Tuesday, February 23, 2016

POBB February 17, 2016

Pick of Brown Bag
February 17, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag this week investigates Aliens vs Vampirella, Black Canary, Catwoman, Doctor Who, Harley Quinn, Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book, James Bond, The Mighty Thor, Power Man and Iron Fist, Radioactive Spider-Gwen, Red Sonja, The Shield, Spider-Woman, Starfire and Tomb Raider.

George Mann’s and Emma Vieceli’s latest Doctor Who is far inferior to the standard of last issue.  It’s always a bad start when the first two pages don’t add up.

It took me a second look to figure out what’s going on.  The third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith attend an auction and buy said painting.  Okay.  So why then does the eighth Doctor arrive with Josie Day at some toff’s party?  How does painting lead to party?

Once at the soiree, it’s a typical Upstairs, Downstairs affair with servants and masters.  Or maybe Downton Abbey.  Anyway, don’t get used to them for long, because they’re attacked by a sudden growth of trees.  Still no painting though.

We learn that the trees are not malicious.  They’re being controlled.  Hey, no painting.

Nixie are Teutonic water sprites.  I suppose you could argue that they’re adding water to trees to make them fierce, or something, but it would have been simpler to refer to the creatures as Dryads, Greek forest spirits.  That would have made more sense.  Here, painting, painting, painting.

All right, we’re stuck with Nixie.  So, the whole thing boils down to a family legend and a forest king trapped beneath Briarwood House which happens to have been built near stone circles that suspiciously resemble gears.  Is there a painting in the house?

Fine, but why on earth did we need to wait so long to hear? I mean.  The Doctor is experienced with this sort of investigation.  He should have spotted the Nixie and said immediately, “Oh, probably little misnamed aliens.  At least, it’s not another Krynoid.” We seek the painting here.

Whatever.  The waking of the forest king and the Nixies doesn’t actually connect either.  What exactly are the Nixies’ function? Are they woody androids that grow trees for—purposes I haven’t a clue.  Are they long-lived aliens that are the attendants of the king? Nobody’s saying in this tensionless story.  We seek the painting there.

Yes, the dreaded Doctor tripping only to be instantly pulled free by his companions ploy.  I see.  Those Frenchies seek the painting everywhere.

In addition to the failings in the plot, The Doctor’s as generic as Josie Day in this story.  He frequently acts brain-damaged.  The only exception occurs here.  Is it in heaven? Is it in hell?

I can hear Paul McGann saying that.  Imagine his delivery, and oh, look, he’s taking the situation seriously now.  We seek the painting there.  Where is that elusive…

Overall a crummy issue.

Aliens vs. Vampirella ends strongly, with the wife of the doomed Lars deciding to rescue the vampire with the mostest, but it’s too little too late.  This mini-series needed trimmed down to about three issues.

Red Sonja continues to be okay.  I’m just not connecting with Red Sonja's new characterization.  Even her fight scenes seem strange to me.  I can however make one objective criticism.  The revelation of the new Hyrkanian king.  I've never heard of this guy.  He's not part of the Sonja mythos like Kulan Gath.  So the impact of the revelation and the sudden history lesson between he and Sonja feels like a feather fall.

Writers Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig add more details to The Shield’s history, as her memories begin to gel.  We see perhaps The Shield’s origin in 1776.

Wendig and Christopher however do not stay long in the past.  They jump to The Shield’s current predicament.  She’s being hunted by unknown parties with clout that allows them to take over police resources.  Despite that, they’re still outgunned by one superhuman girl.

Christopher and Wendig next answer and obfuscate Detective Jacks’ role in The Shield’s life.  They bring the Shield to a headquarters that she doesn’t remember, but she knows when to grab a uniform.  Just when you think things are settling, the writers surprise with a handshake you never saw coming.

Tomb Raider returns with a brand new ongoing series.  Writer Mariko Tamaki develops a strong voice for Lara Croft and throws the hero into the ring with a frighteningly good blind martial artist and tangles her in a murder mystery involving ethnobotany.

