Monday, February 17, 2014

POBB: February 12, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 12, 2014
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this column I pick the comic book cream from the crop.  This week I review Batman, Legendary, Nightwing, Red Sonja: Berserker, She-Hulk, Smallville and Winter Soldier.

Winter Soldier is really Bucky Barnes.  

From Avengers #4

Bucky should have stayed dead.  Because every time a villain knocked Captain America unconscious, upon waking, he would immediately yell "Buccccky!"  It was kind of a signature, but all right.  Whatever.

Bucky's the Winter Soldier now.  Something about the KGB, and a relationship with the Black Widow.  Fine.  Not buying any of it, but fine.  Let's give him a book.  Not interested.  Oh, but lets sucker people into feigning interest.

Writer Rick Remender lures you with the promise of 1960s SHIELD and Nick Fury as well as Hydra on skis.  Damn.  I would buy that comic book, and I did, but he quickly pulls a shady sleight of hand and shifts the focus to Agent Shen Ran.  Not even Jimmy Woo.  Agent Ran.  Some wannabe James Bond.

Here's a tip.  If you have a book with Batman and Lemming Man, don't turn the spotlight on Lemming Man.  Nobody cares about Lemming Man.

A lot of people tuned in for Winter Soldier.  The more discerning crowd flipped through the book and saw Nick Fury and immediately shouted, "Yes!" Instead of "Buccccky!"

Everybody's going to be disappointed because despite Sam Boschi's utterly fantastic sexiful sixties artwork, Winter Soldier neither highlights the title character or Nick Fury.  Just Agent Ran, who is nothing.

Alas, poor Nightwing.  I knew him, Horatio.  A man of infinite whining and irresponsibility.  

From Batman #416

His enormous schwannstucker made the man-child the want of every chick in the DC Universe.  No, really.  How else can you describe his appeal? Intellect? You could have fooled me.  Empathy? Pu-lease. Nay, could only be his vast member.

Then the new 52 did come, no not in that way, and Kyle Higgins returned Robin once at rest.  Nightwing became detective, only fourth greatest, next to Batman, Huntress and Batgirl.  And time did sand the notches in his bed post.

Nightwing saw Batman as his friend and partner and there was no personal schism tween Duo Dynamic.  Batgirl was once more out of his league, and his swain through the Teen Titans, from Donna to Kori, a memento of cosmos lost. Indeed for some, characters no more.  Good riddance.  Now, did a writer bring focus, making Robin a good man grown.

Alas, poor Nightwing.  Forever Evil did come, no not in that way.  Nightwing were't captured by Crime and beaten to pulp. His identity revealed far and wide. Will he survive? Who knows, but all poor Higgins writes counts for naught. 

The duel between hero and villain from the past, foes and friends alike mean nothing.  

The bar where Nightwing found comfort, tis no more in the future.  

No! Not Greg and Cheryl! Wait, who are Greg and Cheryl?

The mirror to Nightwing's past in the present of young friend and would be sidekick all mean naught to the Red Hood rising.  Alas, poor Nightwing.  He was finally interesting and good, Horatio.  Ay, there's the rub.

In this issue of Batman, Scott Snyder and James Tynion take a break from "Year Zero" and give readers a taste of the weekly to come.  They set the scene as "soon," in fascist Gotham City were breaking a curfew is likely to result in a truncheon to the head, if you're lucky.

I never thought I would say this, but Snyder's and Tynion's latest Batman foray "Eternal" just isn't going to be for me.  Dustin Nguyen's new design for Catwoman and the architecture of her club is the only thing I like about this sample of the weekly.


Extreme right hardliners somehow took over Gotham City.  The police have turned into Judge Dredd wannabees.  The shrewd comic strip response to Margaret Thatcher and her awful cronies, not the awesome movie Judge Dredd played by Almost Human's Karl Urban.  The Batman Family aren't on speaking terms with Batman.  As a result, he gains new sidekicks: Harper, who assumes a new alter-ego--I owe you some Quatloos, Link--and what looks like her brother in the Batcave.  

I really liked Harper as DC's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I think she worked better without a history or an explanation.  The idea of Lis Salander showing up every once in awhile to help Batman at crucial moments just makes me giddy.  It's the one time a deus ex machina actually worked.

I'm not crazy about Harper's dual identity, and why are those things on her mask?  What function do they serve?

