Best Shots: JSA, Blue Marvel, Berlin & More

Best Shots: JSA, Blue Marvel and More

Greetings, again! Here’s a quick link to our Best Shots Extra that ran between last week’s column and now:

Ultimatum #1 (from Marvel; review by Troy)

Justice Society of America #20

Justice Society of America #20

Wrttiten by Geoff Johns & Alex Ross

Art by Dale Eaglesham, Nathan Masengill, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek

Published by DC Comics

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

All the ingredients were in place for this Earth-2 extravaganza to be an extremely pleasurable experience, but ultimately it had too much negative energy to truly get me to that special place. For one thing, aside from Gog (in this issue in one teasing final panel, and that's it, by the way), it's been months since the JSA fought anyone not themselves part of the Justice Society, and it's really doing the team a disservice, so much infighting. Writers Geoff Johns and Alex Ross have developed a terrific Earth-2 update of Infinity Inc. in the form of "Justice Society Infinity," and they're regrettably wasted as a team of heroes whose knee-jerk reaction to a potential doppelganger who not once acts in a maliciously threatening manner is to pursue (harass), capture (attack), and interrogate (torture). Often were the times while reading "Earth Bound" that I wanted to magically step into the middle of the fray and say to all: "Damnit! You're HEROES! Start acting like it!!" Only very deep into the issue does Star-Spangled Kid resemble a voice of reason, and by that time I found myself absolutely despising the Power Girl of Earth-2.

Historically Kara Zor-L's been portrayed as a hothead, we all know this, but this was taken to a whole new level. Worse, a new low was reached. What elevates the issue to a redemptive level, undoubtedly, is the multi-generational artistic tandem of Jerry Ordway and Dale Eaglesham sharing illustrative duties. Not many books can get away with so intentionally integrating two distinctive styles in a single issue -- at least one instance being a jam spread between Ordway (handling the Earth-2 setting) and Eaglesham (assuming New Earth duties), but it speaks to the talent and the storytelling that it's the one genuinely creative success here.

Johns does succeed as well in capturing the little things that he has a penchant for. In at least one instance that we can expect to see more of later this month in the JSA Kingdom Come Specials, Green Lantern Alan Scott comes face to face with his late daughter, and it turns out she's surprised to see him for identical reasons. Keeping it in the family Jade's brother Obsidian is one of the rare characters, actually the only one on this occasion aside from Power Girl, who directly meets his parallel counterpart. Underscoring their differences is Jennie's shock at the dark evolution of Todd Rice. More heartbreaking is later when "our JSA" goes to Earth-2 to retrieve their Power Girl and Mr. Terrific comes face to face with his late wife Paula, alive on this other Earth. In a word: awkward. In terms of breaking new ground -- Johns can explain the Multiverse infinitely more intelligibly that Grant Morrison, if you happened to catch Final Crisis: Superman Beyond -- JSA #20 sells short the reader by exploiting the redundancies of "intra-superteam misunderstandings," yet it's salvaged by being an exemplary aesthetic production featuring mostly redeeming characters.

Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel #1

Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel #1 of 6

Writer: Kevin Grevioux

Artist: Mat Broome

From: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by: Richard Renteria

The premise of Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel is an interesting concept in that in takes a look at America in the 60s and its reaction to a super-powerful super-hero. On the surface everything is fine as the Blue Marvel goes about his normal super-hero routine of saving normal everyday citizens. Until one fateful day, in a battle with a super-powered villain the truth about the Blue Marvel is revealed, under the mask is a black man and that scares the status quo.

The progression of the story from the present to the past was a smart choice as it does a good job of setting up the reader for the over-arching story while allowing writer Kevin Grevioux to “reintroduce” the Blue Marvel to the Marvel Universe. Unlike the Sentry’s introduction into the Marvel Universe, it seems that Marvel is taking care to introduce the Blue Marvel into the regular MU in a somewhat natural manner by creating a plausible reason for why he has been missing all these years.

The issue of race is dealt with in a somewhat heavy-handed manner once the government learns who is really under the mask. Although race may be a big part of the story I have to hand it to Grevioux and his ability to handle the issue so overtly while maintaining an air of believability. Taking no shortcuts on the issue of race, the reasoning behind the Blue Marvel’s forced retirement is believable and should provide an interesting complexity to the character when the present day heroes seek him out for his assistance.

