By The Best Shots Team, courtesy of ShotgunReviews.com
Your Guest Host: The Rev. OJ Flow
Troy is out this week as it's his annual aligator-wrestling competition, but that doesn't mean we've been slacking. First, we had a few Best Shots Extras go out before the madness of SDCC:Parker: The Hunter Project Superpowers Chapter 2 #1 Amazing Spider-Man #600 Avengers: The Initiative #26 And now, the main event: Green Lantern #44
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen & Rodney Ramos
Colors by Randy Mayor
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
The Blackest Night has finally touched down on Earth -- and with Green Lantern #44, the enemy has pulled no punches with its opening salvo, sending the undead corpse of the Martian Manhunter to do battle against Hal Jordan and Barry Allen.
The verdict? A tight, well-choreographed fight that hits all the right notes, but ends on a slightly disappointing beat.
What do I mean? It's surprising to see how comfortable Johns is writing both Hal and Barry together. He's said in the past that they're just two friends who are able to let their guard down by the other one's personality traits, and it really shows here. As the Brave and the Bold examine Bruce Wayne's disturbed grave, you can see the subtle ways that Johns has the two operate. "Why would someone take Bruce's skull?" Hal asks. Barry, ever the forensics expert, tweaks the investigation: "I think the questions we should answer first are: who knew he was buried here? And who knew he was Batman?" Yet despite this book being a Green Lantern book, Johns really lets Barry steal the show, even with just a few side comments: "Oh God, you started reading the Internet, didn't you?" Hal asks. "And stopped," Barry replies. "Too slow."
But this camaraderie quickly falls by the wayside, as the Black Lantern Martian Manhunter suddenly escalates the situtation to Defcon One. Johns and Mahnke really do a good job at partnering up with choreographing the fight -- a highlight is Barry hitting J'onn with a flurry of punches, saying "Remember. We used to talk shop. Cases. You were fascinated by what you never had on Mars -- law." We learn the problem with his assault on a double-page splash that really punches you in the gut, and it's this image that really encapsulates the big beat in this issue.
Yet we also get just enough information about J'onn's Black Lantern abilities to speculate on this all-new, all-dead corps' abilities -- it seems as though they can scan people's dominant emotional trait, and then attack them with the exact opposite on the emotional spectrum. It's something that Johns doesn't spoon-feed the reader, but in this case, I thought making the reader really read between the lines was actually quite refreshing. In any event, it looks like the Black Lantern Corps will be more than just undead superheroes -- they've got some power behind them. But on the other hand, part of me would have liked to see a little bit more build up on just how powerful and scary and versatile J'onn J'onzz is -- on a superpower scale, he's like an A-bomb being dropped on Coast City, and I think it could have only helped the story to have Hal or Barry describe him as such. The other minor problem are Johns' scenes with the Guardians -- unless you've been reading Green Lantern for a bit, it might be hard for new readers to understand these scenes, but you can certainly skip through these speed bumps in order to get back to the brawl.
The art, meanwhile, looks really nice throughout, even if the three inkers involved do give the art a somewhat inconsistent look. Mahnke gives the Martian Manhunter a look of raw power and grandeur, yet when he has J'onn attempt to shapeshift back into his original form -- with parts of his flesh still rotting around him -- it just has the perfect balance of familiarity and horror. I think my favorite part of Mahnke's work, however, is the artistic shorthand he gives whenever Barry and Hal are attacked telepathically -- a jagged shard of their face suddenly pulsates with rotting gray veins, like the Martian Manhunter himself. Mahnke's panel work is also superb, with the majority of his images having perfect composition -- his two double-page splashes look fantastic, and never give the impression of wasted pages. Yet Mahnke and his inkers' work wouldn't look nearly as good without the fantastic color work of Randy Mayor, who especially shines when he depicts bursts of energy, whether it be telepathic assaults of fear and will, or fiery Martian Vision.
Okay, so on to the disappointing note. The one thing I was less thrilled about was the fact that this fight doesn't end over the course of these 23 pages -- it will presumably conclude in Blackest Night #2. From a business standpoint, I understand the desire to stretch the stories out over two titles, but as a reader I was a little sad that -- like Countdown before it -- you had to buy two books to enjoy what seems to be one beat of the overarching story. That said, with Johns writing both books, we do know there will be some stylistic consistency between Rounds One and Two. If you don't have a problem picking up Blackest Night #2 -- and I'll be honest, it's works like this that make me a convert -- then you should definitely pick up Green Lantern #42, a taut, altogether solid brawl in what looks to be an epic Green Lantern saga.
Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2 (of 3)
Written by Geoff Johns & Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Gene Ha, Eddy Barrows, Tom Mandrake & Doug Mahnke
Published by DC Comics
Review by Mike Mullins
Tales of the Corps #2 brings three more tales of the new spectrum of light corps, this time focusing on the Red Lanterns, the Star Sapphires, and the Orange Corps. Like the first issue, the page count of new material comes in a bit short in comparison to other DC Comics books with a price point of $3.99. This issue, however, does include a two-page letter from Ethan van Sciver discussing the creation of the symbols for each of the Corps and provides an interesting insight.
The first story, "Fly Away," presents the transformation from haughty slave-owner to Red Lantern. Johns provides an interesting journey for this member of the Red Lantern Corps that captures an idyllic life that is tragically altered. This story feels a natural outgrowth of the enmity between the Red and Yellow Corps and builds to provide a member of the Red Lantern Corps who is both sympathetic for what happens to her and despicable for her status and attitude as a slave owner at the opening of the tale. Barrows, with aid from Ruy José and Nei Ruffino, provides gorgeous artwork that captures the beauty of Havania and Bleez, moves the story forward in an eye-catching transition from frame to frame, and later captures the animosity and rage of a transformed Bleez.
In the second tale, Johns and Ha explore the relationship between Carol Ferris and the Star Sapphires. This story captures the history and present of both Carol and the Star Sapphire. Of all the stories told in the Tales of the Corps, this story feels the most important in either of the first two issues, promising long-lasting repercussions for the Green Lantern title, even though the final decision is a it anticlimactic. The best part of this story is the revelations of how the perspective of the Star Sapphire power has altered over time to adapt. The art does not consistently convey the emotional impact that the issue should, but the flashback scenes have a greater depth to them. In addition, there are times when the inks seem to clash with the original pencils instead of amplifying them.
My favorite entry in this week’s issue is the Tomasi and Mandrake story of a being doomed to become one of Larfleeze’s Orange Lanterns. The artwork is the weakest point of the tale, but if you prefer a retro feel to art, the graphic representations are easily appreciated with more lines for shading that is typically utilized in today’s computer colored comic medium. Tomasi creates an entity that seems something of a cross between a Greek god and a Cthulhu ancient one, and the hungers felt by the God of Hunger are more manageable and more merciful than the hunger which inhabits Larfleeze. The fact that the reader might prefer the vicious and demanding God of Hunger to overcome Larfleeze illustrates the depravity of Larfleeze.
Overall, Tales of the Corps #2 provides an improved storytelling vehicle for the outskirts of the War of Light than what was included in issue #1.Dark Wolverine #76
Written by Daniel Way & Majorie Liu
Art by Guiseppe Camuncoli & Onofrio Catacchio
Colors by Marte Gracia
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
Forget the claws and beserker rage -- a hostile takeover is far more satisfying.
Last month, I raved about the adventures of Daken Akihiro, the stealthy, Machiavellian son of Wolverine. While he may look like a nondescript member of the Dark Avengers elsewhere, Daniel Way and Majorie Liu have successfully made this character into someone who is a breath of fresh air to this series, all the while producing hands-down my favorite issue of the week.
Despite this issue's cover -- with a ticked-off Fantastic Four looming over a battle-ready Dark Wolverine -- Way and Liu go beyond retreading over the same hero versus hero brawl. As we saw through last issue, Daken is all about manipulation and control -- he's a smooth operator, a malevolent Don Juan whose ability to push the right buttons is far more interesting than a set of measly claws. The book opens with Norman Osborn holding a meeting with his Dark Avengers, to discuss someone on their team shooting an arrow into Johnny Storm's leg. But Way and Liu make a simple board meeting crackle with meaning: "A meeting is about dominance and submission," Daken says. "A meeting is about punishment."
The other smart thing about this arc is that tension is automatically built into this scenario. It's a matter of trust -- will people go along with Daken's nudging? Will they rat him out? And what's Daken want in all this? All these questions make for a fun read, as despite the facts regarding Storm's shooting all point to Bullseye, Norman smells a rat: "I happen to know that samurai are experienced horsemen... and archers. You good with a bow, Daken?" But Daken is still as a lake at dawn: "Yes, actually." For him, it's all about playing his enemies against each other -- "So, Bullseye is setting you up. I wonder why, Daken," Norman asks. "I wonder why he would be out to get you." The answer is one of the high points of the book -- with a smirk, Daken replies: "He's not out to get me, Norman... he's out to get you."
