Tuesday, December 6, 2016

POBB November 30, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 30, 2016
Ray Tate

Welcome to a very low key Pick of the Brown Bag.  I’m Ray Tate, and I review the best and worst comic books of the week including the Batman Annual, MASK, Romulus and the Superman Annual, but first a few words about the first DC TV mega crossover.  

"Invasion" was superb.  The setup, the delivery, the humor and the personal growth that many of our heroes experienced made this event far from big and stupid.  It was special.  

Supergirl kind of kicked off the story with The Flash and Cisco traveling to her earth-38 for her help.  The 38 of course represents Action Comics #1 1938 where Superman debutedThen the tale continued in The Flash with a multiverse assembly of the Justice League.  It should come to no reader's surprise that only Mick, Heatwave, was a new addition to the roster.  Each first tier character in the programs served on various incarnations of the team.  Arrow next rocked things with a virtual happiness that really stretched the actor's dramatic muscles rather than their impressive stunt choreography.  Finally, Cisco forgave Barry for the consequences of Flashpoint after experiencing something that only made sense on the time-travel show Legends of Tomorrow.  

Things to watch out for in the crossover include the Hall of Justice, Supergirl's charisma extending beyond her earth, Green Arrow's quasi-Batman status actually fitting the character, Sara becoming an even more seasoned leader and time traveler, Mick's jab at Steel, Vixen's reaction at Mick’s joke and Brandon Routh's sly gag near the conclusion.  There’s much more of course, but why spoil things? All the chapters are free to watch on the CW app and site.  So go for it.

Onward to the comic books.  Pretty  thin this week.  Superman Annual is the most intriguing of the bunch.  I've been saying this all along.  The new Superman isn't Superman, but maybe I've been wrong about that.  Maybe he is what he claims to be.  A Superman from another earth.  An innocent inconsequential, bland Kryptonian brought in to hold Superman's place while the new 52 Man of Steel is temporarily dead.  Maybe this version of the Superman Family has just been badly, very badly written.  

So bad that only a male chauvinist pig from the nineteen fifties can see them as true.  Which is not to say that this is the Superman from the nineteen fifties.

That guy? That guy was the real deal.

Through the startling imagery of Patrick Gleason, Swamp Thing meets Superman for the first time.  The annual however  connects loosely to the upcoming "Superman Returns" story.  The annual opens with a local puzzle.

This drought of course is Swamp Thing's way of getting Superman's attention.  Superman is disturbing the Green.

Vibrational frequencies cause two reactions among fans.  For those who grew up reading comics during the Silver and Bronze Age, vibrational frequency signifies multiple earths. The very air begins to crackle.  Historically, the Flashes first brokered the feat of multi-earth travel because the universes are superimposed on each other separated by a molecular vibrational frequency.  For everybody else, I imagine shoulder shrugging is the convention.  Nevertheless, this idea that Superman’s physical form is off kilter with the rest of the universe makes sense.  The idea that his body works differently when absorbing sunlight while not a necessary consequence creates a good conflict that symbolizes Superman’s disconnect from the earth he currently inhabits.

Superman really didn’t mean any harm to Swamp Thing, and it’s here that I’m starting to see that my original premise, that Superman is actually some kind of evil doppelgänger, is likely false.  It was just poor to pedestrian writing.  Superman helps Swamp Thing, and he really could have simply eliminated a threat instead.  Of course, the Big Red S doesn’t quietly let Swamp Thing do the same for him.

So Rude!

Again, this isn’t out of malice.  I see now thanks to Peter Tomasi’s superior writing skills that Superman from another earth is bearing a lot of anxiety.  He’s replacing the new 52 Superman.  He’s got a family to protect.  He’s a strange visitor from another earth and alien world.  

It's through this annual that I’m beginning to formulate a way that Superman will return, and how this alternate version will play a role.  It all ties into what each Superman desires, and it’s no accident that Swampy attuned Superman’s body to the new 52 earth.  Oh, and if any nitpickers are wondering about when did Swamp Thing receive the power to heal.  There’s a precedent, and it’s not Alan Moore.

Batman Annual is actually a traditional formatted giant sizer.  It’s an anthology of Batman shorts, but they’re not the ones that DC just had stacked up and propping a ficus plant.  

These are stories about the new 52/Rebirth Batman.  Not craptastic post-Crisis Batman.  We’ve got some nice echoes to the quintessential Bronze Age Batman.  Our first tale however pays homage to the Silver Age.

As any Sherlock Holmes fan will tell you, Holmes on occasion borrowed a dog named Toby to aid him in his crime fighting pursuits.  This occurs canonically in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s  “The Sign of Four.”  Batman followed Holmes’ footfalls by borrowing Ace from an engraver named John Wilker.

In the new 52 Peter Tomasi gave Batman Titus, a big black Great Dane, that accompanied him on several cases.  Rebirth reintroduces Ace to a new audience.

Seems pretty dark, huh? Believe it or not, this is Batman regulars Tom King’s and David Finch’s Christmas story.  By the end, of the short, you’ll have a big smile on your face.

Next up Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes and former Moon Knight artist Declan Shalvey team up for a complex short story that features a terrorist attack in Gotham City, or does it?

