Saturday, September 20, 2014

POBB: September 17, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 17, 2014
Ray Tate

This is a short week for the Pick of the Brown Bag.  You can thank DC and Future's End for that.  This issue we look at Gwen-Stacy: Spider-Woman, Bionic Woman and Sirens.

When Gwen Stacy is bitten by a radioactive spider, she gains proportionate strength, preternatural speed, surface adherence, the ability to produce and shoot webbing as well as an eerie sixth sense.  Gwen immediately abuses these abilities for self-promotion, but the egotism doesn't stick.

Gwen's protective nature foreshadows her evolution into a superhero, but not before history slants at an even harsher angle to catalyze the birth of Spider-Woman.

Reinventing two Spider-Man tropes, Peter Parker dies in Gwen's arms.  Now, Gwen dedicates her life to fight crime and better the world in honor of the tragic emulation she feels responsible for.  

This was amazing.  For the first time in a long time I actually could read a Spider-Man related comic book without the burning memory of J. Michael Straczynski pimping out Gwen Stacy to Norman Osborn or without feeling rage over Marvel's decision to wipe out Peter's and Mary Jane's marriage.  Cause Mephisto, who never actually met Spider-Man before, was hurt by their love, dontcha know.  The whole idea of Gwen Stacy being Spider-Woman tickles the hell out of me, especially after the ending to Amazing Spider-Man 2 left me utterly disappointed.  What's more I could imagine Emma Stone portraying this vivacious web-slinger.  

Writer Jason Latour conceives a unique Marvel elseworld, in which the women traditionally associated as adjuncts in Peter Parker's life gain substance by becoming independent primary and secondary characters.  

Gwen is part of a band called the Mary Janes.  The group consists of leader Mary Jane Watson, Glory Grant, Gwen and possibly Sha Shan.  Dig deep for that one.  She's the Vietnamese wife of Flash Thompson in the original Spidey history.  Music however is the second most important thing in Gwen's life.

When Gwen puts on the elegant gorgeously hued costume of Spider-Woman, she becomes not just a knock-off of Spider-Man, but a singular champion of justice.  The powers are the same. The behavior and comedy is different.  Furthermore, Gwen has an advantage that Spidey didn't have.  She's a police captain's daughter. 

Why Can't Batgirl Do This?

The story picks up in the middle.  J. Jonah Jameson fomented a hate storm against Spider-Woman thanks to she being implicated in Peter's death.  The police have a warrant for Spider-Woman's arrest, and they're genuinely freaked out by her.  

I get the impression that in this universe, Gwen's the only superhero.  She's an unknown quantity, and her sole status grants a certain urgency to her crusade.  Latour demonstrates this difference overtly.  A super hero in common continuity turns into flunky slime in the parallel world.  He triggers the threat for the issue.  Our flunky's boss sees an opportunity to gain a debt from Gwen, not knowing that the hit on Captain Stacy is a hit on her father.  

The contract leads to a hellacious fight pitting Gwen against a vastly stronger and more massive foe.  This must be her normal.

We haven't seen the periwinkle fellow around before.  A big reveal ends the done-in-one with style.  In short, I would gladly put a Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman series on my subscription list.

Portrayed with stellar depth by Lindsay Wagner, Jaime Sommers and Steve Austin had been in love since they were kids in Ojai, California.  It was only natural that the famed astronaut would marry the tennis star.  Tragedy struck during a skydiving accident.  Informed by a remarkable performance by Lee Majors, Steve begged friend and boss Oscar Goldman to do what would have been unthinkable for Steve a few years ago.

The bionic couple seemed now to have it all, but the memory of their relationship generated agonizing pain in Jaime.  An operation saved her life, but it obliterated the memory of romance; thus freeing Jaime to be the Bionic Woman in her own successful spin-off series.  

The memory loss angle was a tragic yet life-affirming new beginning for Jaime.  It eliminated the potential criticism of the Bionic Woman being the rib to the Six-Million Dollar Man.  Indeed, The Bionic Woman was another ground breaking series that took advantage of the cultural watershed of the Equal Rights Movement.  It also satisfied the viewers moved by her "death" in The Six-Million Dollar Man that demanded the Bionic Woman's return.

Dynamite's first Bionic Woman series by Paul Tobin updated Jaime and restructured OSI.  Well-written and overall well-illustrated by numerous artists, the recommended series gave Jaime new bionic abilities, a previously unknown friend and an antagonistic relationship with Oscar Goldman and OSI.  In that series, Jaime tackled a group that harvested bionic parts for wealthy buyers and helped free the Fembots, the most memorable of Bionic Woman villains, from enslavement.

This new series is more in the vein of the television series.  Writer Brandon Jerwa, whose work I seldom appreciated before, neatly characterizes Jaime to tailor fit Lindsay Wagner's performance.  Artist David T. Cabrera draws upon the actress' appearance for the design.  Rudy Wells, Jaime's doctor and engineer, and Oscar Goldman also resemble the distinguished actors who essayed the roles.  They are not dead-on likenesses, but a good blend.  In addition, both men are Jaime's friends, not thorns in the side.

The story starts as a simple one that could have unfolded on the television series, and only relying upon seventies special effects.  

The cut-and-dried task actually could have also occurred in any period, and if you watch classic television, that's a theme.  Ignore some of the dated fashions, makes of cars and phones, of all things.  Most episodes of Bionic Woman still feel fresh.

Jaime finds a welcoming committee when she and her team of OSI operatives try to collect the satellite.  

Despite what new intelligence member Agnes may say, General Morales is far from friendly.  He admires Jaime's abilities in the same way a foodie might admire a toaster.

The satellite pickup turns tricky without nudging from Morales' duplicity.  That was another hallmark of the series.  Simple things suddenly become more complicated, and Jaime needs to use her bionic abilities in complex ways to prevent disasters from happening.  Morales simply takes advantage of any situation to place Jaime in peril and protect whatever his secrets may be.  Bionic Woman is not all Murphy's Law.  Jerwa includes judicious cameo appearances from Bionic Woman guest-stars that facilitate the feel of the series and set the time of the tale.

I picked up Bionic Woman expecting mediocrity, but instead, I'm adding it to my subscription list.  While I had issue with Jerwa in the past, he seems to understand the show and why it still holds in the hearts of fans.  Artist Cabrera definitely studied his subject and overall he presents an animated reflection of the television series while taking advantage of the comic book medium to translate some thing the series wouldn't afford to do.  Colorist Molina's desert shades further the illusion.

I had the opposite reaction to George Perez's Sirens.  I thought that this would be a sure thing, but I'm afraid it wasn't.  It's not that I didn't like the book.  I couldn't understand a word of it.  

As near as I can figure, the Sirens are a group of either a) immortals; b) time travelers c) time traveling immortals; d) time placed agents of some sort or e) all of the above.  The time-hopping threw me, and I'm a Doctor Who fan!  The characterization of the Sirens is more interred in the plotting, and they all seem to be connected to one woman known as her Madame Vizcarra or Highness.  That's really all I got.  Um...dragons seem to like them, but bad guys don't?

The jump-cuts, all the dialogue--and sister, there's a lot of it--period specific character casts combine with Perez's legendary attention to overload the senses.  I really wish I could say otherwise, but I came away from Sirens wondering what was it all about and what was it all for?

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