold vibe hasn’t gone away since other heroes guest-star galore.


I’d like to say that the Justice League are in good form in their own book, but most of the Justice League have been swept away by the Amazo virus.  Fear not, sensation seekers.  This issue of Justice League is all Wonder Woman.


Damn it.  Why couldn’t Geoff Johns and Justin Fabok be on Wonder Woman? 

In addition to Wonder Woman, Johns and Fabok delight the reader with a 1940s style persona Captain Cold.  The new 52 Captain Cold is even more benign than the post-Crisis version.  Captain Cold just wants to be paid.  In his opinion, he probably sees himself as just a regular Joe, and he revels in the moments that the Justice League opportunity presents.


I get the impression that if Luthor left the League, Wonder Woman and Superman would lobby to keep Captain Cold.  As an ordinary person, he reminds them why they're fighting the good fight.  The chapter concludes the Amazo epidemic with redemption for Lex Luthor and the return of….Oh.  Crap.


The Valiant stars the entire Valiant universe fighting the Immortal Enemy.


You can be forgiven for not knowing any of the participants in the big melee.  The Valiant Universe is only vaguely recognizable and doesn’t have that generational punch of DC or Marvel.  They do have an impressive visual presence though.  

The Valiant isn't a hero hootenanny.  They're the background radiation.  The story really focuses on Bloodshot and the new Geomancer Kay.  Writers Jeff Lemire and Matt Kidnt mention Dawn of the Dead as an inspiration because of the tale’s department store setting, but I see a much older allusion.

In Harlan Ellison’s Demon With a Glass Hand, Robert Culp portrays a soldier sent from the future to the past where he must recover the pieces to his glass hand and avoid being captured and killed by an alien force situated in an old office complex.  Along the way, he meets a helpful female human.


The nature of Bloodshot and Culp’s character are similar.  Bloodshot though protests Kay’s insistence that he’s a robot.  The arenas also resemble each other.  The dynamic between Kay and Bloodshot mirrors that of Culp and his female companion.

The differences lie in the purpose of Bloodshot’s mission.  He’s been sent to protect Kay.  Culp only happened upon his comely cohort.  It’s one entity out to get Kay as opposed to a whole clutch of weird individuals.  Also, there’s no sense of urgency in Bloodshot’s and Kay’s respite.  Whereas, Culp was on the run to retrieve the fingers of his glass hand.  The fingers were definitely important and he eliminates a lot of pursuers along the way.


Primarily Lemire and Kindt use the encounter to flesh out both characters.  Paolo Rivera exploits the situation to show off his mastery of subtle body language and expression.  The Valiant may not be the classic idea of a company crossover, but it’s amazing artwork and the subtle interaction between Bloodshot and Kay make this a must have not just for fans of the character but also fans of good writing and illustration in general.

Thanks to Bruce Lee, The Green Hornet became synonymous with fighting.  Each week for a half-hour, The Green Hornet and Kato would investigate a criminal enterprise and end the show with a rousing display of fisticuffs.  Every Green Hornet production since then honored the tradition of martial arts melees.  The latest mini-series under the Legendary banner is no different.  The Steampunk Green Hornet made his thrilling debut in Legendary.  The action-packed antics continue in this spin-off.  

Written by Darryl Gregory and illustrated by Ben Peeples, Britt Reid and Kato enter the fray of Pirate Gangs and Murder Kings.  At the same time Little Miss Murder who we met among the Cabal of Enemies in Legendary learns the price for marrying a Demon Lord.  Damn exciting and almost over too soon.

Reyn is also an intoxicating Grindhouse science fiction story that’s disguised as a fantasy where feudal knights ply their trade and lusty Salamanders bed human woman.  You can’t fool me though, Ms. Seph.


That’s not magic.  That’s electricity, and I’d wager that the god that Reyn speaks to is actually a computer.  Despite Reyn not knowing the Salamander, the Salamander knows him.  The Salamanders refer to Reyn as a Warden, the enemy of their people.  

I’m putting together a starship that crashed long ago, freeing prisoners and warders alike.  Eventually, they all made a life on this planet, but the knowledge of their past was corrupted over the years perhaps after a great disaster.  The Wardens are descendants of the warders.  The Salamanders are the progeny of the prisoners, along with the monsters that lurk in the dark.  The indigenous populous are evolving civilization as in reality.

You don’t need to adhere to this little hypothesis of mine in order to enjoy Reyn.  Nate Stockman’s artwork brings liveliness to the slightly crazy Reyn, and Kel Symons drops him in a slave mining operation straight out of a spaghetti western followed by a trek through bad lands with a nice, nasty surprise.

Ian Boothby spoofs two science fiction films.  One of course immediately arrests your attention to the cover.  The other is Ender’s Game.  The spoofs themselves are hit and miss, but the art by Nina Matsumoto, Andrew Pepoy and Art Villanueva is just jaw-dropping.  


The illustrators effortlessly transform the Simpsons cast into facsimiles of The Guardians of the Galaxy and their nemeses.


The Ender’s Game send-up is just as accomplished.  However because of the subject matter—kids learning how to be soldiers, it’s less imaginative and colorful.