Tuesday, March 17, 2015

POBB: March 11, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 11, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this column, I review the best and the worst from the comic book racks.  This week  I'll review Justice League United, Shaft, Smallville: Continuity, brand new book Southern Cross, Spider-Gwen, a double dose of Vampirella and World's Finest.  I’ll also say few words about Altered States: Red SonjaCaptain Marvel and the current issue of Thor.  First, correction time.

Spider-Woman made her debut in Marvel Spotlight, which preceded Marvel Two-In-One by a month or two. 

Missed it by that much.

While Batman and Wonder Woman kick up the heat in the Batcave, Lois Lane succumbs to the insidiousness of Apokolips.  If you're wondering why I'm spoiling the events, I have a simple answer.  World's Finest takes place in earth two's past, and if you weren't aware of Lois Lane's death on that alternate planet, tough.  Lois' death was mentioned in the first few issues of Earth 2 and World's Finest when writer Paul Levitz's stars were Huntress and Power Girl.  You had plenty warning and oodles of time to catch up.

Lois Lane should die doing what she loves.  She should die in a state of steadfast journalistic integrity.  Her death also cannot be Superman's fault, through either neglect or impotence.  Levitz conducts the perfect death for Lois Lane.  That may sound a little ghoulish, but there's a right way and a wrong way to do these things.  For example, having two characters from a comedy suddenly go serious with one figure shooting the other in the head?That would be the wrong way.  Levitz also puts together her subsequent resurrection.  Don’t look askew.  The moratorium on such information is over.  Anyway, I'm being generous.  I'm not saying how Lois returns, and if you don't know, Levitz creates a revelatory moment at the conclusion that loses none of its power.

In addition to the elephant in the room, Batman and Wonder Woman ply their skills in metallurgy to create a surprising weapon.  The conclusion they both arrive at is faulty, but without other evidence, it's logical.  Intri interrupts their preparations, and it's bad news for her.  

The way that Levitz figures this first strike against Apokolips neatly embodies the themes of the World's Finest and recapitulates the perfection of death.  He gives dignity to a deity's end of days.

In short, this is the final issue of World's Finest before Convergence, and it goes out with a bang.  Exciting, engrossing, brilliantly written, drawn with verve by Jed Dougherty.  All of this entertainment occurs despite the fact that every thing in these final issues took place in the past, making explicit what was implied.  From the first issue to the last World's Finest was Paul Levitz's triumph.

Also outstanding, Smallville.  The conclusions to the fantastic television tie-in ends on upbeat notes and nostalgic call backs to the series.  This one I am spoiling because all the reasons why you should stock up on Smallville back issues or trades lies in the polished graphics depicting Bryan Q. Miller’s story.  




First, our heroes take care of loose ends.

Next, we get a superb farewell from old partners.

Somebody Save Me…

The beginning of a new era.

Babs Gordon remains hilarious.
Old friends get a new lease on life.

Lex Luthor admits to an inconvenient truth.

There's a new DEO...

The Queens introduce the new member to the family.

Superman and Lois have sex in a bathtub.

Justice League United ends well.  To stop Infinitus, Brainaic Five launched a cosmic means to contain the menace.  While some Legionnaires intended to finish Infinitus the old fashioned way, exposure to J'onn J'onzz and the champions that inspired them changed a lot of Legionnaire minds. 

J'onn forced himself to tear experience and consciousness from Ultra, the multi-alien that would have become Infinitus; thereby nullifying the danger to existence.  Brainy's solution wasn’t necessary, but the clock ran out of seconds.

Doctor Who fans will recognize the danger in Justice League United as a plot twist to Doctor Who 1996.  The Master opened the Eye of Harmony in the TARDIS.  The Eye is a link to the black hole of the same name from whence Gallifrey obtains its clean energy.  

Opening the Eye exposed the earth to the gravitational forces of the cosmic phenomenon, thus threatening to suck the planet into it.  The Doctor with the help of Dr. Grace Holloway closes the Eye.  I shan't spoil how since the means is tres cool and one of the many reasons why Doctor Who 1996 though Paul McGann's only full episode of Doctor Who is one of the best in the series.

