Best Shots Reviews: BLACK PANTHER, FLASHPOINT Tie-Ins, More

Best Shots Comic Reviews

Hey Newsaramanaquins! Brendan McGuirk here, once again presenting you with the Best Shots review column. We've got a full plate of the summer's first week of new comics sizzling off the grill, so let's dive in!


Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #520

Written by David Liss

Art by Jefte Palo, Jean-Francois Beaulieu

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

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Jefte Palo is one of those artists that I think Marvel's always had a difficult time placing. His geometric, sometimes stretched out style has room for so much expressiveness, but only in the right context ― Doctor Voodoo, for example, felt too alien to connect, while Moon Knight seemed a little too rendered.

But Black Panther… that's where Palo is just right.

While I wouldn't say that Palo is the definitive artist behind T'Challa's adventures by any stretch of the imagination, it's the Panther's silhouetted figure and pitch-black environments that plays to Palo's greatest strengths, and even allows writer David Liss to show some surprising chops.

Of course, if you're not into your art being particularly dark, this issue may be a problem for you ― colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu definitely pours on the muddiness on every panel, and while in most cases I'd say that's a poor decision, given the do-or-die nature of the Black Panther taking on Kraven the Hunter across the rooftops of New York, I'd say the omission of so many details is still a tonal choice that works. In so doing, Palo actually uses the silhouette of the Black Panther and produces an understated, but surprisingly effective portrayal of the character that especially pops when T'Challa is about to strike.

Writing-wise, David Liss actually deserves a bit of credit with this issue, because while it's still not perfect, he actually goes a bit beyond what many of his more bankable contemporaries are doing in their daily grinds. Liss is smart to give T'Challa an emotional hook ― namely, teaming up with his wife, the mutant weather witch Storm ― early on, as it makes the character fairly sympathetic. If anything, it seems as though Liss adores the character of Kraven, who's been getting by far the best actions and lines in this two-parter, and the idea of fighting for yourself rather than through a proxy gives a bit of thematic heft to what could otherwise be a flat beat-'em-up.

But there are still some things that might turn you off. Liss doesn't quite have enough pages to resolve T'Challa's emotional issues, and I'll admit that I found T'Challa's somewhat condescending attitude to his own wife a little off-putting, given that there's no challenge from one of the most powerful and independent heroines of the Marvel Universe. That aside, the actual plotting also feels a hair thin, where the solution towards getting rid of Kraven feels a little too convenient, more of a forced choice due to page count rather than something organic in the story.

There's no question that Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #520 is an acquired taste, one that ultimately is easier to enjoy having read the first issue in rapid succession. There are going to be plenty of people who don't gel with Jefte Palo's artwork, whether for this title or for any other ― but ultimately, many of that is a disagreement in style, rather than a fault of technique. As far as fitting artist to content and tone, Palo is clearly at home in jungles urban or otherwise, making him a quirky but effective choice for The Man Without Fear.



Flashpoint: Lois Lane and the Resistance #1

Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Art by Eddie Nunez with Don Ho and Hi-Fi

Lettered by Dave Sharpe

Flashpoint: Reverse Flash #1

Written by Scott Kolins

Art by Joel Gomez and Brian Buccellato

Lettered by Sal Cipriano

Both Published by DC Comics

Review by Jamie Trecker

Click here for preview

The Flashpoint event rolls on this week through the DC Universe with two key books spinning out of the main series. We don’t usually review books in tandem here at Best Shots, but we’re making an exception because the books in question serve as bookends, illuminating the contours of this new world. As it happens, both books have the same strengths and weaknesses, but both are vital to understand the overarching Flashpoint event. This review contains minor spoilers.

Both books are well written and tightly tied into the event’s continuity. Both books are also poorly drawn. Finally, both art teams continue the strange Flashpoint tradition where lesser artists ape established DC house styles ― most jarringly in Flashpoint: Reverse Flash #1, where Gomez channels writer Kolins’ distinctive style to ill effect.

