Best Shots Reviews: THE FLASH #30 (Wally West!), BATMAN ETERNAL #3 (Stephanie Brown!) More

Early DC April Previews
Batman Eternal #3 page 1
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League United #0
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Mike McKone and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Zero issues are always a special kind of tricky. At best they can be used as a launch pad for your series; simultaneously introduction readers to the tone and main characters of your book. A baited hook for your readers. At worst they can seem indulgent and hard to connect with; a bloated bit of arcane storytelling stocked with characters that you, as a reader, frankly don’t care about. Fortunately for us, Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone’s Justice League United #0 deliver a fun, breezy, and easy to pick up introduction into the lives and adventures of The New 52's newest and most down to Earth, for the most part, incarnation of the Justice League.

Jeff Lemire, riding a creative high since the endings of his long-running Animal Man series and his creator owned Trillium, cuts right to the chase in the first pages of Justice League United. Lemire starts with a big blast of superhero action, giving us a tease of what the team looks like and is capable of accomplishing together. Its easy to forget just how great Jeff Lemire is at standard tights and fights kind of books, but in a mere three pages he blasts the cobwebs away with this ragtag team, delivering a solid opening for this issue in order to get to the real fun. He quickly downshifts from high sci-fi adventure into almost sitcom like character work. In the Great White North, Animal Man and Stargirl are the main attractions at what looks like a comic convention, facing down a long line of well wishers and fans. Its a strikingly funny juxtaposition to the soaring adventure of the opening and a instantly charming bit of character work on Lemire’s part. Of course, Buddy Baker and Courtney Whitmore, the public face of The New 52‘s JLA, would agree to press the flesh with the public. I also don’t even mind that Buddy is deep into superheroing and back in the public eye after the events of the Animal Man Lemire quickly capitalizes on this momentum and introduces the main conflict of the issue, as well as quickly building the team. Lemire, while impressive on indie titles, is a deft hand at superhero storytelling and economic scripting. He realizes that he has to hook you quickly and show you why this team is worth following month after month and he does so in a very short time in Justice League United #0. Lemire wastes little time giving each member of the team a snappy, yet memorable, introduction, like any good pilot episode. Its the back half of the story where Lemire gets to really turn on the charm in regards to these characters. This is the first time in a long while that a Justice League comic has felt fun and that is squarely on the shoulders of Jeff Lemire. This is a huge part of why the book works so well as well as setting it apart from the myriad of other Justice League books on the stands. This isn’t a Justice League book that revels in the supernatural or tries to deliver a de-constructed look at the heroes involved. Its only concern is telling you a fun, entertaining superhero story. That’s the first and last goal of Justice League United, and it is a rousing success in this regard.

Jeff Lemire has thrown together one of the most random assortment of DC heroes since Justice League International, yet he makes them mesh and play off of each other like a team that has been in operation for years. They banter well, their powers compliment each others, and visually, they just look really, really cool together in wide panel shots. This zero issue channels Geoff Johns’ run of JSA in the best possible way. If I was to have one complaint with Justice League United #0 it would be that its greatest tease, and shortcoming, is the origins of the newest member of the DC Universe, Equinox. She is given just a brief intro scene, establishing her family and power set, but it isn’t near enough for any sort of real sense of who she is. I understand that is the probably for effect, and in that regard, it works in spades, but for a book stocked with top notch character work in regards to characters that have been around for ages, it feels like a bit of short shrift.

