Monday, October 17, 2016

POBB October 12, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 12, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly comic book review blog, examines the merits of Deathstroke, Red Hood and the Outlaws, The Shield, Southern Cross and Wynonna Earp but first a look at James Franco's remake of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger.

Mother, May I Sleep With Danger is a fairly solid B-Movie focusing on vampires.  That wasn't the original's premise.  James Franco only agreed to remake this potboiler story if given free rein, and Franco decided that this must be a story about a lesbian vampire, one of the kindest in the genre, and the human she falls in love with.  

Leila George

In that respect, Pearl, the vampire, differs strongly from the first lesbian vampire Carmilla.  Carmilla was a predator of women, who does fall in love with a human but nevertheless intends to kill her.  

Emily Meade

Not so Pearl who though accepting her vampiric existence does not particularly like it.  Having the human Leah in love with her allows her to fight to keep her own humanity, but Leah isn't a means to an ends.  Nor is Pearl obsessed with Leah.  Director Franco also rewrote the story, and he cleverly introduces another character that demonstrates the difference.  

The two lead actresses successfully convey the overwhelming, intense power of love.  Other vampires in Franco's story are zombie or traditionally witch like, creatures who prey upon humans.  They have given up their previous lives readily and willingly.  Pearl is different, but they give her an ultimatum.  Turn Leah, or they will.

Direction and writing is smart.  Furthermore Mother May I Sleep With Danger benefits from being mostly free of padding.  Although the film was made for Lifetime, it stands out for being gory--though not in the sense of torture porn--and sensual.  

Fans of the genre will spot several moments that exemplify Franco's study of vampire cinema, and it's very clear that he didn't just look at mainstream vampire films.  You can see that Franco examined Jess Franco's work and some of the more visceral seventies flicks.  At the same time, James Franco and screenwriter Amber Coney says something with this little horror movie.  Franco’s not just demonstrating his own skills.  He and Coney address things like rape, otherness, acceptance and of course love.

So, Deathstroke.  Anybody that regularly reads the Pick of the Brown Bag knows I don't normally purchase Deathstroke.  I don't particularly care about the character.  Batman’s guest appearance explains why I selected this title.

Deathstroke has a weird history.  Marv Wolfman and George Perez created Slade Wilson alias Deathstroke for The New Teen Titans.

In the Teen Titans Deathstroke was a normal guy who became a killer of animals then a killer of men.  This origin of course dates back to that old whack job Count Zaroff from The Most Dangerous Game, maybe even earlier if you count Sebastian Moran from Sherlock Holmes.  Deathstroke is actually a villainous knockoff of Paul Kirk the second Manhunter.

Right down to a healing factor that predates Wolverine’s mutant power.  Slade achieved these abilities through military experimentation.  Translated in New 52 as Team 7.

Originally,  Deathstroke became the main Teen Titans foe because the organization known as Hive used his son Grant in an attempt to kill the Titans.  That’s him in blue up there.  Grant could be hyperkinetic like his father, but at the cost of artificial aging.  So, Grant, already a loser, lickety-split paved the way for the sexier, more successful second Ravager, Deathstroke’s daughter, Rose.

A funny thing happened after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Deathstroke became a semi good guy.   

Deathstroke’s main claim to fame was to kill Gar Logan, Changeling nee Beast Boy.  Events in the Crisis erased that moment.  So only Deathstroke’s introduction was valid, and since at the end of the story, Deathstroke could have simply accepted responsibility, blame Hive and leave the Titans alone, he did this time around.  

Deathstroke in all comic book craziness became a loyal Titan ally and cognizant of Batman's secret identity through his knowledge of Nightwing's alter-ego.

So it's the new 52.  Slade Wilson made his return in Team 7 and tried to briefly assassinate Batman in Dark Knight, but Rebirth Deathstroke is similar to the post-Crisis Deathstroke.  With his daughter Rose, introduced some time at the cusp of the new 52, in tow Slade, makes his way to Gotham City in Christopher Priest's typical episodic narrative.

This isn't a bad story for Deathstroke, and it neatly balances the idea of his being an arch assassin and an occasional protagonist.  He's not exactly an anti-hero because of the presence of Rose, his association with the Black Canary and the fact that he hasn't actually committed any unforgivable crimes against the hero world.  He may have fought Superman before he died, but honestly.  It's Superman.

The reason for the foray becomes apparent, and Priest's version of Batman through Deathstroke's point of view is better than the lion's share of Batman characterization from the post-Crisis.  His Batman fits snugly with the more effective and more empathic Batman of the new 52.  Deathstroke fans will buy this book no matter what, but Batman fans shouldn't pass it up.  Especially if you’re avoiding the siege of the Monster Men.

In Red Hood and the Outlaws, Jason Todd went undercover in Black Mask's gang.  Tasked with recovering a secret weapon, Jason encountered the Amazon Artemis and discovered the weapon was in fact a Superman clone discarded or stolen from Lex Luthor.

Scott Lobdell has made the various Red Hood series remarkably entertaining.  Turning Jason into a low-rent Nightwing but with the training of Batman.  Reveling in his fallibility, and transforming him into an almost private investigator and almost hardboiled.  

The rampant comedy that Lobdell imbues to the title mostly eliminates any meandering melodrama that signified Jason's impending doom back in the nineties.  Red Hood and the Outlaws can still be serious or sweet, but mostly this is the Blackadder of DC comics.  This issue is no different.

I wish I could say the same thing about The Shield.  After two  fantastic debut issues, this third just confused the hell out of me.  Why does the enemy of the Revolution create The Shield?  

To quote “Robot of Sherwood Forest:”

“Why would we create an enemy to fight us? What sense would that make? That would be a terrible idea.” 

“Yes! Yes, it would. Wouldn't it? Yes, that would be a rubbish idea.”

The only way I see The Shield making any sense is if it turns out that the mystery lady with her face covered is actually the Shield time-traveled.  She tricked the ancestor of Walter Chase into imbuing her past self with immortality to preserve her life, not to mention history.  That supposition however is likely wishful thinking, and we’re stuck with some nonsense about the Shield horrible looking in black tracking Russian bikers.  Seriously.  WTF.

Wynonna Earp on the other hand is a stand-alone issue where Wynonna plies her trade as a U.S. Marshall, Black Badge division.  Writer/Creator Beau Smith drops himself into the adventure ala Hitchcock.

With the exquisite art of Chris Evanhuis, Smith builds on the mythology of the Black Badges, straight from the U.S. Marshall playbook.  They’re just as involved in Witness Protection.  Only they happen to be dealing with werewolves.

Smith’s story ties into the overall background of the Wynonna Earp comic book series.  The idea of the monsters using modern tools to commit crimes.  In addition, Smith conceives of some brilliant updates to lycanthropy lore and for television fans, he introduces a popular cast member of the television series to the cast of his book.  Thus drawing Wynonna Earp even closer to Justified and Raylin.  

As always, I’ll be honest.  For the first few pages, Southern Cross wasn’t wowing me.  The summary was necessary, I suppose, but the story just wasn’t moving.  Quite suddenly, in a superbly staged awesome instance, writer Becky Cloonan with her artistic partners Andy Bellanger and Lee Louridge tie together both volumes of Southern Cross.  From that jump start, Cloonan and company leads the reader to internal conflict aboard the Titan rig,   They demonstrate the future’s method for dealing with a working man’s fear and drop another bomb for the cliffhanger.  

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