Tuesday, March 21, 2017

POBB March 15, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 15, 2017
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly comic book review blog, looks at two chapters of Harley Quinn’s “Nether Regions,” which no matter how you phrase it sounds Shakespearean filthy.  I’ll also examine the merits of Angel, Aquaman, Batman, The Deep, Green Lanterns, Red Sonja, Superman and Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman.  Remember, if you haven’t time for the blog, you can now check out condensed reviews on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

You wouldn’t have been able to tell from the cover of Harley Quinn number fourteen, but this is the issue where writer/creator Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner reunite their character Terra with Power Girl.

Wait, says you.  I thought Power Girl returned home to earth two.  She did, but the Palmiotti/Gray/Connerverse is tangential to the DC Universe proper.  So, Karen Starr is Power Girl.  She’s the cool exec of Starrware.

If you’re keeping track, Terra has encountered and befriended Supergirl, Power Girl, Starfire, a clutch of humans and Harley Quinn, who is technically human, but more of a cartoon.  Except when she’s not.

Zorcrom is the reason for the team-up.  He’s a cross between soon to be former President Donald Trump… 

…and Lurr from Futurama.  

Admittedly, Zorcrom's got way better hair.  Or hair even.  Conner and Palmiotti conceive Zorcrom as an old enemy of Terra, but that’s a fib.  Zorcrom hasn’t appeared with Terra in her mini-series or past cameos.

Compared to Zorcrom, Harley becomes the voice of reason.  You can argue that she’s a brilliant psychiatrist and benefits from natural empathy.  I however think Palmiotti and Conner are breaking from Harley’s usual wackiness to demonstrate an overall weakness in those who want to rule the world.

The difference between the fiction of Zorcrom and real life tyrants is that Zorcrom is capable of rational thought.  Given time and education, Zorcrom might have adapted.  Perhaps run for Senator rather than aim to enslave the populace.

As a result of this potential, Zorcrom is somewhat likable.  He’s full of bluster, but as he speaks with Harley Quinn, he changes and calms.  He’s still prone to bouts of anger and pettiness, but this is largely due to a misunderstanding of human culture.

Power Girl shows up for the lion’s share of Harley Quinn number fifteen.  Thanks to the attractive cover, this time you know she and Terra are guesting, which gives you the opportunity to grab the past issue off the racks.  Yep.  That’s what happened to me.  Oh, and since DC thoughtfully bagged the issue with a “bonus” Into the Badlands comic book, I couldn’t flip through that past issue of Harley Quinn.  Anywho…

With Power Girl on the scene, Conner and Palmiotti delight in rekindling Harley’s crush on the Kryptonian.  This time Power Girl, now in possession of her full faculties, kind of warms to Harley, but the clown is not her date for the evening.

Smart, funny…in so very many ways, both issues of Harley Quinn need to be in your collection.  As an added bonus, Palmiotti and Conner work in three…

…Three interesting subplots.  The first demonstrates the flexible reality of Harley Quinn even farther.  Conner and Palmiotti imagine a future Gotham City that’s kind of like a kinder Mega City One with a neighborhood Jones for Batman.

The blocks sponsor a fighter in a kind of Ultimate Cage Match mixed with Batman themed lucha libra.  The grand prize is a notable one.

While the Harley Quinn, Terra, Power Girl team-up is split between Khari Evans and John Timms, the Batgirl of the future subplot is illustrated by Palmiotti’s old cohort James Michael Linser, from Claws: Wolverine and the Black Cat.  As such that particular subplot is a beautiful paean to female pulchritude.

Speaking of pulchritude Red Sonja opens with bathing nudity and continues with open-jacket and abbreviated scale-mail clad sword fighting.

In short, freaking awesome.  As the story progresses, Red Sonja changes into a jogging outfit.  Boo.  Hiss.  Fret not, sensation seekers.  She's soon back to being the scale-mail poster girl.

As I have stated many times, Red Sonja as depicted in the barbarian chronicles isn’t a textual reading of “Shadow of the Vulture” by Robert E. Howard.  

