Tuesday, May 19, 2015

POBB: May 13, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
May 13, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this week’s docket it’s Black Cross, Captain Marvel, Joe Frankenstein, Legendary Green Hornet, Reyn, Southern Cross and Thor.  I’ll also review the new Max Max movie.

Before Thor reveals her identity to readers, but nobody else, she attacks the Destroyer with Odinson, Freya and a whole cadre of women from Marvel as backup.

These hootenannies usually fly one way or the other.  The writer may not be familiar with all the characters, and he'll give them throw away lines while concentrating on his star.  

The presence of the guest stars merely act as a colorful backdrop representing the larger universe and as fan service should any character be a particularly hot commodity.  

Alternately, the writer can be so in tune with the cosmos in which he works, that every character rings true and has a part to play.

As you can see by the examples, Jason Aaron strikes a decent balance.  As a result, the battle against the Destroyer turns into a rather exciting mini-foray.

Then quit acting like one.

Thor strives to be worthy of Mjonlir's might.  She insists that she can fight the Destroyer alone, but this isn't just any battle.  The All-Father Odin wants that hammer back in the hands of his son.

When the smoke clears, Odinson has a heart-to-heart with Thor, and this considerably lightens the mood since Thor makes as about as good a detective as Inspector Clouseau.

Russell Dauterman illustrates the entirety with his customary skill.  Thor looks formidable as do the guest contingent.  Should Dauterman ever tire of this gig, Avengers could be in his future.

Captain Marvel returns to earth, but instead of parties and welcome wishes, she finds death.

Introduced way back in seventies Ms. Marvel, Tracy Burke was Carol’s photojournalist friend turned mentor.  Carol hired Tracy as editor for her magazine.  Tracy as we learned in a previous issue was battling cancer, and she passed away while Carol pursued her space adventures.

Tracy left Carol a legacy of personal items.  These things reveal important moments; not just in the relationship between Carol and Tracy but also those shared by Tracy and her lover Teddy, also dead.  Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick grants more flesh to these second and third tier characters than most writers imbue to their stars.

DeConnick handles Tracy’s gay lifestyle overtly, which indicates just how much Marvel has evolved as a provider of literature.  It should be known that Marvel was always on the forefront of this particular battle.  The editorial board which allows for writer whim to seep through the adventures occasionally gave the staff freedom when depicting different orientations.  

The Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #33

Colleen Wing was the first bisexual woman depicted in comics.  This was done however with extreme subtlety.  You had connect the dots to Marvel's magazine line.  Oh, and it's hardly a big deal now, but the relationship between Iron Fist and Misty Knight was certainly something remarkable back in the day.

Marvel Team-Up #64

We gauge a work's maturity by the author’s willingness to reflect the modern world.  Comic books could have been considered "kid's stuff" simply because they were prohibited to explore certain areas of culture.  However even books without pictures depicting gay and lesbian characters were not widely accepted by the general public until the sixties.  Before this the most successful work demonstrating lesbian love was Sheridan Le Fanu's short story "Carmilla," but he buried the message beneath vampirism.  Thus, excusable.

In any case, Tracy’s sexual orientation is mere sub-theme.  Captain Marvel appears to be about death, and for awhile it seems that Ms. DeConnick is attempting a bid for the Alison Bechdel Medal of Honor.  Observe also that the women die as they do in any chick flick.  Slowly without spectacle. 

The tale continuously teeters on the line between sincerity and the maw of pretentiousness, but then you reach the end, and you realize, that no, Captain Marvel is taking the piss out of melodramatic twaddle.  

This is also where artist David Lopez's timing, not just his talent for a Chuck Jones range of expression comes in.  Without it, DeConnick's bash at maudlin sentiment would have fallen flat.  Captain Marvel instead is a remedy for saccharine.

Alex Braith keeps seeing immolated people on The Southern Cross.  She expects to be treated like a mental patient.  The Captain however believes her, though not in the way that she would like.

This idea of of seeing phantasms due to starship technology was first examined, albeit hilariously, in one of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics short stories.  So it's nice to see scribe Becky Cloonan resurrect a science fiction tradition.

Cloonan employs the mirages as a red herring as well as a symptom of her future world.  The clever twist also allows Alex to encounter the people she needs to answer her question.  

In this way, Cloonan recapitulates the mystery format in a new attractive skin courtesy of Andy Belanger and Lee Louridge.

Despite my spot-on deductions, Reyn is still just as exciting the first issue.  That’s because Kel Symons and Nate Stockman with Paul Little populate the starship with all sorts of lethal lifeforms.

Death by menagerie entertains by the bucketful, and Reyn still deals with the Salamanders that have taken over the world.  In addition, Reyn’s dawn goddess Aurora proves to be even more ephemeral although the reader can now see her as well as her champion.

In the steampunk world of Legendary, the Green and Brass Hornets team up to kick ass and compare notes.  This book is a blast from start to finish thanks to artist Brent Peeples and Mike Bartolo. 

Writer Daryl Gregory, in addition to focusing on the Green Hornet, also builds on the major bad behind the scenes of Legendary.  He does this through the eyes of rueful demon bride wife Lidia Valcallan.

The regrets of the femme fatale combined with the uber fighting create a free-wheeling atmosphere similar that of the cult television series with Van Williams and Bruce Lee.

Black Cross actually surprised me by touching on the Project Superpowers team introduced in the nascent days of Dynamite publishing.  Ostensibly this is what he book is supposed to be about, but it's been a slow burn.  

The public domain superstars--such as Black Terror, Green Lama and Lady Satan--were tricked into Pandora’s Box (urn) but released into the modern world in Alex Ross’ subsequent series.  

Warren Ellis doesn’t undo what mythology Ross established.  Instead, he explains this new incursion with a clever twist of mysticism and goes farther than the shinier Ross, in terms of mature content.

