Tuesday, November 8, 2016

POBB November 4, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 4, 2016
Ray Tate

This week the Pick of the Brown Bag opens to review Aquaman, Batman, Batman Steed and Peel, Big Trouble in Little China/Escape from New York, Green Lanterns, Rom and Rough Riders.  I'll also look at Motor Girl, the new title from Terry Moore.  What's more, I'll have a few words about King's Cross and a new book from Image called Mayday. 

Batman and Robin and Steed and Mrs. Peel face the Cybernauts in a deathtrap setup by the androids’ new mistress Miss Gough and her partner Mr. Freeze.  This time, Mrs. Peel solves the problem through scientific acumen and fair play resourcefulness.

The comeuppance leads to a raid on Miss Gough’s other partner’s headquarters.

It’s nice to see the results of Batman’s and Robin’s crimefighting.  Even if based on a campy television show.  The ironic realism evident here is often glossed over in the “serious” books.  Batman doesn’t just bring criminals to justice.  He dismantles their operations.  Very rarely does any writer mention the capital that a felon needs to stay in power or to restart after a Dark Knight pays his respects.  Nor do the scribes frequently note the commonwealth’s ability to search and seize property used in criminal affairs. 

The Dynamic Duos, switch partners for the exploration of Ffogg’s estate and together they thwart each pitfall.  With characteristic dialogue all around capturing the tongue-and-cheek of The Avengers and Batman’s distinctive over the top cadence this is a fine entertainment.

Tom King seeks revenge on the Powers That Be that broke Batman’s back.  This latest issue of Batman takes a step by step approach to argue that had Batman been written as Batman, Knightfall could not have happened.  In the new 52, it did not.

Note the phrasing.  “Would have.”  Bane in the new 52 probably has a Venom based reputation, but judging by the dialogue, Batman never met Bane, until now.  If this sounds jarring, consider this.  Denny O’Neil introduced Venom in the series Legends of the Dark Knight.  

Venom didn’t actually need to exist in continuity proper, and for the most part, the substance and Batman’s use of the drug wasn’t mentioned until the advent of Bane.  Furthermore, Bane was a superficial character created specifically to cripple Batman.  He never grew beyond that purpose.

King eliminates a lot of what Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan injected in Bane.  The Mexican wrestler motif and the outlaw theme are gone.  Instead, Tom King’s Bane is a classic banana republic dictator.  A literal strong man that rose to power and led an army of men.

In the original story, Bane frees all of Batman’s foes from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison.  Batman beats each one, and then eliminates Bane's lieutenants.  The ordeal exhausts the Dark Knight.  Without even a nap as succor, Batman returns home to Wayne Manor to find Bane waiting for him. 

So, let’s see what King does.  Batman first deals with the Santa Priscan air force in an exciting, brief dog-fight.  Making landfall, Batman faces Bane’s army.  And more of them.

The number it takes to actually overwhelm Batman is amazing.  If far outstrips the bodies Batman beat in the original story.  He's not even winded.

When Batman faces Bane, Bane’s not strong enough to break Batman’s back over his knee.  That doesn’t stop him from trying.

And failing.  So, Bane throws Batman in a hole.

How long does it take for Batman to free himself from a prison it took Bane seventeen years to escape?

A few hours.  This astounding display of Batman being Batman beautifully imagined by artist Mikel Janin is accompanied by a heart-felt narrative that explains the history between Batman and one of his Suicide Squad partners, as well as as the new crimes.  A superb juxtaposition.  For all these reasons, this issue of Batman must be in your collection.

To marry Aquaman, Mera agreed to endure the Widowhood of Atlantis.  The Widowhood is a kind of gynarchy cult that believes it protects the sanctity of the throne through a respect for weird tradition and as we learn in this issue visions.

The Widowhood assures Mera that it's nothing personal.  Her Xebel nationally bears not one whit on their actions.  The tone of the Widowhood is a cross between the Sisterhood of Karn from Doctor Who and Monty Python and the Holy Grail's "ask these questions three" skit.  

At first Mera dismisses these twits but a cascade of coincidence gets the better of her.  Dan Abnett's focus on Mera brings her to the surface and to Amnesty Bay, home on land to Aquaman.  There, she reunites with Salty, she and Aquaman's dog, and learns of her husband to be's fate against the Shaggy Man.  First she visits Lieutenant Stubbs.

A quiet story about all the facets of Mera and the world of Aquaman that she shares.  In lesser hands Aquaman could have been a dull affair with pedestrian drawing.  Instead, Abnett makes even the non-explosive moments interesting and artist Brad Walker imbues beauty to the book-length character study.

