Tuesday, May 30, 2017

POBB May 24, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
May 24, 2017
Ray Tate

Let me tell you something faithful POBB readers, after that killer two parter.  I’m almost glad there were so many mediocre books last week.  The review of comic books begins with All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, Angel, Batgirl, Batman 66 and Wonder Woman 77, Elektra, Jean Grey, the Old Guard, Scooby-Doo Team-Up and Star Lord Annual.  We’ll start however with the final books of the following week Nick Fury, Luke Cage and Thor, in that order.

Nick Fury is mostly still a case where the art by Aco makes the story completely immaterial.  

However, James Robinson adds a little more complexity to the proceedings.  With Aco, he creates a rival worthy of Fury.  Okay.  Nick Fury Jr.  However, we all know that black Nick Fury is supposed to be just Nick Fury.  These are the adventures of young Nick Fury via Samuel L. Jackson.

David Walker resuscitated Shaft for two Dynamite comic book mini-series, both literally and figuratively.  For Shaft Walker created the perfect grindhouse feel.  Walker spans the mystery genre when writing Luke Cage.  He opens with a private eye novel.

The zippy introduction segues to a traditional Agatha Christie styled setting where suspects introduce themselves in the drawing room of an old house.  Luke picks up clues here and at the funeral beforehand.  He just doesn't know it yet.

Lastly, we hit the spy drama.  The car chase is a staple.  When the gents behind the crash step out of the car, you can almost hear a James Bond sting in the score.  One of these fellows bears a sword that could have come from Q Branch.

Each of Walker's dominoes fall in the right direction and all of them point to Luke Cage.  It doesn’t hurt that Nelson Blake’s and Marcio Menyz’s art is mighty easy on the eyes.

The Shi’Ar Gods challenged Thor to a contest.  This resulted in two consequences.  First, Thor beat the snot out of the Shi’Ar Gods.  Second, Sif shamed the God of Fear, brother to Odin and Agardian regent, Cul Borson into waging war against the Shi’Ar on behalf of Thor, whom Cul loathes.  

The latter affected the outcome of the former, and the spoilsport Shi’Ar called forth the Phoenix, whom Jane Foster now faces.

Jason Aaron frames the Phoenix as overtly malevolent, and I’m a little disappointed in that.  It’s much easier to deal with the Phoenix if she's just a cosmic monster.  However, the history of the Phoenix doesn’t bear that out.  Keep in mind, I preferred the original story where Jean Grey just was the Phoenix, a telekinetic power gone amok.  That’s not however what Marvel kept.

In any case, Phoenix wants to eat Thor’s hammer.  Thor obliges, but not in the manner the Phoenix expects.  

Despite that, the Phoenix is now listed in the Who’s Who in Deities, and it takes the guest appearance of Odinson to turn the tide.  He’s on the cover.  It’s not a spoiler.

Afterward, there’s much rejoicing, but Jane makes a decision that affects the Congress of Worlds.  This at first causes uncharacteristic glee from Cul Borson, who hates Jane just as much as he hates Thor, even though clueless to her secret identity.  Alas.  His delight is short.

Ahhhh….for a minute there, after Jean dealt with the Wrecking Crew in her debut, I thought we were going to be blessed with an X-Men book that refused to delve into the unfathomable continuity of the X-Men.  Thank goodness.  The world is round.  We’re back to asking who are these people, and what’s going on, and why the heck does Beast look that way?

Jean consults with modern Beast who now appears to be a blue orangutan with mange instead of cool, classic Beast. 

Jean wants to determine whether or not the Phoenix vision she witnessed was real, or if she’s going nuts.  She doesn’t like Beast’s answer.

Of course, if you perused Thor you know that Jean isn’t seeing things, and the Phoenix is very interested in recruiting her as host. Jean cannot take the chance.  So, she decides to think askew and call in the experts.  All the mutants that wielded the Phoenix Force.  This is where I really just went to sea.

