Wednesday, July 26, 2017

POBB JULY 19, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 19, 2017
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag, a weekly review of comic books.  This issue I examine All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Angel, Astonishing X-Men, Batman 66 and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Betty Page, Green Arrow, Green Lanterns, Justice League, Monsters Unleashed, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Simpsons Comics, Superman, Thor, Trinity and the Ultimates.  Of course, if you haven’t the time for the meatier reviews, you can always check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

In this issue of Simpsons Comics Homer becomes an avid colorist.  The novel script by Michael Saikin quickly turns hobby into obsession.  Perhaps because the crayon moved, Homer’s brain initiates a dream state that acts as a wakeup call to shake him free.

Homer and the Fox share an adventure through the coloring book.  In a way Saikin’s script pays tribute to older cartoons such as “Have You Got Any Castles?” from Warner Brothers.

Like the Merrie Melodies, the art by Jacob Chabot assumes a surreal fourth wall breakout.  So, Simpsons Comics is not just funny, it’s genuinely interesting to view.  Intriguing as well, the characters make no bones about the challenge to reality.  So the creative engine behind the book dares you to enjoy despite transparency.

The main story is enough to warrant the purchase.  Nevertheless, Simpsons Comics fills its remaining pages with two more tales.  Terri Delegeane, Mike Kazaleh and Allan Hellard detail Marge's ordinary day.

The linework is elegant.  The story pleasant, just like Marge. The short short by Dean Rankine uses a mob of angry Springfielders, complete with torches, for an exhibition of Moe’s cunning.  Perfectly timed and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Not a whole lot happens to advance the story in Angel, yet you cannot help be entranced by Ze Carlos’ and Michelle Madsen’s art.  

The story takes place close to sunrise on a burning boat infested with evil.  Angel and his unreliable ally Illyria argue with each other while fighting a crew of pirates and possessed.  Meanwhile, Fred Illyria's host learns to steer a ship.  Although, the story doesn't stray far, Angel's still an exciting brouhaha.

Betty Page returns to comic books in an all new series by David Avallone and Colton Worley.  Betty for those not in the know was a real life model in the 1950s.  She posed in various stages of dress and undress like modern models, and she also engaged in sadomasochistic staging for photographer Irving Klaw.  She never though blended nudity with this particular preference.  The tightrope kept Betty Page and her photographers within the law.  Our story begins however with Betty running away from a raid and into the waiting arms of a scientist.

I could question the Feds raiding Betty’s venue of business.  What she’s doing isn’t actually illegal, even in the period, but the G-Men could have been interested in something other than Betty’s cheesecake poses, fully clothed to boot.  Betty just has the good sense to run.  Dropping into the scientist’s territory is a little far-fetched, but this story isn’t exactly meant to be a stirring drama on human nature.  It’s meant to be fun, and for the most part, it is.  Especially, David Avallone’s characterization for the fictional Betty Page.  She’s a sharp witted, wise-cracking good girl in what many think is a bad girl’s fortune.  Her wisdom beyond years distinguishes her from others that meet the description.

As the story progresses, Betty discovers that Chaplain is interested in her brains not her body.  She takes the place of a sudden departure from his steno pool, and therein lies the mystery.  Betty begins to investigate while searching into the possibilities of an acting career.  Betty uncovers some strange and hilarious business that’s just the perfect tone for her first adventure.  Surprisingly good for anybody that likes strong, plausible heroines.  Not just for Betty Page aficionados.

I’ve never been impressed by Venom.  He’s a psychotic, alien pair of pants.  Seriously.  How scary is that? How can you make a villain out of haute coutre?  Venom is a ridiculous creation.  That said, I dug this issue of Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows.  

Liz Allan gave Mary Jane a Venom boost because as Spinaret she shares Spidey’s powers.  Thus, she at times saps his strength, speed, etc.  This leads to Venom taking over, sort of.  The most pleasing thing about Renew Your Vows is how writers Gerry Conway and Ryan Stegman refuse to take Venom seriously.  Most scribes treat Venom as the ultimate threat, and as I said, I just cannot cope with that.  My mind shuts down at the possibility that wardrobe is the ultimate doom.  Perhaps if Venom were a retro polyester leisure suit.  In any case, Spidey cracks-wise because he knows that Mary Jane can overcome the pathetic creature.  This was refreshing.

The second issue of Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man is as entertaining as the debut.  Spidey tracks down some hacked phones to the doorstep of Iron Heart, Iron Man’s new girl genius protege, and things don’t go well.

After this misunderstanding clears, Spidey goes back to his apartment where he finds the stewing Johnny Storm and his sister Teresa Parker.

