Tuesday, March 3, 2015

POBB: February 25, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 25, 2015
Ray Tate

Leonard Nimoy died on February 27, 2016.  I share the sadness of millions of fans.  As a child, when watching Star Trek, I stuck masking tape to my ears to bring them to points.  I liked Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew, but I identified with Spock.

Leonard Nimoy was Spock, and without Spock, I would be a different person.  There is no doubt in my mind.  I grasped the fundamentals of logic and reason through Mr. Spock.  I also found myself expanding my vocabulary because of Mr. Spock.  To this day, anomaly is one of my favorite words.  

I owe Leonard Nimoy a lot.  So, in his memory, I will try to “live long, and prosper.”  I will continue to be ever logical, but not forget my human side when appropriate.

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week I review Aquaman,  D4ve, Django/Zorro, Futurama, Joe Frankenstein, John Carter: Warlord  of Mars and The Phantom.   But first...The wait is over, people.  Spider-Gwen is here!  Let me just say, right off the bat.  I love that Marvel actually christened the book Spider-Gwen.

Gwen Stacy  also known as Spider-Woman returns to her alternate universe.  Nothing much has changed.  J. Jonah Jameson still blames her for the death of Peter Parker.  She's wanted by the authorities.  Her father, Captain Stacy, who discovered her identity in the premiere, wants to talk about these developments.  The Mary Janes, who consist of Glory Grant, Mary Jane and Betty Brant, took their hit single "Face It Tiger, You've Hit the Jackpot!" off the charts.  Gwen won't have any part of their fame if M.J. has anything to say about it, but the group's experiencing problems replacing Gwen's expertise at drumming.

If you missed out on The Edge of the Spider-Verse one-shot that introduced the welcoming world to Spider-Gwen, you need not fear.  Writer Jason Latour frames the status quo with Gwen using her spider powers to crawl around the edges, as quietly as her namesake, to let the reader eavesdrop and introduce new characters like Randy Robertson, son of Daily Bugle editor Robbie Robertson.

Simultaneously, Latour segues through cell phone to distinguish this universe farther.  After dirtying Matt Murdock in the debut, Latour places Foggy Nelson in the District Attorney's office and brings in a surprising change that will definitely make things interesting if not hazardous for Spider-Gwen in future issues.

For Spider-Gwen's first official issue, Latour and returning artist Robbi Rodriguez pit the Vulture against Spider-Gwen.  The duo go back to the basics of Adrian Toomes.  He's old.  He's vicious, and he's almost not human, with Rodriguez adding a grotesque nuance to his features.

Spider-Gwen sees the Vulture's rampage as an opportunity to clean up her image.  That's not an entirely altruistic rationale for going after the Vulture, but Gwen is still new at this.  Furthermore, she's just found out that she's not alone and that the various worlds can be quite receptive to some of her fellow Spider-Men.  Nevertheless it's brave to show Gwen without heroic purity, and it hearkens back to some issues spotlighting Spider-Man’s mortal flaws.

As the self-appointed Archduke of Arizona ponders what happened to his pigeon LeQuint, Don Diego de la Vega sends Django out on a fact-finding mission.  

Django doesn't quite know what to make of his current employer. After seeing Zorro threaten LeQuint, thus necessitating the Archduke's backer's swift retreat, Django begins to connect the two.   

As Django speaks with the railroad workers, Zorro stirs the masses with a rousing speech on justice, and that’s really just for starters.

Django Zorro is the team up you’ve always wanted but you didn’t know possible.  It’s Quentin Tarantino bringing his inimitable style to the pages of a comic book, along with no slouch Matt Wagner.  Zorro and Django as a result sound like the real deal, and they ply their trade in a history lesson of the haves and have nots. 

The Archduke appears to be based on the historical personage James Gadsden, a racist Army Officer from South Carolina who was responsible for numerous Native American displacements.  He became the President of the South Carolina railroad company and attempted to build a railroad through the Southern territories, which is the similar setting here.

Tarantino and Wagner naturally pull in some common racism against Django, but nothing like what he faced in the film Django Unchained.  For one thing, Django has a champion in Don Diego, and for another, Django is full on bounty hunterIn addition, the twit from Richmond is all by his lonesome.  So this latest Django excursion is a trifle calmer and less brutal.

The current issue of John Carter Warlord of Mars relates how Edgar Rice Burroughs gentlemen, ex-Confederate Virginian meets his opposite number in blue coat homicidal maniac Joshua Clark, the creation of Ron Marz and artist Ahbishek Malsuni.  The lion's share of the story is therefore one hellacious sword-fight superbly choreographed Malsuni. 

Inker Zsolt H. Garisa had his work cut out for him, but shadows and light along with the hues of Nathan Jamberi emphasize detail and symbolic color schemes over traditional grit and despair.  

