Friday, February 10, 2017

POBB February 1, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 1, 2017
Ray Tate

This week in the POBB, I review Batman, Big Trouble in Little China/Escape from New York, Doctor Who, Flash Gordon, Green Lanterns, Superman and The Unstoppable Wasp, but first a spoiler-free review of… 

Resident Evil: the Final Chapter

Milla Jovovich conducts her last violent ballet for one of the most successful horror franchises in the history of the genre.  Those wanting to see Jovovich in action as queen badass Alice will certainly not be disappointed.  As with every subsequent Resident Evil chapter, the filmmakers successfully shuffle allusions to the first film to create fresh terror and induce unexpected wincing.  In this way, a Resident Evil movie possesses a distinct look and mythology.  

Familiar faces like Ali Larter, as an assured Claire Redfield, rejoin a cast of new zombie fighters, who can and will die at any time.  Nobody is sacrosanct.  The plot to this story is more textured.  The cast and crew planted the seeds for the finale long ago.  As a result, Resident Evil The Final Chapter feels natural.  The dominoes of story evolution fall in the only way they can and that leads to satisfaction.

It all started with Bobby Liu, the parallel earth version of Wang Chi from Big Trouble in Little China using a magic scroll to call forth Snake Plissken.  He ends up with Jack Burton pulled into Snake’s, post apocalyptic future.  Jack however isn’t alone.

Although oblivious to the fact, Jack is being haunted by David Lo Pan, the Big Bad he killed in Big Trouble.  He also finds that he has a relationship with Snake Plissken that explains his presence.

Snake does eventually show up, and he throws in with the good guys after learning the opposite side kidnapped Blind Apple Mary, Snake’s favorite singer.  Through her music, the songstress provided succor during the war Snake fought.  

Snake and Jack succeed in their task, but David Lo Pan steals the scroll and unleashes the Snakes of War from multiple universes to kill Jack Burton and Plissken should he get in the way.  Jack and Snake even make it out alive after these myriad confrontations.  In the end only one alternate Snake lives.

Last issue, anti-hero Bob Hauk, migrant from Escape from New York, played along with the good guys until he was able to steal Blind Apple Mary’s guitar.  His real goal.  This puzzled me for a moment, but thankfully, I was supposed to be puzzled.

It turns out that though Blind Apple Mary has the talent, the guitar is magic and clears the path to celebrity.  That kind of power leads to some escalating surprises in the plot that gels with the free-wheeling comedy of Big Trouble in Little China.  The fact that Hauk turned on everybody fits in with Snake’s opinion of the antagonist in Escape from New YorkAll in all, it’s a superior issue from a recommended series that should please fans of both films.

Things get worse for the Defenders of the Earth as Ming transplants Mongo piece by piece to our planet while resuming his unwelcome gamesmanship with Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Professor Zarkov.  He’s not really concerned with the Phantoms, Mandrake or even Jungle Jim, a literal thorn in Ming’s side.  They just happen to be Flash’s allies.  Therefore, fair game.

Ming’s capricious playful nature is utterly entertaining, and his strategies, in collusion with mischievously lethal Princess Aura, exhibits arch guile.  Ming doesn’t just anticipate his opponents’ next moves, he uses their strengths against them while setting up complex tactics.

At the same time, writer Jeff Parker never forgets that Ming is serious threat.  This he emphasizes by juxtaposing the fantastical battle with the down to earth scene of a little girl being terrorized by the news broadcast on her old timey radio, a visual callback to the radio serials of yore.  One that artist Jesse Hamm nails.

In the latest issue of the mucho meta Time Surgeon, our title champion and his assistant Nurse Kara battle the Minister and the Deathroids while artist Val Kent and writer Sonny Robinson bicker.  

The creative team's divide grows ever wider despite working from the same office, and things draw to a slow simmer as they attend a comic-con.  A trip to the men’s room however proves anything but.

Yes.  It turns out that you're really reading an issue of Doctor Who.

But then you knew that, right?  Robinson based The Time Surgeon on the urban legend of the Doctor.  First researched by the hapless Clive in the premiere of the new series with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper in "Rose."

The Doctor gets wind of the Time Surgeon and decides his portrayal is too limited.  Only the Doctor would refer to the punk-haired, tattooed, Goth-enameled Time Surgeon as a dandy.  Flattered despite his dialogue, the Doctor takes artist and writer on a whirlwind tour of the universe.