Colossus?  I never really cared that much about Colossus unless John Byrne happened to be illustrating him.  More importantly, I didn’t know he held the Phoenix Force.  Is the Phoenix that fickle?

What the hell are the Reavers? Obviously not the ones from Firefly, but apparently refugees from Mad Max or Tank Girl.  

Hope is the daughter of Cable, who’s the son of alternate Cyclops and alternate Jean Grey? I think that's right.  Okay.  Rachel I know from classic Excalibur.  That was so much easier to understand.  What’s his face from Thor.  Why is Illyana Rasputin here, and why is she so one-note?

So, presumably, the Phoenix likes to ride in Greys and Rasputins and whatever the hell what’s his face is.

Seriously though.  Although Jean Grey confused the hell out of me, I still kind of liked it because Dennis Hopeless makes young, time-lost Jean totally likable and a powerhouse of telekinesis.  

I liked how quickly Jean fled to aid Hope, who she doesn’t really know but wasn’t about to let be victimized by a cyborg Cuisnart.  As a side note, we should all use the Twamm sound-effect more often.

Oh, thank the cosmos, this story is finally over!  Dating/Pitting Batgirl with/against the Penguin’s son felt like being struck in the groin by a giant metronome.  Best scene in the book.

Perfect depiction of Batgirl by Chris Wildgoose, John Lam and Mat Lopes.  Bonus, I can’t really tell what color her eyes happen to be.  I’ll imagine the proper blue.

Most surprising thing in the book.  Batgirl uses only her eidetic memory and not the bogus hyperfocus, which felt like it should be part of Prometheus.   

“Oh, look.  Cave paintings.  Let me go into Hyperfocus.”
“Alien visitors.”
“Of course!”

The first four issues of Batman and Wonder Woman seemed to comprise a beginning, middle and end.  Marc Andreyko and Jeff Parker begin a sequel set in Wonder Woman’s 1977.  They imagine the Batman television series as if it had not been cancelled and evolved a unique continuity.

The story begins with Wonder Woman in her satin tights astride her motorbike fighting the Lizard.

Whoops.  That’s Killer Croc.  Sorry about that.  Easy mistake to make folks.  She encounters the blue-eyed Babs Gordon now Commissioner and looking Velma.

Parker and Andreyko add more feminized changes for the better, but I’ll leave you to discover them yourself.  Upon learning Batman retired, Wonder Woman attempts to talk some sense into a gracefully aged Bruce Wayne.

Batman is just too good.  Wonder Woman later teams up with Nightwing and Catwoman, depicted this time as Julie Newmar, to fight against Copperhead.

Nightwing is way better here than he is in canonical works predating the new 52.  He fits the seventies better, especially with the cycle.  Motorcycles reached a fad popularity in the seventies due to daredevil Evel Knievel.

The heroes confab at Catwoman’s.  I’ve always said that Catwoman’s schemes weren’t as potentially lucrative as some of her fronts.  She always had some kind of Kit-Cat Club or the like.  She could have made oodles of money if she invested the time.  That’s why in some ways the campy villains on the Batman television series were genuine portrayals of crazy.  They all had these wild hideouts and legitimate businesses as ruses that could have made them all rich.  Catwoman’s fate on Paradise Island began a long road to legitimacy.  Her nine lives are threatened when she hears why Wonder Woman happens to be visiting Gotham City.  That reason may just pull Batman out of exile.

Illyria takes she and Angel forward through time and space.  They end up on a slow boat to Australia where Angelus and Darla are Jane Eyring about.  It’s the mostly pleasant set up of a Chronos styled treasure hunt and the answer to Angel’s beetle-filled visions.

Arcade went all Suicide Squad on Elektra’s ass.  He clamped a collar around her neck set to go off, and if she doesn’t find the key to release the collar, she and her new friend Lauren are toast.  It’s not an easy task to begin with, but Arcade makes the feat harder to perform.  Elektra must contend against viral video obsessed assassin Screwball, who feels the need to prove herself as a credible foe.

