Tuesday, February 14, 2017

POBB February 8, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
February 8, 2017
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag returns on time, thank you very much, with reviews of All-New Wolverine, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Aquaman, Earth 2 Society, Justice League and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Sonja, Rom Annual 2017, Southern Cross and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  Haven’t any time for the in depth reviews? Need a comic book review right now? Check out the POBB on Twitter #PickoftheBrownBag.

Alex Braith conned her way aboard the Southern Cross, a space craft making a run to Saturn's moon, Titan.  She did this to discover the mystery behind her sister's disappearance.  Weird things happened due to exposure by an alien artifact, and the Southern Cross vanished from the star lanes.  The only survivor of the Southern Cross' disappearance Kyril crash landed on Titan.  There he discovered a work society that took its inspiration from Lord of the Flies.

This issue of Southern Cross begins on Titan.  After an internal power struggle, the evil twin of Freddie Mercury secures his position on the Romulus rig.

Upon reading his whole shtick, I was reminded of Batman Returns where the Penguin gives a motivational speech to his namesakes.  

It’s that level of crackers.  The difference is that on some level Penguin knows he doesn’t control penguins.  He’s simply desperate for a plan and resorted to fitting birds with missiles to blow up Gotham City.  Dude, you're nuttier than the Penguin.  What does that say about you?

Thorns in “Freddie’s” side, Kyril, Investigator Hazel, and the lover of the presumed deceased Alex Braith.  In addition to these obstacles, a new player with ties to Alex and Amber Braith steps onto the stage.

This individual’s presence is however the least surprising thing about the way the story plays out.  Bizarre doesn’t cover it.  Writer Becky Cloonan for example takes a page out of The Reanimator’s science text to fill in some of the missing information of the mystery.

Wait, says you.  Aren’t you spoiling a plot point? Aren’t your reviews supposed to be spoiler free?  Yeah.  Okay.  That’s fair, but honestly, the talking head that you get in gruesome Andy Bellanger detail isn’t nearly as disturbing as what occurs in the penultimate scenes approaching the cliffhanger.  Trust me.  I’m holding back.  

Annuals are funny little animals.  In the past an annual was a double-sized comic book because the excitement wouldn’t fit in a normal sixteen pager.  As time progressed, the Annual devolved into a tie-in to a Big Stupid Event, or a padded piece of nonsense with the motto “Crap, we forgot to plan out a story for the annual.”  So what to make of the IDW Rom Annual 2017?  Special or stupid?

Special actually.  Christos Gage and Chris Ryall divulge the secret origin of Rom the Space Knight.  Wait, says you.  Don’t we know the origin of Rom the Space Knight? No.  We know the origin of Marvel’s Rom the Space Knight.   This version of Rom gets a different beginning.

His planet for instance is Eloria, not Galador.  Eloria is a world diverse with alien lifeforms, all elegantly designed and displayed for your eye by David Messina, Michele Pasta and Alessandro Alexikas.   These aliens include two of Rom’s friends, his lover Livia and buddy Fy-Laa.

The Dire-Wraiths are a known invasive species.  Eloria thought itself protected, but the Wraiths’ cunning thwarted Eloria’s defenses.  In that attack, the Wraiths murder Rom’s family.

This act catalyzes Rom’s, Livia’s and Fy-Laa’s decision to join the Solstar Order.  The Order is essentially a coast guard for the planet.  It’s not really an army, nor is it a police force.  It does not possess the technology of Galador, and the Space Knights arrive in a unique and interesting fashion.

The new origin of Rom reminds me a little of the film Starship Troopers but without the camp, gratuitous nudity or political commentary.  Let me reiterate.  I support nudity in any art form including cinema.  

However, Dina Meyer’s breasts are the only things I can recommend from Starship Troopers.  There should actually be nudity in Rom since there is a shower scene.  

In Rom as you can see the cadets take a shower in uniform.  This makes zero sense.  If you wanted to keep the book PG, you could have simply gone with above-the-chest panels.

Anyway, a minor caveat.  The annual deals with Rom’s life in a linear narrative that pulls important episodes from his and his friends’ growth in the Solstar Order.  It’s a milk run that becomes the pivotal moment in Rom’s development.  Once again reflective of Starship Troopers.  So where does Rom differ? The Dire-Wraiths.  The Dire-Wraiths are an intelligent species of monster that inflict mental and physical torture.  This realistically presented threat as well as matter of fact dialogue generate a serious tone that Starship Troopers wish it had.  Or maybe not.  The people behind the film claim that it’s a send up of fascism.  I didn’t think it was funny, unwitting or purposeful.  Fair enough though.  Rom bears no military jingoism or homogeneity.  It’s very clear that the creators behind the Annual wanted to show a melting pot planet forced into a war that it never wanted.

