Best Shots Reviews: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1, FLASH #50, SUPERMAN #1
Amazing Spider-Man #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, Laura Martin, Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
A decade-plus of stories pushed Spider-fans’ buttons by removing stalwart aspects of the Spider-Man’s history in an attempt to recalibrate Peter Parker for a younger generation. To Marvel’s credit, they stood by their decisions and their creators, and fans were treated to some wonderful stories. But the echoes of “One More Day” continued to loom large over the character. But with this relaunch, it feels a little bit like Marvel giving in to the constant fan feedback - polite or otherwise. It’s interesting then that they tapped Nick Spencer for the task - a writer perhaps more known for his controversial run on Captain America than anything else. There’s a certain nostalgic underpinning to Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s debut on Amazing Spider-Man. But is that nostalgia a sign of surrender or simply a spark for further creativity? My bets are firmly on the latter.
Spencer has a lot of legwork to do in this issue to get Spider-Man back to basics. Dan Slott had a tendency to remix Peter with another character’s M.O. So we got Peter as Tony Stark and Otto Octavius as Peter, among other permutations. And while fans can debate the effectiveness of that approach ad infinitum (and they have), it did allow Slott to explore some interesting avenues with regards to Peter as a character and how those explorations fit into the Spider-Man mythos. Spencer doesn’t necessarily want to erase that development, but he definitely needs the table cleared so that he can get to work, and that’s mostly what this issue accomplishes. There’s more realistic fallout from Superior Spider-Man here, with a return of the ol’ Parker luck that wings perfectly into that. And perhaps most controversially (depending on who you ask), there’s the return of Mary Jane as an anchor for Peter - something that’s been missing for years.
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to call Mary Jane Watson one of the most important supporting characters in comics history. There’s a reason that fans were (and still remain) up in arms about “One More Day.” Spencer keys into an all-time great Spidey annual from Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca to remind us what we’ve been missing. From there, while everything else falls apart for Peter, hope still exists. Maybe that’s a lot to put on a fictional character, but Spencer realizes the power that Mary Jane has over Peter as well as readers. There’s some valid criticism in the fact that she does exist as a bit of a cipher in this particular story, but there’s a feeling that Spencer knows that. Spencer’s juggling a lot of story (one that features an appearance from Mysterio and a plan spelled out by the Kingpin) so I’m willing to give her fairly boilerplate cultural characterization a pass until we see more.
On the art side of things, this issue will have everyone wondering why Marvel hadn’t snapped up Ryan Ottley earlier. Don’t get me wrong - we all knew from his time on Invincible at Image that Ottley had chops, but I don’t think we realized just how seamlessly he was going to translate to the Marvel Universe. This looks and feels like a Spider-Man comic book, and I couldn’t be more excited for it. Ottley has an economy that really betrays the influences he puts on display. We get the expressiveness of an Humberto Ramos, mixed with the Spidey action iconography of an Erik Larsen along with touches of a more reined-in Tradd Moore. It’s a strange mix, but one that Ottley blends together into something all his own. This is the kind of issue that lets you know someone will be drawing Marvel’s next big event in no time. And shoutout to Laura Martin for some really effective coloring work, especially on the opening pages as we revisit that Fraction/Larocca joint.
There’s definitely a lot of looking back in this issue, but it seems to be mostly in service of what’s coming. Despite the good work done by Dan Slott over the course of his career with Spider-Man, this issue feels like a return to the Spider-Man that I grew up with, and a return to the story elements that made me a lifelong fan. Ottley’s art has a lot to do with that - combining modern influences with some more classic ones. Spencer is a purposeful and deliberate writer who can be counted on to break new ground with a character, but he lets readers know that he knows what the backbone of Spider-Man is. If this issue truly is a sign of things to come from this creative team, then face it tiger - we’ve just hit the jackpot.
The Flash #50
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“The past and legacy are important,” insists Barry Allen in the “Flash War” finale. “You can learn from them to help us all move forward.” It’s a lesson that DC Comics has put into practice many times over the years, although the post-Flashpoint event world has often been a case of two incremental steps forward, followed by a series of reset buttons that don’t quite satisfy the old or new schools. As the latest arc in The Flash comes to an close, the past is very present in the narrative, but a wholly satisfying conclusion is achingly just out of reach.
After fooling pre-Flashpoint Wally West into breaking the Source Wall and tapping into the Speed Force, familiar foe Hunter Zoloman has unleashed other forces as well - the Strength Force and the intellectual Sage Force - to become an overpowered version of the Flash. These additions to the canon recall the simple genius of Geoff Johns expanding the Green Lantern universe by adding more colors to the spectrum. Yet Zolomon doesn’t do a lot with them for the most part, and his desire to fix history the way he sees fit sends Barry, Wally, and Hunter through the Force Barrier and into Hypertime.
For the uninitiated, Hypertime is a notion that former Flash scribes Mark Waid and Grant Morrison played with. It was a means of repudiating the typical approach to continuity in which the only valid version is the current one. In other words, no matter which version of a character you’ve read or watched, it’s all real. Here writer Joshua Williamson uses Hypertime as the battleground for conflicting versions of reality: pre-Flashpoint Wally’s temporal seizures versus Zoloman’s single-minded embodiment of the Hypertime concept.
