Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Justice League of America #6 Review – Batman Survives…?

Justice League of America #6, Bryan HitchTITLE: Justice League of America #6
AUTHOR/PENCILLER: Bryan Hitch
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 23, 2015

***Go all the way back to the beginning with our review of Justice League of America #1.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m starting to get worried about this book. It’s been plagued by delays, to the point that they had to plug different creators into issue #5 and make it a filler issue. Needless to say that’s frustrating, especially when you consider Hitch has put together the best Justice League book on the stands.

With his true nature revealed, Rao goes one-on-one with Superman, and the Man of Steel has more than met his match. And things don’t look so good for Wonder Woman or Aquaman either. Meanwhile, Green Lantern and The Flash remain trapped in the past, searching for answers about what’s happening in their time.

So here’s my question: What does this have to do with Batman? The Dark Knight is the only Leaguer vertical on the cover, having apparently been the last man standing in a battle of sorts. But no such battle takes place in the issue, and Batman doesn’t even appear. So while the issue itself is more than fine, there’s a disconnect with the cover from the get-go.

IMG_1316The confrontation between Superman and Rao in this issue is brief, punctuated by the Man of Steel being sent flying across the arctic with a single punch. Hitch goes as far as to give us a two-page spread of his landing, which creates a massive crater. It’s arguable whether that much page space was merited for a moment like that. But it does create the epic/”wide screen” vibe Hitch is going for. And he gets a little more slack from me, considering this confrontation meant something. We’d been building up to it for four issues (we don’t count issue #5), and it adds to Rao’s credibility as a threat to the League. Interestingly, I remember Scott Snyder and Jim Lee doing a similar long-distance punch in Superman Unchained. But that fight wasn’t nearly as impressive as this one, as much of this series has been built around Rao. That wasn’t necessarily the case with…whatever the monster from that series was called.

Hitch remains very good at making it seem like all the Leaguers stand on equal footing, which is immensely refreshing in a company that overemphasizes Batman to death. Hell, intentional or not, they even did it with this cover! But regardless, Hitch is able to place the plot threats for Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and all the others on equal footing. That’s a sign of great writing.

Justice League of America #6, Wonder Woman, Bryan HitchThere’s something to be said about how religion is portrayed in this series. Obviously you have the Rao character performing miracles as his disciples seek to recruit new followers who are obviously being deceived. Then in this issue, Wonder Woman has some dialogue with the Oraculum on Olympus about being called a god that might make believers frown. These two lines in particular…

“I’ve never been comfortable with that. Being a god. Being somebody others would pray to. Would believe in.”

“Perhaps it is more important that you believe in yourself.”

I’m not sure if there are supposed to be real-world implications here or not. I’ve never been big on religious agendas, or agendas of any kind, in my comic books. But if it’s a good story, which doesn’t beat you over the head with whatever ideals the writer is conveying,  hat usually trumps any sort of distaste brought on by preachiness. What we’ve seen so far in JLA is good storytelling, so I’m once again inclined to be lenient with it.

While he’s got some stiff competition from Geoff Johns over in Justice League proper, Bryan Hitch has managed to put together the best JL book on the stands right now. It’s a book that truly feels worth of the League. In an interview earlier this year, Hitch called referred to his vision for this book as “an HBO series with an unlimited budget.” If you’re a DC fan and you’re not reading this book, you need to do some binge watching.

Image 1 from darkknightnews.com. Image 2 from author’s collection. 

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Posted in Television

A Review of The Flash S2E6 – Zoom Ends Barry’s Run?

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This was a big episode. How do you know? Because they didn’t have any time for that plot thread with Iris’ mom. I’m hoping that has something to do with something at one point. Otherwise, what the hell was the point?

But again, no time for that crap this week. Things are goin’ straight to hell…

Jesse QuickPonderings From The Flash, S2E6:

Wells: “You’re my joy, Jesse Quick.” Ahhhh, how about that? Wells’ daughter is Jesse Quick. There’s something to look forward to.

In the old DC Universe, Jesse Quick was a supporting player in the Flash comic book. The daughter of Golden Age hero Johnny Quick, Jesse became one of Wally West’s partners before changing her hero identity to Liberty Belle.

I can only assume Jesse knows about her powers, if only because Zoom came looking for her. Given how that fight between Zoom and Barry went (more on that later), they may need her sooner than later.

Obviously, the “Arrowverse” is expanding. With Legends of Tomorrow on the horizon, and The Flash still going strong, that’s a good thing.

The team enlists Linda Park’s help in setting a trap for Zoom. This was a bad idea, and even the heroes knew it. You never intentionally put innocents in jeopardy. That’s got to be in the first chapter of the superhero rule book.

Linda Park, Malese JowOn the plus side, it’s nice to see the Linda Park character fleshed out a little more. This as the first episode where I really took the time to study how Malese Jow portrays her. She now seems like she has her own distinct personality, as opposed to just being somebody in the background.

She also had two really good lines this week: “I’ve made out with The Flash,” and in reference to Zoom, “You can’t fight that thing. It’s a monster.”

