Monday, May 9, 2016

POBB May 4, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
May 4, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag returns with reviews of A-Force, Batman and Superman, King’s Quest, The Phantom, Rough Riders, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Vampirella and Wynonna Earp.  As always if you haven't time for the full blog effect, you can check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

In the latest Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Scooby and the Gang meet the Marvel Family.  Time to fess up.  At the onset, I never really cared for Captain Marvel.  He always struck me as a Superman knockoff.  I know.  Sacrilege.  My feeling about the Marvel Family changed after I read their reprints in those thick dollar Shazam! books from the seventies.

I became a big Mary Marvel fan largely because of the artwork by Marc Swayze.  He drew her as a little girl who could just clobber the hell out of a full grown brute.  The contrast tickled me.  Later Kurt Schaffenberger and the incomparable Don Newton illustrated the best teen Mary. 

As time passed, I gained a better understanding of the two clans.  Calling the Marvel Family a copy of the Superman Family in fact undermines the House of El.  One group's magic.  The other’s science fiction.  A lot of people don’t see the difference.  Trust me.  There is.  Furthermore, each circle contends against a group of super-villains that help define them, and that’s where writer Sholly Fisch really excels.  He conceives a Scooby-Doo Team-Up that’s reliant upon the major motif that distinguishes the Marvels from Superman and Supergirl.  Magic words.  Not only do the Marvels depend upon magic words.  So do a remarkable number of their rogue’s gallery.  Fisch runs with this theme, and as a result, he effortlessly produces the best Marvel Family story that’s unfolded in over ten years.

The next question you should be asking.  What about the Scooby-Doo content? As if to balance the magical nature of the story, Fisch demonstrates the Mystery Machine using observation, deduction and logic to dope out where the Monster Society of Evil absconded with the Marvel Family.  Scooby and the Gang then use the Society’s inherent weaknesses against them to solve the case and free the Marvels.  What? You didn’t think the Marvels would die in Scooby-Doo Team-Up, did you? What a cynical thought.  Spoiler warning unnecessary.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman head to China in pursuit of a weird energy being that looks a lot like the Man of Steel.  They encounter China’s national heroes the Great Ten.

Who are the Great Ten? Good question, but they’re not completely out of the blue.  The August General served with Batman in the new 52’s Justice League International.

The Perfect Physician—chap with the beard and mustache is likely based on two legendary Chinese figures: Wong Fei-Hung and Dr.  Hua Tuo.  The multiplying man in the yellow tunic appears to be another accidental duplication, pun intended.  Years ago, in the first Contest of Champions, Marvel introduced a similar Chinese character called the Collective Man.

We’ve also got a Yeti.  Tomasi has a thing for Yeti.  While on the quest for his son’s stolen corpse, Batman made a pact with a yodel of Yeti.  An archer serves on the team because every super-hero team is required by law to have one.  Add a repurposed elseworlder called the Jade Lantern from DC’s Tangent Comics, and you've got a group of credible heroes with just enough resonance to be a threat.

A fight ensues.  Usually, I wouldn't care.  The Ten however aren't exactly the Avengers.  So they are more like antagonists.  Ironically that definition also applies to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.  It all depends on your viewpoint.  The battle is pretty exciting battle given that it’s ten against three and illustrated by Doug Mahnke.  The resolution of the fisticuffs satisfies and relies upon the innate goodness of all the heroes.  The confrontation against the Big Bad is enjoyable.  Mind you, Tomasi appeared to be building Dr. Omen into something huge, but this chapter curtails any rises to power with a rather humble arrest.

Batman and Superman is like the finish to a really good movie that was lost and found, but even though the confrontation is more engrossing than the conflicts in previous issues, it's nothing compared to Tomasi’s understanding of Superman's, Batman's and Wonder Woman's personalities and shared histories.

Yeah.  That’s Batman unclenching his ass while he’s in the presence of his best friends.  Oh, and the punchline after that sequence is not to be missed by anybody who’s a fan of these three.

A-Force’s latest is a rambunctious thing that pits the team of ladies against the Marvel equivalent of Maleficent.  A bit of a tautology.  I suspect someday to see a Disney heroes/Marvel team-up book.

She-Hulk of course refers to the Countess’ dragon form.  There’s also a familiar Thor involved.

She comes from the same universe as Singularity by way of Singularity, who is a sentient pocket universe.  Singularity is the cute, blue femme depicted above.

There’s nothing deep here, except when Alison Blake, Dazzler, comes clean with her doppelg√§nger.  These successfully staged dramatic scenes succinctly underscore the simple yet forlorn dialogue.  The lion’s share of the story and art however is just a blast.  Writer Kelly Thompson and illustrators Ben Caldwell and Ian Herring can take a well-deserved bow.

King’s Quest is the sequel to King’s Watch, but written by Ben Acker and Dan McDaid.  The story also dovetails from the Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Phantom, Prince Valiant spin-off series.   So, you have the right to feel some trepidation.  I’m here to tell you that King's Quest is a worthy successor.

The Phantom narrates, and Acker reminds you that neophyte Phantom Jen Harris was here from the very beginning.  Acker also explains how she became the Phantom.  So, you won’t feel confused by a pair of Phantoms, one being Lothar.  The other not.

