Best Shots Comic Reviews: FLASH, SIEGE: LOKI, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews: FLASH, LOKI

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Flash #1

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Francis Manapul

Published by DC Entertainment

Review by George Marston

After the train-wreck that was Flash: Rebirth, I was, at best, cautiously optimistic for the return of both Barry Allen and Geoff Johns to the Flash's ongoing series.  Geoff Johns rarely disappoints, but lately he hasn't exactly been thrilling me, and unlike my love for Hal over Kyle, I am much more a fan of Wally West than of Barry Allen.  Until Dick Grayson took on the cape and cowl, Wally was the only second tier legacy hero that I felt truly gelled with the role.  Maybe it's because his personality was not only familiar to fans, but also such a departure from his mentor that the change actually felt justified.  Needless to say, I was not exactly thrilled with the return of Barry Allen.  After reading the first issue of the new ongoing series, I must say, while I am still on the fence about Barry Allen specifically, I have no trepidations about the return of Geoff Johns or a style of comic that actually seems like fun. 

First off, I have to compliment the choice of Frances Manapul as the artist for this series.  I felt like his work on Adventure Comics had potential, but maybe due to the nature of the story, it felt a little too down to earth to gel with his very animated style of drawing characters.  Flash definitely seems more suited for his style, as he brings a kineticism and sense of excitement to the character that I was worried would be lacking if someone like Ethan Van Sciver, who excels at the common post-realism style of modern comics took the helm.  This book looks like a comic book should, period.  Geoff Johns is no slouch either, moving the story along quickly and naturally, while still managing to inject some characterization and personality in most of the characters. 

I say most of the characters, because despite Geoff Johns's skilled portrayal, I feel like the old criticism that Barry Allen has no personality is still justified.  There's nothing in this book that would make you say anything about him other than, "Oh, he's a good detective," or "I get it, it's ironic that he's so slow at his job."  Maybe you could get away with saying, "He's nice."  None of that is really gripping, to say the least, and the book succeeds mostly because it's a good Flash comic, not a good Barry Allen comic.  I am optimistic, however, because as I said, Johns does a fine job of writing the character, and perhaps over time the personality traits that justify Barry Allen as the definitive or at least the essential Flash will come to light, and my interest in the man behind the mask will be renewed. 

Story wise, the Flash dealing with things like time travel and the Rogues is nothing ground breaking, but the way the concepts manage to come together at least says that there is still new ground to break, and new hooks to throw at the reader.  Further, it is perhaps the greatest strength of the book that it has an air of fun and lightheartedness that is almost paramount for the Flash, regardless of who is in the title role.  The Flash should not be a dark avenger, or a post-modern commentary on the subversive nature of the superhero, et al.  The Flash should celebrate the fun of it, the absurdity of brilliant men who can't think of anything better to do with their inventions than attach them to ray guns and rob banks, the thrill of running around in red pajamas, pulling cats out of trees, kissing pretty girls, and accepting the key to the city. 

Perhaps that's not what some fans are looking for; there's a real push for the comics of today to adhere to a more (and I hate when this word is applied to superheroes) "realistic" approach to the trials and tribulations of masked crime fighters.  Fans more jaded than myself may find themselves wondering what the point could possibly be if the stakes aren't high enough, or it may be the breath of fresh air that reminds them why they even liked superheroes to begin with, ray guns, tights, and vanity plates intact.  Maybe that's what sets Barry Allen apart, and maybe that's his niche.  These days, even Superman has angst and drama galore.  Maybe Barry Allen is meant to be that perfect ideal of the superhero that gets by on a smile and a pair of high endurance running shoes.  Honestly, that's a little boring even for me, but I'm willing to stick by it if it means that it's OK to actually enjoy comics again.

Siege: Loki

Written by Kieron Gillen

Art by Jamie McKelvie

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Oh, Loki.  You scamp, you rake, you scalawag.  It's not enough for you to just be a public nuisance.  Thor never finds you robbing a bank or simply stealing a laser beam, only to haul you off to the police, another job well done in the service of decency. There's no prison for you; no secret cell on the Raft, no Stark Laboratories containment unit deep within the bowels of some concrete supermax.  No, for you, it's always "Let's start a war between the Gods," or "I stole the Norn Stones, and now I'm unmaking creation!" or something equally sinister on a cosmic scale.  Your machinations are so grandiose and preposterous that they almost justify that hat you wear.  Almost. 

