Tuesday, June 27, 2017

POBB June 21, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 21, 2017
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  I'm Ray Tate, and I review weekly batches of comic books.  For this posting, I look at Aquaman, Batman, Green Lanterns, Justice League, Red Sonja, Thor, Trinity and the Ultimates.  I'll also critique the new book Shirtless Bear-Fighter, but first, the brand new Spider-Man book from Marvel.  Remember, if you haven't time for the glorious multiple paragraph reviews, you can also check in on Twitter for the teensy capsules: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Nick Lowe, the editor of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, asks, referring to the many other Spider-Man titles, “why does this book exist.”  This book exists for people like me.  I gave up on understanding the Spider-Man books a long time ago.  

I did what now?

When it looked like Peter and Mary Jane were smoothing out some marital issues, some idiot came up with Gwen Stacy having sex with Norman Osborne to produce hyper-aging spider-twins.  I saw no reason to go back.  

When some idiot dispensed with Mary Jane’s and Peter Parker’s marriage altogether, I quit and blissfully followed the comic strip where they’re still married. 

When it looked like a fun Spider-Man book dawned again and didn’t need to rely on the existence of the marriage or Gwen/Goblin trysts, some Master of Poop went and retroactively date-raped the Black Cat.  

I want to read about Spider-Man, but some cretin always ruins that chance.  So, now, we get to Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man.  First up, the title immediately caught my eye.  I’ve had good luck with books with such a title.

Second, I heard good things about Chip Zdarsky, and I’m already an admirer of Adam Kubert’s work.  So, I’m taking another shot.  The first page looked promising.  It recapped Spidey’s origin, and I was pleased to see that Zdarsky streamlined.  This signaled a fresh start.  Turning the page, made me even feel better about the choice.  Spider-Man and the Human Torch, together again.

Spidey next spins a web and runs into bank robbers, a date, a mystery and special-guest star Ant-Man.  I like all of this.  I like how a simple bank robbery catalyzes all of these coincidences.  I like the new girl—Rebecca London.  I like the gags and her profession of stand-up comedian.  It’s all fresh.

Spidey thanks Ant-Man by carting him off to the headquarters of new character The Mason.

The Mason as it turns out has ties to a classic Spider-Man pain in the ass.  However, he’s also something very different stature and smarts wise.

His rationale for helping superheroes is quite novel, cogent and well in keeping with the underlying Spider-Man credo.  Added to the mix a jovial gent by the name of Uatu Jackson, he in the hood, who just like everybody else like’s Spidey.  Follow up with a fantastic cliffhanger, and you've got a perfect Spider-Man book that adheres to tradition but also introduces original pizzaz.  I don’t want to go overboard, but this is the warmest feeling I’ve had about a Spider-Man book since Spidey's Marvel Adventures appearances.

Red Sonja battled Khulan Gath in the past, but his spell transported them both to the future.  Gath arrived much earlier in time to establish a fiscal empire, and Sonja popped up a week ago where she quickly made allies out of police officer “Sir Max” Mendoza and “Lady Jay.”  She also befriends a bartender who happens to know a gal that’s an expert in Hyrkanean affairs.  Together they team up to stop Gath from destroying the world.

One of many things I like about Amy Chu’s Red Sonja is her characterization of Gath.  If it were anybody else you would be questioning why Gath wants to kill a situation that’s benefited him so well.  As Spike said when he threw his lot in with the Slayer and the Scooby Gang: “The truth is, I like this world.  You've got dog racing, Manchester United, and you've got people.  Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs.  It's all right here.” 

Chu's Gath is a truly malicious being who gets his jollies from wreaking chaos and destruction.  He hates Red Sonja more than anybody.  He doesn’t like this world, and sees the riches that it bestowed to him as a means to an end.  Gath is a repellent old bastard that’s lived far too long.  He should run for Congress.

Last issue, Sonja and her team concocted a cool plan to rid the present of Gath and his hellbeast.  It depended upon Max’s newfound magical abilities and Coney Island’s Ferris Wheel.  

A strange combination, admittedly, but one that made sense in the context of the spell.  Naturally, as with every well-oiled plan, cogs jammed and gears came to a halt.  With a temporary setback, Gath appeared to be in a position to gain an easy victory, but Chu's Gath differs from other versions in another way.  

