Tuesday, June 16, 2015

POBB June 10, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 10, 2015
Ray Tate

It’s time for the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog I review the most entertaining comic books and the least entertaining comic books of the week.  I may also have a few words about the rest.

It’s another massive comic book yield: Batman/Superman, Catwoman, Doctor Who, Earth 2 Society, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Legendary Vampirella, Marvel Zombies, Red Hood and Arsenal, Spider-Gwen and Starfire.  I’ll also briefly discuss the also-rans: 1602, Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps, Constantine, Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos.

A whole lot of those titles sound phony.  That’s because only about three of them involve a consistent comic book continuity.  The rest reflect mirror universes, pocket universes and parallel universes.  So, yeah.  Basically.  SNAFU.  We’ll first cleanse the palette with Doctor Who.

Being a Doctor Who expert and super-fan, a lot of you may wonder why I don’t regularly buy the Doctor Who comic book.  The answer is that it just doesn’t usually send me, or the story looks too involved to jump into.  This is contrary to how the show operates.  Practically every episode from old Doctor Who to new Doctor Who is a jumping on point to a varying degree.  My first Doctor Who was the second episode in a fourth Doctor story called “Terror of the Zygons.”  

After that I was hooked, and it's been a grand life-long addiction.

The latest issue of Doctor Who by Nick Abadzis is an excellent jump-on point for new readers and doesn’t wear out its welcome to the casual dipper or the faithful fan.  

The Doctor and his current companion Gabby Gonzalez part company temporarily.  Gabby meets with her infuriated friend Cindy, who wonders what happened to her, and the Doctor investigates an auction of extraterrestrial objects.

The auction setting grounded in reality is easy to grasp.  It also allows for numerous insider jokes that will still be funny to newcomers.  The Doctor’s encounter with ne’er do well Cleo generates a lot of humor, and cameos from UNIT, peacekeepers long associated with the Doctor, bank on the mythology of the show while still just making general sense in terms of plotting.  Here’s how a moderately intelligent reader might surmise the situation:

Clearly an auction of alien artifacts is a bad thing.  If this Doctor fellow knew of the proper authorities to alert, they would be used to dealing with aliens.  It’s just so sublime.

The gist of the plot deals with a time-reversing relic that the Doctor wants off the market, an aging celebrity wants to use and Cleo wants to sell.  It leads to one helluva cliffhanger, and all of the story is dealt by Elena Casagrande and Arianna Florean with their usual artistic aplomb.  I first encountered their designs in their first entertaining Doctor Who story, which gets numerous allusions that provide instantaneous connectivity for those that dropped out during the interim.

On an earth where steampunk rules, Vampirella decimates the forces of Kurtz, a twisted combo of Citizen Kane and Heart of Darkness by way of Apocalypse Now, the creations of Dr. Moreau and bride of darkness Lidia Valcallan.  This whole story was a riot.  Not a hint of depth just pure escapism delivered by the most dangerous restaurateur on the planet.

Writer David Avallone concocts a wild plot.  This last chapter can be viewed for pure fun in which Miss Ella endures the perils of techno marvels and the incredulous individuals that wield them.

Once recovered Vee kills a lot of bad people by inviting them to understand the gravity of the situation.  This finale also ties up numerous plot threads in a true surprise for the reader that involves the intricacies of The Prisoner of Zenda, enhanced by the comic timing of artist David Cabera.

If you haven't picked up this wondrous series, buy the trade.  You won't be sorry. 

I'm making a point to try nearly everything that doesn’t look painful from DC and Marvel.  So expect some pretty hefty reviews for awhile.

Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti take over the adventures of Starfire, and they really don’t change anything about her.  She’s still naive, free with her sexuality and wears her emotions on her orange-complected arm.  

The writing team adds liberal doses of humor and a heap of interaction with more substantial people, like Sheriff Stella Gomez of Key West, but if readers were looking for a drastic shift in the way Starfire has been characterized since her creation, they’ll need to create fan-fiction for themselves.  Palmiotti and Conner seem to be saying “It’s not broken.  So why should we fix it?”  My sentiments exactly.  

To be honest, I didn’t find anything wrong with Starfire’s stint in Red Hood and the Outlaws.  The sharpest deviation in Starfire comes in the form of artists Emanuela Lapacchino, Ray McCarthy and the colors of Hi-Fi.  Compare and contrast.  

Kenneth Rocafort’s Starfire.

Lapacchino’s Starfire.  

Neither style is incorrect.  Both are cartoons, but both fluctuate to different extremes.  Rocafort’s Starfire is more European influenced.  She’s the kind of Starfire you might find in Metal Hurlant or in a French comic strip like Valentina.  This is perfectly fine since DC was in fact aiming for a more mature audience with Red Hood and the Outlaws.  Lapacchino’s Starfire on the other hand is set for a broader audience, at least on the surface.