Mike McKone and Marcelo Maiolo are also a huge part of why this book just flat works as well as it does. McKone and Maiolo take the momentum from Lemire’s script and translate it into vibrant visuals on the page. While McKone’s static reaction shots may look a bit stilted, his visual language during the action beats are as exciting as they are inventive. To highlight certain actions such as Stargirl taking a hit or Green Arrow striking true with a shot, McKone and Maiolo frame the action in a stark color box instead of the setting background. It heightens the drama of the action depicted and at the same time, calls into memory Batman 66‘s WHAM! and KA-POW! inserts. Its just the kind of goofy device that is right up my alley. McKone also makes The New 52 costume redesigns pop in a way that I have rarely seen since their introduction. McKone’s workman like line work highlights the material of Ollie and J’onn’s and present them in a poppy, high fashion way that other artists have made drab and armor like. Mike McKone draws the superhero ideal and its a welcome sight in the pages of DC. He has a more than game colorist in the form of colorist Marcelo Maiolo, who injects the characters and action with bright jets of color against a starkly beautiful Canadian setting. Maiolo colors the heroes as bright bastions of might and the aliens as shockingly inhuman pinks and sickly yellows. Its also interesting to note that Maiolo brings a connective tissue to JLU as the colorist for Oliver Queen’s solo title, delivering the same attention to the detail displayed there to Green Arrow’s costume in this title. The more I look at his colors as well as McKone's art I am reminded of Dave Englesham, another connection to Johns' JSA work. Maiolo and McKone understand that these characters are larger than life so they present them as such.

Zero issues, like pilot episodes, have to burn brightly and quickly, making some kind of impression on readers and retailers alike. In order to have any sort of future as an ongoing title, opening issues have to establish a readership as well as a tone and direction for the series. The characters can go and do anything, and that raw potential lends Justice League United its energy. Jeff Lemire, Mike McKone, and Marcelo Maiolo deliver a superhero story that isn’t aiming to revolutionize, yet succeeds in feeling fresh and completely different than the rest of the Justice League books on shelves right now.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Elektra #1
Written by W. Haden Blackman
Art by Michael Del Mundo and Marco D'Alfonso
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

W. Haden Blackman and Michael Del Mundo's Elektra begins with a premise that has resonated through several recent Marvel titles, but it's simplicity ends with it's concept. Elektra is a woman in search of an identity, in search of a purpose, and as explained in the superlative opening pages, she is about to find it the way she always has - as a weapon. But what sets Elektra apart from another dreamily rendered Marvel title about an assassin in search of herself is a colorful and eccentric cast of characters bolstered by Del Mundo's vicious storytelling and Blackman's mastery over the voices of her subjects.

With Elektra back on the hunt, it's up to an oddball contractor with an eccentric 1920's style to point her at the right target. In this case, it's a heretofore unknown ultimate badass by the name of "Cape Crow." The trope of a character capable of taking out some of the most powerful assassins in Marvel comics - but somehow you've never heard of him - has every likelihood to fall on its face right out of the gate, but Blackman's script is just such a joy to read that it's easy to forgive the indulgence of some well-trod plot points.

Blackmon's use of dialect and flowery language is, likewise, the kind of tool that often serves to tear down a script rather than build it up, but coupled with Mike Del Mundo's combination of clear storytelling and avant garde colors, aided by Marco D'Alfonso, create an artful rendering of a classic race-for-the-prize tale. By populating Elektra's world with a collection of new characters crafted with such Dick Tracy-esque nuance and glee that they make Elektra seem almost mundane by comparison, Blackman avoids the landscape of typical SHIELD Agents and black-ops types seen throughout Marvel's spate of gun-for-hire books, and it pays dividends in elevating Elektra beyond the mundane.

If there's one real flaw in Elektra, it's that not enough focus is paid to the title character. In exploring the minds and voices of her rotating narrators, Blackman leaves Elektra exactly where she started at the story's beginning, a cipher almost as unknown to herself as she is to the reader. While the opening scroll showcased the big moments in Elektra's history, little effort is made to truly codify her as more than the various, self-described roles she has played. On the other hand, Elektra #1 represents the start of a journey by the title character to discover exactly those things, so there is time yet for Blackman to provide something more to grasp onto than a compelling aesthetic and well-appointed script.

Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #30
Written by Robert Venditti and Van Jensen
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There is an age old debate waged in comic book stores across the world: what is the difference between DC and Marvel? They’re both major publishing companies owned by even bigger media conglomerates. They’re both at the top of sales charts month in and month out and they both put out stories about superhumans. But the slight difference is in their approach. Marvel always seems to emphasize the “human” in superhuman while DC focuses on “super.” As a result, DC is more prone to big weekly comics events like 52 and the forthcoming Futures End while Marvel is more likely to publish a comic book about an archer defending an apartment building. Most readers are more likely to connect to a man superhero saving a dog than Superman fighting Doomsday. There’s no problem with either approach (and Marvel publishes just as many big events as DC) but it affects the levels of pathos that are injected into their stories. Robert Venditti, Van Jensen and Brett Booth turn expectations on their head and instead of launching into a new chapter of Barry Allen’s story with sound and fury, they reaffirm Barry’s humanity and in the process set up what could be a very exciting era for the Scarlet Speedster.

I hate when comics open with scenes set five or 10 or 20 years in the future. It’s almost always a red herring. Venditti and Jensen go that route on page one but they keep it short and up the intrigue. Most of the book is framed by Barry’s visit to a psychiatrist as he needs to her to sign off on his mental stability so that he can rejoin the police force. Venditti and Jensen aren’t reinventing the wheel. Instead, they reminding us why we care about heroes. The Flash has always been an impulsive and compulsive character. He always takes on too much without thinking. He always tries to be better than he is. He always sees the best in people. These are his strengths and his faults. Even superheroes have a limit but Barry refuses to see that because he is regretful by nature. Venditti and Jensen do an excellent job of tapping into that. Barry beats himself up about everything in his life and now he’s finally failed at the one thing he thought he’d always have in his back pocket: being a hero.

It’s the small moments that help sell the big ones and as Barry furiously tries to fix everything he can, he never stops to consider the futility of it. He finds lost dogs. He saves a bridge full of people. Meanwhile, many of the citizens of Central City are angry with him for being absent. And Barry keeps it together. But he will break. The cracks are starting to show and we especially see it in the cop who acted too tough to need a psychiatrist. Pages later, he’s crying to himself on a park bench. Barry’s insistence and frustration with himself will hurt him. Venditti and Jensen explore the idea of this futility by having Barry literally lose time. His brand new watch that’s synced to the precinct’s clock is already two minutes off. No matter how much Barry does, there will never be enough time.And in the final pages, the writers bring us full circle combining concept and character beautifully. There are consequences to everything that Barry does. He’ll be forced to face them.

The biggest change from the first creative team is the art style. Manapul and Buccellato rendered Central City with a brighter palette and Manapul’s soft lines injected the book with warmth and energy. Central City is a different place now and Brett Booth’s more angular lines are much more fitting for the crumbling city.The more experimental layouts that marked Manapul’s tenure are gone as Booth takes a much more traditional approach. His work with Barry out of costume is solid but once he puts on the suit, Booth’s work gets really stale. Obviously, any hero is going to be a focal point in their own book but Booth overwhelms his pages with the Flash. At least four of his pages are little more than splashes of the Flash with a few other panels wedges in the corners or the sides and two of those pages are back to back. For a 20-page comic, that’s not great. It doesn’t show a commitment to understanding how panel and page layouts can affect the flow of reading a book. I do love Barry’s expressions when he’s in costume, though. Once he has the mask on, the frustration that he feels really bleeds through.

