Best Shots Reviews: SUPERGIRL, DARK AVENGERS, more

Best Shots Reviews: SUPERGIRL, DARK AVEN

Best Shots 12-21-09

East Coast Snow Paralysis Edition

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Your Host: Troy Brownfield

Greetings, readers!  My out-of-town time got extended, more than one team member was beset by travel nightmares, and I’ll be damned if there aren’t Black Lanterns (though maybe those are desperate shoppers) everywhere.  Anyway, small column, but let’s do it.

The Outsiders #25

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Fernando Pasarin and Derec Donovan

Published by DC Comics

Review by Robert Repici

Well, this is it. This is Peter Tomasi's final issue on The Outsiders, a book that's become somewhat infamous for its directionless stories and its disappointing slew of creative changes. It's certainly no secret that The Outsiders has been one of the most beleaguered comic book titles in DC's superhero stable since its last revival, and as an avid follower of superhero team books (as well as Diamond's monthly sales charts), I'm kind of surprised that the series has been able to avoid cancellation for so long. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this title has been wallowing in mediocrity since its latest relaunch, and unfortunately, Peter Tomasi's twelve-issue run on the book hasn't really done a whole lot to change that. At the same time, however, I have to admit that Tomasi's run on this title actually started off strong and had tons of potential before it continued down the frustrating path that's come to define this series for the past two years. Indeed, Tomasi's first issue on the book, an extra-length one-shot entitled "Batman and the Outsiders Special #1" that hit stands back in February, actually fired on all cylinders and made me a big fan of his new Outsiders team right off the bat. Unfortunately, that extra-length special was actually the high point of Tomasi's run. And even though last month's issue, the first part of a two-issue Blackest Night tie-in story, was surprisingly compelling and praiseworthy, there's no denying that, for the most part, Tomasi's run has been a baffling disappointment.

So, with ALL of that being said, how did Tomasi end his year-long run on this title? And, more importantly, did the fan-favorite writer go out with a bang or with a whimper? Well, simply put, this issue was just as frustrating and disappointing as the bulk of Tomasi's run on this book has been.

First off, unlike last month's issue, The Outsiders #25 extensively follows the same, exhausted formula as almost every other Blackest Night tie-in story that's been thrown at us so far. In other words, a couple of Black Lanterns with a certain connection to our heroes take center stage in the story, the heroes don't believe their eyes, the Black Lanterns make every effort to elicit an emotional response from the stunned heroes, the heroes unwittingly let their emotions get the better of them, the Black Lanterns attack the heroes, the heroes are pushed to the brink, and then the Black Lanterns are defeated by some sort of deus ex machina. Yeah, you know the drill. In this case, the main Black Lantern is none other than Terra, the infamous Teen Titans traitor and the brother of Geo-Force, the current leader of the Outsiders. Over the course of the previous issue, Tomasi portrayed Terra as a Black Lantern who literally wanted to rest in peace, but as this issue reveals, it was all a ruse to compel Geo-Force and the other present Outsiders to build up enough emotional energy for her to feed on. Naturally, I saw this plot twist coming a mile away, but Tomasi certainly could have made it more intriguing and innovative.

Sadly, the other major story thread in this issue is just more of the same as well, as Katana continues to battle the Black Lantern versions of her husband and children with the help of Halo, the Creeper, and Killer Croc. Tomasi does a great job of capturing the Creeper's charisma and eccentricity here, but unfortunately, it isn't enough to save this scene from falling into the kind of monotony that's come to define these Blackest Night tie-in stories. To make matters worse, this entire issue is chock full of bad dialogue, and Tomasi has almost all of the characters drop a few dreadful one-liners during the book's two main action sequences as well. And then there's this story's deus ex machina. Suffice it to say that one of the Outsiders ultimately generates a massive amount of "White Light" to obliterate all of the Black Lanterns that appear in this issue. Oh, and then that same character is beckoned into the so-called "White Light" and vanishes. Now, needless to say, not only did this particular plot point feel a bit forced, but it also seemed totally unnecessary. But, hey, maybe Tomasi just wanted to end his run on this book by getting rid of one of the team's most prominent members.

Anyway, as far as the artwork is concerned, Fernando Pasarin does a great job with his pages once again. Just like last issue, his engaging visuals pack an emotional punch, and his action sequences are particularly effective and well-executed. Sadly, Pasarin shares the art duties with Derec Donovan this month, and the art switch that occurs in the middle of this issue is jarring to say the least. While there's nothing wrong with Donovan's artwork per se, his cartoony style certainly clashes with Pasarin's cinematic visuals here.

