Tuesday, October 27, 2015

POBB October 21, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 21, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week I review Agents of Atlas, Doctor Who, Justice League, Reyn, new book The Shield and the Uncanny Inhumans.  I'll also look at Emily Blunt's new film Sicario.  

The Time War comes into play as it did in Christopher Eccleston's Doctor Who Series One.  The warring species the Doctor met in previous issues reveal much more going on than a battle between alien races.

The Centaur People known as the Unon attempt to recruit the Doctor to help them in their ostensible altruism, and yes, reader you should doubt their word.  They too easily reflect the history of the Time Lords, and they possess Time Lord artifacts   The Doctor however has only one goal.

The other alien species The Lect captured Rose, and they reveal themselves to her in an uncomfortably Dalek fashion.  Are they however the enemy?

Writer Cavan Scott intrigues with dead-on characterization.  The scribe matches a superb translation of cast likeness into comic book art by Blair Shedd   This particular incarnation of the Doctor is most apropos for the comics.  Christopher Eccleston's avatar of the Time Lord rarely remained still.  Adherence to that peccadillo converts into a strong, action packed story.  Worth buying in chapter-play form.

Geoff Johns forges the new New Gods.

With Darkseid apparently slain in battle by Mobius, history seems to fill the vacuum with familiar faces.

Mainly a setup issue with striking Francis Manapul visuals, the story-so-far feeling changes when the spotlight turns to Lex Luthor.

The corruption of Superman leaves Lex no choice but to improvise survival and substitute himself in an ancient prophecy.  Of course, that just may prove hazardous, but every Pantheon needs its trickster deity.

There's of course much more going on here than meets the eye.  Writer Johns possesses vast knowledge of obscure DC continuity.   Adora the woman Lex Luthor meets in Apokolips is named after his wife from another continuity.

At the same time, Johns mixes Adora's identity with the Darkseid follower Amazing Grace from the early modern age Superman books.  What this means for Lex Luthor's future is anybody's guess, but Johns' nod to the past imbues Apokoliptan Adora with instantaneous resonance.  It's a neat trick, but I wonder if it's objective or subjective?  In other words does this technique impact the same way for new readers?  Johns sees this character as Adora wife of Lex Luthor.  So perhaps the identity allows him to confidently write her in a way that permits the perception to transcend novelty and/or unfamiliarity.

Agents of Atlas unfortunately is a Battle World book.  So none of what happens counts in the story.  As such, it's a supplementary purchase.  Tom Taylor does have a good handle on the Agents of Atlas, and if Jeff Parker’s no longer available to regale readers with more tales of this infectious group of 1950s heroes, then Taylor will do just fine.

The story takes place on an earth where Baron Zemo conquered.  The people are basically slaves geared to produce weapons for Battle World.  Hydra took over SHIELD of course, and we can presume Zemo killed any resistance.

In this Dystopia, only one group answers the call of the people.  The Agents of Atlas who are for those not in the know, Jimmy Woo, Namora, Venus, The Human Robot, Gorilla Man and Marvel Boy, also known as the Uranian.

The story is a classic in which Baron Zemo captures Jimmy Woo while the Agents of Atlas attempt to free slaves deemed unsalvageable.  In Nazi tradition, they’re sent via train to Zemo’s experimentation camps.

It’s this scenario that clues Zemo in on Venus.  Also in Nazi tradition Zemo intends to mate with her to produce ubermensch.

Venus as established in the previous Agents of Atlas is not actually the goddess Venus.  She is instead a siren.  That makeup will be important later in the story.

Taylor understands the team as much as artist Steve Pugh, doing straight drawing rather than painting, comprehends the group's body language.   So, yes.  This Agents of Atlas special means nothing to the canon, but it’s a  fun, done-in-one with great artwork and a potent narrative.

The Uncanny Inhumans has a beginning, a middle and an end.  Of the three choices, I liked the middle.  Medusa leads a team of young Inhumans in New York to battle Marvel movie villain, the Chitauri.

Yeah, more of this.

