Best Shots Reviews: JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #4, GREEN LANTERN #8, COSMIC GHOST RIDER #4

The Green Lantern #8
Credit: Toni Infante (DC)
Credit: Valerio Schiti (Marvel Comics)

War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #4
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: 8 out of 10

Plenty of kids probably think their younger siblings are secretly demons, but what do you do when it turns out to be true? In War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #4, poor Baldur discovers he’s had the wool pulled over his eyes by his own parents as that good, good dog Thori reveals little Laussa’s secret origins — thanks to an unfortunate choice of vacation spots by Freyja and Odin, Laussa is kin to Sindr herself, and Sindr is itching to sever those family ties in the most dramatic possible way. Unfortunately for Balder and company, staying on the run from her fire and brimstone has gotten a little expensive.

Low on food and, most importantly, diapers, the crew roll into Vegas to make some quick cash… only for their scam to land them squarely in the middle of a criminal convention. This issue definitely has the most going on in the series to date and suffers somewhat because of this — at various points we wind up following Thori on dog-sitting duty, Aries, the rest of Baldur’s superpowered babysitter’s club, and a pair of henchpeople convention coordinators, and while the moments with (henc names) are fun, it would have been nice to give Thori and Laussa maybe one more page of peace and quiet before all Hel breaks loose.

There’s a lot going on, and while the McElroys juggle the various converging plotlines fairly well, this issue tiptoes a fine line between frenetic and fun and frantic and hasty, and sometimes slips a little too far towards the latter. In spite of this, the McElroys’s Spidey-sense for opportunities to make the most of a cool cameo or a pithy one-liner is still on full display, an eye for detail shared by artist André Lima Araújo — there’s a single small panel of Death Lockett filled with a profound and somewhat astounding amount of disdain given the small space Araújo is working with.

The real fun in Journey Into Mystery #4 is the fight scenes, and across the board the creative team delivers. The panel layouts are kinetic but never tough to follow, and colorist Chris O’Halloran and letterer Clayton Cowles constantly draw the eye with pops of vibrant sfx in the background and dialogue that flows over panel borders, keeping you with the action as Balder’s crew creates chaos amidst of sea of low-level villains who just wanted to chill at the con hotel and hone their devious crafts. Journey Into Mystery #4 aims to evoke the visual pacing of Ocean’s Eleven with the humor of Spy, and manages both with aplomb. The most disappointing thing about this issue is that there’s only one more left; this team has done a stellar job together, and it’ll be a shame if this is the last time they ever collaborate on a book like this for Marvel.

Credit: Liam Sharp/Steve Oliff (DC)

The Green Lantern #8
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Liam Sharpe, Olyoptics and Steve Oliff
Lettering by Tom Orzechowski
Published by DC Comics
Review by Adrian Care
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

How is it that this run on The Green Lantern feels like it’s flying under the comic book radar? It’s a mainstream comic book hero written with equal parts subversion and celebration of the mythology, dissected under the famous Grant Morrison microscope with career-best art by Liam Sharp, and yet it still feels like people aren’t yet clued into the fact that this is one of the books of the year. This issue sees Hal take some “down time” back on Earth, and provides the perfect opportunity to visit the famed Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up — and let me tell you, this thing really ticks off all the boxes as a respectful tip of the hat to the untouchable, classic Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams favorite.

Liam Sharp’s art has every bit as much to do with this fresh and familiar take as anything. The moody art, his layouts, and the way he renders both humans and grotesque, weird, and wonderful beings from throughout the galaxy is so far removed from any other current sci-fi work that you wouldn’t believe this is the same artist who just nailed a polar-opposite fantasy rooted romp in the recent The Brave and The Bold limited series.

With The Green Lantern #8, Sharp scales back his fine line work, letting loose to evoke the spirit of the almighty Neal circa the early ‘70s. Look at his striking, low angle shots on the title page, or the creative use of close-ups as Ollie sarcastically reasons with a drug dealer — not to mention the spectacular way Sharp really plays with the senses once Hal and Ollie start to trip out. While Sharp still maintains enough of his own voice to be recognizable, the looser style and creative play with panels and perspective will have your eyes glued to the page with waves of nostalgia. He really does Adams justice.

Steve Oliff’s coloring does its part to capture the vibe as well, washing the weirdness in perpetual dusk without ever losing any of the eclectic brightness that such a visual feast of strange figures calls for. It must be harder than Oliff makes it look to balance out a title that requires so much green, but the colorist pulls it off beautifully. Making sure that, when the story calls for it, he gives other scenes a more colorful palette. The Ollie’s apartment is decorated with such splashes, as are the segments that open and close the issue on Hadea-Maxima.

