Wednesday, July 28, 2021

POBB July 19, 2021

Pick of the Brown Bag
July 19, 2021
by
Ray Tate

In this next series of July, possibly August, POBBs, I'll be checking in on Wonder Woman and her books.  


Art by Alex Ross

Given that Diana's one of the Big Three in the DCU, it's high time she stars in more than one title.  Batman and Superman books still outpace hers, but this era of Wonder Woman is at the very least a start in the right direction.  As always should you not have the moments for the deep, rich full reviews on the blog, you can always check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag.  

Wonder Woman's status changed thanks to whatever she did in the never-ending series, Death Metal.  Diana apparently saved the multiverse from destruction, at the cost of her life.  Sort of.  


Diana incarnate serves as witness to the big reordering of the multiverse in the highly disappointing Infinite Frontier.  At the conclusion, she returns kind of dead to her name book and a mythological realm she's not usually associated with.


More on that later.  The seventies creation Nubia becomes Queen of the Amazons.  And yes, Nubia is Black.  Always has been.  

Wonder Woman's mother Hippolyta ventures back into man's world and serves in the Justice League.  The third version of Wonder Girl is still around.  Known to Hippolyta.  


Wonder Girl seems to be the original Cassandra Sandsmark, created by John Byrne.  He also first drew Hippolyta into costume as the Golden Age Wonder Woman.  His idea of Hippolyta filled a perceived gap left behind by George Perez in his prime reboot of Wonder Woman in the nineties.


If you read the text between Hippolyta and Wonder Girl, you can see the former Queen manipulating Cassie into seeking out Yara Flor.  The new Wonder Girl.  Cassie even thinks it's her idea.  To be fair maybe they both came to the same conclusion independently.  Nevertheless, I love writer/artist Joelle Jones' body language for the two Wonders.  Hippolyta is Shakespearean.  Regal and filled with guile.  Cassie is modern and just bouncing with energy.  These two figure in the latest issue of Wonder Girl.  


Also featured in Wonder Girl, Artemis.  Artemis is in good with the Arabian Amazons of Bana-Mighdall.  Or as good as Artemis can get with anybody.


Created by William Messner-Loebs and Mike Deodato, Artemis replaced Diana in the mid-nineties as Wonder Woman.  This substitution complex happened to every major hero.  Artemis however had staying power.  She came back from the dead and emerged intact from numerous reboots.

It's inevitable that Wonder Girl and Artemis will reunite.  There will of course be hugs, kisses and discretely nude pillow fights.


Nah.  Nah, mate.  It's not that kind of a book.  It is however hilarious.  In fact most of Wonder Girl is perfectly timed comedy, a motif that runs throughout all of Wonder Woman's titles.  

Sure, you can select moments of joking in Wonder Woman's vast history.  However, I don't think the Powers That Were designed Sensation Comics or Wonder Woman to be thematically funny.  Nor have the various writers and artists that came after tried. 

Most stories in Wonder Woman are po-faced serious.  Certainly the originals where Diana fights the Third Reich.


Dr. Poison from Sensation Comics #2

Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl and The Sensational Wonder Woman exhibit different types of humor.  Wonder Girl stands out as a sophisticated chase caper.

Hippolyta, the Amazons of Themyscira, Artemis, Wonder Girl, even the Olympian gods seek out Yara Flor, the new Wonder Girl.  Apparently, her becoming portends doom for the world.  Somehow.  

Yara hasn't a clue to all the parties involved in the hunt, nor is she aware of being prey.  Furthermore, she doesn't even know that she's Wonder Girl.  

In the present day, Yara believes she's tougher than most.  She believes she's stronger than most.  In her premiere proper she rescues somebody from a fiery wreck without being burnt to a crisp, yet she is oblivious to her true power and her connection to the world of myth.

In the conclusion to the previous issue, Yara fell into the waters of Brazil.  There she meets an unusual denizen.  In this issue, she's seduced by the watery Sir Hiss, while Jones lays out some Brazilian mythology in the narrative.


Jones' and Adriana Melo's art in this scene overflows with sensuality.  You want some lesbian subtext? It's there if you wish it.  You want to believe that Iara is seducing Yara for her own designs? Go for it.  Of course, it's unusual to seduce somebody to give them a gift, and that's where the encounter leads.  Iara gives Yara a gift.

