Pick of the Brown Bag
May 6, 2015
Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag. In this blog, I review the best and the worst of the weekly haul of comic books. Criticism, comment and compliments are welcome. This week I look at Angel and Faith, Avengers vs., Baltimore: the Cult of the Red King, John Carter Warlord of Mars, Rocket Girl, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman and the Wonder Woman ’77 Special.
Avengers vs. is an anthology pitting mostly movie-characterized Avengers against well known Avengers foes including The Red Skull, Attuma, Frost Giants, MODOK and of course Loki. These identity reveals are no spoilers since each short story is an adventure tale. You're given no fair play clues to solve a mystery. Each of the stories has something going for it, and the artwork is uniformly appealing. So if you’re an Avengers fan, you’ll want to add this to your collection.
In “The Art of War” writer Joe Caramagna animates the statues of New York and forces the Avengers to fight the power of art. The living behemoths turn out to be a ploy conducted by the Red Skull wielding some high tech/ magic mojo. I like how Caramagna ties in the Nazi obsession with art, especially “decadent” art, and takes it to a comic book extreme.
In terms of writing, Iron Man is the most in character. You can easily imagine Robert Downey Jr. speaking Caramagna’s lines.
Black Widow would have sounded like Scarlett Johansson if not for her being drawn classically Widow, courtesy of Andrea DeVito and Laura Villari; it’s a psychological thing. Captain America mirrors the comic book Cap; not Chris Evans. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I like the Chris Evans Cap, and I’d like to see a book based on his portrayal of the star-spangled Avenger. Hulk is really talky and that just seems off to me, but I do love this gag.
In the second of Caramagna stories, Wellington Alves, Anderson Silva and Carlos Lopez detail an action-filled battle against the Frost Giants.
Loki is the standout in this story. He adheres to his own agenda and doesn’t exhibit an ounce of honor. He’s not emulating Tom Hiddleston, but it’s a fun presentation nevertheless. I also like the underlying motif of Iron Man not believing in Asgardian magic. I agree with him. In the films Asgardian magic is actually advanced alien technology that follow’s Clarke’s Law. That’s also what Jack Kirby and Stan Lee implied originally. Thor and his brethren are really ancient aliens. They just don’t act like it.
The Falcon acts really bizarre in this story. I’ve always liked the Falcon. When introduced in the comics, I thought finally somebody stronger than Bucky or the Rick Jones/Bucky to partner with Cap. The Falcon was a black dude, skilled in the martial arts, which fit with what was happening in seventies pop culture. In Winter Soldier, the movie version of Sam Wilson is that of a pararescue operative. Where the hell does this “polysomnographic” stuff come from? I understand that you want to make the black character smart, but that gobbledygook must go. It makes you look as if you’re trying.
In the third tale, Attuma goes environmental…
…which is hilariously bad. Attuma is the blue jackass that wants to conquer the world and kill Namor while doing it. Plain and simple. Forgiving this unnecessary update, Caramagna uses a character I never heard of.
I had to look up to see if her connections to the Norse were true to myth. Just like Mr. Caramagna says. If I learn something from a comic book, it automatically gets a pass. Ron Lim's art here also looks better when he's trying to fit in with continuity proper.
Scooby-Doo Team-Up’s Dario Brizuela takes up illustration duties in the third tale which pits Iron Man and Falcon against MODOK and everybody’s favorite beekeepers AIM. Loki also guest-stars. This is a much better spotlight for the Falcon’s intelligence without needless technobabble, and Brizuela’s streamlined style makes for a perfect animated excursion.
Rocket Girl returns for an inauspicious sixth issue. The usually frenetic teen cop gave up her Rocket Girl status at the end of the previous series, and now all she has are memories of a future that may never arrive. This leaves Writer Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder with a dilemma. How can they present Rocket Girl without a rocket pack? As you can see by this issue, the answer is that they cannot.
