Best Shots Extra: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 50th Anniversary, More


Amazing Spider-Man #692

Written by Dan Slott, Dean Haspiel and Joshua Hale Fialkov

Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado, Dean Haspiel, Giula Brusco and Nuno Plati

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulous and Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

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It's been 50 years since Peter Parker went from a teenage wallflower to a pop culture superstar, and now Dan Slott's giving him a present: his very own sidekick.

Yeah, we all know how the Parker luck is going to work out there, don't we?

For those who have been crying foul at the introduction of Alpha, the squeaky clean-looking blond sidekick that Marvel's media machine was heralding a few months back, you can rest easy — Slott knows that it's not a great idea, either. Spidey doesn't have a sidekick for a reason, and so watching him struggle with this bitter pill makes for some interesting compare-and-contrast action, all while setting up some nice conflict to come.

For this issue, Slott has a tricky balancing act here, having to introduce Andy Maguire, a bland wallflower so wallflowery that he is the epitome of "average" — that is, until he has a close encounter at a scientific demonstration not unlike that of a certain Peter Parker. As a superhero concept, Alpha is nondescript enough that you know he's not long for this role, but as a foil for Peter, it's classic Dan Slott. We've seen Peter's smarts on display, we've seen his resolute determination to ward off death, we've seen him stand mano a mano against the Avengers themselves.

And now we're back to "with great power comes great responsibility." Granted, Slott doesn't get much farther than introducing Peter and Andy, but it's clear how the story is going to end. Unfortunately, as an opening chapter, that doesn't give us much sizzle to go with that steak — Alpha is kind of the Poochie of the Marvel Universe right now, and he takes up so much page space that it's hard to balance him out. By the time we see what's really going on behind the scenes, the comic is already over, making things feel short as opposed to fast-paced.

That said, artist Humberto Ramos certainly isn't hard on the eyes here. His cartoony style does work nicely with this teen-centric story, as even the masked Spider-Man has a world of expressiveness in his eyes. Ramos also really ups the ante in terms of pure speed, particularly an image where Alpha zooms towards the murderous scaly creature known as Giganto. Ramos is at his best, however, when he's able to add some narrative visually, and a two-page spread where Spidey and Alpha team up is easily the highlight of the book. But sometimes Ramos and inker Victor Olazaba have their slip-ups, particularly when Alpha suddenly gets weird wrinkles or has his face covered in shadow.

The backup stories, meanwhile, have their ups and downs. Dean Haspiel's story, which features a common crook getting his own Spider-Man costume after Peter threw his away back in those golden Lee-Romita years, has an okay message to it, but the execution comes off as particularly saccharine, and is fairly telegraphed even for the shortened page count. Haspiel's sharp-shaped characters will win points for their alternative look, but the overall product is fleetingly memorable at best.

Joshua Hale Fialkov fares much better in the other backup with artist Nuno Plati, in a brisk story that shows everything that Spider-Man is about — he's a hero who tries hard, has terrible luck, but always manages to eke out a victory with his gigantic heart. Plati has a thin, wispy style reminiscent of Emma Rios, and I love the way he plays up Fialkov's smart-alecky, neurotic sense of humor by using body language. Spidey looks constantly bemused, and the situations that Fialkov throws him in are both refreshingly new and classic Spider-Man. His story does stutter, however, when he focuses just a little too long on a young kid who inevitably ties the narrative's threads together. Still, for my money, I think I might have liked Fialkov's story even better than Slott's.

As far as anniversaries go, I wouldn't say that Amazing Spider-Man #692 is the biggest celebration I've ever seen — but that said, I have the feeling that eight issues from now we might see some real fireworks. This comic has solid execution for a less-than-ideal concept, and paired with one particularly good backup story, that does push this comic into the "win" column.


The Flash #12

Story and Art by Frances Manapul and Brian Buccelatto

Letters by Wes Abbott

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

With Flash #12, the Rogues are officially back in full force, waging war not only against the Scarlet Speedster, but against their former allies Captain Cold, and the Pied Piper.  In this action packed issue, Frances Manapul and Brian Buccellato inch ever closer to the consistency they've tried to achieve for the past year.  While there are still some missteps, their novel approach to updating many of Flash's old enemies, bolstered by Manapul's gorgeous art, is finally positioning Flash as a title to watch.

