Sunday, October 11, 2015

POBB October 7, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 7, 2015
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag roars back onto its self-imposed schedule with reviews of Aliens vs Vampirella, Angel and Faith, Barbwire and Groot.  I'll also review The Monuments Men.  The new book Rowans Ruin however is my first subject.

Rowan’s Ruin is a mediocre, weak tea horror story that’s just bucking for a miserable PG-13 rating, once pitched to an eager Hollywood.  Every cliche you can think of lies within these pages, and the innovation is practically nil.

The story begins promisingly enough with a woman calling 999 as she escapes something wicked coming her way.  For some reason instead of following the momentum, writer Mike Carey immediately bounces back to the incredibly tedious stuff.

Here, Emily and Kate, our protagonist, swap dwellings.  Some may argue that this is thoroughly modern, but it’s not.  All the swap does is create an artifice of currency.  It’s a mere contrivance to drop our heroine alone into a strange environment.  In this case, England.  So, the spooky can occur.  There’s very little difference between a residence swap and Kate inheriting an old house; Kate being lured there by a recently met friend only to find an empty house; Kate checking into an eerie inn, hotel, motel , etc, etc.

The switch won’t be the only conceit to conceal a chestnut.        E-mail has never been any different than letter writing.  It's just more immediate, and everybody knows one of the most famous uses of letter writing to assemble a horror narrative.

Carey also inflicts the selfie upon an unsuspecting audience.  That’s right up there with the lowest rung of horror.  Found Footage.

I mean this kind of crap ranks below torture porn which at least tries to be cinematic rather than do-it-yourself rubbish.  Found Footage Horror is kind of like America’s Funniest Home Videos only with jump scare attempts replacing hits to the groin.  Although most Found Footage Horror films do feel that way.

The only Selfie I ever wanted to see in media.

Rowans Ruin dredges on with Kate having a bad dream, but this dream isn’t apparently pertinent to the tired creepy she’s about to experience.  The dream is a repeat.  It would have happened had she vacationed in the haunted house or not.  So why is it here?

For the most part the goings on are uneventful.  

Oh, noes! Not the shadow at the window!

There's a good chance that Kate deserves what's about to happen to her.  Since she defies a cardinal rule of horror.

Never ignore the don't enter warnings, don’t open the book warnings, don’t go into the lake warnings unless you happen to be accompanied by one of thirteen men.

Not to worry.  Nothing happens.  There’s a whole lot of nothing that happens in Rowans Ruin.  Kate entering the forbidden room is just setup that would probably have violas or a piano playing a few notes of incidental music relating to the audience that you need to pay attention to this.  It'll be important later.  Way later.  Next issue or the issue after that later.

Trying to put the strangeness out of mind, Kate goes to the pub, and we have the single most enjoyable sequence of the whole damn comic book.

That’s funny.  Kate’s reaction is funny.  The hooligan’s behavior is funny.  His ignorance is funny.  Everything about the scene is just hilarious, but back to the alleged horror story…

Oh, no wait.  It’s a fucking love story now!  Son of a bitch!

What is this doing here? I mean what is this doing here! How did we get from the escape to this?  Damn it.  The love story stops whatever treacly velocity the tale had.  There’s not even a sex scene.  Fortunately as we reach the finish line for a race by congested snails, Kate takes a shower.

So not even tits then?  A G-Rated shower scene in an ostensible horror story!  No.  No.  I quit.  Here's an uncensored shower scene in a better horror flick; that’s not Psycho.

I give you Death Ship a thoroughly nasty piece of work, as horror should be.

And just in case you think I'm saying horror movies must have bare breasts in them to be good, here’s a superior terror film with no nudity in it.  

Invest the money you might have spent in Rowans Ruin and go see either movie.  You won’t be sorry.

In many ways, Angel and Faith is the antithesis of Rowans Ruin.  They start similarly.  A young woman runs away from a threat.  

