Tuesday, December 20, 2016

POBB December 15, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 15, 2016
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag the weekly comic book review blog.  This issue I review Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows, Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Earth 2 Society, Hawkeye, Motor Girl, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Sonja and the new book Rockstars. 


Motor Girl  is Sam, a former soldier, suffering from PTSD that lives and works in a junkyard owned by Libby, a senior citizen filled with attitude.  Sam shares her place with a talking gorilla named Mike whom only she can see.   This manifestation is a result of whatever caused the scars on Sam’s back and her father, also a soldier killed in battle.


Sam cannot be sure what’s real and what’s not.  She’s comfortable with Mike, but recently, Sam encountered aliens with flying saucer trouble.  She fixed their saucer and left an impression on one of the little green men.  So, he left an impression on her.


Seeing aliens is a new experience.  As is repairing a saucer and sending the cosmonauts on their merry way.  She however knows what isn't true UFO.  In a neat means that demonstrates her military background, Sam has no trouble disabusing Libby out of the idea that her late husband saw a spacecraft.  


Libby happens to be in the vicinity because she may or may not be selling her property.  She however doesn’t want to leave Sam in the lurch.  Fortunately, the decision may have been made for them.    


The charm of Motor Girl continues with a dark subject underlying the themes of cult pulp extraterrestrials, comedy high tech problems, friendly hirsute hallucinations, dream fathers that love their daughters, thoughtful dialogue and the release of physical violence against a spidery antagonist.  All of these elements of storytelling come to elegant life in the lovely and typically clean pencils and inks of Terry Moore. 


Hawkeye has been described as a cross between superheroes and Veronica Mars.  That’s a fairly accurate description.  I was a Kickstarter backer of the Veronica Mars movie, but I know beans about Kate Bishop, the new Hawkeye.  I only met the character in a Hawkeye trade paperback that left me ambivalent but more learned.  

The unrelated protege of Clint Barton, Kate struck me as a character that solely fulfilled the snark role in Hawkeye.  Veronica was the queen of snark.  So perhaps Kate’s transition was a natural evolution.  Kate becoming a private investigator while seemingly a stereotypical move for a single, Marvel female actually carries some weight in history.  


The original Hawkeye worked as a security director for Cross Technologies.  Security Director to private investigator certainly works as a segue even if the flow transferred to Kate Bishop.  


According to the bio in front, Kate was recommended by Jessica Jones, but I read on anyway.  The story begins in the middle of a previous case with Kate observing her target from afar.  During this observation, Kate spies some incongruities from displaced suits and ties.  She deduces that these gents are up to no good, and Hawkeye quickly goes into action.


From there, Kate returns to trying to make a living by being a detective.  In the Hawkeye series I read, both Hawks had fallen into money, but apparently the fickle fate of fortune turned.  So badly that Kate cannot even afford a professional sign maker.  


It’s a good running joke, and that sign pulls in all sorts of people looking for an optometrist or ophthalmologist.  Eventually, Kate lands an actual client, and she’s plagued with exactly the kind of updated problem Veronica Mars used to tackle.


The ease of computer use unfortunately allows the underprivileged in intellect to make life extremely difficult online for women.  This user friendly atmosphere has furthermore allowed the morons of the world to band together and form asinine groups that hope to redirect feminism into a blind alley to kill it and their proponents.  Make no mistake, if they’re willing to threaten you online, they’re willing to enact those threats if given the opportunity.  Bullies are budding psychopaths.  It is for this reason, that Hawkeye bears a similar sharp edge beneath the snappy-patter and the action.  One of the things that distinguish Veronica Mars from others of her ilk is that she’s not soft-boiled.  She’s a spiritual sister to Lisbeth Salander.  Judging by the ending, Hawkeye will aim for this association.  Taut writing by Kelly Thompson and strong, stylish artwork from Leonardo Romero and colorist Jordie Bellaire make Hawkeye  a winner even if like me you’re not that familiar with the character.  By the end of the book, you’ll get an idea of who Kate is and whether or not you like her.


