Monday, November 13, 2017

POBB November 8, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 8, 2017
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review column created and operated by yours truly.  For this entry, I’ll look at the latest issues of Hellboy and the BPRD, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Spirits of Vengeance, Supergirl, Superwoman, The Titans and the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  I’ll also briefly examine the new book Coyotes.  First, a short review of Thor Ragnarok.  


Go see it.  It’s as funny and smart as Guardians of the Galaxy.  Thematically, Thor places the Thunder God in a cosmic environment.  So, we see Thor as a really old alien, doing things that many will consider out of character.  Once you see the interaction, you’ll get it.   As previews revealed, Dr. Strange appears, and he is in the movie far longer than expected.  Hulk and Bruce Banner as portrayed by Mark Ruffalo is the prime guest star, contributing to the humor and the action.  Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki, in perfect duplicity.  Tessa Thompson adds another component to the Asgard/alien world motif.  Idris Elba makes for a meaningful Heimdal.  Cate Blanchett brings droll wit and pathos to Hela, the goddess of death.  She’s still quite mad though.  Karl Urban’s Executioner echoes the comic book version while Jeff Goldblum camps it up proper as the Grandmaster.  The lion’s share of difficulty lies on the broad shoulders of Chris Hemsworth who educes depth, joviality and warmth from a straight good guy already explored in three different films.  How Hemsworth distinguishes a worthy Odinson from his comparable compatriot Captain America is particularly notable.

Spirits of Vengeance describes Johnny Storm, Damien Hellstrom, Blade and Satana.  In the premiere, a strange man asked Johnny Storm for help and left Johnny with the silver bullet that wounded him.  The bullet proved to be a costly mistake for the forces of evil.  The demons wanted that slug back, but Johnny Storm isn’t a mere trick cyclist,  He is the Ghost Rider.


After dealing with the brimstone miscreants, Johnny consulted Damien Hellstrom, who classed up his wardrobe considerably.  Through Damien’s connections, Johnny and he learned that they had to save the world.  Damien also alerted Blade for added muscle and monster killing.


David Baldeon from Monsters Unleashed makes this book a stunner of comic book goodness.  This could have easily been a too dark to see type of book or a sludgy realistic title.  Instead, it’s a comic book.  Part cartoon.  Part realism.  Smooshed together in a visual narrative that enhances Victor Gischler’s engrossing story.

Gischler steeps Spirits of Vengeance in Christian mythology.  This is not so much the religion as it is a pantheon and legend pulled from The Bible, promising a different kind of armageddon hopefully thwarted by the Spirits of Vengeance.  


This issue also formerly introduces Satana to the mix.   I love Satana.  Not as much as Tigra, but my love for Satana is just as pure.  I first encountered Satana, as I did Tigra, in Marvel Team-Up.  

I knew zero about her, just that she looked way different than any female hero I ever saw before.  Artists Mike Vosburg and Steve Leialoha illustrated her as extraordinarily powerful and sensual, again like John Byrne’s Tigra.  I started digging.  I discovered more about her.  Unlike Tigra, Satana’s stories fail to add up to any coherency.  In fact, her appearance in Marvel Team-Up is the outlier.  Had I first picked up Vampire Tales, I probably would have ignored Spidey and Satana. 


Most agree that she’s the daughter of Satan, brother to Damien Hellstrom and a succubus to boot, but the execution varies drastically.   In Spirits of Vengeance, Gischler and Baldeon give Satana a stronger look and a sharper history that will appeal to those who judge Satana by her encounter with Spider-Man.  At the same, time, they demonstrate slices of her other history while framing her as a champion.


Red Hood and the Outlaws battled Batwoman’s group from Detective Comics and lost.   For reasons that escape me, Batwoman sent the the Outlaws to Belle Reve, home of the Suicide Squad.  Batman and Amanda Waller share a mutual hate for each other.  Batwoman’s actions therefore must have been temporarily outside of Batman's purview.  I imagine all hell broke lose when he learned of this outcome.  Still, he probably had faith in Jason Todd and his ability to escape the clutches of a terrible idea that, as writer Scott Lobdell and artist Dexter Soy demonstrates, colors way outside the legal system.


