Pick of the Brown Bag
June 7, 2017
This week the Pick of the Brown Bag follows the expulsion of Aquaman, the reflection in Batman, the initiation in Green Lanterns, the devolution in Heathen, the Infestation in Justice League, the friction in James Bond and the resection in Unstoppable Wasp. if you want the quick word, check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.
Justice League could have been an entirely forgettable, mediocre placeholder. Instead, writer Shea Fontana does a helluva lot, especially when accompanied by Aquaman artists Phil Briones and Gale Eltaeb. Fun fact. Aquaman only appears as a hologram here.
However you shouldn’t think that Fontana wouldn’t be able to do something with either. Judging by her treatment of the cast and guest-stars, Fontana can probably write some pretty wicked Aquaman and Flash vignettes.
Fontana starts off with the Green Lanterns. Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz are the newest members of the Justice League, and Jessica was formerly the host of a parasite before earning a proper power ring. Needless to say, they both feel overwhelmed in the presence of legends.
Nobody wants Hal Jordan back, J-Bird. Nobody.
That theme continues throughout the done in one comic book. Batman to the Lanterns is Mr. Intimidation. Wonder Woman picks them out of the line up to train them. So, they think, but their fortunes turn at the conclusion in an uplifting way.
Fontana draws Lois Lane to the story. Yet again, I’m impressed by how the writers paid attention to how badly Lois fared before Superman’s restoration. For Fontana, she’s a consummate reporter.
In a terrific scene she impresses Batman, whom she encountered recently in Superman, and she’s mother to Jonathan Kent, the precocious Superboy.
John’s presence aboard the Watchtower facilitates Fontana’s callback for Cyborg. Cyborg started in the New Teen Titans as a kind of Thing stand-in. He was self-conscious about his appearance and rather dour. That changed when he met a group of kids with prosthetics and their cute teacher. Fontana using that history generates nice chemistry between Cyborg and John, that’s original yet character specific.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Fontana is good at handling the also-rans, but she probably eschews characterizing the Big Three. Nope. She gets in a quite a few good World’s Finest moments, and her Wonder Woman is multi-dimensional: funny, warm and regal, giving the artists challenges to meet. Which they do.
Our tale called “Lost in Space” began when the Green Lantern Corps whisked Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz to the living planet Mogo.
Also a Green Lantern. Makes sense in a cockamamie way.
The rings pick the Lanterns, but Lanterns still must be trained. So, adjustments are made.
This also makes sense. According to established history, the Guardians first created the Manhunters to bring justice to the universe, but the robots turned on their masters. The Guardians wouldn’t want another a.i. however magical to have such autonomy.
It’s really Jessica that needs training. Simon isn’t a new Lantern. He’s newish. Sam Humphries though finds a nice excuse to parallel his next level course with Jessica’s basic.
This inspiration allows for all sorts of Kyle Rayner mischief that carries through to current issue.
Jessica on the other hand gets the gym coach from hell. If you can survive Guy Gardner, you should be able to survive the extremes of anything space throws at you.
Last issue, Jessica snapped and decked Guy. This is of course in keeping with the tradition of Justice League. Jessica in fact invokes the infamy in a hilarious moment. Guy though actually evolved from the post-Crisis certifiably insane right-wing fruitcake. He’s now about on the level of his pre-Crisis persona. Which isn’t horrible.
The very fact that Guy recognizes Jessica has worth is an improvement in character. His willingness to give Jessica a chance despite committing an unforgivable infarction makes Guy almost likable. It simultaneously characterizes him as a different Green Lantern without going way off the deep end.
In addition to the main story, Humphries builds on the secret behind Volthoom. Volthoom was originally the “magic” word that the earth three Crime Syndicate spoke to transport the League to their home in order to disorient them. In the new 52, Volthoom became a sentient parasite living inside the Power Ring. After the events in Forever Evil, Volthoom chose Jessica Cruz to feed upon, but Jessica proved too strong. So strong that she became a Green Lantern.
Humphries started to peel back even more layers about Volthoom, and these secrets involved the very first Green Lanterns. They all debut in this arc. For this issue, Humphries introduces a different sort of Martian Manhunter, with his own origin story succinctly told. Next question, is Sam Humphries a Duran Duran fan?
