Best Shots Comic Reviews: JSA, X-MEN LEGACY, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews: JSA, X-MEN

Best Shots  3-1-10

By The Best Shots Team, courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com

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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.

the other guys here that a retelling of Superman's origin was anything but necessary, but it does stand to reason that it at least served to distinguish this version of the character from the one who currently stars in several monthly titles.  Not everyone has a full understanding of the Earth-2 Superman, plus they did a lovely job with the three pages they used.  Fortunately the transition from one artist to another was fairly seamless, and not once did it deviate from the tense story told by Tony Bedard and James Robinson.  I’m not going to say that this was mandatory reading in order to follow “Blackest Night,” but as a big fan of the Justice Society, it was welcome for me to see them team get enough pages dedicated to the extensive list of deceased heroes you knew they had to face.  Between this series and “Blackest Night: Superman,” Eddy Barrows proved to be an invaluable compliment to Ivan Reis and the superlative work being done in the main series.  The guy knows how to do epic, and his work is looking more and more polished with every project he’s assigned.  

So while the book is closed on one series, another one is looking at least a little more like it’s on strong footing for the foreseeable future.  Hopefully we won’t be like Mr. Terrific twenty years from now, wondering where all the good times have gone and what could have been.

Best Shots Extra: BLACKEST NIGHT #7
Best Shots Extra: BLACKEST NIGHT #7
Blackest Night #7

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ivan Reis

Published by DC Entertainment

Review by George Marston

Blackest Night will undoubtedly go down in the history of our collective medium as one of the great triumphs of the superhero genre.  Already it has won accolades, awards, and near universal praise from fans and critics alike.  As an event, it may deserve these achievements based solely on the times when it triumphs, and in spite of its shortcomings and failures; however, as a single eight issue mini-series, it leaves much to be desired.  Blackest Night #7, the penultimate issue of the series, features one of the few major revelations of the crossover not previously spoiled by DC honcho Dan DiDio, who throughout the event has seemed like the kid who got you the BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER, AND JUST CAN'T WAIT FOR YOU TO OPEN IT!  Even so, it is a moment that has been foreshadowed for nearly three years at this point, and though none of us knew how it would play out, it has been clear since his return that Thaal Sinestro would be central to this story.  His moment of destiny, claiming the white light of life and in doing so, besting his nemesis Hal Jordan, is one of the few promises truly delivered on by Blackest Night.

Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis have each received monumental praise for their work on this series.  Indeed they were each voted as the best of their respective talent pools for 2009 on this very site based on the love for this title.  I, however, have been left cold by the book both in terms of art and story.  Ivan Reis is an accomplished penciller, but many times his layouts feel less dynamic than I would like, and in this latest issue, there are bits that feel as though he is flagging somewhat in the home stretch.  Johns too seems a little too content at times, and some of his dialogue suffers for it, particularly when he allows cliches or puns like "In space, only we can hear you scream!" to crop up, or in almost everything that Black Hand has ever said.

Too much of the weight of the story is dependent on reading the myriad tie-ins and crossover issues for the eight part title series to impact effectively on its own, and yet so many of those same tie-ins are entirely superfluous and serve only to stretch and wear the central mechanic of the event.  We are more often told what emotions are being thrown around than made to actually feel them.  Too often Geoff Johns has allowed himself to get caught up in slasher movie ethics with scenes such as Black Hand licking the skull of Bruce Wayne, or the corpses of Sue and Ralph Dibny slaughtering Hawkman and Hawkgirl, rather than cultivating a sense of psychological drama.  The Scarecrow, a character whose possession of a yellow ring I truly relished, has almost moved into the realm of parody, barfing up gems such as "FLY, MY MONKEYS!" as he manifests vested primates the likes of which could clearly only be conceived of by a mind that has plumbed the most depraved depths of fear.  The only fear I truly felt at his disposal was that the pendulum would swing too far in the other direction, and a turn of the page would find him devouring live puppies or engaging in some other bizarre behavior designed more to shock than terrify. 

It's not all bad, however.  Blackest Night #7 certainly recoups a lot of the energy lost in the middle issues of the mini.  After a strong start, too much time was spent setting up hooks and threads for events that took place outside of this book.  Now that we are moving into the final stretch, things have come back around full swing.  I was more satisfied with this issue than the last several; perhaps it is because we finally learned the Guardians' deep dark secret, or perhaps it's because there wasn't a DC Nation article explaining that Sinestro was destined to be the first White Lantern.  Whatever the case, it does leave me wondering how much of the cold shoulder is due to the growing pains inherent in inflating Blackest Night from a Green Lantern event to the universe wide driving force it has become.  Maybe the eight issues of this book would have been more killer, and less filler.  Maybe some of the moments relegated to books outside of the flagship mini would have found their way into the eight issues that should be the most important to the crossover. 

