Monday, November 24, 2014

POBB: November 19, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 19, 2014
Ray Tate

This week we address Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Princess Ugg, Justice League, Harley Quinn, Futurama Comics, Batman/Superman and Batman and Robin.

Futurama opens with a simple delivery job that turns into Bender's epic quest to get out of work.

Following a splendid Dr. Strangeglove joke, Bender attempts to sicken himself on the same robot planet; its inhabitants attempted to destroy all humans.  A nice callback, that also explains why Leela would allow Bender to go off on his own.

Everything backfires of course instead of getting sick, Bender becomes a carrier, but writer Eric Rogers is clever.  Even if Bender did become a carrier for a virus, why wouldn't somebody as smart as Professor Farnsworth recognize it.

He does, but never underestimate the idiot factor.  A cretin among the cast contaminates the dead robots which factor into a clever joke that breathes new life in a horror chestnut.  

Rogers story is doubly fantastic since the ultimate zombie flick done in the comic book doesn't threaten anybody in the cast except Bender who stubbornly refuses to stay indoors and stay safe.

The inventive comedy is filled with gags both characteristic, plot related and skewed future tensed with James Lloyd, Andrew Pepoy and Robert Stanley providing stellar artwork that captures the look and feel of the cast and setting as well as the faux Romero-esque ambiance.

Princess Ugg ingratiated herself to all of her fellow princesses except of course Julifer, the bitchy, blonde Veronica of the group.  Julifer however proves to be a bit more duplicitous than first believed, and this gives Ulga the leverage she needs...

...or so she thinks.  Unfortunately, triple threat Ted Naifeh's not going to let Ulga win so easily.  In a brilliantly timed sequence dissecting a nasty piece of psychological reasoning, Ulga learns that Julifer though a fluffy sort isn't without cunning.  On the battlefield, she'd be a pushover, but as a tactician Julifer is no mean foe.

Whether it's cavorting with the boys at the tavern, or fighting off a sorry cadre of bandits, Princess Ulga of the Northern Barbarians is slowly learning the nature of diplomacy, both in and outside of the classrooms.

Such knowledge is a good thing since the Frost Giants intend to attack her people.  I look forward to the inevitable encounter.  I suspect this meeting will not play out the way most expect.

The hilarious Harley Quinn shows chinking in the armor outfitting the title clown's team-up with an amnesiac Power Girl.  

However because of the whacky environment the pair find themselves in, Harley's lethal actions seem more palatable and assuages the Kryptonian's demeanor.

Somehow the Clock King, his design straight from Batman the Animated Series, acquired a unique teleportation device that eliminated Power Girl's and Harley's interference.  If you're wondering why Harley would interfere with a fellow Batman rogue's larceny, the answer is simple.  

Harley's actually playing do-gooder to have fun with her new "pal" Power Girl, whom she acquired from a meteorite strike.  She convinced the wayward alien that she was Power Girl's partner in heroics, rather than crime.  As pranks go, it's a pretty harmless one.  Genuinely funny as well.  The comedy isn't only confined to the title character.

Palmiotti and Conner portray the Clock King and the Sportsmaster, a revamp of the classic Golden Age Green Lantern villain, as an amusing take on The Odd Couple.  They characterize in short hand while using the ne'er do wells as a plot device to transport Power Girl and Harley into space.

The weirdness continues with the oddest mash of Mystery Science Theater and Marvel Comics I've ever seen.

Manos: The Hands of Fate is considered one of the worst films of all time.  The deemers are incorrect of course.  The two worst films of all time are Batman Forever and the newer Black Ops money-laundering project Prometheus.  However Manos is quite the putrid affair.

The details of the film's plot can cause brain hemorrhaging.  So I'll summarize the salient points.  Manos appears to collect women that somehow end up in the hostel he constructed in the middle of rural nowhere, seventies America.  Once secured, under some spell or drug, the women become part of his bickering wives club.  He keeps the women in suspended animation, in the basement.  In some way this will all lead to Manos conquering the world. 

