Wednesday, March 16, 2016

POBB March 8, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 8, 2016
Ray Tate

This week in the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review of comic books I peruse Batman/Superman, Catwoman, Doctor Who, Henchgirl, Mockingbird, The Mighty Thor, Radioactive Spider-Gwen, Shaft the Imitation of Life and Starfire.  As always you can check out the tiny reviews on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

David Walker's Shaft last issue was a philosophical marvel.  Shaft’s narration provided depth to his psyche and opined on the human condition.  This issue of Shaft is an outright Blaxploitation comedy in which Shaft muses on the different types of cases in which he becomes entangled.

The fellow Shaft shields will be explained at the end of the book.  Suffice to say there’s a reason why he’s an expertly drawn resemblance of Rudy Ray Moore a.k.a. Dolomite.

Walker at first appears to have dropped the sad state of the world case in the premiere, but he readdresses the missing gay teen as the current story unfolds.

Shaft defies his better judgment and decides to help Salazar whom he met at the conclusion of his hunt, he finds himself in a dicey position.

The mafia man is a staple of 1970s cinema, especially exploitation films.  He might appear to be comedic and/or charming but portrayed by an expert character actor like Joe Rocco or Robert Loggia he can turn deadly on a dime.  

Such wonderful characterizations such as the hilarious film director “Antonio Fargas" to your left add to the periodicity and the atmosphere of Shaft.

Doctor Who continues to enthrall with one of the best comic book stories ever produced.  Robbie Morrison's tale is exciting, gorgeously illustrated by Rachael Stott and extraordinarily Whovian.  It's also stand-alone and chapter play.  If you came in late, you'll get a breakneck single Doctor Who episode, promising more.  If you've been following this story all along, you'll get a frenetic follow through from previous events.

Our story began with the disappearance of Clara's teacher friend.  Clara decided to investigate infamous school Ravenscaur.  The Doctor felt incensed that he wasn't invited to Clara's impromptu mystery-solving.  So, he tracked her down.

The Doctor proved necessary since he and Clara uncovered a decidedly alien presence at the school, and for the Doctor, it's a familiar encounter.  Classic Doctor Who aliens seek to colonize the planet.

Last issue, it looked like Clara and her students were goners.  The aliens were coming for them, and they are seriously hostile.

Fortunately, Clara has learned much from the Doctor...

...and the Doctor's on hand for a daring rescue.

The rescue exemplifies how the Doctor can just show up at any time to affect a change.  The Doctor's timely interference saves three lives.  Who knows how much impact that will have upon history?

Doctor Who is responsible for some of the most dramatic moments on television.  It's also good at undercutting false drama.  This part fosters that same feeling.

We know that Clara is in no real danger.  She's a comic book character based on a television role whose fate is sealed.  May as well have some fun instead of needlessly exacerbating a threat that's empty.  

Of course as Missy beautifully encapsulates in series nine of the show, for every magnificent triumph, the Doctor isn't omniscient.

The Doctor's capture leads to the much welcome confrontation scene, followed by the Doctor delivering what he thinks is a coupe de grace and an unexpected but welcome cameo from Doctor Who supporting cast members, perfectly illustrated by Stott, whose contribution to the Whovian feeling cannot be stressed enough.

Thor holds the promised smackdown between the All-Father and she who now wields Mjonlir.  It's just as awesome as you may expect.

The only thing that would make this better is an oversized volume.  Dautermann's artwork has been utterly phenomenal, and I would just love to see the illustration expanded to better drink in the detail.  It's not all about art though.

Writer Jason Aaron includes numerous moments such as the above to make this fight count for something.  Aaron remarks on he long antagonistic history between Thor's alter-ego and Odin, and these thoughts summarize her relationship and where she stands currently with Odinson.  In addition, Aaron creates something unique.

I never would have thought to bring in animism for Mjonlir, but it works.  The hammer if sentient in some way has been just as put upon by Odin and would relish the chance to get even.  The twist also grants Thor's alter-ego more symbiosis with the hammer.  You get the sense that this hammer belongs to the alter-ego, not Odinson.

The fight is only part of the issue.  Aaron addresses the war of the Ten Realms and resolves the entirety in such a way that's shocking and satisfying.  He removes Asgard from the equation of Malekith's scheme in an elegant way that reminds readers that these gods are aliens so ancient that what to a mortal would be paradigm changing devastation is merely an eye-blink and/or petty squabble.  At the same time Aaron demonstrates the hearts of the proud people and how truly monstrous catalysts can change their attitudes, remind them how important certain eye-blinks can be.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner introduced a new version of Terra in their highly recommended Supergirl one-shot.

Their Terra was a denizen of a multi-species society living within the earth.  The concept was a throwback to Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs type science fiction.

Conner and Palmiotti next teamed Terra up with Power Girl, whom they restored to former glory in a highly recommended eponymous series.  

With the advent of the New 52 writer Paul Levitz got the welcome chance to not just rewrite Power Girl to something closer to his original, but also reunite the Kryptonian with her erstwhile partner Huntress, daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.

While Palmiotti and Conner didn't wipe out Terra's relationship with Power Girl, they also didn't name check it.  After all, though the friendship still can fit within the new continuity, Levitz may have dispensed with the entirety.

Conner and Palmiotti nevertheless felt it was high time Terra make a new friendship.  Naturally, this friend is Starfire.

Teaming up to defeat a monster arisen from Strata, Terra's homeworld, Terra and Kori find they have much in common.  Despite tutelage from Power Girl, Terra is still a stranger in a strange land.  Both women are warriors, but both want to be friendly.

Last issue, Terra invited Sheriff Stella Gomez and Starfire to Strata.  They made the trip without obstacle, but after they got to the subterranean world Starfire collapsed.

