Despite providing the helpful recap of the previous issue, Amadeus Arkham has very little to do with the latest entry in DC's "All-Star Western" title. The scholar is present during most of what transpires in the growing conflict for the control of Gotham's underground, but the real star is Tallulah Black. It is in her and Jonah Hex's dysfunctional dynamic that the story manages to achieve a semblance of identity and survive the increasing continuity references.
Otherwise, the story could have easily vanished in the writers' efforts to integrate the last several years of DC continuity. As seen in the opening arc, the followers of the Crime Bible make for formidable masonic antagonists, and the Court of Owls could have easily been used in the similar role this time around. Yet, the decision to have two groups, developed independently to fulfill a similar role, come to blows was certainly made without seriously considering the merits of the story.
It's easy to be confused when one of Lord Bennet's costumed guardians gets wounded in the fight, only for the Court of Owls' Talon to appear and disappear with the nobleman in tow. Tallulah's plan for revenge is therefore postponed indefinitely, but the latter half of the issue, focused on the followers of the Crime Bible definitely feels like a step up.
Despite the elaborate names and a out of place Catwoman ancestor, the villains are given a solid introduction and a plan that only fails due to Tallulah's resourcefulness. Seeing the scarred beauty taking matters in her own hands definitely feels like a welcome change from the usual role of females in adventure narratives. As a carryover from Palmiotti and Grey's "Jonah Hex" title, it could be said that she manages to upstage the protagonists, but for the purposes of the arc, it feels welcome and natural.
Compared to Moritat's strikingly loose and expressive inks, Scott Kolins' art on the back-up provides much more definition. Featuring a Dr. Thirteen ancestor, this first part of the story works to establish the scientist as the professional debunker of the supernatural, and present him with the new case. The Haunted Highwayman is certainly not going to leave a lasting impression on the readers, but works to fulfill the remits of the story.
At times, Kolins' art, with heavy blacks and a steampunk bent brings to mind Mike Mignola, which is certainly a departure for the relatively traditional superhero artist. The next issue is likely to climax both the leading story and the back-up, and judging on the strength of the work presented in this issue, it should prove both capable and satisfying.
As a penultimate chapter of "the Others", Aquaman #11 reads decidedly choppy and slow paced. Just like his work on "the Justice League", Geoff Johns substitues the pulp twists and turns for a belated elaboration of the villain's motives and heavy exposition.
The initial three page prologue both shows us a relevant part of the Others' origin, introduces the final team member, and teases the ultimate goal of Black Manta. All of these prove integral for the issue, but they serve largely to slow down the pace and beg the question of why they haven't been elaborated upon in the previous four issues. Likewise, despite the mystery, it's still hard to look past the costumes of these international heroes, but to his credit, the writer does manage to establish them as a team. Seeing them argue with Aquaman over his abandonment of the Others to concentrate on the Justice League manages to make the reader forget that he's reading Aquaman's solo title for a moment, which is perhaps the greatest compliment that can be made to the world building involved.
The story picks up the pace once Aquaman gets close to Manta, who has finally gotten around to the object of his search, resulting in a cliffhanger that has the reader genuinely interested in the fate of Dr. Shin, as well as the status quo of Aquaman and Mera following the #0. Despite the presence of three inkers, Ivan Reis manages to give a lot of energy and definition to the proceedings, with his adherence to DC's house style resulting in a dynamic look for one of the most consistent titles of DC's "New 52".
It would be interesting if the creators followed up on the hinted clash between the Others and the JLA, but judging by their work so far, there is every indication that Johns' reinvention of Aquaman will stay strong in its second year.
The last Brubaker "Captain America" arc begins with a patchy issue, that at least hints at wrapping up the plot threads accumulated since the last year's relaunch. Co-written by Cullen Bunn, the issue offers a typical opener of a veiled threat to America that physically stretches Captain America to the limit, while filling him with doubt regarding his mission. This time, it's nothing less than the alien invasion, with the Discordians quickly revealed to the reader as pawns of the Codename: Bravo, Queen Hydra and Baron Zemo.