There's a ton of things to appreciate in this issue of Doctor Who.  In addition to contributing the hilarious pastiches of the Doctor and Clara, actual artist Rachael Stott redesigns the Daleks with Nazi helmets.  The Master imitation the Minister resembles Henry Gordon Jago, one of the Doctor's allies from the classic series episode "Talons of Weng-Chiang," also known as "The One with the Giant Rat."

Writer Robbie Morrison and Stott include an allusion to Wonder Woman, that fits the Doctor's cosmos and his style.  What’s most remarkable about this whole enterprise is that the issue seems like a done-in-one place holder.  It seems like the story's going to be just a pleasant bit of comedic fluff, but then something outré happens, a dramatic cliffhanger.  Doctor Who is an actual two-part story folks and not to be easily dismissed.

I get the feeling that Peter Tomasi meant Superman to be epic, the equivalent of Batman’s pursuit for a method to resurrect his son Damien.  You just sense that there are parts missing to this story.  I suspect that the upcoming Big Stupid Events of Superman Blue and Superman Red probably scotched Tomasi’s original plans.  He had to nip and tuck.  It’s a testament to Tomasi’s skill that Superman is nevertheless pretty darn good.

For those that came in late, a Big Bad named the Prophet has been collecting multiverse Supermen, and in this issue, we discover why.

Ah-Hah.  So the Prophet is a hero in his own mind.  Traditionally, Prophet would have merited at least a few pages artistically detailing a narrative of his rationale.   I would have liked to have seen the Prophet and his motives expanded optically in the story rather than summarized in dialogue.

That goes likewise for Justice League Incarnate.  They should have been fleshed out more.  In the previous issue, Superman and company visit the worlds of other Supermen.  Each visit should have been an issue with an away team that interacted on different levels.  Maybe Tomasi originally intended that.  Still, there's a lot in this book's favor.

Prophet is a fan of Doctor Who.  I say this because his exploitation of the depowered Supermen is particularly Dalek-like and also reflective of his arrogance.  The gun-toting assassin Superman from a previous issue demonstrates remarkable loyalty and feeling for his fallen comrades.  Captain Carrot bizarrely gets a spotlight, and there's something uplifting in watching all these Supermen fight back.

On the flip-side, I can't believe any Superman would lose hope no matter how long the imprisonment.  Superman and Supergirl are all about hope.  The sacrifice of one hero is impressively illustrated, and it's befitting the nature of the hero that he is the one that dies.  In contrast, the homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths is just an eye-rolling moment.  It probably should have been eliminated from the final draft.

Well, this is the weirdest episode of My Three Sons  that I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, though Tom King’s Batman is as awesome as previous issues.  The jumping-on reminder of the status quo is a delicious hors d’oeuvre to the main course: the rematch between Bane and Batman.

The story begins with a Bane acolyte attempting to assassinate Batman and retrieve the Psycho Pirate from Batman's custody.  If you missed out on the amazing "I am Suicide," don't worry.  King summarizes the point of it all in dialogue.

In this case dialogue is preferred over flashback.  The chap with the eloquence is the Bronze Tiger.  In the first DC multiverse, the Bronze Tiger murdered Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman.  Batman and he naturally became bitter enemies.  Batman intended to battle Bronze Tiger to the death.  Fortunately, he was saved from becoming an executioner by Talia and Ra's Al Ghul who had a score to settle with the Tiger's Sensei and his men.  The post-Crisis expunged Kathy Kane from the DCU.  So none of this story from that perspective happened, and the Bronze Tiger instead became a member of the Suicide Squad.  Tom King recreated the Bronze Tiger for the new 52.  Not only is he a friend of the Batman, The Tiger also knows his secret identity.

From Arkham Asylum, Batman calls in his sons and his new associate Duke Thomas for a meeting.  As you can see, Batman's sons decide to relocate the meeting to a different venue, other than the Cave.  The result is uproarious.  Incidentally, you can argue that Dick Grayson and Jason Todd aren't Batman's sons if you want.  I'm not listening.  Batman assembled his team for a simple reason.

The next encounter involves Catwoman.

