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From the Archives: The Atom and Hawkman #46

atom_and_hawkman_0046Bye Bye Birdie!

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Ryan Sook & Fernando Pasarin
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Color: Hi Fi
Editors: Adam Schlagman & Eddie Berganza
Cover: Ryan Sook
The Atom/Ray Palmer and Hawkman created by: Gardner Fox
Published by: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

I’ve never been a huge fan specifically of these two characters, though I’m familiar with them and have read a number of comics they’ve appeared in. They’ve just tended to be on the outer edges of the books I read, showing up for the occasional guest-starring role or cameo, or as part of a team in a team book. I’d read the Return of Hawkman arc in JSA a few years back, and a few issues of his own series heading into Infinite Crisis. The Atom I feel I’m most familiar with from Identity Crisis, and material I’ve read online about both Ray and the new Atom and their adventures post-Infinite Crisis.

That said…this issue was quite enjoyable, rather accessible, and yet seems to have plenty for fans with ties to the characters going much deeper and much further back than mine.

In the "tradition" of many of the Blackest Night tie-ins, we open with a recap sequence of sorts, focusing on the character’s life, leading up to their death. This time, though, it’s a recap of the character’s compassion, and why Ray Palmer–The Atom–was chosen by the Indigo ring for recruitment into the Indigo Tribe. The Black Lantern Hawks (as Hawkman and Hawkgirl were killed and raised into the Black Lantern Corps way back in Blackest Night #1) then attack, and there’s the usual discourse between Black Lantern and Hero, as Hawkman tries to get Atom riled up and his heart ripe for the taking. As the fight wraps up for the present, Indigo-1 tasks Atom with protecting her–keeping her alive–while she contacts other Indigos across the universe who can reach the other Lantern Corps (so they know to get to Earth, where all the Black Lanterns are headed). While protecting Indigo-1, Atom is forced to recall the events that lead off Identity Crisis, as he again faces the horror of what Jean did to attempt to win him back. As the issue closes out, Ray makes an important request–one that seems quite obvious, and is something I would love to see accomplished.

This is definitely one of the better Blackest Night tie-ins. It seems that this issue’s events are more important and meaningful to the overall story than most of the tie-ins. While we do get some Atom/Hawkman interaction, it hardly seems like enough to satisfy expectation. It is, however, appropriate enough to an issue of a two-character book, as it’s natural that one or the other character may take more of a leading role, depending on the given story. As what is essentially a one-shot, though, it’s a bit misleading.

The issue having an important tie to the overall story is something that I suspect comes from this being written by Johns, essentially the orchestrator of Blackest Night in the grand scheme of things. The story touches on a number of elements–Ray’s role with the Indigos, a demonstration of what he can do with the Indigo ring, a confrontation with the Hawks, some resolution to things with Ray and setting a new course for the character–which makes for a very strong read. The recap at the beginning did more to clue me in on the past of the Atom than anything else I’d yet read (and I’m pretty sure answered my unasked question as to the premise of Sword of the Atom).

Sook‘s art is high quality as well, and does a great job of getting across the visual aspect of the story. It just fits the story, and worked very well for me.
All in all, a very strong one-shot issue within the Blackest Night arc. Though it remains to be seen how much–or what part(s) of this issue get recapped in the main mini…this seems to be a tie-in very much worth getting if you’re following Blackest Night, even if you’re not generally snagging the tie-ins.

Definitely recommended.

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Shazam! (New 52) Vol. 1 [Review]

shazamvol001Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterers: Nick J. Napolitano, Dezi Sienty
Cover: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $24.99

I’ve never really been a fan of the Shazam/Captain Marvel property. I haven’t exactly disliked it, but I’ve never really had any active interest in it. Actually, my primary interest has probably come much more in retrospect in the last 10-15 years, looking back to where I came across the character(s) in the 10 or so years prior, and seeing how the concept’s been worked into the general DC Universe, and given the history as tough competition to the Superman publications.

In more recent years, I neglected to follow the Trials of Shazam series, though seeing the changes wrought by Infinite Crisis and its lead-up seemed to hold a lot of potential. I just never really got around to going back and checking up on the saga.

Then the New 52.

I didn’t care for Justice League, so wasn’t about to buy a title “just” for some “backup feature” or “co-feature” or whatever. It seemed to me that there was some miscommunication as to when the Shazam stuff would even start, and ultimately that came down to “out of sight, out of mind” for me, if not simply “don’t care.”

