Best Shots Comic Reviews: X-FACTOR, GREEN LANTERN, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews: X-FACTOR, More

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Green Lantern #52

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke, Rebecca Buckman, Christian Alamy and Keith Champagne

Published by DC Comics

Review by Russ Burlingame

I can't help but feel that as the end of "Blackest Night" draws near, the book is suffering the same fate as "Final Crisis." While the plot is tightening up, most of the meaningful characterization has been tossed out the door and with all the super-sized issues floating around, it takes a small army to pencil and ink each issue.

Luckily for "Green Lantern #52", we get enough of a reprieve from both of these problems as to almost completely discredit them--even when you have four (count 'em--four) inkers on the book. Doug Mahnke, called in to save "Final Crisis" when JG Jones finally left the book once and for all, turns in a complex and visually-impressive issue which, while it's pretty plot-heavy and full of some of my least-favorite aspects of Green Lantern's pseudo-science, has a few pages with John Stewart so good that it's impossible to claim Johns isn't taking time for character maintenance in the final stages of his superhero zombie jam book.

The whole issue is driven by Sinestro, revealed at the end of last month's issue as the White Lantern, being almost immediately sliced in half by Nekron, apparently killing him and taking him out of the action. All it really serves to do is to remind us that Sinestro is now the grand mamma-jamma of badassery, while still keeping him off the board for one final GL story in "Blackest Night." Eventually, at more or less random and no thanks to any of the many Lantern-folk who try to help him, he gets better and decides to attack Nekron again in Blackest Night #8. Just in case there was any doubt that we were in a Geoff Johns story, good ol' Sin announces "I am reborn," when he puts himself back together.

Before he appears to die, he recalls the history of the universe as told by Geoff Johns and his multicolored, emotionally-driven corps. Apparently the universe's first superheroes were early life on earth, evolving until one of them did something that had never been done before, giving impetus to a new sort of emotion or something, and gaining the powers of that emotion, rising from its humble kin to become the avatar of the power. Or something. It's a pretty logical explanation, as far as any explanation of why random earth animals are become the cosmic icons of inexplicable power, but I still wish that the whole "yellow cosmic fear bug" thing had been a one-off and that we didn't now have to think about more than a half-dozen silly animals wandering the DC Universe with ultimate power and no means to wield it on their own.

That said, the time in between Sinestro's version of Genesis and the final pages leading up to this week's "Blackest Night" #8 are stellar; with Sinestro out of the game and Nekron feeling genuinely threatened for the first time since he started his crazy plan, the zombified planet of Xanshi attacks Coast City, leaving it to be defended by the planet's destroyer (Green Lantern John Stewart) and its last survivor (villain-turned-John Stewart's unlikely love interest, Fatality). While yet another massive cosmic assault on the city really does make you wonder at what point its inhabitants are deluding themselves into thinking that staying there is willpower instead of stupidity, it's handled well and you get both the gravity of the threat and the assurance from the presence of roughly every superhero in the universe that nothing truly bad will happen there. John Stewart has some great character moments, particularly in his interactions with Fatality and Black Lantern Katma Tui, and while the dialogue is a little didactic and silly, you'll forgive Geoff Johns this minor transgression because it's clear that he's forging a course for John Stewart--something that's been sorely missing for the character since the end of "Green Lantern: Mosaic" in the early '90s.

X-Factor #203

Written By Peter David

Art By Valentine Leandro, Pat Davidson, and Jeremy Cox

Published By Marvel Comics

Review By Kyle DuVall

You probably think you’ve got a good reason for not reading X-FACTOR. It probably has something to do with that big “X” at the beginning of the title. If you are an X-MEN fanatic, Peter David’s ground level take on the mutant team formula doesn’t seem to have much to offer. X-factor’s current roster which features Madrox, Guido The Strong Guy, Monet, Darwin, a powerless Rictor, Siryn and, LONGSHOT, for crying out loud, isn’t exactly the X-universe A-list. Heck it’s not even the C-list. On the other hand, there are all those fans who have long since burned out on the extended, continuity-heavy, event-dependent mutant soap opera that is Marvel’s Mutant milieu, those people react to the letter “X” in a title the same way Dracula reacts to a crucifix.