In any case, Snyder and Fawkes cannot help but to add more mythology to Batman with the introduction of a Bat-Aid similar to Person of Interest’s Machine.  As usual, looks can be deceiving, and this tale is filled with warmth and optimism.

Paul Dini and Neal Adams partner for a Harley Quinn/Batman Brave and Bolder.  I really don’t need to say anything more than that do I?  

Ah, what the hell.  It takes place in the Palmiotti/Connerverse of Harley Quinn.  Batman’s driving the slick and subtle Neal Adams constructed Batmobile from the seventies, and Dini pulls out some really obscure trivia while celebrating the evolution of the henchwench he created, with voice artist Arlene Sorkin.

Scott Bryan Wilson offers a straight up Batman crime vignette with Doc Savage; Shaft artist Bilquis Evely.  This tale introduces a new villain to the Batman Rogue’s Gallery, but the done-in-one concludes with a demonstration of Batman’s cunning, as well as his grim sense of humor.

The anthology wins with four out of five good short stories.  Too bad out about he fifth.  I know it seems like I’m picking on Steve Orlando, but I’m not.  I didn’t know he wrote “The Stag” until the end credits.  His story stands out by being the only one delivering a sour taste among the confectionary of sweets and the only one that’s…to be continued…amidst tales with beginnings, middles and ends.  So, what am I supposed to do? Ignore it?

“MASK, where illusion is the ultimate weapon.”  Got to be honest, I only saw two or three episodes at the most from this cult cartoon, but man, that catch phrase is indelible.  I knew that MASK was based on a series of toys, like most of the toons of its time.  The main hero was some blonde guy, and the animation didn’t rate a hill of beans in comparison to the awesome Speed Racer meets Knight Rider, Pole Position.  So, why would I bother with the comic book? Call it a whim.

The new MASK dovetails from the IDW licensed crossover Revolution.  So, MASK are aware of Dire Wraiths, Rom and Cybertron.  In fact according to the summary on the first story page, Miles Mayhem, the Thunderbolt Ross lookalike claimed to establish MASK to combat the Transformers.  This root goal also explains the similarities between MASK and Mayhem’s “new” group VENOM.  In reality, Mayhem intended to eliminate the competition.

After discovering that Optimus Prime isn’t just good but the freaking Batman of the Autobots, MASK realized they had been duped.  Now they take up their powerful light masks and souped up vehicles for a fugitive run.

Brandon Easton’s introduction to the new MASK is tight and forgiving for newbies.  The plot’s all about complications resulting from becoming most wanted and MASK's intent to stop the world domination plans of Mayhem and VENOM. 

Simple things become survival necessities.  MASK must find a new headquarters and a new means of charging their accoutrements.  Dialogue and flashbacks flesh out the cast, and you can tell early on that this isn’t the cartoon you may have watched growing up.  Although I’m uninformed about MASK I doubt very much any episode suggested a link between Brad Turner and drug traffickers, or allowed Gloria Baker to use her boobs to blind a man into talking.

The feminine wiles and unsavory tie-ins give MASK a pulpy contrast to the science fiction that’s acutely based on the animated series.  The inclusion of Miles Mayhem’s religion in the dialogue is also an interesting nuance, and naturally, we’ve got an updated diverse cast line up with Matt being black, and Gloria being of Indian descent.  Art by Tony Vargas creates a flowing easy to understand narrative with attractive designs and terrific vehicular illustration.

All in all, I expected very little from MASK but got a solid story with excellent art and a likable cast.

Lastly, the second issue of Romulus proves to be as good as the premiere.  A cult that's infested the modern world co-opted feminism and uses women warriors to do the dirty work.  One such warrior Axis learned that her belief in the cult was misplaced, and that they intended to kill five million people.  

Axis with her daughter Ashlar defied the Cult of Romulus.  Axis died fighting.  Ashlar continues the fight.  Last issue she saved Nicholas' life. Now, he wishes to repay the favor.

Neither will have a chance to argue.  A new player from an even older cult enters the story.

Ah, yes.  The Illuminati.  Originally, the Illuminati were a group of skeptics that politically and socially sought to see the end of religious influence in the government and everyday life.  That's actually something I support, but the cult was like any other cult. It was based on Freemasonry rankings where one Grand Poobah gets his jollies overseeing the favored few.  Nothing more than a goofy men's only club.  Later the Illuminati became associated with all sorts of rubbish throughout history real and imagined.  Of course since Romulus is a work of fiction, it would only be natural that Ashlar encounter one of the most infamous cult names in the annals of pop culture.  This underlying cult war adds another level of enjoyment.

The richness of this artificial mythology for Romulus, the otherness of a society within a society lies in the gorgeous visual narrative of artist Nelson Blake.  I doubt Romulus could carry the casual power it does without him.  That's because his art is beautifully rendered in realistic terms with a streaming pace that benefits not just the fight scenes but also the odd dialogue.

I love how this scene does so much with its quirkiness.  It underlines the danger for Nicholas should he join Ashlar's campaign.  It displays Ashlar's pragmatism and experience.  It connects her to an outsider's thinking.  There's writing like that throughout the story, and it's not just isolated to Ashlar.  You empathize more with Sozo who though Illuminati seems to live in the real world, but then there's this guy.  A Romulus enforcer dedicated to kill Ashlar.

I mean not one word is fluff in Romulus.  How can you not be entranced by such a book?

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