Sunday, April 26, 2015

POBB April 15, 2015-POBB April 22, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 15, 2015--April 22, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week I review Archie vs. Predator, the final two issues of Avengers Millennium, Django/Zorro, Legendary: Red Sonja, Legendary: Vampirella, King: The Phantom, Reyn, Shaft, Thor, Tomb Raider and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

All through this story arc, the Powers That Be were promising a matchup pitting Squirrel Girl against Galactus.  That seemed preposterous.

However, the way in which Squirrel Girl defeats Galactus is the most sensible, positive way I've ever witnessed.  Doreen's explanation as to why Galactus always returns to devour the earth encompasses Galactus' conscience, his hunger and his Power Cosmic.

In short, even if the charm of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl hasn't enticed, this issue is a must read for all Marvel fans because of the history steeped in Galactus streamlined by Squirrel Girl in one fell swoop.

After invading a Hydra base, the Avengers discovered a time portal leading back to prehistoric times.  Trouble is that during a time hop, which Spider-Man recommended against, the Avengers experienced turbulence.  The phenomenon split the team into three.  Cap, Quicksilver and Hawkeye traveled into the past where they found Hydra agents trying to rule primitive mankind and the mammalian ancestors of the fauna that populate the planet.  This led to some savvy saves from the Captain.

The Hydra Agents explained that the Avengers just experienced a one way trip.  This development concerned Hawkeye and Quicksilver, but Captain America had a plan.

In the third issue of Avengers Millennium Iron Man, Black Widow and Spider-Man stranded in World War II Japan discover another piece of the Hydra plan.

Mike Costa takes a page from Joss Whedon and turns the unpowered Black Widow into an important player, while Spidey provides the jokes and Iron Man observes the fruition of Cap's scheme.

Next we skip to the future where Hulk and Wanda fight Hydra.  Unfortunately, for Cap's plan and Iron Man's understanding to work, the Hulk is the last person needed.  Not to worry.  It hasn't escaped me that at only four issues The Avengers weekly almost appears like needling of the distinguished competition. 

The final issue cleverly reunites the Avengers for one last battle against Hydra in the present day.  The organization finally reveals its plan, and it's suitably whacky.  Remember their name.

The conclusion features some great teamwork by Spidey and Black Widow as they totally undermine the future Hydra Agent's gloating, and of all people, Hawkeye figures the way out of this mess through impressive logical thinking.  You wouldn't expect that given scenes like this in contrast.

Marvel's weekly was an exercise in brisk storytelling; packed in a lot of comedy courtesy of Spidey and Hawkeye and featured excellent super-hero action amidst a time travel plot that makes sense and evolves a nigh paradox free finale.

Frustrated by the enigmatic, female Thor, Odin sends the Destroyer to snatch her hammer.  In addition, writer Jason Aaron considerably narrows down the list of suspects who might be Thor.

I'm in the minority.  I don't really give a rat's behind who the female Thor is.  I'm a fan because she's well-written and more modern than Odinson.

When Jason Aaron reveals her thoughts, he dialogues them in the vernacular, and that contrasts what verily comes out of her mouth.

This technique breathes fresh air in the stale halls of Asgard. That's also why I like the male Thor from the films.  Thor talks in pronounced English, a step up from the faux Shakespeare he spoke in the comics, and Chris Hemsworth imbues Thor with greater depth.

In terms of context, Thor and the Aesir comprehend the modern world.  They know that their swords and armor have science fiction equivalents.  They may see themselves as gods, but they realize there's a teeming diversity in the cosmos.  That's why Sif and the The Warriors Three are at the end of  Guardians of the Galaxy.  Not standing out, but fitting in.

But back to Thor.  Aaron also has an ear for Coulson.  More than in any other appearance, Coulson sounds like Clark Gregg.  

Coulson's interaction with SHIELD agent Roz Solomon, prime suspect for Thor, generates ample humor that compliments the action-packed artwork by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson.  The spotlight battle between Thor and the Destroyer is really worthy of witnessing.

