Wednesday, April 27, 2016

POBB April 20, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 20, 2016
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly comic book review also available in condensed form on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.  Tomb Raider, Thor, Shaft: The Imitation of Life, Red Sonja, James Bond, new book Joyride, Howard the Duck, Harley’s Little Black Book, Action Comics and A-Force are all on the docket.

Howard the Duck offers part two of the title mallard's Squirrel Girl team-up.  Last issue of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Howard took the case of a missing cat named Biggs.  Due to cats all looking alike to Howard, he attempted to steal Squirrel Girl's friends' cat.  Fun ensued, and they ended up discovering that Kraven the Hunter marketed himself to a maniacal millionaire looking to manhunt a menagerie, including Rocket Raccoon.

Number of times the Punisher appeared in the Marvel Universe after Battle World? Two.  Here and Squirrel Girl.
Number of times the Punisher appeared in a Howard the Duck comic book or magazine? One.  Right here.

That's my favorite line in the book.  Easier to buy guns on earth.  The amusing tale gives Howard a little moment to shine.  He dopes out how to get to the nutter in charge and then faces her down in a bizarre hand-me down disguise.  Squirrel Girl does what she does best, talk down super-villains in existential crisis and beat the tar out of bad guys.  A nice follow up for the winning combination, and a sweet, peculiar epilogue satisfies.

The Black private dick that's a sex machine with all the chicks returns in a wry issue of Shaft Imitation of Life.  Let me reiterate.  This mini-series unless it takes a severe turn is a helluva lot lighter than David Walker's and Bilquis Evely's Dynamite introduction Shaft.  

Set early in Shaft's career, our hero is looking for an honest paycheck.  His first recent attempt was to locate a gay teen that traveled to the big city and got lost.  Next Shaft attempted to find another gay man's boy friend.  That no-money investigation intersected with a mobbed up porn industry.  In the end, Shaft found work as a consultant for a blaxploitation film.

Shaft is seriously considering his choice in professions.  The way off-Hollywood production provides the opportunity for numerous laughs, not just through the comedy of errors but also via Shaft's wonderful on-the-money characterization.

In the previous mini-series, Shaft was deep in love with a woman he would have spent his entire life being loyal to.  Time passed between the two chapters in Shaft's life, and we join Shaft in The Imitation of Life as we expect him.  

Though ostensibly a comedy, with dramatic highlights, Imitation of Life surprises through an elliptical detective story plot.  Shaft however isn't the only detective on deck.

Tito catalyzes numerous interesting moments in Shaft.  During the opening, a pair of police detectives question Shaft about these events, providing the narrative impetus.  Shaft corrects them over their slur the way Tito corrected him.  Tito gives Shaft his only lead in the missing Angel case.  Tito's problem actually has a practical solution, and it all ties into the movie that Shaft consults for.  

This time superb artist Deitrich Smith combines the personas of David Soul and Lee Majors to produce the unique character of Lollipop.  A strong man mob man that's an ideal foe for John Shaft.

This issue of James Bond is something of a let down.  Bond decides to retire.  He pours himself a cup of tea, slips into a pair of slippers and settles in for a rousing episode of Are You Being Served?

Bond, James Bond.

Tomb Raider sports nearly as much action with just about the same body count as James Bond.  Lara is on the hunt for a mushroom that allegedly grants immortality.  On the hunt with her, friend Jonah and unknown subject Professor Demur.

My favorite line in Tomb Raider.

The opposition consists of even weirder gents with unusual features.

Lara takes these guys down with as much mercy as Bond demonstrates.  They nevertheless keep coming and makes the reader wonder if perhaps they're not so much being recruited as produced, like humans toadstools.  Within these wonderfully violent antics and plunges from one death trap after another, writer Mariko Tamaki also challenges Lara's rationale.

Tamaki's expansion of Lara's motivation grants scientific, intrinsic and artistic motivation that belies her sobriquet.  She's not merely a Tomb Raider.  She also doesn't share Dr. Jones' reasons: "It belongs in a museum!"  Instead, Lara thirsts for the revelation of secrets and the unraveling of historical mysteries.  These attributes make her choice of profession a natural.

Red Sonja continues to waft between decent and strange.  This week, it’s strange.  The Big Bad king and former lover of Red Sonja Savas turned normal women into Red Sonja clones.  These She-Devils roam the countryside, doing his bidding, and probably on their off hours doing him.  Strange enough, but then they break out in song.  Yes, it’s a rousing, fight song, with clever lyrics, but still.

Sonja is on the run with Midyan, a dramatist who is unfortunately foreign-born.  The heart of Savas’ kingdom is ultra-nationalism.  So, anyone not of pure Hyrkanian stock is a target.  In writer Marguarite Bennett’s corner, this is a novel diversion from the Roy Thomas canon.  On the other hand, it’s really odd.

