Wednesday, November 2, 2016

POBB October 26, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
October 26, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag this week opens with reviews of Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Deathstroke, Evil Dead 2: Revenge of Jack the Ripper, The Flash, Future Quest, The Titans and Scooby-Doo Team-Up, but first Wonder Woman.

I’ve been perusing the Rebirth Wonder Woman off-and-on.  I read and reviewed the setup which suggested that a lot of Wonder Woman’s memories, in other words, her continuity, are false, but I haven’t really been able to get a good grasp on Greg Rucka’s latest slant on Wonder Woman.  For those unaware, Greg Rucka produced a critically acclaimed run of Wonder Woman, for which your reviewer had a fondness.  

So I have no issue with this writer and respect his knowledge of Wonder Woman.  His latest take however has been overall chatty, unfocused and confusing.  Though not so much that I felt the need to warn people about the book.  Believe me.  I’ve read far worse Wonder Woman.

This issue is pretty solid.  It’s so solid that I think anybody with just a passing interest in the cast can probably comprehend what’s going on, at least in the lion’s share.  There are some hiccups that might be a source of head-scratching.

The woman in the panels is Sasha Bordeaux, Greg Rucka’s creation for post-Crisis Detective Comics.  She was Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard, forced upon him by the Board of Directors of The Wayne Foundation, Enterprises or whatever Bruce’s business happened to be at that time.  That early explanation provided some amusement, but Rucka turned Sasha into a haphazard vigilante and love interest.  Maybe it was an editorial decision.  However, the result was the same.  Both roles were just wastes of time.  

What’s Sasha doing in Wonder Woman? What’s up with her eye? Haven’t a clue.  You can however glean that she’s Steve Trevor’s superior.  When you see a blonde guy in military garb in Wonder Woman, there’s a ninety-nine-point-nine percent chance it’s Major Steve Trevor.  Unless he looks like this.

You can then be 100 percent sure that, yes, it’s Steve.  Although the newish players may cause initial problems, don’t worry.  The dialogue combined with Liam Sharp’s and Laura Martin’s lush art quickly characterizes.  The conversation between Sasha and Steve as well as her expressiveness is pretty funny.  Rucka’s not known for his comedic chops, but this bit was successful, and the light touch continues throughout.

The blonde is Barbara Minerva.  She’s the third woman to assume the Cheetah identity.  Originally, Priscilla Rich, a victim of multiple-personality syndrome, became the Cheetah.  Minerva was the third Cheetah.   Reimagined by George Perez, Minerva was a killer who used ritual to transform into the feline predator that wanted to eat Wonder Woman’s heart.  Probably an allusion to the Leopard Men of the Sierra Leone, a true life cult.

With the new 52 however, Barbara Minerva is more of a Larry Talbot type, and Wonder Woman apparently found a means to free her from the supernatural affliction.  The black woman is Etta Candy.  No big deal about the diversification.  Though for comparison purposes, she originally looked like this.  The red-head.

Sensation Comics #8

This issue of Wonder Woman is devoted to two items of interest, Diana finding Paradise Island, Themyscria for those wanting to be all serious, and voicing Wonder Woman's philosophy.

Various writers injected their own ideas into the myths, but all of them derive from either the classical bellicose idea of an Amazon or the more Utopian world conceived of by William Moulton Marston; as well as, I recently learned, his wife, Elizabeth and the couple’s significant other Olive Byrne—Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman.  That’s not a typo by the way.  

Rucka shoots for both.  In the process, he touches upon recent continuity within the new 52 and Rebirth.  Wonder Woman dating Superman.  His death.  Little nods suggesting that Wonder Woman doesn't exist in a vacuum, less so than Rucka's previous run.  Rucka works these ideas into an authentic sounding dialogue between Diana and Steve.  It actually does sound like we’re eavesdropping on a real conversation by two famous people having a long history.

As to the other issue regarding Paradise Island—I really never cared for “Themyscria”—by the end I think you'll find that most of Brian Azzarello's and the Finches work has been classified as false.

Hope Larson’s Batgirl begins with Babs thwarting the schemes of two students of the malevolent, heretofore unseen teacher that she’s dedicated to stop.  The means by which she pummels the two neatly demonstrates her experience and battle prowess.

It’s always a win when showing a protagonist eliminating two threats at once.  It sets the level.  Superheroes, even those without powers, must be better than the average person or even the recognizable professional.  Otherwise, why are they needed?  Aren’t they simply interfering, rather than helping?

When the Japanese School Girl Assassin shows up, Larson subtly reminds readers where Batgirl’s allegiances lie.

