Tuesday, December 15, 2015

POBB December 9, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 9, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog I review the most entertaining and the lamest comic books of the week.  If you haven’t time to read the richness of the POBB, I also tweet itsy-bitsy gists of the reviews on twitter under: #PickoftheBrownBag.  This week I review Batman and Superman, Catwoman, The Phantom, The Radioactive Spider-Gwen, The Southern Cross and The Ultimates.

The Phantom currently parodies Tarzan, specifically The Return of Tarzan, which introduces the lost city archetype Opar.  

Remarkable art from Sal Velluto known more for his sinew than structure.

H. Rider Haggard can take a bow for creating the first otherworldly female leader.  Burroughs' La of Opar however is one of the earliest examples, otherwise.  Burroughs' women furthermore were also more liberated than those of Haggard's.  

Haggard saw his character Ayesha as an anathema to proper womanhood.  Burroughs usually left the social commentary to the inference of the reader.  He was a pulp writer and proud of it.

The Phantom found his legacy undermined by a belief in the B'wana, a Tarzan like figure who also happens to be the age old Phantom character Jimmy Wells, a figure creator Lee Falk toyed with as the possible secret identity of the Phantom.  Jimmy Wells became involved with Phantom nemesis the Baroness, former leader of the Sky Maidens.  She, Jimmy, the Phantom and Diana are out to stop the traditional Phantom enemy the Singh Brotherhood.

The Story begins in Ophir, Peter David in low parody form, where La analogue Oshara seeks to bed the Phantom.  Technically, she already bedded the Phantom, as you can see, but she intends to sex him up as well.  This is another double gag from the estimable David.

David's sense of humor is all over the comic book, and as with any form of humor, it's completely subjective.  I found the similarities between Tarzan and the Phantom-Tarzan tribute quite painful, but David succeeds when outlining the inherent problems of criminality.

Whether or not you dig the humor in The Phantom, one thing can be stated objectively.  Whether he's detailing the architecture of a lost city or building the musculature of the Ghost Who Walks, artist Sal Velluto makes this whole exercise worthwhile.  If you don't care for David's comic chops, you can always just skip the words and enjoy the rich artwork.

Pay no attention to the ballyhoo on the cover of Batman and Superman. The Red Hood does not attack Superman.  I don't even understand why DC would go with that cover.  Scott Lobdell reformed the Red Hood at the beginning of the new 52, and every writer since has gone out of her way to make the Red Hood even more heroic and acceptable to the cape and cowl community.  Think of him as DC's lighter/smarter answer to the Punisher.  So, what is in Batman and Superman.  The story begins with Commissioner Gordon remembering how it was.  He witnessed Superman and Batman fighting the same organizations of racists that the team of heroes fights today.

That's Jimmy Olsen Batman's saving.  I could see how somebody unfamiliar with comic books might be confused.  After all, Jimmy Olsen is black and cool on Supergirl.  

Not so in the comics.

In this case bow-ties are not cool.

The flashback manifests because Jim Gordon the artist currently portraying Batman lacks faith in Superman, as he stands now.

Superman feels the same way. 

Fortunately, Batman and Superman have help in the form of the Batman Family, which includes Batgirl, Jim Gordon's daughter.

Surprisingly, Jim Gordon in the new 52 still doesn't know that Batgirl is his daughter, or he unconsciously blocks what should be obvious because he cannot accept it.

The gathering of eagles seeks to thwart the plans of Vandal Savage who stole an artificial sun to power a weapon of science fiction destruction.  Think of a bigger version of the Golden Gun.

Savage's reasoning for doing this is a little fuzzy, but all you really need to know is that Superman, Batman and the Batman Family come up with a plan that consists of supercool ruses and expert timing that allows for multiple instances of daring do.  Batman and Superman aren't up to snuff in comparison to how they were, but Batman and Superman is still a remarkable read that's filled with the stuff that makes superhero fans happy.

Writer Frank Tieri takes Catwoman back to basics.  She's a jewel thief.  She was introduced as a jewel thief.

She remains a jewel thief.  

Selina Kyle orchestrates a heist against a Russian strongman.  The heist goes wrong.  The strongman lives up to his description, and the action looks great thanks to artists Inaki Miranda and Eva De La Cruz.

Selina takes her ill gotten booty--just the one--to new character Louis, a colorful fence.

He lines her up for another job, but things go really wrong at the cliffhanger.  After all the mobbed up crap foisted on the character, Catwoman reads as a Catwoman television series might unfold.  It's smooth, slick and great looking with terrific acting in roles intimately familiar.

The Radioactive Spider-Gwen is an easy to understand yet continuity filled issue filled with vignettes rather than a single story.  You might question that.  Spider-Gwen, known as Spider-Woman in the comics, is a new character.  So how can she have continuity?

The super-science manacles resulted from an encounter with Captain America and SHIELD last issue, but Spider-Gwen exists in a universe where science isn't as advanced, and few superpowers prowl.  Besides Spider-Woman isn't well-liked.