 In Siege: Loki, we, the unwitting spectators of an epic malfeasance on the part of the title character, become privy to yet one more layer of the sour, sour onion that is the God of Mischief's Magnum Opus.  By harnessing a power more ancient than even himself, and striking a deal with another of Marvel's most manipulative monsters, Loki not only seals the fate of the Gods of Asgard, but exempts himself from the eventual replay of Ragnarok, and from the plight and perhaps even the ranks of his countrymen forever.  This one-shot, and at large, this event have truly placed Loki back on the villainous pedestal he once occupied as Marvel Comics Douche Supreme. 

While Brian Michael Bendis does a decent job of capturing Loki's manipulative power in the main Siege title, and often in Dark Avengers, Kieron Gillen does it much better, and does a better job of continuing the characterization and storytelling started by J. Michael Straczynski in his relaunch of Thor several years ago.  When Gillen began his tenure with Marvel's Norse characters, his writing felt clunky, and perhaps a bit too interested in itself. However, in just a few short months, he has begun to find his niche.  In the writing of this issue, he manages to strike a balance between the wordplay and verbosity he so clearly prizes, and the service and the telling of the story at hand.  Likewise, his companion Jamie McKelvie does a damn fine job on the artistic chores.  His characters are expressive and fluid, and in a book that is comprised mostly of conversation, that is essential.  If I have any complaint, it is that his characters often feel almost too clean. A few more lines on Loki's face might have showcased the more sinister aspects of his personality.  As it stands, one can read precisely what the character is feeling simply by looking at the art in any given scene, but there is often a lack of depth, or any hint at what is below the surface.

While it is unclear to me how essential this one-shot will be to the overall Siege story, but it is almost a certainty that it will be of the utmost importance to Thor's solo title moving forward.  The change in status quo that Loki effects for the Gods in this issue cannot be understated, and likewise neither can his personal achievement.  "Siege," on a grand scale, may go down as the definitive event of a direction for the Avengers that has now lasted the better part of a decade, but more subtly, it promises to serve as the capstone of perhaps the most important story ever for one of Marvel's oldest and most prominent villains.

Also, I actually dig the hat.

The Carrier – A Graphic Novel

Available on both the iPhone and the iPad

Reviewed by Brian Andersen

This 122-page graphic novel created and written by Evan Young, with art and colors and letters by Luis Borges and Will Walber, is far more than just your average self-published comic. The Carrier is one of the first graphic novels to be made excessively on both the iPhone and the newly released iPad. It’s a new dawn and a new age in comics people, and like it or not, the future of our beloved medium is heading digital. Does that mean the print comic is a thing of the past? Time will tell (although I don't believe so), but either way you slice it, the digitally created The Carrier is worth a closer look.

The Carrier is a densely plotted story that manages to mix political intrigue and covert government spy action with tense, interpersonal drama all spun together for the modern Jason Borne audience. Throughout the novel the reader is taken across the global - from Bangkok to Syria to Cuba to Philadelphia - as warring factions from the United States to Middle-Eastern Terrorists battle it out to secure a briefcase that will either unleash a modern day black plague, provide a cure for a deadly virus wrecking havoc in a foreign land, or contain an unknown element that could cause untold damage.

The tension in the comic boils to a fever pitch with each possible new reveal as to the true contents of the briefcase. With so many various opinions and insights on the briefcase's backstory the reader is left hungrily moving to the next page to determine the truth. And the hitch is that the much sought after briefcase in question is handcuffed to an average, rather plain, slightly pot-belled scientist with amnesia. Having no memory of who is his or why he woke up next to a horny prostitute (if only I had nickel every time that’s happened to me!) the story flies along on a twisty–turny ride, and we're never fully sure what's real, what's false and just who our main character - the memory-deficient scientist - really is. According to the various groups cashing him he’s either an American patriot Dr. Peter Lawson or terrorist sympathizer Dr. Aziz Tamir. There's a lot going on here, and plenty to make the reader want to dive in and keep reading.

Although not my usual cup of tea, - I don’t much care for politics or spy drama - I will say that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this series. It’s well-written, it’s fast-paced, it has action, it has mystery, it has car chases, shoot-outs, and plane-highjacking, it has a lot going for it. My only complaints are with the rather sloppy, rough art, which at times is hard to determine what’s happening in a panel.  While not being completely horrible - the art works well enough for the story - the messy rendered pages didn't help to elevate the storytelling nor enrich it, which is a shame.

