Tuesday, July 26, 2016

POBB July 20, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 20, 2016
by
Ray Tate

After denying, decrying and demonizing Donald Trump, the RNC nigh unanimously elected him as the loser to President Hillary Clinton this fall.  So, let’s talk about what’s really comparatively important.  Comic books.   This week the Pick of the Brown Bag critiques The Adventures of Supergirl, A-Force, All-New Wolverine, Aquaman, Batman, Betty & Veronica, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Hellblazer, Henchgirl, Justice League and Simpsons Comics.   No time for the in depth blog? My atomic comic book essays can be located on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.


Despite the presence of a dangerous inter-dimensional Logan from the future, All New Wolverine is light, fluffy and a bundle of laughs...

...until the Maria Hill Show begins.  Unfortunately, Cobie Smulders, does not reprise her role, and her understudy is shitty.


Captain America is also on hand to provide no discernible calm or rationality.  This whole thing might have been avoided had Cap just gone to the apartment as Steve Rogers, knocked on the door and discussed SHIELD’s concerns over coffee.


"Why no, Cap.  I have no intention of killing Laura's protege."


"It's just SHIELD has a remote viewer, and he sees it plain as day."


"Let me guess.  Mariah Hill starin’ at goats?"


"Yeah."


"Well, there's your problem right there.  Why don't they hand SHIELD over to Nick or Cobie Smulders?"


"Some contractual obligation I'd guess."


“Look, Cap, maybe I killed Gabby in another universe.  Maybe she even deserved it.  This is a different time and place.  Gabby's a different person.  Y’know they've got an actual wolverine for a pet?”


"Yeah, cute animal.  Well, okay.  So, you're not going to kill Gabby, and SHIELD needs to replace the current director with Cobie Smulders.  That covers everything, Logan."


"Great visit, Cap."


When Last we left A-Force, the team consisting of two Dazzlers, She-Hulk, Medusa, Captain Marvel and newest heroine Singularity found themselves drowning courtesy of teammate Nico, who is under otherworldly menace the Countess’ spell.


Writer Kelly Thompson finds a fairplay out for her champions that hints at how they might retrieve Nico and with Nico defeat the Countess.

Of course that plot description doesn’t scratch the surface of just how skillful Thompson is when writing with a light touch, choosing excitement over exploitation and glee over gratuitous violence.


The narration is just as comedic as the dialogue, but that doesn’t mean one should conclude that A-Force is a Disney package just because Marvel’s Maleficent happens to play there.  Maleficent by the way bites the dust in the Disney film.  Slain in dragon form by the handsome prince.  A-Force does things a little differently.


The Countess is too good of a character to end up lanced.

A-Force hones a strong dramatic edge, despite Ben Caldwell's lovingly cartoony artwork.  In previous issues, Anti-Matter intended to kill Singularity.  The resulting battle ended Alison Blair’s life.  She got better, but still.  This chapter a character succumbs to a foreshadowed menace.  It's a sad moment because we really started to like her and hope that she would remain part of the team.  However, her destiny suggests that Kelly Thompson is playing for keeps.


I abhor the Killing Joke.  There is no fucking way in hell The Killing Joke should have ever been incorporated into continuity verbatim, but it was.  However, for continuity purposes, DC very thoughtfully removed the most disturbing parts of the story.  Batman's execution of the Joker and Barbara Gordon knowing Batman's secret identity.


Everything else in The Killing Joke was perfectly acceptable.  The Joker shooting Barbara Gordon through the spine.  The Joker disrobing Barbara while she bleeds out.  The Joker photographing Barbara naked while she bleeds out.  The Joker stripping Commissioner Gordon, putting him in some kind of sadomasochistic gear and showing him the photos of his naked daughter bleeding out.  For twenty five years, until Diane Nelson’s much welcome arrival at DC Comics, all of that was perfectly okay.  And if you think I’ll denigrate this blog by showing images of such bilge, you’re out of your mind.  Instead, a Jim Aparo Batgirl from The Untold Legend of the Batman. 


The reason why I raise this issue again is that new Birds of Prey writers Julie and Shawna Benson rebuild the stonework that former Batgirl writer Gail Simone superbly decimated.

