Tuesday, December 26, 2017

POBB December 20, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 20, 2017
Ray Tate

My Favorite Christmas Song

Happy holidays, from the Pick of the Brown Bag.  With the last minute shopping, maybe you didn’t get a chance to check out the weekly reviews.  You’re at the comic book shop with no idea if a book is worth purchasing.  Not to worry.  Glance at the reduced reviews on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.  For this last week of December I review, Angel, Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hellboy: Krampusnacht, Marvel Two-In One, The Mighty Thor, Peter Parker: Spider-Man and Superman.

I’ve always felt that the Krampus is in fact a hoax response to Fox News and their annual “War on Christmas” paranoia.  I’ve never heard of this sometimes nemesis of Santa Claus until the modern age.  None of my texts on folklore once mention the creature.  He's absent from Dungeons and Dragons bestiaries.  So, I roll my eyes in doubt whenever the legendary beast takes the spotlight.

Is Rankin/Bass to blame?

Hellboy: Krampusnacht is easily the most entertaining treatment of the bugbear I’ve witnessed.  

As illustrated by Adam Hughes, the one-shot looks amazing. Hughes' style is the opposite of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola.  His work is soft and rounded.  Mignola's art, sharp and angled.  What they share lies in shadowy horror.  

The highly recommended Ghost is an Adam Hughes’ touchstone.  So, it’s no real surprise to see such craft in the design of the Krampus, the swathe of inks that seem to follow Hellboy and a spectral presence that serves as a foreboding. 

Mignola’s story takes some welcome departures from the Krampus meme that actually make a lot of sense.  In terms of biology and supernatural trappings.  Mignola furthermore may be employing a very sly gag in the origin of the Krampus.  He also may have insightfully pinpointed the zeitgeist origin of the monster.  Think of your nursery rhymes.

Angel concludes its "season" with a chatty finale that recapitulates previous chapters in the discussion.  That would normally earn it a lump of coal, but writer Corinna Bechko actually makes this dialogue between Angel and Fred/Illyria interesting.

The book isn't completely without action, but the kinetics of the final battle takes a back seat to philosophy and characterization.  Artist Geraldo Borges succeeds in presenting the conflict through expressions and the body language of the stars.

The second part of Tom King’s “Super-Friends” unfolds with the Dark Knight, Catwoman, Superman and Lois Lane spending a night at the fair.  This issue of Batman like the last is pure comedy, and I shan’t spoil anything.  The art by Clay Mann and Jordie Bellaire is also loaded with spoilers. 

The only depiction I can reveal without divulging punchlines.

If you like the above graphic, you’ll like the rest of the gorgeous illustration and the imaginative panel layout.  

King’s story takes a classic World’s Finest tactic and turns it into a running visual gag that’s also the center for a handful of related jokes.  Once this ball is in play, King begins comedic discussion between the couples.  King gives you an intimate peek into how a conversation might indeed go between the four.  The best friends in question of course seem to blend together like oil and water, but the reason why they are such good pals is that they accept each other for who they are.  

Lois and Catwoman hit it off like two normal women, but their dialogue reveals neither really are.  The difference is that Lois and Catwoman are strange in comparison to the real world.  Batman appears to be odd when compared to everything.  He cannot cope easily with social interaction, except when with Catwoman or on a case.  King though demonstrates that a few things in Batman’s repertoire are indeed fathomable, and while Batman is terse and more alien than the alien, he's just human enough to warm up a degree.

Dramatic impetus arrives hilariously decked out as an in-character wannabe.  The World’s Finest team makes short work out of him through a means that offers the reader more foreshadowing to the finale.  The miscreant’s literal downfall is a laugh out loud funny moment as is the self-deprecating humor King instills in his own storytelling.  These days, you just cannot go wrong with Batman.

Superman on the other hand is a what the hell just happened kind of story.

So, briefly.  Young Tim Drake figured out that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are Batman and Robin by observing Dick’s singular acrobatic trickery.  When the Joker murders Jason Todd, the second Robin, Tim Drake notices how brutal Batman becomes.  

Batman needs a Robin, and after some villain murders Tim’s family, Robin needs Batman.  The new 52 compresses these multi-year stories into a very tight span including Jason’s resurrection in a Lazarus Pit.  

