Tuesday, July 21, 2015

POBB: July 15, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 15, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review of comic books.  This posting I look at Black Canary, Gravedigger, Justice League, King: The Phantom, the Martian Manhunter, Reyn and Simpsons Comics.

Simpsons Comics is exceptional for its sweetness.  The story starts when Homer visits Bart at basketball game held by Springfield Elementary.

Now, let's dissect that for a minute.  In terms of past history, Homer parking a car in a gym with the rationale that all the spaces were filled is one of the least offensive and damaging things that he has done either wittingly or unwittingly to embarrass one of his kids.  Keep in mind also that Homer is in fact a genius, and he has a crayon pressing against his brain that explains his special form of reasoning.

Chief Wiggum doesn’t miss a beat, and Homer agrees to take in Ralph while Wiggum and his wife go on a second honeymoon.  Once again, Homer is being remarkably sweet.  Meanwhile in the B story…

Seems pretty tame for the Simpsons, doesn’t it? Don’t worry.  The B Side of the book quickly flips into the surreal where Lisa’s love for animals nets her a whole world of trouble.  I like that writer Ian Boothby follows the themes of the television series.  Even good deeds bite back, and Lisa's laudable love for nature is no exception.

Lisa's story while distinct in most aspects does not stay in a vacuum for long.  In a surprise move Boothby unites the threads of both tales in the finale, but before that occurs, Homer turns into a father figure for Ralph, thereby instilling jealousy in Bart.  Homer’s not doing this out of spite, however.  He genuinely thinks that Bart wants nothing to do with him.  As far as Homer’s concern, he’s just babysitting Ralph.

The art by Nina Matsumoto, Andrew Pepoy and Art Villanueva is outstanding.  The expressions of resentment, envy and abashment on Bart contrasts the overt happy looks from Homer as he has fun with Ralph.  The team execute great moments of visual silliness at the father and son picnic and Milhouse falls victim to a moment of hilarity that’s hammered home by his hopelessness.

If you grew up in the seventies, you probably saw photo-books of Star Trek.  Still photography shot on set  adapted the episodes into book form.  The medium is only strange now in hindsight.  It wasn’t odd back in the day because nobody knew any better.  It certainly beat the old Viewmaster.

My God, Jim.  Just how old am I?

John Byrne, artist, writer, wit and raconteur, attracted my attention with his latest Star Trek photo-book since it features the enigmatic Mr. Seven from “Assignment Earth.”  

I can’t really review the photography in this story.  Suffice to say, it looks like legitimate Star Trek.  While some images that will look familiar to Trekkers, Byrne puts together an absorbing story and creates an entertaining team-up with Kirk and Seven.

Reyn takes an interesting turn in the characterization.  Kel Symons and Nate Stockman introduced Warden Reyn as a kind of monster slaying Conan in knight's armor.  He also had a direct line to the goddess Aurora, who is a little less deific than originally thought.

While traveling through a bloody swathe of tentacles and hairy legs, Reyn encounters Steph.  Steph turns out to be a witch, but her sorcery relies on Clarke's Law rather than magical forces.

Reyn's and Steph's talents soon bring them to the attention of the Salamanders, who seek to bed the women and rule the land.  Neither Reyn nor Steph are fans.

Steph, Reyn, Steph’s father and Steph’s fellow techno wizards invade the Salamanders' headquarters, and what they discover instead of a pure castle keep is a spaceship filled with alien life forms and lethal a.i.  

In this issue, Reyn finds himself oddly at peace with the situation while the more techno savvy of the group panic. 

Reyn despite lacking his companions' scientific knowledge  readily figures out what transpired.  He really embarrasses the group of science aficionados.  His keen observational skills and deductive powers trump their pure knowledge base.   A flashback makes explicit what by now the reader should have inferred.

The pivot of events is as lovely as the artwork, and Reyn’s moment of serenity contrasts the final sanctions to come.  In short, Reyn is a terrific, action-filled space opera that freshens science fiction traditions.

Justice League is thoughtful, exciting and different.  The story begins on Apokolips.

Spoiler Ahoy!

Spoiler Ahoy!

Two former bitter enemies lie in the same boat thanks to Lena Luthor who turned out to be an agent of Darkseid.

It's no surprise that Superman employs heat-vision surgery on Lex.  That's what Superman does.  He goes out of his way for even the people that he doesn't like.  It's the right thing to do.  It's the Kent thing to do.

