Pick of the Brown Bag
October 5, 2016
This week in the Pick of the Brown Bag I review All-New Wolverine, Aquaman, Batman and Steed and Mrs. Peel, Big Trouble in Little China/Escape from New York, Future Quest, Green Lanterns, Henchgirl, James Bond and the new book Romulus. I’ll also have a few words about Rough Riders. First, my thoughts on Frequency.
Being a fan of the cult film Frequency I intended to skip the television show. That initial decision changed after I watched the new Star Trek films. If new Star Trek could be that good while not betraying the original, why not Frequency? I still wasn't going to prioritize the series, but yes, I would watch it should I accidentally see it. Fall into it so to speak.
The movie starring Jim Caviziel and Dennis Quaid is one of those perfect things. A son who becomes a cop contacts his father a firefighter who died years ago.
The son initiates contact through a ham radio owned by his father that in Twilight Zone/Flash fashion becomes charged in a lightning storm.
Via continued conversations, the son changes time and saves his father's life. However, unintended consequences arise that threaten his mother.
The television series doesn't change the premise of film. Gender and occupation is the biggest alteration. Instead of a son, a daughter played by Peyton List that's still a cop makes the connection with a father who is also a cop portrayed by Riley Smith.
In watching the pilot, I intended not to be swayed by the story. Whatever tiny amendments, I knew the story. Since this is a time travel tale, the film is actually dense enough to have its own mythology despite the running time. For example, baseball plays an important part in Frequency.
The television series explores that and much more, but so what? It’s a television copy of Frequency, isn’t it? Maybe, but the series boasts extraordinary acting. I was moved not because of the story, but because of the emotional impetus the cast conveyed, and because of that, I’m sold.
Big Trouble in Little China meets Escape from New York. In other words, Jack Burton encounters Snake Plissken. How can such a book with such a meeting possibly be bad?
The answer is that it can’t. This inspired team-up by Greg Pak is a hoot from the first to the last page. Artist Daniel Bayliss with his beefy illustrations of Kurt Russell enhances the comedy of the whole shebang. Kudos go to Pak and Bayliss for their characterization of the stars, in dialogue and temperament as well as their body language. Colorist Triona Farrell who wisely keeps everything vivid and futuristic neon must also be commended. Perfect for fans of either films.
In James Bond, James ends several enemy agents while spryly attempting to save his own life. He next meets a woman who could turn out to be a valuable ally or dangerous foe. M calls a meeting with his opposite number in MI-5 and the Intelligence Services Commissioner. He believes he’s prepared for anything, but the dirty spies are ready for everything, except Moneypenny.
Ian Fleming never envisioned Miss Moneypenny as anything more than M’s secretary. A true background character. The films built on Moneypenny’s character, adding flirtation between she and James, as well as technical skills until finally in Die Another Day, Moneypenny can be seen firing a gun in a VR simulation, implying that she is a trained agent for MI-6, in the same way that some CSIs are actual police officers.
Oh, and Moneypenny happens to be black this time around.
Warren Ellis and Jason Masters put that supposition into deadly effect. Moneypenny’s vigor exemplifies Ellis as a masterful, experienced writer. He knows that sometimes you’ve got to explain things. Sometimes the hero can’t always do something spectacular. So without this crutch, Ellis instead spotlights Moneypenny's lethality. He thus takes the audience by surprise and livens up a potentially drag of an issue.
Batman Steed and Mrs. Peel entertains with Ian Edginton’s spot-on dialogue for Steed and Mrs. Peel.
Edginton also gains points for spotting Batman’s particular weakness for the fairer sex; one of the few stark differences between the 1960s Batman and all the other period incarnations. The moment furthermore allows Emma to show off her psychological skills, infrequently employed in The Avengers.