Writer Chip Zdarksy, with the able artists Adam Kubert and Jordie Bellaire, fill in the Spidey-continuity challenged.  Zdarsky seems to be on the side of the reader.  No, Teresa being fooled into believing she's Peter's sister did not make a lick of sense.  So, maybe Teresa really is a long-lost sister? Whatever.  Doesn’t matter.  She’s nice and she likes Peter as a friend.  The rest of the tale amusingly positions Johnny Storm as Peter’s personal wet blanket.  An irony for the Human Torch.  Johnny’s super powered pranks are clever and laugh out loud funny dampers on Spidey’s date with Rebecca, whom he met last issue.

Thor is nothing more and nothing less than our mystery Thor, the War Thor, laying waste to the fire-gnats of Muspelheim in their invasion of the Dwarf Kingdom.

The very surprised flame-pests were promised an easy victory by Malekith.  Thor’s unusual efficacy, and I only remark because of his identity, forces a pair of old Odinson foes to intervene on evil’s behalf.

Though you expect the War-Thor to be countered, again because of his identity, the tide turns for the dark forces.  It's quite satisfying to see the looks on their faces when they fall.

Monsters Unleashed refers to the living monsters and giants created from drawings by Kei Kawade known as Kid Kaiju.  The Kid with his friends stopped a giant monster invasion.  His abilities attracted unwanted attention, the cadre of Marvel’s resident evil geniuses the New Intelligencia, featured on the cover.  

SHIELD unwittingly helped the Intelligencia.  Dum Dum Dugan in fear of Kei’s monsters shrunk them using Pym particles and making them easily teleportable.

With the Kids’ friends held hostage, the Intelligencia force him to work for them.  They add the incentive of a torture device perfect for the all-ages atmosphere.  It’s an electrified panel of iPads demanding artistic conformity under the guise of imagination.  However, the Intelligencia didn’t calculate two things.

One, Elsa Bloodstone, hired by Damage Control to protect Kid Kaiju and his former kidnapper the Mole Man.  The Mole Man betrayed the Intelligencia to get at the Kid.  His goal however wasn’t selfish.  

Cullen Bunn’s characterization for the Mole Man is consistent with his Stan Lee/Jack Kirby mercurial moods. Bunn brings out his complexity.  The element of his being an outsider, his vulnerability and dangerous unpredictability.

Elsa has just made her first arch-enemy.  Also notable is the hilarious moment when the teensy monsters attack the Big Bad Brains.  Not known for their fighting skills, the geniuses whimper and scamper in terrific slapstick moments.

Astonishingly easy to read.  Writer Charlie Soule doesn’t focus on X-Men continuity.  Instead, he favors straightforward storytelling at the highest level of quality.  What’s this story about?  An attack on psionically enhanced mutants.

Don’t worry if you don’t know who the white-haired chick may be.  I don’t either.  She’s just one of a number of psychic mutants dying around the world.  Artist Jim Cheung gives you a global sample.  In turn, Soule equivocates psychics with a real world based metaphor.  Only then, when you have a grasp of what's going on, does he narrow the focus down to the X-Men. 

Elizabeth Braddock alias Psylocke, whom I only know because of her brother Captain Britain, falls under the sway and attacks London.  Before the assault, she sends for help.  The psychic SOS attracts various X-Men.  If that plot device sounds familiar, you’re not misremembering. 

Soule mimics the story pattern of the Avengers formation which is so nostalgic that it’s fresh again.  One of the few differences lie in the subject. Obviously, Betsy seeks only X-Men, and unlike Loki, she’s not choosy.  Well, not much.

The only reason why I know a little bit about Fantomex is that he’s the last new X-Man I encountered before waving the white flag.  Fantomex is a goofy concoction of three parts Diabolik...

...and one part Fantomas.  

I didn’t actually know Fantomex was a mutant when introduced.  He just appeared to be an idiot that kept dumping liquids on himself and emulated Pepe Le Pew when women were around.  Given his French nationality, I can’t help but think Fantomex’s co-creator Grant Morrison meant the latter as a joke.  Anyway, Soule grants Fantomex credibility by characterizing him the way you would expect the lovechild of a Diabolik/Fantomas pairing to behave.

There are now enough X-Men to cull out multiple teams, and Soule doesn't assume that you know these guys.  Short introductions and how they relate to the X-Men comprise an engrossing narrative.  Each hero or anti-hero is doing his own thing at the time of the call which neatly frames what the character's overall motivation.

When the X-Men go into action, it’s all cool super-heroics with the cinematic style of Chueng.  When they get together, there’s no major discussion of the massive, convoluted history of the various teams.  Instead, it’s blissfully pithy.  

Soule concentrates on the story at hand not the stories that passed, and that’s why I can fully recommend this easy to comprehend X-Men debut.  I like and know only a few of the roster, but they’re all written well in a potently plotted action tale.

Gerry Duggan's and Aaron Kuder's Guardians of the Galaxy is another terrific exercise in space entertainment.  With Gamora's secret out, the Guardians react with suspicion.  This doesn't bode well for Peter Quill.

