Tuesday, August 30, 2016

POBB August 24, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 24, 2016
Ray Tate

This week in the Pick of the Brown Bag I discuss the merits of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Wynonna Earp.  I’ll also say a few words about the new Batgirl, Rebirth Blue Beetle, Harley Quinn's Black Book, Lake of FireRomThe Titans and Tomb Raider.  What’s becoming the usual, you can also find condensed reviews at #PickoftheBrownBag on Twitter.

So, I don't want to give away the plot to Unbeatable Squirrel Girl because it's as equally hilarious as the facade that Ryan North presents for the opening.  Suffice to say that the cover is self-explanatory.  Squirrel Girl faces Doctor Octopus, Venom and Count Nefaria--not depicted.  Computer science plays a part in their defeats.  Hence the typing.  

The story begins with Squirrel Girl supping at a diner when she spots Doc Ock.

You have to wonder why Doc Ock strutted down the street in plain sight.  Doc is smart enough to know that his appearance is a dead give away, and usually he disguises himself in a long coat and hat.  The standard sneak-garb for pulp heroes, super-heroes and villains alike.  Not to worry everything makes perfect sense, and Doreen susses the reveal out pretty quickly.  When she dopes out what's going on, a new villain arises, but this isn't how you remember the fellow.  Actually, I barely remember him.  His look though in that John Byrne haute couture is unmistakeable.

He seems a little confused about his identity, or somebody is.  Turning Count Nefaria into an homage of another famous count is absolutely brilliant.  I never would have thought of it.  It seems so flimsy if you talk about it, but there's a resemblance.  

I know that Nefaria is an Avengers rouge, but I'll be damned if I remember what his shtick is.  Fortunately the loon behind this whole scheme informs the reader of Nefaria's real deal.  Not that I care.  I'm still grooving to the tribute thing, and there's a sly Doctor Who reference to the whole banana.  The idea that you can challenge a near omnipotent opponent to a simple game and hold him to the rules and stakes.  Doreen through this contest teaches the reader about using your fingers to count in code.  The beauty of it all is that the Count is delighted to know a new method of counting just like his namesake would be.  His attitude just doubles the humor and warmth in the entire comic book, and in the name of all absurdity his amusement also makes his willingness to abide by the protocols that more plausible.

Our freak show continues with the arrival of Venom, and it's here that Doreen figures out how to kibosh the leader of the pack and Venom all at once.  This method is a little more squirrel related so it should quell carpers dwelling on how they're getting an unwitting education in logic and code.  Oh, and by the way, even if the whole comic book stunk, which it doesn't, I would have given it a thumbs up since North mentions Chisanbop, a fad in the seventies that was more successful than the metric system.

Rebirth Titans is about the most average thing I’ve read from Dan Abnett of late, but that’s only because Aquaman rocks so much.  So average for Abnett translates to good on the whole.  

The book opens with Linda Park investigating a sighting of the original Teen Titans.  That is, the way the Teen Titans were in the new 52.  Because although the DCU reboots time and time again.  Each cosmos still is paradoxically at least fourteen billion years old.  More to the point.  The Titans had a youth, but it looks as though that time was spent on juvenile delinquency.  

By the way, Donna Troy did not have a youth.  She was raised from a pot by the old crone of Paradise Island to replace Wonder Woman.  Her memories however have a precedent older than her Homunculus body.  So the young Donna simulacrum arises from an echo of thought.

The story comes to a head when The Titans of the present appear to battle it out with their younger selves.  Does Abra Kadabra have something to do with it?  Yeah.  Of course.

Bonus points for remembering that Kadabra isn’t actually a sorcerer.  He comes from the future and uses future tech to appear magical.

The Blue Beetle returns to comics, this time written by Keith Giffin.  The setup and story is amusing.  Jaime Reyes finds himself in possession of a magical scarab that’s nested on his back.  When Reyes asks Ted for help, Kord decides to become Jaime’s mentor in super heroics.

Jaime’s not really gung-ho about being a champion of justice which is too bad because Scott Kollins’ redesign of the Blue Beetle is insect interesting.