The beginning I’m guessing ties into Battle World.  Black Bolt, Triton and some other guy called Reader, seek Black Bolt’s missing heir.  

I don’t know who Reader is, and I don’t care.  I care even less about Black Bolt’s son.  Furthermore, why did Black Bolt take Triton with him?  He’s not Aquaman who’s a heavy-weight on land or sea.  Triton needs water.  Oh, and what’s Kang’s part in this? Never mind.  I don’t really care about that either.

The end in which Medusa admits to finding somebody else to love needs to go away.  I mean far away.  I don’t ever want to think about this ending ever again.  I’d like this disturbance in the force to go the route of Clandestine in which Alan Davis dismisses the brief abhorrent post-Alan Davis Clandestine as a nightmare produced from a bad burrito.  Yeah, the ending in The Inhumans is the deal breaker.

Last we have an inconsequential epilogue.  It clues the reader into Gorgon’s condition, which is frankly hilarious given the technology of the Inhumans.  It’s Batgirl all over again, but more hirsute.  No.  I'm not going to institute a boycott like I did for Batgirl.  Gorgon is a third tier character at best.  Besides, this is the new, shiny Marvel.  He's likely to be crippled for a few months, tops.  

The younger Inhumans are blank slates to me, and the only question I have about Inhuman SHIELD agent Frank McGee is whether or not he’s related to Jack McGee.

The Shield returns to comics, and this time I think Archie has got something.  Originally The Shield and Captain America were conceived with similar origins at about the same time. 

The second Shield from the 1950s was a tongue-in-cheek character crafted by Simon and Kirby.  He was a combination of Doc Savage and Superman.  Although his adopted farmers were more like the Kettles rather than the Kents.

With the newest version, authors Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig opt for a serious tone.  They portray the Shield as an immortal female named Victoria Adams; thus breaking the tradition of all male Shields.

Christopher and Wendig grant their character a complement of powers that make Victoria a street-level Supergirl.

Unlike Kara, the Shield is not invulnerable.  She has died many times, and she feels pain when directly assaulted.  Not however when she performs feats of strength.

The means in which her powers work may in fact reflect the name.  A shield after all can be dented in battle but not break.  It can be reworked until whole and continue to protect the wielder.  A shield can be shattered, but the pieces re-forged.

All well and good, but what makes The Shield different is the way in which Christopher and Wendig relate a dramatic presentation that few would associate to Archie Comics.

Victoria manifests in modern day Washington D.C.  I make the distinction because we don't exactly know how she arrived or if she had always been there.

However, we don't actually find out about the Washington booking until a few pages after a memory of being the Shield in different periods and dying in those same eras.  

The simultaneous nature of the onset establishes this new series as something different.  If The Shield were a novel, the memories would have unfolded in chapter one.  The booking would occur in chapter two.  The comic book format however allows for a flow of continuous narrative; thus observing that the memories happen at the same time as the physical questioning.  It's unique, and demonstrates the authors' understanding of the medium's strengths.

Drew Johnson weaves the visual, and he never stops arresting the eye.

As the story continues, the writers inject further novelty to the framework of the tale.  While you may predict that D.C. detective Simmons will be our point of view figure.  Learning about the new superhero at the pace of the reader.  In fact, she knows more about The Shield than Victoria.  Victoria is the reader's companion.  We learn about her the same moment she learns about herself.  This is an unusual way to relate a comic book, and if the writers continue to surprise with these twists to protocol, and a nonlinear narrative, The Shield will be a welcome addition to the picks of the brown bag.

The ninth issue of Reyn continues to explore the strange feudal world that actually decayed from an advanced technological universe.  

Previously, the alien lords known as the Venn kidnapped Reyn's companion Seph, a Techno-Witch.  Now, they demand a piece of their ship that Reyn stole.

The way I'm describing the story seems pretty straightforward.  At least to any science fiction fan.  Writer Kel Symons however enlivens the plot with riveting dialogue between the Venn and Seph and plots an exciting lead to an unforgettable cliffhanger.  Don't even look for a spoiler.

