Monday, August 18, 2014

POBB: August 14, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 14, 2014
Ray Tate

This week's Pick of the Brown Bag features reviews of Batman, Birds of Prey, Captain Marvel, Judge Anderson, Justice League United, Legendary, Princess Ugg, Smallville Chaos and World's Finest.

Justice League United pools the gang together and draws in the otherwise tangential character Keewahtin.  The tale opens with Alanna Strange, yes, they were secretly married, getting new duds.  I suppose I could say something trite like "This ain't your granddad's Alanna Strange," but that would just make me feel older than I am.  I encountered Adam Strange and Alanna via reprints in the Dollar specials put out in the seventies, not the originals.

Alanna wasn't a stereotype to begin with.  An alien from the planet Rann, she was often seen with a laser pistol in hand or holstered by her side.  The changes in this version of Alanna Strange amount to a duskier complexion and being Terran.  That doesn't fundamentally alter the character.   a gutsy, hands-on type of gal.  The new outfit compliments Adam Strange's new suit, but I prefer the Carmine Infantino fashion displays.  No bones to Mike McCone.  I do like the design.  It's just a personal preference.

Alanna encounters Keewahtin's best friend who puts her on the track of an illusory beast that League United will eventually fight.  Thank the cosmos it's not a Wendigo.  I'm really sick of every Canadian themed horror ending up being a Wendigo story.  There must be other legends.  Canada had their own comic strips and comic books, damn it.

Before United can face this beast, they must first pay their respects to Hawkman, who sacrificed himself to save the planet.  Getting off of Rann is the easy part.  This is not the action-packed issue of Justice League United you may expect.  It nevertheless entertains.  Writer Jeff Lemire amuses the reader through chemistry and character dynamics.

Not only does Lemire expand on the double-act between Green Arrow and Animal man.  He also pairs up Supergirl and Stargirl.  For the latter, the scene Lemire conceives respects both characters.  As a Supergirl fan, it's a delight to see Supergirl taking the lead rather than having her will enslaved to a Lucky Charms ring.  

Lemire furthermore hews the Martian Manhunter closer to his original characterization.  The new 52 Powers shook things up with the Manhunter by treating him as an aloof protector of the planet who was not Mr. Justice League afterall.  That's about to change as he takes the head of this new Justice League; yes, I know what the blurbs about the Future's End event state.  The Martian Manhunter has a secret plan to take over the world.

Are you pondering what I'm pondering, Pinky?

Ignore them.  Future's End is irrelevant.  It's a future that will be forgotten in a month, tops.

Legendary jumps a few months into the future, and my-oh-my, how things have changed.

Bill Willingham's and Davila's steam punk Red Sonja ends up being closer to the intent of Robert E. Howard's Ottoman Empire-era warrior.  I have in the past mistakenly misidentified the story as taking place during the Crimean War, but it's a sixteenth century tale.  So it must occur during the Ottoman-Hapsberg conflicts.  Sonja is either Russian or Balkan.

The Sonja that's most familiar to comic book readers isn't the figure from Howard's short story "Shadow of the Vulture," which is still available as of this writing at wikipedia.  Just follow the link from the entry.  Roy Thomas simply made Sonja a barbarian to conveniently place her travels in the realm of Conan, already a successful Marvel series.

Davila and Willingham mash her up again.  She still wields a sword but also a gun, like the original Red Sonja.  Her chain mail bikini still gleams, but she also wears modern clothing.  Her vocabulary and her speech also takes a spin away from the more glutteral barbarian speak.  So, this issue of Legendary is an even more pleasant a surprise, in the sense that it's not actually a reboot but a reset.

Sonja frequents a horror laden landscape due to the fact that the villains succeeded last issue with a black magic ritual to call forth a big bad.  Ironically, they gained victory by thinking outside of the villain box.  For the past six issues, they've been hunting Sonja for sacrifice, but reading the fine print in the ritual allowed them to skip that part, which they couldn't achieve anyway.  They instead found a suitable substitute for the individual roles of final sacrifice and bride.

Sonja's hatred for her horse offers a running joke as she treks through the badlands.  Sonja's animosity toward the equine differs strongly with the Sonja we've seen in the past.  Frank Thorne's Sonja really loved horses.  This Sonja is a practical woman, and her relationship with Clover, her horse is laugh out loud funny, as is her encounter with one Don Diego De La Vega.  That's right.  In a team up you never expected to see in a trillion years, Sonja meets Zorro.  If that doesn't tickle, why are you even in the comic book shop?

Princess Ulga in her almost eponymous title Princess Ugg relates why she entered Princess School to begin with.  Her mother had an epiphany.

Ulga attends the school to learn a better way, the way of diplomacy to seek an end to the war between the barbarians, properly known as Grimmerians, and the Fost Giants.  Surprisingly, Ulga already took the first steps to lead the Grimmerians out of the Dark Ages, so to speak.  Under her own initiative, she entered the school.  I assumed she was placed there by her mother, but this issue dispels that misconception.  Ulga's there by choice.  She's willing to learn in order to honor her mother.

Ted Naifeh and Warren Wucinich warmly illustrate the tale.  The artwork compliments the soft way in which the story unfolds before broadening into slapstick of a most entertaining kind, also involving a horse of course, of course.

I've never been a Judge Dredd fan.  I wasn't exposed to the character until he teamed up with Batman.  Judge Anderson appeared in that one-shot as Dredd's more reasonable partner and even developed a thing for the Dark Knight.  Dredd struck me as a tightass foil for the two of them.  Since that team up, I've become a Judge Anderson fan.  I've read the Titan reprints of her strip and as a result exposed myself to the hyperbole of Judge Dredd's universe, which despite being a send-up of 1980s conservatism works equally well as a backdrop for Anderson's cases.  The way I see it.  Dredd mostly encounters the absurdities of Mega-City One.  Anderson meets more cogent science fiction threats.

