Tuesday, July 7, 2015

POBB: July 1, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 1, 2015
Ray Tate

It’s the Pick of the Brown Bag.  On time and ready to go.  This week I peruse Angel and Faith, Barb Wire, Battleworld: A vs. X, Damocles, Doctor Who, Futurama Comics, Groot, Onyx, Scooby-Doo Team-Up and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Humor is the watchword this week.  There are only three exceptions.  Onyx is a straight up adventure.  Angel and Faith, though not without comedy, recapitulates its horror roots, and new book Damocles is pure drama, but all the others are laugh out loud funny.  That includes the welcome return of Barb Wire.

About twenty years ago Dark Horse, known for its horror and indie styled comic books, dipped its toe in the super hero field.  They ended up with a pretty good group that included Ghost, X, King Tiger, The Machine and Barb Wire.

Barbara Kopetski, nicknamed Barb Wire, was a modern bounty hunter/bar owner.  Of the Dark Horse superhero community, Barb Wire was the most realistic.  She lacked super powers, had a license to hunt criminals and did so for altruism and profit.  In terms of design she was also down to earth.  A blonde beauty, yes, but she was no zaftig Wonder Woman.  Pamela Anderson in my opinion was miscast as Barb Wire.  

Better choices would have been Laura Dern or Ali Larter.

Barb Wire hasn't changed that much.  Neither has her stomping grounds Steel Harbor, one of the better named settings in comics.

As you can see her wardrobe is now a little less neon, a signature of the nineties, and that adds even more realism to the proceedings.  Of course, it also helps when you have excellent artists Pat Oliffe, Tom Nguyen, Gabe Eltaeb and co-creator Chris Warner on the bridge of the flagship.

The biggest change I can see is that Barb expanded her bar the Hammerhead into a nightclub, and now, she's being filmed like real-world bounty hunter Dog.  This change actually lies at the center of the plot.

The story in general breathes quite a bit.  Warner lets you get to know the characters and the status quo before introducing a catalyst for action.  So, we go from Barb taking out some opener riffraff, to the filming, to the club and to her brother Charlie, a moment that demonstrates where the book's heart lies.

Barb Wire is essentially a depiction of the every day mess that is Barbara Kopetski's life, but done with a light touch so that you laugh with the absurdity.

For example, old enemies and allies Mace Blitzkrieg and Hunter of the Wolf Pack, begin a measuring contest but instead having it out.  They display a wisdom won from years of survival.

Things just get worse from there for Barb.  Your basic demigod Wyvern Stormblud, terrific name, busts up the club and earns a bounty-tag that Barb wants nothing to do with.  We'll see how long that lasts because the Hammerhead's landlord is hoping to sell, and Barb doesn't have the cash to buy.

Angel and Faith spotlights Faith while Angel crossovers to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Writer Victor Gischler has a wonderful grasp of Faith's characterization, and artist Will Conrad further displays that persona through superb depictions of actress Eliza Dushku's facial expressions and body language.

The plot emphasizes the vampire slayer aspect of both series.  Seems there have been some unexplained murders in Inspector Brandt's bailiwick, and he asks Faith to do some investigating.

With Fred as her sidekick, Faith explores a club called the Bronze Age.  The Bronze was the hip spot in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and also a lightning rod for vampires looking for prey.  I wonder if Gischler is suggesting that Bronze management welcomes the fanged, or if this is merely an unrelated shout out to the fans?

The club-hop leads to an awesome dusting and Faith following clues to an English public school under the guise of Miss Lehane, substitute gym teacher.  As you may have gathered, Faith isn't exactly Gabe Kaplan.

The dialogue in the scene is just perfect.  You can just imagine Eliza Dushku speaking--especially the Kumbaya, part.

Damocles is an oversized comic book album from Cinebooks.  It's new to America with a fresh translation from Mark Bence.   It originates from France and scripted by Callede from the late 2000s.

Damocles is a body guard service created by a victim of kidnapping, which are on the rise, according to the story.

The kidnappers in Damocles are not just after money, which means the now prevalent kidnaping and ransom insurance that can settle such abductions does not apply.  They're seeking the impossible from their targets.

There's no reason why Damocles couldn't have been an engrossing prose detective novel.  The scant science fiction of beyond state of the art body armor and a vitamin cocktail called Blitz are the only elements that lean toward comic books.

The artwork by Alain Henriet and colorist Usagi though certainly doesn't hurt the eyes.  The renderings stabilizes Damocles authenticity and enhance the character conflict.  So, maybe we should just thank Callede for allowing the inclusion of very, pretty pictures.

