Pick of the Brown Bag
May 31, 2017
The Pick of the Brown Bag is a weekly comic book review blog created and run by yours truly Ray Tate. The party begins now, but if you can’t attend, you can check out the teensy reviews on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag. For this posting, I examine two annuals from DC Comics: Wonder Woman and Trinity. I look at the latest issues of Doctor Who, Southern Cross, Romulus and Motor Girl. Finally, I’ll add my voice, to a growing chorus, with a spoiler free review of the remarkable Wonder Woman movie.
It’s the Captain Jack Harkness issue of Doctor Who. In the appropriately dubbed “Secret Agent Man,” writer Cavan Scott takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of Jack’s life as a Time Agent.
"Secret Agent Man" presents Jack as a happy-go-lucky omnisexual presented first in Doctor Who and his darker self seen in Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. Scott gives a valid reason for the seeming split personality and shows that both Jacks are an equal pair of the same suit.
Scott in addition integrates this idea within the skeleton of recent events occurring in the comic book. At the same time, he creates a new mystery that’s at the core of the good captain's troubles, and involves the Doctor in a typically spectacular fashion.
Southern Cross in many ways is what Prometheus wanted to be. It’s strong industrial science fiction with an intergalactic corporation at its center. It’s the story about a strong female protagonist searching a mystery that involves Cthulhu-strange aliens, and it even features a talking disembodied head. Whereas Prometheus is evil, Southern Cross is good, and that’s largely due to the trio of creators: Becky Cloonan, Any Belanger and Lee Louridge.
The artists create a gritty tapestry of metal and alien planets trying to be tamed by humans that lack the facilities to do so. The corporation Zemi catalyzes the reduction of humanity to savages, and the heroes of the story are grifters and con artists. On the surface, Southern Cross is good, hard science fiction drama, but it’s far more complex than that.
One of the more interesting things about Southern Cross is that each volume is based on a backstory that catches up with the fore story. For example, Amber, Alex’s sister is killed or worse, and Alex Braithwaite begins Southern Cross searching for the truth. When she finds it, Southern Cross survivor Kyril starts the second volume on Titan, and this story catches up to what happened to Alex. In other words, Southern Cross is elliptical in terms of narrative. Alex catches up to Amber. Kyril catches up to Alex.
The second volume of Southern Cross focuses on Kyril and Hazel, an investigator for Zemi but not on the corporation’s side. However, Cloonan introduces another pair of important characters trying to catch up to Alex. Her father Maxwell Braithwaite and Thrn, Alex’s former lover. Both want to find out what happened to Alex. So, now the pattern becomes, Maxwell catching up to his daughters and Thrn catching up to Alex. Thus, the past of Southern Cross stretches back even further to snap back to the present. It’s really quite clever and at the same time enriches the plot.
Essentially this is the origin of Motor Girl. The story begins in the present where Mr. Walden brings down a flying saucer and tries without success to cool his mercenaries’ fear of strange visitors.
One of those little green men visited Sam at the junkyard, and she became kind of fond of the fellow.
However, there’s more to Bik than meets the eye, and his benign 1950s styled appearance might just be an illusion. Although perhaps his form is determined by the viewer. Usually, unconsciousness eliminates pretense. Of course, since this is another person’s original fiction, there’s no reason to maintain the rules of set by another author. In any case, the imagery of the scene stirs a memory in Sam, and it’s not a good one.
Sam was a soldier in Iraq, and this frequently comedic story bears teeth when exposing PSTD from torture or mentioning the scars Sam received for her service. It’s in these moments where we learn from whence Sam’s greatest defense mechanism comes. Mike, a talking gorilla that only Sam can see.
At the same time, the story posits another possibility. This reality that Sam’s appears to see could all be just in her head? Signposts from her past seem to resurface in the present. The imagery could be a coincidence, beautifully realized in fiction, or the visuals may just be Sam's terrifying present being reordered into a structured fable.
