Tuesday, August 12, 2014

POBB: August 6, 2014

The Pick of the Brown Bag
August 6, 2014
Ray Tate

Welcome to The Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog, I select the best and worst from the week's yield.  On the current docket Angel and Faith, Batman Eternal, Detective Comics, Earth 2, Flash Gordon, Moon Knight, Painkiller Jane, Swamp Thing and Vampirella.

I have mixed feelings about the latest issue of Detective Comics.  The best thing I can say is that the murder mystery's solution results from a logical elimination of possible suspects.  In addition, the artwork of course is striking and effective.  You would expect nothing less from Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, but man, is this dark.

The presence of Batman's suit of armor, the science fiction elements of a giant squid and essentially a lightning man fail to alleviate the film noir miasma of doom that hangs over the story.  Buccellato and Manapul create a pit that swallows innocent people whole.  That pit is Gotham City, prompting the question why would anybody live there?

Annette came to Gotham City, unwillingly.  Her reservations proved correct.  She lost her mother, her innocence and the promise of a new beginning.  At the end of the story, she intends to get out of Gotham City while she still can.  Smart girl.

Annette's suffering is exactly what Batman's supposed to prevent.  Batman became who he is to destroy crime before the criminal element could decimate families, leaving behind orphans such as he.  Any victory he achieves by beating the crap out of the bad guys after the fact is Pyrrhic.  Batman's triumphs lie in determent.  In that sense, Detective Comics is an epic fail for the Dark Knight.

It's as though Manapul and Buccellato looked at Scott Snyder's and Gregg Capullo's optimistic Batman interpretation, the man who finally shattered the Owls, the vigilante who fights crime and corrupt cops like a modern day Zorro, and decided the image and the present needed tarnish.  Too much, if you ask me.

I'm only dipping into Scott Snyder's Batman Eternal for the Batgirl content.  In that respect I wasn't disappointed, but the surrounding material didn't upset me either.  So, bonus.

Batman Eternal features a good bit of Batgirl intrigue.  She teams up with the Red Hood and Batwoman to infiltrate a Brazilian sweatshop.  The head honcho may be involved in framing her father Commissioner Gordon.  He could also be a red herring.  So, don't get your hopes up.  His shtick is mind control, but his rationale for interfering in Gotham City escapes me.  The writers aren't inclined to elucidate either.

Snyder and team emphasize new continuity over the old.  So, fans of Babs' thirty-five year crippling probably aren't going to be too happy.  Screw 'em.   Batgirl fans will want to add this issue of Batman Eternal to their list.  Not only does Andy Clarke illustrate Batgirl beautifully, Snyder and team include the following passage.

The observation exalts Batgirl, validating the appreciation of the character.  Furthermore, the writers treat Batwoman as a neophyte, in contrast to Batgirl.  Batgirl in fact actually finds something for the fledgling heroine to do.  For the first time, Batwoman has a reason to exist.

As well as Batgirl action, Batman, Jason Bard and Killer Croc team-up to find out what's preying on the people of Gotham City.  I like the idea of Croc being a defender and Batman not immediately blaming him for the crimes, when the evidence points elsewhere.

Jim Gordon meanwhile stews in Blackgate.  Harper and Spoiler by the way do not appear in this issue.  So keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to cough up the coin.

Moon Knight ends with a bang.  Warren Ellis concludes his run by going back to his debut and plucking his villain from a maelstrom of jealousy and envy.

The cop, Ryan, one of those attached to the first Mr. Knight investigation in the premiere delves into Moon Knight's past to learn about a man he makes an enemy.  

As a result, we discover the fates of Marlene and Frenchie, Moon Knight's lover and cohort, respectively.  Ellis gives each of the Moon Knight's former associates pretty decent lives, but this is unsurprising.  Ellis is one of the more idealistic Brit writers and realizes that superheroes require at least a germ of humanity's more appealing attributes to justify their crusade.

Once he feels he knows his enemy, Ryan fortifies himself with explosives and darts.  He christens himself the new Black Spectre, and falls headlong into failure.  In the end, Moon Knight proves to be even more altruistic than first thought.  

