Best Shots Extra: GREEN LANTERN, FF, HELLRAISER, More
Best Shots Extra
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen and Randy Mayor
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by George Marston
A while ago, I stopped reading any of the Green Lantern titles. It was hard, because Hal Jordan has always been a favorite of mine, but I was really pushed away by "Blackest Night," and the ongoing presence of the many rainbowed lantern corps. What seemed like an interesting and, in some ways, logical extension of the mythology of the Green Lantern Corps became a mess after a rushed build up, an overlong execution, and some very disappointing writing from Geoff Johns. After some time away, I decided to give the book another shot; there's been a cool-down period since "Blackest Night" and its aftermath, and perhaps things have swung back to a place that I'm comfortable with. Not so, sadly, as this first chapter in a new Green Lantern event is still mired in the same claptrap of the entities, the emotional spectrum, and the Guardians' discomfort with Hal Jordan's place in the Corps. In short, it's the same story that's been going on over and over for the last couple years, and it's still kind of boring.
I once loved Geoff Johns above all others. As a writer, he possessed a clear love of the characters and continuity that lead him to a career as a kind of "fanboy made good," if you'll pardon the use of the F-Bomb. There was always an approachability to his writing, a kind of quality that suggested that, if he weren't writing the comics, he'd be hanging out at your store and talking about them with you. Sure, his work wasn't ever the kind of high-minded art writing of an Alan Moore, or a Grant Morrison, but that's kind of what made it great. Geoff Johns wrote superhero comics, and damn good ones. Then a couple years ago, midway through his current run on Green Lantern, things kind of started to fall apart. The writing got a little sloppier, the characters less distinct, and the pandering a little more blatant. Moments that once should've held weight started feeling like bait for the lowest common denominator. So what changed? Was it Johns, or me? Maybe both, but it seems like Johns began to feel the weight of a higher profile at DC Comics. Already a top-tier writer, he moved all the way up to very nearly steering the ship. And maybe that spread him too thin, or maybe just pushed him just far enough to topple over the precipice of being a "fan of the people," to being a "fan of Geoff Johns." Whatever the case, it all culminated in the fiasco of "Blackest Night," that lead me to drop not only Green Lantern, but also to approach everything Johns touches with an air of caution and skepticism.
A year out from my last issue reading the book, I was honestly hoping that I'd see more of the Geoff Johns that had an infectious love for his characters, but instead this issue was written by the predictable and expository Geoff Johns. While the recap was nice, it was hardly necessary, as I could've easily picked this issue up from where I left off, and never wondered for what happened in between. Is that good, or bad? I guess in a way, it's good that a fan can take a break, come back, and still recognize the characters appearing from issue to issue. But in another, more accurate way, it's terrible, because the predictability has in no way freed this book from the mire of continuity and the slag of ham-fisted philosophy. While the sequence that explains the history of Hal Jordan is a great primer for new readers (I'll certainly give credit where it's due), it's tacked onto a story that only someone who's read possibly hundreds of previous comics would ever understand. Further, the sequence and pacing of the panels means that, often, the action is only clear because a character is actually explaining it through dialogue.
I must say, despite all this, I do enjoy Doug Mahnke's art. Some of his pages could be tighter, and some of the plotting seems awkward, but I love the way he renders these characters. His first issue on this title was probably the last great story I read in the book, and while many may disagree, I find his art much more enticing than that of Ivan Reis. Mahnke's greatest strength is, perhaps, his ability to portray sufficiently strange and, when appropriate, horrifying aliens and monsters. Krona looks far more menacing in this book than he has in a long time. No longer simply a fat blue Smurf with a moustache, he's now a disembodied blue baby head with a moustache, and that's really bizarre. The only character I feel is really under drawn is the slavering and slobbering Atrocitus (ugh). However, Larfleeze looks so good it almost makes up for that. I also really enjoy the little touches, like Hal Jordan creating a librarian construct to shut the Book of the Black. I do feel like there is an occasional disconnect between Johns and Mahnke, and I'll point no fingers as to whose fault it may be, but the book never really comes together, and it almost feels like the art is somewhat forced at times.
