Wednesday, April 26, 2017

POBB April 19, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
April 19, 2017
Ray Tate

This week The Deep kicks off a new adventure with the Nekton Family.  Aquaman and Mera swim into another chapter of “H2.0.”   The Green Lanterns conclude their battle against Dr. Polaris.  The first part in the Batman/Flash crossover hits the racks as well as the second issue of Superman's "Black Dawn.”  Superwoman enters a new phase.  Angel ends its first time travel mishap and Kulan Gath battles Red Sonja.  First, Marvel releases two old titles with a new flavor: Monsters Unleashed and Nick Fury.

Nick Fury is the hardest book to review this week because it relies so much on the artwork.  Art is subjective.  It has an objective component, but it’s mainly opinion-based.

The Nick Fury story by James Robinson is simple.  At a casino situated on the French Riviera, Fury attempts to steal a thumb drive full of HYDRA information.

The thumb drive however is merely the McGuffin that allows artists Aco, Hugo Petrus and Rachelle Rosenberg to strut their Steranko influences.

I like this fine.  The original Nick Fury debuted in 1963 in the war themed comic book Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.  The wikipedia entry is worth a look.  Stan Lee divulges the hilarious origin of the series. 

Lee and Kirby quickly disposed of the Combat! styled themes and grasped the golden ring of the secret agent carousel conducted by James Bond.  Thus born “Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.” 

As Nick Fury progresses, Robinson adds some SHIELD specific motifs.  A new femme fatale Hydra Agent is just the tip of the iceberg.

These nuances make Nick Fury easily the most frivolous and fun project Robinson had a hand inSo, my advice is to do a flip-through at the store.  If you like Nick Fury’s artwork, and consider yourself a classic SHIELD fan, you’ll like the book.

Monsters Unleashed is kind of a mess, yet it works.  Kei Kawade known as the Kaiju Kid possesses the ability to call or create monsters that he draws.

Kei already made his team of creatures and defenders.  Aegis and Mekara are giant robots.  Mekara is feminized, intelligent and thoughtful; perhaps a reflection of Kei's mother.  

Aegis is rougher.  Think of Optimus Prime without the heavy burden of wisdom.  Although this scene alludes to Rodimus Prime.

The next notable beast is Scragg who looks like a giant grasshoper and talks like an SNL skit.

A non-vocal dragon and other behemoths fill out the remaining slots.  So far, so forgettable, right?  

I mean.  No bones to the setup or David Baldeon’s and Marcio Menyz’s stellar artwork, but it's not exactly riveting storytelling.  You've got a kid imagining in 1970s Japan-O-Vision, and the products of those dreams protecting the earth.  If it were a live action television series I'd watch it, but I probably wouldn’t read a comic book on it.  

The question lies in production.  A comic book has an unlimited budget with a theoretical ease of presentation.  A television series has limits, and a challenge that’s interesting to watch be overcome.

Perhaps sensing the hard sell, writer Cullen Bunn adds Damage Control and SHIELD to the stew.

With their inclusion, Bunn firmly roots the otherwise could have been independent forget-me-not in the Marvel Universe.

Now, just to attract my attention, Bunn calls in Elsa Bloodstone.

Yup.  Sold.  

Monsters Unleashed’s plot kicks in after the introductions are made, and while yes, the threat involves a giant monster, the motivation of that leviathan is pure Marvel goodness.

The cliffhanger behind that substantial facade offers the reader even more interest.  A surprise all the way around.

The Nektons recently dealt with a giant monster in The Deep, and in conjunction with that exploration, they gained a Merlin like visitor named Nereus.

Nereus interacts with each of the Nektons in a different way and provides half of the entertainment.

A new mystery completes the other half.  I have no idea what’s going on, but The Deep certainly triggers curiosity and in an all-ages fashion.

Writer Dan Abnett creates a satisfying answer to the enigma of Deep Water, the monster that swims in and out of any drop of moisture.

Aquaman and Mera delve in a sinkhole of H2.0, a strange liquid that seems to be linked to the creature.  This issue, the duo learn much, including how the beast travels and how it surfaced into being.