So Conner and Palmiotti turn their Manos into an alien tyrant who has successfully conquered multiple words and fathered multiple children.  You may of course think that I'm grasping tenuously at straws, but think about it.  Both alien Manos and MST3K Manos have similar tastes in robes.  MST3K Manos gathers women.  Alien Manos had a gathering of women to sire a number of children, or just one very tired concubine.  Manos uses a "cosmic organ" to do his damage.  Manos: The Hands of Fate featured squeaky unforgettable incidental music.  And of course the smoking gun.  Both loons are named Manos.  It's easy to just pass him off as a Thanos pastiche, but the send-up in truth is multilayered.

Wonder Woman begins a new volume of adventures with the writer and artist team of Meredith and David Finch, and here's what I really liked about it.

Wonder Woman still resides in London.  DC suggested that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman began their crime fighting activities about the same time, give or take a year.  Azzarello appeared to follow that lead, but I always hoped that Diana’s lore went back farther and that she helped the Allies rout the Third Reich.  If Wonder Woman truly existed, England would have welcomed her with open arms, and it would tickle me to learn that Wonder Woman for her service in World War II was given citizenship to all the countries she saved.  Regardless of how the new 52 rolls, London is a marker for Wonder Woman's actual comic book history as a Nazi fighter.  That’s why she making her home in London feels so right.

I also like that Swamp Thing appears unannounced.  I’d chime in with a spoiler ahoy, but Swamp Thing's cameo isn’t really a plot twist.  He's more of a shared world reminder.  Although, it doesn't make sense that Wonder Woman would attack Swamp Thing.  Finch dismisses Diana jumping to conclusions as…I don’t know.  Stuff.

Thank you, Exposition Lass!

This whole thing could have been avoided had Aquaman, Batman and Superman vouched for Swamp Thing.  All three met Dr. Alec Holland before.  Swamp Thing asked Superman for advice.  Though Aquaman recapitulated Wonder Woman’s mistake, Arthur knows now what Swamp Thing is about, and Batman…He’s Batman.  

So are the boys letting Wonder Woman go off on a salad tear for laughs, or did they forget to log in their reports in the Justice League computer files? Perhaps, Wonder Woman just isn’t a reader.  Nah.  It’s just bad writing providing a weak justification for the info dump.  The writers needed Wonder Woman to act before thinking so they could catch the reader up on all this data they really didn’t need to know.  Solution? Throw Diana at Swamp Thing.  Coincidentally, Finch doesn’t clue us in to what we actually do need to know.

Who are these ladies and why do their opinions matter?

Who let the crone in, and who the hell is she anyhow?

Why is Hippolyte suddenly immobile? The Finches mention that there now be men, the discarded sons of the Amazons, on Paradise Island and that Zola's tyke Zeke now rules Olympus.  The Finches however failed to notice that when Hera rescinded her spell that changed all the Amazons to into serpents, she also freed Hippolyte.  

Although Hera tried to transcend her hatred for Hippolyte’s betrayal, subconsciously she could not forgive the slight.  So, yes.  Hippolyte is clay, but she’s magical clay.  She can do things such as the following.

Not bad for Claymation

Finch tries to tap emotional impact through the dissolving of Hippolyte when exposed to water.  It also neatly fits in with her musings on the compound as an irrevocable, unstoppable force of nature, but see, it just doesn’t fit the facts.  There’s no reason to think that Hippolyte’s magic clay body would be affected by water, and even if it were, she would be smart enough and quick enough to duck beneath cover so as not to get wet.  That is of course if Finch knew that Hippolyte was in fact at Azzarello’s finale quite spry for a clay statue.  Clearly, somebody lost the memo, and the lack of explanation undermines the whole shebang.

You know what bugs me the most about Supergirl? DC had it right the first time.  Cousin to Kal-El, Kara arrived on earth confused.  Earth forces attacked her, and she ended up a might peeved.

As time went on, she mellowed a bit and became the defender of the planet.  Mikes Green and Johnson launched her at all sorts of threats that deserved her attention.