The rethink isn’t a huge departure from how Jaime looked in the post-Crisis, but the nuances make this latest take on the venerable title hero a neat little cross between The Guyver and the Creeper.  It works.

The other elements that work are a Heckle and Jeckle like pair of mercenaries, that Giffin sort of specializes in; Dr. Fate returning in full regalia and a sophisticated villainess with occult trappings.

Harley Quinn uses advanced technology to travel to the parallel universe of Bombshells.  Bombshells, for those not in the know, takes place on an earth similar to our own but experiencing World War II.  The difference lies in the cadre of female super-heroes, some familiar, others not, battling the Nazis for global independence.

Palmiotti and Conner loosely base their story on Where Eagles Dare, the classic World War II espionage film by Alastair McClean.  The Bombshells consisting of Zatanna, Catwoman, Batwoman and Big Barda mistake Harley for their Harley Quinn.  They scoop her up and head for a Nazi stronghold where VIP General Beatty is being interrogated.

There's not a whole lot of plotting in this story, nor is it necessary.  Black Book's entertainment value comes from the dialogue, particularly that of Big Barda regarding Harley Quinn; the comedic experimental means in which Harley deciphers quantum physics and the bizarre happenstance that allows Harley to expedite history, which should advance Bombshells to a different theater of war.  On the other hand, Harley Quinn doesn't actually mean beans to current continuity.  So why should it mean anything to Bombshells?

The second issue of Batgirl is a strange one indeed.  The story opens with Batgirl busting a drone that’s been tracking she and Kai, her childhood friend.  Though her perseverance leads to a crime, it’s not the crime she’s looking for.  Kai’s hiding something, and that something involves a formula sought by a School Girl Assassin from last issue.

Points to writer Hope Larson for properly employing Babs’ eidetic memory.  She’s a human camera jacked into a flawless database.  The tattoo however takes Babs down an odd path.

I’m not all that familiar with Mixed Martial Arts, including female MMA.  Of course I know of Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm, but that’s as far as it goes.  I prefer my fighting on film and in comic books.  So I don’t know if this plot which sounds a lot like something from a Hong Kong flick is true or not.  I’ll just have to take Larson’s word on it.  

The gist of all this is that Babs enters the ring after some painful training.  Batman trained Batgirl in the new 52.  His tutelage is also reflective of Legend of the Dark Knight and World’s Finest, if you intend to be persnickety about where you get your continuity.  So, how much more coaching does she need? 

It’s possible that Batman never fully completed Babs' indoctrination in crimefighting due to the events in The Killing Joke.  Alternately, he may have given her a crash course which would include the subjects of acrobatics and from his purview basic fighting skills.  He taught her enough to stay alive against the deadliest of criminals.  He would have advanced her techniques further had the Joker not crippled her.  

Larson does however have history on her side.  When introduced in the Silver Age, Babs Gordon already had earned a brown belt in Judo.  She then extended her knowledge of martial arts though self-improvement.  Batman at best gave her tips and she learned by watching with that remarkable mind of hers. 

Quite a bit of this week’s Tomb Raider relies upon the first of Dark Horse’s story arcs.  Rhianna Pratchett wrote that prime tale.  Since current writer Mariko Tamaki didn’t actually need to redress those elements, I’m guessing Tamaki has something intriguing in mind.

The story begins with rock climbing and a musing on Trinity, the immortality-seeking enemy organization dedicated to killing Lara Croft.  Presumably because she gets in their way.

When Sam escapes, Lara feels duty bound to infiltrate the asylum and find out what’s going on.  

This is an opening chapter, and although a lot happens, Tamaki keeps what exactly is going on quiet.  What I find strange is that Lara immediately jumps to the conclusion that the asylum isn’t on the up and up.  

It wouldn’t have bugged me if Lara confirmed the tip she received about Sam’s escape.  Then at least she would have a reason to use her skills as a Tomb Raider to infiltrate the asylum rather than go through channels as a visitor.  As presented, she just leaps to the conclusion.

Her suspicions prove correct, but the veracity of her intuition is rigged by a writer.  So, there’s no sense that she could have been wrong.  That undermines some of the suspense.

Congratulations to writer Beau Smith for producing the best issue of Wynonna Earp from this current highly entertaining series.

