Best Shots: Legion, Wonderland, Literals and More

Best Shots: Legion, and More

Legion of 3 Worlds #4

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. Best Shots Extras for this week were . . .

Sherlock Holmes #1

Battlefields: The Tankies #1

JSA #26

And now, on to the rest . . .

Legion of 3 Worlds #4

From: DC

Writer: Geoff Johns

Pencils: George Perez

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Let's just get this out there- due to the importance of the plot revelation explained here, this will be a SPOILER ALERT IN FULL EFFECT review. Don't want to ruin anything, but you've been warned.





Okay, ready?

The overall mission statement put forth by Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds seems to be that you really can't have a Legion of Superheroes without a Superboy. The concepts and characters simply need each other to validate themselves. You can't have a team full of inspired teenage heroes without the inspiration, no matter how many times you try.

And since there are 3 Legions in this series, it makes perfect sense that there would be multiple Superboys.

The first is our adult Superman, who we now know did, in fact, partake in all the Silver Age adventures portrayed with the original Legion in the 1950s and '60s comics. This is something of a re-retcon-con. It is the kind of head-spinning logic that only occurs in comics, but it restores the natural order and history that was wiped away by the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The second is the fanboy with a vendetta; Superboy-Prime. Prime makes a perfect foil to the Legion, both because of his near limitless power scale, and his definitively anti-social ways. The Legion are all about young people shouldering the responsibility of adults, the way teenagers learn to do. Prime is all about petulance and self-involvement, the other aspect of teen-dom. He's the best kind of villain- the one you can't wait to see punched in the mouth.

And then there is our final, [ONE LAST SPOILER ALERT] resurrected Superboy. Sacrificed upon the altar of Infinite Crisis, Conner Kent is the ultimate conflicted hero. He's made up of half the greatest, most benevolent protector of all the cosmos, and half the worst, most malignant mind Earth has to offer. Split down the middle by nature, it is his commitment to the side of angels despite his heritage that makes him the hero he is.

Conner is all about redemption. He doesn't need redemption because he's a villainous character; he needs it because he was once a kind of lame one. Okay, a very lame one. As the jive-talking, leather clad Super-clone that arose after the Death of Superman mega-event, Conner pretty much epitomized “edgy 90's kool comics.” His back story was convoluted, and his attitude was badditude. He had a bowl-cut, for Gods' sake. But the tweaked half Lex Luthor origin gave the character what he always needed; a purpose. He had his own never ending battle to fight - it was the same as his older counterpart's, but internal. His inborn flaw was just enough of a wrinkle to give a kinda-Kryptonian just what he needed- human fallibility.

That's the advantage of any Superboy story over a Superman one- Superboy can afford to screw up without compromising the character. He's allowed to fail, if only to succeed later on. This is true for any iteration of any character named “Superboy” (and just to get those pitchforks put back in the case, there’s a “was once” up there – Conner is worlds away from the hero he was in his early years).

Conner's return couldn't have been handled any more deftly. We finally learn of Starman's morbid duty in our time, and it makes perfect sense. The specific mechanics of his resurrection work organically, as they draw from stories contemporary to Superboy's origin. Even the moment of his return is a clever inversion of his very first spoken lines. He and Prime make the perfect adversaries, because where Prime has all the power of the Man of Steel, Conner has all the heart and perseverance associated with the Man of Tomorrow. And while Conner seeks redemption, Prime chooses to only dwell in resentment.

The size and scale of this series is enough to qualify as a Crisis unto itself. Johns and Pérez pack each page with as many character moments as super-punches. I don't have a doctorate in all things Legion like some, but I've been impressed at both creators' ability to differentiate mirror-image characters and continue to ensure that each page furthers the greater story. No panel is wasted, and as near as I can tell, no character is left without a moment in the spotlight. Brainaics bicker, substitute heroes come up with clutch pinch-hits, and racers run. There isn't another artist alive who could capture each and every one of these characters the way George Pérez does. He is truly a treasure of comics.

The luxury of being a heavy-hitter like Johns is that it affords the opportunity to keep characters on the shelf, and use them as through-lines when possible. Three years was long enough to leave Conner on the sidelines without undermining his death in Infinite Crisis, and there was no better opportunity to bring him back than here in this sprawling Super-story.

So here we are. Coupled with the return of Bart Allen as Kid Flash, this book resets some of the issues left over from Crises past, without an Anti-Monitor or New God in sight. The Legion is on the precipice of their greatest ever victory, and maybe even at the dawn of a new era of Legion relevance. And if the Legion is back, it is fitting that Superboy be back too, standing at the forefront, ready to inspire them all.