Also, now she knows Barry is The Flash. Barry’s got a lot of strings attached at this point. That could come back to bite him, specifically when it comes to his adopted father…

Barry admits to Joe that he’s been having trouble being happy since he failed to save his mother from the Reverse-Flash. Joe tells him to do his best to be happy here and now. Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin have become really good at these father/son scenes. And it led to an awesome moment between Barry and Patty. Scenes like this make me wonder if Joe’s going to get killed off at some point. His death would be so impactful for all the heroes, Barry and Iris especially.

The Flash, Season 2, ZoomThe Flash faces off with Zoom for the first time. Obviously Zoom has a scary quality to him. A little less scary when you realize they’re sort of channeling Cobra Commander and Shredder with his voice. But still, he’s a very effective big bad for the season.

This fight reminded me of the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader fight from The Empire Strikes Back. The good guy has the heart and the will, but the bad guy simply has too much power and experience. As such, The Flash got his ass kicked, and he was humiliated in front of his allies. I’m not sure how much Zoom knows about Barry’s life, but having Zoom drag Barry in front of his father would have been a nice cap-off to that sequence.

When Zoom stabbed Barry, originally I thought the wound was in his heart. Needless to say, that would have complicated things. But as we’d soon learn, the wound was in his spine. So what does The Flash do when you take away his legs? In the comics, we’ve seen a version of Barry on a motorcycle. But I doubt they take that route here. I’ve got a feeling Barry gets his legs back next week via super healing or something like that.

Robert Queen is the Arrow of Earth-2. During a flashback scene on Earth-2, Harrison Wells hears that Robert Queen, Oliver Queen’s father on Arrow, was the one who donned the hood on that world. That was a really cool little Easter egg.

Image 1 from nerdist.com. Image 2 from ibtimes.com. Image 3 from ign.com.

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Posted in Television

A Review of The Flash S2E1 – Excitement, Frustration, and Alternate Earths

The Flash, season 2 posterBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***Warning: Spoilers lay ahead for The Flash, Season 2, Episode 1***

Last season, The Flash turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It wasn’t without its hiccups, of course. But in the end, it turned out that DC’s television universe may be more interesting than the cinematic one it’s trying to get off the ground. Grant Gustin plays a pretty good everyman, and the show proved that not all superhero shows don’t necessarily need to be grim or gritty to succeed.

Let’s hope that success can continue this season. This episode was fine, but also surprisingly frustrating…

Our season 2 premiere reveals that Ronnie Raymond apparently died while helping The Flash stop the black hole in the season 1 finale. I found this development pretty lame. We’ve already done the whole “grieving over Ronnie” thing. This feels like we’re retracing steps from last season. Granted, this is a superhero story. It’s entirely possible that Ronnie is alive and well somewhere. But then we’re just retracing our steps yet again with the whole “finding Ronnie” angle.

The Flash, Season 2, Episode 1, image 1Still, Barry Allen pushing everybody away was a natural reaction to Ronnie’s death, if not a little textbook superhero. I also love that Caitlin doesn’t blame Barry for what happened. Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of Barry and Caitlin being together much more than Barry and Iris. With them both being scientists, it makes more sense. Hell, she even forgave him for his role in her husband’s death! She obviously cares about him deeply. Why not explore this?

In his living will, Harrison Wells inexplicably confesses to the murder of Nora Allen, resulting in Henry Allen being released from prison. This a trap. It has to be. There’s no way Wells, in defeat, would simply give Barry the one thing he wants more than anything. So what’s the punchline?

Also, I call BS on the whole “I have to leave so you can be The Flash” thing. That makes no sense at all. How would it hinder Barry to have his father there to encourage him? What’s more, Henry MAKES Barry tell him it’s okay to go away after 14 years in prison. Talk about a dick move. Between this and the Ronnie Raymond thing, it feels like they’re writing around the actors’ availability. But is that even the case?

Atom Smasher, The Flash, Season 2, Episode 1Adam Copeland, a.k.a. WWE’s Edge, plays Atom Smasher. I’ve actually never seen Copeland act in any environment outside of WWE. I was pleasantly surprised. He’s quite good at it. But that’s not really a surprise, considering what a sadistic jackass he played during the last several years of his wrestling career. He’s got a really cool grizzled bad guy voice too.

Barry and the others construct a “Flash-Signal” to summon Atom Smasher for a confrontation. Cisco: “I think I saw it in a comic book somewhere.” This was an eye-roller. If you want to wink at the audience about Batman, then at least be clever.

Atom Smasher reveals a person named “Zoom” told him to kill The Flash. Obviously they’re building toward the introduction of Professor Zoom, here. I’m curious as to how they’ll do that. For non-comic book readers, Zoom was an alias of Eobard Thawne, who died last season. The line about Zoom taking Atom Smasher home was also curious. Is this home an alternate Earth, perhaps? Speaking of which…

The Flash, Season 2, Jay GarrickJay Garrick makes his on-screen debut in the closing moments of the episode. This is definitely exciting. Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-2, opens a lot of new doors for this season, and the series overall.