Flashpoint: Lois Lane and the Resistance #1 gives us a ground-floor view of the devastation that swept Europe after Atlantis flooded the continent. This is the Lois Lane you know ― the tough snappy reporter desperate for real news. She gets more than she bargains for, however, when she escapes death after a tidal wave swamps France and she is captured by the Amazons, who are intent on re-conditioning all females to serve their cause. Enlisted by Cyborg as a secret agent after Jimmy Olsen is swept away in the flood, Lane must gather intel and stay alive long enough to get it into the right hands.

DnA are old pros, and have done so many big event comics (Annihilation being just the latest) together that you could be forgiven for thinking they can do this stuff in their sleep. The fact is, they brilliantly get all the information across in a taut 19 pages and never let a seam show. It’s quality stuff, and they deserve all the praise.

Sadly, the art is tepid: Nunez has worked with Jim Lee, and it shows in his layouts and facial expressions. But where Lee is dynamic and graceful, Nunez’ work looks rushed and blocky. His proportions vary from page to page ― heads go from being over-sized to too small on his bodies ― and his hands are graceless.

This same problem infects Flashpoint: Reverse Flash #1: Gomez’ art is simply not good enough. His layouts are bland, his expressions are weak and his backgrounds are meager. One wonders how much editorial edict plays in this because when Gomez stops mimicking Kolins’ distinctive style, the book flashes to life for a page or so. But overall, this level of art is simply not acceptable for a Big Two book, especially one of this much import.

Kolins’ story on the other hand, is vital. It’s not as polished as DnA’s work, but he efficiently gets across the essentials: the who, what and why of Eobard Thawne and how the entire Flashpoint universe came into existence. Some of the information is old news to long-time Flash fans, but it’s an invaluable guide for folks jumping on.

I wish that DC would pay more attention to the art in the Flashpoint line in general, but even so, these two books reward more often than they disappoint. Both books are must-reads for folks following the Flashpoint event and are worth your $6 total. 


Dark Horse Presents #2

Written by Paul Chadwick, Robert Love, David Walker, Neal Adams, Carla Speed McNeil, Howard Chaykin, Michael T. Gilbert, Sanford Greene, Chuck Brown, Richard Corben, David Chelsea

Art by Paul Chadwick, Robert Love, Neal Adams, Carla Speed McNeil, Howard Chaykin, Michael T. Gilbert, Sanford Greene, Richard Corben, David Chelsea, Geof Darrow, Michelle Davies, Diego Simone, Moose, Jenn Manley Lee, Bill Mudron, Jesus Aberto, Tyson Hesse

Lettering by Paul Chadwick, Thomas Mauer, Carla Speed McNeil, Neal Adams, Ken Bruzenak, Michael T. Gilbert, Patrick Alexander, Steve Dutro, Clem Robins, David Chelsea

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

Anthology series are a wonderful gift provided by publishers – they offer limitless storytelling opportunities for a variety of talents. They’re that most egalitarian of books, as even if there are stories that fail to connect, there’s always something else in the narrative smorgasbord for someone to enjoy. Dark Horse Presents embraces its diversity, providing ten stories which encompass all manner of tones and aesthetics.

While the target audience for most stories are certainly older comic readers – I do want to draw special attention to David Chelsea’s marvelously magical Snow Angel which provides an appropriate dosage of whimsy and light entertainment of the kind that is seldom seen in any medium these days. Its placement at the end of the book is a wise decision as it serves as a crisp palate cleanser after some of the grim excesses contained in other stories. Chelsea’s dialogue is charming and funny, and his artwork has a combination sketch/watercolor look that suits his tone and intentions splendidly. It sits comfortably in the “all-ages” demographic without being juvenile or simplistic, and it’s a real pleasure to read.