Grimm Fairy Tales Wonderland Annual 2009: House of Liddle

Story by Dan Wickline and Raven Gregory

Written by Dan Wickline

Art by Dave Hoover

Colors by Gary Henderson

Edited by Jenna Sibel and Raven Gregory

Published by Zenescope

Reviewed by Lan Pitts

Our story starts with a new family moving into the old Liddle house, which is almost a character itself in the series at this point. The family consists of Eric (the father), Ann (the stepmother), Tracy (the 16 year-old daughter), and Ben-- the youngster with SCIDS, who has to be moved while inside a large clear plastic box. While Tracy is putting things away in the basement, she finds an old diary with the name "Alice" written on the first page. Tracy wants to show her brother the stories inside but Ann takes it away, fearing for Ben's safety because it has to be sterilized. Of course Tracy knows that and states that she's been taking care of Ben longer than Ann. Tracy storms off as she goes to make Ben some lunch. The interesting thing here is that then Ben asks for a Coke, but he isn't supposed to have any soda. A small digression: David Vetter, aka the famous "boy in the bubble" who had the same ailment, always wanted to try Coke, but the sterilization process required to insert it into his bubble ruined the taste.

A few days later Tracy stays home to wait for the plumber to work on the hot water heater in the. Tracy leads Mike the plumber down to the basement, and that's where things get a little heated. Tracy starts to undress and practically attacks the guy. Too bad for Mike, her dad walks in and punches the guy straight in the face-- knocking him to his feet while yelling at him that Tracy is only sixteen. Tracy again storms off and attends to Ben. Meanwhile we see a familiar shape in the blood spatter from the punch: a malicious-looking rabbit.

Obviously with that sort of behavior, Tracy is grounded. Ann goes up to check on Ben and sees that he's been most prolific with his art, drawing horrific scenes featuring creatures like spiders with one eye and blades for legs or snakes made of razors. And of course, he has drawn a dead white rabbit. The parents leave for the night, leaving Tracy in charge of Ben and household. Things get creepier however when Tracy notices a blank page on Ben's wall. "That's the rabbit. He's out looking for something." Sure enough, a few pages before we notice the white rabbit in various places throughout the house. When the parents return, Ann goes to bed while Eric tries to talk to Tracy which doesn't end well because now HE'S seeing the white rabbit. Everywhere. Ann convinces him it's just exhaustion and he joins her in bed.

The next morning, while Tracy and Eric are at the dentist Ann checks on Ben and thanks him for taking the spiders down. As she walks off, Ben says he didn't take them down. Sure enough, Ann gets attacked in the shower by the spider creatures and ends up impaled over the broken shower door. Pretty gory stuff here. Ann's funeral is in a few days and as Tracy and her father come back to the house, they are greeted by Mrs. Moreno who insists on staying outside of the house since she knows the history of the Liddle family and their gruesome history. Too bad Tracy and Eric sort of blow her off.

Eric tends to some of his art but notices the white rabbit in one of his paintings and soon after is attacked by the snakes made of blades and is quickly shredded to death. Tracy runs down to check but finds herself on the run from a man, thin like paper, with a sword. She tries to sneak away but he easily slides underneath doors. Tracy goes to check up on Ben, but that's when we realize the creatures are coming out of his drawings. Tracy runs to the basement, but is followed, however manages to bust a pipe blasting the paper man away. Though a bookcase knocks her down. . . as the room is quickly flooding. Back upstairs the white rabbit finds Ben in his plastic room and sits and waits. Too bad his windows are tightly sealed as well. Nobody can hear him scream.

Obviously despite the "Wonderland" name-- this book, much like several other titles that carry the Zenescope name, is not kid-friendly. I've been a fan of the series for a while, though it's honestly never been one of my monthly pulls. This 46-paged annual plays out like a creepy movie. Dave Hoover's panel structure is strong and not at all bumbling. One complaint though: Ann and Tracy look sort of too similar. Both in body type and facial features. Wickline's script is pretty easy to read and follow. This annual is continuing with the tradition of the "Wonderland" series quite well, and for that reason alone deserves a look-see.

