Tuesday, September 1, 2015

POBB August 26, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 26, 2015
Ray Tate

It’s getting harder and harder to just review comic books when crap like this happens:

Remember the words khap panchayat because it’s the new phrase for evil. 

This week we look at a handful of titles including Batgirl, Doctor Who: The Four Doctors, Hellboy in Hell, Marvel Zombies, Pantha and Jane Porter, Spider-Woman and We Are Robin.

Drivel! Absolute Drivel!

Our story opened during the Time War with writer Paul Cornell reintroducing the Voord, aided by able artist Neil Edwards.

The new Voord are a far cry from the original alien species debuting on television in "The Keys to Marinus.”

The Doctor’s Granddaughter Susan meets a Voord.  
She’s not all that happy about it.

The Voord were never deeply explored on Doctor Who, and their vagueness left a lot of room for expansion and redesign.  They were never what they seemed to be; men in transmogrified scuba suits.  So, Cornell and Edwards run with the idea.

The Voord throwing in with the Time Lords makes sense, and this opening scene in The Four Doctors in addition neatly exposes readers to the ninth Doctor as portrayed by John Hurt in “Day of the Doctor.”  

Now three issues in, this is the last we’ve seen of Doctor number nine.  It’s also the last of the good writing.  I would like to know exactly where is the promised fourth Doctor in the triumvirate of idiots presented by Cornell?

Could this be a cheat and the fourth Doctor is actually Peter Capaldi’s Doctor as Robinson Crusoe instead of Cardinal Richelieu?

The Robinson Crusoe Doctor is the result of the Doctors being lured through a maze to a literal deus ex machina.

Continuity Bomb describes The Four Doctors quite well.  I get the feeling had this been written by somebody not so invested in Doctor Who we might have gotten a credible story.  What does the Continuity Bomb do?

This.  Doesn't.  Make.  Sense.

The Continuity Bomb allows writer Paul Cornell to create phantom pasts, futures and presents for the Doctors.  These are alternate timelines with little substance.  That I get.  A trite plot device, but excusable given the protocols of Doctor Who.

Because the Time Lords no longer monitor the time/space continuum, Doctor Who implies that there are millions of contingencies each with its own set of consequences passively competing for substance.  Yes, it's messy, but so is thinking about time travel.  

The Time Lords possessed means to determine which timeline had the strongest potential to be and allowed that timeline to flow naturally.  Others they let die.  Some were strong enough to become alternate universes.  Still others required removal, and usually they sent the Doctor to do that job.

“We foresee a time when they will have destroyed all other lifeforms and become the dominant creature in the universe.”—The Time Lord from “Genesis of the Daleks”

Here lies the fatal flaw in Cornell’s story.  In order for this tale to work, the Big Bad must have been able to predict that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor would exist, but that’s just not possible.  

The Time Lords changed history to save the Doctor in “The Time of the Doctor.”  He was slated to die defending Trenzelor.  The Great Intelligence invaded the Doctor's grave.  He journeyed into the remains of the Doctor—a kind of doorway to the Doctor’s history—and destroyed him in every incarnation at the same time.  Clara journeyed into the Doctor’s timeline to undo the Great Intelligence’s damage, thereby displacing the Intelligence.  

All of that, the Time Lords preserved and at the same time shunted aside in order to seed a new timeline, one in which they grant the Doctor at the very least a new regenerative cycle—something they’ve been capable of doing since “The Five Doctors.”  

You see.  That’s the magic in “Time of the Doctor.”  The Time Lords finally realize that the Doctor isn’t the embarrassment of Gallifrey.  He is everything that a Time Lord should be.  Clara pleads with the Time Lords to grant the Doctor life.  Thus, the Time Lords change history on the Doctor's behalf.

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor’s existence is impossible to predict.  That is why Cornell can argue for the Blinovitch Limitation Effect.  The idea is that the Doctor is a living, breathing paradox.  Very well.  Reapers ho.

However, Robinson Crusoe Doctor depends upon predictability.  In other words, the Doctor’s existence was always part of history.  So, why are there Reapers?

