Best Shots Comic Reviews: AVENGERS ACADEMY, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming back to you after the craziness of New York Comic Con! Best Shots has been hard at work all weekend on some of the latest releases from last week! Want to read more? We've got your back, with tons of reviews at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's take a look at the latest issue of Avengers Academy!

Avengers Academy #5

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Jorge Molina, Andrew Hennessy and Jeromy Cox

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

After taking a field trip with the Thunderbolts that I think did more harm than good for this book's momentum, Christos Gage gives his charges some extra credit with the latest issue of Avengers Academy, which takes a darker look at the nature of celebrity and heroism. While I don't know if this book is quite hitting its fullest potential, this is definitely one of the strongest issues of the series' nascent run.

I think what I particularly enjoyed about this book was the fact that Gage really packs in a lot of different angles off the story of Striker, an electricity-wielding young upstart who wants the fame that comes with being an Avenger. When he wants to, Gage can really pour on the characterization, and seeing how Striker's attention-craving upbringing has influenced him is both tragic and ultimately compelling — honestly, he's right up there with Finesse for being the character to watch for this series. But Gage also does a great job looking at Hank Pym, who brings the kids into a conflict that makes a lot of sense, given recent events in the Marvel Universe.

As far as the art goes, Jorge Molina is a little bit of a mixed bag for me — on the one hand, he's definitely got a similar style to that of Mike McKone, with maybe a little bit of the harder lines of someone like Carlos Pacheco. There are a few moments here that I don't feel like the intensity is cranked up — for example, there's a sequence where Steve Rogers catches an escrima stick and tosses it back at someone, but the motion lines feel just a bit too short, cutting down the speed and power behind the throw. Yet for every moment that doesn't thrill you, there are other moments — particularly with a fight against Whirlwind — that show Molina's got some serious skills, particularly with his composition. The other thing that occasionally looks "off" is Molina's faces — sometimes they're just a little too chiseled or misshapen to look like "kids," which is a shame since, y'know, this is a kid's book.

But as far as character pieces go, Avengers Academy #5 has some really strong moments, not just for Striker, but with the widening cast of characters. Last month's issue of Mettle might have been a little bit of a flop having to compete with the Norman Osborn throughline, Gage lets the team breathe a bit, weaving their adventures through Striker's past. A character we can relate to, combined with a fitting motivation for a villain's attack? It's not earth-shattering — which is a little bit of a shame, considering the potential this book has — but I will say this: Avengers Academy is rock-solid.

Brightest Day #11

Written by Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Ivan Reis, Scott Clark, Patrick Gleason, Joe Prado, David Beaty, Oclair Albert, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, and Peter Steigerwald

Lettering by Rob Clark, Jr.

Published by DC Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

Click here for preview

“How hardcore is that?”

It is not very hardcore at all. I had dropped Brightest Day from my pull list back at issue #3 out of sheer boredom, and seven issues later, it is still boring. I do not think it is possible for me to care any less about Aquaman or Firestorm, who happen to take up all but two pages of Brightest Day #11. I know some people who really enjoy this story, but it just does not do it for me.

After last week’s Aqualad reveal, this issue had to wrap up the brawl between Aquaman and Black Manta. There is one brilliant splash page, and from there the fight sequences are kind of confusing. They’re well drawn, but not particularly dynamic. The fight is essentially halted when Aquaman and Aqualad hitch a ride with a trucker.

Meanwhile, Deathstorm is wreaking snarky havoc on Ronnie, Jason, and the good professor. I don’t hate Deathstorm’s parade of one-liners. That level of antagonism does make me root for Firestorm just a little bit, but Ronne and Jason just cannot get a break. Deathstorm happens upon the White Lantern power battery, and now we’ve got the 12 Black Lanterns of the resurrected back in the flesh via an epic splash page. I suspect that this image and plot development were supposed to be ominous and exciting. They were neither.