In Justice League United, evacuation of Thanagar seems to be the logical next step, but the Legion has an ace in their deck of many cards.  Dream Girl foresees another solution that’s also part of the Doctor Who canon.  Now, you might think that I’m complaining about the closeness of Justice League United and Doctor Who.  I’m not.  There’s quite enough variation, especially with the geopolitical factors, in Jeff Lemire’s story to classify it as genuine tribute rather than rip-off.

In addition to the Doctor Who like scope to the plot, you also get another dynamite scene with Supergirl.

This is after the Star-Spangled Kid makes an apropos literary reference before blasting the snot out of the shape-shifting Byth.  Old Legionnaire fans will get a kick out of exactly how Brainiac Five harnesses science while factoring in magic for the equation and a tantalizing reference to his relationship with Kara in the future.

During the afterparty, Lemire orchestrates a traditional change in Legion Leadership.  He brings the influence of the League home and gets rid of a problem he created.  Apparently, Brainiac Five had no qualms over changing the past in this instance, and the League agree to stick together.

If you’re like me, you’ll love a Lis Salander like sister of a possible murder victim boarding the Orient Express in the form of a starship that’s shaped like a luxury liner.  

And if you don’t?  What the hell is wrong with you, and why are you reading comic books?  

Writer Becky Cloonan begins Southern Cross as an Agatha Christie novel in space, but there’s definitely a chance that this will not be a fairplay mystery.  

On the other hand, it’s not likely to rely on the pulpy tropes of secret doors and such either.  Doesn’t matter.  I’m in.

There’s a lot absent in Cloonan’s story that would have been welcome in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel.  Cloonan focuses on the characterization and the plot.  

She’s confident that Andy Belanger and Lee Louridge will sell the space accoutrements without the dependence on mind numbing technobabble.  

The infodump in Captain Marvel does pay off, with more than a modicum of comedy, but the lack of engineering jargon and the escalation of the mystery form is much more enticing.

Brandon Jerwa's Altered States Red Sonja inverts the classic Marvel Team-Up.  Chris Claremont and John Byrne deposited Sonja in Manhattan to fight Kulan Gath once again.  Jerwa drops an unsuspecting museum curator in the resurrected body of Red Sonja in Hyperboria.  Fun, undemanding and well illustrated.  A good auxiliary purchase.

The second issue of Spider-Gwen is a winner with Gwen escaping certain death after being dropped at a great height by the Vulture.  Gravity and Gwen really doesn’t mix.

Yeah, Peter Porker is back to provide hilarious commentary.  Writer Jason Latour thus preserves the relevance of the Spider-Verse saga, giving credit where credit is due without undermining Spider-Gwen’s character.

After sort of recovering from her harrowing death defiance, Gwen visits the Mary Janes to find an offer of reconciliation waiting for her, but she’s got more important problems to face.

Gwen’s father meanwhile covers for his daughter in the face of old friends Frank Castle and you never would have guessed Jean DeWolff, one of Spidey’s first police contacts that didn’t hate his guts.  Where’s the cute beret Jean?

We also get a glimpse of the Kingpin in this universe, and he’s the same as he ever was, but man Matt Murdock is just slimy beyond slimy.  In summary, Spider-Gwen engages her first cliffhanger escape and begins to take responsibility even in a concussed state.  Old friends with new wrapping reappear, and you actually feel sorry for the Vulture.  I like the fast progress, and it’s only the second issue.

Thor also amuses with Odin and Odinson attempting to discern the identity of the new Thunder Goddess.  The two act like a mean-spirited Clouseau and Kato, and most of Asgard is getting tired of their childishness.  On the downside, whose bright idea was it to give Jane Foster breast cancer? 

Oh, yeah.  I forgot about the price.  That price would be no cancer.  Does breast cancer actually need to be represented in the comics if it’s not there  to specifically inform? Especially on an alien world with alien technology that seems virtually magical?  I haven’t seen Hawkeye or Daredevil need to worry about testicular cancer on earth.  If Asgard is too mystical for Jane, couldn’t Lady Sif, just as an example, transport Jane to another planet or another time where medicine is sufficiently advanced enough to eradicate the cancer?  

Breast cancer kills  40,000 women per year and forces survivors to undergo horrendous treatments and preventions.  How’s that for a reminder?

