Best Shots Extra: GREEN LANTERN #21, SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #11, More

Green Lantern #21
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Billy Tan, Richard Friend, Alex Sinclair and Tony Avina
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It has only been a few weeks since Geoff Johns unleashed his epic final issue of Green Lantern on the comic reading world, bringing to a close almost a decade of stories with the character. The unenviable task of following that run was made all the harder by an almost perfect final outing for the writer, where Johns somehow managed to tie up almost every story thread he had sewn over the last ten years. Indeed, Johns’s epilogue ensured that his voice would remain present in the book for another decade to come.

Writer Robert Venditti is the poor soul that has to follow that rather large opening act, and begins his first arc on Green Lantern with the ominously titled “Dark Days Ahead”. In many ways, Johns has been kind enough to leave Venditti with a completely clean slate, and he wastes very little time in throwing the Corps into the action. In an "answers first, questions later" introduction, we witness a group of Lanterns running out of green juice entirely. Flashing back to the aftermath of the previous issue, the freshly un-vaulted Guardians nominate Hal Jordan to be the new leader of the Green Lantern Corps, and he promptly sets about looking for new recruits. It’s not a moment too soon when Oa comes under attack.

One of the fine lines that Green Lantern #21 has to walk is finding the right balance between trying to at least match some of the action from the previous issue with introductory elements needed to launch this new direction. After the action-packed opening, Venditti spends half-a-dozen pages of Hal in conversation with Carol Ferris (who does costume up as Star Sapphire), the new Guardians and Kyle Rayner and finally Kilowog. It’s a necessary evil perhaps, reestablishing the status quo after such a period of upheaval, but it does have the double-edged sword of slowing the pacing down at a crucial point. Maybe it’s just hard to jog again after going at full-tilt for the last 12 months or more.

Of course, Venditti isn’t the only one that has to emerge in the shadow of someone else’s work. Billy Tan joins the title after Doug Mahnke’s impressive stand on the title since 2009’s “Blackest Night” arc. Although Tan has done very little work for DC in the past, and is primarily known for his X-Men work for Marvel, he effortlessly slips on the Lantern ring and instantly has a grasp on the fun elements that have always made Lantern titles visually interesting. At one point, he gets to cut loose with the prince of greed himself, the orange Larfleeze, and it is a marriage made in multi-spectral heaven. Coupled with Alex Sinclair and Tony Avina’s vivid colors, it’s a strong visual start for the artist.

Venditti is thrown in at the deep end with not just Green Lantern, but also by taking on responsibilities for Green Lantern Corps as well. In the final pages of this issue, we are given a whiff of what Venditti has in store for us in the coming issues, including the introduction of a new villain for the Forever Evil event in September. It is far too early to tell if the series is in safe post-Johns hands just yet, but it is undoubtedly pointed in the right direction.

Superior Spider-Man #11
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, John Dell and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulis
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Superior Spider-Man #11picks up with the scheduled execution of Alistair Smythe - the Spider-Slayer - as Mayor Jameson calls Spider-Man in to be on hand in the event of the all-but-guaranteed attempt at a prison break. While the convention is fairly standard, the story is less about a bad guy literally escaping from prison and instead focuses much more on two men who are trapped in prisons of a psychological nature.

Dan Slott and Christos Gage’s depiction of J. Jonah Jameson is one of the more compelling aspects of this story, as it adds a layer of depth and humanity to a character who is often portrayed in a much more two-dimensional manner. Even as we see hints of the old J.J.J. when he verbally lacerates subordinates whom he deems incompetent, Slott and Gage make it clear Jameson is a broken man seeking to find some means of salving the pains from his wife’s murder - and seeing Smythe executed is one quick remedy he plans to see take. Camuncoli does equally well in his rendering of Jameson, particularly in the subtle shifts in facial expression and body language to match Gage’s dialogue from the phone call with Otto to the waiting room scene.