It’s remarkable how bad Rebirth has been for Lois Lane.  From fearless, capable, ace reporter descended from Glenda Farrell’s wise-cracking critical thinker Torchy Blane to helpmate to Superman and frumpy mom.  


Scoops and sarcastic wit used to be Lois Lane’s forte.  She was recently voiced by Dana Delaney.  How perfect can you get?  Lois once remarked that she had newsprint in the blood, but now she’s got no individuality and no other meaning than to be the homemaker to hers and Superman from another universe’s son.  While the menfolk of the house go and have lives, she’s got nothing.  Peter Tomasi may change that with his current run of Superman but as of now, he’s only taken baby steps in resurrecting a glimmer of Lois Lane’s former brilliance.  


If the timing were different, I’d suggest that Marvel was mocking the new Lois Lane with Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows.  This issue of Renew Your Vows focuses on Mary Jane Parker, wife to Peter Parker, mother of Anna-May Parker.  

In the previous volume the Spider-Man Family stayed in hiding from the evil Regent, a power eating sphincter who took over the world.  This volume is set several years past that event where everything’s normalized.  Spider-Man being the genius guy that he is, adjusted Regent’s technology to create a costume for Mary Jane to share his powers.  Thus, both parents can protect their precocious super-powered child Anna-May.  It’s a twenty-four hour job, right, but Mary Jane makes Lois Lane look even worse.


I mean seriously? How can you not love this astounding woman? Furthermore, as the story continues, writer Gerry Conway reveals M.J.’s theory on parenting.


I heard something similar from an interview with Milla Jovovich who seems like a cool Mom with a cool kid.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Conway based Mary Jane on some of the amazing celebrity parents out there and real working moms in general.

The story drops back a bit to give the reader a typical day-in-the-life of Mary Jane Parker.  We see her in spider-garb swinging her daughter to school because she missed the bus.


Oh, Lois, you’re such an idiot.  As Mary Jane spins a web, she recounts the differences and similarities between she and her famous husband.  In this way, Conway portrays their relationship as equals that were friends who became lovers that became partners in marriage.  None of this obey/property Kool-Aid that Lois seems to have drunk.  Of course, she may still be only a robot Superman put together.  In which case, she is property.  On the other hand…


In Earth 2, Lois Lane died, but in a rare moment of goodness and cogency, Sam Lane preserved Lois Lane's mind in the Red Tornado.  Lois Lane is Red Tornado, and as you can see by artist Bruno Redondo's expressive artwork, the robot Red Tornado version of Lois Lane has more personality than the Lo-Bot from another universe.

But back to Mary Jane.  After dropping off Anna-May, M.J. foils armed robbers on motorcycles then peels off the costume to check in on her other interests.  Repeat.  She has other interests.  In these scenes, Conway just nails what Mary Jane could have become had the Marvel Universe proper not chucked her away only to be marooned decades later on Bendis Island.

In the latter half of the book, time catches up to the present where the Mole Man, funnier and nuttier than usual, makes the tactical error of abducting Anna-May.


For an encore, Conway christens M.J. with a cool superhero name that’s a vital part of spider anatomy.  In other words, Mary Jane is vital to the Spider-Man Family and not just an afterthought.  Cheers!

If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Joe Harris and Megan Hutchison created Dorothy Buell in Rockstars to express their disgust with the He-Man-Woman-Hater’s Club version of Lois Lane.

For bloody’s sake DC, pay attention.  This is how you write a reporter.  Dorothy is investigating a murder, but her new cohort Jackie our point of view narrator has an inside line on the killings of rock and roll groupies.


Rockstars combines Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Lois Lane, horror movies and of course rock and roll legends.  I found this combination fascinating.  This is what I heard after reading the narration.


