Pick of the Brown Bag
October 25, 2017
The Pick of the Brown Bag returns for another review of the week’s comic books. These issues should still be available on the racks at your local store. So if you were on the fence about something, this is the place that can push you off either way. You can also check me out on Twitter: #PickoftheBrownBag. This week, I review All-New Wolverine, Angel, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Captain Kronos, Fujitsu, Scooby-Doo Team-Up and Southern Cross, but first an interview…
Aurora is a science fiction/horror short film conceived, co-written and co-directed by Thomas Negovan. Gunslingers, a time traveling Nazi and a lovingly designed monster clash in the old west.
Currently, Mr. Negovan is seeking funding for Aurora’s post-production at Kickstarter. Only ten days left as of October 29, 2017. Negovan has already netted support from big names like Guillermo del Toro and Stephanie Leonidas of Mirrormask and Defiance as well as small names such as myself.
"Thomas Negovan was born and raised in Chicago, but now lives in LA. He’s written a number of art books, including definitive volumes on Clive Barker and David Mack. In 2012 he gave a TED Talk on archaic technologies called "By Popular Demand." More of that video and other goodies can be found at Negovan’s Kickstarter page.
Ray: How much did being an art historian help you prepare this film in writing, production, etc.?
Tom: Being an art historian was integral to the process- all my collaborators came from my time spent in that world, and it also gave me the attention to detail in storytelling and to historical aesthetics that made the movie what it is.
Ray: Interesting. With that in mind, was there a specific movement or favorite artist that influenced your filmmaking?
Tom: Definitely German Expressionism for the shapes of dark and light.
Ray: The story takes place in the 1800s, Aurora, Texas. Aurora for those not in the know is the site of a famous alleged UFO sighting. It’s clear how you conceived of gunslingers taking on a space creature, but what’s unclear, even with your appreciation for German expressionism, is what catalyzed the inclusion of a time traveling Nazi?
Tom: Conspiracy theorists in the 1940s and 50s believed that UFO sightings in that era were an experimental aircraft called Die Glocke…We loved the idea that they were right, and tied the two eras together with the premise that the experimental engine propelled the test pilot through time.
Ray: Nicely done. That makes sense from a wilder universe point of view. So, the idea is all put together. Next comes the casting, and I can see from your video and a little research on IMDB, that you’ve netted some serious international acting talent. Can you explain how you managed to get them involved in your project? One is Jack Campbell, a big name from Australia, and the other is English actor Robert Boulter, who is from the British legacy Casualty—a long running medical drama.
Tom: Jack is someone that I reached out to pretty blindly, luckily he loved the project and was excited to get on board. He's got one of the best movie voices I've ever heard, and there's no question when you watch that guy that he's 100% movie star like Colin Farrell or Russell Crowe. Australia knows it: the two most-watched television episodes in Australian history both had him in a lead role. I feel very lucky that I was able to get him into my movie.
Rob is a really close friend of mine. He's better known in the theater world than the TV or film world- he's starred with a number of people that have gone on to become huge British names, but for some reason that theater stuff never comes up on the Internet. So he is completely under the radar, and has that brilliant British stage skill set. My buddy Aaron and I wrote this movie specifically around just getting to make something with Rob.
Like a lot of artists, Rob is just a hair away from becoming a household name – the casting directors for Game of Thrones had him in for a small part and opted not to use him because they said they really wanted to save him for a larger role. That's very flattering, but a lot of times what happens is what DID happen- you get into the "better" basket, but there are only so many roles to go around and the higher you go the fewer seats exist.
And he probably isn't supposed to talk about this, but if you do a little searching on Rob's name and Star Wars you will discover that he was actually FILMED for a major role that sadly got cut. I believe that you see fragments of him in flashback but not the full sequences.
Ray: I’m aware of this phenomenon. It must be so frustrating for any actor. At least though, with the advent of DVD, your scenes can appear in the extras, and there’s definite hope for rescue. Matt Smith was in In Bruges, but is now forever known as the Doctor. So, are there any other names you would like to drop that worked behind the production on sets, costuming and/or special effects?
Tom: The Fledermaus costume was designed by Brom, he's one of the most famous Fantasy painters alive, and Ritual is a studio that does gorgeous fashion- they made the suit. The creature was built by Rayce Bird, he won SyFy's Face Off...And the movie poster was created by Dave McKean!
Ray: Thank you, Tom. Check out the Kickstarter link. If you like what you see and can spare a few bucks, please make it so. Onward with the comic book reviews.
The most mediocre book of the week is sadly Batgirl. The story began with Batgirl and Nightwing being lured to a double murder by suicide. It’s mind control. That’s how. This led the less than dynamic duo to reminisce about a heretofore unknown episode in their crimefighting careers. The enigma isn’t really surprising since like the other DC superheroes, much of Batgirl’s and Robin’s history has been changed if not outright erased. I’m not upset about that. The post-Crisis was detrimental to every character. That era of crippled and dead chicks expunged the Bronze Age where Robin and Batgirl worked best. So, it deserved destruction.
