Pick of the Brown Bag
May 7, 2014
A cornucopia of comic books brightens the day at the POBB this week. On the docket: Angel & Faith, Batman/Superman, Batwing, Black Dynamite, Detective Comics, Loki, the new title Madame Frankenstein, Moon Knight, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, She-Hulk, The Teen Titans Annual and Swamp Thing.
Jeff Lemire, artists Karl Kerschel and Scott Hepburn pop in on Batman/Superman for a done-in one inventory issue. As you may expect, the story rocks.
Superman seeks out the Agents of SHADE, specifically Ray Palmer, to help Batman who suffers from an unusual brain malady contracted on an off-panel mission in space.
Batman and Superman met the Atom in World's Finest once before, and I'm sure that Lemire remembers this issue.
Superman takes out some trash.
Batman doesn't quite understand what's going on but beats the crap out of the alien blueberry out of principal.
Because he's Batman. That's how.
Writers/artists Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato follow up their debut on Detective Comics by demonstrating why Batman still deserves to be referred to as the "world's greatest detective."
The Dark Knight investigates the return of the drug Icarus. Buccellato and Manapul introduced Icarus in the forgettable Year Zero issue of The Flash. The drug gives you an all time high, but an overdose results in spontaneous combustion, which makes you wonder why anybody in their right mind would indulge in the first place.
Elena had no choice in the matter. A new associate of Bruce Wayne, Elena dies on Bruce's doorstep. That makes Elena's death personal.
Gotham police detective Harvey Bullock was as instrumental as Barry Allen in forcing Icarus off the streets. He also takes its return personally. Laudable, but, in the tradition of nineteen forties mysteries, the cynical Bullock wants to pin the crime on Bruce, an apparently squeaky clean rich guy.
Bullock offers a stark contrast to Batman. While Bullock is willing to use intimidation and fiction writing, Batman employs the science of deduction, the art of disguise and his observational skills.
All of these factors contribute to a typical Batman styled detective story. By Batman styled, I mean that this kind of formula could have been seen in the back to basics method of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.
Despite being mistaken for a loner, Batman usually operates among his costumed colleagues and battles pulp inspired or actually super powered criminals. This can especially be said about the new 52 Dark Knight, who premiered in Justice League fighting Darkseid.
Manapul and Buccellato attempt to pull the same kind of vacuum setting that O'Neil and Adams fostered. Batman in Detective Comics doesn't duel a Parademon or absurd Emperor Penguin. He contends against a Sumo wrestler involved in human trafficking. A stretch but not a complete departure from reality.
Batman just tarred an alien powerhouse in Batman/Superman, so how exciting can this be? Buccellato and Manapul give Batman's corpulent opponent an ambush edge. The confinement makes the battle a little more even, and Sumo isn't a pushover. The end result is a vicious flare-lit duel to the near death. Manapul's and Buccellato's Batman takes names, acting darker and more willing to inflict damage.
In The Teen Titans annual, writer Scott Lobdell and artist Kenneth Rocafort relate the final battle between The Teen Titans and the Big Bad that's been fighting the next generation of super-heroes since the advent of the new 52.
Harvest returns, and if that does nothing for you, not to worry. Lobdell's kind enough to explain his importance.
Harvest is the last human being from a defunct timeline in which superheroes will comprise the majority of the population. The last humans will wage war against the super humans. Harvest will be their commander, or rather, he won't, if you get my drift.
Harvest sees himself as a champion because he is trying to prevent the formation of the Dystopia he arose from. The deluded villain menaced The Legion away team lost in time, Superboy, the new 52 equivalent of Gen 13, and of course the Teen Titans. His tactics have changed considerably.
His endgame remains the same.
In addition to providing a satisfying conclusion to the underlying theme, The Teen Titans annual is a surprising conglomerate of continuity both intrinsic and external. You'll get more out of the special issue if you've been following the outskirts of DC comics, but there's actually something for everybody in this well-constructed story.
We learn that Red Robin, already a Batman associate, left the Cave to form the Teen Titans in order to investigate Harvest. At the issue's end, he returns to the Caped Crusader's fold, which means you're likely to see him again in the Batman titles.
Wonder Girl emphasizes that she does not know Wonder Woman. She was simply named after her by the press. Lobdell creates an engaging personality distinctive from the former Cassie Sandsmark, introduced in the post-Crisis by John Byrne. Then, Wonder Girl was a bubbly kid fan of the Amazon, empowered by Zeus. The new 52 Wonder Girl is an extraordinary thief, and she returns to type at the finale of the book.
