Best Shots Extra: ALPHA FLIGHT, WITCHBLADE, More

Best Shots Extra

 

Alpha Flight #0.1

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Ben Oliver, Dan Green, and Frank Martin

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

Well, the day we've all waited for has finally arrived. After the ceaseless demand of countless fans, endless revival campaigns, and round-the-clock harassment of top Marvel executives, the company's most beloved super-team is finally back on the shelves.

That's right — Alpha Flight has returned to a monthly title.

Obviously, I kid, but the fact is, with Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente on board, the alternately maligned and cult-ishly beloved Canadian super-heroes are poised to star in a book to watch out for. This starting issue, bearing the odd numbering of #0.1 (what, just a plain-old #1 on the cover wasn't enough to entice new readers, or evoke a new beginning?) sets a very interesting stage for Canada's premier super-team.

This first issue places them at odds with their own former government liaison as he rises to power on the Canadian Unity ticket, a political party sporting an angry, right wing agenda. No matter your politics, this theme may strike a chord for those familiar with the American political landscape, and while it seems weird to transpose that onto our neighbors to the north, my Canadian friends tell me that, up there, things are much the same. Fortunately, despite carrying some political intonations, the creative team never stands one way or the other, and instead uses that climate as the basis for some fun, fast-paced super-hero action.

The book wastes no time getting under way, following all of Alpha Flight's members as they respond to a distress signal after a blackout strikes a large portion of Canada. The faces we see returning here are just about all the members you'd really hope for, and even though Northstar appears as an independent hero, and not a member of the team, the only character who's really absent is Puck. Now, from the look of things, he'll be showing up sooner or later, but I can't help but miss the little guy. Further, the villains of the piece, one new, and one a more familiar face, are strong and interesting, and tie into not only Alpha Flight history, but the larger Marvel Universe, helping to ground this book in familiar territory.

Artist Ben Oliver is certainly a great asset to the title, and his evocative, almost painterly work really makes this book feel like it matters. It's often the case that a title that may be a gamble finds itself with art that doesn't really cut the mustard, but Oliver's art carries weight, and while there are a few panels where the anatomy seems a bit off, or a panel takes a second glance to really grasp, the book is generally gorgeous. Pak and Van Lente do their usual job of balancing the action with some wit, and the personality of each character really comes through. As a starting issue, this one is hard to beat.

It's hard to call a book starring Alpha Flight a "must read," but this title is definitely worth a shot. There's some background info that a total novice might not pick up on, but the easy characterization, smart script, and engrossing art make this book a very persuasive argument at delving deeper into the history of the team. While the strange numbering may throw off more readers than it attracts, the story within is enough to make almost anyone a fan of Department H's resident super-hero team. If you're familiar with Pak and Van Lente's previous work, or with the ongoing Alpha Flight mythology, or even if you just enjoy a rousing super-hero comic, you could do a lot worse than this title.

 

Witchblade #144

Written by Ron Marz and Filip Sablik

Art by Stjepan Sejic and John Tyler Christopher

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Top Cow

Review by Lan Pitts

This issue takes a step back from the current Artifacts event and goes back in time to take a peek inside what it was like working with Sara Pezzini, via her old partner, Jake McCarthy's point of view.

This is actually a layered issue, with the main story featuring Lieutenant Phipps, the troublesome IA officer who has been looking into Sara for a while now, finally has access to Jake's lock box, which contains a detailed note explaining what it is like working with Sara, and the Witchblade. Considering this is Witchblade's 15th year anniversary, it's nice to see a bit of a refreshing course in Witchblade 101.

Jake's memo is sweet and enduring. He gives the impression that before she took the possession of the mystical gauntlet, she was still a kick-ass cop, who did not take any garbage from thugs, to her captain at the time. Which, let's face it, she's still the same person. I've often compared Sara at times to Vic Mackey from the Shield, only less corrupt. This issue had me reminiscing about the show and I found it on par with the tense drama of Sara's secret being found out, and the cliffhanger at the end.

Stjepan Sejic really rolls out the memories here. Even taking on her infamous red dress. The layouts are impressive, if a bit subdued, since this feels more like a one-shot, but still gives us a glimpse of the bigger picture. Sejic never really draws Sara and Jake's early years, so this was fun to see him do something a bit different.

The best thing about this issue is that Marz has crafted a great jumping on point. Sara's background is explained and a brief history of the Witchblade itself is mentioned. One thing holding it back, I feel, is the back up feature by Filip Salbik and John Tyler Christopher. It's a short story involving Sara's current boyfriend and partner, Patrick Gleason. I guess it's only relevant since the book covers Sara's former partners and it seems fair to talk about where she's from to where she's at. It just wasn't clear it was Gleason until his name was mentioned.

Witchblade #144 opens the doors for new fans with a sense of understanding of the world of Sara Pezzini, and at the same time gives them a story to follow up on. Sounds like a good anniversary gift to us fans.

 

Courtney Crumrin Tales: The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

Written, illustrated and lettered by Ted Naifeh

Published by Oni Press

Review by Lan Pitts

It's been a while since we've seen a story from the world of Courtney Crumrin. Creator Ted Naifeh recently collaborated with Spiderwick Chronicles author Holly Black to create the young adult graphic novel series, Good Neighbors, he had a brief stint on the Teen Titans back up featuring the Black Alice, Traci 13, and Zach Zatara, as well as wrote another chapter to his series Polly and the Pirates. So needless to say, he's had a lot going on, and its good to see him return to this macabre world.