And so Peter Tomasi's run on The Outsiders has come to an end. It was what it was, but I can't help but think that it could have been so much more. After all, given his success on critically acclaimed books like "Green Lantern Corps" and "The Mighty", we all know that Tomasi is an extremely talented writer, and I truly believe that he has what it takes to write one hell of an Outsiders story. But, alas, his twelve-issue stint on this title just wasn't it. One can only hope that he gets a second shot at the book sometime down the road. As of now, however, the fate of The Outsiders title lies in the hands of its new creative team: Dan DiDio and Philip Tan. Will they be the ones to finally save this book from its downward spiral? Well, as always, only time will tell.

Supergirl #48

Written by Sterling Gates

Art by Fernando Dagnino & Raúl Fernandez

Colors by Nei Ruffiino, Ulises Arreola & Pete Pantazis 

Lettering by Jared Fletcher

Published by DC Comics 

Review by THE Rev. O.J. Flow

"You won't be happy to see me once I tell you why you're here, Supergirl." -- Inspector Michael Henderson

Don't let the "World Against Superman" banner header on the cover fool you.  I didn't know it was possible, as immersed in "New Krypton" as every Superman title is right now, but Supergirl #48 honestly felt like it had nothing to do with what's going on elsewhere.  And you know what?  I kinda liked it.  

Sometimes it's kind of nice to have a brief respite from a long-running, series-sweeping crossover and that's definitely the case here.  Save for a couple quick mentions, what transpires in "Song of the Silver Banshee" is welcome because writer Sterling Gates has been doing a marvelous job on this title since taking over (easily the best creative stretch for this character since Peter David was charting her travels), and here we get a little better idea what he's capable of with Supergirl free of the auspices of "New Krypton."  Gates has been doing what he can to make the Superman villain Silver Banshee more someone identified with the Man of Steel's youthful cousin, not a bad idea considering that her rogues gallery is a little light.  

Though I don't want to misrepresent Supergirl #48 as some random stand-alone issue, no.  There is significant plot advancement in the life of the Girl of Steel, and that can especially be found in the dramatic meeting between Linda Lang of Metropolis and her mentor, Lana Lang.  For months and months now, Lana has been keeping it on the DL that she's been seriously ill, and it is here that her secrets have come to roost now that her young charge has learned about the bad news.  Gates did a very good job keeping the reader only a little bit less in the dark than Supergirl herself as to Lana's dire situation, so it's in this issue that we finally hear from the source just exactly what it is that ails her.  The cause and circumstances are still a mystery to all, but now that it's somewhat out in the open one hopes that Lana gets the help she needs (though, sadly, a recent solicitation would suggest otherwise).  

All of this is juxtaposed with the return of a recently incapacitated supporting character, Inspector Henderson.  A casualty in "Who Is Superwoman?" earlier this year, Henderson has recovered from that and is back to work on the Metropolis Metacrimes Division.  Only thing now is that the case he's working has affected him deeply and only Supergirl can help him where his law enforcement colleagues have failed.  In picking up a cold case from his now-retired police captain, Henderson has gotten more personally involved in a mystery tied to Silver Banshee than he'd ever intended, and it seems that he may be in more mortal danger than he ever was tangling with Superwoman.  And when Banshee finally makes her presence known, she's plenty able to hold her own against Supergirl, though a surprise development at book's end may have leveled the playing field.  We shall see next issue.

On the art front, I was a tad disappointed that the artist from last issue, Matt Camp was not on this assignment.  Having done a magnificent job filling in for Jamal Igle and offering some work consistent with the full-time team, I wish Camp had been allowed to do more than one issue.  But Fernando Dagnino and Raúl Fernandez have done Gates police procedural script a great service while displaying a good aesthetic for a Supergirl book.  The duo does a respectful job (as have most all artists since this series has enjoyed a terrific creative renaissance in the last couple of years) of not objectifying and sexing up young Kara's look as others have in the past.  Any way you slice it, Supergirl is still a rock solid book starring a well-developed character that I look forward to every month.  As the fast-moving 2009 comes to a close, I can easily designate this as one one of my favorite ongoing books of the year.

Dark Avengers #12

Published by Marvel

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Mike Deodato, Greg Horn and Rain Beredo (color)

Review by Troy Brownfield

Certainly the most consistently interesting element of Dark Reign in any form has to be the psychological gamesmanship surrounding Norman Osborn.  Bendis has done a great job depicting the tenuous hold that the uber-villain has on his sanity, and elements of that thread have certainly begun to pay off.  The psychological issues of three other characters (Molecule Man, Sentry, and Victoria Hand) also play into the events of this issue, and those all add up to a rather suspenseful picture heading into “Siege”.

Victoria Hand’s past was explored in depth in the previous issue, and this issue sees her attempting to hold her own against Molecule Man and, later, Norman himself.  Her encounter with Molecule Man sees her undressed, both literally and figuratively.  It’s interesting that she finds a reserve of strength just as Sentry himself finally stops being a pansy for five minutes.

