Monday, 29 September 2014

The Flash Volume 3: Gorilla Warfare (The New 52) Review

The Flash Volume 3: Gorilla Warfare (The New 52)

"We are not monkeys! We are apes!"
Writers: Fancis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Artists: Fancis Manapul

Collecting: The Flash #13-19

Background Information:

Readers who have been put off by the New 52’s “Dark and Gritty” approach, may find that The Flash offers an appropriate remedy to their affliction. Most of the action happens during the day, humour is more present here than in any other DC book and the action has generally been less about decapitations and more about showing off what the Flash can do.

This is a series that has come under fire since the beginning of the New 52 for starring Barry Allen as the Flash and not the highly popular Wally West. But, in all respect, those critics can go jump because The Flash has been one of the more consistently good books in the New 52.


In case you haven’t caught on, I’ve really been enjoying The Flash, and Gorilla Warfare feels like the final touch on a long first story arc. There’s still another volume to come in Manapul and Buccellato’s run with Barry Allen, but this so far has been the highest point in a series that’s already highly enjoyable.

So the Gem cities have been invaded by talking Gorillas led by their King, Gorilla Grodd. What makes these monkeys so dangerous is that this time, their powered by the speed force- the extra-dimensional energy that give the Flash his powers. Faced with this threat, Flash has to team up with the Rogues- his foes from the previous volume- to drive the invasion back.

The story is a great excuse for Buccellato and Manapul to call the gorilla’s “damn filthy apes”. Planet of the Apes FTW!
Yep, add this to the list of dumb ideas.

There’s been a LOT of set-up to this story in the previous two volumes, so readers hoping to come in fresh with Gorilla Warfare aren’t going to have a lot of fun here. The story relies heavily on knowing that the Rogues are all angry at Captain Cold, their former boss, knowing that Iris West (one corner of Barry’s love triangle) is trapped in the speed force and knowing that most people are convinced that Barry is actually dead. But it’s the way all of these elements are brought together that makes Gorilla Warfare so enjoyable.

Even better is the way that Manapul and Buccellato manage to walk that fine line between “light and fun” and “dark and gritty”. I don’t know how they pull it off, but this book somehow manages to be both without making either one fell neglected. One minute I’m having a chuckle at the inability of the Rogues to get along, another moment I’m cringing as the Trickster’s arm gets ripped off. It’s a great duality that somehow happens without Gorilla Warfare feeling like it’s at odds with itself (something that’s not easy to do- watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2 if you want proof).

Seriously, who doesn't like this couple?
I can’t really go on without talking about Patty Spivot, Barry’s love interest in this and the last two volumes. When I first read about her, I was aware that Iris West was Barry’s love interest before the New 52, and didn’t expect Patty to last this long. Yet, third volume, and here we are. What’s more, she’s really become a likeable character in this volume, and in many ways seems an excellent match for Barry. We know that he’ll end up with Iris eventually, but Barry’s relationship to Patty seems just a relevant.

The art here returns to its former glory. In the last volume, there were some moments that were taken by other artists and that hurt the book. This time the art is firmly in the hands of Manapul, and it’s awesome again.

My only real problem here is that… actually, I have no real problem with this volume. It’s just what I want out of a Flash story, so it gets a five out of five damn filthy apes.


+ Brings the last two volumes together perfectly.

+ Balances “light” and “dark” elements really well.

+ Art back to being excellent.

