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Flashpoint #4

Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang, and Alex Sinclair

Lettering by Nick J. Napolitano

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Flashpoint is an interesting beast, both as an epic and as a story told in the tumultuous times of 2011. It's an imperfect event, for certain, as Barry Allen still isn't much of an active participant in his own storyline — but while the Fastest Man Alive might be a step behind the curve, this book isn't lost. After all, he gets by with a little help from his friends.

Supporting characters are really the name of the game for this penultimate chapter. While they certainly come and go without much build-up, you can't help but warm up to characters like Element Woman, who Andy Kubert draws so winsomely, or the S!H!A!Z!A!M! Agents, who Geoff Johns allows to steal the show throughout this issue. In certain ways, the Age of Apocalypse comparisons are rightly made in this issue, even though Geoff himself doesn't quite have enough room to flesh all these characters out — Barry Allen basically takes a backseat in his own book, but because these characters have a little bit of desperation, a little bit of edge, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It actually gives a little bit of hope.

Artwise, Andy Kubert is looking as sharp as he can, even though much of this book is talking rather than action. There's a wonderful-looking splash page of the Flash's unlikely Justice League, and Element Woman is so endearing to watch. I give Kubert some props just for keeping the intensity high no matter what the situation — even a scene of the S!H!A!Z!A!M! Agents sitting in their foster home looks appropriately dingy and sad, thanks to some nice colorwork by Alex Sinclair. It's weird, because on the one hand, Kubert's work always looks great — but at the same time, it makes you wish Johns would give him a little bit more to do.

The thing that I think is hampering Flashpoint the most at this point is pacing. We have one issue to go, and the stakes of the world are still a little bit nebulous. Will Aquaman and Wonder Woman's war cause a planetoid catastrophe? Probably, but at this point it's all implied. There's plenty of missing connective tissue here, likely cut for the sake of space, but things like Superman literally disappearing out of the story or Element Woman hopping in conveniently do detract a bit from the final product.

But Geoff Johns has always been an idea man, first and foremost, and in that regard, I think that Flashpoint still has its bright points. I love Billy Batson's little gang of friends, and I love the loopiness and power of Element Woman. I even love the bickering between Cyborg and Batman, as well as Thomas Wayne's slightly unhinged sense of success and failure. This project isn't perfect by a long shot, and with the New 52 soon to hit the stands, there may be bigger fish to fry for Johns, DC, and readers as a whole. Flashpoint isn't 100 percent up to speed, but it's making some smart steps in some unexpected directions.


The Intrepids #5

Written by Kurtis J Wiebe

Art by Scott Kowalchuk and Donna Gregory

Lettering by Ariana Maher

Published by Image Comics

Review by Deniz Cordell

Why have I only just now discovered this book? If this issue is a bellwether of any kindThe Intrepids is a book that has winning art, entertaining scripting, and an easy-going, low-key style that gives the story a breezy, charming propulsion. Yet, within its light-adventure/humor trappings, there exists a tragic undercurrent, with echoes of everything from Frankenstein (Both the novel and the James Whale movies) to The Doom Patrol resonating within it. The collision of the wild comic-book science-fiction elements and the darker implications of the main story works well, and there is the sense of an unfolding mythology behind this narrative universe. It’s always wonderful to discover a new series to seek out the back issues for, and The Intrepids has now become just such a creature.

Special attention must be drawn first to letterer Ariana Maher – who does simply marvelous work with the book. The sound effects are integrated fully into the action – whether through taking on the shape of part of the background, or pouring out of a rocket-pack, with a change in color-gradient. The elegance and style in Maher’s work – both with the dialogue and environmental effects is a large part of the immediate visual impact of the book, and goes hand-in-glove with Scott Kowalchuk’s finely-tuned artwork.

Kowalchuk (also the co-creator of the series) is ably abetted by Donna Gregory, who provides crisp colors which enhance and help create the fantastical sequences in the book. There’s a cleanness of shading and tone, a sharpness and purity to the coloring that really enlivens the proceedings. She also makes excellent use of a muted variation on her standard palette in a flashback sequence that contains some startling revelations.

Of course, all of the wonderful coloring and lettering in the world would be for naught if the art itself were bland. So, Scott Kowalchuk’s art is, naturally, lively and extremely well done. He has a keen compositional eye (as seen in the first panel of the flashback, which uses a sort of “deep focus” to allow us to have several different active visual planes in the scene) – and he uses motion lines to great effect as well – giving his characters a fluid mobility. His occasional use of gray ben-day backgrounds is also a great choice – heightening the focus on the characters and the actions at hand. There is a streamlined, almost Darwyn Cooke-esque sensibility to his figures and general design aesthetic – and he ensures that every character has a different, realistic body type. He also lets loose with a fantastic two-page spread involving a skirmish between apes and cybernauts. There’s an ease to the way in which he is able to combine humor and jeopardy in that spread that’s quite marvelous, and his backgrounds – such as Doctor Koi’s laboratory – exist in that halfway world between modern and “mad” science.

