Tuesday, May 3, 2016

POBB April 27, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 27, 2016
Ray Tate

This week defying good sense, I review a whole slew of comic books including Batgirl, Batman and the Man from UNCLE, Black Canary, Doctor Who, Hellboy and the BPRD 1953, Micronauts, Mythic, Spider-Woman, The Ultimates, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Wolverine.  

As always, you can also find minuscule morsels on Twitter under: #PickoftheBrownBag.  Yeah, yeah.  Sometimes the tweets are a little late.  I’m working on it.

Ignore the cover, however gorgeous.  There is no "Bat-Shark-Repellent" here.  Instead, Jeff Parker concocts a complex, layered chapter that's suitable to The Man from UNCLE.  On the other hand, Batman, Robin and Batgirl appear to have wandered into a different world that's far more serious than theirs.  Even the undersea base although wondrous maintains a basic verisimilitude. 

THRUSH has never wanted to destroy the planet.  Their aim is domination.  They don't wish to rule over a scorched earth.  Throughout the series, their lead officers offer a different, skewed worldview that sometimes sounds tempting, until you recognize the cost.  Indeed, THRUSH nests in large cities to create their own satraps where they attempt to build a society adjacent to our own.  THRUSH has even infrequently thrown in with UNCLE to destroy a greater threat.  

Solo and Kuryakin team-up with THRUSH agent Angelique
"The Deadly Games Affair"

Our Big Bad comes to the conclusion that the greater threat is us.  At least 1966 us, fighting a Cold War and poised to launch death.  Although the temperature warmed, the United States possesses enough nuclear weapons to obliterate the earth a hundred times over.  Factor in Russia's complement, and you've got enough atomic firepower to destroy the big, blue marble twice as much.  This is not a good thing.  So here comes our Big Bad with a vision of Utopia.  It's attractive now, let alone back in the day.

The mechanisms of the Big Bad's proposal exhibits brilliance.  His madness peeks out of a truly altruistic methodology.  The Big Bad's roles for UNCLE and THRUSH working in unison lacks flaw.  Their necessity to his scheme makes sense.  His scenario further depends on the fame of Batman, Batgirl and Robin.  Specifically, this version of the Dynamic Trio.  

Some writers no matter the era, no matter Batman's outward darkness portray the Detective as beloved by the citizens he protects.  Surprisingly, the television series never denied Batman's dark origin.  They even reiterated it in one episode, yet this Batman somehow forged tragedy into a pure figure of justice.  The lion's share of scribes turned Batman into a suspicion.   However, the 1960s populace look upon Batman, Robin and Batgirl as their saviors.  Intriguingly they bridge the generations, which makes the Big Bad's plan even more palatable.  Hippies trust Batman as an anti-establishment figure.  Robin and Batgirl are teen idols.  The Lyndon B. Johnson crowd look upon Batman and Family as duly deputized law officers.  

To further the Big Bad's aims, he drops the Men from UNCLE and their caped associates into another prevalent pop culture embrace.  Psychology.  The nineteen sixties was a high time for psychology, psychiatry and their dark side, brain washing. This sequence becomes particularly attractive to artists David Hahn, Karl Kesel and colorist Madpencil (?).  Through the artwork and Parker's certain analysis, the hammering at Batman's, Robin's, Batgirl's, Solo's and Kuryakin's personalities is a form of torture that if continued would work.  Therein lies the very real threat behind Batman and the Man from UNCLE, and why this chapter fascinates so.

I couldn't get overly excited about Batgirl, but I'm not sure the blame lies with writer Brenden Fletcher.  You see.  Like the other DC heroes, Batgirl is about to experience a rebirth.  So, plot points naturally must be dropped quickly.  The support cast must expand to include members of the Birds of Prey that will be in that team's new book, and overall there must either be a clean break or transition.  Fletcher shoots for a change that seems like a natural evolution.  To a certain extent, he succeeds.

