Tuesday, November 22, 2016

POBB November 16, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 16, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review blog, gives thanks to Aquaman, Batman, Betty and Veronica, The Micronauts, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Wolverine.  First, a review of Ether.

Ether is a new book from Dark Horse by writer Matt Kindt and artist David Rubin.  It introduces a human scientist named Boone who travels to a magical realm called Agartha.

The big fellow is named Glum.  He’s the guardian of the Crossroads, and he’s why this trip to Agartha is a little different than a sore keister.

Before we get to the Mayor’s favor, Boone and Glum stride through a local bazaar, where the reader can enjoy a broad scope of Rubin’s Muppet-like aliens.

The favor is actually straightforward enough.  The Mayor wants Boone to solve the murder of Blaze, essentially the peacekeeper of Agartha.  Kidnt’s story posits a locked room mystery but with “magical” trappings and clue reflective of Rubin’s and his imagination.

Ether’s not a bad book but I couldn’t really get into it.  Boone is hard to take.  He comes across as an arrogant Adam Strange with Glum’s amusing method of transport substituting for the Zeta Beam.  There’s no Alanna.  So there’s no love story, the backbone of Adam Strange’s adventures.  While the art’s pretty, the focus on Boone is just off-putting.  The more interesting characters surround him in a sort of Nightmare Before Christmas motif, but the difference is that Jack Skellington was rich enough in characterization to stand out amongst the “we’re not mean” monsters of Halloween Town.  Boone is just a human, and not exactly one of our best or brightest.  

During IDW's license-fest crossover, the Micronauts traversed the Entropy Cloud and made it to earth, where they were promptly captured and fish-tanked.

It’s the classic kind of thing that scientists do to aliens, friendly or volatile, but some of the scientists on earth are real bastards.

The Federation would never do this kind of thing, and that’s what differentiates the Utopia of Star Trek from everything else.  Starfleet approaches each species as possibly sentient and tries to communicate with them.  They represent humanity’s full potential.  

The humans in The Micronauts exhibit greed, paranoia and hostility, which is a sad judgement and despite recent events not what I believe to be our true nature.  Still, it does make for some good entertainment when Acroyear struts his stuff accompanied by crackling honorable warrior/Klingon dialogue. 

Occasionally though, Acroyear finds something that even he is not big enough to chew on, and he needs a little help from his friends.

There’s more to the escape than meets the eye of course, but no the Transformers have nothing to do with it.  If however you skipped the Revolution crossover, you still won’t feel lost in a strong issue of The Micronauts.

In The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a bizarre, obscure villain named Enigmo inexorably took over the planet.  It was however a quiet takeover.  He has the ability to multiply copies of himself into infinity.  

The most surprising thing about these issues is how writer Ryan North approached the subject.  North first somehow tripped over the short-lived Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation from The Thing where Enigmo debuted.  Thanks, wikipedia.  

Many writers would have used such a tale with such an antagonist as a stopgap story to wedge between something bigger and louder.  North though built this situation up naturally from a Squirrel Girl vacation that seemed to be a typically fun but dismissible done-in-one.  Instead, North ended part one on a cliffhanger and kept writing.  Rather than treat Enigmo as a D-Lister, North considered the consequences of such a power, turning him into a contender against the Avengers, the Defenders, the X-Men, everybody.

While creating chapter after chapter of increasing problems for Squirrel Girl and company, North nevertheless kept the humor high.  Thus, this is another of North’s and cartoonist Erica Henderson's rare but successful multipart comedies with potentially dramatic ramifications.  It's similar in unbalanced tone to Squirrel Girl’s rematch against Doctor Doom.  Ironically, another nut trying to take over the world.

For the conclusion, Squirrel Girl comes up with the idea of a heist, to steal back the planet from Enigmo.  Current Ant-Man Scott Lang a former career criminal intends to disabuse Doreen from the belief that fictional heists work.  He conceives a counter ploy using the rare good Enigmo.  The heist of course falls apart.  Heists always self-clean, even modified ones trying to be realistic.  The solution to the problem in fact rests with science.  A running theme in Squirrel Girl.  North wittily employs a well-known scientific property reader and hilariously distinguishes it from the real world applications via "the miracle exception" perpetuated by James Kaklios in The Physics of Super-Heroes.  It's the perfect punchline to a superb comedy.

