Monday, February 8, 2016

POBB February 3, 2016

Pick of Brown Bag
February 3, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag drops in on A-Force, Angel and Faith, Barbwire, Batgirl, Captain Marvel and Rocket Raccoon and Groot.  If you miss the POBB, but need some quick comic book advice, I also tweet the reviews under: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Whereas in most fiction, magic is a force of nature, the magic of Magic Town is sentient.  As a result, several foreshadowed factors come into play for this issue of Angel and Faith.  

The Big Bad Archaeus attempted to persuade the magic to side with him.  So, the monster gave the magic a gift that all sentients require.

However, the way writer Victor Gischler characterizes the magic suggests that the gift isn’t quite the end all to be alls.  The magic mostly acts benign.  People don’t quite understand its actions.  That’s part of Archaeus’ plan.  Archaeus’ gift is the whisper in the magic’s figurative ear.  That the magic will never be accepted and it should become part of the Archaeus Family.  It’s the typical why serve in heaven when you can rule with me in hell trick.

Gischler doesn’t treat the magic as a threat.  Instead, he looks at the entity’s point of view and Nadira’s influence.  As we learned in previous issues, Nadira is a Slayer, but her instincts slant toward finding a peaceful/harmonious solution to all problems.  The magic as we learned likes to solve problems and be part of the solution.

The plot twist thus serves four purposes.  To redefine the magic of Magic Town.  Grant an extra level of cunning to Archaeus, while at the same time demonstrating the shallowness in his character and strengthen Nadira’s already inspiring resolve.  As to four…That would be telling.

In the action portion of the series, Angel confronts crooked cop Brandt.

I like how Gischler takes a Whedon cut-to-the-chase approach in this act.  Angel knows that Brandt knows.  Brandt knows that Angel knows.  Somebody needs to hurt.  Unfortunately for Angel, Brandt is a cop.  So, he’s never alone.

Angelus wasn’t a loner.  Angelus was in a league of vampires controlled by the Master.  Angel became a loner because he thought that was the only means to fight Angelus.  It would take years, but Angel became part of a family, and when he left that family, he built up another.  He would never be a loner again.  A trusted ally from the series became his partner in the comic book.  Faith.

Gischler uses the conflict that’s tied to the overall storyarc, to actually serve as an excellent introduction to how Angel’s and Faith’s friendship works.  

Angel and Faith are good together because of the humor, the pragmatism from both characters and the history of corruption from which both stars emerged.  Largely due to each other’s influence.

Angel and Faith is so well written that if doesn’t feel written at all.  Gischler seems to reconstitute the television series into the comic book as easily as Will Conrad and Michelle Madsen mimic the actors’ personages.

A midnight picnic and the growing romance between Batgirl and Batwing segues to fighting the larceny of hard-light hologram harnessing hoodlums.

The encounter’s totally familiar to Batwing but not to Babs.  Her eidetic memory once again fails, and this is the issue of Batgirl where writers Cameron Stewart and Brendon Fletcher resolve the gaps once and for all.

Though the story begins with a Batwing/Batgirl team-up, the lion’s share of the book belongs to the partnership on the cover.

Batgirl teams up with Black Canary to fight the enemy responsible for Babs' memory loss.

The superb story functions with a strong visual narrative courtesy of regular artist Babs Tarr.   The tale acts as a fair play mystery where suspects and clues introduced in past issues and this one bear scrutiny from the reader and the detectives.

Black Canary’s return to the cast adds much needed toughness and encouragement to a situation that’s turned Babs vulnerable and given her friend Frankie too many worries.  Dinah on the other hand comes onto the scene fresh and direct.

Canary picks up the slack.  She’s confident that Babs isn’t losing anything.  Rather somebody or some thing must be taking.  She’s out to protect her friend in the most violent way possible.  She’s in short a female character after my own heart.

The story flows to an action-packed conclusion that will more than sate the thirst of thrill-seekers missing the Dinah/Babs dynamic.

Barb Wire revisits Avram Roman, and discovers he's not the man she remembered.

Unbeknownst to Barb, she led the Feds straight to him, but in a juicy twist.  That was Avram's plan all along.