Angel and Faith is a good jump-on point where regular writer Victor Gischler introduces new readers to Angel, his new digs of London and his supporting cast.

The story opens with Angel's nightmare.  Angelus, lays waste to a convent of nuns.  Religious icons and people do not seem to particularly bother vampires from the Joss Whedon universe.  Indeed, one may argue in order to burn you have to have your soul returned.  Whedon on the other hand did incorporate one of the seldom used vampire traditions in his cosmology.  Vampires must be invited to the party, unless they seek entry to a public place, like a church.  

The feast is indeed theoretically possible.  Whatever the case, the nightmare effectively foreshadows the demon inside Angel.  For those not in the know, the gypsies cursed Angelus for the slaughter of one of their own.  They called back Angel's soul from beyond to forever combat the demon inhabiting Angel's body.  This is why for example Angel listens to Barry Manilow.  To torture Angelus, which is not to say that Angel doesn't appreciate Barry Manilow.  

Angel begins his day properly at Mos Eisley's Cafe, or it's occult equivalent.  There he meets Inspector Brandt who entices Angel with a strange case.

The facts intrigue Angel.  The vampire stalker operates in broad daylight, something vampires such as he cannot do.  Enlisting the aid of The Watcher Giles' preternaturally young aunts Lavinia and Sophie, Angel lures the vampire into a trap.  The aunts prove to be dangerous bait.  Fortunate since plausible complications arise in Angel's trek through the sewers to seal the trap.

Gischler's story gives him the opportunity to display his strong characterization skills and how he can twist an agreeably predictable plot that still allows the reader to get her feet wet.  Regular artist Will Conrad was unavailable, but Dark Horse acquired the services of able substitute Delris Santacruz.  Santacruz produces a strong ringer for David Boreanaz and does well when presenting the action in a visual narrative rich with realistic detail.

Nancy Collins continues to entertain with Vampirella's quest to rid herself of the spirit of Umbra.  Her age-old enemy Ethan Shroud suckered her into playing host for the shadow demon.  Collins' own creation Sonja Blue also shares her body with a creature she refers to as the Other, but the Other is clearly a part of Sonja.  Not so with Umbra who seductively attempts to possess the noble vampire.  

In order to get expunge the parasite, Vampirella must undergo Herculean labors.  For the first task of her quest, the dark heroine needs to kill and use the parts of specific monsters.  This means the return of an old favorite.

The beastie last appeared in Brandon Seifert's Witchdoctor.  Two appearances of the Asian demon within a few years of comic book reading.  I must be doing something right.  The Krasue is a unique bit of floating folklore that's at once hilarious and grotesque.  I've had a soft spot for the beast ever since seeing the cheapjack special effects stills from Thai films that made her manifestation possible.

The Krasue actually does very little in the story apart from a sorry attempt at strangulation.  From reading the plots of these films, the Krasue often served as showstopping window dressing.  So, in a way Collins maintains tradition by making the beastie a supernatural McGuffin in a story about Vampirella.  Collins generates most of the intrigue through Ella's resistance to Umbra's enticements.  Though she does quench a different kind of thirst.  

Wowsers! Seriously though.  Vampirella debuted as a Warren magazine for mature audiences.  Vampirella having sex shouldn't really be a big deal, and Collins has never been one to shy away from the subject.

I found Collins' wit far more surprising.  Collins' Sonja Blue novels were fairly straight-up horror adventure stories.  The title character might have had a sense of humor but she hid it well.  Vampirella on the flip side is quite funny thanks to the inclusion of the sardonic nostferatu Drago.  

This isn't even the funniest line.

Patrick Berkonkotter illustrates the beautiful and the beastly with equal skill, and his depiction of the antagonist is impressive.  His art makes it look like the Krasue's been animated by way bigger budgets than all the Thai films combined. 

Painkiller Jane and the 22 Brides investigate the mad bomber of New York.  They finally get a break by tracing the phone setting off the charge to the bomber's associates.  Writer/creator Jimmy Palmiotti however diverts the plot from the expected and by doing so tailors the gist to Jane's characterization.  Jane gets fierce when Maureen suffers an injury, however minor.

