Best Shots Extra: FLASH, AQUAMAN, More!

Best Shots Extra: FLASH, AQUAMAN, More!

 

Flash #1

Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Letters by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 7/10

The last few years haven't exactly been great for Flash. The character has been floundering in some unexpected ways almost since the end of "Infinite Crisis," when Bart Allen took on the mantle. After an ill-received run of around13 issues, fan-favorite Flash Wally West returned, along with the writer that really popularized him, Mark Waid. Unfortunately, he also had some very un-fan-favorite children, and his adventures never really took off. With the advent of "Final Crisis," Wally's mentor Barry Allen returned from beyond the grave, reclaiming the mantle of the Flash, and leaving Wally in limbo. The re-booted series started strong, but quickly became mired in the onset of "Flashpoint," a Flash-centric, universe re-shaping event that lead us to the point we're at now.  With all of that in mind, it's obvious why Flash was one of the few DC titles truly aching for some kind of re-focusing. Fortunately, DC seems to have figured out what was working, and what just wasn't, keeping Francis Manapul, whose art was the best part of the previous run, and eschewing some of the angst that made Barry Allen no fun to read. 

I should start this by saying that I was, and still am, very disappointed with the absence of Wally West from the new DCU. He's my favorite Flash, and to be quite honest, I've always found Barry Allen to be a little stodgy and boring. I've said before that Barry is the DCU's one normal guy, and while that should make his adventures with psychic gorillas and freeze rays all the more enjoyable, more often than not, the character comes off as humorless and little depressing. That said, I came into this title very excited about Francis Manapul's take on the character, and very willing to be proven wrong. There's nothing I want more than an exciting, fun Flash comic. 

I gotta say, I wasn't disappointed, either. It's clear that Manapul and his collaborator, Brian Buccellato aren't the most experienced writers, but the art is just unbelievable. The hiccups in pacing and scripting almost don't matter when compared to the strength of the visual storytelling. The only real problems stem from somewhat abrupt events, and conversations that could've benefited from a little more depth, but the story never lags, and there's so much to like about the book that I'm more than willing to give Manapul and Buccellato time to evolve as writers. 

From the transformation sequence, to the two-page title spread, it's clear that Manapul and Buccellato are going to be the growing standard for DC Comics. The management may be mired in their obsession with the "Jim Lee standard," but this is what comics should look like. It's exciting, fun. and visually fluid. Manapul has really become a master of layouts, incorporating sound effects, logos, and other usually disposable elements directly into the pages. His Flash looks positively electric, aided in spades by Buccellato's dreamlike colors. They even managed to make me like the new costume, which still seems a little busy, although Manapul renders it sleekly and with grace. 

The only real cypher remains Barry Allen. Barry's a notoriously tough nut to crack; it's his lack of personality that lead to his replacement over 20 years ago by his protege, Wally West. I was really looking for some moment, some element that would hook me on the character, or at least provide a new angle to show why Barry Allen is, and should be the One True Flash, but that moment never really materialized. There are some scenes, such as the one where Barry discusses how every case he takes on becomes personal, that hint at more below the surface, but as it stands, there's not a lot to make Barry seem like the necessary choice. I will admit that this may be one of those areas where my pre-determined feelings about the character come through stronger than what's on the page, and a new reader might find more depth in Barry Allen. I think time will have to tell.

Overall, this is a pretty good way to start a series aimed at new readers. There's plenty to identify with for those who may be familiar with the character from other media, and there's enough connection to previous incarnations to make many old fans happy. The art is beautiful, and the strength of the visual storytelling definitely carries the book. It's a great start that still has room to improve.

 

Aquaman #1

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

Lettering by Nick J Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating 8 out of 10

Click here for preview

True story, about 10 years ago when I worked at the Water Bureau for the City of Portland, I was asked to speak about Aquaman before the City Council. It wasn't anything formal by any means, but there I was, settling a bet between the Mayor and Director of Transportation. They

figured the resident comic book geek could verify that Aquaman could fly. I proudly stood there and proclaimed that Arthur Curry couldn't fly, but he could propel himself out of the water at such speeds, it was understandable that the lay person thought he could take to the skies like his buddy Superman. My nerd pride took a hit when the Mayor jokingly replied, “What kind of a superhero can't fly? Why is he on the X-Men if he can't fly?” I didn't have the heart to correct her. I just went back to work with a shrug. This rather navel-gazing intro is to highlight something most comic book fans already know as fact. No one gets or respects Aquaman. Except me. Well, me and Geoff Johns!

