Best Shots: Revelations, Punisher, SI Thor and More

Greg Rucka: Final Crisis: Revelations

Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. First, links to our Best Shots Extras from this week . . .

Secret Invasion #5

Secret Invasion #1s: X-Men, Inhumans, Thor

X-Men Origins: Jean Grey #1

Now, onto the rest of it . . .

Final Crisis: Revelations #1 (of 5)

From: DC

Writer: Greg Rucka

Art: Philip Tan with Jonathan Glapion, Jeff de los Santos and Walden Wong

Review by Troy Brownfield

First things, first: Tan’s the perfect guy for this book. Having had some truck with supernaturally powered people in apocalyptic epics before, he’s got the sweep and grandeur thing down. Tan tries to capture the reality-bending nature of the power on display here, and I think he’s got it.

As for the narrative, Rucka does dark well. I’m sure that there will be complaints from some quarters about the deaths in this issue (seven villains are killed in all), but the first two definitely make sense, given the circumstances. I’ll give a slight spoiler warning, but anyone who saw the preview knows that Dr. Light I purchases the arable ground. At this point, that’s the best thing for the character; Light’s been untenable in most circumstances since Identity Crisis, and it became evident during Grant Morrison’s leering, lolling portrayal of the character in Final Crisis #1 that he needed to be killed off. The second character, collateral damage via accessory, one supposes, was a bit of a surprise.

Overall, this book plays like a smart attempt to give Rucka some time on two of his more familiar characters, Allen and Montoya. Given the changes to those characters in recent years during big events, it does seem sensible that they’ve have some kind of role to play. I’m not sure how the Question’s appearance here jibes with her appearance in Final Crisis #3. There are frankly a lot of headaches surrounding those kind of issues in the FC issues thus far, and those are only compounded by some other books that I’ve already seen. I understand that some parties are using the “walking between the raindrops” approach to storytelling, but it’s kind of a pain in the ass to readers who want to make sense of how all the books fit together.

Final Crisis: Revelations #1 is a decent issue. The art’s solid, and Rucka’s probably got an interesting story to tell that needs a slow build. As it is, it seems like he had the task of executing Dr. Light before he could to that story. I’ll check it out next time, as there are many interesting directions that these creators might pursue.

Secret Invasion #5

From: Marvel

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Art: Leinil Francis Yu and Mark Morales

Colors by Laura Martin and Emily Warren

Review by Lan Pitts

With Secret Invasion officially more than half-way over, I am pleased to say things are finally on their way to what will hopefully be a big pay-off and worthy of this long wait. After four issues of a slow-building build-up that was as infuriating as it was tense, the story has finally reached its apex and it's all downhill from here… for the Skrulls, that is. The good guys have finally sorted out who's what and are ready to get their collective butts to New York to save the world like the heroes they are.

Bendis has been building the suspense for this invasion for years, thougt he has also been setting up the Avengers for this moment. The team isn't just a hodgepodge of past rosters, but a unique coalition of Marvel characters. Iron Man, Ronin/Hawkeye, Wonder Man and Black Widow are characters with a long history with the team; Luke Cage and Iron Fist are two seventies-exploitation-era characters that have come into their own; Spider-Man is a classic character who redefined the nature of superheroes; Aries is a former Thor villain showing he's heroic and worthy of the name "Avenger". Last, but not least, good ol' Wolverine simply doing what he does best. In addition there's Echo, Agent Brand (who is serious business), Reed Richards, who we discover is freed from the Skrull spaceship, and Captain Marvel (a personal favorite) attacks the fleet, both of which are kind of fun. Add that all up and you have a team of heroes that stand for the classic, the nostalgic, the C-Listers, and the new blood of the Marvel Universe. My eyebrows were perked here and there, however. I understand this is a war, but it just seemed like a weird Liefeld moment with Reed exclaiming "I'll kill every last one of you". And the fact that the Skrulls were using Reed's brain (?).

