Review: Free Comic Book Day 2010

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Well, I could pretty much copy my intro from last year’s FCBD coverage. I did pretty much the same thing. I didn’t go to the comic book store, instead spending my time with boxing, beer, and babes. I got my free comics early, so I can still review these things.

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Review: Blackest Night: JSA #1

Hey everyone.  Expect another BEST OF list in the next few days.  Until then, we here at Read/RANT will be taking things a little slow for the holiday season.  Hope you all enjoy the next week or two, and we’ll be back with the same excellent reviews in 2010!

The same creative team that brought you Blackest Night: Superman is back for another tie-in mini-series, this time focusing on the Justice Society of America.  Following directly after the Superman mini, Blackest Night: JSA follows the team after the death of Damage in the main Blackest Night book.  While the core group tries to hold off the superzombies that are wreaking havoc on the city, Mr. Terrific and a few others remain hidden inside the JSA compound, examining the bodies of zombie Superman and zombie Lois Lane.

The story here is a little tighter than it was in Blackest Night: Superman and the script is a little more believable, but the action is weaker and the suspense that made the first half of the Superman mini so engaging is all but gone.  Barrows is notably stronger here than he was on Blackest Night: Superman as the action is more straightforward and the atmosphere pretty much amounts to “it’s dark out”.  Robinson and Barrows work together here to put out an enjoyable mediocre action tie-in.  Fans of Blackest Night will probably find much to enjoy.  No one else will care.

Grade: B-

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Blackest Night: Superman #3

Review: Blackest Night: Superman #2

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Blackest Night: Superman #1 was handily the best thing to come out of Blackest Night thus far.  An excellent blend of superheroics and horror, it managed to do more with a few off-panel deaths and the color yellow than any ten gore-splattered comic corpses could.  Though Robinson carries over some of the semi-horror traditions – the idyllic small town, especially – to Blackest Night: Superman #2, this issue is much more of a straight-up superheroic battle.

Clark and Conner continue to battle zombie Superman in the skies above Smallville while zombie Lois Lane holds Martha (and the corpse of Jonathan) Kent hostage on the streets below.  The tension this issue, however, comes from the sudden arrival of a new player: Psycho Pirate.  As he incites all sorts of colorful emotions on the unsuspecting populace of Smallville, the idyllic town descends into utter chaos… and becomes the perfect food for the Black Lanterns.

Barrows is on more solid ground than he was last issue – he’s far more capable at showing bad-ass superpeople fighting than he is at creating a pervasive atmosphere, and this issue is far more about the fight than it is about the horror.  Along with Ruy Jose, he also manages to wring a lot out of the Black Lantern emotional spectrum schtick, giving us snapshot reactions of the characters without looking ridiculous.

Psycho Pirate is a natural villain for Blackest Night.  In fact, there’s absolutely no reason he should be here rather than in the main mini, where his ability to manipulate emotion could bring the book down to the personal level it very much needs to reach.  Though he has some fine scenes as he terrorizes Smallville and forces people to become the perfect food for his companions, he serves no real purpose in the narrative.  Normally, I wouldn’t mind a loosely connected side-plot, even in a three-issue mini… but Blackest Night: Superman already has a loosely connected side-plot in the form of Supergirl’s plight on Krypton.  With one issue to go, can Robinson bring those stories to a meaningful resolution?

We’ll find out in a month.  Regardless of the side-plot issue, however, Blackest Night: Superman #2 remains a decent read.  It lacks the grace of the mini’s opener, but it’s replaced it with some solid action scenes, a tongue-in-cheek tone that doesn’t break the drama, and the set-up to what promises to be the fight of the century.  After all, what mother hasn’t wanted to beat up her daughter-in-law at some point?

Grade: B

– Cal Cleary

Blackest Night: Superman #1

Blackest Night: Batman #1

Blackest Night #3

Review: Blackest Night: Superman #1

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It’s interesting to note that, in the span of a single issue, Blackest Night: Superman manages to feel more menacing overall than the entire build-up and first two issues of Blackest Night combined.  It has been noted that Blackest Night is Johns dabbling in horror, trying to find a way of meshing a genre that’s all about the loss of control with superheroics, a genre that’s all about power.  It’s a fine line to walk, and the main mini has suffered at times from its inability to do so.  Blackest Night: Superman seems to suffer no such problems, and while you could by no means call the book ‘scary’, it does manage to meld the two genres fairly seamlessly.