Who would have thought that in 2011 I'd be passing up a book by Frank Miller and singing the praises of an Aquaman title. I can't help it, this book is just flat out fun. As stories go, this one is pretty simple. Aquaman walks onto the surface world he's saved hundreds of times as a member of the Justice League, but he still doesn't garner the awe as other heroes. Even after he busts up some thugs with his wicked trident and glowering visage after some punk tries to put a bullet in his brain. That's right friends, this Aquaman is bullet resistant. You know what? Good. While Johns doesn't go into some boring exposition about Arthur's physiology, I like the comic book logic at work here. If he can survive the pressures of the deepest ocean abyss, he can survive an AK-47 to the temple. Might break the skin, but it ain't taking down the King of Atlantis! The whole book is littered with these little moments that will appeal to the longtime DC fans and to the reader that only knows Aquaman as a joke on Family Guy or YouTube. Thankfully, Johns doesn't merely rest on inside jokes and winks. He provides some genuinely interesting and human moments with Aquaman, while maintaining a lighthearted tone. This tone only heightens the dangers to come from the few fleeting glimpses we get of the Lovecraftian horrors rising from the depths.

Then we've got Ivan Reis. I'm fairly certain he could draw an adaptation of the Yellow Pages and it would hold my attention. Ivan is just as at home penciling the lurking beasts of the deep as he is a glistening Aquaman on the shores of Amnesty Bay. Like Johns, Reis seems to understand how the bulk of the reading world views the character. As a counter, his Aquaman stands powerful and regal, be it in the face of his enemy or a public that makes a joke about him needing a glass of water. But, in the midst of all the grand posturing and very fluid

action, there is another Aquaman. An Aquaman that is clearly torn between two worlds, a hero that misses those who loved him. It is in these moments where Ivan Reis truly shines. With a shift in shadows and subdued coloring by Joe Prado, Reis pencils a somber and wholly believable Aquaman. A character that knows the world sees him as a joke or second fiddle to the Flash, but still chooses to sacrifice much to protect us. As the cliché goes, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

As a longtime Aquaman defender I was really pulling for this title and I'm happy to say Johns, Reis, and Prado don't disappoint. The title is a little light on story, but considering they needed to sell the character before the plot, it's understandable. Although she wasn't brought in till the end of the issue, I expect Mera to be a much larger part of

this book. Indeed, if Johns is to be believed, the book will soon become a team book with Aquaman and Mera saving the world from evil above and below the seven seas. It's light. It's fun. It's got heart. I'm hooked on Aquaman #1...

Sorry. Couldn't help it.

HOLY TERROR Coming in September
HOLY TERROR Coming in September
 

Holy Terror

Written by Frank Miller

Art by Frank Miller

Published by Legendary Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Click here for preview

Originally a Batman project for DC Comics, there was irony in the title “Holy Terror," as in "Holy terror, Batman!"  You can hear Burt Ward's eager voice calling out to Adam West as someone cartoonishly dressed up as a suicide bomber teamed up with Egghead to kidnap the mayor of Gotham City. The title was a joke.

Somewhere along the way, the book became something other than a Batman comic, with Miller claiming he had taken Batman as far as he could and that this wasn’t a Batman story. (As an aside, that makes you wonder if we'll ever see his wrap up to All-Star Batman?)  Batman became The Fixer, who really is just a Batman knockoff, even if he does use guns where Batman wouldn't. Years ago, Dave Sim on one of his creator rights crusades said something to the effect of that if you wanted to write and draw Batman, create your own Batman-like character and tell your story. That's basically what Miller has done; he has taken a Batman and Catwoman story and changed the characters just enough so that he can publish this without DC's involvement. For all intents and purposes, the characters are Batman and Catwoman, the cop is Gordon and the city is Gotham. Nothing in Miller's story has been changed so much that you couldn't recognize any of those elements.

