Tuesday, January 24, 2017

POBB January 18, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 18, 2017
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  In this blog, I review the best and the worst of current comic books.  This week I look at Angel, Aquaman, Batman, Doctor Who, Motor Girl, Simpsons Comics, Superman and The Ultimates.  I’ll tell you right now.  There are no bad comic books amidst the contenders.

The POBB is now available on Twitter #PickoftheBrownBag.  Admittedly, I’m not the best tweeter.  So, I’m sometimes late posting the teensy reviews.  The tweets however are only tastes and summaries of the meatier reviews on the blog.  Hey, though, sometimes a summary is all you need, and sometimes, I can’t say too much about the comic book I’m reviewing.  Take Batman for example.

Each Tom King Batman story evolves from the last.  His volumes of Batman connect unobtrusively.  You can read King’s Batman tales as single briefly chaptered adventures or in concert, but you’ll get more if you read King’s stories from beginning to the end.

From "I am Gotham"

I haven’t been this consistently pleased and entertained by a Batman title since the Bronze Age.  Scott Snyder is one of the great Batman writers, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his work, but he relates one long story.  The Night of the Owls and The City of Owls for example.  His work furthermore bled out into the shared universe of DC.  Adding more material.  Perhaps, nothing he wished for but got anyway.  King on the other hand creates depth and texture with sequentially unfolding novellas and stays within the lore of Batman.

King debuted with “I am Gotham.”  The events in that book directly led to “I am Suicide.”  The doublet “Rooftops” arises from the aftermath.  

From "I am Gotham"

You can judge King’s book by its cover.  King explores the similarities and contrasts between Batman and Catwoman while re-establishing their love for each other.  We learned some extraordinary facts about Catwoman in “I am Suicide,” but “Rooftops” places these cat-nips in context.  

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

The framework turns Batman into an authentic issue of Detective Comics.  Batman as an archetypal detective follows a trail of clues winding him into the path of a femme fatale.  I’m going to give you a big hint as to who that femme fatale may or may not be.  It’s not Catwoman.

I'm spoiling this part because Catwoman and Batman have a long history of turning on each other.  So I want you to know that "Rooftops" is not another in the line.  A bete noir from the smokey past betrays Batman, and this time the deception threatens his life.  Batman is actually in danger of dying in this story.  The formulas perfected by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett nest within the body of King’s Dark Knight mythology.  Buy Batman you won’t be disappointed.

Superman is tricky.  On the one hand, you can argue, it’s a mess because it deals with the multiverse.  The villain known as Prophecy sends out creatures called the Gatherers to reap the Supermen of the parallel earths, but only certain avatars.  Not all of the Men of Steel.  

These incarnations are not necessarily as concrete as the bona fide New 52 Superman, recently deceased, or say the Superman of earth-two from the Bronze Age.

Who are these NRA Leaguers? Got me.  Should I be rooting for them? No idea, yet I'm still recommending Superman.  Blow-off characters such as the League of Sniper Fire represent an inherent flaw in the multiverse concept.  

Ostensibly, the Powers that Be wielded the Crisis on Infinite Earths to streamline DC’s teeming mythology, but that mythology is a living, breathing thing.  It’s pop culture knowledge digested by generations, not just one comic book group.  

If you lived during the Bronze Age, you could have encountered The Spider, not Richard Wentworth of pulp fame but an obscure crime fighting archer.  DC reprinted one of his adventures in a 100 page special of Detective Comics from the 1970s.  Imagine.  Despite never holding a copy of Crack Comics from the 1940s, you, born in the 1960s, know who the Spider from the 1940s is.  Think of 1970s reprints as comprising a hard copy internet limited to one subject.

The Powers That Be at DC comics knew that a lot of people didn’t like the consequences of Crisis of Infinite Earths.  So they tried to appease fans with a second multiverse, but this one wasn't so clearly defined as earth one, earth two, earth three and so forth.  That's because the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics were filled with stories about heroes from different earths crossing paths.  

In the new multiverse, apart from the elseworlds, there was nothing so solid.  It was an editorial announcement lacking meaning.  Had DC set a mandate where stories of multiple earth travel became the norm, the feeling of vagueness may have been alleviated, but the Powers were too busy slaying and crippling female characters to bother with fantastic storytelling.  

This brings us to the New 52.  This time DC did the multiverse concept right.  Not only did the Powers forge a stronger earth one.  At the same time, they established three comic book series involving earth two: Earth 2, World’s Finest and Huntress.  Later in Forever Evil, they reintroduced an earth three from whence the Crime Syndicate sprang.  The multiverse is back and forged from the continuity of interlocking stories not just remarks at a dinner table which may have well been a quiet burp.  So how does this short history pertain to the current issue of Superman?

