Tuesday, November 18, 2014

POBB: November 12, 2014

The Pick of the Brown Bag
November 12, 2014
The Feminist Edition
Ray Tate

A comicopia of reviews awaits in the current issue of The Pick of the Brown Bag: Batgirl, Django/Zorro, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Fairy Quest, Justice League United, Lone Ranger: Vindicated, Smallville Chaos, Thor, Vampirella Feary Tales and World’s Finest, but first…Congratulations humanity! 

A new first in space exploration!  You landed a space-bot on a comet!  Now if only the GOP believed that it happened.

Quentin Tarantino co-writing a Django and Zorro team-up?  How could this not be good? Django stops a coach traveling to Arizona.  He finds on that coach Don Diego De La Vega.  I don’t need to tell you who that is I hope.  Django has an ulterior motive in boarding Don Diego’s ride, and that agenda becomes clear quickly.

Tarantino's flair for dialogue carves believably stupid crooks from an old west vernacular and characterizes a familiar Django who sounds as if Jamie Foxx did a voice-over.  When the smoke clears, Diego has an offer for Django.

This is a terrific comic book.  I wondered how Tarantino would place these two heroes together.  Tarantino doesn’t strike me as a time travel writer.  Instead, he gracefully ages Diego but shows the fight hasn’t gone out of him.

Artist Esteve Polls as you can see doesn’t exactly illustrate Mr. Foxx, but Django is unmistakeable.  Complimenting Django, Polls’ spry older Zorro is a hoot of flourish and steel hidden behind a gentleman’s veneer.

“Return with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear…The Lone Ranger rides again!” Justin Gray the co-writer of All-Star Western, takes over the reins, and he’s just what this title needed.  Gray’s authentic western tale is quick, violent and spicy.  Gray’s Ranger is a younger version of Clayton Moore, and Tonto is a smart redo with a sense of humor.  

The tale begins with an ending of a previous adventure in which the Ranger outsmarts a gang of desperadoes, who know the score of his no-kill policy.  Gray then cuts to the chase.  A group of highway men attempt to extort money from the town of Red River.  So the townsfolk request the Lone Ranger and Tonto to investigate.

Gray portrays the Ranger as a sharp-eyed detective and Tonto as a knowledgable partner.  Both are in the business of saving innocent lives.  These acts of daring-do sometimes attract attention.   

This nuance makes Gray’s Lone Ranger a might different than the television series.  The presence of women who just by being beguile is a welcome dimension.

Batgirl hunts down a pair anime loving felons who stole a couple of souped up bikes from Gotham University's engineering department.  The second issue of Batgirl is not as original as the blackmail refurbish in the premiere.  The detective fiction however permits Babs a lot of freedom when displaying her athletic abilities and her photographic mental faculties. 

The frenetic action in addition fits into an overlay that makes for a substantial threat.  Somebody is out to eliminate Batgirl, and steal her identity while doing it.

Barbara Gordon when out of costume attempts to pursue a new degree through a research project that unfortunately lost crucial data.  Though she recovered her stolen laptop, which was part of the blackmail scheme, its memory had been erased.  Her quest to recover the data is almost as interesting as her pursuit of the motorcycle thieves.  

The quest widens the diversity of  the cast even more with the introduction of Muslim student aid Nadimah and her brother Qadir.  Comic book art is more visually enticing when different colors pop.  It’s boring if all you see is a homogenous banality.  So, thanks to Babs Tarr and Maris Wicks, Batgirl is arresting.  Their style tilts toward a more cartoony aesthetic, and the multiethnic presence presents an even more flavorful optic treat.

While Batgirl comes off feeling brand new, the creative team isn’t about to forget Babs’ history.  Not only does Commissioner Gordon appear in Babs’ memory, the Black Canary continues to haunt the pages.  The Canary seems more feline than bird-like.  Black Canary is ostensibly Babs’ best friend, but she’s not acting it.  That’s because one of Babs’ security devices destroyed Canary’s entire life.  So, she has the right to fume, and this gives Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher the opportunity to reposition the Canary to fit an unusual role, that of an antagonist.  

Canary serves the same function as Alexandra Cabot did in Josie and the Pussycats.   If you’re a staunch Canary fan, that change may irk you, but what we’re seeing in Batgirl is one facet.  I'm sure however that Stewart and company will give the Canary a moment to shine and express her friendship with Babs in a meaningful way.

