Best Shots Advance Reviews


Alpha Flight #1

Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente

Art by Dale Eaglesham, Andrew Hennessy and Sonia Oback

Lettering by Simon Bowland

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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With all the apocalyptic doom of , it's nice to see that Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente aren't afraid to bring some light in their own little corner of the Marvel Universe.

That's right, I'm talking about Canada. With some ultra-clean linework from Dale Eaglesham building up the world of our neighbors to the north, Alpha Flight is a title that trades banter and swashes buckles without apology or self-consciousness — in other words, this is a superhero book that isn't afraid to be a superhero book, and that may be its greatest strength.

What's so interesting about this particular issue is that Pak and Van Lente don't make it so much about the destination — namely, fighting off one of the key players in the greater storyline — but is about the journey we take with the characters themselves. While I think a caption here or there saying what each character's powers or temperament were would have been helpful, this story is about making us understand the group dynamic of Alpha Flight, and to have us bond with the characters as a result.

And considering the sheer number of Alphans that the two have to juggle, that couldn't have been easy. There's a real old-school feel to some of the pacing through most of this issue, as we bounce from character to character and watch them quip their way through what has been a bit of a downer in other stories. Northstar still gets plenty of attention in this book, and I'm particularly intrigued where Vindicator and Guardian's relationship is headed. And Marrina's battle cry — "Die, Earth scum!" — might make her my absolute favorite of the bunch.

Dale Eaglesham, in many ways, is what helps Pak and Van Lente's vision work. Whereas many people know him from his more gravitas-laden work — think or — his clean style actually helps establish the brighter, more open tone, buoyed by the bright colors of Sonia Oback. In certain ways, he actually helps establish the sunnier, lighter tone even better than last issue's artist, Ben Oliver, who focused more on the energy and composition. Yet Eaglesham starts off with a bang, producing a two-page spread near the beginning of this book that goes a long way towards winning you over from both an action and design perspective. His heroes are big and strong and larger-than-life, but they never feel pretentious or awkward.

Now that all said, this first issue is surprisingly fun, but isn't a perfect knockout. It doesn't escape the big problem with , which is considering how often disasters hit the Marvel Universe, the everyman's tension feels a little bit unearned, and once the Alphans do start to engage in more political discussion, the pacing slows down to a crawl. I think the other missed opportunity for this book is just to discuss what makes Canada such a unique entity, even compared with the United States – the themes thus far have felt distinctly American in terms of law and order and freedom, and unfortunately, even Alpha Flight follows suit.

But the indisputable fact about Alpha Flight is that it is a fun, breezy, bright superhero book that doesn't feel like it needs to shock or disturb you in order to make you feel invested. Pak and Van Lente are the kinds of writers that believe that endearing characterization is what will build loyal fans, and that's what makes Alpha Flight such a compelling read. With powerful characters trading jokes and trading blows, this is 22 pages of superheroics for superheroics' sake that you will not regret picking up.


Green Hornet #16

Written by Phil Hester and Ande Parks

Art by Igor Vitorino and Ivan Nunes

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Deniz Cordell

I wonder if the writers of the panoply of Green Hornet books often discuss their plot developments with each other, and find ways to dovetail them into creating strange plot parallels. The denouement of Green Hornet #16 is quite similar to the conclusion of last week’s issue of , and, whether coincidental or not, it’s an act of narrative alignment that I found interesting.

Now that this book has finished telling the story that Kevin Smith had planned all of those years ago, Phil Hester remains aboard, plotting the hoops that young Britt Reid will jump through, while Ande Parks handles the scripting chores. This issue introduces two new costumed gallivanters — the unfortunately named Scowl and Moonbeam – who have come to Century City to track down the Green Hornet. Much of the narration in the book is split between Scowl’s journal entries (which, thanks to Troy Peteri’s lettering, evokes Todd Klein’s work on , and Rob Leigh’s work on Matt Wagner’s early-era Batman stories), and the Hornet’s thoughts. Parks writes appropriately purple prose for the two interlopers, and the juxtaposition between how seriously they take themselves and the sheer ridiculousness of their speech and appearance lend the issue much of its humor. Their inevitable encounter with the Hornet marks the issue’s high point — particularly when the Hornet dissects the nonsensical nomenclature of his newfound nuisances.

What makes this particular entry in the story interesting is that we are absent this universe’s incarnation of Kato. Mulan is recovering from injuries sustained in the previous issue, and while we get a nice scene in the hospital that acts more as a reminder of the relationship between she and Britt, she is largely left out of the action. As a result, Britt is left to go out in costume alone, without back up or support — and in this we are given a different dynamic to the action, and Parks lets us into Britt’s thoughts as he’s forced to go solo. Parks also uses a scene in a bar to strongly and clearly demonstrate how our title character has grown and changed as a result of his dual-identity — it’s a scene that is quite telling in terms of Reid’s psychological profile, hinting at perhaps a slight addiction to the Hornet lifestyle. If Parks follows further on that thread, there’s the potential for some quirky pathos — and I hope it’s a story idea that is pursued.

