Monday, November 28, 2016

POBB November 23, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 23, 2016
Ray Tate

Loosen your belt and relax with the latest issue of the Pick of the Brown Bag.  I’m Ray Tate, and in this blog, I review the best and worst comic books.  This week it’s time for critiques of Batgirl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Futurama, The Mighty Thor, Scooby-Doo Team-up, Ultimates, Wonder Woman and Wynonna Earp: Legends.

Civil War screwed up a lot of comics.  This includes The Ultimates.  After writer Al Ewing tantalized the reader with a Galactus cured of his hunger, turned cosmic gumshoe and Life-Bringer, crap from the Civil War ensued.  I couldn’t have cared less.  Ewing and company must have realized what happened.  Because check out what they’re promising for the following year of The Ultimates.

You don’t promise a year’s worth of stories dealing solely with The Ultimates and their missions unless you’re cognizant about how many readers were lost to The Civil War, nor do you pick up where you left off before The Big Stupid Event Occurred.

How can we not know who or what bound Eternity?  If Ewing thought that the Civil War was actually worthy of Ultimates reader interest, he would have revealed these secrets during the last volume of The Ultimates.  Instead, he’s paying only lip service to the ramification of the Civil War.

Ewing summarizes the schism that split the Ultimates during the Civil War, and guess what? I still have no idea what went down, other than it involved Spider-Man and T’Challa’s ethics.  Still don’t care either.  Instead, Ewing draws upon Carol’s seldom used Cosmic Awareness and the Black Panther’s spiritual legacy dreams to take the baby steps to bring the gang back together.  There’s still one problem.

Carol as it turns out doesn’t need to trust Black Panther.  All the Ultimates have been selected by a higher power to return to their original mission, and it ain’t either of these two that’s going to lead that mission.  So, their opposing views mean diddly and squat.  

Outside of the elephant in the room, Ewing’s humor enriches the much improved artwork of Travel Foreman.  He seems more at home here than on Animal Man or Justice League United.  There’s some fascinating discussion about the workings of superpowers between the Blue Marvel, attempting to fill the void left in the Marvelverse by Reed Richards, and Monica Rambeau.  I’d refer to her as Spectrum, but she changes her name at the drop of a hat.  The big reveal involves the last actual Ultimate antagonist Anti-Man, given something good to do for a change, and hell, that whole setup leading to the very last page? Shivers.

Futurama surprises with a most unexpected sendup.  It all begins with Professor Farnsworth building a reversal gun, that does what it says.  It reverses the function of an object.  What might one do with such a ray beam?  The answer becomes apparent to Bender who takes steps to secure his future of loafing.

Fry being in possession of a special brain forgets about the gun and searches for a pack of ancient gum left behind at the cryogenics lab which catalyzed his trip to the future.  Fry being Fry becomes trapped once again in a cryogenics tube.  Only this time, he fires the gun while in transit.  The result is an unexpected yet delightful theme.

Futurama spoofs the swordplay of medieval times and all the media that exploited the era from Game of Thrones... Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The hilarious story features robot jousts with Bender mistaking Fry as a sorcerer.

And benefits from great art work by James Lloyd, Andrew Pepoy and Nathan Hamill.

The artists as you can see grant greater attention to the more realistic anatomy of the Futurama design.  A one-eyed, purple haired peasant hasn't ever looked this hot before.

In Scooby-Doo Team-Up Moltar and Zorak damage the Phantom Cruiser and force Space Ghost to land on earth to make repairs.  At the same time Fred, Shaggy, Scooby, Velma and Daphne happen to be visiting an Astrophysics Lab that receives a strange warning.  The clever ruse leads to a series of misunderstandings caused by Space Ghost's powers.  Some predictable yet funny others cleverly upending conventions.

More hi-jinks ensue when Space Ghost takes the Gang to the moon to deal with his enemies.

Jan, Jace and Blip compare notes with Fred and company, countermeasures smartly thwart the schemes of Moltar and Zorak.  There was no way a Space Ghost and Scooby-Doo mash could be bad, but it didn't have to be this good.

Cavan Scott’s latest Doctor Who is a treat for any fan.  Scott grants us something we would have loved to witness on television.  The Doctor reunites with one his oldest, dearest and consistent friends.

As you can see by artist Chris Bolson’s dead-on accurate artwork, the Brigadier is in fighting form.  The same can be said for the Doctor himself and the Doctor’s companions including Harry Sullivan, a contemporary of the Brigadier.

Harry joined Sarah Jane and the Doctor during the Time Lord’s fourth era.  The gang’s all here to combat giant monsters that are somehow tied into astral projection.

