Wednesday, June 21, 2017

POBB June 14, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 14, 2017
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag opens with All-New Wolverine, Anderson, Black Panther and the Crew, Bug!, Bugs Bunny and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Betty and Veronica, Supergirl, Tarantula and The Titans.  Remember if you haven’t time for the blog, you can always check out my tweeted reviews: #PickoftheBrownBag. 

Capitalizing on the success of the Batman and Santo franchises, Rene Cardona in 1968 produced a one-off flick known as La Mujer Murciélago translated more famously as The Bat Woman.

Bat Woman is a bizarre, joyously absurd movie available on YouTube as well as DVD, from various outlets.  The film stars the holy crap physiqued Maura Monti as the titular Bat Woman and operates on the logic of every Lucha Libre film from the sixties.

Bat Woman is a world famous wrestler and a crimefighter, called upon by the police to investigate a series of mysterious murders.  There’s of course more to reveal.  

I own this movie.  It’s the perfect flick to perk you up when life kicks you in the teeth.  Creators/writers/artists Alexis Ziritt and Fabian Rangel Jr. tap into La Mujer Murciélago vibe to unleash Tarantula on the unsuspecting reading public. 

The story takes place in 1978, the year when people outside of Mexico started to take notice of Santo.  The tale begins at a literal orgy celebrating the re-election of Mayor Villalobos.  The Mayor is corrupt and tastes every crime being committed in his district.  Stylishly enter dangerous and sexy vigilante Tarantula.

Unfortunately despite being impressive, especially with a whip, she needs help.  So, Tarantula goes to her former mentor Senor Muerte.  

This is the point where you know that Tarantula is more than mere pastiche of Mexican wrestling films.  It’s in fact a successful blending of multiple psychotronic cinema feasts.  Though Tarantula goes to Bat Woman’s tailor, she’s not a wrestler.  Neither is Muerte.  They’re a surreal Batman and Robin.

Your first reaction to Tarantula may be to classify the work as a frivolous hodgepodge.  Your attitude should change once you begin reading.  

The writers portray the heroes as highly intelligent, sophisticated justice bringers.  These champions employ smart tactics strikingly visualized throughout the adventure.  The plot involving satanic rituals includes inventive flourishes such as special cards left at the scene of each murder.  

You can frequently encounter monsters in the world of Tarantula and Muerte.  Perhaps, these beast men are descendants of the original creatures made by crazed Mexican scientists in such giddy movies as The Doctor of Doom.  

An adjacent character arc produces a new hero, within the context of Tarantula’s and Muerte’s shared history.

Sombra is a mashup of the Shadow and the Punisher, and he’s out to kill the drug trade running rampant in Mayor Villalobos’ city.  The drugs however are no ordinary narcotics, and lace into the main plot quite readily.

Tarantula’s subject matter is pure exploitation heaven: psychotropic speedballs, devil worship, a smattering of nudity, whips, machetes and heady violence.

The handsome hardcover, with excellent paper stock and stitched binding is priced right by AD House, just fifteen bucks.  Wrapped in a thoroughly professional package, Tarantula nevertheless recreates the feeling of discovering a comic book talked about only in legend beneath basement floorboards in some dilapidated house about to be condemned.  It proudly emanates luridness, escalated by a crazy quilt horror of colors.

Last issue, a villain with a beef against Supergirl catalyzed a tear in the Phantom Zone.  Her friend Ben Rubel got sucked inside.  Batgirl and Supergirl swung and soared into the breach to save him.  

The Phantom Zone is a staple of Superman mythology and features in numerous treatments of the Man of Steel and the Maid of Might.  

Because The Phantom Zone is a Kryptonian prison and the people of Krypton were a humane species, the confines mimic the environment of Krypton.  So, Superman and Supergirl seem to lose their powers.  

Writer Steve Orlando gets the science behind the science fiction correct.  The natural Kryptonian ecosphere of the Phantom Zone doesn’t actually rob Supergirl of her abilities.  She simply now operates in a different frame of reference.  

Superman and Supergirl derive their abilities from the earth’s physical properties such as lower gravity and the yellow sun that feeds our planet.  

This means that Supergirl is still more powerful than the average Kryptonian sentenced to the Phantom Zone.  Her cells still spark with solar energy.  Her stamina is still extraordinary, and the muscle she built over the years still applies.  Fighting Supergirl under a red sun would be like fighting a mixed martial arts champion.  

Supergirl begins with Kara acclimating to the Phantom Zone and discovering an unlikely rescuer.  His ruse purposely mimicking a swashbuckler from olden days.  The Big Bad fools nobody.  

