Tuesday, July 28, 2015

POBB: July 22, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 22, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, the weekly blog for comic book reviews.  This week I look at Bart Simpson Comics, Batman 66, Frankenstein Underground, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, John Carter Warlord of Mars, Justice League 3001, Marvel Zombies, Spider-Woman and We Are Robin.

Bart Simpson Comics is a winner with the return of Homer’s nerds from the television episode “Homer Goes to College.”
Benjamin, Doug and Gary fix their problem by consulting an expert on the every man.  Unfortunately, they bore him to sleep.  No problemo.

Bart comes up with the perfect time-wasting, addictive game, but as all parties grow richer and richer, Bart goes on a power trip.  He discovers the consequences of hubris.  Courtesy of John Zakour, Rex Lindsey, Dan Davis and Art Villanueva.

The second story by Tony DiGeralamo mashes The Last Starfighter with some realism and Kang and Kodos.  The aliens capture Bart.

Bart’s natural aptitude for video games does not translate into any usable fighting skill, but he still manages to find a victory over the alien overlords, neatly illustrated in fifties style by Mike Kazaleh and Villanueva.

While you can argue that Digeralamo’s story bears some resemblance to “A Pharaoh to Remember” from Futurama, I’d make the point that these similarities are ubiquitous to the ruling theme.  Furthermore, the finale recapitulates the beginning of the tale for a creative capper.

Incidentally, for those not in the know, Kang and Kodos made their official debut in The Simpsons proper—that is not in a “Treehouse of Horror.”  So their appearance here is not a breach of “the flexible reality” the show maintains.

Justice League 3001 is shaping up into a very entertaining Keith Giffen book, complete with signature story features.  You can think of Justice League 3001 as a cross between Giffen's wry 90s Legion of Super-Heroes series, the one in Mando format, and his 90s Bwa-Ha-Ha-Ha Justice League.

For example, a Giffen commentary on media idolatry and ego occurs on the first page.

The media personality, I'm afraid both my spellcheckers forbade me to type her name, interviews Ariel Masters, the leader of the Justice League but in reality their greatest enemy.

Ariel fits Giffen's quirky sort of humor.  Not only does he pervert Lois Lane into a villain, he places an ostensibly intelligent person into power but brings her down with idiots.  He did the same thing to Maxwell Lord.  

Giffen and friends introduced Lord as a mover/shaker, a cool man in control.  He's felled by the antics of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold.  Maxwell Lord returns in Justice League 3001 for one of two amusing, fourth-wall-breaking FAQ pages, reminiscent of Giffen's Legion.

Lord refers to one of the most inappropriate moments of darkness where the Powers That Be at DC told fans in no uncertain terms.  Fuck you.  We hate you all, not just Ray Tate.  

Instead of uploading a thoroughly distasteful image.  Enjoy this image of puppies.

Before the dank abyss of comic book writing boiled and bubbled, Justice League luminaries Giffen, J.M.DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire reunited to create Super-Buddies, a revisit to Giffen's old League.  

The thing is their outright comedy had been mostly finished long before Blue Beetle's decapitation by dum-dum.  Justice League Classified was meant to get the stories that had been languishing in an already paid-for slush pile on the racks.   

According to Comic Book Urban Legends, Kevin Maguire changed an innocuous ending to protest the dark turn DC had taken.  He did something similar to preserve Mary Marvel’s dignity.  By doing the former, at least, Maguire established that the Super-Buddies existed in a parallel universe, a kinder universe, despite DC's insistence it no longer had such things.

Anyway, Maguire’s former cohort Giffen's emphasis that Maxwell Lord is not the same Maxwell Lord from the depressing dreck means something.  I interpret the explanation thus: there will be drama in Justice League 3001, but it still will be fun.

Also in play, Starro.  Giffen always thought differently about Starro.  

He never took the giant Starfish remotely seriously, and he still treats the creature as a goofy phenomenon.  Supergirl speaks for Giffen in Justice League 3001.

That is the genuine, accept no substitutes, Supergirl, whom Giffen strangely does respect.  Perhaps, this is due to his writing the character before, in persona or in various guises, when the Superman Family were erased from DC history.

Supergirl lands on Starro's planet just as the League begin fighting the beast's drones.  The fight is due to Guy Gardner, now in femme form actually pulling off something smart last issue.

These changes are not merely superficial.  Giffen takes great delight in confusing Gardner's traditional right wing nut characterization.

And it's really weird seeing Batman fighting alongside of Guy.  Batman is in fact more interested in curbing Superman's stupidity.

The final panel suggests that no matter when, the Bat is willing to confront “whatever remains, however improbable.”

Harley Quinn and Power Girl addresses the theme of extremism vs hedonism, but don't worry the entire creative team still delivers the laughs.  

Artists Stephanie Roux, Elliot Fernandez and Paul Mounts relish demonstrating a wide gamut of expression from the characters rarely seen in comic books and more probably watched in a Chuck Jones cartoon.

Harley Quinn displays surprising cunning when faced with a robot that wants to do to Harley what the GOP wants to do to Planned Parenthood.

Amanda Conner and Jimmy Plamiotti are the only writers that focus on the intelligence that allowed Harleen Quinzel the opportunity to earn doctorates in psychiatry and medicine.  Psychiatrists also must acquire medical degrees, don't you know.

So buried beneath that pile of insanity is a brilliant woman.