The current Wolverine is the clone of the more familiar Hugh Jackman alter-ego.  She bears a lot of his attributes, but genetic meddlers turned her into a killer through different means.  They introduced a pheromone trigger that sends her into Logan’s natural berserker rage.  Last issue, an unknown subject mailed a sample of that trigger to Wolverine as a warning shot across the bow.  Wolverine responded by smartly running away with her miniature clone/sister Gaby into the woods.  Alas, the monsters have money, and soon pheromone was in the air.  A town would soon be dead.  SHIELD was not happy.

This issue deals with the baby-steps of SHIELD’s investigation into what went down and Wolverine’s subsequent escape from SHIELD custody.  All in all, it’s not a spectacular, groundbreaking issue of Wolverine, yet it still has merit.

Nick Fury is in charge of SHIELD, and he’s not willing to assume Wolverine just killed the town for fun.  There’s no bad writing trope of clean slate here.  He’s aware of Wolverine.  He’s read reports about her and studied her history.  He doesn’t believe a superhero just wakes up one day and says “Screw it.  I’m a villain now.”

Writer Tom Taylor respects Fury’s intelligence.  As a result, we get a smarter story.  The dominoes still fall in a way that feeds into expected drama, but nobody is insulted to excuse the needs of that drama.

Notice that Fury knowing Wolverine's healing factor tries to incapacitate Laura not kill her.  He’s a good enough marksman to hit her in the head, but he doesn’t.  That probably wouldn’t be fatal by the by, but a headshot would put Wolverine down for an hour or two.  Wolverines are probably the only science fiction creation that can laugh at Xander Harris’ advice to “Kill the head.”

Upon escape, Wolverine heads back to the cabin because nobody really knows that location.  She reconnects with Gaby and tries to do the mature, responsible thing that never works in fiction.

Taylor wisely eliminates this cliche through logic and characterization.  At the same time, he precludes the trap of having a character talk to themselves for the rest of the chase/manhunt, and includes a welcome spot of humorous imagery for Nik Virella to carry out.

On the surface Wolverine is a typical example of the misunderstood hero escapes plot line, but Wolverine is anything but typical and well worth your time.

When last we left the gang at Riverdale, Betty Cooper intended to save Pops’ Malt Shop from extinction.  Veronica Lodge on the other hand decided to throw out with her pals.  Her father is in fact behind the end of Pops.  The whole affair though sinks deeper.  Betty and Veronica while friends are also rivals, and moments such as big business taking over the little guy's station emphasize their frequent oil and water relationship.

Betty and Veronica is unbelievably beautiful thanks to Adam Hughes, which should no longer be considered a name and instead a descriptive of artwork that doesn’t have a right to be so utterly gorgeous.  It would work something like this.  Oh, wow.  I’ve never seen a sketch of a girl looking so Adam Hughes.

Hughes’ illustration isn’t just breathtaking.  His visual narrative structure is impeccable.  It enhances humor in an aesthetic museum quality good girl style.

That’s a legato.  Each panel represents a moment of time as well as an instant of emotion.  The flow of the scene leaves the reader in awe of Veronica’s machinations and her snark.  Seen in Betty’s POV, the sequence is filled with power and horror.

Alcoholic snowballs aren’t the only aces up Ms. Lodge’s sleeve.  The dark haired vixen draws upon a gamut of vices, which though brought to realistic life are none the less Archie styled squeaky clean.

Authenticity of anatomy usually translates into a plausible, common range of motion, but Hughes creates comedy from contrast.  He still operates within a comic strip exaggeration despite the characters now bearing extraordinary depth and validity.

You probably wouldn’t see a woman however young and limber hop up onto her knees on a countertop, and that’s one of the many elements that makes Betty and Veronica laugh out loud funny.

From the very start of Rebirth, writer Tom King related one story.  The advent and demise of Gotham and Gotham Girl, characters he created at a time when Legionnaires and Watchmen were charging up the DC Universe for a payoff far away from now.  The backdrop helped ground the optimistic heroes’ creation.  You couldn’t help think that they were part of the overall plot.  

Subsequent issues showed that Gotham and Gotham Girl, a brother and sister duo, manifested out of gratitude toward the Batman.  They were not Legion nor Watchmen.  They were just here to help Batman, to protect the city.  Once again, Batman had allies, but this would be brief.

Unbeknownst to the trio of heroes, Amanda Waller engaged the services of Hugo Strange and the Psycho Pirate.  Both villains escaped and went to Gotham to cause havoc.  Waller decided to erase her mistake by ending Gotham City.  Instead, she catalyzed the death of Batman's young hero compatriot and the insanity of Gotham Girl, a consequence of being exposed to the Psycho Pirate’s Medusa Mask.

