Tuesday, August 16, 2016

POBB August 10, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 10, 2016
Ray Tate

Another short week for the Pick of the Brown Bag.  For this posting I look at All-New X-Men, All-Star Batman, Doctor Who, King's Quest, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Starring Sonja Devereaux and Vampirella.  For those in a rush check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

In the latest issue of Doctor Who, the seasoned Mickey Smith reacquaints himself with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor.  Some effect is turning people into superheroes and Gargoyles—with David Tennant companion, Mickey’s wife, Martha Jones under the influence.  Because Rose and Captain Jack must stay separated from the Doctor and the older, wiser Mickey, a lot of banter and Doctor/companion dynamic gets lost.  The Doctor teams up with Mickey, but Mickey’s disdain for the Eccleston Doctor and his preference for the Tennant Doctor just generates a feeling of angst.   Cavan Scott’s story isn’t horrible.  It just should be so much more fun.  

Dennis Hopeless finally returns to the themes of All-New X-Men that originally attracted me to the title in the first place.

Hopeless’ characterization for Wolverine matches that of Tom Taylor’s characterization for Laura in her title book.  Both by the way are damn good.  I never was interested in X-23, until she exhibited a more mature attitude in Avengers Academy.  When Hopeless and Taylor began writing her, intriguing became impressive.   Because of Hopeless' skill I also became invested in Laura's relationship with Angel.  

Hopeless' treatment of Wolverine and the time displaced X-Men makes me wish that I never see the grown up versions again.  For example, Hopeless' Scott Summers is back to being Captain America cool.  

Scott sets up this whole series of dominoes that sends Wolverine on mini-missions designed to give her the kill-release she needs to relax and get her head back in the game.

Scott however has a secret agenda, and unlike his older self, Scott’s motive is pure.  So, Hopeless demonstrates at once, Scott’s ability as a natural leader, his presence of mind to be a caring individual and somebody who pays attention.  

Hopeless delights in running Wolverine through her paces and impeding her progress with expertly timed comedy beats.

Meanwhile, Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessey, Nolan Woodward produce quintessential Wolverine artwork that’s not just confined to the tropes of superhero comic books.  Though they eventually show Wolverine in action…

…they springboard off of Hopeless’ witty and warm story to present visuals unusual for any genre, except perhaps the Muppet Show. 

Prince Valiant takes over the narration of King's Quest, and the reader benefits from a unique voice that directs certain and sure violent action.

The story began pretty dark with a water planet that used to be the home of fun-loving fish people turned into a desert.  Ming forced Dale Arden and the Queen to battle to the near death.  Ming then took a fiercely vile turn from The Creature Walks Among Us.  

He transformed Queen Darya into an air-breathing slave, forever.  He also did something even more disgusting that isn’t for the weak stomached among us.  Suffice to say, Ming was an asshole who deserved to die, and Dale saw to that when he tried to exert his husbandly duties on her.  Yes, Dale married the monster.

The tale could have been wrenchingly unreadable, but writers Ben Acker and Heath Corson took some daring moves to surprise and delight readers.  The Defenders of the Earth provided oodles of humorous friction.  Jen Harris, the neophyte Phantom, is in love with Dale Arden.  

Turns out they are on-again/off-again bedmates.  Dale suddenly betrayed the Defenders of the Earth.  You didn’t know if she was playing a long game, or really corrupt.  

You see, the writers kept the readers on their toes with twist after twist obfuscating a straightforward narrative of good versus evil.  We’re still not sure who the bad guys are and if Dale is one of them.

This issue, thanks mostly to artists Bob Q and Omi Remlante, takes a giant leap into escapist action.  Prince Valiant wreaks havoc with Flash Gordon.  

Meanwhile, Jen draws upon a previously unmentioned Phantom ability.  

I would normally object to such spectral happenstance, but King's Quest isn’t the never-ending comic strip, and it’s also not the “power of ten tigers.”  So, yeah, it’s a minor weirdness not normally associated with the Phantom.  I’ve seen worse in berry juice.  

Every iota of graphic evidence suggests that the tragic Two-Face finally shot himself at the end of Batman and Robin.  However, we never saw the consequences.  So in theory, Two-Face may return.

All-Star Batman however is one of those books that deals with stories outside of the current continuity.  Not exactly Legend of the Dark Knight or an Elseworld graphic novel, but closer to their spirit than to the events transpiring in Batman or Detective Comics.  

Two-Face just put a bounty on Batman's head.  Stop the Dark Knight from delivering him to wherever and he'll keep all your sordid secrets to himself and give you a nice lucrative bonus to boot.  This leads to "honest" Gothamites and criminals from Batman's rogue's gallery trying to kill the big, bad Batman.

All-Star Batman is John Romita's third attempt to illustrate Batman.  He debuted his Batman to the comic book reading world in Punisher/Batman... 

...and contributed a one-off Justice League story in Superman.  Romita’s Batman is a lot more relaxed, as if he's an athlete waiting for the meet to start and action-oriented.  

His Batman looks the part as well.  No ridiculous Helmet Man short-ears for Romita's Batman.  Likewise, Romita illustrates an on-model Alfred and a hirsute but acceptable Commissioner Gordon.  Perhaps The Commish grew the beard to support the Gotham Knights sports franchise.

Romita’s Two-Face is somewhat anime-styled but valid.  Romita's Gotham City is straight out of Anton Furst's sketchbook, and an appropriately cavernous Batcave looms in the background.  The meat of the tale takes place on the outskirts of Gotham's farmland so extras that might be seen at a Manhattan deli established in an average issue of The Amazing Spider-Man are forgivable.