Where Brightest Day fails in story, it certainly succeeds in art. The smoky, gray-blue ambiance that is the matrix effect of Deathstorm is wicked cool. The resurrection artwork of the Black Lanterns is an exquisite answer to the beautiful “RISE” poster that appeared in Blackest Night #8. It doesn’t fold out, and it’s got creepy Black Lanterns, but it is a great image nonetheless. That level of detail is all over the Firestorm arc, and I found it to be quite impressive.

But with so many pencillers, there are some inconsistent moments throughout the book. The Aquaman panels were not as intricately illustrated as the Firestorm scenes. But all in all, the pages of Brightest Day are filled with high caliber artwork from guys with a similar style. The inconsistencies are not nearly as jarring as, say, what’s going on over at Birds of Prey.

The pacing of the Brightest Day story is beyond frustrating, and I’ve grown weary of Black Lanterns. For the Aquaman and Firestorm fans, I’m sure this book is a must-have, as it deeply affects the continuity of those characters. I just don’t care. I’ll be honest: I’m not sure if the book is the problem, or if it’s just me. The underwhelming biweekly saga continues.

CHAOS WAR: From The Field #1
CHAOS WAR: From The Field #1
Chaos War #1

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Khoi Pham, Tom Palmer and Sunny Gho

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Vanessa Gabriel

Click here for preview

Here we go, folks: Chaos War is yet another event. Even if it is being touted as just a mini-event, it is still a damned event. Because of my severe event fatigue, this book is so not my style. For those who enjoy every character-packed, apocalyptic throwback to the ’80s, than perhaps it is your style.

I tried to read this book with an open mind, but on the third page, in huge, red type it says, "The End is Nigh." Seriously? I realize that the phrase is commonly used, but as far as comic book apocalypses go, that has only ever worked in Watchmen. In this instance, it comes off as cliché and desperate to elicit an aura of grandiosity. I still trekked through the rest of the issue.

Hercules is back from the “dead” and is now a “supergod,” thanks to his bestie Amadeus Cho. I do like Amadeus. That aside, because of the latest big bad who can wipe out all of existence, Hercules rallies all the big-name Marvel heroes to fight back. Since Hercules has exponentially enhanced powers, he shares a little with all of them. Now everyone can fly, because flight can thwart a god-killer? Seems more like Marvel putting all its characters in one book to remind you of what “universe” they belong to. Whatever; I digress.

I am not fully acquainted with most of the characters, but there is quite a bit of absurd dialogue. Even with the little I do know the nonchalant banter of many of the characters did not jibe with the impending apocalypse. It seemed petty and out of place. The bringer of doom, Chaos King, is laughable. Perhaps no more laughable than DC’s Mr. Mind, but I’m not scared. I didn’t get the feeling of gloom and doom from him, with the exception of his long, black fingers. He does awful things with them, and they are thoroughly creepy.

As for the art, that also did not work for your girl. Pham has a distinctive style that I think would be better put to use on a book with less action and far fewer characters. There are some impressive up-close panels, but way too many blurry scenes, particularly when you’ve got 20 characters in a panel. Everyone’s art is different, and some are better at fine detail than others. A book like this needs a David Finch or Ethan Van Sciver level of detail.

If Hercules and Cho are your boys, you might enjoy this story. I do not think it is worth the $3.99 price tag.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #4

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Dustin Weaver and Christina Strain

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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There's a lot to like about in S.H.I.E.L.D. #4, especially considering that, structurally, this is supposed to read as a "breather" issue. Well, looking at the art, this "breather" is more like "take-your-breath-away," as this intricately-plotted overachiever manages to both seed future conflict and transcend "setup-itis" with a heaping of beautiful sci-fi spectacle.

And to be honest, the secret weapon to this book? Colorist Christina Strain. Every page on this book crackles with energy, as the cool blues of the S.H.I.E.L.D. enclave are broken by the warm orange of Leonardo Da Vinci. The contrast is striking, and really gives the artwork of Dustin Weaver the weight it needs. Speaking of Weaver, I am absolutely digging his design and composition chops — maybe it's because he's working with Hickman, whose design skills are already well-known, but whether it's a snake-like 10-panel spread or a Celestial towering over Imperial China, there's a real sense of scale and stakes to this book. And seeing a page of Da Vinci's latest charge — it's both alien and adorable, both terrifying and completely endearing. Sequences like this are a product of a writer and his creative team working in sync, and it's beautiful to behold.

