Monday, February 20, 2017

POBB February 15, 2016

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 15, 2016
by
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag returns with review of Aquaman, Angel, Batman, Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Deep, Green Lanterns, The Mighty Thor, Simpsons Comics, The Ultimates and Wildstorm, and hey, if you haven't time for the meatier reviews, you can check out the teensy capsules on Twitter #PickoftheBrownBag.


My experience with the Wildstorm Universe is limited.  I generally steered clear of Image books after trying them out once or twice.  The exceptions being Savage Dragon and Spawn.  Though I didn’t stick with those titles for long.  I found out that I liked Gen13 when the kids were written and illustrated well.  


Grant Morrison’s JLA/WildCATS team up was good and funny in places.  On the whole though, the Wildstorm books just weren't to my tastes.  So why am I picking up the new Wildstorm? The art by John Davis Hunt is open, realistic in a sense but also stylish.  Add that plus to writer Warren Ellis, and my rationale becomes obvious.

Wildstorm offers a clean break from the 90s groups.  The story begins with Zealot in what appears to be an interrogation gone lethal.

As you can see, though Ellis preserves the code names, he and Davis Hurt eliminate some of the costumes, opting for the superhero London Fog look that became more and more prevalent in the late nineties and early two-thousands.  This design change reflects UK writers and artists lending their talents to American comics.  Of course, these scribes and sketchers were all influenced whether they know it or not by the pop culture touchstone Doctor Who.  It’s not like he invented the look, but the Doctor is infamous for his long coats and scarves.


From Zealot, Ellis cuts to Voodoo.  Voodoo and Grifter actually resurfaced in the new 52, but you needn’t worry about either continuity.  Ellis is chalking up a clean slate and on a different earth.  Voodoo appears to be a singer/celebrity which draws upon the showbiz/exotic dancer origin.  Ellis doesn’t spotlight any of her powers.  Instead, he employs her as a messenger for the main plot and does so elegantly.

Next, Ellis in a three party scene introduces the Agency out to eliminate Jacob Marlowe the bearded Steve Jobs stand-in.  Now this isn’t apparent, and it’s not really a surprise.  There’s a certain matter of factness in Ellis’ writing.  It’s not that there aren’t any twists.

Rather, the twists are dependent on actions rather than the underlying theme of assassination.  This isn’t James Bond where Ellis gleefully has a bionic-armed woman at first seem to seduce James only to try kill him.  The tone is far different but no less compelling.  The dialogue literate rather than terse or lightly innuendoed.  Furthermore, James Bond focused on James Bond.  Wildstorm is a full cast affair, and almost all the characterization is furtive and subtle.  You should at least try Wildstorm to see if its your cup of tea.

The Ultimates helped Galactus evolve into the Lifebringer.  The Lord of Order and Chaos went nuts when the ultimate gourmand  forsook his calling.   To that effect, they promptly held him for trial, threw a temper tantrum about the not in their favor verdict and promptly killed the Living Tribunal for issuing judgement.  As an encore, they absorbed the Inbetweener, the high functioning balance keeper/minding-his-own-business Star Trek cosplayer.  The result of this blend leads to the creation of Logos.  Just as fruitcake as the former Lords.  Logos now intends to shape the reborn Marvelverse to his liking, but they haven’t counted on beings more powerful than they objecting.


According to wikipedia, this is the Queen of Nevers introduced in the most recent volume of Silver Surfer.  She is the consort to Eternity, whose imprisonment Galactus and the Ultimates currently investigate.  

The Ultimates have their own problems.  The United States government fearing the reformation of the Ultimates stalemate the team with the Troubleshooters: Jim Tensen, Terry Jessup, Dione McQuaid, Simon Rostvow and Kathy Ling.  The Troubleshooters by the way were part of the New Universe Marvel line.  I knew they sounded familiar.

The Troubleshooters is kind of like what Amanda Waller did in Justice League of America.  The difference lies in the level of paranoia and the idea that the Ultimates actually did something in the Civil War to initiate a countermeasure.  What I don’t know, but it resulted in the dissolution of friendship between Carol Danvers alias Captain Marvel and the Black Panther.  


The surprising thing about the split is that Black Panther addresses the rift with snark.  I never really thought of T’Challa as a snark bringer, but it somehow fits and grants him a bit more youthfulness in the process.  The obscurity of the Troubleshooters giving them a kind of out of the mists of time resonance; a team that’s not keen to be one and the cosmic shenanigans of the increasingly insane Logos makes for compelling reading.


The Shi’Ar Gods sent the Imperial Guard to kidnap Thor.  Thor is not so happy about the situation, and she draws upon the memories and experience of Jane Foster to underline her point.