On the art Mat Broome does a serviceable job, but a lot of his action scenes come across as a bit stiff and an over reliance on shadow was a bit distracting as light sources seemed to come from different angles in the same panel. The problem is most noticeable in the beginning of the issue whenever Iron Man is in panel. Overall the art itself is easy to follow and gives the story a consistent look as Broome does a credible job of capturing expressions and emotions while going out of his way to give key characters varied facial features.

While the story was good there are a few missteps throughout the issue. Once again I have to question to use of the Sentry in the story as he proves to be more of a distraction. When a character has the power of a billion exploding suns it’s a bit difficult to expect the reader to believe that any villain he battles could be strong enough to cause him great concern. Yet, once again here he is getting his ass handed to him by a villain with undefined powers and then, to make matters worse, he needlessly comments on how powerful the villain, Anti-Man, really is, which reminds the reader how ill-treated the Sentry has been over the last few years.

While not necessarily a home run the premise has a lot of potential and the Blue Marvel is a rather fascinating character. It should be interesting to see how Grevioux handles the evolution of a black hero marred by racism finding his way back into the modern day Marvel U.

Jason Lutes on Berlin 2
Jason Lutes on Berlin 2
Berlin, volume 2

Berlin vol. 2: City of Smoke

Written & Illustrated by Jason Lutes

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The worst thing about Berlin, and I mean the absolute pits, is how painfully and laboriously slow is its release schedule. Following 2000’s Berlin vol. 1: City of Stones, cartoonist Jason Lutes recently finished work on the second part of the eventual Berlin trilogy. Berlin vol. 2: City of Smoke charts the lives of fictional residents of Berlin, Germany, from June 1929 until September of 1930. Charting the fade of the Weimar Republic fades and the rise of the National Socialist party (more commonly known as the Nazis), Lutes is authoring the most engaging and remarkably historical fiction in the history of the comics medium.

Praise simply must be heaped on Lutes’s incredible research. Though the characters themselves are fiction, the scenarios they face, the crumbling social structures that surround them, the often violent political rallies, the daily struggle to feed one’s family, all of the turmoil of a society on the edge is there on the page. Leftist writer Kurt Severing and newly arrived in the city artist Marthe Müller provide distinctly realized viewpoints into the chaos. Marthe, an outsider, provides background to readers unfamiliar with the history of the time, while simultaneously being absorbed into the distracting nightlife and upper class frivolity of Berlin. Dour Kurt provides the intellectual view of Berlin’s struggles, witnessing the carnage of the May Day massacre, writing futilely against the brutality of the German police in dealing with Communist rallies.

Lutes’ ability to engage readers in the day-to-day drama of his characters allows the political elements to seep into the narrative, with a half dozen major storylines weaving through the city’s socio-economic and cultural strata. A homeless Jewish girl bounces learns to trust one benefactor, only to face new challenges when he is forced to pass her on to a more affluent family. A group of African-American jazz musicians touring Berlin cope with inter-racial relations, questionable business practices and meeting famed Josephine Baker. Marte herself dives headlong into the debauch Berlin nightlife, distracted from the troubles of the time by drugs and sexual experimentation. Lutes captures the nuances of each of these characters and their situations with deft and subtle human understanding, refusing to caricature anybody or paint them as wholly unsympathetic or unlikeable.

Artistically, Lutes is a master. His style, straightforward and naturalistic, grounds the scene in a clear realism, and his adherence to three-panel page structures keeps the visual storytelling rock solid throughout. Moving the reader’s eye around the page by switching perspectives on characters, Lutes frequently uses close-ups or long-shots to provide detail and perspective, or by holding a single shot over the course of a series of panels consistently to enforce the moment. From capturing historic likenesses to depicting the full range of emotions among his fictional characters, Lutes’ character acting is second to none.

Smart and sophisticated, humorous and tragic, Jason Lutes’ Berlin is challenging and engaging on many levels. Fans of comic book art and followers of history will find equal pleasures in its pages, but mostly, any reader who embraces stories of humanity and the role of humanity in societal turmoil. Berlin is the work of a masterful cartoonist at the top of his game. Get it.

Alan's War

Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope

Written & Illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert

Published by First Second

Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

In 1994 French cartoonist Guibert met Alan Cope, American expatriate and World War II veteran. Over the ensuing five years, their friendship led to an unlikely project, Alan Cope’s life story, in his own words, illustrated by Guibert. Alan’s War follows Cope from his drafting into the U.S. Army to his later life, when he finally feels comfortable within himself and attempts to re-establish ties with the important people of his young adulthood. Though the focus is specifically on the war years, Guibert’s narrative skips forward, showing how the friends and experiences Cope made during the war continued to shape his life.