Sonja realizes that her sword is of little use against an idea.  So, she enlists Lyna, the Orator, in more ways than one, and confirms that Lyna and she were once involved.  Sonja’s sex-life is a major departure from Thomas’ unconquerable chaste brigand.  In Thomas’ mythos, after some filth raped Sonja, a goddess visited young Sonja and granted her strength beyond her years to gain vengeance for herself and her family, also murdered by the rapists.  This whole setup and Sonja’s overlap with Conan was itself a divergence from Robert E. Howard’s original Red Sonya from “The Shadow of the Vulture.”  So, as I stated before, I can’t really object to such a change.  What I can question is the execution.

Turning Sonja’s lack of partners into a healthy, bisexual interest is one thing, but creating a legend and song about a curse for those who dare love her is another.  Again, it’s just really bizarre.  Who does this? How many dead lovers has Sonja had? Apparently enough to create verses.  I just don’t know about this book.

Thor is just dull.  The whole thing consists of Loki relating a story about he and Thor—that is Odinson—and the hapless, vainglorious Viking that serves as their cat’s-paw.  Who cares? Artist Rafa Garres contributes Simon Bisely influenced artwork.

Action Comics continues Superman’s hunt for Supergirl.  It’s always good when Superman wrecks something for the cause of justice, especially when Paul Pelletier illustrates the scene. 

The DEO is actually innocent of any wrongdoing.  It seems that the Powers That Be at DC are rebirthing the DEO as the J’onn J’onzz repurposed version on Supergirl.  Smart move.  However, the old DEO had a Superman just desserts coming to them for a helluva long time.

Supergirl recounts how she ended up in National City with the DEO through evocative flashbacks that at once intertwine her plight with that of Superman and his previous duel against Vandal Savage, creates the opportunity for a fan favorite guest appearance—hint not Mr. Bones—and reforms the DEO, from shady organization to STAR Labs/UNIT conglomerate.

Afterward, Superman explains why he wanted to find Kara.  In moving moments, he gives to her the inheritance.  His Fortress.  Thus, the Kara of the new 52 becomes what Superman originally intended so many years ago.  A secret weapon to take over the fight should he fall.  Oh, and there's more stuff involving Zodiac monsters and Clark Kent impersonators, but if you're like me, you're in this for the emotional wallop of Superman's impending demise experienced by his friends and family.  This also distinguishes Superman's original death at the hands of Doomsday.  Batman and Superman weren't exactly friends.  Now they are.  Supergirl no longer existed, and his death here seems more natural.  It appears less like an artifice decided upon by committee and more of a natural consequence of being put through wringer after wringer.

Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book teams up Harley with Zatanna.  Frankly, it’s difficult to believe how well everything fits into place, but the graphics actually tell the story. A wrecking crew exposes ghosts to danger.

They take refuge in the only other old building they can find.  This This happens to be Harley’s abode.  

The ghosts relate their story about a lunatic who finds himself without a sacrifice to appease a dark god.  

The happy maniac now gains demonic power, and he threatens the ghosts whenever they’re vulnerable.  Enter Zatanna and Harley Quinn.

The plot is easy to cover, and it goes down smoothly.  The pinnings behind the plot are actually more fascinating because they give reasons for Harley’s and the Harleyverse’s popularity.

Playing out simultaneously, the British heroes Harley met while encountering Wonder Woman pop up to say hi.  Harley however isn’t perturbed by the British invasion, nor does she sweat the new act requiring their room.

Harley doesn’t think like a normal person.  That’s because she’s a recovering insane person, heavily influenced by the Joker’s brainwashing.  That’s how Batman: The Animated Series and the spin-off comic books portrayed her, and that’s how people who watched understood.  Harley wasn’t a true participant.  She was a victim.  We wanted her to get free of this psychopath, and she did.  We also didn’t want her to change.  The way Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti write her she didn’t.  She adapted her brand of craziness to society.  Batman now grudgingly approves of her.  Poison Ivy always loved her.  She doesn’t hate people.  She hates people that hurt other people.

With the attitudes of Batman and Poison Ivy, you know another thing.  Harley Quinn’s titles exist in their own universe.  For that reason, you have scenes like the following.

Last time I checked, Zatanna and Constantine were not on  friendly terms.  She took over his House of Secrets after his consistent cowardice and betrayal of former team Justice League Dark made him unwantedThat Zatanna and Constantine have no bearing here.  Palmiotti and Conner consolidate heroes down to their essences.  They’re easy recognizable.  So, Zatanna frequently helps out Constantine and visa versa.  Constantine is probably closer to the Matt Ryan version.  Yeah, that makes sense.  It also makes sense that Zatanna should be in her classic costume.  That’s how we first met her.  That’s what helped make the impression.  I defy the idea that fishnets made Zatanna sexy.  Rather, as a boy when I read the stories, I had no idea what fishnets were.  I just thought the netting on her long legs looked cool.  She looked like a more advanced magician’s assistant; at the time female magicians were rare.  Black Canary alternately looked like a lounge singer.  These looks made sense.

