Best Shots: All Star Superman, Uncanny & More

Frank Quitely on All-Star Superman

Greetings once again. Just a couple of words off the top . . . we’re a little bit smaller in terms of column space this week as we’ve literally had weddings (congrats to our Shots in the Dark brother Vince) and funerals (a death in my family, also the source of my absence last week). I just wanted to take a minute to thank Lucas Siegel for stepping in and keeping the ship on its usual wonky course. So, let’s get back to it.

All Star Superman #12

Written by Grant Morrison

Art by Frank Quitely with Jamie Grant

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

Talk about the review I never wanted to write. This is like being asked to write the obituary of a loved one. All Star Superman has come to a close, and we are as powerless to stop it as the Man of Steel is to preempt his own demise here. And I never thought this was possible, but as far as "Last Days of Superman" stories go, the modern classic "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" may very well have to surrender some space on its gold medal perch, if All Star Superman #12 is any indication.

It frustrates me how often Superman is publicly shortchanged in favor of the more "realistic" Batman. All Star Superman soundly proves the theory that the characters are only as good as the creators crafting their stories. To be fair, writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely were given a set of standards removed from the DC Universe proper, an enviable handicap. DC's best and brightest talent elsewhere may have had similar success with Superman stories set in its own universe (and one could argue that Frank Miller's blowing minds for all the wrong reasons with his All Star take on the Dark Knight), but it's indisputable that Morrison, Quitely & Co. have put together twelve distinctive Superman tales that will be held in high regard for generations.

The swan song we get in All Star Superman #12 is like the closing arguments of the case for the Man of Steel's invaluable contribution to mankind. One wonders how Earth could survive without its greatest champion, a concept Morrison has clearly developed since the first issue. "Superman In Excelsis" wraps things up with the notion that humans are ready to explore that brave, new world on their own. At one point it's even suggested that Lex Luthor is nothing without the bane of his existence thwarting his every move. Speaking of Luthor, should this villain ever get a "Best Of" compilation, this issue or #5 needs to be included for sure. Luthor is one of many characters -- Jimmy Olsen especially comes to mind -- who benefited creatively from this series. Morrison made finding a distinctive voice for Superman's cast of characters an art form.

It's a given that Morrison threw a lot of things against the wall with a 99.9% stick rate, but equally given is how extraordinarily well Frank Quitely's art set the series apart from other Superman books -- heck, comics in general. The life that he breathed into each action-packed panel is awe-inspiring, and the detail found on many pages are reminiscent of Geof Darrow's best work. The digital assist he got every issue from Jamie Grant deserves all due credit as well, his seemingly infinite color palette a site to behold four times a year. I'm typically in the camp that derides artists who can't maintain a monthly schedule, but the twelve issues we got over the last three years was was worth every extended wait.

If I have one complaint, and it's ever so minor, it's that I wish this book had been more accessible to the average non-reader. On paper it has been, most stories being self-contained, allowing for anyone to join the party at any given point. But there is no arguing that this has been sophisticated storytelling by Morrison and Quitely, for good and for bad, and I have a hard time believing that someone who doesn't normally read comics could appreciate some of the nuances the creators were responsible for, like the nods to the Silver Age, in-jokes only Superman fans could appreciate, and the scientific jargon. Personally, I have a sister-in-law who's a high school senior and we bond frequently over Smallville, and I've wanted to share this book with her for ages were I not certain that what made it so great to you and me would be lost on her. If other readers here have had better success stories than I in that regard, I'd love to hear from you.

Self-serving quibbles aside, everything about All Star Superman was a smashing success, no contest. Surprisingly touching (the Superman/Lois Lane love story ends here on an especially sweet note), charming and energetic, moreso than one should reasonably expect from a superhero series, the bar was raised to an almost unfair level when this book dropped three years ago, and the rest of the industry is still trying to catch up. Hopefully, as the scientist Mr. Quintum at the conclusion of this book suggests, "Now that we know how it's done, I'm sure we'll think of something." Godspeed.

Uncanny X-Men #502

Written by: Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker

Penciled by: Greg Land

Published by: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Brian Andersen

The Uncanny Marvel Mutants come out swinging with another terrific read. The action takes center stage as the stalwart X-Team confronts and beats the shiz-nit outta the Hellfire Cult jerks who bashed poor little pink-haired Pixie last issue. Characterization abounds throughout the issue, as does many great moments of witty dialogue, and the still-utterly terrific two-sentence-summed up bios accompanying each merry mutant.

Best of, this issue of the X-Men features the return of everyone’s mutant song bird, the “Sonic Transducer, Totally Fabulous” Dazzler! Yay! Hello Gorgeous! Miss Allison Blaire’s return to the Uncanny X-Title is a welcome sight; her mere one page scene with the recovering Pixie was pitch perfect and filled with plenty of humor and warmth. Welcome back Dazz! Although, as happy I am to welcome her back to the fold, I will say that was rather shocking to see how mighty big Dazzler has gotten in the chestal area. Since when did Dazzler have breasts so giant that they rival Pamela Anderson’s? Zowza! And also, what’s up with her new uniform’s super boring grey color (like she would wear something so drab) and star-like explosion coming from her nether lady parts? Kinda weird. But otherwise, Dazzler returns! Yipee!

