Best Shots Comic Reviews: THOR, THE FLASH, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews: THOR, FLASH

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the Best Shots review team! We've got some of the big hits from Marvel, DC, Top Cow and more -- and that's only the tip of the iceberg! For more reviews, just check out the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's bring the thunder with a look at Matt Fraction and Pasqual Ferry's first issue of Thor...

Best Shots Extra: THOR #615 Reviewed!
Best Shots Extra: THOR #615 Reviewed!
Thor #615

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by John Workman

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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After months of waiting, it's finally here: Fraction! Ferry! Workman! Thor!

And while there's been a lot of high hopes over what sort of cosmic insanity this team can accomplish, this first issue is more the calm before the storm. You can certainly start to feel the charge in the air as this creative team shows some of their potential, but with Thor himself playing a surprisingly low-key role in the whole affair, it looks like the thunder will be coming another day.

I think much of that comes from the deliberate pacing from Matt Fraction. But then, think about it a minute -- with his launch of the Invincible Iron Man, he had a movie and no prior creative team to stop him from flooring it. With this, Fraction is juggling J. Michael Straczynski's relaunch as well as Brian Michael Bendis's Siege of Asgard, and so in certain ways his approach makes sense. There is that sense of grandeur with slowness, not unlike that of JMS -- yeah, the high-concept brawling isn't quite there, and that's goign to prove irksome to some. But when Fraction does analyze Thor, pining over Loki or glowering at Balder, you sense that flawed nature that both make him a true Marvel hero... and caused him to be cast out by Odin all those years ago.

And Pasqual Ferry. Wow. His style is so interesting to me, and I think it's got the potential to be every bit as striking and perfect as Olivier Coipel was when he joined JMS's run on the book. While everyone will ooh and ahh over his muscular characters and clean linework, I found myself most enthralled by some of the acting he gives his characters. Seeing Thor brood and scowl -- just seeing those expressively long eyebrows and narrowed eyes -- is really powerful, and gives a stronger sense of the powerhouse's flaws than we've seen in recent memory. The thing I'm curious about it Matt Hollingsworth, who gives this series its own visual identity as much as as Ferry's thin lines. Even when Hollingsworth works on one-color palettes, the mood is dark, stormy, ominous -- but it does lack a certain "pop" that could really draw you in. And John Workman -- there's a real character to his lettering, whether it's the occasional widow word in a caption or just a smooth circle of a word balloon, and it's almost like an idealized version of a simpler time.

But where I think Fraction falters a bit is in his own sci-fi wonkiness. No less than six pages out of twenty-two circle around his high concept -- when Asgard goes to Earth, what takes Asgard's place? That's a nine-word plot summary that Fraction works around for pages and pages, and while I understand structurally he's trying to ratchet up the tension -- what's going on here, who are these people attacking, why are they doing this and what are the stakes for planet Earth -- the nebbishness of his scientist character ultimately comes off as more comedic, undercutting the rest of the cast. Personally, I'd rather have seen more of Thor himself, or get more of a glimpse of characters like Jane Foster or Sif -- because this is such a simple yet effective concept, and it's weird to see Fraction trip up over his own grand ideas like this.

Ultimately, if you're expecting the sort of hard-hitting off-the-wall Kirby-esque battles you've been hearing about this run, you may be a bit disappointed by Fraction and Ferry's first issue of Thor. But that's not to say that this book isn't down and out just yet -- I think, if anything, this issue reads almost as a calling card for all of the creators, to show just a taste of what they can do in calm rather than conflict. It might not make for the most enthralling opening chapter, but that was a complaint of Straczynski's Thor, a run that is feels a bit like this issue's spiritual predecessor. But now that we know what Thor is up against, I'm hoping the gloves are off moving forward -- Fraction, Ferry and the rest have the capacity for some cosmic destruction, and I think we're all ready to see them at their most epic.

The Flash #5

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Think fast, Barry Allen -- because with the present-day Rogues and future-era Renegades tearing through Central City, this issue of The Flash is a rip-roaring romp of superpowered craziness that only fails when it answers to a higher DC authority.

But with that tease aside, let's talk about the good here -- artist Francis Manapul finally hits his stride with the Scarlet Speeder, with some really striking composition and a world of expressiveness in Barry Allen's deep blue eyes. There's one page in particular with the Weather Wizard that shows me that we're only starting to see Manapul break the surface of his potential here -- he's got an evocative panel layout that only escalates the threat, as Barry Allen is whisked away in all directions by a sweeping tornado. There are some other great moments here as well, including a psychadelic color display by Brian Buccellato, or even seeing the winds subside around the Top, that just really evokes a sense of speed -- this is in the now.