One caveat.  In Thor, Odin behaves like a complete ass, and I'm not exactly thrilled with that.  Odin's image has been besmirched over the years.  I like to think of him as the one good, sane lead "deity."  

Anthony Hopkins embodies Odin in the Thor films.  Odin was always a little blustery, but his intent was usually for the best.  A case in point occurs when Odin orders a new hammer forged for Beta-Ray Bill.

Thor #338

If you're looking for that Odin, he cameos this week in Loki, which your reviewer found confusing; writer Al Ewing appears to be implying that Loki is a Time Lord.

Reyn continues to be a hoot as the title Warden and Steph a witch with technology infiltrate the salamanders' lair.  

This issue is more visual than read.  Reyn serves shotgun for the techno-mages and fights amongst them against all sorts of robots.  When the team find the area of the ship that gives Warden Reyn a case of deja-vu, those that haven't caught up yet should finally hear that last penny drop, and you also get this priceless scene.

Archie vs. Predator.  Well, this was just too hard to resist, wasn't it?  Archie and its subsequent spin-offs haven't changed an iota for at least fifty years.  Archie is enamored with both Veronica and Betty.  Reggie wants Veronica.  Betty wants Archie.  Jughead wants a sandwich.  Scooby-Doo is a lot more complex.  On the plus side, Archie vs. Predator is actually a pretty good read.  

Jughead wins an all-expenses paid for vacation to an island paradise, where the Riverdale bunch are picked off one-by-one.  What Archie vs. Predator ends up being is the typical horror film setup...  

Erica Durance from House of the Dead


Archie and the gang are basically hapless dupes misidentified by a wayward Predator as combatants.  DiCampi exhibits remarkable imagination in his quest to orchestrate fights between people that basically like each other.  I mean.  Yes, Betty and Veronica always have been rivals...

...but they've also always been friends. 

DiCampi accomplishes this no mean feat through Rube Goldberg type accidents and red-headed catalysts.  Newish character Cheryl and her brother Jason are essentially mean-spirited, shallow rich people.  Veronica used to fulfill that description, but I guess she mellowed over the years because people started to like her.  She never started out that way anyhow.

The art in Archie vs. Predator by Fernando Ruiz is superb and exhibits all the good girl needs of an above average Archie.  In addition, Ruiz makes the most of the on-model faces.  Archie and the gang are quite expressive. 

Archie and the Predator aren't the only mixes in the book.  A hilarious one page joke drops a famous wanderer in he midst of the new, spooky version of Sabrina.  So even if you're not an Archie fan, and I'm not, you'll probably get a kick out of this book.

Lara Croft the Tomb Raider winds up searching for a missing child as her friends maintain the ruse of being investigators in the unknown.  

Not to worry.  The Chupacabra doesn't factor into writer Rhianna Pratchett's fancy.  Lara believes that her enemies Las Serpientes Que Caminan may be behind the disappearance.  Pratchett however doesn't take the easy route.  Instead, she demonstrates the young Tomb Raider earning her sobriquet, and in the process offering a more plausible explanation for the little girl's vanishing act.

I like how Pratchett balances the needs of the story and the characterization with the necessity of Lara naturally making an archaeological discovery.  This combined with the artwork of Derlis Santacruz who captures the exuberance in Lara's work gives Lara an identity that distinguishes her from say Indiana Jones or other unpowered adventurers.  

Red Sonja wakes in Victor Von Frankenstein's prison on The Nautilus.
Captain Nemo sadly will not be joining the Legendary role call as villain or hero.  Though writer Marc Andreyko surprises with the presence of another Jules Verne character.  You'll not recognize his appearance but the literate will catch his name.

Although Sonja can use all the allies she can get, the She-Devil with a Sword mainly uses her guile and her survival skills to discover a means of escape.

Star Wars tributes also help out.  Mind you, this is more than a garbage dump.  