Things went deep south—as if you could hear the refrain from “Dueling Banjos”—when the Powers That Be decreed that Kara become an Red Lantern.  A stupid idea, probably involving a lot of 100 proof liquor and/or cocaine, that just led to Supergirl fans dropping Supergirl.

They brought Kara back finally, and involved her with “Doomed,” a storyarc I didn’t read because I don’t give a rat’s behind about anything dealing with Doomsday.  Doomsday was an ends to a means, namely killing Superman.  Looking for depth in Doomsday without turning him into a murderous Hulk/Bruce Banner type as Smallville did is utterly pointless.  The creature lacked a creative asset to begin with.

After a woeful inventory issue by Tony Bedard, K Perkins and former writer Mike Johnson give us Kara in the X-Men.  

This isn’t a concept I want to pursue to be honest, but it’s a step up from Red Lanterns, and the art by Emanuela Lupacchino graces Supergirl with some super sweet eye-candy.  

Kara also sounds like herself.  She talks in English vernacular not the stilted fare from the last issues.  The writers demonstrate her relationship with Superman.  She definitely cares for him, but she won't take any of his guff.  

Perkins and Johnson furthermore reference Kara's friendship with Siobhan, the former Silver Banshee.

I love how the writers mix her powers with her feelings to depict a person to whom superpowers is a completely natural sensation.  Though I'm not interested in the main plot, the character moments are juicy.  The art is positively scrumptious.  So, I’m giving Supergirl a slight recommendation for the find of Emanuela Lupacchino and the return of Mike Johnson who seems to be redirecting Kara back to the path abandoned by poor judgement calls.

Supergirl makes a startling appearance in Batman/Superman along with the rest of the Superman Family.

The targeting however does not solely end with with just the Kryptonian contingent.  In a moving scene an ordinary man portraying Superman realizes that he's just been murdered and nobly dies.  This is one of the new 52's great moments.

The man's death brings Lois Lane into the investigation, and I like how Greg Pak is continuing to involve her in The World's Finest's lives.  First as a love interest when Batman lost his memory, and now as Superman's defender.

Superman needs a detective for this case.  So he calls in Batman to examine the physical evidence, only to be interrupted by one of the witnesses.  It's here that Pak really impresses with a remarkable understanding of what makes Batman and Superman tick.  Superman naturally wants to interact with the kids, but he also sees them as an untapped fount of information.  Batman trusts in Superman's judgement.

The preliminary result of the case leads the Dark Knight to one inescapable conclusion.

Batman's pronouncement is fascinating for a number of reasons.  In terms of the comic book history, it's the first time he has used the Joker as a classification and the first time that he accepts the Joker as a new species of psychopath.  Previously the writers attempted to quantify the Joker in either terms of abnormal psychology or in macabre poetics.  None of these quite fit.  So Pak makes the logical and giddy move of listing The Joker as a type in DC's DSM, which is short for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders.  Pak's innovation fits with the fresh purpose of the new 52 and promises an amazing series of follow-ups.  It's the kind of new idea that tends to absorb your attention.  So you could almost be forgiven for missing the stark beauty of Batgirl illustrator Adrian Syaf's artwork.

Batman and Superman along with Wonder Woman take center stage in the latest issue of the Justice League.  When Neutron broke into Lex Luthor's laboratory, he unwittingly unleashed his undoing the Amazo Virus.

This story is actually a technical marvel.  Geoff Johns plots a very unique twist on the super-virus, anticipating questions the reader might have.  Like why is a virus that grants super powers a bad thing? Oh, well.  That whole degradation of the body followed by "brain boiling," a term that's really a gruesome coin.  I don't think I've ever heard the phrase before.

Anybody can be infected, except of course the two humans that would be the most prepared: Batman and Lex.  Superman and Wonder Woman totally immune.  So what we have is a plot thread that reduces the team to the traditional triumvirate, and their past enemy Lex Luthor working together for the good of humanity.  It's a classic setup, and yet it feels so new.

