Monday, December 21, 2015

POBB December 16, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 16, 2015
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag returns with reviews of We Are Robin, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Thor, Justice League United, Justice League and Batgirl.  

Before we begin, let me just say that.  Yes, I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it was damn good.  J.J. Abrams said that the viewer would love the new characters as much as the old ones, and he was right.  I felt more while watching this movie than any of the prequels.  It's magnificent.

As for the comic books...

Justice League may at first feel like wheel-spinning because the League now only consisting of Wonder Woman, Power Ring, Cyborg, Mister Miracle and Steve Trevor haven’t moved from the the battle-scarred site where the Anti-Monitor killed Darkseid.

The death of Darkseid called their opponents from Apokolips.  Kanto, Steppenwolf, Lashina and Kalibak.  

Wonder Woman, also the narrator, catches up the reader on the status of the other Leaguers.  They haven’t budged from their new roles as New New Gods.  This also adds to the feeling of deja vu.  However, a lot happens in this evocative Francis Manapul illustrated issue.  With Geoff Johns, he reintroduces Big Barda.

Barda and Scott pick up their interplay as if the cosmos hasn’t been rebooted several times over.  Their relationship triggers some deeply buried feelings in Steve and Diana.  Johns clarifies the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship that nobody buys.

It looks like that this idea will be going away soon.

In addition to the main contention, Metron begins to unfold his ultimate plan, but some weird things happen at the Rock of Eternity.

That’s Mary Batson, Billy’s sister, portraying a magical version of Doctor Who’s emergency programme one.

Finally, Myrina Black and her daughter Grail plot something foul for the now deceased Darkseid, but is this the smart thing to do?  I say you drop Darkseid's body on Venus and be done with it.  In any case, despite the familiarity, this issue of Justice League has a lot going for it.

Justice League United ends its run by returning Adam and Alanna Strange back to normal.  Adam metamorphosed into a nigh omniscient cosmic entity that fused with the Zeta Beam.  

Quite frankly DC sucks at facilitating such cosmic beings.  Spies and Silver Surfers just don’t work in the DCU.  I have a feeling that Jack Kirby tailored his New Gods and Galactus’ power cosmic for each comic book company.

Adam's condition allowed him to pick out bad spots and send Justice League away teams to put out the fire, few people liked this turn of events.  Myself included.  That's what the trouble alert is for.

Writer Jeff Parker recreates the origin of Alanna whom Jeff Lemire transformed into a native human.  Parker though finds a means to tie her back into the planet Rann.  Whether or not this was his intention is anybody's guess, but I lean toward a planned restoration.  Perhaps, not Adam Strange's resurrection, but definitely Alanna’s.

The main part of the story details how Adam Strange merged with the Zeta Beam in the first place, and man, oh, man is that confusing.  For one thing, the mission involves the House of Secrets.  The House was indirectly featured in Justice League Dark.  Constantine won the House of Mystery in a poker game, and it became JLD’s headquarters.  If we accept that the House of Secrets and the House of Mystery are sister structures, then the idea of the House of Secrets being some kind of extra-dimensional parasite falls short of a good explanation.

We Are Robin ties in with the Robin War, but you don't actually need to know that.  The book opens with Commissioner Gordon now Batman working with Dick Grayson.  

Writer Lee Bermejo implies a helluva lot in these scenes.  First and foremost, Gordon must have deduced Bruce Wayne and Batman were one in the same.  Probably a long time ago.  So when Batman returns maybe he’ll just not mention it.  Two, Gordon reveals why he not only accepted Batman but also Robin, a teen sidekick.  

This idea of child endangerment was first proposed in comics by Frank Miller in The Dark Knight Returns.

Sure.  Others outside of comics floated the idea around, but Miller was the first to put it into print.

Gordon's rationalization at once satisfies in context, and it also brings up a lot of history in the way children sometimes had to grow up faster in the United States.  You can see examples of maturation in movies and television programs set in the depression or during a time of war.  Children would sink their savings from a paper route into a rationed food budget or to supplement the income of sisters struggling to be surrogate parents after their fathers were drafted and their mothers passed.

Anyway, Gordon and Grayson work on behalf of the Robins.  When last we saw the We Robins, they fought a Talon.  One of the scientifically undead assassins controlled by the Court of Owls; introduced by Scott Snyder in Batman and nested in time by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray during the Jonah Hex chronicles of All-Star Western.  

The gist of this is that the Court of Owls have always been terrorizing Gotham City, and they in fact looked to groom Dick Grayson as the ultimate of Talons.  The Court even referred to the Nth Talon as the Gray Son.  