A teleporter accident transports the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to the earth of the Justice League.  Unfortunately for the Rangers, they first encounter Batman.

Writer Tom Taylor gets a lot mileage out of the running joke that Batman creeps people out.  Fortunately, it’s really funny.  Maybe not consistently laugh out loud funny but certainly uniformly amusing.  In fact, Taylor breathes a lot of fresh air into the trite trope of strangers in a strange land fighting.

Once the Rangers and the League settle in for a conversation, they realize they have a mutual stake in partnering up.  The Rangers didn’t come alone to the JLA’s earth.

For the most part, Taylor and his partner Stephen Byrne stick with a personal Justice League and Brainiac that’s close but not exact to the Bruce Timm animated Justice League.  That works in everybody’s favor.  Superman is Superman.  No need to worry about an extra alternate universe.  John Stewart provides an experienced Green Lantern, and the League have worked together for years enough to be legendary.  Brainiac is very much the Brainiac from Superman the Animated Series.  The stability of the League and its environment is therefore disrupted by the new element of the Rangers.  So you can sit back and enjoy without over analyzing things.

Sometimes you just want to see Batman beat the crap out of the Ultra-Humanite.  It’s the truth.

That’s not Bruce or Thomas Wayne.  Dick Grayson is the third earth two Batman, and he does a splendid job in the gruff and gritty art Vincente Cifuentes.  Cifuentes illustration grows brighter in the battle between the Justice Society and the mind-controlled Green Lantern.

In Aquaman, after the tribulations of NEMO, Arthur Curry relaxes by cleaning up Amnesty Bay, his hometown.  Mera, Murk and Kae also more or less volunteer.

Kae gets a nice scene and a dialogue with Aquaman that fleshes out his personality.  He’s technically a third tier character, but the spotlight speaks of writer Dan Abnett’s skill.  By adding dialogue, combined with Brad Walker’s artful expression, Abnett turns Kae into a Atlantean person and not just somebody in the background.  Naturally others earn more presence in the story.

Erika Watson is the hometown girl that watched Arthur grow up.  One of the ways Abnett makes this very quiet issue of Aquaman engrossing is giving Erika a share of the point of view.  Take away Aquaman’s Atlantean history, and this becomes a literate vignette of a friend watching another friend achieve unimaginable greatness.   Think of one of Opie’s chums watching Opie become a scientist that finds the cure for AIDS then later becomes the President of the United States.

It’s almost an insult that we have to put up with Aquaman and Mera worrying about the prophecy of the Widowhood and the juxtaposition of a new villain’s birth against the domestic portions. So well written and beautifully illustrated.

The Amazon Artemis discovers a file describing Lex Luthor's Bizarro project.  This lands both she and the Red Hood into the ethical dilemma of doing something horrible for the greater good.  

Jason thus goes to Batcave to get Alfred’s advice in a roundabout way.  Jason sees a parallel between he and Bizarro.  An unwanted monster resurrected from the dead.  Alfred assures Jason that Batman had no regrets about taking him on as a partner, and that's exactly how you expect Batman to feel.  This is especially true of the new 52 Batman.  While fans voted to kill Jason Todd, Batman would never have voted for that.  Jason however isn't only there for reinforcement.  The greater good, remember? Jason knows that Batman keeps Kryptonite in his vault, but will the former Robin use it against Bizarro?

The usual bouncy and laugh out loud funny Red Hood and the Outlaws becomes a dramatic tribute to Of Mice and Men.  In the end, Batman would be proud of Jason.

Perfect issue of Red Sonja.  Sonja quickly adapts to her environment.  Last seen in Central Park, her weaponry confiscated, she finds the hunting in these parts rife.

Poor duckies.  She then heads off to the bar where little has changed, and yes, thank Mitra she took off her coat so Carlos Gomez can once again illustrate Sonja's spectacular breasts.

I am not trying to be funny.  The female breast is not a static organ.  Drawing breasts in such an embarrassing way betrays human anatomy.  So, when Gomez shows Sonja’s breasts leaning in with her as she’s about to arm wrestle the depiction isn’t just erotic it's accurate.