Also, from a digital perspective the comic was difficult to read at times and hard to enjoy in full without unnecessary interruptions and some hassle. On the iPhone the book is broken down into 35 timelines, which function as chapters, and there where more than one timeline that featured only 3 or 4 panels. For me it was a pain to have to click back to the main-screen each time a timeline ended in order to select the next timeline in the story. It may have been due to my iPhone settings, but for me, I’d much rather just flick my finger across the phone to continue reading along than having to jump back and forth to the main screen. More fluidity and longer timelines would have made the reading experience much more enjoyable and not so jarring. Often times when I went back to the main screen to jump into the next timeline I felt pulled out of the overall story and struggled to be fully invested.

Aside from these minor concerns and issues I can honestly happily recommend this digital graphic novel. Story wise, and as an experiment in the new age of iPhone/iPad comics, The Carrier is certainly worth your time and energy, even if you have to pick up an one of these new, high-tech gadgets to do so.

The Unwritten #12

Written and layouts by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Finishes and Colors by Kurt Huggins and Zelda Devon

Letters by Todd Klein

Cover by Yuko Shimizu

Published by Vertigo

Review by Lan Pitts

"You're a very bad rabbit. And you're looking for a spanking."

My first read-through of the issue, I wasn't really sold on the concept and thought it more of a detriment of the main story. It wasn't after my third or fourth time reading it, all the elements hit me. I felt devoured by the depth of it all, and quite frankly now that I get it, it's quite possibly the best book of the month if not of the whole series thus far. While at first it seems like a sort of children's tale in the vein of Peter Rabbit, until you realize the level of profanity that is used by the central character of the issue, a rabbit that has the most unusual name of Pauly Bruckner. Interesting name for a rabbit, right? Only problem is, that's no ordinary rabbit.

I don't mean in the Hoppy the Marvel Bunny sort of sense, no, this rabbit is actually a human. In addition to that, he's in a world that reminds me of the 100 Acre Woods and is surrounded by all sorts of children's book clichés and characters. It's only realizing the true nature of Paul's existence in the story has to deal with him botching a job and in return, Wilson Taylor (Tom's dad) put him there. Now, we know Wilson had the ability to take people and characters out of stories, but to put them IN one is a horse of a different color.

This issue reminds me of the earlier issue, and now Eisner-nominated "The Whale", as it takes a slight detour from the main plot with Tom, Liz and Savoy. Yet, it still expands their world indirectly with this revelation of Wilson's power. Of course this just built the suspense on what is going on with the trio and I have to wait another month.

The most beautiful thing about this issue is the ye ole story book art style. Huggins and Devon really soar here with the antique look of the pages. It's fresh and could be deserving of another award come next year. Unwritten #12 doesn't haven't any resemblance of the previous issues, but still has the originality and creative spirit of Carey and Gross.

If you haven't heard by now, this book picked up a few Eisner nominations and, in my opinion, rightfully so. Don't be the only reader at your shop not picking this book up.


Batgirl #9 (DC Comics; review by Amanda McDonald): In this new arc, "The Flood," Stephanie is going strong as Batgirl and even earning kudos from Commissioner Gordon. As the story develops we see Barbara building a new lair beneath her apartment building as well as see her trying to build a relationship with Wendy, a fellow paraplegic . . . and the daughter of The Calculator. Detective Gage is on the case of a mysterious suicide, and people are being overtaken with nanites in their blood causing them to speak in binary and do The Calculators bidding.  I enjoyed the sci-fi feel of this issue, it makes sense considering how heavily technology plays into Oracle's assistance to Batgirl. We do find out at the end what The Calculator's intentions are, and I feel like that could have waited a bit longer and left us readers hanging for awhile to ensure we'd be giddy to get the next issue. Now that I know his intentions? Well, I'll pick up the next issue but I wouldn't exactly say I'm looking forward to it.  With Birds of Prey on the way, I'm curious to see how Oracle's role stays the same or changes. Will Batgirl help the team, or stay in her own little universe? Will Oracle leave Batgirl more to her own devices as she goes to help the BOP? Time will tell, and I'm sure whatever Gail Simone has thought up will take the current Batgirl series into consideration.

