Wednesday, July 1, 2015

POBB: June 24, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 24, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review column by yours truly.  Before we begin, congratulations humanity.

Dorian Gray and Ethan Chandler from Penny Dreadful

Gay marriage isn't just a win for the gay community, it's a win for every human being.  It's a sign of overall progress as we civilized apes take more baby steps to a bright future of peace and scientific achievement that's free from superstitious nonsense and prejudicial dogma.  We are getting here.  

Slowly but surely.

As for the comic books, this week I'll be looking at the clunky titled Age of Ultron vs Marvel Zombies, heretofore known as Ultron vs Zombies, Aquaman, Batgirl, Doctor Who, Frankenstein Unbound, Justice League 3001, Legendary Red Sonja, Scarlett Couture, Southern Cross and We Are Robin.  I'll also examine two issues of Mythic.

In Ultron vs Zombies, alternate universes smash together.  It sort of makes sense in that opposites, brain-feeding, mostly mindless creatures and a super-intelligent artificial intelligence, attract.  Dr. Doom apparently feeds the zombies with lawbreakers.  In the opening scene, that "criminal" is Tigra, and she's really the only reason I purchased this book.

Tigra is love, and she's drawn that way by Steve Pugh

Tigra's brief sequence encompasses everything that she is.  Writer James Robinson has a sense of her many facets and skills.  To reward that comprehension I read the entire story.

Robinson next gives flashback artists Ron Garney and Matt Milla the opportunity to detail Ultron's many victories over the superhero community.  The colorful large spread, multiple pages of destruction and tastefully delivered death is an eye-popping paean to villainy.  Of course, the impact is dulled by the fact that none of these heroes are your heroes.  So you can just look upon these moments as what ifs.  Once Robinson and company explain the Age of Ultron the action settles into the now.

There's very little to complain about cowboy Jan--whose dialogue is a hoot--and folksy Hank with his unseen clockwork men.  The presence of Michael Morbius is worth an eyebrow raise.  Although he sticks out, he also blends in with the anything goes concept.

After the Sentinel delivers Hank to the badlands of Ultron, he finds the unusual landscape incredibly dangerous, but fortunately for him not only Tigra prowls the premises.

The rescue signifies a hilarious team-up, and this may be the last we see of three heroes that have been embedded in Marvel continuity since the seventies.  I suspect once this Battleworld shebang is over that the Marvel books will better resemble the media franchise.

In the last chapter of Doctor Who, the Doctor attended an auction for alien artifacts.  Most of it turned out to be harmless junk.

One item attracted his attention, and it's in great demand. 

The Doctor and Cleo lost out on obtaining the object, but they  track the item to a former celebrity's humble abode.  All hell breaks loose as Cleo backstabs the Doctor and utilizes the device's special powers. 

Unfortunately, Doctor Who scribe Nick Abadzis quickly abandons the potential for a Christopher Eccleston remembrance, but I wonder if that wasn't because of Titan's license of an Eccleston Doctor Who series.  I mean Abadzis wouldn't have just raised the comedy possibilities including a hypothetical meeting between Gabby, the Doctor's current companion, and his past incarnation, just to dismiss it.

Oh, well.  What we have here is pretty good anyway.  The juxtaposition of earth scenes and space scenarios in particular mirrors the best of the earth-bound episodes' pacing.  Overall, the Doctor Who comic book functions about as seamlessly as a Doctor Who episode can.  The story furthermore captures the look and feel of the Tennant era.

Once time and space corrects itself, we discover that Dorothy didn't just want the device to put on her mantle or to combat old age.

This act of survival definitely lends the character and her companion Vivian sympathy.  Cleo on the other hand works for a local Big Bad, and he knows the Doctor by reputation, never a good thing.

As the Doctor attempts to work out what happened to Dorothy, Gabby quickly reunites with the Doctor.  Only she carts her annoying friend Cindy with her to prove that she's not insane.  

One of the differences between old Doctor Who and New Doctor Who is that the companions do not live in a vacuum.  Their relative youth frequently indicates family ties and closer friendships that the Doctor must deal with.  

Somewhen, Jackie, Rose's mom, and the Doctor mend fences.  Not here though.