Artist Nate Stockman and colorist Paul Little fill the in-between with more of the same type of visceral action that attracted me to Reyn in the first place.

These scenes are sauce for the goose, and it's a very plump bird indeed.

The Emily Blunt Film Review

The Emily Blunt Film Review section of the POBB is brought to you by Fox and FriendsFox and Friends, proud purveyors of shit since 1998.

Sicario is a thriller that exposes corruption associated with the war on drugs.  Now, I have no idea if this is what American agencies do in real life.  Sicario is a movie not a documentary or a docudrama.  It’s a movie however that convinces you that the war on drugs is a cancer that doesn’t just exterminate human lives but also erodes human dignity.  Neither is that war black and white.  It’s mud.

Emily Blunt stars as Kate Macer an FBI special agent that’s an expert in missing person cases.  When she and her partner Reggie discover unexpected terror during an FBI raid, Kate’s invited to be part of a task force meant to net the criminals responsible.  What she gets is an eye-opening look at intra-agency operating procedure.  It’s a horrible and often surreal vision that offers the audience excruciating moments of suspense.  You frequently feel that any character can die at any moment.  Including the stars.

The cast is phenomenal.  The acting is so natural and matter-of-fact that you really forget who is taking part in the film.  Thus, Emily Blunt easily assumes the skin of Kate Macer, an all-too mortal female agent authentic in every move.  Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Torro, Daniel Kaluuya, Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovan and badass Jack Bristow himself Victor Garber barely register as themselves and just become their parts.  It’s doubly amazing when these roles are so antithetical to most of the characters they played in the past.  Well worth seeing on the big screen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

POBB October 14, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 14, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this full week, I’ll review Batman and Superman, Bombshells, Gravedigger, Justice League United, King Tiger, Marvel Zombies, Spider-Gwen, Starfire, Twilight Children and a look at the crowdfunded Star Trek Renegades.

Some may wonder why I buy Batman and Superman.  It after all seems to be an adjunct to the main titles, and the stories are hit or miss.  I have numerous reasons.  

Thanks to Greg Pak, the book is always readable.  In fact sometimes, Batman and Superman surprises you with amazing quality.

In this story, the identity of Superman’s tormentor was more of a who and so what.  However, Pak’s other ideas were novel, well executed, humorous and optimistic.  That counts for 

Batman and Superman is an economical means of keeping up with developments I care nothing about but should know.  Batman and Superman is a lynchpin type of book.  It adheres to the continuity of its heroes’ umbrella of titles.  For that reason, I'm aware that Bruce Wayne is no longer Batman and the current model sometimes dons a robotic bunny suit.  Superman lacks his powers, and the world knows his secret identity.  These arcs are only temporary.  Better to buy just one book that catches you up and at least tries to relate a ripping yarn.  Like this issue.

There are three reasons other than Greg Pak’s strong writing to dictate purchase of the most recent issue of Batman and Superman.

Cliff Richards doing the art.

Vandal Savage.

Batgirl.  Actually four.  Cliff Richards drawing Batgirl.

See how easy that was?

Batgirl is also a member of Justice League United's latest away team, and this issue writer Jeff Parker uses her extremely well.  As a stealthy combatant...

...a superb martial artist...

Action orchestration courtesy of Tom Grummett.

...and as a symbol of innocence that defies Vandal Savage's assumptions.

Batgirl just rescued Savage from Sgt. Rock and Easy Company.  They hold a grudge with the immortal.  Like Enemy Ace, Rock knows something curious is going on, more curious than anything he and Easy Company ever faced.

Enemy Ace also beautifully written recently saved the Star-Spangled Kid from the gravity of his mis-staged dogfight.  The Enemy Ace fights according to a code.  Part of that code is not attacking frauleins even if they fly in the sky.  The other codicils are a little surprising.

While Batgirl and The Kid make new friends or rescue teammates, Cliff Steele and Cyborg contend against the Creature Commandos who add Frankenstein, G.I. Robot and new character G.I. Zombie to their ranks.

