Monday, July 13, 2015

POBB: July 8, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 8, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog, I review the week's comic books: the good, the bad and the ugly.  Compliments and criticism are welcomed.  The comic books this week are Batman/Superman, Earth 2 Society, Justice League United, Red Hood and Arsenal, Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Starfire and Vampirella and the Army and Darkness.

Congratulations, ladies.  You're awesome!

Every once and awhile during the nineties DC and Marvel would kill off a hero, metaphorically and/or literally and stick a more violent less interesting replacement in the suit.   

Sometimes they would add insult to injury and replace the suit; usually something with arm and leg pouch bands.

Around this time an independent would remember that superheroes were supposed to be fun.  They would put together a beautifully designed champion who saves lives and solves crime rather than bloodying hyper-murdering super-villains in what appears to be an unstoppable wave of evil.  They would have her ply her trade in a well thought out but brisk story and do so with elegant cuteness.  You would instantly fall in love with that book because it was giving you exactly what you're looking for.  Alas there would be two issues and then a third in five years with a fourth in the next twenty.  I don't begrudge the time limit.  Usually the people who did this had day jobs, and there was no Kickstarter.

Starfire resembles such an independent.  It's as good as any protest against the grim and gritty.  The difference is that Starfire's being published by DC, has a consistent publishing schedule and focuses on a character that's been around since pre-Crisis.  

Oh, and we're not really in another Dark Age of comics.  Sure a couple characters are "dead," but they're not either, and DC isn't suggesting otherwise.  One can argue that the new new Batman fits the replacement category above, but nobody in his right mind thinks Bat Bunny will last long.

A hurricane storms through Key West, and Starfire jets around the isle saving lives while being cute and funny. 

Not to worry.  Kori's all right.  The Tamaran alien while not as invulnerable as Supergirl or Power Girl is still pretty tough.  After shaking off the impact, Kori soon runs into her new friend Stella Gomez, Sheriff of the island city.

The Sheriff's use of a tank may seem convenient, but thanks to a law passed in 1997 police are allowed to buy military equipment.  So, it's not unusual that a Sheriff has a tank in paradise.  The presence of the tank is an example of writers Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti contrasting Starfire's dazzle in a realistic setting.  Kori also promises to wreck it in an amusing scene; thus once again showing just how powerful she is.

With Bertie the Parrot rescued, Starfire must now race to Stella's brother, who may be a hero, or may have a death wish since he lost his wife.  

Meanwhile, something took advantage of the storm and surfaced from a sink hole.  This incursion sets up the next issue.  Yeah, Starfire is pretty much everything I'm looking for.

Batman/Superman seems to recapitulate the nineties.  Big clunky robot bat suit? Check.  Bad Superman haircut? Double-check, but there's a difference.  Nobody thinks the power-cut Superman with the exposed secret identity and bad hairdo will last long.  As mentioned above, neither will Bat Bunny, even if it is...

Spoiler Ahoy!

...Jim Gordon in the suit.  The fact is that Jim Gordon makes for a lousy Batman.  He's too by the book, and Batman needs to be an outlaw.  Superman on the other hand is still Superman.

The Man of Steel makes an extraordinary effort to work with Bat Bunny, and they have a good reason to bury the hatchet.

Naturally it doesn't work out.  Superman actually takes the role of investigator.  Whereas Bat Bunny assumes the bruiser function.  Ultimately, Superman breaks from the partnership because Bat Bunny is too reminiscent of the way he was perceived.

This isn't a great issue of Batman/Superman because of Bat Bunny, but it's better written than it's type.

Red Hood and Arsenal on the other hand is fantastic.  I know.  I'm as surprised as you are.  The cover depicts Red Hood and Arsenal fighting mimes under the banner "Silent But Deadly!"  That should clue you in that this book should be considered nothing more than bwa-ha-ha-ha funny, and people, it is.

Roy Harper's sobriety and firepower are the only things writer Scott Lobdell takes seriously.  The story kicks off with Jason Todd becoming Roy's roommate and partner again.  He discovers that Roy already spent the check that Washington Fixer Tara Battleworth cut them.

From there, Battleworth gives Jason and Roy a tryout in Paris.  All they need do is retrieve a thumb drive from an unfriendly scientist formerly of S.H.A.D.E.  That's no big deal, but this is where the book diverges from other would-be spy series.  Jason has a personal mission, and Roy digs it.

Many terrorists are killed or beaten to a pulp in two hilarious video game styled spreads courtesy of Howard Porter and Hi-Fi.  There's no real rational when this happens.  It's just a massive waving of creative license.  Lobdell and Porter also make good on the mimes.