Catwoman also joined Batman and the Bronze Tiger to breach Santa Prisca and abduct the Psycho Pirate.  Batman's and Catwoman's relationship recently suffered a blow.  Catwoman is wanted by the authorities for crimes she didn't commit.  Because of the extenuating circumstances, she nevertheless feels partially responsible for those crimes and is willing to accept the extreme consequences should she ever face them.  All to keep a precious secret.

Batman discovered the truth last issue.  Therefore, Batman will not act on the law's behalf.  A lot of people may be surprised to see Batman flagrantly defying the law.  Quite a few readers think of Batman as a law enforcement officer, but his behavior as King transcribes gibes with the intent of the new 52 from the very beginning.

Justice League #1

Although Batman and the law reached a detente.  He is nevertheless a free agent.  He is not bound by the protocol of law enforcement.  Batman and the police use each other.  He is friends with Gordon, but don't mistake that for obedience on either front.  The story winds down with Batman about to take Gotham Girl to her first session with the Psycho Pirate only to discover a grim calling card hanging in the cave.  Once again, Tom King's Batman has everything, and returning artist David Finch brings King's directives to life in spades.  This is especially true when Catwoman saunters onto the stage.  The sexual tension crackles.

Batman guest-stars in Green Lanterns.  Though writer Sam Humphries suggests that perhaps it's the other way around.  Batman's personality and experience overwhelms the focus of the book.  That however is fitting.  Batman's potent magnetism should draw the attention.  The story begins in the middle of a fight.

Batman isn't however battling a criminal of any kind.  The man with the bat is an ordinary citizen.  Therein lies Batman's problem and why he invited the Green Lanterns to Gotham City.  An unprecedented contrast to the way the Powers That Be portrayed Batman in the previous universe.  Batman's motto there on a good day was "Will you get out of my city?"  Normally, it would be "Get the hell out of my city!"  This attack on Batman isn't an isolated incident.

With a suspect in mind, Batman thus did the most logical thing.  He called in the heroes most familiar with the criminals.  The Lanterns, but Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz doubt Batman's theory.

This difference in deductive reasoning doesn't result in a fistfight.  Batman and Baz almost come to blows over something else.

Geoff Johns created Simon Baz to positively represent Middle-Eastern Americans.  I think it's fantastic that Batman doesn't have a problem with Baz's ethnicity or religion.  His penchant for carrying a sidearm irritates he and Gordon.  Humphries could have made Baz perfect, but he instead characterizes s a deeply flawed individual, and it becomes almost hilarious that the least offensive thing about Baz is his ethnicity and his religion.  There's just so much more to Baz that can get on your nerves.  He's an arrogant cuss.  He just equated his gun with Robin.  He doesn't listen to reason.  He makes Batman remember his parents' death.  Etcetera, etcetera.  This is such a terrific little surprise.  The Green Lanterns are Batman's colleagues in the Justice League, but you never expected a proper team-up, despite Batman appearing in a previous cameo.

In the second winning issue of The Unstoppable Wasp, Nadia Pym meets her new gentleman’s gentleman; then goes on to carry out her plan to recruit the smartest girls in the world as a positive message about gender equality.  She's out to prove that the list of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe is artificially skewed toward the male of the species.

Writer Jeremy Whitley portrays Nadia as the female equivalent of a mad professor.  The thinking without pants comment is something a real genius might say.  Her cluttered surroundings are a classic trope if not truism of scientists, as is her semi-successful brainstorms.

I like the whole theme of congruence, making a female scientist as frazzled and flakey as a male scientist.  If ever we get a female Doctor, I’d expect her to be just a intense, brilliant and/or eccentric as the male Doctors.  Nadia’s first subject is Tania Miranda.  Tania's intellect becomes evident when Nadia spots her street hockey playing sister smacking around the referee.  

In each panel exuberance and intelligence visually expressed by artist Elsa Charretier are the watchwords.  Whitley and Charretier portray these women as insatiably curious and Nadia full of manic energy, again traits of male brilliance.

Throughout this story, Nadia’s voice becomes incredibly distinctive.  She’s a Russian emigre, and I imagine her accent to be Georgian.  Her vocals are very light and bouncy, underscored with humor.  Think of a softer-sounding Xenia Onatopp doing stand-up, and you've got the idea.

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