Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have been doing a great job with The Flash especially considering that Geoff Johns’ take on the Scarlet Speedster proved to be nothing more than a precursor for Flashpoint. The relaunch allowed these two creators to take Barry Allen back to an earlier, much simpler time which worked well in the duo’s introductory arc that gave us new villain King Mob. But inevitably, they would have to start to tread some familiar ground and for The Flash, that means revisiting the Rogues. Therein lies the problem with this issue: I’m just not sold on Captain Cold.
In some ways, Captain Cold is the quintessential Flash villain. He’ll stop at nothing to defeat Barry Allen and he’s concerned more with the “score” of the various skirmishes than anything else. It usually makes for some pretty hair-brained schemes and generally good comics. In this issue, Manapul and Buccellato explore the post-Flashpoint Captain Cold as something slightly different. He blames Barry for the blackout in the previous arc that is now preventing his sister from getting the treatment she needs to live. It’s definitely honorable. It’s definitely in line with the character’s personality, as he’s always had great affection for his sister. But it does reek a little of Paul Dini’s revamped Mr. Freeze origin. Positioning as Captain Cold as a moral supervillain is nothing new, he’s always had a strong code of ethics when it came to his bouts with The Flash. It’s just disappointing to see these writers retread an idea that we’ve seen before. It’s bad enough that DC has so many ice-related villains that happen to use ice guns and are experts in cryonics/cryogenics. But it’s doing this character a disservice to have his first appearance position him as just another Mr. Freeze.
But overall, the issue is an enjoyable one. Manapul and Buccellato make a play on Barry’s time-traveling abilities through the pacing of the story, setting the beginning in the middle of his altercation with Captain Cold and essentially telling the backstory backwards while that scene moves forward. It can be a little jarring at points if you’re not paying attention, but the writers and the editors make good use of captions to ensure that it’s clear what’s being referenced and what happens when. The duo continues to work in as much Flash world-building as possible, and we inch ever closer to a Cosmic Treadmill as well as an Iris West romance. The cliffhanger could potentially give the writers a chance to redeem Captain Cold rather quickly but it would help to set him apart from another frosty super villain and make his motivations on the whole more clear. It’s as quality an issue as we’ve seen from Manapul and Buccellato, but their handling of Captain Cold leaves me suspect.
Artistically, Manapul and Buccellato are just as good a team as they are writers if not better. Manapul’s layouts are the best in the business this side of J.H. Williams III, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t get more credit for it. From the title card embedded in ice to Barry’s girlfriend Patty’s impending doom told through the cracking panes of ice, Manapul is doing everything he can to tell a story creatively within the bounds of said story without sacrificing clarity for aesthetics or vice versa. It’s inspiring really. Buccellato delivers quality coloringwork as well, which actually make the narrative device easier to follow. Each scene has its own distinct color palette, which keeps them from bleeding together.
On the whole, The Flash has been one of the best books to come out of the New 52 ever if few people are noticing. In this new era, we can only expect to see changes to beloved characters. If those changes aren’t significantly affecting the level of quality that we expect from a book for the worse, then it’s hard to have too many qualms about them. While there are concerns about the creative team’s handling of Captain Cold, the general storytelling and art is solid and continuing to get better.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #7
Only seven issues into Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Brian Michael Bendis is proving that the kinds of stories that Marvel was built on are the ones that still work. I’m talking about impassioned tales with flawed characters experiencing hardship that reveal something about ourselves as human beings. X-Men is about what’s it’s like to be different. Spider-Man is about balancing great power with great responsibility. For Miles Morales, discovering what that age-old phrase means for him is a journey that is sure to take him off Peter Parker’s beaten path. As his story continues to diverge from Peter’s familiar origins, we are starting to see the makings of a premier character take shape. This comic book as a whole is Amazing Fantasy #15 for a new generation.
The best parts of the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man were the moments when Peter wasn’t in costume. Bendis excels in providing poignant character-work outside the spandex and supervillains in order to make the superhero stuff seem that much more incredible. Spider-Man has been around almost 50 years now. It’s easy to get used to comics filled with Spidey patrolling the city, beating up bad guys and saving the day. Anchoring the story is Miles’ rather mundane day-to-day life, which heightens the anticipation for what’s to come. There are obvious parallels to what Bendis did with Peter and his home life in his first go-around with Ultimate Spider-Man. But with a new crop of characters comes a new family dynamic that keep the book from getting stale.