You can’t have it both ways in this story.  Either the Doctor is an anomaly, or he’s predicted.  He cannot be both things, and the Big Bad cannot be so advanced to understand the intricacies of time so well.

I might have been able to ignore this hamstring of logic if the rest of the event was just spiffy.  It is not.  Here we are in issue three, and the Doctors are still squabbling like fighting fowl.  The dialogue is atrocious.  

What does that mean?

The companions—two comic book ladies and Clara based on Jenna Louise Coleman—continue to be shallow figures projecting roles in the story rather than personality, and the whole thing with the French Comics is very annoying.

I’ll be very cross if these French comics do not play a major part in the plot, although I can’t see how.

We Are Robin continues to interest with time bombs and a homeless/crackhead army poised to attack Gotham City.

The Robins test their worth, and they turn out out be highly organized and capable.  Furthermore, they're willing to perform the ultimate sacrifice.

Somewhat reminiscent of the real life Guardian Angels, the Robins act as an anti-gang dedicated to the memory of Batman, but there's a new Batman in town, wearing a robot bunny suit, and he's more territorial than the original.

To be fair the new Batman is being monitored.  However, his odd behavior alerts the Robins that there's even more evidence that the Bat has gone for good.  That can't sit well with the teens.

In addition to all of these twists, turns and narrow escapes, even though the Robins remain in the dark about the nature of their mysterious benefactor, readers step into the light.

Marvel Zombies proves to be more than just Elsa Bloodstone kicking zombie ass, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  The story started viscerally, but everything changed when Elsa discovered a waif among the monsters.

Now, as she journeys with the girl, Elsa begins to soften and question every rotten little thing she learned from her father Ulysses Bloodstone.

This is one of the few times Marvel has backtracked on their continuity.  Created by John Warner, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, Ulysses S. Bloodstone was essentially Marvel's Doc Savage.  Only he fought monsters rather than criminals and would-be world dominators.  Bloodstone was essentially a cool immortal that protected the world, usually in the back pages of Rampaging Hulk.

He was not a domineering, mentally and physically abusive father.  In fact he wasn't a father at all, nor in color for that matter.

Bloodstone's history changed when modern storytellers got a hold of him.  They granted him a daughter, but successive scribes kept degrading him from mere hard-ass trainer to somebody who should be reported to child services authorities.

Am I upset about this change in Ulysses Bloodstone's history? Kind of.  I was never invested in the character.  Though I question the necessity of the stain, but that's not Marvel Zombies writer Si Spurrier’s fault.  It wasn't his idea.  He's simply using what is continuity to relate an interesting story in which Elsa Bloodstone comes to terms with the potential mirror inside her.

There's so much to recommend in this Battleworld tie-in.  The story opens with Elsa chatting with Deadpool and learning what horrible fate the zombies condemned him to.  Even though I'm not a Deadpool fan.  I was moved by the whole episode.  

Deadpool is resigned to the torture the zombies inflict.  Deadpool's super power is a drawback rather than an asset.  Elsa's logic is inescapable, but her mercy is touching, and you realize in that scene this is a horrible world, one that should not exist.  Kudos also go to artist Kev Walker for his depiction of the emotions as play.

The zombies never really threaten Elsa.  She's too canny and skilled, and this issue, she also gains a boost in the form of the family legacy.  However, as intimated in previous issues, Elsa is being hunted.

Not by Morbius.  Heh.  It bothered me seeing Morbius as a vampire.  I wondered how this happened because vampires are vampires.  They can’t be turned into zombies.  Then, it hit me.  Moribus was turned into a vampire scientifically.  Hence his sobriquet “The Living Vampire.”  He’s alive.  So he can be turned.  Good thinking on Spurrier’s part.

The creature that’s actually hunting Elsa turns out to possess a personal reason for the foray.  The rationale draws into Elsa's history and connects with her reverie over her past; leaving reverberations that far exceed the expectations of a simple zombie tale.

Pantha and Jane Porter is pretty entertaining.  Writer Emma Beeby is as far as I can tell a newish writer, and the one-shot ties into the Swords of Sorrow mini-series.  These two factors could have led to, if not disaster, certainly mediocrity.  Instead, Pantha and Jane Porter is tightly plotted, and the players well characterized.

