Tuesday, December 27, 2016

POBB December 21, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 23, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag refuses to engage in any cutesy holiday allusions regarding the comic books this week.  So let’s see who’s nice.  I see on my list that we have Aquaman, Batman, Doctor Who, The Mummy, Simpsons Comics, The Ultimates, Southern Cross, Superman and Tomb Raider.  First, we’re dropping a big lump of coal in The Mighty Captain Marvel’s stocking.

I’ve been a fan of Carol Danvers for a helluva long time.  I read her title series by Chris Claremont, Jim Mooney and Carmine Infantino.  I followed her adventures as an Avenger in good standing; about the time when John Byrne graced the ensemble.  That of course changed with Avengers #200.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was still a fan of Ms. Marvel.  Avengers #200 simply disposed of the character.

Avengers #200 is legendary for being complete coddleflop. Although for some it has a more insidious reputation.  The gist of this dreck is that Immortus’ son kidnaps Ms. Marvel, wines and dines her in another dimension, wipes out her memory and impregnates her so she can give birth to him.  No, don’t bother rereading that.  It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but that I assure you is what went down.

If Ms. Marvel’s words in an Avengers Annual published a year later are any indication, Claremont held the stance that what occurred to Ms. Marvel in The Avengers was tantamount to rape.  I personally feel that the story was a badly written confusion and the rape of Ms. Marvel was never Jim Shooter’s or David Michelinie's intention.  My reaction at the time amounted to, “what the heck?” Not “How dare they!”  However, Claremont was right.  Inadvertent, yes, but Michelinie and Shooter performed what amounted to be a heinous magic trick.  You were supposed to see the teleportation to other planes, the charismatic immortal and weird pregnancies.  Not cosmic Rohypnol.  

Claremont’s solution however must be noted for its strangeness.  I can only assume that Claremont was so disgusted with The Avengers story that working with Ms. Marvel would only remind him of it.  For whatever reason, he introduced a now famous character called Rogue who stole Ms. Marvel’s powers in the anthology Marvel Super-Heroes.  

Claremont then restored Carol’s dignity and willpower in the Avengers Annual.  There, Claremont also establishes the bond between Carol and Spider-WomanSpider-Woman saves her life when Rogue throws Carol off the Golden Gate Bridge.  Claremont furthermore associates Carol with the X-Men, who helped her when Spider-Woman called, rather than the Avengers.  This fits with the idea of Claremont being offended by that Avengers story.  He logically believes that Carol would not feel comfortable around the Avengers, and from a realistic stand point, by making Carol a frequent guest-star in Uncanny X-Men he can guard the character until she resumes her role as a super hero.  His ultimate plan.

Claremont recreated Carol Danvers as Binary, a vastly more powerful figure than Ms. Marvel.  Claremont through her new origin also addresses a problem I have with power-absorbing characters.  If superpowers are biological, I cannot fathom how a syphon can leech them.  Duplicate and dam, yes, but steal and stamp out? No.  Those powers must still be there.  Claremont’s story gives weight to my hypothesis.  The Brood monkey around with Carol’s body, and they make the worst mistake of their evil, slimy lives, they accidentally reignite her Kree-mutated genes thus sealing their doom.

In a subsequent Avengers series, fondly remembered as the jacketed Avengers era, Carol regains her abilities as Ms. Marvel, including the power of flight, which her costume once provided.  I made a point to try every Ms. Marvel or Captain Marvel series after the restoration, and I was not impressed.  Certainly not by the dilettante Civil War Captain Marvel.

When Kelly Sue DeConnick took over Carol’s adventures, I felt real hope for the character, but that hope died with the mediocre new writers that turned Captain Marvel into the leader of Alpha Flight, who now protect the earth in a Deep Space Nine styled space station.  If you’re wondering why the Canadian government in the Marvel Universe seems to have better technology and greater global influence than even the fictional United States, there’s a real world answer to that.  The X-Men’s popularity began when Chris Claremont and John Byrne teamed up for Uncanny X-Men.  That stone in the pond created the ripples of Wolverine and the Weapon X program as well as Alpha Flight, and all the Canadian black ops (Red Maple Leaf Ops?) behind them.  Curse those wily Canucks.  