Will straps on masks be modern day equivalent of the armband and legband pouches of the nineties? If so, stop it.

The whole premise to Batman: Eternal just looks and feels  played out.  The idea of the police gone nuts was done and done well in Paul Pope's incredible Batman: Year 100.  Only he involved time travel.  Gotham turned into a totalitarian wonderland because Batman did not exist.

The refurbishing of a Batman villain into a legitimate nightclub owner was brokered and brokered well by Chuck Dixon in the nineties with the Penguin.  This was carried over to the new 52.  So, no visual aid is needed.  Furthermore, the shift was meant to give the Penguin a reason for existing in a more sophisticated time.  Catwoman already had a good reason.  She's a master-thief, sometimes lover of Batman who is also a member of the Justice League, kind of.

Batman's friends mad at him? 

Zut alors!  

When are Batman's friends not mad at him? Even Batgirl, I'm sorry to say, judging from the solicits.  Then there's the whole lack of necessity in this chapter.  Batman infiltrates Selina's club for no reason at all.

Why didn't Batman just call?  Oh, her number isn't listed? Well, Sherlock Holmes would have been able to contact her through his Baker Street Irregulars.  I'm sure Holmes' successor could have thought of something better besides a Harper-staged blackout and muscle.  

The treasure Batman finds in the vault of the Catwoman's club is unexpected, but by the end of the book I really didn't care.  I'm sure though that the presence of the treasure will make some people wet and give others hap pies.

Batman makes a more distinguished appearance in Smallville.  His engrossing investigation into the death of the man found in the Superman shirt last issue uncovers some disturbing and fascinating details that tie into Chloe Sullivan's "big pitch."

There's even more interaction with Batman and Chloe, exactly the type you expected had Warner Brothers not scotched Batman's appearance on Smallville.  No, really.  Batman can appear in The Lego Movie, but he couldn't become a cast-member on a beloved television series where every frickin' Justice League member, even Zatanna, appeared? Damn your fickleness, Warner Brothers!  There's also interaction you didn't expect from Batman and Chloe, which won't be spoiled here.  Don't worry.  It's nothing bad.  Batman's partner Nightwing also gets a good showing.

As comedy bubbles through Brian Q. Miller's dialogue between Lois and Babs, action ripples through the fight choreography of artist Edgar Salazar.  I'm not keen on Babs starting a relationship with the boy with the circus background, but that's a personal dislike.  At least Miller didn't force a costume down my throat.

Miller concludes the Batman Family portion of the program with a startling reveal that serves as denouement and exemplifies the cunning of Batman as well as his emotions; the fact is that he wants Babs to stay out of this particular hunt so she doesn't get hurt.  People have misinterpretted Batman for so many years.  It's not that he doesn't care.  He cares too much.

Meanwhile in Russia, Superman recovers from his battle against the Monitor, and as Clark Kent, in superb klutzy yet ace reporter form, he partners with Lex Luthor to investigate the Monitor's ship.  

There's some great repartee and interplay between the former friends that recalls early seasons of Smallville.  In fact, for the cliffhanger, Miller pulls a superb coup that ironically replicates the first episode of Smallville.  This book is almost too good.

In Legendary, Vampirella leaves Magna Spadrossa, the sister of Red Sonja, in the capable hands of the Green Hornet and Kato, and a cabal of villainy raises its multiple heads, albeit in the shadows.

Romper, Stomper, Bomper, Boo.  I believe I see Fu-Manchu.  Possibly Ayesha.  Kulan Gath, he who loves a silly hat.  They all serve a character called Blackmass.  I'm guessing this is a sobriquet for somebody better known.  Possibly John Sunlight, Shiwan Khan, Dracula or dare I hope Professor James Moriarty.

In any case the one-eyed gentleman whom I do not recognize sends his clone warriors against the Hornet and Kato who travel in two forms of Steampunk Black Beauties, each more awesome than the other and almost as fantastic as the original.  

The Hornet's and Kato's battles are heady with juicy violence and martial arts mayhem, just like the fights in the television series, nimbly illustrated by artists Sergio Fernandez Davila and Wes Hartman.

I wasn't absolutely sure I was going to like Legendary, but Dynamite holds the licenses to many of the characters I love, and the Steampunk world is just an excuse to let Bill Willingham reduce them down to their essences, ignore any current continuity and let these characters play in a shared world.  I couldn't be happier.