The situation is “It’s Only a Movie.  It’s Only a Movie” Last House on the Left, but with a far, far better plotting that realistically invites modern police and journalistic involvement.  Rockstars leaves the humorless exploitation behind.  So what happened to Becky and Suzanne.  It’s still too early to tell, but the expressionist artwork argues for a dark fantasy ending.  


Normally, I wouldn’t worry about reviewing a book that’s a quarter, but the new Red Sonja by Amy Chu kicks off an ongoing series, and this is your Dynamite taste to see if you’ll like that series.  No company in their right might mind would institute such a drastic price drop if they didn’t have faith in the product.  You ask me, the gamble paid off.

As I have stated in this blog and over at my former online home Comics Bulletin, the Marvel Red Sonja is who people think of when asked about the traditional Red Sonja.  She’s not how Robert E. Howard wrote her however, and you can find a recent overview of the true Red Sonja right on this blog: Shadow of the Vulture.

Dynamite’s version of Red Sonja began with the Marvel Red Sonja, whose rasion d’Etre is searching for ale and coin.  Both of these concepts vacillate.  When Michael Avon Oeming wrote the character, he opted to give Sonja essentially the same mercenary attitude Roy Thomas’ and Frank Thorne’s version had, but sharpened her mind and her philosophy.  Sonja searched for honest mercenary work.  He also dispensed with the peculiar sexual mores foisted on Sonja.  Something Howard never even begun to imagine.  I hopped out of that run when Oeming and Brian Reed turned Sonja into a homunculus, literally a woman-creature fashioned essentially out of Mandrake root with implanted memories.   


I drifted back when the Vampirella writers took over for a traditional Red Sonja that more or less expunged the vegetable apocrypha.  It could be claimed that recent Sonja scribe Marguerite Bennett went too far in the opposite direction, but since no Red Sonja in comics can claim superior adherence to the source, Bennett’s Sonja was equally valid, although different.  

The wheel turns now for Amy Chu.  She ignores Bennett and the rest, and brings Sonja back to square one.


Yep.  Honest coin and a flagon of ale.  Fighting monsters and sporting amazing knockers magically held in place by a chain mail bikini.  The latter is of course due to the good good girl art of artist Carlos Gomez.  


I’m not against showing cleavage or cachongas if the consistency of casabas matches the rest of the proportions.  Gomez does a more than decent job with the anatomy and draws breasts well.  They're very fluid on Sonja.  They move.  Sure.  There’s a couple of instances of bad cheesecake posing, but for the most part, the rest of Sonja is built out of sinew, and she always looks dangerous.   So no complaints here.  Besides, the artist probably wanted to celebrate Sonja’s boobs because we won’t be seeing a lot of them in future issues.

Once again, as in a stellar issue of Marvel Team-Up, and a mostly boring retread mini-series, Sonja takes Manhattan courtesy of Kulan Gath.  Things however are a little different.  Chu characterizes Sonja as primitive but intelligent.  Observe one of the ways she deduces that she’s in a strange place.


Chu doesn’t go too far either.  Sonja can’t speak the dialect, and she can’t see the workmen in the tunnel due to their head lamps blinding her.  She misidentifies a subway train as a beast, but that makes sense given the speed.  It just rushes past.  All and all, Chu creates a good balance between Sonja the Barbarian and Sonja the intelligent woman a little beyond her time.  


This is the issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws that finally gels the team together.  There’s a lot of humorous dialogue between Red Hood and Artemis, but what’s surprising to me is how Scott Lobdell returns to the McGuffin in a clever way to make me actually care that it existed in the first place.


Red Hood began this kooky trip to uncover the person responsible for introducing a techno-virus in the Mayor of Gotham City.  With that in mind, he went undercover as a bad guy and rooted out Black Mask, a much more robust Rebirth.  I almost forgot about the original reason why Red Hood began this crusade, but this issue reminds me, and it does so through an integrated plot.  The techno-virus question no longer just appears to be grafted onto a Wise Guy story.  It explains why the villain of the piece can do what he can do.