For one thing, the establishment of a multiverse police corps out of different superheroes from different earths is a lovely idea with a solid basis.  Because the multiverse is so potent and prevalent now, it would need a group like this patrolling and monitoring incursions.  What could these hero/balance keepers do during the post-Crisis other than exist in Gran Morrison’s brain?

Nothing you can say will convince me that the alleged multiverse of the post-Crisis was anything more than a sham.  By giving the heroes a structured playground to work with, you can build on their characterization.  What makes them different than the average champion? An understanding and appreciation of the multiverse above and beyond that of normal superheroes.  A thirst to explore that diversity and not just stay in their own comfortable catty corner of the cosmos.  There’s an out here for Superman from Another Universe.  He doesn’t have to die when the new 52 Superman comes back.

The second thing that's in Superman's favor is known Supermen amongst the stranger ilk.  The Demon as Superman is a new one on me, but whatever.  I at least know who Etrigan is.  Perhaps in this incarnation he was paired with Jonathan Kent’s medieval ancestor rather than Jason Blood.  The Native American in the buffalo mask is Super-Chief, one of those obscure characters that resurfaced in the Bronze Age as a reprint.

We saw Red Son last issue, and in this story, Superman and company also visit Batman Beyond's alternate future, a Justice League with Bloodwynd on the logbooks and others.  

Bloodwynd is actually the Martian Manhunter, 1990s Spoiler Ahoy

Earth two's Superman died like Batman and Wonder Woman fighting Darkseid's forces.  Val-Zod the new earth two Superman isn't wanted for some reason.  Captain Carrot though? Give me some of that hasenpfeffer.  The cover to Superman is actually fairly accurate.  Superman’s plan to save the Supermen of the multiverse is self-sacrificing and impressive.  Even though I don't like this version of Superman all that much, I still found myself cheering at his concluding words.

Artists Phillip Briones, Wayne Faucher and Gale Etab bring relish and astounding energy to Aquaman’s takedown of Black Manta and NEMO.

So beautiful and violent.  Aquaman surprises the operatives of NEMO by being unstoppable.  Just look at the expression on Black Jack’s face.  She wasn’t quite prepared for Aquaman’s retaliation, or the very fact that he could find them.

At the same time, writer Dan Abnett grants Aquaman voice in a parallel narration.  Each panel exhibits Aquaman’s muscle and powers, and his accompanying words echo the wisdom of a King.

DC departed with its tradition of fictional Presidents and introduced President Obama as Commander in Chief in Justice League of America.  Just prior to Forever Evil.  The above scene carries more weight because of it.  Aquaman isn’t just meeting some generic leader.  He’s confronting the Leader of the Free World, and let’s face it.  There’s no way in hell President Obama’s successor would listen to reason.  Even with the backing of the Justice League.  This is another case where the talent behind the comic book surpasses your expectations.  This isn’t just another Black Manta vs. Aquaman.  It’s epic.

Not many people think about Portugal let alone Portuguese history.   Doctor Who  teaches a lesson about the nation and its past while bringing out the “monsters.”

Within this traditional setup, writer Cavan Scott recaptures the magic of the Christopher Eccleston Doctor.  Reminder, I would call him the ninth Doctor, but numbering the Doctors grows complicated after the eighth Doctor.  By rights, Eccleston is the tenth Doctor, but I now feel it only right to eliminate the numbering system entirely.  Much in the same way Steven Moffat did.  He is.  They are the Doctor.

This Doctor incarnation spoke out against slaves and slavers in the episode “The Long Game.”  He’s of course not the only Doctor to have done so.  The Doctors aren’t like Presidents.  The new Doctor follows the policies of the old Doctor.  Namely, exploring and protecting the integrity of history, unless space Nazis (Daleks) happen to be nearby.  Then all bets are off.  

In any case, the Doctor’s feelings over slavery in Scott's story offer a nice and original allusion underlined by the anger that artists Adriana Melo and Marco Lesko imbue.  The Doctor however need not express his rage.

A painting of Captain Jack Harkness as a priest served as the reason why the Doctor and TARDIS crew traveled to Brazil, and the subplot emerges in a deeper way as the story continues.  Scott though is too good of a writer to merely employ the painting and Jack’s established missing memories as a device.  He also uses it to demonstrate the personae of the players and to inject even more period humor to the mix.  

