Wednesday, June 20, 2018

POBB June 13, 2018

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 13, 2018
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog, I check out the worst and the best comics of the week.  Today, the subjects range from Batgirl vs Riddler, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Red Hood and the Outlaws, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the brand new book Stellar.  I’ll also expound upon the newest volumes of Hawkman, Nancy Drew and Thor.  If you want just slices of the reviews—even the parsed history of Hawkman is thick—you can seek me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag



I purchased Stellar because it's science fiction illustrated by Brett Blevins.  Blevins had an informative art demonstration column in Draw Magazine from TwoMorrows publishing.  He was a storyboard artist for Superman/Batman and frequently renders Edgar Rice Burroughs heroes such as John Carter and Tarzan.  That said.  Blevins on straight up science fiction is something of a rarity, but this pulpy alien exoticism is right up his alley.

Stellar opens with an eponymous bounty hunter hauling her charge across an alien landscape.  Her prisoner is Mr. Karkinos, a Mantid type of creature with a Cockney accent.  He's wanted for treason, murder and all sorts of criminal acts, but there's just one problem.

.  

With an armistice in place and no bounty to collect, Stellar employs a less lucrative plan.



Our heroine encountered the sanctuary during a period of war.  This war is more than just the young dying for the sake of the old.  This war appears to be as far reaching and transformative as Doctor Who's Time War.


In addition, to all of these assets, Stellar is a superhero.  Perhaps it's not a designation she would bestow to herself, but she possess far greater power than appears.  The cold blues of the present give readers a taste, but the hot orange flashbacks highlight the aspect more.




The weight of war falls heavily on Stellar's shoulders.  According to her own words, she did terrible things, and her disillusionment is clear in dialogue and expression.  She seeks to carve out a new life free from the generals, but a threat from the past catches up.



The underlying anti-war theme written by Joseph Keatinge arises loud and clear without becoming blatant.  He intertwines the motif with Stellar's characterization and her dialogue.  He teases it out from Karkinos' cynicism and the presence of so many orphans at the sanctuary.  Blevins uses devastating visuals to punctuate Keatinge's confident scripting.  All of this makes Stellar at least worth an initial purchase.

Crisis on Infinite Earths ruined Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  They once flew in sets.


The earth one Hawkman and Hawkgirl were police officers from the planet Thanagar seeking an alien fugitive.  For a variety of reasons, they stay on earth after they apprehend the shape-shifting Byth.


The earth two Hawkman and Hawkgirl were the originals created in the 1940s.  They were the reincarnation of Egyptian royalty.  


Could anything be simpler or more satisfying?

Not so after the Crisis.  DC mandated that parallel earths never existed.  One set of Hawks would now partake the entire Hawkman and Hawkgirl package.  

Any case the space hawks had opened say a nettlesome issue of John Byrne’s Action Comics published a few years after the Crisis would be credited to the only Hawks in the DCU.

Makes far more sense if they were the earth one Hawkman and Hawkgirl, doesn’t it? I mean.  They’re on a space ship.

In the rewritten timeline, the reincarnated Hawkman and Hawkgirl from the1940s presumably retired with the JSA when faced with an ultimatum issued by the House of Un-American Activities Committee.  



A touchstone for DC recapitulated throughout every cosmos. They somehow reemerged to enter the nebulous history of the post-Crisis Justice League.  Because the Bronze Age Justice League stories apparently, somehow, counted.  


How did they stay so young? Good genes I suppose. Various goofiness attempted to explain their longevity.  I know what you’re thinking.  Why didn’t DC just say that the Hawkpeople were incarnations of the same characters.  You've already got the reincarnation angle dangling out there.  That would have been too simple.  


In fact DC went out of their way to retroactively dismiss the Hawks that appeared in the then modern day Justice League as imposters.  Even when the creative team played by the half-assed rules DC setup.  Despite it making so much more sense if the Hawks were in fact the alien ones.  Despite Batman, world’s greatest detective, recognizing them as Hawkman and Hawkgirl.


To make matters worse, DC reintroduced a new Thanagarian pair of space Hawks in Hawkworld.  Coincidentally dubbed Katar Hol and Shayera Thal.  Like the original earth one police officers only grittier, gray and son of gun hunting for Byth.  Wait.  Doesn't that mean that there were two sets of Hawkpeople from different times on one earth?  How is that better than two earths and two distinct pairs?

DC is not known for their ability to repair the damage they inflict to continuity.  So, when the new space Hawks run came to an end, the writer and editors of the new Hawkman series with DC’s blessing introduced the stupidest plot device of all.  The smooshing.