I always had this idea in the back of my head of how I would restart DC if I were in charge.  For one thing I would ignore the actual history of who’s first.  Wonder Woman is eternal, and her presence like her successor Xena should have changed the world.  I always imagined that she would be there to meet Batman and Superman.  Paul Levitz in World’s Finest pretty much recapitulates my ideas.  So, how can I possibly argue with such intelligence?

Seriously though.  I never sent this proposal to DC Comics, and I’m not accusing anybody of plagiarism or telepathy.  It’s just a really good idea that Paul Levitz discovered in his attempt to reframe the World’s Finest with Batman and Superman, but still centered upon earth-two.

Levitz begins by pointing out that the Amazons have an inside hook when it comes to the future.

What I like about this is that even the gods do not know the entirety of the future.  It can be molded, and the gods can be wrong.  Diana intends to correct a mistake; mentioned in Earth 2, grasped in better detail by Levitz.

Levitz, who has been at DC long enough to respire continuity, manifests the goddess Minerva--as in "Merciful Minerva."  The goddess seeks to save her Amazons from doomsday by escorting them into another dimension.  Fellow students of DC history will remember that Wonder Woman lost her powers in the sixties because her fellow Amazons traveled to another dimension in order to renew themselves.  Minerva however has an ulterior motive.

Perhaps for this duplicity, Mercury appears with a save for Diana, having been condemned of hubris by Minerva. 

Levitz is too knowledgable not to know that Mercury was instrumental in the Flash's origin.  One may also note that Mercury is the god of thieves, and he is stealing Diana from Minerva's wrath.

Diana sets out to protect toddlers Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.  There’s also another in this quartet, whose origin Levitz tweaks ever so cleverly.

As well as Levitz’s fine understanding about the ins and outs of continuity, Jeb Dougherty provides some primo art which includes terrific renderings of child versions of our well-known champions and excellent action illustration. Even better than the cover promises.

Smallville Chaos focuses on the Eclipso invasion of earth.  Hank Henshaw who was utterly lousy in the post-Crisis,  redeems himself as the Superman Family member who can tap into the Eclipso Hive mind to find the tactic that will beat he evil God once and for all.  

Supergirl is the powerhouse who uses her awesome might to battle the Eclipso drones.  Superboy puts his telekinetic powers to excellent use.  Together they root out the Big Bad in style, and save the lives of the innocent.

Lex Luthor meanwhile attempts to make a deal with the Monitors, but Superman's death defying stunt ultimately saves he and Lois.  Thus preserving them for the big fight against the Monitors.  Simply put, Smallville is the most entertaining Superman book on the rack.

As new hero Equinox bonds with the multi-alien Ultra, Justice League United and the Legion of Super-Heroes battle the Cadre, a mercenary group from Justice League history.  The prize of this fight is Ultra, but the Legion do not wish the best for the innocent tyke.

The Legion seek to stop Ultra because they have battled Ultra’s most likely future, the devourer known as Infinitis.  In the important Justice League United Annual, Brainiac 5 granted the League twenty-four hours to find a peaceful way out of what’s increasingly becoming inevitable.  

133 parsecs from earth, an Away Team consisting of Green Arrow, Supergirl, Star-Spangled Kid and Animal Man fight shape-shifting menace Byth and his forces, including their former teammate Hawkman who’s under the impression that the League are his enemies and Byth is his pal.

The battles are awesome and demonstrate a wide range of powers and abilities.  

The dialogue displays humor, drama with Supergirl taking the lead when it comes to no-bull threats and the camaraderie of the League.

In the end however, this book is about the opening.  The heart of the book is the fate of Ultra, a child weaponized by Byth to gestate the future faced by the Legion.  The question: did the Martian Manhunter’s influence and Equinox’s kindness succeed in redirecting the path Byth laid out for Ultra?  That answer will come in succeeding issues, but right now it adds to suspense in the form of bizarre attacks against the heroes, so beautifully imagined by Neil Edwards, Jay Leisten and Jeromy Cox.

Fairy Quest posits an intriguing notion.  What if the stories you heard as child took on life of their own, but because of the continual replay, because of the widespread nature, the characters all behaved in the manner expected of them.  What if however this wasn’t a choice but the law?  What if Thought Police led by Mr. Grimm and Torque enforced such laws religiously?