I can only assume we’ll see Barry travel to Earth-2 at some point, presumably by way of the cosmic treadmill. We have very little to go on at this point, obviously. But as a sucker for alternate Earth storylines, I’m very anxious to see what they do with Jay Garrick, and whatever Earth-2 characters pop up.

Image 1 from ign.com. Image 2 from forbes.com. Image 3 from comicbookresources.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Justice League of America #1 Review – The Team Comes Together

Justice League of America #1 (2015)TITLE: Justice League of America #1
AUTHOR/PENCILLER: Bryan Hitch
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $5.99
RELEASED: June 17, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeah…yeah, this feels good. This feels right. This feels like a Justice League book!

Bryan Hitch’s extended love letter to the Justice League begins with Superman’s dead body. A whole PILE of dead Superman bodies, actually. The mysterious and elusive Infinity Corporation has been using the “Stones of Forever” to retrieve Superman’s corpse from the near future over and over again. The theme seems to be that once Superman dies, all is lost. A short time later, the League faces off the The Parasite. But how is The Parasite connected to the Infinity Corporation? And how is the Infinity Corporation connected to the massive revelation at the end of the issue?

Justice League of America #1, interiorThere’s a certain purity to this issue that I love. Geoff Johns’ run on Justice League has done much more right than it has wrong. But at times iit still falls victim to the trend of “over-Baturation,” i.e. overblowing the importance of Batman within the context of the League. There’s no over-Baturation in this issue. The story thus far is very Superman-centric, but that’s because the coming story largely deals with Superman’s mythology. And even then, we get the sense that no member of the League is more important than another. We’re not constantly being reminded how bad ass Batman is, or how many overblown constructs Green Lantern can create. I came away from this issue believing in the League as a team.

And wouldn’t you know it, they actually act like a team! They look out for each other during battle. We see Batman and Cyborg strategizing. They refer to one another by their first names (Which is weird in the context of a battle, but oh well.) They feel like a well oiled machine that’s been operating for over five years. That’s a vibe that Geoff Johns couldn’t create after Justice League: Origin, and one can argue he has trouble with it to this day. To Hitch it comes very natural. He creates an interesting sense of unseen history between the characters.

Justice League of America #1, Aquaman, United NationsWe also get a subplot where Aquaman talks to the UN about a trade agreement with Atlantis. We’re reminded that Atlantis is indeed the largest nation on Earth, and Aquaman assures them that Atlantean technology will not be used against the surface world. This is obviously a seed planted for later. But for the time being, it’s nice to see Aquaman getting some extra emphasis.

I can’t complain much about the art here. There is a panel about mid-issue where The Flash looks a little…stretchy. But that’s the biggest criticism I have here. Our opening scene is beautifully rendered, as we see Superman amidst the end of the world. The Parasite is also wonderfully drawn. In an interesting twist that I personally haven’t seen, Hitch renders him getting bigger as he gains more power. That’s a nice touch, and it really sells The Parasite as a menacing monster.

Justice League of America #1, The ParasiteWe’re only one issue into Hitch’s run. But as far as I’m concerned, Justice League of America is already as high a priority as Justice League, if not more so. My early impression is that this is a good book for longtime fans to pick up, as it restores some of that camaraderie among the League that’s synonymous with stories dating back to the Silver Age, and the very birth of the League. The fact that Hitch could inject that old school appeal into this book, while still staying true to the New 52 and modern continuity, is pretty damn cool to say the least.

Image 1 from fanboysinc.com. Image 2 and 3 from comicvine.com.

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Posted in Television

A Review of The Flash, Season 1 – Don’t Be Afraid to Smile

flash_ver2TITLE: The Flash, Season 1
STARRING: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh
CREATORS: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns
RATING: TV-PG
NETWORK: The CW
SERIES PREMIERE DATE: October 7, 2014

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

I was never drawn to Arrow. It was mostly the ho-hum reviews that I read online, but also because I’m not a huge Green Arrrow fan. Any character done right is worth attention (see Marvel’s Daredevil), but I remained highly skeptical of Arrow, and still do. I watched a couple of episodes on Netflix, and decided it wasn’t worth my time to endure the agony of a crappy first season until it got “really, really good.”

That said, I actually adore The Flash. I looked forward to watching it each week, and I came away from the season finale wanting more. How is it that two shows, both on the CW, both created by similar creative teams, and even occupying a shared universe, managed to make me look at them in wildly different ways?

2060_oriThe Flash stars Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, a nerdy young CSI for the Central City Police Department. He’s obsessed with proving the innocence of his jailed father, Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen in the 1990s The Flash TV series). Henry was convicted years ago of murdering Barry’s mother in a strangely fantastical incident that Barry witnessed as a child. There was a big, yellow streak involved. Then one day, at the activation of the new S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator, things go horribly wrong. There’s an explosion in conjunction with a lightning storm. Barry is struck by lightning while working in his strangely grungy-looking CSI lab.