Nancy Collins should be a familiar name to anybody with a slight interest in the non-sparkly kind of vampire.  She is the creator of vampiric hard-boiled vampire destroyer Sonja Blue.  Now, she turns her attention to Sonja Red.  You know, sometimes, segues are gifts.

Collins' story in Red Sonja: Berserker is predictable, but I can't really see any way out of that.  Sonja encounters a little bear cub, and she allies with it to make surviving a harsh winter-land a little easier.  Years later after being thrown into an arena, she reacquaints with her furry little friend.

Will the bear tear Sonja to pieces? Will Sonja be forced to kill it.  Look, I think you know where this is going, but that's not the reason why you should add Berserker to your list.

Collins' take on Sonja is remarkable and pertinent.  She doesn't make her all soft and gooey when she sees the furball.  Sure, she's human.  The bear cub's cute, but the worlds of Robert E. Howard are unfair and unsympathetic.  So, Sonja befriends the bear as a huntress might befriend a stray dog.  The dog works for her.  The bear works for Sonja.  It's what biology defines as mutualism.  Both parties benefit.  Sonja gets easier kills and greater safety.  The bear gets cooked meat and also enjoys the security to grow up.

Oh, and one would be remiss at ignoring the fact that Fritz Casas and Mark Roberts bring some amazing artwork to the table.  Clothed or chain-mailed their Sonja is a stunning beauty that's also a freakin' powerhouse of sinew.

Sonja eventually leaves the bear for civilization.  Remember.  The worlds of Robert E. Howard are unfair and unsympathetic.  Sonja returns to her usual haunts, and she eventually winds up on the idiot end of the stick.  

Now, here's where Collins subtly brings up some feminist inspiration.  In the 1990s, a jury in Florida acquitted a man of rape because the victim was dressed provocatively.  A lot of papers accused the judge of doing the acquitting, but that's not how our legal system works.  Although in Canada, it's another story.  There, in 2011, a judge considered a woman's clothing to be a factor in inciting the rape and ruled super leniently in favor of the perpetrator.

Red Sonja usually dresses in a chain-mail bikini.  That's not how Robert E. Howard envisioned her, but that's how comic books imagined her; as Frazetta inspired accompaniment to Conan.  However, Collins makes the point that her style of dress is irrelevant when unwanted attention presents itself.  Sonja is remarkably tolerant in fact.  She doesn't take action until her answer of no is ignored.  

Women dress sexily, but that doesn't mean they want men pawing at them or worse.  When a woman says no, she means no.  It's a two letter word.  You can't get much simpler.  So when a pair of louts offer Sonja coin for sex, and she says no, what they should have said is "Pardon our mistake.  I meant no harm.  Barkeep, another round for the lady," and walked away.  Sonja would have let them live without dismemberment.

The guards bring Sonja before the judge of the realm, and the judge immediately notes Sonja's clothing.  So, you know Collins is using Sonja to speak out against these dumbass cases that ignored a sexual assault just because the victim might have been dressed provocatively.  Using Sonja as  metaphor is a perfect idea.  In a way Collins did the same thing with Sonja Blue.  Collins explicitly states that Sonja Blue is a victim of vampire rape.  Collins didn't accept the whole vampire as seducer angle that was popularized largely by Hammer movies and carried on to an extreme by Jon Badham's and Frank Langella's Dracula.

The judge throws Sonja to the arena, and there she meets her bear again.  Collins however knows that it cannot simply end there with a big a grand crowd pleasing finale, and she concludes the book with an acceptance of the Robert E. Howard point of view and Red Sonja's uncompromising moral code.  Collins thus generates a far more satisfying ending than the Disneyfied one that many think they would want.

The latest go for She-Hulk is an Ally McBeal styled quirky comedy with a rich legal backbone and none of the relationship hang-ups.

Freshly fired, Shulkie finds a new client, whose case pits her against this cheery fellow.  

She-Hulk believes she can clear through the lawsuit if she can get to Tony Stark.  They're friends and colleagues in the Avengers, after all.

As you can see, artist Javier Pulido is a major draw to writer Charlie Soule's lighter touch on the Jade Giantess.  There's not a bad panel in the book, and the story's filled with continuity gags and legal ramifications that are actually quite interesting.  The Shulkster herself is instantly recognizable in character, and Soule also gives her a sharp acumen that was mostly missing from other treatments.  I'll be adding She-Hulk to my subscription list.

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