You may argue that Jane is behaving more like a human than a god, which is what she is supposed to be, but the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Norse Gods have never looked for worshippers.  Not counting Loki.  The whole Aesir are more hands-on than your average deities.  So, Thor may be influenced by the human avatar that seems to be the cat’s paw of cruel fate, but Thor's majestic insulting is still way within the traditional milieu.  In any case, the Shi’Ar have foolishly sought out Thor to participate in a game of the gods.  


 Gladiator was a send up of Superboy.  The Imperial Guard parodied the Legion of Super-Heroes.  As Gladiator continued to appear in Marvel Comics, you pretty much got the sense that he was a real dick.  Arrogant and frequently belligerent, Gladiator is clearly Marvel’s Powers That Be poking harmless fun at the Man of Steel.  Honestly, I would guess that many a Marvel Bullpen resident got just as choked up by John Williams’ Superman theme as anybody else.  In any case, this is the first time I actually felt sorry for Gladiator.  These Shi’Ar Gods are masterpieces of catty churlishness.

However, there is still a rule of law to be followed.  The first event exemplifies the capriciousness of the Shi’Ar Gods.  Thor is having none of it.  Hercules even in his most drunken buffoonery wouldn’t stand for this kind of treatment of innocent life forms either.  So this game is really of the screwed up variety but providing the reader with a lot of entertainment.  The question?  Is there more behind the game that what the eye can see? Yes, the Shi’Ar Gods are smug sons of a bitches, but is this truly all they are, or are they setting up our favorite Thunder God?


Writer Jason Aaron possibly foreshadows the rug being pulled out from under Thor’s feet by cutting to Asgard where Sif shames the regent Cul, Norse God of Fear, into acting upon Thor’s behalf.


The idea is that Sif doesn’t trust Odin’s brother, but he sits on the throne.  Therefore, he must start acting like the King of the Gods.  Act he does, and in a hilarious cliffhanger.  As a side-note, I really would love if Marvel did an oversize collector’s edition of Russell Dauterman’s Mighty Thor.  It’s such extraordinary artwork, a combo of Mucha Art Noveau, Art Deco backgrounds and pulp science fiction illustration via Viking helmets.


Fred became Angel’s closest confidant when he rescued her from a another dimension.  That association ended when a wannabe paramour murdered her to use her corpse as the vessel for Illyria, an ancient demonic goddess, not mere demon.  


Note that Illyria was not responsible for Fred’s death.  In the final season of Angel, Illyria for numerous reasons joined forces with Angel in the final battle against the secret society of Wolfram & Hart.   

In the comics, Fred and Illyria share a single form, and Illyria appears when she wishes it.  She is still more or less friendly with Angel and company, but on her terms.  Last issue, Illyria offered to take Angel back to his past, since that time period appears to be the source of his nightmarish visions.  Unfortunately, Illyria performs a Doctor.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel sporadically referenced Doctor Who.  It’s nice to see the tradition continue in comics.   Corinna Bechko comes up with a reasonable answer to explain Illyria’s detour, but damned if the whole episode isn’t Doctorish, with Angel serving as Illyria’s companion.  He learns about her former incarnation, at first believing the worst but then discovering that she wasn’t so bad.  Illyria in turn isn’t quite so sure about the veracity of her memories.

Illyria’s compliment to Angel mirrors the persona of the Christopher Eccleston Time Lord, and the whole book benefits from this, perhaps, out of place sense of whimsy. 
  

Solid art by Geraldo Borges, Michelle Madsen sews up what could be a special purchase for Doctor Who and Angel fans alike. 


Ian Boothby’s comedic Simpsons Comics focuses on Bartman, Bart Simpson’s comic book alter-ego, seldom mentioned on the television series.  I guess the Powers That Be think of him as too much of a juvenile delinquent to think he’d playact a superhero.


In any case, this clever send up of superheroes and secret identities draws Lisa Simpson into the fray in a brilliant origin of Bartgirl vignette.  Batgirl's origin is frequently reworked like this.


Because of the subject matter artists Tony Rodriguez, Andrew Pepoy and Art Villanueva pull some feats of on-model art that functions in shadows and light.  Out of context, some of it would be pretty dramatic.  The entire creative team revisit some of The Simpsons actual rogues gallery.  A few quite obscure, and it all ends in a sweet moment that also fits with the superhero facade as so many episodes do.


Bane continues his attack on Batman, and we see some of Bane’s familiar henchmen from Knightfall make their new 52 debut.  As I recall, Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan gave Bane’s men a kind of pretense of importance, leading up to Batman’s ultimate defeat. After our Dark Knight restored Arkham Asylum’s and Blackgate’s populations, these lieutenants were the last individuals Batman faced before Bane crippled him.  Tom King however treats Bane's a-list like the thugs that they are and expunges any mythic significance they may have carried.  King is as usual all about the power and importance about Batman.  Realizing the history of his sons, Batman takes steps to prevent them from being hurt in a futile attempt to risk their lives.


