Best Shots Reviews: FLASH SECRET FILES, WORLD WAR HULKS #1

DC Preview: THE FLASH: SECRET FILES

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The Flash: Secret Files and Origins 2010 #1

Written by Geoff Johns with Sterling Gates

Art by Scott Kolins, Francis Manapul

Lettering by Rob Clark, Jr.

Coloring by Michael Atiyeh, Brian Buccellato

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"Although Barry believes he's seen it all throughout his adventures across time and space, his strangest and most personal journey is ahead..."

DC's "Secret Files" line can always be a mixed bag.  Sometimes the special issues are either overflowing with bonus material or hidden gems that reward the readers most loyal to their beloved characters, and other times they're a bunch of fluff and padding that merely feel like corporate-driven excuses to feed the bottom line.  By no means a masterpiece, The Flash: Secret Files and Origins 2010 #1 fits squarely in the former, a quality production that's a near-essential piece for anyone anxiously awaiting the all-new title starring Barry Allen.

This book can be broken down quite simply.  It kicks off with a 18-page prologue to the regular monthly series that debuts April 14th, and is followed by a plethora of Who's Who pages that do a serviceable job getting all readers up to speed on who we can expect to encounter over the months and even years to come.  I especially like the thoroughness of the profiles section in that all bases are covered.  Naturally they offer the main Scarlet Speedster himself, Barry Allen, and his longtime supporting cast and Rogues receive all due attention.  But the creative production team also give us some historically-based background of the setting(s) for the new book, Central City and Keystone City, along with the staff at the police department crime lab where Allen should expect to spend his hours when he's not donning the red and gold.

In "Running to the Past," Secret Files and Origins' feature story, we get some semblance of closure for a major plotline that defined the recently wrapped "The Flash: Rebirth."  As ready as the Flash is ready to re-embrace life in the present, he still finds it difficult to move past the tragic murder of his mother, for too many years an unsolved mystery.  This is underscored with Barry's restlessness in bed one particular night at 3:05 a.m. unable to get to 3:06.  As he revisits his childhood home (after an earlier flashback of a young Barry with his mom that was most endearing), he finds that he's anything but alone in this era entirely new to him after a longtime absence.  Rarely at a loss for heartfelt character moments, writer Geoff Johns brings emotional heft to the Flash family this time around, and I don't think it's a coincidence that he's paired with Scott Kolins over Ethan Van Sciver to achieve this.  All due respect to the talented Van Sciver, he was ill-suited for the super-speed material compared to Kolins and Francis Manapul, a talent I'm excited to see a lot more from on this book after a sublime but brief run on "Adventure Comics" with Johns.

Were it not for the copious amounts of well-crafted profile pages, The Flash: Secret Files and Origins 2010 #1 could've possibly qualified as "The Flash #0."  Really only a matter of semantics, this issue serves as a fine table-setter for the long-anticipated return to greatness for the Flash.  Whether that should be Barry Allen or Wally West is a discussion for another day, another time.  As Barry himself learns, thanks to a little help from his friends, it's time to move forward.

World War Hulks #1

Published by Marvel Comics

Written by Jeff Parker, various

Art by Ryan Stegman, various

Review by Brian Andersen

I can honestly say that I’m loving all this super-sized Hulk madness. I'll admit that at first I was a bit resist to the overly-populated explosion to the “Hulk Family”, decreeing it ridiculous. But ever since I decided to let go and let God, and calm my fanboy ire, I’ve able to sit back, relax and just enjoy the insanity. This collection of short stories featuring various Hulk-related individuals might not be for the casual Hulk fan, but for those of us fully drinking the Hulk-hued Kool-Aid, it’s a blast to read. Despite the appearance of Deadpool (does he have to be in EVERYTHING??) there were two standout stories.

The first featuring the Rick Jones Hulk-ish character named (ugh, do I have to say it?) A-Bomb. Not only was it a fun script by Jeff Parker, and not only did it have pretty detailed, interesting art by Zach Howard, but it also delved into Rick Jones’ relationship with his very own sex-bomb ex-wife/wife/ex-lesbian (remember she dated Moondragon) Marlo! Yay for Marlo! Marlo is one of those rare supporting characters that has survived multiple series (Incredible Hulk, Captain Marvel) and still is as interesting and explorable as ever. Parker plays Rick and Marlo's relationship perfectly, their banter and interactions read like two real people trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into each other's life. Let's hope this isn't the last we'll see of these two.

I also loved seeing more on the mysterious (Betty Banner) Red She-Hulk. We’re still in the dark about who the heck she actually is when she’s not all gamma-fied (Betty Banner) but I just enjoy looking at the art by Ryan Stegman. His clean lines and interesting camera angles make this story a delight to gaze at. However, I will say that for a character who’s supposed to be all rough and tumble and crazy dangerous she sure gets the snot kicked out of a lot.  Has the Red She-Hulk ever won any of her battles? Poor Red She-Hulk (Betty Banner). Here's hoping she's given a moment to real prove just how strong and scary she can be. 'Cause right now she's all talk and little punch.

