Wednesday, August 3, 2016

POBB July 27, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 27, 2016
Ray Tate

Good morning.  Your mission should you decide to accept is to read the Pick of the Brown Bag’s reviews of Batgirl, Future Quest, Micronauts, The Mighty Thor, Nightwing, Rom, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Spider-Gwen, The Titans, Tomb Raider and the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  I’ll also have a review of Star Trek Beyond.  As always should you decide not to undertake the blog mission, my reviews can be found condensed on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag. At least they will be by Thursday.

I’m beginning to wonder if the Watchmen are as skittish as Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog’s Day.  Rebirth appeared to propose that the Watchmen were interested in exterminating the DCU heroes.  To counter the capricious whim, the Legion seemed to be operating in the twenty-first century.  However, the promise of these two groups ever seeing their shadows dwindles with each new issue of a DC comic book supposedly tying into Rebirth.  I mean what exactly is the plan?  

I thought I had a grasp of what’s going in Batman, but it turns out that Hugo Strange with the blessing of Amanda Waller is behind the schemes that endangered Batman’s life.  Gotham and Gotham Girl are not Legionnaires, and their appearance is mere happenstance.  Surely, then the Titans will not fail to introduce Watchmen shenanigans.  After all, the return of Wally West served as a harbinger of Batman finding the infamous bloodied smiley button signifying the Watchmen, but now this issue of The Titans is shaking its head no.

The story reveals who it was that displaced Wally West out of time and mucked with the memories of the Titans.  The villain of the piece has nothing to do with the Watchmen, unless they’re using him and the other miscreants of the DCU for their own purposes.  I feel however that I’m clutching at straws.

Putting aside the overall “tapestry” that may or may not involve the Watchmen, The Titans is actually pretty entertaining.  That can entirely be attributed to the camaraderie of the team and the fuzzy memories that only allow for a sort of empathic link between the heroes.  They still don’t know each other.  Not really.  They react instinctively.

Case in point.  The Finches reintroduced Donna as a homunculus.  Because I’m not as mean as some people say, I’ll not repost the graphic that made fan-boys shudder.  Anyway.  Donna is relatively young.  Her reactions are young.  She’s also awkward.  She literally just emerged from the magic stewpot.

This is not to say that Donna is stupid.  She’s instead free of the onus that her post-Crisis self experienced.  Rid of Terry Long, one of the top ten worst characters ever created.  Still finding out about the world as a newborn might.  Donna in fact exhibits cleverness and puckishness.

Her former personality has been somehow grafted onto her original new 52 incarnation.  The Donna of the now isn’t the same Donna of then.  The Donna of the now benefits from the distilled personality of the then Donna.

The reintroduction of Arsenal’s drug habit is also a new/old thing.  Everybody and her cat is aware of DC’s attempt to be relevant in the seventies.  This meant that Roy Harper had to become a neglected sidekick of Green Arrow and a drug user.  Judging from the infamous cover.  Heroin.  Horse.  The hard stuff.

The new 52 wiped it out.  The Powers That Be still made Roy an addict, but he was an alcoholic.  He never had even met Green Arrow, and this revelation about addiction—something the Titans knew about then—is a whole cloth reprisal of the neoclassic Roy Harper.

What I’m seeing in the Titans is a picking and choosing quality that one might witness in a Titans movie.  I don’t know how much freedom Dan Abnett had when writing The Titans, but Abnett is opting for what he likes, or rather what makes for an interesting Titans story.

Cyborg is now forever associated with the Justice League.  Not a new thing.  Cyborg's induction actually happened years ago in The Super-Friends.  So, Abnett appears to be just disregarding the entire New Teen Titans run as something no longer tenable.  That’s probably a good idea.  Geoff Johns already reintroduced the Doom Patrol in Justice League, and the Titans inherited a cadre of Doom Patrol villains.  

It’s the pre-Crisis Teen Titans history that actually now appears valid, but again, these Titans are new 52 personae.  They are still detached from the history of the then Titans.  They’re rather witnessing the nuts and bolts second hand but feeling the emotions first hand.

Rebirth Nightwing on the other hand is just another Nightwing/Grayson book.  It doesn’t have the same mystery at the center of the Tootsie Pop like Titans.  Writer Tim Seeley instead takes the reader on a tour of all the things that make up Nightwing.

When Nightwing first arrives on the scene, he interferes with a Kobra assassination attempt and speaks these at first intriguing phrases.

I say at first because the reason behind the phrase is apt to make you roll your eyes like I did.  Everybody else thinks that Nightwing works best as a daylight superhero.  Tim Seeley disagrees.  He believes Nightwing works best as a superhero Wiseguy.  Although I disagree with Seeley, I can’t begrudge his insistence or zeal.  

Instead of cobbled together spy agency Spyral, Nightwing now serves the Parlaiment of Owls, or does he…

No, he doesn’t.  I cannot support the means of Seeley’s scripts—that Nightwing is a defacto masked James Bond—I do however support his ends.  The new 52 closeness of Batman and his son Nightwing, his relationship with the “deceased” Superman, as well as the complete muckery of any potential relationship with Batgirl.

