Wednesday, July 5, 2017

POBB June 28, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 28, 2017
Ray Tate

Curse You, Steven Moffat!

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  My name is Ray Tate, and I review comic books.  Sometimes the brown bag runneth over.  That’s why we’re starting with last week’s Monsters Unleashed, followed by Batgirl, Batman/Elmer Fudd, Batman/Wonder Woman, Elektra, Jean Grey, Jonah Hex/Yosemite Sam, Scooby-Doo Team-Up, Starring Sonya Devereaux and Wonder Woman/Bionic Woman.  Though not necessarily in that order.  You can also check the summarized reviews on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Cullen Bunn’s Monsters Unleashed continues to pay off.  Whatever monsters Kid Kaiju draws come to life.  He used this talent to stave off global invasion by a group of beasts called the Leviathons.  In so doing, he made, sometimes literally, a cadre of stalwart companions.  Aegis and Mekara, the giant robots.  The creatures Scragg, Slizzik, Hi-Vo.  And Elsa Bloodstone as the bodyguard.  

The Kid’s ability quickly brought him under the scrutiny of SHIELD and Damage Control.  In opposition, the villains of the piece.  

For those that came in late, the so-called New Intelligencia consists of the Leader, the Thinker, Mr. Sinister, MODOK and the Mole Man.

Whoops.  Not the Mole Man.  The Mole Man’s betrayal is unsurprising, really.  Any alliance with him can only be temporary.  Mole Man joining anything counters his origin.  He delved into the Subterranean Lands to escape society.  Why would he become part of one again?  A society of monsters and Moloids being the exception.

In some ways, you can’t help sympathizing with the Mole Man.  His genuine love for the outsider motivated him to betray the mads and kidnap Kid Kaiju.  The Mole Man throughout Monsters Unleashed follows his nature.  As a result, he and Elsa are the truest to character.

The same cannot be said about Dum Dum Dugan.  Dum Dum sends a squad of SHIELD agents to subdue Kid Kaiju’s giant-sized creations.  Basically, he sends them to die.

None of Dum Dum’s reactions make a lick of sense.  Dum Dum should be familiar with the inefficacy of mortal and machine against giant monsters, assuming his participation in Godzilla still holds.  I expect this kind of behavior from the comic book version of Maria Hill.  Not Dum Dum.  His second plan exhibits tactical cogency and gives the creatures the benefit of doubt, but that should have been his first ploy and first judgement.

Meanwhile, Elsa Bloodstone has her own problems, with the Mole Man’s minions and a bounty hunter from another realm.  Cullen Bunn’s Elsa Bloodstone is outrageous, laugh out loud funny and effective.  Artist David Baldeon superbly stages Elsa’s battle against Lady Hellbender and her Velociraptors.

This is a no-holds-barred fight with delicious trash talk.  Both contestants duel for survival, yet Baldeon’s cartoony artwork imbues the death match with such fun that you can’t take the bout too seriously.  The perfect tone for Monsters Unleashed.

Jean Grey serves as bait on a telekinetic hook to lure a monster beneath the sea.  This in an effort to find Namor, apparently yet another host for the Phoenix.  

You can tell by my statement that I don’t give a rat’s behind about Phoenix stories.  I’ll read such a thing if it happens to infest my subscription list, but I won’t seek one out.  

Dennis Hopeless uses the Phoenix as a device that allows him to write for the cool Marvel heroes and team them up with the time-lost Jean Grey.  The main draw for me is the battle against “the Kraken."  That story is exciting, smartly written and beautifully illustrated by Victor Ibanez.  That story is worth reading.  Not another interminable Phoenix story.

Hopeless’ characterization for Namor rings true, and it’s a wonder that he finds a means to imply Namor’s longevity without becoming overt or needlessly wordy.  What’s really impressive about Hopeless’ Namor is how he captures the youth/ancient dichotomy.  If not for Jean’s presence, I'd swear I was reading one of Namor’s Golden Age adventures.

Hopeless’ version of Jean is simply the preferred version.  I never cared a helluva lot for Jean Grey except when she was Marvel Girl.  When she transformed into the Phoenix I just took her in stride.  She wasn't however a favorite X-Man.  Famke Jansen on the other hand.  Subsequent iterations didn't change my opinion.  So it's saying something that I actually like Hopeless' Jean.  Furthermore, the chat about the Phoenix didn’t bore me.  I wasn’t interested in it, but I appreciated how Hopeless phrased the gist and turned the dialogue persona-specific.