Scot Eaton's rushed, cartoony artwork denies the reader the pleasure of watching widescreen action. His inexpressive characters likewise stay on model but fail to do much of acting. The reader will hardly be excited to see all the closed mouths and stilted posing, but the work is still done in the house style and doesn't call too much of attention to itself.
It's just that coupled with a very familiar story, it completes the impression that the creators are just going through the motions of wrapping a run that was, for all intents and purposes over at the end of the previous volume. By all accounts, a decent wrap up will provide a sense of closure to the readers, who are advised to check Brubaker's "Winter Soldier" for the true continuation of the themes, and accomplished with much more energy and enthusiasm.
Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul continue their run on "Flash" with another deeply flawed issue. Once again, Marcus To fills in on the art, and the results are sobering. The issue nominally deals with presenting a "New 52" version of Heatwave, but the focus is squarely on Barry Allen confronting the Rogues proactively by becoming a barman in the underground bar.
Thus, the reader learns very little about Heatwave and his operation, and instead the focus shifts to the ongoing plot of Flash and his relationship with Captain Cold, with a couple of subplots inserted into the middle, to remind the reader that the co-writers aren't abandoning any of their work so far.
This is a hard issue to recommend, and even harder to read with any enthusiasm. It ends with Heatwave and Captain Cold in place for the next part of the story, but the reader is kept unaware as to the specifics of their rivalry and motivations. We are left as much in the dark as the Flash, with To's capable rendition of the DC house style to tie us over. With the next issue's return of Manapul to the art, the series will regain its distinctive artwork, but at this point its clear that both him and his colorist/co-writer, lack the ability to even come close to the Geoff Johns and Mark Waid's writing on the title.
At this point in the Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino's "I, Vampire" series, it's not clear how serious the reader should treat the title. Following the "Justice League Dark" crossover, Andrew's new power levels have largely upended the status quo, with the vampires becoming much less of a threat to humanity.
Moreover, with the inclusion of the Van Helsing cult, the fate of the vampire clan seems to be an internal matter. Most of this issue's dedicated to mix and matching the horror movie cliches, with the results aimed primarily to amuse. The whole arc so far has been much lighter in tone than the issues that preceded it, and the result is some madcap, but easily disposable storytelling.
The new dynamic between Andrew and Mary seems too soon, and the Jae Lee-inspired artwork too stylized to deal with the high concept leanings of the plot. To his credit, Filakov doesn't forget about the cast, who stay in character and definitely bring their own flair to the title, but the book seriously needs to either return to the opening dynamic, or find a new workable direction.
The third part of "Black Room", by Lemire and Janin largely works better than the previous couple of chapters. Returning the Vertigo characters back to the DCU is still too bright and colorful, but the underlying superhero elements for once seemingly carry out the title's remit.
Most of the issue is taken up with a superhero fight against Felix Faust and the Demons Three, including the cliffhanger showing a member of the Justice League Dark betraying the team. Beat by beat, the book lives and dies on the premise that there is a whole world of interesting storytelling in the fantasy side of the DC Universe.
Most of the pages include a sparkling lightning bolt effect, with the magic of these characters ultimately amounting to shooting lightning bolt effects that cancel each other out. The Ulises Arreola's computer colors give Janin's already stiff figures a new layer of artificiality, at least managing to liven up some of the rigidness in the pencils.
Ultimately, the subplot involving Madam Xanadu trying to win over Tim Hunter to help the team find the Books of Magic proves the most interesting. The remaining sixteen pages are capably executed, but at this point Felix Faust has already worn out his welcome, leaving the reader to be entertained by the actions of a continually of John Constantine. It would appear that no matter how well the creators apply superhero storytelling to these characters, the book's success with the individual readers largely hinges on how they react to the scenes such as "Hellblazer" sneaking into the titular Black Room to combat the villain with the mystical weapons from the magical history of the publisher's superhero universe.
The underwhelming "Marelock" storyline finally comes to an end in the pages of "the Mighty Thor". Ultimately, the plots involving Amora and the dream monsters finally intersect, but by this point they have little to offer to the readers. The Enchantress and her ever evolving Executioner replacement, they provide the physical threat for Thor, while bizzarrely, the protagonist of a "Mountain Goats" song fights off the Marelock invasion in the dream realm. The scene aims for poignancy but comes of as surreal as the final excerpt from Jeff' diary, written to his friend from "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton".