The difference lies in the follow through.  Whereas Rowans Ruin drops confrontation in favor of an extra-long flashback, Angel and Faith carries the impetus forward.

Vampires flock to Magic Town, and they decide that Fred, the young woman running, looks appetizing.  Fred however is a recently resurrected associate of Angel’s, and she’s got a secret that the vampires will find most electrifying.

In the next pages it appears Fred might have dreamt the whole thing, but this is a fake out for the reader.  Writer Victor Gischler and probably the showrunner—some guy named Joss Whedon—based the crossover between this title and Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the mixed up dreams of Angel and Spike.  So it seems even more likely that Fred may have dreamt the whole thing, but the incident is not a dream.  Angel guards Fred who dropped exhausted from the ordeal into bed, and Fred confirms that the prologue happened.

When Fred awakens settled she joins Angel, Faith, Giles’ Sisters and Koh in a kitchen conference.  The beauty of this is that you don’t need to know any of these characters.  By reading the distinctive dialogue, you’ll come to understand each one; comprehend the overarching plot and appreciate a well-written, energetic expository scene, in which the weird is juxtaposed with ordinary—Koh drinking tea.  

While the realism of the artwork, such as that capturing Eliza Dushku, imbues the scene with a natural feel.

The group splits into teams of two.  Faith and Koh find the local pub torn to shreds.  Rather than falling into the trap of blaming the hero for the moths that fly close to the flame.  Rory, the owner of the pub, instead says this.

It’s such a wonderfully written moment filled with the sincerity of people who need help because they haven’t been forged in battle.  Faith’s reaction is perfect.  Faith wasn’t always on the side of  good.  She bears the wisdom of atonement.  She’s taken aback by Rory’s request, and a little afraid she won’t be able to make it so.

The culprits behind the destruction are a brilliant addition to the flock of vampires.

Football hooligan vampires, serving the mistress Drusilla.  When her school for vampires—busted wide open by Faith last issue—fails, Dru is in the market for new muscle.  

Note the characteristic little touches like Dru preferring to go barefoot.

The hooligans are all kinds of rotten.  They’re rotten to Angel, the folk of Magic Town, and the more youthful vampires whose shells still bear the remnants of punk, emo and Goth.  The people that football hooligans in general hate.

Dru sends her new charges out on a mission, and this brings them into conflict with Angel and Fred, quickly leading to a potent and unexpected cliffhanger.  This book practically melts into the mind like an exquisite caramel does in the mouth.

Our other vampire book pits Vampirella against Ridley Scott’s Aliens.  The crew of an exploratory mission discovered an ancient Nosferatu city taken down by the Aliens.  Despite the best preparations, things go chest-buster in a short period of time.  The most surprising thing about the infestation is that it gestates in  Vampirella as well, but being a unique vampire has its advantages.

The script by Corinna Bechko is smart.  Vampirella and Lars don’t intend to do anything but save the incoming rescue team by locking them out and going on a bug hunt.  Unfortunately, Vampirella’s one hundred percent altruistic history weighs little against her otherness.

The crew make assumptions based on classic vampire lore and force Vampirella to fight both human and alien.  The humans however soon see the errors of their ways.  Alas, far too late.  In the end running and in Vampirella’s case flying seems to be the best option.

Quick and dirty Alien action against the vampire from the stars.  Vampirella vs. Aliens sells itself.

As does Barbwire and Groot, both conclusions to their first stories.  In the case of ten year old character Barbwire it's the finish to the first story in a new volume of hopefully a long run.

Part of the appeal of Barbwire is artist Pat Olliffe.  The title always benefited from good to excellent artwork, and I've been a fan of Pat Olliffe since his days on Untold Tales of Spider-Man.  Take a look.

The best way I can describe Olliffe is that he's got a workhorse ethic when it comes to detail and narrative.  In the vein of Bob McLeod, Rich Buckler, Graham Nolan and Kerry Gamill.  Damn good artwork with few frills.  Oliffe's illustration also packs the kinetic charge of the hot young artist.  That makes him perfect for Barbwire.