One of the most fun parts of this book have been watching Miles find his own way as a new spider-powered superhero. He looks up to Peter Parker and tries to emulate him, but he has questions that no one can answer. How did Peter have webs? How does Miles control his camouflage and venom blast abilities? Miles can only answer these questions by finding out for himself, and his wall-crawling excursion in this issue proves that he is dedicated to finding his limits. In Miles, Bendis has created an unlikely but generally lovable character that we can all see a little bit of ourselves in. Think of him as the Jeremy Lin of superheroes.
On the seedier side of the narrative, Bendis checks in with the Tinkerer and Miles’ Uncle Aaron. Slowly we are starting to see Aaron emerge as Miles’ own personal Norman Osborn. Like Norman, Aaron is clearly becoming obsessed with Spider-Man, and might have a clue into who the boy under the mask really is. But it’d be a shame to see Aaron become a character too similar to Norman over the course of the rest of the book. The convergence of the issue’s two storylines on the last page definitely leaves some interesting questions for the next few issues.
Much of the early success of the series could be attributed to Sara Pichelli’s masterful renderings of Miles’s origins, but Chris Samnee truly holds his own. His work on Thor: The Mighty Avenger was incredible, and he delivers that kind of quality here. What’s most impressive is Samnee’s strong grasp of expressions and posturing. From Miles’ knowing smirk at the dinner table to the Tinkerer’s defiant glare — even at gunpoint — to Miles’ reaction to a car being thrown at him, Samnee makes it possible for the characters personalities to show through even if there was no text. That is the mark of a truly excellent visual storyteller.
The Miles Morales saga slows down for no man. This issue is just another in a streak of stupendous issues much akin to Bendis’ first time around on the book. We can only hope that this series isn’t derailed by gimmicky plot lines like the first volume. (Remember when Wolverine and Spider-Man switched bodies? I wish I didn’t.) Thankfully, with a new character under the mask and a whole new set of trials and tribulations to throw at him, it should be a while before we get there. As it stands, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is an excellent book, definitely one for the ages.
The Fury of Firestorm #6
The Nuclear Men have come a long way in six months. After trudging through an awkward relaunch, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch have coming into their own the past month or so, and The Fury of Firestorm #6 has continued that upward trajectory. While it's still rough around the edges execution-wise, there's plenty of content — and plenty of heart — to draw a reader's attention.
The thing about this issue is that immediately Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver get you to sympathize with Ronnie, as he reels in horror after watching a mass casualty event at a music festival. 2,000 people suddenly vaporized, and you can hear the shock in Ronnie's voice as his ears ring, as he breathes in the dust of the dead. Considering how blasé superheroes can be in the face of tragedy and death, Ronnie and Jason's vicious in-fighting rings remarkably true, and provides a fantastic turning point in their already contention relationship. To be honest, it's some of the most organic character work I've seen in the New 52.
Art-wise, Yildiray Cinar gives off a nice first impression, using smaller panels to contrast the formerly happy venue with the devastating expressions on Ronnie's face. He also gets in some memorable imagery as Ronnie and Jason lash out at one another, as we get to see two angry comets spew fire at one another, their faces contorted and stretched with nuclear energy. (There's another sequence where Ronnie dive-bombs into a lake out of sheer grief, and that looks spectacular.) That said, Cinar's artwork does come off as somewhat brittle and stiff, due to Norm Rapmund's inking. Considering the speed and expressiveness needed for this issue, part of me feels like a more fluid, more rounded inker would have been more appropriate. Hi-Fi's colors, meanwhile, are bright and energetic, just awash with angry reds and yellows against moody blues and grays, but occasionally it comes off as a bit flat, particularly on pages where the characters' shadowy musculature isn't as well-defined.
Now, while I think there is a lot of meat to this story — and I do think this is the best issue yet — there is still plenty of room to improve, as well. The conversation between Ronnie and Jason isn't always as organic as it could be, particularly when Jason has an out-of-nowhere gaffe that pushes his partner over the edge. There's another moment where a powerful adversary cleans our heroes' clocks, before more or less randomly withdrawing. In other words, the results are good, but there are several times in this story where the plot points are just too convenient.