Only Batman

King never forgets what his story is really about.  Batman formed a team to penetrate Santa Prisca and steal the Psycho Pirate from Bane.  All to save Gotham Girl.  Batman’s a hero.  This is why he went to such lengths.  He’s willing to face the blowback himself.  So long as Gotham Girl gains her freedom from fear.


As the plot gains traction, we discover Bane’s backup plans.  These result in some gruesome wins for the psychopath luchedor, but you can’t help believe Batman’s already accounted and prepared for these setbacks.

Batman’s second part team up with the Green Lanterns is a memorable one and pivotal to Simon Baz’s growth as a hero.  Last issue, Batman called in the Lanterns because he suspected the Sinestro Corps was behind a series of riots conducted by ordinary Gotham citizens.  Green Lantern Jessica Cruz pinpointed the source to an online video, and the Dark Knight found out that anybody was susceptible.  This is bad news for a certain gun-toting Green Lantern.

The story continues with Batman and the Lanterns tracing the fear inducement to a Sinestro empowered Scarecrow.  Telling you this isn’t so much a spoiler as a meaningless plot detail.  The Scarecrow’s importance to the story is only as a mirror to demonstrate how Batman thinks.


Batman rocks!

Writer Sam Humphries characterizes Batman perfectly.  He respects Jessica Cruz and spotlights Baz whose monumental decision earns a splash page from Equardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira and Blond.  

Things don’t fizzle from there either.  In a clean-up epilogue, Batman critiques all the Lanterns.  It’s a laugh out loud funny scene.

In the fourth issue of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Scarecrow manages to capture both our title stars.  Of course, Batman doesn’t stay captured for long.


This scene exemplifies the astute writing of Matthew K. Manning and animated styled illustration of John Sommariva.  Batman becomes almost bestial when facing the Scarecrow.  He does this for three reasons.  One, to combat Crane’s fear toxin with anger-induced adrenaline and two, to scare the straw out of his nemesis, and three, because chances are innocent people or Turtles are under the influence.  When criminals threaten innocent people, Batman becomes even worse.

If you’re a Turtle fan and asking yourself why the Turtles couldn’t extricate themselves without Batman’s help, keep a few things in mind.  The Scarecrow is an unknown quantity in the Turtles’ universe.  Batman simply has more experience overall.  He’s been exposed to Scarecrow’s toxins before.  Although Batman motivates the Turtles in fighting the toxin later in the story, it’s still the Turtles that eventually overcome the fear.

While Batman, Raphael and Leonardo escape Crane, Batgirl, Robin, April, Donatello and Michelangelo attack various Jokerized menaces.  Then next face Harley and the Clown Prince of Crime themselves as well as a pair of unexpected laughing surprises resulting from Shredder technology.


During one the earlier bouts, Donatello discovers an important clue that clears their alien opponents of being solely culpable in the transport of Batman’s menaces to the Turtles’ earth.  There’s a mastermind behind the whole scheme, and it’s not the Joker as Batman originally thought.  To be continued.  Deservedly so.


Aquaman goes into full superhero mode as the subplot of Warhead becomes the main gist.  Aquaman’s attempts to bring Atlantis to the world stage serves as an underlying theme.  


This is actually a pretty good method of balancing big geopolitical science fiction with superhero antics.  The latter includes Aquaman dealing body controlled staff of the Beckman College Research Department.

Warhead doesn’t control the minds of his victims.  He instead marionettes their bodies.  They’re aware of what they’re doing but cannot stop.  It’s a nice little refresher for a rare power brought to terrifying life by Scott Eaton.  You can pretty much imagine what this feels like and it’s not pleasant.  


Warhead also possesses the power of telepathy, and he’s connecting with Aquaman, but there seems to be more going on here than mere criminal activity.  Rather it looks like there may be a cry for help and military black ops behind Warheads’ trauma.


The Nektons, a family of explorers that travel in the Jules Verne inspired submarine The Aronnax hit the shores of Greenland where monsters have been sighted.  There they gather information and encounter mother Keiko’s arch nemesis. 


Trish exemplifies bad journalism, and Keiko’s response to her is both justified and hilarious.  It’s also cool how Antaeus, the youngest of the Nektons begins a life long journey of Trish animosity.  Apart from this, the Nektons learn that earthquakes foreshadow the monster sightings.  Daughter Fontaine suggests they search for the quake first.  This results in the Nektons suiting up for an exploration in their mini-sub.


Antaeus stays behind in The Aronnax and misses out on the close up finds the Nektons spot as they descend.  The plot takes a turn for the worst but not too bad as this is all-ages fun and concludes an entertaining chapter of The Deep.




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