Best Shots: AVENGERS, FLASHPOINT: LEGION OF DOOM, More

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Hello, Newsaramanoids, Brendan McGuirk here, serving as your mostly friendly Best Shots alternate captain while David Pepose travels deep into the Empire State's urban jungles on a quest for knowledge and, presumably, power. We're happy to hold down the fort in his stead, though, and today we'll bring you reflections and ruminations on last Wednesday's comics haul from Marvel, DC, Dynamite and Image. So kick back and enjoy as we opine.

 

Avengers # 14

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Dean White

Lettering by VC's Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Click here for preview

Since the relaunch of the adjective-less Avengers title, the goal of the book has been pretty clear: this is the heaviest of Marvel's hitters. This book bats cleanup. It means to satisfy both the hardcore Zombies and the mutliplex-goers whose comic fancy may only be passing. This is where the big pieces are set. And in issue #14's Fear Itself tie-in, a mighty big set piece falls.

For over a year, Brian Bendis has used both of his Avengers titles to house his prose oral history of the team. The chapters have been a fun addition to the books, and they've harkened to some of the signature moments of the franchise. As evidenced by other high-profile, real-world oral histories, their real merit is shown not only by the juxtaposition of voices, but also of perspectives. This is an especially rare treat when the cast of characters is as familiar to readers as Marvel's mightiest are to fans. But, to this point, they've all been reflective. Every installment has told stories we readers ultimately already knew. So here, as the thrust of what the promotional strategy leads us to believe is Marvel's most important story of the summer is being relayed in a separate series, Bendis and co. turn the tables on their oral approach, and use the testimonials as a framing sequence for this latest blockbuster exploit.

As seen in Fear Itself #3, Ben Grimm has got himself one of those scary hammers that seem to be laying about. And so, like everyone else equipped with one of those malicious maces, he's turned into some sort frightening fear-Thing. Oh, and now he's extra strong. And less ever-lovin', more extra ornery.

Who is, and who is not, an Avenger has been a main through-line of Bendis' work on the various titles. His roster decisions have been more controversial than those of the Miami Heat. The characters themselves often struggle to accept their promotion to the varsity squad, which reminds readers that, oh right, the Avengers are sort of a big deal. The implication seems to be that anyone that can be a hero can be a great hero, and those that make it as a great hero can probably hold his or her own as one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Because, I mean, they accept criminals and mutants and reformed robots on that team, so they really can't get all judgmental.

As happens with a good manager on a championship run, a moment comes for every role player to contribute and shine. So, bringing our assorted metaphors full circle, it's Red Hulk's turn at the plate. And there's obviously no better way to make one's bones as an Avenger than getting all bruised up for the good fight.

Romita's art looks good, the way a good Marvel comic should. His strength has long been drawing the impossibly huge move impossibly. His handle on weight and mass is such that every one of Thing and Red Hulks bounds reverberates off the page. His panel economy is clinical. Klaus Janson's work is harder to parse, because the two artists have collaborated so frequently it's hard to decipher when one's work ends and the other's begins. But the inkwork, combined with the coloring by Dean White, brings more than requisite texture and mood.

Every Avenger serves a purpose. Each is assembled for a reason. They aren't in the big leagues by accident. The same thing could be said for Bendis, Romita, Janson and White.

 

Flashpoint: Legion of Doom #1


Written by Adam Glass


Art by Rodney Buchemi, Jose Marzan Jr.
, and Artur Fujita


Letters by Dave Sharpe


Published by DC Comics


Review by Jamie Trecker



I’ve been a Flash fan since the early 1970s, when reprints of Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino’s Silver Age fantasia hit Great Britain. He’s far and away my favorite DC character because he uses his brain as much as his speed, and the best Flash stories are a heady mix of hard sci-fi and good old-fashioned wish fulfillment. The news that DC would make their summer event revolve around Barry Allen was like slop to a pig, and I had planned to pick up and read every issue and spin-off of the Flashpoint series.



I’m reconsidering after reading Legion Of Doom, a book with few redeeming qualities. It is not as bad as the infamous Rise of Arsenal, mind you, but it is shoddy.



Any book called “Legion of Doom” — a nod to the supervillain group that bedeviled the “Superfriends” in the animated series — should be kick-ass. The original bunch contained the greatest hits of the DCU: Lex Luthor, Bizarro, Braniac, Solomon Grundy and more. They have a cool hideout, lots of firepower, and really should be bringing a little doom.



This group? So far, it seems to be comprised of only Heatwave, a B-list member of the Rogues’ Gallery. Heatwave is entirely unsympathetic: a firebug whose lone moment of emotional complexity came after he helped kill a kid in One Year Later. Mick Rory is not a character to hang an entire book around. And yet, writer Adam Glass does just that. It is an unwise choice.



