This penultimate issue of "the Others" turns out to be largely a fight scene. Geoff Johns uses Mera as a reader identification figure, before he catches up to Aquaman and Black Manta, and the strategy largely works. The writer keeps Arthur's wife resourceful and resilient, even while maintaining that her husband is the more savage of the two. Seeing Arthur casually murder a Black Manta man brings realism to the conflict, and further underscores the creative team's efforts to legitimize the superhero that's been long an afterthought in DC's stable.
Furthermore, Arthur seems to be characterized as brash and reckless, wallowing in his tragic past and commanding a final showdown with Black Manta. The two's troubled relationship is underscored by one of the Others falling prey to the villain, going some way to try to validate Aquaman's decision.
In an interesting way, the break provided by the #0 issue will serve to lessen the tension and make the following confrontation that much more dramatic. Throughout, Reis' work is consistent and dynamic, despite the presence of multiple inkers. The visceral fight scenes featuring the muscled heroes carry over the script's cues in realizing this spotlessly paced issue.
A brief scene, flashing back to Arthur and Dr. Shin's mutual past enjoys a slightly different presentation, that not only manages to distinguish it from the surrounding pages, but moreover helps cast the beleaguered doctor in a more complex light. In all respects this is a solid issue, and while it doesn't complete the storyline before the beginning of the title's second year and the obligatory #0 issue, it more than maintains the momentum of a title that has largely succeeded in restructuring into a dynamic superhero book keeping up with the trends.
The regular "Flash" creative team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato extend the last issue's Rogues story into this Annual. Manapul provides the breakdowns, while each of the five artists handles a chapter of the story. Marcus To, who filled in for Manapul on Flash #10 and #11 provides a flashback pertaining to Barry remembering his father, which hints at providing context for an upcoming subplot. To's work here is clean and energetic, but the sparse setting and doesn't give the artist much space to showcase his strengths.
The longtime "Flash" artist Scott Kolins follows with a Captain Cold spotlight, showing a more traditional version on the Rogues. The chapter ends on a note tying in one of the book's subplots, but mainly serves to remind the reader of the strength of the title's onetime penciller/inker. Kolins' fluid, but detailed approach never worked as well as when paired with Geoff Johns on "the Flash", the book that served to launch both creators to the forefront of American superhero industry. Since then, the editorial has frequently made use of his talents in regards to "Flash" related projects, and the results remain impeccable. Even while working with the Jim Lee Flash redesign and the Manapul/Buccellato costume makeovers, Kolins makes manages to show off a lot of style, always employed in a way that mashes with the script to provide seamless storytelling.
Diogenese Neves, proceeds to illustrate the inciting incident that made the Rogues internalize their powers, which is undoubtedly the most crucial of the issue's three flashback stories. The co-writers provide a detailed origin for the Glider, a character they have spent the considerable time making a formidable female Rogues member. The opening narration feels overwrought, but the plot events and Neves' art quickly manage to regain the reader's attention. The artist's work is highly exaggerated and kinetic, with elongated figures and more then a tinge of the manga influence. By the time the segment is over, the creators have finally communicated Glider's exact predicament as well as the nature of her powers.
In contrast, the brief Marcio Takara illustrated chapter featuring Turbine and Patty Spivot works much more like a subplot segment that could have made its way into a regular issue of "the Flash". The three pages focus on the artist's ability to animate these characters in a tense conversation scene. The degree of success is overshadowed by the script hinting at the upcoming events involving Patty and Barry's relationship. As created by Manapul and Buccellato, Turbine has been an unbalanced character that is still a long way from establishing a believable personality. And while it's commendable that his creators are still working on making the character fit in their work on the title, they are still a long way from making the audience sympathize with him.
Finally, the last and most substantial chapter gets illustrated by Wes Craig, who is basically given the bulk of the pages involving the current confrontation between Flash and the Rogues. Given that the said fight is depicted over multiple double pages, this is also the chapter that would have most benefited from having been finished by Manapul. Craig works in a much more traditional style, with thick inks and only slightly exaggerated characters, which is hard to compare to the Filipino-Canadian's career defining work.
The script pairs up Flash with Captain Cold, whose temporary alliance forms as the result of some of the recent issues. The two quickly divide, with Snart proceeding to confront his sister, while the Flash tackles the rest of the Rogues in the Mirror World. The co-writers continue to focus solely on the Flash, saving the outcome of the fight between Cold and Glider until Flash returns to Central City. The last couple of pages serve to introduce the next arc's Gorilla City threat, after the book releases the next month's obligatory zero issue.