The speaker is Frank Castle, the Punisher in the more familiar universe.  An overall sphincter in this one.  He's trying to convince detectives Jean DeWolffe and Ben Grimm, no FF, of Spider-Gwen's crookedness.

This all arises from the final fate of Peter Parker.

The police and J. Jonah Jameson blame Spider-Gwen for the tragedy.  No doubt any existing superheroes would feel the same way.  Captain America wasn't her biggest fan.

So, Spider-Gwen comes to a universe where she has a super powered friend.  Jessica Drew, the very pregnant Spider-Woman.  Now, somebody unfamiliar with what's going down in the Marvel Universe, just may be wondering how Spider-Gwen achieved the meeting.  The answer is simple if you know where to look.

Gwen is part of an inter-cosmic group of Spider-themed superheroes.  They patrol the multiverse, for reasons that are dicey at best.  Of course, on Gwen, the whole Justice League suit fits perfectly fine.  

Despite the complexity, Spider-Gwen does a good job keeping it simple while being amusing.  You may not read Web-Warriors, but writer Jason Latour explains through the dialogue between Spider-Women and a slapstick bit expressing the Warriors' favored method of transport.  In other words, the exposition does something.  It characterizes, makes you smile or enriches the story.

I didn't know that Spider-Woman and Spider-Gwen were that close.  I skipped the whole Edge of the Spider-Verse saga, except for the Spider-Gwen special.  Latour though makes that friendship obvious.  It's actually more puzzling to me that Spider-Woman, that is Jessica Drew, is part of the Spider-Man Family in the first place.  When they first introduced her, the Powers that Be at Marvel did their level best to keep separate Jess from Spider-Man.  Originally, she only teamed with Spider-Man twice.  That of course changed, but the extent of her involvement includes knowledge about Gwen Stacy and her history.

Aside from these elements, Latour builds more on Gwen's universe with the introduction of an old Spidey character as a blank slate.

Thanks to the original Spider-Man movies, Harry Osborn has already been tampered with, building him up as a quasi Lex Luthor.  In Spider-Gwen, he becomes even more skilled and distinguished from his source character.  This change looks to be interesting.

The Ultimates by Al Ewing follows through with the promise to be different.  The book opens with a story-so-far recap that plays into the fictional context of the Ultimates.

So the exposition reflects politics.  Once the catch up is finished, Ewing digs right into the story.  King T'Challa prepares to confront Galactus whom the Blue Marvel and Captain Marvel tracked down last issue.

Ewing uses the teleportation effect to serve as the segue to explore the origin of Galactus.  Other writers brokered and revisited  Galactus' origin in comics.  

It's not one of the more frequent haunts, and there's a good chance you could have missed it.  The facts pertaining to the Silver Surfer, of Shalla-Bal and Zen-La on the other hand are genetically wired into newborns.

Ewing rears Galactus' origin for a reason.  He examines a discarded piece of it, one that sneakily served as the crux for Spectrum (Monica Rambeau) and America Chavez.  They were on a seemingly unconnected mission involving the enslavement of a planet.  Turns out, the Ultimates were on the same page.  Two prongs of the same fork.

Ewing's solution to the Galactus problem is brilliant, and I'm surprised that Marvel was willing to eliminate, figuratively speaking, the Galactus plot device and evolve the character so early in their soft reboot.  Perhaps, they were moved by Ewing's knowledgable manipulation of Marvel history.

Kenneth Rocafort's artwork furthermore brings a certain legitimacy to the affair.  Rocafort's illustration is so unique amongst artists that he's comparable to Kirby albeit through a different style.  Kirby co-created Galactus.  So it's fitting that an illustrator of Rocafort's caliber complete the visual narrative.

Southern Cross is an awesome mystery set aboard a massive starship.  This is a tale that could have been related in any period.  The facets comprising the gem of a detective story are ubiquitous--from the leisure of travel to the familiar roles of the cast.  Cloonan just happened to think and justly so that Southern Cross would be so much more in the comics if set against a cosmic backdrop.

The detective is Alex Braith, sister of victim Amber Braith.  The suspects were many.  The functions of the plot, despite oiled by science fiction, fair play.  Had you paid attention, you could have solved the puzzle and deduce the culprits.  Nothing outlandish affected the actual murder or the criminals.

In this last issue of volume one, Cloonan pays off her readers with the revelation of the murderer, the explanation of the motive and the overall grand picture that leaves room enough to draw the series into volume two.

At the same Cloonan and artist Andy Belanger grants more visual depth to the characters while providing Alex Braith a visceral, satisfying vengeance.  As the mystery ebbs, the tide of grotesque science fiction in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft takes over.

The smooth handover must be commended.  Cloonan built the curtain call through a nuanced subplot of things strange occurring within the strict logic of the murder investigation.  In previous issues, that added spice to the pattern every detective must follow.    As the comic book comes to a close, the unusual trappings bloom to a startling discovery.

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