Monday, July 18, 2016

POBB July 13, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 13, 2016
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  Pickings were slim again this week.  For the current issue, I’ll be looking at the adventures of the fourth Doctor in Doctor Who, the alternate universe in Rough Riders, new favorite Satellite Falling and debut book Horizon.  I’ll also have a short spoiler free review of Ghostbusters.

I’m a sucker for exotic alien women.  I thank Star Trek and Yvonne Craig for this particular fetish.  In Horizon a hot blue chick crash lands on earth.

The hot blue chick quickly assumes the guise of a hot earth chick and then quietly steals a few credits from various unsuspecting earthling funds.

Logical.  No need to draw attention to yourself.  Commander Zhia Malen as we come to know her soon takes up residence at a local motel and performs some self-surgery to learn the language.  

Nasty but necessary.  While she’s at the motel Zhia discovers a means of long range transport and later meets up with another alien in disguise.  

It’s not quite clear what these two aliens are doing on earth, even when they appear to explain.  

The truth is I wouldn’t have known that Horizon is about a reverse alien invasion had I not read the note from writer Brandon Thomas.  So demerits for that.  However, artists Juan Gedeon and Frank Martin make the blue chick hot.  So, plusses for that.

Now you may think because I’m focussing on the hot blue chick that Horizon is without other assets.  Nothing is farther from the truth.  The minimalist art is overall attractive and narratively animated.  The way in which Zhia Malen adapts indicates an advanced alien intelligence.  Her resourcefulness grants speed to the pace.  Although I didn’t know the ultimate plan every panel is arresting in some way.

I think that Thomas and Gedeon created Zhia Malen as a honey trap.  Let’s face it.  Geeks of all orientation like Orion Slave Girls.  Opening your story with bait like a hot blue chick is bound to hook any science fiction fan.  The creative team certainly interested me enough to buy the first chapter and intrigued me enough to buy a second issue.

The latest Doctor Who starring the fourth Doctor Tom Baker is a very interesting little item indeed.  The Doctor and Victorian adventuress Athena James stepped through a primitive time machine to find themselves in an ancient cavern, or a recent cavern depending on how you look at it.  There, the Doctor faces a monster of myth, and an even greater twist lies at the end of the chapter.

We’ve been traveling with the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith on this adventure with the belief that upon the lifting of the veil, the Lady Carstairs would reveal a head full of snakes.  Kind of like this.

This assumption proves to be false.  The second twist involves the Lady Carstairs' Cyclops henchmen.  Furthermore, like many Doctor Who stories, especially from this era, what seems to be an innocent romp bears a surprising edge.   Consequences arise when daring monsters out of their lairs.

Outside of the plot, writer Gordon Rennie sets this story in respect of what we know about the Doctor now, his attitudes and the “new” monsters present in the new series.  For example…

…The Doctor here seems to mimic Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor during his debut, where he picks up a tabloid in Jackie’s flat and says, “That won’t last.  He’s gay, and she’s an alien.”  Old Doctor Who never dipped its toe in any carnal knowledge.  Except of course when it did, such as when the Doctor's granddaughter Susan falls in love with an earth man and The Doctor locks her out of the TARDIS for her own good.  

Still it's a little jarring to hear the Doctor talk about such things.  Rennie however draws the absurdness of this Doctor into the monologue when talking about cross-kingdom relationships.  So, the snatch of speech seems like a fusion of Doctors rather than another Doctor entirely.

The Doctor next speaks of quantum locking.  A term associated with the Weeping Angels, whom David Tennant’s Doctor meets.

Some may object to the idea of the Doctor of the past possessing knowledge that he shouldn’t have until the future.  Except the Doctor didn’t just learn about quantum locking in the future.  He's always known about it, probably since his days at the Academy.  If not then during his first hundreds of years of time travel. 

Nevertheless, a purist may object to the inclusion of the very mention of Weeping Angels.  Except this isn’t new.  Doctor Who did this before.  From our perspective, the third Doctor encounters the Sontarans first, but years later, in “The Two Doctors” we watch the second Doctor meet the Sontarans before the third.  In that same adventure, the second Doctor encounters the “new” Doctor Who alien species The Androgum.  

The Doctor’s encounter with the petrified Sarah Jane Smith seems a lot like his future incarnations, more so than Tom Baker’s Doctor.  Here I would have to agree with the purists, in terms of dialogue only.  

The fourth Doctor displays his affection for Sarah Jane throughout the series.  Even more overtly than his third incarnation, who from our perspective first met Sarah Jane.  On more than one occasion the Doctor angrily met Sarah Jane’s tormentors with violence on his mind, and he has offered the same deals that Doctors such as David Tennant’s Doctor has.  He’s the Doctor.  That doesn’t change.

So perhaps Gordon Rennie's Doctor sounds off on occasion.  He still speaks like the Doctor, and more often than not, it's the fourth Doctor you hear in a surprising science fiction tale that complicates without exacerbating the plot.

