Wednesday, October 22, 2014

POBB: October 15, 2014

The Pick of the Brown Bag
October 15, 2014
Ray Tate

The POBB is all new with reviews of Batman and Robin, Justice League, Loki, Spider-Man 2099, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Painkiller Jane, Simpsons Comics, Supergirl, Teen Titans.  

Loki works well as a two-part story and part of a larger whole.  Last issue Victor von Doom and his godchild Valeria Richards trapped Loki in a square of frozen time.  They didn't do this just for fun.  Doom traveled to the future and saw that Loki had destroyed Midgard.  Valeria was on board so long as her "Uncle Doom" didn't kill the Asgardian.

Unbeknownst to Doom, he and Valeria as well teleported Loki's companion, Verity Willis, the human lie detector.  Meanwhile strife is tearing apart Latverians, and that's where the big crossover comes into play, for the Red Skull has acquired the telepathic powers of Charles Xavier by stealing his brain, obviously inspired by the classic Z Movie They Saved Hitler's Brain.

So this is a lot of fun.  Al Ewing begins his story by touching on events outside of Loki that would logically affect the God of Mischief.  Not to worry though.  Ewing doesn't dwell on say the sudden inclusion of Neil Gaiman's Angela in the aegis of Asgard.  Instead, he uses these developments to frame the characterization of Loki and the hopelessness in Loki's quest to change.

Verity makes a good case for the future being mutable, despite Doom's evidence.  Sharp-eyed Doctor Who fans will note the similarity of Doom's observance to that of a young Sarah Jane Smith who travels to a devastating future that will occur if she and the Doctor do not prevent Sutekh from taking over the world of the past.  The homage is an honest one, for Al Ewing includes the famous Vworp sound effect for Doom's time travel trap.

Doctor Who isn't the only subject of the plot-jokes to be found in Loki.  The Prisoner also gets a funny yet pertinent nod.  The pop culture sight-gag grants insight into Doom's multifaceted personality.  Doom shares some aspects in common with He Who Is Not Number Six.  He is a prisoner of the throne.  He alone can rule Latveria.   It is a cage of his own making.  For this reason, Doom often replaces himself with Doom-bots, for Doom has as insatiable a curiosity as his rival Reed Richards.  Thanks to Valeria, Doom has begun to appreciate simple pleasures as well as a scientific cohort.  

It sounds like Loki has little to do in his own title, but he's vital in stopping the Red Skull's influence of hate.  Doom of course fights off the telepathic wave--ironically through his love for Valeria, but he's powerless to save the Latverians.  Verity has the plan.  Valeria employs the science to convey the plan, and Loki is the only one that can carry out the plan.

Loki exemplifies what a good crossover should be, but Spider-Man 2099 demonstrates the pitfalls in such things as well as the inherent weakness in the Marvel multiverse.  It turns out Morlun has been eating the Spider people across the cosmos.  That's rather cheesy, but cheese has never been a crime in comics.  Morlun of course died in the Marvel universe proper.  So here's another.  Therein lies the problem.  

If nothing can ever be threatened, where lies the suspense?  Morlun, miraculously living, chews through a number of alternative Spider men based on the 2099 design, and it's hard to feel anything for them since they're not truly entities.  Rather, they're hashed together products of different choices.

Contrast the multitude of Miguel O'Haras with the differences between earths one and two from the DCU, and it becomes obvious.  Each DC character is unique.  Now, this is not the case with the overall Spider people populating the Marvel universe.  Spider-Girl Gwen Stacy is nothing like Spider-Girl May Day Parker, but to suggest there exists infinite versions of each character undermines the resonance of the original.  Result? Spider-Man 2099 is just kind of there.  Nothing to hate.  Nothing to love.  Not worth your time or money.