Batman saw only one option.  Find the Psycho Pirate and the Medusa Mask.  Reverse Gotham Girl’s condition.  The trouble is that Strange sold the Psycho Pirate to Bane.  So, Batman being Batman dealt with the devil to form his own Suicide Squad.

This newest arc in which King explores the relationship between Catwoman and Batman in fact streams straight and true from his previous stories.  The Suicide Squad factor endangered Batman.  Gotham and Gotham Girl appear to save him.  The Suicide Squad factor blows back in Gotham and Gotham Girl’s faces.  Batman confronts Amanda Waller.  To save Gotham Girl, Batman lead a new Suicide Squad to Santa Prisca.  It all just rolls from the same source.  I’ll still be keeping quiet about what actually happens in the book, but suffice to say.  This story redefines the relationship between Batman and Catwoman.  

Catwoman began as an expert, but simple, jewel thief.  Unlike Batman’s other rogues, Catwoman was merely greedy and of course relished the thrill of glamorized crime.  She followed in the shadow of gentleman thieves like Raffles, Arsene Lupin and Flambeau, defying that old chestnut about honor.

Batman #2 Summer of 1940

Catwoman adhered to a moral code of conduct for the lion’s share of her history.  In the waning days of the Bronze Age, Catwoman actually reformed and became romantically involved with Bruce Wayne.  She eventually even learned Batman’s secret identity.

Each new universe produced a new life for Catwoman.  The new 52 retained Selina Kyle’s criminal past and her sense of decency, but the Powers That Be dispensed with the idea that Batman and Catwoman could not be involved.  In fact, in the new 52, they are younger but in contrast much more mature on-again-off-again lovers.  The fact that Catwoman is a criminal doesn’t faze Batman at all.  That’s because Batman is far more interested in pursuing murderers and city/world destroyers not somebody that steals from the one percent and frequently commits crime against criminals.

Either the editors of the Batman books or Tom King himself conjectured a new beginning for Catwoman that would restore the schism between Batman and Selina.  Batman and Catwoman are clearly in love.  The heat is palpable from Mikel Janin’s terrific artwork, but there’s a new obstacle in the way of a relationship, and Batman must obey the law.  Whereas it was perfectly plausible that Batman, a vigilante, would let a thief that caused no real harm go.  King places Batman in an impossible predicament.

That dilemma dictates Selina’s descent into a betrayal of Batman and her teammates.  Either that, or this is one of the cagiest ruses I’ve ever read.  Both possibilities make Batman a must buy.

NEMO, a very old criminal organization that controls the black market seas, made war with Aquaman by framing Atlantis for the slaughter of seamen from U.S. shipsThe setup couldn’t have come at a worst time.  Aquaman hoped to use embassies like Spindrift to open up a line of formal communication with the surface world.  The Sea King instead turns himself in.  Mera decides enough is enough.  She breaks her husband free, and Aquaman becomes a fugitive.  Mera not being remotely human is just an otherworldly criminal.  Things get so heated that the U.S. government engages the more receptive to authority Superman from another universe to stop him, but a show of Atlantean Force buys Aquaman some time to clear his and Atlantis’ name.

On the flip side of the coin, Black Manta engages a hostile takeover of NEMO.  He decides to launch a Shaggy Man attack against Amnesty Bay, Aquaman’s home, but things don’t go as planned.

The attack sends Aquaman to the hospital, and that should have given Black Manta a happy.  Except he seemed to reverse Aquaman's fortune.  For now it would be a pr disaster to run our scaled hero down.  So, the government backs off, and Aquaman basks in the glow of Amnesty Bay’s love for their hometown hero.  They’re even willing to tolerate the ever personable Murk.

Mera just learned of Aquaman’s plight last issue, and in this issue, she is concerned and pissed.  In natural sounding dialogue she chastises her consort and demonstrates her love for him.

At the same time, she voices less enthusiasm in marrying Arthur because of the Widowhood, a weirdo gyno-cult from Atlantis that foresaw the Kingdom’s downfall should Aquaman marry the Xebel Mera.  Yeah, there’s racism involved.  Don’t say there’s not.

This kind-of epilogue issue is nevertheless pretty spectacular.  There’s a resurgence of Aquaman’s strength in the eyes of the people, and the reaffirmation of his status in the Justice League.

Because it's Barry :)

At the same time, Aquaman gets closer to NEMO, but too late the hero, the story ends on a magnificent splash of surprising strategic violence perpetrated by Black Manta and his group.  

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