Looking at the Annual as the whole, it seems like there was no real reason to separate it from the regular series, aside from the fact that the title is a strong middle list seller for the company. At least a couple of the early chapters could have been relocated to another issue, or even dropped out of the series together. It remains to be seen how Manapul and Buccellato handle the rigorous schedule in the title's second year, as most of its appeal stems from their vibrant, water-colored art.
With this issue, after several irreverent one offs, "the Goon" returns to the strange tone that has characterized many of it's peaks as a longer narrative. In retrospect, Eric Powell is merely preparing the reader for the long-awaited showdown between the Goon and the Nameless Priest's magical superiors, but the story itself maintains the distance between two characters.
In fact, Powell spends most of it showing the one time primary antagonist at this particular point in his life, where he is downcast but still enjoying the fruits of his machinations. What starts out as a pauper's tale quickly becomes a sort of modern day fable, told in a sarcastic yet elegiac way that shows off the creator's diversity. There still remains a healthy dose of Powell's mischievousness, but its directed in service of a story that repeatedly shows the current balance of power between the Priest and the Goon.
The difference is that the Priest is finally content at the fact that he has won in the long run. In deconstructing the character, his creator prevents in making him powerless, but clearly telegraphs his intentions. The Goon is just about to face his much more powerful replacement and all his former antagonist hopes is that he will not be too involved in the conflict.
This dark, beautifully illustrated fairy tale ends final splashpage announcing the coming of the Indian, the sorcerer with every bit of the power that the Nameless Priest has lost (including a key part he loses in this very issue). It is commendable in giving the Priest back a small amount of respect, Powell is clearly recognizing his importance to the story. Despite everything that happened to him, the Nameless Priest remains a central part of the title, for as long as the creator decides that "the Goon" benefits from having him around.
As a back-up, Powell includes the first part of a Marc ("the Fables") Buckingham pencilled story, detailing the origin of Bog Lurk and its initial confrontation with the Goon. As usual with the Goon back-ups, the story is left in black and white, with Buckingham himself providing the gray tones. It nicely contrasts with the Powell-illustrated main story, in that it's much lighter and grounded in the whimsy that the title is more famous for. At face value, it seems to be a typical Frankie and the Goon, albeit well-paced and beautifully illustrated.
Buckingham utilizes the Powell's designs seamlessly and quickly integrates them in his style, that is not too dissimilar from that of the Goon's creator. It is fortunate that the collaboration will continue for at least another issue, as both the story and art feature "the Goon" at its lighthearted best.
After the prologue in "The Mighty Thor", the Everything burns mini-event begins in earnest in the pages of its sister title. "Journey Into Mystery" proclaims to be co-written by both Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen, with Carmine di Giandomenico listed as primary artist.
After the prologue that managed to convey a lot of information in fast paced and exciting sequences, the first part of the story begins with in a fairly leaden fashion. It's not that there's a slight plot progression at hand, but more that the co-writers decide to spend even more time in properly setting up the stakes of the story-line.
Having the Second Asgard-Vanir war serve as the culmination of Fraction's "Thor" run and Gillen's "Journey Into Mystery" work becomes much more burdening this time around. Basically, the cast is forced to deal with the implications of everything that lead to the Surtur-powered invasion, and they are understandably hurting.
The problem is that all this information is conveyed in a somewhat convoluted way, no doubt in order to confuse the protagonists, but it still feels more than a little forced. The scene in which Loki shares with Thor the full scope of his plan feels much more honest. There is a certain logic in having the character feel full brunt of his machinations later on, but it comes a little too soon and forces several characters to assume non-traditional roles in order to shake up the status quo.
The scenes involving Vanir remain the book's strong point, as Asgardia's opposition seems credible and their grudge believable. Unfortunately, Giandomenico is forced to work side by side with Alan Davis, which goes a long way to mitigating any strong feelings toward the book. Simply put, the two artists boast completely different style, albeit in a weird way complementary to the issues they have been assigned. "Journey Into Mystery" boasts the same over-rendered and near confusing visualization that is at the heart of the script, challenging the reader to compare it infavorably with the prologue issue.
Giandomenico's moody, crowded panels are the antithesis of Davis' clean, functional work, and moreover fail to achieve the boldness presented in the "Mighty Thor" issue. Herein, and at this size, they put a strain on the eyes and prevent the reader for enjoying the undisputed quality of the draftsmanship beyond the chaotic details. The artist's strong inks overpower a lot of his layouts and bring a look that is not dissimilar to Walt Simmonson's celebrated tenure with the character, but without the greatest strengths of his European-inspired approach.
