Best Shots: FLASH: REBIRTH, INCREDIBLE HULK

Best Shots: FLASH: REBIRTH, HULK

Best Shots 11-23-09

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Greetings, campers.  As you know, you can find the previous reviews and columns from this past week at the Best Shots Topics page, linked HERE for your convenience.  Also, please visit Blog@Newsarama for even more reviews from our friends and associates.  And now, the news . . .

The Flash: Rebirth #5

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ethan Van Sciver

Colors by Hi-Fi's Brian Miller

Letters by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

It may have been a while since we've seen the last issue of Flash: Rebirth, but in a lot of ways, this series is finally getting its second wind. With some of the method behind Geoff Johns' madness getting revealed, this issue certainly means big things to the Flash family -- as well as fans of the Scarlet Speedster.

For months, some readers have bemoaned Barry Allen's new status quo, thinking him slow, angsty, and stoic to the point of being a cipher. Without giving too much away, Geoff Johns gets it -- and just as he tackled this point in Blackest Night, he finally gives Barry's moodiness some real meaning.  While Barry is clearly front and center here, however, Johns leaves his imprint on the entirety of the Flash family. Fans of Jessie Quick and Wally West's twins are especially in for a great read, as Johns manages to make their scenes some of the strongest in the book.

So is the art going in full-throttle? Most of the time -- Ethan Van Sciver manages to really excel in some splash-page face shots -- usually something I hate in comics nowadays -- giving Barry and Professor Zoom some real mood and emotion. Additionally, Van Sciver's Jessie Quick is a vision -- the pages she's on, it really pops, since her Liberty Belle costume is so different than the rest of the cast's -- and a scene with Wally's twins is some really emotive stuff.

That said, when you slow down, some things -- both in the art and the writing -- don't really add up. For example, an establishing page with the Flash family taking on Zoom just looks weird in terms of the posing and Barry's face -- yet as you continue reading, the lack of backgrounds becomes more and more noticeable. Furthermore, Professor Zoom becomes a little bit of an exposition dump in Geoff Johns' hands, as his word balloons increase in an almost threatening manner by the end of the book. And perhaps the most telling question at this point: we still don't know who Barry Allen is. He's a hero, yes, and we sympathize for his troubles, but who is he? Right now he doesn't have the cockiness of Hal Jordan or the love for all of Clark Kent, and that hurts.

For a lot of fans, of course, the delays in this book have caused them to jump ship -- and after this issue's makeover of the Flash family, I'm sure some of the more change-averse fans of Wally West will probably be up in arms as well. I can certainly understand DC's dilemma here: on the one hand, Ethan Van Sciver needs time to make his magic work, and Geoff Johns is already swamped leading the charge on reshaping the Green Lantern, Superman, and Legion of Superheroes franchises, as well as spearheading this little bitty crossover for DC called Blackest Night. On the other hand, though, while this issue is certainly a solid read -- even with two top-tier creators -- it isn't as electric in its characterization as, say, Green Lantern was, to the point where it could overcome a three-month delay. That said, Johns puts a lot at stake here in Flash: Rebirth #5 -- and if the last issue can strike while the iron is still hot, this could be one radical finish.

Mighty Avengers #31

Written by Dan Slott and Christos N. Gage

Art by Sean Chen

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston      

 Mighty Avengers #31 was quite a gem this week. Lately, it's been really solid, if not great, and I particularly enjoyed the tale of The Unspoken.  Since Christos Gage joined Dan Slott in writing this title, it has gotten progressively better, and the culmination of one of the most fun stories since Busiek had his hands on the team was no letdown.  Sean Chen's pencils are clean and dynamic, and fit perfectly with the tone of this title.  I'm a little disappointed that next month will see this title rejoin the Marvel U at large, as I've quite enjoyed the classic Avengers feel that has been cultivated in Mighty Avengers' little corner of the universe.

