Best Shots: Dark X-Men The Beginning, Green Lantern, More

Best Shots: Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1

Courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com

Greetings! Your BSEs from the past week were . . .

The Nobody (review by Brendan McGuirk)

Wednesday Comics #1 (review by David Pepose)

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly #1 (review by Troy Brownfield)

And now, more!

Green Lantern #43

Writer: Geoff Johns

Pencils: Doug Mahnke

Inks: Christian Alamy

Color: Randy Mayor

Review by David Pepose

Considering this issue of Green Lantern doesn't actually have the titular character in it, this issue is certainly a solid character piece, as well as a strong prelude to the Blackest Night. By following Black Hand to his inevitable rise to the Black Lantern Corps, Geoff Johns has reminded us of the human weight that's necessary for even the most grandiose space opera.

Considering he's slithered in and out of the main storyline since Green Lantern: Rebirth, this issue finally gives us the all-new, all-different origin of Black Hand. Gone is the cliché-spouting nincompoop of yesteryear -- this is a kid who, under the hand of Geoff Johns, is one part Damian from the Omen, and one part school shooter. All things considered, it gives William Hand some new bite -- especially with the surprising climax of the issue, which sets up his new status quo at the frontlines of the Black Lantern Corps.

I think one of the strengths of this particular issue is the art team of Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy. Mahnke not only has some great composition, but he is a great storyteller -- and for a script that can be as verbose as Johns', you need that sort of collaborative partner. But Alamy, meanwhile, really brings Mahnke to a whole new level -- if this is the sort of artwork we can expect for Blackest Night, I will be a very happy man indeed.

Now, this is still an issue that you need to put in context. I think, in a lot of ways, it's much stronger than Johns' recent arcs with Agent Orange, and even with the Red Lanterns -- not only because Mahnke and Alamy are in sync with Johns in terms of pacing, but because the character elements are shining through some of the space opera elements. And while you certainly can read Blackest Night without reading this issue, it is certainly a good single issue that primes readers not only on the possible Black Lanterns, but the twisted humanity underneath.

Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1

Writers: Paul Cornell, James Asmus, Shane McCarthy

Pencils: Leonard Kirk, Jesse Delperdang, Ibraim Roberson

Inks: Jay Leisten, Andy Lanning, Jesse Delperdang

Colors: Brain Reber, Rain Beredo, Matt Milla

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Considering the stunning cover by Jae Lee and much of the hyping of the Dark X-Men by Matt Fraction and Marvel, I was interested to see what this book would look like. My verdict? While there was one really strong story in this book -- and not by the guy you'd expect -- the other Dark X-Men stories are just underwhelming at best.

The first story of this anthology -- examining why Prince Namor joined the Dark X-Men -- was perhaps the most disappointing part of the book for me, only because it falls so flat. Even the initial premise -- Norman Osborn giving Namor a talking to while he stands naked in a shower -- felt almost as bizarre as Osborn's suggestion that Namor is reclaiming his mutant identity as a means of giving him "a new people you can defend and represent." All in all, it just made the King of Atlantis seem weak, and if that is the main reason why he joined the team, well, it just feels like a lousy explanation for one of the lynchpins in Matt Fraction's Dark X-Men story.

But what I felt to be the real gem of this book was James Asmus and Jesse Delperdang's 11-page introduction to Mimic. Not only does the artwork have some good emotions and some nice clarity to the rapidly changing settings, but Asmus sets up some really claustrophobic scenes, both literally and figuratively. "Like I said, I been buried," Mimic says, as he slowly drowns in the dirt and the bottle. "I feel that way all the time."

It's heartbreaking, and it gives us a great look at a character whose greatest wish has become his greatest curse -- when we see Mimic accidentally blast a woman with Cyclops' optic beams, you see by the horrified look on his face that his life should have been so different. "Some of the scariest people in the world? Wolverine, that... the Hulk? Charles Xavier? I got them all twisted up in me," he says. "And I can't always control myself." It's work like this that really should earn Asmus some more work with the X-books, as it's clear he understands the human cost -- the fear, the self-loathing, the lack of control -- that goes hand-in-hand with this metaphor.