The comic book is no different, but the conflict between Gabby and Cindy and Cindy's acceptance of the Doctor is an undercurrent to a much more cosmic story.

As the story progresses, the object which may have ties to an old Doctor Who story arc makes its presence known and offers intriguing consequences to be dealt with in the next issue.

Becky Cloonan's compelling mystery the Southern Cross teases out a few clues or red herrings as tough female hero Alex Braith must investigate the death of her sister and her missing bunkmate, a legitimate detective.

Braith is either experiencing hallucinations, or the Captain who seems a well meaning sort lies to cover up crime.  Could it in fact be a combination of the two or something else?  Cloonan evinces a habit that's extremely clever.  She orchestrates actions against Braith that could be either for the sleuth's own good or a means to shut her up.  These methods echo the halls of hardboiled private eye novels, but Cloonan gives everything a science fiction polish achieved by artist Andy Belanger that always reminds you where you are.

I decided to try Justice League 3001.  As the title implies, the story takes place in the future, but this is the original Justice League, kind of.


As science continues to uncover nature's toolbox, we're starting to accept that who we are is very much a dictate of our genes.  You can't learn your orientation.  You are, or you're not.  The choice comes in whether you embrace that genetic destiny.  In the same way, a parallel you is still going to be recognizably you not just physically but also in terms of intellectual capacity, empathy and possibly temperament.

The variation will arise in the shaping of that intellect.  One choice may lead you to a career in physics, the other in the field of physiology.  One choice may find you married, the other single.  These are superficial changes.  It would take a vast degree of psychological and physical stressors to create a truly opposite number.

Writer Keith Giffin's wholesale replacement and restoration of the League creates a different feeling from other League books and different characters.  Not every League fan will like these simulacrums.  Some remain themselves while possessing the power of a Leaguer.  The Flash for example.  Some of the subjects are essentially hosts and symbionts.  Wonder Woman seems little changed.  You can argue it's because she's magic.

The Guy Gardner femme is a lot easier to take because Giffin characterizes her differently.  She lacks the arch Right Wing conservatism that framed the original jackass from the post-Crisis Justice League.  Guy's actually effective in this story, in a humorous, adaptive way, and ironically, the best part of Justice League 3001.  The he/she jokes from other members on the other hand become tiresome very quickly.

Superman without the experience of being raised by the Kents takes Guy's traditional role.  Nobody appears to like Superman and with good reason.

Superman's suggestion incidentally alludes to Guy Gardner's attempt to usurp Batman's authority in the post-Crisis Justice League.  That's how much of an ass Superman has become.  Batman on the other hand who never experienced the murder of his parents appears a lot happier.  

Greg Pak also addressed the nature/nurture concept in Batman/Superman when a New God wiped out Batman's and Superman's memories.  Bruce took pleasure in being Batman.  It wasn't an onus.  He even pursued Lois Lane.  Then, he got his memory back, and a chill came to Gotham.

Fire and Ice also make their home in the future, and they are the originals through bizarre circumstances covered in the dialogue.  Booster Gold and Beetle who arose in the future as time travelers in another issue are still out there.

The most startling change occurs with Lois Lane.

Giffin's idea that Lois is trying to kill the League with each mission she as Ariel sends them out on is quite intriguing and reminiscent of Cardinal Richelieu and the Musketeers from the BBC series.  Her ire at the League and particularly Superman originates from something the past Clark did to her.  All I can say, if she's the quisling from "Truth" who revealed Superman's secret identity to the world.  She deserves whatever comes her way.

I didn't expect much from Justice League 3001, but I got more than I bargained for.  It's not as funny as Giffin's past classics, nor is it as intriguing as Giffin's Legion of Super-Heroes, but it's amusing in places and dense in future politics which may float your boat.

Believe it or not, We Are Robin is actually good.  The premise is solid.  With Batman dead or missing, the future of Gotham lies in the hands of a group of kids trying to live up to Batman's example, and they may even have the tacit approval of the man himself.

Alternately, our mystery man could be Alfred.  Either one makes sense.  For the debut, writer Lee Bermejo focuses on new recruit Duke Thomas.  Thomas had an encounter with Batman, and that makes him of special interest to the team.