The computer/mind interface ties in nicely with the continuity of human history in Doctor Who.  The scientific exploration of psychic phenomena was wildly popular in the seventies, and Doctor Who used the concept to kick off several stories in that period.  The pseudoscience reached a science fiction crescendo during the fifth Doctor episode “Warriors from the Deep.” 

In that story, humans were tasked to control the launch of a nuclear arsenal using their minds.  A bad idea any year.

Here we appear to see the beginnings, including the dependence on drugs to enhance mental ability and to withstand the stress of the process.

Scott also cannily notes the schism between UNIT and the British government.  As established in “Terror of the Zygons” The Brigadier though a Scotsman, doesn’t serve the English government.  UNIT falls under the auspices of the United Nations which is stated in their original acronym.  Thus, there’s a war between UNIT and the bellicose human powers often within the British government that want to advance warfare using preternatural means. 

Mighty Thor offers readers a Mission Impossible type tale in which Thor reforms the League of Realms with some familiar faces...

...and not so familiar faces, thoughtfully given a narrative introduction.

Notice that SHIELD agent Roz Solomon represents Midgard.  Sif stands for Asgard.  Technically, Thor doesn't belong to any of the Nine Realms.  She is the protector of all, but her seeking agents for each nevertheless slyly conceals her secret identity.

The mission should you decide to accept it is to rescue Queen Aelsa Featherwine from the Dark Elves that proliferated Alfheim.  Sound easy?  Obviously you're not aware how this type of story works.  

The participants have skills up the wazoo.  The plan is strategically sound with roles for one and all.  Something however always goes wrong.  Even Jim Phelps' ploys hit unforeseen snags.

Jason Aaron's tale is typical of the genre but unusual for The Mighty Thor, and this contrast provides a stand-alone amusement.  It also helps to have the sumptuous art of Steve Epting on hand.

Wonder Woman is a story about secrets.  So, I'll be speaking about the issue in even vaguer terms.  The story opens to explain what Sasha Bordeaux is doing in Wonder Woman.

I must admit.   I didn't expect writer Rucka to even acknowledge that Bordeaux never had been part of the Wonder Woman mythology.  I assumed he planted Bordeaux in the book because she's his creation, but it turns out that Rucka anticipated the questions and head scratching.

The second secret involves Veronica Cale.  Rucka created Cale to be a Wonder Woman adversary, but in the sense of a thorn in Wonder Woman's side as opposed to being a straight up villain out to kill the Amazon.  The wheel turns for Cale.  Perhaps Rucka envisioned Cale to eventually become Wonder Woman's Moriarty, but the continuity of DC made the transformation difficult.  Given. A new 52/Rebirth clean slate, Rucka's plans fruit.

The third secret pertains to Paradise Island, and this one obliterates Brian Azzarello's original master-plan, or at least it logically should.  The Finches adhered to that continuity.  They only added a Donna Troy Homunculus and unexplained crone habitation on Themyscira.  Donna Troy is currently benefiting from a good vibrations memory restoration in the Titans.  So, surprisingly whatever Rucka has cooked up for Paradise Island doesn't actually affect her, for a change.  Scott Lobdell in Red Hood and the Outlaws already stated that Artemis is Egyptian, though she does know Wonder Woman intimately.  So, we can say their rivalry, whatever lies at the root, is safe.  Whatever chicanery goes on, it's interesting to watch another writer unravel what has gone before.  You don't get the sense that Rucka is doing this out of spite or disdain.  You simply accept that this must be.

Hope Larson concludes her first story for Batgirl with benign deconstruction.  Batgirl has one super power, that's found in real life, an eidetic memory.  For some, that's cheating, but eidetic memory is simply a tool.  I don't have an eidetic memory but I have a good memory.  That doesn't make me smart.  The application of memory demonstrates intelligence.  In this last chapter, Batgirl proves just how canny she is.  Since this also translates into kicking ass, Rafael Albuquerque has much to do.

In addition to this exploration, Larson shows Babs utilizing the culture and philosophy of those she battles.  Batgirl also doesn't roll with the strict letter of the law, despite her Commissioner's daughter upbringing.  Instead, she looks for an alternative fair solution to the juvenile delinquency that entangled her.  This further creates an opportunity for a good guest appearance.  In short, Batgirl is a multifaceted satisfaction.

I though I would try Buffy the Vampire Slayer again, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to plunge back into the world of the Chosen One.  The story opens with Buffy and Spike fighting “a worm said to be unknown to science.”

This is no accidental Sherlock Holmes references.  The new status quo frames the lovers as supernatural consulting detectives.  Later Giles will identify the worm as "mysterious worm" in Latin.