My disdain for Sentry is pretty well-documented at this point.  To me, the character is a, well, void (no pun intended).  He’s there to be seemingly menacing, but nearly always gets his ass handed back to him like a handful of JLA covers.  Sentry actually wakes up and does something this time around, but it’s not really enough to enhance his value.

Though the resolution of the threat of the Molecule Man is well-handled, there are a few things left open to roll through the big event.  The final pages have a few implications both in terms of Norman’s mental state and the “Siege” plot.  Frankly, I’m hoping that there are going to be more aspects of the past few years’ events tied together; you can see the dim outlines of where that might go, and it makes this issue the better for it.

Green Lantern Corps #43

Published by DC Comics

Written by Peter Tomasi

Art by Patrick Gleason

Review by David Pepose

The War of Light is finally incurring casualties, as last issue's death of Kyle Rayner sends shockwaves through the Green Lantern Corps. While this issue does suffer from some of the more one-note aliens in the fray, this book more than makes up for it with some hard-core action embedded in solid character work. 
As the cover hints, Guy Gardner's transformation into a Red Lantern is played up, as Peter Tomasi ratchets up some real tension with Guy and Soranik Natu each try in their own ways to revive Kyle after his heroic sacrifice. It's these sequences that hit the hardest, as character really informs action here. 
Additionally, it's to Tomasi's credit that he ties in the mythology of the various Corps to their key emotions -- including the Red Lanterns and the Star Sapphires -- as he pulls off a victory from the jaws of defeat that feels organic and powerful. That said, the action somewhat stalls when we zoom out to the other aliens -- some of which seem little more than cannon fodder -- as the lack of character work makes it hard to care about their losses. 
Pat Gleason, meanwhile, must have a Green Lantern in his studio, because his art seems more recharged and polished than ever. Guy Gardner's Red/Green Lantern hybrid design just rumbles with power, and his movements have a real herky-jerky sense to them -- perfect for a juggernaut of rage. Colorist Randy Major just bleeds with energy, as the various Corps burn bright. 
It's issues like this one that show the potential of a crossover like Blackest Night -- it focuses less on who becomes a Black Lantern, but how our heroes overcome their own fears and losses. It may be ultraviolent, but it's well-earned, as Tomasi and Gleason take Kyle, Guy, and Soranik on a harrowing, gorgeously-rendered journey that you definitely shouldn't miss. 

X-Men Legacy #230

Published by Marvel

Written by Mike Carey

Art by Daniel Acuna with Mirco Pierfederici

Review by Troy Brownfield

Here’s where I make semi-obligatory remark about despising the codename Bling!; can an emotion controlling character named LOL be far behind?

That aside, I have to say that Daniel Acuna does a pretty solid job on the art here.  It would be fine to see him stick around the X-universe for a while.  I will say, however, that his close-ups and mediums come off better than his indistinct crowd scenes; too much detail seems to get lost.

Carey’s story here is all right, but it’s nothing that’s particularly compelling in the face of many of X-stories of late.  Outside of really hardcore GenX fans, I don’t think that anyone was clamoring for a return engagement by Emplate.  I’ve never found him to be too arresting an antagonist, and it really seems like the X-Men took waaaay too long to deal with him.

Another negative is the issue of accessibility here.  The text page is helpful, but anyone that just stepped in here could be hopelessly lost.  There are at least a dozen characters that appear with barely any identification.  I am in no way saying that characters should be shouting each other’s names every two panels.  However, that lack of anything resembling establishing text is particularly noticeable when stacked against this title’s sister book, “Uncanny”, with Fraction’s pithy captions.  It doesn’t help that “Legacy” has shifted in recent months from the quest by Xavier to “the other X-book”.

So, overall, it’s not bad, per se, but it doesn’t do much to distinguish itself either.  Carey and Acuna have both proven that they’re capable of better.


Superman/Batman #67 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow)  Boy, I really, REALLY wanted to like this 2-part "Blackest Night" interlude, especially considering the inspired mix of creator and characters.  Artist Scott Kolins has been keeping plenty busy on "Blackest Night"-related work (BN: The Flash), and I loved the idea of making this title work it's way into the company crossover by using the "opposites" of the book's regular leads.  Making this book more Bizarro/Man-Bat, Kolins has developed a monster mash that goes way beyond the dreaded Black Lanterns.  But while Part 2 of "Night of the Cure" was not lacking in genuine consequence, it was lacking in focus.  Making the main Black Lantern threat none other than Solomon Grundy, a decades-old villain who's most famous for being undead, Kolins (handling the script as well as art) has unspooled some far-out ideas, though many live threads fail to tie together into someting durable.  The art was quite awesome and deathly appropriate for the subject matter, and there were several great individual moments (especially the ones with Frankenstein and the Bride).  Couldn't tell you where the most dramatic aspect of "Night of the Cure" is going to pick up, namely the drama with Man-Bat and his wife's loving efforts to relieve him of the his self-induced cursed.  Where Kirk Langstrom's predicament here concludes was unfulfilling, anything but a good place to leave things when "The End" is a footer to that very last page, symptomatic of how Superman/Batman #67 ended up being less than the sum of its parts.

