Wednesday, March 25, 2015

POBB: March 18, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 18, 2015
Ray Tate

This week in the Pick of the Brown Bag….Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes, Simpsons Comics, Reyn, Princess Ugg, new Dodson project Red One, Legendary Red Sonja, new number one Invisible Republic, new Mignola book with one of the oldest characters in horror, The Frankenstein Underground, Batman/Superman and a double dose of Batgirl.

Julie's father the King intends to hold the princesses of the many lands hostage.  This may in fact be why he set up the school for princesses in the first place.  He’ll return the princesses for a price from each of the regions to enrich his domain to the point of superpower.  The King didn't count on three things.  Princess Ulga, her barbarian father and Ulga's influence on her fellow royals.

The tale begins with a duel against Malick, the King’s man.  The melee takes an unexpected course, and the twist catalyzes courage in the princesses.  They find they need no handsome prince to rescue them.  In fact somebody just may need to rescue the men-folk from them.  

Malick is no prince anyway.  Ted Naifeh introduced him as the pretty boy love interest, only to play with the conventions of the role.  He even played with the typical conventions that played on the conventions.  The result is what you see in the current issue of Princess Ugg.

When the wheel turns to ransom, Princess Ulga lives up to the promise she made to her mother.  Not only does she negotiate for peace between nations, she also progresses with the Frost Giants.  Naifeh turned them into bugbears through dialogue, but they appear much more benign when we meet them.   Lesson?

The conclusion to Princess Ulga's first story is worth every penny.  Naifeh’s unique art imbues the characters with life and emotions.  Often, the settings evoke remarkable beauty of exotic lands.  Part of this feeling can be attributed to colorist Warren Wugnich.  Princess Ugg would look a little flat without his warm, natural shades.

Legendary Red Sonja teams up with…Heh…See for yourself.

Why on earth wouldn’t you want to read this?  In addition to artist Aneke’s fantastic eye-candy, you get Marc Andreyko writing.  Marc “Manhunter” Andreyko.  So, the partnership between Red Sonja and Frankenstein’s second creature is about as feminist as you can get.  All right.  All right.  Let me, sweeten the pot.  The story also features at the cliffhanger one of the first mad geniuses in literature, but swathed in a whole new weirdness.  Trust me.  You want this.

Mike Mignola is cognizant of all the Frankenstein material that has come before him, including Agent of SHADE.  So instead of retreading all that, Mignola employs the unusual tactic of depositing the creature in Mexico.  Technically this isn't the famed figure's first displacement to Mexico.

Of course, the Mexican background of El Santo films is a given.  Mignola chose to position Frankenstein's Monster in Mexico, and he’s a smidgeon more literate.

The creature meets an old woman with the power to heal and learns of the Mexican gods.  That's certainly different enough, but Mignola escalates the bizarre upon introducing the Big Bad of the piece and his hench-things.

The Marquis is a collector of oddities.  Frankenstein's Monster certainly suits his criteria.  Ben Stenbeck illustrates the Marquis as if he were a white-haired Christopher Columbus, surrounded of course by vampire bat-nosed men.  I mean if you are going to do a villainous Christopher Columbus, bat-nosed men are a given, yes?

The Marquis' black-winged angel traps the monster in a dream-like state, and here Mignola shifts perceptions.  The supernatural phantasmagoria casts a plainer shadow in the real world and gives the reader an ample sampling of how Frankenstein Underground will work.

That of course is the opening to the newer seasons of Person of Interest.  The reason I bring it up is that Batgirl’s program, the one she lost in a previous issue, evolved into a life-form.  The trouble is that it’s nuts.

Batgirl needs to stop this crazy thing, and what I like about this issue of Batgirl is that almost everybody is wrong.  The A.I. isn’t Oracle.  The story's not Batgirl vs. Oracle.  That would be rubbish.  Batgirl wouldn’t need to fight.  Just climb some stairs.

The A.I. believes it’s the true Barbara Gordon because Babs used her brain to organize the data.  The program was meant to be a predictive algorithm, but the data set was too large for a normal computer.  So, Babs being Babs used the best computer on the planet, her brain.  It makes perfect sense when you’re bitter about being shot and paralyzed by the Joker.

