Tuesday, January 12, 2016

POBB January 6, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 6, 2016
Ray Tate

“You lot.  You spend all your time thinking about dying.  Like you're gonna get killed by eggs, or beef, or global warming, or asteroids.  But you never take time to imagine the impossible. Like maybe you survive.”—The Doctor

Welcome to the first Pick of the Brown Bag of 2016.  In this blog, I review the worst and the best of comic books from the week’s yield.  Feel free to comment on anything you like or dislike.  If you’re in a rush and on the way to the comic book store, I also tweet teensy summaries of the reviews and sometimes new teensy reviews on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

This week I review A-Force, Action Comics, Angel and Faith, Barbwire, Doctor Who, Mythic, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, Swamp Thing and The Ultimates.

When the New 52 began, Swamp Thing was no longer.  Dr. Alec Holland survived.

Alan Moore first broached the idea of Alec Holland never being Swamp Thing.  According to Moore’s run, Alec Holland died in the swamp.  Holland’s Bio-Restorative Formula imprinted his basic form and mind onto the vegetation.  The Swamp Thing that arose from Len Wein’s and Bernie Wrightson’s original mire was in fact a plant replication that believed he was Alec Holland.  

After accepting these new discoveries, Swamp Thing grasped his new life with gusto.  Maybe he wasn’t a man, but he still could score, and with a hot vegetarian.

Writer Scott Snyder preserved all of Swamp Thing’s history, and thanks to that, he was able to regenerate Swamp Thing once again without tramping on anybody else’s creations.  

For example, Abigail Arcane remembers her love for walking salad.   However, until Snyder reintroduces her, Abby doesn’t actually know and has never met Alec Holland.  Alec and Abby fall in love for the first time in Snyder’s epic.

In Snyder’s rebirth of Swamp Thing, Alec Holland doesn’t die through an explosion.  He’s instead mortally wounded by followers of the Rot, a force for death.  As you can see in the depiction Alec Holland chooses to become the Champion of the Green, but the Parliament of Trees, Moore creations, cannot transform Alec Holland without the Bio-Restorative Formula he synthesized.  

In a sense, Snyder related Wein’s and Wrightson’s origin tale against a new dramatic backdrop.

The wheel turns once again.  This time it clicks into the place of Swamp Thing’s creator Len Wein.  Wein returns to the series he created with an immediate reestablishing of Swamp Thing’s origin.

It’s unsurprising that Wein ignored Snyder’s contributions to the Swamp Thing mythology, but thanks to Snyder, Wein’s big boom is still valid.  Alec Holland’s first death involved a big boom.  He simply didn’t re-emerge from the swamp as Swamp Thing.  The Bio-Restorative Formula reconstituted his body.  It just took time.  Holland however suffered the memories of Swamp Thing’s life even if he never lived it.  So, Wein’s glossing over of all that came after him isn’t necessarily defiance.  It’s just inelegant and less informing.

As a result, the newest advent of the newest volume of Swamp Thing by creator Len Wein isn’t bad, it’s just not as rewarding as Scott Snyder’s deconstruction followed by reconstruction.

Wein’s story begins with Swampy arguing with an alligator that wants to turn him into lettuce.

Swamp beasts and alligators don’t get along.

It’s tradition.

Wein tries to breathe fresh air into the tired lungs of this cliche, but I have to ask why he even bothered? The alligator attack doesn’t really pertain to the main story.  It doesn’t do anything.  Neither does the presence of the Phantom Stranger, whom I usually like to see.

The real beginning of the story occurs on page nine, where Swamp Thing hears a cry for help and proceeds to intervene.

The tale of woe involves a quack doctor conducting I’m guessing Flatliner experiments on the couple’s son.  Things go awry, in experiments that shouldn’t have been trusted in the first place, and a new monster is born.

As Wein points out early in the story Swamp Thing “…shambled away across the length and breadth of the world to face monsters and terrors beyond human ken.”

Wein’s narration is actually the best part of the book.  It’s filled with awesome descriptions that would be better served in prose: “The creature before him has the skin and texture the color of ancient parchment that flakes and crackles as it moves.”  In fact artist Kelley Jones is ill-equipped to match Wein’s description.

It’s not that Jones’ art is poor.  On the whole I liked Jones’ run on Batman and Detective Comics in the late nineties.  It’s also fine for Swamp Thing.  The illustration however fails to capture the visual horror that Wein implies.  Wein’s narration belongs in Weird Tales.  Jones’ art in Creepy or Eerie.