Ellie, Sean, Raj and Walt are the focus, and they are primarily sublime in terms of characterization.  Walt is just a little cynical.  Ellie is wry.  Raj over sensitive because he's a new guy and a minority, and Sean appears to be messy.  This may also be a reason for Callede turning to comic books.  An artist can express the nuances of emotion.  It's difficult to duplicate the artistic feat in mere descriptive words. 

Scooby-Doo meets Secret Squirrel in another perfect team-up by Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuela.  The ghost of an old King threatens to scotch a peace treaty.

The International Sneaky Service call in Scooby and the gang to bust this ghost, but global politics aren't the kids' scene.  For that they need Secret Squirrel.

The jokes come fast and always deliver an intelligent punchline.  Velma and Secret have great chemistry as she continuously doubts Secret's surprisingly effective methods.  

As you can see from the above moment, Dario Brizuela goes medieval on Scooby and Shaggy as they experience near continuous fright.  They are just super-expressive throughout the tale.

The shark tank trap serves double-purpose.  One, it of course is designed to scare the living daylights out of you.  Two, it's a clue to the ghost's true purpose, a clever piece of reasoning foreshadowed early in the adventure.  

Seldom to I get such an easy segue.

Many people--especially those who own bird feeders--believe squirrels to be works of satan.   

I've always liked squirrels.  Perhaps it's because I know that birds are merely evolved small dinosaurs and would happily dine on human liver if they could.  

As it turns out the Norse also thought squirrels were evil, and they immortalized this hate into myth.

The Wikipedia entry in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is absolutely true.  That is.  Ratatoskr is an actual Norse myth and the demon is this week's suitable menace.

I have to admit.  I thought the last issue of Squirrel Girl was lame.   A Girl-Squirrel counterpart struck me as silly as Bat-Mite, and the whole imp tradition of Silver Age DC comics.  It turns out that the Girl-Squirrel is Ratatoskr.  She's been traveling around the city perhaps the world to whisper sweet strife in the ears of sleeping humans; thus creating chaos.

Squirrel Girl in her everyday guise as college student Doreen Green quickly gets wise to the trouble furry afoot when a fight breaks out in her computing course.

This necessitates a trip to Avengers Tower, but she's too late. Ratatoskr infected the Avengers with her magical words.  The moment allows writer Ryan North and cartoonist Erica Henderson the opportunity to demonstrate that Squirrel Girl is indeed unbeatable, and like Dazzler, ridiculously powerful.

With the Avengers down, Squirrel Girl speed dials Thor.   Squirrel Girl knows Thor apparently.  Why not? She debuted fighting Dr. Doom.  Thor of course is now known as Odinson, and he and the new Thor are currently trying to calm a tastes-great-less-filling situation at the local breakfast hole.

Thor, Odinson and Squirrel Girl combine forces.  The away teams split.  Squirrel Girl, Chipmunk Hunk and Koi Boy--yes, I know--confront Girl-Squirrel and force her to reveal herself, but it doesn't go like Rumplestiltskin.  She just becomes bigger and meaner, promising a unbeatable cliffhanger.

When last we saw Groot, he found himself drifting in space, thanks to some heroism from Rocket Raccoon and the petty whims of a bounty hunter.  This issue Groot reflects how his friendship with Rocket came to be.

So damn sweet that you can sprinkle it on your waffles and/or pancakes.  Screw you, French Toast.

Rom was a crappy toy with no flexibility.  It was made of cheap plastic prone to breakage, sported dim lights and bad sound.  Novelty was its only notability.  Rom was the first toy board game company Parker Brothers ever made.

Normally, I'd say that it never should have been.  Rom however spawned one of the best comic book series ever made.  

Created by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema with zero input from Parker Brothers, Rom introduced an eponymous Space Knight who arrived on earth to eliminate the scourge of the shape-shifting Dire Wraiths.  

Rom tapped into The Invasion of The Body Snatchers zeitgeist and the nobility of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  Rom had everything: action, suspense, surprise, villainy, heroism and romance.  Rom also soon enveloped the Marvel Universe.  Rom for example forever changed Rogue with a single kiss, and that version of Rogue has been a staple in the Marvel Universe ever since.

From Rom #32

C0-creator of Onyx Chris Ryall admits to his love of Rom in the afterword, and it shows.  Not just in the tale but also the quality.  Art and story offer an attractive enticement for the reader, and it's important to understand that even though Onyx pays tribute to Rom, it's also it's own thing.