The script by Scott Snyder is unfortunately pedestrian and how a Batman movie might play in today's climate of big budget DC Comics flops from Warner Brothers.  

Batman isn't a necessity for a story that has roots tracing back to Mike Shayne’s Sleepers West from 1941 itself based on a 1933 novel by Frederick Nebel.

Any hero would have been acceptable.  Lloyd Nolan with his unmatchable portrayal of Mike Shayne made Sleepers West his own.  Snyder’s and Romita’s Batman is a little shaky, as if the Batman from the Owl dramas in the debut of the new 52 isn’t quite all there.  It’s a difficult feeling to describe.  Batman just seems off.  Perhaps because he’s so visible. 

Batman's belief in Gotham is winnable, but the betrayal by the citizenship isn't all that disheartening or surprising since they've been set up to ethically fail.  Honesty and bravery would have been a twist.  Something similar to how the citizenry of Midway gathered around to protect Hawkgirl from the forces of a zealous dictatorship in The Nail.

Red Hood and the Outlaws once again just entertains the hell out of me.  I never was a Jason Todd fan until the new 52 did a complete revamp of the snot.  

Scott Lobdell was behind Jason Todd right from the start, and Scott Snyder happily brought Jason back to the Batman Family fold. Even Batgirl tolerated him.

From Batman Eternal

For this latest version of Red Hood and the Outlaws the McGuffin is a nano-virus that Jason is trying to track down from inside of the bad guy circle.  That’s right.  Jason is taking over the undercover role from Dick Grayson.  Although, he’s not joining some dopey new DC spy organization.  He’s setting up shop with Black Mask.

Lobdell knows that there’s more to Jason Todd than a phone-in contest that led to his being beaten to death by the Joker.  Believe it, or not.  Jason Todd is a pre-Crisis character.  He was the second Robin before the reboot.  He and his parents were acrobats like the flying Grayons.  His parents were originally murdered by Killer Croc.  The reboot linked him strangely enough to Two-Face, and he was introduced in the post-Crisis, as an orphan boosting Batman’s tires. 

That story also introduced Jason's first arch-foe.  The infamous Ma Gunn.  Ma Gunn is one of the few comic book villains that would work in the Adam West version of Batman as well as a Tim Burton styled Batman.  She’s goofy enough to be camp.   She’s quirky enough to be taken seriously.  Cut her a little bit, and she could actually be real.  Ma Gunn runs an orphanage that's a facade for child criminals. 

Black Mask, who comes straight out of recent issues of Catwoman, targeted Ma Gunn after she refused his generous offer of leadership.  The weird thing is that he doesn’t come on quite so hardball with Jason.

I would usually argue that this is an inconsistency, but Black Mask is certifiable.  His mercurial violence toward to his own people actually grants him a strange authenticity.  You may be wondering how Jason meets the other Outlaws.  Well, that would be telling, but I can reveal that by the end of the story, Artemis makes her presence known.

Feel good Vampirella stories are few and far between.  The latest stand-alone by Kate Leth is one of them.  She gets it right.  If you’re going to do this kind of Vampirella tale, it still must be horror related.  The sympathetic, misjudged character possesses acidic blood.  So you know things are going to get messy.  Because of recent Hollywood themes in Leth’s Vampirella the writer also links the unwitting antagonist to a screen luminary.  Leth furthermore displays Vampirella’s acumen and empathy.  She’s not just a gorgeous face on a monster fighting body.

Although stand-alone, the story still deals with motifs from Leth’s Vampirella debut.  Thus, Vee’s agent/friend Juliette and her lover make the scene.  Tristan is on hand with Vee’s gentleman’s gentleman Coleridge getting a mention.  

Starring Sonya Devereaux is an original comic book idea from Nicholas Capetanakis, Todd Livingston and Brendon and Brian Fraim.  The only thing that comes close to Starring Sonja Devereaux is The Black Cat.  However, the Black Cat was a super-hero first and actress/stunt woman Linda Turner second.  

Sonya Devereaux is a modern day scream queen, and the story gives you a glimpse into her life before she hosts her newest film Naked Are the Damned 2.  After the prologue and opening lines, the movie unfolds, and it is brilliantly stupid.

Sonya portrays Camille, a healthy farm girl, who attempts to save the homestead from an evil corporation by getting an honest job in the city.  Fortunately, she’s rescued by a talent scout for a nude modeling agency.

The plot thickens when it turns out Satan heads the corporation and, through the beat of bongos of the damned, he takes control of your will and swells his ranks.

The filmstrip within the panels of the comic book spools with an understanding of just how a B-Movie operates.  The actress can be quite good, but she should be showing off her assets in a halter top.  The plot could have come out of the Grapes of Wrath, but the execution includes lines that make one's jaw drop.  Nudity could be part of the plot, but that plot is likely meant to be a vehicle for nudity no matter what.  

I’ll say it before, and I’ll say again.  Sometimes nudity is an actress apologizing for the crap that you’ve just endured: “Omigosh.  You just sat through Prometheus.  Let me show you my ta-tas.”  There was no nudity in Prometheus.  There damn well should have been.  Full frontal lesbians given the wretchedness.

In any case, the writers and artists know their stuff.  You can have all of these elements, but the truly remarkable B-Movies, the ones that you talk about with your friends, assuming they’re hip enough to appreciate say Alley Cat, don’t just offer T & A, nor just incredulous plotting and wtf dialogue.  No, the truly remarkable films know exactly what they are, and how to go beyond their status by including things like a Voodoo Priestess with an ammo collection.

The creators/writers/artists round off the page count with coming attractions and a printing of the complete original web-comic sequence introducing Sonya Devereux.  It’s just as nutty and wonderfully exploitative.  

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