Venditti and Jensen’s narrative approach props up solid, if unspectacular, artwork. It’s a flip of the dynamic that existed before. Manapul and Buccellato’s work was plagued with pacing problems, especially later in their run. Barry Allen might not be as strong as Superman or as cool as Batman but he’s a hero through and through. It’s good to have the writers remind us of that but it’s clear that we’re being set up for a fall. I’d be remiss to not mention the arrival of a long-awaited character to the New 52 but it’s really too soon to tell what the writers are planning. But if the blend of characterization and big concepts that’s on display here continues, I’m sure we won’t be disappointed.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Original Sin #0
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Jim Cheung, Paco Medina, Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Dave Meikis, Juan Vlasco and Justin Ponsor
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Like it or not, event season has come once again to Marvel Comics. Instead of just focusing on the cosmic side of their universe, Marvel seems to be aiming to tell a story that spans the multiverse with a murder mystery at its center with Original Sin. The question of the hour seems to be “Who shot the Watcher?”, but some readers may be asking themselves just who exactly is the Watcher, and why should we care that he got capped? Thankfully, Marvel enlisted the ever-dependable Mark Waid and a sharp tag-team of artistic talents to answer this very question as well as give us an entertaining glimpse into this summer’s comic book blockbuster.

Mark Waid throws himself into Original Sin #0 with aplomb, giving us not only a teasing glimpse into the origins and motivations of Utau The Watcher, but also a crash course in the life and exploits of Sam Alexander, the current Nova of Earth. Sam is our audience surrogate into the events of Original Sin much like he was during the opening salvo of Avengers Vs. X-Men, also penned by Mark Waid. Waid smartly gives us a guide through this story that is just as in the dark as we are in regards to Uatu, sidestepping the pitfall of overloading an uninitiated audience member with convoluted continuity. After a battle with an enemy from deep in the vaults (Tomazooma from Fantastic Four #80, True Believers!), Nova poses a question to the Avengers that they have never thought to ask before; Just what exactly is The Watcher watching? Its here that Mark Waid allows himself to chase the rabbit in regards to the Kirbyesque nature of The Watcher and his origins, as well as building a compelling framework for the event to come.

Nova, and the audience, are presented a heartbreaking tale of absolute power and altruism gone horribly wrong that serves well as a compelling groundwork for the event to come. Waid also makes the reader care and empathize with Sam Alexander in a very small amount of time. He’s just like us; a good, caring soul who lets his curiosity get the better of him. In a great scene, Sam brings Uatu a chunk of the battlefield from AvX's final battle against the Phoenix Force because he saw on TV that guests are suppose to bring a gift when visiting their home and he’s too young to buy a bottle of wine. I mean, how adorable is that? Its a charmingly human start to what is sure to be an extra crazy Summer event.

Also completely giving it to just how Jack Kirby inspired this story is are artists Jim Cheung, regular Nova artist Paco Medina, an army of inkers, and superstar colorist Justin Ponsor. Cheung and Medina’s pages mesh so well that even the most eagle-eyed reader will have trouble distinguishing just who did what, but even if you could, the art wows in such a way that you wouldn’t even care. Cheung and Medina blend high-flying action with quiet contemplation with relative ease, but each beat still has weight behind it. After a lightening quick action scene, they whisk us away to The Watcher’s home on the moon, which is filled with complex looking Kirby Tech. So many of today’s artists are clearly still in awe of Kirby’s works and Cheung and Medina render that awe onto the page. The Watcher’s home is expansive, dense, and gorgeous to behold. Though it may be just a small glimpse into what is in store during Original Sin it is more than enough to ensure readers will be clamoring to revisit this portion of the Marvel Universe. Justin Ponsor also does amazing work here once again, keeping Nova the shining focal point among a plethora of cool grays and metallic blues. Cheung and Medina keep the panels laden with heavy hints of the hard times ahead and Ponsor hammers this feeling home with heavy shadowing and the dulling of Nova’s usually bright costume. Rarely have prologue comics looked this good.

The board is set and the pieces are starting to move and hopefully by now, Mark Waid and his talented art team have given readers their first tantalizing glimpses into what Original Sin has in store for them. All too often prologue comics are only worth looking into for completionist purposes. Usually they are limited to close to the chest plotting and a small drip of information when it comes to characterization, but I am more than pleased to say that all of that is nowhere to be found in the pages of Original Sin #0. Mark Waid and his team, clearly unsatisfied with just delivering a run-of-the-mill tease, offer up an easy access point into the characters and backstory of the players involved with Original Sin all wrapped up in a gorgeously rendered and fun superhero yarn.

