Best Shots Reviews: BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS #1, THE FLASH #70, WAR OF THE REALMS: JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #2

DC May 2019 solicitations
Credit: DC
Credit: DC

Batman and the Outsiders #1
Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Art by Dexter Soy and Veronica Gandini
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Spinning off his arc in Detective Comics, writer Bryan Edward Hill leads the next generation of Bat-soldiers in Batman and the Outsiders, teaming up with artist Dexter Soy in this interpersonal drama starring Black Lightning. While this series has been circling its release date for some time now, there’s definitely enough heft to this debut that you could safely say it’s worth the wait — while Hill steadily gets a handle on this team of very different personalities, Soy is also warming up, providing an imperfect but altogether engaging series.

Hill quickly zeroes in on what the central charm of an enduring character like Batman represents — while many writers might be concerned about forging new territory after 80-plus years of history, Hill smartly realizes that there’s decades of untold history behind the Dark Knight, essentially allowing a small retcon to provide the launchpad for the Outsiders’ newest adventure. There’s a metahuman who finds herself hunted years after Batman rescued her — which could be a perfect test for Batman’s newest strike force.

If this sounds a bit familiar to James Tynion IV’s run on Detective Comics, you would be right, and that’s to Batman and the Outsiders’ benefit. In particular, the way that Hill has the team’s de facto leaders — Black Lightning and Katana — are some of the highlights of the book. Katana, having a possessed blade with the soul of her husband, is well-versed in mysticism, even calling Black Lightning “raijin”; Black Lightning, however, is a man of science and doubt, already questioning his role and the entire Outsiders enterprise. Batman, meanwhile, looms over the entire book with a sense of mystery that adds weight to the story but never at the cost of overcrowding it.

But as strong as Hill’s writing is, he and his artistic team are still finding that common ground. Dexter Soy has grown incredibly as an artist over his big debut in Captain Marvel all those years ago, but I still get the sense that we haven’t really found this artist’s perfected style yet. Think of if Leinil Yu and Humberto Ramos had a hyperrendered baby, and you’d get a sense of Soy’s artwork — it’s very dynamic, but you can sense that he’s more comfortable with traditional superhero posing than the moments of quietly focused drama that Hill trafficks in. To be fair, I also think Soy’s colorist, Veronica Gandini, is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole in terms of forcing Soy’s style through a traditional superhero color palette. But I don’t think this book really fits that paradigm — this book is really at its best when it straddles the two lines, such as a wonderfully dynamic scene of Katana challenging Black Lightning to a sword fight.

And to be fair, there’s still room to grow for this book’s narrative, as well. Because Hill has to also flesh out the new threat for this issue — a concept that brings a little bit of a Terminator ethos to the DC universe — he doesn’t quite have time to really build up characters like the Signal or Orphan on their own merits, instead using his previous arc to inform their characterization. The result is that these characters don’t quite feel as eye-catching as the main headliners, although that focus will likely shift in later issues.

There’s a lot of potential to a book like Batman and the Outsiders, and just based on the propulsiveness of this debut, I have confidence that this creative team can pull it off. Bryan Edward Hill feels like exactly the kind of writer I’d want to have follow up James Tynion on this type of character-driven Bat-book, and to be honest, I feel like Dexter Soy is one innovation away from becoming the next big superstar artist at DC. The characters and concept are all there, and the only limitation, in my mind, is just the constraints of a 24-page count. I have the feeling with further installments of Batman and the Outsiders, lightning is going to strike more than twice.

Credit: DC

The Flash #70
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Barry Allen gets an affecting and cinematic “Year One” in The Flash #70. Though Joshua Williamson has been turning in engaging Flash stories for a while now, he now turns his eye toward the genesis of Barry Allen, starting all the way back to his childhood and the lighting strike that connected him to the Speed Force. Coupled with some surprisingly experimental layouts from Howard Porter and the rich colors of Hi-Fi, The Flash #70 cuts to the core of Barry Allen’s heroism as well as showcasing his scientist's mind. Fans of classic Flash stories and newbies alike will find a lot to love here, as Williamson and Porter find a steady emotional pace and keeps it up throughout.

“He Will Be The Fastest Man Alive…” portends the opening page, broken in a gorgeous sixteen-panel grid by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi. But it’s not just an image as much as it feels like a mission statement: while we see an image a costumed Barry dominated in the cloud formations, the further down you read the image, the more it cools into a calming blue sunset cresting over Barry’s childhood neighborhood. It is a truly striking image to start out on, and Porter makes wonderful use of these panel grids as both storytelling technique and artistic flourish. It is a far cry from the solid, but conventional looking superhero artwork The Flash has enjoyed over the last year, but one that fits in very well with Williamsons’ recontextualized origin of Barry.