Pantha for those not in the know starred in her own feature in Vampirella magazine from the 1970s.  She also popped up in Vee's adventures to lend a helping paw.  Pantha is the avatar of Sekhmet, an Egyptian lion-goddess.

Pantha’s referred to here as a high priestess and the daughter of Sekhmet.  Close enough.  As long as she shape-shifts into a black panther and has some connection to a proper Egyptian cat deity I’m happy.

Jane Porter is Jane as in Tarzan and Jane.

Can Jane fly in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels? I don’t recall any scenes where Jane is a pilot.  Is the new role a bit much? Not as strange as Irene Adler suddenly becoming a lion hunter, in another Swords of Sorrow one-shot.  

The aviatrix is still a popular archetype.  Beryl Markham was flying around during the 1920s and 1930s in the African bush.  Jane originally operated during that time period.  It’s not a bad match, and there’s something of a canonical precedent.  

I’ve often thought that Tarzan the Untamed was Burroughs’ attempt at rebooting Tarzan of the Apes.  Burroughs appears to kill off Jane early in the novel, and secret agent Bertha Kircher seems to be Jane 2.0.  Although Tarzan harbors no romantic feelings for the woman.  More importantly for the review, Bertha flies a plane.   

Beeby’s story begins with an innocent from ancient Egypt evoking the goddess Sekhmet.  Unlike the more laissez-faire deities, Sekhmet actually listens.   She sends Pantha.  A little late but better than never.

The demon clues Pantha in that Chaos, the Big Bad from classic and current Vampirella, is up to its old tricks again.  Something new has been added a sword and a Chaos-powered time hopping pyramid.  Hence, the team-up.

Sure.  They don’t get along at first, but there’s no animosity, just confusion.  The battle also doesn’t stretch out for three freaking issues.  So this is way better than the Four Doctors.   Instead, Jane and Pantha realize they’re needed, quickly compare notes and begin taking names.

The man they argue with is real life Egyptologist Professor Flinders Petrie, and he's just one more touch that makes Beeby’s story such a pleasure to read.  Another nuance comes in the form of a known guest villainess with superb dialogue and savvy.  She has the edge because she knows the rules of the game.  She knows who Jane is.  She knows Pantha from olden days.  

In addition to all these points, the plot’s completely fairplay, and as you can see by the graphics illustrator Rod Rodolfo and colorist Nanjan Jamberi makes the whole affair easy on the eyes.

Somebody's killing software designers with tigers.  

Could it be Batgirl's old nemesis, the Velvet Tiger?  Could be, but who is the Velvet Tiger, and does she prowl in a secret identity closer to home?

Writers Brandon Fletcher and Cameron Stewart complicate the mystery with red herrings, frame-ups and side-tracks.  In the meanwhile, Batgirl and Luke Fox become closer.  In her secret identity as Babs Gordon she helps Alysia plan her wedding.

Strong issue with even stronger art.  Pity about those green eyes.

Spider-Woman finishes her second volume run with a satisfying fun conclusion to her road trip with Ben Urich and the Porcupine.

The tale gets weirder.

But the Porcupine susses out the answers and saves the day, a reflection of Spider-Woman's influence.

The fun ends with a righteous Avengers Assemble.

I like that Spider-Woman returns to the fold.  She deserves to be there.  The fact that Black Widow is doing the calling is an insider's amusement.  Natasha is SHIELD.  Jessica Drew is former HYDRA.  There's also a bit of irony thrown into the conversation.  Jess feels useless in the Avengers next to the unpowered Black Widow.

What can I say about the current issue of Hellboy in Hell?  I'm starting to think that he may not be in Hell after all, but in a limbo from whence he can escape.  The fact that he can suffer from something indicates that maybe he's more alive than dead.  The atmosphere furthermore feels more lost than tortuous.  So, yeah there's some deep thought here, but you know what made me grin like a maniac?

I'm not saying that Hellboy was just about a big red dude with satanic influences swear and layout giant monsters with a big metal fist.  But.  Isn't that great?

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