Ah, let me count the violations.  Number one, Red Hood and the Outlaws were never formerly charged.  Number two, they never received a trial.  I doubt they were informed of their rights.  Number three, douchebag Captain Boomerang is in full uniform and even if a trustee should not be present even as an observer.  Number four, the Red Hood is unlawfully bound and number five, gunmen threaten a bound Red Hood.  Belle Reve is the original black site.  Not to worry.  Batman’s faith in Jason is well placed and displayed in an exciting scene.  It's actually above the average action hero's capabilities and worthy of a Batman Family member.


Harley Quinn in the context of continuity and not the Palmiotti/Conner cosmos is utter lunacy.  Though she is indeed a doctor of psychiatry and medicine, one’s never without the other, you cannot help but see the horror movie that could have happened if her subject wasn’t Artemis.

It’s not to long before the Outlaws encounter the real queen snake of the hellpit.  Amanda Waller.


This is where we discover the way out of Belle Reve that doesn’t require the Red Hood living up to his promise and desires.  You can also see the consequences precluded by Bizarro’s amped up brainpower.  Solid entertainment.


The Titans’ present is threatened by a villain from their future.  Meanwhile, Wally’s still dead, and there’s a whole lot of interesting twisted things happening that can’t be discussed without giving away the intricacies of the plot.  So, you’ll have to drop all the way past the rest of the reviews before getting the spoilery gist.


With this issue of Supergirl writer Jody Houser joins Steve Orlando to fully establish a new comic book season.  Director Bones of the D.E.O. serves as the antagonist and catalyzes the main arc.


For those unfamiliar, Mister Bones is a former super-villain that wore the outfit of the 1940s hero the Black Terror in Infinity Inc. near the close of the Bronze Age.  His power in addition to super strength and stamina is the touch of death.  


Exactly what kind of hero has and uses the touch of death? Although his words may be sincere, I’ve seldom considered Bones a good guy. 

Orlando wrote Cameron Chase as a tight-ass dullard who constantly belittled Supergirl.  Chase can never beat Kara in a fair fight.  So, she attacked her confidence while counting on Supergirl to save the day.  That bitchy, double-faced jackassery wasn’t very satisfying and tactical idiocy.  

Bones on the other hand wants to smack Supergirl down and force her to divulge the identities of other champions.  A keystone hero even in the new 52, Supergirl can reveal Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon.  There’s a good chance that she also knows Barry Allen.  Whereas Chase was an imbecile, Director Bones is dangerous. 


Supergirl returns big in this new story.  Saving humans and puppies.  However, as in the television episode, “Falling” Kara's recent actions divided National City, including Cat Grant.  It’s likely that she’ll win back that trust.  Supergirl’s too shiny to stay tarnished for long.  The D.E.O. is another matter.


In addition to magic bullets—a surprise reference to the Sandman—the D.E.O. also invades Kara’s school.


Houser and Orlando essentially transform the D.E.O. into the Gifted’s Sentinel Services itself a thinly disguised metaphor for the Nazis.  Oh, they’re not that bad, says you.  After all the D.E.O. gives Supergirl a chance to surrender, her rights, that is, and the agent clearly states “hold your fire.” 


Yeah, for every decent D.E.O. agent that appears to understand the rule of law, there’s about ten bad ones.  One need only remember that the Nazis ran parallel to the German judicial system, until they took that over, committed genocide and attempted world domination.  Things won’t get that bad in the DCU because it’s got superheroes willing to fight for the rights of others and their fellow capes and cowls, but still the D.E.O. in Supergirl is a chilling little reminder of history.  I would say it’s a portent for things to come, but a glimmer of hope begins to spark as Robert Mueller begins arresting people and a corrupt, soon to be removed Republican Party still says overwhelmingly no to the rape of fourteen year old girls.

As Supergirl progresses, Houser and Orlando flesh out Kara and the Danvers.  This broadening and deepening of character nevertheless still focuses on the D.E.O.’s hunt for Supergirl.  

That speech about compassion could have very easily been delivered by Melissa Benoist.


Orlando introduced the Danvers as married D.E.O. agents assigned by Chase to be Kara’s handlers.  This theme collided with the television series in a bad way.  Orlando tried to fuse new 52 Supergirl with the far better television series, but he failed because the parts just didn’t mesh.  This new think on the Danvers is much stronger.  Assigned as handlers, the Danvers proved to be Kara’s ally when it all sank to the bottom.  They care about Kara so much that they essentially adopted her and contribute to her secret identity.