By removing Batman from the book to reconfigure it as a non-DC story, the title becomes harsher. "Holy Terror" isn't a play on a kitschy pop culture character's catch phrase but it becomes something meaner and more ominous. It loses its ironic connotations and becomes about religion and fear. And maybe it becomes closer to the frustrations Frank Miller wanted to vent in this book after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. Holy Terror is a revenge fantasy and there's nothing ironic in Miller's story of a calculated terrorist attack on Empire City.  The book opens with standard superhero antics with our Catwoman stand-in being chased over rooftops by our Batman stand-in. In a sloppy, muddy action sequence, Miller sets up his "hero" and his femme-fatale in what looks to be a standard game of cat-and-mouse before the world ends and the neighborhood they are in is destroyed by a terrorist's bomb. After that moment of the book, Holy Terror becomes an attack on the enemies of America who would dare to attack us on our own home soil. 

Miller's writing is either beloved or nefarious because of his characters. The Dark Knight Returns plays up the larger than life heroism of Batman. Sin City was popular partly because of the archetypical nature of its characters. All Star Batman and Robin was criticized because the Batman Miller wrote there wasn't the Batman that the audience wanted. Love them or hate them, Miller's characters have always been larger than the story they were in. The Fixer, though, isn't. The Fixer isn't a personality who takes over the book and colors how you read it. He's barely a character at all, as much as an avatar of righteous anger. Anything we know or assume about the character is based on what we know about the Batman archtype. He's a dark, brooding, creature of the night. There's nothing else to the character other than that.

Miller's disinterest in his characters extend to their visual appearances as well. In removing the pointy ears and bat symbol form his character, there's nothing visually interesting or distinctive about the Fixer. The Fixer is a generic character designed to fill in the spot of "hero" of this story but Miller puts nothing into the character. He's a shade of Batman or any other Miller protagonist without any of the work put into the character. If the hero is a reflection of Batman, the heroine is just as easily Catwoman blended in with any Sin City prostitute. The only way we know these characters is because we've read them before in older Frank Miller stories.

The problem with using these rehashed characters as the good guys is that Miller doesn't define the villains either other than as Muslim terrorists. In past interviews, Miller has defined this book as propaganda so It seems that he wants me to be mad with someone but I don't know who he wants me to be mad at. The easy enemy in this book are the terrorists, who happen to be predominantly Muslim, with one Irish terrorist thrown in for a bit of diversity.

In Holy Terror, there are no shades of grey. You are either an American or a Muslim, which when you think about it is an apples-to-oranges comparison of a nationality and a religion. Ten years after the real attacks, Miller's anger appears as uninformed as much of the nation was days after the attacks. All Muslims are the enemy and are guilty is what this book tells us. We're right and they are wrong is the basic theme of this book so it's our right, if not God-given duty, to go in guns blazing and kill every single godless infidel. After all, that’s what they did to us. That kind of righteous enthusiasm may work when your villains are the Joker or the scum of Sin City but they become more problematic as you equate a large group of people with terrorist acts that were committed by a much smaller group of extremists.

Even though a lot of the book is visually inexplicable, Miller often reminds us just how powerful his images are. The book opens with a picture of Empire City's version of the Statue of Liberty, looking a bit more like the blindfolded avatar of Lady Justice. Later in the book, he returns to the statue and shows it's destruction in stark and vivid images. Where earlier terrorist attacks in the book don't look to different from other parts of the book, the destruction of the statue is simple and powerful. In another part of the book near the end, Miller draws the terrorist's lair not in the solid blacks and whites but with a thin, defining line. We've seen this type of linework out of Miller before, mostly in his Elektra Lives graphic novel. Here, for a book that's been beating the reader over the head, he draws this last part with a descriptive line that recalls some of the fine European influences that he adopted back in the 1980s. The artwork becomes more suggestive and evocative. Miller's art is a conundrum in this book; too much of it is rushed and indistinct as he tries to race through the story to get to his point while other moments slow down and use the images to dig a little bit into the actions and characteristics of his plot.