In the latest Angel and Faith, Archaeus, the Big Bad, aptly Conrad grotesque, seeks to enslave the magic of Magic Town.

For that reason, he kidnaped Nadira, a very special Slayer.

In order to get to Nadira, Archaeus recruited Drusilla, the second in the Spike-Dru couplet from the television series.

Dru and Archaeus decided to use Nadira's association with Angel to lure the hero and release Angelus the vampire. If you're unaware that Angel and Angelus share the same vampire husk, stop what you're doing and view the fourth season Angel episode "Orpheus."  It neatly explains the schism.  

While Angel or Angelus deals with Archaeus, Faith, with backup from Fred, Giles' sisters and Koh combats Dru and her forces.

It all winds up with a battle to the death between Dru and Faith, or does it.

Without giving away the surprises, I can only say that Victor Gischler's story, aided by the art of Will Conrad and Michelle Madsen, is smart, funny and fitting.  It’s exactly what a Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel story should be.

Barbwire still in federal custody relates the finish of her encounter with Avram Roman.  Her action-filled flashback reveals a deal.

Thus, writer Christopher Warner characterizes Barb as a woman of honor, while Pat Olliffe illustrates her as a woman of kinetics.

One of the things of note is how Olliffe turns this choreographed fight into a more realistic endeavor.  Barb and Roman do not face just one good at time.  There’s an authentically rendered pile-on going on.   

Kudos to Olliffe for not backing down from drawing such a fight and just adding more and more characters as the story unfolds.

Robbie Morrison's Doctor Who starts a new story with an eerie opening that neatly reminds people that yes, Doctor Who is science fiction but it's also frequently terrifying.  Some creative talent behind the show in fact said that Doctor Who's whole purpose was to send children rushing behind the sofa.  No joke.  Adults who watched the show as kids were frequently scared out of their wits, but it was a good kind of scary.

Rachael Stott must be commended for turning her clean line work into credible terror images.  The shadows, the mood, the pacing all lend to an homage to Hammer films.

At first it appears Morrison and Stott call forth not just Dracula's castle but also The Village of the Damned, based on John Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos.  This answer to the terror-filled question however quickly shifts to something even more impressive, and allusive to the horror genre.

Meanwhile in space and time, the Doctor finds himself in a battle of wits against the witless.

Here we see the perfect blend of dialogue and art to replicate the performance of Peter Capaldi.  Tell me you don't hear the man himself.

If you're concerned that the Doctor and Clara have gone their separate ways, no worries needed.

This looks to be a terrific Doctor Who story, and I cannot wait until the next chapter.

Last year's Groot mini-series delighted with a pleasant fancy and warm, quality artwork.  Alas, the new Rocket Raccoon and Groot only confuses.  The only good thing about the mishmash is the first page where Rocket Raccoon and Groot relate a campfire tale.

After that, you just keep asking questions.  Number one, I get that the Guardians of the Galaxy roster changed, but why when the movie was so successful?

Number two, even if the roster changed and Kitty Pryde is now Starlord, for some reason, why is she masked among friends?  If memory serves, Peter Quill wore the mask for protection against hostile environments.  Kitty stands in earth atmosphere equivalent.  I know this since Ben Grimm needs to breathe.

Number three, why are we following the adventures of Pockets and Shrub?

If this is some gag on Marvel's multiverse, it's not funny.  It just reminds the reader how ephemeral Marvel's multiverse is.  The parallel earth cosmos only started to foster concrete analogues such as Spider-Gwen.  It didn’t have a Huntress and Power Girl.  Merely individuals differing by a hair.  Pockets and Shrub are weak doppelgängers of Rocket and Groot.  Although, the name rhyming with a better known duo is genuinely funny.

Number four, do Pockets and Shrub exist in the same universe as Groot and Rocket Raccoon?  Are they visitors.  Is this our Groot?

Is this our Rocket?

I’m willing to give Rocket Raccoon and Groot a little more time to mature into something worth reading, but as it stands now, it’s worse than A-Force from The Secret Wars thingy.

Speaking of which, yes, a shameless segue…

A-Force improves through the virtue of simply being what it was supposed to be in the first place.  A Marvel female superhero centric comic book series.  The difference is that rather than brick you with Lord Doom and Sheriff Strange, Queen Medusa and feudal versions of She-Hulk, Medusa, Dazzler, The Movie Star, the Professor and Mary Ann, writer G. Willow Wilson characterizes the bona fide articles.

The tale begins when a refugee from that justifiably killed universe materializes in Marvel proper.  Singularity (A transformed Miss America Chavez?) naturally seeks out her friends.  Only they don’t know her.

