Tuesday, January 24, 2017

POBB January 18, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 18, 2017
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog, I review the best and the worst of current comic books.  This week I look at Angel, Aquaman, Batman, Doctor Who, Motor Girl, Simpsons Comics, Superman and The Ultimates.  I’ll tell you right now.  There are no bad comic books amidst the contenders.

The POBB is now available on Twitter #PickoftheBrownBag.  Admittedly, I’m not the best tweeter.  So, I’m sometimes late posting the teensy reviews.  The tweets however are only tastes and summaries of the meatier reviews on the blog.  Hey, though, sometimes a summary is all you need, and sometimes, I can’t say too much about the comic book I’m reviewing.  Take Batman for example.

Each Tom King Batman story evolves from the last.  His volumes of Batman connect unobtrusively.  You can read King’s Batman tales as single briefly chaptered adventures or in concert, but you’ll get more if you read King’s stories from beginning to the end.

From "I am Gotham"

I haven’t been this consistently pleased and entertained by a Batman title since the Bronze Age.  Scott Snyder is one of the great Batman writers, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his work, but he relates one long story.  The Night of the Owls and The City of Owls for example.  His work furthermore bled out into the shared universe of DC.  Adding more material.  Perhaps, nothing he wished for but got anyway.  King on the other hand creates depth and texture with sequentially unfolding novellas and stays within the lore of Batman.

King debuted with “I am Gotham.”  The events in that book directly led to “I am Suicide.”  The doublet “Rooftops” arises from the aftermath.  

From "I am Gotham"

You can judge King’s book by its cover.  King explores the similarities and contrasts between Batman and Catwoman while re-establishing their love for each other.  We learned some extraordinary facts about Catwoman in “I am Suicide,” but “Rooftops” places these cat-nips in context.  

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

The framework turns Batman into an authentic issue of Detective Comics.  Batman as an archetypal detective follows a trail of clues winding him into the path of a femme fatale.  I’m going to give you a big hint as to who that femme fatale may or may not be.  It’s not Catwoman.

I'm spoiling this part because Catwoman and Batman have a long history of turning on each other.  So I want you to know that "Rooftops" is not another in the line.  A bete noir from the smokey past betrays Batman, and this time the deception threatens his life.  Batman is actually in danger of dying in this story.  The formulas perfected by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett nest within the body of King’s Dark Knight mythology.  Buy Batman you won’t be disappointed.

Superman is tricky.  On the one hand, you can argue, it’s a mess because it deals with the multiverse.  The villain known as Prophecy sends out creatures called the Gatherers to reap the Supermen of the parallel earths, but only certain avatars.  Not all of the Men of Steel.  

These incarnations are not necessarily as concrete as the bona fide New 52 Superman, recently deceased, or say the Superman of earth-two from the Bronze Age.

Who are these NRA Leaguers? Got me.  Should I be rooting for them? No idea, yet I'm still recommending Superman.  Blow-off characters such as the League of Sniper Fire represent an inherent flaw in the multiverse concept.  

Ostensibly, the Powers that Be wielded the Crisis on Infinite Earths to streamline DC’s teeming mythology, but that mythology is a living, breathing thing.  It’s pop culture knowledge digested by generations, not just one comic book group.  

If you lived during the Bronze Age, you could have encountered The Spider, not Richard Wentworth of pulp fame but an obscure crime fighting archer.  DC reprinted one of his adventures in a 100 page special of Detective Comics from the 1970s.  Imagine.  Despite never holding a copy of Crack Comics from the 1940s, you, born in the 1960s, know who the Spider from the 1940s is.  Think of 1970s reprints as comprising a hard copy internet limited to one subject.

The Powers That Be at DC comics knew that a lot of people didn’t like the consequences of Crisis of Infinite Earths.  So they tried to appease fans with a second multiverse, but this one wasn't so clearly defined as earth one, earth two, earth three and so forth.  That's because the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics were filled with stories about heroes from different earths crossing paths.  

In the new multiverse, apart from the elseworlds, there was nothing so solid.  It was an editorial announcement lacking meaning.  Had DC set a mandate where stories of multiple earth travel became the norm, the feeling of vagueness may have been alleviated, but the Powers were too busy slaying and crippling female characters to bother with fantastic storytelling.  

This brings us to the New 52.  This time DC did the multiverse concept right.  Not only did the Powers forge a stronger earth one.  At the same time, they established three comic book series involving earth two: Earth 2, World’s Finest and Huntress.  Later in Forever Evil, they reintroduced an earth three from whence the Crime Syndicate sprang.  The multiverse is back and forged from the continuity of interlocking stories not just remarks at a dinner table which may have well been a quiet burp.  So how does this short history pertain to the current issue of Superman?

