Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with some hair-trigger Rapid-Fire Reviews with the Best Shots Team! We've got a ton of new releases for your reading enjoyment, with the latest look at this week's books. Want some more back-issue reviews? Check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's kick off this week's column with some looks at the Flashpoint saga, as Jamie Trecker checks out Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager...
Flashpoint: Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): This review contains a spoiler.Whoa. Did we just see one of the Wildstorm Universe’s most beloved characters just pop up in the Flashpoint Universe? I’m not sure, but the mysterious Jenny Blitz — who will remind Stormwatch fans of a certain Jenny Sparks — takes center stage this issue and turns what had been a fairly dull story on its head. In the world of Flashpoint, Deathstroke is a pirate on the hunt for his missing daughter. Unfortunately for him, Aquaman and Ocean Master don’t take kindly to folks sailing into their territorial waters. Deathstroke may heal as fast as a certain Canadian, but his crew is toast. All seems lost as the Warlord attacks — and then comes Miss Blitz. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Wildstorm characters cross over into Flashpoint, of course — Grifter is part of the Resistance — but it’s still jarring to see one of Warren Ellis’ greatest creations pop up and kick some ass. Frankly, it redeems a book that is only capably drawn (by Joe Bennett and Tony Shasteen) and rather indifferently scripted by Jimmy Palmiotti. Deathstroke as a pirate is a fun concept, right enough, but until this big gun showed up, this had been a book one could take or leave. Now: I want to see what comes next. Kudos to the creators.
Journey Into Mystery #625 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): It boggles my mind that Kieron Gillen isn't getting more heat for this book. Boggles. My Freaking. Mind. Journey Into Mystery is easily the cleverest thing that the Uncanny X-Men writer has done for Marvel, and it's quickly become my favorite book the company puts out month after month. The reason? Gillen has picked up the threads from Matt Fraction in terms of the newer, younger god of mischief Loki, and it's the most interesting the character has been since, well, ever. Hellhounds, Mephisto, Hela herself, war in the Underworld — Gillen is tongue in cheek the whole way, and that provides some real pop to what could have been a continuity-laden, bland book. Doug Braithwaithe, meanwhile, is a bit of an acquired taste — I think he brings a real mythic atmosphere to this book, but I can agree that his style isn't quite as bright and uplifting as the writing might demand. Opposites might attract, but if getting new readers is the game, his painterly style might be too much. The other hurdle here is there are a lot of continuity threads at play in this book dating back to Gillen's Thor run, and while I'll be the first to admit that this is not a comic that you can jump into with every issue, it is so damn good I would gleefully tell you to start with the beginning.
Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): This ain’t the Aquaman you grew up with. Impatient, reckless and childish, Arthur Curry may rule Atlantis, but he’s about to run headlong into the unstoppable Diana of Themyscira. A smackdown is coming. This issue fleshes out the origins of the Flashpoint Universe’s Aquaman, and it’s an unhappy tale. Many of the details will be familiar to long-time fans of the book, but the lessons our King of Seas learned from his father are definitely different. This Aquaman is not real bright, either: unbeknownst to him, the entire war between Atlantis and the Amazons has been orchestrated by his brother in concert with a dissident faction. Orm, seething that he was passed over for the throne, has cut a deal with Pethesilea and Artemis and the result is a war that threatens to consume the globe. The real star of this book is Vicente Cifuentes: his tight lines and mannered details will remind many of Travis Charest, and the Spaniard is making a solid case as the breakout star of the Flashpoint event. Tony Bedard does a decent enough job getting the details across and the plot moving, but this is just the latest book from DC in which you really feel the strains of the 20-page format. There’s very little room for the story to breathe here, and the whole enterprise feels rushed. Unfortunately, that’s what you get for $2.99 these days; I, for one, wish DC had taken some of the key books in this event — this one in particular — and raised both the price and page count. It might have made for tougher sells, but it also would have made for better reads.