Andreyko the creator of Kate Spencer alias the Manhunter is well known for his feminist stories.  Once Roy Thomas drew Sonja into a chainmail bikini, and gave her the curious pledge to the goddess who saved her life, Sonja became a feminist symbol.  Andreyko is having a lot of fun with this wonderful steampunk world, but he hasn't forgotten his roots either. Sonja is fighting one of the ultimate male chauvinists, who more than most see women as property.  

The cabal of villains from literature proved to be remarkably bad at it in the world of Legendary.  Let's count their accomplishments shall we.

Exactly.  The villains colluded to sacrifice Red Sonja to their dark supremacy.  What they instead managed to do was to bury the Sonja persona beneath a new, kinder facet named Magna.  She proceeded to charm every would be hero in the Legendary canon.  If anything, the villains of the piece made the heroes stronger by catalyzing the formation of a League to protect Magna Spadrossa.

The organization of heroes, which included such stalwarts as Green Hornet, the Phantom and Zorro, turned into an army that ultimately decimated their foes' forces.  One of their own, Miss Lidia Valcallan rather than throw away her plan with the others decided to sacrifice some poor sap and marry the demon from the nether realm.  This lead to an unfortunate dependency for souls.

Now, the villains seek to remove one of the most deadly of thorns from their side.  Vampirella.  

Miss Ella through the years experienced numerous changes, but she started out as an alien vampire from the planet Drakulon.  The Legendary version of Vampirella is clean of adherence to the Biblical reference that accumulated in Vampirella's proper history.  

The return to zero makes sense given the more overt science fiction trappings of steampunk.  As a result, Vampirella when facing famous vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing doesn't succumb to the usual banes of the vampire world.  

Once more the cabal of villainy fails miserably, and Vampirella with her network of friends gains the upper hand even quicker in an exciting chapter that banks on the artwork of David Cabera to capture the hero's otherworldly bloodlust.

"I swear vengeance against the Singh, against all piracy, greed and cruelty.  I swear that as long as my descendants walk the earth, the eldest male of the family shall carry out my work."

That is the oath spoken by the first Phantom, but in King's Watch the then current Phantom died without an heir.  A good man, the Phantom's friend, instead became the successor.  The lineage of the Phantom formerly welcomed him when he sacrificed his life to stop Ming the Merciless. Now, the former associate of Mandrake the Magician, Lothar takes up the mantle.

Lothar's Phantom immediately stirs up the routine by infiltrating a mercenary gang known as the Vultures.

They're a new form of an old Phantom enemy first appearing in the 1970s comic strips.  Lothar and Guran however aren't the only spies in the house of love.

The presence of a captive throws a spanner in a plan that's already way outside the normal Phantom's wheelhouse.  Lothar also distinguishes himself when he calls on a favor from his old friend Mandrake.

Writer Brian Clevinger balances the idea that Lothar does things differently from the Phantom with the concept that Lothar really is the Phantom.  Lothar's design snafus the moment you open the book, and we see the Phantom, Lothar, doing something the Phantom would never be caught doing.  Lothar though isn't relying on the decades old traditions of the Phantom.  He's depending on his own guile and his own knowledge of how the world works.  

Lothar's plans to discover the identity of the moneyman behind the Vultures unravels, but he still comes out winning thanks to the help of some friends and one really great illusion, or is it?  It takes genuine skill to create a Phantom that's not a Phantom, but nevertheless resonates like a Phantom.

In a twisted version of the World’s Finest trope, Django takes the guise of Zorro to protect Don Diego’s identity and mete out a sprier form of justice.  Though not a swordsman, Django uses a whip just fine, and knows a variation of the Moe.

Events however take a dark turn when Django discovers the so-called Archduke’s method for quelling rebel rousers, and that’s when he stops playing hero and starts playing Django.  The change in tone vexes Don Diego, but this story was nasty to begin with despite there being a Zorro in it.  It’s a depraved grindhouse movie, and we can thank the cosmos for that because if Django is in it, that means the worst bastards in history deserve him.