Whoever’s idea it was to bring along Matt Fraction to the writing team has my respect and admiration! There is a certain tonality readers of the X-Men title expect, a specific cadence to the writing that it unique to the Uncanny X-Men title thatwas pretty much set by long-time grand-daddy X-Writer Chris Claremont, and Fraction’s dialogue and exposition totally, and completely nails it. The X-Men are finally sounding like the X-Men; each character has their moment to shine in their own unique, loveable fashion that is set squarely in their long-time continuity while also managing to sound modern and fresh.

And, perhaps that’s the key to these last two fantastic issues - the characters are still true to their basic tenets but have winningly been modernized for today’s pop culturally and literature aware masses. If this fantastic writing keeps up the Uncanny X-Men might just return to the top of the sales charts they once ruled for so many years ago.

Finally, I must say that while I can appreciate the art by Greg Land, and his ability to draw the sexy lady-types, why does it seem like his pencils come off looking static? There isn’t much movement in his work, as every panel and close-up face shot come off looking too posed, too studied, to stagnate. Take for instance the hot rodding image of Empath escaping on a totally radical motorcycle: the panel looks great, the cycle is a realistic and cool as anything on paper, but the overall scene feels frozen and captured. The art is pretty, but there is no energy behind it, no spark. I would like to see Land be a bit freer in his pencils, looser. I think then he will be able to draw less like a photographer and more like a dynamic comic book penciler.

Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM #2

Story and Art by Mike Kunkel

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Lan Pitts

After a delay, the second issue of "Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM" finally came out, and just like the premiere issue, I could not wait to get a hold of it. It backtracks a little with the story of Billy being chosen by the wizard, Shazam, and became the World's Mightiest Mortal. It also explains that Billy was not, in fact, the first to have been chosen. That privilege belonged to a young man named Theo Adam. Though the Wizard soon realized that Theo Adam was not the champion he first thought he was and was exiled. Now, Theo Adam has returned as an emo/goth teenager with no knowledge of the word that transformed him into the Wizard's former champion. And boy is he pissed. Eventually Theo Adam learns of Billy's secret identity and quickly bullies young Billy and tries to force the magic word out of him.

Later, Billy confronts Shazam about Theo Adam and the Wizard tells of his past heir and the mistake he made. Soon Shazam discovers that something even worse has occurred: the Seven Deadly Sins are gone and have allied with Theo Adam.

Kunkel keeps the pages busy on this issues, almost a little too busy. Some pages have up to fifteen panels and it almost seems as if he is cramming too much, and I would hate to see younger readers confused. Though that slight fault is easily outweighed at the sheer brilliance of it all. Once again, Kunkel's art tells the story so well, half the time you don't need words. The way he works some panels almost in the way of animation is just astounding. His use of facial expressions rivals that of Kevin Maguire.

The story delves more into the Shazam mythos but doesn't weight the reader down with almost seventy years of continuity. It all feels fresh and new, almost as if Kunkel had created the Captain and his story himself instead of weaving his own spin on it all. I am a huge supporter of comics for kids and this title is the best one out there for ages eight and up. Hopefully, Kunkel has worked out the kinks and we will see this title on a more regular schedule.

Burma Chronicles

Written & Illustrated by Guy DeLisle

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

After his previous books took readers to Pyongyang and Shenzen, (former animator and) cartoonist Guy DeLisle travels with his wife, who works for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), to the politically controversial country Burma, also known as Myanmar. Though it doesn’t delve quite so deeply into the political situation as Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles mixes in political observations among anecdotes about child raising, sickness in countries with less-than-adequate healthcare, and DeLisle’s self-effacing humor. The effect is an engaging and funny register of life in a hot potato part of the world.

The political reality of Burma/Myanmar is unavoidable, and DeLisle certainly gives it plenty of page time: DeLisle frequently ponders the life and circumstances of the region’s most famous political “prisoner of conscience,” 1991 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi; copes with the complicated restrictions put on MSF and other charitable health organization in the country; and often discusses his dealings with security officials and citizens of Rangoon. It’s all done with a sense of humor, however, which may make the book less dreary for some readers, or less relevant for others. DeLisle’s not making any grand statements, however. For better or worse, Burma Chronicles is a document of a father and teacher living in an unusual land. When students in his impromptu animation class fear that their participation marks them for government rebuke, DeLisle works the scene mostly as comedic flight to obtain all the copies of a critical article that he’d given out to several colleagues and friends.

For every comment on life in Burma, DeLisle also talks about time spent with the other international parents, getting invited to join the fancy Australian Club, and the perils of unkempt Burmese airlines. The jokes are mostly funny, frequently driven by the irony of trying to accomplish deeds in a society that seems geared to preventing such successes. The cartooning is loose and lively, the characters distinct, and the storytelling clear. DeLisle’s easily able to capture the frustration, anger, humility or indifference of his characters with just a few simple lines, and his backgrounds are loose enough to fill in the setting without distracting from the joke at hand.

