FLASH ANNUAL #1
Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul, Marcus To, Scott Kolins, Diogenes Neves, Oclair Albert, Marcio Takara & Wes Craig
DC's been throwing out Annuals left and right to cap off the first year of the New 52, and it's been an interesting exercise in comics. Some have focused on stories that add to the ongoing narrative but don't require any previous knowledge of the series to enjoy. Some have introduced new characters or ideas that will be important to the series in coming months. And some have been content to cap off current storylines. Flash Annual #1 tries to do all three things, making for mixed results.
The Annual is actually broken up into five different chapters, with Francis Manapul providing breakdowns for every single one and a different guest artist (or artists) stepping in to pencil and ink for each individual chapter. It's a really interesting idea, but the execution could have been a little tighter. Although Manapul provided the skeleton for each portion of the story, there is not much in the way of visual cohesion from one chapter to the next. That's probably to be expected, but it was disappointing that Manapul and Brian Buccellato didn't take advantage of the situation to work in the constantly changing art into the script in some way, shape, or form. Even if it was a small thing, it would have made the swapping of artists seem like something more than an easy way to get this comic out on time.
Don't get me wrong, something was clearly needed to stay on schedule with this book, as it weighs in at thirty-eight pages, which no matter who you slice it, is a lot of comics. The choice of going with chapters was an interesting one, but like the artists, it seems as if they could have been more narratively cohesive. The first three chapters are all flashbacks of varying distances into the past (or flashbacks within flashbacks, as the case may be) that add a little bit to the ongoing conflict between the Flash and the Rogues, but ultimately feel somewhat superfluous. There's a few pieces of character backstories that are revealed (including Elias' role in the creation of the current Rogues and why Captain Cold is no longer the leader of the group), but there isn't anything earth shattering. The fourth chapter reintroduces Turbine, who finds himself talking with Patty Spivot in the present. It's only three pages long and feels like a reminder to readers that Turbine exists and that he'll probably be of some relevance in later issues. Finally, the fifth and final chapter resolves the fight between the Flash and the Rogues from last issue, while also introducing a big twist that was seeded a few issues back.
The individual parts were all pretty good, but it was disappointing that they didn't really build to a large whole. Instead, the whole thing comes off as a series of episodes that sometimes share characters, but don't relate much more than that. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but by calling each story a "chapter", there's the connotation and expectation that they'll be closely related, and that was not the case.
While the experiment was not a complete success, there's still a lot to recommend this comic. Each story sits well on its own, and the artists that were brought in all do fine jobs on their respective pieces. I was particular taken by Scot Kollins' cameo appearance on chapter 2, which surprised me because I'm not always a fan of his Flash work, but his piece focusing on the Rogues was quite nice. Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert did as good a job on their chapter 3 section as they do on Demon Knights, providing a very appropriate fantasy-esque element to a story that focused on Glimmer. Marcio Takara only had three pages on his chapter, but his looser style was awesome. It doesn't look like anything fancy, but it worked really well for the back and forth between Patty and Turbine. Wes Craig was the artist tapped for the longest story, as he provides fifteen pages worth of fighting. I enjoyed his work on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, but I found his art here to be a little uneven. Characters look brilliant at times, while at others they aren't quite up to snuff. I found his work on Glimmer to be particularly good, but some of his male characters were a little off.
Verdict - Check It. If you've been following The Flash, this is a must read, as you'll be super lost come issue #13 otherwise. However, if you've been looking to jump onto the series, I'd suggest waiting for issue #0 next month, as this book isn't not exactly friendly to new readers. There's a heck of a lot going on, but it wouldn't always make a ton of sense to people unfamiliar with what's going on.
NATIONAL COMICS LOOKER #1
Written by Ian Edginton
Art by Mike S. Miller
I'm a big fan of the National Comics concept of pairing a writer and artist and giving them seeming free-reign on reinventing C (if not D) list DC characters that have been gathering dust on the shelf. While it's only one title, it's still a somewhat bold move on DC's part to let their creators try something new with characters that aren't otherwise being used. It's also a nice bonus that the comics are all at least thirty pages long.