For one thing, the establishment of a multiverse police corps out of different superheroes from different earths is a lovely idea with a solid basis.  Because the multiverse is so potent and prevalent now, it would need a group like this patrolling and monitoring incursions.  What could these hero/balance keepers do during the post-Crisis other than exist in Gran Morrison’s brain?

Nothing you can say will convince me that the alleged multiverse of the post-Crisis was anything more than a sham.  By giving the heroes a structured playground to work with, you can build on their characterization.  What makes them different than the average champion? An understanding and appreciation of the multiverse above and beyond that of normal superheroes.  A thirst to explore that diversity and not just stay in their own comfortable catty corner of the cosmos.  There’s an out here for Superman from Another Universe.  He doesn’t have to die when the new 52 Superman comes back.

The second thing that's in Superman's favor is known Supermen amongst the stranger ilk.  The Demon as Superman is a new one on me, but whatever.  I at least know who Etrigan is.  Perhaps in this incarnation he was paired with Jonathan Kent’s medieval ancestor rather than Jason Blood.  The Native American in the buffalo mask is Super-Chief, one of those obscure characters that resurfaced in the Bronze Age as a reprint.

We saw Red Son last issue, and in this story, Superman and company also visit Batman Beyond's alternate future, a Justice League with Bloodwynd on the logbooks and others.  

Bloodwynd is actually the Martian Manhunter, 1990s Spoiler Ahoy

Earth two's Superman died like Batman and Wonder Woman fighting Darkseid's forces.  Val-Zod the new earth two Superman isn't wanted for some reason.  Captain Carrot though? Give me some of that hasenpfeffer.  The cover to Superman is actually fairly accurate.  Superman’s plan to save the Supermen of the multiverse is self-sacrificing and impressive.  Even though I don't like this version of Superman all that much, I still found myself cheering at his concluding words.

Artists Phillip Briones, Wayne Faucher and Gale Etab bring relish and astounding energy to Aquaman’s takedown of Black Manta and NEMO.

So beautiful and violent.  Aquaman surprises the operatives of NEMO by being unstoppable.  Just look at the expression on Black Jack’s face.  She wasn’t quite prepared for Aquaman’s retaliation, or the very fact that he could find them.

At the same time, writer Dan Abnett grants Aquaman voice in a parallel narration.  Each panel exhibits Aquaman’s muscle and powers, and his accompanying words echo the wisdom of a King.

DC departed with its tradition of fictional Presidents and introduced President Obama as Commander in Chief in Justice League of America.  Just prior to Forever Evil.  The above scene carries more weight because of it.  Aquaman isn’t just meeting some generic leader.  He’s confronting the Leader of the Free World, and let’s face it.  There’s no way in hell President Obama’s successor would listen to reason.  Even with the backing of the Justice League.  This is another case where the talent behind the comic book surpasses your expectations.  This isn’t just another Black Manta vs. Aquaman.  It’s epic.

Not many people think about Portugal let alone Portuguese history.   Doctor Who  teaches a lesson about the nation and its past while bringing out the “monsters.”

Within this traditional setup, writer Cavan Scott recaptures the magic of the Christopher Eccleston Doctor.  Reminder, I would call him the ninth Doctor, but numbering the Doctors grows complicated after the eighth Doctor.  By rights, Eccleston is the tenth Doctor, but I now feel it only right to eliminate the numbering system entirely.  Much in the same way Steven Moffat did.  He is.  They are the Doctor.

This Doctor incarnation spoke out against slaves and slavers in the episode “The Long Game.”  He’s of course not the only Doctor to have done so.  The Doctors aren’t like Presidents.  The new Doctor follows the policies of the old Doctor.  Namely, exploring and protecting the integrity of history, unless space Nazis (Daleks) happen to be nearby.  Then all bets are off.  

In any case, the Doctor’s feelings over slavery in Scott's story offer a nice and original allusion underlined by the anger that artists Adriana Melo and Marco Lesko imbue.  The Doctor however need not express his rage.

A painting of Captain Jack Harkness as a priest served as the reason why the Doctor and TARDIS crew traveled to Brazil, and the subplot emerges in a deeper way as the story continues.  Scott though is too good of a writer to merely employ the painting and Jack’s established missing memories as a device.  He also uses it to demonstrate the personae of the players and to inject even more period humor to the mix.  

You can just imagine John Barrowman and Billie Piper speaking these words.  You can almost hear their tones and delivery.  Rose is also already a little pissed off at this moment.  You may have noted a strange face in the panel above the immediate graphic.

Tara Mishra is a member of UNIT.  She stowed away on the TARDIS last issue.  So far a likable character, Tara also generates friction between Rose and the Doctor, the same way Lynda did in Eccleston’s penultimate episodes.  The fact is Russell T. Davies introduced an alien concept to Doctor Who.  Sexual tension.  

