Pick of the Brown Bag
April 5, 2017
Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, the weekly comic book review blog. I’m your host, Ray Tate, and for this entry, I’ll be critiquing All-New Wolverine, Aquaman, Batman, Green Lanterns, Motor Girl and Superman. I’ll also have a few words about James Bond. As usual, if you haven’t time for the main event, I tweet capsules of the reviews under #PickoftheBrownBag.
Batman highlights the third Batman/Bane fight, and what it proves is that Bane is a punk. The narration is key to adding depth to the battle, and the choice for the narrative voice is just as important.
Writer Tom King picks up some of the little threads that seemed only to be characterization gems from all the way back in the story “Gotham” and expands them to weave an overall philosophy of Batman that’s refreshing and raw. Needless to say, this issue is not to be missed.
Comic books can be very complicated to explain. The English language often fails spectacularly when winding its way in and out of the sometimes convoluted histories of comic books, real and fictional. For example, the earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old. Happy birthday, earth, but what about the multiverse of DC Comics, and which DC Cosmos are we talking about?
Actually, every earth in the multiverse is about the same age as the real one. Barring the third Earth Two from Earth 2 Society. See what I did there? In the context of the superb Dan Abnett series, the Justice Society’s new, new earth has a false history. It was born out of something called the Pandora Casket. It’s only a few weeks old. The heroes not evolved from the Pandora Casket know the truth. The populace remains blissfully unaware and behave as if their earth is 4.6 billion years old.
The mutual understanding between comic book readers, discussion and argument is vital for the continuity of any series thick with history. Conversation allows readers to discern what is factual within a framework of fiction, and what must be false. A case in point. The multiverse of the new 52 must be as old as our real universe because of The Judas Coin, All-Star Western, Demon Knights and Vandal Savage.
This comprehension of vicarious experience plays a role in accepting the restored Superman and Lois Lane. I’ll not dwell on details. They involve far too many paradoxes and happenstances. In the most reduced summary, like Flashpoint, two multiverses overlap. In other words, the Superman and Lois Lane of the post-Crisis were in fact offshoots of the new 52 Superman and Lois Lane. The new 52 Superman and Lois Lane manifested first. Of course, historically speaking that’s a load.
Writer Peter J. Tomasi touches upon these changes, but he comments through improved characterization. Regular readers of this blog know how disappointed I’ve been in Lois Lane. The writers seemed to translate Mom Lois as lifeless little helpmate. My argument. Mom or not, Lois would still be just as lively as the historical Lois Lane.
Bingo. Lois Lane isn’t passive. She’s edgy. She’s hopelessly in love with Clark Kent. She can be a mom, but don’t even think once that Lois Lane would be content to be Superman’s shadow. That’s not happening.
I never really thought of Lois being a cook or hosting anything, but the domestics is a side effect of the memory fusion. Lois gained some chef-fu. Superman got some balls. New 52 Superman grew some optimism. Both of them reunited got some exuberance.
Putting aside the ch-ch-changes. Peter Tomasi just writes these characters better. He never dropped down to the level of his peers, but you could clearly see hesitance in his writing. As if he wasn’t sure about where to go with Superman and Lois Lane given that he didn’t know how they would end up. DC could have in fact stated that the post-Crisis versions were completely false. So, although Tomasi achieved moments…
…he really didn’t seem comfortable writing these avatars until he knew for sure they were what they claimed.
Superman reads like an excellent episode from the Batman/Superman Animated Series. How much more of a compliment can I give? Tomasi establishes the new status quo with people looking up to the sky. It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!
And they’re happy to see him. Early in the New 52, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns and others established that Superman wasn’t necessarily welcome on the scene. The people of the new 52 considered Superman to be more alien than before, but unlike the Man of Both Worlds from the Bronze Age, this newest version lacked inspirational power. He instilled as much fear as he did hope. That changes right here.
From Superman’s patrol in the skies we go back to the farm. The Kents are no longer hiding under assumed names. The farm though still lies in Hamilton County, and once the reader sees Lois, she knows Lois also received a character face-lift.
All is not perfect in Lois and Clark land though. Lois is wondering if she gave up her independence, and this will no doubt motivate her to get back to The Daily Planet and reclaim her by-line. By the way, Lois, you baby, are independent. You may go by Lois Lane Kent now, but you’re still you. I’ve seen when you’re not, and it ain’t pretty. The main plot however involves an unadvertised visit from Batman and son Robin investigating a mystery and discovering more than he anticipated.
Aquaman is now in its second chapter of the “Who Goes There?” homage. The Aquamarines and FBI Agents Ajar and Irving requested Aquaman and Mera to investigate an abandoned U.S. Research Station. Abandoned as in Roanoke. What Aquaman and Mera find is a monster.
The difference between the classic science fiction/horror short that eventually became a television and movie staple is that Aquaman is a super-hero book.
If the hero decks the monster in your production, then chances are that you’ve got a super-hero story or at least a hybrid. Fisticuffs do occur in straight-up horror films, but these moments are rare and so out of place that they come as a giddy surreal visual.