Meanwhile, Morrison’s writing is bursting with ideas but surprisingly tight, given that the writer can run wild with larger-scale settings. Bringing his space opera back down to Earth, Morrison works in at least one trivial and obscure character from the past (if not two or three more), and succinctly rounds up the main themes that the comic was all about when it was breaking ground on social awareness and counterculture exploration.

But while Morrison has been making waves with his high concept work, what strikes me the most is his sense of characterization. I can’t remember the last time I read the friendship between Hal and Ollie even paid attention to, let alone captured so precisely. Their catch-up back at Ollie’s place genuinely feels like two friends who have been apart but will never lose track of each other. From the way Hal casually asks to crash on the couch to Ollie’s friendly ribbing of Hal’s love life and normalcy, this is how real friends act — it’s written with such authenticity, even when it dives deep into homage territory.

That said, The Green Lantern #8 can also skew a little too far into weird at times, and the sci-fi leanings could be broken up with a little more humanity to balance things out. (Especially once you start delving into the world of distended interstellar doppelgangers and mind-melting space drugs.) That means that even for a fairly character-driven issue, this is still not the easiest or most accessible issue for new readers, who might find themselves grasping for answers as much as Hal and Ollie. That said, this is also a case where the journey might be more satisfying than the action destination — save for one minor exception, the villains of this issue are somewhat generic and unmemorable, making the real driving force behind this piece being just the dynamic between Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The Green Lantern is a title that goes to great lengths in creating something different out of the familiar. In true modern Morrison fashion, the writer has left no stone unturned as he strips the concept of Hal back to the bare basics. Using this focal point, he travels through every note of the character’s rich history, mixes it up and shows us — just as he did with his epic Batman run — that there are no ideas that are too weird or embarrassing that can’t be revisited and reinterpreted for a brand-new generation.

Credit: Gerardo Zaffino (Marvel Comics)

Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #4
Written by Paul Scheer and Nick Giovanetti
Art by Todd Nauck and Antonio Fabela
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Adrian Care
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History takes a long and convoluted road to present a plot that ultimately makes little sense or have any real consequences on the Marvel Universe as a whole - and given its emphasis on humor, doesn’t exactly fire on all cylinders.

If you haven’t followed the previous four issues of the series, the gist remains as flimsy as ever, with Cosmic Ghost Rider bouncing around Marvel’s wild and wooly timeline trying to prevent the death of the Castle family. This issue sees Frank collide with a version of his younger self, recalling his adventures in an alternate WWII-era Marvel universe, where he fought (allegedly) alongside Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos to rescue Captain America and Bucky and stick it to the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, and hordes of Nazis.

Paul Scheer is undoubtedly a funny guy. In other mediums, his brand of comedy and his timing hit the mark. On properties like Deadpool and Aliens vs. Parker, his voice finds a suitable niche from which it works well. But given Cosmic Ghost Rider’s metal-as-hell introduction in the pages of Thanos, this concept doesn’t lend itself well to comedic writing, no matter how much ludicrousness you want to build into this world.

The result is Scheer and writing partner Nick Giovanetti’s humor struggles to land for the majority of its attempts — and that’s before you start adding in the already fraught setting of World War II. While playing a Ghost Rider masquerading as Red Skrull as hijinks is somewhat clever, playing Zemo and the rest of the issue's villains as bumbling dolts negates any tension — let alone an eye roll-inducing scene where Frank winds up running into Hitler himself. Meanwhile, another scene featuring the Howling Commandos capturing a Nazi soldier is lifted, note for note, from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds — while I can appreciate a good Tarantino homage as much as the next person, it only works as an additive. As it stands right now, the whole scene reads more like filler on an issue that already felt too scant.

Artist Todd Nauck, meanwhile, is no slouch by any stretch, but he’s done a disservice by having his art washed over in “classic comic-book print” filter. It really hampers the visuals. I think of Nauck as being cut from the same cloth as artists like Tom Grummett. Familiar. Reliable. Energetic. He’s better suited to some characters more than others. Nauck’s cartoony style was perfectly suited to books like Young Justice and Nightcrawler. For a darker character like Cosmic Ghost Rider this style of art seems misplaced. A scene where Cosmic Ghost Rider enflames a Nazi’s head doesn’t carry the visceral impact or horrible shock that it should. Nor does it provoke laughter, if comedy was its intent. The art style seems to be working against the story, another signal that the comedy vibe hasn’t been executed as well as intended.

More a collection of questionable WWII skits than an issue with a solid narrative or arc, Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History #4 jumps around without contributing anything solid to the overall arc or the title character’s mission. It ticks the box of spending time in a key period of Marvel lore, but it neither explores any key moments in the character’s history, or even make us laugh along the way.

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