Taken from extensive tapes of their conversations, the narrative comes directly from Alan Cope, and he’s a natural storyteller. Cope’s voice, as literal as Guibert could maintain, is easy and conversational, quickly engaging the reader with his sharp observations, dry wit and frank willingness to admit his shortcomings. An amateur philosopher, Cope is full of strong opinions, and his memories of events and of his youthful mindset are full of palpable details that make it easy for readers to connect to his wartime experiences. As he ages and his perspectives on the world change, readers are able to understand the factors that drive and shape Cope’s personality.

Guibert illustrates nearly the entire story in ink wash, excepting only a few panels that appear to be wash over a photograph. The style, soft and slightly out of focus, perfectly suits the story’s dependence on the subject’s memories. The attention to detail is tremendous, as Guibert captures everything from the scarred European forests to tank training to the small villas in which Cope spends time with locals during his tour of duty. Sticking to a three-tier grid throughout, Guibert’s storytelling is rock solid, enabling Cope’s narrative to carry the weight of the story, with only a few visual punches provided – several found objects, including an actual handwritten letter from Henry Miller to Cope. Guibert also drops out backgrounds on occasion to drive home the humanity of the moment. Seeing Cope and his friend walking a narrow path over a stupendously tall cliff becomes even more terrifying when there is literally nothing underneath them in the panels.

One of the critiques of biographical comics is that the authors frequently don’t have interesting lives, relating mundane tales of normal lives without any sharp insights added to the equation. Alan Cope had a dramatic and eventful life, and his philosophical outlook enables him to provide many intelligent and humane observations about the highs and lows that he experienced. Emmanuel Guibert brings each of those memories to vivid life, driving home the experience with solid details to support Cope’s wry storytelling. The end result, Alan’s War, is simply one of the best comics of the year.

Aliens Omnibus v5

Aliens Omnibus Vol. 5

By: Various

From: Dark Horse

Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco

The latest volume collecting Dark Horse’s long-running series of series based on the 20th Century Fox aliens with a capital-A boasts the same amount of bang for your buck that all the company’s omnibus volumes do: $25 gets you some 371 full-color pages worth of comics.

This particular volume has the added bonus of being full of stories by people who you wouldn’t expect to be doing Aliens comics and, while the results aren’t always great comics, they are always interesting comics.

The collection climaxes with “Havoc,” a Mark Schultz-scripted jam comic featuring a different artist on almost every page, with the who’s who in comics contributors including Ducan Fegredo, D’Israeli, Arthur Adams, Peter Bagge, Kelley Jones, Jay Stephens, P. Craig Russell, Sean Phillips, Gene Ha, Sergio Aragones, Moebius, Tony Millionaire and 30 other similarly disparate artists.

There’s a John Byrne story in which a ship bearing an Alien crash-lands on 1950’s earth, a story about religious fanaticism featuring art by horror master Richard Corben, a story by Jim Woodring, Justin Green and Francisco Solano Lopez, and another drawn by Guy Davis, and that’s only about half the book.

Regardless of how you feel about the films, or the seemingly endless life they’ve taken on in the comics (Personally? I kinda dig them), this particular trade is well worth at least a flip-through for almost any comics fan. Who can resist Guy Davis’ spindly, inky monsters, or Peter Bagge’s high-energy panels of a space marine going nuts with a machine gun, or Sergio Aragones’ downright cute Aliens?

BPRD 1946

B.P.R.D. 1946

Writers: Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart

Artist: Paul Azaceta

From: Dark Horse

Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco

The second world war has just ended, and the ruined Berlin is split in half, with the American and Russian armies co-occupying it, each side scrambling to scoop up everything of value before the other can get their hands on it. In Mike Mignola’s Hellboiverse, this includes not only Nazi treasures and rocket scientists, but also Hiter’s occult weapons and mechanically augmented ape warriors.

It’s basically The Good German, with demons, vampires and simian cyborgs.

Back then, Hellboy is still just a boy, and the B.P.R.D. is similarly young, so when Trevor Bruttenholm arrives to start combing Berlin and cataloging Nazi occult programs, his only allies are the solders the U.S. military assigns him. His Russian rival is a creepy little doll-like girl, who is wise (and powerful) well beyond her years, and they slowly uncover something called “Project Vampir Sturm.”

