Sunday, January 7, 2018

POBB January 3, 2018

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 3, 2018
by
Ray Tate

And now a word from my inner editor….Wow.  Really? Just four? Green Lanterns and Snagglepuss Chronicles weren’t anything, huh? Look, though.  It’s really only three.  You only typed one sentence for Superman.  That hardly counts as a review.  I know you hate Hypertime, but still, you should go into more detail.  You agree? Well, that’s a change.  What? Gobbledygook is one word.  Oh. 

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, this installment I review Astonishing X-Men, Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy and Superman.  If you’re too busy for the in-depth reviews.  Check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.


Oh, look.  Hypertime.


Even this more or less done-in-one, fair-play mystery by Tom King is an amazing addition to his run of Batman.  A boy accompanied by his butler comes home to find his parents murdered.

All signs point to Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle serial killer Mr. Zsasz, but he’s locked up in Arkham Asylum.


Batman is sure of the culprit, but how did Zsasz thwart all the security measures?


Obviously I can’t speak much about the mystery, but there are points of interest, outside of the puzzle that can be addressed.  The boy asks Bruce Wayne for his experience, and Bruce tells it like it is.

Matthew, the boy, states: “Everybody loves Bruce Wayne.”  This may be one of King’s few callbacks to recent history.  Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo made Bruce Wayne the savior of Gotham City in Batman Zero Year.  As a result, and because of his continued investment in people, everybody in Gotham City really does love Bruce Wayne.  He’s the Anti-Trump.

The major difference in Bruce’s life takes a lot weight off his shoulders.  

Catwoman doesn’t speak much in this story because she doesn’t need to.  However, if someone where to pick up just this issue of Batman, the importance of her reticence may be misinterpreted.  In fact it’s possible somebody may not recognize Selina Kyle since she’s unnamed.  

I feel the confusion about Selina being in Batman’s bed at the least, unlikely.  Nevertheless this is a subjective flaw in the story.  You can suggest that Catwoman’s lack of involvement in the tale reduces her to an ornament, but that’s only if you discount the previous issues in Tom King’s run where she does things like sword fight Talia al Ghul.  That’s why I used the modifying phrase more or less.

The art by Travis Moore is quite good.  I especially like the lines defining depth and musculature of the faces and forms.  Moore’s better when rendering close-ups and dramatic scenes rather when forced by the story to contribute simple establishing shots, such as the repetitive image of Matthew in a chair.  

Like most artists, Moore loves Batman’s uniform and the moody shadows that swathe it.  He also relishes Gordon’s overcoat, but when it comes to dressing Bruce, he fails.  Bruce’s suit is so old-fogey looking.  


As is his sweater when he dines with Selina across a silly long table, a stick of furniture dealt with in Tim Burton’s Batman.

A major mutant returns in Astonishing X-Men.  No it’s not Wolverine, and you can stop asking me about any mutant that appeared after John Byrne left Uncanny X-Men.  Chances are I won’t even have an inkling for who you’re talking about.

The Shadow King and Charles Xavier battled in the astral plane using the living as their chessmen.  On the good side, we have the Astonishing X-Men: Gambit, Fantomex, Rogue, Bishop, Angel, Old Man Logan, Psylocke and Mystique.  On the bad side, whomever the Shadow King possessed.  Xavier however overcame the Shadow King.  Before that happened, the evil “spirit” launched a final assault, and this looks bad.

Primarily this issue of Astonishing X-Men is for X-Men fans.  It’s still readable for those that flunked out of X-Men College, but the impact of certain things requires a greater appreciation for the characters.  For example, I don’t know what the big deal is about Warren Worthington being able to now control his alter-ego.


I mean, technically I get it.  He somehow acquired a blue, feathered demon-facet that he couldn’t control, but I only know this as recent fact.  I never read the Adventures of Smurf Warren.  So I haven’t any emotional connections.  I’d be more affected if Candy Southern returned.  She doesn’t.


Now, Adam Warlock is another story.


Oh, no.  Wait.  I don’t give a rat’s ass about Adam Warlock.  Fortunately, there’s much goodness in Guardians of the Galaxy outside of the lenticular cover hype to recommend.  Our story begins right here when the moles of the bird-brained brotherhood, The Talonar of the Shi’ar, face the true Nova Corps, and the Guardians of the Galaxy embedded with the Corps.

The contest turns into a very satisfying bloodbath.  I think gratification arises because the Talonar are especially taken with themselves.  They think they're just super.  In reality,  they are just another nutty cult.  It’s also difficult to feel any pity for them when they spout lines such as this.


You just want to slap that guy.  Not to worry.  Slapped he will be.  The Talonar arrive in force, but they don’t stand a chance because Rocket is drunk with power, even if it only works just a little while.


