Tuesday, June 28, 2016

POBB June 22, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 22, 2016
Ray Tate

Greetings, and welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review blog of comic books.  I’m Ray Tate, your cruise director to reviews of Action Man, The Adventures of Supergirl, Aquaman, James Bond, Justice League, Red Sonja, Thor, Tomb Raider, Ultimates.   Teensy-tiny versions of my reviews can be found on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Dan Jurgens produces an all Lex Luthor issue of Justice League that's far better than Action Comics.  Of course, it would have to be.  The story is mediocre with a few moments of dramatic potency as well as silliness.  So that's a testament to how bad was Action Comics.  Mediocre with excellent art by Tom Grummett, a group of talented inkers and colorist Gabe Eltaeb trumps lousy on multiple tiers.  I still can't recommend Justice League unless you're nuts about Lex, but there's much worse out there.

Superman's secret identity was blown a few story arcs before his death.  Seeing how Superman's parents are twice dead, Perry White assumes the role of foster father and displays his son's cape in the lobby of the Daily Planet Building.

Superman's cape should be in the Smithsonian or at his mausoleum not at the Planet.  Even if you think you're the family of Superman, Superman belongs to the world.  I have no doubt that Perry's heart is in the right place, but there's a conflict in creating an instant tourist attraction.  Take the Justice League for instance.

Here's where Justice League differs from Action Comics.  Rather than pick a fight for no reason at all and endanger innocent people, the Justice League talk to Lex because he's one of them.  Oh, sure.  They may not like him, but he's one of them.  In which case, Jurgens turned Superman from Another Universe into a sphincter on purpose.  He's wrote Action Comics.  He writes Justice League.

The League's willingness to converse immediately ticks the book up a notch.  Lex's discussion with his comatose sister Lena, a former Darkseid minion, also raises the book farther above the level of crap. 

Lena is not a new character.  She entered the Superman Mythos in Lois Lane #23 decades ago and has been on again off again in almost every era of comics as well as Smallville.

The rest of Justice League is dismissible.  Lex stops a robbery, uses his armor to withstand minor retaliation, with respect to super-heroes and threatens a hood in a steal from Batman...

Batman #423

Lex then buys The Daily Planet to acquire the cape.  The Daily Planet passed through Lex Luthor's hands before, but his ownership was part of a major storyline.  This purchase not so much.  Buy The Planet, take the cape in a completely perfunctory move.  

Once again Aquaman stands out.  Aquaman seeks Atlantis' recognition as a nation.  To that effect he has created Spindrift.

The trouble is that Black Manta still hates Aquaman.  Aquaman killed Manta’s father, long ago.

Aquaman #10

The circumstances argue for manslaughter, sentence commuted due to community service.  Black Manta's motive is understandable.  His utter abhorrence of Aquaman cannot however excuse the death and destruction he causes.  His blind callousness makes him a villain.

Writer Dan Abnett unfolds the story at a splendid pace, marked by a definite passage of time.  In Aquaman's lighthouse home, Aquaman awakens with Mera.  The couple discuss their thoughts on the new era for Atlantis.  Any writer might have done that, but where Abnett differs is that he neatly meshes the love Mera and Aquaman feel for each other with the main plot.

The opening of the Embassy to the world's representatives lacks the pomp and circumstances you expect.  Instead, Abnett opts for a quieter onset framed by character studies and some honest to goodness wit.

When Manta attacks, hidden amongst the guests, the story shifts into emotionally-fueled action.  Mera seeks to save the innocent under threat in a brilliant display of power and Aquaman in a masterful depiction by Brad Walker responds to Manta with a trident.

The next best thing amongst the contenders is no surprise.  Bond, James Bond.

In this latest tale, writer Warren Ellis reintroduces Felix Leiter   Bond's CIA colleague.  Felix debuted in the very first Ian Fleming Bond novel Casino Royale.

He didn't premiere with the prosthetics.  Ellis draws upon the Fleming work Live and Let Die which was partially recapitulated in the movie License to Kill, easily the most vicious of the James Bond films.  

As you can see in the previous graphic, Ellis also ties the aftermath of the shark attacks from those works with events from previous issues of the James Bond comic book.  In this way, James Bond is the perfect melange of James Bond media.  Felix the ideal representative.

Shortly, the reader discovers why Bond meets Felix in a Los Angeles airport.  Bond’s assignment is one of simple asset extraction.  The task should be as much of a milk run as Bond's simple investigation into the disappearance of Dr. Strangways in Dr. No.  I trust I need not elaborate.