FF #6 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by David Pepose): This book is beautiful, bold… and surprisingly baffling. As a huge fan of Jonathan Hickman's recently relaunched FF, I was really taken aback at how inside baseball this particular issue was, as we broke the narrative momentum of a really strong story to discuss… the return of Black Bolt? Part of that has to do with the total shift in visuals — Greg Tochinni is almost like a sketchier version of Alan Davis, with some fantastic composition underneath his light, almost feathery linework and some really gorgeous greens and oranges from Paul Mounts… but coming off the cinematic, easy-to-follow, widescreen storytelling of Barry Kitson, even his beautiful artwork becomes the visual equivalent of getting tripped down the stairs. The story here is also really continuity-heavy, and the long explanation from Hickman isn't quite enough to make all these disparate threads make any narrative sense: There's the history of the Kree and Inhumans tossed in here, and while there are some moments that feel appropriately "big" (like the Kree Supreme Intelligence learning of mythology and religion), it's so convoluted that even a diehard like me is left scratching his head. Given the quality of the series thus far, it's a little surprising that this interlude — without any of the main characters, no less — happened, because it slams the brakes on what had been a really fantastic story.
Flashpoint: Citizen Cold #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): Written and drawn by Scott Kolins, Citizen Cold is a book that I’d like to like but can’t — and it’s not Kolins’ fault. Several books in the Flashpoint suffer from being crammed into too few pages, and this book might be exhibit A. The story is solid: Cold is a villain trying to masquerade as a hero, kill off the Rogues who might drop dime on him, and get away with the girl before the whole thing comes crashing down. The problem is, Kolins is trying to tell a much bigger and broader story than is really possible in 19 pages, and a result, the product ends up feeling frantic. Would it have killed DC to add to the page count or add an extra issue to this series? There is one cool Easter egg in this issue: Eagle-eyed 80s fans will spot a much-loved but long-lost character in Chester Runk in this issue. Sadly, his appearance is brief, as the man better known as “Chunk” is used by the Rogues to blow out of Iron Heights.
Green Lantern Corps #61 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): If this is the direction of the new DCU, I think there's hope for us yet. This aftermath of "War of the Green Lanterns" is a great jumping-on point, as Tony Bedard successfully ties in all the cosmic hullaballoo all in a human, self-contained story. Following one of the newest recruits to the Corps, this issue has a strong and plucky protagonist that I could see a lot of younger readers really enjoying. Just in terms of his dialogue, Tony Bedard is really on an upswing, with a real poetry to his work. But I'd argue that artist Daniel Hdr is the real winner for this book, as it showcases a real talent in the making — he's not a superstar yet, but he's got that clean, full-bodied style similar to Mike McKone, whose understated figures belie a real dynamic streak to his layouts and expressions. That said, this issue isn't perfect — while it's got a great beginning, middle, and end to it all, the motivations and emotional fallout from "War of the Green Lanterns" feels more implied than explicit, with the characterization feeling a little bit too archetypical to have Bedard's full stamp on it. While the detail work isn't quite enough to call this a home run, this is an issue with a rock-solid structure that more serialized books should emulate.
Batgirl #23 (Published by DC Comics; Review by David Pepose): So. Close. I picked up Batgirl on a lark, and for the majority of this book, I was so on board with Bryan Q. Miller and Pere Perez. It starts out great, with Miller showing that he's got that sort of Dixonian chops for creating villains that survive on concept rather than on characterization — in the wrong hands, that would be bad, but Miller knows how to choreograph his action, and he creates an electric opening that really gets you invested. Pere Perez, meanwhile, has grown by leaps and bounds even since he joined the title — really smooth lines, a very accessible, cartoony style that takes some of the best strengths of Marcus To while adding some very strong storytelling prowess. The stakes are high here, with Batgirl taking on an entire squadron of superpowered battlesuits, and the emotional lead-up is particularly effective in making us root for Stephanie, one of the most Buffy-esque superheroes you'll ever meet. The big problem with this book? All that great set-up, and a deus ex machina resolution that makes you wish you had never even heard of a shared universe. If Supergirl hadn't so recently taken this turn, I would been fine with it, but Miller essentially wrote himself into a corner, putting Stephanie in a fight that she didn't end up winning for herself. It's a late fall, but it's a big one, and one that gives the otherwise flawless Batgirl a serious black eye.