Greg Pak's tale of cosmic demonic amnesia peters out in Batman/Superman.  This started out so interestingly with the return of Kaiyo the Chaos Bringer from the ballpark vicinity of Apokolips and New Genesis punishing Superman and Batman for going soft.  She was banking on their brutality being the tonic against Darkseid.  Batman as a clean slate starts to dig being Batman.  Superman revels in his powers.  The heroes switch dance partners with Batman hitting on Lois Lane and Catwoman staking her claim to the Man of Steel.  It was actually pretty entertaining.  Impressive given the age of the chestnut premise, but the way the heroes reclaim their memories draws in a breath of dust, and it just lacks power.  The story deserved better.

Batman and Robin is not the best chapter in this eye-brow raising saga of a sane Batman attempting an insane quest, but you can do a lot worse.  Batman learned that to save the world Damien must live.  In order to resurrect Damien, Batman must acquire the dead tyke's body, which was inconveniently stolen by Apokolips agents.  Bad choice.  People are often surprised when Superman starts playing handball with really powerful villains.  Not so when Batman boils and begins to tear through fiends of all ilk.

The trouble is that what's around Batman on Apokolips often doesn't make sense.  Kalibak uses the shard stuck in Damien's coffin to build a Big Sciencey Doo-Hickey.  With it, he destroys a planet or moon in the name of Darkseid.  Why exactly?  How does that help Darkseid, who is apparently sleeping one off like Odin.  How did that happen anyhow?

While sometimes confusing, Batman and Robin boasts excellent characterization and dialogue.  The Batman Family decide to go to Apokolips and save Batman's ass.  Batman fully believes that this is a suicide mission.  Robin, Red Hood, Batgirl and Alfred will have none of it.  As you can see, they place Gotham's protection in the hands of Batwoman.  Even Batwing gets name-checked.  In addition, the set-pieces are often rousing.  Batman waylays a truckload of Parademons then beats the crap out of Glorious Godfrey, whose use of weaponry parallels the new 52 Eros from Wonder Woman.  

Tony Bedard finally gets a chance to write Supergirl, rather than an orange-vomit spewing harridan, and he blows it.  Bedard's Supergirl lacks personality, almost always fails to use contractions in her dialogue, which makes her speech sound stilted and pretty much identifies the problem with the premise in the first place.

Bedard's Red Hood is a joke.  There was no reason for any of this animosity.  Implying that he killed a dog was low.  Jason has been reinstated in the Batman Family.  He doesn't have a villain's reputation among the heroes.  Hell, even I approve of him.

From Red Hood and the Outlaws #35

He could have precluded Supergirl's natural reaction of speeding him out a window by replying, "The doggie's fine.  Locked in the bathroom.  It's true we don't really know each other, but we need to talk.  Alone."  Instead of "I took him out of  the equation."  What Liam Neeson wannabe rubbish.  Why in fact does Supergirl need to know any of this anyway? She has X-ray vision and super-hearing.  So she should be able to detect the dog alive and well anywhere in her new beau Michael's apartment.  Feh.

Red Hood and the Outlaws this week poses a lot of questions, but the answers aren't forthcoming.  So, this is a wait and see type of book.  In it's favor Scott Lobdell loves writing these characters and it shows in all the pages.  You should read this book before Supergirl since it hints at where Jason received his curious super-strength, evinced in the latter.  Actually, scratch that.  Skip Supergirl.

Teen Titans entertains with a terrific character dynamic by Will Pfeifer and Kenneth Rocafort.  The story begins with Raven attending a concert and discovering that the lead singer is her number one fan.  

The pleasant evening gets remade into a night of terror thanks to the robot that's been causing the Titans so much trouble.  Raven's not amused, and she displays a proactive stance that's very different from the original Daughter of Trigon.

The call to battle segues into a humorous overpowering that leads to Red Robin seeing a bigger plan in the making.

The duplicity is courtesy of one Manchester Black, an obscure post-Crisis anti-hero introduced in the Superman titles.  Why he's attacking the Titans with his robot is anybody's guess, but Robin's investigation leads to a good cliffhanger.  

In addition to these assets, old Wonder Woman fans will enjoy the return of Helena Sandsmark, Cassie's Mom, to the new 52.  Though how long she'll last is questionable.

The new 52 changed the face of DC by restoring Barbara Gordon's mobility and her identity.