It turns out that the agent, a forensic fiscal detective, by following a money trail tumbled a mole within the CIA, who we see memorably in the prologue.  

Before Bond addresses the enigma, Bond must deal with Turkish assassins bent on ending his fellow British spy's simple life.  Needless to say, Bond metes out impressive violence and engages in race car driving indicative to the world not enough created by Ian Fleming and propagated in the films.  However, it is unlikely Bond's boss M will be impressed.

Bond's gun remarks constitute an intriguing political environment that Ellis utilizes to construct new obstacles for Bond.  These additions also allow for curses to be lodged at bureaucrats, frequently the paper entrenched enemy of Bond no matter the work.

However, Ellis doesn't want the reader inventing political opinion for him.  He faultlessly incorporates an argument against NRA puppetry into Bond's character.  You can use a gun, even need them and still not be fan of the lawlessness of the United States.  I doubt very much Bond would look upon the gun lobby as an ally.

Action Man is weak tea James Bond.  The original Action Man as seen in the free Rom comic book from IDW dies.  His protege takes his place.  

Ian Noble is brash and newly trained.  The story takes him to a dirty bomb hostage crisis which he handles like the blunt instrument James Bond is accused of being.  He next infiltrates an old Action Man headquarters started by Victor Hugo of all people with the mission of Action Man intel elimination.  Ian changes the parameters when the killer of the original Action Man Dr. X leaves his mark.

Tomb Raider on the other hand is the spiritual descendent of James Bond.  On a quest to discover a mushroom that supposedly grants eternal life, Lara Croft attempts to negotiate a series of caverns and survive a strange group of men also seeking the fungi.

Varied with violence and packed with daring escapes as well as archaeological digs, pun intended, this is easily the best Tomb Raider series I've read.

Red Sonja concludes magically and mythically.  This latest series of the She-Devil with a Sword was flawed in terms of plot and not entirely my cup of tea, despite the artwork being stunning.  However, it's a perfectly valid interpretation of Red Sonja because no treatment in the comics ever accurately depicted the character from Robert E. Howard's "Shadow of the Vulture."

The Mighty Thor drops the spotlight on Darrio Aggar Minotaur and Roxxon CEO.  Aggar must answer to Marvel's Blinderberg Group, which consists of the movers and shakers of criminal corporate.

Unlike the real life clique, the Marvel versions share in the pie.  So they're a little perturbed that Aggar opened up mining in the Elven Realms without giving them a taste.  To that end writer Jason Aaron does something rather surprising with his villain, especially given the remarkable build up in characterization.

By now, you should know who Thor is.  If you still haven't learned of the new Thor's identity you can stop reading this review right now.  I'll be spoiling the months ago reveal in the very next paragraph.  You have been warned.  Just accept my word that this is a most interesting issue of The Mighty Thor and worth your time.

While Thor's foe Aggar tries to explain himself to the board, Jane Foster faces SHIELD problems.  In a semi-comical episode, Aaron demonstrates the two factions of SHIELD.  

One is the shitty group probably run by Maria Hill, but the other is Coulson's team.  You can identify them easily.  They're wearing the classic SHIELD garb and driving around in hover cars.

Aaron begins to forge a friendship between Roz Solomon and Foster that looks to be honest and enjoyable to read, but once Jane gets wind of the events in Sweden, it's hammer time.

The latest issue of Mighty Thor gets back on track, with the team of Aaron and Dauterman thankfully again combining forces.  Although the events of Vote Loki get a mention, primarily the creative team return the story back to the exploitation of the Nine Realms by Terran criminals and the Dark Elf Lord Malekith.  At the same time they complicate the life of Jane Foster and the Mighty Thor.

Previously, Supergirl fought a kind of Dream Warden named Psi.  She protected the dreams of the numerous alien prisoners on the Kryptonian correctional edifice Fort Rozz.  Fort Rozz for those not in the know crashed on earth and provides the monster-of-the-week moments for Supergirl.

Psi did things like calm Rampage, whom Supergirl fought in another issue.  Rampage, created by John Byrne, in this continuity is an alien, not Kitty Faulkner, STAR physicist.  Supergirl made a promise to Psi.  Like most "ghosts" science fiction and otherwise, Psi cannot pass until her body is consecrated.

