Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with the rockin' reviewers of the Best Shots Team! We've got a heaping handful of Rapid-Fire Reviews for your reading pleasure, including books from DC, Marvel, Image and BOOM! Studios. Want some more back-issue reviews? We've got plenty, all over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's kick off the column with the latest from the mind of Jonathan Hickman, FF #3…
FF #3 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Because fixing Doctor Doom’s brain wasn’t bad enough. Now, Valeria Richards is gathering several villainous powers together at the Baxter Building for a brainstorming session on how to defeat Reed Richards. What?! Don’t worry. As Val begins to say, “there’s a very good reason.” Reed Richardses from other universes stuck in this one and trying to destroy it to save theirs? Um, yeah, that seems like a good reason. Writer, Jonathan Hickman has created an intriguing scenario for the FF that not only forces them to walk a fine line between saving the universe and destroying themselves, but one that pushes little Val Richards smack into “favorite character” territory. What can I say? I’m a sucker for brilliant girl characters who save the world with brilliant ideas. Steve Epting’s pencils are crisp and clear - an asset in a story where we have to differentiate between several versions of the same character. Three issues in, FF is proving to be a fine title. It wears “complicated” well, and the extended reach of the Future Foundation, incorporating many more characters and story possibilities, is successfully doing what Marvel set out to do: revitalizing their First Family.
Flashpoint #1 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): The DC Universe has changed in a Flash. In certain ways, this opening issue to Flashpoint is less a history of Barry Allen, and more of a look at this newly revised mythology through his eyes. As Barry wakes up to discover a world that is not his own, we're just as confused as he is when people begin talking about "Miss Alchemy" or "Citizen Cold," but that's what happens when you dive headfirst into unknown waters. There are some good beats to this book as far as Barry is concerned — his reunion with one cast member is a nice heartfelt page thanks to Andy Kubert — but at the same time, this is more of a tour than a story, if that makes any sense. Before we can get to the whys and wherefores, Geoff Johns decides to push all the fanboy buttons at once by introducing all the various players of the Flashpoint universe, and in that regard, this issue lives and dies based on those high concepts. Batman (of course) steals the show, and Cyborg seems to be an interesting stand-in for Superman in this universe. As far as pacing is concerned, however, I think occasionally Johns overheats Kubert's considerable talents — Kubert's got a gorgeous two-page spread of Batman soaring over Gotham, but sometimes the seven- and eight-panel pages look a little bit cramped, weighing down the story instead of pushing it faster, and surprisingly enough, Kubert's portrayal of superspeed doesn't quite have that sense of motion or momentum I would have expected from the Fastest Man Alive. Ultimately, I'm still on the fence as far as Flashpoint is concerned — now that the pieces are on the board, if Johns can get a strong narrative out of it, it'll be a triumph for the Scarlet Speedster. If it's just an Elseworlds-style redesign, however, then this book is just running in place.
Batman Incorporated #6 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): After a couple of wonky issues filled with standard crazy, all-over-the-place Grant Morrison plotting that will probably seem like genius once the story arc is over, Batman Incorporated is back in great form, and in Issue #6 things get real. This issue succeeds, because it effectively distills how Batman Incorporated is actually going to work, as well as more clearly defines the global threat - Leviathan - for which Bruce and his new Bat Franchise (Batchise?) are preparing. There are also some great twists involving children and an aspiring crime franchise that spice up the already intriguing Batman, Inc. concept. While the story is really revving up, the artwork is disappointing. Issue #6 has Chris Burnham taking over penciling duties, and his work is boring. There’s nothing wrong with it, necessarily, but it also doesn’t grab the reader or have the kind of personality that Yanick Paquette’s work has had up until now. It’s rather like looking at the portfolio of an art school student, albeit a really talented art school student. Still, the story is where it’s at, and this issue is a great place to jump on if you haven’t been keeping up with Batman Incorporated up until now.
