Howdy folks! We have a bevy of reviews for you today, with ends of storylines and beginnings alike. As always, you can find all the Best Shots reviews at the topic page.
Let's kick things off then, with a SPOILER WARNING review of Green Lantern #67. There be spoilers here, and they be bigguns.
Green Lantern #67
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, Mark Irwin, Gabe Eltaeb and Randy Mayor
Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano
Review by Colin Bell
In Green Lantern #67 we have the last chapter of the War of the Green Lanterns, which wraps up with not one, but two major shake-ups to the Lantern status quo and sets things up nicely for the forthcoming relaunch of the title in September.
There’s no major surprise in saying that Hal Jordan leads his ring-slinging companions to a victory, but the book delivers a surprise in just how far his protagonist is willing to go to do so. As in previous issues of the crossover, Geoff Johns continues to develop the many additions he’s made to the Green Lantern universe in the background, with some interesting character traits of some supporting characters revealed. Make no mistake though – this is unmistakably Hal Jordan’s book, although towards the end he finds himself sharing the spotlight with an unlikely ally in one of the best moments that Johns has produced in his entire tenure on the book.
Looking forward, it’s genuinely exciting to see where Johns takes the developments of Sinestro’s reinduction to the Corps - he may be as vilified as Hal Jordan was upon his return, but sadly he doesn’t have “entity possession” as an excuse. It’s an interesting dynamic, and certainly makes a change from the “now Hal has a red ring/now Hal has a blue ring/now Hal has all the rings” chop-and-change plot developments that have beset the book over the past few years. I realise that’s somewhat simplifying exactly how Green Lantern’s played out of late, but it’s undeniable that while Johns has done a fantastic job in expanding the Green Lantern mythos, too much of recent stories have fallen back on the same tropes and repeated tricks he’s already implemented in the book, to diminishing returns.
It’s rare to see so many artists collaborate on one book, and it’s doubly rare to be unable to see where one stops and the other begins.
The whole team of colorists and inkers work together flawlessly with Doug Mahnke’s pencilling to produce a book that is dynamic, bright and action-packed. Being the conclusion of an epic story, there are a number of “big” moments, that leap off the page with all the power that you’d expect. Mahnke’s art has been the highlight of this book for going on thirty issues now, and I hope he continues to stick around.
The last page of the book left me nodding in agreement with Hal Jordan’s last words. There’s barely any time for fallout to be dealt with, but I suppose that it’s the sign of a decent comic book that I’m left asking “what happens next?” With a fresh start just around the corner, I look forward to finding out.
X-Men: Schism #1
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith, and Frank D'Armata
Letters by Jared k. Fletcher
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
Having been out of the loop when it comes to major X-Men stories for the last few years, Schism is a bit of a breath of fresh air. I've been a lifelong fan of the merry mutants, so I've been hoping for a way back in for some time. I tried the book at around "Uncanny" issue 500, and while I enjoyed Matt Fraction's take on the title, I had to get back out when it started focusing on the "Messiah Complex" storyline. I just wasn't interested in that. So, with all of that in mind, I was very excited to see that I didn't need to know much of what I missed to get into Schism. Sure, elements of previous stories are here; important cameos from the Sentinels, and the Hellfire Club drive the action, while the last few years of X-Men stories still make their presence felt, but this is something of a fresh start.
I have to confess, I think this may be the first comic I've ever read by Jason Aaron. Sad, I know, but while I've been aware of his work, he's rarely moved into territory that excites me. I found the early pages to be a little off-putting; the dialogue felt kind of juvenile at times, with a little too much focus on "Wolverine: Ultimate Badass." Once the book got underway, however, I really began to enjoy the interplay between Cyclops and Wolverine as they made their way to an international arms conference with a focus on disarming and dismantling the remaining Sentinels spread across the globe. Anyone, even someone unfamiliar with the characters, could tell that these men have a relationship built on begrudging respect. Their tension really oozed off the page, which is good when that's kind of the whole point of your comic.
The return of some classic X-Men foes, such as the Sentinels, really sell the nature of this book as a blueprint for what's to come. It immediately feels like an X-Men comic, not just a story where the team is kind of shoehorned in. Carlos Pacheco, a classic X-Men artist, shows some newly polished chops. His style here is a million miles away from the more energetic work of his early career, and much closer in style to the recent work of his fellow Spanish X-artist, Salvador Larroca. There are a few points where the work comes off as stilted, or the anatomy is a bit too broad and blocky, but Pacheco really sells Wolverine's gruff demeanor, without losing the introspective elements that really make him the character we all know.
