Best Shots Extra: SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE Vol. 2, A+X #1, More

 

Superman: Earth One, Volume 2

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Art by Shane Davis, Sandra Hope, Barbara Ciardo

Published by DC Comics

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

DC’s Superman property is in turmoil right now. Too many books with too many writers that have conflicting ideas have diluted the brand, but J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis’ Superman: Earth One returns with a second volume to return something resembling a singular vision to the Man of Steel. That said, though their Supes story has a lot less continuity to juggle, it might only stand so far above the rest because at this point even an average story seems exceptional.

Shane Davis' character work is exceptionally strong, especially with Clark. This is a Superman for the 21st century he exudes strength and power on the page. Similarly, Clark is nebbish and awkward in exactly the way someone who is keeping a secret would be. Davis’ designs for the Parasite are decent but he comes off as a bit laughable. I mean, he looks like he’s gargling balls from the McDonald’s play pit almost all the time. Still, Davis’ storytelling is great, almost cinematic at times. Barbara Ciardo’s colors are weighty without being too brooding and Sandra Hope’s inks are a perfect complement to Davis’ style.

Probably the strongest part of J. Michael Straczynski’s writing is his Clark Kent. In the first volume, we’re privy to Clark’s struggle with his immeasurable power and his eventual decision to (somewhat begrudgingly) dumb himself down for the good of everyone. JMS continues this idea and makes it more personal by relating it directly to his interactions with other people and namely members of the opposite sex. As Pa Kent so succinctly puts it, “Man of Steel. Woman of tissue paper.” It’s a little awkward and may give you a bit of an unwanted mental image but them's the breaks for ol’ Clark Kent, and JMS isn’t wrong to address them. Clark’s struggles with power are front and center and they are something that he must confront literally every time he does just about anything.

Unfortunately, decent character work with Clark comes at the expense of other characters. Perry White and Jimmy Olsen make it through unscathed but Lois Lane becomes an uncharacteristically sneaky and paranoid character whose actions don’t really line up with the intelligent go-getter that we are used to. She displays little news judgment for someone who holds herself in such high regard. Though, maybe her carelessness and tunnel vision could be attributed to her obvious obsession?

Lisa Lasalle, the neighbor that has Clark in fits of sexual frustration, starts out as a solid supporting character that forces Clark to rethink everything he’s known. Unfortunately, JMS strips her of anything resembling a personality once Clark turns her down and she becomes obsessed with having sex with him. Add her to Lois, Theresa (the big bad’s sister) and Eddie the junkie, and we have a whole lot of supporting characters meant only to move the plot along or attempt to add some vapid poignancy to the plot.

I haven’t talked all that much about Superman. That’s because Parasite is a boring villain that only serves to reinforce JMS’ already pretty heavy-handed power themes. I wholly understand trying to parallel Superman and Clark Kent. I wholly understand forcing them to deal with different situations that still relate to a common theme. I don’t even think that this book is all that bad compared with the mess that the Superman books are currently in. But if the point of the Earth One series was to give new readers a jumping on point, I’m still going to recommend All-Star Superman every time.

Superman: Earth One, Volume 2 a not a perfect book by any means. It gets by on being marginally better than the rest of the Superman product out there, and definitely having the best art. But it’s time for some iconic villains. JMS has done a good job building Clark up at this point but he hasn’t faced a threat that actually feels like it’s going to beat him. Thankfully, he hints at something big coming soon in the closing pages. Hopefully, if the art remains the same, the writing can pick up and this team can deliver some really meaningful entries in the future.

 

A+X #1

Written by Dan Slott and Jeph Loeb

Art by Ron Garney, Dale Keown, Danny Miki, Cam Smith, Mark Morales, Wil Quintana and Frank D'Armata

Lettering by Clayton Cowles and Albert Deschesne

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

What should have been a winning combination just doesn't add up to a strong enough debut, as the first issue of A+X hits the stands. There's plenty of potential to this book, and some A-list talent on board, but $3.99 is a hefty price to pay for a book that still feels like anthology fodder.

The opening story, featuring a World War II-era team-up between Captain America and Cable, seems to be a victim of time itself — namely, there isn't quite enough space to get plot, theme and character dynamics all in the span of 11 pages. Dan Slott has a few nice moments in the script, particularly explaining the team tactics of Cap and his sidekick Bucky, but the characterization of both his leads — namely Cap and Cable — feels flat, barely transcending exposition.

The artist of that story, Ron Garney, also comes in fits and starts. The beginning of the story, with the talkier bits of exposition, come off a bit slow, with Cap in particular coming off a bit bulky, but once the action picks up, things definitely start ramping up. Garney's use of composition and perspective is great — a Sentinel looming overhead looks massive, even with a letterbox panel, and watching Cap dive shield-first into a laser blast shows both how agile and just plain tough the Sentinel of Liberty truly is.

The second story, featuring Wolverine and the Hulk, has similar pitfalls. Jeph Loeb's story is mainly an action sequence, but to his credit his simple opener — onetime rivals Wolverine and Hulk arguing over the last slice of cake — is chuckle-worthy. And while the surprise of seeing the duo's future selves is a nice hook, the problem is that the rest of the comic is just fight choreography — and not particularly striking choreography, either.