While the book is clearly not to my liking, I can admit that, for those who may already be fans of this concept, this book will probably be a winner. It will, at least, be another chapter in the ongoing saga of the Space Skittles, and for that I'm sure many will love it. For those who were repelled by the idea of having to taste the rainbow every time you want to read a Green Lantern comic, however, this is not the issue that's going finally sell you. The twist at the end is admittedly intriguing, and were it simply a matter of dealing with that development, I'd probably stick with the arc. Unfortunately, based solely on this issue, it looks like things are staying much the same for the coming months, and probably beyond. Oh well, maybe next year.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Steve Epting, Rick Magyar and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
Looks like the Richards family is having some new additions.
When the Four became Three under Jonathan Hickman's pen, you realized that it wasn't so much a matter of subtraction as it was the opportunity to totally revise Marvel's original team of all-too-human superhumans. Similar to the rejiggering that Matt Fraction gave the X-Men upon their move to Utopia, FF #1 takes the familiar concepts of exploration and innovation — twin themes that Hickman has used throughout his work — and uses them to expand that most classic of Marvel designs.
Or in other words: With FF, it's proof you can teach an old comic new tricks.
Now, part of the appeal of this book has to be the simply the assembly of the team. For this regular reader of Amazing Spider-Man, bringing Peter Parker into the fold actually feels like one of those great moments of editorial synchronicity, because you know that in addition to being that methodical foil against the reckless and irresponsible (and now deceased) Johnny Storm, he's a scientist in his own book, as well.
And Spidey isn't the only new addition to the team. Reed's cantankerous father, Nathaniel, has the best line in the book, where he actively calls out Reed's leadership: "What, we don't do dissenting opinions here? Reed just normally says something and everyone automatically agrees? That's ridiculous." And that's what's so refreshing about FF: There's this underlying motif of bringing in new ideas with new characters and new experiences — in other words, the infusion of creativity that Fantastic Four really needed.
Artwise, I am extremely excited by Steve Epting being on this book. Epting has a look about his work that combines the best qualities of people like Bryan Hitch and Neil Edwards, and in particular he really sells the all-white Spidey suit. One strength that Epting has, tag-teaming on his inks with Rick Magyar, is his use of shadow — even at a family dinner, he can stir up that hint of drama underneath someone's eyes. And the surprise guest we see on the last page, wow, he really stirs up the danger here.
Granted, the real question of FF is whether it will do what Fantastic Four had such trouble doing in the past: Preaching to more than just the established choir. Part of me believes that Spider-Man's presence alone will draw in more readers, particularly those who want to see Peter in a team setting and are dissatisfied with Brian Michael Bendis' twin Avengers titles. But I think by breaking that old structure — by shattering that limitation of just "Four" — Jonathan Hickman and company are bringing together a very ambitious team that could do some great things in the Marvel Universe as a whole. If the thematic heft of new ideas can continue, FF will be more fantastic than it ever was.
Written by Clive Barker and Christopher Monfette
Art by Leonardo Manco and Charlie Kirchoff
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Scott Cederlund
Hellraiser #1 opens with a fascinating quote about Hell beginning the moment we realize all that we may have accomplished, all that we have wasted and all that we will never get to do. Clive Barker and Christopher Monfette share this quote with us while Leonardo Manco shows us a nice, idyllic Nebraska farm, seemingly as far away from Hell as one can get. While there’s nothing particularly exciting or glorious about a farm, it shouldn’t be at all sinister or hellish. At least, it shouldn’t be until the last panel of the first page, as we’ve gotten closer to the farm and see a word balloon. “Help... please, help,” a voice begs.
With that simple plea, Barker, Monfette and Manco immediately yank you into the story as the voice is actually begging you for help. You’re the only one who can hear this cry, and you’re powerless to do anything to help. Barker and Monfette write a brilliant first page. Even if for the rest of the issue, you’re just reading it as you would anything else, you’re a witness and helpless bystander for that first page. You may as well be the one asking for help. Welcome to Hell. You’re trapped here, thanks to the creators of the book.