This is Red Sonja’s only canonical story, and in that short, she’s operating around the 1500s.  When Roy Thomas transplanted Red Sonja to the Marvel Universe in the Conan adventures, things changed.  Her style of dress altered.  In the 1500s Sonja wears period clothing.  Makes sense, right? In the Marvelverse, she’s sporting a scale-mail bikini.  

Why? Striking appearance? A penchant for drawing sensual barbarian women? Sexism? You decide.  It doesn’t matter.  The scale-mail became forever associated with Red Sonja, and as such, a lot of Red Sonja’s tales are loaded with sensuality.  Sonja will not submit to a man’s bed unless he can defeat her in fair combat.  Her skin is bait.  He muscle and skill with a sword is reality.  Sex is an underlying theme whether Marvel liked it or not.

Lousy movie.  Good Red Sonja.

My point is that if you choose to go with this version of Red Sonja, the skin quotient should ring the bell.  Don’t even try to deny the sexploitation inherent in the Red Sonja tales.  They were sword and sorcery grindhouse.  Writer Amy Chu embraces these tributes to 42nd Street, and as a result, her Red Sonja resonates with greater authenticity.  Although, there’s more to Sonja than nudity, Regina.  

Chu's time travel plot is well thought out, and it differs from the classic issue of Marvel Team-Up that started this weird tradition of a time traveling Red Sonja.  Chu's run thus far has certainly been better than the overlong Spider-Man/Red Sonja mini-series that rehashed Marvel Team-Up in five issues.

Numerous surprises await the Red Sonja reader.  Sonja's intelligence and adaptability entertain as much as her lack of Conservative social mores.  

Her relationship with Max is light, fun and unlike the alliances she made with frequently brutish men of the past.  There's also a rich vein of feminism.  The numerous women in Red Sonja's present day encounters are all smart and capable.  They furthermore help her cope with modern life and suggest a cohesive sisterhood.

Red Sonja is a real winner with Amy Chu evincing an almost instinctive insight into the She-Devil with a Sword and Carlos Gomez and colorist Mohan upholding Red Sonja's spicy reputation beautifully.

The latest issue of Wonder Woman and Bionic Woman is an excellent albeit flawed read.   Diana and Jaime start off by cleaning up 1970s shipboard trash set off by the gorgeous action artwork of Judit Tondera and colorist Richard Pilcz.

The centerpiece of the book is telegraphed by the cover.  With a missile launched, Diana must rope the wayward dogie while Jaime flies the Invisible Jet.  That should stretch a grin to the fans of these characters from ear to ear.

Lassoing large projectiles is a Wonder Woman staple, and watching her perform is a nostalgic treat.  It’s something you could see Wonder Woman do from the 1940s onward, but with a push to make comic books more realistic, Wonder Woman's signature move became rarer and rarer.  More’s the pity.

Writer Andy Mangels however doesn’t just position the characters for familiar tactics.  He recreates the actors’ portrayals through the dialogue.  Lindsay Wagner’s Jaime was self-deprecating and often humble.  She frequently resisted the nutty ideas OSI and Oscar Goldman conceived. 

The idea of her piloting the Invisible Jet is daunting.  Of course, Jaime comes through.  That’s her signature.  The key of Jaime’s recalcitrance is that she’s not really a government operative like Steve Austin.  She’s an ex-tennis player who suffered a skydiving accident.  Because of Steve Austin’s genuine love for Jaime, he orchestrated her conversion.  Although Jaime acquitted herself remarkably well again and again in the field, she is technically a civilian.  So, she’s always suspicious of a mission that seems to be ready-made for a trained super spy but not an athlete with cybernetic parts.  It’s an engaging personality quirk that partially explains the success of the series.

In addition to these writing pluses, Mangels also draws upon Lynda Carter’s frequent bemusement over men.  In a completely unconceited away, she finds most men including brilliant ones like Rudy Wells hilarious.

As this chapter of the historical team-up winds down, Jaime and Wonder Woman encounter classic foes from the Bionic Woman, and an infrequent guest star to the series willingly succumbing to Wonder Woman’s gifts from the gods.  