Leinel Yu turns in effective pencils and layouts, and seems to have become comfortable with drawing a large number of various characters. The obscure facial expressions from the first couple of issues are gone, and in their place are amazingly beautiful people being drawn in some cases, and terrifying enemies in others. Similarly, Mark Morales seems to have really figured out how to ink Yu's pencils. In my review of the first issue, I complained about the inks clouding faces and creating odd shadows, the most notable being Spider-Man. The collaboration of Martin and Warren excel in coloring, even in highly detailed scenes, nobody seems to lose their flair.

Now, I just can't wait for the backlash.

Punisher #60

Writer: Garth Ennis

Artist: Goran Parlov

From: MAX Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

All things considered, Garth Ennis’ tremendously addicting run on the Punisher does not go out with a bang or a whimper; instead, we are treated to an ending that succinctly captures the essence of Frank Castle and reinforces his own isolation, hopelessness and unique status within the Marvel Universe. As much as I may have enjoyed the dark humor Ennis utilized in his Marvel Knights take on the character, it is his work under the MAX banner that has been a captivating read on a monthly basis. Ennis’ run on the Punisher, for me, is a masterpiece of storytelling that began in the pages of Punisher: Born.

While not necessarily redefining the character, as the reader has always known what the Punisher is, Ennis manages to reinforce the absolute violence of the Punisher’s world and present him in an intoxicatingly violent way that takes a hard look at the outcome that follows in his wake.

It really is hard to review an individual issue of a story arc that utilizes the vastness of the mythology that Ennis has built up since establishing Frank’s current iteration. Throughout this issue, much like the previous issues in this arc, Ennis utilizes cut scenes of Nick Fury reading a fictional book entitled Valley Forge, Valley Forge (an account of events that occurred during Punisher: Born) that perfectly frames Frank’s ongoing struggle with a man he once saved in Vietnam. The manner in which Ennis utilizes the fictional book’s narrative to play off key scenes throughout the issue is masterful and really adds to the overall atmosphere of the story, especially at the end as the haunting echoes of a distress call sound in Fury’s head and the scene fades to black.

Throughout the issue, Ennis is able to tie up all of the dangling threads that he had strewn throughout his run and somehow manages to bring together the entirety of his MAX epic with a seemingly deliberate ease. The epilogue for the issue is a perfect ending to Ennis’ run on the tile as, by utilizing the fictional book’s own epilogue as a framing device, Ennis is able to not only capture his final haunting words on the nature of Frank Castle, but also allows Goran Parlov’s amazing work a perfect moment to capture the absolute nature of the Punisher.

Parlov’s art brings a visual intensity needed to portray the controlled and unflinching visage that Frank Castle wears throughout this issue. Parlov’s work throughout this arc has maintained a consistent look from the various locations to the various characters, and his use of differing line weights gives an intensity to his panels; that is further enhanced by the subtle colors of Lee Loughridge, and it all helps to further enhance the mood that Ennis establishes early on in the issue.

What really makes this issue, nay this arc, work, though, is Ennis’ constant use of his previous story arcs and the liberal interpretation that his fictional book Valley Forge, Valley Forge bring to Frank Castle prior to becoming the Punisher. As a bonus, for those readers who have read Punisher: Born, this story arc captures the horror of the final moments of the day the Punisher was born from the point of view of the rescuers who arrived to late to save anyone but a haunted Frank Castle.

The interview subjects as they describe the events from an outsider’s perspective are not only chilling, but informative in regards to how people saw Frank before he donned the white skull on black T-shirt. It is to Ennis’ credit that he manages to make the reader feel like they are reading excerpts from a real book as the writing is engaging and informative. Ennis even references real world events that further help to enforce the realism of the fictional book (a book I now want to read). The narrative of Valley Forge, Valley Forge is also an interesting parallel of events real world events, but never comes across as pandering.

From Tim Bradstreet’s consistently evocative covers to the many talented artists who have rendered the brutal honesty of Garth Ennis’ scripts, the Punisher ends an historic run on a high note and leaves a newly invigorated Punisher for Marvel to expand on. And if the preview of this week’s issue is any indication, the title appears to be in good hands.