But let's not forget about Jonathan Hickman. He's the man with the plan, and he doesn't let you forget it — little touches like Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton sizing each other up by speaking in hieroglyphics (or Newton responding with the symbol of an atom), or continuing to set up the subplot of a pregnant Celestial touching down in China, he packs a lot into these 22 pages. Something he should really get a lot of credit for is the fact that he balances the spectacle without outright alienating the reader — there's continuity, and then there's continuity, and Hickman incorporates these little Easter Eggs without becoming a slave to them.

Perhaps that's the key to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s success — it reminds us how "big" elements of the Marvel Universe can be, without necessarily falling into the traps that "event" books fall into. Is it high-concept? Yes. Is it smart? Hell yes. Is it gorgeous? Do you even need to ask? S.H.I.E.L.D. is the full package, and it continues to not just be a good book, but to remind us how good every book should be.

Batman: Hidden Treasures

Written by Ron Marz and Len Wein

Art by Bernie Wrightson, Kevin Nowlan and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Ken Lopez

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

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How's this for an experiment — in the age of decompression, how would audiences respond to a $4.99 comic book with a main story composed entirely of splash pages? Most times, I'd probably laugh you out of the room — but most books don't have Bernie Wrightson and Kevin Nowlan on art. Batman: Hidden Treasures is an experiment that ultimately succeeds due to its own stylishness, with the giant panels offering a world of detail and skill.

I mean, what is there to say about Wrightson? He drenches Gotham in deep shadow, lit with eerie glows from Alex Sinclair. It's a very different approach from the "typical" comic — this is less sequential art and more of a picture book, with the blow-by-blow effect being minimized in exchange for watching Batman and Grundy react to one another. Sometimes the effect is a little jarring — particularly when Solomon Grundy gets the jump on Batman — but the more characters are in each page, the better Wrightson gets.

Now, something else that particularly interests me about this book is Ron Marz's contributions. This has to be no mean feat for a writer, to trust his artist so much that he literally has 22 beats (21 if you include the double-page splash) to tell his tale. The fact that he can take Batman and Solomon Grundy and make both of them into heroes is a show of storytelling elegance — and he even takes the dusty trope of the unseen narrator and gives it some polish, with more "voice" to the proceedings than you'd expect from a Batman book, where the voice of Bruce Wayne usually rings more utilitarian than personable.

Of course, there are plenty of people who might cry foul at the $4.99 price tag, and those people get some added value — a Swamp Thing story guest-starring the Dark Knight written by Len Wein. I wouldn't say that the 1973 story necessarily ages the best — particularly with Alex Sinclair recoloring Wrightson's art, which feels a little garish with the bright reds, oranges, purples and greens clashing. But even if it's a little rougher on the details, you can see Wrightson's talent for packing in a lot of details into a small amount of space. In today's era of four- and five-panel-maximum pages, seeing an 11-panel page is like looking at a time capsule. And I'll admit this — Len Wein's Batman is one mean son-of-a-gun, and you almost feel glad when Swamp Thing beats some shades of gray into the black-and-white mindset of the Caped Crusader.

There's a lot to like about Batman: Hidden Treasure, not the least of which that we're finally seeing this years-in-the-making story finally seeing the light of day. It's a project that I don't think many creators could get away with — even with decreasing prices on the books, comics aren't cheap, and the economy is no place to be dropping tons of cash at the drop of a hat. But sometimes art is worth the splurge — and Bernie Wrightson is worth the price of admission. If you want to see a master at work, give this not-so-hidden gem a look.

