Tuesday, October 28, 2014

POBB: October 22, 2014

The Pick of the Brown Bag
October 22, 2014
Ray Tate

The POBB returns with reviews of Aquaman, Bionic Woman, Harley Quinn, Judge Anderson, Justice Inc., Justice League Dark and the first of my Comicon haul Scott Hedlund's Weirdlings.

This week's Aquaman starts with Dr. Shin apparently about to pay for his association with organized sea evil Triton Base.  Triton Base houses the geniuses behind Chimera, the aptly named creature who threatened Aquaman for last two issues.  Fortunately, Dr. Shin has a few allies in Amnesty Bay.

The lady in uniform is Aquaman's old high school friend Erika Watson.  The young woman with Aquaman's dog Salty is Jennifer, whom Mera extricated from a sexual harasser.  Their rescue of Dr. Shin grants a homey Smallville type of atmosphere.  Their presence also reminds the readers that Aquaman is a being of two worlds, which will come into play later in the story.  

Geoff Johns created Shin as an fanatic from Aquaman's past who obsessed over Atlantis...

...Jeff Parker treats Shin a little more kindly now that the madness is no longer relevant.  To be honest, Johns rarely did anything with this mania anyway.  If he was building up to something, it was too slow a build to notice and more likely  overwhelmed by the major plotting.  

Because of Shin's past service, Aquaman grants Shin his greatest wish.  

Major Majesty Bestowed by Artists Paul Pelletier, Sean Parsons and Rain Beredo

This is a busman's holiday however.  Seaquakes struck Atlantis.  The prevailing theory lies in myth.  The Continent itself rejects the King because he's half-human.  Arthur accepts the possibility, but he doesn't know why.  So, he enlists Shin and Dr. Evans.  Evans is the anthropologist who unwittingly released ancient Greek monsters and mourned over the college students that he unwittingly doomed.  Sorry, I'm having a hard time empathizing with this jerk.  Shin committed no crime.  He just really, really wanted to see Atlantis.  Evans let his thirst for knowledge blind him to the possibility that he was being played.  That never would have happened to Van Helsing.

The answers to the enigma feed straight into the cliffhanger.  In between, Arthur deals with the rebels that attempted to overthrow he and Mera.  Johns reintroduced Aquaman as the badass that he was.  Aquaman killed the Piranha Men that arose from the Trench and tore the Karquan a new one.  To sentient beings Aquaman exhibits mercy and seeks to create a mood of optimism that's form fitting for the noble King Arthur.  His decision is a good resolution to the problem, and it's a dual-edged sword that could wind up slicing deep.

DC does it again.  This issue of Justice League Dark occurs after the events in the Justice League Dark Annual, on sale next week.  Fortunately, the stand-alone inventory issue won't feel all that frustrating.  It could have taken place at any time or place.  That said.  Anybody who has seen Star Trek: Next Generation will find themselves on familiar ground.  

Did Zee time travel? If so why doesn't, she remember fighting the Mome-Raths?  What gyres and gimbles here?

J.M. DeMatteis likely knows his story is derivative.  So he concentrates on generating genuine feeling from Zatanna over the death of her father.  For the most part he succeeds in presenting Zatanna's vulnerability in a situation she knows to be false.  Zatanna is an experienced spell-casting hero.  She traveled to alternate realities and played plenty of mind games, but Zatarra's authenticity, another clue to the reveal, convinces her to lower her guard.  Guest artist Tom Derenick hasn't lost an iota of his skill, and with Scott Hanna and Chris Sotomayor, he adds to the worth of the story by investing in Zatanna's and Zatarra's convincing interaction.  By no means a vital purchase, Justice League Dark won't hurt you, and it will appeal to Zatanna or Derenick fans.

At the cliffhanger to Justice Inc. readers learn that Richard Henry Benson survived the devilish plot perpetrated against he and his family.  His wife and child appear to be lost to the machinations of crime, but he refuses to believe that.  This chapter of Justice Inc. begins with Benson's resurrection.

The pulp heroes take Benson to the Temple of Cobras, where Kent Allard began his transformation into the Shadow.  Lamont Cranston for those not in the know is not the Shadow.  

The Shadow assumes his identity when he needs it, and Cranston later became a Shadow agent.  Uslan suggests, justifiably that this arrangement is strained, and he equates the tactic as identity theft, although for a good cause.

Doc and the Shadow find the Temple desecrated with disciple blood.  The Shadow's former master leaves only one last cryptic behind.  "Genghis."  This leads Doc and the Shadow arriving at an unsettling conclusion.

