Best Shots Extra: FF Finale, SUPERMAN Beginning, More

 

Superman #13

Written by Scott Lobdell

Art by Kenneth Rocafort and Sunny Gho

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It's a new start for the Man of Steel, as Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort kick off their run on Superman in earnest. And while the overall mission statement of this book is still hazy, Lobdell and Rocafort do give this book it's own bold identity, with some big broad moves for DC's flagship superhero.

From the very first page, the thing you notice about this book is how striking it looks. That's all on Kenneth Rocafort and Sunny Gho, who remind me a lot of a sketchier Leinil Francis Yu. While Rocafort's wispy thin pencils occasionally make this comic seem more like a hallucinatory dreamscape, he does play up each page as over-the-top as he can. It's almost melodramatic to see Clark lifting against a veritable mountain of technological weight, but isn't that what superhero comics are about, at their heart? Even the (comparatively) down-to-earth scenes, like Clark quitting his job at the Daily Planet, seem tense to the point of nearly getting physical.

With Rocafort having such an arresting style, Scott Lobdell has two main objectives: The first is to put Clark in enough situations to properly utilize Rocafort, while also putting his own mark on Superman, both in terms of personality and status quo. The status quo change you might have heard already — namely, Clark pulling a "Jerry Maguire" and quitting the Daily Planet. Some of Lobdell's thoughts toward the press (like Clark railing against reporters becoming stenographers) are spot-on, while other bits (like Clark thinking it's acceptable in a newsroom not to file a story for five days) felt a bit more jarring. That said, some of the exposition still comes off a bit clunky, like Dr. Veritas offering to "take advantage" of Superman in his "weakened condition," and I'll admit it's tough to empathize with Clark's girl problems when he's still making out with Wonder Woman.

Even though Lobdell's newsroom scenes are what is supposed to humanize Superman — and let's be honest, that's been a big problem with the character in the New 52, with his chronologically challenged Action Comics really hampering the direction of the other Super-books — once he's got that out of the way, the book picks up. When you've got Kenneth Rocafort in your corner, alien dragon creatures look pretty terrifying, and Lobdell does his damnedest to keep up with him, utilizing Superman's powers in some very unorthodox ways. That said, right now they feel almost too much for the already-overpowered Superman, but I give the guy credit for thinking outside of the box.

This comic does, however, have plenty of rough edges. Rocafort's panel layouts do occasionally feel weird for weirdness's sake, and his interactions with Sunny Gho sometimes make the comic feel murky rather than energetic. There are a few panels, for example, where Clark's face seems so sketchy that Gho's angular coloring actually blurs his features out — a problem when you want to identify with the character. Meanwhile, Lobdell's plotting occasionally strains suspension of disbelief — why, for example, does Clark snap on his boss so quickly? (To be fair, Clark himself asks this question, too.) And while one surprise guest actually makes plenty of sense to include, the villain of the piece literally is hovering five feet from Superman, with not a flicker of recognition from the Man of Steel. Lobdell tries to work around the art gaffe in a caption, but it's a stumble instead of sticking the cliffhanger.

Today's norm for comics is this ultra-deliberate, super-planned style, and it's going to be very interesting to see Superman fly in the face of that. Because this is an opening issue, the sheer newness of this creative team is enough to pique reader interest, especially considering how listless this title had been alongside Action Comics and Justice League. There isn't so much a deeper theme or striking insight into Superman as a character here, just broad conflicts and big action. It's new, and it's different — only time will tell if this run turns out to be good.

 

FF #23

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Dragotta and Cris Peter

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

With his final issue of FF, Jonathan Hickman reminds us that the Future Foundation isn't about cosmic forces or super-science — it's about ideas. Big ideas don't have to have Galactus or parallel universes to get traction; on the contrary, Hickman focuses on immensely human concerns with this touching goodbye, and the questions he asks the Richards family — and his readers — are big enough to not need any answers.

