Monday, July 28, 2014

POBB: July 23, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 23, 2014
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag is back for reviews of All-Star Western, Aquaman, and Batman and Robin.  I'll also have a brief capsule about the new Scarlett Johansson/Luc Besson production Lucy, but first a few words about the conclusion to Batman: Year Zero.  

Look at that cover.  Batman leads a pride of lions that he tamed in the Riddler's arena against their former master.  Man, that would have been frickin' awesome.  Unfortunately, the conclusion of Batman "Year Zero" features an astonishing dearth of lions.  In fact, there's nary a lion in sight.  No lions.

The reality is that Batman, trapped by a criss-cross of laser beams, answers the Riddler's questions to advance a square without being sliced and diced.  Meh.

What makes the conclusion to an otherwise mostly decent story even more disappointing is the precious ending, which reads like fanfiction that could have also been applied to Captain James T. Kirk and The Enterprise.  I'd like to point out that Kirk blew up the original Enterprise to save his crew.  What would Batman do?

The sheer outrageousness of Peter Tomasi's Batman and Robin trumps Scott Snyder's overhyped "Year Zero."  This is where we left off.  

Batman seeks to invade Apokolips to retrieve the body of his son, corpsenaped by one of Darkseid's minions.  

There's a lot to love about this issue of Batman and Robin.  Batman's coloring way outside the lines because he doesn't just want to retrieve Damien's remains.  He seeks to bring Damien back alive.  So, yeah, Batman's nuts again, right? Wrong.  The Dark Knight got a glimpse of the future when he held the Chaos Shard.  In that future Damien is the living breathing, savior of the world.  In order for Damien to do that, Batman concludes that Damien must be brought back to life.  Since Batman's terrestrial efforts failed.  Darkseid must have the resuscitation technology necessary.  Can't argue with logic.

Logic turns painful for some members of the Justice League.  The team's role call now includes Captain Cold, the artist formerly known as Captain Marvel and of all people Lex Luthor.  

Tomasi goes out of the way to characterize the League extremely well while knitting them into the fabric of his tall tale.  The strong characterization of the guest stars compliments Tomasi's potent treatment of Batman.  The overall attention grants power to the plot of a story that stripped down is kind of loopy, especially for Batman. 

Tomasi frequently goes off the rails, yet you can't really fault the writer given the velocity he travels.  For example, he introduces the Hellbat, which of course is Batman's typical playing-for-keeps-suit of armor.  You've seen this sort of enhancement in Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.  You've seen it in Scott Snyder's Rotworld.  Tomasi posits a different construction that doesn't really feel like Batman at all.

I just can't see the League saying to Batman: "You're too fragile.  Let's build you a suit of armor to protect you."  Neither can I see Batman accepting such a thing.  Yet, here it is, a badass token of friendship.

Batman's verbal confrontations against the League are even better than his physical anticipations.  These speak of Batman's relationship with the core membership of the Justice League.  Batman knows which buttons to push, and the League trust in Batman's reason.  What they cannot predict is that Batman's mental faculties, the side for intellect and the side for emotion, work in concert.  Batman is actually preserving history by bringing Damien back alive, if he can.  

There of course is an alternative bitter subtext the reader must address.  The Chaos Shard could be unveiling what Batman wants to believe.  It could as well be part of yet another trap courtesy of Darkseid.  The dude already opened up a Boom Tube to kill Batman on a whim.

Whatever the case, Batman plays the League as expertly as you expect him to, but he doesn't fool Superman for one minute.  

Superman, now flying solo--probably due to Lex Luthor's presence, sees right through Batman's acquiescence.  In the end, Batman turns to the people he can count on the most.

Batman Family Reunited

The reunification of the Batman family in these pages is significant since Batman turned against each one of them per issue during his breakdown.  The only one missing is Nightwing, since he's pretending to be dead after the events of Forever Evil.  I also applaud the overall coherence among all the Batman titles.  Batgirl, Red Robin and Red Hood all made their peace with Batman elsewhere.  So there's no animosity between them in the entertaining Batman and Robin.

When last we left Aquaman, he faced the Chimera.  As the name implies, the Chimera is a composite born from the nightmare science of Triton Base.  The Chimera possesses Aquaman's telepathic powers, and he ordered the denizens of the sea to attack the Sea King.  Needless to say, Aquaman overcame Chimera's attack. 

An Atlantean guard investigates the reports and informs Aquaman of the goings on in the royal court.  Mera has been cleaning house after a few assassination attempts, and she leaves them to Tula's tender mercies--punch in the face--for questioning.