You can just imagine John Barrowman and Billie Piper speaking these words.  You can almost hear their tones and delivery.  Rose is also already a little pissed off at this moment.  You may have noted a strange face in the panel above the immediate graphic.

Tara Mishra is a member of UNIT.  She stowed away on the TARDIS last issue.  So far a likable character, Tara also generates friction between Rose and the Doctor, the same way Lynda did in Eccleston’s penultimate episodes.  The fact is Russell T. Davies introduced an alien concept to Doctor Who.  Sexual tension.  

Paul McGann’s and Daphne Ashbrook’s Grace Holloway only had to overcome the obstacle of a perpetual myth of televised chasteness in the Doctor.  Neither had any rivals, and the Doctor first appeared on our screens with a Time Lord granddaughter named Susan.  So the chaste hypothesis was wrong-headed from the very beginning.

Rose on the other hand had to contend with recognizing her own feelings for the Doctor and additional rivals, including Jack.  The Doctor in turn needed to deal with Mickey, Rose’s boyfriend, and Adam, a temporary companion.  Jealousy, lust and love became an underpinning theme in the Eccleston-Tennant era of Doctor Who.  It also didn’t hurt the show at all.  Quite the opposite.  So, it’s nice to see Rose back to hating Tara for simply taking up the Doctor’s time and the Doctor enjoying his new companion’s enthusiasm.  This gives Cavan Scott's script even more richness and authenticity.

Fred and Angel travel to Ireland in order to investigate a haunting at a friend’s hotel.  For reasons Angel cannot explain, he begins to remember things that he never experienced, and the strange manifestations prove to be harder to fight than expected.  Writer Corinna Bechko hits the ground running on her debut.  She captures the pensiveness and terseness of Angel, but she let’s Fred’s alter-ego Illyria steal the show.  

It’s a good move because Fred doesn’t really come off in the story as unique.  Amy Acker portrayed Fred on the series, and Acker did wonders for the dimension-lost brainiac.  Her essay of the goddess Illyria was equally impressive, perhaps even more so.  Since it was the first time I witnessed her playing somebody or something else.  She would later create a similar dichotomy for Root on Person of Interest.

Illyria’s interaction with Angel is funny and engrossing.  It’s comedic because Illyria’s probably the only being that considers Angel a youngster.  Angel never really banked on his immortality, nor did he have as many flashbacks as his contemporaries like Nick Knight.  Instead, Angel seemed to be what he appeared, and that facade becomes fact when he faces Illyria.    

Motor Girl opens with a doctor’s exam and a little bit of Sam’s history, where she met Mike, the talking gorilla.

Believe it or not, Motor Girl is a comedy.  Terry Moore just cannot help but infusing some drama because he’s good at it.  Strangers in Paradise started as a comedy, but then it changed.  Drastically.  Motor Girl on the other hand uses the drama as the edge of a shiny surface.  Dancing on that plane, Larry and Vic, the hapless goons of Mr. Walden.

Walden turns out to be an aerospace entrepreneur.  His interest in Libby’s land, where Sam works at the junkyard, is on the surface legitimate.  Alas, Vic and Larry are idiots, and you should never underestimate the idiot factor.  Their stupidity guides them straight into the sun of plan B.

The Ultimates split the story down the middle.  In the A story Galactus struggles to retain his evolution as the Life-Bringer.

Lords Order and Chaos oppose his transformation with extreme prejudice, and they just get entertainingly loopier as the story unfolds.  Leading to a head scratcher of a cliffhanger.

The B story establishes the Troubleshooters, created by the government to expressly preclude the formation of the Ultimates.  Comprised of the obscurest but powerful Marvel heroes, founded by the shifty Phil Vogt, they soon find deployment.

Despite Black Panther and Captain Marvel hating each other, for reasons that can be found in Civil War II Electric Boogaloo, if you’re interested, Ms. America reformed the Ultimates at the behest of Galactus.  Their mission to find who bound Eternity.  Al Ewing’s story is filled with the ocean of the Power Cosmic watching the waves ripple and crash, swallow old ideas and re-emerge them as new concepts.  The Ultimates is almost too good to be a comic book.  It should be a new Marvel television series.

The latest issue of Simpsons Comics offers up two clever and amusing shorts.  In Bear Patrol III Pandemonium, Max Davison spoofs Kung-Fu Panda and perhaps the dimly remembered 80s cartoon Pandemonium.

Regardless, Davison brings back two beloved concepts from The Simpsons.  The first is no spoiler.

The second however is a juicy one.  The Pandas have a sponsor.

