Tuesday, March 14, 2017

POBB March 8, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
March 8, 2017
Ray Tate 

There’s a whole kit and caboodle of comic book reviews waiting for you in this week’s Pick of the Brown Bag:  Action Comics, All-New Wolverine, Earth 2 Society, Hellboy BPRD 1954, Justice League/Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Micronauts, The Mummy, Red hood and the Outlaws, Rom and The Titans.  First a critique of brand new book IT.

IT stars Evan Adonis, an IT guy for the People’s Trust Bank.  The book starts well with an attempt to hack the bank, thwarted by Adonis.  The attack is even written in a way that the techno-challenged can still understand. 

Even if I didn’t know what a shell was I’d still be able to construe that “getting in” didn’t happen and that’s making our hackers sweat.  The Big Bad behind the hackers appreciates the talent behind the countermeasures.  Alas, he’s the only one, and that’s where this book circles the drain.

A basketful of deplorable co-workers surrounds Adonis.  Not one person is in his corner, and this makes for very difficult reading.  The constant resentment and putdowns drain you, and you must wonder why would Adonis stay at this incessantly disgorging Hellmouth? Things however get worse.

Adonis gets beaten up after accidentally hearing the discussion between his boss and some hoods.  

It’s one thing to make things difficult for your protagonist and another thing to turn a perpetual re-energizing tidal wave of toxicity against him.  Writer Dimitrios Zaharakis could have mitigated the dour atmosphere with just a tiny bit of humor.  The one person however that tells a joke is shot in the head.  I found IT to be thoroughly unpleasant although beautifully illustrated by the fluid Scott McDaniel.

Action Comics though humdrum is at least digestible.  Ever since Rebirth and the appearance of the mysterious Mr. Oz, the Powers That Be at DC hinted that—sigh—everything we know is wrong.

Yeah, yeah.  Whatever.  Mr. Oz’s recitation proved to be crap.  Superman is Superman from another universe.  There’s nothing secret about him.  He’s just poorly written.  For that reason, Superman only occasionally ascends to a Superman-level.  Mostly he’s a disappointment.  

Although, next to frumpy Lois Lane, Superman is Mr. Excitement.  Then there’s a new/old Clark Kent.  Icky.  Just icky.  Again, more preferable than Lois Lane, but eeew.  As you can read in the dialogue, Superman is more than a little perturbed at the vanishment of his son.  There’s a lot of that going around.

Wally West’s expulsion and return appeared to be the result of Mr. Oz and his cohorts…

…the Watchmen.  Yes.  Rebirth appeared to promise the Justice League vs. the Watchmen, but it looks like that’s way down the road if at all.  Oh, sure.  There’s a Flash/Batman team-up allegedly going to address the Watchman Button, but hey, what are the odds? Remember Oracle: The Cure?  Not only did they not heal Barbara Gordon.  The Cure didn’t even show up.

Excuse me.  Turns out a member of the Flash Rogue’s Gallery spat Wally West into the Speed Force.  I’ll not spill who.  Dan Abnett writes The Titans spectacularly and demonstrates that you can juggle past memories, new universes, rebooted heroes and old villainy quite elegantly.  The Superman team?  Not so much, and hey guess what? Although Mr. Oz surprisingly does appear in these pages, his involvement in the Superman affair is tangential at best.

This book is furthermore woeful for failing to live up to it’s “Supersized Anniversary Issue” ballyhoo.  The revelation of the secret behind Jon’s disappearance and these multiple incarnations of Superman running around is a shoulder-shrug.  DC has gone to this well far too many times.  The splash pages of Superman fighting his greatest foes aren’t even full of sound and fury.  They do signify nothing.  The bonus short by Paul Dini is of course better than the dry main story, but how could it not be?  Pass on this, even if you want to know the secret behind the dead Superman, the new/old Man of Steel and Clark Kent.  I’m sure the writers will exposit in dialogue for proceeding issues.

Tom Taylor already had his crack at Superman in a memorable trio of Batman/Superman issues.  So it comes as no surprise that his version of Superman is freaking awesome.  

Superman must ask for the use of the CERN Large Hadron Collider in order to open a wormhole to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ universe.  Bonus points for using actual theoretical science to bolster the credibility of a plot point, and Superman’s characterization doesn’t just end there.  Check this out.

