Thursday, March 30, 2017

POBB March 22, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 22, 2017
Ray Tate

My apologies for the lateness of this blog entry.  The fact is that the first draft stank and trying to salvage the noisome words was futile.  The entry still reeked.  

I am serious about this blog.  Not necessarily about the tone of the reviews.  I like to have fun with them.  So, rather than let loose a set of an inferior critiques, I instead decided to abandon the entry entirely and start fresh when I had much more sleep and a sharper head.  

So, without further ballyhoo, this week I review Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Batgirl, Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman and Wonder Woman, Doctor Who, Elektra, Future Quest, Heathen, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Simpsons Comics and The Ultimates.  First a review of the new book from Graphic India Dragonfly and the Global Guardians.

Created by Sharad Devarajan, Dragonfly and the Global Guardians is written by comic book veteran Ron Marz.  The story begins with sacrifice.  The Global Guardians' parents appear to lay down their lives to save the earth from an alien force bent on colonization.

You will see that the original earth heroes analogue to Justice Leaguers and Avengers, but the design of each is visually unique.  The animated style of Thiago Vale and Emanuela Braga combined with the vibrant colors of S. Sundarakannan is a boon for any follower of superheroes.

Marz sets the story on the anniversary of the earth heroes' death.  This presents a challenge for focus character Teja Patel, alias Dragonfly.  She is the daughter of Doctor Samsara and Varja the Lightning Man.

You get the impression that Teja's life has been rough because of hers and her brother's legacy.  Marz presents a key point from DC's Legends.  After a certain time, people will cease to be grateful.  They will turn on their heroes because they fear the unknown, and it just takes the proper catalyst to trigger that animosity.

Teja's fellow students consider her a freak not a proud tradition.  Her Uncle is a Bollywood star, and he fears embarrassment.  Likewise, he genuinely believes that Teja and Varja II must control their powers for the good of the world.  Control however means tamped down.

When Teja begins having nightmares about the Destructoids return, she throws caution to the wind and does the right thing.  She begins a recruitment of all the earth heroes' daughters.

Dragonfly and the Global Guardians conveys a positive message about girl power in an exciting display of invulnerability, ray blasts and smacking around the alien menace like handballs.  In short, Dragonfly and the Global Guardians is an engaging addition to the superhero world and with a price point of ninety-nine cents, you really haven't an excuse.  At least check out the first issue.

The mass absorbing Omikron wreaks havoc on the earth as the Hanna-Barbera heroes craft an elegant plan to deal with the monster.  The trouble is that Omikron has already gained so much ground and taken away even more.

Johnny Quest was a little more mature than most of its contemporaries.  Still, it's a little surprising to find a somber scene like the above in a book based on an adventure series.  Jeff Parker's inclusion of real stakes imbues depth to Future Quest's function as an animated extravaganza.  I'm sure some of the changes will be impermanent, but others like the loss of life and the destruction of territory must be concrete.

Nevertheless, the book isn't gloomy.  It's these sobering scenes that balance the gosh-gee-whiz of the plan that our heroes put together, and the intricacies of that attack against Omikron comprise the lion's share of the story.  Everybody has a part to play.

I like the science behind the plan.  Parker uses fundamentals like frequency and entanglement as the basis for Omikron's weakness.  He doesn't tailor the story to the powers and skills of each hero.  It's the other way around.  Because of implication number one Birdman can do this.

The heroes' plan doesn't hinge on a single fighter, but there are more valuable assets.  One of the Impossibles is such an asset.  The tactic is a brilliant one.  The heroes need bait to lure the creature to the perfect location where they can fight it without the fear of casualties.  The splash page visual is a perfect one.  The setting for what the heroes' hope to be Omikron's final battle is in addition inspired.

As the plan unfolds, artist Eric Shaner steps up to provide some awesome optics.  You get Birdman and Mightor blasting the crap out of Omikron.  You get Space Ghost and the Phantom Cruiser.  Frankenstein Jr. and Igoo the Rock Ape muscle against the monster.

The assault isn't however the end of the strategy.  The scientists Benton Quest, Linda Conroy, Dr. Zin work in concert for the good of the earth to find the heart of the beast and to deliver the coup-de-grace.  Or so they think.  Like this week's Legends of Tomorrow, you shouldn't expect too easy a victory.

