Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver and Christina Strain
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
You know, a lot of things have happened since the first issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. has come out. Jonathan Hickman has been picking up a lot of steam as writer of Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors, to the point where he has been listed as one of Marvel's five "Architects," an industry honor if I've ever seen one.
Yet I would argue that throughout the past year, it's been S.H.I.E.L.D. that's really been Hickman's best work. With the twin themes of innovation and impossibility, it's a conundrum that doesn't just affect the comics industry, but any industry. "This is not how the world ends." At least, not if we have anything to say about it.
Which is why it's a bit of a shame to see this first chapter of S.H.I.E.L.D. end not with a bang, but with a whimper. With this much set-up, it feels almost like Hickman ran out of things to say, and with this book's bimonthly schedule, that's not a good sign. The message of progress — and the price you pay to get there — feels muddled in this sixth issue. To compound the problem, Hickman's been setting up a mystery for readers for the past 10 months — but to be honest, there's not nearly enough answers to this book to keep readers invested. Combine all that with a three-month delay till Chapter Two? That's a tough pill to swallow.
And that's too bad, because there is a lot to enjoy about this book. I can see where Hickman is building the mythology of this book, building on innovators ranging from Nikola Tesla to Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark. In that regard, the B-plot seems infinitely more interesting than the once-dynamic plot with Leonid and Leonardo, which doesn't quite move anywhere that people would understand.
Art-wise, Dustin Weaver still brings some slick character design, but where this book falters a bit is in its ambitious page layouts. Unfortunately, while there have been some pretty epic shots in previous issues — like the original order of the S.H.I.E.L.D. fighting Brood hordes in ancient Egypt — this issue doesn't have much of those eye-catching pop-outs (although a few images of an angry Nikola Tesla look really nice). And those shortcomings with the layout actually hurts the colorwork by Christina Strain, as well — it doesn't give as much of a focal point to determine the mood, which means that pages either feel overwhelmingly bright, or just dark and muddy, without as strong of a balance between the two.
If you're going to go out, you have to wow readers. Unfortunately, with all the innovation that Hickman has brought to his other titles, it feels like this last issue of S.H.I.E.L.D. got put on the backburner. And you know what? I understand the rationale if that were the case — FF has a ton of backing, and it's reinvigorated a franchise in a way that Marvel's been trying to do for years. But this Little Indie That Could? I enjoyed this book more than most — and I still feel like it could have used a little bit more love before hitting the stands.
Brightest Day #20
Written by Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Julio Ferreira, Oclair Albert, Norm Rapmund, Marlo Alquiza, Andy Owens, Peter Steigerwald and Nathan Eyring
Lettering by Robert Clark Jr.
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
Wait a second. Did Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi just make Aquaman cool?
While Brightest Day had its issues with focus coming out of the gate, I'm really enjoying the streamlined conclusions that DC is giving these characters. Case in point: Aquawar, a chapter that, despite the black comedy of last issue's cliffhanger, gives a ton of respect to Aquaman and his supporting cast, giving the surprisingly large cast a number of unique roles to play.
To say that this feels like a blockbuster is putting it mildly. I have to give Johns and Tomasi a lot of credit as far as this goes — with just one issue of set-up, they really bring the thunder in just the span of 22 pages. Johns has always had a real knack for finding new powers for characters and finding new ways to use them — and let's just say that between Mera's water-shaping abilities, and Arthur's zombie fish, it all pays off in a big way. And I really like the motivation they've given Aquaman, which sort of neatly steps him apart from his Marvelous counterpart, Namor: "Protecting land and sea from one another." That sounds like an eco-friendly superhero to me — and if that is the case, that could make for some really interesting stories.
Art-wise, I have to give editors Eddie Berganza, Adam Schlagman and Rex Ogle a lot of credit here — there is a veritable army of inkers attached to this book, and the fact that the art looks as consistent as it does means its a huge victory. And Ivan Reis really pumps up the cinematic feel to this book — there are a lot of "big" moments here, whether it's Mera holding up an entire coastline's worth of water, or Arthur calling in some very unlikely troops. But I think Reis doesn't get enough credit for some of his more expressive moments — in particular, I love the look on Mera's face, that fierce determination to hold back a horde of angry merpeople.
Now, that's not to say that this book is perfect by any means. Part of me wishes that the message behind this story — Aquaman and Mera repairing their relationship — had been played up throughout the book, rather than just the end. (But them's the breaks when you have to also introduce a new Aqualad.) There are a couple other hiccups here as well, namely the lack of a reaction shot when Aqualad electrically cauterizes Aquaman's bleeding stump. And as far as an accessibility standpoint, the reintroduction of Deadman feels a little forced in — even as it seems to telegraph what the conclusion of this arc will be.
