Tuesday, April 14, 2015

POBB: April 8, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 8, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  Because of DC’s Convergence, which after this sentence I will be totally ignoring, I don’t have a lot of comic books to review this week, but is it quality over quantity? Read on as I examine Avengers Millennium, Howard the Duck, Legendary: Green Hornet, the first issue of The Masks sequel, Southern Cross, Spider-Woman, the final issue of the insanely entertaining Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes and Vampirella.

You know before that trailer, you know the one, I doubted Marvel would be able to pull off The Guardians of the Galaxy, but after the trailer, like everybody else online, and not, I became a fan.  That said.  I’m not a Brian Michael Bendis fan.  So I’ve been avoiding the comic book as well as the team-up title, until last week.  John Layman wrote the most recent issue of Guardians of the Galaxy Team-Up, and it was pretty entertaining. 

I can’t say that I’m a huge Duck follower.  In general.  I mean I like Daffy Duck, and Donald Duck had his moments, but the whole Carl Barks type Duckworld thing wasn’t my bag.  Howard the Duck seemed like a parody of that, but it wasn’t.  Arguably, Frank Brunner created the template for Howard the Duck in Quack magazine…

…but he hasn’t objected to Steve Gerber getting the credit.  So why should I?  Besides, Gerber made Howard the Duck the weird little waddler he was, and it’s why I rarely ever picked up an issue of Howard the Duck.  Anyway.  The Guardians’ guest appearance are the only reason I’m trying the new Howard the Duck title by writer Chris Zdarsky and illustrators Joe Quinones, Joe Rivera and Rico Renzi.

Rocket represents most of the Guardians action, but the entire team makes a destructive entrance later in the story.  The book’s frequently funny and uniformly goofy.  Exactly as I remember the scant issues of Howard the Duck I read.  So, yeah, if you’re a fan of this mallard, you’ll feel right at home.  If you dig the Guardians of the Galaxy, read on.  The art’s also very inviting.

Howard the Duck is a private eye in the series, but a more serious yet still fun look at a detective/superhero can be found in Spider-Woman.

In her previous book from the seventies, Jessica Drew was uber cool in demeanor, and that’s what we get here from writer Dennis Hopeless.  Jessica questions the Porcupine.  She ignores his jabs at her character.  She goes on the hunt for information through encounters with other likely suspects.

Her foray leads to hilarious heists that blow back in the faces of D-List villains and Spider-Woman action.  Ben Urich joins in on Spider-Woman’s investigation, and that’s only fair since he put her on the trail in the first place.

When the smoke clears on a fiendish trap, Spider-Woman weaves the perfect intrigue to find the culprits and ready the kibosh on a far-reaching scheme.  Jessica rightly deduces that the penny-ante crimes cannot be the ultimate goal.

As you can see the artwork is just stunning with marvelous cinematography  that hearkens back to the Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade era of detective film.  Even if one puts aside the clear allusions, Javier Rodriguez just makes Jess beautiful and brassy and every panel exciting.

The Southern Cross is a massive spacecraft built like the offspring of a luxury liner and a battleship.  It punches through wormholes to travel the stars and make ports of call to other planets.  Miners of the Zemi Corporation are the natural inhabitants of the leviathan, but the Captain also ferries passengers outside of corporate affairs.  Alex is one such passenger.

Alex seeks answers to her sister's death, ruled accidental, and she's not alone in her suspicions.  A true detective is also on board.  Make that was.

Becky Cloonan's mystery thickens with this new disappearance, a suicide in the past and a riveting investigation that could fit snugly into a crime story from 1930s onward.  

The dance steps by artists Andrew Belanger and Lee Louridge are new, but the gist is still the same.  Question persons of interest.  Follow the leads.  Hunt for information, and in the case of Cloonan create a cast of unusual characters and a sharp-eyed sleuth.

Oh, it’s a weekly.  All right then.  Avengers Milliennium this week sends two away teams back in time.  The teams unfortunately experience time/space turbulence that splits them into three.  

Captain America, Hawkeye and Quicksilver end up in the prehistoric past.  Iron Man, Spider-Man and Black Widow hit World War II while the Hulk and Scarlet Witch wind up in a desiccated future.  The reason why the future isn’t so bright?  Hydra.

The overarching plot still remains a mystery, but writer Mike Costa heightens the funny, straight out the gate.

Spider-Man and Hawkeye serve a dual role this issue.  In the debut they behaved like the team jackasses; I think it was John Byrne who deemed that every team needs at least one jackass to stir things up.  This issue they behave like jackasses and contribute to the plot.  Hawkeye figures out the reason why Hydra sent a mcguffin back in time.

Spider-Man meanwhile…

Spidey may be commenting on more recent journeys through time and space, but I’d like to think Costa refers to this seminal highly recommended three or four issue story spanning Marvel Team-Up.

Spider-Man learned a valuable lesson at the end of that tale.  Maybe that lesson informs his advice to Captain America.

When the team travel through time, the lion’s share of the hi-jinks happen amid the Holocene.  So that dinosaur on the cover is a total fake out.  

Maybe it’s a previously unknown mammal with mange.   In any case, the heroes tip-toe in their battle against Hydra so as not to greatly disturb the flora and fauna around them.  This added theme of not stepping on the butterflies generates some great wow moments for Captain America, and makes Avengers Millennium a must for Cap fans.

I have a great deal of love for Cullen Bunn's writing.  He gave me scenes like this....

...and this...

