Best Shots Extra: MYSTERY MEN, BATMAN AND ROBIN, More

Marvel 8-Page Preview - MYSTERY MEN #1

 

Mystery Men #1

Written by David Liss

Art by Patrick Zircher and Andy Troy

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

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We all know about the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America, right? The Invaders are well known to fandom as the first (in continuity, at least) crime fighters in the Marvel universe. While those three big names aren't the only heroes ever to have graced the ranks of the Invaders, the majority of these characters, and their history with Marvel Comics, began in WWII. But what happened before that? We've always been privy to the fact that some heroes, such as John Steel, Wolverine, and several others have operated in some capacity since the Civil War, but there's a period of Marvel history that has always remained relatively unexplored. Unexplored, that is, until now. David Liss and Patrick Zircher's Mystery Men (no relation to the cult Bob Burden series) explores the world of the Depression-era Marvel universe, introducing several here-to-fore unseen characters in a pulp-style mystery with stylish aplomb,

Mystery Men follows robber-baron heir Dennis Piper who, as his alter-ego "The Operative," is a high society cat burglar, with a Robin Hood type philosophy towards those hit worst by the economic collapse of the 1930's. When his girlfriend, Broadway starlet Alice Starr is murdered by a mysterious figure with ties to the supernatural, Piper is framed for the crime, and goes on the lam with the aid of the strange vigilante "The Revenant," and Alice's sister, a pilot and inventor named Sarah. Liss's script is tight and hardboiled, and while I wish that one or two moments had been given another beat, the fast-paced nature of the storytelling never leaves the reader in the dust. It doesn't take much to establish the noir-ish crime yarn that makes up the plot of the book, and Liss displays a keen ear for the type of dialogue that really suits this atmosphere.

Patrick Zircher's art is maybe a bit too clean at times, but when he allows his deep blacks and shadows to crawl across the page, the story comes to life. The few moments where Zircher truly embraces the starkness of the noir aesthetic are the best looking of the book, and while the brighter moments set a nice counterpoint, the art doesn't shine quite as much in those sequences. Andy Troy's colors are quite complementary to Zircher's art, but could stand to be a bit more moody in general. The opening sequence, with its soft, blue pallor is the highpoint for this, but the rest of the book is a bit less nuanced than I'd like.

Mystery Men is a bit unexpected, in that it seems to have flown under the radar for many readers, but fans of pulp heroes won't be disappointed with the proceedings. Liss's knack for writing hardboiled dialogue, and zippy pacing make this an entertaining and easy read. The art team of Zircher and Troy leave a bit more to be desired, but never at the expense of storytelling and dynamic action. While I wouldn't call it a breakout hit (there's a little too much room for evolution), this is a promising first issue, and a great set up for the next four still to come.

 

Batman and Robin #24

Written by Judd Winick

Art by Greg Tocchini and Artur Fujita

Lettering by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics

Review by Colin Bell

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Jason Todd is a bad seed, of that there is no doubt. You may take issue with his murderous vigilante ways, but my main point of consternation with the character is his ability to single-handedly drag down any comic he appears in. Sadly, Batman and Robin #24 is no exception.

"But he's the Bad Robin!" you may well be saying, and you couldn't be more right; "bad" being the operative word. He's a wannabe arch-nemesis, a wayward son, a fallen hero, and these labels shift depending on who's writing the character. During his near two-decade long residency in the Great Comic Book Graveyard, every one of those roles were played out in Bat-books by other characters, other Robins even, albeit with less severe consequences. From his stolen criminal identity, to his position in the roster of Robins, he's a derivative character. Jason Todd's greatest legacy was when his death haunted Bruce Wayne. So it can be argued that he was most effective as a character when he was "the dead Robin."

Based on this issue alone I would say that Judd Winick disagrees with what I'm saying. Responsible for bringing Todd back from the dead some years back, in this issue Winick promotes Todd to the star of the book by letting the character narrate the issue. It’s a mixed affair — one memorable instance of internal monologue consists of the word “Ow,” as we all think to ourselves when hurt. Effectively, this narration reduces Batman and Robin to near bit-part players in their own title.

Elsewhere we see the return of a character that already had a perfectly acceptable ending to their story and very few people were clamoring for. Whether or not this is some form of meta-commentary on his own work with the character of the Red Hood, I can't say. I'd strongly doubt it though. Both Batman and Robin have their share of fairly out-of-character dialogue, and the plot of the issue is fairly basic, amounting to little more than a scrap between Todd, Grayson and young Wayne and some forgettable animal mercenaries.

