Saturday, July 5, 2014

POBB: July 2, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 2, 2014
Ray Tate

This week the Pick of the Brown Bag looks at Angel and Faith, Batman and Superman, Earth 2, Moon Knight, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Swamp Thing and Vampirella.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up is a clever lark in which Scooby and the gang meet Wonder Woman.  How did this happen? Continuity.

Wonder Woman's, Scoob's, Velma's and Daphne's namecheck of Batman refers back to the first issue of this mostly enjoyable Scooby-Doo spin-off.  It establishes that this is another shared world where some of the super-heroes know each other.  The scene furthermore demonstrates characterization that's independent of the plot.  Daphne, Velma and Scooby express just the right amount of awe in realizing that Batman respects their skills in mystery solving.

If the loss of Amazon power should a man set foot on Paradise Island throws you, it's a classic, though not part of the original mythology.  Wonder Woman's creator William Moulton Marston indicated the promise to Aphrodite consisted of Amazons not being "beguiled" again by men.  The idea of male presence causing Amazonian weakness was introduced much later by Marston's successors.  Of course you could also rationalize the discrepancy by suggesting the vow over time became a corrupted legend.  The Amazons after all are eternal and likely to forget a few things per century.  In any case,  Sholly Fisch brings back the pop culture Aphrodite's Law.  The rule elegantly explains everything.  It provides the impetus for the story and allows for some entertaining jokes.

The Amazons never let go of the idea that men are the inferior gender.  Wonder Woman is a more equal rights kind of gal, which suits her characterization and subtly evinces why Diana was chosen so long ago as Paradise Island's envoy to man's world.

These story attributes serve as the backbone of Fisch's fairplay mystery in which mythological characters appear and disappear seemingly at will and leave the Amazons perplexed.  In the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, they've done the preliminary elimination of the impossible.

Artist Dario Brizuela while introducing an on-model Scooby-Doo cast produces a warm, inviting Amazon population that's simultaneously strong and sturdy.  For Wonder Woman, Brizuela combines the best of both worlds.  She's part Super-Friends and part Justice League.  Perfect.

Batman and Superman acts in four ways.  First, writer Greg Pak unfolds a good story with a beginning, middle and end.  Second, he adds an epilogue to the plotting from the previous World's Finest crossover.  Third, he brings a layer of entanglement to the continuity of the new 52 and fourth he sets up the next stoyarc in which Batman and Superman lose their memories and trade partners: namely Lois Lane and Catwoman.

The story begins with Superman and Batman mulling over their fragmented memories that stirred after meeting their Earth-Two counterparts' legacies.  

The demon in question appears and gives the two heroes a rare opportunity.  She will transport them both to the past of Earth-Two and grant each a chance to affect the timeline.  Batman of course does not trust the demon, but that doesn't stop him from taking advantage of the situation.

In JLA/Avengers Batman warns the team not to interfere with Marvel's earth, but he ends up decisively swooping down from hiding to beat the crap out of the Punisher. Batman like his ratiocinator predecessors is not a slave to logic.  He more often than not follows where his intellect leads him.  However, particularly stressful situations such as Lex Luthor momentarily killing Dick Grayson rips through his brain like nobody's business.  Pak plausibly sets up such a moment and Batman admits that he squandered his chance to rewrite Earth-Two history.

Superman's contribution rather than creating a temporal paradox, preserves the history of both earths and exemplifies the friendship he fosters with Batman.

In the end, the duo disappoint the chaos demon, and her rage precipitates their next fate.  

Earth 2 is just filled with spectacular moments.  Above, Alan Scott tows a crapload of Parademons while the Apokoliptan New God Beguiler vexes his efforts.

The threat leads to a spotlight for Hawkgirl where Kendra unsheathes her steel.  

Marella, the Queen of Atlantis, returns at an opportune moment.  That snapshot doesn't begin to describe the epic scope of what occurs.

The Flash steps up to perform an amazing speed stunt that leaves everybody speechless.  

In addition to these wonders in both art and writing, the new Superman reveals his connection to the House of El and takes an epiphany trip courtesy of Dr. Fate's helmet, which generates comedy from Jimmy Olsen.  A superior issue in every respect, even if not highlighting the earth-two Batman.

Swamp Thing opens his latest by threatening to kill Lady Weeds.  The Wolf persuades Swamp Thing to abandon his murderous intent, but not out of altruism.  

The entire book is an entertaining weaselly narrative juxtaposed with Jesus Saiz's gorgeous montages depicting Alec's fight against monsters in the Wolf's employ.

In the end, writer Charles Soule introduces a unique twist in the bartering for demonic assistance, and this seals the fate of the Wolf, who foreshadows his own destruction.  Quick and effective, Swamp Thing's only subplot focuses on the relationship between the immortal Capucine and her Avatar Joshua, which dovetails to a dramatic cliffhanger promising a riveting next issue.

Writer Nancy Collins upends Vampirella's world.  Corrupted by the Seal of Chaos, Vampirella serves as the host of Umbra.  Though the evil goddess has yet to surface, the alien vampire from Drakulon now succumbs to the bane of other vampires and faces allies turned enemies.

The idea of the Catholic Church turning against Vampirella isn't anything new, but Collins' skill as an author allows for a more naturally written betrayal.  I'm not a fan of any religion, and Catholicism is a particularly narrow-minded philosophy.  Traditionally however, the Church was portrayed as much of a demon-fighting symbol of goodness in Vampirella as it was in early Hammer films.  Vampirella writers glossed over the Church's overall hypocrisy; its facilitation if not outright support of child molestation; its historical hatred of science and of course its abhorrence of women as anything but an evil necessity for baby-making.  With the introduction of God's Hammer, Collins subtly touches upon the Church's unsavory history.

