Tuesday, May 26, 2015

POBB: May 20, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
May 20, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, or maybe I should call it Vampirella in the Brown Bag.

In the 1970s, Vampirella was a newsprint styled magazine.  It became a comic book.  It reverted back to a magazine, albeit glossier, then returned to comic book format a second time.  Dynamite publishes no less than three Vampirella titles at the same time, and there’s another on the way.

Not much I can add to Legendary Vampirella.  This book rocks.  Back in Legendary, the Big Bads in their pursuit of the amnesiac Red Sonja announced themselves as Vampirella's enemy by tearing her Scarlet Club a new one.  While Vee intended on helping Red Sonja anyway, the wreckage made it personal.  That vendetta continues. 

In this chapter Vampirella demonstrates her feminist side by relying on the women of Steampunk.

Some of Vee’s confidants and allies are in fact based on reality. 

Pancho is Pancho Barnes.  Pancho was an honest to goodness adventurer in the vein of Indiana Jones turned movie stunt pilot. 

The art by David Cabera expresses the extreme pleasure Vampirella takes out of life.

Vampirella’s bedmate is a really obscure character from literature.    If you read the book, or saw one of several movie adaptations, the name Rudolph Rassendyll will plague you, as it did me.  I had to look him up.  Why shouldn't you?Thanks, wikipedia.  

The name dropping however isn’t important.  Vampirella demonstrates a positive attitude toward sex, and writer David Avallone puts her on equal footing with James Bond.  The sexual liberation isn’t the only aspect Vampirella shares with Bond.

After disposing of the stormtroopers, the Big Bads make Vampirella an offer they feel she cannot refuse.

Yeah, it’s a little too late to kiss and make up.  Kurtz though drawing from the wellspring of Citizen Kane also embodies the nut-bar Colonel Kurtz more from Apocalypse Now than Heart of Darkness.  His political ambitions seem less and less likely to bear fruit now that Vampirella knows him, but just as the story appears to be coming to a close, Dr. Moreau interrupts with a surprise designed specifically to kill our lady of darkness.  Will the thing succeed? Find out at the stirring finale, which spotlights Vee’s resilience.

Vampirella takes the title character into different territory.  When Vampirella killed her brother Drago to rid herself of the curse her arch-nemesis inflicted, she inherited a kingdom.  She is the queen of the Nosferatu.

Full-blooded author Nancy Collins could have blown that off, using the implication as a mere backdrop.  Instead, Vampirella attempts to rule.  Her first act seen by the reader.  To shut down a blood farm.  

This was another easy out for Collins if she chose to take it.  She could have simply said that feeding on blood was wrong.  Vampirella is one of the few allegedly altruistic vampires that can justifiably argue this side.  Only under the most desperate circumstances does Vee feed on humans.  Those occasions can be counted on fingers and toes in a span ranging from the seventies to present day adventures.   Vampirella's supreme control of her thirst distinguishes her from her ilk.  In any case, Collins establishes Vee's willingness to accept blood as a necessity to nourish her kingdom.  She's simply not willing to take the blood.  

As the story continues, Collins sketches a day in the life of Ella Normandy, Nosferatu queen.  Eve holds court.  She meets a loyal, royal relation.

She learns about the brother she had to kill, and the insight exemplifies Collins' fine skill.  Collins drops a moving short horror story amidst the normal trappings of Vampirella.  That tale within a tale focuses on Drago and his human wife. 

Despite the relative quiet unfolding of this Vampirella issue, Patrick Berkenkotter's artwork doesn't lose a tic of quality.  Berkenkotter is known better for his depiction of pulchritude and violence.  Here, he takes advantage of the opportunity to present realism in expression amidst an argument, Vee's foul mood and the contentious countenances of various plotters seeking to overthrow Vampirella's rule.  Berkenkotter even approaches the drama in the flashback with Drago subtly.  He furthermore originates characters as the story progresses, and you can appreciate the diversity he gives to the uniformly grotesque Nosferatu.

Vampirella teams-up with Dynamite’s other femme fatale Jennifer Blood in a Nancy Collins’ tie-in to The Swords of Sorrow.  I’m not reading the main title.  So I have no idea what’s going on there, what the swords of sorrow are, etc.  Fortunately, I didn’t need any previous knowledge.  This is just a really well-written Vampirella team-up book with some underlying themes that enhance the plot rather than muddle it.

The story opens with Vampirella encountering the Pacifica Slasher, uncovering his secret and rescuing a would-be victim.  Vee calls such a chain of events Thursday.  The guy would have been toast had it not been for a convenient escape phenomenon probably triggered by a Sword of Sorrow.  Vampirella naturally follows.  She ends up on a parallel earth populated nevertheless by certain people in the know.

Throughout the story, Collins assumes Vampirella is self-explanatory, and only includes strategic mentions of her updates.  Collins spends more time informing the reader about Jennifer Blood.  This is a wise decision since multiple generations have been exposed to Vampirella in some form or another.  Even if a comic book reader has never once read one of her adventures, they still know of her.  Jennifer Blood, not so much.

Jennifer Blood is a massive train wreck of a character.  I’m glad I ignored her book because I doubt I could find it plausible for a few seconds.  Benevolent vampire hottie from Drakulon is a helluva lot easier to accept.

Jennifer Blood is on the same trail but from a different starting point.  Collins’ villain only assumes the identity of a serial killer.  He’s much more than that.  Nevertheless, Collins sticks to crime terminology to explain his actions and that tiny touch further grounds the story into Kolchak territory; i.e. monsters prowling in the modern world and being mistaken for ordinary human refuse.