The armored Onyx is a hunter of a body-morphing plague that ravaged her planet.  She's willing to do whatever it takes to stop the spread.  

Mistrusted at first, she, yes, she's a she, soon falls under the category of temporarily useful.  That's where the Rom comparison ends.

Whereas Rom took place mostly in small town America, Onyx occurs in the future where humankind evolved farther.  The cast is mostly military, and the Native American is a telepath.

Although aliens are a new idea for the soldiers, it's not actually a shock because technology and humanity has developed to the point where they're expecting to meet somebody from the stars.

Because of this change in the setting, Onyx offers a different experience than Rom.  Rom had to deal with human distrust for about fifteen issues, and then he had to deal with humans trusting him too much.  Whereas a lot of comic books exacerbate simple plots from the past, Onyx cuts to the chase and in a stylish way.

Doctor Who's latest looked like another good jumping-on point, and I suspected now that Peter Capaldi had a season and a Christmas special under his belt, writer Robbie Morrison would have more material to work with in terms of characterization, and I was right.

That line is absolutely brilliant.  Clara discovered in that drawer a pair of tickets to a show.  So the Doctor sets the co-ordinates to 1960s Las Vegas.  

The Doctor breaks the bank on Clara's behalf, totally wrecking typical time/space taboos.

There's an unwritten rule that lotteries and investments are verboten for time travelers.  Indeed, the Doctor allegedly cannot interfere at a fixed point in history.  Although he has done so on two occasions; once with terrible consequences, the other with personal and historical benefit.  

Apparently, one night of economic revelry is just peachy.  The Doctor doesn't see his streak as anything but a mathematical exercise and answering a challenge from milady.  

Remember, the Doctor stole the TARDIS.  He was a thief and a criminal amongst his people.  The Time Lords captured him and imprisoned him on earth.  They also prevented him from using the TARDIS except when they sent him on a life threatening mission.  The flamboyant disregard of civilization's protocols fits the Doctor's characterization as a renegade.  Of course there were worse than he.

The above scene is from the wraparound, which ties into an alien landing that interrupts a mob-style execution scheduled in 1960s Las Vegas.  

Morrison knows his Doctor Who, old and new.  Rassilon, the Time Lord that the Doctor speaks of is known as a high gamesman and a crafty devil.  He was the Time Lords' own Henry the Eighth without all the headless wives.  At first portrayed as altruistic as all the Time Lords, Rassilon in "The Five Doctors" showed his true colors, and if ever you needed to be convinced, Rassilon returns alive and dangerous in "The  End of Time."

Goofing off on the job, Bender's lackadaisical behavior lands the Planet Express ship into the path of a black hole.  

Bad enough, but in the future there's a new species of hole, and it's filled with hilarious threats to life and limb.  Fortunately, Professor Farnsworth is aboard to save the day.

The Professor's solution wackily supports the thinking of Isaac Asimov.  In that, the main reason that you cannot shrink things ala Fantastic Voyage is because of Planck's Constant.  

Asimov utilized that precise method for his sequel to Fantastic Voyage.  The Professor's method may seem to smack around the Square-Cube Law, which precludes the giant ants of Them! but in fact the Professor's gigantisizing of Bender works because there is no gravity in free space, and his surface area isn't a breathing area.  Therefore, he cannot collapse under his own weight or suffocate.  It's really quite clever when you think about it.

So the book's lion's share gathers the jokes associated with Fry, Amy, Zoidberg and the Professor traveling inside of Bender.  Writer Ian Boothby scores some really good background gags that originate out of Bender's kleptomania, and he also gains comedic impetus from giant robot and science fiction encounters.

The main conflict arises from the introduction of a virus, contracted by Bender form a wayward encounter.  Here's the key of Futurama worth.  In addition to being loaded with humor, Futurama's also filled with consistent characterization and solves problems dramatically.  The seriousness of the situation enhances the humor.  The comedy spotlights the drama.

Last but not least, you don't want to pass up the dodgeball tournament in Battleworld.  

I would say that it's a contest of champions, but it's the Lil Avengers vs. Lil X-Men in painful strikes, jet propelled hot potatoes and childish thirst for vengeance that must be experienced.  I'd say wait for the trade, but there's a good chance that the trade will be manga-sized, and in this instance the bigger the better.  


  1. check it out some ROM and Onyx team up fan art http://romspaceknightart.blogspot.com/