So if you haven’t jumped into the crazy world of the Hulks you’re really missing out! It's like the current Hulk creative team has throw everything they can into the mix, shock it up, and just flung out the multi-colored-ultra-buffed results on the page. It's over-the-top, it's surprising, it's at times ridiculous, and it's just pure, comic, madness. But in a good way!

Red Robin #11

Written by Christopher Yost

Art by Marcus To, Ray McCarthy and Mark McKenna

Colors by Guy Major

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Fast-paced and good-looking, Red Robin is a book that is getting better and better with every issue. With Tim Drake rushing to stop the League of Assassins from bringing his entire world down upon his head, this issue runs headlong into the fray -- and is surprisingly fun while doing it.

In a lot of ways, artist Marcus To is the real winner in this book, with the characters and panel layouts really looking clean and dynamic. And with the new Dynamic Duo of Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne making an appearance, it's illuminating to see what To can do with some iconic looks -- there's a splash page introducing them that looks so good it might be worth the price of admission alone. But there are lots of little moments here that looks equally good, whether its Tim making an extremely dramatic exit or Damian fighting on (and off) his feet, it is really solid work.

But what about Chris Yost? It's clear that this guy is a real team player, trying to play to To's strengths while simultaneously giving Tim Drake even more depth. Tim's cerebral nature -- complete with expository captions -- does wonders in this regard, and I have to say Yost really starts cranking up the tension as the issue winds down to its conclusion. He also deserves a lot of credit for the subplots, especially with Tam Fox -- while the talkier moments are as flashy, the character moments are all that much more important.

Of course, there are a few things I couldn't help but think about in terms of polish -- while colorist Guy Major's work is certainly getting more nuanced, occasionally panels still look a little flat, and sometimes I feel like some additional backgrounds may have helped in some of the fight scene panels.  Additionally, one thing about the writing that grated on me a bit was Tim's reactions to new Batgirl Stephanie Brown, which I felt could have been a little less effusive and a bit more subtle in terms of illustrating how much she's grown as a hero.

With Batman and Robin getting all the press -- and even superseding Tim Drake's original mission with this series -- you'd think that Red Robin wouldn't have much to work with. You'd also be dead wrong. It's an old-school action romp told with some superb vision -- a vision that's well worth a look.

Great Ten #6

Written by Tony Bedard

Art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens

Colors by the Hories

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

There's a real pulp sensibility to this latest issue of Great Ten which really illustrates the potential that this series -- and writer Tony Bedard -- holds: this isn't another city, another genre, but another world, with endless opportunities to put a fresh spin on an old riff.

And in that regard, Great Ten #6 gets points for its sheer gutsiness -- the experimentation doesn't always work, but you can't help but appreciate that Bedard tries it. Where he succeeds the most is evoking the mystery around Ghost Fox Killer, the deadly killer of killers who prowls the streets of Hong Kong. "Now do you believe I'm real?" There's a real voice to this character that trumps just about everything else in this book.

Meanwhile, Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens have really found the character that suits their styles perfectly. Having a character who leads an army of murdered ghosts fits so well with the scratchiness of McDaniel's lines, and there's some real power in Owen's lush shadows. The introduction for this book is just stunning, and seeing Ghost Fox Killer in action is some of the strongest artwork I've seen in this series. And they manage to give what could have been a throw-away page with Accomplished Perfect Physician and Seven Deadly Brothers some real panache and speed -- boy, I want to see them team up, pronto!

Still, I wouldn't call this issue the best in the run -- ultimately, there's a growing sense of Bedard running out of pages to tell his main story, which means that the profiles of the characters are getting a little short-changed. In this case, Bedard uses a Chinese gangster to see into the Ghost Fox Killer's world -- it's a smart idea that unfortunately doesn't stick the landing, feeling a bit too cloying and not actually giving an ending in this book.

While it's not the strongest book in the run, what I'm really enjoying about Great Ten is the fact that it's been able to take these sorts of chances with its storytelling. Whether its magic or military or the noirish streets of 1970s Hong Kong, no two issues of this book feel alike. If Bedard can rein in his A-story a bit more and return his focus to his extremely compelling character studies, I think this book is going to ride the wave to a killer conclusion.

Ultimate X #2

Written by Jeph Loeb

Art by Arthur Adams and Aspen MLT's Mark Roslan

Colors by Aspen MLT's Peter Steigerwald

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Albert Deschesne

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

When you think "Ultimate," you think high-octane action, explosions everywhere, pulse-pounding, rock 'em sock 'em never-ending action.

That's not what this book is. And that is possibly Ultimate X #2's greatest strength.