The other prisoner of interest is Otto himself as he continues experiencing conflicted feelings over his body snatching. Octavius continues finding many aspects of Peter’s life to be a sort of purgatory where he must relive some of the most inane events from his past life. His complaints of being subjected to graduate study under a professor whom he originally tutored when they were in graduate school together should prove at least partially satisfying for fans that are still unhappy about Otto’s commandeering Peter’s body. He also chafes at being reminded that he is not fully in control of his professional life when his supervisor, Max, questions his use of company property without having gone through the appropriate channels. While Otto seems to have learned the lesson that “with great power, comes great responsibility,” he is clearly earning low marks when it comes to an even older lesson about how “pride goeth before the fall.” The question remains as to what sort of fall awaits the “good” doctor.

The discussion the possessed Spider-Man has with the soon-to-be executed Smythe is also darkly ironic. Otto coldly remarks that, unlike the Spider-Slayer, he is free to leave… and yet, given the haunting images of his past, decaying body, and the way in which Camuncoli positions Otto’s body during this exchange, there is little confidence imbuing the words. Otto may tell others - and himself - that he’s “free” but there seems to be too much lingering doubt and self-assuring statements to convince readers this is the case.

While this issue’s finale provides a visually exciting back-and-forth between these two prisoners, it is far more engaging when viewed as a battle between two criminal masterminds than a hero versus an arch-nemesis. Each attempts to prove he has been able to outthink the other: Smythe desperately attempting to escape from the prison while Otto stands before the doomed villain as living proof that he already has escaped from “The Raft”—even if Smythe can’t recognize the battle is lost before it’s even begun. Moreover, it creates yet another situation where Otto is confronted with a reality different from the one he strives to construct when facing Smythe’s execution. Dell and Delgado’s use of light and darkness in the inks and colors in this waiting room scene is especially well-done as Otto himself straddles the line between his own higher calling and more base desires, all of which is being publically played out in the guise of Spider-Man.

Longtime readers of superhero comics may recall DC Comics’ Batman: Knightquest and Knights End story arcs, which saw Bruce Wayne’s replacement, Jean Paul Valley, devolve into a more violent and extreme form of Batman. Jean Paul’s war was waged in the name of cleansing Gotham completely of its criminal elements as opposed to Bruce’s desire to save and redeem the city he loved. The result was fan outcry over such an unlikeable replacement. By the time Bruce returned to reclaim the mantle of the Bat, the “smoke and mirrors” of his being broken were quickly forgotten because fandom had been prepared by the creative teams to want him back. Reading Superior Spider-Man, it’s not hard to see a similar trajectory at work; however, issues like this one show the team behind this title is taking the time to inject some thoughtful elements into their villain-somewhat-turned-hero.

Green Arrow #21
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The last 12 months have seen Green Arrow go from fan-favorite to one of DC’s flagship heroes, thanks in no small part to the successful television series that almost bears his name. Unfortunately for the long-term fans, the New 52 version of Arrow has suffered a string of uneven writing, inconsistent art and misdirection for the character. The placement of Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino on the title for the long haul aided in the title’s cause, but it was going to take more than a couple of outstanding issues to restore reader faith in the flagging title. As Lemire brings this first major arc to a close, fan faith and the lead character alike are born again.

Assaulted in the Arizonan desert and thrown in the boot of a car, Oliver Queen has a long trip of exposition ahead of him. Thankfully, Lemire and Sorrentino may have struck upon the most interesting way imaginable to lay out all of the puzzle pieces without making us slog through pages of overwritten dialogue. As the enigmatic Magus assists Ollie into a trance-like dream state, he is unconsciously transported back in time to witness his father on that fateful island, searching for ‘The Arrow Clan’ and the Outsiders. It’s a discovery that will alter the way Ollie thinks about his green mantle.