Still, after the distaste I had over the first few issues of The Fury of Firestorm, I can't stress enough how much of an improvement this book has made. It has relatable characters, multiple action sequences (all of which are well-choreographed), and some really satisfying pacing. The concept of a Firestorm in the DC Universe is gaining a lot more traction than I ever expected, and six months later, it's clear that The Fury of Firestorm is hitting a critical mass.
Morning Glories #16
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma and Alex Sollazzo
Lettering by Johnny Lowe
Published by Image Comics
Reviewed by Brian Bannen
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
For every revelation in Morning Glories, Nick Spencer throws in five more mysteries. While this might make for some reader frustration, Morning Glories has found a way to keep its readership engaged. Issue #16 proves why this series is so successful, and such a fun read and it has less to do with story than it does with character. Nick Spencer has found the right balance between character and plot so that while the overarching mystery of Morning Glory Academy is pervasive in the story, the true lynchpin of the series is its characters. And between Nick Spencer’s writing and Joe Eisma’s art, Morning Glories is a consistently excellent read, and a seminal comic for any fan.
At this point, Nick Spencer has established his characters for readers, but we keep learning something new every issue. The story in this issue focuses on Casey as we learn about her background and how she came to Morning Glory Academy. While the issue bounces back and forth in time, it never loses its focus and at no point did I have trouble following the story. Spencer also throws more fuel on the fire of mystery around which Morning Glories is built. Readers learn things about time travel and mind control, but neither revelation feels out of place with the world he has constructed.
But this issue is more about characters, and Casey’s journey is an emotional one. Recently, Casey lost her father, and in this issue, she’s given some closure on this trauma. I felt for her the whole time. We even meet some members of Casey’s family, and while they are newly introduced, they still cement themselves in this world. Spencer’s ability to develop his characters is one to be admired, and it’s a trait that makes this series so strong.
While Morning Glories is pretty straight-forward in its construction, Joe Eisma’s art is anything but standard. His neat pencils add the perfect amount of clarity to a continuously cryptic story. His art is clean and polished with no errant shades or lines. I’m particularly fan of his character faces. Eisma is perfect at depicting any character’s emotions be it confusion, sadness, anger, or wickedness — all of which are on display in this issue.
Alex Sollazzo uses subdued colors so the comic is never vibrant. This isn’t a complaint, but a compliment. When artists use subtle coloring, the images lose something and the panels can look very dull. Sollazzo’s coloring has the opposite effect. Occasionally, both he and Eisma step away from background scenery, and instead insert a restrained coloring behind the characters that matches the mood and conveys the intended emotion. The simplicity of Joe Eisma’s art is one of the strengths of this comic.
A mash-up of Lost-esque mysteries, great characters and engaging stories, Morning Glories has to be one of the best books to hit shelves every month. While each issue has been continuously heaping on the puzzle that is Morning Glory Academy, I have faith that the answers will be satisfying, if doled out in painfully small pieces. I also know that I will be right there every month, frustrated by the enigma, and enthralled by the tale.
Remember how awesome it was six months ago when the New 52 titles were coming out and Aquaman was standing shoulders above the rest? It seemed like Geoff Johns was just the man for the job, tackling the humorous baggage of being Aquaman and really getting to the core of what made this character cool. But here we are now at Issue #6, and all of that seems to be missing.
A standalone issue featuring Mera sounds like an awesome idea and I’m sure it still could be. Now seems like the best time to feature a female character from a superhero family that doesn’t have a lot of popular members. Not only that, but tons of fan favorite characters are still clouded in mystery in the New 52 (or completely MIA) so to have a secondary character fleshed out is pretty great in my book. But what we see of Mera in this issue is that she is still a pretty one-dimensional fish out of water, and I doubt she is making any new fans with this outing. Most of the issue concerns itself with Mera’s problem with understanding the intricacies of human life on land. Her pride as royalty and as the companion of Aquaman comes into conflict with the brute nature of the men on land.
The story seems kind of flawed from the ground up. Having a story where Mera, or any character for that matter, is searching for dog food at a market while the yokels gawk is not the sort of excitement I want from a monthly superhero title (call me crazy). However, I can buy into the set-up. What put me off even more was having Mera at odds with the police and then using them to bring her to the house of a murderer. It seems like the character is somewhere between not understanding the world on land and also being cunning enough to use them to her own advances. It doesn’t seem like the two ideologies really match up.