Skip then to Villains Month and the heavy house-ad presence for the Shazam! vol. 1 hardcover, combined with a conversation I had with a friend whose only real exception to “no super-heroes” IS Captain Marvel/Shazam. Beginning with simply being “cute” and sending an SMS photo of the ad (“hey, here’s something NEW you can buy!”) followed by realizing I’d been enjoying the stuff with Black Adam in 52 and then the JSA story near the end of Johns‘ run there, and opting to get the Black Adam Villains Month issue…and I fell into my own “trap.”

I was curious, and interested.

Which, finally, brings me to the book itself: Shazam! Volume 1. This book collects the Shazam! feature from Justice League (2011) #s 7-11, 0, 14-16, 18-21…or 13 chapters. Being–as I understand–functionally “backup” or “co” features, these were each significantly shorter than a standard issue, so these 13 or so chapters work out to approximate six issues…making this a standard-size volume overall.

That I was able to get the hardback for $15 shipped made it like getting a paperback, but the added “plus” of actually being a hardback…though that’s probably moreso the immediacy, as my curiosity had gotten the better of me and I was more interested in checking out the New 52 iteration of the property than caring about having a hardback vs. paperback.

The cover’s depiction of the character is a bit “off” to me, looking questionably sinister, power-mad, or at the least, slightly creepy. Based on the interior, it looks to me like that image was from a variant cover of an issue of Justice League, and seems modeled after the 2012 #0 issues of the New 52. Fitting, as this is the introduction of this version of the character…not so fitting as it’s the only image of the character that stuck out to me in that way.

Gary Frank‘s art is a definite draw for me, and made the book quite easy on the eyes. Everything taken solely in context of this single volume, I haven’t much to say about the art other than I enjoyed it quite a bit–in general as well as the character designs themselves. Adding my knowledge of more Shazam stuff than just this volume, Mary seemed a bit too “old” and not so “innocent” as I’m used to seeing the character (excepting Final Crisis and such), and I’m not familiar with Pedro, Eugene, or Darla offhand. Additionally, the hooded full cape isn’t an aspect of the costume I’m used to, though Frank makes it look good.

Story-wise, it was a bit stranger to me seeing a more rebellious, cynical Billy Batson, one quite lacking in the wide-eyed worldly wonder and “Holey moley!” of even the ’90s take on the character. While that’s long been a relatively defining aspect of the character, its absence in this was actually quite welcome to me. This Billy seems much more grounded and realistic, and it’s a lot easier to identify with the character himself. That there are echoes of the typical “with great power comes great responsibility” refrain thematically doesn’t hurt things, either. I also found that I don’t at all mind the missing “Captain Marvel” name, as I’ve grown up with Shazam as the cover designation involving the character(s). It remains to be seen the long-term designation of the siblings’ names, but as I’ve (as of this writing) yet to even read Ordway‘s Power of Shazam series, I have no particular vested interest in the old naming convention.

Throughout this volume, we get to see some honest growth of the character as he first takes advantage of his power, then attempts to learn to channel it, and finally shares it and steps closer to being the hero he’s gotta be. We also have the introduction and a bit of development of the villain–Dr. Sivana–whose quest for Black Adam and access to magic dovetails into the overall arc of Billy getting HIS powers and stepping into action. Sivana’s motivation also rings true, as he’s seeking to save his family with the magic and not “just” some mad scientist-type scheming against the magical hero.

There were a number of splash pages, enough that I couldn’t always tell where a chapter definitively had ended. In this single-volume format, that’s definitely a good thing…yet it underscores how much I would have hated this in its original serialized format. The story taken as a whole–this entire volume–works very well, but pull out any one chapter by itself and there’d be a lot left wanting for that chapter–either focus on Billy and his building relationship with his new “siblings,” or continued development of things on Sivana’s end with Black Adam.

As touched on earlier–I very nearly bought this for full cover price just for the immediate gratification…but currently holding an Amazon Prime account with free 2-day shipping, I forced myself to hold off in order to save $10 (40%). At the $15 I ended up paying, this was more than worthwhile as a purchase. The full $25 might be a bit of a stretch…but as a hardcover, it’s not a horrible value, and as something I was actively interested in acquiring TO read, this seems one of the better volumes I could have chosen. 

All in all…I’m quite satisfied with this book, and the amount of time it took me to read the thing cover to cover for its price compared to the same price for say, four of last month’s Villains books. I don’t know that I’d jump into buying single issues with a continued backup series featuring Shazam or the Shazam family, but I would certainly check out an ongoing title or occasional special.