Jordie Bellaire's hues evoke the depths of the waters without losing important detail or Iara's contrasting bright colors.  Imagine if you will a low budget movie made by horribly inept filmmakers.  They just might light that movie with a match not realizing that the all consuming shadows hide the monster too much.  The darkness doesn't create the goal of mood and tone in the filmmakers' minds.  It's just a total blackout.  Bellaire on the other hand nails it.  The grays and greens hide just enough.  They also create a feeling of uniformity.  That Yara is becoming one with the water as she "drowns."  The colors burst out, signifying difference in the being.  A split from the natural world.  As Yara and Iara swim to the shallows the shades become a sheen not a shroud.  Then there's the gift and how it sizzles, how it changes the ambiance.  How it symbolizes power so great that it overcomes the elements.

The scene with Iara furthermore acts as an allusion to the fables of Wonder Woman.  For example, in Sensation Comics #6, Wonder Woman's originators link the Golden Lasso of Truth with the mythology of Aphrodite and Athena.  This is the first appearance of the lasso, but already it has a story behind it.  


Friday, June 25, 2021

POBB June 22, 2021

Pick of the Brown Bag
June 22, 2021
by
Ray Tate

Welcome to the Pick of the Brown Bag.  This week, I look at the new Mister Miracle, the new Wonder Girl and the return of Stargirl in her Spring Break Special.  For some reason, It has been harder and harder to reach Twitter, but hopefully you can still find me there when in need of a quick decision: #PickoftheBrownBag.

Three men assumed the name of Mister Miracle.  All three are valid because they were created by the legendary Jack Kirby.

 
Thaddeus Brown was the first Mister Miracle, a human escape artist who meets the drifting New God Scott Free.  When the gang boss Steel Hand kills Thaddeus to win an escapology wager--a very high wager, Scott assumes Thaddeus' identity and soon gains a taste for the act.

Scott of course is the best known Mister Miracle, but there is a bona fide third Mister Miracle.  Scott took on apprentice Shilo Norman.  Also created by Jack Kirby.


Now wether or not Jack Kirby intended the passage of the torch is moot.  However, the final issue of Mister Miracle contributes this scene in the for category.


That sounds like a setup for a new Mister Miracle to me.  The Powers That Be at DC tend to allow sidekicks to age; their mentors always manage to keep their youth somehow.  Barda and Scott are New Gods.  They don't grow old like we mortals.  

Shilo matured to adulthood and became the third Mister Miracle, last seen in Future State but better remembered in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers.  Neither I doubt has any bearing on continuity proper.

The mature Shilo Norman returns in Mister Miracle: The Source of Freedom by writer Brandon Easton, artist Fico Ossio and colorist Rico Renzi.  


I really enjoyed ninety-nine point ninety-five percent of this latest version of Mister Miracle.  


First, it has nothing to do with Future State, where DC reintroduced Mister Miracle as a Superman backup.  A failed experiment as far as I'm concerned.  Second, Easton updates the Mister Miracle themes for the present day. We find that Mister Miracle is the perfect subject for our watchful society.  Third, Shilo's not a superhero.  He performs escapes, witnessed by millions.

Any purposeful acts of heroism come with an ulterior motive.


Heroism to raise one's presence and brand is an interesting twist.  Though I object to the idea that any crime is beneath Superman's attention.  


Especially if it occurs in Metropolis.  My guess is Superman heard that explosion.  He homed in on it with his telescopic vision.  Saw Mister Miracle and checked that off as problem solved.  No doubt making a note to follow Mister Miracle's progress and lend a hand if things go south.

The arson case catalyzes a number of events in the book that add depth to the story and dimension to the plotting.  

Mister Miracle meets a potential candidate for a relationship.  Not only do we get a cute female firefighter.  Their accidental meeting also opens up the book for an exploration of complications associated with involvement between the Average Jane and a celebrity, a masked, anonymous celebrity.


That's interesting.  She didn't even know Mister Miracle was curious until his lawyer/manager Vito shows up with the NDA.  Mister Miracle avoids working up the nerve to ask somebody out.  It's brilliance and total cowardice at the same time.