I honestly don’t understand how the power levels work in Nova mythology.  In Gerry Duggan’s story, power is proportionate to how cool the character looks in a Nova Corps uniform.  That suits me fine.  

Duggan’s story isn’t only frivolity.  Somehow, with Ant-Man, Duggan pulls off some actual science in the fiction to embarrass the Talonar even further.


Just when you think things are winding down, Duggan pulls a fast one to demonstrate the Talonor’s staying power.  Unfortunately for them, it ends in somebody losing their head.  Do I mean that metaphorically or literally? Not telling.



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

POBB December 26, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
The Last of 2017
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the final POBB of 2017, and Happy New Year to all.  Originally, I was going to recount the ways in which Donald Trump is bringing an unnatural demise to humanity.  I decided not.  


Instead, I’m ending this year on an upbeat note.  The grand farewell to a favorite Doctor and the outstanding dawning of a new Doctor in the best Christmas Special ever.


Seriously.  If you’re feeling down or unsure of the future, watch Twice Upon a Time.

For our 2017 finale, I review the latest issues of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Batgirl, Doomsday Clock and Scooby-Doo Team-Up.  I’ll also check out the new books Backways from Aftershock and Bonehead from Top Cow.  Should you lack the time for the full brunt of POBB goodness.  You can check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.


The second chapter of Doomsday Clock is a mixed bag.  The time piece starts with the juxtaposition of the past and present.

Ozymandias, Rorschach and their villainous cohorts Mime and Marionette prepare to disembark to earth one.  At the same time, Marionette recalls an encounter with the reason for the quest Dr. Manhattan.


Doomsday Clock presents one of the few moments where we see the Watchmen and their nemeses behaving like ordinary superheroes and psychopaths.  

The Watchmen are avatars of the Charlton Comics heroes introduced to the DCU in Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Dr. Manhattan extrapolates Captain Atom.  Mime and Marionette resemble Punch and Judy from Captain Atom’s and Nightshade’s Rogues Gallery.  They were recently seen in Tom King’s run of Batman.  Excuse me.  Jewelee.  Punch and Jewelee.  That’s so much better, isn’t it?


You may argue that there’s a difference between the standard Watchmen episode and say Captain Cold robbing a bank in Central City only to be captured by the Flash.  For that specific example, you would be dead right, but only for that specific example.  


Superman stopped a wife beater in one of his earliest adventures.  In the Bronze Age, Wonder Woman constantly dealt with sexist and misogynist males.  A few years ago, Geoff Johns introduced a turd of man in Aquaman.


Randy is about to get his arm broken when he makes the mistake of pawing Mera, who voiced “The Excuse Me.”  So this example of deep-seated hatred for women isn’t groundbreaking.  The idea of a not so innocent victim of crime and the violent criminal as protagonist may be rare in comics.  The layer of ooze sweeping over the CFO furthermore presents a symptom of Watchmen Dystopia.

As Doomsday Clock ticks on, we find that Ozymandias and company may already be too late.  Prefaced by the cry “Look up in the sky! Is that a plane” bereft of typical DCU ebullience, a nuclear warhead drops on the ugly riot-torn city. 

I presume Ozymandias intends to include time travel in his agenda.  It doesn’t make sense that the Watchmen return to a smoldering radioactive cinder floating in space.  

The book now cuts to the DCU where Bruce faces a psychological exam that echoes Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum.

However, it’s only faint resonance.  The idea behind Arkham Asylum is that Batman is really crazy.  He’s obsessed with being a big scary bat that beats up criminals.  No, duh, but Morrison means that he’s really obsessed.  He can’t think of anything else.  Batman believes that he is Bruce Wayne and the cape and cowl the facade.  It’s really the other way around.  At least, for that story.  

Keep in mind that Morrison later gifted readers with the most heroic and imaginative Batman in an era where successful heroism was in short supply.  Though you can argue that this Batman is the result of Bruce coming to terms with his own psyche in Arkham Asylum.  Batman’s mentally fit in JLA because he admitted that he truly is disturbed in Arkham Asylum.

In any case, Johns introduces The Supermen Theory to explain heretofore unknown turmoil in the DCU, and this is where I feel the story caves into a flaw.


The Supermen Theory alludes to the better Legends.  All these plot points refer to something better.  Legends by Jon Ostrander and John Byrne suggested that ordinary people don’t necessarily admire superheroes.  They envy them.  They resent them because the average person can never reach as high.  The New God Glorious Godfrey takes the form of a televangelist; preys upon those feelings; catalyzes a government superhero ban and sows despair to feed his lord Darkseid.  