Vampirella features in two titles this week.  In her steampunk series  Legendary Ella hires new help for the scarlet club meets some important players in the city and watches her enemy's satrap burn down while playing cutesy with the coppers of the period.   It's here that she gains a kind of secret identity.  Outwardly she is merely a humble conveyer of drink, good food and entertainment.  Behind the mask of civility lies the altruistic vampire that threw in with a group of heroes responsible for tearing the collusion of villainy a new one.

In this issue of Legendary,  Vampirella investigates an airship mystery.  The writers pull a Verne name out of the hat.  I don't know if the inclusion of the so-called Master of the World was a Bill Willingham notion or a newer idea from writer David Avallone.  

One thing I can say with certainty, the cameo of a famous reporter is all his, and it's these tidbits along with examples of Vampirella's supernatural abilities that makes Legendary Vampirella such a kick to read.

Vampirella is a little more serious and literate in Nancy Collins' tale.  The horror author pits Ella Normandy against her almost-brother Cain.  As I have said in previous reviews, I prefer Vampirella being an alien hero, but I can still enjoy the more Christian touches if done well.  Adam's first wife being Lilith, for example, who also begat the original demons of the world during a lust-filled eternal binge life. 

Lilith as seen in Vampirella wasn't Collins' creation.  Cain is.  As a child when I attended what was called Sunday School even though held on Saturday, I was taught that Cain was the son of Adam and the first murderer.  So ends the lesson.  

Even at a young age, I began to question Biblical tenets.  Already a mystery aficionado, I studied Cain sharply.  How could Cain commit a crime unless tainted with evil in the first place?  Or was this a case of bad parenting?  Neither seemed to make any sense given the information I had.  The whole jealousy in the face of a supreme deity thing struck me as indicating a really fragile psyche.  

Collins gives me a much more mythological Cain, eliminating Biblical ambiguity and nonsensical characterization.  Collins' chap is an immortal whose skill at agriculture works in the Big Bads' favor.  Artist Patrick Berkenkotter perfects a slightly skewed benign appearance for the killer that would make you look twice but dismiss the uneasy feeling as overactive imagination.

If you haven't been paying attention, a group of fatigued immortals conceived a half-baked scheme to end their existence by first exterminating all of humanity.  To this end, Faust synthesized a virus that turns humans into savages.  Cain being a farming genius spreads out the anti-love in the food that humanity eats.

Vampirella, the witch Miss Evily and werewolf operative Tristan investigate the latest outbreak.  The plague is treated seriously, but Collins lightens the proceedings by distinguishing her monsters with a nuance of action film normalcy.  

You can easily imagine Bond doing that.  The scene presents a neat contrast to the traditional creatures of the night.  It also simultaneously upholds and contrasts the idea of bad guys and gals being the only characters with libidos.  Despite the Cabal in appearance defending humanity, they are only ostensibly helping themselves to keep outlandish loons in check.  Thus preventing humans from discovering the occult underworld and dealing out extreme prejudice.

Shaft locates his quarry this issue by asking the proper question.  Writer David F. Walker defines John Shaft as no mean detective.  He will become even sharper and meaner, but right now, Shaft is not a person you want to mess with. 

The episode exemplifies the exploitation ethic of the nineteen seventies, but it actually has an older history.  The fellow Shaft pastes in this very painful looking sequence is uniform regardless of the color of the star.  His type plagued private eyes all over the cinematic landscape, and he originates in the nineteen thirties and forties, slapping around gumshoes.

In the seventies with all the protests falling out of Vietnam concerns, a certain well-armed, quasi military group seemed to become the enemy of the people they swore to protect.  So this kind of corruption appears apt in the seventies setting of Shaft.  The hapless gent Shaft whups is the first of many.

In conjunction with the case, Shaft finds himself facing the man that catalyzed his career.  Former boxer Bamma Brooks, and his boss, Junius escort Shaft’s encounter with Vernon Gates, “the most powerful man in Harlem,” and he divulges more information for Shaft to follow.

In the end, the task of finding Marisol Dupree is all window dressing for Shaft.  At the conclusion, we discover that he hasn’t just been surviving, which is how events played out on the surface.  He’s been tracking the killers of his beloved Arletha.  Shaft has been in control the entire time, and there will be hell to pay. 

On the current episode of Elementary...

...A lovely surprise for MST3K fans.

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