This time around, we get the story of Emily Briggs, a former fashion model turned fashion model agency owner who also happens to be a vampire. For that very reason, I came into the issue with a bit of hesitance, as it sounded a little silly. However, I then remembered that I love silly things, so I jumped in to see what would be what. The title stumbled a bit out of the gate, opening with a quick and well-done origin story that was marred by the same thinly veiled references to how vampires in this world aren't like vampires in Twilight that every single vampire story seems to have to have nowadays. Fortunately, the comic easily segued into telling its own story, using the hyper-competitive world of professional fashion and modelling as a nice set piece to tell a fun story of supernatural conflict and intrigue.
As this comic has to both introduce its setting, characters, and conflicts, while also telling an interesting story, things are a little packed. It's especially noticeable at the beginning, where Emily provides a lot of expository narration through a cluster of caption boxes. This habit pops up a couple of times over the course of the comic, and while they aren't ideal, they don't take much away from the flow of the story. That being said, Looker really succeeds when its characters are talking to each other instead of to the reader. Ian Edginton provides some fine dialogue to keep the story moving a quick pace, naturally easing the reader into the supernatural world that Emily inhabits over the course of the book. He also does a fine job of infusing some moments of levity throughout the comic so that things don't get too heavy.
Mike S. Miller does a great job on art. He has a very modern style that jives well with Edginton's script. There aren't a lot of opportunities for him to flex his artistic muscles, but the few that he gets he takes full advantage of. For the most part, he's not throwing out anything fancy, but that works well with the story being told. At the same time, I was particularly fond of his panel layouts. He has a habit of laying panels just slightly over other images that makes the whole book feel more dynamic and exciting. It's weird to explain, but I'm a big fan of the style.
Verdict - Check It. Looker wasn't quite as thrilling as last month's Eternity, but that's to be expected with this kind of book. Some months will be hits, some months will be misses. I'd say that Looker falls somewhere in between. I wouldn't buy this book on a monthly basis, but I was happy to have read this done in one story.
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Edwin Huang & Misty Coats
Skullkickers is quite the unique book. What started out as a simple comic of wacky fantasy adventure that was high on action and comedy has slowly evolved into something more. Happily, the action and comedy is still there, but Jim Zub has recently introduced some far more complex story elements in the current arc, bringing in things like multiple dimensions and major character reveals that kind of alter the reader's understanding of everything that has come before and will come after. This story arc has been full of surprises, and its conclusion here in issue #17 is no exception.
Shorty and Baldy continue to fight off the Thool monster and its enslaved lady pirates aboard the increasingly more damaged and less seaworthy Mermaid's Bottom. The fight that has been going on the past few issues only gets bigger and better here, as the Thool calls up some reinforcements that easily weigh in on the epic side of the scale. Fortunately, all is not lost, as our intrepid heroes come up with some desperate plans to try to make things right. The whole sequence feels like the perfect Skullkickers fight. That is to say, it's cool as heck, has some awesome moments and funny jokes, while also being completely ridiculous.
Things move really quickly here, which is when Skullkickers really shines. Zub has not been one to dilly dally in this book, going right for the jugular every time the opportunity presents itself, and he strikes so hard and often here that the head comes clean off. Zub also has the habit of upping the ante in the concluding issues of his storyarcs, and that definitely happens here. The entire issue is filled with big, theatrical moments, giving the artistic team plenty of opportunity to shine.
And shine they do, as Edwin Huang provides some of his best pencils and inks yet. The images have real weight and impact behind them, emphasizing just how large the scale of things going on is. The book's final four pages are spell-binding, as Huang absolutely nails the destruction of the story's main set piece. It's the type of scene that should look better on a television or movie screen, but Huang manages to capture the destructive force with apparent ease. And Misty Coats' colours are the perfect compliment, providing a vibrancy and life that helps each and every panel pop. The two have long been working together, but Coats has also definitely upped her game here, providing some of the best work I've yet seen.
The most impressive part of this issue (and the past few, to be honest), is how easily Zub and company switch tones between the comedic and the serious. It's all over the place without feeling scattered. The book's final scene is the perfect example of this. Things get real dark all of a sudden, and it's all the more powerful because of how funny earlier parts of the issue were. The solicitation promised some meaningful death, and that's just what Skullkickers delivers.
Verdict - Buy It. Skullkickers is still one of the most fun and entertaining books coming out on a regular basis, and this issue is a particularly strong one from the book's creative team. Zub, Huang, and Coats bust out the big guns, and the end result is a terrific conclusion to what has been an excellent storyline. I can't wait to see what comes next for the book's leads.