Aquaman could not have carried out this journey alone.  Abnett once more emphasizes Mera’s importance in Aquaman’s life.  As his love.  As his partner.

The strength of their relationship makes me wonder why Watchman Mr. Oz left them alone.  Sure.  Thanks to the Crones of Atlantis, Mera believes marrying Aquaman will herald a dire prophecy, but they’re still monogamously in bed together.  So, marriage is an afterthought.  As is the whole Mera not being the true queen of Atlantis.  She’s queen.  Every Atlantean knows it.  Keep in mind.  Aquaman is fiction.  Real life is messier.

Did Mr. Oz underestimate Aquaman, or did the Superman editorship actually just make use of a soon to be continuity chip to restore a lot of what people liked in previous incarnations of Superman?  I suspect it’s a little of both.

Superman starts off in high gear with the Man of Steel, Robin and Superman’s son John searching for the missing Dark Knight, who was waylaid last issue while investigating a mystery in Hamilton County.

That mystery deepens with a remarkable homogenous reaction from the denizens of the Mayberry like location.

The hyperbole associated with Superboy is as intriguing as his strange protectors.  In addition, and seemingly unrelated, a visitor from space introduces himself.

The weirdness of the whole situation is the signature of writer Peter Tomasi who likes his science fiction pulpy and organic.  Artist Patrick Gleason with his biology themed wonderment is the perfect accompaniment.   

Superwoman is also part of the Superman Family.  The original Bronze Age Superwoman was Kristen Wells the time traveling descendent of Jimmy Olsen.  

The second was the new 52 version of Lois Lane.  Followed by Lana Lang.  “A thing happened,” and Lana  doesn’t have powers any longer.  She’s still heroic in her own right as a human.  End of story.

A more fascinating foray can be found in Batman, still being written by regular and phenomenal Batman writer Tom King.

The Watchmen button spat out of the Speed Force in Rebirth and lodged in the Batcave walls.  Since that moment, Batman and the Flash began working together to unravel the button’s mystery.  This is appropriate since Batman and the Flash of the new 52 are both scientists and the first two familiar heroes we see after the reality-bending Flashpoint.

Batman starts with a reminder of the time-lost Saturn Girl’s status in Arkham Asylum.

Dire warnings and a definite contrast to the calm measure she exhibited in Rebirth where she foretold Superman’s return.  King’s tale begins to simmer when the button reacts with Psycho-Pirate’s Medusa Mask.

In this way, King subtly links the Psycho-Pirate, a witness to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, to the next world-shaking event.  On a personal level, King implies that all his stories including this one, the oddball in the bunch, still connect.  

Here’s King’s interlocking story so-far.  Hugo Strange used the Psycho-Pirate in his bid to destroy Gotham City and Batman.  Two heroes saved by Batman as children emerged to help stop the carnage.  Gotham and Gotham Girl became Batman’s proteges.  Those heroes fell partly through the machinations of Amanda Waller and Taskforce X.  Batman used Waller’s resources to form his own team and hunt down the Psycho-Pirate in order to save Gotham Girl’s sanity.  Strange sold the Psycho-Pirate to Bane.  Bane sought revenge against Batman.  Batman won, naturally.  The mask is too powerful to be released.  So Batman has another trophy.  The Psycho-Pirate’s mask reacts with the button.

The explosion of energy creates some peculiar occurrences.  These stirrings will be eerily familiar to anybody that’s been following multiverse shakeups.  No doubt.  This manifestation catalyzes numerous questions but what’s even more startling is the return of a classic super-villain that’s intimately familiar with Flashpoint and isn’t impressed by this version of Batman.  It’s rare when any villain doesn’t feel a chill at the base of his or her spine upon facing Batman, but this one is the exception proving the rule.

Given a very meta-type of history, there’s a certain fittingness to this character’s reaction to Batman as well as his being more cognizant of what’s really going on.  Batman however teaches the mad fiend the error of his ways.  