I enjoy seeing Mera as the strong-willed torrent of a woman in comics when so many female characters are either derivative female versions of male characters or the dreaded Woman in the Refrigerator. I had a hard time seeing Mera as a character standing up for what is right and instead felt that she was played as a feather brain with too much power. I see where Johns was going, but I feel like the point was missed. I thought that the other aspects of the story were fine. The dialogue seemed natural but also had a bit of humor to it that has come to be my favorite aspect of this series. Everyone referring to Mera as “Aquawoman” I thought was pretty clever, considering how many female characters take on the male name and just add “girl” or “woman.”
Good art could really save a story like this. If the narrative is struggling or diminutive, awesome artwork can somehow lend a sense of credibility that wasn’t there before. Unfortunately the art team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado didn’t really help the situation. It’s hard to really determine where Reis (on breakdowns) ends and Prado (penciling and inking) picks up. What I can say is that something does not seem to be gelling between these two as a team. The one aspect that was the most distracting were some of the characters faces. The features looked as those they were placed on there Mr. Potato Head style with no real definition given to the head. There are quite a few instances, especially on Mera, where the features do not even out with her head.
Having the line of sight with figures doesn’t line up with the action in the panel was another problem with bottles of water and cracks in the buildings foundation going noticed but then quickly ignored. The frumpy store owner has strangely sinewy arms just like every other male character in the issue. It would appear that its details like this that cause the most problem and in instances like this, a little says a lot more. The panel work is nothing to get excited about with a very standard four to five windows on every page.
With a title like “Mera Unleashed,” it felt more like “Mera Let Go.” When she is left to her own devices under these creators, she seems pretty flat and unable to make anything happen without the titular character around.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #6
I’ve always thought of Kyle Rayner as the heart of the Green Lantern Corps. Kyle’s humanity, as well as his naiveté, have made him the moral compass around which Guy Gardner and Jon Stewart — and sometime Hal Jordan — seem to operate. Giving Kyle his own seemed like a good idea on DC’s part; he was able to hold his own before when he replaced Hal Jordan. So while New Guardians gives Kyle the opportunity to be the leader of his own group, I can’t help but feel that Tony Bedard is not doing enough to distinguish Kyle from Hal. The characters seem interchangeable in this series, and while the story has finally started moving ahead, it still feels like it can’t compete with its big brothers Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps.
After being pulled into The Orrery, an artificial solar system (and space ship), The members of the New Guardians are attacked by Archangel Invictus, an alien presence who believes all the lanterns, regardless of the color of their rings, are sinners. Invictus throws down with most of the members in this issue, and most of the comic is dedicated to action. The fights are pretty intense and while quite a bit of dialogue occurs during the action scenes, at no point does the story slow down. But I had a hard time feeling any individuality about Kyle. He’s a Hal Jordan clone in this issue. While the book is meant to be about Kyle, he’s the least interesting character here. Munk and Fatality have more compelling interactions on one page than Kyle does in the entire issue, as do Saint Walker and Arkillo. If this book had nothing to do with Kyle Rayner or the Green Lanterns, I think it’d be one of DC’s best.
But while the story falters, Tyler Kirkham does a fine job of depicting the action in this issue. Similarly to Fernando Pasarin, Kirkham has a lot to draw in each panel, but his art is not as smooth or polished. This isn’t a distraction, per se, but his Kyle Rayner is always depicted gritting his teeth. A small grouse, I know, but enough of a distraction to be noted. Kirkham’s illustrations of the other characters, however, really showcase his artistic abilities and aid the characterization. A lot of the action sequences are drawn using perspective to both emphasize Invictus‘ size, and to show his superiority over the heroes. In these sequences, the angle is always submissive to Invictus, below him, over his shoulder looking down, or away from him. For example, when Arkillo goes after Invictus, Invictus shoots a light from his chest that throws Arkillo into a building. When Kirkham draws this, he literally draws Arkillo being thrown across a splash page. And as for the colors, Nei Ruffino makes the panels shine. The different-colored rings make for some beautiful looking constructs, and since the majority of the pages involve action, bursts of light are abound. It’s not as detailed a comic as Green Lantern Corps, but it is still fun to look at.