I’m not sure which political hotbed DeLisle intends to visit next, but if such locations continue to inspire entertaining and enlightening travelogues, many readers will be looking forward to his next venture. Burma Chronicles may not push the political as hard as many readers will want, but it does find a cartoonist at the top of his game as a humorist and observer of the human condition.


Tiny Titans #8 (DC; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Aw yeah, Titans! Eight issues into this new, cute, wonderful comic and it’s still as goofy, creative, and surprisingly interesting as the very first issue. How writer & artist, Art Baltaza,r and writer, Franco, are able to constantly present new and clever stories, putting adorable spins on classic Titan’s references and continuity, is nothing short of excellent. This book is consistently a funny read, one that is able to appeal to both little and big comic readers. My fave part from this issue has to be the panel showing a head-to-toe covered Streaky the Supercat underwater! Both sweetly amusing and completely delightful!

Titans #5 (DC; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): I am happy to report that I am enjoying this series. It’s well written and engaging, thank you Judd Winick, and the stories are always moving forward. This issue of Titans was a nice, slow-ish tale giving characters their moment to develop and confront key issues, like Nightwing’s and Starfire’s on-again-off-again relationship, which was handled smartly and surprisingly touching. My only complaints are 1) how did Raven go from her normal costume to a sudden sluttier and stiletto-er outfit (with nary a Project Runway constant in sight) and 2) its issue five of this new series and we have already had three different pencilers! Three! What’s wrong with modern comic books when a five issue storyline can’t maintain one artist throughout? Back in my day artists actually meet their deadlines and rarely skipped issues. Now, it’s becoming more and more common to have a revolving door of artists on a title. I say it’s time to stop the insanity and kick some of those pencilers in the pants; we readers want and deserve a consistent art team. At the very least until the end of a specific story arc! Sheesh!

Captain Britain and MI13 #5 (Marvel; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): If you’re not reading this series you are SO missing out! Despite the fact it’s filled with a ton of z-list characters, this book is extremely well-written, surprisingly exciting, and so well created that you can’t help but hurriedly flip the pages to find out what’s gonna happen next. For those not in the know, Captain Britain and MI13 is England’s very own superhero team, featuring a smattering of Britain’s very own heroes, who have banded together to defend the realm from the Skulls invasion AND a bunch of magical creatures released during the Skrull attach. Plus, vampire hunter, Blade, joins the team with this issue and goes on the hunt against of his new teammates! So much great stuff here, if you know what’s good for you you’ll snap up this book! It’s terrific!

X-Factor #35 (Marvel; Reviewed by Brian Andersen): Peter David rocks my comic book loving world! Just when I think I know where he’s going in a story, Pow, I’m sideswiped and caught off guard by the sudden change in direction. I never saw in a million years that poor Darwin’s sweet, old dad would turn out to be a jerky old jerk! Wow. The best line is this issue comes from Guido chatting with Longshot over why Longshot and Dazzler broke up. Longshot, “What’s a slut?” Guido, “Ask She-Hulk.” Haha! Oh, man, so funny! David excels in these quiet, character rich moments, and we the readers are so much better because of it. Also, Larry Stroman’s art, while not quite as awesome as his past work on the title a few years ago, is a quirky dream. Always interesting, always inventive, Stroman is the rare penciler who takes the time to uniquely develop even the most mundane background character. Great stuff!

The Spirit #21 (DC; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler): This month's issue of The Spirit starts with an attempted prison yard murder, and ends with a very unlikely motorcycle gang. The pages in between are proof that Eisner's legendary hero is being written by the right creative team. Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier give us a fun tale of honor among thieves. Or the lack of, as the case may be. To save the life of Ellen Dolan, The Spirit goes undecover as crime boss Buzz Viviano, only to find out the hard way that he (as Viviano) isn't as popular with the gang as previously suspected. Artists Chad Hardin and Wayne Faucher do a masterful job of emulating Eisner's art style, while bringing it into the 21st century. Violenve, vollyball teams, motorcycle gangs and some really bad facial hair. What more can you ask for? even this first issue.

Action Comics #869 (DC Comics; review by O.J.): Another solid offering in the "Brainiac" saga (Part 4 here), but a classic sin is committed in that nothing conveyed in the issue's cover takes place inside. There's been a lot of teasing of something major happening that'll shake Clark Kent to his core, and I can assure you that it does not happen here. There is a nice little "Oh, no he DIDN'T!" moment similar to the Superman throwing up scene from an issue ago, this time more at the expense of Brainiac. By coincidence, there's a shared theme between Superman and his adversary that was found this week in the lead character's other superlative title, All Star Superman: brains over brawn. Superman is in the struggle of his life against the master of knowledge, and it's anyone's guess how he, Supergirl (rendered here by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank with a unique blend of fierceness and vulnerability), and the supporting cast can protect the Earth. False advertising aside, yet another exceptional chapter in one of DC's finest books.

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