While Hickman is known for his intricate, almost geometric planning and wonky abandon into Kirby-esque sci-fi, I find his "downtime" issues to be his most effective. The Fantastic Four have always been about family, and the Future Foundation has been the most generous spinoff of that initial concept: it's the extended family. It's the friends you make, it's the company you keep. And by focusing on Franklin Richards — mainly the adult version from the future, but also his interactions with his young present-day self — Hickman gives us one last hurrah with those nearest and dearest to "Mister" Franklin.

But ultimately, those check-ins are a facade for something else, a story structure skeleton built on nostalgia and our established feelings for the Richards crew. What Hickman is really going for is a big idea. Well, several. And they really ring true to the reader, because you know they ring true for Hickman, too — you feel that catharsis when Franklin Sr. tells his young counterpart that it's okay not to be as smart as his brainiac little sister Valeria, and that his youthful exuberance is a gift, not a weakness: "Intelligence without imagination is pretty much useless."

That's only the beginning of Hickman's insights, which he props up masterfully against his all-too-human (even the inhuman) characters, as well as a very meta realization that This Is It for his run. Questions about imagination, about art, about ignoring the rules and finding what's out there in the world, all these big thoughts get tossed around like confetti in this comic. I'll be honest, when I finished reading this comic, I only waited a couple of minutes for picking it right back up and delightedly jumping back in again. Never has the Marvel Universe seemed so wondrous; and perhaps more importantly, never has it made our own real-world universe seem so inspiring.

Artist Nick Dragotta, meanwhile, is the perfect executor of Hickman's ideas, presenting the extraordinary in a way that's also human and low-key. He's not here to blow your head off with the Kirby krackle or the widescreen moments, but instead Dragotta infuses real soul into his characters. One of the most powerful moments of the story is a scene with the adult Franklin and his parents, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman. Seeing the fear, the doubt on Sue's face is enough to put a lump in your throat. Yet Dragotta also knows how to ramp up the fun, particularly with a free-associative sequence featuring vampires, dinosaurs and anything else you can imagine. Dragotta and Hickman are a perfect team, and it's really heartening to know they'll continue their collaboration with Image's East and West.

The universe might not be in danger anymore, but that doesn't stop Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta from producing on of their best — if not the best — issue of FF ever. Ultimately, this is a comic about facing your doubts with imagination, not fear, and seeking bold new worlds with nothing but imagination and curiosity to power you. As far as individual issues go, Hickman and Dragotta have created something fantastic. And as far as the conclusion of FF is concerned?

They've created something perfect.

 

Invincible Iron Man #527

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Salvador Larroca and Frank D'Armata

Letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

In their run on Invincible Iron Man, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca have accomplished something truly remarkable.  For around sixty issues, they have cranked out tales of Tony Stark in all his genius, hubris, and heroics without a missed date or a fill-in, and while the stories haven't always hit the mark, the best of their run may constitute some of the best Iron Man comics of all time.  In terms of their final arc, while it did seem overlong in its build up, the conclusion was satisfying and fitting, and left Tony Stark in a place where Kieron Gillen, and, apropos to the final scene, Brian Bendis, can take him anywhere they want to go, mostly free from plot hooks, loopholes, and hanging threads.

"The Future" was exactly the kind of story that should wrap a long-running comic, pitting the hero against his greatest enemy's most diabolical plan, tying in characters from throughout the run, and tying off plot threads that have been dangling since the earliest issues.  Flawed as it may have been, with some slightly oblique concepts and a little too many filler pages, the core of "The Future" was strong and engaging, sending Tony Stark into the heart of the Mandarin's fortress-city, and forcing him to find a way to break the Mandarin's control.  Shades of Iron Man's origin story provided a nice symmetry for this as the end of an era, as did the resurgence of concepts and characters from the start of Fraction and Larroca's run.