As the story progresses the Bear Patrol travel to China to attack the Pandas head-on.  On their journey, the love/hate relationship between Carl and Lenny flourishes and the rowdy Bear Patrol’s violence prevails.  Or does it, the sponsor has a secret, a big secret.

James Lloyd’s, Andrew Pepoy’s and Art Villanueva’s  artwork is notable in the Shaw Brothers styled setting, the design of the big surprise, the hilarious evil of the special guest star and an overall action filled expressiveness amongst the cast.

In the second story Michael Saikin reveals a heretofore unknown episode in Homer’s life.  

The absurd hero worship from the townsfolk escalates despite Lisa’s attempt to bring skepticism to those who drank the Kool-Aid.  As usual, Homer’s fortunes are just that.  They rely on a roll of karmic dice.  Homer never meant for any of this to happen.  He just serves as the catalyst in flexible physics.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

POBB January 11, 2017

Pick of the Brown Bag
January 11, 2016
Ray Tate

The Pick of the Brown Bag welcomes you to comic book reviews of new title The Deep, Earth 2 Society, Flash Gordon, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Justice League, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Sonja and Titans.   No time for the POBB? Check me out on Twitter #PickoftheBrownBag.

The latest issue of All-New Wolverine was good but nothing special.  Tom Taylor however when going the creator-owned route with The Deep, produces an absolutely lovely book that combines the Fantastic Four, Aquaman and Hanna-Barbera cartoons.  

I suppose you can argue The Deep also incorporates elements from the Silver Age Sea Devils from DC comics, but I feel The Deep’s premise goes way beyond scuba-diving.  I like the Sea Devils by the way.  No bones to them.

Co-Creator James Brouwer as you can see imbues an inviting cartoon style to the narrative.  The character design throughout excites with a singular look that expresses action, interaction and expression.  As well, it grants scope to the wide blue and a Blue Whale that becomes the crux of the crew of The Aronnax’s investigation.

The Aronnax alludes to Professor Pierre Aronnax, the narrator from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  In case you’re keeping track this is the third recent reference to Jules Verne in pop culture: NEMO is the evil organization from Aquaman and Nemo Holmes lies on one of the farcical gravestones at Musgrave in the latest season of Sherlock.  No worries.  That’s not a spoiler.

When we first tune into the crew of The Aronnax it’s a tit-for-tat dialogue between sister Fontaine and little brother Ant in a comedic training session.  Kaiko their mother puckishly interrupts their argument and later joins her husband Will.  Will demonstrates where Ant gets his pluck and imagination.

And it’s off to search for sea monsters.  The purity of this family of explorers is just so engaging that they’ll charm your socks off.

Tom Taylor also applies his talent to an unexpected team-up between the Justice League and the Might Morphin Power Rangers.  As I mentioned in another blog entry, I didn’t just glom onto everything as a kid or adolescent.  Mighty Morphin Power Rangers never appealed to me.  I just saw them as Americanized Japanese sentai, which I found out, later, that yeah, that’s exactly what they were.  

They reminded me thematically of Godzilla.  It was a case of producers deciding that Japanese heroes wouldn’t appeal to stupid Americans.  So, they needed to insert representatives of the U.S.A.  I preferred the original Ultraman and the Science Patrol.

Anyway, Taylor’s introducing me to the Power Rangers, and he does a good job of it.  They’re nothing awe-inspiring but neither are they loathsome.  Kids gifted with superpowers that protect the earth.  I’ve heard worse.

Taylor’s story opens in the future where the Justice League and the Power Rangers already established a rapport.  I’m guessing Taylor did this to assuage readers; although the Rangers and the League will fight, they will quickly ally.  Audiences are tired of superheroes trying to kill each other.  They’ve been tired of it for years.  Sure, we like hilarious squabbles like those in Captain America: Civil War, but not an outright duel.  Unless it has contextual dramatic impetus, like the one in Captain America: Civil War.  I guess what I'm saying is that Marvel movies always get it right.

Our team-up then shoots to the past where the Rangers teleport to various places in search of their missing robot.  It’s a trap of course, and this allows Taylor to strut out the villain of the piece.

In the classic tradition of Star Trek, a transporter accident sends the Rangers to the Justice League’s earth.  Not wanting to waste time, Taylor unleashes the big guns.

First Turtles and Now…

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Justice League is a fun, inventive mash with appealing artwork by Stephen Byrne.  If you’re a fan of either one of the teams, you’ll definitely want to pick it up.

The Sandmen sweep over the world to intercept the Justice Society in Earth 2 Society.  This is nothing more or less than page after gorgeously illustrated page of a big battle between the minions of evil and the forces of good.  

