Best Shots Reviews: HOUSE OF X #1, FLASH FORWARD #1

DC Comics September 2019 solicitations
Credit: DC
Credit: Marvel Comics

House of X #5
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

It isn’t often I read a comic that knocks me thoroughly on my ass, but then again, there aren’t many comics out there like Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz’s House of X #5. Following up on their harrowing previous issue, you’d think all would be lost for Xavier’s students after their do-or-die mission to destroy the Mother Mold orbiting the sun - but you’d be wrong. With this issue, Hickman already ups the considerable ante and changes the game once more for Marvel’s Children of the Atom, setting up a world of possibilities down the road.

Last we saw of the X-Men, things were looking more dire than ever - Nightcrawler and Wolverine immolated in the heart of the sun, Marvel Girl crushed to death by a Sentinel onslaught, and Cyclops shot in the head by the leader of Ochris. But when Charles Xavier says “no more”... well, he clearly means it. Death and resurrection have become commonplace staples in superhero comics, but the level of forethought and deliberateness Hickman brings to this dramatic reversal is nothing short of spectacular - you’d think that with their extraordinary abilities and their operations on Krakoa would have been enough of a giveaway, but is it any surprise that Marvel’s champions of evolution would have wield the power of life itself?

It’s a tricky needle to thread, but the way that Hickman daisy-chains together some of the most D-list X-Men’s abilities to make this impossible trick happen is deeply impressive. (If you thought Moira MacTaggert’s recent glow-up was unlikely, wait till you learn the secret of Goldball’s mutant power.) Hickman even anticipates much of the backlash - is this a clone?! - with a particular masterstroke, showing that armed with foreknowledge, Charles Xavier has evolved in a new way as well, becoming the ultimate custodian of mutant survival in action as well as in spirit. For a series that’s been ultimately so bleak - about trying to outrun destiny and extinction - there’s something undeniably joyous about House of X #5, about Xavier and Magneto pulling victory from the jaws of defeat.

That same sense of joy permeates Pepe Larraz’s artwork, as well - especially upon revisiting the “pod people” page from the first issue of House of X, there’s a sense of relief that still clashes with the otherworldliness and alienness of it all. With the X-Men being reborn - with the core group largely standing naked in front of their Krakoan brothers and sisters - it’d be easy for this issue to feel goofy as hell, but Larraz plays it straight, and it’s hard not to empathize with the downright religious zeal mutantkind is displaying for this grand resurrection scheme. Marte Gracia, meanwhile, is killing it with the colors - there’s so much mood and atmosphere to this herculean task at hand, but the ending scenes in the Krakoan underground feel so dangerous with its ominous greens and blues evoking Hickman’s dystopian Year 100 future.

In a series punctuated by game-changers, House of X #5 stands nicely amongst the upper echelons of this already ambitious series. Just when you think Hickman and company have dug into their mind-bending concepts as far as they can go, they one-up themselves with a new twist that makes the X-Men’s trajectory feel limitless. And in many ways, this resurrection isn’t just the characters on the page, but the entire franchise as a whole. It might have been a dream for X-fans over the past decade or so, but as Hickman wrote in his first issue - it’s not a dream if it’s real.

Credit: DC

Flash Forward #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, and Luis Guerrero
Letters by Troy Peteri
Published by DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Redemption arcs get multiversal in the debut Flash Forward #1. Very much aimed at getting Wally West back into action after his downfall in Heroes in Crisis, writer Scott Lobdell is certainly trying here. Divided between Wally’s new normal as an inmate at Blackgate Prison and as the new avatar of Tempus Fuginaut, Flash Forward posits a story in which this former Flash is forced to be a hero again, despite his sullen insistence against it. Unfortunately, though the hook is soundly strange, Lobdell can’t really reconcile the two tones in this debut, opting instead to focus more on the wounded, down-and-out Wally and his bloody misdeeds (complete with a fair amount of visual cues), and less on the fun, world-hopping hook.

That macabre focus also extends to the artwork in this debut too. Rendered in highly detailed and splashy ‘90s-inspired pages by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, and Luis Guerrero, the pages really come alive when something “big” is happening, such as the Tempus Fuginaut’s introduction as well as Wally facing down Tarpit and Girder in a brutal prison fight. But once Wally is alone with his thoughts and numerous (ahem) flashbacks to the events in Heroes in Crisis, that sketchiness and rawly inked anatomy works against the debut, making it looked rushed and tonally jarring. While I am all for getting Wally West back into play, I wish his re-debut could have been a little tighter than Flash Forward #1 ended up being.

For those of you that skipped Heroes in Crisis, you’ll be caught up to speed whether you like it or not, as Wally West is more than willing to talk about it throughout the opening moments of Flash Forward. After a delightfully weird and over-too-soon cold open that establishes the stakes of this limited series, we are thrown into the thick of West’s self-loathing thanks to Lobdell. Adjusting to life in Blackgate Prison, Wally is a man defeated. We know that thanks to Lobdell’s near constant self-effacing narration, containing lines like: “Dreams? I don’t deserve them.”

Lobdell then doubles down on this gloominess, edging his navigation through Blackgate with flashbacks to Sanctuary, facing Wally with icons from his past (like ex-wife Linda Park), and powerful visual cues like Wally laying on his bunk with a potter’s field of dead heroes visualized under him. It’s a bit on the nose, but even more disappointingly, it bogs down the real fun of Wally’s incoming partnership with Tempus Fuginaut. While I understand we need to understand just how low Wally has sank in the time since Heroes in Crisis, I’m not sure we needed to know it just to this extent.

Furthermore, cutting from a prison fight to “interludes” about the Mobius Chair and multiversal breakdown leads to some real tonal whiplash that I am not sure Flash Forward can sustain for five more issues. It’s as if Lobdell wants to have his cake and eat it, too — he wants to tell a gritty story about a fallen hero rising again to good, but he also wants to tell this crazy story about the Dark Multiverse and how Wally can protect us from it. Too bad he can’t mesh both into one in Flash Forward #1.

But thankfully the artwork of Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, and Luis Guerrero bring a little bit of spark to Flash Forward #1. Though themselves bogged down by the callbacks to Heroes in Crisis, that aforementioned bunk scene is preceded by a “bro-ish” flashback to Roy Harper and Wally in the Sanctuary kitchens, Booth and team handle the jump between the mundane and cosmic much better than the script. Starting with the immensely detailed and Kirby Krackle infused introduction to the Fuginaut, Booth and company plant down a flag for “bigness” pretty early.

Unfortunately, they have to downshift a bit going into the Blackgate scenes. These have a real tension to them, even though Booth’s take on Wally looks more like Cletus Kasaday than the ginger-headed speedster, thanks to the way Booth portrays Wally as almost spindly compared to bigger, more outwardly aggressive foils like Double-Down, Grider, and Tarpit. That said, these latter two feature prominently in a real belter of an action scene in which their inhibitor collars are knocked away and the full, massive extent of their powers are unleashed on the still wafer-thin Wally - while I would have loved to have seen a bit more time in space from the artists, scenes like this show that Flash Forward might look sharp for the long haul.

That said, Flash Forward #1 is a comic book at war with itself. On the one hand, it aims to be a heart-wrenching tale of a man coming back from horrors. On the other, it’s a high-stakes romp through the 52 worlds in order to save it from destruction. But at least it looks fun, right? Here is hoping that the more Flash Forward moves forward that it will find itself along with Wally West’s soul.

Editor's note: a previous version of this article incorrectly identified the artist of House of X #5.

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