Deadpool Max #1

Written by David Lapham

Art by Kyle Baker

Lettering by Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Matt Seneca

A few pages into this comic there's a panel that tells you in no uncertain terms about the higher level Kyle Baker and David Lapham are operating on. In it, a paramilitary-outfitted Deadpool and a few other supersoldier types pose for a camera in a cave, holding bulky automatic weapons. Kneeling in front of them, hands behind his head in the universal gesture of submission, is a deftly phototraced Osama bin Laden. The panel is not presented as an event that occurs during the course of the narrative — this is just backstory, something that went down a while ago.  

We may as well turn and face the fact that every big Marvel story over the past decade — Planet X, House of M, Civil War, Dark Reign, Siege, hell, even World War Hulk — has been about September 11th and the subsequent war on terror at some level or another. The most explicit the superheroes ever got was that questionable issue of Amazing Spider-Man where a bunch of mass murderers get upset and start crying cause some people got mass murdered, or maybe that Captain America arc where Al Qaeda decides scaring a bunch of nice folks in a tiny suburban town is the next logical step in the holy war. But Marvel, always the big company that stays a little more jacked into the temper of the times, has addressed it far more explicitly in ancillary books like the desperately pacifist 411 anthology and the gung-ho patriotic Combat Zone graphic novel. Deadpool Max falls somewhere in between those two types of comics: it's got superheroes, and it's loud and crass and just about unbearably farfetched, but it's real enough for the characters to swear like dockers and rape each other and do a good deal more than just allude cleverly to a foreign policy decision that makes even the above-mentioned World War Hulk look like good thinking.

So Deadpool (for those, like me, who didn't know before reading this comic is a mentally ill Special Forces agent) has caught bin Laden. On these pages he goes on to do some wigged-out contortionist karate that puts all the sugar-high kinesis in Kyle Baker's artwork on full blast, survive a North Korean nuclear explosion, kill what certainly feels like a billion people, pull a pastry chef in a French maid's outfit down to a maintenance room for a lil R and R, and generally make Wolverine look like small potatoes. Yes, this is one of those kinda comics for those kinda readers, and if all that sounds cool to you then you will absolutely love Deadpool Max. But there's more going on here too, and it's the stuff that I imagine will get a lot of people reading this book who wouldn't normally go near anything with the word Deadpool on the cover.  

It starts with the big Max mature-readers label, something that usually grates up against the books it bedecks as opposed to freeing them entirely. Most Max comics are queasy propositions, the creators' navigating their corporate masters' newfound permissiveness while still fully aware of the fact that They Are Making A Marvel Comic, the final product usually ending up as something a little transgressive and a little tame and a lot self-conscious. But Baker and Lapham, both men who've done some downright nasty comics that pay no heed to taste or convention, roar out of the gate with both ends burning, taking the Max swears-and-nudity purview as seriously as anyone ever has, turning it not to haunting grit or icky exploitation but an escalating series of utterly filthy laughs. If you want to see the closest-up close-up of a penis you've ever seen in a comic, this is the place. Same thing if you ever wanted to know just how expressionistically Kyle Baker can ink a piece of shit. This book pops eyes in a whole nother way, making you double-take at the fact that they just did THAT with Marvel's big new star character as often as you do at the gorgeously choreographed fight scenes or Baker's note perfect Joe Kubert via Tex Avery cartooning.

But the transgression, as fun as it is on its own, isn't really what powers this comic. It's the feeling that this is how they should all be. This is still a Marvel book, you can tell by the stiff computer letters and the multiple editors credited at the beginning, but it comes just about as close to total freedom as the mainstream ever gets. If somebody needs to say, um, "the eff word" they just say it. If the script calls for a totally disgusting head explosion-with-a-side-of-flying eyeballs, it gets drawn. Every panel of Deadpool Max is pushed to the most extreme place it could possibly go, with absolutely no apologies made to the reader, and — maybe even more important — no acknowledgement made of the fact that something like brutal sodomy usually gets apologized for in superhero comics. This book is too tacky, too raunchy, too broad to be called art, but it flaunts social boundaries and runs screaming through the streets in the same sexy way.  