Memory Wiping Capsules rather than Cyanide Pills is a Good Incentive for Recruitment

Most of the Birds of Prey team lies in the pages of Batgirl.  The new Birds of Prey will be Batgirl, Black Canary, Frankie, known as the Operator, Spoiler and Blue Bird.  Fletcher already teamed Batgirl with most of the group in previous issues.  So this isn't exactly sudden.  The third Huntress will join them from the ashes of Grayson's crap spy organization Spyral, a group that have made as much impact on the DC universe as Gladius.

Gladius, introduced in Batgirl, suck.  Every superhero has seen Kobra's scaled ass as he ran away when his plans for global conquest fizzled, but I give Kobra credit for trying to win; having a clearcut agenda and keeping hope alive by failing again and again against champions far outside of his weight class.

Batman AND Aquaman? 
You're Out of Your Tiny Little Mind, Kobra, but I Admire the Venom.

Gladius on the other hand isn't clearly defined.  First, what's their goal? Frankie claims it's "World domination?"  How are they going to do that?  Their plans are seldom concrete.  Their nationalities are vague.  So it's an evil, international movement to do...something.

At least for this issue of Batgirl, Gladius has pure motive.  Free their exalted leader before she's sent to a federal prison.  Their want leads to a number of chases and fights that are well illustrated by a band of in synch artists including Eleondra Carlini, Minkyu Jung, Roger Robinson and color purple splasher Serge Lapointe.  Gladius however fails to give the story any impetus.  Gladius is a WGC group.  Who gives a crap.  They're like the Flat Earth Society of terrorism.  And pitting them against Batgirl and the Black Canary is like throwing Kobra up against Superman.  What? You didn't! Kobra you are such a looney tune.

There's just no doubt that Fletcher looks at these two as his ladies.  His love for them is so transparent, and I can't really blame him.  I never read the Birds of Prey ongoing when Batgirl had been crippled.  So I never got the connection between them until the new 52.  Fletcher made their friendship/partnership genuine.  As welcoming and true as the Batgirl/Supergirl relationship of the Silver and Bronze Ages.

Throughout the book, Barbara Gordon is confident as Batgirl, and that's the most worthwhile feature of the issue.  It's the antithesis of the way Batgirl was portrayed at the cusp of the Bronze Age.  

DC produced a special issue where Batgirl retires when faced with an uncharacteristic epiphany: in the light of so many heroes she's not all that.  

In The Crisis of Infinite Earths, she comes out of semi-retirement unsure of herself.  The more I reread that, the more I see now that Marv Wolfman hated the extended Batman Family.  

Fuck you, Wolfman.  

Compare this to the Batgirl of ten years ago.

Batman #311

So Fletcher gets mucho points for saying that no matter how much Babs' life becomes entangled, she's the freest and most natural when being Batgirl.  That said.  Fletcher does inexplicable things like break she and Luke Fox up.  I give him credit for ending them on a positive note that's keeping in Barbara's character, but still.  It's just so obvious that Fletcher doesn't want to saddle the new writer with a boyfriend appendage, nor does he want that writer to break them badly.  Batgirl giving up her clean energy company is more confounding and no doubt frustrating for Fletcher who had been building up this change since issue one, with Barbara's urban planning thesis.  Again, Fletcher finds a reasonable means to discard the plot element, and in this he cleverly employs a Gail Simone character that he respected.  No not Ricky.  Other characters appear at the conclusion, and I'll not spoil their identities, but Fletcher imbues them with much more personality than either Spoiler or Blue Bird.  They are full of vitality and importance, and Batgirl treats them kindly because she knows they could be the next generation of crime fighters.

This naturally leads to Black Canary.  No surprises here.  Black Canary kicks ass.  Literally and figuratively.

Last issue, Dinah and Batgirl uncovered the truth about Dinah's mother and father.  Dinah's Mom along with Mari McCabe's Manager ran a dojo that was invaded by a rival school--the Ninja Death Cult Dinah and Batgirl fought and fights.  During the duel, the Cult's leader--Izak Orato--murdered Dinah's father private investigator Larry Lance.  This issue, Dinah springs a trap.  Orato captured Dinah's band Black Canary in Berlin.