The first thing that really struck me about the Unspoken storyline is the balance of characters involved.  This is a classic line-up, drawing from all eras and incarnations of the team, from the classic (Quicksilver, Hercules, and Jocasta), the West Coast team (USAgent), and even the Young Avengers (Stature, and Vision), both of whom are legacy characters that fit seemelessly into the nature of this title.  On top of that, we have Hank Pym, one my all time favorite Avengers, who acts as the synthesis of all of these eras.  Throw in some super cool guest stars such as Justice, Tigra, and even Ronin, and you've got a line-up for the ages.  I love Clint Barton's involvement, as he is my favorite Marvel character, and to see him back in action with bow in hand was positively euphoric.  I think that my joy was mirrored in the character, and whether it was intentional or not, there was a lightness to his portrayal that seemed to show a bit of relief in ol' Clint to leave behind the constant drama that has become the Bendis-era Avengers team and just beat the hell out of some bad guys.  This title has definitely been about the evolution of Hank Pym from self-indulgent, pity party-havin', sad bastard to kickass adventurer and Scientist Supreme (!).  The amount of respect he has begun to demand is well-deserved, hard-earned, and shows a real love of the character on the part of Slott, who first elevated him from "the wife-beater," to capable Avengers leader.  When Hank finally arrives at the scene of the battle with the Unspoken, his old ally Ronin exclaims "We've got a founding Avenger on deck!" and the tide of battle turns.  It's nice to see Hank coming into his own a mere ten years after what should have been his retribution at the end of the now classic "Ultron Unlimited" arc.

 This issue was rife with fantastic moments.  It was quite a thrill to see Ronin and Stature reenacting the classic cover of "Avengers #223."  I also loved the exchange between Quicksilver and Radioactive Man towards the end, when they compare reformed supervillain pedigrees.  Hank Pym taking charge of the team really hits home, going back to back with Ronin, and mentoring both Stature and Amadeus Cho.  Hercules's self-confident assessment of the alien ship as a woman to be wooed is spot on.  The dialogue has really improved since Christos Gage came aboard, as Slott sometimes gets a little stilted on his own.  These two have shared several titles, and they feed each other an energy that definitely works.  Sean Chen's art is a huge step up from that of series regular Khoi Pham, whose art has languished since his departure from "Incredible Hercules."  The final resolution to the Unspoken story involves not only a lightsaber duel, but a hearty dose of comic book science that feels right at home in this type of story.  While much of this book is about getting back to the feel of a classic Avengers title, and living up to the promises made thereto when the title launched, it is not without its drama.  This issue also brings some conclusion to Quicksilver's fued with the Inhumans, finally wrapping up some loose ends from Silent War and beyond.

For fans of the classic Avengers, I cannot recommend this title enough.  It's not perfect, but it captures the fun of those old stories nicely.  While I am an avid reader of the Bendis Avengers books, it is nice to have a refuge from some of the weariness that accompanies those books.  Plenty of action, only a little decompression, and fun glimpses of character development set this title apart.  It's almost a shame that next issue will bring the inevitable clash between the team and their "Dark" counterparts, though I am very hopeful that a different set of authors will bring a new perspective to the conflict than the typical Bendis scene.  This title may not be for everybody, but for me it hits right at the heart, and this issue was quite a highpoint for the series thus far.

The Outsiders #24

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Fernando Pasarin

Published by DC Comics

Review by Robert Repici

There is a curious paradox that pretty much summarizes my thoughts and feelings on Peter Tomasi's current run on The Outsiders series: I love the new team line-up and the strong chemistry between all the characters, but I haven't been a fan of the stories being told with them so far. It's as simple as that. Nevertheless, I have to admit that, for the most part, I've been an avid (yet reluctant) follower of this book since Tomasi's run began last February. Heck, to be completely honest, The Outsiders series actually held a very prominent place on my monthly pull list for most of the year. Unfortunately, I decided to drop the title from my pull list after finishing Tomasi's disappointing and frustrating debut story arc on the series. (It lasted a whole seven issues!) And, believe it or not, the only reason I decided to buy this Blackest Night tie-in issue of the book was because I really wanted to see how Geo-Force would handle the ominous resurrection of his sister Terra as an evil Black Lantern zombie. (The promotional Star Sapphire power ring that accompanied my purchase was just an added bonus for me.) So, what's the verdict? Well, to my surprise, I wasn't disappointed.