See as long as Nightwing’s playing undercover keeps these two “star-crossed lovers” apart I’m happy.  I’ve never been a Nightwing/Batgirl shipper.  When I grew up, Batgirl was a young adult with a phD in Library Science.  Robin was still in college and dating a girl his own age named Lori Elton.  This didn't stop him having a thing for Donna Troy and Duella Dent.  Batgirl justifiably didn’t take his Mrs. Robinson crush seriously.  If she were a different person, she might have used him for sex for a night or two, but no matter what.  She was out of his league.  

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey reintroduced Batgirl to this Rebirth chicanery, but Hope Larson does a better job than the Bensons.  Larson cleanly breaks Batgirl from the Fletcher/Stewart reboot without scorching the earth behind her.  

Batgirl is simply on vacation.  This is Babs enjoying her mobility to trek through Asia.  Not on a mission or on an investigation.  Just pure hedonism.  It’s actually quite a lovely thought.

Now, Babs isn’t one to just pick up a guy.  The fellow accompanying her at the bar is the old friend that we’ve never heard of until now, but that’s a trope everybody uses.  So, I’m not going to balk indignantly.  Instead, Kai is a welcome reprieve. 

I’d rather digest the childhood friend from nowhere than the umpteenth reminder that Babs’ only history is apparently Oracle, not the thirty plus years beforehand, or the return to letter imperfect Killing Joke present in the Bensons' Birds of Prey.  

Of course, heroes from any medium or genre seldom get to enjoy a  full vacation.

An enforcer attacks Kai, and Batgirl goes into action.  Japan has it’s own protector.

Hope Larson’s and Raphael Albuquerque’s Fruit Bat is a new creation, and they’ve put some thought into her.  They give her a history summarized in a snatch of dialogue.  In a surprising scene, they demonstrate that age is no barrier for a superhero who studied the martial arts.  The name alone would immediately attract Babs’ attention.  The obscurity creates at once another brilliant moment and a personal moment for Batgirl and gives her a reason to seek out the Fruit Bat purely for academic reasons.

I love classic Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  The space Hawks were in my opinion a pinnacle of comic book achievement both in writing by Gardner Fox and artwork first by Joe Kubert, next Murphy Anderson followed by Carmine Infantino.  The premise itself was pure sci-fi pulp gold. 

After landing on earth in pursuit of Byth, Katar and Shayera behave as any police officers would.  They contact local authorities, in this case Police Commissioner Emmett, and explain the situation.  Because Byth is a shape-shifter, Katar and Shayera believe the case will require a nigh permanent stay on earth.  For that reason, Emmett sets them up as Director and Assistant at the Midway Museum.  There, they meet Mavis Trent.

Mavis wants to jump Katar’s bones, and Shay would like to break Mavis’.  Mavis’ intent to dissolve Carter’s and Shay’s marriage continues throughout the space Hawks’ adventures.  It’s a particularly unusual subplot for a comic book and adds a hint of spice and maturity to what many would say was kids’ stuff. 

The duplicitous Mavis Trent returns albeit in a all-ages friendly version in Scooby-Doo Team-Up.

Or maybe not.  Since Hawkman and Hawkgirl do not don their human guises, Mavis’ desires never manifest.  In any case, writer Sholly Fisch takes the reader on a tour of Hawkman’s and Hawkgirl’s world.  He treats the characters with his usual respect, and he subtly emphasizes Shay’s and Katar’s married camaraderie.

Hawkgirl became more prominent a character thanks to Bruce Timm’s Justice League.  Their reasoning behind changes in the character and the elimination of a Hawkman made perfect sense.  That version of Hawkgirl is my favorite.  

However, it’s nice to see a writer capable of returning Hawkman to his former glory without undermining Hawkgirl, or relying upon reincarnation as the end-all-be-all-of continuity.  Although Fisch mentions the modern idea of the space Hawks being reincarnates of the Golden Age duo, as well as several other barely hawk-related characters, he doesn’t harp on the whole damn thing.  Instead, it’s all about the mystery and the way a perfectly rational villain can trick the protagonists into thinking something supernatural is going on.

A terrific, terrified Velma from artist Dario Brizuela

Having shown the Mole Man a modicum of respect and human decency, Squirrel Girl now finds herself the object of his affections.  Love blooms in this issue of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

So who are lovely couple.  Is it Squirrel Girl and the Mole Man?

For the Greater Good? Nope.  Is it Nancy and Squirrel Girl?

Ever so slight possibility, but no.  I’ve got to give props to the Mole Man for recognizing the LGBT community.  There's a whole bunch of wastes of skin in government that wish to expunge the rights the LGBTs already have let alone enact more.

Could it be Aunt May? You’ve got to admit that they’re contemporaries.  It’s a wonder why nobody’s ever thought to pair biddy and misanthrope before.  Plus you would get a jealous ex Doctor Octopus versus the Mole Man in the next issue.  Unless Aunt May is Sally Field or Marisa Tomei, then it’s just creepy.

Could it be somebody in a make-out session I won’t post because then you wouldn’t be able to unsee it either?  Oh, and it’s not Tigra.  This isn’t a personal peccadillo.  It’s a WTF Unbeatable Squirrel Girl!

