Tuesday, March 8, 2016

POBB March 1, 2016

Pick of Brown Bag
March 1, 2016
Ray Tate

In this week’s Pick of the Brown Bag, I peruse the latest issues of A-Force, Angel and Faith, Batman and the Man from UNCLE, Batgirl and Scooby-Doo Team-Up.  In the newish category, Vampirella returns to the racks, Black Widow gets a new volume and Nancy Collins switches tracks with Army of Darkness Furious Road.  I'll also have a few words about brand new title The Discipline.  

Is Microsoft patching its leaky software and negating your ability to check out the POBB? Not a problem.  Pull out your phone, and call up twitter.  Look up my teensy reviews using: #PickoftheBrownBag.

In Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Scooby and the Gang help the Flash train his dragon.

It turns out the dragon is the conjuring trick of an infamous Flash rogue, but this is merely the first leg of the race.  A telepathic call alerts the Flash of trouble in Gorilla City, and the Mystery Machine finally manages to reach its destination without suffering a breakdown.

A confab with Solovar opens the main plot.

Well, we know who that is, don’t we? And readers probably predicted the identity of the spectral simian the moment Gorilla City got a mention.  Of course, maybe, just maybe Grodd is innocent.

Then again, Grodd could be lying.

Nearly every Scooby-Doo Team-Up is clever and/or offers an exploration of the guest star’s history.  Some of these stories sport unexpected plot twists and all of them radiate wit.  The current fair play puzzle by writer Sholly Fisch is no different.

The Flash experienced each one of the above maladies in the Silver Age.  In addition, artist Dario Brizuela stretches his cartooning with animated apes; Grodd is especially comedic.  That might not please some Big Bad Grodd aficionados, but honestly, a psychic primate is a trifle absurd.  As is a whole city of hyper intelligent apes hidden in the jungle.  It’s one of those things that makes comic books great.

The look and mood of Batman and the Man from UNCLE facilitates a gorgeous 9:00 prime time sixties special.

Batman disguises himself as Bruce Wayne to infiltrate a THRUSH infested Monaco with UNCLE agents Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin acting as bodyguards.  

Batgirl serves as Batman's spotter/handler while Robin takes the position of backup.

The Bentley Batmobile is an amusing touch.  It's also a sensible addition to the fun.  Why would Batman ship the Batmobile from America when he could save on fuel and freight by securing it from a Londinium hideout?  

Batman is a master of disguise, and some may think the ruse of his Bruce Wayne impersonation is a little much.  Despite the comedy underlying the guise, Batman's using people's intelligence against them. 

Batman knows that if a reasonably cogent person sees a Bruce Wayne mask, they'll conclude that the Bruce Wayne they met was ersatz.  It doesn't matter how much they thought he was real.  Intelligent people rationalize. 

As the plot unfolds, Kuryakin, Solo and the Batman Family find themselves charting new depths to locate the THRUSH base.

Guy Ritchie smartly updated while simultaneously told the origin of The Man from UNCLE, and it's funny how well the plot to this historic Batman team up between he and the sixties icons would work as a period meeting in that frame of reference.

Batman disguises himself as Bruce Wayne to infiltrate THRUSH’s latest satrap Monaco.

Code name UNCLE serves as his bodyguards.

Batgirl's his spotter.

The agents follow Batman in Batman's stealth boat to a hidden base.

Batman discards his guise.

He confronts the Big Bad.  Only this time, his identity isn't exactly predictable.

Writers Brandon Fletcher and Cameron Stewart pulled  a neat little fast one on your reviewer.  When they introduced Babs’ best college bud Greg, I wondered in what past issue Greg first showed up.  Why didn't I remember him? Did he come about off panel? Turns out, there was a reason for the fuzziness when he arrived.

Batgirl you see was assaulted by a criminal who knew exactly where to hit.  No matter the continuity you choose, Babs Gordon has a superpower that some people in reality have: an eidetic memory.

The new villain dubbed Fugue started monkeying with Babs’ mind, making her doubt herself and her thoughts.  Black Canary snapped her out of her funk last issue, but when they started hunting for a brain mole, the unthinkable happened.

Now, Frankie, one of Batgirl’s friends and a genius in her own right, attempts to reverse the damage by interfacing with the neural implant that grants back Babs’ mobility.  

Despite its user friendly artwork, Batgirl is actually soft cyberpunk, and in a nod to author William Gibson, Frankie convinced Batgirl’s Q—Qadim—to imbed a computer interface in her brain.  Alas her first attempt goes awry.  Plan B is naturally more dangerous.