Surprisingly, for an "event" comic, Schism is a great book with which to jump back into the X-Men franchise. It may be a little dense for readers who have no experience with the characters, as the relationships and long-term mythology are fairly dense, but even a cursory knowledge of the last five or six years will do. With a good cast, some real sparks of genius in the script, and a rotating cast of all-star artists, Schism carries its weight, and serves as a great spot to dip your toe into the usually impenetrable pool of X-Men continuity.
B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Monsters #1
Written by Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook
Lettering by Clem Robins
Published by Dark Horse
Review by Wendy Holler
Monsters #1 is a horror comic that's intensely personal and obliquely emotional. So many of the emotions of the characters are sublimated into anger and violence – loss, fear, sadness, frustration – that by the time the supernatural element shows up, its malevolence already feels like an established part of the world. That makes this installment both an excellent horror comic and a painful read.
This issue, the first of two, focuses on missing B.P.R.D. agent Liz Sherman. The issue uses the personnel file for Liz in order to introduce her, which is an old trick made genius by its execution. The character summary ends with her last recorded audio transmission to the Bureau: "Hey, there's a light up ahead. Can you guys see that? It's sunlight, I think. Yeah, has to be. Wait, I see something. Is that…? Oh, no… No! Oh my God! [static]"
The immediate sense of concern this intro creates is important because when she shows up in the comic proper, Liz is rude, aggressive, and about as sympathetic as a jackboot. This coldness, while artistically sound, character-consistent, and in every way the right decision, helps make Monsters #1 tough to read. The characters are well portrayed, with actions that have clear motivation and make sense, but the lack of empathy creates a sense of disconnection, isolation, and even abandonment. The disconnection is entirely appropriate for the story, but uncomfortable to experience.
The setting contributes to the combination of low fantasy and high stakes horror that give the series its distinctive feel. Sugar Hill Park is a trailer park complete with poker-playing neighbors, pickup trucks, and old-fashioned television antennas. The setting feels cramped even in outdoor scenes, with buildings looming over the panels and narrowing the roads or small yards. With interior scenes, the paneling on the walls feels faintly like it's closing in on the characters, and particularly on Liz, and this issue often creates an atmosphere of being hemmed in or trapped. Like the sense of emotional remove with the characters, this edge of claustrophobia works well with the tone of the issue but is discomfiting.
The events of previous Hell on Earth arcs continue to echo here. In many ways, this is a comic about the consequences, both personal and epic, that come from living in the Hell on Earth 'verse. The neat part is that many of these moments, such as the presence of frogs, act as a call-out to longtime readers and as a kind of strange, symbolic, understated menace for new readers. These moments are compelling on a number of levels, in other words, and that's a fine testament to the skill of the comic's creators.
This issue suffers from only a few technical flaws. The dialogue sometimes feels forced, and the coloring has a few continuity missteps toward the end. These are very minor problems, though, and for the most part, this issue is a fine example of successful, engaging work. The art, as might be expected for the series, is gritty and avoids hyperrealism. The coloring contributes to the issue's pervasive sense of darkness with plenty of shadows and cool tones. The comic has a dream sequence, in particular, that is both technically brilliant and probably one of the creepiest things I've seen all year. Those ten panels alone are worth the cover price.
While most of the comic plays off of emotional horror, the issue does live up to the promise of its story arc name. Call a series Monster, and the odds are good that readers will be on the lookout for something horrible. The issue delivers on that promise without making the reveal feel hackneyed.
Monsters #1 offers strong art, solid writing, and creepy atmosphere, and this issue reads like a plotty interlude piece. Perhaps because of how well it dramatizes emotional discomfort, the issue isn't as much fun as others in the series have been for me, but technically speaking, there's much to recommend it. The comic delivers both horror and character, and that combination contributes nicely to the series and keeps expectations for future issues high.
Total Recall #3
Written by Vince Moore
Art by Cezar Razek & Salvatore Aiala
Lettering by Bill Tortolini
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by Deniz Cordell
What a world of nearly endless wonders we live in. If you had asked me what licensed properties we might soon see comic books from, I can honestly say that Total Recall would probably not have crossed my mind. And yet, here it is – real as the sweat on my doctor’s forehead, real as a trip to Mars, and as real as my wife who’s a dead ringer for Sharon Stone. It’s a Total Recall comic book. How astonishing. Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.
