Best Shots: Superman, Mighty Avengers & More

Best Shots: Superman, DD & More

Superman #686

Best Shots Extras? We got ‘em.

The World of Cars: The Rookie #1

X-Force/Cable Messiah Wars Prologue

Caped #1

New Avengers #51

The Incredibles #1

The Muppet Show #1

And now, the big stuff . . .

Superman #686

Written by James Robinson

Art by Renato Guedes & Jose Wilson Magalháes

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

I think the first thing that struck me in this new post-"New Krypton" direction for the title is that new lead character Mon-El in his dynamic 2-page introduction, looked a heck of a lot like Tom Welling, the guy these days playing Kal-El on television. At least this guy's flying and wearing a snappy costume. Anyway, in "Yesterday and Tomorrow," the Man of Steel has officially vacated Metropolis to take care of business on New Krypton, keeping a closer eye on the machinations of General Zod and his Aunt Alura. In a methodical sequence of instances, Superman says his goodbyes with parting instructions to Mon-El, John Henry Irons (Steel), Jimmy Olsen, the Guardian and the Science Police. To sort of underscore how Superman is essentially already long gone, talented artist Renato Guedes (with inker Jose Wilson Magalháes) never renders him in full view, opting to keep him relatively off-camera in the conversations he has with these other characters.

This issue is pure setup, as we're introduced to the cast who will be inhabiting Superman for the rest of 2009 and then some. It's worth noting that one key character we meet can also apparently be found in the concurrent Batman: Battle for the Cowl, Science Police officer Billi Harper, grandniece of the original Guardian (whose clone is now Mon-El's co-star in this series). Despite the lack of the man who graces the book's title, Superman has potential to maintain creative viability. The art is continues to dazzle (love Andrew Robinson's cover too, by the way), though I hope that writer James Robinson develops Mon-El a bit more expeditiously. Granted the Daxamite has endured years of soul-crushing exile in the Phantom Zone, and he's just getting out of that shell, but he really seems to be going through the motions in issue #686, between getting his new assignment(s), meeting Jimmy Olsen, and dispatching the villainous Rampage. Clearly he has much to learn as Metropolis' go-to caped protector, but Robinson would really do him a great service in nurturing a distinctive voice for the future Legionnaire.

I can't honestly say that Superman is must-read material just yet, but "Yesterday and Tomorrow" at the very least portends of things not being entirely hopeless for this series with the notable absence of a certain Last Son of Krypton.

A Drifting Life

A Drifting Life

Written & Illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Translated by Taro Nettleton

Edited and Designed by Adrian Tomine

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

After publishing three consecutive collections of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s groundbreaking gekiga short stories from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Drawn & Quarterly and Adrian Tomine have shifted gears, bringing us a very recent book. A Drifting Life is not only new, but it’s a massive tonal shift from Tatsumi’s previous American work. No short stories here, readers. This is 840+ pages of Tatsumi’s autobiography.

Honestly, it’s barely even an autobiography in the ways that most readers might expect. You’ll learn virtually nothing about Tatsumi’s personal life – oh, you’ll get to meet his parents and siblings, and witness some of his relationships with them (particularly his brother, a fellow manga creator), but the core of A Drifting Life is really the parallel development of Tatsumi as a manga artist and the growth of the manga industry itself. From the time he started submitting to manga magazines while still a teen until the book’s ending in 1960, when Tatsumi is established in Tokyo, struggling to balance his workload and determined to dedicate himself to developing Gekiga, his own brand of manga for adults, his life is completely and totally intertwined with the artform he so profoundly loves (and, consequently, the industry that promotes it).

It’s not nearly as oppressive as many of the short stories in previous Tatsumi collections; however, A Drifting Life does have some moments of turmoil and struggle. Like our own American comics industry, the manga business had its share of duplicitous dealers during its formative years, and Tatsumi was witness to many of those issues. What sets his telling apart is his ability to humanize every person he encounters along the way. Business people who burn him also provide him with opportunities on other occasions. Tatsumi offers balanced portrayals all around, although you’ll all certainly create your own judgments of their actions.

I’m of two minds about Tatsumi’s decision to change the names of many of the people in his story. Changing many of the players’ names, including his own, Tatsumi makes the story more about the industry and his relationship to it. On the other hand, I often found myself trying to figure out (though my knowledge of manga isn’t strong enough to make my guesses very good) if I could determine who the real people behind the names were. And of course, it’s slightly peculiar when some persons, Osamu Tezuka most notably, are referred to by their actual names. It’s not really a big thing, but it may be slightly distracting to some readers.