Naturally, your mileage may vary on each entry, but each story definitely has something to recommend to it, even if some may not pull their respective elements together into a cohesive whole. Major standouts include the second chapter of Howard Chaykin’s Marked Man, which contains that unique brand of hypercharged scripting and immaculate visual design that characterizes much of Chaykin’s work. The panel layout and story mesh together inextricably, the dialogue has a sharp rhythm and humor, and the protagonist’s characterization is well thought out, self-aware when it comes to his flaws, and nuanced.

There’s also Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder which possesses a spare, extremely expressive art style, and a wonderful wry tone to the dialogue. Her facial expressions are quite wonderful, and the more blackly comic elements clash very well with her bright, lively art. Michael T. Gilbert’s Mr. Monster story continues its pointed, free-for-all style of humor, with art that consciously and cleverly evokes looks ranging from the EC House style to a broader Golden Age style. His irreverence is pointed, genuinely funny, and has a no-holds-barred attitude – it’s not so much about story as it is cramming in as many gags and digs as possible, whereas in Paul Chadwick’s terrific Concrete story, the humor is carefully mined from character and situation. Chadwick’s art also somewhat evokes a bygone era of graphic storytelling, his scenery is quite lovely, and his use of text-boxes, and the way they cooperate with his artwork is particularly well done.

Neal Adams’s sharply choreographed, macabrely funny Blood, tells its action-driven story with gleeful abandon, working within a curious framework that surrounds the story – it lends a nice element of character to the narration, and the tie-in to a grand historical structure provides an extra weight to the goings-on. Patrick Alexander’s wordless The Wraith, has its own distinctly quirky sense of humor, with a comic pacing that provides a great deal of the piece’s effect, especially Alexander’s use of a last panel surprise to each scenario. In some ways, that device, and the story as a whole is an extension of a daily gag strip, but its mean-spirited humor lends it a bite and almost psychopathic edge.

Also well worth noting is Sanford Greene’s great artwork for the first part of Rotten Apple, which has presence, energy and a fluidity that provides motion and humor to the story. His character designs are also well executed, and he and writer Chuck Brown breathe life into this comedy-horror story. Richard Corben’s Murky World: The Treasure has remarkable looking grayscale art, which possesses a great depth, weight and clarity. It’s quite nice to look at, and the story moves between being a sword and sorcery adventure and a sly satire on the same genre. Finally, there is Number 13 which is the only story in the book that didn’t work for me – it’s needlessly gruesome, and its penchant for gore seems gratuitous and over-the-top. Its post-apocalyptic setting is well rendered by artist and co-writer Robert Love, but the promise of the story that is so clearly defined in the first two pages (an eerily effective visual of the titular character roaming the landscape, while another character ruminates on his nature in a series of text-boxes) is squandered in a mire of nasty violence, instead of further addressing the questions of identity and understanding that seem to key to the story. Still, it’s simply the first part, and if Love and co-writer David Walker are able to explore both the mystery behind 13, as well as address some of the stories inherent philosophical quandaries, it could well be a very fine story, when all is said and done. And, as I said in my introduction, the wonderful thing about an anthology is that though a story such as this may not be my cup of tea – it could well be your glass of Earl Grey with no sugar or cream (I’m assuming we both have the same favorite tea).

The talent on display in all of the stories is formidable, and they’re clearly telling stories which interest or tickle their respective fancies, and the pleasure they take in their work is quite infectious. All of the stories are well worth reading, and you’re guaranteed to find something to love in here.


The Mighty Thor #3

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales and Laura Martin

Lettering by VC's Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Brendan McGuirk

Click here for preview

Finally, The Mighty Thor need not be defined.

Since being rescued from an editorial void a few years back, Thor projects have all served one ultimate (and understandable) goal; contextualize the God of Thunder. Who was Thor, and what where we to make of Donald Blake? Then, what were the Asgardians, and what should be their relationship with humankind? And what about the broader Marvel Universe? Who is Thor among his peers?

And so on.

