Tuesday, May 5, 2015

POBB April 29, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 29, 2015
Ray Tate

This week I review Jungle Jim, Justice League, Red One, new book Scarlett Couture and Superman. Here's your one sentence review of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Go and see it.

I take it Superman and Justice League are a couple of weeks late.  Else they wouldn't be adding color, and I dunno imagination, to shelves filled with cover displays of half-faces seen in the shimmer of Star Trek transporter beams.  Are these books worth buying?  Only Superman, and that's with the caveats below.

Superman is bone stupid and reflects writer John Romita Jr's unfamiliarity with the DC pantheon.  The story's plot is simple.  Superman's powers have gone wonky again, and he asks the Justice League to test them.

Take in that picture.  Batman's smiling, with his cape off and drinking coffee.  I mean.  You can have one of those things per issue, but all three at the same time?  Batman also talks as if happy.  This guy, despite the ears and the more "realistic" costume, is the Silver Age Batman, which is probably where Romita's knowledge of the DC characters ends.  It's not unfair to suggest Romita is more in tune with Marvel.  He worked there for years.  This Batman is the same Batman trying to get rid of a bomb.

Wonder Woman wears a robe.  Wonder Woman in a robe and in uniform.  Why?  You know what.  The boys are coming over, and I'm wearing my costume, which is quite revealing and flusters them ever so.  Better put on a robe.  

All right.  All right.  Let's really rationalize.  Give Romita the benefit of the doubt.  The satellite harbors quarters for each member of the Justice League.  Maybe Wonder Woman took a shower, put on a robe and took a nap after a particularly mind-numbing tour of monitor duty.  That's plausible.  She was notified of the other Leaguers' arrival.  Rather than take off the robe, she put on her uniform while wearing the robe.  The costume is sleeveless so that's also plausible.  It's a long way to go, but eventually we come to a satisfactory conclusion.

The Silver Age behavior of the League continues as the Super-Friends take pleasure in pulling Superman through the wringer.  Now, yeah.  In any era, the heroes might get a kick out of this whole thing, but Batman cracking jokes?  Either Batman just had sex with Catwoman, takes the edge off don't you now, or Romita just doesn't know Batman.

After the rigorous display, the heroes go out for brewskis, including Batman.  I'm not going to nitpick about the whole ginger ale for champagne thing that Frank Miller of all people introduced to the Batman mythos.  Batman could relax every once in a decade and have a frosty one.  Wonder Woman probably had a helluva lot stronger.  Aquaman's totally dependent on liquids anyway, and Barry Allen can't get drunk.  

Alcohol in a comics code authority approved work would have been taboo.  Nevertheless, this is the closest thing to the Silver Age Justice League you'll get.  Sure.  Romita updates Wonder Woman to mirror a more modern attitude.  She's after all considered one of the gang, not relegated to coffee duties.  There's also a great scene where Aquaman as a gag half-heartedly attempts to cover her eyes when Superman's naked, and she waves away his hand.  No.  It's all right.  I've seen penises before.

Given all these pitfalls, you're probably wondering why I'm recommending Superman.  Honestly.  It's absolutely charming.  I mean, yes, it's incredibly dumb, but you kind of wish that the Justice League were actually portrayed as friends like these.  The camaraderie that Romita imbues to the cast is engaging, and it's unique because even in the Bronze Age the League were never like this.  And forget the post-Crisis.  This is a Justice League with a Silver Age Core; a Bronze Age Wonder Woman, but with the boys' attitudes adjusted for the times.  Maybe if Batman were a little more dour, I could enjoy the adventures of this group on a continuing basis.

In addition to these assets, Superman benefits from Romita's and inker Klaus Janson's artwork.  All right.  I don't know what's up with Barry Allen's terrible hat, but all of the other Leaguers are beautifully designed, with Wonder Woman earning gold; surprisingly Batman earning the silver followed by Aquaman with the bronze.  Dean White's colors also pop.

Justice League on the other hand operates on a whole different kind of stupid.   It's dark stupid.  DC's Moondragon, Metron flits around in his Mobius Chair and does nothing but observe unless grave consequences impend.  He for example watches a neophyte super-hero snuff it.


The story goes on to tell us everything we already know.  Look! It's the Crisis of Infinite Earths...and the rest.

The implication is that Metron is always Metron.  He's either the same Metron introduced by Jack Kirby in The New Gods  (Most likely since preserving Jack Kirby's creations has always been a prime directive of writers and artists at DC)...

Wait.  This again?

...or the memory of previous Metrons gets passed on to the next incarnation of the sphincter.