Batman Eternal #3 cover
Batman Eternal #3 cover
Credit: DC Comics

Batman Eternal #3
Written by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman and Tim Seeley
Art by Jason Fabok and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Taylor Esposito
Published by DC Comics
Review by Aaron Duran
'Rama Rating 7 out of 10

We're three issues into Batman Eternal, and I can't shake the feeling that I've read a lot of this before. Not whole plot threads, but the themes starting to rise from the pages hint at many classic Batman arcs. There are hints of Dark Victory, War Games, and even The Cult peppered throughout the issue. And yet I can't bring myself to wholly discredit those story echoes. Even though we're pushing three years of The New 52, this is still a setting that's trying to establish a legacy. In that respect, the creative team are at least making a strong attempt at placing a true stamp on Batman and this version of Gotham City. It's a gamble that might pay off if the journey keeps the reader interested. But for now, all that really matters to many a Batman fan is that this is the issue that brings Stephanie Brown back into the DCU.

Lots of pieces move on the crime-ridden board that is Gotham City. The GCPD are still feeling the effects of their most trusted and top cop behind bars, for a killing for which we all know he won't face real time. Gothams original crime boss, Carmine “The Roman” Falcone has returned with a grudge on just about everyone that didn't tow the old school line. This causes the freaks that took his power to gear up for war. Batman is not only on his own, but is again hunted by the cops, like the good 'ol days. Meanwhile, the teenager that will become Spoiler has her life turned upside-down. It's a lot to cover, so much so that I worry that core writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV might have too much on their plate, even with Ray Fawkes, John Layman, and Tim Seeley lending a literary hand. Much of Batman Eternal #3 reads like a Cliff Notes version of a truly compelling detective thriller. Ironically, even with everything going on, there is a lot of page bloat going on.

Taking the debut of Stephanie Brown as the prime example. She's a character that many fans, this reviewer included, missed a lot with the reboot. So the idea of her return is exciting, but it lacked a the real emotional or thrilling punch I think most of us wanted. The weekly nature of the title demands some serious page filling, and in a way, dilutes what should be some exciting highs. I don't think I really needed a full page of Stephanie merely getting to the home of her secretly costumed villainous father, Cluemaster. We learn far more about her and her soon to be deadly world the moment she breaks back into her father's house. The scene is still entertaining, but reads as far too drawn out. Which is a common concern through most of the issue.

Visually, artist Jason Fabok is doing a ton of work here. I just wish he had more to do than act as the courier for all the exposition that happens in this issue. There is very little for Fabok to work with in terms of dynamic action of movement, where his real strength lies. Still, his use of facial expressions is growing with each issue, which does elevate the nature of the story so far. He also has a fantastic talent for bringing out the iconic visual designs of well established characters. There is little subtly when Batman faces off against the Penguin. Cobblepot is grotesque, with a touch of vulgar regality that tells the reader all they need to know about him, but never once falls to parody. I do wish Fabok would take equal time in fleshing out the characters newly created (or expanded upon) for this series. For now, characters like Officer Bard and Cluemaster suffer from same-face disorder. Brad Anderson on colors really help to bring out the detail in Fabok's lines. Indeed, I think a lot of the facial detail that sells the dialog owes itself to Anderson's color palette and shading.

Make no mistake, Batman Eternal #3 is an entertaining enough read. But the weekly nature of the series might turn out to be its greatest weakness if the team continues on this style of storytelling. I can't help but wonder just how well the story would move were the team forced to tighten up the bloat within a strong monthly or biweekly series. Hopefully we're getting past the pieces simply moving on the board into the real power struggle. Because at this pace, my interest will surely break before the story.

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