In between our heroes save lives.  Batman plots out the solution to the problem, and the Big Bad throws off the veil to a surprise cliffhanger.  I eat this kind of stuff up.  Seconds, please.

The Titans on the other hand is a laid back kind of issue.  The tale begins with Titans Wally, Donna and Roy fighting a giant in Manhattan.

No need to look him up.  He’s nobody and dealt with that way.  His defeat however isn’t a proper victory.  Now that the feel goodness of Wally’s return has become the norm, the Titans can do what they do best.  Argue.

From that Titans tradition, writer Dan Abnett segues to the idea that the Titans are not really a tradition on this earth.  The smooth transition and blending of plot and characterization just made me want to weep.  Abnett’s intriguing notions of what constitutes authenticity interweave through this title and Earth 2 Society.  At times he seems to be saying that memory and experience is more important than corporeal history.  This also explains his ready embrace of Lois Lane as the Red Tornado.  Titans is philosophical science fiction even when it’s not trying to be.

Abnett is probably the second best writer of this version of Superman.  He already guested him in Aquaman and treated him fairly as nevertheless a different Man of Steel.  You see, you can write this guy as an acceptable avatar of Superman.  You don’t have to turn him into a prick.  Superman knows Wally.  He lays down some good advice while having fun and enjoying the Titans’ return.

Juxtaposed against this is a laugh-out-loud funny tour of the new status quo.  Lilith (Omen) uses her phenomenal telepathic skills to find out how many new forms the Titans need to fill out.  Nightwing reveals their new transport.  Abnett’s dual writing of Titans and Aquaman allows him to give Aqualad more depth than anybody, and it’s all wrapped in a bow for the reader by neoclassic realist Lee Weeks.  So pretty.

Red Hood and the Outlaws concludes with Jason Todd defeating Black Mask in a fairly clever way.  The team in addition gels, but the really impressive thing about Red Hood and the Outlaws occurs after all that.  Jason confronts Batman, and the reaction is a little different than what you might expect after watching so many histrionic fits from Nightwing and a stoic Dark Knight during the post-Crisis.  Scott Lobdell understands what Batman is about, and he is easily the best man for Jason Todd.

Ming the Merciless finds a superb means to conquer the earth.  It turns out that by using the Gatestone, a wormhole creating device, he can move bits and pieces of Mongo to our planet.  Flash, the Phantoms, Mandrake, Dale and Zarkov investigate one such satrap, and they find themselves betrayed by the government.  The look on their faces, courtesy of the superb Jesse Hamm, really say it all.  Jeff Parker’s dialogue underscores the hopelessness of their situation.  

As you may expect, the Defenders of the Earth are not blown to bits.  During that scene the creative team creates a moving panel involving a little girl listening to a radio broadcast of what transpires.  The moment neatly frames what’s at stake.  I actually had that look on my face when I saw The Day After.  Still the most realistic nuclear holocaust movie ever made.

The Defenders recover and find new menaces from Mongo to fight.  At this point you realize that Parker is now detailing the long history of animosity between Flash and Ming.  Technically speaking, most of the role call in King’s Cross have known Ming just as long as Flash Gordon, unless you factor in the movie, television, serials, radio programs and of course the original comic strips by Alex Raymond.  

That’s what I think Parker is doing with Flash Gordon King’s Cross.  He’s adding to that history.  He planted the seeds in the first series.  Ming sees Flash as a distraction and challenge.  Flash is actually too innocent to hate anybody, even his nemesis.  So, he can in fact compliment Ming on his tactics while still thinking him as an evil menace.

Last but not least, Amy Chu’s and Carlos Gomez’s new take on Red Sonja builds on the mysteries and the antic of last issue.

Yes.  That lunatic Kulan Gath sent the She-Devil into the twentieth century.  Here, her reputation remains unknown, and she cannot ken the strange tongue they speak.  Curiously though, somebody can understand her.

Sonja is not a super-being.  She’s super-healthy, especially the way Gomez draws her.  So, it’s no surprise when she finds herself overpowered.  Chu uses this natural advancement of the story to display Sonja’s intelligence.  Much as Conan did in an issue of What If? Sonja begins to comprehend the world around her.

This knowledge however cannot help her in a strait-jacket, but Chu adds a new twist to what typically happens when the fictional clashes with the real.

Chu’s energetic stranger in a strange land comic has more fun in store for the reader.  Alas, though Sonja gains a coat.  I knew this would happen.

No, no, no! Don’t zip up! Awww…Damn it.