Wonder Woman #23

Written by Gail Simone

Art by Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

There's an old adage that goes something like, "I don't know what you just said, but I like how you said it." Strictly going with my gut, I can't exactly say I LOVED the 4-part "Ends of the Earth" in Wonder Woman, but I loved how the creative team did it. I say this primarily because there's certain things I like in my Wonder Woman stories, and they weren't necessarily found in the last four issues, but there is absolutely no question that Gail Simone is composing some quality scripts in terms of blending action and drama with just the right dash of humor and wit, and the art of Aaron Lopresti is some the best this decades-old character has experienced.

To be sure, Wonder Woman #23 is an exercise in good superheroics. Even when you figure you know the final destination in the form of the outcome of this multi-part tale, you have to appreciate the journey, and Simone, Lopresti & Co.do a fabulous job of chronicling Diana's fight to reclaim her very soul against a demon who's not going to give up on such a coveted prize so easily. D'Grth, the devil himself, at least in the world known as the Black Horizon, has landed in Washington, D.C. by Wonder Woman's doing, and I want to say that it's motivated by her rationale leveling the playing field (snagging home field advantage, as suggested last issue). What raises the stakes of this grand finale is that Diana is still without her soul, losing it in the first place being the catalyst of "Ends of the Earth," and it's exciting to watch her in situations where she knows that she needs to help innocent civilians caught in the crossfire of this epic battle, but she's tempted to give in to the potential benefits of a soulless existence.

While this issue is propelled by a classic conflict between good and evil, a second story plays up Simone's storytelling strengths, plus it gave the book some much needed levity. This incarnation of Tom Tresser, Nemesis to you and me, is good for laughs, and that's refreshing every now and then. His interaction with the series' most polarizing components, the team of hyper-intellectual apes taking up private residence with Diana Prince, is genuinely entertaining, and it's always nice to see Donna Troy on the scene, here offering the kind of advice a prospective boyfriend can only get from the sister of a love interest. Oddly enough, my only issue with the apes so far is Lopresti's artwork on them. Granted they aren't straight-up, garden variety primates, but previous artists have done better making them look like the animals they ultimately are. Aside from that, Lopresti is an exceptional talent and an absolute blessing to this series. Of course the straw that stirs this drink is Simone. Her written dialogue and characterization for the varied cast of characters is note-perfect. Going back to my suggestion earlier that the content isn't completely what I look for in Wonder Woman stories, it's because I'm always a sucker for the more traditional superhero tales based in Man's World with bad guys like Cheetah and Silver Swan. But I will admit that Simone is gifted enough to slowly and surely convert this reader to the stories more steeped in mythology and sorcery. I do ask that you, fellow reader, spread the word far and wide when you can: Wonder Woman is currently in excellent hands, and the series is in the midst of a creative high mark.

Secret Invasion: Thor #1 of 3

Marvel Comics

Writer: Matt Fraction

Penciller: Doug Braithwaite

Colorist: Paul Mounts

Review by: Brendan McGuirk

If you plan on telling a story about the Norse gods, and you also plan to tell a story about aliens, you probably will want to utilize the character Beta Ray Bill. Of all of Walt Simonson's classic Thor stories, none stands so far above the rest as the origin of Thor's horse-beaked brother-in-arms. Bill is the best kind of ancillary (read: rip off) character; the one that reminds of the greatness of the parent character, but allows for totally different kinds of stories. Beta Ray Bill, an alien powered by the gods of our past, is the perfect juncture between a fantasy character and a science fiction one. Only a shared universe, such as that of Marvel, allows for such a vast but natural splicing of genres.

So who better to segue between the Earth- bound Asgardians and the Skrull invaders than the Stormbreaker himself? Secret Invasion's main story has centrally been about the Skrull's faith-driven compulsion to dominate our planet, and the Asgardians, who have invaded Earth in their own right, stand in the Skrull's way in the battle to win our hearts and minds. It is an interesting wrinkle to the Invasion, since Marvel's Asgardians have been supposed to be aliens themselves, feeding off humanity's faith and prayers. In a sense, the Skrulls likely see themselves as liberating us from Asgard's intrusive presence. The Skrulls first capture Bill, torture him, and steal his enchanted hammer. The Skrull's possession of Bill's hammer creates the perfect story conceit, as Mjolnir, and its accompanying enchantments, can only be used by one at a time. When he crashes into Asgard, powerless, Thor bequeathes his weapon, and the duty of protecting the golden city, to his space faring brother, while he himself uses his Earthly doctor skills to care for the people of the nearby town of Broxton. Exit Thor, star of his own top selling solo book, and enter the Asgardian Extraterrestrial. Boom, crossover appeal. Just add fighting!