That's right.  It's vacation time for Wynonna and her sometimes partner, the immortal Princess Velez.

Smith takes the narrative style right from the television episode playbook.  So, he juxtaposes the main event with things like villain Bobo ending Mulder and Scully lookalikes and peeks in on the gathering storm of the Wynonna Earp revenge squad; those she already imprisoned.

Interesting sure.  The meat of the story however is a fun dynamic between Wynonna and Val on a road trip.  The journey gives Val the opportunity to open up about her immortal life, and Wynonna goes hyper as she raids a gas station snack section.  

We meet a new character Lucinda Finn to whom they bond with over some biker fighting, and Cinda as her friends call her invites them to her ranch.  Setting up vacation chapter two electric boogaloo.

Wynonna Earp goes down so smooth that it's easy to overlook the skill behind the story, but understanding that nothing could have happened and that dialogue could have been perfunctory or lead nowhere gives you a better idea at Smith's extraordinary skill.  The fact that the plot is practically non-existent, yet Smith produces bouncy, natural sounding characters furthers my appreciation.  Oh, yeah, and freaking amazing artwork.  Perfect book.

Our story begins promisingly with a typical Doctor Who plot twist.

Unfortunately, writer Nathan Fairbairn drones on seven pages before we end up here...

...Suffering eight more pages before we finally reach the point where the story begins its approach to the plateau.

The problem with Lake of Fire is that it spends far too much in depth time on stereotype characters.  For example, young knights Theobald and Hugh join up with Lord Montfort during the Crusades.  Except Theo has actually run away from his mother Lady Gertrude to search for glory.  Gosh.  How original.

Count Henry aims to bring him back, but since Theo is stubborn,  the Count, a true former soldier, joins the band to watch Theo's back.  The scarred, glower is the unpolished Han Solo of the group, and all of this prattle is unnecessary when what we really want to see is this.

All of this back story, the cynicism of seasoned warriors, the naïveté of where have all the flowers gone recruits, could have been spun out slowly, over time while we get to the nitty-gritty which is Crusaders vs. Aliens! Bloody hell, this was boring.

In the debut, Rom made a splash on earth by first rescuing police officers and expunging Dire Wraiths hiding behind the masquerade of a military unit.  This issue he regroups with his third charge Darby Mason, a soldier who discovered her whole family were replaced by Dire Wraiths.

Yes, the Dire Wraiths have been on earth a long time.  They've been here long enough to establish more than a beachhead, and also to perfect their dark arts.  This series of Rom emphasizes Dire Wraith magic over technology.

As the story continues, Rom reveals his origin--very similar to his old one and spouts the gallant space knight dialogue you expect to hear.  Maybe he lightened up a little.

Darby takes Rom to her old hideout to recharge, but already the action interrupts the reverie.  Rom senses danger against Camilla.

This is where the story takes a sharp turn from the winning Rom formula.  So I shan't spoil the cliffhanger.

Monday, August 22, 2016

POBB August 17, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 17, 2016
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag a weekly review blog.  The yield includes All-New Wolverine, Aquaman, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Batman, The Mighty Thor, Nightwing, Simpsons Comics and Supergirl.  If you haven't the time for the full POBB effect, my reviews can be found condensed on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

This issue of Simpsons Comics stands out as a hilarious superhero movie spoof.  Ian Boothby pits Bartman against Houseboy in a melange of Superman vs. Batman meets Civil War, done in a kids context and skewering Chief Wiggum’s constabulary at the same time.

A war needs recruits, and Houseboy rounds up a whole slew of Springfield cosplayers.  This cadre grants remarkable cartoonist Nina Matsumoto the opportunity to redesign an on-model cast in new but familiar duds.

Bart and Milhouse finally settle their differences, for Chief Wiggum has some bad ideas, and their salvation comes from a most unusual source that’s as well filled with irony.  Lastly, the fellow Springfielder facilitates one last brilliant joke that possibly only older comic book fans will get.

The second tale “Are You Duff Enough?” by Matt Davidson pits Homer against a thinly-disguised Duffman in a witty hyper-athletic game show outing.  