Lady Mechanika #2 (Published by Aspen Comics; Review by Vanessa Gabriel): Amidst the plethora of comic character designs … and redesigns, Lady Mechanika #2 is a Gibraltar of creative brilliance. Joe Benitez and Peter Steigerwald have rendered an absolutely beautiful comic book and an intricate leading Lady. Mechanika is demure, sharp, stunning, and part machine. An apt detective and a merciless combatant; she has already managed to acquire quite the rogues gallery. Commander Winter is as gorgeous as she is cruel, and the steal-jawed Lord Blackpool is loaded twisted ambition. Benitez tells a story that intelligently displays undeniable human machinations that are often forgone for an epic battle because we don’t like to be reminded of why we do what we do. But Lady Mechanika is determined to face her past in order to know why she is the way she is. Sorry are those who get in her way. With art this phenomenal and characters this interesting, the story has amazing potential. I am hoping Lady Mechanika is the next “big thing” (I think it bloody well should be). If nothing else, I will be forever grateful for the cosplay she inspires. All hail, Lady Mechanika!
Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): The best thing to come out of Grant Morrison’s epic Seven Soldiers series was the rehabbing of Frankenstein’s monster: Morrison gave us a gun-totin’, Milton quotin’ monster with a four-armed sharpshooter bride and a host of weird accomplices. Writer Jeff Lemire (Superboy, Sweet Tooth) has dropped the poetry and largely jettisoned the weird as well, all to the book’s detriment. This is a straightforward superhero book, albeit one crafted in an era heavily influenced by the success of Hellboy. Unfortunately, it’s got none of that book’s mystery or charm; instead we’ve got a group of Creature Commandos, a late appearance by the Bride and a shootout in a swamp. What all this has to do with Flashpoint is beyond me, as are any plausible reasons to purchase this title. Adding insult: the best part of the book, Ibrahim Roberson’s art, lasts only eleven pages; the back half is handled by the scratchy and indistinct Alex Massacci. I had high hopes for this book; sadly, it’s a major letdown.
Booster Gold #46 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jamie Trecker): The “secret” Flashpoint book, Booster Gold is one of those sneaky tie-ins to the big event that you will miss if you’re not paying careful attention. Booster, once the laughing-stock of the DCU, has been rehabbed in recent years as a sort of undercover time cop: working with Rip Hunter (revealed a while back to be his son), Booster maintains his feckless image in order to keep his work secret from the rest of the DCU heroes. Because of his time-traveling powers, he’s one of only two characters — Barry Allen being the other — who realizes just how badly awry things are. He’s also figured out who’s responsible and would get on with fixing it if the U.S. Army would just stop beating the crap out of him. Did I mention the Army’s weapon of choice is none other than Doomsday? Yeesh. Writer/artist/creator Dan Jurgens turns in yet another solid show here, and he deserves a ton of credit. Under his guidance — and over a period of twenty-five years! — we’ve seen Michael Jon Carter complete a classic character arc, from heel to hero. It’s never felt once forced or phony, and this title steamrolls to a conclusion with the final issue. Jurgens has positioned Gold to be a leader. Keep an eye peeled in this book also for a mysterious new woman with strange powers that are more than a little reminiscent of a certain Southern X-Man. The only discordant note in this issue is fill-in art from Ig Guara rounding out the back half of the book — Guara is good but he’s no Jurgens. Booster Gold used to be a guilty pleasure; now it’s a must-read. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!