The Ultimates begins with a miniature character study of mystery man Phil Vogt, of the NSA.  Once more thrust into a political spotlight, Vogt must decide on the fate of the Ultimates.  Al Ewing portrays Vogt as a thoughtful everyman who found his life to be a series of wins and losses.  This is his greatest moment.  The Ultimates were outlawed because of Civil War II Electric Boogaloo.  America Chavez reformed the team at the behest of Galactus the Life Bringer.  She convinced even now enemies Captain Marvel and Black Panther to return to the fold.  However, the United States government sees the Ultimates as potentially the ultimate threat.  Vogt however doesn't follow the official position blindly.

Does he sanction the Ultimates or does he order the Troubleshooters, a group of older government funded heroes from Marvel's New Universe line, to bring them in?  The situation may be out of Vogt's hands anyway, for far above the earth, the Ultimates having been thwarted by the Troubleshooters in round one are simply too powerful or skilled to be stopped completely.

The skirmishes are minimal but satisfying, and America lays out the ramifications.  The Ultimates win because they must win.  There's no chance of loss because if they lose, the tapestry of the cosmos will unravel.  Some of it has already frayed.

Rodstvow in a Lovecraftian twist turns out to be the opposite of Monica Rambeau.  Whereas Monica is a sentient form of light.  Rodstvow is a malignancy from the being that chained Eternity.  Logos, who reversed Galactus' fortunes last issue, is another gift from the being revealed at the conclusion and given the grand visual deserving of such an unimaginable monster.  A color out of space.

As we travel back to earth...In the first volume of Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows Peter Parker fought Regent to save his daughter from the world dictator's power syphoning technology.  Though an alternate earth, Peter Parker is the same genius he's always been.  Soon after the aftermath, Peter reverse engineers a means for Mary Jane to share in his powers.  The reason Mary Jane needs superpowers is to back up Spidey and also guard hers and Pete's naturally super powered daughter the Amazing Spiderling Annie May Parker.

As we join the Parkers, it's family fun night.  This means a trip to the local Chucky Cheese analogue Bouncy Bunny.  The kid friendly trip goes without a hitch, but at that same moment, the Sandman plots a heist.  He's on the cover so this is hardly a spoiler.

The heist normally would be successful.  The noise levels of Bouncy Bunny should mask all the nefarious goings on in the bank.  Spidey isn't threatened.  So his Spider-Sense should stay quiet as a lamb.  Annie's Spider-Sense however works differently than her father's alert system.  She can see into the future.

I like that the Parkers do not outright dismiss their daughter's visions.  Afterall, they break the laws of real physics all the time.  So, Spidey heads on over to the neighboring bank, and what does he find but the miscreants and Flint Marko.

Sandman's not happy to see Spider-Man, but he's even unhappier when the missus and the tyke show up to bail out the blushing father of the Spider-Man Family.

Gerry Conway and Nathan Stockman turn this fun little book into a miniature epic with lots of oversized panels and an emphasis on how dangerous the Sandman could be if he wasn't merely just a greedy thug with superpowers.  This makes for an entertaining time for every Spider-Man fan, especially those that wish the marriage never burned in Mephisto's coals.

Elektra was just trying to clear her head in Las Vegas when she met Lauren, a chirpy bartender with the problem of Jasper an abuser if not worse.  Elektra ended Lauren's problems, but now she has a problem of her own.  Lauren.

Elektra doesn't regret saving Lauren.  No, the world is better off with fewer Jaspers.  She is however an assassin, and a product of vengeance.  Unfortunately, from her perspective, she possesses a conscience.  Always has.  She spared Foggy Nelson although hired by Kingpin to kill the attorney.  She spent a run in the nineties being Xena to Nina McCabe's Gabrielle.  Even making friends with Stephen Strange in the process.  Elektra doesn't mind killing, but there seems to be a rhyme and reason to each ending.  Her motive is neither money, nor thrills.

The unfairness of Lauren's situation motivated Elektra to change it. In doing so, she exposed herself.  Attracted the wrong kind of attention.

The Royal Flush Gang hasn't stopped by the Marvel Universe.  As disposed of in Juann Cabal's sweeping illustration of martial arts, the reader and Elektra discover automation behind the assassination attempt.

Elektra's close-call awakens the exhausted and damaged Lauren, and Elektra's stern warning to the girl backfires in a big way.

Writer Andy Owens delights in keeping up the pretense of what Elektra wants to be--a hardened professional and the ultimate pragmatist--and revealing what she actually is.  Hero.  She becomes incensed by injustice.  She intervenes on a stranger's behalf.  She wants to depart before the thanks.  She's closer to the Lone Ranger than Colonel Moran.