Before Harley happens upon the solution to her problems, Conner, Palmiotti and the artists orchestrate a hilarious huddle with the hip black dude alien straight from the seventies.  You can almost hear the mellow in his voice.  I mean this is really subtle and funny, it's a gem of a scene fixed amid the slapstick.  Sorry.  No spoilers for this scene.  It must be experienced.

Just when you think Palmiotti and Conner drop the funny switch down a few degrees, they introduce a new group of super-heroes.

Their relationship to Vartox is the key to their formation.  The weirdest thing about all of this lunacy is that Palmiotti, Conner, Roux and company form the same needs for every superhero comic book but using the central idiocy of Vartox.

Harley's Batman 66 doppelgänger debuts, and this is a decidedly different version of the henchwench.  She is in fact Dr. Holly Quinn whom the Arkham Institute treated. 

As you can see from the recap, she was victimized a little differently from the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini creation.  The exposure to the machine gave Quinn a Jones to emulate the Joker, whom she sees less of a lust object and more of a role model.  

In other words, she wants to be the Joker's Robin, and please no jokes about the relationship between Batman and Robin.  He adopted him at eight, after the boy lost his parents to tragedy.  That hasn't ever changed.

Writer Jeff Parker keeps the antics campy, such as when Batman's naïveté facilitates Harlequin's trap, but Batman 66 has a lot going for him.

When The new 52 premiered the creative teams played up Batman’s belief in redemption.  This facet contrasted the darker, less humanistic vigilante from the post-Crisis.  Batman for example remanded custody of Poison Ivy to the Birds of Prey, because he felt they were a good influence on the villainess.  The Earth Two Arkham Asylum was turned into an amusement park when that Batman's Rogues Gallery had been cured of their madness.  It's nice to see the original Bat-Optimist want to help his villains as much as he wants to protect Gotham City.

The second story I'm sorry to say is a lackluster affair and contrived to allude to Mad Men.  I never saw the show.  So maybe fans will better enjoy the insider jokes.  Anyway, I can't fathom why Babs Gordon is seeking a temp job.  Everybody knows she's a librarian. They need not find summer jobs like teachers.  So what's the deal?

The temp job just seems to be a setup to place Babs in the right place at the right time.  The Gotham villains want a new image and feel the ad firm can deliver.  Babs outwits them of course, but her battle of wits just lacks the punch, figuratively and metaphorically, of her Batgirl what-if.  

Nonetheless, excellent artwork by former Batman Adventures artist Ty Templeton and Tony Avina.  Love the glittery Batgirl costume.

We are Robin continues to intrigue with a realistic follow up to the impressive debut.  The Robins battle the Big Bad's homeless army to save introductory figure Duke from being beaten to death.

The Robins however learn that crime fighting isn't all fun and games, and no matter how many you are, you're still going to take some knocks.

At the same time, the Robins do not work alone.  They have a secret benefactor who is also a master of disguise.

One Robin is in contact with an “imaginary friend” who seems to predict what she may need for the fight.

All these factors make We Are Robin fascinating.  Add engaging characterization, a decent portrayal of the younger generation and artwork by Rob Haynes and Jorge Corona that lends to the fluid action, and you've got a comic book that's remarkably entertaining.

Marvel Zombies flood a sector of Battleworld and only Elsa Bloodstone, legendary monster fighter can stop them, but can she stop herself from becoming her father without losing the edge that he honed?

The answer to that would be yes.  Marvel Zombies is hilarious and engrossing with Elsa resisting pragmatism to save a disease-free kid from the horde.  

In most zombie media, the zombie menace is mostly treated as a disease or infection, spread through a bite.  Zombies apparently still can make saliva, or their mouths are the perfect breeding ground for whatever the hell it is.  More reason why zombies don’t make one bit of sense.

Elsa’s antics and dialogue offer the reader a riotous ride, and the scripting makes the most of its unusually cleverer than most brain-eating plague.  Even if you’re not a zombie fan, and I’m not, Marvel Zombies has much to offer. 

Spider-Woman goes on a road trip with Ben Urich and the Porcupine, who wants to reform, but finds himself facing a problem.

Yeah, it looks bad for the Porcupine, and Spider-Woman probably isn’t the best person to tolerate a reforming super-villain, despite the fact that she’s also a reformed super-villain.

On the other hand, Jess is genuinely concerned about the Porcupine when Wild West refugees attack.  

The free wheeling story by Dennis Hopeless turns shockingly dramatic, and artists Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez give their all for a remarkable aesthetic.  

Spider-Woman needs to be on your subscription list.

Ron Marz and Ian Edginton tie in the latest issue of John Carter Warlord of Mars with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Synthetic Men of Mars, which basically transplanted Frankenstein to Mars.  Burroughs’ however did not plagiarize Shelly.  Rather, the John Carter novel is a good example of an homage, and Burroughs’ speculation that tissue could be be grown in test tubes was prescient.

The beast from last issue’s rather mediocre investigation becomes interesting with this tie-in and hints at a fate of Dejah Thoris that her Jeddak John Carter will not allow to come true.

Much swordplay follows with a lovely end to the creature that caused all the trouble.

Frankenstein his own bad self returns in the conclusion of Mike Mignola’s, Ben Stenbeck’s and Dave Stewart’s Frankenstein Underground.  Mignola frames the story in terms of an ancient war.  The explorers of the underground released the darkness, and now a demon of Cthulhu proportions roams free unless Frankenstein can discern his purpose.

Despite the punchy action, Frankenstein Underground is more philosophical and more merciful to the creature than most works.

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