Yet this is only the first part of the book -- the appearance of the Fantastic Four is also great, and really plays up the artistic talents of Guiseppe Camuncoli. From the moment the Fantastic Four are on the page, Camuncoli each has them moving, their body language showing something different about their personalities. But their relaxation at home is immediately interrupted by a surprise appearance by Daken -- and the page just sizzles with energy.
As Ben Grimm threatens to "rip you a new one," Camuncoli choreographs a really smart sequence of Daken dodging like a pro, with some really creative moves that flow perfectly. But Daken is able to really nail Ben where it hurts: "Admit it. You enjoy touching my body," he says with a devilish smirk. "Or maybe you just wish it were the Human Torch standing here instead of me." Yet Camuncoli is also great with gestures and acting, as Daken perfectly hits all the emotions he needs to to ingratiate himself, while Sue cocks her head in distrust, while Ben Grimm looks like a kid in a candy shop as he finally gets the opportunity to crack this guy in the jaw without any repercussions.
At this point, I should touch upon the two flaws I found in this book, which would only be apparent to someone who didn't read the last issue. Two characteristics that were played up a lot in the first issue of this arc was Daken's bisexuality, and his ability to emit pheromones that will inspire hatred, lust, or a false sense of security. In this issue, it's all implied -- so if you haven't read anything with Daken before (or if you haven't read this review), scenes such as Daken taunting Ben's sexuality may come off as some surprising -- pardon the pun -- slash fiction.
But knowing all this, Daken comes off as a surprisingly compelling lead, both honest and poetic in his utter deviousness. "What was it like?" Johnny Storm asks, of Daken posing in his father's costume. Daken's answer is simple, but fits his character like a glove: "Painful. Illuminating." It all comes together to create Daken's masterstroke at the end of the issue, which is a perfect reiteration of this story arc's theme: pitting one's enemies against each other. Indeed, with all this tension and unpredictability, it took me by surprise that Daken only pops his claws once in the entire book -- and that is the real bar of this series' success. If the same-old, same-old Wolverine just feels tiresome, you should really do yourself a favor and pick up this book -- if Dark Wolverine #76 is the level of quality Marvel can put out with Dark Reign, I hope Daken stays front and center for a good long time.
Prince Valiant Vol. 1 1937-1938
Written by Hal Foster
Art by Hal Foster
Published by: Fantagraphics Books
Reviewed by Tim Janson
Premiering in 1937, Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant is one of the longest running newspaper comic strips, going strong for over 70 years and outliving its famous creator who passed away in 1982. Fantagraphics, the gold standard when if comes to collecting and reprinting newspaper strips, has released the first volume of Prince Valiant, covering the years 1937 to 1938 in all-new remastered color. The result is breathtaking!
Foster is truly one of the great comic illustrators who ever lived, but has never got his just due it seems because he didn’t work in the traditional comic book medium. One needs only to read the first few pages of the book to grasp his incredible ability. There was no comic strip in the 1930s or today that is a visually striking as Prince Valiant with its incredible attention to detail and brilliant narrative. Foster presented a panoramic view of Arthurian times and he laid out his strip in film director fashion, beautifully staging his panels.
The first book tells how the young Prince, still a boy, came to the British Isles as an exile along with his father and a handful of loyal subjects. He’s trained in the arts of war and quickly proves adept in battle. Early on he fights and defeats the bestial Thorg and returns him home to his mother, a witch named Hoirrit. Horrit prophesizes great sorrow and ill will for the young Prince. The story truly takes off when Valiant eventually travels to Camelot and the Court of King Arthur, befriending the Knights of the Round Table.
This is graphic storytelling at its finest and a true treasure!
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by George Pérez & Scott Koblish
Published by DC Comics
Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow
"I couldn't have been this stupid." -- Time Trapper
If you ever watched The Sopranos regularly, you may recall that a lot of the most bananas shit that went down on the show really happened on the episode before the season finale. Not to get into key details, but some surprise whackings and revelations were known to happen on the penultimate episode of any given season. After having taken in the anxiously awaited Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5, I was reminded of that concept from The Sopranos and applied it here. While this finale was full of action, heart and suspense, I have to say things were infinitely more riveting and revelatory in issue #4.
Revealed last issue was the identity of the Time Trapper. Having the Trapper turn out to be none other than a much older Superboy-Prime was an interesting way to go, I suppose. Some readers, especially longtime Legion fans, wouldn't be blamed for calling shenanigans, but I don't think Geoff Johns undid anything from stories past. As Brainiac 5 speculates, this scenario is simply a timeline possibility that could be subject for change. What's an even more compelling shift in identity is taken by White Witch elsewhere. Now referring to herself as the Black Witch, I have no doubt that her development will get much more coverage in the next great era of the Legion of Super-Heroes. At least she still seems to be fighting on the side of the good guys. For now. The last sequence with her in this issue saw George Perez invoking just the right measure of dread. Perez can always be counted for the lighter fare, so this dark direction was a nice surprise.