This split is also seen in the artwork.  Artist Dave Acosta keeps Vampirella squarely in superhero/action territory.  She rescues the damsel in distress.  She high kicks the bad guy and dives right in for more danger.  She tucks a dagger in her boot like Modesty Blaise might and drops from the sky as if she were a Kryptonian from the shadows. 

Jennifer Blood is a different sort of animal with a different type of arena.  Acosta’s Jennifer Blood is seedy in disguise amidst seamy surroundings.  She works out, and she’s blunt with axes and blades.  

In terms of characterization, Collins, while not shying away from Jennifer Blood’s less savory past, treats her like a protagonist rather than hero.  Blood likes killing, and she targets the villains of the world because she possesses a margin of decency.  Vampirella is as always an outright champion.  She likes humans and doesn't want to see them harmed.  While Vampirella and Jennifer Blood do not get along, their personalities entertain with friction as well as an overall union in the hunting monsters that would prey on the innocent.  I look forward to the next issue.

Django and Zorro finishes with a massive upheaval of the Archduke of Arizona and his fledgling empire.  While Django becomes a narrative archaeologist on slave culture, with an insider's view, he leads a revolt of the natives the Archduke forced into servitude.

Oh, and he kills that son-of-bitch.

Anvil's death is not really a spoiler.  It's the way Django kills him that proffers the dark humor of Django's personality.

Equally impressive Don Diego De La Vega confronts the so-called Archduke with a derision of his selfishness and divine right.  

Every precise word of Don Diego's speech is remarkable in that as you read you realize that only Zorro could have possibly have said such dialogue.  This is how Don Diego really feels.  He is absolutely sincere in his belief that the nobility must serve the common good.

As Don Diego speaks it seems so obvious that he is in fact Zorro, yet the Archduke is so wrapped up in his blind vision that he can't see it, even when he puts on the mask.  You become aware that secret identities in general are often protected by the self-delusions of others.

Tarantino and Wagner drop their focus to Zorro and Django, but they also with artist Esteves Polls, visually cue The Mark of Zorro with its extras filled finale.  

Taking Django and Zorro into consideration with the classic, the message is clear.  Zorro is a symbolic catalyst.  Wherever Zorro goes the downtrodden rise up and overthrow their cruel oppressors.  He inspires others, even the cynical Django, to follow the conscience.  From start to finish Django and Zorro is something special.

I was really hoping A-Force would be something big, but it’s just odd, and that’s because it relies on Marvel’s big house cleaning Secret Wars as its story shaper.  

Baroness? What the hell?

So, based on what I gleaned from this book...A version of Dr. Doom has somehow taken over or established a barony and appointed She-Hulk as its Baroness.  She and a team of super heroines protect the barony from menaces like this issue's Megalodon, an actual prehistoric shark displaced by parties unknown.  Although a seeming Utopia, Doom has laid down rules to obey.  Else punishment results.

A-Force isn't like X-Men, which is just the female X-Men kicking ass and being superheroes.  The personalities of the Avengers feel disconnected resulting from I don't know...growing up in a barony? Mind-Control? You decide.  That's not what I came here for.  I wanted banter based on long friendships, a good story and cool uses of superpowers.  What I got was confusing characterization that undermined the super powered woman fighting giant shark scenario, which should have been an easy sell.

The whole culture and history of these familiar-looking heroes is different, and you might like that, but I didn't.  Loki's back to being a woman, and she's the guardian of Captain America Jr. and the raven-haired gal.  Medusa's looking for any opportunity to usurp She-Hulk's rule over the realm.  Captain Marvel is off, and the friendships between the women lack the resonance drawn from the sliding six-year scale of history that Marvel traditionally followed.  

This is also another case of really good artwork going to waste for a subpar story.  I mean if you're a fan of female super heroes, you want to see them at their best, and Jorge Molina gives you that in spades.  

No, Jill Lepore, these women do not look like porn stars, and I'm certain quite a few adult performers keep in tip-top shape like a minority of regular folk.  The Avengers look like athletes.  

Learn the difference.  If Jorge Molina continues to be part of the series, I'll definitely pick this up in trade or hardback.  The art is worth it.

John Shaft determines who murdered Arletha the woman he loved, and proceeds to beat him to death with his bare hands.

David Walker's conclusion to Shaft results in the grindhouse hero fully matured.  Throughout the book you saw how John Shaft could have had a happy, normal life, sublimating a killer instinct honed in Viet Nam, with the sincerity of love and purpose.  Thanks to the events depicted in Walker's superb hard-boiled treatise John Shaft is an outlier. 

Our final contender has a long and esteemed history.  Douglas Adams is best known for creating multi-media hit The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Lesser known is that Adams was a writer and script editor for Doctor Who during the mid seasons of the Tom Baker era.  The novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency was in its rough draft a script Adams wrote for Doctor Who.  So, if you notice a similarity between Dirk Gently and The Doctor, you're not seeing things.

The main difference between the two besides of course a different character history is that Dirk Gently doesn't believe in randomness.  He sees the universe as inexorably connected, and will go to absurd lengths to prove the point.  The Doctor is a scientist and therefore much more rational.  Even if he appears mad, the Doctor always has a method.  Dirk Gently not so much.

The bag theft leads to a hunt in which Gently is unaware of being the quarry.  The jovial, perplexing Gently is in good hands with writer Chris Ryall, and the fun art by Tony Akins and company adds to the bounce of the whole absurdity.

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