If you expect this to lead to a typical mindscape with the usual fantasy tropes, you couldn't be more wrong.  The nightmares play out in merely twenty percent of the book.  Rather, the plot focuses on finding out what happened.  What's Babs' real memory and what is false in Babs' ideal history.

I say it's ideal because Babs imagines her childhood in a Mayberry like function.  Gotham City looks almost like the Gotham City of the sixties Batman television show.  It lacks a hint of grit.  James Jr. Her whack job brother is nowhere to be seen even when the Gordons take a vacation.

Perhaps however the most impressive thing about Batgirl is a very personal reversal.

Years ago, I railed at the treatment of Power Girl as portrayed in JSA.  The one scene that set me off the most is when she announces in a press conference: "I was never much of a computer whiz.”

Power Girl in the Bronze Age was Kryptonian.  She grew up on a parallel earth that was ahead of ours in advancement of technology.   Though her origins changed thanks to post-Crisis tampering, to have her say "I was never much of a computer whiz" was the culmination of DC's sexist writing policy at its lowest.  DC’s Powers That Be only allowed the Justice Society males like Dr. Mid-Nite and Mr. Terrific to benefit from new-fangled book learning.

So here we have Dinah Lance, not traditionally a genius, but a sharp detective who could operate Justice League technology saying "I punch things," but the difference in this scene is that despite Dinah not being--oh, I dunno--"a computer whiz" she still comprehends what's going on.  She can creatively think an answer that fits the facts.  That my friends exemplifies DC’s progress.  No.  Every female character need not be a brainiac, but she must possess some modicum of acumen.

A-Force is probably going to upset a lot of people since one of the team unexpectedly faces a surprising fate.  

I'm not absolutely sure that this destiny is the end, and that a reversal isn't in store for the future.  On the other hand the writers may be making an overall  statement about the arena in which A-Force fights or the fragility of mortals when contending against overwhelming forces.

Otherwise the story is average with the team of female heroes attempting to stop a creature known as Anti-Matter from killing a visitor from another universe.  At first they try to to reason with the entity.  That as you can see proves futile.

In the end the bubbly analogue Singularity, whose identity is still unknown, decides to make a choice.  It's a strong moment of characterization.

Black Widow is more of an artist's book.  The Widow steals something and finds herself at odds against the entirety of SHIELD currently run by shitty comic book agent Mariah Hill.

Not to be confused with the super competent SHIELD agent Mariah Hill from the movies.

Anywho, Chris Samnee's illustration is a delicacy.  Eat heartily.

Kate Leth preserves the Nancy Collins paradigm shift in Vampirella and considers the logical follow through.  Vampirella for the majority of the nineties onward became the Vatican’s secret agent.  Nancy Collins changed that however when Vee’s enemies cursed her.  The Vatican rather than offer their aid revealed their true colors and turned on Vampirella.

Help came from an unusual source.  Drago, King of the Nostferatu, revealed he was Vampirella’s half-brother and sought to free her from the curse.  He and Vee succeed.  In the process Vampirella inherits Drago’s throne.

Collins next created the Kabal, a group of monsters who realized that it was better for everyone to stay hidden.  To facilitate this aim, they became a force to police their own kind.  As well, some monsters just didn’t really want to kill or use humans.  At least innocent humans.  Drago was an arch-member.  Thus, Vee lands on their radar and later becomes a full-fledged member.  During this time Vee begins to have feelings for her partner a werewolf named Tristan.

Leth begins from scratch, but without throwing away everything that previously occurred.  This is another case where you need not to have read a single issue of Vampirella, yet still comprehend the characters and the plot.  Leth also jots down some shorthand for those who feel they do need an explanation.

Vampirella is still with Tristan.  Presumably, they’re still with the Cabal.  In Collins run Vampirella voluntarily abdicated her position to Drago’s half-human son.  Thus, she is still in his esteem and Drago’s gentleman’s gentleman Coleridge decided to continue working for “Milady.”

Her hunt for lodgings nets her castle-like house in the Hollywood Hills.  Almost instantly, she’s attacked by an unknown enemy, and learns about the paparazzi.

The exposure necessitates the change of costume, but this is a mere conceit…

Everybody still recognizes Vampirella.

Nostalgics will also be pleased to note that Leth and no mean talent Eman Cassallos are not utterly abandoning Vampirella’s iconic bathing suit.