Houser and Orlando keep cast member Dr. Shay Veritas.  Veritas already Superman’s personal physician eliminated Kara’s data from the D.E.O. database.  Bones threatens her in a way I haven’t seen before.  Even if you’re of the narrow mind that Kara being a Kryptonian nullifies her legal standing, Veritas is a female Homo sapiens with unalienable rights.  So, if you didn’t think that Bones crossed a line before, he clearly does so here. 


In Superwoman we learn the nature of the new villain Midnight.  Lana Lang is Superwoman, and the reason why she’s Superwoman comes slapping her back in the face.  Her epiphany isn’t optimistic and it gives Midnight just the crux needed to press her victory.  


Superwoman that succeeds because writer Kate Perkins characterizes a cast of very different powerful women in the presence of a straight-up super hero vs super villain plot.  Midnight has ties to past continuity shown in flashback, but it’s nothing you really need to delve into too deep.  As Perkins, deals with the duality of antagonist/protagonist, artist Stephen Segovia draws upon big budget disaster films to define Lana’s enemy.


This issue of the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl takes the form of an anthology.  So, the collection is naturally hit or miss.  In the first story, Squirrel Girl smacks around a minor thug accompanied by some weird dialogue.


The story then switches to frequent Squirrel Girl guest star Howard the Duck in private eye mode.  The one pager hilariously answers the question how does one kiss a duck’s bill passionately?


Brain Drain is up next with some loopy existentialism, science and comedy.  Loki shows up for no reason at all in the interactive portion of the book that’s actually fairly clever.  Spider-Man and Kraven each relate comedic point of view stories about the other.

The original Wolverine story stands out for exemplifying Logan’s growth and altruistic behavior instead of his infamous berserker rage.  Tippy-Toe gets a short, and bizarrely Jim Davis, that Jim Davis, illustrates the comedy stylings of Galactus and the Silver Surfer.  Some of the gags are genuinely funny, and Davis’ wide eyed take on the Silver Surfer always keeps the reader amused.


Coyotes is a bizarre urban fairy tale in which orphans are brought up by a kind of beneficial madame of a high class brothel that doesn’t actually serve up sex.


I don’t know what else to call this establishment.  It’s not a boarding house, at least not a traditional one.  So, I’m left with looking at the visuals and piecing out something.  

A coyote is a transporter of human traffic across the border as well as a canid, but neither definition fits what we see in Sean Lewis’ and Caitlin Yarsky’s story.  This is more like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo wrapped up in a werewolf story.  If that sounds good to you, check it out.


Overall, I’ve not been enjoying the new Hellboy stories situated before his premiere.  The cold war angle isn’t too bad, and the monsters are good, but I find most of these tales unnecessarily talky and belaboring a point already made.  The latest exemplifies my caveat.


Ugh.  Who cares?

At least sturdy action sequences and some monster punching attempts to balance out the needless exposition.



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Originally, Donna Troy was an orphaned baby that Wonder Woman rescued.  Diana naturally took her to Paradise Island where she became Wonder Girl.  Man, what could be simpler? When George Perez rebooted Wonder Woman from scratch in the post-Crisis, Donna Troy no longer had an origin, yet she still stubbornly existed.  The subsequent origins that Donna accumulated became increasingly more ridiculous.  One such tale indicates that the Titans, the mother and fathers of the Greek Gods, imbued Donna, to preserve their memory or something.  She even gained the stupid name of Troia.  Troia returns this issue, and Dan Abnett combines the stupid name with Donna’s new 52 origin, which is in fact similar to Wonder Woman’s original beginning, that of a golem forged from clay.


So, the future Troia traveled to the past to spare Donna the misery that will befall her, because Donna it turns out is eternal.  That sort of makes sense.  She will outlive her fellow Titans, and Troia seems to be on the up and up in that she knows how the Titans will die.  


Dan Abnett however is a science fiction writer.  So, I’m certain that he's aware that Troia changed the future just by appearing before Donna.  Donna in turn defies her destiny, and in the meanwhile, Wally West tries to resuscitate the original dead Wally West.  This is some heady stuff, but nevertheless fascinating.  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

POBB November 1, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
November 1, 2017
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  I’m Ray Tate, the guy with the reviews of the week’s comic books, which consist of Astonishing X-Men, Batman, Green Arrow, Green Lanterns, Guardians of the Galaxy—a lot of gees this week—Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Red Sonja and Superman.  As always, should you find yourself logy, you can always check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.


Guardians of the Galaxy opens with some weird stuff involving the Shi’ar and the so-called “13 Talons of the Brotherhood of Raptors.”


Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on.  That is, the continuity behind what’s happening.  I understand that for some reason the Shi’ar and their little clique of birdbrains want to destroy the Nova Corps, but I don’t know when the Shi’ar became such sphincters.  I also don’t know when Darkhawk multiplied into the avian cult that follows the Shi’ar.  I don’t know when the Nova became a Corps again.  However, Guardians writer Gerry Duggan makes the long-range whys immaterial.  I don’t feel that I actually need to know the source of the cosmopolitic.  All I need to know is that the Shi’ar are no longer that slightly persnickety alien species that Lilandra led.  They’re the bad guys.  This Brotherhood that clearly relates to Darkhawk are praetors of the Sh’iar.  Neither group likes the Nova Corps.


Originally, the Novas patrolled the planet Xander.  While I wasn’t looking, their ranks and purpose expanded.  The Nova Corps are now Marvel’s de facto Green Lanterns.  However, Duggan treats them like a shiny Hill Street Blues, and they’re not quite so noble as the Lanterns.  Corruption lies within the Nova Corps, and Commander Scott Adsit, enlisted the Guardians of the Galaxy to infiltrate and sniff around.

Rocket’s dedication to rooting out the criminals among the Novas is one of the stranger items to be found.


I would have expected him to join the rascals in drink or liberate the loot they stole.  Instead, he seems to be single-minded about the job. 

As Rocket inspects the troops, Gamora and new Guardian Ant-Man attempt the rescue of a stranded ship.  Things don’t go quite as planned.


The appearance of Ultron comes as a genuine surprise.  I never expected to see him in space.  Usually, Ultron confines himself to earth, seeking revenge against Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne.  Ultron's also not too keen on Scott Lang.  Mind you, he probably likes him more than lousy hero Jack-of-Hearts.  Scott must feel like the universe is out to get him.  He joins up with the Guardians to forget his troubles on earth, and one of those troubles shows up looking to kill him.  It’s a clever plot twist that I don’t mind revealing, since knowing Ultron is out there doesn’t diminish the impetus of the drama or comedy.


The conclusion to “Work Release” in the Green Lanterns is altogether good but not outstanding.  GL senior John Stewart tasked Lanterns Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz to rescue mole people from a planet about to be devastated by a Supernova.  The mole people however are deeply religious and see their deaths as the will of their god, known as The Core.

Jessica’s speech is an impressive exemplar of her maturity: from pawn of the Power Ring to full-fledged Emerald Champion.  The way of evacuation also exhibits growth, only this time in Simon Baz.  Senior GL Kyle Raynor accused Baz of lacking imagination when it came to constructs.  Writer Tim Seeley and artist Ronan Cliquet pick up on that in a double page spread of pure GL whimsy.  Baz’s sheer willpower answers the dramatic cliffhanger from last issue.


During this moment, Lisbeth's mother reminisces about when she decided to adopt Lisbeth.  Mr. Seeley grants the Ungarans a lot of culture and dignity, and he also uses them as counterpoint to a hopeless job search.  Racism isn’t just a human trait but sadly universal.  The Ungarans produced Abin Sur and Katma Tui, but they also spawned Sinestro.


For the past few months, I followed Green Arrow’s team-ups with the Justice League as he hunted down a group of nutbars known as the Ninth Circle.  I recommended each one, and yes, it will make a nice trade paperback.  This latest purchase represents the first normal Green Arrow issue I’ve read since the New 52 first burst on the scene.  It’s a complete smack to the face.  Barring Black Canary and GA himself, I have no idea who any of these characters are and how they pertain to Green Arrow’s life.  Sure.  Their names and their roles sound familiar, but these are superficial designations compared to the slam of history we get here.

Oliver’s mother returns.  Honestly, I never knew the status of Oliver’s mother.  Alive, dead, resurrected.  The Bronze Age never mentioned Oliver’s parents.  Anyway, it turns out that she’s got a past that just doesn’t quit. Unfortunately, I just can’t work up an iota of caring because it all seems artificial and demonstrated by an artistic montage that makes me think of South Park.

That detachment goes the same for Merlyn and Diggle.  The Arrow introduced Diggle, but the comic book version of Diggle has a different personality and unnecessary dissimilar  history.


Wait? Oliver slept with Lyla!  Nah.  I don’t know who Diggle’s fiancee is in the DCU, and that also means, I don’t care if Ollie slept with her or not.  I know.  Heartless bastard.