Jane's method of detection differs from Sherlock Holmes and the typical gumshoe of old.  Because of her power to heal, she meets things head on, seldom using stealth.  Essentially, she stakes out her claim and calls out the bad guy.

Jane's technique brings Act IV smashing headlong into what should have been Act II.  Cutting to the chase literally involves throwing Jane at a helicopter and ending on a vicious looking cliffhanger.  Believe me, you won't miss the expected padding one bit.

On the planet Arborea, Flash Gordon surreptitiously teams with Prince Barin to lead the first Mongo imperium revolt.  Last issue, Flash prevented the Lion Man Thun and Mox the Rhino Man from losing their intellect to become true enslaved Beast Men.  This issue Flash, Dale and Zarkov decimate Mongo's forces, enact serious property damage with admittedly convenient explosive berries and raspberry Ming the Merciless by daring to resist.

Flash is instrumental in the rebellion, but obviously he could not have turned the tide alone.  Nevertheless, it's very easy to see how Ming will build an animosity toward Flash that's legendary.  Flash is willing to take credit for all the turmoil in order to shield his extraterrestrial allies from reprisals.  Thus, the Flash's grandstanding isn't, and his motives are completely altruistic.  Flash in fact lacks an ego when it comes to matters of right and wrong, and he's unaware of it when he launches into a new challenge.

Writer Jeff Parker's light touch with the Flash Gordon adventures also enlivens Zarkov and Dale Arden.  Zarkov exhibits quite a bit of ego in the story, not unwarranted, and this translates into some funny moments.  Dale is the hard-nosed reporter that Lois Lane wants to be, and she becomes a storyteller again as she recounts the events in the highly recommended King's Watch.  Dale as you can see also displays her comedy chops.

Charles Soule ends the storyarc in which Swamp Thing silenced the Parliament of Trees, regained his status as Champion of the Green and returned past avatars to earth in human form as a reward for their help in changing the guard.

Alas, the Avatars Lady Weeds and the Wolf didn't take too kindly to Alec Holland's present and chose to whittle him down to size.  Each of their plans failed miserably, and in a last ditch effort, the Wolf became less than human to fight Swamp Thing on equal footing.  Joshua, the benevolent Avatar who offered immortal Capucine protection, got caught in the crossfire.

Soule finishes the story with a full flourish of foliage.  Swamp Thing mitigates the damage, and the Wolf demonstrates that even in a hideous form he still holds a glimmer of humanity.  That's not however a guarantee of mercy.  Capucine exacts a crucial delicious revenge on Weeds, and although this issue of Swamp Thing is basically a good guys-over-bad guys- win, the story's neither disposable or predictable.  The characters with robust depth lead the tale of revenge and triumph.

On Earth 2, everybody's on the same page.  Stop Darkseid's forces from invading the planet again.  Writer Tom Taylor however demonstrates that there's more than one way to skin an Apokoliptan War-Rat. 

Lois, her mind ensconced in the Red Tornado, stops "Superman" from continuing his rampage, and Taylor reveals  a secret from our returning Man of Steel.  Suffice to say old Superman fans should be delighted.

Marella, Batman and the Flash however serve as the centerpiece in a strike against the opposition that displays the elegance of a butterfly in flight.

One disappointment is a given.  Though Power Girl appears on the cover of Earth 2, she's nowhere to be found in the pages.

I would be remiss not to mention the colorists of this week's yield.  Whether it's Jordie Bellaire granting power to conflagration, or Blond and his dueling red-heads, with a Red Hood watching from the sidelines, the colorists did a spectacular job.  Pete Pantazis and his wonder hues spark a rainbow in Earth 2.  It would be perfectly acceptable for a black and white Angel and Faith to hit the racks, but the shades of Michelle Madsen on hand, why would you?  Likewise for Vampirella's Jorge Sutil.  His bloody yet varied reds emphasize Vampirella's need, while Matt Wilson's choices bring out a kaiju element that mirrors the Wes Craven Swamp Thing.  To the unsung heroes of the comic book world, the colorists.

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