Speak of the Devil

Speak of the Devil

Written & Illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez

Published by Dark Horse

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Speak of the Devil is a peculiar book; it’s almost more like two distinct stories that hinge together in the middle, both tied together by a perverse interest in the taboos of sex and violence. A peeping tom is prowling the neighborhood, which shakes loose the sexual curiosity of teenage Val’s stepmom, Linda, and Val’s erstwhile boyfriend Paul. Of course, when peeper, stepmother and boyfriend come together, their desire is to undermine society’s images of safety. Cue the killing spree.

Gilbert Hernandez’s always been interested in the seedy side of life, but his focus has also always been on families and communities. It’s one thing to see how dangerous conmen and criminals are; Beto’s hitting a little closer to home with images of the anger and frustration boiling beneath the surface of your own neighbors (or your own family).

Crisply black and white, Hernandez’s art manages a high-contrast look that matches the extremes of behavior found throughout the story. Each character evidences insecurities and almost single-mindedly simplistic reactions to the people in their lives. Beto’s ability to capture that helpless rage and channel it into self-righteous violence is both blackly humorous and stomach-churningly disturbing. His characters are similarly frustrating in their often understandable frustration with societal mores, a feeling the crashes against the characters’ own instability and feelings of self-importance.

As his work becomes darker and more despairing, Hernandez continues to prove that he’s one of the masters of the medium, able to explore the darkest corners of humanity while retaining the complexities behind our individual psyches. Speak of the Devil is scary, angry and masterful, and readers need to check it out to see a comic book innovator shattering expectations and expanding the medium.

The Tick: The Complete Edlund

The Tick: The Complete Edlund

Written & Illustrated by Ben Edlund

Published by New England Comics

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The worst comic book genre is, undoubtedly, superhero parody or satire. If superheroes are overdone, the jokes made at their expense are exceedinly obvious, predictable and typically old hat by the time most readers are ten years old. Ben Edlund’s work on The Tick, however, is a rare example of superhero satire that truly works, and Edlund’s enthusiasm for the clichés of the form clearly drive that success.

Full of excessively over-wrought monologues, ninjas, deathtraps and other – lesser seen, more outlandish – tropes, The Tick still manages to be just as funny and just as irreverently reverent as it was when these comics first appeared twenty years ago. The absurdity of The Tick’s speeches is familiar to anybody who’s seen the characters cartoon or live action series, but the pure silliness of supporting players such as Man-Eating Cow (a fellow hero, believe it or not!) and Chainsaw Vigilante (who only nicks superheroes in order to prove their absurdity) provide adventure as well as surprising interactions. It’s not the smartest humor you’ll read, but it’s strong stuff, fueled by a love for the silliness of the genre it lampoons.

The art is effective if unspectacular, conveying the information and pushing the humor. Edlund’s a good character designer. The Tick: The Complete Edlund’s only real failing is, frankly, the underwhelming package. Marking the latest effort by New England Comics to repackage and collect apparently all of their Tick-verse comics into expansive trade paperbacks, The Complete Edlund does give you all of Edlund’s Tick issues, plus an issue by another team who wrap up Edlund’s final cliffhanger, but it’s such a flimsy package – the paper, the cover stock, the weak cover design that imposes a generic Tick image over a background of Edlund-era original cover images. For such a fondly remembered series, one that’s had the mainstream crossover attention it’s had, NEC would be better off creating a more upscale package that fits The Tick’s status. Still, the stories are worth owning, so I can’t complain too much about bringing them all together in this affordable, single edition.


The Literals #1 of 3 (From Vertigo; review by Mike Mullins): Part 3 of the Great Fables Crossover is much like a coin toss prior to the start of a football game. The story rotates end-over-end between Kevin Thorne trying to overcome his writer’s block and Snow, Bigby, and the other Thorns trying to track Kevin. Still struggling to understand the scope of his new masterpiece, Thorne summons personifications of the genres (horror, mystery, blockbuster, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, noir, comedy, romance, and literature) to kick start his creative energies, but to no avail. It is interesting to see how Mark Buckingham personifies the genres and to listen to the personalities that Willingham and Sturges ascribe to them. The Fables and Literals return to New York to begin tracking Kevin. Wanting more inspiration, Kevin summons two of his creations to his home providing a nice hook into older Fables and Jack of Fables stories. As the issue continues to weave between Kevin and Fables, the stories converge into a nice cliffhanger. If you are following the Great Fables Crossover, this issue picks up the steam a little bit and will leave you waiting for the next issue.