The western hero Nighthawk, minding his own business on the plains

and the Silent Knight just chilling in Medieval times were yanked into Hawkman’s bloodline for the most superficial of reasons.  

Frankly, Ator the Fighting Eagle has a better claim for inclusion.


Surprisingly Hawkgirl, Cinnamon and Lady Celia, why not, all got smooshed into the new Hawkman, this new composite Katar Hol.  So hey, an unwitting gender equality moment.  


Justice League, so much better.  So easier to comprehend.  “Less talking, more hitting.”  Bonus.  Shay grew the wings.  The Thanagarians were all naturally winged aliens.  Sigh.


So, here we are again.  A new Hawkman title.  I want to like this.  I want to like Hawkman again, and the book starts out well.  

The art by Bryan Hitch is breath-taking with a lot of thought in the way Hawkman moves, fights and of course flies.  Hitch also considers what Carter Hall looks like without the mask, and it’s not the usual.


Time worn is the way I’d describe his face.  Youngish but creased with experience and stubbly cause he’s not in a relationship and doesn’t care if he shaves or not.  The brown hair departs from the blonde and black hair Carter and Katar usually sport.  It gives him a more earthy look.

The art backs up a good/bad story by Robert Venditti.  Hawkman seeks out a relic that will fill in the blanks of a past that he mostly knows.  On the way we meet a partner in crime.

I like the idea of reincarnation being used to explain friendships.  That’s not what’s usually done in regards to Hawkman.  Fred Saberhagen did something similar with his good-guy Dracula novels.  Dracula an immortal is an old friend of the family, the entire family and its ancestors.


Carter ends up fighting a callback to classic Hawkman stories.  I won’t explain how the Kong-like guardian alludes to the Bronze Age.  Just take my word on it.  After the spectacular fight, he takes the Nautilus to an expert in the arcane.


Never done before and it makes sense.  The long-lived Carter Hall knows the immortal Madame Xanadu.  They’re also friends.  So, at about this time, you must be asking what’s so bad about Hawkman.  This.



Venditti used the motif of reincarnation to build on Carter’s character, establish relationships, give him more dimension.  All of that was fine.  Even had I the money, I would never pay Bryan Hitch to illustrate a two page spread of Hawkman in all his incarnations.  Never.  This is just reincarnation slamming you like a brick in the face.  No, thank you.  I don’t want to explore these avatars.  I don’t want to know every detail about Hawkman’s past lives as various winged characters.  I just couldn’t care less about this aspect of Hawkman.  So, if that's the basis of this series, take it away.



I bought Red Hood and the Outlaws maybe a year after the New 52 began.  I never lauded Jason Todd, nor cared for him to return.  I didn't vote for his demise, but hell, who cared about Jason Todd.  Then, I realized just how well Scott Lobdell wrote these adventures.  How he characterized Jason Todd, Starfire and Arsenal.  Everything just clicked.  When Starfire flew away from the group, Lobdell brought hilarity to the partnership of Jason Todd and Roy Harper.  When that chapter turned, Lobdell introduced Artemis and Bizarro to the mix, and no matter what, I just found Red Hood and the Outlaws eminently readable, even when not uproarious or archly clever.  So, now there's this issue which is a straight up drama in which we learn about Jason Todd's father Willis Todd.



Holy hell.  This character study is a remarkable.  Willis makes no bones about it.  He is not a good man.  He came up a survivor.  He met Jason's mother and fell in love.



Jason Todd is actually a Bronze Age character.  His parents originally died in a crocodile pit supplied by Killer Croc.  Post-Crisis, Two-Face killed Jason's father.  Jason's mother appeared in Death in the Family.  Somebody more suitable to hard-boiled novels, she did business with the Joker.  The New 52 detailed a different fate for Jason's mother, and this issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws while focusing on Jason's father, also humanizes a character that we only knew as mostly dead.



Lobdell details Jason's birth.  He exposes the couples hard times and the reason why Willis ended up becoming a henchman to the elite villains of Gotham City.  Two-Face gets a visual mention, but apparently, Willis is very good at his job.  So, Two-Face doesn't kill him in the new history.



Lobdell even comes to the conclusion that the reader does.  Willis could be an unreliable narrator.  So, he puts in the proof that what the reader peruses is true.  

Most of the art in Red Hood and the Outlaws has been as solid as the writing.  Trevor Hairsine outdoes himself by hitting the emotional notes of this moving story while carrying the visuals through the narration.  This issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws is really for anybody that likes a good crime novel.



