Best Shots Reviews: PRISONER X #1, DOOMSDAY CLOCK #9, COSMIC GHOST RIDER #1, GREEN ARROW #50

"Doomsday Clock #9" cover
Credit: Gary Frank (DC Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Age of X-Man: Prisoner X #1
Written by Vita Ayala
Art by German Peralta and Mike Spicer
Lettered by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Oz meets X-Men” should be a slam dunk of a concept - and it might still be - but as it stands, Vita Ayla and German Peralta’s first issue leaves a lot to be desired. This is a fundamentally sound issue - it introduces the characters, the world and the conflict. But there’s little in the way of building any actual intrigue because of how familiar readers are with the “Age of X-Man” as a whole after a handful of issues. Peralta keeps the book together with work that’s really only limited by the setting, but on the whole this feels like a disappointingly stock introduction to this concept.

It’s easy to see the potential in a book like this. Ayala wastes no time introducing us to the characters that will be major players in this book, and that’s one of its obvious strengths. Seeing this version of Honey Badger and Beast interacting with Bishop immediately communicates just how off everything is in this world, especially juxtaposed with his visions. The problem is that we already know that things are off in the “Age of X-Man.” As a result, it feels like this book starts about 19 pages too early, especially since despite some good interplay between characters, those interactions do very little to illuminate anything about the world of this story. So there’s very little that’s propulsive about the story, and Ayala ends up delivering something that works in a general sense but is ultimately kind of boring.

German Peralta’s work is very strong, though. He does a great job with the characters here, which is important because the prison setting is exceptionally bland and all the prison jumpsuits are the same. (Apparently, Nate Grey used Logan’s Return of Wolverine look as bizarre fashion inspiration for prison uniforms.) In particular, Bishop and Beast are extremely well-rendered, and Peralta gets some really good acting across with both of them. Given the basic setting, Peralta is able to really key in on body language and expression work, and the book is better for it. Colorist Mike Spicer deserves some credit as well for some rich, textured color work that enables the characters to stand out more against the plain setting.

But by the last page, it’s hard to get excited about what’s going on here. In an alternate reality setting, writers should be able to really go for it, but Ayala plays it very, very safe. Yet the potential is still there for a really exciting miniseries. I mean, what’s better than a good prison break story? So it’s unfortunate that we only sort of plod along through this issue, but now that the groundwork has really been laid, hopefully the creative team can let loose moving forward.

Credit: Gary Frank (DC Comics)

Doomsday Clock #9
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Gary Frank and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Any good watchmaker knows that if you remove just one piece, the whole mechanism can go astray.

That’s the chilling thought that Geoff Johns and Gary Frank begin with in Doomsday Clock #9, which homages Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ iconic Watchmen #9, albeit with a strong injection of superhero bombast in Johns’ signature style. But it’s here that we not only sense how deep the reverberations of Doctor Manhattan’s time-travel escapades have rung across the DC Universe - that by removing one piece from DC’s past, this demigod may have condemned not just their present, but the entire future as well.

There’s a sense of urgency that comes from such unthinkable stakes - it makes perfect sense for Johns and Frank to spend the next four pages in silence, as the heaviest hitters of the DCU race to Mars in an attempt to stop this temporal supergod. Indeed, it feels like the only appropriate thing these titans can do, to grit their teeth against the inevitable as they realize they’re about to confront a power that far exceeds their own. But like I said, it’s not just the ensemble components that make the mechanism — as Johns smartly recognizes, it’s the individual pieces that matter just as much. With the main trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman sidelined or occupied elsewhere, Johns brings renewed focus to Firestorm, the tragic epicenter of the series’ geopolitical tensions. You can’t help but feel for the poor guy as he tries to redeem himself, only to discover some deeply troubling revelations that will rock him to his core.