Elektra closes the curtains on her time spent in Murderworld.  Now at the last level of the lethal game, she defends herself against Arcade himself.  

The nutter goes Shogun Warrior as he pulls a giant robot out of his ass to threaten Elektra and her charge Lauren.

The fight goes as you expect and Juan Cabal's energetic artwork streams you through one exciting panel to the next until writer Matt Owens provides a juicy twist that justifies Elektra's compassion.

Once the turn occurs, Cabal and Owens recharge Elektra with allusions to the video gaming world.  In the end Elektra defeats Arcade and questions the little weasel.  She doesn't like his answers.

Note again Cabal's extraordinary art.  Not just an illustrator of dynamic action but also a terrific expressionist.

The conclusion to Elektra is somewhat surprising given that Elektra is by definition an assassin.  However, she's content to let Arcade stew in SHIELD custody.  This would seem to indicate what I inferred in previous reviews.  The version of Elektra we've been reading about isn't the more merciless original, but a fresh ideal with an altered history, likely from the auspices of Battleworld.  Hope to see her again.

Hope Larson pulls Batgirl out of the nosedive of horrible writing evinced in the Penguin’s son with this stand-alone fair-play mystery.  The tale begins at a haunted pool.

The supposed spectral event attracts ghost breakers and Batgirl.  Indeed a spook seems to be visiting the waters.  Is it truly supernatural, or is it something more down to earth?

Unlike the last story, Batgirl approaches the situation with skeptic's mind.  She uses deductive reasoning, scientific analysis and detective work to solve the enigma.

The story is so good that it could have appeared in an episode of a hypothetical Batgirl: The Animated Series.

Larson characterizes Batgirl as a sharp as a tack, no-nonsense crimefighter which is exactly how she should be characterized.  Dimension in Batgirl arises when she revisits her old Burnside contact Qadir, finds genuine humor in his unrequited romance with a chemistry grad, expresses a little snark at the ghost breakers and discusses the conclusions with her best bud Frankie.  Perfect.  Including the artwork. More of this, please.

I obviously haven’t read any of the reviews of Batman and Elmer Fudd.  I’m however aware of the book's justified success amidst fans.  I’ll add my voice to the chorus of praise.  King creates a send-up of a Black Mask detective novella from the 1940s.  

This comes in the form of de-anthropomorphism of Bugs Bunny and his Looney Tunes colleagues, the resurrection of one of Batman’s great loves, the ubiquity of Porky’s Bar—it always existed in Gotham—and the grin-cracking narration of Mr. Fudd.  

In addition to these story elements, King works with Lee Weeks whose art style is already noir to begin with.  Weeks drenches this tale of woe in rain, shadow and light. It’s utterly gorgeous.

The hard-boiled fun starts with hit man Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs Bunny.  Bugs Bunny spins a tale.  Bugs’ lie sends Elmer Fudd careening into Batman’s sonar range.  

Batman’s dodging of a shotgun blast could be interpreted as another moment of Batman being Batman.  If anybody is capable of such evasion, it is he.  It also smartly and humorously places Batman in the traditional position of Bugs Bunny.  Simultaneously, it emphasizes just how deadly Elmer Fudd really is in all of those cartoons.  We take it for granted that Elmer is a harmless buffoon because of Warner Brothers playing fast and loose with physics.

King carries that theme to the back up antic where he teams up with Byron Vaughn and Carrie Strachan for a brilliant batty take on "Duck-Rabbit-Duck." Elmer here is a humorous figure, as is King's Batman.  It's a tossup though on which story is the funniest.  I lean toward the full-bodied spoof.

Batman and Wonder Woman concludes with the retired Batman finding a rat in his cave in addition to his flying friends.

Ra's seeks the Lazarus Pit located in Gotham City, but his natural curiosity led him to Wayne Manor, again.  In the brief exchange co-writer Jeff Parker characterizes Ra's arrogance, intelligence and humor.  Ra's renewed activity and Wonder Woman's advice from last issue prompts Batman to get back into the game.

Meanwhile, Talia enacts revenge against Catwoman for her earlier betrayal.  The bad kitty cleaned up her act, and she's got friends at her rear and bouncers with period puffy hats at her front.

The two tales dovetail in a reunion of crimefighters that includes Commissioner Barbara Gordon as the Batwoman proper.

Our heroes enter the lion's den and face Gotham's deadliest in the fine action of David Hahn.  An intelligent treatment of two top legends from television.  If you haven't been following this series, pick it up in hardback or trade.