I bring this information up for a reason.  Bruce isn’t fighting himself in dream or reality.  That’s apparently an adult Tim Drake beneath the cowl, and he is pissed off.  

What, no spoiler alert? Yeah, well, this story is all muffed up anyway.  How many people wanted to see Batman duke it out with Time Drake? Anybody?

I thought not.

Tim Drake in the present is actually a teen-aged Teen Titan known as Red Robin.  Bruce is fighting Tim’s possible future not even the real Tim Drake from the future.  

Peter Tomasi invokes the phrase Hypertime to explain Tim’s appearance.  

Hypertime was a shit-poor post-Crisis writer’s device designed to deprive Bronze Age fans of a concrete multiverse or unique cosmos that made any sense.  Earth-Two could exist but only for a blink of an eye, and in a gazillion different forms.  Not one you probably liked. 

Unsurprisingly, none of these possible futures posited Barbara Gordon walking unless she was subsequently crippled or killed at the end of the story.  Hypertime fixed nothing and exacerbated the problem with the DCU that the new 52 subsequently repaired.  

It was the spine all along.

With the new 52, a concrete multiverse does exist.  Earth-Two exists, and Helena Wayne and Power Girl also exist.  Thanks to Rebirth, it’s doubtful Batman and Superman remember meeting them, but they still exist.  

Now Hypertime returns.  A dank cesspool of an idea that only delivers dark probabilities of the future.  Fine.  The presence of a thriving multiverse undermines the validity of the concept even more, and this story is rubbish.  Tim Drake seeks to save his dark future by killing off Superboy.  How does that even work? He's not the Tim Drake from Batman's timeline.  Ergo, neither is Jonathan Kent. 

Anyway, Tim's want naturally pits him against Superman and Batman.  First, Drake takes out Batman.  Then he revisits Batman’s suitcases of contingency to confront Superman.

The best thing about this story is that neither Batman or  Superman view Tim Drake as the real deal.  They treat him as a threat, a phantasm from the future, and they have no interest in preserving his timeline.  Let it die.  

The second best thing about this story is that Batman informed Superman about what happened to him in Detective Comics, where screwy Tim Drake made his debut.  Batman isn’t keeping things from Superman or the Justice League.  So, Superman isn’t surprised that some whacko Tim Drake in a Batman costume somehow threatens his family.  Just another nutcase that needs put down.

Things continue to heat up in Peter Parker.  When real cops under the aegis of fake cops threatened to arrest Aunt May, Peter turned himself.  Now, he stews in holding.

Gray Sword, a shady SHIELD offshoot and the cause of all this strife shows up and adds the possibility of illegal disappearing.  Peter’s only in danger only up to the point where he wants to protect his secret identity.

Fortunately, Peter has friends and maybe a sister.

The best laid plans of Mintz and men often go awry.  Writer Chip Zdarsky gives it to the sleaze-ball SHIELD Agent but good.

This story could have easily gone dark, and the cover promises Black Panther somehow becoming involved in the hunt for Spider-Man.  T’Challa shows up, but not in the way you think.

It's so refreshing to not have a superhero slugfest.  Black Panther is probably the last super-hero you thought would show up, but here he is.  I think he only appeared once with Spidey in Marvel Team-Up.

Marvel Two-In One returns with the star of the previous edition The Thing.  Believe it or not you can mess up the Thing.  The character writes himself.  Nevertheless, a lot of modern writers cannot grasp the simplicity of Ben Grimm. 

The Thing is a meat and potatoes hero.  He’s tough.  He’s terse.  He’s fiercely loyal to his friends and family.  He likes to hit things.  The source of his greatest complexity lies in his piloting skills.

I’m happy to say we don’t get any ambiguity for his return.  Chip Zdarsky, again, hits all the right craggy marks.  

From Ben’s side of things, the story opens at a gala honoring Reed and Sue’s memory with the creation of the Fantastic Award.

Reed and Sue apparently died during Battle World, or whatever it is.  We don’t need the details, and artist Jim Cheung and colorist Frank Martin carries out an emotional shorthand.