Much has been made of the series’ timetable, on both the scripting and the art side, but when you see how magnificent Frank’s pages are, you’ll see that Doomsday Clock has been worth the wait. He feels like the natural evolution from Dave Gibbons’ flat, pulp-inspired Watchmen — Frank brings a third dimension, a photo-inspired quality of the Christopher Reeves era that feels like the only natural challenger to the bleakness of the 1980s. Yet at the same time, he brings that same deliberateness that Gibbons brought to Watchmen, that same sort of seemingly effortless naturalism to the expressions that make these characters seemingly pop off the page. (And it goes without saying that he and Johns have been clever in how they weave in the Watchmen iconography, such as the spatter of blood on a Legion flight ring rather than the Comedian’s button.) But unlike Watchmen, which felt like a down-to-earth and almost intimate affair even with the brief bursts of violence, Frank leans into Johns’ sensibilities as a blockbuster action storyteller, with the Justice League’s fight against Doctor Manhattan feeling as grand scale as nine-panel grids will allow.

It might be that quality that deviates Doomsday Clock from its legendary predecessor the most, and might be the thing that divides fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original work from those meat-and-potatoes DC superhero fans. The original Watchmen, at its core, was about the sad ineffectualness of mortal men and women thinking they can solve the world’s problems in spandex costumes while swinging their fists. DC superheroes, by their very nature, expect you to take that core concept at face value. Johns’ only solution to that problem is to take the outside stakes of Watchmen - the political hopelessness, the specter of war and terror - and graft them to the hyperreality that the Justice League already inhabits. For some, this might be seen as overly bleak or overly embracing of superheroes’ action-heavy aesthetics. But whether or not you appreciate the face of the clock, it’s hard not to appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into finding out what makes Doomsday Clock tick, as Johns and Frank show a deliberateness that goes into every single piece of the machine.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1
Written by Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti
Art by Gerardo Sandoval, Victor Nava, and Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Marvel gets its own “Drunk History” care of comedian Paul Scheer in the debut of Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History. Aided by co-writer Nick Giovannetti and the scratchy artwork of Gerardo Sandoval, Victor Nava, and Antonio Fabela, Scheer takes the audience on a walking tour of Marvel History from the stranded-in-time Cosmic Ghost Rider’s perspective. The results are just about as absurd as you would expect. Though the joke of Frank’s pointedly opposite take on Marvel milestones wears a bit thin as the issue progresses, Scheer and Giovannetti’s self-aware script and the art team’s punk rock filter on Marvel history gives this opening issue a few truly funny moments. We will see how they can sustain the gag over a series, but as it stands right now Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History is a funny, Adult Swim-esque romp of a “What If?” tale.

When we last saw the Cosmic Ghost Rider, he was stuck in the past, having failed to raise the Baby Thanos into a well-adjusted member of the universe. As per the issue’s self-aware opening caption, we open somewhere between 10 and 2 million years ago. Instantly planting an irreverent flag, Scheer and Giovannetti then commit to their own bit, as Frank returns to his family before their murder, telling his young son stories of the Marvel Universe potentially with the aim of trying to change his own timeline after the vignettes settle down. This framing device is one of the issue’s biggest failings, but I can also understand why it is there, presumably to give the series a central crux of narrative beyond the vignettes.

Which is a shame, because once this creative team starts detailing “Marvel History” is when this issue truly starts to shine, both in terms of script and artwork. With the CGR (allegedly) pinballing through the major plot points in Marvel history, it makes an absurd sense to start with the first family of Marvel, the Fantastic Four. Bouncing from bits like the Four’s origin (Frank claims to have caused it) to murderous new spins on the Galactus Saga, the trial of Reed Richards to the FF’s meeting with Jack Kirby in Heaven. While the idea is fun, it still feels like a strange, unforced error that you can’t be sure if these changes actually happened or not. It’s one thing to make your lead character an unreliable narrator - which Donny Cates previously did in his own stories featuring the Rider - but to leave the story as ambiguous as this feels like a head-scratching narrative choice.

Still, these scenes provide the issue’s funniest jokes, as well as a real real synergy between the writers and artists as to what is exactly funny about this concept - particularly, how everyone is taking it (mostly) seriously, with Frank’s narration being shown through the art team’s self-effacing lens. While the scenes in this comic’s current timeline look somewhat choppy and ill-defined, when they start to go into the past, the artwork really highlights this story’s comedic beats. It was almost as if Gerardo Sandoval, Victor Nava, and Antonio Fabela were re-finishing certain arcs and just plugging Ghost Rider into the main action. Above I used the comparison to “Drunk History” and you can really see why when it comes to these scenes.

Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1 has one really good joke, but the problem is, it just keeps telling it over and over with just slight variations. Though the ending cliffhanger has some neat implications and you can feel Paul Scheer’s love of Marvel and sense of humor radiating from the script, your mileage will vary wildly with this issue. It all really depends on your sense of humor and patience. Either way, I think Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #1 is a fun time with a fun character, but it’s best not to be thought on for too long or beyond that.

Credit: DC Entertainment

Green Arrow #50
Written by Collin Kelly and Justin Lanzing
Art by Javier Fernandez and John Kalisz
Lettering by Andworld Design
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

“Showed up for a rebel,” laments Ollie in the series finale of Green Arrow. “Got a washed-up superhero instead.”

These everyman antics of the Emerald Archer have defined the almost eight decades of his published history, but for writers Collin Kelly and Justin Lanzing, Ollie’s quip has a more personal edge to it. What was meant to be the launchpad for their run on the Battling Bowman’s career wound up being the last hurrah when DC Comics abruptly cancelled the title. It’s a good thing that doesn’t stop the creative team from delivering one of the most quintessentially “Green Arrow” stories we’ve seen in a while.

Tying directly into the events of No Justice and Heroes in Crisis, we find Dinah and Ollie in a dilemma of their own making. Former spy Black Canary has been tasked with taking out Green Arrow for his possession of a box containing a weapon allegedly powerful enough to destroy the Justice League. Worn down by Roy Harper’s death and the mounting opposition from the authorities, the finale hammers home the idea that the mantle of Green Arrow is more than a mask for the former rich kid. It’s who he is as a hero, and as a person.

Kelly and Lanzing understand the two core things that make this formula successful: the importance of Ollie’s conscience in a world of super gods, and the power of Green Arrow and Black Canary as a duo. Ollie is, in his own words, a fighter: “Even when the odds are against me, I damn well try.” Dinah is dedicated to duty and to her partner, but she is nobody’s sidekick: “I am not a pretty bird,” she declares. “I am a Bird of Prey.” Suffice it to say, many a fan-fuelled goosebump is felt throughout this last chapter.

Packing in a dozen issues’ worth of action into this plus-sized book, artists Javier Fernandez and John Kalisz pull out every trick arrow in their respective quivers. From the opening page, the dominant inks and muted color spectrum underscore the foreboding that pervades this issue. The opening page, for example, has a tiny silhouette of Green Arrow gliding across the page, one reminiscent of Klaus Janson’s work with Alan Moore on the character in the 1980s. At other times, when the page is ablaze with a sudden explosion, Green Arrow’s face is perpetually in shadow.

Through a series of unique panel layouts, Fernandez and Kalisz cast Green Arrow in a light we’ve rarely seen. His kick-ass archery is matched only by the scale of the action, one that incorporates an aquatic escape, a dogfight in the Arrow Plane, and a crash-landing cushioned by a Canary cry. Smaller insert panels dictate the rapid pace of the action, culminating in an explosion in which a dozen tiny panels shockwave their way across Kalisz’s fire-lit page, as if they were pieces of well-ordered shrapnel.

Yet even as the fragments fall around them, the angry archer is given the space to be (to quote former Green Arrow writer Elliot S. Maggin) “nothing but a man.” Dinah holds him to task at every turn, while Riot challenges him with his absence from certain parts of the city. One can’t help but think of a Hard Travelling Hero issuing the same challenge to his friend Hal Jordan once upon a time. As a defeated Oliver Queen mutters a final quiet “prayer” to the “super gods from outer space,” Kelly and Lanzing once again use the character to demonstrate what one person can (and sometimes can’t) do. (If the intriguing final panel of the Box is any indication, the wrong person could potentially do quite a bit.)

Paying tribute to the past and nodding towards the as yet unwritten future, Kelly and Lanzing do a remarkable job of making us believe this was the plan all along. When Benjamin Percy, Juan Ferreyra, and Otto Schmidt began the Rebirth run back in June 2016, it was a sign that DC was willing to get back to basics on a character who had experienced a beleaguered couple of years post-Flashpoint. Almost three years later, this fitting conclusion isn’t just a rousing last hurrah for a character, but a reminder that Ollie Queen will always remain the bleeding heart and the conscience of the DC Universe.

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