If there's a major downside to Invincible Iron Man #527, it's that it feels too much like exactly what it is, which is a wrap-up issue.  There aren't a lot of spinning wheels, but much of the page count is dedicated to vignettes that close loopholes and plot angles from earlier in the run rather than crafting a story.  In a way, the issue mimics the course of the title as a whole, following Stark from stopping an amateur terrorist attempting to misuse his technology, to a confrontation with Shield, to a period of secession from contact with others, and finally to the final scene, where he tells his friends that he's taking a vacation - in space - setting the stage for the next wave of Iron Man stories.  There are plenty of things resolved and established in this issue, such as the confirmation that neither James Rhodes not Pepper Pots have any kind of Iron Man armor, the death/disappearance of Sasha Hammer, and Stark's establishment that his tech can no longer be co-opted by people wanting to make "dirty bombs" or other amateurish techno-weapons. The storytelling angle, which copies the shape of the run, is clever, and the wrap-up is distinct, but the issue doesn't do quite enough to stand on it's own.

That doesn't mean it isn't good, however, as Matt Fraction seems to be having fun with Tony Stark again, selling him at once as a recluse, a playboy, a superhero, and a scientist.  Fraction's grasp of the sarcastic, charmingly caustic voice that Robert Downey, Jr. has cultivated for the film version of the character has galvanized the character for the first time in decades, solidifying and popularizing a conception of the character that fits seamlessly in the vaunted triumvirate of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.  Salvador Larroca's art, complimented as always by Frank D'Aramata's colors is as distinct and clean as ever.  It's ironic that the issue's best visual moments come from scenes of Tony piloting an almost antique version of Iron Man's armor, laying waste to the concept that Iron Man's armor should be ever evolving visually as well as technologically, and harkening back to a time when Iron Man's look was as iconic as his attitude.  It's a fitting juxtaposition with the end of a story called "The Future," taking things all the way back to the past before opening the door to move forward.

There's a sense of calm and excitement that accompanies the end of Fraction and Larroca's Invincible Iron Man.  On one hand, I will miss the consistency, and the ingenuity of this creative team, but on the other hand, it was becoming more and more clear that Fraction at least was ready to move on, and like Tony Stark, when something gets to be old hat, Fraction languishes somewhat, leading to a definite perception that the book was reaching its logical creative endpoint.  Still, its more than remarkable that a team of this caliber got to do what they did with this title, seeing it from start to finish, and aside from a strange hiccup here or there (like the Fear Itself tie-in issues), tell a complete and compelling story of a man who can invent the world trying to understand himself.

 

Batman Incorporated #4

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by Colin Bell

‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Picking up from a cliff-hanger we were left dangling over two issues ago, Batman Incorporated #4 plays out as a stunning showcase for artist Chris Burnham, with a couple of revelations thrown in for good measure – some good, some not so much.

The issue sees Batman Inc. - the vast majority of them - square off against Talia al Ghul’s League of Assassins, in what’s essentially one extended rescue-cum-siege. In lesser hands this may be generic, or less than entertaining, but Morrison’s script ensures that there’s enough for followers of his ongoing Bat-saga to chew on while Burnham marches to the beat of his own drum to spellbinding effect.

It’s clear the artist is truly having fun here - there’s some pure dynamic storytelling as arrowheads break free of their panels and seem to come straight for you and bolas thrown by El Gaucho spin away and lead your eyes from one frame to the next. Elsewhere panels shatter from the sheer force of villains being punched through the gutters and there’s even some smoke-filled panels where Burnham employs a hatching effect that borders on rendering the scenes close to Post-Impressionism - it’s all bravura stuff. And it’s not without able assistance from Nathan Fairbairn, whose bright yellows and reds add a layer of pure-pop feeling to the book as a building burns, and some choice greens help shift the reader between the night-vision points of view of our heroes and the dark they fight in. For the eyes, the whole book is a veritable treat.