And one of my chief issues that I've had with this series -- namely, Barry Allen's characterization -- is getting answered by Geoff Johns. In a lot of ways, he acts a foil to the more flamboyant Rogues and Renegades in his midst, but there's an element of haughtiness that I think is actually kind of fitting here -- Barry Allen is a guy who's seen it all, and isn't impressed by cold guns or reality-shifting mirrors. Instead, this is a guy who's all-business, who trusts he can (and shouldn't) and still leaves his heart with those that he loves. It isn't Hal Jordan's level of effortlessness, but seeing Barry's levelheadedness stave off mirror madness reminds me of the old adage: character isn't built in adversity, it's revealed.

But that said, let me get back to what I said earlier, about Johns answering a "higher authority" here. Without giving too much away, let's just say that Johns' Brightest Day event gets shoehorned into this issue at a key moment, and it's anything but satisfying. It's an extremely inorganic "cheat" that, yes, escalates Barry Allen's problems, but the absolute lack of set-up in this issue (or in any of the previous issues of the Flash, for that matter) makes the crux of this comic into an exercise in current DC Comics continuity. It makes the Brightest Day banner a requirement rather than an add-on, and it's the one misstep of this book. It just happens to be a big one.

Of course, if you've been keeping up with Brightest Day, or are simply willing to speed past this hiccup, there is a lot to like about The Flash #5. With villains galore and a mess of obstacles for the Fastest Man Alive to overcome, there's a lightness and fun factor to much of Barry Allen's trials and tribulations. Now that the obligatory event reference has been handled, I hope Johns and DC will be content to let Barry run on his own for awhile -- because where he's headed seems like a real blast.

Fantastic Four #583

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Stephen Epting and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

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I’m sick of Valeria Richards. Cute kid, very precocious, but enough is enough. If I see that little rugrat crack another smug-grin, if I see her correct someone’s math or fix some comic-book genius’s doohickey while they are not looking one more time, I’m showing up at Jonathan Hickman’s house with the Ultimate Nullifier. Look, integrating Reed and Sue’s kids more centrally in the plot of Fantastic Four is a good idea. Family has always been the strongest subtext of FF, but at this point plucky, insufferable, title-hijacking little Valeria has crossed well into Scrappy-Doo territory.

Valeria’s ubiquity is all the more frustrating because Hickman already conceived a really wonderful idea for integrating the lil’ones into the storyline with the introduction the Future Foundation back at the beginning of his run. Reed Richards running a sort of Montessori school for super-genius kids of the Marvel U is outright brilliant, but we’ve seen too little of them as an ensemble and way too much of Valeria proving again and again just how much smarter she is than her dad, her mom, and the audience.

Issue #583’s pint-sized protagonist is just part of the problem. “3, Part One” is a whiplashing li’l Valeria adventure that takes a dull hatchet to linear narrative. This is not Quentin Tarantino artfully mixing up plots in Pulp Fiction, this is tripped-on-the-way-to-the-printers storytelling. You know, maybe the pages accidentally got mixed up. Things are clear enough in their own enigmatic way, but the act of reading #583 is like walking across a pile of cinderblocks. It’s slow going and not much fun.

Valeria’s time-hopping, Doom-baiting cutesy hijinks are chewing up too much narrative real estate in a book that has gradually reduced the idea of the actual Fantastic Four adventuring together as the Fantastic Four to a peripheral element. Add to that the impending gimmick-“death” of one of the FF, and you have a book that is depleting the sky-high goodwill stockpiled by Hickman’s first few issues at an alarming rate.

Yes, yes, I’m sure widdle Valeria’s Dennis The Menace routine with Victor Von Doom as Mr. Wilson will be integral to the cable-knit sweater of a macro-plot Hickman keeps knitting and knitting, but at this point all this plot orchestration seems less like a symphony being conducted and more like plate spinning. Sure, it takes a lot of skill to keep all those dishes spinning round, but at the end of the act what have you got? A bunch of whirling crockery. Whoopee.

Admittedly, this is a pretty harsh assessment of Hickman’ Fantastic Four, it’s not really a bad title but that’s only because FF has had such a long way to fall to get to the bottom. This issue’s last two pages even whip up a potentially intriguing plot thread involving a couple of fan-favorite characters. Unfortunately, if there is one thing this book doesn’t need it’s another plot thread. A lot of fans are skeptical of this whole “3” storyline already. This first installment of the arc gives them very little reason to take the arch out of their eyebrows or the tired sigh from their lips.

Fables #98

Written by Bill Willingham

Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Dan Green and Lee Loughridge

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Vertigo

Review by Amanda McDonald

As Rose Red ousts herself out of bed and prepares to deal with the many farm residents wishing to oust her from power, in favor of Gepetto, this issue feels like the calm before the storm that will hopefully hit in the 100th issue.