Superman compliments each one of his teammates and highlights less obvious uses of their superpowers or lack thereof.

Putting aside expertise in personalizing Superman, Taylor gets each League member proper.  Particularly the Flash.  Taylor furthermore emphasizes the League roster’s similarities as well as their differences.

The Justice League, bottom line, is about saving innocent life, including the youthful heroes when the Rangers’ nemesis Zed teams up with one of Superman’s upper tier villains.

Before that though, the Rangers get their just due as experienced crime-stoppers.  Batman pushes against the Rangers because he’s worried they’ll risk and ultimately lose their lives.  The Rangers push back.

In addition to all these pluses, when the monsters attack, artist Stephen Byrne cuts loose with Taylor’s Justice League reservists.  A damn fine panorama of capes and cowls blasting, sonic booming and pounding on kaiju.  

Who can ask for anything more?

For the last issue Earth 2 Society goes out on a high, soaring note.  Earth 2 Society began with writer James Robinson in conjunction with Paul Levitz reintroducing the Justice Society for a brand new audience.  

With a handful of exceptions, this was not the classic version of the Justice Society.  Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman sacrificed themselves to destroy the forces of Darkseid.  Supergirl raised by her cousin Clark and Lois Lane renamed herself Power Girl when stranded on earth one with her best friend and Robin Helena Wayne.  Helena rechristens herself the Huntress.  She is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, who never retired and taught her kitten as much as her husband did.  This version of Huntress is therefore more formidable than her original Bronze Age earth-two incarnation, also co-created by Levitz.  This escalating scale of lethality makes Helena’s evolution in Abnett’s story even more plausible and fitting.  Anyway, Robinson introduced a new Flash, a new Lantern, a new Hawkgirl, etc.

Robinson left the book on the sterling note of a banded together new Justice Society.  New writers set about destroying everything that he built in Earth 2: World’s End.  This led to a failed resurrection.  Then, Dan Abnett took over and once he dealt with the last of the previous writer’s plot threads, he took the book into a more interesting direction.  

He also based his remaining issues on what the Justice Society was always about unification for the greater good.  Reader exhaustion of monstrous earth destruction led to the snub of World’s End.  The break up of the Justice Society and their squabbling generated the ennui with the new Earth 2: Society.  Abnett once again got it right.  Teamwork is the Justice Society’s greatest strength.  For this last issue, no earth shattering.  No, strife.  Twists in the roster, but optimism and brilliant sublime artwork by Victor Cifuentes and Rex Lokus are the watchwords for this splendid deserved finale.

Karen Beecher became the Bumblebee in Teen Titans #45.  She was a non-powered scientist who built herself a suit that granted her abilities similar to those of the Wasp, minus the Pym Particles.

She’s mostly remembered because of her bug-eyed apian fashion sense and winning want to fight crime.  You can argue that she’s also known for being one of the few black heroes in DC Comics, but I think the Bumblebee persona would have resonated equally well with a white hero.  Race is therefore irrelevant.  It’s really the perception of a human bumblebee that’s of interest.  The chimera is a baby archetype that Karen represented well.

In contrast, Mal Duncan is remembered for being the black guy that hung out with the Teen Titans.   Thanks to writers Paul Levitz and Bob Rozakis and artist Pablo Marcos that idea changed in the Bronze Age.  

Dr. Light captured all the Titans and intended to use them to lure the Justice League to their doom.  Mal raided the Titans’ storage lockers to find what he needed to create a New Guardian.  

From that moment on, the black guy that hung around the Teen Titans was respectable.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

You gave up the Guardian for this fashion nightmare?

In Rebirth, Karen resurfaced as Mal Duncan’s wife but not Bumblebee.  Presumably she also could not build a Bumblebee suit.  To retrieve her wings, Karen needed the help of Meta Solutions which unbeknownst to her is a front for the Titans’ old foes the Fearsome Five.

The twist Dan Abnett throws is that the Fearsome Five claim to be legitimate and to have renounced their evil ways.  The Titans find this possibility difficult to believe.  So begins the first chapter in a new Titans vs. Fearsome Five grudge match.  Or will it be so? Can Psimon, the telepath be telling the truth?