Spider-Man battling Wrecking Crew member Pile Driver stops by to voice his concern about Johnny.  It seems the Torch may have a death wish, but that's not Storm's claim.

Unlike Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Two-In One occurs in Marvel present day.  So, the happy-go-lucky Torch in Peter Parker is still valid despite the dramatic turn of events yet to come.  

Whereas in the original Marvel Two-In-One Ben teamed up with various heroes, this new volume looks to focus on the remaining two Fantastic Four members.  It's a perfect match with a perfect title and the perfect writer for characters that are crystalized more so than others.  Though I'm sure other artists can render the book, Jim Cheung and company produces excellent artwork that presents the ideal of the heroes with an outer-reaching scope of backdrops and guest stars.

This is easily one of the most optimistic recent issues of the Mighty Thor despite the promise of killing the title character and the ongoing battle against Malekith and his vast alliances with baddies from all the nine realms.  The story starts out with guest star Hercules.

The Franklin Mint presents a limited edition plate of...

More comedy occurs when the artist formerly known as Thor shows up to express his jealousy over Hercules' fairer treatment of the fairer sex Thunder Goddess.  Hercules' answer to Odinson's question is at once characteristic and risible.  Odinson also tries to reason with Jane, who suffering from cancer, continues to miss her chemotherapy. 

I'm calling you out, Odin! 

Writer Jason Aaron came up with the brilliant idea that upon transforming to Thor, Jane is magically healed.  Not of cancer, but of the poisons she ingests to fight the cancer.  If we imagine the hammer to be an advanced computer, it analyzes what's not Jane and expels it.  Cancer is part of the body.  It's unchecked cell growth.  The hammer measures the cancer as part of the person.

As the Talons of the Shiar lay out their plans for assault on the Nova Corps, Rocket's scheme for rooting out the crooked Novas fruits.

I have to say that Rocket's plan is genius.  It explains everything.  Rocket's gung-ho attitude.  His lack of interest in ill gotten gain.  Everything.  Fortunately for me, there's a side B to the disc that allows me to share some of Marcus To's splendid graphics.

The other Guardians of the Galaxy meet up with Russian telepathic dog Cosmo, no idea, to face the growing subplot that's rooted its way through Gerry Duggan's run.

The Guardians of the Galaxy face off against Groot.  All of him, and the little fellow is the most upset about seeing his image in a distorted mirror.  Damn entertaining with a good engagement of super-powers and skills.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

POBB December 18, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
December 13, 2017
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, I’m Ray Tate, and this week I conduct the reviews of All-New Wolverine, Bug, Monsters Unleashed, Supergirl, The Titans and the new book Monstro Mechanica.  If you haven’t the time for the regular reviews, check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Best issue of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl ever!  The return of Tigra to the Marvel Universe even if briefly skyrockets this good issue of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl to the heights of great.  Not only does scribe Ryan North mark the return, he wisely suggests that Tigra is the first hero Squirrel Girl consult.  Because she’s the most feline and the first of her kind.  Patsy Walker though debuting in the 1940s nevertheless didn’t wear Tigra’s old Cat suit until the late seventies.  Only three other feline heroes predate Tigra: Miss Fury, the original Black Cat and Catwoman, but they prowled around before most of the female superheroes anyway.  

Artist Erica Henderson and colorist Rico Renzi bestow agency to Tigra.  I’d like to think that for some, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, like Marvel Team-Up for me, is their first introduction to the love that is Tigra.  You would be like.  Whoa!  Marvel has a sexy cat woman that can probably kick a lot of ass.  I did not know that.  Damn straight they do.  Just do not buy any back issues with Brian Bendis writing for Tigra.  Bendis hates Tigra, and watch out for artist Ron Wimberly who draws Tigra to resemble a crack whore.

Okay.  So, Squirrel Girl is asking around the cat-themed super-hero community to discover who can talk to cats, namely her best friend Nancy’s cat.  The reason for this being somebody kidnaped Nancy and squirrel pal Tippy.  A familiar private eye suggests another avenue, which Squirrel Girl walks to find herself face to face with Marvel continuity.