From Lapham's continued side-job as the best writer of mentally ill characters the comics medium has ever seen to Baker's defiant, near-Paper Rad, post-DK2 punk rock computer shapes 'n' colors, this book is superheroes in 2010 writ large, all the uncalled-for moments and neuroses and ugliness let out in one giant, blazing fart that sounds like endless symphonies. There's another moment in this comic, the one where Deadpool finally gets the bad guy after pages of skulking around in elevator shafts, and it's the most joyous thing I've seen under a Marvel label since the highwater days of Bill Jemas: Baker's gridded panels open up as the hero vaults out of an elevator, vertically trisecting a two-page spread into a massive Pieta of ninja flip-flops, eviscerated hearts, decapitation. If it weren't so beautiful it'd be dsigusting. If it weren't so disgusting it'd be beautiful.

But back to bin Laden. In that Spider-Man comic I mentioned earlier, and especially the Captain America terrorism story that followed, it seemed inevitable that someday soon we'd see the Marvel characters jackbooting a captured and humiliated terrorist ringleader into Times Square for the public trial. That's what we wanted our heroes to do, that's what we needed from them if we were being honest. A few years later, even if we accepted it wasn't going to happen at Marvel, where by all rights it should have, we were expecting books like Frank Miller's Batman Holy Terror and Chuck Dixon's American Power, where the superheroes would finally take the fight to the real-world threats we were so scared of, so ready to kill in real life. But those comics never came out, and Iraq became a dismal failure, and George W. Bush turned from a national idol into a painful disgrace, and as we lost sight of ourselves and what we still needed from the superheroes the mainstream turned inward once again, culminating in a direct market where last week the publishers finally had to admit they were charging us too much for the product they were selling.  

But it's all over now. That ugly moment in that ugly Middle Eastern cave, the one thing that had to happen for post-2001 superhero comics to move forward, finally made its way into a Marvel book, where it always belonged. According to Baker and Lapham, it happened a while ago. And everything after that, every panel in the book and every book that comes out next week, next month, next year — is the future. What we do with it is up to us, but in its weird way Deadpool Max is a hell of a start.

Freedom Fighters #2

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti

Art by Travis Moore, Trevor Scott and Rob Schwager and Dave Johnson

Lettering by Travis Lanham

Published by DC Comics

Review by Erika D. Peterman

Click here for preview

Countless political arguments have revolved around the question of how the Founding Fathers would regard present-day America. As it turns out, the question also makes for a thrilling comic book plotline. What if some dude in a powdered wig and buckled shoes showed up in the 21st Century White House and went off about the demise of liberty, corrupt bureaucracy and the country’s “grotesque mockery of freedom?”

Freedom Fighters is not an explicitly political book, but it presents some thought-provoking ideas about America, its evolution and its basic ideals. What else would you expect from a team led by the folksy, fierce Uncle Sam himself? Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are doing something truly distinctive with this title, blending mythical, political and historical elements into a rousing, multilayered storyline.

Freedom Fighters #2 puts the team up against seemingly insurmountable circumstances: The Renegades, element-wielding demons who, after centuries of imprisonment, are all too eager to get their destruction on. And they sure are cocky about it, a sign that they have likely underestimated the determination of the heroes who attempt to stand between them and the unsuspecting public.

In pitting the Freedom Fighters against such powerful villians, readers get an idea of how fierce and relentless this team is. Black Condor and Uncle Sam, in particular, are unshakable in the face of what appears to be a rout. They're ride-or-die all the way. In less skillful hands, Sam's dialogue and ruminations might come off as corny, but in this context, they're the stirring and sincere: "Things are more complicated now. Our enemies, our priorities and our future are no longer visible to me." The other Freedom Fighters are still a bit unknown, but I expect that Palmiotti and Gray have some interesting developments in store.

Travis Moore's art, eye-catching throughout, really soars in the whoop-ass action sequences that dominate this book. His images are just plain exciting to look at, which is fitting for a comic that is quickly becoming a must-read.

