Tuesday, August 11, 2015

POBB: August 5, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 5, 2015
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag focuses on Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Angel and Faith, Barb Wire, Blackcross and Groot.

Superman’s advent created a boom in comic books.  Comic books existed before Superman, but the premiere of Action Comics ignited a paradigm shift.  Suddenly, comics would no longer be about detectives or gags.  They were now about super-heroes.

Every comic book company, those established, those yet to be, wanted their own Superman.  So, from the 1940s onward, new super-powered heroes burst onto the scene.  Some were sued out of existence.  

Others were bought outright by DC Comics.

Some heroes simply fell into the limbo of Public Domain.

Public Domain in this context means that you or I can write or draw a Black Terror adventure, publish it and make money from it.  Nobody owns these heroes.  

Project Superpowers was created by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross.  Dynamite owns these versions of the public domain heroes.  So, if you decide to write a story with such guys and dolls, you’ll want to avoid things like their being trapped in Pandora’s Urn, their fight against the Dynamic Family, etc.  However, Miss Masque is Diana Adams. She looks like this.

You can write your own thrilling adventures of her exploits in any setting or any period.  Diana goes to Africa and meets Judy of the Jungle.  Print that.  You can give her a different sexual orientation, despite DC choosing this route.  

Just don’t get her involved with the Fighting Yank’s descendent.  That’s too close to infringement.  Anyway, every public domain hero is open to re-interpretation, and you will own that version of that hero.  You can also be completely faithful to the original.  Simply write new tales with no changes to the crimefighters.  Leave them as they were.  Of course, that’s not Warren Ellis’ style.

Blackcross finally pays off.  The reader learns what this whole thing was about and how it connects to Project SuperpowersProject Superpowers as I intimated trapped all the public domain heroes in Pandora’s Urn.  I don’t want to spoil any whys and hows for you in case you decide to check it out, and you should, but suffice to say, the heroes break free.  They find themselves in the present fighting forces that have perverted the American Dream as they understand it.

Blackcross doesn’t touch the breach.  Despite being utterly different from Project Superpowers, not to mention grittier, Blackcross leaves that continuity alone.  Rather, Ellis' tale fits with the interim of the story.  Blackcross takes place while the heroes are prisoners inside the urn.  That alone is fascinating because it lends these heroes even more resonance through efficacy.  No mean feat.  Project Superpowers and the subsequent mini-series that spun off to focus on individual champions gave the stars a lot of depth and a lot of dignity.  

Ellis frees these valorous figures, while still confining them.  He relates their story without undermining the work of Krueger and Ross.  Chuck Worley's art while at times too dark certainly fits the mood of events that Ellis evokes.  

I also like that some of the heroes’ partners question their actions

Here’s another thought.  Is it really the heroes that are doing the bad things?  Did they chose vessels that were stronger than they thought? Are the vessels' darker sides coming out?

Barb Wire starts up with a montage demonstrating the eponymous character's potency as a bounty hunter.

Because Pat Oliffe's on hand the choreography is action-packed, with a nevertheless easy to follow narrative.  The characters look good and behave tough.

Alas, as Barb attempts to make up for a shortfall caused by repairs to her bar/nightclub the Hammerhead, a wild card forces her to think the unthinkable.

The bounty on the screwball is astronomical, but the trouble is that Stormblud is way out of Barb's normal human league.  Barb has no superpowers.  She's not even at peak physical condition due to the years of smoking she put in, an addiction neatly recognized in the story.  Ronda Rousey could take her down with little thought.  So what chance does she have against a demigod?

The conflict in Barb Wire is easy to sympathize with.  The answer to all your problems is right in front of you, but to get to that answer you must face seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

There’s a crossover going on between the Buffy the Vampire Slayers.  Don’t worry.  You don’t need to know anything about either to enjoy the other.  It turns out that some really, ancient demon is screwing around with Spike and Angel.  So, Angel’s in Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the moment.

The gag with the video-chat is really awesome because it lends even greater illusion that Angel and Faith is actually a television show that was never cancelled.  The video is the sort of thing that would happen if David Boreanaz had to go to an interview in New York while filming in Los Angeles.

Writer Victor Gischler intimates a connection between Faith’s current problems and Angel’s dilemma, but given the stunner of a cliffhanger at the end of the book, the cohesion is likely subterfuge.  Instead, Angel and Faith appears to be a straight on undercover Faith, rather than Angel, rooting out a nest of vampires; some with new powers as detailed in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but traditional enough that you’ll not bat an eye when they’re displayed.

The vampire’s make their nest in an English public school, and this allows for number one Faith disguising herself as a gym teacher, and number two a beautiful Doctor Who reference regarding Fred, Faith’s partner in crime.  

So, you’ve got excellent characteristic dialogue, artwork that replicates the actors and actresses; although it is not as photorealistic as previous issues.  Several memorable dustings and a Doctor Who homage.  What more can you ask for?

Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows is the best Spider-Man story I’ve read in years.  That’s because he’s married to Mary Jane, so there’s that essential comic strip genuineness to the ensemble, but this tale is nastier than anything from the comic strip.

Although I will say that the Black Widow story for the current run was pretty exciting and mature.  

For those that came in late, Spider-Man retired when super-power sponge Regent won and took over the world.  Spider-Man, Mary Jane and their daughter Annie May lived a quiet life thanks to the power inhibitors that Spidey retooled.  Their enforced serenity changed when Spidey saw Power Pack and his daughter endangered.  

The arachnid was out of the bag.  Now, Spidey wears the black costume to hide in the shadows and reflect his darker, no-more-second-chances personality.  Many believe Spidey is a coward for leaving the Avengers to save his wife and daughter from Venom—they don’t know that part.  Mary Jane and Annie know better.

This is the Amazing Spider-Man I grew up reading about.  He’s not a jerk and forget being a player.  He’s a guy with the powers of a spider wounded by life and forever taking responsibility.  He's devoted to the woman and little girl he loves, and he'll do anything to protect them.

Groot is great.  The old joke about the dawn of automotive history and the first traffic accident takes root in the Power Cosmic.  The Silver Surfer accidentally knocks into Groot who's making his way to earth to recruit help to save Rocket Raccoon.

The Silver Surfer isn't a character that's easy to take.  He's a perpetual whiner, obsessed with his planet Zenn-La and his beloved Shalla-Bal.  He can kick ass, but it usually takes a freaking long time between soliloquies to actually get him motivated.  You want to see the best of the Silver Surfer, check out the second original Fantastic Four film Rise of the Silver Surfer.

Anyway, writer Jeff Loveness' done-in-one encounter creates a good balance between the Silver Surfer's tendency to commit melodrama and his willingness to fight for the right cause.  All accomplished through exquisite artwork by Brian Kesinger and the beautiful colors of Vero Gandini.

The girl named Dawn is a relatively new addition to the Surfer's myth, but she's not the first human to travel as companion to the Surfer.  Alicia Masters holds that honor.  Dawn is a likable sort and keeps the Surfer grounded to reality, which is a good thing.

The trio encounter a planet that appears to be suffering from an ion storm, but it turns out to be the flame for the type of moth that epitomizes the Surfer.

The monster however ignores Groot, dismissing him as a mere tree.  Groot in turn uses his vegetative state to the highest degree.  In the end, the intelligence of the natives and Groot save the day.  The peaceful species also solve Groot's problems and send him on his merry way.

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