The cover above is the best illustration of that, with the angles and lighting you’d expect to see on the poster of a horror film.  The issue itself is almost parodic in the way it follows the beats of an 80’s horror film.  We open on the origin of the monster, in this case Earth-2 Superman as he is called to rise from his grave, and move to the sunny, brightly lit Smallville, where everybody knows your name and even ex-presidents can be good, salt-of-the-earth people.  Then, slowly, as black clouds gather, they begin to die from some off-screen threat.  And we watch as the Black Lantern power level percentage (conspicuously absent in both Green Lantern Corps #39 and Blackest Night: Batman #1) rise, and know without being told exactly what’s happening to this idyllic town.

Of course, the story is not without its superhero beats as well.  Clark and Conner are having dinner with Ma Kent, Clark having returned in secret to Earth for the Memorial discussed in Blackest Night #2, and they’re eager to jump at the fight with Kal-L as the three have a massive aerial battle that takes them far above Smallville and nearly into space.  Meanwhile, the first Black Lantern ring reaches New Krypton shortly after Kara’s return… and that can’t be good for anybody.

Barrows is easily the book’s weakest link.  The tone of the story calls for a writer capable of furthering the chilling atmosphere without sacrificing any of the excitement of the action.  Barrows’ action is well-handled, though little stands out about it, but he fails to match the general tone of Robinson’s story, despite a few excellent panels that suggest hidden depths to his talent.

The issue thrives in using the Blackest Night devices – the power level clock and the color-coded emotional read-outs of everyone – far better than Blackest Night itself.  Thus far, the issue appears far less vital to the masterplot than Blackest Night: Batman #1 was save maybe as an explanation as to what Superman is up to, but it is nonetheless the strongest single issue to be involved with the Event thus far.  More chilling for what you don’t see than what you do, and more exciting by focusing what you do see only on the most vital events, Blackest Night: Superman #1 is definitely a able thematic heir to the main mini, improving upon its flaws without contradiction it at all.

Grade: B+

– Cal Cleary

Read/RANT

Blackest Night: Batman #1

Review: Green Lantern #42

The Words: Johns, as he has in all of the “Prelude to Blackest Night” issues, spoon-feeds us a lot of information. Johns sold me on this series long ago, so, of course, the exposition is fascinating to me. And those jumping on board for the mega-event shouldn’t be too lost. What’s interesting is that this issue is as goofy as Johns has ever been on this series. Do you even remember when this book was wacky? It got very serious during the “Sinestro Corps” stuff, which was basically a war comic, but this issue features a half-dozen moments that will either leave you chuckling or booing. I fell into the former category.

The Pictures: Oh, lord. This issue is even more of an artistic mess than last issue. There are two completely different art teams working here. That’s right, two pencilers, two inkers, and two colorists. There’s no rhyme or reason to the change in art, and the effect is jarring. Oh, and Hal’s two rings change places as well. Tan might be a slow artist. Or maybe he was busy or DC screwed him, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m looking forward to Doug Mahnke’s future issues even more right now.

Final Word: I had fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the “Blackest Night” info and hints. However, the poor art and sheer goofiness may repel some readers. 

Grade: C+

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Review: Action Comics #876

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Greg Rucka and Eddy Barrows team up to bring us an Action Comics without Superman, a risky move that, last month, offered us an excellent issue of comics as we were introduced to the concept of deadly sleeper-Kryptonians spreading xenophobic sentiment amongst humanity in an effort to start a war. We also met Thara Ak-Var and Chris Kent, the new Flamebird and Nightwing pair who are protecting Earth from Kryptonian abuse in Superman’s absence.

Yes, last issue spoke volumes for a world without Superman, but this issue falls back on weak cliche and so-so action to fill its 22-pages. Ursa, mother of Chris and one of the masterminds behind the sleepers, comes to Earth to destroy Nightwing and Flamebird before they can cause any more damage than they already have. Ursa’s internal monologue is compelling, a tightly-wound madwoman with intelligence and skill, but the conflict of the issue – Ursa beating the tar out of Thara for her betrayal until Chris shows up to save her and defeat his mother – is trite and cliche. There is some genuine emotion there, especially in the tormented Thara Ak-Var, but not enough to save the lackluster action, and not enough to redeem the issue for abandoning an interesting arc so quickly.

Eddy Barrows continues to improve. His art in Teen Titans was fairly generic, and though he has yet to come truly into a style all his own,  he is certainly getting better. He illustrates the action competently and offers a few particularly lovely panels, but ultimately, like the rest of the story, fails to distinguish in any meaningful way.  I hardly noticed on first read-through that multiple artists worked on the book – the blend is well-handled and does not distract.

Grade: C