Avram intends to make a Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid stand against government forces, but Barb's conscience gets the better of her.

Barb's participation turns what could have been tragedy or massacre, into a smart-ass comeuppance that even Avram couldn’t have predicted.  That’s entertainment.

Captain Marvel leads Alpha Flight on an exploration of an unknown spaceship, and the craft proves to be full of surprises.

This issue of Captain Marvel doesn't break any new ground when it comes to science fiction, but it uses the traditions well.  The starship backdrop serves to flesh out the cast and examine their shared history.

Aurora as first imagined by Chris Claremont and John Byrne suffered from multiple personality syndrome.  She seems a lot better now, and apparently turned her flirtation with Sasquatch into a full blown romance at one time.  That's over now, but Sasquatch apparently still harbors feelings for the mutant hero.

The relationship between Sasquatch and Aurora is a kind of anchor in an otherwise brand new group, less Puck and our title hero.  The new characters deserve some examination.  Wendy Kawasaki for example is vivacious and curious.

The heroes by the way do not stay in the dark throughout the story.  Instead, artists Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson step up their game with striking visuals that will be familiar to anybody who to their sorrow watched Prometheus.

I’m not suggesting a direct correlation.  Rather, in general, Captain Marvel takes and admits the Alien franchise as its inspiration.  At least early on, with the red lights and organic ship, it’s a favorable comparison.  When the lights come on though, Prometheus gets a good kick in the shins.

The last issue of A-Force was instantaneously better than the first volume since writers Kelly Thompson and G. Willow Wilson focused on actual Marvel heroines, rather than confusing, ersatz doppelgängers.  This issue of A-Force is better through the virtue of being damn enjoyable to read and bearing the stunning art of Jorge Molina and colorist Laura Martin.

A cosmic blue being appeared in the Marvelverse.  She's a refugee from the previous volume of A-Force dubbed Singularity.

She was friends with versions of Marvel's female champions.  Singularity's first instinct was to seek out her allies, but something else noticed her.  Christened Antimatter, the being wants to kill Singularity because she causes him pain.

Though not friends with Medusa, She-Hulk or Captain Marvel, Singularity quickly becomes at least liked by the heroes, who defend her out of principle.  Well, almost.

Of course, Medusa quickly sobers up and remembers she was one of the Fantastic Four.

This is just one of Medusa's impressive moments.  Indeed, the creators of A-Force build up all the team.

At a certain point, Singularity, She-Hulk and Medusa seek out Nico, of the Runaways.  Nico and Singularity were in fact the best of friends in the prior universe, but strangers here.

I'm not overly familiar with Nico or her powers, but Wilson and Thompson quickly inform through and during the comedy of a wedding gone awry.  

I know enough now to say that I like Nico and appreciate the limits of her abilities.  I’m a tough sell for any magic-basis.  Giving the sorcery boundaries that affect the character and make a sort of sense is a big incentive.

Thompson and Wilson demonstrate that each of the heroes is capable of combatting Antimatter but not getting rid of him permanently.  This at once does justice to each character and explains why they must band together with Dazzler... once and for all eliminate the threat to Singularity and the earth if not the universe.

Rocket Raccoon and Groot is losing me fast.  Under the conceit of a campfire story, writer Young hacks out a story that lacks the charm, warmth and humor of the solo Groot miniseries.  Essentially this tale posits that Groot lost Rocket Raccoon during Battle World or Secret Wars and has been looking for him ever since.

Two questions.  Why do the Guardians of the Galaxy believe Groot and Rocket to be dead, as seen last issue, when the heroes of earth could have just informed the Guardians that Groot, at least, is alive?  Why does everybody all of a sudden understand Groot?  Nobody understands Groot’s language except Rocket.  Former Groot writer Jeff Loveness spent a whole Brian Kesinger lovely issue of Groot explaining just how Rocket picked up Groot’s tongue.

Anyway, Groot believes he found Rocket in the raccoon tyrant.

Maybe, but who wants to read about an amnesiac raccoon torturing his friend?  I'd rather retread scenes from Groot such as this:

From Groot

And this.

From Groot

And this.