Yet Williamson goes one step further, attempting to put some more nails in the coffin of that generally abandoned bit of multiversity. A few years back, Convergence showed us Hypertime still existed within the confines of a “Multi-Multiverse.” Without giving too much away, here he cuts off the various versions of the Flash from accessing Hypertime, and any chance of those various timeline converging once again. At least for now.
Howard Porter and Hi-Fi’s showstopping art is definitely up to the task of capturing the scale of this story. Opening as it does with the vision of the Justice League apparently vanquished by Zolomon, Porter uses breakaway panels and inserts to capture the speed of the concurrent activities occurring, and to offset the many splash panels of speedsters going in and out of various space-time portals.
A centerpiece moment comes in a double-page splash that features the primary race through Hypertime. As Hypertime begins to break down, Porter either directly places or recreates some iconic moments in Flash history for background fragments and occasional Easter Eggs. Here Hi-Fi’s color art comes to the fore, with these sepia-toned vignettes floating seamlessly alongside the electric blues, yellows, and of course, reds of speedsters running at a cracking pace.
As with most Flash stories, the heart of the story and the ultimate climax are both built around the notion of family. A stirring couple of splash pages from Porter don’t so much restore some of the family members that Wally is seeking, but at least bring their spirit back for a few teasing moments. As a final kicker, both versions of Wally West decide to go their own way, breaking up the team for the time being. It’s a bit of an anti-climax really, but not one without its moment-to-moment thrills.
Of all the excitable fan moments that pepper the back half of this issue, perhaps the most shocking is that none of it is all that surprising. It’s not a clear victory for Team Flash, and the final pages reintroduce an impulsively familiar face while teasing a future arc that will involve a new Crisis. Yet there’s also a persistent feeling that we’ve been here before, which probably shouldn’t be that surprising in a time travel story. Worlds will live, worlds will die: but will they be new worlds? Only (hyper)time will tell.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Where was this Superman six weeks ago?! After a tepid but beautifully drawn lead-up weekly miniseries, Brian Michael Bendis finally starts his Superman book proper, and the results are just as stirring and handsome as one would hope. Written with a humorously human tone and containing a few genuinely interesting plot turns, Bendis dispenses with the grandstanding and finally gets to work delivering an honest-to-Rao good Superman story. Given grand visual life amid down-to-earth emotionality by artist Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado, and colorist Alex Sinclair, Superman #1 stands as the real start to Bendis’ era on Superman, the one we should have gotten six weeks ago.
After the “revelations” of Man of Steel, this debut issue finds Superman somewhat rudderless in the absence of Jon and Lois. From here, Bendis really mines a rich vein of pathos using Supes’ new status as a homebody. After a sweeping trip to space looking for Jon and Lois, Clark returns to Earth and attempts to get back on his feet, both in and out of costume. Though he did his best Bryne impression in Man of Steel, his more interpersonal style of writing really shines through here, presenting a truly Bryne-ian take on the hero by delving into his personal life and somewhat fraught emotional state.
But Superman #1 isn’t just Clark Kent missing his family. Thankfully, Bendis tempers all this emotion and genuine humor - there is a sequence here with the Martian Manhunter that is truly hilarious - with some really big moves for the hero and his title. After coming to terms with Jon and Lois’ absence, at least for the time being, Clark refocuses his heroism and starts to reevaluate his and his adoptive home’s place in the universe. Prompted by a heart-to-heart with J’onn J’onzz and after building a brand new Fortress of Solitude in the Bermuda Triangle, Bendis starts to introduce the idea of Superman as a galactic diplomat, leading the Earth toward being a part of the universe. The idea is a really solid one and a neat take on Bendis’ “realistic” exploration of superheroes and the world around them that he displayed on Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers. Time will tell if he actually does anything with the idea, but it is nice to see Bendis really swinging for the fences, especially after six weeks of playing it so damn safe in Man of Steel.
Superman #1 is also granted real strength thanks to the artwork from Ivan Reis, Alex Sinclair, and Joe Prado. Though Man of Steel was gifted with a great roster of artists for each issue, it never really gained purchase as a cohesive visual experience. Thankfully Superman #1 doesn’t have that problem, as Reis’ eye for set pieces and emotive character models gives this debut an instant visual tone and language. From the epic showdown in space between Supes and a whole fleet of Dominators to the heart wrenching flashbacks Clark has of his absent family, Reis’ pages, made complete by the steady inks of Prado and the gleaming colors of Sinclair, shows that Superman #1 has a real understanding of both the action and heart required for a great Superman story.
After six weeks of slow build-up, Superman #1 shows that Brian Michael Bendis writing for the Distinguished Competition might just be the real deal after all. Graced with action, genuine heart, and more than a few jokes that really land, Bendis’ first true blue story with Big Blue really resonates and (finally) starts his tenure on a grand emotional note. Couple Bendis’ pathos-filled script with an art team that understands drama and action like Ivan Reis, Alex Sinclair, and Joe Prado, and you have a solid start to what could potentially be a big run for Superman. Though it would have been nice to get this issue six weeks ago, Superman #1 is the issue we have all wanted from Bendis and the stellar stable of artists DC has at its disposal.