Some may take offense at turning historical bloodshed into entertainment, but this is a comic book, and there's supposed to be a motif of swashbuckling.  John Carter isn't about the Civil War.  It's about the title character and his sense of honor.

In addition to the duel, Dejah Thoris caught in an escape attempt exhibits her strength of character, which sets up an execution or a daring rescue at the cliffhanger.  I'll let you choose the most likely candidate.

Two classic characters return in different roles as the Phantom contends against the Singh Brotherhood.  There's not much I can say about the latest from Peter David and anatomist Sal Velluto without spoiling the identities of the guest-stars.  

Suffice to say that, you can judge by the cover that David positions these characters as an alternate Tarzan and Jane.  There are some amusing distinctions however.

The presence of Falling Water in the middle of the jungle is a pretty good joke, as is the twist on Tarzan's hidden escarpment.  David's contrast between the Phantom and Diana relationship-greetings with the de facto Tarzan and Jane is extremely amusing.  On the other hand I felt the animosity and jealousy the Phantom displays over the Tarzan was over the top.  Still, it's difficult to complain about a book with this kind of action.

Aquaman locates his mother Atlanna, but it's far from a happy reunion.

Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier bring another awesome issue of Aquaman to the racks.  The story is filled with action and terrific illustration of a  Pellucidar type lost environment ruled by Atlanna.

Parker reintroduces the mythology of the purple-eyed outcasts, which played an important role in the formation of the former universe's Aqualad.   He also starts to smooth out the history of Atlantis by giving Atlanna a strong point of view, and a stronger sense of justice.  Mind you, she might have gone mad.

Also interesting is her expression of love for Aquaman's father.  I didn't really expect that given the iteration of a usurper dynasty in past issues.   I anticipated instead a mating of convenience, but it seems that Atlanna possessed true feelings for Aquaman's surface-world father.

Aquaman takes drastic steps to survive in a one-sided battle, and these moves are surprisingly underhanded, especially for a shiny hero.  That just builds on Arthur’s character as a tactician and King.  Mera also gains good dialogue and moments as she for once holds back her might to keep from denting her mother-in-law.  An excellent issue that’s over far too soon.

A pizza delivery boy, shades of Futurama, finds himself at first in what he believes a porno situation.  

Looks like Joe forgot his Star Trek..  Any strange woman on an alien planet not first met by Kirk or Spock is ninety-percent likely to be some sort of vampire.  Fortunately our pizza boy has a guardian angel that he never knew about.

Former Detective Comics partners Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon, team-up once more for the latest reiteration of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  The monster in the novel lives up to its sobriquet.  Despite exhibiting early moments of conscience, the nameless creature in Shelley’s novel is ultimately cunning and murderous. 

Boris Karloff's performance as the simple, misunderstood beast helped set the public's mind.  Frankenstein's Monster was now a sympathetic being, and even a tragic hero in The Bride of Frankenstein who absolves his creator from blame.  It was a short road from there to the jovial good-natured Herman Munster to the downright heroic Agent of SHADE.

So how does Dixon's and Nolan's twist on Frankenstein’s creation stack up?  Quite on par with other beneficent creatures and benefiting from a focus that turns the Universal sequels upside down.  Turns out there was a reason for all those Frankenstein descendants meeting the monster.  In short Joe Frankenstein is a lot of fun and an excellent addition to the collections of Frankenstein freaks.

Ian Boothby crafts a book-length adventure in Futurama by destroying the What-If Machine, and unleashing a whole lot of reality-bashing confusion on New New York.

The narrative follows Fry and Bender, the only crew unaffected since they were present in the eye of the storm, trying to recover pieces of the device to reconstruct all and restore the continuity line.

Boothby's science fiction plot is actually better than than the jokes, which are pretty hilarious to begin with.  For example, the denizens find themselves transformed into Pooh characters.

Some of these gags however could be lost on newbies.  A lot of the amusement arises from twists in characterization and stories from the television series.  Whatever your comfort level, the plethora of imagination evident in the artwork by James Lloyd, Andrew Pepoy and Robert Stanley, is an immediate draw.

D4ve is a cross between The Terminator and Tony Isabella’s and George Perez’s short story "War Toy" from Marvel's Bizarre Adventures.  Humans built the machines and without John Connor, the machines took over.  However, they were not alone.

The robots defended their newly won property, but now, things have quieted down.

D4ve has gotten some rave reviews, and it's all right, but it's not laugh out loud funny yet.  Things could change, but for now the most interesting thing about the book is the idea of robots becoming human out of habit because they have no other role model.  That said.  A lot of the stabs at comedy such as robot strippers, robot Gone With the Wind have been done, to better effect, on Futurama.

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