Finally, the last story -- focusing on the Dark Beast -- isn't bad from a writer's perspective, but Ibriam Roberson just doesn't elevate this script to the potential it's reaching for. It's clear that Shane McCarthy enjoys writing the Dark Beast, as he gushes over "cutting into the flesh, altering the genetic code, twisting and changing," but the overall theme -- "I'm your biggest fan" -- is a bit stale, considering how many other books are digging on the idea of Norman slowly losing it and giving into his monstrous Green Goblin persona.

All in all, this is far from a mandatory read, with some surprising creative missteps in revealing the master plan behind these all-new, all-different Dark X-Men. But with one fantastic diamond in the rough, if you're a completionist (or at least one for Mimic), then this may be a book for you. Otherwise, I'd just sit back and read Uncanny X-Men and Dark Avengers, as it looks like this team is only safe in the hands of the guys who put them together in the first place.

Red Robin #2

From: DC

Writer: Chris Yost

Art: Ramon Bachs and Art Thibert

Review by Mike Mullins

The first issue of Red Robin could generously be described as average with its clunky handling of Tim’s departure from Gotham, Tim’s constant brooding, and art that seemed static and heavy. A lot can change in the course of a month where both art and story take a step forward in quality.

Artistically, Art Thibert steps in as the inker and the difference is pronounced with thinner lines and fewer shadows. The change helps Backs pencils feel more alive. Comparable fight scenes between the first two issues feel more dynamic and fluid. It is often hard to tell the impact of an inker in relation to the original pencils, but for Thibert is a more natural fit for Bachs’ pencils. The biggest slip on art comes from the colorist. On page two the rooftop locale of the fight between Robin and his would-be assassins is appropriately dark for the late hour and on the next page is much brighter, consistent with the explosion across the street. It’s a nice effect and choice by the colorist. The lighter color continues on page nine, after an interlude back to Gotham, but the remainder of the fight returns to the darker shades of page two. Either coloring decision would work, but the switch doesn’t make sense for the brevity of the fight.

Chris Yost seems more comfortable with Tim Drake in this issue, and some of my problems with the issue are sure to be editorially driven. The first concern is the decision for Tim to refer to himself as Tim Wayne. This is a young man who lost his father when he was sixteen, who loved his father, and had a very strong relationship with his mother and father. He is not an orphan, a child abandoned by his father, or punk who had hated his dad, and it makes no sense for him to think of himself as Tim Wayne rather than Tim Drake, especially considering the lengths he had previously gone to in order to avoid adoption by Bruce.

The other disappointment was the constantly jumping around in time from page to page. Most are decently documented for timeframe, but the second jump from Paris to Gotham does not receive a notation for time a location which can be a little jarring. I suspect this was accidentally left out, but it was not immediately obvious that this scene was in Gotham a day earlier as opposed to somewhere in Gotham. Structurally, the story would have worked just as well without jumping back and forth between Gotham and Paris more than once, but it is a minor quibble.

The interlude in South Africa is another oddity. In a portion of the story that does not involve Red Robin; I cannot understand why the narration boxes include the Red Robin logo and coloration.

That may sound like a lot of negatives, but Yost and Bachs provide a much better issue in terms of storytelling. The dialogue and inner monologue fit the art supplied by Bachs and Yost provides a treatment of Tim’s abilities that show his fighting abilities, his self awareness, and the quickness of his intellect. Tim’s thought process through the fight with the assassins shows how he is always working on solving the puzzle in front of him and cataloguing information for its future use. Yost also recognizes the impact Tim has in his own identity and in the super hero community when he shows the concern of Ives, Zoanne, Jason Bard, Detective Harper, Alfred, Wonder Girl, and Oracle for Robin. To have so many people notice Tim’s absence in just two days shows how much Tim impacts those around him. Those scenes show that Yost has an appreciation for the character including support characters that have come from previous creators, showing that DC Comics choose well when placing Yost on Red Robin.