Raven though still the daughter of Trigon displays a different, more engaging, persona. New character Blockade is a religious hero with an all-inclusive philosophy that was similar to the god worshipers of the seventies. He's close to being a born again Hippie, in belief system. Probably the nicest Christian I've seen in media since Ned Flanders.
Finally, Superboy's death in another time proves to be slightly exaggerated. There's hope for those holding out for a return of the clone. Although, he is quite happy in his current role.
The Teen Titans reappear this week in a bizarre Scooby-Doo Team-Up. This story is clearly only for the kiddies because they're the only ones who would imagine the hyper-stylized illustration of the Teen Titans as normal.
Dario Brizuela on the other hand renders Scooby and the Gang in classic fashion. Rather than ignore the clash, writer Sholly Fisch calls attention to the contrast. With the conflict, he relates the only jokes targeting the older set. The overall consistency indicates that each issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up forms a continuity, which may be troublesome in the future.
The bone simple plot drawing the Gang to Titans Tower does nobody any justice, and the second tale dovetailing off the first offers few laughs. However, Fisch's take on the Teen Titans is funny, especially when he focuses on Raven and Starfire, and the design of the new antagonist is inventive.
Angel and Faith finally gives me what I wanted to see. Instead of crummy, needless and uncharacteristic angst...
...writer Victor Gischler steps up his game and gives me this.
Thank you. Now, I can enjoy the rest of the story which splits Angel and Faith on separate paths. Angel resumes his role as vampire private eye and patrols the mean streets of Magic Town to track down a murderous Pixie, named Corky.
Meanwhile, Faith begins her new life as an operative in Kennedy's security organization. All seems five-by-five until the client proves to be more complicated than Kennedy first thought. In this single frame, Gischler and phenomenal artist Will Conrad exemplify Eliza Dushku as Faith. Brilliant. Keep it up, and I just may add Angel and Faith to my subscription list.
Brians Wimberly and Ash take Black Dynamite to see the Man. The Man of course represents the one-percent. It should come to no surprise that the conspiracy darling fosters his own army. The Man naturally admits to being a member of the Illuminati, in reality a 16th century Bavarian skeptics society turned into a boogeyman by way of black helicopter dementia. He seeks to usher in domination of the world by the relative rich few. Dynamite despite his skin color would make a fine addition to the ranks.
Dynamite has another idea in mind.
Over the top destruction of the Man's army pretty much describes the plot of the comic book, and if that's a problem, maybe you should be reading My Little Pony. Still, Ash and Wimberly flavor this particular conflagration with the atmosphere of Black Dynamite. For example, Ash observes that Dynamite though being articulate as well as deadly sometimes searches his extensive vocabulary and comes up short.
For this reason, the book is laugh out loud funny and not just a visual treat.
Batwing is also one long fight scene pitting our young Luke Fox against his former friend, now a steroid enhanced warlord of the city below Gotham.
It's well-illustrated and visceral, but for some reason, I just couldn't sink my teeth in it. I keep thinking that this story would have worked better as Batman Beyond in space. It's just getting increasingly difficult to accept this melting pot society living under Batman's city.
The reminder that these lunatics turned Batwing's sister into a vegetable is just kind of mean and serves to identify Batman's lack of knowledge and interest in tracking down the perpetrators. Palmiotti and Gray may have Batman show up in a future issue with a means to reverse the damage to Tam's brain and/or acknowledge that he had an eye on the Underground all along, but I doubt that the usually adept writers will make me eat my words.
The last issue of Moon Knight spotlit Declan Shalvey's evocative artwork, but there was nary a word to the panels. That made it impossible to review. Writer Warren Ellis this issue gives me a little more to work with.
As introduced in the premiere, Marc Spector sometimes patrols New York in a white limo under the guise of a pulpish detective named Mr. Knight. He seems pretty formidable in the role, but this night he meets something he cannot stop.
The ghostly terrors require Moon Knight to don the garb of yet another incarnation of Khonshu, of whom Spector is an avatar.
Bring ItMinimalist heroics as Ellis is just warming up by introducing the many faces of Moon Knight and the eerie artwork of Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire make Moon Knight well worth your time and coin.