Palookaville #20

By Seth

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Review by Matt Seneca

If Seth isn't the first one to make it to this party, he's certainly fashionably late. As the alt-comix pamphlet has gone the way of the dinosaur over the past decade or so, the high-profile books that were too big to die have migrated from the cheapy, floppy comic book format to something a little more upmarket: annual or semiannual serialized books, comics-with-spines that fit right in with the graphic novels on a bookshelf. It's an interesting phenomenon, especially considered as a parallel to the comics medium's new big-media respectability. There may not be an artist who typifies that mve into the high art conversation better than Seth, he of gallery exhibitions and impeccable taste, literary journal redesigns and New York Times reviews. Now, as Chris Ware and the Hernandez brothers went, so does he, taking his long-running one-man anthology Palookaville into the bookstore market with a drop-dead gorgeously designed little hardcover, a comic-arts sampler that gives an unrivaled view into the multifaceted creativity of one of the comics medium's most interesting artists.

It begins with the meat: a devastating pamphlet-sized serving of Clyde Fans, Seth's long-running serialized comics novel. The big criticism of Seth has been that he's somewhat fusty as an artist, a dealer in longing for a half-imagined past squatting in a more forward-looking peer group. But here Seth plays up to the criticism before brushing it aside, taking the unreliale messiness of memory head-on with page after tightly gridded page of recriminations centered around one single, pivotal moment of the story's larger plot. We see the same poignantly drawn thoughts and emotions flashing across the same immaculately cartooned figures and faces again and again, with no real resolution, no definitive answer to anything — only a final page taken up by a face that's been lost to memory. Its a bravura performance, one that provides a hugely compelling rationale for Seth's nostalgia tripping: in memory we are all recreated by imagination, every feeling and gesture not observed but remade by the mind at work. Just like on the comics page. There's a slant of nihilism to it all, one which will get much more pronounced as Palookaville #20 wears on.  

The rest of the book more or less discards story, functioning instead as a kind of exhibition catalogue for a treasure trove of the artistic marginalia that Seth's built up over the years. First and most uniquely, there's a grand in-depth look at the fictional city of Dominion, a locale that's popped up time and again as a background to Seth's midcentury-modern, distinctly Canadian comics. Here, Dominion becomes a great deal more than mere set-dressing, with Seth literally taking a pet obsesson out of the basement for us to ogle. Over the past several years, the artist has devoted vast swaths of his life to creating a tapestrial backstory for Dominion, oe that easily rivals any of his graphic novels for scope and detail. In addition to bountiful, deeply absorbing sketchbook/architectural ledger excerpts, we're provided with a catalogue of the bizarre, strikingly beautiful model buildings Seth has created out of cardboard and housepaint to realize his city in 3D. It's a beautiful look into a strange obsession, but on these pages there's no room to argue with it. It's comics art that bleeds off the page and into repurposed Fed-Ex boxes, it's a creativity so relentless that it has to physically build something. It's incredible. Seth writes a nicely self-deprecating little text piece to go along, too, which deflates any of the Artforum pomposity that might attend a gallery exhibit-writeup's appearance in a comic book.

The issue continues with some lovely sketchbook pieces (including two fold-out images that have to be seen to be believed), providing amle space for the reader to stretch out and put full appreciation into Seth's virtuosic, elegant cartooning. Reprinted in a warm, chapbook-y page size, Seth's images veer between the ultimate simplicity of his shapes — black squares, halftone ovals, flat backgrounds — and the vigorously human mannerisms he imbues every picture with, whether the subject be a single tree or an entire neighborhood. Through perfectly straight lines and spotted blacks that never go a millimeter wrong, Seth brings the feeling out of even the blandest of topics. His spontaneous, deeply ink-washed rendition of a real-estate advertising section, for example, does as much to sell the spirit and life of the rundown commercial spaces it puts on display as Vermeer paintings would.  