So, Kara and Alex, Supergirl’s human foster sister, take a road trip to the site of Fort Rozz’s crash.  Naturally, things don’t go as planned.  Though free of debris thanks to DEO involvement, Supergirl detects a whole Kryptonian shelter that the organization missed.  This is an acceptable error.  The Kryptonians were far more advanced than human civilization.  If anybody could hide a headquarters it would have been someone from Kara's species.

What sets this story above a standard Supergirl musing is the wonderful dynamic between Supergirl and her sister.  Writer Sterling Gates reiterates the performance of Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh.  Likewise, artists Carmen Carnero and Sandra Molina do an excellent job bringing the actresses performances to the pages; this includes quiet moments and when Supergirl unleashes her might.

Supergirl's target for this issue is Facet.  The mystery being is a completely new creation by Gates and Carnero.  Though perhaps she has a loose Legion of Super-Heroes connection.  Facet is dangerous for a number of reasons.  One, if she's not a Kryptonian, she has close ties to Kara's people.  Two, her invulnerability levels out Kara's strengths.  Three, she expresses little regard for humans. Four, she doesn't actually consider herself the enemy.  Her purpose for luring Kara down to her home is loaded with intriguing possibilities.

The Ultimates is a real disappointment.  The ostensibly sublime flashback of how the gang got together, which alludes to the superb Marvel movie Ant-Man becomes subsumed by the depressing Civil War.  Not the movie.  A hero dies in what should be a dramatic moment, but you just shrug your shoulders and wonder exactly what he was doing there in the first place.  He's not even an Ultimate.  He just seems to have been pulled into the story to die in order to generate artificial tension between Captain Marvel and Iron Man.  It also doesn't help that Maria Hill is present.  She's so hopelessly bad and makes matters worse through a breach of etiquette.

Monday, June 20, 2016

POBB June 15, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 15, 2016
Ray Tate

It’s the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review blog of comic books.  I’m Ray Tate.  I’ll be your critical tour guide to Rebirth Batman, Rebirth Green Lanterns, Justice League and Rebirth Titans.  I'll also laud and/or raspberry Simpsons Comics, Spider-Gwen and Vote Loki.   Teensy-tiny versions of my reviews can be found on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Strangely, I’m supportive of DC’s latest polyglot of the multiverse.  Here’s why.  Overall, so far, it’s a good story.  The villains of the piece are well known as is their metaphor.  They are a group of characters you wouldn’t expect to come traipsing into the DCU.  No, it’s not the Avengers.  Seek out Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s Avengers/Justice League for that.  Absolute Edition if you saved your pennies.

Rebirth isn’t a reboot.  It’s not throwing away the shiny new 52 where Batgirl is fully mobile and where Batman is a humanist as well as the “world’s greatest detective.”  These are our heroes.  The new 52 gave us the quintessential, and that’s what we get in Rebirth.  

The ties that bind are already strong in the new 52, and although I’m totally against some of the restorations attempted, I see no harm in drawing upon good memories and re-establishing old friendships, as long as the bad ones aren’t dredged up.

The plot thickens in three out of four Rebirth titles.  Despite the lack of a Rebirth banner Justice League is a Rebirth prologue.

Set ten years before Rebirth, Justice League aims to explain how the Enemy breached the League’s universe in the first place.   Writer Dan Abnett in addition tries to create a crackerjack story featuring none other than Dick Grayson, the original Robin.

Under the stealth guise of an inventory issue, Justice League is actually hugely significant.  This is in fact the only moment where we actually experience an original Robin tale, with respect to the new 52.  Sure.  We’ve had glimpses and vignettes, but this is classic Batman and Robin working with the Justice League in a full-length story, which in itself is a first in any era if you don’t count The Super-Friends.

Batman and Robin are more like father than son than the antagonists of the post-Crisis.  Justice League is a retroactive reboot where Robin never wore short pants, Batman never forbade Dick from being Robin and where Batman and Robin/Nighwing pretty much got along fine.  Scenes involving this asshole never happened.

Justice League gibes with the timeline my friend and I figured out for the new 52.  

It also connects nicely with the idea of the Justice League forming in the waning years of the Bush Administration. This story furthermore predates the history Robin has with Superman as part of the World’s Finest team.

You would think that since Superman is dead in the present day, he would have a grander part in the story.  Instead, Superman mainly stays in the background for superhero punching.  

Although when he speaks, he sounds like the real deal, not the Man of Sphincters from another universe.  Abnett's current character Aquaman joins Superman on the outskirts of the focus. 