Darkseid knows what makes Superman tick, but you'll have to wait for the ramifications of his plan because we cut to earth where Grail is about to hand Wonder Woman her ass, or visa versa.  My money's on Diana, Princess of the Amazons.  Always.

I was mistaken about Grail.  I thought the presented character to be this Myrina Black that Darkseid had been looking for since issue one of new 52 Justice League.  Grail however is the daughter of Myrina and Darkseid.  Myrina is, like Wonder Woman, an Amazon.  Grail is half-Amazon/half-monster.  I'm still sticking with the original wager.  Metron's former friend Mobius however interrupts the outcome.  

The expression on Wonder Woman's face is a testament to Jason Fabok's and Brad Anderson's skills.  Just looking at Diana's countenance clues you in to her complete bewilderment.  She has never seen anything like Mobius before.  Nobody in this universe has.

This universe that is...

Because Johns wanted a body associated to the eponymous stick of furniture on which Metron sits his buttocks, what is clearly the Anti-Monitor now gains the added sobriquet Mobius.  I haven't changed my opinion.  Christening the Anti-Monitor Mobius is bone stupid, but overall, the amendment is a minor caveat given how musical that chair turns out to be.

While Justice League is more engrossing than it has been since Grant Morrison left the book.  Not everything in Justice League should be met with applause.  Johns repeats a mistake frequently made in the post-Crisis.  He implies that Myrina Black is a first Wonder Woman.

For those not in the know, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are nearly eighty years old.  Because comic books cannot ignore time, every once in awhile these heroes undergo rejuvenation.  Back in the day, George Perez reintroduced Wonder Woman as a new, young character.  Wonder Woman was even less experienced than Superman and Batman, who had already established themselves.  

The renewal left a hole in DC's World War II continuity, specifically with Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron.  Thomas had no choice but to substitute lesser known 1940s female powerhouses such as Miss America in Wonder Woman's place.  

You may think.  What's the difference?  The difference is that the first issue of All-Star Squadron began the recall of the actual Justice Society of America history.

The above scene actually alludes to a classic comic book cover.

Now imagine Miss America suddenly took Wonder Woman's place.  It's a silly concept, but if time travel exists, will exist, if history can be interfered with, ridiculous things like retro-planting heroes would happen all the time.

Black Canary took the place of Wonder Woman in the reshaped Justice League of America history until finally Grant Morrison replenished the League by ignoring, or merely paying lip-service, to fake history and instead relying upon the strength of pop culture.  

Morrison rightfully restored Wonder Woman to prominence.  I like Myrina Black's character design.  I might even like the character, given enough exposure.  I just don't want the post-Crisis confusion to metastasize again.

Martian Manhunter is a frustrating experience.  Though technically well-written, writer Rob Williams is broaching a lot of new material here that loses J’onn’s charm and creates what’s essentially a new character.

I imagine J’onn’s state, assuming that’s J’onn, is the result of his consultation with new character Helen.  I'm always happy to welcome a brainy girl to any comic book universe.  Helen seems to combine the roles of Dr. Erdel, who first brought J'onn to earth, and J'onn's sometime companion Diane Meade.  That may be somewhat sexist of me, but based on the scant information given, I'd say Helen's relationship with J'onn is less about science and more about humanism.  She seems to know and care for him.  The trouble is the long time reader of the Martian Manhunter's adventures doesn't.

Some may rightfully argue that the fact that Williams and artist Eddy Barrows imbue such gravitas to Helen exemplifies their skill.  Well, kind of.  It's just that when you've read a lot of comic books, you begin to absorb a sort of short hand.  You know the tropes associated with the history of each character, and you know what elements of a new origin represent the old traditions.  Helen is intriguing, but whether or not we'll find out more about the character is moot.

Williams' research into the history of the Martian Manhunter cannot be in doubt.  He'd be a fool not to since it's all out there for him to read, and he has access to DC's legendary archive.  He could be forgiven for most errors regarding the guest stars, but Superman says something unconscionable. 

What? No love for Supergirl!  

At a guess, Williams is more familiar with the post-Crisis Superman, not the current model.  When John Byrne reintroduced Superman, he specifically intended Kal-El not to be just the Last Son of Krypton, but the last.  Byrne's essay in part meant to eliminate the extended Superman Family that Kal-El acquired over the years.  There were so many Kryptonian survivors in the pre-Crisis that they founded a new planet.