Scalped #35

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by Danijel Zezelj

Colors by Giulia Brusco

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by Vertigo

Review by David Pepose

To me, Scalped has always been one of those books that I've wanted to read -- and review -- more, but have always fallen behind to the ranks of the trade-waiter. But when I saw on Twitter that writer Jason Aaron described this issue as "like a mini OGN," I decided to dip my toes back into the hard-scrabble stories of the Rez. While this stand-alone issue certainly doesn't tie into the main series, it does make good on Aaron's promise -- these 22 pages are some of the purest distillations of what I see as the main theme of the series: desperation.

Looking at old Indian couple who live at the barest edges of the Reservation, Jason Aaron takes a break from the intrigues surrounding Dashiel Bad Horse -- and that's not a bad thing. So many people look at Jason Aaron as the "gritty" writer, but his knack for quirky characterization is truly his greatest strength. Whether its Mance and Hazel identifying low-flying jets by the sounds of their engines or listening to them recall the first time they made love, you feel for these characters so profoundly, that their dire straits are so much worse.

The tone of this book is elevated, however, with Danijel Zezelj's artwork. This isn't the picturesque American Midwest -- Zezelj has no qualms of giving his characters a cracked, jagged quality that only contributes to the claustrophobic feel of this book. Yet there are moments of true tenderness that creep out from the rocky composition of the art -- indeed, there's one page where you could swear you could almost see the tears glistening in Mance's eyes. Yet Zezelj's stylistic choices almost overshadow the strong contributions of colorist Giulia Brusco, who really sets some great tones even as she washes the art with typically just a single brown or purple or blue.

Really, the main weakness of the book is probably just the ending, which just comes a little too out-of-the-blue for my liking. But that's not to say that the ending doesn't make sense -- I know when it's a matter of taste rather a matter of what works -- and Aaron does make the most of out it. It's a denouement that fits -- another strength of Aaron's is his rock-solid in-story logic -- yet doesn't feel like the typical Scalped ending. Without giving too much away, it all ties back into the land -- ultimately, the only lasting currency the Reservation has.

It's funny, because out of the two "art-house" comics divisions out there -- Vertigo and the non-superhero half of Image -- Vertigo has always been the company that has tapped into the zeitgeist and anxieties of the times. Transmetropolitan focused on the skepticism and mistrust at the end of the Clinton years and the onset of the Bush administration; DMZ examined the realities of the horrors and choices of war. But for my money, Scalped is the comic that is the face of our times. We're tired, we're scared, we're sinking amidst a recession and greed -- for so many people, Mance and Hazel aren't fictional characters, but friends and families, associates and neighbors. The Rez is becoming less and less of a physical location -- and more and more a state that we all live in. And that's what makes Scalped so compelling.

Wonder Woman #41

DC Comics

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Chris Batista and Fernando Dagnino

Inks by Doug Hazlewood & Raul Fernandez

Colors by Brad Anderson

Letters by Travis Lanham

Reviewed by Brian Andersen

It’s the Girl of Power vs. the Woman of Wonder in this highly entertaining issue of “Wonder Woman.” I don’t recall a time where these two powerful ladies have ever faced each other in battle (please, correct me if I’m wrong), so it’s great fun to see PG and WW test their mettle against each other. Aside from the exciting fisticuffs it’s the humorous insights and the great character zingers that really elevate this comic book past the “cliché” of hero fighting hero into something so much more enjoyable and meaningful.  

Like most classic hero v hero fights this one comes about thanks to the work of outside forces. It’s while under the spell of the young, little deviant offspring of Ares – with the womb-y help of some of Diana’s fellow Amazon sisters - Power Girl mistaken seeing Wonder Woman as a dark, devilish enemy she must beat to a pulp. In the course of the page-crunching battle Simone provides Power Girl with some rather insightful (and hilarious) interior-monologuing moments. The best? When PG gives the readers her rather frank views on Wonder Woman with the winning line: “Part of me always wanted to punch her right in the face just to see what would happen.” Awesome!

How many times do we get a character’s true, raw, honest feelings on another hero that isn’t all respectful and sweet and uplifting? I love that PG acknowledges a desire to go a few rounds with the “perfect princess” just to see if she’s as amazing as everyone makes her out to be. For me, this brief look into Power Girl’s mind rings more true and real than if the two ladies sat down for tea and gossiped about Superman’s spit-curl.