In recent years, Jeph Loeb has been associated with a lot of action books. Hulk. Ultimatum. Even Superman/Batman and Batman: Hush placed singular value on action, even at the cost of characterization. Not so in this book -- this is a sweetly-composed character piece through and through, one that's particularly heartfelt and heartbreaking. In a lot of ways, Loeb knows how to make characters that are compelling, with our ordinary narrator and our extraordinary protagonist having a star-crossed relationship that has an almost song-like quality to it all.

And of course, a lot of this misty-eyed romanticism comes from the legendary Art Adams. His mutant power must be to have the most emotive characters on the stands -- he tells stories within stories, with subtleties and panache to spare. In particular, the introduction to this book looks great -- let's just say you fall in love with Karen Grant almost effortlessly, as Adams masterfully illustrates how pervasive her mutant powers are in her life. Of course, he also knows how to switch gears, and when he does there's both humor and action, and even a little bit of fear involved.

In a lot of ways, the Ultimate Universe has been a much more sedate place since Ultimatum. And I'd argue that that's not a bad thing. Ultimate X is akin to Jeph Loeb's version of Adventure Comics -- it moves at a relaxed pace, and is in no rush to do anything other than paint pictures of people, of personalities, of lives. In many ways, it hearkens back to Marvel's ads of old -- it's books like these that are putting the character back into comics.

And there's no mutant power more ultimate than that.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton #2 (DC Comics' review by Rev. O.J. Flow The good news?  This issue is led off by an absolutely eye-popping cover by George Perez.  Damn, I wish they had somehow gotten this master of his craft more involved in the overall project.  The bad news?  It's pretty much the best part of this book.  As excited as I've been about the big blowout on New Krypton, Brainiac (with the help of Luthor) laying siege over the settlement, and the heroic assembly of the Man of Steel with Superboy and Supergirl and a respectable mix of Legion of Super-Heroes helping out, it simply felt like there was as little advancement to the story as possible.  Actually, if anything, there seemed to be a hint at a certain restoration of the status quo from a couple years ago (think "bottling up a city) that may be looming, and should that be the case I'd like to call bulls*** and ask for a couple hundred dollars back, please.  On the art front, I wasn't all that disappointed to see the workmanlike Pete Woods require some backup, because Travis Moore with Walden Wong do a righteous job maintaining "Bottles and Battles"'s aesthetic integrity.  I don't want it to sound like I am suggesting that this middle act of "Last Stand" is bad storytelling, hardly, but for the time and money that I've put into it to date, substantive movement is most necessary at the moment for me to deem the whole thing a creative success.

Grimm Fairy Tales #46 (Published by Zenescope Entertainment; review by Jeff Marsick):

Once upon a time, a young lad named Christian is out in the field with his cousin, Brand, when tragedy strikes and Brand lies near death.  Christian gets a visit from his creepy godfather who affords Christian the power and ability to save his cousin’s life.  This power and ability will go on to serve Christian well for the rest of his life, both spiritually and in the pocketbook, so long as he heeds his godfather’s word as to who gets the thumbs up on their deathbed and who is to be planted a fathom deep.  It’s a relationship that goes swimmingly until naturally, at some point, Christian has to defy dear old goddad when orders conflict with matters of the heart.  Consequences then must be suffered.  It’s an interesting tale of morality, but a story cut short before the bigger picture can be fully examined and questions answered, such as why the godfather needs someone to follow a “kill as I say” edict when he can handle the duties of Reaper all by his lonesome.  With mention of the Darkhorde there is an intimation of something grander and wickeder at play, but it comes far too late in the story and is almost tossed out as an afterthought.  The artwork is grim and moody, perfect for the piece, even if the inks can often be heavy enough to wash away detail.  This is a plot line I hope Zenescope comes back to visit and explore at some point.

Thor and the Warrior’s Four #1 (of 4) (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): I’ve been a fan of Power Pack ever since I was a wee boy of 8. In fact, Power Pack was one of the first comics I ever picked up and collected regularly. For me this team of kid heroes is every bit as iconic as Spider-Man, the Hulk and (bleck) Wolverine. Happily I can say that this latest limited series is a fun, smooth, totally enjoyable read. Writer Alex Zalben treats the kids with respect, never talking down to them, never making them seem babyish or overly childlike, while also infusing the script with some sass and snark: the running gag over Asgard being a swear word is a prime example. Also, it’s nice to see some continuity in Marvel’s kid comic’s line with a guest appearance of the Pet Avengers! Tag on the always terrific cartoony art by Gurihiru and you’ve got a sweet tale both kiddies and adults can enjoy. Extra bonus points for the super great back-up story by Colleen Coover. I love that Coover was able to not only pencil the back-up Power Pack story guest starring Hercules, but that she was also able to write it, which she does quite winningly. Coover has a deft hand with wit and whimsy in a story that meshes perfectly with her art. Job well done all around!

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