The grain of truth behind his facade is that our main evil is a human trafficker of the worst kind, and his galleon is a prison ship.  I’m keeping the fellow’s name secret.  To me, he’s just another hyphenated jackass from Krypton spottily appearing in Batman and Superman, but he might mean something to a Superman snorting buff.

Orlando ties in some of the Big Bad’s mad scheme with pieces introduced in the Batgirl Annual where Supergirl guest-starred.  It’s a good twist, and the sudden shockwave naturally counters the depth of the villain’s aberrant brain.

The more I read Orlando’s Supergirl, the more I realize that I really like his version of Supergirl, and Batgirl for that matter.  It’s everything else around Supergirl I don’t like: Cameron Chase being an officious Waller wannabe, the handlers instead of foster parents, the superfluous school Kara attends.  Orlando’s Supergirl however is valid and spectacular when not encumbered by the DEO backdrop and regular supporting cast.  Supergirl is actually the opposite of the television series.

Legion of Super-Heroes and Bugs Bunny isn’t as good as you hoped it would be but not as bad as you feared it would turn out.  Writer Sam Humphries sets his team up in pre-Crisis Legion history.  Although I doubt it was on his mind at the time, this skeleton nevertheless creates a self-cleaning continuity.  Did this adventure happen? Sure.  The episode and all its consequences were unfortunately wiped out by The Crisis on Infinite Earths. Anyhow, Supergirl saved the Legion from the Miracle Machine at great cost and now lies in a coma.  Dream Girl sees the means of her recovery.

Superboy, asks you? Do the Legion mean Jonathan Kent? That sicko from Infinite Crisis? The leather jacketed clone of Lex Luthor and Superman?  Wait, they can’t possibly mean the heroic slice of Superman preserved by the Time Trapper?  Nope.  The Legion refer to The Adventures of Superman when he was a boy.  

Originally, Superboy linearly progressed to Superman.  He wasn’t another person.  I know.  How sublime.  It’s so simple that it’s insane.  Doesn’t matter.  The Legion do not transport Superboy to the future.

Instead, they take the wrong turn from Albuquerque to  Smallville where inexplicably Bug Bunny happens to farm.  Carrots of course.  With this framework, there are numerous opportunities for gags galore, yet Humphries for the most part misses them.  Humphries obsesses over thought balloons revealing the Legion’s angst.  He just can’t get enough, and he runs that joke to the ground.  His best joke is the antithetical simplicity of Timber Wolf.   Things get better if more predictable when Bugs pulls his shtick on the Legion.  The flexible reality of cartoons becomes mistaken for superpowers, and the Legion try to recruit the rabbit.

Humphries at least makes Bugs Bunny a stand-up hare.  In the end, to save Supergirl, Bugs makes a selfless sacrifice.  The best thing about Legion of Super-Heroes and Bugs Bunny however is Tom Grummett.  His art at times seems to pay tribute to, but not copy, Curt Swan and Dave Cockrum.  In addition, his cartooning is exceptional.  

This is easily the worst Dan Abnett Titans I’ve read, and it’s still not a complete waste of time.  Abnett’s characterization for Lilith Clay alias Omen is the strongest of all.  

His display of her power impresses, and he does so without turning that power into something else: Jean Grey to the Phoenix.  Lilith’s rationale for risking her mind in the presence of Psimon, an even higher level psionic user, is pure altruism which makes her a richer and serious hero.  

Honestly.  Lilith’s former claim to fame was to join the Titans, leave the Titans, and rejoin the Titans at various intervals.  I never considered her a super-hero of any kind.  Just some ESP mascot.  Like a more useful Snapper Carr.  Abnett gives her dignity and credibility.    

Weighing against all these assets is the retread of an old, terrible Titans tradition of interpersonal relationships that generally lead down a blind alley and end up ruining characters like a buzzsaw.  Even Psimon refers to the themes as a soap opera.  I kept thinking while reading this drivel that nobody in their right mind cares about Titans hook-ups.  We want to see these friends join forces because they like each other.  They enjoy spending quality time while hitting bad people in their faces.  It’s manna.

Other Titans traditions threaten to overcome the fun mood of previous issues.  The new “Lazarus Contract” gets too much name-checking.  I couldn’t really get interested in the Deathstroke/Teen Titans/Titans crossover.  So, I skipped most of it.  Apparently, stuff happened and it impacts the Titans.  The only bit of continuity I could empathize with is Donna Troy discovering that she is a homunculus doomsday weapon pointed at Wonder Woman.  This revelation occurred in the Titans Annual.  That knowledge might put a damper on frivolity, but rationally this shouldn’t matter since Donna Troy thanks to Wally West possesses memories of a readjusted history that as a bonus excises her cloying, terrible former husband from another universe Terry Long. 