Replacing solicited artist Guillem March, Greg Tocchini (of Last Days of American Crime fame) shifts his usual realistic style to a more cartoon-like affair. The linework he brings is a tad heavy, but he draws a fairly kinetic brawl, which takes up the most part of the issue. Sadly, most of what's on the page is darkened by Artur Fujita's colors, which are of a muddy quality. It's not often that I'm left feeling that a cover is the artistic highlight of a book, but Guillem March's colorful effort takes the plaudits this time round.

The impending relaunch of the DCU has some people complaining that none of the stories between now and then "matter." While I'd usually strongly disagree with them, books like this make me think twice.

 

Savage Dragon #171

Written by Erik Larsen

Art by Erik Larsen and Nikos Koutsis

Lettering by Tom Orzechowski

Published by Image Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

Though it’s Erik Larsen’s dynamic art that makes the most immediate impression, it’s his well-thought out scripting that lingered after finishing the issue of Savage Dragon. It’s not so much that the story itself is shocking in its originality, but it’s the way Larsen brings a very literary quality to the issue, and uses narrative shorthand to great effect that makes it as effective as it is. Larsen continues to synthesize everything he has learned about graphic storytelling during his storied career, and channels it into something that embraces the tropes and potential of the medium wholeheartedly.

Now, with Malcolm Dragon, Savage Dragon’s son, in the spotlight, the series continues its rapid shift into a new direction, while dealing with the fallout from the “Emperor Dragon” storyline. The issue’s main plot has echoes of Horatio Alger and Theodore Dreiser, and Larsen’s opening scene is an excellent integration of genuine pathos and conflict, which is supported by his varied layouts which always act in service of the story. He uses page turns to great effect, as well – particularly early on, with a great jump cut that involves the elision of dialogue.

In some regards, the issue echoes Will Eisner’s approach to the later years of The Spirit, where Eisner used the format to extend his storytelling into telling modern parables where the titular character seldom served an integral purpose to the plot. Though Malcolm has much to do in the story, and his scenes during a comic book signing have a humor and purpose, his actions don’t form the emotional core of the issue.

Larsen’s theme looks to early drama for its inspiration — the conflict between the ideas of man as the decider of his destiny, and the fates serving the same function lends a great weight to the story of Kevin Gorelick, son of Overlord. The issue begins with a scene from his youth, as he argues with his Father – Larsen creates an interesting effect by having the villain’s arguments to his son about not turning to a life of crime echo the superhero staple of the hero’s loved one explaining their nervousness over what they do. The honesty with which Kevin’s father addresses his own life of ill-gotten gains is startling in its brutal frankness, and it makes for a riveting scene.

There’s another story thread involving Angel Dragon, Malcolm’s sister, who is forced to deal with the ramifications of her actions from the past several issues. The intentional parallelism between Kevin and Angel’s stories increase the emotional valence of both storylines, and highlights the differences between how these two characters choose to deal with their respective plights. Malcolm gets some hits in here as well, and they look great, taking most of its effectiveness from all of the character development that preceded it. Malcolm’s dialogue during the fight reads as a sort of cliché superhero pastiche — which works well for the character, who’s still finding his footing as a hero, and so decides to sound like the comic books he appears in.

If I have any major criticism, it’s that the issue doesn’t so much reach its natural end as it does stop — the final scene has a potent message, which is delivered plainly and clearly — as Angel discusses family with a man who claims to be Malcolm’s uncle. However, the final panel undercuts the emotional momentum with a curtain line that seems somewhat ambivalent in purpose — is it a punch line, or is it a moment of epiphany for the character who speaks it. Perhaps an additional close-up panel would have lent more resolution, but it’s possible that we haven’t seen the last of Malcolm’s uncle – I certainly hope not, as he’s an interesting character, with a distinct set of frailties.

There’s a back-up story which features a number of guest artists — each of whom handle a page of the story with styles evoking a variety of different genres. It’s a charming piece, with a conclusion that could have ended up being saccharine, but nicely avoids that trap. It’s a nice bit of added value to the book.

This issue is a treasure-trove of ideas, with hints of a multitude of developments and potential complications, and an interesting, varied cast of characters. As he has done so many times before, Larsen could easily go anywhere with his story from this point — and that’s what makes the prospect of the next issue such an exciting one.