Loki hosts Verity Willis, the woman who can see through any lie, but he's secretly on another mission for the All-Mother: Gaia, Freya and Idunn. Two actual Norse goddesses and one Greek stand-in. The All-Mother is bent on retrieving any wayward Asgardians. Such defines the first Asgardian hero Sigurd, who prefers to stay on Midgard, since the Valkyries are out to feed his nether regions to the vultures.
If the issue sounds less Loki-based and more Sigurd happy, you couldn't be more wrong. It turns out the third issue which I didn't review because, man, it was strange, explained how Loki in fact suckered Sigurd this issue. By no means do you need previous knowledge about the flashback, but it gels together nicely. Still weird though involving Giant Otters and shape shifters with chicanery and curses, but it reinforces the trickery Loki employs currently.
The whole story is a complete sham perpetuated by Loki to get Sigurd to willingly leave Midgard and return to Asgard. Along the way, writer Al Ewing and artist Lee Garbett entertain with sublime humor including that from a massive secret guest star that blows the lid off the whole who is Loki question. In addition to these gems, Ewing reveals that Loki has been orchestrating a secret agenda.
Not to be missed, and don't skip over the summary page at the beginning. It's a riot.
She-Hulk reminds me of the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. That's because it's unlike any other comic book on the racks. Last issue, She-Hulk obtained asylum for Kristoff von Doom. Unfortunately, the good doctor showed up to retrieve his wayward heir. Now, She-Hulk is torn. Should she forget about this slight, or go after the client? She-Hulk seeks the advice of Daredevil.
DD relates a story in which he and Spidey broke the law to save Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, and later he and Shulkie go out on a night on the town, super-hero style.
The key in the uniqueness of She-Hulk lies in the method in which the story unfolds. Almost all the violence is implied. In the flashback, DD and Spidey do some marginal damage to the guards at Riker's Island, and we don't see an iota of punching on DD's and Shulkie's date. Instead, artist Javier Pulido energizes quiet scenes such as Shulkie's infiltration of Latveria, and then, without warning, Giant Robot.
Writer Charles Soule while letting Pulido deal with the direction of the visuals finely tunes dialogue and emphasizes She-Hulk's humanistic values that transcend the courtroom. This is a strong one. Funny as well.
Charles Soule's wicked sense of humor comes into play for Swamp Thing. Con Men suckered Alec Holland out of Swamp Thing's body by exploiting ancient ritual. In an echo of Cumberland, the organization that originally led to Alec's death and rebirth as Swamp Thing in the Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson original, the group intends to use Swamp Thing to gain money in the agricultural sciences.
Meanwhile, Swamp Thing was getting down with what he thought was an interested woman. Turns out she's another avatar.
Megin Levins' Madame Frankenstein appears to be retelling the far too under seen mini-series Frankenstein: The True Story available as of this writing from Universal Studios on DVD for five bucks at Amazon--a steal. Go ahead. I'll wait. Don't check out though. I've got other recommendations.
However, Madame Frankenstein lacks the scientific intrigue catalyzed by Victor and his mentor Dr. Henri Clerval, played by David McCallum.
Levins skips over turn of the century interest in electricity as applied to medical experimentation and cuts to the reanimation business. Unfortunately she recalls The Brain That Wouldn't Die. You'll want the Mystery Science Theater version, available on DVD.
Judging by the premiere, and maybe it's unfair to do so, but Levins and artist Jamie S. Rich seem to be making a statement about boobies under the wrappings, or rather, peeled, and how they may have been employed to spice up Frankenstein. Incidentally, I have read the Mary Shelley original, and it doesn't need spicing, or zombies for that matter.
Don't misread. I love boobies as much as any other straight man or gay woman. They're nature's jiggly sex toys. They're fantastic draped or undraped and when they appear in movies and television, one just must sigh and smile. However, what the hell? Fifteen panels of boobies.
Franken-Boobies Two Electric Boogaloo
This isn't even groundbreaking. I mean Lady Frankenstein finally exists in a practically uncut form--which means all the salaciousness including the boobies of Rosalba Neri have been preserved--in a near perfect print from Shout! Factory in the thriftily priced collection Vampires, Mummies and Monsters Collection which also sports the ultra rare Velvet Vampire. Told you not to check out.
Live Franken-Boobies in Color!
I will give Madame Frankenstein this much. It does feature pixie boobies.
That was something I didn't expect, what with there not being any pixie boobies or pixies in the original Frankenstein. Still if you're looking for a female creation from the mind of Victor Frankenstein, I recommend the guest star in Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
She doesn't do nudity, but she kicks ass.