Tuesday, February 24, 2015

POBB: February 18, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 18, 2015
Ray Tate

This week I review Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Batman and Superman, Legendary: Green Hornet, Justice League, Reyn, Simpsons Comics and The Valiant.  First though, I take a look at the new spider-powered character Silk.

You know what fascinates me about Silk?  It stands as a testament to Batgirl's power.  Ask people on the street who's Batgirl, and they would invariably say, "Yvonne Craig" or "The Commissioner's Daughter from Batman."  A new generation saw Batgirl on the Filmation television series as well as syndication.  A third generation witnessed Bruce Timm’s reintroduction of Batgirl for Batman: the Animated Series.

In comic books, it was a different story with the same inevitable outcome.  You can retire her.  You can cripple her.  You can remove her from Commissioner Gordon's bloodline.  The adopted niece? Really? Screw you, DC.  You can modify her costume for an illiterate mute and a lesbian who has the personality of a spanner, but you cannot kill an idea.  Barbara Gordon is Batgirl.  It took the Powers That Be at DC twenty-five years to accept this.  Marvel on the other hand adhered to the idea in three years.  Silk is Marvel's new 52 Batgirl.

Cindy Moon aka Silk has an eidetic memory; she’s a super-hero; she’s a detective, in the sense that she’s searching for her parents.  She’s also a member of the Spider-Man Family who isn’t actually a blood relative.  Though this isn’t unusual since most of the Spider-Man Family are not related.

Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl has an eidetic memory; she’s a super-hero; she’s a detective, no in a sense.  She’s also a member of the Batman Family who isn’t actually a blood relative.  Though this isn’t unusual since most of the Batman Family are not related.

Wait.  Says you.  There must be something that distinguishes Silk from Barbara Gordon.  Very little.  Silk has a black hair and super powers.

Batgirl has red hair and a superb set of skills.  Mind you.  As introduced on television, she’s a brunette that wears a red wig, and nobody can out match her on a motorcycle.  

Here’s something neat.

Except that’s just a souped up version of this.

There’s a subtle as a hammer attempt to mimic Batgirl’s world as seen through the eyes of Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher and Babs Tarr.

Stacey Lee’s artwork is very open and animated just like Babs Tarr’s.  They’re not the same by any scale, and I like it a lot.  It’s absolutely perfect for the character.  The form-fit also describes Babs Tarr for Batgirl.  Tarr's and Lee’s styles differ by nuances rather than tiers.  Maybe though, Lee and Tarr are symptoms of a beneficial condition.  The receptiveness to unique artwork rather than a house-style.

There’s also an attempt to be more inclusive, which I support whole heartedly.

Career Woman Lesbians! Yay!

I’m not saying that Silk is written badly.  It’s not.  In fact, I knew nothing about Silk until Robbie Thompson introduced me to the character.  I came away from the book with an understanding.  This is the thing that turned me off most, and it has little to do with Silk.

It’s not that Spider-Man is by historical standards older than me.  Cosmos knows, I wouldn’t turn away a “weird, awesome thing” with a just legal lady.  It rankles me that he’s with anybody at all.  As far as I’m concerned, Spidey’s cheating on Mary Jane.  Screw you, Marvel.  You can’t undo this.

I actually liked some of the scenes in Silk.  Mostly though these were independent of Silk.

J.Jonah Jameson Has Not Left the Building

Spider-Woman came by her detective status through an evolution that reflects the character process in novels: Hydra agent, turned SHIELD informer, turned licensed private investigator.  Bad spy; good spy; private contractor.  Marvel fell into a pile of luck with Spider-Gwen.  Gwen Stacy was already established in Spider-Man history.  She’s a police Captain’s daughter.  Captain Stacy is also part of Spider-Man history.  Spider-Gwen isn’t really a spider-woman.  She’s an alternate Spider-Man actually.  Spider-Man doesn’t exist on her earth.  The majority of the audience wanted her to live in Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Gwen mirrors the promise of a famous quote.  Give the public what it wants, and they will come.  Silk just seems too obviously designed to appeal.  I will however give Silk this.  She’s less generic than the post-Crisis Huntress, the S & M look faux Batgirl and the lesbian Batgirl substitute.

In all honesty this issue of Batgirl is probably better than I'm crediting.  It's just that the last issue left such a bad taste, that all I can say is that this current chapter is an improvement.  I mean.  I should be elated, but that last story in which Cameron Stewart forced me to defend Justin Bieber really pissed me off.

So the tale opens with Batgirl running from the citizens of Burnside.  They're angry because she destroyed a pastry shop and caused property destruction when she decided to teach Mr. Bieber a lesson.