Mister Miracle is about something.  The book tackles racism and for the most part successfully addresses it within the context of a superhero universe.  I don't believe it was necessary to rewrite Thaddeus Brown as a black man, but that's all right.  It doesn't alter the story in any bad way.

Certain things would change in a superhero universe.  There would be less successful violent acts.  There would be less disaster, natural and otherwise, but systemic racism?  Yeah.  That's a factor that would still be in play.  There would be less organized racism from such fruitcakes as the Ku Klux Klan and the Proud Boys, but the casual every day racism metastasizing out of slavery and the fight to protect the shameful institution would still be there.  The corruption in our society would still be a clear and present danger.

So that's that ninety-nine point ninety-five part of the book I liked minus the Superman objections.  The big headache though arrives at the end. 


When this character appears as the solution to who's been stalking Mister Miracle, my brain shut down.  I just.  What? How? When?

You may wonder if this figure and identity is enough to prevent me from picking up another issue of Mister Miracle.  We'll see.  Overall I was totally invested in Shilo Norman, his striving to be an ace escapologist, his occasional crimefighting, his personal life, his status as a hidden Black man.  I was into that.  Then that thing with the nineties dress sense shows up.  Grrrrr.


More failed experiments from Future State given a new coat of paint and replanted into the present day.  Wonder Woman from Future State is now properly Wonder Girl.  The visually arresting Yara Flor is the latest in a surprisingly long line of Wonder Girls. 

I won't be getting into a history lesson for Wonder Girls.  Since it can be summed up thusly: the first Wonder Girl was Wonder Woman as a girl, the second Wonder Girl was Donna Troy who became an unnecessary poster child for why you should not "multiply entities."  The third Wonder Girl was Cassie Sandsmark, who also became an unnecessary poster child for why you should not "multiply entities."  

Of course my favorite Wonder Girl is Wonder Woman's actual sister Drusilla.

Portrayed by Debra Winger on Wonder Woman.  "All our hopes are pinned upon you." 


Sensation Comics #1

Anyway, our latest Wonder Girl Yara Flor is unaware that she is gifted with powers beyond those of mortals.


We are still unaware of how she received these abilities, but they may have something to do with the dream Yara experiences on a plane.


No snakes.  Just dreams.  She's on her way to visit Brazil, and she states a curious thing.


Yara seems nice.  She's all about doing the right thing and everything, but as they were in the bloated special Infinite Frontier, the actual Amazons of Themyscira are twitchy.


They're not alone.


Oh, shit.  Even Batman? But how.  Batman has no special mental abilities.

What?  Batman, Jr.  Too!


Jeane Lafitte? Great Scott! I didn't even know Jean Lafitte was part of the DCU.


I mean the girl is just wheeling around a small suitcase in Rio.  She must be emitting some amazing pheromones.  


Holy Moley!  One of the crocodiles from The Rescuers is perturbed as well!  The vibes are so powerful they're breaching the Marvel-Disney verse.  

Pretentious, Wonder Girl is not.  It's very clear to me that Joelle Jones wants to have fun with this character, and it's fairly infectious.

Jordie Bellaire's colors must also be mentioned.  Wonder Girl represents a multitude of skin tones, all of them aesthetically pleasing.  Furthermore, there's burnished armor, the red white and gold of Superman and green melodic seascapes.

Above all, Wonder Girl feels like a crash course in the history of Wonder Woman.  There's the historical element in the dream.  A modern day story.  A return to Themyscira.  A visit to Mount Olympus.  Nazis are the only thing missing.

Yara bears some sort of link to an Amazonian heritage, but she's neither savage or stupid.  That's something a lot of Wonder Woman scholars miss.  

All Star Comics #8

The Amazons in the original Wonder Woman stories weren't the feral warrior-women of mythology.  They were a sophisticated mutually cooperative society whose longevity led to an advancement of technology and a near Utopia.  A radical notion when you think about it.


Keeping track of Stargirl?  Courtney Whitmore alias Stargirl has a lot of staying power.  She debuted on television in Smallville and returned to the medium fighting Nazis in Legends of Tomorrow.  