All in all, if you've been hankering for some royal rumbles, surf-'n-turf style, you should definitely be checking out Brightest Day #20. After years of DC taking new approaches with Aquaman and his supporting cast, this issue plays the character and the concept straight, and happens to have a lot of fun doing it. Even with Aquaman's single-handed status quo, this is one of the most enjoyable issues this series has had yet.
The Mighty Samson #2
Written by Jim Shooter and J.C. Vaughn
Art by Patrick Olliffe and Dan Jackson
Lettering by Blambot
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by David Pepose
With Dark Horse's reputation for horror-themed fare like Hellboy and licensed work like Star Wars, I think a lot of people overlook another genre the publisher's got down pat: The barbarian warrior. Between Conan and Kull, there's a lot of testosterone that is getting overlooked by the general populace...
...And then, there's The Mighty Samson.
As much as Conan and Kull have the history (and plenty of artistic talent behind them), it's Samson that is my favorite of the bunch, being above and beyond the best work that Jim Shooter is delivering for the publisher. There's just something to be said about Samson — whether its his irritable nature, his super-strength, the little details of this post-apocalyptic landscape, all these small bits come together to bring a thrilling, old-school action romp.
In a lot of ways, Jim Shooter and J.C. Vaughn have a style that feels like Stan Lee covering Conan, giving him otherworldly strength and a bad attitude. But you realize that Shooter and Vaughn go a little bit deeper than that — Samson has a softer side to him, and it's one that makes even the monologues seem Shakespearean rather than self-conscious. After all, why wouldn't a bad-tempered Übermenschen still love his mother? And that's the real conflict The Mighty Samson has — it's not about fighting people, but a question of how does he get along with them.
But you know what ingredient really brings this enterprise together? Patrick Olliffe, who brings that sort of old-school Sal Buscema rigidness to his lines. I love the expressiveness he gives his characters, even with his sharp lines — you can see the surprise on Samson's face when he gets slapped by the woman he thought was his slave, or the fear and embarrassment when Sunder hides in Queen Terra's bedchamber. And the action sequences look stellar. I really enjoyed the power that was evident as Samson effortlessly snaps some giant chains, or leaps across a stairway chasm. Sometimes, of course, Olliffe's work looks too smooth — it seems so natural for Samson to hit a sea creature with a giant anchor or leap past a street sign that I forget this series is set in the future, rather than a magic realm in the distant past.
Now, there will be some naysayers about this series, who might say that the dialogue feels old-fashioned, or might decry the lack of "widescreen" storytelling or ambitious "epic" scale to this comic. You know what? There are plenty of those books already on the stands, so there's no use picking on this book for being anything other than what it is. And for me, the only word I can use to describe The Mighty Samson is "entertaining." With tons of action, lots of emotion, and just densely packed storytelling, The Mighty Samson stands head and shoulders above his sword-swinging competition.
Flash Gordon: Invasion of the Red Sword #1
Written by Brendan Deneen
Art by Eduardo Garcia and Jok
Lettering by Richard Emms
Published by Ardden Entertainment
Review by Lan Pitts
Flash Gordon is not having the best of days.
When a planet Mongo's Universal Translator goes out, it's up to Flash Gordon and Professor Zarkhov to repair it. Too bad Dale Arden's former commandos have the idea to strike a rebellion against the kingdom. And just when you think Flash and CO. have figured it out, Ming comes along to spoil it.
With Flash Gordon and the Mercy Wars fresh on my mind, I didn't mind a second helping of what Brendan Deenan brought to the table. Now while, Deenan does mention past adventures and occurrences, I feel as though a "Previously On..." page would have been helpful. I can see where a new reader might feel lost or confused on things. Especially character relationships. While it's obvious of Flash and Dale's connection, other relationships might not be so understanding.
Eduardo Garcia brings the best of what Paul Green did in Mercy Wars. There's definitely still a J. Scott Campbell vibe, but not as much here. The panels aren't so concentrated on close ups and allows the page to breathe. Garcia still has a cartoonish look to the world, yet definitely has a strong grasp of action shots and motion.
Deneen still the same problems that he had in Mercy Wars which is concept of pacing. The pages come across as very busy at times and I feel it would have been slightly better if there wasn't something happening everywhere. While the dialog is still strong and interesting, I found myself just rushed the entire time. The last few pages of the book is where it finally got to a better speed and not crammed.
I have to say, Flash Gordon: Invasion of the Red Sword was a strong crash course in the world of Flash Gordon and company, and it is a good read. Though some parts of the story, I feel, could have been executed better.