From Batgirl #6

Batman had a hand in this.  Explicitly, Batman paid for Barbara's medical bills.  The technology came from Africa, and Batman either recognized the potential while in search of Batwing or was actively seeking a means to repair Barbara's spine.  Whatever the explanation, Barbara's rejuvenation and her regeneration would never have happened in the post-Crisis.  Batman there was portrayed as an unfeeling obsessive and content to lock Barbara up in a Watchtower in order to slave her to his war on crime.  The new 52 opened up Batman's personality, and writers such as Geoff Johns in Justice League highlight just how different this Batman is from the post-Crisis version.

Such a conversation would have been unthinkable in the post-Crisis.  Had this discussion occurred then, it would have overtly established Batman as a hypocrite, and a mean one at that.  It would have raised too many questions.  It would have really underlined the query so many asked: why did Barbara need to stay crippled?  This is the new 52, and things are better.

Batman's animosity toward Lex Luthor lies in Luthor's largely unexplored criminal past and his blackmailing Batman to attain a position in the League.  This issue of Justice League is ostensibly a trap set by Batman and Superman for Luthor, but it's not quite so cut and dried as that.  Wonder Woman expresses hope in Luthor's change of heart, and Johns grants Luthor far more depth than he usually exhibits.  This is the new 52, and things can change.  Luthor could truly become if not a bona fide champion of justice, then at least then a protagonist like Victor von Doom.

Jimmy Palmiotti concludes the story that reunites Painkiller Jane with the 22 Brides.  Somebody's been blowing up buildings, and I kind of hoped Palmiotti didn't go the way he did.  It makes perfect sense and provides a fairplay answer to the mystery, yet I can't help feel that having the identity of the "mastermind" linked to the 22 Brides was unnecessary.  It looked to me that Palmiotti wanted to justify the Brides' involvement, when they didn't need justification.  The Brides are private eyes that work in New York.  New York's being attacked.  Jane operates in New York.  She likes to kill bad people.  "Thus endeth the lesson."  


Ming the Merciless still hunts Flash Gordon, kills underlings when they fail to deliver him good news, yet...

Evan Shaner makes Ming look positively adorable, and that actually works in conjunction with the charisma of the overlord.  Shane's art furthermore creates a stark contrast from the things Ming does and the way he looks.  The redesign is also quite an improvement over the basic Yellow Menace Ming from the original comic strip.

Flash happens to be in the thrall of sirens from Sky World, and writer Jeff Parker comes up with a very unusual ecology for the aliens that builds on the mythology of Flash Gordon's universe.  This in execution casual exploration into the flora and fauna of the extraterrestrial shows how Parker wants Flash Gordon not to be just about Flash, Zarkov and Dale.  He wants to build science fiction worlds, which imbue a sense of wonder.

The Hawk People refer to the sirens as Dirt Eaters, an apt description, and the soldiers require Dale to retrieve the men.   Since they lack a shield against the Dirt Eaters' seductive song.  The Hawk Soldiers seek to rescue Flash and Zarkov not out of altruism but because they hold the Crystal that opens gateways to a multitude of worlds.  This however is a cleverly woven lie from Dale to secure their services.

The Hawk Soldiers escort their prisoners to classic Flash ally King Vultan, remembered as the bombastic Brian Blessed.  This updated version of Vultan keeps the bluster and seems to eliminate the affection.  Perhaps though Vultan's execution of Dale, Flash and Zarkov is merely a ruse.  Whatever the explanation, Parker keeps the reader wanting more.

Last but not least Ian Boothby's Simpsons Comics plays with the importance of Homer Simpson to Springfield citizenry.  It's in fact a clever story in which Homer plays an unwitting modern day Svengali, through the efforts of Professor Frink.  There's something about Homer that Springfield's inexplicably trust, and that leads to all sorts of weirdness.  The backwash of this lemming like behavior affects Homer with an astonishing reinvention that raises the hackles on the back of Marge's neck, and she in fact becomes the catalyst that saves everybody and returns the book back to the status quo.

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