It’s really a shame that Peter David’s fantastically nuanced, X-FACTOR is in such a no-win situation. His re-conceptualization of the group as a humble detective agency helping folks work out the sometimes intimate and sometimes epic kinks of life in a world as strange and wondrous as the Marvel Universe, is everything one would expect form a seasoned master craftsman like David, and nothing one would expect form an X franchise. X-Factor is not a title full of world shaking battles and apocalyptic struggles, its a book about eking by in an insane superpowered world. That’s not to say there isn’t loads of super-powered action and suspense packed between the covers, its just that David crafts the stories form such a unique perspective that even when the team is facing sentinels from the future or disentangling the megalomaniacal plots of alternate dimension Dr. Dooms, the stories don’t feel like any other sojourn into spandex Sturm Und Drang.

Issue #203 isn’t the flashiest intro into the world of X-FACTOR, but it does have the virtue of being a fresh start on a new storyline, as well as a pretty fair encapsulation of most of the things that make X-FACTOR so special. 203 starts in media res, with Guido the Strong Guy barging in on a South American drug baroness, looking for information on the whereabouts of teammate Monet. Monet has gone MIA after her plane was shot down over the jungle. Strong Guy and Monet were on a mission to rescue Monet’s father, who had been abducted by terrorists. A big chunk of the issue is burned in the dialogue between Guido and the senorita, but the exchange is a textbook example of a master comic scribe at work. No one can blend exposition, clever characterization, and context into a comic book conversation as elegantly as Peter David. Aspiring scripters, heck most of today’s working pros, would do well to take notes whenever David has to bust out the “talking heads”.

When things really get moving and the nature of Monet’s dilemma is revealed, Strong Guy goes head to head with some surprising adversaries. Sure, David writes fantastic dialogue, but he still always seems to find time to fit at least a little bit of the good stuff in every X-Factor issue. In this issue David also continues an admirable theme from the previous X-FACTOR story arc by pulling his plot out of the mutant ghetto and throwing a classic non X-Franchise villain at our heroes.

In the past, inconsistent art has been the bane of X-FACTOR, but current penciler Valentine Leandro, with his subtle, yet cinematic sense of composition and lack of cartoonish stylization, fits the book immaculately.  

X-Factor is too subtle, too finely tuned to be called groundbreaking, yet there is nothing out there quite like it. It’s a deftly written comic that often seems like it’s ripe to become the next universally-beloved-but-quickly cancelled, Fox Friday night action drama. But it’s also a comic that isn’t afraid to plunge its fingers deep into Marvel mythology to dig out the most obscure geek gold. So don’t let that “X” scare you away, or a cover that seems to have nothing to do with the story inside. X-Factor 203 is as good a time as any to jump on Mr. David’s wild, yet precisely calibrated, ride.

Marvel 1st Look: UNC X-MEN 522 Variant
Marvel 1st Look: UNC X-MEN 522 Variant
Uncanny X-Men #522

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Whilce Portacio and Ed Tadeo

Colors by Justin Ponsor

Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

One of my favorite elements of Matt Fraction's Nation X storyline has been how it has helped define the X-Men not just by their personalities, but by their specialties. And in that regard, this island of mutants and misfits does shine in Uncanny X-Men #522, which is a sweet and altogether fitting unification of the Children of the Atom.

In a lot of ways, Matt Fraction is using his time in this issue particularly wisely, since he's still got to jog in place for the upcoming Second Coming arc. The parallel introductions between Kitty and Magneto are particularly effective in not just getting the reader up to speed on what's happening, but give the characters -- particularly the Master of Magnetism -- a real likeability to them. But where Fraction really shines is in placing each of the characters -- there's a lot the X-Men can do besides punching and kicking, and helping stage a deep space rescue op is the sort of thing that really acts as a breath of fresh air.

I think what will polarize the most people, however, is the art by Whilce Portacio. For me, I feel that inker Ed Tadeo acts as a real leavening influence on Portacio's art, helping eliminate some of the hyperstylized lines that may otherwise would have overwhelmed a lot of readers (myself included). In certain ways, his use of shadows around faces and clothing have a similar quality to Chris Bachalo, but where Portacio does stumble is in the expression department, with the hard edges on everyone's face being a little bit unflattering.