The characterization of Judge Anderson in her latest fuses quite well with what has gone before.  Writer Matt Smith opens with a short recap of Cassandra Anderson's beginnings.  He then segues to the present where Anderson experiences a psychic warning from the future. The portent immediately triggers action, cutting out oodles of potential padding and neatly sets Anderson up for the final act which removes her from the "comforting" element of Mega-City One and into a strange alien environment.

Though this is an American publication, fans of the British  Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson series will feel right at home with U.K. artist Carl Critchlow detailing every pouch and brass wing on Anderson's uniform.  

Captain Marvel concludes on a very high note with some moxie from the Captain and an elegant means to end the conflict between the Spartax Empire and the wayfarerers of Torfa.  

The Torfans were being poisoned by a big chunk of vibranium that the Empire wants to own; this information really spoils nothing.  The toxicity-as-sickness angle would have been obvious to any six year old.  So, the Empire used that excuse to force the Torfans off the reservation for good, and they didn't mind if the inhabitants died in the process. 

Carol had a problem with that.  So she takes the fight to the Empire and in an awesome display of power becomes instrumental in ending the conflict once and for all.  I'm very surprised when I can recommend each chapter of a comic book as a comic book and a trade.  Good on Kelly Sue DeConnick and superb artist David Lopez.

Birds of Prey ends daringly with writer Christy Marx attempting to humanize Amanda Waller.  It doesn't quite work, but I give her props for trying.  Amanda Waller, no matter the dress size, will never be considered human.

The character actually appeared in several media outlets.  In comics of course, Waller formed the Suicide Squad, and Batman expressed his mistrust and disdain as soon as he learned of the Squad's existence.  That's the kiss of death in comics.  If Batman doesn't like it, it must be bad.

Waller also appeared in Smallville and Justice League.  In both instances, she did horrible things.  In Smallville, as portrayed by the legendary Pam Grier, Waller gives the order to kill Chloe Sullivan.  Second kiss of death.  Superman of course stops her cold.  In Justice League, Waller decides to dismantle the team, as she will attempt to do in Justice League of America.  

Marx fights the gravity of a character that's always been involved in shady dealings.  As a result, the idea that she could care about Dinah's feelings is really hard to swallow.

This is the final issue of Birds of Prey.  So Marx also cleans up by finding a smart solution to the problem of Strix, a Talon associated with Batgirl and Catwoman and drives a temporary wedge between the friendship of Batgirl and Black Canary.  She doesn't even try to entertain the split as permanent.  It's at best a really vicious tiff.  Ultimately, Birds of Prey could have been so much worse, and I mean that in the most positive way.  Marx really needs to be on a title with lasting power because she is too good to lose.

Batman's an inventory issue with a confused pedigree.  The story's by Scott Snyder and Gerry Duggan, but it's written by Gerry Duggan.  Ah-hah.  I have no idea what that means.

Anyhow, Batman goes on the hunt for a serial killer.  You need very little continuity knowledge to enjoy this issue.  It's pure Batman vs. Evil Bastard.  Duggan however distinguishes his monster with a particularly interesting psychological need.

Batman's humanity peeks through the darkness of his cowl in his interaction with a young new 52 Leslie Thompkins and how he appears to attract canines.  Oh, and I'm not making a crack about Leslie Thompkins' age.  She has been rejuvenated and reworked way before the new 52 ever burst onto the scene.  

Artist Matt Scalera provides artwork that's at once expressive and unique without losing sight of the basics.  So, overall, if you're looking for a decent Batman story, with a more optimistic slant and striking artwork, you can't go wrong with this one.

Smallville: Chaos drops Superman into a world of trouble, or should that be worlds, plural.  Lex Luthor makes a terrific move that exemplifies his brilliance and frames his hatred of Superman; we'll call it strong dislike, for Lois Lane.

Before Luthor stages a coup at the SuperCollider that Ted Kord and Michael Holt built, Superman fights a familiar moon-faced foe.  Meanwhile, Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor visit the expecting Queens, Chloe and Oliver.  

Zatanna shows up when you least expect it, and Mercy helms the Watchtower while Booster Gold makes a strong cameo, in which timelines appear to be shifting.  Seriously.  Why aren't you buying this book?  Bryan Q. Miller juggles the massive cast with unparalleled expertise.  Everybody gets something to do and is in this book for a reason.

Continuing a Pattern, This Scene does Not Appear in the Pages of World's Finest

World's Finest surprisingly doesn't really focus on our favorite duo--Helena and Kara.  Instead, writer Paul Levitz introduces a new Power Girl, expertly drawn by Tyler Kirkham and Scott Kollins.

Normally such a move, despite it coming from a writer I like, would irk me, but the way Levitz relates the story and makes it seem a natural reaction to weird events kept me rapt.  That's not to say I would accept a new Power Girl even if she was bequeathed the title.

Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner brought Power Girl back, restored her pre-Crisis memories and eliminated a whole heap of past interference.  They transformed Power Girl into the last survivor of the original DC universe and the smartest business woman on the planet.  Bam.  That made way more sense than Atlantean granddaughter of Arion.  

When the new 52 arose from the ashes of an incomprehensible mishmash, Levitz restored Power Girl as the earth-two cousin to Superman.  See, that's what Power Girl must be.  That's where her resonance springs from.  They could have made her black.  It wouldn't have mattered.  As long as she was the earth-two cousin to Superman.  So, yeah, I like Tanya Spears, but the only way I'll accept her as Power Girl is in the face of an earth-two Power Girl's continued existence.  Tanya would be an adjunct not a replacement.

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