While I continue to love Wonder Woman’s ‘voice’ – the first person narratives from Wondie’s perspectives are always ripe with character moments – I was actually more drawn into - and blown away by - how terrifically writer Simone handles Power Girl. PG’s actions and narrative over the course of the story gets right to the core of who Power Girl is more succinctly and more enjoyably than most stories written about the super-lady. I might get a lot of heat for typing this but I almost think Simone delivers a better Power Girl – one that nails the “who is Power Girl” essence of the character – than the writers do on PG’s current solo title. (May the angry comments commence!)

It’s funny how it’s as a guest star in this issue of “Wonder Woman” that Power Girl comes off better-rounded, more likeable, stronger and more confident, but also funny, uncertain, hopeful, wishful, and, welp, just all around real. She’s not portrayed as the perpetually angry woman who hits first and asks question later as she often is in her own book (and, dare I say, in the JSA).

And don’t think for one second Wonder Woman gets her book hijacked by the deliciously written Power Girl. Apart from PG’s rather humorous insights there’s also a fabulously pseudo-sexual (shown off-panel) moment when Wonder Woman requests that Power Girl tie her up with her own lasso of truth (!!!) as well as the humorous ending of the story where Wonder Woman gets all parental on the naughty little emotion-controlling children of Ares by giving them – in yet another off-panel winning moment - a “good hard spanking.” Again: Awesome! You don’t get much better in comics than thoughtful superheroine v superheroine fights, a wink back to Wonder Woman’s history of bondage and a good, classic spanking! Great, fun, terrific stuff!

PELLET REVIEWS!

Black Lantern Green Arrow #30 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Robert Repici): Hey, look at that. I didn't know that the Black Lantern version of Green Arrow had his own series. When did this happen? And how the heck did the book manage to reach the 30-issue milestone? I mean, I know there's been a bunch of Blackest Night tie-ins, but thirty issues of a book starring an undead Oliver Queen is kind of pushing it, don't you think? Okay, joking aside, this is actually the first Green Arrow comic that I decided to buy since the Kevin Smith/Brad Meltzer era on the Emerald Archer's old title came to an end nearly a decade ago, and thankfully, it's a rather engaging read from start to finish. Although it's essentially just another formulaic Blackest Night tie-in story, this issue does a surprisingly solid job of delving into the troubled heart and mind of Oliver Queen as his body is forced to do the bidding of the black power ring that transformed him into an undead Black Lantern at the conclusion of Blackest Night #5. Picking up from that story thread, we learn here that Ollie is trapped inside his own subconscious and unable to overcome the power of the black ring, and consequently, he has no choice but to helplessly watch his possessed body taunt and terrorize his closest friends and family, most notably his wife and fellow crime-fighter, Black Canary. The psychological torture Ollie endures from not being able to override the Black Lantern ring controlling his body makes this a tragic tale that should definitely leave a lasting impact on the lives of him and his loved ones. This is J.T. Krul's debut issue on the Green Arrow series, and he already seems to have an incredibly strong grasp on the title character and his supporting cast. Right off the bat, the writer effectively begins to explore the idea that Ollie wants to be a better hero and person, but that something deep inside of him is holding him back from truly opening up to his wife and son. Needless to say, it will certainly be interesting to see where Krul decides to take this idea in his upcoming "Fall of Green Arrow" storyline. On the artistic front, Diogenes Neves provides the artwork here, and his energetic action sequences are arguably the true highlight of this issue. Keep an eye on this guy, folks. He's definitely an up-and-coming artist. All in all, this is a compelling, character-driven comic book that simply hits all the right notes. It's no secret that Ollie will have to endure even more harrowing trials and tribulations in the months to come, but for the first time in nearly ten years, I plan on being there with him for the ride.

Ms. Marvel #50 (Marvel Comics; reviewed by Brian Andersen): Fare three well sweet, Ms. Marvel! While I have been a life-long fan of you as a character I can’t say the same about you’re rocking solo series. Especially after this dreadful final issue that ends not with a bang but with the wheeze of a deflated balloon. The much-hyped Ms. Marvel vs. Mystique showdown resulted in one page (one page!) of them yelling at each other before a lame-ass fake Captain Marvel enters the scene, fights Ms. M and then promptly explodes. Ugh. Really? The final villain turns out to be a nobody Captain Marvel imposter? Mystique and Ms. Marvel barely interacted much less go toe to toe! Lame, lame, lame. I wish I could say I that I’m sad to see this series go, but honestly, good-riddance. 50 issues and nary a one that I think I want to keep around in my long box. Sad.

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