Rory is supposed to be something of an anti-hero in this title; instead, he’s a just a psychopath who, as it happens, opens up this particular book… by killing another kid. Something of a disturbing pattern, and while on the subject: I don’t expect realism in comic books, but has anyone ever mentioned to DC’s editorial staff what happens to people that hurt kids once they get into American prisons? It doesn’t seem so.

To say that book goes downhill from here would be overly generous.


One thing that the Flashpoint books do have in common is the art: across the board, it is decent and always nodding to another DC house artist. In this book, Brazilian penciller Buchemi (Incredible Hercules, X-Men Forever) is channeling Rags Morales in his close-ups, an effect heightened by Marzan Jr.’s slick inks. Rags Morales is great; a lesser carbon copy of Morales really isn’t. Still, it’s the best thing about the book.



Bottom line: This book is so far, the worst of the Flashpoint spinoffs to date. I’d save your money.

 

Kirby Genesis #1

Written by Kurt Busiek

Art by Alex Ross, Jack Herbert and Vinicius Andrade

Letters by Simon Bowland

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Shanna VanVolt

Click here for preview

Kirby Genesis is a big undertaking. Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and Jack Herbert are attempting to create a world out of what is left of Kirby's un- and under-used, and mostly unrelated, characters. Kirby Genesis #0 pulled out all the stops and let Jack Kirby's designs reign supreme, giving hints of what was to come without establishing a narrative, but Kirby Genesis #1 has to hunker down and lay out a story underneath what are epic characters.

The concept sparks a twinkle of wonder and a recapturing of nostalgic heroes from a time ago (the Seventies), and Kirby's designs are respectfully treated and beautifully rendered by Ross and Herbert. However, the plot feels to me like these gorgeous superpowers, envisioned by the Master of the (Comic) Universe, are plopped in the middle of a ho-hum human plot, like cookie-dough mounds on a baking sheet. I'll eat the cookies, but I'm not going to lick that burnt metal pan used to bring them convection.

For me, the realistic geeky-college-boy antagonist doesn't cut the mustard with the flashy superbeings the series is unearthing. The inspiration for this story, as established in Issue Zero, is a concept plaque Kirby came up with for the Pioneer X space probe. (The best known of these was mounted on Voyager I.) He designed it as two superhero-esque humanoids, with a note saying that he thought societies were better defined by their aspirations. If our heroes are the incarnations of our aspirations, I am uncomfortable with a society that glorifies those whose main skill is reciting Star Trek episodes for rote. These heroes that Kirby created are in the same vein as my childhood stars of He-Man and She-Ra who ruled their own universes with unwavering strength and iron will. This baggy-pants chin-stubbled main character “Kirby” doesn’t rule anything (except his graphing calculator) and he seems to get pushed around a lot by his attractive female friend.

I understand that plot framework is necessary to incorporate the various heroes from Jack Kirby’s worlds into a single story arc, but that framework is a little overbearing in Kirby Genesis #1. Once a flash of light shone into the dull dorm room where Bobbi and Kirby are having a mundane conversation, I forgave the framework because it seemed like this issue was going to push right into the action. But it doesn’t. Our main mortals then proceed to get stuck in traffic, take cell phone pictures, and watch the news before the book kicks into super-mode. It makes for a slow start.

That said, it would take more than a slow start to take all the air out of the sails of this exciting series. This first issue is gearing up for world domination ala Jack Kirby, and the rainstorm of falling super-aliens is a beautiful weather forecast. Alex Ross’s layouts are epic and Herbert’s rounding-out pages and details bring a reader back to some comic glory days, reminiscent of styles like Brian Bolland and Neal Adams. The human scenes lay a little flat in this first issue, but Kirby’s outrageous characters are brought to full colorful life. It seems like the creators want to plunge as much into Kirby’s world as I want to see them do it.

Perhaps the simpler days of superheroes ― unencumbered by human foibles and mass media ― are over. But that would be disappointing. KG #0 ignited that spark of nostalgia in me for worlds of impossible strength and Manichean battles, and Kirby Genesis #1 was a bit of a letdown for me on the imagination front. It reads a little like the creators are trying to pin a cloud of Jack Kirby’s thoughts to the ground with roofing nails. However, even with that disappointment, I have a lot of hope for the future of Kirby Genesis. The well-drawn imaginative characters are establishing their battle lines, and I hope the ensuing gladiator games can transcend daily life and rocket our aspirations.