This to me is the best reaction I’ve seen from Babs after being confined to a wheelchair.  This is normal.  This is how a normal person would react.  Because the Powers That Be at DC were so bent on providing a positive role model for the disabled, they missed the fact that what happened to Barbara wasn’t a good thing.  It was a wretched event that should never have been ushered into continuity proper.  I’ve said that for twenty-five years, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

The way in which Babs defeats the creature’s machinations resonates with violence.  The fight choreography should eliminate any concerns with Batgirl becoming too cute just because Babs Tarr illustrates characters in such a darn inviting style.

Now, that's a Batgirl dance I can get behind.

Batgirl furthermore cements the bonds with her erstwhile partner Black Canary.  They do this just as any male super-hero duo would, a team-up initiating some massive saves, ending in a positive victory.

Batgirl’s other book Endgame, ties in with something or other in the Batman titles.  It’s a wordless excursion into a zombie infested world where the victims have been infected with the Joker venom, and can probably be saved by the Big Bad Batman.

I don’t know much about Endgame, and this book I think is only meant to keep Batgirl involved in family business.  It’s a pleasant, wordless time-waster where Batgirl saves lots of lives, and focuses on one in particular. 

The art by Bengal keeps up with Babs Tarr and Maris Wick, but some of the colors seem off to me.  Would Frankie, who is black really turn pink even in the reflective light of a computer?  Oh, and  please stop giving Batgirl green eyes.  They're blue, baby.  


Anyway.  Batgirl: Endgame is for completist Batgirl fans.  Others may just want to stick to main title.

Batman and Superman finalize their battle against the Phantom King with expected cavalry rescues and typical deviousness from Batman.  

The cousins Superman and Supergirl do the heavy lifting against their brainwashed Kryptonian family and friends.  The heroes pay back the Kryptonian criminal with a helluva headache that's quite mean-spirited and in keeping with the new 52 heroes'  willingness to actually hurt the criminals they combat.  This is why the new 52 champions are so much better than their post-Crisis counterparts.  They seemed more concerned with holding back when fighting their super-powered psychotic rogues.  As a result, the villains appeared to run rampant.

Although there's tragedy associated with the aftermath of the Phantom King's attack that will resonate with the cousins, there's also a nice little upbeat surprise at the conclusion that very few readers were expecting.  If the issue seems abrupt, keep in mind that Batman/Superman is the finish of an excellent story arc featuring the most inventive use for Kandor in history.

Red One surprised me by being more than just cheescake.

Oh, there’s some choice slices to be had in this title.  We are after all dealing with the Dodsons, but Xavier Dorison’s central character Vera Yelnikov differs from the lovely Russian spies that habitually drop at the feet of Mr. Bond so readily. 

She would drop, and visa-versa, but seduction wouldn’t be necessary.  Although Vera serves the Brezhnev regime of the late seventies, the free-spirit grew up in Khrushchev’s Russia.  Khrushchev was until Mikhail Gorbachev the most liberal of Russian political thinkers to come into power.  He instilled numerous reforms to Russian society, and that environment would nurture somebody like Vera.  

In short, Vera’s philosophy and behavior doesn’t really match what we think of as typically Russian.  It may seem to be just Xavier Dorison’s whim, but I think some real thought went into building the characterization.  In any case, Vera is warm, appealing and feminist.  So, it’s very easy to like her.

Red One also seems less like a book where a Russian agent will go to America and become charmed by the patriotism and freedoms of Uncle Sam.  Instead, Vera is at the onset worldly and takes advantage of every opportunity her travels presents her.

Her knowledge of the United States is limited, but I imagine she’ll be a quick learner as the series progresses.  I also expect she’ll take advantage of the riches that the U.S.A. offers but still remain loyal to Mother Russia.  Yuri Andropov was on par with Brezhnev.  So, I can’t see her bucking the bear even after Brezhnev’s demise.

The Russian army sends Vera to the United States to eliminate the Carpenter, a homicidal maniac bent on cleansing whatever.  He has backing, tacit or otherwise, from another group of like-minded fruitcakes.

This is where I balk.  The massive group of protesters picket the premiere of a mainstream film because of apparently swearing and sexual content.  