Batman Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles begins with Harley Quinn breaking her puddin’ out of Arkham Asylum, but it’s really the presence of the novice Batgirl that creates context.


Batgirl as you can see sports her old homemade costume.  Batman has yet to train her and accept her as his main partner.  She’s crusading on her own, while Robin, Dick Grayson, inadvertently falls into dating her.  The Animated Series doesn’t actually bring the two together until late college.  The time period also explains why Harley is still in love with the Joker.  This ends when Poison Ivy slowly weans her away from the abusive relationship, eventually healing her enough that Batman as Bruce Wayne vouches for her release.

So now that we know when this going on, Batman explains the situation to Batgirl and Robin.  You can make the case that Batman/TMNT also foreshadows Batman’s move forward from a generally cleansed Gotham City to Justice League territory.  The story exemplifies then that Batman is already thinking ahead.

The second issue finally brings the Batman Family and TMNT together in hilarious and characteristic means.  The Turtles’ personalities seep through in dialogue and action.  There’s a superb moment when Michelangelo mistakes Batman for a gargoyle then begins classifying the other members of the Batman Family in outrageous fashion that I'll not be spoiling here.  

Grab your sparring partners.  It’s go time.  Batman Family vs the Turtle Family, and son of a bitch, Lois, April O’Neil is so much more livelier than you.  Trained by the Turtles and Splinter, she gives the novice Batgirl a run for her money.  Meanwhile Leonardo and Batman square off, and both tactical geniuses arrive at the same conclusion.


Now that the preliminaries end, we can get down to the nitty gritty of saving people from Turtle Rogues and Arkham escapees.  Sometimes one in the same.  Batman/TMNT is far more entertaining, attractive, witty and intelligent than it has a right to be.

The Earth 2 Society appear on a brand new earth, and I decided that this was the perfect time to rejoin them.  I loved Earth 2 from the beginning of the new 52 and followed the series along with World's Finest: Power Girl and Huntress faithfully.  Drastic changes fittingly subtitled World’s End necessitated my leaving.  The first attempt at a soft reboot didn’t thrill me, but Aquaman's Dan Abnett now acquired the title, and things are definitely looking up, especially with new artist Bruno Redondo.


I’m happy to see that most of the team made it back alive, including faves Power Girl and Huntress, as well as the new Hawkgirl and Lois Lane as Red Tornado.  Because of Abnett and the performance of Redondo, characterization is high in a superb plot that’s all kinds of science fiction.


Abnett gloms onto the idea that sudden reboots of the earth could in theory defy physics' basics laws.  Being British, he also mixes is in some “Castrovalva” from Doctor Who.  “Castrovalva,” named after the M.C. Escher art was a recursive trap the Master set for a freshly regenerated fifth Doctor.


It turns out the books in Castrovalva’s library are fraudulent.  The books are five hundred years old, but “they chronicle the rise of Castrovalva to the present day.”  This is kind of what Abnett aims at amidst the toe-crackling reunions and a use of the Legends of Tomorrow’s popularity by reintroducing Sargeant Steel.


The multiverse of course had a history.  We read it.  The post-Crisis in the aftermath of Crisis Of Infinite Earths however did not, until The History of the DC Universe unfolded.  Whew! That was close.  When the new 52 arose from and affected Flashpoint, the argument could be made that it too appeared from nothing, but no.  The new 52 was actually a sturdy thing, and right from the start, DC established a history with The Judas Coin, All-Star Western and the presence of Vandal Savage.  In other words, the DC Universes were always about thirteen billion years old, with a 4.5 billion year old earth(s).


Not sure about the recently reconstructed earth out of Marvel's battle world.  Better introduce some history there, Marvel.  By the way if anybody wants to deny the age of the universe or earth, they can suck it.



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