Wednesday, February 4, 2015

POBB: January 28, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 28, 2015
Ray Tate

This week I review Aquaman, Bart Simpson Comics, Flash Gordon, Justice Inc, King: Flash Gordon, King: The Phantom, Princess Ugg and They're Not Like Us, but first the latest issue of Thor.

It all seemed pretty straight-forward.  The spell of Mjonlir changed so that anybody not just a man may be worthy of the powers of Thor.  Of course the wording was just a technicality anyway since the first female Thor was Wonder Woman.  Obviously not a he and no amendment needed.

Just to be on the safe side, an unknown party rewrote the runes.  As a result we have a mysterious lady Thor who picked up the mantle and proved her mettle by wiping out a snowball of Frost Giants.

So far so good, but now we have a real conflict.  The original Thor wants his hammer back.  You can see by his dialogue that because of his rage and pettiness, he won't be getting that hammer anytime soon.  Even somebody who never read Thor would know he's not worthy.

There's an obvious irony here.   The more Lola wants the more Lola doesn't get, despite what the song says.  The battle doesn't go on for too long.  So those expecting, even wanting, a knock-down drag out fight will be disappointed.  However, for those seeking a more humorous ending; a sensible explanation of how to refer to the artist formerly known as Thor and a fairplay whittling down of suspects in the pool of whom lady Thor may be, enjoy.

Princess Ugg sings! All right.  There's a little more than that, but that's what stands out.

I'm with Julifer.  This Glee emulation comes out of left field, and there's too much unexpected Grimmerian love going on amidst the Royal Court.  On the flip-side, Julifer just hates Ulga too much now.  I mean, come on.  She did save her life last issue.  That should have earned Ulga a tiny shred of respect.

Things pick up when Julifer's father, whom she hates, pulls a divine right fast one that doesn't go over with the Chieftain of Ulga's people.

I like how the seemingly good and civilized turn out to be rotten and corrupt, all the way through.  It's going to be up to the Princesses to settle this with strong-armed diplomacy, an art in which Ulga is well-versed.

The story in Aquaman begins with the unceremonious disposal of Gorilla Grodd thus cementing Arthur's status as a badass and Mera's guile.  Nuts to Superman/Wonder Woman.  They're boring.  Aquaman and Mera are the new 52 couple.

Jeff Parker then advances the plot with a trip to less than outré realms in Aquaman's search for his Mom Atlanna.  

The trek answers some questions.  How does Aquaman actually feel about fish.  Does he command them or does he ask? Can they refuse his bidding?  Does Aquaman feel any guilt over his mastery of sea-life?  

The pleasant outing and an attentiveness to long-standing Aquaman lore is merely sauce for the goose, the fat bird is in fact another great depiction of Aquaman and Mera kicking monster ass as choreographed by the severely under hyped Paul Pelletier.

Kudos also to the inkers and colorist Rain Beredo.  Thanks to these illustrators the lovely creatures almost sizzle off the pages and hearken back to the late, great Ray Harryhausen's creations.

Jeff Parker concludes his reintroduction of the venerable comic strip action hero with a fitting finale that mixes politics and the fear of heroes.  This peculiarity in pop culture first suggested by Jon Ostrander's Legends and recapitulated in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull dampens the feel-good mood.

Before things become too dank, Parker quickly demonstrates why Flash Gordon, Professor Zarkov and Dale Arden make such a formidable and long-lasting team.  They all have a thirst for adventure.

And so our heroes jet off to battle Ming the Merciless' empire.  They make their presence known to the Emperor immediately by rescuing their newfound allies and establishing the allegiance of the want-to-be-freed worlds.

Flash Gordon returns in the new King line of comic books, still published under Dynamite's auspices, but I can't fully recommend it.  It's fun, don't get me wrong, but somewhat confusing.

Actually, that's the best part about this whole exercise.  Dale refuses to answer Flash's question and plays up the whole possibility that she and Flash knocked boots.  Of course, she could have just been adjusting hers.

My real problem with the story lies in the theme.  Writer Brian Clevinger classifies it as a heist.

So Ming's Empire depends on these gemstones.  One we've already seen.  It's like a Dilithium Crystal via Star Trek.  The gemstone Zarkov targets allows instantaneous telecommunication.  This is the team's inside man.

Here's what I don't get...

...the importance of the gloves.  Other things short circuit the possibility of an escapade.   Exactly what are Flash and Dale doing in the caves?  They appear to be mining something, but I don't know why that's significant, or how it factors into the plan.  Yes, they're posing as laborers, but for what reason?  How does this factor into the heist?

Okay.  If somebody can just grab a telestone, this can no longer be considered a heist for a moment.  It's a search and retrieval mission not a heist.  This is a heist.

Let me reiterate.  I'm not saying King: Flash Gordon is bad.  It's just too confusing to be what it says it is.  Heists depend upon clockwork actions by one individual or a crew of like minded individuals.  While things can go wrong with a heist, these errors stand out because heists are supposed to be well orchestrated.  The alleged heist in Flash Gordon possesses too many unexplained variables and relies on technobabble that masks the plan, if there is a plan.  King: Flash Gordon is not without merit, but it could have been better.