Let’s recap this twisted tale.  First of all, the Archduke commits a remarkable bit of fraud.  That isn’t really a big deal in terms of crime, but the it’s the way he goes about it that makes you ill.  He espies his son’s girl playmate.  He cultivates her, in what you think is an attempt to make his son happy; thus giving him a shred of decency that’s often found but not limited to western yarns.  It turns out though he educated the girl, turned her into a proper lady all to suit his diabolical con.  That's bad, but then, he marries her and fucks her.  I could sugar coat that, but the Archduke is such a shitty human being, the kind of crap person that Quentin Tarantino loves to set up for a massive fall.  Despite the depth of debauchery Tarantino explores in his films, his movies still foster heroism.  Though perhaps not in the classic sense.  In short, this slime of a man deserves Django.

Django represents the fusion of blaxploitation and spaghetti western.  The most infamous of the blaxploitation heroes finds out why his lady love Arletha was murdered.  David F. Walker’s Shaft story goes straight to the gutter, and artist Bilquis Evely shows Shaft boiling toward this happy cliffhanger.

Oh, yeah.  This is the tale of Shaft gathering the villains of the piece in one place to make it easier for him to kill them next issue.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

POBB: April 8, 2014

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 8, 2015
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  Because of DC’s Convergence, which after this sentence I will be totally ignoring, I don’t have a lot of comic books to review this week, but is it quality over quantity? Read on as I examine Avengers Millennium, Howard the Duck, Legendary: Green Hornet, the first issue of The Masks sequel, Southern Cross, Spider-Woman, the final issue of the insanely entertaining Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes and Vampirella.

You know before that trailer, you know the one, I doubted Marvel would be able to pull off The Guardians of the Galaxy, but after the trailer, like everybody else online, and not, I became a fan.  That said.  I’m not a Brian Michael Bendis fan.  So I’ve been avoiding the comic book as well as the team-up title, until last week.  John Layman wrote the most recent issue of Guardians of the Galaxy Team-Up, and it was pretty entertaining. 

I can’t say that I’m a huge Duck follower.  In general.  I mean I like Daffy Duck, and Donald Duck had his moments, but the whole Carl Barks type Duckworld thing wasn’t my bag.  Howard the Duck seemed like a parody of that, but it wasn’t.  Arguably, Frank Brunner created the template for Howard the Duck in Quack magazine…

…but he hasn’t objected to Steve Gerber getting the credit.  So why should I?  Besides, Gerber made Howard the Duck the weird little waddler he was, and it’s why I rarely ever picked up an issue of Howard the Duck.  Anyway.  The Guardians’ guest appearance are the only reason I’m trying the new Howard the Duck title by writer Chris Zdarsky and illustrators Joe Quinones, Joe Rivera and Rico Renzi.

Rocket represents most of the Guardians action, but the entire team makes a destructive entrance later in the story.  The book’s frequently funny and uniformly goofy.  Exactly as I remember the scant issues of Howard the Duck I read.  So, yeah, if you’re a fan of this mallard, you’ll feel right at home.  If you dig the Guardians of the Galaxy, read on.  The art’s also very inviting.

Howard the Duck is a private eye in the series, but a more serious yet still fun look at a detective/superhero can be found in Spider-Woman.

In her previous book from the seventies, Jessica Drew was uber cool in demeanor, and that’s what we get here from writer Dennis Hopeless.  Jessica questions the Porcupine.  She ignores his jabs at her character.  She goes on the hunt for information through encounters with other likely suspects.

Her foray leads to hilarious heists that blow back in the faces of D-List villains and Spider-Woman action.  Ben Urich joins in on Spider-Woman’s investigation, and that’s only fair since he put her on the trail in the first place.

When the smoke clears on a fiendish trap, Spider-Woman weaves the perfect intrigue to find the culprits and ready the kibosh on a far-reaching scheme.  Jessica rightly deduces that the penny-ante crimes cannot be the ultimate goal.

As you can see the artwork is just stunning with marvelous cinematography  that hearkens back to the Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade era of detective film.  Even if one puts aside the clear allusions, Javier Rodriguez just makes Jess beautiful and brassy and every panel exciting.

