Best Shots Comic Reviews: WOLVERINE & X-MEN, THE FLASH, More
First Look - WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #2
Hey, Rama readers! Ready for some fixin's after your Thanksgiving feasts? Best Shots has you covered with this week's big column! So let's kick off back to school with the latest issue of Wolverine and the X-Men...
Wolverine and the X-Men #2
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend and Jaime Mendoza
Lettering by Rob Steen
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
You want amazing? Okay — Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo can do amazing.
The hits just keep on coming for Professor Logan and his band of merry mutants, but it's clear from Issue #2 that Wolverine and the X-Men is the most fun book that Marvel publishes today. With more action and threats than any one comic would ever need, the character dynamics are what make this book a real treat to read. Ambitious, stylish and sometimes even annoyingly clever, this book takes top marks in its sophomore outing.
The thing that gets me about this book is that while it's serialized, it's got that mindfulness of theme and purpose that seems more like a TV show than a comic. This is what I would call A Good Thing. While Rick Remender clearly made Archangel his pet project, Jason Aaron is giving Iceman a new layer of cool, showing that there are no bad characters in the X-Men universe, only underutilized ones. There's a real spark to Aaron's lineup, and seeing Iceman step up to the plate or the Beast keep absent-mindedly mumble to himself gives a real likability to these characters. Indeed, when you start seeing some unexpected pairings, you realize there's a lot of mileage to be had just with the old soap operatic tropes, and that's not even including all the bad guys Aaron throws into the mix.
In fact, let's talk about that for a second. Jason Aaron has made no secret how much he digs Grant Morrison, and while I don't think Aaron has yet to match Morrison's straight-faced lunacy, he's at least trying to top him in sheer quantity. The Hellfire Club, living islands, Canadian myth cannibals, Frankensteins (yes, plural), Aaron is making one heck of a continuity stew for readers to dig into. And the thing is, Aaron knows he's being That Guy, That Guy who raises his hand at every question and knows all sorts of annoyingly correct trivia. He doesn't even need half these bad guys (and to be honest, he's got such a good handle on all these characters that more interaction between them wouldn't be a bad thing). But they're not a waste of pages. He may be a smarty-pants teacher's pet, but Aaron is also clever as hell.
That said, the book isn't perfect — merely excellent. I do feel that there was a bit of a slow start introducing Iceman to the book, where there was some opportunity to really establish a visual iconography beyond riding an ice slide. (Part of this disappointment also stems with the fact that the big reveal didn't quite hit a home run to me visually.) Chris Bachalo has always been a challenging artist, and when he's at his best, he's quirky, edgy and above all else, human — but this issue also shows a few of his less excellent qualities, namely an occasional overload of shadows and detail that make it hard to follow the book, or layouts that occasionally miss out on the power shot to hook the reader. I do love the smaller beats that Bachalo creates, however, particularly a moment where Broo learns exactly what being a teenage boy is all about.
Two issues in and with more bad guys than any year of stories would need, it's clear I'm going to be reading Wolverine and the X-Men for as long as this creative team is on board to produce it. There's tons of imagination, even more ambition, and so much potential for this cast of characters. Even when this book makes some mistakes, they're never enough to derail the sheer joy that comes off every page. The next issue can't come soon enough.
The Flash #3
Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Has the Fastest Man Alive run out of steam? I doubt it, but even Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato couldn't keep up their winning streak forever, as the third issue of The Flash doesn't prove to be a charm. Call it a victim of structure, or simply the high bar this creative team had already set for itself, but this issue grinds its gears with exposition and a jarring tonal shift.
The thing that I really dug about the previous two issues of this series was that it seemed Manapul and Buccellato got what had been eluding writers like Geoff Johns for the past few years: namely, what's so cool about Barry Allen? Sure he's a square in his day job, but how awesome must a super-speed scientist be? But after two issues of derring do at light speed, Manapul and Buccellato hit the brakes so hard you get whiplash — Barry doesn't get the sort of memorable crowd-pleaser moments he did the first two issues, and perhaps more surprisingly, he fades into the background as a consequence.