Best Silver Surfer Ever in Groot

Groot, just Groot, is superior to Rocket Raccoon and Groot by parsecs.  Young isn't giving me anything entertaining.  So, no, Marvel I don't "want to know what happens next.”

Groot is now available in a sweet twenty-four-ninety-five cents hardback.  ISBN # 978-0-7851-9552-8.  By not buying Rocket Raccoon and Groot thus far, you can invest eight dollars into buying that hardback.

Yup.  This scene is in Groot as well.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

POBB January 27, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 27, 2016
Ray Tate

Hello, I'm Ray Tate.  Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, where I review the best and the worst of the week.  Drop a comment if you like.  I also tweet teensy reviews under: #PickoftheBrownBag.  Our contenders this week are Black Canary, the Hellboy Winter Special,  Henchgirl, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Spider-Woman and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  Plus a few words about Black Magick.

I can’t discuss Black Canary or Scooby-Doo Team-Up properly without spoiling significant plot details.  So the full review of these books will follow the publication of the normal edition of the POBB.

The last issue of Henchgirl was a confusing mishmash about an alien invasion fought off by the Butterfly Gang's arch-nemesis Great Guy.  The current issue of Henchgirl gets back to its criminal goodness basics.

The story begins with Coco, Monsieur Butterfly’s, favorite, attempting to ferret out a mole in the gang.  In order to do this, Mary and the Butterfly Gang must undertake a small heist.  Ask anybody.  I love a good heist. 

Coco needs a special McGuffin for her mole-finding scheme.  It's not a complex heist, but it is an emotional one that plausibly pulls Mary in two directions.

Mary likes the money facet of crime, but she’s not so keen on the poor hours, the occasional ethical quandaries and the mixed messages from her boss.  

From these opening scenes, you may not identify Henchgirl as a funny book, Kristen Gudsnuk’s indie is actually a lot of laughs.

This becomes evident when Mary and the Butterfly Gang undertake the heist only to be caught in the act by Great Guy, who’s still suffering from his loss from the previous issue.

Great Guy watched the love of his life literally lose her head in the midst of reporting the attempted alien takeover.  It got even worse for Great Guy after that.  

The heist though upset in numerous hilarious ways is a success.  Gudsnuk next smoothly segues to part two of the book.  We meet Mary’s parents, her sister and explore a very rare super power in comics, or anywhere else for that matter.

The secrets of Mary’s parents instigate numerous comic beats beautifully staged by Gudsnuk.  The writer/creator impressively uses the short hand of art to express the underlying tension at the dinner party, and Gudsnuk demonstrates a motif in the entire run.  Superpowers and the people who wield them are dangerous, regardless of which side they choose to serve.

Jessica Drew alias Spider-Woman is pregnant, and Captain Marvel, Jess’ best friend, suggested she check in to a mostly awesome space hospital.  Its practitioners tend to numerous aliens in need.  Unfortunately, Jess picked the one day that the Skrulls paid a visit.  By visit I mean take over.

Previously in Spider-Woman

In this issue of Spider-Woman, Jess battles the Skrulls, while attempting to drop the defenses that are keeping Carol and Alpha Flight out.  At first, it seems that Jess has things well in hand.

Alas, this is only a soupçon of victory.  In order to enact her plan, Jess must travel the length of the hospital, without alerting the Skrulls, to consult with the hospital’s designer, who happens to be dead.

The designer is however remarkably astir, thanks to a combination of Doctor Who’s Matrix and Futurama’s cloning methods for celebrities and historical figures.

Jess’ pile-on of problems is a boon for readers because they allow artist David Lopez to produce Muybridge Moments such as this.

Eadweard Muybridge should sound familiar, if even vaguely.  He’s the groundbreaking founding father of photography responsible for this classic image. 

You see the similarity?  Muybridge captured the intricacies of locomotion in stills.  Lopez introduces a variety of stop-motion art, but he does so for the opposite reasons.  Lopez crafts these splash page Muybridge Moments to imbue the illusion of movement and curtail time simultaneously.

For those not wild about the technique, you need not worry.  There’s plenty of gorgeous non-experimental visual narrative to enjoy in Spider-Woman, as well as comedy in Jess’ incremental accumulation of misfortune.