 

Flashpoint: Citizen Cold #1

Written by Scott Kolins

Art by Scott Kolins and Mike Atiyeh

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

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What's most important to you in a comic — the art, or the story?

The first part, Scott Kolins has got down, well, cold. Kolins is a natural-born visual storyteller, but while this issue flows nicely because of the artwork, the actual story still is lacking some heat. If you're looking for some gorgeously rendered Rogue action, then Kolins has you covered — but I can't help but read this book and think there's a wealth of potential for this concept that's still being overlooked.

I'll start with what works: Namely, Kolins has a real flow to his panel layouts, and his new style with colorist Mike Atiyeh amplifies his expressiveness while streamlining some of his more chiseled linework. I can imagine reading this book just in the pencil stage, and absolutely getting the overall plot of the story, as we meet Citizen Cold, the ice-cool hero of Central City. Whereas the rest of the DCU in Flashpoint has had fairly global redesigns, Leonard Snart has remained classic, and Kolins brings that brooding gunslinger vibe nicely.

But just because it looks good, I would argue that the battle isn't over quite yet. If there's anything that I think holds back Citizen Cold, it's a lack of surprise — we all know that Leonard Snart is crooked, and we get that from the very first page. With the absence of that question, it's too bad that Kolins couldn't bring in a bit stronger of a theme to replace it, like, why is Cold trying to look like a hero in the first place? But theme aside, there are a few other hiccups in the writing side of the equation, particularly an overwrought line where TV reporter Iris West hammers the message home: "Lisa needs some love."

While the majority of the story is anchored by Kolins himself, he's got two collaborators who I think hit and miss. As far as hits go, Mike Atiyeh lends so much energy to this book, with his striking colors slicing hints of red and orange into a cooler color palette. Letterer Dave Sharpe, however, takes a few risks that don't quite end up panning out — there are a couple of pages at the beginning where instead of bolding for emphasis, they underline, and as soon as you see it, you immediately recognize why comics rarely do that. I applaud Sharpe for trying, but the distraction isn't worth the differences.

The thing about Citizen Cold is that among all the Flashpoint books that have been released in the past two weeks, it's probably the strongest visually outside of Batman — Knight of Vengeance. Kolins is a pro as a visual storyteller, and just in terms of progression of plot, of getting Cold from Point A to Point B, what isn't said in this book ends up being far more interesting than what's laid out in the text. Unfortunately, those who are demanding a solid story to go with that art may find a bit of dissonance in these 20 pages. Considering his reputation for speed, Kolins certainly has the toughest part of the equation down pat — if he's able to give the scripting another once-over for theme, this has the potential for some real fireworks.

 

Star Wars — The Old Republic: The Lost Suns #1

Written by Alexander Freed

Art by Dave Ross, George Freeman, Mark McKenna and Michael Atiyeh

Lettering by Michael Heisler

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

Not being a gamer, I can’t really speak to Star Wars - The Old Republic: The Lost Suns fidelity to its video game roots. As a Star Wars fan, however, I can’t help but see some wasted potential. Lost Suns takes place thousands of years before the timeline of the Star Wars films and in the wake of the legendary Sith Wars. Lost Suns is a glimpse at the high tide of the Jedi and the Galactic Republic, a window into an other age of Star Wars mythology. As a Star Wars tale, it should definitely deal in some familiar images, it should put the reader into a certain comfort zone regarding setting and atmosphere, but should it feel, chronologically speaking, like you’ve never left home?

Separating The Lost Suns’s story from the familiar world of the filmic saga, creates a real opportunity for creative departures from the Star Wars median. The Old Republic should be an age of legends, of visions and worlds out of an epic past. What Lost Suns’ authors, be they the game designers or the creators of this comic, have given us is basically the same old Star Wars world with tiny little tweaks here and their. Coruscant of millennia past looks pretty much like Coruscant of today. Sith droids from the age of legends look amazingly like Trade Federation droids from the prequel trilogy. We see a Sith battlecruiser that is a dead ringer for a republic starship form Clone Wars and Sith troopers garbed in a variant of clone armor. In video game terms, the choices make a sort of sense. Players of the game will get to go on a new adventure in the Star Wars universe that is fully its own entity, yet one that still looks exactly like the films. In terms of a piece of graphic literature, however, the approach is just too conservative. There’s nothing really new to look at here. Nothing to visually cue the reader that this is a whole other age of Star Wars aside from the book’s prologue and that “Old Republic” subtitle slapped on the front.