He's a strangely humorous figure.  A particularly vicious Muppet especially when Gomez has a hand in illustrating him.  That's right.  Gomez doesn't just bring readers to early puberty upon witnessing his anatomic dynamite.  He bequeaths a smile to the vulture.  


As such, Gath is prone to falling victim to comedic pitfalls such as a hellbeast that’s more beast than hell.  These little insults level Sonja and Gath to an equal footing and generate an overall cohesiveness in two brilliant plans suffering from the same chaotic chances.

The Mighty Thor turns quite nasty very fast.  The war against Malekith creates suffering and sorrow.  Jason Aaron treats these horrors seriously.  You can note for instance a strong parallel between the Light Elves and the Syrian refugees.

The Light Elves fled to the Dwarf Kingdom.  Instead of girding their borders, the Dwarves honor the treaty with the Elves.  The mention of the faerie folk dealings grants greater verisimilitude to the story.  It’s not just a make believe world you’re looking viewing.  It’s a sphere with political and economic consequences, alliances and a bleak environment caused by war attrocity.

Here, the Congress of Worlds meets, including neophyte senator Roz Solomon Agent of SHIELD.  She however is not the focus character.  It would have been very logical for Aaron to see these larger than life events unfold before her eyes.  Instead, he oddly chooses reliable Volstagg for his seasoned point of view.  Aaron at first seems to be contrasting the dark backdrop with the usually jovial, lovable Volstagg, but that’s not true at all.

Volstagg’s part in this play about an escalating abomination that fulfills the promise of Napalm discussed in a previous issue takes a very dark twist indeed, and although Aaron’s new character borrows from Doctor Who, Aaron defines the new sobriquet somberly.

In the wonderfully strange Ultimates old enemies Galactus and Ego clash, and it doesn’t go quite how you expect.

Ego mentioned his understandable animosity toward Galactus as early as The Fantastic Four.  I’m aware of it.  However, I’ve never actually seen any battles between the two giants.  So, perhaps I’m a little more accepting of the optimistic outcome.  

On the other hand, I think writer Al Ewing builds on the explanation of how bygones become bygones quite well.  With unique artist Aud Hoch, he furthermore actualizes a hearsay origin for Ego.  These smart beginnings conjoin with his story organically.  The result is a satisfying chapter in an extensive arc that seeks to redefine Marvel’s cosmic entities.

The Guardians of the Galaxy took a job for the Grandmaster, but he snookered them as cosmic entities are wont to do.  Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket and Groot found themselves forced to infiltrate the Collector’s panorama.  With their heist schemes gone snafu, they face the Collector, and he is not happy.  Of course, he underestimated the bellicose nature of one raccoon-like alien.

Writer Gerry Duggan draws humor from outrageous blood thirsty killings, and it’s difficult not to laugh out loud when Warner Brothers slapstick becomes extra lethal.  Of course, the Collector has a similar life cycle of Wile E. Coyote.  So it's all good.  It’s even funnier when you find out that Rocket has a limit.

As the story continues, Duggan reveals that he’s not just about comedy, yet it’s difficult not to appreciate the Star Trek references as yet another character meets his demise in the what’s happening to Groot subplot.

Gamora is the Guardians of the Galaxy straight man.  She’s not about pop culture.  She doesn’t take pleasure in killing.  She’s certainly no innocent.  Originally, Gamora was a slinky assassin from Warlock, more of an attractive art accessory than an actual menace.  In Guardians of the Galaxy, Duggan injects considerable promise and depth to Gamora that fits the characterization of what she’s supposed to be.

The story goes like this.  A long time ago, a scientist named Krona from the planet Oa peered beyond the veil of the known universe and unleashed evil into a peaceful cosmos.  The Oans felt horrible.  So they created android Manhunters to bring justice to the increasingly lawless worlds.  The Manhunters revolted against their creators.  So the Guardians established the Green Lantern Corps, a conglomerate of aliens that exhibited enviable qualities to make them the perfect intergalactic peacekeepers.  Green Lanterns writer Sam Humphries suggests that there’s more to this story.  He investigates exactly how the Guardians created the rings bestowed to the Lanterns.

The nature of the beast appears to be connected to the earth three being Volthoom.  It turns out that Volthoom has not just been a parasite living in the Power Ring, a ring that attempted to consume Jessica Cruz before she earned a Lantern ring.  He was in fact instrumental in the creation of the Green Lantern Rings.