Assigning advisors and inviting residents to share their feelings, Rose Red is an admirable leader. She conducts the farm with a strong voice, tempered with a sense of democracy and compassion. Sister Snow and Bigby arrive to support her.

As mentioned, this issue definitely has a calm before the storm kind of feeling. There really aren't any moments that make me drop my jaw or call other Fables fans to dish about what just happened. I see it very much as a transitional issue. We've gone from having Rose Red wallowing in bed, to preparing for action. Now we have to just sit back and wait for that action. The players have been identified, the problem has been identified, and it's just a matter of time. One can only assume the proverbial stuff will hit the fan in issue 100.

While the story may not be especially explosive in this issue, the art is a joy. Due to the need to meet with the farm's residents, we have some great panels in which we see a lot of residents we don't see much otherwise. There are multiple inkers in the issue, which sometimes can distract me -- but in this case the art flows seamlessly and is cohesive.

I'm really excited to see where this series goes next. The Rose Red arc has renewed my interest and seems like a great jumping in point for anyone who hasn't picked up the series in awhile, or who has ever been curious about it.

Avengers Academy #4

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Mike McKone, Rick Ketchum, Cam Smith and Jeromy Cox

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Considering that the "Scared Straight" program was supposed to be for the benefit of the Avengers Academy, why do I feel like the Thunderbolts were the ones who got the better deal?

Maybe it's a question of momentum. For those keeping score on Jeff Parker's book, this crossover arc has been over for more than a month, with a new issue (and a new artist for the new arc) continuing to push that book's madcap pace. So getting pulled back in time with Avengers Academy -- who had been making some strong progress with the clearest high concept of the revised Avengers lineup -- seems a bit detrimental to a team of kids who have some seriously high potential.

With this issue, writer Christos Gage stumbles a bit, both with the pacing and with the characterization, particularly with his narrator, the metallic surfer kid known as Mettle. His premise is interesting enough, but the problem with having such a laid-back character (at least originally) is that we don't really get a sense of his personal arc anywhere. He's laid-back, boom, he's mad. While Gage does get to sink his hooks in by making Norman Osborn a sadistic manipulator, the rest of this story feels like empty calories, with a splash page here, a fight scene there.

As far as artist Mike McKone goes, the thing that struck me the most out of his work here was the fact that even when there was a lot of fighting, the actual motion in the artwork felt lacking. Sure, characters like Powerkeg get some motion lines here and there, but I've seen McKone experiment further. Perhaps it's because he's got a setting that almost requires him to draw constant backgrounds, but this is comics -- you can forgo a background, and draw the sort of speed lines that really make a punch pop. But the reality is, there are some beats here that are definitely meant to be shouldered by McKone alone -- the aforementioned fight scenes with the instructors -- and unfortunately, the composition feels more like posing than panache.

It's a shame, considering Marvel has a group of real prodigies on their hands, and if anything, they just got dragged into the mud by slumming it with the bad boys. Maybe the scenario was too redundant with that of the Thunderbolts -- or maybe it was because the central conflict of whether or not to kill Norman Osborn was solved too quickly (or just wasn't convincing enough to seem credible). Maybe the artwork just wasn't moody enough, maybe it didn't have the weight or the desperation to make this into a real learning experience. Or maybe it was just that this book has been late to class for so long -- but for the first time in its run, Avengers Academy isn't passing the test. Here's hoping that once this series gets back to its natural environment, Gage and company will get back towards growing this team in the way he intended.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #14

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by David Lafuente and Justin Ponsor

Lettering by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

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Maybe Brian Michael Bendis didn’t intend to write a commentary on the banality of evil, but that’s what comes to mind while reading this bruising issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. Remember; the shape-shifting siblings who kidnapped J. Jonah Jameson abducted Peter Parker through sheer dumb luck. When one of them “borrows” Peter’s visage and discovers that he’s hit the superhero jackpot, their goal is merely to score more cash than they’d hoped to get via Jameson. Considering the wreckage this sinister pair has left behind, it seems tragically unimaginative.

So after watching the male half of the team mock Spider-Man’s humble existence in issue #13,  it’s sweet to see him and his sister get a taste of the web-slinger's angry housemates, Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake. S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Carol Danvers sums it up best by saying, “The kid deserves better than the likes of you.” I’ve consistently enjoyed David Lafuente’s pencils on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, and though his illustrations remind me of animation, they’re not what I’d call cartoonish. The last few issues have been dark, and Lafuente has conveyed the seriousness ably.