The plot, such as it is, involves Annie getting into a slap fight with a perfect stranger after an argument at a food stand. She apparently believed Dayoung Johansson, the artist formerly known as Rocket Girl, will kick her nemesis' ass for her, but Dayoung stays out of it and reminisces about her first time on the force.
In that memory, Dayoung and her partner tackle semi-legal vice. The episode provides the only enjoyment in Rocket Girl since Dayoung energetically back-knees the pimp in the nose. Readers looking to feed off the amazing blast of energy from Rocket Girl need to pick up the first volume, and the faithful will hopefully need not wait long for Rocket Girl to return to her aerial acrobatics.
Introduced in The Edge of the Spider-Verse, Spider-Gwen began in the middle with Gwen Stacy alias Spider-Woman being hunted by the police over the death of Peter Parker.
J.J. Jonah Jameson further turned public opinion against Gwendy. Before these pivots in her life, Spider-Gwen had already had some capers under her belt.
Her new series created the idea that Gwen was at a crossroads. Keep in mind. This is a turning point in a series that doesn’t actually exist. Gwen revealed her identity to her father Captain Stacy, and she gave up drumming for the Mary Janes, the band comprised of what-if Peter Parker Prime associates, girlfriends and wives. Remarkable in itself.
This issue returns Spider-Gwen to her never established status-quo. Not counting a humorous encounter with graffiti taggers, it's a mostly introspective issue where Gwen decides to come clean to her neighbors Ben and May Parker only to find succor and renewal in May's words.
It's a dangerous issue of Spider-Gwen because the wrong timing or dialogue could have doomed the story to pretentiousness or tedium. Instead it's quite beautiful, and writer Jason Latour and artists Robbie Rodriguez and Rico Renzi can take their well-deserved bows. If anything, this issue of Spider-Gwen proves that it doesn't need to be packed to the webs with action or cute to be damn good.
Spider-Woman took the place of classic Marvel villain the Porcupine in order to track down the creeps that forced the Porcupine to commit crimes. They pressed him into service by threatening his ex-wife and daughter. This interests Spider-Woman who like Batgirl is a natural detective.
A lot happens in Spider-Woman, but every bit of that something is a spoiler. Suffice to say there’s more than meets the eye to the missing molls and the threats to the tykes, and there’s probably a level of complexity that most of the cast hadn’t counted upon. So instead of dropping a picture of Amy Pond as pirate, I’ll leave you with yet another reason why you should be buying Spider-Woman. The artwork.
In this scene, Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez and Muntsa Vicente in a nutshell demonstrate Spider-Woman’s powers and as well exemplify the casual tone of this book. That’s just a taste. Every panel is a feast.
The Wonder Woman Special is written by Marc Andreyko. I’ll wait for that to sink in…
…Okay. So, what’s a serious writer like Marc Andreyko doing on what should be a fluff piece associated with what most people think is a camp television series? The answer is making this book worth purchasing.
Andreyko already had a crack at Wonder Woman in Manhunter. It was one of the few times Wonder Woman acted like Wonder Woman and sounded great, despite being stuck in the Dark Age of Crippled Batgirl.
That’s how talented Marc Andreyko is. He can take a largely unappealing pantheon weighted down by nauseating events and turn them into gold.
Wonder Woman 77’s continuity is unblemished and essentially a blank slate for Andreyko to play with. Andreyko doesn’t lighten his style or dampen his strong plotting. Instead, he stays true to the time and the characters.
The fact is that Steve Trevor and Diana Prince were light-hearted. The events taken out of the context of Wonder Woman were not necessarily so. It’s all in how you approach the subject matter. There were all sorts of terrorist plots and nuclear threats in the updated show. If these stories seemed less serious than those with similar plots on say Mission Impossible, it was because Steve and Diana had a happy-go-lucky attitude and abundant optimism. Plus, they lived in a world that just might be saved by a tiara slinging Amazon Princess.
In the first story, Steve and Diana go to a disco in order to safeguard a defected Russian scientist. That’s a perfectly reasonable 70s plot. Strip away the disco, and alter the nationality of the scientist, and you’ve got a plot that can go anywhere, to any series.