Artist Phillip Sevy grants poise to Lara’s body language that matches the toughness in her dialogue and expression.  In addition, he really knows how to choreograph a fight scene and create moments that go beyond the poses in an instruction manual.

Thor wins out simply by doing so much with so little pages and still be utterly comprehensive.  For those with short attention spans.  There’s a new Thor in the Marvel Universe, and she’s magnificent.  Odin doesn’t think so.  He’s put a bounty on her head.  While dilly-dallying with Thor, Odin missed the war between the Dark Elves and the Light Elves.  Old Thor enemy Malekith started this whole thing after allying himself with old Thor enemy the Enchantress, old Thor enemy Laufey Frost Giant and Loki’s father and old Marvel organizational enemy Roxxon.

In this issue, Thor resurfaces from certain doom, with style.  Queen Aesla of the Light Elves brokers an uneasy peace with Malekith.  Odin places Freya on Trial.  Thor storms to free her.  In the process, she declares personal war on Odin, and Loki…he’s just Loki, adding color and comedy while bound in chains.  Because that’s the only way to be sure of Loki.

In Starfire writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner let the art do the talking.  Artist Elsa Charretier with the colors of Hi-Fi amply displays her science fiction chops.  She depicts a cute, fuzzy alien, the imago of the twinkling light-being that aided Kori.

Mind you, we may need to credit Conner and Palmiotti for the design.  They are artists as well as writers.

Charretier spices up what could have been an otherwise boring trip beneath the Everglades.

Charretier makes the bubble translucent rather than crystal clear.  She furthermore plays with the illusion of solidity by portraying Kori in many unusual poses facilitated by the structure of the bubble.  Thus she imbues imagination to a simple solid, and she visually characterizes Kori's personality through her body language.

When we finally arrive at Terra’s world, it’s an imaginative backdrop with an array of diverse life forms.  At the same time, regular readers of Terra’s adventures will feel right at home.

Harley Quinn's Little Black Book teams Harley up with Green Lantern.  The sale of two rings from the Lucky Charms Box of modern Lantern etiquette go up on sale at eBay.  This triggers a bidding war between the ultimate Green Lantern fan and Harley.

Green Lantern being a Lantern finds himself attracted to the rings, and other things.

By the time he takes care of the overturned ship and makes his way to New York, events progressed.

The rings which have already made like Peaches and Herb, corrupt the mind of our gal clown, and the battle royals begins, pitting Lantern against Harley with a group of space mercenaries in the middle.

Little Black Book is a laugh riot.  First, Conner and Palmiotti characterize Hal Jordan as a mix of what he was supposed to be and how fans and detractors see him.  The result is a fallible, not too bright hero who gets lucky way too often.

I made my peace with Hal Jordan after Geoff Johns eliminated the sexist/Republican aspect that's dogged his conception.  In the new 52, Hal Jordan is a jackass, but he's not a specific type of jackass or a loathsome jackass.

You can laugh at him without resenting his existence, and he does actually possess knowledge through experience.  Plus, and it galls me to admit this, but he actually does a lot of good and cares about others beside himself.  I never got that impression before Conner and Palmiotti.

As a result, Little Black Book ends up being an enjoyable, light-hearted adventure, far better than the Dick Grayson/Starfire collusion.  The reason the Lantern intrudes on Harley's life makes sense.  The threat fits the hero, and there's no messy continuity/previous relationship to distract.  Furthermore, ironies of ironies Hal Jordan comes off as a better man than Grayson.  The Green Lantern doesn't patronize Harley.  He tries to reason with her, respects her willpower and believes she can overcome the influence of the rings.  Grayson just saw Starfire as a macking toy, and made such Mad Men cracks as “You’ve changed, Kori.”

Things get serious in Harley's flagship book.  A jail break is similar to a heist.  That said.  I find it difficult to become involved in jail break performances because generally speaking the antagonists deserve to behind a cage.  Of course the exception is the innocent man.  Your basic Count of Monte Cristo.