Batgirl aims to restock not just her arsenal but her life.  Finally, she begins to question her actions and start restoring her relationship with the Black Canary.  There's some irony in how these two get over the bumps and ice the bruises.

It's during her exercises that Babs figures out who has been gunning for her.

There's some really good stuff to be found in Batgirl.  It's funny how the smoke bombs she drops to hamper her pursuers only gives them a dramatic entrance.

The scene in which she confronts Captain Jean-Luc Picard with an altered thesis demonstrates just how smart she is.  She basically scrounged together a plan B, after somebody stole her laptop along with her original proposal.

Her appeal to Diana is heartfelt, and you can see the sorrow on both their faces; the realization that their rage-filled directions have led them too far away from each other.  When they finally get back together it's a physical release, and foreshadows some good-natured kidding as Batgirl races to the rescue and reveals the person behind all her woes of late.

The Superman Family stars with Batman in Batman/Superman.  Batman, Superman and Supergirl consult with former JLA luminary to discover the nature behind the vanishing bullets that felled several Superman beneficiaries and almost dropped Supergirl, Steel, Krypto and Batman his own bad self.  I will not be revealing any specific plot points to the utterly twisted, ingenious plot twist.  Suffice to say that this is a problem worthy of the World’s Finest.

Writer Greg Pak emphasizes the stakes in play, but he also takes time for some characteristic humor.

If you’re wondering why Lois is so concerned about Batman, you haven’t been reading this mostly excellent title.  Batman lost his memory in an issue of Batman/Superman, and he made a connection with Lois while in this state.  Once Batman’s memory resurfaced, Lois no longer could entertain a relationship with the Dark Knight.  She still cares about him because that man she felt something with is still in there, buried deep behind the trauma in Batman’s origin.  The dynamic lasts a panel, but it’s there and speaks volumes.

This however is Lois getting payback for Superman’s persuasive argument to keep her out of danger.  It also distinguishes this version of Lois Lane from the more Superman-involved incarnations.  Lois in the new 52 admires Superman.  She also believes in him as a concept not as a man.

About the only shortcoming I see in this issue of Batman/Superman is that Batman and Supergirl don’t interact all that much.  In the past, when they did team up, those meetings were memorable.  I have always entertained the idea that she saw Batman as her Uncle Arthur ala Bewitched.  I would love to see a new 52 partnering of Supergirl and Batman.

The partnership between Batman and Robin has never been funnier.  Damien came back from the dead through Apokoliptan technology, and superpowers are an unusual side-effect.  

The story opens with Robin calling/forcing a meeting with the bad guys.  This leads to a hilarious replication of Golden Age Superman style discussion.

Still the Batman Family always think in terms of rope, and ropes tend to break.  The scene brings Batman into the fray, and promptly takes the book to eleven as the Dark Knight attempts to reason with his son.

In the end, Batman escorts Robin to Justice League headquarters.  Perhaps he feels that if Damien’s around others with superpowers, he’ll get a better handle on them.  Maybe it’s just for laughs.  Maybe Superman talked him into it.

Whatever the reason, it just keeps the book rollicking forward.  I thought I would cancel Batman and Robin after Damien came back, but his new lease on life just introduces new comic highlights, without losing the characterization.  Damien is a lot easier to take now that he exhibits a smidgeon of gratitude toward his father, and The Brave and the Bold vibe hasn’t gone away since other heroes guest-star galore.

I’d like to say that the Justice League are in good form in their own book, but most of the Justice League have been swept away by the Amazo virus.  Fear not, sensation seekers.  This issue of Justice League is all Wonder Woman.

Damn it.  Why couldn’t Geoff Johns and Justin Fabok be on Wonder Woman? 

In addition to Wonder Woman, Johns and Fabok delight the reader with a 1940s style persona Captain Cold.  The new 52 Captain Cold is even more benign than the post-Crisis version.  Captain Cold just wants to be paid.  In his opinion, he probably sees himself as just a regular Joe, and he revels in the moments that the Justice League opportunity presents.

I get the impression that if Luthor left the League, Wonder Woman and Superman would lobby to keep Captain Cold.  As an ordinary person, he reminds them why they're fighting the good fight.  The chapter concludes the Amazo epidemic with redemption for Lex Luthor and the return of….Oh.  Crap.

The Valiant stars the entire Valiant universe fighting the Immortal Enemy.

You can be forgiven for not knowing any of the participants in the big melee.  The Valiant Universe is only vaguely recognizable and doesn’t have that generational punch of DC or Marvel.  They do have an impressive visual presence though.  