The Brave and the Bold #30 (DC Comics; Reviewed by Erich Reinstadler) Bringing us back the the days of the JLI, BatB 30 picks up where Justice League International #7 left off. After bringing the League (and the world) to the brink of nothingness, Fate brought The Gray Man to very literally meet his maker. The Gray Man's request to have his immortality ended is granted by the Lords of Order, and Dr. Fate leaves the League, flying away. 22 years later, we pick up Fate's story. Flying off-planet, he meets up with Hal Jordan, who is on his way to Oa. A brief conversation between friends later, and we find the present day Hal in a fight for his life with the robotic guardians of a dead, unnamed planet. Injured and nearing death, Dr. Fate unexpectedly pops out of Hal's ring. It turns out that during their conversation all those years ago, Kent Nelson left a small part of his essence within Hal's ring. In a surprisingly non-action oriented issue, Hal and Kent spend time discussing fear, fate, free will and finality. J. Michael Straczynski and Jesus Saiz deliver a wonderful, well written, well drawn story. Highly recommended, and a strong last-minute contender for best one-and-done issue of the year.

B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #4 (Dark Horse; review by Troy):  This excellent issue, featuring a smart script by John Arcudi and swell art by Peter Snejbjerg puts Kraus through a spiritual wringer.  One supremely interesting point is that if you take it as a single issue, totally out of context with the B.P.R.D. or Hellboy universe, it still completely works.  That’s simply a hallmark of solid craftsmanship, and that’s something that a shocking number of seemingly major books are missing lately.

Ghostbusters: Past, Present and Future (IDW; review by Russ): Everyone’s done their own version of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, but let’s be honest—few are as awesome as the ones that are bizarrely out of context. In Ghostbusters: Past, Present and Future, IDW and writer Rob Williams have put the Phantasm Four against the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. I thought the idea was self-evidently awesome when I first read about the book in solicitations. Unfortunately the book only lives up to about 75% of its potential. Ghostbusters is a great license, the characters are great and with such a strong concept, I’d like to have seen a style that more closely mirrors the needs of the story. While Diego Jourdan’s pencils are strong, they feel like they’d be more at home on something like Ed Brubaker’s “Criminal” or a Vertigo title, than on a humor title. That said, the style is easy and while the script isn’t perfect, it’s a pretty good execution of a great concept.

Trade Relations

Green Arrow and Black Canary: Enemies List TPB

Published By DC Comics

Written By Andrew Kreisberg

Pencils By Mike Norton

Inked by Josef Rubinstein

Colors by David Baron

Letters by Pat Brosseau

Reviewed by Tim Janson

I confess to never being much of a Green Arrow fan.  Frankly he’s always impressed me as a bit of a pain-in-the-ass blowhard.  Thus, my expectations for the “Enemies List” story arc were not very high.  Andrew Kreisberg pleasantly surprised me with this story however, delivering a tale that is a very modern look at the relationships between superheroes.  In fact, the main protagonist of the film takes a backseat to Arrow and Canary trying to figure out where their path together is taking them.

Someone is killing off Green Arrow’s enemies and leaving the bodies behind as trophies, or perhaps even tributes.  Death Dealer, Vengeance, and Brick are already dead and when the sadistic Merlyn escapes prison, Arrow is none too subtle in demanding information from Vertigo, bordering on torturing the villain.  This does not go over well with Canary who is growing more and more concerned with Ollie’s methods which are straddling a fine line for a hero.  

As it turns out, Ollie has his own psychotic secret admirer…Cupid is out to prove her love for him even if she has to kill everyone in her path, including Black Canary.  One of the best scenes in the book is Ollie and Dinah go to see a marriage counselor…in their costumes, which only serves to drive the therapist to exasperation.  Meanwhile, Kreisberg also explores Canary’s origins in flashback sequences where we see how her “Canary Cry” gravely injured a friend when it first manifested.  

The only real knock I have on “Enemies List” is that it is continued beyond the end of the book.  To me, this is a cardinal sin for a Trade paperback collection.  You need wrap the story up on somewhat of a conclusive note, even if there are still plotlines dangling out there.  The art by the team of Mike Norton and Josef Rubinstein was pleasantly ordinary and I mean that in a good way.  So many artists today lose sight of storytelling in favor of style and embellishment.  It was nice to see art that didn’t get in the way of a story.  

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