Once Lauren's secure, Elektra investigates, and of course, she eventually finds Arcade and Murderworld.  This is no spoiler.  The ginger-haired showman of death has been juxtaposed against Elektra's heroic resurgence all along.  He furthermore serves as a contrast.  Arcade is in the execution business for both the money and the thrills.

Natasha Alterici's Heathen immediately differentiates from the Xena episode I mentioned in the review of the premiere.  The story begins with two wolves which represent Fenris, the Norse beast that will be one of the harbingers of Ragnarok.  Ragnarok though is a long way off, despite what the wolves think.

Their language suggests threat, but their demeanor implies The Goofy Gophers from Warner Brothers cartoons.  Well mannered, and comedic the wolves spot our heroine Aydis’ horse and intend to stalk and eat him.  Alas.

Fortunately Aydis’ horse doesn't hold a grudge.  The horse’s name is Saga, and by the end of Heathen, you’ll know that he’s more than a horse, of course, of course.

Aydis is a female Viking that made the mistake of being a lesbian when lesbians weren’t fashionable or even tolerated.  Instead, of arranging a marriage or killing her, as tradition demands, Aydis' progressive Viking father releases her.  

In Heathen, Alterici is putting a new spin to the Nibelung, but it's unpredictable.  It doesn't follow the narrative or the more familiar Wagner operas.  For example, I thought I would have to read two or three more issues before Aydis breached the fire and freed Brynhild from the curse. 

Rescuing Byrnhild only proves to be half the battle, and this is where Alterici's story really takes flight.  The opera is machismo in action.  The Xena episode inverted everything with a love is love message and of course eliminating the need for brave men altogether.  Alterici sees the Nibelung as arch sexism in which women are property to be claimed as a prize.

Aydis is worthy of passing through the flame because she's brave and also her aims are noble.  She's not out to sleep with Brynhild.  She doesn't even know her.  Instead, she has a grander, more impressive goal, which I'll not spoil.  

There's so much in the story to marvel at including the art.  Alterici’s art is overall attractive and singular.  Very much like a painting with a judicious use of color.    

The flames dispel because of Aydis' pure rationale, but neither of our heroines are out of the woods yet.  Another character from the Nibelung swoops onto stage.

Freya in Alterici's story is the Norse Goddess of Love.  Her title is important.  As she states, she usually only stuns men, but the fact that Aydis falls under her spell subtly makes a statement about her sexual orientation.  It's natural.  It's so natural that it follows the edicts of the gods.  I also appreciate that since this book was never going to be all-ages Alterici sees no point in censoring the nudity.  Neither shall I.

Batgirl is about as exciting as a C-Span broadcast about zoning laws.  The story starts out well albeit quietly.  Batgirl deduces which among a throng of people is a thief by using her scientific acumen.

After that moment of Nancy Drewing, Larson’s script tailspins into a boring Mary Worth comic strip.  First, we join Barbara Gordon at the library where Esme informs her of a new app involving virtual dogs.

Ah, yes.  “Data Mining.”  That promises to be a motif where somebody gets punched in the face.  Next, she gets a surprise on her doorstep.

The femme-femme discussion just meets the protocols of the Bechdel Test necessary for the betterment of humanity.  Ten pages have passed without Barbara employing fisticuffs.  Surely things will get better.  Action must be on the way.

What. the. fuck.  Oh, and minus a million points for the gratuitous Nightwhiner hallucination.  Since she finds her concentration not up to par, Barbara decides to attempt to shut off her eidetic memory.  That's not the source of her problems, but all right.  Let's see where this goes.

Maybe if you’d get on the streets and break a serial killer’s ribs you’d feel better.  As a reader, I know I would.  Damn it.  Tangling with Ally Babble would be a step up.  

No matter.  Barbara's hyperfocus is completely unnecessary.  Her meditation trick goes absolutely nowhere.  So this whole shtick just wastes a page with non-violent thumb-twittering.  Frankie interrupts Babs’ exhilarating new memory technique.

Oh, so the dog app and data mining all lead to this scintillating plot point of Batgirl humiliation.  Damn.  I take it all back.  This is just amazing adventure writing.  

So, here’s a question.  If the female character in the story reverts to a female stereotype—namely a honeytrap—are the Bechdel Test results thrown out?  I think they should be.