Red Robin #2 takes a definitive step forward in quality and shows that Tim Drake is still worthy of a solo title (granted, 183 issues of Robin should be enough to prove the character’s durability and popularity) and, more importantly, provides proof positive that Yost, Bachs, and Thibert are up to the task.

The Unwritten #3

Written by Mike Carey

Art by Peter Gross

Colors by Chris Chuckry and Jeanne McGee

Letters by Todd Klein

Cover by Yuko Shimizu

Published by Vertigo

Review by Lan Pitts

There are few books out there now that I read on the way home after I leave my shop. Even fewer are the books that have captured my attention like this title has. . . especially for a book only three issues in. Mike Carey is no stranger to this sort of genre, writing for other Vertigo books including Hellblazer, Sandman, and Lucifer. The thing about The Unwritten is that it feels sort of grounded compared to his work about the Divine, but still has elements of wonder and magic. If you haven't started reading this series, I say it's time you begin. Let me give you the rundown: it's about a man whose father was a prolific fantasy writer and based his main character on his son, Tom. Now, Tom's father disappears and all the stories that his father wrote may actually be true. The way these issues work almost kills me with their cliffhangers, because they are honestly-- just THAT good. In each issue, we discover more about the world of Tommy Taylor and Mike Carey's imagination feels like it has no bounds. Having said that, this particular issue takes a different route than the previous two.

Now don't worry, it still plays out wonderfully. But this time around, it's a little more low-key than the previous installments. Tom travels to the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villa_diodati"]Villa Diodati[/url] with other popular horror writers to discuss horror and its nuances. It's the "House of Frankenstein," it's also the house where Tom spent some time as a youth. There are flashbacks of Tom and his father and how their relationship reflects a scene earlier in the issue when the group of authors discuss Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and whether it's a social parable or something else. Tom does a bit of detective work and discovers a safe behind one of his father's old paintings. After a few guesses, he gets the combination right and inside he discovers a mysterious note and the doorknob to his father's old room. Meanwhile, one of the horror writers goes outside to smoke a joint and is soon murdered. Now the killer is creeping towards the legendary manor.

Just because you think this book has to do with a boy wizard messiah, does not mean it's meant for children. It's written for mature readers, as well as readers with enough intelligence to understand and appreciate the literary references and obscure slang. The dialogue is crisp and Peter Gross' art accompanies it quite well. As I mentioned earlier, this issue takes the story a bit slower, but after the first two issues of Carey constructing this world, an issue of character-building isn't so bad and is understandable. This book is easily one of the best on the market now, with its interesting characters and intriguing story. The best part is, it's only three issues in, so those of you who haven't caught on, it's fairly easy to start now.

World of New Krypton

Written by James Robinson and Greg Rucka

Art by Pete Woods

Colors by Brad Anderson

From DC Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

I’m loving World of New Krypton . It's the book where Superman kneels before Zod.

Rucka, Robinson and Woods go to great lengths in streamlining the various aspects of Kryptonian mythos into a singular, diversely unified culture. On New Krypton, every iteration of Superman’s people is represented in on fashion or another. The various guilds account for the sometimes conflicting costume designs and philosophies, and the result is a fully realized, fleshed out culture with its own strengths, and shortcomings.

In a word of supermen, the resilient strength of Kal-El’s character is on full display. Assigned by the ruthless leader Zod as a commander in the Kryptonian army, Superman must work within the parameters of his own alien culture to try and initiate progress, as he sees it. It’s an interesting reversal for the Man of Steel, as it inverts his usual role as a foreigner-among-us, to an Earther-among-aliens. Also, it’s just as interesting seeing Superman in a deferential role, swearing his allegiance to a mortal enemy for the service of his people.