Wonder Woman #31 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow) Recent chapters of "Rise of the Olympian" had a meandering aspect at one point or another, and this issue had a refreshing confidence to it. Ironically it came in a issue with a somewhat expected fill-in artist, but since Aaron Lopresti's been knocking it out of the park every month since joining Wonder Woman, I can't honestly attribute the enjoyment I got out of this issue specifically to Bernard Chang. Make no mistake Chang's work is exactly what you want in a fill-in assignment. Without aping Lopresti, Chang keeps the story Gail Simone's been telling for months now seamless in its look and, simply put, I'd like to see him doing more books for DC. One thing about this revelatory sixth chapter (of eight parts) is that it seemed like those Russian nesting dolls, but more in reverse. Every time Simone shines some light on an antagonist who is motivating this "Olympian" epic, a new layer is added. The big story highlight has to be the coming out party for said Olympian. He wastes little time making a big impression on the world as he literally crashes the party at the United Nations (some pretty epic imagery, by the way). I would like to see a little more character development of this new Wonder Woman foe and hopefully that comes in the next couple of chapters, no small feat considering that Genocide was nowhere to be found in this issue. But as brought up earlier, there was a more assured vibe to "Uprising" and it doesn't strike me as a coincidence that Diana's coming out of her Genocide-induced funk with a better sense of purpose and duty. After starting off slow, "Rise of the Olympian" may very well be prepared to finish strong.

Complete Peanuts 1967-1970 (Fantagraphics; by Mike) – When I started picking up these collections of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strip, I didn’t intend to stick with it very long, just long enough to see some of the earliest strips and some of the heyday. I figured, it’s Peanuts, I know it, how much will I need to read. I’ve now read twenty years worth of strips, and I just want more. Every superlative in the book has already been thrown at this strip, but I just know one thing: I love and can’t wait for this winter’s next slipcase.

Double-Shot: Justice Society #26 (DC; Reviewed by Erich): On July 17, 1996, Courtney Johns was aboard the ill-fated TWA Flight 800. Three years later, her brother, Geoff would immortalize her as Courtney Whitmore, the new Star Spangled Kid. Running 14 issues (0-13), Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. would be a minor success, and launch the career of Geoff Johns. He would take Courtney into the new JSA, where she would become a mainstay. Justice Society of America #26 puts a cap, for the time being, on Geoff's run with Courtney and the JSA. And what a way to go! A happy, upbeat story celebrating Courtney's birthday is the setting for the book, and I loved every page of it. As always, Johns is able to deftly capture the personalities of every character he writes, from Wildcat realizing how important the younger generation is to Starman's sublime insanity. From Damage buying ice cream to the perfect birthday wish. And most importantly, Stargirl's place within the Justice Society. A wonderful issue, and a great way for Geoff Johns to bid farewell to his book.

Marvel Assistant-Sized Spectacular #2 of 2 (Marvel; review by Brendan): I was so ready to love the Wyatt Cenac Luke Cage story sight-unseen I didn't know what to do with myself. But it wasn't Luke Cage! Jessica Jones was completely mischaracterized, but what was most upsetting was the serious error in casting Cage as a prospective Brooklyn community leader. He's the Hell's angel of Harlem! Those couldn't be any more different neighborhoods. Sure, the Cage clan is shacking up there in Bucky's Red Hook digs while on the run from the Man, but that dude reps Harlem hard. Moreover, I thought the tone of this story was just too flippant to work with the character as he stands now. It isn't that Cage needs to be an angry dude all the time, but there was something taht just rang false. And really, Jessica Jones would never try and pass off her baby to go and fight. It was an interesting pairing of creator to character, though, and the politically driven plot was interesting enough to warrant another writing attempt from the Daily Show vet. The Cuban sandwiches and baby-björn were nice touches, though. I was most impressed with the emo-Twitter celestial offspring Galacta from Adam Warren and Elsevilla. Her mini-bio said it all; “a major in food issues, with a minor in daddy issues.” The daughter of Galactus hungers, apparently. These two issues were a fun exercise in offbeat Marvel Comics, but if I had to chose one, (and you kind of do, since Marvel is running this as an online contest to decide which story will be revisited), I'd go with Chris Giarrusso's mini- Hawkeye.

The Best Shots Movie Review

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston

Time: 120 minutes

Price: $8.75

Review by David Pepose

It's not easy, being 'Rine.

Terrible pun aside, I feel bad about the Wolverine movie. It's obvious that Hugh Jackman is a nice enough guy, and he made it pretty clear that he wanted to make this movie a treat for fans. But sadly, this movie never really gave much depth to Wolverine's berserker rage, instead being a flat fight-fest that was mediocre and underachieving at best, and awkward and a bit laughable at worst.

