Monday, August 24, 2015

POBB: August 19, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 19, 2015
Ray Tate


Just.  Fuck.

The Pick of the Brown Bag tries to alleviate the mood with reviews of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Black Canary, Doctor Who: The Four Doctors, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, Justice League, Simpsons Comics and Vampirella.

This issue of Simpsons Comics is as good as the television episode "HOMR," in which viewers discover that Homer is actually a genius.  He just just has a crayon stuck so far up his nose that it pressures his brain.  I've mentioned this episode before.  It's one of my favorites because it creates a rather large escape hatch.

The book-length story in the current issue of Simpsons Comics crafts an explanation for the reason why Homer...Professor Frink explains it best.

This is an amazing bit of absurd reasoning.  As a result, and thanks to Marge's prodding, Homer becomes an employment agent.  It’s safer.  Instead of experiencing every event coming his way, Homer gives away all the craziness that gravitates toward him.  Thus, you get scenes like this.

The story should read as episodic with each Springfield resident getting a vignette, but writer Max Davison never loses his focus. He keeps the gags short and sweet, and they never usurp Homer's presence.  Homer’s a constant because he’s a catalyst.

Lenny's Picture is a Nice Touch.

The jokes do on the other hand let artists Rex Lindsey, Dan Davis and Art Villanueva stretch their creative muscles.  The story starts off with Señor Ding Dong, already a dashing caballero, and Homer in a bullfighting costume.  The book just gets more visually inventive from there.  Disco Stu for example becomes a race car driver.

Impressive in terms of illustration and plot, Simpsons Comics also boasts one of the cleverest and shortest means to save the town and return Homer to the status quo.  Davison buries the foreshadowing in the manic antics.  So you're unlikely to spot it.  One of the most brilliant issues in the series.  

Harley Quinn and Power Girl made me laugh aloud after the first couple of pages.  Harley's monologue of the story so far insightfully picks out a particular predilection amidst science fiction works.  The creative team of Amanda Conner, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Stephanie Roux follow through with an as far as you can stretch PG-rated lewd architectural nightmare.

The religious zealots who kidnapped Vartox interrupt our heroines’ sight-seeing tour.  This excuses another Harley episode of slapstick violence, and I’ll be damned if she doesn’t sound like Arleen Sorkin, the likeliest suspect of Harley’s popularity, all the way through the excursion.

After some cool Power Girl and Harley action, the book becomes trippy with an outrageous running joke involving a spectacularly science fiction means of imbibing some potent weed.

Within the mainlining plot twist, the writers throw in all sorts of gags, funnier than the next.  The art in this section of the tale is courtesy of Palmiotti's and Gray’s erstwhile partner in Jonah Hex mayhem Moritat.  

Last but not least Power Girl meets Vartox for the first time, and she’s not impressed.  You will be.

Black Canary's strong third issue takes a Mad Max/Buffy the Vampire Slayer styled road trip.  

The creative team of Brendan Fletcher and Annie Wu with Lee Louridge on colors further the optical delights by juxtaposing the fight with Black Canary’s latest gig.  

The band is named Black Canary.  Dinah Drake goes by the handle D.D.  I'll keep referring to only Dinah as the Black Canary.  Because I’m old school.

Along the way, we learn more about Black Canary’s pursuers and Ditto, the silent, innocent McGuffin of the journey.  Fletcher brings together a plausible link between Canary and Ditto, and Kurt Lance turns out to be a pretty decent human being even if he doesn't remember his former love.

The amnesia angle is one of the few instances when Fletcher employs former Black Canary continuity.  Kurt was presumed dead and rescued by the Birds of Prey in their title series.  Unfortunately, Kurt though revived lost his past.  

Fletcher doesn’t even go into such scant detail, and you really don’t need to know about the whole chain of events leading to Kurt’s resuscitation.  None of these links pertain to the story.

The dialogue between Dinah and Kurt exemplifies the way to use continuity to provide depth but not drown the reader in unnecessary detail.  So you can pick up some writing tips from Black Canary as well as be entertained.

Last chapter of Justice League, Batman usurped Metron's position as nigh all-knowing by taking his chair.  He is now in a position to guide the League.

The League will need counsel since somebody new arrives.

Mister Miracle was once well known to the superhero community: to Batman especially during the pre-Crisis...

...and as a member of the Justice League in the post-Crisis.  

The League's unfamiliarity with Mister Miracle indicates more evidence to suggest that Johns is writing his own continuity in Justice League.  More power to him.  Ever since he kicked off the new 52 his writing has been stellar.

Mister Miracle teams up with the League to witness the war between Darkseid and Darkseid's daughter Grail.  Grail's mother is an Amazon known as Myrina Black.  Myrina had Grail to ultimately kill Darkseid.

Johns creates interesting links between Diana and Grail.  Batman identifies Myrina Black as Hippolyta's "assassin." In the last issue, Myrina appeared to be Wonder Woman before Wonder Woman.  Diana and Grail have the same birthday.  Johns seems to be building to something involving Diana and Grail, and I'm tickled to say that I don't know what that is.

Meanwhile, on Apokolips, Darkseid's scheme to destroy Superman fruits.  

You see.  You can't kill Superman.  Hit him with gunfire, and the bullets bounce off his chest.  Strike him with a laser, and you actually feed him.  Superman can only be maimed through psychology.  He cannot suffer the hurt of innocent life.

Darkseid promised freedom should the slaves of Apokolips kill Superman, but Superman is experienced in the Justice League.  He's dealt with mind-control before, and he's discovered counter measures that cause the least amount of damage.  Although, not without consequences.