Sonja becomes a hit at the bar.  In addition to her intense beauty and apparent hedonistic allergy to clothing, her warrior's strength and willingness to become just one of the gang wins her immediate viral celebrity status.

The Selfies attract attention, and Kulan Gath, cleverly introduced in an opening one page nightmare sequence for those that came in late, sends his goons to retrieve Sonja.  Trouble is that Sonja already made allies, and she’s going nowhere she does not want to go.

The short skirmish leads to a giddy scene where Sonja rides the back of a motorcycle to Officer Max’s place where a clash of customs provides mirth and amazing skin content.

Amy Chu’s Sonja isn’t conservative.  Her lack of interest in clothing indicates different social mores.  Gomez and colorist Mohan are ideal at this flesh-filled demonstration.  Neither try as they might could get nipples past the censors, but that’s all right.  I'm good with the compromise.

In All-New Wolverine writer Tom Taylor started a new arc called “Enemy of the State” where he revisited Laura Kinney’s Weapon X status.   Taylor actually prepared for this arc well in advance with the introduction of Laura Kinney’s clones in the premiere. 

He also cameoed her arch-enemy Kimura early in the series, suggesting that she wasn’t done with X-23.  Kimura trained Laura to be a killer and to that end conditioned her with a trigger pheromone.  

“Enemy of the State” opens with Kimura sending the pheromone to Laura as a warning shot across the bow.  Laura runs with Gabby, but there’s no escape.  Kimura crop dusts a town with the pheromone, and when Laura regains her sanity, the town is dead.  It’s still up in the air whether or not she killed the town.  

Taylor suggests that Laura can fight the pheromone’s affect.  So she may have held back her berserker rage.  On the other hand that much pheromone may have been too much to withstand.  Either way SHIELD does not think highly of this new development.

Kimura recaptures, Laura and now subjects her to reconditioning as well as tortures designed to unbalance her consciousness.  She wants to be certain that Laura will kill her target in Madripoor.  Tyger, Tyger.

Laura however proves to strong for Kimura.  Kimura sees Laura only as a weapon, but Laura broke free from that definition.  She became an individual and joined a group of individuals banding together to prove that humans need not fear mutants.  The X-Men.  

In this chapter, Jean Grey takes part in Wolverine’s recovery, going into Laura’s mind to help her repair what’s broken.  The problem is that there’s a physical reaction as well as a mental defense.  That’s where Gabby comes in.

Gabby doesn’t feel pain and thanks to Wolverine’s and Janet Van Dyne’s efforts in a previous issue, she now possesses the same healing factor as her sister.  

About the only criticism I can lodge against All-New Wolverine is that these last two issues of “Enemy of the State” read better together rather than apart.  It’s a slight departure from Taylor’s mostly self-contained storytelling.  The change in artwork from Nik Virella, Michael Garland to Djibril Morisette-Phan, Garland is also a little off-putting, but not that big of deal.  On the whole, All-New Wolverine hasn’t stopped being a superb read from it’s debut to the current books on the rack.

You will believe an Unbeatable Squirrel Girl can fly.  This fun development is courtesy of the brilliant Melissa Morbeck a speaker at Empire State University that has been watching and admiring Squirrel Girl from afar.

To that end, she offers to sponsor Doreen Green and her crimefighting efforts.  Decking her out in a fetching new suit designed by Erica Henderson.  This is without a doubt my favorite Squirrel Girl outfit.

Squirrel Girl soon crosses paths with the Rhino, and she defeats him via new flying abilities and old, hilarious acumen.   A strong issue for your collection.

Also on my radar this month Amazing Spider Man Renew Your Vows.  You can come into this story cold and still know what’s going on.  This is an alternate earth where Spider-Man never chucked his marriage and had a spider-powered daughter named Anna May Parker.  A psychopath named Regent took over the world by siphoning superpowers, but Spider-Man teamed up with the resistance to defeat him.  His memory lives on thanks to the nuttier than ever Mole Man.

This prompted Anna May, Mary Jane who shares Spidey’s powers thanks to his brilliant modification of Regent tech to investigate the monster spewing hole in the ground.  Things do not go smoothly.

In the end however, the Spider-Family triumphs, Anna May gets a name, writer Gerry Conway nods to the daughter of Peter Parker and Mary Jane from the MC2 earth and makes this feel like a Spider-Man book with notable appearances by J. Jonah Jameson and other traditional Spider-Man cast members.

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