For all the fun of spending an issue or two at a time with the various members of Batman Inc. in the title’s previous volume, it truly is enthralling to see them all come together as a cohesive unit, with Morrison giving us small moments of interplay between reluctant team-mates and some effectively paced and well-staged fighting. I suspect most regular readers will be most excited about the revelation of Wingman’s identity, which while not massively left-field is perfectly in keeping with the groundwork laid over the past seven years of Morrison’s run.

A final page, unceremoniously announced reveal feels somewhat out of nowhere, artificial even, and solely engineered to set up what’s coming next month. It’s as if Morrison has left readers - much like the character the revelation affects - almost too in the dark, and is holding back too much information for it to have any real impact. It’s a bum note to go out on, but a minor one that ultimately doesn’t hamper what is overall still the most fun a person can have reading a Batman title these days.

 

The Chosen #1

Written by  Marcus Nispel, Gotham Chopra, and Sharad Devarajan

Art by Edison George and Liquid Comics

Lettering by Nilesh S. Mahadik

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

I'm not even sure where to begin on The Chosen #1. Film director Marcus Nispel takes a shot at comics with a tale of reincarnation, violence, and tons of tired cliches. In the opening panels, under a some rather heavy-handed captioning, monks tell a mother and father that their son is the chosen one. Shockingly, the parents are completely okay with these strangers entering their home in the gritty 8 Mile neighborhood to test their kid. Only to freak out once the monks declare they need to take young Ryan from their home and fulfill a prophecy. There is freaking out. There is kidnapping. SWAT teams. Dead monks. Messed up kid. Like I said, it doesn't take long for the story to cross over into all too familiar territory. And if that were my only issue with The Chosen #1, I'd be okay with a functional if brazenly uninspired story.

Except it isn't. After young Ryan is sentenced to 5 years in a juvenile detention center for defending himself and his female friend (and soon to be hero focus) the story, by Marcus Nispel, Gotham Chopra, and Sharad Devarajan turns from cliched to flat out mean and insulting. But you know what? I don't want to cover my concerns just yet. Instead, lets shift over to something positive about The Chosen #1. And that positive is the art by Edison George. George's line work is fairly strong and he does a good job of projecting the action on the page. When our hero Ryan is forced to tap into his latent powers, the fights are brutal and effective. Although his faces tend to blend into each other, he's at least trying to give each character a sense of distinction. So if anything, I hope this book works as a spring board for George and a comic that will better use his talents.

I'm just going to come out and say it. This isn't 1985. The threat of sexual assault against a teenage girl to force the hero into action is not acceptable. It wasn't acceptable then either. But at least one could argue a less than evolved insight into an implied threat in a comic. Almost 30 later, that is certainly not the case. When the evil juvie prison warden shows cell phone pictures of Ryan's only friend undressing in her room, he threatens that Ryan better start fighting or “my boys could stop lookin' and start doin'.” Well, I no longer want to read your book. Period. I understand you need something to drive your main character into action. Threatening to kidnap and sexually assault an underage woman is not how you do it. (And it should be noted, were this character of legal age, I would be no less angry).

As expected, this implied Woman in Fridge moment does indeed spur Ryan into action. Que a training montage that does nothing to redeem this comic. See, for the past few weeks I've been following the story of a young girl that was shot while trying to educate herself in Pakistan. By all accounts it looks Malala Yousufzai will survive this horrible event. What kind of a life she'll have as her body does it's best to recover is unknown. What I do know, for an undeniable fact, is that she a strong girl. So very strong that I had to step away when I read Ryan's secret janitor teacher saying he was weak. Weak like “a little girl.” And even worse, once Ryan improved. Once he was able to inflict pain with focus and intent, his teacher proudly proclaims “Little girl becomes bitch.” Yup. I'm tired of this not so subtle message. And were this not a family friendly site, I'd have even stronger words directed at Nispel, Chopra, and Devarajan.

But the thing is, I don't have the energy anymore to focus on this outdated and damaging philosophy. Or this book.

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