At this point, despite the interesting story, the dualism in the approach to Everything Burns seems to be working at cross purposes. It feels like a crossover and the tie-in at the same time, and largely limits the story's potential to the existing fans of both of the participating titles. Someone who is not already used to the dichotomy of Marvel's Thor universe, and the specific history of the two titles in their current configuration is likely to be penalized for expressing interest in what Fraction and Gillen seem to have decided to be no more than the mutual wrap-up of their respective runs, concentrated in order to cover the greater plot in a more epic fashion.
Geoff Johns and Jim Lee finish the first year of their run on "Justice League" with an over-sized issue with several co-artists and nine inkers. The presentation varies from page to page, with clean and polished superhero artwork published side by side with much looser series of panels, preventing the reader from settling into the rhythm and enjoying the story on its own. For the moment, DC eschews the Shazam back-up, and devotes most of their organizational skills in making the final part of "the Villain's journey" ship in the last week of August, before the anniversary of the "New 52".
In keeping with the previous issues, the story is full of splash pages and over-sized panels, dramatizing a conflict that never stopped feeling misguided and ill-suited to the title. In the finale, Johns turns it into a lesson for the League, who are forced to recognize the true cost of their mission and the realities they face as the team. The message is muddled by the time scale adopted by DC's relaunch, as it feels like the "Villain's journey" should have followed directly from the introductory arc. Johns tries to implement the five year jump to provide a deeper motivation for the villain, but he remains nebulous both in character design and the very concept.
In crafting a personal foe for the League, the creative team has managed to produce a villain that is lacks both a clear name and a distinctive power-set. His undefined mystical abilities will hardly be ones that endear him to genre fans, existing as they do merely to visualize the League members' inner problems.
And while the shades of gray approach ultimately fails to cohere, the media angle that it enforces fares slightly better. That a team member ultimately deciding to leave the team in order to appease the media seems like an innovative technique to bring about a change in membership, signaling the creative team's second year of stories. The change in leadership feels much more sudden and arbitrary, but it pales in comparison to a plot point passed from DC to national media.
The much advertised relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman begins in the closing pages, and despite the inevitable sensationalism of the pairing, it actually feels right for the title. Wonder Woman's rejection of Steve Trevor has been a subplot from the beginning of the arc, and her eventual decision feels in keeping with her actions.
Typically, a superhero team book saves the character development for members that are not featured in solo books. In the introductory arc, Cyborg was the reader identification figure, but in "Villain's Journey" the spotlight has been firmly on Wonder Woman. Despite Johns' insistence on having the rest of the cast interact in a meaningful way, it was Diana that has received the majority of attention, and with a good reason.
So far, the character's solo book has yet to feature much of the character's superhero milieu. With Azzarello and Chiang centering on the character's origin and crafting their own stories inspired by ancient myth, Johns has taken upon himself to restore the rest of Diana's more familiar superhero background. Thus, it is only the "Justice League" that address her relationship with Steve Trevor, as well as her role in the superhuman community. Judging by the ending of the issue, it will be Johns as well who reintroduces her most famous villain to DCU. In a way, the writer is treating the Jim Lee illustrated book as the only vehicle for the more traditional version of the character, and he appears to be set on making the most of it.
The issue ends with the familiar page teasing the next year of stories for the title, as well as a two page advertisement for the second Justice League book. The Geoff Johns written "Justice League of America" is ostensibly taking the place of "Justice League International" in DC's lineup, and is set to be illustrated by another fan favorite artist. It remains to be seen how DC will work around Dave Finch's inability to keep a monthly schedule, as well as how the two titles relate to each other.
As a flagship, "Justice League" has so far managed to avoid the larger delays in keeping with having Jim Lee on the art. Yet, the compromises made were only a part of the title's problems, which, while not having a great effect on sales, have certainly meant that the readership wasn't treated with all of the possible benefits of the pairing of Johns and Lee. Whatever the reasons, the pairing has so far produced merely a couple of above average superhero stories, and it remains to be seen whether they manage to make good on the initial promise in the second year of their run, whatever form it may end up taking.
The latest issue of "Prophet" continues the revamp of Extreme Universe's property, as written by Brandon Graham. It is the third Giannis Milogiannis issue since the revamp, with the artist assigned on issues following the original incarnation of the character. Now referred to as the Old Man, John is reimagined as the Earth Empire warrior who rebelled against his masters.