Flashpoint #5 [Review]

Flashpoint part 5 of 5

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inkers: Sandra Hope and Jesse Delperdang
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover: Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope, Alex Sinclair
Asst. Editor: Kate Stewart
Assoc. Editor: Rex Ogle
Executive Editor: Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics

Flashpoint #5 was a rather quick read for me. For now, not much in the way of emotional investment: I read #1 a few months back, but that was the last I’d read. I picked this issue up solely for the promise of it “explaining” the transition to the New 52. In and of itself in that regard…I probably could have done just as well to not bother buying this.

The story moved pretty fast, and was mostly this epic final battle between Barry and Thawne (Flash and Reverse-Flash). Thawne had screwed with Time–killing Barry’s mother–and Barry had tried to set things right, resulting in a the screwed-up “present” of the Flashpoint universe. When Barry realizes what he has to do to TRULY put things right (at great personal cost), he gives it a shot–and seems to succeed. Of course, what he doesn’t know is that there are minor differences–while some things are as they should be, others are drastically different…as will be discovered throughout the New 52.

That the story feels like primarily one huge fight scene, an ambiguous “emotional moment” with Barry and his mother, followed by an ambiguous epilogue scene doesn’t give it much to go on in and of itself as a single issue. That hurt my enjoyment of it–and my rating of it–but I’m sure it’s got much more resonance with someone who has read the entire series.

The art on this book looks great overall, and I really enjoyed it. Of course, as with the writing, most nuances were lost on me at this point, not having read issues 2-4 nor any of the tie-ins. I do intend to read the full story when the collected volume comes out, and perhaps the tie-ins as well. I just wasn’t going to follow this entire event as single issues with numerous issues to buy at full price every single week for months. (I also hadn’t initially realized the significance of this particular event until things were underway, or I MIGHT have considered otherwise).

My core quibble with the art is “the” 2-page spread that’s supposed to explain things: there’s reference to 3 timelines, though I feel like I saw 4…not sure which was doubled, or if there were 3 timelines PLUS the Flashpoint line (which may be, but not having read the core of Flashpoint, I can’t quite tell visually).

If one were to read this issue “in a vacuum,” that is, without knowing about the New 52 and such, the ending would seem on the one hand to be pretty much a non-issue: Time gets screwed up and put back, Barry remembers, and the main thing beyond that is to impact Batman. on the other hand, it would seem to be rather open: with multiple timelines instead of just changing one line back to another, there seems to be a new timeline formed, ripe for exploration.

Unfortunately, I must leave it to others for now to determine if this was a good ending to Flashpoint as a whole. As an ending to the DC Universe I’ve spent the last 23 years with, it’s not a horrible ending, but it’s almost unneeded. Probably the main thing for me about having this issue is to have it–to be in on the end and the beginning this week, having also grabbed Justice League #1.

If you followed Flashpoint, obviously this’d be an issue to get. If you’re just jumping into things for the relaunch, you’d be just as well-served to find the image of “the” spread online rather than buy this issue out of context.

Story: 5/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 6/10

Flashpoint #1 [Review]

Flashpoint Chapter One of Five

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Andy Kubert
Inker: Sandra Hope
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover: Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope & Alex Sinclair
Editors: Adam Schlagman & Rex Ogle
Executive Editor: Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics

Narration opens the issue–we don’t know who it is, initially–telling us of Barry and having been inspired by him. Then Barry’s woken up in the forensics lab, but finds himself confused by the world around him–something’s not right. Racing out, he finds the ring with his costume is missing…a surprise that sends him tripping down a flight of stairs to meet his mom. The scene shifts to Batman in Gotham has he hunts information on the Joker, and is confronted by Cyborg. Cyborg and the heroic community need Batman’s help. Following plenty of exposition to ideally psyche one up for the 15+ mini-series and specials attached to this event, we find Barry later entering the Batcave from an un-tended-to Wayne Manor, to voice the “big shock” of this issue and set some of the tone for what’s to come. Continue reading

52 Week #18 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: Dismantled

Black Adam attempts to bestow an honor on The Question and Montoya, while the Shadowpact and Ralph attend to the helmet of Dr. Fate…and as an ‘afterthought,’ Booster gets a funeral.