I grew up with the comics of the seventies, and in the seventies women pushed for an Equal Rights Amendment. They failed to get it, which was a raw deal.  Overall in the seventies, women were more unified and feared as a voting block.  Today, we can imagine the many sphincter hydra of Congress impeding such efforts even before the protocol of state ratification precluded passage.  In any case, comics reflected the times.  Female super-heroes and male super-heroes were on par, but within these seventies comics, reprints of fifties stories abounded.  I can just imagine a fifties era Aquaman belittling Mera's efforts; identifying her treatment of would-be king killers as cruel and/or men's work.  In modern Aquaman, Jeff Parker's Aquaman, Mera instead receives Aquaman's encouragement and love.  Fantastic.

As Aquaman and Mera agree to agree on the subject of prisoners, Chimera surfaces ala' Gill-Man and Humanoids from the Deep.  Chimera however maintains a fierce intelligence and isn't interested in procreating with the lovely Julie Adams.  He is however a little touchy-feely.

To quote Spike, "I love a good slaughter as much as the next bloke, but his little pranks only leave us with one incredibly brassed-off Slayer!"  Attacking Aquaman's friends isn't a smart idea at all, and here again is an example of the schism between comics now and comics then.  Aquaman's friends happen to be strong women capable of defending themselves.  I shudder to think what they might have been in the Silver Age.

Last but not least, All-Star Western where Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray along with Staz Johnson mosey to the finish line of their impressive comic book run of the scarred bounty hunter.  

When last we left Hex and Tullulah Black, innocent looking human sheep turned out to be wolves in disguise.  They snatched their bounty and left the couple tied up on their horses.  Not exactly Shades of Grey, which by the way looks like the Thomas Crown Affair without the heist.  What the hell?  Is that really how the book was?  No, don't tell me.  I don't give a rat's behind about Shades of Grey.  I just mention it because of the bondage.

Things get worse before they get better.  Gray and Palmiotti never lose sight of the prize, which is remarkable heroism beneath some wicked gunplay.  A puissant, downtrodden ending completes the picture of the west being an unforgiving environment where only the strong flourished.

The Saturday Matinee

Lucy is a smart, science fiction film that demonstrates Luc Besson, writer/director, fosters a few ideas that don't involve men in black suits kicking ass.   Not that there's anything wrong with films about men and/or women in black suits kicking ass.  

When I identify Lucy as science fiction I mean it.  You can go to this movie and glean some honest to goodness scientific theory.  For example, it's lovely to view a film that overtly embraces evolution, unlike coddle-flop such as Prometheus.

The film centers around Lucy portrayed by Scarlett Johansson being selected unwillingly as a drug mule for a Taiwanese cartel.  To make a long story short and to preserve the ever important surprises and twists, the gross stupidity of the headman's henchmen unleashes a wave of super-powered vengeance on the whole lot of the evil bastards.  I know that description sounds like a men-in-black-suits-kick-ass movie, but Lucy kicks ass in a spectacularly unexpected way that satisfies both the cerebral and the visceral aspects of the film.

I imagine a lot nitpickers are going to start blithering about the whole idea of humans using only ten percent of the brain is rubbish, but you know what? Don't care.  Forget the numbers, and just accept them as a neat little clock that stylishly counts down Lucy's deadline.  To what, I won't say, but just suppose that the whole ten percent myth promulgated by Morgan Freeman's scientist figure is just the term that we simple simians can grasp right now.  Consider it a metaphor.  Just suppose that humans could actually be better not in terms of physicality but mental capacity.  The script even states that we codify in terms that we can understand.  We bring down the wonder of scientific concepts to our level so our feeble brains--which alas, use most if not all their capacity--can work things out.  

Lucy has got its heart in the right place.  The cosmology is correct, in a sparkling visual quality brought to scintillating life by the big-screen.  The human timeline is correct.  The computing technology is correct.  Besson has got a really good grasp of the factual basics of existence, boiling every living thing's methods down to two, and he uses special relativity in a unique way that's almost profound.  How many films even bother to try?

A great deal of credit must be given to Scarlett Johansson, again.  She portrays a character that's the antithesis of her role in Under the Skin and lends tremendous gravitas to the whole project.  Her delivery of weird lines that result from the strange transformation compel, and her air of ever escalating intellect echoes the final words of the Incredible Shrinking Man, albeit in the opposite direction.  Lucy is a must see.

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