If I had one significant quibble with this story, now having gotten in all five chapters, it's that the Legion of Super-Villains were grossly underused. I sincerely hope that this "supergroup" version of the bad guys and gals team gets further development in the upcoming Legion project(s). I think this team of evil-doers could be much more exciting and effective with a little more time, preparation and organization. Plus they actually have the potential to really do some damage without Superboy-Prime in the mix. Firepower be damned, the kid's no leader.
And, of course, a review of Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds would be incomplete if I failed to address how Johns and Perez (spectacular in this whole series, to be sure, but it did appear that he was running out of gas by #5) handle the final fate of the Superboy of Earth Prime. I was personally floored with the meta direction they opted for, breaking down the fourth wall and taking a good-natured jab at fandom's lowest common denominator. My biggest wish is that this petulant version of Clark Kent gets a much more lengthy hiatus. I'm sure he'll return at some point ("They'll never get rid of me. I always survive."), but some more time away would really make a comeback resonate years down the road.
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds was an oft-delayed blast of nostalgic fun, an effective way to hit the reset button on Connor Kent and Bart Allen, and I still have yet to comprehend its connection to Final Crisis really was, but it sets the table splendidly for things in the upcoming Adventure Comics (LOVE that DC dusted that title off) and the potential for a new Legion book with a little something for everyone. With this 31st team, it always feels like anything is possible. Cue "Don't Stop Believin'" and cut to black.
Written by Robert Kirkman0
Art by Ryan Ottley & Cliff Rathburn
Colors by Fco Plascencia
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
"Do your worst." -- Conquest
Invincible #64 has this challenge on its very first page, and you can tell that Robert Kirkman is going to live up to it. Our hero, Mark Grayson, is far from earning his name, as he looks less like a superhero and more like a raw piece of meat.
But by the second page -- where he hits his Viltrumite foe Conquest so hard his bionic arm explodes -- you know that this is desperate. This is Mark Grayson's endgame. Forget punching and kicking -- Grayson is so mad at Conquest's murder of Atom Eve that he even bites a chunk out of his enemy's neck. Yet Kirkman's greatest strength is that he is a master of bucking expectations, as Mark gets some unexpected help at an opportune time, which made even this long-time comics reader cheer in his seat.
The fight, as I've said before, is unconventional, as every time Conquest breaks one of Mark's extremities, he's got to come up with a new way to fight back. Yet it eventually gets to the point where it skirts the thin line between hardcore and just plain goofy -- basically, if you're cool seeing someone head-butting someone to death over a two-page spread, then you'll be fine with this book. If you demand a touch more seriousness, you might be turned off -- at the end, this will be a matter of personal preference.
Artwise, Ottley is just a master of versatility on this book. We've seen him do swashbuckling and we've seen him do romance, but with this arc he has really taken his cues from Kirkman, and really let loose with the violence. Mark Grayson is covered in blood, and compound fractures (how many more does Mark have left?!) occur in the book, not to mention a really graphic look of someone who has literally been bludgeoned to death by someone's forehead. If you're squeamish, this is definitely not the book for you. But Ottley also has some really great moments, including a scene of Mark and Eve that is really the perfect end of the book.
All in all, the over-the-top violence of this arc hasn't really been my cup of tea, but at the same time, I have to respect Kirkman for making Invincible a character with which you really can tell any story you want. I'm also heartened by the fact that Kirkman himself has said in his letters section that this is only one stage of the comic, and that the ultimate goal is progress -- and that is something I can totally agree with. But with this issue, he manages to put just enough moments of fist-pumping awesome that while "Conquest" isn't my favorite arc in the world, I can say objectively that Invincible #64 is still head and shoulders above much of its competition.
Supergirl #43 (DC Comics; review by Brian Andersen) I gotta say I’ve been really enjoying the exploration of New Krypton. Who would have thought that having a whole new planet full of Kryptonians returning to the DCU would add such a fresh, exciting new spin on the Superman titles? I’m happy to see Supergirl smack-dab in the middle of all these changes while also having to go through her adolescence, figuring out who she is as a hero, a daughter, and a Kryptonian. This quiet, character-rich issue finds Supergirl having to decide her future by choosing one of the many Guilds, a group that each Kryptonian is placed in to keep Krypton up and running - the Labor Guild, Military Guild, Art Guild, Religious Guild, or her mother’s own Science Guild. I love that Kara is allowed to make mistakes, have the typical teenage conflicts and misunderstandings with her overbearing mother, also New Krypton’s leader, and the traditional “hero turmoil” as she deals with the death of her father. Great stuff all around. Although this issue isn’t chalk full of “wham, bam, pows” it does speak loudly about the character and adds a new element to the Supergirl mythos as she chooses the future course of her life, and most likely, the series.