Long after the demise of the Earth Empire, one of his clones reactivates the civilization, forcing the original Prophet out of retirement. The character has since reunited with Hiyonhoiagn, a tree-like creature. As the issue starts, they have been seeking the parts of Diehard, another Liefield creation, planning to have the android join them in the fight against the reawakened Earth Empire.
The latest issue is once-again self-contained, this time segmented into three parts. The issue starts with an interesting scene that serves both as a recap and a glimpse into John's inner workings. Following this, Milogiannis continues with the established imagery of run down science fiction interiors and bio-organic technology, with both script and the art maintaining a clarity that was not always apparent with the heavily atmospheric previous issues.
Despite the outlandishness of the concept, Hiyonhoiagn and his friendship with John feels authentic, and brings some much needed humanity into the series that has so far been very aloof. The fact that the characters finally enter our solar system further accentuates the feeling of increased intimacy. The civilization of the Jupiter's moon is in keeping with some of Graham's previous world building, but for once it works in a familiar role.
The aliens are merely a foil for John and Hiyonhoiagn, an obstacle to be passed on the road to complete Diehard's android body. Graham and Milogiannis spend only ten pages on the moon, with the understanding the alien culture necessitating a close reading. Joseph Bergin III's colors underline a strong sense of the book's identity, with the palette seemingly limited to blues, reds and yellows.
Graham tries to place Diehard in a role that doesn't hurt the book, but his very inclusion takes the reader out of the science fiction the creators are trying so hard to set up, and brings him to question its status in regard to the rest of Extreme universe. And while there is next to no chance that Youngblood and Supreme will be appearing any time soon, "Prophet" would have perhaps been better off without any kind of link to the wider body of work Rob Liefield created while at Image.
The following issue is supposed to continue the Farel Dalrymple story from #24, which appears to have been delayed. The Brandom Graham illustrated issue #26 has been collected before the first Milogiannis issue (the original #25), making it appear that the serial publication has definitely had sizable problems since the initial Simon Roy three parter. In any event, the self contained nature of Graham's scripts (with both Milogiannis listed as providing story input in this issue), as well as the fact that the story arcs run parallel to each other, provide a unique situation where this kind of scheduling doesn't actively hurt the book. It ends up being just another part of the appeal of this strange book, that rewards a particular type of reader, both patient and discerning.
The "Broken Arrow" arc concludes, ending the current tenure of artist Michael Lark on the title. Along with his two inker, Brian Thies and Stefano Gaudiano, the penciller concludes the arc in the same heavily stylized representational style he started it. It's hard to find fault with comics this well-realized, except to make note of Ed Brubaker's announcement that he will be leaving the title with #15. When the only slight that can be directed towards a book is the fact that it wouldn't continue in this configuration, the reader is sure that he has a very solid title in his hands.
It comes as no surprise then that this issue works both as a story in its own right, as a concluding chapter of the wider arc and provides a natural transition to the next storyline. Bucky's impatient and violent temper dominates the issue and ultimately proves his undoing at this stage of the battle of wits between him and Leo. Despite the continued presence of Jasper Sitwell, Winter Soldier's SHIELD handler, the book remains centered around James and Natasha, who is benefiting from the increased focus.
In the "Captain America" run that preceded this title, she was more of a supporting character, but the writer finally gets to fleshing her out. The venerable Marvel character benefits from the increased spotlight, and its her unpredictable nature, despite the plot contrivances, that sets her apart from the role of a typical superhero girlfriend. The issue revolves around the opera house set-piece, a familiar location for showdowns in genre fiction, but one that manages to bring a lot of character in the proceedings. With the presence of Jasper and Leo, the creators manage to add some suspense to the shootout, but it is the cliffhanger that manages to achieve the most in shocking the reader with implied violence.
During Brubaker's eight year long tenure at the company, the readers had grown accustomed to his high quality spy/detective extrapolations of the superhero genre. It's doubtful that Marvel will find a match for his methodical and well developed writing style anytime soon. As for Lark, he will presumably continue with the publisher, who will hopefully find a way to employ his powerful, evocative style and clean figures on a title worthy of his talents.
For the time being, Brubaker has at least one storyline to complete until the ends of his tenure on "Winter Soldier", with Jackson "Butch" Guice set to rejoin him with the next issue. Hopefully, the departing writer will find a way to complete his work on the title with the level of skill matching his scripts for "Broken Arrow".