Surprisingly both are wrong!

With the Temple destroyed, Doc and the Shadow take Benson to Doc's secret laboratory, which was ironically partially funded by Benson.  There Benson arises as the Avenger; trained by the Shadow in the deadly arts but tempered by his own conscience, he will begin his war on crime.  

This altogether unusual arrangement lies outside the canon of the Avenger.  In the novels by Paul Ernst, the Avenger needed no help from his peers.  Indeed, these pulp heroes did not share a universe.   It's unlikely that any pulp fan will object to such aid in this alternate cosmos of Dynamite comics.  One might, on the other hand, raise a hand when stomaching Doc's explanation for Benson's condition.

Honestly.  There's no scientific basis for the Avenger's pallor and malleable skin.  In the original novels, Ernst attributed the unusual condition to a blow to the head from a fire extinguisher used to silence Benson on the plane; in other words brain injury.  Psychological trauma was the other rationale Ernst offered.  Neither makes a bit of sense.  The truth of the matter is that the Avenger needed a gimmick, and Ernst came up with a doozy.

Uslan juxtaposes the birth of the Avenger with the schemes of the Voodoo Master and his unwitting pawn.  Along the way Margo Lane meets Doc Savage's illustrious cousin and the joke Uslan included last issue gets a good punchline.  Finally, the second villain of the piece arrives in dramatic fashion.  No complaints.  Just pure pulpy goodness.

The third issue of Judge Anderson is unfortunately entirely skippable.  Anderson shakes the tree of hoodlums in Mega-City One to see if a Keyser Soze falls out.   Take away the funky trappings, and this story could have been on any mediocre cop show.  I expect better.

Bionic Woman finds Jamie Sommers in danger of losing her memories and trapped in a suburban nightmare.  Fortunately writer Brandon Jerwa already took steps to eliminate cliche amnesia and interminable scenes of the hero wandering around trying to find out where she is and why is this place so strange.

Jaime's doctor Rudy Wells upgraded her bionic systems, including a memory protector.  Though cut off from her allies in OSI, Jaime nevertheless less manages to jury-rig a signal to alert them to her predicament.  So whatever fiendish scheme rogue military man General Morales has up his sleeve, he can forget it, and the reader can cut to the chase.

What a fine chase it is.  Less like The Prisoner, although referenced visually, and more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers Jaime finds herself under assault by assassins, surveilled by spies and allies herself with fellow inmates.    Smartly written with an enviable brevity, Bionic Woman is a must buy for fans of the series and strong female characters.  

Jimmy Palmiotti and his wife and creative partner Amanda Conner return to making merry with Power Girl.  Struck by a meteorite, Kara loses her memory and finds herself at the tender mercies of Harley Quinn.

Conner's and Palmiotti's amnesia story is the second book this week that enlivens the creaky trope.  Instead of doing the expected.  Harley does the opposite.  She doesn't try to convince Power Girl that she's a criminal.  Instead, she tells her the truth.

The switch comes with Harley putting on the ruse that she and Kara fight crime together.  They're superhero partners.  Instead of aiming for outrageous comedy, Palmiotti and Conner instead opt for genuinely cute amusement provided by such scenes as Harley and Kara shopping, eating and in the climax of this first chapter stopping a bank robbery by two classic villains given a new 52 update.  Although one is merely a dead ringer from a certain animated series.

If artist Chad Hardin felt nervous about illustrating a character so associated with Conner, he doesn't show it.  Instead, he stretches his artistic muscles to present a Power Girl nigh equal to that of Conner.  He captures both the inherent comedy in the character as well as the dignity of her super-powered station.

Weirdlings is an independent project from Brian Babyok and local Pittsburgh artist Scott Hedlund.  The story regards an invasion by time traveling forces in the life of Lucy Leodegrance.  Ostensibly an innocent she will in the future join Nathan Hale alias Deathwynd in the super hero group the Weirdlings.

This was a pleasant, earnest effort with a strong visual narrative.  The well-thought out characters possess depth and issue constructive dialogue that either/and frames personality, details history or hints at the overall plot, without clunky exposition.  Babyok wants you to figure things out rather than hand you information on a silver platter.  It's more fun that way.

Hedlund's art stretches what you usually think of as pro-am.  In addition to contributing the attractive designs, Hedlund chooses challenging artistic poses, both in action and every day.  The artist furthermore matches the expectations when the story takes a mysterious emotional turn.

Weirdlings is downloadable in comic strip form at www.weirdlings.com.  

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