What’s the difference between the above and Rocafort’s scene, apart from Roy being in it, I mean?

The more I look at past issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws; the more I gauge the uproar over Starfire’s lack of clothing--her preferred state since her conception--and open sexual mores, the more I feel that this was a reaction to an art style that’s perfectly valid but off-putting for those not previously exposed.

In any case, the first issue of Starfire is an enjoyable user-friendly introduction to the whimsical tone and mood Conner and Palmiotti will be employing, and the stellar new art team is on board with the writer's goals.  It's only different in the execution.  Starfire fans will be pleased.

Red Hood and the Outlaws was surprisingly entertaining when Scott Lobdell wrote it, and now that Convergence ended, he's back.  Starfire left the Outlaws.  Hence the name change and the new numbering.  So, the question is "can two former male sidekicks live together without driving each other crazy."

Do not take this book seriously for one second, and you'll realize that you're witnessing the next bwa-ha-ha funny title.  It's a buddy cop series.  

Arsenal, back to the stupid name, stumbles on intelligence that places a political fixer--via Scandal--and a senator in danger.  Roy aims to stop it.

Red Hood and Arsenal is hilarious, and it still gets the basics right.  Speedy is an archer.  So he attacks from a distance.  He has no tactical reason to expose himself.  So he doesn't, until he has no choice.  Nobody however is looking to Roy to save the day. 

Red Hood manifests in a typically Batman Family move that you cannot help laughing with, and it's brilliant that everybody in the spook community now looks upon the Red Hood as the one with the Batman credentials.  This attitude actually fits with new 52 continuity.  

Batman is supposedly dead.  Nightwing is pretending to be dead.  Batgirl is a local hero.  Batman welcomed the Red Hood back to the fold.  To a certain extent so did the fans.  So suddenly, people are actually glad when the Red Hood shows up anywhere.

Catwoman is very unwelcoming for new readers.  I only could understand three things in Catwoman.

The money switch is the kind of clever thing I've always wanted to see from Selina Kyle.  I would have loved for this to be the culmination of an unadulterated complicated heist.

Selina's palpable grief over Batman's death should shame those who trivialized Batman's and Catwoman's trysts.  The idea that these two didn't harbor deep feelings for each other because they expressed those feelings through noncommittal sex is truly one of the most stupid, conservative things the comic book community ever ranted over.

I'm also guessing that the woman comforting Catwoman is her new lover.  It doesn't surprise me that Catwoman is bisexual.  It would have been an eye-opener if this were Catwoman from the nineteen fifties, but I'd say the incarnations from the nineteen forties and from the nineteen seventies onward are open to interpretation.  The key is that no matter what Catwoman is hopelessly in love with Batman.

Ed Brubaker no doubt aware of Catwoman's long nine-lived standing in the lesbian community implied Catwoman's duality when Selina made eyes at Hawkgirl, and they had a conversation underscored with subtext.  

If only the rest of Catwoman were this easy to comprehend.  Unfortunately, it's a mobbed up wonderland where Catwoman attends the opera--in what appears to be a contrivance to excuse dialogue about the Borgias and have Selina consort with the Penguin for reasons unknown.  Common enemy?  I furthermore cannot tell the players without an old fashioned role call.  Antonia appears to be a body guard, but who's the guy in the suit?  Feh.  I want a heist, damn it.

There’s only one reason I special ordered Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Four.  She’s on the cover, and she’s inside.

Yeah.  I’ll never tire seeing Babs Gordon being healed.

You may ask why is Lex Luthor of all people facilitating Babs Gordon’s recovery.  Simple.  Superman is some sort of benevolent dictator in this else world.

It’s a testament to Brian Buccellato’s writing that you don’t need massive amounts of explanation.  I mean, I’ve never read the first three years of Injustice: Gods Among Us, and I pretty much got the gist.

The heroes have split into different factions.  Some on team Superman.  The others on team Batman.  Aquaman’s Switzerland.  Reasons? No idea.  They just are, and they all act the same.  Nobody is a monster.  They’re characterized exactly as they always have been characterized.  

The most startling difference lies with Harley Quinn.  Harley now has a Jones for the late Green Arrow.  Why? Again, no idea, but you see, the writing makes everything crystal clear.  So you can read this comic book without previous knowledge of past events.

The art also happens to be stunning.  If memory serves, this book is based on a video game.  Toy lines and video games used to harbor at best serviceable art, Atari Force being the exception.  

Bruno Redondo’s, Juan Albbaran’s and Rex Loxus’ combined effort results in lush, realistic renderings of the DC universe filled with emotion and humanity.