Neither one of those possibilities makes a lick of sense given the implications of what we learn in the final pages of Justice League, and the fraying of reality doesn't make sense either given that the new 52 according to Flashpoint is the strongest of all cosmoses.  I concur with that assessment since Batgirl is literally kicking ass again.  Justice League is a waste of time, and I can't think of any diehard Kevin Maguire fans musing, "Damn, I wish I had some more of that ever so sweet Metron art."

I so want to like Red One, and I kind of do.  Xavier Dorison and the Dobsons have created a one-of-a-kind superhero.  The open minded Vera Russlan is a search-and-rescue operative from Russia calling out a fascist dubbed the Carpenter.

She's got skills, our Red One.  Deadly skills and a passion for equality.

All through the tale, Red One fights injustice in the porn shops and in a groovy orgy pad.  She protects lesbians from overall persecution, and prevents the murder of free speech.

The trouble is that I grew up in the seventies, and it was one of the most permissive times in United States history.  Jackasses who think like the Carpenter and his throng existed, but they weren't organized, and they didn't seek political office.  Ostensibly, the USSR sent Red One to thwart not just the Carpenter but also the Presidential bid of his biggest fan--a moon-faced pastor named Jacky Core.  Somehow this is going to throw a spanner in the SALT talks.

Red One is just damn frustrating.  The plot doesn't make any sense, especially for someone who lived in the seventies, but it stars one helluva a hero.  If Dorison had set Red One in the modern day, it would be perfectly reasonable because the Right Wing has a highchair at the table.  The fruitcake section of Congress continues to denigrate women's rights.  They want marriage to be defined as a union, though not sexual, between a man and a woman.  Several of them probably want white in the definition.   They want to ban science.  They want to fuck with history.  The world would be a nightmarish place if any of these nut-jobs gained the Presidency, and I'm sure that Red One's Russian roots could be explained within the context of the current geopolitical arena.  Maybe suggest that Putin wants to polish his image after the Ukraine/Crimea move.  He wants to go back to a best both worlds Russia as seen in Sochi.

Scarlett Couture is pretty much a showcase for Des Taylor's impressive artwork.  If the name sounds familiar.  You may be remembering this:

Taylor's latest doesn't try to reinvent anything either.  Instead, Taylor creates a premise that could have been a syndicated television series from the nineties.

He then tries to make this premise as presentable as possible.

It's rather refreshing to see a creator do something tried and true but attempt to hone that concept to perfection.  For instance, Scarlett runs out of bullets.  She has a reason for not waiting for backup.  She judiciously uses plausible high tech equipment to aid in her mission.  The women are not just shown as victims.  However two are victimized and not in a pleasant way.

You may be surprised that I'm not crying foul over this scene.  Scarlett Couture isn't for kids.  That scenario is perfectly acceptable for adults because it doesn't talk down to the audience.  It's grindhouse nasty.  It's not sexist because the guy's scum.  He'd be happy to murder a dude in the same way.  The tone isn't dank.  Thanks to Scarlett Couture, there are a few happy endings.

It's Jim time.  His name is Jungle Jim.  He was a typical big game bwana B-Side of the Flash Gordon comic strip way back in the thirties.  Bwanas are right up there with lawn jockeys in terms of racism.  So, writer Paul Tobin did a drastic overhaul of Jungle Jim for Dynamite.  

Jungle Jim is an adventurer from the 1800s who gets trapped on Mongo and almost turned into one of Ming's beast men.  Instead, Jim becomes eternal and a shape-shifter.  His legend spreads, and soon on the planet Arboria, another reorganized character from Jim's comic strip triggers the plot.

Lille Devrille turned into blue-skinned native under the protection of Prince Barin seeks Jim to free her brother Daris from Ming's clutches.  Jim gets the notion to trick Ming into brining Daris to Arboria so he and the rebels can snatch him.

The way Tobin writes Jim is eye-opening.  Regressing Jim to a different kind of Big Game Hunter gives Tobin the free reign he needs to smack liberal doses of humor to the drama. Jim's dialogue is tear-inducing at times, and while he presents himself as a fool, Jim is actually quite intelligent.   He's also not the shallow buffoon he appears.

There's obviously a lot more to that scene, and it's well worth reading since Tobin answers numerous questions while layering more depth to Jungle Jim.  The scenario furthermore gives artist Sandy Jarrell the opportunity to not just strut his technical skills but also demonstrate his sense of timing and artistic understatement.  Not to be ignored or missed.

Oh, and after you're done reading the POBB.  If you've got nothing more pressing to do, check out my article at Cult Box.  


No comments:

Post a Comment