Wednesday, September 30, 2015

POBB September 23, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 23, 2015
Ray Tate

This week we sit back with another comicopia including Batgirl, Batman 66, Grayson, John Carter Warlord of Mars, Mythic, The Phantom, Reyn, Scooby-Doo Team-Up and We Are Robin.

Thanks to the 1960s Batman, Batgirl became uber popular, saturating then modern culture with the knowledge that Batgirl was either Barbara Gordon librarian, daughter of Commissioner Gordon and/or Yvonne Craig.

During this time period Batgirl guested in numerous books from Silver to Bronze and had her own back-up feature in Detective Comics followed by a co-starring stint in Batman Family.

After The Killing Joke, no Batgirl for twenty-five years, but the joke was on DC.  Turns out Batgirl’s fanbase never wavered.  Batgirl’s as popular and ubiquitous now as ever.  This week Batgirl features in four books, perhaps even more.

In Batgirl, Babs faces an old foe with a new look.  Introducing the Velvet Tiger.  

Barbara Randall and Trevor Von Eden created the Velvet Tiger.  The high tech villainess threatened Batgirl in a two-part Detective Comics.

The new Velvet Tiger hasn’t changed her M.O.  She’s a master of technological crime.  Writers Cameron Stewart and Brandon Fletcher even namecheck her original computer playground.  She did on the other hand alter her signature somewhat.

The unfortunate girl dangling by a thread is Jo, whom Alyssa intends to marry.  Alyssa was Babs' roommate and remains her friend.  Tiger subverted the felines from Jo's animal right's group and uses them to attack computer experts.  She also on the flyby frames likely suspects like Qadir.

Qadir is Batgirl's Q.  What she or Batman doesn't invent, Quadir creates.  Recently Luke Fox, once Batwing, brought Qadir aboard his growing tech company, also the center of the tiger attacks.  

All roads lead to Batgirl, and this is the story's strongest asset.  It always bugs me if there's no reason for the mystery to happen now or no reason for the detective to become involved.  

With police detectives and private eyes you have a built in rationale.  The same with super-heroes who go on patrol.  That said.  The links to Batgirl give the whole detective story motivation to funnel toward her.  In other words, had Batman got wind of these events, he would have quickly deduced the whos and whats then conclude Batgirl will take care of this.  Of course, she does.

The identity of the Velvet Tiger ties into a fair play clue Fletcher and Stewart dropped in a previous issue.  It was neatly hidden amidst everyday dialogue.  Batgirl picks it up with an excellent employment of her photographic memory.  Once again, there’s a reason why she’s involved.  Only she could have remembered a sliver of time so slender.

When Batgirl finally tracks down the Tiger, she brings the training she acquired from Batman to battle not just the Big Bad but also the villainess' man-eating charges.   

This type of duel of course is intrinsically acceptable because of one of the first detective stories Murders in the Rue Morgue in which our ratiocinator Charles August Dupin deduces the culprit of two grisly murders to be more than just a mad man but a mad thing.

Another successful issue of Batgirl.  Fletcher and Stewart characterize Babs potently.  They neatly balance the new and old in Batgirl's Bronze Age foe, and artist Bengal keeps everything in motion.  As to the cover, it's something of a cheat.  While Babs and Luke do kiss, the smooch is a playful one.  I do question the emphasis on romance for the cover rather than the impressive fights.

After Troy Walker, one of the Robins in We Are Robin, dies while trying to defuse a bomb, Gotham expresses uncertainty about this new brigade of young vigilantes.  The opinions of the Gothamites flow through the story as a theme that becomes background in the impressive art montages of James Harvey, Diana Egea and Alex Jaffe.

That background is set behind a focus on Riko, the perceived nuttiest of the Robins.  This issue, we discover she's not really.  Rather, she's an introspective bookworm and actually has a loving, capable responsible parent.  This is a departure from the Robin legend, which began with an orphan, continued with an orphan and made an orphan.  

Carrie Kelly was in fact the first Robin with living parents, followed by Stephanie Brown, daughter of the Cluemaster and Damien Wayne.  In any case, Riko though a Robin has admires somebody else in the Batman Family.

The imaginary friend Riko's been talking to is Batgirl, but she's aware that Batgirl's not really there.  

It's a what would Batgirl do in this situation type of viewpoint.  For the most part, Riko brings to the Robin party a lot of insight and life-saving equipment because of her using Batgirl as a sounding board.