I feel like since The New 52 started, writers are trying very hard to carve out their own place in the new DCU. What seems to be a common theme — between books like Green Lantern Corps, Superman, and especially here in New Guardians — is that titles are trying to draw readers with new villains, but villains that are more powerful than villains we’ve seen before. The problem is that these villains don’t have staying power. They are empty shells meant to throw a crux into the heroes’ journey. Unfortunately, New Guardians has a similar problem. While I enjoyed the throw-down between Archangel Invictus and the rest of Kyle’s crew, nothing in this comic tells me that this will, in any way, have any long term effects. New Guardians #6 is a mediocre story, and when stacked against Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, is easily the weakest of the three. If you’re not a fan of the Green Lantern universe, you probably won’t be a fan of New Guardians.
Writing and Illustrated by Ryan Dirks
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Review by Zack Kotzer
Space is the place for madness, and often the empty, lonesome setting has made great fodder for zero-gravity paranoia. Ryan Dirks’ 2001-vibe trip The Martian is a short but overall sweet vignette that pushes against a lot of even ground-level rules with mixed results. The Martian is about Yuri “Red” Toivo, a gifted mind stranded on the red planet after his ship was compromised during his stasis, the other crew members vanished leaving him to awaken and explore decades later.
Dirks is willing and ready to make some very risk directions with The Martian’s particular style, stitching grey-smudged, pencil shaded compositions with colour conformed slabs of heavy red. At times it works, really well, particularly when Toivo first steps out of the ship along the barren planet-scape. There, the red seems to dye the graphite, and the stark overlay of the white makes the penciled-in images seem more appropriately hazy, not messy. Other places, well, it is messy and looks off in an unintended way. It is also odd that the interior style doesn't match the cover, which seems far more detailed and unleashed in comparison.
The composition of each page finds strong, serene peaks as well, and perhaps editor Frank Santoro, who’s a bit of an expert in that regard, gave input on design. While Dirks isn’t always finding his balance, The Martian works at its best when it’s least like a comic. The story and dialogue, especially in the back-end, seem to excuse what doesn’t need to be. When the story is as short as it is and it would have been more captivating for Toivo to explore more of this lucid, red world.
Batman: The Dark Knight #6
Batman: The Dark Knight might just be one of the better points of entry for new readers in DC’s New 52. So far, Paul Jenkins, Joe Harris and David Finch have run through a healthy portion of Batman’s rogues and allies in the past five issues. It helps to clear up some of the speculation as to where a lot of the characters are in this new universe and reintroduce them. I also feel that the villains' use of the drug Venom, allowing them to become have super-strength and a monstrous appearance, is a nice touch that reflects the insanely popular Arkham video games. Now, with Bane making his appearance in Issue #6, this might be the Bat-book I would recommend for new readers.
Jenkins and Harris have done a fine job with having each issue feature an antagonist or two and having Batman face them down with the added threat of their new strength. So far, the story has reminded me of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush, where almost every installment featured a facet of Batman’s life. The only fault with this technique is that we've already seen it done before, and this sort of structure feels more like a retread than a unique spin. But beyond this, the issue is fine in aspects of storytelling. The audience gets a glimpse of Batman’s birth in Crime Alley in the first page and there are appearances by a few more rogues. Nothing really new is brought to the table as far as the characters are concerned, not that they are in the issue very long to begin with. The story feels more like trail after trail for Batman with lots of action.
Finch is excellent and consistent in the issue and probably the highlight of an underwhelming storyline. Page layouts are dynamic and really assist in the story telling instead of hampering it or slowing it down completely. I was actually a little taken aback when I saw the half page panel of the Great White Shark gnashing at the audience. I actually stopped and studied the page and really took it in. I have to imagine that Finch is enjoying the chance to run through his own takes on classic villains and I do find myself looking forward to each new one, curious of what he might do. (That said, I could do without the Playboy Bunny design of the White Rabbit character.)
The nice thing about Finch’s art is, while his action sequences are powerful and striking, the non-action sequences are just as convincing. I felt that, while looking over the issue, the scene with Gordon and Branston was just as well-done as when Batman is thrown into the side of a mountain by Bane. The thick ink work, done by Richard Friend, is perfect for setting the tone of Gotham by making it a very dark and worn world but not overdone. The lighthouse at the end of the issue actually felt like an organic part of Gotham despite it looking nothing like the city itself. When I first heard the Finch was on penciling duties for a Batman book, I had high expectations, and I have to say that he has really come through.
Although with the shifting creative teams on this book, The Dark Knight is a fairly consistent work and fits in well with the other Batman books being published. Albeit a little dark and sexy at times, this is a fine primer book into the world of the New 52 Batman.
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