Previous Batgirl talent Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr went back to basics.  Babs made her original costume for The Policeman’s Ball.  She then refashioned the form into a more durable uniform.  As she gained Batman’s trust, Batman added safety refinements.  The same thing happens here.  Batgirl originally conceived an outfit that any stylish person might wear to fight crime.  Batman somewhere down the line put in some Kevlar.

As the story advances, Batgirl preserves her secret identity by playing up the scare of the bat.  Batgirl was always more personable, preferring to gain the respect of the opposition through a formidable reputation.  She wasn’t adverse however to spooking her target with the mystique of the costume.  In the scene with Kai, she combines the methods.

Batgirl’s devastating dumping of Kai is pretty amazing.  I’ve never seen such a genius method of getting rid of a bad penny.  It further demonstrates that Barbara can compartmentalize like a fiend.  She wasn’t in love with Kai, but that fondness could have turned into love.  The whole purpose of her traveling was to have fun, and part of that must be to occasionally see people for purely recreational purposes.  Not necessarily fall in bed with them, but definitely not build a relationship.

The final part of the Deathstroke/Batman crossover takes some inventive twists in the narrative.  Ostensibly this is the “Ransom of Red Chief “ written by O. Henry.  

In the short, kidnapers abduct Red Chief, a juvenile brat, and through his insufferable behavior, the hostage upends the plans of his captors.  The difference here lies in the fact that there is no ransom demand.

What Batman said.  Deathstroke isn’t playing fair, and so while Robin insults his captor, the captor Deathstroke doesn’t actually care.  He has no intention of releasing Robin, and his true motive for placing his daughter Rose Wilson in Batman’s care is in fact two-fold.  One, he needs the ultimate babysitter.  Two, he wants her to learn from Batman, a hero not him, a hit man.

Within this economically related tale, writer Christopher Priest creates interest in almost every panel ably illustrated by Joe Bennett.  Priest amuses with meta-commentary about the revolving door of Robins.

Batman explains why he’s not accepting Deathstroke’s bait and how Deathstroke’s mind works.  At the same time, Priest involves Batman in a Gotham-wide threat that develops almost as a joke, only to drop heavily when you see the ages of those involved in the plot and their callous plans to extinguish the innocent.

Priest characterizes Batman in the eyes of Rose Wilson, and you can’t help feel her naïveté.  She may know how to fight, but that’s about it.  Batman on the other hand knows so much more.  He knows all about Rose.  

He easily exposes vulnerability in his unwilling charge to cut through her hardened edge and expose her humanity.  Oh, and don’t worry about Robin.  He comes out of this tete-a-tete unscathed.  That’s no surprise, but I won’t spoil the creepy, cool ending.

The former time-lost hero Wally West appears in two comic books this week.  The Titans is just an enjoyable round two pitting the former Teen Titans against Abra Kadabra’s future tech puppetry, with the fate of Linda Wong hanging by a thread.  Writer Dan Abnett gives Kadabra more charisma and comedy than usual, and his plan to stop Wally West is quite devious.

The Flash acts as an excellent jump on point and an entertaining done-in-one comic book all at once.  First, we get a look at the Rebirth landscape of The Flash.

The only addition for me is the black kid leaning against the wall.  That’s Iris’ nephew Wally West.  A second Wally West.   Iris and Barry are still friends.  She’s still a reporter, and he’s still a CSI.  So far, everything I read in the new 52 applies.

The story begins with a simple disaster.  The would-be tragedy allows the Flashes to strut their stuff, and since the narration belongs to Wally II, we get a fresh perspective on the characters, the events and the history.

Wally I acts kind of like Nightwing did with Jason Todd back in the post-Crisis, but without the whining, thankfully.  Before you know it, speed force antics corrupt the Flash, and we get all sorts of other earth mischief, as well as some depth for the new speedster on the block.

The Blue Beetle teams up with the Posse, a group of super-powered youths that aren’t quite the Teen Titans, or even the Guardians of the Galaxy.  Despite their having a suspiciously looking Root on their team.  G is silent, perhaps?

Anyway.  This is an entertaining expansion of the Blue Beetle’s world.  The always present operator of the Bug, Ted Kord causes friction with his reluctant hero charge and Terri Magnus.

The more familiar Will Magnus already made a youthful appearance in Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye.  So, Terri, assuming everybody got the memo, is definitely Will’s sister, cousin or an improbable aunt.

Anyways.  Beetle and the Posse investigate the mysterious holes that serve as harbinger to the “abductions.”  Because this is the Blue Beetle, his means of delving into the truth is plain weird.