Dick Grayson assumes the role of Batman in Earth 2 Society.  It looks like the aftermath of the big Darkseid invasion and Convergence left the survivors of Earth 2 looking for a new world to colonize.  Among these survivors are the Huntress and Power Girl.  So, this book gets my atheistic blessing.

The gist of the story takes place one year after landfall.  The earth one Mr. Terrific used his technology to repair Dick Grayson's paralysis, not going to say it, and turn him into Batman.  Thomas Wayne, the former Batman of Earth 2 apparently died in Convergence or during the Darkseid invasion.

Batman's mission is to hunt down Terry Sloan, the bad guy and savior of Earth 2's inhabitants, but there's something going on that the heroes haven't realized yet.  Terry Sloan fears for his life because there's a bigger bad pulling the strings.

The story by David Wilson is really interesting, but the artwork needs a little polish.  If you're invested in these characters, all of the Justice Society appears to be intact, so this is a good book to add to your subscription list.

The Superman titles are all turning to The Truth.  It seems that against all reason Lois Lane divulged Superman's secret identity.  Oh, well.


In Batman/Superman, the latter half of the World’s Finest seeks Batman out for advice only to learn of some shocking news.

Superman doubts Bruce’s demise because Alfred was an actor before he became a butler and because it’s Batman we’re talking about.

Before we get to that point however, Superman confronts white supremacists not keen on the alien amongst them.

If loving scenes of Superman kicking white supremacists in the balls is wrong, 
I don't want to be right.

Afterward, Superman faces his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, who falls victim to his own grandeur.  

It’s a replay of John Byrne’s Lex Luthor dilemma only with more comedy.  In the end Lex actually tries to help his former enemy.  There’s no mention of their time in the Justice League together; so once again, it’s safe to deduce that Geoff Johns’ Justice League takes place independently from Batman/Superman.  

Writer Gregg Pak only plays up the most familiar elements in The Batman and Superman Families.  Thus, he mentions Diana and pops in on Lois Lane, whom he presents fairly and not as the quisling Divergence exposes.  My single caveat is that Bat-Bunny and Superman look stupid.  That’s an overall design issue and not artist Vincente Cifuentes’ fault.

I thought I would bail on Batman/Superman.  However, Greg Pak presents a surprisingly entertaining and meaty tale, despite it tying into Bat-Bunny and Superman: Truth.  Also, Batman/Superman is a good way to keep tabs on happenings you just may not be interested in but probably better off knowing.

Best issue of Spider-Gwen ever.  Writer Jason Latour introduces Felicia Hardy into the Spider-Gwen universe, and he comes up with not just a switch in ethnicity and nationality but also a keen resurgence in both of Gwen's worlds.  Black Cat is a no talent, big budget show singer in Gwen's drummer facet.  All the Mary Janes know her and loathe her.  

The Black Cat is also a thief of irreplaceable objects, and through this aspect she's made Matt Murdock her prime objective.  That literally sets the stage for a ninjastic battle involving Gwen's alter-ego.

I believe that I mentioned once before that zombies are my least favorite monster.  Zombies are the hobos of the undead.  So why did I buy Marvel Zombies especially Battleworld Marvel Zombies?  Elsa Bloodstone of course.

Neither Simon Spurrier nor Kev Walker disappoint.  Elsa's flinty borderline Brtitish dominatrix personality comes through in perfect pitch.  There's even a bit of depth to her characterization as Spurrier believably softens her diamond edge upon encountering a waif in the wastelands.  This title goes on my subscription list.

1602 features Neil Gaiman's Angela as a witch hunter.  The humor was too broad for me, and the switch in artwork left me puzzling out who the characters were.  The colors also went dark, way dark.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps was not what I was looking for.  I hoped for WW II hi-jinks, ended up with a strange Battleworld  book like A-Force where the women don't know what stars are.

Constantine wasn’t as good as the television series. 

Damn it.

So, why should I bother? Frankly, I’m surprised DC didn’t continue the television series in the comic book.  It has an audience.

Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos was funny in places but again not what I wanted.  I thought she would be leading the Legion of Monsters.  Instead, they serve Dracula.

Mayday harbors a deep hatred of Hollywood; doesn’t apparently like threesomes, but relishes swearing, smoking and murder.  I’m probably not the audience for this book.

Alas, last week The Devil Rode Out.  We will miss you Christopher Lee.  The greatest Dracula and the gentleman scientist of Horror Express.  He stalked Peter Cushing as the Mummy, but in truth his constant cinematic foil was a life long best friend.  I would gladly sacrifice the entire candidacy of the Republican party and half of Congress to give such a talent, such a scholar a mere week more of life.

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