Instead, Manapul and Buccellato seem content exploring concepts like how Mob Rule's powers work (it's not quite as electrifying as a vat of turbocharged chemicals) or what Central and Keystone must be like after an EMP hits. If Barry was more established, this wouldn't be an issue — and you know what, I can't fault these guys for committing to the concept, in an genre that shrugs off city-level explosions like minor storms — but you know, the New 52 is about reestablishing trust in these characters. So having Barry take a backseat to concept — let alone spending much of his time out of costume — doesn't seem so much counterintuitive as it seems unexpectedly slow.
Now, that's not to say that the artwork here isn't gorgeous — although like I said before, there aren't many of those super-flashy layouts that wowed so many readers like there were the last two months. Manapul is clean and inviting with his designs, and Buccellato really makes his pages pop with some of the color choices. But at the same time, their style is very classic in its sensibilities, which I think robs the subplot — namely, Central and Keystone EMP'd back to the Stone Age — of a lot of its bite. How different would a city look like without the immediate encroachment of buses and planes and motorcycles? How would the Fastest Man Alive navigate this new terrain (especially now that he's comparatively even faster than before)? Those could have been some interesting questions for Manapul and Buccellato to tackle visually as well as in the story, rather than explain away a backstory that, to be honest, didn't really need that much examination. Mob Rule has a past with Barry, boom, bam, why do we even need to know more?
While The Flash still is consistently better than most of its peers — at this point, only Batman is trumping this book as my must-read of the New 52 — it makes slips like this all the more noticeable to me. On the plus side, it means the explanations are done, and now we have an interesting cliffhanger to react to — but on the downside, it means that the momentum has taken a real hit. I'm confident that next month will see Barry Allen get back to speed with some real panache, but an issue full of just connective tissue doesn't leave much meat for a reader to sink their teeth into.
The Mighty Thor #8
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Pasqual Ferry and Frank D'Armata
Letters by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Well, Marvel, this one trick is still pretty good, but soon we're gonna want to see what else is up your sleeve. You know what I'm talking about; the criticism has been everywhere for the last couple months. I'm talking about letting a hero play dead, letting everyone, fans and characters alike, believe they're gone for good, and almost immediately pulling the "they're not dead, it's a plot line!" card. And like I said, right now, it's working, but everyone's catching on, and if you keep crying wolf, sooner or later, no one's gonna come running. Fortunately, The Mighty Thor's bait-and-switch has a few things going for it that make it work a little better than many probably expected it would, myself included. First, it doesn't let the assumption of Thor's death linger too long; most of the questions surrounding Tanarus's introduction were answered in "Fear Itself 7.2: Thor," so this issue gets quickly to the point. Second, it's using classic tropes, not only from Thor's history, but from mythology as well. After all, what is the Norse mythology cycle but a string of deaths and rebirths? I'm not saying that this story can justify the long string of "deaths" that Marvel's laid on the table of late, but taken on its own, it's so far, so good.
A big part of what makes this issue work is the creative team. Matt Fraction, love him or hate him, has a keen ear for believable Asgardian dialogue. A lot of people expect "thee's" and "thou's" out of Thor and his kin, but it's hard not to enjoy the wordplay between characters like Loki and the All-Mother, where a lot of the tone would be lost in Shakespearean pre-fab propriety. Further, Pasqual Ferry seems to be more comfortable with the characters this time around than in his previous run. It's hard to top Olivier Coipel's work on the title, but the charm and fluidity of Ferry's pencils makes what is essentially a political story engaging and visually supple. Frank D'Armata's deep colors have a lot to do with the success of Ferry's pencils, deftly compensating for the lack of an inker by defining and clarifying ever panel.
Really though, none of that would matter if the story wasn't there, and it is. Maybe by nature of what they represent, or their inclusive and interconnected necessity to each other, Marvel's Asgardians make for fine political and social fodder. Not every supporting cast could carry an almost action-free issue without benefit of their lead character, but as has been said time and again, The Mighty Thor and its various other iterations have rarely been solely about the titular God of Thunder. And make no mistake, it's Thor who drives the plot here, despite his absence. The revelation of Ulik and the trolls as the true architects of the seemingly seamless introduction of Tanarus, and the abandonment of Thor's memory adds a further Marvel pedigree to the proceedings, and gives credence to a story that some may right off as another stunt. After all, Thor's died before, in similar fashion, and returned every time. I can't help but think that if Thor's death hadn't been part of an event book, or if the solicits discussing his inevitable return hadn't been released before his "Fear Itself" epilogue, fans might be more willing to go along for the ride.
