Best Shots Extra: FANTASTIC FOUR, GREEN LANTERN, MORE

 

Fantastic Four #605

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Ron Garney and Jason Keith

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

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How often do you get to see your own legacy? In this done-in-one issue by Jonathan Hickman and Ron Garney, we get just that, as we follow Reed Richards on a time-traveling expedition to see the future of the Fantastic Four. While you'd think this could lead to self-indulgence from the immensely cerebral Hickman, you'd be dead wrong. Indeed, Fantastic Four #605 is driven by great art, smart pacing, and most importantly, some real heart.

In other words, this comic isn't just fantastic — it's downright perfect.

Hickman starts this issue off with a slow burn, introducing readers to the far-flung future of planet Earth. Yet while some of his previous issues felt antiseptic with his focus on science and innovation, Hickman subtly moves us to a different, more human direction with this story — something rooted in character, not concept. It's not something that needs to be said outright, and in that regard, we're as much intangible observers as Reed is. Without giving too much away, we're treated to some really human moments from Reed Richards, the likes of which I haven't seen since the days of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. And that's to this book's benefit — they make you root for the Fantastic Four in a way that even epic fights with Galactus and the Celestials can't.

Ron Garney's scratchy artwork might seem counterintuitive to the polished, forward-thinking sensibilities of Hickman's scripts, but he really is a revelation here. His sense of composition is really beautiful, whether it's Nathaniel Richards' time machine hurtling through space or Ben Grimm gloomily thinking about days gone by. But what I think people will overlook about Garney is his expressiveness, on his ability to really stir up emotions visually. There's a goodbye in this book that'll put a lump in the throat of even the most jaded reader, as Garney reminds us who the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four truly is.

After months of intense sci-fi action and continuity-infused intrigue, Jonathan Hickman, aided by an artistic overhaul by Ron Garney, reminds his readers that the Fantastic Four isn't just about futurism, but about family — not so much the bonds between characters as much as the bonds we make with them. This is our family, and in so doing we share the triumphs and the tragedies of their legacy. There are a lot of great comic books out this week, but only one can stand above the rest. This is it. This isn't just my favorite thing that Hickman has written — it might just also be his best.

 

Green Lantern #8

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Doug Mahnke, Mark Irwin, Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Sal Cipriano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Slowly but surely, Geoff Johns is tapping back into the sprawling mythology he created for Green Lantern during Blackest Night — but restraint does bring reward, in this case. By bringing in information piecemeal rather than all at once, Johns spins together a brisk, action-packed story whose internal rules bolster the conflict rather than overwhelm it.

And that's a good thing, too, considering Johns is still juggling not one, but two protagonists — Hal Jordan and his former nemesis-turned-benefactor Sinestro. Sinestro still gets the better moments in the script, particularly when he strikes back against his captors using sheer nastiness and grit. Yet Johns is getting his balance back with Hal, too, who finds a smart way to get out of his own prison that utilizes the mythology Johns had so meticulously constructed years ago. Johns peppers the rest of the script with action, ranging from grappling hooks to motorcycle constructs, and while the end does come fairly quickly, it's still a fun read.

The art, however, is the real hit. I think this is the cleanest I've seen Doug Mahnke's work in a long, long time, as the book's four inkers interact quite seamlessly. There's definitely a Jim Lee vibe going on here, particularly as Hal zooms across an alien city on a motorcycle, but Mahnke still has plenty of style that's all his own. Sinestro's beatdown of his captor explodes with rage and energy, yet also has a down-to-earth seediness as blood flies against prison bars. (Yes, the violence quota here is still fairly high.) Mahnke also gives some nice flexibility to his characters, who in the past have come across as a bit stiff — there's a splash page of Hal escaping that looks really iconic, with his arms and legs pumping in that old superhero style.

This book is definitely for those hankering for sci-fi-infused action, but is also sufficiently streamlined to not totally scare off new readers. I do think that Geoff Johns is still struggling with the truncated page counts for this book, but his learning curve has improved tremendously since the first issue. The real victory here, however, is artistic coordination and mythology that doesn't fall under its own weight. Green Lantern #8 may feel short, but it's definitely getting sweeter.

 

Avenging Spider-Man #6

Written by Greg Rucka and Mark Waid

Art by Marco Checchetto and Matt Hollingsworth

Lettering by Joe Caramanga

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Click here for preview

This is how you do a crossover right. Nowadays, the standard for "event" comics is simply having your characters show up, with concept and body counts superseding new and different combinations of characterization. Thankfully, that's not the case with Avenging Spider-Man #6, a team-up of Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher that positively crackles with energy and verve.