Amazing Spider-Man #660 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Teresa Jusino; Click here for preview): Peter Parker is just going to have to get used to being happy. In the second part of a two-part story called “Fantastic Voyage,” Peter arrives at the end of his first mission with his new team and has to deal with things like...compliments, and...being part of a family, and...feeling good about himself. And if that’s not enough, he has to go home to his hot girlfriend who now has a Spider-Man tattoo on her hip. Dan Slott loves to foist love and goodness on Peter Parker, which makes for great reading now, but also suggests the “other shoe dropping” that is sure to come as the title goes on. One criticism, however, is in the writing of Carlie. Awesome Derby hobby aside, her suspicion of Peter — as well as the contrived snickerdoodle-making —was not only grating, but now that it’s resolved, seems pointless. Yes, there was a scene in which Carlie discusses her trust issues with men, so I know where her actions are coming from. Then that depth is undermined by Carlie getting that Spider-Man tattoo... to spite Peter? Not only did this plot point do nothing to move the story forward, but it made Carlie look childish. There's something that hasn’t been gelling about Carlie, but now that this story is over, we can hope that her character can be improved. Mike McKone and Stefano Caselli’s shared work on the interior art worked really well, as their styles compliment each other. ASM continues to be a funny, hopeful, exciting read.
Superman #711 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Let's give credit where it's due — this is the best issue of Superman that Chris Roberson's done yet, and certainly the best issue of the title I've read in well over a year. If I was going to compare this done-in-one action story to something, I would liken it to Bruce Timm/Paul Dini Superman animated series — it starts off quick but weaves in some voice, and provides a nice message to go along with the clean finish in just 20 pages. Continuity fans will also get their kicks from this story, which features a fight with Live Wire and the clever use of an often-ridiculed piece of Superman mythology. That said, there are a couple of hiccups here — an old-school pulp legend makes a guest appearance here that feels a little superfluous, and while Eddy Barrows doesn't stumble in the storytelling, his design and layouts aren't feeling risky enough to bring Roberson's script to the next level. But that all said and done, this is far and away the most entertaining Superman read I've seen in awhile, and while the art still isn't grabbing me, it's certainly worth a look.
Journey Into Mystery #623 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Thor might be getting all of the acclaim this month, with his new movie out and all, but with Journey Into Mystery, Kieron Gillen has succeeded in making Loki my favorite Asgardian in the Marvel Universe. In an era of decompressed storytelling, Gillen manages to tell a really satisfying story that stands on its own two feet even at just 20 pages. Tying in Loki's storied history as a liar, you almost get the sense that Gillen's newly reborn gosling almost has a pathological condition, rather than any sort of malice, giving Loki a bit more sympathy as not a bad guy, but a misguided lad who tries to do the right thing in the wrong way. Doug Braithwaite's pencils are especially transformed into a weird, eerie fantasy world with Ulises Arreola's colors — they're occasionally jarring, but I think tonally it actually fits in with Gillen's story nicely, giving a sort of twisted Lord of the Rings feel that brings an epic feel to an arguably small-scale story. Definitely living up to its title as a mystery into Loki's methods and rationale, this book is absolutely one of my new favorites coming from Marvel.
'Breed III #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Scott Cederlund; Click here for preview): Returning to his Ray Stoner character, a half man/half demon Vietnam veteran, Jim Starlin's writing and art feels re-energized as he once again finds himself telling a story about a man who's biggest battle is with himself. Stoner, who transforms into a large hulking demon to fight other demons, is a hero in spite of himself, kind of like Starlin's Dreadstar or Adam Warlock. While this first issue is heavily expository, trying to recap the first two 'Breed series from the early 1990s, Starlin does a nice job catching his readers up while establishing Ray Stoner's personality and the world he lives in. The true return to form is in Starlin's art, which looks as sharp and crisp as anything he did in the 1970s or 1980s. While all the designs for demons and their cities look remarkably Starlin-esque, his characters look more solid and defined than a lot of his art has look in the last 10-15 years. If you've liked Jim Starlin at all in the past, this book is a book that you need to check out.
Starborn #6 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by David Pepose): If he sticks to his guns with that last page, Chris Roberson may be writing one of the ballsiest comics that BOOM! Studios has ever published. There's plenty of action in this issue, which certainly plays to Khary Randolph's fluid visual style, but this book ultimately gets more compelling closer to the end, as Roberson begins to give some needed context to the beautiful but occasionally self-indulgent space mythology he's been building up. The shake-up is definitely something that's been needed to give this story a voice outside of Randolph's evocative pencilwork and Mitch Gerads' colors (the latter of which I'll be surprised to say seem a little flatter in this issue than usual for him). But there's definitely some solid character work here, particularly with General Talon, who you're never really sure whose side he falls in on. Either way, with these new developments, I'm definitely more excited with Starborn than I was in previous months, and I hope that Roberson will continue to subvert expectations in the months to come. Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!