The Pick of the Brown Bag
December 30, 2015
Welcome to The Pick of the Brown Bag with reviews of Aliens vs. Vampirella, All-New Wolverine, Black Canary, Black Magick, James Bond and Justice League. I’ll also have a brief review of Emily Blunt’s Wild Target.
Take a look at these men.
They’re the middlemen behind the designer drug trade sweeping England. In five pages, they will be dead. Their epitaph will be riddled by this man.
His name is Bond, James Bond.
So, let me explain what else you get besides James Bond using special Q bullets to dice bad guys. You get James Bond upending a popular movie cliche to smash several bad guys. You get an example of James Bond’s mercy, read that as zero, when he interrogates a bad guy.
Yes. I can see why you may mistake James Bond as a master of mysticism, and that reaction reverberates from the echoed screams of so many James Bond villains about to die. You are however mistaken.
Bond is a relentless, compartmentalized killer. One of these chambers however holds a hero that unleashes the calculating enforcer so that ordinary people may get on with their lives. Bond suffers no guilt over his executions because these targets must die. It’s the right thing to do.
That’s a pretty amazing hook that any novelist in his right mind would envy for his first paragraph. Writer Brendan Fletcher puts me in the awkward position of not being able to reveal just how awesome Black Canary is. What I can discuss is the opening.
Stark, vivid and realistic colors courtesy of Lee Louridge.
It seems like a ginchy twist on the typical cadre of villainy fighting the heroes in the open. This time in a battle of the bands setting.
The audience believes it knows what’s going on, but they haven’t a clue to the evil behind the spotlights. That said. This is merely the first act for a much richer, almost Doctor Who-like, plot.
In addition to the surprise, Fletcher delves deep into the psyche of Maeve, lead singer of the Waller-sponsored musical psychopaths. The fact that both Fletcher and artist Annie Wu can grant Maeve a level of sympathy is extraordinary.
Maeve isn't a Big Bad. She's an Archie villain backmasked into the position of Big Bad. She's petty and filled with envy and jealousy, but a murderer she is not. Her persona adds another level of depth to the story that’s just rippling with freshness and complexity.
Thanks to star Laura Kinney, the artist formerly known as X-23, the All-New Wolverine hits all the touchstones of the Wolverine legacy but takes them in a different direction. The story opens with a battle between Taskmaster, hired to end the lives of Laura's charges, and Wolverine.
The riveting melee is quick and clever, demonstrating Laura's ever growing experience as a tactician. In addition at the climax, she distinguishes herself from wannabe Wolverines.
Her vow not to kill, though unwritten in stone, plays as a recurring theme throughout the book.
The original Wolverine had decades of fighting experience under his belt and, in then modern times, struggled against his berserker instinct. In Laura's case, the aspects are reversed. Laura is less of a killer than Logan. She's better at quelling her rage. Both because she simply hasn't gotten used to either. Her experience furthermore comes from training not surviving multiple eras.
Laura's want creates conflict with those she protects, and it also makes for a pithy conclusion to the chapter.
As Laura runs with her compatriots...
...writer Tom Taylor draws in other motifs familiar to Wolverine fans. Laura is fighting a government run facility known as Alchemax because it's the right thing to do. The original Wolverine defended against the Canadian government for years. Likewise, the story is about turning people into property.
Unexpected given that Captain Mooney is a black man, but there's plenty of realism in his choices and his prejudice. Hatred against the LGBT community spanned all creeds and colors. Likewise for women. Mooney hates clones, which are more common than cats in the Marvel Universe. That makes the female Wolverine a particularly appropriate foil.
Aliens vs Vampirella unfortunately only features one good scene directing a classic vampire attribute against the alien horde, but I found the rest of the chapter lacking. The writer introduces a new character, which is fine, but his origin isn't all that interesting and takes up space. The death of another character was unnecessary and a mistake because the execution undermines Vampirella's abilities. The Aliens in a previous issue parasitized the crew and Vampirella. She could not stop that from happening, but the killing in this issue occurs while the figure is under Vee's protection.
Black Magick is a slick fusion of police procedural and maverick cop fiction. Rowan Black meets with her friend Alex, also a practicing witch.
They discuss Rowan's supernatural slaying of a hostage taker in the premiere and his connections to a witch hunting organization.
After the conversation, a whole lot of smart happens in the story. Since Rowan eliminates the impossible and accepts the improbable, as all good detectives should, she takes steps to protect herself when she's the most vulnerable.
She next needs a piece of evidence for Alex to cast a spell of psychometry. Before she acquiesces Rowan creates a duplicate to temporarily replace the object.
This scene exemplifies the limits of magic. The lighter’s real. The etching faked. She can’t just conjure up a lighter. She finds one that looks the same and marks it magically.
Rowan slickly switches the two lighters in the presence of the officer in charge of the investigation. Thus allaying suspicion should it arise. Although technically wrong, it’s doubtful that the police would have found anything useful from the lighter. All fingerprints probably belonged to the hostage taker “Rowan White.” If Rowan’s theory is correct, a properly wielded spell may uncover more than the police can. So, Rowan’s actions are just.
The idea of vindication underpins the story. Rowan knows that killing “Rowan White” was a necessity, but she still feels guilt over the action. She also doesn’t like tampering with evidence, despite there being a sensible rationale. Rowan’s a good witch and a good cop. Sometimes they mesh. Sometimes they generate friction.
Writer Ed Brubaker temporarily shifts the focus away from Rowan to the opposite side of the coin.
These scholars appear to be The Hammer, the group that Rowan and her friends spoke about, but they seem to be in as much as the dark as the witches. The new development promises to take Black Magick even farther out of the realm of the expected. An integral inclusion for your subscription list.
The Justice League gather, but the Justice League are no longer the Justice League of tradition. They have become the New Gods.
During the end of his run, John Byrne turned Wonder Woman into the Goddess of Truth. In the new 52, Brian Azzarello graduated Wonder Woman to the Goddess of War. It’s clear that Wonder Woman in Justice League is just Wonder Woman. That’s enough.
Wonder Woman abates Superman’s rage. This allows Batman, the God of Knowledge to make a diagnosis, which also alludes to Batman’s father Thomas Wayne.
Perhaps Superman will regenerate. In any case, writer Geoff Johns doesn’t just gather eagles, he follows through with the League’s Away Teams infiltrating Belle Reve, which houses the Crime Syndicate members Ultraman and Superwoman.
It turns out that the mission just may have been a scheme set into motion by another member of the Crime Syndicate that has always been in plain sight. It’s a good reveal. So don’t look for any spoilers here. The cliffhanger is even better.
The Emily Blunt Film Review
2010’s Wild Target is a dark comedy where Emily Blunt portrays a con woman/thief amidst a star-filled cast. Some visible on the DVD cover art. However, famous faces appearing out of nowhere is one of the film’s delights. Penny Dreadful fans take note.
The story is about a beautifully botched assassination. The humor is mostly character based, but several touches of slapstick accent the funny, smart script. Identities change. Ruses shift, and secrets become known.
Wild Target creates its own language for the audience to interpret, and that’s part of where the amusement lies. The film and characters do not tell the audience anything. Rather, the talent show and let the audience draw their conclusions from the Rosetta Stone.