Marvel's put themselves in a bit of an unenviable position, using the same trick three times in as many weeks. Fortunately, it's a gimmick that bears out in at least two of those cases, including The Mighty Thor. The process of death, rebirth, and death again, ad infinitum, is the basis for Norse mythology, and begrudging Matt Fraction and crew an exploration of that principle doesn't change the fact that his take on it is, so far, intriguing and in line with the Mighty Marvel tradition of telling a good story, and telling it well. The Mighty Thor will have its haters, but the fact remains that a good story is a good story, and this is a good story.
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Sami Basri and Jessica Kholinne
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Review by Amanda McDonald
At the end of the previous issue of Voodoo, the last panel had me absolutely puzzled. Why is Kyle Rayner in this book?!? I know Ron Marz and Kyle go way back, but this just seemed. . . odd. So sure enough, issue three features Kyle prominently on the cover battling Voodoo.
As Priscilla hitches a ride with a semi-truck driver, we learn she's headed to meet up with her "boss" in Alabama -- a terrifically stereotypical redneck character who also happens to be alien. This meetup provides a means for Marz to explain the intricacies of how their alien ability to pass as human works as well as a bit more of their plans to overtake Earth. It's for this reason that the Green Lantern has been sent by the Guardians to thwart them, and most of the issue is Rayner being his cocky self, with no fear of retaliation thanks to his impressive constructs to protect himself. When the aliens split up, he goes after the others leaving Voodoo to continue on her own and we find out she's being sought after by more than just him and the government agents.
I like the Voodoo character. I like Kyle Rayner. I like Ron Marz's writing. Yet somehow, I had trouble loving this issue. It's got a real "jumped the shark" kind of vibe that leaves me not really caring what happens next. Oh, Voodoo isn't as popular as other New 52 books? Let's put a recognizable character on the cover! Maybe that will get some attention! Mind you, that very likely was not the motivation behind this plot line, but it's certainly one way that it could come across to readers. Perhaps if we knew the story would be more fully fleshed out, it would be something to get into -- but with the recent news that Marz will no longer be on the book after the next issue, there's not much time for that to happen unless Joshua Williamson is able to pick this up and go with it. Now if the change in writers wasn't an issue, I think I'd be more into the story -- but unfortunately, I knew the news going into reading this issue and it's hard to factor it out of my feelings for it. It could actually be fun to see how Voodoo fits into the DCU, but not at the cost of developing her more as a character. Sadly, this just feels like an episode of a show you really like, with a guest star that overshadows everything you usually like about the show. I want to know more about Priscilla and why this group is so hell bent on taking over the world. How strong is this movement? We only see five of them in this issue, so are they even a real threat? I'm sure with either writer, we'll get those answers -- but I certainly hope it feels more like an issue of Voodoo, than an issue belonging more to whoever she's facing off with at the time.
Luckily Basri is staying on as the artist for the title -- this book has such a distinct look to it that I find really appealing and it may be enough for me to give the new writer a few issues to endear me. Marz's scripting really allows Basri's talents to shine, especially in GL's constructs, which Kholinne's colors absolutely bring to a whole other ethereal level, and his character designs for the alien forms are a fun deviation from the alien 'norm' -- though with his talent for facial expressions, there was a real missed opportunity toward the end of the book to show V's reaction to Kyle's actions, rather than tell it via narration. That said, having seeing this issue, I would be ecstatic to see Basri's take on more iconic DC heroes as the series goes on, but hopefully not in a way that they overshadow the main character of this title as we saw in this issue. My curiosity about the character is still piqued for the time being, but here's hoping with the upcoming changes that Voodoo proves to be as strong of a book as this character deserves.