Holy Terror is a mean and ugly book. It's a cartoonist lashing out at an easy and broad target without seemingly understanding the target. The book doesn't look at the villains in any way or explore the differences between Muslims and terrorists. It's not even concerned about defining the heroes and villains in any terms other than "right" and "wrong." Holy Terror is a book about anger and pain that is blind to anything other than revenge. There's no attempt to define the villains beyond the fact that they don't look Iike you and me. Holy Terror isn't a book that tries to be real. It just wants to lash out, thinking that that is the only response to the attacks of 10 years ago.

 

Lovestruck

Written by Dennis Hopeless

Art by Kevin Mellon

Published by Image Comics

Review by Wendy Holler

'Rama Review: 7 out of 10

Lovestruck works because it's likable. The comic's tagline ("Love is all around us. These are the pricks who control it.") implies the kind of edge that thumbs its nose at such a simple adjective, but don't let the sales pitch fool you. This is a warm and comfortable comic, at least for categories of comfortable that involve f-bombs and orgies.

Lovestruck, a black and white original graphic novel, follows Kalli Monroe, a young woman who suddenly receives the power to influence desire in others. She agrees to work for Cupid, the man in charge of desire here on earth, and she and her teammates engage in what the comic calls corporate espionage. They ruin major deals, lend charm to politicians, and muck around in all kinds of creative endeavors partly because of their own extensive financial shares, but also partly just because they can.

The plot requires all kinds of hand-waving to make sense, but the supporting bits sell the story. Kalli grew up with the punk rock movement, and the pictures she took of her friends during that time made her a famous photographer. That move, from love to work, from rebellious and selfish enthusiasm to disciplined and respectable technique, is the interesting secondary text here. Part of the ground that the comic covers is the uncertain area of young adulthood just after the crucial stage of first successes and first failures. While the agents of desire can influence hundreds of others at a time, they've been unsuccessful at recognizing and satisfying their own emotional needs.

This could produce a story that's horribly dull, but the writing is funny, sharp, quick. This is a comic where Ovid wears a suit, cracks jokes, and rides a skateboard, where a character can use the term punkutant without making you want to scream, where gods are what you loved when you were young. At other times, the writing sometimes falls into too-cool-for-school patter that sounds like the worst kind of hipster nonsense. The art follows this same pattern. Sometimes the panels are clever and suggestive. At other times, they're just plain literal, all money shot and exploitation. Considering that much of the book's theme concerns technique, it's ironic that the technique of the comic is uneven itself.

Lovestruck is at its best when it manages to blend wry humor with an earnest approach to its subject matter. In these moments, as when Kalli complains to a younger teammate that "You, Laynie my sweet, are the reason 25 feels old and slow," the character is vulnerably funny and also clearly flummoxed by the age of life when even marketers insist that you're an adult. World weariness is a difficult tone to hit, particularly in a comic with mostly young protagonists, but it's these world-weary youngsters whose voices and action ring true. The dialogue is winning, and the verbal and visual tics of the characters are effective. The settings might not make much logical sense, but a punk rock party and a rock the vote concert make perfect sense in the emotional landscape of the story.

In its ending, the comic shows Willingham's sensibility, but only Disney's teeth. (Not the Bambi's mom version of Disney's teeth, more the Cinderella version of Disney's teeth.) With Ovid as a main character, with punk rock as a set of working symbols, with characters that are laugh-out-loud funny, the narrative bar was set pretty high for wrapping things up. For me the ending was too pat and too neat, but as the comic argues at one point, maybe now that I'm one of the grown-ups, the comic just isn't talking to me here. Maybe liking the ending means being young enough to take happiness at face value, being hopeful enough to trust that everything will work out in the end.

More than anything else, the comic is fun. Its energy, its cleverness, its motifs: all of these are well worth the time spent with it. The book can appeal to all mature readers, but I suspect will resonate most strongly with those who can look at a threesome making out on a car hood and think "hot" rather than "man, she is so not balanced at that angle."

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