Satellite Falling begins in the past.  Our heroine Lilly reveals to an alien friend named Karbip how and why she traveled to Satellite.  She divulges how she committed a crime, perhaps not in the eyes of the seriously biased earth law, but against humanity's ethos.

This is a good jumping on point for new readers of Satellite Falling.  Stephen Horton continues unfolding the story about a lady crime boss that resembles Lilly's dead lover.

You don't however feel like you've come into the middle of the story.  The flashback displays Lilly's rationale and her love for Eva.  The setup in the present indicates the false Eva is in orbit.  The plot details the police's efforts to arrest the false Eva.  It's the precursor to the assault.  Lilly of course isn't staying out of it.

Lilly gathers a crew to find out how this false Eva came to be and make her pay.  The crew consists of a veritable Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials.  So a big kudos go to Stephen Thompson, alien artist extraordinaire. 

Each alien gets his, her, its own one or two page spotlight.  Every one of them offers a unique twist.

In addition to the main detective story, Lilly’s embrace of the Xenophile’s lifestyle, her love for women of any kind and Thompson’s expressive, frequently bemused Lilly expressions add to the attraction.

This is the reveal issue of Rough Riders.  So, I won’t be able to review it in depth without spoilers.  I have decided not to include any graphics beyond the cover.  They’re too overt, and the Rough Riders interact too much.  Last issue, it looked like the end of Annie Oakley, and I won’t say if she makes it out alive.  This is an alternate universe.  So just because she’s a historical personage doesn’t mean she automatically must live.  There’s no fixed points here.  I mean, you’ve got Teddy Roosevelt playing rooftop vigilante and interfering with historical events such as the Triangle Shirt Company fire.  

In this issue, we’re dealing with the truth behind the Spanish-American War.  Hint.  The truth's not from around here.  Adam Glass goes way out there for the plot, and just because there’s a tiny bit of Captain Marvel appreciation doesn’t mean that the homage is the only surprise in store for readers.  Houdini master of escapology finds a victim he shouldn’t free.  Boxer and bare knuckle fighter Jack Johnson duels a wandering Mad Monk.  Meanwhile Edison and Roosevelt charge up the root of the problem.  Pat Olliffe’s artwork is utterly fantastic when depicting the fantastic or just the historically accurate, and Gale Eltaeb’s colors take a pot shot at drabness and the new washed out Hollywood look for action movies.  Really.  Why do so many pictures look like they were filmed through mud?  Not Ghostbusters though.

Sunday Afternoon at the Movies

Put aside your predetermination and go see Ghostbusters.  The film earns its endorsement by the original cast, and you won’t feel a sense of deja vu just respect, imagination and wonder.  The movie is almost as good as the original, and original wins out only because there was nothing like Ghostbusters.  It was a science fiction versus the supernatural ghost movie done with special effects that looked like a million bucks.  Until Ghostbusters besuited professors prowled around creaky old houses for things floating with the help of wires.

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Whig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon portray Dr. Abby Yates, Dr. Erin Gilbert, Patty Tolan and Dr. Jillian Holtzman who find ghosts are very real, and they need to be contained.  

At once a comedy and an exciting action movie, Ghostbusters also does more with elements that the original used as segues.  For example, we get to watch Holtz put together the Proton Packs and build new combat equipment.  The filmmakers inject a lot of science in the pseudoscience.  The ghosts have an electrical element as well as an unexplainable nature.  So Faraday Cages get a welcome mention.

Dialogue is simultaneously funny and unique to each character.  So you’ll have a favorite Ghostbuster by the end of the movie.  Mine is without a doubt Holtzman.  I knew I’d like her when I saw her in the trailer.  By the time the movie ended, she was my Ghostbuster. 

The personalties of the new Ghostbusters differ from the originals.  So, there’s no copying and no comparison.  Each Ghostbuster though like the originals adds something to the pursuit.  Patty Tolan for example has an unmatched knowledge of New York.  Abby, Erin and Holtz all have super smarts going for them, but they all approach intelligence in a different way.  Abby came at science to prove ghosts exist.  Erin took a detour and became the most versed in real-world hard physics.  Holtz is the extrovert garage engineer, and Chris Hemsworth’s hilarious Kevin is lovable eye-candy with the intellect of a piece of salt-water taffy.

Ghostbusters furthermore deserves credit for not overwhelming the audience with special effects.  They could have done so.  They have the technology, but instead, they judiciously update the ghosts of the original and use them sparingly to fit the story.  Even the outstanding spook in the finale is a product of restrained cgi so that it looks genuine even though it's a product of fantasy.  Oh, and by all means, stay after the credits for a sweet surprise.  The credits themselves are filled with gag images and close-ups of the specters, to better marvel at the detail.  So, you won't mind the wait.

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