That's gotta hurt.  Ellis appears to be playing with the idea of giants in a world reflective of our reality.  In other words, the heroes and their hosts do not know their limits and therefore do not hold back.  The tone makes the gritty illustration of Colton Worley particularly apropos.

Last but not least, the Bride of Frankenstein unleashes ghoulish hordes on Joe Frankenstein and the Creature of legend.  In the process, the Creature relates his origins. Chuck Dixon while accepting the crimes outlined in Frankenstein, suggests that the years of solitude gave the Creature insight into his own violent nature.  

Young Joe will need all the protection he can get as the Frankenstein team assault the Bride’s headquarters in search of Joe's girlfriend, Skye, kidnapped as bait.

Graham Nolan's artwork is as impressive as it always has been, and he and Dixon make a perfect team, in synch with each other's ideas.  Dixon is more Elmore Leonard than Raymond Chandler, and as a result there's an underlying lightness to the whole affair that gives way to humor.

At the same time, there's a serious point to the entire exercise of everlasting evil that must be stopped.  

The Saturday Afternoon Movie

So here’s the thing.  One of my least favorite genres of film is post-apocalyptic.  Frankly, I think this form of cinema is too optimistic.  

The Day After is the most realistic post-apocalyptic film.  It tells it like it is.  Should some nut start a nuclear war, we’re all dead.  We die either quickly or slowly, but the human race ceases to exist.   

So, yeah.  Mad Max wasn’t on my RADAR despite Charlize Theron being in the film.  Then I found out that director George Miller invited Eve Ensler to consult.  For those not in the know, Eve Ensler is the writer of The Vagina Monologues.  That’s just her claim to fame, and The Vagina Monologues has gotten a bad rap over the years because people can’t get past the title and don’t know what it’s really about.  Doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that Eve Ensler is an activist.  She supports women subjected to horror.  I was going to say violence and rape, but frankly, those phrases lack the potency that they once carried.

Eve Ensler has encountered women that experienced genital mutilation and repeated gang rape.  See.  That’s horror.  Maybe horror isn’t specific enough, but it’s vagueness strikes with greater impact.  Anyway, when I found out that Miller wanted to give the women in his story greater depth, courtesy of Ensler, I started leaning toward seeing Mad Max.  Not quite there yet.  A kind of oh-I’ll-see-it-on-DVD kind of state.  What made my decision was this backlash by the so called Men’s Rights Movement.  

If there’s one thing men don’t need it’s a Men’s Rights Movement, and if the he-man-woman-hating promise keeping assholes protested Max Max then as a feminist, I felt I had to see the movie.  So I did.

Mad Max Fury Road creates a violent opera on the screen.  It can be overwhelming, and because of the caveats outlined in my preamble, I found the movie at first uninvolving.  I still felt good about my decision to see the film to spite the Men’s Rights Movement, but I just couldn’t grasp this thing in front of my eyes.  

I tried to think of the setting as an alien world and not a ravaged earth.  That didn’t work.  Too many tricked out vehicles of destruction.  Too many artifacts.  As I watched the film, I stopped trying to adapt it in my mind-set.  Instead, I just accepted the immersive domain as a metaphor, something I usually hate to do.  Suddenly everything fit into place.  Though Miller touches upon the reasons for the earth’s demise, it’s not really important.  Fury Road is about people and the future of humanity not the backdrop. 

The original Mad Max was a more or less contemporary revenge film.  Road Warrior turned the collapse of civilization into Grand Guignol entertainment.  In this same hyper-nucleated desert of death, Mad Max still roams.  He avoids mutants and people.  This version of Mad Max lacks hope.  Miller’s film is not a prequel.  It’s not in truth a sequel.  It’s a continuation and a beginning. 

It’s easy to see why the idiots in the Men’s Rights Movement would hate Fury Road.  If any of them had the courage to see it, they may start to question their own credos.  The feminist message in Mad Max is there, plain to see, but it’s there for a reason.  You cannot propose the end of civilization without the subjugation of women.  To do so however runs the danger of exploitation.  Miller did right.  He tapped a fount of knowledge for the actresses to draw from.  He didn’t shy away from the repulsive female hating nature of Mad Max’s enemies, and at the same time, he doesn’t drop into the madonna/whore trap.  These women are turned into both through male domination not by the director.  The director is the documentarian.

The Grand Mutant Poobah of the rock uses women as chattel to perpetuate the race in the image of his abhorrent design, but the tortures women experience go farther than that and must be seen to fully appreciate.  Enter Furiosa portrayed by Charlize Theron.  She seeks an alternative to the hell she experienced.  She seeks redemption for participating in this terrible masterplan, in the name of survival.  She seeks a memory of salvation and intends to abscond with those willing to escape.  The women that dare to think there’s something better than being enslaved by scum.

Tom Hardy assumes the role of Mad Max, and he at first comes along with Furiosa unwillingly as part and parcel of the horrendous perversion of culture that developed without democracy or even modern day tyranny, a cut above the abattoir fiefdom.  

The world of Fury Road is quite frankly unimaginable.  On this future earth, Hardy is terse and gruff, but far easier to understand than when he portrayed Bane.  Hardy lets his actions speak for him, but the level of acting in this movie is such that you can see the depth and nuance in his expression, and as he begins to hope again, the change in character is quite startling.

Mad Max is unabashedly an action film, but with it’s feminist message, the makers of the experience ask a question.  Are humans better than savages? By the end of the movie, you will know their answer.  Nicholas Hoult, who embodied Hank McCoy in the most recent X-Men films, is pivotal in conveying what Fury Road is really about, and he presents the importance with all the gravitas he can muster.  I walked away from Fury Road feeling even better about the choice I made.

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