Robin interacts with Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash and surprisingly Cyborg.  The last time Cyborg had such an active role in the Justice League occurred during Forever Evil.  In any case, each character is written superbly.  Each expresses interesting dialogue and acts the part.

The story begins with Batman taking Robin to the Satellite and introducing him to the Justice League during the address of an emergency in Metropolis.  Things don't start swimmingly for the feeling out of his depth Robin.

The Dynamic Duo check in for an unusual crisis.  Abnett uses an old explanation for Fortean phenomena as the gist for the story and a run up to Rebirth.  No accident he uses crisis.  It's the watch word for multiple earth engagement.

There's so much more cleverness.   Abnett demonstrates Batman's pure detective knowledge.  Fortean phenomena is so silly and harmless that Batman could have only been motivated by pure curiosity to investigate it.

There's something special about the Dark Knight knowing about Charles Fort.  The knowledge expands his characterization by projecting him away from his plot-based vengeance/caped crusader history.  Giving him greater depth in an unusual way.

When the League arrive at the scene, they discover three menaces: War Hounds from Apokolips, specifically those from Legends, a Colouan from Legion of Super-Heroes lore and Mammoth from  The New Teen Titans.  The League at first can't make a dent in the War Hounds, but Batman and Robin succeed where the super powered fail.

In the process, each Justice Leaguer who at first wary of the child hero turns to Robin who begins to deduce what's going on.  The League including Hal Jordan are also cool enough to give Robin accolades.  Abnett aware of the Mary Sue as well as Charles Fort phenomena takes care not to diminish the League as he supports Robin.  Abnett gives each Leaguer a moment, and Wonder Woman particularly excels.

Of course Abnett’s words could have been lost in the wash of bad art, but as you can see Paul Pelletier probably just itching at the chance for another shot at the Justice League doesn’t waste his moment in the sun.  All the of the League look fantastic and formidable.  His updated Robin fits in perfectly, and Sandra Hope deserves kudos for conscientious inks that only serve to emphasize the subtleties in Pelletier’s pencils.  Colorist Adriano Lucas shows you what a super-hero book should look like.  Action Comics team take notes.

Justice League is a stand alone.  The book however touches upon long ranging aspects that according to the blurb continues in the Titans.  If it does I have no idea how.

Granted.  The Titans is a Rebirth issue, but it's a total feel good reunion between the Titans and Wally West, whom the Flash is fittingly oblivious to in Justice League.  Barry only remembers Wally years later in Rebirth.

When the new 52 began, it began without the old Teen Titans.  There were on and off hints that Nightwing knew and fell for Starfire, but Cyborg one of the creations of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, arose only with the formation of the Justice League.  Beast Boy wound up in the new 52 Teen Titans which were composed of mostly reinvented post-Crisis teen heroes.  Oh, and lest you forget.  Donna Troy only recently returned in the most inauspicious manner.  I’ll not exacerbate the point with a repeated image.  That would be really mean.  Instead, enjoy a Nick Cardy cover of The Teen Titans, courtesy of the Grand Comics Database.

Donna Troy is a continuity headache almost equal to Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  The problems began in the post-Crisis.  George Perez removed Wonder Woman from history.  Roy Thomas supplied various Justice Society substitutes for Wonder Woman.  Black Canary assumed Wonder Woman’s role in the JLA.  John Byrne then restored Wonder Woman to history, albeit Hippolyta.  For no good reason he also attempted to give Donna Troy a new origin.  During and after, Donna Troy became a multiple casualty of logjam.  Here’s another great Nick Cardy cover.

In the new 52, Donna is something else entirely.  On the bright side, Terry Long doesn't exist, and Donna's origin is a lot simpler and concrete now.  She getting her memories back probably won't change a thing except her characterization.  

You can imagine a scene where Donna says, "Well, technically pissed off Amazons formed me out of magic clay to be a replacement for Wonder Woman, but I'm actually her sister from another space and time.  Groovy, isn't it?”  Have a Jim Aparo cover.

This is actually a pretty cool issue where the Titans essentially become the Mod Squad.

Although the Powers That Be appear to be content with returning the Titans to comics, they are not turning back the clock to the sixties.  Instead, the Titans' memories exist within the context of the new 52.  So Speedy remembers Green Arrow.  He wasn't however a drug addict.  Some fans will consistently be upset that DC isn't restoring everything, but that would be hilariously clumsy if they did.  Still you got to give them credit for some incredibly obscure Titans continuity.