This issue of We Are Robin, Riko truly meets the Dynamic Daredoll, and it's a most entertaining team-up creating a cadre of social media motif vandals that are in Riko's fight class.

The stunning moment occurs when Batgirl gives Riko advice about the path she's chosen to follow.  This is when writer Lee Beremejo actually shifts the spotlight to Babs rather than Riko.

She even has blue eyes.

Beremejo gives a solid reason why Batgirl must exist.  She's personable rather than daunting like Batman.  She's the voice of reason and wisdom not a well-intentioned threat.  If Batman were an organization, Babs would be the spokesperson.

While some may gripe at Beremjo's highlighting of Batgirl, the issue is still Robin-centric, with extraordinary characterization of Riko and her mother and a surge of callous criminal actions that provide for excellent comic book reading.

In Grayson, Batgirl takes her rightful place amidst the Batman Family.  Dick Grayson comes out alive.

For those not in the know, Batman lost his memory after battling the Joker and now works with the underprivileged as Bruce Wayne along with his long-time traditional fiancee, Julie Madison.

I don't really care about Grayson and still find the premise--Dick Grayson playing dead to infiltrate a criminal organization--ludicrous.  The comic book however is well-written.  Tim Seeley and Tom King infuse a lot of humor and warmth into each of Dick's encounters with his brethren and Babs.  In addition, past dialogue, some of it spanning multiple continuities, serves as emotional outlet and an evocative backdrop.  Last but not least, Mikel Janin illustrates Babs marvelously.  So Batgirl fans with a bit of extra coin may want to add this book to their collection.

Batgirl provides the vital clue to Batman’s deciphering of the Riddler’s latest puzzle.

As it turns out the answer leads to the introduction of Bane.  I love how Jeff Parker brings all the myth, surprisingly a lot, associated with Bane into the 1960s arena.

Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan created Bane to be an homage to Mexico's masked wrestling phenomena, and that's where the heart of Jeff Parker's story lies.  He even brings in some familiar guest stars.

Bane of course thrived on Venom, and while Parker honors that aspect, he does so in a less seedy way.  He also doesn't refer to the substance giving Bane strength and stamina as Venom.  By taking away that epithet, Parker can draw the potable into the more fitting fantastic world of 1960s film.

I don't know whether or not Dixon and/or Nolan planned for Bane to become the villain who decisively defeated Batman by breaking his back, but that was the decided upon path Bane would take.  As a result, attempting to break Batman's back is Bane's shtick in any media.  Parker makes no exception.

Naturally this does not happen, and Parker comes up with a perfectly rational explanation that saves Batman from the temporary paralysis he experienced in the post-Crisis.  It's not as satisfying as the counter ploy Batman engages in Batman: The Animated Series, but it works within the story and characterizes Bane as a loser soon to be doomed.  

On the flip-side, Parker excels when explaining the weird voice unit on Bane's mask.  Nobody has ever bothered to give a reason for it.  Turns out that this flourish was a "gift" from Batman, and that explanation is damn clever since it serves three purposes.

Although Bane takes the center stage, Parker characterizes Batman extremely well, and it's really impressive how this Batman combines ability and intelligence to overcome the odds.  Batgirl and Robin should be in this story, but they're mostly surpassed by the duel between Batman and Bane, the mano-a-mano of which is also part of the Bane cache.

Freddie, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and of course Scooby-Doo answer a message to meet Batman on the rooftops of Gotham City.  This isn't surprising given their long history.  However, it turns out the unsigned message had nothing to do with any of the Batman Family.

There's not a helluva lot I can reveal about this issue other than Harley and Ivy appear to be haunted by a ghost after stealing an opal.  The nature of the gem clues the reader to the ghost's identity, but writer Sholly Fisch isn't done with you yet.  This humble issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up sports double-crosses, clever means of escape, genuinely funny gags and fitting guest-stars galore all within twenty or so pages.  It's also an amazing showcase for Dario Brizuela's elegant good girl art and on-model visual characterization of Scoob and the gang.  This is a must have for every comic book fan with even a marginal interest in Batman's Rogue's Gallery and/or Scooby-Doo.

This issue of the Phantom takes on a less jokey tone because the Phantom appears to meet his doom at the hands of two Singh Brotherhood pilots.

The explosion spooks Diana, the Phantom’s wife for those not in the know.  Furthermore, most of the exchanges occur within an aircraft piloted by the Phantom's former nemesis and Jimmy Wells' love interest, the Baroness.  As result  writer Peter David de-emphasizes the Jimmy Wells/Tarzan dichotomy that he played up in the premiere issues of his second Phantom story.  His first was DC's Phantom mini-series, which led to a thirteen issue run.