Anderson also stars a deft telepath, but the plot is far more entertaining.  Judge Anderson of course debuted a long time ago, on an isle far, far away in 2000 A.D, but Anderson is a sequel and spin-off from the movie Dredd.  This is easily discernible through the likeness of Judge Anderson to actress Olivia Thirlby, as well as the near future setting.  Dredd occurs in the foreseeable future.  It doesn’t match the comic book’s unique Dystopia; simultaneously hyper-futuristic and Mad Max styled post-apocalyptic.

In the first taut story by Alec Worley and Paul Davidson Anderson responds to the request for backup by another Judge.  She finds a man that appears to be possessed, but Anderson deems him just to be in poor mental health.  She uses her natural psychic abilities and her observational skills to deduce the cause.  At the same time, she fights the traumatic memories and feelings of being trapped and subjected to the promise of torture in the film.

The second story details Judge Anderson’s empathy with the innocent she is sworn to protect as well as her sympathies toward the victims of crime.  Still, she’s a Judge in an unforgiving system, and that means something.  The tale unfolds through a debriefing that will affect the rest of Anderson’s life.  If you’re a fan of the character and/or the film, you’ll want this one-shot in your collection.

Two comic books tackle the subject of gentrification by different means.  Neither could be more dissimilar to the other, and both leave you with the feeling that the lead up to a superior punchline should have been better.   In the case of Black Panther and the Crew.  It’s continuity time.

Man, nobody cares about these moments in your life T’Challa.  We care a little bit more about your history with Ororo, but not if they bring the book’s slow pace to a screeching halt.

As to Betty & Veronica, the third issue just seems to go through the motions of the first two with Betty trying to raise money to save Pops Diner, show off her cartoon strength in the more realistic art of Adam Hughes, Veronica turning into uber bitch and demonstrate the rivalry between the iconic blonde and brunette in an exacerbated fashion.

That said, Black Panther and the Crew’s revelation and cliffhanger is as good such a denouement in episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and the lengthy final act of Betty and Veronica perks you right up.

When an alien ship crashed on Roosevelt Island, New York.  The single occupant, a diseased child, says two words in English.  Laura Kinney.  That leads SHIELD to contact Wolverine for answers.  She has none, but events quickly spiral to reveal those answers.  Here Be Spoilers.  So, if you haven’t yet read this arc of Wolverine and want to stay safe, just know that Wolverine upends the traditional Wolverine story, features numerous guest stars from the Marvel Universe, weirdly builds the Wolverine Family, generates suspense and heroism while being damn funny at times.  A more detailed survey follows after the warning.



It turns out that the aliens weren’t just in the neighborhood.  These advanced beings deduced that Wolverine’s healing factor can wipe out the virus that infects them.  If there’s a flaw in this story, it’s that writer Tom Taylor doesn’t explain what happened to the aliens.  Did the alien child escape in desperation as her fellow species died, or did the aliens attempt to ask for Wolverine’s help and die on the way? Another possibility is that the aliens knew the virus would spread if not curtailed.  So they purposely sent the virus to earth in order to kill it once and for all.  Taylor’s not talking.  He’s more concerned with the terrestrial ramifications.

Wolverine simply but effectively in Leonard Kirk’s, Corey Hamscher’s, Terry Pallot’s and Michael Garland’s emotionally expressive artwork walks through the afflicted crowds and heals them.  Iron Heart and Gabby provide backup because too much healing will kill Laura.  This isn’t the only complication.  Taylor draws upon numerous ethical quandaries surrounding actual medical practice to add meat to his story.  

In addition, Taylor figures out that other people in the Marvel Universe possess Laura’s healing factor.  This establishes the Wolverine family.  He furthermore judiciously educes humor with the inclusion of Deadpool, here sounding perfectly like Ryan Reynolds.  I would read a Tom Taylor Deadpool series.

All of these concepts come together seamlessly in a strong story of science fiction and superheroes.  Taylor creates a plague as in The Andromeda Strain.  He demonstrates the wretchedness of survivalists, but the Wolverine Family curtails the despairing expected conclusion, and that in itself is a novel idea.

Bug! is a real hoot.  Forager escaped his encounter with the General only to be tossed through time and space where he lands in World War II.

He encounters more Jack Kirby influenced creations including the original Blue Beetle, The Sandman, Sandy the Golden Boy and the Losers.

Sandy mistakes Forager for a hilariously obscure, bad superhero, and extra points for the homage cover.

This leads to a slew of jokes that end with the Bee learning the ins and outs of the Losers’ mission, how it affects the future and why robots seem to be on the soldiers’ minds.  

The story becomes even more entrenched in DC history while still relating a coherent plot and entertaining through comedic dialogue and friction from the teammates.  I cannot recommend Bug! strongly enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment