Monday, June 16, 2014

POBB: June 11, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 11, 2014
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly comic book review column.  On the docket Birds of Prey, Captain Marvel, Detective Comics, Justice League United, Legendary, Sheena, She-Hulk, Smallville: Lantern and World's Finest.

With the revelations in the current issue of Legendary it now becomes apparent that there's more to Magna Spadarossa than the mere relation to a missing, more adventurous sister.


If you haven't figured it all out, writer Bill Willingham this issue offers the pity clue provided by the cabal of evil attempting to bring darker forces into being.  Willingham tampers with the expected outcome of such a scheme, and his innovations generate some pitch black humor.

In addition to this turn of events, Steve Austin demonstrates the assets and downsides of being bionic.

Largely though this issue of Legendary is a swashbuckling romance between Miss Spadrossa and the Ghost Who Walks. 

Another Phantom that Refuses to Be Caught Dead in Berry Juice

Given the actual identity of Miss Spadarossa, and the true-to-character Phantom, this issue of Legendary is a must own for fans of either or both characters.  Fortunately, the artwork by Sergio Fernandez Davila and Wes Hartman is continually stunning.  It sports an attention to detail, an attractive redesign of the Phantom and a genuine sensuality to Miss Spadarossa.

In Sheena's second issue for Moonstone, the tale begins at the cacophonous archaeological dig sponsored by Sheena's alter-ego Rachel Caldwell.  

The dig as readers saw last issue catalyzed enough drama for a whole month of soap operas: the daughter of Val Verde's el Jefe takes part, hook ups and friction between characters spice up the proceedings, and a lecherous professor seeks a different type of audience with his students.

However treachery revolving around emerald mining and murder by claw draws Sheena into the intrigue.  Despite the maelstrom of voices and the numerous incidents, writer David DeSouza juggles quite impressively and artists Shawn McCauley and James Brown bring a lot of beauty and action to the jungles of Sheena.  

One frequently wonders why nobody can determine Rachel is in fact Sheena.  She after all doesn't even wear a pair of glasses like Clark Kent.  The tricks DeSouza employs are clever character quirks that distract you from ever thinking the personalities of Sheena and Caldwell merge.  

As Caldwell, Sheena pretends to be a stereotype rich blonde, only breaking character when reminding everybody that she was born and raised in Val Verde.  The authenticity of her knowledge further draws away suspicion because there's clearly enough personality in Rachel that distinguishes her from a cardboard celebrity.  

Then there's Sheena's speed and her vast understanding of the jungle that usually can drop Rachel Caldwell back into place without anybody the wiser.  After all, two people cannot be in the same place at the same time, and that's how it would seem if you were to come to the conclusion that Sheena and Rachel are facets of the same woman.  I just left Sheena.  How could she be Rachel, when she's right here in front of me?  Okay.  Maybe I'm experiencing some kind of blonde blindness, but they just can't be the same woman.  In any case, Sheena has a lot to offer old fans and new.

Iron Man suckered Captain Marvel into volunteering for space duty.  Her first mission involved escorting Tic, one of Bug's people, back to her melting pot homeworld.  Except Tic came to earth to find help for the afflicted on her planet.

The Empire wishes to move the populace to greener pastures.  Trouble is such a relocation would kill the ill, assuming it's an illness.  Many on the planet believe the Empire introduced a poison into the environment to remove them from a suddenly important alien world.

Kelly Sue DeConnick mixes an appetizing melange of science fiction.  The human Empire, depicted as outwardly "great and bountiful" but secretly a cynical bureaucracy resembles the Federation from Blake's Seven.  The alien illness if it is that reflects a typical problem from early Doctor Who.  The rag-tag group of alien rebels with whom Captain Marvel allies mirrors Star Wars and Firefly.  The exact trappings are pure Marvel, with influences from Micronauts and Starlord.  The blend works fantastically.

DeConnick grants Captain Marvel authority through a really smart solution that would in fact function quite well scientifically.  It's also something that might have easily been overlooked by the people of the world she chooses to defend.  At the same time, DeConnick introduces a new alien species that's beautifully imagined by artist David Lopez, who imbues charm to something that could have been a horrific based on mythology.

Lopez appears to be having the time of his life with DeConnick's zippy space opera, and relishes the opportunity for unusual expressions and actions from the cast. 

Simultaneously, the adventuresome Captain and her crew provide Lopez a lot of opportunity to stretch his kinetic lines. 

When She-Hulk left her old firm, they allowed her to take the Blue File.  She-Hulk has no memory of the events described in the enigmatic document, despite being among the sued.  As soon as I saw Tigra's name mentioned in conjunction with the mystery of the Blue File,  I've been waiting for her to appear in She-Hulk.  This is the issue.  This is the momentous issue where Tigra, my absolute favorite Marvel character, prowls into the adventure...

What the fuck?

The most repulsive art I've ever seen, and it's on Tigra.  This insult simply ends my association with She-Hulk.  I realize certain elements at Marvel hate Tigra, but there was no call for such grotesqueness.

Birds of Prey gives a little bit of attention to every team-member.  Strix opens the story with a weird introduction to her power.  

The spotlight then turns to Black Canary and Kurt Drake, recently resurrected by Ra's Al Ghul's serum, which the arch-fiend exploited in an attempt to corrupt the Canary.  Unlike the typical amnesia story, the Canary tells the mind-wiped Kurt exactly who she is.

The relationship between Canary and Kurt puts a damper on Condor's infatuation with Dinah.  Regardless, he still has a gift for the Canary.

Batgirl doesn't receive much in the way of exposure.  She got plenty last issue though.  However, when Marx brings her on stage, she's terrific.  Perfect in voice and action.

The Birds all come together for a rescue.  In danger, an operative of immortal and Birds sponsor Mother Eve.  The team-work Marx conceives is a little masterpiece, and Robson Rocha does solid work when illustrating the Birds.  This isn't even a great issue of Birds of Prey.  It exemplifies the typically good stories in the title and why the book should not be canceled.

The same thing goes with World's Finest.  This isn't a bells and whistles comic book.  Writer Paul Levitz just focuses on relating a good yarn with great characterization for the characters we want to see.  Typically, nothing the twosome face ever lasts more than two to three issues because Power Girl and Huntress are the kin of Superman and the daughter of Batman and Catwoman.  They are legacy heroes with massive experience and training under their capes.

The story begins with the conclusion of the standoff between the Huntress and homegrown terrorists at MIT.  One terrorist remains after Helena cut through the cell like a scythe through wheat.  He seems to have the upper hand, but this is the bona fide Huntress.

Huntress' partner Power Girl is otherwise occupied.  Huntress therefore must fight the threat alone, and normally it would be an easy job, but the terrorist holds deadly radioactive material.  Enough to contaminate a city.

Power Girl meanwhile employs her superpowers in an almost holistic way.  Her job is to get the city back up and running by being a Kryptonian dynamo.  

However, she unwittingly aids Helena by providing her with an unsung hero, cleverly created from a hostage who won't stay in that role.

There's never been any weakness in the plots or the characterization to World's Finest, and Levitz benefited from a terrific line of artists some new others old hands.  Scott McDaniel and Jason Wright grace this issue with attractive choreography leading to heroic moments from both partners and an overall feeling of optimism.

Jeff Lemire dispenses with the ridiculous Red Lantern storyarc that's been polluting Supergirl.  Frankly, that's enough for me.  Of course, Mike McKone also honors the Girl of Steel with terrific artwork.

Want more from Justice League United? Animal Man gets back at Green Arrow for his numerous barbs.  The plot relies on the scientific extrapolation on historical royal marriages to in theory create alliances between countries.  Hawkman survives losing an arm with the employ of some really obscure continuity, and the Martian Manhunter kicks ass.  

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato take Batman to what may be the denouement of his hunt for Elena Aguila's killer.

By following the leads including a human trafficking operation, Batman ends up fighting a classic menace.  

This battle, which I'm only sampling, allows Batman to exercise his abilities as an arch escapologist.  Something we haven't really seen in awhile.

The mesh of art and writing restores the detective elements to Detective Comics and adds nuances to Harvey Bullock.  The style of Manapul and Buccellato suits the Dark Knight as well as the Flash.

Batman also makes a superb cameo in this week's Smallville.  The Green Lantern ring chose Superman to defend Sector 2814.  Though Superman quickly adapted to the new look and powers, he and John Stewart found themselves facing the worst of the Lantern Big Bads.

The creature launched yellow rings to earth to forge an unstoppable army.  The rings naturally make a bee-line to Arkham Asylum.

In addition to the joy of seeing another Batman, Superman, Babs Gordon (Nightwing) team-up, writer Bryan Q. Miller also checks in on the Queens.

Oh, yeah, and he is referring to the Prometheus created by Grant Morrison that nearly destroyed the Justice League, if not for Catwoman.

JLA #17

That's going to leave a mark.

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