As one of the primary masterminds behind this epic Blackest Night event, it truly seems that Tomasi really knows how to get the most out of scenes that revolve around emotional first encounters between our heroes and the undead Black Lanterns, and the confrontation between Geo-Force and Black Lantern Terra that takes center stage in the first half of this issue is certainly no exception. Throughout his run on the book, Tomasi has treated Geo-Force like a character that has tons of potential, and the Prince of Markovia really shines in this issue as he struggles to cope with the sinister resurrection of his sister. Simply put, Tomasi does a tremendous job writing Geo-Force once again.

The thing that makes this issue even more poignant, however, is the way Tomasi utilizes the infamous Terra character as an undead Black Lantern. In short, Tomasi decides to have Terra seemingly denounce the evil of the Black Lantern power ring that's been busy corrupting and manipulating her corpse, and she ultimately asks her brother to end her life. Needless to say, this particular scene is both effective and well-executed, mainly because it puts a different spin on the treachery of the Black Lanterns. After all, Terra's behavior is definitely something we haven't seen from a Black Lantern so far. And while Terra is a character who's notorious for being a traitor, Tomasi does a great job of making her sound both credible and sincere here. Still, I certainly wouldn't be surprised if she ends up betraying her brother's trust before the next issue comes to a close. Heck, if I had to bet on it, I think Terra will ultimately try to rip out the trusting hearts of Geo-Force and the rest of the Outsiders sometime next issue.

Anyway, while Geo-Force and his fellow Outsiders Black Lightning, Owlman, and Metamorpho are trying to decide what to do with Terra, the rest of the team (Katana, Halo, and the Creeper) are en route back to base now that they've captured the menacing Killer Croc. The second half of this issue starts off with a strong scene between Katana and Halo, as they take some time to catch up on each other's lives through a healthy dose of girl talk. Before long, however, they are attacked by Black Lantern versions of Katana's husband and children. An action-packed fight scene then ensues, and that's pretty much the second half of this issue in a nutshell. Unfortunately, whereas the first half of this story was incredibly compelling, this second half felt a bit formulaic in my book, mainly because it was just more of what we've come to expect from these Blackest Night tie-in issues. Still, I liked the "girl talk" between Katana and Halo, and I'm really looking forward to see what Tomasi has in store for all of the Outsiders next issue.

As far as the artwork is concerned, Fernando Pasarin does a good job here. His approach to artistic storytelling is spot on throughout the issue, and his action sequences in the second half of the story are particularly impressive and captivating.

All in all, this was a surprisingly solid comic book. I can't wait to see where the Terra story thread is headed, and it will certainly be interesting to see how Tomasi decides to end his run on this book next issue. At any rate, I think it's safe to say that this book is now back on my pull list for the foreseeable future. I just hope that the incoming creative team of Dan DiDio and Philip Tan don't make me regret that decision.

Incredible Hulk #604

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Ariel Olivetti, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, and Michael Ryan

Colors by Ariel Olivetti, Elizabeth Breitweiser, and Guru eFX

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

What do you call two exceedingly divergent tastes coming together for one delightful result? Incredible Hulk #604, whose unlikely alliance between Bruce Banner and Skaar -- as well as two mish-mashed but surprisingly complementary art styles -- makes for the most entertaining Hulk series I've seen in the history of... well, ever.

It goes without saying that Ariel Olivetti was born to draw this series -- while Olivetti's beefy bodies and enormous biceps might have looked awkward in a series like Cable, when you've got a cast of gamma-powered galoots, this is the place to go all out. Skaar in particular stands out in Olivetti's hands, especially with a sneer he gives his seemingly puny father. But that said, Olivetti's semi-realistic style occasionally feels a little static -- and that's where editors Mark Paniccia and Jordan White get smart about it.

Just to shake things up a bit, Guiseppe Camuncoli swoops in for a few scenes, to show Bruce and his new paramour, the Old Power-wielding Kate Waynesboro -- and the effect really works well. While Olivetti revels in the fight, Camuncoli is all about the mood -- and because Camuncoli is such a masterful artist, a little of his work goes a long way into making everything visually fresh. Again, the editors here are very smart with all this, as their placement of these pages is nearly seamless, switching styles for the maximum impact.