The story’s all fun and games with Elektra being extremely heroic throughout each level of play.  Although artist Juann Cabal only illustrates half of the book, Martin Morazzo respects Elektra more than he does Lilly from Satellite Falling.  He gives Elektra the muscle that Lilly is missing.  As a result, his depiction of Elektra gibes with Cabal’s.  Mind, you his Screwball and Arcade look like mutants next to Cabal's elegant designs.

The second issue of All-New Guardians of the Galaxy places the Guardians at the center of a heist.

With a simple break-in scotched, Gamora comes up with a new plan, that’s hilariously undermined by Drax’s lack of comprehension, but going with the lady in green’s plan is what they do.  Just one problem.

The means of entrance involves and exit, and once inside, Guardians of the Galaxy mayhem ensues. 

The discovery of intruders allows for a superb depiction of Gamora in action, understated humor from Quill, Drax being Drax and the reintroduction of the Collector, much more impressive than his classic version.  See.  I can appreciate advancement when good.

Star Lord’s solo adventure begins when he crash lands on a Star Trek planet of the wild, wild west, or is it? By the end of the book, you question whether or not the cosmic trappings were just there for Quill’s benefit.  Actually, the Annual has three potential endings.  Straightforward, metaphysical and another that I’ll not reveal since it’s a spoiler.

Dealing with the straight forward, Peter finds a town plagued by powerful, humanoid locusts.

Soon, Greylight pushes one of the populace too far.  

Perhaps due to her complexion and fierceness, Quill mounts up and decides enough is enough.  Although things don’t play out as Quill expected, his love of pop culture saves him in the end as a drifter turns out to be his ace in the hole.  From the metaphysical point of view, Quill just made one very powerful enemy, and in the spoilerish viewpoint, Quill’s imagination is a potent tool.  Any way you roll the dice the Star Lord Annual is a keeper.

Scooby-Doo teams up with number one super guy Hong Kong Phooey to tackle an awesome group of baddies.

Now, of all the phrases, I never thought I’d read, that descriptor is one of them.  I am however glad this happened.  I mean.  Imagine passing from your mortal coil before hearing Ninja Kung Fu Dragons.  If you weren’t already dead, you’d feel grossly cheated.

The story moves along smoothly with Hong Kong Phooey contributing at first nothing and cat sidekick Spot doing little better.  It’s not until Daphne gets ahold of his Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu that things take a turn.  

Daphne fans will definitely want this issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up for her martial arts activity, first seen n the film as Sarah Michelle Geller.

A hodge-podge but interesting none the less, The Old Guard first demonstrates that the most ancient of the Immortals Andy has a heart.  She warms to the newest Immortal Nile, and relates the story of a man she fell in love with named Achilles.

Flashbacks are bound to appear in any series with a long-lived cuss.  The Old Guard is no different in that respect.  Yet, this one involves full frontal male nudity, so that is a break from tradition.  However, what makes The Old Guard so readable is Andy’s spiritual relationship with Modesty Blaise.  There’s just no shaking the feeling.  I admit.  It could be just me.

As the story continues, writer Rucka introduces some comedy to balance the violence that will occur later, and he brings about a strikingly good plot twist that few would have expected.  He however plays fair with a clue from Nile.

Good-Night, Mr. Bond.  May femme fatales sing thee to thy rest.

Monday, May 29, 2017

POBB May 17, 2017 Part II

Pick of the Brown Bag 
May 17, 2017
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag's continuing coverage of the mother lode of comics books on the week of May 17, 2017.  For this installment, I review Aquaman, the Deep, Justice League and the Might Morphin Power Rangers, Monsters Unleashed and Red Sonja.

Aquaman looks surprised on the cover, and that’s a fitting reaction.  While he investigated the reappearance of the monster Deep Water in “H.20” a recommended “Who Goes There?” homage, the terrorist group, the Deluge took over Atlantis under their leader Corum Rath.

