Sunday, September 22, 2013

POBB: September 18, 2013

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 18, 2013
Ray Tate

It's Villain's Month, which means your POBB has reviews of Batman Beyond Universe, Doctor Who and Victor Gischler's new title from Dark Horse Kiss Me Satan.  I'll also have reviews of the film Naked Fear and Banshee, a television series you may have missed.

The Doctor travels to the Old West again in Tony Lee's return to IDW's Doctor Who.  There the Doctor finds a masked gunman who can kill by pointing his finger... well as Calamity Jane and Oscar Wilde.

Mike Collins illustrated the Doctor's adventures for nearly a decade in Doctor Who Magazine, and he accompanies Lee on the excursion.  Collins provides dead on likenesses and colorful interpretations of the historical personages.  Surprisingly, his versatile realistic style also works well when depicting the humor that Lee evokes in the Doctor's encounter with the masked mystery.

Lee is an old hand at Doctor Who, and there's plenty of dialogue that reflects his study of Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman (Clara).  He perhaps references too many of their episodes: mentioning things like "big friendly buttons," which Clara shouldn't remember by the way.

When reduced, the plot resembles the series 7 epsiode "A Town Called Mercy," but I'm sure that Lee knows that, and he's planning several diversions after this agreeable setup.

We go back to the future of Batman Beyond to discover in the second chapter by Kyle Higgins a second suspect in the slaying of the mayor.

Who better to kill the current grand poobah than the lieutenant with dreams of power?  On the other hand, maybe it was that old standby?  The wife, who inherits the Mayor's wealth, or was it somebody else?

Batman won't discover the answer this week, but Higgins leaves the reader on a massive what-the-hell cliffhanger that just can't have a very satisfying solution next issue.  Still, I admire Higgins' moxie for even trying such a thing.

That's the second short.  Batman Beyond Universe opens with latest from the Superman serial.  Previously, the Man of Steel decided to rejoin the human race by taking on a new identity.  Clark Kent died with Lois Lane. He's now taken the guise of a firefighter named Kal Kent, and he's a hit with his fellow smoke-eaters, especially Rita, who asked him out last issue.

Previously, Superman along with his fellows attempted to extinguish a conflagration.  No big deal for a Man of Steel, but somebody made Superman's powers go haywire.  Rather than hide in the Fortress of Solitude, Superman nullified his abilities.  A robot doppelg√§nger took his place amongst the Justice League.

Superman seeks answers to his problems in the Phantom Zone, but before that he addresses another concern.  The fellow's out of practice.

Generally speaking, superheroes have lousy dates.  They usually have to duck out at the last minute to go fight Ali Babble or something.  The datee isn't impressed by the hero's tardiness or simple callous disregard for the social graces.  So, all things considered, Superman's date goes pretty well.  Yeah, a giant mecha attacks, but Rita does ask for a second date.

For Kiss Me Satan we head to New Orleans, and as hero Barnabus Black states in the book "New Orleans is a werewolf town."  Gischler appears to be banking on the legend of Loup-Garoux and the Beast of Gevaudan, mixing the French Quarter with Lycanthropy.  

I'm always happy to see a werewolf story.  Werewolves are underrated monsters.  Perhaps because traditionally there's really only one way to go with them.  Vampires can be sensual, cunning and maniacal--sometimes all in one fell swoop.  Patchwork monsters like you know who had the misunderstood childlike nature going for them.  Mummies were unstoppable guardians.  The Creature from the Black Lagoon had an eye for the ladies, and I still don't understand the fascination with zombies, but werewolves never had the flexibility of other monsters.  Man turns into wolf, end of story.

That wasn't always the case.  The lore of the werewolf involved a willing participant, not the tragic Larry Talbot of Universal horrors.  The man that sought to become a beast made a pact with Satan, to become a wolf in order to perform even more evil deeds that he couldn't quite manage as a man.  

We don't know yet where Gischler will take his lupine origins, but for Kiss Me Satan, Gischler posits a lineage of werewolf organized crime controlling New Orleans.  The werewolf don hopes his uborn son will take over his empire, but there's a problem.  The kid doesn't bear the mark of the beast.