Ouch.  Gamora explains herself eloquently, and that explanation finally gives me a satisfactory connection between the two Gamoras and the two Draxes.

Duggan hence protects Marvel's sometimes annoying habit of seldom retconning and keeping every shred of continuity in a burgeoning cosmos that still operates on a six to eight year sliding time scale.  For that reason, the ages of the heroes can remain relatively the same.  Adam Warlock ushered Gamora into the Soul Gem, about six to eight years ago.  That's why she's still spry.

As I recall Dark Hawk was a teen superhero who could transform himself to the above design via an alien amulet.  I don't know when the amulet became Shi'ar, and I've never seen these guys amidst the Shi'ar.  Still, it's a big empire, and I could have missed this minutiae.  The new nostalgic Raptors as they call themselves have a personal beef with Peter Quill.  He stole one of their ships.  The Milano.  So begins the free-for-all.  The battle however isn't mindless.  It demonstrates the Guardians' camaraderie as well as some old time three elements moves from Star-Lord's gun.  The Raptors in the end catalyze a mystery and leave behind a satisfying cliffhanger.

The Ultimates attempt to hammer at the Hydra wall preventing any interference with the evil Captain's hijinks from superior species and space heroes with higher tier superpowers.  Like the Ultimates, but this issue is really about Galactus now the Life-Bringer stopping the new law Logos from serving the First Firmament.  To that end, Galactus recruited some way heavier hitters.

This bizarre group, perhaps the most bizarre super force ever created, battles evil Celestials, disciples of the alleged one-true universe in decidedly straightforward wrestling matches.

There's something ludicrously funny about watching Galactus orchestrate a tag-team boxing match with and against power cosmic uber-beings.  Writer Al Ewing in addition relates a fascinating story about how how the multiverse works, and why the First Firmament wants to destroy Eternity.  The philosophical implications are as much of a drive as the potty nature of the whole thing.

Batman ’66 teams up with the silver age Legion of Super-Heroes in a strange why does this exist one-shot.  There’s a lot to like about the pairing.  First and foremost, the Allreds artwork.  It’s a tribute to Adam West and colorful storytelling.

This version of he Legion of Super-Heroes is classic—including a favorite Shadow Lass, illustrated and written that way.  Furthermore, the Allreds never forget the Legion are teenagers.

Egghead is as hilarious as Vincent Price’s Egghead from the television series.  His connection to actual Legion villain Universo is at once frivolous and brilliant.

On the the other hand, the Legion wanting to induct Robin is risible.  Batgirl and Catwoman do nothing except look pretty.  That would be sexist if they threw a punch at somebody and spoke a line.  Alas, they just sit still and watch the fisticuffs.  The surprise twist isn't so much a shock as a head scratch.  Why do that in the first place?  Saved primarily by the art.

The current issue of Superman is kind of a throwback to educational issues of comic books and television shows from the past.  This story would in fact fit in neatly with the old George Reeves Superman series.  

Not because it’s old timey, nor is it preachy, but because the writers genuinely believed that they could occasionally provide a public service.  The radio show was no different.  The Superman radio show attacked the Ku Klux Klan where they lived. The Powers That Be tumbled their secrecy

The story begins with Kent family burn out.  This isn’t surprising given that their entire history was restored when two halves of Superman fused back together.  It took years to do in a snap of the fingers.  Again, phrases that make sense only in comics.  Lois, once again the feisty woman she’s always been, has the solution.

So, the Kents drive on vacation, but this isn’t like any old hedonistic vacation one might indulge in.  Well a little.  Lois, Clark and Jonathan all want to examine the importance of American history.  This is where the lesson gets a modern update, fittingly exposed by ace reporter Lois Lane.  Sniff.  Can you smell that? That's Fox & Friends smoldering.

Everything Lois said is completely true.  Deborah Sampson isn’t alone either.  Take a tip from me.  If you just know history from school books.  Get thee to a library.  Few textbooks are comprehensive, and sometimes politics scrubs history white and “pure.”  In this era of alternative facts, or as I like to call them lies, it's important to retain knowledge proven time and time again by solid evidence. 

Jonathan picks another spot that’s likely to rile the jingoistic crowd.

Save for the graffiti and damage that Superman quickly fixes, the memorial of the 107th Regiment is also real.  Superman highlights the idealism and true consequences of sacrifice in a time of war.  It’s a fairly thoughtful issue relative to July 4th that sugar coats nothing.  At the same time, it still manages to be optimistically Superman and maintain history within a shared multiverse.  Some may scoff at the hopeful notes in Superman, but that's what Superman and the Superman Family has always been about.

Green Arrow fights a cult known as the Ninth Circle.  Unlike other cults, this group is mercenary.  It’s appeal is simple.  Profit at the cost of innocent lives.