And while many readers (and fans of a certain CW show) are pretty familiar with the Flash’s origins, Williamson takes a more novel, more analytical approach to it. Opening with a heart-warming scene with Barry’s soon-to-be-taken mother, Williamson then uses that energy as a lightning rod for our young hero’s innate heroism, and then channels it into Barry’s semi-stunted adult life as a CSI. Which, as we know, is what leads him to being in his laboratory during that fateful storm.

But when lightning does strike — taking any hope of Barry having a normal life with it — instead of just delivering a rote retelling of Barry learning to harness his speed, Williamson, Porter, and Hi-Fi present a grounded, razor sharp re-adaptation. “My body is the crime scene,” Barry solemnly intones in Dave Sharpe’s sketchy narration. Opening with Hi-Fi’s eye-searing yellow and red grid representing Barry’s post-strike coma, the team settles into a fun and engaging display of Barry getting to the bottom of his new powers using trial, error, and the good ol’ Scientific Method to test his capabilities. Which might be the most Barry Allen thing ever, right? It is all punctuated with Porter and Hi-Fi’s fantastic layouts, comedic sensibilities (there is a running visual gag about Barry’s burnt out shoes that consistently kills), and vibrant colors.

I have some reservations about the way this opening issue of “Flash: Year One” ends — mainly because I am a little over time travel being a central story element to The Flash. But all told, I am very impressed with The Flash #70, both as a “new origin” and as an example of Joshua Williamson’s innate understanding of Barry as a character. He’s given us Barry as a superhero and Barry as a detective, but now Williamson gets to give us his version of Barry before he became the hero that we all know and love. We will see how that all pans out after being faced with a “shelled” future, but for now “Year One” starts off on the right foot.

Credit: Marvel Comics

War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #2
Written by Clint, Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy
Art by André Lima Araújo and Chris O’Halloran
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The McElroy Family’s fast and furious take on an adventure in babysitting returns with more fury, more fire, and some somewhat questionable childcare skills in War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #2, as the Babysitter’s Club stays on the run to protect little sister Laussa. The crew is safe for now, but with the Frost Giants marauding across North America, their options are limited — limited enough that even a suspiciously crowded RV camping ground seems like a safe bet. Is Bide-a-Wee the serene hideaway it purports to be, or will the party uncover a shocking secret before they even get a chance to make s’mores?

Whether or not you’re following the War of the Realms main series or the other storylines, War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery remains a fantastic read. The McElroy family, steered by experienced comics writer and family patriarch Clint McElroy, deliver another solid issue that deftly blends their particular brand of humor with a fast-paced, tightly scripted action-comedy. It has the playful winks and nods of an extended Adventure Zone goof with the vibe of a classic ‘80s action film — there’s something about Journey Into Mystery that rightfully feels extremely reminiscent of Thor: Ragnarok, given the series’ roots, and Clint McElroy has an excellent sense of when to dial back the humor to dip back into the high-stakes action of the greater War of the Realms.

Artist Andre Lima Araujo and colorist Chris O’Halloran continue to do stellar work here as well. The McElroys deliver a great script, but Araujo and O’Halloran knock it out of the park — Araujo’s faces are powerfully expressive, keeping the humor light and playful with an engaging underpinning of warmth and charm. There’s a sequence between Kate and Miles that’s particularly delightful, and a sense of urgency in an exchange between Ares and Sindr early in the book — where O’Halloran’s skill with color is well-highlighted — that helps ground the rest of the issue even in the more humorous moments. Journey Into Mystery may be a more comedic interlude compared to the main War of the Realms storyline, but it’s still firmly tied to the events currently ravaging the rest of the Marvel universe, and Araujo and O’Halloran’s work goes a long way towards keeping a light-hearted script firmly grounded when the narrative calls for it.

There are a few general spoilers for the War of the Realms storyline, but if you’re not particularly concerned with keeping up with all of its tie-in issues, War of the Realms #2: Journey Into Mystery is still worth picking up. The McElroys do an excellent job of creating a delightful and self-contained team-up story here that doesn’t require a particularly in-depth knowledge of War of the Realms to be able to follow. Kate, Miles, and Rebecca (Death Locket) are delightful, and with the introductions out of the way this issue does a much better job of juggling the large ensemble cast (again with a major assist in the expressiveness and characterization Araujo delivers in his art). Whether you’re a diehard MBMBAMbino who wants to dive into comics for the first time or a Marvel fan waffling on whether you need another comic in your life, War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery is well worth your time.

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