So what now? Imposter Spider-Man did substantial damage to his victims (including Jameson), the real Spidey’s image, and Peter’s personal life. When the formerly named Ultimate Spider-Man rebooted and added "Comics" to the title, Mary Jane emerged as the ex-girlfriend while Peter had coupled off with Gwen Stacy. The three appeared to have ironed things out, but then Imposter Spider-Man gummed up the works by hitting on M.J. — and revealing to everyone that she still loves Peter In That Way. Peter’s true feelings remain a mystery, but that panel of Gwen staring daggers at him suggests that Bendis is setting up for something he does very well: Mining Peter’s bumpy adolescence for some Grade-A drama. When the next issue is titled “Heartbreak City,” you know it’s going to be a good time. Not for Peter, of course, but for the readers who look forward to this gem of a comic each month.

Frankie Stein

Written by Steven T. Seagle

Illustrated by Marco Cinello

Published by Image Comics

Review by George Marston

When I was a kid, I love monster movies, particularly "Frankenstein."  My dad would rent the old Universal classics, and I'd sit on his lap eating popcorn, and thrilling to the drama of the villagers with pitchforks, and the painted sky.  Here's the thing though; I never sided with the villagers.  Like most people, I always sympathized with the monster.  It wasn't his choice to be reanimated into a world that didn't exactly foster a mutual understanding.  Truth be told, I always kind of identified with that.  Frankie Stein taps into that feeling, presenting a slightly different take on the old tale, and giving kids the message that, no matter how different you may think you are from everyone else around you, you probably have more in common with the world than you think.

Frankie Stein is a young boy who lives in a castle with his loving father, their butler, and their maid outside of Transylvania, Pennsylvania.  He's never had any outside friends, but until his birthday, October 31st, he never minded.  Then he met some boys from the town; the town his father said was full of monsters.  Little does Frankie know he's a lot more like those monsters than he thinks.

The message in the book is clear; we all have something to share.  We all have something special that sets us apart, and the only thing that makes that something special a detriment is the attitude you take towards it.  It's a positive message, and one that hasn't been spread around as much lately.  Steven T. Seagle and Marco Cinello deliver it with tons of charm, too.  The characters are colorful and identifiable; the atmosphere is spooky without being macabre.  It's the right time of year for this book, but it's something I'll come back to and share year round.

Pellet reviews!

Velocity #2 (Published by Top Cow; Review by Lan Pitts):"I hate giving up control. Hate, hate, hate it. Probably why I'm not very good at relationships. Well, that and had scientists try to kill me fairly often. But you get what I'm saying." With time not being on her side, Velocity races against the clock to fight robots, and to save herself as well as her allies from a virus they've been infected with. Having Velocity, the obvious speedster of Cyberforce, be the narrator is what holds this book together. Had this been say, a Green Lantern book, I'd be more than bored with it. Yet, Ron Marz excels as using narrative boxes in addition to showing what is going on and not just telling. Especially since it gives a strong idea of who Velocity is as a character. She's talking a mile a minute, but you never feel bombarded with dialog. Having Kenneth Rocafort on your art doesn't hurt either. He's a mad scientist when it comes to layouts, almost like the Frank Gehry of comics. His line work continues to be rough, and sketchy, but contains the sort of energy this story is telling. It's not the most new reader-friendly, especially since Velocity gets tangled with Hunter-Killer, and readers unfamiliar with the Top Cow universe might not grasp who they are at first and what it means to the Cyberforce mythos, but it's not by any means a deal-breaker.

Titans #27 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Robert Repici): Okay, for the record, I really, really want to like this book. After all, it's no secret that I've been a big believer in this whole "Villains for Hire" concept since day one, and I have no shame in admitting that I initially had some very high expectations for this story direction. With each passing month, however, it's becoming more and more obvious that this storyline will most likely never meet my original expectations, mainly because writer Eric Wallace just hasn't been able to reach any level of success with these characters or this concept so far. And, yes, that lamentable trend continues in Titans #27. For one, like Wallace's first four outings on the title, this month's installment contains a wide variety of cringe-worthy scenes and character moments that, taken together, make the issue borderline unreadable. Oh, and it just so happens that most of these senseless story beats revolve around Roy Harper (a/k/a Arsenal) and his rediscovered drug problem. Sigh. Apparently, the only thing Roy really thinks about nowadays is how to get high. Or at least that's what I got from this comic book. To make matters worse, I can't help but think that Wallace is making a huge mistake by turning Osiris into what's essentially another version of Superboy-Prime. (Seriously, the character basically just mopes around and whines about his misfortunes every month in this book.) At the same time, however, the Osiris story thread is actually the most intriguing thing about this month's issue. Indeed, with the promise of an epic Marvel Family event somewhere on the horizon, every little tidbit that Wallace hints at here regarding the future of his Osiris subplot seems rife with momentous meaning. Despite that little upside, however, the fact remains that this Titans book is still a tragic train wreck on a number of different levels. And while Wallace has proven that this premise still has at least a little bit of storytelling potential, it's not nearly enough to bring me back next month. I'm done with this one.

What was your favorite comic of the week?

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