All of this brings us to Margaret Stohl’s new Captain Marvel ongoing.  It’s pretty ballsy to clean up old messes from a Big Stupid Event in a debut issue of a comic book rather than to subtly introduce an audience to a character that’s from their perspective brand new.  Not very smart, but ballsy.

So, let me get this straight.  Carol is talking to a therapist because of whatever the hell happened in Civil War II Electric Boogaloo? The last time Carol talked to a therapist she actually needed one.  Carol and Captain Marvel were originally two personalities in one mind.  

Already, I’m not in love with this book.  I don’t want to read about a Captain Marvel with issues.  I’m looking for somebody who shouts “Hala” and beats the shit out of bad aliens and super-powered villains.  It doesn’t get much better when Carol walks onto Alpha Flight’s Bridge.  Oh, and I’m really easy going.  She doesn’t actually need to shout “Hala!”

Wait.  Why are there alien refugees coming to earth? That doesn’t make any sense.  The earth is in the boondocks of the Milky Way.  I can make allowances for alien invasions that necessitate drama, but a silly metaphor for the Syrian Crisis? No.  Firstly, I don’t understand what kind of cosmic catastrophe could force aliens to move.  Second, I don’t know why aliens fleeing from…whatever…would come here since the Marvel Universe is populated by numerous M-Class planets, closer than earth.  Even if you’re on the run, you’re better off hiding on planets where alien traffic is immense.  Getting lost in the crowd is your best bet.  Sticking out like a sore thumb among humans is your worst wager.  Third, Captain Marvel is not Men in Black.  If you want to write Men in Black, do that.  Don’t graft a Men in Black backdrop to Captain Marvel.  

Is this comic book occurring in Carol Danvers’ head? Is she still experiencing a nightmare? This is just…Gah!

Carol then throws Abigail Brand a Joss Whedon creation against the wall.  She snuck up on her you see, and Carol who is super-powerful immediately reacts like it’s an attack.  This is all kinds of stupid, but we’ll let it go.  I won’t let basic math go.  Carol Danvers is fully human.  She had human parents.  As I implied above, Carol was exposed to a faulty Kree device that reconstituted her.  Her biological history is still human.  Not even Homo superior.  You can state she's human.  You can argue that she’s an artificial Kree, but nothing else.

The dialogue in this scene is atrocious.  “The higher I fly.  The farther away everyone else gets.”  Are you fucking kidding me? Am I reading a nineteen seventies ABC After School Special?  And a bad one at that?  Oh, and by the way, I’m not reading the ironically titled Mighty Captain Marvel for “Feelings Talk.”

Oh, no.  We’re not taking a trip down memory lane?  We’re not doing that.  We’re not doing a montage.

Yup.  We’re doing a montage.  One where Carol has pictures of herself on a desk somewhere and the original Captain Marvel has nothing to do with her origin.  

The charming movie Tomboy did something similar only sensibly since the photos were of Tommi’s father, a single Astronaut dad.  The opening to Tomboy provided exposition free history in seconds.

No, you doltish writer.  Ms. Marvel’s origin is not open for interpretation.  She was hit by Kree radiation when she was used as a hostage against the original Captain Marvel.  Damn it.  This was not some ethereal new age abduction.  This was pure and simple Marvel action acrobatics.  “Mirari, a thing of wonder.  A source of Marvels.”  My ass.

That’s the origin of Ms. Marvel.  Do you see Carol Danvers rising in a tractor beam?  No? Thought not.  Even when the Supreme Intelligence decides to unsuccessfully exploit Ms. Marvel as the mother of a new Kree Master Race, he doesn’t abduct her via angelic pixie dust.  He sends Ronan to smack her through a building.  That’s the language of comic books!  