The Phantom of course does not die in the explosion.  Spoiler Ahoy.  

He instead convinces the surviving pilot to lead him to the City of Ophir (Opar).  As the Phantom presses his unwilling charge ahead, he learns how the modern Singh Brotherhood operates.

It doesn’t quite work for me.  It seems like a definite Peter David thing to do, and the idea of an evil organization actually handing out good benefits was parodied in Get Smart. 

I can however overlook this peccadillo since the story finally progresses beyond a Tarzan pastiche.

It’s in these scenes that artist Sal Velluto comes alive with a loving attention to musculature.

Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in, believe it or not, 1912, John Carter, Warlord of Mars originally entertained readers for approximately forty years.  The character appeared in various forms through several comic book companies: from Dell to Marvel. 

Courtesy of the Grand Comic Database

Dynamite is the latest company to tackle John Carter, but they started out by producing an impressive run of solo Dejah Thoris tales; about the time Disney toyed with the idea of a John Carter movie.  With this issue of John Carter Warlord of Mars, writers Ron Marz and Ian Edginton become much more comfortable with their subject.

Still searching for a means to regenerate Helium, the Capitol of Barsoom, John Carter and his wife Dejah Thoris travel by air across the Martian landscape.  They hit a storm, crash land and discover a ruins unlike other ruins as well as dangers within.

The relationship between Carter and Dejah, seems stronger this issue because its taken casually and not the spotlight.  If I were a newcomer, I would get that that these two are devoted to each other and why.  

Carter and Dejah share more than love.  They are both  mutually curious and knowledgable.  Dejah, being a native Martian of course is more familiar with the legends and history of her planet, but Carter has immersed himself in Martian culture enough that he can almost catch up.

The discovery of the ancient city revolves around another past event associated with Dejah Thoris and her family.  The scenario is effective because of its potential omnipresence in any military campaign/tale.

John Carter gains further credence with a few clever touches of the plot.  The army Pallias raised were numerous but whittled down off panel by the very storm that brought down Carter and Thoris.

Essentially what's left of Pallias' grand revenge army are tomb raiders that Carter and Thoris interrupted.  The dangers within the tomb, because, it's a tomb, present even more chances for the digits to dwindle.  So, more than the previous issues, there's some black humor to be had at this sad wannabe Big Bad, which puts a good spin on the usual daring-do.

Reyn is the title character of a pulpy science fiction comic book from writer Kel Symons and Nate Stockman.  While the story doesn’t at first seem like science fiction.  Subsequent issues prove otherwise.

The difference lies in the trajectory.  Symons and Stockman relate the tale from the viewpoints of generations that came after the story actually began.  As such, the tale starts like a fantasy.  The rural community beset by monsters.  The monsters however find themselves at the mercy of Reyn.

Reyn #1

Quite the hook.  Reyn is known as Warden, and on the surface he seemed like a cross between a knight and Conan.  Even if Reyn hadn’t turned out to have many layers to peel, for a fantasy a Knight/Conan is a really decent start.  Future issues would build on the character’s history as well as his relationship with a woman he can only see.

Reyn #1

At first Reyn believed the woman to be a goddess.  That changed as Reyn grew ever more enlightened by the situation.

Reyn #6

The catalyst for Reyn’s illumination is Seph, whom he encounters in the premiere.

Although she’s accused of witchcraft and appears to be using magic, Seph is not supernatural at all.  Rather she applies technology, and approximately by issue three what’s implied becomes explicit.  The magic of Seph, Reyn’s designation as a Warden, the secret empire of the lustful Venn all have a common explanation.

Now at issue eight, Reyn shows no signs of losing steam.  In this chapter, Symons and Stockman reinforce Seph’s growing relationship with Reyn.  Whether or not it’s a smitten, is open for interpretation, but Seph and Reyn mutually rescue each other throughout the series to create an unshakeable, believable bond.  That symbiosis turns sensible tactics into the art of betrayal.

Let me just dispel any notions you may have based upon the cover.  The Venn do indulge in the sexual slavery of human women; thus reinforcing an even more lovingly pulp science fiction feel.  However, the depiction on the cover does not appear within the current issue.  

It may be foreshadowing, but if you’re worried about sexploitation, don’t worry.  Though Reyn features some spice, the book’s not exploitative toward female characters, all of which exhibit strength.  



