Tuesday, January 20, 2015

POBB: Jan 14, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 14, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  The weekly reviews include  Batgirl, Captain Marvel, The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage, Vampirella and World’s Finest.  I’ll also have a few words to say about Justice League United, but first I critique Smallville Continuity.

Smallville made an easy leap from small screen to comic book mainly because Bryan Q. Miller, a writer from the show, took on the proceeding seasons.  

I haven’t changed my opinion about canon.  What’s broadcast is canon.  Everything else is fan fiction.  One cannot however deny the quality of this fan fiction.  In fact Smallville is the very best Superman book on the racks.

The Monitors are reconfiguring the planet, and our heroes take refuge in Metropolis.  The aliens intend to leave the famous city for last just so they can see the look on Superman’s face before they snuff him out.  No seriously.  They say it with more drama, but it’s all pure pettiness.  The Monitors met versions of Superman before, but this one really sticks in the craw.  That may be because this incarnation of Superman is an inspiration that lacks any sense of ego.  The mutual respect these heroes foster for each other catalyzes teamwork.  Because of the sense of community, Batman hammered out a plan with the Man of Steel's input that the Monitors never experienced, nor could foresee.

So while Lois is injecting the virus, the heroes will be doing what they do best.

Yeah.  Scenes like this give you a soft, gooey feeling inside.  There are tons of moments like the one above. 

Fan favorites pop up in the nick of time.

Established cast-members return to their posts.

Lex Luthor plays to type.

Superman and the Justice League get some outside help.

This is the stuff.  The story has the scope of a universal crossover, but it's all consolidated in one title.  Smallville is so good that it even edges out Justice League United as the best super-hero hootenanny of the week.

The Legion appear in full force, more or less.  Their goal is to change the Justice League's past and save the future.  It all hinges on whether or not Byth enters the breach with his hostage/charge Ultra, the Multi-Alien.  Bad news for the optimistic Martian Manhunter.  It looks like Ultra's down with this.  

Despite the presence of both teams, there's a lot of wheel spinning going on in space.  With the exception of Kara Zor-El.  Supergirl provides the most notable moment.  

This is pretty much what every Supergirl fan wants to see.

We're on Earth Two.  World’s Finest opens with Catwoman and Robin, her daughter Helena Wayne, casing a dockyard in Gotham City.  

They may have bitten off more than they can chew.

Fortunately they have a massive ace up their sleeves.  

Like Smallville, World's Finest requires little explanation.  Why are Catwoman and Robin on the docks? Read the dialogue.  Who will come to their rescue? Oh, it's Batman.  Problem solved.

Paul Levitz's unparalleled knowledge of how these figures think gives World's Finest its entrainment value.  The story is quick because that's how long it would take these heroes to dope things out, and it doesn't hurt one bit that Jed Dougherty contributes the artwork.  Perfect sense of action, and strong skills with character design lead to an attractive visual narrative that captures everyday super-heroics.  That's what World's Finest conveys.  For Batman and Superman, it's Thursday.

"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb."  Other days, it's easy.

World's Finest tentatively ties-in to whatever the hell is happening in Earth 2 World's End, but most of the Apokolips stuff is incidental to the fun to be had from the characterization and the camaraderie.  Pick this comic book up for mostly stand alone Baman/Superman team-ups and a supporting cast that's hard to beat.  You won't be sorry.

Black Canary's and Batgirl's divide deepens as Batgirl revels in her newfound Burnside popularity.  

Meanwhile, as Babs Gordon, Batgirl dates Liam.  He's the cop she met from last issue, when she trounced her wannabe successor.  

This chapter we learn that Liam hates Batgirl, presumably all of the Batman Family.  He also knows a disturbing amount of detail from Babs' personal history, and she, the girl with the photographic memory, does not recall divulging these details.

Black Canary joins a band, and Batgirl meets her new arch-foe.  Justin Bieber.

Yeah.  This issue of Batgirl almost makes me long for the halcyon days when Batgirl tore the emblem from her chest and dwelt on the guilt trip of supposedly killing her psychopath brother.  What's wrong with this issue? Everything.  

In their want for Batgirl to be about something, Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher forgot to make the issue enjoyable to read.  

