Flashpoint: Reverse-Flash #1 (DC Comics)
by Scott Kolins & Joel Gomez
I’ve been enjoying both Flashpoint and the related spinoff books set in the altered DC Universe timeline, but after reading this one-shot featuring the catalyst for the event’s plot, I was puzzled. this isn’t set in the world of Flashpoint and doesn’t even seem all that connected to it, at least not directly. In the first issue of Flashpoint, we learn that the Flash’s dead mother was restored to life in the new timeline, but this comic book features the lead-up to her murder, not her resurrection. It reads more like a supplement to The Flash: Rebirth. Yes, it explains the Reverse-Flash’s motives, but it was only a few months ago that the antagonist was spotlighted in an issue of the regular Flash title. The notion of a man whose aspirations of heroism and glory are denied him by his hero is interesting, but I question if this merited yet another Flashpoint spinoff comic.
The art adorning this one-shot is unusual, and at first, I didn’t really know what I thought of it. Joel Gomez’s work here looks like a cross between the styles of Francis Manapul and Bill Sienkiewicz. The loose, exaggerated approach conveys the title character’s twisted, corrupt nature pretty well, and I actually really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the dark deeds wrought in the story and the bright and garish colors of the villain’s costume. Gomez could stand to learn that sometimes, less is more; for example, the evil grin splashed across the villain’s face at one point is too over the top. But overall, I enjoyed his unconventional artwork. 5/10
Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #2 (Image Comics)
by Mark Andrew Smith & Armand Villavert
I want to like this book. It delves into interesting super-hero genre ideas and it looks good. There’s a problem, though: I don’t know what story the creators are trying to tell. The book is divided against itself (and idioms tell us that therefore, it cannot stand). On the one hand, there’s a fun, Degrassi Junior High riff on kid villains going here that’s entertaining and has a lot of potential. Sure, one can’t help but think that this is something of a genre reflection of Harry Potter elements, but it’s cute. Then there’s the conspiracy plotline that arises in this issue, in which we learn that adult super-heroes and super-villains are actually working together to create colorful if violent spectacle for the masses. It’s a concept that intrigues me, but it doesn’t make sense given some of the other context of the title. What’s in it for the bad guys? And why train a new generation of villains only to leave them in the dark as to the real machinations of superhuman conflict?
The art throughout the book is and full of energy. Villavert also provides the characters — especially the kids — with sharp, iconic designs as well, though I don’t get why the Red Octopus is, you know, green and yellow. The surreal colors suit the oddball, corrupt qualities of the characters, but I’m still bothered by the fact that we don’t have a strong sense of the school itself, its physical structure and layout. The action seems to unfold in a psychedelic void. It feels as though the artist hasn’t mapped out the school, and doing so might lead to a clearer sense of place and dimension. 6/10
Graveyard of Empires #1 (Image Comics)
by Mark Sable & Paul Azaceta
I’m a big fan of artist Paul Azaceta’s work and have been ever since I first saw it on Boom! Studios’ Talent limited series, so I couldn’t resist checking out this latest project of his with his previous collaborator on Grounded. Azaceta’s work may have been seen by more readers as a result of his contribution to issues of Amazing Spider-Man in the past year or two, but his gritty style is much better suited to the war-story elements in this title. Despite the simpler leanings in his style, there’s a strong sense of realism at play here. He has a sharp eye for anatomy, for natural movement and posture in his figures. I think he could’ve done more, though, to differentiate among the various soldiers. Save for one red-headed, bearded and tattooed soldier, the military characters all seemed to blur together here.
Mark Sable’s script captures a realistic vision of a modern war zone as well. The timing of this comic’s release is good, given the fact that the war in Afghanistan has been back in the news as of late. Nevertheless, this particular platoons actions and interactions are confusing, in part because the characters aren’t identified clearly enough, not only visually but in the dialogue as well. As I said, it was on Azaceta’s reputation alone that I picked up this comic book, so I was unaware of what the story was about. As a result, it was frustrating to discover that all of the real-world setup, politics and interpersonal dynamics throughout the bulk of this comic turned out to be secondary to yet another zombie story. there are no hints that the shift in genre is coming. Sable really needed to get to the pint more quickly so the reader doesn’t invest in a topical war story. 6/10
Mystery Men #2 (Marvel Comics)
by David Liss & Patrick Zircher
I enjoyed this second issue even more than the first, and I’m no longer getting the feeling that this exploration of a pre-Golden Age Marvel Universe is at all redundant in light of such recent titles as The Twelve and The Marvels Project. Liss’ examination of decades-old social and racial biases is really interesting and intelligently done within the fun of this noir take on the super-hero genre. Not only do we have the African-American hero known as the Revenant, but he introduces a new Rocketeer-like heroine as well. I like that while the Revenant’s race isn’t an issue for Piper, the same can’t be said of Sarah Starr’s gender. The Operative’s chauvinism shines through, as he dismisses the notion that a woman can contribute in any way to his mission, even though she has a strong, personal reason for getting involved in the surreptitious murder investigation. Instilling some old-school attitudes about women in the Piper character makes him more believable. A man of the 1930s shouldn’t come across as having 21st century attitudes. I was surprised to find that Liss has written in a strong, personal connection between the main protagonist and the General, the chief villain of the story. It comes on quickly, but it’s effective.
Patrick Zircher is turning in the best work of his comics career on this limited series. In the past, he employed a fairly generic but effective genre style. The art on Mystery Men rises above that. The design for the new heroine is wonderfully pulpy. Even her body language conveys her confidence and strength. The story is not a thing of subtlety. Obviously, Liss is offering up a criticism of capitalism run rampant in America. Here, war is all about profit, not ideology. While far from subtle and quite ham-fisted, that concept resonates today, with the bad taste of corporate bailouts and market manipulations still lingering on society’s proverbial tongue. 8/10
Ultimate Spider-Man #160 (Marvel Comics)
by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, Andy Lanning & Andrew Hennessy
I find the complaints about how the ending of this story was spoiled for some readers in the media to be rather puzzling. The series has had the phrase “Death of Spider-Man” emblazoned on its covers for the past year or so. As a result, the ending here feels a bit anti-climactic, even borderline predictable. Nevertheless, I have to admit that it was also satisfying in its own way and apropos. I like that in the end, Peter Parker’s story isn’t about responsibility, but rather about redemption. Though a major sacrifice is involved, the seemingly climactic battle with the Green Goblin didn’t come off as quite so incredible. It seems like the villain is defeated only because the story demanded it. Furthermore, we see the title hero cross a line that violates every ethical principle he holds dear. Still, Bendis’s dialogue throughout the fight is fun; he does Spidey banter better than just about anybody. I also enjoyed how he incorporated some convincing and realistic reactions among the people who live in Peter’s neighborhood. That “real” people witness the action and are so close to the danger brings some credibility to it.
Not surprisingly, artist Mark Bagley handles the action adeptly. More importantly, though, he tells the real story on the title character’s face. The super-hero violence really doesn’t convey the dire nature of what’s happening, but the expressions on Peter’s face do. Usually, Bagley is trying to get the character to emote through a Spidey mask in these action scenes, so an unmasked Peter brings a new dynamic to the visuals. 7/10
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