Tuesday, September 22, 2015

POBB September 16, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 16, 2105
Ray Tate

This week I critique Black Canary, Southern Cross and Tokyo Ghost.  I know.  Right? Three comic books.  What the hell? Last week, as many comic books as there are Republican Presidential candidates, and this week, three.  That’s just how the pieces fell, my friends.

Tokyo Ghost is a cross between Judge Dredd…

Where’s the Second Movie! C’mon!




Amidst Blade Runner inspired visuals, Police Officer Debbie Decay rides with her porn-addled beau/partner LED Dent on a super-cycle built for two.  Her target? Davey Trauma.  Trauma can possess people with science fiction magic.

And that’s as far as the plot will stretch.  Essentially, Tokyo Ghost is one chase after another, which would be Fury Road good if I couldn’t help feeling that I’m being had. 

You see.  Tokyo Ghost doesn’t want to be anything.  Not even mindless entertainment.  It just wants your money.  It’s a vaguely cyberpunk leech.  Like Sucker Punch, Tokyo Ghost manipulates touchstones of geekery in a vain attempt to convince its audience that it’s not coddle-flop.

Judge Dredd addresses fascism.  Especially, Thatcher-era neofascism.  The character of Judge Dredd evolved to the point where he becomes the nigh fairest of the Judges, with the Chief Judges growing ever more corrupt.  The latest Mad Max movie takes place in a misogynistic dystopia.  The operatic car stunts burn on the backdrop of social risk and upheaval.  Taken is an adrenaline fest that reinvents Liam Neeson, but it also addresses themes of human trafficking, the perception of female expendability and police corruption.  Ultraviolet is about a sword-wielding vampiric heroine portrayed by Milla Jovovich, but it’s also about the fear of antibiotic resistance, the ethics of treating the afflicted and a religious takeover of medicine.

What is Tokyo Ghost saying?  Nothing.  It just regurgitates the themes and visuals of superior work.  Debbie Decay is kind of like Tank Girl but without the attitude.  Yes, she’s violent, but so what? Lots of female heroes are violent, but the good ones usually have a reason.

Debbie doesn’t articulate a rationale for her actions, or for her choice of occupation.  The movie version of Judge Dredd conveys the sense that the Judges, while probably not the best solution, are at the very least a well-intentioned solution.  The honest Judges want to rid the drugs that crime lord Mama is selling.  Plain and simple.

What does a cop who buys information with drugs represent?  Sterling symbol of law enforcement? Drugs are inherently bad? Debbie refuses to use them but has no qualms when perpetuating growth in an industry she despises.  She’s essentially a hypocrite, and it's difficult to cheer hypocrisy.

So, no.  Tokyo Ghost isn’t speaking out against drugs or any kind of addiction, although it pretends to make a case.  Debbie states: “Everyone regulates themselves with the Nano-Tech.  Easy emotional fixes and physical alterations.”

So how did these male models get into the story?  

Why is this normal looking girl playing a pinball machine with a product placement on it?

Oh, and why are the patrons in a big arena watching “car wrestling,” to borrow a phrase from Pops Racer?

A lot of what’s said and what’s seen doesn’t coalesce.  From Debbie’s point of view, the populace are either “sheep and or wolves.”  While we definitely see wolves.  The sheep are a little dicier to identify.  What with the people of this world appearing to have varied interests and not suckling the teat of specific entertainment.  A much better example of that type of obsession occurs in Max Headroom with the infamous Blipverts.

Observe.  Here’s what Debbie says:

And this is what’s actually seen.  

It looks to me like she just entered a somewhat seventies, European nightclub/slash restaurant that you might see in a giallo.  Not the place where I can make love to my other self, which I wouldn’t consider incest but a form of advanced self-pleasuring.  The idea of clone sex by the way was first seen way back in Samuel L. Delaney’s and Howard Chaykin’s Empire.  Debbie mentions “snuff prostitutes” which is really nothing more than a variation on suicidal cows at Milliway’s from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy universe.  “Hong Kong Suicide Slots?”  Either Futurama’s Suicide Booths or an insulting reference to the Suicide Girls.

My point is the writers are just putting stuff together in a haphazard way.  They're just copying and pasting locution together.  I’d wager they shredded some science fiction novels then taped together the words at random.  No that would be too much work, and Tokyo Ghost is a lazy, parasitic exercise baiting Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Oh, my god! They’re making him do the Hustle.  Those bastards!

No! Not strippers! Tell me it’s not strippers!

This sprinkling of titties just emphasizes my argument.  Tokyo Ghost pretends to be a mind-blowing, cutting edge experience, and to that effect it adds sex, but it's weak tea PG-13 sex.

Listen, a thonged graceful gluteus is gorgeous to watch in public.  In a sex scene it’s about as desperate a grasp for straws that you can get.  The lead actress refuses to do nudity.  The filmmakers can’t afford a body double.  So, after much coaxing, they resort to a little lap dance and carefully positioned thonged ass.  I’m insulted, and Tokyo Ghost is crap.

Southern Cross is just the opposite of Tokyo Ghost.  Southern Cross is a superbly crafted mystery, and writer Becky Cloonan is well aware of the conventions necessary for the genre.  Instead of murder on a famous train, we have murder on a starship.  

The time span is important in both instances.  Homicides on trains allow for a leisurely paced story and a more expansive look at the suspects and the detective.  The same can be said for a starship chugging through space with a six day time displacement; as opposed to functioning on a sci-fi shortcut, such as a time/space vortex or hyperdrive system.

Artist Andy Belanger contributes to the sense of plausibility.  He's made The Southern Cross a big beast of a vessel with consistent engineering and black steel alloy design.  So not only does this lend the idea of a hulk lumbering through the universe rather than schussing through the cosmos like Enterprise, the Southern Cross is also large enough to conceal murder and create a hunting ground for the killer amidst crew or passengers.

Opposing the murderer, Alex Braith a sleuth blended with her time period.  The future in which Alex operates, is something foreseeable, neither utopia or dystopia.  Just different.  The facade allows the reader to easily digest the surroundings and concentrate on the mysteries.  

Alex Braith is extraordinarily characterized.  Alex expresses a disenchantment with authority, and earned a criminal past for the privilege.   Cloonan clearly defines Alex's purpose and abrasive personality as well as a keen intelligence focused on finding the truth about her sister Amber.  

Alex's sister was part of the machine, in this case a corporation called Zemi.  Alex knows the facts of death have been doctored.  This issue of Southern Cross, Alex discovers the culprit and the far reaching plot that got her sister killed.

While the plot in question perfectly suits a modern crime novel, other elements in Southern Cross bring the story to the thresholds of science fiction and horror with a taste of Lovecraft terror/wonder.  A remarkable feat of writing and original art.  Makes me hate Tokyo Ghost even more.

Black Canary draws the focus away from the band and the lady.  Instead, writer Brendan Fletcher turns his attention to Maeve, the band Black Canary’s former lead singer.  

This biopic told from Maeve’s point of view to the kidnapped Ditto sheds light on her vanity and her callousness.  While its a tale not without a modicum of humanity, it’s designed to fascinate like a snake’s gaze rather than solicit empathy.

When the tale ends, we discover the lengths Maeve will go to regain her fame.  This includes handing over ditto the very wrong people, one an old enemy of the lady Black Canary.  Just when you think you’ve got grasp of all the players, a new voice makes itself heard in a soft whisper that’s nevertheless action packed.  Recommended even if the art team skipped a beat.  Substitute illustrator Pia Guerra does an admirable job.

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