Scott Kollins just nails the thing that makes Beetle unique.  He’s not a kid wearing a super-suit.  Magical bioarmor encases him.  He’s almost piloting a craft the same as Ted Kord.  Just imagine a tiny Jaime Reyes in the cockpit of an occult powered Pacific Rim Jaeger, and you’ve got the idea of what’s going on here.

Though the Posse departs, they don’t leave the Beetle empty-handed.  Blur is a teleporter, and she has—let’s call it a one-way fascination for the Blue Beetle.  

Giffin just turns the whole idea of hero/villain romance on its ear, and he also establishes one of the more modern relationships between mother and superhero son.

Deadite battler Ash visits his friend Ron in Evil Dead.  Writer Georgia Ball merges Bruce Campbell and his alter-ego Ash even farther by turning the former chainsaw wielder into an out of work actor.  

Not that Campbell is out of work.  He’s currently starring in the awesome television series Ash vs the Evil Dead.  Before that Burn Notice, after Xena Warrior Princess, etc., etc.

Anyway, Ron invited Ash to work on a Jack the Ripper movie, and herein lies the real draw of this comic book.  I’ve seen plenty of Jack the Ripper films and read numerous fiction and nonfiction about the fascinating subject, and believe it or not, Ms. Ball comes up with something original.  Check out this gooey, body horror in the fine tradition of Evil Dead.

The idea of this issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up not being good is preposterous.  How can you possibly mess up Zatanna calling in the gang to help her find her missing father Zatara?

Writer Sholly Fisch isn’t however reiterating the original quest.  Zatanna debuted in the Silver Age, searching for her father, who cast his backward speak spells in Action Comics #1, the same time Superman first leaped tall buildings in a single bound. 

Fisch’s story broadens the scope.  It’s not just Zatara that’s missing.  Various objects of power tend to disappear.  As a result, Zatanna and the gang take a tour of DC’s magical mystery men and women.

The vanishings are clues, and as Zatanna, Scooby and the Gang press on they meet up with the funnier ne’er do wells of the occult.  Including, one of the classic loser villains Felix Faust.  Even Shaggy is unimpressed.

There’s a number of insider jokes to be uncovered for the DC/Scooby-Doo fan in this fair play mystery.  

Fisch gives the reader a taste of each magical suspect’s characterization through snatches of dialogue.  Sometimes just a word, but a well-chosen one that tells you everything you need to know.  In one hilarious moment Scooby’s speech impediment combined with a classic prestidigitator makes you laugh-out-loud.

Zatara’s foe The Tigress’ down-on-her-luck parting comment could have found a home in the room of comedy relief for any seventies crime drama.  The showstopper though occurs in the vein of a previous issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up, and since all these great tricks are performed by artist Dario Brizuela, you can bank on everything looking spectacular.

Future Quest began before Space Ghost.  Intergalactic peacekeepers fought an entity that wished only to destroy and devour.  The last survivor of the battle, in a nod to the Lone Ranger, would become Space Ghost.  

Unfortunately for the forces of good, the creature exhibits an annoying survival tactic.  It’s a gestalt being.  Its mind rests within its entire body.  So the creature can escape death by simply jettisoning a piece of its body through wormholes to other worlds.  One of those worlds is inhabited by  Hanna-Barbera adventurers and superheroes as well as evil organizations seeking to exploit the being’s power for their own vile purposes.

The current fight lies with the Quests, Birdman, Dino Boy, Ugh the Caveman, the new Mightor and international operative Devi.  Our story begins as Ty struts his stuff.

The sabertooth is his cat.  So, writer Jeff Parker really consolidates two of the HB superheroes in the youthful body of Ty and Snag.  One is of course Mightor, and the other is Samson, whose dog turned into the lion Goliath.

The Quest nemesis FEAR turned a whole kit and kaboodle of dinosaurs and ancient mammals on the family and friends, all in an attempt to secure Mightor’s club.  That didn’t go as planned, obviously, but they still have the upper hand, or do they?

Space Ghost’s marooned niece Jan helps out where she can.  This issue is basically a free-for-all action book, but what action it is.  In addition, Parker makes the dialogue witty, uses the intersect history of Race Bannon and Jezebel Jade for a friction-filled scene and Ugh has already stepped up from being one of many Neanderthal from Mightor’s world to the protector of the orphaned Dino Boy.

The Impossibles’ tale occurs simultaneously.  Previously, Parker came up with an origin story for the Impossibles.  That origin allowed for the creation of two new characters, one a Fear Agent, the other a needed female addition.

The conclusion to the Impossibles’ back-up displays their arch teamwork and how the new hero Cobalt synchs up with the trio.  “Rally-Ho!”

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