Loki usurped Doctor Strange’s position in Strange’s eponymous book.  This coup ties into The Mighty Thor where Loki appears to be involved with Malekith’s war on the realms.  I stress appears because I’m not absolutely certain Loki is actually on the Dark Elf team.  I suspect he instead plays his own long game.  In any case, Loki actually likes Squirrel Girl, but he adores Nancy for reasons that are obvious.

Nancy unwittingly ridicules Odinson on a daily basis, and that makes Loki very happy.  

Despite Squirrel Girl being essentially a funny book, it’s not a funny book like Harley QuinnUnbeatable Squirrel Girl nestles in continuity.  North knows Marvel continuity, as evinced by his hilarious Deadpool villain identification cards.  Because of that acumen, North displays one of the more serious consequences of Loki being the Sorcerer Supreme.  Albeit for the sake of the humor, but still.  This twist characterizes Loki as typically biting off more than he can chew.

About now, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with the Silver Surfer and company on the cover.  The reason behind Nancy’s kidnapping is Galactus related even if no Power Cosmic fellow happens to be on deck.

The Orphans of X are a group of nutter racist survivors of mutant mayhem.  They previously kidnaped Daken, son of Wolverine, to lure Laura Kinney, naturally birthed female clone of Wolverine, in a bid to snip the X-Men’s claws. 

As a tactical move, it’s pretty slick, but how do you kill something with a healing factor that makes even zombie rules negligible? All-New Wolverine answers that question with a superbly worked in pun synonymous with deus ex machina.  These items of interest surprisingly seem to end the lives of three players in the Marvel Universe.  They’re not big, but notable in X-Men lore.  No, not Deadpool.  

Putting aside the lethal ramifications rounding up the cliffhanger.  Excepting the sure to kill messengers the Orphans of X send to the Wolverine Family.  Writer Tom Taylor still injects a lot of fun into his story.  For example, Taylor references Doctor Who in a sequence that mirrors the Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness.  Taylor brings Gabby's quest for a code name to a close in a hilarious chain of panels.  Artist Juann Cabal produces the highly kinetic action as well as the expressive motions in this excellent issue of the recommended series.

Due to a publishing mishap, Monsters Unleashed had to be recalled.  Was it worth the wait? I’d say so.  Kei Kawade is Kid Kaiju.  Kaiju possesses the unique ability to call down monsters and giants that he draws in his sketchbook.  SHIELD and Damage Control see him as an asset.  So, the former hired famed monster hunting legacy Elsa Bloodstone to protect him.

Previously, the Kid experienced some horrible dreams that led to somnambulism.  In this trance, Kei began to draw.  He woke himself up and became horrified by the possibility that he could pull an abominable bestiary out of his imagination without knowing.  He consulted Elsa.  She used Mordu’s Gate to open a portal to the Savage Land.  Where else would  you take a kid enamored with monsters to center himself?

The trick works but not before Kei unwittingly draws an alternate incarnation of Fin Fang Foom to the earth.  There’s only one thing he can do to fix this problem after his own creatures fail to curb this reptilian menace.  He calls the original Fin Fang Foom to battle his more powerful pretender.

The ancient dragon falls before the other Fin Fang Foom’s might, but our Fin never was mere brawn.  His cunning mind frequently became the more dangerous of the two assets.  Fin Fang Foom connects with Kei and sees how the problem was crafted in the first place.

Kei Kawade isn’t out of control.  The teleportation wasn’t all his doing.  The doppelgänger used Kei’s ability to establish a breach.  He planted seeds of doubt in Kei’s mind.  He callously reinforced the deprecation to further his aims.  

Comics never gave kids an easy time of it.  Since the nineteen thirties, the medium presented children living with the stresses of the Great Depression.  This story by Cullen Bunn creates dramatic tensions and consequences in the life of Kid Kaiju.  It also grants Fin Fang Foom the dignity such a legendary Marvel character deserves.  You might not expect it, but Monsters Unleashed is a psychological exploration into the mind of a child and demonstrates how outward fragility can in fact sheath steel.

In the latest issue of Supergirl writers Jody Hauser and Steve Orlando bring Sharon Vance, known as Strange Visitor, back to the DCU.