Davidson breezes through a funny story that takes advantage of the super-caffeinated soft drinks fad.  At the same time, Davidson plants some neatly done characterization for Homer, who only indulges in this buffoonery to win his kids' respect and gives Duffman some dignity.

I’m always surprised when I actually predict something that happens in a comic book, and it’s almost as good as I imagined.  All-New Wolverine isn’t the cream, but it’s probably as best as we can get from any Civil War tie-in.

Captain America guest stars, and this isn’t the Hydra Captain Dude.  Captain America immediately tries diplomacy.  Afterall, he and Wolverine are superheroes for the common good.

See, that’s how I expect Cap to act.  As the story continues, he instantly charms the socks off Gabby and her pet Jonathan.

Unfortunately this situation goes to hell pretty quickly with Cap buying into Mariah Hill’s malarky, and the Civil War coming up in spades.  It’s still a good book, with Wolverine and Cap duking it out for good reasons.

Mariah Hill handled this situation badly.  Somebody needs to fire her.  Her understanding of ESP is rubbish compared to Fitz’s masterful comprehension in the finale of Agents of SHIELD.  Oh, and by the way.

Not homage and not cool Marvel. 

The Mighty Thor resets the ticking clock as the Agger Initiative threatens to destroy New York with Roxxon Headquarters as the comet that killed the dinosaurs.  Thor and Agent Solomon race to stop Oubliette Midas and the Silver Samurai from ending Agger’s life.  Meanwhile, other SHIELD agents attempt to reveal Thor’s identity at a most inopportune time.  Thor is just pure gorgeously illustrated entertainment with surprises from practically every cast member involved and hip dialogue that’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny.  If Thor were a television series, this is how it would play out.

The television series Supergirl picks and chooses from the vast Supergirl mythos and the entirety of the DC Universe.  

**Please, note.  I may be obfuscating some of the facts about Supergirl to protect the innocent from spoilers.  The gist regarding the television series is true.  The contrast between the new comic book and the television series is also true.  Go, and watch Supergirl.  It’s a great show.**  

For example, Supergirl fought the Red Tornado.  The D.E.O. was once headed by perennial Superman sphincter Hank Henshaw.  Justice League associate Maxwell Lord is frequently insidious in Supergirl.  Supergirl’s best bud Wynn is actually the son of an old Superman character.  

Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s human adopted sister, is the only character created whole cloth for Supergirl.  Her adopted parents Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers are reboots of the comic book Danvers.  So they don’t actually count.  

What happens though if you base a book on a television series and do exactly what the television series did to create its mythology? That is pick and choose from the television series and graft these adjustments onto your own continuity.

Ouch.  My head.

So bear with me.  Cameron Chase heads the D.E.O. in the new 52, which is a very slight upswing in rank.  Chase was Mr. Bones’ right hand man throughout the modern age.  Her promotion makes sense.  However, she was only an agent in Supergirl as portrayed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Emma Caulfield.

Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers on the other hand were nowhere.  These characters were designed for Supergirl.  They’re both scientists.  Jeremiah was suborned into the D.E.O. by Henshaw, and lost his life because of it.  In the comic book, Jeremiah and Eliza are scientists, as introduced in Action Comics, AND willing D.E.O. agents.  Eliza as played by former Supergirl, former Superman Mom Helen Slater rightfully despises the D.E.O. 

Speaking of Action Comics, Kara’s fizzling Kryptonian powers kicks off the reason for Supergirl working with the D.E.O., and as with other Rebirth books, the time these heroes exist on earth is up in the air.

It appears that DC equates each issue of a book being published as  a day or thereabout.  So Supergirl lasted approximately forty issues.  She appeared in a handful of Batman/Superman stories and crossovers.  Chase’s time estimate is by that standard correct.  Supergirl has only been around for a few really busy months.  Although the “liability” statement was just mean.  

Supergirl defied an attractive Kryptonian philosophy.  She saved the earth and almost killed herself in the process.  So, yeah.  Mean Agent Cameron.