The Titans began in the aftermath of Rebirth.  Wally West returned from parts unknown, and affected the minds of those closest to him.  The Titans began remembering a past that did not actually exist.  In fact it wasn’t even a Silver Age or Bronze Age version the team recalled.  For example, the Titans remember Lilith as a founding member.  Dick Grayson though Robin never wore short pants.  Their memories adapted to their new environment.  The New 52.



Donna Troy was the most screwed up of all.  She possessed the false memories implanted by the Amazons as well as the real echoes of memory in her time with the Titans.  Oh, and she was destined to kill the world as Troia.  Wonder Woman is actually the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, Donna is a homunculus forged from the magic of a crone and ultimately the bad ideas of Meredith Finch.  

Guess what, you can now forget about eighty percent of that because there’s a new Big Deal catalyzing events in the DCU.  Batman Dark Knight Metal seemed like nothing too important to miss.  Despite it being the controlling force behind a number of books, I still feel that way.  

Basically, the Source Wall collapsed and triggered a gamut of metahumans, one that Nightwing encounters.


The Titans' mission even though it involves meeting new metas reflects the Teen Titans original aims.  To address teenage problems at a time when nobody listened to teenagers.  Serve the underserved.

The major difference in these goals lies in the sponsorship.  After disbanding the New 52 Titans because they're the Justice League, and they can do that, the League decide on a different tack for the new Titans.


In conjunction with the new purpose, Nightwing selects heroes that can contribute something to the confrontation of a new paradigm.  Dick first seeks out Raven.


Wait.  Says you.  Raven was created to be a Titan.  Dick knows her.  Not in this universe, baby.  Raven was a member of Damien Wayne’s Teen Titans.  At best she’s an acquaintance.

So is Gar Logan, Beast Boy, whose powers have gone a little whacky.

After Donna, Dick visits real Titans newcomer, Natasha Irons, last seen in Lana Lang’s Superwoman.


Finally the mysterious woman who has been watching the gathering of eagles identifies herself.


I know I’ve been sounding snarky throughout the review, and it seems like I’m not down with any of this, but it’s the opposite.  Dan Abnett is still writing and that means that the Titans Special feels organic in transition.  Sure.  There’s no explanation why the Titans didn’t remain a team when they said they would straight to the League’s faces, but it’s not a clean break.  Abnett emphasizes that Donna is still a mess.  She must be on constant guard.  She’s seen her future, and it’s deadly.  That said.  She no longer needs to deal with the added problems of relationships.  She’s essentially starting fresh, and Nightwing isn’t going to treat her any differently.  So, yeah, I'm still in.


Though written by Tim Seeley, the Riddler comes straight out of Tom King’s “The War of Jokes and Riddles.”  Seeley taking a page from King also restores some of the Riddler’s gimmicks.

Query and Echo appeared as The Riddler's henchwenches in the 90s, and they prove to be trouble for Batgirl who gets beaten up by henchmen as well.  I support the rough housing.  Violence is part of drama, and Batgirl should be as smacked around as a male hero.  She gets a real work out here, and there’s none of this “not the face” bull.


Babs is going to be using some concealer for a few days, or she’s going to making “accident at the dojo” excuses for equally long.  The reason for her conflict lies in the Riddler taking inspiration from the Wedding of Batman and Catwoman.

Riddler is conscious of why he can never be part of societal norms.  He knows how others view him, and he accepts that.  He embraces evil in a way Catwoman does not.  So this entire Batgirl book is a form of romantic overture that has nothing to do with romance.  The Riddler approaches Batgirl in the only way that makes sense to both of them.  Intellectual and physical dueling.

The Riddler kidnaps various denizens of Burnside, places them in death traps that can only be located through riddles and watches Batgirl dope them out while taking steps to avoid capture.

The only caveat that I have against Seeley’s story is that the reader cannot solve the riddles entirely.  The Burnside locations are all made up.  So you can only work out parts of the riddle.  It’s a small complaint, but if you’re looking for a fair play puzzle like one in The Ellery Queen Mysteries, you’ll be slightly disappointed.  

In the denouement the Big Bad himself appears to face an exhausted Batgirl.  The old days of the Riddler being a pushover in a fight are long gone, and King, inspired by the Droogs of A Clockwork Orange, turned the Riddler into an even more violent Batman rogue.

Seeley follows suit, and he also draws a nod to 1930s Batman.  Though told from Batgirl’s point of view, the Riddler controls the narrative.  However, Seeley draws in a lot of Batgirl’s frustrations and friendships into the story, making it a special that actually is.