Captain Marvel  fares much better in The Ultimates.  I can only hope that A-Force comes back this strong.  Writer Al Ewing’s main focus is on Galactus becoming the Life Bringer instead of maintaining his former Devourer status.  To that effect, the Lords of Order and Chaos bring Galactus to trial.

A ton of amazing stuff happens during the trial, and it’s all done in the funky color effects of Dan Brown over the illustrations of Travel Foreman.  So, it looks like it’s taking place outside the regular confines of the cosmos.  It turns out that the second Civil War somehow decommissioned the Ultimates, but Galactus is having none of it.  He needs to find out who chained Eternity, and he wants the Ultimates to back him up.  They’re now the only people he trusts.  This makes sense since they’re responsible for Galactus’ evolution.  The difference in the Ultimates’ purpose however is a subtle one.

Before coming into The Ultimates, I knew nada about the new Miss America.  Her comment about being a superhero since she was six is another fresh nugget.  Ewing writes the book in such a way that I’m delighted to find out new things about the characters, and he has a much more organic approach to writing Captain Marvel.  His understanding of Carol's persona and history makes me think he should be writing her book as well as this one.  

Captain Marvel objects to the Ultimates’ reformation with numerous intelligent points of contention.  These arguments however fall apart against the grand scale of Galactus’ need.  Black Panther no longer trusts Captain Marvel, but he tamps down that distrust in order to work with her.  Or does he.

Nevertheless, Panther isn’t about to take down Carol now.  Carol in turn doesn’t feel that she’s the big hero everybody thinks she is.  She is uncomfortable with her status, and it shows up beautifully in The Ultimates.

Ms. Marvel met Gyrich in The Avengers.  He immediately tried to fingerprint her, which is how retinal scanners quickly became the identification device of choice, not only in comics but in other areas of pop culture.  The oil and water relationship continued, and so I’m guessing that Captain Marvel’s approval from a well known sphincter like Gyrich causes her more discomfort than suspecting Black Panther of plotting her future downfall.  Although, Panther mocks Carol consistently and slyly throughout the story.  He knows she's not happy with the Ultimates working in secret.  The Black Panther is quite used to discretion and I imagine his support of her lies feels like being "nibbled to death by ducks," to borrow a quote from Peter Falk.

It’s also from Al Ewing that I get a sense of what the new Civil War was about and how it turned out.  Not the specifics but definitely the gleanings.  Carol did some terrible things.  These things are only known by the superhero community who no longer trust her.  Carol’s actions however resulted in a win for her side.  That win cemented her reputation with the public, who already saw her as a defacto Wonder Woman.  The Carol Corps for example is a reflection of the Wonder Scouts.

In addition to all of this goodness in characterization and Galactus being put on trial, Al Ewing pulls an old Marvel cosmic big deal from the dust to relate enigmatic clues and give Galactus a chance at retaining his newfound lease on life.  The Ultimates is back.

The Mummy is written like a bad Hammer movie, and you know what? That’s how it should be with two warring cults, Egyptian gods and priestesses and a woman imbued with a literal spirit and a penchant for bandages.  How could I not love this?

The story begins with a dream where our heroine illegal immigrant Angel Kostenko gloms onto the past of Priestess Nebetah who partially inhabits her mind and body.  Here we also learn about the ritual that put Angel in this situation.

Heady stuff and vocabulary expanding, but The Mummy does not forget what it is.  A comic book.  Our heroine doesn’t wake up from a fitful slumber.  Her reverie occurs while she’s running from a giant monster stalking from Egyptian mythology.  That’s how it’s done.

Angel escapes the monster but not the life of Nebetah.  Again, memories of a history not hers unfold, and this time, writer Peter Milligan draws parallels between Nebetah and Angel.  Both betrayed by men.  Both screwed into the cult’s plans.