Simone isolated The Killing Joke to Barbara Gordon getting shot resulting in a two year paralysis.  She elegantly eliminated the humiliation of Barbara being photographed naked while bleeding out because she also dispensed with Commissioner Gordon being kidnaped.

She furthermore debunked the idea that Batman was a heartless bastard who did nothing to help Babs after being shot.


She even gave one of the Joker’s henchman present during the crime a modicum of honor.


The timeline of Simone’s dissection follows thusly.  The Joker shoots Barbara.  The Joker photographs Barbara bleeding out, presumably for his own collection.  The Joker has no rationale for taking off Barbara’s clothing.  Her father isn’t there.  He can’t abduct him.  You can even imagine the Joker sitting down, waiting for Commissioner Gordon to show up.  Maybe he even conducts a monologue with Babs.  He loses interest and leaves Babs Gordon to bleed on the floor.  The Joker’s henchman then feels a tug of respect for Barbara Gordon and makes his call.


The Bensons restore the entirety of The Killing Joke.  Commissioner Gordon visits with his daughter.  The Joker shoots Barbara in the spine.  The Joker now has a reason to strip her and photograph her naked.  Since he also abducts the Commissioner.  This also presents a quandary for Danny the Weasel.  Does his respect for Barbara override his hatred of Commissioner Gordon? Deja fucking vu, only with marshmallows.


Imbeciles.

The only thing that could be kept from Simone’s rethink of The Killing Joke is Batman’s visit to the hospital.


I suppose I should be grateful these cretins didn’t expunge that happy note.

As well as reprising the entirety of the rancid critical darling, the Bensons also reiterate Barbara’s history as wheelchair bound computer expert Oracle, albeit in a condensed version, because try as they might they can’t fit even five years of Oracle in Babs’ new youthful return to mobility.

Is there anything remotely worthy in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey? Yes.  Modern Batgirl is in this story, and the artwork by Claire Roe does her justice.  

Despite my misgivings about the Bensons’ idiotic retread, they handle the characterization of Batgirl well, and if you examine the narration in the fight scene, Batgirl fights intelligently.  Picking out weak points based on her eidetic knowledge.  

Modern Black Canary is in this story.  She’s mopey and doesn’t want to partner with Babs anymore, but she’s in the story.


On the opposite end, in addition to the major caveat, Birds of Prey is another Babs vs. Oracle thing, which we just saw in Brandon Fletcher’s and Cameron Stewart’s critically acclaimed run of Batgirl.  Only two clunky issues, folks.  That’s pretty amazing.  The difference lies in the identity.  In the original, Oracle had an a.i. nature that I’ll not spoil here.  In this one, it’s probably James Jr. screwing with his sister’s head.  In any case, it’s a human.  

Then, we have a third Huntress.  Is there any reason why Helena Wayne couldn’t have joined the Birds? The new 52 restored the Huntress' legacy.  


I don’t know what went on with the last issues of Earth 2 Society, but I know that Huntress can be reanimated if killed or dropped through a vibrational portal if not.  I mean, they Buffied John Snow didn't they? The Flash visited Supergirl.


Did you fall asleep too?

Why do we need this third rate knockoff of the second rate Post-Crisis Huntress?  Because she’s black or at least tan? If you needed a black heroine to fill the ranks of Birds of Prey, you should have gone with Vixen, impressive guest star on Arrow, appearing in the last issues of Black Canary.  


Crap.  Black Lois Lane would have been a better addition than third-rate Huntress.

Imagine a gum ball machine filled with the same flavored gum balls.  Let's say...rice cake.  So, you've got a rice cake gum ball dispensing machine.  You put your quarter in.  You get your gum ball.  It doesn't taste like anything, and it requires energy to chew.  If you really like chewing gum, or it's a habit, you chew the gum ball until it loses elasticity.  It had little flavor to begin with, and as the seconds tick by the gum gets harder and harder to chew.  That's what this issue of Justice League is like.  A rice cake flavored gum ball.

The story begins with Wonder Woman riding a lightning bolt.  Where she picked up this power is anybody’s guess.  The lightning bolt “teleports” her to a Russian battlefield.  Why? No idea.  Writer Bryan Hitch isn’t divulging any specifics.  