The Deluge are a group of racist Atlantean kooks.  They do not accept Aquaman as the rightful king of Atlantis and abhor the surface world.

Aquaman has been deposed before, but what makes Dan Abnett’s story different is that it reflects current political climate.  

The Deluge mirror the technologically savvy racists that elected Donald Trump.  They do not accept Arthur as King much in the same way Birthers refused to accept Barack Obama as President, American or human.  Unlike Birther vs Obama, Arthur’s humanity disgusts the Deluge, and they believe his heritage diminishes his right to rule Atlantis.

Corum Rath is of course Donald Trump.  Added to what Mera said and an eternal bad hair day, he exhibits the same kind of treasonous bent, such as the desire to destroy Bill of Rights.  

Aquaman and Mera would dispose of Rath and the Deluge quite easily if the loons weren’t enabled by the Council of Elders and goofy fortune-telling cult the Widowhood.  

You can argue the Atlantean high muckily-mucks add a congressional and religious component to the parallel, but that doesn’t quite work.  The Council of Elders are comprised of learned men and women.  The Widowhood consist entirely of women.  These attributes obviously counter real life.  

The Elders are fed up with Aquaman's want to play super-hero.  Do your job as King, Aquaman.  That seems like a valid reason for the usurp.  In truth, Aquaman's role as a champion of justice preserved Atlantis from being wiped off the face of the earth.  Although technologically advanced, Atlantis would not have withstood the horrible might of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  Indeed, Aquaman's hands-on approach to ruling always benefits Atlantis.  His regent Tula handled the day to day activities. Furthermore, Aquaman's mutant abilities--yes, he's a mutant--make his activity less risky in comparison to true life warrior kings or modern day officials protected by operatives.

Abnett also draws upon Brexit's isolationist attitudes and the overall general idiocy associated with global politics.  However, thanks to the artistic input of Scott Eaton, Wayne Faucher and colorist Gabe Eltaeb Aquaman is much more exciting than "Stupid Watergate."

For all-ages action at sea I recommend Tom Taylor’s and James Brouer’s The Deep.  The focus is on a family of aquanauts: Will, Kaiko, Fontaine and Antaeus Nekton.  Last issue, they discovered the island of Taratuga, off the coast of Brazil, is free-floating.

Usually, when somebody discovers such a thing Gamera can’t be too far behind, but I don’t see any kaiju behind this anomaly.  

This island is inhabited.  The denizens civilized.  The governor’s so civilized that he’d like the Nektons to not upset the tourist trade.  So, it’s up to the family of voyagers to find out what’s going on delicately.

The old man positioned behind Will is named Nereus.  They picked him up in the last adventure when he posed as an ordinary fisherman.  He appears to be a Merlinesque figure, but there are limits to his knowledge.

The Deep is impeccably researched.  Although Taratuga doesn’t exist, the map to which Will refers does.  The ancient map suggests that Taratuga always has been a free-floating island, and Will decides to find out why and how it may tie-in to his holy grail of research.  Meanwhile, Ant and Fontaine go spelunking.

I like that the parents don’t coddle their children.  Ant and Fontaine are explorers and budding scientists.  They send a positive message about both aspects in life.  Though they get into trouble, they don't actually look for it.  Ant and Fontaine are cautious but curious. It’s a long way down the cavern, and brother and sister have a chat about what happened last issue.

Ant taught his fish Jeffrey how to fetch, and that came in handy when the Nektons were trapped in a ravaged mini-sub.  Fontaine has yet to live it down.  She thought it impossible to teach a fish to do anything.  Ant of course lords it over her in hilarious scenes as they descend.  Their rappel-conversation is somewhat reminiscent of Batman and Robin talking as they climb up and down the side of a building ala Adam West and Burt Ward.  

Tom Taylor is also behind Justice League and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Although I never could count myself among the fans of MMPR, Taylor made this book fairly user friendly.  The kids are all right.  Even Batman approves.

Batman’s really an old softie when you think about it.  He’s gruff and grim because he cares, especially about teenagers that might be biting off more than they can chew.  Chalk that up to his experience training Robin.  However, the MMPR proved their skill and want to do good, and that’s good enough for the Dark Knight.  

Some may object to this personality, and prefer the automaton from the post-Crisis.  I am not one of those people.  I grew up with the Justice League in the Bronze Age of comics and the Silver and Golden Age reprints.  I found the Silver Age to be somewhat silly but acceptable.  The Bronze Age however is cogent, a fine strike between sophistication and the gee-whiz childhood wonder of the Golden Age.  The Bronze Age informs the New 52.

Throughout the series, Taylor builds on Black Ranger Zack’s characterization.  In this issue, we see him experience a horror courtesy of Brainiac.  Taylor creates an excellent reason why the Justice League cannot interfere with Brainiac’s collection process.  Brainiac’s m.o. furthermore sets the ticking clock.

For me though, the coolest thing in the book is without a doubt the moment that the Justice League need to heft the Cern Large Hadron Collider.

Artist Stephen Byrne creates the perfect moment demonstrating that the Justice League isn’t just any supergroup.  They do the impossible.

Like The Damned Cullen Bunn’s Monsters Unleashed is a mess, but because of Marvel’s history, it makes perfect sense and entertains to no end.  In fact this could be a really amazing animated series.  The newcomers to the Marvel mash are Kei Kawande known as Kid Kaiju and his monsters and robots, which literally breathe life from the pages he illustrates.  Kid Kaiju’s creations are distinct and gorgeously drawn to scale by David Baldeon.

Elsa Bloodstone is his bodyguard.  Elsa brings her terrific cynical personality to the mix.  It’s the perfect tonic to the wish fulfillment element.  

As the "pasty toads" may have clued, Kid Kaiju’s not behind all the monsters.  They instead battle the Leviathons, creatures from elsewhere that attacked the earth in the former miniseries.  The Mole Man now commands the Leviathons, but he’s only one in a cadre of mad geniuses.

Wonder Woman and Bionic Woman tried to do something similar.  Shebang all of their bad guys for a mad roundtable.  All we got is a round of boring exposition and biographies.  Bunn and Baldeon do it right.  We’ve got backstabbing, betrayal and threats as each bad brain hold it together while being forced to work with inferior intellects: MODOK, Mr. Sinister, The Thinker and the Leader.  Monsters Unleashed is rated T for teen, but I think this is great stuff for comic book fans of all-ages.  It's how the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon series should have played.

In a battle against Red Sonja, Khulan Gath cast a spell that transported the and his adversary into the future.  Gath arrived earlier than Sonja who dropped into a present already influenced by Gath, a financier of great renown.  Sonja met Officer Max Mendoza who learns of his own secrets.  She finds the new world she inhabits strange but amenable.  Sonja makes new allies and renews her enmity against Gath, who tries to kill her by sending a dragon at the museum where she and Max confronted Gath.  Gath is certain the She-Devil is now dead, and opts for random carnage.  

Sonja and Max survived the onslaught and now with their friends including, Amy Chu apparently being a G.I. Joe cartoon fan, Lady Jay.  Who was one of the coolest Joes.

As you can see, a new artist helps regular illustrator Carlos Gomez.  Marcio Fiorito has a vastly different style, and a greater love for intricate detail.  I still prefer Gomez’s fluid anatomy which creates a unique frisson.

However, Fiorito still renders within the tradition’s demands, and does it beautifully. 

The whole of the book details the formation of a plan to end Gath’s reign and save the city from the dragon.  Max’s attributes trigger ideas from Sonja’s sharp allies, while she and Max provide the lure.

Gath cannot resist smiting Sonja himself, but this is a trap in progress that Sonja and Max must first test.  This issue of Red Sonja is another winner, filled with interesting interaction between an eccentric cast of characters.  The plot fascinates because its all a test phase, and Chu emphasizes the bravery of the players because they don’t know if their plans will work at all.