BEST SHOTS Reviews: "In Case You Missed It" Edition

GEOFF JOHNS Talks BLACKEST NIGHT, pt. 2

by The Best Shots Team, courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com

Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Greetings, readers! Remember, you can keep track of all our Best Shots columns and stand-alone reviews right here: http://www.newsarama.com/topic/best-shots.

And by the way . . . Good Lord, that’s a TEN up there? We’ve been doing Best Shots almost five years?! Crazy. Speaking of crazy, we know that there was only one major book released last week, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have the regular column, revisit it, toss in some “In Case You Missed It” action and more. Be back tomorrow for several entries in Best Shots Advanced. Let’s start today with David’s assessment of THAT big release, reprinted here for your convenience...

Blackest Night #6

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert and Joe Prado

Colors by Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

With the latest issue of Geoff Johns' magnum opus, it seems things get a little bit brighter -- that is, before everything goes pitch black. Focusing on the supporting characters of this series a bit, Blackest Night #6 really injects the Lantern Corps mythology into the DCU proper, with a twist that will likely make the message boards flare up with just about every emotion under the rainbow.

Love the issue or hate it, it's cool to see the little nuances in Johns' writing that shows how experienced he's become over the past few years. For example, when he introduces the Black Lantern threat within DC's large stable of "resurrected" heroes, the exposition goes down smooth, setting the stakes within three short pages. And the book really crackles when our returned heroes team up once more, as Johns puts the explanations aside and gives us a short but sweet action sequence that shows the Flash is more than just a guy who runs fast.

Something else that Johns really promotes in this book has to be the supporting characters of the Atom and Queen Mera of Atlantis. In this issue Johns really showers them with some (deserved) love. Mera in particular really starts building some mainstream street cred as a viable heroine, and even Johns' abbreviated take on Wonder Woman has the sort of spot-on, nail-on-the-head characterization that makes his writing so compelling.

In terms of the art, Ivan Reis is a machine, packing in Geoff Johns' dense plotting without muddling anything. The more unorthodox the layout, the better Reis works -- when he has room to breathe, the composition just looks really great. Reis' real strength, however, isn't his clarity, but his expressiveness -- the best panels in this book aren't splash pages, but the looks of determination on the heroes' faces when they're lashing out against the Black Lantern threat. (He and Johns also get serious points for the depictions of the characters on the last page. Rock. On.)

That said, despite the visceral fist-pumping effect you get on the last page, this isn't a perfect issue. Johns does a lot to pack in as much story, action, and explanation as he can in 22 pages, but even with Reis' clear storytelling, the sheer number of five- and six-similarly-sized-panel pages makes the second half of this issue feel a bit cramped. Additionally, there will be those who find Johns' big twist a bit more goofy than epic -- I would argue that while Johns' choices made sense, it would have been nice to see just a little bit more set-up, especially in the case of characters like Wonder Woman.

To me, however, the issue that will make or break this series is this: with its melding of the disparate forces and figures in the DCU, Blackest Night doesn't seem to incorporate the scary, apocalyptic tone of Alan Moore that seemed to be built up during Johns' previous event, the Sinestro Corps War. Gone are the drums made of Guardians' skins, gone is the ultimate destruction of the Green Lanterns and the universe they protect. In other words, the long set-up stakes still don't feel as heavy or as real as in earlier epics. But if you look at Blackest Night #6 as what it is -- a popcorn blockbuster featuring some of the best and the brightest of the DCU coming together in the face of overwhelming odds -- this is a densely-packed labor of love that looks at Earth's heroes in a brand-new light.

The Robert E. Howard Chronicles Slipcase Edition

Written by: Various

Art By: Various

Published by: Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed By: Tim Janson

The Robert E. Howard Collection is a three book set of trade paperbacks, each featuring one of Howard’s best-known creations: Conan, King Kull, and Solomon Kane. The Chronicles of Conan Volume 1 reprints issues #1 through #8 of the original Marvel comic-book series including one of Howard’s most popular tales “Tower of the Elephant”. These early 1970s stories feature the work of rising star Barry Windsor Smith.