Barry wakes up from a coma nine months later, being tended by S.T.A.R. Labs personnel Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), and Dr. Caitlyn Snow (Danielle Panabaker), to find that he has super speed, a healing factor, and a need to eat lots and lots of food. His surrogate father, police detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) warns him not to tell his daughter, and Barry’s longtime crush, Iris West (Candice Patton), about what’s going on. Barry soon dons a scarlet costume and works with the S.T.A.R. Labs team to take down delinquent “meta-humans” who also gained powers through the particle accelerator explosion. Meanwhile, Dr. Wells is hiding a deep, dark secret…

Also, Joe’s partner, Detective Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), shows up and begins dating Iris.

The Flash, Arrow, crossoverFrom what I saw of Arrow, the two shows do have a few things in common: They’re both drenched in bathos and melodrama and almost none of the characters look above 30. But aside from that, they couldn’t be any more different. Where Arrow is dominated by soulless and crushing despair, The Flash is the most upbeat TV drama I’ve seen since White Collar. It’s not just the abundance of humor. It’s stories are made to be as fun as possible, with no pretentions of being realistic or serious. After all, how serious can a show about a guy who runs really fast punching criminals be?

Early episodes of the show went with a straightforward police-procedural feel. But as the show got more confident, it eventually transformed into full-blown comic-booky science fiction craziness.

Arguably the two best things about this show are the Joe West and Harrison Wells characters. Joe is just a fun character to watch. He’s so blithely incredulous about the craziness going on around him that it’s impossible not to find him endearing. I love that he’s really the only one who has a problem with Barry and his friends locking up all the meta-humans they capture in a completely illegal private prison. There’s also an actual Tumblr devoted to his unique facial expressions. Joe West reminds me of a more laidback version of Crispus Allen from Gotham Central.

Tom Cavanagh, Harrison WellsThen there’s Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells. Cavanagh spends most of the season in a wheelchair, but it’s incredible how subtly he gets his character across. I enjoyed how they played up Wells’ similarities to Joe, in that they’re both father figures to Barry. It all leads up to a great payoff in the end that gives us an excellent performance by Cavanagh as a maniacally evil mad scientist. He’s interesting to watch at all times.

As for other villains, The Flash suffers from a tired “freak of the week” format, but it’s redeemed by a particularly fun group of recurring villains. There are the Rogues, led by Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), who deserves special mention. He sounds like he’s channeling Clint Eastwood half the time, but he’s obviously having a lot of fun in the role. Some of the best and craziest episodes of the series involve both he and his fellow Rogues, Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) and Golden Glider (Peyton List). Purcell is probably the hammiest actor on the show next to Mark Hamill’s much-ballyhooed guest star as the Trickster. And who can forget the Reverse Flash the Man in the Yellow Suit?

Granted, The Flash won’t win any writing awards. For instance, the love triangle between Barry, Iris, and Eddie seems contrived at best and creepy at worst. On one hand, there’s no real conflict between Eddie and Barry because they’re both really nice guys. Barry doesn’t want to hurt Iris or Eddie, and those two are completely oblivious to Barry’s feelings. On the other hand, Iris herself said in the first episode that she and Barry were like “brother and sister.” Ick. It didn’t help much when they decided to pair Iris with Eddie. It was a pathetically obvious effort to inject some cheap drama into the plot. Incidentally, Eddie and Iris actually make a pretty good couple.

The Flash, Harrison Wells, Eddie ThawneEddie’s mere presence here is a possible sign that this show was only half-baked when it first went on the air. First we have the Totally-Not-Evil Dr. Wells doing his thing. Then we have some guy whose name is Eddie Thawne, which fans of the comics will know sounds a lot like Eobard Thawne, the alter ego of the Reverse Flash. You’d think that the writers would use this as a gold mine for an intriguing subplot, especially since in the promotional materials Eddie was touted as having a “dark secret.”

But that intrigue of peters out, and Eddie fades into the background as the series goes on, particularly when Team Flash begins dealing with Firestorm. But the finale actually addresses this problem, after much else has been revealed. Believe it or not, it actually works! When the series ends, Eddie is seen in an entirely different light.

For all its faults, The Flash won me over because of one simple truth: It’s fun. The crazy plots, the spectacular, super-powered battles, the silly melodrama, the obligatory DCU references, the self-aware humor. Even the mediocre CGI and other special effects were endearing. Bottom line, if you like superheroes with no pretentions of seriousness (think Thor, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, with a bit of Batman ’66 thrown in), then you’ll absolutely love The Flash.

Something tells me that DC is beginning to understand that their heroes can afford to smile now and then.

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from rottentomatoes.com. Image 2 from theinsightfulpanda.wordpress.com. Image 3 from theflash.wikia.com. Image 4 from etonline.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Justice League: The Villain’s Journey Review – Love and Heroics

Justice League: The Villain's JourneyTITLE: Justice League, Vol. 2: The Villain’s Journey AUTHOR: Geoff Johns 
PENCILLERS: Jim Lee, Gene Ha, Carlos D’Anda COLLECTS: Justice League #7-12 FORMAT: Hardcover 
PUBLISHER: DC Comics 
PRICE: $24.99 
RELEASE DATE: January 30, 2013

By Rob Siebert Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Well, the readings on the douche-o-meter have gone down a bit since Justice League: Origin, they’re still a little high for my taste.