Writer Kurtis J Wiebe (the other co-creator) fashions a story that nimbly moves between the large-scale and the intimate and back again. His characterization is well executed, and revealed through their actions. The placement of the twist in the overarching story is extremely well-done, and Wiebe and Kowalchuk work together to ensure that the effect is startling and shocking. He writes a funny opening action sequence that finds our protagonists being foiled by a robotic squid – and immediately gives a sense of the character’s voices and idiosyncrasies. Wiebe also drops in several hints as to the inevitable fate that lies ahead for our group of Intrepids – and it’s a moment that is so underplayed that the true terror behind the idea actually becomes that much starker.

The close of the issue plays on the developments that have been laid out over the previous twenty-three pages, and it’s a well-deserved cliff hanger. The manner in which it will change the overarching mission of the likeable quartet, and show where their loyalties eventually lie provide a tantalizing hook for the rest of this story. It’s a grand diversion, with sharp artwork and an interesting script. The co-creators take what easily could have been a very stock scenario, and embellish it with their own sensibility – the end result is great entertainment, where optimism and terror lie side by side.


The Infinite #1

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Rob Liefeld, Adelso Corona and Hi-Fi Designs

Lettering by Russ Wooton

Published by Image Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Rob Liefeld is kind of an easy target, isn’t he? He’s the guy who drew big guns and small heads, gave Captain America man boobs and had his own Levi jeans commercial and still managed to get kicked out of Image Comics. With all of that against him, he still has huge lines waiting for autographs whenever he is at comic conventions. He tends to be one of those love him or hate him kind of guys. He’s either everything that’s right or everything that’s wrong about comics. Team him up with Robert Kirkman, the writer of The Walking Dead... no, let’s make that the creator, writer and executive producer of the hit AMC TV show THE WALKING DEAD, and you should get something rapturously good or explosively bad. The trouble is that The Infinite #1 is neither of those. It’s rather forgettable, and that’s the biggest disappointment of this book.

Kirkman’s story comes close to having a strong enough twist to carry the story along. In the future, the world is ruled by Imperius, a despot who traveled back in time to save it. As every villain is the hero in their own story, Imperius has saved the world from some more insidious horror. Kirkman leaves Imperius’ story open enough to make you wonder about his motivations and what he’s doing. Is he really a hero, doing what he can to save the world or is he just your run of the mill world conqueror telling us anything to thy and make him not seem as evil as he really is? Unfortunately, that’s not a story that Kirkman seems to want to tell us here as we instead follow Bowen, one of the rebels fighting Imperius who ends up traveling even farther back in time, to our own present, to prevent Imperius from ever gaining power in the first place.

The hook that the villain may actually be saving us from something far worse is something that I don’t really recall seeing in comics before and then having the hero go back to try to prevent that villain’s success opens up all kinds of potentially fascinating questions to explore. While the concepts behind the book sound good, Kirkman’s writing is heavy and deadened. Going for a sci-fi feel, he gets mired in all of this wooden exposition, trying to explain everything that’s going on and setting up the world. The characterization that comes through so strongly in the dialogue of The Walking Dead feels just like words here that have no purpose but to lay out to the reader what is happening on the page.

If there ever was an “Image style” of art, I don’t think you could point to similarities between storytelling, anatomy or even an emphasis on action as being the connective tissue between artists; it had to have been the gritted teeth. Even now in this issue, if Liefeld is going to try and show you how important or dire a situation is, everyone is going to have a clenched jaw. That’s Liefeld’s go-to move. Beyond that, there’s nothing remarkably bad about Liefeld’s artwork but there’s nothing remarkably fun about it either. As Liefeld has learned to reign in some of the peculiarities of his art (for instance, nary a small head on a giant torso is seen in this book,) he’s lost those outrageous exaggerations that could make his artwork fun. Without solid costume designs full of pouches or characters trying to aim and fire guns three times larger than their arms, Liefeld’s art becomes very restrained and restrained Liefeld is just no fun.

To get to say that this book is a disappointment because it isn’t good is slightly less fun than to say that this book is a disappointment because it’s so horribly and awfully bad and then count the ways that Kirkman and Liefeld royally screwed this one up. Unfortunately, you can’t go either route with this book. Almost even worse than declaring The Infinite #1 either the greatest or worst book you’ll read in 2011 is realizing that you won’t even remember this book at the end of 2011 to put it on either list.

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