The Southern Cross is a massive spacecraft built like the offspring of a luxury liner and a battleship.  It punches through wormholes to travel the stars and make ports of call to other planets.  Miners of the Zemi Corporation are the natural inhabitants of the leviathan, but the Captain also ferries passengers outside of corporate affairs.  Alex is one such passenger.

Alex seeks answers to her sister's death, ruled accidental, and she's not alone in her suspicions.  A true detective is also on board.  Make that was.

Becky Cloonan's mystery thickens with this new disappearance, a suicide in the past and a riveting investigation that could fit snugly into a crime story from 1930s onward.  

The dance steps by artists Andrew Belanger and Lee Louridge are new, but the gist is still the same.  Question persons of interest.  Follow the leads.  Hunt for information, and in the case of Cloonan create a cast of unusual characters and a sharp-eyed sleuth.

Oh, it’s a weekly.  All right then.  Avengers Milliennium this week sends two away teams back in time.  The teams unfortunately experience time/space turbulence that splits them into three.  

Captain America, Hawkeye and Quicksilver end up in the prehistoric past.  Iron Man, Spider-Man and Black Widow hit World War II while the Hulk and Scarlet Witch wind up in a desiccated future.  The reason why the future isn’t so bright?  Hydra.

The overarching plot still remains a mystery, but writer Mike Costa heightens the funny, straight out the gate.

Spider-Man and Hawkeye serve a dual role this issue.  In the debut they behaved like the team jackasses; I think it was John Byrne who deemed that every team needs at least one jackass to stir things up.  This issue they behave like jackasses and contribute to the plot.  Hawkeye figures out the reason why Hydra sent a mcguffin back in time.

Spider-Man meanwhile…

Spidey may be commenting on more recent journeys through time and space, but I’d like to think Costa refers to this seminal highly recommended three or four issue story spanning Marvel Team-Up.

Spider-Man learned a valuable lesson at the end of that tale.  Maybe that lesson informs his advice to Captain America.

When the team travel through time, the lion’s share of the hi-jinks happen amid the Holocene.  So that dinosaur on the cover is a total fake out.  

Maybe it’s a previously unknown mammal with mange.   In any case, the heroes tip-toe in their battle against Hydra so as not to greatly disturb the flora and fauna around them.  This added theme of not stepping on the butterflies generates some great wow moments for Captain America, and makes Avengers Millennium a must for Cap fans.

I have a great deal of love for Cullen Bunn's writing.  He gave me scenes like this....

...and this...

Unfortunately his latest, the sequel to the entertaining Masks leaves much to be desired for.  The trouble lies in Cullen Bunn's characterization of the heroes, licensed by Dynamite and legendary in pulp circles.

The story opens with the Shadow and the Green Hornet decimating the forces of skull-masked goons with terrorism on their minds.

Cullen Bunn's personae for the Green Hornet and Kato is the only facet of the story that rings true.  The Hornet and Kato work as a well-oiled team.  With gas guns, hornet stings as well as martial arts action they behave like the champions of old.  

The rest of Bunn's cast act like different heroes only wearing the forms of the Pulps.  Bunn's Shadow is especially way off the charts.  In Masks 2 Electric Boogaloo, the Shadow behaves like Spider-Man and the Punisher all in one.

The Shadow was lethal, of that you can be sure, but in this story he exhibits no subtlety.  You can argue that this confrontation with the skull flunkies of The Red Death represents the finish to the case.  In other words, the Shadow's agents already contributed to the puzzles and the overall investigation leading to this denouement, but there's still something off about it.

The Shadow was never so acrobatic.  He instead used the darkness and stillness to his advantage.   A more Shadowy move would be to let the gas seem to overcome him, laugh mirthlessly and appear to fade with the mist.  Thereby leaving his comrades dumbfounded.   The Shadow was enigmatic, doing things eerily and stealthily.  That was part of the Shadow's mystique.  You never really learned exactly who or what he was or how he came to be.  Furthermore, Bunn's Shadow keeps spouting only the aphorisms he's known for.  