It really is too bad because artists Dave Ross and George Freeman put some formidable two-page splashes together and their sense of composition and layout really suit Star Wars. The plot, which implies a sort of black-ops twist on a Star Wars tale also left me a bit uninspired. Lost Suns situates its story in an age of high galactic fantasy and then chooses to tell a sort of cold-war black-ops story. A look at the seedy underbelly of the Republic’s high-tide has potential, but grim and gritty has never really worked in Star Wars and scripter Alexander Freed has to play his excursions into the gray side safe and generic to stay true to the Star Wars feel.

Maybe it’s too hung up on expanded video-game universe precedent, but this version of the Old Republic plays it too safe and too small for this fan. Creators working in the heroic age of Star Wars Really should let themselves off the chain. If the original trilogy tales of a wannabe Jedi farmboy, a spaceborne drug runner, and a walking carpet can be so riveting and epic on the movie screen, how grand should the adventures of the most renowned Jedi and their most villainous adversaries play out on the limitless vistas of the comics page?

 

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #167

Written by Larry Hama

Art by S L Gallant, Gary Erskine and J. Brown

Lettering by Neil Uyetake

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Deniz Cordell

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #167 (try saying that in one breath) is exactly what one would expect and hope it would be, and put a goofy smirk on my face from panel one. The smirk wasn’t one of nostalgia — I never really had an attachment to the Joe characters growing up — but that of the pleasure of being swept up into the comic book equivalent of a divertissement. The scope and stakes are set up immediately, and Larry Hama ratchets the tension throughout, keeping the narrative energy moving at a real clip.

Hama, of course, has been living with these characters — and their universe — for well over a quarter of a century, and he brings a distinctive flair and terseness to his dialogue. Much of this particular issue has a techno-thriller vibe, less focused on spectacular action, than in fast cuts between four plot-threads that are slowly interlocking into an exciting mosaic. There are a handful of nice character moments on display — particularly involving Destro and the Baroness, but focus is placed squarely on the mechanics of plot, as a potential endgame encroaches.

It’s a testament to the focus and clarity with which Hama writes that he is able to cut between so many divergent elements, still find time and ways further each storyline, and create a cohesive and coherent whole. The segments taking place on the North Pole have a crackle that expands into an action sequence notable for its economy. In fact, perhaps the best way to describe the issue as a whole is “economical” – there’s not a wasted moment, or any excess fat on the narrative skeleton that Hama hangs his developments on.

One of the other strands takes the reader to Castle Destro in Scotland, where an event that could potentially change elements of the series’ status quo is brought up in an understated, almost off-handed manner. It’s a choice that works quite well, speaking to the inner nature of the characters, and also creating a piquant tone that tempers the small handful of more histrionic moments in the issue. There’s a clever bit involving finding a message from one of the Joe's, and the glimpses into the procedure and protocol behind the organization support the militaristic world of the book. Hama also takes some moments to engage in some pointed commentary about National Security, but it never overwhelms or feels shoehorned in, but instead comes across as well-placed grace note, providing another layer to the relationships between the characters.

S L Gallant’s art is energetic and crisp — and his scenic design contains several nods to the great Ken Adam’s production work on the James Bond films. His vehicles are eye-catching, and his action staging is as concise and to-the-point as the scripting. Letterer Neil Uyetake uses sound-effects to delightful effect, accenting the supercharged heroics and quick brutality on display. Colorist J. Brown gives each locale its own distinctive color scheme — and the art team works together to get some neat effects, including some reflections off Destro’s metal mask, and the glossy, coldly lit Joe headquarters in the Chrysler Building.

Above all though, this is a comic that relishes its medium, and is intimately familiar with grand escapism, and larger-than-life heroes and villains. There’s an art and an artifice to the way Hama writes the dialogue — a formality and meter that could only work in a comic like this. Any comic that contains the sentence “These defenses are egregiously formidable!” is a comic I couldn’t possibly dislike.

Those who have been following the series will find much to enjoy and chew on here — as they see several plot-lines gradually reaching fruition — and those looking for high-tech derring-do that isn’t afraid to go over-the-top will find themselves compelled to turn to the next page. Don’t be mistaken, this is not a work of great profundity, or something that will linger with you for weeks after you finish reading it. It is, however, an exciting, well-assembled action story with a dollop of pulp thrown in; with art that bears that unmistakable comic book aesthetic. It follows through on its promise of entertainment quite well indeed.

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