Fundamental choices were made as to where Thor and his world fit. And every story seemed to be serving to explicit purpose of shoring up the book's core. The reasoning was clear. While longstanding and familiar, Thor was never truly an A-list character. There was no live-action TV success in the character's history, no long-running cartoon and no immediately recognizable logo. There was just a hammer, a set of myths, a run of creative excellence, and, for those who even care to remember, a Corps of Thors. It was not the stuff of legend. It was more might-be than mighty.

So groundwork was laid meticulously, parameters were set, lightning struck a few times, and the Thor film, which took many of its broader cues from the stories of recent years, left few disappointed. We now know, again, what sort of stories to expect in the pages of The Mighty Thor. Gods and men will strive and struggle to coexist, the cosmos will demand wrangling, and Asgardian myth will play out, as it has before and as it will again.

So with the agenda fulfilled, the creators seem to be enjoying the good parts, which include cosmic baubles, godly hijinx, and untrustworthy men of the cloth.

Olivier Coipel's work stands out as perhaps the finest of today's regular working artists. His illustrating is gorgeous, and his cartooning is constantly setting new high marks. This book's tenor vacillates between action-drama and situational comedy on each page, and Coipel proves himself up to the task at every turn. The impact of Mark Morales and Laura Martin mustn't be overlooked either, because Morales' finishes and Martin's moody tones are integral to the book's refined gloss. Each artistic choice feels wholly deliberate, from Thor's Nordic features to Silver Surfer's extra terrestrial ones.

Matt Fraction exhibits an understanding that the best way to make a Thor book fun is by including a full chorus of unique voices. This is not one of Marvel's street level books, where everyone's diction would sound no different were it an episode of a prime-time crime drama. Thor demands loftiness. And as haughty and assuming as the Asgardians are, the Broxtonians must be equally humble and understated to contrast the lunacy. Here, even the voice of the Silver Surfer gets in the act, with his own brand of measured delivery and pace.

In this story, the relative peace between the Asgardians and the Oklahomans is challenged on duel fronts. Both parties are forced to reconcile their station against a seeming superior. For humans, that means the challenges these neighbors present to their faith, especially for those who have made themselves useful by being conduits of that faith. For Odin and Thor's people, this means dealing with a world eater. Maybe these crises are always just a matter of scale.

The only way the nine worlds of the Asgardians matter is if we can perceive them through the prism of our own. The Asgardians took a leave of absence from Midgard for about a thousand years. They probably won't stay away for that long again, unless they're forced out by a space god.

And now we know where to find our space gods.


The Traveler #8

Written by Mark Waid & Tom Peyer

Art by Chad Hardin & Chris Beckett

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Deniz Cordell

The Traveler is, perhaps, the crown jewel of the BOOM!/Stan Lee collaborations – and this issue continues the dizzying mixture of heady high-concept notions, clever applications of time travel, and that genuine emotional undercurrent that lends a weight and importance to the actions within the story.

Writers Mark Waid and Tom Peyer create a fleet-footed adventure that (seemingly) wraps up the battle between The Traveler and the misguided Abaris. For most of the issue, the villainous, well-designed Abaris (who like our hero, was a scientist prior to the accident which gave him his powers) has the upper hand, and with each successive scene, Waid and Peyer more clearly put the antagonist in control of the action. It’s a decision that makes the jeopardy feel all the more immediate, and all the more valid, as The Traveler and his friend Nathan seem stuck in an inescapable trap. The dialogue throughout is clever and juxtaposes a more naturalistic vein while embracing some of the more melodramatic elements of the medium – lending it a unique, distinctive sound. It’s clearly a comic book that’s at least partially borne from the love of comic books, and so it makes sure to enjoy and delve into its medium.