Seriously, why are you still sitting here reading my review.  Go and buy this issue?

Justice League United comes off as a Bronze Age comic book.  You would drop by your local drugstore, plunk down two quarters and select a comic book, with a story that you hadn't read from the beginning.  

Nevertheless, the writer would be so good at his job that you would soon catch up on the plot.  The characters could be anybody, including heroes and associates that you never encountered before but were happy to meet.

Bombshells opens with the only good version of Batwoman in the comics beating the snot out of a Nazi sympathizer.  

No doubt, the shitty idiots at Fox and Friends will be giddily decrying the evil lesbian smackdown of a good conservative boy who just wants to protect the borders.

Batwoman replaces Batman in the Bombshells universe, and as you can see, writer Marguerite Bennett eliminates the birth of the Dark Knight in one, altruistic fell swoop.  The scene furthermore introduces Batman's new 52 associate Harper.  Love her, or hate her, Harper is part of the Batman mythos.  So it makes sense to see an analogue go ga-ga over Batwoman.

After an extra sumptuous bit of subtext courtesy of artist Marguerite Savauge, Batwoman meets up with Amanda Waller and perhaps the best DC espionage hijinks I've seen, by way of Doctor Who.

I love DC comics, but when it comes to spies, they suck.  It doesn't matter the era.  Marvel wastes DC with SHIELD.  DC tried and failed numerous times to produce something congruent, and I just don't believe organizations such as UNCLE, MI-6 or the CIA for that matter work in DC cosmology.  

Bombshells on the other hand soaks up pop culture and reinvents it.  This is essentially a universe from scratch.  Therefore, Bennett can easily modify a World War II agency to fit the needs of a cosmos populated by super-women.

The tale segues to Berlin where the Nazis make a pact with a dark lord, and Zatanna's caught in the middle.  From there, Wonder Woman and Mera transport Steve Trevor back home.  All interesting and amusing, but none of these scenarios really compares to the smooth setup of Batwoman becoming a spy for the Allies and her relationship with 1940s police captain Maggie Sawyer.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner split this issue of Starfire into three equally interesting vignettes.  In the first story, Starfire encounters the new Big Bad that served as the past subject of a subplot.

Because of the surreptitious nature of the character, Kori meets him in a bar rather than on the battlefield.  Because of Kori's unique power of touch telepathic absorption, both hero and villain get more than they bargained for.

The pacing of the encounter is perfect, and its more like something you would see in a novel, with this being the first chapter.  That's because the language of the superhero book is in general bombastic, but Conner and Palmiotti surprise you with subtlety.  It's especially unexpected in a title that centers on an uninhibited character whose cadre of abilities include shooting solar beams from her hands.

The second short draws upon what could have been a dismissed joke, but sure enough Kori is neither surprised nor flummoxed when one of her unusual stones begins to exhibit life.

This could be a sweet little moment never discussed again, or it may impact on future storylines.  Either way, it's an effective antidote to the usual filler.

Last but not least, certainly the funniest, Kori seeks a job at an aquarium.

Not to worry, LGBT.  Beth is a porpoise.

Once again, Starfire's alien abilities come to the fore, and Palmiotti and Conner appear to be the only writers who see Kori's more nuanced enhancements as superior subjects ripe for exploration.

The running joke in Spider-Gwen has been the Bodega Bandit, a possibly mentally ill felon who singles out convenience stores.  This issue, writer Jason Latour grants the Bandit a modicum of dignity, and in turn, gives Spider-Woman (Gwen) more empathy.

The cause for the Bandit's sorrow is a return of sorts that provides the grain of mystery that Spider-Gwen must solve.  The solution takes her into the sewers where her practical tactics net her a different sort of reward.

Latour sheds the angst Gwen felt over her scattershot life in favor of a more certain future.  Gwen's more confident in her relationship with the Mary Janes, her band and friends, her father and in her crusade as Spider-Woman.  Of course, not all things are rosy for the web-spinner.

She's still wanted by the police...

...and blamed for Peter Parker's murder.