Strange Visitor was an engaging after-effect of the silly Superman blue theme.  Superman inexplicably transformed into a being of pure blue energy.  Vance introduced as Clark Kent’s chum from Smallville becomes similarly empowered and crackles off and on through that volume of Superman’s adventures.  She dies poorly in one of the dumbest of DC’s Stupid Events Our Worlds at War, in which empty suits of armor somehow get the upper hand against the most powerful entities in the cosmos.  Fortunately, everybody gets a do-over with the New 52.  If Tigra were a DC character, we would have seen her sooner.

Strange Visitor’s return however isn’t heralded by rose petals and trumpets.  Arch-villain Director Bones of the D.E.O. uses her as bait to entice Supergirl out in the open. 

The Rebellion mug is a nice touch.

Houser and Orlando found a neat, dramatic reason for Supergirl and the Danvers to become a family, as in the television series, or at least series bible.  Introduced in Superman/Batman Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers added D.E.O. agents to their cvs.  Former DEO Director Cameron Chase set them up as Supergirl’s handlers and cover while Supergirl took the guise of Kara Danvers, student at Cat Grant’s scientific charter school.  Chase also became lover to Dr. Shay Veritas, Superman’s and Supergirl’s personal physician.  Both Chase and Shay erased Supergirl’s information from the D.E.O. database.  Bones wants that information to force Supergirl into divulging the secret identities of Superman and Batman.  That ain’t happening.

At first Bones’ plan only attracts a Guardian analogue, but Supergirl soon steps into the fray.  Finally getting through to Sharon.

However, the D.E.O. are everywhere.  This Nazi mentality instigates numerous moves from unexpected resources to keep Supergirl out of enemy hands.

Bones next amps his attack with Deceilia.  Deceilia is a new villain but with a decided whiff of Krypton, Daxam or Apokolips in her sinew and character.  This time through his careless actions Bones becomes responsible for the loss of lives on a cruise ship.

Kudos to artist Robson Rocha for this decidedly bellicose being, so lovingly designed in evil.

Bug's first story concludes.  Writers Lee and Mike Aldred reveal what's really been going on, the identity of Kuzuko and the talking teddy bear.  It's a little more charming than you may have guessed.  The finale explains the falling dominoes and the reasons why Forager is alive.  The way the New God sees through the lies plays fair with the reader, and the Allreds' handling of the Jack Kirby characters is an outstanding tribute.

Monstro Mechanica is the wooden robot created by historical genius Leonardo Da Vinci in the latest book from Aftershock.  Paul Allor's story posits and jibes with history that Leonardo’s much in demand.  The Vatican won’t stop for niceties.

At this point in the story, we meet one of Leonardo's fanciful creations.  

The robot is Leonardo’s bodyguard.  Believe it or not, though  most of Leonardo's notes were lost, this thing actually could have been been more fact than fiction.  Leonardo Da Vinci did plan to build a robot knight.  

As the tale continues, we meet the most outré element in the story, Leonardo’s apprentice Isabel.  The laissez-faire attitude toward same-sex relations also raises an eyebrow.  

Leonardo never had a female apprentice, and he was arrested for homosexual activity so its doubtful people of the time would immediately leap to the conclusion the dullard makes.   Mind you, Marco is a dullard.

Isabel is a spunky character with a winning curiosity.  As illustrated by Wynonna Earp's Chris Evenhaus, she comes off as a thoroughly modern young women stuck in a backward period, ironically the Renaissance.  If anything, Monstro Mechanica demonstrates that the era was hardly a Utopia just better than what came before it.

The story also scuffs the shine of Leonardo.  While yes, a genius and a beyond gifted painter he also built weapons of war.  He's also not above working for the highest bidder.  It's this humanism good and bad that adds a level of danger to the story.  Isabel harbors her own motives for disobeying her master's instructions and letting his automaton learn.  These indicate a very different kind of pragmatic partnership.

Double Donnas duke it out in The Titans as we discover that Wally West’s death is much more exaggerated than first reported.  All these factors negate the chance that Donna is in fact the Vader like Donna from the future.  Nothing heavy, and just philosophically and tactically sound enough to be a little more substantial than confectionary.