There’s plenty of pathos boiling over in the pages, as well. Witness the reasons for Abanis’ anger at The Traveler – which on one level seem rent from the pages of every comic book, but which also are drawn from the hubristic follies of the Greek tragic heroes as well. Abanis’ motivations too, ultimately have echoes of Hitchcock’s Vertigo – in its evocation and invocation of lost love. Reading the issue to any of Bernard Herrmann’s music is a choice I certainly would advocate. There’s a sense that what’s at stake, though ultimately not universe-shattering (as pointed out by The Traveler himself), is just as important, if not moreso, for it deals with a far more primal element to the human condition. For the most part, this issue becomes a superhero kammerspiel, detailing the back-and-forth between hero and villain, in relation to their past and present. It’s a decision that works incredibly well, curtailing the expected fisticuffs with something far more emotionally rewarding that justifies a reader’s investment in the series. For all of that though, don’t let me mislead you into thinking that the book is all dour and dark – there are well-placed moments of humor as well – defusing the tension at key moments, and then making the danger seem all the more dramatic by comparison.

Chad Hardin’s art is kinetic and clear. There’s simultaneously looseness and an utter and complete controlled and taut quality to his line-work. He ably supports and amplifies the more emotional qualities of the book – including a page wherein The Traveler’s memories are rent from him – it’s a painfully effective splash, in its collage effect, replicating the sensation of a deluge of information. Chris Beckett’s colors plumb the cooler end of the spectrum for all they’re worth. Ed Dukeshire’s lettering is crisp, and laid out very well – the use of sound effects is well done, and his use of smaller text for when the characters are in a weakened state is a decision that adds immeasurably to those scenes.

Then, there is the final panel – the build-up to which is done quite elegantly. It is a moment of heartbreaking catharsis – a moment that is both limitlessly tragic and strangely uplifting – as The Traveler may finally be able to move on with his life, but to tremendous cost. As a plot mechanism, it’s a great beat to end the issue on, and leaves all sorts of implications and questions out there for the reader to contemplate in the month between now and when Issue #9 comes out. Would that I had The Traveler’s time-bending abilities – next month would happen a lot sooner.


Mystery Men #2

Written by David Liss

Art by Patrick Zircher

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by Marvel

Review by Wendy Holler

Click here for preview

Mystery Men #2 is a lot of fun. The good parts, and there are many, include strong characters and clear story objectives, and together these strengths carry the comic's premise. Merging original pulp characters into the historical continuity of the Marvel Universe is no simple task, and the comic balances the demands of building its own setting with matching the conventions of an existing superhero world. The resulting experience is impressive enough that the comic is well worth a try.

Character introductions continue in this issue, with background revelations and present attitudes both receiving attention. The cat burglar, the aviatrix, and the magician all get a bit of time for personal history. Happily, those stories are worked seamlessly into the plot, which continues to move briskly through the personal and international threats posed by the series antagonist, the General.

The comic gets high marks for its use of pulp settings: the Empire State Building, airfields, a marina, a speakeasy, a west side townhouse, and rooftops have all made an appearance so far. Several nice shout-outs to historical touchstones in the Marvel universe also show up, a playful move that helps ground the story as part of Marvel's continuity. The costume design suits both the genre and the characters themselves, and particularly high marks have to go to the development of The Revenant. Setting up the character of a black man who has to wear a white costume in order to go about his business is a pointed comment about the dated restrictions of the era, and the comic is taking pains to create an inclusive story despite that prejudice.

In fact, the art makes use of a nice mix of historical reference and invention throughout. The cars and wheelchair could be models from the twenties or the thirties, for example, and little touches like the cradle phone go a long way to creating the feel of an earlier era. At the same time, the presence of clearly fantastic elements, like the mysterious artifact that the General is after, maintain the strain of mysticism that's both common and fun in pulp stories.

Zircher knows when to back off and let the details fade into the larger scene, but also when to keep things close so that every line on the General's gnarly face is visible. It's a particularly nice touch that the art is different for fight scenes with different characters. The cat burglar's fighting style falls into gritty, bloody, noir territory, while the magician's fighting style involves smoke and misdirection and has a much more superheroic, bullets-always-missing-him feel. Dave Sharpe's work also shows how restraint in lettering can build the tone of a comic. With a pitch-perfect emphasis on all the right words, the dialogue is far more efficient and effective than it would be otherwise.