Duke was recently separated from his parents by the Joker.  They like Batman may be dead or missing.  As a result, he finds himself in the not so gentle arms of Gotham's foster system.

Duke decides to split and continue his search for his parents. He heard from a reliable source that many of the Joker's victims wandered into the sewers.  Instead, he uncovers a terrorist plot.

The Big Bad susses out Duke in a most unusual way, but fortunately for Duke, he's got back up he never knew he had.

We Are Robin is simply put perfect.  Bermejo respects his subjects.  He presents the teens as technologically and socially savvy.  They're a smart network of do-gooders that would indeed naturally develop from Batman's demise.   Think of how many people Batman saved over the years.  A Batman Family wouldn't be the end, just a beginning.  Their numbers give them the edge over wannabe criminal armies.  Their youth grants them unbridled energy and optimism ably rendered by artist Jorge Corona.  A pleasant surprise.

Batgirl returns with the same verve she had in Cameron Stewart's, Brendan Fletcher's and Babs Tarr's previous series.

Who Can Turn the World On With Her Smile...

That's Babs Gordon as Batgirl grinning as she takes down a cult of yahoos with Batarangs.  The yahoos in question intend to bring back Batgirl's nemesis Oracle, but they get a much more surprising and welcome return, which allows for greater Batman/Batgirl partnership in flashback.

Oh, and if you think they forgot about Bat Bunny, you're wrong.  In a sequence that parodies Michael Keaton's and Tim Burton's Batman, Bat Bunny makes his presence known and demands Batgirl's surrender.  He's a cop.  He's a bunny.  He's cleaning out the Batcave.  No more vigilantes.  Just in case, you haven't seen the house ads, I'll keep his identity secret.

In a related police story, Babs is much closer with her father.  

Although the lack of mustache irritates her something fierce.  I agree.  Jim Gordon must have a mustache.  

A nicely timed issue with twists galore and the same terrific artwork that brings out Babs' kinetics in exciting scenes of Batgirl action.  The book also utilizes Bat Bunny and the implications for the Gordons' relationship quite intelligently.

I hate it when writers fix what isn't broken.  Coming out of the gate of the new 52, Aquaman has been consistently entertaining.  Geoff Johns first addressed the Seinfeld Curse levied against Aquaman, and he eliminated any notion that Aquaman was somehow watery tea with the introduction of Piranha Men.  

Johns then strengthened Aquaman's ties to the Justice League with the highly recommended Throne of Atlantis crossover.  Jeff Parker next took over the title, and he gave us scenes like this.

Cullen Bunn assumes Aquaman authorship, but this isn't Aquaman.  It's Arion.

Arion was an ancient sorcerer and swordsman from Atlantis who starred in his own series from the pre-Crisis.  He became a word of mouth fixture in the post-Crisis due to Power Girl suddenly becoming his great, great granddaughter, or something.  Don't ask.  It sucked.

Aquaman embraces magic and becomes a swordsman under Cullen Bunn's auspices, and I just wonder if this wasn't a straight up Arion reboot before DC and Bunn decided it was better suited for Aquaman.  The character redesign even looks Arion-like.  If it weren't for the blonde hair and finned green tights, I wouldn't know who this guy is.  The sword, that transforms into a trident...

...and this scene would soon have immediately directed me toward Arion.

The ice would have even been a callback to Arion's original intent that is to defend Atlantis as it faced an Ice Age.  

Flashbacks reveal how this turn of events occurred.  Sort of.  They will no doubt go into greater detail on how Aquaman got his ridiculous sword/magic trident...

Even this story notes that it's not the same trident. Aquaman got his breastplate, why Mera now apparently leads Atlantis into a war against her former lover.  They'll be doing this without me.  I liked Aquaman the way he was.

Better underwater action can be found in Des Taylor's  Scarlett Couture.  The voluptuous spy finds herself in the depths of the Pacific after discerning what intel got her fellow fellow agents killed.  

Sharks and assassins abound beneath the ocean.  The whole final act of this chapter alludes to Thunderball, although on a smaller scale, and Scarlett uses a cool weapon that actually exists, unlike the stupid sword/trident.