Set five years after the team’s formation, The Villain’s Journey pits the Justice League against the newly super powered David Graves, formerly an author who rose to stardom after writing a book about the League. Graves blames our heroes for the death of his wife and children, and now intends to exploit their personal weaknesses. He starts by kidnapping Steve Trevor, the League’s government liason, and an old flame of Wonder Woman’s Now the team must face their personal demons to rescue their friend and defeat the enemy. And interestingly enough, amongst all the anguish and the chaos, a new romance will bloom.

Justice League, Jim Lee, Green Lantern, Wonder WomanOne of the major problems I had with Justice League: Origin was the way some of the heroes acted like immature, douchebag teenagers trying to one up each other. They said things like: “Chains? You’re funny Green Lantern” and “So, who’s in charge here? I vote me.” Not to mention the big fight Superman got into with Batman, GL and the Flash. Obviously, Johns and Lee were playing up the many differences between these characters, and the idea that most of them were meeting each other for the first time. But the constant bickering got to be irritating. Thankfully, the readings on the douche-o-meeter decrease in this book, but they’re still a little high for my taste.

Our primary offender is Green Lantern, who is still an arrogant, quippy comic relief character whose demeanor grates on the other heroes. He winds up in a fist fight with Wonder Woman, which is accentuated with an eye-roll inducing sex joke from Wondy. And yet, just like in Origin, Johns redeems him at the end. Obviously, a character with this kind of personality tends to help a story come alive a little bit more. But at times it feels like we’re dressing a stock character up in a Green Lantern costume and throwing him into the mix.

Justice League: The Villain's Journey, Jim LeeThe Green Lantern issue happens to feed into a larger one: This book does NOT feel like it takes place five years after Origin. Five months seems more likely. While some of the characters seem calmer and more experienced (most notably Superman), the constant dissension in the ranks, mixed with the way most of these heroes don’t seem to know any more about each other than they did five years ago, shatters the illusion that they’ve been working together as a team for an extended time frame. Whether they don’t quite understand how Cyborg’s powers work, or they’re drilling Superman about what he does in his civilian life, I don’t have any kind of feeling that these characters have spent time with each other longer than a few months. Even in the outrageous world of comic book superheroes, it’s pretty bold to ask us to believe that a group of people on such shaky grounds could co-exist for so long.

I have no problem with DC wanting to rebuild the Justice League’s continuity for the New 52 initiative. It gives readers a fun chance to watch the team grow from the ground up. But human relationships usually don’t stay so stagnant for five years at a time. If you want us to believe it, we need more evolution in the rapport between the team members than what we got here. Trying to fill that big gap with throwaway lines about Aquaman and Green Arrow, or even that big two-page flashback about Martian Manhunter, isn’t enough.

Justice League #12, Superman, Wonder Woman, kissAll this talk of human relationships brings us to the highly publicized Superman/Wonder Woman romance that blossoms toward the end of the book. For the most part, I was fairly pleased with it. When you read all the issues back to back, as opposed to on a monthly basis, it’s fairly obvious that there’s some sort of unspoken bond between the two characters, which culminates in a big romantic moment. Perhaps that chemistry is one of the few things we can say did build up in the five years we haven’t seen. The book uses Wonder Woman’s relationship with Steve Trevor to convey that neither she nor Superman feel they can have a romantic partner without endangering them somehow. It’s the old “if the bad guys ever found out I was a hero…” routine. But with this story there’s an added dimension to it, as these are literally the two strongest heroes in the world. They could literally take on some of the most powerful beings in the known universe (i.e. Darkseid). Would you want to put someone you love in the path of such cosmic danger? With this romance, both parties have chosen one of the few people in the world that they know for certain can defend him/herself against whatever threat opposes them. It’s a “safe” relationship, in that sense. And when you factor in that both characters are outsiders, in the sense that neither comes from the society they protect, it makes sense that they’d be drawn to each other. Given what we know about Superman and Wonder Woman, the romantic connection isn’t difficult to believe in.

Despite some of the flaws in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s run on this title, one thing that can’t be denied is that it has restored a certain must-see quality to the book, which I’ll call the “big fight atmosphere.” That was one of the reasons the previous volume of Justice League fell off so badly. We had no Superman, no Wonder Woman, no Flash, no Hal Jordan. At the end, the closest thing we had was Dick Grayson standing in as Batman. Without at least a few of those iconic staples of the Justice League, all you’ve really got is just another team book. The New 52 was, and still is, ripe with questionable editorial decisions. But putting all of DC’s big guns back where they belong was never one of them.

Justice League: The Villain's Journey, Jim Lee, Martian ManhunterThe book is also jam packed with foreshadowing for Johns and David Finch’s upcoming Justice League of America title. After you read the book, look at that team’s roster. Things’ll make sense pretty quickly.

At the end of the day, things still aren’t where I want them to be in the land of the League. I’d put this book at about the same level as the first, if not marginally better As a long time fan, it’s sometimes irritating to see these characters you grew up with (arguably) robbed of some of their depth by a company-wide reboot. But the spirit of the tried and true Justice League is still present in this new incarnation of the team. You just have to look harder to see.

