Pick of the Brown Bag
September 10, 2014
The Pick of the Brown Bag is open for business. This week I review Captain Marvel, Copperhead, Judge Anderson and Dawn/Vampirella.
Copperhead by Jay Faerber is a science fiction western, but despite the presence of aliens, it's more western than science fiction. The sub-genre was popularized by Joss Whedon's Firefly. Other laudable television series like Defiance have followed in Whedon's footfalls.
With her son Zeke in tow, a new sheriff, Clara Bronson, moseys into a problem-filled town. The genre lovers reading that line probably didn't raise an eyebrow over the implication of a female sheriff. I'd like to say that represents a shift in culture, but it sadly doesn't.
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We live in a bubble where we expect women to be equal to men. Women as private eyes, police officers, sheriffs or leaders doesn't strike us as strange, but the reality is that women still do not even earn as much money as men when doing the same job. Idiots in power keep trying to control their sexuality, and violence against women is considered normal even in the United States. It's important to understand that what we read and watch is wishful thinking. Gender equality is a must if we are to advance as a species. We must make these fantasies a reality. Until then, we must recognize the difference.
Faerber's depiction of primitive male behavior feels almost charming in its antiquity, but these persona are met by women everywhere, every day.
The sheriff gives the lecherous males a lesson in manners. This as we'll seems normal, but the reality is that the average man is always stronger than the average woman. That strength has been man's sole advantage, and too many are willing to use it. So what this Sheriff Bronson does is quite amazing, even if it doesn't seem so.
Clara finds no help from her own men, but at least it's not due to male chauvinism. Her alien deputy wanted the job. So, he barely conceals his resentment. Of course, he might not be a he to begin with.
Sheriff Bronson gets her feet wet in a domestic squabble conducted by green potatoes with a decidedly country twang...
...then meets the Big Bad of the story accompanied by perhaps the only major science fiction element.
The purple skinned gents are known as Artificials, which raise the hairs on the back of the Sheriff's neck. No doubt there's some bad blood there, or an homage to Ripley from the Alien films. In any case, the Artificials don't fit the traditions or tropes of the horse opera.
Faerber's story is well-written, but it's not quite distinctive enough to necessitate a purchase for comic book fans on a budget. His message about gender however is laudable and should be commended, even if it doesn't seem particularly special to us. Remember. Geeks breathe rarified air. Artist
Scott Godlewski's layout maximizes the action and intrigue while presenting an overall lean look that let's colorist Ron Riley's hues pop. This area of the project provides the science fiction, with aesthetically tailored body armor and the aforementioned spuds as well as the enigmatic Artificials, but it also exemplifies the disconnect. It's as though Faerber were writing a western and Godlewski and Riley had other ideas.
Will Judge Anderson meet her demise in the jaws of a gator? Of course not, but it makes for a good opening.
Anderson emphasizes how unusual a fate this would have been, and it's true. You wouldn't expect the Mega-City girl to wind up dead in the belly of a natural beast, in a swamp. More like succumbing to multiple wounds sustained during the sanction of a criminal organization.
Anderson and her fellow Psi-Judge, DeGroot investigate the appearance of psi-powered Mutants turning up to aid and abet at a crime scene. Psi-Judge DeGroot is Anderson's swamp-guide. She possesses the unique ability to tap into the life force of her environment, this allows her to absorb the topography of the land in which the plant life dwells.
One of the things that makes this book worthy of your coin is the intelligence behind the story. Writer Matt Smith immerses himself in the world of telepathy and telekinesis. Anderson makes moves that only somebody familiar with psi-powers would make. These tactics are still innovative and identify Anderson as an imaginative thinker. The mind-set distinguishes our favorite Psi-Judge from your average everyday law bringer, even in her own field.
When Anderson and her fellow Judge combine forces, they find a slaughterhouse that leads to a legendary crime figure from Mega-City history. Ashberry is the Keyser Sose of Mega-City. Although, this fellow is very real, having encountered Anderson's erstwhile partner Dredd.
In between watching the detectives, illustrator Carl Critchlow demonstrates the exotica of the psi-realm. These scenes could have easily drifted into the erotic, what with the traditional implication of nude astral bodies. However the all-business attitude and Critchlow's depiction of restrained femininity keeps preserves the intent.
Joseph Michael Linsner's Dawn is part artistic mascot and part horror host. As Linsner explains in his afterward. He was inspired by Vampirella, who doubled as an action hero in her own adventures and the host of the B side features in her Warren magazine.
When a demon has a vision of being the father of a baby with two different colored eyes, he decides to abduct the most likely mothers: Dawn and Vampirella. He intends to have the ladies fight it out and rape the winner; there's really no getting around that.
So at first glance there's a lot to object to in this historic meeting, but are the objections sound? I judge no. Obviously, the implied rape is an unsavory element, but it's supposed to be. Dude's a demon. They don't play nice, and it's highly unlikely he'll succeed anyway. The threat of rape is a perfectly valid plot device because it acknowledges reality, adds suspense and gives the hero of the story a potential escape. Linsner isn't undercutting his tale with rape-as-titilation. He's using the threat as a logical outcome from the subject.
Then there's the scantily clad stars, but frankly you should have known what you were getting into when you saw the ladies' names. Vampirella and Dawn always bare skin. They're not meant to be kiddie super-heroes. Besides, when Linsner's drawing rather than painting, his artwork leans toward the cartoony side. The result is burlesque not eroticism.
To preclude bloodshed, Dawn suggests that she and Vampirella hold a story-telling contest. Though freedom isn't in the bargain. Dawn and Vampirella face a lust-filled demon. He's not going to play fair. The demon of course knows his captives stall for time. He believes they cannot win. but he's willing to give the ladies hope before he crushes it.
Linsner's Dawn Vampirella winds up being less of a riff on The Tales of the Arabian Knights, which bears much more elegance than even the common definition belies. Linsner's tale instead is far more innocent, abrim with humor, but with the potential, however improbable, for greater brutality.
In the frame of the anthology, Vampirella and Dawn are as you expect them, but in the vignettes, they take on different roles and behave as portrayals. In other words, they are actresses.
The necklace is something Vampirella or Dawn might wear. So these tales are told within the ladies' perspective. Through the point of view, Linsner eschews an inherent problem with unrelated flip-sides in anthologies. The tertiary characters are seldom as interesting as the hosts. Having Vampirella and Dawn play different parts immediately invigorates the shorts.
After the strong space adventure for the premiere, Kelly Sue DeConnick opts for an all out comedy issue pitting Captain Marvel against Rocket Raccoon over the identity of the Captain's cat.
DeConnick uses the catalyst to kick off the next antic. Artist Marcio Takara perfectly captures the amusing gestures and body language of all parties. You'll be done with the book in five minutes, but you'll still be glad you bought it.