It's interesting that with all this, writer Greg Pak hasn't been mentioned yet. Just like he did in Planet Hulk, Pak is building worlds of Bruce Banner, via his increasingly extended supporting cast -- but unlike Planet Hulk, which occasionally went off the deep end of sci-fi, most of the characters are down-to-earth enough to really relate to. While the denouement of this issue is a little shaky, the pacing of all of this is great, and there's a possible turning point in Bruce and Kate's relationship -- as well as Bruce and Skaar -- which looks like the perfect fodder for some real dramatic tension.

Combined with a beautifully illustrated Savage She-Hulk back-up by Fred Van Lente and Michael Ryan, this book is quickly becoming the 800-pound gorilla of the comic shop. Because of the constrasting visuals of Olivetti and Camuncoli, Incredible Hulk is really starting to coalesce into a book with a strong purpose -- beyond the prerequisite "Hulk smash," that is. After these artists' fantastic first issue last month, I hope that the editors keep these two on board -- it's risk like this that keeps the industry fresh, and it certainly allows Incredible Hulk to live up to its name.

Kull: The Shadow Kingdom  (Dark Horse Comics Graphic Novel)

Written by Arvid Nelson

Art by Will Conrad

Colors by José Villarrubia

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Tim Janson

The Shadow Kingdom was one of two original Robert E. Howard Kull stories that were published in his lifetime, this one in Weird Tales August, 1929.  Howard’s other barbarian has always been a bit of the red-headed stepchild when it comes to Howard’s works.  He’ll always take a back seat to Conan.  The stories were written earlier in Howard’s career and before he had truly developed his style to perfection.  Still Kull isn’t just an early draft for Conan…While Kull’s world was not as developed as Conan’s Hyborian Age milieu, Kull’s Thurian Age world was older and showed some early influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Howard with old Gods and Howard’s Serpent race would be utilized by both Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith in their own stories.  

The Shadow Kingdom is set just after Kull has taken the throne of Valusia.  Yet the usurper has many enemies still plotting his downfall, not the least of which is the ancient race of Serpent Men, thought extinct.  The Serpent Men are able to change their appearance to take on the guise of men and soon they have infiltrated Kull’s court.  Kull meets for the first time his longtime companion and bodyguard, Brule the Spear-Slayer, a Pictish warrior who aids Kull against the Serpent Men.

As Howard stories go, The Shadow Kingdom is on the bland side.  Again, Howard was only 23 when he wrote the story is a bit short of plot although its paced well thanks to a judicious amount of action scenes.  Will Conrad’s art is very strong, particularly his take on the Serpent Men.  Kull is perhaps on the lean side but why argue details.  It’s great to see Kull back in comics again.  While he’ll never eclipse Conan, he has a certain flair…a little more of a brooder and less emotional than Conan.

1,000 Comic Books You Must Read

ByTony Isabella

Krause Publications

Reviewed by Tim Janson

Longtime comic book writer and reviewer Tony Isabella presents a gift for comic book fans…his picks for the 1000 comic books you must read.  Now note that this isn’t necessarily meant to be the greatest comics although certainly many would fall into that category, or perhaps most important might even be more appropriate.  Isabella has segmented his book by decade beginning with the hero who started it all, Superman, an continuing with a look at each decade leading off with the 1940s and continuing to new Millennium.  

A picture of each and everyone of the thousand comics is included along with the issue #, artist and writer credits, publisher, and date.  Isabella then gives a one paragraph note about why the issue was included in the book.  The diversity of titles is extraordinary!  As comic fans we sometimes get wrapped up too much into superhero titles.  Comics, especially back in the 1940s and 1950s were an incredible mixed bag: action, war, horror, humor, detective, science fiction, romance, and westerns all enjoyed their eras of popularity and they are well-represented in the book.  

Yes the major issues are hit upon: .Marvel Comics #1. Flash Comics #1, More Fun Comics #52 (the First Spectre), Detective Comics #27, All-Star Comics #3…the key titles of the Golden Age are all included.  But what’s also included is the lesser known books like Quality’s Police Comics #1; Jumbo Comics #48 with its fabulous Sheena cover; Frankenstein Comics #1; and Santa Claus Funnies in Four Color #128.  I was especially pleased to see Isabella did not overlook many of the great 50s and 60s humor comics like The Adventures of Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope.  Disney Comics are well represented as well.