Kill Shakespeare #1 (IDW; review by Amanda McDonald):  This book starts out action-heavy with the death of a King and Hamlet killing Polonius. Being ferried off to England by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet battles pirates and arrives on the shores of England with King Richard telling him their people need to be saved from the tyranny of William Shakespeare.  This book is big on action from the start, and Belanger does a fine job of it. But that's not why I picked up the book. As a Shakespeare buff, how could I not take a look? I was disappointed as I was going through scenes of pirate battles and wondering when Shakespeare would actually come up. He does. . . eventually. I hope this pacing is not indicative of the series. While I don't mind the action, the title is Kill Shakespeare after all, I was hoping for a book more on the line of The Unwritten, full of clever literary allusions.  The series has great potential, proven great characters written by a literary mastermind, placed into a whole new predicament. Given the success of The Unwritten, people are likely to pick up this book and give it a shot, as I did. I'll continue to keep an eye on this one in hopes that the story side of it picks up and nourishes my brain a bit more than this debut issue did.

Iron Man: Legacy #1(Marvel Comics; review by George Marston): If there's one problem with Iron Man: Legacy, it's that it feels like it's all been done before.  Not a series based on untold tales from Tony Stark's past, but this specific arc.  In fact, it feels awfully similar to the first arc of Matt Fraction's Invincible Iron Man.  The basic premise is that someone has co-opted Stark Tech and is using it as a weapon of war in a third world country, and there's not a lot Iron Man can do about it because of diplomatic relations, etc.  Ok, so it's not exactly the same, but the issue at the heart is very similar.  Tony Stark doesn't want his technology in the wrong hands; he needs find a politically safe way to stop it from getting there.  Isn't that also every Iron Man story ever, basically?  Now, Van Lente and Kurth do a fine job in the actual telling of the story, and there's a lot of merit in that, but in no way did this story justify the launch of a second ongoing series.  I realize that the second arc will likely take place in another (nebulous) timeframe, and will hopefully find new territory for the character, but as it stands, this book feels like old news, not old school.

The Pilgrim #1 (IDW; review by Jeff Marsick): This is an interesting book.  It's based on actual events in history, pacing those that happened back in World War Two, when the British and Germans were waging occult warfare against each other, and then years later during the Stargate Project for developing psychic spies.  In this story, a special forces operative suffering from PTSD discovers he's got psychic abilities, which somehow relates to a doorway that was opened in 1944, and the entity that was released from beyond.  It's fascinating material, but this issue drops you so quickly into the midst of it that if you've not read Psychic Warrior or Memoirs of a Psychic Spy it feels a bit like taking a sip of water from a firehouse.  Writer Mark Ryan is a stuntman and the voice of Bumblebee from the Transformers movies, and his scripting could use some honing from an attentive editor.  Mike Grell's artwork helps smooth over some of the rough patches, but the density of the matter is probably going to make this book best enjoyed when the entire story arc is collected in a trade format.

Green Arrow #32 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Robert Repici): Wow. Talk about a game-changing fall from grace. When the masterminds at DC made it clear several times last year that Green Arrow would be a major character to watch in 2010, I never imagined that the brazen hero would have his entire world systematically torn apart and drastically changed in a rather contrived way just to set up a new status quo for him and his supporting cast. Much to my chagrin, however, that’s exactly what’s been happening to the Emerald Archer ever since James Robinson’s “Cry for Justice” miniseries wrapped up in the beginning of March, and unfortunately, that sorry trend continues in this month’s issue of Green Arrow, the concluding chapter of J.T. Krul’s two-part “Fall of Green Arrow” storyline.

In two major plot points that will certainly spark a storm of controversy among avid DC fans, Green Arrow’s secret identity is exposed to the entirety of Star City in this issue’s opening pages and his conflicted wife Black Canary later decides to end their marriage and leave him for good. Not only do both of these storytelling choices feel completely forced and contrived here, but they also suggest that the DC brass pressured Krul into taking Green Arrow in a totally different direction as fast as possible so the character could play a prominent role in the upcoming “Brightest Day” event as an outlaw who lives the life of a loner. That may or may not be a fair assumption to make, but let’s not forget that this “Fall of Green Arrow” storyline was originally announced as a six-issue story arc back in December and has now come to an end after a mere two issues. That being said, this entire “Fall of Green Arrow” storyline has felt extremely rushed, and it really does seem to be the product of some kind of botched editorial mandate. Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A new ongoing Green Arrow series is set to debut in June under the “Brightest Day” banner, and it’s practically a foregone conclusion that it will revolve around an outlawed Oliver Queen as he starts on the long road to redemption. Consider me ready for the relaunch.

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