A sketchbook comic brings the proceedings to a frosty close. Seth pulls no punches in a self-lacerating anecdote about his trip to an authors' festival in Calgary, pulling the curtains back on a litany of unmade connections, untaken chances, doubt, cowardice. The warm, immaculate ink washes and two-color printing of the rest of the issue snaps off into handmade black-and-whites, broad, quick charcoal-edged cartoons that flirt at times with the outright brutal. "I know one sure thing," Seth narrates with a suffocating deliberateness at the story's end. "I hate myself ... much more than anyone else in the world." After that there's no more, just the dense Deco swirl of the book's pinpoint-precise checkerboard endpapers. This is a red-letter entry in the much-maligned "alt-comix about depression" genre, but as any superhero fan can tell you, it's the singer, not the song, that counts. In Seth's hands this is real life, as raw and matter-of-fact as possible. There are no pleas for attention or childish rants here, just a scattering of unpleasnat circumstances that make for one hell of a heavy-hitting story.  

From the grand entry and excitement of Seth's opening introduction to the new format, through the vividly constructed Clyde Fans fragment and the absorbing meander among the cardboard buildings and the unadorned cartoons, to the final note of helplessness and despair, Palookaville #20 is a guided tour through the mind of one of comics' most burstingly creative minds. But it's much more than that: a journey from the certainty of artistic triumph to the unmoored blue of existential doubt, it's a psychoanalytic look into Seth the man, art as the telescope, his own words as the lens. Seth is enough of a consummate stoyteller to avoid the pitfalls of self-aggrandizement or whining — and he stands without either crutch as a subject as vibrantly human as any of his ink-and-paper creations. An unforgettable comic by an essential creator, this book is also one hell of a read.

Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis HC

Written by Geoff Johns and Jerry Ordway

Art by Jerry Ordway, Dale Eaglesham, Bob Wiacek and Hi-Fi

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Tim Janson

This trade paperback collects issues # 23 – 28 of the monthly comic series and features the final story arc by long time series writer Geoff Johns. Now I’m a huge Johns fan. I think he’s one of the best in the business but unfortunately his swan song isn’t the monumental send off we’d hoped for. DC generally does a good job with their cross-over series events but when it comes to the follow-ups, they seem to have a hard time getting out of their own way. Such is the case with Black Adam and Isis which is a follow up to the Day of Vengeance mini-series. Try as they might, you simply aren’t going to make Shazam/Captain Marvel a major character that fans truly feel invested in so stop shoving the “Big Red Cheese” down our throat…ummm, no pun intended.  

Anyhow the book opens with the core members of the JSA, Green Lantern, The Flash, Wildcat, and a few others are discussing which members to include in the current membership. Meanwhile Black Adam and his recently resurrected love Isis attack Billy Batson in his guise as the new protector wizard of the Rock of Eternity. They defeat him easily, and with stealing the Rock’s power, Billy reverts back to a little boy. He turns to the JSA for help, revealing his identity as Captain Marvel for the first time.

As the JSA storm the secret tunnels underneath Fawcett City, Black Adam’s origin and relationship with Billy’s father is told. Adam and Isis want to use their power to create a “Dark Marvel Family. They’ve already turned Mary to the, uhh, Dark Side (complete with one of the silliest looks since Captain Ultra graced the pages of Fantastic Four). The Flash is visited by the spirit of Billy’s father who reveals there’s another rock that can save the day, called the Rock of Finality. This culminates in Johns essentially wiping out one of the major events that happened in Day of Vengeance. Yay for comics where nothing is ever final despite a “Rock of Finality.” The team’s membership if finally resolved by simply inviting everyone to join. No word on whether Ma Hunkel intends to don her longjohns and pot again. I guess its Johns’ way of just passing the baton to the next writer.

Johns has more than earned a free pass or two to produce a substandard story but too bad it had to come in his final story on JSA. The final two issues collected were written by Jerry Ordway who also handled the pencils on all but one of the issues in the book. His two part story has the JSA taking on a World War II era supernatural villain with the help of the Spectre. It feels like fill-in work — and don’t even get me started on why the hell the Spectre appeared with Hal Jordan’s mask and now Crispus Allen’s goatee. Where’s Jim Corrigan when you need him?

What was your favorite comic of the past week?

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