Prince Valiant’s presence was the most anomalous element in the story.  I didn’t read his series and I have never been a fan of the character.  Although, I respected the critically acclaimed artwork in the comic strip.  In any case, he soon didn’t need explanation and I enjoyed his blustery dialogue.

King’s Watch, or Defenders of the Earth if you like, invade Arboria, the forest planet dominated by Ming the Merciless but ruled by Prince Barin.  Flash gathered his friends to save Dale Arden from Ming’s clutches.  Typical Flash Gordon, but Acker’s story is anything but.

The point of the view of the Phantom is supremely entertaining.  The inclusion of an unannounced King’s Features adventure hero in his rebooted form is a boon, and the reveal of Dale Arden’s fate comes as a real surprise.

The Phantom concludes its first story arc for Hermes Comics, and Peter David did an excellent job.  Although some of the Tarzan references were a little obvious, overall, this was an entertaining series one.  For those who came in late…

Jimmy Wells, a school and society chum of Diana Palmer,  is a very old Phantom character.  Creator Lee Falk even once considered him as a candidate for the Phantom, whose identity early on was an enigma.  Lee Falk instead chose to make the Phantom Kit Walker, the name itself an allusion to “The Ghost Who Walks.”

David turned Jimmy into a tribute to Tarzan, and his Jane is the sky pirate known as the Baroness, who became Sala in the highly recommended 1990s Phantom movie.  In David's series, Jimmy also had an affair with La of Opar, that is her analogue.  The Queen bore him a son, but the King believes himself the father.

The Phantom and Jimmy encounter each other during a hunt for the Phantom’s traditional enemy, the Singh Brotherhood.  One member who wants to pay the Phantom back for the loss of an arm intends to turn the Phantom into a true ghost.

David's culmination plays against the traditions of heroes by orchestrating a serial-type cliffhanger on purpose.

The Phantom and Jimmy however have practical backup in the form of Diana and the Baroness, who the guards stupidly underestimate thanks to an outwardly patriarchal society.  

In truth, the Queen maintains immense power, but she does so by letting the King think otherwise.  The whole episode ends in Tarzan fashion, and the Phantom exhibits a traditional sense of humor about the reflective situation between couples.

In the second issue of Rough Riders Teddy Roosevelt acquires the rest of his team.  This surprised me.  I expected each chapter of Rough Riders to build on the team per member, but I’m happy writer Adam Glass cut to the chase.

Joining Teddy Roosevelt and Jack Johnson are Harry Houdini, Annie Oakley, Edward Eastman and Thomas Edison.  Edward Eastman requires some explanation.  So, click on the link and check out the wikipedia section.  I did.

Glass does more than just pull these names out of history and pin them to characters that just look like the figures.  He creates personae that agree with the genuine articles.

I can see Harry Houdini being mistrustful and using his sleight of hand to get the drop on Roosevelt and Johnson.

I can see Annie Oakley making a point.  Being liberated through her dead-aim and her prickly manner.

Likewise, I appreciate Glass mentioning Tesla.  Many feel that Edison doesn’t actually live up to his reputation and Tesla was the greater scientist and engineer.  Glass treats Edison fairly, but you wonder why Roosevelt didn't seek out Tesla.  Clearly, he considered it.

Of course, none of this would mean a hill of beans if the art didn’t perform to history’s standard.  Pat Olliffe gives Houdini a youthful dark mystique.  Just looking at Annie Oakley, and you know she means business.  At the same time, the characters move.  They’re neither stiff or expressionless like photographs from a by-gone-era.  They breathe on the pages.

Wynonna Earp finds herself barely undercover in a bar full of verbose demon/human hybrids.

Her ruse, a bare-knuckle fight club combatant, drops quickly although backed by the intrusion of somebody just looking for a fight.

Beau Smith’s story invigorates a cliche that can be found in almost any action series.  He does this through the Deadwood dialogue,  albeit PG rated and the lack of pretense.

New Earp artist Chris Evanhuis accompanies Smith through explosive action shots and the Big Bad’s particularly rowdy revenant girlfriend.  The demons seem harmless until the story progresses, and that's Smith's particular forte crafting charismatic villains that lose their charm once their evil deeds become known.

The spotlight of Kate Leth’s newest issue of Vampirella is a battle to the death against an alien monster.  Based on the wonderfully cheesy Invasion of the Saucer-Men.

I love that Leth supports the idea of Vampirella being an extraterrestrial, as her origin details.  I never particularly liked the idea of Vee being a creature from Hell.  I like her as a science fiction femme fatale.  Alien blood-sucker from the planet Drakulon.

Leth though isn’t reverting Vampirella back to the beginning.  She’s just de-emphasizing the occult background that accumulated over the years.  Vee for example is still a member of Nancy Collins’ Cabal.  Presumably, then she once worked for the Vatican, etc. etc.

The alien is courtesy of Vampirella’s new foe Arabella Slade.  Her attack on Vee is simply put a precautionary strike.  Slade knows Vampirella by reputation, and she’s not taking any chances.  I like it.  In most cases, I’d say don’t announce yourself, but Slade is sloppy, and Vampirella would no doubt quickly glom to her gory snuff films.

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