Tuesday, April 7, 2015

POBB: April 1, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 1, 2015
Ray Tate

No fooling.  This week, I study Avengers Millennium, Batman and Robin, Doctor Who, Guardians Team-Up, Hellboy and the BPRD and Spider-Gwen.  I'll also review new movie Furious 7.

In the third issue of Spider-Gwen, there’s a lot of hitting.  

Not just the Vulture, but also this big bloke…

Oh, yeah.  Spider-Gwen is feminist beyond the hilt, and it’s feminist in the superhero way.

I think this is the secret of Spider-Gwen’s success.  Seeing Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy succumb to gravity emphasized how a comic book fixed point can screw up even only marginally related pop culture touchstones.

The filmmakers behind The Amazing Spider-Man built Gwen Stacy up from mere smart, bombshell girlfriend of Peter Parker to confidant and certifiable genius.  She had a future in London, where the third movie should have been set.

All that achievement didn’t matter.  A shoe-horned Green Goblin still drops Gwen from a great height, where Spider-Man still inadvertently breaks her neck.  Oh, that is after the brain trust suggest Gwen may escape her comic book fate.

Spider-Gwen is revenge.  Plain and simple.  Not against Gerry Conway but against the sphincters that made the Amazing Spider-Man sequel such a bitter pill to swallow.

This Gwen Stacy is a different sort of beastie.  This Gwen Stacy punches the crap out of anybody that gets in her way.   The “Yeah, that’s right…I’m 'just' a girl.” comment is so perfect because it addresses the poor idea that women are disposable, which is at the very heart of the damsel in distress chestnut and in reality the seedy little secret beneath real life gender inequality.  Spider-Gwen struck a nerve.

Avengers Millennium has one foot in Marvel movie continuity and a toe in Marvel comic book continuity.  That's mostly a good thing.  The story begins with Quicksilver racing across the world to Avengers Tower.

He and his sister Scarlet Witch discovered a Hydra base, but despite it being practically empty, Wanda senses something peculiar.

Over the years, Marvel has been manipulating their continuity to reflect the more successful and acceptable Marvel movie continuity.  The Civil War for example which created the most upheaval has long been forgotten, literally by its two most ardent supporters.  Iron Man rebooted his memory, and his dilettante lieutenant Captain Marvel lost hers.  Without their memories they are essentially innocent parties.  That said.  I get the feeling that in this book's implied history, The Civil War never happened.

Avengers Millennium isn't totally continuity free, but it is user friendly.  In fact those missing the all-ages Marvel Adventures line from Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin will feel right at home.  

Quicksilver doesn't have that obsessive fading borderline sick relationship with his sister.  Sure, they went on vacation together, but their trip was entirely innocuous and places them neatly on the scene.

Spider-Man is already a member of the Avengers, but we're unlikely to see him amongst the team until the third film.  Iron Man sounds a lot like Robert Downey Jr.  On the other hand, Hawkeye does not reflect Jeremy Renner's performance.  

Captain America doesn't quite mirror the sincere performance of Chris Evans.  Rather, he's the most Marvel comic books of the group, yet this is Steve Rogers and not as an old man.  The Hulk is a trusted member of the team, but his alter-ego doesn't resemble Mark Ruffalo.  Black Widow unfortunately gets little time to develop in the book.  You now cannot imagine anybody but Scarlet Johansson portraying the Black Widow.

In any case, Avengers Millennium is a mostly pleasant experience with the heroes investigating a tantalizing mystery, and Hydra entering the lot of loser villains in the traditional green robes.  The comedy mostly works, and the payoff looks promising.  The various illustrators offer a decent aesthetic; though it won't be for everybody.

Otto Schmidt’s art in Guardians of the Galaxy is likely to be the tipping point.  I like it.  Angular, lending toward the illusion of animation, with a sense of humor expressing in the faces of even the aliens.

Schmidt also exhibits a great sense of scale evident in the scenes where She-Hulk stands among normal people and Hulks Out to even greater pulchritude.

John Layman’s story is an entertaining no-brainer of mixing green with green.  He employs the current She-Hulk template; thus you get scenes of She-Hulk operating as a lawyer with Angie, her monkey-loving paralegal assistant.  Layman’s Gamora exhibits remarkable depth as an assassin looking for Xena-like redemption.  