What are the Russians doing to violate Wonder Woman’s sense of fair play?  Got me.  Just take Hitch’s vague words to the vest.  Something the Russians did, it’s not important what, riled Wonder Woman.

The lightning bolt art actually pays tribute to Mac Raboy’s Captain Marvel Jr.

The imagery exists in Justice League because…artist Tony Daniel wanted to pay tribute to Mac Raboy. Uniformly, Tony Daniel is the big plus in Justice League.  He’s the one offering the tiny bit of flavor in our rice cake gum ball.  


The trouble with Daniel’s art is that it lacks direction.  It’s just a bunch of visual stuff missing connections.  If this were a sketchbook it would be fantastic.  Try to jam it into a story with a Snickers advertisement smack dab in the middle, and you’ve got problems.

An earthquake interrupts Wonder Woman’s Russian tutelage.  These shakes are happening all across the globe.  So we cut to the Green Lanterns, who look good but speak in plot goobers.  


Cut to Victor Stone alias Cyborg, who is still a member of the Justice League despite most people forgetting that.  An unnecessary diversity reminder, Cyborg decides to relive his glory days in order to stop the train.

The goofy thing about this scene is that Vic was introduced as a football player in the premiere of Justice League.  That still doesn’t mean this reminisce belongs in the middle of a disaster.  Rather than exploit brute force, Cyborg should have just dampened the power to the train or magnetize the lines.  He’s a cyborg.  Vic’s connections to computers, his manipulation of electro-magnetism and sound make him useful.  Certainly not his comparatively weak superhero strength.

Cut to the single moment of grace in Justice League.  Hitch and Daniel get the Flash right on the money.


That’s right.  Don’t bore me with speeches that lack specification.  Don’t hammer me with continuity, and if you can’t create a real dialogue between partners don’t even try.  Stick to classic hero talk.  I can see any Flash, comics or television, animated or live action, saying exactly the same thing, being the hero.  Alas, there’s not enough Flash in here to justify purchase.

Cut to Atlantis, who just happens to be on a fault line.  The earth is three-fourths water.  Atlantis just happens to be on a fault line.  What are the odds?  Aquaman looks good as he spouts obvious rubbish.  Meanwhile, Batman is for once not fighting an earthquake.  Instead, he’s battling Legion.  Again.


This would be acceptable had a similar thing not attacked in Justice League Rebirth two weeks ago.


Also, had Batman vs Aliens never been published.  Because Batman vs. Aliens was engrossing and had great artwork.  It’s far superior to this repetitive Batman episode in Justice League.

I think this is the final issue of Justice League I’ll be buying.  There’s just no substance to it.  It’s just a bunch of guys and gals in costume reacting to upheavals and speaking drivel.


So, you see, Gotham and Gotham Girl may be Legionnaires.  We know the Legion is operating in the twentieth century.  There are three Legionnaires whose powers match those of Gotham and Gotham Girl. 

What? But, it was such a sweet...well, shoot.

Although I'm a little disappointed that my Legion hypothesis didn't pan out, the more mundane explanation for Gotham and Gotham Girl is still pretty good.  The origin fits in with Batman's perpetual age, setting him squarely in his early thirties.  The beginnings of Gotham and Gotham Girl reflect Batman's optimistic meaning, and the investigation into Gotham And Gotham Girl facilitates the return of an old, favorite character.

Outside of the mystery, Batman, Gotham and Gotham Girl contend with a sabotaged bridge.  For most non-powered heroes this would be demoralizing.  For Batman, it's Thursday, and today he has help.


So it's a particularly breezy Thursday.  Writer Tom King also relinquishes my notion that the Watchmen were behind the disasters.  Batman instead ties into the upcoming Monster Men storyarc.  So naturally, Hugo Strange and one other surprise guest villain lie behind the scheme.  Even if I said "hint, it's not normally someone associated with Batman's rogue's gallery" you wouldn't believe it.

Aquaman deals with the ramifications of Black Manta’s attack on the first Atlantean embassy on U.S. soil.  The story takes multiple predictable turns, yet I can’t think of any way that Aquaman could have been better written.