The weaknesses here are few but persistent. The General's shadow organization contains villains so over the top that I'd be surprised if puppy-kicking weren't listed somewhere on their resumes. Sometimes the dialogue or character motivations fall flat. While the art's shift in focus feels perfect in regards to character, the shifts that follow action leave me feeling a half-step off every so often. These are nitpicking concerns, though, about a series that's both very good and shows every promise of continuing to be so. The pulp genre isn't renowned for its subtlety, and many of the comic's limitations can be attributed to the creators' earnest desire to uphold genre expectations.

Mystery Men #2 builds smoothly on the previous issue while still providing enough basic exposition to grab new readers. If you missed or can't find a copy of the first issue, #2 is a safe place for joining the story. And while the story is worth joining, I should be clear: the characters sell it. The Revenant's hometown heroics, the Operative's paranoid detective work, and Sarah Starr's determination to fly keep the characters both iconic and individual. While I'm not quite at the "would be happy watching this character wash socks" phase of development, I'm pretty sure that by the time the series wraps, I'll be there. The characters make me care about what happens, and then and now, fedora or cape, making readers care is what this whole thing is about.


Superman #712

Written by Kurt Busiek

Art by Rick Leonardi, Jonathan Sibal and Brad Anderson

Lettering by Comicraft

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Superman #712 is a book that should have come out years ago, following the death of Superboy in DC's Infinite Crisis. Kurt Busiek and Rick Leonardi created this issue then, telling the tale (no pun intended) of a dog who lost his boy as Krypto is left behind to mourn for Superboy. For various reasons, DC has sat on this issue, not releasing it when it was originally scheduled, and bringing it out now, shoehorning this into the current "Grounded" storyline that this issue has absolutely nothing to do with.

So once upon a time, as comic book history lessons go, our Superboy was killed during battle. Infinite Crisis gets more complicated and narratively convoluted than that but that's all you need to know for Busiek and Leonardi's story. Busiek's story is a fairly simple one about the grief we all feel following the death of someone close to us. He doesn't use many words as he follows Krypto through the mourning process. It's the story about a dog lost without his boy. It's Snoopy without Charlie Brown as Krypto tries to reconcile life without Superboy. This issue isn't about the plot or actions of Krypto, but the heart and emotions of the dog. And luckily Busiek has Rick Leonardi on hand to add life and feeling.

Leonardi isn't a slick or clean artist, but he is an artist who knows how to use a line to communicate more than just action and strength. His angular, harsh line style is softened enough by Jonathan Sibal's inking to let Krypto's sadness wash over the reader. Leonardi captures the movements and expressions of a dog with more skill than most comic artists are capable of with humans. He draws Kyrpto so that you always know what the dog is feeling and thinking. This is a sad dog and it is amazing to watch how much personality and sorrow Leonardi is able to give to Krypto.

The oddness of this story is in its timing. It's about the reaction to a character that has already been resurrected and is shortly away from a major revamp. This old-fashioned inventory piece, complete with its very own text box telling you when this story actually took place, feels out of its time now. It references an event that's years old as if it happened last month. That's not Busiek or Leonardi's fault, but it also makes this comic book a story very much of its time; five years ago. Since DC sat on this for so long, it already feels like a comic that you pulled out of a longbox, rather than something brand new that you just bought at the comic shop. The backstory that this issue is built on doesn't have the impact that it should but Busiek and Leonardi's story still is powerful because of the way that they tell it. They show what Krypto is going through rather than telling.

Superman #712 is a sweet, charmingly sad story. Even if the backstory events no longer feel relevant, Busiek and Leonardi pack the dog's story with a powerful emotional punch that is timeless. You can almost strip out all of the references to Superboy Prime and Infinite Crisis and still get to the heart of this comic; a dog misses his boy. Busiek once again demonstrates his excellent skills at giving superhero stories a real heart (see any Astro City story) and he has Leonardi on the artwork, who never misses a beat at capturing the real feelings that a dog can have.

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