After last issue’s goings-on, where Kal refused to execute a prisoner as ordered, he here stands trial for insubordination. The courtroom scene offers the chance for Pete Woods to show off some great imagery, integrating the imposing floating heads amidst foreboding darkness introduced by the Donner films. The synced containment halos are a welcome inclusion because, even static on the page, you can sense their movements, and almost hear their dull hum. Ever since Infinite Crisis, there have been aspects here and there that wink to the classic films, with Phantom Zone panes and such, but the pressure-cooker courtroom might be the high-water mark. The repeated usage of double-page spread sequences here widens this story's scope, fostering a dramatic tension that keeps the stakes high, even without big brawls. This series has been methodically paced, but in such a way that it serves this rare espionage Superman yarn.

All in all, it seems that World of New Krypton is meant to serve as a response to those who claim Superman is too infallible a character, or whose power dwarfs his opponents such that there compelling is no threat. He is among peers here, which makes Superman's most precious commodities his mind and integrity. He's playing politics here, and although he is a hero to the people of Earth, it is Zod that the Kryptonians see as their champion. In this issue, we even see Zod's compelling, charismatic side. It shouldn't come as a surprise, since charisma is a vital trait to any successful leader, but it still impressive that Rucka and Robinson so ably give the bloodthirsty murderer a taste of redemption. Finally, I'm a huge fan of Pete Woods, and the global range he's displayed in series has been nothing short of titanic.

This issue provides a definite close of the first arc of this maxi-series, as the lifting of the city's dome marks a symbolic completion of the Kryptonian civilization's reconstruction. There are so many stories of Superman saving the people of our planet, World of New Krypton is great opportunity to share the greatest hero of them all with his own people.

North 40 #1

Written by Aaron Williams

Art by Fiona Staples

From Wildstorm

Review by Brendan McGuirk

It's 2009, and Cthulhian demons are comics' new zombies!

It's not really fair to saddle North 40 as responsible for comics' latest trend, but one must admit, demons from dark dimensions have become a rising trend in the realm of four-color funnybooks. I say we just chalk it up to Alan Moore's Ideaspace and move on, as trending topics themselves doesn't bother me, so long as we get good stories out of the deal.

Williams and Staples' North 40 tells the tale of the Hell that descended upon a small, unsuspecting town. Precipitated by a few dumb kids reading from a clearly-marked-for-danger book (will kids ever learn? Don't trust skin-bound bibles!), an evil aura is unleashed, and men turn to monsters. Malignant metamorphosis runs rampant as brothers murder brothers, shopkeepers devour customers, and generalized chaos ensues. The end times are here. Better grab your gun.

North 40 basically reads as a high-budget version of a low-budget horror flick. It's got a wide cast of townsfolk caught at ground zero of the apocalypse, each trapped in their own personal Hell. It's a fair assumption that in subsequent issues a few of these folk will meet up, hunker down, and fight back the darkness.

Terrifically violent and off-beat, this book has the makings of a winner. It's got strong characters, and phenomenal art from Fiona Staples. Her color work is light and effortless, and there's a bit of Ryan Sook to her line. Williams nails some fine one-liners, and his balanced group of players could go as far as the story decides to take them. If this book plays its cards right, it could be the new Walking Dead, only without a zombie in sight.

(Okay, there might be one zombie).

Irredeemable #4

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Peter Krause

Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse

Publisher: BOOM! Studios

Review by David Pepose

While I've found this series to have its stops and starts, moving from Silver Age pastiche to some really interesting looks at the relationship between betrayal, corruption, and power, Irredeemable #4 really reeks of the desperation that can only come when you're facing an angry god. The same sort of fear and impossible decisions that made Waid's earlier efforts on Kingdom Come so appealing are back in this issue, and it makes a good, if somewhat quick, read.

The past few issues, with varying degrees of success, have looked at the Plutonian's history, looking in an almost Citizen Kane-like fashion about how the world's greatest superhero could have become twisted into its greatest nemesis. Irredeemable #4 ignores much of the past, instead focusing on the here and now -- just what the extent of this one-time hero's rage is.