 You thought the mimes were just a cover gag, didn't you?

When the story concludes, Lobdell demonstrates that Jason and Roy aren't the rubes they appear to be.  They don't trust Battleworth or forces inside the government.  So they pull a clever tactic, while getting paid for the betrayal.

Red Hood and Arsenal is full of laughs.  The characters read as consistent and true, while still being the source for numerous gags, and this is the only book I've read where getting shot in the shoulder actually incapacitates.  You don't shrug that off.

Jeff Parker turns Justice League United into Justice League Task Force.  Task Force was originally a means to mix and match superheroes not necessarily tied into the League for a specific mission.  It was run basically by the CIA and mostly negligible, save for a few stories.

We'll see how long a revisit of the format lasts.  It's not entirely similar.  Writer Parker turns Adam Strange into the Watcher.  This however might be too different to stick, and I'm not entirely wild about the idea either.  It might be fun for awhile, but not as a long standing plot device.

Better is Parker using the current United Team as Justice League contacts.  Parker constructs his first band out of Poison Ivy, formerly of the Birds of Prey.  So, she does at least have some experience working with others.

Batgirl Cameos for Two Pages

She might be more inclined to cooperate given the presence of Swamp Thing, previously a member of Justice League Dark.

Filling out the ranks, we have fan favorite Mera, and Jason Blood, who could be Parker's callback to Cosmic Odyssey, still one of the best post-Crisis adventures.  In the genuine mini-series--only four issues--Superman gathers Eagles that include Jason Blood.

Justice League United forms this task force to combat a particularly odd menace, that you might see in The Doom Patrol, were this the Silver Age.  

Justice League United is very plot-driven, but Parker does include some personality in the Star-Spangled Kid's scenario and he seems to really like writing Jason Blood, as an arch occult investigator, similar to how Jack Kirby conceived his creation.  Poison Ivy's best moment comes in her brief encounter with Batgirl, but the rest is readable.  However, fans will miss the double-act of Animal Man and Green Arrow.

The Earth 2 Society reveals why an exoskeleton powered Batman hunts down Terry Sloan; no it's not just a good idea.  Sloan and the rest of the survivors of earth 2 are attacked from within.  So Sloan decides the logical course of action is to crash all the ships that he and the World Army oversee and sort out the pieces later.   That's not however the most interesting thing about Earth 2 Society.  This is.

That's right.  Batman created the ultimate contingency plan, a terraforming device with Kryptonian and Amazon input and technology.  That's how good Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are.  Even after their deaths they wanted to protect humanity and the planet.

Best written Mary Jane ever.  "With great power, comes great responsibility."  Mary Jane and Peter Parker never split.  They married and had the adorable Annie, depicted in the heart-to-heart.  Annie inherited her father's powers, and that's a bad thing because Regent is in charge.

Regent is a superpower vampire, and he has become Spider-Man's number one bug bear because almost every Spider-Man foe is just a punk with a gadget.  So, Spider-Man's rogues' gallery voluntarily serve the Regent.  The Parkers have done their best to shield their daughter from Regent's senses.

But it's just not meant to be.  Despite Pete's best efforts, Annie shorts out the power inhibitors he created.  Again, Spider-Man is really, really smart.  People tend to forget this, but in "Renew Your Vows" we get the ultimate Spider-Man, who is not hampered by his marriage or fatherhood.  It fuels him.

The Amazing Spider-Man.

Lastly, Vampirella and the Army of Darkness is pretty disappointing.  The story takes place within the film Bruce Campbell and the Army of Darkness (Evil Dead III).  This is the film where Ash finds himself in the medieval times fighting the Deadites.  The jokes wear thin as does his attempts to bed Sheila.  

I recently revisited Army of Darkness.  Ash is a lot less crass than he's portrayed in the comic books, and he has genuine feelings for the comely maiden.

Vampirella arrives, but the book doesn't get better since she's either not really here, and we're only seeing a creature with her aspect, or she's behaving contrary to her traditional, altruistic characterization.  That could be due to The Necronomicon's influence, but honestly it doesn't matter.  The end result is no fun.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Ray,

    Your blog is great. I found it by a circuitous route, and I'm glad I did. I'm so happy you're still writing (so is Gail; I showed her). I wish I knew more about comics and stuff, so I could comment on the actual content intelligently.

    Will you permit me to write you at greater length somewhere? I owe you something. I've owed it for more than twenty years.

    Stacy H.