In addition to these spot-on characterizations Edginton brings to bear an updated Cybernaut for a superbly choreographed dog fight by artist Michael Dow Smith. Given the camp nature of Batman Dow Smith could have changed the look of the Cybernauts. Instead, he makes the smart choice not to alter their appearance, even while attempting to murder our heroes in the air. There’s something inherently creepy and weird in these emotionless monsters, wearing sensible clothing doing the superhuman. The contrast generates more threat.
This team-up started with Michaela Gough stealing the White Star Diamond and enlisting Lord Ffogg who wanted revenge against the Dynamic Duo. Edginton picks up these threads in the second half where we see the Adam West version of a famous Batman persona visit Britannia and Mr. Freeze enter the fray. All of these twists surprisingly makes sense and turn what could have been silly into an authentic detective caper.
In Aquaman Dan Abnett splits the story into two. Mera meets a strange cult of women that have wormed their way into Atlantean society.
Meanwhile Aquaman with his Atlantean “Round Table” fights an old Justice League foe unleashed by Black Manta and NEMO.
If you’re wondering when Arthur encountered this enemy, with respect to the brevity of the new 52, there’s about a two year gap between the Justice League’s first story and its second story. That's plenty of time to give them an abbreviated history together facing classic enemies.
Abnett just does his usual great job with Aquaman. Meaning, it’s one of the few DC Comics worth reading. Scott Eaton’s art speaks for the ferocity of the battle. Abnett dialogue’s personae and evolves humor from Mera’s tutelage. Result, Aquaman enjoyment.
Green Lanterns, plural, delivers the promise of the previous issue. Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz go out trick-or-treating with young Farid.
This is the kind of tonic Green Lanterns needed. A sweet little Halloween story where writer Sam Humphries can flesh out the characters of his two ring-bearers.
Everything about this issue just feels right. The Lanterns are fighting Dominators. Protecting a Guardian, and all of this occurs on earth, like Simon Baz states. He and Jessica don’t come off as overblown egomaniacs, nor hardened cops. They’re young, exuberant and buckle swash with green. Awesome.
All-New Wolverine opens with a startling reveal then backtracks to explain the how. I’m not sure I’m buying the sell, to be honest. Writer Tom Taylor successfully tricked the reader before. However, Taylor explains with artist Nik Virella’s orchestration that this tragedy is in Wolverine’s purview, and she could not necessarily be held accountable. Yet, I smell a rat. The story proper begins innocently enough.
The package Wolverine opens makes her want to leave even more. The contents ties into Wolverine’s history, and I’m not altogether familiar with those particulars since Laura only first attracted my attention in Avengers Academy. So, I appreciated Taylor’s and Virella’s walk down memory lane. If you’ve been a fan of Laura since—ah—NYX I think it was called, then maybe you’ll find this all tedious. In any case, it’s beautifully drawn. Virella’s no frills style provides for an attractive, comprehensible visual narrative.
Back in the present, young Gabby who is not dead questions the whole vacation location, and you really can’t help but appreciate her observations.
Gabby is correct. A slew of horror films start out with idiots going to a cabin in the woods, and there are only a handful of good ones. If you notice a theme in this month’s female lead comic books you’re not wrong. Squirrel Girl also took her best friend to a cabin in the woods. However, Laura’s cabin supposedly packs all the amenities. Nothing depresses me more when I see a group of idiots going to a cabin in the woods only to find their phones don't work. These modern conveniences won’t matter, for whomever sent Laura a mysterious package in the mail has beaucoup bucks.
This leads to the question of why? Prank. Revenge, or Civil War. Tune in next issue for the answers. Same snikt time. Same snikt channel.
Bryan HIll’s new book Romulus combines conspiracy theory with ancient warrior order, but it does so in a refreshing way. The conspiracy theory is nothing special. A secret society really runs operations on the planet. The way they do it however is inventive.
Hill imagines an legacy of warrior women all based on an untapped source of Roman mythology. Their whole culture, dialogue and action are based upon this particular myth. Hill makes this population simultaneously alien and easy to understand.