I grew up during the seventies.  While the religious right did in fact gather strength during this period, they weren't as well organized as these screwballs.  This is something that would happen in the mid-eighties.  In a way, the seventies were a time of enlightenment.  Roe vs. Wade became the law.  The Equal Rights Amendment failed to pass, but at least it was a battle fought.  

Adult entertainment essentially became legal, despite Deep Throat triggering all sorts of trouble early in the decade.  Censorship grew dormant.  The religious right were justifiably labeled a lunatic fringe.  They could spout whatever nonsense they wanted, and nobody cared.  

The press furthermore didn’t take them seriously and seldom gave them soapboxes.  There was nothing like Fox News in the seventies.  Walter Cronkite was the bastion of journalistic integrity and every reporter wanted to be him.  So this, kind of protest at a mainstream movie wouldn’t have happened.  In fact the police of the day probably would have viewed such a flexing of muscle as charming and refreshing since most of the protests in the seventies involved Vietnam.  

Don’t misread.  Themes of religious hatefulness should definitely be exposed in any medium.  The more the sands of time fall, the more and more whack-jobs like that cease to be harmless, and the Dodsons’ character design for the leader of the movement Jacky Core is cunning.  The insane certainty in the cause gives quite a number of religious right escapees serene demeanors that conceal bilge. 

It’s twenty years too early, and the idea that the Carpenter and this gaggle could threaten SALT talks is absurd as is the idea of a woman being President in that era.  That won’t happen until 2016.  Although, I would have preferred a different catalyst for Vera’s excursion, the story’s nevertheless entertaining and the star a real draw.  Red One is a good B Book.

Squirrel Girl gets in a tangle with Whiplash on her way to deal with Galactus.  The deranged title continues to be a slap in the sensibilities, and there’s at least three things in the book that you couldn’t imagine to want to see.  

Doreen’s obsession with squirrels borders on genius.  Very few super-heroes use their powers with such unswerving and hilarious skill.  

The A and B stories in Simpsons Comics offers laughs galore as Lisa meets a previously undisclosed relation of Bleeding Gums Murphy and Homer becomes the most wanted man amongst VIPs for all the wrong reasons.  The way in which writer Ian Boothby digs his way out of the predicaments is inspired, and the artwork by Phil Ortiz, Mike DeCarlo and Art Villanueva on-model and stunning.

Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes is still wildly entertaining.  After making nice with Taylor, Kirk and the crew of the starship…Enterprise visit Cornelius and Zira.  Trading notes however can violate the precepts of the Prime Directive if you’re not careful.

I like that the Tiptons chose Scotty to be the most open with his Scottish burr.  The loquaciousness foreshadows his “how do we know he didn’t invent it” line in Star Trek: The Voyage Home.

Before Kirk and the others can get settled, the gorilla guerrillas of General Marius attack, and this means we get to see Spock use a Vulcan nerve pinch on one of the unlucky simians.  

That’s the kind of scene that makes a Star Trek fan giddy.  Also, on a personal note, I never thought I would use the phrase gorilla guerrillas again.  I love comic books.

The theme of the book is that wonderful chant “Ape Kill Ape” that accompanied the duel between Caesar and General Aldo in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

The Tiptons through the gist also redeem the character of General Ursus, from Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  Ursus in that film was a bone-headed gorilla whose tactical skills were less than impressive.  Here, he seems reasonable, albeit skeptical, and loyal to Ape Law

I was absolutely right about Reyn.  We’re dealing with something bigger than sword and sorcery, and the writer Kel Symons and artists Nate Stockman and Paul Little never forget what drew you to the book in the first place. 

When all is said and done, Reyn is the tender story about the title character, a Warden, killing monsters.  Yeah.  It gives you a kind of warm feeling all over.

Last but not least, the Invisible Republic opens intriguingly with a reporter on a Dystopia looking for a good story.  He finds it in a random purchase that relates the memoirs of Maia Reveron.

It’s too early to say whether or not this title has staying power, but it’s got a grabber of a middle, and I like the humanitarian motif in Maia’s actions that contrast the behavior of her cousin, who rises to power and makes the narrative worth the broadcast.

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