We could have skipped the boring exposition and tedious Paradise Island introductions and just strike right here in this action-packed issue Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman.

Diana took gunfire after the Fembots snatched her bracelets.  She's under Jaime's protection, but that won't last against an army of Fembots.  Exactly where did the villains get the funds to build these things? Anyway, our heroines have terrific backup.

Artist Judit Tondora goes for all out mayhem as Drusilla and Max the Bionic Dog tear up the place.  The violence is non-stop, and because the Fembots are inorganic, Dru doesn't hold back.

Meanwhile, the Nazis and the Fembots invade Paradise Island.  This leads to a high body count and gears all over.  It's pretty much everything one would would want in such a battlefield.  

Writer Andy Mangels does include more.  Though the Big Bads apparently leveraged a small fortune to create Fembots galore, they still have limits in technology.  Max unleashes the dog of war on Dr. Cyber, and she's not happy with the repair time.  Jaime takes Diana to Transformation Island where the Purple Ray goes to work.  She then comes up with a canny scheme to defeat the Amazons' enemies, but it's a double-edged sword.  In addition to these fannish moments await to tickle your fancy.

Starring Sonya Devereaux returns in a delightfully stupid romp in the wild west that starts with this hilarious anachronism.

As usual, you're watching B-Movie actress Sonya Devereaux perform in a cheesy flick.  So, the stupid is purposeful.  The story introduces Big Bad rich man Conrad Irving who acts like a deadly, over the top Yosemite Sam.

Prudence (Sonya) and her girlfriends find themselves rustled into jail, courtesy of Irving's men.  Our heroine tries to raise the funds honestly to spring them from the pokey, but Irving ups the ante.

Prudence has no choice but to break them out of jail and become a desperado.

She also has no choice, none at all, but to find refuge in the local bordello.

As suggestive as this image may be, Sonya Devereaux is like a lot of B-Movies.  All tease.  Lots of cleavage, and sometimes it's very cold on the set, but in general, not actually crossing a line.  In fact, the means in which Prudence maintains her worth to the bordello without becoming a working girl is plausible and shrewd.  The method would work dramatically.

Written for aficionados of bad movies and Mystery Science Theater 3000, in other words people like me, Starring Sonya Devereaux is a riot but also illustrated with care and skill that's atypical for a farce.

Jimmy Palmiotti returns to Jonah Hex with a spaghetti western involving Yosemite Sam and a surprise Looney Tunes guest star.  Technically you could call this a send up like the Batman/Elmer Fudd noir, but I figure this to be just a unique straight-up issue of Weird Western Tales.  The story begins when Yosemite Sam strikes gold.

Our diminutive cowboy finds himself shooting it out with former colleagues and then becomes embroiled with circus folk; a staple of the spaghettis, but rare in American westerns.  No idea why, unless it has something to do with Fellini's influence.  As the tale progresses, the solution to Sam's problems moseys into town.

Jonah Hex's in town to collect a bounty, naturally, but he's forced to wait for his reward.  The serendipitous cooling off allows Sam to hire Jonah Hex to guard his carcass, and Sam'll need all the protection he can get.  Since the greedy eyes on the mine just multiplied.

Like I said, this isn't exactly a comedy.  It's funny in places, but Palmiotti treats the Looney Tunes in a far more serious fashion than expected.  Sam is a character, but he's not too far off the mark from reality.  The appearance of our mystery guest is dismissed casually in the dialogue, and the friendship between Sam and he is genuine.  Established with a selfless act.  Palmiotti also isn't joking when Hex turns as violent as was in his former series.  Hex's protection drops bodies left and right.  Mark Texiera, where the hell has he been, lends an even greater dramatic impetus with his realistic illustration. 

The back up cartoon written by Bill Metheny is just the opposite. Despite the toon presenting continuity with Palmiotti's serious affair and also benefiting from an unannounced Looney Tunes' guest, it's a hilarious rendition in perfect cel-form by David Alvarez.

In this issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up, the gang is called in to help Plastic Man.  As with most Plastic Man stories, Woozy Winks attempts to make himself useful but instead defines pest.

The rejection makes matters worse.  It leaves Woozy to his own devices which are almost always fraught with bad ideas and chaotic results.  In this case, he gets himself cursed by a fortune teller at the same time Plastic Man is seeking a neat, classic villainess known as Granite Lady.

Plas does double-duty in this clever and funny adventure by the usual suspects of Sholly Fisch and Dario Brizuella.  It's valid as a Plastic Man story and as a Scooby-Doo mystery, that's also fair-play.

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