Greg Rucka and Mark Waid are two vanguards of a more civilized age in comics, where characterization still mattered and decompression hadn't killed pacing dead, so seeing them team up is a welcome treat. There isn't necessarily a deeper theme to this fight-heavy comic, but watching Spidey bounce off of Daredevil and the Punisher is great, particularly the way that Peter keeps calling the blind Matt "McGoo," or when Mr. Fantastic asks if he and Daredevil have a relationship: "I don't like to kiss and tell."

This is also a good jumping-on point for not just one series, but three. Haven't been keeping up with the stolen hard drive that has five different crime families hunting for a brighter, happier Daredevil? You're in. Haven't been keeping up with the bruised and battered Frank Castle, as he's acquired a new partner for his war on crime? You're in. While neither character is as peppy or energetic as Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher each get their hits in — Matt with his keen observations on Frank's home life, and Frank for, well, jumping out of a building to lay the smack-down on some ninjas. Don't get me wrong, I love watching three superheroes fight the Hand any day of the week, but having that little bit of human interaction beforehand makes me care exponentially more.

Marco Checchetto, meanwhile, really goes against the grain with his dark, angular work, but wow, does he look fantastic. I've seen him work on Daredevil and the Punisher before, but his Spidey is unexpectedly great — since he doesn't have a face to work with, Checchetto has only body language as his disposal, so Spider-Man's fight sequences are incredibly fluid and agile as he literally falls off buildings with ninjas in tow. His Daredevil and Punisher are, well, gorgeous as well, whether its small details like the seams on Matt's mask or the gunslinger beard that Frank is sporting. Colorist Matt Hollingsworth may splash down dark colors to play up the tension, and while they look gorgeous and atmospheric and moody, even he can't hide what this story really is — a rollicking fun time.

I had my fair share of doubts about "The Omega Effect," but this first issue has blown me out of the water. This may be a fight-for-fighting's-sake kind of storyline, but Rucka and Waid help transcend that kind of self-indulgent storytelling by infusing it with character. Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher are three different vigilantes with three very different methods of operation — so why not show how they'd clash? This is the kind of triple threat you can't miss.

 

America's Got Powers #1

Written by Jonathan Ross

Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, Paul Neary and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Image Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

America's Got Powers is about as critic-proof as it comes, namely because it's a simple litmus test to determine whether or not you'd like this book:

Do you like Bryan Hitch as an artist? Would you buy a comic simply to watch him go to town?

If so, you'll get what you paid for. If not, you'll probably steer clear. While the central conceit of this book might not be the freshest superhero deconstruction out there, America's Got Powers knows what it is, and makes no apologies for it — a ringside seat to some rock-'em-sock-'em superpowered violence.

While in the outside world Jonathan Ross is a way bigger name, he knows what the comics-reading audience wants, and that's to watch Bryan Hitch kick some ass. So Ross launches us into a fight sequence quickly, as Hitch makes the ground shatter, blockbuster-style, as we're introduced to the superhuman reality show combat that is "America's Got Powers."

That said, the metaphor for the show isn't exactly fully-formed yet — there's allusions to the show being an outlet for an entire generation's superhuman energies, an alternative to Richter-scale riots — but kind of like The Hunger Games before it, the logic to that concept sort of falls apart under closer scrutiny. Ross does introduce a Millar-esque nebbish protagonist in Tommy Watts, the only member of his mutated cohort to not have any superpowers, but aside from the stock characteristics of being put-upon but heroic when the chips are down, he's not quite three-dimensional enough to be memorable. That could, however, change.

But when all's said and done, it's Hitch that makes this book, with his cinematic artwork and earth-shaking fight sequences doing all the talking that really matters. Hitch is the master of photorealism, and though the occasional invasion of, say, David Tennant can be off-putting, Hitch adds a cinematic weightiness to his pages that hit like a freight train.

While Hitch's designs for some of these characters can be somewhat forgettable, being more functional than emblematic — which, considering how embryonic the characterization can be, isn't surprising — but seeing these superpowered gladiators in action is something you have to see to believe. You feel the steel punches, as you see bloodied bodies fly. You feel the reverberations of an energy blast, as Hitch suddenly pulls us far away from the blinding flash. You feel the danger crank itself up to 11, as colorist Paul Mounts suddenly shifts everything into high-alert red. Many have imitated, but none have succeeded — this is a Bryan Hitch experience, through and through, and that will be what makes or breaks this book.

America's Got Powers, at its core, is a book made by people who love superheroes, enough that it doesn't matter who fights, as long as somebody does. It's self-indulgent, and far from the most original deconstruction of superhero literature — although maybe it's the most honest. While the new toys in the sandbox might not be memorable, it's the way that Bryan Hitch plays with them that is this book's bread and butter. After all, this is Hitch's world — we're all just living in it.

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