Harley is bisexual.  So she appeals to a wider spectrum of orientations.  At the heart of this though is a more subversive idea.  Getting free of the Joker allowed Harley to normalize.  Normal is also bisexual.  So, the Harley Quinn titles are automatically hipper than most.  

Go deeper and you hit Batman: The Animated Series again.  The grains of Harley’s orientation arise from one of the most influential shows on television.  Poison Ivy and Harley on The Animated Series are a kind of item.  That doesn’t irk Batman.  It’s their criminal activity that’s the problem.  Batman in the series sees the potential for reform in both of his enemies.  This is why he’s horrified by Ivy’s lobotomization on another earth in Justice League.  We all wanted Harley to get away from the Joker, and we all thought she and Ivy were a good match.  Although a criminal, Ivy treated Harley tenderly not abusively.  If they could just stop stealing things and be heroes.  In the Harleyverse, they’re more like outlaws than outright villains.  Extreme ecology motivates Ivy, and Harley is multifaceted.  She can turn on a dime, but now she has limits.  The limit is her older Joker henchwench self.  She’s not going back there.

This particular story is also more than just a simple team-up and/or ghostly form of justice.  Harley problem solves through Zatanna’s help and concocts a mythological solution.  That solution creates a new problem for the antagonist, and we return neatly back to the status quo, with Harley making a new friend out of Zatanna and also solving the ghosts’ predicaments.  Let's also not forget the medium.  Comic books are visual, and Harley Quinn has benefited from great art.  The latest Joseph Michael Linsner who calibrated with Palmiotti on his recommended Claws series teaming up Wolverine with the Black Cat.  Linsner's women are sexy, confidant and powerful.  Although he's best known for one lady, and typecast as being able to shape one body type, you can see from the graphics that Linsner is quite capable of illustrating a wide-ranging cast.  Male and female.

Refugee from another universe Singularity gathered the avatars of her friends.  This includes Medusa, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Nico of the Runaways and Dazzler.  Singularity discovered that her incursion brought a Big Bad named Anti-Matter, with her.  She also discovered that she can hurt him.  Fear however kept her away.  That changed when Anti-Matter slew Dazzler.  With this in mind, Singularity challenged Anti-Matter.

Unaware of the transpiring events, A-Force discusses a means to destroy Anti-Matter.

Unfortunately, the plan will also kill Singularity.

Because of the combined experiences of the ladies, A-Force has the right attitude.  Yes, there are dire consequences should Anti-Matter win and A-Force fails, but there’s also a humorous matter of fact motif in the dialogue that’s based on the characterization and the years.

To certain point, the mission—because it’s dealt with in clockwork military strike force fashion—goes as expected, but the tide of battle turns when…Spoiler Ahoy!

…The Dazzler’s death turns out to be greatly exaggerated.  In the enjoyable epilogue, writers Kelly Thompson and G. Willow Wilson outline the Bendis inflicts upon Dazzler, and rescues her from them through a nod to Doctor Who.  Just goes to show you.  

Sometimes you need the world’s greatest television show to extricate and shield a character from a writer’s animosity.

Joyride's cover invokes Speed Racer, but this isn't a science fiction version of the cutting edge future of racing.

On a world girded by a dome, the denizens must accept spoon-fed stories about lunar exploration, but in truth, even those on the moon, suspended in the dome, are cut off from the beyond.

A girl and her potential boyfriend decide enough is enough.  She arranges for a pick up from an alien.  Of course, there's a catch.

Joyride should be thrilling and fun.  Instead, it's neither.  That's because the main characters are narcissistic asses.  The reflection is partly due to the culture.  The girl is named Uma.  The boy is named Dewydd.  They care more about shoes than they do people.  The lunar cop that follows them is named Catrin.  She's in this to be infected by Uma's self-absorbed sense of wonder.

Let me explain that.  As you read, you get the sense that the universe isn't there to be explored as a privilege, which is an underlying message in every episode of Doctor Who.  Instead, Uma appears to believe that she deserves to be out there because she succeeded.

In comparison, Lara Croft comes from a rich family.  She uses that wealth to explore, but not as an imperialist.

Technically speaking Uma and Lara probably belong to the one percent of the world, but Lara actually does something worthwhile.  There's a self-gratifying component to Lara's  archaeological explorations, but she also purposefully educates.  She betters humankind through knowledge.  Uma is just insufferable.

The importance of Uma's shoes escapes me, but the writer and the artist felt that they warranted not one, not two but three close ups.  The same kind of thing happened in a lousy Doctor Who book pre-Series One.  Beware when a writer or artist becomes overly focused on the detail of footwear.  Unless of course that's the fetish the book is catering to.

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