 

Ruse #4

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Mirco Pierfederici

Lettering by Rob Steen

Published by Marvel

Review by Wendy Holler

What would you do if you had a second chance at something? If the "you" in question is Mark Waid and the "something" in question is Ruse, the answer is to reintroduce the characters who made the original series sing. Ruse #4 won't make much sense without the three issues that came before it, but hunting down those first three is worth the time and the effort involved.

In this issue, the last of the miniseries, Archard ("world's greatest detective") engages in shenanigans in order to flush out the criminal who's been killing his associates. In true denouement form, the villain's scheme is revealed with plenty of time for readers to revel in their degree of success at guessing that scheme.

Consistent with the first issues, the character interactions carry the story. If the major revelations fail to thrill, that's an occupational hazard of placing them next to the clever dynamic of Archard and Bishop. The rapport between these main characters is rooted in partnership, friendly competition, and the fine art of romantic sublimation. One of the taglines of the comic implies that the tension between the two is professional ("He's the world greatest detective. She's better."), but the evidence to support that claim is slim in these first issues. Bishop is no frail flower, and she's both intelligent and capable. Archard is clearly the more established of the pair, though, and as the comic's plotline points out, resources are sometimes as important as ability.

Fans of the original series will recognize the Archard-Bishop relationship, but they'll also note a significant change in the world around it. While downplayed, magic was a steady element in the original Ruse, in part because of the publisher-enforced concept of the sigil. Marvel's Partington is a far more rational affair, with clear ties to pulp, adventure, and historical fiction. The threats and consequences are political and personal, not cosmological. I miss those mystical elements because they balanced out Archard's intellect; the idea of the rational detective in the midst of an irrational universe still has appeal. The decision to place Archard in a more realistic setting plays to the storytelling core of the series, though, and newcomers won't feel like there's anything missing.

Mirco Pierfederici's art helps make sure that this world feels no less exciting than before. His style handles adventure staples well — horses, running, fire, pistols. At the same time, he can find the drama in a drawing room scene, and he is definitely an artist who understands the power of a well-placed map. With Pierfederici, the characters are handsome rather than beautiful, and the angular feel of their design reinforces the aesthetics of the Victorian world. Each panel emphasizes action or emotional response, and this careful focus on external or internal movement contributes to the comic's brisk pace.

Waid's setting and character work are top-notch. Partington succeeds at being a London-that-never-was, and fictional and historical elements blend well here. The puzzle design shows nice structure by introducing the political and personal threats that help give this new series its feel. The revelation of the puzzle's solution feels inevitable, given the way that the miniseries is reintroducing the major players and their world, but inevitable in this case doesn't mean boring. The characters are prone to narrating their own adventures, and that stubborn insistence on doing things their own way sets them apart both from the world around them and also from the rest of the comics pack.  While the villain's dialogue is sometime just a note shy of mustache-twirling, the lively, vibrant repartee in the rest of the comic maintains the very high standards that Waid set for himself in this regard.

For those unfamiliar with the original series, this reboot offers a good introduction, and for those already familiar with the series, the comic does a good job of sketching its new paradigm. The miniseries shows plenty of Victorian clout and storytelling verve, and I can only hope that this is a setting that Waid will get a chance to revisit. While it was fun to see the world of Ruse again, what I look forward to even more is seeing future stories where Archard's reach exceeds his grasp – else what's a reboot for?

 

The Walking Dead Volume 14: No Way Out

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

You come to The Walking Dead because you've heard about Robert Kirkman's zombie story.  Well, almost all of it is true or at least it was.  Kirkman and original series artist Tony Moore began a heart-racing story of survival as Rick Grimes tried his best to protect this family and friends from zombies and their fellow man.  Kirkman's zombies are like wild beasts or even forces of nature; they just are.  Far more insidious and dangerous are the men and women of Kirkman's story as he continues to chronicle how evil, protective and unthinking people can be to their fellow men and women.  To catalog all of the ways that Kirkman and long-time artist Charlie Adlard have done this would be to break the first rule of The Walking Dead: you don't talk about The Walking Dead.  That rule has lead to the books almost mythic status in comic fandom as one of the few recent successful comics to grow beyond the printed page.   

The Walking Dead Volume 14: No Way Out begins at a point we've seen a couple of times now over the course of the series, with Rick Grimes and his band of survivors feeling reluctantly safe for the time being.  They've been accepted as part of a community, living behind a giant fence that keeps the zombies out of their way.  Sure, there have been problems adjusting to life for Rick who's had to learn the hard way to be suspicious of everyone but he may have actually found something this time.  He may actually have found hope, something that The Walking Dead has been lacking in.  For Kirkman, hope has always been something to tease his characters and his readers with.  If we've learned anything after all this time, there is no hope for Rick.  There's no magical reunion with everyone he's lost waiting to happen somewhere down the line and there is going to be no magical cure for the zombies.  The Walking Dead isn't about the zombies; they had no origin and they can have no end or cure.  The series is about Rick and the man that the world has cruelly forced him to become.

