Tuesday, August 9, 2016

POBB August 3, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
August 3, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag returns for a shorter week of reviews.  Today I look at the latest issues of Aquaman, Batman, Batman and Steed and Peel, James Bond and Wynonna Earp.

Wynonna Earp is not based on the superb television series.  It’s visa-versa, and for the past few months writer/creator Beau Smith has been following in Elmore Leonard’s footsteps ala’ Raylan and Justified.  Smith inched Wynonna Earp closer to the television character while keeping his original intent.  For example, Wynonna Earp is now younger and looks a lot like Melanie Scrofano.  The original was older and blonde.  You can rationalize it all you want.  Blonde Wynonna never stated her age.  She dyed her hair blonde, but Smith is no dummy.  He’s seeing what works from the series with what stories he still wants to write.  As a result, you have a good blend with good narrative artwork by Lora Innes that more or less captures the essence of the cast.

That’s sort of easy to do if you have skills, but what Smith wants to do in this issue of Wynonna Earp is much trickier.  The Revanants have created a time bubble that reflects their original period.  So whatever travels within the bubble instantly transforms to an historic equivalent.

That’s Agent Dolls and Valdez of the Black Badges.  The horses were Dolls’ black ops vehicle.  Smith doesn’t need to explain this.  It’s magic like the spell television’s Wonder Woman employed to change from her Diana Prince guise to her star-spangled uniform.  Dolls and Valdez aim to backup Wynonna in her big showdown with classic Earp nemesis Johnny Ringo.  This is where Smith excels in taking something we’ve all seen before in westerns and with his artist metamorphosing it into something worth reading.

There are rules to gunfighting.  You don’t shoot the messenger if he’s showing his hands.  Even if that messenger happens to be a dead man.

You start a gunfight with pistols in the holsters.  I’ve seen this in really good cowboys before.  Even if you have an iron in your hand, you start with pistols withdrawn.  It’s these authentic touches that set the gunfight between Wynonna Earp and Johnny Ringo apart from others.  Combining that dynamite gunfight with a Django styled surprise from Valdez, Doc Holiday's and Wynonna's chemistry, humor of all sorts at every turn and a legacy craving, and you've got your entertainment for the evening.

After thwarting rogue CIA agents disguised Turkish spies, James Bond secures his charge forensic fiscal investigator Cadence Birdwhistle--a simply awesome Bond Girl name--to The Shimmer, an off the books safe house, with a hotel front that only MI-6 operatives know about.

There Bond puts the moves on Cadence, because he's Bond, James Bond.

You may think that Bond strikes out, but Cadence's surface disdain serves as only amusing foreplay.  True to the texts and the films, Bond scores.  

Many have lodged misogynist accusations against Fleming and his creation Bond.  Horrid sexist writing peppers the novels, but these passages and themes seldom undermine the lion's share of good writing.  

Fleming actually should be credited with promoting some feminist ideals intentional or not.  

Fleming dispensed with the myth of the good girl and the bad girl.  For Fleming, the good girl is simply defined as not an assassin loyal to the cause, out to kill James Bond.  Otherwise, a good girl could want and have sex and not suffer some karmic payback because of these desires.  Although Bond Girls die, these deaths are not punishments for defying Christian ethics.

In the case of Bond films and the newer James Bond novels, it's all in the execution.  The Bond Girl is more overt.  Bond doesn't actually need or want to be the arch-seducer.  In Warren Ellis' Eidolon, Bond merely makes the suggestion of "tension relief" and tries to get closer to Birdwhistle.  That suits the theme of the novels and the movies quite nicely.  Cadence decides to go to bed with Bond.  That also fits with the motifs in all of James Bond, new and old.

The next day, the other component of Bond's success manifests.  Juicy violence.  As Bond and Cadence make their way to LAX, two of the stupidest, unluckiest rogue CIA agents attempt to kill them.  Let's see how that went.

The wonderful means in which Bond ends these saps with his bare hands I'll let you discover for yourselves.  The attempted assassination of Bond in a car from Q Branch is almost anticlimactic in comparison.  Surprisingly, even the nuts and bolts of the plot is riveting.  Bond, M and Tanner put together the whole operation through passages of what should be dry dialogue.  Seriously.  Bond, James Bond.

When last we left Catwoman, she perched on the window sill of Gotham Jail.  Michaela Gough sent Cybernauts to eliminate her, and she actually purred for the heroes to save her.