Mignola and Dysart tease the plot out so that the story starts off quite realistic, slowly becomes something of a mystery and then something of a ghost story that gets a little scarier with each page turn. Right up until the climax, at which point it explodes into the sort of full-on zany pulp horror readers have come to expect from Mignola’s Hellboy related efforts.

Tonally, the book is something of a labyrinth, with Mignola and Dysart leading readers from a more-or-less true war story into a Hellboy comic.

It’s taking a lot of willpower not to reveal the final application of Hitler’s vampire weapon, as it’s so giddily inspired, but discovering it as the protagonists do is one of the best parts of the book.

Azaceta’s art is perfectly suited to the story, as he excels in the bombed-out, post-apocalyptic period details and the more ethereal horror elements, and his aesthetic isn’t too far from that of Mignola’s own, nor other B.P.R.D. artists like Guy Davis.

All in all, it’s a remarkably new-reader friendly trade; you could quite easily get away without not knowing anything about Mignola’s ever-growing franchise and sill enjoy this on its own merits.

Warhammer: Condemned by Fire

Warhammer: Condemned by Fire (trade)

Written by Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton

Art by Rashan Ekedal, Chad Hardin, and Anthony Williams

Colors by Fellipe Martin, Veronica Gandini, Lisa LuBera and Chris Summers

Published by Boom! Studios

Review by Lan Pitts

This trade offered by BOOM! Studios has a little bit of everything. It's part Punisher, part Army of Darkness, and sprinkled with bits of Lord of the Rings. The people over at BOOM! Studios really put out the books that scratch my bored-of-spandex itch. This collection of issues has something for the hardcore Warhammer fan, or the hardcore fantasy reader. Though the latter may not get all the references, they will still get the gist. BOOM! has taken good care of their Warhammer franchise, both the 40k as well as the fantasy title, which is where this stories in this trade take place.

Our protagonist is Magnus Gault, a Witch Hunter and Templar of Sigmar who is on a quest to hunt down a heretic, Szymon Magister, across a fantastic and gothic landscape. Gault eventually finds Magister in a light-forsaken town of decay where the citizens have become rotten zombie-like creatures. Gault wastes no time in decimating the rotting townspeople and burns their town to cinder. And just as soon as he rides in, he keeps moving on to find the source of the evil that contaminates the land. His trek takes him to faraway lands and still he finds decay and rotting animals with no clue on why this is happening. Along the way, he is ambushed by creatures known as warhounds. During the skirmish his horse Asche is wounded and Gault puts her out of her misery. After setting the body on fire so she is not used as carrion for the beasts around, he continues on foot well into the night and finds himself in the town of Totenburg. There is he is greeted by what he thinks are humans, however he is quick to find out they are servants of the God of Stagination, Nergle.

Unlike in the previous town, he is succumbed and taken prisoner and placed with the other townsfolk that are used as sacrifices for Nergle. Among the prisoners is Franz Vogel, Greatsword of Averland. I would like to think I have read enough fantasy books to know that is supposed to mean something pretty important. Vogel shares his life story, which is a sad tale indeed. Conversing with Vogel more, Gault figures out that the contamination is coming from the spring water. Gault constructs a small explosive and frees them from their prison, then quickly goes to the armory and retrieves his weapons. Side by side with Vogel, the two kill a plethora of the undead townspeople and like before, Gault burns the city down.

Both Vogel and Gault venture on together to find the source of the taint and they finally find it. I won't reveal the giveaway, but yes, another battle occurs and all ends well. The art is pretty good, though in the fourth issue seems a little off and not as put-together as the previous issues. I wish I could recommend this trade to the casual comic reader, however the dialogue is hard to chew at times. I understand it is taking place in a fantasy realm, but those who aren't fluent in Shakespearean style talk may have a hard time understanding it. I DO want to recommend it for the fantasy readers out there who are used to the likes of Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, and R. A. Salvatore and probably can get through that sort of speaking. The other complaint I have is actually an issue I have for all of these sorts of books. I think it would be helpful for the non-hardcore fans to have an index or glossary of sorts in the back so they can have somewhat of a clue on what's what and who's who. Also, I hate to nitpick, but there needed to be a finer tuned editing job. There were a few typos here and there, such as "looses" when it should have been "loses".

I'm a huge fan of fantasy books, and BOOM! is coming out with the better titles that I have seen on the market. Here's hoping they continue their streak of great stories and great use of the Warhammer name.