Nightwing’s and Batgirl’s investigative roads draw to a pulverized and hospitalized Mad Hatter. Obviously in no shape to be the culprit. It looks like the obvious answer is the right one. It’s the friend that nobody heard of until today, or is it?
This chapter is so dull that your answer will likely be I don’t care. Hope Larson and Chris Wildgoose are so intent to present a Nightwing and Batgirl relationship that’s never going anywhere, they forget about instilling drama. The detective work is drowsy; the conflict non-existent. The victims of the piece have an easy time of it when compared to the first ones. Giallo this isn’t, but neither is it a remotely interesting mature mystery or consequential all-ages drama. The story and artwork just strive to exist. Not actually bad, but not good by a long chalk either.
A much more interesting walk through the past occurs in Angel. To a certain extent, nothing can be changed in Angel. It’s not just because of the usual time travel butterfly squashing protocols. It’s that Angel is a spin-off of a finite television series. In truth, Angel and his colleagues are still battling the crap out out of Wolf, Ram and Hart in Los Angeles. Anything in the comic book series is only a fancy. I know what you may be saying to yourself. He’s got a lot of cheek talking about canon. Joss Whedon himself is behind the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel comic book series.
He was also behind this mini-series, which was far more like a traditional comic book. With Angel cast as a pure superhero battling a villain on an airship among other oddities outside of dark fantasy or horror. Whedon furthermore orchestrated the doings at IDW, and I’m sure you can say boo and show me a timeline where everything fits, but I don’t care about that either. Suffice to say, there are limits to what can happen to Angel and the cast in the comic book.
That said, writer Corinna Bechko is so assured in her dialogue and Geraldo Borges in his art, that they convince you otherwise.
Angel and Fred/Illyria have ostensibly been investigating a mystery that began with Angel’s vision at a haunted house. The investigation cracked physics with time travel, and now Angel is in the position to preclude his own history. This shouldn’t be fascinating because I know on some level Angel cannot change that much, yet Bechko brings in minor characters from the television series and makes them important. She complicates matters with a surprising solution to the Gypsy Curse that created Angel, and plays with the infamous grandfather paradox in a logical manner. These strengths create an illusion of possibilities when there can only be one.
The second issue of Dan Abnett’s Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter proves that the cult concept still has the legs to succeed. In terms of plot, very little happens. Carla and Professor Grost gather herbal weapons and ancient knowledge. Kronos faces the vampires. Carla experiences the lechery of common men. The comic book diverts little from the film, yet everything feels quite fresh.
The Kronos of the film was full of life, and singular in character. Time passed since the original film. Kronos grew darker, but Abnett is too good of a writer not to know that though this may be a truism, it’s also a trope of fiction. Abnett then counters Kronos’ dour mien with Carla’s different, feminist point of view. Normally, I like to keep the important scenes secret, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. Carla’s speech might just sway you to understand that Captain Kronos isn’t just some disposable vampire hunting book.
Carla fights sexism and misogyny throughout Captain Kronos. These themes underlay the film as well but not so explicitly. Carla’s original fate she discusses in another moment, and her rescue by Kronos and Grost demonstrated their differences from the man of the period. In the comic book we get ample examples of the latter.
While Carla and Grost prepare for battle, Kronos seeks it out, and in these scenes of swordplay and swashbuckling fluidly illustrated by artist Tom Mandrake, Abnett recalls the film’s other enjoyable attributes. Vampires are different species. They can’t all be killed the same way.
The film used this motif in various ways. Abnett and Mandrake stick to an evocative slaughter of vampires, displaying the Captain’s effectiveness, even as he walks into a trap.
All-New Wolverine presents excitement by way of Juann Cabal’s clean linework and Tom Taylor’s twisty story. Last issue, Taylor took the reader back to a time when the old Wolverine was alive and well.
The sword we discover in this issue is an answer to Daken. Perhaps loyal Logan fans knew that, but I only dabbled into the Canuck hero’s solo territory. I can’t say that I was an outright fan.
I first encountered Daken when he killed the Punisher and catalyzed the creation of one of the best things in comic books Frankencastle.
I still miss you Frankencastle! Daken however mellowed since then. He was one of the Wolverine Family lending their healing factor to the disease-stricken denizens of Roosevelt Island. Last issue, a strange cult known as the Survivors of X played off of that kindness to capture Dakken.
Laura got wind of the incident through Dakken’s severed hand, and she tracked him to the very lab that she arose from. Laura is a female clone of Wolverine, delivered the old fashioned way by her mother Sarah Kinney.
How good is All-New Wolverine? I don’t give a fig about Daken, yet I found his dire situation engrossing, and the Survivors of X cult scary.
The cult reflects some of the crazies in the real world. It becomes easy to root for Daken once you see the tortures inflicted and the threats promised, yet is it that easy? Taylor concludes All-New Wolverine with an enticing cliffhanger that makes you question what you just read.