Still, on a personal level, Gwen has a lot more fun being Spider-Woman and drumming for the band.  This new attitude justifies the new number one, even if its just part of the blanket renumbering of books after Battle World.

The conclusion to Marvel Zombies is satisfying and wonderfully complex.  I have a low tolerance for zombies.  I don't watch The Walking Dead, and the zombie movies I do possess are usually of the so-bad they're good variety.

Abundant nudity also helps.  Thank you, Aurreta Gay.

So, I don't expect much from a zombie production.  Zombies to me are shambling corpses who shouldn't do much except fall over dead.  I don't get how they have super-strength.  I don't understand why their jaws don't fall off when they try to take bites out of people.  I mean, yeah, magic, but after Romero, most zombie films tried to suggest a scientific means for the dead rising out of their graves.  No.  Don't buy it.  Zombies to me are the hobos of the undead and utterly impossible.

Any way, Simon Spurrier's setup is just as nonsensical as any other zombie thing.  The zombies need brains to keep what little wits they have.  Fine.  Whatever.   The zombies are really just a backdrop.  They're the reverse mcguffin.  

It doesn't hurt having artist Kev Walker on your team.

The key to Spurrier's success lies in what he does for protagonist Elsa Bloodstone.  So many bizarre twists conclude the story without muss or fuss, and then just for an encore, Spurrier conceives of an ending that's positively exhilarating.  

Created by Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke, Twilight Children should be a knockout punch, but I didn’t really see it that way.  It’s all right.  It won’t kill you, but it’s nothing compared to The New Frontier.  

On the flip-side, I’m willing to admit to bias.  I began reading comic books for the simple pleasures of  superheroes.  Over the years, I’ve become more receptive to other genre-based comic books, but I’m still mainly drawn to the superhero base.  

As you may have expected, I never read Love and Rockets. I flipped through the book that Hernandez is best known for when it first hit the racks.  I decided that it wasn’t for me.  Not because of the caliber of writing or artwork.  Love and Rockets simply didn’t deal with superheroes, and at the time, that’s what I looked for.

I know that Love and Rockets garnered a rabid fan base.  There’s a band named after the comic book.  Cosmos knows, many people have asked me to try Love and Rockets.  I’ve resisted.  Never the less, I intended to give one Hernandez another chance.  That chance is Twilight Children.

Given my love for Darwyn Cooke’s artwork, a book illustrated by him and written by Hernandez seemed to be a safe bet for finding out what the big deal is.  This, some would say, deficit of knowledge also gives me a clear-eyed view of Hernandez as a writer.  I’m going with competent.

Twilight Children to me seems like a mashup of nineteen fifties science fiction films and one walloping pop culture reference.  The difference is that the archetypes in those nineteen fifties films filter through a contemporary hourglass.

The Sheriff is Latino.  The government agent is a woman. There’s a youthful cigarette smoking scientist via Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, and othersIn what I guess is a gag on the ostracism of cigarette smokers, the townspeople react like they're in Invasion of the Body Snatchers when they see the fellow light up.  Got news for Hernandez and Cooke.  I grew up in the seventies.  By and large, smokers were rude.  When you said, “I mind very much if you smoke” or such, they either ignored you or gave you a dirty look and continued puffing.  So, tit for tat, gentlemen.  These characters so far are supplementary.  The focus lies on the tots.

The kids appear to be inspired by The Space Children.  

You may argue that I can’t make such a comparison.  You may suggest that kids exploring seaside caves is too common an idea.  So why did Cooke and Hernandez bring in a creepy bald guy as well?



The kids’ fates fruit classic science fiction ramifications, but I’ll not spoil these plot devices, unoriginal though they may be.

There is however no disguising an obvious Prisoner reference. 

Sewn into this tribute we find a tawdry little pulp tale where an evil woman leads a good man down the twisted path of cheating.