Wilson and artist Jorge Molina do a great job depicting Singularity’s loneliness.  That one factor makes her immediately sympathetic.  Even if you only kind of know her.

As the tale progresses, we discover Singularity may be the bane of something else that coincidentally resurfaced.  It also causes her pain.  So, she makes a hasty retreat only to end up on earth where she encounters the She-Hulk.

This book is so much improved that I’m going to forgive the atrocious Superman/Kents gag that wasn’t as funny as the creators thought it was.  Don’t mess with the S.
Shulkie attempts to the beat the stuffing out of the Anti-Matter Being, but she gets thwarted only to be saved by Singularity.  The save naturally leads to Singularity’s final encounter.

Medusa provides the big cliffhanger, and it’s probably a fake out.  Though a queen, not of the realm, Medusa is usually depicted as honorable and level-headed.  She was a member of the Fantastic Four after all.

A-Force is a lot of fun, and I never thought I would say that after the version in Secret Wars reeked like a dead squirrel.

“For whatever knows fear, burns at the Man-Thing’s touch.”  Likewise, wherever Galactus goes, Queen Lilandra of the Sh’iar Empire follows.

The Imperial Guard, created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, were jokes on the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Writer Al Ewing sticks to the gag in a hilarious throwaway prologue.

The comedy continues when the Gladiator yells at Captain Marvel and her cronies the Ultimates.  The great thing about this is, Ewing isn’t interested in revealing that two hour harangue.  Instead, he demonstrates that the Ultimates don’t give a rat’s ass and goes onto their next subject.

Right.  The Ultimates are going to repair time.  This involves some fun cameos the least revealing of which I’ve shared and a guest star I never heard of but welcome given Ewing’s crafted persona.

It also demands commitment.  Black Panther's wonderfully droll time travel joke prompts some extraordinary dialogue from the young hero that's most familiar with time travel.

In addition to this mind-blowing aim, Ultimates drops the camera down small to reveal new powers in Spectrum’s gamut, and an overall sense of camaraderie that makes this title so winning.

In this issue of Action Comics, we discover why Vandal Savage stole Superman’s power.

“Savage Dawn Assault” is not by any means a great story.  It’s however better than it has any right to be.  Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder answer the nagging power question, and while the answer isn’t totally satisfying, it’s an overall acceptable motive for Savage’s actions.

Action Comics is a book where you spot out things that are neat while puzzling at the minutia from chapters you may not have read.  While, I don’t know who Wrath is other than a duped relation of Vandal Savage, I support the appearance of Justice League United.

Geoff Johns is busily humming to himself; ignoring other books and writing the Justice League as they should be written, but in every title not written by Johns, the Justice League isn’t all there.  Batman is still amnesiac.  Aquaman is still Arion.  Wonder Woman has just been captured by Frankenstein, suborned by Savage.  Superman has been sapped of power.  On the flip side of all that, Justice League United was awesome while it lasted, and it’s great to see the team substituting for the Justice League.  

Normally, you’d say to yourself, okay, who let those also-rans in the book, but Justice League United maintains a valid right to claim the name.  I’d be happy if the team shortened their name to Justice League.

In addition to Justice League United, Pak and Kuder bring in one of their favorite characters, probably of all time.  Lana Lang.

The first thing Pak and Kuder did when they took over Action Comics was to reintroduce Lana Lang.  She then took part in almost every story since and narrated her history with Clark Kent.

Next neat thing? The Atom, rocking a new Brandon Routh look as he takes his place in Legends of Tomorrow.  The Atom isn’t however in Action Comics to merely look pretty.  He provides a terrific, integral plot point.

So what if I have little idea of how exactly Savage is using some sort of black goo to attack the world?  Who cares about Wrath?  The neat stuff outweighs the overall sensibility of the plot.  Action Comics is a popcorn book that provides much more pleasure than the average title.

Mythic provides a rationale for the players on the other side and at the same time creates a thoughtful framework for its magically based cosmos.

That’s a really fresh idea.  Incensed logical beings attack Mythic since in a sense it defends the world’s chaos.

Part of that chaos comes in the form of Frost Giants courtesy of the Midgard Serpent, but Mythic has a secret weapon.  Although the team may look like modern men and women and gods, some actually wield great power.

Others are just really intelligent, and creatively exploit magical objects in unusual ways.

Joining the main story, writer Phil Hester and artist John McCrea continue unveiling the sad origin of Waterson, and his magical connection to his brother.

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