Arrow’s enemy is a perfectly conceived foil for the historic knee-jerk liberal hero.  I’m a liberal, but I’ve never been knee-jerk, and I never particularly liked the Bronze Age Green Arrow.  I was however a huge fan of this guy.

Adventure Comics #250 1958

And I’ve grown to enjoy this fellow.

The historically cleansed Green Arrow introduced in the new 52 offered entertaining moments, but I’ve shied away from the Arrow’s rebirth.  Mainly because they paired him up with the Black Canary.  Don’t misread.  I love Black Canary, but I could never stand the way the Arrow treated her in the comics, Toth being the exception.  Isn’t he always?

I know that some idiot will turn their budding relationship into a living hell for old time's sake.  It’s just a matter of time.  So, why did I go against my tradition of ignoring the Green Arrow.  The same reason I won’t be skipping the Justice League movie.

Since the Emerald Archer tracks the Ninth Circle down to Washington D.C., Wonder Woman guest stars in Green Arrow.  Writer Benjamin Percy and artist Jamal Campbell create a stellar Wonder Woman.  They fill her with mercy, humor and efficiency.  The excellent issue of Green Arrow simultaneously advances the current story, relates a strong team-up between two rarely partnered characters and blends the Green Arrow’s history judiciously with a rejuvenated outlook that’s more sophisticated than previous versions.

An apparent prelude, Justice League's, regular writer Bryan Hitch returns with a surprising stand-alone issue that splits the story between two focus heroes Batman and Green Lantern Simon Baz.   After being underwhelmed by the premiere, I haven’t been reading Hitch’s Justice League.  This issue he exhibits a better understanding of the characters. Whether or not this is a result of experience, Superman’s restoration or new freedoms available I haven’t a clue, but this issue of Justice League is better than the debut.  Our split story begins with a Green Lantern history lesson intertwined with Batman’s interrogation of a prisoner.

This is a good example.  I could never see how Batman could be anything but an atheist.  Any semblance of worship would shatter if your parents were murdered before your eyes.  So Hitch’s characterization syncs with what I know to be true about Batman.  The person he’s investigating is a new one on me, but she refers to herself as one of the Timeless and reveals an intriguing persona through her dialogue.

She in addition has a knowledge of the inner workings of the cosmos, but it’s not from experience.  Likely the Phantom Stranger knows far more, and Batman isn’t buying what she’s selling.

The dialogue juxtaposes with a straight up Green Lantern and the Justice League versus Cosmic Big Bad.  Round two.

It’s a satisfying fight that also promotes the Justice League as the number one defender of the planet.  Furthermore, Hitch distinguishes the relationship Simon Baz has with the League from the Green Lantern Corps.  He answers the question why he's in the League and why he wears the ring.  Well worth a look, Justice League is quick but epic in scope.  It exemplifies how the League prevents disasters rather than cleans up after them.

Trinity also conveys that feeling.  The difference lies in the tone.  Hitch’s story is almost reverent of the League.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I’m reverent of the League, and the Bruce Timm series which I hold in the highest regard was like that as well.  However, Hitch's Justice League is a little dry in the humor department.  Not so, Trinity.

Previous issues insinuated an attack on the League, while Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman examined personal mysteries on earth.  At the heart of the disaster at the Watchtower, the Traveler claimed to be on a mission of justice to kill a virus that decimated his world.  The trouble is the infected League members would be sacrificed along with the Watchtower to save the earth.  As expected the truth is less obvious and manages to piss off Wonder Woman.  Don't piss off Wonder Woman.

The heroes work together to stop a multiple disaster.  The extinction of a species and the Watchtower's re-entry damage to the planet.  In a nice epilogue, the trio of heroes furthermore come to terms with the enigmas they left behind in a previous adventure.

The key to Trinity's readability is that the title seems a little overblown, but the storytelling is not.  Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman are actually quite humble and witty under Francis Manapul's guidance.  Moreover, this isn't just a major player tale.  The entire Justice League are needed to stabilize the situation, and our heroes are grateful for the help.

The beauty of Green Lanterns lies in the fact that the reader is aware of what happened to our Lanterns who are Lost in Time because of Previews and the fact that the title of this story arc is called Lost in Time.  

So, writer Sam Humphries and artist Ronan Cliquet plays with our expectations: dinosaurs, perhaps Wooly Mammoths in an advancing era.  Instead, we get this.

Bird Apes!

I should be railing at this for blatantly defying evolutionary theory and relying on Guardian of the Universe mumbo-jumbo, but did I really want to see Jess and Simon combat dinosaurs and/or giant sloths? Nah.  That would be boring.  This is not boring, and Ronan Cliquet's drop-jaw gorgeous artwork enhances the unbridled imagination behind the work.

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