Black Canary is a remarkable fusion of star character Dinah Lance’s multiple roles in comic books.  This issue bridges her status as crimefighter, former government agent, Golden to Modern Age team member and new 52 era Leader.  At the same time, Black Canary acts as superb science fiction and an optical marvel that should be nominated for a Spectrum Award.

Black Magick is as good as previous issues, but not a lot happens.  The most interesting thing for me in addition to Nicola Scott’s absorbing illustration was the botched hanging.  I like it when writer’s research, and writer Greg Rucka explains the difference between a proper hanging and what amounts to lynching.

The latest Hellboy anthology features two main Hellboy stories, a B Side tie-in to the Vril of Mignola’s Frankenstein Unbound, and a Lobster Johnson short that’s neither indicative of the character or the mood of these comics.

The best of the anthology can be found in Chelsea Cain’s and Michael Avon Oeming’s short that looks in on Hellboy, Professor Bruttenholm and a very young Liz Sherman.  I miss Liz Sherman and regret Mignola’s shelving of the character from the Hellboy chronicles.

Liz was never in love with Hellboy in the series.  That fancy belongs solely to Guillermo Del Toro.  It's a great addition by the way, but I never really considered that Liz joined Professor Bruttenholm at so young an age.  This of course makes sense.

The young Liz provides comic counterpoint often in Oeming’s exaggerated cartooniness to Hellboy’s straight man monster fighter, and the Christmas setting allows for unusual demons to spring from the snow.  Fortunately, Liz is a pyrokinetic, and her power to blaze explains the length of the short.

The second Hellboy tale is a ghost story during his 1953 BPRD days.  The woman is Agent Susan Xiang, one of Hellboy's first teammates in the BPRD. 

Hellboy can’t really kill anything due to possession being nine tenths of the law, and the spirits have justifiable cause.  Hellboy works best when he gets to beat the crap out of something that wants to kill as many humans as possible.  This tale is noisier than most American ghost stories, but in the end the ghosts mean no harm.  They simply need something done.  Not bad but not memorable either.

Given the high asking price, I'd say that the Hellboy Winter Special is an optional purpose.  One story rocks.  The other is okay.  The Vril tale lacks a connection to Hellboy, and the Lobster Johnson vignette is best forgotten. 

A cruise line hires Scooby and the gang to investigate some otherworldly piracy, and they're not alone.  Aquaman and the entire Aqua Family guest star in this entertaining hi-jinks on and under the high seas.  

Stuck in the sixties, Squirrel Girl hatches a plan to take down Dr. Doom.  If The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl were a movie, I would say that Dr. Doom steals every scene.  North’s characterization for the less than good doctor encompasses every facet of his role in comics.  Madman, genius, man of honor, charismatic leader, egotist, weird humanitarian, it’s all here.  

Ryan North’s multifaceted treatment of the villain is matched gesture for gesture by artist Erica Henderson, who outdoes herself with this issue.

Squirrel Girl for once meets a foe that completely overwhelms her in terms of intellect and power.  She underestimated Doom’s abilities, but she does so in a way different from most.

Squirrel Girl knows Doom is super intelligent.  She just didn’t know how much.  Doom in a Batman like imitation is at ten steps ahead of Squirrel Girl and her newfound allies.

North planned it this way.  There’s nothing inadvertent in the story.  North purposely pitted Doreen, Nancy and her computer science class all extremely smart against a mastermind.  Only in this way, can the heroes plausibly fail without looking undermined.

Let me also propose that Doom in actuality is holding back when trying to kill the group.  First, Doom must admire Squirrel Girl despite his initial animosity.  If there’s one thing Doom can appreciate, it’s intellect.  So, Doom sees Squirrel Girl as an excellent audience to appreciate his acumen.  Second, in Doom’s mind none is more powerful.  It’s dishonorable to wage war against non-combatants which Doom surely must designate if not to Doreen then to Nancy and her time-lost allies.  Third, there’s actually a good person in Doom.  One that will grow over time to deliver Sue Richards’ second child and become that child’s godfather.

Regardless, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is an engrossing battle of wits between Doom and Doreen.  The science fiction involving time travel and electronics is sauce for the goose, or nuts for the squirrels.