This would be the worst time for some tyrant to attack the peaceful denizens of Strata.  Enter Neala-Tok.

If Neala-Tok seems familiar, you're not mistaken.  Palmiotti and Conner create this character to be the dirt equivalent to Attuma, who is essentially what Namor was before he became a Nazi fighter and grew respectful of the Fantastic Four.

Neala-Tok raised an army for this particular attack, but he never accounted for Terra, who surprisingly reflects the role of the Judges.

Terra is a cute, girl version of Judge Dredd, which is just the sort of weird, gender equality twist you expect from the husband and wife team.  After Terra soundly, impressively defeats Neala-Tok's army, she is much more powerful down below than up above, she must deal with the Manteans summoned by Neala-Tok's horn, again a nod to Namor.

Here she finds herself overwhelmed.  It would be bad news for Neala-Tok if Starfire woke up.

Starfire proceeds to demonstrate just how powerful she is.  Not just in body but also of mind.  There's this misplaced belief, reinforced in part by Dick Grayson, that Starfire is stupid.  Just because she doesn't follow human social mores doesn't mean that Starfire's stupid.

That's the sort of wisdom you expect to hear from Pa Kent or the Doctor.

In Tom Taylor's spectacular finale for Batman and Superman, the Universe's Finest as Taylor refers to them uncovers the solution to an interstellar murder mystery.  Somebody poisoned a giant alien explorer, but even in death she had the last laugh.  She alerted Batman and Superman, whose legend spread far and wide through the cosmos.  

Taylor positions Batman and Superman soon after the Justice League forms.  We now can pinpoint the period thanks to an unexpected group of guest stars.

During this span,  Superman and Batman realized that they must learn to work together more than the others because they are seemingly opposite numbers.  Their thinking mirrors the misplaced ideas of some readers and writers.  Taylor shows throughout the story that Superman and Batman have more in common and can in fact work together smoothly.

The motive behind the murder turns out to be a trap set for Superman.  Because the murder victim called both heroes, the killer had to work in something desperate.  He hired Lobo to kill Batman.

Batman turned out to be more than Lobo bargained for, but he was exactly what the killer hoped Batman wouldn't be.  Not a legend, but fact.

Now fleeing from Lobo and racing to rescue Superman, Batman realizes that something drastic must be enacted in order to find the truth.

Taylor utilizes one of Batman's and Superman's classic ploys, and this sucker hasn't been seen since the sixties, indicating strong knowledge about the World's Finest.

Normally, I'd say that the tactic is the highlight of the story, but this tale is so damn good that it merely blends in with the rest of the awesome: from little things like Batman deconstructing alien tech to the moving, yet quiet finale.  Not a drag in any of the chapters.  Seek this story out.

A favorite fence talked Catwoman into stealing the Frost Diamond.  That landed her in hot water with crooked cops. The cops framed her for the murder of her fence, and the scam attracted unwanted attention from Batgirl.  Worse for Selina, the Penguin, the proper owner of the jewel, put a bounty on Selina's head.

Last issue, an unexpected betrayal sent Catwoman to jail, and things just get worse from there as Tieri concludes his first new Catwoman tale.

Tieri gave me everything I wanted from Catwoman.  He created a terrific little heist that took Selina through all sorts of twists and turns, and the conclusion just slams you with a masterful revelation.

The figure behind everything stands out as a brilliant usage of current comic book events from one of the competing continuities, and the con within a con within a con is just the kind of thing I expect from an arch-thief.

Artist Inaki Miranda gave me everything I wanted visually from the character.  Miranda's illustration straddled anatomical realism with strong action scenes amidst a gritty yet authentic setting.  

The Butterfly Gang finds out the Mannequin, and though drawn in a cartoonish style by Kristen Gudsnuk, this group is anything but all-ages friendly.

The death of Mannequin proves to be wrenching for Mary alias Henchgirl.  Despite playing on the other team, she befriended Mannequin.  So she comes up with some astute superhero logic.

The latest issue of Henchgirl is a charming character piece in which Mary must once again struggle with the promises of crime and her basic good heart.  The means in which she decides to alter the Mannequin's fate is filled with smarts and perseverance.

Chelsea Cain's Mockingbird lacks even a remote connection to anything Bobbi Morse was, is or could be.  Certainly it doesn't even touch upon the television version of Mockingbird.  What appears to have happen is that Cain had an idea for a story involving intelligence agencies behind the false front of healthcare searching for individuals with psychic powers.  Not a bad premise, but you can't just knit Mockingbird's foot to a new character. 

Radioactive Spider-Gwen is simply put fantastic.  It all goes back to Peter Parker wanting to be like Spider-Gwen.  To do that he acquires the lizard formula, but things go horribly wrong, and in the fight against Spider-Gwen, he dies.  

Gwen becomes consumed with guilt and turns her care-free persona into a razor-sharp crimefighter.  Harry Osborn, Peter’s and Gwen’s best friend, joins SHIELD all to build his vengeance for Spider-Gwen.  He repeats Peter’s mistake in a bid to give poetry to Spider-Woman’s death, but then he learns the truth.  Gwen is Spider-Woman.

Because Harry became involved with SHIELD, Captain America and Peggy Carter became involved with duel.  Cap is content to let Spider-Woman handle Harry.  Her gut tells her that she can be trusted.  This leads to what looks like an easy victory.  SHIELD has the antidote, but what happens to Harry’s mind?

The beauty of this issue is that Gwen knows Harry.  She knows why he is the way he is, and she shares the same feelings over Peter.  She gets it.  So, now writer Jason Latour presents Gwen with a choice.  She can be the hero, or she can be the person.  Never has “with great power, comes great responsibility” been so eloquently presented.

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