I did say however that Wonder Woman and Bionic Woman is flawed.  The villains from both television series get together and tell people what they already know in grand detail.  This exposition though mostly tolerable is unnecessary and could have been edited to a mere few panels.

Superman continues the reveal of the multiple Superman mystery.  Superman’s son is trapped in the ether, and Lois has forgotten the tyke she spat out of her womb.

Yeah, yeah.  I’m not really down with any of this, but it’s what we have to deal with.  Anyway, the main difference between Peter Tomasi’s part in this story is that he infuses energy to something that’s really trite.  Artist Patrick Gleason in turn makes these tired events visually arresting.  When Superman and Lois Lane are in fact reborn at the conclusion, just as I predicted, the depiction bears a certain amount of gravity.  He and Lois do look more certain and heroic. 

This issue of Green Lanterns benefits from a classic villain from the Lantern Rogue’s Gallery.

Dr. Polaris returns in a younger but no less brilliantly mad form.  Taking advantage of magnetism’s literal opposite poles, writer Sam Humphries follows the footsteps of other Green Lantern scribes to make Polaris a metaphor of the primal force.  He's a paranoid schizophrenic who hears the voice of his alter-ego and sees him in his mind’s eye.  The difference is that Humphries makes Polaris a somewhat pitiable figure in that he’s seeking a cure for his brother’s cancer and he is bereft of his medication.

Furthermore the government wants him on the Suicide Squad.  Always a scuzzy development.  That’s acting director Harcourt, a baby Amanda Waller, that’s on her way to becoming just as officiously evil.  The Lanterns will have none of it though.  The scene emphasizes how far these Lanterns progressed in their partnership and as heroes.  They’ll stop Polaris because it’s the right thing to do not on behalf of Belle Reve’s Prisoner Check Out policy.

Green Lanterns is user friendly, historic but also up to date thanks to the presence of Harcourt.  The art by Ronan Cliquet looks stunning.  The realism helps sell the fantasy, and the Lanterns are entertaining characters to follow.

Last issue, Batman tricked Bane into following him into Arkham Asylum.  Bane is in Gotham to recapture the Psycho Pirate.  Batman needs the Pirate to undo the damage done to Gotham Girl’s mind.  In this issue, we learn that Batman promised favors to the Arkham Inmates should they stop or delay Bane.  Your level of appreciation for this issue of Batman depends on how much you care about Bane and the other Gotham crazies.  If you’re like me, and the answer is not at all, you can safely skip it.  Suffice to say that Bane cuts through the Arkham lunatics quickly leaving him to face Batman for the next chapter.  The story does have one point of interest.  Two-Face is alive.  At the end of Batman and Robin, Two-Face committed suicide.  

Writer Dan Abnett utilizes a Marie Celeste plot device in the latest issue of Aquaman.  Doctor Who, X-Files and Aliens all employed the same idea.  A just-abandoned military base presents an enigma for investigators.  This fictional conceit is based on the famous or infamous Marie Celeste, a ship from 1872 inexplicably devoid of crew.

Aquaman isn't anything special per se, but it's well-written and gains advantage from potent artwork.  The presence of the Aquamarines who have a volatile history with Aquaman add a nice feeling of an under the surface threat.  You keep waiting for the soldiers to turn on Aquaman and Mera, but surprisingly that never happens.

Old favorites and a classic Aquaman villain help shake cobwebs off the favorite theme of science fiction writers, and of course Abnett presents these characters as distinctive necessities to the plot.

When the reveal comes, it's a good one.  Because Aquaman and Mera are present, what could have been a by-the-numbers watery horror story turns into another example of DC's new 52 turnaround.  Back in the day, the monster would have eaten Aquaman's arm or gutted Mera.  Instead, Arthur decks the creature.  This is Aquaman as he should have always been.  Powerful.  This isn't just any hero. He's a member of the Justice League.  He's a go-to guy for protecting the earth.

Last we saw of the Nektons in The Deep their exploring backfired on them.  They spotted the monster all right.  It ate them.