Paul McGann’s and Daphne Ashbrook’s Grace Holloway only had to overcome the obstacle of a perpetual myth of televised chasteness in the Doctor.  Neither had any rivals, and the Doctor first appeared on our screens with a Time Lord granddaughter named Susan.  So the chaste hypothesis was wrong-headed from the very beginning.

Rose on the other hand had to contend with recognizing her own feelings for the Doctor and additional rivals, including Jack.  The Doctor in turn needed to deal with Mickey, Rose’s boyfriend, and Adam, a temporary companion.  Jealousy, lust and love became an underpinning theme in the Eccleston-Tennant era of Doctor Who.  It also didn’t hurt the show at all.  Quite the opposite.  So, it’s nice to see Rose back to hating Tara for simply taking up the Doctor’s time and the Doctor enjoying his new companion’s enthusiasm.  This gives Cavan Scott's script even more richness and authenticity.

Fred and Angel travel to Ireland in order to investigate a haunting at a friend’s hotel.  For reasons Angel cannot explain, he begins to remember things that he never experienced, and the strange manifestations prove to be harder to fight than expected.  Writer Corinna Bechko hits the ground running on her debut.  She captures the pensiveness and terseness of Angel, but she let’s Fred’s alter-ego Illyria steal the show.  

It’s a good move because Fred doesn’t really come off in the story as unique.  Amy Acker portrayed Fred on the series, and Acker did wonders for the dimension-lost brainiac.  Her essay of the goddess Illyria was equally impressive, perhaps even more so.  Since it was the first time I witnessed her playing somebody or something else.  She would later create a similar dichotomy for Root on Person of Interest.

Illyria’s interaction with Angel is funny and engrossing.  It’s comedic because Illyria’s probably the only being that considers Angel a youngster.  Angel never really banked on his immortality, nor did he have as many flashbacks as his contemporaries like Nick Knight.  Instead, Angel seemed to be what he appeared, and that facade becomes fact when he faces Illyria.    

Motor Girl opens with a doctor’s exam and a little bit of Sam’s history, where she met Mike, the talking gorilla.

Believe it or not, Motor Girl is a comedy.  Terry Moore just cannot help but infusing some drama because he’s good at it.  Strangers in Paradise started as a comedy, but then it changed.  Drastically.  Motor Girl on the other hand uses the drama as the edge of a shiny surface.  Dancing on that plane, Larry and Vic, the hapless goons of Mr. Walden.

Walden turns out to be an aerospace entrepreneur.  His interest in Libby’s land, where Sam works at the junkyard, is on the surface legitimate.  Alas, Vic and Larry are idiots, and you should never underestimate the idiot factor.  Their stupidity guides them straight into the sun of plan B.

The Ultimates split the story down the middle.  In the A story Galactus struggles to retain his evolution as the Life-Bringer.

Lords Order and Chaos oppose his transformation with extreme prejudice, and they just get entertainingly loopier as the story unfolds.  Leading to a head scratcher of a cliffhanger.

The B story establishes the Troubleshooters, created by the government to expressly preclude the formation of the Ultimates.  Comprised of the obscurest but powerful Marvel heroes, founded by the shifty Phil Vogt, they soon find deployment.

Despite Black Panther and Captain Marvel hating each other, for reasons that can be found in Civil War II Electric Boogaloo, if you’re interested, Ms. America reformed the Ultimates at the behest of Galactus.  Their mission to find who bound Eternity.  Al Ewing’s story is filled with the ocean of the Power Cosmic watching the waves ripple and crash, swallow old ideas and re-emerge them as new concepts.  The Ultimates is almost too good to be a comic book.  It should be a new Marvel television series.

The latest issue of Simpsons Comics offers up two clever and amusing shorts.  In Bear Patrol III Pandemonium, Max Davison spoofs Kung-Fu Panda and perhaps the dimly remembered 80s cartoon Pandemonium.

Regardless, Davison brings back two beloved concepts from The Simpsons.  The first is no spoiler.

The second however is a juicy one.  The Pandas have a sponsor.

As the story progresses the Bear Patrol travel to China to attack the Pandas head-on.  On their journey, the love/hate relationship between Carl and Lenny flourishes and the rowdy Bear Patrol’s violence prevails.  Or does it, the sponsor has a secret, a big secret.

James Lloyd’s, Andrew Pepoy’s and Art Villanueva’s  artwork is notable in the Shaw Brothers styled setting, the design of the big surprise, the hilarious evil of the special guest star and an overall action filled expressiveness amongst the cast.

In the second story Michael Saikin reveals a heretofore unknown episode in Homer’s life.  

The absurd hero worship from the townsfolk escalates despite Lisa’s attempt to bring skepticism to those who drank the Kool-Aid.  As usual, Homer’s fortunes are just that.  They rely on a roll of karmic dice.  Homer never meant for any of this to happen.  He just serves as the catalyst in flexible physics.

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