You see.  Behind the creaky tropes of the “bad” Hammer movie lies a feminist story.  There are few men in this story that mean to do good.  Angel and Nebetah will need to find their way out of this trap themselves.

Tomb Raider is all action, action and more action, which is great if you like that sort of thing.  Remember what I said about the language of comic books?

The Sun Queen possessed Sam, Lara's friend, and there’s already a cult waiting to worship her.  The cult never died, and they immediately recognize Lara Croft as an enemy.  This is how the story opens.  With a sword fight.  

The sword fight lasts fifty-six wonderfully choreographed panels spreading through eight pages.  We then slip into the jeep for some brief exposition and then watch a trap unfold for a good twenty-five panels.  The Sun Queen’s followers aren’t Lara’s only enemies, and these two armies just teem out after her.  Lara in turn takes what she learned in previous issues and combines it with her own ruthlessness.  This is a superb issue of Tomb Raider.

In a stunning moment form Superman  Lois actually does something Lois like.

Even Superman’s amazed.  I don’t think he programmed his Lo-Bot for retaliation.  Regardless.  I salute writer Peter Tomasi for going beyond whatever edict demands Lois to be written piss poor.

The rest of the book is solidly illustrated by Doug Mahnke and Tomasi contributes an okay Frankenstein story.  It just doesn’t match the insane situations and character interaction that Tomasi brought to the table in Frankenstein’s meetings with Batman.  Tomasi’s Superman is kind of boring and makes me think that Tomasi isn’t in the loop for “The Return of Superman” storyarc coming up considerably slower than a locomotive.  Tomasi’s most interesting character is the antagonist.

Let’s look at Kroog.  This fellow hid out from Frankenstein and his Bride, who traded in her Mademoiselle Marie shtick for cosmic bounty hunting.  Kroog disguised himself as a middle-aged black woman that runs a small town newspaper.  That’s not the most of it either.  Kroog possesses a bizarre super power that allows him a unique temporary reprieve.  Kroog owns a Batwing-like spacecraft, and he almost managed to elude all three heroes.  He's funny.  Plus his name is Kroog.  He’s like a first season Super-Friends villain as seen on Adult Swim.  Hope to see you again, Kroog.

There is so little I can say about Batman.  It’s that good.  Maybe in a month, I can revisit the issue and spoil it all to hell and back.  So, here’s what I can say.  Amanda Waller returns fat and pleased with herself.  Her dialogue brands "EVIL" to her forehead.  You can no longer call her human with good points and bad.  You can no longer refer to her as amoral, nor merely an antagonist.  She's pure unadulterated evil.  Amanda Waller is as evil and as crazy as the Joker.  The difference lies in the DSM-IV classification.  The Joker is a psychopath.  Waller is a psychopath and a megalomaniac.  In addition to exposing the cold obsidian heart of Amanda Waller, writer Tom King furthermore reveals why Bane wanted Psycho-Pirate around in the first place, and King's Batman is Batman.  

Holy crap is he Batman.  I got goosebumps when I read this book, and it’s all done with the realistic aplomb of Mikel Janin.  I’m even more impressed with him here than on Justice League Dark.

Batman and Superman from another universe show up with the rest of the Justice League in Aquaman.  This is Dan Abnett’s first crack at the League, and he just nails each and every member.  Wonder Woman.  The new Lanterns.  Even Cyborg.

Aquaman is currently at war with NEMO.  The villainous organization clearly took its name from Jules Verne’s illustrious Captain, and it’s about that old of an evil.  The Fisher King however is relatively new.  He goes by a different name, one all too familiar to Aquaman fans.  The machinations of NEMO sent Aquaman to the brig.  This also forced a confrontation between he and Superman from another universe.  Superman gave Aquaman some breathing space.  Aquaman made good use of it.