Ruh, roh.  This hiccup turns the don into a desperate monster that wars against his own kind and wants to silence anybody that knows the truth.  He puts a hit on the witches, and that's where Barnabus Black, fresh from his own travails enters our story. 

I didn't like Gischler's mystical take on the Shadow, for Dynamite.  I prefer the unadorned arch-illusionist crimefighter created by Walter B. Gibson.  Gischler however finds a much stronger voice with his own creations.  The blend is original but allusive, and his take on the supernatural creatures of myth, including a hilarious angel, is unique.  Artist Juan Ferreyra's clean illustration, incorporating an excellent color sense, keeps things hopping and neatly and distinctively modernizes the occult.

The Saturday Afternoon Movie

Naked Fear is of as one might expect a variation on The Most Dangerous Game filmed in 1932 with Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Leslie Banks.  You know the drill.  Hunting animals loses its spark.  To spice up the "sport" some nut decides to stalk humans on a preserve or private island.  

What if, however, somebody did this for real?  That occurred in the 1970s when lunatic Robert Hansen piloted women to his hunting lodge, stripped them, hunted them in the Alaskan wilderness and killed them until finally being captured by the police, in 1983.  Naked Fear is based upon this true crime.

The difference between Naked Fear and Mystery Science Theater's Bloodlust--another version of The Most Dangerous Game--can be summed up in one word: gravitas.  The acting throughout Naked Fear is sincere and uniformly riveting, with Danielle De Luca as the victim projecting a remarkable range that rivals suspects J.D. Garfield, a superb character actor, and Fat Tony himself Joe Montagne, who gives his best here as much as he gives anywhere else.

The tight script by writer Christine Olivia Vasquez reveals the culprit half way through the film so his identity doesn't become a gimmick, and she takes very little liberties in detailing the facts of the case, even noting Hansen's trophy collecting and the reason why killers gather these mementos in the first place.  

The filmmakers move the setting from Alaska to New Mexico, but they suffer nothing from the change in venue.  In fact director Thom Eberhardt and cinematographer John Grace gain inspiration from the simply gorgeous environment, and the crew use it to their advantage.  

The sunny setting and day to night shots grant the whole affair authenticity.  This isn't a fictional horror story where the environment is creepy and out to get you.  Rather, these are areas ideal for enjoying nature.   The crew also show how the vastness of the territory can swallow the missing and as well serve as a weapon against a psychopath.  Several scenes show Diana, our heroine, blending into the surroundings to avoid becoming prey.  These wide-angled shots are startling and convincing.

Naked Fear transcends the usual exploitation fare.  Its seamy subject of course is prime rib for the grindhouse.  Danielle De Luca isn't afraid to provide abundant nudity, but there's an important difference.  She's so good that you frequently forget that she's naked, until the crew remind you that nudity in this situation equivocates to vulnerability.  

Whereas some movies of this ilk revel in the violence and create the sense of audience participation--you become the hunter, Naked Fear consistently allies the viewer with the victim.  The crew however make no grand statements.  Naked Fear is neither a treatise in misogyny or a feminist cry.  Women are hostile to women.  Men are hostile to women.  Men try to help women.  Women try to help women.  The filmmakers instead present the case in a realistic manner.  The cops might be jaded, but they never forget.  Not everybody in a strip club is an evil opportunistic bastard.  Naked Fear instead of relying on hyperbole functions on understatement.  It's well worth your time.  At this writing, the DVD is still available.

While we were sleeping, Cinemax actually started to do more than show skin.  While nudity is still a staple in their trade, they also became a channel that fosters pulp stories.  This is most evident in the delightfully decadent anthology Femme Fatales.  Now comes Banshee.

Antony Starr portrays a nameless ex-con who comes to Banshee, Pennsylvania ostensibly looking for his former partner and lover Anna, played by Ivana Milicivic, who created a new life for herself with Banshee's district attorney.  He finds more.  

At heart, Banshee is a love story with bitchin' action and outrageous moments that will make your jaw drop.  Insanely addictive, I always watched a second episode after deciding only to watch one, Banshee takes plot turns that are astonishing.  The pilot starts with a vicious chase scene that leaves a high body count and stunning property damage.  That first episode hooks you and never lets you go.  The amazing thing is that Banshee just gets better as the story unfolds.  First season now available on DVD.

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