The scene demonstrates Batman’s intrinsic status as the World’s Greatest Detective.  I’ve never met you before.  You don’t seem all that frightened of me.  You think I should be scared of you, but I’m Batman.  I’m not like anybody you ever met before.  I've been watching you while you struck.  I've deduced a weakness.  My turn.  En garde.

Batman dishes out more pain than this character felt in his entire life, and it’s an insult to boot.  Their fateful encounter is brutally brought to life by frequent Batman artist Justin Fabok and given a swathe of lightning strikes by colorist Brad Anderson.  Batman despite being part of a crossover should not to be missed by any Batman fan.  The nature of the duel alone warrants purchase.

Previously, Dr. Polaris removed his brother from the hospital with the hope of using his power over magnetism and scientific acumen to cure his brother of the tumors ravaging his brain.  This led to the new/old Suicide Squad demanding that the Green Lanterns bring Dr. Polaris in for assignment.  The Lanterns intended to stop Polaris but not for the benefit of the Suicide Squad.  They’re heroes.  They’ll bring Polaris to justice.  As they learned why Polaris acted the way he did, they began to sympathize along with the reader with the villain.

Dr. Polaris isn’t like Magneto.  He’s a victim of schizophrenia.  He hears the voice of his alter-ego in his head pushing him to put on the costume and wreak havoc with his powers.  Last issue, Jessica Cruz saved she and her partner’s life.  This issue Simon Baz steps up in an attempt to do the heroic impossible.

Seth is too far gone, and Dr. Polaris doesn’t take the news well.  He demonstrates just how dangerous he is, and it takes both Lanterns to stop him in a scene just crying for triumphant music.  Sam Humphries is the best thing to happen to the Green Lantern concept.

Angel and Illyria traveled back in time ostensibly to discover the meaning behind Angel’s dreams or visions.  Instead, they wound up in a period that Illyria regrets.  When fighting another demon of her ilk, she devoured her followers for strength before inciting a volcanic eruption to kill the rest of them.  And the demon.  Can't make an omelet without killing your followers.

It’s all in the timing.  Illyria mellowed considerably partly due to being infused in Fred’s body and experiencing the remnants of her soul much like any other demon in the Joss Whedon Universe.  Fred though was pure, and Illyria never truly evil.  

The comic book thus represents a natural evolution of the character.
Illyria attempts to reason with herself and save her followers.  In essence change history.  Fortunately, this is magic, and changing history is much easier with magic.

If Corinna Bechko’s story doesn’t float your boat, Geraldo Borges’ cinematic panel layouts and his overall excellent illustration will.  I love this page.

I’ve never seen anything like that before in a comic book, and it’s just such a perfectly comic book moment that mimics what you would see on film in an entirely unique way.  I mean.  If I were to get all artsy, I’d talk about how this page exemplifies comic book scholar Scott McCloud’s opinion that there are images that only can be accomplished through a comic book.  I don’t like to do that.  I’d rather just say.  Wow.

Last but not least, Amy Chu concludes her first Red Sonja story with the revelation of secrets behind Officer Max.  These divulgences occur as Sonja and Max battle an acclimated Kulan Gath.

Carlos Gomez once again provides an action packed issue with old as dirt sorcerers and strange beasties doing his dirty work against a bodacious Red Sonja.  

You can almost be so swept away by the art that you miss how clever this story really is.  That’s all right.  I’m here for you.

Chu changes Kulan Gath’s character.  The complexity of the modern world clothes Gath in a way that he’s never experienced before, and as a result he can grow as a character.  Gath now has a sense of humor.  He’s still evil, but he can be witty.

In conjunction with Gath’s growth, the time travel element that Chu introduced actually works on a theoretical level.  She’s dealing with magic.  She could have thrown out the rule book of Relativity, but she doesn’t.  She uses it to her advantage.

In addition the plotting is a good example of stage magic.  Sleight of hand.  Chu’s finale draws on something the reader probably didn’t pay all that much attention to since it just seemed to be an introduction.  Instead, it’s the first step in a loop.  This new run of Red Sonja is easily the most intelligently written and expands on the simplicity of typical sword and sorcery.

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