In recent years, as the Thor franchise was dormant, Beta Ray Bill was forced to exist outside his character's central mythos. With no Thor around to provide a mirror image, the alien doppleganger struggled for relevance, either on his own, or as a part of Omega Flight. Finally, he is back where he belongs; not quite replacing Thor, but existing as a foreign part of his world, fighting the battles Thor himself cannot.

Matt Fraction continues to flaunt the mastery of lyrical hyperbole that Stan Lee once made so integral to Thor. Dougie Braithwaite provides the visual punch without the assist from an inker. Braithwaite's pencils were the most interesting aspect of DC's Justice series, as his layouts added dynamic movement painter Alex Ross often lacks. He even works in a classic homage to Bill's origin. With no inker, colorist Paul Mounts takes on the added responsibility in providing an overall tone. By no means does this series seem to be required reading for the Secret Invasion fan. But being “required reading” is really the least satisfying of any crossover tie-in. What a reader should really want in a tie in is something that has both thematic and plot ties to the central series, that draws inspiration from the germ of the larger story but has enough room to be satisfying in its own right. With a character like Beta Ray Bill bridging the gap from Asgard to Secret Invasion, the satisfaction is practically guaranteed.

No Pasarán! vol. 3

Written & Illustrated by Vittorio Giardino

Translation by Nanette McGuinness

Published by NBM

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Giardino’s trilogy concludes as Max Friedman’s quest through the Spanish Civil War in search of a missing friend reaches culmination. Despite missing the first two volumes of the story, I found this book quite accessible – thanks in part to Giardino’s introductory notes, but mostly to the quality and clarity of his storytelling.

Though I typically prefer smaller, more compact formats (call it a side-effect of metro living), No Pasarán!’s over-sized European pages showcase Giardino’s immaculate artwork wonderfully. He’s able to capture astonishing nuances with the simplest lines, opening up the characters’ emotional ranges with the subtle expressions at play on each character’s face. The colors are natural and comfortable, yet still pop off the page, and the detailed backgrounds place every sequence firmly in the days of Franco’s final push into Barcelona.

Giardino plays the characters’ loyalties effectively, keeping you off balance as you try to puzzle out the final fate of Friedman’s missing friend while also guessing as to whom Friedman can ultimately trust. Some basic familiarity with the conflict is helpful, since Giardino doesn’t spell out the sides at war here – casual references to Communists, Franco and state police aren’t given much context in this book, but most of those references are primarily background to Friedman’s single-minded quest.

The dialogue is terse, fitting of the war setting in which the story resides, but everything reads clearly. The divergent forces working against Friedman are believable, including the hesitant about-face that finds a former adversary asking Friedman’s aid. Satisfying and unexpected, the resolution brings together all the threads convincingly, but without improbable coincidences.

When you boil it down, No Pasarán! vol. 3 is a tense noir, grounded in a believable but accessible historical reality. It’s sharp, beautifully drawn and full of twists, and it’s well worth your time.

The Flash Companion

From: TwoMorrows

Edited by Keith Dallas; articles by Dallas and various others

Review by Troy Brownfield

TwoMorrows always, always excels with their Companion series. This time, Keith Dallas and his team dive into the expansive history of the Flash brand, covering not only Jay, Barry, Wally, and Bart, but also the TV series and The Rogues. This coverage is established by a staggering number of interviews, including (but not limited to) chats with Carmine Infantino, Marv Wolfman, Mark Waid, and Geoff Johns, not to mention extensively researched write-ups on the likes of Julius Schwartz and Sheldon Mayer.