RATING: 6/10

Image 1 from insidepulse.com. Image 2 from galleryhip.com. Images 3 and 4 from comicvine.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Review of The Flash: The Road to Flashpoint – Grudges and Time Gymnastics

The Flash: The Road to FlashpointTITLE: The Flash, Vol. 2: The Road to FLashpoint
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLERS: Scott Kolins, Francis Manapul
COLLECTS: The Flash #8-12
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: November 16, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m a bit confused as to why DC chose to publish this book.  It’s the lead-in to Flashpoint, the story that altered the timeline of the DC Universe. Thus, we now have a book that takes place in an old continuity, leading up to an event that takes place in an alternate timeline, which features characters who, in the current continuity, are either different or don’t exist altogether. On top of that it’s only five issues long, as opposed to the typical six or seven that usually make up a trade paperback. That’ll be $22.99!

The Flash #8, 2011, Scott KolinsLogistical complaints aside, The Road To Flashpoint isn’t so bad. It gives us the events leading up to the big chronological shift that caused the timeline to nosedive into chaos. We meet a new character called Hot Pursuit, a traveler from an alternate Earth who uses a motorcycle to tap into the Speed Force. He’s determined to stop what he deems to be a catastrophic shift in the timeline, without The Flash’s help. Meanwhile, Barry Allen’s family is growing concerned that he’s spending too much time on his heroics, and is avoiding something in his personal life which may or may not involve Kid Flash. But most importantly, The Reverse-Flash has escaped from Iron Heights and he’s planning something that will change the world forever.

Geoff Johns’ regular Flash partner Francis Manapul tags out to Scott Kolins quite a bit in this book, which isn’t great. But it’s alright. Johns and Manapul have proven that when they’re on their game, they can be as good as any other creative team out there. But Kolins is no slouch. His art adorns the best part of this book, which is the look back at The Reverse-Flash’s origin story. We see how he has manipulated the time stream to alter events in his life and twist them to his own advantage. Johns does a great job portraying him as a twisted, psychotic madman.

The Flash #12, Francis ManapulIt’s nice to see Barry and Bart get a chance to resolve the issues they have with one another, for which the seeds were placed way back in The Flash: Rebirth. Sadly, it won’t ever amount to anything, as these versions of the characters (presumably) won’t ever be working as a team again, given the reboot. But I appreciate Johns taking the time to tie up the loose end. The idea of Barry being “addicted” to the Speed Force is a stretch in my book, simply because he’s a superhero. In that position, it would certainly benefit one to have as much balance in their life as possible. But in the DCU there’s constantly someone trying to blow up the world or something. I actually found myself saying: “Quit nagging the guy! He’s got a lot on his plate!” Hot Pursuit is a decent character, and the idea of a speedster using a vehicle instead of his feet is interesting. But again, don’t invest too much in him, as we likely won’t see him again for quite some time, if ever.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on this book simply because it happens to predate the New 52. It provides some fantastic insight into The Reverse-Flash’s character and sets up a few things going into Flashpoint. But in the grand scheme of things, did that warrant a $22 book? Probably not. The Road to Flashpoint is one of the few Geoff Johns books that doesn’t stand very well on it’s own.

RATING: 5/10

Image 1 from insidepulse.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com.

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A Flashpoint Review – The Start of Something New

Flashpoint (2011), cover, Andy KubertTITLE: Flashpoint
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
COLLECTS: Flashpoint #1-5
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASE DATE: October 26, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Flashpoint had the tall task of being the transition story between the old DC Universe and the new one. Ten years from now that will be what people remember this story for. But if you take that element away, Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert still manage to put together a fun, intriguing story.

Our tale begins when Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash, wakes up at his desk and realizes the world has changed, and not for the better. While his previously dead mother is alive and well, Barry’s powers are gone, and his wife Iris has no idea who he is. The world is caught in the middle of a war between Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s kingdom of Atlantis. Superman does not exist (at least as we know him), Thomas Wayne has become Batman to avenge his dead son, Hal Jordan is not Green Lantern, and the superhero community is at odds on how to handle the war. Clearly, someone has tampered with the timestream. Now, with help from Batman, Cyborg (who is viewed as America’s greatest hero) and a few other heroes very different from the ones he knows, The Flash must regain his powers and fix the time stream before the changes become permanent.

Barry Allen, Batman, Flashpoint #1, Andy KubertObviously the scope of Flashpoint is huge, which is why it spawned 16 spinoff miniseries’, and a few one-shots. I opted out of many of them for money’s sake (Batman: Knight of Vengeance was the most notable exception), but it’s still fun to explore this altered world through The Flash’s eyes. Flashpoint has a Back to the Future, Part II vibe to it. This alternate Batman makes a great supporting character, sort of the cynical Han Solo to Barry’s ambitious Luke Skywalker.