Which they do.  The second issue of Batman and Steed and Mrs. Peel, is a little more staid than the first.  This is due to a lack of seriousness to the situation and the uncharacteristic sloth of the Cybernauts.  The heroes have ample time to save Catwoman.  They could have stopped for a tea break on the way.  You never feel Catwoman was in that great of danger.  Yes, she's a TV staple, but you can create an illusion of threat.  The Cybernauts however failed to issue it.

Steed's means of saving the felonious feline are perfectly in his milieu, as is the way Batman ultimately defeats the Cybernauts in round one of their battles.  Which is unfortunate because it's preposterous to find hope in a spray can.  Bat-Shark Repellant is actually more reasonable.

Steed and Peel then recount their first encounters with the Cybernauts for those that came in late, but I don't actually believe this was necessary.  The fans know these battles, and for newcomers, the robots themselves are the attraction.  If readers are curious enough witness the first fights, they can rent, download or buy The Avengers episodes.  Alternately they can check out the DVDs from the library.

The mix of high camp a term William Dozier abhorred and droll wit from the actual seriously dramatic Avengers is an often uneasy mix.  It's a wonder Steed and Peel haven't remarked about why Batman talks the way he does.  A marginal purchase.

Amanda Waller is an amoral bitch who should be dropped in the darkest hole imaginable.  If you don't think that now, you will think it after reading Batman.  Waller's actions result in twenty eight deaths of her own men not counting two innocent victims.  She triggers the destruction of a young hero.  She catalyzes the loss of Batman's newest allies, and if Batman’s holding back because she's a woman, he shouldn't.  Waller is barely human, and she believes she's untouchable.  She deserves hospital time, or something ghoulish that involves Batman's weird sense of humor.

We started this new “season” of Aquaman with Black Manta attacking Spindrift, the first Atlantean Embassy bridging land and sea.  The attack was personal.  So was the resolution.  Events escalated when it seemed Atlanteans scuttled The U.S.S. Pontchartrain.  This issue Murk investigates while Arthur cools his heels in jail and Mera tries her hand at diplomacy.

The trope of the hero, especially a superhero, turning himself or herself in to the law is as at least as old as the Lone Ranger.  There’s a reason that this tradition still plays out.  The hero believes that his gesture of good faith will be reciprocated with trust and justice.  Usually, he’s right.  The law finds the culprit.  The hero is freed.  Due process is successful.  Perry Mason wins.  In the real world, the law isn’t so clean, but this handy, dandy chestnut symbolizes the efficacy and the validity of the law.  So it perpetuates.

This time however the hero is wrong when placing himself in custody.  That’s because unlike Superman and Batman, Aquaman has no fans on the surface.  The slaughter aboard the Naval vessel is just the beginning of an intricate plot to frame the Sea King and Atlantis.

That’s Murk, a noble warrior archetype.  Think watery Klingon, and you’ve got Murk.  This is no slight on the character or Dan Abnett’s writing.  Instead, I applaud his shorthand.  Geeks like or respect the spine-headed Klingons from the movies of the original Star Trek universe.  You liken a character to such a being, and everybody knows what that character represents.  Any depth you may give to the character later is sauce for the goose.  

Murk’s investigation comes too late.  Because the U.S. is just itching to start something with Atlantis.  So they go Thunderball.

This is homage used properly.  If you haven't seen Thunderball, do so.  It's one of the best Sean Connery Bonds, and a grand portion of it takes place beneath the waves.  The crescendo involves Bond and Navy Seals battling it out underwater against the villain Emilio Largo's scuba-diving henchmen.  

NEMO appears to have precipitated all of this strife.

Incidentally, NEMO formed two years after the publication of 
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  You clever sly-boots.

Let me reiterate.  Aquaman is damn good.  It’s the book that everybody should be reading.  Abnett’s writing is utterly remarkable.  Here’s why.  Everything I broke down, is predictable.  Up to this point, the plot is linear to a fault and easy to surmise.  The dialogue however just tickles the ear.  The tiny diversions are delightful.  Batman had his family, and so did Aquaman.  Tula, Aquagirl, was one of the "adopted siblings."  She was known primarily as being dead.  Tula died horribly in The Crisis of Infinite Earths.  The new 52 does things differently.

It’s really lovely how the Powers That Be finally started to listen to people referring to DC as Dead Chicks Comics.  Because that’s what they were.  Now, last I looked, Huntress is alive with her legacy intact.  Batgirl is up and running.  Tula not just alive but also entrusted as sub-King.  When the plot’s single twist comes, it’s also delivered by a woman.

Mera was primarily known as Aquaman's wife, and somebody who made solid water thingies.  New 52 Mera is a badass.  A massive badass.  I can divulge all these “spoilers” because I’m sure you can still enjoy Aquaman with this foreknowledge.  That’s how good it is.

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