Batgirl's longing for publicity is completely out of character. Stewart and Fletcher identify this anomaly in the dialogue.  So I'd be willing to accept that this is some sort of cunning plan...

...if not for the constant backlash against the Facebook and Twitter literate.  Sure.  People that constantly look at their phones are annoying.  They should watch where they're going, not the screens, but these are minor irritations and nothing new.  Shiny objects always distracted people.  Liam though acts like, I was going to say an old man, but let's just go with asshole.

Cause before Facebook and Twitter, celebrities never got a free ride.  They never were measured by the number of fans or record sales.  They never threw wild parties.  They never had drug orgies or boozapaloozas.  

Liam's hatred for Batgirl is typical vigilante mumbo-jumbo.  It's as though the police in comics never studied their own history.  If they did, they would become aware that the Batman Family are more than just deterrents.  They are a check for the fine tradition of corruption in Gotham's ranks.  Gotham PD used to be on the take.  As established by new 52 Batman architect Scott Snyder, even Commissioner Gordon was tempted early in his career, but here's the problem.  Batgirl's actions in this issue bestow weight to Liam's lousy arguments.

Jordan Barbieri is at worst a drunk driver whom Batgirl could have taken out with a knockout capsule before he got behind the wheel.  He sleeps it off, and nobody gets hurt.  Instead, Batgirl enables Barbieri by acquiescing to his demands for a drag race.  Even if she left the knockout gas at home, at this point, she still could have lassoed and hog-tied him.   

Instead, Batgirl races Barbieri.  She contributes to the endangerment of an innocent citizen walking his dog and destroys private property.  

The dog-walking scene is meant to allude to a moment from Batman Returns.  The difference lies in the impetus behind the cars.  In Batman Returns, the Penguin sabotaged Batman's wheels.  Batman is trying to stop the Batmobile, and he manages to do so before he hits a pedestrian.  In Batgirl, Barbieri tries to evade capture.  His escape route takes him into the path of the dog-walker.  Batgirl is ultimately responsible for this whole fiasco.

Let's also address the glaring nugget of irrationality in Batgirl.  Her arch-nemesis d'jour is Justin Bieber.  You can call him what you like, but J.B. looks like J.B.  Both J.B.s have a low tolerance for paparazzi.  They both were arrested for driving under the influence.  They both seem to love themselves too much, and Justin Bieber is just too ripe for satire.

I'm no Justin Bieber fan, but you know what? Last year Justin Bieber helped build a school for the underprivileged in Guatemala, and yeah, he actually helped build the school.

Before that he gave money and raised money for the typhoon stricken Philippines.  He also visited a kid-fan who had brain cancer. 

Of all the terrors the world can produce...

...of all the real-life monsters and injustice...

...Batgirl could fight, you lot designate a mostly harmless pop singer as the enemy.  Fuck you.

Dynamite celebrates the 100th issue of Vampirella with a high-quality anthology written by the good blood-drinker's past scribes and current maven.  The troop of artists called in to accompany the writers also provide uniformly excellent visuals.

Forrest J. Ackerman and Tom Sutton created Vampirella as an extraterrestrial visitor.  She is in fact the first alien vampire.  She even predates the however fantastic film Lifeforce and the book on which it was based.  

Writer Tim Seeley and artist Jim Terry replant the historical Drakulon in this special issue of Vampirella.  Their explanation for its existence makes sense, and their story parallels the events in Vampirella's first appearance.  Albeit with the enhancement of Mad Max styled vampire marauders.

The ending carries a particular poignancy for Vampirella, and it gives the short a surprising dramatic punch.

"Vodnik," the second tale by one of the best Vampirella writers Eric Trautmann pits Vampirella against a strange, supernatural denizen.  The story demonstrates Vampirella's intelligence, experience and altruism all swathed in artist Dave Acosta's terrific points of view panels.

The third tale by Brandon Jerwa, Gabriel Mayorga and colorist Dijjo Limo conveys a clever mystery story that Vampirella solves with the skill of an arch-detective.  I didn't like Jerwa's run on Vampirella, but his short comprises juicy mini episodes of murder and clues elegantly laid out.