One of Lemire’s aims with his first arc on Green Arrow appears to have been to renew the character, not simply giving him a fresh start but starting to lead him closer to the hero we know he is meant to be. While some of that has been bringing the character at least partially in line with his television counterpart, whether consciously or not, much of the last few issues have been about breaking Green Arrow down to his core elements. Gone are the globe-trotting adventures and threesomes with would-be assassins, and instead is an Ollie who finds himself at the bottom. A place, he notes in the final pages of this issue, “isn’t such a bad way to find a new way to be Green Arrow... a better way”.

Sorrentino has rapidly carved out his own distinctive art style on the title, using desaturated cutaways and other unconventional tools to boldly distinguish Green Arrow from other books in the DC line. In Green Arrow #21, he might just outdo himself, with Lemire simply providing “a lubricant to help the discovery process along”. A fish-eye lens shot of the island from above is nothing less than breathtaking, all the more because it is immediately followed by a nightmarish red, white and green vision of Arrow’s rogues gallery. To take it out there just that little bit further, several pages are told with Oliver and Magus hanging upside-down against a completely white background. It certainly stands out in the context of a mainstream comic, looking for all the world like an experimental indie.

Green Arrow #21is an ending, but also an awakening to new beginnings. The partnership of Lemire and Sorrentino have spent these last five issues lining up their shot, and they’ve ultimately hit a bullseye. It’s with great anticipation that we shall look forward to the next arc to see what they build on this solid foundation.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Age of Ultron #9
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Roger Bonet, Paul Mounts and Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

For somebody who runs a school, Wolverine can be pretty dumb sometimes.

That's the hard truth that plagues Age of Ultron #9, which abruptly departs from Brian Michael Bendis's new alternate Defenders-verse and goes back to the minutiae of time travel. Not only does this cosmic "undo" button rob this series of much of its stakes, but the fact that Wolverine's disastrous detour could have been avoided so easily makes it hard to root for anybody here.

Sometimes, when you write in bulk, you can wind up digging yourself into a hole. And in the case of Brian Michael Bendis, he did that one issue ago, when a maimed Tony Stark just asks Wolverine, "Why didn't you have Hank Pym just install a fail-safe into the original Ultron program?" That's... kind of a good idea. And apparently one neither Wolverine nor the Invisible Woman - wife of one of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe - couldn't have come up with on their own? Not when Mr. Snikt could bring the stabbity, clearly.

It may seem like a small nitpick to upend an entire story over, but Bendis hits us over the head with it again and again and again. Even though it took five issues for Wolverine and company to find a time machine in the first place, Bendis immediately gets him back in the saddle and back in time totally off-panel, completely discarding his brand-new universe after last issue's explosive cliffhanger. Furthermore, not only is this new solution so simple and obvious that your eyes might roll out of your head, but the sheer ease of Wolverine fixing his original time travel blunder is just too convenient. And the way Bendis cleans up his time-travel paradox? While it's got the most drama of the entire issue - which might be a backhanded compliment - its quickness also strains the logic of the story past the breaking point.

In terms of the art, this is definitely Carlos Pacheco's time to shine. Brandon Peterson wraps up the Age of Stark universe, and injects the perfunctory action sequence with a little bit of energy, but it's Pacheco's take on the dueling Wolverines that really is the highlight of the issue. Even though it's a little weird, a little cheesy, a little too easy to have an Ultimate-style Wolverine side-by-side a Wolverine in his original Hulk costume, it helps the reader immensely in terms of figuring out who is who. I also love the anatomy Pacheco brings to Wolverine - he's not a lithe, chiseled superhero, but a bulkier, shorter brawler who really stands out. Pacheco's storytelling is also really strong here, as the silent pages where Logan and Sue think about what they've done are some of the best beats in the book.

That all said, we're one issue away from the end of Age of Ultron, and its glaring plot holes have proven to be a far greater threat to the integrity of the Marvel Universe than any killer android. It's clear there is some method to the madness - Bendis's warnings about the abuse of time travel is an intriguing thread that has popped up in a lot of Marvel books lately - but the actual execution of these ideas feels misguided. Maybe it's for the best that soon Marvel will be pulling the plug on this wayward event.

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