The Phantom Lantern debuts in Green Lanterns natch, and I couldn't care any less.  The whole Starburst inspired Lantern color revolution that occurred near the conclusion of the post-Crisis era always struck me as a stupid.  Writer Sam Humphries makes the most of this bad idea with the dawn of the Phantom Lantern.

Still, don't care.  I'm reading Green Lanterns for the camaraderie between Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz.  I really like seeing these two as Lantern partners, and their flaws make them interesting.  However, Simon and Jess, or J-Bird as he refers to her, overcome these foibles to do their job, which is to protect the earth and its inhabitants from the evils of the universe that would do them harm.

In this issue of Green Lanterns, we once again get to see their teamwork on display as they rescue a little girl from a burning building.  

Such a simple thing but filled with immense pleasure.  For those that prefer a more cosmic scope, not to worry, Humphries and superb artist Eduardo Pansica have got you covered.  An entity with a secret history to the Guardians of the Universe introduces a new threat to the Green Lanterns.

Entering a military base as a Trojan Horse, Rom quickly discovers infiltration by the Dire Wraiths and why his analyzer—that which distinguishes the innocent from Wraithkind—seems to be failing.

Rom dispatches the Wraiths without hesitation, but his extreme measures sicken his erstwhile companion Darby.

With Darby’s departure, writers Christos Gage and Chris Ryall find a means to allow the reader to enjoy Rom’s war on the Dire Wraiths, but also show that war isn’t something that should be glorified.

The Dire Wraiths have been around much longer on earth in this series than in the Marvel classic.  They aren’t just taking the places of people.  In some cases, they are the people.  Rom is destroying a bunch of walking, talking lies, but they are lies that innocent humans believed.  Therein lies the conflict.

Jack Burton and Snake Plissken find big trouble as they attempt to rescue Blind Apple Mary, who's cornered by futureshock punks trying to break into one of the last U.S. outposts.  Blind Apple Mary is Jack's favorite singer, and she has a deeper meaning to Snake.

Writer Greg Pak uncovers a lot of depth in Snake, and that's a reasonable position given Snake’s criminal jacket in Escape From New; optically represented by the eyepatchSo, the pragmatism replacing Jack’s heroism is almost expected.  What’s surprising is how much use Pak gets out of Jack, essentially a happy-go-lucky adventurer.  Literally.

The idea of Jack being a good luck charm for his friends and allies and a bad penny to his opposition is a unique twist and brilliantly used for both comic and practical effect.  Often simultaneously.

The duality of the book and the schism between the Jack and Snake who are apparently the same make this fusion immensely entertaining.  Pak could have plumbed the Dystopia, but his even handed treatment of both sets of elements from both movies generates inventive and enjoyable ideas.

It turns out that the last issue of Rough Riders wasn't just Teddy Roosevelt's alien-induced dream.  All our heroes experienced something since they were taken over off panel.

This issue the group recovers and faces their enemy from outside...

...and within.

The story is far more eventful than I can let on.  Writer Adam Glass twists and turns this adventure into avenues you just cannot expect, and artist Pat Olliffe matches his deviations with remarkable expressions and illustrations of scientific devilry.

Motor Girl is utterly charming but in an unexpected way.  While, yes, a girl and her ape comprise the lion's share of the story, it's not another Monkey Man and O'Brien.  

That comic book rewrote King Kong and Ann Darrow into a science fiction partnership.  Motor Girl takes place in a realistic setting.  Sam, our Motor Girl, is an expert mechanic living in the desert and doing what she loves.  The talking ape Mike is her constant companion, an incongruity cleverly explained through dialogue and art.

The owner of the garage in which Sam works comes to her with a change in mind, but something occurs late at night that offers more of a catalyst.

At first Sam doubts the Close Encounter of the Hilarious and Sweet Kind, but the evidence is hard to refute.  This lovely book is just as I hoped it would be, and more. 

King's Cross was surprisingly depressing.  Ming the Merciless returns with a brand new threat to the earth and Flash Gordon, over whom he obsesses.  Before the Defenders of the Earth learn of Ming's involvement, they gather in Mandrake's home after going their separate ways from the last team-up.  This is where the depressing part comes in.  Although it's fun to see Jennifer Harris the Phantom skull-fist a poacher in a theater, she between miniseries split badly with Dale.  The break-up creates an unnecessary miasma in what could have been straightforward       hi-jinks and daring-do, which is what defines these characters.

Mayday takes place in the seventies.  It involves Soviet agents, the CIA, drugs and a naked girl.  It's more like a sketch drama rather than a coherent narrative, and some of the seventies' touchstones are rather forced.  Like the mention of Vietnam and the Zodiac Killer all in one breath.

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