Among the other nice touches strewn throughout the issue is a scene where Britt and Kato, Sr. are re-enacting the fight between the Hornet and this arc’s overarching villain — the Red-Handed Man. It’s a cleverly choreographed scene, and speaks to both the characters and their methods of analysis. Parks and Hester also provide a central chase scene through a city fair — which builds excitement nicely, and is a very nice example of using action to further character development.

Igor Vitorino’s art is serviceable — it’s nothing remarkable, and some of his action poses and angle choices don’t come off well (in particular, a shot where the Hornet vaults a wire fence), but he keeps the staging consistent, and he does get some nice facial expressions out of the Hornet. His depiction of Scowl — complete with paunch in his form-fitting, fairly nonsensical costume design — gets a big laugh.

The book combines a slick, glib sensibility, befitting this different Hornet, and takes its time with the pacing — it’s not quite “decompressed,” but it never kicks into a higher gear, either. It does, however, stand-alone quite well, even with the ties to previous issues — and would make a good entry-issue for people interested in the series. While the issue itself doesn’t stand up proudly and demand to be noticed, it has humor and a few surprises to the story, including an opening stand-off that reveals just how dangerous and oblivious the special guest antagonists can be.

Then, there comes the final page — which, as I mentioned before, puts this Hornet in a very similar conundrum to his Year One counterpart. I am curious to compare the results of next month’s issues, and see how the respective creative teams get their heroes out of their less than pleasant circumstances.


Archie & Friends #156

Written by Alex Segura

Art by Bill Galvan, Jim Amash & Digikore Studios

Lettering by Jack Morelli

Published by Archie Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

Archie & Friends is a good-natured comic. There’s that hyphenated word again. Both of you who read my reviews have probably noticed that I have a tendency to describe certain comics as being “good-natured.” As much as I love the darker, grittier, more cynical comic books — especially when they’re done with a rapier-sharp wit — I have a great fondness for books that seek to put a smile on your face, to affirm something, or to point out some foible, and do so in a breezy, almost effortless fashion. This issue is such a creature.

The Archie characters are quite possibly some of the most perfect fictional constructs of the 20th Century. Their motivations are simple, constant, and unwavering. In any given situation, their actions are clearly dictated by their attitudes and basic character traits – in many ways, they write themselves. It’s the variations on the stories, and the way the characters are combined that provide the necessary vigor and pep (if you will) that keeps things from getting repetitive. In this case, the Riverdale gang goes to their local Comic Con – many of them with designs to win the costume contest.

Writer Alex Segura’s comic and popular culture jokes are jocular and genuinely funny, and Bill Galvan and Jim Amash have the fun duty of giving iconic costumes the Archie touch — everyone’s represented in one panel or another, and it’s also a kick to see some of the Archie superheroes show up at the convention, too. There are other guest stars, certainly — when Josie and the Pussycats are revealed as the house band, and they’re all in various Cat-related superheroine costumes — it’s a simple touch, but it works and keeps the humor going. There’s a real-life celebrity guest who appears, but part of the fun is the surprise of seeing him show up within the pages. Okay, fine, a slight hint: he wears glasses and works in the entertainment industry.

There’s a funny, slight mystery as the Archie gang tries to uncover the identity of one of the costumed guests — the final resolution is simultaneously surprising and totally expected — built around an off-handed line, and also off that character engine I was discussing early. The reveal also has one of my favorite moments in the issue, as Jughead reveals the solution to the mystery, there’s a follow-up panel as the figure poses a question that in any other comic would be used to mine tremendous pathos — but here, it’s a punch line that works like gangbusters.

The whole thing is a pleasant affair, and the wordplay, the comic timing, and choice of moments to capture in the panel have that goofy, genial spirit that so epitomizes the Archie style. It’s the little moments just off center that had me chuckling most — while Veronica tosses a four-hundred dollar figurine over her shoulder, the facial expression of the guy trying to catch it is just right.

There are further plot complications beyond the mystery — as Betty and Veronica are given another rival in the competition, and Archie is confronted with a mean vendor. Some of the developments are straight from French farce, and it’s done with an innocence, wit and care for the characters. Naturally, everything works out well in the end, but the way it gets there is lively, with enough jollity to keep you turning the page. This isn’t so much a parody, but just an Archie story that takes full advantage of its setting.

If you’re looking for a diverting bit of levity for the week, with a lot of funny comic book references, as well as name-check to my second favorite episode of Space Trek, “Zamok Crime,” then you’d be well served to pick up this light-hearted romp with Archie and the gang.

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