Tuesday, February 2, 2016

POBB January 27, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 27, 2016
Ray Tate

Hello, I'm Ray Tate.  Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, where I review the best and the worst of the week.  Drop a comment if you like.  I also tweet teensy reviews under: #PickoftheBrownBag.  Our contenders this week are Black Canary, the Hellboy Winter Special,  Henchgirl, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Spider-Woman and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  Plus a few words about Black Magick.

I can’t discuss Black Canary or Scooby-Doo Team-Up properly without spoiling significant plot details.  So the full review of these books will follow the publication of the normal edition of the POBB.

The last issue of Henchgirl was a confusing mishmash about an alien invasion fought off by the Butterfly Gang's arch-nemesis Great Guy.  The current issue of Henchgirl gets back to its criminal goodness basics.

The story begins with Coco, Monsieur Butterfly’s, favorite, attempting to ferret out a mole in the gang.  In order to do this, Mary and the Butterfly Gang must undertake a small heist.  Ask anybody.  I love a good heist. 

Coco needs a special McGuffin for her mole-finding scheme.  It's not a complex heist, but it is an emotional one that plausibly pulls Mary in two directions.

Mary likes the money facet of crime, but she’s not so keen on the poor hours, the occasional ethical quandaries and the mixed messages from her boss.  

From these opening scenes, you may not identify Henchgirl as a funny book, Kristen Gudsnuk’s indie is actually a lot of laughs.

This becomes evident when Mary and the Butterfly Gang undertake the heist only to be caught in the act by Great Guy, who’s still suffering from his loss from the previous issue.

Great Guy watched the love of his life literally lose her head in the midst of reporting the attempted alien takeover.  It got even worse for Great Guy after that.  

The heist though upset in numerous hilarious ways is a success.  Gudsnuk next smoothly segues to part two of the book.  We meet Mary’s parents, her sister and explore a very rare super power in comics, or anywhere else for that matter.

The secrets of Mary’s parents instigate numerous comic beats beautifully staged by Gudsnuk.  The writer/creator impressively uses the short hand of art to express the underlying tension at the dinner party, and Gudsnuk demonstrates a motif in the entire run.  Superpowers and the people who wield them are dangerous, regardless of which side they choose to serve.

Jessica Drew alias Spider-Woman is pregnant, and Captain Marvel, Jess’ best friend, suggested she check in to a mostly awesome space hospital.  Its practitioners tend to numerous aliens in need.  Unfortunately, Jess picked the one day that the Skrulls paid a visit.  By visit I mean take over.

Previously in Spider-Woman

In this issue of Spider-Woman, Jess battles the Skrulls, while attempting to drop the defenses that are keeping Carol and Alpha Flight out.  At first, it seems that Jess has things well in hand.

Alas, this is only a soupçon of victory.  In order to enact her plan, Jess must travel the length of the hospital, without alerting the Skrulls, to consult with the hospital’s designer, who happens to be dead.

The designer is however remarkably astir, thanks to a combination of Doctor Who’s Matrix and Futurama’s cloning methods for celebrities and historical figures.

Jess’ pile-on of problems is a boon for readers because they allow artist David Lopez to produce Muybridge Moments such as this.

Eadweard Muybridge should sound familiar, if even vaguely.  He’s the groundbreaking founding father of photography responsible for this classic image. 

You see the similarity?  Muybridge captured the intricacies of locomotion in stills.  Lopez introduces a variety of stop-motion art, but he does so for the opposite reasons.  Lopez crafts these splash page Muybridge Moments to imbue the illusion of movement and curtail time simultaneously.

For those not wild about the technique, you need not worry.  There’s plenty of gorgeous non-experimental visual narrative to enjoy in Spider-Woman, as well as comedy in Jess’ incremental accumulation of misfortune.

Black Canary is a remarkable fusion of star character Dinah Lance’s multiple roles in comic books.  This issue bridges her status as crimefighter, former government agent, Golden to Modern Age team member and new 52 era Leader.  At the same time, Black Canary acts as superb science fiction and an optical marvel that should be nominated for a Spectrum Award.