The Chronicles of Solomon Kane collects the six-issue Marvel miniseries The Sword of Solomon Kane which features adaptations of Howard stories as well as an original tale and issues #33 and #34 of Marvel Premiere. The Chronicles of Kull Volume 1 features the two earliest Marvel Comics Kull stories from Monsters on the Prowl #16 and Creatures on the Loose! #10, as well as the first nine issues of Kull the Conqueror.

The Conan Stories have been reprinted fairly often over the years at Marvel and then again at Dark Horse. Smith’s version was of a younger, waifish Conan and was a stark contrast to future Conan artist John Buscema’s beefier version. Written by Roy Thomas, the foremost Conan comic’s scribe, these early tales of Conan’s life started the swords & Sorcery boom in comics that paved the way for Howard’s other characters as well as DC’s Warlord series.

The Solomon Kane stories are the real treat of this edition. Solomon Kane has been the least appreciated of Howard’s main creations but he’s arguably his most complex character. The Puritan adventurer was single-minded in his quest for vengeance, which propels him in the very first story, an adaptation of “Red Shadow” one version with spectacular art by Howard Chaykin. The only downer to the Kane book is “Hills of the Dead”. Great story but awful art by Jon Bogdanove whose Kane looks positively anorexic.

The Kull book features art by Berni Wrightson on the very first Kull comic story. Kull always enjoyed outstanding and underrated art, mostly courtesy of the brother/sister team of John and Marie Severin. The Kull stories include Howard’s “The Shadow Kingdom” in which the newly crowned King Kull has to defend his throne from the insidious Serpent Men.

This is a fantastic set, showcasing some of the best artists of the 70s and 80s and, of course, the fertile and fantastic imagination of Robert E. Howard.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT . . . Reviews and Recaps

Angelus #1

Written by Ron Marz

Art by Stjepan Sejic

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

Angelus is the story of many things, but mainly about how things work in this universe. How things work in circles. See, the Angelus was once a self-righteous villain, though now former Witchblade-bearer Dani Baptiste is now the wielder of the Angelus force. Also, how Dani came from New Orleans, moved to New York, and now has settled back to Louisiana in an attempt to clear her head. Along for the ride is her would-be girlfriend, Finch, who was introduced a while back in "Witchblade". Too bad for Dani, things are about to get crazier.

Now, I wouldn't call this an origin story by any means, if anything it's a set up for the remaining five issues of this mini series. There's little to be unsaid about what Marz and Sejic have done for Top Cow's top character, and this title is in the same field of character development, intrigue, with magical elements that wouldn't let me stop turning pages. Marz is no stranger to the story of everyman, or woman, becoming a larger than life hero(ine) and Dani has stepped out of Sara's shadow and really shines here.

Of course, Sejic is at his best here with heavenly imagery and hellish designs and solid panel construction, but once again, doesn't seem to capture the images of the "real world" and the more subtle moments. I do love the "aren't they, are they" factor of Finch and Dani's friendship, and you want to cheer for the both of them on. Readers of both Witchblade and Darkness will surely want to pick this issue up, though there isn't really anything earth-shattering for them, but really completes that trinity that Top Cow has established. With "Artifacts" coming out soon, this is a book to have an eye on.

Mighty Avengers #32

Written by Dan Slott

Art by Khoi Pham

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Once again, Mighty Avengers impresses me with a fun story culled from a premise that is getting low on steam. Ever since Norman Osborn took over for Tony Stark as America's Douchebag, he's been making the rounds throughout the Marvel U just as much as the latter once did. Osborn's Dark Reign facilitates his numerous appearances, and indeed even his books make mention of his apparent lack of sleep, but that doesn't mean an encounter between Osborn's ubiquitous Dark Avengers and one of their more heroic counterparts is at all a novel concept. Still, true to form, Mighty Avengers takes a (slightly) different angle on the now familiar formula, forcing an inevitable team up between the two teams. Once again, Dan Slott provides a script that is classically informed, while still managing to bring his characterization into a more modern form. I could not love the line-up of this team more, and as surprising as it is, I look forward to seeing the two squads of Avengers here get a little more shared screen time in the coming issues. Regular pencller Khoi Pham returns, and while his work does not exactly thrill, it has its bright spots for sure. In particular, his former subjects Hercules and Amadeus Cho look quite nice in nearly all of their panels, and book regular Loki also shines. I must say I do love his portrayal of Norman Osborn as well, as it's more akin to his classic look than the more recent Tommy Lee Jones style. Further, Pham's acting and facial anatomy are far improved from his earlier issues on this title. I can't help but feel that the art feels somewhat rushed in places, and I am of the opinion that Pham is more suited to a solo title where he can focus on a smaller cast. Still, I've seen far worse work on other Avengers titles in the last year.