Anyhow, Chase presents a cover story for Supergirl.  She will be Kara Danvers and attend a school for the intellectually gifted in National City.  I like that writer Steve Orlando took into consideration that Kara is a highly intelligent Kryptonian who grew up in an advanced society.  The epiphany first arose from Bruce Timm and Company during Justice League.  Jeremiah and Eliza are Supergirl’s handlers not adopted family.  Every secret agent that’s not James Bond or Jack Bristow needs a handler.  Learned that in ALIAS.  So, obviously National City is where Supergirl flies.  The school angle is completely from left field, and I haven’t even gotten to the “main plot” of a Red Kryptonite infected monster running amok.

The only way to deal with this tale is to pretend Supergirl doesn’t exist.  Painful I know.  So Rebirth is DC’s latest attempt to re-energize the Girl of Steel.  As such, Supergirl becomes a secret agent with married handlers for the DEO now headed by Chase Cameron.  The DEO gives her the secret identity of Kara Danvers.  She operates in a school for the scientifically adept in National City.

Is any of that good?  It’s okay.  I mean, I’ve seen worse done to Supergirl.

Rebirth is nowhere near as bad as that, and it’s technically well written with some good dialogue and good characterization, but it’s not as good as Sterling Gates’ Adventures of Supergirl, which was based on the way better series, complete with Alex Danvers.  

On the other hand, the Adam Hughes cover is fantastic, capturing the attitude we want in Kara.  Then there’s this spectacular moment thanks to Emanuela Lapacchino, Ray McCarthy and Michael Atiyeh.  

The image is actually bigger than my scanner can handle.  So it’s even more impressive in the book.  As is the lead up to the big splash in the sun.

Somebody’s framing the great warriors of Atlantis.  This occurred after the unfortunate attack on the first Atlantean Embassy Spindrift by Black Manta.  The U.S. Government responded by imprisoning Aquaman.  

Aquaman agreed to the confinement and left Tula, Aquagirl, as Princess Regent to rule Atlantis in his absence.  Hostilities escalated when the Atlanteans investigated the sinking of a U.S. Naval vessel.  They encountered a very agitated Navy Seal team who saw Thunderball.  

The U.S. already remembering a previous attack chronicled in the highly recommended DC miniseries Throne of Atlantis decides its time for a fish fry.  Mera’s attempts at diplomacy fails.  So she casually tears open the jail cell in which  Aquaman stews.  Aquaman doesn’t thank his wife to be, but he does decide that it’s better to run than to die.  Naturally, the couple hits some opposition.

Aquaman could have been just a beautifully illustrated example of Atlantean power versus detailed military might courtesy of Phil Briones.  I mean that would be enough to warrant time and money.

Writer Dan Abnett though chooses this moment to evolve a lover’s tiff, and it’s a perfectly timed moment because Aquaman and Mera are not your normal Romeo and Juliet.  They’re not going to argue about sex, politics or domestic life.  Nope.  They’re going to argue about crimefighting protocol.

This is absolutely hilarious.  Aquaman keeps saving the people that Mera wants to punch out permanently, because she’s a warrior.  

Mera just can’t understand her husband’s want to save those intending to kill him.  She furthermore can’t understand why he doesn’t comprehend that a warrior’s lot in life is to die.  Mera is way more Klingon than human.  That's why she's a massive improvement over the older version of Mera.  Aquaman continues to make its normal outstanding, and the art brings you to tears of joy. 

The curtain falls on the tragic story of Gotham in Batman.  Filled with pathos and poetry, Tom King’s tale is predictable because there was only one logical way for the direction of the narrative to go.  Because of the power in the dialogue and the solid characterization combined with the superb art of David Finch, the inevitability doesn’t matter one whit.  It still packs the wallop of a spike gloved fist to the face.

Batgirl tracks Nightwing to Norway.  He and his new partner The Raptor, who just may be Batman in disguise, have been sent to kill a maze maker who wronged the Parliament of Owls.

The maze maker of course learned of a prophecy involving his assassination.  So he turned his house into, what else a deadly maze.  This story would be preposterous if it didn’t have a real world reflection.  H.H. Holmes was the first American serial killer, and he ran a hotel that was a catacomb specifically designed to trap and kill the unwary.  Utterly nuts, but true. 

As Nightwing, Raptor and Batgirl negotiate through the maze, Nightwing recalls incidents from his past in the narration that muddy his traditional wholesomeness… 

...and demonstrates why there has always been an obstacle between he and Batgirl.  