After the CW's Crisis on Infinite Earths, Courtney premiered on a restructured contemporary Earth Two in her own eponymous series.  Now deservedly heading toward its second season.


Originally known as the new Star-Spangled Kid, Stargirl was created by Geoff Johns and Lee Moder, for the series Stars and Stripe.  

One of the best series DC ever produced in the post-Crisis.  Stargirl made the jump to the New 52, debuting in Justice League of America before moving to the friendlier Justice League United where she had the honor of fighting alongside Batgirl.

Infinite Frontier erased the slate and facilitated the reintroduction of Stargirl.  Make no mistake.  For Geoff Johns, this is personal, not a Mary Sue.  Courtney Whitmore is based on Johns' sister, who lost her life in the explosion of TWA Flight 800.

The latest version of Stargirl borrows some facets from the new television series.  Pat Dugan is her stepfather and sidekick, which she emphasizes, in the Spring Break Special


She talks about Stargirl being her destiny.  The Staff is alive and chose her.  Of course since Geoff Johns is heavily involved with the series.  One can say he's borrowing from himself.



In Stars and STRIPE and subsequent continuities, none of this was exactly the case.  Courtney became the Star-Spangled Kid to mainly needle Pat, who yes, built STRIPE.  Meant to recall his former identity.  Stripesy.


When his power became internalized, Jack Knight the son of the original Starman Ted Knight gave Courtney his staff.  The staff wasn't alive, nor magical.  Rather, it was a reconfiguration of the original Star Man's wand.  It was science.

None of these fusions make a bean of a difference.  Neither does the Shining Knight now sporting a beard like he does on the television series.  Johns probably in hindsight would have liked to have made these changes.

I don't know what DC and Johns plans for Stargirl.  This double-sized Spring Break Special however is pleasing for many a geek, such as myself and worth the extra coin.  I'd be happy with just more seasonal specials if a series isn't in the works.

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The story is about the Clock King attempting to travel back in time and undoing his greatest misdeed.  He sees the flaw in being a villain and wants to convince his younger self to eschew a life of crime. 


You may know the Clock King as Temple Fugate.  The classy time master from Batman the Animated Series.  This is not the Clock King from the comics.  Here's the historically accurate Clock King from Stargirl Spring Break Special fighting his arch foe.

The Green Arrow makes his restored appearance in the Seven Soldiers of Victory.  Geoff Johns purposely kept the Green Arrow out of the New 52's reboot of the Justice League.  I wonder if he intended for the explanation for his absence to be the elegant one found in the Stargirl Spring Break Special.  No, no.  No spoilers for this one.


In another fusion.  Green Arrow partners with the new Speedy, meant to parallel Thea Queen from The Arrow.  


I just miss Thea.  That's why.

The Arrow actually introduced Emiko as Oliver Queen's second half-sister.  Roy Harper the original Speedy was also one of the original Seven Soldiers of Victory.  Johns' solution to the multiple appearances of Green Arrow and Speedy gives a better reason for Harper becoming involved with drugs and/or alcohol. As of this writing, the New 52 expunged Harper's needle addiction for a bottle.


The Seven Soldiers--Green Arrow, Shining Knight and the Vigilante--ask Pat Dugan to join them on a new mission.  The lady is the new Crimson Avenger created by Geoff Johns and Scott Kollins.  She didn't bank on the kids joining the show and strongly recommends their departure.



The mission takes the Seven Soldiers into the past to save the timeline.  Johns doesn't fool around with the Seven Soldiers.  This is a task worthy of their attention.  It's worthy of the Justice League's attention as well as the Justice Society's attention, but neither organization is at the table right now.  

Courtney and Emiko of course have no intention of butting out.  Somehow they're part of this.  They wouldn't be in the vicinity otherwise.  At least, that's their thinking, and they may be correct.  Time is in flux.


The original Crimson Avenger at the wheel

Make no mistake, I've had beefs with Johns' handling of stories involving the old heroes of the DCU before, but not this time.  His tale just crackles, and he's perfectly partnered by Todd Nauck.  Nauck's art is full of energy, and his style snaps.  He's even better here than he was on the highly recommended Young Justice.