This isn't to knock Chris Warner's story, which is excellent.  Barb is in dire straights because her bar turned nightclub needed repairs after Wyvern Stormblud, the big bloke chasing her, wrecked it.  Left with few options, she tracks down the demigod, who’s way outside of her weight class, and seeks to capture him for the bounty.

Things go awry almost immediately.  A misstep in unfamiliar territory alerts Stormblud, and he immediately disarms Barb.  Barb packed a weapon designed by her brother Charlie to whittle down Stormblud’s power levels.  After a chase, Barb traps her quarry in an old foundry.  By rights this should be enough.  By rights.

Warner's story from beginning to end drops Barb into various bad situations.  The tone is similar to the classic television show The Rockford Files.  If you haven't seen the series, please do.  Throughout the episodes, Jim Garner portrays a hard-luck private investigator named Jim Rockford who gets beaten up and seldom paid for his services.

Barbwire gets banged up though not badly by Wyvern since that would kill her.  Gravity is the culprit.  When things appear to look sunny, a semi-comical slap carries her backward.  Like Jim Rockford, Barb cannot get ahead of the game even though she found a way to play it from an angle.

Finally we have the knockout hit Groot.  Abducted by a bounty hunter, Rocket (Raccoon) saves his buddy Groot…

…from her clutches.  Through a long journey that took an economical four issues, Groot returns return the favor.  He's backed up by a cadre of unusual characters better suited for a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book than a superhero story.

It all works though, but the bounty hunter proves to be a true villain and not just out for the bucks.  She captures Groot’s friends and this issue intends to kill them.  Groot may not be up to solving this particular problem.

Then again.

Groot is funny, warm and filled with action.  Writer Jeff Loveness draws a lot of humanity from these alien characters that appear to be the result of a recently discovered Chuck Jones experiment.  Kudos to artist Brian Kessinger.

The Saturday Afternoon Movie

The Monuments Men is a charming, understated movie that despite benefiting from a lot of early buzz ended up being a critical punching bag.  The docudrama details a small band of soldiers that rescued the art that Hitler and Goering stole.  

Everything about this movie flows beautifully, and I think that’s why critics hated it.  It’s not flashy.  It’s not gritty.  It’s not cinema verite.  It’s kind and matter-of-fact.  It’s the story about the Monuments Men who risked their lives so that anybody can go into a museum and see something that could have been destroyed by the Third Reich.  The acting is very natural and suits the mood, especially when the Monuments Men are struck in awe when they discover a new piece of work.  The characters also get along.  So I feel that the filmmakers should deserve even greater respect for creating an enjoyable work that doesn’t rely upon the friction between protagonists to generate a story.

The Real Monuments Men

A number of historians criticized the accuracy of the film, but there’s a difference between fact and fiction, and there’s a lot the movie gets right.  Furthermore, the film raises issues in history that just are not taught in the classroom.  For example, I learned that Hitler was a failed artist after I checked the fiction of Norman Spinrad’s alternate Hitler novel The Iron Dream.  A pitch black comedy by the way.  I’d like to think that people who see this movie might look further into the Monuments Men and the actual history of the stolen art and the men and women that saved it.

Monuments Men is based upon the non-fiction of Robert Edsel.  So clearly the script writers had a blueprint and chose when to discard and preserve the facts in order to make a visual narrative that has an airtight quality and never wavers from the central point.  Save the art.  Save the culture.  Save humanity.


  1. Okay, you've sold me on Groot and Vampirella. Not that I have any money left after buying way too many Secret Wars tie-ins. That looks like ROM hanging out with the Guardians!

    1. Not Rom. The character's name is Mantron, and he's something of a loser robot. Rom of course would have drained all the comedy out of Groot since Rom is an efficient Space Knight. What we have here are a group of scrappy losers :)