52week18Writers: Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid
Layouts: Keith Giffen
Pencils: Eddy Barrows
Inks: Rob Stull
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Travis Lanham
Asst. Editors: Jann Jones and Harvey Richards
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: J.G. Jones & Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

I’m not terribly thrilled with the choppiness on these issues–it sometimes seems like the story "jumps" a bit, and given the format/size of the issues, there’s not much room for "smooth transitions" exactly…and I can see where one would totally benefit from reading several weeks’ issues in a row. Even for a comic that’s out each week, a "previously" page would certainly come in handy. Viewing this series as a massive tv series (2-3 seasons in one, by giving new episodes for 52 weeks) makes for a good way of looking at it–with some episodes having a focus on one theme, others focusing on a specific character or largely on just a specific character. But even weekly shows often show a few clips of what happened "Previously, on __________."

Noticing the art seems to me to come largely from reading others’ thoughts the last several months, about there not being "top-tier talent" on the art for this series–I honestly don’t mind the so-called "second-stringers" on art–as usual, I’m not offended by the art, the characters are all recognizeable, and it’s clear what’s going on panel-to-panel, really. There’s nothing in the art that totally jumps out at me or blows me away–but I for one am definitely satisfied with said art.

We’re basically 1/3 through the story now, and starting to get some handy payoff to plots that’ve been building throughout. Ralph Dibny seems to be getting around quite a bit, when he does show up. Here he’s interacting with the Shadowpact, as they attend to the helmet of Dr. Fate, and the liquified previous user (who, I suppose, was previously established somewhere, but the name means nothing to me). I’m definitely interested in Ralph’s story, a lot more than I would’ve thought a few weeks ago–but between his dealings with the Connor-Cult and now the helmet…I’m interested in where these writers take the character.

This issue also gives us a look into the aftermath of the Question and Montoya’s actions at the Black Adam/Isis wedding and the impact things are having on them–especially Montoya. I don’t remember much detail from anything I read of her in the first One Year Later, except that she apparently dealt with some traumatic stuff in the missing year–this looks to be at least one of those events.

We also get to see the crap-fest that is Booster’s funeral. Apparently the pall bearers are of some "classic" significance to long-time readers; I didn’t recognize any visually or by name–but I suppose that’s as much the point as not. I don’t like the way Booster’s been portrayed in much of this series–but one has to admit, at least, that even in the funeral situation–there’s a consistency to this particular portrayal.

There’s a glimmer of potential as to the future found in this issue, and if you’ve seen the cover to next week’s issue online, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s coming.

Overall…this issue’s a bit of "same old, same old" as far as this series is concerned–the story moves forward, the art gets the visuals across to complement the story, and there’ll be an issue next week.

If you’re following the series anyway, it’s worth keeping up. If you’ve not been drawn in yet…I don’t think this issue’s gonna do much to change your mind.

The Origin of the Question
Writer: Mark Waid
Art: Joe Bennett
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Asst. Edits: Harvey Richards
Edits: Stephen Wacker

I’m still not entirely thrilled with these origins…the visuals can be cool, but the way I, for one, am wired, I see panels laid out and I want a story, more of a narrative than just fade-in/fade-out flashes with a little bit of text in captions.

The highlight for me of this particular origin is that it’s a character I am not terribly familiar with, so it at least has some new information for me–or at least, confirms stuff I’d sorta picked up without realizing it.
While I’d prefer a couple extra story pages to this sort of "origin," 1. I could see these making for a nice special issue in themselves, as a collection of all these "origin backups" once the series concludes. Perhaps as Who’s Who of 52 or some such. and 2. even though not highly detailed, they at least would allow someone to be able to say "Hey, I recognize that guy..!"

If you’ve enjoyed these 2-pagers, this should be no exception.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 3/5
Overall: 3/5

52 Week #4 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Title: Dances With Monsters

Renee Montoya and The Question do their thing, work is done to find the missing heroes-in-space, Booster and Fire discuss Booster’s current attitude and actions, John Irons contemplates what Steel means, and Ralph speaks with Cassie and her ‘cult.’

52week04Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Art Breakdowns: Keith Giffen
Pencils: Joe Bennett
Inks: Jack Jadson
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Rob Leigh
Assistant Editors: Jann Jones & Harvey Richards
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: J.G. Jones & Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

History of the DCU Part 3
Story & Layouts: Dan Jurgens
Finishes: Art Thibert
Colors: Guy Major & Jeromy Cox
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Edits: Berganza, Cohen & Schaefer

This issue fills us in on the fourth week of the first month following the conclusion to Infinite Crisis. Several of the core plotlines are at least touched on in this issue. Renee Montoya finds herself entirely bored and frustrated at a pointless surveillance job–a job that keeps getting interrupted by The Question.