Oddly enough, one of the elements that makes Flashpoint endearing is that at five issues, it’s shorter than your average DC event comic. Blackest Night was eight issues, Final Crisis was seven, Amazons Attack was six, Infinite Crisis was seven, etc. The main Flashpoint story doesn’t linger for too long, and that’s a good thing. It keeps the story moving at a decent pace, and keeps things fresh. It’s still an epic event, but it’s not as drawn out, and at times contrived as some event comics can be.

One of the keys to Flashpoint‘s success is the way it integrates the theme of lost loved ones. Barry Allen lost his mother as a child and now has her back, but in the meantime he’s lost everything else. In contrast, Thomas Wayne has lost his son, but is now desperately trying to help The Flash alter the timeline so that Bruce will live and he will die. The overall theme for Flashpoint seems to be that you just can’t have it all.

Flashpoint #4, 2011, Andy KubertThere’s also a big twist during the story’s climax that I loved. I won’t spoil it, but trust me, it’s a good one.

In the grand scheme of things, Flashpoint isn’t necessarily a fantastic story, but it’s definitely a very, very good one. The alternate timeline plot device is used effectively, the characters we meet (Batman in particular) are intriguing, and it manages to tug at your heartstrings. Johns and Kubert’s job was to get us from the old DCU to the new one, but they did so in a very entertaining fashion worthy of both their reputations.

RATING: 8.5/10

Image 1 from book hound.wordpress.com. Image 2 from comixology.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Justice League: Origin Review – A New Era Begins

Justice League: Origin, coverTITLE: Justice League: Origin
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Jim Lee
COLLECTS: Justice League #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: May 2, 2012

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Yeesh. Talk about a tall order. Justice League: Origins tasks Geoff Johns and Jim Lee with setting up the post-Flashpoint DCU, introducing all seven members of the League plus Darkseid to new readers, telling a story that’s appealing to both new and longtime readers, and moving that story along at a pace that doesn’t allow it to get bogged down by all the introductions. They definitely accomplished the first two. Whether they got the last two is up for debate.

Justice League: Origin takes place five years in the past. Superhumans are a fairly recent development, and the public is largely afraid of them. But when demonic creatures (which regular DC readers know as parademons) start popping up around the world, Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman must come together to save the world. Meanwhile, a terrible accident turns high school football star Victor Stone into Cyborg, who may very well be the key to humanity’s survival. Because from the flames of Apokolips, Darkseid is coming…

Justice League: Origin, team shot, Jim LeeThis book takes a very ground-floor approach to the Justice League concept, as it should. Unlike the previous continuity, the League is the first active superhero team. There has never been a Justice Society, an Infinity Inc., etc. Most of the characters have heard of one another, but have never met (Green Lantern and The Flash are the exception). The plot is also pretty simple: Bad stuff is happening in Metropolis, and these heroes are all drawn to it. As a longtime fan, the formula for most of this book is almost painfully simple. Character introduction and exposition, action mixed with character introduction, repeat. But you can’t necessarily fault Geoff Johns for that approach. Remember, this is supposed to be the first chapter in the Justice League’s history. And what does a first chapter do? It introduces the characters. That’s especially important when you consider that this book is designed to be a hook for new readers. For longtime fans it might be tedious, but it’s necessary.

They couldn’t have chosen a better artist for this book than Jim Lee. Let alone the fact that he’s a co-publisher at DC, and designed the many of the new looks for these characters, he’s just an amazing artist. His action scenes all have great weight and tension to them, which needless to say is a must when your book is so action-heavy. Fight scenes tend to be filled with epic splash pages. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Darkseid all get nice two-page splashes. The costume tweaks for the heroes are all acceptable, except for the fact that Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and The Flash all look like their armor was made by the same company. That’s a hell of a customer pool, isn’t it? Gotham City, Central and Keystone Cities, the planet Krypton, and the Guardians of the friggin’ universe! I’d like to shake that marketing coordinator’s hand…

Justice League #1 (2011), final page, Superman, Jim LeeHowever, I’m greatly concerned about how Superman is portrayed in this book. The fact that he’s so powerful makes him cocky and standoffish, and thus not necessarily likeable. He spends a good portion of his introductory time saying things like:

– “So, what can you do?”
– “Talk, Batman. Before I won’t let you.”
– “Chains? You’re funny Green Lantern.”
– “Why should I come with you?…No one’s like me.”

I get that this story takes place during Superman’s early years, so maybe he’s a little overconfident, and dare I say immature, than we’re used to seeing him. He’s feeling ostracized because he’s not from Earth, so he’s not very trusting. That’s fair enough. But that’s the only side of Superman we see in this story. If you’re a new reader, the only impression you have of Superman is that he behaves like the conceited star of a high school football team. That’s a pretty big misstep considering Superman is not only one of the poster boys for the Justice League, but one of the faces of the entire DC Entertainment brand. We see a similar problem with Aquaman. But he’s also got the most bad ass moment in the entire book (he tells a bunch of shark to leap out of the water and catch parademons in the air), so that buys him a bit of leniency from me.