The Venn have been using human slaves to mine various areas of the planet.  The gizmo being transported by Venn aircraft... one of the somethings they’ve been looking for.

Employing guerrilla tactics Reyn and his companions attack, but the rebels discount Reyn’s want to save Seph, captured last issue, at any cost.

The dual sides of Reyn offer up plenty of action and alludes to the first issue.  Reyn is not a classic good guy.  He doesn’t believe in the law; the law can be corrupted, especially if run by the Venn.  He follows a code, and he doesn’t break that code.  

So, just because he threw in with the rebels, doesn’t mean that he agrees with them all the time.  That conflict generates friction and advances the story into more visceral territory.

The latest issue of Mythic turns out to be two short stories.  In the first, writer Phil Hester and artist John McCrea direct the Mythic team to confront a giant worm from, what else, myth.

The worm represents the Big Bad's most recent attack on Mythic.  It's fitting that the most recent addition to the Mythic team cobbles a way to defeat the creature.  Upon examination, the beast reveals some interesting developments.

In the next tale, Hester and artists Brian Churilla and Mike Spicer divulge the origin of Mythic's resident ghost scientist.  The coolest thing about Dr. Devorah Baranski is that she doesn't believe she's dead.

The tale goes deep into the psyche or the afterlife and dark comedy generates images of Ringo Starr/Jesus and a somewhat mellow Anubis.  Atheists in particular will find the vignette most amusing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

POBB September 16, 2015

Pick of the Brown Bag
September 16, 2105
Ray Tate

This week I critique Black Canary, Southern Cross and Tokyo Ghost.  I know.  Right? Three comic books.  What the hell? Last week, as many comic books as there are Republican Presidential candidates, and this week, three.  That’s just how the pieces fell, my friends.

Tokyo Ghost is a cross between Judge Dredd…

Where’s the Second Movie! C’mon!




Amidst Blade Runner inspired visuals, Police Officer Debbie Decay rides with her porn-addled beau/partner LED Dent on a super-cycle built for two.  Her target? Davey Trauma.  Trauma can possess people with science fiction magic.

And that’s as far as the plot will stretch.  Essentially, Tokyo Ghost is one chase after another, which would be Fury Road good if I couldn’t help feeling that I’m being had. 

You see.  Tokyo Ghost doesn’t want to be anything.  Not even mindless entertainment.  It just wants your money.  It’s a vaguely cyberpunk leech.  Like Sucker Punch, Tokyo Ghost manipulates touchstones of geekery in a vain attempt to convince its audience that it’s not coddle-flop.

Judge Dredd addresses fascism.  Especially, Thatcher-era neofascism.  The character of Judge Dredd evolved to the point where he becomes the nigh fairest of the Judges, with the Chief Judges growing ever more corrupt.  The latest Mad Max movie takes place in a misogynistic dystopia.  The operatic car stunts burn on the backdrop of social risk and upheaval.  Taken is an adrenaline fest that reinvents Liam Neeson, but it also addresses themes of human trafficking, the perception of female expendability and police corruption.  Ultraviolet is about a sword-wielding vampiric heroine portrayed by Milla Jovovich, but it’s also about the fear of antibiotic resistance, the ethics of treating the afflicted and a religious takeover of medicine.

What is Tokyo Ghost saying?  Nothing.  It just regurgitates the themes and visuals of superior work.  Debbie Decay is kind of like Tank Girl but without the attitude.  Yes, she’s violent, but so what? Lots of female heroes are violent, but the good ones usually have a reason.

Debbie doesn’t articulate a rationale for her actions, or for her choice of occupation.  The movie version of Judge Dredd conveys the sense that the Judges, while probably not the best solution, are at the very least a well-intentioned solution.  The honest Judges want to rid the drugs that crime lord Mama is selling.  Plain and simple.

What does a cop who buys information with drugs represent?  Sterling symbol of law enforcement? Drugs are inherently bad? Debbie refuses to use them but has no qualms when perpetuating growth in an industry she despises.  She’s essentially a hypocrite, and it's difficult to cheer hypocrisy.

So, no.  Tokyo Ghost isn’t speaking out against drugs or any kind of addiction, although it pretends to make a case.  Debbie states: “Everyone regulates themselves with the Nano-Tech.  Easy emotional fixes and physical alterations.”

So how did these male models get into the story?  

Why is this normal looking girl playing a pinball machine with a product placement on it?

Oh, and why are the patrons in a big arena watching “car wrestling,” to borrow a phrase from Pops Racer?