The Valiant isn't a hero hootenanny.  They're the background radiation.  The story really focuses on Bloodshot and the new Geomancer Kay.  Writers Jeff Lemire and Matt Kidnt mention Dawn of the Dead as an inspiration because of the tale’s department store setting, but I see a much older allusion.

In Harlan Ellison’s Demon With a Glass Hand, Robert Culp portrays a soldier sent from the future to the past where he must recover the pieces to his glass hand and avoid being captured and killed by an alien force situated in an old office complex.  Along the way, he meets a helpful female human.

The nature of Bloodshot and Culp’s character are similar.  Bloodshot though protests Kay’s insistence that he’s a robot.  The arenas also resemble each other.  The dynamic between Kay and Bloodshot mirrors that of Culp and his female companion.

The differences lie in the purpose of Bloodshot’s mission.  He’s been sent to protect Kay.  Culp only happened upon his comely cohort.  It’s one entity out to get Kay as opposed to a whole clutch of weird individuals.  Also, there’s no sense of urgency in Bloodshot’s and Kay’s respite.  Whereas, Culp was on the run to retrieve the fingers of his glass hand.  The fingers were definitely important and he eliminates a lot of pursuers along the way.

Primarily Lemire and Kindt use the encounter to flesh out both characters.  Paolo Rivera exploits the situation to show off his mastery of subtle body language and expression.  The Valiant may not be the classic idea of a company crossover, but it’s amazing artwork and the subtle interaction between Bloodshot and Kay make this a must have not just for fans of the character but also fans of good writing and illustration in general.

Thanks to Bruce Lee, The Green Hornet became synonymous with fighting.  Each week for a half-hour, The Green Hornet and Kato would investigate a criminal enterprise and end the show with a rousing display of fisticuffs.  Every Green Hornet production since then honored the tradition of martial arts melees.  The latest mini-series under the Legendary banner is no different.  The Steampunk Green Hornet made his thrilling debut in Legendary.  The action-packed antics continue in this spin-off.  

Written by Darryl Gregory and illustrated by Ben Peeples, Britt Reid and Kato enter the fray of Pirate Gangs and Murder Kings.  At the same time Little Miss Murder who we met among the Cabal of Enemies in Legendary learns the price for marrying a Demon Lord.  Damn exciting and almost over too soon.

Reyn is also an intoxicating Grindhouse science fiction story that’s disguised as a fantasy where feudal knights ply their trade and lusty Salamanders bed human woman.  You can’t fool me though, Ms. Seph.

That’s not magic.  That’s electricity, and I’d wager that the god that Reyn speaks to is actually a computer.  Despite Reyn not knowing the Salamander, the Salamander knows him.  The Salamanders refer to Reyn as a Warden, the enemy of their people.  

I’m putting together a starship that crashed long ago, freeing prisoners and warders alike.  Eventually, they all made a life on this planet, but the knowledge of their past was corrupted over the years perhaps after a great disaster.  The Wardens are descendants of the warders.  The Salamanders are the progeny of the prisoners, along with the monsters that lurk in the dark.  The indigenous populous are evolving civilization as in reality.

You don’t need to adhere to this little hypothesis of mine in order to enjoy Reyn.  Nate Stockman’s artwork brings liveliness to the slightly crazy Reyn, and Kel Symons drops him in a slave mining operation straight out of a spaghetti western followed by a trek through bad lands with a nice, nasty surprise.

Ian Boothby spoofs two science fiction films.  One of course immediately arrests your attention to the cover.  The other is Ender’s Game.  The spoofs themselves are hit and miss, but the art by Nina Matsumoto, Andrew Pepoy and Art Villanueva is just jaw-dropping.  

The illustrators effortlessly transform the Simpsons cast into facsimiles of The Guardians of the Galaxy and their nemeses.

The Ender’s Game send-up is just as accomplished.  However because of the subject matter—kids learning how to be soldiers, it’s less imaginative and colorful.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

POBB: February 11, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 11, 2015
Ray Tate

This week warm up to reviews of Captain Marvel, Harley Quinn Valentine's Day Special, Justice League United, Legendary:Red Sonja, Nameless, Thor, World's Finest, but first on the docket the latest issue of Smallville: Continuity.

The Monitors throw everything they've got at the heroes, but got bad news for them.

There's so much comic book richness in Smallville.  The story begins with the Monitors launching an attack at the Watchtower, where Chloe Sullivan plies her computer mojo.  Superman, Supergirl and the Martian Manhunter attempt to stop the monstrous machine, but to no avail.  This scene leads to one of the many examples of rousing cohesive teamwork.