Black Magick is as good as previous issues, but not a lot happens.  The most interesting thing for me in addition to Nicola Scott’s absorbing illustration was the botched hanging.  I like it when writer’s research, and writer Greg Rucka explains the difference between a proper hanging and what amounts to lynching.

The latest Hellboy anthology features two main Hellboy stories, a B Side tie-in to the Vril of Mignola’s Frankenstein Unbound, and a Lobster Johnson short that’s neither indicative of the character or the mood of these comics.

The best of the anthology can be found in Chelsea Cain’s and Michael Avon Oeming’s short that looks in on Hellboy, Professor Bruttenholm and a very young Liz Sherman.  I miss Liz Sherman and regret Mignola’s shelving of the character from the Hellboy chronicles.

Liz was never in love with Hellboy in the series.  That fancy belongs solely to Guillermo Del Toro.  It's a great addition by the way, but I never really considered that Liz joined Professor Bruttenholm at so young an age.  This of course makes sense.

The young Liz provides comic counterpoint often in Oeming’s exaggerated cartooniness to Hellboy’s straight man monster fighter, and the Christmas setting allows for unusual demons to spring from the snow.  Fortunately, Liz is a pyrokinetic, and her power to blaze explains the length of the short.

The second Hellboy tale is a ghost story during his 1953 BPRD days.  The woman is Agent Susan Xiang, one of Hellboy's first teammates in the BPRD. 

Hellboy can’t really kill anything due to possession being nine tenths of the law, and the spirits have justifiable cause.  Hellboy works best when he gets to beat the crap out of something that wants to kill as many humans as possible.  This tale is noisier than most American ghost stories, but in the end the ghosts mean no harm.  They simply need something done.  Not bad but not memorable either.

Given the high asking price, I'd say that the Hellboy Winter Special is an optional purpose.  One story rocks.  The other is okay.  The Vril tale lacks a connection to Hellboy, and the Lobster Johnson vignette is best forgotten. 

A cruise line hires Scooby and the gang to investigate some otherworldly piracy, and they're not alone.  Aquaman and the entire Aqua Family guest star in this entertaining hi-jinks on and under the high seas.  

Stuck in the sixties, Squirrel Girl hatches a plan to take down Dr. Doom.  If The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl were a movie, I would say that Dr. Doom steals every scene.  North’s characterization for the less than good doctor encompasses every facet of his role in comics.  Madman, genius, man of honor, charismatic leader, egotist, weird humanitarian, it’s all here.  

Ryan North’s multifaceted treatment of the villain is matched gesture for gesture by artist Erica Henderson, who outdoes herself with this issue.

Squirrel Girl for once meets a foe that completely overwhelms her in terms of intellect and power.  She underestimated Doom’s abilities, but she does so in a way different from most.

Squirrel Girl knows Doom is super intelligent.  She just didn’t know how much.  Doom in a Batman like imitation is at ten steps ahead of Squirrel Girl and her newfound allies.

North planned it this way.  There’s nothing inadvertent in the story.  North purposely pitted Doreen, Nancy and her computer science class all extremely smart against a mastermind.  Only in this way, can the heroes plausibly fail without looking undermined.

Let me also propose that Doom in actuality is holding back when trying to kill the group.  First, Doom must admire Squirrel Girl despite his initial animosity.  If there’s one thing Doom can appreciate, it’s intellect.  So, Doom sees Squirrel Girl as an excellent audience to appreciate his acumen.  Second, in Doom’s mind none is more powerful.  It’s dishonorable to wage war against non-combatants which Doom surely must designate if not to Doreen then to Nancy and her time-lost allies.  Third, there’s actually a good person in Doom.  One that will grow over time to deliver Sue Richards’ second child and become that child’s godfather.

Regardless, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is an engrossing battle of wits between Doom and Doreen.  The science fiction involving time travel and electronics is sauce for the goose, or nuts for the squirrels.

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