Legends provides the grain of anger associated with The Supermen Theory which posits that the reason why so many superheroes live in the United States is that most are government made.  The explanation is rubbish.  Rex Mason became Metamorpho through magic.  Kirk Langstrom was a Batman fan that went too far.  Maybe Johns reworked their origins for this version of earth, or they’re tweaks are part of Rebirth.  However, the reason why there are so many super-heroes in America is simple.  It's an American made myth.  


The Superman Theory is a simple-minded artifice designed to draw DC earth one closer to the Watchmen earth and issue a weak political parallel.  The Supermen Theory does not really contribute anything other than that.  The best part of Doomsday Clock is once again the new Rorschach who hilariously confronts Batman where he lives, but there's a lot of mediocre plotting and stupid pitfalls surrounding that.


In many ways, Scooby-Doo Team-Up is the stronger of the two books.  Whereas Doomsday Clock reminds you of better stories, Scooby-Doo Team-Up relies on two classic tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes.


Note the “r” substitution gag.

Ferro Lad is one of the first Legionnaires to die, but I’m not going to explain how.  Writer Sholly Fisch does that, with the very slightest amending of continuity.


Originally, Superboy intended to sacrifice himself.  Ferro Lad however turns iron and decks the Boy of Steel, already weakened by red sun exposure.  Then, he makes the historic and heroic gesture.  Fisch remembers a much later tale properly introducing Ferro Lad’s twin brother to retrieve his first suspect.

Fisch neatly weighs the scales with an honor to the Legion, Scooby-Doo and the Gang.  Note that Douglas includes the time-plucked sleuths in his praise.  That’s because they’re history.  The accolades oppose the animosity toward superheroes that Geoff Johns tries to recreate in Doomsday Clock.

Fisch depends on the intrinsic continuity of Scooby-Doo Team-Up to clarify his detective story.  He elegantly discounts the Legion as the culprits behind the Ferro Lad ghost.

This sort of chicanery isn’t unheard of.  Legionnaires pretended to be villains and enigmatic heroes, especially during recruitment time.  Velma nears the answer, and that solution exploits Scooby-Doo Team-Up past issues as well as Legion history.  All this plus futureshock gags, character based comedy, a dynamite finale and Dario Brizuella doing justice to a cartoony Legion of Super-Heroes.


Hope Larson’s Batgirl vacillated from good (the Asian trip and Poison Ivy team-up) to piss poor (The Penguin’s son and recent wretched Nightwing past-present).  This stand-alone Christmas issue of Batgirl falls in the good category, maybe even a little great.  Definitely when compared to the low points.

The story starts out with a loser villain, played completely for laughs.

The Wrapper is well-needed fresh air.  Never seen before, the Yuletide miscreant is potentially lethal but a pushover when facing somebody like Batgirl.  The whole encounter lasts two pages and serves as an introduction and a soft restoration.  Batgirl is confident, quippy and skillful.  Another welcome change comes from the artwork.  Sam Basri simply infuses more energy into the action and creates better cartoon expressions than what we’ve been seeing.


The Wrapper interrupted Babs’ night out with her friends Frankie and Alysia.  These applications also exhibit greater strength.  Both characters arrived in Batgirl courtesy of different writers.  Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr introduced Frankie, a victim of multiple sclerosis hence the cane, as Batgirl’s former college roommate.  Gail Simone created another then present day roommate the transgendered Alysia who married her now-wife Jo.  

It’s absolutely fair when the new writer wants to start with a clean slate; so long as it’s not a scorched earth policy.  Larson appeared to want nothing to do with these figures in Babs’ former life, but this issue proves that she writes them extremely well, and she should continue their participation.  Larson also casually implies that Alysia knows that Babs is Batgirl.  This makes for a smoother story.

Babs, Frankie and Alysia are in the party mood at The Gordon Clean Energy Christmas Party.  Babs in her spare time created a startup.  She turned over the reins to Alysia and Frankie.  That’s how brilliant Batgirl is, and Larson through the presence of the setting reminds the reader of Babs’ intelligence.  A commodity we haven’t been seeing with much force for the past two story arcs.  GCE is sharing the venue with a right-wing energy group, and that’s where Harley Quinn crashes the party.


Larson’s Harley Quinn is a remarkable fusion of Bruce Timm original and Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner Coney Island protagonist, with a sprinkling of Suicide Squad evil.  It’s rare when a writer can pull all these seemingly unrelated threads together.  Hope's Harley speaks like Arleen Sorkin, and Basri's skill in action portrayals as well as unique cartoon design bestows ideal animation.  Harley mentions Amanda Waller, and her target fits right in with with her vigilante vendettas in the Conner/Palmiotti verse.  Contrast her with Scott Lobdell’s Harley in Red Hood and the Outlaws.

In order to save the conservative and all the party guests, Batgirl must participate in a scavenger hunt to find the true meaning of Christmas.  Below is the third most interesting gag.