Isak Orato as drawn by superb substitute artist Sandy Jarrell brings in Japanese mythological drawings that inform manga and anime.  He's a simplistic and outré demon all at once.  What he didn't count on is Dinah's patron being in the audience and having the power to interfere with his plans.  Once freed, the battle commences, and Dinah fights Orato in a let-me-show-you-how-it's-done homage to Enter the Dragon.  I've only scraped the surface.  This thrilling, vicious duel to death never disappoints and concludes on a shocking note.

Spider-Woman hasn't anything going for it.  Part of a lackluster team-up between all the Spider-Women, it's no fun and derivative.  So third wheel Spider-Woman Silk has an opposite number on Spider-Gwen's earth, and she's the head of that world's THRUSH, which hasn't actually made any waves.  Pun not intended.  Her head operative is Jessica Drew.  The alternate Jessica Drew. This should be interesting, but instead the story nakedly combines Mr. and Mrs. Smith with Kill Bill.  It doesn't really do anything new with these concepts, just slightly alters them in a blatant attempt to seem original but failing.  Spider-Woman's main goal is to get home to her baby.  Such is the mediocrity of the story, I didn't care if she ever saw her baby again.

Wolverine teams up with Squirrel Girl and learns to be her own woman after being haunted by memories of the way Logan treated her.

Logan wasn't trying to be mean.  He was of course intent on keeping Laura safe.  He believed that the farther she was from him, the safer she would be.  Laura's trying to do the same with her new charge Gabby, her young clone.  That's when Squirrel Girl arrives at her door to give her a new perspective and a present.

Tom Taylor's story is somewhat beautiful.  It's sweet without being saccharine, and it dignifies all the cast, including the furry ones.  The kicker at the end is absolutely hilarious, and artist Marcio Takara throughout orchestrates lighter moments with a deft hand.

Squirrel Girl's own title is weird throwback to the find your own adventure type paperbacks that flourished in the eighties.  These wonderful items are actually like computer flow charts, based on if-then prospects.  If you select this, turn to page ten, and so forth.  The paths you travel usually only have a few exits into the story.  Others are dead ends, and Squirrel Girl is no different.

Ryan North's cunning is evident in each section of the multiple possibilities.  They bad ones however all lead to world domination by an obscure villain that actually has a chance to beat our favorite tailed-wonder.  North even sends up his own works within.

I can't really post a graphic specific to Squirrel Girl because it might give the game away.  However, Squirrel Girl features one of her former foes in a cameo performance.

Now, let me explain how weird this appearance is.  Firstly, Squirrel Girl is like the Peter Tomasi DC titles.  Despite being a comedy, Squirrel Girl actually pays attention to continuity.  North remembered that Punisher lives in the Marvel Universe.  Squirrel Girl lives in the Marvel Universe.  Why can't they meet?  Then, there's North's and Erica Henderson's masterful portrayal of old times Doctor Doom.  So, yeah.  Everything counts in Squirrel Girl.   For that reason, Galactus mentions events in The Ultimates and he sounds exactly the same.  However because of the execution and the aims, Galactus actually mimics the narrator of Futurama's "Anthology of Interest." stories.  It's so lovingly bizarre.

This issue of The Ultimates, Al Ewing dares to write an adventure where Galactus is a hero and cosmic gumshoe.  His goal is to discover who chained Eternity.  After rescuing the Ultimates from certain death, Galactus walks the mean streets of the universe and encounters opposition at every turn.  There's the crazy twin brothers that just don't like the guy.

This leads to a bit of violent metaphor, which actually plays out like violence.  So not to worry.  It's exciting.  Not a debate on Proust.  Galactus receives some encouragement in his next encounter.  This time with a human, who evolved to incredible power, and the conversation is just as interesting as the fisticuffs with the two hoods who thought they owned the neighborhood.

The Marvel Micronauts benefitted from Bill Mantlo's excellent writing, and amazing artwork by then newcomer Michael Golden.  IDW's Micronauts is independent of Marvel's Micronauts.  Instead, it's a new conception but just as loosely based on the beloved Mego properties.  