Mason, Harley's boyfriend did kill somebody, but it's very clear even if you haven't been following every issue that his crime doesn't warrant imprisonment in Arkham.  Ostensibly a rehabilitation facility for the mentally disturbed.  So, go Harley.

The jail break grants Palmiotti and Conner the opportunity to summarize all that's been going on in Harley's life and her history.  Thus, we have a rare example of an exciting story finale that also serves as a great jump on point.

Want to know what Harley Quinn is about? The tale neatly demonstrates her quasi-law abiding ways and her criminal history with the Joker.

Want to get a grasp of the mood of the book? The ending blends comedy and action seamlessly.

If you only checked out Harley Quinn in Batman: the Animated Series, you're aware of the subtext between she and Poison Ivy.  Does it pertain here?

Since Harley Quinn is a Batman cast member, what does the Dark Knight think of all of this?

Hopefully Conner and Palmiotti will write a story with that payback.

Framed for murder, Catwoman must also deal with a bounty put on her head by the Penguin.  The price of feline per pound breaks former alliances.

Fortunately for Catwoman, Batgirl just wants to take her in.

Little does Batgirl know that NY's finest is the reason why Selina is in this mess in the first place.

Artist Inaki Miranda swathes Catwoman in an aesthetic disregard for traditional panels that invigorates the already remarkable fight choreography.  The battle between Catwoman and Batgirl is a stunner.  Both Tieri and Miranda wisely leave things up in the air as to who would win.  A reminder of Croc’s wrestling past trumps all.

Catwoman is more than a chase and a pair of wicked fights.  Tieri keeps surprising with new layers.  There’s a sharp difference between New York and Gotham cops, as intimated last issue.  This issue, we get to see it.  There’s a nesting doll quality to whole affair that leads to unforeseen riches.   Tieri positions sometimes-Catwoman cast member Tesla as more than just Catwoman’s technician but also her confidant, and Tieri comes up with the best use for Batman's amnesia for a startling finale to the chapter. 

Writer Brendan Fletcher in Black Canary addresses the second component of the Black Canary mythology.  Legacy.

Originally Black Canary was a soft criminal, quickly turned hero as her popularity skyrocketed in Flash Comics.  Soon, she took over the Johnny Thunder back-up feature.

As the Bronze Age came to a close, a nonsensical twist arose.  Black Canary was actually her own daughter.  That is Dinah Lance was in fact the daughter of the original Black Canary of Earth Two.  To make matters worse, the memories of the mother were implanted in the mind of the daughter.  Thus, she mourned the death of her father Larry as if he were her husband.

In one of the few moments that the post-Crisis actually made things better, the Powers that Be streamlined Black Canary's origin.  She now became just the daughter of the original Black Canary.  No weird mind-meld.  Until Batman arrived on the scene, the original Black Canary was DC's most skilled martial artist.  The daughter merely followed in her mother's footsteps, and acquired a sonic cry through means never disclosed.  

In The Birds of Prey television series, Dinah, portrayed by Rachel Skarsten, was still the daughter of the famed crimefighter and Batman ally Black Canary.  Huntress however trains Dinah in martial arts while she hones her psychokinetic powers.  The television program The Arrow utilized the Black Canary duality in a different way.  The Black Canaries are sisters.

Fletcher readdresses the legacy element of the Black Canary mythology, but does so in a cool, unpretentious way.  The "White Canary" that interfered with Amanda Waller's abduction of guitar girl Ditto turns out to be linked to the Black Canary in a simple way.

The reason behind Dinah's abandonment as a child by her mother turns out to root in a seventies grindhouse.

Her current predicament also arises from what should have been her inheritance.  Dinah however has some formidable backup on the way.

I would just love to know how much of what’s happened to Maeve Bo was planned from the beginning.  At first Bo was hinted at, next shown to be vain and conniving.  She meets Ditto, who softens her even as she agrees to undergo the same operation that gave Dinah her powers.  The band Black Canary resents Bo.  That seems to be the original kernel, yet Maeve apparently changed for the better, and that shift seems likely to have evolved as Flechter wrote.