This is also an example of Harley’s triumvirate.  It was evil of her to spread a deadly virus, but she left plenty of time for Batgirl to track her down and retrieve the antidote.  She plays fair.  These pranks Batgirl must defuse are far from deadly.  They're giggles, that Harley probably knows Batgirl will figure out.  The question is when.  If one of her gags against Batgirl and her entourage succeeded, it’s likely that Harley would have at least cured everybody else at the party, except Bradley Burr.  

You may ask what’s the point of Harley’s excursion.  She doesn’t need one.  Harley’s out for any excuse to add excitement to her life.  Batgirl provides that perfect foil she’s been looking for.

Though the wraparound story continues the previous issue’s Spider-Man Family battle against the Lizard, Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows actually focuses on Spinneret, alias Mary Jane Parker.  Supergirl writer Jody Hauser takes the reader on a tour of her life.  She starts with a sparring match with Tony Stark.


I could have sworn Tony was dead, but hey, I’m not going to sweat over that.  He’s been dead before.  It makes sense that Iron Man would monitor M.J.’s power-sharing suit, a Spidey creation using Regent tech.  

The despot Regent once ruled the RYV earth by engineering a lethal means to steal superpowers from heroes and villains.  Then he made the mistake of threatening Annie May Parker.  Spidey crawled out of hiding to hand him his ass.  

M.J. decided that two super-powered parents protecting their daughter is better than one.  Nobody knows super-suits like Tony, and I like that he and M.J. became pals over that.  I like the discussion revealing different financial worlds.  It all seems normal, which is Hauser’s signature.  She writes superheroes as if they and their lives are normal.


In her civilian life M.J. owns a fashion outlet.  That keeps her busy and gives Annie the option of some very stylish yet thrifty ensembles.  Artist Nick Roche injects apropos youthful exuberance to Annie.  His warm, comic art suits Hauser's equally humanistic and funny writing.


Mary Jane being a parent may take getting used to for some, but the team of Houser and Roche make this transition appear natural, as if M.J. had to reach this level of maturation.

I don’t have a lot to say bout the new books.  Their debuts do not foster enough material to make a first impression.  Bonehead is the least of the two.  The setting is futuristic and dependent on drones.


Bonehead is the chap in red.  He’s a sort of hyperkinetic Blue Beetle.  DC originally cast Blue Beetle as their Spider-Man complete with acrobatic skill.  Subsequent Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes with a magic suit of armor followed suit.


Bonehead's night maneuvers alerts whatever constabulary monitors this world/future.  The Gladiator that responds looks a little like the British anti-hero Martial Law.


He’s however illustrated with a lot less parody in mind and more on the side of aesthetics.  I have no idea who I should be rooting for in this comic book.  Bonehead apparently breaks the law, but the officer responds like a policeman.  Or rather he responds how an officer should: identifying himself, attempting arrest, not shooting an unarmed alleged perpetrator.  I also have no idea how to respond when Bonehead interferes with a gang brawl.  


What are my choices? On the one hand, the little fellows are ganging up on the big one.  The other hand holds a bat and does some damage to the little guys.  Neither dresses friendly.  The little ones have masks like insects.  The big one is clad as a technopunk scarecrow.  I generally like scarecrows, but this one talks, and his words really give me no push over the line.


Backways is a little confusing but easier to grasp.  I just don’t know if I want to grasp it.  The story kicks off with something bad happening to Goth girl Sylvia.


Magical forces abduct her, prompting her friend, possibly girlfriend, possibly hopeful girlfriend to come looking for her.


That’s Anna, and doesn’t she look badass? Sylvia’s mom isn’t keen on Anna.  I’m just not sure why.  Is it because of the possible lesbian gaze? Is it the magic-using or potential spell casting? She just doesn’t like her.  Anna investigates, and she meets a Trickster.

This girl means business.  She’s got occult trinkets, and she knows how to use them.  Even if they sometimes just don't work.  She names Anna, always a bad thing in these situations, steals a clue and pulls a disappearing act.  

I know what you’re thinking.  Is this Sylvia transformed? Doubtful.  Her skin tone is darker.  Anna would know Sylvia, unless she’s speaking in Stargate voices, but nothing seems to indicate such manipulation.  

Coyote Bones returns to save Anna from another hazard in the fantasy world.  Ostensibly a supernatural Joker—with a superbly realized visual, Skin Horse is also some kind of pervert, but since we’re dealing with hocus-pocus, we don’t exactly know what perversion he had planned for Anna.


I can recommend Backways for the artwork.  As evinced by the graphics, this is a superior production by Eleonora Carlini and Silvia Tidei with remarkable original designs.  The narrative is easy to follow, but the story needs details, and as always I’m a tough sell on magic.  I’m open for a second issue, but only if things become clearer will I purchase a third.