Vampirella's former supporter asks Nicodemus the leader of God's Hammer to make her death quick, in honor of her past service.  The priests lie to Vampirella in order to better position her for an ambush.  Vampirella's ally from the other side emphasizes the sect's pleasure when it comes to torturing women.  To be sure, Collins doesn't dwell on these unsavory attributes of the Church.  She's relating an supernatural action-story after all, but she paints the Church in darker shades that previous writers.  When Vampirella shakes off Umbra's influence, it's doubtful she'll return as the Church's agent.

Vampirella's advocate comes from the night.  This as well as has been done before, but again, Collins' skill to nuance depth into an adventure makes for a more a satisfying evolution.  The monsters are more rational.  They see Vampirella as the only force powerful enough to preclude the apocalypse.  They still see her as a threat.  They know that she will kill them once freed from the corruption of the seal, yet she's their best best bet.  They aid her out of self-interest as well as surprising poetry.  Whereas Collins' vampires are predators mirroring the worst of humanity, she characterizes the vampires in Vampirella more diversely.  By no means are these creatures the Byronesque hearthrobs popularized by Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer, but neither are they the monstrous rapists or exploiters Sonja Blue destroys in Collins' books.

Drago is a refined, almost old school vampire.  He's still dangerous.  A monster, but he expresses more than an a mere want to rescue the "Happy Meals with legs," that Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer wished to preserve.  Collins no doubt saw this episode and realized she would need to distinguish her work from the better known Whedon opus. 

There's a measured realism inherent in Collins' novels that she transfers to Vampirella, and artist Patrick Berkenkotter makes for a good partner to translate the authenticity. Berkenkotter bases Drago's appearance on Count Orlak.  Thus Vampirella's designation of his being Nostferatu is accurate. This type of vampire resurfacing contrasts the pretty seducers of borderline romance novels, and fits with Collins' themes of dropping the pretense.  Vampirella's beauty has always been starkly different from the traditional vampire woman.  She is alien and immortal.  It's not a mask conserved by an evil curse to better lure her victims to expose their necks.  Vampirella is not the undead, and Berkenkotter of course keeps her fit and fluid throughout the terrific follow-up to the premiere.

Victor Gischler's Angel and Faith is so strong that I don't really need to know the particulars of what's going on.

I have absolutely no idea who this woman is beyond her name.  I haven't a clue who this Nash fellow is that she mentions in her dialogue.  Gischler keeps it simple.  From the dialogue and her actions, I can tell she's harbors a grudge against Angel and Faith.  Judging by her ears, she may be an elf or something.  The green glow tells me she's definitely got some magical mojo going for her.

With Will Conrad's action-saturated artwork as his storytelling medium, Gischler accents Angel's unstoppability.  Angel can be killed.  It's just hard to do.  He does feel pain, but it doesn't slow him down.  Because he has a soul, he doesn't let the innocent suffer.  So we see Angel battling some really powerful foe, getting back up again after being knocked over several times and saving lives.  Really, that's all I need for a decent issue of Angel and Faith. 

Gischler ups the ante by informing me about Magic Town, without making the exposition feel like an info dump.  Magic Town is London, after Whistler, who mentored Angel on the television series, unhatched something beyond his control. 

Gischler cinches the surroundings to a clever plot.  So, it's not just a personal magical duel between Pearl and Angel.  The stakes are higher than mere revenge.  The properties of those stakes depend on the nature of Magic Town, and they also explain why Pixies are so vital to an old Big Bad's plan.  

Conrad makes all of this easy to take in.  He orchestrates clear, concise fight choreography.  His dead on likeness with Angel and Faith combined with his photorealistic characters new to Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer unify comic book and television series.   Furthermore, his depiction of the Big Bad at the proper cliffhanger bestows greater impact to the reveal.

Faith's story runs adjacent to Angel's tale, but never do they intersect.  After attacking Deepscan's client, Faith realizes that she doesn't belong in Kennedy's private security firm.  She prefers Slayer weapons to guns.  She dislikes working for monsters she would rather kill, but Kennedy still believes Faith can be good for Deepscan.  So, she entices her to stay with a case she cannot abandon.  The catalyst for this mission goes all the way back to Faith's redemption on the television series.  

It's the creative team's adherence to the core myths that make Angel and Faith such an engrossing read.  I felt lost when trying to comprehend the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book, but here I feel right at home.

Don't kidnap night travelers when you're in the vicinity of Moon Knight.  He is the avatar of Khonshu, and he protects night travelers.  In order to secure his charge, Moon Knight will need to traverse five floors of pug-ugly thugs inhabiting the tenement.  Rather than fear the possibilities, Moon Knight's looking forward to the ordeal.

Essentially Judge Dredd with Moon Knight in place of Dredd, the story works because of DeClan Shalvey's extraordinary martial arts illustration and Warren Ellis' mean, pithy dialogue.  Moon Knight will take you five minutes to breeze through, but you'll be rewarded in those five minutes.

Have you ever wondered if there is or will be a comic book as bad as Manos: The Hands of Fate?

It's a fair argument to say that you shouldn't review something that you haven't or won't read.  I've made it a point to only review what I have read.  However, I'm going to make a prediction.  This prediction is based upon the preview and the ad copy.  Here is the comic book answer to Manos: The Hands of Fate.

I considered picking apart the image and the phraseology, but really, doesn't the image just say it all? It's like a massive train wreck of mediocrity and desperation.

No comments:

Post a Comment