The problem with this story is that, like an adamantium skeleton, it rarely deviates from its rigid path -- and feels about as organic. In the first X-films, Wolverine was part of a greater whole, which made the thrust of the film be about the clashing personalities of Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Magneto, and Professor X. In this film, he's driven to revenge by the death of his sweetheart Silver Fox, by his murderous half-brother Sabretooth. Therein is the movie's greatest weakness: despite our familiarity with him, by taking Wolverine out of an ensemble mileau and putting the spotlight directly on him, that means there needs to be more character examination, not less.

It's a shame, because Jackman (as well as his co-star Liev Schreiber) does have a natural charisma to his role, and it just goes nowhere. Why is he averse to killing, and Sabretooth is not? Why is he so susceptible to a berserker rage? Did the Weapon X procedure affect his mind or emotions any? (Given the fact that it does not seem particularly claustrophobic or torturous in the film, I'm saying no.) In fact, why does he go by the name Logan, when he knows his name is Jimmy? Is it his last name? It's never really explained. In fact, why does Colonel Stryker want to wipe his memory, especially as an endgame tactic?

And this lack of character depth extends to the action sequences, as well: I'm of the school that personality informs the style of action, and gives it a certain panache. It could have made for a far better film to examine Wolverine's trickier side constrasting his berserker rage -- not unlike the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller miniseries taking place in Japan -- but instead, we're treated to a lot of jumping, striking, and explosions that, if you took out the claws, could have been any standard Action Hero (TM). It's too bad, because the initial montage of Logan and Sabretooth fighting through the wars of the 19th and 20th century was spectacular -- if only all the fights could say the same.

While Jackman himself is a compelling character, there are many, many small technical glitches that just add up until you can't ignore them any further. Wolverine gets the shiny claws -- Sabretooth gets to jump on all fours and run like a squirrel. Silverfox suddenly starts spouting off about Native America mythology as a sort of precoital seduction (yes, I know in the comics she's Native American, but she doesn't really look it as an actress), which just comes completely out of left field. (And when Lil' Wolverine shrieks at the man who killed his father, well, I nearly wet myself laughing. It nearly happened again when Wolverine nearly pops 10,000 blood vessels in his bulging, muscular neck, as he gives an over-the-top scream during a post-traumatic nightmare.)

And making the Blob a fat man due to a stress-induced eating disorder? And having him box Wolverine in a scene that tries way too hard to be funny? Come on, that doesn't even make any sense. That's just lazy writing.

Meanwhile, many of the Weapon X characters just feel tacked on -- even, who seems to relish every second he's on camera, and especially the meaningless cameos of Cyclops and Emma Frost -- to fill a Marvel character quota of some kind. (Indeed, the introduction of this film basically has to keep cutting back to Wolverine, as he glowers blankly during Weapon X's intimidation tactics, just to remind viewers that, yes, this really is his movie, and we promise we'll actually focus on him in 10 minutes or so.) And as many people have said, the CGI is really noticeable in this film, especially in a scene where Gambit somehow crawls up a building by punching his staff through solid brick, while Wolverine slashes after him through an oddly pixelated fire escape ladder.

It's a shame, because I think this movie could have been a really solid revenge film that really delves into the core of identity, choice, self-control, and soul-crushing fear and despair. Instead, it suffers from Michael Bay-itis, with unceasing explosions and gunfire rather than some action better suited to this particular hero. We do see some flashes of it -- specifically in a well-done moment after Wolverine initially emerges from the adamantium-injection pool and tears through some enemies in a berserker rage. But the problem is, we've seen a much better version of this scene already, in the flashbacks in X-Men 2 -- and otherwise, this movie gets so self-conscious of Wolverine's claws that they become used in bizarre, ridiculous ways, like blocking optic blasts, sparking a line of gasoline, or performing a 180-degree turn on a speeding motorcycle.

So let me reiterate -- this isn't a movie that I consider bad because it somehow doesn't hew to some obscure facet of the character or the comics. This is a movie I consider bad because of technical sloppiness and the sacrifice of character development -- any real development whatsoever -- on the altar of cheap action, all for a climax that seems silly and arbitrary in a last gasp to tie up the loose ends of the first three X-films. I feel so sorry for Hugh Jackman, because out of anyone who worked on this project, he doesn't deserve the flak. But it doesn't change the end product I saw tonight: with a story that seizes and jerks like it's on an operating table, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is ultimately as forgettable as the protagonist's memories.

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