The change of dance partners and the nonjudgemental tones also add to the reading pleasure of the done-in-one partnership.

My favorite version of the Doctor makes his comic series debut.  Writer Cavan Scott captures the look, sound and feel of Christopher Eccleston's Doctor.  Artist Blair Shedd offers an excellent likeness of Eccleston, John Barrowman and Billie Piper.  More than that.  The creative team bottles the energy of those early episodes.  The Doctor’s first word in the series and the theme of revamped Doctor Who was and always shall be “Run.”

Writer Scott draws upon the idea of time and space being jarred by the Time War; a feeling that has unfortunately largely dissipated.   Admittedly though that could have grown tiresome, but it’s nice for the Doctor to materialize somewhere and recognize something wrong with history.

In this case, the Doctor’s appearance coincides with two antagonistic forces, and that means trouble for the TARDIS crew.  Exciting, accurate and impressive.  Even more so than the regular Doctor Who comic book series.

Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin Annual is just plain good.  It’s so good that you forget that Batman isn’t out of his element in space.  I mean he’s on the Justice League satellite, for pity’s sake.  His time in space easily matches his time fighting crime on earth.

Tomasi just dispensed with Robin’s powerful resurrection in the regular issues of the series, yet this book just feels special.  It’s Batman and Robin on the moon, fighting off an alien invasion and simultaneously bonding as father and son.

Tomasi creates this bizarre sense of family.  As if Batman’s life is completely normal.  He has a son.  He has a dog.  He just on occasion destroys invading alien lifeforms with his son and his dog.

DC didn’t skimp on the artwork either.  Juan Ryp returns to the Batman Family.  Ryp illustrated a phenomenal Batgirl in The Birds of Prey.  In the Batman and Robin Annual, he weaves a potent narrative in which a badass Batman in perfect proportion with a boisterous Robin and a hilariously friendly Titus trash imaginative aliens.

Any thoughts that Mike Mignola may have grown tired of Hellboy vanish in this book.  We opened with a monster that turned out to be a twist on Scooby-Doo.  That wasn't the end of it.

The unmasking led to something even weirder.

The bodies sent the plot veering into Frankenstein territory.  That would have been enough, but Mignola simply wasn't done. 

Yes, we have a head in a jar that has offered his research as a prize for history's most insane.  Still not enough.  This issue demonstrates what will become Hellboy's trademark...

...beating the crap out of monsters.  The story also answers a question and paves the way for more early adventures.  Fan-tas-ic.

Saturday Afternoon at the Movies

I never saw a Fast and Furious movie, until now.  All those dudes and Michelle Rodriquez.  I figured she would get shorted out of screen time.  This one looked different.  Ms. Rodriquez posted a behind the scenes look at her fight scene with a Ronda Rousy, a UFC champ, and I always support actors who do their own action scenes.  I also liked that Jason Statham was among the cast as the villain.

Statham has a personal vendetta against the team of street outlaws, and he goes out to hunt them down one by one.  It's not a complex film, but it's not as shallow as you may think.  Chances are, Furious 7 will surprise you.  It surprised me in several moments.

The plot is clever, and the car stunts outstanding.  There's an early establishment of how far Statham and Vin Diesel are willing to go, and it's a jarring moment.  Later there's a beautiful physics lesson involving an elastic collision.  The fight between Rodriguez and Rousy is definitely worth seeing, and the other cast members are engaging in their roles.  

People that are fans of the series and Paul Walker aficionados will be impressed by just how frequent he's in each scene.  The cast's affection for the late actor gives what could have been a good, solid action film additional kindness and heart.

If I had one complaint it's that as inventive as the stunts and the action are, the dialogue could have used trimming in some places.  For example, it wasn't necessary for the Rock to look at a conflagration and the camera to close in on him just so we could hear him grumble "Torino."  That scene would have been more effective silent.  I know.  It's a Fast and Furious movie.  It's not Shakespeare, but that doesn't mean you should treat it with any less respect.  Largely the filmmakers do.  

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