Fortunately for all involved, writer Bryan Q. Miller births a new hero with venerable name.  Miller was clearly inspired by the happenings in the final issues of Earth 2, before End of the World or whatever it's called usurped the plot.  The guise is even more fitting for our mystery hero because of the name and the connection with the television series.  That's not really a spoiler since all but Batman, Wonder Woman and Babs Gordon have first been introduced on the show.

The ship that tried to kill Chloe spits out a Big Bad, and this is something that would have probably strained the budget and the time frame for completing an episode.  The entire Justice League lays it down against the monster, except Batman and Nightwing.  The team have a better idea for them.

What I like about the story and the characterization is that yes, what's left of the world is in danger, but the heroes still take the time to protect each other and their loved ones.  That's what gives the story its appeal.  In real life we would be horrified to see a mass of strangers slaughtered, but there's a disconnect in fiction.  We have to know these people in order to care.  That's why so many nameless mothers are consistently threatened in dramas.  By giving a character responsibility, she immediately gains more depth than a nameless childless woman.  Again, these examples do not apply to real life.  Just fiction.  A person with a conscience would be disturbed by a threat to either life.

Endangering a superhero is more the subject of fascination rather than abject terror.  That's because superheroes by definition are more resilient than we mere mortals.  Occasionally though, you are sometimes left wondering will this damage be enough to end the life of a hero?  

Superman poses an immense problem in this area.  He's Superman.  Miller however established in previous issues that Superman is one of many, which the Monitors already ended.  Their method of extermination is something that affects any creature, regardless of Kryptonian might.  That's why when the monitors decide to concentrate all their efforts on Superman, his possible last words are meta-chilling.  Miller also has the foresight to bring it all down home.

The idea of course is that Lois and Superman are so intertwined that they can feel when the other is in danger.  This apocrypha applies outside of fiction.  Many claim that they can sense when a loved one is in immediate peril, but they fail to remember all the times they sensed false alarms.  Nevertheless, it’s a nice little plot device, and who knows? Superman is an alien.  Perhaps living with an alien can transmit a beneficial infectious telepathy.  

Will Superman be rebooted?  How can he resist the fate to which so many other avatars fell?  Read Smallville and discover the best Superman book on the racks.

The Justice League make a good showing in this week's issue of Justice League United.  We begin in the middle.  Ultra, an artificially reproduced Multi-Alien, was shown his destiny by Silver Age Hawkman shape-shifter Byth.

Byth though is not currently fighting Hawkman.  In fact, he turned Hawkman against the Justice League.  Thus, a theme from the new 52 evolves.  The heroes don't just battle their typical Rogue's Gallery.  They duel foes outside their comfort zones.  Aquaman beat the crap out of Gorilla Grodd in his book, and in Justice League, Byth made an enemy out of Supergirl.  Scribe Jeff Lemire writes the hell out of Supergirl.

This is about as perfect an artistic sequence that you could want in the subject of Supergirl.  Neil Edwards' pencils can be seen in the powerful poses Kara strikes.  Inker Keith Champagne emphasizes the cast of shadows in the flexing sinew beneath Kara's uniform; these from her deadly heat-vision courtesy of colorist Jeromy Cox.  In a previous scenario inker Jay Leisten highlights another awesome Supergirl versus Byth moment.  Any chance we can get a Supergirl series from Lemire and company?

I've always been a Supergirl fan and always will be.  However, Justice League United doesn't just showcase The Girl of Steel.  We get strong spotlights on Bouncing Boy, Wildfire, Hawkman, Colossal Boy, Phantom Girl and the Martian Manhunter.  Justice League United is a must for Justice League and Legion fans.

In World's Finest Apokolips targets Metropolis and Gotham City with satellites orbiting Earth 2.  Seems to be an object lesson for you know who two.  The plan however backfires somewhat with Superman and Batman preventing most of the damage and loss of life, with assists from Catwoman and Helena Wayne...

...as well as a certain secret weapon.

Yep.  Thanks to Paul Levitz demonstrating the mother-daughter relationship and the dynamics of the World's Finest team, what could have been, should have been a routine potboiler turns into a simply, good yarn.  

I'm continuously amazed and delighted how much World's Finest entertains me.  It's got all the ingredients of something that shouldn't.  It's set in the past.  So I know the gist of what will happen.  I know who lives and who dies.  I know major plot points, yet despite having practically no reason to be dramatic, World's Finest defies conventional wisdom.

Batman guest stars in Harley Quinn's Valentine's Day Special.  The book costs five bucks.  So really the only question that needs to be asked: is it worth it?  I'd say yes.

Let's get the plot out of the way first.  Harley intends to win Bruce Wayne in a charity date auction.  The auction benefits animals, and Harley has a fondness for furry friends.  Harley’s intentions and actions lead to zany involved gags, non-sequitur jokes and actual sweet moments, worthy of The Simpsons or Futurama.  