There’s naturally going to be friction between land and sea people.  Aquaman addresses the situation as a monarch would.


The meeting at the State Department goes as expected.  We’re dealing with politicians here after all, despite Mera’s personal appeal.

This was all anticipatory.  However, writer Dan Abnett backs up the plot with strong dialogue from all the characters.  The reactions are personality not plot based.  Murk boils at the affront.  The soldiers are just doing their duty.  They’re not trigger happy, but at the same time they harbor strong opinions about Atlantis.  Because of Abnett’s skill, State Department Official Gantry despite being an ordinary bureaucrat, and drawn that way by the spectacular Phil Briones, still exhibits unique quirks.  These touches bolster the normal protocol that would have been followed.


In addition, Abnett and Briones and colorist Gabe Eltaeb create wonderful scenes with Aquaman and Mera.  They find fun in their love affair and forge a believable partnership that works outside of their personal relationship.



On the flip-side, Abnett reveals the identity of the mysterious woman that broke Manta out of police custody and intrigues with Manta working as an ant-hero while introducing a new organization that’s already more interesting than the fruity Spyral from Grayson.


Adventures of Supergirl is nothing more than a good, solid superhero story by Sterling Gates with terrific artwork by Emma Vieceli and colorist Sandra Molina.


Facet employs all of Supergirl’s enemies against her, but when she threatens Eliza Danvers, Supergirl’s adoptive mom, all bets are off.  Gates invests in Supergirl’s steel to generate drama, and pulls out an old trick from the Kryptonian playbook.

That happens in the present.  Meanwhile in the past, Vril Dox manipulates Rampage’s anger while simultaneously exploiting one of Kara’s few weaknesses.  By all rights, an easy tactical victory if not for the things Facet missed.


She didn’t predict that Alex Danvers was strong enough to admit to her guilt.  Thus taking away the catalyst for Rampage’s rage, nor did Facet predict the Martian Manhunter’s presence on earth.


The finale to this enviable Supergirl run relies on Kara’s willingness to work with others and her innate goodness.  That's been the message of Supergirl all along.


Adam Hughes is known more for his artwork than his skills as a writer.  That didn't stop him from crafting one of my favorite Superman stories of all time.  


So whenever Hughes decides to not just turn out gorgeous illustration and adds a word processor to his repertoire I take notice.  I even look at a book I wouldn’t ever have normally cared about.

I don’t hate Archie Comics and its universe.  I just always found them innocuous.  Back in the day, the ubiquitous cheap digests were entertaining enough but nothing I’d feel bad about losing or trading for the latest issue of Detective Comics.  So, my reaction to any Archie related book is generally, a shoulder shrug.  But Adam Hughes writing and drawing an Archie book? You’ve got my attention.

Right from the outset, you know that Betty & Veronica is going to be different from any Archie book you’ve ever read.  The dog is narrating.  That’s right Jughead’s dog is narrating, and Hughes draws him like a refugee from the Shaggy D.A. Disney series.


Hughes words for the dog are frequently hilarious because he deals with Hot Dog like he were a super-intelligent hound.  Yes, he knows Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but he’s still a dog.  Just observe the amazing canine double-entendre when describing Betty.  "Ear scratch McAwesome Lap."  That is writing. 

This absurdist twist leads the reader on a refreshing re-imagining of Archie and His Pals.  The first thing you notice as you read is that these characters do not sound like or act like the same characters from the Dan DeCarlo and Bob Montana stories.   Hughes, perhaps a reader of Flatland, imagines Archie taken to the third dimension.


There’s still something charmingly innocent about them, but there’s also a greater self-awareness and intelligence to some incredibly rhythmic dialogue.  There's a lot of Joss Whedon worship in Adam Hughes' work, but it was always there.  One of the reasons why Superman/Gen 13 blew me away was because of how Superman seemed like the real man.


When turning to the girls of the title, Hughes constructs fascinating mutations of the originals.  Betty Cooper is a tomboy, physically strong, cute as all get out, demonstratively emotional.


Veronica on the other hand looks upon physicality as an admirable trait for other people.  She’s not exactly the stuck up rich girl from the source material.  She’s slier, again more intelligent.