This tantalizing tale features such things as a maddened Rapunzel and the remarkable protagonists of a charming Little Red Riding Hood teaming up with the Big Bad Wolf, whom she refers to as Mr. Woof.  The rebels seek a Mapmaker to free themselves and the denizens of storyland from a life of eternal repetition.  Not only well-written but also gorgeous, Fairy Quest is a superlative work by writer Paul Jenkins and artists Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and colorist Leonardo Olea.  Fair warning though, this isn’t kid’s stuff.  Well, maybe it’s kid’s stuff in the sense of a classic Disney cartoon like Sleeping Beauty which mixed comedy, heroic romance and genuine drama. 

In Feary Tales, Vampirella gets sucked into a dark book of homage to Tales from the Crypt.  The two shorts pits Vampirella against Bluebeard and Cinderella’s wicked step-sisters and step-mom.  The wraparound by Nancy Collins taps into current continuity, which is why this book couldn’t be read until the finish of Collins’ first story in Vampirella.  Devin Grayson and Ronison Freire add burlesque and blood to the tale of Bluebeard.  Horror author John Shirley with artist Elmo Bondoc goes all the way back to Cinder Ella’s folk beginnings.  Not as meaty as other anthologies, but not bad.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is basically weird but not all that enthralling.  The story starts with Sabrina's mother absconding with Sabrina to save her from a coven of witches and her Satan worshipping father.  The trouble is that I don't exactly know what her problem is with the group.  Despite their admission of magic practice and Lucifer name-dropping, they don't actually seem to mean Sabrina harm.

When Edward, her father, reacquires Sabrina he consigns his baby girl to his sisters Hilda and Zelda to raise.  Here again, we see that the potential for horror is mitigated by the fact that the ladies are perfectly nice.  

Their culinary habits are rather icky, but icky is not horror.  Also, devouring their favorite food group hurts nobody.  In fact there's very little in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina that differs from the television series apart from the execution and the off-panel corpse eating.  The more traditional look of Hilda and Zelda is modified into more realistic interpretations.  That realism extends to Salem, Sabrina’s cat, who is actually a human trapped in a cat's body; something the television series broached.  

The innocuous nature of this Chilling Adventures stirs a bit when Betty and Veronica show up to raise Madame Satan from the muck, but by and large, the original series by George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo was much more subversive.


While not being horror, as introduced, Sabrina is a teenage witch.  Her hotness beat out Elizabeth Montgomery by two years.  She's neither good or evil.  Rather she completes magical assignments given to her by the chief witch Dela.  Some of these assignments end up benefiting her class.  Others end up thwarting them, and of course because Dan DeCarlo's illustrating, Sabrina’s built for speed.  Through the years, those ideas were largely sublimated into the vanilla Archie formula, but if you were to reinstate the original version of Sabrina and work with that you would have something fresh.  Chilling Adventures of Sabrina just seems to be spice-less and an embarrassing attempt to grasp at an older demographic.  While the artwork by Robert Hack is a technical achievement, it's not very lively.

If Thor was just about a sex change it wouldn’t be very interesting, but what the alteration allows writer Jason Aaron to do is to explore just what Thor is anyhow.

Back in the Kirby/Lee days, Dr. Don Blake discovered a stick that when struck turned him into Thor.  Blake was alive before Thor, but Thor was an entity in history already.  They didn’t fuse like the Demon.  Rather Don was Thor, always seemed to be.  That schism cleared up with successive issues.

The male version of Thor still exists, but without the power of Thor.  The lady possesses all the lightning, and she really is Thor.  This is plain when you contrast her thoughts and from her dialogue.

So who is this damsel with a hammer? Marvel’s not telling, but they drop a few clues.  Though she speaks Shakespeare, her thoughts relate a different story.  She thinks in a modern vernacular.  She’s probably an earth woman, and she has seen Thor in action.  The implication being lots of time.  Best guess until more evidence arises…Jane Foster.  I don’t really feel too much pride in that deduction.  She’s after all the only earth woman who ever meant anything to the Thor adventures.

The Frost Giants break their treaty with Thor.  They proceed to flash freeze their food which include Asgardians and Avengers.  Their breach of protocol appears to be due to traditional big business bad guys Roxxon Oil stealing the bones of the Jotunn.  The declaration grants Thor the leave to be pretty damn badass.  She shatters the giants' pets.  She brings the lightning down.

It's difficult to complain.  The question is though, why am I reading Thor now? Is it just because of the fetching breasts Thor's suddenly sported? I don't think so.  The fact that there's an earth woman buried under the bluster makes this a very different book from the previous series, and while I might love the Thor of film, the male Thor in recent comic books lacked the special something that Chris Hemsworth conveys.  The female Thor just possesses more depth than the blonde himbo of yore.

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