I've often wondered if Vampirella's barely bathing suit costume and tremendous body hasn't over the years forced writers to dignify her with a devastating intellect and potent prose.  She almost presents a challenge.  Here's a burlesque blood-sucker writers.  What kind of story does she deserve? Something obvious, bouncy and bosomy or something subversive and in serious vein.  "A Closer Walk With Thee" definitely reflects the latter.

Mark Rahner with Javier Garcia-Miranda pay respect to Kolchak: The Night Stalker.  This clever homage suggests that Carl's survival rate against the supernatural was due to other factors that cannot be explained.  Rahner doesn't just mash Vampirella with Kolchak.  He also imagines the fate of the rest of the INS staff and hands off Carl's documentation to a pair of familiar figures from another television series.  While Vampirella works in the background, her presence is felt throughout the clever yarn.  By the way if you haven't ever seen Kolchak: The Night Stalker, you should.  

It's a wonder it wasn't banned from television rather than just cancelled.  The zombie episode faithfully depicted above is without a doubt one of the most gruesome moments ever perpetrated on the air, and one of your reviewer's all time favorite episode.

Last but not least, Nancy Collins, Vampirella's current mistress of dark prose, and illustrator Francesco Manna contribute a monster-of-the week story that bears a nasty little horror sting at the conclusion.  Larry Cohen fans will be particularly pleased with this one.  Although the Tianak is actually a Philippine legend, and it just shows how much research Nancy Collins delves into before releasing a work.

The story so far...Shan Fong is Dr. Mirage a psychic investigator who actually possesses certain sensitivities that allow her to speak to the spirits that linger in the earthly realm.  She fell in love and married fellow investigator Li Hwen.  Hwen unfortunately died, and Shan has been looking to bring him back from the land of the dead ever since.

A seemingly routine job from the wealthy Lincoln March appears to give her another opportunity.  March and his former comrades in arms bound a demon to their service.  March asks Dr. Mirage to break the connection.  His friends aren't at all happy with the notion and threaten both March and Mirage.

To perform this task, Dr. Mirage travels the netherworld and though reunited with Hwen discovers that she may now need to say good-bye, for a the demon lord Ivros intends to use the breach between worlds.

This issue of The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage by Jen Van Meter and superb artist Roberto De La Torre gives the reader a satisfying conclusion that doesn't play out how you expect.

As you can see in this confrontation scene, Van Meter's storytelling is exceptional, and her versatility with vocabulary entices anybody looking for something more than boring, pedantic speech.

From the occult underworld, Dr. Mirage emerges to engage in good old-fashioned fisticuffs.  This scene shift also makes Dr. Mirage a different sort of book.  Throughout the tale, Van Meter split the story between the outré planes and the physical world.  March's former comrades intend to use Shan as sacrifice and seek to exploit March to strengthen their overseeing of the demon.  So there were always consequences to be seen by the reader, not just hocus-pocus where nothing counted.  Even so, Van Meter shaped the magical frame with more substance.  Here, objects of power and stories were used as payment for favors.  Trickery and ordinary cages became powerful weapons.

This finale encompasses all that has gone before while granting closure for Shan and introduces her to a new friend that holds the key to her heart's longing.  This was a spectacular first arc.  Hopefully Jen Van Meter and Roberto De La Torre will be back for the second arc.

Kelly Sue DeConnick's Captain Marvel wins my respect by depicting Carol Danvers as resourceful and thoughtful.  The space traveling teleporter Lila Cheney brought Captain Marvel back to New York for one Christmas day.  She spends it with her dying friend and mentor Tracy Burke, who debuted way back in the seventies in Ms. Marvel.

Unfortunately crime gets in the way of human warmth.

What's Christmas without some fruitcake?

I love how David Lopez draws these ladies.  He gives them these goofy too-wide smiles that combined with their outfits just blaze their insanity like flashing neon signs.

Valentine and Convington intend to dissect Carol in order to gain her abilities.  They've also kidnaped a store Santa as the unwilling test subject.

Even without her powers, courtesy of the spiffy manacles, Carol proves too dangerous for her captors, and a special guest-star already established in the Marvel Universe helps Carol take out the trash without any male chauvinism or undermining of the main character.  Lovely.

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