Apart from that terrible moment Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is funny, thoughtful and not to miss.  Though you may want to close your eyes and turn the page before the Mole Man gets busy.

The other Marvelous ladies of the week fair well enough but not in any outstanding way.  Roz Solomon and Thor search for Roxxon’s Ice Station Prime.  Meanwhile Oubliette Midas, the crazy looking chick on the cover, tortures Dario Agger.  The plot sets up a reason why Thor must rescue Dario Agger, and anybody with a jones to see Silver Samurai tangle with the Mighty Thor will be happy. Russell Dautterman’s artwork is the main reason to buy this issue of The Mighty Thor.

Spider-Gwen adjusts to her dependency on the power chargers that manly Jessica Drew of earth whatever gave to her.  I really hate this crossover consequence, and I hope Gwen regains her abilities soon.  Jason Latour makes the most of these ramifications.  He reinforces the bond between Gwen and her father.  The Gwendyverse Kraven shows up, and Aunt May appears in a spectacular way to save the day and demonstrate she no longer blames Spider-Gwen for Peter Parker’s death.

Tomb Raider ends darkly but strongly in a hostage exchange that goes wrong and grants Lara the opportunity to live up to her video game roots.  She next duel the bad guy on an archetypal precipice.  Some may feel that the man-save goes against the feminist credo inherent in a character like Tomb Raider, but she saved him first.  So in a way, she catalyzes her own rescue.

Flying out of Free Comic Book Day, the full issue of Rom incorporates that supercool reboot and relates a second full-length tale brimming with the excitement and Dire Wraith smoldering that you’ve come to expect.

The story however isn’t science fiction.  It’s fantasy.  Though Rom still is a science fiction based cyborg, the Wraiths are magical creatures.  In “Earthfall” Rom determines just how much the Wraiths infiltrated the earth and finds a new friend on the way.  Meanwhile, strange things happen to one of the officers infected by the Wraiths, and in one of the more bizarre moments a trio of guest stars indicate that the pace crackle like lightning.

If you’re nuts about Baron Karza, then this issue of The Micronauts is for you.  The good Baron waxes poetic about his halcyon days when he was Minister of Defense, protecting the Emperor from who knows what, including a covetous prince.  For me, Baron Karza always worked fine as iconic villain influenced visually by Dark Vader.  I didn’t need him fleshed out, and the skewed memories turn him into a virtual hero.  Makes sense.  In most personal stories, the bard is the hero.  The cover is filled with time travelers, but they serve only as a McGuffin.  Whatever they told the covetous prince dies with him.  You can see his end coming a mile away.  So, no it’s not a spoiler.  The most intriguing thing about the issue of the Micronauts occurs at the very end where Karza learns of an unsettling portent.

Future Quest takes a few steps back to show how Birdman partnered with tasty new character Deva Sumadi.  The story ties into the main tale of The Quests finding pieces of a space devourer that nearly killed Space Ghost, but there’s still an odd inventory issue feel to the whole exercise.  However, it’s an inventory issue illustrated by Steve Rude.  So, it’s the most gorgeous inventory issue you’re likely to see.

In reality two short stories, loosely connected to the gist, Future Quest next examines the origin of the Herculoids.  Aaron Lopresti handles the artwork.  Lopresti is known for being a good girl artist in the vein of Adam Hughes.  So, it’s interesting to see him tone it down a tad.

Tarra is still beautiful, of course, but she’s on-model.  Likewise for the rest of the cast.  Lopresti proves himself to be not just a good girl artist but an overall skilled illustrator.  We see examples of muscle men courtesy of Zandor, monsters courtesy of Igoo and company, children and enemy robots.

The origin itself neatly fits all the facts seen on the cartoon.  Writer Jeff Parker answers the question of why Zandor, Tarra and Dorno are the only humans on their planet and how they may have allied themselves with the alien species known as the Herculoids.  He explains why the trio appear to be more intelligent than their primitive lifestyles would allow and much more.

The Saturday Afternoon Matinee

This is my first new Star Trek film.  I didn’t know what J.J. Abrams and company were going to do in the first film.  I feared for the Star Trek I grew up on, but I later learned that this Star Trek occurred in alternate timeline, and my fears were unfounded.  Still I kept away.  Justin Lin made all the difference.  His treatment of the fans.  His brokering a deal with the studios to knock off the law suits against the fans just made me feel warmly about the whole franchise.  I had to thank them by seeing Star Trek Beyond.  I’m glad I did.

The first new Star Trek that flies solo without relying on the untouched classic continuity is entertaining, earnest in recapitulating Gene Roddenberry’s credos and superbly acted.  The story allows for a lot of action, and although I’m psychologically blocked in accepting the cast as the characters they represent, that’s my problem, not a problem with the actors.  The figures are nevertheless Federation, and that’s enough for me.  The story introduces a new kickass female alien and deals with a lot of starship protocols.  The whole Sulu is gay issue is a non-issue, and his legacy is preserved.  Star Trek Beyond was so fun that it made me decide to go back and review the first two films.  Well done. 

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