This latest volume continues the cycle of found hope and soul crushing heartache for Rick.  Just as he's willing to admit to himself that maybe the whole world isn't out to get him or that just maybe he's found some measure of salvation in his living hell, the world does everything to crush him.  Kirkman has Rick running in this cycle of hope, despair, loss and wandering over and over again.  We've seen it since the first issue of the series and he makes it feel like we're just descending into further circles of hell with him and his characters.  The never-ending cycle actually makes this series a zombie-filled soap opera.  Kirkman fills this book with all of the highs and lows, with all of the melodrama and intrigue of a soap.  The only difference between The Walking Dead and General Hospital is that there aren't zombies trying to break down the doors to the emergency room. 

If there's no joy or hope to be found in Kirkman's story, Charlie Adlard continues to provide both in his art.  The way he draws Rick or the other people just makes you believe more than Kirkman's story does that there has to be some hope left in this world.  His drawings of the characters make you believe everything they say and do as he continues to draw the real world caught in unreal circumstances.  Adlard is a wonderfully naturalistic artist who's great at drawing people actually just talking, which happens a lot in this story.  Particularly in this new volume, if you didn't see the zombies, you could swear that Adlard is drawing some kind of bedroom drama or a character driven piece about people trying to live up to their own personal images of themselves.  And that's actually a pretty good description of The Walking Dead for the past couple of years, only with zombies thrown in between the bedroom parts.

While he's great at capturing the quieter and more character driven moments of the book, Adlard deftly handles the explosions of violence.  Adlard's zombies are their own forces of nature, swarming and attacking for no reason at all.  There's no logic to the action scenes or any natural flow to them.  Adlard makes them chaotic, rough and ugly, trapping the readers into the same violence that his characters are.  He captures his characters displacement in this world in their eyes.  They're lost, confused, scared and angry and when they get backed into a corner they lash out, Rick most of all.  In this volume, when faced with losing his world again, his eyes go crazy and you have to wonder, thanks to Adlard, just how much Rick really understands what kind of no-win situation he is in. 

For the reader, there hasn't been any real hope in this book for ages and yet, we keep coming back to it, issue after issue, collection after collection.  While Kirkman is unrelenting in his torture and brutality to these characters, Adlard provides the glimpse of hope in this book for the readers. There's hope in the character's faces that the safety that they've found, no matter how brief they may know it to be, may actually be lasting. It's the way that they deceive themselves into not believing that this is the end of the world.

 

Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons #1


Written by J.T. Krul


Art by Mikel Janin


Colors by Ulises Arreola


Letters by Patrick Brosseau

Published by DC Comics


Review by Jamie Trecker

Deadman has been getting a workout in the DC Universe of late. First, he was a major part of the Blackest Night and Brightest Day storylines; now he’s getting his own solo mini-series, spinning out of the Flashpoint crossover concept. Not bad for a D-lister, best known for Neal Adams’ artwork.



If you know Boston Brand’s backstory, then you could arguably skip this book: Deadman is, as he was when he debuted in 1967, an arrogant circus aerialist heading for a fall. Then, he was gunned down, becoming a ghost searching for his killer and his redemption. The Flashpoint twist is that the Haley Circus is currently trapped in Europe, caught behind enemy lines as the war between Atlantis and the Amazons rages. Moreover, it appears that a one young Dick Grayson is heading for the snuff instead of Mr. Brand. 



Krul’s a solid writer, and while this particular story is well integrated to the rest of the Flashpoint world — it takes some time to flesh out the war and give glimpses of other parts of this parallel universe — it must be said that it helps to know some DCU history. Part of the fun is spotting characters like Ragdoll (and noting that he is now able to speak perfect English) and Kent Nelson, better known as Doctor Fate. It is also helpful to know that young Mr. Grayson is better known as “Robin.”



As has been the case with virtually every one of the Flashpoint spinoff books, the art is decent while echoing another DC artist. In this case, Janin apes Gene Ha and Frazer Irving, and his synthesis is pretty effective. Deadman and the Flying Graysons one of the best-looking spin-off books, and it reads and flows cleanly. Janin isn’t a newcomer: a Spanish advertising illustrator, he’s published a graphic novel, serialized in Heavy Metal and, in a weird crossover with my day job, two comic books about soccer. He’s also going to join the DC stable: Janin will handle the art duties on the pending DCnU title Justice League Dark.