Faithful readers of the POBB will remember that a whole population of unfamiliar characters helped alienate me from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, post-Twilight, that is, which just made me seethe.  For this opener to Season Eleven, so far so good.  The spotlight rests on the characters from the television show.  Their roles are new but easy to understand.  Sherlock Holmes references.   The cops show up, but you expect the police, and Dowling is the only cop that gets a name.

The story next cuts to Willow teaching and performing magic with a new circle of Wicca.  No need for subtitles here and no introductions, thanks.  It’s also not a cold cut.  Buffy and Spike enter the apartment a few minutes later.  So, Willow sets the scene.  Spike and Buffy carryover.  We follow them up to the roof where Xander’s grilling for the rest of the Scooby Gang, mini-Giles and Dawn, who we discern from her dialogue that she is now legally Xander's love interest.

The discussion between the sisters only serves to reinforce their emotional bonds and assure the reader that nothing has changed.  Dawn doesn’t mention any specifics from the past seasons that are outside of the television series, apart from the Magic Council.  But hey, it’s in the phrase.  Buffy ran the Magic Council.  Done in one.  I furthermore appreciate Rebecca Isaacs designs for the more mature Buffy and Dawn as well as the remarkable likeness between Willow and actress Alyson Hannigan.

Writer Christos Gage brings out the Big Bad after the characters re-establish themselves, and for some reason, I think Gage was a fan of new American Godzilla.  Else, it’s pretty coincidental that a dragon attacks San Francisco.  Although, you do have a Chinatown excuse.  Isaacs demonstrates in this battle against the dragon that she’s not just about cartoony mirror images.  She draws Buffy the Vampire Slayer even closer to a traditional superhero.

Note.  Buffy wears a very cool outfit that’s a defacto superhero uniform.  She’s baring the Slayer weapon.  Throughout the duel against the dragon, she displays her powers as a Vampire Slayer, and in the aftermath, she and Spike do some pretty traditional superhero lifesaving.

All and all, the premiere of Season Eleven reminds me why I used to like this comic book.  So, maybe I can return this new run to the brown bag.

Wynonna Earp: Legends purports to focus on Doc Holiday, and yes, he gets some more dialogue and face time, but it’s really another Wynonna Earp series.   

If you haven’t been reading the comic book and lean more toward fanning over the bang-smack television show, Legends is the comic book for you.

I’ve been with the sporadic creator-owned comic book series since Wynonna Earp was a blonde nineties bad girl, and I’ve just been delighted with the success of the television show.  As I have stated in previous reviews, the television series differs from the comic book series, but it’s pretty clear that there’s an organic blending going on.  

Of course, Smith already changed Wynonna Earp to run with the times and chose artists like Enrique Villagran to reflect that shift.  For Legends it’s Wynonna Earp’s lovely Chris Evenhuis he of the on the money likeness of Melanie Scrofano and Tim Rozon.

This Legends series is the closest you’re going to get to a comic book similar to the television series.  I suspect this is a natural transformation.  Beau Smith probably had a hand in writing the Bible for the television series.  Else, he’d never be able to use the ideas prevalent on the series like the Black Badges, or Marshal Dolls.  It’s not a giant leap from U.S. Marshals Special Division to the sexier Black Badge.  Nichole Haught a county deputy on the television series showed up in the comic book as a Black Badge.  And so forth.  So, Smith could have been ready to evolve Wynonna Earp again when the television offer passed the green light.  

Anyway, this slick new Wynonna Earp series opens with the Black Badges hunting for a new demonic perpetrator.  We don’t exactly know what he is, but they find him all right.  

Smith takes this fellow to new heights of depravity, and he makes him one of Wynonna Earp’s more philosophical antagonists.  Surprisingly, he doesn’t actually kill everybody he meets.   It's  possible that he is simply amoral as opposed to immoral.  He doesn't care who lives and dies.  It's up to chance.

Wynonna's gun Peacemaker has been aglow since the very first episode of the show.  Here again, is another fusion, and although she confronts the demonic being on the rooftops.  It's Valdez that takes the prize.  

Valdez, is Beau Smith's Wonder Woman.  He even jokes about it in the story, with Evenhuis visually joining in on the fun.  Smith has always wanted to write Wonder Woman on a regular basis and even fully scripted the Xena/Wonder Woman team-up that DC killed in the post-Crisis.  Go ahead and scream.  I did.  Smith introduced the immortal Valdez in the pages of Wynonna Earp.  Maybe we'll get to see her in the flesh second season.  Like Doc, Valdez gets more lines, all of them funny.  

Perhaps, Smith chose Legends to better describe a Wynonna Earp thematic ensemble book.  For whatever the reason, the engrossing user friendly tale draws in all the principal players and concludes with a fascinating, apropos addition.

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