Truth be told, Origin sees more than one of our heroes acting like jocks vying to be captain of the team. Green Lantern has the stones to trap Batman in a construct and says: “Here’s the plan: Green Lantern goes in there and restrains Superman for questioning. Batman waits here.” But the difference between what happens with Superman and what happens with Green Lantern is that Johns takes the time to redeem GL. Without getting too specific, as the intensity of the battle increases, we start to see cracks in Hal Jordan’s confidant, cocky exterior. We see that deep down he’s really a good person, and not the pretentious douchebag he is at the beginning of the story. Superman and Aquaman don’t have moments like that. Johns and Lee didn’t need to stop the story to address this issue. All we needed were a couple of little moments. A throwaway line for both characters might have even done the trick. But nope, pretentious douchebags.

Justice League #6, Jim Lee, super sevenEverybody else fares pretty well. Batman is the combat veteran, Wonder Woman is the honorable yet action-hungry warrior, The Flash is the straight-laced guy with the heart of gold, and Cyborg is the new kid on the block trying to find his way.

So is this a team new readers can root for? Yes, and I think that quality will only grow as the series progresses. But in this book, their origin story, I wish they spent a bit more time acting like heroes, as opposed to squabbling teenagers. Are disagreements bound to happen when seven people from seven different backgrounds come together? Of course. That’s one of the things that makes any team book interesting. But at the end of the day, these characters are here to fight for justice and virtue. I wish this book could have done more to show us the beginnings of a team, as opposed to characters who all happen to be fighting on the same side of a war.

Origin is a solid start. It’s not as good as it could have been, but it’s a start.

RATING: 6.5/10

Image 1 from imgarcade.com. Image 2 from threatquality.com. Image 3 from superherohype.com.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Review of The Flash: Rebirth – The Silver Age Icon Returns

The Flash: Rebirth, coverTITLE: The Flash: Rebirth
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Ethan Van Sciver
COLLECTS: The Flash: Rebirth #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASE DATE: April 28, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So you’re a superhero who’s been dead for several years. The world goes on, life goes on. Then suddenly, you’re back….What do you do?

If Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver have something to say about it, you’ll probably star in a 6-issue Rebirth miniseries. Hoping to recapture the success they found with Green Lantern: Rebirth in 2004, the duo launched The Flash: Rebirth in the aftermath of Barry Allen’s return to his role as The Flash in Final Crisis.

But The Flash: Rebirth is a completely different animal. The Barry Allen character, who unofficially started the silver age of comics with his first appearance as The Flash in 1956, had been dead for about 25 years. He was killed off in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Even so, he remained a perennial fan favorite, and was occasionally seen in flashback and time travel stories. But Rebirth made it official: Barry was back, and this story served as his welcome home.

The Flash: Rebirth #2, Ethan Van Sciver, Barry AllenUnfortunately, Barry isn’t entirely convinced his return is a good thing. Having been trapped in the Speed Force (the energy source that other Flash characters have tapped into for their speed) for several years, he is convinced that he “wasn’t supposed” to come back. But unbeknownst to Barry, one of his enemies is plotting against him. As the Speed Force begins to behave erratically, Barry Allen must once again embrace his role as the scarlet speedster if he and his loved ones are to survive.

One of the great things about Geoff Johns’ writing is that he’s truly able to grasp the ins and outs of the characters he works with, and what they represent. In Rebirth, he’s able to add on to what readers know about Barry Allen, without tarnishing any of the history.

For readers who aren’t familiar with the character, Johns quickly points to Barry’s emotional soft spots. He spotlights his relationship with his beloved wife Iris, and adds a new heart-wrenching aspect to his backstory. This provide the reader with an emotional tether to Barry, drawing into the story line whether they know him or not.

The story’s biggest problem lies with the complexities involving the Speed Force, and how it ties into everything. What the Speed Force is and does, how it’s used, how it effects the characters, these are all things that Johns needs to explain within the context of the story. He does it, but the information is all a bit much to take in. I actually had to re-read several passages just so I could fully understand what was happening.

The Flash: Rebirth, Flash Family, Ethan Van SciverAlso, while it doesn’t necessarily hurt the story, we end up with a LOT of speedsters in the picture at the end of the book. In addition to Barry Allen, we have Wally West (who took over as The Flash after Barry died), Kid Flash, Jay Garrick (the original Flash from the 1940’s who still his his powers), Wally’s daughter, in addition to two other returning characters. That’s SEVEN characters with super-speed powers. Johns did great character work with Barry here, but the idea that he’s been restored to his role as the DC Universe’s primary speedster comes out tarnished.

Van Sciver’s art hits the mark, as usual. He has the unenviable task of drawing both Barry Allen and Wally West in their Flash uniforms, which are basically identical. To his credit, there’s seldom confusion as to who is who, but Johns throws him a plot point at the end to help him out a bit.

Did DC Comics need to bring Barry Allen back? No. Still, amid the confusion (and perhaps redundancy) Johns and Van Sciver made me appreciate that he is back. Despite its flaws, The Flash: Rebirth is, at it’s core, a story about a man coming to grips with the circumstances life has dealt him, and appreciating the wonderful things he has.

RATING: 6.5/10