And it's great.

Perhaps the most dire scene in this issue begins with the United Nations, deliberating over what they can do over their superhuman problem. And unlike the atomic warfare brought on at the end of Kingdom Come, Waid zigs where he once zagged -- countries begin falling all over each other to make the Plutonian their leader. It's this sort of desperation that speaks volumes about how powerful the Plutonian is, and just how much terror he's caused -- yet for those who think actions speak louder than words, Waid also has this rogue superman lose his temper.

And Singapore is destroyed because of it.

All in all, having this story focus around the leader of the superhero resistance, the super-genius Qubit, is a good choice for this high-stakes issue, as we learn as quickly as he does that smarts don't always save the day. When the Plutonian makes him choose ten survivors out of four million, Qubit's stammering reply: "You! And you! I'm sorry... I'm so sorry.." is heartbreaking. And it is with that that we finally get a strong idea of what our heroes are made of, and the extent of the Plutonian's psychotic rage.

While Waid is indisputably the muscle behind this story, his art team of Peter Krause and Andrew Dalhouse do a good job of giving a solid, Astro City-like feel to all this carnage. The last few pages especially are haunting, even if the impetus for the tsunami that destroys Singapore is a bit unclear. That said, some of the emotions and grandeur do not always ring clear here -- it's just too bad that the idea of a human of mass destruction isn't accompanied by some more terrifying, more apocalyptic imagery to go with these impossible decisions. All in all, while it may not be the most dynamic comic in the world, Waid is truly showing us his dark side, and it's that sort of insight -- as opposed to a cracked-mirror Silver Age -- that makes this comic work.

Batman #688

Writer: Judd Winick

Pencils: Mark Bagley

Inks: Rob Hunter

Colors: Ian Hannin

Review by David Pepose

For me, it's almost impossible to look at this issue of Batman without comparing it to Judd Winick's last tenure on the Bat-books, with Under the Hood. How does this issue -- with Dick Grayson assuming the cape and cowl -- compare to the resurrection of Jason Todd?

Well, I'm conflicted at best. And to be honest, given the creative team, that is not what I was expecting when I read this book.

Structurally, Winick's story is fairly similar to his last one: he opens up with a great hook, as Batman gets beaten to a pulp inside the Batcave. Unfortunately, the rest of the issue is largely set-up, both to the new world surrounding Dick Grayson, and the burgeoning threat of Two-Face. Some bits of Winick's work is really good -- I for one really like the new direction of the Bat-books that plays up the acrobatic side of the Dark Knight, and the idea that this happier, more well-adjusted Batman plays nice with the police and their evidence is a cool idea.

But other parts of this story felt a bit, well, slow. Part of this has to do with the art team on this book. Mark Bagley and Rob Hunter are both good, but sometimes, I don't think the combination necessarily works. Another part of the problem is the colors -- I'm not sure if this is a printing error or something deeper on the part of Ian Hannin, but much of this book is either muddy, or operates with some garish palettes.

While I think these missteps could work themselves out as more issues come out, the main problem is that of tone -- both on the writer and the artist's head. The reason why books like Batman & Robin and Detective Comics are so successful is that visually they establish a real sense of drama, action, and weight to the book. Mark Bagley is good with fluidity and very good at establishing down-to-earth drama, but I'd argue that's not what this book needs. When you put an artist like Bagley together with a writer like Winick -- who takes a lot of time focusing on some of the slower elements of Batman's world, like Gordon's thoughts on the Batsignal, or the five pages devoted to Two-Face and his henchman -- the whole book grinds down to a halt.

All in all, I'm hoping that this book picks up in the next few issues, whether its using flashbacks to Dick as Robin (a great tactic used in Under the Hood), or some knock-down, drag-out fights (such as Bruce and Dick's fight against Amazo in the same arc). Because right now, while Batman may be being reborn with some dynamic, experimental series, this issue -- despite its notoriously reliable creative team -- just feels plain.

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