Alternate Option: The Flash: Move Forward and Rogues Revolution

You need to read these to understand Gorilla Warfare.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Superior Spider-Man Vol. 2: A Troubled Mind (Marvel NOW!) Review

Superior Spider-Man Vol. 2: A Troubled Mind (Marvel NOW!)
Something... Something... SUPERIOR!
Writer: Dan Slott
Artists: Humberto Ramos and Ryan Stegman
Collects: Superior Spider-Man #6-10
Background Information:
With the Marvel NOW! initiative, Dan Slott changed Spider-Man in ways that sent shockwaves of anger through Spidey’s fanbase; Spider-Man is no longer Peter Parker.
Okay, the change was never going to be permanent, but at the time, that’s what Slott was selling it as. People were attached to Peter, the guy who had been through hell, but still managed to be the nice guy who didn’t finish last. Now Peter was gone, his mind replaced by the mind of Otto Octavius (AKA Doctor Octopus). It’s not a change that sat well with fans, despite story quality.
The first volume was mostly set-up. We learnt that even though Peter Parker was technically dead, a portion of his mind was still around, influencing Otto’s decisions. Otto didn’t quite know it at the time, but a genius like him was gonna find out sooner or later.
Okay, those fans who are four-year-olds in adult bodies, happy now? I raged at Superior Spider-Man, an essentially excellent series that actually gives a half-fresh take on the character. But I’m gonna stop now, because Superior Spider-Man’s second volume, A Troubled Mind is great, if not as good as the last volume, and you’d be crazy to not read it.
"So, I was watching The Bold and the Beautiful, right? And..."
So, Otto has been continuing his penchant for brutalising villains, and that disturbs the superhero team that Spidey’s been a part of for a while. No, not the Fantastic Four; the Avengers. The thing is, Otto is absolutely unapologetic about it. In the meantime, Otto’s catching on to the fact that there’s still a remnant of Peter Parker left in his new mind, and it’s time he left for good.
Plot-wise, it’s nice to see that, apart from J. Jonah Jameson (who absolutely loves this new Spidey), nobody else is really convinced that this is a Superior Spider-Man. I love Otto as the new Parker, but it’s nice to see that people are suspicious about this very unfriendly neighbourhood hero. Carlie is still looking in to him, the Avengers renounce his membership and Mary Jane gets very disappointed in him when he doesn’t save her, calling the fire department instead. Indeed, what this issue does best is raise questions about the notion of being “superior”. Otto may be superior in terms of his methods, but his heroism in still inferior to Parker’s.
That said, the middle of this collection drags just a little bit. It’s mostly Avengers debating and running tests on Otto to make sure everything’s happening in Paters mind. I don’t mind an actionless issue or two (not that these issues are actionless, but those action scenes are certainly unengaging), and in A Troubled Mind, it certainly has its place. But the book’s main villains are the Jester, Screwball and Peter Parker’s memory. That’s not a memorable lineup- especially when last volume treated you to the likes of the Vulture.
Cap looks so serious sporting a stupid-looking chin-strap.
Art here is just as good as you would expect it to be if you’ve read My Own Worst Enemy. Spiderman comics tend to lend themselves to an unrealistic, but highly stylised form of art and that’s just what you get here. By now, it’s nothing groundbreaking; you’ve seen this in the last volume, as well as in Scarlet Spider and Spider Island.

All in all, though, A Troubled Mind, while not being as good as My Own Worst Enemy, is still notably good. It gets a three and a half out of five four-year-olds in adult bodies.
*** ½
+ Questions the notion of being “superior”
+ Not everyone’s convinced that this is a better Spidey.
- Villain lineup is meh.
Alternate Option: Scarlet Spider: Lone Star
If you can’t stand the idea of Spider-Man proper being dark, check out Spidey’s darker clone, and, y’know, stop whining.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Nightwing Vol. 4: Second City (DC's The New 52) Review

Nightwing Vol.4: Second City (The New 52)
Psst: Don't tell X-Men: Days of Future
Past that you stole their cover!
Writer: Kyle Higgins

Artists: Brett Booth, Will Conrad and Norm Rapmund

Collects: Nightwing #19-24

Background Information:

The Nightwing series in the New 52 started off great- a six-issue story arc. The two volumes that followed it... weren’t as great. Being tied to the New 52’s Batman meant that stories outside the crossover had to fill in the blanks. To say that they did so poorly would be unfair; they weren’t awful stories Paragon’s story arc certainly wasn’t totally awful and the fallout from Death of The Family felt relevant, but Lady Shiva’s story definitely fell flat. Sure, Nightwing’s Death of the Family and Night of the Owls arcs were entertaining, but they definitely hurt the series, leaving other story arcs to become filler (I’m convinced that the Paragon story arc could have been fantastic if it was six issues instead of four). At the end of the day, I came out of Volume 3: Death of the Family certain of one thing; if Nightwing was going to catch my interest again, he would need to be separated from Batman.