Oliver’s penis got him into loads of trouble in the post-Crisis, and it’s one of the many reasons why I loathed the Green Arrow.  He cheated on the Black Canary.  Who does that?  Oh, but he bedded the nameless fiancee of the Diggle who’s not Diggle.  Was Oliver with Dinah at the time? No? Then who cares?


As for Mark Merlyn…This guy obviously pales when compared to John Barrowman’s performance, but at least he has an excuse.  The original Merlyn was just a mere bad guy bowman.

Justice League of America #94

Merlyn is still just a bad guy bowman.  So nothing changes in that respect.  The best of Green Arrow can be found in his interaction with the Black Canary as they attempt to shut down the Clock King’s latest scheme, but that lasts five pages.  The rest of the book consists of badly grafted retcons and a ridiculous nod to Robin Hood that makes one groan aloud.


With Darkseid dead, Apokolips tears itself apart, and the Hunger Dogs are the ones that suffer the most.  So, two of the denizens featured in Geoff Johns’ Justice League kidnap Lex to force him back to the throne.  Lex in turn abducts Superman. 


Superman’s notable for Peter Tomasi turning Lex Luthor’s and Superman’s relationship into a mirror of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.  It’s Lex season! Superman season! Lex season! Superman season! Superman season! Lex season! Fire!

I know what you’re saying.  I’ve spent two or three postings explaining how Lex Luthor lost a motive to kill Superman, but now he does this.  Nobody said Lex wasn’t still self-serving.  Lex wants to escape the “honor” bestowed upon him, and he’s willing to sacrifice Superman to do it.  Perfectly in character, and really quite reasonable since Superman should have fulfilled the prophecy in the first place.  Also, Lex isn’t setting up Superman for a kill.  He’s setting him up to rule a planet.  So, yeah, Lex may feel bad about it in the morning, but he can also take a deep breath and say, “I did not kill Superman.  In fact, he's emperor of Apokolips.  What's for breakfast?”

Lois Lane features prominently on the cover of Superman, and she does take up the lion’s share of the book.  When Lex teleported Superman to Apokolips, he also unknowingly scooped up Lois and Jonathan Kent.  They were in the vicinity.  The Boom Tube however split them apart on Apokolips.  Granny Goodness and the Furies capture Lois, but she soon proves her worth, and gets a promotion from slave to lieutenant.  

I really like this renewed effort to readdress Lois’ traditional spunk, but the twist is unfortunately old hat.  Lois impresses the bad guys by saving their asses from a hitherto unknown monster, that came from another movie.  The predictability lessens the impact.  Overall though Superman is solid entertainment.


Superman also guest stars in Batman, and while he’s in character, I really question what the hell this exchange is all about.

Other than that, it’s the giddy continuation of Batman and Catwoman’s team-up in the desert with a duel against Talia, and a callback to a previous issue of Tom King’s run that many, including myself, probably thought less important than others.

In Red Sonja Spike and Holly think Sonja’s last stunt, her homage to Breaker! Breaker! finally snuffed out the time traveled She-Devil.  So, they turn their attention to more practical matters—how to get home with so little cash.  Since they're in Vegas, the answer's obvious.  Little do Holly and Spike know that out of all the casinos in Las Vegas to pick, they pick the wrong one.


The biker gang Los Aranas owns casino.  That is, the boss of the drug cartel that owns the Aranas owns the casino, and sure enough, it’s not long before Red Sonja reunites with Holly and Spike.


Amy Chu’s and Carlos Gomez’s Red Sonja continues to be a grindhouse delight, and the creators pull a very clever twist at the end to promote the underplayed MacGuffin a prominent role.

Peter Parker as Spider-Man consents to an hour long interview with J.Jonah Jameson.  This self-inflicted torture is in service of information gathering to exonerate Spidey's sometime sister Teresa Parker.  The entire story is saved by the conclusion, but otherwise, this whole thing should have been a lot more fun.  The insults more refined.  The comedy heightened.  Even the serious moments come off as melodrama.  An epic fail in an otherwise excellent user friendly series.


While this is not the best issue of Charles Soule’s Astonishing X-Men, it’s still well worth your time and coin.  The story in the real world and the psychic realm takes a pause.  However, dialogue is strong.  As is the art. The interactions between characters plausible and indicative of a shared history.  

Furthermore, these gray hat X-Men save the lives of the people that want to kill them, making that shade a little lighter.  In addition, Soule takes the ridiculous Fantomex seriously and daringly begins to develop him beyond his caricature.