With the League firmly on Aquaman’s side, things must be looking up, right?  Wrong.  The USA believes Atlantis an aggressor in numerous attacks.  It will come as no surprise that Atlantis is innocent, but Aquaman has given orders for Atlantis to stand down on any offensive action.  This decision, really the only one Aquaman could have made, turns them into targets for both interested parties.

When written correctly Aquaman has the power to punch holes in submarines.

Done and done.  There’s even more to Aquaman to behold.  Throughout this story, Aquaman isn’t just a superhero.  He’s a geopolitical aware king.  He makes policy as well as tactical moves.  If intelligence ruled the day, Aquaman would have made his case and America would have agreed.  However, members of the U.S. government are completely pigheaded.  The evidence can't move through proper channels, and I haven't ruled out the possibility of NEMO sympathizers in the White House.  All of this adds spice to a superb Aquaman far-ranging tale.

Doctor Who concludes the Doctor’s reacquaintance with Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in high fashion. The story starts from the tantalizing point of view of UNIT Officer Tara Mishra… 

…but from there, we cut to the Doctor, Rose and Jack with the Brig and Dean, a Gargoyle, who became acquainted with the TARDIS crew in previous issues.  Not to worry about that.  The encounter with Dean isn't discussed in the current Doctor Who.  Dean’s just one of those weird things that you accept“Yeah, they’re friends with a Gargoyle.  Of Course.”

Dean’s presence though isn’t fluffery.  He triggers a response from UNIT and the Doctor that’s unexpected.

The lady tearing the Doctor a new one is Mrs. Yaxley who’s part of this episode because her husband took part in some ethically dicey experiments run by a group known as Albion.  They’re a rotten sort of organization filled with sadists.

With UNIT about to be exposed on national television, a vicious pack of humans controlling a man who seems to be able to form monsters out of thin air and Rose and former companion Harry Sullivan prisoners of the Crown, the reader must ask if the Doctor and the Brig haven’t been overwhelmed and this book will end darkly like a terrible Doctor Who novel from the nineties.

In Southern Cross four people go to a terraformed Titan in search of an alien artifact.  In the best tradition of exotic treasure hunts, only two make it back.  This is largely due to the catalyst of a stowaway who has ties to Alex Braith, the sleuth searching for the truth about her sister on The Southern Cross.

Action and murder are the order of the day, and altruism is in short supply.  Characters with different motives stand by and do nothing while other players try their best to narrow the field.

Meanwhile at the conglomerate Zemi’s headquarters, the boom falls on the vicious piratical leader of Romulus Station.  The CEO of Zemi also decides to take a personal interest in Alex Braith, where all roads seem to lead.  Strong writing and the artwork of brutality make Southern Cross an attraction for science fiction fans that appreciate their starships in a seedy pulp wash.

The main event for Simpsons Comics is Ian Boothby’s hilarious Bartman and Houseboy adventure.  This bizarre thing takes place in the context of the regular “flexible reality” of the Simpsons but also enjoys the surreal addition of Bartman and Houseboy being known quantities.  The villain of the piece is very obviously Miss Hoover in a Captain Cold getup, and this is the underlying joke of the whole novelette.  Nobody can tell who’s really behind the mask.  A well known chestnut of any superhero comic book.

Naturally this isn’t the only superhero gag in the book, and Boothby while beating out the funny also relates a clever and logical sequence of events perpetrated by Miss Hoover and thwarted by Bartman and Houseboy.  In addition to these major gags, a running joke involving a school bake sale is laugh out loud funny as are the trials and tribulations of Bart’s stooge Milhouse, in costume or out of costume.  Rex Lindsey creates an on-model tapestry of Simpsonian nuttiness and adds to the hilarity with feminized Captain Colds and designs of diminutive superheroes precisely and colorfully finished by Mike Rote and Art Villanueva.

The first story in Simpsons Comics while not as funny as the second isn’t without some points of interest.  The illustration of John Delaney and Andrew Pepoy expresses appealing shadow work.  The sight gags are amusing, and the clown designs are unusual.