Artistically, Tatsumi’s style doesn’t seem to have changed a great deal in nearly forty years since “The Push Man.” His layouts are stronger and the characters more distinct and consistent, but the basic style – the loose, open figures, the cartoony faces and the real-world grounding – remain hallmarks. It’s a more assured look, confident and stronger, but still recognizably Tatsumi.

Previous Yoshihiro Tatsumi books have established the Japanese legend as a powerful and singular comics voice among North American readers, and his magnificent opus A Drifting Life is likely to add another considerable chapter to that building popularity. Readers of manga, of autobiography, of comics history, or of humanity should seek it out right away.

Mighty Avengers #23

Mighty Avengers #23

From: Marvel Comics

Writer: Dan Slott

Artist: Khoi Pham

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

Schizophrenic. That is the best way to describe Mighty Avengers #23 as not only is the story and plot schizophrenic but so was the art and it made for a very burdensome read. I understand taking a light-hearted approach to the super-hero genre, as a matter of fact I’m all for it, but unfortunately this issue relies more on gags and in-jokes than any real moment of fun to make the issue feel light-hearted while maintaining the seriousness of the threat that is currently consuming the whole of earth.

I have read a lot of good stores written by Dan Slott, from his entertaining runs on the Thing and She-Hulk to his more seriously toned stories in Avengers: The Initiative, each of these series under Slott’s pen are compelling reads with distinctly different tones. With Mighty Avengers in particular and this issue specifically Slott does his best to walk the delicate line between telling a serious story and taking a lighter approach in tone and almost succeeds in pulling it off. The problem being the serious nature of the threat is muted to make way for the fun and it feels forced.

Take for instance Banner’s warning to Cassie Lang about making Hank angry. Was that supposed to be funny, or did Slott just forget that Pym actually does have anger issues. I realize the joke was supposed to be about Banner and his alter-ego, but my mind immediately went to domestic violence and Hank’s history with his temper. Those kinds of throw-away moments riddle the book and rather than helping the story they actually distracted by their ill-advised placement. Another problem I had with this issue is its rather abrupt and uninspired resolution especially the abundant adulation that Hank receives for his role in stopping the chaos wave. It seemed rather perfunctory and underscores the problems I had with this issue, everything wrapped up in a nice pretty bow which worked against the story.

Don’t get me wrong there were some good moments to be found throughout the issue. Norman having to disown “those” Avengers was quite entertaining and the revelation of the Scarlet Witch’s identity was perfectly done as not only does it makes sense in the context of the Avengers recreation, it succinctly reminds the reader of Avenger’s history in a clever way.

Another strike against this issue was the unfortunate art which had flashes of greatness in an otherwise mundane effort. This title should be a premiere title in the Marvel Universe and should have an art team to match that status. Instead what we get is a scattered mix of bad page layouts, colors that drown the art and amorphous figures that not even the talents of Danny Miki could save. One thing that was very noticeable in Khoi Pham’s art this issue is his inability to convey the long shot. He does good work when he’s using close-up shots, but the further he pulls away the camera the sloppier the art gets. Even something as chaotic as the Chaos Wave from a distance looks like nothing more than a stampede of horse kicking up dust.

With the team formed and their first mission in the bag the Mighty Avengers are back but my feeling that this title will become the B-title of the Avengers family is starting to be overly optimistic. I’m not sure if this issues problems were a result of deadlines or poor communication, but if Marvel really wants this title to be taken seriously maybe they should start by taking it seriously.

The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks #1

The Phantom: Ghost Who Walks #1

Writer: Mike Bullock

Pencils: Silvestre Szilagyi

Inks: Sergio Mulko

Colors: Bob Pedroza

Letters: Josh Aitken

Moonstone Comics

Review By: Jeff Marsick

Ah, the Phantom. Every time he’s pulled out of mothballs and thrust into a new series, I get all nostalgic for the good old daily newspaper strips and the Sunday double-size in full color. Those were Phantom yarns, yessirree. Peter David’s mini-series in the late 80s with DC was pretty good, though suffering a little bit by comparison. And the short-lived series that came after that was a waste of good paper, the titular character diluted of all magic that made him intriguing and captivating. Since then, the Phantom has been trying hard (sometimes too much so) to regain his original mojo, chasing a phantom of his former great self. He has yet to be successful.

Moonstone’s latest relaunch maintains the tradition of keeping the Phantom lackluster and uninspiring. This time the Phantom happens to be aboard a cruise liner when pirates attack, and the mystery begins when it’s discovered that they are Arab terrorists posing as Somalis. Quelling the attack, however, is just the tip of the iceberg, and the master stroke, the “Cleansing”, brings about the issue’s explosive end.