Praetorian TPB (Outlaw Entertainmen; review by Lan Pitts) This is part "Da Vinci Code" and some part "X-Files." Four Praetorian guards were made immortal when Christ rose from the grave and were given the extreme task of protecting all of humankind. Now, in the present, there is a killer on the rise that maybe more than what the detective going after it had in mind. With it's graphic violence and language, it's recommended for mature readers, but that also means that the story is actually meant for readers with a certain level of intelligence. The art flows very well, and Ramon Espinoza's figure construction is somewhat cartoonish but has a certain style that goes well with the story. The panel construction is solid, and I mean solid. The story flows effortlessly, which works great with this genre of comic. The script is well-written, albeit a bit cliche at times. Despite that, it's worth checking out for the $7.99 price tag. It's a nice break from mega events and such and is a quick and enjoyable read.
All New Savage She-Hulk #4 (Marvel; review by Brian Andersen) This surprisingly awesome four issue mini-series ends on a high note with series star Lyra deciding to kick it in the modern Marvel U and join up with the alternate reality S.H.E.I.L.D-ish government group A.R.M.O.R. What started out as a series I was prepared to hate because of the possible displacement of the Sensational She-Hulk has turned out to be a thoroughly terrific read. Marvel has a history of taking potentially ridiculous ideas, like Spider-Woman and the Young Avengers, and making them unique, creatively inventive concepts that stand alone as viable additions to the Marvel family. Lyra is certainly no exception to this. She is a calm, confident, powerful woman who pulls enough from her Hulk processor to link her to the Big Green Guy while also spinning her off with her own mythos, her own original origin, and her own worth as a character who warrants her existence. The best part of this all new Savage She-Hulk is her Gamma Vision, an ability she can tap into where she can see everything around her by the Gamma energy radiating off them, like a Hulk-ish/Daredevil sonic vision. This intriguing "Gamma Sight" enables her to move one step beyond, one step faster then those trying to attack her. Excellent idea! I’m happy to say that I’m excited to follow her adventures in the new Incredible Hulk title.
Campus Chaos #1-4 (Approbation Comics; review by Lan Pitts) Where to even begin with this series. First off, there is a disclaimer at the beginning saying that it is "intended for people with a special inclination for mature (yet immature) spoof comedy." That said, I know the people behind the series don't take it too seriously. I mean, it is about sorority girls fighting zombies, after all. It pays homage (to borderline ripping off) several pop culture moments such as a "Thriller" dance number to Jay and Silent Bob wannabes. On the cover, the book is recommended for 13 and up, however, I would say it's more 17 and up. Graphic violence, language, sexual situations and such easily make it R-rated. The characters are parodies themselves. We've seen these sort of characters before... in the 70's with sexploitation films, B-movies and whatnot. Issue #4 has a plethora of artists on it and the book suffers a bit. For example, some characters would have obvious stubble or a 5 o'clock shadow where just the page or panel before, they did not. It's a fun series, but not something I'd highly recommend to the casual comic book reader. B. Alex Thompson's script is pretty standard, but you can tell that he had a great time creating it.
Runaways #12 (Marvel; review by Brian Andersen) The new creative team is working overtime to shake up the Runaways series by reinvigorating the status quo (for, like, the millionth time) by killing a member and destroying the teens' base of operations. While I enjoy writer Kathryn Immonen’s wit and clever dialogue -- she kicked off her start on the series with the excellent issue 11 -- I’m on the fence about this current issue. It seemed like a lot of waiting, a lot of waiting for something to happen, for the story to advance, for the next part of the arc to continue. Almost as though this issue was a filler/placeholder issue for the upcoming, more in-depth story. I didn’t quite buy that plant-controlling Klara was so distraught that she keep the group trapped in her veins and no amount of comforting or push from the group could pull her out of her funk. I wasn’t sure if it was because she was asleep, having a massive anxiety attack, hurt, or just being a crybaby. It wasn’t quite clear. Aside from this nitpick I do like that the teens speak like teens, that the characters remain true to themselves, and despite the death of an original team member (which makes me most unhappy) I see real potential again in the series. With some pretty great art by Sara Pichelli and Christina Strain, who never meet a red-tipped nose she didn’t like, this comic might finally be able to return to it’s spot at the top of my buy pile. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!