I was right. Can I say that? I WAS RIGHT!!!

Nightwing’s separation from the rest of the Bat-Family in the previous volume the shot in the arm that his series needed. No longer reliant on Scott Snyder’s, I’ll admit, excellent run on Batman, Kyle Higgins feels like he’s truly in his element- something we’ve not seen since his first volume; Traps and Trapezes.

The notion of change has been a constant thing for Higgins’ Nightwing. He went from re-joining the circus to taking the circus to not having a circus anymore to now moving to Chicago. Here, he hopes to track down Tony Zucco; the man who killed his parents. The problem? Chicago isn’t exactly super-hero friendly. An unspecified incident has led to the city banning anyone wearing a flashy costume. Things aren’t made better when Nightwing finds himself forced to team up with psychotic hacker, the Prankster.

Firstly, yes, his name is the Prankster. And yes, there’s a certain amount of Joker-lite about him. Mostly in the way he justifies his actions by saying “where’s the prank?” when he’s about to nearly kill someone. But this is Nightwing; who, even in Higgins’ run, has been referred to as “Batman-lite”. In a weird way, the character works. Actually, he soon shakes off that Joker-lite-ness about him later in the issue when we finally get a background story. So far, the Prankster has to be the best Nightwing villain of Higgins’ run.

But it’s about more than just the villains. The society in which Nightwing finds himself fits Dick Greyson like a glove. I’ve never been to Chicago; it may as well be any other American city in my opinion. Nonetheless, a certain sense of grittiness comes across here. It actually comes across as a new kind of Bludhaven- full of dirty secrets, evil mobs and no hero in sight. Dick Greyson’s not hiding his identity because he wants to protect those he loves here. Due to Chicago’s inherent hate for superheroes of any kind, Dick really has to hide his identity to stop being arrested. It’s a realistic take on superheroes that not even recent Batman comics has managed to pull off, but Higgins handles it with aplomb.

Tony Zucco makes up a huge portion of this story, naturally, and his character is SO interesting. Having changed his name and taken up a new life, he freaks out when Nightwing comes to town, and tries his best to hide from a guy who’s been after him for ages. It’s more the character transformation, however, that caught me. I won’t spoil it, but the Tony Zucco you think you’re meeting at the beginning isn’t the one you see in the end.

But there lies my only issue with the trade. The end of the last Nightwing volume; Death of the Family, showed us a Tony Zucco that appeared to be a mob thug. Now, Zucco’s a clean-cut father working for the mayor. It’s this weird inconsistency that never gets addressed, and that becomes disappointing.

Chicago cops rate one above Stormtroopers, but several
million below... y'know... decent marksmen.
I can’t leave this review without talking about the art. Last volume art duties were taken from Eddy Barrows and handed to Brett Booth, who worked on the abysmal Teen Titans. Last volume, his work was pretty ugly. Unmasked, Dick looked too much like Rocky after a few rounds- and that wasn’t intentional, I gather. Here, the work is much better. Dick looks much better this time around and Booth even makes additions to Nightwing’s costume that look alright. I still miss Barrows’ Nightwing, but this one serves just fine.

Second City is the best Nightwing story to come out since Higgins’ first New 52 volume. It gets a four and a half out of five Rocky-lites.


+ The Prankster is genuinely enjoyable.

+ Tony Zucco is done so well.

+ Nightwing in Chicago is gold.

- Some continuity issues with Tony Zucco.

Alternate Option: Nightwing: Traps and Trapezes

Another one of Higgins’ proudest moments with Nightwing. Read it.