I applaud Mike Bullock’s attempt at making the Phantom relevant by putting the latest incarnation (I believe it’s the Mark 21) into a contemporary situation as opposed to creating a tale from the Phantom Archives. The problem with the story is that there are Imperial Star Destroyer-sized holes in the plot: while on the ship, the ‘pirates’ go out of their way to threaten to the passengers if they don’t comply, and never once do we see them actually inflict harm. Yet when the liner docks at Kenya, there is a veritable combat triage center established to handle dozens of victims that we never saw injured; no one seems to balk at the enigmatic and Phantom Stranger doppleganger (with the “most delicious voice I think I’ve ever heard” croons a vixen), while off the coast of Kenya, walking the decks with a wolf at his side, sartorially sharp in a fedora, London Fog, shades (at night), and scarfed throat; and at the ridiculous climax, when apparently all medical staff have taken leave of their certifications and licenses, as victims are able to set off bulky vest bombs after having been first examined and looked at for injury (“Huh. I thought that ticking noise was your pacemaker. My bad,” I can only imagine a chagrined—and now nearly dead—EMT would say.) . Mr. Bullock also lacks confidence in his ability to tell a tale, as evidenced by his unnecessary heavy hammering of plot points. When a pirate asks “Where is Azim?”, the Phantom can be heard saying “Azim? Doesn’t sound too Somalian to me…”. Right there, the reader gets it: something’s not kosher here. Yet on the next page, the Phantom does a voice-over, basically pointing out that this is an important piece of the puzzle. In case you missed it in both panels, Mr. Bullock anvil-drops on the head once more later on: “Something just doesn’t add up. The pirates were dressed as Somalis. But they were all Arabic.” At this point, it’s just filler, simply an excuse to write dialogue. He also needlessly allows the Phantom to reveal his inner thoughts which dumbs the issue down for no reason: both artwork and script get the salient points across. For someone with Mr. Bullock’s experience, it’s surprising that he allows himself to play the novice.

As for the artwork, it’s not bad. It’s relatively straight-forward and safe, lacking any real creativity or innovation. Page ten has the best panel of the issue, with the Phantom getting the drop on a pirate, and for the fleeting moment, I almost believe that the classic character has returned. Almost. But then it passes.

I want to believe that the Phantom still has some life in him, that he has a future in this new millennium. But if this latest yawn-inducing endeavor by Moonstone is an indication of what is to come, it’s better to leave the Phantom to the pages of the past and move on. I rate this issue: Skip It.

Justice League of America #31

Justice League of America #31

Written by Dwayne McDuffie

Art by Shane Davis & Sandra Hope

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

I liken reading this book like standing vigil over a terminally ill loved one: at a certain point you just pray for God's good grace to just relieve the suffering. Though while it's like giving last rites to a dead book walking right now, I fear that this book will be given more than one opportunity to get a new lease on life without truly deserving it, unless they genuinely set fire to it and plant fresh seeds in 2010 with an all-new creative team and agenda. I actually gave up on Justice League of America several issues ago since it felt like the book served merely as a gateway method of integrating new franchises into the DC Universe (i.e. Tangent, Icon) and anything but a combination of the best and brightest superheroes inspiring the world. Just this one time, guest artist Shane Davis (an absolute gem in DC artistic bullpen) brought me to the party in that I thought there was the remote possibility of an inspired "one & done" affair. No such luck, as issue #31 was as morbid a JLA story as I've ever read, and I was there to follow "The End of the Justice League" 22 years ago.

I won't even get into the obnoxious manner in which "Welcome to Sundown Town" kicks off, what with the incredibly insightful way that our own Matt Brady addressed it here. No, some sparkling art by Davis (with precise finishes by inker Sandra Hope) only underscored the old adage that putting a shiny coat of paint on a Ford Pinto isn't going to help it run any smoother. Writer Dwayne McDuffie, a talent who's work on the recent animated series is greatly appreciated by yours truly, is at this point coasting on fandom goodwill, though I can't imagine that all blame with the dire situation this book's in lay squarely at his feet. Editor Eddie Berganza and further up the chain have done the fans and this assembly of DC greats a disservice with this rudderless ship.