The issue begins with a Kree award ceremony for Quicksilver, who regular readers will remember told his Inhuman in-laws last issue that a Skrull replacement was responsible for his activities since M-Day, including the Silent War and running amok with the Terrigen Crystals. It's an interesting development, and I am surprised that more characters haven't taken that route since the invasion. Somehow the shame of his daughter being the only person to know that he's a liar and a bad person in general isn't humbling enough to stop him from being a dick, though, and he admits to himself that he's only on the team to try and contact his sister, the Scarlet Witch, who has been appearing in this title, calling the team "Pym's Rejects." We are given a recap of some of Pym's Avenger's adventures abroad, including battles with Terminus and Dansen Macabre. If I have one complaint, it's that often I'd really rather see those battles than another Norman Osborn gets mad at some Avengers story.

Anyway, Loki is observing Osborn, and notes his anger at the press's statement that most of the world views Pym's team as the "real" Avengers, as opposed to Osborn's team. Loki decides to mess with ol' Norman, and hopefully drive him insane I guess, by exposing a classic Marvel villain to a level of power that turns him into a serious cosmic threat. Meanwhile, Pym's team hangs out and get suspicious of the Scarlet Witch, who is also actually Loki. It's in these scenes that most of my favorite moments occur, such as Herc and Stature arm wrestling, USAgent's frustration at Pym's glee at being Scientist Supreme, and their argument over which of USAgent's shields was better made. Eventually the team jets off to confront the aforementioned villain, and find themselves face to face with not only a threat that is far more than they bargained for, but Osborn's impostor Avengers. My absolute favorite moment in this issue is when USAgent confronts Osborn, saluting him and saying, "It's an honor to meet you sir!" much to the rest of the team's dismay. It's this type of comedy combined with the return of one of Marvel's most powerful jerk asses that makes me cautiously optimistic for the rest of this meet up. It's been done, but at least this one will have its moments.

All in all, Mighty Avengers remains a consistent and satisfying taste of "the way things was." I feel like it strikes a fine balance between a classic sensibility and a modern setting. Dan Slott, who often feels a little out of place with his characters, hits this one home time and time again, both in terms of story and characterization. While I wish Khoi Pham had a place on a title more suited to his talents, he does an, at worst, adequate job on his pencils. Some will find the style of this book off-putting, and indeed there are certainly bits of dialogue and moments that come off as more than a little cheeseball, but I confess that I relish those moments somewhat. Above all, this book is FUN, and that's something I often miss in comics these days.

”In Case” Pellet: New Avengers #60 (Marvel Comics; review by George Marston):

There are some pretty fantastic “asplode!” moments in this issue of New Avengers. Jonas Harrow's head asplode, Norman Osborn's house asplode, Luke Cage's heart no splode. While there are some great bits, the issue and the storyline on a whole have left me feeling quite cold. Once again, we repeat ourselves, and though the key may be different, the second verse is the same as the first. A New Avenger surrenders to Osborn. The others rescue him, embarrassing Osborn in the process. Osborn hires a whole crap load of supervillains to kill the Avengers. They fight. One of the Avengers surrenders to Osborn, blah blah blah. The main saving grace of this title for me is the art, which is out of this world. This is seriously just on another level. Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger are a great team, and Dave McCaig's colors are sublime. Honestly, it's beginning to feel like this title is floundering in Dark Reign. I can only hope that some new life gets injected into the title as a result of the upcoming "Siege" crossover.

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