Byrne felt that these characters undermined the power of Superman.  Needless to say, Byrne's Superman didn't have a mighty cousin.  Of course, while that version was still in play, Smallville decided to change course.

Supergirl returns all the time.  She's ingrained in the comic book community's psyche.  By the cusp of the post-Crisis, the bona fide Supergirl, Kara Zor-El reappeared.  In Superman: The Animated Series, Superman found Supergirl in suspended animation on the Kryptonian moon Argo.  In the new 52, Supergirl had her own series, foreshadowing what's going to be stupendous in the fall.  

You may suggest that Williams' overlooking of Supergirl is small potatoes, but is it? From the story's point of view, I suppose it is, and it may fall in the category of DC's new tag line: continuity doesn't matter so long as the story is good, yet knowing that Superman has a cousin means something to the tale.  Superman is trying to connect with J'onn, but by ignoring his cousin, Superman just seems disingenuous and becomes the liar that he's accused of being by every character from "Truth."

On the upside, I like that the promises of the cover do not really fruit in the way expected.  J'onn is not a brute force hero.  He's much more subtle, and his powers myriad.  Jo's defeats the Justice League not by turning into the monster on the cover, except when he does.  He instead employs tactics in keeping with the old J’onn J’onzz.  I’m also intrigued by the Saudi Arabian sneak thief who has bitten off more than she can chew and is more than meets the eye.  No, she’s not a Transformer, at least not literally.  Still watching this one.

Black Canary follows up its debut with a strong second issue that begins with Dinah training her band in hand-to-hand combat and gunplay.  

Dinah’s familiarity with firearms might alarm some older fans, but Black Canary isn’t Batman.  The reason she seldom used firearms is that she didn’t need them.  Her skills in martial arts and her devastating sonic cry was enough.

Lori Loughlin as the Black Canary from the Birds of Prey Television Series

The reason behind the training lies with the mysterious Ditto, who seems to communicate through song.  

Ditto's ability gives Dinah a special rapport with the McGuffin.  Meanwhile, the old lead singer returns to generate sparks, but she seems not to have anything to do with what’s going on, and the enemy just may have a familiar face.

The sleight of hand here is that Brendan Fletcher and Annie Wu reintroduced Black Canary almost with a clean slate, but if you look at her connections with Batgirl, and you go farther back, neither Cameron Stewart or Brendan Fletcher denied the past.  Batgirl’s and Black Canary’s new 52 Birds of Prey history exists.  Since they crossed over with Batman, that exists as well, and Canary already stated she was a member of the Justice League.  In any case, the revelation puts a nice capper on the cliffhanger.

King’s Phantom finishes the first story with the thwarting of an assassination attempt at a peace summit.  The actual Phantom does most of the investigative work, and that makes sense since Walker is a journalist.  That said Lothar’s relationship with Karma a witch from the King’s Watch allows him access to the Seven Nations’ Conference.  

Humorous repartee ripples through the dialogue of Walker, Guran and Lothar as they make a momentous statement based on epiphany.

I really enjoyed this Phantom series, and I liked Sandy Jarrell's and Ryan Cody’s artwork.  It’s clear there wasn’t a lot of time between issues.  Cody did a decent job, providing illustration that moved the story forward and could be very subtle at times.  It was a disservice to Cody to include a prologue from King’s Watch.  Michael Laming’s artwork is light years ahead of most in terms of quality.  Cody should not have to endure the comparison.

Gravedigger is pure pulp goodness.  The story could have come out of Blackmask magazine, been published as prose by Hardcase Crime and filmed as a sequel to Prime Cut.

Professional Criminal Digger McCrae cools his heels at a resort owned by Sergio Castellari local Miami mob boss, or at least connected.  Digger becomes involved with the boss man's daughter Eva.  Surprisingly, the boss is liberal when it comes to his daughter.

Jealous wannabe boyfriend Dominic isn't, and what he cannot have, he will kill.

The rotten put up job forces Digger to go on the run, and while giving Dominc’s boys the slip, he runs into an old acquaintance.

If the Rated R, grindhouse glory courtesy of Christopher Mills doesn't attract your attention, the art by former Batman Adventures artist Rick Burchett must.  Highest recommendation.

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