Unfortunately his latest, the sequel to the entertaining Masks leaves much to be desired for.  The trouble lies in Cullen Bunn's characterization of the heroes, licensed by Dynamite and legendary in pulp circles.

The story opens with the Shadow and the Green Hornet decimating the forces of skull-masked goons with terrorism on their minds.

Cullen Bunn's personae for the Green Hornet and Kato is the only facet of the story that rings true.  The Hornet and Kato work as a well-oiled team.  With gas guns, hornet stings as well as martial arts action they behave like the champions of old.  

The rest of Bunn's cast act like different heroes only wearing the forms of the Pulps.  Bunn's Shadow is especially way off the charts.  In Masks 2 Electric Boogaloo, the Shadow behaves like Spider-Man and the Punisher all in one.

The Shadow was lethal, of that you can be sure, but in this story he exhibits no subtlety.  You can argue that this confrontation with the skull flunkies of The Red Death represents the finish to the case.  In other words, the Shadow's agents already contributed to the puzzles and the overall investigation leading to this denouement, but there's still something off about it.

The Shadow was never so acrobatic.  He instead used the darkness and stillness to his advantage.   A more Shadowy move would be to let the gas seem to overcome him, laugh mirthlessly and appear to fade with the mist.  Thereby leaving his comrades dumbfounded.   The Shadow was enigmatic, doing things eerily and stealthily.  That was part of the Shadow's mystique.  You never really learned exactly who or what he was or how he came to be.  Furthermore, Bunn's Shadow keeps spouting only the aphorisms he's known for.  

I'm sorry to say that Bunn's Shadow is a parody of the complex exterminator of crime that for all intent and purpose was created by William B. Gibson.

The Shadow's not the only hero out of sorts.  The Black Terror is a dead ringer for Superman, and if you needed any proof, this scene is the clincher.

The sonic-boom handclap is a Superman move.  When the Green Lama arrives, he mimics the time traveling, planar distancing of Dr. Fate.  The Spider is the calmest I've ever seen him.  He's not maniacally killing anybody.  

Bunn’s Spider could be anybody including Aquaman from the Super-Friends to Zebra Man.   Only Lady Satan gets a pass because she's so obscure in comic book history that she may as well be a blank slate.  Bunn assumes a taint of evil.  So she's a bit more risqué than Miss Mask for example.

Bunn segues to a one-percent masquerade, and predictably, the heroes go as themselves.  That also strikes me as very odd.  The Green Hornet and Kato, yes.  The Shadow no.  The Shadow would likely attend as Lamont Cranston, in a domino mask or such.  Cranston is the Shadow's go-to guise for ritzy affairs.  Alternately, he might delegate that task to the Hornet and have him report later.

Although Bunn's Hornet is well characterized, the Green Hornet makes his best showing this week in the world of Legendary.  I missed the second issue so this will be a dual review.

In the second issue, The Hornet captured two gang lords for questioning, and the Hornet employs a special technique for rooting out the truth.

This hilarious moment leads to the Hornet and Kato searching for a Steampunk refugee from Oz.  The trouble is that the Hornet and Kato underestimate their foe.

The conclusion of the second issue leads to the Green Hornet's and Kato's thrilling escape.  Also in the third issue, our heroes meet the orchestrator of the marionette show.

No, not him.  

That's right.  It's the old tougher vigilante wants to replace the inefficient softer crimefighter game, but the Brass Hornet listens to reason.

Both the second and the third issue despite being Steampunk in the Legendary Universe conceived by Bill Williamson, feel like authentic Green Hornet adventures.  Writer Daryl Gregory and artist Brent Peeples infuse the Hornet with the energy and cut to the bone plotting to mimic the half-hour kinetics of the television series.  Gregory also imbues a strong sense of humor to the relationship of Green Hornet and Kato.  They seem even more like equals in this series, and that leads to added fun.

Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes ends on a really high note.  This is easily the best from the Tiptons, and discovery Rachael Stott should be the natural choice for future original series Star Trek material.  Her dead accurate and animated likenesses of William Shatner, James Doohan and the late great Leonard Nimoy as well as John Colicos on the Klingon side and apes Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans made this head-scratcher of a mashup a visual feast.  Even if the story hadn't been up to snuff, no worries there, the art alone would have made Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes a must purchase.

The Klingons invaded the alternate timeline of The Planet of the Apes for no real reason except this...

...Kirk totally doped out he situation, and all through this wonderfully nutty fan fiction, there's been this underlying question of why do it.  It turns out that while the Planet of the Apes have zero impact on the world of Star Trek, it's Star Trek that brilliantly fills the blanks in The Planet of the Apes movies.

Last but not least, Nancy Collins firmly roots Vampirella in her cosmology of Biblical myth.  She reveals Vampirella's father this issue and brings back her sister Draculina, most recently seen in Vampirella Feary Tales.  However, Collins is a student of Vampirella history.  Though a throwaway character never again seen until Nancy Collins resurrected her, Draculina appeared as narrator in Vampirella's historical second adventure.  She was basically the cut-to-the-chase girl.

Collins turns Draculina into an envious antagonist, leaving Patrick Berkenkotter the leave to choreograph a sexy cat-fight...

...which you'll have to look elsewhere for because despite Vampirella and Draculina wearing straps and boots for costumes, Berkenkotter eschews prurience for an outright hateful, disturbing battle between rivals.

I'm still not overly thrilled by the Biblical allegory in Vampirella.  I prefer her as a simple little ol' alien vampire from the planet Drakulon, but Collins is so imaginative when twisting The Bible so that it exists side by side with science and evolution that I really cannot complain.

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