Thankfully, the ultimate connection between two plot strands finally provides some measure of finality to Doctor Donald Blake, the real victim of Marvel's turning back to JMS' relaunch of the series. Unfortunately, Fraction's post "Fear Itself" Asgardia set-up has proven even more unmanagable, as we see here in Fraction's last issue preceding the crossover with "Journey into mystery" that will likely end both titles in their current incarnations.
By bringing in a teenager from Broxton, Oklahoma, the writer is adamant to stay true to Straczyinski's original idea of Norse Gods making a seat next to a middle American city. The problem is that the status quo he's up elaborated upon hasn't even been made feasable in the JMS issues, due to the creator's abrupt leaving after the disagreements with the editorial, and the resulting changes make for an unappealing mish mash of story concepts that are only broadly true in spirit to the Lee/Kirby originals. In Pepe Larraz's hands, the fantasy visuals break away from the Walt Simmonson's mythology-inspired approach, and present Fraction's "Thor" as a campy cartoon, divorced both from the trends of the industry and the rest of the Marvel's output.
Of course, the penciller is merely following Oliver Coipel and Pasqual Ferry's lead, but despite his clear layouts and powerful figures, there is never a chance that the artist is allowed to work in his own style. Just like Matt Fraction, the artist is trapped in the company's mandate on following up on the work of other creators, and at this point, "the Mighty Thor" is truly in a place where only the already announced "Marvel NOW" revamp can help to lay a foundation for a better integrated reinvation of the Silver Age superhero.
The finale of "Savage Six" arc manages to be both action packed and poignant, as Rick Remender wraps up most of the story threads of his run so far. Cullen Bunn scripts the story that has Flash Thompson face off against Megatak and Toxin, with the fights being brutal but no more memorable than video game violence.
Megatak was introduced as a joke villain in Doug Moench's last issue of "Thor", but the high concept garishness of the character was apparently enough to grant him the role of token oddball. Still, despite Medina's efforts to present him as a credible threat, the character amounts to nothing more than a henchmen, justifying the necessary number of villains to parallel Spider-Man's nefarious grouping of enemies.
Eddie Brock is a much more integral presence, as Remender has for some time kept up with the actions of the previous Venom host. Unlike Human Fly, dispatched by Flash last issue, there is no real sense of finality to Toxin's fate, but the scene still acts to write out the character out of the series.
Finally, after delaying the showdown with Jack O Lantern for the next issue, Venom confronts Crime Master. The master villain's conversation with Betty frames the issue, and it is their relationship that ultimately resolves the threat that has come to dominate Flash's life. The fight is dynamic and clearly told, with the antagonist's weapon being particularly interesting in a clearly told sequence that leads to the climax.
Following the most engaging part of the issue, Medina somewhat stumbles when it comes to depicting the emotional fallout of the storyline. As a whole, the issue is as solid as the rest of the arc, whose wholesomeness almost comes as a surprise given it serves as the farewell for the original creative team.
Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark's the second part of the three part "Broken Arrow" story slows down the action to focus on the procedural aspect of the Barnes/Sitwell operation. Both men continue searching for Natasha in their own ways, with the creative team naturally concentrating on the protagonist as he tries to beat the answers out of the hired help.
The fights are largely unmotivated and overly brutal, making it for once harder to sympathize with the impulsive anti-hero. On the other hand, his psychopathic opposite number Leo is starting to develop something of a personality, which helps the story considering that the book keeps shifting from the two points of view.
And while it's still unclear what the villain's ultimate scheme is, by showing his methods, the creative team has helped solidify his agenda. The book is so finely crafted, that even when it produces a largely transitory issue, it feels like Brubaker and Lark are showing us the events in the order that they happened.
Lark's time on the book is proving particularly exemplary. The one-time "Daredevil" artist is producing perfectly readable, well realized layouts, given weight and detail by inkers Thies and Guadiano. At this point, it's clear that the final issue of the arc will be at least as well realized as the two that preceded it, and there is every indication that Brubaker and Guice will try to match this level of professionalism with the already announced follow-up.