Last I heard there were some legal issues between Dynamite and Hermes, current publisher of the Phantom comic book and library reprints.  I guess these have been sorted.  At least, King Features and Hermes hasn't prevented Dynamite from publishing a new Phantom book starring a new Phantom.

In King's Watch we learned that the Phantom who fought alongside Flash Gordon, Mandrake and Lothar wasn't part of the lineage.  He was merely a man the Phantom saved at the cost of his own life.  The mere man proved his worthiness to be included in the Phantom chain by sacrificing himself for the sake of the earth.  

When the Phantom died, Lothar took his place, and as he searches for Kit Walker to rightfully assume the title, Lothar fights piracy and cruelty as The Phantom.

Let me just say that having a black Phantom is pretty cool.  Julie Walker already became the first female Phantom, and she's official.  So, I'm happy that the Phantom isn't just a bunch of white guys throughout history because there's no reason why the Phantom should stay male or white. 

In truth, the legacy of the Phantom is a ruse.  The comic strip continues to focus on the Phantom and his wife Diana, both originating from the thirties.  The legacy's only mentioned as a means to build on the character's history.  If the writers of the strip actually followed the conceit, the 1930s figures would have perished long ago, replaced by at least three Phantoms and three spouses.

Lothar being the Phantom is just a nicely done twist on a tradition that's more of a pretense.  He's far more capable and more imposing than the white, berry-juice Phantom that Dynamite foisted upon unsuspecting Phantomphiles.

Both characters by the way created by Lee Falk.  So Lothar as the Phantom would still be owned by the Falk Estate or King Features.  

Clevinger juxtaposes Lothar's infiltration of a new incarnation of the mercenary gang known as the Vultures with the investigation of a spunky red-headed journalist introduced in The King's Watch as Dale Arden's protege.

Reintroducing Jennifer Harris

Clevinger also finds a good use for Guran, the Phantom's Bandar associate.

Guran's and Lothar's new-found friendship provides a lot of entertainment.  Lothar is older than Guran, and the clash of generations catalyzes comedic dialogue and situations.  This is not The Odd Couple, but there's definitely more repartee than in other Phantom works.

Check out that cover to Justice Inc.  Arch comic book painter Alex Ross consolidates the evolution of each pulp figure into basically one giant panel.  That exemplifies some pretty impressive design skills.

Inside Justice Inc, we've got story and illustration almost as fascinating, and it kind of sneaks up on you.  What you won't realize until you read the finale is that Justice Inc. is an alternate universe with respect to the Dynamite pulp titles where the heroes work alone.

This whole thing from start to finish has been a means for Doc Savage to alter time and space by sending the past a mcguffin that forces all three figures to meet, delays events enough from his perspective and establishes a new timeline, perhaps a more optimistic timeline.

Doc, the Avenger and the Shadow combine forces to stop the collusion between John Sunlight, Doc's arch-nemesis, and the Voodoo Master, one of the few criminals that survived the Shadow.  This time around, the Avenger comes up with the plan that will change history.

Setting aside the big stakes for a moment, there's still a lot Justice Inc. has going for it.  For example, the Shadow is extremely vicious and merciful simultaneously.

He especially wanted to make an example out of this bitch.

I love that she actually thought she could hobble away after the Shadow marked her with his gaze earlier in the series.

If you're wondering why the aftermath of the Shadow's rampage looks so familiar, then you must be a fan of Person of Interest.

Each issue of the pulp concoction was filled with action, intrigue and inside jokes courtesy of writer Michael Uslan.  The Shadow, Doc and the Avenger all sound true.  They're supported by Margo Lane and Pat Savage.  Art by Giovanni Timpano recaptured the best imagery from the fevered prose of Lester Dent, Walter B. Gibson and Paul Ernst.  
If you haven't checked out Justice Inc. in comic book format, buy the trade.  

That's what it sounded like to me, and that's why I'll no longer be reading They're Not Like Us.  While it's somewhat intriguing, and gorgeously drawn, I don't believe that Sydney, the bandaged lady in question, is strong enough to be the hero in a tale that celebrates super-powered assholes.

Bart Simpson Comics is a double-header.  First, writer Arie Kaplan teams up Bart and Rainier Wolfcastle for a surreal twist on a tried-and-true actor's method of researching a role.

The story for the most part is only amusing, not laugh-out-loud funny.  Though some of the artwork by Jacob Chabot and Art Villanueva provide laughs independent from the story.

What makes this short worth your time lies in the dignity that Kaplan bestows to the characters.  Wolfcastle soon abandons Bart for Nelson, and that's where the tale becomes something sweeter.

The second story pits Lisa against Mr. Burns.  

The tale becomes a showcase for Mr. Burns' evil.  First, he's competing against Lisa Simpson, a little girl.  Second, he decides to cheat.  Ultimately, the fickleness of Springfielders demonstrates just how childish this whole thing was in the first place.  The art by Mike Kazaleh isn't on model in the classic sense, but it does replicate the stage of evolution in the early seasons, and it gives the story an extra little bite as the characters seem to flow and bounce from one panel to the other.

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