Some astronauts–I think they’re astronauts–get a glimpse of hope at finding the heroes lost in space during the crisis. Additionally, Booster and Fire discuss the way Booster’s going about his hero-ing, as Fire comments on Booster’s initial reaction to the loss of Ted last year.
Ralph Dibny speaks with Cassie and her ‘cult’ as she’s promised him answers and the possibility of seeing a certain lost loved one. The final plot touched on this issue is John Henry Irons as he contemplates what he’s done by having rushed into the hero gig without thinking–what creating Steel has done in his life and others’ as well–and leads us into what might be a bit of a change for the character.

In a way, it feels like there’s not a LOT that happens in this issue–but with no less than five simultaneous, ongoing stories all being told, that’s to be expected. The scene transitions feel a bit choppy–not entirely interruptive, but at least a couple times I found myself flipping back a page to see what day I was on, and then was surprised when the main story ended, not having registered that it was the end of the week. In a sense, it might be fairly easy to be taken out of the story considering the week ends ‘conveniently’ at a cliffhanger.

Despite the aforementioned choppiness, I didn’t feel like I was reading multiple stories by distinct writers–which I feel is a good thing, given that this is overall a singular story of the events ocurring during the "missing year." The writing in and of itself is good, and conveys the sort of slice-of-life scenes of these characters.

The artwork is good–nothing much negative to say about it, really. Visually, characters are all recognizeable and distinct, and I didn’t catch myself at any scenes wondering who a character was because of artistic interpretations of familiar characters. The art may not be singularly distinct and recognizeable specifically (the way, say, Alex Ross artwork might be)–but it is clear and clean, and gets across what needs to be conveyed visually in the story, and that is the main concern.

The only story point that really jumped out at me offhand was Steel’s–I’m not certain, but I think we’re seeing where his history has been modified somewhat, possibly undoing stuff from several years ago. And frankly, I’m ok with such modification, as I wasn’t thrilled with said events as they originally unfolded at the end of Superman: The Man of Steel.

The backup I’m not as thrilled with. This week’s four-pager informs us (yet again?) that Donna Troy remembers and/or has access to memories and knowledge of the multiverse, pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths as well as post-, and everything up to present. We’re reminded THAT there was a multiverse, that there was a crisis, and that sacrifices were made that rocked everyone deeply. For this reader, at least, it feels like nothing new that wasn’t covered in Infinite Crisis. Additionally, it feels like the framing of this history is a bit of a detraction, robbing the history/story of precious panels to keep reminding us of Donna Troy (but then, perhaps that comes from my envisioning it as a singular story, how it will read when all the chapters are read back-to-back rather than a week apart?)

Taken as a whole, I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this format. While it’s not perfect (and I can’t quite put my finger on anything that WOULD make it perfect), I’m enjoying it thus far. Of course, 4 issues down leaves us with another 48 issues to go… This ride’s just beginning, and DC‘s got me hooked for the present.

Ratings:

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Booster Gold #9 [Review]

Quick Rating: Great!
Story Title: Blue & Gold chapter 4: Putting the Band Back Together

Booster Gold recruits his old buds so the Justice League International can help him fix Time…

boostergold009Written by: Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz
Pencil Art by: Dan Jurgens
Finished Art by: Norm Rapmund
Colors by: Hi-Fi
Letters by: Nick J. Napolitano
Asst. Editor: Harvey Richards
Editor: Michael Siglain
Cover by: Jurgens & Rapmund
Publisher: DC Comics

Have I mentioned that I’m lovin’ this series? There’s something about it that just really works, and I’ve enjoyed each and every issue so far.
This issue sees Booster and Beetle recruit their former teammates from the Justice League International days, as they take their fight into the midst of an Infinite Crisis unfolding differently from the one we know…since Booster has messed with the timeline by saving his best friend’s life.

While the JLI is being re-formed, Maxwell Lord and those in his power continue to see to Lord’s plans for the world working out as they might have, had events from Countdown to Infinite Crisis occurred differently. The issue moves along nicely, providing some cool reunions and believable, in-character reactions to other characters’ presence. There’s also a sense of something big on the horizon, and though one can guess at the permanency of the status quo, there’s still excitement and hope as to what the outcome will be after another couple issues.

The art–as usual and as now expected–is also very good, and seems perfectly suited to these characters.

This issue is as much a treat to look at as it is to read…and getting to do both makes it one of the finest comic series I’m currently reading.
Very much recommended!

Ratings:

Story: 4/5
Art: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

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