I don’t actually remember Lilith and Kid Flash being an item.  It vaguely sounds right.  So maybe I saw them kiss or something way back in the day.  Either that, or she’s substituting for Raven, who was reintroduced in the new 52 already.  Kid Flash and Raven were an item.  At least he wanted them to be.  

In summary, the Teen Titans are back.  Their memories have been restored.  Donna's no longer a black hole of continuity slag.  Bonus.  No Terry Long.  

The Enemy attacks Batman where he lives, metaphorically and literally.  This attack however is more subtle than the others.  Within an intricate setup, Kobra operatives prove just as effective as they were during the Bronze Age.

The shadowy figure is part of Rebirth, in what capacity remains as  unseen as the person of interest's precise identity.  For whatever reason, this stranger kills the Kobra stooge to acquire the armaments he stole.  He then shoots a surface to air missile to down a plane in Gotham City.  Batman's no fool.

The unavailability of the Justice League, and they will hate themselves when they find out about this event, added to the death of Superman forces Batman to perform the absolutely bat-shit crazy.

There's a Batman Out There!

Now, nobody else could convincingly carry out what mathematical madness Batman performs, and writer Tom King takes full advantage of Batman's resonance.  Theoretically Batman's absolutely insane idea can work, but if Captain Gerbil Man had attempted such a feat, you would not could not believe it.  Batman? Of course, he can do it.  He's Batman.

As per usual, Batman is fully willing to sacrifice himself to save the innocent, and he touchingly says his goodbyes and personally philosophizes.  It's nice to see Alfred one hundred percent on board with his Master Bruce, and not trying to talk him out of the plan.  There's just one Spock of a choice to be made, and Alfred sees that.

Fortunately, new characters debut just in the nick of time, and if they are part of the Enemy's plan and not perhaps unwitting pawns in the chess game, the Enemy is an idiot.  The Enemy should have let Batman die.  If the Enemy thinks he can play with Batman or that it's better to demoralize him into thinking his usefulness is at an end, the Enemy is freaking brain-dead.

The Guardians or the Corps called Hal Jordan off planet, which is why Batman can’t get in touch with him.  In his place, Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz are the partnered Lanterns of Sector 2814.  The Rebirth issue introducing them was perfect.  This story lives up to exactly what I feared.  A cursory glance at their lives, followed by the incursion of some stupid Lucky Charms ring wielders that I’m supposed to know but don’t.  Lord Atrocious.  His Harley Quinn fashioned henchwench.  Bah.

The Radioactive Spider-Gwen shares the same problem as Green Lanterns.  It’s basically clean up after Spider-Women a mini-series that kind of sucked.   So there’s a lot of confusion this issue. Spider-Gwen is apparently now hooked on the substance that gives her powers back.  Taken away at some point in Spider-Women.  She’s also doing a lot of vacillating with the Mary Janes.  Whether or not she can be Spider-Gwen and a drummer at the same time.  Boring until Frank Castle shows up, which happens at the end.

Vote Loki is simply too inane to be funny and too silly to be satire.  Loki spins a lie to make himself eligible to throw his helmet in the ring.  Along the way, he tries to convince journalist Nisa Contreres who experienced his villainy first hand that he's cleaned up his act.  The gags are fairly predictable, even when Loki becomes a woman again to score some sympathetic PR.  Loki doesn't even hide the cynicism in politics.  He instead thrives on it and treats it as a joke. Guest-stars Angela and Thor might peak your interest, but only for a brief moment.

Simpsons Comics on the other hand is a masterful two tale comedy fiesta.  The first story bears some resemblance to “Three Men and a Comic Book.”  However, the video game motif allows for a line of antics courtesy of James Lloyd, Andrew Pepoy and Art Villanueva.

As impressive as all of this is, Homer’s comeback at the end provides the most impact with a terrific crayon-shifting moment.

The second tale by Tony Digerolamo pulls Marge out of retirement from the force.

Somebody has stolen all the doughnuts from Springfield, and Marge stands by her man in his time of need.  She will find the culprit and the sugary booty.

Marge and Chief Wiggum smash through numerous absurd crime rings in police-action filled moments by Jason Ho that mimic the excitement of a Streets of San Francisco opening.  Always better than the program itself.  When Marge and Wiggum track down the doughnut thieves, the solution is a hilarious moment of callous villainy that spurts into the science fiction arena.