Dinah’s other aide-de-camp besides her fists and feet, and we get plenty of examples of their harmony courtesy of guest artist Sandy Jarrell, is a fan favorite character created at the cusp of the Crisis of Infinite Earths.    

Power Man and Iron Fist return to comics.  Though some would say they never left.  Of course, this is the first time they have come back as a team.  The story by Shaft writer David Walker is full of buddy-cop comedy, a cute explanation for why Luke Cage doesn’t swear and ample demonstration of their fighting ability.  That said, Power Man and Iron Fist felt flat to me.  However, I don’t fault Walker or artist Sanford Greene.  The fact is I never really cared about Power Man and Iron Fist.

I liked both heroes separately.  I liked Power Man in Marvel Team-Up, Super-Villain Team-Up and as a member of The Fantastic FourI liked Iron Fist, especially when a young John Byrne cut his teeth in the Marvel Universe.  I liked them as a team in their guest appearances in Daredevil and Rom of all things, but their Heroes for Hire comic book was never frequently available to me.  Power Man and Iron Fist was published before the rise of the Direct Comic Book Market.  In other words, I picked up whatever was available at Woolworth’s or the local drugstore.  The sporadic issues I did pick up were all right and better when Misty Knight and Colleen Wing showed up, but meh.  Power Man and Iron Fist never made an impression.

So, for those that are interested.  Power Man and Iron Fist visit an old friend who just got out of prison.  She asks for a favor.  Recover a necklace acquired by a rotten boyfriend.  The necklace we discover has fallen in the hands of a former Big Bad.  This means that despite Luke’s attempt to conclude things peacefully, there’s going to be a whole lot of shaking going on.

When last we peeked in on the Radioactive Spider-Gwen she had reached the point of no return, revealed her identity to Harry Osborn and then collapsed in a state of extreme exhaustion.  Once again, writer Jason Latour reminds the reader that Gwen’s way powerful but limited by the stresses of her body.  That mortality gives Radioactive Spider-Gwen a constant sense of danger.

From Radioactive Spider-Gwen #2

This issue though isn’t about what happened during battle.  Rather it’s an impressive broad scope issue branching out to the supporting cast.  The anthology of characters begins with Matt Murdock tries to make a deal with Captain George Stacy and shares with him some uncomfortable truths.  

As Murdock become Monty Hall with Ninjas, Latour fleshes out Frank Castle, the police Captain that took over Stacy’s job.  Nab Spider-Woman.

Murdock puts Captain Stacy in an ugly position, but he finds solace in Gwen’s wisdom.  It’s a brilliant little ouroboros twist.

While Murdock plays Devil’s Advocate, Captain America visits Jean DeWolfe for a heart to heart about Spider-Gwen and how Frank Castle earned his nickname “The Punisher.”

It's nice to see Captain America joining the cast of Radioactive Spider-Gwen.  She and the Falcon, her teenaged male clone; in this issue falling in love with Mary Jane band member Betty Brant, investigate another possibility in the death of Peter Parker.  That investigation leads Cap to what looks to be another killer Spider-Gwen/Cap team-up for next issue.

Spider-Woman kicks Skrull ass after giving birth.  Really.  How can you not want to read a book that can be summarized like that?  Okay.  Here’s a taste.  Just a taste mind you.  

This scene promising violence foreshadows a double-spread page of Spider-Woman living up to her Skrull epithet.  The Slaughterer.

The world is threatened by a monstrous drug that eats you from the inside out.  Only one man can stop and punish the kingpins.  His name is Bond.

James Bond.  The man at Bond's knees single-handedly murdered M.I.-6 operations in Berlin.  Innocent agents butchered, makes James Bond a very unhappy man.  This mood naturally leads to oodles and oodles of sweet violence against a vicious brute who allegedly cannot feel.  Bond leaves him begging for mercy, and that's why James Bond must be purchased.  Bond leaves a smile on your face as he overcomes the seemingly unstoppable monsters of the world.  Then ends them.

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