Nancy Drew returns to comic books.  She was last seen guesting in Dynamite’s new adult Hardy Boys series.  For full blown Nancy Drew original mysteries, readers should seek out the manga from Papercutz written by former Topps X-Files writer Stefan Petrucha and amazing artist Sho Murase.  These high class volumes offer sleuthing and suspense in the Nancy Drew vein.  As of this writing, they are still available in hardback or trade paperback form.  But enough about the past triumphs of Nancy Drew.  How’s this new series?

Pretty good actually.  Nancy’s first mystery opens James Bond style at the conclusion of a puzzle that introduces the character in her element.  It also sets the tone for what’s to come.

Veronica Mars fans may cry foul, but they have no right.  Veronica Mars always was a reimagining and updating of Nancy Drew.  By the way, I love Veronica Mars.  

Nancy Drew arrived fully inquisitive in the 1930s.  She predates the Shadow by two years and would have been more likely to meet Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.  

Nancy Drew is a very old, iconic character.  Every time Nancy arrives in a new era or medium, she gets a reboot.  


That said, writer Kelly Thompson does not stray too far from the tone of the Nancy Drew prose publications.  She also keeps Nancy about the same age when she first appeared.

The meat of the mystery calls Nancy back to River Heights, err...I mean.  Bayport? No, wait a minute.  This is really my only objection.  Nancy Drew always, always made her home in River Heights.  Turning her hometown into something else disrupts an otherwise breezy enjoyment for no reason.

In her old stomping grounds, that shall remain nameless, Nancy reunites with with her former crime solving buddies Bess and her cousin George, now a lesbian.  


So, here’s the thing about this change.  It's not really about inclusiveness.  It's not really about a sign of the times.  George always was a lesbian.  Now, she can fully express herself.  You see Nancy Drew has an odd history.  People are more in love with the mysteries as written by Mildred Wert Benson under the pen name Carolyn Keene.  

These original stories were uncensored and reprinted by Applewood Books.  They’re well written and real hoots.  Benson didn’t create Nancy in the same way that Walter B. Gibson didn’t create the Shadow.  They both left indelible marks.  

Benson was a feminist writer, and she gave Nancy her sass, her car,  her revolver and her fearlessness.    Benson made George the brassiest and the toughest of the three.  She was an unabashed Tom Boy, and the lesbian community embraced her as one of their own.  

So really, there’s nothing new or shocking in this latest version of Nancy Drew.  It’s simply well done with inviting artwork and actually apropos for all-ages.  



Squirrel Girl would like to reform every villain she meets.  Some however require punching.  Others like Kraven just demand time spent with others.  To that end, Squirrel Girl invited Kraven to an Escape Room with her friends Nancy, of course, The Chipmunk Hunk, Koi Boy and newest cast member Mary.

When last we left Squirrel Girl, she and her pals were trying to stop a classic deadly trap from killing them all.  In this issue, Ryan North brings up a heretofore unknown power to save the team.  The power however isn't a complete surprise.  As the editor mentions, Squirrel Girl's ability first appeared in a novel.  Some may object to North using another's work, but North didn't create Squirrel Girl.  She's one of the last Marvel creations of Steve Ditko.


Ryan does however reveal a heretofore unknown power for his creation the Chipmunk Hunk.  This ability comes in handy at the end of the tale which is packed with the intelligent thwarting of traps laid out by...Never heard of him. Truth in advertising.  The cover the villain's "semi-remembered."  It did not lie.



I was never a big fan of Thor.  I loved the Stan Lee stories and the Jack Kirby art, but after the original team departed, I read less and less of the Thunder God's adventures.  Just a skim, really.  

Instead, I marveled at the illustration of John Buscema, and later Walt Simonson.  After a brief dalliance with the Dan Jurgens and John Romita Jr. Thor from the Heroes Return 1990s, I avoided the character and the title.  I never cared about Thor enough to endure uninteresting art or writing.  Mind you.  I love the Thor of the cinematic universe.  I think Chris Hemsworth's portrayal opened up so much more comedy potential that really wasn't part of Thor's adventures in any era.

I returned to the title when Jane Foster picked up the hammer.  The Mighty Thor is a success.  If I didn't always say much about the run, it's because there was too much to be spoilt.  Now, I can speak volumes about Jane Foster.   Henceforth differentiated from Odinson by the sobriquet Mighty Thor.

Nothing shapes a hero like a quest, and Odinson finds himself on a nice long one.  He’s searching for the objects of power that were locked away in Odin’s armory.  The monster Mangog destroyed most of Asgard until defeated by The Mighty Thor.  