The undercurrent of the story involves a subpar antagonist assuming the guise of…

He also has his sights on Bruce Wayne, but he doesn’t intend to date the billionaire.  Instead…

The kidnapping lays fertile ground for comedy and writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner make good use of every acre.  First, Harley needs to get fluid fast, and she comes up with a unique means to acquire the funding necessary for her goal.

It’s always rousing to see somebody get what they deserve, and Harley pays her target big time.  There’s a lot of cutting edge humor in the sequence.  Big Tony, Harley’s diminutive aide-de-camp, reveals a theory that rings true.  I never really thought of it before, but where do bankers keep their money? If they kept it in the banks that they own, they’d be risking their own capitol, and the one-percent seldom like to spend their own lucre.  

Anyway.  Harley now stocked to the hilt in greenery enters the auction, eliminates the competition and loses the prize to Mr. Mighty Carp.  How will she get Bruce Wayne back? With a little help from her friends.

Proof positive that Harley Quinn isn’t set in proper continuity.  Ivy began life as a femme fatale who had her sights on Batman.  Her infatuation grew into an obsession, until the fateful day that Bruce Timm turned Ivy into an self-confident, ecoterrorist.  Timm and company also brought Ivy and Harley together, implying a healthy romantic relationship.  Conner and Palmiotti suggested that Ivy and Harley are lovers, but the idea that Ivy isn’t the jealous type is just so way out there that it makes you choke.  As an inside joke, this made me laugh the loudest.

Harley finally gets her date with Bruce, and irony upon irony, it’s a really good date.  Bruce actually appears to be having fun with one of his greatest enemy’s former henchwench.  That is funny in a different sort of way.  Bruce turns up as Batman in the end, and the husband and wife creative team foster a definite outlaw vibe in Batman.

Red Sonja pilots her flying pirate ship into the city for shore leave.  She doesn’t get a bedmate.  Instead, she tangles with…wait for it…

…Frankenstein’s Monster.  Written by Marc Manhunter Andreyko and benefiting from the easy on the eyes illustration of Aneke.  Yeah.  The latest Legendary mini-series doesn’t need a review.  Just go and buy it.

The only thing I disliked about Thor is the guest artwork.  Jorge Molina substitutes for Russell Dauterman and Matt Wilson, and the results are mixed.  While everything’s technically good: anatomy, visual storytelling, facial expression, the colors are just too dark, or weirdly lit; as you will seek in the examples.  

Jason Aaron’s staccato story darts from Midgard to Asgard to the Moon.  Thor beats up the Absorbing Man and gains respect from Titania in an amusing away.  You know.  I remember not too long ago when DC thought it was hilarious to turn Dr. Light into a rapist.  No, I'm not going to jog your memory with an unsavory piece of...Anyway.  By all rights, no female villain or otherwise should have worked with him afterward, yet they did.  Being bullied in her youth, Titania's always been about gender equality even when robbing banks. So I like that she admires the whole idea of a female Thor.  That makes sense.

Odin on the other hand rails against the woman who dared pick up Mjonlir, and his increasing anger as his sources of information dry up is a riot.  I'm of two minds when it comes to Odin.  On the whole the Odin of the comics has been a stand up kind of guy, wishing the best for his sons, his kingdom and the universe.  This is the guy that testified on behalf of Reed Richards.  

From Fantastic Four #262

It's only in recent years that various talent stained the armor a bit.  I can accept it here because Thor would be nettlesome to Odin.  In the end, he's going to be ordering up a hammer for her when Odinson reclaims his hammer, but in the meantime Odin's pomposity doesn't conflict with his previous characterization.

Odinson becomes an obtuse detective.  He’s got a list, and he’ll insult every woman on the list until he knows who wields his hammer.  It’s kind of like what happened on last week’s Agent Carter.  In addition, Freya has a heart to heart with Thor.  

All of these vignettes tie into the reintroduction of a Norse Big Bad and the best of Thor send offs.

Captain Marvel brings Carol back to space to confront pirates with cool strategy and a cool head.  Got nothing much to say about this title that I haven’t said before, but the minimal story packs a punch in terms of Kirk like imagination.  

Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick mentions the TARDIS, and artist David Lopez relishes the opportunity to goof with two Captain Marel’s newest cast members.

Last but not least, Grant Morrison’s Nameless.  By golly, I almost understood that.  A kind or private eye snatches designs from dreams, and for some reason, he’s being sent to space.  

This has nothing to do with the Mads.  Worth a second look.