That’s the first page, and it’s a fantastic bit of sublime storytelling, but after that page, Hellraiser #1 settles into some fairly straightforward storytelling about the three emissaries of Hell, the Lord, the Lady and the Page, as they seek something else. The Lord seeks to become human, to have another chance at redemption and of Heaven. As they barter in Hell, we also see Kristy Cotton, a woman who has a man that she loves but refuses to let him be a part of her future, fearing that someday that will mean he will just be part of her past. Barker and Monfette are setting up a story of wants, desires and denials.
The story is full of interesting possibilities. As this issue introduces us (or reintroduces us if you’ve seen the Hellraiser movies) to the characters, we get tantalizing glimpses into two of them, the Lord and Kristy Cotton. Their paths have intersected at some point in the past. That much is obvious but how are their stories going to cross now? While this story lacks some energy because they Barker and Monfette haven’t introduced a central conflict yet, the desires or lack of desires of their characters provide enough of a hook to make you want to check out a second issue of this series.
Leanardo Manco, an artist who’s done everything from horror to westerns, delivers the realism this book needs. As he draws Hell, with its bloody bodies twisted into organ pipes and its maze-like corridors, the reality of Hell is emphasized. It’s as real as a Nebraska farm or an artist’s apartment. Manco’s art is like Bill Sienkiewicz’s, only more realistic. He’s got a wonderful slap-dash inking style that feels like it should be chaotic and that it should fall apart but his artwork comes together to create some lovely and disturbing images.
Barker and Monfette’s characters (largely Barker’s though, since he originally created these characters over 20 years ago) all begin with interesting stories as the writers begin to craft their own mysteries in this first issue. A Lord of Hell who desires to be human. A woman who blocks out her own future because of the past. And the creepy, rural farmer who helps the Lord, the Lady and the Page. The mystery of these characters, particularly the Hell bound ones are particularly interesting. Just how far is the Lord willing to go to get to Heaven?
The Mission #2
Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Art by Werther Dell'Edera and Arianna Florean
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
If The Mission has one big flaw, it's a flaw of timing. Coming on the heels of Who is Jake Ellis? — another sketchily-drawn story about an everyman listening to mysterious figures and being drawn in violence and intrigue — The Mission ends up feeling superfluous against its own publisher's other offerings, as its simpler plot and looser mystery has it coming up short.
Which, in certain ways, is kind of too bad — if there's anything to see out of this book, it's that Italian artist Werther Dell'Edera definitely has some chops, as well as some clear room to grow in the industry. Having been previously overlooked in Vertigo's Dark Entries, Dell'Edera evokes some very interesting art styles, almost mixing the scratchy lines of Chris Samnee with the fluidity of Rafael Albuquerque or Cully Hamner. Sometimes, however, that leads to some inconsistency with the faces, but he's also got a nice sense of drama and shadow.
But that all said and done, the writing here feels just a touch incomplete, and that's where I think The Mission could use a little bit more soul-searching. Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber have a premise that could touch upon a lot of things, whether it's faith, mental health, the morality of violence — if it could just muster up the gumption and take a stand. The inherent question of this book is, if someone said told you they were working with God and needed you to kill a stranger for the greater good, would you do it?
It's an interesting question, but because the last issue kind of short-circuited that moral dilemma a little too early, this issue just feels like follow-through — outside of a nice bit of serendipity that gets him a weapon, Paul pretty much just tracks a man down to see if he can kill him. And even that gets robbed by the end, as Paul still doesn't actually become an active protagonist. He just watches, and because he doesn't quite agonize about this as much as you'd expect, the exercise seems like it isn't hitting its full potential.
Ultimately, though, I think the big problem with The Mission isn't even a particularly fair one — but they're getting flat-tired by a too-similar product that is faster with the action and more deep with the mystery. Just on its own merits, The Mission is a book with some strong artistic potential, even as the writing ends up being less adventurous than this high concept could dictate.