Yeah.  A good man controls his penis.  It’s one thing to sleep with somebody you don’t know is married.  That’s a mistake.  We’ll give you that one.  It’s quite another to volunteer for the hump.  Oh, and your vacillating the right and wrong over following your member as if it were the Toucan Sam of married loins, doesn’t make you a protagonist.  It just makes you wishy-washy.

Twilight Children may shake free from the paean premiere, but for now its just too dull and derivative to recommend.  Cooke’s artwork also in my opinion pops when swathed in a cape and cowl.  Not here.

The pulp in Gravedigger is much more honest.  Digger joins a crew for a heist.  Plain and simple.  

Digger is not a hero.  He's an antagonist in the classic sense.  The characters are degrees of rotten, with their only saving grace being that they kill other hoods.

Gravedigger fascinates with its larger-than-life characters and the look of a lost Lee Marvin film, unspooling before your very eyes.  

Although Digger and Anton, from Twilight Children, share the same weakness, Digger never believed himself to be a good man.  Red, Angel's husband, certainly isn't.

Digger's and Angel's cheating on Red isn't any more justifiable than Anton's cuckolding his friend.  However, such a tryst is part and parcel of a good pulp.  Digger's moral compass though broken still functions.  He doesn't like Red, and he doesn't like that Red hurts Angel.  So, although Digger is a bad man, his reasoning goes a little deeper than Anton's, which is Tito is a nice piece of tail.

Naturally Digger and Angel do not live happily ever after.  The pulp demands read just as fresh in Christopher Mill's prose as they did in Richard Prather's work, and Rich Burchett's illustration provides plenty of excitement.

We discovered numerous secrets about King Tiger at the same time as his lady Rikki learned of them.  All of these secrets remove King Tiger from the class of mere martial artist and just a sorcerer.  You don't actually need to know this, not that I'm telling, because King Tiger has a lot more going for it.

First and foremost, there's that artwork by Doug Wheatley and Rain Beredo.  

Writer Randy Stradley creates strong characters for Wheatley and Beredo to flesh out.

The atmosphere is freewheeling.  Despite taking place on a relatively realistic mirror earth, you get the impression that anything can happen.  All of these virtues make King Tiger an excellent addition to your brown bag. 

Saturday Afternoon at the Movies

Star Trek Renegades is a marvelous continuation of the original universe.  I like that the pilot takes Trek into uncharted waters, which is what each Trek should do and has done.  In Next Gen, Star Trek warped into a future respective to Kirk, McCoy and Spock.  Deep Space Nine, Trek mediated political strife between warring species now operating under a tenuous peace.  Voyager, a ship cut off from the Federation under the command of a formidable woman named Janeway.  Enterprise the beginning of Star Trek, intelligently filling in the blanks from how Red Alert began to the mind-melding Vulcans separating from a paranoid non-telepathic majority.

Renegades presents the flip-side of the squeaky clean Federation founded by Captain Jonathan Archer, who gets a wonderful name-check.  Recruited by Admiral Pavel Chekov portrayed once again by Walter Koenig, the new crew of Star Trek consists of smugglers, thieves and assassins.  They’re assembled to stop an alien species called the Siphon from picking off planets one-by-one.  

Renegades is jaw-dropping good.  Its Trek ties are honest and subtle.  There’s a sweet tribute to Leonard Nimoy within the familiar setting of the Federation’s headquarters on future earth.  The entire cast which range from well-known actors like Sean Young and Gary Graham to lesser knowns like Adrienne Wilkinson (Xena’s daughter Eve) assuming star status as Captain Lexxa Singh are superb.  The plot’s ingenious and credibly introduces a fresh threat that goes beyond the brutal and effective Siphon.  The special effects are polished.  The makeup, costuming and sets, imaginative and fascinating.  

Star Trek Renegades also offers more spice than the television series ever could get away with.  Mind you, the sixties ladies costumes did offer a lot more skin, and Kirk frequently found himself shirtless.  More importantly, in one scene Renegades establishes that sexual orientation is not one-sided in the future.  This is something many Trek fans have longed for since Next Gen.  

For more information about perhaps the most canon of non-canonical productions.  Check out Star Trek Renegades.