Much of that is also artist Dale Keown's doing. His character designs are great, particularly his larger-than-life Hulk, but once the characters are put in motion, he seems to lose his thunder. For example, Days of Future Past Wolverine slices at his younger counterpart's face, but there's barely any connection to show how hard the blow might have felt. Combined with some weird pacing from Loeb — seriously, a three-page denouement for a fight that lasts three pages itself? — and it doesn't feel quite worth the price of admission.

Maybe the big failing of A+X is that it doesn't quite live up to its core concept: Yes, we have an Avenger and an X-Man teaming up, but we never really see it last long enough to see the interpersonal sparks fly between these characters. The art looks fine, but we're not really seeing anything new with these team-ups. Here's hoping that as this series progresses, we'll see some bigger fireworks among Marvel's mightiest heroes.

 

Justice League Dark Annual #1

Written by Jeff Lemire

Art by Mikel Janin and Ulises Arreola

Letters by Ryan Sook

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

While Jeff Lemire and Mikel Janin's Justice League Dark has been pretty close to perfect since Lemire took the reigns, the last couple issues have been showing a few seams. While the book's first annual does a lot right in wrapping up Lemire's first major arc, too much effort spent shoe-horning in auxiliary and unrelated characters breaks up the pacing a little too much.

The thing that has made JL Dark so successful under Lemire's pen is his ability put these characters and concepts together without forcing it, and to integrate their disparate concepts of magic without attempting to establish restrictive "rules" or "systems." Like magic itself, Lemire's concept of the DC Universe's last line of mystical defense is full of possibilities and interpretations that work together even when they seem like they shouldn't fit. That's why it's more than a little jarring when characters like Frankenstein, Amethyst, and Andrew Bennett are thrown into the mix with little fanfare, mostly as plot devices or transitional tools.

The character that fares the best among the team, and is most likely to stick around, is Frankenstein, whose adventures Jeff Lemire was writing until very recently. Amethyst does little more than serve as a MacGuffin to re-empower magical wunderkind Tim Hunter, and Andrew Bennett's appearance makes even less sense, given the speed at which he falls in line with Constantine, with whom Bennett had recently been almost violently at odds. It's not that these characters shouldn't be here, it's that their last minute inclusion in the plot seems so abrupt and forced, jeopardizing the dynamics at play in the group, and selling so many of the characters short of their potential in the cast.

Fortunately, when it comes to the issue's actual plot, it's all about twists and turns. While an extended sequence of exposition at the recently revealed villain Nick Necro's hand has potential to drag, the annual's extended format gives artist Mikel Janin, one of DC's best and most consistent artists, plenty of room to work his magic, and for Lemire to really frame the chapter within the story. And, to say that the story's ending is surprising is something of an understatement. When the fabled Books of Magic are finally revealed, there's something less magical and more decidedly technological about them that DC readers are likely to recognize. The potential story directions after the reveal are more than a little thrilling.

While this book represents some of Lemire's first missteps with his run on JL Dark, they're greatly outweighed by the gorgeous artwork, the spot on characterization, and the twisting, turning plot. Lemire has done his best to establish the DC Universe's magical universe as a place not defined by light or dark - despite the title's implications - but as the grey area that exists away from the world of conventional heroes and villains, and the culmination of his first arc has put a fine point on that concept, showing that it's not the tools you have, it's what you do with them. Jeff Lemire and Mikel Janin are using theirs to redefine their own corner of the DCU, and it's pure magic.

 

Archie Archives Vol. 7

Written by various

Art by Bill Vigoda, Irv Novick and Bill Woggon

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

’Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

If you’re used to the classic Archie comics style established in the ’60s and ’70s, seeing the Riverdale crew through the lens of artists from the ’40s is jarring. Betty and Veronica don’t look like teenage girls so much as screen sirens, with their thick eyelashes, impossibly tiny waists and seamed nylons. Jughead’s nose is downright petite and Archie is, well, goofy-looking.

But the more you read the Archie Archives Vol. 7, a collection of stories from 1947, it becomes obvious that many of Archie’s charms are timeless. As devious Reggie Mantle takes a blackmail photo of Archie in a dress (he’s acting as a fitting model for Betty), it’s easy to imagine him doing the same with a smartphone in 2012. Archie’s perpetually broke and ping-ponging back and forth between rivals Betty and Veronica. The slapstick factor is high throughout. In other words, classic Archie. The collection gives readers the complete experience of these old stories, including the crossword puzzles and items like “Hollywood Tattle Tales” — Archie’s reports on the exploits of stars like Mickey Rooney and Lucille Ball.

While the vibe of the stories is familiar, it’s also striking to see how much times have changed. Archie Archives Vol. 7 is like a snapshot of yesteryear. When Archie tells Betty off for mistreating him, he writes her a letter. Betty and Veronica are taking a cooking class “so when they marry they can feel at home on the range.” In a downright alarming scenario, Archie's “pals” beat him up after mistaking him for a girl because he’s wearing a dress. There’s also an unintentionally funny moment when Archie blackmails Jughead by reminding him that he’s in possession of some love poems he once wrote.

The fare in this collection is familiar yet surprising, and it’s a no-brainer for Archie completists.

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