Long and short of it, this issue gives us the first taste of the long-promised Justice League: A Cry For Justice spinoff series written by James Robinson, and that in and of itself is a tad distressing since the series has yet to be solicited. I thought it was an ongoing series, but an editor's note offers that it's only a miniseries. But there's no getting around the fact that we're still months and a whole other season away from getting that in our hands, and that takes some of the fizz out of the concept as it's presented here. That also begs the bigger question in that if there's a League at all that is going to sort of "get it right," shouldn't THAT be the League? We get the first idea in Justice League of America #31 that Green Lantern Hal Jordan is dissatisfied with the team's lack of direction and ironically he's asking the same questions that I was (and still am) that led to me having my local comic book shop take the book off my pull list. Exactly what has the League accomplished since the title was relaunched three years ago? The team's relative triumphs have been internal and virtually negligible to the general public, and in a couple fatal instances they came up woefully short (R.I.P., J'onn J'onzz). At times the pages in the first half of this story featuring GL, Green Arrow (ready for the team game again, but not this particular team led by his own wife), and Black Canary have some poignancy, it's just a shame it's too little too late, and Dinah is marginalized to an almost catastrophic level. It's also a sad indictment they've imposed on her as team leader that things go poof without the holy trinity of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, and I can't for the life of me believe that this is what Brad Meltzer had in mind when he reshaped things in 2006.

What's funny is that in the wake of all the departures (including Red Arrow and Flash), the remnants epitomize the one genuine success of this series, it's diversity. Unfortunately Zatanna recognizes the lineup's ineffectiveness against even the likes of Justice League Detroit. As much as time's allowed me to look back upon that particular team more fondly, it only indicates how low thing have got. With that I will again bid Justice League of America adieu, and I guess I'll wait until the summer to see what Hal and Ollie are up to.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Daredevil #117 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): It’s easy to forget what a great book Daredevil is month after month as Ed Brubaker continues to tell an intriguing story about the return of Wilson Fisk to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, but this time with a twist. This issue is a somber one that touches on a multitude of storylines that all have Matt Murdoch and his alter-ego at the epicenter of a number of events, the least of which being his meeting with the Kingpin. Brubaker’s use of the relationship between Murdoch and Fisk is smartly done as the Return of the King proves to be more than the standard Daredevil vs. Kingpin story that has been done ad nauseam. The art provided by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano is nicely detailed with matt Hollingsworth providing the moody colors that help reinforce the tone of the story.

Captain America #48 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): The Winter Soldier takes care of unfinished business and once again Ed Brubaker proves why month in and month out his titles are worth a read. Brubaker’s liberal use of Marvel history is nicely done and his character development is spot on. Another thing worth mentioning is the inclusion of Namor into this storyline. I for one would like to see Namor continue to show up in the pages of Captain America as not only does it makes sense in regards to Namor’s relationship with Bucky, but quite honestly it has been awhile since anyone has written Namor with any kind of believability. I am unsure of how exactly the art chores were assigned this issue but between Butch Guice, Luke Ross and Steve Epting they managed to convey a seamless visual quality to every page of art and enhanced the overall reading experience.

Wonder Woman #30 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow): "Rise of the Olympian" has yet to leave me fully enthralled (as, say, Supergirl's "Who Is Superwoman?"), but this chapter, "Songs My Sisters Will Sing," felt like a step up in terms of overall energy, especially found in the lead character. I thought Wonder Woman was beaten down too quickly in the storyline and she stayed broken for too long. It seemed like everyone else at one point or another has had to try to snap her out of her Genocide-induced funk. One caveat I have on the storytelling side is that I found myself poring over this and the previous three issues to get the multiple storylines synced up in my head, and I found that "Rise of the Olympian" would translate better in trade form. I'm not one of those "wait for the trade" readers either. I suggest this because, for one thing, Etta Candy features prominently in this issue, under a torturous spell by Genocide, and she hadn't been seen since issue #27. There was nothing to even suggest how they got to that point that I caught. The other thing is the increasingly malevolent agenda of Zeus (and were we to find that this is not truly the father of Cassie Sandsmark, I would not be surprised) and the way it never garners more than four pages per issue, so they've really had to skip from point to point in broad leaps. But back to Wonder Woman, like I said, she was way more entertaining here from an action point than she had been prior. She's always been the one who is more prepared to resort to fatal measures than her peers, and it's cool when Cheetah tries to push her in that more aggressive direction and it blows up in her face. Diana takes the fight to the Society, the ones responsible for all the carnage and Genocide's creation, and her intensity and everything else is dynamically illustrated by Aaron Lopresti. He's been knocking each chapter of "Olympian" out of the park. I'm still waiting for a little more from Gail Simone in terms of the ultimate effectiveness of this epic-in-the-making. She's got a great talent for dialogue, and her characterization of her leads are exemplary. But Simone is thinking big with Wonder Woman, and that's to be applauded, even more than the fact that we're now past the halfway point and in the homestretch. If this, as is the case with Kal-El and Bruce Wayne, is going to take the Amazing Amazon out of the picture for a this while, we're due a hefty payoff.

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