Leth and Cassallos bring a distinct lightness to Vampirella, and that’s because she’s pretty much got it all at this very moment.  Since Tristan is a werewolf, she also does not need to fret about him as she would a human lover.  I’m sure she worries, but she knows he’s more than capable of fighting the monsters.

The introduction of an agent humorously named Juliette Court a combination of Juliet Landau aka Dru and famous horror actress Hazel Court only adds to the comedy and better stakes out the territory Vampirella will be exploring.

Magic Town now resides in a bronze statute that Big Bad Archaeus gifted.  After a few missteps, Nadira confronted Magic Town and attempted to talk him down.  Unfortunately, he inadvertently attacked Fred, who shares a body and consciousness with the old god introduced on the television series Angel Illyria.

Illyria was just itching to kill something.  So she turned on Magic Town for the opportunity.  Magic Town however is far more powerful than she thought, and her former enemy Koh has words for her.

As the story progresses, Victor Gischler’s dialogue combined with Will Conrad’s masterful depiction of expression becomes an engrossing whirlpool into which the reader gladly falls.

That said, the plot is somewhat predictable, and Archaeus isn’t wrong when he accuses Angel and his friends.

They fear letting Magic Town experience Archaeus’ side of the coin because he’s powerful and threatening, but I feel they should have trusted the Magic in the same way they’re asking it to trust them.  That could be Gischler’s point as well.

Well, this is just a hoot.  Army of Darkness Furious Road alludes to Mad Max, but really, the only thing Collins’ latest and those movies share is a near future dystopia.

In Army of Darkness that bleak future is ruled by the Deadites, and although the group fighting the creatures ride in a convoy, the group itself distinguishes themselves from those that accompanied Mad Max.

It’s another nod to Universal Pictures Dynamite style.  Eva is Dracula’s daughter.  Dracula gets a namecheck.  She’s partnered with yet another version of the Frankenstein Monster.  A werewolf and a witch also can be seen among the guests.

The group’s goal is simple, borrow the Necronomicon from Ash.

Peter Milligan produced an excellent, fascinating short run of Batman comic books in the nineties.  So, I'm familiar with the writer's talent.  The Discipline is unfortunately a lackluster affair filled with cliche characters.  Although there are numerous allusions that some may find interesting, and I give the title credit for equal opportunity genitalia.

The story begins with a heavily shadowed sex scene between reptilian creatures.

These reptiles turn out to have a human side.  Not as fun as new X-Files episode “Mulder & Scully Meets the Were-Monster.”

Milligan then drops us pre-coitus, to explain how this situation evolved.  Milligan introduces us to the main character.  Her name is Melissa, and you will be bored by her.  The writer strives to create an illusion of normalcy.  

She has a mother who lives with her sister Krystal, and she doesn’t get on well with either of them.  She’s a Christian.  She has a dog.  She lives in a nice place courtesy of an estranged husband.  She also has a dum-dum-dum-dum.  Stalker.

Hate him early folks.  Cause he gets even broodier and soap opera rinsed.  Why can’t sexual adventurers be more cheerful and personable like Dorian Gray from Penny Dreadful?

Orlando—a rather obvious reference to Virginia Woolf, or maybe Florida—follows Melissa to the museum where…

Hickory-Dickory Dock.  I’ve seen this scene before.

Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill.

The difference is reliant on the period of the setting.  Melissa’s sexual frustration puzzles me in an age of Internet where a wide variety of porn is available for men and women.  Angie Dickinson’s Kate Miller could not depend on such a surrogate.  So she went around art galleries hoping for a little excitement.  

Mind you.  Melissa’s obsession with the painting also reflects Dario Argento’s Stendhal Syndrome. In that respect, I’d have to argue that The Discipline is sunnier.

As the story progresses, we discover that Melissa is ashamed of her sexuality, embarrassed even with self-pleasuring.  Predictably, she finds herself falling for her stalker Orlando, who thinks it would just be a peachy idea to take her out to see cattle butchered.  Melissa makes the experience worse.

Okay.  If a guy apologizes to you because its too soon to take you to a cattle butchering, then you might want to get a restraining order and maybe a gun.  Obviously.  These are not normal characters, but their abnormality is tedious.

You know what, Melissa.  If you can’t identify a poor copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, then I’ve lost patience with you.  So what happens next turns this weak tea General Hospital meets, I don’t know, Dinosaur Erotica into an even lamer wannabe Hammer Pictures production.  Fuck it.  I’ll take a half-naked girl being sacrificed on an altar by some white-robed kooks over this any day.

From the unpretentious glory of The Satanic Rites of Dracula

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