It's all on her.  Apparently, she’s just too much of a law-abiding goody two-shoes.  It’s why she wears a mask and fights as a vigilante.  Idiot.

I’ve got a different thought about what stands between Babs and Grayson.  It’s called self-centeredness.  He’s just too self-absorbed to see it and too much of a beef slab to feel it.

Anyhow, trickery abounds in a mostly okay Nightwing story that features better Batgirl writing than Batgirl and the Birds of Prey.

The formula continues to devolve in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey.  

The Bensons still pining for the days when DC maimed female characters begins this second issue with a superfluous, perfunctory Oracle flashback.  Black Canary and Oracle stop a runaway subway train.  Such an act might have been heroic if they hadn’t wrecked it in the first place.

Which begs the question why didn’t Black Canary just clobber the suspicious looking guy before he made it to the conductor’s booth?

Because the Bensons didn’t think things through when they created this little fan service.  All they wanted to do was show how kewl Babs was as Oracle and that she was more than an information broker.  Although in this case, that’s all that was needed.  Information about an attack.  Black Canary to prevent it.  Emphasis on prevent.  Barbara could have also informed the police, ensuring a car loaded with cops. 

Alas, the Bensons opted for kewl.

If you think I’m being too harsh or biased because of my hatred of Oracle, don’t care.  This is the final issue of Birds of Prey I’ll be reviewing until there's a change in writers.  I’ve decided to drop the title.  I was going to continue buying the book to support Batgirl, but I can also see the Powers that Be misconstruing the sales numbers as a want to see Oracle return.  I shan’t be party to that.  I support Batgirl, not Oracle.

We cut to Batgirl and Black Canary in pursuit of the second shitty Huntress.  This time a carbon copy of the first shitty Huntress.
Being black is all the Huntress has got going for her, and why she’s in this book.  I’ve already lamented the missed opportunity for Vixen to join as the third Bird of Prey, but it’s not to be.  

This issue of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey accents why the second shitty Huntress is so wrong.  First and foremost, Huntress has nothing to do with the Oracle identity theft.  She furthermore never worked with Batgirl or Black Canary.  

Second, she’s a murderer.  In this week’s Nightwing, Batgirl justifiably chastises Dick Grayson for throwing in with a criminal, whom she also thought was an assassin.  

If she joins forces with a killer, she’s just being hypocritical. Her anger becomes vainglorious.  Teaming up with Catwoman would be more ethical, and Babs isn’t exactly a fan of Catwoman.  Third, Huntress catalyzes idiocy on Babs’ part.

No, seriously.  This is the calm and rational Batgirl I grew up reading about.  Bloody hell.  Fourth, with the inclusion of the Huntress, Birds of Prey becomes a dumping ground for Dick Grayson's exes.  The Bensons commit to Robin/Batgirl shipping, when Tim Seeley only suggested it and the lion's share of writers say no.  Back in the day Chuck Dixon specifically wanted to use Black Canary and Barbara Gordon because Dinah had become defined by her relationship with Green Arrow, and Babs was just the cripple in the corner.  He wanted to change that.  Giving this book a sub-theme that amounts to "all my exes living in Texas" is chauvinistic.

The Bensons' tale reaches a mediocre level when the girls track down what might be a lead to Oracle and find Huntress already waterboarding the guy.

Lucky for the ladies that Huntress decided not to off him quickly, huh?  The Huntress agrees to help Batgirl and Black Canary track down the Oracle thief, but why? Why on earth does Batgirl need any help other than Black Canary?  If she needed an in to the criminal world, she actually could have gone to Catwoman, or better yet Poison Ivy, who was in the Birds of Prey.  She could have used Starling, who was a Wiseguy in The Penguin's crew and a founding member of the Birds of Prey.  Starling's time in the Birds ended badly with a betrayal.  That betrayal would have also provided the needed friction to make the character dynamic interesting.  But no, we need to replicate the Birds of Prey from the post-Crisis and somehow include Oracle despite Batgirl being back on her feet.  I hate the post-Crisis.  Screw you.  I'm done.