Like the previous installment of Courtney Crumrin Tales, this too, is a story involving a young Aloysius Crumrin's, Courtney's uncle, early years. This explores more of his relationship with Alice Crisp, as well a bit of the history of the town of Hillsborough. We see Aloysius, undercover for the Anti-Sorcery Society, working with Alice Crisp, who soon finds out his secret. We also see a bit more of Aloysius' heritage and how magic works in this world.

Naifeh's art is distinct and you can definitely see he his back to what he knows best. Scenes with elaborate gowns, and goth architecture. Characters who just seem and look out of this world. His use of facial expression is different from what I'm used to seeing from him in the past. Fans of the series, now almost a decade old, will enjoy a delightful cameo from a certain goblin.

I thoroughly enjoyed "League", as it added another chapter to a series, and explored a bit more of the world. Naifeh really hit his stride here, and was able to be a bit darker than earlier stories. Portrait of a Young Warlock, the previous issue to this story came out about six years ago, so new fans who are trying to jump on to this, might want to hold off. It's not necessary, but even the title comes from "Portrait," and they may want the whole story. I know I would.

 

Star Wars Jedi: The Dark Side #1

Written by: Scott Allie

Art by: Mahmud Asrar and Paul Mounts

Letters by: Michael Heisler

Published by: Dark Horse Comics

Review by: Kyle DuVall

Sometimes working with licensed characters can seem like a free pass. So much is already established for the creator: Main characters are already extant, a visual identity is often predetermined and there can be richly complex mythologies for artists and writers to draw from. But creators dabbling in franchised sandboxes face a more subtle challenge than those working with comic born characters, especially when dealing with licensed characters drawn from film or prose. They face the challenge of capturing on static comic pages the feeling of the source material, the often elusive atmosphere of the original article that can’t always be distilled or even described.

That’s the element that seems to be lagging in the first issue of Star Wars Jedi: The Dark Side. The feeling of Star Wars. Qui-Gonn Jinn is here, Yoda is here, there are lightsaber fights, crashing starships, speeder bikes, but it never put this Star Wars superfan in that comfort zone that makes me squeal: “This is Star Wars”!

Atmosphere often can’t be talked about constructively or specifically, but there are some obvious elements on the pages of Star Wars: The Dark Side that keep the reader alienated from that galaxy far, far away. The art of the book doesn’t really consistently adopt any of the broad visual signifiers of George Lucas’ films. The makeshift, hard-worn “used-universe” aesthetic that dominated Lucas’ original films is not present on the page, nor is the super-saturated digital opulence of the prequels’ old republic visuals. The colors are sedate, the backgrounds are pragmatic, lacking the sort of quirky details and distractions that are a Star Wars trademark. The costuming and general visual design of the original characters and interiors are indistinct, boilerplate sci-fi. (And, on the subject of interiors, why are Qui-Gon and friends having lightsaber training in what appears to be one of the main hallways of the Jedi Temple? Don’t the Jedi have a gym or a rumpus room or something?)

The base concept of the series is a bit puzzling as well. Star Wars: The Dark Side is a story about Qui-Gon Jinn and the Padawan he had before Obi-Wan Kenobi. As such, it cuts the story off from the mainline mythology of Star Wars by a few decades in both chronological directions. It’s a tale situated before the Clone Wars, and well after the glory days of the Jedi/Sith wars. The story obviously isn’t going to flesh out any of the major players in the film saga like Anakin or Obi-Wan or the emperor because they are not around yet. It’s far enough away from the setting of the films to exclude the possibility of appearances by most fan-favorite characters, but near enough to the film chronology to prevent anything really radical and flamboyant form going on. Star Wars: The Dark Side seems situated in the absolute worst timeframe to tell a Star Wars tale.

Focusing on Qui-Gon is also problematic. Although Liam Neeson’s portrayal of the wry Jedi was a stark high point in the disappointing Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon is not the kind of bloke who has a lot of fanboy cachet. Well-liked, Qui-Gon still lacks that instant charisma or quirkiness that inspires fans to obsess over supporting players like Yoda or mace Windu, nor does he have that tantalizing air of mystery that ingratiates bit players like Boba Fett or Darth Maul in the popular consciousness. As a Star Wars enthusiast, I’m very fond of Qui-Gon, I think he’s a great character, but I don’t really have the need to know any more about him, especially without Obi-Wan at his side.

Licensed comics like this usually fall into three categories. The first category is the travesty; books that seem so lazily written, so ignorant or contemptuous of their source material that they are not just irrelevant, but often infuriating. Star Wars: The Dark Side is definitely not one of those stories. The second variety is the sort of tale that nails everything wonderful about its origins and gives a great new perspective on its mythology, the kind of book that makes fans of all varieties stand up and take notice. This is not one of those comics either. Star Wars: The Dark Side seems, at its outset, firmly in the third category: The kind of comic that will fulfill the needs of fans who need a Star Wars fix no matter what, fans for whom just being in that universe, even vaguely through a merely serviceable graphic portrayal, will be enough. On that level, Star Wars: The Dark Side is modestly successful, and appropriate for the Star Wars fanatic who wants to peek into every nook and cranny the mythos makes possible.   

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