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.

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