The armory went with the city.  However, some of these devices and relics could not be destroyed.  They fell throughout the Nine Realms.  Thor finds himself first in Thailand running from the cult of Cyttorak, as in Dr. Strange's Crimson Bands of Cyttorak.



Jason Aaron in the The Mighty Thor bequeathed Mjolnir an origin and personality.  Jane became Thor because Mjolnir chose her to be wielder.  Mjolnir was alive, and she gave her life to save the Norse Gods.  Thor will never pick up that hammer again, worthy or not.  Not to worry the Dwarves got him covered.



There however will never be another Mjolnir, whose heart was a living cosmic storm.  Because of that, Aaron introduces the reader to the low-rent Thor, and it's pretty hilarious to see him in situations that mostly resemble the private eye genre.  For example, Thor lives on a boat.


He's Travis McGee on The Busted Flush.  With a giant goat and a Hell-Hound for pets, but still.  Okay.  Okay.  Enough fun.  So, there is an element of Thor that's very much like the private eye genre.  He follows leads fed to by contacts.  Asgard essentially hired him to retrieve The Maltese Falcon, adjusts for Marvel zaniness.  

A large chunk though is very much in the tradition of Thor.  Odin and the Norse Gods rebuild Asgard.


Odin realizes what a horse's ass he's been to The Mighty Thor.  Because of that he and Freya separated.  She sill works for the good of Asgard, just away from Odin.  You also can't have a new Thor book without Loki showing up.


Loki played a part in the The Mighty Thor.  He allied with Malekith in the Dark Elf's War against the Nine Realms.  Although, Loki's duplicity suggests otherwise.  For example, he stabbed Freya in the back with a poison dagger.  Except.  He didn't kill her.  His dialogue in The Mighty Thor also appears to be far less enthusiastic about the war.  He's filled with cynicism over the bloodshed.  Though he fought the Mighty Thor, he didn't actually know who he battled nor the reason why she took the duel personally.

The War of the Nine Realms is still on.  Jane fought against the tide, but in the end, she had to save the Norse Gods from Magog, and that nearly killed her.  It did kill Mjolnir, which is another feather in Aaron's cap.  He expressly suggests Mjolnir isn't like the Doctor's sonic screwdriver.  You can't just build a new one.  Uru is a rare element, and that's not what gave the hammer it's bite anyway.

Mike Del Mundo as you can see proffers very different artwork from Russell Dauterman.  Dauterman illustrated in an intricate art nouveau fashion.  Mundo produces a more flowing abstract where color defines the figure.  His art is similar to that defined by the Fauvist movement.  


Christian Ward illustrates a second story that takes place far into the future with a King Thor and his granddaughters featured in the The Mighty Thor Special  from a few weeks ago.  It's more cosmic minded, yet still possesses Aaron's touches of fine wit.



Peter Parker Spider-Man is still spectacular.  An alien invasion that the Tinkerer could have stopped if not devolving into a misanthrope forces Spider-Man, J. Jonah James and his maybe sister Teresa Durand to travel sidewise in time.  A courtesy of Dr. Victor Von Doom.  I know Doom apparently reformed, but it doesn't matter.  Doom would have given his word and let Spidey use his Time Travel Platform because a smoking cinder of a world does not suit Doom at all.



Writer Chip Zdarsky avoids every time travel paradox by shunting Spidey and his Amazing Friends parallel to they're own time and space.  They can still get the information they need to stop the alien invasion without interfering with the natural flow. 

Some of this data gathering is beneficial.  Teresa Durand knows now if she and Spidey are blood relatives thanks to an exploration of a safe house used by Richard and Mary Parker.

Previously J. Jonah Jameson learned Spidey's secret identity, and he divulges that information to his counterpart.  Wait for that joke to sink in.  Yes.  It's a beauty, isn't it? Relish the complexity.  Mmmmn, now that's a good gag.  

Jonah feels terrible about the guff that he dished out to Peter, whom he actually likes and respects.  He feels absolutely worse when he realizes what a world without a Spider-Man would look like.

The concurrent Spider-Man overheard his adult self speaking of the hardships and the trials to come.  So, Peter gave up being Spidey.  He married Gwen Stacy, who exhibits more backbone.  



They're under the scrutiny of Norman Osborne who learned Spider-Man's secret identity through concurrent Jameson's consideration of the headline for tomorrow's Daily Bugle.



This issue concludes the trip, the world, Peter Parker's dilemma all in a superbly satisfying meld that also features one of Zdarsky's and artist Adam Kubert's demonstration of Spider-Man's proportionate Spider-Strength.  This is really the title for people who love Spider-Man.