Terry Moore has done this before with Strangers in Paradise, but if he were to pull a reality switch in Motor Girl, it would at least be justified. That’s why I think this latter contingency is unlikely. It would be too easy. It’s messier to suggest that Mike, Bik, Walden and every trial and tribulation Sam faces both mental and physical actually happens within the context of a flexible reality.
Romulus returns with a perfect chapter that at once advances the story and reminds readers what’s going on in the first place. In other words. A perfect point to jump on and experience this literate beautifully illustrated action tale pitting Ashlar against the cult of Romulus.
We joined in on her fight as she thwarted an attempt to kidnap a young engineer Nicholas. Eventually Romulus found their quarry, and Ashlar intends to free him. Romulus anticipated Ashlar's determination.
Achilles is a man conditioned to kill Ashlar. He refers to himself as her shadow. Dirty pool would be a better term. By tuning in on the spirt of her mother, Ashlar finds a means to work through the terrible pain the drug causes and with its impetus, gain her objective.
While it may seem that I’m spilling a helluva lot of information. Telling you all of these tidbits doesn’t actually affect the pleasure of reading. Romulus’ strength lies in the art, the dialogue, the exploration of an embedded “alien” culture in modern times and the feistiness of she-wolf Ashlar. As an added bonus, Romulus made an enemy out of a much better known cult from myth and popular culture.
Ashlar met the Illuminati in a previous issue. As you can see, she’s using them not the other way around. The Illuminati’s role in this affair remains to be judged. Romulus however is a potent force for evil. The cult’s success is written in blood throughout history, and Ashlar removing an asset from their care doesn’t ensure victory. You must even admire the persistence Romulus as well as their agent's ability to compartmentalize yet still be true to the cause, however crazy it is.
The Trinity annual is a sequel of sorts to another story involving Ra’s Al Ghul and Circe. I never read that tale, but I still understood this one. So, nobody should have a problem with comprehension.
The ne’er do wells lord about the heretofore unknown Pandora Pits, not to be confused with the Lazarus Pits. At the same time, Bruce Wayne is holding a repast for his friends. Simultaneously, the Pandora Pits draw a traveler known for his dabbling in the occult, and chaos ensues with this harrowing omen.
That’s all I can say without giving away major plot points. The tale written by Rob Williams flows effortlessly through the excellent characterization of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, as well as the mysterious traveler. Ra’s al Ghul’s persona lost its cohesiveness the moment the Bronze Age ended. I never know what he’s about nowadays. Way over his head for this misadventure, that's for sure. Circe is sort of like her humorous Justice League counterpart. So, that works. The art by Guillem March is both masterful and scope and skill. With that checklist viewed….
The mysterious traveler is none other Jason Blood and you know that Etrigan cannot be far behind, but what happens when Demon blood crosses the fluid of the Pandora Pit?
The Demon unleashes hell on earth, and only Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman can stop it, or can they given the painting that appears to foretell a grim future?
The story allows for beautiful moments of the Trinity fighting against Etrigan and a Demon horde, but more than calisthenics, Williams' tale is about the ties that bind the heroes.
The new Wonder Woman annual looks at several facets comprising Wonder Woman’s history and characterization. It’s an anthology, which usually means duck for cover. Don’t worry. Every story is worth reading, and the art though varying in style is homogenous in attractiveness.
“And Then There Were Three,” relates the first meeting of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in respect to Superman’s restoration. It is easily the most light-hearted tale Greg Rucka ever wrote. There’s not a single hint of darkness in this sly comedy.
Continuity followers will now need to adjust Geoff Johns’ and Jim Lee’s Justice League accordingly. It’s not as bad as you think. There’s simply no friction between the Big Three. Just Green Lantern and Batman. Green Lantern and Superman. Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. Green Lantern and Aquaman. Green Lantern is a jerk.