A couple of minor quibbles: an Austrian mayor would not be using American idioms. The city in Austria is “Salzburg,” not “Salzberg.” Also — and this is neither editorial nor the creative team’s fault — it is jarring to come across a multi-page advertorial for Subway at a critical moment in the story. Talk about breaking the flow.



Overall, the Flashpoint spinoff books have been tepid. This is one of the standouts. Deadman and the Flying Graysons offers a solid story, handsome art, and some fun geek moments.

 

Deadpool Max #9

Written by David Lapham

Art by Shawn Crystal and John Rauch

Lettered by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Shanna VanVolt

If you have not yet heeded Best Shots’ call to go forth and read Deadpool Max, do not start with this issue. While David Lapham's often out-of-leftfield prose is still on key, Deadpool Max #9 can't recover from its biggest deficit: the absence of artist Kyle Baker.

I am not sure if Issue 9's plot suffers from the lack of Baker's explosive and innovative visuals that have been a staple of the series, or if it is just a less-honed plot this time around. Now, I'm not expecting Shakespeare. Manic ridiculousness has been the calling card of this fun series so far. The issues have read like a ludicrously tangled spy story without any external context being yelled through a loudspeaker at double time. These plots usually touch on the hot-topic fascinations of our age ― bizarre terrorist groups, government scandals, hostile locales ― but Deadpool Max #9 is more of a one-note riff on pop culture, specifically the “Hangover” movies. It feels a bit lukewarm.

Part of the problem is that artist Shawn Crystal cannot keep up with Lapham’s rapid-fire wit. It is difficult to give a completely latex-covered man expressions, and Baker's vivacious depictions did well to capture Deadpool as a psychopath who has more wits about him than he is willing to admit. Crystal's Deadpool just isn’t as effective... or, well, fun. Lapham's stories run for the border of acceptability and decency and keep going clear to South America. When the art doesn't retain that frantic tone, the book edges closer to obscenity than farce.

There is an obese almost-naked stripper featured for the bulk of this issue. Baker's messy but engaging page compositions would have scrambled the reception of such a disorienting visual, but Crystal's art is too literal for my liking. Crystal is not a bad artist. In fact, I enjoy his angular lines that contrast well with engorged proportions. But his Deadpool Max, doesn't have the same energy as Baker's did. Not only that, but Crystal's art seems straining to capture that whimsicality. He is incorporating some interesting techniques, and there is some half-tone coloring, but when the pencils feel that they are trying hard to be loose, they end up coming off as even more rigid.

The total effect of Deadpool Max #9, with a dumbed-down plot and changed artist, is pretty cheesy. Most of this series has been like a fine baked brie with razors in it. This issue is a brick of Velveeta with safety scissors.

 

Invincible #80

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, Nikos Koutsis & Mike Toris

Lettering by Rus Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Remember when Invincible was the superhero comic about the happy-go-lucky teenager? Remember when every adventure felt like the first time, and the world was Mark Grayson's for the taking?

Doesn't that seem like ages ago?

Don't get me wrong, this book is as fun and action-packed as ever. There are still non sequitur villains, hijinx with pals, awkward moments with parents and the like. But there's other stuff too. There are difficult decisions and difficult moments. There are failures. Basically, there are consequences. And while that doesn't wipe away the fun stuff, while it doesn't suck the joy out of the book, it does color it, however subtly.

Even though he's donned his original blue and yellow super-threads, Invincible does look different since returning from the Viltrumite War. His head is a little squarer, his expression seems a little more serious- he looks like a man (even without a beard). His demeanor has also shifted. He's not an altogether different person, but he is a changed one.

Invincible has changed, too. Again, this book has as much fun as ever, but it isn't the same as ever. In so many comic books, so many parlor tricks are passed off as 'evolution,' whether that means supporting cast shake-ups (check), revelations shift what readers thought they knew about the status quo (check) or basic outfit alterations (check and check). But nothing fluctuates beyond a point of no return, because at the end of the day everyone knows where things will return to: a place of comfort.

So what happens is the characters become completely entrenched. Hero X will react to Conflict Y the same way in 2011 as he did in 1979, because if he doesn't it will be called out by fans as creators not staying “true to the character.” But there are very few people who would make the same decisions in 2011 as they did in 1979. And there are a million reasons for that. That's the way of the world.

There is no reason to ever get comfortable reading this book. As a title, as a character, and as a hero, Invincible doesn't just change. It grows. And maybe part of the book's particular flavor, and what sets it apart from every other superhero comic, is that we readers can grow right along with it. 

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