I'm sorry to say that Bunn's Shadow is a parody of the complex exterminator of crime that for all intent and purpose was created by William B. Gibson.

The Shadow's not the only hero out of sorts.  The Black Terror is a dead ringer for Superman, and if you needed any proof, this scene is the clincher.

The sonic-boom handclap is a Superman move.  When the Green Lama arrives, he mimics the time traveling, planar distancing of Dr. Fate.  The Spider is the calmest I've ever seen him.  He's not maniacally killing anybody.  

Bunn’s Spider could be anybody including Aquaman from the Super-Friends to Zebra Man.   Only Lady Satan gets a pass because she's so obscure in comic book history that she may as well be a blank slate.  Bunn assumes a taint of evil.  So she's a bit more risqué than Miss Mask for example.

Bunn segues to a one-percent masquerade, and predictably, the heroes go as themselves.  That also strikes me as very odd.  The Green Hornet and Kato, yes.  The Shadow no.  The Shadow would likely attend as Lamont Cranston, in a domino mask or such.  Cranston is the Shadow's go-to guise for ritzy affairs.  Alternately, he might delegate that task to the Hornet and have him report later.

Although Bunn's Hornet is well characterized, the Green Hornet makes his best showing this week in the world of Legendary.  I missed the second issue so this will be a dual review.

In the second issue, The Hornet captured two gang lords for questioning, and the Hornet employs a special technique for rooting out the truth.

This hilarious moment leads to the Hornet and Kato searching for a Steampunk refugee from Oz.  The trouble is that the Hornet and Kato underestimate their foe.

The conclusion of the second issue leads to the Green Hornet's and Kato's thrilling escape.  Also in the third issue, our heroes meet the orchestrator of the marionette show.

No, not him.  

That's right.  It's the old tougher vigilante wants to replace the inefficient softer crimefighter game, but the Brass Hornet listens to reason.

Both the second and the third issue despite being Steampunk in the Legendary Universe conceived by Bill Williamson, feel like authentic Green Hornet adventures.  Writer Daryl Gregory and artist Brent Peeples infuse the Hornet with the energy and cut to the bone plotting to mimic the half-hour kinetics of the television series.  Gregory also imbues a strong sense of humor to the relationship of Green Hornet and Kato.  They seem even more like equals in this series, and that leads to added fun.

Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes ends on a really high note.  This is easily the best from the Tiptons, and discovery Rachael Stott should be the natural choice for future original series Star Trek material.  Her dead accurate and animated likenesses of William Shatner, James Doohan and the late great Leonard Nimoy as well as John Colicos on the Klingon side and apes Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans made this head-scratcher of a mashup a visual feast.  Even if the story hadn't been up to snuff, no worries there, the art alone would have made Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes a must purchase.

The Klingons invaded the alternate timeline of The Planet of the Apes for no real reason except this...

...Kirk totally doped out he situation, and all through this wonderfully nutty fan fiction, there's been this underlying question of why do it.  It turns out that while the Planet of the Apes have zero impact on the world of Star Trek, it's Star Trek that brilliantly fills the blanks in The Planet of the Apes movies.

Last but not least, Nancy Collins firmly roots Vampirella in her cosmology of Biblical myth.  She reveals Vampirella's father this issue and brings back her sister Draculina, most recently seen in Vampirella Feary Tales.  However, Collins is a student of Vampirella history.  Though a throwaway character never again seen until Nancy Collins resurrected her, Draculina appeared as narrator in Vampirella's historical second adventure.  She was basically the cut-to-the-chase girl.

Collins turns Draculina into an envious antagonist, leaving Patrick Berkenkotter the leave to choreograph a sexy cat-fight...

...which you'll have to look elsewhere for because despite Vampirella and Draculina wearing straps and boots for costumes, Berkenkotter eschews prurience for an outright hateful, disturbing battle between rivals.

I'm still not overly thrilled by the Biblical allegory in Vampirella.  I prefer her as a simple little ol' alien vampire from the planet Drakulon, but Collins is so imaginative when twisting The Bible so that it exists side by side with science and evolution that I really cannot complain.