Army@Love vol. 2: Generation Pwned (DC/Vertigo; by Mike) - Rick Veitch's vicious satire of near-future warfare, fought in the minds of impressionable young men and women by the directors of marketing firms, gets even better in the second volume. With little combat and fewer "enemies," Veitch finds plenty of shifting loyalties and surprising subterfuges to keep the cast at each other's throats, and he fills the book with page after page of sharp observations - the power of a catchy jingle to not only market a cause, but to bring profit via the ubiquitous cell phone ring sale; the roles of women and sex in social hierarchies; and the conflict between winning a war versus milking every last dollar out of the war with your marketing machines.

DMZ vol. 5: The Hidden War (DC/Vertigo; by Mike) - Better in concept than execution, this volume of the usually excellent DMZ feels like a placemarker rather than an advancement of the series. As the series always focuses on the people caught in the middle of an endless, pointless war, the main thrust has always been to tell stories similar to these, but The Hidden War's selection of six short stories focusing on minor characters doesn't add much depth that wasn't there originally. In the end, it's simply three good and three mediocre stories that fail to develop the characters driving the saga nor enhance our understanding of the neighborhoods and cultures of life in the city. The art's quite good throughout, though for purposes of the collected editions (where, purportedly, Vertigo makes their money anyway), I still think opting for an occasional skip month in the ongoing serialization would be beneficial, allowing primarly artist Riccardo Burchielli to maintain a consistent visual style and tone throughout the entire series.

Jonah Hex #37 (DC Comics; review by O.J. Flow) This may be the first time I've been compelled to label an issue of this title "cute," but if nothing else it's a welcome respite after a particularly brutal 36th issue. Jonah's always had interesting luck with ladies, so you can only imagine how things go when three aspiring bounty hunters intercept some of his business. My "cute" reference comes more from the fact that you can tell as this Gray/Palmiotti gem develops that the outcome will be considerably less dire than found in prior Hex tales. Helping to sell this thinking is the stylistic art delivered by Jordi Bernet. I can't be the only American reader who appreciates the way Bernet's work emulates the legendary Alex Toth while bringing his own distinctiveness to this Western genre. "Trouble Comes in Threes" definitely amps up the sexy factor, from the simple yet eye-popping cover to the diversion the buxom Annie offers our hero to the flirty nature of her partners Daisy and Kimiko. The creative team with editorial could've run the risk of this cheapening the quality of this dependable series. But it stands to reason that it takes more than a trio of Wild West hotties to keep Jonah Hex down.

X-Men/Spider-Man #1 of 4 (Marvel Comics; Reviewed by Richard): There is a lot to like about this series. Beside the fact that Christos Gage seems to have a handle on the characters of the Marvel Universe he also understands the characters and utilizes that understanding to tell an interesting story set in the past. Gage manages to take a moment from the X-Men and Spidey’s shared history to tell a story that on the surface may seem like a normal brawl between heroes and villains, but the final moments prove that there is something a bit more nefarious happening and seems to be the anchor for the next three issues as they take place in different time periods. The art was a bit hard to follow in the beginning stages as there was a distinct lack of perspective in the opening pages. As the story progresses though, Mario Alberti really does a commendable job of drawing the reader into the story. His beautifully rendered go-go girl renditions of Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy and even Jean Grey perfectly captures the fashion of the era. Although Alberti’s work on individuals definitely stands out but his action scenes felt a bit cramped and constrained by the choice of his panel layouts.

Punisher War Journal Annual #1 (Marvel Comics, Reviewed by Richard): Although the issue itself, written by Simon Spurrier with art by Werther Dell’Edera, is quite fun and entertaining at times I have to admit to being a bit puzzled by this annual. While the story itself may be visually fun, how can you not enjoy following Frank’s travels through Wonderland, the story itself seemed familiar. Other than the hallucinogenic setting, this annual read just like every other ill-conceived Punisher story where the writer tries to give Frank a heart by saving a child. We get it, Frank loves kids. Can we move on now? Why this annual could not have been a one-shot or a quick two-parter in the regular monthly series escapes logic. It seems that lately Marvel has been falling back into a pattern that happened in the 90s, annuals that have no consequence and do nothing to advance the character or story happening in the regular monthly title. As a reader, when I pay $4 for a title I would like to get my money’s worth, unfortunately almost every Marvel Annual to come out this year comes across as nothing more than and attempt to fleece loyal readers and unfortunately the Punisher is drawn into the questionable practice.

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