Done? Okay. The series acts as the sequel to the 1990 Paul Verhoeven action picture, dealing with life on Mars post-oxygenation. This entire prospect is a tricky notion, since – as anyone reading this knows – the film itself took inspiration from a Philip K. Dick story (treating it as an ultra-violent James Bond picture), so while the characters and core plot strands are in place from the film, how do Vince Moore and his art team settle on a tone for their storytelling?
The story deals with themes of memory, reality, and identity that are hallmarks of Dick’s thematic bent, but they infuse it with a science-fantasy sensibility that is closer to the film’s more heedlessly outré style. The return of the native Martians makes for an appealing hook for the story – continuing and elevating the creating a new mystery for the characters to become embroiled in. Artist Cezar Rezak gives the Martians a standard “alien” look – in appearance and garb, they fall somewhere between the Guardians of Oa and the Whitley Streiber-type look – gaunt, with wide, milky eyes. They are given a “softer” look than the human characters – both through the linework and Salvatore Aiala’s varied color work.
Vince Moore’s script veers between familial sociopolitical maneuvering, as the ruling family of Mars is leaderless in the wake of Ronny Cox’s character suffering the effects of rapid decompression, and the action story as Quaid – played by Mr. Schwarzenegger in the film – is faced with mysterious Martian machines and several new earth-shattering developments to his personal life. They follow along much of the same lines as the “people are not who you think they are” ideas that much of the film was predicated upon. There’s also an unsettling implication in the return of Quaid’s original personality – Hauser – and how Moore deals with the psychological schism should offer much conflict in future issues.
Finally, towards the issue’s end, there is an expected alteration to the story dynamic, as we once again learn that someone who says they “come in peace” can’t ever be trusted. The action is dynamically rendered, and the colors in certain sequences burst forth with an unexpected, and finely honed energy. The plot is perhaps a little too reliant on familiarity with the film, and if you haven’t read the previous issues, you may be a little lost – but there are enough high-pitched histrionics, and enough twists and turns within the characters to be rather entertaining.
Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Khary Randolph, Matteo Scalera & Mitch Gerads
Lettering by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Deniz Cordell
Starborn continues its trend of combining a dry referential quality with an adventure of a sweeping scale. The first page alone gets a mild chuckle, as we are treated to two vaguely familiar looking figures – one with a low-slung holster and dark vest, the other with a pocketed shoulder sash. Khary Randolph and Matteo Scalera play on the reader’s expectations by using familiar iconography and then subverting it immediately – and the rest of the issue works along similar lines, as our hero Benjamin divulges the truth about the battle between humans and the beastmen.
Chris Roberson’s story continues to treat the material as high space-opera – the dialogue is broad and declaratory – the plot offers evil monster-men, metaphysical superpowers, and an appearance by another Stan Lee devised property – Soldier Zero. The story moves along at a fast clip, but never feels rushed – and a segment in which Benjamin learns how to utilize one of his powers strikes a strange, spiritual note, while also offering a devastating double-page spread that provides a nice punchline that acts in counterpoint to the dialogue.
The alien planet our heroes find themselves on looks terrifically arid – thanks to the scratchy, loose linework, and Mitch Gerad’s wonderful coloring. Gerad brings energy and zip, which supports and enhances the story immeasurably. All of the Starborn sequences plumb the cool and warm sides of the spectrum for everything they’re worth, while his work on the Soldier Zero passages use a more neutral, earth-tone scheme.
Though the Soldier Zero material feels a little shoehorned in, it’s done well – with speed lines radiating throughout the action. The sound effects work also lends a lot of weight to the fights, emphasizing the impact behind each hit. So, much praise should certainly be given to Ed Dukeshire and his stylish lettering.
There are creatures galore – a dragon-like beast is particularly well drawn, with real power and presence – and the deeper questions in the story lead to a moral and ethical questioning of the hero’s goals. The final pages are not devoted to knuckle-dusting, but instead to a series of reveals, which delve deeply into the man/beast dynamic that has been so important in the last several issues. Of course, the final moments – with an imaginatively rendered interplanetary quorum has a sense of wonder and dread – thanks both to the design and the severity of the dialogue. The issue ends with a decision that raises the jeopardy and stakes for the characters, and provides a fine cliff-hanger. The distinctiveness and variety of the goals for each character make the series feel well-developed and energetic, and the artwork remains a real pleasure to look at. It’s fast, intelligent, and embraces its operatic roots, both in its penchant for adventure, and in providing a philosophical subtext to the action.