Abnett thinks smart throughout this straight up heroes and villains story.  He immediately utilizes the Titans’ own telepath Lilith(Omen), but Lilith doubts her abilities are as impressive as those of Psimon’s.  Abnett also brings in the voice of experience.

As introduced in the new 52, Roy Harper was an alcoholic not a drug user.  His association with the Green Arrow, now a much younger hero, didn’t receive attention until much later in the new tales.  The reason why Speedy’s drug addition worked in Bronze Age is because of the history shared between Oliver Queen and Roy Harper.  In the 1940s through the early 1960s, the duo were much happier as guardian and ward.  Much like Batman and Robin.  So this turnabout in the nineteen seventies symbolized by the infamous “junkie” cover struck with more impact.  With the reshuffling of universes, the characterization twist lost a lot of its gravitas since you really didn’t know what the history between Green Arrow and Speedy was.

For Rebirth, Abnett restored all the Titans’ memories.  It’s possible that Speedy actually palled around with Green Arrow and become a junkie.  It’s equally possible he’s remembering all this from the previous cosmos.  No matter, it’s real to him, and drug addiction has a mental as well as a physical component.  So, his words do strike home.

The decision institutes a classic team-up between Nightwing and Wally West, who as I mentioned in the Action Comics review triggered everything in the first place.  Artists Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund an Andrew Dalhouse turn what could have been a dull stealth entrance into an exciting and colorful display of Wally’s speed.

At the same time, Abnett gives Donna a moment to shine.  Donna is the queen of lousy character history.  Way back in the day, it was easy.  Wonder Woman rescued her as a baby and took her to Paradise Island to become an Amazon.  That origin was just slammed by all sorts of nonsense, and new 52 can boast no innocence.  The Finches reintroduced Donna as a Homunculus in Wonder Woman.  In Titans, memories restored.  Terry Long, a dead weight around Donna's neck forever, deleted.  Donna now rocks. 

Scott Lobdell in the latest issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws streamlines Artemis’ origin.  Ostensibly, Jason and Artemis come to a bar in search of Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle freak villain Cornelius Stirk.  The new 52 appears to have mitigated his signature and modus operandi, less emphasis on heart eating and more on shape-shifting.  

After cleaning out the bar, Jason and Artemis share a drink and the story of her hunt for the Bow of Ra.

William Messner-Loebs and artist Michael Deodato created Artemis to be a replacement for Wonder Woman.  So, in a notable story, Artemis defeats Diana in the contest for the title.  Though edgy toward Diana throughout her existence, it's her succession that serves as the major wedge between them.  Death and resurrection also follow Artemis' victory, but that’s not remotely a surprise when it comes to comic books.

Anyhow, Lobdell preserves the fun-to-say Artemis homeland and tweaks the origin of Amazons in the desert.  He uses Jason as the voice for the new reader, but does so humorously.  Lobdell transposes the rivalry between Diana and Artemis to the new Amazon character Akila.  The contest also becomes something different.

Things go south for Akila, and Artemis finally meets Diana of Themyscria.  Kenneth Rocafort’s and Dan Brown’s illustration of Diana is worth the price of the book.

However, it’s very clear that she and Artemis are strangers.  So, Loebs' history falls by the wayside to create a contextual sense.  Artemis finds Wonder Woman to be too perfect.  She’s shiny and reflective of the Shim’Tar, the Bana-Migdhall protector.  So, as said, Diana is everything she wanted but cannot be.

I had doubts about exploring X-23’s past.  I mean there’s a reason I never picked up an X-23 book, but Tom Taylor in All-New Wolverine painlessly outlined what had gone before and with this latest issue closes the chapter.

Kimura is one of the people that turned Laura McKinney, clone of Wolverine, into a killer.  To instigate the berserker rage of her progenitor, she introduced a trigger pheromone and followed through with some brainwashing torture.

Kimura’s latest bend is to rule Madripoor, the Terry and the Pirates gone to hell Asian island introduced to the Marvel Universe circa mid 1980s.  To that effect, Kimura prepared her favorite pet Wolverine to kill Tyger Tiger, who attempts to progressively change Madripoor for the better.

This preparation included a sample of the pheromone which sent Laura and her clone sister Gabby packing.  Unfortunately there was no escape, and Kimura crop-dusted the town where Laura fled to.