In a book like this, the joys come from seeing what was in the creator’s mind at the moment of inspiration or work. Cary Bates has interesting things to say about the death of Iris West, for example, and Wolfman recounts the Flash’s role in Crisis, including a bit on Mackenzie Ryan, the “Flash that almost was.” Many of the comments are refreshing honest, including those of Infantino and Waid (whose criticisms of the handling of Bart Allen are very fresh and very heartfelt).

Obviously, the immediate audience for a book like this would be Flash fans. Honestly though, people who consider themselves students of the medium should dive into the TwoMorrows companion series. There’s real journalism and scholarship at work here, and it regularly translates into a fine reading experience.

PELLET REVIEWS!

Batman Grendel (Dark Horse/DC; by Mike): Matt Wagner pit his arch-criminal against DC Comics’ iconic hero twice, and both stories are collected here. First, novelist, crime lord, and debonair man-about-town Hunter Rose, the original Grendel, matches wits with the Detective in a riveting mystery story, complicated by the presence of two well-realized female leads who are as mice in a labyrinthine conflict. The second story, owing a noticeable debt to the film Terminator film, finds the unstoppable cyborg Grendel-Prime from the far flung future of the Grendel timeline thrown back to Batman’s modern Gotham for a furiously explosive, all-action roller coaster ride. Wagner’s equally adept at both styles, Hunter Rose’s intricate puzzle and Prime’s inhumanely efficient brutality, and his heavy, squared art imprints the iconic images of Batman and Grendel firmly in the reader’s mind.

The Walking Dead #51 (Image; by Troy): The fallout of the huge status quo change continues with this deliberately paced and, ultimately, heartbreaking issue that deals with the larger emotional toll of the whole experience on Rick. Kirkman wisely re-emphasizes that stakes with a zombie encounter that Rick and Carl view from afar, but much of this one deals with isolation and guilt. It would be easy after the whole “No One is Safe” run to replace the heavy with action for a bit; Kirkman and company continue to take the harder road and go for the gut.

Gravel #3 (Avatar; by Troy): Oscar Jimenez does a great job on art this issue as Gravel continues his quest. Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer succeed mightily at making the character of Sykes into a right scary bastard with subtleties of dialogue and personality. Jimenez takes the creepy mood and runs with it, from the menacing dogs to the old house at the center of Sykes’s tale. Although I’m fairly certain that Gravel is doing well for Avatar, there should be more people reading this book. It fluctuates between extremes of action and horror, but it’s always executing with great skill. It’s a worthy regular read.

Secret Invasion: Young Avengers/Runaways #2 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): As readers continue to wait for the Young Avengers to return in their own title, Marvel throws the fans a bone by teaming them up with another team filled with teen angst, the Runaways, as a small moment from Secret Invasion is expanded upon in a fun and action-packed manner. Christopher Yost really has a good grasp of writing young characters and brings a refreshing realism to their voices and actions. The premise of the issue is especially strong considering it utilizes the continuity from the Young Avengers volume one as Hulkling’s Skrull heritage comes into play with an espionage-type twist for good measure. Takeshi Miyazawa smartly remembers that the Runaways are slightly younger than the Young Avengers and does a good job of rendering them with age-appropriate looks. SI: Young Avengers/Runaways is one of the more compelling stories to roll-out of the main SI title and by utilizing previous story points of the title characters exploits gives the story a nice focal point for the mini-series to build-on.

Fantastic Four #559 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): Mark Millar and Brian Hitch actually start to steer the four into the realm of the fantastic with a startling reveal near issues end that on first look maybe over-the-top, but yet it is something that has happened to the character in question on at least two separate occasions. If you are one of those readers that dropped this title while waiting for something fantastic, give this issue a try. I love how quickly Johnny’s failed romance comes back to haunt him and Ben eating up the limelight as he and his new gal pal have a double date with, gasp, other normal people – in this case teaching peers of Ben’s girlfriend Debbie. Alyssa having dinner with Sue was another great moment as the reader can feel the tension between these women not only in the words but through the detailed art of the talented Brian Hitch. By the scenes end Hitch manages to perfectly capture Alyssa’s isolation, in a crowded restaurant no less. With this issue Millar and Hitch really pick up the pace of the story as they try to quickly engage the reader with some interesting revelations that should keep them wanting more.

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