Could I argue on a few things with Isabella?  Sure..like how the new Millennium section gets a longer section than the 70s, 80s, or 90s and the decade is not even over yet.  Still, the 60s gets it due justice as arguably the comic book industry’s most important decade with fifty pages of content.  Sure we can say there’s books that should have been included.  1974 saw the first appearances of two of Marvel’s most popular characters of the past 25 years, The Punisher (Spiderman #129) and Wolverine (Hulk #180) and neither are included.  But hey, that’s what makes books like this so fun.  

Isabella even gives you tips on how you can find these must reads.  I’ll give you a tip too…it will help to be a millionaire to track down all of these wonderful comic books!

PELLET REVIEWS!

Lady Fight: Escalation (Published by Earthbound Comics; Review by Lan Pitts): Lady Fight is a female-centric collection of short stories involving various super heroes. By the title you might assume it's a long-lost pulp series your grandfather might have had thrown around somewhere, but it's not and actually, it's pretty tame for the most part, aside from the occasional potty mouth. The panel construction goes from overly simplistic to borderline whacky. The art varies from story to story as well, nothing to that left my mouth agape, but I didn't want to gouge my eyes out with the nearest sharp object. The independent spirit is there, and I have to admire that. I'm sure the creators on this collection didn't put it together to win any awards or anything, but no doubt they had plenty of fun.

Z-Blade XX (Published by Atomic Basement; Review by Lan Pitts): Where to begin on this. Well, the story is about two teenage aliens, who botch up their Thesis Project for Abduction 101, and accidentely give retired Army Lt. Ryan Zillion incredible powers and becomes the hero known as Z-Blade XX. That's...quite the name. It almost sounds like an old plot idea somebody would have used for a Hulk Hogan movie back in the early 90's. The art reminds me something of Brian Anderson's "So Super Duper", but slightly more dynamic. Then again, I'm not sure of the artist's art school credentials, but it looks like the team put a lot of work into this, which self-publishing usually is. I wouldn't call this the best thing out there, but trust me, I've read worse.

Dark Avengers #11 (Marvel; review by George Marston): In Dark Avengers #11, Brian Michael Bendis does what he's done in many of the previous 10 issues and gets all of those pesky characters out of the way so Norman Osborne can have some crazy crap happen to him.  Along the way, Ms. Hand gets a little more character development, and the FF's classic foe Molecule Man resurfaces, using his formidable powers to great and interesting effect.  His loneliness, and the way he deals with it, highlight one of my favorite elements of the classic supervillain: a complete inability to follow reasonable logic.  This is a comic that, at its heart, is about supervillains, and I wish that Bendis was making better use of the characters at his disposal.  The recent developments with Venom's mental health are a nice touch, but where is Captain Marvel?  I think it's funny that Bendis insisted on having the Sentry on his roster, only to have to find ways to write him out of every conflict because he's so clearly a game breaker.  Deodato's art remains a perfect blend of gritty and heroic, showcasing how far he's come since his early 90's heyday.  It's nice to see one of his ilk evolve.  Overall, this is a decent issue of a solid title that often squanders its premise in favor of self-service.

Invincible #68 (Published by Image Comics; Review by David Pepose): Now that Conquest has been dispatched, things are finally getting back to normal for Mark Grayson... or are they? For casual readers of the series, this is a great jumping-on point, as we get to see most of the different members of Invincible's life. The only problem? The overall structure of this book feels fairly inorganic, just sort of hitting each point mechanically to introduce people. Surprisingly -- and perhaps this was Kirkman's intent -- there was somewhat of a seedy, unsympathetic undercurrent to this issue, with Mark especially coming off in a bad light with some of his actions. This is a shame, as this book's greatest strength has been the likeability and relatability of its main protagonist. While artist Ryan Ottley really tries to sell the last page in particular, the whole thing felt a little melodramatic, a little too soap operatic. Either way, it's a Viltrumite invasion of a different kind, and hopefully Kirkman will be able to make it work for him.

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