Written by Jeff Smith
Art by Jeff Smith
Lettering by Jeff Smith
Published by Cartoon Books
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
How do you like a bit of a history lesson with your comics? In Rasl #12, as well as a large chunk of the series up until now, Jeff Smith has been interspersing his story of an inter-dimensional scientist/art thief with the biography of Nicola Tesla. As established earlier in the series, the scientist Rasl was inspired by Tesla at a young age when Rasl’s best friend pointed out that the visuals of the 1931 Frankenstein movie where inspired by the Tesla’s experiments with electricity. Even as he’s stealing Picasso’s from another dimension, Tesla's wild ideas are always in the back of Rasl’s mind. Or, apparently not far from Smith's mind either as this issue reads as half a biography of the famous scientist and half the continuing adventures of Rasl.
With so much focus on the latter days of Tesla, you can easily forget what book you are actually reading. Tesla was a scientist that most of the 20th century chose to forget as it embraced Marconi, Edison and Einstein as its scientific patron saints. Smith paints Tesla as a man out of synch with his times, always on the cutting edge of science but simply not the popular kid in a class full of more likable scientists. Tesla was the rebel that no one quite trusted. Smith tells Tesla's story filtered through Rasl's own hero worship of the scientist. In a turn-of-the-20th-century way, Tesla was the bad boy scientist of his time and Smith plays on that as he tells Rasl's story.
The 19th century scientist and the 21st century thief are an odd couple to center an issue around but Smith creates the connections between the two characters, mainly through both's outsider status. They're both scientists and both were rejected by their partners and contemporaries. Tesla's story is told to us by Rasl, trying to use Tesla's science to explain his own actions. Tesla's missing journals hold the secrets to Rasl's actions in the present day as Rasl thoroughly believes in everything Tesla wrote and said. The story in Rasl #12 is equal parts adventure and hero worship as Smith in a warped way patterns his anti-hero after the real scientist.
Smith gets a bit lost in the hero worship parts of the book. Tesla's story is captivating and could be its own story. As he weaves history in with the adventure in this issue, it gets difficult to know who is telling us Tesla's story; Rasl or Smith? In this issue, there are two distinct stories being told and Tesla's story goes on uninterrupted long enough that it becomes its own separate narrative. It's relevant and important to Rasl's story but it is not necessarily part of Rasl's story. Smith gets so wrapped up in Tesla that he loses Rasl's tough voice in the narration. Rasl is telling us Tesla's story but the character's voice is nearly invisible during the Tesla segments while Smith takes over the narration. You could easily lift the Tesla story out of this issue and it could stand on its own with no knowledge of or connection to Rasl.
Smith also loses a touch of the visual style and immediacy of Rasl's adventures as he shows us Tesla's history as a montage of images. Smith's extraordinary cartooning is still on display but Tesla portion of this issue is static as if Smith is reproducing the story from a collection of photographs. When he can focus on Rasl, Smith's vibrant artwork is full of energy and movement. The approach in art reflects the dual tone of this story as Smith approaches how he draws the past differently than he draws the present.
While concentrating quite a bit on science from the last century, Smith only advances his current science fiction story a bit this issue. There's actually little of the 21st century pseudo science, art thievery or the multiple love triangles that Smith has been spinning tales about. As much fun as the true science is, it is those missing dramatic elements that Smith has built his larger story around. Science gone wrong, forbidden loves and the danger of being hunted across alternate realities have been major parts of Smith's story but they all take recede to the background in this issue and they are missed.
Hopefully it is not too much of a spoiler to say that Smith reaches the moment in history when Tesla died, on the eve of a meeting at the White House. Tesla has been such a big figure in this story because the more you realize that almost everything Smith writes about Tesla is true, you have to momentarily question the faux science behind Rasl's adventures and the destruction that he's trying to prevent. Tesla's ideas and experiments are the stuff that science fiction is built on but it's all real. Smith's focus on Tesla makes everything else in this series that much more possible. It makes the danger that Rasl is racing to prevent that much more dangerous because there is a hint of reality in Smith's story and a hint is just enough sometimes.