Batman dismantled the Court of Owls…

…but this left the Talons to fend for themselves, and it seems that they got organized, got even crazier and decided to go to war against the Robins.  The ultimate purpose to choose among them the Gray Son.

Premise..meh, but Lee Bermejo uses this fuzzy basis for great effect.   The Talons really believe that Red Hood and Red Robin will stage a blood match for them, and you know what? Before the new 52, this probably would have happened.  Once again, everything in the new 52 is better.  Red Hood is the mean one, as Superman referred to him in Batman and Superman, but he’s sane and a member of the Batman Family that includes Tim Drake aka Red Robin.  So, he’s not going to kill Red Robin for the greater good.  Nope.  They’re going to totally screw the bad guys’ plans and in an energetic way.

Batgirl is ambitious, but it really needed more issues to comfortably carry out the entire story.  The main story centers on Spoiler being hunted by a Gotham Yakuza. 

The trouble with this issue is that it relies on the flashback to do too much.  Introduce a Japanese godmother.  Bring the Spoiler back into the adventures.  Give a reason for the conflict.  Explain Batgirl’s informant.

In addition to the return of Spoiler, Batgirl tackles four other plots.  

Babs and her friend Nadimah approach Burnside residents to gather data for their urban planning project.  

At the same time, Babs must deal with Frankie wanting to be her partner and gaining an implant from Batgirl's Q to combat her multiple sclerosis.

Finally, Babs also fosters her budding romance with Luke Fox, the artist formerly known as Batwing, and she's forgetting things which is near impossible given her photographic memory.  This may have something to do with a dream that's not a dream.

Ultimately, writers Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Scott juggle too many balls.  Overwhelming the reader.  The audience can't become invested in what’s going on because the writers fail to explore the plots in a meaningful way.  Unfortunate because all the ideas are good, and each should have been evolved in single spotlight issues.  In other words, introduce the Japanese Yakuza first.  Spoiler interferes in a second.  Batgirl gets wind of the hit on Spoiler.  Batgirl saves Spoiler from the Yakuza.  Batgirl kiboshes the gang in Burnside as a result of her urban planning project.  Batgirl learns about Frankie.  Batgirl connects with Luke as she remembers her “nightmares,” etcetera, etcetera.  That’s six to seven issues.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is stuck in the sixties, literally.  Only her friend Nancy remembers Squirrel Girl, and a certain doctor of her acquaintance.

That of course is Dr. Victor Von Doom, a bug-shit crazy Doctor Doom from the eighties, who also knows Jubilee.

The best part of this brief affair is how Doom, a man of intense propriety refers to Jubilee by her full name: Jubilation.  I mean.  Seriously.  How can you not love that?  As the story progresses, events grow whackier.  

Punisher fans for example are going to hate themselves for not picking up Unbeatable Squirrel Girl since he has his first cameo since Battle World or Secret Wars or whatever right here.  I don’t know what’s funnier.  The Punisher’s reaction to Doom.  The Punisher referring to Doom as Doc.  The Punisher smiling as the Punisher not Frankencastle.  The Punisher accepting cosplay as normal.  The Punisher saying “My Bad.”

You’re probably saying to yourself by now that this Ryan North doesn’t know jack about the Marvel Universe.  How else could he characterize the Punisher so badly.  Guess what? Since Marvel did a soft reboot, the Punisher characterization is valid.  For all I know, the Powers That Be at Marvel are trying to humanize Punisher back to his beginnings in The Amazing Spider-Man.

North also scribes some ego-laden dialogue for Doom that’s a pleasure to read.  North balances Doom’s brilliance, with his evil and his narcissism.  The only thing Squirrel Girl fans might object to is the lack of Squirrel Girl.  Wrong.

More serious Marvel fare can be found in the latest issue of Thor.  The Thunder Goddess must deal with Cul, brother to Odin, and his Thunder Guard in a duel on Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge.

Fortunately, the numbers change when Heimdall chooses sides.  No prize to the one who figures out which.  Heimdall transports Thor to Alfheim, home of the Light Elves, currently being slaughtered by Dark Elves, designed straight from the movie Thor: The Dark World.

While Thor rages to stop a war, our cover god Loki plies his trade in a bid to find a place at Malekith’s table of evil.  The question of course on everybody’s mind is what’s Loki playing at?

Yeah, my sentiments exactly.  After Al Ewing put in so much work to redeem Loki, it doesn’t look like Thor writer Jason Aaron is going to poison the mead.  Loki also likes the new Thor.  This looks like a classic Loki scheme to eliminate a greater evil, and I can’t imagine another character from Thor doesn’t feel the same way.

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