Let’s go with that.  Barbara attempting to use feminine wiles, in the most mind-numbingly innocuous way, on the Penguin’s son Ethan nullifies the merit of a horizon-broadening Merchant Ivory conversation with Alyson.  Oh, and French Exit?  I had to look up what a French Exit is.  Can this scene with masquerading Regency poofs and a French Exit be any more pretentious?  

Batgirl finally suits up and does some mildly interesting breaking an entering.

Uh-Oh.  Barbara’s dead.  See, if that guy used a blade instead of his leg, she would have been dead.  Nicked her femoral artery.  Rookie mistake undeserving of Batgirl.  Batgirl should have sensed the blow coming--perhaps hearing the rustle of cloth--and blocked it.  The last storyarc was all about Batgirl learning more martial arts.  If she doesn't use them what was the point of that? You have failed writer.  Failed miserably.

First, weird cover, but great issue.  In the latest chapter of Batman and Wonder Woman,  Catwoman ushers the Caped Crusaders to paradise island.  

I find it odd that the creative team chose to go with the Lee Meriweather Catwoman instead of the Eartha Kitt Catwoman they started with.  

Perhaps it's not a miscommunication and a statement saying that both incarnations with Julie Newmar are equally Catwoman.  

Not odd at all is the need for a female escort to Paradise.  This isn’t likely a necessity but a gesture of good will and makes sense for a gynarchy.  The Amazons probably judge a man by how quickly he will acquiesce.  Or confirm their opinion of him.

Batman chose Catwoman as his ambassador for a number of reasons.  One’s practical.  She was on hand whereas Batgirl, the logical candidate, was not.  The other is existential.

Batman exhibits an unshakeable faith that he will someday be able to reform the purloiner.  Thus, the writers immediately demonstrate a commonality in Batman and Wonder Woman who seeks redemption for her foes and genuinely doesn't understand why they do not use their talents and skills for the good of humankind.

Once on Paradise Island, writers Jeff Parker, Marc Andreyko and artist David Hahn do something fascinating.  Within the all-ages framework of the book, they explore the Amazons’ sensuality.  

Whereas Batgirl technically deals with sexuality--Barbara trying to string Ethan along, his attempt to sleep with her, Alyson and Jo's LGBT pregnancy wants, Hope Larson treats these aspects in the fashion of a painfully tame soap opera.  

In Batman and Wonder Woman, the Amazons bear an open, casual eroticism.  With their statuesque forms and sylph-like clothing they cannot help exude an aesthetic attraction.  

There’s furthermore sidelong glances between women that can be considered lesbian subtext.  As a consequence, the creative team presents a genuinely foreign, benign culture that’s more complex than the common and easily understood bellicose race.

The Amazons treat Batman, Robin and Catwoman as honored guests.  Over a sumptuous repast, Batman explains his need for the visit.

The plot once again could have been reworked for a serious Dark Knight.  It’s that clever.  The way the books that the Nazis and Ra's al Ghul hunted for and the eternal nature of the Amazons tie together so smoothly that you wonder why nobody thought about this idea before.  It’s just so obviously brilliant.

Batman, Wonder Woman, Catwoman and Robin follow the League of Shadows to Garatos, where lies the Labyrinth.  Once there, they become embroiled in action against the creatures of legend.

The battles however do not play out how one expects.  Diana’s gifts from the gods nullify unnecessary bloodshed, and Batman is Batman.

In the last issue of Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman and the Turtles stymied the Arkham Asylum inmates’ foray on the TMNT earth.  Donatello learned that there was a secret agenda regarding the pattern of invasion.  This led Batman to deduce the mastermind behind the scheme.

There’s no way to discuss the book any more without divulging the ploy.  So, suffice to say this is yet another enjoyable team-up gorgeously rendered in the Bruce Timm model of Batman: the Animated Series.  The story’s funny and smart with both the Batman Family and the Turtles meshing into a rewarding partnership.  For those who don’t mind spoilers, read on.



It turns out that the Mad Hatter is behind the whole shebang, and writer Matt Manning does an excellent job mimicking the delivery of the late, great Roddy McDowell in the dialogue.  

It’s up to Michelangelo and Robin to stop the Mad Hatter on the Batman Family earth, but Mikey gets on Robin’s nerves in a bad way.  In fact Robin is the only member of the Batman Family not really down with the Turtles.

The story concludes in a superb fashion that brings Mikey’s love of life to the fore.  Even Batman cannot help but be infected by Mikey’s optimism.

Surprisingly, there’s another issue of the story down the line.  Truth be told, I’d like Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles never to end.

This issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up is another moment of perfection in Sholly Fisch's impressive run with Mystery Incorporated and various capes and cowls.  It's no spoiler to reveal this wonderful opening gambit.

Of course this isn't Shaggy.  It's the Martian Manhunter seeking the detective work of Scooby and the Gang.  J'onn frequently takes the guise of John Jones, an official detective, but this frame job has him stumped.

I could argue that Fisch's story reflects Trump policy on people of color legally and illegally visiting our wonderful country, but I think it's more fittingly in line with the aforementioned Legends and a scene from Men in Black.

Think about it.  The Hawks and J'onn J'onzz have routinely risked their lives to save others, and yet one broadcast torpedoes all the good will they've earned.  It's sad really.  J'onn isn't even really doing this for himself.  He's a shapeshifter.  His group of fellow aliens are not.

Though there's an underlying cynicism in Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Fisch never shirks a moment to deliver some laugh out loud funny insider jokes.  These will tickle those especially familiar with the Bronze Age of comic books, but the gags also span more modern ideas.  In addition, Daphne represents the better qualities of humanity.

She has no idea what the government agents' guns will do to her.  She nevertheless steps in front of the alien targets and tries to reason with these new complications.

Two laugh out loud funny stories for this issue of Simpsons Comics.  "Bad Boy Homer" is a send-up of the Soska sisters' Dead Hooker in the Trunk.

The story first starts out with Homer thinking his life went stale as he got older, but within the framework of an elaborate Uber joke, Homer once again learns the lesson of the Monkey's Paw--actually seen in an episode of "Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror."

Homer mistakes Otto for his Uber driver, but Otto's a nice guy.  He'll be happy to get Homer home.  Of course, he's got to pick up his friends.

One of the more refreshing things about Bill Morrison's story is that he makes no jokes at Homer's expense.  Homer's mistake isn't borne out of stupidity or an ever finicky crayon.  Otto's friends don't use Homer as a target for insults.  They more or less treat Homer with respect and that mutualism quickly lands them in the same pickle.

The gags span out from this comedic catalyst, and surprisingly, there's a second half to the tale.  It's not as funny as the first half, but that first half of Morrison's short and the slapstick reactions courtesy of Mike Kazaleh are worth the purchase.

The second dunk into Homerland by Michael Saikin places Homer in a unique predicament that most people wouldn't actually care about.  Ah, but for Homer, this is as much of a choice between life and death.

Each decision carries Homer into a ridiculous situation, moderated by spirit guides Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster.  It's either a weird spoof of Run, Lola Run or a surprisingly accurate though absurd demonstration of Contingency Theory.  Maybe it's both.

In Doctor Who twenty-first century humans are now aware of alien life; its want to takeover the world and exterminate the populace.  They are also aware of alien time traveler known only as the Doctor and his part in saving them in every era of history.  Though many still believe him to be a legend and his exploits elaborated upon, the consensus of opinion is that he's out there somewhere stopping things becoming worse.  As such, the Doctor is a public figure and therefore if you base a comic book upon him, say the Time Surgeon, well, there's no harm.  Unless of course the Doctor pays you a call, which is what happened to Val and Sonny the artist and writer of Time Surgeon.  Not exactly cross, the Time Surgeon insulted the Doctor's vanity.  

The Doctor's tour eventually lands Sonny and Val on the planet Zarma.  The Doctor's aim was to take them to a Utopia of free thought, but he finds the planet invaded by brain parasites known as the Mindmorphs.  Although if you wanted to refer to them as the dead-serious version of Futurama's Brain Spawn, that's just as accurate.

You'll notice that Clara's face is consistently concealed by the mnemonic mists.  That's because Clara obliterated the Doctor's memories of her.  It's a nice touch of continuity.  After a Doctorish escape, the Doctor runs straight into some old friends.

The idea of facing mental constructs of more familiar enemies is an old chestnut of science fiction, but Robbie Morrison uses them as a means to demonstrate the theme of Doctor Who undermining cliches meant to but failing to increase dramatic tension.  The Doctor's not fooled for a second, and we benefit from Rachael Stott's spectacular artwork.  The manifestation of his mind ghosts also inspires the Doctor for concluding a means of defeating the Mindmorphs.  At this point, you're thinking well, now the story becomes predictable.  This is why Val and Sonny are traveling with the Doctor.  However, it's not quite as simple as you think.  The ultimate defeat of the Mindmorphs lies in the hands of the Doctor characterized in steely Peter Capaldi detail.

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