The dialogue is like that throughout the book. Terse. Strong. Bellicose. The mother Axis and daughter Ashlar, go about killing for the Order that pulls the strings, but things change in a pivotal moment. Suddenly, the Order gains two enemies. Again, the narrative unfolds with few words.
The economy of dialogue and verbiage means that the art must carry a lot of the gravitas that Hill is trying to convey. Fortunately, he chose Nelson Blake as his partner. The art in Romulus is clean and frenetic.
As you can see, it’s also evocative and symbolic in areas where it needs to be. The entire picture creates a tapestry of pure art where the illustration isn’t just a blow-by-blow description but something intangible and sensory as well.
Henchgirl began as a straightforward send-up of super heroes and super villains. The story always centered around Mary, and her penchant for low level crime. She wan’t really evil just bad and greedy with little options available.
Kristen Gudsnuk’s creation got stranger and stranger with each issue. She introduced a hero known as the Mannequin, which created a nice counterbalance/conscience. Then she turned a supporting cast member into a girl that can produce living carrots. Wtf? Right? Actually, she fit into this weird cast. Japanese inspired heroine. Masked savior. Crazy maid fencer.
The mini-epic only lost its way with a dubious alien invasion, but it picked right up again with the villainous Monsieur Butterfly using supernatural or superscience means to turn Mary completely evil. Mary knew something was wrong, but she couldn’t tell what. She used time travel to set things right, but ran smack into the “Sound of Thunder.”
This issue ties up everything, with several smart surprises. For example, Gudsnuk reveals the identity of the masked stranger that saved Mary’s life. Perfect sense.
Mannequin came out of Henchgirl extremely worse for wear, indicating that not every good deed gets rewarded. Mannequin alias Fred attempted to bring Mary back from the dark side on numerous occasions. He just didn’t know he was dealing with forces beyond psychology. In one of the most moving moments Mary pieced Fred back together, and Fred took on a new identity providing the means to time travel.
The Sailor Moon cosplayer gains an unwitting pivotal role in Mary's story. Like the best, Henchgirl places the solution, the cinch pin, right in front of your face the entire time and banks on the idea of ignoring the character who’s been foreshadowing the conclusion all along. The art's cartoon-like with a certain underground styled crudeness to the lines. This belies complex plotting and strange twists that may peak your interest as it did mine.
Split into two Future Quest first deals with the rebirth of a hero. The Quests team up with Dino Boy and Ug to discover the mysteries of Mightor.
I love how Doc Shaner illustrates Ug. Cavemen have always been quite dull to me, but Shaner infuses rare life into the atypical primitive. Parker and Shaner don’t dwell on the usual attributes of the Caveman, savagery and strength. They instead study Ug’s inspiration. That heroism is infectious, and Ug as a result comes off as a more successful Bibbo to Mightor's Superman.
Before long the Quest Family runs into FEAR Agents, amongst them an old frenemy and numerous beasts from humankind’s past. This leads to a call for Birdman and also a spectacular renewal in between Pterodactyl fighting.
The second story where Parker is joined by former Batman Beyond artist Craig Rousseau reintroduces The Impossibles. I find it amusing that Rousseau illustrates the Impossibles to fit with the rest of Future Quest. That is. The Impossibles of the cartoon show looked like this.
Rousseau who typically adapts to the model of the series grants them greater visual verisimilitude. So they look like this.
Parker doesn’t abandon the singing Impossibles disguise, but he adds a Hollywood motif, ties them into new winning character Deva’s agency, creates a comic book styled origin for them and uses that beginning to diversify their ranks.
Last but not least Rough Riders’ visual appeal hasn’t lessened, but it’s difficult to become involved in what’s essentially Teddy Roosevelt’s alien-induced fantasy. Roosevelt critiques his fellow Rough Riders, and some of that is interesting, but it’s all made up. It’s in his head. So none of what he thinks or feels about them actually means beans. Still Pat Olliffe. So it's optically arresting.