A different artist took the reigns of each chapter of "Lost in Space." Normally, that would be cause for concern, but all of the artists render beautiful and/or evocative narratives. Ronan Cliquet illustrated the first part of the story to produce elegant linework and a plethora of alien lifeforms. It doesn't hurt that his Jessica Cruz is smoking hot.
Eduardo Pansica illustrated the second chapter, which was far more sweaty and emotional due Guy Gardner wringing out Jessica Cruz during training sessions that would make most men cave.
This issue Carlo Barbieri takes a swing. Barberi gamely continues the duel of creativity between Baz and Kyle and escalates the Cruz/Guy contest. There are times when Jessica looks too waif-like, but I’m willing to argue this is a case of scale in conjunction with Barberi restraining his normal cartoony style. When alone and in battle, Jessica looks appropriately powerful.
The visual narrative to Batman opens with Catwoman, but the prose consists of a dialogue between Batman and Gotham Girl, freshly recovered from her ordeal against the Psycho-Pirate.
Catwoman’s suiting up for a night on Gotham City. It’s treated with a certain amount of ordinary. The costuming isn’t overly fetishistic, nor are the glimpses of flesh. This is just Catwoman’s normal.
Writer Tom King then switches the focus to Gotham Girl. If you haven’t been following Gotham Girl's tale, I recommend you go and read the past volumes of Tom King's Batman. Still there's a certain amount of self-containment for those not familiar with the story so far. King summarizes the whys and hows of Gotham Girl.
Gotham Girl is at a crossroads. With a new lease on life, she now must decide what to do. She consults with Batman whom mentored her and her brother Hank, but her questions dig deep.
Due to an extra-dimensional encounter, also co-written by King, Batman found himself pondering the questions asked by Gotham Girl. In a fever dream brought on with his duel against Bane, the Dark Knight found himself experiencing a deep contemplation to answer the question whether or not he is actually a good man. In Tom King’s debut story, Batman, certain he is about to die, asks Alfred whether or not his parents would be proud of him. All of these moments feed into these scenes with Gotham Girl.
King is a smart enough writer to know what people expect Batman to say. However, Batman if far more honest and richer in character than he was in the post-Crisis. He possess greater depth and exhibits a surer understanding of psychology. Claire pokes some fun at that. Because they both know that there’s no going back.
Gotham Girl's and Batman's discussion very much mirrors Sarah Jane Smith’s "School Reunion" with Doctor. The satisfaction of saving lives replaces experiencing the “splendor” of the universe. The back-and-forth leads to some fascinating imagery where Claire indicates that she sees right through Batman because he risked everything to save her from the brink of death. The bond grants her rare insight, and Claire comes to a decision.
That’s the practical, easy solution to the problems she and Batman hash out, but Claire isn’t letting Batman off the hook. She really wants to thank him for saving her life. So she’s hoping that their connection will allow Batman to reach an epiphany gently pushed by Claire’s optimism and empathy.
There’s no disguising my love for this story. It’s so inventive and moves Batman forward in a positive direction. It justifies Gotham and Gotham Girl. It once again frames Tom King as a unique talent who treats Batman as if it were this living, breathing saga. Every tale thematically returns to events and people introduced in previous chapters. King has been using a very small cast in giant sized plots reduced to humanistic terms. Gotham and Gotham Girl were grateful for Batman’s original rescue. Amanda Waller loathes Batman and Gotham City. Gotham Girl’s innocence and sanity fall victim to Waller’s malicious ineptitude. Batman invades Santa Prisca with Catwoman as his lieutenant to save Gotham Girl. The story behind Catwoman’s crimes takes a different turn. Batman staves off Bane while Psycho-Pirate unravels the damage done to Gotham Girl’s mind. Gotham Girl grateful to Batman helps him heal. Secure in Batman’s knowledge of the true nature of the crimes she’s accused of committing, Catwoman returns.
Aquaman begins with our title hero swimming with the kronosaurus. The why is up for interpretation. Could be that stellar artist Scott Eaton was just itching to draw some kronosaurus action, or perhaps this is one of Aquaman’s future countermeasures against Atlantis’ escalating attacks against him.
The real story begins with Aquaman pondering whether or not he should abandon Atlantis, leaving them to their funky haired tyrant. Yes, it’s a Donald Trump metaphor.
Rath is just a wee bit smarter, or maybe not. Atlanteans in general are more advanced than surface worlders. So, really he’s just smarter than a land walker. He’s stupid for an Atlantean, but that’s what Atlantis wants this month.