Now possessing exiled Guardian Rami, Volthoom orchestrates his revenge.  His first step is to visit the first Lanterns’ mausoleum, accompanied by Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, fresh from their training from the Green Lantern Corps.  

The rings choose their bearers, but the mortal checks and balances still apply.  Jessica as a result is very possessive of her Green Lantern ring, and it appears that it’s actually one of the originals that Volthoom needs.

When you mix multiple rings in a Green Lantern story, usually my brain just shuts down.  This tale is different.  Volthoom is a well-known menace from DC History.  He began as a magic word in the Silver Age and evolved from there.  The connection between Volthoom and Jessica grants more import to their battle, and it’s not about an added color of ring.  It’s instead the origin of the rings, which does interest me.

In addition to the main story, Humphries places some foreshadowing hints to his next arc.

How does the feline Lantern know Simon and Jessica? I suspect time travel will be involved.  His reaction is excellent.  Very Brian Blessed, and he senses the danger among them.

The plot heavy Green Lanterns nevertheless leaves much room to explore the characters, and Robson Rocha’s, Daniel Henriques and Alex Solazzo’s artwork imbues extra exoticism to the aliens and authenticity to the more human moments.

The latest inventory issue of Justice League also focuses on Jessica Cruz as she once again fights Guy Gardner.

Okay.  That’s not Guy Gardner, but Black Shield sounds exactly like what Guy Gardner once was, a jingoistic neocon male chauvinist pig.  Make no mistake though.  Guy Gardner at his worst wouldn’t have condemned an entire nation for the crimes of a few.  The Black Shield on the other hand is different serving of fruitcake.

The battle sends Jessica careening into the tactfully labeled realm of collateral damage, but she’s having none of it.  She scared a child, and it’s a fair point.  From a child’s perspective, she doesn’t see a green clad super-hero.  She sees a strange woman in strange clothing with a glowing green eye that just wrecked her house and now threatens her.

It’s always a surprise to read a DC story by Tom DeFalco.  He’s far more associated with Marvel.  The Black Shield would be a good villain for any hero to face, and he says something.  How far are you willing to go to eradicate terrorism?  Are you willing to kill a country where innocent life may flourish? Are you willing to kill people who may know terrorists and give them information? Black Shield is an interchangeable villain.  He can fight anybody, even Guy Gardner.  In that respect, I'm tempted to say that DeFalco just dusted off a story had lying around for say Spider-Girl and the American Dream.  However, DeFalco exhibits a strong understanding of neophyte Justice Leaguer Jessica Cruz.  

He also has fun with Batman and Wonder Woman.  Mind you.  His version of Wonder Woman is more Amazon than peacekeeper.  That said, it's very clear that even if DeFalco had this old story that sadly works in almost any era, he specifically restructured it for the Justice League.

Accompanying DeFalco, Tom Derenick.  A reliable artist.  So we have no worries in that department.  Derenick is especially notable when visualizing the emotional turmoil that’s eating away at Jessica.  Kudos also to the soft colors of Adriano Lucas.

The art is almost too good to be in a place-keeping issue, but I’m grateful that it is there.  I will say that I wish Derenick would have given Batman longer ears.  Other than that I have no complaints.

The Justice League also play a part in this week’s Trinity.  An infestation seems to have taken over Green Lantern and Aquaman.  Batman teams up with the Flash to get a damaged Cyborg to safety and combat Aquaman who attempts to fight the invasion of his mind and body.

It’s pretty rare when Batman’s surprised, especially by one of his friends in the League.  While Batman and the Flash deal with Aquaman, Superman and Wonder Woman confront a Traveler that offers them a drastic solution.

To emphasize the point, the Traveler relates his experiences and how the creatures became his nemesis. His story seems straight forward and gibes with what’s seen, but of course, there’s more than meets the eye.

Manapul doesn’t reveal the surprise just yet.  Instead, he uses this chapter to explore the camaraderie and character of the heroes.  Batman’s constant concern for Cyborg who rapidly loses sand in the hourglass is telling of Batman’s nature as a protector, and the Flash...  

...The Flash is just awesome.

Batman begins the much touted War of Jokes and Riddles.  Even though it’s as good as Tom King’s past issues of Batman—  every one a winner—you should know that this entire story occurs in Year Two of Batman’s career.  This explains of course why the Joker is actually alive.  The Joker died in Scott Snyder’s and Greg Capullo’s Death of the Family.  Geoff Johns however introduced the idea of three or four Jokers running around causing havoc, but clearly Tom King wanted none of these question marks plaguing his story and felt that story set in the past if well told will still be worth reading.  He’s right of course.  The story posits numerous ideas, reinventions and allusions to history.  One such callback can also be attributed to Mikel Janin’s spectacular realism.

This depiction of the Joker not as a clown but as a disturbed psychopath can be traced to his first appearance in Batman #2 from the Spring of 1940.

The Joker was not originally a laughing maniac.  He was an extortionist and serial killer murdering his victims with grins on their faces.  He wouldn't gain the laughter that became his trademark until a year later.

The Riddler originally a would be killer over the years transformed into a thief with a gimmick.  Ironically, Frank Gorshin played him the most lethal.  King transforms the Riddler into a figure of anarchy wrapped in the guise of rationality.  Every riddle he tells has an answer, but he looks like Alex from A Clockwork Orange and promises to upset our ordered world.  

King through the Joker’s and the Riddler’s comeuppance makes Batman even more of a force of change.  If there’s one thing you can glean about King, it’s his reverence for Batman.  In the past, writers seemed to imply that Batman doesn’t actually make a difference.  The same crazies are still around.  The people of Gotham feel no safer, and all of Batman’s efforts can come to naught because Batman is after all just an individual.  King’s underlying repertoire differs.  To King, Batman is an unstoppable and unbeatable threat to those that dare to overthrow justice.

Last issue of Aquaman, it appeared that the watery Klingon, loyal to the Kingdom of Atlantis not Arthur Curry skewered our hero, sending him to a briny death amidst a magically isolated city-state.

That was different.  This issue is not.  There are periods in Aquaman’s history when he is either usurped or resigned.  Aquaman then does what he truly loves, be the Batman of the seas.

Aquaman would rather be a super hero than a King.  The crown is nevertheless his responsibility, and he will fight Donald Trump swim-in Corum Rath to reclaim the throne.  Right now, though, weeks passed since he died.  So, he patrols the Underworld of Atlantis, working as a simple scrimshaw carver under the name Orin.  When evil strikes however, he is THE Aquaman.  A mysterious supernatural force protecting the downtrodden from mutant gangs.

Though Abnett's current issue of Aquaman is definitely a retread, it's entertaining.  Stephen Sejic's presence rings the bell.  Known for his work on Witchblade and the Witchblade universe titles, Sejic presents a masterful comic book filled with not just babes like Dolphin but monsters of all sorts and a cast of all shapes and sizes expertly depicted.

Ah, yes.  Dolphin.  Dolphin is not actually an Aquaman character.  She is not and has never been part of the Aquaman Family, until the mid post-Crisis.  Dolphin’s longevity can be explained thusly: cut-off shorts and a great pair of legs.

Most people encountered Dolphin from Showcase Presents #100.  This second appearance by secret babe artist Joe Staton cemented her place in DCU history.  The Rima of the Oceans became part of a team of Forgotten Heroes that included such stalwarts as Cave Carson and Animal Man, but Dolphin’s sex appeal kept her alive.  

This issue of Aquaman is no different.  Not to say that Abnett won’t—heh—flesh her out later, but right now, she’s once again resurrected through pulp science fiction libido. 

Mera’s hot, but she’s also intelligent, thoughtful and astoundingly dangerous.  Dolphin on the other hand is like Gamora from old Warlock books, only far, far cuter.  It's a testament to Sejic's skill that she blends in with the multitude rather than stand-out as the archetypal nature girl sex ingenue.

Last but not least, Shirtless Bear-Fighter.  When I saw this book in Previews, I knew it would be utterly hilarious.  My instinct paid off.  Shirtless Bear-Fighter is a whacked out version of Tarzan with bears instead of apes in an absurd thumb-nose at reality.

Basically, this image is all you need to understand Shirtless Bear-Fighter.  That extensive censored schlong by the way is not my doing.  That’s a brilliant running gag swinging throughout the book.

Shirtless didn’t always hate bears, but something vigilante happened to make him the bear’s arch enemy. External forces however may be affecting the bears, transforming them into killers, and it may have something to do with Shirtless' brother, Brother Bear.  Of course.  So, we might get a peaceful solution.  Until then, Shirtless continues his utterly bizarre and laugh out loud funny crusade.