This is another reason why you should pick up Justice League.  It's the only place where you can find actual Superman.  Not bad haircut and jeans Superman.  

Come to think of it, Justice League is the only place you can find bona fide Batman, not Bat Bunny.

In the Superman titles and Clark Kent's cameos, a powerless Superman is just a thing.  A phase that he'll grow out of.  In Justice League, Superman losing his abilities is dramatic impetus.  In addition, Johns' reasoning behind the loss is flawless.  It's the dinosaurs.  A piece of comet the size of Miami dropped from space, struck the earth and covered the sky in a haze of soot, blocking out the sun for years, wiping out life in a domino effect.  The only reason why mammals survived is that some evolved the ability to hibernate.

Superman cannot absorb sunlight because the Firepits of Apokolips constantly disperse soot into the air.  The Firepits however provide the energy needed to sustain life without actually feeding that life.

Fortunately for Superman, he's got Lex Luthor on his side for a real change.

Not a trap.  Lex really wants to help Superman.  He's outnumbered by Parademons for one thing.  Anyhow.  Lex calculates like a scientist, but he fails to factor in Clarke's Law.  "Any sufficiently advanced alien technology will appear magical." Magic doesn't play by any rules.  That's what keys in the terrific cliffhanger.  From start to finish, Justice League is an engrossing thrill-maker.

In Nancy Collins’ penultimate issue of Vampirella the horror heroine must deal with dissension in her court.  Vampirella inherited the throne of Queen of the Nostferatu after she killed her half-brother Drago.  Killed however is a relative term.

Magic.  No rules, like I said.  Drago's relationship with Vampirella, for he bears her no grudge, exemplifies Nancy Collins' willingness to freshen not just the traditions of horror but also plain drama.  She's dealing with species that have different social mores and different outlooks on existence, and she imbues that unusual point of view to the dialogue and characterization.  Plot twists that wouldn't normally make any sense gel into clarity thanks to the understanding of what makes these creatures of the night tick.

Collins relishes the chance to better explore Vee’s character.  In her scenes with Drago, Collins demonstrates Vampirella’s versatility.  She’s compassionate toward her deceased brother.  She’s funny, and she also exhibits wisdom.  She bears no chip on the shoulder.  She’s quite happy to listen to Drago’s advice.  However, her humanistic aspect, which guided her since day two or three forces her into an unappealing agreement.

The rebellion allies itself with a surprising guest villain villain and holds Tristan, Vampirella's partner in the Kabal hostage.  The negotiation functions on backstabbing as well as surprising loyalties.  The whole exercise leads to a robust and satisfying conclusion.  Mind you, it's mightily bloody and preserves Vampirella's status as an adult comic book.  Rated R for violence.

So the hope I mentioned in the last review of the weekly series Doctor Who: The Four Doctors is waning fast.  It's one thing to portray the Doctors as not getting along, it's another to base your story on an identity crisis.

Oh, and I don't get the Bugs Bunny reference at all.

The Doctors and their thinly characterized companions face the Reapers, creatures that smell time and space paradoxes.  The Tennant Doctor triggered the spoor when he touched the Capaldi incarnation.  

Capaldi's Doctor is a product of Time Lord interference.  They changed history so that the Doctor might live.  I don't fully agree with Cornell's opinion; that the touch would be paradoxical and attract the Reapers, but I'm willing to dismiss my caveat as a difference of opinion.  We’re after all talking about a made up law governing time travel, which is at best hypothesis anyway.

My disappointment in The Four Doctors arises from the Doctors' behavior.  It's difficult for me to like the incarnations when none of them seem to be doing anything but worsening the situation.

I mean.  This is just stupid.  The Doctor doesn't purposely endanger his companions.

Compare the schism to the way the Doctors successfully worked together in the television series.  

This tiny exchange in the tale's only quiet scene is the only moment I fully appreciated.

See, that's funny.  The Doctors constantly squabbling isn’t.  The Doctors should synch up at some point and get along.  They're the same man.  The fusion of personae occurred in all the previous multiple Doctors tales.  

Why not this one?

Perhaps Cornell seeks to generate amusement by breaking with the formula.  I don't see this essay as even marginally successful.  It's not that Cornell is unfamiliar with Doctor Who writing.  He wrote several highly regarded Doctor Who novels, one of which was adapted for the television series.  The Four Doctors to date simply isn't up to his standard.

SHIELD agents rescue the Parkers in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, but are they too late to secure the Web-Slinger's life and do they even want to?

The surviving members of SHIELD aren't too happy with Spidey leaving the Avengers to be supped upon by super-power leech Regent, but "with great power, comes great responsibility.”

The Spider-Man of this universe stayed married to Mary Jane, and they had a daughter.  He abandoned the Avengers to save his family.  In the process, Regent defeated the heroes.  However, it turns out had Spider-Man been with the Avengers that night, Regent probably would have been even closer to his goal.  

As time passed, Spidey knew he'd need to hide Annie from Regent's repast.  So, he retooled defunct power inhibitor chips.  These chips prove to be the key for SHIELD's survival and a reversal of fortune.

More than any other Battleworld book, Renew Your Vows feels important.  That's because Spider-Man, M.J. and Annie come off as the legitimate articles.  They're not spouting bad, uncharacteristic dialogue like the Thor avatars.  There's no weird feudalism like there is in A-Force nor the annoying pseudoscience of Captain Marvel.  

Spidey behaves like a Spider-Man pushed by a dystopian takeover to protect M.J. and Annie.  That family feels like they’ve been around for years.

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