The story's broad scope pits a cosmic Ministry of Defense against a Ministry of Science.  Neither however are ethically superior.  The MOS is callously logical.  They waste operatives and only gather facts.  Even the Vulcans and the Time Lords act with more compassion.  Familiar to any fan of the toys and/or the comic book, Baron Karza heads the Ministry of Defense.  

Surprisingly, though, he's not the cause of the main problem.  A possibly sentient wave of entropy sweeps across the cosmos and wipes out planets.  If you'd like to make comparisons to Star Trek Generations, feel free, but the wave is also similar to the anti-matter attacks in Crisis of Infinite Earths and I'm sure countless pulp science fiction.

In the middle of this, our scoundrel heroes fight to stay alive and make an honest buck.  

There's the Maverick styled leader Oziron Rael who represents the Seventies Pyramid Power Pharoid toy. 

Acroyear, the muscle, still not going with Mego’s “the enemy.”  It amuses me how the Powers That Be and Were agree that Acroyear was too noble looking to be cast as the villain.

Oz's fingers Phenolo Phi the Space Glider.  Along for the ride, Larissa, a security agent, from Oz's current employer Hezlee.  

Hezlee hires Oz to break into a medical facility and liberate some badly needed medicine.  Naturally there's more to it than that.

Writer Cullen Bunn's departures allow Micronauts to spark where other short-lived resurrections failed.  Minor things like making Space Glider a young, practical woman with mind for business and shifting the spotlight Pharoid immediately create a distinctive feeling.  The story’s packed with action and bears the wildness of space opera that differs from the strictly good vs evil Marvel classic.  Add terrific art and you’ve got yourself a winner.

In the last issue of Doctor Who, Lady Carstairs captured Sarah Jane Smith.  She seeks a time traveler to unravel the mysteries of a "magical" lamp that brought to her great consequences.  Her first researchers, the father and daughter team of Odysseus and Athena Jones, join the Doctor on a rescue mission.

At the same time, Sarah cunningly attempts to secure her position of favored hostage while preserving the Doctor's life.

Writers Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby produce a terrific Victorian set Doctor Who that takes into account the characterization of the unpredictable fourth Doctor as well as the future defender of the earth Sarah Jane Smith.  You may want to compare and contrast with Peter Capaldi's Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Between rescue attempts, the reader learns of Lady Carstairs'  association with the lantern, and how she has cyclops servants on hand.  This section of the story unfolds at a leisurely pace, but the tragedy inherent in the nonetheless deadly Carstairs requires a certain quietness.  The reader also learns how she made enemies of Odysseus and Athena.  It's almost as if the Doctor and Sarah interrupted a private war between the two forces, yet Carstairs outmatches the game pair tenfold.  The adventurous duo would no doubt be dust if not for the Doctor's and Sarah's intervention, and Carstairs would have committed various little evils through the period before finally being brought down.  You somehow hope the Doctor can find redemption for Carstairs because she wanted none of this.

Hellboy and the BPRD 1953 hits its stride with this issue.  Previously a mad scientist turned a family pet into a giant menace.  After shedding its skin, it encountered Hellboy, who promptly struck its nose with a rolled up iron hand.  

At the same tie a substitute teacher appeared and seemed to have eyes for Hellboy.  In this issue, we discover her interest was more professional than first thought, and she's far more than meets the eye.  

As the mutt returns to town to feed on children Hellboy welcomes him with an issue long smackdown.  Although Mignola doesn't have a hand in the artwork, Hellboy and the BPRD 1953 recaptures the freewheeling feeling from the original series.  Hellboy is in high spirits, performing daring do and instilling a sense of wonder.  The opposition is actually interesting for once and takes advantage of the period.

Mythic ends in cataclysmic battle of a kaiju nature, but rather than scaly monsters versus say giant lobsters.  Instead, the gods battle it out for the soul of the world.  It sounds somewhat heady, but it's more visceral than pensive.

Not to worry, there's plenty for the brain to do.  Like wonder over the big revelation and enjoy the duplicity of the Mythic organization that also underlines the drama with a good dose of humor.  If you haven't enjoyed the book in chapter form, check out the collection coming soon.

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