Justice League isn't hyperbolic.  It's quiet in its storytelling, and it's such a breeze.  I never thought I'd say this about a Geoff Johns title, but this is how you introduce continuity.  Through the dialogue, so that it doesn't feel like a sermon of exposition.

This is how you characterize, simultaneously through action.  Had I not known about Batman's and Superman's long standing friendship, I can see it in this scene.  I can also deduce how Batman is resisting the forces that are drawing Superman in.

Let Jason Fabok's art talk when words would be too lengthy, and this is Geoff Johns!  Who I would have ranked in Gail Simone's ballpark.  I don't know what happened.  The guy I liked writing Stars and STRIPE vanished for ten years of the post-Crisis.  Now, he's back.  How? I don't care.  Why? Nope. Just enjoy the ride.

Batman and Robin is the most entertaining Batman book on the racks, and that's mainly because it's completely insane.  For awhile, Batman went straight to the belfry over the loss of his son Damien.  He trekked across the globe trying to find a way to bring Damien back to life.  This included his most manic move, dissecting Frankenstein.  However, Batman's lunacy proved only temporary.

During the McKillin/Two-Face feud, Batman reeled himself back resuming the Batman that we all know and love.  Things could have calmed down for awhile, but a storm was peeking just over the horizon.  Ra's Al Ghul pissed off Batman by stealing the bodies of Talia and Damien.  Ra's intended to bathe both his progeny in the healing fluids of the Lazarus Pit.   This would also erase their memories and allow Ra's Al Ghul to plant whatever seeds of evil he'd like in their minds.

Ra's act set Batman off on a different kind of quest.  One borne from honor, and then something completely unexpected occurred.  Apokolips butted in causing the strangest team-up in the history of comics: Frankenstein, a tribe of Yeti, Ra's Al Ghul and Batman all teamed up to beat the snot out of the Apokoliptan invaders.  Alas, Glorious Godfrey still managed to make off with Damien's body.

A funny thing happened during the fight, Batman got a glimpse of the future where Damien, alive and well, saved the planet, perhaps the universe.  This meant that Batman's previous nutso quest to bring Damien back to life was now in play to preserve history.  Same ends, different execution.

Batman had a heart to heart with his extended family: Batgirl, Red Robin, Red Hood and Grayson who remained hidden from view.  Cause, you know.  Dead to the world.  They set out new rules governing their relationship, and Batman left Gotham in their hands to go on a suicide mission to Apokolips to retrieve his son.  Unknown to Batman, the Batman Family having left Gotham's protection to Batwoman and Batwing, used Cyborg's Boom Tube tech to follow him.  So, in this chapter we get more of the same awesome.

Want to see Batman terrorize Glorious Godfrey?  You got it.

It looks good.  Doesn't it? Well, the aftermath of this interrogation makes for an even better visual, which is why I'm not going to spoil the delight.

Maybe Batman's delivery of Godfrey's comeuppance isn't that impressive to you.  After all, it's not like Godfrey is Kalibak.  He's a minor New God at best.  Of course, he did catalyze Legends in a different comic book cosmology, but why split hairs?  There's plenty more Batman action.  How would you like Batman to take down an elite strike force from Apokolips?  Writer Peter Tomasi and artists Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray and John Kalisz have got you covered.

Maybe you're more of a nostalgia buff waxing for the robot dinosaur in the Batcave.  No problem.

Keep in mind that the creative team is portraying Batman as completely level-headed.  Everything he does in Batman and Robin is utterly, jaw-droppingly fantastic, yet reasonable.  If you had any doubt, Batman greets his Family when they catch up.  He's a little sore at first, but it takes him only a few moments to recant and pet his doggie.

So that ends this chapter right.  Uh-uh.  There's still four pages left, and the creative team doesn't waste a panel.  Remember how I mentioned Glorious Godrey was a minor New God.  Not so with Kalibak.

And you know what? As astounding as this moment is, it pales when compared to what happens next.  So, go do yourself a favor and just buy this.

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