Monday, November 14, 2016

POBB November 9, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 9, 2016
Ray Tate

Cleanse your palette with this week’s reviews of The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, James Bond and Red Hood and the Outlaws, but first a review of The Mummy.

I can’t remember if I ever discussed this here or at my former online home.  So, I’ll reiterate briefly.  

I love mummies.  Undead guardians of Egyptian and Mexican tombs, mummies are remarkable in appearance and damn efficient.  Anybody fool enough to open up a tomb in a Mummy movie ends up strangled dead in the Mummy’s grasp.  

Mummies are magically strong, bulletproof and unrelenting.  The best of the Mummy movies are without a doubt the classic Universals, but Hammer rates a close second.  So you can imagine my excitement when I saw in Previews, a Hammer/Titan produced comic book.  I give you The Mummy.

Former Detective Comics scribe, Peter Milligan blends Mummy films and Hammer staples into one lovely melange of Mummy love.  The story is entitled "Palimpsest," and that’s an appropriate monicker for the reincarnation themes.  A palimpsest is a written work that’s been altered to include new material.  Not exactly edited, the prose is instead erased and rewritten.  Milligan introduces Angelina Kostenko who becomes a human palimpsest.

A crazed cult with agents apparently everywhere searches for girls with certain signs that identify them as potential vessels for the goddess Isis.  

The hope is that the proper vessel will permit these kooks to perform a truly disgusting ritual.  All in the name of power of course.

What these yo-yos did to Angelina is anybody's guess.  Dreams and dicey memories that refer to Mummy preparation from cinema confuse the situation.  One thing is clear, she suddenly has a thing for bandages.  Will the cult succeed? Not exactly.

The Mummy is a throwback really.  It's nostalgia without being nostalgia.  This is a story that could have been found in Vampirella magazine, but with its underlying theme of misogyny it's a very modern tale.

Milligan is of course not a woman-hater.  Far from it.  The cultists hate women.  The villains exploit women for their own purposes, and throw them away when they have no more use for them.  Isis is the goddess of fertility, healing and magic.  She was depicted as a defender goddess.  Thus, the cult depicted in The Mummy pervert the very meaning of the goddess.  Milligan in addition spotlights the cycle of betrayal of women looking to better their lives.  No accident that the cult consists of rich white dudes either.

Above all Milligan creates a female Hammer hero.  She appears to be as powerful as the protagonist in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb and as heroic as Captain Kronos, the vampire hunter.  This feeling is aided by a traditional superhero take on the artwork by Ronilson Freire.

The dark, twisted path of filthy lucre winds into a nest of embezzling corrupt agents from MI-6's sister branch.  The mastermind behind the scheme is a big monster named Eidolon, who despite being the arch foe still succumbs to the overall theme of being amazed by James' nigh impossible skill set.

Bond isn't just an agent.  He's the very best.  Otherwise we'd be following the adventures of 006.  Bond is aided in his endeavors by familiar faces and his opposite number, a clean agent from the sister branch.

You would think that forensic accounting wouldn't lead anywhere interesting, but in Warren Ellis' James Bond, it careens into a respectable body count, gun violence depicted with realistic finality, and a thrilling car chase.  

Everything you expect from a 007 story, and that's why there was a big smile on my face as I read.  Bond, James Bond.

From the mature audiences only excitement of James Bond, we tone it down to the all-ages pleasure of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I can see how this book might be a tough sell.  It seems like a silly idea.  You may think that the mash ridicules Batman, perhaps recalling the Adam West camp.  You may not count yourself as a fan of TMNT but definitely a Batman fan.  Therefore, you may feel the book is skippable.  These are all valid concerns, but they're unwarranted.

This is the second crossover between TMNT and Batman.  The first published by DC was more of a modern concept of Batman meeting the Turtles.  This IDW publication however is smarter.  It gives something the fans of Batman have wanted for years.  The return to Batman: The Animated Series, courtesy of Matthew Manning, Jon Sommariva and Sean Parsons.

Batman investigates the disappearances of Two-Face and other Arkham Inmates.  I’m guessing that Manning chose Two-Face as the opener villain for several reasons.