Red Sonja concludes in awesome fashion.  Marc Andreyko opens with an amusing anecdote from Sonja's childhood and follows that thread to the exciting resolution of the cliffhanger where Frankenstein decides to end Nemo and Sonja via patchwork animal men.

The She-Devil with a sword soon discovers Frankenstein's evil scheme and decides to thwart him all by her lonesome that is of course unless her allies survive the machinations of the mad Baron.  This was supreme fun.  Pick up the trade if you can't get the back issues.

Mike Mignola uses the Frankenstein vehicle more as a tool for education than action.  Although, he also touches upon the creature's want for a mate and recalls a classic Universal scene that fell to the cutting room floor.  So this isn't just a lesson in pseudoscience legend.

Having fallen to another land, the creature meets Morlocks, whose nasty disposition provokes violence.  They weren't always thus.

A pair of scientists befriend the creature.  Of course the camaraderie proved to be a lie.  One looked to dissect the creature.  The other wanted to use the giant for his own purposes.  

The creature soon learned that he was not the only resident.

Despite their condition, these poor souls are not dead.  Rather the Big Bad of the piece keeps them alive for sadism's sake.

Mignola's Frankenstein's Monster is a tragic figure, and he's the hero by default not by true altruism.  Hellboy for example wouldn't have hesitated to free those caught in the High Priest's trap.  It's the right thing to do.  The creature's pitiful existence hampers any heroism it may exhibit, and that aspect not only distinguishes the creature from Mignola's other creations but also creates complex characterization that's interesting to follow.

Once there was a man named Charles Fort.  Fort had a thoroughly different read on the world and how it worked.  He was an arch observer and a talented researcher.  He wasn't however a man of science, nor did he care for religion.  Indeed, Charles Fort believed "god must be mad" if the world worked the way he observed it did.  Fort for example believed frogs materialized out of nothingness and rejected more rationale hypotheses to explain a sudden infestation: frogs lay their eggs deep in the soil to protect their young from drought; when it rains, the frogs hatch and spring from the soil thus creating the illusion of spontaneous generation.  Fort inspired the creation of Fortean Societies and The Fortean Times still published today but far more scientific and tongue in cheek dismissive of the truly impossible.

Fortean philosophy appears to be the basis for the entertaining Mythic.  The lady chastising the scientist is a clairvoyant, and the first issue introduces this quirky team of Forteans who deal with problems by thinking way, way outside the box.

Needless to say Mythic is about as unscientific as you can get and presents a world view that's absurd.  It's that absurdity that tickles me that and the artwork of John McCrea.  McCrea imbues the characters with realism as you can see, but he unleashes an unbridled imagination when depicting the creatures.

The first issue of Mythic introduces the characters and explains what's what.  Writer Phil Hester also injects his typical quirky humor into the situations and characterization.  

The second issue finishes what the first issue started, but it also introduces an antagonist for the Mythic team.  The tone changes from the surreal to the horrific.

The revelation leaves you curious because the Mythic team appear to be nine to fivers with unusual talents.  They even greet the prospect of overtime as something to be treasured.  The idea of such a group having an enemy is somewhat potty.  Heroes have enemies.  Mythic though are operatives in an as of yet explored corporation.  They're essentially valued  employees, and the ones Hester and McCrea focus on are one group of many.

This week Patrick Macnee died.  Like most of you, I first encountered Macnee as John Steed in The Avengers.  His suave yet humorous portrayal of a secret agent was about as far from Bond as you could get.  Though he would aid and abet Roger Moore in A View to A Kill.  Steed with his partners Catherine Gale, Venus Smith, Emma Peel, Tara King, Purdey and Gambit provided me with hours of enjoyment over the years.  Macnee soon became one of my favorites.  Macnee never seemed to resent Steed.  He seemed to genuinely like the character and happily reprised him in The Hardy Boys as well as The Return of the Man from UNCLE.  The role might be under a different name, but umbrella and/or bowler, and you knew.  Macnee also could play against the Steed warmth.  It's the fact that Macnee was Steed that made his transformation in The Howling that more shocking.  So, Cheers, to Patrick Macnee.  Forever Steed.  He shall be missed.

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