Little do Steve and Diana know that Wonder Woman villain Silver Swan is about to make her debut. This is a theme with Andreyko’s stories for Wonder Woman 77. He does what few writers have done, rely on Wonder Woman’s limited Rogue’s Gallery and imagines how they could plausibly make entrances on the television series. Silver Swan as a disco darling is simply brilliant.
In the second story Andreyko chooses a more serious mind-bending plot that very easily could have made the television series as a season opener. This is a strong bit of writing that pays tribute to The Prisoner, but again does so in a uniquely Wonder Woman way. Andreyko remembers a terrible pilot that predated Lynda Carter’s unchallenged reign as Wonder Woman. I remember that pilot as well. It exemplified the horrors that Hollywood could bring down upon our beloved superheroes.
Look! She's in a robe! There's a reason for that.
Andreyko’s writing gives Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor dignity. His remembrance of things past should be incorporated in the latest Wonder Woman myths. I’d like to see Wonder Woman do the spin, use the tiara more often. Illustrated by a cadre of terrific artists—Drew Johnson, Matt Haley, Richard Ortiz and Jason Badower—Wonder Woman 77 is a gold mine of terrific Wonder Woman imagery and spitting image versions of Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner. A must by for Wonder Woman fans, and needed specifically by fans of the Wonder Woman television series.
John Carter offers the final battle between Carter and his opposite number in an impressively choreographed sword duel by Robert Castro.
Skullduggery ensues with Dejah Thoris, and it leads to an unexpected conclusion that curtails cliffhanger histrionics. Good, solid writing by Ron Marz. Excellent artwork.
Introducing the Baltimore drinking game...
Take one drink when nondescript characters show up.
Take another if they're wearing brown.
Take two drinks if any seem vaguely familiar.
Take one drink for every time a character mentions Lord Baltimore.
Take two if that character is a woman. Take another if they smoke a cigarette.
An exercise in non build-up, the latest issue of Baltimore this time Cult of the Red King dulls the senses with a boring cast who mill about spouting plot points and past events in between namedropping Lord Baltimore every three or four seconds.
I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong. We had sex because of Lord Baltimore.
Four Drinks By the Way.
None of these brown clad people appear to have lives or thoughts of their own. They all gravitate toward the previous lone wolf Lord Baltimore and think only of him and his ever-so heavy burden. This is ridiculous.
The ennui occurs on a ship bound for who knows where but ends up crashing on what looked to be easily avoidable ice. Fire the captain. This unexciting wreck will force our companions in enervation to walk, thus making the proceedings even slower.
Clearly meant to be an opening for new readers, the Cult of the Red King acts instead as a depressant more likely to tranquilize new readers into stupors.
Oh, now this is the stuff. Angel and Faith on the surface is Koh, Angel and Faith teaming up to stop Illyria, a goddess who wears the body of Fred. Both introduced in the television series.
Things don’t go well from very beginning, but there’s more at play than fisticuffs. Writer Victor Gischler directs a supernatural personality conflict between Fred and Illyria that was never broached on the television series, and because of the characters, he makes the conflict about more than dominance and submission.
This is a battle of philosophy and an expression of Illyria’s pain at being the last of her kind. You can see it in Will Conrad’s and Michelle Madsen’s artwork.
Illyria is angry and hurt by surviving. Fred is determined to survive, and Angel who allied with both is trying to find a common medium as he reconnects with Faith. It’s such a good issue.
Scooby and the Gang team up with Johnny Quest and his team. Although Bandit and Scooby might have issue over who belongs to who.
This team-up is about as amazing as you thought it would be. Writer Sholly Fish takes advantage of every opportunity such a meeting would grant. Johnny dopes out the secret behind the mummy. A mummy seems the perfect foil for both teams. Daphne compares herself to Race Bannon. There’s added Johnny Quest menace behind the mask of the monster, and of course Hadji performs the only Indian Rope Trick that actually works. Perfect.