After starting their run on Flash by introducing a host of new concepts and villains, it's interesting to see Manapul and Buccelatto getting back to basics with the Fastest Man Alive.  Showing what they can do with the tools already available to the Flash mythos, and accentuating their updated, shiny new take on each one is already more compelling than what's come before.  While there has certainly been a focus on creating an "all new, all different" take on each character in the DC reboot, it almost feels like some creators have to earn the readers' trust before piling on unfamiliar and wholly original ideas.  That may be what's happening here, is that I'm finally starting to trust this team's interpretation of the Flash and his world, and that trust, combined with the team's legitimate growth as storytellers are ridding me of my skepticism towards Barry Allen as a leading man.

There are some really great, show-stopping moments here.  I particularly loved Barry's first encounter with Glider, and the aftermath as he tries to save the life of Dr. Elias while the Rogues seed chaos all around him.  Manapul's take on Glider as airy, fragile, and unearthly beautiful is striking and haunting, particularly as she tells her once beloved brother, Captain Cold, to "drop dead."  The intensity and complexity of the Rogues' plan definitely kicks the old team up a notch on the threat scale, elevating them from a bunch of bank robbers with ray guns to a force capable of pulling off a complicated plot.  I wish that more of the previous 11 issues had been spent building towards this moment, rather than focusing on new, and honestly underwhelming villains, and the complicated and confusing subplot with Dr. Elias.  There are minor quibbles here and there within the actual issue, such as bits of dialogue that sound like they're straight out of "The Room" - "I got a new wife... We're planning on some kids" - but by and large any problems with this book stem more from the big picture than from these 20-odd pages.

Manapul and Buccelatto's take on the Rogues reads like exactly the kind of story I'd have liked to see this title telling at its launch.  I'm learning more about who this Barry Allen is, and about his history, than I did from any of their previous story arcs.  I feel like this arc is the creative team proving they know The Flash, showing their chops and drawing in old fans, while showing the new ones what this book is all about.  I know that, from here, I'll be much more open to seeing the ways in which Manapul and Buccelatto can take my expectations and turn them upside down, introducing new concepts and ideas while holding on to the core of these characters.  I only wish they had made that move their opening volley, rather than playing the long game and almost losing me in the first year.


Dragon Age: Those Who Speak #1

Written by David Gaider and Alexander Freed

Art by Chad Hardin and Michael Atiyeh

Lettering by Michael Heisler

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

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There is one thing Dark Horse Comics has proved over the past few years. Comics based on video game properties don't have to suck anymore. Dragon Age: Those Who Speak #1 hopes to continue that trend. Taking place 10 years after the events in Dragon Age: Origins, Those Who Speak works to bridge the gap between the two best-selling games. Writers David Gaider (who also wrote the bulk of the original game) and Alexander Freed have their work cut out for them. Do you write to the Dragon Age faithful, or assume your audience is coming in fresh? For better or worse, Gaider and Freed ran right down the middle and as a result, the story falters for it.

The bulk of this issue is exposition, told via the pirate captain Isabela. A character that is clearly inspired by Robert E. Howard's Bêlit from Conan, but lacking her unearthly allure and inner power. There is definitely potential in her character, but as she is presented, there is very little that makes her stand out. Indeed, that is the one major flaw I took away from Those Who Speak. None of the main characters truly stand out with an individual voice or quality. The dialogue is well-paced and definitely gets the job done, but it reads like one large monologue or caption.

Visually, Those Who Speak makes a strong presentation. Artist Chad Hardin does a good job of bringing the setting and the people within it to life. Like the games, the characters are presented as a strange mix of high fantasy and a Europe that never quite existed. His lines are expressive without being too exaggerated, unless called for. And as the bulk of this issue is all talking heads exposition, he does a good job of keeping the reader interested with differing camera angles and positions. When some good old fashion medieval combat finally starts up, Hardin really shines.

Although the moments are fleeting, they are appropriately savage, in line with the game this comic supports. These aren't noble duels to the first blooding. Heads go lying and guts are spilled. It is brutal and efficient. Helped, in no small part by the fantastic coloring by Michael Atiyeh. Too often in fantasy comics, the colors are over the top as they attempt to reinforce the surreal setting. Atiyeh takes the opposite approach and blends the skin tones to give the people a strong sense of presence. Human or otherwise, the characters feel real. And yet, when the battle begins, Atiyeh has fun with color tone and temperature. With colors altering to match the fighting style or visceral event happening in the panel. It's not at all subtle and a huge help to an otherwise lackluster story.

To be sure, Dragon Age: Those Who Speak #1 is competent storytelling. But it brings little to the overall mythology of the series. People that know little of the game will feel lost by the various historical references. While longtime fans will wonder when the book will get to the actual story. There is some potential within the series, both in the characters and the plot. However, Gaider and Freed need to pick up the pace if they want to hold the readers interest. Strong pencils and coloring can only carry a book so far.

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