Other characters from Archie Comics manifest in Hughes' expert brushwork and his agile scripts.  Midge for example is drop dead incredible.  Moose lumbers from Blazing Saddles in an homage to Alex Karras' Mongo that’s overt and welcome.

The story is pure Archie.  A conglomerate coffee company is about to put Pops' Soda Shop out of business.  How this affects the Archie Gang though doesn't run how you expect.  Hughes needs to write more.



A few issues ago, the Big Bad Monsieur Butterfly zapped  Mary, Henchgirl, with a personality altering gemstone.  This turned Mary evil, but the spell appears to be wearing off.


Our story opens with Monsieur Butterfly’s resident acrobat turning over a new leaf.  Mary’s reaction isn’t quite evil.  It’s rational and funny.  Although ironically her rebellion is evil to the evil of Monsieur Butterfly.  She's rebelling against her compatriots because that's what an evil person would do.

Mary’s new evil isn’t really working out the way Coco and Monsieur Butterfly intended.  Yes, she commits some astounding crimes, but she’s also willing to backstab the Gang and point out their flaws.  Tact isn’t part of evil.

Mary meets up with Fred, the former Mannequin now neophyte Time Commander.  He received a warning about Mary.  He checks up on her, but Mary not realizing anything’s wrong tells Fred she feels fine.  Mary though is anything but fine.



Even when she tries to do good, Mary winds up promoting evil.  Writer/artist/creator Kristen Gudsnuk has a unique take on the whole personality-switch thing.  I like how Mary is basically the same person, but the evil just comes out in so many myriad ways.  Mary’s latest act of “good” lands her in the pokey, but have no fear Henchgirl fans a new player takes the stage for a strange rescue.


Two stories about the Simpson siblings fill this week’s Simpsons Comics.  The first story by Tony Digerolamo teams Bart and Milhouse in a scheme to purchase the new video game Bonestorm 3.

Bart and Milhouse rake the leaves of Ned Flanders who can’t tend his own yard due to a gut busting Homer non sequitur.  This lack triggers Bart’s brain cells into building a raking business.

The entrepreneurship goes surprisingly well and takes the duo through a tour of Springfield’s neighborhood.  


Honesty does not pay in Springfield.  Bart and Milhouse find their initiative sabotaged by wide ranging obstacles.  An amusing vignette with characteristic dialogue and on-model art.

In the second story, Lisa suffers from the effects of a backfiring rocket and winds up with a real life superpower.



Michael Saikin’s story is a mystery, and it’s a surprising one that’s only solved by Lisa’s sense of smell/sight.  A diverting short that banks on smart people versus smart people and evocative imagery.       


Hellblazer is the closest comic book to hit the Constantine mark.  The way Simon Oliver writes John Constantine recalls Matt Ryan’s Doctor on the skids portrayal.  Oliver also mirrors the Constantine dynamic.

Constantine isn’t the bastard that he was.  The new 52 established that.  He’s even more charismatic here.  Oliver for example shows that he has friends.  Chas the immortal taxi driver shows up.  A Zed like figure speeds to John’s rescue.


The whole story starts and seeks to explain Constantine’s absence through the means of a demon that curses him away from London.  John instead moved to New York.  New York in the DC Universe is the opposite of the Marvel Universe city.  It’s seldom attacked and ravaged.  Amusingly, very little in fact happens in DC's New York.  Seldom do they see superheroes.

John though misses London, and he thinks he’s found a means out of the curse.  This however involves grand risk that plants Hellblazer firmly in the DCU.


Moritat Illustrating Wonder Woman even briefly is actually more than enough incentive to purchase.


Off stage, Constantine has a strong and unexpected ally to help him pull off this magical chicanery.  If Oliver's story appears too elegant.  Just remember.  While Constantine was exiled from London, he planned out every contingency.


Constantine began before Vertigo existed.  At the Vertigo imprint Hellblazer became a horror title and sported realistic artwork to highlight the change in attitude.  Moritat brings Constantine more into a dark fantasy motif.  Harsh things can happen, but the story can't veer off into the dark quite so quickly because Constantine is in the bright and shiny DCU, and some of that light is bound to take.

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