Naturally, the parents have a solution for this problem, but Fontaine's having none of this.

Her reaction is hilarious and sets the tone for the book.  As soon as the group starts talking about a broken homing beacon, the penny drops in the fountain.  You realize that the introductory issue was one of the most absurd methods of foreshadowing, and the actuality of the rescue pays off in giggles.

Angel bears a lot of Joss Whedon styled humor.  Angel and Fred, host of Illyria, accidentally traveled back through time to a prehistoric age full of demons and demon worshippers.  One of those demons is Illyria's past incarnation who demands sacrifice.  Such a poor soul shared his home with the time travelers.

Angel first met Fred in a cave in another dimension.  So this is a nice callback to the television series.  The book also features a great moment of Angel vamping out, and Illyria mimicking a feat that you wouldn't be surprised to see in Supergirl.

Most of the comedy derives from the presence of pacifist demons that remind one of the Neutrals from Futurama.  Their anachronistic speech patterns so very indicative of Whedon provide laugh out loud funny moments.  


  1. Great review of Amy Chu’s Red Sonja series, sounds like you’re enjoying it as much as I am! I didn’t enjoy this issue as much as #2, which was as good as any Red Sonja comic I’ve ever read, but I know that this comic was more about plot development after the hedonism of the previous issue and it was still a lot of fun.

    Given how little experience Amy had with Sonja before she took the title on, it’s incredible how well she’s captured her character, making her unbelievably badass but also unbelievably likeable at the same time. Early interviews suggested we might be lumped with the same kind of quick-tempered and hot-headed She-Devil portrayed by Gail Simone but Amy’s Sonja is MUCH smarter and despite her warrior mentality, she knows when to exercise caution. I’ve loved the quieter moments with Max and Sonja’s own memories of Meru, they’ve added a great deal of depth and sensitivity to a character who’s too often been a one-dimensional female version of Conan. One of my favourite moments was in #2 when Sonja woke up in Central Park without her weapons – Gail Simone’s Sonja would’ve been cursing and throwing a tantrum but Amy’s basically said ‘Oh well, I’ve been in worse pickles’.

    I’m glad you mentioned the female supporting cast; Spike in particular really stands out as the most sensible character in the cast, the one who keeps the others in line, which is probably the reason why she’s a successful barkeeper. The Max/Sonja dynamic is hilarious, with them making a fantastic odd couple – Max often regards Sonja as an impulsive child while Sonja’s impatient with Max’ words of caution and also his clowning around. Nonetheless, you can tell that they’re really fond of each other. I’ve read Sonja stories for a long time but I don’t recall her ever having a relationship with a guy like this, more of a sister/brother thing than the relationship of lovers, comrades or friends.

    As for the costume comments, I think Amy’s left the wardrobe decisions to Carlos Gomez, although I’m sure the decision was made early on to return her to the scalemail bikini, following the commercial failure of Gail Simone’s redesigned costume. I’m totally with you on this … ‘Red Sonja’ isn’t Tolstoy, it’s escapist fantasy and for every critic I’ve seen complaining about the return of the bikini, I’ve seen 10 fans applauding it. Of course, Sonja’s always going to stick out like a sore thumb in New York in the costume but I think the outfit can be better justified if the other people of Sonja’s own time wear similar skimpy togs, and the flashback scenes to Meru and cosplayers’ outfits at the gala indicate that’s the case.

    At the end of the day, slightly twisting your own analogy, the bikini is bait to pull in readers and then Amy uses her masterful storytelling to keep them interested. I think Amy realises the classic costume is an important part of the Sonja mythos but she doesn’t give it a lot more thought. Her displayed flesh has only come up a couple of times so far in the script … once when she first turns up in New York and Max receives his callout, and once when she’s talking to Spike in the bar and borrows her clothes. When Sonja strolls into that bar in Harlem in #2, surrounded by big, red-blooded guys, and proceeds to pound them at arm-wrestling, her outfit doesn’t get a single mention. We know they think she’s hot but the word ‘bikini’ never comes up. When Max is looking for her in the same issue, he says he’s after a six foot tall redhead, not a six foot tall redhead in a bikini. I just don’t think Amy’s fussed about the costume one way or the other, she’s more interested in putting together a good story … and that’s the way it should be.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Conrad. I completely agree with them. If you go with Sonja as the barbarian I feel you have to tick off certain things on you list, and what Chu adds to that list is Sonja's adaptability and intelligence--her learning how to ride a motorcycle just by observation and deduction for example. I hope she stays in modern times for awhile just to see how far Amy Chu will go in presenting the evolution of the She-Devil with a Sword.