The parallel universes represent a starkly different duality.  The rest of Batman’s animated Rogue’s Gallery either allude to a movie or television source.  Two-Face is unique.  This version of Two-Face best represents Batman: The Animated Series’.  He doesn’t even match the look of the original from the comic books.  

Although Batman tracks down Harvey Dent, he only receives a cryptic response for a solution.  These blanks send Batman back to the scene of the crime where we witness an example of the could have come from an animated cel detective work.

I mean you're likely to hear Shirley Walker's incidental music playing in your head during this scene.  I know I did.

It should come to no surprise that the Arkham Inmates have opened a portal to the TMNT alternate universe.  And here's where everything could have gone wrong, but didn’t.  

Sommariva translates The Turtles into the same Batman: The Animated Series model.  So these are the Turtles as imagined in the form of Batman the Animated Series.

Their journalist friend and contact April O'Neil gets the animated treatment as well.

The dialogue for the Turtles is a little more distinctive, and their attitude more serious than I remember from their more traditionally rendered cartoons.  So there's no real change in tone either.  Everything reduces down to Batman: The Animated Series.

For these reasons, Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a must buy.  As a bonus, the cover is cardstock, and the paper a higher quality.  These printing choices allow for vibrant colors and superb reproduction.

Red Hood and the Outlaws surprises with plot twists galore.  First and foremost, there’s very little funny in the story.  This issue is the first straight superhero drama since the new lineup of Red Hood, Artemis and Bizarro.  Some surreal moments manifest, but these are not quirky, comedic or absurd.

Scott Lobdell writes that scene with a light touch, but when you realize that Red Hood is trying to prevent further violence and save Bizarro’s life, his actions become heroic and meaningful.  Lobdell simply writes the best Black Mask and Jason Todd ever.  His Bizarro is poetic and filled with pathos.  Lobdell even finds a number of notes for Artemis’ voice.  

I’ve already expounded on Lobdell’s Red Hood.  So, I’ll not repeat myself.  This issue Lobdell goes deep into Jason’s psyche to find similarity to and distance from the villain of the piece.  In such a way, the whole morality play of "In a different reality, I could have called you friend" evolves naturally and with a richness of dialogue.

Black Mask was never much of a villain.  His creator Doug Moench tried to make him into a big deal and failed.  Nobody really cared about this zoot suit looney who had a penchant for glueing acid-filled masks to his victims' faces.  He was both giallo and gangster wannabe.  I still have no idea why he made the catwalk through multiple reboots.  Subsequent writers didn’t do much better for Black Mask.  He became a complete ghoul in post-Crisis Catwoman.  Until now, Frank Tieri in the last volume of Catwoman wrote the character the most inventively.  

Lobdell though makes Black Mask a truly three-dimensional equal to Batman’s classic foes.  Jason and the reader completely underestimate Black Mask.  The hero and audience wrote him off as a colorful whack job, but he’s far more intelligent than first thought, and though his motive is nothing more than acquiring power, the veneer is far more attractive.

Classic Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway takes over Dan Slott’s parallel universe where Pete and Mary Jane stayed married and had a spider-gifted child named Anna-May Parker.  Slott’s story began dark.  A super-villain named Regent took over the world by exploiting the powers of superheroes, killing them in the process.  Few were left.  Spidey created dampeners and stayed hidden with MJ until his daughter became endangered.

That story ended with the defeat of Regent, and the world revolved back to normal, albeit with a Friendly neighborhood family of spiders protecting the innocent from bad guys like the Scorpion.

The newest Renew Your Vows is just a breezy, lovely thing with Spidey and MJ acting like parents trying to raise a precocious genius child who is trying to be a super-hero and follow in her father’s footsteps.  The end doesn’t always go as planned.

Anna-May however has added backup.  Peter figured out a means to re-engineer Regent’s technology.  Thus, MJ taps into her husband’s power to become a superhero and look good doing it.

The thick premiere finishes with two short stories.  Anthony Holden contributes a charming Daddy-Daughter day.

Kate Leth and Bombshells' Marguerite Sauvage produce a fun little Mother-Daughter moment in which MJ redesigns the Regent outfit with Ann-May’s input and contends against the Spidey-staple villain the Rhino.

Definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of this series or Spider-Man before Mephisto. 

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