In any case, Aquaman is more of an artist’s book this time around. That’s not to say writer Dan Abnett has nothing to do. He spices the typical proceeding—i.e. the expected plot of isolated group combatting monster that can appear from anywhere—with Mera’s disgust over the unethical behavior of the Aquamarines and The Scavenger’s duplicity.
Mera though with her power over water is the most valuable asset on this adventure. Even Aquaman’s impressive strength and his intelligence is secondary.
Nevertheless, Philip Briones and Gale Eltaeb’s displays of superhero/monster fighting and the sight of Mera’s remarkable abilities are the main reasons to buy Aquaman.
Green Lanterns also gains thrust from the femme de la vive.
Watching Jessica Cruz’s transformation into this calm force of will is a pure pleasure. Even more so, if you followed her plight in issues of Justice League. These expressive treasures are perfectly realized in the art of Eduardo Pansica, Julio Ferreira and Blond. J-Bird’s actions also define hers and Simon Baz’s partnership.
The Lanterns actually seem like space cops. Jessica backed up Simon for the longest time, or both took independent action, however heroic. This scene though looked like a police show standard, where the partner’s under fire and the second initiates a daring rescue. It’s just beefed up with science fiction.
The Lanterns’ predicament is a direct result from an encounter with Dr. Polaris. So far so treaded by other Lantern books. Where Sam Humphries differs is that he makes Dr. Polaris a genuinely sympathetic character. Polaris’ love for his brother Sean is genuine. His concern for his brother, afflicted with brain tumors, pushed him over the edge. His history, which we get to see in flashback, also grants Polaris dignity. Don’t forget. The Suicide Squad alerted the Lanterns because they wanted to use him. So, he’s a victim as well and in need of the Lanterns’ protection.
The usually comedic Motor Girl gets serious as the Big Bad himself Mr. Walden pays a visit to Libby’s junkyard. Mr. walden unlike Larry and Victor are well aware of whom he faces.
He brings her a much stronger offer than money.
Then he backs it up with teeth.
Sam’s survival instinct represented by Mike a Gorilla that only she can see kicks in even as she tries to rationalize.
From there, creator Terry Moore gently alleviates the tense mood by enlightening the reader as to the fate of Larry. Abducted by aliens, Moore checks in with Walden’s hapless goon. This however is a mere respite as Walden declares interstellar war. Motor Girl is a drama disguised as an absurd comedy.
Writer Tom Taylor reignites All-New Wolverine with two stories erupting A material. In tale number one, Laura Kinney alias Wolverine and her clone-sister Gabby take out the last levels of garbage orchestrating the human trafficking ring that Gabby uncovered in the previous volume.
As you can see, we get a nice bit of slice and dice action from Supergirl, Power Girl and Ultragirl artist Leonard Kirk. Girl power. Laura in addition plays a brilliant psychological tactic to reach the shred of conscience left in Big Bad of the piece. Possibly the direct result of being reunited with her family.
Laura’s sponsor for the mission appears to be SHIELD. Perhaps Nick Fury experienced twinges of guilt what with trying to hunt her down for a crime she didn’t commit and kitted her out in some practical costuming. With Gabby’s helpful hints.
Let me just say it’s nice to see SHIELD actually doing good. For far too long SHIELD has either been tearing itself apart or playing shady espionage games. SHIELD was always a Law agency first and a spy agency second.
SHIELD in conjunction with Captain Marvel commence the second story, which actually begins simultaneously with Wolverine’s infiltration of the human trafficking ring’s ship.
An alien crash prevented by new hero Iron Heart and her A.I. Mentor Tony Stark leads to the rescue of an alien child.
Naturally, those final words commence Laura’s involvement. There’s only one problem.
With an enticing mystery as a hook, and Laura at the helm, the reader cannot help but follow.
Last but not least, the second chapter of “Black Box” is little too overtly true to Bond. There’s a goofy Asian Big Bad and sharks. That last trope is something I don’t get.
Writer Benjamin Percy and artist Rapha Lobosco juxtapose the meeting of Bond and Genji with the Shark and the Grouper. This allusion doesn’t make sense. Neither Bond nor Genji is bleeding. They’re coming at each other in full health and on an equal footing.
Regardless, the shark metaphor is rather silly. Bond is a shark. He’s a constantly moving predator. Except Bond fought sharks before and stayed the hell out of their way when possible. Bond is not a shark. He’s a pragmatic assassin, not driven to kill. Genji is the shark. He’s not in constant motion. So that’s nixed. In fact the whole point of Bond’s infiltration is to flush him out at a card game, recalling Casino Royale and Goldfinger.
Why on earth are there sharks at this casino in the first place? Wouldn’t koi be more likely? Turtles? I know they’re not lethal, but they would have made more sense.
Putting aside the sharks for the moment, Bond’s avenging angel reappears and announces her lethality, and she perks things up considerably. Not the greatest Bond I’ve read and not the worst.