    If you haven't checked out the alternate versions of Sonja in Legendary, you should. Amy Chu's and Carlos Gomez's Sonja rocks, but it's also a kick to see Sonja interacting with the Phantom and the Bride of Frankenstein as well.

    Thanks for reading the Pick of the Brown Bag


  3. No problem ... I managed to skip Legenderry somehow, so I'll have to pick up on that.

    Seeing as Dynamite own the rights to both Sonja and Xena, it'd be great to see a crossover between them at some point. Gail Simone pretty much wrote Sonja as an alcoholic Xena but there are big differences between the two character-wise and it'd be cool to see how a writer like Amy Chu would handle that. Of course, there'd have to be a scrap at some point and I think the two are very evenly matched ... Xena's more agile and has her nerve strikes but Sonja's better with a sword and can take more punishment.

    I think we're leaving modern times with #6. I was worried Amy might leave the title at that point ... she doesn't seem as invested in Sonja as she is in her KISS book, she just doesn't seem as enthusiastic about Sonja in interviews. Amy's also a New Yorker so by bunging the She-Devil in the Big Apple, she's writing what she knows. It looks like she's sticking around for at least one more arc after the NYC one though, and I'm chomping at the bit to see how she handles it. Chu admits she's not a diehard Sonja fan but she takes her research seriously and I imagine she'll take Sonja to the East, which hasn't been done all that often. She may or may not have her cop buddy Max with her, time will tell; doing so would be fun, though, as Max would find himself in the same situation Sonja did in #2, albeit with the ability to speak the local lingo to an extent.

  4. It's a pity that she's leaving the present day. Although I hope Chu doesn't leave at that point.


  5. The majority of people seem to prefer Sonja in her own time and when it turned out she was in modern New York for the current story, plenty of critics rolled their eyes and said 'Not again'. Quite a few seemed to give up on the book at that point. It's a shame coz Amy's done Sonja in modern times better than anyone else before her.

    It'd be cool to have two books, one with Sonja in modern times helping the cops, and the other in her own age ... kinda like the old Thor books, which would have him on Earth in the main story and in Asgard in a backup. That approach would've meant Sonja didn't need to learn English and everything else so quickly and she could've relied on her own formidable skills to fight crime alongside Max, although she wouldn't have been able to stay in the bikini for too long. It was rumoured not long ago that Bryan Singer might be doing a Sonja TV show and I think Sonja in NYC would work really well for that, maybe after an initial episode in the Hyborian Age. In fact, I think the current run has been done so well that the early episodes could follow it pretty much to the letter but rather than Sonja returning to her own age, she decides to stick around after beating Gath. The scene in the bar in #2, with the drinking and armwrestling, was really cinematic, I could see it being done really well in live-action.

  6. Ha, about 30 minutes after I left the comment above, I read the solicitation for #7, out in July ... Sonja's sticking around in the modern day for the time being and is going on a roadtrip across America with Max. Chu said in an interview back along that this would be a 6 issue story but obviously that's changed. My guess is that she's been coaxed by Dynamite to stick around on the book awhile longer (sales figures for Chu's run have been on par with Gail Simone's and ahead of Marguerite Bennett's) but she's requested that she keep Sonja in the modern world for the time being.

  7. That's nice of Dynamite to comply to Chu's request. The Thor comment is a good point, and that would neatly satisfy everybody. You could even expand whichever story would require the extra pages.

  8. That's total speculation from me on Chu!