The death of the town sent Nick Fury and SHIELD after Laura, but that also played into Kimura’s hands.  Now Laura and SHIELD have teamed up for one final stand at Tyger Tiger’s palace.

This story finale starts out fun.  Laura and her allies come up with creative means to defeat Kimura and her mercenaries.  Tiger Tyger’s squirreling away of an Iron Man suit gives Laura the edge that she needs, and there’s a number of surprises that awaits the reader as the tale builds to a crescendo with the duel between Kimura and Wolverine.  Good stuff all around.

A whackjob group of UK screwballs worship Anubis and artificially extend their miserable lives through the means of the Palimpsest.  A goofball ritual that enslaves an ancient Egyptian priestess to an innocent woman of the then present.  

In this case Angel Kostenko, a former victim of human trafficking.  Angel’s possession is pre-empted by the stalwart Pyramid Club.

Or not.  Despite the Pyramid Club opposing the Anubis Sect this issue of Peter Milligan’s giddy tribute to Hammer films reveals the Pyramid’s true colors.

The discovery prompts Angel to turn against her wannabe lover Duncan, the most youthful of the Pyramid Club and try to reason with the Priestess who seeks to possess her.

An arch writer Milligan easily relates that the sisters need to do it themselves.  The bad guys are really bad.  The “good” guys are bad as well.  Duncan is either bad or weak.  Neither prospect helps Angel, and oh, yeah, one of the fruitcakes reanimated Nebetah’s highly dead obsessive lover Kharis.  

Yeah.  How can you not love a book like this?

Lady Cynthia Eden Jones calls upon a favor from Professor Bruttenholm.  Thus, Hellboy, Archie and psychic Susan, both agents of the BPRD, travel to Hong Kong.  They arrive during a national holiday.

The trio make their way to their contact, a British expatriate, and he relates the troubles of he and his crew as well as the Hong Kong environs.

The slippery Childe takes the trio forward, and it’s there that Hellboy meets the hosts of this Danse Macabre.

Any student of Asian ancient mythology will recognize these gentlemen, but even if you don’t artist Brian Churilla draws them in such a way that their meaning is clear.  Fun stuff.

Rom and Micronauts offer splendid jumping on points.  Micronauts is more of a stand-alone than Rom.  However, Rom gives you a better idea on how the interconnected Hasbro universes works.

Rom begins far outside the realm of the Space Knight.  Instead, writers Christos Gage and Chris Ryall take the reader to the streets where the disenfranchised struggle to make ends meet.  The Dire Wraiths take advantage of their unfortunate predicament.

Next we cut to Rom and his fellow Space Knights Livia, also his former lover, and Commander Orphion.  The Commander has declared the earth a lost cause.  Rom is trying to persuade the Space Knights that they’ve rushed to judgement, but every argument he makes deepens their concern.

Putting aside the moral point, I’ve got to say, I wouldn’t be convinced of Rom’s reasoning.  Nuking the earth is the logical, swiftest solution to end the Dire Wraiths.  In any case, there are a lot of people who might object to the Space Knight’s expediency.

That’s Beach Head and Grunt.  Actual members of G.I. Joe.  Not just some token Joes created for Rom.  Their entrance gives you an idea of what’s going in the book, and how the story could play out a little differently than you expect.

Micronauts is even a little friendlier.  The story begins with Micronauts crew-leader Oz taking a little snooze.  It’s a nice moment that characterizes the Micronauts as a band similar to the crew of Serenity rather than the U.S.S. Enterprise.  As Oz sleeps, he remembers, and the mask of Pharos translates.

So, that’s the mission.  Save the scientist that helped he and his crew escape.  The crew of the Heliopolis however is a democratic rag tag group.  So, Oz puts it to a vote.

Phen, the new Space Glider, brings up a hilarious point, which gives you an idea of the sly humor running through the space shenanigans.  The vote cast in favor.  Biotron, who gained a personality thanks to a previous adventure, finds a means to find the scientist.

Followed by the expected joke about cats and porn, I love the artistic transition by Max Dunbar and Ander Zarate.  It’s brief, definitive and aesthetic.

The Micronauts relocate, but they find that they’re not alone.  The humans that attempted to vivisect them trespass to end their friend.  Fortunately, nobody’s home.

That is except the Acroyears.  This issue of The Micronauts was exciting, pretty and user friendly.

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