Aquaman does have another choice.
If you ask me, Aquaman is a fool for not hightailing with Mera. The Atlanteans do not want him. So, let Rath attack the surface world. Watch how the Justice League doesn’t hold back when Aquaman isn’t part of the equation. Aquaman knows what’s up.
However, Aquaman will not go gentle into that good night.
This is a mistake, but Mera is confident that Aquaman will come to his senses.
Of course after an underwater melee, Aquaman returns home to Amnesty Bay and makes sweet love to everybody’s favorite Xebel rebel. Tula, who’s all-in for the Aquaman Family, wisely decides that it’s time to gets some of that chowder that everybody is talking about. Except. That's not what happens. Aquaman goes completely off the rails with one unbelievable plot twist after another. Abnett upends everything that you counted on in previous issues. As a result, the last act is surprising and thrilling, with a cliffhanger that leaves you holding your breath.
Aydis made the mistake of being gay in the manly world of Vikings. When she kissed a girl, the villagers demanded that be married, to a man, or killed. Her father who loved his daughter more than stupid social mores instead set her free. Aydis then hatched a plan to change the world. She freed Brynhild from her ring of fire and granted her freedom. Brynhild’s replacement in the Valkyrie service, the goddess of love, kidnaped Aydis. Although, we discover that her motive is in fact altruistic. Aydis now attempts to free Brynhild and Sigurd from the curse of Odin.
Heathen lives up to its name with the Valkyrie Brynhild teaming up with Sigurd to find Aydis but stopping on the trek to do good on behalf of the heathens of the world. In this case, the heathen weighs as much as a duck.
Writer/Artist/Creator Natasha Alterici attacks the Christian faith, infamous for facilitating the burning of people at the stake. Yeah, I know that there are plenty of modern Christians who do not subscribe to hate, but the history of Christianity is rife with practitioners being outright assholes. So, this is fair and ballsy.
I love Brynhild's reaction. So she's a witch. So what. Big deal. She's been out of action for so long that she isn't aware of Christianity's new hold on the people. Byrnhild learns what's what and doesn't offer a solution. She just goes full-on Valkyrie and shakes the crap out of these backward idiots. It's immensely satisfying.
The Red Room is a bit of recent Marvel history that I could do without. It was created by one of the best Black Widow writers, and the insinuations in Peggy Carter were acceptable, but I have no love for this artifice. I liked Black Widow long before the Red Room. Black Widow didn't need this to be cool.
Anyway. Nadia Pym escaped from the Red Room and the Russians that run the nightmare hole. She now seeks to prove she really is the daughter of Hank Pym and to challenge the male scale of geniuses with her own group of girl thinkers. The Red Room’s head of operations didn’t take kindly to Nadia’s defection.
So she sent Nadia’s best friend Ying to kill her. This didn’t go as planned. Ying’s friendship for Nadia was too powerful, but Mother had an ace up her sleeve and a bomb in Ying’s head.
Nadia makes a deal. As Nadia Pym meets Mother, GIRL attempts to find a means to remove the bomb placed in Ying’s head. Both stories are exciting and funny simultaneously. Mother reminds me of Davros. She looks pathetic, but she is dangerous, and Nadia’s backup plan is an ingenious diversion.
Mother however came up with an even better agenda that I didn’t foresee. The truce between foes shtick is a well known chestnut, but Jerome Whitley thinks farther ahead and concocts a scheme that fits Mother’s characterization as well as her situation. As the story continues, you’ll see girl genius Taina’s sister return to the fray in the nick of time, a Daredevil cameo accompanied by hilarious ballyhoo, a terrific moment of action from Nadia versus a Red Room thug, and an ingenious method for bomb disposal heralded by Jarvis’ bravery.
Chases with tricked out cars.
Near death escapes.
It must be Bond, James Bond.
So giddy, that the skeletal plot on which these set-pieces hang matters as much as the literal McGuffin of the title. A black box that holds every government's secrets. Every agency wants it, and I couldn't care less. As long as it provides an excuse for this sincere homage.
I met Adam West at the Civic Arena at a car show when I was a small child. He was big man, still in his prime with a grip like a vice. At that moment, I was shaking hands with Batman and in awe.
Goodbye, Old Chum.