Tuesday, July 22, 2014

POBB: July 18, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 18, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is saddened by the loss of James Garner who entertained throughout his acting career by playing up intellect over martial prowess.  Whether tricking Bruce Lee's agitated henchman to his doom as Philip Marlowe, outwitting Nazis in The Great Escape, swindling card sharks as Bret Maverick or bringing down the very foundations of criminal enterprises as Jim Rockford, James Garner always was a delight.

It's a short week in The Pick of the Brown Bag.  This isn't a reflection of the quality of the comic books, just the quantity.  On the docket, the penultimate issue of Legendary, the second issue of Princess Ugg, the current issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws and The Simpsons, the kick off to new Batman event Robin Rises and the relaunch of the Teen Titans.

Many writers admired Sherlock Holmes and his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Some even tried to write homage to the grandmaster and the great detective with their own pastiches.  One such person was August Derelith the progenitor of Solar Pons.  Writer Peter Tomasi is Grant Morrison's August Derelith.  Batman and Robin was the goto title for readers that longed for Morrison's version of Batman and Robin.

Morrison's Robin was Damien, the son of Batman and Talia, daughter of Ra's Al Ghul.  I say was because this happened to the little fellow.


Until a friend corrected my misconception, I assumed Damien to be the legitimate child of Batman and Talia from Mike W. Barr's and Jerry Bingham's Son of the Demon.  At the end of the book, Talia gives the child up for adoption, but I figured she just retrieved him.  I should have known better.  Comics rarely opts for the easy way out.

Ra's Married Batman to His Daughter in DC Special #15: Batman Spectacular

Damien's birth, while still demanding Batman and Talia consummate their marriage, for some reason also involved test tubes.  Damien definitely was not Barr's and Bingham's spawn.

Robin for me will always be Dick Grayson.  I never cared about Damien because he just seemed like a shoehorn character.  I never read about him either since most of his adventures occurred with Dick Grayson assuming the mantle of the Batman when Batman died, which I thought was a cheap trick and/or "Prodigal" remix.

I don't think Final Crisis counts in the new 52.  However, the moment, that is Batman's death, still works.  Darkseid just felt petty one day, opened a Boom Tube and tried to kill Batman as an example for the Justice League.  They still only met during the Justice League's debut and not since.  Batman's waltz through time and space also still works since he could have packed umpteen years and still only be gone a day.

I started reading Batman and Robin when it dropped the latter sobriquet and became a defacto Brave and Bold series, centering on Batman teaming up with the all-stars of the new DCU.  The thing about Batman and Robin is that it still resonated with the tyke's presence.  For me Damien served better as memento mori than as yet another Robin to cram into a burgeoning timeline.

Batman lost it big time when Robin died.  He decided that he lived in a superhero world, and it was about time that he started using superhero means to resurrect his son.  

He set on a quest that alienated him from the Batman Family and seriously pissed off Frankenstein, whom he dissected in order to discover the secret of eternal life.  

Batman finally accepted Damien's death as he received therapy from fighting the crime of the surviving McKillin twin and Two-Face.  Of course, it can't end with Batman reasonably content.
Ra's Al Ghul, Damien's grandfather remember, turned up and stole Damien's and Talia's bodies.  Ra's intended to resurrect both his legacies in Lazarus Pits.  Why didn't Batman use Lazarus Pits? That's a good question.  I suppose because continued exposure to the Pits' elements degrades the recipient's sanity.  Of course back in the day, it was a temporary condition, but I won't quibble.  Let's just accept that Batman had a very good reason for not wanting to resurrect his son in a Lazarus Pit.

The past eight or nine issues detailed Batman's hunt for Ra's Al Ghul and his son's body.  During this time, he met up with old friends such as Aquaman, Wonder Woman and--uh-oh--Frankenstein.  Fortunately, the eloquent creature of science was receptive to Batman's cause.  He threw in with the Dark Knight and some put upon Yeti.  Sentences like that codify why I love comic books.

For this special issue, Tomasi and artist Andy Kubert recap, economically I may add, and transport the reader to the story proper in which Batman, Ra's Al Ghul, Frankenstein and accompanying League of Assassin goons contend against a revamped villain and his army.  I hesitate to refer to him as a Big Bad, since he works for one, but he is no mean threat.  As it turns out, Ra's Al Ghul's method for resurrecting his grandson Damien required something besides a functional Lazarus Pit.

The Chaos Shard goes all the way back to the beginning of Batman and Superman, where the duo take a tour of earth-two before losing their memories of the journey.  The Little Bad wants the shard.  This also for some reason requires his snatching Damien's sarcophagus.  Way to get on Batman's bad side.  Batman may have turned over the Chaos Shard just to get it off the planet, but he has gone through hell to get Damien's body back.  If you think a cadre of plug-uglies is going to get in his way, think again.

I'm not going to lie.  Robin Rises isn't perfect.  The plot frequently threatens to collapse under its own weight. Tomasi's not above using contrivances and McGuffins.  Yet, it's hard not to recommend something that tries so hard to entertain, uses obscure but recent continuity and puts together such an odd team-up that you cannot help but grin.

Tim Drake, the Red Robin, orchestrates a daring rescue in the relaunch of Teen Titans.  Writer Will Pfeifer kicks off the newest volume with a school bus hijacking.  Bad news for the terrorists.  Wonder Girl happens to be in the vicinity.

In the new 52, Wonder Girl is still Cassie Sandsmark, but other than being blonde, she shares nothing with the John Byrne sidekick.  Brian Azzarello revealed early in his run of Wonder Woman that Diana is actually the biological daughter of Zeus and Hippolyte.  The whole molding out of clay origin was a lie.  Wonder Girl is Zeus' grandchild.  The daughter of a human mother and Lennox, Wonder Woman's demigod brother also introduced in Wonder Woman.  

Rather than being a superhero, Wonder Girl is a thief who doesn't mind killing the opposition.  Mind you, she doesn't actually murder the terrorists in Teen Titans.  She lets them die.  Though Cassie's accouterments may appear Amazonian, they are in fact magical artifacts acquired in heists.  The armor and gauntlets coincidentally grant her the same powers as her aunt.  It's really the only cookie-cutting going on.  Cassie for example doesn't care about her ancestry, and she doesn't like to be referred to as Wonder Girl, even though her feats ably illustrated by Kenneth Rocafort, describe her that way.  She also walks and talks differently than the Byrne girl.  Different duck, folks.  Similar plumage.

Also on board the new, new, new Teen Titans, Beast Boy returns in fine verdant form.  Face it.  He always should be green.  Pfeifer brings out that Doom Patrol edge in Beast Boy, albeit he's not as terminally-minded as Wonder Girl.  New character Blockade serves on the team as well as the revamped Raven, who I noted in a previous review was a much happier a character.  Still appears to be, maybe because she never met Wally West then Kid Flash.

Pfeifer's story is at the very least as entertaining as the school bus hijacking in Dirty Harry, and he juxtaposes the play by play detachment of terrorists with a meeting of top flight department heads at STAR, the terrorists' target to add a spin to the typical rescue plot.  Pfeifer and Rocafort imbue the whole episode with sly humor and they never let things become too tense.  Super-heroes are involved.  The kids on the bus will be safe.  There's no sense that the Titans will fail.  The enjoyment derives from how the Titans will win and the central premise, which lies centered in a philosophical science fiction concept.

Last issue in Red Hood and the Outlaws, Starfire took one look at a captured alien ship and burned a path out of SHADE.  This issue writer Scott Lobdell peeks into Kori's history and explains the reasons why she took flight.  I'm going a little spoilery here, but the revelations won't affect your enjoyment of the book.

Turns out that Starfire is very much a pretense.  Oh, the free love sexuality that has always been part of the character is real enough, but her alleged airhead persona hides the heart of a lioness that used a good will tour to free slaves all across the universe.  Evil alien species fear Starfire because of her reputation.  So while stupid slut-shaming humans pipe up about what little clothing Starfire wears or with whom she shares a bed, alien empires tremble at the thought of Starfire being in the vicinity.  It's difficult to believe that this wasn't Lobdell's plan from the very beginning.  

Slavery is at the heart of the story, and Lobdell takes a page from Men in Black to return Starfire to the present day.  Aliens live among us, but there is no secret organization attempting to gel their presence with humanity.  Instead, they stay hidden, harbored and protected in a human city, probably in exchange for riches.  It all works well enough until they realize that Starfire allowed them to live there, probably due to their lack of threat, and it's eviction time.

The lion's share of the tale goes to Starfire, although Roy and Jason provide humor when they discover the latest member of SHADE's secret life.  Jason should really read Batman's files once and awhile, now that he's welcome back in the Cave.

Princess Ugg's second issue is a little disappointing as creator Ted Naifeh goes for the obvious jokes associated with the usual fish out of water story.  

The art of course is fantastic, but I expected something a little more than Ulga's lack of skills concerning princess duties.  Things will probably pick up more speed during the third issue.

Legendary is also predictable, but its predictability relies upon expert foreshadowing from concept creator Bill Willingham.  If you hadn't pieced together the lovely Magna Spadarossa's secret, you really should consider going back to school for remedial studies.

The man guarding Spadrossa this time around is Silver Star, an obscure Jack Kirby creation given a much more hilarious personality by Willingham.  In addition to solving the mystery of Magna, Willingham also shows how this alternate universe arose and why though steampunk in design the science is actually quite advanced.  In a way, Willingham also turns the idea of ancient astronauts by Erich von Daniken on its ear through the subtly employ the planet's educator's more open personality.  All in all, a well thought out exploration into a familiar yet strange world. 

Writer Ian Boothby and artists Phil Ortiz, Mike DeCarlo and Art Villanueva put together a continuity comedy fest in this week's Simpsons Comics.  Continuity? In The Simpsons? Surely, you jest.  Although generally reverting back to the status quo at the episode's end, The Simpsons does favor some continuity.  Boothby for example points out that Homer went to college, but what we didn't know is that he took out a student loan.  

Homer's debt sends him running away from Elliot Ness stand-in Rex Banner, former IRS agent now debt collector.  The dedicated Banner chases Homer all through the adventure, and he finds his prey surprisingly wily.  The crayon must have shifted.

While all of Homer's schemes pay homage to Warner Brothers cartoons, you have to give him credit for actually paying attention to what might work.  Boothby also tributes Pierce Brosnan's and Renee Russo's superb Thomas Crown Affair.  Eventually, Banner becomes wiser to Homer's ploys.  Thus, the die becomes set.  

Where to begin.   Springfield's Child Welfare Services declared Marge, seen here in the image of Maude, the deceased Flanders, and Homer unfit parents and placed Bart, Lisa and Maggie in Ned's and Maude's custody.  They almost baptized the Simpsons kids and would have made them Flanders.  Of course this whole ruse flows from the love/hate relationship Homer has with Ned.  It's not one-sided.  Deep, down, Ned hates Homer as much as he loves him.  It just takes a lot to make that hate seethe to the surface.  Usually, it's Homer's acts of kindness that do it.  Ned can suffer Homer's buffoonery, but not when he's trying to be nice.  Boothby cracks that egg with elegant inadvertent Simpsons' means.

In the end, Homer's final plan unravels, and the above scene occurs.  This is not the end however.  Boothby cleverly finds a perfectly goofy ending for the whole enchilada.  

Ortiz, DeCarlo and Villanueva delight in cartoony escapes Homer make and Rex Banner's send-up of the famous T-Man.  The tough bird allows for some enjoyable cameos, and the art team's take on the Simpsons as Flanders is slap-happy fun.  Of particular note is the art within the art.  Since Boothby refers to Marge's hobby of painting established in the television series, the illustrators take the opportunity to play with the well known portraits tainted by remarkable likenesses.

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