Taylor and Cabal still aren’t remotely done with you. In between and intertwined with Daken’s capture, Laura’s find last issue begins to return to the real world. This could be a trap, or it could be the best thing to ever happen to Wolverine.
Blue Beetle begins a new story with a new writer. Chris Sebela joins regular artist Scott Kollins. Sebela crafts good characterization for young Jamie Reyes, his girlfriend Naomi and his schoolmates Paco and Brenda. The twin arguers appear to be secretly deflecting suspicion badly from a budding relationship. That might have been the intent all along from former writer Keith Giffin, but he pretty much just framed them as verbal sparring partners. Sebela takes it further. The kids are on a road trip funded unknowingly by Ted Kord.
Ted of course was the second Blue Beetle, and probably the most fondly remembered due to his being one of the founding members of the post-Crisis Justice League. It’s nice to see Ted still in the thick of Blue Beetle. Giffin first concocted the mentor relationship, but Sebela carries it through with less emphasis on Ted being a grump or funny man. With Ted's signing bonus in his hands, Jaime unwittingly leads the group to an encounter with strange phenomenon, foreshadowed in the prologue.
The presence of UFO enthusiasts struck me odd. Aliens exist in the DC Universe, and the general populace knows they exist. Blue for example mentions Superman. Superman and Supergirl are known to be the Last Son and Daughter of the doomed planet Krypton. Green Lanterns are known to wield alien rings. So, I just don’t get the excitement over some anal probing abductors, which they aren’t because of the clues laid out. Even if these fellows did exist, with Superman and Supergirl on patrol, the bug-eyed rectal pranksters wouldn’t last long.
In the opening of Scooby-Doo Team-Up the gang split from the sight and sound of bees.
The Bug-Eyed Bandit is an old Atom foe, who also turned up in The Flash and Arrow with a different gender and no goofy Silver Age costume.
I don’t mind spoiling artist Dario Brizuela’s accurate rendition because the Bandit is a mere soupçon to the real reason the Atom wanted to partner with Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby.
I was just talking to a friend about how lousy Atom’s sword and sorcery adventures are. I just never saw the need to make the Atom, who was cool enough already, into a miniature Conan the Barbarian. Sholly Fisch’s tale pays some tribute to the horrid, but he puts a different spin on the shtick by combining the theme with, in my opinion, a classic issue of World’s Finest.
The microscopic people aren’t just pulpy yellow-skinned humans anatomically finalized by Gil Kane and complete with an exotic hottie princess. They’re jaundiced alien humanoids that bear a striking, albeit kinder, resemblance to the nightmarish creatures in World's Finest.
Fisch furthermore creates a fairplay mystery that you can solve if you’re paying attention while maintaining the usual high level of gags and interaction. Even for the usually awesome Scooby-Doo Team-Up, this is a superior issue.
So I gave the second issue of Fujitsu a try since I mostly liked the first one. However, it’s still a pluses and minuses type of book. On the plus side is Fujitsu himself, an immortal boy who is a super-genius and Rachel his ex-girlfriend android, whom he actually built.
That raises a lot of questions. Of course, I can’t disparage anybody for building a sexbot, and he was cool enough to know when it turned out to be real. No need for a Blade Runner. In addition, the villain of the piece is already taking over the earth, and there’s an amusing nod to Trump and Pence going to prison, with a default President in their place.
On the downside, Fujitsu can take credit for the Theory of Special Relativity. I’m not fond of the literary practice of transferring actual accomplishments by actual people to fictional figures. Ah, but what about the Doctor says you. He doesn’t. The Doctor name drops a lot, but he doesn’t rob historical personages of their achievements. For example in the classic Doctor Who episode “City of Death,” the Doctor reveals that he physically wrote some of Shakespeare’s plays because Will sprained his wrist and that his attempt to change the words were ignored. Shakespeare still existed and wrote Shakespeare. When he couldn't write, he dictated. Take that dumbass conspiracy theorists.
Then there are the cadre of villains Wadlow releases to hunt down Fujitsu.
The League of Bad Puns are hit and miss, but they do provide a solid action set-piece for Fujitsu and Rachel. Fujitsu can be really smart or really groan worthy, but I’m leaning on the side of the good for this issue since it’s extremely well paced, and most of the pop culture references fit together without showing seams.
Southern Cross took its cues from industrial science fiction ushered in by Alien and continued by such films as Event Horizon. However, Becky Cloonan’s, Andy Belanger’s and Lee Louridge’s epic story went beyond that with sensible LGBT modifications, along with drug trading, smuggling and strange vistas that drive men and women mad. At the heart of this story stood Alex Braith.
In the first volume, Alex searched for her sister Amber. So she booked passage on the Southern Cross, only to seemingly fall victim to the same fate as her twin. Amber’s and Alex’s apparent death led to their father and Alex’s ex-lover seeking out the truth. That ruth lay in alien crystals and the memories of one of the sole survivors of the Southern Cross.
This is a pivotal issue of Southern Cross. It’s a stunner. it makes sense, and that’s really all I can say about it without giving away the goods.