While ultimately the X-Men's contributions to the story are actually fairly small, this is definitely a (mostly) feel-good issue that is a fitting appetizer for this week's Second Coming gourmet. There are a lot of other creators out there who have to tread water to make the schedules match up, and it's to Matt Fraction's credit that this issue works so well. To paraphrase a seminal X-Men creator: Welcome back to the X-Men, Kitty Pryde -- hope you survive the experience!

Orc Stain #2

Written, drawn, and colored by James Stokoe

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Orc Stain has the energy of a wild beast on amphetamines. That is almost assuredly intentional.

This crude, urbane fantasy remix transforms a litany of manifestations of the grotesque into a kind of insane poetry. Both words and pictures have a lyrical quality that serves to shore up a tonal foundation for the off-color adventure tale. James Stokoe builds a wholly imagined world of shrewd power lords, crafty thieves, incompetent guards and super-sexy love nymphs in a story that abandons almost every one of fantasy fiction's cliched tropes. Where much of fantasy literature celebrates the beauty of naturalism and the worth of valor, Orc Stain celebrates the sheer joy of the indecent. Here honor is not a virtue, but a weakness, readily exploited.

In this second issue One Eye, a man of focus in a world of manic, is predictably double-crossed by his debased partner-in-crime. One Eye is just the sort of “hero” cable of pulling out of a tight spot, and the spectacular way in which he staves off a fate worse than death is a testament to the choreographic craftiness of Stokoe's pen. The six page sequence is a clinic on clarity of storytelling in high-octane action sequences. Consistent with the rest of the book, it balances humor with driving action with noteworthy flair. The sequence showcases how comics can best utilize time and action.

Orc Stain is so over the top that some might be tempted to write it off as merely a “silly” book. It definitely doesn't take itself too seriously, but there is a strong internal consistency of logic that gives the story parameters by which to operate convincingly. All of the orcs' customs, along with the renderings of each panel, are inspired ideas turned up to 11. This is extremist comics. Almost every item, from weapon to chair, is or was a living creature; like “The Flintstones,” on hallucinogens.

Orc Stain doesn't slow down for the reader. Every choice, from coloring to lettering, is deliberate and effective. Stokoe is driving this bus, and he's driving it on the side of a cliff. Recklessly. So hop on if you can handle the awesome.

FVZA #3

Written by David Hine

Art by Roy Allan Martinez and Wayne Nichols

Published by Radical Comics

Review by Russ Burlingame

The third and final issue of Radical Comics' look at the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency--the subject of a comedy website (fvza.org)--is actually something impressive. It's rare that when a really good idea or script comes across the desk of a smaller publisher, they don't wring it for all it's worth (look at the "28 Days Later" comic at Boom!), and the Big Two are loathe to take chances on anything they can't make into a franchise...so when the final issue of a short miniseries is actually enjoyable and well-paced, it's an unexpected surprise.

Not that "FVZA" is a masterpiece, mind you--it's every bit as needlessly violent, silly and indulgent as the title would suggest. Still, the art is beautiful, and at a time where many of the painted comics hitting the market leave you wondering "Why did they bother painting this?", this one feels less forced than most.

It's the pacing of the story that impressed me most; it seems like most miniseries I've read lately have had herky-jerky plot pacing that forces the final issues to be jammed full of every conceivable event, hoping to get everything in that had been ignored all along. Instead, this fifty-page issue takes its time, with several pages dedicated to dialogue that ties into relationship subplots and interpersonal conflicts that don't really feed into the main story all that much--but give the book texture and weight.

Yes, I said texture and weight. And yes, I realize that about 10% of this comic features a hot girl walking around in underwear carrying a katana, and it's NOT SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY. I'll stand by it.

The Incredibles #6 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Lan Pitts): When BOOM! acquired this license, I knew we were in for some wild adventures. This issue showcases brainwashed Mr. Incredible and Elasti-Girl, big sister Violet and a de-powered Dash and an unlikely ally in the Underminer (who was featured briefly in the movie). Of course the alliance doesn't last long. I'm surprised Pixar didn't do a sequel to this movie, but no fear because the book is a fine continuation of the characters and keeps in the fashion on how we remember them. The art is simply great, with solid panel construction and layouts. Mark Waid and Landry Walker deliver on the goods with the script, and the series is a great pick up for any young reader or fun of the movies.

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