A lot of what’s said and what’s seen doesn’t coalesce.  From Debbie’s point of view, the populace are either “sheep and or wolves.”  While we definitely see wolves.  The sheep are a little dicier to identify.  What with the people of this world appearing to have varied interests and not suckling the teat of specific entertainment.  A much better example of that type of obsession occurs in Max Headroom with the infamous Blipverts.

Observe.  Here’s what Debbie says:

And this is what’s actually seen.  

It looks to me like she just entered a somewhat seventies, European nightclub/slash restaurant that you might see in a giallo.  Not the place where I can make love to my other self, which I wouldn’t consider incest but a form of advanced self-pleasuring.  The idea of clone sex by the way was first seen way back in Samuel L. Delaney’s and Howard Chaykin’s Empire.  Debbie mentions “snuff prostitutes” which is really nothing more than a variation on suicidal cows at Milliway’s from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy universe.  “Hong Kong Suicide Slots?”  Either Futurama’s Suicide Booths or an insulting reference to the Suicide Girls.

My point is the writers are just putting stuff together in a haphazard way.  They're just copying and pasting locution together.  I’d wager they shredded some science fiction novels then taped together the words at random.  No that would be too much work, and Tokyo Ghost is a lazy, parasitic exercise baiting Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Oh, my god! They’re making him do the Hustle.  Those bastards!

No! Not strippers! Tell me it’s not strippers!

This sprinkling of titties just emphasizes my argument.  Tokyo Ghost pretends to be a mind-blowing, cutting edge experience, and to that effect it adds sex, but it's weak tea PG-13 sex.

Listen, a thonged graceful gluteus is gorgeous to watch in public.  In a sex scene it’s about as desperate a grasp for straws that you can get.  The lead actress refuses to do nudity.  The filmmakers can’t afford a body double.  So, after much coaxing, they resort to a little lap dance and carefully positioned thonged ass.  I’m insulted, and Tokyo Ghost is crap.

Southern Cross is just the opposite of Tokyo Ghost.  Southern Cross is a superbly crafted mystery, and writer Becky Cloonan is well aware of the conventions necessary for the genre.  Instead of murder on a famous train, we have murder on a starship.  

The time span is important in both instances.  Homicides on trains allow for a leisurely paced story and a more expansive look at the suspects and the detective.  The same can be said for a starship chugging through space with a six day time displacement; as opposed to functioning on a sci-fi shortcut, such as a time/space vortex or hyperdrive system.

Artist Andy Belanger contributes to the sense of plausibility.  He's made The Southern Cross a big beast of a vessel with consistent engineering and black steel alloy design.  So not only does this lend the idea of a hulk lumbering through the universe rather than schussing through the cosmos like Enterprise, the Southern Cross is also large enough to conceal murder and create a hunting ground for the killer amidst crew or passengers.

Opposing the murderer, Alex Braith a sleuth blended with her time period.  The future in which Alex operates, is something foreseeable, neither utopia or dystopia.  Just different.  The facade allows the reader to easily digest the surroundings and concentrate on the mysteries.  

Alex Braith is extraordinarily characterized.  Alex expresses a disenchantment with authority, and earned a criminal past for the privilege.   Cloonan clearly defines Alex's purpose and abrasive personality as well as a keen intelligence focused on finding the truth about her sister Amber.  

Alex's sister was part of the machine, in this case a corporation called Zemi.  Alex knows the facts of death have been doctored.  This issue of Southern Cross, Alex discovers the culprit and the far reaching plot that got her sister killed.

While the plot in question perfectly suits a modern crime novel, other elements in Southern Cross bring the story to the thresholds of science fiction and horror with a taste of Lovecraft terror/wonder.  A remarkable feat of writing and original art.  Makes me hate Tokyo Ghost even more.

Black Canary draws the focus away from the band and the lady.  Instead, writer Brendan Fletcher turns his attention to Maeve, the band Black Canary’s former lead singer.  

This biopic told from Maeve’s point of view to the kidnapped Ditto sheds light on her vanity and her callousness.  While its a tale not without a modicum of humanity, it’s designed to fascinate like a snake’s gaze rather than solicit empathy.

When the tale ends, we discover the lengths Maeve will go to regain her fame.  This includes handing over ditto the very wrong people, one an old enemy of the lady Black Canary.  Just when you think you’ve got grasp of all the players, a new voice makes itself heard in a soft whisper that’s nevertheless action packed.  Recommended even if the art team skipped a beat.  Substitute illustrator Pia Guerra does an admirable job.