Superman, as Clark Kent is the first to note Wonder Woman’s appearance, but Lois Lane, so spritely she sounds like Dana Delaney, races for the scoop. Alfred drolly informs Batman of the new development, and Batman and Superman have the same idea.
Rucka shockingly opts for a happy Superman that shares the double-act camaraderie with the drily witty Dark Knight. The next thing you know Wonder Woman appears and she negates any chance of a stereotypic slug fest.
The genuinely funny punchline at once offers a sincere pronouncement of Wonder Woman’s core, Batman's self-reflection and a critique on the frequently defined boy scout.
The next tale examines Wonder Woman’s status as an international law bringer. Wonder Woman never had a city of operations, apart from Washington D.C. during the war time originals. She traveled throughout the world, and you never knew when or where she would show up. She was frequently portrayed as a peacekeeper associated with the United Nations. That purpose never went away.
When Markovia orders the execution of King Shark, Wonder Woman intervenes under the aegis of a treaty violation. She then proceeds to demonstrate her abilities as the ultimate Olympian athlete while rooting out the truth, with her golden lasso. She's at once an officer of international law and the conveyer of mercy.
In “The Curse and the Honor,” Wonder Woman spars with an old samurai who wishes to test his skill against the warrior eternal.
There is more to this tale than innocent whim. The samurai bears an onus that he wishes Wonder Woman to lift. The events present Wonder Woman as an Amazon, granting succor and adhering to a champion’s code of conduct.
The last tale presents Wonder Woman as a fount of knowledge and the protector of innocent life forms. The story is obviously an enticement for Godzilla and Gamera fans, but monster and maiden require each other for the tale to work. So, it’s a Wonder Woman story and a creature feature.
Saturday Afternoon at the Movies
Wonder Woman is simply put the best movie DC has released. It tops the Man of Steel through an accuracy in the portrayal of history and a more satisfying love story. It equals Man of Steel via a sophistication to the craft of story. The acting in each venture is superb and therefore even keel. However, whereas Henry Cavill is a very good Superman, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Both films present fascinating foreign cultures that beg for their own explorations, stunning cinematography and authenticity in special effects and action. The villains in Man of Steel are richer in character, but Wonder Woman’s villains were meant to be human, for the most part. That’s the point.
Wonder Woman takes place in World War I, not World War II, the period in which William Moulton Marston created the Amazon. This switch caused some perturbation among fans when first learned, but the calmer of us realized that the writers and the director were just trying to do their own thing while being faithful to the spirit of the source. The truth is that if Wonder Woman had taken place in World War II, it would have been an entirely different film, and not necessarily a better one.
Keep in mind, and I cannot stress this enough. Overall, the Germans of today, and maybe two or three generations back are lovely people. The Nazis were scum. I referred to the Nazis as the nesting dolls of evil and legislated serial killers. There was no good in them. In comparison, the Allies though flawed appeared to be lawful good, and so Wonder Woman would have been an unavoidably patriotic movie—as often was the television series, and that’s not what the filmmakers wanted nor aimed for.
The theatre of World War I is a much more compelling backdrop for the birth of Wonder Woman because nobody is on her side except Steve Trevor, in spirit the Amazons and a wonderful clutch of outsiders. Male chauvinism is universal at this time, especially in the upper ranks that arose not from merit but typically from peerage. Furthermore, there’s an equivalency in the presentation of German soldiers fighting English soldiers within the confines of the infamous No Man’s Land. That congruence is vital, and Wonder Woman matures during a hero’s journey through chaos that lacks recognizable evil. Right and wrong however still matters. Morality is an application in Wonder Woman. It’s a force Diana carries into battle.
The fully seasoned Wonder Woman that battles for the fate of the world at the end of the film experienced hard lessons, felt her childish fantasies shattered by horrible realizations. However, she emerges as a stronger character because of the exposure, and in a pivotal moment, Wonder Woman draws power from the well of a universal principal. An extraordinary movie better than we could have ever wished for.